It’s been many, many years since I decided to include in my daily ritual: a question of reflection. A means of checks and balances that is commonly absent, without the extra effort. With so much going on around us, it can be difficult to… pause… and think about WHY it is you do the things you do.
My question for the day has always been: “What are you grateful for today?”
Some days, it’s easy to come up with an answer. Some days, it’s not. And often times, I have to inquire if, by repeating the same answers, I am dulling the top coat from its shine. Like the twenty thousandth time you’ve told your significant other “I love you” you realize the words, though true, have lost true sentiment behind it — how impressively quickly novel turns to casual.
Upon waking this morning, I stared at the post-it stuck on my bathroom wall and came to the same conclusion that I am frequently led to. But no matter how many times I respond with this same answer, it still find it –to put it eloquently– really freaking shiny.
Today, I am grateful that all things I want, I already have. It is unmistakably empowering to feel satisfied. I am so lucky for this unpredictable life and the ability to comprehend how and why I’m here.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
We found a hut made entirely out of gorgeous, smooth branches.
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.
Love is forever (temporarily).
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.
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.
I will post a couple video clips on Instagram, so you can see it live.
March 26, 2016 @ Caramel’s Apartment (Condado, PR)
THE SUNBURN IS FINALLY GONE. I’m more of a toasted cookie now.
In the morning, I tip-toed around the house, munching on a couple protein bars. I had packed loads of Clif Bars and Quest Bars back when I thought I was going to be camping in El Yunque. I figured that if I get lost and die eating dry rations, I might as well die happy. Come on, surrounded by chocolate chip Clif bars? I couldn’t think of a better way to die.
I walked around the front patio, juggling emotions that had been stirring all week. In just 10 days, I met a lot of amazing people and experienced things I’ll never forget (the greatest part about keeping a written record online). Considering I have a life that hasn’t paused for me back in NY, I was prepared to go back, but I couldn’t help but feel like I had unfinished business here. Mentally, I was plotting my next return trip, and I hadn’t even left yet.
I wasn’t supposed to meet up with Caramel until late afternoon, so Doel and I started binge watching the Walking Dead. It was simultaneously the greatest and worst idea, because it triggered the start of a show addiction. And now I hear there’s Fear the Walking Dead, too. What the hell did I get myself into?
In the middle of an episode, I randomly blurted out that I wanted a fruit smoothie, so Doel suddenly grabbed his car keys and headed out the door. An episode later, he came back with fruits! Bags filled with papayas, kiwis, strawberries, bananas, blueberries, raspberries — you name it, he got it. Doel came in clutch with the last minute smoothies. I felt like doing a dance. Wait, in fact, if I’m remembering correctly, I did. While he chopped, I danced. It was a damn good time.
He made me a list of my best traits and gave me a wonderful set of photographs to bring home with me.
PS- The onion is a Shrek reference.
PPS – Es necesario tener el corazon del hombre para vivir en este mundo. *flex*
Later, I returned to Condado, where it all began. Caramel and I took a quick dip in his condo community pool, then spent some quality time together while our suits dried. It’s hard to put into words, but I get a good feeling when I’m around him. It’s comfortable, but exciting at the same time. We have this tastefully witty, playful dynamic that keeps me interested in the banter. And I guess it doesn’t hurt that the man is, well, real fun to look at, too.
When the sky began to dim, we walked over to one of his favorite local joints. It was there I finally got to try a mofongo. Plantains are a big deal around here, and for good reason. Cut, fried, smashed — they are pretty delicious. The crab meat was a good addition, too.
After a lengthy conversation, we jumped in a cab and headed to La Placita de Santurce, a neighborhood social spot lined with music, food, and bars. The energy was fantastic and packed with life, but given the relatively early hour, it wasn’t overly crowded (which I most definitely prefer). We passed men and women of all ages who were out, having a good time on the open streets. I saw a couple people with canes, even. It was almost like people watching at Union Square but 1000 times better.
Caramel had called out his friends, so I ended up meeting someone I will refer to as Cranberry. He had a well-groomed beard, appealing features, and an athletic build, along with a spotlight personality that drew attention the same way a storyteller would. He, Caramel, and I shared a drink or two, chatted up a bartender, and briefly danced a little salsa until Cranberry left to go meet up with his lady.
So, the two of us headed back to Condado, where we laid side by side, staring at the ceiling (or maybe our eyes were closed, I’m not too sure at this point) until the hours passed through to single digits. I mentioned to him, at one point, that people tend to feel an obligation to fill gaps of silence, but it’s nice to be able to enjoy the presence of company without having to try. And I can honestly say, in that moment at least, there was no need to.
