natalie slightly scattered

everything in between

Category: Musings

These are The Things

I walked to the White House today. The walk there was blustery and cold, but I was walking with the wind. The walk back was bitter, snow flying forward as it swirled around unfamiliar buildings. I wrapped the scarf around my face and trudged forward, wondering why anyone ever bothered to explore the Antarctic. Then I came home and made dinner for a friend who showed up earlier than expected, and whose appearance I was both grateful for and irritated by. If I’d had no one to come over I would have felt alone; and now that I was with someone, I just wanted them to go home.

I pondered the concept of being alone both to and from the White House, contemplating the unfamiliar feeling of not quite knowing how to just be me, of longing for those things which I have had and will have again. I am normally very content to be alone, to walk along and explore things for no one other than myself. We get along well, myself and I. But today was different. Today I yearned for acknowledgement from any number of passersby, some of whom were together, some of whom were also alone.

Shortly after I came home my friend arrived, making me feel lonelier than before. Being with just anyone is worse than being alone when you just want someone. We made our way through the evening, and the effort had me exhausted. Then the sink clogged and my head hurt, and I announced that I was probably just going to go to bed, which is how we said goodbye.

I looked at the sink, and decided I couldn’t just leave the drain. I texted the landlord, but we’re snowed in. No one can come anytime soon. I decided to attempt to fix the drain myself. Scooping water out of the sink with a pot, I made multiple trips to the bathroom, where I dumped the remnants of our sink down the tub. Then there was the matter of all the dishes I had to wash, which is how I found myself in the bathroom with my sleeves rolled up, washing all of this evening’s dishes in my previously clean tub. It was then that I started to laugh, and came back to myself. Because these are the things I will remember. I might not remember the way I felt today, the minutiae of my fleeting emotions. I will remember that once upon a time I was young, I walked to the White House in the middle of a snowstorm, and that at the end of the day I washed my dishes in the tub.

Act of Contrition

It’s been almost five months since my last confession.

Forgive me Father for I have sinned… apparently we don’t actually have to say that, nor do we start with the Act of Contrition. I forget how to say the Act of Contrition, I inform him. The priest chuckles. “Everyone always wants to start with that,” he says. “But we don’t actually say it until the end.”

The church isn’t crowded, but in the quiet of Adoration every noise is amplified. I’m not sure what to do with my keys, and as I pick them up the sound seems to reverberate throughout the space. How funny. The simple act of tossing my keys, a noise which I almost never register, and here and now it is so loud. The woman on my right “Your keys are making so much noise.” Her child is behind me humming a song and clucking her tongue. I’m annoyed, but I’ve decided I like the woman. I’m not annoyed at her, but at the wait. It’s Thursday night confession. I don’t want to spend my whole evening here. I was here by 7:15. The priest has seen a grand total of three people since I got here, and a fourth is in the confessional right now, over an hour later. I can’t focus.

The Eucharist is prominently displayed in front of me. I try my hand at prayer, “God, please envelop me in your love;” a prayer someone told me I should pray to move on. It goes from insincere lips to ever gracious ears. While the intent itself is true, I’m not into praying at this moment. I am focused on how I have to go to the bathroom. On the fact that I’ve had to wait for over an hour to confess two minutes worth of sins. What the heck did these other people do?

The woman on my left is texting. Her nails are long and blue and chipped. She’s texting someone named Daniel. Wearing a wedding ring. Probably her husband. The man behind me lets out an exasperated sigh at the length of time we have all had to wait. I feel you, man. The little girl making noise is actually quite beautiful, with big brown eyes. Dressed all in pink. Her sneakers are emblazoned with a character from some children’s TV show I don’t know. I sit here and ponder the child’s sneakers, whether or not these glittered purple shoes provide any real support. I imagine her running on the playground. Her mother is not wearing a wedding ring. Because the child is here with her and not at home I wonder if perhaps there is no father in the picture. What happened there? Was the child a “mistake” that she is now eternally grateful for? Is she widowed? If I have children and my husband dies will I one day cease to wear my ring?

She comments on a ring I am wearing, “Where did you get that?”
“It’s a gift from my mother,” I say.
“In my country we have lots of designs like that. I was wondering where it is from.”
“Where is your country?” I ask.
“Paraguay.”

