Multipotentialite Midlife Crisis

Multipotentialite Midlife Crisis

I learned a new word! Not just any word, one of those words that makes the seemingly random events in my life morph into a meaningful pattern.  One that coincidentally seems to speak to my soul, with things I’ve been stressing out with turning thirty on the horizon. Drumroll, please… “A multipotentialite is a person who has many different interests and creative pursuits in life. Multipotentialites have no “one true calling” the way specialists do. Being a multipotentialite is our destiny. We have many paths and we pursue all of them, either sequentially or simultaneously (or both). Multipotentialites thrive on learning, exploring, and mastering new skills. We are excellent at bringing disparate ideas together in creative ways. This makes us incredible innovators and problem solvers. When it comes to new interests that emerge, our insatiable curiosity leads us to absorb everything we can get our hands on. As a result, we pick up new skills fast and tend to be a wealth of information.” — Emilie Wapnick, Terminology, Puttylike  Sound like you? Well, this is definitely me. Yes, from the first day of kindergarten, I knew I wanted to teach and from the first day of high school physics, I knew I wanted to teach physics. Because I always knew what I wanted to do, my “multipotentialism” had remained hidden but it’s always been there. As an undergraduate, I picked up a minor in Asian Studies “just because”. Sure, I ended up pursuing a doctorate in Physics Education Research (PER) which is a mixed field- I’ve always “lived” in physics departments and had to take the same qualifying exam as any PhD but at the same time, I was taking courses in English departments on analyzing qualitative data, in Psychology about tests and measurements and in Statistics. Lately, I’ve been interested in organizational change so reading a lot change management books from business.  While I believe physics departments need people with expertise in the discipline as well as research-based strategies about how to best convey that information to undergraduates, this is not always well received. The “real” physicists may judge me for “diluting” my degree with education, but I knew I could not do “just physics” all the time. I suppose I love learning, so as an undergraduate and graduate student, this tendency served me well. In graduate school, fellowships and teaching opportunities through physics facilitated my ability to travel internationally to an extent that I became nomadic for a few years. Traveling has become a huge part of my identity, almost as much as “teacher” and “physicist”. Traveling led to me to experiment with writing. I started my own blog, started “interning” for an online magazine about food, wine and ethical travel then scored a freelance gig for a South American travel company. Despite always thinking of myself as a “numbers” person instead of a “words” person, I was amazed how my writing was getting published alongside people who devoted their lives to literature. When the tourism board of Colorado invited me on a press trip, it was humbling to be surrounded with people who worked for NPR, the LA Times and Oprah magazine.  Then it was my turn and I raced through my introduction to disguise the fact that I didn’t feel I belonged, “I’m Katie. I graduated with a PhD in physics was last week. I write for Epicure & Culture”. No one was more amazed than me, that dabbling in something opened doors to new worlds; it required curiosity more than “skill” or a massive amount of effort. But what do I want to do with my life? Within the month, I’ve started a new job in Vancouver but as a non-tenure track position in another city with unaffordable housing, I’ve also been wanting to “settle” somewhere more permanent, which means thinking about a “long term” job. I don’t feel like I’d fit the typical “tenure track” mold but that’s the most obvious choice for the path I’ve been on. I’ve always been curious and love the challenge of trying new things but quickly lose interest once I feel like I’ve “figured something out”. When I already seem to be losing interest in this temporary job, I wonder whether “long term job” should even be in my vocabulary. The department head at Auckland said he pictured me as galloping on a horse in a “wild west” situation, leaving a trail of improved physics departments in my wake. “The man who follows the crowd will usually go no further than the crowd. The man who walks alone is likely to find herself in places no one has ever been before” –Albert Einstein...

