The Second 128

September 22, 2015

I’ve finally spent as much time in 2015 in the United States as I did in Europe. Last week, I hit my 128th day back home, equaling the amount of time I spent from January until May in Ireland and around other parts of Europe (plus Morocco). In an obvious sense, the recent 128 days couldn’t have been much more different than the first 128. But it took all the way until the 128th day back in the States to realize that in a truer sense, my life is in the same state of flux now as it was in the first third of 2015.

From January 6 until May 14, I flew on 20 planes and spent time in even more cities. I saw the Vatican and two Olympic Villages, hiked small mountains, rode a camel, and surfed, among plenty of other things I’d never thought I’d get to do. I’ve written about all of these things before, so I won’t waste much more time now. But it’s important to remember the stark contrast between this lifestyle and my way of life this summer. Back home, I worked 40 hours most weeks, couldn’t legally go to bars until two months after returning, and took road trips only to Kansas City, Chicago, and Milwaukee. No planes, no beaches, no mountains, no deserts.

I thought that I needed to take a break from traveling. To be fair, I had burned myself out a bit, and road trips through America aren’t quite as seamless as flights across Europe. But after struggling for so long to find my footing in Europe (which did finally happen, come March), I had to work again to jump back into regular life at home. I got so used to traveling that I craved being home. The problem was, I tried for too long to force myself to feel like my life was normal. On the return-leg of my road trips, the excess time to think had me questioning everything I’d done in 2015, even whether it’d actually been in my best interest to go abroad. This mindset contrasted starkly with the plane and bus rides back from my non-Irish destinations abroad, quiet times that allowed me to reflect on my time in the new cities and become excited again to explore more of Galway.

I was supposed to have it all figured out when I came back home. At least, that’s the illusion I believed from day one abroad when I first panicked and convinced myself that St. Louis had lost its ills and transformed into bliss. So when I got home, I didn’t let myself believe that I’d changed abroad. Yes, I told myself that it had been a life-changing experience, but nothing I actually did this summer reflected that reality. Coming back gave me the excuse to become complacent and try to live the life that I’d led for the first 20 years of my life, unwilling to accept my transformation as a crucial part of identity. Everything had been different for those 128 days abroad, but as far as I was concerned, it would all return to what my life had been in 2014, before Ireland.

Life is fluid, and it’s supposed to be that way. I wanted it to be static all summer, and it wasn’t until I moved back in to SLU and Oriflamme started that I started to really let life happen again, to accept that my time abroad had actually changed me and I ought to start living that way. But even here, for the first few weeks, I wanted to believe that SLU hadn’t actually changed in my absence. Everything could be the same as it had been, and I’d be okay with that. In fact, I thought I’d prefer it. I waited the first month out until everything kicked back up for good this past weekend, when I thought that life would be totally back to normal.

Instead, it kicked me in the ass on my 128th day back home and pushed the first 128 back to the forefront of my mind. I’d changed, and so had my world, my home, my identity. I realized that I don’t have everything figured out, that maybe I know even less than I did before. But interestingly enough, accepting that reality put me at ease. Finally, I don’t need to force my old life into my new one. 2014 was an unbelievable year, but I have a feeling that I’ll look back on 2015 much more fondly, even if it took my nearly a full nine months to appreciate all that it’s been doing for me. Everything is uncertain, and it couldn’t be more exciting. It’s time to travel and explore again, to stop dwelling on dreams and get on with living.

“Dreaming” – Smallpoools


Bullshit, Grandpa

On both sides of my family, I’m one of 12 grandchildren (both sides will be expanding to 13 by the end of 2015).

Molly and I are the oldest on the Dugan side at 21 (although she has five months on me). Isabelle and Caroline took our title as favorite grandchildren when they introduced my grandpa to the fact that twins are infinitely cuter than regular babies. At four years old, they’re tied with Emma as the youngest. Between Molly and I and the three preschoolers are Conor, Paul, Anna, Patrick, Colin, Grace, and Matthew.

Kristin outpaces us all on the Hoffmann side—she’s 26 and already married. Then there’s Matthew, 22, and myself. The youngest, Leo, is two. To give perspective, I’m more than two times closer in age to Leo’s mom (Katie, my de facto sister) than to Leo; I’m nine years her junior, yet 19 years his senior. Scattered between us are Thomas, Paul, Michael, Will, Josie, Evie, Leah, and Henry.

