Moving Alone

When I was preparing to move to Copenhagen for four months for my study abroad, I spent the better part of the summer sitting in a fluorescent-lit room at a grey desk clickety clacking through mundane tasks and imagining the exciting life I was about to lead in this chic European city.

I would spend my days sipping on cappuccinos and snacking on pastries while having cozy conversations with my supercool new Danish friends. I would bike through the city with ease, discovering all the coolest nooks and crannies. I would hop on a plane every other weekend to some new city to explore. Generally, I would live a carefree life with the happiest people in the world.

When I arrived in Denmark, I quite literally found myself at the drawing board. What I had neglected to consider when building up my abroad life was that I was, well, studying there. I had signed up for an intense pre-urban design program and therefore ended up spending many of my would be cappuccino drinking, bike riding, and galavanting hours sitting in the studio working on my designs. My life ended up being not that different—and in fact a little more difficult—than my life as a student in DC had been.

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It seems like every time I’m preparing to move to a new city, I create these grand stories in my head titled, “What My AwesomeCrazyBetter Life Will Be Like.” I always see it as this huge reinvention—as if moving allows me to not only leave a city behind, but to also completely reinvent myself, leaving behind anything about my life or myself that I’m ready to be rid of. It happened when I went to Copenhagen, it happened a year later when I temporarily moved to San Francisco.

And it most certainly happened a couple months ago as I prepared for a move to New York: a city with the grandest expectations of them all. I envisioned myself going on interesting dates with all sorts of men like the women in Sex in the City. My weekends would be jam-packed with partying as I visited all of Stephan’s hottest clubs. I would meet some of the most interesting people in the world, and spend my time doing creative things with them.

Needless to say, in the two months I’ve spent here none of this has even begun to come true. What I neglected to consider, yet again, is that I would largely be living my life as usual—going through the same daily motions I had gone through in DC. I would still have to go to work everyday, and still be exhausted after working probably-too-many hours. I would still have to find time to take care of myself—get food, do laundry, get sleep, maybe get some exercise.

But moreover, I neglected to consider that some of the core things about myself would not magically change upon arriving in a new city either. I would still be the girl who would often rather spend a cozy night in eating and drinking with friends than going out to a club. I would continue to have times when I’d rather get intimate with a good character in a book than get acquainted with a potential new suitor.

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Moving alone doesn’t change your life. It can be so easy to feel like a change of location will cause a massive re-invention, but in reality the reinvention can happen anywhere, but needs to start from inside you. Hauling all your stuff across the country won’t initiate the changes you want to see in your life—you have to initiate them, constantly, in your thoughts and actions.

So now I’m back to the drawing board yet again, figuring out how I can integrate myself into a new city and a new life on my own terms. I’m learning how I can meet people and build meaningful relationships without having to be the party girl. I’m coming to terms with the fact that I don’t have to be doing something wildly cool at every second of every day in order to be living a cool life—plenty of those moments need to be spend doing everyday things, and that’s okay.

And I’m realizing that, the things that I want changed about myself, I have to be the one to change them—New York won’t do that for me.

Yes, living in a new city can be an exciting way to give yourself new opportunities for change and growth. But you have to show up and take advantage of them.

How Subway Almost Ruined My Taste for Religion

“Pee now, then we’re running errands. Let’s go!”

It was a Saturday. One of those groggy mid mornings after a slumber party—a kid’s version of a hangover.

Errands.  A weekend must-do that generally sucked unless food was involved. Today were foodless errands. Stupid, stinking foodless errands.

After an hour of staging sit-ins in the car while my mom went to Michael’s and JoAnn Fabric, we pulled up to a different part of the strip mall. There was a Subway “sandwiched” between two other stores that 11-year-old me didn’t recognize.  The neon yellow awning of the restaurant reminded my hung over brain of its migraine.

“Where are we?”

My mom smiled, “Cristina, I’d like you to join me for this one.”

We walked in to one of the stores–all I could see were books.  But what really struck me was the odor. It was the ever-polarizing Subway stench seeping in from the restaurant next door.