An Impossible Romance & My Week As A Cowboy in Vinales, Cuba

An Impossible Romance & My Week As A Cowboy in Vinales, Cuba

Viñales is part of any Cuban tourist itinerary, recommended as a place to enjoy nature, cigars and rural culture and recover from noisy, chaotic Havana. Approximately a three hour drive from the Cuban capital, the straight roads along the “tobacco route” turn into twisty roads through dark forest which suddenly open up into a breathtaking valley. This UNESCO park is known for its limestone karsts or “mogotes” jutting up over the large fields, dotted with palm trees, lush vegetation and tobacco plantations. The town is no stranger to tourists, with a couple main streets filled with restaurants and almost every house containing a sign that it’s a government-endorsed casa particulares where you can rent a room. Just An Innocent Walk Through the Valley My casa was on the edge of the valley, and while my hosts offered to connect me for a guide for a walk or a horseback ride, I looked forward to exploring the area on my own. So I set out the next morning, with a giant bottle of water, following my host’s directions, “the path is behind the tree. Just go straight then when you can’t anymore, turn right!”. I found the path and the valley, walked by patches of trees vibrating from pruning by machete, walked across a sketchy “bridge” of haphazardly placed planks and suddenly, the foliage opened up to the valley. Vast fields, oxen hooked up to wooden ploughs waiting to start their workday and explosions of purple wildflowers caused my jaw to drop and I couldn’t help whispering “wow” to myself. I walked until I could no longer go straight, turned right and jogged past a sweet smelling bush that buzzed with bees. I found a wider dirt road that was flanked with tall bushes on each side so it wasn’t very scenic. Well, until a cowboy trotted by, in a small herd of five horses. “Quires un cabalagata? Hay una piscina natural” (Want a horseback ride? There’s a natural pool), he asked as I tried to avoid the miniature stampede. “No tengo mi ropa de nadar y estoy caminando,” (I don’t have my swimming clothes and I’m walking) I responded, thinking about how warm it suddenly felt, my cheeks flushing. I continued to march down the large dirt road, even though I couldn’t see anything over the tall shrubs. After about ten minutes, I admitted defeat and retreated to try the other path at the intersection, just to run into my cowboy friend again. “Change your mind?” he asked from under his cowboy hat, and I stubbornly said “I’m walking”. So I walked past the horses, tied to trees waiting for tourists, past the office and suddenly I was in the street of the town, lined with casas on each side. I sighed, because I was supposedly to be visiting the valley but it seemed my navigational skills failed me and I didn’t even have a map. So I slunk back where my cowboy friend was now sitting on the steps of the office. “Regresé. Una hora.” (I returned. One hour) I told him, and I told myself that a short ride would get me to oriented so I could continue to explore on my own, and there no other reason I gave into the guy that mysteriously made my heart beat faster. I hopped on “Cuba Libre” and we headed off. He was pretty quiet, punctuating the comfortable silence with occasional names of crops in his limited English. When he tried to take me to the coffee planation tourist stop, I declined, anticipating the awkward part where they’d want me to buy something. I started sharing random travel stories in broken Spanish, about drinking “cat-poo-chino” in Bali, with little indication if I was making sense from my silent tour guide. When we returned to the starting point and I tried to pay him but he refused and asked what I was doing later and offered “sunset, rum and galloping” as an option. “Soy libre. A que hora?” (I am free. At what time?), even though I knew it sounded like trouble. Fireflies & The Milky Way At 5, I returned to the office where I didn’t see Yasmani, so I found a dog to pet until I got covered in a dust cloud generated by a horse that halted in front of me. He hopped off to help me up, then climbed on behind me, kicked the horse into a trot and we headed further up the path to get a second horse. He pulled a plastic bottle of rum out of his gumboot, “Havana Club Especial” he explained with a wink as he...

