Suicide, a Survivor’s Guide

Tl;dr version – We do not talk about suicide and mental health nearly as much as we should. It is critically important to speak up about this – so to that aim I am telling my story 10 years later and ways I’ve learned to stay sane.

If you need help call The Trevor Project (1-866-488-7386) or NAMI (1-866-488-7386).

Me pretending to be “happy” – August 2008
Suffering is one very long moment

A decade ago I was “happy”. I put on a veneer that everything was going well when just below the surface I was raging like Mount Vesuvius and as stable as the San Andreas fault. I didn’t have an outlet for that pressure, it broke me and I tried to kill myself.

In the past I’ve been vague and skimmed the surface about this because it is painful, deep, and emotional and honestly, because I still feel ashamed about it to this day. I’d allude to it as “about to give the ultimate sacrifice” or “in the past I went as far to create a suicide plan”. The only other time I’ve written about this it was clinical. Only 5 short crisp sentences stating what had happened with a link to the Trevor Project.

The fact that I tried to kill myself is a dark secret I carry with me and don’t talk about because I’m partially afraid of how much one night nearly destroyed everything. I don’t focus enough on the fact that I’ve had 10 years that by all rights I shouldn’t have had.

It is important that we speak uncomfortable truths and secrets and so today I will. Reading through my story it is amazing to see the power of hindsight. Things I thought were the end of the world seem trivial now but when I was in the midst of this darkness my view was distorted and it is only with a decade of time that I am able to see more objectively. Please forgive any typos as this was painful to write and harder to revise.

My Story
  • It was the fall senior year at the University of Utah – 2008 I was in DC for an internship and hadn’t met anyone else in the program
  • I’d transferred to the University of Utah after being kicked out of BYU for “struggling with my sexuality”. I hadn’t yet admitted to myself I was gay. I’d lied to my parents and literally everyone about why I wasn’t at BYU anymore.
  • On the flight to DC I finally said the words “Maybe I’m gay” to myself. In that moment every question I’d had over the years clicked into place. I’d felt incongruous with the world around me and finally I had an answer as to “why”
  • 30 seconds later I realized “Shit I’m also Mormon” – hence the major conflict
  • I spent the next semester figuring out what being gay & Mormon actually meant. I came out to the other gay kid in the program and he introduced me to my first gay bar which incidentally I have now outlived (RIP Town Danceboutique!). I went on my first dates, learned how fleeting yet fantastically meaningful a relationship could be, went to my first gay-friendly bookshop and realized that it is just another bookshop albeit with larger self-help & fiction sections and a flag out front.
  • I also dove headlong into researching everything biblical and clinical on homosexuality. From the original Greek version of the Bible that Paul’s epistles would have referenced to the latest research on twins where researchers were looking for the “gay gene”.
  • On any given week I would go from looking for a “cure” to my problem to instead looking for religious text that said I was normal and loved. I researched conversion therapy and the only reason I didn’t sign myself up for electroshock aversion therapy was because y research showed it was effective only 5% of the time and even then the effects of the “cure” lasted less than 5 years.
  • I did all this because I felt like my soul was being split in two. Saying that doesn’t do it justice and I lack the talent to describe it myself. The closest I’ve found to how I felt can be found in the play Angels in America when the Mormon housewife is having a mental break because her husband is gay. She is told:

“God splits the skin with a jagged thumbnail from throat to belly and then plunges a huge filthy hand in, he grabs hold of your bloody tubes and they slip to evade his grasp but he squeezes hard, he insists, he pulls and pulls till all your innards are yanked out and the pain! We can’t even talk about that. And then he stuffs them back, dirty, tangled and torn. It’s up to you to do the stitching.”

