Monday, July 25, 2016

Top 10 Ways I Could Have Died On The AT (But Didn't!)

Ranked in descending order of how much each idea scared me while on the AT:

1. starvation as a result of being unable to call for help due to full-body paralysis caused by a broken back/neck via falling tree or tree limb during the night
2. randomly murdered by another person, probably with a knife or machete
3. skull crushed by falling tree
4. mauled by a bear
5. bitten by a poisonous snake (this is the option that I came closest to actually experiencing, as evidenced by photo below)
6. struck by freak lightning storm
7. anaphylactic shock induced by swarm of stinging yellowjackets/bees/wasps
8. swept away/drowned in flash flood
9. slip/fall/hit head on rock OR bleeding out from broken leg
10. falling off a cliff or into a ravine

But none of that happened, hooray!!!




Wednesday, June 29, 2016

AT Intro

Having crossed the North Carolina-Tennessee border exactly ten times since deciding to move to Nashville this past February, it seems completely appropriate to me that I should spend the next two weeks hiking the 224-mile stretch of the Appalachian Trail along this shared border. The line divides my two home states: one in which I was born and spent my first three years, one in which I grew up in the twenty years following. The former where I now claim residence, the latter where my mind will always go when I hear the word “home.” Maybe, after my upcoming year of living in Nashville, Tennessee will begin to hold feelings of home. Starting tomorrow and for the next two weeks, I’ll walk that line quite literally. I’ll walk it figuratively in the next twelve months — and maybe longer; my 12-month lease is, terrifyingly, the only plan I have for my immediate or long-term future.

So here’s to the land of the long-leaf pine, and here’s to the Volunteer State. Here’s to being born in a city sought by dreamers, and for having the chance to return as a young adult overwhelmed by the infinite possibilities of young adulthood. Here’s to a lost Tar Heel finding my beat in Music City — to all the steps I’ve planned, and the unknown steps I’ll take after.

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Sunday, May 22, 2016

Graduation Anniversary

Mulling over the significance and personal impact of my college graduation — which happened a year ago last week — has largely dominated my internal monologue in the last twelve months.

I've never been big on anniversaries for anything. In high school, I laughed at couples who celebrated their "month-iversaries." The anniversary of my mom's death has become more meaningful as my memories of her fade, but that's more about time passing in general than a specific number of days or months or years.

Even so, I vaguely expected (maybe hoped for?) some sort of insight from the arrival of the date marking one year since graduation. Some measure of closure, maybe. The core of my struggle has been the discrepancy between society's high value and enthusiastic celebration of graduation (it's the launching point for the entirety of your adult life!), and my contrasting spiral into a frustrated and confused depression upon experiencing said important life event. I still hate that I struggle so much to reconcile those perspectives, but I have gained — at the very least — some understanding of why it happened/is happening. I'm not quite ready to blog about those complex and deeply personal reasons (most of which are directly linked to my ego). But I can now express some hope for the future, which I was completely unable to do six months ago.

I'm sloooowly setting up a life in Nashville, and I carefully keep in mind things I can look forward to here:

  • I have friends from my restaurant job
  • I have several "friends of friends" connections that I can leverage to make more friends
  • I can afford my own apartment, which I am extremely excited to set up and decorate
  • I have several professional connections that I am hopeful will lead to a full-time job
  • Nashville always has fun events happening, and I know where and how to find them — and I have the energy to go! 
  • I have friends in nearby Chattanooga, friends with whom I can plan camping trips
  • I'm plugged into the UNC alumni community, through which I can make more friends
  • I know of several opportunities for the type of volunteering/community service that I enjoy
  • There are many cafes, restaurants, breweries and bars to check out — I'm far from being able to say what my favorite places are
  • I can run the Rock & Roll half marathon next year, with a better time — OR run the full marathon :)
  • Flying home is quick and easy
  • Nashville has so many pretty parks that are perfect for hammocking and reading

I guess what this list shows is that I'm learning how to focus on the future rather than the past. For me, graduation was like getting dumped — but I reacted like my boyfriend had died. It took me a long time to stop dwelling on the good times that were over. I'm still not completely healed, but I've trained my mind to not go there anymore, which helps me not hate life as I experience it. Quitting my first job and moving to Nashville was largely about gaining enough calm and space to rebuild a stable psyche, and I'm happy that I've been succeeding at meeting that fundamental need. Happy to report that emotional breakdowns are occurring no more than twice a month! Which is a huge improvement from every day, as it were in Austin. 

