The Haitian airport was just as chaotic as I expected. Men impatiently crowed around the baggage claim, hoping their fingers might land on someone’s bag who was willing to accept help—someone who could spare a few dollars in exchange for helping the bag out to the car. When so many Haitians only make $300 a year, you can understand why every dollar counts.
In the city, trash is everywhere. No space is safe from its presence. Plastic bottles push through the overgrown grass. Gutters are a river of garbage, with brown stained water snaking its way through the crevices between aluminum and plastic. People tip toe around the mounds of shredded garments and the waste that sprinkle the pathway. Men balance baskets on their heads with even more bottles resting inside—bottles that are likely to join the litter on the streets.
Walls too are everywhere. A walled city with walled neighborhoods and walled homes beyond that. Guards and dogs and barbed wire all meant for protection. Safety has left its ideal form, but to the people, it’s protection none the less.
Walls and trash. I realize that I haven’t painted an alluring picture of the city at all. But the highlights are only as valuable when the lowlights stand beside them: a beautiful contrast that shows the city for both all that it is and isn’t.
As I passed yet another mound of litter from the back of the rickety bus that carried me to the compound, the image before me was not one of desolation. A single, black flip flop poked through the trash. Behind it, a girl was walking just beyond the garbage. She looked strong, beautiful and perfectly at peace with the place around her.
There’s an embrace of simplicity and an acceptance of life in its beauties and shortcomings that exists. Beauty created in its juxtaposition with the mess. Bright, vibrant walls standing out against the barbed wire that decorates them. Bright, vibrant people standing out in the environment of pollution and litter that surrounds.
The city is fiercely alive with its people—a people of strength. They don’t seem broken or worn down. In fact, it’s rather the opposite. There’s a sense of pride and a soft resilience hidden in the crease of a smile. They are the people of Port-au-Prince: a beautiful mess of a city.
My thoughts they can't be quieted
They're so much louder than before
My aching pain won't go away
It's all too impossible to ignore
I feel the strength within myself
As it slowly shrivels away
And the voice inside me's silenced
The one that's saying it's okay
No comfort seems quite comforting
No soothing really soothes
There's an emptiness within my core
And a weight I can't remove
I never thought I'd feel this way
So defeated and so used
These feelings keep resurfacing
Suppression's a crutch I try to abuse
I doubt I'll ever understand
The meaning of this world
The pain enclosed within it
Destroying beauty at each turn
There's corruption and there's brokenness
We've all heard that before
But what we've also heard I pray's not a lie
I really do hope that there is more
For if there's not then what use have we
For the turning of each day
When all that waits is misery
And a pain that won't go away.
Kinda dark, right? There's a reason I never like sharing my poetry. It's vulnerable. It's not always happy. And it certainly creates a dissonance between the perfectly filtered, perfectly captioned and perfectly happy looking me in the picture I just posted.
I see the pictures others post and it's largely the same. There's a picture of a friend of mine laughing, enjoying herself on a night out. There's a picture someone took on a morning hike: a mountain side littered with trees who can't seem to decide whether or not they're ready to lose their leaves for winter.
These moments, these pictures are undeniably beautiful.
But I'm starting to find beauty in things that don't traditionally fit that category.
There's a beauty in brokenness. In humanity. In the small reminders that we're not alone.
I was reminded of this about a month ago, today, after hearing a haunting, beautiful journal shared by a girl I didn't know.
I may not have known her, but still, I felt her pain. I felt the desperation she felt. I felt the hopelessness. I understood the sting of seeing a loved one slip away from both who they once were and who the two of you could be together, when you were with them. I understood the panic of feeling yourself slip away, too. The out of control sense of desperation. The deep desire of wanting to pull yourself out of the depths. And the deep despair of not knowing if you're strong enough to do that. As I listened to the words she spoke, I found myself.
And it was beautiful.
The human experience is not one to always be viewed through a rose colored lens. There's a whole spectrum of emotion we each experience, but don't talk about. It's easy to bring up the happy moments. And while I'm not suggesting we all embrace our inner Eeyore, Squidward, Scrooge, or whatever you want to call it, I do think it's important to not discount the less pretty side of our emotional spectrum.
The better we get at hiding the pain, the weakness and the darkness that weaves its way in and out of our lives, the more alone we feel when it finds us. You see the happy pictures, the Facebook post about the new job position your friend will happily accept. But you don't see that the people in the pictures or posts or smiling back at you behind the counter of your favorite coffee shop are each fighting battles of their own. Just like you are.
