Thanksgiving Thoughts

I’ve written about what I’m thankful for in another post, albeit it was three years ago, but my feelings haven’t shifted much despite some major changes in my life since then.

Cue cliche line about the past year: 2016 has been a year of ups and downs. From starting out with a new band, to my pup Olive getting into an accident, to getting a promotion, and, most recently, ending a long term relationship, I’ve had to deal with quite a bit. But as I sit here this morning in an air of melancholy, I’m trying to remember what I wrote in a tiny bedroom in Oswego exactly three years ago and ground myself. I know, on the eve of my 26th birthday despite what I’ve been going through, I still have it pretty good.

This year, I’m thankful for..

Friends old and new: From band members and my Odd Fellow brothers, to those who have stuck by me over the years, if I haven’t said it, thank you. Especially as of late, you’ve helped me keep it all together.

Olive: This furry little pain in my butt has retaught me what it means to unconditionally love something. She’s taught me patience, has helped distract me when I need to clear my head, and has truly been my best friend. With the messiness surrounding my past relationship, I’m not sure what our future is together. For now, though, I will make sure to cherish every moment I get with her.

Opportunity: 1) Finding a band is hard, fitting into that band is even harder. I tried for along time to find a band that cared enough about music and was motivated to create consistently and constantly grow. With Trench, I’ve found that. 2) Jobs aren’t always easy to come by and, especially at small nonprofits and museums, the opportunities to move up are often hard to come by. I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to do that this year, which has been all sorts of frustrating, invigorating. fun, and scary. At the end of the day, I know it’ll help me in the long-term, though at this point I’m not totally sure what the ends are. 3) Love comes and goes, until it doesn’t. Right now, it’s fading and one day it’ll be gone. But I’m thankful that there will (hopefully) be opportunities for me to meet and connect with new people. It’s an opportunity for growth, to push the limits I (subconsciously) put on myself in past relationships, and to learn to open up my heart a little more.

The little things: Like I mentioned three years ago, I’m thankful for my apartment, being able to put the heat on, having some cool clothes (though some may argue otherwise), good food, and at the very least half a brain.

I turn 26 tomorrow, so perhaps it’s fitting that I’m reflecting on the past year and attempting to position myself to keep moving in the right direction. And even if it doesn’t, even if there are more downs than ups in 2016 and beyond, I know that there will still be things I’m thankful for.

 

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Rebuilding, Part II

After my high school girl friend and I broke up, I made a conscious decision to make sure I found out who I was before jumping into another relationship. From 2009 to 2011, I bounced around Oswego for school, Long Island, New York City, Italy, and Brooklyn. I did a lot on my own, a lot of soul searching. I broke myself all the way down. I remember riding my bike over the Manhattan bridge in 2010 heading to Brooklyn. I felt numb. Sometimes I would stop halfway and just look out into the City wondering what was next, wondering how I would get through this (lack of) feeling. I had a rough time working at the bike shop, where I spent most of my time. The guys were hard on me, and while I appreciate it now, it made it really hard to go in every day. Luckily, that summer, I went to visit some family and take some classes in Italy, which helped to take my mind off of what I was feeling, at least most of the time. I remember listening to Polar Bear Club’s Convinced I’m Wrong about 500 times while standing on the balcony of my room in Altomonte.

I didn’t know what to feel at that point. I was lost. When I got back to Oswego after five weeks out of the country, I began to build myself up little by little. A few new roommates helped me get involved on campus, which led to me beginning to coach hockey at SUNY Oswego. Later that school year, my college band started. I hadn’t played in a band since high school and I missed creating things (which I’m not very good at, but that’s not the point). One of my bandmates, Ian, is still one of my best friends. Anyway, that year really got the ball rolling for me becoming who I am today. I started to get my confidence back. The summer of 2011 presented me with a unique opportunity managing the bike shop I worked at the last two years, though I wish it was under better circumstances. Regardless, I worked my ass off, about 90 hours a week, and just socked away the money. It was a hard life, but as the summer went on, I built up a little confidence, met a lot of cool people, and by the time I got back to school that fall I was a different person. I had a different outlook on my life, I knew what I wanted or, better yet, what I was ready for, and took things slow.

