Existential Crises.

I haven’t posted in a few weeks. However, that doesn’t mean I haven’t been having super deep thoughts about the world. In fact, I’ve been wrestling with some mighty big questions about life.

Things like:

1) How many shortbread cookies are acceptable for breakfast? (4.)

2) How many breakfast shortbread cookies is too many breakfast shortbread cookies? (5.)

3) Should I wash my hair this morning? (No.)

4) If I only wore these socks for an hour last night, can I wear them again today? (Yes.)

5) If I’m allergic to the aluminum in my deodorant, and I am, and the natural stuff is disgusting, which it is, is it okay for me to just not wear deodorant? (Yes.)

6) I’ve stumbled across photographic evidence that I’ve had the same tube of lip gloss for two years. Is it safe for me to keep using it? (Yes.)

7) How often? (Every day.)

8) I need new socks/underwear/shirts/sweaters, but I’m going to the US in a few weeks and everything will be much cheaper there. Is it alright for me to look like a total mess for months before I leave? (Yes. Obviously.)

9) Do I have to wait until lunch time to eat the food I brought to work? (No. Helllllllo, 10 am burrito!)

10) I keep spilling saucy foods on my sheets. Does this mean I have to stop eating dinner in bed? (No. Just buy new sheets.)

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Death Becomes Her.

Untitled*Provided I don’t get hit by a bus or choke on a cashew, two things that almost killed me this week.

This post is going to read like I have psychological problems, so I’m going to come right out and say that I am totally content with my life as it is and there is no cause for alarm.

Good. I’m glad we got that out of the way.

Because: I think about death a lot. Like, probably far more than your average bear. I’m not sure if that’s a symptom of being a little bit older or wiser, or because I worked with dead people for a long time as a forensic anthropologist, or because I spend my work days looking up mortality rates and life expectancy calculations, or because I am just by nature a morose and sad-sacky creep who often matter-of-factly mourns that eventually my beautiful hands will be skeletons.

I don’t know why, but I think about death at least once a day.

When I tell people that, their first reaction is usually some comment about how grim and unsettling that is. This is acceptable, because these people are right: thinking about how eventually you and everyone you know is going to cease to exist in any form you’ve come to associate with existence is pretty grim and unsettling.

However, underneath all that troubling unknown, there is something beautiful about there being an end (although hopefully far, far in the future). Because my gross, morbid brain reminds me on the regular that I will be dead one day, I am constantly reminded to live in the present. This doesn’t always work – I am by nature a hypochondriac worrier who gives herself stress hives – but most of the time, it motivates me to do everything I can while I can and to tell all the people I love that I love them so often that it makes them nuts. It can’t be all bad.

Am I alone in this? Do any of you other freak shows think about this all the time?

Spain!

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Just last night, I flew back from Madrid, after spending a few days traveling around with my parents, whom I hadn’t seen in six months. It was so, so, so wonderful to see them, most especially because we had a lot of long discussions about what has happened in my life in the past year. Seeing as I dropped a huge bomb on them on their summer vacation last August and then proceeded to move immediately into their house, stop eating food, refuse to leave my room for five months, and then move across the world, it was high time we had stable, sane, normal-people conversations about What Happened. After nearly a year of thinking they resented me, and being convinced that they didn’t understand what had inspired all the change, I am finally confident that they get it. And that they support me. And that they are happy that I am happy.

It is such a weight off, I can’t even describe. As I moved through the stages of grief and crazy last fall, I was incredibly lucky with my friends, who were nothing if not absolute saints, pushing me through the worst time of my life with margaritas and root beer floats. At the same time, I was distant from my parents, because they were reeling and I was in no place to articulate my feelings to them in a way they’d understand. I stopped speaking to them almost entirely, only beginning to talk to my mom more frequently on Facebook after I moved to England. (I guess we both benefited from the physical distance.)

Knowing now that everyone has stabilized is priceless.

In addition, I ate a ton of paella, drank liters of sangria, and got to see tons of history, so the trip was a win-win.

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Churros with hot chocolate dipping sauce. (Sadly, these churros were not rolled in cinnamon sugar.)

