October 15, 2010


I'm on vacation, sort of. I have a few weeks of beautiful transition time, which I think is what I've needed for a long time. A month off does a lot that a day off, or even a week off, cannot do. Until I take off for Puerto Rico, I will sleep late, read, write, hike, photograph, deliver a few pizzas to tide me over, and play Euchre. You can't, and shouldn't, live like this forever. But transition times - Sabbath times - help you get your soul back.

Today I went to McDonald's. My cup, with its missing (read: losing) Monopoly pieces, offers me the chance to WIN a Beaches Resorts Caribbean Vacation* and take the family to paradise! (*Collect IL, IN & KY to win a trip to Turks & Caicos or Jamaica for 2 adults & 2 children 15 yr or younger, ARV $7,000, for the record.) I didn't win, and that's fine. I'm going there anyway. This is where I would insert a "suckers!" if I were the sort of person to rub it in. Which clearly I am not. Also I'm not going to Turks and Caicos wherever in the Caribbean that is anyway. I don't know the first thing about Caribbean geography. Actually, I don't know a whole lot about the Caribbean.

Most of what I know I've gleaned from TV commercials and magazine ads (and, I guess, McDonald's cups), pretty much all of which describe it as a paradise with sugar-white beaches, palm trees, and fruity drinks with umbrellas. I've only been to the Caribbean once, in 8th grade, on a mission trip to the very same camp I'll be living at for the next year. I got stung by a jellyfish, painted a dorm, and ate lots of rice and beans. It was hot and my antiperspirant failed me. It was not paradise.

But there's a lot of the Caribbean I haven't seen (like Turks and Caicos) and it's a huge vacation destination. I'll confess, there comes a point each February when the frozen snow mounds and perma-gray Michigan sky get to me and... I want to go to there. And seek shelter under a palm tree. On a sugar-white beach. With a fruity drink with an umbrella. It's just the sort of place people crave when they're miserable. People take trips or cruises to the Caribbean for a week or so of much needed relaxation, escaping their cubicles and day jobs. For them, it's a happy place, one they associate with joy, rest, simplicity and fun. All good things. But like all vacation destinations, or paradises (paradi?), there are people living there who think it's anything but.

I think that's one of the weird things about vacation spots. We have these limited interactions with them when we go there, and we only get one side. It's a mirage. There's a myth attached to every getaway place, because behind the curtains there are a whole bunch of people who work hard so others can enjoy themselves, and most of them aren't making a whole lot of money. It's a rare person who works in paradise and gets to enjoy it.

Your favorite restaurant is probably full of miserable employees. I don't know anyone who has given a good report about working at Cedar Point or Disney World. Oceana County, MI brings in more than a million people each year to cruise the dunes and jet ski around Silver Lake. But it's also one of the poorest counties in Michigan.

Buzzkill, right?

That's not what I'm going for. Vacations are good. Cruises are good. Restaurants and sand dunes and jet skis and amusement parks are all good things. It's important to get away sometimes, and it's even more important to relax. But all of these things are temporary and fleeting, because real life is going to drag you back eventually.

When I lived in Orlando for a summer, I realized that there are some places that are great to visit and some places that are great to live, and few places that are both. To me, Orlando is a great place to visit, but not necessarily a great place to live. West Michigan probably isn't a great draw for visitors, but I think it's a wonderful place to live.

I've always scoffed at the idea of "Stay-cations," where people stay home and spend their vacation dollars around town rather than dropping the money elsewhere. But maybe the idea has some merit. Living here, right now, with lazy mornings and leaves changing color and skies like paintings... this is pretty good.

October 5, 2010

And it was time to learn Spanish

I'm moving to Puerto Rico.

The hugeness of this whole thing has yet to dawn on me, because for now I'm not scared, not grieving the departure from my family, not savoring sweatshirt weather. I'm not packed. I won't for a while. I'm not ready.

But that's okay, because there are lots of things you just can't be ready for, least of which would be moving to a different country*. You can't know what to expect, you can't coach yourself through it. Packing my bags is about the only thing I can do. I can't mentally prepare for this. The best analogy I can think of is jumping into cold water, like I did last week in Upper Silver Lake. Something about being in an inland Michigan lake in October is very very wrong. Made me realize I never, ever want to go Polar bear-ing. I'll try almost anything once, but that's one thing I don't feel the need to ever do. I've heard that when you jump into icy water, your body does crazy things without you telling it to. Like, you lose control of your limbs because all the blood rushes back to the center of your body to keep it warm. And I can't begin to guess what my poor lungs would do. I really see it as a worst-case scenario: no control of limbs, lungs exhale, I sink, you all wear black to my funeral. Hence: Never gonna try it.

Anyway. At camp last week, I stood on the shore, knowing the water was cold but that I had to go in it, and eventually the point came where I had to just go, and accept whatever chills might follow.



Any remnant of comfort was soon supplanted by cold, penetrating deep to my bones. And: It really wasn't that bad. Soon, after shivers and shouts, I was pretty much accustomed to it, and went about my business of removing The Blob from the waterfront (and thenceforth, draining, deflating, inflating, mopping, drying, deflating, folding, and stowing it.) I could have stood on the shore forever, thinking it through, trying to get psyched up, analyzing, and weighing the circumstances. But that wouldn't have changed anything.

And that's kind of how I'm going to Puerto Rico. It's a big adventure, one I'll love and hate, but I can't really wrap my mind around it for now. There's not really a whole lot that I can do to be ready. Of course, I have to pack.

And I need to brush up on my Spanish. But then again, I've always heard the best way to learn a language is to need to learn a language. And I've got three semesters (college semesters, mind you) stowed away somewhere in the back of my brain.

*Yeah, yeah, I know. I'm struggling with how to say this, because Wikipedia tells me that Puerto Rico is an unincorporated territory of the United States. Yeah. So, not a different country. But if Alabama seems like a different country, I can certainly refer to Puerto Rico that way. Also, I don't need a passport. And neither will you.