The Three Most Important Things


Somewhere out there, there is an inked chest that regretfully reads “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” 

What the proverb doesn’t mention is that if you teach a man to fish in our modern day society, he’s going to fish religiously for a couple of months until he discovers Seamless. Our culture continues in a pursuit for convenience, and ultimately, through this progression, we lose our vision for sustainability. 

It is not enough to achieve; we must maintain what we’ve earned. 

I realize that I am going places, I am going to be somebody, and one day, I am going to keep someone very happy, because of three fundamental beliefs that bring out the best in me. In fact, I have never been a better version of me than the person I am today. What I’m doing now is a bit of maintenance, wiping the trail of footprints behind me.


1. Attitude:

As much as I wish good things would always happen to good people, it isn’t always the case. Life is riddled with sadness and injustice. And in the rock bottom moments where it hurts to even breathe, as if you swallowed your heart whole and it’s stuck halfway down your chest, when you can’t understand why and how, or why now, and nothing feels real but the unrelenting pain — what makes the biggest difference is the attitude we choose to wear as our coat.

“Weakness of attitude becomes weakness of character” has always been my favorite quote, because how we choose to react to the things around us are a direct reflection of who are, as people. A positive attitude not only adds a shine to good events, it dulls the blade of bad events. We can’t avoid getting hurt. So, the next best thing is to accept that though the wound will take time to heal, it will heal. Sulking alone doesn’t change what’s happened already; it only keeps you from patching yourself up sooner, rather than later. 

If life gives you lemons, you don’t make lemonade. You man up and shove that bad baby in your mouth–the first shock of the sour taste will fade with time–and just remember that life will eventually give you ice cream. The practice of optimism directly manipulates our very being; how we perceive the world changes, how we digest bad news changes, how we behave changes, and in turn, how the world perceives us changes, as well. 


2. Gratitude:

I’m starting a new job, with a new boss (that I absolutely adore); I have a beautiful new home ten blocks from Columbia, my new school (which has secretly been my dream school all these years); I’m starting a new DPT program, which has solely become possible through the newly solidified relationships in my immediate family; the new class is full of amazing intellectuals (who actually know how to socialize), and I have new clusters of friends in cities across the country that make me feel at home, wherever I go.  

I’m blessed with more than I am entitled to. What appreciation does for me, as it might for you, is it gives more worth to the ordinary and the routine. Everything tastes better. It even feels better. Gratitude establishes the foundation for humility; to truly sustain what we have already accomplished, we must appreciate what it’s worth and what it took to get there. 


3. Fear of failure:

Fear has a functional use. It motivates our bodies to react when stressed. Why I value the fear of failure is because it suggests that no job is ever complete. An achieved goal is merely a stepping stone towards something even greater, and when we have a moderate, controlled fear to disappoint, it ignites a kind of desperation that can benefit us. 

Despite the significance of attitude and gratitude, if we get complacent with what we have, we risk becoming apathetic, and rather, too comfortable with mediocrity. There is no greater waste than potential wasted. Just as you need fear to motivate you when a bear is chasing you down, you need that kind of inspiring fear to be great. Excellence doesn’t present itself to you; it is chased, through desperation. 
Ultimately, these thoughts have been relishing my mind for a reason: in order to sustain our progression, we ought to keep in mind the very principles that brought us there. Attitude, gratitude, and fear of failure keeps me focused. What about you?

The Text Message Break Up

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“I’m never going to talk to you again. See you never,” the message read.

Following a delay just long enough to process what he had sent her, in attempts to subdue the passive aggressive anger railroading through the text –because God forbid he actually let her have the satisfaction in knowing she got under his skin– he quickly typed and sent another: “Lol.”

Because Lol says Hey, I don’t care.

Lol means You don’t phase me, though she really really does. Without even trying. Damn it.

Upon receipt of the message (she had briefly glanced at the text from the sudden glow of her screen), her long, slender, unmanicured fingers clicked the power button on top of her iPhone to hide the message from view.

Seriously? she thought, eyes rolling north to a blanket of lids. Must you be so dramatic. 

The coarse brush of annoyance was enough for her to immediately decide: this kind of demeanor is not worth a response. She thought, can’t we resolve our issues like grown fucking adults… In person? Using words? 

How many times —she reflected on previous encounters that all too similarly left the same sour taste in her mouth– am I going to get dumped by a friend through a text message. 

