Nomad Diaries: Lisbon 2017

It’s our last day in Lisbon; we’ve run out of sites to take interest in and we’ve run out of energy. So we spend a few hours in the late afternoon winding down and relaxing in our hotel room. Relaxing is something I’ve never been good at, even in the best of times.

I wish I had posted more frequently to my blog – especially since I have traveled a bit more in the last year or so and would have had plenty to write about  –  but these past few months have been stressful. A heavy workload (coursework, conferences, PhD exams) met by workplace conflict, which has weighed me down more than anything else. I don’t know how to sum it up exactly. It’s like being in a happy place one moment, and the next moment the ground shifts beneath you and suddenly you find yourself in…well, a not-so-happy place. You’re not exactly alone because you have family, friends and colleagues who care about you, but you kind of are alone because everyone is watching from the sidelines.

So I went to Lisbon with my sister to get away from it all. Actually, we had booked the trip shortly before any of this conflict had begun. We wanted to treat ourselves for all of our hard work; she had consistently been putting in long hours at her job; I was hoping to be A.B.D. (“all but dissertation” – a milestone on the PhD path that’s reached by passing a series of brutal exams) and have something worth celebrating (yes, I did reach that milestone). But it soon became the trip where I was to get away from all the stress. Let me put 3000 miles between myself and my now toxic environment, I said, maybe it’ll help.

And then I received the news a few days before my trip. I was heartbroken to find out that a former professor of mine at my alma mater had passed away. She had been my undergraduate advisor well over a decade ago, and I later took classes with her as a graduate student doing my M.A. She wrote my recommendation letters for jobs and for PhD programs, including the program I’m in right now. I would often stop by her office when I came to town to visit; she was always there. And always surprised by my unannounced visits, she’d greet me with a big hug, tell me to sit down and we’d have a good catch up. We usually kept our conversations to academics, but I was happy with that. She’d talk about her stuff and I’d talk about mine, and more often than not I sought her advice on whatever academic/professional matters were concerning me at the time.

I had planned to visit my alma mater over winter break and had thought to stop by and see her again and consult with her on my current issue. I can’t think of anything to add here apart from the obvious, that won’t happen anymore.

The night before I left for Lisbon, I decided to update my CV. I reached the references section at the end. At the top was the contact information of the person with whom I’ve been having a conflict. I felt betrayed, and no longer trusted them, so I highlighted the contact information, lingering for a few moments before deleting it all, wondering if we’d ever resolve things and if I’d ever feel comfortable adding them back, or if they’d ever want me to. I felt a stab of pain from the act of disconnecting myself from them, but I continued to scroll further down. My late mentor’s contact information was listed as well. With a heavy and wavering sigh, I highlighted her information and deleted it too. I stared at my laptop screen for a few minutes, taking in the shortened reference section. I wasn’t worried about references; I had enough. But I was feeling a great sense of loss. One through death, the other through conflict. I saved the changes, closed my laptop and curled into a ball on my couch and cried for a while.

What is it about emotions that make them so easy to compartmentalize one moment, but impossible to shove away the next? Maybe it’s the intensity of the emotions. Maybe it’s the connection to the person involved. For me, it’s when that connection has broken that I feel emotion most intensely. In cases where you’ve lost someone, I think the last connection you have to that person – that very last, thin strand – comes in the form of grief. And it’s so hard to let go of sometimes; it’s so hard to stop your brain from thinking about your sadness. Stopping means breaking that last connection. I don’t want to break either connection. Not with the recently departed. Not with the person who is hurting me. So I let my thoughts run, unrestrained.

Sometimes I’m forced back into the present. When we’re climbing up cobblestone streets trying to make our way to Castelo de São Jorge and I’m trying to follow Google Maps. Or when we reach the castle and I’m completely taken in by the vistas of the city. Or when my sister and I get caught up in trying to take the perfect selfie. But more often than not, my mind wanders back to its saddened state once we’ve checked a site off our list and are heading off to the next place, or we’re sitting silently on the metro, or when I’m back in the hotel and I have little to distract me.

