The past few months have been non-stop. I feel like all I've been doing is drawing and working and then working and drawing. If I'm not working at the coffee shop, I'm working on my book. If I'm not working on my book, then I'm working on a commission. I haven't really been allowing myself much free time lately. But then again, have I ever?
A couple months ago, I decided that I was going to do just that. Give myself some time. Some time to remind myself that I am alive, some time to get some sleep, some time to think about who I am, and some time to just be. I feel like it's inherently human to busy ourselves, and then to convince ourselves that business is a good thing. If we aren't constantly doing something to make our lives better, to make money, to make us something bigger than we already are, then are we really doing anything at all? What's the point in waking up if we don't have something to do?
In the past year, I have dropped out of school, I have taken on well over 30 commissions, I have started a mural, I have lost my job, I have gotten my job back, I have moved to a new apartment (where I live alone), I have fallen into old and terrifying habits, I have picked myself back out of those habits, I have started three children's books, I have finished one (and almost two) of those three books, I have made friends, I have maintained a boyfriend, and I have turned 22. I pray, I take walks, and I eat fried rice. And that is my life.
There usually comes a point for me when I become overwhelmed by routine. At that point, my heart begins to claw at my chest and feet begin to feel sad. All of me just becomes sad. And astonished. Because I'm never bored. I always have something to do. Like I said, I keep myself busy. It's what we do. And yet, I can't help but feel unsatisfied with where I am. It's selfish. It's so so selfish. Here I am, in a somewhat lovely city; where I have friends, and family, and literally the love of my life, and I'm still unsatisfied. I have expressed these feelings to more than one person, and even made plans to go to Spain all by myself, but no one gave me the response I wanted. Most of the time, they would just say, "You should wait until someone can go with you," or something about me being a wanderlust and I should start saving my money for real life. My subconscious says the same thing. And none of it is good enough for me. I don't want to wait.
My good friend said to me, "You're only doing this for you. The only reason you want to leave [the country] is to impress yourself. And to check another place off your list. You're not thinking about the reason you're going, you're just going because you want to." And nothing has ever sounded so right to me in my life. The only reason I want to go to Spain is because I want to say that I've been to Spain. The only reason I ever leave the country is just for that, to leave the country. Even though I swore to myself I'd never do that, I swore that every time I travel, it would be with sensational reason. In the amount of time it took for me to realize that my friend was right about me, it also realized that I have never taken the time to even try to appreciate the United States, let alone Nebraska, for what it is. I had money saved up for a trip abroad, and I considered several things
1. Save it for my trip to Spain when I know why I'm actually going
2. More tattoos
3. Go on a trip, but one where I know why and where I am going.
Since I am impatient by nature (and thank you to everyone who still likes me even though it's not my best trait), I decided to go with #3. The last several years, I have been homesick. I have been homesick for people that I haven't seen/ do not get to see nearly as much I would like. I have been homesick for doing things that take my heart and soul to a new place. I have been homesick for clarity, for peace, and for understanding. I decided that I was going to drive to Yosemite National Park, with several stops along the way. I decided to leave work, to leave stress, to leave routine behind for just a couple weeks. And in those weeks, I realized that business is the thief of freedom. At least the amount of business and stress I apply to myself.
One of my very close friends/ my roommate on my India voyage, Alexis, came to visit me in Lincoln. Alexis flew from Texas to spend three days with me. Alexis spent plenty of hours on planes and in airports to get to me. To me. There's usually a loud voice in my head that likes to tell me that I am not special and that I don't matter, but friends like Alexis silence that voice. Before she got to Lincoln, I tried to make a list of things to do. I came up empty for the first couple hours. I tried even harder, and forced myself to make Nebraska new to me. After 15 years of living here I tried to think, what exists here that, as an outsider, I wouldn't be bored by? The first three things on my list were Asian restaurants. It's not my fault that Lincoln is known for its grub.
As it turns out, there's plenty to do. There was a play at the Pinewood amphitheatre that weekend, and there was a baseball game at the Haymarket Park, too. There's a lake. There's wildflowers. There's antique shops, and gardens, and parks, and movies, and friends. Before I left for my trip, a friend of mine from Texas made me realize that the place I live will be an okay place to return to.
I leave in the morning and set out for Denver, Colorado. I am staying with my cousin, Jon. This is the second year I've spent my birthday week with Jon. When I got there, I didn't have much on my agenda, just to work on an art show I had once I got back to Lincoln.