So..... one year after graduation, I can finally say: here's to horizons, hazy as they may be.

Blue Ridge Mountains, Dec. 2015

Friday, May 20, 2016

My Apron Is a Shield

My apron is a shield
Deflecting the slosh of lava from the dish pit
Invincible to smears of aioli and au jus
Bombed by bad tips!
Dodging sniper customers!
Complaints whiz past!
Barrel through the land mines of forgotten drinks and sides!
Escape the siege of flirtations cooks!
Managers throwing menu quiz questions like barbed arrows!

And this steak is too rare!
And where's that lemon I asked for?
And we need more crackers, ten minutes ago!
And is there tarragon in the sauce?

My apron is a shield.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Half Marathon Musings

I used to think I was a person not motivated by numbers. I'm values-oriented, not metrics-driven, I thought. My half marathon last weekend forced me to acknowledge that I was mistaken. I got a huge thrill from the numbers involved with training for a long race. How many miles today? How many miles this week? How long did it take? What's my pace? My mileage splits?

Those questions started simmering in the first few weeks of my training, and sizzled into a full boil when I bought myself a GPS watch about three weeks before the race. All of a sudden, my numbers were recorded and analyzed for me with new breadth and precision. I focused more than ever on keeping my training pace under 8:30 (the slowest pace I could maintain and still meet my finish time goal). After runs, I studied a graph generated by the watch that showed the correlation (or more accurately, a happy lack thereof) between my pace and elevation change during runs.

(I think it's very good that I never weigh myself, because I can imagine myself becoming unhealthily obsessed with manipulating those numbers, too.)

Most of all, I loved knowing that every step I took during every training run was a direct input to my final race performance. That big-picture goal was immensely motivating to me, and I never once skipped a run or "cut corners" (figuratively or literally) on run lengths, as prescribed by the training plan I adopted from the Internet. Somewhere Mile 7 during my half marathon, I reveled in feeling the payoff from those 10 weeks of dedicated training (259 cumulative miles of training). I felt so strong and ready and... vindicated? There has to be a word for that, for the thrill of running a half marathon at goal pace because you trained super carefully for 10 weeks, and while you’re running the race you can feel so wonderfully that those 259 miles of training are paying off. It's like the feeling of getting handed your diploma after years of studying.

The diploma analogy is especially apt, because I see a perfect parallel between my approach to school and my approach to the half marathon. I stayed motivated for school because I knew that every reading assignment, every homework assignment, pop quiz, and midterm exam, all contributed in some way to my final course grade, overall semester GPA, and eventually my cumulative college GPA. The same "cumulative contribution" structure held true for the half marathon training, so I stayed committed and motivated. And loved the feeling of payoff.

This is also a key factor in my feeling of aimlessness since graduation. Where are my incremental measures of progress? What's the quantitative reward at the end? What even is the end? What am I working towards, and how do I tell if and when I'm making progress? These questions make me want to curl in fetal position under my blankets.

Now that my race is behind me, of course, I wake up in the mornings and wrestle all over again with the question of whether to run or not. When the motivation is internal only, it's a lot harder to act... I'm going to sign up for another race ASAP so that I can once again add external motivation to my running — and bring up those numbers once again — for the thrill of the race.

As for my adult life overall, or my career... goals, approach, and motivation still TBD.


with my sister, Mary McCall, at the finish line of the Nashville Rock & Roll Half Marathon (4/30/16)


Sunday, May 1, 2016

Excerpts

If I were a famous author who died tonight, the following excerpts from an email I wrote to a friend recently might be published in my posthumous biography. But unfortunately I don't have a career (path?), which precludes the opportunity :/

I wish I knew what I wanted in my career. I'd chase it so whole-heartedly if I knew what it was. My year since graduating has been characterized by feeling directionless... At Crossover I felt like a rat on a wheel, working absurdly hard without knowing why. My life pace is a lot slower now, especially since I'm once again between jobs: I left the magazine a couple days ago (a move endorsed by the director of my fellowship because the magazine didn't have the organizational capacity to support me). Luckily, the fellowship is allowing me to complete my remaining 70 hours over the next seven weeks or so with Southern Foodways Alliance. The role allows me to work remotely from Nashville and consists largely of researching for a book about Southern cocktails and blogging about Nashville to build up hype for a symposium that SFA is hosting in June. It seems like a relatively fun, low-key gig. I'm frustrated by having to switch jobs yet again, but trying to keep perspective... at least I'm still getting paid, and it's work I expect to enjoy. 

