Yo Waddup I’m Back: Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Just Start Posting Stuff Again, Dammit

I recently broke down and bought what my be…my first ever? fantasy novel. My dad bought me The Hobbit in middle school, but my dad was buying it as much for my dad as he was for me, so I’m not sure it counts. Also, The Hobbit is nice enough to also fall under the “classics” category. The fantasy novel I just bought does not.

It’s called The Purifying Fire. It’s A Planeswalker Novel. For those of you not familiar with the two-decade-old Magic: The Gathering trading card game…it’s one of the novels exploring the lore behind the two-decade-old Magic: The Gathering trading card game. Not high fantasy. Just candy-coated, mass-marketed, flash-bang drama. I bought it on my e-reader, because e-readers were created to hide embarrassing paperbacks.

It had lots of fighting and stuff-wrecking. It featured visits to three different planes of existence in a mere two hundred twenty-three pages. It had a female protagonist and a male supporting character and a lot of sexual tension. Exactly what I expected. Exactly what I was looking for.

Not exactly what I pride myself on reading most of the time. I was an English major, for God’s sake. I got my B.A. in Understanding Why Fiction Like This Is Popular, But Not, Like, Worth Reading.

But here’s the thing: this book was two hundred twenty-three pages long. And I tore through those two hundred twenty-three pages in four days.

The last time I tore through two hundred twenty-three pages in four days, I was being graded on it. And I wasn’t having nearly as much fun.

And what I picked up from this experience is that I should really get off my ass and get back to reading. And writing. And doing things.

I tend to get in my own way what it comes to doing things, because if I’m going to do them, I want to do them right. If I’m going to think, I want to think deeply. If I’m going to write, I want to write perfectly. I want to read Barth and Dostoyevsky for funsies. I want to have insightful things to say about the insightful things I seek out.

And, to be fair, I do. Some of the time. Like, an average of two months out of twelve, maybe, tops.

But for the other ten months, I don’t feel like Barth or Dostoyevsky are very funsies. And I don’t have anything interesting to say about them. And I mope and worry about the fact that I should…instead of doing anything else.

I stopped thinking about what I should be doing and decided to do something stupid and fun and read the “”wrong”” sort of book and wound up reading two hundred twenty-three pages in four days. Which is something. Not much, but much more than the nothing I was accomplishing while waiting around for depth and motivation to smack me in the face.

I don’t often have deep thoughts about deep things. But I have some solidly average thoughts about average things. I can read a Planeswalker novel and figure out this Doing Stuff habit is a good habit to feed into. Starting with my thoughts on Planeswalker novels. Because everything’s gotta start somewhere.

“How’s Married Life?”

According to the website we set up to collect wedding RSVP’s, Jordan and I have been married 124 days. Within those 124 days, I have been asked “So How’s Married Life?” 268 times.  That’s a rough approximation, but it has to be close. There’s one problem with this, though: despite being asked 268 times, I still don’t have an answer to this question.

I’ve been trying and trying to come up with one. “Good” isn’t quite accurate: it only encompasses one broad, vague aspect of what’s going on within this arrangement, and anyway it’s not a very interesting answer. But just because it’s not “good” doesn’t mean it’s “bad,” which of course is totally wrong and a terrible way to move forward with small talk.

Words like “Tricky” and “Enlightening” and “New” get a lot closer to the real answer, but the conversation rarely goes well after I say something like that—eyebrows furrow and a look of panic crosses the eyes of the poor sap who wasn’t really looking to have this conversation, and I wind up backtracking to assure whoever I’m talking to that my husband and really do love each other and are having a good time, really, and wondering once again why I don’t just stick with the answer “good” when people ask me this damn question.

“How’s married life?” is turning out to be the third-hardest question I’ve ever had to answer, right behind “So what do want to do when you grow up/once you graduate/after the wedding?” and “You’re Jordan’s girlfriend, right?” in between breaking up with one Jordan and starting to date another. (I answered that one with “Depends, which Jordan are you talking about,” and yes, my life is a sitcom, in answer to another question you were wondering.)

It’s not that married life isn’t good. It’s that a lot more than just “good,” more than can be explained quickly or neatly or, sometimes, in polite company. I can’t think of the right answer to this question because there are too many answers, all of them true but none of them fully encompassing the right answer in and of themselves.

Here’s a sampler of just a dozen. In the last 124 days, married life is:

– Sharing everything. Not just apartment space or chores or roommate stuff, but everything. A bed. A bedtime. A bank account. A laundry hamper. Weekly schedules. All the food in the fridge (including that slice of pizza that I thought was mine, guess not). I don’t think I’ve been this much in sync with another person since getting my driver’s license. I didn’t have to be. Now I do.