  • This is how I felt as a gay Mormon. My entire life had been ripped apart and I was left to do the stitching up and in the process had to decide what I kept and what was left behind. Would I keep the gay bits or the Mormon bits.
  • This is how I thought, in a binary. I couldn’t do both and so I had to pick one.  Faced with the choice to leave all you’ve ever known and throw it aside for all eternity or reject this new thing that for the first time made your life make sense. Two roads diverged in front of me and I had to choose. But my thinking was almost always on what I’d be giving up. On the negative. Rejecting family and eternal life with them or rejecting happiness. Even in that time of choosing I could only see the negative of those choices, not the positive and definitely not a possibility that there was more than just a binary.
  • So it was with this constant question in my mind that every day during my lunch break I’d take a walk through the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery & American Art Museum just a couple of blocks away. I’d wander through oblivious to most of the art because I couldn’t see the beauty or the happiness in any of it. I was going to find a quiet place to think and work through this problem. I felt so weak for not being able to “just fix this” that I told no one. I just put on a smiling face, wrote my thoughts in journals, and kept white knuckling through it.
  • That meant the cycle between “I’m going to be gay” or “I’m going to be Mormon” went from a 10-day cycle to a 7 day to a 4 day to a 2 day cycle. I started flip-flopping my position on everything so much that I couldn’t do anything but get myself to work, get through the day, and then focus on this. It consumed everything I did. Finally I “broke down” and started looking for help from other people.
  • I started participating in online forums for other gay Mormons working through this on both sides of the coin. I reached out to YouTubers who had told their coming out stories. I went so far as to break down and tell my Dad when he was in town and then a month later just a few days after the bitter-sweet election of 2008 where Obama won and Prop 8 passed I told my Mom I was gay.
  • Let me tell you that it is not easy telling Mom that her baby wasn’t everything she thought I was going to be. After I told her I thought things were going to get better. I went from having no support network to having a couple of people I could lean on. Or so I thought.
  • Just 2 weeks later I still faced with this binary choice of which half of me had to die so that the other could live. This morning I reviewed my journals from that time and this quote stood out

“I feel as if I’m in an endless cycle that will keep me depressed then happy the depressed, etc until one side either the Church or gay breaks and gives UP. If this continues I will break and kill myself, I can see it coming  … … If I can’t break this cycle before next year I will need to commit myself to a psych ward”.

