The Art of Getting Your Shit Together

It’s well past noon on a Saturday afternoon.

You could be anywhere right now. A patio with friends, or a brisk walk in the forest with your lifelong partner, your well-groomed dog, and a day full of instagrammable memories (except the only thing you own which even remotely resembles a smartphone is an iPod touch with an embarrassing 3 hours of battery life).

Instead, you’re at Ikea. You’re at Ikea on a Saturday. You’re at Ikea on a Saturday and you just got side-swiped by a plastic blue and yellow bag awkwardly stuffed with a neon green cheese grater and halogen light bulbs. Why, why are you here?

Well, simply put, your Dad assumed that with a promise of a Swedish-inspired cinnamon bun, you would help him transport boxes of JÄLLVIK or KLÖVSTA or really, anything else with those adorable double dots used phonetically above any and all vowels. Well played, Däd.

Just as you trace your fingers along the geometrical shapes of a rainbow of duvet covers, you admire a girl your age. Her jacket matches her boots, which also coordinates with everything in her cart and no doubt, it all fits perfectly into her well-maintained car which she flawlessly parallel-parked outside.

As you lose yourself in imagining what your own life would look like if your jacket and boots matched, let alone looked like they belong in the same era, you overhear her say, “I’m going to wait to buy that couch…just until I get my shit together.”

Just until I get my shit together.

Those words. That phrase. It all just echoed throughout the windowless arena of meatballs and BÖJAS.

This girl, with her matching boots and jackets, and a home to refurnish, and a mantle to decorate, and a desk to build independently thanks to Ikea’s easy instructions which almost always include that androgynous character’s simplistic ideology of furniture construction. All this girl wants is to have her shit together. Yet she doesn’t perceive it so.

One day she’ll look back on that day. That day in Ikea when she sighed too loudly and judged herself too harshly against an arbitrary idea of organized adulthood. And you will hear her sighs and the fill-in-the-blanks on her self-judgments and you’ll wish you said just this:

The secret to getting your shit together is a dangerous one. It most definitely includes a roundabout route to self-disappointment and a dump truck disaster of ill-defined phrases (such as, “getting shit together”) used out of context because of one’s relaxed vocabulary.  You’ll warn her about the dangers of phrases such as this. Words so vague, so unclear, that even though they are used at such feverish frequency, still remain so undefined. You’ll bring up examples like the 2002 surge of the word random, when we really just meant unpredictable. You’ll review the real definition of disinterested just to prove your point. You’ll want to talk about moronic descriptors like vegan cheese but you know that might lose her. You’ll tell her there is no act, no definition, no art to getting your shit together. You’ll tell her it’s harmful to use unqualified standards- standards like shit, and whether or not it is together- on her own accomplishments or those which she perceives she lacks.

You’ll encourage her to define her own shit. Whatever it is, in whatever context she’d like, her shit is hers. And not even Webster can prove her wrong. You’ll talk about how those leaps into being an adult are sometimes accompanied by an inner bully which makes us feel inadequate because we don’t have the same ________ as someone else. And we use such silly terms as “not having our shit together” to coerce ourselves into feeling lower than those who most likely feel/think/ act exactly the same. You’ll feel like Tom Cruise, substituting Oprah’s couch for a SVELVIK bed frame as you excitedly discuss the idea of eliminating the phrase altogether. And just as you feel like maybe you said something of value, your Däd gives you that look. That look which almost says, “You’ve taken this too far. It’s time to let go of the LJUSÅS UVÅS because you may not see it from way up there on that king-sized bed frame, but an employee in a banana-yellow polo is about two seconds away from kicking us both out and I don’t know about you, but I was really looking forward to that cinnamon bun.”

The girl will smirk at you and nod. She’ll know the secret, the act, the art of getting your shit together. And one day, she’ll go to Ikea. Probably not because her dad promised her a pastry. But she’ll be there. She’ll be there tracing her own hands along the new line of VANADINS. And she’ll see another. And she will tell them this:

Define your own shit.

Do it when you’re ready, and don’t worry if you never feel like you will be. But try. Try whatever you want with your shit. It’s yours for the taking.

Twitter, Dreamboats, and the Sport I Used to Love

Oh, another yawn-inducing year-end reflective post from a self-righteous blogger foolishly believing that the internet world actually cares about their resolution to drink more water in 2013?

Not quite.

