Thursday, November 26, 2015

I'm always early to class. Arriving early is a habit of mine, one I have no real need or desire to break. Anticipating this, I grabbed a few of my books off the bookshelf to occupy the downtime. Side note: my stuff arrived from the states a few weeks ago and I've been so happy to have all of my books in one place, on shelves. There is a comfort to their presence. I grabbed a few and made my way to the metro to go to school.

One of the books I grabbed was my friend Tait's collection of poetry called "Shortcut to Infinity." I first read it years ago shortly after he handed it to me. It was the right book to take with me yesterday. A few poems in, I started to feel a calm I had forgotten about--that wonderful feeling that is strictly for the intake of art and expression, that warmth and knowing and lifting of the spirit that poetry has always given me. I haven't read poetry in a while, and I have missed that feeling, that internal movement and flare to flame that turns me inspired.

It wasn't just that feeling, but also a feeling of familiar. A home that I know stays with me, even after departure. His poems echoed Pittsburgh, and brought back memories and things I haven't thought about in quite some time. Wonderful things, both large and slight. Like the pinball machine in the Quiet Storm. Like the shows and late nights and long walks. In reading them, I remembered that young and wild, that persistent need to stay out stay up stay inspired, stay writing. We all were barely ever standing still in that city. Now, it is a different place and we are all a bit different too, but there is still a heartbeat in memory. A glory in remembering.

I left Pittsburgh after living there for 13 years. At that point, the city was a part of me and it was time. When I think back, what I miss the most(aside from friends of course) is how free the place let me be. I lived all of my 20s there, grew up in it, and it was a wonderful city to grow and be in. Artistically, I always felt supported and at the same time challenged. There were weeks where you could stumble into a poetry gig more nights than not. Pittsburgh played a phenomenal role in shaping me as an artist, in teaching me how to brave and to try things. I carry these things with me, I hold them close even thousands of miles from the source.

Living overseas, all this newness and shifting, has not been easy for me. The past few weeks have also rendered me physically and mentally tired--I think overdoing my training has a deeper source...all that time spent in the gym focusing on exertion. I have not been writing like I am used to. I have deprived myself of a balance and the balance is essential to who I am and how I feel. I never want to say I forgot about that feeling of being moved, of the flame flickering strong again, but I will say I have deprived myself of it. Maybe it's some strange part of me that insists on hard times being their absolute hardest--when I need what I need the most, I pull away. I go without. Maybe this is an old self-preservation habit, an outdated thing that does more harm than good. I'm almost certain I've written about this sort of habit before.

How simple and sweet it is to remember through a friend's poetry. To recall where I have been, to recognize where I am now. To see that I am hardest on myself, for whatever reason. It is not a complicated notion to feel inspired, to seek that out on the daily. But I have made it so. Have flung myself far enough from it to think it is no longer an option. Sometimes I feel like I treat myself as if I've disappeared. Reading poetry yesterday for the first time in gosh-knows-how-long sunk me back into my flesh. It felt very much like coming home, and home may be a hundred things and places and people, but the true most-fitting home is me. This has never felt so true.

I wrote Tait, and told him thank you. And now I write this, and I do so as a promise to myself. Stop running. Stop pulling away from what you need the most. Stop scrawling maps when you know the way. Feed the flame, and glow madly with the light.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

at ease.

My overtraining? Confirmed.

Friday night, I hit my proverbial bottom. I've been feeling pretty terrible for the past few weeks, each day a little more in the gutter. Each night sleeping less. During the day Friday I decided it was time to take a week off and rest(hence my last blog post). In the middle of the night, J woke up having a hard time breathing(I think he might have sucked air and/or saliva down the wrong pipe in his sleep). He got up immediately and tried to work through hyperventilating. This woke me up, and I jumped out of bed quickly to see if he was okay. Within seconds of standing, I felt incredibly dizzy and nauseous, which drove me out of the room and to the bathroom. I passed out as soon as I entered it, falling against the sink and counter. I registered the noise when it happened, even though I don't remember "seeing" it(the evidence of falling was also visible in the disarray of objects on the counter afterward). I opened my eyes to find myself on the floor with my head against the cabinet. I roused myself to a sitting position and immediately got sick. I broke out into a phenomenal sweat at this point--fat drops of it dripping off my nose and chin. I left a puddle of it in the shape of my legs when I finally got up. J was getting his breathing back to normal while checking on me, and I was a mess. Shivering, sweating, crying. I was sick again thirty minutes later and slept fitfully on the pull out couch bed for the rest of the night.

In the morning, we called the doctor. I also discovered a decent gash on my chin from when I fainted. They could see us that afternoon, which was a relief.

So. Saturday afternoon I had a plethora of tests done. EKG, nerve tests, urine dip, pregnancy test, blood pressure taken sitting/standing/laying down, and 7 vials of blood were drawn for a battery of tests including blood sugar and inflammatories. He checked my pancreas, kidneys, liver, and appendix. I was also given a referral to the eye doctor--the floaters I've been experiencing in my vision could have indicated retinal detachment(I went to the eye doctor and my eyes, thankfully, checked out fine). My heart rate was good at 50bpm, blood pressure very low(but it always has been), negative pregnancy test, my blood sugar is fine so no diabetes. I received the rest of my blood test results this morning and everything looks normal. Very, very good news to receive.

I haven't worked out since Friday, and I've been feeling a lot better. More like myself. I'm not incredibly fatigued anymore, and I'm sleeping better. I'm not in as much pain, but I still have floaters in my vision which is more annoying than anything. My doctor agrees that I am very overtrained and need to rest.