So I’m sitting there on my bed, that last day in Lisbon. My sister is in the bathroom taking a private phone call, and I feel a sense of relief – getting my solitude back so I can think about my problems. It’s weird, putting it into writing, acknowledging that I sometimes consciously take the time to think about my troubles, and allow pain and anxiety to hit me like a tide. Sometimes it seems necessary – to be in touch with your feelings and know what you’re about. But other times it’s excessive to the point that the world is moving along without you, and you become adamant in staying put in your grief.

And I wonder if I’m guilty of the latter while I’m on vacation. I tell myself it’s not my fault that I can’t control circumstances, and I can’t always have control over my emotions. And I try to tell myself that I have enjoyed this trip. Lisbon is a beautiful city. Neighboring Sintra is even more beautiful. The weather is better that the 20 degree chill I had left behind in Albany. Finding vegetarian food has been a bit of a struggle, but we had a few good meals. We had a few laughs, and we had some good moments. And I have a stack of great photos to show for it. But all too often it’s just been a lot of sadness and anxiety interrupted by fleeting moments of happiness. Or is it even happiness? Just moments where the beauty around me distracts me from my sadness. It’s not what I had in mind, I suppose. I wanted to leave my worries behind me. Just for a week. Yet they’ve followed me around. They followed me to the Newark airport, where I abruptly burst into tears while waiting at the gate. They follow me into the hotel, where I keep crying myself to sleep because I feel hurt from the past and anxious about the future. They follow me onto the metro when I’m absently staring out the window and I’m stuck in my head. They come front and center every time I catch some random man staring at me or every time I receive an unwanted touch; it happens in contexts where I can’t stop them or control them, and it reminds me of my lack of agency in my current work situation, and my struggle to claim it. I feel powerless. I feel pushed into a corner. I feel silenced. And I can’t forget any of it, not even while I’m on vacation.

I’ve thought of my late mentor a lot throughout this trip. Sometimes I’d see the back of a woman’s head and it looks like hers; or someone with a similar side profile or the same glasses. And I’d remember that I’m in Portugal – not Missouri – before I’d remember that she’s gone. And I feel shocked all over again. And I feel slightly less capable at handling my current conflict. She – along with another mentor – was one of my twin pillars. Together, they supported me and pushed me, and if things ever went bad, they were waiting in my corner, ready to help me get back up. And thinking about her death makes me feel even more alone as I stand in the ring, bloodied up and ragged from this past semester, determined to go another round while wishing she was still there in my corner.

I don’t like to write about tales of depression and sadness. I don’t like focusing on the negative when there’s beauty all around me (I’ll share some photos from my trip below as proof of that beauty). Yet there are times when the bad things overshadow the good things and there aren’t enough filters in the world to hide it.

This is one of those times. But I’ll say this: despite the pained tone of my post, I remain optimistic underneath it all. Nothing lasts forever – neither the good nor the bad. I haven’t forgotten the brief moments of joy I’ve felt in the last few months, and I haven’t forgotten the people who’ve managed to coax the occasional smile or laugh out of me. I’m optimistic that things will eventually get better. I’m optimistic that I’ll eventually feel happy again.

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Nomad Diaries: Winter 2016/2017

Washington.

I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve been to D.C. I guess that’s in part because I think of these trips as visits to my sister, not the city. Even so, I’ve always enjoyed the touristy parts of D.C., and there always seems to be some sight that I’ve missed. This time around I had a few presidential firsts: a visit to Mount Vernon and a tour of George Washington’s home was one of them, the National Portrait Gallery being another. But the Lincoln Memorial was the one that I enjoyed the most. It’s beautifully situated on one end of the reflecting pool, the Washington Memorial on the other end. And there was something about climbing the steps to see Lincoln in his seat that was almost pilgrimage-like. (stand down, my Muslim friends. I said almost.) Sure, it might have something to do with the history that Lincoln’s presidency represents. The Civil War, the Emancipation Proclamation. But I also think of millions of protesters gathering on the National Mall through the decades. The Women’s March on Washington. The Million Man March. The numerous anti-war protests. I think of Martin Luther King delivering his famous “I Have a Dream” speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, right where I stood more than fifty years later.

