Living Candidly #4: Leaving Everything I Knew Gave Me My Life Back

Living Candidly #4: Leaving Everything I Knew Gave Me My Life Back

What you’ve done becomes the judge of what you’re going to do – especially in other people’s minds. When you’re traveling, you are what you are right there and then.People don’t have your past to hold against you. No yesterdays on the road.

William Least Heat-Moon

One tap. One link follow. Three swipes to scroll. 

That’s all it took to find out about the Working Holiday Visa in Ireland. 

I remember it vividly. I was splayed on the couch in a rental beach house, on vacation with my family just one month after graduation from college. I was coming off the worst five months of my life. After a brutal depression that had cost me friends, love, and a complete sense of self, I found I was back in the pub job in my hometown I had sworn was for one summer back in 2014 to fund my study abroad — it was now 2016. And while I was putting on a brave face for my family amidst the shambling aftermath that I found my life in around me, each day brought a tightening claustrophobia. I felt my air running thin, and my ghosts were hot on my trail. 

Now that it’s 2019, we all know that the internet is algorithmic black magic when it comes to supplying advertisements that prey on our history searches. I’m not sure, however, what I was searching for that dropped Stint Gap Year into my Instagram advertisements — and no, this is not an advertisement. Yet when the image of green pastures and smiling faces popped up, I stalled for .5 seconds long enough to read the caption. 

One tap. One link follow. Three swipes to scroll. 

I sat up a bit straighter, alert that my mother was ten feet away. She had been less than encouraging about my desires to attend graduate school in England — not just for the financial reasons, but also for due reasons after my mental break. I quickly saved the URL in my favorites and vowed to revisit it that night. 

I applied that night in my bed, glow illuminating my apprehensive face as I pressed submit. Three weeks later, I took a phone interview with Aoife. Within another twenty-four hours, I was told I was into the program. The program would — for a fee — guide me through the visa application process, provide initial housing in Dublin, and set me up with a temporary employment agency should I wish to go that route. 

Approaching my parents with caution, I presented the reasoning. It offered maturation opportunities. It would give me unparalleled experiences. It was Ireland, home of my ancestors. I was ready for a battle, but none came. 

On September 28, 2016, I boarded a plane at Dulles International Airport, Washington D.C., with two suitcases and no real idea what I was getting into. 


Over the course of eight months, I experienced more of life than I had in the cumulative of the preceding twenty-two years. From the get-go, it was an immersive experience. I dove into a community of ex-pats my first night, the program providing me a community to in which to envelope myself. The following weekend, I traveled to Connemara and the Aran Islands. I would continue to explore both The Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland throughout my time: Kilkenny, Blarney, the Ring of Kerry, Cobh, Cork, Galway, Belfast, Giant’s Causeway, the Carrick-a-Rede bridge (pictured). The ease of access to Europe and the camaraderie found in my new friends and fellow travelers propelled me to new destinations: Morocco, Spain, Belgium, Scotland, and England, where I would ultimately decide to pursue my Master’s degree. 

I was pushed to challenge the very ideas that I had taken as dogma my entire life, to think for myself in ways that I previously had never given due chance. I was allowed, for the very first time in memory, to be an individual. There was no one to answer to and everywhere to experiment. 

I am not being hyperbolic when I say that being in Ireland, taking the chance on myself to be the traveler that I had always wanted to be, was the antidote to all the woes that had built up around me for so long. It quite literally gave me my will to live back. And while, yes, it was an incredible risk to choose something so potentially — and admittedly, at times, realistically — isolating, it also gave me the chance to determine the exact boundaries, forms, and bricks that build the person that I wanted to pursue being from that day forward. 

I moved back from Dublin, my home, with a certainty of self. I felt confident in my navigation skills, whereas before I would use GPS for everything. I could manage eating a meal alone or attending a concert by myself (something I do all too frequently now because I love it). I learned how to handle myself professionally in many settings, having juggled jobs from medical records to receptionist to copyeditor on varying bases. I gained political opinions based in my own thought, based in my own experiences. I learned to open my heart to more people than I thought I could, and I’m so grateful for it. 

