The Day I Enjoyed Jury Duty

If you live in a country where it is your duty to serve on a jury, than you probably already groaned as you read my title.

The thing is, serving jury duty, is more than a duty.  It is an honor and a privilege.

I am the last person who you will normally find lauding America’s justice system, especially due to my own experiences seeking justice for my pain and suffering following being the victim of a hit and run.  However, there are many countries in which people do not have the right to a fair trial, or a jury of their peers, where one person is in charge of deciding the fate of another, and I believe that is not just.

I am proud to be able to serve on a jury, and help someone who needs an objective opinion to deliver appropriate justice.  After all, as I believe so many forget, I would want the same.  So when I was called to serve, I was happy that I was finally able.  When I was first called, I was unable to sit for long periods of time, especially on hard surfaces, due to my injuries from being hit by the car.  I had to put off my duty several times, with a medical excuse written by my doctor, until I was physically able to serve.

It’s not that I am some saint, and enthusiastically sat around for hours waiting to maybe be called onto a jury.  I was bored at times like everyone else, and found the orientation video just as hokey.  Although, I was able to appreciate a forced day where nothing could get done except sitting in that room waiting to be called, and I took advantage by using the time for writing.

Since jury duty is random, people of all ages, ethnicities and walks of life come together in one room.  It is a strange thing, seeing a thick man with tattoos all over his neck and arms, next to a petite, elderly asian woman, both simply reading.  Despite the announcement of the woman in charge of our orientation and calling our names should we be chosen to become part of the official jury pool for a case, a few people, still felt the need to conduct private business calls in front of the entire room, instead of stepping outside.  I know that one woman is concerned about someone killing themselves, and thinks they should be moved to a facility.  I know that one man likes to conduct business loudly, and rudely, yelling at those low on the totem pole, and demeaning them in their jobs while demanding unwarranted refunds on flights that he mistakenly booked.

Despite these distractions, I kept typing away on my keyboard, noticing that my clacking was echoed by the woman sitting across from me.  I looked up, realizing that I had noticed her already, out of the hundreds of other people on our way in to the security line in the morning.  There was something about her vibe, her clothing, her demeanor, that I identified with.  Falling back into my writing, I didn’t notice that she had relocated, but shortly before lunch, I had to move to plug in my laptop.  I mumbled an “excuse me,” as I kneeled by her feet to plug in my chord next to hers.

Earlier, I had admired her sleek, understated backpack, that was actually a laptop case, so I decided to ask her where she got it.  After she told me, she complimented me on my system of using a carabiner to group my belongings together.  I thanked her, briskly mentioning that it was due to my climbing experience that I always used carabiners, and this led her to asking me if I had ever climbed Mt. Whitney.

This question made me pause, and I looked at her, smiling as if she would already understand why the questions was surprising in this moment.  Only ten minutes before, we had been typing across from one another when my cousin had texted me asking the very same question, and if I could share my tips and experience with her.  I informed this woman of this coincidence, and went on to tell her my experience.  She had to excuse herself to lunch with a friend, but asked if she could inquire more upon her return.

She arrived back from lunch just as I was pondering whether I smelled of the garlic I had on my veggies at lunch, thinking that it was impolite to have had so much garlic in a stuffy, crowded room.  As she sat down, she began to apologize, in case she smelled like Fajitas from lunch.  These seem like small details, but it serves to show how similar we are as people, and the subtle moments that made up a day that felt as if it was fate for us to meet.

When she sat down, she asked me where I liked to hike locally.  Since it had been over a year since I had been able to hike, it took me a little while to think.  I didn’t want to come right out and tell her what had happened to me, because part of moving on is not talking about it all the time.  I ended up telling her of some fire roads that my boyfriend likes to bike, and I could see a shift in her eyes as she said that she wanted to get back into biking.  “I have to get back on the horse, as they say.”  It was words I had uttered myself when trying to find a way to express to strangers what had happened to me.  I watched as her eyes betrayed that her mind was flashing to some traumatic event.

It was as if I knew before I asked, “why, what happened?”  She told me that she had been in a bike accident.  I couldn’t stop myself from blurting out, with a slight chuckle of disbelief, “you’re kidding, right?”  Things got more surreal when I found out her accident was  during the same month as my trauma.  We both could understand the pain and the journey of healing of the other person so well!  I could not believe as we shared our stories, and reviewed our injuries, how similar the lasting effects of the traumas are.  It felt as if the world had always intended for us to experience these events and to meet one another.

In order for us to meet, we had to both have been chosen and able to serve jury duty that day.  We both had to be not chosen for the official jury pool for the case being heard that day, and we both had to notice details and be drawn to the other in order to meet.  In fact, as we sat, in awe of our serendipitous encounter, I told her how I had noticed her, and her awesome backpack, and she shared that she had noticed me and my Swiss laptop case.  She had been in Switzerland when she had her bike accident, and it is only now that I fully recognize the weight of that symbolism.