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Roman aqueduct in Segovia. One of the coolest things I’ve ever seen.

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Aqueduct again.

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View of Segovia from the small cafe where I ate a late afternoon snack of fries and green tea, because I’m disgusting.

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The view from our hotel. Doesn’t get any more European than this.

Second Blogiversary!

Yesterday, WordPress told me it was my blogiversary: I’ve been doing this nonsense for two years. In July 2012, I could not have, even in my wildest, fever-fueled hallucinations, imagined where I would be in July 2014. In these two years, the subject matter and the characters have changed dramatically, and most importantly, I do not have the whiny baby I was so laser-focused on when I created this space.  I am also not a blogging mastermind, sitting on a pile of endorsement money like the Scrooge McDuck of internet diaries, because after taking a massive hiatus just after being Freshly Pressed last spring, I’ve squandered all the good will and interest that glorious week gave this blog (yes, I’m talking to you, 1,500 robot computer program followers).

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I gave him brown hair and pimples so you’d all know it was me. (I am available for freelance graphic design. Information upon request.)

However, despite failing on pretty much all counts in terms of all the lofty goals I had set for myself when I started blogging, I succeeded in a way I didn’t even consider: I’ve worked through some enormously difficult things with the support of people I’ve connected with through the blog. And for that, I must thank you all. Thank you, thank you, thank you, you unsung heroes of the internet. I promise to be much better about keeping up with your writing and posting comments that manage to make it all about me. It’s the very least I can do.

But wait! There’s more! That’s not my only internet resolution! Oh no! I’m also attempting to join the 21st century and use twitter @asarahcarter more regularly, so follow me if you’re into witnessing a 27-year-old elderly woman stumble around social media.

On Judgment.

The other day, I reblogged a post written by a friend of mine about her decision to end her marriage. It spoke to me not only because it was tragic and honest, but also because it mirrored my experience to an almost freakish degree. She is someone who made a terrible, hard, gross, humiliating, and ultimately good decision for herself and for the person she loved, and who is currently working through the fallout. I wouldn’t say she’s a hero (only because I’m drawing parallels here and I wouldn’t say that about myself), but she is brave. I know from experience how much courage it takes to make such an enormous change, imploding life as you know it, driven only by the hope that life will be more fulfilling when the dust settles.

In an effort I assume was an attempt to help her friends understand, she shared her post on Facebook, which was wonderful because she got a lot of support. Unfortunately, being open with a wider, more personal audience meant that she also got a bunch of blow back from people who had their fair share of opinions about how she is choosing to pursue happiness in her own life. I was terrified of facing a fire squad like this, so I didn’t share anything or make an announcement about the change in relationship status on my personal social media accounts. So, lucky for me, the only terrible insults lobbed at me were from a select few people close to the situation and mothers who didn’t know me at the school where I was teaching at the time.

As someone who spent a few years in college working in a phone room in a ticket office, I am well aware of what irate jerks are capable of saying when they are granted the anonymity of a phone call or the internet. However, reading the things people have said to this friend is just absolutely disgusting. These are people close to her who took the time to create WordPress profiles, simply in order to call her names and shame her for being honest with herself and those around her, and for refusing to spend her life in a relationship that was long past being healthy.

Obviously, cloaking yourself in ridiculous internet mystery and ripping someone down means you are a particularly miserable person in general. However, it also speaks to something else: namely, 1) you have been fortunate enough to never have had anything terrible, unexpected, and hugely transformative happen in your life, and have therefore never had to do any major soul-searching. Go you; or 2) you’ve had something like that happen, and you’ve just failed to internalize any of the lessons afforded to you by such an experience.

Either way, you aren’t qualified to have an opinion on someone else’s transformation. If you can’t see beyond your own face, you should probably keep your nose out of other people’s business.

Or, more simply put, before you accuse someone in pain of being a lying hypocrite, you should examine all the ways in which you are perfect and then shut your mouth.

How About No

In English.

I love living in England. People eat fries with everything (including lasagna, soup, and pizza), everyone is too polite to say anything negative about anything so I feel like a super genius all the time, and the supermarkets make so much more sense. (I can’t describe this. It’s just true.)

