Beijing: One Month In

Six months ago, I had no intention of ever visiting China, Asia, or anywhere in the remote vicinity. My life was so strange and confusing, and I actually thought I would be moving back to Chicago from San Francisco. Out of the blue, something popped up in SF that offered me the stability that would surely cure my troubles. I started making friends and enjoying the city for the first time in a few years. I did things that I had been meaning to do because I finally could. Yet the happiness I was expecting never came. I felt ashamed for betraying the situation around me just like I had in the past and for considering something so detrimental to the career path I had barely stumbled onto, but I needed something dramatic that would stop this stuff once and for all. I considered trying weird medicine that would miraculously put my life on track, but I decided that seeing the world might be the cure for my enigmatic ailments. Before giving up a good thing, however, I needed to find something specific to care about and work toward.

So I did a Google search for jobs that require travel and applied to teach English in Beijing, and I had an interview the following week, and I got offered the job the following day, and I had to jump through hoops and revisit burned bridges just to get the extremely complicated visa arrangements in order, and I lived dual lives for an insanely stressful two months until I knew for sure was going, and then it became a reality, and then I had to tell everyone, which included my employer, which was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, and I had to look at myself in the mirror on a daily basis and ask myself how stupid could I possibly be?, and I started to finally feel at home in my quiet little SF neighborhood, and I started having second thoughts, and everything started having a “last supper” feel, and I knew I couldn’t go, and then I went, and now here I am.

It’s been a month now. No revelations yet, but I’ve been so busy with training, finding an apartment, doing visa stuff, and hanging out with the amazing girlfriend that I still don’t feel like I have arrived. I’m teaching about 90% full-time now, and by the end of the month, I’ll be at 100%. They really throw you in the mix right from the start, but I actually like that. Each class topic is pre-arranged, and the lesson plans are partially planned with plenty of room for creativity. Some of the lessons are really cool, and other ones are a little more interesting… There are two main types of classes: workshops for up to 25 students and “face-to-face” classes of up to 4 students that have more of a tutoring feel. I struggled with the workshops at the beginning because I am so terrible at speaking in front of people, but I have definitely improved. Some classes have gone really well, and I pat myself on the back for accomplishing something in a field I never ever dreamed of entering in my life. Oh, I teach adults. In my interview, they mentioned they preferred kids’ teachers, and I said absolutely not. I am happy with that decision because the adults (usually in their 20s and 30s) are pretty cool, but the downside is that they usually work in some capacity, meaning night and weekend classes. My hours are definitely not conducive to doing things like learning Mandarin, seeing the city while things are actually open, and hanging out with the girlfriend. It’s difficult, but it’s a one-year contract, and I will just “play it by year.”

I’ve tried lots of new foods already. I’m quickly getting used to the cultural differences, but the one thing that still confounds me is the madness that happens at intersections.

Also, it’s true that everyone thinks Americans are handsome. It’s nice at first, but it’s already lost meaning. I get weird looks in some parts of the city and in my apartment complex, especially while wearing the smog mask, but there were times when I felt like a foreigner even in the US, so I’m used to it. Speaking of the apartment complex, I live in a cheap 4-bedroom place that’s actually pretty nice, but the shower is not divided in any way from the rest of the bathroom. You just turn it on and go, and after you’re done, there’s an absolute mess of water everywhere. It’s pretty common here, but I don’t know why.

Also, there’s no dryer. It takes like three days for pants to dry.

I thought I saw crowds in big cities before, but it’s truly hard to imagine such a large amount of people in places like the subway and tourist sites until you see it with your own eyes. It’s crazy.

This is honestly the first piece of writing I’ve done in China. There’s other stuff to write about, and maybe I’ll have more time to share my experiences going forward. I’m still getting a feel for my surroundings.

Talk to you later.

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The Moonwalk, Creed, and Missing Out

It took a couple of weeks in San Francisco for me to get fully acclimated, but I was in love the first time I stepped foot in that city. During the first six months there, I experienced some of the happiest moments of my life. I remember talking on the phone while walking up and down the hills with the wind blowing and the buses going by – I had never lived in a big city before, so it was weird getting used to the surrounding noise – and different family members on the other end would mention how happy I sounded. I really did feel a certain joy.