I’m writing this today because I often find that I take this experience for granted. It gets overshadowed by the glitzier things I’ve done since — graduate school, a real career. But the humbler times of living paycheck to paycheck, scraping by to travel: those are the ones that shaped me. And of that I need to be reminded. 

Travel saved me.

Living Candidly #3: Getting My Laugh Back

Living Candidly #3: Getting My Laugh Back

In Pre-K 4, my teacher would often hear me laugh in the back reading nook of the classroom with concern. Her concern stemmed from one simple question: was I laughing or crying? At times, it was indecipherable, the laughs shaking my body and tears streaming down my face.

This may seem like an exaggeration, but for the first eighteen years of my life, if I thought something was funny — really funny — I would tear up within seconds of the first chuckle escaping my lips. If it was a discreet laugh, in the back of a classroom or between me and my brother in the backseat of my parents’ cars, I would lose it faster. The waterworks were unintentional and 100% uncontrollable, to the point where I quickly invested in waterproof mascara when I reached a makeup wearing age.

But then, when I was eighteen, something shifted. With the end of my high school career came the end of my tearful laughter. At the time, I chalked it up to a biochemical alteration; I had started taking anti-anxiety medication. I became convinced that I had previously been somewhat uncomfortable in expressing complete joy, and that thought carried me to the conclusion that I was finally free to laugh with emotional abandon.

I did not cry-laugh again — until my twenty fifth birthday. A simple conversation between me and two friends regarding the practices of gynecology drove me to tears over the course of minutes. Since then in the course of two months, I’ve teared up over laughter, gripping my sides, more often than I have in the past seven years. And honestly? I’m so relieved to be tearful again.

Instead of considering it a symptom of discomfort at the display of joy, I’m viewing it more as an uninhibited celebration of joy. It’s a wantonness, a carefree element, a comfort level that maybe I’ve been missing for a while. Maybe, for the first time in a long time, I’m comfortable in my own exaltation.

I hope I continue to laugh like that four year old I once was.

Candidly Reading #2: Tell Me Lies, Carola Lovering

Candidly Reading #2: Tell Me Lies, Carola Lovering

There is nothing that will sell me on a guilty pleasure read quite like twin recommendations from Cosmopolitan and theSkimm. So when I came across the ombre cover for Carola Lovering’s Tell Me Lies (which, through the novel, you learn is named after Fleetwood Mac’s song “Little Lies”), I was quick to make it my next read.

The premise in essence is very simply collegiate girl-meets-older-boy. But very quickly, I became aware of how Tell Me Lies was going to serve as more than just a fun read. Heroine Lucy Albright is introduced as an aspiring journalist in a non-industry job trying to mentally prepare for seeing the guy who epically broke her heart at a wedding they are both attending. Her narration, altering between her college years and the hours of the wedding, is coupled by those of Stephen DeMarco’s college narration, the very boy who broke her heart. Their duality offers cutting insights into both sides of an addictive and spiraling love affair that derails not once, not twice, but thrice.

And more than once, I saw my relationship — my only relationship to date — unfold on page in glaring ink and typeface.

DISCLAIMER #1: This post contains spoilers. Sorry. Don’t come here if you don’t want the tea.

DISCLAIMER #2: If you are close to me and you don’t want to relive 2015-2016, for understandable reasons, then this post is not for you. You do not need to be supportive right now.


For eight tumultuous months, he was my favorite person.

But those months were brutal. They started with an argument about what the “rules” were for behavior at music festivals. It escalated from there to losing my best friend over their old flame (something I, admittedly, should have been more prepared for). There was the night that I screamed in my sleep in rage because he was fazing me out, my mother in bed next to me having driven two hours up from Annapolis to comfort me in ways she simply could not have done over the phone. There were the Christmas presents thrown at me from the doorway of his bedroom, and the (light) push backwards when I came too close during one of his rants that followed.

People always talk about realizing they’re in love during the happy moments, but I think you realize it in the bad ones. The ones that knock you off center, scaring you when they prove that no matter what kind of logic is in your head, it’s what’s in your heart that determines fucking everything.

Tell Me Lies, Lovering

And yet if you asked me during this time what I was doing with him, I would have said he was my best friend, my person, my soulmate. I loved him more than I loved anything in the whole world. When we were good, it felt like I was alive in another plane than I had ever experienced in my previous twenty-one years. So, yes, against all reason and all judgment, I kept returning every time that he would take me back. As long as I was given chances, as I viewed them (instead of me giving them to him), I was okay.

