A Lifetime Away: Seeing Italy as Home One Last Time

It’s official: I no longer have a home in Italy.

I mean, it will always be home in my heart, and Trieste will always be a city I can return to and find family and friends and homes to reside in, however briefly.

But my parents’ home, the home that saw me through all three awkward middle school years, through the ups and downs of high school and first recognizing my depression diagnosis, through college and the one year of grad school and those three months in 2017 when I was broke and homeless and my parents opened their doors to me. That home is gone.

I’ve already posted about what the apartment itself means to me (see post to the left, ha), but in essence, it was Home. There were times I hated it, times I loved it, and times it was a safe refuge from the hardships of the world.

And after 15 years, my parents have left that apartment, and none of us can go back to it.

But before they left, I went back to Italy for one final trip.

I spent two weeks in Trieste (and a few days here and there in Slovenia), trekking to all my favorite old haunts and exploring the places that made me who I was.

People have been asking me how the trip was ever since I got back, and the truth is: it was the best visit I’ve had to Trieste in years. Not that there was anything wrong with the others! But this one…this one was just extraordinary.

It was just under two weeks long, and I felt every second of those 13 days. In a good way! In an “I’m experiencing every second of my time here and gleaning as much enjoyment as I can from every said second and soaking it all in, from the busy days walking around and riding on boats and going to castles to the lazy afternoons drinking tea in the living room.”

Yes, that’s a run-on sentences. No, I don’t care. Moving on!

I spent a few afternoons at various beaches — and when I say beach, I mean Barcola and the beach in Piran, Slovenia, aka sidewalks where people lay out on their beach towels, with steps leading into the Adriatic Sea.

I grew up going to Barcola, but it had been…wow, something like 10 years (or more) since I’d taken myself to that beach. It was so pleasant to lie on a non-sandy ground, and the water…it was clear blue, refreshing, made me feel like I was on a cruise in the middle of summer, except I was actually 10 feet away from speeding traffic in the middle of September. Glorious.

I also got to do even more touristy things, like visit my castle (Miramare, the one tattooed on my arm); ride a boat through the harbor; eat gelato in the largest on-water piazza in Europe; go to Piran and wander around the rocky cobblestones in the city so tiny you can’t even drive into it; and eat at an Osmiza, which I can’t for the life of me figure out how to explain but click that link and you’ll find it’s worth it.

The second week I was there, I was joined by my roommate here in New York City; the first week, I spent many days reconnecting with my best friends from childhood, seeing church friends, and relaxing.

It was a glorious last visit to Italy as “home.” From now on, no matter how much I wish it were otherwise, I’ll always be a guest in the country when I return. I won’t have a base, and it feels like my options for ever moving back full-time are off the table now.

I don’t know if that’s true. Maybe I’m overreacting; that’s quite possible, knowing myself. But it’s how I feel regardless, and that’s powerful.

Viewing Trieste this one last time through the eyes of someone who might not get to go back: that was rough. I tried not to think about it, to just soak in everything I was experiencing: the joy of showing my friend around my home, the joy of visiting it myself, even the tiredness and pain that I felt from walking more than I’m used to. I tried to enjoy it even when I had to stand for 45 minutes in the tattoo parlor waiting for my new tattoo; even when I was jet-lagged and hungry and tired and cranky (which I was, because I’m human, and humans get cranky on vacation sometimes).

I wonder how much that refusal to think about saying good-bye is affecting me now, making it harder. Maybe I’ll refuse to think about that, as well. Maybe I’ll just think about nothing but the way the sun set over the water on my last night…the way Miramare looked framed by trees from a bench in the shade…the perfect magic of Piran under a beautiful blue sky…the fun of taking my roommate to all my favorite places.

Maybe I’ll just treasure the trip I had, and not think about all the trips I won’t have going forward. I’ll cherish these memories in the deepest part of my soul forever, and hope and hope to go back someday, tread the same solid ground, breathe in the salty air, and think: yes, this is still home, even after a lifetime away.

Poem a Day Challenge: An Update, After the Hospital

Two weeks into my challenge, an update — on the poems, and the week I spent in the hospital.

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The good news: I have (so far) succeeded in writing one poem every day throughout August, as planned.

The also-good news: I did this even while in the hospital for a whole week.

The not-so-good news: I was, in fact, in the hospital for a whole week.

To break it down:

  1. The “(so far)” is because I…haven’t written a poem yet today (whoops). But every other day this month, I wrote a poem — sometimes a long one, sometimes a short one; sometimes a halfway-decent one! Sometimes a really, really awful one. One day, I wrote three poems.

  2. Yes, I wrote a poem every day while in the hospital. I didn’t have a laptop or a phone (my preferred method for writing since at least 2011)…I didn’t even have a pen. I had my small notebook (given to me by my friend, it’s small and adorable and every time I look at it, I feel like I should be holed up in a cozy library room on a biiiig poofy chair), and I had a marker, and that’s about it. But I made it work. I have no idea if I’ll be able to re-read what I wrote when the time comes to transcribe the poems. But I did it!

  3. The hospital: Last Thursday, I went to the emergency room. I wanted to check into the behavioral health unit (layman’s terms: the psych ward). This would be my fourth visit. In six years. Should I be disappointed? Should I be…resigned, like this is just a facet of my life going forward? Should I be tired (I am, regardless)? I think it’s all of the above — I am accepting that this is my life and I live with a chronic illness, and yet that is disappointing, and of course, I cannot not be tired (I am always tired). At the same time, I feel…victorious.

Why victorious?

Because asking for help is freaking hard. Because checking into a locked unit, where they take your phone, your laptop, your clothes, your literal undergarments, and give you paper clothes to wear and strange meals to eat and structure your every hour around group therapy and activities and —

To prove it: here’s my hospital wristband. Also my tattoos, which I love forever.

To prove it: here’s my hospital wristband. Also my tattoos, which I love forever.

It’s so much.

It's so much and it’s so terrifying to voluntarily give up so much of your independence.

But I did it, because I realized that without it, if I didn’t make that small sacrifice, I might end up sacrificing a million things more.

I would sacrifice my sanity, my relationships, my job. I would sacrifice my future career. I may, in the end, have sacrificed my life.

All at the altar of not giving up my independence.

Is it worth it? Would it have been worth it?

I don’t know man, the fear was…so intense.