Years later, I’ve voiced my protest of Subway on the single point of its smell. I have never purchased a sandwich from Subway. The smell isn’t fresh bread. It’s not cleaner. It’s something non-human and pumped out of every vent in the “restaurant.” It’s vile. And it makes me gag.

I started gagging. I sat down and cracked open a book that I think was called, A Young Person’s Guide to the New Testament. I tried to read few sentences, but the words started blurring together and my hands felt clammy. I put the book down and sat against a shelf for a while, pinching my nose.  Suddenly, humiliating church memories came flooding back in an instant—squirming in the pews in desperate need of a bathroom, loudly critiquing the wine after taking communion, and my brother nearly lighting a woman on fire with a candle.

I was trapped in this Christian bookstore for hours, suddenly remembering my most embarrassing moments. I nearly collapsed from the stench and tried not to yack all over the religious texts. I never wanted to read anything with the word Bible in it again.

***

Our family tried a few different religious options growing up. Our first attempt was at age four. We went to Catholic Sunday School, where I told everyone that Jesus was really cute puppy.  I was promptly laughed out of the Catholic Church.

Next, we went to an Episcopal Church for Easter where I dropped the notes we fervently passed during the sermon. The woman next to us discovered our running commentary and looked over in horror.

I guess that Saturday afternoon of errands was our third reemergence into religion. We started going to a new church a week or so later. My mom had the right idea of introducing faith to us, even if the last two attempts ended in humiliation.

We always brought donuts to the Sunday school kids at our new church–probably to keep me from thinking about the Subway stench. Eventually, though, we left the church over artistic differences with the youth choir director.

I avoided religion for the rest of my adolescence, because of the embarrassing memories and the Subway death aroma ingrained in my brain.  I was a quiet non-believer; I called myself Agnostic for a few years as the blanket term for not dealing with my beliefs, or lack thereof.

At this point, my date often changes the subject quickly and clutches their wallet. Let me be clear. I am not a religion person, but that does not make me a vigilante.  I avoided religion like the plague, but I don’t hate the notion of religion.

It was around 17 that I realized I needed to start over with my religious beliefs. I saw how important organized religion was to my neighbors and friends, and I admired their dedication to believing in something. I couldn’t avoid the topic forever; the word agnostic meant less and less to me each time I said it.

I started paying attention to people around me. Through watching others’ behavior, I established my own sense of right and wrong. I noticed my classmates bullying the kids who didn’t look like they did.  I heard people talk behind girls’ backs and call them really nasty names that offended me as a teenaged girl. I read about gay bashing in the news, and I was overwhelmed with sympathy for the victims. I knew I didn’t want to perpetuate intolerance of anyone.

I also saw my fellow high schoolers having fun with boys, staying out late, telling crazy stories about their New Year’s parties, and I envied this lifestyle. I knew I wanted to uphold my moral character, but also still have fun and relax.

Since 17, my core beliefs and morals haven’t altered much. I still don’t go to church or any structured service. But I still make sure to live my life with pride and confidence in my decisions.

I read articles on some of my core beliefs. I explore theories on gender, atheism, race, and discover the parts that resonate with me. I’ve engaged in dialogues with people, where I can hear others struggle with some of the same ethical dilemmas I have, once again relying on my observations of others to help me make decisions.

To develop my spiritual side, I go to yoga. I focus on myself for an hour each session.  Though I’m only a beginner, I try to check-in with my inner self as I travel into a world beyond the 40-hour workweek.

In short, I’m not a religious person, but I still have morals. I’d like to think I found the middle ground, and I’ve been making a nice spot for myself since that day of errands.

I do good unto others, and I avoid those who give me pain. Or odor.

Good Enough For the Moment

I am an editor. I edit everything I write, meticulously. I will edit these three lines ten times before I deem them acceptable. I have already edited twice since I started writing this. Anything I write that anyone could possibly see goes through a wringer of cut and pastes. I agonize over Facebook posts, emails, tweets—do I sound cool enough, do I sound down to earth, is this a stupid thing to say? I edit my punctuation, maybe a dash here, oh, no, I already used a dash, try rewriting the phrase and breaking it up with a semi-colon, there; perfect.

