Before I start today’s blog, which is about my love of the beach, a quick note about yesterday’s. The Guy I Am Currently Dating shared my link with Amanda Palmer’s Twitter account, and it was retweeted!! It was really awesome to see people come to visit this page because I talked about the book and how it aligned with my personal beliefs and experiences.

Today’s blog is a more personal one, one that is about past experiences, but is largely about daydreams…and how what you want most in the world isn’t always what you thought when you were 5 or 10 years younger.

We all have daydreams, and for me, a lot of them involve being somewhere other than where I am now. When I imagine where I might want to be at any given time, I usually think of the beach. Often, it’s a beach I’ve been to in the past, but sometimes, it’s an entirely new place my mind has invented. It’s strange that I like the beach, because for as long as I can remember, I’ve had trouble doing “nothing” and that is largely what people go to the beach to do. Ever since childhood, my family would be relaxing, and after 10 minutes of quiet, I’d ask “What are we going to do next?”

I have always been a city girl. I like bars, restaurants, things to do, people to meet, adventures to have. But there is also this feeling you get when you lie on the sand and look up at the sky, or take off your shoes and walk near the ocean at midnight, that the world is so big with possibility and you are so small that it would take you 100 lifetimes to do, to be, to see everything. It makes all your problems seem insignificant, or at least small enough to handle.

Even as adults, my family, and eventually just my brother and myself, would take a trip to the Jersey Shore. It’s not the Jersey Shore you see on MTV, although there are bars and restaurants and a club or two. But there’s also the fudge I loved half a lifetime ago, getting a henna tattoo on the boardwalk and playing games for stuffed animals like I’m still a teenager, riding the tram car up and down the boardwalk, stopping at a 1950’s Doo-Wop place for a milkshake and getting a slice of some of the best pizza on Earth. It is a place I love, and one of the saddest things about getting sick is that I’ve been unable to go back.

Of course, the last trip to the Jersey Shore is what made me sick. I was happy, healthy, energetic…and one day, I mixed an orange Izze with some vodka, sipped it on the beach while listening to music, and fell asleep. I woke up sunburnt, but had no idea how badly. I took a shower, walked around for a few hours, and by the end of the night, I could barely crawl home due to blisters on my legs. But I made it, and the next day, my luggage and I had to make it all the way to the bus. Later that night, it wasn’t a pretty picture. I had my first panic attack, which felt suspiciously like a heart attack, and afterwards, kept shaking uncontrollably. I thought I was going to die. Instead, I rested for a few days and traveled back to Atlanta, with 2nd degree burns over half of my body.

My parents said “Don’t go to the hospital”. “It’s sunburn”. “It’s no big thing”, so I believed in my tendency to make a bigger deal over things that need be. It took 2 weeks before I ended up in the ER, leaving an event early and crying because I was sure I was going to die and never see anyone again.

The ER rehydrated me, noticed my resting pulse of 120 was not good, put me on sedatives and beta-blockers, and sent me home. But it didn’t take long before the panic attacks started again, and the constant dizziness. 4 visits to the ER, a drug that tried to kill me, and weeks later, there was still no diagnosis. One doctor put me on a heart medication that still to this day causes weight gain. Another determined it was an inner ear disorder. Another said I had an anxiety disorder, another said I had late onset bi-polar disorder. At one point, I had to stop the doctor merry-go-round, because the motion of the car would trigger adrenaline rushes so bad I would rationally consider jumping out of a moving car on the highway to make it stop.

Nobody knows what is wrong with me, or what happened that day on the beach to trigger it. One doctor even said I had brain damage to my hypothalamus as a result of heat stroke. But that one day changed my life forever, and I can’t help but think, “If only I’d stayed in and worked”, and “If only I’d waited until dinner to have a drink”. I hope one day they do find out, and I hope I’m alive when they do. But I don’t count on it. Being sick has become a new normal, and being alone isn’t as lonely as it was when I was healthy.

So, you’d think I’d be terrified of that beach. You’d think I’d have a panic attack just remembering the place where this happened. Instead, I think “If there is every a way for them to identify and cure my mystery illness, and I can go back to being me, I’m going to the beach for a month”.

I don’t care if I’m 40. I’m still getting a henna tattoo and going to the fortune teller and eating too much fudge on the tram car. It turns out that even one of the worst experiences of your life can’t cancel out years of great ones.

It can teach you, though, the value of small things…and being healthy enough to walk on that beach at midnight again is priceless in my world. It is priceless enough for a small town of 10,000 people to seem more interesting than cities with ten of millions, because the things that remind you of when you were younger, happier, and healthier are what you remember when you journey throughout life….even if you’re drinking apple martinis and covered in glitter.

Some of you may have noticed I haven’t been blogging much lately, and that some of my older posts are no longer with us. Sadly, for the 3rd time in nearly 16 years of blogging, I lost my blog and all of my entries. The Guy I Am Currently Dating was determined to save my posts for immortality, and hunted down many of them. However, a big chunk of 2014 is gone, and I am hoping to find it again bit by bit.

When you create, and you lose something you’ve created, it is a genuine loss. It can make you not wish to create new things, or re-create the old. I recently learned I am not alone in feeling this way; a friend of mine is a designer and programmer, and he recently lost a great deal of work. Fortunately, he had backups, but the process of re-creating something he was excited about the first time didn’t appeal to him. He is still in the “reluctant to create” space. Sadly, that’s the way I have felt about this blog.

