Breaking out of the Bubble: The Ultimate Political Act

 

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I was quiet this election season and it was something I wrestled with. There’s the part of me who can’t let go of my journalist hat, and with good reason. In October, my dormant journalism career got revived when I got an opportunity to freelance for The Washington Post.

Yea, don’t even get me started. The thing I wanted most—to be a journalist for a national publication—came exactly a year after I officially hung up my press pass.

And because of this I worked hard to keep my political opinions to myself. So much of political involvement has become messy and divisive. We are encouraged not to rock the boat at dinner parties by engaging in political debates. More often than not social posts on political issues will result in the loss of Facebook friends or potential business clients. It is often more comfortable to stay in our own bubbles and participate in echo chambers. The general consensus is that you shouldn’t engage with family members over politics if your beliefs do not align.

But this quiet suppression is destructive to the very core of democracy and a key reason I believe the outcome of this year’s election brought so many of us to our knees. A few years ago when I visited pubs in England, I marveled at the boisterous political debates that were taken as seriously as soccer matches—both sides eventually settling their score with a friendly handshake or round of beers.

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I have never been more emotional about an election outcome as I was at 3 a.m. on Nov. 9. The sheer volume of my sobbing was on par with the news of a loved one’s death. And while I was alone in this moment, I would learn in the next week that my response was similar to millions of others. Suddenly I did not recognize my own country. Suddenly the values I cherished were at stake. The comfort and malaise of the last eight years had made me quiet, complacent and disconnected with so many of my fellow Americans.

By not speaking up for the values that were important to me, I had failed. By not speaking out about injustices I was witnessing, I had allowed for inexcusable behavior to become normalized.

A few days after the election, I found solace in the very heart our democracy’s core, Washington DC. I had planned the trip for months but the journey took on a new meaning given the pivotal point in our nation’s history. And in a place where 94 percent of voters shared the same values I do, an amazing thing was happening all around: people were connecting and reaching out to each other. Suddenly I was surrounded by kindness and sincerity everywhere I went. I connected with friends I hadn’t seen in years. I talked to strangers who shared the same concerns and fears about the future. I realized that we have power in numbers, even when we feel most alone.

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I saw someone in a photo carrying a sign after the election that read: “Are We Awake Yet?”

Yes, I am awake. And this election has sparked a fire in my heart. But I realized that just hitting the streets wouldn’t solve the real obstacle at hand: uniting with my fellow Americans, sharing ideas without alienating others, only speaking to echo chambers and gaining a better understanding of perspectives different from my own.

There’s a lot of work to do and I made a vow to myself that I would take my civic duty more seriously by participating in all forms of government, holding elected officials accountable, voicing my concerns with friends and family and most importantly, traveling as a political act.

“Travel as Political Act” is the title and premise of a book by travel guru Rick Steves, which hits home the idea that travel connects people, helps us understand the world and will help us work together to create new solutions facing our nation and world.

We have to get outside of our bubbles and talk to each other if we are truly going to change anything. So let’s roll up our sleeves and get to work.

How did this election impact you? Comment below and share your story. 

I’m a 31-year-old woman running for prom queen. Here’s why:

promYou couldn’t pay me to go back to high school.

It’s not that I was bullied or the nerdiest teenager, but I spent my high school years feeling completely out of place. I wasn’t part of any cliques. I didn’t play sports or join extracurricular activities. And while I did go to prom, I recall it as an anxiety-inducing experience where my hair, make-up and dress selection seemed like the most important life decisions I would ever make.

So when I got an e-mail from Center for the Visually Impaired Development Director Jessica Melakian announcing that I was one of a handful of “community leaders” nominated to CVI’s prom court, I briefly reverted back to my awkward high school self.

As prom court nominee, I have been tasked with raising funds for CVI through an online fundraising page. The prom court nominee who raises the most funds by June 25 will be crowned king or queen at the CVI’s prom that night at the Shore’s Resort and Spa in Daytona Beach Shores.

I am all about creative fundraising strategies that think outside the box for a good cause and while I might have my own hang ups about proms of the past, I’m hoping that by participaing I’ll get a shot to create the prom experience I never had. (For me that would be big hair, puffy dresses and a date who can dance like Kevin Bacon).

