I’ve been struggling to come up with the least patronizing term to describe Marie Kondo’s process. The sanctimony of “minimalism” makes my skin crawl and, more importantly, misses the point, highlighting the result over the endeavor. Even “tidying up,” a phrase that has become more or less synonymous with the KonMari brand, doesn’t instinctively call to mind the necessity of discarding first. The closest I can think of is “downsizing,” but even that conjures a problematic context: of being unable to afford things, of having to get let go to survive.
I want to talk about applying Marie Kondo’s principles to my life in a way that doesn’t invoke a moral imperative on the part of the reader. The argument for letting go of clutter can be made, sometimes even convincingly, but it’s not my job to make it. The thing about Kondo’s method is that it is so completely relative. It’s not about discarding things based on the criteria of strict, stark utility. An excess of possessions can certainly weigh one down, but deciding what is the “right amount” of things is a deeply personal, individual experience. What works for me might not – probably won’t – work for you.
The core of KonMari could be summarized like this: “Wouldn’t you enjoy your home so much more if you only surrounded yourself with things that make you happy?” It seems so obviously true that it feels insulting. A lot of people, misunderstanding her, have taken a very bizarre sort of offense to her principles, when “[s]he literally just wants to help people declutter so their physical belongings no longer take a mental toll on their well-being.”
I guess I started off as part of the problem, too. Before I read her book, I feared that Marie Kondo and her Shinto-inspired ideas were going to come into my home and throw away anything that didn’t contribute to a sterile, characterless space, only teak and white linens and a single plant for color. But Kondo never specifies what the end product looks like, only offering the occasional suggestion. The process is about finding what makes her clients happy. She is always willing to disregard even her own rules if they bump against someone’s an immovable anxiety. As with most things, it’s about the journey, about the self-understanding that comes from addressing the totality of your belongs and discovering the “right amount,” than it is about the aesthetics (or even functionality) of the result.
So with all that said, for the past few months (yes, months), I’ve been KonMari-ing my home. It was way more work than I was expecting, but all in all it was a positive experience. One, Marie promises, I’ll never have to do again.
Shockingly, this is proving to be true. I took photos for this post when I finished in late March. I am writing this post now at the end of May. I expected my tidiness to have slipped between now and then – things out of place, folding a little less tight, new unnecessary acquisitions. So far, to my surprise, this has not been the case. The lessons that I learned from Marie Kondo seem to have stuck.
I followed Kondo’s plan as prescribed: starting with clothing, piling every article of clothing you own, from every part of the house, into one heap in one place, going through each item, piece by piece, and deciding if it makes you happy or if it’s time to discard it. Do the same with books, papers, miscellaneous items (komono), and sentimental items, in that order. Kondo says this structure allows us to attune ourselves gradually with what truly “sparks joy,” so that by the time we get to our sentimental items, we can make those “keep/discard” choices with confidence.
Was it “life-changing,” as the title of her book suggests? In some ways, yes. It forced me to confront some things about myself that I was not proud of, but going through it made me feel more confident about my decision-making in general. It also brought to light a lot of the positive aspects of who I am that I often take for granted. It has made my daily routine easier and I am much more considerate now of the quantity of things that I acquire.
The biggest change, though, is being able to sit in my apartment and feel so completely at ease, so filled with joy. Sometimes I’ll look up from reading and gaze around adoringly around my space, my little sanctuary. Everything was chosen and placed with love and deliberation; nothing is here “just because.” It is the first place of my own that truly feels like home.
With all that said, here are some general lessons that I learned from the KonMari process, some truths that stuck with me even since the tidying up came to an end.
I mentioned in my year-end post that the dad of one of my childhood friends once told us that your body gets older on the outside but you stay more or less the same on the inside. Eventually you reach a plateau for emotional maturity, the crest of an upward trend that hopefully continues throughout the rest of your life, while your body begins to do the opposite, dropping down the other side of this metaphorical hill.
Years are going by faster and faster. My foot is pressing down harder on the accelerator and I am unable, will never be able, to slow down, not until at last I stop for good. Someday this will worry me. Right now, I watch these years pass with detached, almost clinical, interest.
I’ve struggled with collecting my thoughts, on finding significance, on reaching the big 3-0. It doesn’t feel more meaningful than any other birthday, which for me is actually a huge deal because I love an excuse to celebrate something. So actually I take all of that back. This is a great event, as usual! Tomorrow, on April 1st, it’s all about me, bay-bee!
In lieu of depth and meaning, here are some lists.
Things that keep me young
Always being a lil bit overweight
General zest for life
Having a tumblr account (see image below for reference)
Hobbies that I’m genuinely very passionate about
Extremely niche hobbies that I’m wildly, ironically passionate about
A “yes, and” attitude
7.5 hours of sleep
Minding my own business
Not smoking (probably)
Things that I wish I had learned sooner
Always have electrolytes somewhere in the house. It might save you a trip to the ER.
There’s a big difference between being nice and being kind.
Recovery isn’t linear.
thank u, next
Everyone loves differently.
Virtues get easier with practice.
You’re not eating enough protein.
God doesn’t say no. He says, instead: yes; or, not yet; or, I have something better in mind.
The more comfortable you are with yourself, the more permission others feel to be comfortable with themselves.
Sometimes it really do just be like that.
I realized today that I’ve been writing in this blog almost continuously for five years. It is mostly a pain, but it forces me to put something out there into the world/void about a dozen times a year. I just wanted to take a second to say thank you to anyone and everyone who is reading this. Whether you know me personally or you just stumbled here by accident (most likely, you are a soft combination of the two), thank you for giving me a few minutes of your day. Thank you for reading.
Grandma wrote her own obituary. She wrote down what song she wanted to play at her funeral and what clothes she wanted to be dressed in. She last updated it in 2014. This is a comfort: she was ready.
She wanted to be remembered for her family, of course. Her parents and siblings, all of whom predeceased her except for one brother. Her children, two daughters and two sons, and her seven grandchildren.
Grandma was the daughter of immigrants, first generation Americans from Austria. I wonder often about what their experience was like, coming to the USA at the turn of the century. Grandma was born in 1928, only a year before the stock market crash that led to the Great Depression. Her family owned a farm and a bunch of land in New Britain, CT, which must have mitigated somewhat the effects of the Depression, but my grandma was always ruthlessly frugal. So is my mom, who shared a bed with her sister during their childhood. She and I would share that same bed when we stayed over Grandma’s.
Grandma worked at Precision Grinding in New Britain, CT for fifteen years. Her children walked to school, just a few blocks from their home, and she wanted to be there when they came home for lunch. She must have given her children a decent childhood. They all turned out very well.
Her husband, my grandpa, died when I was still very young. I don’t remember much about him, besides the oxygen and dialysis machines which kept him alive in his final years. Mom told me that he volunteered for the army during WWII and stormed the beach at Normandy. She said it was a horribly traumatic experience, that he saw his friends dying all around him from a hail of bullets and from drowning. He didn’t talk about it much. He was so poor that the army was his best chance at a better life, if he came out on the other side of it. He did. I don’t know how he and my Grandma met. I don’t know much about him at all. He was very quiet.
My mom and my grandma were very close. Grandma would come see us in Rhode Island, taking us kids out for a day so my mom could have some time to herself. She would walk us down the street to the Newport Creamery. One year, when my leg was broken in a skiing accident, she pushed me in a wheelchair all the way. She would order a scoop of vanilla ice cream and pour a tablespoon or two of coffee over the top. As a kid, I thought it was gross. Now, as an adult, I think it’s very cool.
In her obituary, Grandma wrote that her “favorite pastime was working in her garden and taking care of her yard. She also enjoyed reading and making trips to the library for new books. She liked to take nature walks, ride her bike, and cook her favorite meals.” This is a beautiful and simple summary of a life that spanned almost an entire century.
In her backyard, Grandma had a big tree that cast the whole lawn in shade, like a giant umbrella, and a statue of the Virgin Mary. She kept old road bikes in a small shed, along with her gardening tools. She would ride her bike around the neighborhood even in her 80s. It took getting hit by a car to get her to stop. Even then, she still took daily walks, picking up trash in the street as she went. More than once, she was sprayed by a skunk, which we all thought was super funny. Neighbors recognized her. All of that land used to belong to her family, Mom told me. Now it is just the one house, the house my mom was raised in, and soon, not even that.
