Sunday, July 26, 2015

A Weekend One Month In

Hi everybody!

I can hardly believe it has been over one whole month in DC. This month has mostly been filled with adjusting to a new home and work rather than school and really a new life in general. Adjusting can sometimes be really difficult, but it is also rather boring for a blog. It is mostly the same feelings and questions over and over:

Was I right to want to join the working world so quickly and try to live up to other people's/ society's views of success? How do I define success? Is there any way out of the trap that means in order to make enough money to live, I must spend most of my waking hours at a desk? My goodness, being a part of the 9 to 5 world might make me want to start being a hippie and using phrases like "the capitalist machine" more than Macalester ever did.

When I am not asking those questions, I am wondering if I should have come here. I have always been the type of person to take an intense liking to almost every situation. I loved being in school for all the years I did it with few exceptions. I loved St. Paul. I didn't hate Farmington. I was IN LOVE with Ecuador. I've found positives and had an awesome time at a variety of jobs, including a 9 to 5 at a PEST CONTROL company. Bug Busters will always have a special place in my heart. In one month, I cannot say I have taken an intense liking to DC. I mostly can say that it is not a bad place to be, if you can ignore the astronomical rent, which, why would you ever do that? Really, I think the largest problem for me about DC is not DC, however. It is that it is not home. I love home so much, especially the fact that my family lives so close to each other, and even though I had an intense urge to fly away for a while after graduation, DC wasn't really on my list. I did not pick DC, I picked my job. My job is a whole different blog post. Here, I can say that all-in-all, I like my job and it is an incredible opportunity. But it is an unstable thing on which to hang the majority of your reason for being in a place. If something at work is going badly, it is hard not to wonder what would have happened if I'd stayed in St. Paul at a different entry level public health job and had actually been able to save money, to have a car, to drive that car to see my parents and grandparents and little baby cousins. But that is not to say that I'm not finding the fun and good in DC all the time and that maybe this crazy, swampy, strange north-south mix of a big city might not be growing on me, and this weekend is a prime example of all of the wonderful things about being in this place.

Friday: The moment we have all been waiting for (not waiting very long at all, it has been such a rush) at work, the first big commission meeting, is happening on TUESDAY. And a speaker just confirmed on Friday, so I ended up working overtime to get his travel figured out in addition to the normal meeting tasks. That means that  on Friday, I worked 9.5 hours, but I had big plans after work and there is no such thing as being too tired for salsa.

Nate, the genius who looks in the newspaper for events around the city, met me at work (in a tie!), and we walked the short distance (short distance!) to the National Gallery of Art, where they have a Friday night concert series in their sculpture garden. This week was a salsa band, and the place was packed. It was the perfect night to check out the reflecting pool, try to teach Nate to dance, and adore all the tiny (mostly Latino!) children around us. I couldn't work in a more perfect place for me- close to all the museums. I'm hoping to start checking out more of them soon.

The evening was perfect, except the transportation back to my apartment, which was going great until the driver announced "This bus does not go to Silver Spring" midway through my ride, even though the bus was definitely supposed to go to Silver Spring. I was kicked off at the Liberian Embassy and shown a new bus stop, where I waited a while for the bus that actually took me to my apartment. Apparently public transit hiccups are normal here, because whenever I tell stories like that one, everyone just says "Welcome to DC."

Saturday: On Saturday, my lovely roommate, Diana, and I decided that we just had to go shopping. I had bought some shoes I needed to exchange, I needed to go to the dry cleaners in preparation for the big meeting, and I wanted to look for more work clothes. On our way out, we stopped by our apartment building's Hawaii party, an event with blowup waterslides, sand, a DJ, and free nonalcoholic drinks. We grabbed pina coladas and leis and smiled at all the little kids. I feel like this could have been a hopping event for all the 20 somethings, too. Maybe it got to be that way later in the evening. We didn't stick around- we had shopping to do. All in all, we went to the dry cleaner, DSW, Marshalls, and New York and Company, and we were able to walk to each one. Living in downtown Silver Spring is the best. Now they just need a good thrift store.

Sunday: Today was a full day as well. Some Mac kids in DC had made plans to go to brunch, but before we did, Nate and I took a little trek to Scrap DC, the DC equivalent of Artscraps (Artscraps is better, St. Paul). For those not in the know, these are community organizations that do art programming. They also operate retail stores for reuse and recycling and an awful lot of brand new supplies. I went to get a bunch of scrapbook paper to use in some room decorating projects and spent wayyyy less than I would have at another craft store (and was able to buy one sheet at a time, rather than a whole book). Plus, the proceeds support the programming. I'll definitely be back, even if Artscraps will always be #1 in my heart.