These battles are dark. These battles are messy. But there's comfort knowing others are fighting their own. We can share in our battles and our pains and can connect, really connect, with each other when we let these things surface: when we share with others and let them into the world we would rather keep hidden. And it doesn't matter how we share. It can be through a song, book, poem, conversation, work of art. It doesn't matter how we express it, as long as we expose it. That's when the connection happens. That's when the beauty of shared humanity unfolds.
So, I'm not perfect. I can have anxieties and fears and feel moments when darkness seems to overpower everything else I feel. But, I can also share in these moments, overcome in these moments and find beauty in the moments.
It's important to not be so damn perfect all the time. None of us ever really are.
I was in high school. A people pleaser to the extreme and always seeking affirmation and guidance. Especially from my parents.
If you asked my favorite class at the time, there would have been no hesitation: art history. Followed by journalism, followed by English lit, followed by European history (yeah, I was weird, I know).
But then ask me my intended career path that year and I would have told you engineering. Because that's so aligned with my interests, right?
The only explanation for my pilfering through brochures explaining engineering programs at various universities and even my visit to Georgia Tech was my belief that good ol' Mom and Dad really did know best. They could guide me right where I needed to be. And if Dad encouraged me to pursue a male-dominated field like engineering because that's where good money was, than maybe that's what I needed to do.
No plot twist here: my engineering pursuits didn't last long at all. They eventually evolved into a medical path (less obnoxious, but still not me) before finally settling in on journalism.
Guidance is great, but no one else is inside your head. Common sense, I know, but so few actually realize this implication.
My dad's advice is likely on point for someone. There's a high school girl out there who foams at the mouth when a linear equation is scribbled on the white board and will be in absolute heaven as she makes bank and bypasses males because, well, her employer really needed to meet quota for the gender gap and took her on regardless of if she was the best qualified applicant (the latter part is an argument for another time, but I think this is something like what Pops envisioned).
Regardless of how great certain guidance may be, that doesn't mean it's great guidance for you. Only you know what makes you tick. Only you know what makes you feel alive, what makes you have hope, what makes you get that deep to your core stir of passion within.
So, when it comes down to it, it's you who's your own best guide.
Cue the "always let your conscience be your guide" jingle or shrug off what may seem like cheesy advice, but it's simply true. No one knows what will make you happy quite like you do.
So, I learned the lesson once and that's fine and dandy, but here I sit, apparently needing to learn it again. Yes, I'm pursuing journalism now and yes, that makes me happy. But, just because I have the vision of where I want to be, doesn't mean I have any idea on how to go about getting there. It may be four years since I followed my own direction and left mathematical pursuits behind (thank God), but I'm still secretly hoping for guidance, for someone to tell me what I can't seem to figure out myself: where do I go now?
Because following my parents' guidance worked so well for me for the first time (Mom and Dad, if you're reading this, I promise I don't think all of your advice sucked, it's just that the whole future/life-direction bit that didn't really work out), the obvious solution was to seek their guidance once again.
As I sat at dinner with my mom who was visiting town, I rattled off idea after idea: well there's this internship and this school and there could end up being this job and I could end up finding these connections in this city.
I knew better.
I knew there was nothing she could tell me that would give me true guidance. She could reassure me that those ideas sounded great, she could bring up an idea or two of her own, but it's ultimately me who has to make the decision moving forward. It's ultimately me who has to decide where I go from here.
I've already learned once for myself that you really can't rely on someone else to push you in the right direction. You have to pick a direction and run toward it with every semblance of strength and passion you have within you.
There was nothing she was going to say to make me feel a sense of certainty going forward, no "ah ha" moment awaiting me during our dinner conversation. She doesn't have the formula. I don't have the formula. And let's be honest... no one will ever really have the formula. You just have to dive in, put your all in your pursuit, hope for the best and be willing to work your ass off every step of the way.
So, for anyone waiting for that one piece of advice, that one conversation, that one explanation that will tell you exactly where to go from here-- stop waiting. Just go.
Be your own guide, listen to what others have to say and follow some advice along the way, but know one thing: you're the only person who can figure out where to go now to get you where you really want to be. So do something. Stop waiting around and go.