Growing up, the whole family went up to a German family resort in the beautiful Catskill Mountains during the summer. We would hike and hit golfballs at the driving range and swim and eat and eat and eat. Someone always got stung by a bee. One time, my brother got stung by about a dozen bees, and it was sort of my fault. It seemed like everyone there knew Grandma, and she knew everyone else. She tried to teach me how to dance the polka. She would clap along to the music and she knew the words to some of the traditional German songs.
She had a sly sense of humor. She liked to play Rummy. Whenever she wrote to me – for my birthday and Christmas and Easter – she would apologize for her bad writing and spelling. It hurt me that this was something she felt like she had to say, because there was nothing wrong with how she wrote. She didn’t think she was smart, maybe because each subsequent generation of her family was more educated than the previous one, but there are many different ways to be smart. My grandma was an intensely practical person and capable in ways that I will never be.
I would video-call her and my mom on Sundays. When I’m on deployment, it was the highlight of my week, giving me a boost in morale that would carry me through the next few days. She had been losing her memory for a while, and when I was away, she would ask me every week: where are you?
“I can’t tell,” I would say awkwardly.
“She’s in West Hartford!” my mom’s fiance John would yell in the background. He had been in the Navy. He knows how it is sometimes.
“You can tell me,” Grandma would say. “I won’t squeal.”
She told me I had a nice smile and, when I expected her to give me a hard time about my haircut, she said she liked it, said it must be much easier to deal with. Grandma got it.
“Do you regret joining the service?” she would ask in a low voice, heavy with confidentiality and some other emotion that I couldn’t quite pin down.
“No,” I would say, trying to sound positive. The word would hang there, suspended between us, never really touching down. I think we both knew I was lying, at least a little bit. I think my Grandma understood what the military takes from its members, even when it tries to give them back something in return.
In the last few years of her life, my mom went to see her every weekend, being there for Grandma as Grandma had been there for her so many years ago; “the circle of life,” my mom says. Grandma knew it was Sunday because her caregiver would help her into her sneakers in the morning. Mom brought her to the mall to people-watch. They ate at the same restaurant and everyone knew her there. She would watch funny animals on youtube, asking John if he knew the animals in the videos personally, and that’s just about the cutest thing I’ve ever heard in my entire life.
Even as her health began to fail, she was charming and funny and stubborn. She refused to move out of her home for an assisted-care facility, clinging to this last shred of privacy and ownership that often gets taken away during one’s old age. It was a source of controversy and, sometimes, frustration for my family – where does her autonomy end and overriding concern for her safety begin? – and demanded a revolving door of lady caregivers, a compromise. For Grandma’s happiness and pride, it was worth it. She was in the most comfortable and familiar place possible when she began to slip away.
Grandma died peacefully on June 23, 2018. My brother, a doctor, was at her side in her final moments. This, too, is a tremendous comfort, and he is very brave. The rest of the family was on their way to my uncle’s surprise birthday party. They were rerouted to the hospital instead. “You know how hard it is to get everyone together at the same time,” my mom said. It was a surprise of another kind, but at least everyone was there.
This is my first time dealing with grief from a grown-up perspective. I’m thinking – constantly, much more than I want to – about what it might have been like for her to die. Did she know it was time? Was she afraid? Did she think about her husband? Her kids? Did she know that her children and grandchildren were on their way to her, rushing, frantic?
“Don’t be sad,” my mom told me over the phone, still in the hospital room. “She wouldn’t want you to be.”
It’s a common idea, but it is true. Grandma didn’t have time for all that.
She was 90 years old. The scope of the history that she lived through is almost inconceivable to me. I think often about how different the world was when she was my age and what things were like for her then. I hope my mom lives as long as her mom did. I hope I do too, and see as much as she did, and be as vivacious and strong and tenacious as she was. I will miss you, Grandma. You were our connection to a whole different world of triumph over hardship and tradition. I’m lucky to be part of your family.
You can find her official obituary here in the New Britain Herald. You can leave a condolence for our family here. Thank you for taking the time to read this.
Someone asked me recently what I would be doing to entertain myself if I was back home. I didn’t have an answer. This is, I think, for two reasons:
I haven’t lived in Hawaii for long enough to carve out a familiar, comforting routine. Of the past nine months (whoa) since coming to Hawaii, I’ve been away for almost six of them, and the others were seeped in an overwhelmingly liminal feeling.
Almost all of the things that make me happiest are portable.
Think about it: if you were to leave home for a while – a few weeks, or many months – what is it that you would miss? If you have a family or spouse or even a pet, they have to stay behind. That’s rough, but this is about you. Who are you, apart from everyone else? What entertains you? What activities make you feel like you are fully yourself?
I like to ask people what they look forward to doing when they get home from work and all the chores and errands are finished. My dad would never let us pick up an activity if there was work left to be done; it made really appreciate my leisure time and, more importantly, live fully inside of it, free from to-do lists nagging at the edge of my attention. So when it is time for you to put your feet up and relax, what do you reach for? If it’s something you can carry with you, then, I think, you’ll always have a little bit of home with you wherever you go.
I’m sure I have a biased perspective. It took a long time, but now I am used to living away from my family and friends, and I had to learn how to make myself happy without them around for support, filling up my time and space. And I guess I’ve always been a quiet, introverted nerd. Outdoorsy and athletic, too, but my parents wanted me to be, and I’m not sure how many of those impulses are inherent and how many are the result of habit and upbringing. In fact, even those physical activities are, for me, solitudinous – running, swimming, hiking: all alone.
When your principle form of diversion is depends on you alone – your creativity or motivation – almost any hobby can be carried along with you. I do things alone. I associate solitude with home. In a way, then, I can bring a little bit of home with me wherever I go.
Even amidst the roar of propeller blades and the chatter of the crew on the headsets, when I open up a book, I am transported to a different place, any place of my choosing. I can play my Nintendo Switch in a crowded, noisy lounge and forget that anyone else is there. Even writing this post, or any creative writing – I keep a notebook in my backpack, ready to seize the opportunity when inspiration strikes, and my phones “notes” app is filled with scraps of ideas and descriptions that I want to remember or revisit. When I run, it’s just me and the music (and suffering). I’m getting back into video editing, which requires a surprising amount of concentration and a challenging learning curve and a lot more invested time than I remember from before. All of these things bring me the most joy, and I can do all of them whether I’m at home or on the road.
Sometimes people get their “me” time, some comfort of home, from being around other people – group activities, team sports, spending time together. They could feel comfortable wherever they go. That is wonderful, a truly enviable characteristic. But this post is not about that.
I am deeply interested in people who make it a priority to carve out time for themselves, who have some quiet interest that draws them away from the company of others. Now, more than ever, it is so easy to waste time. (I’m guilty of this just as much as everyone else my age; I spend a truly appalling amount of time scrolling through memes and watching the same youtube videos over and over.) I’m fascinated by people who have clear priorities, who set boundaries on the time they’re willing to give to others and the time they insist on keeping for themselves. It takes some bravery and focus, and sometimes awkward explanations, to detach from the world around you and turn the focus inward instead, to be wholly and authentically yourself. I have a lot of respect for people who make it look natural and effortless, especially since I’m pretty firmly entrenched in the “antisocial weirdo” camp.
So if you have some secret hobby or passion, something that you do for you alone when no one else is watching, I’d like to hear about it sometime. I think I understand you a little bit already, and I’d like to know more.
Most folks “let themselves go” a little bit while deployed. Our socializing is restricted to those on our crew, so eventually we stop worrying so much about putting up appearances, for better or worse. (Like all good things, this can get taken too far: on the ship, some people get disciplined into performing basic hygiene, like showering.) It is a refreshing reminder, for example, to look in the mirror after months without makeup and realize you’re still cute!
