No Such Beauty

Before I get into anything else, a small observation that struck me for a sec this week. I wrote a sentence or two last week about appreciating the later evenings. As a sign of spring. I realized this week: I’m not used to it being dark. And not in the seasonal, latitudinal sense. Like, obviously I’ve been back for a while. And was in New Zealand before that. But Seoul was never dark. Ever. And I missed it. There are lots of advantages to city living and a lot of reasons that I miss that, too. But I think somewhere inside, living in a city kills me a little bit.

Anyway, on to something that brings me life. Cats. And also other things, probably.

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This past weekend I was tremendously privileged to be able to attend the Chamber Singers reunion at American University, my undergrad alma mater. I was a member of Chamber Singers my whole time at AU, including tours to Russia and the Balkans. I’ve only been absent from DC for three years (almost exactly) but a lot has happened in that time. This reunion was a deeply welcome change of pace and settling of heart.

I was in Choral Society at Trinity, but that was a) not a very in-depth choral experience, as enjoyable as it was and b) finished more that two years ago. And in the intervening time, I have not been a part of a musical group of any description. The only singing I’ve done has been to myself or at church. And that truly was and remains a hard thing for me.

So this past weekend was a bit of a remedy for that, however brief. Friday and Saturday were absolutely gorgeous, a particular blessing in light of the bizarre weather they’ve had this year (and spring weather in general). They were too hot, in my opinion, peaking in the mid-eighties. Sunday and Monday were grey, rainy, and mid-fifties. What can you do. I got to see cherry blossoms galore, daffodils galore (my second favorite flower), and a regional tree climbing competition because apparently that’s a thing.

Also, I visited the Wheaton station on the metro for the express purpose of riding on the longest escalator in the western hemisphere. Apparently I’ve already ridden on the longest in the world, a three way tie between stations on the St Petersburg metro.

There were plenty of alumni events during the weekend. It was quite a crowd, about 55 of us (from a group that’s usually around 30 at any given time) with graduations ranging from 2004 to this past winter. I think I’ve made it clear that I don’t do large social situations well and these were no exception. I’m uncomfortable and that’s that. But it was still a special kind of soothing to be around some old faces, old friends, and other people who I barely met for thirty seconds but who cared enough about singing to come out for it.

After the (smaller) concert on Sunday, I was also able to catch up in person with my best friend whom I hadn’t seen in three years (since graduation, pretty much). And that was really good. I wish that I had stayed longer–I didn’t have anything pressing back here. We’ll see how the job search goes, maybe I’ll be back for another visit sooner rather than later.

Our alumni group was actually integrated into the current Singers’ regular spring concert which had a very laid-back vibe focused on some favorite songs. One in particular, which we sang on tour in Russia after my freshman year, we sang as a joint ensemble some 85 strong. One line, in fact, in the midst of a text that feels definitely applicable to my current aimlessness.

There is no such beauty as where you belong.

I’m not sure where, exactly, in the world I belong. Where in life, where in all kinds of metaphysical senses. And, as I’ve said before, I wasn’t 100% comfortable with all the people I was singing with. But there’s a power in music and I can say with certainty that I belonged on that stage at that moment. I belong in music.

I feel like some people feel that way about sports or whatever else moves people, so I probably don’t really have to explain it any further. One way or another, this weekend was exactly what I needed it to be.

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Love One Another

Spring is such a hopeful time. I don’t have any other observations about it at the moment but I just had to say. I spent a little time meandering in parks this week, and several times noticed how late the light was lingering in the evenings.

Once again, I have little to discuss this week. It has been a great deal of nothing, generally. I visited some friends up in Seattle which was great fun. I visited another church because I had never been to an affirming church and variety is the spice of life. I visited Tacoma to see a movie called The Death of Stalin which, of course, is a comedy. Thoroughly enjoyed it, can recommend.

