Soaking in the Storm

It’s no secret that I believe in energy. I think maybe that has something to do with my (perverse?) love of storms. I remember being little and watching my dad during crazy lightning storms in Kansas. He would stand out on the front porch, just watching, transfixed as the sky cackled and boomed before exploding into bursts of light. My mom was afraid it was scaring me, but I found his serenity calming. It was something out of The Tempest.

The last few days in Colorado have been a whirlwind of thunderstorms, hail, and even tornados. IMG_1003As alarms sounded and weather alerts warned to run for shelter, I found myself giggling, almost maniacally, and running instead to the nearest rooftop/balcony/porch I could find to get a better view. There is crazy energy in the air during a storm, and tonight, after I was fairly certain the hail had passed, I decided to go out for a run and see if I couldn’t soak some of it in.

I like to run at night because I find it to be more meditative than in daylight. I’m not as distracted by cars or other people passing. I have an easier time getting lost in my own thoughts (and let’s face it, that’s rarely a productive activity in its own right). Tonight, with the energy of the storms still pulsating, I got to thinking about my own energy and how it affects the world around me.

Science diagrams won’t help me here, nor will a bunch of fluffy quotes from The Secret (which to the shock of many I have never actually read). Instead, I like to use the visual of warm breath on a cold day. When you step outside and let go of that first exhale, you can see your breath form a cloud in front of you. It sort of hovers there, unsure of its own direction, before dispersing into the air around you, thinning into a light veil until you can no longer tell it apart from the air that stood there before. When you breathe in again, you may not even recognize the trace particles of that first exhale being recycled through your lungs.

I don’t believe in karma in the traditional sense, but I perceive it to work more like that breath into the cold. If I breathe in and out in accord with my intentions, if I breathe out good, then that is what I surround myself with. That good is not always going to be present in my next breath, but it sure as hell is out there, and it will be in someone else’s.

There have been a few situations lately where I found myself wondering how on earth I ended up being so lucky. But the fact of the matter is, I don’t believe in luck. The idea of luck, in my opinion, seems to downplay the influence we all have in manifesting our own realities. I don’t mean this to imply a lack of gratitude, because I am overwhelmed with gratitude for all the beauty that surrounds me. I don’t believe I could ever deserve all that I have been given, but I can try my best to earn it. I want to be worthy of my incredible friends who inspire and empower me every day. I want to be worthy of family that loves me unconditionally. I didn’t earn this body that serves me even when I don’t respect it, but with every breath I suck in as I run farther than I thought I would tonight, I am grateful for the opportunity to fill it with purpose, to fill it with good, and send it back out into the universe to surround me with my own intention.

I don’t believe in karma, but I believe in my intentions. I believe in my breath. I know my tiny brain could never fully comprehend the workings of the universe, but I do know that I exist in it, and therefore I am a part of it. As I see it, the universe doesn’t work for or against you, it just works with its most active participants.

Or at least, that’s what I like to believe after soaking in a storm.

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Denver is for Doers (and Lovers?)

I have loved Colorado since my first visit at 13. I started coming out for spring breaks to ski with my family, and I was a love-struck teenager. While most girls were putting up posters of N’Sync in their rooms, I was taping up my…N’Sync posters. I seriously loved those guys. Lance is gay?? Daaang I didn’t see that coming. Boyz II Men are going on tour? WhaAAAA??

I digress. Colorado: I eventually lost my passion for boys in bedazzled jeans, but I have been pining for you for a long time.

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Taken during my first run through City Park

After four years of living abroad, I am now officially living in Denver, and I couldn’t be happier about the move. Everyone who knows me knows how obsessed I am with New Zealand, and it says a lot about Colorado that most of the people I knew before coming here are Americans I met in N.Z.. This got me thinking about the type of person that is drawn to a place like Denver.

Before I even stepped off the plane last Tuesday, I have had people reaching out from all directions, welcoming me and offering to help in any way I might need. I felt at home here before I even had one. This last week has flown by, filled with city exploration, meeting friends, and making new ones. I’m laughing with the dude packing up my groceries, strangers say hi, and everyone wants to share with me why they love it here. It’s infectious. They say that Denver is a city of transplants; people who chose Denver and moved here because this is where they want to be. I say this is a city filled with my favorite kind of people. People who don’t just dream, people who make things happen.

