Saturday, May 30, 2009

Airports and Flying

I love airports. They’re busy and crowded and usually smell weird; but the airport is the gateway to adventure—the paterfamilias of travel if you will. It’s also a place where essentially everyone is angry. Something about the stress of travel releases the monsters inside us and we unleash our airport woes on innocent victims at the check-in counters, the gate, or the nearby Cinnabun stand. I like to think I’m a good sport when it comes to travel. I’m a trooper. However, I understand how the strain might cause some people to snap. For instance, I’m currently flying on an airplane the size of a soda can—and based on the rattled interior, I’d say it’s time to be recycled. As far as the overhead bins go, they are small enough to hold a small purse, but if you need to store anything practical—like luggage—forget about it, that goes below. Furthermore, when I received my seat assignment for this particular flight I felt encouraged when I read seat 19a—that’s practically at the front of the plane! Umm, not on this plane. Here, seat number 19a is the very last row which means my seat doesn’t recline, there’s no head room, and I don’t have a window; but on the bright side the bathroom is only two feet away.
I’m tempted to let a small amount of irritation corrupt my mood but honestly, I have no right to complain. I’m traveling 900 miles in less than two hours—a distance that took my ancestors 3 months to walk. I can understand how people might become frustrated, but I personally think everyone needs to take a chill pill, or some xanax depending on your own personal preferences, and relax. Or should you need even more comfort, just ask the flight attendant for one of those airline wing pins—they’ve brought peace to thousands of children throughout the past decades, maybe a piece of nostalgic aluminum will brighten up your day as well.
In the end just remember not to bring more than 3 ounces of liquid on the plane, wear easily removable shoes, leave your knitting needles at home, and as I learned today, no peanut butter is allowed on board. Keep a smile on your face and appreciate those airport personnel making your flight a possibility—they deserve some recognition.

Friday, May 22, 2009

What are your dreams?

At times it seems we view the world desensitized—desensitized to other places and other people. Luckily, if we seek new experiences we may be presented with an opportunity to re-sensitize ourselves to the world we live in, and the life we lead. This process is as if someone rips out your inexperienced eyes and replaces them with a newer, wiser pair.
I received my first pair of new eyes from a young girl in Zambia, Africa. While visiting a village I found myself surrounded by a number of young girls and we began a conversation. While amongst my new friends a girl standing next to me asked a simple question: What are your dreams Juel? I opened my mouth to respond but to my surprise, I stood there with my mouth open wondering what I was supposed to say. I looked up and saw her bright eyes looking into mine—deep black mirrors reflecting my own stunned expression. What did she mean? Did she want my career aspirations, life goals, or my future family plans? I stood there looking at her and stupidly repeated the words ‘um’ and ‘uhh’ over and over again; I wanted to take off into the brush and join the wildebeest for how confused I sounded. And yet, here I stood, surrounded by anxious girls waiting to hear what I had dreamed. I suppose I am used to reciting the quick 5 second version I’ve had memorized since I was 8: Graduate high school, go to college, start a career, get married, have a family, blah, blah, blah. That’s what everyone else says and does, that’s what I’m going to say and do—so standing in a barren field I told the girls my barren plan.

Even before I finished my one sentence future I realized it didn’t count and the group’s saddened eyes reflected my own disappointment. Here were girls who grew up wanting the lives of pilots, doctors, lawyers, professional cooks, architects, etc—so what life did I want? What are my dreams? It’s a simple question. And not only is it simple but it should be the very foundation of my life. My dreams should be written on my bathroom mirror, engraved in the dashboard of my car, doodled in all of my notebooks, and etched into determined lines on my face. Dreams should be the motivation to wake up in the morning, the sunshine when life gets dark, etc. When life becomes dreary your dreams should be the one thing giving you the courage to carry on. So, I realized…..I’m in trouble.

How many of us truly have dreams? Do the education and career goals we all have qualify as true dreams? Or is college and a real job just the next instruction in our project of life? What is it we truly want deep down inside? What makes fighting for the future worthwhile?
After some thought I realized I do have dreams—and I’m excited to fulfill them. I want a graduate degree from an Ivy League. I want a pilot’s license. I want a black Thoroughbred gelding and a chocolate Labrador Retriever named Pilgrim, or a blue Great Dane named Pax. I want to travel the world and learn its languages, meet its people, and write their stories—and along the same lines of writing comes one of the most important: I want to write something people remember. But finally, I want to receive so many sets of new eyes that one day, I’ll be able to give someone else a new pair.

As the psychologist Csikszentmihalyi said "For better or worse, our future will be determined in large part by our dreams and by the struggle to make them real." Happy Dreaming everybody.

Monday, May 18, 2009


I have discovered my true weakness.

Milk Duds.


Monday, May 11, 2009

Something Cathartic

I need something cathartic. Some way to purge. Maybe sitting here looking at this now empty word document will help—maybe the process of writing the following sentences, the process of filling the empty white space of my double-spaced, Times New Roman document will somehow release the burning thoughts in my head, somehow cleanse the burning pain in my heart.
I’m not sure what’s driving this madness trapped in my overall sane body. I thought maybe I was channeling the manic-depressive Spring weather, but it’s warm and sunny now so it must be something else. Maybe some sick part of me misses school—even though I scored excellent marks on my finals, I left campus after their completion not feeling glorified or empowered, but rather empty and disappointed. Maybe this is how the Greek founder of the marathon Pheidippides felt—he ran 26 miles only to die at the end. Shouldn’t an accomplishment of excellent grades earn an A in personal satisfaction? Maybe it’s that friend moving away or my sister’s imminent departure back home. It might be too much work and not enough riding. Maybe I spend too much time inside and not enough outside enjoying the sun and tree blossoms. I haven’t been on a plane for awhile—maybe that’s it. Maybe it’s time for a new adventure and the freedom only travel can bring; a good trip is a regular antidote to the dullness of everyday life and a quick fix to the deepest of ruts.
However I doubt my angst is a plane ticket away from recovery and a decision to stay from my sister or a cut back in hours at work probably won’t help either. I think these things are natural and maybe they’re even good for you. Deep down inside I secretly love the troughs in my waves of emotions—even depression has a bright side. I become more grateful for what I have and enlightened to things I would otherwise gloss over and miss. It’s a painful price for increased awareness but just like you can’t drive a nail without a hammer, maybe you can’t fully appreciate the good without the bad.
In the end this is life—a series of emotional roller coasters we all ride. Some coasters are fun, other’s make you sick. Some are long, some are short. But regardless, buckle up and hold on for the ride ahead.