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Hi Lexi,

You touch on a great point regarding identity. I, too, had people asking me months before I came back to the States what I was going to do once I returned. I found it hard to answer because I didn’t have an answer. I know I want to live, and live passionately. I’m searching for my next opportunity to do that and I’m thankful I have a degree that will allow me to lead life with my heart. And I can only hope that I can be as happy as the Scottish grocery clerk you speak of.

In my transition back to living in Montana I’m realizing more and more that we are minorities. Especially in our big, low population, state. We’ve spent continuous months traveling the world and having cultural experiences. While I consider us lucky to be a minority in this situation I also find it difficult at times. We can turn to few friends to reminisce about long train journeys, flight delays in foreign countries, or trying to order a meal in a city where the only words you can say in their language are ‘please’ and ‘thank you.’

In my twelve months of living in Switzerland I averaged more than one country every month. I’ve walked many historic streets and had much time to wander. I’ve developed into the type of traveler who would rather walk the streets of a new place to find cities best-kept secrets instead of riding the metro from point A to B. I have put in countless steps in some of the most beautiful places in the World. I once stumbled upon a park in Brussels that a local had never heard about. I sat in a restaurant in Rome over the Christmas holiday for three hours talking to the owners while drinking house wine. And I’ve walked the streets of Istanbul where suicide bombs went off just weeks before.

I’m overwhelmed. When I see people I haven’t seen or talked to in a year and they ask questions like “How was it?” How do I answer that? It was great! It was humbling. It was the best year of my life. Travel, experience it yourself! I want to share, but not too much. These memories are intimate and sharing too much feels like I’m giving my heart away. And then there are people’s reactions to what I share. Fear, awe, amazement, shock. To me, my adventures seem so normal so I’m finding it hard to grasp when people have such exaggerated responses.

The things I’ve learned are really important to me. I’ve learned to not take convenience for granted. Grocery stores being open all night, shopping on Sundays, and owning a car. These are things considered normal in our country and when I first moved to Switzerland I found it odd to not have these things. Now I find it weird to be able to shop on Sundays, grocery stores being open 24/7, and I miss my nine-minute train into Zürich. My thought-process is different now, I think differently. How do I take my newly wired mind and adapt to what used to be my normal?

I was telling my mom and her friend the story of terrorism causing me to have to cancel my flight from Prague to Zürich because of a layover in Brussels just five days after the airport bombing. While speaking about this I was reminded of something. These journeys and experiences made us brave, courageous, strong, fearless, and strong-willed. And whatever obstacles we face in our hometown, state, or country we can take on. I know we can because we’ve conquered other things with more barriers than I could speak to. We’ve got this.

I hope you enjoy those long talks with your dogs and I wish you luck in answering the “what’s next” question. Enjoy these moments.

All my best,

~Vanessa

Black And Blue

Dear Vanessa,

Returning to the United States has been harder than I imagined. I feel a bit like Frodo did when he returned to the Shire after his adventures in the wider world; how do I simply go back?

I was out of the country for almost a full year, and it turns out that it was the perfect amount of time in which to forget the all-consuming question that drives American culture: What next?
I met a woman in a pub in Ireland in June, and one of the first things she said to me was, “So you must have a job waiting for you back home.” The moment my rather baffled, “No” hit her brain, her eyebrows vanished into her hairline, and I was forcibly reminded that American culture is truly driven by title and worth. I need to know what you do for a living so that I know where you rank in relation to me. Are you better than me? Do you make more money? Do I want fries with that?

The real problem is that I have no clue what happens next, and that makes people uncomfortable. I have big dreams that involve finding a career with a multinational corporation, or starting a company based in sustainability. I also have small dreams that revolve mostly around my garden and long walks with my dog.

During my travels, I met the happiest man in the world. He is a grocery clerk in a tiny shop in the Scottish Highlands, and he’s happy as a bird with a french fry. His job had no glamour whatsoever. In fact, every job I’ve had for the last 14 years would be considered more glamorous than his, but I have not once been that happy while on the clock.

The day after my husband proposed to me the question was, “When is the wedding?” and immediately after (actually during) the wedding I heard, “When can we expect babies?”

Now, after a year of extremely exhausting and emotionally fulfilling work overseas, the most important thing anyone can think to ask is, “What are you going to do for work?”

I spent a year with my hands in the dirt, learning to dig and sort potatoes, harvesting seaweed from the Arctic Ocean, milking cows in Ireland, building rock walls in Scotland, running a table-saw in England. I learned that the value of work is not in the station or position, but in the satisfaction at the end of the day. Seeing an important job description on my Facebook page was nothing compared to the joy of scraping dirt and horse shit out from under my fingernails, all the while knowing that one more carrot field would survive the winter because of my work. I spent a year changing the way I viewed work and status, and coming back to a culture that needs to know where I fit in the pecking order of society has been overwhelming.

