Category Archives: Thoughts

Work

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A friend quit his editing job and found a new one. He described work with ironic pretension, but we understood each other. It’s a dialect we’ve shared for years. “I’m done being precious over the brands I work for,” he said, “It’s time to put myself in a new tax bracket.” We were twenty-two.

***

We’re driving down the coastal road one night, listening to a folk rock song, singing every word. It reminds us of another time. “Been down some dark alleys… in my own head…” The words pull my senses into reverse.

It is now four minutes past nine a.m., I am driving to an office building on a highway, somewhere I don’t belong at all, under a glaring sun, applying mascara in the rearview mirror, at 45 miles per hour. My hair is waist-length and messy against a blazer.

I was promoted and moved to my own office, my boss’s old one. His things- cough medicine, business cards, proposals long since leafed through and rejected, still littered the desk. One day while researching e-mail marketing strategies, I pulled at a drawer to my right and found a pair of men’s underwear, tossed as if just removed. There was only one man in the office. The underwear looked at me and I thought “fuck this place.” I closed the drawer and went to the health food store for lunch.

I wore my blue sundress the morning I lost my job. My boss looked me straight in the eye and said “Sorry for the shitty timing, but we’re laying you off.” I must have raised an eyebrow at him, his bald head, his unremarkable face. It was the first time I felt relief and panic all at once. My heart rose instinctively, only after did I consider rent.

I called my mother from the parking lot. She rallied my brothers and sister to get lunch. The oldest sister, an hour into unemployment, needed consoling and togetherness. It was the middle of September, still warm, and we ordered sandwiches from a good deli. Everyone had their own bottle of water. Later, my best friend took me to the boardwalk and bought the cocktails. The sky was pink and our vodkas held sprigs of lavender. It turned out to be a great day.

***

Selling vintage clothes was an idea that became a lifeboat. I started an online store a few days later, and floated just above the surface when I opened my pop-up shop, once in late November, once in early June.

I have a paranoid delusion that my best friend hates me because I work from home. “I’m a writer,” I say, half joking, because I know how it sounds. “I put pen to paper.” Meanwhile I’m technically unemployed with one freelance assignment to complete, updating a blog for the retail store where I will eventually start working part-time. She works full-time as a reporter for a small newspaper and struggles with the pettiness of it. All the local politics, issues with the police department.

***

I could not always recognize who was flirting with me when I began working at the store. It was impossible to miss, large white stands holding locally made ceramics and jewelry in the center of Convention Hall. Then there was me, dressed in a black skirt and Frye boots, merchandising the goods, locking up at the end of the night. “Everyone in here is going to hit on you,” said a friend, leaning against the cash wrap, my fortress. He knows me well, remembers who I was at 13 years old. I shook my head “No way.”

One man, despite ample warning, charmed me with a look as he walked back and forth each day. Before I knew it, the year was new and we were spending all our days off together. It was the dead part of winter, very cold.

***

I woke up with a headache and you were sketching. A creative project, a small business idea you had in mind, and as you explained it I imagined you never, ever completing it. That morning we had the kind of talk that culminates in “I’m not in a position to be anybody’s anything,” and that was that, until it wasn’t.

There was a photograph taken the night before. I’m posing with three other women but my head is turned and hair is covering my face. “I hate this picture,” I told my roommate, glaring at the laptop screen. She replied “Of course you do. You’re faceless, not yourself. A faceless form.”

The next day at the store I organized scarves that reminded me of Christmas. There were appealing words I used to describe them. Silk, hand-dyed, shibori, indigo. Why had nobody bought these as a gift? It was now March, and holding them made me sad. You called and wanted to talk. We decided nothing but felt better. Two days later you called again. We drove to the hardware store and bought matching houseplants.

I’m having a zero dollar week. It’s okay, as I just returned from a few days in San Fransisco and Big Sur. It was glorious, blissful, traveling with girlfriends. I love them so.

Listening to Norwegian Wood many times in a row because the first few notes give me goosebumps. It’s beautiful to hear while remembering redwood trees. “As if I’ve never heard this song before,” you said, unimpressed. Like china dropped on the floor, my moment shattered. Small, but not inconsequential.