2017: Reflecting on a “Character Building” Year

2017: Reflecting on a “Character Building” Year

“Some periods of our growth are so confusing that we don’t even recognize that growth is happening. We may feel hostile or angry or weepy and hysterical, or we may feel depressed. It would never occur to us, unless we stumbled on a book or a person who explained it to us, that we were in fact in the process of change, of actually becoming larger, spiritually, than we were before. Whenever we grow, we tend to feel it, as a young seed must feel the weight and inertia of the earth as it seeks to break out of its shell on its way to becoming a plant. Often the feeling is anything but pleasant. But what is most unpleasant is not knowing what is happening… Those long periods when something outside ourselves seems to be waiting, holding its breath, unsure about what the next step should be, eventually becomes the periods we wait for, for it is in those periods that we realize that we are being prepared for the next phase of our life and that, in all probability, a new level of personality is about to be reveled” –Alice Walker 2017… with what happened on the stage of global politics, I wonder if this year was a good year for anyone. Personally, it wasn’t one of my best, containing a lot of death, the temporary loss of my best friend with the end of my most significant relationship and a lot of misery as I prepared to end my two years of living in Auckland, New Zealand.  I earned a Fulbright to live in Cape Town which gave me a second chance to live in South Africa on my own terms but I decided that because of the instatibility over there.  While I know its for the best, it feels like the death of a dream, like I’m ignoring the irrational part of me was convinced that I belonged there for a year. Despite the fact this year wasn’t too much fun, as difficult things in life are, it was informative.  As the year (finally) comes to a close, I thought I’d share some of my reflections with you, the good, bad and the ugly. 1) Good things come to an end and that’s ok “Not everything in life is supposed to become something beautiful and long lasting. Sometimes people come into your life to show you what is right and what is wrong, to show you who you can be, to teach you to love yourself, to make you feel better for a little while, or just someone to walk with at night and spill your life to. Not everyone is going to stay forever, and we still have to keep on going and thank them for what they’ve given us” -Anonymous When I returned to the States briefly for a conference in July, one of the blog fans I didn’t know I had ran up to me and asked, “why haven’t you updated your blog?! The last I read, you met an amazing guy and everything was perfect and I want to know what happened!!!”. “Oh,” I replied, a bit shell-shocked but flattered. “That ended.” I responded at the time, with limited energy for elaboration. For those of you who might not know, I did meet an amazing Kiwi guy about four months after I moved to the country and was almost about to give up and return to the States. We dated for about a year and it was, by far, the most serious relationship of my life and it did inspire me to do crazy things like apply for my New Zealand residency even though living at the bottom of the world was a struggle for me. While I told him I was willing to return to New Zealand in a few years and I won’t mind it as a place to raise a family, I knew I had to get out for a couple years while I was young and early in my academic career. Eventually, the stress of constantly trying to figure out my next step (which will be starting as a Science Education Specialist in Vancouver, Canada) got to us and we mutually decided that we need to focus on our own careers right now. Furthermore, as our relationship progressed, my love of travel made it clear we want different things. Despite the fact it was mutual, despite the fact we both logically knew it was for the best, the hardest part of the breakup was we still really enjoyed one another’s company, respected each other and wanted the best for each other. Initially...

Don’t Wait to Travel the South Pacific Islands!

Don’t Wait to Travel the South Pacific Islands!