Then, we headed to Busboys and Poets, a hip, social justice-y place near U street. (They have several other locations as well). The restaurant is inspired by Langston Hughes, once a "busboy poet," in DC, and features a Politics and Prose bookstore as well. With lots of vegan menu items and local sourcing, it is a Mac kid's dream. (Aside: I love this place, but it fills me with thoughts that the kind of liberal that it, and most Mac kids, embrace is kind of only for well-off people. What to make of this "bohemian" life?) My veggie burger was dry, but my lem-pom (pomegranate lemonade), was to die for, sweet potato fries, amazing, and a good time had by all. We celebrated the arrival of two friends, Jake's new roommate, Carson, and an about-to-be med student, Burt. A good time was had by all.

Getting back was not the easiest, as they were single-tracking (that means running trains going both directions on one track and it is very inconvenient, but hopefully the maintenance they were doing on the other track will keep the trains running on work days, when it really matters) at a lot of red line stations. But, I finally got back, grabbed most of the groceries I will need for the week, and collapsed with exhaustion.

I need to find a way to have all the adventure of this weekend and also all the energy. For now, I think the best course of action is sleep. Wish me luck on my big, big week! And give me a call sometime. I promise to play phone tag with you until we catch each other. (I'll try you again soon, Granny and Papa!)

Friday, July 3, 2015

My First Apartment!

Hi guys! I moved into my first apartment last weekend already! It feels like yesterday, though, I have been keeping so busy.

My fantastic parents came all the way out here (a very long drive) to help me get all settled in and to bring a whole bunch of my stuff (clothes, mostly) across the country. We kept busy this week, going to Ikea and Target, grocery shopping, craigslisting, setting things up. Craigslist is such a rush. That sounds silly but it is the only way I know how to explain it- it is really fun to be able to get exactly what you want for very little cash, to take things off of people's hands that they don't want anymore, and to be sustainable when choosing furniture or even pots and pans. It is like a win, win, win! Plus, winning equals being able to tell your craigslist story over and over, too. Like how I had picked out a queen size black brown Ikea Malm bed frame at the store in Bloomington, planning to buy it when I got here. I found one (partially assembled- perfect for transport) in exactly the color and size I wanted right here in Silver Spring! With a craigslisted bookcase, desk, and even some pots and pans, most of my stuff was cheap and it is all in amazing shape.

Living in an apartment is weird. Unlike many of my friends, I have never lived in an apartment before. I chose to stay in on campus housing all four years of college, and as much as I loved Macalester's residential life, my roommates, and living in Kirk for two years in a row (shoutout to the legend that was #Kirk924 and the amazing human that is Maya), dorm life is not anything like real life. Kirk had many advantages, including being able to roll out of bed ten minutes before class and still be on time because the walk to everything was so short, never having to cook for yourself because the meal plan was mandatory, and living with a whole bunch of your peers, even if you never talked to them. (It is kind of weird and apartment-like that way.) But it also had it's disadvantages, such as that it was old, I shared a bathroom with eight people of all genders, you had to walk downstairs, outside, and then downstairs again to do laundry, my room was tiny, the carpet was kind of suspicious, etc. So living in an apartment is weird for a lot of reasons. The size and newness and physical appearance in general here is weird. It is possible this place has all new carpeting. It is spacious- my room here is bigger than my room at home, and about the size of five of my Kirk rooms. It is gorgeous, recently renovated, all new faucets and a modern kitchen and all that jazz. It is also weird to look at your shower curtain and be like- that is mine, I bought it. I bought the dishes too. Even though I own nothing about this place (though I'm sure I'll pay enough to have owned it in Minnesota several times over soon enough), I feel a sense of ownership over this space like I haven't felt before. It is kind of empowering. It is also weird to live alone, but that won't be true for long. I will have an amazing roommate moving in soon.

I'm excited about the general living situation around here. Silver Spring is an amazing place- it has a bustling, but not crazy, downtown, with street performers, cool restaurants, some upscale and some affordable clothing stores, fro yo, and a fancy library, and it seems like people are out and about every night of the week. I can also walk to the metro in about 10 minutes and ride until I get just a block away from my work- or use it to access anywhere in DC. With its smaller-city charm but big city resources and lifestyle, I think Silver Spring will be perfect for me. (It actually isn't a city at all- it is a geographic area, but it is governed by the county. The east coast is strange, guys.)