And now I am thinking about “my country,” about how that used to be something I could say. My Country. But I am in my country now. I am American. And presumably this woman is here to stay too. At what point does my country become this country, become our country? Or does it become home but never home?

The exasperated man behind me is young. He’s wearing a wedding ring, a solid band of silver. His hair is long, and his eyebrows slightly overgrown. Most of the people are Latin. There is some Spanish being spoken that I understand. I turn to him. “What time is it?”

“The priest is taking too long,” I say. For surely not all three people before us could have committed grave sins. I think the problem is that he must like to talk. When it is my turn I am going to tell him to hurry up.

And then the door on the other side opens up. Apparently another priest is here. I look around. Everyone else wants to go to the Spanish speaking priest. I hesitantly get up, only for my seat mate to nudge me on, “Go!”

The priest is young. I’m not used to confessing to someone who looks to be my age. It’s interesting. Not in a bad way. I feel like in another life in an alternate universe we could be friends. But I don’t think 33 year old priests typically hang out with 26 year old women.

“Well then why don’t we start,” he says.
“Right so,” I begin. I list the sins quickly. I once heard a joke about the difference between an Irish confession and an Italian confession. An Italian will confess the sins in great detail, making sure not one nuance is left out. The Irish will throw out one word that can encapsulate a multitude of sins. I give an Irish confession. And then I get to the part that is hard. “Someone hurt me,” I say, and my voice gives me away.

I’m having trouble with the Our Father, I tell the priest. I’m stumbling on, Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. I thought I had forgiven, but the hurt still isn’t gone.

We talk about how we first have to see ourselves as God sees us in order to see others that way. Vanity is something I will spend my life attempting to overcome.

The Priest, “Repeat after me.”

Oh my God
I am heartily sorry for having sinned. 
In choosing to do wrong and failing to do good,
I have sinned against you whom I should love above all things.
I firmly intend, with your help, to do penance, to sin no more,
and to avoid the near occasion of sin. 
Amen. 

And just like that I am washed anew. I used to think that confession would lead me to feel a lightening of spirit. I don’t actually feel much of anything. I notice my need for confession by it’s absence. By my willingness to suddenly gossip or make a snide remark, to judge someone.

I leave, glad to go home. I get in the door, “You’ll never believe how long confession took,” I announce. And I am reminded of how perfectly human I am.

 

heart torn in two

I’m sitting here listening to a song by Peter Bradley Adams, The Longer I Run. This song has a certain significance for me. Right before I moved to China, my dear friend Courtney gave me a mixed CD, and this was the fourth or fifth track. I brought that CD with me, and I played it endlessly my first few months, especially during the cold of February and March. I vividly remember being at my friends’ apartment one evening, drinking tea, and contemplating the lyrics of this song.

When my blood runs warm with an old red wine,
I miss the life that I left behind.
But when I hear the sound of the blackbirds cry,
I know I left in the nick of time.

Well this road I’m on is gonna turn to sand,
Leave me lost in a far-off land.
So let me ride the wind till I don’t look back,
Forget the life that I almost had.

If I wander till I die,
May I know who’s hand I’m in.
If my home I never find,
Let me live again.

The longer I run then the less that I find,
Selling my soul for a nickel and dime,
Breaking my heart to keep singing these rhymes,
Losing again.

Tell my brother please not to look for me,
I ain’t the man that I used to be.
But if my savior comes could you let him know,
I’ve gone away for to save my soul.

The longer I run then the less that I find…

I had just three weeks earlier packed all of my things into two suitcases and moved across the world for exactly what I wasn’t sure. The song resonated with me, the melody haunting. In a twist of fate I am about to move again, and I just came across the CD for the first time since China. I had left it in an old computer. My dad went to give the computer away and he called, “Do you want this CD, it’s called Natalie and Courtney’s Friendship CD?” I picked it up when I was home last week. I haven’t listened to this CD in years, but the songs right now are perfect for me.

The similarities and differences between the two times in my life are striking. At one point in time I was 23, about to turn 24. I had just moved across the world, and I was full of hope and the promise of what could become. I am now 26, about to be 27. I have had my heart broken. I am moving, but this time it is without the hope for the promise of tomorrow. I have to find my own way and make my own happiness again. This time I feel like the pinnacle of happiness has already been reached, and that I can’t ever quite get there again. Three years ago I felt as if I had everything life could offer ready for me to discover. I cannot believe it has been three years. Every passing day brings me further from that moment in time of who and where I want to be. I am weary, right now. For the first time in my life I feel old, a feeling that is foreign, and that I don’t like at all. I don’t think age has anything to do with years lived. I think age is correlated to sorrow. I’ve cried so many tears.

