– CHAPTER 3 –
It’s not you it’s me
It’s true what they say; some things never get old.
Back in Michigan it was going to the beach and sprint-dive-plunging into the summer waters of Lake Michigan. Or sitting on the deck of Clay’s parents cottage and staring out at the lake. I will never get tired of those lake-life rhythms: boat rides, eating ‘nibbles’, drinking g&t’s, and chatting around the fire pit. On a less romantic note, I’m also proud of my strange, intimate knowledge of traffic light patterns from Fulton to Diamond to Wealthy. (i.e. if you are heading South on Diamond from Fulton St. you will have to stop at that red light where Lake Dr. & Diamond intersect UNLESS you are a green light ninja, like me.)
Apologies if this next paragraph reads like an endorsement, but if you’ve never been to West Michigan– specifically Grand Rapids– it’s worth a trip; especially in the summer. Go and see the Michigan side of Lake Michigan (which is way better than the Chicago side, in my biased opinion). Lay out your beach towel, bring your sunscreen, dig your toes into the sand, and wade into the water barefoot without fear of jellyfish or stepping on rocks. Visit all the breweries, and the growing number of outstanding restaurants. Day trip to a sleepy beach town, find the ‘good’ wineries on the Leelanau Peninsula, climb massive sand dunes, or spend your time snacking on watermelon while you pad around barefoot on the deck of someones lakeside cottage (everyone has access to one, or knows someone who does). And if you live in a expensive city like Seattle or San Francisco, you will love the midwest exchange rate. Leave your sticker shock at home, this vacation will cost you pennies.
After living like this every summer for 30ish years, I assure you: it never get old.
To continue on with my love letter to Grand Rapids: the daily nucleus of our world spanned within a 6 mile radius from our house. Clay and I planned that intentionally–– to reduce our fossil fuel usage and because living locally increases our quality of life. The walkable/bikeable/busable location was the main reason we bought our house. We each had a 10-15 minute commute to work, tops. We lived within a mile of the farmers market, grocery store, restaurants, coffee shops, etc. Outside of that our families didn’t live far away. Not to mention easy access to the sandy yellow beaches of Lake Michigan.
Thriving restaurant scene; check. Close to family; check. Beautiful beaches; check. The tight-knit friend group of everyone’s dreams; check. We had built a life here, and we enjoyed this life immensely. West Michigan was our utopia.
The nucleus was never an issue, really. What got to us, was the world beyond that bubble. Occasionally (read: mayyybe once a year) we’d venture to Traverse City, East Lansing, Detroit, and Chicago. We’d also fly to Park City to ski for 5 days every year. Beyond that, there were a few vacations here and there and that was pretty much it. Our whole world.
All of that changed after Portugal. It was the first time I’d ever been to Europe and I was quite smitten with the place. I was head over heels for the cobblestone streets, historical architecture, and rich culture. Don’t get me started on the street cafes and the pastelerias that exist on every corner. We were only there for 30 days but there was no denying it–– I was in love.
After that, Grand Rapids was no longer the only utopia for me. Fernanda’s unremarkable question shook that loose. No longer numb or biased, I began to critically consider what was great about ‘home’ and what wasn’t. The rose colored glasses I reserved for West Michigan were starting to loose their mojo.
Portugal also awakened big joys that we didn’t know we had the capacity for. The Rota Vicentina trail, for one, deepened our love for the outdoors. Who could have guessed that after day-hiking a miserable 10-16 miles for five days in the unrelenting Portuguese sun, that Clay and I would find bliss and peace? And yet we did. Something about being outside for obscene amounts of time, peeing on the trail, and the self-inflicted misery of sore hiking muscles and being covered in dirt unlocked a primal joy within us. We felt like we were our best selves when were on the trail. And almost instantly we were obsessed with hiking or backpacking, or any activity that would justify buying Patagonia gear and warrant the use of hashtags like #optoutside.
