Blast from the Past (in Concord, Mass.!)

Today I took a road trip up to Concord, Massachusetts for the day. It felt like a pilgrimage of sorts…Concord has a special place in my heart because a decade ago, I went there with my family after falling in love with the works of Louisa May Alcott and Henry David Thoreau’s Walden. 

DSC03291

Visiting LMA’s home, Orchard House, was one of the things that got me really excited about history. I ended up writing a monologue for National History Day as LMA, discussing the abolition movement in Massachusetts. I ended up going all the way to the National level of the competition (I probably peaked then. It’s been all downhill since.) As a depressed loner nerd in eighth grade, it was empowering to find I could speak in public, research, and succeed and get noticed for something. I think that project probably figured into my eventually deciding to study history in undergrad.

DSC03332

Orchard House, Concord, Mass. (photo by Rebecca Gale)

Orchard House was magical to me when I first visited. I loved how it felt so personal and vibrant with family history. It remains one of my favorite historic houses. The walls and mantel pieces are drawn and painted on by the Alcott’s youngest daughter, May, who went on to exhibit at the Paris salon in the late 1800s. The Alcotts believed it was important for each daughter to explore her talents and to develop a career for herself, so they allowed May to basically draw on the walls. I noticed this visit that the furniture and decor is very vernacular and, ahem, well-loved, but that to me gives the house a lived-in feel and communicates their thriftiness and struggles with poverty prior to the success of Little Women. Anyways, the point is that this house helped further convince me of the beauty of historic house museums in a new way. (I just wish they would have let me take photos, but I know that would endanger the antiques.)

DSC03385

Interior of the recreation of Thoreau’s cabin at Walden Pond. (photo by Rebecca Gale)

And Walden Pond…visiting there as a young idealistic 8th grader who loved the idea of living out in the wild and communing with nature for two years was equally thrilling. Today I love communing with nature in small doses but I love being able to cook dinner in the microwave more. But remembering my excitable younger self was encouraging to my current pessimistic, semi-jaded self. In particular, Walden always makes me recall how it was dream at one point in high school to get married standing in the water of Walden Pond. I could laugh until I cried thinking about that. I have now shared that with the Internet, so I have little else to hide.

DSC03406

To complete my public humiliation….Cheesin’ shamelessly with my bae, Henry David ❤

I went to Concord hoping to have an epiphany of some sort – to have my future become clear as I reconnected with significant places in my past. The reality was I still faced the same issues I always have; I wanted to talk to the staff at Orchard House about museum work and their collections, but I was too shy. Throughout the day, I constantly battled my anxiety as I made choices on my own. I am as hopelessly single as I was in eighth grade, and probably almost as lonely. But I did haul my ass out there on my own to do all those things. And I had a few small realizations along the trip, some sacred, some less so:

DSC03451

Sunset begins over Walden Pond (photo by Rebecca Gale)

  • If you can’t figure out how to “live in the moment,” that’s okay. People are constantly telling me to live in the present moment, and I am trying to draw the line of obsessing over the future or the past more, but I find myself beating myself up for not enjoying my life more. It makes me wonder if sometimes we can’t appreciate something until it’s over. Maybe anticipating the future and reminiscing about the past are just as valid as taking hold of the present moment. Maybe all three can be used to enjoy life. Sometimes we appreciate things more when we are looking at them in the rearview mirror. Sometimes dreaming about the possibilities of the future are all that get us through the present.
DSC03313

Downtown Concord…this one had my name written all over it and I can’t complain. (photo by Rebecca Gale)

  • YouTubers are essentially creating a cult of personality around themselves with loyal followers you will do anything to support them. My lack of success on YouTube can be traced to my inability to develop a cult of personality, and probably it’s a good thing that I can’t do that.
DSC03312

Juicy architectural details in Downtown Concord (photo by Rebecca Gale)

  • Everyone is in a life cycle. I was one of a few people sitting by Walden Pond alone. A couple passed me by, laughing together as they swam through the rippling water. Other couples walked hand in hand on the other side of the shore. Another took a picture of their young daughter doing handstands on the sandy bank. At first I felt jealous and resentful, but then I realized they were just in a different place. Maybe one day I would be them. Who knows. But these years I have been a lone wolf and that has had its benefits. We want other people to be where we are or we want to be where other people are so we try and set people up or get set up, but everything has its time. Taking road trips alone…Right now, that’s just where I am.
DSC03330

Concord cemetery. Graveyards used to creep me out, but I finally understand what my mom told me that you’re honoring people by giving them thought long after they’ve left this earth.

