Thursday, April 24, 2014

poetry corner pt. 3

I wish I was better

A migrant bird, she searches for home.
Her gold-embellished wings
shadow emerald irises,
slowly rising
with murky water
drifting along the quiet bank.

A brambled bite
rests on her lips,
thirsting for resolution;
"cairn o'mohr,"
the mantra, a ghost, between
budding pink-coloured trees.

That look - the unspoken
sorrow, pierces dewed air
resting between the stone,
cracked along the foundation.

Slipping, swirling,
she loses herself inside
the narrow green glass;
She's Alice in Never Never Land
flailing through fact and fantasy.

Captivating, mesmerizing,
the bird knows her name
and relaxes amidst the chaotic
time capsule, her lover guarding 
her foreign heart.


the green wallpaper

The green walls in his house made his emerald eyes glow beside crow’s feet, an outward sign of his moments spent in laughter.  At 7 I was almost as tall as him. 

“It’s because I’m Irish,” he’d say, giving me a little pat on the head. Ah, the luck of the Irish.  

The moan of the coffee machine kept me glued to the counter, watching the chemistry bubble and steam.  He’d always fix me a bowl of cream-of-wheat, and pretend he didn’t see me pour an entire handful of sugar from the crystal shaker into my mouth.  The perfect grandfather.

Walking down the hallway toward the video room was always an exciting adventure, like searching for a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow.  The blue carpeted room was lined with home movies and recorded rentals, the titles often spelled wrong in his half-upper, half-lower case scrawl.

“Pick anything you want, honey,” he would coo, the crinkled lines returning to the corners of his eyes.

It didn’t matter how many times I went into that room, but I always ended up choosing his copy of The Labyrinth, fully aware that the first half of the movie weaved between black and white and color video.

I would settle onto the couch, with Beanie at my feet, a bowl of grapes by my side and an unfinished puzzle sprawled on the oak coffee table, waiting for its completion to reveal a scene of the eastern coastline.  

And at the end of the day I would read a Goosebumps novel out loud, snuggled beneath a blanket, hoping he wouldn’t fall asleep again and miss the best part.


Monday, April 14, 2014

Daffodil Daylight

A little creative piece I wrote today reminiscing on spring days back home.

The warmest day of the season always calls for a really long run, exploring a new road, a new route, a new memory.  Blue skies whisper her name, beaconing her to bask in the sunlight creating shadows between the hills painted in the distance.  She longs to be carefree like the girl in her old photo albums: the long-limbed, long-haired wishful thinker and wanderlust wonderer. 

Love-worn sneakers scrape the crumbling blacktop adjacent to the green grass - so soft that as a child she would always lie in it; she’d swim with her arms and legs in a snow-angel motion, wishing that her hair could smell as good and feel as good as the spring texture tickling her neck. . .

The yellow of the season’s daffodils reflect under her chin as she clutches the bunch just freshly picked from the front yard.  She skips with joy toward the kitchen door, eager to greet Mum with spring’s present when she arrives home.

On lazy afternoons like these, she runs inside to change for soccer practice, making sure her socks match her t-shirt and that her pink water bottle is filled with the appropriate ice to water ratio.  

Sitting on the counter, she searches for the egg kit her Mum had promised to buy the day before.

“I hope it’s tie-dye,” she thinks to herself, pushing aside paprika and coriander spice as she rummages through the cupboard where secrets were never actually kept hidden.

She hops off the counter, the wood softly creaking under her weight as she runs over to the table to arrange the flowers in the old glass vase.

“Perfect,” she sweetly smiles, crossing her arms over her chest.  

The breeze calls her name once again, gently whipping through the door’s screen.  Outside she returns to her spot beneath the cherry blossom tree, at its peak with pink and white buds overlapping the shapes in the sky.  Her braided hair warms in the sun, resting on her favorite pillow: an Adidas soccer ball.

With a white daisy in her hand, she returns to her daydreams under the clouds: “He loves me, he loves me not. . .”


Sunday, April 13, 2014

global thoughts in coffee shops

When you've been in one specific place for a certain amount of time, you often find yourself feeling almost too at home, if that is possible.  You stop making the conscious effort to be awed by the beauty of the landscape, impressed and inspired by personalities of locals, and even accustomed to the taste of what used to be foreign delicacies; we let the comfort and familiarity of a place halt our desire to learn more.  Fortunately, breaking out of this funk is easier than you may think if you ever find yourself slipping into a mundane routine which used to be new and exciting.  Nobody ever said life has to get boring; there is no quota for the amount of adventure to be had in one place.

