Home

“They say that home is where the heart is. I guess I haven’t found my home.”

“This is my home…where I go when I’ve got nowhere else to go.”

For all of my Ingrid Michaelson fans out there, I hope you were singing along. Never before have two lyrics been written by the same person that are so contradictory and yet so true. The first lyric, from her song Are We There Yet? talks about the search for home, while the second lyric, from her song Home, confirms an automatic place of home.

I feel torn between both. In the whirlwind of life, I don’t know where my heart is, which subsequently means I have lost my home. Being away from my hometown for six years, I now feel like an outsider. Someone who is only a distant memory, that cousin in crumpled photos that people barely remember. Home feels amazing, but it’s no longer mine. College was a great time, but it’s over now. My heart was 100% committed to college while I was there, but now there seems to be a wall preventing me from ever going back. I don’t want to be that alumnus. And now, starting over again in a new city, I have yet to find home.

These past few weeks, I have been traveling all over the world. First to the Dominican Republic, then to New Orleans, and then back to Buffalo. I was constantly surrounded by people, friends, coworkers. And yet, and maybe because of it, as soon as I arrived back in Buffalo I felt a complete sense of loneliness and grief for what I used to call home. I felt lost, a feeling that is not common to me. At least not in matters of home. Because of it, my immediate reaction was to go home home, to my hometown, to my family. I was hesitant at first. It’s a five hour drive, gas is expensive, and I didn’t know if my short time home would be worth the extensive travel plans or the funds for gas.

I called some close friends before I made my decision, sent some texts. Friday night 11 pm: “Do you think I should go home?” Some were nice about it and helped me externally process, while others were a little more abrupt in their response, “I don’t know, Michael! It’s your choice!” Okay, true…but not very helpful. I went to bed not really sure how I felt. My stomach was in knots (potentially from accidentally drinking some water in my past travels to the Dominican Republic), but regardless, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do or where I wanted to go. “Home” was screaming my name, but I didn’t know where that home was. I still wanted to be soaking up the sun in the DR, or eating beignets with my friends in New Orleans, or surrounded by family in a previous life where I felt like I belonged in every capacity of the word. So, I followed Ingrid’s advice and went home, the default home, “where I go when I’ve got no place else to go.”

And even though all of my clothes are now covered in cat hair, it was worth every minute in the car ride here. Home really is where the heart is. And even though my heart may be a little fragmented at the moment, pulled in several different directions, there will always be a piece of it in my hometown. It was worth it for the hugs from my parents, the surprised faces of my sister and grandmother, and the conversations with an inspiring family friend (who chooses to remain anonymous, but she knows who she is).

Home, in comparison to six years ago when I still lived here, may not be perfect. It may not be what I remember. Or maybe, just maybe, I’ve grown up and have learned to see the world (and home) a little differently.

I don’t think this is a struggle that is unique to me. I see home as two very distinct ends of a spectrum. There’s the first eighteen years of life with a nuclear family of some variation…and then there’s the life as a middle-aged person with a partner, kids, maybe a cat (probably not), creating a family and a home of your own. But everything in between, everything in the middle, everything right now in my present life, is a dark muddled mess of gray clouds. It’s a fuzzy television screen. Can someone help me tune in to the right channel? Featured tonight: HOME! Tune in until you meet a partner and create a home and family all your own.

In the meantime, any tips or advice on how to create a feeling of home as a twentysomething?

Exploring Self

This past week is a week that I will never forget. I was on an alternative spring break service trip in the Dominican Republic teaching English to students in elementary school. One of the coolest things I think I have ever done.

Regardless, I have to say that it was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. Also one of the most challenging. I fell in love with every single kid that I interacted with and was heartbroken to find out that at the end of the trip, I couldn’t pack them in my suitcase. I was heading back to a life of luxury while the students were left in poverty, hunger, and broken families. It was difficult to see that. I could write a whole blog about my experience working with these kids in the Dominican Republic (and maybe I will), but for the purpose of this entry, I want to focus on one particular experience that occurred while I was there.

