Transcendentalism & Airports

Let’s talk about cities.

The ones we exist in, even briefly passing through. The ones that exist only in the memories we keep to give them framework.

Some background: I’m sitting in JFK airport. It’s 4 am our time and I have flown all night without ever really sleeping. I just finished Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities. I started this book in Las Vegas, where I live now. I read the middle of it in the last few weeks of going back and forth to California, the place where I grew up.

I use that term “grew up” loosely. We moved a lot. I never knew what to say when people asked for my hometown, but those near-LA-suburb cities as a whole will always be where the pull feels strongest. Those are where I cheered on losing football teams, got my first degree, made my best friends, vomited in bar bathroom lines. Nobody has known me since kindergarten. My parents only know the names of two of my friends. My old bedroom is already redecorated so beautifully that when I bring Catsby over, they make me change the bedding.

But that region is so significant to me because we’ve all been all over it. Sleeping on its couches. Screaming at our GPS as we wind deeper into its folds. Crying to our friends’ mechanic husbands as our cars fall apart on its shoulders. It has such deep illusions that we’ve been going somewhere when we’ve all really been tethered to some unknown thing that keeps us there. I’ve lived so many places and so few are not there.

But then I left, again, for real this time, and it’s not home anymore but it is something. All of this struck me a couple weeks ago as I sat at the green tables (where you could always count on running into someone between classes) on ULV campus alone, reading Calvino and listening to Death Cab for Cutie’s new single, “Gold Rush.” The scene is an almost exact duplicate of the previous day, when I sat reading the same book and listening to the same song on repeat but in Claremont and let’s just say I was feeling SOME TYPE OF WAY I DON’T EVEN KNOW. I started thinking about how I would describe each of these cities if I were to try and do it like Calvino.

A note on this collection: Invisible Cities is like nothing I’ve ever read. It’s essentially a bunch of flash fiction punctuated with occasional dialogue between Marco Polo and Kublai Khan as he describes the cities of the empire. Extremely lyrical, transcendental, often environmentally charged, with strong ties to the cosmos and the idea of the afterlife (so basically my ideal book). Most of the cities aren’t real. They’re named after women and goddesses and put under distinct headings: Cities and Desire. Cities and Memory. Thin Cities. Hidden Cities. Cities and the Dead. Khan is both mesmerized and frustrated with Polo’s ethereal descriptions. He wants both to know the cities better to and see them with the grand vision that Polo does. I didn’t know what to make of how this book made me think of my cities because I hadn’t put my finger on what I was supposed to get from the book, but here in New York City, sitting in an airport, something clicked.

“Irene is the name for a city in the distance, and if you approach it, it changes. For those who pass it without entering, the city is one thing; it is another for those who are trapped in it and never leave. There is the city where you arrive for the first time; and there is another city which you leave never to return. Each deserves a different name; perhaps I have already spoken of Irene under other names; perhaps I have spoken only of Irene.”

-Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities

This comes in one of the closing sections. The idea of all our impressions set to this mold in our head of the city to which we will compare all else runs throughout the book. Where the city is doesn’t seem to matter. But it’s this idea of the places you’re expecting to find, the hopes you have for them, the cute Insta captions you’ve prepared ahead of time. Those aren’t the city at all. In that way, anywhere can be your city because no city can have you, either. Not the you that you are when you’re alone at home with your cat. Only the you that you prepared specifically for this place, building off of all the expectations your experiences have made, dressing in airport bathrooms in the specific outfits you picked for each day of your trip, annoyed because you followed the sign that said food court and it led you to literally nothing but a Dunkin Donuts. Expectations already crumbling to give a glimpse of the city you came for. The one that’s real.

“I’ve ascribed these monuments a false sense of permanence. I placed faith in geography to hold you in my memory. ((gold rush)) I’m sifting through these rubbish piles ((gold rush)) through the rubble of bricks and wires ((gold rush)) Searching for something I’ll never find. ((gold rush)). Searching for something I’ll never find.”

Death Cab for Cutie, “Gold Rush”

On living like a travel blogger

I’m at that age where at any given time, half of my timeline is either on their honeymoon, studying abroad for undergrad, teaching english overseas, raging in Mexico, or just… I don’t know, dropping their regular grind to go chill on an island or something? And honestly, it’s wonderful! I truly love to see your wedding pictures and the beautiful places you visit. I love seeing people doing service or just laying on a beach somewhere looking dang good. That’s why I follow a ton of travel bloggers that seem to never stay in one place long. I  love it and I’m happy for them, but I can’t help but envy their lives. I can’t help but feel like those lives are so far from how my life could possibly look. It’s enough to make you bitter, at times. This is normal when you’re flipping through at your desk that is mounded with work. I make sure that this envy is never enough to where I’m not glad they’re doing what they’re doing. These blogs and accounts take you places you may never have seen. They bring publicity to places less traveled and surely help stimulate the economies of the places they visit. Influencing is changing the accessibility of the world. And, duh, they help you imagine the places you could go! And isn’t that important?