Along with all that, of course, I’ve had plenty of time to read and I have been doing plenty of it. Nothing earthshatteringly good but lots of normal good. I do sincerely wish, sometimes, that I did not become so emotionally invested in books, though. I don’t know if reading fiction does actually make you more empathetic, but sometimes I wish reading didn’t have the power to totally change my mood for the rest of the day–provided I can actually put down the book. Of course, I wouldn’t trade my reading experiences for the world. But still, it’s draining. Even knowing what’s going to happen and that it’s not real, I spend anxious (or giddy or frustrated or sad) hours between reading sessions.

In the midst of my not-doing, and the generalized angst and feelings brought on by books, I’ve had plenty of time to just think (a dangerous pastime, I know). I’ve not had dark nights contemplating the deep, dreadful fates in store for a world as sordid as this. Nothing quite so dramatic, though I do that often enough, too. It’s just been me thinking soberly about things in the world and in my life and how my life is a part of the world. And, as per usual, I’ve found that a lot of my feelings have been voiced quite eloquently by someone else.

Some time ago, I encountered W. H. Auden’s poem September 1, 1939 and I’ve often thought about it since. It’s both anti-fascist and somehow anarchist. Historical and informed but also strikingly topical. It combines a dismal but accurate view of the poet’s world in 1939 (not a great time for anybody) with a persistent attitude that, in spite of or perhaps because of the poem’s general despondency, seems almost wildly hopeful.

I get that poetry is not for everyone and it is often difficult to understand. Not claiming to totally comprehend this particular one, there are still some salient points that seem pretty straightforward to me. If you find nothing else in these admittedly convoluted lines, look for these: fear, justice, love, hope.

I will not reproduce the whole poem here (though I would encourage you strongly to read it). Instead, I will quote only the final two stanzas.

All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie,
The romantic lie in the brain
Of the sensual man-in-the-street
And the lie of Authority
Whose buildings grope the sky:
There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die.

Defenceless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.

 🕯️

Washington, My Home

Oddly, states have their own state song. I don’t think I’ve ever heard Washington, My Home and I don’t think I’d really like to. But one way or another, Washington is my home. I’m trying to do some more exploring while I’m here in anticipation of leaving again (as vain as that hope may be). So yesterday I went on a lovely hike with a friend and it was very Washington, much home.

We decided on Lena Lake in the eastern Olympics, a relatively short drive and a relatively easy hike. It was the first forecast rainy day in a while, but the drive over was dry, as was the start of the hike. Cloudy, of course, but dry. As we continued, the rain picked up but it remained a tolerable rain not an absolute downpour. We had coats. We lived.

And my goodness was it gorgeous. Similar to New Zealand, actually, with ferns and moss and water and mist. Also fjords and rainforests. But in a distinctly different way. Sword ferns, for one, and cedars and pines for another. And it just felt good to wander through a solid Washington forest and marvel.

Lena Lake Trail

As always, pictures hardly to it justice, but suffice to say it was definitely a worthwhile trip. There was still some snow on the ground, too, which was a little surprising and fun. It was all-around an enjoyable experience for the company and the scenery.

Other than that, my week has been pretty low-key. I’ve had a couple good catch-ups with people and those have been really nice. My list of friends still around the Harbor has grown shorter in the past few years, but it’s always good to see them.

My days consist of a great deal of nothing. Reading, playing Civilization, doing Duolingo. I did plant a couple plants, rosemary and lemon balm (or BAHM if you can’t read the letter l) and that’ll be nice. I’m continuing to apply to places, mostly in the US so far, but nothing has come of it yet. Who knows. It would be much easier to enjoy doing nothing if I had something to look forward to, but once again I’m confronted with an apparently endless abyss of nothingness so that’s not super fun. I’ll live.

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Also, here’s an update on the yin-yang kitties

So that’s my week. Mostly boring but an acceptable level of activity. Some good catching up and some intense Washington ambiance. See you next week.

Santa Fe

Surprise surprise, this week involved a great deal of doing nothing and so I’m already back to the super boring posts. Quite a letdown after Australia and New Zealand, but che sera sera.