I was starting to get into a rhythm in my graduate program. I was getting good grades and becoming comfortable with my cohort. I was slowly getting adjusted to the city and the surrounding area; I liked it there. A lot. But when the summer rolled around, things changed, and it’s taken me this long to figure out why.

In the winter and spring, everyone was envious of the amazing California weather I was supposedly experiencing. Although SF is much different from the rest of California weather-wise, most people back home didn’t get to play Frisbee on the beach or go for an afternoon hike along the coast. I wasn’t missing out on much because most of my friends were stuck doing boring things indoors and working. Many of them wanted to come visit, as seeing me gave them an excuse to vacation in California. I welcomed and invited them, as everyone else does when they move there.

Over the course of six weeks in the summer, five of my closest friends (three of them girls) and my parents came to visit. It was during this period that I started losing it, and I had little time to stop and decipher my thoughts.

On one occasion, one of my good friends from college had come to visit. I felt like our friendship had been slowly losing ground because of the distance, so I was glad to have her in my reach once again. She joined my SF friends in going out one Friday night, and we had a blast. I signed up to karaoke Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” at two different bars to no avail, but the people that did get called up to sing provided plenty of entertainment. Toward the end of the night, the bar was clearing out and quieting down, so we got to goof around and enjoy each other’s company. I thought it would be a good idea to bet Nic he couldn’t moonwalk all the way to the grocery store down the street. I remember closely watching him the entire time to make sure the moonwalk was official, and sure enough, he made it. So much laughing. So much happiness. With my friend from home now here for the moment along with my other friends, I was missing out on effectively nothing. I didn’t want to be anywhere else.

When my friend left, something felt amiss. I began taking antidepressants for the first time since I moved, and I started to lose interest in school.

I had little time to think about what this feeling was before another friend came to visit two weeks later. This time, the culprit was a girl I had a little history with. I missed her, and it was fun to act like a couple for the week. Toward the end of her stay, we decided to go out. Nic had just gotten back from Eastern Europe, so it was a “boys are back in town” moment on top of the girl visiting. We had this thing for playing Creed songs on jukeboxes over and over again. Immaturely, we thought it was funny then, but it is still hilarious now. That night was karaoke night, so we thought it would be fun if we each signed up to sing Creed songs. I honestly can’t even remember what song I did – I think it was “One Last Breath,” but the response from our trolling is what I remember more. The DJ was getting a little aggravated after announcing, for the third time in a row, that someone would be singing Creed. Frank and Nic nailed their parts. Long story short, I finally got to karaoke “Lose Yourself,” and the night culminated in Frank singing Juvenile’s “Back That Thang Up.” He knew the song so well that he ignored the censored words on the prompter and sang the uncensored version in a rap voice, while some random girl starting dancing on stage with him. It was one of the most hilarious things I have ever seen. My friend joined in on the fun by singing Meredith Brooks’s “B###h.” Once again, I experienced that feeling of contentedness because I was missing out on nothing; the action was happening right in front of me.

After she left, that unsettling feeling began again. More medicine. More confusion. It is all a blur after that. Two years later, I find myself in a vastly different Bay Area, again far from my original home.

I now understand that the feeling of “missing out” is one of my greatest weaknesses. It is so extreme that it’s hard for me to feel happy for someone if they had fun and I wasn’t there. Thanks to Facebook, text messaging, and my imagination, I was able to see and guess what was happening back home after I had moved. When summer came, I became less important. My friends had less of a reason to stay in touch and more of a reason to enjoy the summer weather and their own friendships back home. I felt like they no longer needed me. I felt like the whole Midwest no longer needed me. When these friends came to visit, I momentarily had control over the situation, and everything was fine. But these friends also brought stories, memories, and feelings along with them. Besides the few good friends I already had in SF, I really hadn’t made many new friends due to the time commitment of my program. The foundations I was beginning to develop were not strong enough to fight against the foundations I had created back home. It wasn’t home in SF yet, and the flood of visitors in such a short time had me confused as to where home really was. Once the seed of “missing out” was planted in my mind, I could no longer be happy in such a distant land.

The things I could not control controlled me.

I love traveling, and as much as I hate moving, I enjoy living in different places. I don’t know how long I will be in my current location, Tampa, and if an opportunity arises in a distant city, country, or planet, I might start off on yet another journey. My point is not about staying in one place, but rather enjoying the moment while I’m here, and not worrying about what I’m missing out on somewhere else.

