Our cluttered side of the bed

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We can choose to be perfect and admired, or to be real and loved. -Glennon Doyle Melton

She announced her pregnancy to the blogging world with one photo. Her husband, who held an uncanny resemblance to a Ken doll, was juggling their 3 year old twin daughters in their matching dresses while she coincidentally let out a flattering laugh. In her manicured hands she held the string to a giant golden balloon in the shape of a five, indicating their family size was about to grow. It was precious, really. But I have to admit the subtle sinking of my stomach as I noted the stark contrast of her life and mine.

This was sparked by the empty side of my bed. Or I guess ’empty’ wouldn’t be completely accurate because most of the time it is filled with random travel books, last week’s half eaten snack that I haven’t yet thrown out, and my bra that I’m still not quite sure how often I’m supposed to wash.

I am convinced my life is accurately depicted by the cluttered side of the bed- without much sense, order, or those cute Pottery Barn throw pillows. All this isn’t a horrible reality for me to accept, but there are moments, especially while scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed, that I sense a growing hint of uncertainly if I would be happier had I filled my life up differently.

But my uncertainty echoes hers as I am reminded of the myriad of comments she and many of my other married friends have said regarding their envy of my life. They see pictures of me hiking the basecamp of Mount Everest, eating Nigerian caterpillars, cycling the forests of Germany, chasing (or being chased by) sheep in New Zealand. In their eyes the world is my gumball and I’ve never had the fear of choking.

But trust me, I have the fear of choking. I am as uncertain as they are.

Too often, I stare at someone else’s still life photographs and disregard the complexity of their life as if I am the only flawed and doubting individual in this messy existence. But I am becoming increasingly convinced, no one is immune to self-doubt, or to the shreds of unfulfilled pieces within our hungry souls. We are all missing something. Even with God, even with families, even with the right flavor of our favorite ice cream, we can never have it all, nor can we ever be completely fulfilled in this life. Oddly enough, this is our gift!

We are made hungry and bare so we turn to other people and to a belief in a higher power. Our emptiness and uncertainty forces us to connect in search of opportunities to fill and to be filled. The greatest tragedy, would be pretending to be whole or to assume everyone else is, because it pushes us away from what we crave most-connection to people who will love us beyond our accomplishments or our nibbled on pop-tart still stuck to our bedside table.

x
Katie

Art Courtesy of Beth Hoeckel

Traveling is a means of listening

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The most uncomfortable part of traveling is returning. I realized this sitting in the Dubai airport staring up at the blue tiled ceilings waiting for my delayed plane to arrive along with the dissonance that would soon follow. I knew yet again I would feel uneasy when I came back to the uniform of everyday life.

Returning always leaves me in a costume that no longer fits the way it used to- baggy in places where I store my nationalism, prejudice, and unchallenged opinions on how life ought to look, and tight in the places where I store my empathy, questioning, and sense of connectivity with the world.

After the swing of assignments, paychecks, and Netflix return, I am tempted to allow life’s comfort to place me back in my unchallenged manner of thinking and more comfortable attire. But I cannot return from living abroad as if I only spent a week collecting sunburn and tourist trinkets from my Cancun vacation. I find little value in that.

I’d much prefer to continually redress my mind with the millions of mundane moments I observe of peoples’ lives in places I once believed to be foreign. I want to redress myself over and over again until foreign is no longer how I see the world and the people who dance around in it.

No longer would I be able to passively watch the news and hear of people in places like Russia, Taiwan, Brazil, or Syria, and feel just as connected as if I had watched a dog food commercial or heard the catchy tune to a fast food joint as a dog-less vegan. “Today a massacre in Istanbul left 39 people dead after fighting breaks out in….after fighting breaks…give me a break, give me a break, break me off a piece of that kit cat bar.”

To me, what is worth more than a degree or cushy savings account is a life well traveled, and one open to the tailoring that comes from seeing beyond our own human experience. Traveling is a means of listening. Although listening may not always be comfortable or easy, it is essential. Rolling around on those dentist office patterned carpets in airport terminals becomes less daunting when this purpose is lodged in my mind.

x
Katie

Travel- Scattered Sense of Belonging

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I’ve been away from home for years now. Holidays spent in different languages, continents, and lost on public transportation have proven to be a pattern that I never intended to set, but I gladly continued as my desire for adventure deepened. Yet I can only be away from home for so long before I clearly recognize the time to return to family.