During reflection on the last night of the trip, I vocalized a thought that I had been creating in my mind since the first day of teaching. I realized that all the kids I worked with in the Dominican Republic, with the exception of one or two, were young boys from kindergarten to fourth grade. This surprised me. Never before in my life have I ever really interacted with young children outside of family members. And even then, I felt completely awkward about it. I was a grown man who had no idea how to interact with children at all. Even further, I rarely find that I can relate with other men. Most of my friends are female, I connect better with females…it’s just something that has always been a part of my life experience.

So I was surprised that I found all these boys in the Dominican Republic grabbing my arm, throwing their arms around my waist, and pulling me (literally) to their desks to work individually with them.

The thought I vocalized on the last night was this: the boys in the Dominican Republic didn’t see me as a twentysomething trying to figure out life. They didn’t see me only as a student or only as a professional or only as a twentysomething. They saw me as a person. They saw me as Michael, as a role model, as someone to look up to and build a connection with for the week.

It was an amazing feeling that I encourage you all to explore. In the states, I find myself being trapped within one particular identity. During work, I am my Professional Self, someone who is quick to avoid controversial issues, laugh at inappropriate jokes, or pretend to work harder than I actually do on days that are a little less busy. During class and during most of my free time, I am my Student Self, grinding away on papers, tearing through textbooks, and diligently studying until all hours of the night. Recently, I’ve tried exploring my Personal Self, the one who makes time to play piano, spend time with friends, and call family members back home more often.

Yet out of these three categories, I have yet to find Me. I am one of three, never just Me, an integration of all aspects of self. When working with the students this week, I found it. The students looked to me as Michael, my one self. They didn’t know I was a student, they didn’t know I worked full-time, they really didn’t know anything about me other than my name and that I knew how to speak English. To these students, my name was my identifying factor. Michael. And even though they pronounced the “i” in my name in a drawn out stretch, they could see me. They knew who I was. They didn’t need to know that I was a student, a professional, or anything else really. They saw me as a person, and found something within me that they could flock to.

One main principle of Outreach360, the organization that we worked with, was to Communicate Love. When working with other people, that’s one thing that I like to think I do really well. The kids could feel the love I had in the classroom. I really do care about these kids…in such a way that I’m considering altering my entire life path to work more with nonprofit organizations that specifically focus on education. Even though my Professional Self is screaming against that idea, I need to listen to Me. Myself. Love was reciprocated on both ends, a reciprocal relationship, and I don’t ever want to lose that feeling.

It’s exhausting trying to please three different ideas of self—Professional, Student, and Personal—all under the same umbrella of a lost twentysomething trying to find his way. Yet working with these kids, it provided me with a purpose. They made me feel a little less lost, and a whole lot more like myself.

And for that, I am forever grateful.

One Year Ago

Recently, I have been doing a lot of reflecting. It seems there has been a lot of conversation lately about “the future,” and yet, it’s making me think of nothing but the past. My friends are talking about graduation, classmates are looking to schedule classes for next semester, coworkers are applying to summer internships…it’s too much too soon. Earlier this week, someone dibbed me as emotional in relation to graduation. The Emotional One. Michael gets emotional.

Yes. That is true. But I’M GOING TO MISS EVERYONE. There’s no harm in that, right? I think it’s a good thing. “How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.” Winnie the Pooh said that. I love that bear.

And yet, despite all the “future talk,” I find that I am reflecting a lot on the past. At my job, we are currently interviewing for new Graduate Assistants in our office. One year ago, I was in that exact same place as these incoming students. Now, I’m on the other side of the table with a full-time job and working towards my master’s degree. It’s an interesting feeling. With that said, I wanted to take some time to reflect on how much life can change in the course of one year.