As everyone on WordPress, Blogger, and those poor souls still hanging on to their outdated Angelfire account review their year in writing (and due to their consistent scheduling of posts, can rightfully brag about their increase in readership), I regale my plateauing stats and shameful admittance that I could barely (just barely) conjure up a single post approximately every other month.

Relishing in the fact that my mother and perhaps even a second cousin or two still read this site, it becomes all too tempting to ruminate over the last 365 days. And as a matter of consequence, I then search through my catalogue of long-term memories and pinpoint exactly what I was doing for a good 315 of them.

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The answer to which I am certain, includes absolutely nothing about the sport of hockey.

Way back in September 2012, the National Hockey League declared its fourth lockout in 20 years. This was due to financial buzz-words like revenue, salary caps, and peculation. (Yes, I realize this is a generous oversimplification to a rather complex blur of sports and business. But I’m pretty sure both my mom and cousin aren’t much of hockey fans. And it’s all about keeping the audience engaged, right?)

Now even if you don’t really care about the likes of Gary Bettman and Bill Daly (and the reasons to which I believe they’re both selfish jerks), I’m still willing to waste the word count.

Why?

Well, through a stretching analogy which really just involved the discovery of hockey players’ Twitter accounts, the NHL lockout sort of paralleled my last year as an expat.

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Here are a few highlights from the 2012 season:

For starters, way back in the summer, hockey players sort of expected to play hockey. And I, through complete fault of my own, sort of expected to be productive. Writing for Vagabundo Magazine, contributing to a couple of Seoul publications, volunteering with an organization based on the human rights of North Korean defectors. One would assume my output efforts would soar into the realm of implausible.

Instead, a concrete wall inevitably constructed itself. A proverbial partition of repetitive lesson plans, similar bars, and the constant disappointment in myself for failing (yet again) to properly communicate “I don’t eat meat” in Korean. Sure, at times I was industrious (or maybe I mean industrial?), but it hardly felt prolific.

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Disjointedly, this leads into the next topic of management, and the difficulties both myself and the big guns within the NHL experience in this field. A gleaming example of both follows.

At the end of 2011, almost fearless did something pretty ridiculous and spoke nonsense about this site being one of the best new travel blogs on the web. (Reiterating the idea that undeserved recognition is awesome because it acknowledges something you didn’t even think existed in the first place.) The point is, on top of search terms like ‘decisions not to make while hungover’, that mention drove a lot of traffic to this site.

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I could have taken that increase in readership seriously and wrote the most obvious of points about say, that beach in El Nido, Philippines being an all-out stunner. Instead, I talked about what makes a shitty travel partner. (Evidently, I’m extremely qualified for this position.) I didn’t manage this opportunity properly. It became a toothbrush miss.

It’s not so lonely in this realm of mismanagement, though. Gary Bettman, the NHL commissioner, has all kinds of difficulties managing his own personal interests and that of the league, often believing that they are one in the same. His financial irrationality means a continuous stream of missed opportunities for both the league and the players.

When it comes to blunders over mismanagement, Bettman and I have a lot in common. The only difference being a faint Filipino flip-flop tan.

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As the lockout closed in on month three, players started to realize that what they expected to be doing this year, was in fact far different from their actual daily activities. So the boys left town. They went back to their roots in the juniors, declared semi-permanent residency in places like Russia and Switzerland, or participated in small-town charity matches (inert games basically comparable to that of a scrimmage with your Dad’s Sunday afternoon beer league).

Without declaring permanency anywhere, I too left Seoul when results were less than straightforward. I visited six countries in 2012; one of which was new to me. Although still in its newness, I now have a gut-wrenching crush on Burma. I’m only assuming Rick Nash can say the same about Switzerland.

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And just recently, future plans changed for both myself and the NHL. In less than a week, the hockey season will start. In less than two months, the Peace Boat will start.

The Peace Boat is exactly what it sounds like…but better. Travelling to over 20 countries, a massive boat full of participants, volunteers, interpreters, and English teachers (me!) will promote positive social and political change on a worldwide scale. (I’m not exaggerating with the worldwide scale thing. The route literally circles the Earth.)

From Japan to Venezuela, I’ll have the opportunity to learn, teach, change, develop, and take part in a boatload (ha!) of other positive verbs.

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As is often the case in hockey, the NHL could not have written a better story, even if they tried.