I want once again to be in a foreign land, to wander, to forget the life I almost had. I think more than anything that lyric is what resonated with me the first time. Choosing to go to China had been a bit of a struggle. I knew I wanted to go, but then I let doubt creep in. I really had to pray and discern, and in my quiet moments the answer came to me. I was to go. But when I went I was very conscious of the life I was leaving behind. I felt as if I only had everything to gain, and not much to lose, but I knew things would be different.

This time I have nowhere to run. I am meant to be here, and I am resentful. I wake dreaming of a foreign land. I again prayed, I discerned. And again the answer came to me. You are not to go this time, you are meant to stay. But this time it is not the answer I wanted. And so I am fighting what I know is right, unable to let go of what I had, and what I want. This time forgetting the life I almost had has a whole other connotation. This time I thought I had found the life I wanted, I didn’t willfully choose to leave a life I almost had. That life left me. Losing your dreams is far more painful than discovering them.

It is as I am contemplating all these things that I came across some of my old writing. Reading my own writing is strange. It’s like having a conversation with two versions of myself. My writing is like a snapshot in time. It’s familiar and comforting, this former self. Sometimes it makes me laugh. Tonight it made me cry.

This is what it’s like coming back to China. The smell is the first thing to hit me when I exit the airport. A friend once told me that China smells like pennies. If pennies smell like sulfur than I understand what she meant. The smell is so different, so distinct, that it completely disorients me. I had lost my sensitivity to it, forgotten it existed, that I had previously experienced it, and it vividly brought back the memories of my first time landing in China. I was trapped between two different experiences, suddenly unable to separate the two; the smell so overpowering my other senses and bringing with it a sense of uncertainty, of unknowing, without the adrenaline that carried me through last year. The smell had the power to well up the emotions I had experienced a year ago, and I forgot that I had built a life here. Everything felt foreign once again, in this place where just a month ago I had felt completely at ease. Being home had reinforced that I am American, that I belong to a country with a culture in which I identify; I had regained my American identity, and lost my Chinese self, the version who knows how to operate here.

Then this morning I look out the window, and across the street I see 喜喜, double happiness. One of my neighbors has gotten married, the sign in their window proclaiming it for all to see. And suddenly, so suddenly, she comes back to me, this other girl that I now have within me. One who can speak in Chinese, not only survive but thrive here. One who when she sees 喜喜, knows what it means.

The Long Forgotten Buddhist Geek

I found this while cleaning out my room Monday evening. It was written during my last year of college, and I have decided to leave it as is, without any editing. I wrote it while sitting at a Starbucks on campus as it was happening.

I can see you through the glass rocking your mustard yellow jeans. Hipster. I appreciate it. And then apparently you see me, in my white tee and hiking boots. Not a rather sexy look, but apparently it’s working for you, because you just waltzed in and sat down at my table. And then BAM! The first thing you decide to tell me about yourself is you’re a Buddhist. Not any kind of Buddhist. A Buddhist Geek. Stop. Get up and leave. I am not interested. But instead of conveying that, I start to speak. With an accent. It came out of nowhere, I swear, but I can’t stop. It’s so weird you’ve noticed. And what do I blame it on when you ask me? “Oh, I’ve lived kind’ve all of over.” This is a lie. Except for four years of my life, I have lived in New Jersey, and I’ve never been to Pittsburgh, which is what I’m pretty sure this accent is evocative of. I’ve decided to ignore you, because you’re not going away, mustard man.

Packing 101

I had been planning to move down Virginia on Monday morning, which is how I found myself just beginning to pack at 4:30 on Monday afternoon. I am horrendous at packing. I abhor it. And yet I find myself participating in this activity quite often. One would think that by now I’ve learned the art. Or at least figured out how long it takes me. I always approach packing with the notion that it will take me two hours, and am always shocked when it doesn’t.

My problem Monday afternoon stemmed from the fact that I had not yet fully unpacked from China. I brought two suitcases home with me. One contained all of my clothing. The other contained everything else. Everything else, it turns out, is not that essential to my life, as I was able to ignore its existence for six weeks until I needed the suitcase.