This was all a revelation, as we had always thought of ourselves as hotel people, not tent people. So all of this joy was dormant before Portugal. And when I asked Clay if he remembers feeling the same way, he agreed. “It was like we were partially numbed out and we didn’t even realize it,” he said.
When we returned to Grand Rapids after 30 days of life-change, we were so excited to spin around and show off our new and improved look. The only problem with our makeover, is that it put us in a different league. We had expanded, metaphorically speaking (and honestly maybe even literally, because those Portuguese pastries are no joke). Nevertheless, we had outgrown some things. And the qualities that once made Grand Rapids stand out, weren’t the qualities we were looking for anymore. We wanted more from life than a dependable daily nucleus.
It’s true: some things never get old. But then again, some things do.
When I was 22 and unhappy with my job situation, I met up with a former boss for some advice. I was burnt out from 14 hour workdays, and wanted to quit but felt like I couldn’t afford to.
“I hated one of my jobs,” he said, “but I found SOMETHING that I liked, even if it was the smallest thing. Then I latched onto that until I sucked out all of the marrow.” (Now I’m realizing that’s Philippians 4:8 in a nutshell: “whatever is lovely, admirable, praiseworthy…focus on that.”) He advised me to do the marrow thing as long as I could, then eventually the desire to do something different would outweigh my pro’s and con’s list, and that desire would launch me onward.
This was/still is pivotal wisdom for me. Historically, endurance is not my trait. Don’t tell my high school cross country coach, but sometimes during races…I’d walk. Sure, I’m physically capable of running 3-4 miles straight, but the mental battle gets to me. When the going gets tough, I give in. Athletically and otherwise.
Keep going, Katie. Hang tight. I know your legs are sore and your feet are tired. I know Grand Rapids isn’t as exciting as Portugal was. But you don’t have a choice. You can’t take an Uber home because you don’t feel like finishing your run. And Grand Rapids is your home. End of discussion.
Find the marrow. Latch on. Repeat.
This method shook us out of our auto-pilot routines, which was good. We needed that. Some nights we’d drive 45 minutes west just to sit on the beach for an hour after work. We latched onto our joy of The Great Outdoors and invested in our dream tent so we could start backpacking. We went to indie concerts, even on a ‘school night’, we took advantage of our city’s event calendar and so on.
Basically, we pinpointed all the things that were old and stale, then tried to jazz them up. One of our complaints was that we were sick of hiking the same five trails over and over. So we pulled up Google Maps and found parks and hiking trails and green spaces that we’d never been to before. A valiant effort that worked temporarily, but ultimately left us underwhelmed.
As true as that last sentence is, I still feel bad writing it. I love Seidman and Cascade Peace Park and Saugatuck dunes. These are great places to suck in fresh air and #optoutside. Our interests had changed and it wasn’t West Michigan’s fault. We were demanding things that West Michigan couldn’t deliver on. Just like you’re not going to find a Florida beach in Colorado, you won’t find challenging elevation gains and mountain views near Grand Rapids, a place where ‘hiking’ is more like ‘walking up smallish hills’ (let’s be honest).
But we kept at it. We tried really hard. More dinner parties. More trips to the beach. Yes we’ll meet you for drinks. Yes we’ll drive 2 hours to hike that hill.
More marrow. More marrow. More marrow.
We did this for about 6 months. The process started almost immediately, the day we got back from Portugal on August 1, 2017 and lasted until January or February of 2018. We were so desperate to find something, anything, new to latch onto. Overtime the marrow method morphed into brute force, trying trying trying to make the shoe fit.
Exhausted and burnt out, our failure to find new marrow propelled us into a different phase of depression. We weren’t hit with a tsunami wave this time, but life was beginning to loose it’s zest.
Then we had a thought: maybe the shoe wasn’t the issue. Yes the shoe (Grand Rapids) was/is beautiful and wonderful but if it wasn’t a fitting anymore then maybe we just needed a new pair. Maybe we had exhausted all of the marrow.