Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Sixteenth Tale: I Get By With a Little Help From My Friends.

Today I want to talk to you all about something that's on my mind every time I have made a cross-country trip: friends and friendship. It's really strange, but I think about my friendships in my life and there are only a few people that I really feel connected to. The number of friends I feel I can truly count on fits on less than two hands...still, I consider myself to be SO lucky to have these people in my life.

That being said, what does true friendship mean to me? I guess I have pretty high standards for friends...but who you keep company with, in my opinion, who you share your precious time on this Earth with reflects a lot about how you feel about yourself. A friend, for me, is first and foremost someone who takes the time out of his or her schedule every once in a while just to check in and see how you are doing. A friend is someone who will make the effort to tell you that they are thinking about you and that they care about you. In other words, a friend is appreciative to have you in his or her life. A friend does not take you for granted; period. A friend comes to you for advice, and is happy to offer his or hers when it's obviously needed. A friend loves you unconditionally, and is quick to point out your many good qualities as opposed to pointing out your obvious flaws. A friend recognizes when you're hurting yourself, and gently and lovingly points it out to you. A friend is not afraid to tell you the truth when you most need to hear it. A friend is forgiving, even after you've hit a bump together. The best friend will continue to cultivate the friendship when it most needs cultivating.

Friendships are relationships, plain and simple; they are just like romantic relationships, without the obvious physical aspects. Even when you have a spouse or significant other, in my opinion, these relationships should have just as much importance in your life. I know I don't have a significant other and so it's easy to say that, but I believe this with all of my heart.

I truly give thanks for those who have supported and loved me when I most needed it, when I have felt unable to pick myself up. You know who you are. Thank you SO much. I love my friends, and I carry your hearts in my heart in every step of every journey I take across this vast world. I am always here for you, no matter how far away we may be.

Much, much love,
Anna <3

Monday, May 30, 2011

The Fifteenth Tale: 'Twas the Night Before Europe...

This blog has come about as a direct result of me being completely unable to locate the new blank journal that I am sure I have somewhere around here, so here's a forewarning that it could be either intensely emotional or honest or uncohesive or what have you. Just be glad I am not drunk. Or maybe that would make it more interesting...hmmm...no time for that now. Focus Anna, focus.

So, it's the night before I begin another year abroad. I'll be starting my trip in Madrid, then going to Italy, Paris, England, then back to Madrid. Ever since before I left Korea I kept seeing this plan as being somewhat far off in the distance, as a sort of dream that you talk about but never really intend to do. Like, "oh yes, that novel I am going to write one of these days...*tinkling laughter*". Towards the end of my time in Korea, I was instilled with such vigor and confidence that I could keep traveling and feel wonderful about it. In direct opposition to this longing for continued confidence, there was a fear of coming back to, well...what I've ultimately come back to: living as a dependent and sitting around on my ass. Not that I mind that at all for a while; in fact, I think it can be just what the doctor ordered. It's just that I didn't want to get TOO comfortable and forget how good it feels to be on the move.

Well, apparently three months is long enough to get somewhat comfortable, but not completely. It's become comfortable enough that I'm going to miss the coziness of the house itself and of being in an environment where I'm loved and taken care of unconditionally. I'm going to miss my parents, and of course, my puppy dog.

Despite all of my attempts to deny that I'm affected by any of this, I have realized that the day is upon me. As of tomorrow (well, today...12:15am at the time of writing), I will leave this country again, leave this cozy little nest, and I'm not sure for how long I will be gone (I intend to be gone a year, but planning in pencil just in case). It could be the summer; it could be the year; it could be longer.

All I know is that even though there is a certain level of excitement, I've actually been feeling pretty scared. Scared of feeling lost, friendless, alone. Scared of not being able to make ends meet for myself. Scared of not knowing how to get somewhere and then not being able to get there.

Those are the demons I've been up against today. Some of them can be dismissed as silliness from the ego. Let's take, for example, the fear of being friendless. Well, I don't think I could be more friendless (we are talking lack of social life here) than I have been in this place this summer, so it can only get better from here. As for being alone, well, that's not always so bad, I can read, meditate and journal. Feeling lost, well, there's that...but these journeys seem to help me find myself, if even for just a little while...and I suppose that's why I keep on taking them.

As for getting physically lost...well, it could happen. However, no matter what, I can always get where I need to go. Always. As for not making ends meet, well, I have Euro already changed, and a credit card (with no debt on it right now, I might add). Thank God for that. Seriously, thank you!