I have a rule of thumb I try to live my life by: If I am in a position where I can help others, and I am asked to help I will always say yes. I may not follow this rule 100 percent of the time, but it’s how I try to live my life. I firmly believe that when you step up to help others, it comes back to you tenfold.

The Center for the Visually Impaired in Daytona Beach serves over 500 blind and visually impaired individuals through programs that promote independent living and help build confidence. CVI embraces cutting edge technology that helps these individuals find meaningful careers and perform day-to-day activities. I think it’s important that as a community, we help everyone reach their full potential. And this is a mission CVI exhibits every single day.

A few years ago, while working as a reporter at the Daytona Beach News-Journal, I wrote a story about a 61-year-old woman named Jennifer who lost her sight due to a degenerative eye condition. After traveling for her job as a medical sales representative for years, Jennifer lost the ability to drive, cook or perform daily tasks on her own. But after a doctor referred her to CVI, Jennifer was able to rebuild her life with the help of rehabilitation and vocational classes. She was eventually hired to work at CVI.

“I went from being completely dependent on others and not knowing what to do, to learning how to adapt my skills and live a normal life,” Morgan said when I interviewed her in 2012.

The nominees have been broken into teams and I have the honor of being teamed up with Jenelle Codianne, director of marketing and public relations at the Museum of Arts and Sciences, who has already raised $1,205 for the cause.

Photo by Luisa Alvarez Photography/ courtesy of CVI
Photo by Luisa Alvarez Photography/ courtesy of CVI

Jenelle and I sat down and hashed out some fun and creative ideas to fundraise in the community and by doing so we hope to raise not only funds but awareness about CVI and these inspiring individuals in our community.

How you can help

Donate to Lacey’s fundraising page here.

Donate to Jenelle’s fundraising page here.

Pancakes & Mimosas Breakfast

June 11 at Dunn’s Attic in Ormond Beach 8:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m.

Tickets for all-you-can-eat pancakes are $5 and are available in advance and a limited number will be available at the door. Mimosas will also be offered for $1. To get a ticket in advance, e-mail laceyemc@gmail.com.

Raffle at the Daytona Beach Tortugas Game

A 50/50 raffle for team Lacey & Jenelle will be held at the Daytona Beach Tortugas game on June 16 at 7 p.m. Tickets to the game are $8.

Tip for a Cause

On June 18 from noon to 9 p.m. I will donate 100 percent of my tips while bartending at Tomoka Brewery in Ormond Beach. Come have a beer or pizza!

Why I’ll never be a travel blogger and other lessons from failure

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When I looked at my bank account this week I felt a pang of despair.

After successfully paying all my bills, my new car payment and stashing the amount Mint.com says I need to put away each month to meet my savings and travel fund goals, there wasn’t much leftover to have fun with.

It made me realize that the traveling and adventures I’ve had over the last year won’t be continuing on the same scale.

My story about putting all my financial resources into this blog and ending up with a broken down car was featured on The Financial Diet last week, one of my favorite websites for financial advice. While I was honored that my story gained traction, it was an embarrassing omission—but it was the truth.

I’ve done a lot of thinking over the last few weeks about what the hell I’m trying to do as a writer. And I know one thing:

I will never be a travel blogger.

Not because I tried and failed but because it doesn’t fall in line with the work I want to create in the long term. Being a travel blogger seemed like a viable option for someone like me with decent writing skills and a hunger to explore the world, but in some ways it feels like a shortcut that would veer me off the path of becoming a respected writer. At the end of the day I couldn’t figure out how to monetize my blog without subjecting readers to diluted content created by affiliate marketing, sponsorship campaigns and advertisers.

This new realization has me switching gears here at Parachute Journalist. My goal is to write first-person journalistic narratives from my own life experiences—and I want these stories to have a shelf live beyond the deluge of web content most of us passively scan through while multitasking with a hundred browser tabs open.

And if this doesn’t become the thing that supports me financially, I’m OK with that. Because for me, having a creative outlet to express myself is what keeps me sane and gives me purpose in this life.

In the midst of my new financial reality, I’m learning how to continue living an adventurous life closer to home. I’m spending more time on my bike—seeing local places in a new way and stumbling across the unexpected. These, I have learned are the moments I feel most alive and the core reason why I travel in the first place.

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These unexpected moments include encountering an abundant orange grove during a bike ride in Edgewater, Florida, with no one else in sight.  Or when I stumbled into the Cummer Art Museum in Jacksonville before a bike ride and found out the museum offers free admission on the first Saturday of each month.