I'm feeling a little embarrassed and, quite frankly, bewildered. I should know better. I've read so much about training methods and the dangers of overtraining, but my thoughts remained along the lines of "that will never happen to me." Despite tracking all of my workouts, I lost track. It is not enough to simply write it down and do the work. It's important to take the time and care to review your program and note progression...but this review should also include basic common sense and fairness to one's own body. My training grew to a volume that my nutrition had no chance to keep up with. After this week of rest, I will be returning slowly to training. I'm already getting antsy and feeling ready to get back to lifting/pushing/pulling heavy things, but that antsy feeling is exactly why I need to take a moment to cool my jets. Rushing my recuperation will gain me nothing.

If you are physically active, in any capacity, please bear in mind that rest is an important part of your regimen. Muscle growth doesn't happen in the gym--growth occurs during rest, after the trauma of training. If you do not listen, your body will raise its voice until it is heard. My intentions were always rooted in good, but I pushed too hard for too long and tipped over. Lesson learned.

Friday, November 20, 2015

of the too much variety

I haven't been feeling well lately. A handful of symptoms to grimace and yawn through, a few worrisome enough to engage in the fine art of denial. My migraines bring with them a general malaise, and since I've had a few more than usual over the past few weeks, I figured my exhaustion was part of the usual game. But then the headaches cleared and the fatigue did not. I would go to bed tired and lay awake for hours with a mind determined to think all of the thoughts in rapid succession. In the morning I was waking up acutely aware of every joint in my body, some hollering more loud than others. Shuffle to my coffee, stretch on the couch, and reluctantly get up and head back to the gym with my notebook of sets and reps written out.

This morning I grabbed denial by the shoulders and did some shaking, then some googling and reading, then some confirming. Here I was wanting to think that overtraining was a mythical state, something too major league for my minor activity. But after looking at all of the symptoms and my documented workout days, it's quite clear that I've tipped my balance and fallen right into the overtrained category. Chronic joint and muscle soreness, check. Insomnia, check. Spots in my vision? Check(this one has been really bugging me lately). Weight loss and appetite loss, check check. Irritability, check. Doing too much? Yes. For nearly two months now I've been dedicated to spending 6 days a week lifting. I document my workouts time-wise for each day, and I've clocked over an hour for each workout for the past two weeks. Yikes. The regimen started out innocently enough, but with time I've added reps, sets, weights, and variations. Added, and not really taken away.

Today I decided to take at least a week off from lifting. During my rest, I plan on figuring out a way to better balance my diet--keep it protein heavy but be generous with carbs since I need those bad boys for energy. I will also be redesigning my training program, because my current load is absolutely not sustainable. My body hurts in ways I am not used to. My mood sucks. And progress-wise, I'm starting to regress. There is such a fine line between training and overtraining--the instinct is to lift more, lift heavier. But if you don't manage the load and allow proper recovery, your muscles never fully repair themselves. All that progression ends up in the dirt, and you end up losing muscle(and even bone density).

I called my dad today to talk to him about it. "You get that from me," he said, before listing his own arsenal of workouts from the previous week. Five spin classes, a long bike ride, and three sessions in the gym. And he's 65. So yes, I guess it's in our nature to overdo it. I expressed my frustration to him--I love working out, sweating, getting stronger. But I hate that I let my love for it push me to this current state. I see it in my eyes, I feel it in my joints, I hear it in my voice when, for the umpteenth time in a row, I don't have the energy to even go out to dinner.

My solution comes in two parts: rest and diet. I'm going to take a break from the gym. I'm going to take a look at my diet and I'm hoping that I'm dealing with this overtraining business in a timely manner--approximately four of my symptoms fall in line with having high levels of cortisol(the body's long term stress hormone). High levels can lead to adrenal fatigue, which can require a longer recovery time.

I'm writing this out(and sharing it) because I don't want to do it again. I'm writing this out because I am currently in school to become a personal trainer, and it's my responsibility to promote healthy habits within myself so I can extend that to my clients. I suppose it's good, in a way, to experience the effects of this so I understand the consequences. Despite overtraining, I'm proud of the hard work I've done this year, in and out of the classroom. I'm motivated to continue and grow stronger. Growing stronger simply requires being smarter about how I get there.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

There is this thing that happens when you are unsettled for learn to keep the ends of yourself that like to take root tucked in. You learn to be untethered. You pack your bags better. You learn the beautiful art of arriving, being, then leaving. You figure it out, even if you aren't planning to. We, us human beings, are quite adaptable. We will even adapt to impermanence. Which is why staying put was beginning to feel like the most bizarre thing to do.

I am here, and I no longer feel like a tourist. I'm enrolled in a school. I have an address, a flat to come home to(a flat to reference with the very word home). I have to-do lists and places to be at certain times--the making of a schedule, which I could not successfully find for myself in Cairo. I can walk home from class, at night, and not be bothered once. The cafe next to my school knows my face(and my order: pb and banana with a lemon-mint).

We had the last of our curtains installed today. I had to slip Egyptian one pound coins into the bottom hem to keep them from billowing out so much with the flow of air conditioning. The winter months are quickly approaching, which brings sweet relief after that relentless Dubai summer heat. Day temperatures in the 90s, nights in the 70s. The wind today was extra strong, pushing limbs out of the way to expose more of the nearby skyline.

The wind also mocked my budding green thumb by whisking away a plant of mine to the parking garage below.

For me it is the little things. Riding the metro with a perfect accompanying song in my headphones. Constantly falling for the afternoon light. Buying fresh strawberry juice. The beautiful, fluid nature of the rear delt crossover. Sand sneaking in between my foot and sandal as I walk home from the train. The mime I share nods with outside of my school. Stumbling on odd little charms.

