five senses of an american abroad

It is loud.

Disconnection isn’t an option when my “land of the free” passport links to an American identity and follows me into first conversations and introductions wherever I go.

I’m alone in a café and I’m overhearing a conversation in which the president of my country is both the topic of discussion and the butt of jokes. I am both smiling in agreeance and grimacing because of course I didn’t come to this café with no wifi to grieve for a home that looks more and more unfamiliar with each breaking news story.

But disconnection isn’t an option since November 8th, 2016.

I’m taken aback realizing how we will remember, place in the history books: “the Trump years”—although I wish we would call it something different. Perhaps the “time of white folks woking,” or the “enlightened resistance” because, um, HI HELLO—

Coretta Scott
Kimberlé Crenshaw
Alicia garza
Dorothy Hugues
Wilma Mankiller
Maxine waters

^^^THEY HAVE BEEN HARD AT WORK BEFORE THIS CLOWN CAME TO POWER. WHERE HAVE WE BEEN.

WHY WAS NOVEMBER 8th 2016: THE NIGHT. THAT WE BECAME ANGRY.

The night I stayed awake until 7am refusing the nightmare of my unregistered absentee ballot affecting global turmoil somehow becoming reality.

November 8th, 2016: the night that hate became as visible as it is visceral.

I see it in the headlines, feel it in each ardent and well-intentioned query of “How are things back home??”

The taste of populist ideals has slowly, silently permeated from Poland to France to the patriarchal GoodIrishCatholic country in which I’m sitting and writing.

I can smell the scent of misogyny’s gate left not just ajar, but wide open—leaving so large a gaping hole that others think they can also “move on her like a bitch.”

But this isn’t my nightmare of unreceived ballots. Because I am awake. This is a nightmare of no longer knowing the difference between “awake” and “alert.”

My senses are heightened.

And that is why, in a small café tucked in the west corner of Galway with no wifi, I can hear it.

It is deafening.

On The Road Realities: Traveling with Social Media Baggage

I precariously position the camera for a fifth time on the ledge so that now, it’s framing my full body and not just lower torso down. Never mind that I’m 105 feet in the air, freezing wind blowing round atop an eight foot wide stone monument—I’m getting this damn selfie. I wait several more minutes for other tourists to wander out of the shot so that I can get the best view of the city. I set the timer, smile, and again—awkward AF. 

I was in Edinburgh, Scotland and it wasn’t the first time I’d struggled with selfies. It is the epitome of my first world problems that one of my biggest sources of stress has become documenting my travels on social media. 

Fortunately, my friends and family are the supportive social media type. They like every photo I post and my doting grandma will text me: “Looks like you’re having a blast. Be safe, love you, xo Gram.”

She's right. I am having a blast.

But I haven’t necessarily been Instagramming the painful hours spent in the immigration bureau, waiting to receive my work authorization. Or the time I couldn’t figure out how to use my own dryer and had to wear wet pants to work (this literally happened a few weeks ago). Because who wants to share that on social media?? No one tweets about the forty-five minutes they waited for a table at brunch—they just snapchat their eggs benedict. 

If social media was only filled with the negative, “real” sides of life, it wouldn’t be the digital marketing monopoly that has come to define this generation. Instead, it puts us in charge of selecting of our own online persona and what we want to filter, down to exact amount of saturation, exposure, and brightness—and that’s a lot of pressure. (The paradox of choice is something that is dealt with brilliantly here and here). 

With this kind of power, we can choose to be as authentic as we want. We can write LOL next to something that was actually terrifying. We can wear a flower crown on snapchat even we feel like crap. 

Before I left for my adventure abroad, my social feeds incited an absurd bitterness in me. It served as an outlet for comparing, contrasting (not to mention creeping), on nearly anyone within six degrees of my social circle. I would scroll hastily, feasting upon others happiness as my own persistent wanderlust wondered: “Why not me?” 

It was the biggest and longest (dumbest) pity party I'd ever thrown. as everyone else’s life—online, at least—seemed more interesting than my own. This “grass is always greener” syndrome seems to be more and more enabled as various forms of social media grow.  

Any person who has ventured even a few hours outside their home can confirm that traveling is not all sunshine and daisies. Itineraries get changed, comfortable beds are hard to come by, and hangry words makes feelings hurt. While I don’t necessarily think it’s obligatory to post about a cancelled flight, it certainly might make an account feel more “real.”

When Australian model Essena O’Neill quit Instagram by re-captioning all her photos with more authentic narrations of her feelings or the amount of money she was getting paid, the world watched. Igniting a #nomakeup trend, Alicia Keys was recently photographed and walked the red carpet makeup free and there wasn’t an entertainment site that didn’t publish something about it. 

Why is it such a phenomenon to live filter-free? In a world where the worst writer’s block stems from the inability to press “publish,” there should always be room to set aside hesitation and shamelessly flaunt our own authentic selves. 

To post perfected photos is to maintain an illusion that I just don't have the motivation to keep up. And while it paints a pretty travel-blogger picture, you might be overlooking what’s actually happening IRL. (Which, lucky for you, is a windblown, snot-nosed ME loitering at the top of a stone monument for nearly an hour). 

So here, in all its glory is the “Struggling Selfie Series” from Scotland that looks less like a cute #SelfieSaturday post and more like a real-life comic strip. ENJOY. UR WELCOME. 

But you know what? Either way, I’m pretty sure my family will still say it looks like I’m having a blast.