By the end of 2011, I met one of the most important people in my life. A few months later, we started dating and I finally felt whole. I wasn’t the greatest person to her over the next five years, and we went through some rough times, by and large because of me. I took her for granted and never gave her the attention she needed. She was always there for me, through all of my bullshit, my activities, graduate school – everything. Eventually, it took a toll on our relationship (no surprise there) and it led to us breaking up recently.

I don’t know if we’ll ever get back together, but either way, I hope she finds a way to be happy. As for me, I guess I’ve been down this road before. We’ll see what happens.

 

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25 Years

Turning 25 is a milestone, but unlike others (18, 21), 25 has catapulted me into a different mindset. All of a sudden, there is a significant part of my life behind me. This is not to say, however, there aren’t more defining moments ahead (I can certainly stand to change. Okay, okay. I can stand to change A LOT). Anyway, what I mean is, this is really the first time in my life I can look back on the choices I made over the last decade as well as examine what I saw, failed at, and accomplished and I can do all of that with a sense of here and now because, hey, here I am – this is where all of those decisions got me.

Now it’s time to chart a new path, though it’s more confusing now than ever. With school and finding a first job, things were a bit more obvious. As I look forward, though, it’s been difficult to see through the fog. The milestones I create won’t have deadlines or, for the most part, a sense of urgency attached to them. This is both invigorating and scary. Aside from goals, there are a lot of things I’d like to make a habit of, like reading and writing more. Perhaps now more than ever I should concentrate on refinement instead of picking up new things. Yeah, I like that.

Here’s to another year.

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A Year Later: El Salvador, Oswego, and Saying Goodbye

10151940_10152274893111550_1680990572_nIt’s been a full year since my trip to El Salvador with SUNY Oswego. My negative feelings for the organizations involved and my alma matter have dissipated, I even started thinking about somehow starting a small fund for history students. I’m not rich, but I was even more broke as a student and would have loved a scholarship, even if it was only for books.

The people I met on the trip and I still connect every now and again, though mostly online. Around the anniversary, a few days ago, I was a little skittish. Whenever I heard a loud noise my heart would start to race. It’s gone away now for the most part, but I think every year at this time (for a while) I’ll be a little jumpy. Further, and perhaps most importantly, I better understand the situation we were in and why it happened. I cannot be mad at those individuals, which I won’t go into here. I realized right away that I had it pretty good because, in reality, I got to leave and no matter how many things were stolen from me, they had to stay.

What I’ve also been thinking about is my connection with SUNY Oswego. I miss it. I spent a lot of time there and made friends and connections that mean a lot to me. From personal to professional growth, it all happened on that campus. I miss being in class (mostly graduate school) and working with students on a daily basis during my graduate assistantship, though I do not miss the lack of pay.

This is all coming to me now because Leah and I are looking at an apartment in Syracuse tomorrow afternoon and as much as we want to move, it’ll be bitter sweet, but I think it’s for the best. The two of us will always have a place in our hearts for SUNY Oswego and the city. We know this place so well and are comfortable here. There aren’t any surprises. We know what to expect no matter where we go. We have a bar, a couple favorite places to eat, and a nice apartment. Unfortunately, tomorrow could be the beginning of the end for our time living there.

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It’s Been A While (Redux)

I keep saying I’m going to start to write here again to get my thoughts out on paper and hopefully clear my head from time to time.

So here it goes…

This morning while looking out of my kitchen window over the Oswego River, I realized something important about why I live my life the way I do. Growing up in a family that never had much, though my mom made sure my brother and I had everything we needed and worked hard to do so, I realized early on the value of hard work and never wanted to struggle like my mom did to raise a family or even just live life the way I want to. I don’t need much and I certainly work hard for what I want, but my struggles aren’t the same as my mother’s were and I’m thankful for that.

My struggles, day to day, include finding time to balance all that I do: A full-time job, a part-time job, being in a band, coaching a hockey team, being on the board of a museum, writing for an Islanders hockey website, having a social life and even alone time. I work two jobs, not because I have to, but because I’d rather have a difficult time balancing the two (and everything else) than finding a way to pay my bills on time (or at all). Now, don’t get me wrong, I understand full well that money doesn’t buy happiness and I know I could stand to “live” life a bit more, but right now I’m trying my best to establish myself. Not with anything or anyone in particular, but with me. I want to feel good about where I am and despite needing to go out and do some stuff like travel and teaching myself things, I think I’m getting there.

