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Amsterdam for Introverts

Hello friends! I spent this weekend in the lovely city of Amsterdam, and wrote all about it here: https://deargodson.wordpress.com/2016/09/25/amsterdam/

But here, on my introvert-y blog, is where I tell you about how to be an introvert in this city full of life.

First of all, do the typical introvert stuff during the day when you have tons of energy. Go to the Rijksmuseum and wander around in quietness. Then enjoy a peaceful coffee–but not in a coffee shop. Those sell drugs. Try a “cafe” instead.

A paddleboat may sound nice and calm, but there are many speedy boats that might give you anxiety. Oh, and speaking of speed, watch out for the bikes. Follow the traffic laws to a T, and don’t cross the street without looking both ways for silent bikes and motorcycles that come out of nowhere. Keep in mind, sometimes the lanes go onto the sidewalk as well. Really, nowhere is safe from bikes.

Looking for a quiet experience that will blow you away? Two words: Anne Frank.

Finally, I suggest steering clear of the red light district. Even on a guided tour, the area is loud, bustling, bright, and overall not made for an introvert.

While Amsterdam has quite the nightlife for extroverts, there is also plenty for introverts as well, from the high-culture shows like ballet to the more niche shows like The Amsterdam Dungeon, there is something for everybody.

Enjoy a nice, quiet, lovely, amazing time in this beautiful city:)

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Pretending to be an extrovert

There are occasions throughout life when being an introvert is not ideal. A semester abroad is one of those times.

Since the Boston airport I’ve been chatting with people, joining groups on a whim, striking up conversations, and sustaining small talk. It’s been exhausting, but also really nice. I went from having no friends and being really nervous to having plenty of friends and lots of travel plans.

Throughout the week I kept bonding with whomever I could. It’s been difficult but lovely, and it became easier the more I did it. I think it’s good to be able to pretend to be an extrovert.

However, it is not a mask I can wear for too long. Thank goodness for no-class Mondays! I spent today, everyone’s first day of class, on a solo bike ride down a lovely Dutch bike trail. I saw some cute animals along the way, like two horses, some cows, some sheep, and even a small herd of deer that someone had kept as farm animals (or pets? I’m not sure). Then I got back to my room I share with two other girls, and it was empty. What a rarity! I caught up on my YouTube shows and ate a few Stroopwafels, allowing myself to unwind.

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I was impressed with my ability to make friends in such a hectic, crazy, beautiful, wonderful place. I feel like I’ve already grown as a person while in the Netherlands, and it’s only been four days!

More importantly, I can see now where I may have gone wrong before, like with high school and the beginning of college. There are some introverts here, I can tell. They sit alone at meals, they don’t talk before class. I realize now that seeming shut off to the world like that can make one seem unappealing to befriend. A bit of reservedness is fine, but appearing too introverted can, I would say, be a bad thing.

Perhaps when one can’t be alone, one should embrace company. Nothing is wrong with reading at night, or a solo-stroll around the grounds, or any other time alone, but when I must be with people I will BE with people. Openly, honestly, 100%.

Basically, I don’t feel the need to hide myself anymore. And I feel good about that.

Kids

I have the three most adorable younger cousins I could possibly ask for. Aged 5, 3, and 8 months, they are one of the things I will miss most during my three months away.

Today, the oldest (and most emotional) found out that I was leaving.

“No you’re not,” he said after my dad told him. I was unaware we were telling them, just sitting on the floor with the baby. “I’m gonna ask my dad.”

“I promise you, she is.”

I told him to be excited! I was going to stay in a castle! He told me castles didn’t exist, they were just pretend.

I told him I wouldn’t be gone long, and I’d be back before Christmas. Soon I got him to stop crying. He said it was OK as long as I was going in a plane instead of a car.

I love those kids so much. It hurts me to hurt them.

 

Whenever I see them, I leave either wanting to have kids immediately or never ever wanting a child, ever. I’m twenty. These feelings are probably rather natural.

I certainly don’t want a kid now. I’m too young, I’m too immature. I certainly want to be settled down with a stable job before even thinking about kids. However, a time in which I’m stable is likely not too far off.

I think being an introverted, anxiety-prone parent must be difficult. I would never get time alone, and I’d never get time to work on hobbies (or writing!). I want to travel and eat in nice restaurants and have nice clothes and sleep through the night, and it feels like kids take that away.

On the other hand, I love kids. I love teaching, I love reading to them, I love hearing their stories, I love showing them new things. I love them a lot.

I guess the deal is that I know I would be a good mother to a child. But it may not be good for me. I would give everything I have to it, but would have no energy left for myself, and I think it’s fair to not be ready for that.

