Category Archives: friends

I’d rather be interesting than happy

My friend M is one of the few people in my life who consistently challenges me to examine and articulate my thoughts, beliefs, and how I perceive the world around me. In fact, he inspires a lot of my blog posts and articles, which is one reason (among many others) that I am beyond blessed to have him in my life.

Recently, he asked me what I thought about life, which is a pretty loaded question. But in that conversation he said something that has since stuck with me. He said (and I’m paraphrasing here), “My goal in life isn’t to be happy. I just want to live. And whether that’s a good existence or a bad existence or a mixture of both, I don’t care. The only thing that matters to me is that I experienced as much as humanly possible in the one life I was given.”

He wasn’t saying he wouldn’t like to be happy. He just acknowledged that happiness doesn’t last forever because human emotions are temporary states of mind. Sadness, joy, grief, sorrow, envy, shame, doubt, disappointment, loneliness, petulance, wonderment, belonging, obsession, inspiration….

Whatever the emotion, we never fully settle into it. Because you know what? Life happens. So why, then, would our goal in life be to attain something that is essentially temporary?

M was the first person to introduce this idea to me and you guys, I love it. Truly, I do. It makes so much sense.

When I think about it, my goal in life isn’t to be happy either. I just want to be interesting.

I’m only 27, though, so really I’m not all that interesting yet. I have a lot of years left to live. But one thing I am confident in (and which maybe I didn’t realize until recently) is that I am persistent in my search for interesting.

When I got done with college and realized I didn’t know anything I started traveling the world so I could know more. I wanted to experience new people, places, and things. I wanted to understand how the world worked. I wanted to not be so freaking narrow-minded or wrapped up in my own small universe. And because of those desires, I’ve had a lot of interesting things happen to me.

I’ve seen the sunrise over Tikal. I was detained because I matched the description of a solo female terrorist traveling through Mexico. I bribed my way across the Guatemalan/Belize border. I sailed down the coast of Belize, camped on a deserted island, and saw (for probably the first and last time ever) the curvature of the earth in the night sky. I went boarding down a volcano. I met and became friends with Keith Colburn from Deadliest Catch. And, I have no doubt, there will be many more interesting things to come because I’m just getting started.

In recovery, you might think my goal is to be happy. I mean, that would make sense having lived in a perpetual state of depression for many years. But truthfully, happiness has never been my goal in recovery. I’ve just wanted to be healthy. To embrace what I was given with open arms and an open heart. To use my pain and experience for something good. To find meaning and purpose and commitment to something greater than myself. To see the grace in those impossible moments.

I have shared these tender, vulnerable moments with you and with the world through my writing. But I always wrote those pieces for me as a way to make sense of everything that has happened in my journey. My mental illness isn’t a burden. It’s a blessing. It makes my life interesting. It adds character and depth to my writing. It’s certainly inspired me. Out of that experience, I’ve had stories published. My pieces have prompted people to write me and thank me and say it has helped them in their own journey. I’ve also had people say they hate what I write and question it’s authenticity but you know what, that makes life interesting too.

Last weekend when my aunt was in town I took her to gallery night and the most interesting thing to come from that was my impromptu sign-up for a 7-week watercolor painting class. The only thing I was doing on Tuesday evenings was sitting on my couch and watching TV. Interesting wasn’t just going to happen to me; I had to make interesting happen. I have no idea how to paint. NO IDEA. But I think it would be kind of cool to learn. And learn I will!

I guess as I am getting older, I find the sort of people who only strive for happiness to be incredibly boring. And I mean no offense because I used to be one of those people. But really, can you not imagine a more remarkable, creative life than just happy?

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Filed under beliefs, friends, happiness, insight, life, self-introspection, values

The absurdity of friends with benefits

B is a good friend and co-worker of mine. We walk every day during our work breaks and more often than not we spend our 15 minutes making obscene jokes and coming up with absurd “life is like” metaphors. For example, “Life is like a bump in the road. Everything is going fine and then BAM! And you’re freaking the fuck out, but really it’s nothing.” On a rare occasion, though, we actually have insightful and thought-provoking conversations and today was one of those days when I read an article about how awesome friends with benefits relationships are and it pissed me the fuck off. So thank you, B, for listening to my rant this morning and for challenging me to examine my own beliefs about the subject. Here it is, folks.

Friends with benefits – aka FWB – is not black and white. It occupies a gray area that extends beyond casual sex, yet lacks the explicit commitment of monogamy in a long-term, serious relationship.

A common misconception about FWB relationships is that it is usually with someone you barely know. In reality, though, the likelihood that this person is someone we know fairly well and with whom we share some level of emotional intimacy is high. It is not impossible to find success in a FWB relationship but it does require a separation between love and sex, which for many of us can be hard to sustain.