***

I was hired to assist with an event on the boardwalk, a summertime vendors’  market with live music. It was a Friday night in June. Circling booths of local makers and artists, I finally felt aligned with my work. You had a shift that night, at a bar downtown, but stopped by to see me interviewing vendors and snapping pictures. “Look at you.” Another photographer took our photo while we talked, leaning against a rail with the sun behind us. “I wish we weren’t working so much,” you said, watching the summer fair across the street. Blinking lights and ferris wheels- a fluorescent promise, a transient good time, a night out in New Jersey. That was the first night you left me a house key.

***

“Oh, Miss Devine fix her hair today, now she think she’s boss.” A group of high school girls draped over auditorium seats in study hall are mocking me. They’re right- I straightened my hair before showing up to be their substitute teacher today. Lately I’ve been wearing my hair long, with the kind of natural waves another person’s hand can give. “Oh, it don’t look like Miss Devine made it home last night,” I just hope to avoid. One student is breakdancing on the stage. I watch him, impressed with his agility, while also feeling glad there has not been a fight yet today. “You’re a great dancer.”

The students aren’t thrilled about the warming weather. “People start smelling funky this time of year, like they just jumped out of the garbage can.”

The secretary called me because my assignment was changed. I was down the street, at a familiar house drinking coffee with a man on his porch. We weren’t saying much, never did. The weather had finally broken. It was one of the first days I felt guilty spending any amount of time inside, so I opened every window in the classroom when I returned. For now on, I’ll attribute our incompatibility to differing approaches to windows. Mine are always open, yours are closed.

***

I’m waitressing a few nights a week at the restaurant by the sea again, a place I can always return to, that I know too well. “Look at all you college girls, going away to school then coming back to work at my restaurant,” the owner says proudly. We don’t mind, we adore her. She taught us how to work, scared the shit out of us, and took care of us at the same time. Many of my friends have worked here, one summer or another. Tips I’ve made here sent me to Spain, paid rent on my home.

“I’ve given away my waitressing apron three times thinking, glad I’ll never have to use that again, but I’m always wrong.”

“Thank you for the excellent service.” “Your welcome, I’ve been doing it for years,” I nearly replied, but caught myself. Oh shit.

I had a woman at a table who reminded me of someone I once knew. I felt a closeness to her. There was something about her hair, or maybe her husband. His thick arms were covered in faded tattoos, left over from a time when tattoos signified more. He pulled at his short sleeves.

After their first course, the woman became irate over a bread basket. She was rude to me, and I finally woke up. My dreamy curiosity misplaced on a stranger disappeared into the air. The familiarity of this restaurant has me thinking too deeply.

It wasn’t her, it wasn’t anybody.

It was me, doing my work.

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Bees

Morning. Woke up to the sound of rain while it was still dark. Remembered the time a wasp stung me in bed.

Somehow also remembered the date… June fifth. I had recently graduated from Rutgers University and returned to the waitressing job for the summer. Another waiter, also a poet, gave me a book to borrow. One night before falling asleep I reached over to my nightstand to pick up his book.

Felt a sharp biting sensation on the skin of my upper inner arm, then a bee landed on my comforter beside me. I screamed to my brother in the next room to take the dead bee outside. Despite all the summers I spent on the beaches of New Jersey, I had never been stung before, by a bee or jellyfish or anything at all. The unexpected pain stunned me. I have never been a tough recipient of pain. Also did not yet realize that the bee was dead, and thought he might try to get me again. My brother used my Spanish porrón to cup the wasp and took him outside. He placed the porrón in the garden in the dark.

A big red spot formed on the inside of my upper arm. I showed it to friends at bars. “I was stung by a wasp in my very own bed a few nights ago!”

The porrón with the dead wasp remained in the garden all summer long, collecting rainwater that later turned brown. Often I wondered why no one in my family emptied it and brought it back inside. I never did and it became somewhat of a familiar fixture, a neglected garden ornament with a story. I had always been afraid of being stung by a bee, and then I was while laying in my bed one night.

And so I do not mind stretching next to the bee’s nest this morning. This part of the yard gets the most sun early in the morning and the warmth is soft on my skin. I do not wish to get stung by one of these jungle bees but maybe I will, no matter where I stand.

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Greetings from the Rainforest

There is a song I used to love by an artist whose name I can’t remember. She sang,

“Home is a house you build with your bones.”