Since this was my second time back in Scotland, I was so excited for all of the familiarities, all of the nuggets of knowledge and wisdom gained from my last trip that left a lasting impact, turning Stirling into my second home.   I was almost more excited for things I already knew, not the things still left to be discovered: real coffee from the Burgh, daily UniLink trips to campus, seeing the Wallace Monument every time I look outside, and conversations to be had with friends in the chaplaincy every Thursday night.  These are all good things, happy things, routine things that define the word "home."

There is nothing wrong with identifying "home" as "other," because being able to do so is a blessing; but it also means we forget there is still so much to be learned in that place, and so much more adventure to be had.  The trick is to change your outlook and ask: "What can I learn about myself, someone else, or some random fact about this place today? What new store or street can I discover? How else can I embed my heart, mind and soul in this culture?" I found that adopting this mantra pushed me to search for new experiences where it seemed like I had learned all I could possibly learn - but we never know everything.  There is always something to be discovered, we simply need to stop allowing ourselves to let the feeling of "home" blind us from those new discoveries.

This past Monday I found myself quietly meandering down a narrow alley situated by Molly Malone's, Stirling's own Irish pub.  With slight hesitation, but a heart infused with adrenaline, expectant of discovery, I entered the back room of a music shop.  The room's perimeter was draped with fairy lights, illuminating the orange walls scrawled with murals and writing.  The room was filled with young, old, foreign and local residents, a bevvy in hand and a smile upon their faces as they enjoyed the poetry of talented Stirling writers.  Just when I thought this place couldn't get any cooler, I was fooled again.  And inspired to do a little creative writing of my own.

Search for something new every day.

Echoing Truth

Reminders remain
in the foreign, in the same
the music from
an old friend plays
embellishing the background - 
and she twirls,
familiar lights flashing upon
her heels, childhood remembered.

The warm mug rests,
cupped in a worn-out palm
reading Psalms,
looking for God
in coffee grounds.

The wrinkled pages
recognised beneath
ink blots and
commonplace thoughts,
echoe adventures 
prescribed from the map
on the wall,
screaming: "listen to your call."

You can't find comfort
if you look for it alone,
you can't find yourself 
in the vast space
of a falsely distant land
mirroring home,
old and new - parallel,
reflecting truth.

It's there, always will be
and will never leave.


Sunday, April 6, 2014

Life Lessons Living Abroad (Part 2)

In 2012, I had my first opportunity to jump the border and spend four months of the autumn semester in Stirling, Scotland.  Now that I’m back in that same place, but during a different time of year, and a different time in my life, reflecting on my past experience has brought to light how much I have changed since that first trip.  Traveling is one of those terrifyingly exciting experiences that fully exposes your weaknesses and strengths in addition to your fears and desires.  This list is not only about the life lessons I have learned throughout my travels, but also hints and tips in regards to making your way through foreign territory.

1. Be bold. Don’t be afraid to do something aside from your normal routine, like studying abroad, taking a job or internship on the other side of the country, or committing to a month-long mission trip in a third world country. If you are hesitant about making the first move, do it anyway.  You will regret turning down those opportunities.  There is a reason you have that opportunity, so take it! “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” - FDR.

2. Be open to new relationships. There is no such thing as a “friend quota.” I once thought there was a time in your life where you stop meeting people and stop doing new things, allowing life to become mundane and stagnant.  In fact, it is the opposite.  The older you become, and the more you grow into the person you were made to be, the more likely you are to find friends who truly understand you.  These new relationships are often life-changing and worth the effort to make the first introduction.

3. Always try a country’s national dish.  Whether it is mussels, waffles, chocolate and beer in Belgium, haggis, Irn Bru and shortbread in Scotland or mate, completos and terremotos in Chile, do not let your taste buds down.  Food is one of my favorite parts about travel; you learn about the folklore behind the dish and have the chance to embrace the lifestyle of a native by eating something routine in their daily lives.

4. Hostels over hotels.  Do not let the film Hostel scare you away from saving money; hostels are one of the coolest ideas that seem to have been forgotten in the States.  They are very inexpensive and make traveling around Europe a lot more college-budget friendly.  Not only do most youth hostels offer kitchens, free wi-fi, free all-you-can-eat breakfast and late night bars serving food and drink, but you also get to meet other travelers exploring the world and learn a little bit about their own stories.  