Much of my days are filled with purposeful movement. I move until sweat pours. I have discovered a new poetry of the body. Muscles moving in melody. I've been weightlifting for just over seven months now, and my body has changed, bringing with it a shift in mind too. When I get stuck in my head, I go to my breath. When I get stuck in my head, I go to the gym. When I get stuck in my head, sometimes I stay there until I'm too tired to stick around. Some things never change. Most things do.

I can't help but marvel at how unaware some people are. The daily things. I get whisked away by the grind too, but lately I'm moving to dodge more and more people who are too busy looking down at their phones to notice that they are about to walk straight into a person. Bodies so consumed with getting onto the train that they barely leave room for people to get off it. Walking around in the Middle East in general feels a bit like a game of chicken. None of these things are surprising. I walk around listening to comedy podcasts, trying not to bust out laughing.

To celebrate a brief break in studying, I'm digging into a writing project that I've been kicking around for a while. For years, easily. For November I'm hoping to unravel some more creativity here--my shipment from the states should be arriving this weekend or next week, which means access to all of the writing I've kept--bar napkin scrawls, third drafts, class assignments, brainstorms galore--a nice file box of importance I put together in 2014 as I prepared to leave Pittsburgh.

More soon. I'm off to find some dinner.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

cerebellum buzz, like bee

all the paper butterflies

Lately I've been silent on here for two reasons:

1: I am busy. Be it adjusting to medicine, a new country, to being in school again, new routines. In the brain and outside of the brain, the days go fast and the plate is full.

and reason #2: I keep waiting for the "right" time to update. I've been defining "right" as in: absurdly overjoyed, inspired, structurally thoughtful(as opposed to usual order of chaos), and bursting with stories and pictures.

Here's the thing: today I've been in a shitty mood. I don't feel well. I'm stressed out. My brain feels like a ripped open cushion. My body hurts and, in full disclosure, I devoured far too much hummus in one sitting for dinner.

So yes, now is in fact the perfect time to post something here, because life we know is not a blog. She is oblong and messy with good days and boring days and in betweens and out of sorts.

I go to school three nights a week, three hours a night--all lecture. Outside of that, I have hours of shadowing trainers and taking other(physical activity) classes to accumulate. I'm also doing a four day training split in the gym myself. When I come home from class, my brain is complete mush. The oatmeal made with too much water and left in the microwave variety. The first bit of the course is all anatomy and biomechanics, which is fascinating to learn about but also pretty tough. Lately I've been making flashcards for myself so I can remember the names of all the muscles. A quadricep is not a quadricep--it's four muscles, each with their own name. Our first exam is in 19 days.

learnin' levers

Since the beginning of my new career commitment, I've been holding fast to positive, determined thoughts. I tell myself you got this multiple times when I am feeling overwhelmed by the information in front of me. I visualize what this will mean a year from now. I think about what my philosophy as a personal trainer will be to set me apart from the rest. I'm trying not to get ahead of myself, and falling behind isn't an option. I'm working hard. Every night I have my school binders, anatomy charts and notebooks spread out on the couch and coffee table. I know that if I really want this, then I have to work hard from the word go. Despite a massive amount of stress, I'm feeling pretty damn proud of myself. I got this.

Meanwhile, I'm adjusting to a new dosage of my medication, which means two weeks of a fuzzy-edged existence whether I want it or not. I've been trying to identify symptoms before they get too wild--this adjustment period means I'm more tired, headache-y, and achy in general. I think I'm just about through the thick of it.

apartment hunting

J and I have been searching for a flat, and we signed on one today. I think we will be relocating in a week. We've been in a residential hotel, which is fine for the purpose it serves. We have our essentials and can get to where we need to be via the metro or a taxi. But I think we are past the point of daydreaming about ruling our own space again, with our own things, etc. It's hard to feel settled in temporary housing. Real estate is a funny thing here in Dubai--places go fast. A lot of units are very similar to each other, so it's important to look for the little things that make them unique. The things we wanted in a place weren't too crazy, we knew what specific areas to look in, and we have a fantastic agent who knew exactly what to show us. We thought we had found THE place last week, but had to rescind our offer due to shady landlord things. I think we were lucky to have it not work out, in a way--it set us up to be ready to go for the place we did end up finding and signing for. Meanwhile, the bulk of our possessions are at port in Egypt, and the rest of mine are in the soon as we have residency established, these two shipments will get the go ahead. In a few months time, we should have all our things in one place. International moves are no joke.

I'm carving out little routines for myself. J and I found a hotel bar with cheap-enough drinks and giant screens for viewing futbol and rugby. I take the metro to and from class, headphones in both ways. It's quite nice to take public transportation regularly again. I'm no longer getting lost when I venture to the mall(I was getting lost on a daily basis at first). There's still a whole lot of exploring to be done. The weather is cooling down here slowly(highs of 100 degrees instead of 108, that's Dubai's version of "cool down"), and I miss autumn's brilliant show back home--changing of leaves, the emergence of scarves, days of nothing but rain and grey. When you're used to it, and it goes away, there is a missing that occurs. Will I miss winter? Probably not. Fall always had a romance to it, I think.

All this, and writing too. My pen is starting to move again, after much agonizing over its stillness.

More soon. Time to study.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

such great heights

photo by JG

Last Thursday we went to the 125th floor of the tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa.

I loved watching other people as they looked to the city sprawled out below them. The selfies and poses, open mouths and huddle of bodies.

I put my hands on the glass lightly(a surface cool to the touch) and tried to see beyond what I could see. Past the haze. Past smudged sun setting that turned the sky into a layered rainbow. Blood on the bottom and violet near the stars. You know the one.

