Truth

•18 July, 2012 • Leave a Comment

The most important thing I learned in college (aside from my social security number) was networking. If you know enough of the right people, you can make anything happen, and usually on the cheap. Be bold, be nice, be generous, and you never know when a total stranger may give you the chance of a lifetime.

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Dream Big Or Go Home.

•11 July, 2012 • Leave a Comment

You wanna know how to get through the hard times? Take a minute or two– or an hour or two, however long it takes– and daydream about what it’s going to be like when you reach your goals, when you don’t feel shitty anymore, when your life is what you want it to be. Give yourself something to look forward to, and it’ll be easy to get the motivation to keep going forward, get your shit together and move on.

It works for me, anyway.

Dream big. Believe that you can achieve that dream. Prioritize your life around getting there, and you will. And when you get there, come up with a new dream. Inspiration is everything.

Beach Epiphany

•9 July, 2012 • Leave a Comment

Happiness is a collection of tiny, perfect moments. The key to finding it is slowing down enough that you can recognize and appreciate them instead of missing them altogether.

We Don’t Live Quietly

•27 March, 2012 • Leave a Comment

My boss is from North Carolina, and has been living on Vieques and running a fine dining restaurant for six years. During service, she is all business–strict, tense and ubiquitous– but before and after work she is just a Southern gal on a strange Puerto Rican island who has a great sense of humor.

“In the North, y’all keep your crazy people behind closed doors,” she says. “In the South, we put our crazy people on the front porch. On Vieques, we crazy people run the show.”

She is referring to herself and the other bar and restaurant owners, mostly expats from the US and Europe, but also to some of the less prestigious local color.

Take for example Manny, who I met four years ago on my first trip to Vieques. When he’s on his meds, Manny is sweet, if a little slow and creepy to those who don’t realize he’s harmless. When he’s off his meds, Manny is a bit sketchier, has a bit of the crazy eye, and has an obsessive habit of relocating random things from one end of the main street to the other. PVC piping, light fixtures, wheel barrows, potted palm trees, tourists’ shoes– one can never predict. But Manny is not a thief.

“He’s harmless,” Kate says, her mama hen persona coming out. “He’s not stealing, he’s just relocating things. When it gets real bad we’ll all call each other in the morning and say ‘Hey, I’ve got a palm tree and a wheel barrow in my back yard. Any chance you’ve got my cooler?”

Manny is protected– from the law and from unknowing outsiders who would misjudge his intentions– by a posse of Viequenses, both native and expats, who consider him one of their own. If he’s acting out, the owner or bartender or cook from whatever the nearest restaurant or bar is will step in and make sure he doesn’t get arrested or get in a fight.

That’s one of the things I love the most about Vieques: you can let your freak flag fly high on this island and it will only mean that you belong that much more. What a misfit crew we are, but we’re also a tribe; a family. It takes a certain mindset to feel comfortable here, and to fit in here.

No one who chooses to live on an island is normal. Take any island you’ve ever visited for an example. But this island– a remote, mostly undeveloped paradise where the ferries run sporadically and the term “island time” takes on a new meaning when you’re waiting in line at the pharmacy for the oldest and slowest cashier on the planet to ring you up, attracts a particularly odd breed of weirdos. Individually, we are freaks–some a heck of a lot freakish than others–but together we are a tribe. You can laugh all night sometimes just listening to a friend describe their day.

We don’t live quietly.

•22 March, 2012 • Leave a Comment

Got my ass handed to me tonight. Eight tables at once in fine dining, sat mostly less than five minutes apart. If I were an octopus I’d have been golden. Somehow I pulled it off.

This job will make my Vineyard job seem like hanging out in my friend’s basement…

Wait, that’s exactly what my summer job is. It’s one of the few things I’m looking forward to about leaving this island. Oh, to go to work in my street clothes… And pick the music…

Fine dining is for suckers. Thank God we don’t do brunch. That said, I’m still working in a job I don’t hate, which means I’m winning. Hooray.

Enough Is Enough. Anything More Is Excess.