She could not determine whether it was her that had become too insensitive, or if the modern digital culture forced others to grow soft, to wrongfully take 100-something character texts, in the absence of context and any sense of real human connection, to heart.

When you live in a world where lives, though consciously filtered, are put on display, it is incredibly easy to jump to conclusions that reside far from the truth. So, could she blame him? No. But the disappointment came from the fact that there exist people who breed a hatred from a subjective assumption and go the extent of cutting ties, void a conversation. Just a bitter, premature See-You-Never.

Never? Good grief. Never is hasty, you silly child — an impulse quite often regretted. 

To leave the opportunity of a text reply as the ONLY venue of communication… How does one reason with an irrational mind, in words that must again suffer the path of interpretation?

You don’t. 

You can’t, she just knew. This is why an argument on the internet has no end. This is why you cannot put sense into the head of religion. THIS IS WHY YOU DON’T ARGUE OVER TEXTS.

Was she lacking empathy or were they lacking maturity? She could not say it was either, because the former wasn’t true (or so she truly believed) and because there wasn’t enough juice in her superiority complex to sway her to the latter.

Good luck with your life, he added soon after. A miserable touch. It was surely meant to provoke, or to prod a response. But such petty behavior warrants dismissal.

I know you want me to, but I will not plead, she mentally noted. Why in the world would I chase after something that allows no explanation. Effort, in all scenarios, deserves reciprocation. Don’t you think? Of course you don’t. Your head is steaming, and elsewhere.

Over the years, she had learned about the brevity of relationships with the emotionally rash, but more importantly, the undeniable insignificance of such. They come, they go, like uprooted flowers in the wind –mere visitors caught in a passing storm, leaving the slightest trace of their beauty and a lasting impression of their hideous rage.

If You Jump, No One Will Catch You

“JANE, WHAT ARE YOU DOING?” he asked.

With a worried note to his call, his voice meekly carried over from a hundred paces away. “ARE YOU CRAZY?”

I had to assume it was not a question for me to answer.

Nick, along with two equally horrified passerby hikers, held their breaths as they watched me lower my body through a damaged gap in the tracks. We all stood on the burnt boards of an abandoned bridge that once supported the weight of a railroad train but has since deteriorated into a local attraction for daredevil hikers and photographers.

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Fires, from repeated horseplay, and heavy Washington downpours have led this second largest railroad bridge to closure, but that has done little to deter travelers from walking across it anyway. While he and the two others from Florida cautiously crawled across the wooden planks, I skipped ahead recklessly, joyously, and a bit foolishly, one might say.

When I got to a gap big enough to fit my body, I stopped hopping. Many planks were gradually degrading; as my weight pressed down, pieces of wood would chip away like the cheap acrylic from a Chinatown nail salon. Keeping the bulk of my weight on my arms, I dipped one foot down at a time onto a small sheet of metal beneath where the tracks used to be. It feels sturdy enough, I thought to myself.

So, I did what all normal, sane, and practical people would do in that situation.

I let go.

Flirting with the devil at nearly 400ft above ground, I tried balancing one foot at a time.  For some odd reason– my blood did not race in the slightest bit. My Fitbit confirmed: resting rate of 42, the usual pace at which my heart conducts its business (yes, I know, it’s weirdly slow. It’s always been that way).

I called out to the others, “Come here! It’s fine!”

But they shook their heads no and continued to watch me from afar.

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I don’t blame them.

When I leaned forward, this is what I could see below my feet.

I leaned back against the broken wood resting on the small of my back and scanned the view around me. I inhaled the greens and blues with a voracious greed in my eyes, because I knew, once I returned to the City, I wouldn’t be able to consume this kind of sight.

I don’t normally advocate for gluttony, but in this case, I certainly do.

Feed me.

I’m starving.

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Nick and I crossed the entire length of the bridge, and then we decided to climb the trestles that make up the bridge. We skid down a hill and made it up a decent height before acknowledging it’d be stupid to keep going without any rope support.

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Using our hands and knees, we made a nearly vertical descent down to ground level. There were logs, embedded rocks, loose roots, and one tattered rope that helped us steer our way down. I have to admit: this part, though tame in comparison to the bridge, had me extremely nervous the entire way down.

 

It wasn’t the height. It wasn’t the close snake encounter. 