I was going to a cold and dry environment. Most of the time, my legs would be covered. And there would be no liberty, no seeing new people or new things, so there wasn’t much of a point in shaving. It seemed like the perfect opportunity to not shave and see what happened. I was hoping the experience would liberate me, like cutting my hair short. I thought I would cross a new threshold and realize it was so much better on the other side.
The hair on my legs went from stubbly to bristly to long, shockingly long, long enough that I could feel the wind through the hair when I walked around outside. (This, I realized, was a sensation I had never felt before, not once in my life. I started shaving my legs when I was so young, still in middle school, before I even had the chance to actually grow adult body hair.) The hair was dark but not particularly thick; it looked like the hair most guys get when they first start trying to grow a mustache. Frankly, it looked like pubes. It was longest by my ankles, disappeared by the tops of my calves, and returned, thinner and lighter, on my thighs. It was not soft, but then again neither is the hair on top of my head. My family has thick, coarse hair. My legs, it turns out, are no exception.
I hated it. I hated it at first, I hated it throughout the duration – it looked wrong, it felt wrong – and I hate it now, even with weeks of retrospect. I hate myself for hating it. I read many, many articles by women who stopped shaving and loved themselves more for it. I am deeply envious of them – and ashamed of myself for not feeling the same way. Being ugly, after all, is one of the worst sins a woman can commit. Almost anything else is excusable: be crass, be cruel, be empty, but for God’s sake be easy on the eyes while doing it. What does it mean when I find myself ugly? How much of this feeling is reducible to my own personal preference, and how much of it is the product of social pressure, drilled into my head since I was a child? How do I even begin to separate the two?
It is one thing to buck social convention when you feel well-liked and comfortable. You can take solace in knowing that you have people who will love you and want to be around you no matter how hairy you are. During this experiment, though, I felt lonely – something I feel not when I’m actually alone, strangely, but when I’m deprived of solitude and forced to socialize – which added to a general malaise of low self-confidence. This demanded a whole separate exercise in bravery, one that I struggled with a lot.
(To be fair, throughout the deployment, no one said a negative thing about my body hair to my face. In fact, the few people I confided in about it were very supportive and kind and understanding. I’m grateful for that. But being in an environment of constant negativity gets under your skin after a while. It amplifies that personal negative voice droning on in the back of our minds, the one that tells us we are ugly and stupid and terrible. It makes it seem more real, more manifested.)
But it wasn’t all bad. I didn’t mind the underarm hair. It grew into a soft and reddish tuft, a surprise. If I wasn’t such a social coward, I wouldn’t mind keeping it grown out. Another discovery: there is a spot right below my left knee where only a patch of hair grows, alone in an otherwise hairless area. It looked like a little goatee. It was hilarious.
From this experience, I also got to reflect (more than I wanted to) on how much of my self-worth comes from the perception of how attractive I am to others and how much of my personality is rooted in a desire to be liked. Who am I when I’m not trying to be more socially palatable? To be sweet and funny and smart?
I’m still working on those answers. In the meantime, though, I started shaving again. There is some shame in letting social pressure win, but that defeat is quiet and personal and invisible. By contrast, body hair is a public, noticeable thing, an consistent opportunity to invite embarrassment. It was a serious emotional challenge to post these photos here, evidence of something now gone – never mind wearing it on my body every day.
A few years ago, I would have been mortified to see a photo of myself without makeup. That doesn’t bother me anymore. Maybe someday in the future, then, I’ll be brave enough to be hairy, live and in public. Not now, though. Not back here in sunny Hawaii, where everyone is always sun-kissed and in swimsuits and groomed. Not yet.
In January, I did a practice parachute jump in air crew school that didn’t go so well. Something felt wrong, but I wasn’t in pain, so I pressed on until the adrenaline wore off. I was shocked when the x-rays showed two fractures because, though my foot was swollen as hell and I couldn’t put any pressure down, it didn’t hurt at all. This is a sharp contrast to when, at a different school in May, I felt back pain so severe that I thought my kidneys were failing. Despite the pain, the ER said there was nothing wrong: a pinched nerve, maybe? They gave me a shot and I slept it off. It spooked me pretty bad that I could experience sudden, intense pain for no reason.
I bought my first car. It is a 2013 Hyundai Accent and it spirited me across the country from Florida to Washington, seeing some amazing stuff along the way. Maybe I should have been nervous, driving so far all on my own, but I wasn’t, even when situations might have called for trepidation. I’m glad I did it; this solo road trip was the highlight of my year. It showed me that there is so much of America that I haven’t seen yet.
The Patriots won Super Bowl SBLI in one of the most exciting games of all time. I will never shut up about it and I’m not sorry.
I completed some of the most challenging training of my life, forcing me to face a lot of fears. Someone once told me that you either have a good time or a good story. Some of it was good times. Almost all of it makes good stories.
I moved to Hawaii. Thanks, Navy, for letting me spend a few years in paradise. I’m going to make the most of it.
I went on my first aircrew deployment. They call them “dets” but I have a compulsive need to be contrary in the most pointless and petty ways imaginable. Anyway, I’m still out here, and it has confirmed two suspicions: that the aircrew life is offensively easy, and that I still want to get out of the Navy. I was afraid that I was going to fall in love with this stuff and struggle with the temptation to reenlist.
RESOLUTIONS To write a blog post every month. I did it! I’m going to continue this goal. It has demonstrated to me the value in simply putting something out there, especially if it’s not perfectly polished. Usually, my attitude when submitting a new blog post is: here’s a new piece of trash for the garbage heap! But once in a while, I’ll scroll back through what I’ve written and it’s not nearly as bad as I thought it was at the time. Some of it is even okay!
To get back to (arbitrary weight). I made this goal before I broke my foot literally in the first week of the year. Then I moved from Florida to Washington to Hawaii. I am, of course, making excuses, but this was not the year for stability. The hardest part about staying committed to any body-related goal is that I’m more or less fine with how I look. My body is okay. It always has been okay. It is really hard to maintain a weight-loss goal when it’s not motivated, to some extent, by self-hatred. Is this what getting older is like? Just accepting your fleshy meat prison the way it is? That said, I haven’t given up completely. I still have to fit in to uniforms for another 34 months and I will not buy more!
Read as many books as last year. 32 last year, 48 this year. My TBR list grows faster than I can chip away at it. I’d like to be better and braver about quitting books that don’t grab my attention, but I have a hard time leaving them unfinished. This is ironic for someone who, at the moment, has 15 unfinished blog posts in the queue. (Soon, 14.)
I wanted to stop swearing. What was once edgy and is now so commonplace that it defeats the point. Cursing has evolved into verbal laziness; sailors substitute swears in place of any word at all, making the things they say ironically, unintentionally bland. Conversely, the recent rise of ironic wholesomeness and the use of creative non-swears packs a much more interesting punch. I like saying things in funny and, hopefully, memorable ways. So if I’m going to swear, it had better be a necessary component of the idea. Otherwise, I’m going to try to find a more accurate word.
I haven’t thought of any new resolutions for 2018. These are all okay, besides the weight loss one, so I guess I’ll just keep on with this sort of thing.
FAVORITES MUSIC: I WAS BORN by Hanson I finished a write up about another artist a few weeks ago. I let it simmer. When I came back to this post, though, I realized what I really wanted to talk about was Hanson. Yes, MMMBop Hanson, from our childhoods. Remember them?
I don’t know anyone who would call themselves a Hanson fan specifically, but I am almost certain that you have heard a Hanson song, enjoyed it, and had no idea who you were listening to. They are like that: every few years, Hanson steps back into our cultural consciousness, releases a top 40 banger, and humbly fades away.
Hanson released a two-disk, 26-track greatest hits album a few months ago: “Middle of Everywhere,” which I bought immediately after watching them perform on an NPR Tiny Desk Concert (it’s worth a watch). What amazed me the most was not how much they had grown or changed across more than two decades of making music together, but how much they had stayed the same. Not only do the older songs hold up over time – MMMBop was 20 years old in 2017, and it still has its youthful sing-a-long charm and positive, hopeful message – but Hanson has maintained their essence over their entire lives. How many of us figure out our artist niche as children? These guys did. In the NPR concert, when they play “This Time Around,” I found myself remembering the all the words, despite not having heard it in two decades. Hanson is like that: subtle, memorable, enduring.