I don’t know what it is about us as a species that sharing our bodies with another person evokes a sense of ownership over them but undoubtedly most of us will experience a sense of jealousy when we see our FWB flirting and talking with other people or if we see someone else pursuing them. Yet, we also don’t feel like we have the “right” to be jealous given the sense of casualness and detachment a FWB relationship implies.

When we fully realize the other person isn’t bothered by us being with someone else and in fact may even encourage it, we can’t help but feel like they don’t care. Though s/he may try to convince you it doesn’t change the way they feel towards you or that you share something special together, their lackadaisical attitude makes us question if we are just a muse – a “placeholder” until something better comes along.

What is even more aggravating is the set of rules we must abide by. Do not fall in love. Do not introduce them to your friends or family. Be sure to go out with other people. Do not get jealous. Do not cuddle.

This is the absurdity of friends with benefits. We are human beings. We are not devoid of emotional attachments. Part of our attraction to someone is not just their appearance but their brains and their heart and their soul. They hold some sort of significance in our lives. It is foolish to think otherwise.

We can argue that any amount of genuine feelings for another human being is worth any future pain and disappointment we may feel but the only thing I see at the end of a friends with benefits relationship is hurt and the fact that I would inevitably resent and possibly even hate the other person.

Plus, that sort of arrangement – when one person starts to develop deeper feelings for the other – only serves to fuel our sense of inadequacy. What is it about me that makes me not good enough? Why doesn’t the person I am falling for find it worthy of their time to actually be with me? Am I that unlovable?

You are good enough. You are worthy. You are lovable. But if there is one absolute when it comes to relationships, it’s that no one will ever love you because you demand it. It must be given of their own free will.

We can justify sacrificing our desire for something more for the fun we are having now, but ask yourself if that fun is worth the emotional fallout in the end. If you have been in a friends with benefits relationship and found it unfulfilling after a certain period of time, did you not know in your gut that continuing that arrangement was the wrong thing to do?

I’ve asked myself if it is possible for the friendship to still be in tact even after the “benefits” are over. Depending on who you ask, some may say yes and others will say it is unrealistic. I don’t think either answer is wrong and I myself am not entirely sure where I stand on the subject. But I do know that we all deserve love and if the person you are falling for tells you they cannot – or do not want to – offer you what you ultimately desire, believe them. But do not fault them for that either.

From personal experience, I know it is difficult to change the circumstances of a friends with benefits relationship in order to preserve the actual friendship but be brave enough to do it anyways. In the end, really good friends who have sex – while it sounds ideal – is a lonely place to be.

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Filed under dating, friends, insight, love, relationships, sex

A love letter to Eaux Claires

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I’m proud to say that last weekend I finally popped my music festival cherry at Eaux Claires. Seriously!? How is it that I’m 27 and never been to one? My friend M heard (all the way from California, mind you) about an under-the-radar festival Justin Vernon from Bon Iver was putting on. I was familiar enough with the headliners Bon Iver and The National so I checked out the rest of the music line-up. Not surprising to me I hardly knew anyone but I decided to go anyways. Open heart, open mind people! Here is a write-up I just submitted to the curators. (Mom and Dad — you may not want to read the third to last paragraph).

A Love Letter to Eaux Claires

For someone with no real music knowledge or festival experience, Eaux Claires was the perfect introduction into what I always imagined that experience should be like – a space for intimate, authentic, and clear moments to emerge. A place where the sensations and emotions those moments provoke lasts well after the last chords are strung and the sunburns fade.

I couldn’t have imagined the magnitude of how much my feet would hurt or my back would ache or the fact that no matter how Instagram worthy you think you look all you are is a hot, sweaty, hair plastered to your face mess. I can’t count the number of times I audibly groaned wondering how many more times I would have to make the trek up and down the steep tree-lined dirt path up to the Dells stage. Yet all that uncomfortableness was totally worth it because in a sea of 22,000 beating hearts, it hit me. We were all here for one reason. Music. The driving force behind unity and belonging. That which evokes feeling through action and which begs for action through feeling. The one thing that proves we don’t just exist, but that we truly live.

Although I couldn’t sing along to a majority of the songs and half-wondered why I was there given I knew very little about the Eaux Claires music line-up, my lack of musical knowledge allowed me to experience the festival in a unique way. What my mind, body and senses were in tune to extended beyond singing the lyrics of a song or how well I could hear the bass on stage. I think it’s what made my experience unforgettable.

