Archive for ‘Coming Home’

July 31, 2014

Welcome to DC!

by Tabitha Kidwell

Tomorrow is move-in day! I seriously could not be more excited! I’m having elaborate fantasies about really banal things like hanging my clothes on hangers, putting food in the refrigerator, and closing the door to my own room. Since I closed up shop at 222 W 2nd Ave three years ago, I haven’t really had my own space. Yes, I had a sweet little house in Indonesia, but it always felt temporary. And, yes, my mom and step-dad have very generously let me live with them for months at a time, but most of my belongings were still in boxes at the back of their crawl space.

So I’m excited to unpack my belongings, but I’m excited for the abstract things, too. Since 2014 started, I haven’t been in the same place – like, sleeping in the same bed, leaving a toothbrush on the sink – for longer than 10 days at a time. In India, I was shuffling between the rural school and the volunteer house in the city. On the Camino, I was moving every day, with all my belongings on my back. And since I drove to DC on July 5th, I have been shuttling between friend’s houses, sleeping on couches and in guest rooms. (Thanks, guys!)

As you can imagine, this has started to wear on me. I felt a real urgency to get here and get settled – I could have stayed in Columbus this month, but I just wanted to be here, starting the life I’ll lead for the next 5 years. I looked at some apartments whose leases started immediately or on July 15th, but the one I ended up choosing didn’t start until August 1st, so I found myself in limbo for a few weeks. I wanted to put down roots but had nowhere to put them. I wanted to start a routine but didn’t really have anything to do. I found this really stressful and overwhelming, and I think I went through a bit of a depression. I had a week or two where everything I tried to do seemed insurmountable. I couldn’t imagine being able to grocery shop and cook for myself. I didn’t have the energy to go out running or even wake up before 10 AM. I just didn’t feel like myself. To make things worse, I went to the first meeting of my “research team” at UMD, coming into the half-finished research, and didn’t understand half of what we were talking about. I had a minor panic attack walking back to the metro that day, with the five long years of grad school looming impossibly before me. I thought I had been looking forward to the idea of staying in one place for awhile, but it suddenly seemed terrifying.

So I blew this popsicle stand, and that helped a lot. I took the megabus up to New York to throw a bachelorette party for my friend Claire, visit my friends Libby, Iris, and Kate, and go to a wedding in Jersey. After a week away with good friends, I felt really excited to come back to town. As we drove into the city, I realized “I live here now.” I felt like I was coming home. And after tomorrow, I will actually have a home! A home with no furniture*, but you’ve gotta start somewhere.

*correction: I just found a futon on the sidewalk with a “free” sign, so I think I’m pretty much set.

January 9, 2014

Six Months at Home

by Tabitha Kidwell

It’s hard for me to believe that the past six-months at home have already come and gone. I kept saying that this was the first time in my life I had “nothing to do” – i.e., no job or school to keep me occupied. As it began, I imagined it being a time of relaxation, soul searching, and afternoons spent with a cup of tea and a good book. I thought it would be a good opportunity to stop always “doing things” and learn just to be.

Well, that was a nice idea. I very quickly filled up the time with work, friends, family, yoga, and errands. My soul remains unsearched and many books unread. I often felt very busy even though I had total control over all my commitments. Though it wasn’t the relaxing time I had imagined, I think it was still a really beneficial period. I’m really glad I took the time to actually go visit grad schools; if I had applied to the schools I thought I wanted to go to a year ago, I would have ended up in completely wrong programs. I’m also glad I had time to devote to important relationships in my life: it was wonderful to spend a week withmy sister before her wedding, and I will always cherish all the time I got to spend with my Nana Bets. I even got to try my hand at business with Christmisc. I think I’ll stick with education, though selling ugly Christmas sweaters would probably be more lucrative.

And even though I was busy, I did have a lot of time to think, especially once I started spending a lot of time in the car popping from thrift store to thrift store in search of holiday garb. In the past, I might have spent that time thinking about my next lesson plan, troublesome students, papers I needed to write, or even just making my grocery list. Without all that, I had lots of space to just think about life. I spent a lot of time indulging my nostalgia. I thought about the hot summer nights spent sitting outside at Graeter’s in high school. I remembered how beautiful it was to walk around Miami’s campus in the autumn. I felt sad going back to the places I used to go when I lived in the Short North. I thought about ex-boyfriends and why things had gone wrong. I even contacted a couple of them just to see what would happen. Conventional wisdom would tell you that the impulse to call up an ex-boyfriend is best ignored, but I’m not about to start following conventional wisdom now. It was actually a really valuable experience. When we met up, I could see why I had been interested in them to begin with – I enjoyed their company, and really liked them as people. But it was clear to me that I didn’t want to see them again, that our relationship was in the past and belonged there. And I realized that was a good metaphor for all the things from my past that I found myself thinking about – it was lovely when it happened, it is a beautiful memory now, but it is gone. More than anything, I feel like I’ve spent the last six months tying up the loose strings of my life. I feel healed, whole, and ready for whatever the future will bring. Which I guess, in the end, is what I had hoped to achieve… even if I didn’t realize that’s where I was headed.