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Sushibowl!

I was at a friend’s place on Sunday for sushibowl (not a typo, they just planned an incredible spread of homemade sushi sans football), and I was surrounded by the most interesting company. Everyone was throwing around ideas throughout the night of various climbs they wanted to do, hikes to try, music festivals to get to, etc. But the best part was what came next; the followup.

Instead of just leaving the ideas hanging in the air, this was a room full of doers. You want to climb but don’t have the gear? No problem, I know who has extra gear. How about this time? And this place? I’ll pick you up. It’s a plan. You want to go to that music festival? Ok, well the two of us can request the press credentials now and get +1s, let’s make it a road trip! So simple. So easy. So efficient.

It’s far too easy to waste time thinking about things that you want to do, or should do, without ever really being willing to take the steps to make it happen. It’s easier still to waste your life on hanging “what-ifs”. So <<virtual fist-pump>> to you Denver. Keep on doing what you’re doing, and I’m going to keep loving you for it.

Quito: The Breakup

I don’t want to write this post. I want to skip over the last year and just move on to now. But I know it’s not fair to pretend like everything is sunshine and roses, when anyone who has ever lived in Ecuador knows that is a far cry from the truth.

I tried to like it in Quito. I tried really hard, and I stayed for a year. I have written before about how I believe every city has its personality, and I generally can get a feeling straight away whether or not we will get along. I arrived in Quito last January, and did everything I could to squash the ever-persistent feeling that Quito and I could never really be friends.

Ecuador is still an impoverished country, struggling to develop after the currency switched from the sucre to the U.S. dollar in 2000. Whatever your political affiliations may be, I do believe that president Rafael Correa is doing a lot to make big changes in the country, however the results are yet to be seen. In day to day life, Quito; the capital city; is dysfunctional, polluted, and dangerous.

Traffic in Old Town

Traffic in Old Town

Despite my best efforts to take precautions, I was robbed in different circumstances four times, and had one–how shall I say–“inappropriate” encounter. I only know a few people who have not been robbed or attacked in Quito. The rest of my friends and coworkers can recount multiple muggings, kidnappings, attacks and robberies. Three of my best friends were victims of the infamous “sequestro express,” or taxi kidnappings. Right before I left the country a coworker was in a taxi on her way home when thieves stopped her cab, stole her credit cards, beat the shit out of her (yes, females receive the physical violence too) and her boyfriend, then drained their bank accounts. She was beaten so badly that she couldn’t see out of her left eye and had to go to a hospital in Miami.

The week before that, another coworker was on his way to campus when he was tapped by a stranger, who had just drugged him. He was luckily only a few minutes away from campus so he started running before the full effects of the drug hit and he passed out in front of the building, where an Administrator found him and took him to the hospital.

I lived with a family for a while, and finally found out that the missing father had been killed when thieves stole his car. One of my TEFL teachers was tied up in her own home by a gang who held her and her boyfriend with guns and machetes as they stole everything in their house, keeping them tied up until they emptied their bank accounts as well.

These are just a few stories. I could go on and on. The police did nothing in any of these cases. This is the daily danger that I lived with, that we all lived with. No matter how many times I tried to dye my hair, I could never blend in there. I was always a target. I hated the way people looked at me. Men stripped something from me every time I walked down the streets with their disgusting sounds and their constant comments. I felt dirty just for existing. We all did our best to put it aside and try to live our lives, but the constant threat to my security was something always weighing heavily in the back of my mind. I could never fully relax. I could never fully lose myself in a moment of laughter. I resented what the city was taking from me, piece by piece, every day.

People regularly asked me why I didn’t leave. Why would I stay somewhere that was obviously so negative for me. But leaving never felt like an option. I had committed to a year at the University, but more than that I had gone there with a goal. I had intended to stay for a year and learn Spanish. If nothing else, I’m stubborn and I’d be damned if I was going to let a few assholes keep me from doing what I wanted. I felt drained and stripped by the end of the year, but leaving felt like giving up, and I refused to let them win.

