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A year ago today I was on the other side of the world, standing in one of the most beautiful cities on Earth: Prague.

It was my first time out of the U.S, and I had flown across the ocean on my own to start an adventure. That’s what I called it. That’s what I was looking for. An adventure. Looking back, thinking about everything I did a year ago, I am amazed. I was so brave. Maybe braver than I am now.

I have spent 7 of the last 12 months traveling and living abroad. A little over a year ago, I hadn’t been anywhere, and now: I’ve eaten street meat on Prague’s cobblestones, wandered around Warsaw, spent a week meeting my relatives in cities and tiny villages all over Ukraine, climbed waterfalls and ridden bare-elephant-back in Bangkok, hunkered down in Seoul, explored Bavaria with my German cousins and my mom, gotten trapped in Toronto in a snowstorm, and eaten raspberry gelato on the riverbanks of Mozart’s hometown, Salzburg, Austria.

Now, I’m tired. I’m home, and my bed is awfully comfortable, let me tell you. My bones are weary. I feel ancient, like I have lived too many lives. I don’t want to go anymore. I want to stay.

But me, I’m for adventures. That’s what I want — at least, I think it still is, for now. Why am I hesitant to keep moving? Isn’t that what we always have to do? Life doesn’t stop. There are so many places to see, so much to do, so many people to meet.

I’m thinking about how people say you shouldn’t work doing what you love, because you might grow to hate it — or something like that. I don’t know if I agree — maybe it’s more like, you shouldn’t let what you love become work. And I’m thinking and worrying that that’s what traveling has become for me. Tiresome. It’s not a vacation anymore, not when it’s a year later and you’re still going. It becomes a different beast, yet still a beautiful one. The challenges change, become more difficult, more stressful, compounding over and over.

There is something beautiful and easy about living in your homeland. The people speak your language (on many levels), you’re used to the food, the culture, the transportation systems, the medical systems, the money, banking. You know where to go, what to do, who to do it with. You have friends, people who you’ve grown up with, whether or not you met them in your childhood. You have history there. It belongs to you. It’s simple. It’s easy; there are no visa requirements, no proof of residency, no need to carry your passport with you wherever you go. No translation apps on standby. No stares because you are different.

It’s too easy. Ask anyone who’s returned from abroad after being away for a significant amount of time. It’s so easy! Everything’s in your own language. You can understand everything people say to you, everything people say to other people, stuff you don’t even want to understand — but you do anyway! You can’t help but listen! There’s so much sound! Sound, noise, a language that finally means something to your brain!

Too easy.

Too familiar.

Isn’t it? Wasn’t it? Or have I lost it, that wonderment at things I don’t understand? I’m no longer in love; un-infatuated with newness. It’s been hard. It’s been unpleasant. It’s been a long time. The honeymoon is over! Where are the divorce papers?! Quick, somebody! Someplace? Save me.

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Three months later the same guy was dancing with the same woman on the same dance floor to the same five country songs that were played in a repeating loop into what seemed like infinity. Their dance moves had improved but otherwise it was the same army boy from five months ago, using the same words to get girls to dance with him, moving in the same way to the same beat.

Sitting there watching it all happen, the five-song playlist repeating again for the third time, it all was exactly like my picture of hell: A small square wooden dance floor, a repeating, circling square dance, people drinking and laughing but not really happy at all.

And everyone else doesn’t have any dance partner or anything to talk about. And they go through the typical 4 question cycle: Where are you from; What do you do; Do you like it here; Yeah me neither, so why do you stay?

And there is nothing really to talk about, nothing that matters, as everything fades into more and more of the grayness. The people are gray and the city is gray. And it is not beautiful, though the architects seem to think so. It is not good to be miserable. It is not good to laugh joylessly. Loud and empty laughter. Everything is shallow and the same, day after week after month. And the people who might have been otherwise turn harsh and critical and brash. And there is nothing much beautiful left in them. It seeps out through their eyes and evaporates with the tears that wash away the cigarette smoke.

