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Hiatus

After several years of regular monthly posts, I’m taking a break. School, work, moving, and the VA are eating up all of my time. I hope to be back for my end of the year summary post.

The goal of this blog was to ensure that I was writing regularly. School is, for better or worse, forcing me to write all the time. I’m sure there will come a time again in which regular updates here will serve a purpose, but that time is not now. Thank you all for reading along!

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navy personal

A Short Update on Separating from the Navy

There was a time when I didn’t think I’d make it to the other side of the US Navy. It wasn’t even that long ago.

After you’ve been doing one thing for so long – even if it’s something you hate – it becomes comfortable and familiar. As time goes on, it becomes harder and harder to separate yourself from it. To make matters more complicated, the Navy makes a point of invading every part of your life, both personal and professional. (I was also pretty depressed and thought the Navy might have the decency to kill me so I wouldn’t have to do it myself. But, spoiler alert: I don’t feel this way anymore!) So after eight years, it got really hard to envision a life outside of the Navy, much less one chasing my dreams. Was it going to be a mistake to turn my back on a reliable paycheck? Would I be able to find a job, and balance work and school at the same time? Will my benefits come through and will they be enough to support me?

The separation process is probably stressful under normal circumstances. It was doubly stressful working with one of the Navy’s worst admin departments during a global pandemic. Somehow, though, after months of sleepless nights and grinding my teeth and frantic phone calls, it all came together. My property was scooped up, my vehicle shipped; the paperwork never really got done done, but it was good enough. On July 31st, I was a civilian again. I got on a plane and went home.

At the time I’m writing this, it’s been less than a month since I separated, and I feel like I’ve been the recipient of a series of miracles. Things fell into place better than I could have imagined in my wildest, most hopeful dreams. I feel happy and energized and motivated in a way that I haven’t felt for a very long time – but it was the result of taking a big, scary step into the unknown, away from the unpleasant but familiar. Hard brake, pivot; start over.

Sometimes things turn out in ways that you can’t anticipate. I guess the risk is that things could be better or worse or even just completely unexpected. For what it’s worth, I’m so glad that the darkness of uncertainty didn’t completely close me off from the possibility of hope for a better life outside of the Navy. Or, at least, it didn’t stop me from throwing myself out of my comfort zone and believing it could turn out okay. It turned out better than okay.

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navy personal

I Am Vanessa Guillen

In the early summer of 2018, I was deployed to the Middle East. It was my second deployment to this location, doing the same mission: conducting airborne surveillance in support of Operation Inherent Resolve. It was, truthfully, pretty uneventful. I remember reading a lot of books (the camp library was well-stocked and quiet, an introvert’s delight) and playing video games in the MWR (where the internet was better but we also got eaten alive by mosquitoes). But one particular situation will stay with me for the rest of my life.

About halfway through the deployment, someone realized that one of the magazines was missing a bullet – a single 9mm bullet. How long had it been missing? Whose responsibility was it: the flyers who carried the magazines in their vests, or the people whose job it was to maintain the ordinance? When was the last time all of the bullets had been accounted for?

We searched the plane all day, even after an 8+ hour flight. We looked through every station, every vest, every compartment. We looked behind panels and under seat cushions. We opened boxes and shook out emergency equipment. We did at all again and again and again. We took up floorboards and crawled around stacks of wiring and ventilation. We must have put flashlight beams on every surface of that plane, inside and out.

It was, of course, a completely futile effort – a literal needle in a haystack – but we kept at it for days, rotating groups every few hours, searching 24/7 without pause. We never found the missing bullet, but we sure tried.

What does this have to do with Vanessa Guillen?

Vanessa had been dealing with sexual harassment from someone in her chain of command, but resolved to handle it on her own. She went missing at the end of April. The Army didn’t offer a reward for information regarding her whereabouts until June. For what it’s worth, I’m willing to believe that the Army was doing their due diligence in the investigation – even purely for the sake of covering their own asses – but they must have done a very poor job of keeping the family appraised, because Vanessa’s family and friends unleashed a relentless social media campaign to draw attention to her disappearance. There is a history of Fort Hood not finding its missing soldiers. (WARNING: this article contains details of Vanessa’s gruesome death.)

