Now dig, 2019 was a banger.
It snowed in London and I became the weirdo who skipped through the streets. I found the Roebuck which is a pub I frequented a lot as the weather started to get warmer. Shortly after I discovered Borough Market, the Globe Theatre, and Tate Modern -- which has a viewing deck that I started to frequent on Friday nights to work on my second book, stay tuned for that publication. I also spent a lot of time attending seminars at Queen Mary's, UCL, and KCL.
This month is very special to me because it is the one that contains my brother's b-day and also my first hikes of England. I struggled through 15.6 miles to get to Leith Hill and hiked the rolling hills of the Chiltern Way for 12 miles. I also attended the Global Climate Strike and was introduced to some epic poets at the Waterloo Bridge barricade by Extinction Revolution.
This month I was selected with 4 other KCL students to participate in an EU funded Think Tank based at the University of Maastricht about forms of advising that take place in higher education. I went ice skating with a dear friend Priscilla at Alexandra Palace and we took two separate trips to Bath and Windsor. This was also the month that Notre Dame sadly burned.
Priscilla, who I will be forever grateful to have got to met while she was studying abroad at the same university as me, and I embarked on a 12 day backpacking trip around Europe. A life experience I have always wanted to do but never really imagined I would get to do.
Our itinerary =>
Vienna - Budapest - Prague - Krakow - Warsaw - Berlin - Edinburgh.
I loved every moment of this trip and every second of time I got to spend with Priscilla!
What a wild month this was! I went on a 3 day trip to the Lake District with a good friend Allie who was studying abroad at Queen Mary's; we hiked over 40 miles in those 3 days and rehab-ed our bodies in a freezing lake. I also, super last minute, packed up for the summer and moved to Ashcroft, Colorado to live in the middle of the White River National Forest in an old silver miners cabin and work as an intern for the Aspen Historical Society.
I was lucky enough to be able to tag-a-long with Keri, who was an intern I bonded with over rock climbing, as she road-tripped through Utah to 5 National Parks. I finally, finally, got to hike the Narrows and see Zion National Park. Also the road-tripping, camping, mild bouts of scrambling, and hiking was just the most fantastic of times.
I spent the first 3 weeks of September vegging out at home in MoVal with the fam before heading back to London to start my second year of PhD. We watched a lot of "The Ranch" and visited a lot of amusement parks.
The month of bedridden Anna - my bff can attest that this was not a pleasant month, LOL. I fell climbing and experienced my first ever sprained ankle; which was such a shock to me because I've spent my entire life surfing, skating, and snowboarding. But I also experienced some much needed rest time.
My first Christmas in London! I was overwhelmed by the amount of people who reached out to me and offered to let me spend the holidays with them. Also at the end of the month 2 friends, including one of my best friends from UCLA - Megan - visited me. I got to do some of the touristy things that I haven't been particularly motivated to do and visited Durham and Scotland - ticking off hiking Arthur's Seat from my bucket list.
Just do it.
What a misnomer. Don't just go through life doing things y'all, prepare and then do. There were unprepared 'hikers' on the trail who had little water, not enough food, and thread-bare tennis shoes. They'd never hiked long-distances before and ended up slowing down the core group of hikers a good deal. By which I mean we were 2 hours later arriving at the train station than we anticipated.
To put things into perspective, the hikers who hike the PCT, AT, CDT and other long thru-hikes average 16-20 miles a day. They get to that level by training hard for months before setting out on trail. It takes work, it's a little harder than just "walking". Last year I went hiking a lot. I built up my ability to tackle 10 mile day-hikes over the course of eleven months which included me getting out on trail and tackling 5-8 mile hikes. I huffed, I supplemented the hike with pre-post-stretches, I incorporated yoga and mediation into my daily routine. I learned that I am the type of hiker that takes my cues from my breath. I relearned how my body moves and what it needs help with. With that backing I undertook this 15.6 mile hike.
Here's to a great year of renewed vigor for hiking.
Hopefully at some point this year I will be brave enough to complete my first multi-day hike.
CAUTIONARY TIP :
Meetup is your best option for hiking groups if you're in a metropolitan city; join all the groups, just all of them. For London, I personally really like the FREE Outdoor Trips From London because well "FREE".
TRAINING TIP :
- Morning+Night (25 min) ---> 3 reps of crunches (8 each), light yoga work-flow (down dog, warrior, side-plank, forward folds, low-leg lungs), 2 reps of sit-ups (5 each), 2 reps of sit-ups (5 each), 2 reps of squats (5 each), 3 reps of wall sits (60 sec each)
- Walking around London, 6-8 miles; I try to avoid taking the tube as much as possible for the money factor as well as the wanting to get my body used to walking as much as possible.
MATERIALS TIP :
Vibram, vibram, vibram. I just spent the last three days trying on quite literally 12 different brands of hiking and cross trail boots with varying soles. I've tried both leather, suede, and weatherproof fabric boots as well as Storm, Vibram, and other soles.
