Reframing Our Past, Travel and Community with Kate Douds

“I think I’d be a fried Oreo.”

If Kate Douds was anything, she would be a fried Oreo. Even though she’s never tried one. “Sometimes we just have to roll the dice. Do we really know ourselves anyway?” It’s that, the easy wit, graceful humor, and absolute openness to anything fried that makes Kate a poem alive. That’s surface of it anyway.

(Kate also describes herself as a detective of internal self exploration, an analyst of experiences, perspectives, personally conclusive logic.)

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“My dad was a pilot. My mom actually met him in flight school, and so I had the opportunity to travel as a kid. And it’s something that’s always been there. Going back and looking at old journals with the stupid little lists of ‘Ten Things I Want to Do Before I Die’ in the ninth grade with all of your friends, travel the world was always number.

What’s interesting right now, is that I’m still not sure what I want. I’m still enjoying the evolution of my interests, realizing that I don’t have to just pick one. I don’t necessarily have to find fulfillment or identification with my career alone.

So just because I work as a flight attendant, it doesn’t mean that that’s my identity. It’s interesting that the job that I got while trying to figure out what I wanted creatively is now at the center of my creative goals, an online travel publication.

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What goals do you have for this travel publication?

I think initially, my main goal is to get it done. Just as a personal accomplishment. My dad was asking me pretty much the same question: what are your goals for this, are you going to try to make money, are you going to try to find advertisers, do you want this to segue into another position with another company? And it was nice to be completely honest and saying if I do this, and I’m proud of our content and design, and mom’s the only person that reads it, I’m totally okay with that. I will have reached my goal. That would make me so happy, just getting it done. (Ultimately it would be nice if more than my mom read it.)

One of the things I’ve figured out traveling, I kind of cling to different blogs and travel publications and a lot of online resources trying to figure out where I can go and enjoy myself. And it’s kind of hard. It’s a saturated market, but there aren’t a lot of like-minded people out there that are writing about how to spend your days in a different city on vacation, especially if you go to the same places a lot and you’ve done a lot of the major tourist attractions. So it’s a hole that I’m going to be filling for myself.

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If nothing else, it’s a reference guide for me and my friends that also like to travel, people that are seeking engaging artful experiences that want to see something unique to the area and maybe can have a conversation with someone who they can learn something from or just have a really good time and get some quality experiences, whether that’s a good cup of coffee or a really excellent bookshop, a new art gallery maybe, or just a cool local store where they can find vintage clothing, or just interesting things that are notable and unique to the area. That’s kind of what I’m seeking for myself and hopefully to share with other people if that’s what they’re looking for too.

So you travel a lot, how do you handle the going and the coming back? How do you stay sane, and what centers you when you return?

It’s kind of a challenge. I do feel very privileged to be able to travel as much as I do, and I am very grateful. But I think it’s challenging for anyone to have that lifestyle where you’re gone so much of the time, and you have to come back and find your roots again.

It’s hard to manage a sense of community and belonging at home when you’re constantly away, and then feeling like an omnipresent visitor almost in cities you don’t belong in.

I think that’s why I’m drawn to the same types of places in every city I go to, because I’m constantly looking for that independent coffee shop where I go in and feel like I’m a part of the neighborhood, even if I’ve never met anyone that I see, or a bookstore where I can always make friends, art galleries where I can learn something new. I’m actively going out and trying to learn about the places I’m visiting or find a sense of community and home in new spaces by myself. If I can walk into a space and feel at home, that’s really wonderful.

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Going to the same sorts of places really does help— coffee shop, art gallery, bookstore. I think communicating and meeting like-minded people, that’s pretty special. It’s not always there, but when it is, it’s nice.

You have this desire to make the foreign and unknown relatable and accessible. You do this in travel and even in your writing. Not everyone has that, where do you think it comes from?

They don’t? laughs. I guess I haven’t really thought about it, because it’s such a natural instinct. I moved a lot as a kid. My dad was in the Navy, and then he worked for a couple major airlines, so I moved seven or eight times before the second grade. So even if I stayed in the same place for a few years, I never really had an overwhelming place of belonging in a hometown or neighborhood. I didn’t have that neighbor that’s seen me in diapers to graduation cap. We were just moving around so much, so maybe that’s a contributing factor.

But also, I think that desire for connection also comes from a desire for understanding.

So if I’m in a new city, my natural instinct is to compare it to another city that I maybe do know a little better. I also studied English, so compare and contrast is very natural go-to move for me as for as analysis is concerned. laughs.

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Do you feel like you’ve found community and belonging?

I think it’s a nice thing to sit back and notice that you do have community. It just doesn’t look like you thought it would.

For me, I always thought, well man, everyone has these huge groups of friends, they’ve been friends forever and know everything about each other, they always ask each other what everyone is doing this weekend.

I just realized my friendships are more segmented, with very different personalities, and they’re all in literally different places in the worlds. I think gaining perspective and realizing that my community is very personalized, my little Kate Community, just because it doesn’t look like everyone else’s, doesn’t mean it’s not.

You know so well that everyone is in different places, and one of the best displays of human grace and generosity is just accepting people for where they are. How do you feel about that in the current state of the world?

I always think it’s so strange that people our age, our adolescence and our adult lives with these funny online presences where we’re asked to describe ourselves.

“About Me” is 500 words or less, describe who you are as a person and everything that represents you, which is hilarious to think about because it’s impossible to do that at the age of 13 or 83, because we are constantly evolving.