In my mind I hear the melody while walking barefoot across the concrete from my bedroom to the porch, to sit beneath string lights and gaze over the hillside. In awe I watch the clouds, breathe deeply and feel very much like myself. IMG_0991

For a woman who tends to define herself by her home and relationships, leaving and feeling secure is always a challenge, but a worthy one. I am realizing, or maybe remembering, truths that have been clouded for a while. Home is a house you build with your bones.

The air is warm and the rain has just stopped. Large green leaves are glistening as I walk past them. The chirps of the jungle are loud, as they always are when the sky grows dark.

I wonder if jungle creatures make noise all night just to make sure they still exist when it is too dark see themselves. Surely we do the same. Surely I have done the same.

It has been almost two weeks since arriving here in Puerto Rico, and I feel settled, at home in my bones, and happy.

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The night I arrived, I let my exhaustion and nerves drive me into hysteria.

My new roommate and now dear friend Wynn peered up from the book she was reading in bed and asked calmly, “You never went to summer camp as a kid, did you?” She could feel my energy as I eyed the small, basic room that we were now to share, indignant over the lack of shelves and wondering where the hell I was going to put all my stuff, and why I brought so damn much.

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That night I messaged a friend in Rincon and plotted my escape. I was petrified by the uncertainty of my new situation.

Over the next few days, with my hands in the soil and the sun on my neck, I shed my panic like old skin. On Tuesday I pulled stray ferns out of a vermillion plant. On Wednesday night Wynn and I wandered through old San Juan, stepping into cafes, chatting over Medalla Lights and getting to know each other. On Thursday I tended to a breezeway filled with orchids and tree ferns. On Thursday night our host bought more shelves for our bedroom, and I finally unpacked. On Friday we took the ferry to Culebra to swim in the turquoise sea of Flamenco Beach and mingle with island regulars. All the pieces nestled into perspective so incredibly, and I became more and more certain…traveling here on a work exchange is exactly where I need to be right now.IMG_0922

The climate is medicinal and the company is truly great. There is plenty of time to read and write. I wake up early in the morning and go to sleep pretty early in the evening, a routine that feels unsurprisingly…amazing. I am grateful to have been able to choose this on a whim.

A few words on a work exchange. It is an inexpensive way to travel and learn. If those are your priorities, you really do not need much else. In exchange for five hours of work five days a week, I receive meals and my room. The meals are healthy and delicious and my room, I have come to see, is perfect.

Earning my keep is not easy, but it is totally reasonable and rewarding. Today Wynn and I dug up a ginger tree to replant in a different spot. Picture two relatively small women hacking away with all their might, shovels and pick axes swinging. When the rain began we took a break for lattes and reading. In the evening we made dinner in the beautiful open air kitchen, to the sound of good music and falling drops.

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Earlier this week I read a particularly striking line from a book I borrowed from the inn.

“Uncertainty, on the other hand, is the fertile ground of pure creativity and freedom…In your willingness to step into the unknown, you will have the wisdom of uncertainty factored in.” -Deepak Chopra

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Traveling to Puerto Rico alone to work in the rainforest was definitely a step into the unknown, and uncertainty and I have become quite close. Having landed on the fertile ground of freedom and creativity, far from the familiarities of home, I am feeling closer to myself. For the next few weeks you may find me here, working on the home of my bones, focusing on patience and grace.

Unapologetic and open.

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Wynn before we begin a day’s work

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A few pieces of the salvaged ginger plant

IMG_1236The sea from Culebrita Island

IMG_1181Greetings from here

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‘Driving While Not Knowing Where You Are Going’ is Not A Crime

“Where are you headed?” The police officer asked me. ‘Well, I am aimlessly driving a borrowed car right now because I do not have an answer to that question,’ I thought.

Very rarely am I pulled over by a police officer while driving. Of course, there has been reasonable speeding and occasional neglect of the blinker, but my driving record is spotless. Today, I drove too fast on a residential street, because right now, I’m nervous about moving slow.

I quit my job. After five years as a waitress at SeaGrass Restaurant, I put in my notice. The restaurant supported me well throughout college, but the last few weeks left me feeling stuck. Nights serving late tables led to even later nights of wine with other waitresses. Serving others six days a week left little time to serve my ambitions. So I decided to give notice, and dedicate all of my time and energy to finding full time writing work. It is the September after graduating from college. The time has come to learn something new. “Kate loves to learn,” my father likes to say.