In fact, my poem for last Thursday (the day I checked in), reads

Fear

Seeping in through all the cracks 
Filtering into every thought 
Polluting the very soul until 

Until it's all cracked, creased with dirt.

That’s it, that’s the poem. Just four lines, pretty clichéd, but honest.

And this is the part where I remind you that if you donate at least $15 to one of the charities that I’ll list below (note the addition!), you can get your very own selection of poems from this month! Including very many Hospital Poems.

Please email me or comment here with questions or to know more/suggest organizations! Love to hear from y’all.

Poem a Day Challenge: August 2019

For a rundown/”too long; didn’t read” breakdown, jump to the bullet points at the end of this post!

I’ve always been a poet as much as I was a novelist or an essayist; in fact, sometimes I was even more of a poet than anything else.

“Was” being the operative word here. Since graduating college in May 2015, I’ve found myself writing less and less poetry and more and more prose. Which is fine! In that time, I’ve written three whole novels, crafting numerous drafts of each one and doing my best to perfect them. I’ve written essays and articles for my blog, other blogs, websites, newspapers.

But I haven’t written poetry.

And this month, I want to change that.

Every day this month, the goal is to write one poem. It could be a three-line free-verse about the sunset or a whole sestina about deep and complicated feelings or anything in between. I just want to get back into the habit of writing poetry, of viewing the world through that lens.

I think it made me a better prose writer, and honestly it made me happier in general when I was looking for the beauty, the music and poetry in everything from the mundane to the glorious.

(As a side note, I also want to read more poetry going forward, so if you have suggestions of amazing poets, PLEASE leave their names in the comments or email me!)

Back to my challenge: it was supposed to be just for me. It was going to me just for me. And then I read a newsletter by writer Eva Recinos, and inspiration struck: what if I used my writing, my poem-a-day challenge, to fundraise for causes I care about.

A specific cause that has been on my heart a lot of late is immigration. Between images and videos of where asylum-seekers are being held at the border, images of parents and their children in the worst of situations before they even cross the border, news of money from Congress being sent toward building a wall along the border, my heart has twisted and bled. It bleeds especially for children: for children who had no choice in what is happening to them, who believed their parents’ belief they would find a better life, who wound up separated and scared, alone and sick, in conditions that are far from humane.

In the world, not just in America, we have a crisis, one that’s been going on for years. My hometown in Italy has whole sectors filled with refugees seeking asylum. They’re from a different part of the world than the ones coming to America, but their situation is similar: they experienced hopelessness, and they fled, hoping to find something better somewhere.

I’ve never experienced the horror and devastation on the scale these refugees are suffering, but I can relate to feeling hopeless and trapped and despondent, as though life will never get better, and fleeing to find a fresh start somewhere else. And if I hadn’t had the combination of people helping me plus people not actively seeking to stop me, I wouldn’t have survived.

There are reasons, politically, why I think the current situation at our southern border is wrong. Even more, there are reasons why I think it’s unconscionable. No human deserves to be treated the way asylum-seekers have been. No human deserves to treat another the way we are treating desperate men, women, and children.

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And so, I’ve wanted to do more. I’ve donated to select organizations, and I’ve sent some emails to my representatives in Congress, but it’s not enough. In fact, nothing short of packing up my life and moving to Texas to, somehow, actively fight for change seemed like enough. And that is…not feasible.

And then I had an idea. It hit me like thunder, a loud crack following a flash of light.

I could do my poem-a-day challenge. I would use this month to encourage friends, family members, followers, strangers online, to donate to certain organizations working to help asylum-seekers, protect children, make a difference. And anyone who sends me proof of their $15+ donation will, at the end of the month, receive an e-version of the best poems (at least 15, possibly up to a full chapbook-size of 23-30).

I’m collaborating with my good friend and fellow poet Chi Oham during the month. She will also be writing poems, and I’ve begged of her to let me include several in the final compilation. I’m also trying to finalize whether I can get artwork donated to match the poems.

You should check out Chi’s website. Her work is lovely and evokes such powerful images and feelings; she’s incredibly talented, smart in a million ways, kind and hilarious. I cannot, simply cannot, speak highly enough of her as a person and a poet. And if she’s reading this, she’s likely cursing me for embarrassing her but IT’S TRUE THESE ARE ALL TRUE THINGS.

So now for a breakdown of the details. I know I’ve said a lot and thank you for reading along!

  • Me: writing one poem every day for 31 days, sharing my progress on this blog and sometimes in Instagram stories and posts.

  • Chi, writing poems as well.

  • You, donating at least $15 to one of the below organizations and sending me a receipt screenshot or other proof:

  • At the end of the month, I’ll spend some time collecting and curating the best poems before sending out the collection.

    • Feel free to continue donating and sending me receipts during the intervening time; there’s really no hard cutoff, so if the month of August is a hard one financially, that’s okay, there’s always September. Or October. November. Etc.

    • If $15 is too high for you, reach out to me.

  • If you want to donate but don’t want poetry? That’s still great! I just want to do what I can to encourage and inspire people.

I welcome questions and comments and would love to hear from anyone. You can contact me through this site, you can message me on Twitter or Facebook, you can drop a comment below…you can talk to me in-person if we cross paths and you feel that’s the best way to chat!

I am thrilled about this project I’m embarking on and simultaneously filled with nerves that it’ll flop, that I’ll be raked over the coals for trying and failing. I have to tell myself that it’s worth it — because it is, I believe in this and I believe in using my art and writing to effect positive change in the world.

This is one way I’m trying to do that.

Hope to hear from some of y’all, even if just with questions! Much love from me to you <3

Pentatonix + Madison Square Garden = Best First Concert (Ever!)

A clear stage, superimposed with technicolor moving images. Five musicians, each talented in their own unique and, to be honest, mind-blowing ways, dressed in outfits that coordinate but don’t match perfectly. A New York crowd already primed for a good show, thanks to openers Citizen Queen and to Rachel Platten. All coming together on a Thursday night at Madison Square Garden: iconic, legendary concert venue.

All signs point to the MSG stop on the Pentatonix World Tour being nothing short of E P I C.

All signs were so, so freaking right.

Note: photo quality will not be the greatest; we weren’t close enough!

Note: photo quality will not be the greatest; we weren’t close enough!

It was while I was in Mexico that I got this random urge to listen to Pentatonix’s music. This isn’t necessarily out of the ordinary for me — I’ve harbored a sideline fandom for the group for years, and every once in a while said fandom spikes. I was watching their YouTube videos and of course the ads for their World Tour were just…right there.