  • I’m not cut out to be a 19th-century farm woman. I wonder if there were 19th-century farm women who felt they weren’t cut out to be 19th-century farm women.
DSC03353

Wayside, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s home next door to Orchard House, though apparently he disliked Amos Bronson Alcott and the other Transcendenalists.

  • Sometimes you need to get away so you can find the strength to keep pressing on. Some days, you hurt so bad. The bad news keeps piling on. The reminders of what you lost, of how he doesn’t want you, of how you aren’t good enough for him, of how he wants her and her and her more than you and will actually put effort into continuing a relationship with them. Sometimes you have to force yourself to get out to distract yourself. Reminisce a little, but not too much. Let your mind be a little empty. Spend a little too much money. Who gives a shit. As long as you’re alive tomorrow. As long as you make it through this. As long as you know that you are a woman who is worth having and who is as strong as she is broken.
DSC03371

Concord, Mass. (photo by Rebecca Gale)

  • As someone whose heart warms and sings the Hallelujah chorus as much as it does at the sight of chain clothing stores, it’s probably wrong that I have such a strong emotional attachment to the book Walden.
DSC03378

Drool. Especially the turret. (photo by Rebecca Gale)

  • It’s good to get back in touch with your dreams and to recognize how far you’ve come. On my drive up to Concord, I passed near where my sister went to college. I immediately thought of the night I stayed in her dorm room before graduation. I was not far from starting undergrad myself, and I remember listening to the song “Independence” by The Band Perry and almost crying (typical) because I was so nervous about the thought of living on my own. Flash forward seven or eight years and here I am driving on my own on a spontaneous road trip, living ten hours from home. I often get on myself for not being a more adventurous person, but the reality is I’ve come a long way.

DSC03437

 

“Far away there in the sunshine are my highest aspirations. I may not reach them, but I can look up and see their beauty, believe in them, and try to follow where they lead.” – Louisa May Alcott

DSC03463

Advertisements

Stress: It’s Just Not Worth it

This was originally posted on the Universities at Shady Grove‘s student blog Around the Grove on February 17, 2017. You can read my other post here.

I don’t know about you all, but the whirlwind of work has already set in for me this semester. I have a lot on my plate in the coming months, which is both invigorating and overwhelming. It can be tough to find just the right workload that pushes you to achieve without leaving you burnt out. If you’re starting to feel burnt out and overwhelmed by the coming semester, maybe it’s time for you to take a step back and evaluate what’s on your plate.

In life, it can be easy to let your choices be dictated by what other people expect of you. It’s great to get advice from others and be mindful of other people’s expectations, but I think it’s also important to learn to put your foot down and stand up for  your own needs at times.

It’s awful to feel like you’re drowning in never-ending commitments. Sometimes we become so convinced that we have to do everything or we can’t let people down that we stay in extremely stressful, even toxic, circumstances. But we end up hurting ourselves and even letting others down even more because we can’t give all the tasks we’re juggling our full attention.

IMG_1789.JPG

De-stress picture #1! (Taken in Prince Edward Island, Canada, one of the least stressful places I know of!)

Of course, sometimes we really have to shoulder a ton of different things in our lives; it’s beyond our control. If that’s the case, it’s still important to draw a line and not let work and other commitments take over your life. Make time to relax and remember to take care of yourself by doing things as simple as eating regularly, getting sleep, and staying hydrated.