What scared me was the chance of injury. Nick and I are opposites in the sense. He can scale down these dangerous paths with no hesitation, because he knows he can survive the fall, whereas he cannot if he were to fall off Vance Creek bridge (where we started our hike). I, on the other hand, having had many close encounters with death, think nothing of dying other than “I hope my parents don’t waste money on a funeral” and “did I ever send that email reply?” but am riddled with intense anxiety when I run the risk of breaking a leg.

We develop our fears through exposure and maintain our fears through avoidance. What oddly balanced creatures we are.

At the end of our descent, Nick and I were welcomed by a stream of clear water flossing and weaving through a bed of rocks. We took off our hiking boots and long socks to dip our feet in painfully cold water. Why? Because pain becomes tolerable over time.

Just kidding. It was because we thought it’d be warmer than that.

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At the bottom, we rested, occasionally dunking our feet in the icy cold (as tolerated). We refueled our heavy breaths with lush, fresh oxygen. It was then, with a clearer mind, that we could see how far we had come, but simultaneously could calculate the equivalent distance of how far we’d have to travel to get back to where we had started from.

Some metaphorical shit, I know.

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In times of taxing, physical exertion –believe it or not– I tend to hurdle over elementary thoughts of “When’s lunch?” and “That looks amazing,” for grandiose symbolic ideas that can be applied to the phenomenons of life (or used at the conclusion of a blog article).

It’s an obnoxious habit, but a habit nonetheless.

I usually try to keep it to myself.

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photo cred: NM

We hiked back uphill through an endless pile of thorny bushes. The dry foundation of dirt and sand would crumble away from our feet when we pulled our weight upward, so as we slid back down, we’d make an illusory progress — this is how I presume it would feel to try and run from quicksand.

Aaaaand good thing I wore shorts that were three inches long, because I really wanted to end the hike looking like a lotto scratch ticket.

We then jumped back in the truck and headed home to pick up Nick’s bike.

By bike, I mean a bike.

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If you only knew the irony of America fueling Britain on Independence Day.

I’ve always wanted a motorcycle license, so spending the afternoon zooming around town was as close to perfection I could’ve gotten.

Speeding, even against still air, helps you understand the undeniable force of a bullet: so minute in relation to the rest of the world, but able to penetrate, without bias, a crisp sheet of steel that has yet to be touched. She growled, snuggling against my thighs, and it shot pulses of adrenaline through my veins in a fearsome way no man ever could.

Does this make me gay?

We pulled into Chambers Bay, which was the golf course in University Place, WA that once hosted the US Open. It housed a beautiful bridge and a small, sandy beach riddled with beachwood. I told him the hills reminded me of velvet, because they looked soft enough to touch.

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We found a hut made entirely out of gorgeous, smooth branches.

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On the bridge, there were clusters of locks with faded initials, hinting at lovers that had passed through the same grounds and wanted to leave their mark.

He said, “If your lock gets cut, it means you will break up.”

I said, “Let’s come back with lock cutters,” like the good Samaritan I am.

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Love is forever (temporarily).

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As the sun stretched towards the Pacific, we made another pit stop at his garage to exchange the bike for a kayak. In my bag, I found battery powered Christmas lights (intended for the upcoming camping trip *which I recently found out was canceled), so I tucked it across the kayak skin to keep us illuminated in the dark. I strapped a headlight across my forehead, and we set sail.

There is no beauty quite like the soft dance of yellow lights on blue waters.

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Nick pedaled for about 40 minutes to get us away from the other speed boats and cargo ships. We then let ourselves float in the pitch black, inky waters, as fireworks began painting the sky from multiple directions. We had gotten there just in time for the show.

Directly ahead were lights sparkling along Tacoma’s Commencement Bay, to the right we could see Seattle’s show from a distance, and on higher ground were small clusters of fireworks coming from rich homes in the woods and along the shorefront.

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I will post a couple video clips on Instagram, so you can see it live.

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It was a nice day.

Happy fourth, everybody. I love you all.

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You Son of a Kitchen

Elbows in, I reminded myself, watching in the mirror the course of my knees tracing the length of my body. I squatted as low as I could, tucking the 70lb dumbbell into my chest, as the metronome of J. Cole and Kendrick kept pace with my steady heart. 

I was simply putting some work in at the gym, isolated in a decent radius and minding my own (as per usual) when a neighboring beefhead got up from his bench to wave a pair of massive Russian banana hands into my field of view. I turned to him, removing a headphone from the right ear just in time to make out “–fucking space.”

