It's been almost six full weeks since I left the gorgeously green state of Vermont to make my journey to my new home on the beachy shores of west coast Florida. The trip was smooth and filled with warm, welcoming hosts (thank you hosts!) and beautiful, new places to explore.
All packed up and leaving Mom's house in Montpelier, VT.
Here's Grandpa Barney. He took me to see these ladies sing doo wop in Napanoch, NY on my first stop. He was pretty happy about this picture, showing it off to everyone (I mean, everyone) around us. Then he told a young man in front of us to pull his pants up. Always the disciplinarian.
Here's Barney again. He took me out to a special dinner the night before at Red Lobster, my grandmother's favorite restaurant when she was with us. We both ordered a glass of Pinot Grigio and laughed deeply when he slammed his water glass down to the table, exclaiming, "Gal dang, that's heavy!"
Isn't he so cute? I think he was telling me how to get out of town, but I was taking pictures of him instead of listening. He talks a lot. Love you, Grandpa, thank you!
My next stop was Roanoke, Virginia. This state took my breath away. While I was driving down Route 81, a major trucking highway, I couldn't believe the vast beauty of the farming foothills through the area. It was familiar, like something I'd seen in picture books, yet totally new to me in real life. It was so pastoral, so bucolic, so vast.
My brother-in-law's mother hosted me at her home. She brought me up to the Mill Mountain Star which overlooks the entire city from the highest point. After, she treated me to an amazing spread of sushi with martinis! Thank you, Pauli!
After Roanoke, I followed the roller coaster highway to Asheville, NC where I caught up with my friend, Mitch, and his girlfriend. We did some beer crawling and ate at Salsa's, the most scrumptious Brazilian/Mexican joint I never would have expected in North Carolina.
At Wicked Weed Brewing, where they had the best gluten-free beer I've ever tried, the gluten FREEk.
Before reaching dinner, we passed by this wall which prompted, "Before I die I want to...". Amongst its scrawlings were adventurous responses such as, "See the pyramids", "Cuddle a sloth" and "Walk the great wall." Then there were the more compassionate, heartfelt responses like, "Make a difference" and "Save a life." My friend scribbled "live" and next to his I wrote "love." There were many different responses, yet all shared a common tone: wishing, hoping and longing to have something or be something in the future. One read, "To be the perfect parent." I couldn't help but feel the great expectations we set on ourselves; the weight of hope. And how hope makes us fearful. We are often stuck in a dance between hope and fear, immobilizing us from truly loving and living. We long for an escape, yet we don't really know how to get there. This wall serves as a reminder to be present. To simply recognize that by scribbling some words on a giant chalk wall we are living, we are loving, we are helping...because we are sharing. In art, I often wonder what the importance of it is. It can feel isolating, solitary, and unimportant, especially knowing that someday these things I make will no longer exist. Yet as I explore what it is to make things, I am led to the greater universal truth: that by sharing we are helping others and helping each other. Sharing ourselves openly, without judgement and with a present mind is one of the greatest skill in life. So my answer to my own question is to just keep sharing myself with others, with an open heart and a compassionate mind.
I stumbled across this poignant quote from Gandhi here in St. Pete recently. It reads: "The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others."
To me, this means dedicating one's attention towards others, outside ourselves. It means to give our time for those around us, to be a true friend by asking ourselves what we can do for others. How can we support them and continue to care? It means to notice what others might need, whether it's someone to listen, a hug, a dollar, or space. Learning how we can best serve others is a mission. As Sakyong Mipham writes in his book "Ruling Your World," "The thought of helping others is compassion, knowing how we can do it is wisdom, and doing something about it is courage." May we all find the courage for action.
This book is a life-changer. In a later chapter he writes, "...the joy I feel...has to do with deciding what I want to do and engaging in it wholeheartedly." He goes on to explain that we are often practicing exertion in the wrong direction, in the direction of making things work for "me." His path to joy involves exerting himself in the effort to help and inspire others, outside of himself. This concept is pure, clear and honest. It just makes sense. Life feels empty and joyless when I'm just trying to figure out how things will best serve me. In moving to FL, I made a very conscious decision that this is where I want to be and that I want to try to learn how to help others. When I first arrived here, all sorts of doubts and fears flooded my mind. What was I thinking? Did I make the right choice? Is this really where I want to be? People think so differently here, how will I fit in? Maybe I should give it a year and then go somewhere else for graduate school. What am I doing here? These were just a few of the thoughts running through my mind for the first couple of weeks here, even though I was having a great time getting to know my roommates and exploring the area. I just wasn't sure it could possibly work out because there were no easy answers broadcasted immediately. After reading this book and meditating on these ideas for a bit, I realized that it was my heart I followed here and it was my heart I will continue to follow and trust. At that point I made a conscious choice to commit to this place and to follow the serendipitous signs that pop up through the exertion of commitment and decision. And so I am choosing to exert myself here where I am needed and even though the answers may not seem obvious, they are right there, floating all around us in time and space, ready for us to accept them and move forward with strength, courage and confidence. Sure it's scary that I don't yet have a job, but I find comfort in making this step towards exertion, however small. I am giving it a try and with it comes an ease in giving my time to others, in caring more deeply, sharing a smile more often and looking others in the eye.
This is Lover's Lane, the first painting completed on Florida soil. It's from a snapshot I took while biking down Lover's Lane in Grand Isle, VT a couple of years ago. I crested this hill and the clouds were sitting atop it like Little Miss Muffet's tuffet. It's a mini painting, a scale I'm really enjoying right now. And it's for sale, email me if you're interested!
Lover's Lane. 6x8". Acrylic on canvas board.
Back to the road...after enjoying the microbrew beer land that is Asheville, NC, I journeyed south to St. Augustine, FL, the charming, "Ancient City" established by the Spanish in the 1500's.
I slept out on a friend's porch right on the bay, lulled to sleep by wind, rain and that sweet ocean smell. The rains started early the next day, so I hopped back on the road headed for my final destination, St. Petersburg, Florida.
First trip to the beach!
The new roommates.
A backyard pool party, southern style.
At the pottery studio.
And amazing cloud structure!
Awesome storms roll in anytime of day...
If flooding and rain weren't an issue...
Bountiful succulents, shells and mosaics.
Palms and sunsets.
Just a few of the plethora of new sights that are inspiring me these days!
In conclusion, the past six weeks of moving to Florida from Vermont, have been the greatest gift I have ever given myself. Everyday I pinch myself that I am here, "here" being the physical location of St. Petersburg, FL, but also here: open, present, calm and content. Sure, there are days I feel terrified of what's next or that I'm not working yet, but being able to stay clear, calm and reflect through this fear in order to see the expansiveness and the opportunity of the universe feels like a life skill I'm becoming more familiar with. I hope my words offer any bits of goodness you can absorb. I love hearing your thoughts. Message me, leave a comment, let me know how you are feeling. Thank you for reading this and wishing you love, light and happiness.