•7 February, 2012 • Leave a Comment

There’s something truly amazing about living in a place, and living a life, in which the most stressful part of your day is leaving the beach to be at work at 4:30, or waiting in line at the pharmacy while the oldest living cashier in the world takes twenty minutes to ring up each customer. It’s a different world down here, and I’m a different self when I’m here. I’m the person I hope to learn how to become anywhere. This place changes you. Changes your priorities, and your standards of expectation. It makes you grateful for every simple thing you have, because you don’t have much. Every day is an adventure because it has to be. There’s no movie theater, no arcade, no mall, no full-size grocery store, no bookstore… it has no excess. It has just enough.

The word “enough” has taken on a different meaning for me since the first time I came here four years ago, and especially in the past year since last March, when I moved down here to live and work for the first time. Being here has helped me to realize just how excessive the society in the United States is, and how excessive my life has been up to this past year. It’s made me realize just how much money I was wasting on shit I didn’t need, and how much money my family and friends have wasted on shit they didn’t need either–all of us putting ourselves into a financial quagmire for nothing. I don’t regret spending money on my education, and on living in Boston to get it. But I wish I’d had the wisdom several years ago to forego the creature comforts in exchange for the time and peace of mind that having to work less provides.

For example, I am able to work only three nights a week in a restaurant and sell handmade jewelry and art on the side, and in a couple of weeks once I’ve caught up, I will be able to sock away money by the hundreds of dollars because my rent is only $200 a month here, and on a good night I can make that in one shift. I don’t have to pay for heat, and our house is on a hill so there’s a constant breeze or wind, meaning we don’t need to run the air conditioner. Our house has a washing machine on the back porch that drains into the yard and takes nearly an hour to finish a load–but every time I do a load of laundry in it I’m grateful, because two weeks ago I was living in a tent and doing my laundry in the sink of a public campground bathroom. What luxury! A washing machine!

Living cheaply and comfortably here is very possible–even easy–but it requires creativity and occasionally daring. For example, every single appliance in our house could stop functioning completely at any moment. I’m pretty sure the microwave is from the 1970s–but it works! The fridge has been painted a hideous shade of baby shit green for reasons I can only imagine (drunkenness? colorblindness?) and the face of the microwave has been brush-painted fire engine red (why??). The other day one of the ceiling fans started emitting a sort of burnt-plastic stink, and we pondered for a moment whether a concrete house could actually catch fire. Then our roommate–who is both creative and daring– jumped up on a chair and disconnected the wire that was overheating, and voila! no more potential electrical fire. So what if we’re one ceiling fan short? The previous day, he took apart the whole oven to figure out how to light the pilot light so the oven would work. We have hot water in our house now–a luxury I haven’t previously had in my homes here–because we spent sixty bucks on a plug-in “suicide shower” attachment that heats the water instantly. I don’t think I ever truly appreciated a hot shower until I’d taken so many cold ones.

Think about it. How many rental situations have you been in where you had to figure out how to solve a problem like a burnt-out and potentially dangerous ceiling fan, or a gas stove that’s so old that there is no electrical plug to it whatsoever? Have you ever lived without television, or made your coffee camp-style in your house? How long has it been since you went without internet? Have you ever lived in a town without a library or a bookstore?

I highly suggest trying it.

Living without the creature comforts I’m accustomed to at home has made me not only appreciate those comforts when I have them, but has also helped me to realize how many of them are just truly unnecessary. It’s quite possible to live comfortably and spend less than half of what we’re accustomed to spending, but you have to be smart and persistent and a bit of a scavenger. And you have to COOPERATE with other people. On Vieques only every fifth or sixth person I know has a car, and nobody’s complaining. The people who have cars will pick you up if they see you walking, and if you need a car for something you can surely borrow one without too much trouble. Nobody’s car is all that valuable, so they’re not worried about what you might do to it.