Since I decided that everything else was probably non-essential, I figured I probably was keeping some other non-essential items in my room, which is how I spent the better part of Monday evening organizing instead of packing. Mind you, I’d had six weeks to accomplish this task. I decided to approach my belongings from the viewpoint of this New York Times article from a few weeks back, in which the main premise is ditching anything that does not “spark joy.” I had a long conversation with myself over the Charter of the United Nations & Statute of the International Court booklet I’ve held onto for years, which ultimately landed it in the trash. I’ve always figured it was good to have, and that I should know the things within. Alas, I’ve never actually read it, and I’m pretty sure even if I kept it for another five years I never would.

A few other things that suffered a similar fate to the Charter:

  • A four inch thick pile of card stock (from when I was learning Arabic and would use it to create sturdy study sheets).
  • A card from a boy I once liked, with whom I have a long history that I always thought would culminate in marriage. It was time to fully let go of that fantasy.
  • Stickers that I’m sure one day I could use, but I can’t see that day approaching anytime soon.
  • Four recipe booklets. This doesn’t even begin to touch on my problem with hoarding recipes.
  • Chinese coins. I kept a few. I feel like someone someday is going to ask to see one, but that day hasn’t happened yet.

I kept:

  • A sealed note to myself that says, “Pay as soon as I have a job, N.B. Parking Ticket Dodge Ram,” which is another story entirely.
  • Papers from when I was in high school that explain the function of each of the separate bodies of the U.N. Some part of me finds a working knowledge of the United Nations crucial to my life, despite evidence to the contrary.

 

Homegrown Nostalgia

Kid Street

I remember eagerly anticipating the arrival of the new park. Donations were honored by featuring the families names on wooden planks comprising the fence.  The day the ribbon was cut and we were allowed to enter, everyone went running off to find their name.

My brother found our plank first, on a stretch between the tire swing and the ropes course. In my memories, the park is a seemingly vast and endless place. We played there many times, until we moved away. When we moved back we were too old for children’s parks. I drove to the park once when I was in high school, and marveled at how big it is not. It was hard to equate my memory as a child with the reality before me, and so I have allowed the memory to live as it is, and do not try to correct my childhood eyes.

My brother and I are both now gone from this place. In fact, the town that houses the park is not even where we went to high school. When we moved back to this state we moved one town over, and spent little time going around the places that are so familiar to me. My brother is very much from the town where our parents now live; I am not. I always feel at home once I am driving the streets of my childhood, the roads that lead to the park. By the time I have children my parents will have likely moved on, and the last thing tying me to this place will be gone.

But the park remains. I experienced this last week, while watching the children of a family from church. Their whole world is comprised of a few places spanning about four to five miles from home. They go to the same preschool I attended as a child, where over twenty years later not even the color of the paint on the walls has changed. They love the park. To them it is an immense and wondrous place, and for a few hours last week I was able to see it again through their eyes. Our journey started off in the car when I was driving them there, and tried to go a way that was familiar to me. A chorus of protest, “That’s not how mommy goes!” rose from the back of the car, and I quickly turned around, counseled by the four-year-olds, “Miss Natalie we’ll tell you when to turn.” The past and present collided as I took a new route to my old park. I drove past the houses of former classmates that had marked my bus stops, time bearing evidence in the form of new doors and updated siding.

When we got to the park the children took off, me chasing from behind. We climbed the pirate ship, and slid down the slide. I pushed them on the tire swing, and held them on the ropes course. After awhile I told them I had to find something, and we looked for my plank. Within a few minutes I found it, the green of my name a little faded, the plank less brilliant and weathered by time.

My brother and I have both gone, but our plank remains, a testament to a moment when this park, this place, was mine.

An Incomplete End

Six weeks ago I moved home unexpectedly. I had been planning to stay in China until December. Coming home three months early doesn’t sound like all that big of a deal, but it threw my world off kilter. The decision came after weeks of not feeling well, where I was existing but not really living. Next week I am going to move down to Washington D.C. to live with family while I look for work there. Some friends don’t even know I’m back in the state, and by Monday I will no longer be a resident here. One can never say for sure, but I likely never will be again.