  • That’s where my head was at and one day things clicked into place in my brain and this seemed like the answer I’d been struggling to get to. Why be the one to choose when I could let Jesus take the wheel and have God tell me what I needed to do on the other side of the veil.
  • It was in that moment that I really had decided to do it but I was so mad at myself for making that choice that I decided to vent my frustration and blow off some steam by practicing some of my fencing kata. I didn’t have my swords so I took an old broomstick, went outside, and started through the motions to try and calm myself but they didn’t work. So instead I started to fight the imaginary foe that was a big tree nearby but it wouldn’t budge.
  • I hit the tree again & again & again & again until I had destroyed the broomstick and my hands were stinging and numb from all of the reverberations.
  • I picked up the pieces, threw them away, went upstairs, and cleaned up my hands not feeling any relief. In the bathroom I opened up the medicine cabinet and noticed the bottle of Lortab leftover from my wisdom teeth removal. So I took one for the pain.
  • I tried calling Mom but couldn’t get ahold of her so I reached out to my online community and posted about how I was feeling. I don’t remember if it was a goodbye note or just an obvious cry for help. After writing that I tried calling Mom again and this time left a voicemail.
  • In it I asked her to call me back, told her I loved her and needed to chat, and that “If you don’t hear from me, it’s not your fault”. Then I hung up and emptied the rest of the bottle of pills down my throat.
  • I got a call from one of the guys in the online group and he did everything you are supposed to do in that situation. He tried to get my address by claiming “he wanted to send me a postcard” but I told him no he’d want to send an ambulance.
  • I remember lying in bed trying to forget about this world protesting against this guy’s attempts to get me help and something I was saying on the phone triggered my roommate into action.
  • My roommate came over and asked me what was going on. I stumbled my way through it without really telling him much except about some of the pills. He went to ask our other roommate for help.
  • In that moment I ran out of the apartment, took to the stairwell and went up a few flights of stairs and hid in the laundry room just wanting to die.
  • The police were called and they searched the building until they found me and took me to the hospital. It just so happens that I was found by one of the gay cops on the force who, on the way over, shared his story with me and telling me I’d be okay, that it gets better … he didn’t understand.
  • In the hospital bed I remember the nurses saying I was having issues with my sexual identity and me internally raging that they didn’t get it. I knew I was gay that wasn’t the problem. It was that I was also Mormon and no-one understood what was going on.
  • They took me to the psych ward for observation and counselling. I remember they wouldn’t let me have my headphones to listen to music for fear I’d use them to hang myself. I met with a shrink who wanted to talk to me about how it was okay to be gay and how “in here all the problems of the world are on the other side of that door. In here you don’t have to worry about the pressures outside.” I stared and him and realized he didn’t get it either.
  • The cop didn’t get it. The nurse didn’t get it. And now the shrink didn’t get it. And worst off I hated being in that ward. It was for crazy people and I wasn’t crazy.
  • I eventually got to talk to my mom and heard how panicked she was by my voicemail the next morning (she had gone to sleep early and hadn’t heard the phone ring) and how she and my brother had tried to track me down.
  • I met with the shrink again the next day and this time he realized that the demons I faced came inside with me and that keeping me in the hospital may not be the best for me. Part of this was helped by me internally believing and thus truthfully telling him and everyone around me “After going through this I can promise you I’m never going to try and kill myself ever again”.
  • I believed that lie. I made them believe it too until they let me out. What they didn’t know was that in my head the key word was “try”. Like Yoda’s advice “Do or do not, there is no try” I knew my next attempt would have no calls, no room for error, no witnesses, just a note safety pinned to my shirt. Even hearing how my Mom panicked when she got my voicemail didn’t shake this resolve.
  • Somehow I convinced everyone of this lie and got out of psych ward in less than the 72 hour observation period and ended up back at my internship.
  • I went back to the old cycles of gay or Mormon but they were back to their 10-day cycles again. I had 3 weeks left on my internship before I went home and I knew that before my 20th birthday in March – if not sooner – I’d be dead. I was past choosing, I had decided. I was full on planning how with several situations as to how I’d do it.
  • Then after only a few days home I woke up to a primal scream from my mother yelling my name. Instantly the adrenaline coursed through my system and I was awake and downstairs. She couldn’t find her husband and he had left her some disturbing voicemails. We went looking for him and listened to more voicemails that made it clear he had was going to kill himself. We figured out where he’d gone and when we got there we discovered the police had already been there and taken him to the hospital. He was alive.
  • It was only then sitting in the hospital waiting room that I realized had been given a gift. I was able to experience first-hand what my Mom went through when she got my voicemails. The panic, the feeling of helplessness, the primal fear coursing through her veins. I got to see how my attempt had fractured her.
  • In that moment it became clear that for the first time that this suicide attempt wasn’t just about me. It wasn’t about what half of me had to die, which binary I chose, or how I killed myself. I finally understood how it would have deep, life altering ripples through everyone around me.
  • It would take the pain I was feeling and not end it, but amplify it and share it with everyone around me – forever changing their lives. Even writing this I can only imagine how these two attempts may have changed my Mom’s behavior when it comes to sleeping near the phone, and we both made it out alive.
  • I am extremely grateful to have had that experience but I got lucky. Far too many people don’t get that and are thinking to themselves “I’m never going to try to kill myself again”. That is why I had to share my story because far too few talk about this.
  • In the last decade I have been able to do some incredible things including living in 4 major cities, going to grad school at Oxford, working for Google & L’Oreal, seeing dozens of amazing musicals that touched my soul, help countless other gay Mormons stay alive and find meaning. I’ve met incredible friends whom I’ve shared my life with, traveled to almost 20 countries, been on incredible adventures and so much more.
  • Has it been all rainbows and sunshine – HELL NO! There have been struggles and pain. Loss and rejection. Frustration and fury. But in the end I have been able to hopefully do some good in this world.
We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars

In order to push back the demon I had to make it about other people, not about me. But sometimes the stress brings me closer to that demon’s grasp and so I’m grateful for tools I’ve put in place to help make sure I never get anywhere near this demon again. Here are some of the ways I work to stay mentally sane. They work decently well for me but your mileage may vary.