There is something about Hanson that is quintessential to American pop, a slice of our music culture at its best: pure, upbeat, hand-clapping tunes with joyful harmonies that only siblings could pull off. Hanson makes good music, then and now. They deserve a lot more attention than they get.
I want to see the sights unseen I want the extraordinary Everybody’s waking to the same clock I could never be another chip off the block
“GONE” by ionnalee
“Echo in the Hills” by Carrie Elkin and Danny Schmidt (2014, but listened to it a lot this year)
“New Rules” by Dua Lipa
MOVIES/TV: TERRACE HOUSE: ALOHA STATE Terrace House is seriously underappreciated.
It is a reality TV show in which six young people – three guys, three girls – live together in a house, and everything they do is filmed. Think MTV’s Real World, but not quite so 90s and much more Japanese. The biggest difference is the tremendous, echoing absence of the kind of drama we have come to associate with American reality TV. Much of Terrace House is, as a friend put it, “delightfully mundane.” We watch them go to work and school. We watch them cook and clean together. We get to see their outings to beautiful places. Sometimes they fall in love. The best part about the show, though, is the extremely Japanese tradition of having a crew of commentators routinely interrupt the program to discuss what had happened and what they expect will happen next. They are hilarious; I can’t believe the US hasn’t adopted this practice yet.
When drama does happen – well, first of all, it is incredibly low-key, since the Japanese are traditionally not super confrontational. But the tensions and arguments that do arise are emotional rollercoasters because they are entirely organic and authentic, not contrived by producers behind the scenes. When things get tough, you realize that these are real people with real lives and real feelings. You become invested in them and their happiness. You share in those quiet frustrations and awkward conversations because they are so deeply relatable. Terrace House captures the entirety of real lives: the good, the bad, and the ugly. What makes it so great, though, is how it shows that life is mostly good.
Aloha State – the first iteration of Terrace House to be filmed outside of Japan – was released on Netflix (worldwide) in late January, when my foot was broken and my own fate regarding living in Hawaii was up in the air. The second part was released shortly before I high-tailed it out of Pensacola, fully healed and confident that I was inching my way closer to the Aloha State. The third part came out when I was in Washington, only one school away from completing that wretched pipeline. Finally, the last part came out when I had arrived in Hawaii; I finished the last episode on the day I signed the lease to my apartment. I made it. So, yeah, this pick is a little sentimental, but it’s a good show and it gave me hope that I would make it to Hawaii someday.
Runners-up: Get Out The Last Jedi My Brother, My Brother and Me The Great British Bake-Off Brooklyn Nine-Nine
BOOK: PRIESTDADDY by Patricia Lockwood
Boy, is it hard to pick just one, but it seems right to pick something that was published in 2017.
Priestdaddy is a memoir about the author moving back in with her parents after her husband’s health troubles render them financially unstable. Her dad, somehow a Catholic priest, is a caricature of a man, especially a conservative man. Lockwood describes her childhood and adult interactions with her family in the most delightful, tender, earnest ways possible, but also with an edge of smarmy, self-aware standoffishness that I imagine must come naturally when writing about one’s family as though they were specimens under a microscope.
Seriously, though, Lockwood writes like a dream. She makes me want to write a book just like this one. It is the only book I read this year that made me laugh out loud like a maniac – multiple times. It is so, so funny – a perfect memoir.
Another reason why I chose Priestdaddy as my book of the year – and, argh, looking at the runners-up below, it was a tough choice – is that I could give this book to almost anyone and I know they will enjoy it. Lockwood’s family, despite being somewhat unusual, is described with such a familiarity that I think anyone can see their families in hers. It shows that you can be different from the people you love, and who love you, and still be important to one another.
If you read only one book this year, it should be this one.
Runners-up: Fingersmith by Sarah Waters (2002) Life Among the Savages by Shirley Jackson (1953) We, the Drowned by Carsten Jensen (2006)
GAME: LEGEND OF ZELDA: BREATH OF THE WILD
I’ll be honest: I struggle to maintain interest in video games lately. I’ll play for an hour, tops, then be ready to do something else. This is a huge departure from years ago, when I would block off entire segments of my day to play MMORPGs and online FPSs. My entire college experience consisted of having nervous breakdowns over my courseload and evading depression in the forgiving arms of World of Warcraft. Probably less destructive than alcoholism, but definitely more embarrassing. Anyway, all of this to say that it was a surprise to find myself sinking many, many hours into a game again.
I have some discussion of the plot here, but I don’t think anything constitutes a spoiler. If you haven’t finished the game yet and don’t want any preconceptions, skip it. Otherwise, you’re probably in the clear.
A criticism that I often hear about BOTW is the lack of story. We have come to expect video games to be so cutscene-heavy that they are primarily movies and secondarily interactive. In BOTW, there is as much plot as one is willing to find. The “lack of story” criticism misses the point: Link wakes up completely devoid of memory. The story is revealed mostly through found objects, locations, and conversations – things that jog Link’s memory. The entire plot of the game is figuring out what went wrong a century ago so he and Zelda can make it right.
(And this game’s version of Zelda is so human, so unforgettable – a young princess with a destiny so important that she’s deeply insecure about her ability to fulfill it. Early memories show her as abrasive and arrogant, distrustful of Link and resentful of his presence, lashing out because she’s so afraid that she’s not good enough. I’ll admit that I got a little emotional watching Zelda’s anguish over her failure to accomplish what had been set out for her, especially as the fate of Hyrule rested on her shoulders.)
Here are some more accurate criticisms of BOTW: controlling the camera is extremely annoying, especially in battle; the world is so vast and full of things to discover that it is basically impossible to fully complete (at the time of this writing, I’ve finished the main story and am working on the DLCs, and I’m barely 25% of the way done!); the Blood Moon cutscenes are frustrating and intrusive and sometimes unskippable; the final boss fight was easy and a little underwhelming (though I didn’t play it on Master Mode).
And here are some more good things about BOTW: the secondary characters, especially the Champions and their descendants, are wonderful; the game is fun to play even if you’re just exploring the open world, and it feels like there is always something to find or do; the game design and music are so, so beautiful; Link’s ability to climb on and over anything (an unbelievably important but underappreciated development for this franchise) makes the world feel completely open to the player; the impermanence of weapons feels authentic and realistic; the physics of the game are extremely good and allow the players to find creative and unusual solutions to puzzles.
BOTW is the best game I’ve played in a long time. It has completely revived the somewhat stale, predictable “The Legend of Zelda” games in a really exciting way. I’ve put more than 100 hours into it, and I still have a long way to go. I’m okay with that.
tldr: Link is my son and I love him very much.
Bury me, my Love
Super Mario Odyssey
The Nike running app – now called Nike+ Run Club – has gone through several transformations since I started using it, but its core remains more or less the same: it uses GPS to track your run, keep pace, and provide statistics. Achievements came and went and came back again. Social networking features were added. But NRC’s best feature – why I stay committed to this one app – is its coaching programs.
My running ability comes in ebbs and flows. For example, after finishing a particularly grueling training last month, I arrived in Hawaii physically depleted and unadjusted to the climate. I come back to NRC’s running programs time and time again because I know it will get me back to where I want to be with running. This time, specifically, I made a six-week program with the intention of preparing for the PRT. (Spoiler: I got a 12:30 – not my best time, but one that I am deeply proud of, given the circumstances.)
There’s nothing special about me. NRC spits out a program and I do it to the best of my ability. It always, always pays off.
Here is how to make a running program on NRC, and what you might expect from it.
Those of you who have been on the island for a while might find this funny. Maybe I will look back on this in three years and laugh, too. But here it is anyway: my first impressions of Oahu, having been here for almost three weeks.
The beaches here are lovely, but what I wasn’t prepared for was the beauty of the terrain itself: the mountains which encircle Kaneohe Bay rake the clouds like teeth and are lush with vegetation and have some of the most intense drop-offs I’ve ever seen. I can’t wait to start hiking all over.
Sometimes native islanders treat servicemembers badly.