The lesson? All struggle is not created equal.

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El Salvador Journal: Part V – The Final Days

It’s been a really, really long time since I wrote about this trip. I’ll try to make this as clean and to the point as possible due to the content and the fact that I want to finish this damn thing already. It’ll be based on my notes from March 20th to our last day, March 23rd. It may be confusing, but most of the time I’m waking up the next day writing up the night before or writing on the bus ride home from a site in the middle of the day.

Before I start, I want to say how much the people on the trip meant to me then and still mean to me now. These are some of the strongest humans I know.

So this entry goes out to Tim, Courtney, Ryan, and Andrew.

(Deep breath)

3/20 “My voice didn’t come back, but we did have a good day of work despite the long drive to the site. We went to a day care/living compound that was about an hour away from where we were staying. We were told that this group was displaced a number of times and was given these block housing, concrete homes.

It was a pretty scary part of El Salvador. We showed up and guards were at the gates , learning later that they were not always there and were hired to protect us. They were with us the entire day and we weren’t allowed out of their sight. Our job for the day was to give the kids there some attention, paint parts of the compound, and help clean up the school yard.

Before the supplies arrived, we played soccer with the kids: U.S vs El Salvador. It was fun, though I don’t think we won. These kids were good, but we held out own out there. The most important part was the kids loved it and wouldn’t let us stop playing, even when the supplies showed up. I felt bad just standing around most of the time, there weren’t enough paint brushes for everyone, so I rounded up some kids and a box of garbage bags and we walked around cleaning up for an hour or so. It was great to see them get excited about cleaning up their little community. Later on I was able to start painting and it was nice to be in the shade for a little while.

After passing a Walmart/mall on the way to the site, we decided to stop there on the way home. Our search for Cubans continued, but to no avail. We did, however, get ice cream, which is nearly just as good. After getting back to our house and going for a swim in the ocean followed by the pool and a shower it was time for dinner. Chicken, potatoes, beans, and rice.

After dinner,Ryan and I decided it was our turn to wash the dishes for the group and give our cooks a break. After all, there were more than 30 of us on the trip with both groups. A friend of mine told me they did that last year, so I made sure we did it too. Later on was “Skit Night,” created by one of our trip leaders, Tim. I was a judge for no other reason than I was tired and not feeling very creative. All the skits were hilarious, and the five other judges and I, which included parents from the Kansas City group, played the roles of American Idol and Voice characters while critiquing their performances.

As the night wound down, a few of the girls from the KC group started asking me about the last few years of my life and what was next when I got home. When I looked at them, I remembered doing the same thing, asking people older than me what was next and being in awe of what they were doing.

Now that I’m here, it’s not that glamorous. Anyway, it’s time for bed.

3/21 – We started our day a little later today (9am), meaning everyone was much happier with the extra 40 minutes of sleep, mostly me. Today’s site was closer than the others, about 30 minutes away from the house.
We had to dig a 6x6ft hole behind a house for a bathroom. The sun was the hottest it’s been all week, making this job one of the more exhausting ones. It did feel good to do some manual labor and see the finished product for a change. Anyway, it wound up being so hot that we left around 1:30pm as many in the group were severely dehydrated. As much as I needed water, I began to get sick of it. Lesson learned, though- Always bring salty foods to hot places to help absorb water. As much as I drank, I would immediately sweat it out. On the way home we stopped for ice cream (again) and upon our return the normal beach, pool, shower, nap routine continued wonderfully. Currently I’m just hanging out waiting for dinner.

