Saturday, March 19, 2016

On Teaching English

Flexibility. One of the keys to travel. I know it well, so when the organization asked me to pilot an English program in an orphanage once a week, I said of course.

It is my third week, meaning I am practically a native on the bus, weaving in and out of scooters to catch it, wearing my mask, no longer staring at every landmark along the route to make sure I get off at the right stop. I am also taking full advantage of the hour rides by listening to podcasts, so I will be able to spew random facts about Hulk Hogan litigation, women’s wages, bipartisanship and pencils your way. Did you know that no one in the world actually knows how to make a pencil from scratch? Even simple technology is crazy.

Speaking of technology, I’m in awe of how connected I am despite being across the world. It feels like cheating. I have emailed and whatsapp’ed friends, Facetimed my sister, iMessaged my family and stalked everyone on Facebook. If it weren’t for the abundance of rice, the lack of the NCAA tourney, and the wave of pollution that greets me every morning*, I might just think I was in the States. Two months is no time at all, and adjusting has been very easy.

I went to a Bible study the other night - another comfort I have been fortunate to find - and some of the women are here for two years or indefinitely. I would have a much harder time adjusting if that were the case, and I secretly – or not so secretly - hope I don’t get called to do that down the road. Which means maybe I'll be called to do that down the road.

Ahh KFC! That's my stop. Walking to the headmaster's car, I wonder why Chipotle has yet to expand into Southeast Asia. I think the Vietnamese would embrace the burrito, and they have an endless supply of rice. Plus, people are used to food poisoning here, so that won't make headlines.

The headmaster doesn't answer this question, and I continue listening to my podcast on K-Pop, the Korean pop culture phenomenon. We pass through VinHomes, owned by VinGroup, the most powerful corporation in Vietnam. This is the Orange County of Vietnam, where homes are worth a billion dong, or 100,000 dollars. An hour later, the paparazzi has liberated K-Pop stars from forced isolation. We arrive at the orphanage, and I step outside and breath in the fresh, mostly unpolluted air.

The Vietnamese supporter and I spend the morning visiting the Phat Tich Pagoda, only a kilometer from the orphanage. It is said to be the place where Buddhism first entered Vietnam, and if the number of stairs were any indication of age, it would be really old. A woman asks to take her picture with me. I learn more about the tradition of giving food at the altar. Apparently, you can give food, pray, leave it for a few minutes, then retrieve it for good luck. I then wonder who's monitoring this behavior. Could I meander around a temple for awhile and snatch a package of Oreos on the way out under the guise of homage and luck? Out of respect for tradition, I decide not to find out.

Lunch is served at 11:30 and is literally farm to table. The duck, milk, fruit, vegetables. All fresh. All delicious.

Walking to the dining hall, we are accosted by young Vietnamese girls. As a white woman with wavy blonde hair and blue eyes, I am certainly novel in Hanoi, but here, I am the first of my kind. The Vietnamese men ask if I am married and suggest I stay in Vietnam and marry one of them. Afterall, 27 is a lucky age for getting married. Since I am technically 28, because I have to count the time in my mothers womb, this luck no longer applies to me, so I assume I am free to go back to America.

After lunch and my siesta, it's time to teach. We go around the room and introduce ourselves, though I have already given up on learning all forty names. I just mumble syllables such as uh, ah, on and assume I am calling on someone. I am Teacher Anna from America.

The children are very enthusiastic about learning, although I’m slightly skeptical as to how much knowledge I’m imparting. I didn’t sign up to be an English teacher for a reason. I don’t know how to teach English. My last lesson went something like this:

Hard and soft.
Hard at the beginning of the word... unless it’s soft. Give, giraffe.
Hard in the middle of the word... unless it’s soft. Forgive, garage.
Hard at the end of the word, unless it’s – no wait, it’s always hard! Yay!! Dog.

As annoying as pronunciation is, today I am teaching the one thing I would change about English, the number system. Where the heck did eleven come from - for that matter, the entirety of the teens?

I have mastered 1 – 10 in Vietnamese, which essentially means I have mastered every number. In learning the English counting system, however, students often stumble on eleven, twelve, thirteen and fifteen. I can’t blame them. Eleven and twelve are completely random, and consistency implies threeteen and fiveteen. No wonder American children struggle with math – their first introduction shows no logic. I would also change our foot/yard/mile system, because that makes no sense either. For that matter, I’m content switching to Celcius so I can stop doing the 9/5 + 32 calculation every time I’m discussing weather with a foreigner.