With no preconceived notions I let myself be saturated with a diverse mix of music genres. I listened to those sounds with an open heart and mind and I became mindful of how the music affected me as well as how it affected others. I noticed facial expressions, the way people around me moved their bodies, how a guy stole longing glances at a girl he liked, the enigmatic energy between a group of friends as they belted out the words to their favorite song, and the sense of comradery and admiration between collaborating artists.

I mentally cataloged these moments and the emotions they triggered. And every time I sat down – next to the riverbanks or under a tree – I was inspired to write it all down. Just a few short phrases or words here and there about time, people, and spaces. As I sit here reflecting on and writing about my experience these are the words and the moments I carry with me.

The one that most vividly stands out is listening to Colin Stetson play his saxophone. Standing there, I was moved watching my friend as he closed his eyes and held his hand over his heart, feeling it beat in unison with the fluid and powerful vibrations those gravelly sounds held. It was as if the music came through you, automatic and unforgiving and in full force. If anyone standing there listening to Colin play didn’t feel the emotion and the imagery and the awakening of their soul as me and my friend did, then they must be dead.

Then there was Francis and the Lights. To find a word or phrase that fully encapsulates what seeing his set was like is difficult. The way Francis sang with his entire body, bouncing and spinning around the stage, you could see just how completely in the moment he was. His devotion and love of music transcended through him. I wish I had moves like his!

To say I became obsessed with Elliott Moss after seeing him live is an understatement. I’ve been jamming to their music non-stop since and I blame that entirely on the emotional whirlpool his song Slip put me through. Almost from the beginning I felt a sense of anguish and personal pain. It reminded me of giving up on someone – or something – which I imagine all of us can think back to a time in our lives where we shared similar sentiments. Standing there, swaying to the beat, I noticed the entire audience was transfixed and quiet during this particular song. Mesmerizing and haunting, I was left with goose bumps in the midst of a 90-degree humid day.

In my humble opinion, though, Spoon brought down the house. Drinking beers and vibing out, I watched in amusement as three girls in front of me went crazy for a song I have no idea what the name of is. Bodies rolling, they yelled “I love this song!” The pure rush of musical elation was seeping through every pore of their bodies. It was infectious. And like them, I surrendered my body to the music; I danced my god damn heart out.

At one point, a friend and I found solace in the shade to listen to Haley Bonar’s set. It was a simple and sweet thing to be lying there under a tree, staring into the branches. The sun peaked through rustling leaves and I was mesmerized by their beauty. It was here I understand how music might make us feel love. I certainly had all the feels.

I will say what intrigued me most, and which I certainly didn’t expect from a music festival, was the blending of music with other interactive art forms. Like Phox’s documentary film premiere or the geodome where I sat on the ground with headphones over my ears and watched as artists sang behind a translucent screen. Intimate and visually appealing, it made my experience one of a kind.

The final performance will forever be burned in my memory not just because Bon Iver’s song Skinny Love turned into a giant sing-along but because of the debut of two new songs, which a special someone and I made love to by the light installations lining the path to the St. Coix village. I like to believe the curators of Eaux Claires and the pastor with gold teeth would approve. We were active participants in our experience. And what greater compliment is there to a musician than to say your message inspired an expression of longing, connection, and love.

Talking about these moments with other Eaux Claires festival-goers has been fascinating. The entire musical line-up was fantastic, yet the moments that stick out to me and what sticks out to them varies widely. The one thing that unites all of us, though, is the fact we were having the best fucking time of our lives.

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Filed under art, Eaux Claires, friends, fun, memories, music, photos

Sauk County: the Wisconsin river valley

There’s something about driving through the Wisconsin countryside that tugs at my Missouri roots and summer days spent on the family farm.  Between the rolling hills, lush green foliage, water, bluffs, and scenic overlooks this state is beyond picturesque, with the drive from Madison west to Spring Green hovering near the top of my favorite scenic drives list.

I was headed to the lower Wisconsin river valley to camp and visit my friend M who lives in that part of the state. Windows rolled down and wind whipping through my hair, I was belting out the words to TLC’s “don’t go chasing waterfalls” when I realized I’d been here for a year now. A YEAR. It’s strange because that part of my life seems so far out of reach but at the same time like it all happened just yesterday. Time sure does fly. But I digress.

M grew up on a cheese factory farm about 10 minutes outside Spring Green so we took a drive over that way so he could show me where he grew up. Though they weren’t making cheese that day, I at least got my very own personal tour and sampled some of the best sharp cheddar cheese I’ve ever had. Along the inside walls are pictures of the farm dating back to when his grandfather first bought it some 40 years ago. The tanks below were on the farm and they still stand there today so I just had to get a picture with them.

