The trouble with my research being on tourism is that it usually involves digging into old field notes from Panama and photos from Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and Peru. Suddenly I am bugging to travel again and sucked into never-ending tunnels of memories that remind me of how I arrived at this point. I will never stop preaching the merits of travel.
When I came back from Peru, I felt free. I’ve always been a person who appreciates the ability to push the “reset” button on life. To drop everything, go somewhere new, make new friends, begin a new life, and put my past behind me. What I love about traveling and moving alike, is that each new place shapes me. When I move to a new place I have changed and evolved. At my core I are the same person but I have become a wiser, stronger, better version of myself. It’s like upgrading software on a computer. I work out bugs and develop better technology. I evolve. It is the evolution of the traveler.
The first month in a new place is hard. Hard to imagine rebuilding a life. I remember my first month back in New York was lonely. I knew no one. I strained to make friends and fill my days with work and hobbies, but I went about all of these things alone. The second month showed little improvement until I moved into my apartment in the city and then everything changed. I met my roommates. I started school.
Since moving into my new apartment I built a new life. I cast each bit of Peru out of my life, only to permit the typical photos that everyone who visits my room ogles. The landscapes of Machu Picchu, the canvas of the boat on the Amazon. My room, the homage to everywhere I have lived. If I sit here too long and think too hard, it’s heart breaking. The pieces of my past organized and sorted and separated into decorations to remind myself where I have been, what I have accomplished, and who I have evolved into.
In moving back to the place I started, I saw this as being the end of a cycle. T.S Elliot says:
“We shall not cease from out exploring
And the end of our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.”
That is what my return has been like. I have arrived back where I started but it’s like I am seeing it all through new eyes. An evolved traveler who has finally come home.
For these few months I’ve had the chance to take everything I have learned and everything I have become and mold it into the version of me that I feel is the best yet. A version that I am proud to be. I’m independent, I’m a marathoner, I’m driven, I’m smarter. I have created a life that is completely distinct from the one in Peru. The life I lived there was important, but it was a traveling version of survival of the fittest. I fought everyday to stay there and experience that life that I had wanted so badly. I survived, I grew, but I don’t care to look back yet.
Now, in one week, my past will be crashing with my present. The person I lived with, loved, and broke up with upon me return is moving here just as I once moved there. Wherein I felt strong, I no longer feel that same strength. How can I evolve if digression threatens me? I have carefully molded my life into one that I wanted. In my mind I’ve pushed so far past where I was, but my heart keeps lurching and my eyes keep watering. I hate the thought of being confronted with my past. I hate that I have to look my past in the eye and tell my past that I want to forget all of it.
The past that will physically confront me is much like these memories I have on my wall. Important to remember, crucial to who I am, but if I think about it too much my heart breaks.
So tomorrow I run my first marathon. To be honest, I’m nervous and worried, but in the end it’s 8:58PM on Saturday night at I’m running it. Other than drinking water and getting sleep, there is nothing left to be done. So here are the things I would want to tell to myself if I were giving myself a motivational speech:
Enough people told you that you couldn’t. In high school your goal was to run a marathon before turning 18. You were shut down by your coach and being young and impressionable you listened to him and didn’t give it another thought. Then your knee went out. You had surgery, it didn’t go that well at first. Your physical therapist was about to run a half-marathon. You told him that you’d see him on the roads next year. He gave a half-smile and told you that he didn’t know about that.
You recovered. You ran one half marathon. Then another. Then another. Were you prepared for any of them? No, of course not. You were in college and you were the life of the party. They hurt, you finished. Not only did you finish, but you proved your physical therapist wrong. You thanked your surgeon in your head.
You went to Peru. You gained weight. You started a running streak. You kept on the streak. You signed up for a marathon. You kept active. You lost more than 15 pounds. Tomorrow you’ll run that marathon.
You are not completely prepared. You could have been better, yes. But this summer you played countless games of ultimate, hiked mountains, and never stopped exploring- like the North Face ad but also like your personal motto. You look in the mirror, you like what you see. Your jeans from when you were 19 sit loose on your hips…but now your knee isn’t busted and you have muscle. You are better than you have been in a long time.