Lately, I’ve heard a lot of negative talk toward these types of people. There are arguments that this influence is made to make regular people feel bad about themselves for having to live a normal life. That these people are so out-of-touch with the real world that we can’t even relate to them. And maybe that can be true, but it can also be hurtful. So here’s the thing: It is a privilege to travel. Viewers need to accept this. Travelers need to accept this. It’s not a judgment, it’s a fact. Even if you worked your butt off and paid for it yourself, even if it is a privilege you’ve earned, you still have to recognize all the forces that had to work with you to make these things happen. You have to have the funds not just to travel, but to pay your bills without working for the time traveled. You have to have responsibilities that can live without you for the duration of the trip. You have to have a job that will allow you to take time off. I think it’s important to recognize this, and for “normal people” like me to remind myself of occasionally.

Yes, many of the people traveling probably don’t have the types of responsibilities that would hinder that lifestyle. Many of them are probably supported by some outside force (parents, paid time off, etc.) But I’d be willing to bet that most of them had to hustle really hard to earn that privilege. That’s why it’s those who are in awe of their own good fortune, and especially those who share the realities of their trips and advice for regular people who want to travel too, that I really support with all my heart and hope they have a million more adventures that I can witness.

So anyway, it got me thinking. A year ago in my life, it was a privilege to earn even one weekend night off. It wasn’t until early 2017 that I started to have 2 days off in a row and this was like A HUGE FLIPPIN DEAL, GUYS. I worked my butt off for that. Wednesdays and Thursdays were MY DAYS. I felt like a gosh dang queen. I felt similarly when I finished undergrad the year prior. And now with my new job, I get to work from home AND have weekends off?! Too good to be true.

I could still technically grumble about how working a 9-5 keeps me from exploring the world, or how I work my butt off but still can’t afford spontaneous trips to Europe. Or (better idea), I could be stoked at the privilege I have now to work from home with my cat and the weekends I can spend doing homework with my boo thang and occasionally getting out of the house. I can be so thankful for the trips I was actually able to take in 2017 after years without anything that dimly resembled a vacation.

So here’s my revelation. Wherever I am, whatever I’m doing, there is someone out there who hasn’t been there and done that. I live in Las Vegas, for crying out loud. I moved here from one of those 45-minutes-from-LA towns. My life is a tourist trap and all this time, I’ve been missing it. Here’s the thing: we’re after the life of those bloggers because they’re after their own lives. If they weren’t living so totally in awe, cramming in every spare memory they can find to soak up the beautiful place around them, their lives wouldn’t seem quite so worth sharing. I would like to argue that you can live with that kind of what-did-I-do-to-deserve-this-life wonder from anywhere. You just gotta look for it and capture it and pretend you look like Amber Fillerup as you do it.

So here’s to all the adventures you can possibly find and all the stories I’m about to tell that won’t be nearly as interesting as if you’d actually been there. The thing about stories is they’re worth telling.

xx, Tab

2018: The year we stop defending ourselves for being basic

(Dakota in this photo embodies just how basic and unbothered I plan to be this year.)

It’s January 1st, 2018 (okay it’s not, but it was 12 days ago when I started this…) I’m doing a lot of January 1st things, like regretting alcohol and browsing Pinterest for ideas about starting a bullet journal and thinking about how I turn 25 this year and feeling weird but also grateful because I am in a good place. And, like probably a lot of tweens around the world, I’m watching Indy Blue’s 2017 video and feeling very maternally proud of her.

And this girl is 20. What was I doing when I was 20?! I was crying over what I thought was the only boy that could ever love me and missing out on everything to go make frozen yogurt for the hip Claremont masses. I told myself (and everyone around me) that I was chill now, even though that’s the last word anyone would use to describe me, and then I had to live up to it. I started to say yes to things. I didn’t know then that I was setting up the pieces for the life I’d be so content with 4 years later.

But anyway, this isn’t about me. It’s about America’s trendy little sister, Indy Sev. Read More

Tab on Sabbatical (RWW Residency pt. 1)

I'd had plans for my next post. It was a follow-up to this post detailing some of the fun things I've gotten to do lately, how I've been coming out of my cage and I've been doing just fine, ultimately proving my last post to just be a humble brag about how guys, come on, you know I'm actually sort of fun. But, these things come and go. Maybe I'll still write that post one day? Should I?

For now, the impossible to ignore is this: I am writing in a dorm in Tacoma, Washington. The grad program I wrote about getting accepted into  here is finally happening! But it's a little weird, so let me explain. Read More