I didn’t think it was realistic, to be honest. I’d never been to a concert, much less one for a group I adored, much less one at Madison Square Garden. I just assumed the tickets would cost $100+, I could look at it and laugh at how silly I was for daring to dream, and keep crying over how beautifully produced their music videos are.

I mean really. This is just unfair. Plus they sound like angels.

Obviously — that’s not what happened (LOL). I guess I have some preconceived concert notions.

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But enough about the backstory. Let’s talk about the story.

First things first, the opener for Pentatonix is this five-member a cappella group called Citizen Queen, who, from what I could tell in my post-concert research, kind of burst onto the scene in December with a cover video of Ariana Grande’s “No Tears Left to Cry,” and are now killing it as the opening act for Pentatonix.

They brought so much energy onto the stage and were so joyous and just…listen, this word kept running through my mind all through the concert, which was “high-octane,” and I was like, Ugh, Karis, don’t use that in your post, it’s so clichė, but at the same time it really feels like the best word.

The energy on that stage, the joy, the sheer desire to be there and happiness about it and borderline disbelief but also determination to fully crush it: this is what it’s about.

And that’s what I got from Pentatonix’s set as well. There was this moment, right after Kevin Olusola finished doing an omg-holy-cow-wow celloboxing (watch the video, for real) solo, and as a crowd we were losing our COLLECTIVE MIND because I just…I don’t have the words to describe what it was like to watch that in person.

But anyway, the point is, after he finished and the whole stadium was erupting in cheers and applause and it just went on and on, he just sat there for a second and just…took it in. And it dawned on me: this is a big deal for them.

Which, like, I should’ve known, right? I, concert novice that I was, recognized how exciting it was to go to Madison Square Garden for a concert. But I just looked at this group, who’ve been together eight years now, who have released multiple albums and won Grammys and traveled the world performing, and assumed: they’re living their dream. They’ve done it all, and there’s nothing else they want to do but haven’t yet.

And I was wrong. I mean they said it, multiple times. Kevin and Scott (Hoying) both told the crowd later just how mind-blowing it was to be able to perform in that space. And Matt Sallee, the newest member of the group, mentioned how when the group was first created and were performing on the competition show The Sing-Off, he watched them and thought about how he wished to someday sing with them.

So there he was. Last night. Performing with them. At Madison Square Garden.

And I just…it hit me. So hard. So beautifully. Getting to this point for this group, it’s taken a lot of hard work — I mean, they’ve been at it eight years!

But they did it. So…it made me feel like I can do it, too. It made me feel like, yeah, sure, I’m not where I want to be with my writing yet. But that doesn’t mean I’ll never get there.

It’s a beautiful feeling, to be able to take hope in someone else’s success, rather than despair. Usually when I see others’ success, whether that’s in writing or acting or art of any other kind; or in being really talented in a field I have no interest in, even, it bums me out.

Not last night. Last night it lifted me up.

And one more thing.

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Rachel Platten performed as well. Her set was just…can I say refreshing? Can I be clichė again? Rachel danced around that stage like it was hers, like she didn’t care what anyone thought and never had, and I found myself thinking — I want this energy. I want this confidence.

And then she stopped. And she told us that less than two hours before then she’d been sobbing backstage, sure she couldn’t perform. And then she performed this most beautiful song, “You Belong,” written for and about her newborn baby, and I…it was so beautiful. She told us, “You do not need to be perfect to be loved,” and I gasped (yes, really, and dramatically) and leaned back in my seat, crying.

After she shared with us the backstory of her incredibly popular “Fight Song,” and then when she performed it, I just…I bawled. I was trying to sing along, but I was crying so hard I couldn’t even do it.

I feel broken so often these days, guys. I feel like I’m wading through mud carrying heavy burdens on a back screaming in pain. I feel like I can’t do it.

And that set reminded me: push through it. Carry on. Fight on. There are people fighting with me, cheering me on. I have the strength to make it — or I wouldn’t have made it this far already.

Yes, life is hard. Guys, it’s so hard. Just when it seems like things are getting better, something hits me again and it’s like…how do I even deal with this? Where do I go from here?

Forward. Onward. Upward. Always.

Fight on, lovelies. If Rachel Platten can do it, if Pentatonix can do it, if I can do it, you can do it, too. Give me a holler if you need to chat — here, or Twitter — or talk to a friend or a therapist or sit down (or stand up, I don’t know what kind of movement your dream might entail!) and get it done. Let’s all get it done.

Twenty-Six: Celebrating the Flyover Birthday

Trigger warning: depression, suicidal ideation

I’m 26 today. As far as I know, 26 isn’t usually considered a “milestone” birthday. It’s not like 18, when we become adults; 21, when we can legally drink in the States; 25, which is the quarter-century mark.

Upon my 25th birthday, last year.

Upon my 25th birthday, last year.

It’s a flyover birthday, you’d think.

Not this year. Twenty-six is a birthday I have earned. I scraped and clawed and fought to get here today. To make it to this point. 

It has been less than a year since I started seeing my current doctor, about six months that I’ve been seeing my therapist on a weekly basis. There are days I still feel like nothing has changed, like I’m still struggling the way I was all the way back in the fall of 2008 when my small group leader at Black Forest Academy took me to see a counselor for the first time.

There are also days when I feel on top of the world. Days when I recognize I am doing what I can do get healthy, doing what I can to take care of myself and stay alive.

There have been so many times between birthdays 25 and 26 that I didn’t know if I would make it to this day. 

Let me count the people who would be better off if I were dead: 7.7 billion — and mostly the ones who see me every day - so I wish I was dead so I could stop hurting them and hating that I hurt them.

— Dec. 7, 9:15 pm 

A snake thought told me everyone would be better if I died and I let it wrap its hissing tongue around me, let it speak those words to me until I couldn't hear anything else. I just kept picturing myself wading into the water and letting it drown me. I wish I was dead.

— Feb. 12, 6:30 am 

They don't love me, need me, want me...they don't even like me. I'm just here cause they need the numbers. At this point it's not that it'd be better for them if I died. It would be better for me. Give me peace. 

Give me death.

— March 18, 11:15 pm 

I called the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline on March 25th at 2 in the morning. My mind was racing, hands were shaking, I felt nauseous, and through it all I knew, positively and ultimately and with every fiber of my being: I needed help. Immediately.