  1. Get physical – Even if it’s just for a walk or a run let alone a gym session or a full on competitive sport. Activating my body activates my mind and helps me stay sane.
  2. Talk meaningfully with the inner ring in your life. – Your inner ring may be just 1 person or a handful, but the family and friends you tell just about everything to you should speak to regularly and meaningfully. Sometimes all I need is a quick check in with how their job hunt or move or travels are going but I know that – when shit hits the fan – I can call on them to help get me out if my head. When I find myself realizing my inner ring has shrunk because people drift or move on, that is a warning sign to heed.
  3. Find and embrace stories. From novels to comic books, business books to TV shows, movies to video games, or from the people around you. Find a way to hear other stories. They don’t have to be about struggle or mental health and please I hope they aren’t! Stories allow us to find our own moral lessons and learnings based on how we – in that moment – interpret them. When I find myself finding only melancholy meanings in stories that is a warning sign and so I look for something different.
  4. Change your routine. We are creatures of habit. We take the same commute to work, go to the same shops, order the same food and in the process form patterns and routines. When my routine becomes a mental rut something as small and simple as taking a different path to work or going to a different gym gives me perspective and gets me out of my own head. It reminds me that I need to get out of my mental health rut as well.
  5. Shut off the news. The news alert the other week about RBG falling down and breaking 3 ribs set the mood for half of my office and made everyone a bit more on edge. I stopped getting most alerts so that I could avoid the rapid-fire cyclical anxiety of news. Unless your job demands you have CNN on at all times then don’t. Reclaim your time.
  6. Change your music. Over the last decade I’ve seen how the music I listen to amplifies or dampens a mood. If I’m feeling down and listen to melancholy music I feel worse for longer. Putting on music with a brighter beat or more calming message works. It may take an entire playlist or two but it works for me.
  7. Explore a new culture. This one is huge for me. Be it through going to try new food at a local Ethiopian place or flying to Portugal (which I’m doing in a few hours). Seeing how a different culture responds to the same stimuli forces you to change your perspective. Travelling especially does this as you go from “they say elevator wrong” to ” they say elevator differently and that’s okay”. While a lift and elevator are small examples experiencing this reminds me to not think in a binary of wrong and right but to find a way to make things work best for me.
  8. Learn a new skill. When we only do what we are good at doing it is easy to see ourselves as failures when we fail at some new challenge. In reality we just haven’t experienced it or practiced it yet. We can build resilience by failing often in small and controlled ways. The best way I know how to build this is by trying something new. I went to Costa Rica and spent a week at surf school. I originally thought “yeah, I can do that!” Newsflash I could not. I got up 1 time for about 10 seconds and failed again and again. While I may not have actually learned the new skill I did learn how to fail and be okay with that as long as I keep trying.
  9. Journal. Writing things down with pen and paper in a quiet spot gives you perspective and lets you empty your anxiety onto a page instead of keeping it bottled up in your head. If I spend 5 minutes each morning with my iced coffee writing 10 lines about the shitty thing Karen from finance did helps me be more mindful during the day.
  10. Reflect. Spend a day a week different from the others. Don’t work, don’t stress, just set it aside. If I can take it and go to the park for a picnic, take a stroll, or go to an amazing choral church service I find it helps turn the release valve and give me a mental break. Often I’ll take my journal and write until I can’t write anymore thus combining a few activities.

These 10 things work well for me and help me stay sane because they try and slow down the crazy and give me perspective. If you are having a hard time know that you are not alone. You are not flawed. You are human.