DO SOLES really MATTER?
I managed to hike probably a combined 85-100 miles in 11 months through Southern California using the same shoes every single day of my life. I trekked through the Mojave/Colorado desert, Mt. Baldy/San Jancito, along the Coast, along the foothill towns with my much beloved Walmart shoes that my mother paid for. They have small tears and severe low sole-tread now, but technically still operational. I did have to add-in some foot pads for heel comfort.
My suggestion is if you're new to hiking, don't go drop $100-200 on some boots. Try something along the $30-60 range for the 6-8 months it's going to take you to build up the endurance and flexibility to tackle a substantial hike that would warrant those fancy boots. Supplement with good socks and arch/heel support insole-inserts. You may find in that training/exploration phase that you actually aren't that invested in making hiking into something you're passionate about. In which case a $30 hiking boot you break out for a lite trek/camping trip is pretty much good enough.
Slugging my way through the tamed wetlands and mud of Hampstead Heath I realized that Nike Roche's were not going to cut it. So began my hunt for a proper hiking boot. I walked over 20 miles in the past four days throughout central London and have visited every Blacks, Cotswold Outdoors, and Mountain Warehouse within the city centre. I nearly bought a Peter Storm waterproof boot for $50 and a $25 Mountain Warehouse pair of fabric boots; however I was concerned about tread, soles, movability, and longevity. Thus, I turned to amazon and found these for $45:
Trying them on initially tonight with my Bridgedale socks they were a perfect fit. One finger in the back of the heel and still toe wiggle room, I could squat and jump and the heel of my foot didn't move. I will test out the walking ability tomorrow.
I've completed a muddy 15.6 mile hike in these and there is no going back now. With lacing adjusts and further breaking in they'll become my beloved. The important aspect is that their grip is excellent, they are leather material is waterproof so my feet never got wet and cold. They are heavy boots which can be a downfall in some respects, but ultimately for trekking through the varied climates of the UK and Europe, they are perfect.
WHERE TO BUY :
- Rokit in Covent Garden (the one in Camden Town is quite small and I haven't seen any hiking gear). I have snagged so far a $5 Northface beanie, $8 Northface fleece zip-up, and an $8 cashmere sweater. As of Mar 5th, 2019 they have a truly excellent deal on a $50 Northface hiking/mountaineering boot with Vibram soles that is sturdy af and hardly used; it is size 7.5 US/38EU as well as beautiful 5.11 navy blue short trousers for $35 that I wish my legs were short enough for.
- Charity Shops in Archway/Highgate. Honestly these are the best I've found in London period (.) Chelsea would be a close second to having the deals. I would recommend this method if you're on a tight budget because good-quality hiking/outdoor/active clothes are very pricey; shopping secondhand for these things also saves the environment so there's that. This method requires work and dedication, to quote a good childhood friend of mine: "Thrifting is a way of life and the hunt-struggle is real."
UK outdoorsy shops:
- Blacks, think Bass Pro Shops, they as of Mar 6th, 2019 have a Big Brand Name Sale happening that is bringing über-expensive things into a semi-affordable ball-park range.
- Cotswolds Outdoor, think REI people. You'll get quality but you'll pay dearly for it.
- Mountain Warehouse, I have heard mixed things about this store/brand. I have somewhat reluctantly purchased a pair of lightweight hiking pants that felt very similar to the pair of Cragshopper ones I was looking at in Blacks/Cotswold. While I do tend to stick with things that I know work which happens to coincide with brand named things; that can be super pricey and hunting things down in secondhand stores takes time and dedication. Seeing as how my first hike is this Saturday I didn't have time to wait it out. I have tried quite a bit of cheap off-brand active clothes and outdoor gear and while there is nothing WORSE than having something fall apart or not protect you on a hike. I find that if you're in the general 6-15 mile day-hike range there's a good chance that you can make it with off-brands.
GEAR I WEAR ON THE REG :
- Zakti black breathable t-shirt; price paid (p.p.) = $3 @ Mountain Warehouse
- Decathlon black long-sleeve; p.p $6 at Oxfam CoventGarden
- Mountain Warehouse UV protected lightweight hiking trousers; p.p. = $15 @ Mountain Warehouse
- Northface fleece inner-lined beanie; p.p. = $5 @ Rokit CoventGarden
- Northface baby blue fleece zip-up; p.p. = $10 @ Rokit CoventGarden
- Northface teal puffer zip-up; p.p. = $ 35 @ Rokit Spitfields
- Columbia purple rain/wind breaker; p.p. = $0 gifted
- Karrimor weatherproof leather hiking boot with Vibram soles; p.p. = $45 @ Amazon
- Bridgedale light purple trekking socks (2x), merino wool; p.p. = $6 @ Blacks
- Primark black lining leggings, cotton; p.p. = $5 @ Primark
- Nike grey-knit Roche's; p.p. = $20 @ Charity Shop in Chelsea
- Addidas sports bra; p.p. $9 at Oxfam CoventGarden
- Ray Ban yellow polarized lens' Aviators; p.p $5 @ Oxfam in CoventGarden
- 5.11 forest green tactical pants, weatherproof; p.p. $0 gifted
- Hydroflask 24 ounce red water bottle; p.p. $22 @ REI
- EuroHike 1 litre BPA free water bottle; p.p. $5 @ Blacks
- Spalding pink/purple yoga leggings; p.p. $10 @ Oxfam CoventGarden
So here we go attempting to do 5 of the day-trip hikes I've managed to find near London.