So for now my schedule is wide open. My days are spent sending out resumes and helping my mother prepare dinner. It is pleasant, but I have a tendency to become anxious when faced with no productive, helpful, or meaningful work. Knowing me, I will not be in this position of idleness for long, but for the past three days, it is my situation.

In a bout of restlessness this afternoon I borrowed my sister’s car while she was in class to run some errands. After visiting the bank and donating a bag of clothes, I treated myself to a small latte and a huge chocolate chip cookie, and took my snack for a drive along the ocean. Cruising down the shoreline guarantees calm.

While enjoying my ephemeral moment of absent-minded existence, I saw the lights of a police car flashing behind me. I was being pulled over.

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I actually bought 2 huge cookies…

The police officer, a young man, asked for my license and registration, which I dutifully gave along with a collection of PBA cards from the past five years.

He surveyed my sister’s back seat, a mess of pizza boxes, beach towels, books, and coffee cups. I wondered if he would cut me some slack as my sister’s “Education for the Deaf” textbook was in plain sight. My big cookie was half eaten, still in my right hand.

Then he asked me, “So where are you headed?”

Honestly, I thought to myself, I am headed nowhere. I am driving around in my younger sister’s messy Honda eating a gigantic chocolate chip cookie. I have no job to do and no class to attend.  I am not a student of any institution, and I have no boss keeping tabs on whether I show up late or not. Today I am going nowhere.

“Nowhere really. I’m picking up my sister later. Right now I’m just going for a drive.” He glared at the backseat again before explaining his reason for pulling me over. Forty-five in a fifteen.

“So where are you going, again?” I held up my cookie. “I am driving and eating this until I have to pick up my sister.” Glancing down, there were crumbs covering my sweater.

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While the officer ran my license, I considered my crime. The drive was a momentary escape that I took too fast. While I sped on the road I also raced frantically from a moment of deciding. I had recently graduated from college, and quit my dead-end job just days ago. This was not the time for escapes. Now would be the time for slow and careful consideration. Where would my next destination be? It was a question I could not speed away from.

In parting, the officer advised me to “slow the hell down,” the best sentence I could have received.

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Real-sumé

Katelyn Melody Devine
Real Life Lady of 22 Years


Daughter and Sister
1995- Present

Committed to the delicate art of upholding harmony in a six-person household
Acts as liaison between high school aged brothers and aging parents
Expert in bridging gaps of understanding

Friend
1994-Present

Listens closely
Offers comfort
Will collaborate in conversation to decode the mysteries of living
Will never judge your actions or desires
Interested in splitting a bottle of wine
Eager to take off on a road trip

Writer
 1997-Present

Creates poems and non-fiction pieces
Writes to make sense of my perception
Writes to experiment with language
Deeply committed to words
Appreciates a well crafted sentence
Constantly scribbling to share my piece of human contradiction, complexity, and beauty

In Love
2006-Present      

Lover, girlfriend, object of your affection
Experienced in infatuation
Occasionally acts on impulse and timing
Appreciates nothing more than a great love story
Has shown great improvement in choices made in recent years/months

Over Analyzer  

Expert text message decoder
Proficient in reading mixed signals
Able to pick up on notions quickly and accurately
Proven track record of being correct when it comes to reading characters
Experience as child book worm and English Literature major

Dreamer          

Determined to write books
Eager to travel the world
Scheduled to run at sunrise sometimes
Committed to spreading kindness
Interested in learning to cook well
Will look closely at my mistakes and learn from them
Constantly working on living a good, honest, kind life

Can’t Decide    

Whether to take myself seriously or not
Where to direct my energies
Which passions to cultivate today
How to synthesize many ideas and dreams into a sustainable life
What to wear this evening

Understands    

Making something out of nothing is all in the phrasing
Reality is what you tell yourself it is
The universe knows what it is doing

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Living In The Now

I originally wrote this for The Rutgers Review April/May 2014 issue. It is my last article with The Review, a publication that offered a home to the kinds of articles I love to write. To read other pieces I had published, head to my Writing Samples page, where I linked the Issuu to all of my articles. Today I am  revisiting the piece after a few months of not looking at it, making edits, and adding some images.