December 8, 2013

Where Have you Been Part 2: Nana Bets

by Tabitha Kidwell

Another activity that has filled my time recently is spending time with my grandmother, Nana Bets. Last summer when I was deciding whether I should go to El Salvador or not, she was a major factor in my decision. My grandfather passed away 3 years ago, and since then, Nana Bets’ memory and functioning has decreased. She had basically stopped driving, was overdue for doctor’s appointments, hadn’t been eating much, and wasn’t getting out as much as she used to. I felt like I needed to spend a few months in Columbus with her to get caught up on all that and just spend time with her. I’ve gone over to her house every other day or so, gone to movies, brought food over, went to the hairstylist, took her to cataract surgery, and went to MCL more times than I can count. I’ve turned the heat back on after she accidently turned it off, got the microwave off of child lock, fastened her shoes, and taken her shopping. I’ve been surprised by her walking around he house naked. When she forgets how to do simple tasks, I find myself angry with this person who is no longer the independent, powerful grandmother I remember. It’s been time consuming, too– at times it felt like a part time job – but I feel really honored to be able to spend the time with her. When I was young, especially after my parents got divorced, this is basically what she did for us kids. She was always there for me, and now I can be there for her.

And it hasn’t been all me helping her. These six months have been rough for me, too. I have great friends here in Columbus that I did make plenty of plans with, but in the two years I was gone they got married, got pregnant, made new friends, started new relationships, and generally moved on with their lives. I don’t exactly fit here anymore, and I’ll be leaving in a few weeks to probably never live here again. So when I found myself without anything to do on a Saturday night, it was easy to push away any loneliness or self-pity by bringing over Panera and watching the Golf Channel with Nana Bets. It reminded me of Laura Linney’s character in Love Actually, the one with a mentally ill brother who called all day long. She was so consumed with that relationship that she couldn’t make any others. At a time in my life when it doesn’t really make sense to make new relationships, focusing my energy on Nana Bets helped sustain me. I know that she won’t be here much longer – in fact, and the Nana Bets I knew is already slipping through my fingers. Spending these months together has been a gift for both of us.

October 15, 2013

iLove my iPhone

by Tabitha Kidwell

I can’t believe I made it through my last post without mentioning the single most important thing to happen on my trip: I bought an iPhone!

Up until then, I had a flip phone, and I loved being able to decisively pop it closed when ending a call. When I did finally make the switch, I actually felt really sad! I had comically obsolete phones for so long, it had become part of my identity. Luckily, as my dad pointed out, I am still behind the times with my iPhone 4s. Rather than be locked into a contract, I paid cash upfront for the phone and got monthly service with t-mobile. That way, I can put my number on hold and use the same phone abroad whenever I travel. So I bought the 4s once the new 5s and 5c knocked it down to $450. To help with my crappy phone nostalgia a little more, I put the new phone in an otter box so bulky that makes it look like a VHS tape! I also searched for an app to make that noise a flip phone makes when it closes, but, shockingly, it hasn’t been invented yet.

And, honestly, I got over the loss of the flip phone real quickly once I got used to having access to the world at my fingertips! Everything is so easy and wonderful with the iPhone! Some updates from the 21st century:

I now have something to do when I’m out with friends and everyone else is on their phones. Though I’m not totally sure what they are doing on their phones and I mostly just check out the stock photos and backgrounds.

I have joined Google+, LinkedIn, Instagram, Spotify, Tinder, Pinterest, and Strava. But I don’t really know what each is for or who has time to look at what other people post let alone keep up with their own posting. Also I learned that on LinkedIn, people can see when you look at their profile, so it is really not ideal for the stalking of ex-boyfriends. (Which is of course the first thing I used it for.)

My favorite app is One Second Everyday, which lets you compile one second of each day, so you can watch a year in 6 minutes and a decade in an hour. After seeing Cesar Kuriyama’s TED talk, I knew this would be the first app I purchased! Here is my one second a day video since getting the app:

As you can see, life with an iPhone is pretty exciting! Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to post this blog to 7 different social networks.