Then again, what do I know? Like I said, I’m only twenty. There are probably plenty of parents and non-parents alike reading this and shaking their heads at my innocence, at my ignorance.

Ah, well. This is all a problem for Future Tina to figure out. Right now, Present Tina only has to worry about my job and preparing for Europe.

 

I really hate hurting him though. I know, little buddy, it’s hard to leave someone you love. But it’s not that long. And it will be easier than you think.

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Berlin, England: Conversation starters

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I get compliments on my bag all the time, which is funny because it’s crap. I mean, I like how it looks too—that’s why I bought it. But it was $25 from a street vendor in New York City, made of fake leather that is already falling apart at just a year old.

Its leather isn’t the only thing that’s cheaply made. As you can see from the photo, it’s a map of the world in nice earth tones and fancy calligraphy. It looks great from a distance! But then I’m sitting on a New York subway, admiring my new purchase, and I notice something…

Every single country is spelled wrong.

At first I think, cool! Every country must be in its native language…or something? Or, maybe it’s supposed to be old English? I look closer. The calligraphy is hard to read, but it seems to suggest “Palaka” is Poland. Well, I suppose that could be true. But, “Dalaka” for Germany?palaka.jpeg

“Tuikiye” for Turkey?

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I get more suspicious when I see the Mediterranean is labeled “Madilseeanean,” and Algeria is “Algeica.”meditalgeca.jpeg

Again, I tell myself, maybe it’s old English. But then, the other shoe drops:

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London is labeled as “Berlin.”

Well, that settles it. Somehow, for some reason, everything on this bag is wrong! Could they not get the rights for the world? Do you NEED to get rights for the world?

I don’t mind my terribly-spelled bag. After all, it’s still adorable, and it’s a great conversation piece. People love spending time poring over every misspelling, wondering if it’s this language or that until I point out Berlin, England (or the “United Hingdom,” according to the bag). Then they throw their hands in the air and laugh, deeming the bag a mystery.

I too wonder how and why this bag ended up this way. I can only imagine it’s a knock off of a designer bag, and misspelling/labeling countries somehow got around copyright. But whatever the reason, I don’t mind. It’s a small-talk I don’t mind having, since it doesn’t focus on me. It’s a fun game to play when I don’t have anything else to do. It’s a centerpiece of a love of all things ironic, the love of ridiculous things that are so bad they’re good.

It’s the little things like Berlin, England that make life wonderful. While it’s unlikely you have a bag like this, a piece of jewelry or a shirt with a story behind it are great conversation starters in a pinch! You get to share a story, get a few compliments, and get out of the spotlight as people try to top your story. Good luck:)

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Hog Back Mountain: The summer day we (temporarily) ran away

Two Augusts ago, my boyfriend Colin and I had a nervous hum in the pits of our stomachs about college. Would we stay together through the long distance? Would we even stay friends? What would it be like?

We avoided asking these questions best we could. We watched The Lord of the Rings and Wilfred. We savored every moment without talking about our nerves. We drove in circles around our town, like a bug stuck inside a jar, until one day we escaped.

We woke up early (for two jobless teenagers in the summer): eight A.M. We filled up his car with gas and good CDs. We bought Sour Patch Kids, beef jerky, Pringles, and skittles. We took off.

West.

Spending hours in a car together was nothing new, but usually we stuck to backroads. That day, we hit the highway with a mission to get as far west as possible by 3 p.m., for no other reason than us wanting to.

We ran through two CDs twice before trying the radio and realizing that all of the stations were different. The further west we went, the less people crowded the road, the greener the trees became, the easier we could breathe. We had a vague goal to reach New York, though we weren’t going in the exact right direction.

I had to go home for some reason…my mom called me and reminded me that I had a family dinner or something that night. Well, we decided to keep going for awhile before turning around. We were approaching Vermont, if we turned right, so we turned right. We made it to a Vermont visitor center. We took a picture with a cardboard cow, breathed in the overcast sky, and hopped back in his little car to drive home.

It wasn’t New York, but it was still good, we decided. We joked and laughed and sang to the radio, hiding the irony that we had just driven to Vermont a week before Colin moved there.

We found a small hidden road that followed some power lines. It was gorgeous, the unpaved dirt road curving through the trees. I took a picture, bumpy and fuzzed.

You can see this picture on this site, as the cover photo behind the blog’s title. It’s also the featured image for this post, in which you can see the car’s dashboard.