“Excuse me?” I said, pulling the other plug from my left, “What was that? I couldn’t hear you.”

He tensed his eyebrows tightly together and repeated, “I SAID, you’re in my fucking space. I need my space.”

Say what?

In the past decade of lifting, the only times I have ever been interrupted mid-set were when men wanted to ask for the number of sets I had left on the bar, or for the number they’d have to call to get me TO a bar. So, you can imagine why I, without processing his message, instinctively reacted to his hostility with a “My bad, I’m sorry,” and consequently shifted my belongings further away. 

Only after he resumed pumping his weights into the air did it occur to me that I had been standing, at the very least, a good 3 feet away from his bench. I wanted to stomp about 6 large steps away, to sarcastically curtsy and say, I’m sorry, Nancy, is that enough space for you? 

But I didn’t. 

One, because I often find it difficult to be an outright dick, but mostly two, because I thought of the quip a tad too late and it would’ve been weird for me to say it after that much time had passed. Eh, you win some, you lose some. Half of wit is timing.

Every time I re-encountered a glimpse of his smug face in the wall reflection, I could feel myself growing a tiny bit angrier. I removed myself from the dumbbells to the power rack, so I could put the negative energy behind me.

I finished up, then I left the facility shortly after to hop on the green line. Little did I know, as luck would have it, he was trailing right behind me. 

I caught the subway train as the doors were about to close, wedging my body into a pocket of commuters, and when I turned to face the other way, I saw him running to fill the last bit of space by my feet.

I couldn’t help but immediately think of Elaine with no toilet paper, when her stall neighbor does her dirty by saying she doesn’t have “a square to spare.” And how, at the end of the episode, Elaine steals all the TP from the bathroom before the chick walks in so that she can taunt the infamous line back to her.

Karma isn’t a bitch; people are.

Now, what I could’ve done in that moment is step forward a couple inches, and say as the doors closed on his face: “Nope, take the next train; I need my space.” How deliciously sweet would that have been — well, I’m not all that sure, because I didn’t do it.

If an eye for an eye makes the world blind, I don’t want to forget that I have another to spare. The unnecessarily rude can take out my eye, but at least I have sight, and that’ll do more for me in the long run than petty revenge. 

Although that would have been pretty fucking fun, too. 

Getting Quick Clean Money

Amidst the pristine reflections of glossy high rise buildings, I saw a man neatly fold up the bottom hem of his pants. This was after tucking his socks into the loafers he had set aside by the fountain steps. In wide, exaggerated steps, he trudged into the shallow depths of the cycling fountain, and for a second, I thought he was going for a business casual swim. Given the common absurdity of seemingly normal New Yorkers, I can’t say I would’ve been all that surprised. A few others around me pulled out their phones — a snap worthy moment, for sure. 

But alas, I saw him bend over to scoop, in both hands, the coins and long lost wishes of foolish tourists that had collected in the sediments of ten, twenty years prior. He pooled them into a soggy plastic bag, and scrambled without any notice to others clicking their phones around him.

And all I could think to myself was– Somebody’s eating some grass-fed, organic, premium Whole Foods steak tonight!

You go, shameless man. I can’t even judge you. That’s ambition, baby. 

Who’s Your Daddy?

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“Excuse me,” he called out, extending an arm towards a freshly ironed blazer hurrying in the opposite direction, “do you have a light?”

Startled, the young suit backed away. “Um, what, no–” he began to say, but upon noticing the lit cigarette pinched between his own two fingers, he realized his cover had been blown. He dug through the clutter in his pockets as small clusters of tourists and business men worked to dodge their stagnant presence in the middle of the busy sidewalk. “Shoot, hold on, I have it here somewhere,” he said. He pulled out a receipt, a crumpled dollar, a set of keys.

The other man waited patiently, tugging at the loose strings of his worn clothing, smiling meagerly at the effort. The corners of his eyes wrinkled when he smiled.

“There,” –with the flick of a lighter, a weak flame appeared at the young man’s hands– “do you need a smoke, too? I might have an extra.”

Before he could reach back into his jacket pocket, the gentleman in rags shook his head and reached down for a box by his feet. He carefully unconstructed a light green box, wrapped with pristine care and a silky bow. As passing bystanders craned their heads back in curiosity, the man removed from the box a small cupcake with a candle on top. Leaning in towards the young stranger to light the candle –the suit had forgotten about the flame in his hands– the older man smiled proudly and said, “Happy Birthday, son. Now make a wish!”