I left D.C. on the day of Trump’s inauguration. As I listened to it on the radio, I couldn’t help but think back to my visit to Lincoln Memorial. I thought about the Women’s March that would be taking place the next day. I wondered how many more marches it would take for those with privilege and/or power to hear those who have been clamoring to be heard.

New York.

New York is another city I’ve lost track of in terms of how many times I’ve visited. My sister and I went again when I was visiting her over the holidays. We went on January 1st, happy to dodge the New Years Eve bustle. Even so, I still wasn’t looking forward to the trip all that much. The mere idea of being in the city is exhausting. It’s dirty and noisy, and the bus ride from D.C. to N.Y.C. is always kind of gross. No more, I always tell myself. Every. Single. Time.

Yet somewhere there always ends up being a next time, and I never know why. There isn’t a single, concrete sight, shop or restaurant that draws me to New York. But I’m reminded of a quote from E.B. White: “The city makes up for its hazards and its deficiencies by supplying its citizens with massive doses of a supplementary vitamin–the sense of belonging to something unique, cosmopolitan, mighty and unparalleled.”

Chalk it up to a vitamin deficiency.

St. Louis.

Any holiday longer than a week demands time spent with my parents in St. Louis. I look forward to seeing everyone. I look forward to my mom’s cooking and having leisure days that start at noon and end whenever I pass out with Netflix still playing on my laptop. I cherish the time I spend with my grandmother, who, at any moment I know I can lose – something I have been telling myself ever since I was a small child.

I go in with good intentions, but I always fall into the same habit of struggling through the readjustment process. Readjusting to the lack of personal space. Readjusting to having people around me who always want to know what I’m doing, where I’m going and how long I’m going to take. I begin to feel stifled and it makes me cranky.

Not having a routine also makes me cranky. So does the lack of socializing when I’m in St. Louis. Much of that has to do with time going by and naturally losing touch with people. Much of the time it’s also a self-imposed isolation. Since going away for college, St. Louis has always felt like a chapter in my life that’s now shut. I can’t go back, but I don’t really want to either.

Columbia.

Columbia, on the other hand, seems to be a chapter I can return to repeatedly. Sort of. Time goes by and things certainly change, but there are always familiar faces there. Fewer than there used to be, but enough for me to bring me back time and time again. These beautiful faces, which I first encountered in Columbia as a college and later graduate student, are some of my favorites, ones that I never tire of seeing.

There are times though, when visiting CoMO, when I have fleeting moments of insecurity about where I am in life – like instead of taking 20 steps forward in my life since moving from CoMO 7 years ago, I feel as though I’ve taken a few steps forward, gone back and retraced my steps a bit. I’m reminded of all the people I had met at Mizzou and I think of where they are now. Some are married or in committed relationships, some have kids, some are bounding forward in their careers.

I get down on myself for being so remiss in these areas, but then, I have plenty of reason to be content too, though it takes a bit longer to find those reasons. I know myself so much better now – my weakness and my strengths. I’m more mature, less insecure. I’ve developed grownup habits like budgeting my meager TA stipend so I can afford to buy cheese from the fancier part of the grocery stores without feeling guilty, and cleaning so I don’t live in my own filth. I’ve gained a sense of adventure, new hobbies that I’m actually pretty decent at. I’ve learned to tame my inner demons. I don’t always succeed at it, but the scoreboard definitely reads in my favor these days. In short, while the big milestones haven’t been in the cards so far, I have enough small ones to make me feel proud of who I’ve become.