It was at the Cummer Museum’s gardens where I discovered a 200-year-old oak tree that made me feel small and in awe of the beauty of things that flourish when given the time, space and nurturing they need to grow.

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Not one for Baroque art, I almost passed up the gallery’s permanent collection on my way out—but was drawn to a particular still life called “Vanitas,” by Jacques de Claeuw. This painting is over 300 years old but the lighting and details of a half covered globe, wilted flowers, hour glass and other objects are so realistic I wanted to reach out and grab them. The term “Vanitas” is Latin for emptiness and the objects all represent the brevity of life or the emptiness of frivolous concerns.

My favorite object, the half-covered globe, represents man’s inability to predict the future. This painting would later be looted by the Nazis from a Jewish art dealer who died while fleeing the Netherlands for his safety in 1940. The museum later purchased it from a New York art gallery in 1962 before the painting’s history was uncovered.

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The idea that a painting could have such a poignant impact more than 300 years after it was made, struck me and moved me to tears. Three centuries later, in a high-tech world so very different from the one that Claeuw lived in, this painting is still relevant and spoke to me in a profound way.

I couldn’t help but think, what will we create that will move museum goers to tears 300 years from now?

I don’t think I’ve ever had such a strong reaction to a painting, but it stuck with me. I spent the rest of the afternoon biking 30 miles on Jacksonville’s Baldwin Rail Trail, and thinking about all the things I want to create and promising myself that no matter how burdensome life gets, I’ll always make space in my life to discover new things.

Why I’m not quitting my job to travel the world

News-Journal/Nigel Cook Corey Richardson and Chip King paddle boards and kayaks the waters of Mill Creek, Sunday, May 17, 2015.
Nigel Cook

 Five months ago I did what I always do when life feels unbearable: I wrote out a plan to quit my job by the spring of 2016.

I wrote out exactly how much money I thought I needed to save per month in order to leave my job and crew on a sailboat in the Gulf of Mexico. The fact that I had never even been on a sailboat did little to deter me. I vowed to live as frugal as possible, even if it meant staying at home every night and eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

This wasn’t the first time I had done this. Over the last four years I have made several of these plans. I made a plan to move to Chile in 2012 after getting accepted to work as a (nonpaying) intern for an English newspaper in Santiago. Last year, I made a plan to move to Peru after I interviewed for a (low-paying and temporary) copy writing position in Lima.

Each plan was thwarted for various reasons: unexpected expenses, the promise of a new romantic relationship, family engagements and mainly the fear that I would be leaping into the unknown without a financial safety net or backup plan.

And for that I felt like a failure.

Even when I was hiking through Peru or smoking cigars on a tobacco farm in Cuba the voice of failure would follow me around:”How will you ever be a real travel blogger if you are too chicken shit to quit your job?””

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The overwhelming mantra of the modern travel blogger is that you must quit your job, get rid of all your belongings and leave everything behind if you want to see the world. And I believed this. There’s also this resounding message that you must do this while you are young, before domestic life and familial obligations take hold.

My last plan disintegrated when I was offered a better job opportunity in September. It was around that time I realized I actually like my life here in the states. In the past, making an escape route is what I did when I was unhappy with some aspect of my life.

But Instead of quitting my job, my goal now is to create freedom and flexibility in my work life that will allow me to travel more during the year.

I believe that vagabonding is a state of mind and having an adventurous spirit isn’t something you only turn on when you step on a plane. While I would still jump at the opportunity to live abroad when the time is right, it’s my goal to incorporate these ideals into my every day life.

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So if you are weighing the decision whether or not you need to quit your job so that you can travel, here are six reasons why I have decided to stay where I’m at:

1. I like having a home
A year and a half ago I had the opportunity to buy a home in Daytona Beach. I am not a rich person, but the decision came down to the fact that rentals in our area are very high while housing prices are relatively low. When I realized my monthly mortgage would be less than my rent, it was a no brainer. I love having a home of my own that is safe, comfortable, and an expression of myself. I love hosting dinner parties, cooking in my kitchen and writing in my own office. While I hope to travel more in the future, having a home base gives me stability and comfort.