The people I work with now are very different than the people I used to work with. Not a criticism, just an observation. They seem like a family.
The food is very, very good. I had a poke bowl for the first time today. If it was up to me, I would eat it every day.
I knew that leis looked pretty, but I had no idea how good they smelled too. I thought the air would smell better, though, like it did in Coronado. (California is fine, I guess.)
There is more of a Japanese influence here than I had anticipated, and I had anticipated a lot.
There is so much to do, all the time! I’m really excited about how many social events seem to be going on all over the island. I’m looking forward to meeting a lot of new people.
The climate is a tough adjustment, which was a surprise. The wind and heat are taking their toll on my run times. I’m doing my best to be patient with myself. It’s good enough to get through the upcoming PRT.
Air conditioning is a luxury here, despite it being 85 degrees every day. Electricity – well, everything – is very, very expensive.
I picked an apartment that is a mile walk to the beach and to one of the most beautiful and welcoming churches I’ve ever attended. My apartment is two bedrooms, which is one more than I need, but I want my friends and family to be able to stay with me and save money if they visit. One of my greatest disappointments from three years in Japan – and I still have feelings of resentment about this – is that no one did.
The library on base is very good and very underutilized.
Trying to register my car and get BAH here are two of the most administratively asinine and frustrating experiences I’ve ever had.
I’m on the “good” side of the island, according to friends closer to Pearl Harbor.
I’m still highly suspicious of how I managed to get such good orders. I’m going to do my best to make the most of these three years.
I’ve been sitting on this post for a while. I struggled with it a lot. There is no way for me to talk about this subject and cast myself in a positive light; talking about it at all makes me hypocritical. I know. I agree with you. Ultimately, what this boils down to is trying to make myself feel better about my privilege. It’s self-indulgent and unproductive. But it’s on my mind, and tried my best to express my feelings, and I bear the responsibility of these problematic results.
No matter what I do, it never feels like the right thing. It never feels like enough.
There has never been a time in my life where my needs weren’t being met. Thanks to my parents, I’ve always had food, clothing, a place to live, healthcare, and a good education. I took them completely for granted. It was important to my parents to set me up for success in every way that they could. They both came from humble beginnings, but their parents – my very frugal grandparents, who came of age during the Great Depression and World War II – had just enough to build the foundation for my parents’ future. My parents both seized those opportunities and turned them into careers and investments, and they set a very strong example for me to follow.
I’m extremely fortunate. Even as an adult, if I were to reach out to my parents and ask for financial help, they would give me money immediately, without question, and without conditions. When I was thinking about buying my first car, I remember my mom telling me, “I couldn’t afford a car when I was your age, either. My aunt gave me the money for a down payment and called it a 0% interest family loan.” My parents understand that they are in their position today because they had a support system behind them, even a modest one, from the start.
After college, I swapped my parents for the military as a financial support system. True, the Navy employs me, but it also pays for my housing, food, healthcare, and even official travel totally separately. My paycheck is essentially my disposable income, used for leisure and whatever other bills I choose to accrue. With some planning, it was enough to pay off my student loans after four years in the Navy. Military pay isn’t going to make anyone rich, but the security of having the essentials covered is generally worth the trade-off.
I couldn’t be where I am today without the security and reliability of these financial support systems. I recognize this with an equal share of appreciation and guilt. I feel lucky, but it bothers me a lot that not everyone has had the same privilege as me. That’s why it’s important to me to give back, to do for others what was (and continues to be) done for me, now that I’m out of debt and able to do so. It is very, very hard to talk about giving away money without sounding like an asshole. The Bible isn’t everyone’s favorite source of moral guidelines, but I think it there is great wisdom in Matthew 6 on this subject:
“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.
“So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”
Sorry, God, but if other people didn’t talk about the causes they support, I would miss the opportunity to do my part. I have to find out about the needs of others from somewhere (usually podcasts, let’s be honest). So here it is: where some of my charitable money goes, where I found out about them, and why I do it – so maybe someone out there reading this will have the means and motivation to do the same.
I heard about Cooperative for Education from the Stuff You Should Know podcast. The idea of a direct sponsorship is very appealing; it makes you feel like your money is having an immediate impact on someone’s life. Cooperative for Education focuses on Guatemalan children, particularly girls, whose educations are often cut short by joining the work force to support their families. The student I’m sponsoring is almost done with the 10th grade, and my sponsorship ends when she graduates. Sponsorships start at $35 per month.
On a Sunday in Salt Lake City on my recent cross-country road trip, the priest at the Cathedral of the Madeleine was working directly with Unbound, which focuses on helping those in poverty attain or maintain self-sufficiency. I was moved by his passion and commitment to improving the lives of the less fortunate. Since I was already sponsoring a young person, I asked the priest if there was any need for a sponsor for an elderly person. (I had my grandma on my mind a lot, and how my mom and uncles are so devoted to her care.) There was, and now I support a woman in Bolivia.
Unbound has a ton of giving options and a wide reach. It is a good place to get started. In case it wasn’t clear, this is an explicitly Catholic organization. Sponsorships start at $36 per month.
I heard about Kiva also on Stuff You Should Know. I had never heard of microlending before they talked about it there. People from around the world post the amount of money they need, what they need the money for, and those loans get crowd-sourced incrementally at 0% interest. Loans are slowly paid back over time, and Kiva encourages you to reinvest the returned money in another person. This creates a charitable revolving door. A loan of $25, once repaid, could get lent out again and again to those in need.
There are many other microlending organizations out there, and I think this is a fascinating system and absolutely worth looking into.
When a friend asks for donations for a fundraiser or to help someone else in need, I don’t think twice. It feels good to show support for the people who love us. Plus, it feels good to give to a “cause.” It’s a win-win for everyone.
But when someone asks for money for themselves personally, we hesitate. Our egos get in the way. It feels uncomfortable to be the benefactor of someone we actually know. We worry that the person is trying to take advantage of us or that the friendship will be plagued by resentment. We prefer to give to strangers far away; we assume they will be grateful and will never depend on us for more.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot. It feels wrong to turn away loved ones when my own family has given me so much throughout my life, to the extent that I took it for granted. Because isn’t that exactly what I fear? Being taken for granted?
If we can’t depend on the people who love us, what else is there?
Not many other folks have been as fortunate as me. So much of who I am is a direct result of what I’ve been given. If I could do that for someone else, even in a small way, why wouldn’t I? Shouldn’t I?
According to the Navy, it takes seven days to drive from Pensacola to Spokane. 2500 miles across seven days, at my slow pace and having to stop and pee every hour or two, means about 6-8 hours on the road per day. Not bad. But what if I wanted to go even slower than that? What could I see along the way? This desire led to an idea: could I turn this into something fun and still get to my next school in time?
I left as soon as I was able. I took 10 extra days of leave. Here is what I did.
Day 1: Pensacola to Memphis
I left in the morning on Thursday, April 20. The schoolhouse in its entirety had been before 0600 for a vague and nonspecific chewing-out. I packed up my car and was on the road shortly after colors.
On the drive through Alabama and Mississippi, I saw more churches than I’ve ever seen in my entire life, and I was surprised by how many abandoned buildings and homes there seemed to be. With so much empty space, maybe it makes the most sense to leave them alone. Almost everyone in Mississippi seems to have a small pond on their property, too.
Memphis is more or less exactly in between Pensacola and Kansas City. The motel that I stayed at was a short walk from historic Beale Street, which was alive with tourists and students with the Grizzlies postseason game nearby.
Day 2: Memphis to Kansas City
I really, really wanted to spend time in the Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, but it didn’t open until mid-morning and I had someplace to be in Kansas City that night. I stopped by the Lorraine Hotel anyway, which has been preserved in time since Dr. King’s assassination there in 1968. It was here that I remembered that some of the most important American history happened in the past several decades, not centuries.