So, I’ve decided to rekindle my interest in sharing thoughts with the Universe by participating in the A-Z Challenge! The rules are very simple; in the month of April, every day except Sunday is a different letter. By the end of the month, you should have 26 stellar, publication-worthy essays on the great issues! Right? 😛

I’m kicking off the blog challenge by writing about a book I enjoyed reading, “The Art Of Asking” by Amanda Palmer. For those who don’t know, Amanda Palmer is a talented, unconventional, and bizarre musician who was lead singer for the Dresden Dolls. She then later became an indie artist and helped revolutionise the idea of people using Kickstarter and other forms of crowdsourcing to create art, becoming the first artist to raise over a million dollars for a project. She is also married to the equally talented, unconventional, and bizarre writer Neil Gaiman, who clearly has a thing for unconventional redheads (see: Tori Amos). Amanda Palmer has been on my radar and in my links list for a long time, so it always surprises me when people ask me “Who’s that?”. Fittingly, the book was a birthday present I asked for, and one a lot of people might benefit from reading.

By most accounts, I have lived a fairly unconventional life, having traveled extensively and having jobs/interests ranging from business professional to “it may or may not be legal to discuss that”. I have slept on the couches of strangers and met people from other countries in pubs and clubs, and ended up having adventures. I have gotten into a little trouble. I have gotten into A LOT of trouble. I have had to start over again so many times, I should be eligible for some resilience award. I have been stuck in a city where I did not live and had no place to stay and a budget that allowed for a soft pretzel and Coke for dinner, and spent the night in Port Authority and been just fine…but had my stuff stolen from my own apartment by a roommate when I was out of town. Life has been an adventure for me, and most people don’t even know half of it. So, when I find the memoir of someone who has lived an even more adventurous, unconventional, risk-taking, trusting in strangers kind of life, it absolutely fascinates me.

Amanda Palmer is that person. She discusses having a variety of jobs, from waiting tables to working as a dominatrix, but focuses a great deal on a job that lasted for many years: working as a living statue. Oddly enough, her years as a street performer not only launched her career and introduced her to her husband, they formed her beliefs in a way most people find challenging: seeing asking for help as not just getting something you need, but allowing someone else to do a favour for you helps another person feel useful and access their generosity.

In her book, Amanda Palmer discusses the generosity of people around her, and how the world happens to be a loving, giving place. I have seen that. I have seen people want to take care of me because I had nowhere else to turn and was scared and alone. I have had people want to buy me a drink or coffee or dinner because they liked the way I looked, and bartenders often give me free drinks because I’m good company. I have had people I don’t know ask to draw me. I have been an active Couchsurfer for a long time, and never once had a horror story. I largely met people who were nicer and more giving people than people in my life back home. I have had strangers come up to a friend and I and want to buy our meal, or ask to take my picture wearing my bizarre headpieces and then send over a bottle of vodka. A lot of the strangers I encountered along the journey, I still am friends with on Facebook or send Christmas cards to every year.

On the other hand, I’ve also had people tell me, on hearing I was publishing a book, “I wouldn’t BUY it or anything. I don’t buy books.” Running a Meetup for over 8 years, I’ve had people tell me my time and effort wasn’t appreciated, wasn’t good enough, or even had them run out on the check. I’ve had guys in my life tell me I wasn’t pretty enough, wasn’t witty enough, wasn’t interesting enough to keep their attention. I’ve seen the opposite of generosity and lifting people up in every way. It makes it hard to believe that Amanda’s observations are true; that the world is a nice place if you open yourself up to it.

Like many people, I live in a very corporate city. Prior to that, I’ve lived in other large corporate cities. The mentality in these places is one of self-sufficiency. I have had good friends suggest I take 2.5 hours on public transport to get to them, because I’m 10 minutes out of the way for them to drive to me. I have had some of my best friends in the world not offer me crash space because their apartment was small (if you have the choice between sleeping on the floor and in the bus station, the first is preferable) and it was inconvenient. I have had roommates who charged $5 for a ride to the store a half-mile away. And on some level, these things always outraged me, and I never knew quite why. It isn’t that I expect the world to revolve around me or that I am an exception to the self-sufficiency rule. It is a deep seated idea that “People are meant to be generous and giving when it comes to their friends and family.”

Last year, my mother had to be put in a nursing home, and my aunt, who once had quite a bit of money, went shopping to buy my mother everything she needed. She then sent my brother a bill, knowing my brother lives on disability and is caring for my terminally ill father almost alone, saying she couldn’t afford not to be reimbursed for these things. The bill was $150. My brother paid her back, although it meant going into debt that month. He asked when she’d be by to visit my mother. My aunt and her family couldn’t, because they were going on a ski trip. She hasn’t been to visit my mother since, despite living 40 minutes away.

The sense of injustice at this, at this Ayn Rand-esque “I earned my money and do everything by the book, go take care of yourself and don’t ask for favours” idea makes my blood boil. How can you have that attitude towards society and still like people? How can you cut people out of your life when they are struggling or not successful, and really like anyone but yourself?

It seems to make Amanda Palmer angry, too, the idea that “asking for a favour” is shameless. There are people who won’t ask a stranger for a tampon or to borrow a dollar in a crisis. There are people who will come to your parties empty-handed when the invite says “Everyone please contribute”. There are people who think they are somehow “better than”, and buying someone a drink or a coffee over conversation is looking for a better return on an investment.

