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Sunday, November 15, 2015

Getaways & Goals

I have a confession to make. I am not a beach person. My family has never been a "lets go to the beach" family (probably because everyone but my mom would have burned to a crisp). Our idea of a vacation is go-go-go see-see-see rather than the lounge-with-a-book philosophy of other families. And yet here I am, living on island time in one of the most laid back regions of the world - life does have a funny way of working itself out. Sometimes it takes a sharp left turn an you have a split second to choose: lean in or risk falling off. So I leaned in, and now I'm learning more about island culture, Pohnpeian and other, than I ever knew existed.

Which is how I found myself lounging in the blue waters of the Pacific on October 31st, on a very tiny, rentable private island, with 8 other volunteers (Jesuit Volunteers + Peace Corp Volunteers). We lead very simple lives as volunteers - small stipends, simple forms of fun, lots of humble learning in a new culture - but one (of the many) joys of life in the Pacific is a private island getaway cheap enough for our volunteer salary.

So, Halloween weekend and we're floating in the perfect blue ocean, reading books on our bungalow porches, napping in hammocks, eating candy corn, talking and catching up on our lives, exchanging funny school stories, being filled with good company and good friends and all the feel-good vibes of a late night glow stick dance party.

I also reached a big milestone on Halloween: I finished my 75th book since arriving in the FSM. Like I mentioned earlier, we do a lot of reading, game playing, cards, and conversations rather than being glued to technology screens at night. I have always always loved books and read away my summer days in middle school and high school, but I lost the pleasure of reading for fun once college hit and I had so much required reading. It has been heavenly to come to a place where I have extra time on my hands and plenty of books to peruse.

I do my best to have a healthy work-life balance, so I leave school around 5 pm and don't work in the evenings. It keeps me sane and whole, because I am more than a teacher. We are all more than the work that we do and we should not let our work define who we are. It's the best feeling leaving work at work and knowing that I can spend the rest of the evening relaxing with good company, good board games (Ticket to Ride, anyone? I'm obsessed), and good books.

When I first came to the FSM 15 months ago I started with series books, reading through all the Harry Potters, Hunger Games, and Divergent books. Then I had a science fiction kick (The Night Circus, Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore) and an autobiography phase (Redefining Realness, Bossypants, Yes Please). There was the era of thriller-adventure books (the Vanessa Michael Monroe Series) and the sweet, sassy books about friendship (Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, The Friday Night Knitting Club). I always enjoy books set in foreign countries (Girls of Riyadh, It's Not About the Tapas), books that inspire me to continue helping the world (Kisses from Katie, Pencils of Promise), and books that open my eyes to the harsh realities some children face everyday (Say You're One of Them). There were the books I couldn't put down, whose suspense made my heart rate rise the second I picked them up, both from fascination and fear (Brain on Fire, Touching the Void). Then the sweet love stories (Eleanor & Park), books written in email format (Attachments), and a compilation of letters sent to the Dear Sugar advice column (Tiny Beautiful Things). I have loved each and every book in parenthesis and would recommend them to anyone.

My 75th book, The Geography of Bliss, definitely makes it onto my Top 5 book list. Eric Weiner, a foreign correspondant for NPR, travels the world in search of the happiest places (also visiting some of the unhappiest) to see what we can learn from them. It combines some of my favorite things in life (travel + happiness) and I enjoyed it immensely.

I love the moment when I finish a book, stick it on the shelf, and stand back to survey the scene. Two bookshelves full of books...the world is at my fingertips. What am I in the mood for? Fiction or  nonfiction, we have a bit of everything - spiritual, autobiography, comedy, thrillers, historical, science fiction, classics. Whenever I'd walk into a library in America I immediately make a beeline for certain sections, genres I knew I loved, but here I've tried a bit of everything. And I love that. I never would have picked up a science fiction book in my life in the US, but I decided to give one a try here and loved it.

75 books (that's 25,376 pages) down, 25 books to go to meet my goal of 100 books in my service.

What was the last good book you read?

If it's been a while, I hope this post has inspired you to put down your phone or TV remote and pick up a book instead. Ask your mom or your grandpa what their favorite books are. I've had some of the best Skype conversations exchanging good book ideas with my parents and grandparents. Use that library card stuck in the bottom of your wallet. Take one of those books you bought on amazon (and promised yourself you'd read) off the shelf.

I promise, you won't regret it.

"We lose ourselves in books, we find ourselves there too." -Kristin Martz