We live in a crazy world and so I’ll leave you with the best description about anxiety & depression I’ve ever heard. It comes from a dear friend who was asked by his doctor where anxiety came from. He described it best when he said;

“I mean the brain evolved to pick berries out of bushes, chase antelopes or whatever, and run away from lions, but now I have a computer in my pocket that talks to satellites, i live in a brick box, and will probably live 70 years longer than nature intended, so that probably has something to do with it.”

If you are having a crisis please reach out to The Trevor Project (1-866-488-7386) or NAMI (1-866-488-7386). If you need someone to talk to I am happy to help out as well.

“Where are you from?”

On July 6th 2014, I stepped off a train and into a new world that would change my life and eventually become my home. I was on a trip to Ireland with friends and had decided to stop in London for a few days because I was already over here so I might as well. While in London I decided to wake up early and take a Sunday morning train up to Oxford, the home of Hogwarts, Narnia, Middle Earth, and Wonderland. The home of the stories that had enthralled me as a child and provided my escape from the realities of growing up gay and Mormon in a family that took 4 long years to divorce.

I had previously applied and been rejected from Oxford for a program studying politics and the internet and so I felt an added need to see this place that had told me I wasn’t quite good enough yet. I walked past the old colleges that looked like castles and saw the meadows that inspired Lewis Carrol to write about Alice; I had a pint at the pub where C.S. Lewis and Tolkien discussed their writings for 39 years; I saw the dining hall that inspired J.K. Rowling’s Great Hall; I stopped by the office of the program that had rejected me; and after 6 hours in this quaint town I headed back down over the bridge towards the train station where I passed a large glass building emblazoned with “Said Business School”.

In my London hotel room that night I couldn’t fall asleep until I researched this “Said Business School”. I added it to my list of MBA programs I was looking at and 6 months later submitted my application and this time around I was admitted to join the University of Oxford. I was overjoyed but still had doubts. Was it the right program for me? Was it a good enough program? Was I good enough? Should I go to a UK school to study business? Why not Duke (my other option)?

As doubt filled my mind I was blessed to have a great friend who has known me for 7 years tell me that if I didn’t go to Oxford he’d personally fly out to meet me wherever I was and slap me in the face. That this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and if I didn’t take it I was stupid and didn’t deserve to have gotten in in the first place. I will always be thankful to this friend because Oxford has changed my life in a dozen ways.

I experienced true history in a way that you almost can’t in America (especially the West). I had my eyes truly opened to philosophy and the great expanse of time that humanity has been trying to solve The Big Questions. I met some of the most amazing and brilliant people of my generation. I debated in a debating society that has existed for longer than my religion. I sat under a tree planted before the war of 1812. I learned about finance and to look at more than the niche areas of business I’d been trained to. I met friends for life whom I know I can call when things turn to shit or with whom I will celebrate alongside when they achieve something amazing without feeling jealous of their accomplishments. I met future politicians and researchers who will help usher in the next era of technological advancement.

Yesterday I formally graduated from an institution that has been teaching students since 1231. That is 300 years before the Aztec empire was founded; 200 years before the printing press was created. I’m graduating as a member of Lincoln College founded 1427, 65 years before Christopher Columbus discovered the New World for a newly united Spain and almost 350 years before America declared herself free making my college walls almost 2.5 times older than my country and 21 times older than I am.

As I sat inside the Sheldonian theater – a theater that became an architectural model for over a century – listening to a service in Latin that has been given for almost 800 years I feel the ties of humanity binding me to the past. I hear a whisper of an echo of a plea urging me to “Carpe” to “Carpe Diem” to use the great gift of an Oxford education and all the privilege that comes with it to do good in the world. All of us have been born into an unfair world. Some have it unfair at the worst end of the spectrum. I have been blessed to ascend above my station in life and reach an even more unfair position and I have a duty to use that to help others. To pay it forward to those who cannot yet reach the heights I have seen.

I don’t yet know what form that payment will take but I know that it is my Northstar guiding my actions. For I cannot sit here as one who was given a chance to be a student at Oxford and not pay in all I can to help others.