Maybe you won’t run it as fast as you’d like, but you’ll finish. You have always been good at mind games, you’ve always been good at pushing through pain. You’ve always been good at knowing what you want and getting it. Remember that time you rubbed all the skin off the arches of your feet and finished your half marathon? Do you regret that? Did you ever regret that? Remember that time you hiked 122 miles? Remember the time you did it again with raw heels? Remember how you always put your mind to something and did it? Of course you do, you were there. Have you ever been the best? No. Have you always given your personal best? Yes. That’s all you need for tomorrow. You need to go out there at finish what you started.
This is beyond a marathon, this is a matter of doing something you’ve wanted to do since you were 17. This is a matter of accomplishing a goal and not saying: “I’ll wait until I’m more ready.” Because when are we ever more ready than the present? There is always an excuse and when you’re 22 (almost 23) it’s impossible to predict what will happen tomorrow. Go. Finish the first one. Next time you will be better, but this is the first time. This isn’t a race, this is a dream. This is reminding yourself that you are slowly, but surely, becoming everything that you’ve always wanted to be.
Go. Run. Do it because you love it, because you want it, because you need it. Do it because it’s who you want to be.
(And if that doesn’t work…do it for the official jacket you just bought).
Good luck, but you don’t need it.
It’s 7:51AM in Piura, Peru. Though I detest teaching 7AM classes, I secretly love waking up early and walking the streets as the maids are just arriving to the houses to begin work, and the city is quiet and cool for a brief moment. It is one of the few hours where horns don’t honk, no one is yelling obscenities, and the first bottle of beer has not yet been opened. Early mornings, in Peru, are the greatest time of day.
This morning, while it is cloudy, cool, and quiet, is not a good morning. The clouds have yet to break over Piura, but already I have give five 0s on projects due to plagiarism and use of a translator. At least three of them will consequently fail my class. My favorite excuse perhaps, was the following: “Well we thought you would collect it at the end of class so we were going to put all of our parts together during class, using our own words.” In a fit of broken Spanish, I responded: “So you’re telling me, that while you had a MONTH to do this project, you were going to disrespect me and do your work during my class? And you think that is a veritable excuse?”
Three more students have recieved zeros on this component of the project, for use of a translator. Though I admire their honesty. “You used a translator,” I said. “Yes,” was her response. I liked that.
It’s a long morning and my coffee is still 25 minutes away.
There is no way I can write this without sounding phenomenally weird, so I’ll just have to spit it out and hope you read the explanation. I love the smell of sweat. Now let me explain, I don’t love it when I am in a movie theater, at a club, or walking down the street. It’s not even that I enjoy smelling sweat, I don’t stick my nose in it, it’s just that I enjoy the way a shirt smells after a run…or let’s be honest, my laundry costs me about $85 month, I wear my sports bras twice.
For me, just like the smell of cut grass evokes a sense of tranquility and easier times, that stale sweat smell reminds me of the times when I did things I never thought I could do. It’s a smell that has come with me when climbing mountains, skiing for hours on end, hiking 122 miles (twice), or running half-marathons and then sitting in the car for a long, stiff drive home. Even if I am simply putting on a t-shirt I used the day before, it’s a reminder that what I did yesterday, I can do today.
Certainly, it’s slightly on the bizarre end, but I don’t imagine I’m the only one. And it’s a smell I can only appreciate in the moments before stepping out the door for a run. But trust me- I want to get the smell off me as soon as I arrive home and jump in the (now) thankfully-cold shower.
I was walking to work today and thinking how this related to absolutely nothing I felt like writing about today. It wasn’t until this afternoon when my head cleared that I realized that this is another one of those kinda gross metaphors for how life can be really hard, but we always get through and our strengths make us a better person. Yeah, one of those. Let me explain.
I came back from a mediocre beach weekend with a case of mild food poisoning. For the fourth or fifth time. When I get food poisoning, it’s pretty much the most painful thing that happens to me on a semi-regular basis. It feels like someone is sticking a knife in my stomach and twisting. Repetitively. They last for about 1-2 minutes, then I usually get a 15-20 minute reprieve (sometimes shorter or longer, it’s not timed), and then it starts again. This time, at the end of the first 24 hours, the pain moved into my chest. This was worse than my stomach. Consequently, I haven’t eaten for a couple days, which was kind of alright, because I am really broke. But really, I was horribly upset this morning, because I still couldn’t run. I have been working for three months to improve my fitness for my upcoming tournament in Colombia, and it felt like it would all be worthless when my 3-day fast showed up on Friday in Colombia.
