I’m Back!

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Friends, I’m back! But over at ANomadontheLoose.com

That’s right, this time around I bought the domain. The new blog is just starting out so I’m still playing around with design and setup, but head over and check it out. I’ll also be slowing migrating some of my favorite pieces over to that and eventually plugging the public plug on this one.

Cheers,

Rowena

Mr Helmly, Revisited

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It’s funny, isn’t it, how the way we view people and things change so much between the time we’re kids and when we’re adults? Or even year to year? How the way we remember people and events change along the way?

Well, at least most people and things in life are like that. But not Mr. Helmly. For those of you who remember, Mr. Helmly was my 3rd- and 4th-grade teacher who had a profound influence on my life. [Catch up on Part 1 and Part 2 of this story.]

Earlier this month, after more than 11 years since I last saw him and nearly 3 years after I began to look for him, I finally met up with Mr. Helmly again while I was visiting the city in which he now lives. The restaurant could have been packed to the core and I still would’ve been able to pick him out in a hot second. Take a look.

(For the sake of the story, I’m posting this time capsule from the ’90s, with a special appearance from the friendly classroom skeleton. No comments on my fashion choices please.)
For the sake of the story, I'm posting this time capsule from the '90s. No comments on my choice of clothing please.

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Can we also talk about how he absolutely does not look like a man who’s going to turn 72 this year?

Besides the fact that I’m now taller than him, Mr. Helmly is really how I remembered him, still with that personality of not conforming to the norm. I did, however, misremember certain facts about him. For example, he was not a lifelong bachelor as I had always remembered, but rather had been single for the many years when he was teaching at my elementary school. (He is now remarried, however, so send him your best wishes).

I wanted to update those who were keeping up with this, but for his privacy and mine, this post is intentionally kept short. For those who are still looking to get in touch with him, please leave me your info in the comments or email me at rowena [at] rowenali [dot] com — Mr. Helmly has said he’s happy to correspond with any former students.

Go Doyle Dolphins! 🙂

Last Saturday I Went on Three Dates…

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And no, I’m not telling you who, what, when, where, or how things went. I just figured it’d draw your attention 😉

So how did I end up on more dates in one day than I’ve been on in the past year (Nebraska’s not exactly prime territory…)? OKCupid.

I’ve had close friends who’ve been doing online dating for two or three years now, including some with successful long-term relationships, but I’ve always been a little hesitant. I figured I was just in an odd spot because I was living in Nebraska. I mean, surely it couldn’t be too difficult to meet people in bigger cities. As it turns out, online dating is way more prevalent in bigger cities. And so with a push and nudge from a few friends, I finally signed up just before the new year.

When you think about it, online dating is both a positive and negative indicator of our society. It’s kind of sad that we are all so busy going about our own lives via our routines and within our friend groups that we seldom meet the very people surrounding us, that we live in a society which deems it strange to just randomly approach someone and start a conversation, unless it’s in a bar or at some social event. Yet it’s wonderful that we now have the technology to connect people who may have never otherwise met each other, especially because in the real world, most people tend to meet each other through mutual friends. (These apply to both romantic and platonic relationships.) There are also other pros and cons of online dating that researchers have found, but that’s another topic for another day.

But regardless of whether this experiment is successful for me in the romantic sense, I can already say that it’s been a fantastically fascinating experience. Perhaps it’s because of my background as a journalist or perhaps it’s just due to my innate curiosity, but I’m always fascinated by other people’s stories and experiences. And boy did I hear some stories on Saturday; pretty much made me miss my days of reporting.

So if you’ve been thinking about trying out online dating, today’s a good day to take a leap of faith. If nothing else, it’ll be an intriguing exercise on learning about different perspectives and meeting people from all walks of life.

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The Lost Kids

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I call them kids, but they’re not really kids. A lot of them are my age or older.

And I call them lost, except many of them are perfectly content as they are.