Plus, if I don't want to leave the general apartment vicinity (even though downtown is super close), I have a gym and a lounge on the first floor of my building and a grocery store a block away. The gym offers free fitness classes (group fitness is the only way fitness really happens for me) three nights a week and weekends and is open 24 hours.

There is a lot more to write about, but I just remembered that I forgot to eat dinner. I do not have this whole adulthood thing down, yet. I'm probably not going to cook anything. But I will eat my sandwich or whatever on a plate, which I which I will wash by myself and put away, and then I will ridiculously congratulate myself. Because it is not a lie that I went from adulthood zero to sixty (no cooking, no rent, no worries to moving across the country by myself... with lots of help :P- bold moves) and I am so far doing AWESOME.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

"No One in Our Family Moves"-A New Life Away Series

So today I remembered that my grandparents have the Internet. This is a new development, actually, so it is not abnormal that I would forget. This solidified the idea that has been rattling around in my head since I got here, which is to revive the study abroad style blog for the purposes of reflecting on and telling others about my new life in DC.

Wait, what?

So let's back up a little. For those of you who do not know, I accepted a job at the Institute of Medicine out of the National Academies. I am a Senior Program Assistant, which, right now, for my team, means that I plan big meetings. This particular position comes with some perks, including that the meetings are about global health, so I get to be immersed in that world all day long, even if from a bit of a distance. Not to mention, I get to actually go to all the meetings I plan- even the international ones!

I could have never predicted I would end up here. This was one of the few jobs that I applied to that was out of state, and in a whirlwind month, I went from being a college graduate living at home with no job (I had another offer, so that's not totally true), to picking up my whole life and moving it halfway across the country.

That's cool Mariah, but lots of people do that. Why do you want to blog about it?

The number one reason, as it is for everything, is family. My family was maybe even more overwhelmed with this move than I was. This is not a normal thing to do for us. As my mother says, "No one in our family moves." To illustrate this concept, my Mexican great-grandparents (mom's side) met in Minnesota. (So did all of my great-grandparents, I believe.) They raised their children in St. Paul, who raised their children in St. Paul, and those children (and their children and now even adorable little grandchildren) are largely all within one hour's driving distance of each other. The only ones who are not are in the military. So, just like my military family members being far away, me being far away feels like a big deal to me and to my family. I want to treat it like the big deal it feels like, and for me, that means writing.

The primary reason for this blog is communication with my family. I know that I can always pick up the phone or FaceTime- and I will, I promise! But the written word is a good way of letting everyone know little stories they might not otherwise hear and updating more frequently. Plus, this is a great tool to tell my grandparents how I am doing at midnight (I'm a night owl and often busy during the day) in a way the telephone would not be.

There is also a strong secondary reason for starting this again, and that is for reflection. I keep a journal, but the more public reflection space is different. It helps me look at a broader picture and how I might put these feelings into words for others, which sometimes helps me make sense of things. It helps me remember to be a little bit like a child or a tourist, two often pejorative terms that I see as excellent ways to find the wonder in everything and to not be afraid to make mistakes. And it helps me to stay positive. A public blog encourages me to think about what I type and to cast it in a more positive light so that my dear family doesn't worry over me. Some people might call this stretching the truth or even lying by omission, but I find that the silver linings I look for when writing don't just exist in my blog. Instead, this exercise in thinking positively often changes my whole outlook. That makes blogging really awesome for me!

So, any updates?

I have been here for just over a week, and I really like my job so far. My team is great. I haven't loved the city so much because I hadn't seen much of it. I was still tying to figure out the metro and I always came back to the house I stay at too tired and too hot to do much exploring. 

I am staying with my Dad's old friends in Arlington, and they are great- they have fun kids, they feed me dinner a lot, and I enjoy hanging out with the family. I have the entire basement to myself as sort of the room I am "renting," but we share a kitchen space, so we see a good amount of each other. It is fun to sort of be in a host family situation again.

Today and yesterday, I finally did some exploring, especially today. The weather was gorgeous, there was a Peru festival on the lawn near the Capitol, I saw two friends and went to an amazing restaurant, and even went to a cultural program at my work during the lunch hour. There is so much to learn here! There is so much to learn everywhere, but DC is unparalleled in this regard, I think, because there are so many free and intentional opportunities. Most of the museums are free, and I can't wait to start exploring. It almost makes up for the horrendous cost of living, which is double the rent in St. Paul easily. Almost. 