 

 

Thrifty Nomad: D.C. for Free, Top Ten

I have visited Washington D.C. once or twice every year since my sister moved to the area back in 2011, and I’m surprised that it has only just occurred to me to write about it. I love a lot about D.C. – the bustle, the wide array of shopping and dining, the fact that there is always something to do or somewhere to go. One of my favorite things though – from a tourist’s perspective – is just how many interesting sites there are to see that don’t cost a thing. Several of my personal favorites are from the the Smithsonian, a research complex consisting of well over a dozen museums and galleries, research facilities and a zoo. Most of their institutions, in fact, are free. D.C. is also rich in beautiful memorial sites, which are best visited in warmer weather. Below I’ve listed some of my favorites (in no particular order):

  1. The National Air and Space Museum has always been one of my favorites that I’ve visited a number of times. While it might not compare to the NASA’s space center in Houston, the Air and Space Museum in D.C. is sure to please space and aviation buffs. Regular hours: daily, 10:00 am – 5:30 pm.
  2. The National Museum of Natural History. As I sit here writing about it, I can’t help but wonder why I’ve only ever been to this museum once, when there is so much to see here. This museum covers a wide range in the area of natural history: past and present ecosystems, ancient history, paleontology (my favorite section!), and geology. Regular hours: daily, 10:00-5:30 pm.
  3. The National Museum of American History is dedicated to “the scientific, cultural, social, technological, and political development of the United States” and some of its highlights include “the Star-Spangled Banner, the flag that inspired the national anthem; Washington’s uniform; Jefferson’s lap desk; Dorothy’s ruby slippers.” My favorite exhibit, however, was that of The First Ladies and their gowns.
    Regular hours: daily, 10:00 am – 5:30 pm.
  4. Art lovers: the Freer Gallery of Art boasts several collections of American, Near Eastern and Asian art. This gallery also hosts other exhibitions for months at a time – one exhibition going on right now that I’m hoping to catch is The Art of the Qur’an: Treasures from the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts (until February 20, 2017). Regular hours: daily, 10:00 am – 5:30 pm.
  5. The National Portrait Gallery is another art gallery worth visiting. From historical figures to sports figures, the portrait collections here “bring you face to face with America.” My personal favorite is America’s Presidents, a permanent exhibition displaying portraits of every U.S. president from Washington to Obama (not sure when Trump’s portrait will be added. *facepalm*). Note: according to the website, Feb. 26 through March 23, 2017America’s Presidents will be closed to the public. Regular hours: daily, 11:30 am – 7:00 pm.
  6. The Library of Congress is in my opinion one of the more underrated free places to see in D.C. Physically housed in multiple buildings, the only one that has free guided tours is the Thomas Jefferson Building (tour schedule available through the link), and is well worth the visit for the beautiful architecture alone.
  7. Weather permitting, there are a number of memorial sites to spend some time at. The Lincoln Memorial is at the top of my list- there’s a gorgeous view of the reflection pool all the way to the Washington Memorial (along with several of the aforementioned museums, this rectangle forms the National Mall). Just keep in mind that there are a lot of stairs involved if you want to climb all the way to the base of Lincoln’s chair.
  8. The Washington Memorial is another frequently visited site. While best seen during the day, if you’re ever in Washington for the 4th of July, try to come by at night for the fireworks show – and get there early!
  9. While the Thomas Jefferson Memorial is a pleasant visit any time, situated right along the Tidal Basin that offers paddle-boating, this area is especially picturesque in the spring during the National Cherry Blossom festival, or at least when the cherry blossoms are in bloom.
  10. Georgetown: This one is sort of a random, but I still wanted to include it. Georgetown if one of my favorite neighborhoods in D.C., mostly because I love shopping. Even when I’m broke, it’s still an enjoyable place to be – always full of people, it’s fun just walking around and taking in the bustle. Get hungry along the way? There are plenty of restaurants, cafes and bakeries, including the famous Georgetown Cupcakes if you feel like a small but decadent splurge ($3.25/cupcake).

This is definitely a very short sampler of some of the many free things to do in the capitol. If you’ve ever been, what are some of your D.C. favorites?

