Monthly Archives: March 2011

My Life As A Peony

As the news of another close friend getting married arrived in my inbox this week, I couldn’t help but wonder: How are all of these people’s lives THERE when mine is HERE?! Six years ago, “these people” — my best friends from college — and I were in the same exact place. In fact, I was ahead of the crew with a serious relationship of two years that showed no major signs of wilting. Emails like these — the “Guess what? We’re getting MARRIED!” emails — are like state-of-your-life grenades that get randomly detonated throughout one’s twenties, just to keep some of us feeling like we’re never 100% on track to becoming a “true” adult. Not yet at least.

Orchids from The Orchid Show at the Bronx Botanical Gardens. March, 2010.

Don’t get me wrong: I am so happy for my friends and so excited to be a part of every wedding that I can be (can’t you tell?! HA. N0, but, for real). I am sincerely excited and in awe of my friends’ happiness and I am amazed how grown up they all are (seriously – I’m just impressed!). But it gets me thinking of course…

What does it mean to be “full-bloom” in life, anyway? Who’s to say one person’s bloom is better than another’s? Why does everyone pay so much more attention to the bloom than the blooming process? Alright, alright. I know. And I do the same.

One second I’ll be reading my email, getting revved up for the next two years of being an undergraduate science student again, and the next thing I know, I am being jolted into someone else’s life-time-frame and feeling like I must have done something completely wrong or gone way left when everyone went right. I get this sudden overwhelming spark that tells me I’ve veered off-course and while some people are thrilled and excited to see it, some are worried about me. For the record, I’m not worried about me! It’s like I’m a puppy jumping around in a field, trying to play in the great unknown, and then I run myself across an invisible fence and get sparked, which would be society trying to tell me No, no silly puppy. Just go back in the house where it’s safe. Sometimes I feel like my deck has been shuffled one extra time, and maybe my cards are turning up just a little more jumbled than the rest. Am I the outlier? I can live with that. (Annnnd then I realize I am in the majority, afterall. Weird how the prevalence of certain announcements can play tricks on the hard numbers, which are actually working in my favor.)

Then I’ll come across something like this YouTube video that my friend Allison (ex-intern at Viva Travel Guides) created of our trip to the Cotopaxi Province of Ecuador (you can watch it again at the link above, or read about this trip through my previous post, Pain in the Cotopaxi. And for all who may have wondered why my back hurt so much during that six-hour horseback trek, well, turns out I compressed a thoracic disc. Why am I not surprised?!) After watching this video and getting a quick rush of nostalgia (I’m such a sucker for nostalgia), I go… OH yeah, THAT’S where I’ve been… And do you see me complaining? NOPE. (Just to be extra clear, this post is me NOT complaining. Hehe.)

An imperfect orchid. Bronx, NY. March 2010.

At the risk of sounding like I’m trying to make myself feel better (which, I kind of am doing – oops) about not being one of those “real” adults with jobs and fiances before thirty (as we are supposed to do, apparently), I think about horseback riding up a volcano in Ecuador and how awesome it was (uhh, minus the back pain). A salary would be fantastic, of course, but that will come later (panic panic panic). Maybe I’ve had some speed bumps on the ride to my thirties, but when those speed bumps come in the form of zip-lining through cloud forests in both Ecuador AND Costa Rica, and dipping my toes in the water of many seas… it aint so bad to take a detour.

Ok ok, here it is: The truth. I will admit with my little tail between my legs that I want all that — the love, the engagement, the I DO, the commitment to one person, the family, the salary, the blah blah blah that we’re all supposed to want… EVENTUALLY. I’d take it right now if it was right. But, while I want it (I do. I really do.) I’m glad I didn’t get it at the cost of all this. Please tell me you understand what I mean.

Gardenias. If you could only smell them... Bronx Botanical Gardens, NY.

When I watch this video from my trip to Cotopaxi, I can’t help but smile. I am genuinely so, so happy I had the chance to live out all these adventures I’ve had in my early- to mid-twenties. I feel so lucky. The past six years, I got to swig life down in giant, uncertain gulps. I may have suffered a bit of indigestion here or there, but man has it been (mostly) delicious so far. Sometimes I can’t believe all the incredible places I got to travel, all the kisses that were kissed (oh boy have there been some good kisses), all the unforgettable once-in-a-lifetime experiences I was able to accumulate and share. I know that when I get there, to that place where it feels many of my friends have already gotten and to that place I still believe in with all my heart, all of these experiences will become an even bigger gift; not only will they have made me who I am, but they are also the experiences that – back then – I didn’t know that, now, I wouldn’t be able to live without.