We had just missed the magic hour of light, but still managed to snap a few of the sun if we leaned just enough to the right.

As time passed and the viewing crowd thinned out, I was able to find a view in the corner, alone. I needed a moment. I kept thinking I am here I am here I am really truly here. The world below looked toy-like as the sun kept slipping and darkness replaced her. Lights along the roadways lit up and turned the entire thing secretive. I did not expect to feel the way I felt. Content, unlost.

Here's to new adventures and inspiring perspectives.

Friday, September 18, 2015

I had a bit of the new city blues today. This can happen with newness. I walked around a lot in the early afternoon, letting the hum blend into my edges, became a part of it. Realized I am a part of it, even if everything feels separate. I craved a little normalcy so I did a load of laundry. The drying rack barely fits on our meager balcony, but cleanliness is draped all over her now, cockeyed but steady. I write and stutter through email. I buy comfy track pants at the Carrefour for 12 Durhams. They were buried in a pile of other track pants and tshirts that a row of shoppers were rummaging through. A worker was nearby, slowly folding each article in the chaos. Act of sisyphus. I stuck around and folded a couple myself.

Bulgar and almonds and silence for lunch. I have songs stuck in my head that I don't know all the words to.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

dubai (1)

As predicted, J and I hit the ground running once we landed in Dubai. We dragged our six suitcases off the belt and into a taxi van, which took us straight to our residential hotel. We will be here for the next 30 days, or until we find a flat. It is a short walk from the Mall of Emirates and the metro, so we can get around quite easily. Our room is really nice with a decent-sized kitchen and living room area. When you're staying long-term, these two things are necessary. Sidenote: I'm so very happy that J packed the coffee press.

Our view from the living room area is less than ideal...

...but we do have a tiny balcony we can stand on if we want. I can't really say I've wanted to hang on the balcony all that much since arrival--it's hot here. Really, really hot. A fascinating heat, really. Going outside, you feel like you're standing behind the hot engine of a car or blow dryer, so your basic instinct tells you to move away from this heat, but when you move the blow dryer follows you right in the face. The coolest day was 96 degrees. The rest are about 106(and in the spring/summertime, it's much worse). I knew this about Dubai, but it's still a kick in the face when you go outside. I've been in a vicious tango with an on-again, off-again migraine since our arrival, and I think the heat gets partial blame here. Stay hydrated and suck it up. That's been my motto.

Coming from Cairo to Dubai feels a bit like traveling through time. I'm adjusting to the environment of "everything works" again after being in a place where "most things don't." We are also another two time zones forward, which puts us 8 hours ahead of the states. It's strange to be in a land of high rises and highways--driving here is something I am not in a rush to do. The public transportation systems here are great, plus the speed of cars on the road is fairly intimidating. During our first night here, I watched a car haul ass down the road only to squeal to a stop behind another car, swerve, gun it again in the right lane, and slip out of eyesight. A few seconds later we heard crash-boom-thud. Oof. For now, I'll stick with my metro.

I find myself at the Mall of Emirates a lot. It is close to our current hotel, and our closest metro stop is located inside. As I have described in a previous post about Dubai, malls here are a much bigger part of daily life than your normal mall in the states. Think U.S. mall on many, many steroids. The Mall of Emirates is not only host to a metro stop, but also a grocery store(Carrefour), an indoor ski slope, bowling alley, movie theater, three story toy store, as well as designer stores that I am still stunned to see in person(Alexander McQueen, Gucci, Chanel). These higher-end stores are located on the higher floor, away from the stores most normal civilians can afford. Still, they are interesting to walk by and peer into. Malls here are very much a hub of activity and traveling. Every time I go there, I end up getting lost at least once. Yes, even with a map in my hand. I've gone to one of the food courts to have lunch on my own, and doing so was a bit like being in a high school cafeteria again. So many tables, all of these strangers, and me with my tray.

We have an impressive list of things to do, including establishing residency, which is a process that will be delayed due to the holiday Eid Al Adha. The process will take roughly two weeks. We have to have residency to secure a flat to live in, so much of our to do list is dependent on the thing(or two) listed before it. One of the big things we did yesterday....enrolled me into sports/fitness college! I'm so excited about this. I still need to write an entry about all of my personal training's coming, I promise. Right now I need to get started on errands. More soon! I have a lot to say and seemingly very little time to do it.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

everything is extra beige-y today

There is a sandstorm today in Cairo. I noticed it before J officially informed me via text from work--I could tell the sun was shining, but it wasn't hitting on anything. No shadows to point to, the sky a sort of blankness reserved for the moments just before a snowstorm hits....or, in this case, a sandstorm. I left for the gym with sandstorm necessities--sunglasses to protect my eyes, a scarf to keep the wind and all it carried out of my mouth. Things were still fairly calm on the way there--on the way back things were starting to pick up. Aside from the shining/not shining nature of the sun, you can see the way landscape changes in front of you. You feel like you are a very short step away from entering a sepia toned film. Grainy and beige, yes. The wind kicked up, and collectively shoulders of every passerby hunched up.

a tree in our courtyard, more layered in sand than usual

Things are moving quickly now. The moving company visited our flat to assess what will be packed/what will not. Shredding documents, sorting through the oversized bowl of spare change. We will pack our immediate things to go with us on the plane--the rest will be packed by the movers and sent to Dubai. We should retrieve it all in a month or two, inshallah. Sometimes the hold up in customs can take a while. We are all set up with a residential hotel, which will serve as home until we find a flat. The hotel is really nice, with a proper gym and pool, as well as a kitchenette in our living quarters. I can already tell that life is going to feel vastly different there. We will be hitting the ground running once we arrive--J has a few free days before work starts. I'm already setting up a meeting with a sports college to learn more about the personal trainer certification program there. I'm anxious, excited, nervous. All the things I should be.