Today I am on the bus back to Heathrow marking the official “end” of my Oxford Journey that began in July 2014 when I first stepped off that train and visited this town of “dreaming spires” for the first time. Today also marks the beginning of a life touched by her ancient walls and guided by her timeless wisdom. Today is when I can truly say “I’m from Oxford.”

The Magic of Italy

Two years ago I was trying to figure out what was next in my life. Do I start my own firm, work at a different company, or go back to school.

I was facing a rough patch but a few months earlier had booked a flight to Italy to stay with someone who I’d met only once before at an airport lounge on New Years. It was an incredibly crazy thing to do and I am so glad I did it.

I spent the week before Christmas experiencing the European lifestyle and just decompressing from the stress of it all. It was in Italy, just after leaving the colosseum that I got a job offer and also decided to apply to get my MBA. That trip helped inspire me to choose Oxford when the time came.

This past Easter I was invited back down and as I started to prep for a handful of exams it was exactly what I needed. A rooftop with sunlight, a view of the harbor, and some prosecco with friends. It reaffirmed the decisions I’d made and helped me start to see ways of living that I want to incorporate into my life in the future. From being truly a local in the community to being the life and host of a party.

Having finished up my MBA this weekend I have felt a bitter-sweetness as the amazing year comes to an end. And so to combat this I booked a flight down to Italy again and am just a few hours from landing in Napoli where I’ll have amazing food, great friends, and a chance to decompress from it all.

Something about these people, this place, and the pasta is truly amazing. I am looking forward to a weekend of rest & relaxation that will recharge me for whatever comes next, be it a job in the UK or back in the states. Italy has become my happy place and I’m so happy to be back.

The Change of a Year.

1 year ago today I landed in the UK. I’d spent my flight flirting with the flight attendant who I eventually went on a few dates with. I cleared customs and hopped into a cab I’d had waiting for me to take me to Oxford.

I walked up to Lincoln college, grabbed my keys and dropped my bags while I made 3 trips to collect all of my stuff because the street was closed for a fair and the cab couldn’t make it through.

Exhausted I unpacked my things and went out in search of carbs. I’d seen a place called Mission Burrito a shop that promised San Francisco-style burritos. FALSE!

These tasted nothing like even the lowest of Tex-Mex in the states known as Chipotle. It was terrible. I moved into my flat and settled in for a year of classes, new people, and (although I didn’t know it yet) absurdity.

The past year has been one of the best I’ve had as I’v enforced the time to grow individually as I discover myself. I’ve also spent the time I needed learning the previously foreign language of Business that seemed to be all around me at my old job.

I spent today showing my parents inside colleges and various bits of life in Oxford. We met the children of great men, saw the colleges that inspire literary generations, and experienced the Oxford I’d lived in for the past year.

I am so grateful for the year I’ve had and hope that I am able to keep the lessons I learned (both in and out of class) in my heart as we bid farewell to the town we will always call home, Oxford.

Gratitude?

“David, don’t feign modesty – you are an American, it doesn’t look on you.”

Last night an amazing friend (who may be reading this) sad this to me as I tried to downplay a compliment she was giving me. It’s a force of habit that I have to downplay compliments and praise about me. It’s also something that I’ve had bosses tell me I need to work on in the past but I still haven’t found the way to just accept it.

It is really hard for me to not feel like an ego-driven jerk when I just say “thank you” to praise. To me it sounds very much like I am taking praise that is unworthy or that is for things that I don’t deserve. It’s hard for me to accept that there are things I’m good at without letting my ego get in the way.

I don’t have the answer yet but I think I need to work on being sincerely grateful in the cases when it happens. Usually a trite “thank you” is just that, trite. It is disingenuous and petty and is something I don’t want to be a part of. But true gratitude is something worth aspiring to.

Does anyone have any good ways to start expressing gratitude on a daily basis that I can add to my morning or evening ritual?

