Onward and Upward

 “This is your renewal, this is your regrowth. You may come into this softly or bristling with thorns, beneath the light of the sun or the moon and the stars, so long as you always remember it is never too late to return to the root of your heart and begin again” (Beau Taplin). 

Five months. It has been five months since I closed the slim volume of what was to be my great African adventure on this blog. I think I have run from “West of Moon” mostly out of fear that I had nothing more to say. I neglected this space out of shame, that my days substitute teaching, freelance writing, and spending quiet Monday evenings at the barn were too simple for my readers and could do nothing to entice their imaginations or kindle their own dreams of travel and adventure. In fact, I  have written almost nothing at all.

Yet the past five months have been a tremendous period of self-growth. While my heart has been roiling with storms of doubt, frustration, and fear, I made the conscious choice to raise my sail and face the tempest, rather than let it drown me. I am learning what it means to be present in life, even the delicate moments that may seem insignificant, for those are often the most powerful reminders that we have been granted this tremendous gift called living.

I am also striving to live with intention. For me, living intentionally looks like making a list of small goals I can achieve throughout my day to demonstrate that I am capable. It looks like vocalizing my appreciation for my parents, my boyfriend, and my closest friends for the love and support they continue to wash over me despite my shortcomings. It looks like actions instead of words, like teaching myself to sketch, practicing yoga, and forming a habit of meditation rather than simply saying I will one day. It looks like facing my fears and writing every dream-laden, raw, and honest thought that inhabits my soul to truly be the writer I claim I am, for how can a writer call herself thus if she is too afraid of writing?

These bits and bobs of my journey in this life, from every moment of effervescent joy to the ones that are bruised and battered, are worthy of exploring. To those who have grown accustomed to my indulgent descriptions of all the wild and wonderful landscapes I have roamed, the changes that are coming to “West of Moon” will surely disappoint. To those whose hearts have been broken, who seek a reassuring voice on their own journey of self-love and acceptance, to those that open their heart to the world as often as they breathe, and those who are merely looking for a lovely story on the simple pleasures of a young life being lived, please read on.

This blog will become more of a digital journal than ever before. I have faced incredible instances of clarity paired hand in hand with intense moments of personal doubt or heartbreak. Yet through it all, I am learning to pay attention to the lessons present in all the moments of living. I am also doing so with a generous and loving support system that I am wholeheartedly thankful for. I believe that love, above all else, is worth sharing, from a love of a soulmate to the love of a parent, to the purest kind of love of all: a true and deep love of oneself. I will begin sharing all of these introspections and scenes of both sorrow and joy here on “West of Moon,” so if this kind of authentic exploration of life intrigues you, I welcome you with all my heart.

At the root of my heart, I am a storyteller, and I will begin again.

Next Stop: The Gambia

Hello everyone!

Apologies for the lack of updates. It has been an absolute whirlwind of emotions these past few weeks as I have finally received medical clearance to go to The Gambia.

On May 23rd I will be departing from Washington D.C. to begin the adventure of a lifetime. As tomorrow marks exactly one month out from making my way to staging in D.C., I will pen a more in depth post about all of what I am feeling at this moment, at the beginning of it all.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank each and every one of you once again for the tremendous amount of support over the years. It means the world to little old me, and makes up a great deal of why it is I do the things that I do and embark on the adventures I am so fortunate to have. Thank you!


Chapter Two: The Gambia

Misneach – An Irish word meaning courage


Surrounded by songbirds lamenting the waning warmth of summer and with a steaming mug of coffee by my side, I settled down to read Brian Doyle’s The Plover one crisp September morning, not really knowing what to expect. Doyle’s hero Declan O’Donnell, narrating from an erratic and darkly humorous stream of consciousness, chases the endless horizon of the Pacific. The aim of his voyage: to escape civilization and in some ways himself. Yet much like our own lives his journey does not unfold as intended, as a small nation of misfits and eccentrics accompanies him aboard The Plover.

The word misneach resounds throughout the novel like a chorus, serving as Declan’s modus operandi while he struggles to overcome his own weaknesses and loneliness. As my eyes flitted over this word and took in Declan’s interpretation of its meaning — “don’t drown, stay with the ship” — I felt as though I had been turned inside-out.

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During my time as a literature student I spent countless hours chipping novels away to their bare bones. I find myself more critical of contemporary novels as a result, and it is rare that I find a book that grabs me by the soul and commands my greatest attention. Yet Doyle’s The Plover did just that, leaving me utterly captivated. When we unexpectedly stumble upon a novel, a film, or a piece of music that resonates with our circumstances at that time — or seems to understand the most hidden parts of ourselves — it is in these moments that I believe in Fate. The Plover struck me so keenly because with the meandering and maddening voice of Declan, Doyle effectively captures what it feels like to be rudderless. And that is exactly what I was: adrift.