My Incredible Ecua Fam

My Incredible Ecua Fam

I feel a bit guilty in writing this. I have said this before and I’ll say it again, this by no  means    represents everyone in Ecuador. I have met some amazing people, and there is some incredible natural beauty to be found in the country. I think if I had lived in a different city or in a small pueblo, my experience would have been different, and who knows, I may have even loved Ecuador. But I didn’t. And this was my experience. And this is what I can share. Do I regret it? Hell no. Everything serves its purpose in life, and I am stronger for it. (Plus, I now speak Spanish!)

Before I decided to go to Ecuador, all I read about was how beautiful it is. While I saw a few mentions of danger, it appeared as though that was a stigma of the past and with some simple precautions there was no need to worry. The reality is very different. The country is struggling for change, but still a far way away from any sort of political or economic stability. I do genuinely believe that Ecuador will be a much different country in ten years. And I do wish the best for it.

I’m sorry it didn’t work out between us Quito. It’s not you, it’s me.

No, actually, I’m fairly certain it’s you. Ya… it’s definitely you. I hope you get some help with your issues. And I mean that from the bottom of my heart.

A Song About The Woes of Traveling.

This year in Ecuador has been one of the most challenging times of my life, but maybe it was the push I needed to decide that after 4 years I am finally ready to move back to the U.S. and establish myself somewhere. Saying goodbye is hard, and having to say goodbye to the people you love every other month is exhausting. I tend to write mainly about the crazy adventures and funny mishaps of life on the road, but here is a song about some of the woes of traveling, shot from my roof in Quito. Baby I’m coming home :^)

So I live in Ecuador now, about that…

Warning: Mom and other people prone to worrying, please take a deep breath and remember that I am alive and well before reading this post. And then maybe repeat that process when you finish.

It has been almost two months now since I moved to Ecuador, and I’m not going to lie to you, I’m feeling pretty impressed with myself for not having gotten myself killed yet. Ok, maybe “killed” is a bit extreme, but Quito is not exactly the safest place.

Quito, Ecuador

I have friends who have been kidnapped, attacked with beer bottles, mugged, strangled, tied up in their houses and robbed by men with machetes, held at gunpoint, had human feces thrown on them as a distraction while they were robbed, and the list goes on and on. These are not friends of friends or sister’s cousins ex-boyfriend’s, these are the stories of my close friends. These are the stories of blonde females in Ecuador.

The danger factor was the biggest adjustment for me in moving here. In Asia, my appearance made me stand out from the locals, but I always felt that they found me intriguing, sort of like Drew Barrymore and ET in ET (I’m ET in this metaphor, not Drew Barrymore, just to clarify). Here it’s not quite the same, my appearance makes me a target for thieves and a waste receptacle for nauseating amounts of machismo.

But you know what? It took a few weeks, but I am finding my happy place now, but it’s been quite a journey the last 2 months to get here.

Enjoying the Quito skyline from a hammock on my roof

With all the thugs and the danger, I have also been humbled by some of the kindest, most generous people. And that is what I want to focus on.

In one of my first hostels, I met my adoptive family in Ecuador; Gabi and Rudy and their daughter Chanti. All three of them are completely off their rockers and I could not love them more for it. They run a hotel on the beach about 6 hours from Quito in a place called Same, and were visiting Quito on business. I had only been in Quito for a few days when I met them, and I think they could smell my lost puppy dog vibe from a mile away. It was perfect timing in the way I met them, as they were debating something when I walked past them one night, and they stopped me to ask if I knew what the capital of Switzerland was. I mean seriously, what are the odds that two people are debating the capital of Switzerland and the person that happens to be walking by at just that moment has the last name Berner? Bern is the capital of Switzerland. So as fate would have it I found my crazy Ecuadorian family.

Mis Padres

They invited me to come stay with them for Carnival, so I went to Same on my first trip in Ecuador outside of Quito. I moved to Quito as I had scored a job here as a University professor. (I could have just said “teacher” but I really wanted to say University professor. I wear corduroy pants and cardigans with elbow patches and thick black-framed reading glasses and the best part is I’m not kidding!)  I had started an intensive course at the University about two days after arriving to prepare me to teach, and as it was kicking my ass I was looking forward to relaxing on a chilled out beach.

The beach at Same (sah-may)

I was greeted by one of the coolest things I have ever seen–a double rainbow forming a circle around the sun. There had been no rain. No clouds. Only a rainbow, appearing out of nowhere as if it just felt like saying hello. (At first I wrote “as if the sky had just fallen in love.” But then I felt nauseous and deleted it. You’re welcome.)