I’ll be back this February to visit our new home which now sits in one of those neighborhood developments with the matching beige and brown combo siding.

Welcome home, will be the words sharpied out in my Dad’s handwriting on a white poster board from Target. Ohh how I’ve missed my Dad, and ohh how I’ve missed Target. I’ll be full with excitement to taste the familiarity again- to hold my mother tightly and sit on our comfy recliner scattered with dog hair and stains that act as little reminders of my favorite glitter nail polish in the third grade.

But I’ve done this before, I’ve returned home after a long period away. It wasn’t easy. I was desperately happy to see my family and return home, yet it all felt surreal. The familiar life that I craved, oddly enough, seemed like a staged cardboard set that could be blown away by the next gust of wind. It all seemed foreign. I was cast in a play but had forgotten my lines. It was anything but the comfort I had expected.

When you travel as much as I do, home is dispersed in various family members, friends, park benches, and bakeries around the world. Calling one place home seems insincere and, quite frankly, just a lie. There is a scattered sense of belonging in traveling that makes every place a shred of home, but there is also a scattered sense of disbelonging even in the places meant to be your own.

Feeling like a stranger in a land that your whole life you’ve claimed to be yours is a harrowing experience, but one I consciously chose and will continue to choose again until I find it’s time for a different kind of adventure- one that possibly involves staying.

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3 Months Later

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You let time pass. That’s the cure. You survive the days. You float like a rabid ghost through the weeks. You cry and wallow and lament and scratch your way back up through the months. And then one day you find yourself alone on a bench in the sun and you close your eyes and lean your head back and you realize you’re okay -Cheryl Strayed

Captive

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For her love is a hostage situation
it takes hold and no longer can she control
herself, captive is her mind and her sanity.

Any semblance to a balanced and
stable woman is gone into a sort
of dependence no one could deem safe
but just like that, love took her again

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Art courtesy of Guim Tio

 

It’s not your Job- Caitlyn Siehl

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when your little girl
asks you if she’s pretty
your heart will drop like a wineglass
on the hardwood floor
part of you will want to say
of course you are, don’t ever question it
and the other part
the part that is clawing at
you
will want to grab her by her shoulders
look straight into the wells of
her eyes until they echo back to you
and say
you do not have to be if you don’t want to
it is not your job
both will feel right
one will feel better
she will only understand the first
when she wants to cut her hair off
or wear her brother’s clothes
you will feel the words in your
mouth like marbles
you do not have to be pretty if you don’t want to
it is not your job

China Set

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Onto the bed he carefully lowered me
like a china set, that same set You
broke last month

He poured himself onto me
I opened everything- my arms
my mouth, my legs.. except my heart
This whole time You’ve had it

What a shame it is, to attempt to
love someone while wishing
he were You

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Styrofoam Wishes

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I pretend to like nonfiction

I read it just to prove there is a single

realistic bone in my body, There isn’t.

I am made of styrofoam wishes and

truths I refuse to accept-

 

like Brannon, age 21, shaken awake

by a seizure that no longer allowed him

to wake again. Just like that he died

 

Dec 8th, sunny day, I had cornflakes for breakfast

while Brannon’s mourning mother digested the news.

It happened. Senseless. Completely unspectacular.

The cars outside even continued their commute

no one stopped for the grieving parade, it never showed

 

Dec 9th will come, maybe it will be a sunny day

maybe I will have cornflakes for breakfast

Likely though, I will pick up another fictional story

One with the gallant ending, the fastened bow,

the poetic words. Maybe that will let me sleep

at night pretending those stories are nonfiction-

 

Pretending that people die when time is used and

tucked away, old aged and wrinkled, rocking next

to pictures of their Brady Bunch grandchildren

who tell tales of their first kiss with the neighbor’s son-

the one with the funny looking braces

 

that’s how it’s supposed to be,

hasn’t anyone read the books?

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Fighter

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She wanted to be an artist
Dad wanted her to be a fighter

Her first karate lesson she threw
fists into the air like spinning tissues

He’d pat her on the back after each round
she began to realize if she bluffed
enough, danced to his songs, and yelled
at the punch, he’d smile

Soon she learned, Love is a pretending game
And she started off as a terrible actress

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Art courtesy of Zhou Fun