Nomad Diaries: Albany 2016, part II

I’m at a rest stop somewhere in upstate New York, breaking for lunch. It’s a little early, but this particular service center has a Moe’s, which is a couple notches above the McDonald’s I usually settled for on road trips.

“So, where are you from?” the man assembling my veggie bowl asks me.

I pause for a moment, not really sure what to tell him. My guess is that he wants to know my ethnicity, as that’s what people usually mean when they ask me where I’m from. I tell him that I ‘m driving from Albany.

“Oh, so you’re from Albany?” he asks as he drizzles cheese atop my rice and bean mountain. The momentary look of surprise confirms that he indeed was expecting me to mention another country.

Just nod and say yes. You hate making small talk with strangers.

“Well, not really. I just moved there a few months ago. I’m from Missouri.”

“Ah, that’s a long drive from here!”

“Oh, I’m not driving there, I’m driving to D.C.”

The man looks at me with slight confusion and decides not to engage further. He rings me up and sends me on my way with extra tortilla chips and salsa.

The thing is, I’m quite used to these confusing conversations on my travels and day to day life, although it still stumps me that I have yet to figure out a concise response. I mean, really. How hard is it to convey that where I live is not necessarily where I’m from?

As I drive on, leaving New York behind me as I enter New Jersey (Really, Miss Marvel? This is what you’re skipping school to defend? Um, ok.), I wonder at what point I’ll start to feel like a New Yorker. In all likelihood, I won’t ever get there. I like it here, and don’t feel any immediate desire to leave, but I know it’s inevitable. I came here with a specific purpose, and when I’ve achieved that, I will be swept off to wherever the best job opportunity takes me.

I sometimes wonder how it feels to put down roots and just know that you’re not going anywhere. I don’t mean getting married and having kids necessarily, I just mean coming to a stop, and knowing you’ve come to a stop. Sometimes I long for it. Sometimes the mere idea of it feels like a death sentence. And sometimes – since moving to NY – I feel like I’m approaching it.

As I said, I doubt I’ll be here long-term. But since moving to Albany in August, I’ve actually felt somewhat…settled. I already know that I want to renew my lease for next year (even if I have stayed in the same city for more than a year, I cannot for the life of me remember ever renewing my lease.) I’m thinking of hitting Ikea while I’m visiting my sister in DC and buying an additional bookshelf, when my customary running-out-of-space tactic is to throw out/donate things and/or store things at my parents’ house. In short, I’m flying in the face of the Nomad’s rule book.

1. Thou shalt covet the short-term lease.

2. Thou shalt not put down roots with Swedish furniture. Or something.

But rules are more like guidelines, right? (#LinesThatDontWorkOnCops) And things change without warning. So they have here, and they’ll probably change again without warning. But for now, I’m happy, and that’s all any of us is looking for, isn’t it?

Thrifty Chic DIY: Project Dream Closet

Remember when Mr. Big proposed to Carrie Bradshaw and instead of an engagement ring, she told him, “Just get me a really big closet”? My favorite movie moment, second to when she actually gets to see the closet that Mr. Big had built in their new apartment.

Of course, not all of us can afford a Fifth Avenue penthouse with a closet from Vogue. But sometimes we can get close enough. Yes, dear readers. Finally, finally, I have the closet of my dreams. More or less.

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I know, it looks a little dreary. Blame the photographer (me), not the closet!

I moved to Albany about two months ago, and I took the above photo when I first moved in. A closet big enough to fit my full size bed, and two layers of shelves all around. I actually want to meet the architectural genius that made the decision to give me a tiny bathroom in favor of a ginormous closet, just so I could give them a hug. (And I’m so not a hugger.)

I knew right away I wanted to make the most of this space and…well, organize the crap out of my belongings. Here’s how I did it on the cheap. (Well, cheap-ish.)

First, instead of buying a dresser, I decided to put my furniture/moving budget towards cheaper storage solutions that I could tuck away in my closet so my bedroom would be less cluttered.