By the grace of God, by the generosity in time and love of my friends and coworkers, by sheer will and force and stubbornness, I made it to today. I made it to 26.

I don’t expect this year (or the next, or the next) to be any much easier than the past year has been — than the past 10+ years have been.

That’s the thing about living with mental illness. It doesn’t vanish when we want it to. I can’t pop a pill and be better. I’m not in therapy, I don’t see my doctor because I expect them to cure me.

I do that so I can survive the day-to-day.

I’ve made it so far. So much farther than, in my worst moments, I ever thought I would.

Today I’m celebrating because I’m alive. 

I’ve always been someone who loved birthdays. I’ll be upfront and say that so much of that adoration came from the fact that I liked the attention, I liked being celebrated. 

These days, though, part of it is that I’m celebrating life in general. Each birthday is another milestone that I’ve past. Each passing year represents another victory against the forces inside my brain trying to destroy me.

Yes, a hard copy would be a bette picture, but we work with what we’ve got!

Yes, a hard copy would be a bette picture, but we work with what we’ve got!

Here’s the thing: there’s always something to stay alive for. 

I posted once on Twitter about how depressed I was, and someone asked me what I looked forward to. The honest answer in that moment was: new books my favorite authors were releasing (author plug moment! Sandhya Menon releases There’s Something About Sweetie on Tuesday, I’m reading through it and absolutely adore everything about it!).

The other part of the answer was that I knew if I died in that moment I would never know how Brooklyn Nine-Nine ends. 

Today, some things that I want to live for: to go back to Trieste in the summer; to see Rebeca star in a play again; to fall in love in the city; to see my name on the front cover of a book; to go back to Mexico City and visit all the sites this time; to meet all the beautiful people in the world I haven’t met yet and would never meet if I died.

What are you looking forward to?

I Went to Mexico and All I Got was My Beautiful Tattoo

First things first, the title is a joke because I’m not just ridiculously obsessed with my tattoo, I’m also pretty obsessed with Mexico City and would never say that the tattoo is the only good thing to come of my vacation.

I also got great engagement on my Twitter thread!

Ahaha another joke ;) Mostly I just wanted an excuse to make everyone read the thread because, yes, there’s gorgeous pictures, but there’s also a hint at the key takeaway from the trip.

It’s this one.

See, the thing is, ever since I moved to New York City in 2015, I’ve become so much more confident. It’s noticeable in every part of my life, all the way from road tripping from South Carolina to NYC last March on the faintest hint that maybe there was a job, to walking the streets dancing (horribly) without a care, to even planning a solo vacation to another country in the first place.

It’s also clear in the way that I will send my writing, all vulnerable and gut-spilling, out into the world. Has it ever terrified me? I mean…I guess. I truly don’t know anymore.

But I landed in Mexico and within a few moments I was…oh, man. I was a middle schooler again, in a whole new place and surrounded by people I didn’t know and I was terrified.

I texted my coworker at one point just to say…I CAN’T ORDER FOOD!!! I swear, every time I went out to eat, I would carefully choose the restaurant beforehand and just…something went wrong? Twice I couldn't even find the restaurant, as though it had vanished into a wall.

And then I ended up somewhere entirely different, and my well-laid plans (which included what to order!) were all out the window. Which is how I ended up with Pizza al Pastor one day (strange, but it worked!) and that shrimp plate another (I had the hardest time getting the shells off, and it was such a fancy restaurant, and I was like the only person there eating, and I all but had a meltdown).

The other thing I realized really quickly after getting there was…I was exhausted. Like, physically just worn on out. I’d worked the past 12 months without really any vacation days, just weekends; I was also flipping from an overnight to a daytime schedule on a dime, just flying to another country and hoping I could handle the change.

Technically, I could, but the payoff was that my body forced me to sleep about 12 hours every single one of the nights I was in Mexico City. Honestly I’m not even complaining about that because man was it needed, except of course all of my well-laid plans for tourist activities (Palais de Bellas Artes! Walking tour of downtown! Chapultepec Castle! A rooftop jazz concert!) just…evaporated.

I would leave the house, take an Uber to the carefully selected (and usually, again, somehow invisible!!!!) restaurant, find a new place to eat, and by the time I was done, I just…couldn’t anymore.

At first I felt a bit like a failure for that.

Okay, “a bit” is a lie. I felt a lot like a failure. Until I realized there were still things I was out there seeing and enjoying and reveling in: for one, the parks. There’s so many gorgeous parks, and then so many trees in full-bloom just chilling on the sidewalk. It’s such a vibrantly colored city, not just in the architecture (which is gorgeous) but in the flowers, the trees, the richness of the flora. April was a good time to go, y’all.

Got off-track for a second there but now I’m back to say: I felt, for a while there, pretty guilty about how I was vacationing. I mean, come on, it’s not every day you get to go to Mexico! Why wasn’t I taking full advantage of where I was? Why was I so tired that, even arriving at Bosque de Chapultepec, at the foot of the castle that I had been so anxious and excited about visiting, I turned tail and went back to my Airbnb? Why couldn’t I convince my brain to wake up earlier than 11 a.m. or even noon, when at home in New York, there are days I barely sleep 4-5 hours and still manage to get up on time?

I don’t have all the answers. I know that I felt terrible, though, enough to Tweet another #KarisGoesOnVacay tweet, apart from the thread, about my feelings of guilt, loneliness, depression, anxiety.

…I’m tired. My body just aches. I leave the house for an hour and I feel like I’ve been run over by a truck. My brain feels like it’s been turned into freaking mashed potatoes. And the more I beat myself up for not being able to just SUCK IT UP and have fun, the more I get depressed. And feel like I’m never going to be who I want to be. 

I try to live by radical honesty. So today’s dose of honesty? I am exhausted. I want to curl up in bed. I don’t know what to do with myself for two more days that stretch on and on. So. There it is.

So in the end, when people ask me “how was Mexico?” or “did yo have just the best time?” I…don’t know how to answer them. Because truthfully, Mexico was (and remains) an incredible place. Mexico City is gorgeous, warm and welcoming and filled with beautiful architecture, a history you could study for ages and not get to the bottom of, friendly people who put up with my stumbling Spanish and were willing to combine our languages when we needed. It’s a city filled with tourists but it’s a city that is home to so many people, and that’s a combination that’s rare to achieve: so many touristy cities are so crammed with camera-wielding tourists that it’s hard to get a sense for the realness of the place.