I did, this week, finally finish a series that I’ve been reading. A nine book saga, it was a trashy gay FBI romance and I’d say each book was worse than the last but it’s simply not possible. They were absolutely overflowing with cliché and cheesy lines, scenes, and plot points. It was unreal. If you really want to know, message me and I’ll tell you but I wouldn’t otherwise recommend them so no title for you.

Obviously, I still read all nine and enjoyed them. Though they were not emotionally draining like a lot of books that I read, I did get caught up in them and had to put them down occasionally because my feelings were getting a little out of hand. Things were also easier to deal with because I had absolute certainty that there would be a happy ending (partially because I asked my sister and partially because no way would books like this not have a happy ending).

Nine books involved quite a bit of the two main characters’ lives, though it started relatively late age-wise. Plenty of FBI-related action and twists. Eventual marriage (which was precious). Even retiring and opening a little bookshop with their apartment above (the literal epitome of precious even though it was in Baltimore and not Croatia). Plus cats and the CIA. Something for everyone.

Escapism is such a great word. And a great concept. Even when you’re escaping your own problems to deal with other people’s and theirs are much worse. I mean, I get tremendously emotionally involved with my books, even the bad ones, but it feels so right to have these fictional lives to deal with instead of whatever mundane complexities I’ve got going. I love the heartbreak and trauma and all of it, though sometimes I need a nice ending wrapped up so completely and satisfyingly.

It just feels nice to read some books that are just nice, you know? Many other books I read have happy endings, of course, but it feels so good to have everything so unrealistically pat with a bow on top. I’m already feeling a little nuts being at home–anxious to get out and anxious about having so little willpower to do anything that will help me get out (mind you, I am applying to jobs, I just feel like I’m not doing enough and I’ll be here much longer than I want to).

Whenever the subject of me ‘getting out’ comes up, I feel a little guilty. There’s nothing (much) wrong with here. Many people I care about very much are here. I can’t really explain it, other than encountering other people who just know exactly what I’m talking about without explanation. I’ve just got to get out and the feeling’s stronger now than ever. But that means back to the horrible task of begging for rejection in the teensy hope that someone will eventually say yes. The same task that threw me to Korea.

So those books were a bit of a turn away from the doom and gloom in the more surface-level, essential role of entertainment as escapism. Because, bombs and serial killers and drug cartels notwithstanding, you end up with a great husband, a cozy bookstore, and maybe a few black market orchids. And cats, did I mention the cats?

Here’s hoping we all get a little bit of the escape we need this week, whatever its guise.

The Best Sauce

I don’t know if it’s an actual adage, or if it’s just something my *favorite fictional character of all time* says, but I’ve heard it said that, ‘hunger is the best sauce.’ I don’t know if I’d say that I’ve been hungry for home, exactly, but being here feels a little bit like being sated.

All the same, this time coming home has been interesting. Little (and big) changes still annoy me, and there’s a bit of reverse culture shock (though I went back to driving with no problems, for good or ill but not having tax included is driving me nuts). But I think I’m finally starting to just let go. There wasn’t any food that I really, really wanted to get when I arrived–not even Kinza (though I will never refuse Kinza). There weren’t any places I really had to visit. People to see, of course. And of course I’m so happy to see my family again. But overall, I basically felt ready to go to the next place almost immediately. So someone get me a job.

Anyway. I am, of course, very much looking forward to some catching up with people because it’s been a long time. And it’s nice that it’s spring because flowers. We’ll just have to see how things progress, I guess.

The last couple days in New Zealand were lovely. During the course of our trip, we truly saw the length of the country. It was impossible to soak up everything in only two and a half weeks, but we went from Auckland near the top of the North Island to Invercargill right at the bottom of the South Island (Invercargill is such a nonentity that it’s saying I’ve spelled it wrong, trust me, there’s really no reason to visit except the Tuatarium which we stumbled into right at feeding time).