One year ago:

  • I was working a job that I loved, in a place that I hated
  • I had more fingers than friends
  • I had been accepted into graduate school, but was not a student at the time
  • I was applying for Graduate Assistantships
  • I did not know anyone at my current university
  • I was in a committed, long-distance relationship that I thought would last forever
  • I was not as happy as I knew I wanted to be

Since then:

  • I entered graduate school and am working towards my master’s degree
  • I accepted a full-time position that I absolutely love
  • I haven’t made a lot of friends, but the ones that I have made are Forever Friends
  • I’ve found a family away from home in my friends, coworkers, and community
  • I’ve struggled in relating to my biological family, but have found a compromise that I have come to accept and love
  • My committed, long-distance relationship has ended, and I’m okay with that
  • I have grown

It’s amazing how much can change in one year. And I realize that I am fortunate. I am one of the lucky ones. A young twentysomething out of my parents’ house and doing something that I truly love. I know it’s challenging out there for some of my twentysomething friends. They hate their jobs, they are stuck in programs that they aren’t enjoying…life isn’t always smooth. And I am certainly not implying that mine is 100% care-free right now…there are definitely bumpy times. But just one year ago, I was in such a different place.

And I’m curious…where was everyone else one year ago? I feel like as a twentysomething, we go through so many different phases of life. Once every year, every other year, etc. After this, our time is categorized by decades. Thirties, forties, fifties. But now, there is no specific categorization of our time.

Some years might be better than others. But we live, we learn, and we grow.

Finding Yourself

“And just when I thought I had found myself…”

Isn’t that a testament to being a twentysomething? Just when I thought I had everything figured out, life is uprooted and I’m thrown into something completely different. And even more specifically, it’s not “life” that I needed to figure out…it was me. I needed to figure myself out. I’m speaking in the past tense as if this is no longer an issue. Don’t let me fool you. It is still an issue. Who am I? How do I find myself again? Why is everything changing? Why is life different? I sound like a boy going through puberty. But nope, just your average twentysomething year old trying to find his way.

I’ve been questioning this a lot lately. Why are things different all of a sudden? Can two years really make that much of a difference? Yup. It can. Two years ago, I was still a senior in college. I was searching for my first full-time job. I was surrounded by people i loved and cared about. Marriage was not a concept for my friends. And kids were the farthest thing from my mind. Most importantly, however, was that I felt like my complete self. I felt whole. I felt like Michael.

That is to imply that now, I don’t feel that way anymore. I don’t know who I am to the fullest extent to which I had hoped for at this point in my life. Since that time, I’ve graduated from college. I’m in my second year as a full-time professional. I’m also a student again working on a master’s degree (who would’ve thought?!). My single status is ever-impending and I have to do everything in my willpower to suppress kidnapping every chubby baby I see in Starbucks. The thing that is most alarming, however, is that I no longer feel like my complete self. Since I started graduate school, I’ve felt like my identities have been limited to two things:
1. Full-time employee
2. Graduate student

I want more than that. I want more out of life. I am so much more than an employee and a student. I am a friend, a brother, a son. Someone who loves coffee chats, laughing until the early hours of the morning, and playing the piano. Sorry, I accidentally copy and pasted my Tinder headline.

But seriously, folks. I want those parts of my life back again. And lately, I’ve been trying really hard. When an opportunity to do something outside of my routine presents itself, I’ve been asking myself, “Is this something that you want to do? Yes? Great, then go get ’em tiger and have fun!!” Before, I would automatically say no because I knew I probably had reading to do or papers to write. But since this new “doing me” outlook on life, I’ve really been enjoying life so much more. Just in the past two weeks, I’ve gone to a Poetry Slam with a new date, went to go see a local production of Spring Awakening, had Sunday breakfast with a friend, caught up with an old friend over delicious Indian food, visited my cousin over a few drinks, and finished editing a memoir that I have been working on. Within TWO WEEKS. *Cue applause*

Relating this back to being a twentysomething, I’ve been thinking…will we ever truly know who we are? Benjamin Franklin once said, “Without continual growth and progress, words such as improvement, achievement, and success have no meaning.” Well said, Mr. Franklin. I don’t think I’d ever want to live a life where I am 100% aware of who I am. I think that would lead to complacency. I want a little challenge. I want a little time to figure it out. I want a little time to rediscover me.