I know that my frustrated rants alone won’t go far in changing America, just look at Bernie Sanders. For now, I suppose I’ll just have to find an answer to the “what next” question.
I’ll have a baby when I’m sure nothing else good can happen in my life- thank you Mike Birbiglia for that line- and I’m planning on finding a job that makes me as happy as a Scottish grocery clerk.

Hope you’re well,

-Lexi

P.S. – Where are you working now?

Hound Dog

Adair,

We both know the unbridled joy that comes from having a pet. I say “having” because “owning” a family member only happens when they play me at cribbage. The furry friends we take into our homes take root in our hearts and we wonder how we got by without them.

But like all of life’s joys, our time with these companions is fleeting. We share a part of our lives with our dogs, our cats, and our domesticated cave spiders. And a part of our lives is gone when they leave us (not a literal way, my dead dogs were not my Horcrux). But thinking back on our time with these fuzz balls offers a sort of beautiful pain in my chest. And in remembering them they live again.

When I think of Buster, I still cry. Maybe it’s because he only died 18 months ago, or because he was “my dog,” or maybe it’s guilt for feeling like I didn’t give him a very good life. Thinking about the morning we buried him in the backyard is worse than remembering David Tennant’s regeneration scene. We put Buster in one of my old t-shirts, because he would always steal them when I was away and sleep with them until I got back. It was the first grave I ever dug, and as long as Clark stops sending me “House Music” mixtapes I think it will be the last one.

It’s hard to think past the end. The final days of a dog who waited until his whole family was home to mourn him together were heartbreaking. I knew when I saw him this would be his last Christmas. But he waited all the same and that kind of makes me think he was smarter than his dumb beagle face would have you believe.

But there were thirteen Christmases before that one. Thirteen years of running up the Rims, chasing rabbits, rolling in roadkill, and licking the tears off your face. Through high school and college I was a shit owner, and he became much more of my mother’s dog. And they had each other as the kids slowly left town.

That dog loved popcorn and chewing up underwear and shoes. He ate more elastic and leather than kibbles ‘n bits. But the thing I will always remember about Buster has his singing voice. Because that Beagle could belt.

Buster loved to howl. If you’d howl, he’d howl. He would bray for minutes on end. But there was no time he howled louder or with my passion than when we played the piano and sang. If you were playing a song that got much higher than C4, Buster would try to harmonize. But like me, he was shit at harmony and ended up just being loud. But he sang along with “Ave Maria” and “Zero to Hero” alike. He rounded out our family of singers.

Maybe in a few years I’ll be able to think about Buster without crying like I just watched a Pixar marathon, but today I’m having a hard time reading my screen to type this. But even when the thought of my dog no longer makes me burst into tears, he’ll still be with me. To quote a musical because this is my post and I can, “you’ll be with me, like a hand print on my heart.”

Remembering my the seventh singer in my family,

-Dan

Ahhhh Good Country

Dan,

As I write this I’m sitting at a picnic table under a tin roof, it’s June but the rain is pouring on the tiny farm I’m spending my weekend at.  The air smells like wood smoke and bacon and it’s so quiet except for the white noise of the rain flooding the field beyond the farm.

It’s stunning here, so green and peaceful.  And lucky me that my only task for this time away is to write.  I’ve been slacking lately when it comes to giving myself time to write, letting life become too hectic and only giving myself time for the scheduled work rather than trying to grow and expand with this thing that I love to do.

I’ve felt a bit unsure of my path lately, what to do and where I’m going.  Too busy to take inventory of all that I’ve done and all that I want to do.  I’m a driven person, I thrive on goals, but sometimes I’m so focused on meeting my self-made deadlines that I forget to enjoy the life I’ve built.

But right now it’s quiet and I’m listening to my own breathing as I watch fog cover the hills around me.  I’m sitting protected on my little bench under this roof in a place that gives off the smell of wet pine. I am happy here, I’m writing poems for pleasure and for projects.  I’m filling up a notebook with quotes and letters and I feel accomplishment as the number of scribbled upon pages grow.

I think it’s hard to stop and think on our lives as we are trying so desperately to live them to the fullest.  We are traveling and learning and attempting to grow into those people we would love to be.  But as we run around checking off items on mental lists, how often are we pausing to write about traffic patterns or subway train rides or even the sound of rain falling on a roof.

My realization out here is that I want to spend time listening for bird songs, staring at the paths of slugs and feeling rain on my fingers.  I want to take time for writing and see it as something without a deadline, a continual project with no end in site.

Rain drenched and happy,

Adair