Coffee in hand, I drove through a bit of Arkansas (lots of armadillos dead on the roadside) and northwest into Missouri, where the temperature dropped and it started to rain. I arrived in Kansas City and checked in to one of the grimiest motels I’ve ever visited, but it was only for one night, and it put everything I needed in walking distance. After dinner and a quick drink at an upbeat gay bar called Hamburger Mary’s, I went to the Uptown Theater to see Welcome to Night Vale live (“All Hail”), which was great. On the walk back into the theater from a bathroom break, I also ran into someone who had been on my ship but had since gotten out of the Navy. Small world!
Day 3: Kansas City to Denver
This day was driving the entire width of Kansas. I stopped briefly at the Combat Air Museum in Topeka just to break things up, but it was mostly a lot of driving past oil wells and windmills and rolling farmland. I got to Denver late in the evening, ate dinner, and checked in to a hostel downtown, where I would stay for a few nights.
Day 4: Denver It is really hard to ignore the homelessness problem in Denver. It’s not that the homeless are a nuisance – they’re not – it’s that they’re everywhere, all over the city. Maybe other cities have more places for them to go, so they’re not quite so visible? I’m ignorant on this issue.
This day was a Sunday, so I went to Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception. It was having major renovation work done on the facade, which was a shame, but the interior was beautiful, particularly the rose window above the organ. From there, I went to the History Colorado Center, which gives free admission to the military – thanks! My favorite aspect of this museum is the attention it gives to the more problematic parts of the state’s history, particularly the treatment of the Japanese during World War II and black people, well, always. I got a strong “let’s learn from these mistakes” vibe.
But the big attraction on this day was that Coheed and Cambria was in town on their “Neverender – GAIBSIV” tour, which is my favorite music from them. The show was fantastic. I know they – or at least Claudio – are sort of “over” that era of music, but they brought the energy all the same. I was unusually self-conscious about not having the outward appearance of the typical C&C fan, but as soon as the music came on and I could sing all the words, it didn’t matter. Plus, the folks around me on the floor were really considerate about keeping the mosh pit away from the smaller-statured people, which I appreciated. (The Dear Hunter opened for the show.)
Day 5: Rocky Mountain National Park
One of the girls staying in the hostel room was not especially considerate, so this adventure was fueled by lack of sleep and a single Voodoo donut.
It was a beautiful drive to Rocky Mountain National Park, where I was given a free National Parks annual pass for being in the military. This ended up saving me a bunch of money over the next two weeks. I’m really grateful that the NPS offers this deal.
I hiked from the Bierstadt Trailhead, which offered some really amazing views of the mountains, through to Bierstadt Lake, still covered in snow and ice. (I did not bring hiking boots to Pensacola, like a dummy, and did this hike in sneakers.) I circled around to Bear Lake and followed the road as the sky became grey and the wind picked up. Sure enough, as I rounded a turn and laid eyes on the trailhead where I had parked, it began to snow. Good and lucky timing.
Day 6: Pagosa Hot Springs to Chaco Canyon
Another night of lousy sleep at the hostel in Denver. I finished up making reservations for the rest of the trip, resolving to stay in private accommodations even if it cost more. I was on the road at 0430 and, very sleepy, drove south through the mountains in the dark. I began to notice the lovely little mountain towns along the way as the sun came up, and they reminded me of the vacations my family would go on during February school break to Mount Snow in Vermont.
Pagosa Springs was about halfway between Denver and my next destination, so it made for a perfect rest stop. I could smell the sulfur as soon as I entered the town. It was chilly and rainy, but the contrast made the hot springs more enjoyable, I think, just like using the onsen in Hokkaido in the winter. It was quiet at the resort, too, since it was the offseason, and all there was to listen to was the sound of the river rushing by.
It is over 150 miles from Pagosa to Chaco Canyon, but the last 25 miles took an hour by itself. It had rained there too, and the road into the canyon was, in better conditions, unpaved and rocky, but in these conditions was slippery as well. The drive in and out did a number on the underside of my front bumper. My car was almost completely covered in mud by the time I made it into Chaco Culture National Park.
It was raining and very windy as I located the campsite and set up my tent. Miraculously, it stayed dry on the inside, though I was drenched and shivering, my hands too cold to do a great job tying down the guy-lines. I threw some rocks on top of the stakes (which could only be set in sand) and got in my car to warm up and drive the loop around the park. Luckily, the weather cleared up briefly as I made it to some of the historical sites.
One of the most fascinating aspects of an ancestral puebloan site is the mystery of it; architectural practices of the early twentieth century allowed excavators to remove (and sell) artifacts from the site. But, the Rangers explained, once something goes missing from the site, even something apparently without significance or value, that a small piece of the ancient story go with it. It removes context that can never be replaced. For this reason (and others), there are still so many questions remaining about the people who lived in Chaco Canyon. They built tremendous structures that were able to house numbers far greater than those who lived there permanently. Was it a seasonal trading post, where inhabitants moved on to someplace else when the weather turned cold and blustery? Were they forced to abandon the canyon after a catastrophe, from famine or from enemies? There is so little evidence left behind. It made me think a lot about the sort of things we are leaving behind today, and what sort of conclusions people will draw about us a thousand years from now. The physical setting of the canyon, too, leads one to feel very small and introspective: massive cliffs ring a sprawling plains littered with sagebrush, where the wind howls in forceful, sporadic bursts. You can walk and walk and feel like you’re not going anywhere because the canyons seem simultaneously so close and so far away.
The Chacoan people did leave evidence of their understanding of astronomy, though, with their buildings’ structural alignment to solar and lunar cycles and the “sun dagger” on the Fajada Butte, which seems to have been designed to predict the equinoxes and solstices. The canyon itself maintains a gold-tier “dark sky” designation, meaning there is very little light pollution in the area and it is ideal for stargazing. That night, the rangers gave a lecture on astronomy, then we all bundled up and went out to look at the night sky. The weather had been lousy earlier but the sky was totally clear by then. The rangers, who really impressed me with their encyclopedic knowledge of astronomy, pointed out the well-known constellations to us. We used telescopes to get a good look at Jupiter and the Messier 3 star cluster. There wasn’t much to see of the Milky Way due to the season, but we could see the very edge of it. The edge of our galaxy! It was dazzling and overwhelming; in every direction, we were surrounded by stars. I thought that the night sky at sea was unbeatable, but this experience was very special.
When I returned, my tent was surrounded by hail but, mercifully, still standing intact and dry on the inside. The temperature had dropped below freezing and, between shivering and the loud snoring at the camp site next to me, I had a very, very restless night. It was my first camping experience. Despite less than ideal conditions, it went all right. Of everything I got to see and do on this trip, I think this was my favorite place.
Day 7: Chaco Canyon to Tusayan
I packed up my tent and spent a little more time among the ruins. It was still very cold and windy, but it felt good as the sun came up. There was no phone reception in the canyon and I had gone off the grid without telling my mom that I had gotten to New Mexico safely. I worried that she was worried. So I made the slow, bumpy drive out of the park and headed west for the Grand Canyon. (The original plan was to camp out there, too, but temperatures were dropping below freezing there too, so I canceled and stayed at the Holiday Inn in Tusayan instead, right outside the park.)
The first time I drove around a bend and got a glimpse of the Grand Canyon, I was hit with a wave of vertigo. Everyone knows that the Grand Canyon is big. I knew that aircraft carriers are big, too, but I couldn’t understand how big they are until I saw one in person. It was like that. It seemed inconceivably immense – as in, beyond what I could actually comprehend – and it took a while for me to get used to looking at it. I parked the car and did a short, easy hike around the rim. I wouldn’t go within several feet of the edge. Terrible mishaps kept running through my head, accompanied by the voice of Lester Holt: “US Navy sailor falls to her death in Grand Canyon while on vacation.” I watched the sun go down and cast huge shadows across the canyon below. I would be a little braver the next day.
Day 8: Grand Canyon, South Rim
After a delicious, complimentary Holiday Inn breakfast, I headed back into the park. I began with the steep but well-maintained and popularly traveled South Kaibab trail, which led down into the canyon itself. It was cold and blustery while walking in the shadow of the cliff, but as the sun climbed up higher, it became a warm and cloudless day, perfect for hiking and photos. I went as far as Cedar Ridge, stopping to rest and eat a snack, then went back up. I was expecting the return trip to be extremely arduous, since it was all upwards, but it wasn’t too bad. I still had a lot of energy when I was done.
