Grounding Flight

In a seemingly constant fit, evident throughout recent days and weeks, remaining fixed despite the changing of my state, I determined to lift myself out of a lowly, depressed funk. I didn’t know how, just sensed something had to change; otherwise, I’d just continue in a wallowing state of misery. What first came to mind, in the many hours of contemplation upon the saddened state of me, was my past; realizing I had never propped myself up, or directed properly to a path of self- success, following the high of studying abroad. Looking back; hung up on Katie, consumed by Higher Achievement, and then the move to West Clay Street, then the subsequent start of school, I never allowed time for me. All this would lead to even furthering attempts to keep everything outside of me, soon my attention became enamored by another companion, Mahogany. It would take several months, not until late October, that I fully recognized what I had done; completely neglected me. I couldn’t quite get rid of the desire to be with her, nor seem to forget about my time with Katie, but what became evident in the next matter of months, was I kept looking away from me. When this became most evidently painful, I was forced, out of shear misery, to look for relief, as no amount of smoking had helped.

Once I had understood my predicament, I then had to turn toward a solution; here I gained solace once more in the introspective seeking within. Like past instances with Haley, coming across Stoicism, and the first interest into reading, and soon later, with planning of a summer in Europe, I found comfort in dream. I thought endlessly about my future, and while the present seemed bleak, the questions once again arose, now even stronger than ever, of what I was to be? Perhaps, more importantly, how and who do I want to be? Surely, I didn’t want to be someone who is pushed and pulled by the sway of another, caused to be in such peril, simply due to not putting one’s own well-being in the forefront; instead, always neglecting the priority, for pleasure and company. Despite, not having the answers, but desperately seeking them, I knew that this person right now, could not handle and survive the future that is desired. Casting aside all that I have known, and pursuing a career as an International English teacher, undoubtably would be the hardest move yet. Here, I could easily admit that I was not ready, and feared that once again; like preparations to the prior two trips to Europe (2016 & 2018), I would have the excitement of my whole being, and yet, only ready myself with one foot in.

Asia, most fascinated with teaching in South Korea, would push me toward a brink, and yet; I could sense if I do not work to get myself better and right now, I wouldn’t last with such a drastic change. This driving thought, with the desire for a fit future, and sure growth, paired with present anguish throughout October and much of November, led me toward a search of improvement. In pulling strength from a past source, a motivational speaker, Eric Thomas, I found a video that seemed to speak to me. He spoke of a routine, a 21-day challenge, which I first began to take heed to starting November. It called for a total move toward self-improvement, soon I turned his concept and energy, and modified it for what I wanted in my life. The first aspect preached was the importance of waking up early; something that interested me already, since I found the later hours of the day, anything following dinner and dark to be difficult. I recognized that the looming feelings of loneliness seem to hit hardest during these hours, found to be true during my first solo traveling in foreign cities without any companions, friends, or anyone to speak with. Often, I wanted to end the day early, sulking on the carpeted floor, nearby the pipe or bong, smoking away my cognitive capabilities of where I was.

In his insistence of the importance of waking up before all others, per his routine-3am, I found interest in purposely turning away from staying up much past nine, ten o’clock; since I seek my eight hours of sleep. Once I enacted a more rigid, strict schedule; recognizing that I wouldn’t be able in the past, with working in customer service and in restaurants, but now with returning from the school around eight, I could focus on implementing structure in my daily schedule. The rough routine of five (am) to nine (pm), allowed me then to break down the day, across the many aspects of my life; most importantly the early mornings, as Mr. Thomas indicates, are the times to work on oneself, and dream. This concept of dreaming I knew well, but only in indirect manners of boredom in past instances of slouching on a couch for many hours, naturally turning inward. Now, this was different, I woke up and worked purposely to ‘mediate’ or dream, reflecting upon my past and what got me here; whether it be decisions from weeks and months ago, or in terms of years; looking back to past travel or my elongated time pursuing an undergraduate degree.

It is this mental exercise, that I indicated as mind, which along with others; five daily tasks toward the process of self-improvement, that I found consistency in thought. Along with meditation, I sought to read, write, exercise, and study language each day; as I aimed to improve my Italian language skill through the use of an app on my phone. In the early days, I scanned across the various tasks and assembled what I sought to accomplish; most evident in the reading and writing, however, I knew that the meditation upon the future needed to be focused on with a truly open mind. This took some time, but in time the avenues of my daily life soon began to come more connected; for example, I finally found a reasoning for my past writings, which once typed up from the first two months in Europe, and paired with what I had recorded while living in Viterbo, became Virginian Abroad. This proved important, as I found something to be proud in, and again came across that elevated feeling from writing. Soon, writing about myself became its own source of meditation, allowing me to work on myself through way of reflecting upon my past, and relating it to what I desired for the future. The next step came in the reading, which in a matter of weeks became clear; read non-fiction about the lives of people that you respect, admire and desire to learn from their wisdom and experience.

Thus, the first book I desired to read was Nelson Mandela’s A Long Way to Freedom, a cheat since I needed to complete it a matter of weeks for my History of the Colonization of Africa class; and yet, I had previously neglected it. I would turn first to complete a book I had for some time and yet never opened, Benjamin Franklin’s Auto-biography. In time, once I completed these two, I sought books that gave me insight and aid to the problem that I had before me; the evident lack of peace and happiness that I had with myself. Often the books, ranging across auto-biographies, philosophy, religion, etc. seemed to go over my head, and yet, what I was able to gain from them, provided me solace and most importantly, an aid to practice. For what I would seek in the reading of these books, aside from knowledge and wisdom, was peace; yet nothing I would find could do that from outside of me. Instead, the books gave me the opportunity to just sit quietly, without the need of some exciting stimuli or external presence, and allowed me to investigate into myself and attempt to consider what my future living abroad would entail.

Obviously, I could not truly grasp what the future lied ahead, but I knew to a certain extent what it was to live outside of one’s comfort zone, separated from family, friends, and the bubble that we so often live in, within the confines of our home (town, city, country, etc.). Yet, what I would start to realize about my early time dedicated to my schedule was the importance of controlling my own routine; as if before I was living outside of myself, unable to direct my course, but lead in varying directions according to whoever I was in the company, or desiring to be with. This was obvious for much of my time in Richmond, whether it be alongside Douce, amidst the at times chaos with Katie, or consumed with the concerns of Mahogany. Now I, seemingly for the first time in some considerable time, had gifted myself with quite a present, removing the leash and trusting myself with my own guidance; not of course without the help of insight from the books I read each day.

So, as I was without the company of friends and companions when I went abroad in past instances, it became natural that I should not rely nor even expect to have the company of others to lift me up, providing me something that I didn’t have within. This is why, the five daily task initially seemed so appealing; all of which I could complete in the confines of my own room; including a daily exercise to raise my heart rate, sweat, de-stress, and tire, gifting me a better sleep and energy level. Soon, due to the constant engagement with life outside of myself and the room, I added two other components, or tasks, that I figured would aid in my daily process toward improvement. The two being; a given discomfort and kindness, which naturally both subjective, and potentially uncertain, but did force me to think differently about how I thought about my surroundings and behaved externally. First, with the daily discomfort, I sought to; as I have done in the past, to detach myself from the unnecessary aspects, yet pleasing luxuries of life. A few simple examples I complied, due to my own interests and daily attachments were; music, internet, sports, and social media.

The next task, a daily kindness, is naturally; as it taken to be a move toward another, difficult to judge, but I found it was most important to be aware and attempting to behave in a better way toward people around me. I would soon find myself in instances, with this goal in mind of completing the task, more ready to open my hand and help someone that I perhaps, previously wouldn’t have thought to stop for. Easy opportunities arose, and became more evident in my daily life, take the people we pass on the street each day; Richmond has plenty of people in need, living and lying around the campus of VCU. Living in the five bedroom house with Steve as my housemate, I found myself, while he spent time with his girlfriend secluded in their room, more apt to assist with the watching over of her three year old daughter; as she would go aimlessly wandering around our upstairs apartment. Soon, we’d find fun ways to play; like her trying to catch my football pillow, or jumping off my bed onto a pillow on the ground. While it was strange and alarming to me at first, I soon found that could be my kindness for the day, and thus became more interested in providing her coloring instruments for entertainment, as her mom was occupied. Lastly, I was fortunate for my engagement into my job, as a seventh grade teacher for the after school program Higher Achievement, or the volunteer opportunities at the Saturday Literacy Academy, through VCU Globe, offered possibilities to think outside of myself, and work toward the betterment of younger people around me.

Due to the self-created turmoil and discontent at the beginning of the month, I was led to a choice-point; what came then was a reaction and implementation of a 24-day routine.  Like in the past, and voiced by Eric Thomas, “Recycle your pain, use it,” I converted the energy coming from the dissatisfaction with my state and utilized it for the greater good.  The routine most importantly created a blueprint for me; beginning with waking up at 5 am; which allowed me to be productive before the day even began.  By the time John woke up and we met for cafe, or the time to go to school, I had ample time to complete much of my inner five tasks of the day, which gave me a pride that my productivity was pushing me forward. I foresee adapting this schedule to the life of a TEFL in Asia, one of the ways I can keep my control/sanity in an ever-changing outward environment.  The task completions early in the day did two-fold; first, earning a sense of accomplishment for a job done, but also in introducing and forging a mentality for the day.  Mental/lingual challenges, forced me to use a language I equate to fond memories in Italy and possibly a future?  Reading two brilliant men, universally seen as cream of the crop, moral, upstanding global peace prophets helps me to maintain the desired straightness of path while also keeping my mind set toward achieving future greatness.  Reading over my experiences from Europe 2016, or even during ASB 2017, pushed me into a different thinking; one of already accomplished growth.

All these activities in the morning allow me to generate a viewpoint of not now, shallow; but later, greater. Early on, I began to see how Eric Thomas’ perspective of dreaming to push forward, paired with Benjamin Franklin’s deliberate learning could impact me, and once it became inspiring enough to see slight process, I figured this is the beginning to how I can correct myself and lead toward a future.

Education is the Passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today.” –Malcolm X

In the following passages, I aim to set down and detail to what effect the daily and 24 day routine impacted my life toward desired improvement. Here, I hope to provide a detailed enough account of that what initially seemed to ail me, in the lacking of my life, would eventually push me toward a process. In the uncertainty of the months leading up to working toward a TEFL certification, to graduation, then in the hope of getting a job abroad in Korea, I found comfort in my attention toward the 24 day routine. For starters, as I expected much would be subject to change, amid a whole slew of possibilities, it became more manageable to look ahead to the coming year, and break it down into nine (24day) periods before the come of August, a date that I anticipated would be close to when I would have clarity into my future as an international teacher; as most jobs I had researched began by the end of the month of August. Each period I expected would offer something distinctly different, as with the change of the ending of the semester to the beginning of my final semester at VCU, and many upcoming movements between a trip to see Nonna in Florida, and trips back home to Dayton, and up to see Dad and Tracy in D.C. My hope, while I inherently hold doubt, and anxiety toward the future, is that the periods will each show marked improvement toward my goal, and blend together to display one story, that of a continuous succession that gives rise to increasing growth. The story begins at the ending of the fall semester, on December 20, following the conclusion of the most tumultuous extended period and semester in Richmond, filled with doubt.

IMG_3607-2

December 20-January 13

This period, predominantly spent away from Richmond, as it was Winter Break, gave me the opportunity to visit family, move around from place to place, and get a retrieve from my room and city that had become the constant in the previous months. Yet, what I didn’t initially think about was the challenges, since the routine starts with the waking up at 5 am; thus any disturbance in going to bed by 9 pm, preventing me from 8 hours, then is felt in the days to come. This would be a theme throughout, due to desiring to be amongst family that have no interest in retiring to the night by nine; so, I learned going around family or friends and having a strict routine is a challenge. It became evident to me in Richmond, once I started the 5-9 routine, that my social life would take a hit, and yet, without any strong relationships, I didn’t feel compelled to participate, nor did I sensed to be losing anything. Two daily aspects began to take hold during the early days of this period; first, the beginning of the Online TEFL Course, requiring weekly to complete certain assignments each week. Next, after the completion of my past reading, I turned to a religious text that I had long sought to read, the New Testament.

Each morning, I awoke excited to read my allotment; something that impressed both Nonna and Mom, and yet, what I didn’t expect was its impact. Having very little attachment to Christianity, and my upbringing in the protestant church (Methodism), I was surprised to find how impactful certain parts of the book were, to my present situation and outlook. Take being around the Scordo family, in which one day we saw Kay, she seems to be overrun with the health situation, and (him in person!) with Fred.  In reading the text, a week later “But a married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world—how she can please her husband.”(–1 Corinthians), I began to wonder about what should an individual ultimately put the utmost time and attention to; after all we have but one life?

Upon arrival to Dad’s condo, I found myself instantly confronted with change; first in regard to seeing sports (both basketball and football) on the television. Another drastic change in the usage of my time, seen in a matter of years, but then to the abrupt change these past months; for someone who just years ago spent the whole weekend in front of the TV for Saturday and Sunday football, is now the lack of interest in sports. Simply put, despite growing up being enamored with both basketball and football, playing, watching, playing video games, drawing up plays on napkins at restaurants, and it constituting the bulk of conversations with friends and my dad, is the evident truth that it has no relation to my growth; therefore, detachment is necessary and replacement with something directly involving me. The next evening we would have a social outing at Charlie’s, for his Christmas party, an event that allowed me to see and interact with people that have very different perspectives, interests, and ways of life than I do.

I cannot say enough from what I gained during these two days; from confidence, insight, faith, and then simple material things: additional music tastes and jackets.

Dad made two comments to me, that I must divulge still reside with me.  First, like in past instances he reiterated how happy he was for us to be close like this; comparing to five years ago.  I cannot agree more, especially with regarding the addition of Tracy; we looked back on April 2014 photos of Iceland; three months into the relationship.  In between cooking, chatting, watching tv, or walking about; I feel I am both in the presence of my friends and mentors; in actuality my parents.  Side note, because it’s been evident these past 10 days; my five closest relationships happen to be the five people I have considered parents in my maturation; Julia, Mom, Mitchell, Dad, and Tracy. His second point, adds to his comment before I boarded the greyhound for NYC in December 2017.  He mentioned for me to continue this path, something I deal with daily.  Admittedly, this “path” that I have devised up, or have adopted (since everything is borrowed); is much greater than me.  Of course, that will tell in time; for now, every day deliberate learning and tasks completions.

Days later, I found myself back in Dayton, and for the third time in a week, lying my head in a different bed, under a different roof, in the confines of a family home.

Due to being more so at home, I turned back to my sleeping routine, although with difficulty, having to part from the family room, mom and Mitchell early. Yet, the evidence and feeling I receive from following my routine are clear and must be continued; foremost, with the control of my sleep schedule. In the days of my break, among family, and during the holidays, I worked to find a common ground, since seeing the family proved to be beneficial; especially with Pop’s improvement in health and conditioning. It is strange being back in Dayton, after this change in the past few months, and years in Richmond. I harbor a growing dissension from almost all in VA (naturally due to the desire to be abroad), and yet, I am surprisingly impressed with the last two gatherings.  As Mom and I have discussed, the family has faced a lot this year; 2018 has been more challenging than most years.  In many cases suffering seems to bring together and unite, toward continuous improvement.

In looking forward to the next period, I am excited to see a schedule with classes, that will be the most open since my first at VCU in August 2016. Yet, now it is about all the other facets of my life; Higher Achievement, Tutor Doctor, TEFL. Then there is the focus on the eight routines, in elevating myself; here, I can look back on these past two months or even my 9-Year Process to gain inspiration! The time in Dayton, December 24-January 2, as I told Mom, was like a vacation, much simpler and without a desire to be ‘young and/or social’.  Where every day Mom worked out with Pop, I joined most days; which was by far the most gratifying experience I could see, with his continuous improvement and happy demeanor using the standing bar, allowing him to hold on to while working on balance and strengthening. I can’t imagine living 83 years, and then to be forced to relearn many basic human actions; sitting up, walking, etc.  His perseverance and work ethic are relentless; truly an inspiration for mom, the family, and myself!

Once back at home in Richmond, and having completed the New Testament; the last chapter Revelations is odd!, I turned my attention to Modern Buddhism Vol. 1.  Again, I cannot express how my desire to read, soak up knowledge, and push my boundaries, has entranced me through this break! As I worked to reacclimatize myself to the city, I found something familiar weighing on my mind, however shallow and fruitless it is. Reconnecting with Mahogany; particularly I was interested in how she had rebounded from the difficulties that seemingly controlled her this semester.  After a half-day of productivity, following my routine: deliberate learning, to-do, and gym; I met her for a sushi date.  We caught up, talked about our past semester and break; then came to an understanding, to sever our physical connection. Considering her connection with her boyfriend, and our understanding, I then came under a test; one that caused me to reflect upon it for some time later. After the completion of our meal, I needed the bathroom, she joined me, something I should have questioned and soon we found ourselves in a situation of months ago. Thankfully, as she asked, I did not come prepared to be safe in a potential engagement in the bathroom, forcing us to abandon that hope and leave without making any further disturbances in the shared bathroom. I felt strongly conflicted, since as it was obvious at that moment, and in the moments months ago, there was an attraction and chemistry, and yet, I found myself sunk right back into a situation of prior. While, I wasn’t anymore consumed with longing or lowly feelings, my thoughts of upholding restraint in terms of continuing a process of focusing on internal growth, turned in that moment to momentary desire and urges.

In my reflections over the course since I had last been with her, I came to recognize the same mistakes I had made with her, were the ones past with Katie, Shay, Rachel,  etc. Addressing the rollercoaster rides of unrest, irritation and admittedly, the loneliness all relevant throughout this past semester, and in past years, I came to terms that I must come to some type of resolution, where my focus does not leave me and my growth. Despite the confusion and self-caused emotional suffering, I can only thank our brief companionship; I learned a lot.  It would be to my benefit that I consumed these valuable lessons, without ever incurring true damage or serious engagement.  Like the past, upon waking the next morning I found a strong sense to put the day prior behind me and look forward to build on what I am trying to become. Thus I began my introduction to Ralph Waldo Emerson, beginning with a reading I have for some time been interested in, called Self-Reliance; a concept I need to become much more familiar with.  It was entrancing; hooked, I read the entire essay before moving on to my writing around 9 am.  Since then I have soaked up many of the ideas expressed, reciting them in my head, and to ensure that I cannot forget them, I have printed them out to stick them up on the ceiling.

In working to become more ‘ready’ for the greatest leap (to date) in my life; I realize a change in me.  It is strange and encouraging how I am now happy to just sit in my room, read, write, etc.  Naturally, I must move my body each day; either a Libby Hill workout, trip to the gym (played basketball with Kush) or just bike around the city. I imagine these upcoming seven months before August, divided into eight different periods; will be (as I explained to Dad) my greatest uphill battles of my life to date.  Every day seems like the Olympic games; a constant battle to fight for productivity, virtue, improvement, and self-reliance.  I’d be lying to say that I am confident in myself that I can achieve what I aim to in my mind.  Thankfully, I know the part that I can control is not the dream, or the end-goal down the line; as it is overwhelmingly, more than I can handle, therefore instead my focus must be on the process to get to that moment; with that in mind, the process forward.

After becoming enamored with Ralph Waldo Emerson, I continued with other essays of his; American Scholar, and Race, then turned toward

other authors. Another transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau has captured my attention with his energy and passion for revealing the truth, with his Slavery in Massachusetts, Life without Principle, and A Plea for John Brown. While Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, Martin Luther King Jr.’s Letter from the Birmingham Jail, select passage from Teddy Roosevelt’s Autobiography and then referring back to the Golden Verses of Pythagoras, all offer me insight into different times. The readings offer me relief from my present, allowing me to remove myself from the present, and turn toward theology & history of the mid to late nineteenth century, the American Revolution, or Pre-Christ; something I explained to Professor Conrad in a dinner to catch up and talk about my future. Secondly, upon become content, at the moment, with the state of collecting my travels abroad, I turned to my attention to a new writing; the writing of my Nine Year Process. Like Virginian Abroad, in the midst of the uncertain and self-induced troubling times, I seem to find a clarity and almost humor with going over my last eight plus years to get in this position. It certainly takes some weight and tension away from the present, whether it be concern with a girl, classes, work, or ultimately my foggy future, when I see how in the past all events seem to be encountered, handled and overcome; eventually working out, and often times seeming very much connected. This has given me a cause for excitement, and most importantly some insight to allow myself to breath, relax; combing through my past to find that I need to trust this whole working process.