Writing this has already helped me feel a little better, as writing usually does. Anyway, I AM excited, despite all the worry. Just please, whomever is reading this, pass along your prayers and love and support from afar that I will not only have safe and enjoyable travels (with EASY transitions from place to place), but that I will perform well at all of my new jobs and make lots of great new friends. :) Hey, I need all the help I can get (and trust me, it does help)!

Hope all of you are doing superbly well. Thanks for reading, good luck, adios, adieu...I'll keep you updated!

Much love, xoxo
Anna <3 <3 <3

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Fourteenth Tale: The Lamentations of a Fashion Fiend

I'd like to speak today on a topic that is close to my heart: fashion. Now, I rarely vent my frustrations about this using social media outlets, but seriously people! Some days I watch news anchors and weep for their tragic images, which are often filled with too-long hair in an attempt to conceal sagging jowls, not to mention hideous comb-overs and bad ties (a la the Donald). Ok, so I don't really weep, but I do have serious conversations with their stylists via the television set (and my mother).

You may be wondering, who are you to talk or give advice about fashion habits? What credentials do YOU have? Well, I grew up as the daughter of an aesthetician and visual artist who did makeup for movie stars and trained in Paris, then co-managed my father's salon. My father is a hairdresser who owned one of the best salons in St. Louis and took me to Paris to see the worldwide hair show. My grandfather was the CEO of Genesco (shoe company that now owns Journeys, Shii, etc.). Fashion is in my blood. I also worked in retail at The Buckle for a year and helped numerous people out of their fashion slumps, and have done personal shopping for close friends and relatives. Not that any of this should really matter; this is my blog and I can say whatever I want about it. Whether you take it seriously or not is ultimately up to you.

So, I can safely say that aside from some of the larger metropolises such as New York City, Chicago, and LA, America has a serious problem with fashion; mainly, with fit. It's not that people don't always know which colors to wear for their body or which styles are popular, it's just that they have a serious disconnect with seeing how clothes look on a rack and seeing how clothes look on themselves. They don't understand how to dress their own bodies.

I fully understand the feelings of anger and frustration that come with a long day of shopping and feeling like you cannot find anything made for your body. Folks, I lived in Seoul for a year as a size 10 pant. In case you didn't know, they barely make over a size 6 in Korea-you are literally not allowed to be fat in the culture (unless you are a foreigner, in which case you are relegated to Itaewon shops only, where buyer traps abound--"Good qualrity!! Good plriiiccee!!"). In short, I know it can be defeating-but you simply have to keep looking to find things that really fit you and not just settle for crap that makes you look like Eeyore in slacks.

On the positive side, living in Korea showed me that there are actually aesthetic standards other places in the world (even for older people, fancy that!). Now, one can argue that this goes to an extreme and is part and parcel of a highly pressurized society. I do believe it's cruel for women to have to wear stilettos and miniskirts every day, year round, but I did notice that as a consequence of this higher standard, women there really had learned how to dress their bodies well. I almost NEVER saw anyone, even an overweight person (which is rare in Korea-I mean overweight, not super morbidly obese) who didn't know how to dress themselves in a way that was flattering to his or her shape. Frumpy-ness just didn't exist. I'm including some example pictures here for anyone who doesn't believe me- this is what Koreans dress like, on a daily basis:
Sorry about the alignment of the pics, folks, that's the best I could do. Anyway, see how well their clothes fit them? They understand their bodies. It's a cultural value, which seems to have escaped us here in the U.S. In Korea, it's considered rude and disrespectful to others show up in a public place looking like something the dog threw up. It just isn't done.

You may be saying to yourself, "yea, but they're Korean- slim and trim. How do I dress my disproportionately sized 14 hips and my small top, or my size DD boobs?" The truth is that there are ways to dress to flatter your body. I'm not advocating taking no responsibility if you have let your weight get out of control, which happens to the best of us (yes, me). I'm just saying: dress for the size that you are at that particular moment in time, and don't try to deny it with your clothes, cause trust me... you 'ain't foolin' anybody; except maybe yourself.