Leaving China went by in a blur. A life that I had taken a year and a half to establish was unraveled over a few days and packed into two suitcases over the course of one. I cried the Tuesday it was suggested, the Wednesday it was mulled over, and the Thursday it was decided. There were so many people I didn’t even have the chance to say goodbye to. The teachers with whom I had spent over a year establishing a relationship couldn’t know I was leaving. I was at work on Monday and then they never saw me again. The family who provided my first real introduction into Chinese culture was treated to a hasty goodbye. I had spent every Wednesday evening at their home, tutoring their daughter and then eating dinner. The parents didn’t speak English, and were the foundation to my Chinese, practicing and teaching me during the twenty minute ride home. They wanted to take me out to dinner, but there was no time.

After booking my ticket on Thursday I existed in a false reality, aware that I was leaving but pretending it wasn’t really happening. I didn’t cry again until Monday, when I went to say goodbye to my family, the people who had anchored my time in China. I spent hours in their apartment, playing with their son and holding the baby while grandma cooked dinner. I called her grandma too, an endearment they might have at first found strange but later accepted. I simply called her what the children did, because I didn’t know enough Chinese to know how else to address her. By the time I learned, calling her lăolao had already stuck. Lăolao wasn’t there the day I left; neither was the baby. Our time together that evening was the same as always and yet marked by the knowledge that I was leaving. I had been with this family on nights when both babies were crying, evenings spent making play dough Iron Men only to have them crushed by the baby. When I got into the elevator that night is when the tears came. The real, hurtful tears, the ones that acknowledge something you have held dear and cherished is ending, is in that moment over.

Because You are Who I Call When I Flush Men’s Numbers Down the Toilet

She was the girl with the really cool shirt and the amazing hair. That was how I knew her in eighth grade. I was the girl who got her onto the JV soccer team and talked obsessively about her gerbils. That was how she knew me in ninth. We sat next to each other in Honors English. That was how we became friends in tenth.

But first, back to soccer. To this day I know I’m the reason she made the JV team while the rest of us were stuck on the freshman squad. We were paired against each other during the one-on-one part of try outs, and while my view towards soccer was always, “If you really want the ball, take the ball,” Courtney’s attitude was more along the lines of a mother bear guarding her cubs, “Nothing you can do will make me give you this ball.” I distinctly remember the JV coach watching us (Courtney had her eye on the ball). When she made JV, I knew why.

And now, back to Honors English, which is where it really all began (though the foundation had been laid – only true friends know about the gerbils, as, alas, I don’t talk about them anymore – naysayers, it’s been at least three years). Our English classroom was supposed to be in Room 104, but at the last moment was switched to the upper classmen campus, and as fate would have it, neither Courtney nor I received the memo and wound up outside Room 104 at the same time. We walked to the correct classroom and took seats next to one another.

Since I couldn’t remember if we hated the class or our teacher (I remember hating something) Courtney refreshed me:

“I distinctly remember hating all of the books (like every single one) and only enjoying the discussions because you and I just liked to be difficult and play devil’s advocate. So I think we liked DeLisle, in the sense that we liked giving him a hard time. I wouldn’t like to be on the receiving end, we make a formidable team.”

Oh yes, it was the books we hated. No one should ever have to suffer the injustice of Beowulf, GrendelTo Kill a Mockingbird, or The Catcher in the Rye all in the span of five months. Though I have since become a devoted fan of the classic by Salinger, I think we should leave Beowulf to the Brits. I have also forever been scarred since the reading of Bananafish. DeLisle was out to corrupt our innocence.

Somewhere between reading great literary classics and coming to loathe old English, Courtney decided I was funny (or maybe I just provide numerous opportunities for people to laugh at me) and we realized that we both like to bake.

My memory seems to be failing me, so once more I prompted Courtney, “Do you remember the first time we hung out?” and received the reply, “And you told me about the death of your hamster? Or was it a gerbil?”

Gerbils, Courtney. As in plural. That’s why it was so traumatic. That was why I still talked about it.

That and I had apparently missed out on the acquisition of some essential social skills most kids gain between the fifth and ninth grade (I caught up, but it was a few years later). Courtney loved me through it.

Since the second time we hung out was almost as bad as the first, it was a miracle we made it to a third, but neither of us can recall what exactly we did, because we most likely did some variation of what we have done ever since. Paint our nails, listen to music, bake, go for a walk, plan our lives together (Fuggliners) and eat.

We really like to eat.

