What I learned in grad school

Yesterday, I turned in my Master’s thesis. Woo! Now, only a measly two-page paper stands between me and being done with school forever. Whoa. Done with school forever.

For the first time since I ran screaming from the classroom on my first day of kindergarten, I am no longer a “student.” Even though I waited a few years after college to go to grad school, I always knew for sure I’d go back.

All my life, school is where I’ve found much of my identity. I never really had a “thing,” you know? School was my thing. I like it, I’m good at it, it’s comfortable for me.

And now, school is over. And I…couldn’t be happier.

I definitely anticipated a slight existential crisis to coincide with the end of my studenthood, but it just hasn’t happened. Maybe it’s just because I’m burned out, but I think I’ve had my fill. I want to see what else I can be, what else I identify with.

All the photos I could find for this post were super cliche and of, like, a long, winding road or a woman with her arms outstretched in a field. This one made me laugh.

I learned a lot in grad school, and I think it was valuable academically and professionally. But in retrospect, it was more than that. It was a much-needed chance to hit the reset button on my life. See, immediately before going back to school, I was in a job that made me miserable.

The job was a dead-end for me, opportunity-wise. The work was mind-numbing, the social environment toxic. Honestly, it was the most unhappy I have ever been. I don’t mean to be overly dramatic here; I realize I was fortunate to have had a salary, benefits, security. I know that’s no small thing.

But the reason I was so unhappy then – and, now that I think about it, the reason for most periods of unhappiness in my life – is that I just knew, down to my core, that I was being completely untrue to myself.

I accepted the job in a period of desperation and perceived lack of options, even though it was counter to everything I had hoped for myself, everything I wanted out of life. I had convinced myself (at age 24) that it was “too late” to go after my dreams. I was essentially throwing in the towel.

I often characterize that job as the one decision I truly regret. But looking back, I can’t say that’s true. Because I see now that it was kind of a “this is your life” experience. I got a glimpse into the future I was headed towards – and ran screaming in the other direction.

Grad school gave me an opportunity to step back and reevaluate, in so many ways, what I want out of life.  I don’t “have it all figured out” now, by any means. But what I have figured out is that I’m not going to give up on myself – my happiness, my chance for fulfillment – again.

Somehow, between paper-writing and article-reading, going back to school taught me that. I’m grateful for that – and now I’m ready to move on.

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Bad dates and menu forts

I can not stop laughing at this story, the photo, and the tweet that started it all: “A grown ass man is mad at his girlfriend at Olive Garden & has made a menu fort.”

First of all, the guy who tweeted it was blatantly eavesdropping on fellow diners, which we all know is one of my favorite pastimes. Respect. (Also, lesson to everyone: not only might someone be eavesdropping on you, but your awkward business might now become national news.)

Like…on one hand, what exactly was menu guy trying to accomplish? On the other hand, anyone with a fair amount of experience in dating/relationships has definitely had those “I literally cannot even look at you right now” moments.

Just this morning, I woke up exhausted from dream-fighting with my boyfriend all night. When he asked me what it was about, I said, “I just wanted you to leave!” (Also at one point I was Lady Gaga and he didn’t like my back-up dancers. Whatever.)

Adam Howell via Twitter

                                                 via Twitter

This got me thinking about whether I’ve had any menu fort moments of my own. I did have one boyfriend who would, without fail, make me so pissed off on any long drive that I would seriously contemplate rolling out of the moving car. I for sure would have built myself a fort if I could have.

Another honorable mention is the time I went to see the movie Kinsey. On a first date. With a guy I didn’t like. When I was 19. I don’t know what made me think that would be okay, but I’m here to tell you it was not. After 118 minutes of non-stop sexual explicitness, I was willing myself to sink through the floor, but would have gladly settled for a wall of Olive Garden menus.

And, in a situation perhaps most similar to the one pictured above — I was once on a dinner date so awkward and tense that when the waitress came to clear the plates, she simply said, “Separate checks?”

Has a date ever made you want to build a menu fort? (And is this story really only funny because of the term “menu fort”?)

Some news is good news

The news and I are not really friends. It’s not that I don’t want to be informed; it’s just that I can only tolerate so much. And by tolerate, I mean actually mentally and physically tolerate – I went on a news-reading binge the other night that literally gave me a stomachache.

I wrote last week about how I struggle with all the scary things happening in the world. Especially lately, the horrors that are taking place in every corner of the globe are nearly incomprehensible. And of course, the mainstream media thrives on this.

The other day I said to my boyfriend that I wondered if there were any sites devoted only to positive news. For some reason, he seemed to think that was totally crazy and not something that would exist.

But I knew the truth – on the Internet, everything exists. Lo and behold, there are many such sites that have been around for years, I just never looked for them before.