1. HERTFORDSHIRE; 9mi/14.4km
2. OAK TRAIL; 6.6mi/10.6km
3. Epping Forest; 13.1 mi/21km
4. Chess Valley; 10mi/16km
5. __ Circuit
Sights of interest I'm hoping to see:
- Vale of the Heath, 1801 registered hamlet dated earliest to 1720.
- Garden Suburb
- Parliament Hill
- Site of the WWII bombed-out house in Golders Hill Park
- Swimming ponds
I'm not gonna lie, it's been a rough year.
BUT, it's also been a year of so many firsts for me.
I got to travel around the Inland Southwestern region of Southern California, help research two museum exhibits slatted to go in 2019 at Ya'i Heki' Regional Indian Museum, and met the most profoundly life-changing people I've ever had the honor of knowing.
So, here's my year in review, with many pictures!
This is the month that truly kicked off my desire to see more of the deserts of Southern California. It was also a month of firsts for me: I visited my first National Park and attended my first passive protest march. I also hiked Prospect Park, UCR Botanicals, and the Historic Citrus Park.
This was the month I crossed off five SoCal Inland towns off my too-see list. I explored Lake Elsinore, Perris, San Dimas, Riverside, and Oak Glen. I hiked Walker Canyon and Bonelli Park.
This was the month I gave up hunting for a job after 6 long months. I reached out to Lake Perris and March Air Field Base Museum to volunteer and Lake Perris gave me a job as an Interpretive Specialist. This is a month that will forever be in my memory as a turning point in my life.
I spent this month building up my hiking tolerance and knowledge of local flora/fauna. With my new job came the expectation that I would lead guided nature walks and campfire programs. Basically, I finally got to live my childhood dream of being one of those cool summer camp guidance consulars. I hiked the Jaegar Desert Institute multiple times, Cajalco Canyon, and biked across the Lake Perris Dam.
I spent two weeks in Manhattan (including celebrating my 24th birthday), graduated from Columbia University, saw a Broadway Musical and finally checked seeing the Oculus off my bucket list. I did some light trails at Antelope Valley's Indian Museum and Mount Rubidoux. I also got to see the Mormon Rocks.
This was the month I put my conditioning to the test with a 8 mile Mount San Jacinto hike. There is just something so epic about this mountain. This was also the month that Kim (pictured next to me in this photo) worked crazy, yet enjoyable, hours at work. But really, crazy hours, how did we even do that Kim? Many, many, a night was spent pouring over that exhibit project.
This month wrecked me. Before going back through my year today I had completely forgotten just how much the pain of loosing my dad actually eclipsed the entirety of my year. Looking back now, I can see the moment when 2018 was severed in two, between the months when my dad was alive and the months after he was gone.
I did so much in this month. Golly. Trekked out to Los Angeles, visited the Pechanga Cultural Center, Malki Museum and the Mission Inn in Riverisde. Drove down to the beaches twice, through the Cleveland National Forest, stopping at every beach between San Clemente and Newport and even hiked Will Rogers and Crystal Cove State Park.
This month was insane. I visited three different states (Colorado, Wyoming, and Nebraska). Spoke at my first academic conference, hiked the Indian Canyons in Palm Springs, Garden of the Gods, and met with the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians. My two week Colorado trip with my mom was some of the most precious memories I have.
This was the month I fell in love with the Mojave Desert. One of the most beautiful moments of 2018 was the roadtrip my dear friend Kim and I took out to Providence Mountains to meet with the Nüwü (Chemeheuvi) peoples. That weekend trip in a questionable van took us all the way across the Arizona border and back to California. I also attended two Halloween Scary nights, a wedding in Astoria, NY, hiked Mt. San Jacinto again and Cuyamaca State Park.
This was the month of my exploration of the foothill towns that rest at the base of the San Gabriel Mountains. I visited Chino, Rancho Cucamonga, Asuza, and trekked once more out to Hollywood for my first red carpet screening at the Chinese Theater. As far as hiking goes, this month was light, with just one out-and-back trek through the Hidden Preserve at Mt. San Jacinto.