In her book, she tells so many positive and uplifting stories of how cool the world can be when you are open to experiences and people. But she tells one that she describes as a soul-crushing experience, having overturned her ankle and being unable to walk on a busy city street in the Northeast U.S., and in need of help. She went by three older women who assisted her, and offered to call an ambulance. She said she was fine, but she needed help from the cab to her apartment to retrieve cab fare and asked the ladies to go with her, offering to pay their fare back. They wouldn’t help. She asked for a variety of other small ways they could be of assistance, and they wouldn’t do anything except say, “We’ll call you an ambulance”. She was in tears hobbling to her cab alone, because she felt the cruelty of what they world is like when you can’t trust or help anyone, not even people in distress.

Throughout my life, I have had people not wish to be a part of my life because my level of openness exceeds their comfort zone. I have had people not want to be talked about on this blog, written about in stories, or have picture on FB and Instagram. I have had people not want to be with someone who likes living in such a big and public way (and they should know me now, as I am quite the opposite.) I have had people tell me I’m crazy, the chances I’ve taken in life. But, for the most part, they haven’t been reckless. They have been based on reading people and knowing not everyone shares this “Money, Success, And Self-Sufficiency Defines You” dogma. Many people have a “Generosity Of Spirit Defines You” attitude, and believe, like I do, that when you put things out there in the world, you get them back.

When I first became ill, back in 2012, I was convinced I was going to die. And I became interested, because I couldn’t go out much, in sharing myself with strangers beyond this blog and FB and e-mail. I started becoming involved in a mail-swap community, and it filled the need to share pieces of myself with the world. Some of the things I got back, I really value, including one girl who wrote a letter about needing to come out to her family, but being afraid that whether she did or didn’t, she would never get the love she felt she deserved. I often wonder what happened to her.

Over the years, I have had to learn that many people are not like me. They don’t send 4-page handwritten notes just because they care. Sadly, I have started to become more like most people on many occasions, not returning e-mails and phone calls because I could do it later, and not making people smile quite as much. Being an open-hearted, open-minded person has gotten me a lot of things, but it’s also left me disappointed when my boyfriends or best friends didn’t show me the same loyalty I showed them, or people stopped reaching out when times were tough because nobody wants to be around someone depressing with all of their crappy life struggles. I think it’s a reminder that “Life can be crappy and unfair to you, too”, and that really kills the buzz. I have found myself de-friended in life and attacked online for expressing my opinions and my world views…and wishing people would be open and kind and giving in just listening and getting to know other people.

Amanda Palmer talks about this, too. She writes: “With every new connection you make online, there’s more potential for criticism. For every new bridge you build with your community, there’s a new set of trolls who squat underneath it.”

It reminded me that when I was in Washington D.C., I had an issue with my bank and it was a weekend, and I had no money, and a friend drove across town during his lunch hour with $750. I’d like to think that people can be really awesome if you can get over fear and doubt just enough to let them be. Amanda Palmer thinks so, too, which is why this book is worth reading. (and the preface is written by a conservative Biblical scholar.)

Friend in D.C. from many years ago, thank you for saving me and not letting me get murdered. <3

Every girl has a weakness, and if you either know me in person or read my blog frequently enough, you likely know that I have quite a few. One of the healthiest and least destructive is my addiction to reality TV. Indeed, I’ve always had a great love for TV, in general, ever since childhood. While I’ve never seen many classic movies everyone else has seen, I remember that show that was on the air for less than a season. While some people say “I don’t watch TV; it’s a waste of time.”, television has always been more like a consistent friend in my life. When I am sad, it can lift my mood. When I am worried, it is a story that distracts me from my problems. Characters on television or contestants in reality shows I will likely never meet become real enough for them to feel like part of my day. I invest in them. I care about what happens to them. When a show comes to an end, it’s a little bit like losing a friend. The same way some people are passionate about movies or books or music, I’ve always felt that about television. It’s ironic that I spent more than half my life as a stage actress (my obsession with musicals is pretty close to my obsession with TV, but there simply aren’t as many of them readily available.), but my earliest childhood memories involve being fascinated by stories I saw on television.

In any case, I’ve blogged about my love for and experiences with CBS’ Big Brother in the past, so it shouldn’t be surprising that I’m one of the devoted followers willing to watch the TV Guide channel for two hours a day just to see what’s happening in the house. Since my favourites have all been voted out and the season is almost over, I thought this meant the end of my relationship with the TV Guide channel. (I mean, it’s an annoying channel. Half the screen shows a scrolling guide to which you eventually become oblivious, and at night, they show advertisements for cat toys and ways to make perfect pastry pockets. During the day, you see these horribly tragic commercials about abused pets, thanks to the ASPCA.) However, since Survivor premiers the day Big Brother ends, they’ve been showing seasons from Survivor past.

Again, as many of you know, I have a friend who appeared on Survivor–and through her, have made a network of acquaintances who are part of the CBS Survivor family. (I do give them credit; they are an interesting and resilient group of people.) However, it occurs to me that while I may have never watched Survivor before going through the Big Brother audition process (I was not a fan of Real World or any other reality shows before CBS came on the scene with their shows.), I associate the first season of Survivor with a number of important memories in my life.