Courtney is one of my solid rocks. She is an absolute inspiration to me, and though she may not know it, one of the people who inspires and drives me. I admire her strength and determination. Once she’s decided she is going to do something, it gets done.

I have been blessed in life to have many good friendships, but Courtney knows me in a way my other friends do not. There is a candor and frankness in our friendship that I have been hard pressed to find with other people. Whenever we are together, we just laugh. Before I moved to China, Courtney was the friend who took the time to write me a letter to open upon my arrival, because she knew exactly what I would need to hear at that moment:

My dearest Natalie,
Breathe.

She has been giving me some variation of that advice ever since (and before, if we’re being honest). Courtney is who I call / email / text if I ever need advice regarding a boy (meaning, if I say hi to one, I call Courtney). She has been the recipient of many (well, not that many) drunk texts and emails, the former usually going something like, “Courtneeeey, I’m drunk!” because I was the last of my friends to drink and was always rather proud of it when I reached a state of inebriation. The latter, “This is a venting email after a few shots.”

She is who I call when I need my own advice repeated back to me, “What you really should do is be just as busy,” or when I need advice in general.

She is the friend who came over the night before I moved to China and rearranged my suitcases so that everything I wanted to pack would fit. The one who bought me chapstick because she knew I wouldn’t remember any yet cannot live without it.

The one who, when I emailed, “I tore his business card up and flushed it down the toilet, because, you know, friends do that,” responded with, “Tearing up his business card was definitely the most logical thing to do. And the toilet? Nice touch.”

The friend who has acquired half of my closet. The one who loves me despite the fact that I announced that the purple dress she was wearing made her ass look fantastic. In front of her entire extended family. On Thanksgiving.

The one I was so happy to see I tackled on the lawn when she came to play a Frisbee tournament at my university during college.

The friend with whom I exchange letters.

The friend who woke up early to meet me at Starbucks at 7 AM so that we would have a half hour together before I had to get to work.

The first person I told about my first kiss.

The one who was there the night I got my second.

One of six people who attended the only house party I ever threw.

Who worked with me at the restaurant, and who I taught how to waitress.

The person to witness my adverse reaction to Benadryl when her cats nearly killed me.

The friend with whom I went on a quest for Mason jars and spent one Christmas season baking endless amounts of peppermint bark.

The friend who has known since the age of sixteen that she will one day be my bridesmaid.

With whom I aspire to own neighboring houses built into the side of a mountain, a bed and breakfast, and a cow named Betsy.

The friend who understands when I am being irrational and who talks me through it.

The friend I always meet at Polar Cub.

The one I cannot imagine my life without.

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{Photo older than original sin}

What I Want Every Girl to Know

No boy should ever make you cry. But if one does, know that you are crying because you care, and caring is the heart of your femininity. Guard your heart, but don’t lose your ability to care.

Don’t give in to the ways of the world; you were made for a greater purpose.

Don’t cheapen yourself for the thrill of the moment. Demand respect, because you deserve it. Don’t settle for anything less.

It’s OK to let a man hold open the door but agree to split the bill at dinner.

Don’t assume you aren’t worth the best, because you were made in a perfect image. Respect and love your body. It’s the only one you’ve got. Your biggest “flaws” are most likely only visible to you. Don’t point out what you dislike about yourself to others. It’s very likely they don’t see you that way.

Challenge yourself to walk past a mirror and not glance at your reflection. Don’t wear so much makeup. Remember that you are a soul, you have a body. The true light and essence of an individual always shines through.

Don’t be afraid to be yourself, and be true to you. Respect whatever decisions you make. Please no one else against your own moral code. You’re the one you have to wake up and be with everyday, and you want to like her.

Gossip is like poison. Don’t give it to your friends, and don’t take it.

Never do something against your values for a boy. Ever. If he is asking you to do something you are not OK with he does NOT love you.

Cherish your friendships.

Get outside. Get off Facebook. Stop comparing your life to the one everyone else leads online and go out and live it.

Befriend an old person. They’ve lived longer. They’re wiser.

Your parents managed to clothe, feed, and shelter you. Give them some credit.

Smile to a stranger, and always hold the door for others.

Do not look down on those whose jobs you would consider beneath you. No one is beneath you, and you are above no one. Do not mistake fortunate life circumstances for your own greatness. Remain humble.

Pray.

