Hello …. Hi.
Oh Hey There.
I was sitting down to a beer with a friend I met on twitter (yes, Mom, I met someone on TWITTER), and he interrupted me after a bit and said, “You know, you’re way cooler in person.”
I’m not really sure what that meant, but upon some reflection: I think (before you meet me IRL), I kind of give the impression of a being a little too watery-inspirational online. I do talk a lot of cheer and happy-goodness online. I’m no Ashley Ambirge (although I could definitely use a little more of her online sass). It’s hard to talk about the things I love and that inspire me without sounding, well, a little ‘woo-woo,’ as my friend Natalie says. Words like Awesome, Excellent, Amazing, Phenomenal, and Epic – they’re just letters and placeholders. They don’t capture it, and sometimes, give a false impression of who I am.
There’s been quite a few posts going around emphasizing the art of the honest introduction – Amber Naslund’s “What I Wish People Knew About Me,” and Corbett’s brilliant “Things I Never Told You,“) and Jenny Blake’s 100 Things About Me. Inspired by these posts – and spurred by the reaction I met from my Twitter friend, I thought I’d try again.
SO. How do you say hello? How do you introduce yourself, tell your story, tell your ideas? In my work, I interview people and write articles – about people, projects, ideas – and tell the stories behind the scenes, about the people and the projects that make ideas happen. I like telling other people’s stories – but there are things that I have never told you. Things that maybe I’m scared to talk about, or that I forget are important in how they shaped the story of the person behind the blog.
Here’s 32 things you don’t know about me.
1. My sister and I were born in Germany, in two small towns – Heidelberg and Karlsruhe. My parents are fluent in German, and when they came back to America, they brought with them a love of skiing, adventure, family, cheese and close friendships after their 5-year stint as engineers abroad. We made it back to California by way of friends in New York, Idaho, and Palo Alto. When I travel the country – and the world – I bump into people all over that know my family and my friends – we make friends for life. Now, for all intents and purposes, I only remember being raised in California. And oddly, according to the rules of our country, I can never be the President of the United States.
2. When I was younger, I was deaf. From age 4 to age 5, the world around me slowly grew quieter and quieter until I couldn’t hear anymore. At home, I would sit in front of the small brown television and rotate the dials upwards to their max and sit very close to the television to try to decipher what Bert and Ernie were telling me. In the Kindergarden classroom, I would sit in the back of the room and stare off into space, not able to tell what we were doing.
“Mom,” I would say when I got home, “I don’t like Kindergarden. The teacher whispers to us and it’s annoying.” And then I would go outside and play, in my own world of visions and colors and textures – but not sounds. When my mom realized what was happening, she was horrified. But how would you know? How can you tell if someone is deaf if they don’t tell you (the two clues, above, being her only clues) – and how do you know when your world is different than someone else’s?
The repairs on my ears were painful – mostly psychologically. A truck drove by the hospital after I emerged, and, high up in my dad’s arms with my blanket for comfort, I ducked my head in my Dad’s chest and covered my ears, terrified by the loud sounds of the new world I was entering.
3. I was trained in classical piano. Despite my skirting the world of the non-hearing, music was incredibly important in my life. In what already feels like another lifetime, I spent 11 years behind the piano. Listening and learning how to do music is another way of seeing the world. I want to get back into music in a more meaningful way – particularly singing – but I keep hiding it from myself and not doing it. I’m currently tinkering in guitar and singing, but not very well. This is one of my biggest current personal failures – sticking to things I’m already good at (swimming, running) and not branching out and trying new things.
4. I love swimming, but I have no idea why I’m good at it. I grew up swimming, and the years of practice are a testament to the amount of skill that can be built over dedicated amounts of time. I still swim two or three times a week, and for me, it’s easier than running or biking or most on-land activities. It’s now something I’ve done for 20 years, and the combined years of training have led me to a level of finesse I’m not sure I’ll be able to replicate anywhere else in my life. Swimming is where life makes sense.