So if you’re feeling overwhelmed by the semester already, consider doing some of these things:

  1. Cut something out of your life. Drop a class, ask to reduce your hours at work, cut back on the number of organizations you’re in…You don’t have to do everything! It’s more important for you to be healthy and for you to do things well, giving them your full attention.
  2. Build a support network. Find one or two supportive friends or family members who you know you can go to when you’re overwhelmed. Maybe even delegate one of them to be your “No” person who will remind you not to take on more than you can handle!
  3. Find a professor or other staff member to mentor you and help you navigate all that’s on your plate. We have wonderful, caring staff here at USG, and they are here to support students and are often more than happy to give advice, offer encouragement, and answer questions.
  4. Consider talking with a counselor at USG’s Center for Counseling and Consultation or attending one of their free workshops teaching skills to handle stress and live a healthy life.

    img_1648

    De-stress Activity: Imagine yourself on a beach! (Photo by Rebecca Gale)

  5. Take time to de-stress. Plan little breaks in your day. Take a walk outside and look around at the scenery, noticing things you haven’t before. Sing along to the radio in your car. Find a hobby as simple as coloring or learning how to make smoothies to give you breaks so you don’t feel like you’re drowning in work.
  6. Enjoy good conversations with friends, even on a busy day. One of the first things that tends to go when I get busy is socializing, but taking time for a laugh or honest chat with a friend can really go a long way.
  7. Get rid of things in your life that bring you down instead of lifting you up. Avoid unnecessary extra stress…Does the news send you into a rage whenever you see it? Does social media overwhelm you or make you feel like you’re not good enough? Avoid things on your phone, TV, and computer that add to your daily frustration.

I know it can be tough sometimes to say no to things and it’s easy to feel like a “wimp” for trying to take care of yourself, but I honestly believe it’s for everyone’s benefit if we all manage our lives to be a healthy balance so we can be our best selves and be able to step up to the plate in the tasks we are faced with. Stress can really take its toll on relationships and mental and physical health, so be wise about controlling the amount of stressors in your life and learning how to cope well with stress when it does arise.

How to be a Better Human: Food for Thought About Friendship

This is a longer version of a post I wrote for “Around the Grove,” the student blog of the Unviersities at Shady Grove. I’m also considering writing a series of posts called “How to be a Better Human” with my unsolicited advice about being a kinder, more compassionate member of human society who gives back, and this will be a precursor to that.

If you’ve logged onto your Facebook recently, you might have noticed that Facebook is celebrating their “birthday” with a holiday they created called “Friend Day.” Now, personally, I don’t have a great track record with having good friendships in the last few years, so I thought it might be interesting to reflect a bit on friendship in my first blog post this spring semester. A lot of people say, after all, that the friendships you make in college are part of what makes your experience so meaningful. The flip side of this, of course, is that bad friendships or a lack of strong friendships can make a college experience really difficult.

The beginning of the semester tends to be a time when people have friendship on their minds: getting to see friends from last semester again, trying to make new friends if you just transferred, meeting new people in your classes, etc. I figured I would offer a few unsolicited pieces of advice that I’ve learned from experience of the years on the subject, particularly as they relate to starting back at school:

  1. Be open to making new friends (even if you’re a senior.) I’ve heard seniors tell friends they don’t want to bother with meeting new people because they’re about to leave anyways. You never know when great opportunities will come your way, and you might be surprised how many friends will drop out of your life once you move on to a new place. So be careful about writing people off or closing yourself off to the potential of forging new friendships. If you’re not a senior, it can be easy to get comfortable with your friend group and neglect making new friends. There are lots of interesting people in the world who are worth getting to know and who might expand your horizons and enrich your life.
  2. Be open to being friends with people you wouldn’t normally hang out with. Some of the most unexpected people have ended up being my best, most loyal friends over the years, so don’t write people off as not your type too quickly. Also, be aware that some people take a longer time to warm up to people and open up to others and show their true personality (like yours truly!) We all have a tendency to be attracted to the loudest person in the room, but consider trying to get to know the quiet people on the periphery; I’ve come to learn they can make great friends and have a lot to offer (though maybe I’m a little biased!)
  3. Welcome new students. All of us undergrads at USG have experienced being a transfer student. Maybe it went well for you or maybe it was really lonely and stressful. Either way, have some empathy for those who are just arriving and welcome them: introduce yourself, include them in conversation, and just be open to getting to know them. It’s sadly not unheard of for some people to look down on newbies, but we’ve all been the new person…Do you really want to be the jerk who forms a clique and excludes others?
  4. Cut off toxic friendships. This doesn’t directly relate to school life, but I think new years and fresh beginnings can be a great reminder to clean out toxic habits, thoughts, and people from our lives. A lot of us at USG have moved from other schools or places, and I’m sure many have experienced the frustration of friendships we cherished fizzling out. It’s helpful to remember that some relationships are just meant for a certain part of our lives; people come and go. If someone isn’t invested in you and prioritizing your friendship at the same level that you are and you find yourself more hurt than uplifted by that relationship maybe it’s time to let go.
  5. Even though you’re busy, remember to let people know you’re invested in them. Nothing kills a relationship like an unresponsive friend. So even though you have a lot on your plate, remember to take a moment here and there to do these things for friends and loved ones:
    1. Ask them how they’re doing
    2. Tell them why you appreciate them
    3. Leave them a note or send an encouraging text
    4. Let them know you are thinking of them
    5. Respond to their emails, texts, etc. in a timely manner (or let them know you will get back when you have the time)
  6. Respect others’ points of view and be a good listener. Obviously, our political and social climate right now is very tense and full of harsh words. As a community of scholars, I think it’s crucial for us to continue to respect the opinions of others, listen to their point of view, and try to be understanding rather than just dismissing or insulting whatever we don’t agree with. A lot of people feel powerless right now, but, as corny as it sounds, I think the communities we create in the little worlds we each inhabit can have ripple effects into the world around us. And we can make a huge impact on the people around us – for better or for worse – in our daily interactions.

Well, with that, I think I’ve said more than my fair share, but I hope that you all will enter this semester open to new relationships and that you’ll be able to find some kindred spirits to brighten your life among the swamp of papers, projects, and textbook readings!

Best of luck with this new semester!

Life Lessons from Ice Skating

Tonight, I went ice skating for the first time in over a decade. Recently, I’ve been trying to find some “cool” sport to learn to make exercising appealing and to feel like I’m accomplishing something in life outside of doing schoolwork. Like many women, figure skating has always fascinated me. It’s like the gymnastics of the winter Olympics.

When I found out the local ice rink offered classes, I was immediately ready to fork over $200 bucks and register, hoping I could get a taste of that kind of grace and freedom skaters seem to experience out on the rink. Thankfully, my ever-practical mother put the brakes on that train and recommended I actually go skate before I empty my bank account, go to one class, and find out I hate it.

As much as I hate to admit it, she was right. (Thanks, Mom.) Learning to skate must be like learning to walk, which makes me feel bad for baby me. It’s extremely unnatural, awkward, baffling, frustrating, and a bit terrifying. And you fall a lot. But as I wobbled my way around the oval again and again, slowly loosening my death grip on the wall and allowing myself to glide a few feet on the ice (until I fell and slammed onto my butt twice), I couldn’t help but think of how much the process paralleled real life.

So, without further ado, here are a few quick unsolicited life lessons I took from my experience today:

  • You might fall on your tush a few times, but you can get back up and try again. Don’t let it stop you. Laugh it off. You might feel your body tense next time you pass that spot where you wiped out, but grit your teeth and skate a little faster.
  • Sometimes you need somebody (or something) to lean on. When I first got out on the ice (and every subsequent time, actually), I felt so stupid clinging to the side of the rink while seven year-olds glided by doing triple lutzes. But that was all I could do at the time. Sometimes you have to lean on other people – family, friends, a therapist, a doctor, a psychiatrist, a mentor – to help you through a time when you can’t walk on your own. It’s just part of life. We can’t always be strong or know what we’re doing.
  • Sometimes real life isn’t like the movies. I can’t think of a silver lining to sugar coat this one, but I think it is an important lesson you have to realize at some point in life. I went in expecting a “Disney’s Ice Princess” moment where I stepped onto the ice and immediately start gliding and spinning. Not so, my friend. I find myself expecting a lot of things to be like TV – where you get to tell off the friend who wronged you or the guy who you’re meant to be with realizes his girlfriend is a witch and you’ve always understood and supported him and he dumps her and runs to you just before you get on the plane…But life isn’t like that. (Or at least mine isn’t; maybe the joke’s on me.) But all the same…
  • Even awkward, difficult things have silver linings. Even though I never quite got the hang of it and I can tell that I’m going to wake up tomorrow feeling like a Zamboni drove over me, I had a good time. I got out of the house, I spent time with a friend, I actually exercised, and I realized that I can give up my dreams of being an Olympic figure skater. Sometimes it’s kind of relieving to be able to cross something off your list that you feel like you should accomplish. “Nope. That’s never happening. Now I can move on to salsa dancing.”
  • It’s good to be reminded not to take yourself too seriously. The other benefit of today’s experience was that it was humbling. It’s nice to laugh at yourself a bit and realize you can’t conquer everything. It’s good to be aware of your limitations in a non-self-berating way. I could laugh at my inferior abilities without falling into the trap of self-hate. I could keep my ego in check but not fall into the depths of despair because it was kind of funny to be bad at something for once; I had nothing to lose. And with that, as I marveled at the seven year-old girls skating their way to Olympic qualification, I realized that there are things that I’ve been blessed to be naturally gifted at that I’ve been taking for granted.
  • Go with the flow. About my fifteen billionth time around the rink, I realized that the best thing to do is just glide. Feel where the ice is taking you and lean into it. As someone who has been freaking out over where to go in life after I graduate, trying to plan my life out but realizing its impossible, it’s good to remember that a lot of life is gliding from one opportunity to the next. Sure, you have to put a lot of work in, I’m not saying your should just skate through everything, but you have to let go of the need to plan everything and just be open to the idea of seeing where things go.

I could draw a million more parallels, probably. (Here’s another one: They never bring out the damn Zamboni when you need them to. And as a result you fall on your butt.) But I think I’ve over-written my welcome.

I hope, nonetheless, readers, that life in the coming weeks is for you “incredibly skateable,” as one of my mother’s ice skating-loving students once said. (Translation: REALLY AMAZING.)

“Geese Around the Grove”

The following post was published on Around the Grove, the student blog of the Universities at Shady Grove, on 10/28/2016. 

One of the first things I noticed on campus was this quirky yield sign near the Shady Grove Road entrance.

img_20161012_172330

But it wasn’t long before I found myself sitting in my car on the way to class, stopped in the middle of the road waiting for our resident flock to leisurely waddle their way across the asphalt.

20161010_102155

I had to wait a surprisingly long time for them to cross, but just as I found myself growing annoyed at such a ridiculous setback, I realized just how funny these feathered friends were. They were completely unperturbed by the fact that they were stopping traffic; they just kept waddling at a leisurely pace, absorbed in their own business, keeping me, the supposedly superior human from going about mine. I had to let go of my frustration and laugh at how silly the situation was.

It struck me how similar geese are to people: we’re all very absorbed in our own routines, just like geese get caught up staring at the ground right in front of them, nosing around for some good eats. Geese walk along like they’re the most important beings in the world, not realizing just how silly they look. Seeing geese always reminds me to stop taking life quite so seriously, getting wrapped up in every situation and worked up about every unexpected road block (including large, road-hogging birds!) All of the things I think are the end of the world today are relatively small in the grander scheme of life, and it’s good to take a step back and have some perspective, humility, and humor about the trials and stresses we come across every day.

20161010_102139

This lesson seems particularly apt as we hit the mid-semester crunch of tests, projects, papers, and other deadlines…It’s easy to get caught up in each assignment and overwhelmed by the enormity of everything that’s right in front of you. The reality is that these obstacles, tough and frustrating though they may be, are just one part of your life; you will get through them…You’ve gotten through so many semesters already!

So when you start to get overwhelmed, remember to take time to get your nose out of the grass and admire the beauty (and humor) around you.

Keep on waddling on, USG!

If you ever need help managing stress, you can visit the USG Counseling Center (located in the library) for free counseling or attend their Thursday afternoon free workshops on dealing with stress and anxiety. Consider it a long-term investment in your own well-being!