I bought you two years ago last Sunday. Since moving out on my own, I had always wanted a pet, but my building at the time didn’t allow cats or dogs. A pet fish seemed like a suitable compromise, and I was right. Some might think “Henrietta” is a bit too fancy of a name for a fish. I admit, it is a tad unconventional. It goes against the grain of more common fish names, such as Flounder, Flipper, Bubbles, Dory, or my personal favorite: Sushi. But you are no ordinary fish. In fact, I think you are rather extraordinary. A very special and unique fish, and so, Henrietta seemed a fitting name. We’ve never really spoken. Our exchanges are a bit one-sided. I’ll often say hello and ask how your day was. You just sort of stare at me, bobbing mid-water, opening and closing your mouth. No words emerge, but often little air bubbles do. You also flick your fins. I like to think this is because you are communicating with me in your own fishy way, akin to sign language. One flick means “Hello.” Two flicks mean “How are you?” Three flicks mean “Shut up and feed me already.” Sometimes I convince myself that when I walk into the room, you dart enthusiastically back and forth upon seeing me. But then you try to attack the tank filter, and I wonder if I haven’t just misunderstood the signals. Are you only attacking it to throw me off? I may never know.
Traveling is the ultimate escape. When wanderlust sets in, there are few things more exciting than the prospect of exploring a new place. Immersing yourself in the languages, culinary traditions, arts, sights, and sounds of another country or continent is the best way to get away from it all. At times, however, the planning stages before you embark on your next great adventure can be overwhelming. Additionally, after the packing there is the actual travel-component of your trip to contend with which, depending on your level of expertise, can be a nightmare to navigate. Long lines and wait times coupled with unexpected flight and transit delays can often be frustrating. I have, on occasion, during a particularly long layover or after missing a critical connection, wondered if the whole damn affair is worth the hassle and headache. Over the years though, I’ve learned some valuable lessons that have upped my travel game considerably. These are lessons born of my own on-road experiences as well as ones pulled from the pages of my friends’ travel diaries—consummate voyagers who have journeyed across the global and who were kind enough to share with me some of their professional traveling tips.
I’ve always been an outspoken autumn enthusiast. My affinity for thick knit sweaters and decorative gourd centrepieces cannot be overstated enough. A passion that often has me wrestling another woolly top into my already crowded closet and decorating my countertops in miniature squashes. Though I’ve never jumped on the Pumpkin Spice Latte bandwagon (a beverage enjoyed by what seems like a seasonal cult), anything else fall-related I tend to embrace. This is to the disdain of my more summer-oriented friends who curse the arrival of fall and yearn for the sun-kissed days of July. My love of fall is vested in the season’s charming hallmarks: the way oak, elm, and crab apple trees—those magical changelings—transition across a spectrum of color, cloaking my neighborhood in autumnal hues of gold and bronze. Or how my favorite, the towering maples, shed their leaves until the sidewalks resemble a crimson carpet. The invigorating crispness of the morning air that spurs me to wrap myself in a thick scarf during my morning walk to work. Or the way I don’t have to apply SPF 100 to my sun-sensitive skin each time I venture outdoors.
Our attempts to be hyper-productive and accomplish multiple things simultaneously can compromise our ability to focus and be effective in pursuits that truly matter. There will be instances where you think you are being efficient; however, you’ve actually just split your attention amongst multiple duties. Thus, making yourself more susceptible to mistakes and hindering your ability to take any pleasure in the process. The result? You’ve overcooked dinner while having a phone conversation with your friend, during which you’ve trailed off countless times because you decided there was a high-priority load of laundry to be done, in which you’ve unknowingly mixed a rogue red sock with your whites. This is because when you multitask, very rarely are you actually accomplishing multiple tasks at once. Instead, your brain is rapidly shifting attention between each of the activities you are attempting, which is counterintuitive to real productivity.
Months later, I drove to the scene of the accident—the place where he died. I pulled onto the highway’s shoulder and stood for a long while, examining the lines, only slightly faded, that veered sharply to one side before disappearing into the ditch. I studied their appearance, trying to interpret some meaning, hoping they might hold answers still. Vehicles sped by, some slowing, others honking, no doubt with irritation and surprise at the strange woman standing at the roadside, staring fixedly into the center lane. But the marks revealed little else apart from the glaringly obvious—a loss of control. In the end, I wondered whether the details really mattered, when knowing them or not, the outcome remained the same.
I don’t often mention being on the southwest coast of Thailand on December 26, 2004. In the rare instance that I do, or it inadvertently comes up, it’s with far more acceptance than my previous self, with still raw sensibilities, could sufficiently feign. I hold no allusions that the events of that day will be graspable to others. There is no universal language for the individual experience; no way to translate things in a way that encapsulates all the subtle nuances and bold complexities of subjectivity. There are emotions and memories that have burrowed themselves away deep, beyond reach of our impulse to generalize. Yet, I am far more welcoming of people’s efforts to do so. Of their efforts to empathize through the lens of their own experienced sorrows. Of the underlying humanity that motivates their gesture. Of the sincerity and openness that fuels their inherent desire to connect. And of the humbling instances where I am met with mirrored vulnerability.
In a recent McSweeney's article titled "RIP, 2017" writer Pete Reynolds unapologetically sums up, “In life, 2017 was an avid collector of mass shootings, devastating natural disasters, and unfortunate accounts of famous old men groping their female colleagues.” Counter to this resoundingly "bad", 2017 also delivered varying degrees of good, including the Women’s March, the legalization of same-sex marriage in Australia, and Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut Ladybird. Whether your outlook is steely focused on inspiring stories of progress, or fixated on negative tales of resurgent fascism and our seemingly obdurate march toward nuclear warfare, I think we can all agree that we are bidding adieu to 2017 on a somewhat conflicted note.