One Year

Where were you a year ago?

August 26th, 2012 was a Sunday. I was awake, reminiscing on my most recent weekend as a newly graduated, slightly lonely resident of Western Mass. My third week of work was about to begin and I sat in bed recapping my weekend to my journal before setting off into a new Monday. I had experienced my first solo outing in an unfamiliar town. I had traveled with co-workers to the Red Fire Farm’s Tomato Festival and baked my first homemade quiche. On August 26, 2012 I wondered how long I would be in Northampton and what I would be doing a year from now. One year ago to the day on this rainy Monday evening.

Journal entry: “Curried tuna fish for dinner and walked to the Brewery. It was nice outside but a little boring, lonely almost. Not because I felt pity for myself but simply because I wanted someone to talk to.”

photo (12)Fast forward to 2013. I went back to Red Fire Farm’s Tomato Festival and ran into a couple of familiar faces. I drank a beer at the Brewery with co-workers last week and welcomed the new round of EcoFellows into our company. And just yesterday, I laid in bed and wondered where I would be one year from now. In 2014. Another 365 days of unknown possibilities.

The earth rotates, the sun burns and we find ourselves looking at a calendar full of memories cast behind a forgotten closet door. Don’t forget to open that door, dust off the taped boxes and shrunken sweaters. You might be surprised to find by how far you’ve come.

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When is the Right Time?

I often find daily planning to be annoyingly exhausting: when to eat dinner, return a phone call, hang the clothes, grocery shop. My timed decisions and scheduled obligations fall in series; each moment knocking against the unforeseen progression in domino succession. These frustrations only magnify with the mention of larger questions regarding my current relationships or future career. I find myself constantly asking:

When is the right time?

I learned to ride my bike around eight or nine years old, much later than the other kids in the neighborhood.  I had no desire and didn’t feel quite ready. One summer, my best friend passed down her little pink bike with uneven training wheels and I wobbled countless times along my driveway until the road was mine.

When is the right time?

As children, the questions comes pre-answered and the forethought is almost nonexistentWhen will we get there? When is dinner? Life was simple. Then school begins, responsibilities grow and puberty directs our thoughts against those of our peers. When is the right time for a first kiss? A boyfriend? A sexual experience? This confusion follows into high school and college, tumbling like gravel along a steel slope gathering force and speed. When to find the right major? The best job? Our parents and loved ones die. We get promoted, move to new cities and buy more furniture. We get married. When is the right time to grieve? To start a family? To hold on? To let go?

And so we compare our choices to those around us. We measure our landmark events against the decisions of others whose lives appear successful and correct. We kiss people because we think it’s time. We wear the same clothing at the same time and cry when deemed appropriate. We get married before our younger siblings do and try to earn as much as our college peers. Timing is everything

Library Clock Town
Library Clock Tower

Maybe it’s time to stop asking ourselves what we should be doing. What our friends are doing. What our parents have done. Perhaps there is no right time for any one landmark decision but a series of events that occur or do not occur based on our individual wants and needs. In my last moments, I doubt anyone will compare my timeline against my peers and wonder if I did things too soon or not fast enough.

Perhaps the question we should be asking is: When is my time?

Congratulations Class of 2013

I had a stark realization yesterday morning while routinely unrolling the morning Gazette before work. Pictures of cap and gowns, diplomas and quotes from inspirational commencements speeches were displayed prominently on the front page and Cities section of my local paper. Another group of eager, confident young people had stepped off the stage with glorious dreams of success. My first thought went to the new graduates moving out into the hazy abyss known to many as the “real world.” Are they ready? Have they been prepared? Underneath these questions was a much deeper fear. Am I ready for them?

Recalling my last 12 months after college is strange and bittersweet. I feel their breath on the back of my neck as they sprint forward along the next leg of their journey. How far have I ran since graduation? Am I on the right path? I looked up wise words for the graduates:

Katelyn Tsukada’s Five Practical Tips Post-College:

Never judge your success based on your peers or your bank account. Comparisons are inevitable but remember your self worth, job title and future dreams are not defined by your surroundings.