On Sunday, I go to Puerto Rico for a week. It will be the last travel adventure for who knows how long? My new priority is school, but don’t you worry! I will tell you ALL about Puerto Rico upon my return.

Waterlilies. Bronx Botanical Garden. March 2010.

Maybe, as it turns out, I’m just a late-bloomer in life. I mean, I’m 27, not currently in a serious relationship, I don’t have a graduate degree (yet!), I’m attending seven weddings this summer and none of them are mine (ha!), and I’m just not putting all the pretty little pieces together the way the world seems to want me to do it.

But peonies are one of my favorite spring flowers. And, just like me, they are late-bloomers. Does that make them any less wonderful than the orchids or daffodils that come out first? I don’t think so. They’re all beautiful once they’re in-bloom; each flower just has to bloom on its own time. Only then do they smell the sweetest.

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In Case You Were Curious…

I’m not going to lie: as fun as contributor month has been (thank you so much to every single person who contributed their time and words to TwT!), I miss you guys. Big changes are coming my way… However, I knew not much would happen during February, so I figured I’d do a little hibernating while you all shared your own adventures, and I allowed my new plan to brew.

This worked out perfectly. I know I’ve been a bit vague, but now I’ll explain what I am up to… And don’t worry: I’m off to Puerto Rico at the end of the month so a spurt of wanderlust will be injected back into TwT! CAN.NOT.WAIT.

Three men at the rose garden. Palermo, Buenos Aires, Argentina.

But first, a little background…

My mom used to tell me about how, as a little girl, I was always very cautious. Whenever it was time to make a big decision, like what instrument I was going to play or how safe a rickety wooden bridge was to cross, I would stew in my thoughts as long as it took until I decided the instrument was the right choice for me (yes, I played the flute for TWELVE years – don’t hate), or the bridge was safe enough to cross. Once I made a decision though, I went for it whole heartedly.

In the playground, while my older sister would run recklessly up to the top of the biggest slide and tumble down it however she had to in order to prove she was fearless and brave (unsurprisingly, she ended up being the co-captain of the Radcliffe/Harvard women’s rugby team), I would stand at the bottom watching her make all the first mistakes. That was the one nice thing about being the second oldest of five kids; I always had one person who could test out the waters before me. I’d let her go a few times, and I’d watch other kids go up and down as I quietly observed. Once I realized it was safe, and possibly even fun, only then would I be ready to make the risky journey to the top of the slide. And it was thrilling. The way down was always easier, of course.

Once I committed to something, be it a slide, an instrument, a sport, I was 100% committed. I have always been this way. Although now, I’d say I’m more reckless than ever. Not reckless in the sense that I haven’t evaluated how bad things could turn out, but reckless in the sense that I know I’ll be ok: I’ve been through enough to know I can get by with a few extra scars and bruises. But most of the time, it’s not that simple; some of my biggest disasters have been my most profound learning experiences. It took getting knocked down quite a few times to learn that one.

Hammock ropes. Tumbaco, Ecuador.

I love a challenge and I love proving to myself that I can handle something a little crazy — like waking up at 5 am all four years of college to row in the Maine (brrr) sunrise, or taking on the terrifying opportunity to choreograph a 15-person dance my senior year of high school for the biggest school production of the year (when I felt like a completely awkward dancer myself, and I HATE being on stage). That said, I still find myself sometimes sitting back, quietly evaluating the risks involved in very big decisions before I jump in. But, just like when I was a kid, whenever I finally decide to go for something, I am fully committed to it and will do whatever it takes to achieve/fight for my new goal. Whether it’s deciding to start a blog, committing to a whole lot of work, or allowing myself to fall in love… ah yes… I become a part of the decision, 100%, and I jump.

Well, I’m onto my next challenge! Beginning on May 23, I am becoming a student again. I just got accepted to the NYU Post-Baccalaureate Pre-Health Studies Program and I will be committing to two years of straight up SCIENCE classes so that I can eventually apply to become a Doctor of Physical Therapy. I AM SO EXCITED.

I know, I know. It sounds crazy, random, quarter-life-crisis-y, or whatever you want to say. But what many people might not know, is that I have been sitting back, looking up at this slide for a very LONG time. Before I went to college, I thought I wanted to be an ER doctor, a surgeon, or a writer. I got to campus, went to the pre-med meeting my first week of freshman year, took one look at all the courses I would have to take if  I went pre-med (Biology, Chemistry, ORGANIC Chemistry…), then took a look at all the other courses offered (Cosmic Sexualities, Archaeology of the Hellenistic World, Ancient Greek Medicine, Latin American Testimonio, Mozart: The Man, The Myth and The Music, Dance, and Art, Science, and the Mind) and just went… NAHHHHH.