This month, grief hit me hard, I had been hurt by a brief fling with a military guy, realized I was trying to find "rescuers" to take me away of a crumbling family structure, and spent many days hiking around Yucaipa and Oak Glen, sipping $5 hipster latte's, and reading YA novels. I'm still reeling from this month and trying to find myself post-July 2018. Some days are worse than others and some days there's a really good sunset slinking down over the Mojave.
May we be good to each other.
May I continue to hike.
The most painful part of loving is being open to it ending.
All I can really say about it is:
The advice I have now, is be willing to release control. Be open to letting go of something that feels really good once it has become negative. You are, I am, enough. We are worth trying for; and if the guy/girl you're interested in isn't capable of see that: being willing to let go of the energy, time, and feelings you've invested in them. The hardest thing I've have to internalize for myself after the fallout was that I am deserving of better treatment. For a while I tried to remain in his life platonically, this was the wrong choice. Healthy relationships work because there is a balance. This balance comes from each person having an equal desire to know the other person. If a guy opens up to you about his life but you find yourself hesitant to open up about yours, there's a problem. If a guy stops asking you about your life, there's a problem. There are billions of humans living on this planet, we need context to develop sympathy for a person, that sympathy in turn fosters love and a desire to make sure that person is happy.
Ultimately, know that attempting to remain in someone's life when they do not want to be in yours any longer just prolongs the damage they are doing to your sense of self-worth. For if you get used to accepting an unequal amount of love what does that mean about how you have begun to see yourself. I am deserving of receiving a bottomless supply of love because I give an endless amount of love in return. If you, like I have the problem of remaining fiercely loyal even in the face of toxicity. Reach out to me : firstname.lastname@example.org I will be there, I absolutely promise.
I'm not saying that this guy completely crushed my heart, but I am saying that he stirred up some past trauma and feelings of being less-than other prettier, thiner, more vibrant women; and I think that has been the most painful part. This feeling of insignificance felt even more crushing when faced with losing my dad recently who's large bear hugs I would melt into when I needed a reminder that I was loved. "W" wasn't exactly good or bad, we both swung on a spectrum and we both used each other for different ends. His ends, well I feel confident in saying they were sexual based, and perhaps at some point he caught some real feelings, but I'll never know the extent of that. My ends, well I think I was seeking comfort and attention in any form I could get it in.
I think this desire contributed to me not realizing fully what I was doing. These trance-like periods in turn to produced a lot of denial which fostered an artificial fantasy. I look back now and see how I potentially read into a lot of things in ways that strengthened the fabricated fantasy of love-at-first-sight. With space to process I can see how in my hyper-stressed-grief-torn mind I conflated the real guy before me with the picture of my childhood fantasy of this knight-in-shining-armor. There have been times since our ending that I've thought: Why am I not special enough to make him want to try to make 3,888 miles distance work? I have thought: How can a person use someone else like that and then just be completely fine with walking away? After many hikes in the desert and many conversations with my best friends I have come to realize that people aren't wholly good or bad, sometimes feelings freak them out, the choices they make have unexpected consequences, and they withdraw rather than try to embrace the feeling. That withdrawal, while beneficial to them ultimately hurts someone else. Know that when this happens, when you are the one hurt and the one doing the hurting is unwilling to talk or make amends, know then that, that is the exact time that you leave. Even if it feels good, and believe me it felt good with "W"; we felt like home together. But you can't start a relationship that has 3,888 miles distance in-between two people who began the "thing" they were in based on how much chemistry their bodies had when they were near each other. And you definitely cant have a relationship with a guy who's giving 10% effort to your 90%.
We moved at an unrecognizably fast pace
and I don't think we slowed down at all,
we just sort of hit a wall and died.
This brings me to life revelation #2:
With "W" I went the furthest I've ever gone with a guy, which tbh was just steamy make-out sessions. I didn't / don't feel ashamed per-say, but as I drove the hour and a half home after we saw each other I do remember feeling this off-ness in the pit of my stomach. This, that is too fast, that is not the pace I want to go at. You see though, the thing about desire is that it just sneaks up on you and takes over. It just sends tingling into your body and butterflies into your stomach and it makes you want more. I realized that because of my past with unwanted sexual abuse my understanding of desire and force was skewed. I wanted everything I did with "W". So why did I feel guilty afterward?
It was then that I came to the realization that I was never as innocent and inexperienced as I had been telling myself for years I was. And, for some reason this not-being innocent, this having sexual experience was shameful to me. I was no longer the girl who'd never been kissed. I was a girl who had been kissed by 3 guys and felt guilty for it.
What is up with that?
Why did I need to be pure so badly that I lied to myself about how experienced I was?
Why does my notion of purity coincide with sexual inexperience?