I think that’s the key to all of it, just recognizing that I may know what my interests are and my fundamental beliefs are and things like that but recognizing that I am a constantly evolving creature and recognize that beauty and that everyone else is also evolving and having new experiences, developing their thoughts and opinions and so I think that kind of feeds into a really nice, underlying current of acceptance.

As soon as you accept yourself, it makes it a lot easier to accept other people, with all their flaws and insecurities and misgivings.

_mg_7770What was the journey of accepting yourself like?

I think it’s still happening. Good days and bad days certainly. A lot of it has to do with spending time with yourself. I’ve battled a lot with comparison, comparing myself to other people, comparing myself to other people’s work, comparing myself to my past and what I think my future self should be, which does not garner growth. Comparison is never a good idea. Sometimes we are told that it can be, competition, things like that, but for me personally, my emotional wellbeing has always suffered when I look at other people’s “successes.” Like man, they’re getting paid six figures already, I’m just trying to figure out what I’m having for lunch. What do you mean you got published in the Times? Geez.  

But I think allowing the opportunity to forgive yourself for past decisions and reframing mistakes you’ve made and thinking about them in a more positive light is key.

It’s interesting reflecting back on parts of your life that you considered to be really large successes and realizing that, hey maybe I was doing that for the wrong reason, maybe that wasn’t actually a success, and then vice versa, looking at periods that might have been a dark spot on my resume but maybe really healthy for my internal life.

I think there’s something really special about authenticity in friendships and relationships, being honest with the people in your life about when you’re doing well and when you’re not. Because at the end of the day, as independent of a person as you consider yourself, there’s a lot of days where I pretty much hang out with Kate, but I think it’s really great to talk to people because nine times out of ten, if you’re having a problem, somebody else is also having it or has had it in the past.

I think it’s just so wonderful to be able to share experiences, especially those close to you that you can have a safe open dialogue with. Just because we’re all in it.

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What are have you been struggling with lately?

My big thing is always getting started. Usually if I can sit down and just do something, I feel really good. Writing comes a little more naturally for me, but things like web development, photography, and specific skill sets like that, it’s really intimidating walking up to things like that. Because I’m constantly thinking to myself: A) how am I going to afford this? B) how am I going to create things that are comparable to things that others are doing. Again, comparison, not healthy. It’s just getting started and enduring through days that I don’t feel like doing it, just doing it anyway.

Recently, I started collaborating with people and that has been super helpful. If I don’t feel like I’m doing it all by myself, that’s really helpful with specific things and a general sense of being overwhelmed, having people who also feel overwhelmed next to you is nice.

And eating well. laughs. I tend to eat way too many cookies, so a well-balanced diet, let’s add that.

I know that you are a person that feels deeply about everything, some more than others. How is it to carry that?

Right, empathy is a weird thing. Sometimes you kind of shoulder other people’s anxieties and hurt, even when you aren’t asked to, and feeling deeply, you sit there and meditate on one thing for days. I think to certain extent, it’s healthy to just kind of accept that. Spend time with yourself, and allow yourself time to feel.

If you’re sad, it’s okay to be sad. If you’re stressed or self-conscious or angry, I think it’s really healthy to just feel those emotions and experience it and let them out. It’s really cathartic sometimes.

I think the danger is when you start to dwell on any one in particular, which I’ve done in the past, and I also think talking to other people about what you’re feeling is important. If I have something that’s really challenging my heart or my identity or my decisions, I tend to fold inside myself a little bit, and it just sits and festers inside me.

A really wonderful thing is being able to recognize that and talking to people about it, like I had a really great conversation with my mom recently. It was just such beautiful thing, being able to be open and honest with somebody who really cares for your wellbeing and can empathize with your experience and kind of share stories and advice and things like that. Saying like, you know mom, I think looking back I might’ve been depressed my Sophomore year of college, and she was like, “That makes a lot of sense, I had a hard time that year of my life too. I’m really proud of you for getting over it.” And like, well mom, I don’t know what I’m doing with my life, and I’m feeling an overwhelming sense of burden.

Just saying those things out loud, they instantly feel less consuming, because you realize, in the grand scheme of things, everyone else has had feelings that are similar.

But feeling deeply, it’s such a privilege. It helps you, but it can also help others. It affects other people’s perception of you, and again, if you’re open about your honest feelings, you might give someone else the courage to talk about them too.

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A letter, from Kate to Kate:

Hey You,

Someone special once told you that your job title doesn’t matter, but expressing authenticity and love does. Right now, you are manifesting that. Collaboration is a gift you’ve been given, so run with it.

Just because something has been done before does not mean it can’t be done again, differently. Listen when the world is telling you to do. Write. Communicate. Capture. Share. It feels easier this time for a reason, so cling to that feeling — be conscious of your motives.

For the love of god, just sit down and read the books on your shelf. You spent good money on them for a reason. (And I know you never finished Moby-Dick.)

Spirituality comes in a lot of forms.

Encourage others.

Eat dessert.

Don’t forget to buy dishwashing detergent tonight.

Love, always,

Kate

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photos by Gina Yu ©2016

Thankful for your brave and bold candor, Kate. Your hunger for understanding and butter cookies is infectious. Your perspectives, redeeming and inspiring. Thank you for the safe spaces you create and the beauty you uncover in the world. 

To share your stories or contribute, email story@poetryofimperfection.com.

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