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In the midst of a deep conversation, a good date, a life-changing book, or a fun party, sometimes, I pause for just a moment and think to myself, “I am in this experience right now and this is great.” This personal practice is my way of reveling in an experience, my attempt to slow down the passing of time, and my method of actively being grateful. Well aware that one day I will fondly remember these days once they have passed, my ritual allows me to think that I have already outsmarted the chance of future nostalgia, and it puts me at ease. To be fondly appreciative of an experience as it is happening does away with the possibility of taking the moment for granted.

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Wine-O’clock in Long Beach Island last week was not taken for granted.

My imprecise version of Zen is pieced together from the teachings of a few books, lessons learned while traveling, and the words of my oracles, my friends. I first consciously thought about “living in the now,” in high school. Back then, on quiet weekend nights in our hometown, my friends and I shared a ritual. We would pile into someone’s car and drive a mile down Atlantic Avenue to the Manasquan Inlet. Once parked we would roll down the windows, listen to our latest favorite music, smoke an occasional performative cigarette, and stare out at the thin stretch of water that separated the Atlantic Ocean from the Manasquan River, and Pt. Pleasant from Manasquan beach. Sometimes we played headlight tag with the cars parked across the way. We would sit here, making plans, texting whoever was in the know about where a party was.

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Meggo’s car aka “the volv” parked at the inlet.

We spent hours there, asking, moaning, stressing vowels, “What are we going to doooooo tonight?” On nights when there were no plans to be had, we stayed at the inlet all night, just talking. Sometimes we felt a sense of disappointment that we were not out enjoying ourselves, talking to potential dates, making “the best” out of our high school years. My friend Vin especially, was usually first to leave the inlet on nights when the promise of evening plans fell through.
“I’m tired you guys, if we aren’t going to do anything I’m going home.” We all felt like that sometimes, we all got bored of the inlet. “Don’t you always hope that there’s going to be a keg and a party waiting for us at the inlet one of these nights,” Vin asked me once. “Isn’t that why we always come here?” His words speak shamelessly to the priorities of bored suburban kids in a beach town. We did not know exactly why we always returned to the inlet, we just knew it was our spot.

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My friends Miss America-ing in my old Cabrio.

“At least we live near the beach, so we don’t have to park in like, a mall parking lot or something when we have nowhere else to go,” I would sometimes offer. I doubt the comment helped Vin’s perpetual disappointment. Somewhere buried in my words may have been the beginning of awareness that the inlet, with its choppy waters and seagulls overhead, was more than just a place for my friends and I to wait, it was our reality.

“Live in the now, Vin,” my friend Kat suggested one night. Her simple remark resonated. She meant be present. She meant enjoy our company. She meant sit in this car and smell the salt air and hear the melody coming from the radio and watch the boats that glide by in front of us and feel the cool breeze as it drifts down into the open sunroof. She meant to say that this moment is all we have, so be here now, rather than letting concerns for what will happen next consume you. In those days our concern was the possibility of being invited to a party. Today the concern is about how our lives will look and feel, and what truths we will live, when our time at college is over.

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Just a few finger sandwiches away from it all being over.

When a certain life event, a fun night out, or an incredible novel comes to a close, the pressure to appreciate it feels heavier. In my final weeks as an undergraduate at Rutgers, I find myself remembering Kat’s words to Vin; “live in the now.” It’s not always so simple, especially considering the small talk questioning from neighbors and uncles asking, “so what’s next after graduation?” While I research careers and graduate programs at my desk beside a window that overlooks Easton Avenue, I pause to remind myself that this is my reality, and it is best to simply take delight in being here. It is a practice in balance, making preparations for the future while being present for all the little moments. It is a welcomed pleasure, the awareness and practice of just living in the now.

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The Drive Home

Every year growing up, our family spent a glorious week in Long Beach Island with my father’s brothers, sisters and all 17 of our cousins. We stayed in one crowded beach house, and each one of us with our freckled Irish skin went through bottles and bottles of sunscreen.

On the drive down to LBI, my father used to remark jokingly that the drive to vacation is the best part, full of anticipation for the fun to come, and the drive home is miserable. Driving home you’re sunburnt, broke, tired, and too aware of the impending doom of returning to work and school. Dad deemed Parkway South as the happy side, and Parkway North the “depressing” side.