I lived in New Zealand for almost two years but didn’t visit the islands of the South Pacific until my final months, instead electing to fly to Myanmar and Chile during the vacations of my first year. Why did I wait? I suppose for similar reasons never trying to visit the Caribbean from the United States. I thought there won’t be much to do beyond the beach and I could only handle several hours of beach relaxation, especially in places where the sun was so strong. I thought traveling the islands would be expensive and, since they were so remote, lack infrastructure for solo travelers. What I didn’t realize is the islands of the South Pacific are filled with friendly people, a wide assortment of aquatic and outdoor activities and a fascinating cultural heritage. My advice is don’t wait! If you’re thinking about what island to visit first, I’d recommend: 1) Fiji- Paradise for solo travelers I was a bit hesitant to visit Fiji because I thought it would be too touristy but I also figured it might be the best option for solo travelers like myself. Yes, it’s a bit touristy when you first arrive in Nadi but there’s so many islands that everyone spreads out and you can easily find a tropical piece of paradise that you share with a few dozen others. Furthermore, the infrastructure makes it easy and affordable to get around on your own and there’s many backpackers there who had just finished working holidays in Australia or New Zealand or were on round-the-world trips. Everyone in the boat to my first resort was traveling alone so making friends was easy. I spent a week in Fiji with a night in a beach backpackers near the airport then took the ferry to the Yasawas Island group. I had done some research and chose to split my time between Barefoot Kuata Resort and Manta Ray Resort, which was recommended by a friend. I was lucky because both of these places turned out to be good choices but I didn’t realize that all the islands offer different activities so I’d recommend thinking about what you want to do then staying at a resort that has it. Humpbacks during a heat run in Vava’u, Tonga. Photo by my friend @delacordilleraalmarAt Barefoot Kuata, the main activity was scuba diving with bull sharks. It’s possible for people even without their diving licenses (like me) so each person is paired with an instructor, you swim down about 12 meters and hide behind a coral wall. They feed the sharks, and supposedly the wall of bubbles distracts the sharks from the fact that there are people there but the instructors have metal poles just in case. (Very safe, haha). It was absolutely an incredible experience to be just feet away from bull sharks, reef sharks and other colorful fish with no cages separating you from the mighty fish. The one downside of Barefoot Kuata is its only a couple hours away from the main port so the island gets pretty busy with day trippers but beyond that, it was perfect. Manta Ray Resort, as the name suggests, is famous for the option to snorkel with manta rays. In the mornings, they have people waiting to see when the mantas swim during the channel, then when they are spotted, people run through the resort shouting “manta ray swim!”, everyone grabs their snorkeling gear and piles into the boat. The actual manta ray swim was a bit disappointing for me just because there were so many tourists, from this resort and others, following these mantas in a herd. However, this resort has an incredible snorkel spot right off its shores so after returning from the official swim, a staff member saw a manta when I was snorkeling, dropped me off near it and I had a private swim with a manta ray. It was a good workout, trying to keep up, and an absolute magical experience. The one “downside” of Manta Ray is it was more of a family resort so if you’d prefer a holiday without kids running around, maybe chose another. 2) Tonga- Humpback Whale Swims & The Friendliest People One of the friends I made in Fiji headed to Tonga straight after to fulfill her bucket list dream of swimming with humpback whales. Tonga and the Dominican Republic are supposedly the only two places you can do this, as the whales seek warmer climates for calving season between June and October. She spent a few weeks in Vava’u, one of the main island groups, doing a 10-day whale cruise, followed by several day trips with...

Trapped: Exploring An Alternative Art Museum & Life In Cuba According to a Cuban

Trapped: Exploring An Alternative Art Museum & Life In Cuba According to a Cuban

It was Friday night in Havana and since I would need quite a few mojitos before I was confident enough to hit the Cuban dance floor, I decided to start the evening at Fabrica de Arte Cubano (Cuban Art Factory). A few years ago, they converted an abandoned cooking oil factory into a mixed use art space filled with unusual photography, film and dance studios, music venues, restaurants and bars. It was an absolute maze… when I thought I had seen it all, I turned a corner and a whole new section opened up. Exploring the Art Museum with A Local After my initial survey of the area, I decided to break for a $3 baguette to pass time until performances started and I struck up a conversation with the Cuban guy who was behind me in line. He was just starting his first year of university as civil engineering student. Most of his family lived in Washington DC and he was hoping he could join them some day, but in Cuba, you pay for higher education with two years of working for the government then men are obligated to serve a year in the army so it would be a long process. After eating, we decided to wander around together and seeing the museum through his eyes was a completely different experience. He brought me to a short animated film, where a girl continuously failed in her attempts to leave the island where she was marooned. She tried to make a boat out of a bucket but the bucket quickly filled with water and sank. She tried to use two palm trees as stilts in an attempt to call for help but the trees fell over. She tried to climb a flagpole to send a signal but the flag blew away in a sudden gust of wind. I interpreted it as a klutzy girl, unlikely to be a finalist on Survivor. He looked me in the eyes and solemnly said, “That’s us. We’re in jail here” referring to the situation of his county, his people. He took me to some of his other favorite spots in the museum. This included a collection of newspaper clippings from the 1950s about all the lies the government told the people, inciting fear of nuclear power, Chinese immigrants taking all the work and praising the strength of the Cuban currency. He took me to his favorite piece… it looked like an amateur photographer spilled a random collection of photos (mostly strange things and naked people) on the table. One photo included a sign of a bar that told people they were free to blaspheme and criticize the government. He said something along the lines of, “if only such a place existed”. Visiting Communist Cuba With Obama easing travel restrictions in Cuba, there were countless articles encouraging Americans to visit to see the country “before it changes” or before it’s ruined by the onset of Americans. Admittedly, I’m guilty of coming for exactly that reason. There’s some evidence of progress, like people hunched over their phones in wifi hotspots around the city and some modern taxis with air conditioning and even mini movie screens to watch music videos, but when people say visiting Cuba is like traveling back in time, it’s absolutely true. The cab driver who picked me up from the airport drove a car from 1956 and commented, “all the tourists say ‘your car is so beautiful’ but I’d trade this car in an instant a modern American one”. The Cubans maintained cars from the 50s and 60s because with the embargo, they had no other option. Now, the cars are UNESCO protected national treasures, often being “Frankensteined” combinations of parts from other cars within the body. Outside Havana, most taxis are horses with carts or bike taxis. It’s inspiring to see how Cuban ingenuity made the best of a bad situation but how long should we let this go on? It’s still a visibly communist country. When I waited in line at the bank to change money, I was entertained by a slide show of photos of Fidel Castro. In Vinales, I went to a disco party in a cave and they interrupted the evening for a 30 minute photo slideshow with songs dedicated to Fidel. Practically speaking, options are limited, even as a tourist. It’s hard to find markets or even places to buy snacks, non-Cubans can only travel with one bus company and Internet access is restricted primarily to controlled hotspots. Products are limited too- the market ran out of big water bottles when I was in Vinales. My Havana tour guide joked...