They happened to air the first part of the first season of Survivor today, and I was reminded that I liked it because it seemed so different from the way reality shows are today. The show premiered when I was 20; I’d just gotten my college degree and had hoped to be spending my summer in the CBS Big Brother “house”. When that didn’t happen, I was disappointed, but interested in watching the girl for whom I was an alternate, and quickly found the show compelling. At the same time, Survivor: Borneo premiered, and I remember being skeptical about whether or not I’d like it. By the end, when someone had their torch snuffed out and had to leave, I found myself crying. I’ve been a fan of both shows ever since.

Both Big Brother and Survivor changed formats incredibly since the 2000 seasons. Contestants are now largely edited, everything is overly produced and edited, and fans of the show know what challenges are likely to show up. Re-watching the first season of Survivor, I’m reminded why it was the only one that was emotionally charged enough to make me cry when someone was thrown out of the game. Neither the production team nor the cast seemed to know how to act or what to expect. Instead of the highly-produced, well-edited shows we’ve gotten used to in the intervening 12 years, the original Survivor seems a bit like a documentary of people who signed up to play “Lord Of The Flies” or “The Hunger Games”. The people were not overly fit, glamourous, or Hollywood in any way. They were truly diverse. They were not made into characters, but shown as real people with both positive and negative attributes. They were not given make-up touch-ups and didn’t walk around in cute bikinis all season. Sometimes, they *looked* like people having a rough time on a desert island. Looking back, I realise that honest way of creating reality TV allowed you to empathise with the people on the show in a way that isn’t as easy anymore. These days, any illusion of reality is gone. You don’t suspend disbelief; you remember it’s a game staged by a network. But, at the beginning, there was so much more reality to TV. (it took most of the participants a majority of the game to figure out that by voting together, you could form “alliances” to get rid of one person. On one episode I saw today, nearly every person had their name put down, and when one woman realised that a group of people had voted against her, she remarked in a heartbreakingly honest, shocked tone of voice, “Oh, my God. It’s me.” For a moment, you had the sense that something more dramatic was going to happen to her than simply walking off a CBS set.

In the summer of 2000, since I was not locked in a set on the CBS lot, I was off on auditions looking for a job. My first was for Disney World. I’d auditioned twice in NYC, and was finally flown down to Orlando for a final callback. I didn’t get the job (which is a different story for a different time, and most of you have heard it.), but I spent a bit over a week in a hotel in Orlando. (Sadly, it took that long for me to get out of a rather depressed and directionless funk, and finally phone a friend in Miami…and thus started a whole new set of adventures for me.)

I’m not sure why I decided to do that, except I didn’t know where to go or what to do, and I’d never been to Florida when I was younger. To save money, I was in a cheap hotel on the outskirts of town, the kind of place where the only things in walking distance were a Wendy’s, a Piggly Wiggly, a gas station, and a Goodwill.

I thought I’d feel free and adventurous when I finally got there, even when I didn’t get the job. I was still determined to look for adventure and experience, but instead, I surprisingly felt dreadfully alone and lost. It was the first time I realised the world was this big place, and I was just this average girl right out of university who’d been turned down for every major audition she’d landed, and didn’t want to go to NYC to wait tables like everyone else. I had a small suitcase, a laptop, a cell phone, and a CD player (yes, there was a day where there were no iPods. :P ). The hotel room I was staying in was sad. In general, my life felt sad.

(Strangely, this phenomenon has never left me. I love traveling, and unless I’m with one of a handful of people in my life, I prefer to travel alone. However, when I get there, I will feel immensely sad for the first day or two at being alone, and not being near anything precious to me.)

There were a few things that weren’t sad about that trip. One was the fact that it rained every day at 3 PM. I loved watching the downpour. Another was the fact that I was talking online to two different people I didn’t even know, but were highly important fixtures in my life (and remained that way for a very long time.), and things like my blog and internet chats with strangers who didn’t feel anything like strangers helped me through feeling quite isolated. The last thing I remember was Survivor. As soon as the show came on, it lifted my spirits, and for just a little while, I was transported into someone else’s adventure and felt stronger just by vicariously watching.

To this day, I hate Orlando, and it’s amusing that I ended up making my home in the South, when I’ve never been particularly fond of much, outside of New Orleans and perhaps Savannah. But, on rainy days when Survivor is on, I am 20 years old and utterly lost in the world again. Yet, I am happy with the memory, because I can recall what it’s like to feel that young and have that belief in adventure and know that anything in the world is possible. It isn’t a feeling that I have these days, and haven’t for many years—but years of method acting have left me with the ability to recall it, and small things are enough to evoke that memory.

Although I’ve traveled such a great deal since then, lost and rebuilt so much of my life, and in many ways, had the lifetime of adventures that 20-year-old me so desperately saw herself destined to have, that particular week of my life is terribly easy to recall. And, while I’ve also lost and replaced suitcases and their contents, the contents of apartments and storage units, and many of my possessions throughout life, it seems fitting to me that I still have all of the items I purchased at the Orlando Goodwill. (regretfully, I am not the size I was at 20, so the day I’m able to wear them to something will be a proud one. *laughs*)

That one week of my life was not in any way a happy one, but it was one that really affected me on some strangely deep level, and the original Survivor will always be a huge piece of that memory. :)

AUTHOR’S UPDATE: After writing this, I was almost pointed to this article via synchronicity. It’s no secret I don’t care for Jezebel’s perspective, especially when it comes to reading columns by female writers, but this article has more than a grain of truth. In fact, it seems remarkably tied in to everything I was feeling and writing about today.