I fought the temptation, at least for a little while, but then caved. I flipped through pictures of faces I adored, places more beautiful than any I could construct in my mind, and foods that still make my mouth water. A tinge of longing slides over me, unrelenting. It stirs deep within my chest and digs a pit into my stomach, keeping its hold even after the pictures come to an end.
This longing doesn't take over because I don't care for my life here. The friend's hand that squeezes mine, reassuring me of her happiness to have me back. The comfort of old coffee shops that beckon me back into the calm embrace of music I can hum and sips that soothe. The kick drum I feel crash into me at the live music venue I haven't stepped in to for far too long. The quick turning feet of the little boy riding his training-wheel adorned bike, pedaling fast to pass his dad and giggling all the while as I watch, sitting at the park down the street from my home. My life here in Nashville is not wanting of beautiful moments. But that doesn't mean I don't miss where I was when I spent my semester abroad in Italy.
Here, I go out just to be seen. Here, I forget the little Italian I did learn. Here, I check Snapchat stories instead of living my own story. Here, I lazily turn to the microwave instead of the stove. Here, I drive places when I could just as easily walk. Here, I nap in my bedroom on a perfectly gorgeous day. Here, I miss who I was three short months ago.
When the ground welcomed my plane back into Nashville, my responsibilities welcome me back as well. It's easy to live vivaciously when reality seems to be on hold. In Italy, I didn't have to think about what I will do with my life when I at last hold a diploma in my hand. My balancing act on hold, I wrote, I loved, and I lived with everything I had. So, coming back? Yeah, it's not always easy. Sometimes I long for the way things used to be.
People long for many things-places they've always dreamed of seeing, places where they felt most alive, love from one who refuses to return it, love from one who's no longer alive to give it, a time when life was simpler, a time when they weren't so low on their luck. Longing has its place. It is not a sign of weakness and one who longs for something is not necessarily unsatisfied with everything else.
So, as I sit at this wood table, silently staring at the grain, indentions, and imperfections, I let my mind wander. A simple, happy day aside the Arno river, blades of grass lazily arching over the blanket I lay on. I doze off, warmed by gentle rays and cooled by the soft breeze that teases my skin and plays with the hem of my dress. I wake again, scribble a few lines into the journal beside me and watch a group of young teenagers joke and push each other around. People are walking on the bridge, hundreds of yards to my right and I fancy I see someone I'd met a few nights ago. A deep inhale. Time floats by. I'm removed from this table and my deadlines. I'm removed from the reality that I have an hour to finish this assignment before going to class and making my way to yet another meeting.
Longings are honest to you, even when you aren't honest to yourself. Pesky little things that they are, they're quite hard to ignore. My longings bring me face to face with just what it is that I need: an escape.
I can't always escape the responsibilities of my life, but I can provide myself with little escapes in my day to day. My longing for my days in Italy reminds me to slow down, to cook, to live, to learn, to enjoy the walks as I go on my way. It's through my longings that I am pushed to recognize what I really desire and need.
So, yes. I'm happy with the friends, the coffees, the music, the parks, and the moments that have greeted me since I've returned. But I'm happy too for the tinges of longing: tinges that remind me to give myself escapes from the responsibilities, worries, fears, and habits of my daily life now that I'm back.
I guess I'm one of those Beatles obsessed people with portraits of Paul and the boys above my headboard (I wish I was kidding) and Beatles vinyls that outnumber all the other artists I have, combined. But obsessed or not, listening to the Beatles enough will undoubtedly draw you to inspiration and a little self realization through their music (damn it, I can already hear my inner 70's vibes coming out). So here are just a few lyrics from the good ol' boys that speak some truth and provide a life lesson or two.
So the truth is I'm jealous. I'm jealous of the photos, I'm jealous of the incredible music, and I'm even jealous of getting to camp in a hot, sweaty tent all weekend (hah, not). But in all reality, I wish I was there and despite my best attempts to pretend I don't care that I'm missing out, I definitely do. So here's a quick playlist of favorites from the lineup for those of us who can't experience the real Roo and will just have to make do.