September 11, 2013

Tabitha’s search for meaning

by Tabitha Kidwell

I just got back from a great week spent in San Francisco visiting my friend Katie and cousin Jimmy. I had originally bought the tickets with the intention of visiting the grad programs at Stanford and UC Berkeley, but as I researched more in the meantime, I realized neither program was quite right for me. So I went on long, exploratory runs, ate Indonesian food with Katie, and got drinks with Jimmy, but mostly spent my time wondering “why am I here?”

I’ve been having thoughts like that a lot recently. Without a whole lot to fill my time, I often end up wondering about the meaning of life. Not in a suicidal or depressed kind of way, just in a general, perplexed manner. If I were working, I would say my life was focused on improving the lives of my students or making something meaningful with my colleagues. Married people can say it is about building a relationship and a life together. People with kids can devote their lives to their children. But I don’t have any of those things. As someone who is unemployed and lives with her parents, what, exactly, is the point of me?

I realize this is a very Anglo-Saxon, protestant-work-ethic kind of problem. I should just chill out and watch all five seasons of Breaking Bad already. I’m trying to cure myself of this nagging, self-doubting affliction through careful deployment of French wine, Indian food, and Latin American novels. But what appears to work best is finding things to do that remotely resemble work. It seems that am a work-a-holic who needs to define myself by my work, and my drug has been cut off. So I’ve tried to find substitutes, like helping with my sisters wedding preparations, researching grad schools, and running my credit history.

But the truth is, I’ve been so stressed out by having nothing to do that I haven’t gotten much done. It seems like I’ve been home a long time, but today only marks two months since I arrived home from Indonesia. That makes me feel better about not really doing anything besides getting my head on straight. Two months seems like an appropriate amount of time to do that. The “return culture shock” has been harder this time than in the past – I spent the first few weeks confused and intimidated by life in America, then I embraced it, then I rejected it (remember when I was going to move to El Salvador?), then I basically went into hiding and felt overwhelmed by the crushing amount of free time. But now I feel more like myself. I feel capable and powerful. Today, in a bit of a maniac rush, I made a profile on an online English teaching website, set up visits to 4 grad schools, and pounded out a first draft of my Statement of Purpose. So now I have a purpose. Once I revise it, I’ll tell you what it is. Maybe I’ll throw the meaning of life in there as a bonus, too!

August 7, 2013

Movie Montage Race Day

by Tabitha Kidwell

When I was in Indonesia, I pictured life in America like a movie montage:   a parade of one wonderful event after another, surrounded by friends, under a bright blue sky. I quickly realized, however, that most days in America consist of dragging yourself out of bed, spending a few hours on the internet, going to Target, and maybe staying awake long enough to see a friend or two after they finish work.  Yesterday, though, the dream became reality – just in time for my friend Jackie’s 30th birthday!

We started the day by waking up at 5 AM for the Cleveland Triathlon. (Okay, that 5 AM part was terrible, but it gets better, I promise.) Jackie and I started doing triathlons together in Indonesia – we even bought our (identical) bikes at a Jakarta bike shop together. We did a few triathlons in Southeast Asia, and did fairly well, given that most of the races (and racers) were tiny. So we were nervous for a normal American triathlon with lots of normal American people with fancy bike gear.

It was so cold before the race that we were actually happy to get into the polluted but warmer-than-air waters of Lake Erie:


After a cramped, treading-water start that left us out of breath, we swam…






…and got medals!


Then, just as we were about to leave, we stopped by the results board and were shocked to see this:


To celebrate, we went to Gospel Bunch at Cleveland’s House of Blues, where we listened to amazing gospel music and ate chicken & waffles.


Then, we went to a festival in the Warehouse District where I played cornhole with cute boys and Jackie danced in the street.


I mean, can you get any more “movie montage” than dancing in the street?!?!

Though I understand that this isn’t typical of an average American day, it holds lessons for me as I re-adapt to life here. Jackie explores this connection more poetically in her blog about the day. So I will just say this: at the moment, I may be metaphorically kicking and scratching to keep my head above the stinking waters of Lake Erie at 7 in the morning. But once I move past current challenges (e.g., unemployment, living with parents, love life going nowhere) and get started on this race called life, I’m basically going to kick butt. And really deserve some chicken and waffles.

