pine nuts and the full spectrum of human emotion

Back in September, one of my roommates had a dream that our time in Sitka was coming to an end. TV cameras were there to document the occasion (oh dream logic, how I love you). An interviewer pointed his mic at me and asked, “You just finished JVC—what are you going to do next?” I turned to the camera in my Packer jersey, raised my arms to the sky, and said, “I’m going to DISNEY WORLD!”

It didn’t take long at all for my roommates to know me.

Aww, look at us. We’re like lil’ October babies.

All I want right now is a Mickey waffle. Y’all, ALL I WANT RIGHT NOW IS A MICKEY WAFFLE. Logically I know that my sanity should not hinge on batter that’s been ironed into the shape of a mouse head, but I’m not always logical. And I want this.

The craving is really based on three very simple principles. (1) Sitka lacks waffles. (2) Parks and Rec makes me crave waffles. (3) I crave Disney every day.

I’m on my way home to Florida now. I just said goodbye to a lot of good people, including a whole lot of kids who embraced me and gave me ice cream cake and the greatest cheesecake I’ve ever eaten (so clearly I don’t need waffles because my life suffers from a sugar deficit) and made me lucky bracelets and elaborate pop-up cards. They didn’t understand why I was leaving them or what they’d done. Leaving them broke my heart so much that it even caught me by surprise. Sometimes they drove me nuts this year. I didn’t realize how much I loved those kids, how much they inspired me, and how much I wanted to give them.

And as for the rest of Sitka—these people opened their homes to us. They had us over for dinner, came to our potlucks, offered us sweet gigs, and dropped off boxes of partially-moldy produce or nearly-expired yogurt or uneaten Thanksgiving pies. Like, boxes. And whole freezers worth of creamer.  And whenever we needed a car, there was a car for us, key in the ignition. Everyone leaves the key in the ignition in Sitka, and cars only get stolen unintentionally, because people accidentally get into the wrong green Subaru and drive it home before realizing it’s not actually theirs, at which point they return it right away. (I cannot make this up.) They offered up their kayaks, their tents, their time and expertise, and they did it lovingly, with the sort of gratitude that assumed we as JVs were doing something great for the town, when in reality the town did something far better for us.

I’ve met a lot of intelligent people this year, and most of them have something really remarkable in common: they don’t care if people think they’re intelligent. They don’t hide their talents, their knowledge, their travels, or their insights, but they also don’t brag on themselves. These are the people who define smarts not by GPA, but by whether you can carry on a passionate, well-informed conversation about something important.

It takes a lot of confidence to move to small-town Alaska. You have to be pretty self assured, certain that your worth does not rest in moving up the ladder at a big company or publishing an article in the New Yorker. In Sitka, you don’t play the guitar because you want to see your name in lights before sellout crowds: you play the guitar because you SO BADLY LOVE TO PLAY YOUR GUITAR FOR PEOPLE. And that’s all there is to it. You do what you love and forget the rest.

I’m not always good at that. I’m too insecure for it, maybe, too worried about impressing people and living up to expectations. I want the big fancy job with a really cool employer so I can show it off to people and show it off to myself and say, “Look! I’m good at something!” Even though I know better, I still sometimes fall into the mindset that a career path is synonymous with a sense of purpose.

College didn’t teach me this. It didn’t. Both BC and JVC have shown me again and again that purpose is found in people, that there is a job we’re called to do but sometimes it’s not the same as the job we’re paid to do. At some point in our lives, if we’re fortunate enough to make it happen, what we’re called to do is travel without a destination, learn voraciously, soak in the sights of elaborate palaces and worn-down villages. Carry on genuine conversations with people we’ll never see again, sit in comfortable silence with friends we’ve known for years. Let a family member hold our hands while we cry. Let ourselves be without plans for a month or two.

I can’t decide if I’m more afraid of having plans or not having them. My life for the time being is open—which could be great, or it could be a never-ending cycle of Bachelorette reruns with my mom. But I have an interview for an amazing internship in California, so anything can happen! I’m thrilled about the interview, but the excitement also brings a whole new set of important decisions. I’m caught between important decisions and Bachelorette reruns, and I don’t like either one of them.

So that’s why I need Mickey waffles. Thanks to a frustrating turn of events involving fog over LAX, a detour to Burbank, and a little turf war between Delta and Alaska Airlines, I’m not going to get them. I’m still at LAX, now bound for Tampa. It’s 3:22 am. An airport alarm has been going off since 2:27. I just slipped on the wet tile floor in my quest to find a bathroom that wasn’t closed for cleaning (which, let’s be real, should not be this hard), and I’m beat. My luggage is MIA—not the Miami airport code, but the code for You’d Better Find My Stuff, Delta—and I feel about as lost as my suitcases, like this white tile hallway might as well be limbo. Why so much white tile, anyway? Where are the stuffed bears, LA?! Where am I going with my life?!

So to summarize. What I don’t like about the past 24 hours: most everything.

What I do like: the time we spent on the tarmac in Burbank made me feel like I was in that 30 Rock episode where Liz gets stuck on an airplane. They’re within sight of the gate, but Pilot Boyfriend Matt Damon won’t let them leave. He won’t turn on the air conditioning. He just keeps saying it’ll be 30 more minutes until finally Liz snaps and tries to lead a revolution. I really, really felt like I was in that scene, and the thought of it kept me amused. We were the airplane folk, fanning ourselves with the safety instructions and bonding over our shared inconvenience. I wonder how long it would have taken one of us to use an old guy as a human shield against the pilot. Longer than an hour, obviously

This is what writing does, even silly writing. It translates between our real lives and our sense of humor. We laugh because we relate but also because we can distance ourselves enough to know that we’ll find this funny someday. Moments like these, when the context of my life is shaped by the words I absorb, make me so sure that I’m meant to write, and I’ll take that certainty wherever I can find it.

Here’s what else I like: I’m going home. I’ll get there eventually. My dad recognizes my emotional dependence on Mickey-shaped breakfast foods, and he’s already promised a trip to Disney on Saturday. When your family is this accommodating of your ridiculous needs, you had better be insanely grateful.

I’m going back to Disney sunrises and white sand sunsets. I’m going back to shoofly pie at Yoder’s, back to frozen custard and the three other ice cream places I need to visit immediately, back to sundresses and flip flops. I’m excited not to wear rain boots, even during tropical storms. Speaking of which, I’m excited for thunder and lightning. I’m excited for the Harry Potter movie marathon with Caitlin that I’ve been waiting a year to enjoy. I’m excited for Chipotle and Panera. I’m excited to live where Target is a store and not the deer at the end of your rifle.

I have this to go back to, and that’s a gift. I have a little sunshine coming my way. And if in a few weeks I turn around and leave for the next adventure, I’ll be ready. My year in Sitka has taught me that adventures usually work out just the way they’re supposed to—delayed flights and all.

Author’s note: I wrote this without the benefit of internet, which is why I’m posting it now. I made it home! The airport alarm finally stopped at 3:39. I broke my 19-hour airplane-imposed fast with a giant Chipotle burrito—which I wanted so badly I waited an extra hour just to drive home from Tampa and get it—and then watched my mom chase a flying cockroach with a broom. So I’m definitely in Florida. My bags have been located (but not yet unpacked) and I’m on my way to Disney as we speak!  Also, one ice cream place down, three to go.

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