I wish I didn't love my restaurant job so much. I make about $15/hour and the work is easy and fun. I used to think I was someone who enjoyed challenge, but maybe it's just that I like variety and learning. At the restaurant I'm learning a lot about food, drinks, and people, and my only friends in Nashville are my restaurant coworkers. I can so easily see myself falling into this as a full-time job just because it feels safe and pleasant. But at the same time, my ego and my degree are shouting at me that I'm "above it" and should get a "real job." I feel immensely discouraged and overwhelmed at that prospect, though, after two immensely disappointing experiences with "real" jobs in the past year — jobs I thought would be fulfilling and fun. 

Either way, my current plan is to stay in Nashville for another year. I've already started apartment hunting. The idea of having my own place as a center of calm and peace is shockingly appealing. My life has been tumultuous at best in the past year, and I'm thinking that facilitating external stability might help me develop some internally. I'll half-heartedly look for degree-utilizing jobs in the city, with ever-sinking expectations — and keep waiting tables and learning French wines in the meanwhile. 

Happy things include: my summer plans, which are a week in Austin to visit Alban, a week at home with family, a wedding in Chapel Hill, a family vacation in Puerto Rico, and a couple of weeks of hiking in July with Yasamin. Trying always to focus on the positive...

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Haikus

On a recent slow day at the restaurant where I work, I passed the time by writing haikus, which are self-published below.


Cassoulet, confit
An array of cuisine fin
But I don't speak French.

general musings on working at a French restaurant

---------------------------

Two top, four top, six top, eight
This top keeps spinning
As I delegate

a poetic expression of my hosting duties

---------------------------

A fresh fac├ęd boy
Gone abruptly as he came
Now a ghost of lore

A note and apron
His legacy will live on
Bayden's bold adieu

the true story of a new hire who disappeared after leaving his apron with a resignation note on the host stand

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Caroline Leland, Waitress Extraordinaire

I recently completed training as a server at a French brasserie/bistro close to where I'm living. It's a part-time job to complement the 10-15 hours per week I'm spending with the magazine. My first few server shifts have been fraught with mistakes that spawn a new line of contemplation...

I spilled water on my first customer — a perfect setup for an apologetic joke about christening her as my first customer, no? My hopes for ameliorating the situation through humor dissolved with her straight-faced "oh, a cold bath to start my evening."

As the night progressed, I mistakenly rang in one table's appetizers and entrees at the same time, inadvertently poured stale coffee for another table, and unintentionally charged a woman for a drink we didn't have in stock. In summary, my night was characterized not by massive mistakes, but many. The most challenging aspect of waiting tables is that there's so much opportunity for error. So many details to keep track of at the same time. Low consequence but high risk.

I like that. It keeps me on my toes, keeps me focused and engaged, but doesn't stress me. At Crossover, I was positioned with a high risk for high-consequence mistakes. Every decision I made, everything I wrote or said to customers, directly or indirectly affected the company's revenue and viability. That stressed me immensely. The power felt like a burden. At the French restaurant, I have no power and minimal responsibility. My role is simple and clearly defined. I'm still mastering the process, but the simplicity is soothing to me — even if I am continuously wincing at my own (many, minor) mistakes.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Things I Have Accomplished Post-Graduation

Even though I'm not happy with life after graduation, I have plenty of accomplishments for which I can be proud of myself:

1. I floss every day.
2. I paid my bills and my taxes.
3. I run 15-30 miles per week.
4. I eat vegetables every day.
5. I drink my coffee black.
6. I call my grandparents.
7. I planned and executed a successful bachelorette weekend.
8. I am employed.
9. I sleep at least 8 hours every night.
10. I read books and The New York Times.


Celebrating the small achievements.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Bathos

I subscribe to a daily email called A Word A Day, which sends me a new vocabulary word with a thoughtful quote each morning. On November 19, 2015, my word of the day was bathos.


bathos

PRONUNCIATION:
(BAY-thas, -thos) 

MEANING:
noun: An abrupt descent from lofty or sublime to the commonplace; anticlimax.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Greek bathos (depth). Earliest documented use: 1638.


