This Week's Mind Nugget: You are Not a Robot [7/25/17]

I once read a quote by Tina Fey that I think is applicable to a variety of life's endeavors, but especially those that are creatively inclined. Very eloquently, she states: "Yes, you’re going to write some sketches that you love and are proud of forever—your golden nuggets. But you’re also going to write some real sh*t nuggets. And unfortunately, sometimes the sh*t nuggets will make it onto the air. You can’t worry about it. As long as you know the difference, you can go back to panning for gold on Monday." 

Now, here's the thing. I find too often that I try to write with the intention of it coming out exactly how I want it to, to have it fit into my predetermined mold of how I think it should look or be. To emerge fully-formed and shiny and pretty and complete, and well...perfect. But let me tell you something. Newborn babies do not come out of the womb shiny and pretty and smiling. No, they come out slimy and red-faced and screaming like little fireballs of saliva-spitting creatures that would come out of a Nintendo game. 

Creativity is like a newborn baby. We don't always pop out the golden nuggets the first time. We don't always hit home runs the first go-around. Sometimes, despite our best efforts, we miss the mark with spectacularly flying colors. But the point of it all—"it all" being writing or painting or whatever your creative endeavor may be—is to feel like we're not alone in these wild thoughts of ours. Isn't that was art is all about? To strike something in someone's core, to bring out some emotion or thought or idea that was previously dormant inside? That's what we humans are after. Connection. Whether that is through art, social interactions, our work...we want to connect to people. We want to feel like we're not alone. And why shouldn't that include missing the mark? We are humans. We make mistakes. We fall short sometimes. We create sh*t nuggets. 

And hey, that's okay. 

By expecting perfection, we often sabotage that very purpose. When we try to fit creative impulses into this static mold of what we think they "should" be or what we want them to be, we stifle the process.

And when you think about, they're usually the unexpected creative moments that pleasantly surprise us. The ones that deviate from the plan. Sure, it may be a sh*t nugget, but maybe that sh*t nugget will be the inspiration for a golden nugget. And maybe not. Maybe it's just a plain old sh*t nugget. So be it. Revel in the fact that that you are not a robot. You are not perfect. You ebb and flow. You fluctuate, you oscillate. You are alive.

If I'm being honest, I have a few dozen half-written blog posts that wait in Draft Folder Purgatory because they didn't come out how I wanted, or I didn't think they were good enough, or I just didn't think they were fully baked. 

But creativity is this wild, untamed thing. It's like trying to catch a firefly with your bare hands as it zips around in the air. Meaning it doesn't fit inside some neat little box. Meaning that we can try to catch one and put it in a jar to look at and call it pretty, but in the end it may not be what we expected it to be or what we wanted. And try as we might to frame it this way or that, sometimes in the end, we're only catching a tiny glimpse of all those shining burning lights in the air.

Am I making sense? No? So be it. My brain is trying to catch the fireflies and I think I've only managed to catch a wing. Sometimes it's like that. 

We all have these expectations, these standards, that we hold ourselves up to, and we too easily become vacuumed down the rabbit hole of "enough" or "not enough" by these seemingly random criteria. (Where do these standards come from by the way?) I'm not saying throw merit out the window or abandon the desire to create high caliber work. Far from it. When you know you can be better, then by all means, do the best that you can do.

What I'm saying is that we're not perfect, and to be better versions of ourselves we have to acknowledge that we must fail every once in a while. We must accept the fact that we will miss the mark, not be good, wonder what the hell we're doing. We must have the highs and the lows. The ups and the downs. We must roll and pitch with the waves. After all, we are literally made up of tiny undulating vibrations, of energy rapidly moving back and forth. In other words, in order to get the golden nuggets, we've gotta have the sh*t nuggets. 

So in honor of imperfection, I have included an old draft below that I didn't think was good enough at the time I wrote it. A piece that's been sitting in "Imperfect" Purgatory on my computer for over two years now. But reading it again makes me remember how enamored I was with Mallorca and it makes me fall in love with the place all over again. It reminds me how subjective creative evaluation is. 

My point being: sh*t nuggets are relative. So are the golden nuggets. What speaks to us in one moment, we may completely miss in another. We change, we shift. And we're not robots. We're these highly complicated weird little alien earth-creatures that laugh and tick and cry and giggle and sneeze. We're oddballs, every last one of us. We're unique. Meaning we don't fit into neat little boxes, and neither does our creativity. After all, if Norah Jones had measured her creative worth against that of Bon Jovi, she may not have found herself to be so talented. And vice versa. So, you know, perspective. Go easy on yourself. You're learning. And if you're at all taking the time to revel in your non-robot-ness, I'd say you're doing a pretty damn good job already.

So here's to being half-baked. Here's to being not how we expected or wanted but, at least in regards to creativity, being part of us nonetheless. Here's to being weird and not perfect and letting our freak flag fly. Here's to being unfinished, a work in progress, because we are continually evolving beings. And. 