This picture doesn't even begin to do it justice as it was taken from a phone.

From the moment I arrived here, I had been hearing about how crazy Ecuadorian men can be, and Same introduced me to my first Ecuadorian stalkers. But I don’t blame Same. I blame the men. For being insane. (Not all men, calm down. Just…a lot of them.) But just as every girl I talk to has a story about a time they were robbed etc., they also have a story about some guy (or 20) who they thought was cool until the next day when he snapped and decided he owned her and couldn’t breath without her and everything turned crazy.  And yes I realize I am making light of a potentially dangerous situation, but I realized that if I was going to stay here, I was going to have to release some of my fears and try to find humor in the things I can’t control.

But the main reason I mentioned the stalkers is to mention  how I met my first male Ecuadorian friends (which is like trying to find a pot of gold here, as culturally guys and girls are very rarely “just friends”).

Giant margs for Edgars bday

So here is the abbreviated story of my stalker…

And by “here” I mean in my next post. I’m tired and this bad boy’s getting lengthy…

Ecuablog

Everything is energy and that’s all there is to it. Match the frequency of the reality you want and you cannot help but get that reality. It can be no other way. This is not philosophy. This is physics. – Albert Einstein

I’m going to listen to ‘ole Berty boy here and say that I am going to write a blog on Ecuador tomorrow. I have been living here for two months now, it’s about time I wrote something hey? So this is me. Putting it out into the universe. Hoping this will help make it come true…

A song for my friends and family. Even vagabonds get homesick sometimes

I taught a class on “culture shock” today and realized how much I miss my family and friends. I turned to my guitar for some comfort, and then thought maybe if I share this song it might make me feel just that tiny bit closer to all of you who are so very far away. Loving you from Quito.
Are We There Yet– Ingrid Michaelson Cover – YouTube.

Playing Forest Gump in Laos

Up to this point on my Southeast Asian Adventure, I had been sick on a motorbike, on a cliff, and on a speedboat. Thanks to the adverse side effects of malaria pills, I soon added a longboat and a bus to the list after I crossed over the Mekong into Laos. This time it was a normal bus, no tranny bus stewardess or “Best Friend Companion” snack boxes or bathrooms for me. Just 8 painful, winding, bumpy hours before I arrived in Luang Namtha, where I expected nothing more than a place to stretch my legs and rest my head.

Stopping off at a Roadside Market on the Long Journey

I was making my way to Luang Prabang to do some trekking, so despite my uneasy stomach I decided I needed to get out and get some exercise before another full day of travel. Some friends were renting bikes to go check out a nearby waterfall, so I decided I would run and meet them there. (I got hoes in different area codes. Except, well, our relationships are purely platonic. And they are not hoes. I’m sorry I said that. That’s offensive.)

Now, I don’t know what you know about Asian cultures, but I can tell you this much: people don’t often run, casually, just for the hell of it. Me being tall, fair-skinned and blonde running through this village was a bit like me heralding my own parade. Despite the fact that this casual run turned out to be 6 miles, I was loving every minute of it, exchanging “Sabadei!”s with various villagers as I struggled up hills on rocky terrain on my way to the waterfall.

I don't normally smile when I run. Then again I don't normally run.

On my way back, I passed a group of girls who just couldn’t contain their giggles at the sight of me running past them. Now I’m not sure if they were mocking me or just trying to see where I was off to in such a hurry, but after I passed them they started running after me, gathering more and more kids as we made our way down the dusty village road. It was the Laos version of the scene in Forest Gump where he runs across the country with hundreds of hippies following him just to figure out why he was running. I might not have noticed they were behind me for a while, but luckily a friend was biking back from the waterfall and was able to capture this shot.

Just like Tom Hanks

It wasn’t long before I could tell the kids were getting tired, so I stopped to smile and laugh with them, as our words were meaningless to each other. I tried to motion to “high five” one of them, but not understanding she adorably clapped her own hands together. Once I showed them what I meant, you would have thought I had just given them the best present ever as they squealed in delight, repeatedly high-fiving each other and me until they were shaking the sting from their hands. I had not expected much to happen in Luang Namtha, but more than all the big adventures, it’s the tiny, unexpected moments like these that keep me on the road.