So, what do I personally suggest to remedy the issue? First, be honest with yourself about your size. Denial is so easy and it's the worst way to begin looking for clothing. Don't dress in tight clothing because you think it will make you look sexier. It doesn't. Don't dress in shapeless sacks because you think you are fat-you still need to emphasize or create a waistline! Get out the measuring tape (or buy one, I'm pretty sure it won't break the bank) and measure yourself starting from the top to bottom. For women, measure around the bust (around fullest part of your bust), around the smallest part of your waist, and around your hips, which means around the fullest part of your butt. http://fashion.about.com/cs/7/l/blmeasure.htm <---this link from About.Com is great. It will help you with measurements and some basics about fashion and designers. Women, everything starts with good underwear. Support the GIRLS!! Who has not heard Stacy London say these things? We all watch "What Not To Wear" and "Project Runway" but still don't get it! No one wants to see your chi-chis, so keep 'em tucked. As for men, for most casual looks measure around the chest and the hips (where you are widest at the chest, and fullest at the butt). For tailored suits, visit an actual tailor or enlist the help of a salesperson at the store.

I want to make something abundantly clear: clothes need not be ridiculously expensive or in designer labels to be a good buy; they just need to fit you well and be made well. Take your measurements into a store with you and enlist the help of a sales person. Yes, they may try to sell you things, but they really are there to help on some level. When I worked for the Buckle as a Team Leader, I really did want to help people find clothes that fit them. It is true (shock, surprise) that when they bought the clothes I made money. It was a mutually beneficial deal- but I was never pushy, and if someone says no or is not comfortable, that's that. So, enlist help and say no if you are uncomfortable.

Another issue to discuss on this same vein is that of men's fashion in the U.S. I was seriously in love with men's fashion in Korea; tailored suits, slim jeans, bold separates, interesting colors and patterns, accesories!! Scarves, PURSES for goodness sake! They even made the 'man bag' sexy. They did all of this with confidence. Guys will barely try any of these styles in the US. I attribute this to our way of gender socialization. As an aside, I hate the term "Metrosexual". This is a homophobic term to me. If a guy dresses well, it implies that he is gay? Tell me that's not what that implies. If not, it wouldn't have the term "sexual" tagged onto it. Seriously, men here are such wusses when it comes to fashion, afraid that if they dress in a bold color or in a jean that actually fits them instead of sagging off of their ass and legs that they will be labeled as a homosexual. If anyone else disagrees with this I would be happy to hear it, because I simply cannot come up with any other explanation. Okay, maybe I could see some guys arguing about comfort; but if comfort is the only issue that men can come up with as an excuse not to wear slimmer pants and tailored suits, I would suggest that they try them and find out. I had several men that I helped at the Buckle who were afraid to transition to a slimmer jean for fear of discomfort in 'the pals' and they ended up doing just fine.

So, moral of the story is, do not be afraid of your body. It is there, whether you like it or not, and other people have to look at it every day. For women, if nothing else, dress it well so that the rest of us don't have to sit around wondering if we should congratulate you on your mid-term pregnancy. For men, venture outside of your box! I'm not talking about kooky patterns or anything, just try a slimmer jean instead of the pitchfork hauling Wranglers you usually wear. Heck, even Wrangler makes a slim men's jean!!!!!!!!!!!:

If I were going to be in the country any longer, I'd be happy to go shopping with you and tell you my personal opinion ;) having done this once or twice myself. Unfortunately, it will be another year before I can bitch about this subject some more, because I'm fairly certain that Madrid will be a fashion extravaganza.

Enjoy yourselves, good luck!!

Much love, xoxo,
Anna :)

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Thirteenth Tale: Get Ready, Get Set...

Hey all...

It's pretty interesting...I was talking to my friend the other day about my emotional connection to St. Louis, seeing it as home, yet that I'm glad I've been able to build character through my travels away from it. He noticed and pointed out to me about about the fact that I seem to mention these two things a lot. At first when I heard this, I felt kind of bad and self conscious, like...oh gosh, am I just totally redundant? Who wants to listen to my whining anyway? He assured me he didn't mean it in this way and I'm sure he didn't, but it was enough to make me think (oh no, everybody watch out...me thinking?! Could be dangerous ;).

After rolling it over a few times in my mind, I decided this: to just give myself a break. After all, I think that it's pretty hard for most people to realize or relate to what I've been going through this summer. First, I leave Korea after having been there an entire year to come back to a place that I have never known in my entire life, with only 1/2 my family there 1/2 the time (dad is still going back and forth to St. Louis for work). This is also a place where I have, let me tell you, zero friends my age, and the ones my age I have made haven't exactly been fabulous. Nobody's fault; if I had more time, I'd be trying harder, but I'm not really. It is in this place that I am to prepare myself for another massive adventure abroad, which includes me visiting and living in three different countries in the span of about three months, plus then being another 9 months abroad in (I'm not exactly sure which) country.