Like a plough horse — whose whole existence is focused on hard work and driving relentlessly for a goal — cannot cope with idle ease, I too was restless and upset without something to work for. I had no goal to strive towards: no job prospects despite my education and enthusiasm, having to defer my graduate school plan as a result, and living each day 3,000 miles away from my closest friends. I began to doubt myself once more, questioning whether the goals I had set for my life were too grand, too fantastic for someone like me.

It was around this time, misneach quietly drifting through my mind like a whisper, that my mother suggested I apply to join the Peace Corps. I recalled a very keen desire to do so in my early teen years, devouring any book I could get my hands on about the volunteer experience. Yet in the wild turn my life had taken during that time — deciding on a whim to move to Scotland for university — I had all but forgotten that serving others had once been a great ambition of mine. A small, fragile shaft of light began to creep out from behind the clouds I had been under. While I have never volunteered before, I began to see the Peace Corps as a way to not only rekindle this love of helping others, but to marry it with my passion for international travel and learning firsthand the intricacies of another culture nurtured during my time in St Andrews. But most importantly, it was the opportunity to have a purpose once more.

So I diligently worked on an application, yet not without trepidation. The doubt that had plagued me throughout the summer — the doubt that told me I was not good enough to live the life I dreamed — lurked over my shoulder as I agonized over my mission statement. Why should such a reputable organization like the Peace Corps accept me: a person with little career experience, a person who only knows how to be a student, and a person who has never done anything as adventurous, daring, and selfless as this in her life?

Once again I was proven wrong. On November 29th, 2016, I received my invitation to serve as a teacher trainer in The Gambia, West Africa beginning in May 2017.

In the beats before opening that letter I felt my little heart steadily slow until I was unsure of whether it was truly beating. Much like my acceptance into St Andrews, I believe this moment will be seared into my memory as a day in which  my life changed irrevocably. Unlike St Andrews, however, I did not feel the same heart-bursting and soul-lifting joy. I ascribed this hesitance to several benign excuses cluttering my thoughts: “I truly wanted to serve in Mongolia and not The Gambia, where even is The Gambia, it is probably too hot in West Africa for a Michigan-born and Scotland-raised girl like me, and do I even have the skills necessary to be an effective teacher trainer in the first place?”

Yet I began to realize how all of this empty postulating and excuse generating was merely done to bury the true issue at hand. The more the rejection emails, the loneliness, and the absence of direction in my life weighed on my heart, the more I regressed into the person I was; the person I vowed I would never be again. In resettling myself into my armchair, surrounded by my books, I had chosen comfort and safety over living a full life: dirt and all. Rather fortuitously, I had fished a Dove chocolate out of the wee bowl atop my mother’s work desk, as I had been wandering the city for the day and had returned for that fateful interview the hour prior. Dove chocolates are known for their cute and uplifting messages written on the underside of the wrapper, silly and meaningless in any other circumstance. The two words scrawled on my wrapper, however, stopped my heart completely.


With these words in my palm and misneach ringing in my ears, I knew then what I had to do.

In four months I will be off to Washington D.C. for the staging event, then I will board a plane destined for a country I could never have foreseen myself traveling to, much less living in. The next two years will be spent amongst heat and dust; I will most likely be without electricity and running water, and I will be even further out of contact with my friends and family than I have ever been. Am I scared silly? Yes. Do I regret my decision? Not in the slightest; misneach, after all.

The thought of being an enthusiastic and supportive teacher trainer yielding a positive impact on the community in which I am placed serves as a balm for my doubts and fears. However, it is what the Gambian people may offer to teach me regarding their history and their culture that truly excites me about the years to come, and makes up the heart of my motivation to serve as a Peace Corps volunteer. To teach and be taught in return: this reciprocal relationship and educational opportunity beyond my books or the university class strikes me as one of the most enriching aspects of the Peace Corps experience, and speaks directly to my curious and passionate soul.

As J.R.R. Tolkien wrote in The Fellowship of the Ring, “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.” Deciding to accept this invitation from the Peace Corps and commit to living a life so unlike any I have ever known will amount to the most courageous thing I have done to date. However, what it is I wish to do with the time I have been given is to learn, to love, and to live meaningfully. So cheers to new adventures and to the beginning of chapter two.