For this, I blame the Internet.

Most of my life has been on virtual display. I’ve been building and shedding identities on the Internet since I was twelve. Some old white people working at irrelevant magazines dubbed my generation Generation Y, but perhaps Generation WWW would be more appropriate. The first ones to really take to a second life online, we’ve incited plenty of Lifetime movies on the dangers of chat rooms and the perils of cyber bullying. My mom used to sigh in amazement of the stupidity of it all—how could you put such intimate information on display for millions of strangers to read? What did we expect?

Because of this exposure, there have been countless horror stories that all say the same thing—the Internet is written in stone and nothing can ever really be deleted.  Future employers now check Facebooks, your mom might find that suggestive picture you sent to your jerk ex-boyfriend on some random website, and there’s always a chance someone Googling you could find embarrassing accounts of your life before you were cool (or at least trying to be cool).

For instance, a Xanga account.

Before the Internet morphed into a dangerous place full of mistakes and regrets—before the horror stories—my peers and I were realizing the draw of life on display. There was—still is—something so enticing about the potential eyes of the 2 billion people surfing the web. No one was listening to us in real life; we were dorky twelve year olds with feelings, full of experiences millions had had before us and grown out of. The expansiveness of the Internet made us feel like what we were saying could be worthwhile somewhere.

It was the early 2000s, just around the time LiveJournal and Xanga got big. Some people took to writing dramatic entries, or fan fiction. Others, like myself, recorded their every day lives with such dedication to tedium that it became a delicious, fulfilling act in narcissism.

If you Google me you will probably find my Xanga. It is an unfortunate record of myself at 7th grade, written in what I would call a cross between faux-African American Vernacular English and Valley Girl speak. The worst (or best? I’m still coming to terms) part about all of it was that I labored over these posts. I was ever the editor, wondering how many o’s I could fit into an “oooooomg” before it became redundant. I thought of phrases ahead of time that might perfectly describe my pre-teen angst. Whatever I wrote in there, I was trying to fit a certain mold.

I could have deleted my account. I have gone to the homepage a half a dozen times—even made it halfway through the process. But inevitably, every time Xanga whined, “Are you suuuuure?” I paused. And said no.

Sometimes, when I’m feeling particularly masochistic I like to go back and read it. I cringe at the posts, ranging from dramatic, cryptic gems like “UGH! people are so fucking fake its soo unbelievable!!” to the more informative, “OMG guys, dont see the village!!!! IT SUCKED HARD CORE!” (I stand by that statement today) to the bizarre: “vincent BLEW DEAD SKIN…INTO MY FACE…AND I WAS LIKE eeeeeeeeewwww!!! it was SOGROSS.” (Why and how did Vincent do this? That really is SOGROSS).

I read an article in Vogue by sex blogger Karly Sciortino about the permanence of online actions. Sciortino runs a blog called Slutever (which I highly recommend) that deals with the more unusual aspects of sex as well as a highly detailed look into her personal life.  On writing a feelings-heavy blog post about being dumped, Sciortino says, “But I resisted the urge to delete it, because, really, who cares? If anything, the visibility of our awkward pasts teach us to take ourselves less seriously.”

This idea struck me, in an age where we feel like our online personas have to be absolutely perfect. Our tweets have to be relatable, our blog posts astute, our Facebook posts funny and casual. We should reveal just enough, but not too much about ourselves. Amidst this intense pressure, the idea of accepting a record of our less-cool selves is mildly horrifying.

But cool is relative. What Sciortino is saying is that we probably won’t ever outgrow our awkward pasts and we shouldn’t try. In a year or a month, I could look back on this blog post with a mix of detached horror and vague nostalgia—did I really think I knew what I was talking about?

It’s important to edit. It’s important to think about what we say before we put it out there; consideration of what we write differentiates us from the hicks in every comment section of any online article. But it’s equally important to recognize and embrace the people we used to be—the slightly insecure 7th grade girl in all of us—in order to remind us that we don’t need to constantly revisit the drawing board, write and rewrite. Sometimes what we have is good enough for the moment.