I visited the Tusayan Ruins and museum, which had some ancient puebloan kivas as well, but these were remnants of foundations. Next, I went to the desert watchtower, where I climbed to the top and paid a quarter to get a better look at the blue-green Colorado River. From up high, the river looks like a little trickle, but the magnification revealed that it moves through the canyon pretty aggressively.
My last adventure was the Grandview trail. This one was really scary. There were several moments were I stopped and considered whether or not I ought to continue. The path was very steep and narrow with the sharpest drop-offs I’d ever seen. A wrong step and there would be nothing in between me and a long fall into the canyon below. At one point, I stopped for a break and was considering turning around and going back up when a couple edged their way passed me. The woman was holding a blanket around her shoulders and wearing sandals and seemed completely at ease. I – carrying a backpack containing two survival packs, spare clothes, and enough food and water to last 48 hours or more – was in awe. (In my defense, I had just gotten out of a survival school, and might have been in a very particular mindset.) I carried on a little longer, stopping often, worrying always, until I got to a point where I was just too scared to continue. Going up was much easier than going down; now my momentum was upward instead of downward, and I worried more about a misstep causing a chipped tooth instead of a plunge to my early death. I was exhausted by the time I got back to the top – not from the exercise, but from the fear.
Day 9: South Rim to St. George, Utah
I had planned on spending a few hours at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon on my way up to Utah, but the roads in weren’t open yet. So I drove from Tusayan to Glen Canyon Dam, where I stopped for photos and to use the car wash at a nearby gas station to get the mud from Chaco Canyon off my car. (I had never used an automated car wash before and the employee there was unusually kind and patient with me. Thank you, car wash man!)
The drive in to Zion National Park from the east was unbelievable. My jaw was hanging open the entire time. The massive layers of colorful sediment rise up all around and contrast beautifully with the green trees and a cloudless blue sky (I got really lucky when it came to the weather, with a few notable exceptions). I made a brief visit to the Human History Museum, which had to close early due to the federal hiring freeze leaving rangers short-staffed (hmm). I did a short hike on the Watchman trail, which followed the Virgin River up into the bluffs overlooking the visitor center and the green, green valley beyond. From that vantage point, Zion truly looks like a desert oasis. I checked in to the Days Inn at nearby St. George, which was really nice as far as two-star accommodations go, and planned out all the hiking I wanted to do the next day. There was a lot of it.
Day 10: Zion National Park
Most people want to hike up to Angels Landing when they come to Zion, but after the Grandview experience at the Grand Canyon only two days before, I was okay with passing on the hikes with severe drop-offs. I was ready for easy trails and seeing as much as possible in one day. This day was also my mom’s birthday. It would have been super rude to die in Utah on my mom’s birthday.
The park prohibits POVs past a certain point, which is great for cutting down traffic and carbon emissions. Park shuttles run up and down the length of the canyon at frequent intervals. I don’t think I waited more than 10 minutes to hop on, even in the busiest hours. To start, I rode the shuttle to its final stop, which was an easy riverside walk. This hike is supposed to turn into the famous Narrows, where you can walk through the river to the narrowest point of the canyon. As the canyon began to close in over me and it got darker and cooler, I came to a sign that said that the Narrows were closed due to snowmelt. Huge bummer. So I walked back to the shuttle and did the Weeping Rock trail (beautiful hanging vines and water trickling down the rocks), the Kayenta trail to the Emerald Pools (not the color advertised, but the upper pool was pretty neat), then the Grotto trail, which led me back to the Lodge where I could sit and eat my lunch. Then I got back on the shuttle for Canyon Junction, where I took the Pa’rus trail along the Virgin River (you could hear the sound of running water almost the entire walk, which was very pleasant) back to the visitor center.
Zion National Park is not just a beautiful place, it is also a well-run and maintained park. It is proactive about accessibility and concerned with public education. All of the trails are well-marked and maps are easy to follow. Of all the parks I visited on my trip, this is the one I recommended most strongly to my parents as being visitor-friendly. I got the feeling that the rangers took pride in helping people learn about and enjoy their park.
On the way back to St. George, I visited a ghost town in Grafton. This led to a lot of research on my part about what constitutes a “ghost town,” exactly, since these were just some abandoned (and well preserved) nineteenth century prairie homes. It is hard for anything to seem eerie on a bright, sunny day, with cattle moo-ing happily in a nearby pasture, a man in a cowboy hat holding his children up on the fence to look at the animals, and an older man with a small wooden easel set up near one of the homes. On the drive away from Grafton, I spotted another man in a cowboy hat and boots, only this one was wearing daisy dukes with his t-shirt tucked in to the waistband. He was out walking his dog, no leash. He waved cheerfully at the cars that gave him space on the narrow unpaved road. I thought, that man is standing in his truth. Good for him.
Day 11: St. George to Salt Lake City
I did a short hike in Kolob Canyon (the Mormons renamed everything around here, it seems) in the northwestern area of Zion National Park. The Timber Creek Overlook Trail led to an outcrop that overlooked the wilderness below. It was quiet and sunny and I sat there for while, thinking about how the canyons seem permanent and eternal from my perspective but are actually products of cataclysm and the slow march of time. It was a peaceful realization that things that seem like the end of the world might one day turn into something very beautiful.
The drive north to Salt Lake City was one freeway the entire way, speed limit 80. I checked in to the hostel with some help from another guest (the place was unstaffed and everything was confusingly automated). It was Sunday, so I went to Mass at the Cathedral of the Madeleine, which had a visiting priest whose upbeat and charitable character I admired. I ate dinner downtown and then went back to my tiny room with no window. You get what you pay for.
Day 12: Salt Lake City I started off the day with a visit to the Family History Museum, where one of the nice elders helped me begin compiling a digital family tree. I was blown away by the amount of information freely available there. I thought that my grandparents had all been first-generation Americans, but I was wrong: my paternal grandpa emigrated from Quebec when he was a child. Doing the research was a lot of fun, but I also realized that there is just as much that I can learn from my parents anecdotally. I would really like to sit down with them one day to learn as much as I can about my grandparents’ lives.
Next, I visited the Church History Museum, which helped fill in some of my knowledge gaps about Mormonism.
I had to leave Temple Square after that to find a coffee place, where the man who was behind me in line made a big show of forgetting his wallet and asking me to cover his lunch. I did, but it wasn’t out of altruism; he had made a scene and I felt uncomfortable and wanted to end it as quickly as possible. He caught up with me as I was trying to escape and revealed that it had been some kind of hidden camera prank and offered to pay me back. But that made me feel worse, like I had been preyed upon and only narrowly passed some half-assed social experiment.
After that, I stopped by the convention center, where a very sweet and very old woman gave me a tour. She, like all of the volunteers around Temple Square, was uncommonly patient and knowledgeable. I got to hear a little bit of the huge organ as the organist was practicing. My guide showed me all of the art around the building as we went up each floor, finally leading to the roof, which had a very clever garden where each corner resembled the trees and flowers found on the mountains or plains in that direction. There was a part for wildflowers, too, that was allowed to grow freely and naturally.
Finally, I went on a tour of the Beehive House. With me in the group was one very rude man and his friend who spent the tour trying to defuse his remarks. Every other comment out of his mouth was a smart-assed criticism of the LDS church. And, sure, they have a problematic history. Which faith doesn’t? At the same time, though, he was in their space. Why was he even there if he had so many hard feelings toward the church? The women who led the tour (one was from Kanagawa!), for their part, were extremely patient and understanding and probably deal with this sort of thing a lot. I did my best to keep the conversation focused on Joseph Smith and his story, and after the tour I chatted with the women a little more. They were both so kind and enthusiastic. They gave me a Book of Mormon to keep, which hopefully I will read one day.
I did some shopping. One of the employees at LUSH was from Massachusetts (“Everyone here is so nice. I hate it!” she said about Salt Lake City). I treated myself to some chocolate-covered strawberries from Godiva. As I was leaving the downtown area, a panhandler got really angry with me after I turned him down. (There are signs all over Salt Lake City imploring visitors not to support panhandling, and underneath those signs are often old parking meters which allow someone to donate money to a charitable organization instead.) I was surprised and spooked by his aggressiveness and was ready to go back to the hostel after that.