Channeling Elizabeth Gilbert in Ubud

As soon as I was feeling a little bit better after getting food poisoning in Bingin, I headed straight back to Ubud. I met up with Jennifer, and despite our 25 year age difference, we fell into an easy friendship. She knew she should probably be spending her time reflecting in solitude and trying to sort out this whole “finding herself” business, but that’s a scary mission, and as it certainly wasn’t going to happen overnight I think she preferred my company (which is delightful, by the way). She had booked herself into a place called Honeymoon Guesthouse, so I ended up staying with her for a few nights to help take up some of the massive space for two.

 

Not too shabby

That’s just the kind of generous, kindhearted person I am, going out of my way to stay in a flash marble guesthouse with aircon, swimming pool, and wifi when I could be staying in the taxi man’s spare room with his uncle and wife. She did make me earn my keep though, demanding live music while she played chess with her new Balinese friend Ambara. I just pawned the responsibility off on the Australian guy I met in the pool earlier who made the mistake of telling me he played music. Obviously he had no chance of doing anything he wanted to do from that point forward as I was going to force him to play me sweet sweet music. And that he did. Keep an ear out for him, his name is David Cheney and with music as impressive as his is, just getting started, I can only imagine what he will be creating in a few years time.

As I always have plenty of my own reflecting to do, I eventually retreated back to my own accommodation with cold showers, broken ceiling fans, and lizards for roommates, leaving Jennifer to her solo honeymoon. Despite the downgrade, my place is still comfortable and clean with a great view.

View from my porch at Dena Sari

 

Aside from wandering aimlessly and looking at artwork, I wanted to branch out and try to open myself up to some “Eat, Pray, Love Moments” as my dad calls them. (Sidenote: I am obsessed with the book, not the movie. If you havn’t read it you should do so immediately. The movie is artistically shot, but nowhere near as insightful). Ubud is where Elizabeth Gilbert comes when she is in Bali, and being here it is easy to see why. I discovered a place called Yoga Barn (www.theyogabarn.com) and decided to take a chakra meditation class there. It is a beautiful, two-story open-air studio over looking terraced rice paddies, dedicated to “yoga, movement, and healing”.

Yoga is easy when that is your view

Chakras are meant to be the different areas of your body that transmit and receive energy, each relating to a specific type of energy and associated with a color. In Hindu and Buddhist Yogic traditions, the energies spin like a fan, and the practice of chakra meditation is meant to help you sync your body’s chakras, harmonizing them and getting in tune with which energies are being blocked and which energies are strongest.

The typical 7 chakras

I very much believe in positive and negative energy in the universe, and the power the mind has to impact the things around you, but I generally stray away from trying too hard to label it or quantify it. I nonetheless came to the class with an open mind and a clear and calm head. After about 20 minutes of various forms of meditation, we were all standing in the class, eyes closed, as the teacher had us swaying our arms around each chakra, focusing on what was happening in each area of our body as we “oh-ah-mmm”ed in unison. The air was still but for the vibration from our voices until a loud “WHACK!” pulled us from our meditative state. We looked up to find a woman, about 40 or 50 years of age, on the ground after fainting. Instead of going limp before falling, she had gone down like a wooden plank, taking the brunt of the fall on her chin as she hit the timber floorboards beneath her. Strangely, one of the guys in class, Andy, said for some reason the second before she fell he had opened his eyes from meditation and looked straight at her. Though she could hardly move her jaw, she mentioned before the ambulance took her away that before she went down all she could see was the color purple. Purple represents Sahasrara; the Crown chakra. Located at the top of the head, this is generally thought of as the chakra of pure consciousness. Whether or not there is some deeper meaning hidden here is not really for me to say, but it is interesting nonetheless.

After the drama, those of us who remained resumed the class and we were soon separated into groups of three to do an exercise. We sat holding hands with our eyes closed, and one person had to choose a color to represent and then send that color to the other two members of the group through the vibrations in their “oh-ah-mmmm”. After a few minutes, the other two group members had to share what color they received. I was with Andy, a middle-aged Englishman, and Clint, a 25 year old Australian. After each round, the whole class shared what had just happened, and it was pretty impressive how many people had guessed correctly, or at least guessed the color just above or below the intended chakra. When I went, I decided I would be a bit tricky, and went for two colors. I wanted to be yellow and orange so I focused on sunlight, which kept conjuring images of the beach in my mind. Andy guessed first and said immediately that he got two colors from me, but I just looked at him blankly waiting for him to finish his guess, and he said he wasn’t sure why but he definitely got two colors and they were yellow and orange. Exactly right. Then Clint guessed and said he got blue, but then kept getting yellow as well. Though not completely right, it was still a pretty accurate guess as I was using the beach, with blue water and golden sunlight, as the image in my head to channel my colors. But it gets weirder.