In that micro-culture of Christianity there is a lot of pressure on kids to not engage in any form of sexual activity. On the one hand I support abstinence because committing sexual activities with another human is terrifying if you really don't know that other human very well. On the other hand, I will never support community shaming practices. We're not Puritans. Ultimately, it's never a good idea to tell a kid who's still trying to figure out right from wrong, their identity, and what sort of things they value in life, that if you kiss, grope, dry hump, or have sex with another person than you will be instantly and irreversibly damaged. Wtf even is that? Why would you want to put that sort of pressure onto humans? Because we are humans; wasn't that the whole point of this Judeo-Christian Jesus.
I learned so much from my experiences with guys. I learned the difference between lust and something more. I learned that kindness is important to me. That proximity is important. That I want time. That I want to go at a deliriously glacial pace. I want slow and steady wins the race. A really great friend of mine once told me that it, on average, takes a year for humans to really open up to each other. A year. Then I think about my best friends and how we've known each other for going on 4 years now and I am still learning SO much about them.
The point I'm trying to make is that if you're out there thinking the way I was thinking because of how you were raised well let me reaffirm something for you right now:
Sexual experience does not damage you.
I do not feel broken or less than anymore because I've kissed three boys in my life. We don't live in a period in time where women and men courted each other at fancy balls and proposed marriage out of necessity or obligation. You deserve love just the way you are. There is no allowing in love, you just love whoever you love. Many people will love you just the way you are. You don't have to have this old-fashioned notion of sexual activities as something that makes you undesirable to whatever gender you're attracted to.
Be kind to other humans.
Love freely and deeply.
Be open to embracing the pain of love and/or like ending.
Well, that's all I got folks. ✌
How can you be gone right now?
I even wrote two other blog posts, both felt wrong so I just left them unfinished.
Anyway, here are all the things I wish I had said:
It’s be two months. To this day, it’s been two months.
I can’t stand how I’ve been keeping track.
Mom’s broken now. I see it when I look at her, everyday. It’s like the part of her that is yours just snapped in half and the two halves just float there inside of her and she’s trying to understand where they went so she can fix them. But, how do you fix what you can’t find? And, how do you find what your senses can’t perceive? So she’s just here now, unsure how to function, endlessly trying and exhausting herself trying to fix these two halves she can’t find and doesn’t have tools to repair. She’ll probably be mad when she reads this, or, she’ll cry and say « I’m not broken Anna, I’m okay, really. » Then she’ll hug me and I’ll squeeze her tighter because she needs that more now. What I want to say is « It’s okay to be broken Mom, we’re all broken because Dad’s just that good of a human. » You are so good that you left this broken piece that reminds us to be good. Don’t worry though, Luke’s taking care of her. It’s because I can’t. It’s because when grandpa was in the hospital I promised him I’d take care of grandma and then grandpa died and then grandma died and in the end I hadn’t actually been able to take care of anyone and it felt like I’d made this huge lie to grandpa. And grandpa was my #1.
I think that’s why there’s been no service because we just can’t do it. We can’t admit any of it. I don’t think we’ll ever be able to. Which is fine with me, I don’t think I wanted a service in the first place and I really don’t think you would have cared. You hate fanfare. Remember that time you got up and marched out of an Ecupoco on your birthday because grandma set a birthday present before you and had the waiters sing. Everyone was smiling and clapping and you just stood right up, visibly seething, and walked straight out of the restaurant. But I do remember that after that day we always had birthday cake for you at home and it was always German Chocolate because that’s your favorite. One time, I made it for you from scratch and I was so worried about the frosting being perfect that I gave the first batch to the dog. I made Buddy promise not to tell because we weren’t a house that liked to waste food.
I think when I work late Luke and mom purposefully stay up to wait for me because that’s your job. You’d just always be there waiting in you chair watching the news like you were praying there’d be a change. Like you were hoping the more you watched the less you’d see people dying and violence happening. And I’d come through the front door and you’d smile at me and ask me how work was. I never said enough. I think back now on how your voice sounded and I wish I’d said more, said anything just so that you’d say words. And I don’t really care how what the conversation would be about, I just really want to hear your voice because I feel like I’m forgetting how it used to sound. Isn’t that crazy? We lived together for 24 years in the same house and spoke everyday and now I can’t remember how your voice sounds or what the last thing we said to each other was.
Luke told said the other day « Anna’s afraid of guys. » And, Dad, he’s right. He’s so right. Did you notice that? I feel like you were noticing everything and I just didn’t realIe it because you trusted that if I wanted to talk about it with you I would. Maybe I’m romantizing the past already, I don’t know. But, I do know that I think I’m afriad of guys because that means I have to give someone to them, a part of me. With friendships that happened naturally, I gave parts of my souls to Kil
and Megan when I realized we’d always be best friends without even realizing I was doing it. It’s different with guys I think because of you and mom. Your love story is so epic. You two just knew from one touch, one look, one shared warm feeling. You both knew. I wish I spent more time talking about that night in the bar with you because whenever you brought it up you’re eyes would shine and it was like you were reliving it all over again. You said God spoke to you, that he showed you, mom was the girl you were to marry and hen you did, you married her. How do I live up to that? How do I know? What if it’s not the same for me? What if I trust this guy and he breaks my heart because he will. One day he’ll die and he’ll break the part of me that’s broken in mom, that was broken in grandma. I just don’t know how to do that. To love another person so much that when they leave a part of you goes with them. I already love too many people too much. Or, what if I’m wrong about the guy I think is the one? What if I make a mistake and you aren’t here to weigh his heart for me against yours?