In summary: there is a full generation gap between my youngest cousins on both sides of the family and myself. Yet I still am not guaranteed a spot at the big kids’ table.

It’s easy to lose my humility and forget this rule. Take, for instance, the round of golf I played with grandpa, dad, and Uncle Jimmy today.

At some point during my childhood, I made the mistake of saying “Oh my God” in front of my Grandpa Dugan. To make matters worse, I said it with my Grandma in the room as well. I should’ve known better; like all grandparents seem to do, they taught me over and over that I wouldn’t get food I wouldn’t without saying please, that I’d be served food I didn’t want unless I followed my “No” with a “Thank you”, that no matter how bad my hat head (which was and continues to be horrible), I better respect their house by removing my baseball cap upon entering (luckily, they’ve realized this rule is futile). So breaking that Commandment warning its followers to avoid profane use of God’s name should’ve been an obvious no-no. But pre-pubescent me either didn’t care or completely forgot my surroundings. After that lecture, I refused to say so much as “sucks” in front of them until I was about 18.

As much as Grandpa told me not to curse or use God’s name in vain, though, he laced every sentence with a bastard here, a damn there, or a shit wherever he could find space. On the golf course especially, his vocabulary tends to be profane (albeit still otherwise polished). Chains of expletives replace sentences following a detrimental hook or slice.

This tendency certainly isn’t limited to him, though. In fact, I probably don’t trust you if you don’t curse like a sailor on the golf course. It’s certainly true for me. Which at one point became a sort of dilemma when golfing with my grandpa (my main golfing partner).

Today, though, I yelled, “God, dammit!” following a mishit, only to turn around and see my grandpa directly behind my left shoulder, waiting in the golf cart. Yet he said nothing about the phrase he used to try to weed out of me.

Later in the round, I hit my best drive of the day but couldn’t find the ball. I dropped a ball near my dad’s shot, figuring it must have landed around there. But as we drove up another 75 yards or so, Uncle Jimmy found my initial shot sitting up in the rough left of the fairway. I called bullshit immediately, audibly and with Grandpa sitting next to me. When I realized what I had said, I checked his reaction; he didn’t care that I took after him after all on the course, at least verbally. A few holes later I even dropped an f-bomb without thinking, and again, Grandpa said nothing.

I felt more liberated from the figurative kids’ table than I did even when Grandpa gave me a beer on my 21st birthday. Maybe I’d finally be in the dining room, not the side room, for good.

It didn’t take too long to test this hope. An hour after the round of golf, we had a family dinner at my other grandpa’s house. We call him Pampa, and Pampa’s dining room table doesn’t seat as many as Grandma and Grandpa’s. So maybe my hopes were a little too high on the way in. But when Kristin joked to her husband Alex that they’d never make it to the real table, I realized something horrible: no matter how old I get, or how many new grandkids come, I have a death sentence at that fucking kids’ table.

Maybe there’s parole somewhere along the line. On the big holidays, especially at the Dugan grandparents’, Molly, Conor, Paul, and I all usually sit with the adults. But somehow we seem to always end back up at the kids’ table one way or the other.

Come on, Grandma, Grandpa, and Pampa. When will the seats open up for us? So I can curse freely on the golf course now, but my seat isn’t totally reserved in the dining room?

Shit, maybe I deserve to stay at the kids’ table.

Some Sort of Polyjuice Potion

Last Monday I left my first class as a TA trying to remember what personality type I was, according to the Myers-Briggs test. Isabelle and Bridget had just taken the test and pressed me to share my result. Well, it had been about 15 months since I last took a knock-off online version of the assessment, and I couldn’t remember the four initials it had prescribed to me that night in the Bay Lake Tower at Walt Disney World with the Jordans. I did remember, however that my result was the same as Remus Lupin’s from Harry Potter—well, according to an infographic I found, at least. Hell, it’s partly the reason I bought Lupin’s wand when I visited the Harry Potter movie studio in London last January.

INFJ. Introverted. Intuitive. Feeling. Judging. Seemed about right. But perhaps I should take it again, I thought. After all, I’m still discovering ways that I’ve transformed recently after studying abroad.