I keep these thoughts to myself, and we make it through the two hours counting, playing games, and learning a song. There were shouts and screams of enthusiasm, so I assume the children have mastered the numbers. The time is four o'clock, which should be the time we depart for the trek into the city, but since the Vietnamese are similar to cable companies when it comes to timeliness, it could be four, it could be five. We sit by the lake while waiting, and a group of students admires my paleness, sitting in a circle, and staring at my bright blue eyes.

Should I dance? Should I sing? Should I show them the correct form for overhead squats? My question is answered when they ask my to sing. I perform a rendition of Five Little Monkeys, and they ask for my autograph.* I oblige, signing, “Lots of love from America” (We’re not all crazy)!!!, just as our driver arrives. Promptly at five o'clock. I hop in, grateful for flexibility.

* Seriously, pollution is not a joke. I have started donning the pollution mask, which has inspired a subsidiary of Pimp My Religious Head Garb – Pimp My Pollution Head Garb.
* The only time I will be asked for my autograph after singing.

Picture Descriptions:
1) Big Buddha
2) My favorite altar
3) View from the pagoda's top
4 - 6) Corn, Papaya, Tomatoes. You can figure out which is which.
7) The latest number whizzes
8) A riveting crossword competition
9) To break up the silence during the staring session, I took their picture
10) The boy who dubbed me Teacher Anna from America

Monday, March 7, 2016

A Day at Friendship Village

Ten minute walk to bus 32. The man in front of you hocks a loogie. The Vietnamese, while conservative with their clothes, seem to be liberal with their phlegm, likely due to pollution-induced congestion. Ride the bus until the last stop. Disembark, avoid eye contact with the motor taxi drivers - unless they begin petting you, then politely smile and shake your head - walk ten minutes to bus 57. Ride along the narrow, bumpy road until you pass the first intersection. Walk a few meters and you have arrived at Friendship Village. Nailed it.

I met the teacher a week prior. Lin, the CSDS staff member, and she spoke about the project in rapid Vietnamese. My head rotated between the two of them as if watching a ping pong match, being sure to look engaged, though we all knew I had no idea what was said until Lin translated. My brief tour of Friendship Village included housing, a small school, a dining hall, and, most excitingly, a veterans' hall with a ping pong table. I determined my new goal was to run the table by the end of my two months.

Today, I head to class and am immediately greeted by high fives, hand holding, and hugs. I am introduced to the nine students, ages 15 - 23. To my surprise, I am able to remember their names, though they keep correcting my annunciation. Apparently, I can't annunciate in English very well, either, because they call me Iana. I don't mind; it sounds exotic.

All have some form of down syndrome or autism; one, Hai, is severely hyperactive, which means I will become quite good at saying, "Oi" to get his attention, as he runs away every five to ten minutes. These are the most advanced students in the village; they all have motor skills and are able to perform small tasks. Tiem is the most capable, and she explains to me in English that they have spent the last hour preparing a meal, their morning routine. A few others can speak well, but a couple communicate through grunts. Everyone can laugh.

We gather round to eat, and I quickly realize God has brought me halfway around the world to overcome my aversion to chewing. This is a symphony of chomping, and the children are looking at me expectantly, wondering if I will like the food. I eat slowly, because it is ten o'clock, I am about to eat lunch, and I selfishly don't want to waste my morning workout. Plus, in usual Vietnamese style, I had been served a heaping portion of rice. The kids are clearly disappointed by my pace, and Kien, shy but extremely sweet, gestures to me, showing me how to use chopsticks. I swallow my healthy conscience for the moment, finish my plate, and give two enthusiastic thumbs up. They laugh, knowing their fine work has been appreciated.

After eating, the kids clean up. Thoo is very diligent and does much of the work, focused and steady. Mi grabs my hand and asks "Bang tenh layi," or "what's your name?", a phrase she will repeat each time she sees me and throughout the day. Each time I answer she will respond with a big smile and a giggle. Duc gives me a high five and a hug, and soon, it is time for a three and a half hour break.

I eat my second lunch, then meander to a small cafe with cozy booths and strong Vietnamese coffee, served appropriately with a layer of sweetened condensed milk. I quickly find this a perfect spot for inspirational writing and determine to write a book by the end of my two months. If I tire of writing, I am free to nap in the booth - another part of Vietnamese culture America could embrace.