However, there are a few things that baffle me:

1a) They have one-year Master’s programs.

2a) These Master’s programs run from September to September and hold their graduations in July, meaning that students complete their coursework about nine months before they don graduation robes. I know people who are deep into the first year of their PhDs and only just walking in MA graduations this week.

3) Stovetops are called “cookers,” janitorial staff are “cleaners,” and elevators are “lifts,” but it’s too informal for me to address an email with “Hello!”

4) The weather. Yesterday, it was Atlanta, Georgia in August. Today, it was Los Angeles, California in October.

5) People preparing for exams are said to be “revising.” As in, “I have a huge test tomorrow, so I can’t hang out. I need to revise.” What exactly is going to revised here? What’s being changed? Is it your brain? Are we really referring to studying as “brain restructuring”? It doesn’t make sense. It. Just. Doesn’t.

6) The metric system. I know this isn’t England’s fault. AMERICA.

7) The plumbing. The last relaxing shower I took was at the beginning of April, in a hostel in Prague. Usually, it’s a race against the hot water boiler emptying and seizing and pumping air instead of water, occasionally set to the beautiful rhythms of deep, rumbling pipe squealing.

And perhaps most upsetting of all:

8) There is no delicious Mexican food. I have a trip home planned for September, and it is going to be all burrito, all the time.

Budapest!

I’m currently in Budapest for work, because that’s the kind of thing that happens in my life now. Did you know that this city is split into two sections by the Danube river, with one side referred to as Buda and the other as Pest? I didn’t either! We have so much in common! (Disclaimer: the most fascinating thing to me about reading about Otzi in college was discovering that Italy and Switzerland share a border, so maybe it’s not super shocking that European geography frightens and confuses me.)

I’m here for a conference, so this trip will be more about actual focus and less about trolling the city looking for the tastiest pastries, but I managed to sneak in some sightseeing this morning. Like most places in Europe, the architecture and history just astounds me. In Los Angeles, preserving Art Deco buildings from the 1930s seems like too much effort. I cannot believe the centuries that are on display in Europe. It is incredible.

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These went well, as per usual.

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Uggggh.

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The Danube River, the Parliament building, and the Chain Bridge.

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The Chain Bridge, complete with Anxiety Lion. He looks like he just remembered he has a midterm. Poor guy.

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A turret in Fisherman’s Bastion, which sits on an enormous hill overlooking the Danube and offers gorgeous views of the city.

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Matthias Church, the one thing I was desperate to see. It’s so colorful and whimsical. For a big secular jerkface, I am really, really, particularly in love with churches and cathedrals. They are just so obviously revered and are always so lovingly constructed and maintained.

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The inside of Matthias Church.

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Again.

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And again.

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Two things I discovered in the three hours I wandered:

1) An unexpected and completely awesome perk to touring by myself with just a purse and no visible camera is that people trying to sell tours or trinkets leave me alone. I’ve got no backpack, paparazzi lens, or large group of chattering Americans to clue them into the fact that I am precisely the demographic their bosses would love them to force flyers upon. It’s a marvelous loophole. Such a discovery.

2) I (/maybe all women?) am (/are?) a hot commodity here. I can sometimes be a pretty big downer about cat calls and obnoxious unwanted attention from strange men, but being so fresh from my Norway experience, where I was literally a bridge troll in comparison to most of the population and where approximately zero percent of the Ken dolls parading the streets were interested, it’s nice to have a bit of an ego boost. It’s Compliment City over here. Love it.

For the Record.

I have had a lifelong aversion to cameras. I’d love to have more pictures of myself with the people I love in places I visit, but I also love not being confronted with what my face looks like in photographs, and usually the latter love wins out.

Here’s a small collection of the photos taunting me from my Facebook Timeline Review (where I keep them hidden from view):

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No. And look at how I’m standing. What exactly is happening there?

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Angry Resting Face in full force.

WHAT IS THIS? WHO IS THIS?

Oh No

Nope.

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A study in apathy.

I think I’m an okay looking person, but turn a camera on me and suddenly it is all giant chins and crazy smiles and Oh my God, what do I do with my body?

So, still photographs and I aren’t buds.