Months go by and years and the same cement city streets are stomped and spat on and brushed clean. Bristle brooms stand on street corners to sweep it all away come morning. There is no hope here, only living. Only another weekend and more hours spent. More turns on the dance floor or swings around the pole in the middle of the basement bar. More attempts at getting women to go home with you, more cycles, going from one girl to another and whispering in any ear that will listen. Expensive cheap shoes well-shined and a fancy flip of a dance move that you’ve been practicing for ages because what else is there to do? People that don’t meet your eye and don’t speak the same language as you even when they do. And after all that it’s nothing, a walk down a steep hill, a taxi cab ride home, a silence at the end of it all. And tomorrow in the bar on the top of the hill across from where the nice ladies flash their bodies at strangers, that boy with the cowboy boots will be practicing his dance moves, and some girls will be sucking down weak jello shots that almost taste like strawberry, and those five songs will play, and mouths will smile but eyes will not.

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1. How to not make friends: refer to someone as “ethically flexible”. Oops.

2. There are a lot of terrible things happening in the world. People are allowed to talk about/mention/feel sad about different things, even if you feel like those things are not as important/tragic/terrible as the things you think are terrible/tragic/important. Just like people are allowed to be happy, even though there are terrible things happening. No one has to wallow in all of the misery at once. You are not the director of the world’s actions. You don’t get to proclaim what’s important and what’s not. Basically, shut up! 

3. sometimes it is forever; other times it is nothing at all.

4. Do some people just enjoy being cynical? I can’t understand it. How can you even have the energy to be so mean-spirited, hateful, angry, blunt, wrong, foolish? Does it give you some kind of pride? Does it make you happy? Does it feel like you’re doing the right thing? Are you lashing out at some unknown attacker? What are you doing?! What. Are. You. Doing. Just stop! Good grief. Do you need a hug?

5. At some point, no matter how nice/funny/smart/good-looking someone is, the little things they’ve done or said that you’ve disliked in a deep-down sort of way add up. And it’s sad, heart-breaking, whatever. But it happens. And they just aren’t the person you thought they were/you didn’t know who they were to begin with.

6. good things from the past month of my life: sparklers in the middle of the road at midnight, polite strangers, tiny presents of tiny stickers from tiny children, mail from Panama and America, learning possessives in French (but please don’t ask me to actually prove it!).

7. You can do it all differently tomorrow.

8. Orange Is the New Black is a great show! I never believe it. It’s always true.

9. It’s real fun living in the middle of a giant city, especially at night, when you hear murderous screams/manic laughter from outside your window and you’re never sure if it’s either or both or just a crazy alley cat.

10. We’re more than halfway through the year, World, and I’m not really sure if we’re being any kinder to each other. Let’s try harder. Let’s all keep going.

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mumbling bumbling baby strollers full
the dull circle of life
flexible moralities
late night tuesdays
brown eyes, grandfather-like face.
too lacking to continue
another engagement, ring finger
expensive white dresses heaped in dusty piles of time.
another week goes by
filled with old and new flat people
not what you thought they were
insulting the men you want to love
ignoring everyone else;
it’s all going very well.

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He started traveling when he was 23, 5 years ago. Now he’s lived in 6 different countries, speaks 4 different languages, has a lot of great photographs and memories. And, much of the time, he is happy. But he does not have happiness. He says all he really has is his guitar. People that move around on their own, he says, they need something other than people to hold on to. He has his guitar, he says. His traveling companion.

His hair is long, kept in brown dreadlocks. He’s from Germany, but he sings in English and whatever language of whatever country he finds himself in. He is content, happy, to sit on benches across the globe, strumming and singing with the people, the crowds, that quickly surround him when he plays. He brings joy to them. Him and his guitar.

I wonder if he is happy after he packs away his one possession, after the crowds of people leave. I wonder how he is strong enough, if he is strong enough, to have been going so long on his own.  I wonder if he lied, if he’s actually terrified and lonely, or if he does take something else along with him on his travels — bits and pieces of people: the old man’s laughter, the girl smiling as she recorded him singing with her cell phone, the busy people who missed train after train as they stood in their subway station, singing. I wonder if it is enough for him, to have a part but not a whole.

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1. How many times is too many times? How much is too much? How vague is too vague?

2. You know your life’s exciting when you find yourself researching how to keep your houseplants watered so they don’t die when you leave them for an extended period of time. My babies!