Its not fair. You not being here, is not fair. I don’t like it and I don’t approve. So, come back.
Well that’s it for now, I told myself I’d do this, I’d write until I couldn’t see from the tears and then I’d stop and cry and start again when I wasn’t crying. Because it’s hard to see when you cry, then your nose runs when you’re eyes start to clear and it’s hard to breathe. And after that, well, everything falls apart.
I’ve been writing, rewriting, and trying to find the words for this post for well over a month now.
So, here goes...
I’d spend it all on hugging my dad
Instantly, one saw the change in demeanor, "Oooooh, California, Los Angeles, Hollywood. Do you surf?" Now I'm not the greatest surfer, much to the chagrin of 17-year-old Anna who spent one summer waking up at 4:30am for two months to catch morning swells in Hunington, Bolsa Chica, Seal Beach Jetty, etc. But, after years of spending any and all vacations off from school I had living with my Grandparents in Long Beach and surfing its coast with a neon Green board I bought in the parking lot of Bolsa Chica for $300 after my beloved Plastic Fantastic had to be retired. I feel I can handle myself on a board. So that's been my identity for the past 23-years.
Loosing my Grandma a year ago and subsequently the Long Beach house completely halted this identity. I have yet to be back to Long Beach and I'm not sure when I'll be back, every inch of Long Beach's inland community, from the sleepy suburbs that surround El Durado Park to the vibrant diversity of 3rd street to the posh Beamount Shores and easy-going vibes of Bolsa Chica/Hunington Beach are tinged by memories with either my parents, brother, grandparents, or uncles and cousins. And while one uncle of mine still lives in Long Beach I find that it is almost as if my link has been severed.
It took me a long time to realize that when I moved to Moreno Valley back in 2002 with my family, my reality was altered. I was no longer the beach girl who was so incredibly blessed to have spent every Friday at Disneyland and every Saturday at the beach. Who had a tree house, swing set, half-pipe skate ramp, and bunnies in her backyard. Who lived next door to her best friend and down the street from her grandparents. I think moving to the desert and seeing wide dusty flat-lands surrounded by rolling hills freaked that third-grader out. I'd only known a life where you could see the expanse of blue-ocean before you and now here I was trapped in a place that not only had no water but literally prevented you from seeing the ocean but its cascading backdrop of "Badlands". So, I clutched onto normalcy, I visited my Grandparents nearly every other month, spent my summers with them, and staunchly refused to give up my identity of a beach girl.
This year, having had the time to live in my childhood home for the first time since starting college three years ago, I came to see my fractured life in a new light. I began to embrace having a dual existence in two of the most iconic regions of SoCal. Hindsight being the fickle-mistress she is took 24 years to reach me.
Growing up in a medium-sized-unknown-desert-town was as equally epic as my summers spent in surfing Bolsa Chica. My first clue to this mental shift in me was my nostalgia for my childhood vacations with the entire family to the Sands of Indian Wells resort. The Sands, for those of you who don't know, was located in the most iconic desert SoCal probably has -- Palm Springs. Thrust onto the U.S. fancy-pants radar in the 1940-50s when Hollywood IT celebrities like Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor, and Bob Hope flocked to Palm Springs to vacation away from the limelight of Hollywood's film industry. Next, I started thinking about how lucky my brother and I had been to live in a then undeveloped area. We would spend hours building dirt jumps, climbing mountains, and when we got old enough, off roading. It was a different thrill to ride the face of compacted earth with a car instead of riding the face of a wave with a polyurethane foam board; let me just tell you.
When my brother moved out at 19 years old to live in Big Bear, a snowy resort community nestled in the San Bernardino mountains it was the first time in my life I spent my breaks off from school not in Long Beach. It was also the first time in my life I'd ever seen snow. The first time I got to see what living without parental supervision meant. The first time I explored a town on my own. The first time I shopped and cooked my own meal on my own. The first time I tried -- and failed miserably -- to snowboard. The first time I built a fire and tended to an injured bird who flew into the window of my brother's cabin. I spent hours curled into the living room couch, reading one of the dozens of library books I'd stocked up on before leaving Moreno Valley, poking at a low roaring fire and glancing out the window as snow fell.