2. My cat is my bestie
Pets are the best companions and my cat, Pilar, is no different. Right now she’s curled up on my desk as I type this and I genuinely love the calm and constant companionship that she offers. Leaving pets behind or giving them away is a tough decision and a sacrifice if you want to embark on long-term travel . While it wouldn’t make or break my decision, it’s likely one that would have pulled tightly on my heartstrings.

3. I have a career I actually like

I loved the last seven years I spent working as a newspaper reporter and I love my new job writing for a university. I love getting up every morning, collaborating with people, sharing ideas and learning and developing new skills. I’m sure I could find a career abroad if I kept trying but for now I like where I am at professionally and that I have the opportunity to build a career in a field that I care about.

4. It’s too much of a financial risk
This is the biggest reason my plans failed. It was difficult to put a dollar amount on a safety net I felt comfortable with if I had no promise of long-term employment abroad. While I admire anyone who can take the leap, hustle and land on their own feet, the anxiety of jumping into the unknown felt overwhelming to me. If you want to travel abroad long term I think having passive income is really important for making it work or at least easing some of those anxieties.

5. I like having roots in my community

I am a very community-oriented person. I love the idea of settling into a place, putting down roots and doing all that I can to connect with others and make it a better place to live. By staying put I’ve been able to start a book club, a dinner party project for entrepreneurs and volunteer for a group home for foster children. And those lasting, consistent connections have been really valuable for my overall happiness and creating new opportunities.

6. I like being close to my family 

My family lives six hours away and while that’s not as close as I’d like, I am able to visit several times a year. When my grandmother was in the hospital last year I was able to take a week off and spend time with her before she passed away. If I was living abroad, I wouldn’t have had that chance.

I’m still in the process of creating a balance between a life with a consistent paycheck and one that feeds my wanderlust. And this is a journey that I hope to share through this blog so that others can have the inspiration and tools do to the same.

 

If you’d like more information about creating a life that makes traveling a priority, sign up for my e-mail newsletter on the right for additional tips and resources.

 

 

Five things I’ve learned as a serial dater

Note: This is part of the series “31 Dates Before 31” in which I will attempt to go on 31 adventure dates before my 31st birthday and raise money for the Domestic Abuse Council of Volusia County. 

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In the last five weeks I’ve been on 20 dates, which is more than I’ve gone on in an entire year. While I still have 11 more dates to go on, I’ve learned a lot about myself and dating in the process.

Our phones have become game changers in the world of online dating. Never before have we had so many options at our fingertips. And while there are dozens of potential suitors in the palm of my hand (literally), why does it feel so hard to find a compatible partner?

This challenge has given me more insight into how I’ve approached dating in the past and why it hasn’t worked. By setting up fun and adventurous dates, I’ve taken the focus off of finding “the one” and instead just had a good time. When you take away expectations, dating actually become enjoyable instead of demoralizing.

I’ve used Tinder for 80 percent of my dates, and I’ve found it to be the best tool for setting up dates on the fly, but it can also feel like a game of musical chairs in which everyone has shiny object syndrome.

While it’s still too soon to draw any hard conclusions or say for certain if there’s any real romantic possibilities with any of the guys I’ve gone out with, here are five things I’ve learned so far:

  1. People flake, a lot

If I had to guess, I’d say that every 1 out of 3 dates I’ve planned has fallen through or been canceled. What’s frustrating is that it means I am spending a lot of time texting and conversing with guys, coordinating schedules and planning fun dates only for them to be canceled last minute.

Take for example a guy from Jacksonville who I will call Jim. Jim and I hit it off on Tinder and after we bought tickets for a paranormal ghost tour at the St. Augustine Lighthouse I realized that we had booked them on the night of the city’s 450th year anniversary celebration, which presented a logistical nightmare because of traffic and road closures. Being the type A person I am, I broke out maps, consulted with a friend who lives there and picked the brain of a travel blogger to determine the best possible way to navigate the area and avoid crazy crowds.

Just a few hours before we were set to meet, I texted Jim to make sure he knew where to go. Apparently he had come down with a stomach bug and couldn’t make it.  He assured me he still wanted to meet and felt horrible to break off the date but he just wasn’t feeling well. I moved our tickets to the following Friday and we rescheduled. The day before our rescheduled date I reached out to Jim to set a meeting time. He canceled our date again, this time for “personal” reasons. When I pressed him for a better excuse, it turned out that he had met someone else who he really hit it off with a few days earlier.  I may have not reacted as gracefully as I should have because at that point I was BEYOND FRUSTRATED with the amount of time I had wasted.  Unfortunately this has become somewhat of the norm in the dating app world, at least in my experience.  At least Jim responded though. Most just go silent.