She asked me if I wondered what the meaning of my accident was in my life.  I told her that in therapy, they had spent a lot of time trying to get me to understand that the world is chaos, and that good things can happen to good people, and we will never know why.  But sitting there, in that jury holding room, having this conversation with this new friend of mine, I had to wonder.  How could the world be pure chaos when in a world this large, with this many people, she and I could find one another on some idle Monday serving jury?

November, 2014.

The Prodigal Daughter Returns

I spent three weeks at home reconnecting with my family.  I, who has always valued family above friends, because one is constant, and the other comes and goes, respectively, had to reconnect with my family.  It was always my friends who had “messed up families” and group therapy sessions, not me.  I had dysfunctional friendships, but not a dysfunctional family.

It was a surreal feeling returning home after a year of absence.  Even though I have lived across the country from my family for years, I have always returned home every 6 months for at least two weeks.  It often feels like a double life, because I get to forget about my grandiose artistic career, and focus on smaller, community based responsibilities that I have been committed to for years in my hometown.  But, I enjoy shedding one character for the other.  The change infuses life into each version of myself.

During this homecoming, everything somehow seemed foreign yet familiar at the same time.  Small changes like a new highway sign, or a new business popped out at me immediately as my Mom and I rode the highway towards my childhood home together, making small talk.  I felt an overwhelming pressure suffocating me, and had goals to accomplish on my trip.  After the hit and run accident, my family and I didn’t get along, to put it mildly.  I felt rejected by them, and they felt extremely confused by my thoughts and emotions.  I felt they treated me as if I had decided to become a drug-addicted prostitute, and when my mom came to save me, I told her to “fuck off.”  Really, I think seeing me and my life so irrevocably damaged was just too overwhelming, and we coped by keeping one another at a distance.

We had many discussions, yelling matches, and explosions of emotions ricocheting off walls and out the windows for the neighbors to bear witness when I was home.  While I found myself vindicated after a self-imposed trial in front of a few of my extended members of the family, my mom and I remained at a drastic impasse.  We teetered on the painfully sharp edge of leaving each others life indefinitely.  But in the midst of all this pain, all the unforgivable words that left me feeling hollow, as if she had reached inside me and pulled out my innards, the pounding of my own fists on my chest, until welts were raised as I begged for an open ear, something happened.  It wasn’t a click really.  It came about slowly, and unnoticed like a fog, but with clarity.  Something changed between us.  Despite everything, the common ground between us remained.  We each thought the other did not want them in their lives.  But we did.  We do.

Adult relationships are so complicated, and I don’t think I have ever felt a more stark example of coming of age.  My mom and I recommitted to a new relationship with one another.  At first, she was hesitant, and dismissive, questioning why we should have to “fight” for our relationship, as I declared was necessary.  I told her that I didn’t know why, but it was worth it.  She is my mom, I am her only child.  We are not simply two ships passing in the night, or two strangers who get to choose whether or not to be in one another’s life.  We owe it to our past twenty five years of experiences, love and growth to stick it out, and find new, continuous ways to experience, love and grow together.

Cheers,

The ever-evolving, QuarterCentenarianAbroad

September. 2014.

Why (Me)xico?

I have spent ten months running from my new reality.  While barely keeping my world intact as a recent college graduate finding my place in the world and paying bills while following a creative passion, my entire world was shattered, literally.  I was biking on a clear, sunny afternoon, feeling more alive and engaged in the world than I had in a long time.  I had just arrived back in the city from three weeks in Paris where I had established a this travel blog, outlined a clear plan for how to approach my art, and how to change my life in the city in order to achieve a higher level of happiness in my day to day.  One part of that plan was to mimic the Europeans and their joie de vivre lifestyle of biking and life experiencing on their commute.

So when I was hit by a 5,000lb SUV, I literally and figuratively had the wind knocked out of me.  My sails deflated, I can recall the seconds that seemed like eons, rotating through the air, as I heard my mind exclaim, “Why now!?”  For some, memories of trauma feel like gazing at a scene on a screen with petroleum jelly spread over it.  For me, though, everything is crisp and clear, and I was aware in that very moment that my life was going to change irrevocably.  I wasn’t capable of knowing how bad my injuries would be, and what life-altering physical disabilities I would suffer, until my body fell from the sky, impacting on the dark road beneath me.  “This is going to hurt.  Just don’t die.” I heard my mind desperately warning and pleading with itself.  Add insult to injury?  The man who hit me left me in the street, injured, questioning whether I would live or die.  

