Off the Road

Last month, funemployment officially came to a close.

Following an unforgettable jaunt snorkelling with all the nea-ture in the Galapagos Islands, an invigorating few days trekking the AT in the Smokies, and a long-anticipated Charleston reunion with my soul friends Mariah and Tracey, I moved to Greenville for the next chapter of life: Adult-ing. Which I’m actually enjoying very much; so far, I think I’ve been kicking butt at it, even with all the boring, mundane responsibilities that come along with the role.

Over the long Labor Day weekend, I drove over to Clemson to visit my siblings. They, too, are kicking butt at being Tigers. Rosa Marie joined the Indian dance club this year (who would’ve ever guessed?!) and performed last Sunday night, and Cain may just be the most comfortable, confident freshman I have ever encountered.

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When they were in class on Monday, I used Rosa Marie’s student ID card to go work out in Fike, the university gym. The ellipticals and treadmills these days have updated software in which you can choose from a variety of virtual running “routes” around the world to keep your mind from going numb as you burn calories inside a building, rather than out on the actual trail as God intended. Of course, I chose the New Zealand option. As I accelerated up to pace on the elliptical, the screen began climbing up Avalanche Peak in Arthur’s Pass, my first weekend tramp in the Southern Alps in February 2016.

I had to laugh at the irony of it all. A year and a half ago, I was physically there — I know those lookouts personally, my legs have endured the staggering, vertical angle of that ascent. I had also meandered through the next ten-minute section in the Coromandel Peninsula, and the Punakaiki Pancake Rocks, and the following one, leading up to the face of Franz Josef Glacier.

Now here I was, virtually exploring these places via a workout video which I had actually been to on the other side of the world.

So, yeah, life has certainly flipped a 180, and everyday happenings are quite a bit tamer now in comparison to scuba diving with hammerhead sharks or camping in trail shelters. If you read back through the last year of blog posts (example 1, example 2, example 3), however, it’s easy to pick up on the theme of my yearning for a “settled” life. I have a spirit that values both the adventure of nomadic wandering and the roots of purpose and community, and I am learning to live within the tension of those two pulls.

The longer I pressed on traveling this past summer, flying into Charleston and turning around to another departure the following morning, the deeper my pining became to finally get to “normal” adulthood – with a weekly routine and meal plans, a salaried job, a roommate and an apartment; even the budget, grocery lists, and monthly bills that accompany such a lifestyle.

There were three driving reasons I chose the Upstate: my siblings, proximity to the mountains, and my own young adult adventure. I like finding my own way, trying out new coffee shops, discovering running routes, attending various community events. Even after six years away, time back in Charleston felt all too familiar. I also don’t deny the underwhelming lack of bachelors in the Lowcountry; I figured it wouldn’t hurt to mix up the prospective dating pool too.

When I told Charleston friends that I was moving to Greenville, the general encouraging response was something along the lines of, “Oh, Jessica, you’ll LOVE it there. Downtown is really becoming a happening place. And the mountains so close! I can SO see you there.”

I have been in Greenville a month now, and it does indeed fit. If experience serves as a lesson in not knowing where the heck life and the Lord may take me, I could still be anywhere in the future. But as I see it, life in Greenville is just that: life – indeterminate and, day by day, pretty permanent; I think I’d like to be here for the long haul.

As the crisp morning air promises that fall is on the way, here are the main happenings ushering me into this new life season.

Miss Compton

I’m a stinking teacher! At least twice a week, my principal Mr. Delaney will interrupt my purposeful speed walk down the hallway with potentially the greatest rhetorical question ever. “Good morning, Miss Compton; how’s it feel to be wonderful?”

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He stands at the door every morning and welcomes each student to school. “Hello, sunshine.” “How art thou, Damier?” He is the epitome of good leadership, and the whole administration team follows suit. The culture at Carolina has dramatically changed over the last five years, and will continue to improve. Negative-Nancy teachers have been weeded out and kids, with a world of obstacles and life baggage, are more determined to overcome their circumstances and graduate.