Even if 2 days isn’t long enough to get to “know” somebody.
At one point, he mentioned that when his friends back in NY come to visit, they bring their best selves. Cranberry had also brought up the concept of censorship — how he and Caramel are screening what they say because I am there to listen. On the airplane ride, the two comments sporadically clicked in my head, and I realized this: that’s what happens when you meet someone while traveling. His image will refresh every so often we meet, and it will always be the frame with the best lighting that gets taped inside my head. It’s fun and harmless to crush, but the question is: does the actual cake taste as good as it looks? I think it’d be interesting to find out, but whether the opportunity will arise is up in the air.
Doel picked me up at 2am and drove me to Ponce for my 5am flight. We made cat noises and talked of our experience together as if this were goodbye, but we both knew that I’ll be back.
If Katie, Caramel, Doel, Lilly, Ela, Martii, Lentävä, M, Jesse, Daniel, Demi, John, Max, Emily, Leo, Kevin, Joe, Frenchy, Erin, Nikki, Mario, Linda, Tommy, and Cranberry make up a fair reflection of the kind of people Puerto Rico invites and breeds, then I wouldn’t mind doing it all over again. A few treasures hang on my wall to remind me so.
The sharp air raised my skin the same way a walk in freezer would. Goosebumps galore. The inside of the ferries were maintained with such forceful, frosty air that I bet if this energy were to be redirected, it could single-handedly fuel all of the homes in Puerto Rico. Ok, maybe I’m exaggerating a little. So sue me.
I warmed myself up with a hot meal in the sun at the Fajardo dock while I waited for Doel to arrive. We reunited after my long, eventful week, and the first thing we did was stop at a wooden stand in the middle of the road for fried fritters called Pastelillos. Fried on the outside, stuffed with your selection of protein or starch on the inside.
My good friend then drove me to a beautiful beach in Quebradillas that housed the Guajataca Tunnel. Looking out from one end, I could see trees and rock formations; on the opposite side, I saw palm trees and the pristine, deep blue waves clapping against the rocks to applaud our arrival. Warm winds danced around us in concentric circles. I had front row seats for the best show in the world — la vida es bella.
In one of the caves, I hit my head hard enough to make a dent in it. Thus, I am forever referred to as Gumby Head.
We then headed to Survivor Beach in Aguadilla to collect small seashells. Unfortunately, we couldn’t find many. I teased Doel that the beach is missing its shells because everyone came to collect them before us, but later, he showed me his home collection and we scornfully chuckled at the irony of my joke. The beach had indeed been robbed of its charm. It was interesting there; the waves were intense and powerful, so families played in pools of water that gathered behind a barrier of rocks.
Next, he took me to the ruins of Ramey Base in Aguadilla. Rusty red and bronze, half demolished remains of stone proudly overlooked the coastal view. Mini dust tornados swept past us like cars with places to go, people to see. I, however, wasn’t in as much of a rush to leave.
We stopped by an ice slush stand in the middle of an empty parking lot. Good fucking choice Doel. An icy was exactly what we needed to cool off from the sun’s rays. You can see by the pictures that the clouds quickly shied away, withdrawing the filter of heat we desperately needed.
One of the coolest things I saw that day was at Crash Boat Beach. There is a man that went by an alias of Harry the Pelican Whisperer. According to Doel, he goes out to the docks around 3pm every day to greet his flock of pelican friends. He has them trained by name — he can call them over to perform “circus tricks,” such as stopping flight mid-air, turning in circles, and perching on the arms of fascinated bystanders (for a small fee). You could tell how protective and loving he was of these creatures, and they reciprocated similarly towards him.
Damn it, how come when I whisper, only creeps flock to me?
TEACH ME HARRY. PLEASE.
J: Do you like kids?
D: Yes… Fried.
It’s safe to say Doel and I will be lifelong friends. Mi cariño. We laughed and shared so much in the few days we’ve known each other.
After our road trip, we decided to head back to Toa Baja. The houses in Doel’s neighborhood are well-kept and colorful one story homes with bountiful trees and gardens that compliment perfectly. I got to try a freshly picked star fruit from the tree in front of his house! His place had a huge floor plan, decorated in a simplistic but beautiful manner — with collections of unique ornaments, photos, shells, and other art. I showered in a private bathroom, was given my own room, did a load of laundry (yes! Fucking laundry! I never loved laundry like I loved laundry this day), and sprawled out on a soft sofa with the luxury of air conditioning. It was like being in a five star hotel. On top of that, he shared with me a large slab of grilled fish and homemade tostones while we laughed at and mocked cheap horror movies. It sunk us into a comfortable ecstasy, and I fell asleep on the couch before the credits got a chance to roll.