I could go on forever about that trip but, as I’ve said, descriptions will never quite do it justice. Suffice to say that it was an incredible time and a much needed respite after Korea.

Now, I find myself with too much time on my hands, facing once more the unenviable and generally unrewarding task of applying to jobs with not enough experience and too much qualification. Hopefully the year in Korea will mean something to someone. We’ll see.

Definitely will keep you up-to-date with all the thrilling developments. I am hoping to do some Washington-y hikes or something because I do really love it here, as much as I want out. It would be positively ideal to find a job that starts like in June or August to give me peace of mind and security in just running around. Maybe a road trip to California. I have a dream of road tripping to Yellowknife and Juneau but wouldn’t attempt it without ample time and financial security.

That’s all for now. With all this time zone hullabaloo, it’s hard to know exactly when to post these anymore so I’m just kind of going with it. I haven’t looked, but I have a sinking feeling that my perfect line of Thursdays was interrupted during New Zealand because this site’s clock is set to Pacific time. I dread checking because I was really proud of that line of Thursdays.

Hope you all have an excellent week. I’m busy doing very little and enjoying the rain of home.

South Island Roads are Different

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A waterfall captured by the wind, Milford Sound

I know I spent years pining after Croatia only to relinquish that dream without much fanfare. But weaving through the islands and inlets of the Marlborough Sounds felt like home. Across this country, I’ve just felt a little more settled in my skin. It’s not perfect, of course. There are plenty of things that annoy, disappoint, and frustrate me. All the same, I would live here in a heartbeat. This feeling has only intensified over the past week.

I’m only going to share a few short bullet points from this week. It’s a summary, but describing each thing in detail would still fail to convey my experiences. It’ll be brief but hopefully you’ll still get the gist of everything.

Wellington is quirky and weird but in, like, a classy way. Would live there. I’d prefer the countryside, but it would be just fine.

Arrived on the South Island at night and the next morning, early, headed out and the sunrise over the mountains and water was delicate and opaline and exquisite.

Went kayaking in Abel Tasman National Park, a wonderland of turquoise water, bird sanctuary, and sunny beaches.

Driving to Greymouth, watched the clouds stretch their soft fingers over the mountains from the sea.

Driving through the Southern Alps across Arthur’s Pass was magnificent.

Arrived in Christchurch, where the 2011 earthquake is still very much in evidence– notably in the still mostly-collapsed cathedral. Would probably not live there, earthquake notwithstanding.

A trip across plains and foothills giving way to peaks. Visited New Zealand’s highest peak, Aoraki (Mount Cook), and the glacial lake at its base. And by glacial, I mean there were icebergs in it. One end of the lake was a beach, the other end was a glacier.

Arrived in Queenstown after a long journey, having seen the bluest water probably on Earth. In lakes, in rivers, just a lot of very blue water. Probably a cute town but very touristy, at least at the moment. Also, there are deer farms in New Zealand?!? I ate deer for a couple meals.

Long journey to Milford Sound (which, incidentally, is not a sound but a fjord). Beauty that absolutely defies description, appropriately obscured by rain and clouds. Profoundly incredible.

I’ve had a feeling that has been building this whole sojourn and it was cemented by our trip to Milford Sound today. You know that I’m not overfond of absolutes or favorites. And I still could not say what my favorite travel destination is (or my favorite part of this trip). But while beauty is subjective and comes in many different forms, and while I haven’t fully explored any single county, I can say without hesitation that this is the most beautiful country I’ve ever seen.

This trip has been altogether incredible. Starting in Sydney and basically every moment since. We have a few more days before heading back to the US and the great unknown which that entails. I’m planning on making the most of that time.

This is the longest I’ve been out of the US–thirteen months pretty much exactly. I rather wish I weren’t going back but whatever. If you know anyone hiring, let me know. Mostly if they’re hiring in New Zealand, but I’ll take what I can get.