I pay 20,000 dong, or one dollar, and return for our afternoon session. On my way back, I ponder the dong. I still don't quite understand why the lowest denomination of dong is 1000. It seems to me they could remove the superfluous zeros and start the currency at a single dong. As it is, I'm carrying thousands of dongs in my purse and have to divide by 20,000 instead of 2 every time I want to approximate dollars - or is it 2000? You can see the problem.

My deep thoughts are interrupted by the ringing of the gong*, signaling the beginning of class. The students spend an hour doing work, ranging from coloring to writing numbers to mathematics to sleeping. I sit by Cham, the most severely autistic, and she shows me the numbers she has written. "Tot lam," or well done, I say enthusiastically. She giggles and grabs my hand while petting my hair. We spend the final hour working on a life skill. Today, we wash hands and feet and clip nails, a life skill that some men still have not mastered. Although I am not very keen* to clean toenails, it's preferable to cleaning bathroom mishaps.

Instead of going home after class, I help the house mothers with yard work. I am initially reluctant to do so, and then I remember I came on this trip to volunteer. I tell myself to suck it up and have a servant's heart, dang it. Plus, this allows me to size up my ping pong competition.

The day finishes at five. I hop on the bus for the hour-long trip home, forcing me to confront my distaste for commutes. The three and a half hour break in the middle of the day makes this a much easier task, and the ride is made even easier when the conductor forces a girl to move so I can have her seat. I refuse, but they insist, and so I sit, basking in the Vietnamese hospitality - or their assumption that I'm an incapable foreigner.

I stroll home, enjoying the smells of Banh Mi and Bun Cha. Not quite bbq pork or truffle fries, but it still smells quite good.

* Yes! They have a gong.
* I'm trying to incorporate British phrases.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Good Morning, Vietnam!

Obligatory Robin Williams reference.

This post is brought to you the nearly ubiquitous availability of WiFi, which you can access anywhere from Starbucks to one of the ten karaoke bars on my street. Whether everyone here just loves karaoke or karaoke is code for something is TBD.

The night before embarking on this adventure, my brother-in-law, Mitch, informed me of all the ways I could die in Vietnam. On the list: abducted by a kidnapper holding a sign with my name on it at the airport. I told him my pickup was safely arranged, but when I saw a man with a sign labeled Mr. Anna Navatsyk, I gestured and pointed until he called the head of the organization to confirm I was not being whisked away to the human trafficking market. He was legit.

Thanks to a healthy blend of sleep aids and caffeine, I overcame jetlag quite quickly, and mild paranoia aside, my first few days in Hanoi have been a breath of fresh air. And by fresh air, I mean polluted air. Weather apps often include the pollen count, and I believe they should show a similar pollution count, so I can be prepared for bouts of sneezing.

The foliage seems to have adapted to the pollution, because the main streets are lined with beautiful flowers.*

Don’t stare too long, or you will be run over. The Vietnamese and I have a similar view on traffic laws: they are more like guidelines. This leads to real life Frogger every time you cross a street - a childhood dream come true! I’m on level six right now.

Not only am I successfully crossing the street without a scooter driver grabbing my cross body bag and dragging me down the highway– another danger Mitch warned me of - I have learned a bit of Vietnamese, a language in which the basic courtesies make conjugating Spanish verbs seem as easy as ABC. I may say “Nice to meet you” or “Chopsticks, soup, Band-Aid,” depending on my intonation. I’ll probably stick to hand gestures.

I am staying in a house with about 15 other volunteers and am older than most – apparently, not many people in their late twenties have the freedom to sacrifice months of their lives.* Thankfully, the adjustment to living with others has been smooth; I’m even comfortable with the cacophony of chewing during house meals.* Everyone is quite welcoming, and I spent the weekend discovering more of Hanoi.

I found quickly that temples are to Southeast Asia as cathedrals are to Europe. They’re around every corner, I feel awkward taking pictures while someone is praying (but I still do), and many cost money. The difference is, the average temple entrance fee is a dollar, so I'm more likely to enter.

At the first pagoda – fun fact: pagodas are exclusively Buddhist, while the idea of a temple dates back to the origins of Confucianism and its contemporary Taoism - we definitely get our money’s worth, as we happened upon a ceremony of sorts. There was dancing, fan waving, and a procession offering gifts such as cookies, beer, candy and chips.