This week is my quiet goodbye to Cairo. Everything feels more's that thing that only happens when you are leaving a place. The mind's finality, I guess. Shards of glass on the curb shine brighter. Cars parked more jigsaw than usual. A bus driver and motor bike stop in the middle of the street to yell at each other up close--even their fingertips touch as they embellish their hollers with arm movements. But they still part ways and drive on amicably. It's the nature of this place. Traffic builds to an impossible standstill. Three cars going the wrong way, two coming the right direction, another backing up into the mess. Pedestrians weaving the inches in between bumpers. Dust gathers on another vehicle that hasn't been moved in weeks, months. At night I like to stand on our balcony and look back into our own windows. On the outside looking in for just a moment.

Laila kissed both our hands when we broke the news to her that we were leaving--she told J he was like a son to her. I feel like I've felt so much here in such a very short time. For as difficult as it was at times, I am leaving Cairo with a very, very full heart.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

11 days

In 11 days, J and I are leaving Egypt. Our next chapter takes place in Dubai. We’ve been patiently(and not so patiently) waiting for the exact when/where/how, and here we are faced with preparations for actual departure.

Oh man. So many feelings about this. I’m so excited for J’s next job post—I know he is really looking forward to being out in the field again as a journalist. Writing is something very important to both of us. I’m excited to begin my own new career path—I’m going to pursue my personal trainer certification while in Dubai, and hopefully start work there as one. The fact that I will be able to get a job there, as opposed to here, is thrilling(and yes, scary). J and I are starting to look for flats and that too makes my mind spin in a very good way. To have a new space to settle in and make ours. It’s been difficult to settle here knowing we would soon be leaving.

Departure is also sad as I have grown an affection for Egypt, despite the difficulties. I wish I could bundle up all the wonderful people I’ve met here and take them with us. I told two friends that last night with tears in my eyes. I’ve been lucky to make friends in the short time I’ve been here. Being in Egypt is a jumble of love and frustration. It is a complicated place, I’ve made that statement a time or two here on this blog before. Things are growing increasingly intense here…on one hand it is interesting to be a witness, but on the other it means I am ready to be somewhere a bit more safe.

Does one every truly get accustomed to moving? There are the immediates to pack and the rest to prepare for the movers. There is temporary housing and then the search for a flat to rent longer term. New routes and routines to establish, a transportation system to learn. Another time zone. More heat.

Meanwhile, I’m shaking the last bit of my jet lag. If I drag myself out of bed by 10am, I feel victorious. Fingers are twitching because I've been feeling the need to write again. I joined a new gym here for the remainder of our stay, a women’s only gym that I am head over feet for. We are planning a few final get togethers with friends before we leave, and I am trying to eat at all my favorite places in Cairo. We had thai food at The Birdcage the other night, a meal ending with fried ice cream rolled in coconut and diced apple with a candied orange slice jutting from the top. Thank goodness I brought my Lactaid. Last night we devoured italian at Trattoria, followed by drinks at the Cairo Cellar for J’s birthday, where all of us spent an absurd amount of time at the table impersonating a cat on a waterbed. This is my life, and I enjoy it.

More soon.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

returning to Cairo

Hello from Egypt!

I arrived to Cairo on Wednesday evening. My trip, overall, went fairly quickly. No big layovers along the way, which made each flight flow into the next. The first was a puddle jump to Minneapolis. The long flight followed--Minneapolis to Paris. Air France is okay, I guess--I'm not a big fan to be honest. Their seats are small, the television sets only worked for half the flight, and the flight attendants were on the borderline of rude. But how much can I truly complain if I made it to my destination safely? I was sitting next to a woman and her husband who were just beginning a journey all over Europe. We made small talk about politics--it was nice. In Paris, I had just enough time to get through security and people watch at my gate. On the Paris to Cairo flight, I sat next to an Egyptian woman who didn't seem to mind one bit that I only spoke shwaya Arabic. She talked often during the trip, and I could feel my brain straining to decode her sentences. There was a lot of nodding and smiling and describing with our hands. We both gave a bit of a swoon when the plane banked left before landing, providing us with a bird's eye view of the brown building sprawl below us. There it was, Egypt.

The Cairo heat smacked me immediately upon exiting the airplane. Per usual routine, we were hustled on a bus which drove us to the arrival terminal. Lines for immigration extended endless. I helped the couple behind me spell Zamalek on their paperwork, then fought my way through to get my luggage. I wish I had a picture of the madness at baggage claim. It's always such a sweet relief to recognize your luggage on the conveyor belt, even when you have to fight your way through others to drag them off. I had nothing to declare so exiting the terminal wasn't complicated(security thumbed through my passport, tapped my luggage while asking where I came from/what were the contents of my bags). J was waiting for me on the other side. The start-to-finish process of getting through airport/immigration in Egypt used to stress me out so much. Funny how all of it feels quite comfortable now.

So far jet lag hasn't been too hellish, though I fear jinxing myself with that declaration. I tend to refer to it as "the lag," as if its a temporary but oppressive affliction or spell I am under. Last night was my first true taste of it--up at midnight after going to bed at 11, going back to sleep at 2am and waking up again at 11am. Wednesday and Thursday night slumbers were facilitated by two fingers of whiskey and a sleeping pill. We went to a friend's house out in the desert yesterday for a cookout. The water in the pool felt amazing. I read books to the little kids in attendance and fought off the urge to doze off in the grass. I love the variety of people that are always in attendance at social things here. Irish, French, American, English, Canadian, Egyptian. I had a really nice time, which helped combat some of the homesickness already creeping up.