“When 40 became the new 30, 30 became invisible. It’s a decade of major transition, a bridge from the broke hot mess of your 20s to the fabulousness of your 40s. Or when ‘Mean Girls’ graduate to ‘boring bitches.’ At least that’s one of the perceptions that hurts the pre-middle age group. Thirty-somethings are overshadowed by the antics of the 20-something “Girls” and the 40-something “Real Housewives” because, pop-culturally speaking, the best material is born from ‘having nothing’ (20s), ‘having it all’ (40s) or ‘losing it all’ (40s divorcee).”

I sometimes wonder if there are people out there who feel the way I do, who get to a point where they have so much restlessness and discontent inside of them, they’re ready to explode.

It isn’t a new experience for me, although it’s gotten worse as my situation has changed for the worse. I grew up with this feeling of restlessness inside of me, and even though performing provided an outlet for the experience and attention I needed from the world to feel happy, there was always a part of me that was biding my time. I grew up dreaming of bigger and brighter things. I wanted romance and adventure and experiences that I’d remember for the rest of my life. I wanted to travel the world and meet people and roam without being too accountable to anyone else. I wanted to converse with people far more interesting and worldly than I was. I was an adult who never looked back the moment the ink was dry on my high-school diploma. I had enough of being bored.

From 17-29, life was non-stop adventure and experience. Some were wonderful, glittering, romantic, legendary experiences. Others were immensely painful ordeals I did not have faith I’d know how to survive. When you’re a kid with daydreams about the world and all its adventures, even if you’re not particularly naive or sheltered, you’re still not prepared for how hard and callous and unfeeling the world can be. You abandon delusions that you’re somehow special, because the reality is you’re just another person struggling to get by in life.

Yet, in some ways, security and monotony has been the greatest struggle for me. It’s surprising, because I remember in those horrible moments in life, all I missed were the simple things, and swore I’d never take a night at home watching TV and eating pizza for granted again. Yet, it seems that people don’t change. I’m able to appreciate those small things with more frequency than I used to, and I’m able to live in my own little world for greater periods of time than I used to. However, that restless teenager that just wants to get out and live comes back frequently, and with a vengeance.

I am a grown-up now, with a rather ordinary and repetitive life. I no longer do much of note or accomplish much that makes me special. Time has taken its toll on me, physically and mentally. I no longer have the independence to do whatever I want, whenever I want. I have a dog that needs to be taken care of, and no roommate, and everyone who was ever going to help me with that responsibility so that taking care of a dog didn’t limit my freedom to travel is nowhere to be found. I lack regular income or any prospects that point to a way to make regular income, as my health still isn’t as strong as it needs to be to get out in the world and do things on a daily basis. Some days are great. Others, getting up and dressed is a challenge. It makes it really hard to remember that I used to be that person who would wake up practically bouncing on the bed because of all the exciting things life had to offer.

I always thought the above paragraph would be something written by someone closer to 80 than 30, but, here we are. I know that as long as I am on the Earth, I will never be done living, but the setbacks and limitations have been very hard on me in an emotional sense. All the time alone gets to me, and I have tried to make it otherwise, but it’s simply not how I’m wired. I’ve always needed to be doing things, interacting with people, having others notice me and engage with me. Like everyone else, I need my down time. Unlike most of my friends, 8 hours is fairly sufficient for me to spend alone and recharge my batteries, unless I happen to be ill.

My reality is that every day is pretty much like the next, and it drives me insane. I only see other people perhaps three days a week. Other days, I may chat with people on the telephone or via Facebook or e-mail, but I essentially spend about 70% of my life alone. For an extrovert, that’s hard, and it’s really easy to feel depressed.

I don’t always feel like I have a lot of friends, at least not here in Atlanta. People have rather forgotten about me, or understandably find dealing with the symptoms of my illness too restrictive or too much of a downer. The friends that I do have seem to be the type who look to me to plan interesting things to do or initiate adventures, which leads to my next limitation: transportation. I can only leave the house when someone wants to pick me up and take me somewhere, and in Atlanta, where it’s assumed everyone drives, it’s simply just too much of a pain in the ass a lot of the time. I hear “I wish you could have been there” a lot. I can’t help but feel, “I wish you’d cared enough to actually come get me.”

We have buses in my neighbourhood, but it is one of the least walkable areas you can imagine. My heart is unable to handle the mile walk to the bus stop, because it requires walking up and down a steep hill I’m just not physically able to conquer yet. It is a three-mile walk to the train station. You can call a cab, but the three miles to the train station will cost you $12. (Base fares for taxis in Atlanta are now $2.50-$3.00, but in 2008, they tacked on a “$3 gas surcharge”. Even though gas prices returned to normal, the taxis never got rid of the surcharge. Customers who need a taxi agree to blatantly be ripped off, and there’s not a thing to be done about it.)

Oh, and it’s not particularly safe to walk around after dark, which means that spending $30 just on round-trip transportation is my only option if I wish to attend an event that someone cannot drive me to.