Driving along that small dirt road over the border of Vermont was a pure, untouchable moment laced with romance and nostalgia of the summer we had just finished living…but then it got better.

I didn’t have my glasses on, and when the street sign came up I tried to read it so we could come back one day.

“Does…” I blinked, squinted. “Does that say ‘Ho Bag Mountain?’”

Colin burst out laughing.

“Hog Back Mountain!” he exclaimed.

We had just stifled our laughter when we passed a gorgeous sign surrounded by decorative stones and pretty flowers, proudly declaring “Hog Back Mountain.” We lost it again.

We were about two hours from home when the rain began, and god, it was torrential. It was so bad that we actually had to pull over because he couldn’t see well enough to drive. The windshield wipers were all but useless. As we sat in the breakdown lane, waiting for it to pass, I got a weather alert on my phone of an extreme storm condition. I left the alert in my notifications for weeks after, and would look at it when I missed summer.

“Extreme storm condit…46 days ago.” The little notification was like a keepsake. It disappeared after ninety days.

We eventually got home, but not in time to my dinner. Of course, I had no excuse as to why I was late. We were driving, from Vermont. Why were we in Vermont? Literally no reason.

I began thinking of this story today and wondered if I’m already too old for these little rebellions. Have I changed so much in just two years that I wouldn’t do this again? Has driving into Boston traffic every day ruined my love for an empty highway and open windows?

The truth is, no. I would definitely do this trip again—in fact, Colin and I likely will do something like this very soon, maybe actually making it to New York this time. I think the difference, besides both of us having far less free time, is that back then we were both fighting hard to make memories with each other, out of fear that college would tear us apart.

We drove to Vermont with excitement tinged with fear, we staged our day-long runaway like a trial run. There were times all summer, but especially on that trip when we wanted to run away for good, to not turn back halfway through the day and go back  to the scripted life of approaching college, but instead to keep driving west until we hit the Pacific and start…something.

But we didn’t.

I don’t know if a repeat day long road trip would be better or worse. I think it would still be a lot of fun, but would it miss something without the underlying desire to keep going? Was our fear of losing each other and our desperate attempts to make memories what made that summer so memorable?

Did my desire to run spring purely from teenage hormones or would it still pull me on, make me misty-eyed when we turn back home?

Or, alternately, would a fearless adventure without the nervous twitches, without the stress of making it memorable or the desire to run away, actually be much better?

A few things haven’t changed, naturally. Of course, Colin and I still close, even closer. And we’re still trying to break free of our hometown’s web, trying to avoid being sucked down a drain of parental dependency and resume gaps. We still drive in circles around the backroads, we still watch epic sagas on his television, we still do projects together, we still reference Breaking Bad when cooking dinner and sing loudly to the two CDs we play on repeat in his same car.

And, we still both harbor a nervous excitement for whatever the future may hold. Perhaps though, since our Ho Bag Mountain days, we have a bit more confidence, a bit more stability.

Then again, perhaps not.

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Prioritizing vs. Balance

One of the most important things you learn in college, people will tell you, is how to prioritize.

For me, prioritizing wasn’t only a factor in choosing which essay to write first—it also applied to my personal values. You can probably list a few things you value highly, like honesty, or perseverance, or family. And you can probably rank them from most to least important, a form of prioritizing. The problem with this ranking form of prioritizing is that while it does keep the top values important, it tends to let the lower values fall to the wayside. It creates the illusion that the lower values are unnecessary…and they’re not. Let me explain–

When I was planning this semester, I ranked my internship as the first priority, my education second, and my friends and free time third. This was what I thought I was supposed to do, and after all it does make logical sense. College exists to get you a better job, right? So placing my job over my education made sense, and people always say “school first, friends later,” so that made sense as well. Do my job, do my schoolwork, and then all the free time goes to my friends.

Well, this system didn’t work as well as I thought it would. I ended up feeling guilty whenever I was with my friends, and worse, I always felt rushed and spent most of the time with them glancing at the clock no matter what I was doing. I would skip important classes to cover assignments, since work took priority, and I would skip events I wanted to go to to do homework, since school took priority, and soon I found myself cutting out friends more and more and using those precious hours to take naps, as sleep was at the bottom of the totem pole and nearly always got shafted for more important things. Doing that made me feel guilty for spending too much time asleep, and so on.

I was falling apart, but didn’t know why. I thought I was finding a “work/life balance” like all those fancy BBC articles told me I should, but I didn’t feel balanced, I felt exhausted.

Prioritizing works alright for writing papers and doing assignments, but when it comes to scheduling your life, a more fluid system works far better. I told myself to look at the clock less, to listen more to myself and others. To do my work, sure, but to do things to make me happy as well. “As well,” not “instead.”