July 31, 2013

One Too Many Things

by Tabitha Kidwell

I have this problem where I try to do one too many things. Like, I’ll wake up on time for church, be ready to head out the door with plenty of time, then think “I have time to unload the dishwasher” and then roll in halfway through the offering. Come on, Tabitha, the dishes can wait! Going to El Salvador this year was that one thing too many. I’m sure it would have been great, but it would have meant scrambling around the next 2 months to try to visit and apply to grad school programs, take the GRE, and do a giant pile of Peace Corps paperwork. I would have ended up not doing anything well. In addition, I had this lingering guilt about not being able to go to my cousin’s wedding in October. I know my family would understand, but I realized it wasn’t about that one event. It was about all the little events that happen everyday: football Saturdays, meeting friends for a run, watching TV with my grandma. I just want to be here for all that. So I will be – I am NOT going to El Salvador! Sorry, Keeping-Tabs fans, you will have to live vicariously through someone else.

Actually, most of you appear to be on my side. Seriously, just write a few self-pitying, panicky blogs, and you guys really step up. I got messages of support on nearly every communication platform: e-mails, texts, calls, facebook messages, wall posts, blog comments… (I’m still waiting for the carrier pigeon, but I hear those take longer). My uncle Link even invited me to dinner for a pep talk/intervention. I am reminded yet again of what amazing friends and family I have… and that I cannot possibly leave them again. At least for now…

July 29, 2013

Funemployment Fail

by Tabitha Kidwell

When I came home, I had lots of plans about how I would spend the next 6-12 months before starting grad school. I want to end up in the right program, so the visiting/choosing/applying phase was easily going to require 3 months. Then I thought I would cast about for work in the manner of a 22-year-old recent grad. My friends all had this experience right out of college, but I had always had the next step planned, so I missed out. I thought I would live with my parents or grandmother, do some translation or test grading online, bartend or work at starbucks, travel around to visit friends. I even had elaborate fantasies, like editing this blog into a book and getting it published, or opening an Indonesian food truck, or going on The Amazing Race. Fantasies aside, I thought it would be good for me to have a year of uncertainty, a year where my self worth wasn’t determined by my career, a year when I would step back and sort through the news feed of my life.

So, two weeks in, that sucked. The reason I have never put myself in such an uncertain situation is that I HATE UNCERTAINTY. I am a fairly type A, hyper-oprganized person, and all these lingering possibilities were just stressing me out. With nothing planned, it felt like everything was possible, like finding a secret passageway to France in my closet, or inventing a tele-porter that would send me to Bali, or entering a time-traveling wormhole and re-joining the Peace Corps.

So I just did that last one. I accepted a position in El Salvador with Peace Corps Response, which is like Peace Corps for grown-ups. Like how attractive contestants on The Bachelor get automatic acceptance on Bachelor Pad. It’s a special program for returned Peace Corps volunteers that requires more technical expereince and is shorter term. So I’d be working with the Ministry of Education, writing a curriculum guide and training teachers to help them teach the national curriculum. I had always thought about doing a Response position, but had never had the time before. This placement is only from October to May, so it fits in just perfectly before starting grad school in the fall. I wasn’t really intending to go abroad again, but it was so perfect for me that I thought “I wonder how easy it is to apply.” It turns out, really easy. It was a matter of uploading my resume and writing a paragraph. I got to the submit button and though “Oops… I guess I’ll apply after all.” I had interviewed and been sent an invitation within a week of being home.

So I accepted it, and was so excited! NOT. I accepted it, but feel pretty lukewarm. I really just want to live in America. I want to be near my friends and family, be in my own culture, actually live in one place for an extended period of time. It’s a strange life I am leading where moving to El Salvador is the safe option, the easy way out. I would be really good at the job there, I would have enough money, everything would be taken care of. I’d improve (remember?) my Spanish and would get great career experience. But I might also feel like I was in self-imposed exile. People keep saying stuff like “Wow! Living abroad is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.” Well, not the fifth time! It would definitely be an adventure, but I’m feeling a little tired of adventures at the moment. Part of me wants to go, but part of me wants to tackle the adventure of sleeping on a friend’s couch and working in retail.

So, friends, family, faithful readers, what should I do? I have barely started the final approval process for the Peace Corps, so I could easily just un-accept their invitation. Should I stay? Should I go? Should I move to DC, New York, Seattle, San Fransisco, LA…? Should I move to Denver, live with my sister and her soon-to-be-husband, and be their dog-walker? Should go on a reality TV show? Is this what it feels like to be 22?

July 18, 2013

Handle with Care

by Tabitha Kidwell

I am not doing so great with this “return to America thing.” It’s rough. I’ve never before been at a point in my life where I didn’t have “the next step” planned. I think, ultimately, this will be a good opportunity for me to grow as a person, but at the moment I pretty much just want to lie in bed and watch reruns of How I Met your Mother.