Apparently, descendants want Buddha, and their ancestors, to enjoy modern decadences. This is a sentiment I can get behind, because if double stuffed Oreos and Reese’s peanut butter cups are combined to form a super food following my death, I want that box placed on my gravestone. With a bottle of Malbec/IPA blend and a bag of Cool Ranch Doritos’ and movie theatre popcorn’s lovechild*.

During this same ceremony, a few locals asked to have their picture taken with me. My blonde hair and blue eyes are exotic. Finally, a place where my blondeness is appreciated rather than ridiculed and stigmatized.

Of course you are wondering about the food. Alas, I’m not prepared to speak to that yet, as I simply have been enjoying the meals prepared at the house. I can say there is a lot of rice and fried goodness, and should I ever be craving some Western food, I can walk to a Burger King, Dunkin Donuts, or Popeyes.* Speaking of Western comforts, I joined a gym for $15/month (take a note, Crossfit) to avoid becoming a fried rice patty and began attending a charismatic church where no one photographs me while I’m praying. I even saw a man in an Ohio State t-shirt, although I determined he was not from Ohio when I shouted “O-H” and he stared at me like I was crazy. Go buckeyes.

And o yes, I am volunteering. I met the teacher last week who is kind and eager to have my help, and I am looking forward to meeting the kids later this week. As long as I remember my bus route...

* The side streets, on the other hand, are alleys just large enough for you and two scooters passing one another as you put your back against the wall.
* Suckers.
* I don’t know why I hate the sound of chewing. I wish I hated the sound of the Blue Angels, because I encounter that much less often.
* Trust me, it would be good.
* Yes, they have Popeyes here. I expect Burger King and Dunkin Donuts, but this surprised me. For interested minds, there are 1500 Burger Kings in the Asia Pacific are alone and only 350 international Popeyes franchises, so my instinct was correct, per uszh. (I'm not sure how to right the abbreviated form of usual, but that seems close.)

Monday, February 22, 2016

Off to Change a Few Things

Have you ever been to Southeast Asia? No.
Do you speak the Vietnamese? No.
Have you ever worked with disabled kids? No.

I do have some pluck, though. Thanks to my sister, Julie, who gave me this picture as a reminder.

A couple months ago, I left my job and shortly thereafter was accepted to business school. With that, I received a rare gift - an amount of time too short to begin another job, but long enough to justify an adventure. I heard the voice of future Anna. She talks to me sometimes to ensure we will not be annoyed with present Anna's decisions. "You better not waste this time, twenty-seven year old Anna with zero responsibilities. Do something you will never be able to do again. And while you're at it, try to do some good."

I turned to Google: "how to travel abroad cheaply." The SEO powers of Greenheart Travel landed the site as one of my first options, and I immediately fell in love with an organization that offers a way to contribute to a culture while learning from it. It seemed a happy medium between hemorrhaging money to travel and the Peace Corps. Most of the offerings were with animals and the environment. While I love both of those, I love people more, so I chose to volunteer at a school for disabled children in Vietnam for eight weeks. By no means an intense amount of time, but certainly enough time to add a few items to my bag of pluck.

Best of all, they want me to be a featured writer. "Do you have a blog?" they asked. "Do I?!?" What an opportunity. My readership can expand from 15 people to 20, and more humans will be exposed to life according to Anna.

I know those loyal to the blog are wondering how this trip furthers my plan to conquer the world. Don't worry, it does. One of the points made in 33 Strategies of War*, is that adaptability and flexibility are integral parts of success. The more you are exposed to new experiences, the more nimble you become.

So off into a new experience I go! I am looking forward to good food, new relationships, and exciting adventure. I am looking forward to opening myself to a different culture, being influenced by those in it, and impacting others. And I am looking forward to sharing it all with you.

* I just like mentioning that I'm reading that book as often as possible.

Friday, February 12, 2016

What Number Date?

I have worked in restaurants for the better part of twelve years, and my experience has taught me a few truths: 1. If a patron has an accent, chances are they're not aware you only make $2/hour. 2. If someone orders a filet well done, they've never had a filet medium rare, and 3. Winter months suck. Especially in Charlottesville, where it seems the entire city hibernates once the temperature drops below 30. During this time, it is important to find ways to entertain yourself. Last night was one such night. I finished the most difficult sudoku in Cville weekly, continued my quest to get a drink named after me, and was wondering how next to stimulate my mind. Just then, a couple was sat in my section. Time to my play my favorite game - guess the backstory.