My cooking has nothing on Italy's, but after a few short classes there, time spent in Florence with my practically chef of a roommate, Shawn, and my handy Tuscan cook book at my side, it's no surprise that I've been cooking up quite a bit of Italian food these days. One of my favorite recipes (and one that's thankfully not loaded up on carbs like a few I cave and make on occasion) is one I learned in a cooking class at a lovely bed and breakfast in Sienna, Italy. This delicious, easy to make turkey (or chicken) roll up with salty and savory tones is a wonderful choice for a summer evening and is perfectly complimented with a light eggplant Caprese salad and a glass of Zinfandel on the side. So embrace your inner Italian and consider cooking this meal up.
ingredients (serves 4)
4 turkey breasts, thinly cut (or chicken breasts)
1 carton of grape tomatoes
4 slices of Italian prosciutto
2 slices of Swiss Cheese
Salt and Pepper
1. Butterfly or pound turkey breast, if not thin (it is difficult to cook breast roll up all the way through, so the thinner the cut, the better) and salt both sides with a pinch
2. Lay half slice of Swiss on each breast, followed by a slice of proscuitto; roll breast with proscuitto and cheese on the inside, using a toothpick to hold roll in place
3. Quarter one carton of grape tomatoes
4. In sauce pan add olive oil, salt, pepper, garlic, and quartered tomatoes; place on light to medium heat for approximately 5 minutes before adding tomato sauce (add sauce to taste, for thicker consistency add more tomato sauce)
5. In separate pan, cover bottom with olive oil and put spring rolls on medium heat for 7 minutes before removing toothpick and flipping to cook opposite side for 7; make certain inside of breast is cooked before removing from heat
6. Plate spring roll, adding tomato sauce over top
optional side: eggplant caprese
Eggplant, mozzarella, tomato, and basil are all that is needed. Simply slice the eggplant, salt both sides and put in oven on broil until slightly browned. Remove from oven and add tomato and mozzarella on each eggplant slice. Put back into the oven until cheese is slightly melted. Add basil to the top of each tower, and voila!
I'm usually one for more mellow, chill sets, but sometimes you need a little something extra to really get you going. If you told me a year ago I'd post a playlist featuring both Tame Impala and Nicki Minaj, I'd probably laugh. But here it is. Judge... or enjoy and get your summer going.
As if I didn't have reason enough to spend far too many days and far too much money on 12th South, I've found yet another. The line from Jeni's may bleed to the doors of this contemporary kitchen, but Josephine certainly receives traffic of its own. And for good reason.
A rustic, contemporary atmosphere paired with American cuisine isn't exactly a rarity in Nashville, but when you combine a good style with great service and impeccable food, you have a restaurant certainly worth visiting.
My own experience definitely left me happy with my visit. Though I arrived shortly before the kitchen closed, the evening was not rushed in the slightest and I received great service from greeters and bar tenders alike. The drink menu had a good, varied selection without being overwhelming, and the Rosé I ordered paired well with both my starter salad and entree. I even received the all knowing "good choice," nod from the bar tender when ordering the scallops. They certainly did not disappoint. The presentation was beautiful, and the dish, thankfully, tasted as nice as it looked. The asparagus and mushroom were a nice savory contrast to the lemon vinaigrette surrounding the edges of the plate and the scallops were seared to perfection.
While the food was exquisite, I will admit that Josephine is likely not a place college students like myself will frequent. I greatly enjoyed my dining experience, but with a somewhat higher price range and smaller portion sizes, I'll have to settle with Josephine just being a 'special occasion' type of spot.
So, if you find yourself on 12th South on a 'treat yo-self' kind of night, maybe try something different than Edley's or Burger Up for a change and consider giving Josephine a chance.
So here we are. Here we all are. A little bit lost at times, but turning pages in one chapter as we move toward the next. I know it's cliche and I promise not to bore you with a plethora of used material, but let's not reinvent the wheel. Hate the cliche all you want, but my life has always felt like a book.
Some chapters excite, others are a little dark, some are raw and others lull on, boring you and leaving you ready for any sort of plot development. Characters are dynamic, some losing relevance all together while others surprise you with their capabilities. There are plot twists, small ironies, and maybe a typo or too that the editor just didn't catch.
But the obnoxious part of it all? It doesn't matter how often I feel my own pages turning, life isn't quite as book-like as I sometimes hope. My book is a little different than the books decorating my bedside table. No matter how fed up or curious or anxious or excited I get, I will never be able to flip to the end to see how it all works out.
So here I am. A twenty one year old who just ended an awesome chapter in her life, but is so utterly unsure how the rest of her book is going to turn out. None of us know what will happen on the next page, much less how our story will go. But what we do know is that for now, there are songs to be heard, meals to be eaten, movies to be watched and friends to be cherished as we figure our next chapter out.
Let's turn pages together.
Enjoying and learning from this chapter as the pages turn