The Christmas my mom, dad, golden retriever dog, and uncle came up is one of the brightest memories I have. A single stretched out moment in time where everyone I love is smiling in a mental snap-shot of a Polarid. When I strain to think of another moment where we were equally at peace as we were merry, I find myself extraordinarily hard-pressed.
I think I spent only a combined total of two months in Big Bear in my brother's cabin but when I look back on that experience now I can see how those months had saved me. That was near the time my Grandfather died, which was, my very first experience of loss. It completely totaled me. I spent nearly every moment with my grandpa as a child, I would spend hours making up dances for him and then twirl around the living in front of his recycling chair. I would eat only the yolks of my eggs with fried hot dogs and slyly slide the fired whites onto his plate. I would comb his hair, play barbies, and garden with him. He was that person, the one person in your life that you look to and know that when you meet their eyes you'll see your absolute best self because their love for you was so unending.
When he died everything in my life didn't make sense. I couldn't understand how I was supposed to continue living without him there. I had never seen death before and I didn't know why he had to die. I was about 16/17 years old, homeschooled and isolated. I left my house a total of two times a week, on Thursday to drop off my "homework" to my supervisor and on Saturday to return and restock my supply of library-borrowed Young Adult fantasy novels. I started staying up until 5am and sleeping until 4pm. I started cutting, burning, and mutilating my wrists. I was falling into this hole of depression fostered by the suppression of my grief over my grandpa, a lack of understanding, and a deep anger towards God.
When I think back to those days, in my mind I see this exaggerated form of myself. I'm cloaked in a dark haze and I'm flailing around blindly, as if I searching for something I lost but I can't remember what it's supposed to look like. When I try to think clearly about that time I see images of me wearing long sleeve shirts in 100 degree weather, those weird-2000s-in-fashion arm warmers, and venturing into the world to collect books before scurrying back to my bedroom. I see myself lumbering out to the living room at midnight and grabbing Hot Cheetos. I see myself watching episodes of Grounded For Life, 8 Simple Rules, Charmed, and Angel. I hear my thoughts degrade myself as I slide a razor over my skin or press a hot bobby pin to the inside of my wrist. I remember not seeing a future for myself. I remember being terribly afraid that the future would just be like this all the time for the rest of my life.
Then my brother invited me up to stay with him for a while and I was driving up to Big Bear and I was sleeping in the loft room, reading beside a fireplace. And this realization of life rushed back to me. Walking my dog in a white-out blizzard, wildly throwing myself into snow banks, my dogs tongue wagging madly. Making snowmen and having snowball fights with my brother, eating BBQ on his deck and watching the snowflakes melt as they touched the grill. Meeting his friends and realizing that not only did my brother talk about me to them, he bragged about me to them. It was the first time in my life that I realized more than one person in my family found me extraordinary. It was the first time that I remembered that people were important to me, that I loved people, that they loved me, that if I had died that one night in my bedroom I would have missed so much life.
I find myself reflecting on all this now because my dad just died. Once, more I am struck with similar feelings I had when my grandpa and grandma died. I am struck with a sense of not knowing how to live now. I'm not entirely sure how someone so vitally important to my everyday life can just stop existing. I don't think I ever thought my dad was allowed to die and for some reason this translated in my mind to "Not allowed, therefore will never die." There are too many memories I have with him in it. Too many moments of capture happiness I mentally saved in my mind's photo album. That I don't understand how it's possible he won't be in my future.
Now all I have are these silly questions, like:
Who does my future boyfriend -- should I ever find one -- seek permission from when he wants to propose to me?
Who walks me down the aisle?
A couple months ago (10) I finished a Masters degree with Columbia University, returned stateside and awaited notification from IMT Lucca's PhD program whether or not I'd been admitted. Tip #1: It's best not tell yourself: "It's this or nothing" then proceed to solely apply to that one PhD program. Variety is best. Additionally if you find yourself thinking: "Why has no one heard of this program?" or "So, a lot of Professors have told me to apply elsewhere..." Then take a beat and reformulate life plans.
But, me being past-Anna and it having been June, I had limited options before me as to starting my PhD in the 2017-2018 academic year. So there I go, trudging ahead, passing the initial assessment and moving forward to the interview round.
When the Skype interview lasted only 8 min and 57 sec, I knew something had just hit the fan.
Closing my laptop that day, September 20th, 2017, after the shortest interview I've ever had in my life I was filled with an equal flooding of internal remorse and external relief. I stood up from my chair, walked out of my room, made blueberry waffles, and inhaled them in 3.5 minutes.
Tip #2: If you find yourself wondering mid-interview: "I don't think they understand my topic." or "Why don't they see how interdisciplinary it is? *head tilt*" Then that is probably an indication you should re-work your Research Proposal, present it out-loud to a video-recorder, watch the video, and rewrite the proposal. Conversely, it is probably an equal indication that you and the program are not a good match.