3. Maybe you’re not bored but boring.

4. So, the World Cup is pretty cool, eh? #American

5. I wonder if I’m annoying my apartment neighbor by playing Sondre Lerche’s Bad Law over and over and over…. oh well.

6. I get it, you have opinions. About everything. And you’re very outspoken. And you hate that other people have opinions. Because they’re always wrong. Or offensive. Or politically incorrect. Maybe you should just get off the internet, because sharing all of these articles and making virtual support groups for offended people is not going to solve anything. Or maybe you’re just bored otherwise?

7. He has brown eyes. Of course he does.

8. People on Instagram totally take some of those photos with like real cameras, right? It’s ok, you can tell me!

9. If you can go outside and look up and see blue sky, and if you can go to the grocery store and buy strawberries at any month of the year, you’re fortunate. Please feel fortunate, for me. The gray-sky, berry-less lady. Thanks.

10. Wake up in the middle of the night and smile to yourself and go back to sleep.

There is a man. He is walking toward me on a long dark path. He could be young or old. It might be a woman. We will pass each other and we will not speak. And the path will still be long and dark.

Let’s go to the rose garden and not take a single picture. We’ll weave past the smart-phone-slingers and we’ll run, colors blurring until there are no colors; until there is every color. The roses — don’t touch them, just smell them, and try to remember the exact shade of pink that no camera could capture anyway.

Death might surely be coming for us soon. And we’ll lie in our beds surrounded by all of the plastic containers we’ve emptied in our lifetimes. Our vision will blur at the edges like it did we when were running past the roses in the garden; we’ll see every color — we’ve seen every color, while we’ve been running — and then we will see nothing.

On the long walk home from the garden, we’ll walk into the city center, and through. The lights will glare down on us, from every angle and corner, every color that neon comes in. The lights they flicker, and drop, and loop, and blink. The signs they politely and shyly and cunningly ask you for every penny you have — every 99 cents. And we will give them most of everything we have, we will leave it all here: some of it drops from us as we run, some we left quietly with that man we never spoke to on the dark park path, some leaves from our eyes as we smile at little dogs and little children and at strangers’ backs as they hold hands with other strangers that they love.

In August, one sign reads, the roses will droop and their petals will fall to the ground. The pinks and reds and purples and yellows will all fade to brown, the same color, the same shade. They will be swept up — this is a tidy city, after all — and dumped into a clear plastic garbage bag and left at the same street corner as the convenience store you bought a candy bar from two weeks ago. Brown and brown and brown, buried unnaturally in the earth. Us, too.

Two dogs are sniffing at each other on the walking path. One is white, a tiny fluffy creature, the other black, with short hair, also small. Their owners smile politely at each other, earbuds in, tugging on their leashes. They do not want to say hello, unlike their dogs, even though they are the ones that are able, and they would very much appreciate if their furry companions would ignore every other living creature around them, as they do. And eventually, I’m sure, the two small dogs were pulled away, but I did not stay to watch it, and you do not, either. We walk away. We do not smile when they can see us. We do not speak.

It is hot, tonight. It will be hot all week. The sun will shine down on us and on the pink roses in the rose garden in the park. The bright light will burn the corners of the flower petals; bleach them, turn them a shade lighter than before. No one will take pictures of the roses by the end of July; they will no longer be beautiful enough for Instagram; no amount of photo editing could bring back that shade of pink; there will be no more selfies.

When we reach our home, we will jog up the flights of stairs to our apartments. We will close the door behind us and enter a dark space. Lying on our beds in silence, we will close our eyes, think of the pink we’ve seen, of all the pink we’ve seen, of all the colors. We will think of the old man on the walking path, the one who we never really saw. We will think of the tiny dogs that wanted to be friends. We will think of all the people who do not see the roses, only take pictures of them. We will try to picture the exact shade of pink on those pink roses in the rose garden in the park. We won’t be able to, and the color won’t be the same tomorrow, when we go back. The sun will have been shining down, the color lost, the day over, gone, wasted.  What a waste of a rose garden, you are. We are, us happy snap-backed photo snappers. We tiny dog owners. We tiny home owners. Tiny life livers.

Tomorrow night we will all go back to the park. We will walk quietly along the cement paths. We will weave around those who walk slower than us; let faster walkers pass. We will march in a small, green and flowery parade, fancy tennis shoes squeaking under bright lights. The roses in the rose garden in the park will be there, too. And the small dogs. And the strangers who will stay strangers. And we will march and then march home. And we will close our eyes and everything will go dark.