One I’ve been checking out so far is the Good News Network. I like this site because it’s not all warm and fuzzy, Chicken Soup for the Soul type stories (though I’m not technically opposed to that) – it’s just stories that are positive, whether it be an act of kindness or a new medical advancement that will save lives.

Here is some of today’s news:

Child Expected to Die Without Any Bones Now Grows Them Thanks to New Therapy

Boston Runner and Blast Victim Form Lifelong Bond

College Athlete Gives Up Shot Put Career in Order to Donate Bone Marrow

Dashboard Cam Shows Kind Man Jumping to Help in Traffic

Ok, so their headline writing leaves something to be desired. Still, doesn’t it make you feel good?

The boyfriend (who works in news, which might account for his scoffing…) seemed to think the idea behind such a site would be to remain oblivious to reality. But this is not the case. I’m not looking to brainwash myself into thinking only good things happen; I highly doubt that would be possible even if I tried.

No, it’s just that after reading about the latest horrors, I need some way to balance out my feelings about humanity. There are good things happening every day, and good people behind them, but sometimes you really wouldn’t know it, not unless you look.

So that’s what I’m going to do.

I don’t want to put blinders on. I just want to see the good.

28 hours in Montreal, Part 2

After a fun first day in Montreal, we woke up to the news of the manhunt in Boston. Rather than head out and look for a breakfast place like we were planning, we stayed glued to the TV until it was time to check out. The bf made a quick run to Starbucks though (or “Café Starbucks” as it’s evidently called in Quebec), since he knows from experience what will happen if I don’t get my morning coffee. Good man.

After leaving the hotel, we did some shopping/browsing on Rue Saint-Catherine, an eclectic street that has everything from high-end designer stores to regular shops, eateries and strip clubs, and an interesting mix of people (i.e.students, business-people, and a stoned girl sitting on the ground screaming, “Don’t deny me change because I’m white!!!” Awkward…).

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                   Portlandia, anyone?

I found my happy place in Indigo, a Canadian bookstore that is also filled to the brim with pretty things: candles, jewelry, home decor, scarves, perfume… I was seriously contemplating buying all new pillows for my couch when I snapped out of it, bought a small Mother’s Day gift, and left.

Due to my boyfriend’s love of dollar stores, we had to hit one up next, which I have to say was much nicer than your average Albany dollar store (I hate that I even know that). But it was worth it because I got a hearty laugh out of this poncho (that illustration?!?) and bought it for my sister, the only person who would appreciate it as much as I did.

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Once we’d seen it all, we got in the car and headed to Old Montreal for lunch, which was kind of a bad call; everything was suuuper overpriced since it’s a big tourist attraction. But my hunger won out, and we ended up eating at a cute place called Café Bistro Serafim. It was definitely overpriced but pretty good. Lunch was followed up with ice cream, walking the cobblestone streets,

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and a stop into this gorgeous “sailors’ church” (Notre Dame de Bonsecours Chapel), which was built in 1771 and has little wooden ships hanging from the ceiling (apparently, sailors who arrived to the nearby Port of Montreal in the 1800’s would visit the chapel to give thanks for a safe voyage).

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Our last stop before leaving the city was Mount Royal park, which I had heard had a pretty lookout point. So…it turned out to be not quite as scenic as I was imagining, but it was still a nice ride.

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AND, on the way there I saw possibly my favorite thing in all of Montreal. This isn’t a very good picture since we were driving, but on a large median in between two busy streets, there was this huge row of what at first looked like bus shelters but were actually swing sets! With adults just swinging away on a Friday afternoon. I felt like the city of Montreal was saying to its residents, “Hey, take a break from your busy commute and add a little whimsy to your life!” Loved it. Other cities, take note — swings make people happy.

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And that was it. Aside from some fun in the duty-free store, we had an uneventful trip back and reached Albany just in time for some monsoon rain. Ah, welcome home.

28 hours in Montreal, Part 1

One of the cool things about living in Albany is its very close proximity to so many great destinations. NYC, Boston, Lake Placid, Vermont, Cape Cod — all an easy car ride away.

And Montreal. I’ve lived in Albany for almost 15 years but had only been to Montreal once before last week. It was a family trip about seven years ago, and we were denied entry to the country because my then-14-year-old sister didn’t have an ID. (After a couple dreary hours in a Staples parking lot near the border, we finally got it squared away.)

So last week, passports firmly in hand, my boyfriend and I ventured there again for a quick weeknight trip. First stop: the Biodome. Side note — remember that movie? I just learned from Wikipedia that it was actually in Bio-Dome that Tenacious D performed together for the first time on screen. The Wikipedia page also contains this amazing description: “The film has themes of environmentalism, combined with substance abuse, sexual innuendo, and toilet humor.” I don’t know about you, but I like my films with a nice mix of environmentalism and toilet humor.