Eight days after the interview I received an e-mail from admissions informing me that the 2017-2018 admitted candidates had been selected. I clicked the link, scrolled down and found my name listed under "Eligible Students" with an Admissions score of 91.5. Candidates had been scored out of a 100 and I hadn't made the cut. Initially I was shocked, I'd been quite certain that this was a for sure thing. In my mind I had already told myself that I would be in Italy come mid-November. In fact, I'd been so certain I hadn't even unpacked from Paris.
The next thought that occurred to me was the score: 91.5. I was, according to IMT Lucca, just barely an A- human. I returned to my bedroom and cried, for probably 7 hours while binge watching the 6th season of Vampire Diaries. It seemed that everything around me was crumbling and the more my fingers tried to grasp the pieces the smaller then began and the faster they fell.
It was a moment of:
"Oh s**t, what do I do now?"
I. Had. A. Plan. And, this, well this rejection was most definitely, not part of the plan.
It was originally a 3-phase plan I'd constructed when I was an 18 year-old Community College student. It then, as life happened, became a 6-phase plan. Note to future self: No plan is written in stone, EMBRACE the flow of life.
Phase I: Get A.A., transfer to UC, get B.A.
Phase II: Anna said: G̶e̶t̶P̶h̶d̶. Life said: You should get an M.A. first, go to Paris.
Phase III: Anna said: J̶o̶i̶n̶t̶h̶e̶P̶e̶a̶c̶e̶C̶o̶r̶p̶s̶. Life said: You need a GAP year. Enjoy this great job too.
Phase IV: Anna said: G̶e̶t̶a̶j̶o̶b̶a̶t̶u̶n̶i̶v̶e̶r̶s̶i̶t̶y̶. Life said: Now, you're ready for a Ph.d, go to England.
Phase V: Serve in the Peace Corps.
Phase VI: Work at a University and a Museum, all before you're 30.
Bonus Phase VI.i: Fall in love?
Now, here I am forced into a GAP year I never particularly wanted, wondering what I do next. I had put so much stock into IMT Lucca out of fear of the GAP year. I don't think I was really invested in the university itself, more so with the idea that I could continue straightaway.
Taking a break was one of the greatest things that happened to me this year; it gave me clarity. I'd spent so long chasing a dream, tried so hard to prove all the professors who told me I couldn't do it wrong. That somewhere along the lines of the struggle I lost sight of myself. I hadn't taken a moment to wonder if I still wanted it, I couldn't remember why 18-year-old me wanted it.
Never underestimate the power of having time to think. Having time to research professors that would make excellent supervisors and not just the location of the university was a key component to the application process that I'd missed before. Dedicating five months to editing the applications, including research proposals, writing samples, and statements of purpose greatly improved their quality. Communicating with my potential supervisors via email, skype, and phone calls, having their input, advice, and edits on my application materials made a WORLD of a difference.
So much so that ten months later and here I am with three unconditional offers from three top UK schools. #flabbergasted. Who thought I'd go from being rejected by PhD programs twice to being accepted by all the programs I'd applied to.
During this GAP year, I was chosen to speak at the WLA Conference, was given the opportunity to speak with a 91 year-old Hungarian WWII veteran, and am incredibly fortunate to be apart of a large-scale exhibit upgrade project at Ya'i Heki' Regional Indian Museum.
So, what's the point?
- I won't say the cliché of "things happen for a reason"; but, I will say: Life is made up of a sequence of events and sometimes we have no control over them. And, most always, when you end up where you'd wanted to be, you'll probably not be able to imagine what would have happened if you'd gotten *fill in the blank here*.
- DIVE INTO EVERYTHING. If there is one thing I learned from my forced GAP year it is that every opportunity is embraceable. Just give your all to everything you have interest in and if you are rejected for your efforts; remember that there are always things to learn from the experience.
- Taking time to do things well doesn't mean you'll get it. Just because you are rejected for something does not mean that the assessor committee is saying you are not good enough. They're most likely saying "This candidate is great, but s/he would be able to flourish better somewhere else."
- Take time for self-reflection!
- And, if there is an all important life lesson I've learned this year it would be: Believe and trust with all you have that ...
It is, absolutely, 100%, their loss.
I suggest y'all start your day with a coffee pick-me-up, Klatch and Cactus Coffee are my two go-to's out there. From there, take your caffeinated buzz to Bonita Avenue where you'll find the historic main street of San Dimas built right along side the Union Pacific's Santa Fe line's railroad station. There, you'll notice the station now operates as museum. Stop in and get a very detailed and one-on-one docent lead history of the town.
After being shopped and history-ied out on Bonita Ave, grab some picnic food and stop off at the Puddingstone Reservoir to bask in the beauty of a waning sun over sparkling water. For the more outdoorsy types, take a hike or bike through the rolling hills surrounding the reservoir or if you're more inclined to hit the sparkling water rent a kayak or paddle board.