And I, could not have dreamed of a better opportunity for curious (and contributing) travel, even if I wrote on a more consistent bi-monthly schedule in 2012.

And the players, now returning to hockey rinks across North America within the limitations of 140 characters, could not have tweeted a better ending.

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This is the Story of 195 Kilometers

It’s 9:30 AM on a Wednesday Morning.

I’m sweating and absolutely starving. And depending on my coworkers’ aptitude to “just have one more,” I’m probably a little hung over.

I’ve almost gotten hit by both a commuter bus and an angry cab driver. Both of whom possess little forethought to glance in the review mirror before carelessly changing lanes.

I arrive at some generic coffee shop which features an overpriced Iced Americano with an atrociously off ice:americano ratio.

This is the best part of my day.

It’s here where I meet her. A smaller than small woman with a rounder than round face. She doesn’t enjoy sports. She prefers Canadian boys to all other ethnicities. She hates the fact that coffee causes her to break out. She drinks it anyways. She hasn’t seen her parents or other family members for over five years. She speaks to them for less than 10 minutes only once a year or at least until “they cut the phone away.”

She is a North Korean defector living in Seoul, South Korea.

I volunteer with an organization called PSCORE. This is an NGO which strives for the successful reunification of North and South Korea.  In the process, PSCORE assists and supports North Koreans who have recently defected to Seoul and the surrounding area. They provide transitory support and things like 1:1 tutoring once they have “settled.” (A term which I’m using quite loosely because admittedly, I have no idea if this is possible.)

For the sake of confidentiality, and my own misunderstanding about the popularity of this blog, I’ll skip the identifying factors.

Regardless, twice a week I meet with her. I look forward to rearranging my sleeping patterns, skipping my morning yoga routine, and paying triple for an exceptionally shitty cup of coffee. It’s absolutely amazing.

Having defected well over five years ago, she’s no stranger to living in South Korea.

But attempting to learn a convoluted language based on countless exceptions and strange placements of the letter “h” when it is really not all that necessary?

Well, she’ll get there.

I’m “supposed to” be her English tutor. That’s technically my job. But technically, I’m not actually working or getting paid. So I’m taking the whole “supposed to” thing quite liberally. Besides, volunteers aren’t obligated to follow rules all of the time. It’s not in our contract. (Guys, that’s a total lie. But I really had you going for a second there…)

She brought a book of Tolstoy to our first English lesson. At the end of the session, its spine remained unopened.

Instead of talking about an anarcho-pacificist (which believe me, usually tops the list of things I like to discuss), we talked about ourselves. We talked about ourselves in that curious way you do when you assume that if you open up a little about yourself, then the other will too.

I complained that the antiperspirant in Korea needs to redefine their idea of “anti.” She complained that the humidity in Seoul makes her hair “sticky.” (Note: Add “frizzy” or better yet “an absolute rat’s nest” to the list of new vocabulary words to teach.)

She asked about my experiences dating in Korea. I asked her if she thinks she will ever get married.

Soon our sessions were more about her fights with her long-term boyfriend over a future with/ without children. Soon I started to rant about people always throwing their garbage in my bike basket.

We share an intense fascination with the other’s upbringing.

We translate funny things on her phone. Things like “athlete’s foot” and “precarious.”

Sometimes I see Tolstoy or another Let’s Learn English in the Most Impractical Way Possible textbook popping out of her oversized purse. But neither of us seems too worried about conjugating the word “go.”

Instead, it’s here where the distance of more than 190 kilometers, becomes the shortest route to friendship.

The Secret’s Out: I’m a Shit “Travel Blogger”

People can justify anything.

If you’re feeling creative enough; things like infidelity, cannibalism, and even littering can all seem pretty excusable.

Perhaps I’m purposefully confusing “justifications” with “imaginative explanations.”

I tend to do that sometimes. You know, mix up definitions. Mispronounce words. Mistake word-unions which I ingeniously created some night and have been using ever since, for actual established dictionary entries. (Read: the feeling of hanger, using the word “tops” to describe things other than a t-shirt, and occasionally spelling “your” with an “e” instead of those other two vowels.)

Admittedly, I also pause every single time I’m about to use “invisible” or “invincible” in a sentence. I will often do a quick Webster’s brain-check to make sure I’m using the correct one and then just kind of mumble one of them and hope for the best. And for some reason, these words come up A LOT in my daily vocabulary.

See? There I go again.