Mellowed

Reflection is a helpful thing even though it hurts.

As I’ve traveled and lived in Europe for the past year I have, at times, been a typical American asshole. Demanding things be a certain way, getting frustrated that people don’t think through problems the same way I do, and in general wasted a lot of my life yelling at things that really aren’t worth losing sleep over.

Lets put it this way, I’ve lost a lot of sleep.

In dealing with the bureaucracies of the trifecta of an Academic Institution, in the committee driven United Kingdom, that has 800 years of precedent to uphold I have lost a lot of sleep trying to make things ‘better’. I put better in air quotes because I want to make it better for me (and I assume other consumers) but recognize that I am not the only stakeholder or arbiter of what ‘better’ is.

I have been frustrated that the housing officer has taken vacation the week all the new students are meant to move into their housing. That my college hasn’t been aware of the longer schedule of the MBA vs. other degrees (despite having had MBAs for over a decade now). I’ve been frustrated at the lack of feedback for essays and the arbitrary grading system that takes months to get back. I’ve been frustrated by service staff who don’t bring me my check fast enough because they could turn another table if they were snappier about it.

In all of these encounters – and many many many more – I’ve found myself at times asking for the impossible or unreasonable given the limitations of a system we are working in. Be it asking for something that the person I’m speaking to doesn’t have the power to grant me. Or requesting something be done right this second while I wait instead of giving someone time to accomplish the task.

Today there was an issue and I was taking the lead on getting it resolved using many of the lessons in getting things done vs. just ranting that I’ve learned over the past year. As I was approaching the end of the exchange with an action that we would be back shortly and expected a solution, I saw someone I know very well step in and start exuding some of the behaviors I’ve tried to curtail in myself this past year.

Who is to say which of us was right or wrong? Which of us would accomplish our goal of getting a solution to an all around admittedly shitty situation? In the end all was taken care of and we will never know whose methods were better, however as I saw who I once was it was very interesting to see the difference between that mindset and the more relaxed, peaceful, “this too shall pass” mindset that I’ve been working on.

Je t’aime Paris

When I was in first grade, my family visited Paris. The trip started off with me, as the youngest of 4, was given a bar of chocolate by my older brothers (7 & 9 years older). This was as we were boarding the flight and I eagerly ate the entire bar of chocolate probably before take-off. My parents were up in first class but not too long into the flight they were aware of my gluttony.

You see, my older brothers were not being nice, they were being older brothers. It was a bar of laxative chocolates, suggested dose for my age 1 brick. Actual dose I ate, 12 bricks. Chaos ensued on the flight over. So I arrived in Paris dehydrated and pooped out.

We played tourist to no-end on that trip with most of it spent in McDonald’s without play areas so that my dad could take work calls. We went to the Louvre and mocked the mimes. We went to Monet’s garden, ate cucumber sandwiches, and looked at the lillies. We went to Notre Dame and didn’t see a single hunchback or singing gargoyle. We went to the crown jewel of tourist traps to satiate a family of 6. The Hard Rock Cafe.

It wasn’t until getting into Paris last night and spending the day with Mom & step-dad walking and taking the hop-on hop-off bus around the city that I remembered a lot of these stories. It was today that I realized where my hatred of tourist traps comes from.

Like many strong emotions, this despise of all things tourist came from my childhood. From that long-ago trip with the family where all we did was stand in line, wait at McDonalds, and see old fuddy-duddy art that I’d learned about on Encarta.

I’ve been to Paris three times this year and am finally seeing what I missed all those years ago. I am seeing the Seine and the beauty that river cities hold. I am eating amazing food and watching the Parisians enjoy their city. I am watching the multiculturalism of Paris against the stark contrast of the drive to preserve the French way. I am falling in love with a city that for two decades I have mocked based on the worst travel of my life. I am so glad I’ve had the open mind to start this lovely journey.

As I learned from one of my mates at BYU as he tried to teach himself French … Paris, je t’aime.