I almost laughed when I read the definition. I recognize that I tend to express my feelings with dramatic language — but for someone who's not used to experiencing strong emotions, it feels appropriate. Despite how much I'd like for it to be an exaggeration, the word "bathos" encapsulates how I view the past year of my life. I know it's absurd for "real life" to make me so miserable, but I have yet to figure out how to overcome my resentment of the losses to which I've struggled to adjust since graduation.

I'm lucky that school was generally easy for me. When it was challenging, I enjoyed the challenge with confidence in my studying, writing and test-taking abilities. I was confident approaching teachers and professors to ask for help or extra credit when I needed it. I was continuously affirmed by my grades — and I enjoyed the entire process because I love learning and feeling accomplished. 

Graduation stole away that comfortable and rewarding academic structure. 

In school, making friends was easy for me. I met people constantly and crossed paths with most of them multiple times, automatically cementing "friendly acquaintance" status at the bare minimum. At UNC, it seemed that I had 50 or more mutual friends with each person I met, no matter how random the context. At Duke, I fell into a selective living group that made me feel welcome immediately and throughout my time time there. In Pamplona, I clicked with Brooke and Massi from day one. 

Graduation dissolved that convenient and serendipitous social structure. 

In school, I was lucky to find activities early on that I found fulfilling and fun. I worked at The Daily Tar Heel all four years of college, rose through the ranks of APPLES in three years, wrote for Rival for two years, and led the Robertson mentoring program for two years. I committed to those organizations because I believed in their missions and effects and because I knew I could contribute to them significantly. 

Graduation erased that engaging and varied schedule structure.

General society led me to believe that graduation would be an exciting launching point for my "real" life, a significant upgrade from whatever preparatory activities in which I had previously been engaged. That expectation is exactly what made the bathos hurt so particularly much: the abrupt descent from sublime to mundane that I actually experienced was largely unanticipated. I had pre-graduation fears, of course, but never expected life after college to be so much more intimidating, confusing, and exhausting than college ever was. I've never felt more lost and lonely than I have during these months since graduation. Without the academic, social, and activity/schedule structures of college, I'm desperately — and resignedly — treading water. Struggling to survive the anticlimactic reality of adulthood as I know it. 

I can only hope that one day I'll be able to recoup the same level of happiness that came so naturally to me in college.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Nashville (Goals)

And thus begins the next chapter.

I write this from the kitchen island in a beautiful house just south of Vanderbilt University. My tiny potted succulents line the kitchen windowsills, and my groceries are in the pantry and the fridge. It doesn't feel like home — far from it — but I've been in Nashville for a week now and finally feel ready to reflect on my arrival.

I'm staying with friends of my dad, an empty nester couple whom I've come to think of as my host parents. It's humbling to live under someone else's roof after having paid for my own apartments for the last three years, but I'm trying not to overthink it.

The first day of my fellowship with Edible Nashville was last Monday. It started with a three-hour "orientation" meeting with the editor Jill Melton, who founded and has led the magazine for the past year. I walked away a bit dazed, realizing I needed to independently set and diligently pursue my own goals for this fellowship. I felt much more excited about the opportunity as a whole after spending a couple of hours writing out a list of eight goals (with sub-goals) that I will use to guide my next four months.

On Monday I also started work at a local restaurant called Table 3. Training as a hostess did bruise my ego, but I continue to remind myself that I sought restaurant experience intentionally. I want to be the best hostess the restaurant has ever employed, and then I want to train as a server and maybe even a bartender. Having goals really is essential to my psychological wellbeing. It's why working at Crossover was so hard for me: I was working so hard with no idea of what I was working towards. It was like treading water in the middle of a stormy ocean. Or like sprinting on a treadmill. Doesn't matter how many calories I burn or how much muscle tone I build: I hate feeling like I'm spinning my wheels.

But here in Nashville, I have eight goals (with subgoals) for my magazine fellowship; a clear career progression (with a specific timeline) for my restaurant job; and I'm also training for a half-marathon, aiming to run it at a 8:30 pace.

Goals.
Determined to survive adulthood.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Running In/Running Out

I run to acquaint myself with new places, and I run to say goodbye to the same places.

One of my favorite activities during my summer in New Orleans was to run up and down the Mardi Gras parade route, in the grassy strip at the center of St. Charles Avenue. As I ran, I admired the Garden District's elegant antebellum mansions reclining behind the street's long line of ancient live oaks. I wondered absently about the city's history, asking those stoic houses what they had lived through. I reveled in the brilliant, roasting sunshine and fought, undeterred, through the humidity that dragged at my lungs and feet. I ran in 90-degree weather at 7am and I ran in 100-degree weather at 4pm. My runs in New Orleans were challenging, but I endured with enthusiasm tinged with wonder.

