We were in the car driving past the hubby buildings of Athens, Georgia and I was scared shitless.
They were classic American structures no more than five stories high made entirely out of brick. Refurbished factories converted into retail hotspots and trendy bars. Athens was a complex in the middle of a vast expanse, like a sturdy tree shooting high above a flooded valley that said yes sir, how’re y’all, and we’ll pray for you. Out in the distance the rolling, rolled-over fields allowed the last of the February chill to carry through town. Bryan Wish was in the front seat with his mom talking about what he was going to say when everyone arrived at the event. The Wish Dish One Year Anniversary.
I was sitting in the back holding some banners that covered my face silently venting what the hell are you doing. I was terrified. Didn’t look it but I wanted to jump out the car at the next red light and rush into Pauley’s Crepe Bar. Have a drink at the end of the bar and forget it all, that’s what I wanted. Don’t bother with these people, Matt, just go back inside yourself. But then I had to remind myself of how some wise ass kid from Reston, Virginia touched over 200 peoples’ lives in ways he couldn’t imagine.
We were living in Virginia, both in 6th grade, and we played youth football together. Never really took to each other but that was mostly my fault. I never spoke–to anyone. I was a shy kid who liked to knock his big head around. After that, we happened to play on the same house league basketball team. Don’t remember much except losing in the semi-finals.
After that we didn’t talk for over a decade. We both had amassed different lives over the years. He went into sports and marketing while I tried to be a poet, still trying. One night I remember sitting in the living room of my apartment at Providence College, after an evening of trying to forget that college was coming to an end, I get a Facebook message; it’s Bryan. His mom had caught up with my mom at a Christmas party. That night there was this distinct March chill, like it belonged among the hills of Athens but laid to rest in small, grey Providence. Bryan found out I was a creative writing major (I wanted a lucrative career…) and asked me to write a piece. He said there were no boundaries, no limits, just something true and authentic. Right away, I said ‘sure.’
Damn Matt. What are you going to write about, you’re a fiction writer, you tell lies and call them stories. You’ve never written anything true in your life. After a couple of days thinking on what I should put down, I decided to write about something I had never talked about before. Bryan’s point to make it authentic and providing a place for it to live gave me the balls to go all out. Nothing held back. It was called “The Invaluable Luxury of a Second Chance.” I’ll admit it was tough getting it on paper. But after the tears and anguish and memories washing over me, it was over. It was actually over.
My body felt underweight. Like a tumor I’d grown attached to had been extracted and what filled up was understanding, relief.
The response to my piece was incredible. Thousands of people read it. I received messages telling me how raw and powerful it was. Truth has a way of settling in people’s hearts. To this day, I hope I will never feel as proud of a piece of writing.
He asked over the next few months leading up to and after my graduation if I’d be willing to help him edit a few pieces here and there. I thought ‘sure, why not.’ I was the unofficial associate editor to the Wish Dish. People wrote me back and forth asking me: a guy who didn’t have anything figured out beyond what he was going to do in the next three hours, to lay out their deepest thoughts in the best way possible. I was more than happy to help.
Nurturing a story, a narrative of a life coming from someone where he or she expresses themselves most through language, is one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve ever had. Fast forward a couple months after graduation, Bryan asked me to be the manager of all content. I said, ‘sure.’ Yup, I was on my way. But not everything was so smooth in my life.
For the better part of a year after taking on the role, I went through a rough time. A combination of a bad breakup, entrenched anxiety, depression, and post-graduation uncertainty sent me down a twister of drinking, erratic behavior, and self-destructive tendencies. Longstanding issues I chose to ignore for several years came back to the forefront, like a bad chemical reaction. I reverted into a version of myself who acted savage and selfish. Kept thinking you’re nothing you piece of trash and who do you think you are Mr. Writer? Those voices plagued every portion of my mind and drinking was one of the only things that made it quiet. Drink until it went black, that was the prescription.
The time was approaching for the Wish Dish One Year Anniversary. It had already been one year…my God. I began to accept that there was no escape from what I was about to witness. Bryan was about to finally integrate this eclectic community of writers and artists that all had one thing in common, the essence of truth. I was going all-in, a commitment. There’d be no bars or dark corners to hide in.
