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Where Did I Come From? Where am I Going?

Leading up to my arrival in Israel

· Baltimore,Last year,Growth

Israel Government Fellows

I first learned about the Israel Government Fellows program years ago. I don’t remember from where exactly, but I knew it fit all my criteria: I would be able to spend significant time abroad, learn about a country significant to me and my heritage through guided, structured activities, and contribute to my career in science policy. I spent literally years exploring the program, chatting with the director on the phone and interviewing several different fellows about their experiences. Even though I knew it was a big commitment, I had this powerful inner feeling that this was an opportunity I needed to take advantage of. It took me a long time for me to arrange my life so I could do this, but I’m ultimately glad that it did. And as I sit here on the plane, ready to dive into this new experience, I feel like my first entry should pay proper respect to my time in Baltimore. This definitely isn’t comprehensive, but hits most of the major events and experiences I had during my short but intense tenure in that lovely city.

Baltimore City

The past year I spent in Baltimore was challenging, exciting and necessary, and if I had done IGF sooner I may well have never gone to Baltimore. I got to learn just how far the life I lived growing up was from those of most others. I got to confront significant questions of race and equity in the city, which I had never really had to consider before, but also learn how tight-knit the community is and how well people look out for one another there. One person I met told me that Baltimore is a “yes city”: if you have an idea or an initiative for the city, people are likely to be enthusiastic and support you, whereas that is not so often the case in New York or DC. Some of the Baltimore events I’m aware of that fit this concept include ArtScape, the toilet bowl races and the Baltimore Rock Opera Society (BROS), a community that writes and stages original rock operas. I left Baltimore primarily for professional reasons – if it were possible to grow my career in the way I wanted there, I’d likely stay.

Professional Growth

I grew a lot professionally. I got to learn R, the premiere open-source data analysis language, and apply it immediately to a variety of data sources and reports for an agency that really needed it. A lot of this learning took place through trial-and-error on the web, which helped me to overcome my fears and stories that I was no good as an autodidact. I also experienced a different kind of working environment than I had in the past – I really appreciated working on a small, relatively informal team, and it helped us to become very cohesive. I got to take a strong leadership role on helping to initiate projects and pursue new aspects of writing R code. Another significant (though not directly related) professional accomplishment was giving a TEDx talk, which not only had been on my bucket list for years but occurred a week and a half after my birthday. It was a struggle to write and memorize a 12 minute talk, but one that was definitely worth it. A week before the talk, I was actually feeling pretty confident about it, which is a rarity for me when I’m preparing for something big like this. Perhaps the best aspect was that the talk I gave was a modified version of a talk on futurism I’d given a year and a half prior, with the idea that it was be good to practice for a TED talk someday. It felt really good to present the message I’d originally shared with about 100 people to a room filled with 6 times that many (and on the TEDx talks channel, of course).

Social Life

Living in Baltimore put me in touch with some new and familiar faces – a good portion of the MAGFest community lives in the area. I didn’t see them as often as I’d have liked, but I did get to see the BROS show in the fall, spend New Years Eve with them at the Ottobar, and attend video game parties at my friend Stevo’s place on a monthly basis. I got to know some of the Baltimore Jewish community through dinners and volunteer events, and of course got to know the fellows and staff of Baltimore Corps. Additionally, since Baltimore is close to DC, I felt like I didn’t have to entirely give up my old life and community there. The second month I was in Baltimore I headed down to DC to volunteer at the StartingBloc institute happening there, and the weekend after that I became a part of my friend Monica’s “Creative Jump” program, which helps to foster creativity in people who don’t feel like they’re creative. I got to spend a few days in New York and New Jersey around Thanksgiving, which was wonderful, and around Christmas I actually opted not to take any extra days off (as most people did), and just spend a long weekend in Philly with my extended family. (It was really nice – we saw Rogue One and I brought Eggnog in a Darth Vader thermos.) Naturally, I went to MAGFest in January (though it’s getting a little too big for my tastes) and in February I attended the 20th anniversary of my graduate program – it was really great to see some fellow alums and re-engage with the faculty and experiences I enjoyed so much a few years ago. Around my birthday, I actually planned two different gatherings (one in Baltimore and one in DC) while also attending a conference on Internet Inclusion. So I definitely got up to a lot during this past year.