I was delirious and idiotic and naive and irresponsible and self-destructive, and I knew all of that. But none of it weighed anything against what I actually felt. Do you follow your head or your heart? which do you do? Your heart, always. Right? I didn’t think I would ever stop believing that.

Tell Me Lies, Lovering

When it actually did end, I descended into my darkest mental health to date. It was shocking to me how bleak my life seemed in his absence. For the six months to follow, I was a shell of the person I was prior to our relationship. It took moving to another country, completely detaching myself from the ghost not only of him but also of those who had separated themselves from me in the aftermath, in order to grant myself the clarity and chance to start fresh. I gave myself permission to go on dates again, although I didn’t kiss anyone for another year. When I finally did re-enter the physical arena of romance, I found myself avaricious, eager to gain some sort of confirmation that I was still desirable now that I was capable of optioning myself that way.

Three years passed and (just like Lucy in Tell Me Lies) I found myself in New York City, fully redeemed and confident again. And then he was nine miles away from my apartment.

Whoever I was then seemed like a long-lost version of myself, someone I didn’t know anymore, and I couldn’t figure out how I’d gotten to where I was. I’d been experiencing the same recurring thoughts since I’d moved back to New York: What was I doing? Why was I still chasing him? Did I even like him as a person? How could I ever bank on a future with someone I couldn’t trust? There was that one stubborn, annoyingly veracious part of me that knew wanting Stephen had to be wrong. If you ignored the gray and got really honest, if everything in the world was separated into black and white, into good and bad, Stephen would fall into bad.

Tell Me Lies, Lovering

I knew that I shouldn’t have gone to drinks with him. I kept it quiet, not telling anyone what I was doing beforehand and only a few after the fact. I knew it would hurt many who stood by me, alienate their loyalty, but I couldn’t stand strong, stand reformed, without having the chance to shove it in his face and say, “Look! Look what you did to me, and I’m still here!” And — if I’m being honest — there was still affection.

We are no longer in contact, and I don’t anticipate that will change anytime soon. Like Lucy at the end of the book, when Stephen comes up and tries to flirt with her at the wedding with his fiancée just feet away, she knows that there is no reason to pursue something that to him is just a game. Much like the end of the book, Lucy is able to go and pursue her writing and Stephen is stuck in a dead-end finance job (just like my ex).

Tell Me Lies was exactly the cathartic read that I needed. At the end, I feel as strong and empowered as Lucy. The world is capable of so much more than the multitudes of cookie cutter Stephen DeMarcos. I know this because I see it in my parents, in my friends’ relationships, in my relatives. I feel it in the love they show me.

One day, writing this won’t even cross my mind. It will be, as my ex said when he broke up with me, “a blip on [my/your] radar.” Because, one day, there will be real love in the picture. That all-encompassing, past-relationship-amnesia-causing love that comes into your life in the most common ways. As CJ, Lucy’s mom, tells her in one of their last scenes:

Love — real love — isn’t something you construct or hope or imagine or plan for the future. Love is something you live and feel in real time, in every single moment, big or small. It’s reciprocal and often unglamorous. But we bank on it because it’s what gives life meaning.

Candidly Concerting #4: When Astrid S. Stole The Show

Despite my charming habit of getting to concerts early enough to stand three rows back from center stage — meaning I stand in line for an hour prior — I usually hate the opening acts. Vehemently, aggressively hate. At best I tolerate them. When there are two opening acts, I become irritable and antsy. And while, yes, I occasionally walk away with a new song to listen to by an artist I would never have found on my own, I rarely become a converted fan.

When I bought tickets to see Zara Larsson feat. Astrid S., however, I knew it was going to be different.

While a decently solid fan of Larsson, I have been pushing Astrid S. onto unsuspecting friends for two years now. The Lauv remix of “Breathe” was a staple in my Summer 2017 playlist (a time when I was also avidly consuming Larsson’s So Good album), and her new music constantly makes the rotation for whatever I’m currently listening to. So, yes, I may have been a bit biased when I was approaching the concert. But there was no way to anticipate the difference in authenticity of the two artists who performed that night.