Today on my list of things to do: check out a new gym. I stuck to a fairly strict regimen back in the states--at the gym lifting/doing cardio 6 days a week(three days on, one day off). I feel strong and amazing and want to continue that. It's very difficult to convince myself to rest for a few days upon arriving here--resting seems like a waste of time.

Returning to the flat here in Zamalek felt a bit like coming back to look at a previous existence. If I were a snake, this would be me slithering back to my old home to observe skin I've already shed. Now that I'm back on medication, I feel quite far from the sadness that gripped me before my departure. I remember it, even if I would rather not. It's important to remember that, to know it is there and I should be as determined as ever to not return to it. Medication is not a cure-all, and I know being better requires conscious effort on my part. All this to say it is nice to return and feel better.

J and I are finishing up our time here in Cairo. J's next journalist assignment is taking us to Dubai--so far, it appears we will be there sometime next month. I'm thankful to have a bit more time in Cairo to properly say my goodbyes to the wonderful people I've met here. To experience all of "the things" a little more before leaving. I am also thankful to be leaving, as life here has been difficult for me at times. I've mentioned before that my visa does not allow me to work, and I was not prepared for how frustrated this lack of work would leave me. This move to Dubai will provide me with more freedom, and hopefully a better feeling of safety. I have goals in mind for our next adventure, something I look forward to talking about more in this space. That will require its own entry.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

The wishbone is called the furcula. "Little fork" in latin. Fuse the clavicles you have it. The word/the term/the sentiment keeps rising to the top of my writing. Vision of a slicked knuckle digging through flesh to find it. The wash and wait to dry. All that want wasted on it. The energy stored in this bit of mirrored parenthesis must be phenomenal. Muscles stitched here stretched by downstroke. Midflight mechanics, in transit. Imagine them growing violent. Thrashing out of the meat to leave on comical feet. Tiptoe bones ghosting.

Thursday, July 23, 2015


How unreal to say, but true: I haven't read my poetry in public for over a year now. So strange, but easy to believe considering all of the events in life lately--major transition stacked on major transition. Yet still. There was a time when a week didn't pass without a stage. When an unfinished poem was reason enough to get on one. When I'd still be scribbling when they called me up next. Nowadays I work and rework drafts quietly in a hotel bar in Cairo on Wednesday afternoons, or I tremble out brand new lines on the balcony via my phone's notes app while call to prayer blares loud above/around me. Sometimes I read bits of work out loud to the empty flat while J is at work. I submit pieces to publications. Despite missing my old writing community something fierce, I've carved out a little spark for myself.

I return to Egypt in just under two weeks, and tomorrow I'll get behind a microphone here in Ohio for the first time in over a year. It's beyond time. And I know that sharing is a part of the work, the process, the figuring-it-out. I've been missing it--the question mark of an audience, the added dimension of a poem fully released out loud to the wild. How do I feel about reading tomorrow? Excited. Over the moon, ready, a bit brand new again. Nervous. A type of nervous I forgot about. There's also the question of what arrow to pull from the quiver--my arsenal has grown during this period of silence/transition/everything. Right now I can use the outlet. I'm wading my way out of this depression relapse, and with that comes less darkness/more light. On one hand depression makes you feel overly everything, every nerve exposed twitched and raw. On the other you are numb to it all, so deep in the trench that feeling feels...pointless. For a while I was extremely uninterested in feeling anything but nothing.

Now coming out of it the want to feel returns. I want to feel challenged. I want to feel everything from nervous to satisfied. This desire is pushing me to try and do again, and of course writing is included in that. To experience, succeed, to fail, to go at it again. Movement forward. If I am alive then I want to live.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

a published suite of poems

Nailed magazine published 4 of my poems, hooray! I'm feeling awesome about it. More soon...I feel like I have lots to say in this space and little time to say it, but for now here is the link to the published poems(they went live yesterday). Enjoy!

click here for poems

Saturday, June 27, 2015


I'm currently sitting in one of my favorite little coffee shops, congested as all hell but finally over the last bit of jet lag. The 'lag is never that bad coming to the states, thankfully. It just means I wake up with the sun for a few.

Immediately upon arriving I found a routine and have been sticking to it. Get up early, eat breakfast, go to gym. Catching a cold was not a part of the plan(obviously) but I'm working through it. I haven't had a proper cold in a long time, and I found myself surprised by how much a sore throat and runny nose truly sucks. I guess I forgot? I also realized that I take effortless breathing for granted on the regular. Oh sweet, uninhibited inhales.

I'm enjoying this much needed break from the middle east. Today in Cairo there was a sandstorm AND an earthquake, oof. I've been spending a lot of time with the family, as well as a lot of time driving. I love taking the back roads with the window down, cornfields on either side. I've missed all this green space. Two nights ago I stood in the yard and watched lightning bugs morse code the darkness. There have been a pile of thunderstorms since my arrival as well. The first growl rumbling across the sky gave me goosebumps. It feels like a little miracle, watching all of that water fall from above.

My niece and nephew continue to grow like weeds, and spending time with them triples the volume of my heart. A few days ago at the amusement park, my nephew declared, "the back of my chin is sweaty." It took us a few seconds but we figured out he was referring to his neck. One evening I was sitting next to him on the couch, leaning forward, and he put a hand on my back and patted it gently. "I've missed you Aunt Nikki," he said. My niece has her hair cut just above her shoulders and it makes her look so much older than her eight years. She's obsessed with Mad Libs and it still blows my mind to listen to her read. To think I knew this little person before she could walk or form sentences, and here she is reading to me like an old pro. I love them both so much.