Read often. With a completed undergraduate degree, assigned readings and lengthy PDFs become things of the past. It’s much easier to add names to a “Must Read” list than to cross any off. As TV show re-runs become more appealing than a bestselling novel, have a cup of tea and make time for a book.

Remain in touch but stay present. Your best friends no longer live one door over or across the hall. Some went home, got jobs on the opposite coast, or packed a suitcase for an overseas adventure. The Internet allows you to stay connected with these close friends easier than ever before. Just remember that your future life will attract equally inspirational and life-long friendships. Keep all doors open.

Learn to cook (and bake). Mac and cheese is super convenient but even the best boxed variety isn’t appropriate for dinner guests or parent drop-in visits. Begin to accumulate reliable recipes for a delicious home-cooked meal and freshly baked desserts. You’ll look like a superstar the next time a new friend invites you to a potluck or picnic.

Enjoy being alone. Making friends, going on dates and planning movie nights will certainly be harder after the college campus environment. Your next couple days, months and years will inevitably include mornings and nights alone. Savor these moments. Try a beginner meditation class or take a walk around your neighborhood. Reintroduce yourself to the uniqueness of you.

Be wary of the question “Why bother?” Life isn’t always about the life-changing mission or the personal career choice. Monumental decisions are backed up and followed by innumerable smaller choices like reading the daily news and baking late at night to surprise a co-worker on her birthday. Think about others often.

Congratulations Class of 2013 and don’t fear. The best is still yet to come.

Stage in my life

“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players: they have their exits and their entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts”

-William Shakespeare

I get the metaphor. Entrance and exit. Life and death. But what about the time before the play is over–the entrances and exits– and anxiously hiding in the wings?

I like to think that our lives are a series of entrance and exits; some cues well rehearsed while others, hastily improvised. The set changes and lighting shifts but the main character remains the same in our one person show. William Shakespeare perfectly articulated the parallels between our everyday existence and the portrayal of human life. Except I took Shakespeare’s advice literally. By auditioning for a play.

So three weeks ago I found myself Googling “1 minute woman monologues” in my parked car outside of Northampton Center for the Arts. I had found an ad in the daily paper but it wasn’t until the day of the audition that I got up the nerve to call and schedule an appointment. Just in time to learn I should have a monologue prepared. OOPS. And despite my confusion and not-so-cool business casual attire, I got a small part in a beloved American classic.

Our Town was written by Thornton Wilder in 1938 and continues to be a staple across the country to this day. In fact, the play was produced 4,000 times in the last decade alone. Our Town takes place in Grover’s Corners, NH and explores life, marriage and death in three simple acts. The set is minimal, props are almost non-existant and the narrator or Stage Manager is constantly breaking the 4th wall to speak with the audience directly. My character, Sam Craig, comes in Act 3 as a town resident who has been gone for some time. Both he and the undertaker move about the graveyard visiting the deceased in the quiet, thoughtful way of two people slowly acknowledging the passage of time. Our production of Our Town will be loosely based in Northampton, MA as a tribute to the Center for the Arts. As a newcomer to the area and to the play, my character could not be a more perfect fit.

I am NOT telling you this because I’m the next Kate Winslet or Lucy Lui*. I’m telling you because whether you audition for the local theatre production or not, you are part of Shakespeare’s “stage”. You are your own character. On that Thursday evening in particular, I decided to be an outgoing, crazy theatre character instead of the easier role of introverted bystandard. Every day we wake up and make character choices that determine how other actors and actresses in our lives will respond. My mom used to tell me that, “there are no small parts, only small actors.” And the world needs you to be the truest, biggest and best you there is. It’s type casting in the best possible way.

*I chose Lucy because she can act, not because she’s asian. Racist.

Post-Graduate Depression

Dear Friend,

You have graduated from college. Your parents and relatives have congratulated you but there remains a doubt that your accomplishments are worthy is of a congratulations. But you smile and nod. After all, it may be the last time cash tucked in greeting card wishes come in the mail.