The following morning, I got up early, got coffee, and then drove to Boulder with my friend Alex, who also went to India with me. Alex, who now lives in Denver, is one of those weird friends who you don't expect to be friends with because you're both quiet and a little bit angsty and you don't live close to each other, but for those reasons, you find yourself writing letters to each other and sending each other quips and songs and playlists and encouragement and you slowly realize that this is what friendship looks like. We hiked awhile in the Rocky Mountain National Park in the Colorado mountains, and followed up with beer from Twisted Pine Brewery. It may seem mundane or uninteresting, but that's because you're you and you're not me.
And you weren't sitting there in front of a friend that you've been lucky enough to see three times in one year. And you weren't thinking about how lucky you were to go spend the evening with your cousin that you get to see even less. And his girlfriend who you don't know that well yet, but later make a bond with sitting in her car talking about how you came to know faith and Jesus and real love, which to this day and to this minute is still a mystery and a ceaseless thought in your mind.
It is my 22nd birthday and I am leaving Colorado for Utah. Yes. I planned a 7 hour drive. On my birthday. Cameron calls me at 7:30 in the morning (8:30 Nebraska time), and wishes me a happy birthday and safe travels in his groggy morning voice. I leave a note for Jon, and leave for the next leg of my roadtrip.
As a kid, when we moved from California to Nebraska, we'd stop in Richfield, UT to spend the night. I didn't know that when I booked the hotel in Richfield, but my dad told me later. It's a pretty lovely town. There's a chocolate store and a movie theater and a few fast food restaurants. No matter how lovely it seemed on the outside, I started breaking down on the inside. That's right, it only took me three days to have my melt-down. Granted, it was on my birthday, and for some reason I always make my birthdays absolutely terrible and spend them alone sulking about one thing or another. I wish that I would have stayed in Denver for another day. Or left Utah a day early. I don't know. Honestly I was just sad that I was missing the Joshua Radin concert in Omaha and not spending time with Cam, because I'm kind of obsessed with him. Since fast food restaurants give me anxiety and there wasn't a lot of vegetarian food to choose from, I ended up getting macaroni and cheese from the wal-mart. And it was cold. I threw it away because food safety is a thing that I know about. My birthday dinner was a trail-mix cliff bar.
Utah, as a state, is absolutely breathtaking. I climbed around Fishlake National Forest for a couple hours, and then packed up and drove to my next destination. Which was Pha.
At the beginning of my trip, I planned all of it solo. I asked people if they wanted to come with me to Yosemite, I invited all of my friends and family, and everyone was busy. Or had to work. All understandable. People are busy. As it turns out, one of my very best friends, Pha Nguyen, was in Irvine, CA, which was only about 15 minutes from the place I was staying. Pha decided to come on the rest of my trip with me, which in hindsight, is the biggest blessing I could have ever asked for. We stayed in Laguna with my friend Johnny and his family for a night, and then left the next morning for Los Angeles, my home-town. We went to the LA County Museum of Art, and then stumbled into the art district of LA. We then met up with my Uncle Martin, who bought my birthday meal in a vegetarian cafe next to an ice cream museum. After dinner, we drove up to Valencia and stayed with family-friends that I haven't seen in 10 years.
Again, none of this is really that interesting unless you're my mom or my dad. But until you've seen your best friend for the first time in almost 2 years and drink with his parents and experience art in a way that you've never experienced it, you don't know. Until you've taught your friend how to dive from a hot tub into a swimming pool with mascara all over your face, you don't know. Until you have done that, until you have embraced a person that means more than the world to you, it will always remain uninteresting.
And unless you have been so thoughtfully taken to a restaurant by a man who helped raise you that you get to see once a year, it will always be hard to read the "this was my day" part.
When you sit out on the patio at 10 o'clock at night, remembering your childhood with your parents' best friends, and the first true love of your life (we broke up when we were 8), maybe this will start to matter to you.
Pha and I left for Angels Camp, CA. By the time we got there, I had driven 30 hours. Angels Camp is a quaint town in central-northern California. There's vineyards, and rolling golden hills. It's nothing like how I imagined, and yet I wasn't disappointed. The further away from Southern California you get, the more similar to Nebraska the golden state seems.