A few other developments have occurred, outside myself and the room; first beginning with an evening out at a local arcade. I met Haben, a classmate in the most recent Italian 300 course, and a past classmate in Vera’s other course, at Circuit. We had a lovely time, she is quite impressive with her outlook on life and her aspirations.  We enjoyed ourselves from six to half past ten, before I drove her home. I couldn’t help thinking that I would like to see her again, I think there was something in my mind, that recalled me to the past situation, and the fear of self-entrapment, again. I fought urges, like in the past to continue the night, reacting off of the quick chemistry, to propose anything for next time or a continuation, instead happy to reflect upon a carefree-intent absent fun evening with  beautiful company. Next, it appears that I will; as it never ended up working out in the fall semester, have an International student as a language exchange/buddy. Exciting ChanYeol, is from Seoul, something that I emphasized would be ideal with the desire to teach and live in South Korea. I can’t help but think of Marco, and how instrumental he was during my time in Viterbo. I look forward to meeting and getting know him, with the hope that I could be that role and work toward paying it forward.

Finally, the most in-depth, confusing and difficult aspects of my life to discuss and write about.  Through this break, and process; beginning in the month of November, I have put more time to myself; in thinking that it is necessary to prepare me for what I should expect in Asia; a lifestyle of isolation. What has come of it, is the strangest, most entrancing periods of my life.  I feel revived, inspired, empowered, corrected, enlightened, and most importantly guided; like the hands of a greater power are molding me day in and day out.  These experiences have occurred on occasion since acknowledging the massive hole that I inhabit, but yet, in these most recent two weeks, I have experienced something stronger. In putting direct attention to my thoughts about the present and future, I make time each day to sit down to meditate, eventually finding more comfort to lay down on my yoga mat in the T position. In occurrences that I can’t fully understand, but am learning to appreciate, I find waves of extremity come over me, tears flowing, full of detailed thoughts of compassion and foreshadowing.

I do not understand, but find these moments invigorating, while also intimidating. To become overcome with emotion, with chills running through the body, consumed by the feeling that something from within is desperately fighting to get out; as if, part of my chest desires to break from me and get free into the air above. I care not to investigate these intense moments, nor seek to understand, and yet am gladly mute and at peace, once the episodes are over. Upon breaking from these instances, I feel a contrast of exhaustion and revitalization, to then see my reflection in the closet mirror; eyes red and streams of liquid lined down my cheeks. With not desiring to lose anything, after all, I seek to make use of any energy I receive, 

I turn to my computer desk or to a book; inspired to continue my process. Thus, this period, led by these intense spiritual moments, has moved me toward multiple different understandings.

Which this recent period, I have noticed an oddity in that I have become more consumed with my own mind; a foremost concept from Self-Reliance, and Emerson; and yet, very much instilled in the bulk of my readings; the New Testament, Modern Buddhism, etc. The flip side becomes evident, however, as then the outer world has slightly faded in intrigue. Taking daily instances, from the class, or on the street, an attractive woman, or a person complaining about something; I find my mind keeps reverting to itself, and then I recall the passage and the message that earthly things are to be left behind. The daily mess that seems to be, and that once was everything for me, is now seeming to become apparent there is more; perhaps the constant push toward improvement, the focus on deliberate learning, with change, my path, and a Higher Being on my mind has instilled something?

Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind. Absolve you to yourself, and you shall have the suffrage of the world.”—Ralph Waldo Emerson

January 14-February 7

This period saw the bringing back of my normal schedule; between classes, work, and now to add obligations with the TEFL course, I find happiness in having a clearly defined routine. Sleep was not as easily controlled and managed; often ranging between 930-10 pm, albeit a few absurd outliers; 1145 pm & 1215 am.  Obviously, with a full schedule and the increasing pull with the desire to have a social life, most often forcing one to stay up later, I encountered more of a challenge. Schedules, interests, or priorities seemed to crash early on; without discipline, which put me in difficult situations.  These naturally either caused some stress, irritation, and the submission of work, that I know to be, not of my best; that is the worst of it.  Attaching name to thoughts, words, tasks, that show not to be of the utmost quality; referring to last night’s Factfulness paper.

Reading has continued to flourish from the previous period, proving to me that above all, it is here that I find solace and reasoning for growth; culminating in reading: FDR’s Fear speech, Jefferson’s Notes on the State of Virginia, George Washington’s Farewell Address, Life of Buddha-Henry Steel Olcott, Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience, Emerson’s Letter to Van Buren(!), Langston Hughes’ Panther & the Lash, President Kennedy’s 1963 Civil Rights Speech, John Winthrop’s Sermon, some Karl Marx, and George Orwell Essays.  With reading through this list, it comes to mind, when did I have time and attention for my schoolwork/school reading? In fact, I haven’t even bought the majority of my books yet; for later. Yet, reading during the Deliberate Learning period in the early morning, began the highlight of my days; freely researching and jumping from decade to decade, or event to event. Due to the reading of political letters and speeches, essays, poetry, James Baldwin, Russian philosophical thought throughout the 20th century (due to class), philosophy-religion, societal critiques, and neorealism, these themes and concepts pop up in my mind throughout each day.  I feel a compelling feeling, as if it is my duty to collect these messages from authors, actors, and thinkers past!

The insistence of ensuring that I make an attempt toward kindness each day, forces me to be more aware of my positions in life. Considering the continuation of Higher Achievement, and the beginning of the Saturday Literacy Academy, I have frequent contact with young people who deserve the utmost guidance and best of me. Meanwhile instances occur each day, becoming more evident of their importance; take meeting Willie on the street before work; who made me stop and open my mind. To which, I turned to my increasing interest in poetry and tracking my progress in the Nine Year Progress;

We met on the street,

Talked, then, change to eat?

But who are they?

To shoe you away,

For they are men,

Mere men, indeed.

What to say,

How to explain?

We are Wrong!

Next there is the addition of Yeol, we have spent four times now together and have enjoyed each other’s company; taking to the streets of Richmond, during the Red for Ed teachers’ march, or exploring Petersburg. We have collective and individual aspirations for our remaining time here, which excites me for our progress going further. Not felt since departing Richmond in December of 2017, but I feel that my social life is the strongest it has been; between him, Haben, John across the hall, and  Professor Conrad, which offers up a different kindness, their influences toward me. Naturally, I am not very social during class time, where I believe most people interact, along with parties, again something I do not know, but do find enjoyment in just being in the presence of an academic setting. This is why just being at a university, on a college campus, and the excitement of each new semester, provides me with joy. Especially with classes detailing; Italian Cinema with Professor Conrad, Russian History 490, Globe 302 with Mrs. Ingber, and an online International Economy class; all throwing more on my plate, offer me purpose.

This period will perhaps most known to me for its introduction; people of the streets, people in the classroom, people around the world, people of another time. Estoy muy bendecido!  For it has become evident that learning does not strictly come from a book, nor a classroom; ovviamente, learned this on the road. In many instances, those brief and rare moments, encountering something-someone unfamiliar, can be the most impressionable learning moments. Most importantly, I have learned through it all, that I must put my self into those situations, as I know regardless, whether I pass or fail, I will encounter, learn, and grow; so, my responsibility above everything is to just be there, be present. This knowledge, paired with the growing confidence of being content alone in my room, has given me cause that I can sustain a life, living in a remote land, just with the acceptance of encountering the new, and working toward continued growth. Thus, I have to thank in terms of my self-growth, there seems to be a new development, a growing desire and the creation of the artist interest in me; for looking at the impact of Emerson, Hughes, and Franklin on me, I cannot deny the role of the revolutionary artist.

I have learned to be a friend to myself Great improvement this indeed Such a one can never be said to be alone for know that he who is a friend to himself is a friend to all mankind”–Seneca

February 8-March 4

Beginning this period, I found the reading and writing daily requirements were achieved easily; not surprising since I can relate these directly to the improved me (in future), and as a necessary remedy to offset the lonely lifestyle of a traveler/foreigner abroad. To gain insight both as an individual desiring to forge a creating side, appreciative of poetry, and with the understanding of his role in recording the history that America has swept under the rug of time, I set out read Langston Hughes’ The Big Sea. Instead, I found myself delaying that, and to read others; Emerson’s Intellect and Literary Ethics, Saint Augustine-Confessions, Pope Innocent, and various attempts to gain insight into recent history; Cesaire’s Presence-Africana, Franz Fanon, Ho Chi Minh, Carlos Romulo-I am a Filipino. These all worked together in offering me a quick perspective to a certain: culture, era, ideology, history, opening a door something larger than me. I even brought myself back to reading Petrarch’s Ascent of Mount Veloux, reading it Haben while lying in back; there is something powerful in that concept and work of his.

Naturally, schoolwork started to call for more of my attention; something I resisted as much as possible, and yet, I have a fascinations for subject matter that I attend to in class. Starting with Soviet-Russian History, I have to choose a topic to perform a presentation; which has led me toward the Soviet Dissident movement throughout the nineteen sixties until the eventual collapse in 1989. Numerous authors and actors provide insight into this time period that seems to peak my interest; particularly:Andrei Sakharov Vladimir Bukovsky. In addition, as I cannot be content with the sole interest in reading history, and I have continued with the push to pursue more philosophical understanding; finding a calming remedy when reading Meditations, past and present. I have begun to record passages, and selections from the book that I find useful; quite the task, due to my shear interest with the book.

In continuing with my writings, I have put forth attention to Scordoencounters; which now has three installments to Virginian Abroad; June 2016, July 2016 and July 2017; only five to come. The other writings, Nine Year Process; tracking my story of this journey to a degree, and Confrontin’Ignorance; my detailing of selections from my course study writings, show how progression, even in the midst of a lowly base. It is astounding to think how little I knew, of matter that much interests me, before arriving to VCU; perhaps even more disturbing is the immense amount of knowledge and understanding that still avoids me. I aim to approach the the writing, involving classes ranging from; African American Literature, Jewish History, International 490, Italian History, etc. as my slow process of coming to grips with how little I knew (know). It is not intended as an indictment; yet, just the acknowledgement of my childhood; growing up as I did, not aware of so much, people that I did not come across, see or meet, and culture that never occurred to me. Yet, here I am now; whether through reading, traveling, or meeting people in a diverse city/college campus, much different than the town of Dayton, immersed within a much different story. Historians, authors, actors; like Langston Hughes, James Baldwin, Martin Luther King Jr., and so many others have pushed a country forward; often to their own detriment, and yet, are forgotten or never learnt.  This is the crime, their testimonies; as all have the right to provide, must ring in our ears in the classrooms, conversations, and the construction of a country.

A change occurred for me, in terms of my daily life, once I sprained my ankle at work; playing with two fifth graders, Ibraheem and Zacharia. The negligence of my well-being playing around with them during free-time, with low shoes on; then in the first week after injuring it, took a toll. It forced me to be less mobile, and even began to concern me, when dad would later indicate that it could flare up in the long term; once I get old(er) like him. With their insistence, and after being more consistent to I ice, medicate, and elevate; I would see a doctor at VCU. With the addition of an ace bandage, and now strictly wearing the Jordan’s, with their hightop ankle protection, I hope to prevent any additional damage. Aside from my carelessness; life in and around Richmond, remained the same, pushing onwards. Participating with Luis, an imaginative fourth-grader at the Saturday Literary Academy; now my weekly partner to communicate and hang around during the volunteer period, has provided a heightened importance to my life during the weekends. Aside from that, continuing to get closer with John in our conversations at home, random outings, etc., and then working with Kate through Tutor Doctor, fulfills time during the week.

Despite this, an opportunity arose through the VCU Globe program that allowed for Yeol and I to spend some time together outside the city. Due to my previous stint at study abroad; along with his take as a present, International student studying abroad, we accompanied ten students to attend at study abroad fair in Arlington, at Marymount University.  We learned a fair amount, enjoyed ourselves, ate well; most importantly, I got to further know him, and other students; particularly Ji-Soo. The two of them, got along quickly, once they starting people their native language. It was very cool to listen, and to imagine what life would be like in my future; me just being present and occasionally drawn in for explanations.

They helped to explain their conversation, about their respective lives back in Korea, then to Korean culture: K-Pop, Japan (always a factor in relation to SK); along with food, global politics (Korean peninsula dilemma). One of the fascinating aspects I have found with Yeol, and with my interest in living in South Korea is the shear depth, something I would explain to her; along with the general kindness of  the people, them being a small sample size.

he depth is vast.

Now to comment on the test and observations stemming from the most important aspect of life; me and my development, as Marcus Aurelius states, “it’s the only thing that matters.”  In terms of doing the right thing, and growing through discomfort purposely placed; to be more complete.  Participating in a three day water fast, the first of the kind for me; allowed me to remove myself from an integral part of my daily life, and then to recognize the attachment to food and my eating habits. To take this away for three days, a Tuesday beginning 9:15 in the morning, I previously had a banana then to continue until a banana and applesauce at 9:00 on Friday morning.  I found to gain periods of clarity, amazingly removing a key part of one’s life, something must replace it. Then, the addition strength of mind grasped; as I have always been so reliant on food, and yet, I found that we can press forward without much less. Certainly, there arose some effects, which proved initially difficult; from going to sleep with an empty stomach and the difficulty to stay attentive, whether in class or at work.

In two instances this period, I fell short of proper behavior; both occurring at work; which caused regret shortly after. First, I reacted wrongly to Jenny, lashing out at her upon her reference to the uncleanliness of the seventh-grade classroom; with guilt, I was to apologize the next day.  The second instance, about a week and half later, I reacted poorly to Ray and Shakeema’s comments regarding how to help my allergies; after I informed them that I had taken Benadryl. I took their advice as demeaning, responding that I tried everything else, since I have had allergies for the tenure of my life. Again, I was wrong, as I must acknowledge and take the words, whether thought to be kind or wrong; and then, form an unemotional, logical, reasoned response. Here I found myself in the same predicament, and had to acknowledge, now twice I have allowed improper emotions to guide me to being a lesser version of myself; presenting as bitter and angry. Despite, upcoming trips that would allow me to be removed from work, school, and Richmond; all much needed, I sought to take responsibility for my actions, in order to prevent any continuation.

Aside from the trip to Arlington with Yeol, my first trip to D.C. provided much desired brief vacations. With spring break arriving soon, I knew that soon enough I would return, and yet; I took advantage to be around Dad and Tracy. Each time in their company, I find rejuvenation, entertainment, and insight into my future; this time our brunch with David and Shelly, would allow me to discuss with an experienced foreign diplomat. The couple now living in New Mexico, are able to enjoyed a lessened version of control and experience while holding off on retirement. David offered up insight into a life abroad, and fascinating stories of his time living in several different countries around the world. Along with the brunhc,  I had the chance to meet Mansour and Patrick, a couple at the restaurant they own. Patrick discussed the years he lived in South Kore, during the 1980s, as a military official; both these instances gave me the unique perspectives of a life that I seek. Yet, the most valuable opportunity comes with the increased chance to bond with dad, and learn more about the past. With the company of Tracy, no doubt allowing dad to breach such heavy topics, we discussed his life in Richmond between; Jeff, John, following the separation, and divorce with mom. Then to the dramatic experience of mom’s car accident, the general subjects of marriage, moving, pain, development, improvement, and ultimately, as it took time; joy with patience.

The process of me, with the attempt of managing a full life; split between various avenues, along with my the development in moving toward my future got a step more real—I completed the coursework TEFL certificate on March 2. Now with twenty hours of in-class, practicum within the next two months, I am on track to complete the TEFL certificate by the end of April. All this lines up with upcoming graduation, and then a week-long planned trip to Iceland; the Terrible Turds! With so much on the horizon, and excitement about my next steps, I am not without my connection to the present. Aside from the growing friendship with Yeol, I found a budding attachment to Haben; as we have continued to spend time together, particularly inside, whether in class, the library (until late one evening), and her place. One evening will came across two issues. With her clearly ruminating upon something and slightly distance, I pried upon what was on her mind. She confided that she took some objection to my appreciation of a classmate, Kay; and started to perceive that I had interest in her. This possibility hadn’t occurred to be, yet, I could see where she was coming from. I dispelled her belief, and doubled down on my interest in her, and the fullness of my life; I had no intention of pursuing, let alone thinking about anyone else. This would lead to her next issue, one that proved to be of a greater concern and of something that I encountered before; the concept of a future. With both of our impending graduations, just mere months away, and the knowledge that I aim to move abroad, she questioned what was the point of us being together. Here we go again, I thought, pulling from my past; it appears I rarely am able to have it both ways. Yet, I didn’t desire to give-in, I confirmed my aim for the future, and instead, turned our attention to the present; something that I felt strongly about, but understandably is questionable. To my surprise, and joy; since within I could not accept separating from her at the moment, I found that the aim of mutual improvement and focus on the present worked. The open dialogue helped, we further discussed our pasts; confiding that we both seek for something beyond just a physical relationship, and then looked to move forward with weeks ahead. I couldn’t help but think, of the difficulty of juggling my life; yet, practice. 

“Let all who will—Eat quietly the bread of shame. I cannot,—Without complaining loud and long, Tasting its bitterness in my throat,—And feeling to my very soul It’s wrong.”—Langston Hughes

March 5–March 29

I see it fitting, as it is most recent, both in terms of my previous writing and with the development this week to recap my social lifestyle.  Throughout this period, the social component of my daily routine has breached further into my life, proving a challenge in terms of my ability to manage all what I desire to improve. I believe that moderation is key; however, as I will show I did not represent, nor strive toward the discipline I desire myself to embody. Change has come in terms of my social companionship; and due with reflection, I have come to acceptance that it was indeed necessary. Following spring break, a bit of sickness; determined by the doctor to be bronchitis, and an influx of the increasing load of life; everyday nearing closer to graduation, something had to give. I felt a disconnect in our connection, her only relying on any communication to be just during class, and then our post class walk; yet, I sought not to accept the obvious. Again, I attempted to resist, what I would come to see as inevitable; here I am working against the natural order of change. The time apart, aided by additions in other avenues, came to allow me to reflect upon the situation; something I regretfully didn’t allow myself with both Mahogany and Katie. I addressed the present, now full of so much; which all seemingly worked toward the improvement of my future, and then I questioned what are/were we to each other; is it possible the same as before? Just distractions from the larger and, at times stressful, reality of something larger.

Here, I worked to pull upon my past grievances and hoped; despite the inherent resistance to unsettling change, to grow and react better than I had before. Yet, like how I saw improvement with our relationship; in not becoming so consumed and clouded, losing myself, I could not view the breaking to be an improvement than prior relationships; here I found a comforting fact amid the brief turmoil of speculation and change. Yet, I cannot admit this all so easily, if it were not were the various other aspects of my life, that seemed to grasp my former attention, feelings, and time from her, and put them toward another aspect of life. Here, I have to thank Yeol; which after two months of a growing friendship, allowed my social component in my life to take off with the inclusion of their International group. With excitement of being invited to dinner, I rushed home from the Higher Achievement Loud Out Loud event; a delightful and inspiring poetry evening, which showcased 5th-8th graders reading out written poetry to an auditorium full of supporters. This event, despite my longing to have a more whole social life, cannot be understated, as it offered just another example of how unique of a situation I was in at work; working as a part-time teacher to young inner city school scholars.

Back to West Grace North, and meeting his group; which included a total of seven students, who come together each week day night to cook a meal for the group; barring Amer and Ali. This would be my first introduction to all of them, aside from Ali, whom I met at the gym once for swimming; and also to Yeol’s cooking! After the dinner, the seven of us headed to a free VCU held Jazz festival; something that I hadn’t occurred to me to attend, despite it going on three times a semester. This would become a theme in the coming weeks, as it took the international students; all primed to take advantage of their brief period in Richmond, and the States. The performance was wonderful, but what drew my attention were the conversations I had with some of them; discussing politics and religion with Star and Leila. Our evening continued as we divided into two cars and headed downtown for dessert to Capital Waffles. With his initial hesitance, the glowing smile on Yeol’s face as he devoured his waffle with sour patch kids, made my night; the rest of us shared, as I insisted that they taste my creation, Chicken-Gravy, and Apple Crumble Cake. As we stayed up well past my bedtime; something I informed them of, as I yawned several times, I couldn’t help but be entranced within the unique setting I found myself in. It was as if I was abroad again, yet, now knowledgable, of both the city, cultural customs, and with the heightened; yet, fleeting, experience of study abroad.