I do this with most of my tables. No judgement. Merely speculation. Where are they from, where do they work, how do they know one another? Is this business or pleasure? The most exciting tables are generally couples. Is it a first date? Are they parents on a special night out? Are they breaking up within the next two weeks? As a bartender, you have the advantage of hearing everything across the counter, but servers are only privy to the bits heard while passing the table or taking orders, making it a much more difficult task. Never one to shy away from a challenge, I greet the table, ready to determine their relationship stage.

First sign. No rings. Second sign. They are both sitting with extremely excellent posture. I think your posture directly correlates with how long you have been with someone. By your fiftieth anniversary, you're hunched. Both had dined at Commonwealth before and weren't sure of a drink choice yet, nor were they looking at the menu. Third sign: a veteran couple would have ordered drinks immediately and had menus opened. Eventually, the man orders a Jack and Coke, and the lady wanted "what he's having." Classic. Already they have a mutual love for mediocre whiskey over which they can bond.

I pass by a couple times to see if they would like to order appetizers, and they keep ignoring the menu. At this point, I feel anxious because I would have ordered twenty minutes ago. I have to remind myself not everyone goes out to dinner to immediately indulge. I can't wrap my head around this concept, so I serve them another round of drinks.

The man tells me: "We're having good conversation as our appetizer, and we will get entrees in a bit." Or: we're going to keep sucking down these jack and cokes on empty stomachs and see where the night leads.

I love good conversation. You know what else I love? Calamari. And pork belly.

I meander to the kitchen, and Joe, the expo for the night, asks if they are ordering food. Not yet. Definitely date 1, 2, or 3, and they haven't hooked up yet, because the sexual tension is palpable. Joe is not interested in my hypothesis.

Thankfully, the other servers are. Andrew confirms it was an early date. Her hair looked way too good to be out with her boyfriend. Molly overheard them introducing their jobs, which settled the question. Date number one.

Bold move - diving into dinner. You can't escape if the first twenty minutes are a nightmare. They seem to be enjoying themselves, though, and the outlook was definitely positive.

After forty minutes, I am about to simply order food for them, when they decide. Steak for the man, sea bass for the woman. Predictable.

The man orders a Vienna Lager, and the woman decides to switch to wine. She tells me she was doing things backwards, drinking liquor then wine. As I explain to her why this drink order made perfect sense, her date returns from the bathroom and gently caresses the back of her neck as he passes her chair. O man. There hadn't been this much excitement on a weekday since we switched the menu and got to try all of the dishes.

When I return to see if they like their meals, I am clearly interrupting.
"How are your meals?" I ask.
"Good," says the woman, "but I may need a side of dignity." Ahhh the classic "engage in witty rhetoric with the server" move, showing your versatile personality. I play along:
"Just keep drinking the wine. It helps."

Throughout dinner, their body language is positive. No arms crossing, a flip of the hair, leaning a bit over the table. Upon picking up their finished dishes, I realize they had reached the part where the woman tells him something a little personal, and he listens. Vulnerability. Support. A well rounded date, indeed.

They pass on dessert. I suspected they would want to get things moving. When I drop off the bill, the mood has lightened, and the woman casually mentions that her dog is taken care of for the evening. I was right. It's on.

They pay, I thank them for their patronage, tell them to enjoy the rest of their evening.

We're not finished, though. Now comes the awkward lull. They both know where the night is going to lead, but are not sure how to broach the subject. The man doesn't want to seem overly presumptuous, the woman doesn't want to seem easy, so instead they sit, nursing the last of their drinks. Meanwhile, I just want to cash out and go to my couch to catch some late night SportsCenter.

I consider going to the table and facilitating the conversation for them. Andrew encourages me: "If you play your cards right, you could be invited to join them." Perhaps as a commentator. After all, I had been commentating on their date all night.

Thankfully, they soon got up to go to the bathroom before leaving, a natural segue. I return to the kitchen, wondering if they will engage in a stairwell make-out or have the self control to wait until they leave our classy establishment.