My father and I are back into our roommate routine. We take walks around the neighborhood or ride our bikes up the street to get ice cream. We have great conversations nowadays. Being near my sister is a bit like being reunited with a part of myself. I'm so thankful for all of my moments with them. And the true icing on this trip is that J was able to come to the states for a quick visit as well(we thought work would keep him in Cairo initially). He will be here until the 8th of July. I will return on the 24th. In a few weeks I'll make a quick trip to Pittsburgh to see as many friends as I can. I'm feeling pretty good lately. A bit more peaceful. I'm staying busy, but remaining mindful. I'm trying not to think too much about how "this will pass," and instead focusing on how it is here, right now in this moment.

I also received news of 4 poems being accepted for publication, which was a wonderful surprise. All of the poems were new pieces and that is always encouraging. Writing has really been on my mind lately. Projects are taking shape, but I am taking my time with all of it. I am learning to nurture my work, to approach it with more love and less resentment. More on that soon.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Ramadan starts tomorrow. Egyptians have been preparing for weeks now--the markets are extra crazy, and lanterns are being lit and presented at the entrances of shops and homes. It's an interesting time to be here. As I've mentioned in this space before, even if you aren't muslim, you do end up participating in various ways. No drinking, eating, or smoking in public/on the street, adjusting to changed hours at various places(like the gym), and many are stocking up on "supplies"(mainly beer from the delivery service). This time I will miss nearly all of it, as I am leaving for a trip to the states on Friday.

Ramadan display at local market

A trip home at this time was in our plan, but I am also needing a break from here. I've been quiet, focusing on each day and adjusting to my medication. The night sweats have returned, so I know the medicine is back in my system. I'm also much less foggy and my mind isn't racing as much as it was, thank goodness. I'm glad that I sought help when I realized I needed it. The past few months have been quite difficult. Now I am much, much more motivated to do something with my days as opposed to wanting to sleep the hours away or stare blankly and cry. Things in general feel much more doable. Still, a trip to see the family and a chance to really clear my head is welcomed.

Right now I am sitting in the hotel bar near our flat, having lunch and listening to an Egyptian and African discuss the current political climate here. This is somewhat of a Wednesday routine for me. I take my time at the gym and then come here to write, eat, catch up on emails.

I have mixed feelings about visiting the states. With each trip, the swirl of it gets bigger and bigger. Of course I will miss J, as well as my daily routines here and things I've grown accustomed to like call to prayer and the steady noise of honking cars and people in the street. But I am also anxious to revisit the sounds of summer in Ohio--crickets and train whistles and fireflies speckling the open fields. When I am outside of the states, I find it easier to read proper news--stories about things that are happening elsewhere, the brutal/beautiful truth of it. In the states one has to sift through layer upon layer of fluff to find out what is really going on. I always feel uneasy and slightly bewildered by how easy it is to slip back into my old life in the first world. Granted, not a lot of time has slipped by between my visits, so the ease isn't completely unbelievable.

It still isn't clear how much longer we will remain in Cairo, but I do feel the end of our time here approaching. I am doing my best to enjoy all the little details of here while I can.

Sunday, May 31, 2015


Happy birthday to me. Today I am 34 years old.

Here is where I pause and roll that figure around and around in my head. Thirty-four.

My birthdays are always important to me. I think they've gained importance with age, as opposed to becoming something I shrug at or dread. I've said it before and I'll say it again: it is my new year. A few days ago someone raised the point to me that every day is somebody's new year. Very true, I said.

Today feels a little surreal right now. I woke up and told myself: today is my birthday and I should do what I want. I made coffee. I worked out despite telling myself I would take the day off from sweating. It is something I take pleasure in, I told myself, so I might as well do it. I made lunch and talked to my dad, who texted me birthday wishes as soon as he woke up. J brought me flowers yesterday and today they look exceptionally beautiful. I've done a fair amount of staring at my face in the mirror, counting freckles that weren't there a year ago, noting hair that is steadily becoming more grey than not. Later we have dinner plans with a few others. I have also cried today, which isn't something I had listed under "things I like to do." Also not on that list: dealing with nausea and dizziness and stomach pain from adjusting to an antidepressant again. But that is part of the process.

I went to a doctor last night who listened to my situation and agreed that I'm experiencing a relapse with my depression. As of last night I'm back on my meds, and I know there is an adjustment period and I intend on being as patient as I can.
Last night I also spoke with a close friend and, for the first time other than on my blog & with family, talked about how I've been struggling. I had difficult expressing the toughness of this place. Unless I can pull a stunt like the main character in the movie Powder, I don't expect anyone to fully get it unless they are here, in the same scenario. You get tired of explaining third world country frustrations.

Even now I pause often in typing this entry out. I'm still wading my way through the dark and writing about it feels like a chore. How many ways can the heavy be described? I go to one of my most favorite places, the thesaurus, and find: desolation, bummer, abjection, blue funk, bleakness. I first sounded out the last word as "blee-knees," which I actually kind of like. "Oh, I just have a case of the blee knees. Ice and elevation. Don't mind me."

On birthdays I usually like to reflect on things, but today my mind is tired. Many times in my life I've wished that our heads could be safely detachable--especially during bad migraines or when I'm feeling exceptionally blue. As if I could simply take her off for a bit and shoo her out the door, tell her to go play til the streetlights pop on. But our bodies do not work this way. As much as I may pine for the detachable cabeza, I am also determined to fight the urge to disconnect. The thing that is going to get me through this is myself. I refuse to let go of that. Hold on with one hand and search for light with the other.