The Land That Begat Me

In the moments between sleeping and waking, petal-thin and fragile, I hear the whisper of the sea. With eyes closed I am treading across the beach of West Sands, bare feet memorizing the grooves etched into the sand. I am content. Yet when I open my eyes gossamer curtains drift lazily into view, and the damp, earthy aroma of slightly burnt coffee fills my senses. For the past month I have begun each day this way, confused, momentarily unable to recognize where I am or recall what has happened. And as more days pass, the more my time in Scotland really does seem like just a dream.


Before I packed my suitcases and made that voyage across the sea for the first time, envisioning myself at St Andrews was indeed just that: a dream. Like many teenaged girls, I was uncertain of myself and what course my life would take, so much so that I was well-known for being very timid and shy in nature. And while this is difficult to admit on a forum such as this, there was little that I took pride in or even liked about myself. By my final year of high school I was so desperately unhappy that I almost could not face each day. What made this experience more painful were the constant reminders of the person that I was, the person I had lost. Gone was my love of storytelling, the simple pleasure of cold wind caressing the skin, and the feeling of always being on the verge of discovering some other world. I had lost the joy that was once so intrinsically a part of me. The summer before my final year of school I saw myself turning down a path that I knew I could not escape if I chose to follow it: attending university close to home, perhaps even living at home with my parents, never seeing the places and accomplishing the dreams I once treasured, and thus growing up to be but the hollow shell of Maggie. Yet despite this, still waters do indeed run deep as the saying goes, and I felt the irrepressible impulse to take drastic action. It was then that my mother sent me photos of St Andrews, and warmth slowly began returning to my heart.

I distinctly remember an incident with my high school guidance counselor that cast a shroud of doubt over this secret ambition I nurtured. Final year students were expected to attend three meetings with their guidance counselors throughout the year to discuss what universities they had applied to, where they had been accepted or rejected, and which university they at last decided to attend. When I revealed to this woman, someone I had had no relationship with throughout my four years of high school, that I desired above all else to attend St Andrews she had the audacity to scoff at me. She then suggested that I “do myself and my family a favor” and pursue a “more realistic” course of action, stating that attending university abroad would waste my parents’ money, that literature was a worthless pursuit, and that I would only get rejected by St Andrews and be crushed by that outcome. Even when my acceptance arrived one chilly November morning, indelible proof that I had earned a place at such a university, her harsh words infected what little self-confidence I possessed.

As my heart is not only worn on my sleeve, but welded there, her denial of my academic abilities continued to plague me throughout my first year at St Andrews as well. Each time I sat completely dumb in a tutorial and each mere “pass” I received on my coursework had convinced me that not only my guidance counselor, but the many other naysayers I accrued, were right: that St Andrews would devour me whole.

However, on June 23rd, 2016 I proved them wrong. On that day I graduated from the University of St Andrews with a high 2:1 in Comparative Literature and English, even earning a place on the Dean’s List for my work during the 2015-2016 academic year. Yet what surprisingly pleases me more than these results are the commendations I received for my dissertation, a piece of work I had convinced myself was in no way academic or even worthwhile. Hearing my supervisor — a woman who intimidated me significantly with both her intellect and her sheer presence — praise my work with genuine enthusiasm brought tears welling in my eyes. While revealing these details could be construed as a slight boast, those who know me well are familiar with my utter aversion to speaking positively about myself or what I am capable of. However, I believe that it is important to voice these accomplishments in words, and indeed recognizing them as such: achievements. In hindsight, what this recognition has made me realize is that perhaps the most powerful critic that I had to overcome was myself.

My time at St Andrews and in Scotland means so much more to me than academic achievement, though. In a strange way, I had not really factored in the people I would meet and the friends I would make prior to starting university. The beauty of Scotland and the opportunity to carve my own path was what drove me to this place; friends, if they came at all, would simply be a ripple effect. This strange mentality is the very vicious offspring of the self-doubt that has troubled me all these years. I simply wondered why anyone would actively seek my company, for what positive thing could I possibly contribute to a friendship? I remember dissolving into tears during Fresher’s Week because I wholeheartedly believed that I would spend the next four years completely alone in a foreign country, and I lamented the choice I had made. My mother assured me that I would find “my tribe,” as she put it: a raucous band of quirky individuals who shared my passions and my off-color sense of humor, and would most importantly accept me for all that I am. Four years later, I sat in the same restaurant celebrating my graduation and felt a similar rise of emotion. This time, though, it was because I did not want to leave “my tribe” behind.