Astrid S. performed a small selection of her work, as openers usually do, but her energy levels were high and authentic (video above). The crowd fed into it with an increasing pulse and hunger. When she wasn’t singing or dancing around the stage, Astrid S. was enthusiastically screaming, “NEW YORK!!!” with pure glee at a sold out Irving Plaza. While she might not have been headlining, she might as well have been.

With a heavily warmed up crowd, Zara Larsson took the stage for a perfectly polished and highly orchestrated set, with back-up dancers and projections of wildlife scenery. In the end, after a genuine and entertaining set from Astrid S., Larsson’s vocals — while her runs were more impressive — could not overpower the fact that the rest of her production felt forced. There was nothing ad-libbed or personal about the performance, because that’s exactly what it was — performative.

I don’t like giving bad reviews, and it wasn’t that it was bad, it was just that one star shone brighter in the setting and the atmosphere of Irving Plaza. Larsson belonged in an arena with thousands of adoring fans, but in the smaller venue she felt out of place. Astrid S. fit the setting and the vibe like a glove. That being said, both are incredibly talented and I’m excited to see what the future holds for both of their careers, even if I hope that it takes them in two separate tour directions.

Living Candidly #2: Thanking My Mom

I would not be exaggerating if I told you that my mom and I probably say “I love you” to each other approximately three times each per phone call. And there are at least three phone calls per day — one when I wake up, one on my way out of work to the 1 train, and one right before she goes to bed — so we’re looking at nine “I love you”‘s said by each of us to the other in a single day.

And while, yes, I absolutely love my mother, I was really looking for a way to make her feel that love this Mother’s Day.

With a lot of secrecy and coordinating group texts with my dad and brother, we managed to plan a surprise brunch for her in Baltimore. I would take the bus down the day before, hang out with two of my friends (post to come on why they’re #thebest), and secure a ride to the restaurant in time for the meal. My younger brother would be driving from College Park to north Baltimore and picking up flowers along the way (from a supermarket, let’s not get wild here). My dad would say he wanted to go to a War of 1812 reenactment at Fort McHenry, something that my mom would try to support and thus attend with him. Everything was in place.

Day of: I’m wildly hungover from a few too many drinks with #thebest, my brother is down with the flu and unable to make the hour drive by himself, and when 10:45 hits my mother and father are nowhere in sight of the restaurant. I took another sip of my ginger ale and a deep breath.

But when my mom saw me across the restaurant floor, her jaw dropped. She didn’t pick it up until she reached me, at which point it started wobbling and she cried. As she is wont to do, she enveloped me in her arms, but this time it was me holding her up instead of the other way around, as it has been the majority of my twenty-five years.

Everyone on Mother’s Day says they have the best mom and that their mom is their best friend. In addition to traditional motherly duties like changing diapers and breastfeeding, though, my mom was the first person to shave my armpits because I was afraid I would cut myself. She was the person who always did my hair before school dances and put up with my persnickety commentary the duration of the styling. She held my wrists overnight when I was in my darkest lows, sobbing and complaining that they burned for something that is today unfathomable. She has loved me at my absolute brattiest, my absolute most desolate. She has loved me when I’ve been incapable of truly loving anyone back in any manifesting ways because I’ve been too consumed with my own self. Most mothers would have stayed, sure, but none would have pushed through with the same ferocious love that she has displayed time and time again.

It is because of her and our closeness that if there is one thing I am certain of in this life that my future needs — it’s motherhood. If I can impart a morsel of the love that she has given to me in the likeness of her own mother to another generation, well, I’ll have done something good. It’s a big order, but a girl’s gotta have dreams.

Thank you, Mom. You are a heaven-sent inspiration of true and unconditional love.

Candidly Concerting #3: lovelytheband

“Hey, Ma, I think this year the band made it.” Those were the last words that the frontman of lovelytheband, Mitchy Collins, managed to say before he turned his back on a cheering audience with a reddening face to wipe his eyes. His bandmates, Jordan Greenwald and Sam Price, both stepped away from their instruments and went to celebrate and comfort him. After all, they had just shared with the crowd that the sold out Irving Plaza in New York City in three days, a stage the members themselves had been to see Billboard greats like FallOut Boy, Ed Sheeran, and Macklemore. Now it was their turn.