I do not regret moving from California – I was far from home and confused about life. I do, however, regret letting my insecurity over missing out influence my move so greatly. I wish I could simultaneously be in different places right now, but I will always only be in one place. I’m taking up a tiny portion of a tiny section of a tiny dot on a huge map, and I need to try to be happy where I am for a change. Instead of not missing out on the things distant from me, I need to not miss out on the things right in front of me. There will always be a rest of the world, but I can control nothing more than where my own two feet stand.

Final Score: Chicago 1, Curtis 0

People say the long, bitter Chicago winters build character. They also say dealing with adversity builds character. Well something is being built alright, but whatever it is certainly is in danger of toppling to the ground.

____________________

My time in this city is coming to an end; everything has happened so quickly. I never seriously thought I would be leaving this soon. A roller coaster from start to finish, this experience has exposed a breaking point I never knew existed.

In the midst of this whirlwind period, I managed to get my master’s degree. I wasn’t running on fumes, though – I was running on fumes of fumes. Barely able to sleep. Barely able to wake up. Barely able to do anything in between. I was operating at such a low level that I was more dead than alive. I was so burnt out from studying for the CFA and working hard at my internship, that I could barely handle my very challenging projects and final exams. In this last semester / quarter, I got a B and a C+, which in grad school are the loose equivalents of a C+ and a D+. I was broken. I had nothing. There was so much going on and I couldn’t wrap my head around it all.

As the lease expiration date on my apartment quickly approached, I was forced to actually think about my plan past the CFA exam. I just wanted things to stay simple so I could study and focus on doing something productive in my life, but I was faced with a dizzying amount of problems, situations, and deadlines. I brought much of this upon myself, and I didn’t handle this period well. Still, it left me in pieces.

I considered staying in my current place, then I looked at apartments in the city, then I looked for places in the suburbs. The next week, I found myself thinking about staying at home for a while. Days later, the idea of staying in Florida became more of a reality, especially after a surprise phone call from my sister. Within weeks, I knew going to Tampa was the most logical decision. I can’t afford to stay in this expensive city without a real job, and no jobs have come my way. I need a break from my mind. Peace. A situation where I’m not spending much money. Family support. An indefinite change of scenery. A haven from this hell. At 25, I need to take more responsibility with my life, and this is the responsible thing to do.

The doctor started me on Strattera, a drug to help both ADHD and anxiety. It stays in the system 24 hours, so it shouldn’t have the ridiculous peaks and valleys that come with Adderall. However, it takes months to actually start working. When I moved to Chicago, I had really started taking the gluten-free thing seriously, and I had just started Adderall and stopped a bunch of other drugs. All of that took time to start working. It’s funny how I move during these adjustment periods. They seem to provide an amplified sense of closure: I moved to this city, I found an apartment, I started school, I dated and loved a girl, I adjusted to a drug, and I began a life here. Now, I am moving from this city, I am leaving the apartment, I finished school, the girl is gone from my life in the most extreme and sad way, I quit the medicine, and I’m giving up all the momentum I started here. Did this city even exist? Does it even acknowledge my existence? Will there be any mention of me in the record books? I don’t know if I like this closure, but none of my hardest efforts have been rewarded while I’ve been here. As weird as it feels, it’s time for a(nother) change.

I guess a year is my attention span for a city. I’m looking forward to being around my sister and nephew and grandparents in Florida. I wish I could say I was going there under better circumstances, with a set plan in life and a job in the area or something like that, but this is the best I can do. I have no clue how long I will stay. I’m not signing a lease. I’m not buying new things. I’m only taking the bare minimum with me. I’m not tying myself down in any more ways than necessary. It’s a commitment-detester’s dream. Until I figure out what I’m doing with my life, this is the smartest route.

I have dealt with adversity ineffectively; time will tell if I become a better person because of it. Until then, it’s simply adversity, and it sucks. In two weeks, my work here will be done. Hopefully I can take my experiences and knowledge with me and thrive in a completely new environment. Here’s to new beginnings and sad endings. Chicago, you won. You beat me senseless. I’ll learn from this. I’m not going to let my surroundings beat me again.