Look, I don't mean to complain. I don't mean to say that I am not happy about being here or that I didn't ask for this upcoming adventure (because I am and I did), but I do think that these few months have seriously been a time of trial for me mentally, physically, and emotionally. I've learned to internalize my emotions, almost too well, and sometimes I don't even realize when things have seriously affected me. I think it's safe to say that this is where some of the 'redundancy' in expressing these recurring themes comes from...and you know what? It's okay. I'm allowing myself to feel whatever I want to about this stuff, because it's how I'm coping with it all. Addressing these things through talking or blogging (even over and over), is just how I personally deal. Feel free not to read if it bores you. :)

Other than mulling over that, I have been really trying to mentally/physically prepare myself for the travels. I know there is a part of me that is drawn to this traveling thing (thanks to Kate for expressing it to me that way:) but I do get jitters before I go. Mainly they're about things like taking public transport/getting lost (still seem to have a random, inexplicable fear of this), making sure I have all of my travel docs, making sure my luggage isn't overweight, making sure I have contact info for people I'm meeting there, plus maps, language books, professional docs, etc. Might I add, thank you RyanAir for allowing only ONE piece of luggage up to 20 kg for an extra $40...total rip. That's about 46.5 pounds, people, not to mention that I'm leaving to travel for a YEAR, and the cost of international shipping is murderous. So, even though I am trying to look at the positives of getting there and doing the things that I truly love, the actual logistics of traveling to me are really stressful. This morning, I couldn't remember where I put my passports (yes, 2-France and US), and I spent half an hour tearing my room apart like a madwoman, only to finally discover them in the suitcase I left outside in the garage (smooth move, ex-lax)...at that point I was near hyperventalation and surrounded by a white squall of random papers, which I spent the rest of the day trying to rearrange (rather unsuccessfully).

I also get a little nervous about meeting new people (I know, gasp). I really love it, but there is that little ego voice that sometimes says "you'll be the oldest one there", or "what if I don't like the people, or the people and I don't get along?" Now you and I know that both of these things are ridiculous, but I hear the voices nonetheless. For one, even if I were the oldest one, who really cares? I know that just a few years ago when I was in my early 20s, I wouldn't have counted someone out as a friend who was a few years older than me. So, this notion is really stupid. Then, the not liking the people thing...umm, there are over 180 tutors going to the camp in Italy...if I don't find at least one person I like amongst them, there is seriously something wrong with me. And if none of the 180 people like me, then there is seriously something wrong with me. Or them. Eh, probably me, but it's not gonna happen!

Anyway...so I feel since this post has mostly been more on the negative side, I should cheer it up a bit, and cheer myself up a bit, by looking at the positives of what's going on. I'll soon be enjoying gorgeous landscapes and fun new places and languages, eating gelato and awesome pizza, having small parties on the beach late at night in San Remo, talking about the world with new people and gaining new perspective, having picnics in the piazza (my FAVE!). I get to eat Jamon Iberico, drink Sangria, and dance on the street at night in Madrid, not to mention see my good friend Paul. I get to hang out in England, see Windsor Castle and meet up with my dear friend Caroline. I also get to return to Paris for a few days and see my cousin Diane, which is never disappointing. I get to celebrate my Grandma's 100th birthday in France with my French family. Life is good!! So, need to stop my worrying. Everything has always worked out well on my trips, and the things that I've worried about have never been as horrible as they seem even if they do happen...so, worrying is a fruitless activity.

Well..thanks for enjoying me on my journey of a post. I wasn't sure what I was going to write about when I sat down, but things have all come out, in my opinion, for the best. :)

Love you all,
Anna <3 :)

Sunday, May 1, 2011

The Twelfth Tale: Smells Like Twenty-Something Spirit...or Norwegian Cod?

27 is, I think, one of the strangest ages in your life. Or at least, it seems to be for me. Wait, WAIT a minute, you say--- what's that? I haven't even TURNED 27 yet! Yes folks, right now I am 26 years old. It is May 4th, 2011, and on June 9th, 2011, I will turn 27. However, somehow I am already treating myself like I have turned 27 and for some reason, this is an incredible catalyst that seems to be hurling me over the medieval stone wall and into my early 30s as we speak.