5. I started running three years ago and formally doing yoga 2 years ago. I am a trained swimmer, but these new kinesthetic movements of yoga, dance, and running also match my body wonderfully. I think body work should be done every day. I now stretch a few times a day, and I could do yoga twice daily without thinking about it. (I have been known to do yoga while skype video-chatting – true story). Yoga and breathing are some of the best mind balancers. If I don’t move, I don’t think.
6. I sing and dance at home by myself in my apartment when no one is watching. I sometimes think the neighbors out my windows can see me – they probably can – but I don’t care. I LOVE the show “So You Think You Can Dance” – mostly because I move all the furniture out of my living room and dance around on my own. I love singing along to the radio (possibly one of the unspoken reasons why I kept my car even though I wanted to sell it).
7. I love hugs. The greatest gift you can give someone else is your smile and your time to listen to them. For me, a kinesthetic person, a hug means more to me than most words. “I’m proud of you,” and a hug is enough to make my day. If and when I meet you in person, it will definitely be with a hug.
8. I didn’t use to talk very much to people I was afraid of or admired. Actually, there are a lot of times in my life when I didn’t talk very much at all. It took me a while to get out of my own way to be able to do things. In college, my coach thought I didn’t know how to talk for the first few months when I moved to school. One day, I walked onto the pool deck and was humming along to a song I had stuck in my head. My coach – a very tall, 6’7″ Italian man, turned around and faced me square on. “For a while there, I didn’t think you could speak,” he said to me. That was our first interaction.
9. I worked in high school, college, and graduate school, sometimes more than one job – sometimes as many as 5 jobs. I’ve already had well over 50 jobs in my lifetime and I’m just getting started. In high school, I worked in the early mornings at our local YMCA as a lifeguard, and after swim practice in the evenings, twice a week I’d head back to the pool to close up the gym for the 10:30PM shift.
In graduate school I worked a night shift monitoring – yes, this is for real – Frat parties. I got to stand in at every frat house on campus. My shift ended at 3AM on Saturday mornings after the Friday night shenanigans. There were always a lot of … propositions. In college I worked just a few hours as a TA and a Tutor, but my parents told me not to work. They wanted me to focus on swimming. This is one of the greatest gifts they could have given me.
10. I lived on an off-the-grid farm in Ohio. While at school, I lived on a farm for 4 months. We worked on three gardens – the kitchen garden, the herb garden, and the main garden, and lived communally in three cabins (there were 12 people). The grounds had an open-deck solar-heated shower in the woods before ‘sustainable’ and ‘green’ were cool buzzwords. We ate food we made. We lived 2 miles from town. In the mornings, in the hot, humid, sticky summers of Ohio, I would walk to the highway, catch a ride, and go 8 mile up the road to work as a farm hand. All afternoon I would pick weeds and maintain crops for a family of five farms. It was certainly back-aching work, and each weed was a war. The whole summer, I was smelly.
11. Moving away from home was one of the hardest things I did. I come from a family of four kids who grew up nearly on top of each other, compressed into 800 square feet of a house full of fits and fights. For better or for worse, I now am best friends with each of them. I absolutely love and cherish each of my ridiculously smart and talented siblings, and they are the first to tell me when I’m goofing up or how to be better when I need to step up my game.
12. My brother and sisters are my best friends. This one is obvious. I can’t imagine my life without them, and I am the person I am because of them.
13. I love coffee and wine, but didn’t start drinking either one until I was 21. Yes, you read that right. I didn’t drink coffee or alcohol for almost my entire college career. And I was on the swim team. (Maybe that’s part of the answer to number 4…)
14. I can rarely say no to something sweet. I have a huge sweet tooth. My roommates can attest to the brownies, cookies, pies and other delicious goodies I like stirring up. It’s probably why I swim so much – just so I can eat brownies.
15. I’m addicted to reading (seriously, addicted). Perhaps it came from my inability to hear the world for a while (I can still lip-read better than hear, so I like looking at your face and I hate it when you cover your mouth) – or perhaps it is just innate; when I was four, I painstakingly copied books word for word and displayed them, proudly, to my family and called them ‘my first books.’ I’ve since published a handful of things on Lulu and Blurb and can’t wait until my first “real” book comes alive in my hands. I’ll probably cry.