But if Vanessa Guillen had been a single 9mm bullet, nobody would have gone home until she was found.

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personal

Lessons from My Dad

Happy Father’s Day to all the dads out there, and especially to mine! I hope everyone out there finds a way to make it special.

My dad is an incredibly smart, accomplished, hard-working person who, in more way than I can count – ways I’m still only beginning to realize – made me into the person I am today. I wanted to use this post as a chance to highlight just a few of the things that I inherited from him. In another decade, this list will probably look very different. I hope I’m still learning things from him, even then.

Me and Dad after a bird shoot, 2016
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personal

Lessons from My Mom

Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms out there, and a particularly special one to my mom! Hopefully this is the last time I spend the day away from home.

I inherited a lot from my mom: the shape of my forehead and eyes; my stature; my perfect health and uncanny physical resilience. Personality quirks, too: truly unreasonable stubbornness; always having an opinion; doing anything for a laugh; a persistent need to be informed, especially on current events.

Sometimes my mom is hard on herself, especially when us kids experience hardship or failure. It’s difficult for her not to internalize it, wondering if she could have prevented our misfortune or if it was somehow indirectly her fault. Part of this is just the nature of being a parent, I think, but the other part is that all parents mess up their kids in ways they couldn’t foresee, ways that have ripple affects across their children’s entire lives. For the most part, though, we all turn out all right. I turned out better than all right. I think my mom knows this deep down – knows that there are aspects of me which are completely apart from her, parts which she can’t blame (or, perhaps, praise) herself for. But it couldn’t hurt to remind her of the good stuff.

Here are a few of the many lessons I’ve learned from my mom. There are more than I can list, but these are most important to me right now. In ten years’ time, I’m sure I will have a completely new list based on my own growth and how my mom has helped me along the way.

From these examples, you’ll learn that my mom is brave, resourceful, resilient, strong, and wise. It is my hope that, in time, I develop these qualities, too.

My mom and her mom. Photo torn and dirty from being taped and removed from so many surfaces in the past several years. I’ve taken it with me on almost every deployment.
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current events navy personal

The Black Hole of Uncertainty

“We’re all going to have to stay in our homes for a little while,” said our national leaders. “It’s for the common social good. A few weeks, maybe a few months, of missed plans and isolation, and we will put all of the bad stuff behind us.”

“Oh no!” replied the introverts of the world, reaching for a blanket and burrowing deeper into the couch. “How ever will we cope?”

Sounds like me, right?

It’s been a little over a month since my state issued its stay-at-home order. It was, at first, a little scary: would we run out of food? toilet paper? what does this mean for my future?

These being the extent of my concerns, though – most of them intangible – shows how lucky I am: I can’t get laid off from the U.S. Navy (and boy do I try). No matter what, I’ll be able to pay my rent and have healthcare and a job. But this is not true for an alarming number of people who are now relying on a safety net not designed for a crisis like this, and wouldn’t be sufficient to support people in need, to this extent, even if it was. And now that I’m hurtling down My Bullshit Lane, if we could pull our heads out of our asses for, like, a single second, we might realize that some of our previous assumptions about the way things have to be simply aren’t true, and we can’t go back to the way things were, pre-pandemic. Too many of us are just a single misfortune away losing everything.

I say all of this as a disclaimer, knowing full well that there’s some measure of guilt in what I’m going to talk about here: being able to move through pure anxiety to find moments of joy during a crisis where others find only the misery of need and uncertainty. If you’re in a tough place, please don’t take any of this as a minimization of your hardship, or some inane encouragement to look on the bright side. Sometimes reflexive cheerfulness is the wrong reaction. It feels strange to be positive now, sometimes, occasionally. Now and then, it does sneak up on me, but it took a while to get there.