So how was Mexico? It is glorious.

Did I have just the best time? I had a good time. I had a restful time. I had a stressful time, a lonely time, a sometimes-depressed time, an anxious time, a time-of-stressing-about-work time. It was so many things.

Nothing will ever be just “one” thing. No experience will ever be easily and neatly wrapped up in a bow. This vacation was no different. I will never regret it, not even the fact that I went alone. I will never regret the permanent mark on my skin that reminds me of the time I was spontaneous and brave enough to go to Mexico alone, even if I lost that courage in the country.

Baby steps, I guess.

I Moved Back to New York: Backstory and Update

Well, well, well. When I wrote my last post in this blog-roll on January 18, I definitely did not intend to go literally six months without writing another blog post! 

And yet here we are, six months later, and this is the first post I've written since then. Ha! Such is life, isn't it? It literally always takes you by surprise.

Another surprise: this section is no longer called "Travel." Yeah. That worked really well while I was in Europe and not working full-time and, therefore, actually able to travel, but it hasn't been a huge part of my life the last six months, to be honest. And I wanted a place to just sort of hash out my thoughts that are more miscellaneous, and/or give updates on important life events.

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So, one update: I'm back in New York! If you follow me on social, you may already know this. In mid-February while I was in Columbia, SC, I fell into a pretty dark depression. I was seeing a doctor and a therapist and looking for jobs, and I just couldn't get out of the pit. And I missed New York. It was unhealthy how much. I was in a bad place mentally and unable to handle my homesickness. 

And there was one thing I could do about it, so I did: I applied for a job that I had interviewed with before leaving New York, and after interviewing on the phone and feeling confident that I could at least make it to the next step of the hiring process, which happened to be a paid training period in the city, I made the decision to move up here.

The past four months haven't been easy, by any stretch of the imagination. I mean, I literally had, like $150 in my bank account when I left, or some nonsense like that. I was incredibly broke. At the same time, I didn't think I had the luxury of waiting. I didn't have good job prospects in South Carolina and, again, I was deeply, dangerously depressed. I was honestly afraid of what I would do if I stayed. 

So I left. It was impulsive, and I went against the wishes of some people who I love and care about a lot. And things didn't turn out rosy and beautiful immediately. In the four months I've been in the city, I've lived in 10 different apartments, in three different boroughs (and twice in New Jersey). I left my car in a parking garage for three months without actually setting up an agreement to leave it there (and got it back thanks to people being gracious toward me). I have been completely broke more times than I can count — to the point where I went 24 hours without eating once; where I had $5 to get through a weekend; where I ate nothing but cereal and leftover shrimp lo mean for three days, and didn't leave the house at all because my MetroCard was expired.

I've been stretched completely thin so many times. And if I suddenly woke up in my bed in Columbia in March, knowing every single thing that lay before me on this trip, I'm not sure I would have the strength or the courage to come back. 

But I don't regret doing it. 

Things still aren't perfect, or set in stone. I'm living in an apartment in Queens, but only until the end of August, because that's when my sublet ends. I have a doctor and medication, but not a therapist. I miss Italy viciously, all the time. I haven't worked my novel in over a month, as much as I desperately desire to. I work the graveyard shift so I sleep during the day and sometimes that means I miss out on socializing with people. 

But I don't regret doing it.

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It's hard to explain, and even harder to understand, why I feel so tied to New York. Why I feel like I have to be here. It's not just that I love the city. I feel like I am meant to be here. Like my soul belongs here. And quite frankly, it's the closest city in America to the way of life I had in Italy, and so it's the easiest in which to live without agonizing over how much I miss my home (so, so much). 

The truth is: I don't feel like my time in New York is over yet. I don't feel like I gave it my all. I feel like I have to fight harder. Because, yes, life here? So incredibly, freaking hard. My word. So hard. 

But here I am. It's been an incredibly difficult period of four months. I am so blessed, and so grateful, that people have supported me. My friends, my family, even my job...I told myself I didn't deserve any help, because I made a choice to return here, and so it wasn't on anyone's shoulders to help me. And yet, they did. 

I am blessed to have been helped by people. I am humbled by their love and support for me. Thank you.

Currently, I'm working full-time on a contract basis for a startup based in Manhattan. I am trying to get back into blogging and writing about books after a few months of a creative coma. I am still working on my latest novel, ALLIE MAE DOESN'T GET THE GUY, and my dream is still to be a published author of young adult fiction someday. I'm trying to get better about buying groceries as opposed to ordering takeout. I'm trying to work on my mental health.

There's a lot going on. There are moments of devastation, when I look at life and how long it is and how hard it is and I just despair. But those pass. 

They always pass. 

Hey, I love you guys. Thanks for reading this really long post. Let me know how you're doing!

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A Tale of Two Terrible Airport Transfers

The plane landed thirty minutes late, and I was in the second-to-last row. With my heart in my throat, I tapped my foot erratically, chewing my lip and praying that I would somehow manage to make my connection.

I was at London Heathrow, and I only had one hour to catch my flight back to the US, a flight I was determined to catch if it cost me my sanity and the breath in my lungs. 

As soon as I could, I charged off the plane. I was on the verge of a hyperventilating fit as I marched through the airport. I was stopped by a man behind a desk who calmly said he liked my hair. "Oh, and Karis is such a pretty name," he added. 

It was all I could do not to scream, "I'm late for my flight I don't care if you think I look like Helen of Troy just let me gooooooo!"

Fortunately, I resisted that urge.

Finally, finally, finally I was released to wait for the shuttle bus. I had 55 minutes until my flight departed, 35 until the gate closed. The bus trip between terminals took 12.

Heart in my throat, I shamelessly cut people off in my haste to get into the terminal. I raced to security, where I waited...waited...waited...

I was finally through! I was going to make my flight! I was invincible, I was — wait, what? Why was my bag being pushed to the side? Wait, no! No! Don't put it in line for extra screening! Nooooo!

My bag was at the end of a line, seven bags strong, all of which needed to be checked. The man doing the checking was, well, taking his sweet time swabbing every single article, wandering off to, I dunno, fluff his hairs, returning and swabbing another article...you get the picture. 