Three days in the hospital, four pelvic fractures, a separated shoulder, two months in a wheelchair, multiple x-rays, MRIs and torn cartilage demanding hip surgery, ten months of physical therapy re-learning to walk and therapy re-learning to feel later, I was about to turn twenty-six.  Where did twenty-five go?  Oh, yea.  I just covered that.  Feeling a piece of my life had been stolen, I set a goal to travel to a new country before I had to say goodbye to my quarter-century milestone.  

In my new reality, I’m trying hard to let go of fear.  Rationality is one thing, but fear is a monster that consumes your life and prevents you from living fully.  Even though I had lived for years within hours of the border, I had never traveled to Mexico.  Growing up on the East Coast, Mexico was a distant country, with a bad reputation (putting it mildly).  We saw news stories about tourists who had been arrested and subjected to human rights violations, or people who had been scalped by drug cartel members.  After thorough research, listening to multiple personal anecdotes (some again deterring me from Mexico), I decided that symbolically this trip was too important for my life.  I needed to escape the confines of medical appointments, bills, criminal court proceedings, and civil attorneys.  Mexico was my ticket to freedom and renewal, and I was not about to let twenty-six pass without an epic welcoming.  Goodbye, twenty-five! 

(Written June, 2014)

Back to the Abroad!

Heylo everyone!

Wow.  What a long strange trip it has been, as the Grateful Dead said.  I actually have been up and writing for a month or so now, but I haven’t been able to log into my account here.  Magically, I tried again a moment ago, using the same password I had previously tried, and this time, it worked.  Whaddya know!?

I have been craving an update like you would not believe!  Firstly, during my absence, my blog turned ONE YEARS OLD! Wahoo!  I would come down on myself more for not maintaining a constant presence on here, and not having more followers, but I can’t very well blame myself for being the victim of an accident, and recovering from surgery.  The ONE YEAR mark for the accident has passed as well.  Believe me, that day was well remembered through a celebration of life party amongst the friends who have supported me through all my challenges.  But, I do apologize to my readers for the silence, and hope that you will continue to be interested in my blog.

In the past month, I have been fortunate to travel to multiple destinations.  I traveled to Mexico (where I celebrated my birthday!), the U.S. and British Virgin Islands (which had served as my light and dream at the end of the dark tunnel of pain post-accident), and took a short jaunt to Mammoth Lakes and Yosemite, CA. 

My travel pieces have all been written, so that I could take part in Camp NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) in July, which means my readers can look forward to consistent posts!  Each piece has a different tone.  Some are more geared towards a hotel or destination review, some are more lifestyle pieces, and some have a more narrative flow to them.

I hope you enjoy the journey as much as I have.  I am so grateful to be alive, and to have the continued opportunity to create, love and explore!

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(The closest thing you will get to a picture “of” me. Yosemite, Summer, 2014).

Cheers!

QuarterCentenarianAbroad

 

Flying by the Midnight Light of Paris

I definitely have some catching up to do!  I always struggle with the balance between experiencing, and writing my experiences down to treasure in the future, or share with others.  The last few days have definitely been a blur, in a good way.  The heat of the days melted into my nights, and the lights of the city at night bled into my dawns.  Night and day became one, delineated only by experiences.

After dropping my cousin off, I met a Parisian friend who I knew from studying abroad.  I hadn’t seen him in 4 years, but we were as friendly as ever.  He had just come from a play, and I was worried it was a bit late for him, but we climbed onto his motorcycle anyway, just before midnight.  It was an absolute rush!  I have only ridden two other times on the back of a moto, and it was not for as long, or in as thrilling of a place.

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As we rode swiftly through the warm night, I began recognizing places from my first trip to Paris a year ago.  They would come to me in a flash-there is the street corner next to the Citroen dealership, where I sat down and cried because my French was not serving me as well as I’d hoped, and we couldn’t find out hotel-or-this is where my boyfriend pressed me against the wall and kissed me in front of La Tour Eiffel.  It was magical, re-living these memories at high speed.

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My friend had a route planned in his head, so I just enjoyed the view.  He took me to La Notre Dame, which was magnificently lit at night, and showed me where he had attended University.  That neighborhood was still awake and alive with partying, unlike the area I am staying in that shuts down at 11 pm.  We parked the moto and walked down a small cobblestone street lined with bars.  Here, another memory washed over me of when I was visiting Germany, and had walked down a similar street, with partiers pouring out of the bars, loudly laughing, making out, or scuffling.  I was told to choose a bar based on my gut instinct, so I chose a small, wood paneled bar at the end.  I treated my friend to a drink to thank him for taking me on this adventure.  We took our time with the drinks, and he helped me work on my French.