I distinctly remember my last run that summer. As I fought the hot, heavy air that I loved, I reflected on my experiences over those eight weeks: the frustrations of living with scholars who didn't share my excitement for exploring the city; the vaguely uncomfortable challenge of navigating my first internship; the thrill of learning and applying new skills; the fondness I felt for my energetic, selfless, passionate, and entertaining coworkers; the unbridled enthusiasm (obsession?) I developed for New Orleans food and food culture. More had happened — to me and inside of me — than I ever could have predicted during those eight weeks. On my last long, sweaty run on St. Charles, I was able to process those experiences, and to say goodbye to the city in my own way. I followed the same route I always had, listening to the same music, and whispering goodbye to the graceful, ivied houses and to the bead necklaces caught in the streetcar wires. The realization of my own indelible growth since I first started running that route was exciting to me, and yet I was comforted by the path's familiarity as well as the reassuring thought that the same street would always be there upon my future visits.

My runs in Argentina carried an entirely different flavor. In Buenos Aires, I left my iPod at home for fear of theft — instead, running to the tune of lustful whistles and catcalls from men on the street. I ran to stay sane, because physical activity is key to my mental health. But the runs drove me crazy, as I ran in dread and terror past construction workers and doormen who probably never gave a thought to the impact of their piropos. They were just normal Argentinian men following normal Argentinian customs. And I was a paranoid white young woman, unable to ignore memories of the mugging that shook me so deeply on my first weekend there.

Just like in New Orleans, I became acquainted with Buenos Aires by running — whether or not my impressions of the city were balanced. I don't remember a goodbye run in Buenos Aires. I left without looking back. It took me months to gain perspective on my experiences there, because my time in Argentina was much darker and more complex than my NOLA summer.

The following summer was the best of my life thus far. I spent my afternoons running in Central Park, wide-eyed and thrilled by every detail that I could deem "New York": the skyscraper reflections in the ponds, the interracial families playing catch in the grass, the horse-drawn carriages filled and fueled by tourists. I ran to the beat of Jay Z, Lady Gaga, and CHVRCHES — the same music that pounded through my headphones to amp me up on my subway commute. In New York I felt whole, and I dwelled on that feeling as I ran. Over those 10 weeks, I balanced two food-justice-oriented, communications-intensive internships with an online class on media ethics, and I alternated my Central Park runs with blissful hours reclining on a blanket reading Spanish Harry Potter. My goodbye run in NYC was wistful, tinged with a craving to return to what distinctly felt like the center of the universe.

My goodbye run in Austin was 10 miles long. I ran the entire Town Lake loop — an endeavor that turned out much less grueling than I expected. I've developed stamina, I realized, and in more ways than one. I used to go cross-eyed after 8 hours of working on my laptop, but by now I can do 10 without taking breaks. I used to get frustrated by inter-team communication failures, but now I operate automatically in taking the necessary steps to mitigate the consequences. I used to wallow in self-pity during the endless evenings spent alone in my room, but now I'm more at peace with the loneliness of these post-graduation months (years?). All of those struggles were way worse than I could have imagined — which is maybe why the 10-mile loop was so much easier than I expected.

I enjoyed my goodbye run in Austin much more than I had enjoyed my six months there. Really only three months in total, since I traveled as often as I could. I used to cry while I ran in Austin, because running gave me space to think, and thinking made me cry. More than anything, it was the crushing loneliness that I couldn't stand. It's fitting, then, that my iPhone died during my goodbye run in Austin, and I ran 7 of the 10 miles in complete silence, alone with my thoughts — as I was for far too much of the time in Austin overall.

I don’t know where I’ll live next. But at the very least, I know now more than ever what I want and don’t want. I want to run in the heat of a sun like New Orleans’ — and I want to feel the same burn for whatever it is I’m doing with my days there. I never again want to run in fear; instead, I want to run in freedom and joy. I want to delight in the details of the scenes I see while I run, and I want those details to carry as much variety as NYC. I want to run with friends. Wherever I move next, I want my thoughts to carry me forward and not down. But no matter what, I’ll keep running.

from one of my many sunset runs on Austin's Town Lake boardwalk