Luckily, whenever I hit a particularly low point, one of my friends seems to call. I was talking to my friend Michelle last night and she pointed out that our friend Tess’ newborn son Everett and I have basically started life in America at the same time. Turns out, Everett and I actually have a lot in common. We are both unemployed and live with our parents. We can’t feed ourselves – except for when my stepdad cooks something and puts it in front of me, I’ve basically been subsisting on greek yogurt. I hear Everett has an equally bland, unchanging diet. We both cry for extended periods of time for no apparent reason. We have trouble making decisions. We can’t dress ourselves – I keep looking at my 2-year-out-of-date clothing and end up re-wearing the hand-me-down outfit I acquired from the goodwill pile in a friend’s trunk. Actually, I hear Everett has some pretty sweet new clothing, so we do diverge a bit here. But neither of us has any idea who Honey Boo Boo or Robin Thicke are. We both need to develop self-soothing techniques. We have both been drinking a lot of beverages from bottles. And neither of us are ready to make any kind of major plans for the future. So, until Everett starts sleeping through the night, I’m just going to keep on hoping that this one will finally be the one where that guy meets their mother.

July 15, 2013


by Tabitha Kidwell

Most triathletes will tell you that the trickiest parts of a race are the transitions. If I’m in good shape and well trained, I can kinda go on auto-pilot during the swimming, biking, or running. But the switching from one to the other is stressful. You have to change clothes, eat and drink, find your way in and out of the transition area, maybe try to pee without anyone noticing. Even if you think you’re prepared, it is really easy for things to go wrong or for unforeseen challenges to arise. I’m in the middle of a huge transition now, moving from life in Indonesia to life in America. I’ve been home 4 days, and it was been a little rough.

The first two days were difficult because I was just so tired. I always thought I was good at dealing with jet lag, but this time the 12-hour time difference hit me like a truck. I’m sure it didn’t help that I’ve spent a month traveling, so was run down going into the trip home. To make matters worse, I don’t think I slept more than 4 or 5 hours between waking up in Singapore on Wednesday morning (Tuesday evening, Ohio time) and arriving at CMH on Thursday evening. Friday and Saturday, I woke up feeling refreshed, but totally ran out of steam by noon. I felt like I couldn’t imagine ever having energy again. I think I went to bed while it was still light out both evenings.

At the moment, I feel less tired, but I feel totally socially awkward. Routine questions like “what’s your phone number?” or “what do you do?” leave me stumped. The cashier at CVS asked if I had an extra care card and I stammered for about a minute before asking for a new one. Part of the issue is that these questions are not so simple for me at the moment, but the people asking them don’t want to hear a 5-minute explanation. They don’t want “well, I was a French and Spanish teacher, but then I moved to Indonesia to teach English but actually got really involved with teacher training and really enjoyed that, so now I want to apply to Ph.D. programs so I can do that in the States, but I won’t start until next year, so for now I’m going to start applying to and visiting programs but in the meantime I might score tests online or do some freelance translation or maybe do a short-term volunteer position abroad.” They want “I’m a teacher.”

Another issue is that people ask these big questions like “How was Indonesia?” that I cannot possibly sum up in one sentence or one minute. I was out with friends last night, and was talking to this very nice woman who knew a lot about Indonesia. “Wow, Indonesia,” she said. “We do some business there, that must have been so interesting.” For my friends’ benefit, she continued: “You know, it’s a country of 200 million, but we don’t hear much about it…” (My inner monologue: two hundred FORTY million) “… and it’s the world’s largest Muslim country…” (largest Muslim MAJORITY country) “…so what was the hardest thing to adjust to, culturally?” I just stood there for a good 30 seconds with my mouth open. I looked at her, I looked at my two friends, I looked back at her, and still couldn’t say anything. (Say food, say clothing, say religion, say weather, say whatever, just say words, Tabitha. Say any word. Come on. Anytime now.) It’s been almost two years since I was really thinking about adjusting to the culture, and I totally drew a blank. I think what makes these kinds of questions difficult is the amount of time involved. In most of our daily interactions, we ask about small amounts of time: “What did you do last night?” and “How was work today?”. We don’t often ask things like “How have you been since 2011?” or “What emotions were you experiencing 18 months ago?”. I think this is why I’ve found it easier to talk about my 2.5 weeks in Vietnam – I have enough distance from a 20 day trip. I’m not sure how much distance I’ll need from a 2 year-long experience, but it’s definitely more than 4 days.

There are answers to all these questions, but I don’t have them ready yet. I’m still figuring out what I gained and learned from my 2 years in Indonesia. Once I figure out the answer for myself, I’ll be ready to talk to my friends and family about it, and after that I’ll be ready to boil it down to a sound byte for the person I just met. Until then, I’m just going to work my way through this transition and hope I don’t pee myself.