5. Learn how to read a map.  I cannot stress this enough.  Without 3G and wi-fi, Google Maps is useless while backpacking through Europe.  Our generation has allowed the GPS to be our guiding voice but it is time to break free from that habit.  You will learn more about the place you are visiting and be more likely to remember how to navigate that area.

6. Go to local spots just as much as tourist spots.  The tourists spots are there for a reason and if you are willing to spend the money, they are usually worth it.  In order to truly experience a culture, though, ask locals what their favorite restaurant is or what they fancy doing on a weekend trip or night out on the town.  Place yourself in their shoes.

7. Be proud of your heritage.  Represent your country with positivity.  Embrace your accent, your hair color, your skin color, your favorite past time and your country’s traditions.  Allow your identity to be shaped by these qualities.

8. Life is short.  Make the most of it by saying “yes” as often as you can and stop hesitating when making decisions, whether small or big.  This is not an excuse for having a “YOLO” attitude, though. Be smart when you make the best out of every day!

9. Relax, be still.  Enjoy the simplicity found in quiet moments.  Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under trees on a summer's day, listening to the murmur of the water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is by no means a waste of time.” - John Lubbock.

10. Face time over FaceTime.  It is no secret that today’s 20-somethings have a major attachment to technology.  Learn from your elders, they have something we seem to have forgotten: the power of face-to-face interaction.  While living in Scotland I earned how beneficial it is to fully give your attention to another person.  The mutual disregard of texting, tweeting and Facebook messaging while hanging out with another person truly enhances the conversation and relationship.  Let it go.  A text can always wait.

11. Be encouraged, not discouraged.  Traveling is not always magical.  A lot goes wrong and those inevitable disasters can seem to ruin a trip.  Instead of allowing those incidents to bring you down, let them build you up.  Without realizing it, every trial teaches us a lesson and is often just what we needed to learn.

12. Beauty can be found in the most unexpected places.  Old book shops, creepy paths running behind a castle, or late night train rides back from the city all offer beauty in different respects.  Search for the good in everything because once you peel back the layers, you never know what you may find.

13. There is a difference between independence and loneliness.  I had a lot of people tell me that studying abroad is one of the loneliest journeys.  If I didn’t have enough to fear already, I was terrified I’d realize just how alone I am in the world.  To travel independently, though, does not mean it will be lonely.  When our lives get so busy, we often forget to learn about ourselves through times of solitude. Traveling gives you the opportunity to learn how to be at peace with being alone when there is no opportunity for companionship.

14. You don’t have to sit at a desk to learn.  The experiences you make on a hiking trip, at a birthday party or when trying to figure out how to use a country’s currency are just as important, if not more important, as what you learn in the classroom.

15. Smiling is a universal language.  When language barriers get in the way of communication, smiling can always be understood: as a form of gratitude, a “hello,” or an acknowledgement.  It is a mutual understanding that often speaks more than words.

16. Don’t be afraid to fall in love.  It is easy to fall in love with a country while traveling: the landscape, the language, the food, the culture and the people all contribute to one’s fascination with a location.  Travel can open your eyes to that place you have been searching for to fill a void in your life.  Never feel bad for liking to live in a country apart from your own; if that feeling exists, there is a reason for it. 

17. Humility.  Recognize the United States is not the center of the universe and that there is a lot to learn from other cultures.  If you are open to other’s traditions or languages, your efforts will be respected and appreciated.  Recognize that you are the outsider, the tourist, and gain a new perspective by remaining in that position.

18. Your career does not define your life.  How many people do you know that have actually used their degree for a job which exactly matches its description?  Life will take you in many different directions, and as hard and confusing as it may feel, our desires and wishes are bound to change as we grow older.  Be willing to let God take you in unexpected directions.  Don’t let the title of your bachelor’s degree keep you from trying out a new discipline.  

19. Be thankful. Every day, show your gratitude for the blessings you have been given, no matter how big or small. “Keep your eyes open to your mercies. The man who forgets to be thankful has fallen asleep in life.” - Robert Louis Stevenson.

20. Let the life lessons you have learned bind themselves to your heart.  When you return to your respective home after a long life-changing journey, it is easy to fall back into the routine life you had before your trip.  Remind yourself daily of the lessons you learned by making a list or spending the day putting them to use.  

And just for fun, here is a pretty funny Huffington Post article about studying abroad that I found pretty accurate aside from #15 (there is actually a lot of studying), and #19 (because I argue it is not about luck but it is about motivation and bravery to make the effort to study abroad).