Day 13: Salt Lake City to Jackson Hole, Wyoming
I stopped by Antelope Island State Park on my way north from Salt Lake City. I saw the Great Salt Lake and bison for the first time. On my walk back from the beach, though, I was descended upon by a plague of gnats. They swarmed around my face and followed me all the way to the car and I sped away with the windows open to get them out. After driving some distance, I stopped someplace else for photos and the gnats were on me again! I could see them in hovering clouds, like patches of TV static, along the roadside. I’ve never seen anything like it. It was awful.
I drove up to Teton Village in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. The Village is a collection of hotels and stores nestled at the base of a ski mountain. It was the offseason, though, so most of the businesses were closed – and I got accommodations for pretty cheap. I liked The Hostel at Teton Village immediately upon seeing a beautiful black cat sprawled out on the check-in desk. I spent the rest of the day driving around Grand Teton National Park, seeing the Chapel of the Transfiguration and the structural remains of some early settlers. I had dinner at a busy family restaurant where it seemed like everyone knew each other’s names. That was nice.
Day 14: Grand Teton National Park
Up until this point, I had been doing pretty well hiking around on my own. None of the parks I had visited had aggressive wildlife, and my biggest concern had been not falling to my death. But Grand Teton National Park is absolutely bear country, and at the time of my visit they were just coming out of hibernation. Hikers in this area are frequently warned to not hike alone and to keep their food sealed and/or in their cars. It’s also worth mentioning that I’m scared of literally everything and bears are especially terrifying. I was eager to hike around this unbelievably beautiful park, but I was also very apprehensive about being on my own.
I started with Taggert Lake with the intention of seeing Bradley Lake first and then circling around back to the trailhead, but the way toward Bradley Lake was still covered in snow with no discernible trail markers. The Taggert Lake trail can be done in a loop as well, and after taking some photos of the thawing lake, I teamed up with a retired lawyer from San Francisco to finish the hike. We each had a moment of falling into the snow up to our waists and I think we both were glad for the company. We realized after some time that we weren’t totally certain that we were still on the trail (not well marked with snow cover), which was confirmed when a family from the Netherlands was spotted slogging towards us. They had given up trying to find the trail and were heading back to Taggert Lake. Together, the five of us went back the way we came.
Most of the area around Jenny Lake is under construction, but the northern overlook was still open, so I stopped there for some photos. The cathedral peaks nearby looked like they were shining as the ice melted in the afternoon sun. I saw a ton of elk at the Elk Preserve area and bison grazing and butting heads. I think my favorite stop on this day was one of the boat launch areas onto the Snake River, where the marshes were home to boreal chorus frogs. I really like frog sounds. The river was audible in this area, too, so the combination of frogs and river water sounds was very relaxing. I recorded it on my phone to listen to later.
Day 15: Yellowstone National Park
If I had to have one “bad” day on this whole adventure, it would have been this one. The direct road between Grand Teton and Yellowstone parks was still not open for the season, so I drove almost four hours to the western entrance instead. That was fine, but my long life of traffic crime finally caught up to me and I got pulled over for speeding on the way there. With all that’s going on nowadays involving law enforcement, it was truly a privilege that my principle emotion was shame rather than fear. The cop was nice enough but it left me feeling angry at myself all day.
The exhibits in the visitor center near Old Faithful were really well done, both fun and informative. I got to spend some time looking at them before the geyser’s next scheduled eruption. I actually got to see Old Faithful erupt twice: once from near the visitor center, and once from an overlook, totally by coincidence.
I walked around the upper geyser basin. There are so many geysers in this area alone. Old Faithful is the most popular, but there are several that were more memorable to me: the Castle Geyser, which bubbled and steamed like a pot on the stove; the Solitary Geyser, which was a placid hot spring until a pipe was installed, turning it permanently into a regularly erupting geyser even after the pipe was removed; the Spasmodic Geyser, which is a spot-on name (erupts often and from different places along the pool); the Giant Geyser, which last erupted in 2015 and, before that, 2010 (it must be great to be there by coincidence and see it erupt); and the Grotto Geyser, which looks more like a curved fountain than a cone.
All of the “hikes” in this area are along boardwalks due to the delicate and unpredictable nature of the thermal land. I walked up to Biscuit Basin to see the Sapphire Pool and the other thermal pools. They had some of the most striking and unique natural colors I’ve ever seen: the waters were a deep aquamarine ringed by minerals and algae-like bacteria of all colors (many white, but some yellow, black, copper, yellow, and teal). The Morning Glory pool was especially interesting: its coloration used to be even more vivid, but visitors throwing objects into the water clogged the natural vent below and changed the bacterial composition of the pool.
I could have spent another day in Yellowstone easily. In particular, I wanted to see the Mammoth Hot Springs in the northern part of the park, but I had spent all day by the geysers and pools. I didn’t want to make the eight-hour round-trip drive again the following day. I decided to stay in the Teton area instead.
Day 16: Grand Teton National Park
Coming back to Grand Teton National Park turned out to be a great idea. It was a warm and cloudless day. My first stop was Schwabacher Landing, which has some of the most iconic views of the Tetons with the Snake River serpentining below. Next, I went to Jackson Lake and dam, which are overlooked by Mount Moran. These were some of my favorite photos from the whole trip. I went back to Jenny Lake and got some great photos there too. Mostly, I took it easy on this day, walking on the bike path around the park and enjoying the sun and fresh mountain air. I had been going, going, going for more than two weeks by this point, and it was starting to catch up to me.
Day 17: Jackson Hole to Missoula, Montana
It is more than nine hours from Jackson Hole to Spokane. I could have done it in one day. But I had extra time, and I found a nice hostel in Missoula, so I decided to take it slow.
I’ve been using my journal to recollect daily events on this trip, and I laughed at what I wrote for this day: “I really like Jackson Hole. It seems to pride itself on its wild-wild-westernness. I picked up a coffee and a sandwich before hitting the road, and today the road hit back.” There was a shredded tire, still mostly intact, in the middle of the freeway, and, not wanting to swerve into adjacent traffic, I ran over it. It dislodged part of the plastic under my front bumper but that, thankfully, was the worst of it.
I spent the rest of the drive playing tag with these huge black stormclouds. Eventually, it caught up to me, and the rain quickly turned into hail the size of golfballs. I pulled off to the side of the highway and waited. To be truthful, I was very scared that the hail was going to damage my windshield; it was hitting my car so hard and loud. It lasted only ten minutes or so, and my car held up.
I checked in to the Shady Spruce hostel in downtown Missoula, which was a really nice repurposed home. It was my favorite of all the places I stayed.
I got my hair cut and ate dinner and walked around the downtown area. Missoula is definitely a college town, but also family-friendly. Everyone was uncommonly polite. I spent less than 18 hours there, but it left a positive impression on me.
Day 18: Missoula to Spokane For the first time in more than two weeks, I woke up and put on a uniform. I went to church at St. Francis Xavier, which was just a short walk from the hostel. The priest there was enthusiastic and funny and joyful, and the congregation was genuinely kind. I really enjoyed the Mass there. After that, I was on the road for the last time.
It was a beautiful, rainy drive through the mountains. I would have enjoyed being a passenger on this leg of the trip so I could spend more time looking at the mountains rising through the mist and less time looking at the road. I stopped for lunch, then arrived at my ultimate destination, Fairchild Air Force Base, around 2PM on May 7, where I would spend the afternoon wandering around, trying to find where to check in. (No command quarterdecks in the Air Force. Even the instructors in my school admitted that their branch is “military-light.”)
In total, I put 4,875 miles on my car. I drove through 15 states. I saw six national parks and six new cities. I saw two live shows. I went camping for the first time! It was also my first experience with driving more than a few hours on my own. It was a very exciting 18 days, but the way I knew it was a great trip was when I was ready to go back to doing the Navy thing again at the end of it.
I hope the rest of the year brings even more adventures!