Prior to leaving for Italy in December 2017, I encountered a similar feeling being immersed with the group of Douce, Nabeel, Jorja, John, Korey, Katie, and Leondra. Despite all being Americans to the core; aside from Douce, and yet perhaps more than others, along with my upbringing in rural Virginia and in the small town of Dayton, a group of people of friends with such diversity struck me as a blessing. Now, I found myself with international students ranging from across the globe; Scotland-UAE, Canada, a Filipino yet living in Qatar, three students studying in Beirut, but from Syria, Tunisia, and southern Lebanon, and then the proud representer of Seoul, Yeol. While appearances show, it; as I learned from past friend groups, whether from WVU or prior VCU years, the interests and cultural background as what show. This clear separation could be seen in the couple, to which I three-wheeled constantly; Douce coming from the Congo and being a passionate artist desiring a life in Los Angeles, and then Leondra, growing up in rural Virginia with interests in staying close to home and being a physical assistant. To not digress too much, but a past; and more ignorant me, might have on paper two black people, that had different interests. Yet, what I would come to learn; as Douce would emphasis often enough, were the clear differences in them; both in culture and life aim.

This brings me back to the present, to which I now worked better and openly admitted my inability at times to discern between friends cultural differences. I would begin to understand, in time, to differentiate between the three Arabic speaking students from Beirut, the two funny sounding native English speakers, and the two students from the east. These early moments with them, allowed me to build off my knowledge from the recent world 302 class: communicating across cultures, and most importantly, admit I needed first hand experience with people to teach me about what I had never experienced. Separated mostly between two groups, aside from Yeol; and his videography-documentation passion-studies, they represented drastically different degree groups; taking courses at the VCU art school or in the field of computer science. The following weekend, after enjoying an unfamiliar meal made by Star, I found a unique opportunity to become closer with them. Sitting around the living room at the guys apartment, we shared fun stories of our past; until Yeol inspired us to take advantage of some free time and be spontaneous. In a matter of an hour, beginning with the preparation at ten o’clock, we decided to drive to Virginia Beach for the sunset. By eleven, Ali, Yeol and I, picked up a large SUV from Hertz; oh happy to be rid of that garage, and headed back to pick up the remaining group members. 

What a wonderful idea to rent, and drive to the beach; yet reminiscent of Catania with Brock, as suffering through the cold, I pulled on the strength of that memory. 

The many blankets did not seemingly make a difference, nor the huddling together; we couldn’t stay warm, until the sunset came, then our bodies came to life with foolish excitement. We danced around, most entertainingly from Yeol and his waving of a flag, as if it were a flag, and he represented his country in front of all eyes. The bottle of red wine, and snacks didn’t hold of off, but we’d find a nice breakfast spot along with beach that would offer us enough food to hold off until we returned to Richmond in the late morning. They’d mostly go to sleep, recovering from the all-nighter, me; I’d return to my apartment, try to fix my contacts and take a hit to relax, then head over to campus to present about my time abroad. I needed the hour that the volunteer opportunity offered me, yet, I couldn’t help but notice two things. First, without contacts and no glasses, I couldn’t see anyone in the large open-lecture style classroom; yet, I imagined that they could suspect me due to the redness of my eyes. Second, with references from the three younger speakers; especially that of the one that studied in Italy for a semester, I found myself at odds from them. I emphasized while it is the common time to study abroad during sophomore year, it wasn’t directly the case; as the invaluable opportunity can be anytime, for me at twenty six. Next, they didn’t seem to grasp the full avenue of growth, that living abroad offers; instead divulging to the incoming VCU students of the secondary positives, of classes, fun, and travel.

Despite feeling that I wasn’t taken to be understood well, I received my hour of volunteer time, and then looked toward the evening; a return to being with the group. After a dinner outing at the commons, Chick fil-a, we headed for dessert at Shyndygz. The company and conversation was delightful, but I started to feel the negative effects of being up for forty straight hours, soon I found shear joy in being in my bed again. This turns me; despite the immense joy of adding a social life and a group of friends, to the potential downside of when one lives without discipline and for simply the moments. In the early times together with them, I found myself being stretched; between myself and the daily goals, and the desire to be amongst them. I started to see an erratic trend in my routine, most evident in my continuous lack of, and ever changing sleep schedule; this would soon start to take an effect on my ability to put full attention toward my daily components. I found myself in a constant state of exhaustion, and despite being present and able during class, work, and my daily goals, I saw a decline in performance and enthusiasm.

I struggled with discipline, and moderation; which forced me to further address the levels of myself, in the self-concept. Language, and exercise seemed to fade first, as I noticed a heightened desire to keep the reading and writing up above all other components. I finally completed recording Mediations, and turned my attention to some more religious minded texts; St. Augustine’s Confessions, and The Prophet by Khalil Gibran. I found a comfort and relation in the former; finding the monologue of a self-admitted, and ashamed sinner to have spoken to a part of me. His regret for a life consumed of lust, and distraction from the one sole goal lead me to further examine my own life to date. I finally completed the next reading, Langston Hughes’ The Big Sea, and found myself enthralled by the early life of a traveler, historian, poet, and struggling youth. His auto-biographical work led me to start thinking about a writing that I desire to put together; recording the necessary sufferings of history’s pupils and having them lead our way through the character. As Emerson says, “the whole value of a biography, this case an auto-biography is to demonstrate what another person can do, endure, elevate.”

I continued to build on my writing, posting consistently to Nine-Year-Process, while jotting down occasional thoughts of Contemplation, and recording the hand written works from Alternative Spring Break 2017 (ASB Nola’17). I am still able to pull back on that week over two years ago, where thirteen strangers to me, packed in a van and headed down for a week to volunteer at Camp Restore. I paired this unique opportunity with the extended time with Douce; and the other group members, and now the international group as the most beneficial times during VCU. I’ve found with the urging of people close to me, that I take more advantage of what we have at our disposal here in the city, campus and country; oddly not needed abroad. This can be best explained, whether in the recent trip to Virginia Beach, or just two days ago with free kayaking sessions on the James River. Signing up a week in advance, Chris, Yeol, Ali, and I took full delight in being on the river; despite the cold water. Yeol and I found even more joy when we saw Chris, the Australian outdoors adventurer, flip over twice; falling out of his kayak, along with Ali, once.

To turn back a few weeks, before I met the international group, I gained two much needed avenues to light in the first days of the period. The first, my family; and for so long the source of power for me, I found the time spent between the second trip to D.C. in recent weeks, and a return home to Dayton to provide exactly what I further needed. In Adams Morgan, the two of them helped pushed me further along on the path; while I helped Tracy convince Dad that he could gain something from Nutrisystem; despite the incoming dread of eating such generic food. The more important aspect that we stressed was the portion control, and the balancing to distinguishing on what is needed and what is unnecessary. This in turn, turned me toward my own life; referencing my our plate, and how I can properly balance a life that seems to pull me in too many directions. Well, with the addition of TEFL hours coming into play in my schedule; roughly three needed a week, I found an unexpected trade-off. The twice a week tutoring sessions that I had with Kate, with the goal of improving her knowledge and performance in government and English, would come to an end. This time conflict, for both parties, gave way to additional time focused on my future; an English teacher. Holding to stress that I wouldn’t be able to complete my hours in time, after searching out for all places in Richmond that offer English classes in the time that I have free; I began to question if I would have to let go out some time at Higher Achievement.

Thankfully, the four day-trip home to Dayton, provided me with the chance to gain eight hours volunteering with Skyline Literacy. Upon arriving back to Richmond, I found a location; oddly enough, close to my childhood home in the west end of Richmond (Short Pump). Later that week, on Thursday; still taking advantage of the Spring Break week off from Higher Achievement, I attended my first session with Russ at the West End Assembly of God. That night I earned two hours, and set down with him my intention to earn the remaining hours; between observation and teaching. An older and friendly accountant, who spent time, years ago, in Guatemala teaching English, he was all for me taking some initiative in the classroom. In the next several weeks, we’d become friendly, working side by side to help the near ten; mostly Spanish speaking, adult learners in our class.

I referred back to managing life as a full plate, and continued to work toward how I could best complete all my daily and weekly tasks and roles. The concern I had with the increased attention to the TEFL classes effecting my work, were dissipated after visiting Alex at the Higher Achievement office to discuss with him my predicament. I emailed and showed him my weekly schedule for the remaining near ten weeks in Richmond, and how I had could complete my required hours. It proved necessary that each Tuesday and Thursday, I would leave work an hour early; during the mentoring-tutoring sessions, and head to my TEFL classes. His willingness to work with me and his understanding worked to take a huge concern off my shoulders; allowing me to stay involved with work, while aiming for my future career. My managing with class; however, did not go as smoothly, and soon I’d find myself in a consistent, self-induced pinch that caused more stress than needed or desired.

My performance, due to the lack of attention or, at times, interest led me for the first time at VCU to compare my present attitude as a student to my former (referencing WVU and Blue Ridge Community College.) While, I never worried about not passing either Italian or Globe; yet my grades were dipping, I began to question my performance in both Russian and the online global economy course. The latter two courses found me consistently procrastinating on the assignments; often finishing the papers the night or mere hours before their submission date. It would be for the online class that I never purchased any of the six assigned books that were necessary to read, for the completion of the papers about that information. Instead; I found myself often watching YouTube lectures from those authors, or reading slim explanations about their works, before typing up the five to fifteen page essays. Take the most recent assignment; a seven page essay on Paul Collier’s the Future of Capitalism and Robert Kutter’s Can Democracy Survive Capitalism? Both fascinating topics, and viewpoints; however, with the immense variety of books that I’ve found open for free download and reading online; take gutenburg.Org, I cannot submit to the idea of constant paying for ideas and information. Here is where I wholeheartedly agree with the concept of public domain.

 

The unique opportunities outside of class continued; first, I must acknowledge how helpful two meetings were; one with Ms. Ingber, my globe instructor and adviser, and then Ms. Glass, who has set me straight toward ensuring I have all requirements completed with graduation approaching. The former, has dealt with me in class; something that I can imagine is not the easiest, whether it be my clouded detachment from what is going on, or my intent and focused need to correct the class conversation of the proper matter at hand. In recognizing my desire to provide, often enough of a different perspective, while seemingly holding without a care of how I will be perceived for such an admission, she has brought forth a term for me familiarize myself with, the Gadfly. This concept became more pressing on my mind; especially coming into theme during the attendance of two academic lectures, off campus. The first, a social justice and youth empowerment fair at Binford middle school, attended by Yeol and Ray; a rare intertwining of my work, school, personal life. The powerful speeches, whether from local teachers or minority students that have felt the ‘justice’ from the school board and community policies, brought on goosebumps, tears, and an anger that only heightened itself later in the day. After I dropped Yeol off, for his study on the GRTC bus system, I headed downtown for the next event; a philosophical lecture about race.

Upon arriving downtown, I found myself lost in the St. Patrick’s Day festivities; seas green drunkards standing around in lines, yelling, and acting without a thought in the world, they all seemed too much like cattle ready to be milked; consumerism.  I arrived at the lecture by Dr. Chris Lebron on racial inequality. Here, I would be unable to resist the tears; totaling three times today, following the feelings from the end of the Social Justice fair. I couldn’t resist upon hearing the names of young men the victims of killings, or the boys involved in the killings—eighteen, seventeen, twenty-one, fourteen. Here, as I left the break-eating session after the lecture, did I further address the mess that was outside of me; with a mind that was racing, and emotions raging, I wrote; since I felt all too close to it.

Youth

Start strong, proud; Girls for a Change—

Empowerment—black girls, to end the

blatant prejudice; young women vulnerable

strength speaks here with these two, we agree

sessions to improve; teach english, use history,

classroom circles; stories to tears, fled by truth.

Grapple

Can we—or

Will it break us,

To know the truth

do we even care?

A conscience in

question—social justice,

Some here to listen

N learn—later a talk,

On racial inequality.

More—concerned with

Green; not our land,

Wear it, drown the

Reality—consumption.

An American Specialty.

Nonetheless, my daily life must continue, and the process of growth must go on. 

This routine continues my improvement; and here I am thankful, for these days offered some many truths; whether keys to myself or the surroundings. First, as known already, my Family is key for me; and yet, what help will they offer me when I fly across the world from them?  I will not be able to rely upon this most comfortable and precious group of people while abroad, nor will they be just a two hour drive away for me to further find aid. With what I have learned from a fading relationship with Haben, and from my past, I must now ask myself, what’s the point? While, I have appreciated all that have come before me’s company, affection, and attention, they have all left me; in many times, reeling from a high that is brought on by lust and dependance. Yet, a social group; led by Yeol, and in my past time in Richmond, Douce, has provided me a very similar companionship, without the level of intimacy, but has never caused me to forget myself. Here, I can take these lessons, and begin to formulate what I will seek for my future, where I know I will need to supplement my social component for the detachment of all personal relationships here in Virginia. Luckily, in these past months, I have found a new avenue toward companionship, one that is completely without a physical nature, and that goes beyond time. Here, I refer to the literature, that has me enamored most mornings, and often times, before I go to bed. Once I find myself removed from the streets, pubs, and restaurants; all people in the contemporary time, I turn toward the guidance of the past one’s, like Emerson and Langston.

I understand that a break from the solitude, from “the glees and glooms alone”, is necessary but I have erred far too long, and must find a proper balance. The aid provided by these two men; along with all the authors that I have read help to provide me with direction and insight, to push me further on my path; and adding to the development of the person I want to become. Prior to this process, I sought refuge in the enjoyment from others and the removal of what was me. I didn’t know it all that time, not inherently listening and trusting within, yet, all that internal ache, confusion, and experience has led me here. I have learned by using another, whether friend or companion, for the crutch; needing that additional boost externally—I was dependent; and therefore, not whole, but empty. The realizations, months ago, opened my eyes to show me how incomplete I am; and yet, provided promise for that is not how it has to be. Months later, and under eight weeks before I address the long coming graduation from university, I still find myself on this floor, staring up; pondering, what am I, why am I, my purpose, the present? Asking these questions are critical, but if I have come away with anything these past twenty-four days, it’s that the people around me, are integral in leading me toward this progress.

Give thyself leisure to learn some good thing, and cease roving and wandering to and fro. Thou must also take heed of another kind of wandering, for they are idle in their actions, who toil and labour in this life, and have no certain scope to which to direct all their motions, and desires.” –Marcus Aurelius

March 30-April 23

This period arguably was the strangest I’ve experienced yet, while living in 1430 West Clay Street; and yet despite the odd difficulties, I am just weeks away from departing Richmond! To begin with the starting point of my routine; what I find absolutely crucial in ensuring that I maintain myself through this process, I learned of an interesting fact. Recently spending Easter weekend in Dayton, and the family, Mom informed me—Humans are the only species to ignore or put off sleep. We do this to continue our social component, watch our favorite television show, or to complete work still to be done. Seemingly, for the extreme majority of people that I  a familiar with; as has been the case for me in my adolescent and adult life, the day’s succession has no relation with the sunsetting. To refer back to Benjamin Franklin, and his daily routine; understandably a different time of candle light, yet he found success in following more closer the pattern of the sun; rising before it, and moving toward bed soon after the turn toward dark.

This is where I must start, as throughout this period, the bags under my eyes prevailed. Too many days I recall being drowsy, snoozing—even for fifteen minutes, that first mistake in the day will come back to bite, for me—most often around two or three in the afternoon, sometimes even earlier; eleven—only six hours into the day, in feeling the need for a nap!  While I awoke most morning between four thirty and six in the morning, I rarely received enough sleep. Even if I did that night, I was often at a deficit from a previous night(s). Going to bed anywhere between eight pm and twelve thirty am, my sleep schedule was erratic; which leads to problems of inconsistency. Most often a lack of enthusiasm to do anything, or a decline in ability to speak and think properly. Heightened stress levels, often, also seem to rise during these stints of exhaustion, and for me; I have noticed, moments of lowness trending toward bouts of depression. The latter, is something mom and I have talked extensively about; at an early adult age, she prepared Julia and I, for what we could potentially inherit from her.

Perhaps, most important, in waking up early; aside from ensuring that I get my required amount of sleep, is the removal of distractions. Between friends, obligations, and all that comes with people around me, I am pulled away from the desired attention that I want to give to the two aspects that I most desire to do; reading and writing. The former, has led me to fully believe in the ‘knowledge is power,’ and has worked to show to me of what is possible in man, in me. 

In reading through the whole of mankind; especially in terms of people that we idolized and see resemble in, we are able to obtain this insight into our predecessors’ experiences and thoughts. Our great misfortunes, and mistakes are not properly studying the heightened lives of the past, that separated themselves from the pack of the more lowly; which prove to us the possibility of our own removal from the multitude. This leads me toward a writer, and book, that has entranced me; Thus Spake Zarathustra by Friedrich Nietzsche. 

This book, about a superhuman (above man) character has instantly climbed toward the top of my favorites; I cannot suggest more highly. Nietzsche’s work is enlightening, yet was received as a terrifying madman that proclaimed God to be Dead! To further assist me in my still days of consistent self-questioning, I again found solace from a film on Netflix, titled Interview with God. Interestingly enough, the exchange between the reporter, who claims that God looks quite manlike, and then God, claiming the man to be quite God-like, brought to mind the exact representation that I think we need. Nonetheless, I did not stay wholly with Zarathustra, and worked to read a bit of another of Nietzsche’s works, Beyond Good and Evil; yet, it doesn’t ring the same bell of intrigue. Another text, Walden, with learning about its contents years ago in American Literature class, has become quite interesting; or maybe, the concept and writer himself has captured my attention. There appears this constant and prevalent theme in heightened literature, and religion; think, Jesus in the desert alone for forty days; and also sleeping atop the mountain at nights before returning to preach his doctrine and philosophy to his disciplines and the gentiles, of solitude from the crowd. Perhaps, that is where Friedrich got his inspiration for the controversial book, his father was a man of God—before death took him too early.

Desiring to know more about the great mind, and others, I watched five episodes of Ancient Genius and Modern Genius; coincidentally—I had found the same intrigue into the connection, in time and thought as the revolutionary, enlightened thinkers of Socrates, Confucius and the Buddha. Strangely, they all seem to introduce radical, and similar doctrine, that forever shaped the connection between man and god, man and man, and humans in society. They all lived within eighty years of themselves, a fact that the host of the show, Bettany Hughes, couldn’t quite let go toward confidence; perhaps, humanity needed an introduction of some sorts, across the globe. The show, and English historian, would also do three episodes on the Modern Genius; Karl Marx, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Sigmund Freud. I have found interest also in Marx’s work, and found both the videos about the first two Germans to be provide the necessary background information into the radical lives.

Being closely connected, perhaps even aiding in how I accepted and acted towards the exchange, I must turn to the housing situation.  Two events, above all need to be stated—first the continued ‘conversation’ between Hank and I in the kitchen. Watching Bettany Hughes episode of Socrates, I believe I did my best (at the time) impression of him, in the midst of the worst and most disrespectful interaction I have ever had with someone (at least since turning eighteen). In fact, if it wasn’t for his state (middle aged? And with a limp suffered from a stroke) I would have guessed he would have hit me. He certainly got close in two instances, first by putting his hand in my face, and then several minutes later as tired of him verbally jabbing at me, I suggested him to check his own speck (hindsight—might have made it worse?) He would then address an adamant middle finger, centimeters away from my nose, and add F*** You! Again, I have not had a conversation like this with anyone in my lifetime without expecting to be on guard against some physical exchange. His anger, would gift me the energy and motivation to write;

Rilassati…

In the face of aggression, hatred, outrage,

find oneself, calma—il modo, the only way;

admit imperfections, flaws a-plenty, assist

if I may, correct—not jack, dumb*** they call

me, branded to fail you say, falling ever day!

I know with confidence, failure; what about you?

Gratitude continues, see, takes energy—to be angry;

Tired I am, not for that. With an ear full, give me fuel.

Cherish the times, neither’d say. Yet, exchange came,

add to me, thanks for that. And you a gasket? Sorry.