Life With No Regrets: The Passing Of My Grandmother

Life With No Regrets: The Passing Of My Grandmother

“Katie! You made it! I can go in peace now.” It was around 2 AM at John Dempsey Hospital in my hometown of Farmington, Connecticut. I had been on planes and in airports for over 30 hours, my hair was greasy, I was exhausted and I needed to brush my teeth… but all of a sudden, none of that mattered because I finally made it, to say goodbye in person to the last of my living grandparents. I gave her a hug, choked back a hugely unattractive sobs and tried not to cover her cheek in my snot. “Don’t be sad,” she said quietly and calmly. “I’m not,” I blubbered, “I’m just so happy to be here. I wasn’t sure if I was going to make it”. “It means a lot you’re here”, she replied, worried about what I spent on the last-minute, long-haul flight from Auckland, which of course, was not even of slightest concern in a situation like this, a precious moment that could never be recovered. My mom had warned me that she was tired and confused, but she put on a good show for me, reminiscing, “Katie, I’ve never met anyone who lives as deeply as you do. I don’t know if it’s the lupus or what, but you’re always making the most of each day. All the places you’ve been, all the things you’ve accomplished… I just don’t know where you came from!”. “I came from you, grandma”, I said quietly, too much of a mess to really explain my thinking at the time but I’ll outline some of the ways she’s influenced my life here. At 96, she was eager to get to heaven, catch up with friends, spend some quality time with her mother who died young. She’s probably too busy socializing to keep up with my blog but just in case. 1) Prioritize experiences over things While my globetrotting might have been a different level to what could be accomplished back in her day, she was quite the traveler herself, traveling all the contiguous states, Mexico and Canada. She worked as my grandparents raised a family of three.  She was proud of being frugal on a day to day basis but travel was a priority. My grandparents took the family camping, on cross-country road trips and eventually got an RV to meet up with a group of friends each summer. Growing up, I knew her as a bit of a shopaholic, but she was always clipping coupons and taking advantage of sales at Kohls to make sure everyone was dressed nice.  I’ll always remember how excited she was when I got invited to give a talk in Taiwan.  The next day, my bed was filled with glitzy dresses that seemed better suited for a bachelorette party in Vegas than speaking to stuffy Asian scientists.  But who knows, she was more fashion forward than I’ll ever be… One of the first days she was hospitalized, I was able to call in on Skype and listen into an hour or so of her reflecting on life. This was the first time I learned that she wasn’t the first woman my grandfather proposed to. He was self-conscious about proposing with the same ring, but she remarked, “I don’t care about a fancy ring. I’d rather a down payment on the house!” 2) Never stop learning My grandma had a million hobbies, even while raising a family. She was an incredibly talented seamstress and while I as a bit embarrassed to wear dresses with puffy sleeves to school on picture day, I had the best handmade Halloween costumes in town. She made dolls out of clay and sewed their outfits by hand. She and my grandpa worked together to make hand painted woodcarvings. She was a prolific and very talented painter with pastels, and while she’d humbly dismiss your compliments with, “I just copy real artists,” we’re lucky to be left with dozens of her work. I don’t have many regrets with my grandma but she did always encouraged me to write a book about my life, and she had an idea for the title and artwork. The one thing I wish I asked her to do was paint her vision for the cover. In addition to her hobbies, as soon as she learned I was moving to Auckland, she checked out a book on New Zealand from the library and probably knows more about the country’s history and wildlife than I do, even though she loved to share what she was reading. She kept up to date with celebrity gossip and magazines. One of the last days, she whispered something to my...