Alas, I will not know. I am 95% sure this will lead somewhere, but not positive, and that is the frustrating part of this speculation game. I rarely see the truths of my presumptions. Tonight, though, the restaurant gods smiled upon me. I walk out of the kitchen, and behold, they had returned from the bathroom and were making out by the table. Congrats, crazy kids. I have a feeling another server will have the opportunity to assess date two.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Single in Cville: a Survivor's Guide

It was my first week at a new job in a new city. I was fresh out of college and excited to explore the world of early adulthood. In my first attempt to make friends, I joined a few coworkers for lunch. Brian sat across from me. He was engaged and excited for his upcoming wedding. Adrienne sat beside him. She was a fellow 2010 grad and had gotten married earlier that summer. I chuckled to myself and looked to the guy on my right, Adam. "Are you married, too?" I asked, half joking, for surely not all had already made the biggest commitment of their life. We were in our early twenties, after all. A time for revelry and adventure, for late nights and ridiculous stories. I heard tales of my older sister galavanting through Chicago, and I assumed this behavior was consistent throughout the country.

"No," he answered. "I'm engaged."*

Where was I? I was not in Chicago, friends. I was in Charlottesville, the city where 50% of the population is married, 30% is in a relationship, 15% is off limits because they recently dated your best friend, and 15% is a special breed of idiot in pastel shorts and applique belts who feel compelled to tell you the asinine subject in which they're getting their Ph.D. or casually mention their father's yacht within 30 seconds of meeting you. That's right - the dating population of Charlottesville is -10%.

Let me be clear: this is not about dating. I have been on roughly five dates, and one of them probably doesn't count - Sam Bradford told me he liked my hat. I also went to what I thought was an interview that may have been a date or an invitation to join a cult. I'm not sure - the man implied at one point he was Jesus. And then I saw him every day on my walk to work and awkwardly looked in the other direction or talked to my invisible friend, Joe, to avoid eye contact.

For those ladies who came here hoping to learn how to score a date in a town where the male/female ratio works against you, though, here it is: sit at a bar by yourself and stare off into space. I have run field tests, and while the quality cannot be guaranteed, the conversion to a drink offer is 92%.

Now: I do know about being single.

Not because I "have really high standards" or "just want to enjoy my freedom" - which, frankly, I don't believe when a girl tells me. I think secretly we all want a man to sweep us off our feet - preferably, a man who is beautiful, intelligent, kind, and has a six pack, good sense of humor and enough money to support our shoe fetish but not enough to make us seem like gold diggers. The reason for solitude doesn't matter; what matters is the depths of knowledge gleaned from a nearly six year foray in the Charlottesville singles scene. When included in my memoirs, this chapter shall be segmented: the annoying, the bad, the good, and the truth. Some of it's universal, some particular, some of it's silly, and some hard to share. As always though, it's honest.

The Annoying

Lame excuses. "I'm not ready for a relationship," "I don't want to ruin the friendship," "My phone's dead so I can't get your number," "Work's really hectic right now," "I have a girlfriend." Okay, maybe the last one isn't lame - just annoying. Really, a simple, "I'm just not that into you" will do.

O, beautiful man at the gym who is not wearing a wedding ring, why did you casually mention your wife four months after I adjusted my workout routine so I could admire your chiseled body? Men, at least wear a rubber wedding ring to the gym. It helps me keep my imaginary world in check.

That time I was on Tinder for 16 hours and deleted the app because I knew 70% of the men and the others looked liked they enjoyed either Drake or David Allen Coe just a little bit too much.

Shoot. Gotta change my gym schedule for a couple weeks.

OSweetJesusWhyAreYouHere. Because it's Wednesday night, I have a huge zit and am apparently revisiting puberty, my boss is annoying me, and while I want to vent to a close friend over some vino, the small town devils want to send a gentle reminder that though you are not into me, you are taking this broad who I assume you met through some random medium for social hookups out for dinner and drinks. And then probably dating her. And then probably marrying her.

Guy: Why are you still single?
My head: Why is the expectation in this town that a female needs to be in a relationship at age 27?
Me: Because my husband hasn't come along yet.
...Guy walks away because I mentioned the H word.

Well hello, sir. You seem well adjusted. You are single and straight. You have not yet dated anyone in this town. Ooo, you're moving across the country next week? Cool.

Being a twenty-first wheel.

The Bad

The loneliness. It's just the worst.

The voices. Screaming that you are not worthy. That no man will ever see you the way your dad sees your mom. I wish it were not the case, but there were periods where, though I knew they were lies, those voices prevailed.

The mistakes. My biggest mistake was not forcing my boss to eat at the same bar as the New England Patriots when we saw the team at Dulles airport. Ahh what could have been. Other mistakes - seeking comfort in the wrong places, disappointing others, making my world loud so I didn’t have to deal with the quiet.