It was truly a unique experience, one I must thank him for, since I was able to practice a calm and cool reaction; something I would not have long ago reacted as such, and yet, it offered me the opportunity to see growth. Despite the influx of energy, and pure disdain toward me; I saw the interaction as something different, with then pulling my knowledge of his lifestyle, I realized several points. First, it is not healthy, nor comforting to see a person, hold such anger within; and not address the overarching problem. This interaction further explained an unfortunate truth, of a man that each day works toward becoming very much intoxicated; understandably, attempting to cloud his disdain for the present life, I have been there with my own vice, but it turns me toward laziness and a sloth demeanor. No one should be that miserable, but we know it true; so, I am grateful to him, for his reaction and lifestyle provides me insight into a different perspective into how we face the challenges of life. 

Before ending this rant, I must address my fault and blame in this; he has expressed in past; only rudely and indirectly but has…how important the kitchen is to him, in his room shouting, “Please God it is all I have.” I have allowed the kitchen to become dirtier, since I began to tire of having to take sole ownership for keeping dishes and the kitchen clean, along with throwing away trash. I got to a point of detachment, considering the two housemates upstairs, preferring the smoke in their rooms, and neglect the kitchen’s state. Since this time, there has been a surprising change in the house, which began at midnight of Steve’s birthday. I was awoken to a bang, but thinking that it was a drunk Steve retuning from his girlfriend’s, I fell back asleep. Next, I frantically woke to John screaming that we had been robbed! That was startling, I jumped out to find that only Steve’s room had been raided, I’m told by three guys who broke through our glass back door, then smashed through his bedroom door (the noise I heard.) All of his illegal items he sold, thousands of dollars’ worth of merchandise were removed.

Alex, unfortunately saw the three guys from outside his window downstairs; we were all shaken up—mostly Alex. The cops soon came and I returned to my room, not desiring to talk with them; all my items, as if they have any value are safely in my room with me. John told me of the incompetency of the police, who stayed questioning John, nearly up until I woke up at five. Throughout the day I was stressed, but for a different reason than Steve, a received word and believed that my prior underage drinking citations, since they show up on the local Harrisonburg court system, would prevent me from teaching in South Korea and many other countries. This negative feeling consumed me like a cloud, following me around. I made some calls, went to speak with a local law office; to no avail and researched expungement. My worries turned to fear that I would be prevented from pursuing a dream, to live abroad and work as a foreign teacher. The encountered that crippled

feeling of having no future; an understanding that I am thankful for realizing the truth to, perhaps, this is why people act recklessly without a tie to something greater in the future, on the horizon. Yet, my fear to no avail, the FBI fingerprint channeler report returned, I am clear!

Tomorrow’s English session (4/25) as a Second Language (ESL) class at the West End Church of God will complete my twenty hours, four days in advance of summing up my experience, due May first.  Last night, I attended my first session at River Life Community Church, met some really good people in the intermediate conversation class (Jorge and Jackie), which calls into question my previous times that I skipped in favor of Yeol’s weekly cooking (although his Korean and Japanese cuisine has me excited about the drastic change in eating!) My time with the international group at West Grace North has continued, we have adventured more out into this state, taking a day trip to Hopewell and Charles City (south about an hour), in hopes to catch some crabs, but how? We did not bring a net, and our attempt at making a makeshift fishing pole was an entertaining failure; using a chicken finger, without a hook for bait. After leaving the pier, we came upon the very same restaurant that Julia, Mom, and I took refuge from the sun and bikes during our Capitol Trail biking trip. It gave the group of Morgan, Star, Elizabeth, Yeol, Amer, (and I) the opportunity to try some authentic southern cuisine—pimento cheese, fried catfish, and fried green tomatoes.

A Week later, Elizabeth, Morgan and I took a day trip to Edenton, North Carolina. Leaving at three in the morning, we hoped to catch the sunrise, instead we found clouds and fog, yet for me it was well worth it—I took a self-guided walking tour of the colonial style, coastal town; famously the home of Harriet Jacobs! While they slept I walked about, reminding me of being abroad (it was heavenly) despite the rain, I found my peace and solitude. Then the next weekend came, so, we rented a car; pilled seven in the large SUV and headed off to Dayton and the Shenandoah Valley! The group (Yeol, Ali, Amer, Star, Morgan, Laela, and I) slept that evening at my parents’ house; divided between four rooms. I suggested that they all act if their English language skills were not, so we required a translator; somehow Amer in this case spoke Arabic (natively), Korean, and Filipino! He pulled it off for the first fifteen minutes, leaving Mom and Mitchell in near disbelief that my friend group cannot really speak to each other.

Finally, we removed the veil and disclosed our prank, by my urging, we all laughed then began to better converse among each other. It was a wonderful exchange, my parents (especially Mom) having the opportunity to learn, as she loves, (know where I get it!) and them all having the chance to see a different side of Virginia, America, and me (my roots). The mountains, country, and especially the Mennonites (wow they loved those carriages, or horse and buggies!) I guess I can imagine, for them, never seeing people living that way, it was truly unique. The next morning, we drove up to Reddish Knob, the highest peak in Virginia, to find the fog, which, made driving for me, a fun challenge on the way up. We spent some time up there, dancing and acting a fool, even playing a game with trying to hit some glass bottles, left up there by previous kids (I presume, since the whole slat is littered with graffiti!) Ali got the opportunity to drive on the way down and then around Dayton, Mennonite country. His delight and smile on his face are all worth it.

To wrap up several instances that need to be stated. First, before leaving to go home last weekend for Easter, I spent the day and dinner with Professor Conrad. His tutelage, wisdom, and friendship, has provided me with so much; yet, I fear I will never be able to repay. All I can do, is to work toward being the best model in my brief situations, between the English classrooms, at Higher Achievement, and at the Saturday Literacy Academy, with Lemmy and Luis. All these instances, and the immense feeling of being where I belong, offer me assurance. Another opportunity arose, through Globe, that offered me a unique chance to meet students from the Tucker High School ESL Program. Fourteen students, from a nearby school in Henrico county, ranging from countries in America, Asia, Africa, came to visit VCU and learn about the Globe program. We performed a panel discussion, seven Globe students (six ladies), all from varying backgrounds–and interests, representing our program. It was unique to speak about my long experience in attending college, then  to listen to their stories, hobbies, goals, and fears. We then broke unto three groups, with each having a VCU student leader, to play a yarn game. This offered a cool way to build on connecting oneself with the other participants; through commonality questions, we found many things and thoughts that we all shared. Later, we walked about the campus and conversed further during lunch at Shafer, then finally parting from each other. As they left, Patrice (another Globe student) and I confirmed this is what we should being doing as Globe students.

“Here the ways of men divide. If you wish to strive for peace of soul and happiness, then believe; if you wish to be a disciple of truth, then inquire.” —Friedrich Nietzsche

April 24-May 18

This period was erratic; which, I should have expected, it being my last weeks in Richmond, which would leave me in a constant state of turmoil (whether inner or outer).  My mind seemed to race throughout these times; having thoughts of moving on, completing school and graduation; all the while trying to appreciate the unique fleeting friendships, I had created in such a short period. Due to their soon departure from West Grace, VCU, and the States, I wanted to make the most of our time left together; which would ultimately mean I stretched myself thin to the extreme, heightened by the change of time zones. A truly unique feeling remained within me, even resides within as I write this today, that of fear of failure; of letting down my many aspects of life. This looming sense of stress hold on to me, until I would hear my name, and walk onto the stage.

To begin, that necessary controller for success to a consistent and routine, sleep, I found myself far from that. I have tried to explain to people how conditioning one’s body, or internal clock, becomes the norm; therefore, no matter the time going to sleep, often enough, I would wake up far before getting the eight hours. Then, there is the strong desire to, first, not waste daylight, and to follow accordingly to my routine; yet, this desire runs directly against my desired social life; something has two give. I didn’t have any intent of letting the reading portion each day fade, and in fact, finished Zarathustra, and then turned to Nietzsche’s Ecce Homo, his braggadocios auto-biography. In my times of strife, and after watching Be Here Now on Netflix, I finally began to read Ram Dass’ Be Here Now. This book gave me much needed comfort, recording the necessary information that can hopefully be used later in life; particularly as a westerner soon to embrace life in the eastern world.

An unfortunate break in reading came due to procrastination, and the demand to complete my Russian Paper, which now became the leading reason for stress. The delay in writing this paper, let alone in prepping out the weeks and months prior, turned me to choose a topic and begin writing with four days before submission; thus, I would drastically throw myself out of routine and of social contract to complete the twenty-five page final paper. After moving away from the Soviet Dissident Movement, and beginning to find interest in Lenin’s essays, I thought of a loosely based topic; pairing together my intrigue of Sakharov and, later Gorbachev, to title the paper a Failed Soviet Experiment. The two men following Lenin; who writes about the aim of the creation of the USSR written between the decades of the 1900s-1920s, provide a detailing of the Communist power in the century to come. This intrigue me, as I found several writings from Lenin, initially, stating the worry about Stalin taking control upon his death; ultimately, these fears would come to fruition. Sakharov, in 1968, and Gorbachev, taking control of the USSR in the eighties, offered an interesting synopsis, that brought me back to Lenin. I sought to make the point, that since in the early years, following Lenin’s death in 1924, and the full scale control of Stalin of turning the USSR into his image, the initial aim erred so far away; thus it never actually had the legs to try a Socialist/Soviet experiment. 

I regret my management of time, since I found such simple joy in the days, immediately prior, with going to church with Yeol and Star, then having such a delightful brunch at Au Bon Pain afterward, with Ali and Amer. I then told them I had to go into isolation if I wanted to complete this writing, and ensure that I do not fail the course; thus, taking away my potential history degree. The massive task on my horizon did not only cause me to reject the companionship for several days, but also force me to neglect my other duties in life. I called into work on Monday, apologizing that I needed the time to complete the school assignment. All this gave me an even greater sense of guilt, when I returned to work on Tuesday to hear several of my seventh graders asking, “Mr. Andrew, where we you?” As if the Russian paper wasn’t bad enough, I also needed to complete a globe reflection essay, and an Italian paper and Powerpoint to present on Thursday, about the Terrorismo during the 1970s and 1980s. Thankfully, despite the self-induced stress, I enjoyed learning of these topics.

To turn back weeks prior; a time of less stress, as I continued to put off my looming school assignments, for the joy that I received from the other aspects in my life. One evening at Higher Achievement, I got a sense of Deja vu, as Wilder MS visited Henderson elementary for the evening. I got there early, and instantly found myself working alongside Malik, as if it was October again; the early days assisting there two days a week with the fifth graders. A unique chance to hang around someone that I genuinely enjoyed being around, the conversation and his bright smile would lift my spirits up; leaving me to think what could have been, considering all the troubles throughout the months at Wilder. Yet, I returned there for the seventh grade scholars, and I was not absent friendship, very far from me, although with everything on my plate, I would forget it at times. In the days, from returning from class, or work, and in need of conversations, I often found John, someone involved in his own progression and present enjoyment of life to offer that necessary kinship. With all that seemed thrown at me in upcoming final weeks in Richmond, I realized, how invaluable his friendship, conversation, and insight, has been all along. In days past, he provided insight and gave me a sounding board; whether it be about my inability to grasp what was going on with a relationship, the national news about the selection of a supreme court judge, or anything in between. In these days, I needed assistance, he offered help with detailing how I can better map out my writings.

Neglecting schoolwork, and happy due to the weekend, I headed to WGN, to find Amer and Leila at the apartment, as both Ali and Yeol were stuck at the library in their own necessity to complete assignments. We ate, talked about life; Amer’s experience with all that changed in Syria between the Arab Spring movement and the years to come, and then turned to smoking in the living room, deja vu, of Katie and I years ago. The next day, I went with Amer to SLA, introducing him to a different side of Richmond, far removed from any thought of college classes. With encouragement, we removed Yeol and Ali from the apartment, went to eat at Shafer; needing to finish off the swipes, and then headed to Bryan Park. With the sun shining, hours to kill, and the possessions of a frisbee and football, we enjoyed our time in a massive green area that helps to remove the thought of the city. The three of them, growing up in highly populated, and dense urban settings, found such peace in the simplicity of the park; highlighted by the smiles of Ali in tracing the trails, and Amer successfully walking on a log. On our way back to the dorms, we stopped at Krispy Kreme; a favorite of Yeol and I, and each ordered a dozen donuts, receiving a rare discount of another dozen free. With hours before, our evening plan began; dodgeball, we lied around the living room, and watched several episodes of Street Food-Asia. Yeol provided insight into the Seoul episode and even, the Osaka and Taiwan street food culture; this all excited me on a future life, removed from the west. Later, late that evening as the gang pilled around the couch, we watched first the Philippine’s edition, then a food show highly advised by Yeol (Pizza in the world.)

The dodgeball game was sponsored by WGN International night, and held on the second floor of the Cary Street Gym. It was intense, Ali, Amer, Yeol, and I on a team with another three or four teammates, against the other team; mostly comprised of five highly competitive Indian students, whom I had previously met from CRU, earlier in April with Star. We even had viewers, with Kay and Ayah coming to watch, as we ran about, sweating profusely; falling, diving (me rug burning my leg and forearms). We’d come to find out later, that all the throwing about threw out our strong arms, while our legs and hips were so sore! Was it worth it, was asked—yes! Come to find out; again, a fascinating unexpected aspect of Yeol, is his competitive nature when it comes to dodgeball, apparently it is a very popular sport in South Korea. The next day I went to the gym, and played one on one; with a guy considerably bigger than me, in height, and in muscle. Although skilled, he wasn’t quite as confident about his individual game. We played two intensely tight games that brought the best out of me and him; as he filmed in order to improve upon. I gained some confidence in pulling away with both, but not within a struggle; with just the difficulty of him trying to take me to the block.

Finally, the day of the submission arrived, and the completion of all Russian work; all I could do now is relax, or distract myself from the potential disaster that could ensue from failing. I attempted to keep my mind off it, and luckily, with all other aspects of life coming to an end, it seemed that everything worked together to prevent me from putting too much attention into any one single component of my life in Richmond. Starting with work, with just a week and a day left, I was down to the last four sessions at Higher Achievement. Weeks ago, with the proclamation that the Wilder MS Higher Achievement office would be closing, there loomed this erring feeling that it was all coming to an end; anxiety seemed to exist within the staff, and where they would find employment, and the children with what’s next?

It all felt so odd; despite mentally preparing for this moment, yet reality couldn’t quite come into acceptance. I tried to put attention turned back into my personal life; with reading and writing, taking a trip to Aldi for groceries, the final time; but, 

something was missing. See, in the several days time that I had dove into schoolwork, consumed by my pressing papers, I briefly lost me, so returning felt weird even if natural; as if I went on a vacation, reminiscent of my time abroad. I felt to be without a pressing concern to correct in the present; a strange feeling considering the many worries the last couple months; between classes, my fitness at work, or the completion of the TEFL hours. Unable to fully accept my seemingly unreal present, I turned attention to the near future; with a trip to Iceland, and then Marco and Giulia arriving to the States.

Leaving a void of worry, with no need to worry about grades; or better yet, no use (as I still did), I turned my attention to the stressor of Graduation. The tickets were now at a limit of seven for guests, a newly developed stress—considering the previous email allowed up to fifteen; it would seem now decisions would be needed, I had twelve in mind; perhaps, thirteen family members. By the afternoon, I had seemed to put the problem of tickets to the side, only to then for a ticket to reoccur; this time $50 for parking on West Clay Street. Amazing enough entering work, I felt a feeling of deja vu; reminiscent of Ronald at Macados calling for employees to leave the baggage at the door. There is no room for the mind being elsewhere, nor desire when engaging with the fifth-eight graders at Wilder. After work, I headed to West Grace, and met up with Ali and Yeol; eventually discussing about a trip idea for the weekend. Their next day, Friday, would be spent in the library, leaving me a free day before I would meet them for a Saturday trip to the NC Research Triangle.

In the midst of watching an episode of Game of Thrones, I saw that I missed a call from a 703 number; I knew exactly who it was. Surprising, since I hadn’t heard from her in two months; or seen her since that day at the Sushi restaurant. My heart raced, and I began to question what should I do? Calmly, I paused the show, and called her back. We talked, she proposed the idea of a study buddy; yet, I knew better here intentions. Looking at my free day, I examined my day and told her let me finish this episode. An hour later, I arrived at her new place, just five minutes walk from me. I didn’t know how we’d perceive each other, but only recalled my past self, and the inability to control my desire; giving into consumption. Oddly enough, the time waiting outside for her to find me, I began to reflect upon the whole process; from where it began with an unhealthy craving and attachment, until now, just a week away from a long sought after goal of mine. With a smile, it even started to make sense; for it all lead me to a stronger and more developed me that was needed to prepare me for my anticipated future.

I asked her about her new roommates, the semester, thoughts upon graduating and the summer. She told me that she had applied and been accepted into a summer internship to Barcelona. 

Soon, after some errands, we returned from Kroger, to sit on her bed and work on our computers. We each kept to our computers; her working to complete much needed class assignments, and me; my in reviewing the reading from Ram Dass and my coming days. Curious, she asked about what I was doing, so I showed her my excel sheet of my routine; her response humored me, “you are always so organized—it’s intimidating.” I take it as a compliment, something clearly not always the case, but it also brought to mind our clear oppositions; like Rachel of the past, she is young, slightly chaotic and disorganized in her life. Perhaps, this is why I was drawn, like a moth to a flame, to her; which ultimately, lead toward a rejuvenation toward improvement. She insisted that she wanted to further procrastinate, so my company allowed her to check two boxes; the second, she’d later say was closure; which allowed us to have real conversations-while I drove around for more errands.

We drove to her work, to pick up checks, then across town to the bank; which upon me examining the checks, I asked who’s this? She had received the wrong checks, that of someone else; a fiasco that she would be forced to reconcile on another day. We bought groceries, and McDonalds, which gave us time to further talk about the past, and future. We both confided our gratitude to each other; her thanks to me, for opening her eyes and inspiring her to consider Asia for the Peace Corps. I told her of my self-journey, over the past months, that was brought about by the clinging for her physical attachment and attention. Oddly enough, after becoming imitate upon our return to her room, and then leaving around dinner time, I sensed a feeling of closure. She brought up the idea of seeing each the following Sunday, but that was not to come to be; there was no desire, nor any hurt feelings, nothing but attention to what was to come in the coming days; the Saturday trip and the last week in Richmond.

The next morning would begin the series of last…My last session at the Saturday Literacy Academy, and the final time that I would get to work with Luis, Lemmy, and see the smiling faces of all the rambunctious children on a Saturday morning at Oak Grove-Bellemeade Elementary.

I got lucky when Rhea texted me for a ride; asking her to print me off an hours log sheet, then soon picking her up at the Library. We caught up on our way to the school; both discussing our culmination of our time in Globe, and her story of living in Dubai as an Indian immigrant, then studying at VCU. That final session was difficult; tough to say goodbye to the people of the program; Mr. Bob, Esperanza, and Raquel (along with all the younger volunteers from Collegiate HS) put so much into the program. Upon arrival back at West Grace, I found Ali and Yeol waiting for me, then headed to Au Bon Pain, with Star. After food, we parted Star, and made way toward North Carolina; Yeol in the front seat, bringing it back full circle to our first trip to Petersburg. During the ride, we talked about anything that came to mind, his plan to meet his Korean friend in NYC and then travel parts of the U.S., and South America, about change on the horizon, and his plan of action after returning to South Korea. It is difficult to hear a friend in conflict with his direction, and unable to provide any positive, but what is there to say about his forced participation into the Korean military for nearly two years. 

I also find myself consumed upon the future, but one where I have freedom to chose; where I go to travel, teach, the choices are mine to determine. His decisions regarding his completion of his undergraduate degree, and then applying for graduate school, however, all hinge on the acceptance into the military before his 28th birthday. The worry of mine pales in comparison to being installed as a solider at the Korean border; the most unpredictable and unsettling location on the Asia continent. His words move me; a young man, in his developing years unable to control his own destiny because of the destructive nature of exterior forces. Global powers, politics are to blame for such a situation that forces young men to uproot their lives, leaving the family behind and a potential for the future that they seek. If all goes well, in nineteen months, he may be able to speak about it; through the lens of a unique individual with documentary aspirations—oh, that will be a story.