I’ve seen the days you’ve spent pouring over cover letters and resumes. I know job searching seems like a black hole, a bottomless pit where you throw all of your career dreams and future aspirations. Networking becomes a dirty word and if you have to attempt one more phone interview or draft one more inquiry e-mail…well what choice do you have?

Or maybe you already have a job. I hope it is everything you wanted but maybe it leaves something to be desired. Your working life is broken into two categories–big and small–without Goldilocks’ approval of “just right”. Your cubicle, paycheck, meaningful romantic relationships, checking account? Too small. Your student loans, job aspirations, responsibility, credit card debt and desire to be loved? Too big. And all you want is for Baby Bear to give you his porridge, his chair and his bed.

Maybe you resort to Facebook pictures of peers who look like they have figured life out already. Or the friends who are still at your alma mater-smiling and laughing because they are safe in their academic campus bubble. I’ll will never lie and tell you everyday is easy. But there is the good news. It gets better.

You ARE talented, beautiful, kind and innovative. Everyone is struggling just like you to move out of their parents house, afford nice things, be proactive and make a change in the world. Think of just how far you have come. Instead of looking at your life as one overwhelming existence, tackle small projects and small goals. One cover letter. One day learning how to cook a new meal. One class on something new. With each small success, your confidence and definition of “possible” will grow.

Yesterday, I successfully balanced a checkbook. Last week, I returned to childhood and picked apples with my parents. And two weeks ago, I was sitting at my desk wondering how I was possibly going to survive another 8 hour work day in my grey-colored cubicle.

There is no longer a right or a wrong. You will not get validation that you chose the right path and life from now on will be easy. There is only the curiosity to try something new. Do not abandon your fear. Use it to explore something difficult and beautiful.

Good luck.

Newness

Hello friends. It has been a while since I sent my thoughts out into the universe. I missed it and I’ve missed you. In the time since completing 1984, I’ve made some pretty big changes in my life. Instead of lamenting my trials and tribulations of moving to a new city into a new apartment with new roommates to start a new job, I will leave you with some wisdom I gained along the way.

  1. In furnishing your new bedroom, do not overestimate the strength of your muscles or underestimate the steepness of the stairs.
  2. If you neglect to purchase window curtains due to time and stinginess, remember that the people across the street can see you at all times–clothes or not. Welcome to the neighborhood.
  3. When attending a company picnic on the Sunday before work, assume you will get mistaken for your boss’s wife. Welcome to the company.
  4. Always stop for pedestrians. And their little dogs.
  5. When exploring a new health food grocery store, BRING A LIST. Or leave an hour later feeling extremely overwhelmed, carrying only a stick of organic deodorant and a bag of organic whole wheat penne on sale.
  6. Sign up for the customer shopper cards at every grocery store you find. It makes you feel like a local even if four separate employees stopped you in produce because they thought you needed help.
  7. Locate the caffeinated tea or coffee maker in the office. Or suffer the consequences of the 2:00pm lull. While your boss is speaking.
  8. Only cook a casserole you really enjoy eating. Because it will be your lunch and dinner for the next 7 days.
  9. Remind people you are living in a new city, trying to navigate the working world. You will get a lot of sympathetic head nods and free drinks (in theory).
  10. When in doubt, smile. It’s way cheaper than…everything else right now.

Granted, I’ve only been at work for three days (all training) and moved in only two days before that. My mom, my dad, and the old hitchhiker my dad picked up are the only people who have ridden in my “new” ’98 Subaru Forester. My personal budgeting sheet is a template I downloaded online and don’t know how to use. In absence of my mature wisdom, I will leave you with a quote by Victor Kiam.

Even if you fall on your face, you’re still moving forward. 

Motivational? Perhaps. Realistic? Definitely.