Later in class, no longer in small groups, the teacher told us to send a simple wish or desire out into the universe and channel our energy into making it happen. I had been struggling to meet other young, solo travelers like myself, and had noticed that while a lot of people seemed to have come to the class with someone else, Clint had come on his own. So I made my statement simple, “that guy is going to come over to talk to me after class, and we’re probably going to go get some food together.”

What do you know, after class I’m rolling up my yoga mat and who wanders over? Clint, asking if I would like to go get dinner. Oh well, gee, I hadn’t thought about it, I’m not sure I may have to YES OF COURSE I WOULD! So me Clint and Andy end up going to a place in town called Bali Buddah. Over Bintangs and dinner I learned that Andy had just got back from an Ashram and practices NRP; neurological response programming. On the complete opposite end of the spectrum, Clint works as an engineer in the mines in Australia. Loving every moment of the fascinating company I found myself in as the result of a simple decision to take a meditation class, the three of us carried on sharing and exploring our life perspectives, continually moving our conversation as place after place closed and kicked us out. The night ended in me playing a few songs at a reggae bar (wtf?! And in smelly yoga clothes as well!) before we went and “danced the chakras” at the only late-night club in Ubud. Now before you think I’ve gone completely new-age and mental, we were fully aware how ridiculous we were being. And it was awesome.

After struggling my way through a full day bike trip up an active volcano and through the Balinese countryside the next day (I had booked before I knew I’d be out all night!), I met up with Andy and Clint again, and this time brought Jennifer along to see what she could gain from the experience.

Surprisingly good shot of Mt Batur considering the state I was in when I took it

Balinese Woman Hard at Work in the Fields

One of the most beautiful things I love about travel is the way in which strangers can come together and share something meaningful that each will carry with them, even though they will most often float out of each other’s lives as fast as they came. You can learn about the deepest crevasses of a persons mind after only knowing them a day because in this environment, people cut the bullshit of day to day life and come together in the simple acknowledgment that we are all just people, trying to figure it out.

Not sure if J is going to be stoked with this pic or not

After another night of amazing conversation and insight, we all decided to exchange emails as Clint and Andy were both heading out of Ubud the next day. Now if you didn’t think guessing the correct chakra colors or telling the universe to make Clint talk to me was enough to make you think twice about the power of the mind, listen to this. For fun, Clint and I decided to try to guess each other’s last names before exchanging emails. We closed our eyes and held hands, and I tried my best to send him “Berner,” focusing on really hot things and thinking this was definitely not going to work. His guess? Burns. Out of all the last names in the world, he freaking guesses Burns. Then it’s my turn to guess. Loads of last names are floating in my head but I tell him I’m not getting anything. He says to scratch that idea then, and just guess an animal. I close my eyes and after a few minutes just say sorry, I didn’t get it. All I can think is rabbit, and that’s obviously not a last name.

Or it is?

His last name is Hare. He sent me “rabbit.”

I don’t care how skeptical you may be about any of this meditation/personal energy business, you have to admit that is pretty damn weird. He guessed Burns, I guessed rabbit. Weird.

Now, I’m not going around thinking I have special powers and can read minds and control the universe, but this experience was enough to reinforce a simple idea that I have believed for some time, but am not always diligent in practicing; the energy that I put out into the universe is more than fleeting thoughts, but it is something tangible that has an effect on the area around me. The more in tune I am with myself, the more opportunity I have to control the energy that I emit. At dinner that second night, Clint told me that he had watched me walk across the street to where he was and that I was glowing. He said I just had an energy about me that was radiating. It was one of the best compliments I have gotten in a really long time, maybe ever. It’s not easy to maintain that positivity all the time, and doing so would mean living in ignorant bliss as the world is far from a perfect place, but I was happy, even for just one night, to have gotten my glow back.