Mr. Kellett, my co-teacher, and I, teach tenth-grade Humanities together; we make a good team and balance each other out (he is chill and I am so not. Ha). The cohort of young first-year teachers is the bomb. We’re all at Carolina because we believe in serving the underdogs and building relationships with kids in order to see them succeed.

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Twinning with Mr. Burgess, another first-year teacher and my first independently-made friend in Greenville. So grateful we work together, and for the way he’s already got most of my personality pegged to a T.
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Our ridiculously large classroom.

 

Carolina is a high-poverty school, and, as the banner in the entry hall indicates, everything we do is pretty different from an average public high school.

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Some of my kids are on a second-grade reading level. I don’t really know how you teach tenth-grade English to a nearly illiterate fifteen-year-old, but I’m trying. Mr. Delaney says if you’re five minutes ahead of the kids, you’re doing well. We fist pump as they walk into the classroom, and when I’m on duty, I don’t hide behind my computer, preferring the YoungLife contact work style of meandering around, talking and interacting with students.

Three weeks into school, we’re really starting to get to know each other now. I have high expectations and discipline policies, but my personality still shines through; they laugh at my white girl ways, and I think they appreciate my kind smile and general energy and boundless enthusiasm. Student teaching prepared me pretty well. I’m in my element, I am very intentionally serving the marginalized, and I feel like I’m living into a calling, doing something I was made for. It’s off to a good start.

Zizz

Most people shorten Emily’s last name and just call her Zizz. It’s catchy and quick, just like our awesome, God-ordained living situation. We technically got connected through some winding vine of a Boosterthon employee’s sister-in-law who had a fast engagement and was trying to find a replacement roommate. But it turns out Em also ran with my sister at Furman, and she is lovely. When I texted Georgia over the summer to ask what she thought about me potentially living with Zizz, she said, “Oh, you won’t find a kinder person.”

FullSizeRender.jpgSo after a FaceTime audio call while I was in the DR, we decided to live together. She’s the kind of nice that is so nice that if it were anyone else, it might get on your nerves. But her actions and temperament are just that genuine that rather than grating me, spending time together is delightful. Similarities include being health foodies and teachers, loving Jesus, and preferring a Friday night in with a movie and some popcorn. It has been a huge blessing to have a built-in friend and go-to person in a roommate. She has nominated me our social committee organizer, so we’ve got four ongoing lists hanging on the fridge: Greenville Restaurants, Greenville Activities, Movies, and Weekend Getaways. Let the good times roll.

Routines

I like to be purposeful and productive – often to a fault – so the regularity and return of some semblance of routine to my life has been welcome. When I first moved in, I found a little self-assembly corner desk on Craigslist for $35. It almost didn’t fit through the door frame of my room; in a close-debacle save, Zizz and I barely squeezed it in by taking the door off its hinges. This corner is my safe space, where I’m currently sitting in my $5 Goodwill chair writing this post. It’s also the spot where I wake up in the morning and try to start the day with a quiet time and a cup of coffee before heading off to school.

Beyond work, much of everyday life is really just ongoing maintenance – groceries, cooking, cleaning, exercising, showering, laundry. I know I’m preaching to the choir of the working world, and you moms, I know you’re WAYYYY busier than little ol’ independent, only-responsible-for-myself me. For real though, factor those responsibilities in after staying at school early and late, and there isn’t much time left.

Even though it’s my first year teaching, I also decided to finally train for a half-, and then hopefully full, marathon this fall. The Swamp Rabbit Trail, which is a 20-mile revamped railroad passageway for bikers and pedestrians, is right across the road from our apartment complex, and is one of my favorite public amenities. I love that I can get home after school, lace up, and crank out a few miles before dinner. Running a half-marathon is an idea I’ve toyed with since high school, and this is the first window of time in which I have been uncommitted to other obligations, stationary, and mentally prepared enough to truly tackle it. Yesterday morning, I ran 12 steady miles; today, my legs are not sore, and I’m feeling accomplished!

