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.

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.

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.