With Pha, and only with Pha, we thought it best to wake up at 2:00 in the morning so that we could get to Yosemite before sunrise. So, of course, that's what we did. We woke up and left for the park by 2:05 a.m. and got there before 4:30. We hiked a trail in the dark and then sat by a lake in silence, waiting for the sun to rise. It took about an hour and a half for the sun to start peeking through and for Pha to take the pictures he wanted most. At around 6:30 a.m., we made our way to the next destination. Which we didn't know entirely. Basically, every time we saw something lovely or beautiful, we would stop. And look. And contemplate. There was so much more to this place than the photos we took. There was a surrealness to it that I don't know that I'll be able to explain in words.
We stopped at several lookouts and hiked up to the summit of a place called the Sentinel Dome. It's only about 8,140 ft, but it felt like we could see everything. And maybe it's because we could see all the places we stopped along the way to get there from the top of the dome. Where we sat for probably an hour. Maybe more. It was there that I realized that I am small. I am very small. And no matter how busy I am, no matter how much I have to do, I will always be smaller than this place. I will always be smaller than what I am looking at. No amount of work, or art, or time spent doing things will ever make me bigger than the beauty that has been laid before me.
And who am I to get to enjoy that? Why do I get to be sitting at this summit? Because I let myself. I let myself sleep for few hours. I let myself not have a destination. I let myself land in this spot with Pha, who taught me so much about effortless joy and freedom. I let myself not have plans, and I ended up crying in prayer at the top of a dome made out of rocks.
After spending 2.5 days in Northern California, we left for Farmington, UT, where we stayed with my cousin's cousin (on her other side of the family. You know. The one I'm not related to), and boy talk about gracious hosts. It was about an 11 hour drive, and Pha and I had been traveling together for about a week at this point, and neither of seemed to be annoyed by each other; but instead began to learn more about each other. Y'all. If you don't have a Pha Nguyen in your life, get one. I don't think this road trip would have had a single adventurous moment if it wasn't for Pha. We gawked at the same things, went the same places, and sang the same songs. He even made me eat when I refused to eat (which, like, talk about terrible habits right lol).
Pha made sure I had chapstick when my lips were dry, water when we were at restaurants, and baby wipes when my hands were dirty. He made sure I washed my hair every once in awhile, and made sure I was being safe about climbing everywhere barefoot. He even drank beer with me, which is a big deal for Pha. He'd put up with Cam and I calling and facetiming each other and even made sure to text Cam that we were safe after hiking, because I sometimes fail to let my loved ones know that I am safe.
When we left Utah, we drove 6.5 hours to Cheyenne, Wyoming, where we stayed my aunt Liz and uncle Greg. Who I get to see twice a year if I'm lucky. I know it's all the same thing. I am seeing people that i rarely see, Go abby. right. I already know that it's impossible to express in words, but here I am trying anyway. On a laptop that's dying.
The amount of home I felt in Cheyenne with my aunt and uncle, and the amount of home I felt hiking in Vedauwoo...it's inexplicable. Being with my aunt Liz made me feel like I was with my mom, because they're very similar. And I missed my mom. And being with my uncle Greg made me feel like I was with my Newman Center friends, because he's so lead by faith. And I missed my Newman Center friends. And being in Vedauwoo made me think about when Cam and I went. And I missed Cam.
We got back to Lincoln around midnight. I dropped Pha off and we both felt the sense of sadness. Neither of us really wanted to be in Nebraska. And yet here we were. In Nebraska. I thought that maybe when we were driving back, I'd suddenly have this massive appreciation for the land that I grew up in, but I didn't. It still felt like a place that I dream about leaving. It still felt like a place that maybe I could like, but I couldn't love.
I stopped by the Meadowlark to help Ian close, and several of my favorite customers were there. They greeted me warmingly and asked me about my trip. Even Ian looked happy to see me. I felt less upset. And then I saw Cam, and I felt like I was home. And it didn't matter that I was in Lincoln, NE. Ian, Cam, and I went out for a drink, where Pha later joined us.
Pha and I had just spent almost 250 hours together, and still, he was not tired enough of me to turn down my invite to the bar. Not that he drank anything. I think they call it quality time. And that's exactly what it was. And I know that it's cheese and corn, but as I was sitting there with my brother, my boyfriend, and my best friend, I was so satisfied. As the Avett Brothers so eloquently sing, "it's not where I am, it's who I'm with."
Maybe the reason I wasn't excited about being in Nebraska was because I was so happy with who I was with every leg of my trip. But as soon as I was immersed in the company of people who love me where I'm at, I was reminded of everything lovely that I thought of while I was with Alexis.
Pha is an amazing artist. He took hundreds of pictures, and I'll be sure to share them. For now, here are some from me and a few from him.