We’d turn our attention to more happy thoughts that reside in our present, like an online test—to test an American English speaker’s roots, according to specific answers for certain vocabulary. After answering a series of twenty questions, I received the obvious answer, linguistically I am from the Richmond-Virginia-Appalachian area; it’s clear since I use y’all and apparently the word Yard Sale (I cannot deny my roots). He received a different result, due to the two years he spent in California during his elementary years, his answers led him to being from the northwestern dialect. While we enjoyed the ride, cherishing one of last moments that we would spend exclusive time together, Ali rested; no doubt the effects of fasting throughout the day takes its toll. Soon, we’d arrive in Chapel Hill, and be on the campus of UNC; a university that I had contemplated what it would have been like to be a student here. Yet, it didn’t appear all that appealing, between the sad town, and the clear effects of being in a smaller, rural southern area. Duke would offer something different, full of Gothic style buildings, plenty of empty green spaces, and the campus cathedral. Ali and Yeol, jokingly referenced that they attended the wrong university in the States, I thought the same. The food court, the chapel, everything seemed to stump VCU’s impressiveness; even, Yeol seemed to fit in more; with his noticing of the representation on the medical side of campus.

We left stunned, with plenty of pictures, and a couple videos of us swinging on the table style sitting area nearby the bookstore. Our next stop, Raleigh the capital, was our best opportunity to get Yeol some real BBQ. We first arrived at the Pit, a favorite within Raleigh, but naturally the place was packed. Instead of waiting the hour, we took a chance and began to explore the downtown area. Within thirty minutes, we’d all agree it looked to be, just a larger Richmond. Nothing impressive from our perspective, with a lack of places to see and no success in finding a BBQ destination, we braced the heat and tired legs to begin to retrace our steps back to the car (located right outside the Pit.) It was clear the difference between us, for Ali as he explained, the walking around was needless work, but but Yeol like myself seemed to be driven by the travelers high of exploration. No surprise, since he had explained in the past about walking twenty-seven kilometers around Havana; we carry the same trait. We found the experience to be similar to our past, both discussing the point of exhaustion we push our-self to; only stopping for brief breaks for wifi, restroom, or water. Upon our return to the car, we’d finally get a table, and order plenty of food. The feast was worth it, but our further conversation is what I sought for in this trip; like in the past, just being in his presence to learn. The drive back was somewhat brutal, after eating all that; driving back in the dark, soon the heavy rain between ten and after midnight.

The next morning, I met Amer at West Grace around 1030 to walk to Au Bon Pain. He recalled his evening before, a dinner at a VCU Globe student’s house in the suburbs; and I recounted our trip to North Carolina. Most entertaining, he told me about his day out with his Cary Street friends; how they spent the night on the street, playing guitars and hanging out with some of the homeless men nearby the Galaxy diner—only Amer! I couldn’t imagine anyone else in the group doing this, but him; which is exactly (of the many reasons) that make him so unique. He stressed the strange feelings that reside within regarding his return to Beirut; and how he wasn’t overly excited to go back to what he knew as so normal; I understood well, the same thoughts I had on my return from Viterbo! Later that afternoon, we’d all say goodbye to Ayah, and the looming departure of them all became real! After siting with Leila a bit to discuss her desire to travel south, I left for the bookstore; it was time to finally buy my cap & gown ($68 down the drain).

The next day I awoke to a text from Julia (Happy Birthday!), to be twenty-seven, and not feel any different. I strangely enough did not follow my normal morning routine, instead I smoked; watched Parks and Rec., and talked with Nonna (we’d see each other in four days.) The day went by without really any excitement, work came; we continued our video shooting of them playing knockout and, finished our last Monday session. It was a nice day for the scholars, playing in the gym then to eat ribs, which seemed of quality—a rarity. The next morning the feeling of failure continued; lasting much of a week until Friday. To counteract the sorrow, I acted in several aspects of my life; first I continued to read Ram Dass. I recognized the need to remain and marvel at my present; full of friendship, uniquely restrained to this fleeting feeling in my life. The last week residing in Richmond, a city I have come to have very mixed feelings about, but will remember most for the opportunity to grow. I recognized that I needed to cherish the few remaining days at VCU; soon, it would end-like all the activities and aspects of life that I have taken for granted while attending VCU—being in a class setting, walking around the campus, experiencing life on the streets, the diverse conversations, games, etc

The next two parts worked in tandem here, fuma e scrivo; something I have paired often in the past. My mind, needing to make sense of all the aspects that are simultaneous ending in my present life; and to accept this change, I sought some positivity. I thought about all my past changes; attending three colleges in nine years to earn a four year degree, the first time I left home to head to WVU, and the two times I left the U.S. for Europe. All this reflection lead me toward the mentality of, “Don’t cry cuz it’s over, smile cuz it happened.” In that case, I shouldn’t stop smiling; ear to ear, for how blessed I am been here; the Friends, Professors, Globe, VCU, Higher Achievement, ESL, Richmond! It all came together, separate and together, apart then back together. The sad goodbyes turned to smiling gratitude. I took a break from the writing, to come back to the present; first, to pick up Star, for a trip to Tan-A Market for the ingredients for dinner. I made it back to my apartment for a café then off to Wilder Middle School. I’d gladly accepted to drive some of the eight graders to their graduating celebration at Maggie Walker. The event went smoothly, it was great to see the smiling faces of the scholars; proud of themselves; I only wish the seventh graders could get that opportunity.

After the event, I joined a new group right in time for dinner; really, they were already waiting for sundown to end their fast. I joined Yeol before he left to continue his finals work; leaving more food for us (Amelia, Ben, Star, and three friends.) Soon Star would leave to check Ben out of the dorms, leaving the four of us. All four, along with Star, had fasted throughout the day; amazingly(!) but unfortunate for them, as when it came time for a second bowl, all were full. They expressed the downside; all day waiting to gorge themselves upon dinner, but when it came in time their stomachs had shrunk in such a short time, not allowing them to eat as they thought fit. Nonetheless, the conversation and company were nice, getting to know the three of them, and further talk with Amelia. Later, after suggesting it; since I must get rid of my unnecessary items (most everything)—but in this case, my TV; I offered Amelia my TV, which she gladly accepted, to the dismay of the other three ladies.

The next morning, I’d talk further with John, recognizing my time across the hall from him is strangely coming to an end. We’d smoke together, catch up, before I left to put myself in a setting of relaxation; Hollywood Cemetery. 

This place gives me immense joy and peace, allowing me in the present to enjoy being here and now; yet able to, drift off into my past, then come full circle-looking forward to the future. After removing myself from Richmond for a couple hours, nature called and I returned in time to get Amer and Ali for a trip to Ross; they needed luggage, I wanted company. The next morning, a day away from graduation; many thoughts ran through my mind; to ease them, I got to work. I have found in past instances, when my present begins to overwhelm or bore me, I prep for the future, and look to learn from the past; in this way, I am not consumed by the temporary moment but see it instead involved, intertwined in the bigger picture. The day would lead onto, carrying the sense of failure, into work; Field Day, thus it is dropped for in lieu of energy—for our last day!

The action-packed day, consisting of the first hour (in our community groups) participating in an outdoor rotation style of four different events; oh, it was hot; many of the scholars let you know it too. I found myself on the ground more than any of my scholars; Daesha pulled Abu and I from the ground, in tug of war; and after racing to catch up with Mariana and Jaden, which I won in sake race; I fell across the finish line. It was great to see such energy, like Trey during the balloon game, running up the stairs with it held between the legs. The next hour consisted of free time, many naturally chose to play ball outside; while the ladies congregated in my classroom for Olivia’s face painting and music video/dancing (the speakers aided.) Outside in the courtyard, there were several different outdoor games (more relaxed like cornhole) that could earn them more tickets; for the ultimate scholar store during dinner! They even had a cotton candy machine that went well! Dinner was brought in from some local chicken place, far nicer than majority of our dinners. Afterward the scholar store, separated between the normal snacks (now discounted at 50%) and the raffle; for many more big-ticket items. Kenya and Kenny won out(!); along with many other scholars. We then had to then speed up the process, me having to read out the names-now at a fast rate; the buses were coming. Soon, within minutes, in just blinking your eyes; after many goodbyes, hugs, and tears, the cafeteria was empty. Just like that, Higher Achievement was over; my time working with the seventh and eighth graders, divided between the summer, fall, and spring; was complete. My time working alongside my peers, with the tutelage of Ray and Alex was appreciated, but necessary to be finished.

Again, as had become the case whenever time and situation allowed, I returned to West Grace. I met the group in the second-floor lounge, Amer working on his internship interview, Ali playing about (with so much energy!), Morgan laughing and enjoying Yeol’s detailed demonstration of Korean Emojis. Yeol showed us his documentary on Richmond’s transportation. His style, the portrayal of the system, the driver, her passengers, the experience; all put through the window of Love (Virginia is for Lovers). Wow, he was still sleep deprived, so he didn’t last long until he started to snooze onto of Square apartments. Nor did Star who left to get much needed sleep. While Morgan, Amer, Ali and I enjoyed the view from above, we encountered a group of guys, seemingly fraternity brothers, all from Northern Virginia (at least they seemed to be). This odd takes that they dared themselves to come introduce themselves to us, provided the international students with a new group of people; mixed cultural students from NOVA.

 The next morning, graduation day, I awoke with more clarity; I accompanied John to the Greyhound company, and while he completed his necessary task, I read Walden. Such a luxury it is to bring along one device and have access to such inventory; not a possibility in any other generation (not Franklin, nor Sakharov, not even, Dad’s). I connected with Douce, with all that would be happening-he informed me that he couldn’t get to Richmond; first Leondra and the family. I came back in time for the gym, to shoot one last time; but my plans were joined with Star’s. So, after the basketball court in my element, I turned to join in, to my discomfort with the climbing wall area; a first in three years. I always watched as people ascended then repelled down, now due to her I found myself shaking on the way up. I went twice, and those feelings of anxiety looking from that high above didn’t dissipate; I’m told give it time and experience, I guess like all things.

Again, I’d find myself at Ross; now with Star, Yeol, Ali and Amer, we’d get more items; most importantly a backpack for Yeol, and his upcoming travels through South America. With little time to spare before my needed preparation time then mom’s arrival, we headed to the nearest park that I knew. Catherine Park, again déjà vu! My time in Richmond began here, right on 903 West Catherine, looking out at the park from Douce’s room. Now, I find myself with different friends, and the same feeling of comfort, but in my last days in Richmond. Some jumped on the swings, Ali unintentionally, and amazingly broke the frisbee; it collided with the ground. An hour later, I was in the car headed toward the convention center; comfortable not yet in the cap and gown. Instead, I was told several times, I made a fashion statement, choosing to wear the short plaid, thrift shop shorts and a t-shirt, with the red Jordan’s to protect my ankle. When I finally put on the demanded attire, I didn’t do it properly, a fashion statement, I’m told. The smiles on their faces, Mom, Julia, Dad, Tracy, Nonna, Gram, and Pop; in the distance, Julie, Jake, Devon, and Bernard; were well worth the two hours spent in that seat. We’d arrive at an Italian eatery, after I forget to make a reservation at Firebirds.

The whole table, elongated to fit us, held our family; three generations. From various parts of the world. Through marriage, divorce, birth, adoption; Virginias, New Yorkers, Foreigners, regardless of color, gender, and orientation; it doesn’t matter family was there. We’d recognize all of us, the importance of that; Dad seeing again his former family in law, Nonna with her son’s partner. Gram and Pop meeting Tracy for the first time; all such a unique situation. In three seats, a former husband with his partner, and his former partner; all love. They have referenced the feelings of guilt about their divorce, and how it somehow destroyed the idea of marriage for Julia and I. Not at all, they’ve shown us the truth; love is love, marriage, or not. We remained at the restaurant until half past eleven, still joking, drinking, eating; recalling stories of past. That night, getting to bed at 1230am, would begin a series of nights, not allowing me to get enough sleep; unfortunate ramifications to come. I awoke the next day with guilt, after not visiting West Grace on the second to last night; I asked dad to help remedy the situation. See, in mom’s plan she would take my car home then drive it to D.C. the following morning. I was now without an option to drive myself around, until Dad offered his BMW.

The day was spent amongst the Scordos, after breakfast when most of the gang left the hotel to return home. Tracy went to visit a family friend; leaving Nonna, Julia, Dad, and I. We drove about, found lunch at a Thai place in Cary Street, then everyone helped me with my search for good shoes (Hiking boots for Iceland then hopefully South Korea.) While kneeling, trying shoes on; Nonna came by, rubbed my head and called me baldy! She still has her humor, and wit; shown poolside at the hotel, recalling past authors and lessons she learned as a nurse. After dinner, and everyone returning to their hotel room, I met the group at WGN and we drove to Capital Waffles; for some they got to see downtown Richmond, the evening excitement, activities and chaos for the first time! We returned to West Grace North, frankly without a clue of what to do; what is there to do, but just wait and enjoy the fleeting company. We signed shirts, passed around a couple graphic design made gifts (courtesy of Star and Morgan) and talked of past, present and future. With confidence I ensured each of my plans to visit them! It’s funny, everyone has a different way of processing, of dealing with the overwhelming feelings of departure and separation. Yeol played Peppertones relentlessly, even printing out lyrics in English for us to sing along; Ali joked he needed to translate them into Arabic, then Leila French back into a circle of terrible language telephone.

Departures aren’t easy, which is probably why I stayed there until 4 am; only then departing with Lifehouse filling my car, back to the hotel. The next morning we’d be up by seven, and off by nine; leaving me little sleep for already being deprived. The sense of failure now no longer loomed, but resided within, it is inevitable; when juggling multiple lives. I told farewell to all but one, Yeol would remain in the states on the east coast until the 25th; the hope of seeing him again. The journey to New York City in the early morning of May 12th, beginning in D.C. to get a night plane at nine, was a long one; difficult at times too. First to the get rental car, then Julia’s drive through the terrible wind and rain; to drop Tracy off and pick up Mom outside Champlain St. Our drive up through the states of the northeast, Maryland, Delaware, then New Jersey; and the Turnpike was an interesting one. Finally, albeit rushed and frantic we made it to JFK. For a period, I drove like a wild man, concerned the entire time that we would miss our flight; a constant fear of mine during travel days that hasn’t seemed to dissipate in these past three years. So, I pushed myself into a crazy, race car like mentality; switching from lane to lane, consumed with the costly minutes we had left; but we made it. At the JKF airport, the time spent charging up our batteries, preparing our luggage; me losing the black zip-up that Yeol gave me, would be the last of this period until we boarded the plane; and the mindset changed, one last time for a Virginian Abroad!

And men go abroad to admire the heights of mountains, and the mighty waves of the sea…yet pass over the mystery of themselves without a thought.” –St. Augustine

May 19-June 12

I sit down to write, full of anxiety, and questions; am I worthy to teach English abroad, can I hack the drastic culture change, will I even complete the process in time? The early part of this period had me traveling about; first in Iceland, then back to NYC, then down to D.C., Dayton, Richmond for a day, and back to Dayton. It is much quieter here, residing in my childhood room, far removed from all the 

distractions that engulfed my time during VCU and much safer; considering a recent message about shots fired near 1200 West Marshall St. I can now recognize my time here, thus far, and the months remaining until my hopeful departure to South Korea, as the necessary low-key launching pad; building up income at Rocktown, much like I did back in 2016. In trying to stay busy; while simultaneously preparing for my future, but not slipping into worry about possibilities, I have signed up to be a weekly teacher for the Skyline Literacy Academy. Yet, first I will join mom and part of the family, more the relaxed side of the Huffman family, on a vacation to North Carolina. 

The brief trip will be another instance which removes my main attention away from the computer, and myself; possibly a positive change; however due to the past weeks, I fear that I am not continuing the progress that I feel necessary. See, following the week in Iceland, a delightful week among mom and Julia; however, leaving me less time to myself than normal, my attention has continued to be upon my outward engagements. Company and then the change of sceneries, has stretched me then; taking the bulk of my focus away from myself. This started once the plane landed in New York City. My concern instantly went toward assisting Julia and mom to get to their connecting flight in time. This required me to call the attention of the many rows ahead of us, “we have a connecting flight, we must make, forgive me, but coming through.” Reminiscent of days in high school-fullback dive, we exited the plane, ran across to the air tram, to the desk, in a deep sweat, to be told that we were too late. This unfortunate news would be where I parted from mom and Julia; they’d arrive later that evening, back to San Antonio and Dayton.

I then, turned my attention to visitors in the city, Marco n Giulia, and Yeol with his friend. Here I would begin to be conflicted, with the opportunities to see my conversation partners and friends again. Upon reaching the Blue Moon hotel, I found Giulia, and then Marco, looking for me along the street. Unsure of how to greet them, whether I should do the Italian, or American way; I both hugged and kiss-kiss. We both agreed how strange it was to see each other again, after a year apart; yet, it was nice and short lived. After dropping off our bags, they were to go see Giulia’s friends that had just graduated, while I took the advantage to reach out to Yeol. Unwilling to take the metro, more interested in walking the streets, I would find the two of them in a bookstore, nearly forty minutes later. I saw his friend first, Ye-Hoon, but was uncertain if that was him, I had only seen an older picture of him.  We left, began to walk the streets, content to just be together, and appreciate the simple sights of the city; construction work, ladders, scaffolding, all appeared to be interesting to his friend! Not as confident as Yeol with English, Yeol would explain that Ye-Hoon was a former construction-factory worker, then restaurant employee; all to pay for this present trip; a 45-day adventure across the America continents.

Early on, this gave me initial insight into the two friend duos; which would later cement their interests in encountering the city and country differently. We’d walk and talk, find a hole in the wall hotdog place, then continued, now rushed to catch a megabus. We ran across the city to pick up their bags, then another quick walk to the subway, until finally we arrived at Hudson Yard (the megabus destination) for their next destination, to Boston. Again, goodbyes aren’t easy, yet, we parted with the hope that we’d see each other again, perhaps in D.C. now with a task, get them real travel towels! I returned to the metro, a lengthy task, in the direction of Brooklyn, now to meet the Italians. The movement, heat, lack of water and food; and the lack of sleep from the two prior days began to weigh on me. Now to add, a stress to plan, juggle another trip, just in the beginnings; all I desired was to return and relax at home. No doubt, I was depleted, I think it showed when I met them in the park, near the river and bridge. My response, “perdonami, Io Sono Scordo.”

We remained in Brooklyn for the evening, taking in the sights, taking photos and videos; Marco with a filming gadget that I have not seen before. The river side, sunset, Brooklyn Bridge, and company were spectacular; I tried my best to be alive but felt just so bogged down. In reflecting the next day, it wasn’t just the lack of sleep-returning from Iceland, my body and mind felt exhausted! In traveling with mom and Julia (albeit I love them) I was not alone, at all, something I know I need for myself, sanity and peace. Yet, now I found myself back with others, again, without the lovely solitude. The next morning, after a difficult sleep, snoring in the hostel room of four (an older Italian man); an all-too common occurrence, we’d start out again, early. Before our 10 am Megabus, and the lyft ride to the same location (Hudson Yards) where I left Yeol n Ye-Hoon the day before; we came across artwork by Kobra. Marco seemed especially excited about this, and with time he took full advantage. I purchased three seats on the upper level, two seats of them that sat right in front of the glass window. Looking out, as we rode along the interstate was exactly what I needed; paired with the opportunity to rest and type. I was surprised they didn’t take any interest in the views; instead, putting their attention toward their phones. Unfairly yes, but I couldn’t help but think, what the two now in Boston would have done and thought of the surroundings as we drove through several states, eventually through Baltimore and Washington D.C. Arriving to D.C. I felt I had now left the mindset of a Virginian Abroad; this city is part of my home. A familiar face, I would unexpectedly see after exiting the bus; in her words, a disheveled Katie. I tapped her, we hugged, she left; yet, butterflies remained. To the metro, its own complication, and then lyft to Adams Morgan.