(I get to move into my too-expensive place this weekend and I am so excited to have my first apartment. Updates to follow.)

Monday, January 26, 2015

Possible Reasons You Left Your Dishes on the Table in Cafe Mac

Recently, the messes made by people, very likely people of middle or upper class, in campus spaces, particularly spaces cleaned up by people who are likely working class, have been disturbing me. Cups and dirty, partially-eaten-off plates are common scenes at least once every Cafe Mac meal. The Campus Center I sit in is trashed with newspaper, somebody's reading, somebody's bag lunch, and a crumpled up popcorn bag- and that's only the space I can see without using peripheral vision. But I like to give people the benefit of the doubt/ I don't like thinking I live on a campus of unfeeling slobs who look at a Cafe Mac worker and think "personal maid." So here are some other possible reasons you didn't pick up after yourself:

1) You forgot a cup (a thing that happens to the best of us once in a blue moon) and you don't have any friends/frenemies/fellow introvert/reader/busy people at the bar to remind you of your lost, sad, cup, destined to be looked at with disgust as someone weighs it as a negative factor in whether to sit at that table next and shuffled away from everyone's food, still not picked up after each proximal group leaves. That poor cup.

2) Your mother/father/parental figure literally always picked up after you and are such helicopter parents that they are still hovering somewhere nearby... but sometimes they need to blink or sleep or something, so they miss some of the garbage.

3) Your friends have magical powers (cool!) (but can't totally control them yet- less cool...) and accidentally turned your mess invisible to only you, causing you to think you already picked it up.

4) You are not actually a student, but a visiting anthropologist. You have adopted the practice of leaving messes everywhere because you have seen it so much you have identified it as part of the culture here. You have to fit in as a part of your research methods.

5) You are leaving a trail of your belongings behind you in case you get lost or are kidnapped.

6) You are attempting to ruin the image of the college for some wrong it has done to you by literally ruining its image. You're starting small, but rearranging the furniture is next.

7) You think it would be better for the environment not to throw your trash away so it never reaches a landfill.

8) Cafe Mac just seems SO MUCH like a restaurant why on earth would they not have busboys?

Yeahhhh... those are pretty likely scenarios. But in the event that leaving your messes for others (likely your peers who need this work study job, damn it) is a frequent occurrence for you, I suggest that you

and maybe we can all have a more thoughtful, easier, and less unsightly future.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Something Worth Saying

Writing (especially publicly) is having the audacity to claim space, to believe you have something worth saying.

Who am I to think that I have anything worthwhile to add to the cacophony?

But then again, if everyone can have a voice, why shouldn't I?

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

On Silence

If I picked words to describe this semester, silence would not have been among them. Maybe: Professor Shandy is trying to kill me. Or growing up. Or a series of question marks. Not silence.

But I realized that this semester is the first since I started this blog of just that- silence.

I wrote nothing here for an entire semester. A semester filled with blessings and curses. The blessing of classes I cared about. The curse of my most challenging semester yet. The blessing of a boyfriend and friends who kept me talking enough to keep me from writing as much as I like. The curse of writing only essays and transcripts of interviews and being too tired all the time. The blessing of a beautiful place of learning and so many wonderful minds and opportunities and the curse of being let into the beautiful castle, only to find out it is all grey on the inside, or looks that way to you.

The depression. The bleak emptiness. The staring at the A, at the news that you got the internship, at the well-regarded event you hosted and feeling nothing. 

Even though I functioned, silence wracked my whole being this semester. A deafening silence that hurt so bad I couldn't feel it anymore. A silence that was everywhere, descending with the dark of the winter and looking an awful lot like it too.

Being too busy may have come first. The classes, the lack of sleep, the wondering what all of it was for anyway, not my brain chemistry, may have caused this depression. That didn't make it less real. And it certainly didn't make me like this place much more. It made the silence louder.

Macalester has done many wonderful things for me. Among them, it taught me to be a critical thinker, to constantly reflect and question. Turns out if you mix this lovely skill with the nothingness that is depression you will get a recipe for a bad time. 

If you deconstruct something enough, you are left with only fragments. I was left with no opinions- nothing to believe meant nothing to say, even if I'd had the time to say it. 

I have been so afraid to make a mistake or so sure that there cannot be an answer that I stopped saying anything at all. 