One item that I already had – and have had since my college days – is a three drawer plastic organizer that I bought at Walmart for $17.88. They’re not as large as a standard dresser, but they can fit quite a bit. Another item I also already had was an over-the-door shoe organizer. I’ve had it for years and it has traveled with me from one apartment to the next. You can find a good, inexpensive one on amazon.com for $6.38. They’re meant for shoes, of course, but you can use them for anything, really (I use mine for scarves/hijabs and hang it over my closet door from the inside).

A few items I ended up purchasing for this specific closet:

Whitmor storage cube from Amazon.com for $22.47. I love these cubes. I have another set of six in my office area, but I bought the set of four for the closet. They’re easy to assemble/disassemble, and there is some flexibility with the dimensions. I kept it 2 x 2 for my closet, and wanted to use the top as a sort of counter space for my accessories.

And now for some cheap thrills: items that can all be found at Dollar Tree!

I picked up a few collapsible bins to go into the cubes to keep them organized and tidy, a couple of baskets to go below my hanging clothes, and a bunch of shoe boxes for stacking up my shoes and making the most of my shelf space. Lastly, I picked up a couple of expanding wall racks for hanging my jewelry.

One thing I wish I had done was buy all of my hangers in one color (white) to keep things looking cleaner, but I can live with it. (And I make up for it by organizing all of my clothes by color!)

 

Including the cost of items that I already had, this whole project would be a little over $70, which is still less than the cost of a decent piece of storage furniture like a chest or dresser, and it is so much more functional.

I am loving the end result, and find that dressing each morning, putting things away, and keeping my closet clean is just so much easier since everything I wear has a home in my closet.

Do you have a system for your closet, or have your own way of keeping things organized? I’d love to hear about it – I still have the rest of my apartment to tame. 🙂

 

Thrifty Chic DIY: Framed Artwork Under $10

These past few weeks I’ve been putting the finishing touches on my new place, much of which has consisted of getting creative with odds and ends I picked up at Dollar Tree. I’m going to detail two different projects, both of which will include secondary projects that recycle some of the leftover materials.

Project #1: Framed art using stickers/wall decals:

 

From Dollar Tree, I picked up a sheet of wall decals featuring mandalas (three on each side), six picture frames (for six mandala decals), and some teal gift wrap paper.

You’ll notice in the picture that the frames came with white paper frames inside, which I ended up removing for this project. I did, however, save them for another one.

From there, I cut the gift wrap to fit the frames, centered the decals as much as I could, and bam. Done. Repeat 5 more times.

I decided to save the white paper frames for my acrylic painting pads (also from Dollar Tree), since they were the perfect size (5×7).

So now I have frames for my smaller painting projects! (I know, I don’t have anything painted in there yet!)

Project #2: Up-cycling art prints:

I love some of the art you can find at Dollar Tree – I’m just not crazy about the frames, as they’re kind of cheap-looking.

I bought the above art and a larger frame for it, and also found some washi tape (again, all at the Glorious Dollar Tree.) I already had some scrapbook paper at home that I wanted to use for the background (another option is to just turn around the paper that comes with the frame and use the white background.)

After removing and tossing out the old frame, I saved the glass that came with it for another project.

From there, I cut the scrapbook paper to the right size, stuck it to the back side of the sheet that came with the frame, and then I put the print in the middle of the scrapbook page.

Because the scrapbook paper wasn’t long enough for the new frame, I added the washi tape to the borders.

Finally, I  decided to paint the frame brown (which I already had – $0.89 cents at Michael’s) because I thought it would go better with the color scheme (Ah! It doesn’t really show in the photo!)

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With the leftover glass from the old frame, I did a little paint project and decorated it using a stand that I also found at Dollar Tree.

With the one below, I actually traced the design from a mandala-themed coloring book using a permanent marker. From there, I painted in the colors (although in retrospect, I’m thinking it would have just been easier to color it in with markers).

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I love that I was able to do these on the cheap, and that I was able to put even my scrap items to use for additional projects.

Let me know what you think and if you’d like to see more DIY projects like these in the future! 🙂