I waved my boarding pass frantically and shouted at everyone that I needed to get to my plane. Finally, a woman, a lovely, breathtaking, amazing woman took pity upon me. She grabbed my bag, hurried to a desk, and after ascertaining that my tripod was, in fact, harmless, sent me on my way, with a quick, "Make a left at the end of the hall and then run!"

Bless you, security woman at Heathrow.

After sprinting through the terminal, I arrived at the furthest gate (of course). I was bedraggled, out of breath, and flushed. At the sight of me, the gate agents whooped. "Are you K. Rogers?" they asked.

Sure.

I was aboard the flight. My ordeal was behind me. All would be well!

Except this flight also landed thirty minutes late! I only had one hour to make it through Philly, and of course the powers that be had decided everyone and every bag had to make it through customs. Darn them!

After spending an obscene $5 for a baggage cart and waiting for 15 wasted minutes, I collected my bags, rushed through customs, caught up with a father-daughter-duo whom I'd overhead saying they were going to Charlotte, and then raced to beat them to the security line. They were my insurance policy.

After waiting for a nail-biting 10 minutes in line, I was finally free. My bags were making it through the x-ray machine, and then! Oh, and then — yet again, my bag was selected for extra screening.

The father-daughter left with promises of letting the gate agents know I was coming, and I stood there and watched as six (count 'em, six) security dudes milled about and cracked inside jokes and assiduously avoided my pleading gaze.

So I began to cry.

I'm not proud of it (well, maybe a little), but I brought myself to tears. That got their attention! They became very kind and hurriedly checked my bag, then sent me on my way, promising that gate A26 was "not that far."

Liars, the group of them!

I had to run like the wind and I still barely made it in time.

But make it I did! And the woman next to me was kind enough to offer me tissues for my exercise-induce runny nose, and shortly after boarding we were flying through the skies.

It was...the worst trip ever. But worth it for the story!

When You Love But Have to Leave

My immense and abiding love for Trieste should be no secret to anyone.

And if you didn't know before: I adore Trieste, Italy, with a fierce passion, almost tantamount to that I hold for New York City. Yeah. It's that real. 

I love her (because of course Trieste is a she) in all her forms, in every mood and shade, through sunset and sunrise and rain and sun. I love her yesterday, today and tomorrow. I love her with every fiber of my being.

It feels like I've always loved Trieste, but I know empirically that isn't so; we were supposed to move to a city called Ravenna, and I resented Trieste for replacing Ravenna. And yet. Almost from the second I stepped foot on th ground in this city, I fell for her. 

Trieste is the most beautiful city I know. She shines for me. She soothes me. When my mind is in turmoil and my heart won't stop pounding, I walk down to the Molo, stride to the edge of the pier, and breathe in. I look out across the water, then turn around and take in the sights of my city, and everything settles inside of me.

She's been through a lot. She was in constant battle with Venice, ruled by the Austro-Hungarian empire, taken over by Yugoslavia after World War II, then spent years under Allied occupation before Italy finally, finally, returned to her in 1954.

I was here in 2004, when the city gathered in the main plaza to celebrate the 50th anniversary of "Italy's return to Trieste." 

This city hums with life and humor. It's the architecture, the street design, the water, yes, but it's also the people who live here.

Triestini are vibrant, hilarious, spontaneous, adventurous. They love life, and I love them. 

I've spent three months here and yes, there have been rough patches, but man, oh, man, do I ever, ever, ever, adore this city! 

And I have to say goodbye to it.

I've been coming to terms with it slowly for the past month or sol.

It's good, I said, because I need to go back to having my own space; living under my parents' roof for such a long time, after at least six years of independence, has been difficult for all three of us. 

Or maybe, I thought, it's good because I need to see a doctor. I need a therapist. I need a routine, stability, a job.

I've made up reasons for why I'm happy to leave! Books! Getting a car! Seeing friends! Okay, these aren't all "made up," but they're not so much reasons why I'm happy to leave as reasons why it's okay that I have to leave.

Because if I weren't being upbeat and positive and thinking about all the reasons it's good, I'd be devastated. Unable to move or think or act or do because I only have four days left. Just four! That's so few.

I love this city with everything in me.

But I have to go. Right now, my future isn't here. Maybe someday it will be; maybe it'll always be a part of my future but not the whole; maybe in a year I'll be back permanently. I honestly don't know anything other than that for right now, I need to be in South Carolina. I feel called there, not just because there's a doctor but because I feel the need to be in my country while it's in such turmoil. 

This isn't a political post, though, so I won't get into that. I'll just say: there are reasons I have to leave. There are reasons I'm even, perhaps, excited to leave.

That doesn't make my love any less fierce, any less real.

I will miss walking into a bar (coffee shop), ordering a "Capo in B" and drinking my espresso macchiato out of a glass. I will miss pizza nights. I will miss inhaling the salty scent of the sea. I will miss the way the air feels different here, the way life runs just a little more leisurely, the way Italian rolls off my tongue. I will miss the high school and university kids from English Club; I'll miss the boys I babysit; I'll miss their parents and mine; I'll miss my middle school best friends. I will miss the sunset streaming through my windows and my spacious bedroom and the idiosyncrasies of life here, like how the heat can only be on for 14 hours a day and if you turn on the microwave while the dishwasher is running, the power goes out. 

I'm gonna miss it so, so much. My heart is breaking.

But I have to go. 

I'll love you forever, Trieste. Hold me in your heart while I'm gone.

Mourning New York, Forcing Myself to Look Ahead

Leaving felt so natural, and I barely cried as I drove away; yes, even as I snapped one final photo of the Empire State Building through my side-view window, I didn't feel the pang.

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In fact, I did tear up a little; but I'm pretty sure I was just forcing it. I knew I was supposed to be crying...mourning...grieving...and even though I couldn't feel those emotions naturally, I tried to make myself. To assuage the later pain. 

Didn't work.

The later pain, when it came, wrecked me. It stole my breath and left me curled in a ball under my covers, unable to appreciate the fact that I'm in Italy, because all I could think about was how I'm not in New York

I look at pictures on Instagram and my heart shudders. I read about the broken subway in the paper, and I'm overcome with nostalgia. Every time I close my eyes, my eyelids are imprinted with the sight of my Brooklyn apartment, which I can't believe I left.

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It was a beautiful apartment. Spacious, light-filled, with a balcony (!!!) and two wonderful roommates. It had a big living room where I used to sit to read the paper, write some articles, watch TV, a kitchen with two. separate. sinks, and my roommate, Rachel, quickly became one of my best friends.