There are very few decisions in my life I regret, but conversations with the ex who got me down to Atlanta where I expressed concern about transportation, and the reply was “Don’t worry. It’s very walkable and people can drive you where you need to go” should have been more detailed. In fairness, he wasn’t here much longer than I was, had a car, and grew up in the suburbs, so our perspectives were quite different. Also, living in the city is indeed much easier than living out in the middle of nowhere, and it’s really the only way you can manage in Atlanta without a car, or the health and free time that allows you to spend hours on public transportation.

Although I lived in Midtown for more than half the time I was in Atlanta, looking back, the amount of money I wasted on taxis and car services was excessive. Even when I was working outside my house or for a company, I had a regular paycheck, but there were always travel expenses, always non-optional “social” events to attend. Once I started organizing for a social group, I realised I was going to take taxis everywhere, because I didn’t have the time to spend hours on a sucky public transportation system. I estimate that for about 3-4 years, I spent about $400 a month on paying people to drive me around. Yet, I still found myself being bitched about on other people’s blogs and talked about behind my back because I was committing the cardinal sin of not paying friends to pick me up and give me rides to things. In my defense, I have to say that I’m not an intentionally rude person, and this is a cultural difference. People don’t ask for gas money in the Northeast, especially if you’re going the same place the driver is going. Buying someone a beer and offering a “Thank you” is politeness enough. Here, people want cash, and I was shocked to discover that was one of the many things people didn’t like about me when I started living down here. There are things people should tell you when you move here, and one is there’s a whole new set of rules when it comes to interacting with other people. I do not like most of the rules, which is why I still have people who ask me when I’m going to leave.

I live in the suburbs of Atlanta because, frankly, it’s where I can afford to live. On paper, I’m not the ideal candidate that anyone would like to rent to, so the fact I have a place to live at all is a blessing. It has enough space for me. When I moved out here, I had one roommate and then another who told me “Don’t worry, we’ll give you rides wherever you need to go”. After a year, that turned into grumbling and resentment about how dependent and needy I was. It was never a *choice* to be dependent. If you isolate someone, you take away their independence.

Then I got sick, and lost my ability to walk around too much. That really erased what little independence I had left. Much of my life feels like a repetitive loop, a child locked in her room, “grounded” for some infraction and not certain if there’s a reprieve in sight.

I can keep things in perspective, most of the time. I technically have my freedom, in that I am not dead or in jail. I have a roof over my head, food to eat, cable, internet, ways to make a little bit of money here and there. I have imagination, if I don’t have health, and I spend a lot of time replaying the film loop in my head of the days when life was filled with adventure, and dreaming of a time it might be that way again.

I know it can never happen as long as I live in Atlanta, or likely, anywhere in the South. Yet, unless I am successful at something in some way, I don’t have a lot of hope for being able to afford to live anywhere that it would be easy for me to live life in a way that’s not dependent on others. It is the proverbial Catch-22.

The Guy I Am Dating doesn’t understand. When I tell him I sometimes want to rip my skin off just so I can feel less trapped, I get a look of worry instead of someone who relates to that feeling. Yet, he is a very different person from me. He is an introvert who has not traveled much, who doesn’t get depressed spending most of his days on his own, who doesn’t need the whole world to notice him, and really values peace and security. I think it’s easy not to miss adventure when you’ve never really had too much of it, or pursued it. Many of my friends here are that way.

People will say “You do things all the time”, but the fact of the matter is, they’re typically the *same* things. We play trivia. We go to restaurants. We watch movies. We sometimes go to clubs or parties or concerts. We watch our favourite TV shows. We do the things that people do.

Yet, that’s the problem. I know it hurts the feelings of The Guy I Am Currently Dating when I express just how freaking bored I am with life, because he thinks it’s me saying I don’t like him or that I think he’s boring. But,honestly, I need to get the hell out of here sometimes. I need to not only do things, but different things. I want to get in the car and drive somewhere we’ve never been. I want to go to Athens for the weekend and see live bands. I want to end up at a random country bar on a mechanical bull. I want to road trip to nowhere in particular and end up doing something I’ll probably make fun of, but am pleased, because I’ve never done before. I want to cross things off of my “life experience” list. I want to do something memorable with people I like that didn’t have to be planned, but just happened because the people around me are always open to adventure.

There is so much *new* in the world, and I’m not doing any of it. And I’m afraid that one day I’m going to look back, and realise I mostly stopped living at 29. Life is just too short for that.

I really can’t wait until an opportunity comes up when someone can watch my dog and I can travel somewhere, anywhere. If people don’t want to go with me, I don’t care. I’ll go myself. I’ll hitchike and crash on strangers’ couches and have stories about interesting things that happened to me. I’m just not the sort of person who is happy living life sitting still in one place, and am dating someone who appears to not like to travel. In all the years we’ve been together, we’ve never gone on a trip together that wasn’t because of a convention he was organizing or a reunion he was attending, and that does make me sad. I sometimes think that is a major incompatibility, because my ideal romantic partner is a travel partner who values adventure. Sharing your journeys *with* someone is so much more meaningful than doing it on your own, and when I hear about all the couples we know who are exploring places that are new to them, it makes me feel downright envious.

I don’t want to have to watch the world pass by without me, while I sit in my little bubble and daydream. I am too old to be a Disney princess waiting to be rescued from the Evil Overlord Monotony and Confinement.