16. On that note … I’m also addicted to learning. I can’t stop. I love figuring things out. I read books because I have a hundred questions I want answered, and each time I figure out new ways of thinking about my first question, I am flooded with 327 more questions I want to figure out. It’s exhausting. And exhilarating. I love explaining how things work, and if I don’t know, I like asking questions and finding people who do know and can teach me.
17. Most of the people around me don’t understand what I do online – and don’t get Twitter, Facebook, Blogging, or the potential of the interconnected webs we weave. I try desperately to explain. I love what I do, and I am fascinated by the intersections between the architecture of the physical world (my job) and the architecture of our digital spaces – and how they both collide to create spontaneity, surprise, and unexplained phenomena.
18. I want to write a book every year. I write almost every day, and I’ve already got stashes of book drafts in my digital closets. I’m inspired by the likes of Asimov or Crichton or Kevin Lynch – each of whom write approximately a book per year during a 30 year span. Why not?
19. I gave up in graduate school. For all intents and purposes, I quit. I stopped two years into the program and said, “I have to get out.” I went to the registrar, found out the bare requirements to graduate, dropped out of the second degree program and certificate program I was in, and finished the degree with all the energy I could muster. This was not the easiest thing for me to do, by any regards. I felt like a failure for a long time during and afterwards. I suffered from burnout, paralysis and procrastination after graduating, and struggled with the transition into my new job and role.
20. I’ve broken 5 bones in my body, lost one, fractured another, and had stitches across my eye. Nothing was as painful (heart-wise) as falling down a flight of stairs two weeks before the National Championship meet my junior year of college. I tried to hide it from my coach – but being on crutches was difficult to mask and we had to come up with an alternative game plan. The decision was simple: we decided that I’d either swim or drop out, but I wouldn’t pansy around and use the foot as an excuse for two weeks. So I stayed on crutches up until the last minutes before the race and we agreed that I’d swim come hell or high water. I swam. My foot was broken. I skirted into 8th place. I was exhausted. But we did it.
Nothing was as physically painful as being strapped to an intervention radiology desk and being unable to move as the doctors tried to figure out what was wrong with my body and why my blood wouldn’t move. Circulation systems are beautiful things that, when they fail, are bloody annoying. The combination of fear and the sting of the shots in my arms scared the crap out of me. Being told I might never swim again made me cry. Creaking down a linoleum hallway strapped to a million wires and tubes and being wheeled into the 6th floor sick room to watch the fireworks on the 4th of July from the hospital room was an imprint I’ll never forget, as much as I’d like to try. I am so grateful for the hospital, but I never want to be back there.
21. When the going gets tough, I’ve learned to dig deep. Life isn’t easy, but it certainly is fun. I still don’t know how deep my resolve is, but part of me hopes I never have to find out. Everything you’re going through – every single thing, even if you’re in the middle of it – teaches resilience, tests your character, strengthens your resolve. Everyone has a story, and you might be living yours at this very moment. It will turn out for the better. Trust me.
22. I like being alone. While I’m addicted to the internet, I also need a lot of space to myself. I like to stay alone until I’m full, and then I rejoin the world. For introverts (and I’m somewhere hovering in between an introvert and extrovert), we take lots of space to think, feel, breathe, and be; and when I’m at too many events or parties, my brain fractures and fizzles and I have to go hide for a while until I can put the pieces back together. Sometimes at events I’ll do just that – disappear and go running or walking – so I can come back and continue the conversations. I think blogging is a huge game-shifter for introverted people, because they can now interact with people from behind their computer screens and on their own terms.
23. I love being prepared. I carry a big bag with me and in it, I (almost) always pack my running shoes. My giant purse is filled with a million regular to extraordinary things, usually including a pair of Tevas or my Vibrams so I can take off and go running.