Mallorca, My Farewell

I remember riding the bus to Palma one day and looking out at the mountains as the sun went down. The ridgeline of the Tramuntana was backlit, and the fields and sheep passing by were all awash in that afternoon golden color. And as the scenery flashed by the window, I remember feeling this deep gut feeling, a pulling, and trying to write down what I felt because I couldn't quite pin it, I couldn't quite settle it. It rose up from my stomach and clenched in a knot in my throat, and I realized that it was me slowly coming to the realization that I was going to have to say goodbye to this beautiful island, the acknowledgement that I had become connected to it. Pre-nostalgia. Thinking about how much I would miss this place—the turquoise water, the hikes in the mountains, the hidden caves that dotted the island's coast. That I had, slowly, fallen in love with the place. It was the realization that one day—in the very near future—I would be on the bus back to Palma for the last time. That I would be writing, typing away on my little iPhone like I was then, trying to capture those last few moments, trying to solidify them somehow. As if by writing it all down could freeze time in words, make it all permanent, or at least allow me to hold onto it for just a little bit longer. 

Now is that moment, that over weeks and months, that I dreaded. Trying to even pretend that I could bottle up my year in Mallorca into a blog post would be unfair, as if all those experiences that I’ve had could be bottled up—something that could be put into words. Although my time on the island couldn't be adequately summed up in a blog post—or 100 for that matter—I think a short recap to try to pull it all together somehow is necessary. To take a look at my year abroad and think about what I learned and what changed (if anything changed). To try to give a flavor to the place that I lived in for a year and to try to decipher what my place in it all was. 

I suppose a good place to bookend the end of a story is the beginning.

It was last September that I stuffed as much as I could of my belongings into a large duffel bag suitcase and backpack and set off with my one-way ticket from California to Mallorca, a small Spanish island in the Mediterranean. For the next year, I would be living about an hour north of the main city (Palma) in a small town by the sea called Pollença and working in the port town (about five miles away) as a Language and Culture Assistant.

For those unfamiliar with Mallorca, it’s the largest of the four Balearic Islands, located off the Mediterranean side of Spain. The island itself is situated between neighboring islands Ibiza and Formentera to the southwest and Menorca to the northeast. From the mainland, Mallorca is surrounded by France to the north, Spain to the west (Barcelona and Valencia), Morocco and Algeria to the south, and Italy to the east. 

With such close proximity to Europe and Africa, and being a prime stopping point for ships passing through the Mediterranean, Mallorca has passed through time under the rule of the Romans, the Arabs, and finally the Spanish with an assortment of ancient ruins dotting the island as proof. Visit Palma, the largest city, and you will find a giant seaside cathedral that was actually built on top of a mosque, the remains of an ancient Arab bathhouse only a ten minute walk away, and Roman ruins nearby. Needless to say, it makes for an interesting mix of culture, art, and food around the island. To top it off, Mallorca’s history is riddled with stories of pirates, and in the north you can still visit the ancient watch towers used to spot pirate ships coming towards the island.

As an attractive tourist destination, many Europeans tend to settle down on Mallorca making it a melting pot of sorts even today. At the two schools I worked at in Puerto de Pollença, in any given class I could have students from England, Romania, Sweden, Morocco, Nepal, China, Senegal, Uruguay, and more. It also wasn’t uncommon for students to come from families who were gypsies. Many of my students spoke three to four languages on average and some even dabbled in five. They all had their own family traditions, mixed into the old traditions of Mallorca. 

Mallorca itself is a place of extremes—its landscape and its weather—but with a mellow island rhythm. It’s a place that shifts with the seasons, where the pace oscillates when the weather turns cold and then warm. It’s a change that is nearly tangible, a gentle in and out of tides. Come June or November, the island assumes a new energy—you can feel it. Stores begin to open or close, more people begin to fill or empty shops. 

Mallorca’s landscape is no less extraordinary. The island is filled with wild fig and almond and olive trees, fennel and carob, huge pomegranate trees, orange and lemon groves. It’s a place with turquoise blue water and hidden caves across the island, with mountains that tower up into imposing green and grey dotted cliffs that drop dramatically into the sea below.

In winter, within a twenty minute drive it’s possible to go from ocean to snow-capped mountains. Making your way around the island is like traversing the planet in a matter of an hour. You can go from damp mossy forests, to crystal clear pool-blue Mediterranean water, to large expanses of abstract rock formations…It’s as if the island was created by someone who couldn’t quite make up their mind about what to put on it, so they just decided to put on all the toppings. 