The Good

Different relationships. I have had space to build strong friendships with people across the spectrum of social circles. I will carry those with me, and that is more valuable than a series of broken relationships.

Not running into an ex who reminds me of a relationship that ended with me throwing a ten pound ash tray at his head.

Untainted memories. I have been to twenty countries. I have seen the Eiffel Tower, admired Machu Pichu, roadtripped through Eastern Europe, skydived over the Remarkables, dined at true Brazilian and Argentinian steakhouses. Looking back, I see the wonderful people who were beside me: my sister and brother, my cousins, my closest friends. I hope the future Mr. Navatsyk enjoys traveling, because I would love to build memories with him. However, I am glad I have shared moments thus far with people I know will be in my life forever.

Revelry and adventure, late nights and ridiculous stories. Although let's be honest, I think I would still have ridiculous stories if I was dating someone.

OMyGoodnessFancySeeingYouHere. Because it's Saturday night, I look hot and am feeling flirtatious, and I came to one of the three bars in this town. Actually, I already went to the other two, but you weren't there, so by default, I knew you were here, but I'm going to act like it was a totally casual and unplanned run-in. God, I'm smooth.

Freedom to do what I want. Sure, that means I can dance with whoever I would like on a Saturday night, but that's not important, because I much prefer to dance by myself. It means I can choose to train for a marathon, travel, work two jobs, spend my entire winter studying, pursue grad school and a more fulfilling career, and all of those decisions are much simpler because I am the only one truly affected.

Truths (According to Anna)

Tell the voices to go to Hell. Literally. Because that's where they're from. Tell them again and again and again, and they will come less and less and less.

If it's not him, it's something else. And if God closes the door to something pretty cool, than how great is what He has in store?

You can stay at the party. But you can also leave.

Being a third wheel is a skill. You have to constantly be focused, switching gears from sports to fashion to music to humor to gossip. Couples can tackle double dates 2 on 2, but you must be versatile, agile, like a double-teamed Lebron driving to the hoop. Let me tell you, my slam dunk percentage is quite high.

Smile. The world's too small for enemies, and they're not worth your mental space.

Putting yourself out there isn't so bad. I once left work to go to a guy's apartment the day before he left town to confess my feelings in a totally cool and casual way. He told me his ex-girlfriend wanted him back. I was humiliated for a second, but when you have lived with the nickname Nips Navs, you bounce back pretty quickly.
The last time I was rejected, my gesture was much less robust, but my philosophy remains: if someone is taking up space in your mind and you can't seem to turn the switch off, then do something. Chances are, he's not that into you, because otherwise he would have read your completely obvious signals and done something, but at least the switch will be off.

It's okay to not be okay. It's not okay to ignore that.

Relax. Acknowledge your desires, but enjoy the crap out of being single. Because relationships are hard, too.

If you're under 30, please don't talk about your biological clock. Maybe, don't ever talk about your biological clock. It sounds like you're involved in some type of robotic procreation.

Guys are great. They are supportive, kind, and gracious. They will laugh with you, comfort you, and push you. But it's still nice to complain about them.

The ultimate truth

Define yourself. I heard a sermon once about the disciple John. Throughout his gospel, John refers to himself as the one who Jesus loved. This was not a claim of arrogance, but an act of finding his identity in Jesus' love. We choose to define ourselves in many ways - careers, past hurts, significant others, family, money, our own strength. The list goes on, but none are ultimately fulfilling. Some may be fulfilling for awhile, but they will fade. They will disappoint. The most valuable truth I have learned the past six years is how to define myself. I am not Anna, the daughter of two wonderful parents, the aspiring ruler of the world, or the oversharing blogger. I am Anna, the one who Jesus loved.

I'm not sure what the next six years will hold. People have mentioned that business school is a viable place to meet guys, but I'm skeptical. The last b-school guy I talked to about dating used opportunity cost to make his decision on the matter. Plus, I would rather leave the experience with a baller job. At least I know there are fewer pastel shorts in the Midwest. Until then, if you would like to knock on my door and confess your feelings, my shoe size is 6.5, and I have been eyeing a pair of Jimmy Choos.

*I find it important to note here that Adrienne and Adam became two of my closest friends at RKG, and I deeply respect and enjoy both of them. I also think their spouses are lovely.