 

 

 

 

Edit: At this very moment, I am supposed to be in Cancun with some of my best friends, but I’m not. I canceled on short notice. I was looking forward to that trip so much, but it just didn’t feel right when I had to move out and take the CFA in two weeks. When I’m this stressed in life I usually drop out of every possible obligation (luckily, I managed to not drop out of grad school for a second time). I don’t feel as bad about canceling as I thought I would, though. I’m taking the most important test I’ve ever had to take, and getting my moving situation dealt with is a big deal. I’d rather have my guy friends complaining about how stupid I am for not going than about how an otherwise smart person keeps avoiding the real world and not doing anything with his life, which has been the more frequent topic covered when I’m mentioned. I need to take a bunch of deep breaths and get through this last two weeks alive, and only then will I feel up for a vacation.

Ready, Set, Ready

I want to move forward with my life. I’m lingering. I’m stuck in one spot.

It seems that 6 months is the limit I keep approaching living in one place. I want to move, to start something new. It is annoying that I never want to be where I am in the moment, but always somewhere else. I am a wanderer, a journeyman, a factotum.

If moving was not so difficult, I would honestly do it a lot more. I live in a small two-bedroom place now, by myself. There is so much I have brought here from home or purchased while in Chicago, that it would be twice as hard to move out as it was to move in, and so expensive to move into another place.

When will I learn? When will I settle in a location, both physically and mentally?

I have a final today, but the last thing in the world I care about is the profession I am supposed to be going into. I start another set of classes in two weeks. Don’t care. It’s not for me. Will I finish this stupid Master’s in Financial Analysis? I should because I’m about 80% done and someone else is graciously paying for every penny of it.

But naturally, if you start something out of boredom or confusion, it was not a good decision to begin with. It won’t usually end well. I am not a quitter; I just never wanted to do the things I started in the first place.

What is it in life I am seeking? What makes me different from everyone else? Why do others get it but I don’t? I’m not sure exactly how many years my mind has been in this state, but at least since junior year of college, I have completely been somewhere else. Is it the ADD? Is it my personality? Is it depression? It certainly isn’t a lack of hope or effort. I want things to change and have for years. I have been trying to help myself as much as possible. The doctors and psychiatrists and my friends tell me that’s the first step, the awareness of a problem and willingness to do something about it. But what is freaking being done? Countless medicines, doctors, diets, exercises, apartments, girls, vacations, interests, schools, jobs, cities later, where have I found myself? What did I expect to find when I moved? What is lacking in me that others take for granted? It’s easy to talk to Curtis from your perspective, but try being me and seeing how hard it actually is.

It’s like I have tried everything in my power, everything I can possibly think of, to change things for the better, but my fruitless efforts have left me waiting for something to happen. Nothing is happening. I’ve tried harder than everyone else yet have less than everyone else to show for it. If you don’t think I am trying, you are an idiot. You don’t know the daily struggle that is my mind.

I’ve had enough of people being easy on me.

I’ve had enough of people being hard on me. And being so hard on myself.

I’m starting to get to the point where I see having a normal life as being more and more unrealistic, that having at least some clarity is something I will never achieve.

I keep listening to “Glory” and “Mountains” by Radical Face, “Nuvole Bianche” by Ludovico Einaudi, “Down in the Valley” by The Head and the Heart, and “All There Is” by Gregory Alan Isakov, songs that I listened to in my flux phase in San Francisco before I packed up and left. I am so moved by them, by the emotions that I had when I listened to them in that weird new turn in my life. I expect something to happen when I get these emotions. I feel like a better person, a more focused and positive me, yet I can’t seem to find the exact outlet. It’s like something is waiting to burst inside me, but there is nothing to start the explosion. I’ve had this same feeling SO MANY TIMES. It clearly isn’t bad and feels like a step in the right direction. But why can’t it get past this feeling?? Why can’t I do something past this point, other than just saying, “I am tired of this and want to do something very positive about it right now”? Please, someone in the world, help me. I am at that turning point, waiting to be nudged in a certain direction, with limitless possibilities. I’m ready for that change. I’m ready to know, to be confused no more. I’m 24, and I literally cannot stand another day of this lifestyle. I have already let years slip by. I am not being the person I want to be.

Valet job, or another random vocation? Finance? Moving? Passions and interests? This stuff should be obvious. No, I don’t have to know everything at this point in my life, but it would nice to know something.

So starting now, it’s the year of Curtis. I’m sick of this.

Please try to hold me accountable. Figuring things out is long overdue.