Just day to day life here is an adventure. Sometimes the island is out of gasoline for four days, and when it arrives, it can take four hours of waiting in the gas line–but we do it because we have to. There have been three power outages in the past week, and my restaurant stayed open all three times. Driving here is like playing MarioKart when you’re drunk, except the obstacles in the road are horses, potholes and dogs. Occasionally a kayak, a mongoose, a goat or an iguana. And we are all daily players in each other’s lives, because there aren’t that many of us. There are days, usually Mondays or Tuesdays when we all have the day off, where twenty of my friends and I will gather at the same beach and spend the whole day just goofing off. Why is that possible here, but nearly impossible at home? Because we’re not working like dogs and so excessively over-scheduled and overcommitted that we barely have time to sleep. We live cheaply, we work minimally, we get by, and we have time to enjoy our lives. Our furniture and appliances might fall apart at any moment, but we’ll figure it out because that’s what you do here. You make it work. And it makes you work less. Almost everyone I know here is happy, which is so not the case at home. I’m practically ecstatic. Every day I wake up feeling blessed with plentitude and completely appreciating everything I have.

It’s not much, but it’s enough.

Musings on Time and Gratitude

•25 January, 2012 • Leave a Comment

This morning I woke up around six a.m. to use the bathroom and when I opened the fridge to grab a drink of juice (which I expected to be warm), I was pleasantly surprised to see the light on in the fridge, indicating that power had been restored to Vieques. In all honesty, I had no expectation that we’d have power back so soon, as I had no confirmation of what the source of the outage was. Rumor had it last night that there was no power on parts of the main island, that perhaps the outage had to do with the solar storm and resulting earthquakes– in my mind, we could have been without power for days. I was prepared for it. At least we still had running water, a house, and a gate around that house to protect us.

Turns out it was simply corroded wires, and the power was restored by morning, which, given my expectations, was a treat.

If there is one thing that I love about Vieques more than anything else, it’s that it makes me appreciate the small things in life. The simple necessities. It makes me grateful for the things that we take so much for granted at home. Running water. Locking doors. Privacy. Electricity. After camping for ten days, those things seem like a luxury, and every day I’m grateful for them.

And without all of the trappings of home –TV, internet, movie theaters, scads and scads of retail outlets vying for every last dime in your wallet– I find I appreciate the natural world around me more here than I do at home. Not that I don’t appreciate nature at home, but without anything else to do, there is really no choice here most days but to go to the beach, take pictures, go for a hike, or kayak, or paddleboard, or hop aboard a friend’s boat. On Vieques, there’s plenty of time to do all those things we keep telling ourselves we don’t have time for at home. The truth is, we have time for them all at home, but we fill up that time with unnecessary activities, most of which involve earning or spending money. It’s refreshing not to have the option of filling up my schedule with bullshit. I’ve been to the beach every day this week, and I DO have a job. My rent is $200 a month, and although the place is not a palace, it’s enough. It’s all I really need.

The other huge benefit to living without all the unnecessary extras we call “normal” at home is that I have plenty of time to think, to reflect, to write, to read, and to daydream. I think we Americans have trained ourselves to think these are the unnecessary extras, when the truth is quite the opposite. If we spend all of our time working in order to pay for all the things that we really don’t NEED, we don’t have time to live. To be. To relax. To think. To be happy, and REALIZE that we are happy. Our priorities are all messed up.

In the perpetual quest for material wealth that is contemporary American society, we have lost sight of what is really important: the quest for happiness. We all know, on a surface level, that money can’t buy happiness. But then why do we keep trying to fill whatever empty place exists in us with material things? Why do we get ourselves into crippling debt buying toys and clothes and fancy home furnishings and zippy cars? Wouldn’t being debt-free be more satisfying than having all those things at such a steep price? Because the price is not just the debt, and the stress of the debt, but the TIME spent trying to pay off the debts; time that we should be spending with our friends and loved ones, enjoying nature, making art, cooking and eating, listening to music, relaxing, and doing the things that will ACTUALLY make us happy.

Time is the most valuable resource we have, and we waste far too much of it. We waste it on working to pay for things we don’t actually need. We waste it on anger, stress, resentment and guilt. We waste it on pointless activities like video games, television and facebook. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not simply proselytizing–I’m just as guilty as anyone else. But I’m trying to shift the balance of how I spend my time and money, because as I’ve learned here on Vieques, I’m a hell of a lot happier when I’ve got less money, less trappings and all the time I want to sit in the hammock and read my book. Or to sit here, at half past noon on a Wednesday, and write to you.