Monday, January 11, 2016

2016: Anna's Next Steps Toward World Domination

It's that time of year again. The gyms are full, Nicotene sales are up, the Browns off season has begun, the tennis elite take to the courts to begin the grand slam tour. And everyone is wondering, "What will Anna do this year that will take her one step closer to world domination?" I only have three years until age 30, the target year for my reign to begin.

Let's not get ahead of ourselves, though. We must first reflect briefly on 2015. I had one goal, to run with purpose in every step, and with the exception of one face plant into the pavement, I would say I did. A year ago, I was studying vehemently for the GMAT, working on my posture, and figuring out how to continue being single - apparently even after eight years, there is still much to learn. Today, I have been admitted to grad school, am sitting with generally acceptable posture, and while I still have things to learn about the single life - such as why arguing sports with married men at a bar is not an efficient way to get a date - I am looking forward to taking advantage of my time alone by traveling. Even the face plant was inadvertently purposeful as it spared me from a dental cleaning, extending my streak to over five years.

As always, onward and upward. And fret not - getting a job is not one of my goals.

It is best to begin a list with something you have already accomplished. I finally cleaned my coffee mug. This particular mug has traveled with me from job to job for approximately four years, never actually seeing a dishwasher. Over this time, it has incurred much irremovable residue, despite quarterly scrubbing efforts. This week, I used said mug for a cup of hot chocolate with marshmallows. The chemical reaction of cocoa, sugar and two year old coffee stains somehow resulted in a spotless mug. The beauty of science.

Walk up my apartment stairs rather than take the elevator. 1) It's exercise. 2) It may curb my propensity to forget items in my apartment. 3) There are 69 steps. How cool is that? In a sixth grade boy kind of way, obviously...

Develop a new way to remember names. My current method goes something like this:
"Hi, my name is Matt."
My head: "You look like a John. I knew a John in high school. He sat next to me in Spanish class. Ooo, Spanish class. I once got a detention for throwing a pencil to Bobby right after Senora told us, 'no throwing in the classroom.' Dumb move, Anna."
Next time I see Matt: "Hey John... err Bobby... err Senora... how ya doing?" Matt looks at me funny.

Find a new use for truffle oil - the overpriced ingredient of the 21st century. I'm thinking truffled chocolate truffles.

A couple years ago I tried to make the proverbial she a prude, to little avail. This year, I will attempt to switch the focus of innuendos from she to he, doing my part to help promote gender equality.

Start a fashion trend. If high waisted shorts and crop tops can sweep the nation, surely, anything is possible. Over the years, clothing has exposed more random patches of skin. This year, I will introduce the elbowless clothing line. Sure, when a broad is wearing a tank top, you may see the elbow as simply another joint, but a turtleneck with exposed 'bows unveils the true sensual power of the funny bone. Either that or I will start a line of neon mouth guards and pacifiers - for all your oral fixation needs. Inspired by this guy from Boyz in the Hood:

Have a drink named after me. Directly or indirectly. A couple ideas: the toxic navatsyk - man, all these years, I never realized this rhymed; what a fearsome nickname - the dome, novocaine (both actual nicknames), the dolphin call (because I laugh like a dolphin), the clevelander (I shouldn't need to explain this one).

Get my head on a sign. If the starting point guard for Michigan State can have his head blown up, I can as well. Of all my goals, this is the one that will be most difficult to achieve, but I have some ideas.

Find the sweet spot on my Mac mouse pad, equivalent to the right click. It seems I can only tap it occasionally, and I have no idea how to do it consistently. That's what he said.

Finally, I will continue to draw inspiration from Paul - this year, from his letter to the Philipians. Paul writes from prison, that "Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus."

I love watching the tennis pros compete. Certainly, the bodies are beautiful, but more than that, the pursuit of victory is so clearly dependent on mindset. One point can completely shift momentum. You have to play each as it comes, neither dwelling on past failures, nor depending on past successes. You must be present, always. If you lose sight of the goal, it is easy to collapse under pressure. Win or lose, you do one thing: prepare for the next match.

After pouring my heart and soul into Charlottesville for six years, I am going to say goodbye. But at present, there is still time to build new relationships, strengthen current ones, take risks and capitalize on opportunities, and absorb every last bit of goodness. I can continue pouring my heart and soul into Charlottesville, because we are not done with each other yet, though the end is in sight. There is also time to prepare for a new adventure, neither dwelling on past failures nor depending on past successes, keeping my eye on the goal - Christ Jesus. And world domination.