Yet, that’s how I feel. I want freedom and independence and adventure so badly that it not being available to me sends me into fits of depression and anger.

I know I’ve done a lot in my life. I’ve seen a lot and experienced a lot, but there has to be plenty of new adventures waiting for me. I know that life isn’t over yet, and I should accept that I’m at an age where routine is just what people do. I don’t want children and obligation for precisely that reason. It’s just that, as long as I live here, I can’t seek out too many new experiences on my own. I can’t even go to events I put together for my social group. I can plan them for others and live vicariously through other people, but I can’t experience them, and that physically hurts me. :(

I wish I knew how to be happy with what I currently have in my life, but it’s hard to compare it to what I once had, and not dream of all the possibilities I never explored while I had the opportunity. I don’t want to sit still. I don’t want to do the same things over and over again until, one day, I’m 40.

I know there has to be more out there. I wish I knew the someone who could help me find it. Sometimes, even the person who is always inspiring other people to get out and live life and take chances needs to be inspired.

I know that if I am lucky, one day I will be old, and I will have the same limitations in my life: transportation, money, health, wondering if anyone really cares about including me in their life, or I’m just baggage. It seems a little unfair to have to deal with them now, unless I happen to not live long enough to experience them at a later point in my life. After all, I’ve heard these are the years I’m supposed to be doing the most, accomplishing the most, building my life the most.

Like most things I’ve heard, this one appears to not be so true. I haven’t woken up with the feeling of “It’s such a great day, I can’t wait to get out in the world and LIVE!” in a very long time, and because I can remember that feeling so well, I miss it.

“Men are stoics when it comes to matters of the heart.”
“You seem very stoic to me, too.”
“Yes,” she said. “But I work impossibly hard at it, darling.”

“The Paris Wife”

I’ve been going through a little bit of what might pass for writer’s block over the past few weeks, and I’m not sure what’s inspired it. At the beginning of January, I started feeling really compelled towards spending time with the introverted side of my personality. I watched a lot of movies and television, read a book every two or three days for a majority of the month, and began writing in my personal (private paper version) of my journal. I began work on a new creative project I was initially quite excited about. However, I now think everything I’ve created sucks, and if I open the document, there’s a high possibility I will trash the entire thing.

Not only do I feel the creative spirit has left me, I feel filled with a mixture of ADD, emotional angst, and wanting to go out in the world as often as possible. Restlessness has hit hard, and has not left much in its place. The problem with my creative phases is that they come and they go, as does my desire to party and to be around people more often than the average person. When I’m left with neither, I don’t have much of a sense of what to do with myself, and feel generally bored and frustrated with my life and angry at myself for not being a more interesting human being.

The thing that made me decide to blog today was reading this article, about P.O.S. and the concept of anti-commercialism. I may be anti- any number of things, but I am definitely not anti-commercialism. I love shopping and new and shiny things, and if I won the lottery tomorrow, would be entertained for awhile by the freedom of buying whatever I want, going wherever I want, and being able to adorn myself however I’d like. Yet, I do go through phases where my life feels chaotic and cluttered and restless, and simply throwing away all the extra shit I don’t need and never use makes my world feel like a slightly simpler place. Although I’m about as anti-commercialism as Paris Hilton, there is a part of me that understands the freedom that comes with “not being weighed down”—literally and metaphorically.

The part of the interview that resonated the most deeply with me was this one:

Why is it that you think that no one is happy?

I think a lot of it comes back to the stresses and the pressures of what our lives have kind of become. How many people do you know that are in their forties that like their job? How many people do you know in their twenties that like their job? It’s not encouraged in our culture to find your passion and go after it. It’s encouraged in our culture to make as much money as you possibly can. And that doesn’t necessarily mean happiness for the people that find it, and the people that don’t find it, find the money I mean, that definitely doesn’t lead to happiness. I feel like if you get to the root of it, people don’t feel fucking free.

The times in my life when I’ve felt the happiest have not always been those when I was the most secure, but when I felt the most free. In fact, some of the worst “How do I get over this and start again without this killing me?” kind of experiences have led to a feeling of freedom that happened to be almost euphoric.

There was a point in my life where I absolutely lost everything, all at once. I was not blameless in this happening. It was the culmination of an extended period of bad decision making, not really thinking too much about others, living moment-to-moment, bad karma, bad luck, and allowing people in my life who had their own (many similar) issues with which to deal. But, as the saying goes, when it rains, it pours. I lost absolutely everything I counted on as “security” in my life: my condo, my job, my friends, and all of my personal possessions.

I walked away from the fallout with one or two people willing to be a part of my life and support me, and a few things that fit into a faux-leather travel backpack. Even my family was so pissed off at me and my part in causing the problems I was facing, they temporarily cut me off. Nobody volunteered to send me any money for clothes or food, or even to mail things I’d left behind when I moved out years before, in case they’d be of any use. They made it clear they couldn’t help me rebuild my life and I was on my own. Most of my former friends made it clear I no longer existed, and some wanted me to leave Atlanta. One, who was actually a surprisingly well-meaning person who wanted to stay my friend but felt he was not quite strong enough to stand up and do so, offered to buy me a bus or train ticket and drive me to the station so I could disappear and never look back. He offered the gift of helping me start over, but I didn’t take it. I couldn’t. I didn’t feel strong enough.