Bring it on, twentysomethings. I’m ready for you.

Treat Yo Self: Twentysomething Edition

My Dear Friends,

For all of you Parks and Recreation fans out there, I’m sure you can appreciate the tears I shed last week during the series season finale. As I was watching, eyes glued to the screen, I realized that these characters, whom I had grown to love, were now over. Sure, Amy Poehler will continue to do great things. Aubrey Plaza will continue to be my twentysomething spirit animal. And Tim O’Heir will be starring in some other TV show. Maybe. But Leslie Knope, April, and Terry are no longer.

But one Parks and Rec tradition will live on in my heart forever…….

treat yo self

That’s right! TREAT YO SELF. And let me tell you, I really needed it this weekend. Can our entire twenties just be ten years of us treating ourselves?

This weekend, I hit the seven-week grad school wall. I woke up on Saturday, looked at my hundreds of pages to reading to-do, and naturally, didn’t want to do any of it. The thing that sucks about grad school is that you read fifty pages, let’s say, and regardless of how much you have to do, there never seems to be a dent in your work load. What’s skimming through fifty pages when you still have hundreds left to read, a paper to write, and a group project to work on? And on top of that, all of the “adult” things that are now required, such as laundry, grocery shopping, and cleaning my apartment (HA!).

I texted a good friend about all of this, basically saying something to the effect of “Peace out. I’m leaving Buffalo and quitting grad school because I just can’t do this anymore.” And after telling me to take a deep breath, he calmed me down and told me to Treat Myself. Dear friend, I thought. You are insane. Grad students can’t treat themselves to anything.

But once again, my friend was right and I was wrong. I went to go see a local production of Spring Awakening. It took up my entire Saturday night, but I left the show with a completely different outlook. I walked in thinking about all the work I had to do. I went alone, which is never something that bothered me before. Except this time, I noticed all the couples surrounding me and I felt uncomfortable and out of place. But then the house lights dimmed and I forgot about all that. The show was different. Probably the strangest (and most vulgar?) show I have ever seen. But I think it was also one of the best. An amazing production by such a talented cast…I laughed, I cried, and I loved every minute of it. I walked out of that theater completely re-energized. I was in bed by midnight, not even upset about the work I knew I still had to do the next day.

So here is my advice to you, twentysomething friends. When treating yourself, please make sure to:

1. Tell someone about your plans. Force someone else to be accountable for you having some fun in your life! You deserve it. The week leading up to the show, I told everyone in my office about it and a handful of friends. If I didn’t go to the show but never told anyone, it wouldn’t have been a big deal if I stayed in. But since I told people about it, I’m now looking forward to following up and sharing my Treat Yo Self experience!

2. Find something you really love to do. Especially for all you twentysomethings, I know that wine and Netflix and your bed seems to be the best 3-some you’ll ever have, but really challenge yourself to try something else. What activities were you previously involved with? What makes you happy? What do you wish you had more time for? Figure that out and then TREAT YO SELF. I know I love theatre, but the last show I saw…I actually can’t even remember the last show I saw before Spring Awakening. Because of that, it made Treat Yo Self taste so much sweeter as soon as I entered the theater last night.

3. Know that your time is worth your while. No matter how much time, money, or effort it takes, Treat Yo Self does not come nearly as often as if should. It’s worth it! Last night, I got lost at least three times, I had to pay for my ticket, I was alone, and I spent all night avoiding my work. But it was so incredibly worth it. Yes, it was an amazing show, but it was more than that. This morning, I was the most productive I’ve been all semester. Refreshed, re-energized, and ready to go.

What are some fun, creative ways that you like to TREAT YO SELF?! Feel free to share your stories with all of us here!