I don't know. I guess this year my birthday is turning out to be much less about reflection and thought, and more about allowing myself to simply be. Here, now, this.

That sounds good. I think I'll stop writing now and go be for a while.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

this isn't really a disclaimer...but i wasn't 100% sure about making this post public until I realized that May is Mental Health Awareness month. I'm tired of being so oddly protective of my depression, as if not talking about struggling makes it less real. If you don't like that sort of thing or only come here for the pictures then stop reading.

Last week my brain broke.

This is a term I've used very rarely: my brain broke. It seems to be the only way to describe how depression can disintegrate my emotions, my thoughts, how the outside is processed internally. Think tumbleweed of short fuses and broken apart cookie.

The last time this happened: fall of 2009. I was sitting at my work desk mid-week. Each day leading up to that one presented a steeper pitch, a descent picking up speed. The evening before I saw my therapist--he was a nice enough person, encouraging me to say to myself "I am a lovable person; I am a valuable person" each time I walked through a doorway. This was something I honestly had trouble doing--I wouldn't allow myself to believe it. That evening he gently suggested I get an emergency evaluation if I wasn't feeling better. I don't remember much else about that session, other than crying a lot.

The next day I was sitting at work trying to read a paragraph on my computer screen, and I couldn't get past the first sentence. My brain couldn't make sense of it, or at least my brain didn't see any point in making sense of it. I felt panicked and broken at the end of the day, and instead of going home I walked myself up the hill to get an emergency evaluation at Western Psych. I didn't feel that I needed to be hospitalized, but I needed the broken feeling to stop. I was afraid that it wouldn't. I wanted to be told that what I was feeling wasn't okay, but that I would be alright. I met with a few doctors. My visit lasted nearly five hours. I went home. Plans were made for extensive therapy, and I was put on a new antidepressant.

I was on my antidepressant for five years, and happily so. The medicine took the layer of dark away and reintroduced me to my ability to function. I was okay. I still had to work on casting away negative thought and loving myself. It was not a cure or some magic thing but I was able to make sense of how I felt through clear glass instead of some muddy, distorted view. It leveled my light and dark. I did things. I worked and played hard. I fell in love. I traveled.

At the end of April 2014 I started tapering off my med. I did this on my own, weeks before going to see my doctor to let him know. He raised his eyebrows when I told him. He knew I was moving away, eventually to Egypt. He told me he didn't think I should go off the meds, but supported my decision. It was mine to make. And now, looking back, I see train wreck in my logic. My logic then was: you are losing your insurance, and you are moving to a place where this medicine might not be available. I didn't want the prescription to become a headache. I thought I was extinguishing a potential problem before it started. My intentions were good, but poorly timed: I left a place I knew as home for 13 years, moved back to my hometown for 7 months, then I moved to Egypt. All while bidding farewell to a medication that worked.

It took a while for me to taper my meds down to nothing, but I did it. And that feeling of hopelessness was waiting in the wings. Steadily, the dark layer came back and everything I built ended up submerged beneath it. And now it's here, and we are back to: my brain broke last week. It is that rare, other level type of wrong. Since then I've felt...two dimensional. Half here. Lost. I don't have the words. All this to say I am having a hard time again.

I tend to stay sort of private about these things, but right now I don't feel like it's best for me to keep quiet. I am hurting.
Life in Egypt has been incredible, but also difficult. It is a truly challenging place to be.I talk with my family often. I send email updates and pictures to friends, but when you're this far away it's hard to know what people truly want to hear from you. I can take pictures and describe certain quirks of Cairo, but when do I talk about feeling lost, displaced, forgotten? Dare I even mention it? How fortunate I am to experience this part of the world...I know this. I know this. I don't want to take this part of my life for granted.

But depression doesn't care where I am, and I believe it would've returned regardless of my place on a map. Being here just makes it a bit more inconvenient. I would love to say that I can do this without medicinal help, but maybe I can't. And that's okay. Now is not the time to be stubborn about what works. I recognize the dark and I feel the balance tipping. I know I need help. I have an appointment to see a doctor this weekend. While it's a bit daunting to be starting this process again, I realize I'm doing the right thing. It's self-care now or never. Despite the challenges right now, I am hopeful. I hope you are too.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

a love letter of details (3 - ode to felucca)

I've been teasing J about it since my arrival: I must buy a felucca. I will own a felucca and then all my problems will be solved. I will stay in Cairo with my boat, charge for rides on the Nile and blast my favorite music. I will only dock on the island for koshary or a lemon mint with friends. I could sleep on the boat in the shade of the bridges(like I spied one fellow doing). A felucca's life is the life for me.

A felucca is a traditional wooden sailing boat used on the Nile. You will find them docked up and down the river. A ride around the island costs 200 Egyptian pounds(approx. 28 dollars...and that was for 2 of us). Feluccas vary in ownership and decor--some boast neon lights around the edges that glow and flash at night, blasting music that echoes off the buildings along the riverside. Some feluccas are small and may hold 5--10 people, while others might hold a bit more. If you are new to Zamalek, it's a great way to introduce yourself to the island. Pro tip: try to pick a felucca with a "roof" that covers some(if not most of) the sitting area. Sometimes people like to spit from bridges.

J and I took a felucca ride on Friday. His first, my second. Now that I'm here, it's a rarity for me to show him something since he started living here first. We walk the island all the time, but everyone can benefit from a change in perspective.

There are so many beautiful sights you can only truly see from the water. There are many waterside cafes and gardens hidden from the street by various gates and partitions.

I'm not buying a felucca any time soon, unfortunately, but a gal can dream. A gal can dream.