The ovaries have a lot to do with it, I know. Us ladies get to a time in our lives (which begins at about age 25, I believe) where we can feel our eggs moving through our lady tubes faster than sand through an hourglass. "PROCREATE, PROOOOCCRRREEEAAATTTEEE!!!!!" they scream. When they're inside of your body and regulated by hormones who are triggered by chemical reactions in your brain, you can't really help but listen in some way, shape, or form. Some of us may try madly to find someone to mate with, convinced that if we haven't found someone by the time we're 30 than we've failed and then we're totally worthless. Some girls try to cover up this urge by having massive amounts of casual sex; others, like me, simply go about their lives and try to wildly deny these urges altogether as they are in sharp contradiction to what our rational minds tell us we simply have to get accomplished (by the time we're 30, of course. Then our hands and brains and tongues and ovaries all shrivel up and we are completely husbandless and useless altogether).

In addition to the body's urgency to tell you to find a mate, many of us may also experience a wild scrambling to figure out what we 'want to do with our lives', as if at 30 there will be an iron gate suddenly cutting us off from all others besides our spouse and children and shutting us out of any places other than those which we decide to call "home", and "work", and we will no longer be able to function outside of those entities at all. Socially, we feel we will not be accepted unless we have places to nest and to recognize ourselves by. I'm not sure which weirds me out more- the fact that you're not supposed to have an identity BEFORE 30, or the fact that you must decide on one at that point and stick with it for the rest of your life.

Along these same lines, I'd like to discuss another thing that I find pretty strange. When I tell people about the kind of work that I have been doing, teaching ESL and traveling, 9.8 times out of ten they say to me, "that's great, do it now, while you can" (the last three words are always either "while you can" or "while you're young"). This means one of two things: either this has become the conditioned response to people discussing their travels, like "I'm fine" : "how are you?", or people actually believe this is true-which really gives more weight to my iron gate theory. I mean, nomadic cultures did/still do it. There are army brats still alive to tell the tale of their crazy childhoods. There's even spouses who (GASP) travel while the other spouse stays at home. Look; I'm not blind to the logistical and mental challenges that arise once one does decide to have a family and children, I'm only saying that it's not absolutely impossible, as everyone else seems to think (or, maybe the problem is really that they don't think because they don't really care).

Anyway, this post wasn't supposed to be about all that (haha). Really, it was supposed to tell you all about the fact that I always seem to have a hard time deciding when it should be that I will 'settle down' (see above for definition of this term), or at least go back to grad school, which would be the largest commitment to staying in one place for an extended period of time that I've had in about 8 years (with, hopefully, the exception of an overseas practicum). At this point (27, er, 26) I can see the exact outline of a project that I really want to complete, which may evolve into several other projects and requires that I go back to grad school. The problem with this is that I really have an almost constant urgency to start this project, and then another opportunity to learn something else and do something else seems to present itself that is just too COOL to pass up. Not to mention, it adds to the resume and gives me more experiences which will eventually help with said project. While I am grateful for these opportunities, sometimes they seem endless, and therefore I feel overwhelmed- as if this project is floating up in the clouds somewhere and magical unicorns are just tossing it back and forth with their spiky, luminescent horns (or maybe that's just the acid I'm on...haha...KIDDING folks, seriously. You would know if I were on acid because I would imagine I would probably be writing something like this: sittyyyy doooooahhhhhehe plsdhuf dh. fh.). I digress.

To give you an example: I recently found out about the amount of Fulbright Scholarships that are available for people who want to go teach English in a foreign country. You don't even have to be a REAL teacher, only an "English Language Assistant"! I imagine this involves eating cotton candy all day long and occasionally turning a movie on once in a while while I go check my Facebook (which is pretty much what I'm doing now anyway, minus the cotton candy). Okay, maybe not. But still, it is seriously less involved as you only teach about 20-30 literal (not teaching) hours per week, and live on a stipend given to you as part of the scholarship. So, what did I do today? I spent the entire day writing an essay on why I just HAVE to go to NORWAY to be an English Language Assistant in 2012. I hope these people can't smell bullshit, because I imagine the kind I'm puttin out there smells something like Norwegian Cod. I really just think going to Norway would be cool. I feel there is injustice in the fact that I can't just write that same line over and over again 500 times and be accepted to this wonderful program. At least it'd be original (if only slightly redundant). Harumpfh.

Well, who knows where I'll end up. Cod fishing in Norway, sewing with Peruvians, riding ponies in Iceland?? Or perhaps, even wilder, BACK IN THE U.S.

Only time will tell.

Until the next tale...
Anna <3