The town that I lived in, Pollença, is surrounded by the sea and a dramatic, jutting peninsula called Formentor to the north, breathtaking mountains to the west, and beautiful and quaint villages to the east and south. It’s a town where the tourists nearly double the population in summer and where half the businesses shut down in winter. It has no stoplights, only one “big” supermarket, and where the closest movie theater is almost an hour away. It’s a place where sometimes the only means of getting in or out of the town is a bus that is scheduled to come in three hours. A town where everything is within a ten minute walking distance—the bank, the pharmacy, and the doctor—and where a bar can be found within a 30 second stroll down the street from home (in either direction). A town where your banker calls you up to have drinks, the local pharmacist is your next door neighbor, and your boss also a known local politician. Where "going to the club" on a Thursday night means making the five-minute walk to the local cafe, Club Pollença, where you get tapas and a drink for €2.50, and the average age is 65+. Where you can bike to the ocean from your house and your local beach looks like this:

Cala San Vincenc, Mallorca

Cala San Vincenc, Mallorca

The town I lived in is a place where triathlon and long distance trail running is not just a sport but a way of life, a part of their blood. A place that hosts the finish of the biggest Ultra Trail race in Mallorca and where the next town over hosts a Half Ironman in the spring and a Full Ironman in the fall. Paradise? Just about. And while it was just about the perfect dream escape, I have to admit that sometimes I went back and forth about whether I should have lived in the city, in Palma, rather than a tiny town up north. But at the end of the day I think you go through the experiences you do because of something. For some reason. Maybe you live in the places you do, meet the people you do, experience, feel, and change the way you do because of something. 

I know for a fact that I came out of this year a different person than had I lived in the city. I got more time to think, to write. I had more of an urge to explore by being where I was. I appreciate the experiences that I did—all of them, the good and the ones that put me to the test—to get me to where I am now. To grow and learn and be, and to take one step closer to understanding that this rolling spinning tide that we’re in, this whole living life thing, is a process. And while we stumble and trip our way down the road, fumble and regain our composure, we start to realize that finding ourselves in the thick of the process—and not safely on the other side of it—is okay. It's okay not to be perfect, to not understand it all, to get frustrated and laugh and cry and wonder at yourself. Because in the end, we’re still moving towards something, we're slowly but surely making our way down the road to who we want to be and who we are. It’s okay—in fact, it’s better—to not make it in one straight shot, to have a detour here and there, to get lost every once in a while.

John Muir once wrote: “We are now in the mountains and they are in us.” Now, as the year comes to a close, and I leave this small little town in the north of this beautiful island, I was struck by this quote. After spending a year on this island, I can’t help but feel the roots of this place wound into my being, and I in it. Somewhere between the mountains and the sea, the adventures and misadventures, the connections and lost-in-translations, the wave of people that entered and exited my life throughout this past year, I can’t help but feel that there will always be a little place in my heart reserved for Mallorca. 

To my friends, coworkers, and students: thank you from the bottom of my heart for making my year incredible. Thank you for taking me on adventures and showing me your beautiful island, for introducing me to some amazing restaurants and beautiful beaches and ridiculously awesome caves, for keeping me forewarned about how crazy and awesome your festivals are, for keeping me constantly entertained with your questions about American culture (What is twerking? What does "all about that base” mean?) and every once in a while the lost-in-translations (Who is your half-orange?). And thank you for putting up with my equally entertaining comments (So, conejo doesn’t just mean rabbit? How do you eat this? You call an eraser what??).

To my Auxiliar amigos: thank you for being the badass bunch of individuals you are and for making this year so memorable. I have to admit, one of the things that resinated with me the most over the year was the fact that at no moment did I ever hear anyone taking this experience for granted. I constantly heard people sputtering on top of a mountain with a great view (sandwich spot!) or at a beautiful cala: Guys how do we actually get to live here?! Or: We just travelled to such and such country…How is this real life?!

Everyone was in constant awe that this was their life, that they got to experience this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Of constant gratitude and wonder and good vibes. And I think that's one thing I appreciated the most about the people I met. The sheer love for what we were experiencing, living. Of somehow finding these golden moments and soaking them in. Of absorbing it and savoring it.

To this beautiful island: ya te hecho de menos. I'll miss your mems and your weps and your poc-a-pocs. I'll miss the adventures and the days of exploration that made me feel like a kid again. I'll miss your pa amb oli, and hell, I'll even miss your hierbas. I'll miss your demonis and your pinos. I'll miss your Toma Tíoooos and your Molt D'anys

Mallorca, you have taught me more than I could have possibly wanted to find in a year. You fed my wanderlust and taught me the art of traveling. You kept me curious and taught me how to wonder at the world. You kept me a student, to learn and to be less afraid, to trust in myself. You showed me the beauty of feeling small in this big wide world and to know that sometimes I'm not so small at all.

So after eleven countries, four islands, roughly thirty European cities and dozens more on Mallorca, and more incredible hikes and breathtaking mountains and beautiful beaches and epic caves than I can remember…it is finally time to say goodbye. 

It is strange to leave a place that you have lived in, settled in, for a year. Passing by your favorite beach, the coffee shop on the corner, the main plaza, the guy at the local market you always said hi to, and wondering whether you will ever see this place again, these people again, whether you will ever be here again in your lifetime. But as I head back to Santa Barbara, I know the same thought will be just as present there as it is here. Wherever you live, the air becomes thick with memories. You learn to love the places for their beauty and their scars, for the lessons it’s taught you. You learn to love a place for all of those moments that make up your story. 

Adéu, Mallorca (for now)!