Well, the N, F, and J parts held constant. But I had become an E, and that connection to Remus Lupin had severed to form a new bond with Albus Dumbledore. ENFJ. What the hell changed me, a proud introvert, to allow myself to exhibit extrovert tendencies?

In my physiological psychology class today, we talked briefly about epigenetics, the theory that although certain genes direct us toward specific traits, such as anxiety or obesity or endless joy, our environments can activate or make dormant such traits. In the right setting and with the right thought processes, a person genetically predisposed with an addictive personality can avoid falling prey to the alcoholism that has wrecked his family for generations. Or perhaps the daughter of two morbidly obese parents is fortunate enough to have those tendencies for extra fat silenced by her environment, and she goes on to be an Olympic athlete. I believe that a propensity on the introversion/extraversion scale is no different.

Without a doubt, I’m an introvert by nature. Yet I’ve become an extrovert by preference.

I remember working the switchboard my freshman year at SLUH, placed there in part because Mr. Hannick wouldn’t let a broken leg excuse me from my work-study obligation. I manned the desk at Oakland Avenue on weekdays from 3-5 and generally saw the same people at the same times each afternoon. The first one I saw and talked to was always Kim, the woman who worked at the desk throughout the day. Somewhere in age between my parents and grandparents, she was a wonderful guide who cared deeply about all of us awkward and strange high schoolers. As I got to know her fairly well, she mentioned once that when she was in high school, she hated the idea of not going out with friends on a Friday or Saturday night. At that point, still a freshman, I couldn’t disagree more. I craved the quiet of the weekends when I could watch Netflix, read a book, or do anything on my own that gave me solace away from the rapid academic and social pace of SLUH. But, of course, 15-year-old me pretended to agree, trying oh so hard to be an extrovert too.

Toward the end of high school and certainly in my first three semesters at SLU, I noticed that I was becoming more and more comfortable constantly surrounding myself with close friends. The closer I got to them, the more I fed off of their energy, especially during Oriflamme and Fall Welcome (both as a freshman being led and a sophomore being a leader). But a big part of me still craved that alone time in which I could recharge and catch up with myself more than anything else. In fact, that’s a big reason I chose to go on my own to Ireland for a semester.

They tell you that abroad will be a challenge, that you’ll come back different in many respects. I underestimated those warnings. In what turned out to be both the most challenging and rewarding time of my life, I had to learn again how to make new friends (shout out especially to Emily, Annie, and Rachel because they’ve been waiting for a blog mention for months now, but also all of my other new friends that I met in Galway), live with strangers (Michael, hope you’re still the happiest person I’ve ever met, especially back home in Uganda), and discover myself.

I spent more time alone than I ever have, and that time led to some moments of utter serenity (in Barcelona and Valencia, especially), but also some instances that knocked me down and left me more vulnerable than I’ve ever been. I turned to writing, a passion I’d found in high school but hadn’t practiced nearly enough since I’d started at SLU. That writing offered an escape via words, which Dumbledore called our most inexhaustible form of magic. It’s a funny thing that such words transformed my personality to align more closely with Dumbledore than Lupin.

It might not be clear how writing provided that transformation. It’s a solitary activity driven by solitary thoughts. In that sense, my natural tendency for introversion reveals itself. But writing provides so much more than simple self-reflection; it’s a full dialogue, shared between the writer and his audience, the writer and his god, the writer and the part of his self that he doesn’t yet know but will one day become. My writing taught me that, okay, maybe I’m inclined to do things alone. But when it comes down to it, I prefer sharing my experience with my friends, that I gain most of my energy from their stimulation.

It’s always been so easy for me to settle for my natural setting of introversion and keeping to myself—it’s almost always the path of least resistance. But in that life-changing semester I had abroad, I became comfortable with the fact that I prefer life the hard way. It sometimes remains a challenge even now to force myself out, to meet new people and establish new friendships while maintaining the old. Oriflamme’s the perfect example of that idea: in high school, I’d have never joined such an organization. Too much interaction, especially with strangers, I would say. But now, I can’t imagine life without it. It’s perhaps against my nature to some extent, but my environment has guided me to realize that maybe it’s better for me to be a Dumbledore than a Lupin. It’s okay to change and adapt, so long as newfound strength drives you toward that change.

Oh, this should be of note: I like to think that Dumbledore would be a dope-ass ‘Flamme leader.


“Words are our most inexhaustible source of magic.” – Albus Dumbledore