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After the cheese factory we went on a hike to St. Ann’s shrine – a sweet hilltop stone chapel dedicated to the mother of Mary. M and I both grew up Catholic so it had special significance for us. When we got there we took off on foot through the cemetery and past the stations of the cross lining a steep trail that went through the woods. There are only a few pews on the inside but sitting there you could feel a strong sense of spiritual presence in the room.

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Though I love all these hidden gems, there was one super touristy thing I wanted to do in Spring Green, which was visit the House on the Rock. It is just that – a house on a rock. It’s one of the main attractions in Wisconsin and something I wanted to mark off my bucket list for my county-by-county project. Lucky for me, M had left over tickets from last year so while he went to work for a few hours I wandered my way over to the scenic overlook off Hwy 23 and to section III of the site.

From the scenic overlook you can see the Infinity Room of the house (I would totally pee my pants being up there) and you can’t help but marvel at the architectural genius of Alex Jordan. I think maybe because I didn’t go into the house itself I was confused about what section III was actually about but nonetheless seeing the largest indoor carousel and perusing the collection of old, albeit sometimes creepy, artifacts was pretty cool. I only made it through section III but since tickets are good a year from the date of purchase I have plenty of time to head back and check out the other sections.

View of the infinity room from the scenic overlook off Hwy 23.

View of the infinity room from the scenic overlook off Hwy 23.

Nevermind the creepy figurines on the carousel.

Nevermind the creepy figurines on the carousel.

Another hidden gem M took me to is a diner tucked back in the foothills on a small air landing strip. Here you can enjoy breakfast and watch hangar planes fly in and out. It’s the kind of place where no one is in a rush (it took us two hours to even get our food) but with the extra time we could sit back, drink our coffee, and enjoy the conversation and views.

M was a fabulous tour guide!

M was a fabulous tour guide!

A restaurant named restaurant.

A restaurant named restaurant.

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A lot of the activities I got to do were things I would have never even known about if it weren’t for M, which is part of why I love having locals play tour guides wherever I go. One thing I do see as I’m writing this post and looking at the pictures is that I am finally moving forward with my life. It makes my heart full to see happiness in my eyes instead of emptiness and for once in a very long while I know that I’m not pretending to feel that way for the sake of those I am around. Thanks, M, for a great weekend!

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Filed under camping, County project, exploring, friends, happiness, hiking, outdoors, travel

Yes, it was worth it

Last weekend, I traveled back to Missouri to attend my Master’s graduation ceremony and to celebrate with friends and family. At the same time, my email has been bombarded with requests for articles on “Why getting your degree is overrated,” and “Is it really worth it to get your graduate degree?” At first glance, it seems like most people take the stance that the financial commitment outweighs the benefits such a degree can offer. Yet, I find myself taking a different view-point. Sure, it takes considerable financial investment, but there are numerous advantages to getting your graduate degree.

For me personally, getting my Master’s widened the job pool for positions that I wouldn’t have even been able to apply for if I hadn’t gone to graduate school. In the three years it took me to finish the degree, I obtained a Director-level position and more than doubled my salary. I know this isn’t true for all fields (for example, the wage you receive in a non-profit with a bachelor’s degree isn’t all that varied from what you’ll receive with a Master’s degree), but generally speaking I believe you have to spend money to make money.

However, there are a lot of non-financial benefits that perhaps, given their pricelessness, outweigh the financial benefit. Not only did I get to become an expert in a field that I love but I gained a skill set I otherwise wouldn’t have been able to master on my own. Sure, I love data analysis and I’m good at program evaluation but I wouldn’t have known how to design research studies or know how to prove or disprove that programs are in fact making a difference in the lives of the people they’re intended to affect. I learned an invaluable skill set that not a lot of people are trained in, which makes me a critical asset to the field I work in. No one can ever take that away from me. I guess what they say is true: knowledge is power.

In the end, choosing to get your graduate degree is a personal decision, but for me, it was totally worth it. In a sense, I understand how it can be a bit overrated but I also don’t think we should dissuade people from bettering themselves career-wise. I had never been more proud of myself walking across that stage to receive my diploma. It was empowering and my commitment to the program has had such a positive impact on my life. Even though I couldn’t have done it without the support and encouragement of friends and family, it reminded me that hard work and tenacity pay off. I loved being able to share that feeling with those who I care about most. Here are a few photos of one wild and crazy night, although it doesn’t encompass everyone I got to see (still waiting to get photos from others!).

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Congratulations to all the other graduates out there and for those still in their program, keep on keeping on!

On a completely unrelated note to this post, I am writing an article on what’s different about dating in your 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, and beyond. I created an anonymous survey and it’s short (5 questions)! Please take a moment to provide your feedback here. The more responses, the better the insight, the better the article!

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Filed under family, friends, graduation, photos, school