It is ironic that my father said that the drive there is more pleasant than the ride back, because for as long as I can remember, every trip we have ever taken begins with the same exact argument between my parents. The scene is all too predictable. Dad wants to take just one more work call, or fix the leaky sink just when my mother has planed for us to leave. She says “No Tom, we’ve got to go, come on Tom,” and he rubs his forehead and widens his eyes. When we are finally in the car and Dad’s behind the wheel, it takes about an hour and two Diet Cokes for him to actually settle into the moment and enjoy it.

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My favorite picture of my father enjoying a rainbow in our backyard.

As everyone grows up it has become difficult for all six of us to get a week off from work, especially in the summer. My mother, who scours the internet for affordable family fun within driving distance, will not be denied at least a two-day family getaway. We tease her intentions to preserve just a percent of family trips in these busier times, but appreciate her efforts to make it happen. So these past few summers, we’ve enjoyed a weekend at a cabin, nestled in the Catskill Mountains in upstate New York, and earlier this week we took a drive down to Washington D.C.

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Fam road trip…!

My mother planed for us to visit the United States Memorial Holocaust Museum, because my brothers are “interested in history.” I was not at all excited about going. I anticipated the museum being upsetting and intense, and it was. I wondered why, for our one annual trip away together, she decided on this particular spot. All summer I’ve been wanting to enjoy a nice hike, or swim in a lake, so in the character of a complaining child I begged my parents, “Whyyyyyy? Why can’t we do something fun and happy and light?”

My request was unmet and to make matters worse we visited Arlington National Cemetery as the main attraction of day two in DC. My brothers, “interested in history” as they are, wanted to see John F. Kennedy’s grave, and wander the historic grounds. I sobbed ceaselessly throughout the entirety of the tour through the cemetery, at the sight of endless fields of tiny graves of men and women who passed in combat. This is not cool or fun this is tragic and ridiculous, and I want to leave, I thought. I dubbed the weekend “sad-cation.”

 

The last thing I ever want to do is sound ungrateful, because I truly enjoyed the time my family gets to spend together, no matter where we go. I know my gratitude to be true because somehow, my favorite part of “sad-cation” was the four hour car ride home. With plans originally to sleep off my food coma from lunch and two desserts we ate just before heading home, I placed my head on a makeshift car pillow of bundled sweatshirts and closed my eyes.

Driving through the outskirts of DC, my parents and brothers and sister began discussing what they were surprised to learn in the museum. My brothers explained what they learned in history class about the second World War, facts that informed their experience walking through exhibits. I asked about their teachers, and remembered my last experience in a U.S. history class in high school.

Hearing my family talk confidently about WWII and history made me glad we had visited the museum together, and that my younger brothers and sisters  could discuss history. It’s not as if we were having heated scholarly debates, but just having an informed discussion with them was enlightening. We eventually wandered through other unrelated topics, and before I knew it we were on I95 in New Jersey. While I grew up remembering the drive home as the low point of every getaway, this drive was quite pleasant. The drive home was my favorite part of our trip together. Perhaps with the pressure to enjoy a museum that I was not particularly thrilled about visiting and monuments that upset me behind us, I was able, comfortably spread in three rows of our Suburban, to simple take delight in the company of my family.

Maybe it is because I just didn’t really enjoy DC, (sorry Mom) but I found it ironic that the dreaded drive home, the “depressing side,” of the highway, as my father might say, was actually really great. Maybe my childhood idea that “real life” was something dreaded to return to after the bliss of escaping is totally false (yay). Or maybe the drive home was the only place where all five of my favorite people sat within inches of each other, with nothing to do but talk, laugh and eat Reece’s peanut butter cups.  We can entertain ourselves for hours with our own jokes and banter.

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Uhh you can’t swim in the WWII memorial monument.

My friend Jack, who is the youngest child of his family with sisters much older than him, asked how it felt to be on a trip with my family at this point in my life, at 22,  just after graduating from college. Besides feeling cranky in a freezing cold museum surrounded by heartbreaking and horrific stories, or a cemetery full of men and women who lost their lives to war, two places that I wold happily never visit again, it felt awesome. I felt full from gratitude, and thankful for the time to laugh with my family, especially throughout the drive home.

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Haiku for A Lazy Day

Waiting until two
P.M. to brush ones teeth is
post-grad-limbo-life.

Dinner shifts prove to
Fill my wallet but not my
soul. I get tired.