We’d pulled up to Nuci’s Space, this venue dedicated to the club owner’s son. Nuci was a talented guitarist on his way to becoming a real staple in the Athens music scene. But he took his own life at the age of 22. On the back wall right next to a stage riddled with guitars like a shrine there was this eight foot tall picture of Nuci standing in the middle of a field looking up to the sky. It looked like he was thinking why can’t I be up there, maybe if I jump high enough…and a jab of realization got me right in the mouth. That could have been me. It was a real possibility that if I let shit get bad enough then I probably wouldn’t be able to dig myself out. If the drinking got that bad, and kept on feeling bad for myself–Right now I could be sailing the clouds up there with Nuci looking for a place to land on the sun. After a full year of looking through hundreds of stories from hundreds of people, I realized that apart from having the love and support of a wonderful family, these stories had formed me and kept my legs planted on the ground.
During the long nights of barhopping, sometimes alone, finding a shadowed corner to paint with my self-pity, waking up early trying to remember how I got back, I’d check the site and make sure everything was running smoothly. Bryan counted on me to get these stories together, these people were depending on me. I thought I had been through some shit in my time but, I had no idea how much shit life throws at you until I read these stories, your stories. They, these men and women, had allowed me to gain a perspective that my life was nothing in the grand scheme if I didn’t want it to be anything. There was this center and that was the Wish Dish.
Instead of making meaning out of every day (my old motto), I wanted people to remember that I at least tried and that was all the meaning I’d need. I was ready to leave that jerkish asshole behind and start a new chapter of my life dedicated to a higher purpose greater than my own gain—But then, another wave hit me. I was in a riptide of revelation. Shit, all those people who’ve entrusted their words to you are going to be here tonight and you’re going to see them face to face. I was finally going to see each of them, talk to them, shake their hands. Oh for the love of shit, Matt, you’re just figuring this out now?! Anxiety was kicking in two-fold.
There was no distance, no invisible fourth wall to separate me from these people. Before, they were more ideas to me who had created beautiful language, like angels. Looking these people in the eye would be like a flashback from an acid trip and that freaked me out.
Standing still in the middle of the Nuci’s giving myself a 360 degree view, I was petrified again. I needed to see if I could slug a few beers to calm the nerves. The amount of relief is almost indescribable when I found out this event had an open bar. Never said I stopped drinking and, hey, I’m not perfect. After a few Tropicalias, I got to meet the rest of the incredible core of the Wish Dish staff.
Shelby Novak, our social media director, saw me. My face was a bit flushed from the beers, Irish red, and she straight-up hugged me. I could just feel that there was a kindness and good will emanating from her, I’d like to think I picked up a little bit of that. She had the Athens vibe, happy to help someone, to give someone a blanket on a cold spring night even when she might need it more.
Not too long after we had all the chairs set up, hung all the posters, and the microphone sound tested I saw the head of content strategy, Sam Dickinson. Dressed to the nines in a blazer, khakis, and a tie he made my blue button down with Polo sneakers a bit underdressed. He shook my hand with an earnestness I don’t see in many people. Along with being as tall as a redwood he’s a great guy, he’s genuine. We three had invested so much into giving people a voice in a world where words have increasingly diminished in their significance. People use them as throwaway symbols, like inconveniences suffered through for the sake of communication. This site and these people and most importantly these stories from young, old, sad, happy, empowered, victimized—they had come into this melting pot where each was celebrated and welcome.
The event went off without a hitch. I’ll let Bryan explain it from his perspective but just let me say that he is the core of this whole thing, a molder of culture. Believe it.
Nearly 200 people showed. That’s 200 stories I’ve read. How would they see me? Would I get criticized for my methods? Do they even know who I am? Did they think their stories were just magically put up on the site?
The amount of welcome and thanks I received shocked me to the foundation.
I talked with Tom Bestul, who had written a story about his experience at Camp Kesem, a camp for children whose families had been affected by cancer. His story inspired me to volunteer more. Another one was Megan Swanson, a former Miss Nebraska who gave her perspective on the highly criticized beauty pageant process. She helped to broaden my horizons. And Denna Babul’s story of love for her dying mother-in-law demonstrated how strong a bond one can share with another. If only I could have talked to every single one of these people I would have relived every moment perusing their words. With each passing recollection and introduction the moments grew more surreal. It might have been the beer but the whole event seemed to gather this arid, temperate hue like the words exchanged between all these storytellers was adding substance to the air, filling a void. I don’t know, maybe I was sloshed. But it was beautiful nonetheless.
First I want to thank Bryan for allowing me to make the closing remarks. Standing up there, the crowd stared, all focus magnified on me like was under a hot beam on an ant hill. Matt what the hell are you going to say you have nothing prepared you never prepare for anything but can you ever be prepared for the truth, truth, yes, the truth just tell the truth—And this is a rough cut of what I said, it is a thanks to all you contributors, past and present.