24. I do handstands nearly every day. Being upside down is good for you. I’m writing an essay on it.
25. I love kids, and I was a pen pal with one virtually in Honduras for 10 years, after I demanded to my parents that we do something about people who couldn’t live as lucky as us. While I was in high school and college, we wrote letters to each other as he grew up in a family of 8 kids. I now sponsor a bunch of kids in Kiva and in my business life, I want to make a lot of money so that I can do amazing things with it. I believe in philanthropy, and I think being a businessperson is a phenomenal way to give back to the world.
26. I want to live in a Spanish-speaking foreign country. If I can do that while volunteering, and preferably working with kids, I will have died and gone to heaven.
27. I believe in being away from the computer for extended periods of time. The computer, the cell phone, the facebook, the twitter – they play on our minds like crack, and we’re all addicted. The way that networking and the social web works is changing the world, but it will come at a cost, and we need to retain other skills. Plus, we have to find our sanctuaries, and the spaces in between that facilitate innate creativity, productivity, and exploration. Sometimes the best answer is to work less, not more.
28. I always have a notebook handy. If I don’t have a notebook, I feel naked without pen and paper, and I’ll figure out some other way to draw a story for you.
29. I didn’t realize I was a writer until long after I started writing. Color me stupid, but I didn’t know that I wanted to write, teach and speak until well after I started writing. It was just something I did, something I had to do, and when I finally, dumbly started a blog, after a long inquiry of giving up other things in my life to find out what I really wanted, a light clicked on after a few months. I got it. I could do this – something I love and enjoy – and make it my work. I could be a writer. When I realized what I already knew, it was a “duh!” and “Aha!” moment all at the same time.
Losing (almost) everything makes you stronger. In the span of a year, I didn’t have a quarterlife crisis, I had a QUARTER LIFE HELL MESS that invaded my life suddenly and unexpectedly. At the end of my 25th year, I found myself in a hospital with a blood clot in my chest and IVs dripping from my body, my sister gently washing my hair and changing my clothes because I couldn’t move either of my arms (too many needles), and my mom holding her breath for the entire five days of intensive care and emergency surgery.
In the nine months that followed, I fell in love with Vicodin, got engaged, moved in with the ‘feller, and then in a whirlwind that still surprises me to this day – had the fiance leave me in a garage, drive away, and never call me again. This gut-shock can be characterized by lots of single-word headlines, read in bold: Head spinning. Awesome. Gut wrenching. Liberating. Terrifying. Wonderful. Confusing. Reconstructive. Determined. These are a few of the words that I grasp onto when I try to talk about that summer (and many of them made it into the now infamous post from last year, One Word).
Realizing that all you have – even if it’s a sleeping bag, a too-short twin bed, and a closet with no windows to make your home – is yourself and a few things, and a few things at best – was one of the greatest hidden treasures of those months. I suddenly and unexpectedly found myself undeniably broke, in piles of debt, and without any friends or family in my new neighborhood. I learned, quite simply, that what I have is enough. Who I am is enough. And with nothing, and no one else, I knew that me – I – you – we are enough.
It was a painful but necessary lesson. What you have is enough, and you really don’t need much. Losing things, and living with less is the best teacher. It grounds you in the truth that happiness is completely in your hands. It reminded me that it always was – and it always is.
31. That said, I’m still terrified of dying. Most things don’t scare me too much, but I am scared of dying. I don’t want to leave yet, and I don’t want to leave before I’ve done what I’ve set out to do. The Life List is kind of scary, because the looming end date is intangible and unknowable. I’ve made, instead, a 30 things before 30 list and I like doing things. I do them because I can, because there’s no sense in delaying what you want or hope to achieve because of fear, worry, or insecurity. Those will always be there. Do it anyways.
32. I am in love with living. My fear of dying is tempered only by my absolute joy in living, being present, and experiencing the world. It comes across as cheesy sometimes (exclamation points! smiling faces! worlds dripping with adoration and enthusiasm!) but I believe in life and living and being, and I’m happy doing just that. When I die, I want them to write on my epitaph, “She loved living.” Even though it gets gnarly at times, it’s because of the tough stuff that you get to the good stuff, and it’s worth it.