Perhaps if I got
dressed, more could be accomplished.
But, relaxation.

It’s not as if I
don’t have work tonight, I do.
It starts at 4:30.

Showers are for the
hour just before I must
be somewhere pressing.

Lunch today was cool-
Salad with avocado.
Good tastes all around.

(response haiku from my friend Pip…
Okay now I want
avocado too. Thanks Kate
My fridge is empty.)

At first, humans seem
so permanent. All that stays
is what we create.

(response haiku from my friend Pip after discussing how ridiculous haiku can be…
Haiku are silly
But we need them. In the end,
all is vanity.)

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The time I flew away

When I left for a semester studying in Barcelona, Spain in January 2013, I was in love. We began dating the previous April, and I was enamored all spring and summer long. We spent nearly every day learning about each other, enjoying meals with each others’ families, taking long drives and day trips, swimming in the ocean, introducing each other to friends, enjoying every piece of the newness of being together. I was 20 and found parts of myself that I was previously blind to. I learned what I want in a partnership, and how it feels to care so deeply about another person.

This is not a post about my last relationship, however. This is a post about the first time I left home by myself, and the first time I left the country for an extended period of time. It was a time when one journey collided with another.

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Castellers

I boarded the flight (only the third flight of my life) clutching my passport and boarding pass, obsessively checking the zipper of my backpack to make sure it was closed, and peeking in my purse to make sure I had not forgotten anything. (If I did would it have mattered?) I was petrified. Armed with nothing but a Benadryl hoping for sleep, I found my seat beside a young couple who spoke sexy French. The next eight hours seemed like they were going to last my whole life, and I wondered where the hell I was going. What if I hated Spain? Why was I leaving all of the people I loved to go somewhere that I knew nothing about? The answer of course was that it had been my dream all my life to study in Spain, and eventually reach fluency in Spanish, but in my panic, I flooded myself with panicked thoughts.

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Lara, Katherine and I atop Tibidabo at sunset.

In an effort not to freak out further, I browsed through the films that Delta offers to passengers to watch. Immediately upon seeing Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom on the queue, I began to quiver and cry. Sentimental, sleep deprived, (oh and hung over, this flight was on January 1st my friends…) I remembered seeing this movie at the theater in Red Bank one rainy night the past summer, with my boyfriend, it was the first movie we went to together.

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Barcelona from Montjuïc on a sunny day

For some reason his card didn’t work at the box office, so I paid for our tickets, which I loved to tease him about because he was obsessive about paying for everything all the time. I remember sitting in the theater wondering if he liked it, because I did not yet know his taste in movies at all, and breathing relief when he said he did during closing credits. So in the plane, leaving him, leaving New Jersey rain, leaving home, seeing that, I lost it, and still I had to watch it. So I watched and sobbed throughout.

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Learning to make paella

My mother had stuffed tissues in the pockets of my sweater before I boarded and I went through nearly all of them before the French woman next to me asked timidly if I was ok. I couldn’t tell if I was. I asked the flight attendant for more tissues.

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Hiking Tibidabo in Barcelona a few days after I arrived

Thankfully I cried myself to sleep and woke up somewhere somewhere above the Atlantic Ocean. I needed to watch something more distanced from myself, as the airplane carried my body away from everything and everyone it was ever surrounded by.

 

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Gypsy village in Granada, Spain

I chose to next watch Breakfast at Tiffany’s, a movie that I knew was a classic but for whatever reason I’d never seen it. Watching it calmed me down, and I was inspired and excited by Holly Golightly’s independence, attitude toward men, and beauty. I quit being a weepy American girl and thought excitedly about what the next few months would bring: independence, new friends, a new language, a new home, everything I wanted.

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Small streets, something I wanted

Well, the semester was nothing short of incredible. I spoke a lot of Spanish, traveled to different cities and countries, met people from all over the world, took chances, trusted myself, everything anyone will tell you about a semester in another country.

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The library at Universidad Pompeu Fabra.

At times when I was not with friends or in class, I strolled the windy streets of the gothic quarter by myself, sharing small talk in Spanish with strangers, snapping photos of architectural corners, stopping for a café solo in pretty coffee shops. I stayed out late at night with the girls in my classes and we met lots of people, other travelers, Spanish and Catalan citizens. I learned balance, in a place where it was possible and almost expected to act totally recklessness. Passing Poesia Hispanica class was most difficult academic endeavor I have ever faced, it was a poetry class taught entirely in Spanish.