– Coming home to debrief from work and having someone there who will automatically take your side. They have to, because they don’t know anyone else from your work—or, even if they do, they love you best.

– Sleeping naked. Reading naked. Hanging about the apartment naked. This space is our realm now. We make the rules, and the rules no longer require pants.

– Hashing out the crush you have on that dude at work with your husband. So that’s different.

– Having zero secrets. See last two above.

– Feeling like your spouse is being ridiculous about this and just needs to apologize, dammit…then feeling petty and childish for being so worked up about this when they do.

– Experiencing an irrationally heightened sense of sadness when you discover the person who’s supposed to be your soulmate doesn’t share your appreciation for That book, game, movie, artist, or other Really Important Thing. I’m still wrapping my head around Jordan’s apathy towards the Muppets. And I’m grateful he didn’t divorce me upon discovering my “meh” attitude towards Firefly.

– Having a built-in date to every other event you’ll ever be invited to.

– Counting impromptu nights out as “dates that will ultimately strengthen your marriage” rather than just “spending time/money we may or may not have,” thus making the whole endeavor more justifiable.

– Gritting your teeth and bearing mostly terrible advice from every single person who finds out you’re a newlywed. (Protip: can you replace the words “wife” and “husband” with “mother” and “eight-year-old” and have your advice still make sense? If so, then you’re not giving marriage advice, you’re giving parenting advice. I’m not interested. Goway.)

– Having every decision you make affect another person. I guess technically, in the Butterfly Effect sense, that’s always true, but marriage makes that truth extremely apparent. This person is your family that you made, you two are responsible for this plus any other people you may make later, your well-being depends on theirs and vice-versa. No pressure.

– Having the day end with my favorite person not only still around in the apartment, but in the same room, in the same place, right next to me.

“How’s married life?”  It’s these things, plus a bunch of other stuff that I’m sure I’ll run into tomorrow, and next month, and next year. It’s an answer whose tone changes daily depending on what my husband or I did or didn’t say upon heading out the door. It’s not a very good small talk starter, really, unless you’re ready to listen to a detailed and all-too-personal answer.

But 124 days in, it is interesting. It is enlightening. And it is good.

Marriage is whimsically posing in the grass. Okay maybe not. But that's fun too.

Marriage is whimsically posing in the grass. Okay maybe not. But that’s fun too.

Updates

The things that have happened in the last 33 days.

I went to Moscow. I saw the circus. I rode the metro. I read the street signs (poorly). I got frozen feet at the Kremlin. I fell in love with St. Basil’s. I still sit and stare at its picture sometimes.

I went to St. Petersburg. I got lost in the Hermitage. I danced in the snow. I saw the ballet. I wrote a poem at Dostoevsky’s apartment (poorly). I read Crime and Punishment in the window over Nevsky Prospekt. I did not try the vodka. It was not delicious.

I broke my laptop. I got help from a roommate, a native and a taxi driver to get it fixed. I got cozy in the computer lab. I learned how dependent I am on electronic journals. I realized how much I appreciate Skype.

I went to Rome. I ate gelato. I ate ravioli. I cried in the Sistine Chapel. I walked to the Colosseum—but remained locked out. I wished in Trevi Fountain—and my wish came true. I rode a train, plane, bus, automobile, metro. I got very lost and very saved by three people who made me understand the word “godsend.” I apologized to everyone in Lithuanian instead of Italian.

I saw a show at Klaipeda’s theater. I bought tickets on my own, in Lithuanian. I bought intermission snacks, in Lithuanian. I explained to the usher I was in the right seat, in Lithuanian…but I told her my seat number nine was duodi. Devyni means “nine.” Duodi means “bread.”

I ate Thanksgiving dinner two days late. I had beef instead of turkey. I ate with Ukrainians instead of Americans. I had no leftovers. The meal was wonderful.

I shopped on jamam, which is Black Friday but Black Saturday and marked by the general trend of shopping rather than Thanksgiving. I bought presents…for me. I made up for it later by going to the amber market later and buying real gifts for other people.

I drank at least 20 cups of tea.

I sent at least a dozen postcards.

I felt more at home and more homesick, at different times, than I’ve felt all semester. I was blessed and humbled by the generosity of friends and strangers alike. I spent the bulk of my stipend on foods and gifts. I’ve become all the more grateful for people who care about me, and for people I care about. On this side of the world and back home.

My last half is halfway down, and it’s been the most full so far. I can see the end, and it’s exciting, but so is being here. So I will be here a little longer, and be grateful for every day I get.