I’ve recently learned that this tense relationship extends to voice recording and video cameras. I’ve spent the last week recording my voice teaching people how to use computer programs, and I can officially say that speaking naturally when I know I’m being recorded is not my forte. I sound like idiot robot who doesn’t know how to pronounce English words or regulate inflection. For example, I shared one of the tutorial videos with a friend from a different US state and he said, “Oh, I can finally hear your Californian accent.”

No, no, good sir. That’s just my inability to speak into a microphone like a normal human being.

Just today, because every terrible cake needs its humiliating icing, I was asked to be interviewed on camera about a project I worked on at the university where I’m employed. And it was the worst. The interview was outside, in the wind and sun, so I gave all my poorly worded, totally scrambled answers with my ridiculous new bangs were all over the place and my eyes watering. I’d even gotten the questions ahead of time and had prepped, but with a camera in my face and audience watching, I just could not.

It was like the worst job interview in history, which was recorded and will be posted on a university department website.

I can’t wait.

On Passions.

My husband was a collector. He was a great lover of literature, so he collected books. He loved movies and television, and he collected hundreds of DVDs. He loved music, and so he spent hours curating his iTunes library. The evidence of the things he was passionate about painted the walls of our two-bedroom house – the framed movie posters beside the dining room table, the shelves of DVD box sets, the second bedroom, the library, full of bookshelves.

Sometimes, this passionate man would notice that I wasn’t collecting, I wasn’t organizing, I wasn’t on the walls, and he would say, “What are you passionate about, Sarah? I can’t believe you’re not passionate about anything.”

Of all the unfortunate things we ended up saying to each other, this was the thing hurt me the most. In another lifetime, forever ago, every time I was asked, I internalized this question and my lack of passionate loves became a character flaw. Because he was right. I didn’t have favorites. I didn’t collect. I didn’t need anything.

What kind of adult woman doesn’t know what she loves? It seems unreal and ridiculous now, but this question, this insinuation that I was interested in nothing, made me feel empty and useless. If the person who was closest to me in the world didn’t know what I loved, I must be a total waste of space. While I am confident he didn’t intend for this to happen, this repeated question became for me a manifestation of all my failings. The question, asked again and again, meant that I wasn’t interesting, I wasn’t active, I didn’t care. I was dull, I was unmotivated, I wasn’t going anywhere. I used to have real, deep, hard feelings about this question, as I tried to figure out the next steps in my life.

My husband thinks I’m rudderless, and therefore I am.

And then, I went to Ireland. I was so lost and miserable before I left that going to do archaeology in Ireland (a place I had always wanted to visit) wasn’t even that exciting. Ireland, to me, was the last in a long line of expensive, time-consuming things I’d had to do to get my Masters and I just wanted to get it over with.

Ireland, however, could not have been farther from just an opportunity for me to punch my “field school” card and get the hell out of grad school. While I was there, I traveled, I met people from all over the world, I did hard, wonderful things, I was surrounded by anthropologists and archaeologists and we shared our love of history and bones and digging things up. I had experiences I could never have imagined. I discovered I wasn’t an empty husk of a person. I was passionate.

And it occurred to me, slowly at first and then literally in one second one day, that all these loves, all these passions, had always been there. This had always been me. I had always loved people and experiences and learning and travel. My husband, for all his love for me, had just never seen it, because he had bowed out of travels and dinners with friends and countless trips to see the nieces and conversations about my work in anthropology. He had made himself separate from all the things in life that I loved so much, and in turn, had made me separate from them too.

There are a million different ways in which I won’t forgive myself for ending my marriage. It’s still devastating and humiliating and I struggle daily with defining myself as “divorced,” because it reads to people who don’t know me as “failure,” “quitter,” “selfish idiot who can’t commit.”

However, in a million other ways, I am grateful. For everything. For all things difficult, disgusting, and awful. Because in the end, I found myself. I actually, legitimately, found myself. I am full to the brim with passions and interests and loves of my life. I have never been happier or more fulfilled. Not ever.

I intend to live a life in which no one ever has to ask me again, “Sarah, what are you passionate about?” They won’t have to ask, because they will see it beaming out of me every single day.