I remember the first time I heard lovelytheband’s hit “broken” on the segment “Ear Poppin’ New Music” on SiriusXM’s Hits 1. I was driving to Ocean City, New Jersey with my mom, freshly returned from my first year in grad school in London and finding myself surprisingly at a loss with what to listen to on American radio while, as I like to call it, “driving with Wendy” thanks to my increasingly eclectic Spotify tastes. But if there’s one thing I can never resist, it’s the opportunity to hear new music. I did not, however, expect for my tastes to shift into high gear. I don’t even think the song ended before “broken” was added to my Spotify summer playlist. And when the album was released, it was added to my saved catalog.

It’s now been a year since that highway listen. The band has received decent notoriety, and well-deserved. Their sound is widely appealing, with an audience on Monday night’s concert ranging from families with musically woke middle schoolers to late thirties groups of music enthusiasts. Personally, I went alone, wanting to fully dance and geek out when they played “pity party” (I did) and nearly cry at the end of “maybe I’m afraid” (there were witnesses). And while the opening acts were decent (Jagwar Twin and Flora Cash), if at times muddy, there was no chance of anyone stealing lovelytheband’s thunder that weekday night at Irving Plaza. They owned that stage and fully earned the Live Nation backing that they’re receiving for their finding it hard to smile tour.

I am a certified, cemented, rock-solid fan.

Living Candidly #2: Is Mainstream Media Whitewashing the Black-Lesbian Love Story?

Living Candidly #2: Is Mainstream Media Whitewashing the Black-Lesbian Love Story?

DISCLAIMER: I am, in complete honesty, a heterosexual white woman. I did, however, complete my undergraduate thesis in the oppression of the black female body in Afro-American diasporic literature and I received top marks. I am not an authority, but I am a passionate ally. Let’s begin.


Last night, after binging the new Zac Efron/Ted Bundy Bio-Pic, two friends and I turned on Netflix’s new — for lack of a better word — chick-flick Someone Great starring Gina Rodriguez, Brittany Snow, and DeWanda Wise. On the surface, the core cast was diverse and riveting. Rodriguez played a broken-hearted Latina who had recently landed her dream job at Rolling Stone in San Francisco, ultimately driving her away from New York and her boyfriend of the past nine years. Snow was the uptight WASP who learns to let loose through the course of the film, finding out that not everything has to go according to plan. And finally, Wise is the Black-Lesbian.

I leave that sentence at seven words because there is so much more to unpack there than to sum up in one singular sentence. Through the course of the film, her character Erin has to learn that it’s okay to fall in capital-L Love, even if that means opening herself up to vulnerability of rejection. In a poignant moment with her lover, she reveals that she was in one semi-relationship in college only to be left for a man, leaving her to feel like “an experiment.” But prior to this reveal, Erin is cold romantically, withdrawn when it comes to her romantic partner’s pushes for more intimacy. When pressed by Snow’s character Blair for why she won’t just date someone, Erin tells her to keep her “heteronormative labels in a motherf**king box to the motherf**king left.”

And while it was a laughable line in the way that Wise delivered it, was she right in the fact that Blair was whitewashing the situation? Or was the situation already whitewashed in its very essence?

I couldn’t help but reflect upon the character of Kat Edison on The Bold Type, played by Aisha Dee. While the show actually chronicles her coming out story, it also features her own reluctance to commit to a relationship of any formulation even when heavy romantic feelings are involved. In one altercation between Kat and her love interest Adena, Kat says that she doesn’t “do” relationships — an exact sentiment that could have fallen from the lips of Wise’s character in Someone Great.

And while both romantic scenarios resolve in the happily-ever-after plot, I can’t help but wonder if there’s something incredibly whitewashed and gentrified about the black-lesbian experience in this film and televison show? Are we sterilizing it to make it safe for general audiences? Are we generalizing it to a point that it covers all the bases in order to make it so larger than life that it is no longer gritty and real? What are we supposed to be gaining from these portrayals? One is relatable, and two is celebratory, but if the trend continues in the cookie-cutter format, what cost will it have for our open-heartedness when we face their real-life counterparts, particularly those who don’t fit the mold?