9 Months as An Ex-Pat in Auckland: The Tumbleweed Has Stuck

9 Months as An Ex-Pat in Auckland: The Tumbleweed Has Stuck

“Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans” –Allen Saunders I know I’ve been terrible about updating my blog lately and since I just paid to renew my domain name, I thought an update was overdue, especially considering the ironic turn my life has taken since my last post about ex-pat life in Auckland, 4 months ago. When I wrote that, I was about to give up on Auckland. I felt useless at work, I saw my life passing me by and I was so determined to make a change, I was applying to jobs back in the Northeast, something I never thought I’d do. That was the beginning of many things I never saw coming. Just to put this in context… January 2016 Just before moving to New Zealand, my grandma predicted, “you’re going to meet a nice Kiwi bloke and stay forever”. I responded with maniacal laughter. “First, New Zealand is way too boring and far away from everything. I’ll stay the year I promised to work, then return to civilization. Secondly, Kiwis are too pale and too chill for me. Auckland’s main redeeming quality is that there’s lots of ex-pats”.   She dismissed my indignant protests with a “grandma-knows-best” little smile and I grunted at the ridiculousness of her premonition then immediately forgot about it. Fast forward to a few days after I wrote that post (May 2016) Out of sheer boredom and utter desperation, I rejoined Tinder and started talking to a guy who just passed in his two weeks notice for an engineering job that he felt no longer challenged him. We enjoyed some “good banter” (as they say in these parts) online for a few days, and agreed to meet up. A few minutes before we were supposed to meet, he texted, “I just got out of a relationship and I don’t know what my next step will be after this job ends, so I’m not looking for anything serious”. I replied, “well, that’s fine with me. I may quit my job and return to the States so I’m not looking for anything that’ll keep me in Auckland”. I also knew that traveling made me incredibly detached, and I was always the one trying to keep things from getting too serious. “Not a problem at all”, I told myself. Well, our first “meeting” (to which I wore crazy leggings and slippers, as the ultimate anti-date apparel) was nice but relatively ordinary. We went for a walk and we chatted. I liked talking to him and it seemed like he had a good head on his shoulders, but he didn’t make any moves and didn’t even text me that night. “Well, it’s probably for the best”, I reassured myself, “I’m leaving this place soon enough anyway”. Well, long story short, he might not have messaged me that night but he did text me the next day and somehow, it quickly turned into messaging each other for hours each day and hanging out more than we probably should have. A couple weeks after I met him, I knew I was in trouble when it was time to go to Myanmar and I wasn’t sure if I wanted to leave. This was a country that had been on my list for ages and anticipation for 3 weeks of wearing elephant pants and being a dirty backpacker again is what was getting me through long workdays. Myanmar turned out even better than I wanted it to be but somehow traveling this time wasn’t the same. Up until this point, I was driven to travel by a desire to find where I belonged. But during this trip, I had a nagging feeling that I belonged near the pale, blue-eyed Kiwi with ridiculous dance moves. Needless to say, I shortened my trip by a week and joined him and his parents for a few days of fishing and boating on their South Island “bach” (holiday house).    Spending time with him and his parents, who were just as silly and easy going as he was, felt so right that I didn’t even mind giving up warm Southeast Asian weather for being bundled up in thermals and having to de-numb my limbs by the fire! Fast-forward another 5 months to the present day (Nov 2016)… This Kiwi bloke didn’t completely cure me of my travel addiction (I still snuck off for quick trips to Colombia, the States and Niue (a small island in the South Pacific) but those trips too weren’t the same. It was fun to see, eat and do new things but I still couldn’t wait to board the plane back home, knowing he’d be there...