Chapter 2020

The scenery is pretty idyllic, but moving to Maine hasn’t been perfect. I know I’m pretty privileged to have dropped everything—a pretty awesome life in Washington DC—to move to Vacationland in search of “more.” But that’s because I live by “Carpe That Fucking Diem.” I live with urgency: tomorrow is not guaranteed, and I want to do everything, so I’ve got to do it now.

When I set out for Maine, I said, “For better or worse, I’ve gotta see what’s out there,” and so many people keep telling me how envious they are of the photos I post. But the photos don’t convey the loneliness or the huge financial setbacks I’ve encountered. They don’t convey how I’ve been wondering, “What the fuck am I doing?”

This year has not shaped up the way any of us expected, but we’ve now had opportunities to reflect on what’s really important. My revelations are still evolving, but here’s what I’ve realized so far…

Since I was in 8th grade, I wanted to one day run for political office. After September 11, I didn’t trust the people in power to protect me or America. I didn’t trust politicians to take care of the environment, which was my heart and soul back home in suburban Pennsylvania.

Nearly 20 years later, I still want to run for office one day, but that day isn’t any time soon. As someone who has always had a 10-year and 15-year plan, I find myself asking, “Wait a sec, what’s my ‘Now Plan’?”

I’ve traveled around the world to understand climate change, conservation, and what people think about both. My passions lie in getting people excited about wildlife, sharing with them the inexplicable beauty of the natural world, and empowering them to protect our planet from the dire effects of climate change.

I moved to Maine because I was ready to settle down, buy a home, and establish roots in the place that had catapulted my love of the environment as a child. (I attended a youth ecology camp in Bremen in 2002, which is where my commitment to a lifetime of protecting the environment began.) I moved to Maine because I was ready to become part of the community that had called to me year after year, as I’d returned in the summers to work at the same summer camp I’d attended as a teenager.

Maine seemed to be the place that all of these “elements of me” came together: the environment, a sense of home, and the opportunity for something new. Bearing in mind that I hadn’t lived in a single place for more than two years in the last 11, I was tired of feeling flighty and unsettled. Maine offered “everything.”

Now, 2020 has shifted “everything.” As I closed out my chapter in Washington DC, I left my job in search of something environmental policy-related here in Maine. I’d accumulated a financial cushion to afford myself the chance to really dig into what my ideal job would look like, so I intended to be picky.

In the background to this big life change, I’d been ruminating about a docu-series on adapting to climate change—what does it look like to change our lifestyles without sacrificing what matters most to us as individuals? So in early 2020, I created a pitch for this series and started to apply to grants and make connections with funders.

But that’s when I encountered a few setbacks: a trip to the hospital, two emergency trips to the veterinarian for my dog, and a number of unexpected expenses hit me hard. The debt started racking up. I had to find an income, and fast.

Just as the COVID-19 pandemic slammed the US, I was contacted by a county newspaper to come serve as their copy editor. About a month earlier, I had scheduled a meet-and-greet with the newspaper’s editor to offer freelance services, so while this job indeed fell into my lap, I had put in the effort to network.

While Maine is where I feel most “alive” in nature and most calm amidst a backdrop of pandemic-induced stress and personal anxieties that render me incapacitated in non-pandemic times, it hasn’t been what I was expecting. The summer camp I work at was shut down, so the friends, connections, and activities I expected to experience this summer never happened. The isolation of social distancing (and stark contrast of moving from the nation’s capital to remote Maine) has wreaked havoc on my extroversion. And I’m only slowly building back my finances as now I make $40,000 less than I did in Washington.

Now, here’s the biggest element to all of these changes: my best friend. When I decided to move to Maine, I was single. Then, two months before I was scheduled to leave, I started dating a friend who turned out to be the most amazing person I’ve ever met and he is undeniably the stuff that dreams are made of.

He has been outstandingly supportive as I’ve been searching for “more” (see the first paragraph in this post). He respects that I’ve had to discover things for myself, to try and fail, to decide on my own. We’ve been so lucky to spend months of this year together, when under normal circumstances we would’ve been lucky to spend weekends. So while I’ve been asking myself, “What the fuck am I doing?” our long-distance relationship has been top of mind. I’m fortunate he has fallen in love with Maine, so we might end up here together one day.

Everyone has been smacked in the face with unexpectedness this year, and I’m grateful for a lot of it because it’s helped me to reflect on what I want and what’s important.

TLDR:

I set out to write this blog post because of the reactions I get (or don’t get) from friends. Many have voiced their envy for the picture-perfect life I appear to be leading up here while the rest of the country grapples with high virus counts, impacted lifestyles, and struggling economy. And, based on my own paranoia, I assume a lot of friends roll their eyes and scoff when I talk about how this year has been hard. I’ve been told I “try too hard” on social media, which is where I interact with most of my friends who are now far away. Yes, my feeds are curated and don’t always reflect the “imperfect” photos or in-the-moment captions of real life. But who does share their imperfections on social media all the time? I use my feeds to share my passions and to educate. It’s going to be curated. I hope that real friends can support that.

A good friend said to me yesterday, “You are aware of your privilege, but that doesn’t take away from your feelings. It doesn’t make your struggle any less real.”

There have been days in this chapter where I am absolutely racked with despair and self-loathing, both of which are feelings I’m not unfamiliar with. But I feel guilty for feeling those things because I made the choice to leave a stable life and Carpe That Fucking Diem. Moving to Maine, quitting my job, hitting financial setbacks, being isolated, not finding the job I wanted, and managing a long-distance relationship have been hard to handle. I recognize my privilege, but I’m also allowed to say, “This shit sucks.”

So, what do I want and what’s important? I want to share my passion with the world. I want to empower people to act on climate change. What’s most important is spending time with the people (or person) who matter most. So as this chapter’s rising action reaches the climax, I’m now ready to write the rest of it.

 

* I feel it is necessary to mention that I have supportive parents who, at any moment, can and will loan me money. Not everyone is this lucky. I’m stubborn though, and I hate asking for handouts, so I’ve tried to be as independent as possible throughout the last year’s changes.

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