Soon, the area felt like home; familiar indeed. To the HighRoad Hostel, now I felt better; a comfortable, homey place to just relax and remove our bags! Knowing that I was just a street away, my first order of business was to reach out to dad. It worked out well, since it also, offered them a rooftop view and other company, aside from me. Now two thoughts occupied my mind, first to entertain them on the rooftop; we video-called Tracy to introduce them, and talked past, present, and future. Secondly, during the tearful flight to Reykjavik; with what mom had told me of guilt, I couldn’t not address this. After a lunch with them, and then a shower at Dad’s, I remained at his place. We sat down at the table and began talking. First, we discussed my stress, unnecessary as it was, but I’m now guide; not certainly one, with company that has one interest that is hard for me to see. We’d talk of Nonna, Kay and Fred, what to do with the house; and dad’s week up in Watertown, following my graduation. He had suggestions, and then somehow without intentionally turning the talk to my thoughts, we began to circle the topic; soon, I found it to be only natural to send him what I typed up. Knowing that I would only screw it up, if I tried to cite from memory or that very moment, I gave him my phone and asked him to read what I had wrote; addressing his Guilt;

You are absolved of any and all blame for your past imperfections as a father. It is natural and understandable, and if anything, has taught me the most valuable lesson—know thyself. At twenty-six you became a father, a year younger than I am now; I could not imagine, taking on the greatest task life offers providing and guiding new life. You were not quite ready, few are—but I truly believe you were put in that position (by a power much greater than we can ever know) for a reason. You were meant to plant your seed, but weren’t ready to harvest, how could you when you hadn’t yet tackled the greatest calling for an individual, to overcome and become complete within. Yes, I didn’t understand as a child, I was longing as a teenager and bitter in my early twenties, but I hadn’t yet taken on my calling; I’m only in the process. A daunting journey, one that I subconsciously turn to you for guidance at every moment without you even knowing. What am I without you? Recently, I recalled March 2015, the missed flight to Columbus; it made you irate, and epitomized my immaturity, yet is one of my fondest classic Andrew boneheaded screwups; it began to bring us together. You see before then we were not so close, since then I have become more complete, you as well. A Connection between me becoming better and more like you, the interests, Studies, travels; is obvious. You have paved the way for me to become what I am now; a college graduate and in the future of what I am needed to become, it doesn’t make sense yet, but if it does become so, it will undoubtably be due to you fighting battles in your own process to becoming a role model and idol in my life. Guilt is a funny thing, it is unnatural but inherit. Most importantly it proves you care, which is the most necessary trait for improvement. With words I can never explain how proud I am to be your son. We do not agree on everything, yet I take it as a great badge of honor being the lone son of Stefano.”

The next day, I’d wake refreshed with some energy, a rarity for me in too many days to count. We have coffee together, talked some more, then before I left, he prepped me for the day; use capital bikes to explore the city, and we’ll meet for dinner at federalist pig. We’d spend the day touring on the bikes, but not before the confusion and difficulty with the renting process; a task that prevents comfort while riding. Every thirty minutes the user must dock, which challenged me each time to find a destination for us three. Additionally, it forced me to give more attention to my phone, than desired. We traveled down 17th street to the white house, then the ww2 memorial, Lincoln Memorial and to the capital. What a wonderful way to see the city; yet, I felt a constant stressor beating, preventing me from truly relaxing. I tried to push away the stressful feelings of trying to provide them the best experience, and show them everything. We returned to Adams Morgan around 3 pm, turning to Marco, I asked if he wanted to satisfy his curiosity; I pointed, and we went in. The smoke shop’s best proposal required a purchase of merchandise; a hat or t-shirt in exchange for a gift, from the company. For $40-50 dollars we politely thanked the two men for their knowledge and interest to help and left.

We gladly settled ourselves back at HighRoad Hostel, yet after they decided to nap and shower, I was determined find peace on the basketball court, and left for Kalorama park. It was delightful to even shoot, despite the poor conditions of the environment, on the half court (quarter) that I occupied. Once a game, on the adjacent court began, I asked and joined for next. Their guy’s friend group expanded, which soon had the captain forced to choose between two people for one spot. Surprisingly, the man picked me and told his friend to have next game; his reasoning, I looked like I was more apt to run. I arrived back to the hostel to find it empty of Marco and Giulia, and with no missed calls, I went to dads to shower. The game was what I needed, drenched and tired; I didn’t have energy to stress. We soon met at the corner and walked to the outdoor shop, a must for the visit; southern bbq!

We walked about Adams Morgan afterward, in partial effort to find Marco a souvenir. To no avail we left and soon parted. From the time he met us at the Diner, sat with us on the rooftop, and then the Federalist Pig; dad had outdone himself! I returned to the hostel and relaxed at the table with my computer; to Virginian Abroad. As the three of us were quietly sitting, I encouraged Marco of how easy it is to create a conversation. Just then, a traveler with a bowl of takeout sat beside me. After an hour and a half of conversation, ranging across; my writings, her neurobiology convention this week and her project, traveling, and her feeling my palm to make a point. We spoke of the Kennedys, the mind, personality types, history, Texas; finally, I could speak no more; I had to lean out in favor of sleep. The sleep was needed but not enough, I’d be awoken by Marco now referencing his broken-out body. He had hives everywhere, it looked terrible. We left for Walgreens early, 530 am, but to no avail; later CVS before we left on the road to Dayton. Returning from Walgreens, with time to kill, I continued to write.

The drive was easy, a foreshadowing for the time in Dayton; I explained the laid back lifestyle there, beforehand. While they sleep, I did my best to stay awake; still reeling from the continuous depletion of recent sleep. We first went to Walmart, a must do in Harrisonburg; for groceries, and entertainment; nothing like NYC. I worried, since D.C. didn’t impress, what could Dayton and Harrisonburg do. His continuation of his hives, and the dosage of Benadryl, would impact his demeanor, and any plans. The day was relaxing; a nice lunch, a family dinner, Jimmy Fallon, smoking from a pen, and sleep. The next day the hives, despite Mitchell’s assistance and inspection, remained in effect. We again relaxed, with more sleepy pills; until finally, Mitchell’s opinion and aid led us to an UrgentCare; soon with a shot, and steroids, problem solved! He was noticeably more himself later in the evening, with the family over; a Modern Family edition (Huffman style) on the porch. Everyone seemed very much to like the Italian couple, although no one quite knew how to communicate with them like Bernard. Marco, explaining throughout the evening, to various members, that are families are very alike. Indeed, from what I encountered and remember, I agreed with a smile. It was great having my family embrace Marco e Giulia; they got to see another side of me; my roots.

The next day we left early enough, not to see Mitchell and mom; guilty to leave for the day on her birthday. The drive up was fine, I’m not sure if I ever got used to the two of them being here, like Marco said the first day; it was strange to see each other after a year. Especially, I found it strange, since ovviamente, our relationship only knew us in Italia, this was difference, I’d say we were both different than our previous selves, either in our comfort zone or (per me) in my heightened zone; away from the U.S. The drive was as smooth as it could be, between Karaoke, Italian-English translation, and English lessons filling the car, we tried not to think about the length of our next reunion. I felt slightly guilty for not continuing the trip, like I initially said I would, but I needed time for myself; and to begin the TEFL process.

Before leaving D.C. I called Yeol; since I prepped him and Yehoon little travel bags, including proper travel quick-dry towels. The moment I saw their small white cotton towels, wet hanging from their backpacks, I admittedly started to laugh, no, no that won’t be good on the road. Yeol explained it is very difficult in Korea to buy a large towel, so the majority of people have multiple small towels in the home.

Purtroppo, without letting anyone know until the morning that I was in D.C. I failed to be able to get dad; instead, he was out playing tennis. Yeol and Yehoon, staying in Burke, with a mentor from Seoul, invited me over, but I would learn the short notice would also come at a price. I met them at IHOP, before receiving word to meet them there, I shopped at a Lotte international food market; we’d later go to another, Yeol offering me his tour guide skills to better acquaint me to the new world I would soon hope to encounter. The man with his adorable kids (ages 1 and 4), that the two guys had assisted with were at a table. I joined them and didn’t start out too well; unable to pronounce the kids names properly, or even able to determine the proper gender of the smiling baby. This would prove to be of little importance down the road, a few hours later, but was both embarrassing and nerve-wracking to me. The children clearly had taken a liking to their two Korean child-sitters, which I would later learn meant that they didn’t take kindly to me. Especially, the elder of the two, with his relationship with Yeol, saw me as removing time away from his buddy. We drove separately, Yeol and I in my Ford; eventually with the crying; the boy got his way, to sit on Yeol’s lap in the backseat, on the way back home.

After the touring of the international Korean market of the day, we arrived to a recently cleaned house; since I was coming over now. The guilt faded during the time in their home, after a few hours of activity that I would have never expected. We sat around the table, then Yeol departed to begin packing; which fit perfectly in time for the kids to show me their toys. Soon, the table was filled with dinosaurs, the little one just mimicking his older brother. A couple hours later, I had created a relationship, enough with the boys to be playing (quite intensely). Between the dinosaurs, random items they had stored around the large room, and then playdough, we had a blast. They didn’t understand me very well, nor speak much but the joy the two boys showed were no different than the Italian children at the English Language School or the children at SLA. Soon, the time came to say goodbye, never easy indeed; I had not only grown attached to the children, had good conversation with their father, but had begun to like being around Yehoon, the musician, in this short period. Yet, it was time; again, to part for they were to fly to New Orleans then five days later begin their quest through South America! I was to return home and begin my summer in Dayton, back with my parents; in preparation. 

At home, I finally could relax, I wrote some more, then caught up on an episode of Game of Thrones with the parents. The next day, it hit me; I was now alone, back at home, to normalcy, if possible. I wrote some more, smoked to help my thoughts along, and read RamDass to aid in my conflicting feelings, then napped. It was there and is always there that I realize I am behind in sleep-if I nap. Only natural, averaging six hours a sleep lately was not enough. We made dinner, sat down to watch the final episode of Game of Thrones together and enjoyed a quiet evening in. 

The next morning, Memorial Day I had one mission; extract the items, I needed that remained in the bedroom at West Clay and return them to Dayton. I left around eight in the morning, not early enough; but again, the sleeping schedule still needed to be readjusted. I made a valuable mistake while driving and have since taken two lessons from this experience on 64E. The left lane was clogged up, in this two-lane interstate there was no advancement, since the many drivers were restricted by the very front jeep. For ten minutes, nothing as the right lane was moving at the same five-10 below speed limit. Instead of seventy-nine, I’m going sixty, sixty-five for miles. Holding to the common experiences of the past, I began to flash the front car from a distance. The driver would notice it, judging by the reaction of his finger. They remained the leader in this long line of vehicles; yet, no one did anything, instead I, the outlier would gain the attention now of the two passengers; who weren’t prevented by the wheel to remain in their seats. Now I have this car that has now made me realize I messed up; I just upped a relaxing yet irritating ride, to an uncomfortable level. Will they throw something at my car? Or just scream as I pass by? Maybe, they will then begin to follow and tailgate me. I thought as I drove calmly in the right lane. Now I didn’t care about my speed, sixty, fifty-five; but in all these cars few are going anywhere, still in the pack.

I even exited the interstate to get gas early! As I turned back to the highway, I figured now it would be clear and comfortable. Two lessons I absorbed on the way down to Richmond. First, ten plus vehicles were somehow okay with the driving conditions, but as I signified myself out, without any other, I made my car the target. Now was it worth it? Assolutamente no, I made my slow ride into a no ride. Aside from the ride down, the trip itself was brief and easy; didn’t see John, only Hank. He even helped to open the door, working together to get me outta there. More clothes were nice to have, although I have since gone through them, sent some to Goodwill or trash. Later in my room, I continued to watch Vikings; the fifth season takes strange turns, but an interesting introduction of the Normans in Sicily. Another nap came, two hours, which again demonstrates the lack of sleep. We’d have a conversation later that evening, mom and me. In our conversations, over the years, we have discussed depression and the symptoms, effects. What brings about feelings of such low? Lack of sleep is number one; food and exercise help each time, as the first check, but Sleep! The low feelings, anxiety, stress was all in accordance with my lack of sleep. From the week of graduation, to a week in Iceland, then NYC-DC-VA, finally back; it showed itself.

The next morning, led by a strict emphasis to get my routine back, I awoke at 430. For the next two weeks, hours before work; I would awake often before the alarm. This is always a good feeling, but requires one to be disciplined to get a jump start on the day. It is a challenge, now at home with such company to leave early each night; especially, after work, exercise, conversation, dinner, is pushed back later. 

I’d continue to write my routine, and try to begin a structure routine, built around the morning production. During lunch it was easy, I’d read; Mandela took most of my lunch time, as it doesn’t take long to each yogurt, cottage cheese, or nuts. The hour for lunch can provide me a chance to read, at the middle of the day, to turn away to elsewhere. In this case, apartheid controlled South Africa, and to a man-myth in prison. What became most evident in my first day at work, and what has remained true since, is the staff. The office environment has improved with a group of entertaining and diverse people. Olga is still around, now promoted to full-time, a delight to reconnect. Kristen too, Mary I knew from before; yet, never worked aside. Gracie’s now gone, in her place is Cassie, and the additions of Abigail, and Misty. The office is full; with recent hires of Sandy, me, then Kayleigh a week later. There is a person, or two in each office, and four, counting both upstairs and the realty vault; a drastic change from the last time I worked here, three years ago.

All the people that remained, Lauren, Carlos, etc. are great, continuing the many positives vibes that I once knew. One addition, Eduardo, the new hire’s trainer has made the downstairs what I never thought it could be. Never working downstairs in this large office, at a desk in mom’s office instead, I never experienced the full everyday life with the tenants. I mentioned the diversity, between VMS and Rocktown, at times there are more Spanish speakers, natively than English. It aids in the situations when Eduardo, Bernard, and Abigail are out, to pull possibly from Sales or the VMS maintenance team. The experience has already taught me on two instances that I am not accustom to the environment, yet, as I should be. Two mistakes, two notes to take; first, I introduced Eduardo, sitting beside me, in an English conversation, to aid me. Yet, I knew once the man read his card, Spanish would ensue; a cop out. Afterward, I asked, sensing I had mis stepped. He explained the man was speaking English, we had no need to switch to Spanish; I have learned in addition, often if there Spanish is better than English, then naturally, they will speak in greater detail in their native language. This is unfortunate, since it will only go through Eduardo in these cases. I apologized, recognizing I had erred.

Another early learning experience came soon after, when two men came in for and provided two money orders, and a license. Yet, I didn’t see his name in the system. His response, the single worded question, Spanish? left me silent, in wondering what to do. He asked me if I could speak Spanish, an unfortunate no, shouldn’t have meant that I couldn’t speak English! Soon, with Sandy’s help; (my first experience with Rent Week was hell at times) I discovered my confusion. I didn’t know that the two men, entered into the software as Poultry Labor Solutions; their employer. Realizing my initial stupidity and uncomfortable nature with the new surroundings; holding an uneasy feeling of how to resolve the instances in which no line of conversation existed, I see how far I need to improve. I have seen the resourceful younger generation people use google translate; an idea that eluded me. The next three days rounded out the end of my second week; a true awakening into the madness that is rent week. Each day I counted on productivity in the morning, getting three of deliberate improvements done, before work took my energy.

I continued the reading of G.I. Gurdjieff’s Views from the Real World, finishing the odd, yet mind opening text, two weeks later. I would finally complete Mandela, a Long Walk to Freedom, an entrancing detailing of his life. Mandela’s life has been long at the top of my list, and Views just seemingly came to me, one morning, while on the search for some enlightenment or viewpoint. Both books helped me to continue my search and process toward improvement, while removing me from the present stressful situation that I found myself emerging to with future work. Later in the week, the family would run into a scare with Finn, who must have gotten tangled up with a neighborhood cat; probably Charlie! He wasn’t acting like himself; instead, hiding under my bed throughout the day. Finally, after about two days off and on, we checked him. He had an abscess on his face. Poor guy, we took him that evening to the after-hours veterinary in Verona. Two hours later, he was beginning to look better; it would flare up again the next day, but soon resolve itself. He has acted slightly more timid since, but he has recovered.

The time spent between home, work, and out during random tasks, can be seen as all too familiar and common; considering I have seemingly done this all before. Yet, I have found it helps to accentuate the little differences that occur each day; certainly, proving to me that this is all different from the last time I resided in this place. For starters, I have a true mission here; to prepare for something greater, while ensuring that I complete certain measures before departing. Working toward something greater helps to alleviate those moments arise of stress and difficulty. Despite, my primary focus being upon the job search, I still would find consistent instances that drove me toward frustration. Like one of the early days during rent week, alone; I found myself remaining until 630, to enter and scan all the check payments. Mom would, certo, help once we found me downstairs still at work, past closing time, proving to me that no matter what, I have assistance. Another instant would arise, on Friday, that I would consider a failure. I had an overwhelming feeling of incompetence, sitting at that desk, and answering calls, I felt irritated that I was not able to properly assist in the office processes. With irritation, I responded to Eduardo that I just want to be good at my job. I would, later that evening, sitting on the porch, reiterate the same to mom. Her response, that it would take me nearly six months to be trained in all matter, did not satisfy me; I have 2-3 months.

The weekend finally came, meaning an early morning departure to D.C. to see Julia (in Maryland for a NIH convention on aging and tuberculosis), Dad, and Tracy. This would mark only the third time, the full six of our extended immediate family would come together. First, in Ohio State to watch Julia’s defense of her Ph. D, then to Richmond, in May to watch my graduation. Now we came up to D.C., at an ironic time for the city happenings. It was Gay Pride weekend, which in talking with Eduardo, made me more excited for it. We joined the trio on the rooftop for a late brunch; then spend a relaxing couple hours up there, catching up, and killing time with this unique company. Later that evening, Dad and Tracy had friends over, which offered an opportunity for worlds to collide. All on the roof, with a wonderful meal; courtesy of Tracy, we got to know and/or catch up with each other. Most notably, and entertainingly, Marco on the main stage, with the perfect lighting of him, explained of his participation in the parade. We’d explain our experience; Julia, mom, and I, after deciding to leave dad and Mitchell at the Wharf, as they waited for a lyft; we walked back. The return trip had us ran right into the parade, previously doing our best to exclude ourselves from the packs of people walking to catch up. We would have to jump over two different barrier-fences, even to continue our path to Adams Morgan. The walk was delightful, just being the terrible turds again, this time taking on D.C. and the parade.

Everyone was so happy and joyous to be apart of the event, or to stand on the side and watch as the parade went by. Soon, by eleven, I couldn’t help but start to fade; leading me back down stairs, to find comfort in their new and improved living room set-up. Led with the addition of a sectional sofa, it allowed both, Julia and I to sleep on a portion of the L shaped couch. Before breakfast with mom and Mitchell, the four inhabitants of dad’s condo, would make the way back up to the rooftop, for coffee. As Julia and dad left to begin to shuffle downstairs, Tracy and I got into a good conversation, losing the time. His address to me; proposing a different perspective, and his wisdom, is so much appreciated, and rarely received elsewhere. I can gladly say our relationship has grown over the years; I recognize it each time we are together. Whether it be Amsterdam, driving to/from Columbus, boxing out for position in the Wendy’s in West Virginia, and now here, he just adds to the wealth of our family. We’d all meet at the Diner; recognizing that this would be, for some time, the last time everyone is together. 

Dad would soon be off to Sweden, then Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, for a ten day long trip. Tracy to progress on a business venture with Rob, his friend out in San Fran. Mom, Mitchell, and I needed to get back to Dayton; soon to work. And Julia, she seems always ready to get back to work; albeit she has started to ponder about her next destination, following her eventually conclusion of her time in San Antonio. My mind immediately leaving the diner was split, first on the TELF job search; seemingly always on my mind now, and secondly, to Douce. He arrived in Virginia, for Pierre’s high school graduation, meaning all the sons would come together again under their mother’s roof in Harrisonburg. In coming home, I addressed the mess of my TEFL process, but saw excitement in an interview with a school in Busan the next day. To add to that, I wanted to apply to more recruiters, but first needed to create a skype account to interview. After scouring the web, for questions to ask employers, individual job postings, and more recruiter information; I gave in, to turn toward seeing Douce. With no success in finding a proper activity for all involved, we submitted to watch a movie; Aladdin! Douce, Kaleb, her child, and I choose Aladdin; I thought wisely at the time; David would later confirm my suspicion about their movie. Honestly, anything besides Aladdin at that point made no sense; especially when we learned that Kaleb had never seen the Disney classic.

The movie brought back songs, memories, and joy from our childhood; at least for Douce and I. Most notably, was the adorable toddler, Grayson, who at times sang along to the movie, and rocked in the seat as the action went. Will Smith was good, Naomi Scott performed Speechless (!), but the memory came after the movie. Grayson made a motion for a hug, in the hallway, after the movie. I leaned down and hugged him, but it seemed not enough. Soon, I had him up in the air, carrying him around the theater; all I could do was to relate it to holding cat, which they laughed at. Holding him provided me with such a warm, comforting sensation. I would tell Douce about that later, sitting on our recliner couch. We shared a plate of his family’s cooking, following the graduation, and we talked as if nothing had changed in the many months since we were last together. Strange, for the span of a couple years, we wouldn’t go a week without seeing each other; often, together most days, spending time at the gym, our homes, and going out around the city. Now, in each of our efforts to ‘Level Up’ we have separated, and yet an evening together; culminating in splitting my full bed, felt like the past. The next morning, with a quick turn around the next morning, he left to take David to Richmond.