Hey everyone, I’m Matt Gillick and I’m the chief editor. I’ve read all your stories and for that—well let me first that I’m sorry for any mistakes I made for any of your pieces—I’m not perfect but I try. I just thought that it would be decent of me to say a few words and to thank you all. Thank you guys for taking such a risk, not necessarily a physical risk but an emotional risk in entrusting me to nurture your words and publish them for everyone to see. Someone whom you’ve never met before and haven’t seen until right now got to see the inner you and what really makes you tick. Through language you showed me a corner of your soul. I wanted to let you all know that you are all incredible people. I have been shaped by your stories, every one of them. Let me finish by saying hopefully one day I can be a fraction of the person you all are now—when I’m older and greyer.
Later on I walked outside, into the evening. There wasn’t a chill rolling from the hills anymore. Downtown was lit up and beckoning. Bryan patted me on the back as we looked out into the night, about eight Tropicalias deep, and I was happy.
For the first time in a while, I was happy.
For as long as I can remember (or since high school because my memory is not that great) I have always told myself to keep a blog, journal, some written record of my day-to-day life.
Having those little moments and feelings on paper (or online) forever seemed like the greatest idea in the world. How cool will it be when I am 30, 40, 50 years old to look back and see my sob-story about how the boy I had a crush on in school actually had a crush on someone else, the test I failed, the friend I fought and then made up with?
I am not going to be naive and say that I am making a list of resolutions that I will vow to keep because we all know that never actually ends up happening.
However, I still cannot shake this constant nagging in the back of my head to keep up with a journal/blog. Every once in a while I start off pretty strong, taking a few minutes at the end of the day to just write down what is going on. But that quickly ends, when classes, friends and life seem to just get in the way.
Today, while making a weak attempt at studying for the 2 finals I have left, a friend texted me about her high school boyfriend and we had a conversation about how different things are now, how much we’ve changed. This conversation made me wonder, why do I feel this constant urge to remember every little detail of my life?
Am I scared that my best years have already past? Of course not, there is so so much that lies ahead of me. Am I worried that things that once consumed my entire world will be forgotten? Maybe, but isn’t that what life is all about? Why should I spend so much time worrying about preserving the past instead of focusing on my present?
I thought I wanted to keep a journal to track these changes, and I still do, but is it really necessary to write down every single day, every little detail? It’s not. Yes I may forget what my friends and I stayed up talking about until 3 in the morning last night, but I will never forget the friends or the impacts they have made on my life.
Yes I will, but will I forget how the relationships have taught me more about love and life than I could ever get from a blog? No.
Will my anxiety and distress over my finance grades fade to the very back of my consciousness? Yes, but why would I want to be constantly reminded of the stress I endured anyways?
I used to view blogging as a way to preserve my memories, but now I am beginning to realize that the important ones will always be there. If I am constantly so obsessed with remembering everything that is happening in my life I will forget to truly experience it.
So I guess I now have my “resolution”, for lack of a better word, to better appreciate my life as I am living it.
To take a second every now and then to think, wow this moment is so exciting, sad, stressful, pathetic, indescribable, what have you, because what is the point in preserving memories if you didn’t take the time to fully experience them?
I never really considered myself an official Third Culture Kid. I didn’t shuffle every two or three years from country to country, house to house, school to school. I made my first move ever in January of 2007, from the humid winter of Houston, Texas, to the brisk wind and gray skies of Paris, France.
I was ten years old at the time, and to be honest, I had no idea what to think or what to expect. I had all these conflicting feelings; Paris is Paris, so there’s that, but I was leaving behind a childhood of having my best friend living next door to me, my dog running around my large backyard, climbing trees and sleeping in my treehouse (despite the millions of mosquitos).
Knowing everyone in my small neighborhood and going to school K – 12 with all the same kids, and my large room that I naïvely thought was a good idea to paint hot pink. I vividly remember the last couple of weeks leading up to the day we left; everything we owned had already been shipped out, and our house felt like a desolate ruin. We were using a plastic dining table and patio furniture in our living room and sleeping in sleeping bags which were the only things that occupied our empty bedrooms.
But in no way was I prepared for the first few weeks of being somewhere completely new and foreign to me and unable to communicate for help. My parents had lived in Houston for eleven years prior to my birth, so they knew everyone and everything; I don’t think I saw them once pull out a map or use a GPS for directions.