I just tried to justify my brainless mistakes by making myself seem all quirky and forgetful. But, seriously. I have never even bothered to look up invisible/ invincible in a dictionary.

I’m lazy.

And that, forgiving readers and those choosing to waste internet time on a blog like this, is exactly why this space has been dormant for the last month.

I’m lazy in the sense that sometimes, I would just rather be doing things than writing about them. (In actuality, that’s really not laziness at all, but I’ve got a theme going here and I don’t really want to waste it.)

Which is actually quite strange. Because next to the joy I experience from explaining why I don’t know how to pronounce “ambiguous,” I actually quite like writing.

So I got lazy. And for those who have never experienced the feeling of being lethargic (Tony Robbins, Carrot Top, Jimmy Fallon most days of the week), laziness can be a real dick.

Being lazy can produce these ultimate moments of self-reflection. But because you can’t be bothered to internally reflect on anything in fear of exuding even a breath of effort, you consequently can get quite down on yourself.

Battling an internal dialogue of my intentions with this blog, coupled with the suffocating overtones of apathy, I questioned myself a lot.

If I really hated a place, would I accurately write about it?

If I pulled some stupid stunt with less than favourable outcomes (but makes for a generally amusing story), would I bare the wrath of judgmental commenters and post about it anyways?

I’m not sure.

And if I can’t be honest with my own, poorly-maintained WordPress site then really, who can I be honest with?*

I want to be honest.

I want to write about absolutely hating a lot of places which I had felt pressured to love.

I want to write about the things I’ve done which would cause most mothers to shake their head and say to themselves, “Shit. I’m so glad my own daughter didn’t turn out like that.”

I want to write stories in a similar fashion to my in-person demeanor. Slightly offensive. But with 3/4 good intentions. And throwing in descriptors like “tops” which are sort of catchy in the way that you will inevitably find yourself dropping them nonchalantly in conversations next week.

So I’m done pretending to enjoy certain parts of Thailand. I’m over keeping it a secret that I spent a week on an island in Indonesia stealing other people’s flip-flops because I had lost my own. I’m sick of trying to write about my travels in a chronological order for the sake of sequential organization.

The only thing I’m still really into are justifications.

Because those handy excuses?

Well, they’re pretty much tops.

*The truth is, LOADS of people. Turns out, I’m pretty open about my own achievements with the whole “think later” methodology. But I was trying to be dramatic. I think it worked.

Traveling as a Veg and the Solution to Charades

There’s no denying that when you travel, you are very likely to acquire a new and extremely valuable skill set.

No, it’s not the ability to fall asleep just about anywhere. And no, it’s not an increased aptitude for knowing where the best drink specials are, or even the closest (but really, cleanest) toilet.

 And it’s definitely not a knack for always remembering to stuff every available pocket full of napkins and toilet paper at restaurants which just happen to provide these luxuries for uh, free of charge.

It’s a new set of skills which will only increase your confidence as a traveler, make conversations with the locals more enjoyable, and confirm without a shadow of a doubt that you are in fact, a foreigner in a land very unlike your own.

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Who’s Servicing Your Travels? A Tale from the Other Side

In the summer of 2007, I had reason to believe my life was going to end.

Okay, that’s not entirely true.

But I had just accepted an offer of admissions to complete my graduate degree in wizardry school Masters of Social Work, so really, life as I knew it was essentially over.

In my future, I would wield a briefcase (because apparently all social workers have briefcases). And I would choose to do the right thing over the fun thing (because that’s what social workers do…duh).

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The Time with the Countdown, the Resolution, and Why Humans Love Both


Toothbrush Note: Initiating into the world of ESL teaching in South Korea, I believed it was standard practice to start an amateur blog.  This blog played host to riveting content like bragging about my chopstick skills, complaining about the unavailability of good cheese at grocery stores, and noting that middle school boys are internationally similar.

Perhaps it was an attempt to stay in contact with those at home. But to be honest, I probably just wanted a place to whine about the lack of gouda in my life.

Below is a post I wrote for this amateur blog. It was written while in Korea during the early hours of 2011. The tone is unforgiving (some may say “surly”) because I’m pretty sure all the pipes had frozen in my poor lil’ apartment. Beyond some actual editing and reformatting, everything remains unchanged.

I guess it’s kind of like when Michael Jordan donned the number 45 when he played for the White Soxs.

You know-numbers may change, but people don’t.

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