I’d go back to work; finding myself office less, now with Kayleigh at the front desk and Misty having not yet haven moved up to Donna’s office. A strange feeling, in having no clear work area, and no straight task to complete; instead, I just worked to aid anyone in the work around the office. I am accustomed to this position, whether at Rocktown (in my prior years), Macados in the past, or more recently with Higher Achievement, and have found I like it. It’s a good feeling to not be tied down, all the while jumping from place to place, person to person to aid them. It always seems to receive some form of gratitude, and allowed me to put attention toward my own tasks; like purchasing contacts, contacting Ms. Jones at VCU for my diploma, looking into the FBI fingerprint, and the job search, all which seemed to be unable to wait. I’d learn later, after some time of preparation that the Busan employer was not interested, it was a hit at the time, but something that I sought to find positivity. In a reaction to the mounting task in working toward South Korea, I have remained in a state of stress; consuming much of the time that I am not distracted. I began to listen to RamDass’ lectures from 1975, not able to find time to read his work.

“Our development is like that of a butterfly. We must “die and be reborn” as the egg dies and becomes a caterpillar; the caterpillar dies and becomes a chrysalis; the chrysalis dies and then the butterfly is born. It is a long process and the butterfly lives only a day or two. But the cosmic purpose is fulfilled. It is the same with man, we must destroy our buffers. Children have none; therefore we must become like little children.” —Views from the Real World (G.I. Gurdjieff)

June 13-July 7

Looking back, it clearly shows progress and my attempt at sustaining effort to push forward. To begin, I was able to find and maintain ‘stability,’ remaining in Dayton and Harrisonburg; aside from a brief ‘vacation’ to North Carolina.

As always, I must address my five daily aims; Futuro, Corpo, Mente, Scrivo, e Leggo. I once saw exercise (corpo) as an absolute means to both destress, and tire myself out before bed; however, I have learned that through work, and reading that tiring the mind works well enough. In reference to Seneca, claiming how the mind takes precedence over the body, I have no intention to drift back to my past, where I put the primary focus on my physical well being. With time being limited, between all aspects of my daily life, it seems that the emphasis of physical activity is most often neglected first; albeit a poor excuse, considering the immense gain I can get from fifteen minutes. While attention continued with reading, and writing; components I will address later, my focus on my future employment began to call upon more of my time. In fact, this has been, by far, this most exhaustive and intensive portion of my time. Aside from the normal activity performed during the job search; research, interviews, etc., there is a fun wrinkle in all this, time zones.

I have discovered the difficulty with this interview process; aside from recruiters living in the west, is the twelve to thirteen hour time difference. Per esempio; an interview for a Korean employer at 9 am (KST-Korean time) is 8pm my time; or 630 pm (KST) is 530 am (EST).

This began to weigh on me; in terms of my sleep, waking up most mornings between 430-530, but going to bed, following an interview at 1030-11 pm. Yet, with the pressing need for a job, becoming more anxious by the day, I took on as many chances as I could to find myself the right job; the following tracks the weeks long process. After sending out my resume to a wide variety of Korean recruiting agencies, I set up the first interview with a recruiter (Adventure Teaching with Hannah) at 6pm. Two days later, I spoke with Madeline (Teacher Tech) over the phone. We spoke about Korean options, and amazingly, as no one else would, she kinda set me straight; advising me to have more enthusiasm during the call. I explained to her that it was 9pm for me, and as the hour long talk dragged on, I got more tired, but she had a point. Keeping that in mind, I ensured that no matter the time, nor the conversation, that I would be upbeat and energetic. The next day in fact; with Arathi from Footprints Recruiting, after work; another phone conversation. Then as the custom would be, the weekend came and niente-silenzio. Monday came and so did another interview, now with Tijana; a South African Recruiter that taught in Korea for eight years! She had all the stories, and one could find her many blogs about the whole process. We spoke during lunch at work; most notably, she performed an adorable impression of a little Korean student, by asking me to create a five-minute mock lesson. By the time I got going, she said time; funny, I was just getting into talking about BTS (the K-Pop Band), role models, etc.

The next day, came my first interview via Skype with Joe from ChungDahm Learning Institute in Daejeon. We spoke around 730am, before work; 830 pm his time. Being from Michigan, I felt excited to speak with an American, that could give me an idea about living and teaching abroad. The interview went well, well enough for me to put it in the forefront of my mind and begin planning it out. I researched the city, and despite it being not either Busan or Seoul, I was interested. Soon, I was sent a contract and began to mull it over; yet, something came up. In scouring reviews, the KoreanBlackList, etc. I found a couple caveats; first, the application specifically states that the employee will sign away the ok to work weekends, both Saturday and Sunday (if necessary). I emailed to check and received a round about response from both Joe and Madeline. At this point, I was hesitant; despite going there to teach, I wanted to have weekends, both for my well-being and to explore; especially, to hike (South Korea is 80% mountainous!) Soon, I found a more concerning fact about the conglomerate of CDL in Korea; you only sign a contract…per passing the training portion, performed the first week in Seoul. I even read about someone not passing it, and having his Visa removed and forced to find another position, or leave. What if that happens to me, if I am not good enough to pass the training? The doubts were enough for me to respond with a no.

So, the week went by to the weekend; and despite thinking I had locked up the process, I now felt in distress (a common theme!) I was without any options; once thought to be good, but now back to zero. Now, we must continue; to Sunday with an interview with Tiffany from Teaching Nomad (another recruiter.) Here, credit to Tiffany, she provided me with a different insight and perspective; despite, interviewing for a position in Korea, as all of them had been before, afterward she sent me thirteen different emails, each containing an option. Twelve of them were for positions in China, and like that, my mind began to open up to the thought of China, perhaps? Monday came, and like that more interviews, another recruiter, Rachel from Hi Korea EDU. Early in the morning, my preferred option-but 530 in the morning, meant I would be in the garage. It went well enough, to give me another interviewer with the Haundae employer; the beach district in Busan. An hour later, I turned back to the garage to talk another recruiter, Jenn from The One English School. The interview with Jenn, went well, it was in Seoul—a part of me just desired the large metropolitan city for Yeol. Yet, he beginning in August will be joining the military. Later that evening, I video chatted with Yumi, a Korean recruiter with English Teaching. We would stay in contact, like so many others; seriously, in checking my emails, it is ridiculous; also, my Skype account!

So, after three interviews that day; things were looking up. I would continue; having an interview the next day with Jenn from The One ECC. We spoke, and I began to picture a life in Seoul; in some part, nervous, thinking about life in such a large city (10 million people!) but I figure it is time to move up and accept the challenge of living in a densely populated city; Asia after all. Despite, a positive interview nothing would come from it, and so, I tried to keep my head up. I began searching through DavesESLCafe, and sent many emails out to a variety of positions. The next day, an interview with Jennifer Chae from the Kangdam Pride Institute in Seoul peaked my curiosity; we had a chemistry and I liked what she explained of the school. There was a downside, or more so doubt, of me working with young children, preschool and kindergarten age. It intimidates me, but in learning more about the KPI school and in Skyping with Jennifer, I became excited nonetheless. She showed me pictures from her office, looking right overtop of Olympic park, and informed me about life there as a teacher. I became more and more enamored by the opportunity, and felt well about it, since she informed me that I had answered all her questions, before she even asked them. We even ran right up to the hour period, before she had another interview, so we set up a second interview the next night!  I went downstairs to tell mom, yet, I didn’t have much time to stay downstairs; I had another interview in fifteen minutes. I regrouped, drank, and returned to the room.

Now to an employer in Busan (my ideal destination!) that was connected to me through the recruiter at HiKoreaEDU. Ok, how describe this; picture your worst first date. I’ve never actually had one, a bad one that is, but I’ve watched enough TV and movies. We had no connection and there was zero interest; she even, pointed to the walls, where all the books where that the teacher would read with the class; as that was the lessons, then just go to the next one! I thought about the Real English School in Viterbo, and how I didn’t want that teaching experience, again. I asked questions and it was like she was shocked; ugh the city…umm biking, I don’t actually know; or, no, we don’t allow the teachers to eat with the children. I know it sounds strange, but sitting with the scholars at higher achievement, listening to them, joking around and eating are some of my fondest times at H.A. I cannot emphasis enough; especially coming off the connection that I had with Jennifer, how instant the feeling of no came to me; yet, it is Busan. I went downstairs and just unloaded all my disinterest to my parents; worst interview thus far. Oddly enough, the next week, I’d receive a job offer from them; and she’d be my boss. Could I really just go to Korea, to read a book and push kids along! The answer was clear.

The next day came, so, my second interview with Jennifer! I was excited; had my shirt ironed (grazie a ma) and was ready to now ask some questions about KPI. I learned more about the program; seemingly, a truly different approach to teaching kids in Korea, compared to what I’ve learned thus far. I did my research and she helped curb my curiosity upwards. Afterward, I went downstairs; told mom how she said since I was close along on the documents process that I should be ready in time, for August 26. I reached out to Yeol to ask about the area, and; only in my mind started to generate a routine around this schedule. Most importantly, for my routine, I had the weekends! The next day, that evening I received my FBI apostilled check, I was ready. Now to a much needed quiet weekend, without all the countless emails to send out. Monday came, and I emailed Jennifer that I had my FBI check; I was ready. For two days, nothing; I began to question and sulk. Before, for weeks I stressed; to the point that it came to a head; my stomach went into knots, I wouldn’t accept food with ease and I broke out (perdonami for the information-my aim is to give you an idea of how this was consuming!) I was on a rollercoaster of highs n lows, and yet, it seemed here to peak, with KPI. I figured, with mom’s urging the truth, if she (the hiring manager) and KPI were excited about me; they would have reached out. So, again, I started to scour the grid, but now for both China and Korea. Too many emails sent, so much time spent on the ESLCafe sight; consuming. I tried my best for it to not get me, but it was my future—and unfortunately, had taken my present. Later, in the week, July 4th came, and unlike many of the family members I was not relaxed; instead, I had an interview with Andy from Mokdong Magnet, located in the Mokdong district of Seoul. The 530 am interview went well, he provided me the information I needed and we had a connection.

The next day, I received an email, the only big hold-up the time; they wanted someone ASAP, and I had no intention of leaving within mere days. By early Friday morning, I was responding to more job offers, which brings us to Friday, Saturday, and Sunday; the last three days of this routine. Again, I spent hours just reaching out to employers; really thinking could I move to China now, while also secretly hoping something would come of Sylvia, an employer in Anyang, Korea that I had responded to her fourteen questions; or even, Mokdong, despite the immediacy. Again, I reached out to Yeol; about his thoughts on both Anyang, a commuter city-he said, but a quiet one surrounded by the mountains (sounds nice!) and Mokdong. In getting emails, I responded to several on Friday morning and accepted an interview with Kerri, a woman working at some kindergarten school in China; why not? The interview went on for about an hour; then I left for a day spent cleaning in 1380J, for four hours! I expressed my honest opinion that I don’t know about students that young, ages 2-6! Anyways, another interview in the bag; making number fifteen! Later, through Whats App and her recruiter Joy on Skype they informed me of a second interview with the Vice Principal, and American named Brad. We scheduled it, for Sunday (Yesterday), and again, so-so, still so hesitant about teaching children that young and, honestly, living in China; despite the city-Hangzhou appearing near perfect. Yet, towards the end of the interview, I was informed, we’ll send an offer over to you; be on the lookout.

Through, all the stress; I didn’t what I was putting mom under, since as I should have known, she absorbs it from the people around her; at least from the people that she cares for. So, when that contract came through, from the fifteenth interview; forcing me to open my mind about several facets that I didn’t expect, I was relieved. As I looked over the contract, uneasy about accepting a two-year contract, living in China, and having to work with young children, I turned back on my first interview and the many that followed. I thought about my trip to the sheriffs office, getting the assistance of the deputy; she was so kind and helpful. Then to hear of her amazement about my mentality; in explaining to her, that of course I don’t speak Korean, but abroad in a foreign country, one must accept being like a child: unaware of the surroundings, the language, and just level oneself to be content within. Here, in this foreign place (one must recognize), I am not in control, nor in power; and am most certainly not the intellectual, confident person I like to think I am; when my level of language skill is that of a little toddler!

Yet, these past weeks, I fear I have acted like a child at times; just thankful for the people around me (mom), and all that helped; like the Postal Office employee, helping me on two different occasions. She pushed me along in the process of getting my documentation, working with my stressed-out self to help move me forward. Lastly, the woman at the office of registration (VCU), who aided in first notarizing my diploma, then sending it out to the Secretary of the Commonwealth’s office. I am not sitting here, slightly more settled, without them. Now, with some relaxation and detachment about the tefl process; for now, I look to the rest of my components throughout the period. Oh, how helpful the other aspects of my life are when I am in such internal turmoil. I know this from my past, but gain more from them, then I ever have to date; providing the necessary aid. First, to reading; leggo, in fatti; io devo leggere! Whether it be; George Orwell’s Essays (particularly his reflections on Gandhi), William Cullen Bryant; since I always refer back to Thanatopsis (such a marvelous poem at such a young age!), the many works by Ralph Waldo Emerson, or eventually some past read books—Dai Libri, they provide removal, insight, and a higher perspective. The answers are there, just read them; or in the case of being in my car, listen; with the wisdom of Ram Dass in his lecturing! The last offers such aid, which proved to fascinate me over and over; while also, forcing me to contemplate my own perception of things (see the Goddess Khali and her fire) I cannot say how many times I listened to his Stages on the Journey!

Lastly, io scrivo; especially, to provide an aim, or sounding board; who will also be there, like an imaginary friend. I have had the opportunity to write out Influences; creating a fictional, imaginary dialogue between myself (presently) and past self, who meet again, upon my return to Harrisonburg. In this we discussed quotes that I have since encountered, working to keep them fixed in my mind. The next; and the most impactful are the books that I was lucky enough to come across; reading them in times of need and often going back to them when necessary. Some came at the perfect time, while others I neglected for far too long; some consumed me and provided me with ideas of the future, while others brought me back toward our past. Lastly, are the videos; which provide a source of motivation, while continuing to open my mind; these range from James Baldwin, to Eric Thomas; ultimately, choosing ten, like with the other two categories. This idea has provided me with immense joy and distraction, in a time of need. I can foresee altering this style for future writings, but I am getting carried away. Lastly, I have writings from the past, most notably Virginian Abroad which are in need of completing. The task of VA Abroad does provide me something; albeit difficult due to length; take the week in Sicily, the challenges faced and overcame. I am brought back to times of difficulty and pride; while abroad, I use this past to reflect upon and build for the future.

 

That is what writing is to me, an opportunity to reflect, retrace and address my concerns; and now with what is to come—I have many. To start, neglecting for now the near future of moving, working with young children, and navigating a drastically new culture; what am I to do without my family here! To leave what I have created, and luckily enough, fallen back into. First, Mom—whether it be at work, home, or, us together out; having a grand time, biking that day in Duck, North Carolina; or out and about in Harrisonburg, she is my best friend and rock. To be with her at work, makes my job; knowing that I have her in my corner, I feel that I can do anything. On our occasional trips out to do our inspections; of Camden, Hunters, Campus View, or Liberty Square; stopping at Vitos for lunch, or McDonalds for Americanos, it is difficult to acknowledge that soon I will leave her. Not her alone, but now with family around me and Rocktown, I have grown accustom to those people in this last near month; and so much has happened in that brief period, from moving to the front desk then a period without a desk, to Misty’s desk; unfortunately displacing her, etc. I have re-created a relationship with Lauren, learned so much from Eddie, and will cherish, each time, when someone goes off on a tirade toward the work or tenants (away from them, certo); that we can all understand. I may have no social life, mostly at home, but family is enough.

We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.” —Marianne Williamson

July 8-July 31:

The first day of this period; following the night of the second interview with Wesley IB International, I was offered a job. I had told mom two days prior, after seeing photos of the school and hearing enough about the school in Hangzhou, that if they accept me, I will sign. Now, in a position to decide, I was nervous; yet, undoubtedly knew what I must do. Kerri, sent me an email including the offer sheet and salary sheet, which took me, in discussing it with mom, a day or two to confirm. I went to work; following my normal routine of writing, reading, without a thought of my plan. The next day, I woke up with the question of, what had I done? For months, I mentally prepared for South Korea, and despite not getting any sufficient offers, I was gearing to see Yeol again (Side note: Yeol has been accepted into the mandatory service of the military and will be in the propaganda sector.) I couldn’t help but be completely unsettled with my decision, since I had only mentally prepared myself for the move to Korea, not to China. In fact, I knew very little of anything China; never having any inclinations to visit or interest to learn about Chinese culture. That morning, to ease my worries, I made the first move to start free Mandarin lessons on Memrise and decided to make that a part of my goal; naturally learning a language will better connect one within a culture.

The next step, after signing the contract; a seven-page document, the first four in English then the next three in Mandarin, is to turn attention toward the Visa process. In readying myself for Korea I knew the steps of the Visa process, but China is different; much different. This would call for a different level of stress, to ensure that everything went smoothly; I began trips up to D.C. I first arrived at the Chinese Embassy; parallel parked, took about ten minutes with that tight of a space, then approached the gated bunker-like building, only to be told that I was not in the right place. I had gone to where, if I was an important ambassador, I would have gone, but there is another location, just for visas. Off, again to Williamsburg Avenue; and soon, I came upon the organized chaos that is the Chinese Visa Embassy. After, waiting for my number; all timid and uncertain, I was told that the documents were not authenticated properly, in fact, they were apostilled; the Korean way. Fun fact of the day, the 1961 Hague Convention set the course for international work; thus, putting me in a situation that most of the visa work I had done previously was essentially void, since China was outside the parameters of that international work agreement. Korea, along with roughly 140 other countries require an apostille, while China requires a different authentication. I was told that my FBI check that had been apostilled by the U.S. Department of State, was not correct; so, back to square one. I was scrambling, but thankfully, Dad and Tracy were not too far away; since I couldn’t get into the U.S. State until the next morning, 730-9 am. Absolutely defeated, but with at least an understanding of what to do next; I called mom to tell that her I wouldn’t make work the next day.

These instances would become the normal routine, as frustrating as they were, over the coming weeks; making time up in D.C. to continue my Visa steps. I walked about Adams Morgan, then before the rain came turned back to my car and took a nap in the backseat; waking up to be a sweaty mess. With so much on my mind, now that I had decided to sign the two-year contract, that required me in Hangzhou on August 12, I couldn’t sleep purely through the night. I did whatever I could each day, to find some groove; read, Mandarin lessons on the phone, and recording Virginia Abroad that now seemed to be a task that loomed over me. The next day called for me to return to Richmond and attend the dentist; a check-up, but with my teeth, you never know! Figuring it to be the last time in Richmond, I asked for pop’s truck and went down with the intention of fully moving out. It was delightful to see John again, and being in the old house, brought back memories of our time together, not too long ago. There was much to move, but with his assistance that turned fun I was able to successfully remove all my items, even the quotes on the ceiling. He said that he was moving out the coming Friday; and couldn’t wait to do since Hank had become so incredibly miserable toward him, an angry void after I left.

I informed him of China, he was shocked and had me tell Madelyn through video as we waited for our breakfast food. It was exactly what I needed, a day to return to Richmond, see John and essentially; at least for a few hours, be myself again. After we packed the big items in the truck, dumped them at various dumpsters around Carver, and reminisced, we parted; me with the queen mattress on the bed of truck. I didn’t go long, before the uneasiness of its positioning stopped me, alongside the interstate; which I guess gained the attention of a VDOT worker. He pulled over, a few car lengths behind me and remained in his truck, essentially watching me; until I walked up to him for help. After he with the straps, he asked did you go to T.A.?

Small world, even with being two hours away from home, I told him that where I was headed; over Afton mountain, so he helped and I drove with more security back to Dayton. I’d return to Rocktown, offering my help, wherever it could be needed; an inspection for a move-in and then to Pop and Gram’s for setting up a coffee table and end-table. This was a rare opportunity to sit with pop in the sunroom, working toward a common goal; those damn tables. With each of us reading over the directions, determining which screws were needed, and where the bars go; it was entertaining. Most importantly, as Pop would note; when Gram and Mom returned from readying a Hunters apartment, this was the first time we have been together one on one in some years. It was great to be back, and have all my items with me in Dayton, but with much more to do with the Visa; I couldn’t get too comfortable.