I live in the Haight, a neighborhood in San Francisco that is somewhat known for its gathering of homeless people. (Or at least what society would label as homeless people — I’d say vagabonds is a better description.) Many of them travel in twos or threes, adding in and swapping members of their group as days pass and as people move on. They sleep and hang out on most major streets in the neighborhood and they’re often in Golden Gate Park. 

Like most people on the streets, they ask for money, cigarettes, food — but they’re never aggressive, and usually, they’re quite polite. I try to give them food whenever I can; there’s a special corner that I’ve picked as the spot I go to about once a week, dropping off whatever food I’ve got to whomever happens to be there at that time. Usually they thank me and I go home, but last night, I stopped to chat.

The kid I spoke to the most is 19. He grew up in foster care in New Mexico and first ended up on the streets at 14. He eventually made his way to college, but when he got laid off from one of his jobs, he had to default on his tuition payments. That caused him to lose his part-time job at the college, which meant he could no longer afford rent. And from there, it was no college, no apartment, no job. He still has his car, but there’s also been streets and sewers.

He says he rarely stays in any one city for more than a few days because he’s afraid of getting attached to anyone or revealing too much of himself to anyone.

He says he likes the drifting because in part, it’s a type of freedom that he’s never had in any other part of his life.

Another guy I spent a good amount of time speaking with is 30. He’d been on the streets at a younger age, but for the last five years he had been married, holding down a job, and living in a home. This month was his first back on the streets after a nasty breakup.

He says he doesn’t even try to “get his act together” anymore because whenever something good starts, it all starts falling down.

He says he knows he’s a coward for thinking like that, but he’s willing to live with it.

They’re often hungry. They’re often dirty. They’re more than often seen as society’s downtrodden. But they could teach those of us society labels as “normal” a thing or two. 

1) Sharing is caring.

Last night I brought a bag of just-cooked tortellini, a bottle of lemonade, and some candy. It was amazing to watch as they passed the food around, each person taking one until everyone had had at least a share. There was no meticulous dividing or any sly hands even though there were 20+ of them and they were hungry.

I asked about how they decide who shares what with whom, especially given that many of them don’t stay in the same area for more than a few days. The answer? That they don’t keep track of it. You always share what you have with whomever is there; that sharing always comes back around at some point.

2) Happiness is what you make of it, so stop trying to measure up to other people’s definitions of it.

Few of us who “live a normal life” would be happy living on the streets without a warm place to sleep or some sort of guarantee of not going hungry. But happiness is what you make of it. As one of them explained to me, there are the go-getters in the world and then there are those who are content to just be, even if it’s a drifter’s existence on the streets.

Happiness doesn’t need to be a Maserati and first-class world voyages. It’s okay to not spend your entire life climbing the socioeconomic ladder as long as you’re happy. (But if you need that to be happy, that’s cool too — to each his own.)

3) Help others — you always have something to give.

The youngest of those there last night was 17; many of them have been on the streets for years. Some of them had just met, others had traveled together, and it was just refreshing to see and hear about how they take care of each other when they’re together, even if that’s only 24 or 48 hours.

So many of us are so wrapped up in our own lives that we don’t stop to help others. It doesn’t have to be money. It can be your time, your labor, some food, or even just an ear to listen.

We spoke about so much more, and I was bursting with curiosity, but I finally bid them farewell when police came to disperse their group.

Apparently 20 or so kids sitting at one corner is trouble a-brewing. 

[An aside: apologies for disappearing from the blog for 3+ months — San Francisco has been exciting to say the least!]

Smile :)

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Sometimes I have crappy days.

Like today. It’s not one of those terrible days when everything just goes wrong and I think life would be easier with a pint of ice cream always attached to me. It’s just one of those days when things are iffy.

Usually I go work out when I’m feeling down, but I couldn’t get my full endorphins today because I’m temporarily without a gym and I really didn’t want to get heatstroke out in the 106-degree sweat lodge that is the outside. Sometimes I also go to thought catalog or buzzfeed for a few laughs, but nope, couldn’t find anything all that laughable today.

And so I came back to my favorite Pinterest pin ever:

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Happy Wednesday! 🙂