The Linchpin to Your Own Creative Habit

Recently I met a woman struggling to decide her next career path. She was significantly older than I was, mid-50’s, and currently unemployed. To get her bachelors degree, this woman went to school full-time, worked in New York City, and made time to pick up her son from college when he needed to come home. Now as an experienced financial analyst, she is working part-time filing papers and doing little better than minimum wage. I was struck by the failure of her determined work ethic and “keep-my-head-down” kind of attitude, trying to make ends meet. In my opinion, she had worked hard and deserved  better opportunities without needing to worry about relocating back to New York or planning for retirement.

This one woman’s story is all too common. In the current job market, both young college graduates and middle-aged professionals find themselves in the same position– unemployed. I have friends who spend hours online, combing through job listings and tweaking cover letters, sending their career futures deep inside the Internet’s black hole. Unlike opportunities in the past, hard work and good grades just aren’t enough. Employers are looking for something more.

I recent read two seemingly different books that address this problem in very similar ways. Seth Godin’s book Linchpin: Are You Indispensable, discusses the changing business market through a how-to guide toward becoming an indispensable employee in any company or career opportunity. Godin defines a linchpin as an individual who functions as an essential part of their organization or business without necessarily identifiable job responsibilities. Linchpins accomplish tasks without waiting to be asked, assigned or directed. They think outside the normal confines of “no,” “too difficult” or “status quo”. Godin reminds us that while it may appear only the smartest and the best can attain such a coveted linchpin position, every individual has the power to create and make a change. At a time when the market is obsessed with cheaper and faster, Seth Godin argues companies need more creativity and art in order for success.

The second book is written by Twyla Tharp, titled The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It For Life. Her how-to book explores the ways to work your creative muscles, to create and explore around the mental blocks all artists face at one time or another. Tharp approaches artistic creation from a dancer’s point of view but uses personal experiences and everyday exercises translatable in any medium of creative thought and design. Choreographing a dance is not easy and it is never easy. But the awareness of that struggle and ability to move beyond is one reason why any art (painting, engineering, carpentry) is such as essential part of the human spirit.

Both Godin and Tharp share a wholehearted faith in the power of the creative mind. Creativity, unlike hard work and following the rules, is constantly evolving and requires present, complex thought. In my mind these authors’ unique philosophies present us with a challenge. Approach your current or future job as if you are an invaluable and intelligent asset; one with the knowledge and creative insight to see opportunity and make a revolutionary change. Picture how interesting your job would be. Granted, there will always be assignments and deadlines that cannot be changed. Some paperwork must be completed regardless of your insight and ingenuity. A creative linchpin, however, looks for the moments of challenge and improvisation to create something new, something the world cannot believe it has previously lived without. The world may be waiting for you.

Also read: Forbes’ The Key Missing Ingredient In Leadership Today

College Grad: Permission to Wander

“Not all who wander are lost.” J.R.R. Tolkien. 

I found this quote scrawled on one of my father’s shirt this morning as I was hanging clothes. (Yes, sometimes I do chores). The words part of a larger quote from the Lord of the Rings, stuck with me. I found myself wondering, “How many college graduates leave school with the intention to wander, to see and explore, throwing longterm plans and cares to the wind?”

Engineering firms, Peace Corps, communication agencies, Teach for America, graduate school–hiring the best and the brightest. Many of my college friends have already solidified jobs, fellowships, and placement in graduate programs with a clear start toward their career path. They seem so ready, hungry for the chance to make a change, make money and make a difference. Have they postponed their opportunity to wander?

I can’t blame them. I too got swept up in the wave of applications, interviews and “See resume attached” e-mail bodies. During finals week, I accepted an offer from Center for EcoTechnology, a one-year fellowship position doing residential environmental outreach. I have a plan. Helping people save energy in Massachusetts. Finally I can hold my head high and say, “Yes I do have a plan after graduation” at awkward family gatherings.

Now, in just over a month I will begin in a new town with a new job and a new start. Craigslist is my new bookmark favorite as I search for apartments, a used car and available items to furnish my hypothetical new bedroom. I’ve tried to remember the last new friend I’ve made, how exactly strangers move from the awkward initial encounter to texting pals and Friday night plans. Am I settling for a short-term organized plan instead of wandering, exploring the unknown outside of academia? I don’t know. Maybe the act of wandering is more of a mindset anyway. One can only fear the fear of being lost.