Fortunately, I had an ex-boyfriend who was, at the time, every bit as screwed up and lost as I was. He’d also made a lot of mistakes and suffered consequences, and understood. I also had a secondary partner who stood by me, even when the person I was in a relationship with turned his back. This friend was older than me, and despite going through his own stuff, remembered what it was like to be in my position at my age. Between them, they stood by me, and helped me keep the pieces together and provide the basic necessities a person needs to feel an inkling of safety, love, and survival in the world.

One day, I woke up realising I could go anywhere in the world I wanted, be anyone I wanted to be, take any chance I wanted to take. I remember feeling intensely happy, and free. That was the day I realised I was strong enough to handle life on my own again, to crawl out of the minimalistic cocoon in which I’d been hiding.

Mostly everything I owned still fit in my backpack, and what didn’t could be left behind. Over the three months I didn’t care to show my face to the world, I gained 10 pounds, but started to build up my savings. I had a laptop, courtesy of one of the “friends” instrumental in causing my situation, who said “I wish there was more I could do for you.” (and there was, but he didn’t care to, as it was ultimately a gesture of closure on his part, something that absolved him of the feeling that he was abandoning me in favour of his own self-interest.)

I was unhappy in those three months, but I came to value security more than ever. I, who had always been addicted to being at the coolest place with fun people who allowed me to be the centre of attention, found intense comfort in staying in a small one-bedroom apartment, watching TV every night, and eating fast food, or macaroni and cheese, or Hamburger Helper. Most days, I’d fall asleep grateful that I’d had a good day, that nothing bad happened to me. I’d spend time lying in the sun by the pool, reading a book, or being on the internet (where I consciously avoided sites that focused on social interaction.) I knew people were talking about me, that the world did not love me, that I had next to nothing, and yet I was happy because this tiny little world became my solace.

I, who had spent most of my life performing and was constantly conscious (and hopelessly insecure) about my own appearance, suddenly had to rotate through a small pile of garments. I had one piece of dressy clothing, because I realised that eventually, being social and using whatever connections I had left in the world was going to be the thing that helped me put my world back together. The thing that helped me keep my sanity, some days, was that I’d managed to hold on to my iPod, and I had songs that reminded me of when I was a happier person.

The oddest thing happened. As I became more appreciative of living in such a small, portable world, the world started to look a lot bigger. I was able to visit friends in other places who’d stuck by me through all the drama, and made it clear they still loved me. I slept on couches and on floors in artists’ lofts. I traveled through cities with $20 in my pocket. I wrote a great deal; letters that were never sent, journal entries that are painful to look back upon.

When I realised I needed a plan for the future, I started thinking about the kind of things that someone like me would never consider doing. I learned about all sorts of opportunities for people who didn’t have much except youth and an adventurous spirit. The closest I came to embarking on one of those journeys was sending an e-mail to a kindly man, an aging hippie who owned a B & B with his wife and daughter in Asheville, NC. They were looking for someone to work the front desk and answer phone calls, in exchange for modest pay and room and board at the B & B. I was terribly close to taking the job. To this day, I wonder what I might have missed out on by not doing so.

However, fate works in mysterious ways, and a few hours after the job offer, an acquaintance called me out of the blue to ask me to take over his social group. I told him what had happened, and that I was the most ill-equipped person around for that task. He disagreed. I’m not sure if he really thought positively about my personality and my abilities to be resilient, or was simply interested in sleeping with me before he left town, but it didn’t really matter. I took over the social group, and the remaining lease on his apartment. The social group gave me a new group of supportive and understanding friends, including two who became future roommates. I found a new job, and eventually, bit by bit, my world got bigger again.

These days, I am not terribly portable. I have so much to be grateful for, including a boyfriend who is there for me almost unconditionally, friends that have such an important space in my life that they’re like family to me (albeit of the dysfunctional commune variety. *laughs*), a dog who is there every morning when I wake up and every night when I go to sleep, and time to figure out what it is I am meant to do with my life. I have a two-bedroom apartment full of furniture, a closet full of clothing and shoes and accessories, and almost everything I missed so terribly during my times of trouble. Yet, the exchange is that I feel less free. I am constantly worrying about money, and finding not what makes me happy, but a way to pay the bills. I don’t explore my dreams as much, because I feel like dreaming too much or making my world too big will cause me to lose things I love.

I’ve lost some things, too, while I was busy putting my life back together. Along the way, I got terribly hurt and screwed over by someone I wanted to believe in. I lost my health, and for some time, believed I might die. My parents became seriously ill, although not only am I back on speaking terms with my family, my mother calls me at every inconvenient time possible because she’s bored. I lost my youth, my attractiveness, my confidence. Working to rebuild these things is every bit as much of a challenge as rebuilding your life. I’ve had to find myself all over again.

When I travel, no matter how hard I try, I find myself weighed down by luggage that’s over a third of my body weight. I don’t remember how to be simple, how to be without all the comforts I again feel I can’t live without. Yet, some of my happiest days are still when I am away from my world, sleeping on a friend’s couch or a lumpy hotel bed, and watching the sun peek through the blinds. I feel like the world is big, and I am light, and anything is possible.

I like that feeling. I hope there’s no need to go through dramatic loss to get to that, and maybe it’s as simple as, from time to time, getting rid of all your shit.

The next time I travel, I’m going to remind myself I need far less than I think I do, and I will be happier for it.