You're Interacting With Dark Matter Right Now - The Atlantic
Illustration by Paul Fleet
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nerd stuff

Animal Crossing: New Horizons Keeps Us Safe

March is not shaping up in the way I expected. Right now, I thought I’d be on the Big Island of Hawaii, traversing the lava tubes Volcano National Park, stargazing from the peak of Mauna Kea, enjoying the peaceful solitude of a little cabin tucked away in the forest. I expected to return to Oahu on my birthday to greet my family, who was coming to visit me and attend the disestablishment ceremony of my workplace, which I had helped plan.

Canceled, canceled, canceled.

Instead, I’m rich with the refunds brought about by a global pandemic – and rich in disappointment, too. I will spend my birthday at work, where we are bringing in our own disinfecting supplies because we can’t find any on base, and I will sing “happy birthday” twice to myself every time I wash my hands.

I don’t feel especially stressed, but my body betrays me: I have acne on my face, hives on my chest, and sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night for no reason, jaw sore from grinding my teeth. I lash out at people and I don’t know why. My hands can’t go an hour without reaching for my phone to check the local news.

In another sense, though, I was made for social isolation. My most favorite things are solo activities, all of which I can still keep doing. In fact, I’ve felt quite fulfilled in using my extra time to do things that made me happy, almost as an imperative to stay busy and sane – and it’s been a true joy to witness and experience the creative ways people are connecting with one another, especially from a distance.

One of those ways is Animal Crossing: New Horizons.

Animal Crossing: New Horizons' Is Great for Your Mental Health ...
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health and fitness personal

A Hawaiian Slice of Life

On every morning but one, you wake up to the dark – 5AM, dark no matter the time of year – with the exception of Saturday, when your body lets you sleep until a few minutes before seven, and you wake up feeling like the day is already over, wasted (though admittedly very well-rested).

But this is Friday. You have to get up a little earlier than strictly necessary, have to go out for a walk in the dark to wake up properly, to steel yourself for the day. You wear a glow belt, which usually keeps you safe in crosswalks but unfortunately did not ward off a man in a minivan full of (presumably) his kids from pulling up alongside you in a parking lot to yell about watching where you were going. You are confused; you knew exactly where you were going, but he had to drive out of his way to make his point.

It’s still dark when you get back home. You put on your swimsuit and shorts. You think, regretfully, that another week has gone by and you’ve failed to buy a wetsuit or a pair of fins. You flip-flop out to the car anyway and drive 1.4 miles to the boat ramp on the beach.

Now, finally, the horizon is starting to lighten. Despite the walk, your stomach is clenched like a fist. You feel a gentle thrum of underlying panic every Friday morning, no matter how many times you do this exact same thing. Still, you slide your feet out of your sandals, leaving them planted behind the pedals; you leave your folded towel on the driver’s seat, ready to be sat on by a wet butt; you remove your car key from the keyring, clipping it to your swimsuit and tucking it in. Everything stays behind. You hobble over the pine-needles through the parking lot to the boat ramp, getting your first glimpse of the conditions.

It’s Friday, and you’re looking out across Kailua beach, where the turquoise sea is starting to glow in the sunrise. The tide is low and there is barely any wind – unusual for the windward side of the island. The current ripples gently against the sand, more like a wakeless lake than the crashing of the winter sea.

The breeze is gentle. It is January, but you are not cold. Now, you wait.

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navy personal

Good Military Habits

I learned some things about myself, too: what I’m good at, what I’m not so good at, how I react under pressure, and how I manage stress. But there are a bunch of other positive habits instilled by general military discipline that we come to take for granted. Here are just a few.

USS Blue Ridge maintenance
Let me play you the song of my people. (140 dB of needlegunning) (Image from DVIDS)
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personal

2019 In Review

Image result for 2019

Stuff That Happened