I don't know who "they" are- Macalester, the little depression-bringing demons, society, serotonin- but they took a lot of things from me this semester while I was buried under a pile of work. They took my hope, my unabashed positivity and belief that people are good; that we can do something, and even if we can't we must try. They took my belief in any institution, in any religion, in anything, except maybe my immediate family. And in so doing, they took away my voice. 

And back when I was a devoted, silly, mistake-making crusader for justice, who wrote for herself and for even just one person who might need the words, back when I believed that choosing doubt as a philosophy of life was akin to choosing immobility as a means of transportation (Life of Pi), I vowed never to let them. 

I am okay now with doubt. I know now that in some cases, it is better to let others speak. But along the way, I forgot how good it is to be messy, how valuable it is to be wrong. How success out there in the complicated world requires falling flat on my face with grace, writing things no one should care about, and things lots of people will, looking back on previous actions with both pride and embarrassment. And it is okay to congratulate myself, knowing what it is like to be frozen, to be drowning in silence, that I acted at all. I'm okay with the fact that I will be figuring it, whatever it is, out, for probably forever, and I am grateful to be able to do so. I've always figured it out best through words. Now, I have been given one of the most precious gifts- time (a gift that I won't have to give up for a while, with a nine credit semester on the horizon). With this, I will write and I will sing and I will talk and I will tear holes in this silence. I can already see the light.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Graduate School and Lessons from the Third Grade

The first time I can remember being convinced I could not possibly continue with my education was the second grade.  Apparently instead of letting us just, like, move up to the next grade my educators decided that year it would be a good idea to "prepare" us.  They "prepared" us all right- with talk of bigger chairs and "benchmark tests" and "higher expectations" but no real advice on how to actually be ready for them.  I, as a generally S+ or E (Satisfactory Plus or Excellent) second grade student (except with money... I had no idea what coin combinations made up a dollar), was convinced that I could not handle the third grade.  Bigger books, bigger chairs, bigger expectations, bigger backpacks, everything looked gigantic and terrifying.

I went to the third grade.  Things were not gigantic and terrifying.  In fact, things were so un-gigantic and terrifying that they gave me materials for gifted students.  I did not find these materials to be particularly engaging, but they were not gigantic and terrifying either.  I loved third grade.  I loved my teacher.  I loved my bigger chair, the former symbol of everything gigantic and terrifying.  I loved being able to read better and more interesting things, making good friends, all that stuff you do in the third grade.

Unfortunately (probably fortunately, actually) bigger and scarier things do not end in the third grade.  For example, I was literally so terrified of middle school I'm pretty sure I spent an entire summer feeling like I was about to throw up.  And I begged my mother to homeschool me.  (Hey, it was a practical plan in my brain back then.  She had a teaching license and I was convinced there was no way I would survive).  (Anxiety disorders make a mountain out of not the molehill, but the tiny grain of sand on the molehill).

Middle school is the definition of terrible, but even by non-middle school standards, things weren't really that bad.  I joined the swim team.  I officially made best friends with a wonderful human being I am still close with today.  I failed my first quiz and learned how to ask for help.  I got to be in choir and band AT THE SAME TIME, a wonder not allowed by schedules before or since.  There were three options in the cafeteria at lunch.  It was a good, if awkward, time.

Since I got through those two calamitous events in my life, you'd think I'd figure I can get through anything, but this story repeats itself for every summer camp, every new math class, and every (seemingly) life-changing decision. (Like the crisis prior to taking the pre-pre-ACT plus career assesment in the 8th grade because I thought that the results were determining the whole rest of my life.  Good times).

So it is no surprise that I sat in a grad school seminar today having all the physical symptoms of an anxiety attack for two hours straight.  The people in the room wanted to talk about the realities of graduate school, some of them tough, some of them great.  But all I heard were the tough, scary parts, especially how unstable things can be in the immediately pre-and-post- grad school life.  Even once I remembered to breathe long enough to hear that they were also saying, "You can do it."  and "It is worth it,"  I couldn't really calm myself down.  I felt like I was heading for a life-changing decision and transition I wasn't ready for.  I saw all of my uncertainty become concrete before my very eyes.  (And when it became concrete, it took the shape of a large, hungry monster staring me down).  I almost left the room.  So yeah, I paid an ever-so-familiar visit to the anxiety spiral, but I'm getting better at this game.

I scribbled in my notebook the entire seminar, attempting to take the mangled up thoughts out and put them elsewhere in order to regain a semblance of function.  In the midst of my scribbles, you will find:

Graduate school is just like going to the third grade.

And sometimes, I actually believe it.