Personal Growth

I also did a lot of healing. I started seeing a chiropractor during my second month in town, as I’ve suffered from posture problems and found the particular type of chiropracty that he practices to be helpful. I thought he would primarily knock my bones around, but I witnessed a shooting in November that shook me up considerably. When I told him about it, he showed me the Neuro-Emotional Technique (NET) for locating and resolving unresolved emotional trauma, and to my surprise, using simple muscle testing we were able to get to the heart of what was challenging me about this issue (and it had nothing to do with me being worried about getting shot myself). All of a sudden I was able to walk to work without jumping out of my skin. I was so surprised by how effective the technique was that I started working with it for all sorts of issues, and ultimately ended up clearing a lot of things that could be traced back years or even decades. I also saw my shaman, who until recently lived in DC, several times throughout the year (including for the shooting), and I found him to be an extraordinarily helpful guide, healer and friend who could help pull me out of my worst funks. He, too, was preparing to move away from the area, and I’m glad I was around so that we could spend time together before he did.

Healing Communities

Additionally, I participated in some other healing venues. It took a friend to point out that there was a Shambhala meditation center about five blocks from where I lived. I did visit a few times – particularly around new years – but found that the timing of the evening meditation sessions didn’t work for me (and I didn’t like the chanting that they did after meditating either). What I did connect with better was the Mankind Project, which has a weekly standing meeting just four blocks (in the other direction) from where I lived. I looked into it within a couple of weeks of arriving, showed up to a meeting to introduce myself, and the meeting quickly became a fixture of my week. I felt extreme supported by the loving, determined men who sat in the circle with me, and they gave me significant space to work on my issues when I needed it. In March, I went through the Mankind Project’s official initiation weekend to become a full part of the community. The weekend was incredible intense, and I did some hard but powerful work to leave one of my oldest fears behind and gain deep confidence. My dad came too, but he unfortunately left halfway through for health reasons. I also went through the Landmark Forum, on the advice of my friend Ginger, and used my professional development stipend from Baltimore Corps to pay for most of it. Landmark takes a more cognitive approach than the embodied energy of the Mankind Project, and its seminars are much bigger, but it puts words to a lot of the issues and perspectives I’d had some intuition about. Some people find it “pushy” or “sales-y” but I really find that people there have everyone’s best interests at heart. Going through the first two Landmark courses helped me meet some new people, a few of which actually became friends, and left me with a good feeling about my ability to examine my life further and deeper in the future.

Leaving Baltimore

However, as my shaman said to me, the hardest part about getting what you want is getting what you want. Just as I was getting comfortable in Baltimore, it was time to go. I was getting frustrated with my job, and I knew it was now or never for Israel. With my departure date set, I had a clear deadline by which I needed to wrap everything up, and the last few weeks before I got on the plane were rife with stress, distractions and competing demands. I had to pack up my Baltimore apartment, pack up for Israel, deal with unresolved insurance nonsense, try to settle a dispute with my rental company, mentor at StartingBloc New York (as I knew I’d be away from it for a while) and try and see as many people as possible. I honestly felt like life was moving too fast for me to keep up, and there was no shortage of stress between me and my parents as I prepared to no longer be in the country. But one by one, I moved through each obstacle. I didn’t resolve everything perfectly, and I didn’t have a deep, meaningful goodbye with everyone I wanted to. However, once I got on that plane, my worries started to evaporate. I was doing it. It was happening: I was going to Israel, and I had no return ticket booked. And with that, my adventure has begun.

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