3/22 – Before dinner last night, the 30 of us got into a circle and talked about what the trip has meant to us, our favorite parts, etc. It was hard not to say I, because in reality this trip wasn’t for me- it was for the people here. My personal growth was very secondary to that. Either way, it was nice to hear everyone’s thoughts. Afterwards, of course, it was dinner time. The night turned into round two of 20 questions with the other group as they asked me about Oswego, the snow, school, and my girlfriend gasping at how the snow covered our cars regularly. As the night wore on, the music got a little louder and, despite my voice still being pretty shot, everyone sang along to crummy pop songs and had a good time. By 10, it was time for everyone to hit the sheets, mostly the KC crew because they had to catch their flight north in the morning. As for today, it’ll be a day of sight seeing and whatever else we can manage to fit in. On a side note, while writing this on the balcony at 6:45am, I finally started my idea for a book that I’ve been thinking about for a while. Figure my mind is as clear as it will be for some time so why not get the thoughts out while I could.
Breakfast is in a while, so I’m going to hang out and keep writing until then and start our day.

3/23 – The last 24 hours are something I will not soon forget. Saturday started out like all the others- breakfast, hanging out, and off to the vans. We went to a Mayan ruin museum, had lunch a gorgeous lake, hiked a volcano, and bought souvenirs, which included a hammock, a small picture, and a jewelry box for Leah. The day was pretty amazing.

We got home around 5pm, went to the beach for swim and showered. Earlier in the day we moved our stuff from where we were staying to where we had been eating our meals. We settled in when we got back from sight seeing, but there wasn’t a huge need to unpack as we were leaving in the morning. We ate dinner and went outside in the backyard to hang out, play cards, and smoke cigars that Tim found, though they weren’t Cubans.

As we were winding down our game around 10pm, we heard a really loud crash and saw a guy hit the top of the outhouse and fall to the ground. Next thing we knew, there were 12 to 15 gang members with guns and machetes telling us to get on the ground. Some hopped the 10-12 foot concrete wall with barbed wire while others somehow got through the house. They took everything we had on us as others went through our bags upstairs while we were being held on the ground. Eventually they marched us into a room and told us not to come out for 10 minutes, which we did when we thought they really left and tried our best to take in what had transpired.

No one was hurt and a lot of our stuff was taken including laptops, watches, money, clothes, and backpacks. Personally, I didn’t lose much as I travel pretty lightly. I lost my leather-man, my necklace, a hoodie, the small picture and a hammock I bought earlier in the day, a crummy watch I bought for the trip, and $40. Courtney had 95% of her stuff taken, Tim both of his cellphones, Ryan his shoes and random other things, and Andrew clothes and his laptop. Staying with us that night was a Brazilian girl, Juliana, who had $1000 stolen along with her laptop and her passport. I hope everything works out with her.** My license and debit card weren’t taken because they were in a small pocket with a zipper. Wish I had put some more things in there now that I think of it.

Luckily our passports survived the ordeal.

At the end of the day, everyone being ok is what’s really important. We were really scarred at the end of it all and because my phone was magically not taken (it was charging on the bed and not in my pocket or bag so they didn’t see it) we used it to figure out how to get out of the house. Tim’s whole backpack was taken, meaning all of our contact information for people in El Salvador went with it. The bill will be unreal, but I’m hoping I can figure that out later.*

The experience was eye opening. I have never been in a situation at all like that and I hope I never have to again. After the ordeal and all the phone calls to people back home, we had a van bring us to the organization leader’s home where we stayed for the night. Mike was surprised to hear about what happened and, from what he said, this had never happened to one of his groups before. Though I can’t speak for everyone, I crashed really hard after the adrenaline went down.

The morning came quickly and more conversation and questions about the night before started just as fast. We ate whatever breakfast we could muscle down and off we went to the airport. I was able to FaceTime with Leah at Mike’s and my Dad at the airport to let them know everything was ok. Currently, I’m on the flight to Atlanta and I’ve never been so happy to be going home. Until last night, I really liked being in El Salvador, despite the extreme poverty and huge class gaps. I’m not sure I’ll ever go back, but I need some time to process all of this. Aside from having a gun pointed at me, I was pretty upset about losing my necklace I got when I was 10 and have been wearing ever since. It’s material, sure, but it meant a lot to me. I’m also not happy that I now have negative feelings about a place that needs as much help as possible and, overall, was an amazing experience that I would have spoke very highly about.