The Literal, Figurative Shire

Because last week’s post was just a laundry list of fun things I did in Sydney, I thought I’d change it up a touch this week. I have just a few sections with observations mixed in with activities.

Concerning nature:
I will never not be obsessed with fern trees. They are everywhere and I love them. I could almost convince myself that I’m in Ireland, or maybe parts of England, but then I see a grove of fern trees or a field of pampas grass or a stand of palms. It’s very dinosaur-y. Haven’t encountered a lot of animals but I’m hoping the South Island will have some in store for us. Mostly kiwis. So far, it’s been pretty exclusively cows and sheep. The sheep thing about New Zealand is totally true, not that I’m complaining.

The weather has been mostly good. Apparently, the sun here is especially intense, so we’ve had our bouts with sunburns and all that. Recovered or recovering at this point, we’ll see how the next week treats us in that regard. Recently, it’s been quite rainy but nothing that we can’t handle. Besides, the low misty clouds make the mountains unbelievably magical. Also, the ocean is a very pleasing color.

Concerning the landscape:
Lots of green hills. Not the rolling kind like I saw in Devon, a bit more rugged like around Galway. My sister described it aptly as some strange combination of Ireland and Hawaii. Definitely bears a strong resemblance to Ireland with palms and volcanoes. But whereas Ireland seemed to work really hard to be green, like the land was strained to its utmost limits producing that rich emerald, the countryside here looks just easier . I don’t know if it’s the stronger sun, the awesome volcanic soil, or what. But the green here is easy. I would describe Ireland as ‘verdant’ but New Zealand as ‘lush.’

Except for the barren volcano parts. Which, when we did a section of the Tongariro Crossing, were alpine and ghostly and awe-inspiring.

We’ve visited many waterfalls, all incredible and jungle-y. We stopped for a swim in a thermal stream which was relaxing and cool, made more so by the rain and thunder.
We spent a quiet afternoon on the beach, reading, while Thomas tried to surf having watched one instructional YouTube video.

Driving this afternoon to Wellington, we encountered a great deal more of what I want to call heath, though I’m not certain it’s accurate. Heather, low shrubs, and mountain-y hills. Beautiful.

Concerning adventures:
We walked and tubed through the Waitomo glow worm caves, which were incredible. It wasn’t extreme or anything, but it was fun to get all suited up for a fairly lengthy sojourn. The little maggoty constellations were made a little more mystifying and ethereal for me because I wasn’t wearing my glasses, courtesy of persistent and strong humidity.

Thomas pressured Kaitlin into trying bungee jumping for the first time in Taupo. Into a river. They both seemed to enjoy it though, certainly a rush if nothing else (though not the kind of rush I’m interested in chasing). There was also a cat at the bungee place, they seemed cool.

Concerning entertainment:
There is a TV channel called Giggle and it is just quick, like five second ads, sandwiched between little animated memes and dad jokes. Also, saw the official world’s coolest McDonald’s in Taupo.

Concerning hobbits:
On Wednesday evening, I had the distinct privilege to visit the Hobbiton movie set. Though most of the North Island that has so far been in evidence strongly resembles the Shire, it was amazing to see door after round door built into the hills. We toured the grounds, rebuilt for the Hobbit movies, and then had a fantastical feast at the Green Dragon. Just… a truly incredible time. It rained heavily, lightly, and not at all in random cycles, but it was warm enough that it didn’t detect one iota from the tremendous atmosphere. Definitely an experience to remember, the inevitable kitschy bits included.

We arrived in Wellington this afternoon and, being rather tired from our late night at the Green Dragon, didn’t do a whole lot of exploring. Even so, I feel pretty confident in saying that I would definitely be okay living here. Auckland, definitely not. But Wellington, or some small town in the countryside, yes. Yes. Yes.

Everything has been such a whirlwind and at the same time incredibly relaxing. This trip has surpassed my already high expectations and is, even though I’m typically uncomfortable with absolutes, probably my favorite ever. It’s just stunning, and it’s not over yet.