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  1. Tinder is not just for hookups

The first question I get when I tell people that I’m using Tinder for the majority of dates is: Isn’t Tinder just for hook ups? Swiping yes or no to match with a guy based on a few photos and one or two sentence descriptions, does make things more surface level but It’s easy to weed out the guys who are looking for hook ups because they make it pretty obvious. I’m always clear about my intentions and I think more people are using Tinder to find meaningful connections.

I for one do not have time to write a cover letter to every person I want to go out with and “pitch” myself to guys on online dating websites. Because I live in a tourist destination, I’ve found that a lot of guys who are in town are looking to meet up with locals to explore the area and because the dating pool  is so small in Daytona Beach, Tinder helps me meet up with guys I otherwise wouldn’t come across.

  1. Profiles don’t fully represent someone

I’ve gone out with guys on this project that I may have turned down based on their profiles but after meeting them in person they are a lot more attractive or interesting than their profile suggests.  Online dating is so one dimensional and based on looks that it’s frustrating. And we often forget that sometimes voice, mannerisms, intellect and personality are what makes a person attractive.

And this works both ways. I still feel the sting of a guy who canceled a date with me last year because he couldn’t tell if “I was fat or not in my profile photos.”  (To be fair he didn’t offer up this excuse off the bat, I had to press him on why he was canceling.) I felt like that was such a rip off because while I may not be a size 4, I think I’m pretty fun and interesting.

Through this project, I’ve learned not to make snap judgements. Because it’s the guy who looked a little nerdy in his profile photo who was actually sweet and fun. The guy who appeared to be a snob and fake was actually down to earth and genuine. And the guy I thought I’d have no attraction to, was the one with a great smile and personality.

  1. If you aren’t having fun, what’s the point?

Prior to starting this project dating went something like this: I googled the hell out of my potential date, stressed about how the date would go for days/hours leading up to it, got so nervous on the date I had a habit of using alcohol to calm my nerves (never a good idea). If the date went well, I stopped pursuing other options and crafted strategic responses that played out in a texting conversation more akin to a chess match. If the date went bad, I felt hopeless and took it as yet another sign from the universe that there just wasn’t someone out there for me. Dating had the potential to create so much anxiety for me that it didn’t seem worth making the effort.

But this project was meant in a way to get over my dating hang ups and just have fun. As a solo traveler I have no problem doing things alone but I’m realizing how much more enjoyable new experiences can be in shared company. By planning fun activities on dates, I’ve realized that most people want to have fun too. I think we often want to feel someone out before jumping in a kayak with them or engaging in any activity that requires us to get sweaty or dirty or go out of our comfort zone on a first date.

But when you are staring at a person across a table or bar, dating can feel like a job interview. I’m at my best when I am experiencing something new and being in my element has taken the anxiety out of dating. It’s also been a test of sorts: can you hang on my level?

  1. It’s not me, it’s you

When we have a constant portal into the highlight reels of others’ lives, the first thing you tend to ask yourself is: Why don’t I have that too? I’ve felt this more as my Facebook newsfeed seems to get filled with more engagement announcements, wedding photos and baby pictures by the day.

But instead of seeing myself as the problem, I’ve realized that where I’m at is a result of taking a different path. I have worked really hard over the past decade to establish myself in a career that I love, buy my own home and make traveling a priority.  I’m happy where I’m at but it’s a bit more difficult at this age to find someone who is in the same place.

As my friend Barb put it, all the guys who are established and have everything together in their 30s are usually already married. Couple that fact with the demographics of Central Florida (Looking for a single man over 60? We’ve got plenty!) and it really it isn’t a surprise that I’m still single.  So instead of seeing my singleness as a “problem,” I’m starting to see it as an opportunity.  I have the freedom to create the life I want and hopefully at some point that will lead me to someone who is on a similar path.

To find out more about my dates, sign up for the newsletter at the right. In effort to promote healthy relationships and help victims of domestic violence, I’m asking for donations to the Domestic Abuse Council of Volusia County in lieu of birthday gifts this year, which you can make by following the link below.