Bus 15

In retrospect, I was already trying to find a coffee shop I couldn’t remember the name of on a street sorta near one I was pretty sure I knew; maybe adding a bus that that mix wasn’t the most solid idea. But the one-lita tickets were already in my wallet and Sheldon (my laptop) was getting heavy, so I figured riding a stop or five down into old town Kalipeda couldn’t hurt. I was already on the street I needed; it would save me time, and I needed all the time I could get to write this draft for Biblical Interpretation due in two-point-five hours. It wasn’t going to write itself. That’s what the previous two nights indicated, anyway.

Which buses go into old town again? Six, eight, fourteen for sure. Three comes back this way, I’m assuming then it goes out too. What other numbers have I seen coming back. Two, maybe? And fifteen? Five’s a bad bet, I’ve seen fives but five doesn’t feel right.

I check the times: six, eight and fourteen just left. Two has ten more minutes; fifteen about three. Unless it just left too? The buses are notoriously on time here; maybe it’s more so than I am.

A bus rolls up: five. I’ve seen fives heading up and down the streets I frequent, but nothing solid enough to make me take it. Five rolls off.

Another pulls up. Fifteen. I’ve seen fifteens coming out of town before. Maybe they go in too?

The people shuffling forward and the heaviness of my book bag on my shoulder convince me. Fifteen is a good bet.

Fifteen boards up and closes its doors and pulls away from the shoulder. And doesn’t squeeze into the left lanes. Normally not a problem, except the right lane just turned into an offramp with signs reading things like “Palanaga” and “Kaunus.” I just need the coffee shop downtown…to the south…somewhere…

Instead, I sit and watch my street disappear under me as fifteen loops up and around, onto the offramp and over a bridge, heading due east.

Oops.

Okay, what do I know about how buses work? The come and they go on the same routes. So that’s okay, I’ll find another shop and cross the street when I’m done with my work.

Two, three stops. I spot a café. Not bad, but three stops isn’t worth it. No use wasting a perfectly good wrong bus ride. I ride out some more.

Four, five stops. A park stretches to my right, bordering—is that a river? How come no one on campus has ever mentioned it? No comfortably distanced bus stops on the other side, though. Plus a park won’t have anything to eat. Hmm. I’ll spot something else.

Six, seven, eight stops. The city’s becoming increasingly industrial. Shops and cafés have all but disappeared; auto body shops and office buildings take their place. Maybe there are no coffee shops to be found on this side of town. Maybe I can ride until fifteen takes me back into town.

Nine, stops—or is it ten now? We’re still heading east? This road just sprouted a divider—how am I going to cross? When does this bus turn around?

Eleven stops. Uh oh.

Twelve stops and finally—I spot a Pica Express on the other side. Not a coffee shop, but pizza and a place to sit can do. Also it looks like—a thrift store? And letters on the building listing it as some a shopping center, I think. Is my Lithuanian right? It looks like old apartments, but the number of people coming in and out of the buildings suggest otherwise.

I look across the street: a returning bus stop and a crosswalk to get to it.

Sold.

I got off fifteen, and got much more than just a place to sit and grab some food. The old apartment buildings have been turned into its own little hodgepodge shopping center, with various fast food-ish restaurants, tons of thrift stores and a tiny street market lining the main area into the place. Walk through and there’s a little sunny square full of very old people and very young people, walking and talking and enjoying their sunny Tuesday afternoon.

I browsed the thrift shops and stuck my head into all the restaurants, delis and bakeries I could find. I checked out the fruit and homebrewed honey at the street market—might have to return for some of that. I wandered up stairs, trying to find the weird old apartment entrances to the stores I could see through the windows.

I abandoned studying and Pica Express for a kebabas stand and a Coke. I ate it in the square, in the sun, eavesdropping on two old women. (They spoke Lithuanian, but whomever they were talking about was clearly quite interesting.) I never did break out Sheldon: my lessons for that afternoon would be in navigation, apparently.

I got the wrong bus, the wrong lunch, the wrong things accomplished. Now I have a coffee shop and a kebabas stand to revisit. Plus perhaps a park, a street market and a plethora of thrift shops. And they’re accessible by bus stop…so long as that bus stop includes bus fifteen.

Not bad for a failed afternoon.

Privyet

(This is weird. I don’t usually write poetry and I sure as heck don’t usually share poetry but I came up with this when I was supposed to be studying for my trip to Moscow(!) next week and I donno, when you’re all lovesick-crazy you get ideas like Hey Putting This On My Blog Would Be Good so that’s what I’m doing. If you like it, great, and if you don’t, well, it’s not written for you anyway.)

***
Privyet, spaciba, pazhalista

Ya ne ponimayo why I got here without you.

