travel

The calm before the semester

Makal - calm before semesterOver the past three weeks, I have done almost no work on my research project. Though it was always in the back of my mind, I was relieved to have the opportunity to take some time off after working on my project for 10 weeks of my precious, far too short summer. As stated in my last post, during my time off I was able to something I’ve never done before: go to the west coast.

The first stop on my west coast journey was in St. George, Utah, a city surrounded by mountains and inhabited by Mormons. My family and I went to St. George to see my uncle in a series of musicals, including “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” “Peter Pan” and “Tarzan”. As expected, my uncle was amazing. But what I wasn’t quite prepared for is how beautiful the scenery would be. We were surrounded by mountains of red rock as far as the eye could see – good for climbing, hiking and even jumping off of. My days in Utah were filled with breathtaking views of different national or state parks, and my nights were filled with breathtaking performances.

From Utah, my family took a quick one day trip to Las Vegas, Nevada. Though most people enjoy Las Vegas because of the gambling and the night life, I was plenty happy to just sit by the pool and soak up the sun after walking for miles on miles every day in Utah. Because we were only there for one day and night, I wouldn’t really say I got to experience all that Las Vegas had to offer. However, I was able to leave the city with all of the money that I showed up with, so I’d call it a success.

In Las Vegas, my family and I went our separate ways – they flew home, and I flew to San Fransisco, California to visit my boyfriend and his family. As this was my first time in California, I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect. However, I can tell you for sure that it was not what I had pictured! There were beautiful trees and grassy hills all over the town in which my boyfriend lives, no sand or palm trees to be seen, and, most shocking of all, the city of San Fransisco was absolutely FREEZING. Going from 100-degree weather in Utah to 60-degree weather in San Fransisco was quite a shock, but it was a beautiful city nonetheless. We explored all around the city, my boyfriend’s home town, and, most importantly, the many wineries in Napa.

Over the past three weeks, I have visited three new states, and had countless unforgettable experiences. Now, with just a week left before classes start, it is time for me to get ready to get back into research mode. Once classes begin, so too does the rest of my research (as well as campus jobs, grad school applications and more). I am truly lucky to have been able to spend the last few weeks of my summer exploring with the people that I care about, but it is now time for me to focus on myself, my school work and my research.

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Exploring My Freedom

Makal - Exploring My Freedom
As I sat, just a few days ago, in a conference room in Baker Hall surrounded by my fellow Fellows and their advisers, waiting quite impatiently for my turn to present the work I have done over the summer, I got to thinking about what I’ve done in the past three months. Of course, I know what I have accomplished in terms of my research project, as that was the core of the presentation. For those of you who missed it, here are some of the highlights:

  • I generated two unique research questions and hypotheses.
  • I crafted a research experiment to address these questions and hypotheses.
  • I found and created measures and manipulations with which to perform this research experiment.
  • I formulated these measures and manipulations into a coherent, hopefully acceptable IRB application (for which I am still waiting on approval).
  • I programmed all of the information from the IRB application into the online platform through which my study will eventually be made available to participants.

Though there is still work to be done before the school year, specifically in terms of piloting my study to ensure that there are no further changes to be made, and (God willing!) receiving IRB approval, I am able to look back on this summer and say that I have accomplished most of my goals. This is an incredible feeling – almost as good of a feeling as sitting down after completing my presentation. However, as I sat in that room sweaty and anxious, I was not thinking about my research goals and accomplishments. I was, instead, thinking about the summer I was able to have outside of my research.

This summer, thanks to the flexibility of the fellowship program, I was able to continue on with my job at the Carnegie Mellon University Store, enabling me to make some extra money. I then swiftly blew through this money during my travels, which included my family’s annual summer vacation to Wisconsin, as well as multiple trips to Washington, D.C. to visit my boyfriend and explore a new and historic city. Some of my most fond and educational memories of the summer come from the traveling I was able to do, and I cannot express my gratitude to the fellowship program for making this possible. Additionally, as I have written about before, I found a new love this summer: hot yoga. Having the flexibility to attend daily classes has allowed me to improve myself, both physically and mentally, in ways that I hope will carry into the rest of my life off of the mat.

Though I have already had a very fulfilling summer, it is now time for me to take some time off and regroup before the school year starts. In this next month, I will continue my travels – this time going out west to Utah and then on to California. I will still be in contact with my faculty adviser through email, sorting out any issues that may come about during study piloting that will occur while I’m gone. However, I can confidently say that I have made it through this summer of research, and that I have great momentum and hopes for when I get back to it in the fall.

Transition

My mind was wandering. There I was, in a beautiful, pre-Hitler-era building in Munich, Germany, sitting next to my favorite 77 year-old German woman, listening to my apartment-mate play the last song that stood between him and his bachelor’s degree in classical cello. And I could not keep my mind still.

As soon as I sat down, I knew I would be in for a treat. The room, adorned with a stunning golden wall hanging and a shiny, black piano, waited patiently for us to fill it. When the concert began, every corner seemed to swell with the perfectly played notes that my apartment-mate had practiced with patience and dedication for this very moment. My whole body felt cushioned by the sound, floating effortlessly, drifting with ease.

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And then a thought wiggled its way into my mind, making a wedge between the music and my internal calm. I couldn’t quite locate its origin. I just knew that it was there. I took a deep breath. As I exhaled, I watched the thought float out of the open window.

But just as soon as that one was gone, a new one was in its place. I didn’t want to be distracted. After all, cello has always been one of my favorite instruments. I knew I should be here, in this moment, fully present, and totally surrendered to the good fortune at play. But it was a struggle.