The next day after work, I left for D.C. again, to make it in time for late dinner. On Wednesday, I picked up my FBI check, and despite the nerves, I felt slightly more ready for the Embassy; being my second time. I took my ticket, sat down and after about an hour, began a conversation with the guy next to me. Tim, a fellow college graduate and English teacher seemed better prepared for the move, to begin his time at a kindergarten school, also in Hangzhou. We talked, him explaining that he grew up in China, and how he sought a return to the country that he lived for 15 years. We exchanged information; via Wechat, then after he left, it was my turn. Turns out, I was not as ready as I had thought; in fact, I needed to have my diploma re-done, since it was also, apostilled by the Secretary of State in Virginia. The man accepted my FBI check, now having been correctly authenticated; just needing an authentication from the Chinese Embassy, but I had to start over with the diploma. Leaving there, I was at a loss; before leaving D.C., I visited the China Travel Agency next door, and found out the only way to quickly get my diploma authenticated was to take it to them personally. I jumped in the car, called Tracy and Dad; seeking advice, before thinking about driving straight to Richmond, at 3 pm.

They, as they always do, set me straight; instead, I should go early tomorrow morning. I arrived home in Dayton, worked a couple hours; another inspection and later would inform mom of my unsuccessful time in D.C. That night, I needed to teach; so, I prepared for our English class on jobs and housing. Only two students showed up, Santhadevi and Mihiret; our second to last session, which worked out best, since I didn’t have the energy level; exhausted with all the driving. The two of them, perhaps due to the importance of our session; making ourselves employable, discussing our skillset in mock interviews, and how to properly protect ourselves in the rental process, show interest and improvement in their English.

Mom was now awake; being so sleep deprived after work that she slept for about four hours. We talked, and she helped ease my nerves, about my plan the next day. I was out early the next morning, back to Richmond; which worked out the best case of scenario, since I hadn’t truly said goodbye to the city that helped bring me up. The diploma would be ready by 1:30 pm, giving me several hours to do stuff that I had long sought to do; for instance, photos of Richmond for the Nine Year Process. I snapped photos for my memory: of Cha-Chas bar; recalling nights with Douce and Nabeel, went to Jefferson Park, to the old job at Wilder Middle School, then to a past temporary home-3214 North Avenue, finally to campus, with Cary Street Gym, and then Douce’s old house Catherine Street. Driving about the city, provided a surreal feeling of closure to Richmond. Afterward, I’d get a haircut, purchase some ankle protectors, and then finally pick up the authenticated diploma. One step down, now just to get it to the U.S. Department of State; which I’d decide to do the following Monday, allowing for Friday to be a workday, paired with some preparation outside the Visa. I informed Kerri, who didn’t seem concerned at all; just suggesting me to send her the documents within the coming week. Working only half day, allowed me to do research and practice packing; odd I know, yet I wanted to ensure that not only would I have everything needed but I could fit it all in the bags I had. Mitchell, upon his return would properly call me a clown; as I marched around the house with my green backpack on my back, the black laptop bag strapped to my chest, and the blue backpack around my shoulder; all full.

It all fit, along with a few random items to simulate other things I would soon buy, and made me more content with the coming departure. That may be a more difficult task than what many people think; having to condense down one’s belongings to just a few bags. Yet the challenge is gratifying and for me, exciting; to decide how to best utilize what we have and to turn it into what I will need going forward. Again, I incorporated the help of Tracy and Dad to what I will need in the period remaining before departure. After all, I’d see Tracy soon enough, on my return, back up to the city for my papers on Monday. They told me to relax during the weekend; enjoy my time and further prepare, but since there was nothing I could do, I should chill (as if I can!) Nonetheless, I took some of their advice, and worked part day on Saturday, wrote, napped and then went to dinner with Gram, Pop, and Mom to Ruby Tuesday. What a terrible decision, getting the garden bar! I’d get food poisoning and paired with slight dehydration that pounded the front of my head; making much of Sunday absolutely miserable. I ended up napping that morning in the bathroom, tired of going going in and out. Finally the next morning, after hearing mom come down, I pried open the door to inform her that I was dying. She told me of her headache too, and I knew of her stomach attack the night before; but the headaches we determined, must have been since it was so dreadfully hot the previous two days that we were out doing inspections, and we didn’t drink accordingly. This instance, made me realize, of the difficulty in being concerned about next month or year (which I all do all too often) when the present day is just grueling. Despite, dreading another drive to D.C. and worrying that the whole process wouldn’t work out, all I could do was to manage myself in this unpleasant condition.

A shower, water, a banana, medicine, and a hot washcloth all were measures I took; yet, as often is the case, only time worked. So, by one that afternoon, I was able; despite not feeling great, to go down to Gram and Pop’s for Sunday lunch.

It was nice to be around the family again; they all seemed to be more used to the idea now that I aim to move to China for a teaching position. That evening, in thinking that I’m prepared as I can be, I hopped in the car and was on the road again. Turned out both Dad, in Atlanta, and Tracy, not too far in Basel, would be gone; which meant I could determine my own bedtime. That is seriously what I first thought, when I heard the news that Tracy would be gone as well; that and later that I could have the bed (what an incredible bed that is-like sleepy on a cloud.) The evening turned out very relaxing; something I always find when I am up there, but only heightened when I am alone in that spacious Adams Morgan condo.

The brief time up there was memorable in several aspects; first, most importantly, I dropped off my now VA authenticated diploma; which not in a rush either way, chose to walk both ways, the better alternative over Lyft. Second, which began the evening before and started up the next morning; Petrarch. I started to think more about my writing while abroad; and turned out to read more into the man that would begin the Spiegami (Explain to me) phase of writing. His writings, although more plentiful in Latin; unfortunately, not yet translated, offer enough insight into the “Father of Humanism,” and more importantly, a revolutionary historian.

The third reasoning for the feeling of a productive trip, was the brief message conversation, I had with Kerri; she explained to me now that I shouldn’t worry. She would ensure that it was taken care of, and that the school would help with the Visa process. Again, does she know me; I’m working on moving across the globe, in fact, at that time in three weeks, and I am told not to worry! Her words did help though, and with Tracy’s assistance via phone to further calm me down; later dad as well, I was feeling better than I previously did the week before. I did more research about the MyChinaVisa, and other companies, about how quickly they could turn around a Visa application; since I wouldn’t be able to receive the U.S. Department of State authenticated diploma until Thursday; the day that I would now plan to be back in D.C. Nonetheless, I turned my mind back to Petrarch, eating, and something mindlessly familiar: Parks and Recreation on Netflix, I cannot say how many times, in situations of stress, I have turned to re-watching this series. I reached out to Tracy and we planned to meet for breakfast; or my brunch, at 11 am. We set out to meet at Crackle Barrel in Woodstock by noon. It was a delight, as it always is, to sit and talk with Tracy; just having more time with him, as we continue to get to know each other. Amazing, after six years, how people can still unfold various facets of someone, but when one is still growing; it is understandable. I returned home, worked again; so many inspections (July!) and then wrote; trying to complete the massive undertaking that would allow me to start at one, upon moving to Asia.

I came upon another discovery; something I have too long neglected that has led to me being both unnerved and disappointed in myself, my physical condition. I informed mom, that with the shape of my left ankle, still weak, and my knees (again, more the left from running-years ago); I needed to do something to improve.

It is concerning that I will be moving to a country, where I will have no car and must rely on walking much more; even if the car, so much driving, is further adding to the cause to be concerned. She just looked at me, at fifty-six years old, addressed her shape; calling me out, if you want to, you can correct it, Andiamo! This would begin, a period where I am now sore every day. Leg work in her workout room/shed, has led to a strengthening of legs; knees, and ankle, at the cost of limping each day. I can already feel a noticeable difference from all the lunges, squats, raises, stuff with bands, lying down work, etc. This shame that I brought upon myself; for throughout this summer, I allowed my body to become physically weaker, as I often neglected exercising. I know this by how the thirty-minute leg workouts have kicked my ass; sweating, out of breath, sore, legs shaking, wanting to quit; yet, as a ex-runner, swimmer, basketball player, and athlete; I am embarrassed! Nevertheless, I must persist, or I will only get weaker and lose a part of me; the physical side that wants to go climb a mountain, bike, and walk about for a whole day. Even, if I can’t run or play basketball anymore due to my ankle; which will see, I cannot give up the explorer in me. The soreness made work interesting, going around to units, walking up the stairs at Hunters, but it would contribute to our last session with Skyline Literacy. Which would turn out to only be Santha; a far cry from the twelve person session, the first Wednesday (five weeks ago), or even in the following weeks; thinking back to the food night (the third session) where we were able to create a mock-dining situation with seven or eight students, or the next time, health.

Nonetheless, with mom and I there, we figured we could provide a thorough lesson for the committed student; yet early on when mom asked her a question, her response noted the anxiety, of being the only one there. I quickly changed the course, making myself the teacher, and making mom’s role to be another student; now instead of just two teachers to one student, it would be one to two. This would prove more effective, and seemingly lessened her stress of where everyone else was.

It was a cool lesson, and despite only one student, it was my favorite session; due to the topic: Social concept and how to describe ourselves. I noted from the last session; during the interview portion, that neither of them were very comfortable in explaining themselves; understandably since I am not very confident in describing myself in Italian. So, we aimed to address this important question and how to properly answer the six question words: who, what, where, why, how, and when. This strategy worked well with mom, also being a student; emphasizing how different responses can be and how we can gain information, just by adding a different question word. Take for example; the information Santha provided: her favorite part of the week prior; the meal she had at a restaurant. In mom asking, “what was your highlight of last week?” Her response, “I had a great meal,” ok, now we’re going to work with that, using the question words. Where did you eat, where is the restaurant, what did you eat, when did you eat, who did you eat with, (etc.)? Then we went on to adjectives, since I find it important to both better explain a day, situation, etc. and most importantly, ourselves. Per esempio, in Italiano; magari, posso spiegare che io sono intelligente, but in English I can say more.

Lastly, we described ourselves, using the social concept; comprised of both our traits (adjectives of ourselves), and the roles we play; this was particularly interesting since we would all provide more information about ourselves. We learned Santha is from a northern rural village in Sri Lanka, about her family back home, and later to come; about everyone’s dreams and fears. This portion would allow her to add that she has desire to create a family, to have children. In combining the answers to various questions, using the question words from before; where we come from, how we got here, what we do, what we think about, why we’re here in this present situation; we are able to better explain ourselves and allow someone to better know who we are. I found this in the past, whether in Italy, or throughout Europe in conversations with people who I couldn’t speak in-depth with, that it is challenging not to provide insight into ourselves. In essence, we act more so like children, without the ability to speak to the length and extent of what is in our head and who we are to the people around us (one of the most frustrating experiences in encountering a language barrier.

The social concept is comprised of all this; which made for the best session we have had, all on a whim; considering we suddenly after finishing up working with 1348 L (Mike, Mom, and I-very cool experience), rushed to class. Improvised seems to be the theme with me; throughout the week, I certainly thought through what I wanted to work with, but really only putting it together on our way there and then in the situation; basing off of how she was responding to the subject matter. We returned home, with a sigh of relief; despite enjoying the experience of teaching over the last six weeks (intermediate English), with everything the both of us have on our plates, it was good to finish something, and add at the very least, an hour on Wednesday. The night was brief, since the next morning, I would be on the road once again. Off to pick up my diploma, same as the FBI check weeks ago, with ease; then walk back to the apartment. Tracy made waffles, and we talked through the next steps; preparing for the Chinese Embassy. Despite, now going several times; I continued to feel like a fool there. Perhaps, this is a good preparation for what is to come in China? I’d get another shot with the attendant, who I’ve seen all but one of the one of the times; yet, when I greeted him that it was nice to see him again, he responded, “have you been here before?” He helped me through it and gave me another receipt to pick up the diploma on Monday, which then I would finally have both documents, authenticated by the Embassy. The only problem, I would be in Watertown by then; leaving this upcoming Saturday. Problem solved: Tracy would come to my aid again, first driving me there; in aim to further discuss life and such.

I’d get a Lyft back in time, to meet dad and him for lunch; now preparing for the next step, as dad settled back in from Atlanta. Neither of us would be home for long. I’d get home in time to help mom with some more inspections and turns; her essentially filling the void that I left, every time I leave. Now, I just checked out; both mentally and physically, something the D.C. duo and I determined was necessary to bring down my high level of stress. Unfortunately, the weight then would turn to mom, as she had to pick up my slack; so, every time I get back into Harrisonburg, I check-in; where do I need to go, what inspection? Before leaving the next day for D.C., we’d go do an inspection, but to no avail; as a bedroom door was locked in Campus View. Instead, we went to have breakfast at Joe’s Inn; the same spot, she suggested that I take the International group, months ago. Déjà vu; yet this time, I would be thinking not about their departure but nearing mine; consumed by it. I left out for D.C. again, now seemingly; dad and I joke, living there. I was there in time, for them both to help me with preparations; they went to Costco, getting me allergy and pain medication, along with other random cosmetic items. I seriously don’t know where I’d be, in this process, without all of them!

We enjoyed the day; looking at plane tickets, talking preparations, as Tracy worked on preparing one of his old Macbooks for me. That evening, Marco and Colin came over and spent some time up on the rooftop. Marco already knew, but Colin was informed (coming off his trip from Azerbaijan and then Ireland-oh the stories there!) of my plans for China. Their words, advice and help; especially Colin’s with his knowledge of international education, and of China in general, put me more at ease. The conversation went from tuning my mind into what I should expect, the language acquisition that I can aim for, and how I’ll be treated, to Colin’s trips. First, in Azerbaijan; none of us have been remotely close to the former Soviet Euro-Asia area, so it was fascinating to hear. His stories of how they welcomed him; and particularly, the three of them going after him with jokes, made the evening. Yet, nothing was better than Love Island; the British reality show that he became consumed with each evening, while in Ireland. None of else will forget, him explaining how he and niece would text back and forth throughout the episodes. We would all go through the cast, googling the characters. Countless evenings, in the past years, this group of guys; whether on the rooftop, in the apartment or out at a restaurant, have provided me insight into life abroad and a different life living in D.C. It is truly amazing, the different side of life that I encounter when I go up there. Between owning an IT company, working at the Census Bureau, and two different positions at GWU, the group has allowed me to view different perspectives; other than Dayton-Harrisonburg-Richmond. Come fortunato sono io!

Magari, most exciting to them all; following the ensuing trip to Watertown, was the stories that were to come, beginning the next day. We were out by 9:30, and despite getting ‘lost’ and for some reason, going into Breezewood; never wanna go there again, we’d find our way to upstate New York, by dinner time. The drive, just being with dad throughout was great; we’d talk and listen to music for much of the eight-and-a-half-hour drive. He even, didn’t mind me practicing my mandarin in the car; it was funny, hearing him try the words as well. Both of us had mentally prepared ourselves for 226 Thompson Blvd., Vince and the Scordo family; yet nothing can truly prepare us for what is to come, sometimes we just have to go into it with an open mind and practice patience. We ate at an Italian-American restaurant; yet, the first suggestion was Olive Garden, dad’s response, “anywhere but there!” So, the fairground-inn; truly more the American than Italian. It was great being around them again, even when we returned to the house to find no A/C! That would be a challenge throughout, that and the constant tasks to-do; on Monday, the car, basement and discussions of the roof! The garage cleaning would come, after the un-registered car was towed away, the battery on the car had died; since it hadn’t been driven in over a year (since Lucia’s passing.) Change, was coming; and surprisingly, Nonna was accepting it, like me going to China, she was either content, or just didn’t voice her displeasure. Actually, her words of encouragement and advice; speaking about her breaking the barrier as a female and going into an unfamiliar sector with the hospital was inspiring. I don’t know if they ever plan it, but they are inspiring when they voice the challenges of the past; whether with Nonni moving to the U.S. as a teenager, or her having four boys in the military during the war; or even any of the seven Scordo ladies working in a male-dominated world. It is always great to hear of all that; especially at a time like this.

Even, Nonna explaining how the ladies at the hospital made Uncle Ben (at 96) a t-shirt that read, Scordo Power; I’m gonna keep that! She’d voice that idea throughout the three days we were there; especially when Alyssa, Patrick and Wanda, came by. The group of us, in the living room of a house that has remained mostly untouched since moving there in the 60s, sat down to talk of the family, Italy, and travel. With Alyssa, myself, dad, and the older generation, we have truly set out to grow through discomfort, whether intentional or not; travel being one of the bigger pushers in our lives. Connecting with the Scordo line in Italy, as well has been a cool reminder of our past. It seems as if the greater family really has flourished; from great grandparents (from my point of view) being immigrants and essentially, poor working class people from southern Italy, to only two of eleven of their children going to college (with the little amount of money they had), bootlegging during prohibition, and facing the immigrant challenges of the day. Now, to present day; with thirteen school teachers, many college graduates, successful employees and expanding upon the family; really encompassing the Watertown-Syracuse area. The one thing we’d notice; as dad would point out, is how he really was the first to branch out from that area. Thirty plus years ago, following a brief unsuccessful tenure at Saint Bonaventure, not far from Watertown; dad would leave for James Madison University in Virginia!

He spoke of how he just wanted to get away; go south far away from the snowy winters, and start anew for himself. I’d call for us to consider; something mom, Julia and I have talked about, what makes some people take such drastic moves? Take Nonni (mia bisnonna e mio bisnonno) leaving Calabria in Italy for upstate New York, or Dad to Virginia; while others will never make those changes and remain in their comfort spot. This is the case; it seems, of our line; first Nonni, then dad, and now Julia and I. He was the first to leave Watertown and NY, of that generation; one of fourteen to leave. The younger generation, now mine; more have sought opportunities outward, whether college in Texas, or jobs in North Carolina and California. I’m not even the first to leave for work out of the country, or in Asia; Chris, my cousin, taught in Taiwan. Impressive, hearing how everyone now seems to seek out greater chances, breaking through the bubble of the Watertown area. The majority have remained, while others seemed to have married and found their own comfort zones, yet the cousins are doing something! The topics of improvement, travel and Scordo Power seemed to be the conversation we all throughout the evening with Alyssa and her parents. It was a joy to discuss travel; her experiences, how I influenced her and then how dad pushed me. All of it is connected, it seems with this family; it was unique to be up there, even; despite, the lack of a/c, mess of a basement (we’d find old photos from the forties, letters between the war, and back n forth from Italy.) The family history is fascinating, now only leading to the present; remaining of a generation: Nonna and Katie; purtroppo con Fred, who is miserable, “Leave me Alone!” We’d didn’t stay long with Fred; instead, going to Clayton, by the St. Lawrence River to eat and relax. I don’t know when I’ll see them again; so, it was something I naturally had to do, before leaving for China.

The time there allowed me to reconnect with the family, reflect on the past, spend cherished moments with dad and nonna, e poi to write; I turned to Gratitude, which I now have designated under Fighting Anxiety. That seems to be the theme, throughout this summer; anxiety with what is to come. I spoke about it with the family, in detail with dad and Tracy; yet the writing seems to be a constant stress reliever, the reasoning why the typing has increased. Before ending this writing and my time in Watertown, I updated both Marco and Yeol of my intended extended trip of employment in China. Both of them having two different reactions, I’m not far from the latter, while the former; I will never be further from. On our last full day there, aside from eating together, napping and talking endlessly; Nonna, dad, and I went to Morgan & Stanley, to Mr. Alteri, to discuss her finances. The talks were interesting, something I couldn’t begin to understand; something Nonna and I have in common, thankfully dad does/did/will. Strange, the talks were of her passing; something that I don’t know how she took, but they all discussed the preparations of the inevitable in the future. We drove away, Wednesday morning; feeling good, me nervous for what will come. With uncertainty about when I would receive the work permit documents, I turned to dad’s words; all I can do is what I can control.

If a man gives way to all his desires, or panders to them, there will be no inner struggle in him, no ‘friction,’ no fire. But if, for the sake of attaining a definite aim, he struggles with the desires that hinder him, he will then create a fire which will gradually transform his inner world into a single whole.“ —P. D. Ouspensky