Dear Johnny,

I’ve rewritten the first sentence of this letter over and over again, because I don’t know where to begin. Somewhere between the brain that can’t stop thinking about you and the fingers that rest upon this dusty keyboard, words fail me. Johnny baby, I hope you are reading this.

It was a quiet day. Was it a school day? Binghamton sure felt like a daydream. A soft stream of sunlight had poked its nose past the sheer fabric curtains, accentuating blonde specks of unsettled dust around us. It hung in the attic air in an ephemeral stillness; like us, the dust had nowhere to be and no rush to get there. I watched you sink into the couch groove beside me as we filled the silent room with a winding, convoluted discussion, like a tree branch with aim but no end.

In an isolated solidarity, we had brewed the best kind of friendship –if introspective minds are the perfect ingredients, we surely weren’t in short supply. I can’t recall how many hours had to conspire to drown out the sun, and I’m sure you can’t either, because in those awesome one-on-one conversations, we’d get trapped in the present like lethargic feet in quicksand. It always worked out in our favor, though, because sinking in the deep end is a hundred times better than wading where it’s shallow.

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We made a LOT of friends in college. Good ones, too. But you were one of the very, very few people I kept in touch with, because I wanted you around forever. Forever is a silly word –a selfish word, I know– but it’s a word I hung onto when I thought of people like you.

I can say, without hesitation or doubt (and I’m glad I had the chance to say it to your face): you are the most genuine and kind-hearted human being I’ve encountered on this planet. You promoted a better world. You were conscious of your actions. You led and taught others. And might I add, you did a damn fine job of doing so. My life is tremendously better because of you. Unlike most college kids, we didn’t need to smoke weed or drink beer to “have something to do” together. We didn’t discuss stupid shit; we talked about our vulnerabilities, the source of happiness, and what ways we could change the world. We had plans, Johnny.

So when I read the first half of Colden’s text last night, I didn’t understand it. It read, “Hey, hate to be the bearer of bad news, but I just got word the Johnny Cass…”

The ironic thing is, I had my phone in my hand because I was going to call you. It’d make my day when we’d sporadically check up on each other and say “I miss you.” I wanted to see how your feet were doing, and if you were following the exercise program I sent you. I was curious as to know how your solar panel projects and yoga practice were going. I was going to ask if you’re still in touch with Stummer because I haven’t seen him in a minute. I wanted to check — are we set to volunteer and camp at Catskill Chill this Fall? And remember, I was supposed to visit your house in Albany so many damn times, it was starting to become a running joke. I was actually hoping to make it happen this Memorial day weekend… Only two weeks from now.

Before I clicked open his full text, I assumed Colden was trying to say something along the lines of “I just got the word that Johnny Cass… is moving to the middle of fucking nowhere,” or that “Johnny Cass broke his leg snowboarding” or that “Johnny Cass decided to devote his life to underprivileged children in India and we probably won’t see him for another six years.”

Six years would’ve sucked, but I could have swallowed it. Forever, though? It’s beyond me. I’m going through these rapid bursts of anger, curiosity, contentment, regret, sadness, inspiration, denial, and every other affect in the rolodex of human emotion. I’m feeling so much at once that I’m starting to feel numb. Sensory overload is a lot like sensory deprivation –we would’ve gotten a kick out of discussing that.

When I found out, I could’ve gone out for a drink or two or eight. But I figured you would rather have me meditate and do hot yoga (of course), so I did exactly that. But Johnny, I swear, I looked like a fucking madman, choking back tears in half moon, grilling angrily at the sad mess in the mirror for ruining my focus. Could you blame me though?


Today is a little better than yesterday, and tomorrow will be a little better than today. It sounds like some cheese quote you’d post on Instagram, so I know you’ll appreciate the thought, ha.

You once posted this quote: “If the only prayer you said in life was ‘thank you,’ that would suffice.” I thank you, Johnny Cassaro. Thank you for loving me, brother. Thank you for having an impact on me more than most people ever will.

I said I repeatedly rewrote the first sentence because I didn’t know where to begin. We were right, Johnny; life does come in full circle. I keep rewriting the last sentence over and over again, because I  don’t want this to end.

Love, Jane