Next Up: Last Night in Puerto Rico — Salsa and Drinks at La Placita!
I tried to beat the sun, but she was up before I was. She had already unfurled her tangled web of golden locks across the blue cloudless sky. I used a light jacket that folds into a bag (clothing companies can be so innovative these days) to pack sunscreen, a phone, and a wallet. If I was going to jog across the entire island, I had to do it light.
I secured the jacket-bag across my chest before walking out to the closest deli. Almost every store on Vieques and Culebra that I had seen was cash only, and with the scarce, dysfunctional ATMs available, I was down to my last couple bucks. This place had a card minimum, so I tossed in a couple granola bars and a bottle of Robitussin to make my Aloe drink purchase (which ended up being a horrible idea, because when you jog with hot sugary liquids in the sizzling sun, it becomes more of a syrup than fuel).
(And apparently, if you jog with hot cough syrup, it turns into dollar store fruit roll-up).
The walk was just over 2 hours by GPS — I figured, I could run it in less than half. I, however, didn’t account for intense, winding hills and the brutal, searing sun. In case you haven’t been keeping up: I am in the process of recovering from a systemic infection. Unable to swallow or breathe properly, I was spitting and heaving down the dirt path like a fat baseball player with asthma. Yes boys, I’m single. One at a time, please.
It was too hot for clothing, so I used my shirt as a cape. I could feel and see my shoulders blistering from the penetrating rays. The sun showed no mercy. She clawed her nails through my skin; my calves began swelling as well. I had to alternate between jogging and walking (and dying) the whole way there.
BUT IT WAS SO WORTH IT.
Zoni Beach is my favorite beach of all time. I stripped to my birthday suit and sprawled out underneath a set of coconut trees. I napped for quite some time. The walk back home was just as difficult, if not more, but I got to finish the hike with an ice cold cup of orange juice and a fresh shower. It was the best feeling in the world.
Sometimes, you need to physically push yourself to the absolute limit. When you reach the point of quivering muscles and screaming fatigue, you challenge your inherent willpower to another level. Only when you move past it can you appreciate the fact that you’re still standing and mediate acknowledgement of accomplishment. Life is a mental game, and without practice, you lose.
Back at the hostel, I ran into the cutest girl. So petite I could fit her into my pocket. Helen had a dark pixie haircut and eyes that seemed to glitter. She was nice enough to share her dinner with me, so we talked for a while until the rice and beans were swept clean by our forks.
At night, it rained while I followed Joe around the bars. I guess two person barhopping with only one person drinking is lame (I could sense it in his drunken expression), so instead, we climbed up the side of the main bridge in town. Flip flops, metal ladders, and rain don’t mix, but it worked out fine. You can’t see from this grainy photo, but it was gorgeous up there. Perfection.
We smiled, sharing an apple and gazing at the soft reflection of Dewey on the waters beneath us. I guess it was a good moment for something cheesy, because he slipped a hand behind my back and tried to pull me in for a kiss. I held a hand out and backed away.
“Oh. When girls fidget, it means they want you to kiss them. You kept moving around. I thought you wanted it.”
“Don’t get me wrong. You’re extremely attractive. But that doesn’t cut it for me. Besides, that’s not what I do when I want someone to kiss me.”
“What do you do then?”
“What you just did. Try to kiss them.”
“Yeah, what’s the worst thing that could happen. Rejection? If I really want something, I am assertive about it. Simple as that.”
“Right. That’s respectable. Me too.”
I guess it’s a good thing I have a thing for brunettes with light eyes, because they seem to have a thing for Korean chicks with barefaced opinions as well. This happened 4 times in the time I was there. It’s just too bad the desire to pursue doesn’t come often.
I went through a brief, pointless phase after my last ex where I was serial dating left and right to fill the void — mainly free time I didn’t have before. But now, I’ve grown to be a bit more selective, a bit more perceptive of physical attraction and how it can falsely augment cognitive appeal. A hot body for the night — where’s the challenge in that? Yawn.
My point is, it’s essential to know your self worth. Whether your intention is to hook up, date, or commit to a relationship, you should still aim high, regardless. Don’t settle — it inhibits the growth of confidence, and without confidence, you are restricted to a fraction of opportunities in life.
Enough of this Dr. Phil BS. I have a long day ahead of me tomorrow. Goodnight my loves.
Next Up: Road trip across the north coast of Puerto Rico