The night before I left, Rachel and I went out to dinner together. We toasted to my future, stuffed our faces with pizza, and laughed about Jane the Virgin.

And all the while, it wasn't real. The fact that I was leaving this city I loved with passion, the people I'd grown to depend upon, the sidewalks and routes that had become home to me...it wasn't real.

It took a few weeks for it to really sink in, and when it did? It struck with a viciousness I hadn't expected.

I've described it as a physical ache. I miss New York so much that sometimes I feel nauseous. I miss it so much I'm surprised I don't get a spontaneous nose bleed.

New York was...the city that captured my heart. People used to ask me why I loved New York. It's dirty, they would say, or too fast-paced, too mean a city. It'll chew you up and spit you back out, wrinkled and broken. I would shrug and tell them the simple truth: that it was home.

When I stepped out of the rented car on my first adult visit to New York, back in 2013, I just felt this overwhelming sense of belonging. Like I understood the city, and it understood me, and we just made sense together.

After that moment, I made it my life's mission to get back. And for a beautiful two years, that's where I lived.

Do you think you'll live in New York forever? my friends would ask. They didn't; they had plans to eventually move to California, or the suburbs. Yes, as long as it makes sense, I responded.

How was I to know it would stop making sense so soon?

I sometimes fear I'm a rat abandoning ship too early. I look at all the times over the years I've moved or quit a volunteer job that was draining me or switched to a better-for-my-health job, and I think maybe I'm a quitter. But at least I wasn't going to quit New York.

Except I did.

I think I don't just miss the city, I miss the person I could dream of being while I was there. I miss the fast-talking, no-crap-taking, power-walking, laughing girl I was when I first got there, the girl I dreamed I would be again in a few weeks, a month, perhaps a year.

Because those people who told me New York would chew me up? 

They weren't wrong.

It is a hard city. It's frantic, and it's massive, and getting from one place to another is a job in itself, and there's little room for screwing up. 

It's a hard city, and it wrung me out and hung me on a line to dry, and I couldn't get back up. 

So I left. And I miss it every day, with nearly every breath. It's constantly on my mind, how much I miss it, how much I want to be back.

But.

But I can't be back. Not right now. The truth is, I can't function the way I did for the last year I lived in New York. I was working 40+ hours a week, plus 6-12 hours of commuting, plus either in a deep depressive episode or else trying to add 15 hours of freelance work, plus having a social life, plus reading, plus sleeping, plus this, plus that...I just couldn't do it. I couldn't afford it, financially or emotionally.

I want to keep looking into the past. I want to keep my eyes trained on New York and plunge ahead speedily with the single goal of getting myself back there. But that's no way to live.

So, as hard as it is, I'm forcing myself to turn my head and look forward. I've decided that I'm going to live in Columbia, South Carolina, for at least the next year. I'm going to commit to a job, an apartment, a cat, a church, a community. I'm going to pour myself into that life and those people and not treat any of it like it's second-best, because right now, it's best. It's the best place for me, and it's the best I can do, and it's my best option, and so it's not second-best. It's first-best.

I'm going to rejoice and "bloom where I'm planted." I'm going to keep my eyes ahead on the horizon, and if it never changes from Columbia, or if I move and travel and have myriad adventures, or if I'm shortly back in New York, I'm not going to look back at what I've given up. I can't afford to keep beating myself up over the past.

Yes, I miss New York. Viscerally. 

But I'm not going to let that stop me any longer.

And Hungary Makes 23...And Never Enough

Listen, I've got to be the most competitive person out there...got to be, because if I'm not, I'll fight whoever is until I win. Aha! I win! 

See?

Anyway, I get competitive about the smallest things, because I end up finding my self-worth in the smallest things. And I know that my true worth is found in Jesus and his love for me...I know that. I just don't always understand or believe it, ya know? 

So I look for worth in other things. I look for worth in how much I stand apart and stand out from others; in middle school, I feared I didn't have a personality, feared I was just a living, walking, talking carcass, so I found my worth in doing things and being things that made me stand out.

One fact about me that isn't true for a lot of people is that I'm an MK. A TCK. A kid who grew up in a foreign land. That sets me apart, makes me special, you know? Not everyone can say that. 

And one special thing about the land I grew up in is that it's incredibly easy to travel from there to other lands...so I've traveled a lot.

The view from our apartment in Hungary, Country 23.

The view from our apartment in Hungary, Country 23.

In fact, as of this past weekend, I've visited 23 countries on three continents. 

If I look at it objectively, that number is big. Impressive, even.

When I look at it subjectively, it's not big enough, not impressive enough. It's too small. It's the one thing about me that makes me stand out from the crowd, and it's not enough. To be really spectacular, I would have to have visited 30 countries by now! I would have to have been to more countries than my parents and grandparents, I would have to have been to all the continents and done all the things and be recognized in the freaking Guinness Book of World Records for most countries visited at a young age.

That's never going to happen. 

My chances at being a prodigy get smaller with every year that passes. At this point, I don't just mean a traveling prodigy...I also mean a writing prodigy. A humor prodigy. A friend prodigy. An anything prodigy. 

I want to be the best, because I believe that if I can achieve the peak of something, I will finally have earned back my years of consuming oxygen and expelling carbon dioxide. 

So my mom and I went to Hungary last week. It's about a 3.5 hour car ride from Trieste, and we stayed in a small, cheap little resort town during the off-season. We ate at the restaurant across the street from us and were disappointed by how much sugar was in the pastries at the No Sugar Caffe and Bar. We swam in thermal and mineral waters and a large Hungarian man massaged my back. It was lovely. It was a personal record, 23 countries in 24 years. 

It wasn't enough. 

It will never be enough.

The truth is, nothing will ever be enough to fill the void in my heart that's desperate for purpose and value. Nothing human, nothing physical or material, nothing temporal.

I know in the depths of my heart that the only way to feel like I'm truly fulfilled is to turn to God and find my worth there. The only one who have fulfill me is the one who created me.

I just don't know how to get to that place.

So I travel. I write. I try to make people laugh and get likes on Instagram and subscribers on YouTube. I do everything I can.

But it'll never be enough.

I want to be the best. Will being loved and created by The Best ever satisfy me?

It has to.

There Are Things About Italy a Photo Won't Capture

There are things that are impossible to replicate in a photo, things you could photograph but never fully capture.