I made a very conscious decision that first week: I decided, instead of taking any courses I HAVE to take, I was going to go through college taking whatever the fuck I WANTED to take, and — although this decision is about to bite me in the ass — I have absolutely NO regrets. I loved EVERY SINGLE COURSE I took in college (yes, even Integral Calculus) and I got to study abroad in Barcelona! I know I was a TRUE liberal arts student because, the second I graduated, most people were concerned for me. Hehe. I mean, I was a Spanish major with a triple minor in Archaeology, Art History, and Asian Studies, but I could only declare one minor so I chose Archaeology — my favorite. What the hell kind of career does that get ya? I like to think it made me an, um, interesting person.

A crack in the bridge. Mindo, Ecuador.

While most of my fellow 2005 graduates are getting engaged (ok, maybe it just FEELS that way) and have JDs, MBAs, and close to MDs already, I am going back to school…as an undergraduate. Yep. My curriculum for the next two years goes something like this (did you know, btw, that there are many more pre-reqs for a DPT program than the med schoolers have? Yeah, me either.):

BIOLOGY 1, BIOLOGY II, BIOLOGY LAB

CHEMISTRY I, CHEMISTRY II, CHEMISTRY LAB

PHYSICS I (oh yes, I just said PHYSICS), PHYSICS II, PHYSICS LAB

DEVELOPMENTAL PSYCHOLOGY AND/OR ABNORMAL PSYCHOLOGY

STATISTICS

ANATOMY w/ LAB, PHYSIOLOGY w/ LAB or a combined 2 semester of ANATOMY and PHYSIOLOGY w/ labs

And…

Either ORGANIC CHEMISTRY, BIOCHEMISTRY or EXERCISE PHYSIOLOGY.

I’m actually supposed to also take an English composition course. Can you believe that I have never taken a college-level English course?! There has got to be a way to dodge this one… I did like five of these courses, but they were in SPANISH! I’ve been a writer/editor for the past six years! I’ve co-authored two guidebooks! Please tell me that counts!

Me 16,000 ft above sea level, next to Ruminahui Peak. Cotopaxi Province, Ecuador.

So, as you can see, the next couple of years are going to be a shock to my system. Folks, I have not taken a science class in 10 years. I have not been in school for nearly six years. I have no idea what’s going to happen to my brain when I walk into my first 700-person physics course, but there’s only one way to find out. I’m about to get my ass completely kicked by science, and a part of me cannot wait. For most people, spending the next few years studying science and going to labs is the last thing they’d ever want to do. For me, the last thing I ever want is to wish I had…

I will spare you my thoughts on my impending and overwhelming financial doom, which may or may not have caused a recent mini meltdown (my first, so that’s a good sign!). That’s definitely for another post.

Today, I just wanted to share with you all the bottom line: I am on a whole new career path, in healthcare, and it is so liberating to finally say YES I CAN DO THIS after years of brushing it aside for adventures and income (ha, barely). I was beginning to think it was too late, and trying to give up on this path, but then I realized it is so NOT too late! Who says it’s too late? Fuck THEM. (Sorry for all the cursing this post… I’m apparently fired up!)

I realized in Ecuador that I absolutely love writing, and I will ALWAYS write, but maybe I didn’t need a boss to tell me how and when to do it; maybe I didn’t want to depend on publishing during this day and age. Maybe travel writing was the absolute coolest thing for me to do in my early and mid-twenties, but I got traveled-out, ran out of money, and realized it was too unstable for the life I want to live now. (Juan the Amoeba wasn’t much help.) I will write because I love it, not because it is my job, and now I will also work with people in a helping capacity just like I’ve always secretly wanted… I am not afraid to be the first Travel Writer turned Doctor of Physical Therapy, and I do plan to combine both eventually. Watch.

I just hope you stick by me as I transition. So far, I am volunteering at two different outpatient physical therapy places, and I am absolutely loving it. Being in healthcare is like being on a different planet for me… but I can honestly say it feels more right and more at home to be on this planet than being in a cubicle and putting on the corporate “show” ever did.

I mean, let’s be honest: I am looking up at one big fucking slide… But this adult Tavel, well she’s not the kind of girl who gets too scared to go for a wild ride. Not anymore.

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