I realized that happiness wasn’t on my list of priorities at all. I figured that this semester would be crunch time, saving money and getting experience for the future. With my boyfriend returning from Mexico and my upcoming trip to Europe, I had time in the future to be happy, but for now, happiness wasn’t important. However, thinking about how I would be happy in the future didn’t make me happy in the present, it only made me sadder as I calculated the seemingly endless days and weeks and months until his return and my departure.

A while ago I was discussing with my roommate the “nomadic” lifestyle of traveling the country in an RV working minimum wage jobs. She said if it made people happy, then they should do it. I said it would be naive to assume that life was all smiles and roses, and that having the security of a job would allow for a more comfortable life. We were both right. The RV life would be difficult, but if it made people happy, then they should do it. I am just now seeing that both of those things being true at the same time is both possible and necessary.

Balance isn’t about prioritizing. Balance is about…balance. Happiness and success, together, both in healthy amounts. You shouldn’t have to choose between one or the other. And neither should I.

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Flowers and wine

Today is my birthday! Yay! And tomorrow is Easter! Happy Easter, if you celebrate!

I’m running around crazy this weekend so I asked my boyfriend Colin to write another guest post, since his post last week got great feedback. He’s planning on starting his blog, Voices Walking, at the beginning of April. He’ll start along with the A-Z Challenge (which I’m also doing), so these guest posts are his way of testing the water of the blogosphere before diving in.

Tomorrow I’m doing one of those chain blog post question things, but regular Playground posting will resume on Monday. Without further ado, Colin’s post about his trek through the Mexican jungle, Flowers and Wine:

 

Last summer I watched a documentary called “Somme,” about new sommeliers training for their exam by testing each other’s palates and aptitude at describing the flavors hidden within each wine. Watching these people with seemingly superhuman aptitudes to taste and smell, I was inspired: I wanted to be like them, something about the sheer depth of knowledge and carefully honed senses made me tremble with envy. How could one possibly embark on a journey like this? When I can barely taste the difference between a red and a white, how could I cultivate a palate to match the excitement that sparkled in the sommeliers’ eyes for their craft?

I recently met someone else with that same joy, that sparkle in the eyes and the inability to sit still and not explore a new flavor. While in a botany class, hiking through the Sierra Norte of Oaxaca, I felt an immediate desire to learn how to savor each and every plant around me, thanks to the bright-eyed excitement of our professor. Having that joy in your work, coupled with the skill of knowing deeply every secret in a fern’s leaves, is deeply infectious to me. It makes me want to learn, to have that same passion. Watching him identify a plant was just like watching a master savor a taste of wine. He would look the plant up and down, drinking in the intricacies of the shape and texture through his hand lens. Next, he would tear up a leaf and smell deeply whatever odor it excreted, and bite into the stalk with the same tentativeness of a sommelier moving on from the swirl to the first delicate sip. The sommelier lists the characteristics and pinpoints the exact variety of wine. The botanist does the same.

How do you develop this precision, this deep understanding of your craft? Luckily, I was blessed with an insight into the process, that was the point of this class after all, and my professor pushed us hard to understand the work behind such a passion. We had to understand the structure of plants, how they grow and reproduce. After that we had to know all the characteristics plants could keep, in order to differentiate between different groups and families. From there, we got to start our business in the cloud forests of Oaxaca, armed with a basic understanding of how plants work. We used all our senses to identify these plants, learning more families as we went on. We used broad stokes at first, but with time we got more precise, learning a few genera and species by the end. But in general, we were learning to taste a Merlot, but we weren’t pinpointing flavors, nor were we learning to taste the manufacturer or the region of production. Nevertheless, I loved learning, even on such a surface level, the skills required to place a plant in the Solanaceae or the Cucurbitaceae, the nightshade and squash families, respectively. It felt as though I was gaining a skill! And because of that I continue to find the specifics immensely beautiful, the small things people spend so much time honing their skills to identify out of sheer passion.

When I turn off the documentary or return from the forest, however… Those passions seem to fade. I study geography and global studies, two very open ending subjects in the all-too-often unspecific social sciences. Too few of my compatriots spend time to learn things. My school professes to teach students how to “think,” but how can one think when you aren’t required to know the details behind your hypothesis? The sommelier has his wine and the botanist his plants, but what do I have? One day I hope to find the specific thing that I can push myself to study and know inside and out. I’ll keep on looking, studying how the world works, and praying that one day I will be drawn to a subject less wide, but as deep as the sea.