My somewhat rambling adventures this summer have given me the luxury of wandering in both body and mind. This is something I have come to enjoy, and something that has become an integral aspect of my thesis. I seem to be in a constant state of motion, and I love it.

As I write this, I am sitting in the bustling Oakland airport, watching as planes arrive and depart. With so much movement around me, I can’t help but to think of the transition that lies ahead. This year especially, returning to my home in Maryland and then, soon after, to Pittsburgh has left me somewhat torn.

On the one hand, I am thrilled. I have missed cooking, having a space of my own, doing laundry (said no one ever…I know), and most of all, sleeping in my bed. Yet, in reestablishing my routine, I feel that I will miss so much more. I will miss every day being a new adventure, being surrounded by some of my favorite people in the world, and feeling so full of love and gratitude in each and every moment. It’s not that I can’t access those same feelings when I am in school, it’s just that it is so much harder. But since I can’t bear to let the reality of this summer slip away, I will have to find a way to continue to grow and thrive, even in depths of winter.

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Change is always a double-edged sword. And this time, I know a big change lies ahead. As I contemplate my return to Pittsburgh and my impending role as full-time student for my final year, I am filled with a similar mix of emotions.

Between juggling my thesis, completing classwork, and spending every possible moment enjoying my friends, I know this culminating year will be a whirlwind of its own. But, oddly enough, I feel ready.

This Week’s Inspiration:

For the Eyes: I’ve been on the hunt for a new pair of sunglasses (you can see a contender below) for a year. Maybe I’m just indecisive, but there are so many cute options! Fun, vintage accessories are especially catching my eye right now.

For the Ears: Have you ever stopped and listened to what’s going on around you? As a writer, I love taking a minute in a coffee shop, restaurant, store, or any public place, just to listen. Is that creepy? Hopefully not.

For the Soul: Deepak Chopra and Oprah Winfrey have been leading a free meditation experience since July 13th that I am loving so much. It’s in its final few days, but I would definitely recommend checking out the Chopra Center Meditation website.

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Til next time, friends.

Learn more about my project.

Time Out

At this point in the summer, working on my thesis feels like a full-time job. There, I said it. This is work. And a lot of it. Don’t get me wrong, I am happy to be able to write for my “job,” but it has definitely shown me a side of the creative process that I had never before experienced. How lucky am I though, that I am able to figure this out over the summer, when I have infinitely more time than I would during the semester? Very lucky, indeed.

Last week, just when the task of writing all-day, every day, started to take its toll, I was fortunate enough to be able to take a break, to fly across the country, reunite with one of my dearest friends, and give myself a few blissful days of rest from the world of my own creative mind. And trust me, when you spend all day hatching plans for people who don’t really exist, getting out of your own mind is welcome change of pace.

Where was this carefree land I flew to, you might be asking? Seattle, Washington.

1st stop, Pike Place Market

1st stop, Pike Place Market

Before embarking on this trip, I really knew very little about Seattle. This summer one of my friends is interning there and invited me for a long weekend. And since I had never been to the West Coast, I was definitely on board. Back when I planned the trip, I never could have guessed that it would be the perfect time to shake up my writing routine, but it certainly was!

My goals for this visit were twofold: to soak up as much of the city and surrounding area as possible, and to take ALL of the pictures. I didn’t want to stress myself out with a million things to do, but I also knew it would be the perfect location for taking photos I would never be able to take anywhere else.

So, off I went. And let me tell you, friends, it was incredible.

Hellooo, Emerald City, amiright?

Hellooo, Emerald City, amiright?

There is something about being in a new city that has such a fantastic potential to breathe new life into your creative muscles.(Well, probably all of your muscles, as my calves would tell you. But I chose to focus on the creatives ones.) My trip lasted from Thursday afternoon to early-early Tuesday morning. And since my friend worked the Friday and Monday of my trip, I had those days to wander by myself. Those unscripted moments were so enriching.

Camera in-hand, I meandered through Pike Place Market, streets adorned with gorgeous homes, and the bustling retail core. I may have had one or two real destinations on these days, but I was more focused on the journey. I walked whenever I could, enjoying the new sights that being on-foot allowed me to see, and talking with people I bumped into along the way.

When can I move in?

When can I move in?

On the Sunday of my visit, we took possibly the most beautiful hike I have ever taken in my entire life. Granted, I don’t do hikes often, but I’m pretty sure that even if I did, this one would be tops.

Speechless

Speechless

And while it was definitely a physical challenge at times, I couldn’t help but to fall in love with every single step I took.

Lake Twenty Two

Lake Twenty Two

Too often, I find myself with my eyes narrowly focused on the end goal, the finished project, the top of the mountain, the final due date. And while it’s perfectly fine and advisable to be aware of where you are going, this trip to Seattle emphasized for me the importance of enjoying the moments along the way.

I wonder if perhaps some of my exhaustion in terms of my own work was that I never truly allowed myself to take pleasure in the individual stories. So far, each new narrative has just been one closer to the end. So of course it would feel monotonous. But the creative process shouldn’t feel that way. Life shouldn’t feel that way. I just had to step out of my routine to see that.

I’ll leave you now with this week’s inspiration:

For the Eyes: Nature. While the weather is nice, take an afternoon away from your screens, your social media, and your stresses. It’s amazing what a little time in the wilderness can do. (And this is coming from a true city-lover.)

For the Ears: Silence. Every once in a while, there is something so refreshing about turning off the music.

For the Soul: Generosity. Be generous with your time, with your affection, with your humor, and with yourself.

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Til next time, friends.

Read more about my project.