Weddings

It was a wedding to aspire to. Set against a European backdrop that was “home” and surrounded by family, friends, and loved ones the bride and groom were beautiful. The ceremony included groomsmen in full morning coats – tails and top-hats – and bridesmaids from multiple countries as their courtship spanned great distances.

This wedding was my first full taste of what Oxford SBS looked like as it was one of my best friends, her father calls us brother and sister, who was marrying a graduate of Oxford SBS class of 2012. I attended their wedding and was blown away by the experience. For context, the wedding was literally featured in Brides magazine a few months later.

But what blew me away were the people. The SBS classmates who had come from all over the globe to see their friend get married and to party and celebrate with him. I met a dozen students that October evening and chatted with them about the program and their experience. It was at that wedding that I bumped Oxford from low on my list of schools to the top.

The inclusiveness and camaraderie that the class exuded was on full display and I was smitten by it. More so than from any other MBA program.

A wedding helped me make up my mind in favor of Oxford and as we head into graduation week I got the chance to participate in a wedding for two of my best friends in the program who got married yesterday inside the great cathedral of Christ Church College.

I’ve had the pleasure of attending services with them there for most of the year. Saving each other seats when one or all of us are running late and brunching afterwards as we discuss the sermon. The church helped bind our friendship together more than the committees we sat on or the classes we had together. It allowed us to spend time and space away from school without leaving it and that helped us grow closer.

Their wedding was again outstanding. Groomsman in morning coats and bridesmaids from multiple countries. Guests from 6 continents and more than a dozen languages spoken just int he wedding party alone. The ceremony was held in the cathedral and the reception in the gorgeous town hall just next door. With guest dancing until after 4 am I’d say it was an amazing way to start the end of my time at Oxford and a great matching bookend to the wedding that brought me here in the first place.

What struck me most about the wedding personally was how that same camaraderie existed between strangers united in the common purpose of supporting their union at both weddings. I have never been one to plan out my big day and think about color schemes and outfits, and the like. I may have protested outside the Supreme Court for my right to get married but the wedding itself hasn’t held a major interest to me.

But after last night, I know that beyond the venue, beyond the cake, beyond the outfits I will only care about bringing that same spirit of unity into my wedding. Everything else is negotiable but I want to have that feeling with me and I hope many of the guests from last night will be able to join me on that day.

Tourism

“Would you like to take this hop-on hop-off tour of Washington DC?”
“No I’m from New York!”
“So you’re visiting DC then, take this tour!”
“Didn’t you hear me? I’m from New York. We despise these tourist traps and know better!”

That exchange happened between a friend of mine in DC and a tour-bus sales guy. You know the ones who sell you over-priced tickets to sit on a double-decker bus and have a guide tell you mostly true things about the city while you can take it all in and get off at various local attractions. One of those attractions always being Madame Tussaud’s wax museum btw.

I enjoyed my friend’s conversation at the time and have tried to embody that same New Yorker attitude throughout my travels. In Italy I made it a rule to keep looking for food if I could hear someone selling a “selfie stick”. It has been a great rule because I’ve never felt concerned about pick-pockets, I’ve always found amazing tasting and well-priced food, and I’ve had an enjoyable day.

The closest I’ve gotten to something similar are the student-led walking tours. These I respect a lot as its typically history or art students giving a walking tour for free to a group of people. In Barcelona I found one half-way through and at the end made certain I tipped the guy because that is how he gets paid. Those walking tours have always been well done and give me a very different flair than the tourist traps.

Well today I learned that I travel very differently from my parents. Perhaps its age, perhaps funding, perhaps, attitude. But we got on one of those busses. And to be honest it wasn’t that terrible. It was over-priced. And it was generic. But for people who have limited mobility and are jet-lagged. It wasn’t completely terrible.

I’m still going to go on adventures and meet locals and avoid tourists like the plague, but I will try to do it with less judgement in he future. These things have a place, its just not for me. Like viking river cruises, maybe I’ll appreciate them when I’m old.