I won’t look at all the pictures with the excitement I had when I first took them. The stories won’t feel the same as when I lived them. Spanish will, for a while, be the language of fear. We just had the in-flight lunch and coffee- there’s about 45 minutes left on the flight until we get to Atlanta. I guess this concludes the journal. I really wish the ending was different and cannot think of a non-cliche phrase about “bad things happening to good people” that will aptly describe what took place.”

*AT&T were really cool about it and understood the circumstances. The bill was $30 or so.

** From what I understand, Juliana left El Salvador a few days after we did, but haven’t heard anything since.

The following are my current thoughts on the situation and now, having some time to think about it and multiple conversations over tacos with Tim, Andrew, Ryan, and Courtney, I feel it’s time to say how I really feel about some of the things that went down and how it was handled afterwards.

This does not, in any way, reflect how the rest of the group feels as I am not a representative of them or their thoughts on these events. 

First, none of the organizations involved (Homes From the Heart, The Fuller Center, and SUNY Oswego) did  their homework on this. From what I learned afterwards about the current situation in El Salvador (as far as from January 2014 to the present) we should not have been there. Last year’s trip isn’t this year’s, though that seems pretty simple in so much as you can’t plan on the same things happening each time in a country located in the murder triangle of Central America. Between the high murder rate and the political situation, as much as they need help it wasn’t worth what happened to us to go into that situation. Though we should have done some research, these organizations planned and sent us there meaning they should probably know exactly what the situation is there and make sure the other people involved also understand, to the best of their abilities, what’s going on there. Everyone assumed because nothing had ever happened before that it wouldn’t happen this time.

Second, how all the organizations handled it afterwards may have been even worse. The Fuller Center and Homes From the Heart said “This never happened before and there’s not a ton we can do.” They wound up giving us the trip cost back, but thinking about it now, I would have really liked a public apology on their behalf saying “Hey, we messed up, but this isn’t going to happen again on our watch. We’re sorry.”

SUNY Oswego decided to sweep it under the rug as fast as possible and I regret signing the piece of paper saying I wouldn’t pursue further, though nothing says that none of us can’t with the Fuller Center. At the time, we all wanted to get this over with and move on, and I think they took advantage of that. Also, having us sign something means they know they did something wrong. They too offered us reimbursement for the things we lost, though I later learned they have specific insurance for things like this and decided to not fill us in on or didn’t want to file the claim for whatever reason. The people they had speaking with us from the college were also not exactly who should have been having conversations with us- high enough that they had a title and low enough to not really know anything if we had questions.

Now, I will say that the programs that the Fuller Center puts together as well as SUNY Oswego’s organization of these trips is usually good. It’s just hard to swallow when it seems as simple as double checking that things are the way they should be before we go. Trips like this need to continue to happen and I hope both of these organizations learned a valuable lesson, though I would have preferred it not be at my or any one else’s expense.

A place I spent thousands of dollars at for six years worth of school and held multiple jobs pushing the great ideas of the college now has a sour taste in my mouth along with a place that desperately needs help. It may take a while for that to go away.

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The end, the beginning, and then…

20140504-132636.jpgA lot of things are ending in the next couple of weeks- I’ll be graduating with a master’s degree ending my academic career (for now), my assistantship contract is up ending my job at SUNY Oswego, and my museum internship will be completed with the ending of this semester.

The good news is, there are great things waiting for me on the other side. I start a job at Onondaga Historical Association in a month, I continue my job at a foundation, and I gain the freedom to, well, do whatever I want.

Thinking back, I always had a good excuse for why I didn’t go out: school. Yes, it’s a lot of work. No, I shouldn’t have done that. Now, I’m at a crossroads- I can decide I’m going to be boring and make excuses or I can go out and do something, anything, in the time I make for myself. I can’t keep saying I don’t feel like driving or spending money. If I want to do something I’m going to go for it.

I’m going to go at my jobs with everything I have as well as my personal life.

I want to start projects, books, trips, and whatever else to learn and grow outside of a classroom. I’m going to meet people wherever I go and learn to love to do new things. And sometimes, when the mood strikes, I’ll be a bum and sit around drinking beers at a bar with my friends, but that’s not all I’ll have to look forward to.

I feel good about starting a new chapter in my life. This one needed to end. And then? Well, who knows.

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