I had always been a shy child, but I think I said maybe four words in my first two weeks of school. I had never been new, and I was awful at saying goodbyes, and I think that this was one of the largest things that distinguished me from being a true Third Culture Kid. Not only was I not a tapestry of all the different cultures I had lived with, because Texas was all I had previously ever known, but I didn’t seamlessly blend into a new environment like so many of these cultural chameleons did.
Every single one of them that I met executed the ‘new person’ routine flawlessly, and their goodbyes said, “I’ve loved my time here with you and it’s been great, but I’m off to a new adventure now!” excited to discover a new world and brushing right past the bitterness of leaving (which I, conversely, wallowed in).
Among croque monsieurs and baguettes and pâté and cafés au lait and lazy days on the Seine with a bottle of wine and falafels and the traditional Champs de Mars parties of my high school. My pre-teen and early teenage years were running back and forth from each other’s apartments to the Eiffel Tower to get crêpes, because it was the only ‘cool’ place within walking distance and our parents wouldn’t let us take the metro by ourselves.
They were catching the school bus (not a dingy yellow bus, but a charter tour bus) on a dreary winter morning outside of the award winning bakery that happened to be right downstairs, and if you got there early enough, beating the line to grab a still warm pastry for breakfast.
They were gathering in the residential neighborhood that somehow all my classmates lived in, getting Starbucks because we felt so grown up for drinking coffee, even though let’s be honest, it was mostly sugar. And we grew up fast.
Movie weekend nights turned into bar hopping and clubbing. We strived to be adults and the culture expected it of us. My high school years were filled with five hour lunches and three hour coffees, with happy hours at 5 and dinners at 10.
House parties that had an exuberant amount of alcohol and VIP sections at clubs, with late nights and early mornings, with midnight stops and sunrise moments at Trocadéro, with library naps and history classes from our famed teacher who knew how to give the most captivating lectures I’ve ever had, with all-nighters and endless English discussions among some truly brilliant classmates.
I realize that I was so fortunate to have had these experiences. In light of the recent Paris attacks, I’ve become more appreciative of my city and the culture than ever. I grew up in one of the most beautiful cities in the world and the transformation I’ve had as a person is truly remarkable. Despite the fact that I hold American citizenship, I felt like a foreigner when I came back to the United States for university after eight years abroad.
Everything moves so fast here. Everyone is always busy and moving and I just want to sit around and have a cup of coffee for four hours with my best friend while we talk about school, bars, food, movies, love, life. I have learned how to do my introductions well and to say my goodbyes with as little heartbreak as possible. I’ve learned to relax and take life in stride.
I’m no longer the shy child I once was, and I’m not so afraid to make my voice heard (still a little scared though, but that’s alright, old habits die hard). I’ve learned that it’s okay not to be okay, and that it’s also okay to put myself first.
Moreover, I’ve learned to be humble but proud, a quality that I think is often lost in our adolescence, a time that we think we are invincible. Not invincible in the physical sense, but rather in a way that says, “I can take anything life dares to throw at me,” and we often forget how vulnerable we can be. I’ve learned to embrace my vulnerability, to go through life without always thinking about protecting myself, because although putting yourself out there can be terrifying, it often yields benefits.
My adolescent years were spent in the city of Paris, France, a city that seemed far too grown up for a ten year old Asian-American girl who didn’t speak a word of French. My life was sipping vin chaud at the annual Christmas market on the Champs Elysées, it was ordering foie gras at the butcher to pair with a hot baguette, it was the bustling noises of the restaurant delivery trucks in the morning and the mopeds buzzing by at night (and wow, I did not realize how much of my life revolved around gastronomy).
It was travelling to Amsterdam, London, Brussels, just for the day for a swim meet, it was the long walks in the Bois de Boulogne with my dog and three day weekend trips with my family. It was an experience that I’ve now deemed ultimately priceless, as every day felt like a new discovery, not only of the city and of Europe but of myself and my identity.
Now, back in the States at Emory University, whenever people ask me where I’m from, I usually say Paris, because although I don’t hold French citizenship, I feel more culturally French than American. I think that those pre-teen and teenage years are so important in finding oneself.
It’s when you discover what you’re like, what kind of people you like, how you cope with everything that happens, be it school, relationships, stress, whatever.
Paris shaped me into a young woman ready to tackle the world as a semi-adult (because honestly, I still get anxiety from scheduling my own doctor’s appointments), encouraging me to embrace everything I can but to not forget my past and to remain true to what I believe in. And for that, I am eternally grateful