Running through the thicket of Lade Braes with Daniel, iced lattes and scones at Gorgeous with Miranda, sitting at the top of the world with Molly and Kate on the Isle of Skye, and wandering aimlessly along the looking-glass waters of West Sands with Catriona: moments such as these fill me to the brim, and are truly what make my time in Scotland worthwhile. Sitting here back in Michigan, safely tucked in my armchair and amongst my books once more, I feel very much like Bilbo Baggins when he returns at last to Bagend, to the quiet and the solitude. There was a time when this was all I wanted, to be home again. But now I find it lacking, as though a piece of my soul has gone missing. There is nothing I would not give to experience one of the aforementioned memories one more time, to be amongst those weird and wonderful people feeling so welcomed and loved.

At times I think back to the girl I once was, all corn-silk hair and bruised knees, who loved nothing more than to be covered in dirt from chasing fairies through the forest. To an extent I believe that who we were as children is the essence of ourselves, that the one defining characteristic we had then will follow us through the rest of our lives. While we may experience circumstances that harden us, that make us drift apart from who we once were, I think that everyone needs a moment in their lives to reclaim that essential part of themselves. And I do believe that I have grown significantly since childhood, and indeed since I first began university; I am a bit wiser, more responsible, and more attuned to how the world at times does not live up to our rose-tinted expectations. However, since coming to Scotland I do feel closer to that little girl, in the sense that I have rediscovered what it means to be enchanted with life. Whenever I would set foot on Scottish land, I always sensed this subtle feeling, a kind of pulse coursing through the rough grey stone underfoot. Teeming, I call it. It is as if I could take a hammer and chisel to the jagged seaside cliffs, chipping away the stone to reveal an incandescent world underneath. While such thoughts may be inspired by the fairy tales I once read, the memory of the frigid winds caressing my skin and sea-brined air in my lungs has me feeling this teeming in the marrow of my soul.

On a jaunt to Edinburgh with Molly one day I discovered a poem by Sir Alexander Gray engraved in the stone of the Parliament Building. One stanza in particular resonated deep within my bones:


“This is my country,
The land that begat me.
These windy spaces
Are surely my own.
And those who here toil
In the sweat of their faces
Are flesh of my flesh,
And bone of my bone.”

It is important to recognize how throughout this post I have not referred to Michigan as “home.” Never before have I felt more at home than in the years I spent in Scotland, for it is the place that I truly belong. While in Scotland I was able to learn how to take pride in myself and rediscover all of the qualities that are intrinsically Maggie: I am a bit more whimsical, a little reckless, and altogether wilder than I have ever been. Yet that is who I am, and more than anything I am grateful for the time I had amongst the lochs and glens, hills and seas of Scotland to help me find that part of myself. More than anything, though, I am truly awed and humbled by those whom I had the pleasure to call friend over the last four years, for they have indeed become “flesh of my flesh, and bone of my bone.”


While I am beyond words to express my gratitude to have had this experience and for all the people I came to know, the pain of leaving it all behind is still visceral and raw. To put it simply, I am devastated to no longer live in Scotland. And try as I might to assure myself that my departure was not my last goodbye, a small part of me still worries that I may never return. However, I believe that the most crucial lesson my time at St Andrews has taught me is to keep pursuing adventure and to find the joy in each and every experience I have, no matter the circumstance. While my last glimpse of Scottish soil was misted by the hot tears I could not quell, there is a positive to the situation. My wanderlust is now more insatiable than it has ever been before, as I have had this single delicious drop of adventure. The direction of my next horizon as yet remains a mystery, however, I am confident that I will never stop exploring; something Tookish has awoken in me indeed.

Yet in the words of Robbie Burns, “Wherever I wander, wherever I rove, the hills of the Highlands for ever I love.” If anyone so wishes to go looking, my heart and soul are forever in Scotland.

Be Brave

On the ninth of June 2012, I graduated high school.

It is a surreal experience, being a high school graduate. I have spent my entire life only knowing my small hometown, yet I now find myself upon the threshold of this immense, foreign reality. I have not yet realized that I shall never again wander into Mr. O’Dowd’s English class or patiently wait for the gun to fire for my next cross country race. I keep holding my diploma like a delicate butterfly, afraid that at the slightest movement it will flutter away, all a dream.

However, I am eager for this new beginning. The thought of moving to Scotland this September excites and delights me, and I wish for the hour of my departure to arrive. Most of my peers grow nervous at the thought of moving but two hours from their homes, seeing only twenty friends on campus as opposed to two hundred. As for me, I’m boarding a plane for a wild land with a wholly new culture.

For all of us starting something new this autumn, we must be brave.

Originally written 10 June 2012