There are stories in the squeak of the wood in my parents' home, stories about how this house is more than 100 years old and even before we moved in, 13 years ago, there were little boys and girls who ran giggling down the 17-meter-long hallway festooned with doors to bedrooms. There were other angsty teenagers and sorrowful 20-somethings who made this place their home.

There are memories in the turn of the street as I walk past the school I attended for three years, that corner retail space that's always been empty and I daily used to see how my hair looked, whether my jacket made me seem fat. There are memories in the smell of urine on that other corner and the creak of the buses as they pull to a stop and wearily settle down to let passengers off.

There is heartbreak in the spare white room where we had church, decorated with homemade art and spare instruments and the ghost of a fleeting long-lost crush. There is the knowledge that this may be a country of grand cathedrals with soaring spirals, but it's also a country of rented ex-garages where we worship just as well.

There is the grocery store, which I could but shouldn't photograph (because it would be weird), where they sell white bread with the crusts already cut off because tramezzini is a thing we make on the reg; there are the brands of chocolate bars and cookies I can only dream of in America; there is the ringing out of Italian words and the smell I can't explain, neither bad nor good, that I've never once sniffed out in an American grocery store.

There is history in every walk, and yes I could take a picture but it wouldn't truly capture the moment, so fraught with today's concerns and yesterday's recollections and all the days before that.

I can't, through the lens of my iPhone, capture the length of the Viale, the sprawl of the Adriatic on the Molo, the sparkle of Piazza dell'Unita' when the sun shines or the darkness falls. 

I keep trying to take pictures only to find that a bus pulled up and blocked the view, or the fog turned it bluish, or you can see the food but not the backstory, or, or, or...always something lacking, some message that can't accurately be conveyed.

Even my camera, that trusty ole trucker I've had since the summer of '12, can't show everything. 

A picture is worth a thousand words, but there are things that two thousand, twelve thousand, a million words could not convey.

  • The sound of someone speaking Italian. I could write a million articles...except I can't, because the feeling I get in this moment is transcendent, incandescent, impossible to transcribe.
  • The click-click-click of the gas stove alighting to make the coffee. The warmth in my spirit at the sudden transportation to winter afternoons when the cold air filtered through the floorboards and nothing could warm us but coffee or tea and so click-click-click, on came the stove.
  • The feeling of connectedness that comes with hearing every vehicle on the road out front, the sound of a motorcycle revving reigniting the frustration from years back when the motorcycle repair shop was right in front and vroom vroom vroom haunted my dreams.
  • The knowledge that this peninsula, and especially Trieste, has ruined me for landlocked areas, because when I'm not within an easy walk of viewing water I am claustrophobic, antsy, annoyed.

I have 19 years' worth of memories; a lifetime of being here or missing here; an existence inexplicably interwoven with this space, this feeling, this people. 

There are some things words can't convey. There are some things you just have to experience. Things you have to see and smell and taste and love for yourself. Things you have to come to Italy to understand.

That's all this blog post is, really, a long-winded way of saying, sorry my pictures are crap, please just come visit me in Italy and fall in love like I did. ;) 

On the Dreaded Move Down South, and My New Love of Clouds

I don't know about you, but I've never really appreciated clouds as much as they deserve.

I just never really noticed them. They were there, I assumed, and occasionally would dump rain upon me and I'd duck my head and scramble as my broken-down, cheap umbrella flapped in the wind, but that was about the extent of my relationship to clouds.

I think I can easily blame this on New York City. It's just such a city, you know? Either you're in Manhattan, with tall buildings blocking sight of the clouds, or you're in the outer boroughs and so intent on what you're doing and taking in the architectural beauty that you ignore nature.

That's what I have a tendency of doing; ignoring nature in favor of the man-made structures that astound.

I have this theory, though, that it's just as easy to worship God through urbanity as it is through nature; because the ultimate creator of everything is, in fact, the God who inspires men to build; it's just in architecture it's more indirect.

But that's off-track. I just, I have a thing for buildings. I adore them. 

So, yeah. Buildings catch my eye. I could write a thousand odes to the beauties of architecture, the wonders of the metropolitan, the glories or the urban jungle. I never thought I would find myself writing about clouds.

It's just that there's so much more space down here, you know? I can drive for miles without leaving the city. The buildings are short and the roads wide and half-empty, and my eyes drift upwards, to the sky, and there...there are the clouds.

Remember that game we played as kids, where we lay on the grass, shaded our eyes with our hands and pointed out the clouds? We used our imagination to create parallels between the clouds and something else we knew, so instead of just seeing a cloud we saw Snoopy, or a sandcastle, or that man from church.

It's a great game, and it's most kids' first introduction to what it means to appreciate what's up in the sky. I have fond memories of playing that game, laying in the sun while my skin baked, breathing in fresh air and soaking up Vitamin D.

I think, somewhere along the way, I forgot about that game. I forgot to look up at the sky and wonder at what the clouds are doing. They're so simple, you know, and there are so many bigger things to think about — there are so many work-related things to stress over and catch-up dates to plan and packing to dread. There is just much to do that does not involve staring at the sky.

That's a pity, isn't it? 

I've said it before, but things seem to move at a slower pace in the South. And they're bigger. There's more time to take in the sights, and one of the sights I've been loving has been that of the clouds. Do me a favor, y'all, and the next time it's light where you are, glance up. Look at the clouds. Snap a photo. Send it to me. Let's talk clouds. 

And let's talk about how it took the thing I feared for two years — leaving New York, moving back to the South — to get me to notice and appreciate my new favorite natural phenomenon. It's just...isn't that the way it always is? You fear something, you dread it, you name it the Bogeyman, monster under the bed, Boggart in the closet, and then when it happens, when life throws you in the direction you never wanted to go, you find something you adore. 

I love New York, and I miss it, today for the first time with a fierceness that surprised me. But I had to leave. I put myself in a box in Brooklyn, and I had to jump far away in order to get free. And I'm so excited to be heading to Italy this week, so exited about all the adventures I'll have there. I'm excited to come home and see what home holds for me the second time around, where I end up, what God has in store. 

The life I was living the past few months in New York was strict and rigid and inflexible. I'm so excited to have flexibility again. So excited get to rant and rave about something new, something unexpected — something like clouds.

Let's adventure, shall we? Look at the clouds, and while we're at it, see what else we notice that might have been hidden before.