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We got back onto the moto, and he took me past the famous Moulin Rouge, with its windmill lit at night.  The area was still pretty overrun with tourists.  Then, we rode up a hill, through winding cobblestone streets and ended up at La Sacre-Couer, overlooking the City of Lights.  It was a magnificent view, but I especially loved the intimate, quiet streets in an area that has a very old feel to it.  The tourists were gone, and I felt like I stepped into the past-not that I was merely a tourist looking at the ghost of what had been.

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We walked through the streets and tried to find a view of La Tour Eiffel.  As we walked, we passed a man who was rambling in French, and had a deep, gravelly voice.  I had no idea what he was saying as we passed him in the shadows, but my friend turned to me and remarked in English, “now you have seen a true French Drunk!”

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We got back on the moto and descended the hill.  It felt like a roller coaster following the serpentine streets, and feeling the cobbles below.  He turned right, and we rounded a circle where my friend came to stop.  I didn’t realize where we were until he began walking away.  I took off my helmet, which had been blocking my peripheral vision, and saw that I was standing with a breathtaking view of La Tour Eiffel!  I had not been on this side of it when I visited last year.  We were in a space between two buildings, up on a hill that made us seem like we were halfway up the tower.  It was not lit this early in the morning, but I really enjoyed seeing the silhouette.  Something about seeing the looming tower at night, made the structure even more impressive.

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We left La Tour Eiffel and were getting close to what my friend told me he had been saving for last.  I was nearly disappointed that the night was coming to a close because he’d spoiled me so thoroughly with this adventure!  I am not used to riding a motorcycle, so I admit, my legs, and arms were getting a bit sore from holding on, but it was worth it.  When we entered Le Champs-Elysees, all of that melted away, as my eyes drank in the splendor of the lights at night on the broad street.  Ahead of me, L’arc de Triomphe was lit, and getting closer.  The way the darkness surrounded everything except the avenue made it seem like we were racing down a tunnel of light towards L’arc, and it felt like we were riding faster than we had all night.  My friend kept going as we approached L’arc, and drove around it as I soaked in the view.  I had only been there in the day, and it was quite a different monument at night.  So far, this was the highlight of an already amazing night, so I leaned into my friends ear, and asked if we could do it again!  He happily obliged.

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On a high from Le Champs-Elysee and L’arc de Triomphe experience, I had no agenda, and was just enjoying our ride.  We stopped by a bridge where it is popular to lock your secrets, and write the name of you and your love on a lock, and throw the key into La Seine.  I was led down stone steps, and we walked around a small park and ended up at the very tip of a stone island in the middle of La Seine.  It was beautiful seeing the river flowing by on each side, and I could appreciate the view of both riverbanks, with its impressive centuries-old buildings.

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My friend took me back to where we started, but then asked if we had seen everything I wanted to.  A part of me just was not ready for this amazing adventure to end, and I absolutely love Le Louvre.  I didn’t quite realize it was directly back the way we had come, but again, my friend kindly obliged saying, “I could ride through Paris all night!” We sped through the night, in and out of tunnels with hills-it was so exhilarating!

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The space in front of Le Louvre pyramid was completely empty.  It was just me, my friend, and the gargantuan glass pyramid.  The vast space between the historical buildings felt calm, and peaceful.  We walked around the gardens a little bit, and over to a smaller arch.  Every once in a while, a small wind would kick up the dust into swirls dancing around the benches.  There were lovers pressed against the trees, and at times, they seemed to be a part of the branches, with their arms reaching overhead in a moment of passion.

I had to go to the bathroom, and my Parisian friend told me to just go in the garden.  He told me it would be a badge of honor to say that I went pee in Le Jardin des Tuileries, and that the French always pee in public.  I had seen that happen enough already on my visit that I knew he was telling the truth.  So, I earned my badge of honor.

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What an amazing treat to see the City of Lights with nothing around me but the night air. We got back onto the moto one last time, and rode through the tunnels of light, charging fast, with the crest of dawn at our backs.

Anonymous Abroad

I do not want to have a name. I do not want to have a face.  Whenever I claim my work, it becomes stunted because I worry too much about the details, when the beauty is in the obscure.  I do not want to coax friends over Facebook, Twitter, etc., to follow me so that I can feel good about myself and my writing.  I have decided to do this the, er, old fashioned way (using contemporary tools).  This may end up being nothing more than a diary, with no online presence, and no followers, or, maybe it will inspire other artists who feel the same burning desire to turn their observations, experiences, thoughts, dreams into something more tangible.

For me, it is a journey of self-exploration-one that I have been on for twenty-five years now.  I am a quarter-centenarian, and I have decided to stop making excuses, stop allowing my fear of failure to limit myself, and to just. keep. expressing.

Paris, July 2013.