Small, small worlds

I run into people I know, or am somehow connected to, all. the. time. Siblings’ friends of friends. Clemson or camp people at a church I visit, or the park, or hot yoga, or walking ahead of me on the crosswalk downtown. A friend from high school that doesn’t even live here, but happens to be in town for her sister’s bridal shower, and I run into her in the parking lot as she’s with her other friend cat-sitting for a gal who lives in the apartment above me. Just bizarre stuff. Being known and loved, and knowing and loving others, is community. In Charleston, I like being the grounded one who knows everyone, serving as a connector and nurturer for other people. The small world collisions I experience on the reg promise me that someday I’ll have a solid community and be able to play that role in Greenville too.

Fun Outings & Meaningful Gatherings

I’m not the work-aholic student I was through college. New Zealand taught me boundaries, balance, and the sacredness of a weekend. One of my favorite things about being in my twenties and single is the inherently selfish luxury of not having to take anyone else into account when making plans. I do what I want, I like to do a lot of fun things, and I’m not afraid to do them alone. (Note: I’m still an extrovert. I prefer enjoying said activities with people. But if I can’t find a friend, I won’t let that stop me from going.)

One night I saw a Facebook event for swing dancing out in Taylors. There were over 100 people attending, so I thought, “Why not?” I arrived alone, and when I walked into the dance hall, I registered that 95% of those Facebook attendees were high schoolers. As we practiced before the real dancing and traded off partners, these 16-year-old boys would ask, “What school do you go to?”
“Oh, I’m actually out of school.”
Yeah, in fact, I teach kids your age.

‘Twas a comical evening for sure.

The first Saturday here, I got in my car and spontaneously decided to drive to Paris Mountain State Park for a hike. In a morning of wandering, I knew this would be one of my go-to spots. I bought an annual pass and will definitely make good use of it this year.

After travel, I think live music may be the second-best use of fun money. I bought a ticket to John Butler Trio two months before I even moved to Greenville, and it was a magical show. I finally got to listen to my buddy Brooks Dixon play at a local venue, and he also hosted a more intimate music evening at his house with Ira Wolf, a songwriter with the voice of an angel. Spotify has alerted me to a whole slew of concerts in Asheville I’d love to go to this fall. The mountain town’s hippie granola vibes and craft brews are going to make for some great weekend excursions.

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JBT killin’ it

I have also gone to the Farmers Market and India Day, both of which took over a chunk of downtown Main Street. In the face of another executive branch blunder, I most recently gathered in front of the Peace Center for a candlelight vigil mourning the rescinding of DACA and advocating for the DREAM Act. If I had more time, I would have written a post just about that evening. It was powerful, though. The next day at school, Kellett and I bumped our lesson plan on the Chinese Cultural Revolution and spent the whole day talking with our kids about immigrants and writing to congressional leaders. A few of their letters were especially meaningful, because DACA affected them, or someone they knew, personally.

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#yeahthatGreenville

I don’t know how #yeahthatGreenville became the marketing hashtag for the city. Maybe because there’s a Greenville in just about every state in the country, but Greenville, SC is the Greenville. When I think of the phrase, though, it invokes an element of pride. Already, #yeahthatGreenville equates to meaning #yeahmyGreenville.

From my job to my living situation, I can’t help but trust in the certainty that I am right where I should be, right in line with God’s plans. I anticipated it months ago when I first got a job, but the experience has, thus far, proved to be so. I have had a couple of tough days, when the fragile weaving of familiarity and acquaintances disintegrates, and I remember that I am still in a new place, and new places, where I am prone to loneliness, will be hard, even if most of the time things are pretty good.

In New Zealand, my one big souvenir was a stunning panorama of the Torlesse Mountain Range, which I drove through most weekends. It had been rolled up in a tube since I returned stateside, but as I settled into my room, I finally splurged on a custom frame. It now hangs above my late grandmother’s bed, where I wake up to its reflection in the dresser mirror on the opposite wall at the start of each day. Not only is it a badass, beautiful, lifelong keepsake, but it has also brought the mountains into the routine nature of my daily life. In a literal sense, I am very much off-the-road now, but I am also very okay with that.

Still, when I walk into my room at the end of a long, adult day, the road in that panorama reminds me that, stationary as I may be, I am still on a journey – one of venturing into young adulthood in a new place. Greenville, my new place.

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