Study the Russian, they say,

Quiz on Monday

You get in what you put out

So put out and learn the Russian

Fail to fail this cultural experience

But how can I study Russian

When all the phrases in my head

are spoken

by

you

And all the synapses I try to make

are reset

towards

you

And why fill spots

with something like vocab

When they could be filled

with your voice

and hands

and name and face and future

This world is full of important things

And right now

Russian isn’t one of them.

Mopey Posts

Considering what blogging habits were before coming here, I guess 15 days between posts isn’t that bad. But considering how bad I am at posting pictures of my time abroad and how Thinking and Talking About Things often feels like the only way I can process or share this experience, I’m frustrated at myself. Both for not posting and for the reasons I didn’t post.

I haven’t felt very present in Lithuania these last two weeks. I graduate next semester and have a lot to do and some very big changes to look forward to once that happens, and those changes have been on my mind a lot since October started. As such, I’ve been going through my routine here with one (or both) eyes always focused on home.

Knowing this experience is temporary, that my next steps (and many of the significant players in it) lie somewhere else, makes me want to simultaneously squeeze all I can out of this semester and avoid (or maybe just not bother) getting too attached. I’m not sure how to best handle my time abroad—am I a student? A tourist? A part of this community, however temporary?—and in my confusion, I often feel like I’m squandering it. (Another study abroad, Buddy Hocutt, wrote a much more eloquent post about this the second week we were here. I don’t know if he’s still as confused as I am, but he explains the question on how to interact here well.)

Yet at the same time, I feel extremely blessed to have something to return to. I’m not having a hard time here because I don’t like it here; I’m having a hard time here because my identity isn’t here. If I were staying in Klaipeda, I’d throw myself into it the way I threw myself into Fox. It’s tough, because adjusting to a new environment is always tough, but it’s not miserable. LCC’s classes, company and city are all pretty good. But my friends, my family, my future are (currently) in the United States…and honestly, I’m eager to get back to them.

I’m glad I came, but I’m equally glad I didn’t know how it would feel before I got here. I don’t know if I’d have mustered the guts to do it then. But then, that in and of itself has taught me a little more about who I am and what I care about and how I might best handle the rest of my living in this crazy world.

If only I can figure out what how to best handle these next two-point-five months.

Tourist Lessons

This weekend gave the Study Abroad students at LCC a reprieve from being students and a chance to be tourists again for three days. And it felt pretty dang good. All 29 of us got on a bus and spent two days in Tallinn, Estonia and Riga, Latvia; I also managed to ride the coattails of master planner and fellow study abroad Abby Korthals to squeeze in a day trip to Helsinki, Finland on the side.

It was exhausting, it was fleeting, it was fun, and like every other event this semester, it taught me a lot. Unlike daily life at the LCC, however, this trip had less to do with the serious, relationship- and culture-driven aspects of travel and more to do with the whiz-bang tourist level of travel. Some of those tourist lessons are jotted here.

1)    Your study abroad advisor may suggest an amount of money to bring. If you just need to stay alive, that amount is fine. If you want to do anything besides that (like shop, visit a museum or eat a real lunch), you might want to bring a little more.

2)    Some hostels are for resting. Some are for partying. If you can figure out which one yours is beforehand, do so and plan accordingly. There’s sure as heck nothing wrong with a hostel that sits right above a salsa club, enticing you to party all night. It’s just nice to know it’s coming, if only so you can get some sleep beforehand and go party all night.

3)    Passport stamps aren’t really a thing anymore. Sorry. Dry your eyes and move on.

4)    Unless you want dozens (or hundreds) of strangers with passports and cameras crashing your wedding, don’t get married at a public landmark. Cathedrals are beautiful, but they’re also on all the tourists’ maps.

5)    Speaking of cathedrals, if you’re going to take pictures, do it discreetly. For the love of God. Or at least for the love of the other people around you. Because God may love you no matter what, but some of his all-too-human worshipers think you’re freaking. annoying.

6)    The only creatures castle walls attract more than tourists are pigeons. Move slowly, lest there be a lot of mutual panicking going on.

7)    Read the travel guides you’re given, especially if you’re in Eastern Europe. They’re hilarious. And they’ll tell you about every night club in the city, in case you’re interested in making that your scene.

8)    Yes, you will look like a maniac if you bolt off the ferry the second it reaches port. But if it helps you snag the first taxi out of the port at 18:30 to catch your international bus at 19:00, swallow your pride and run like mad.

9)    Pancakes are the cheapest food.

10) Go to the top of every tower. Their views are the best reminders of why you just endured hours and hours of travel and trekking to see this part of the world.