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Anyway, kind of like the movie, the Biodome contains several distinct ecosystems in one building and many of the plants/animals indigenous to those systems. The coolest moment for me was walking into the rainforest; I had almost a lemon lollipop moment and felt like I was back in Costa Rica. So did my hair, apparently, as I could immediately feel it curling up and expanding to three times its normal size.

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But the clear stars of the show are the penguins in the Antarctic. I’m sorry, but is there anything on earth cuter than watching penguins waddle around? There just isn’t. The best part was that this penguin just stood on top of that rock, wings outstretched, with his back to the rest of the penguins for literally the entire time we were there. And the others would stop and stare up at him like he was a penguin god.

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After the Biodome, we checked into our hotel and walked around downtown for a while before heading to an early dinner. I spent some time before our trip choosing a good French restaurant that was off the tourist path, but after taking a cab there, we found out they were closed for vacation. However, it was fate because we ended up at this super cute restaurant called La Gargote des Antiquaires, which was really like part-bistro, part-antique store (I didn’t get a picture, but in addition to all the cool old lamps and knick-knacks around the tables, there were shelves and shelves of antiques in the back). 

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The owner, who also appeared to be the host, server, bartender and chef, was a real character and did not speak a word of English — which was interesting since we do not speak a word of French. He gamely chatted with us anyway and made us feel very welcome. The food was great, but the atmosphere was the best.

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After dinner, we headed to the Bell Center for the Montreal Canadiens hockey game. My boyfriend sold me on this by proclaiming it not a mere sporting event, but a cultural event, since we were in Canada — which is true. They don’t mess around with their hockey up there. Despite our nosebleed seats, it was a fun experience, but I was fading fast. As the end of the game neared, it was tied — threatening overtime — until the Canadiens scored a last-minute goal. Let me tell you, I was just as pumped about that goal as everyone else in the arena because it meant the game was over.

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We walked back to our hotel, making a pit stop for emergency snacks, then watched America’s Worst Tattoos (what can I say, everything else was in French) before crashing hard. Part 2 to come!

Travel Theme: Contrast

Contrast is the theme this week on Where’s my backpack? It’s a good theme for a week of extreme highs and lows. I didn’t have as many pictures to represent this word as I thought I would, but here’s what I found:

Light and dark, sun and rain, on lovely Lake George. Taken during a quick stopover for skee-ball on the way from Lake Placid to Albany.DSCF0554Gorgeous contrasting colors at Albany’s Tulip Fest. Every year after a long (LONG) winter, the sun comes out, the weather warms, tulips bloom all over the city, and I am filled with love for Albany ❤ Then it gets really damn hot.IMG_0260Old and new in downtown Montreal. There are so many gorgeous churches in Montreal, but this one was striking against that modern, glass-paned office building. DSCF0070Bright blue butterfly standing out against the green in Monteverde, Costa Rica.IMG_2999

To the people who run right towards it

I don’t want to say too much about what happened in Boston yesterday, because what is there to really say? It’s terrifying, it’s horrific, and it’s heartbreaking. I think we all had a collective feeling of “please no, not again.”

I’ll be honest; I struggle to not be afraid of this world sometimes. People say you can’t live in fear, and that’s great in theory but harder in practice when we constantly learn we’re not safe anywhere – not at a sporting event, not at work, not at the movies, not at school.

Sure, any one person’s chances of experiencing something like this are small, but that doesn’t make it feel any better. And besides, it’s not just our own safety and well-being we fear for – it’s that of our city, our country and our entire world.

I struggle to wrap my mind around the fact that children now will never grow up in the same world we did – not only due to terrorism, but all the other horrific crimes that have now become the norm. Sometimes it seems the world only gets worse. When our parents were kids, people didn’t even lock their front doors. By the time I was a kid, those doors were locked – but we could play outside freely and get called home at dinnertime. Now parents don’t let their kids out of their sight.

As a teenager sitting in biology class watching the twin towers fall on TV, I knew something huge was happening, something horrible. But I didn’t realize at the time that that would be the dividing line, between the world I grew up in and the one that exists now.

Yesterday, watching video of the explosions, I burst into tears, just unable to imagine the horror those people were experiencing. But I also noticed something – in all the confusion and people running for their lives, there are those people who run towards what is happening. The people whose first instinct is to help, to rescue someone, to pull someone else to their feet. Then I heard all the talk about the Mister Roger’s quote, about finding the helpers, and it’s so true.

Obviously on 9/11, we saw unparalleled heroism. But it exists in small ways every day. On a road trip in 2007, I was on a highway in South Dakota when a truck in front of us hit something, rolled over, and burst into flames. Everyone on the highway stopped. My friend and I sat there stunned, unsure what to do, having never seen anything like it. But immediately – immediately – men sprinted from their cars to that truck, climbed on it, started pulling people out.

They ran right towards it. There are always people who run right towards it.

I am grateful for those people.