Do not be afraid to dream, and do not listen to those who say no. Surround yourself with positive people; they will end up influencing your thinking.

Read the news. You live in this world, you should know what goes on in it.

Pick up a hobby that’s just for you. You’re never too old to learn something new.

Walk and get fresh air every day. Take your headphones out and let your thoughts wander. Do not be afraid to be by yourself, without any distractions. No music, no phone. Your brain needs peace and quiet to think and process. You’ll be amazed at what ideas come your way.

Buy flowers for yourself.

Be patient with those who don’t understand you; a time will come when you are in their situation.

Be modest. The male mind was designed to be sparked by a little intrigue. Others will respect you when they can see you respect yourself.

Work out. Your body was made to sweat.

Eat chocolate. It tastes good.

Tell the people you love that you love them openly and often. No one ever tires of hearing that they are loved.

Realize that no boy can fulfill all of your desires, and that the perfect one does not exist. He will be flawed, as you are. Learn to love people despite their flaws.

Do not ever wait around on a boy. Your time is valuable, and you have a life to live.

You will never be happy with someone else until you are happy with yourself. Do what makes you happy.

Challenge yourself. It’s the only way you’ll ever grow.

Paint your toes. Painted toes are pretty.

Eat fruit.

Never be ashamed of who you were made to be. You’re the only one of you this world will ever see. What you have to say is important, because it’s you who is saying it.

Don’t be afraid to tell someone no, or to set boundaries with those who make you uncomfortable.

Sing in the rain, run barefoot through the grass, take time to marvel at the beauty in nature.

When you do look in the mirror, smile.

Don’t try to look sexy. Beauty is worth ten of sexy everyday.

Hold your head high and greet the world with confidence. This is your world, your time, your now or never.

Go out there and show em’ what you’ve got.

Will Work for Bagels

I have been in China four months, two weeks, and two days (to be precise). I have eaten dumplings, noodles, and all manner of things I would rather not recall. I have made a best friend (the kind that you know will last a lifetime) painted my bedroom, and scrubbed the dust out of my apartment until my hands hurt, only to have it reappear a day later. I have received two packages from home, sent five letters, and exchanged hundreds of emails.

I have been on three dates, found the best bagel shop in Beijing, and now tutor the employees for credit. I have drunk enough Starbucks coffee to personally cover the cost of a nice dinner for the CEO (if he eats it in China, that is). I have found the grocery store that sells cheese, and done a happy dance when coming across a familiar product. I have been stared at enough that I will likely go home with a minor celebrity complex.

I have been driven to the Great Wall in the back of a black Mercedes, and to a rose garden on the top of a mountain. I have become friends with the family at my breakfast stand after all attempts at language failed, and I snorted at them to signify that I would like the pork dumpling. I have been asked if I am single and interested in dating their son. I have watched aghast as small children (and on one occasion, an adult) go to the bathroom on the street, and now I walk right past it. I never assume it is dog poop.

I have learned how to give directions in Chinese to the taxi drivers, and how to say, “I don’t understand,” very well. I have become friends with the owner of a restaurant, and spent an evening conversing and drinking with a group of old Chinese men.

I have given money and food to the homeless, and come to seriously question what it means to give, and to assess my own blessings. I have conversed with a crippled beggar who told me he was a Christian, heard some of the best sermons of my life, and actually read my Bible.

I have gone to the Forbidden City, the Summer Palace, and spent one lazy afternoon wandering down a hutong.

I have eaten Peking duck, been taught how to make dumplings, and become friends with the chef at my school, who caters to my love of noodles and dislike of fat, even though he has repeatedly tried to convince me that I should eat it.

I have forgotten I am in China, and wondered why I am surrounded by so many Asians. I have stopped to marvel at the sights before me, and come to love taxi rides at night. I have been squashed on the subway, and scrutinized on the bus.

China feels like the most natural place for me to be, even though it will never truly be home. Whenever I forget that I am white and think I am starting to blend in, I spot another foreigner from half a mile away. One person once thought I was Chinese, for one second.

I have walked in the rain because I am so happy just to feel it, and acquired an oven.

I have witnessed dust storms, and been so cold I thought I would never get warm.

I have been sad from missing family and friends, and exuberant with all of life’s possibilities.

I have been astounded by the generosity, warmth, and graciousness of the Chinese people, and I have fallen in love with the children I teach.