This spiraled downward, as most rough mornings do. I got to work and was bombarded with more tasks to do, on top of the twenty pages of translating (for no pay), that I already had. I felt overwhelmed. After having lost three pages of translation last night, I was even more beaten down when I was handed more pages to translate. It felt like a heavy weight. In the end, I left work for lunch simply angry. As I stomped home with the sunglasses-on “bitch face” I know I make sometimes, I at one point literally reached up to pull my hair. I had enough of taxi drivers yelling obscene things to me (I am in a knee-length work dress for crying out loud), I had enough of mototaxis honking at me when I blatantly don’t need a ride, I had enough of weird people pulling up to me and asking if I need a taxi when their car looks remarkably unlike a taxi. I’d had enough of hot sun and budgeting money and getting sick off rice and seafood dishes from the beach.
I arrived home, and promptly channeled this anger into calling my student loan companies and giving them a piece of my mind about their complete incompetence to properly respond to my e-mails that are a matter of half my salary, or nothing at all. Eventually, after spitting my anger out onto some undeserving chap who proceeded to speak to me like an idiot, I finally felt better. It was perhaps not the best solution to the problem, but it beat lashing out somewhere else.
So what does this have to do with sweat? My boyfriend has been clinging to a phrase lately: “In hard times we keep fighting. Let’s see what we’re made of!” Neither of us are having the easiest of times right now, but we’re promising to pull each other through. The thing is, when the run gets tough, the hike gets tough, or life gets tough, the only thing we can do is to keep pushing ourselves just a little bit further. We keep pushing until the sweat pours down, until every muscle burns, and until we can proudly arrive at our destination and know we have completed something.
Just like when I wake up in the morning, stiff and drowsy, and I put on that shirt that honestly smells pretty rank, I am met with the knowledge that what once seemed difficult, I completed, and I can do it again. This is no different than life. These days that challenge us, push us, and stress us are days that ultimately we look back on and remember that we survived it once, and we will survive it again.
I can think of plenty of times in the past when I was flat broke (though it was less consequential then), at the highest level of stress, or simply going through what we often refer to as “dark times.” These are times I remember. I remember once in college debating the merits of working three jobs (and also of selling whatever kind of blood you donate/sell, but that was brief), I remember putting in almost four days of all-nighters to complete a 45 page paper and complete all my research documents before a research trip to Panama, I remember breaking up with my first serious boyfriend and feeling like I would always be sad about it.
None of these painful, difficult moments were forever. They were things I had to sweat through until I could finally emerge on the other side stronger, smarter, and more competent. Some of these times, just like some of our runs, are longer than others and sometimes they hurt more. Regardless, as long as we have the will, we are always able to fight through until the end.
So why do I love the smell of stale sweat? Because it’s always a reminder of the days I spent to make myself stronger.
Logged onto the M&M/Mars Company website for Peru and Latin America to enter a contest (I’m big on winning stuff lately).
Not only could I not find the contest, I found this instead:
The words say: “you’re going to melt with our new Latino look!“
Yes, I am melting. Into a little pile of embarrassment for the company.
Apparently M&Ms spent a little too long in parts of Queens, because last time I checked, this is not the face of Chile, Peru, Argentina, Ecuador, or any of the other companies M&Ms are sold in.
Not only are these countries by themselves too diverse to give a “look” to, but putting the entire continent of South America in one lump and giving it a “look” is impossible. Yes, please, tell me how you’re going to compare the European-influenced Argentine capital of Buenos Aires, to the culturally rich region of Cusco in Southern Peru.
To create an image for these countries based on the stereotypical image of the “Latino” in the United States is an unspeakable mess of racism, stereotyping, and overall bad taste. Let’s not even begin to talk about how this image unfairly blankets to entire Latino population of the US. Personally, I don’t have a single friend from Latin America that wears gold chains and white sneakers. Even if some people do, you don’t see M&Ms running around in polo shirts and khakis.
Shape up, M&Ms/Mars. This is repulsive, offensive, and pathetic.