Post-Grad just came on TV. Time to watch someone else struggle with life after college.

Passenger Seat Experiences

It’s been almost a week since I left the small farm in New Jersey, waving to the kids as they ran alongside the car. The “Welcome Katelyn” poster, which had hung on my bedroom door, was tucked into the backseat with messages scribbled into colored markers. I could still taste the cake Ellie baked as a goodbye surprise the night before. Yellow with purple frosting. Henry wanted to eat the piece with the K so Katelyn would be in his stomach.

I took a picture at the farm before leaving–a newly formed WWOOFer tradition. The sheep and goats were camera-shy, skirting just outside the lens of the camera. Rosie, the goose, was the only one willing to pose with me after nibbling at my fingers and pants. I was glad to have some physical documentation of my time on the farm. Ei-ei-o.

The day after I came home, I found myself outside aggressively weeding the overgrown garden near the garage. There was little to nothing salvageable: some flowers and a small pine tree that spouted itself between the long green weeds. I pulled, raked, cut, sliced and relocated two yellow-spotted salamander before the ground was ready to be planted. I surveyed my handiwork with pride. My last two weeks of routine put to the test.

Last night I pulled up Janelle’s bread recipe and followed the directions, mixing flour, salt, and yeast together before letting the dough sit on the counter while I slept. In the morning, I pulled the sticky consistency from the bowl dusting the majority of the kitchen with flour before sliding the steaming loaf out of the oven. Golden crust just like I remembered.

We meet people all the time, those who share our lives for a couple of brief moments or for long years extended from childhood. It’s all too easy to push the gas petal and drive along without stopping to look back and think about the places we’ve been and the people we left. Incorporating past experiences, recipes, gardening tips or favorite jokes can keep those memories in the passenger seat instead of disappearing into the image reflected in the rearview mirror. Thank you Wilkinson family for your warmth, knowledge, and kindness that will follow with me along the road toward the future. 

Final Finals Week

The end of the semester is a whirlwind. The last day of classes, a time for celebration, is short-lived. Finals week looms overhead like a dark thundercloud that releases a torrent of battered GPAs and hastily packed belongings. Students spend time hunched over flashcards or perched for hours in the corners of the library, face illuminated by gray computer screens. Long sleepless nights are fueled by espresso shots, unplanned naps, and fierce adrenaline only the fear of a failing grade can produce. As exams finish and the days accumulate, short tearful goodbyes are heard through the halls and across the quad. A common phrase “the last” becomes attached to thoughts and actions so seemingly mundane activities hold increased importance. The last time I’ll see you before going abroad. The last time we’ll live on the same freshmen hall. The last time I’ll eat in the caf.

I almost missed the subtle difference between the end of this semester and semesters in the past. The papers, exams, and expectations were the same. The cups of coffee and time spent furiously revising the perfect conclusion paragraph reflected any other finals week. I watched my underclassmen friends pack up their SUVs and move futons from their cramped dorm rooms into storage units for the summer months. Yet whenever I attached “the last” to a completed activity, the weight of my words hung heavy  as they slipped into the air.

Approximately 43 minutes ago, I emailed my final assignment off to my professor.

“I have attached my personal reflection. Thanks for a great semester. -Katelyn”

And that was it. I would be lying if I told you a fanfare sounded or a chorus of voices floated through my open bedroom window. The only confirmation I received signifying the end of my 19 year academic career was a Gmail text box. Your message has been sent. Time to move on.

Tomorrow I will pack up and travel with four best friends to Hilton Head, South Carolina for a 7-day extravaganza affectionately known as “Senior Week.” This migration happens across the campus as people pack up and drive down south for one last hurrah. This is the time for reliving the past four years of our undergraduate experience with strong drinks and stronger friendships. It will be glorious and fleeting– a beautiful sunset that disappears as soon as the camera lens clicks into focus.

So bottoms up to the last of many things and the first of many more. Image