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Hexagon windows

It has been over a year since those months in Europe came and went. Since then, I ended my relationship, graduated from Rutgers, moved home, and began thinking through my next move. A significant part of me is yearning for travel again. I am saving every penny I can from the restaurant where I work, and I want to plan a trip to central America or across the country very soon.

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Friends one night at the port

Before I went to Spain people told me there is nothing like the first time you travel by yourself. The first time I left I was so nervous that at times I thought I was making a mistake. The next time, I do not expect to feel so. I anticipate readiness to explore, and enthusiasm for the unknown. I want to feel that space of uncomfortable magic that I felt in Spain. I want to feel the adventure, but this time, without doubt and fear, because I proved to myself that I can.

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Lara and I in Granada

I enjoyed the stretches of experience that come from crafting a life for yourself away from home. I thrived making connections with new people and finding similarities when there seemed to be none. I loved stumbling into a situation that felt so impossibly perfect. The first time I left, I did not know such an experience was possible. Now that I do, I crave it.

 

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Recession-istas

My favorite way to recycle is by purchasing and selling clothes, purses, furniture, and household goods at consignment shops, thrift stores, flea markets, and yard sales. For as long as I can remember, I have taken delight in finding a perfectly-fitting frock or a cool velvet chair that once belonged to another, and buying it at a discounted price, rather than buying new items at a store.

At Rutgers my roommates and I took pride in furnishing most of our apartment in yard sale priced or free, given away furniture, and we had the coziest, best-looking apartment in all of New Brunswick, I’m sure.

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Lounging in the living room. American flag scored at Ocean Grove flea market, little iron table at an estate sale, reclining chair given to us for free, plants obtained mysteriously by horticulture enthusiast roommates. 

When I was a junior in high school and all the girls in my grade were nervous about potentially wearing the same dress to the prom, I was completely calm. I bought my lace cocktail dress at a consignment shop sidewalk sale for $15. I spotted it hanging on the rack outside, and thought it was beautiful and unique. By the grace of the thrift shop gods, it fit perfectly, no tailoring necessary. When I slipped it on and zipped up the back I felt like Jackie Kennedy (alright maybe a stretch.) I absolutely loved wearing that dress.

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I loved that car too. RIP Cabrio. May 2009 

I especially  LOVE bringing clothes that I no longer wear to sell at Squan Dry Goods, in Manasquan, NJ and receiving a percentage of what they sell for. I could not be happier that their business has grown from a tiny, one room shop a few years ago to two multi-room stores, one in Manasquan and one in Point Pleasant with clothes, shoes, purses, and furniture.  I have sold clothes there for years now and the profit has certainly kept my wallet from emptiness while I was in school and not working.

Being a consigner there is nearly effortless. Just fill a bag of gently worn, quality clothes, bring it to the store, and the girls there price them and put them on the floor for you. There is no fee to start, and consigners receive 50% of whatever an item sells for. I truly hope their business continues thriving. I can even see myself opening up a consignment shop like that someday.

My friend Janette sells her clothes online, on a site called vinted. I have not tried vinted because personally, I must try everything on and examine it very closely before buying, but Janette loves it. On vinted you upload a picture of the item to sell, price it yourself, and then other users can buy or swap with an items for theirs. Vinted only takes 20% of what an item sells for. Janette is working on opening up a new shop to sell mostly vintage clothes. She asked a few friends and I to model the clothes for her vinted pictures, and I am hoping my totally inexperienced, improvised modeling session helps her sell lots of clothes!

Check out Janette’s store Harmony Revolution.

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Who’s that modeling such a rad romper?

I find something kind and human in the experience of buying previously owned goods from individuals or small businesses. There is a communal and friendly feeling that I prefer over the sterility of buying in a store. It also feels better to consume less, and to make mindful and conscious purchases. Mahatma Gandhi’s words on ecological justice come to mind, “the earth has enough for everyone’s needs but not for some people’s greed.” I would recommend using both sides of the consignment coin, buying and selling, to anyone looking to save money while maintaining an exciting wardrobe, and make a few extra dollars on the side, simply by cleaning out what is no longer worn or used.

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