It’s a bit surreal to even be talking to her right now. We’ve never met, I haven’t even seen many photos of her, yet here we are and I am about to ask her to tell me her life story. What trust… this woman gives off an adventurous vibe from the start.
Amanda: “I was just trying to think today how I even found you. I know it was through Instagram, but I can’t remember. I must have seen someone like something. I just can’t remember, but I was so excited from the beginning. I’m glad I was able to get involved. I was just watching the commercial and it is beautiful!”
She is sitting with a cup of tea and her cat cuddled up with her on her lap. I am at a desk with a cup of coffee and my laptop poised in front of me. We are miles apart, talking through a phone hook-up in my husband’s studio. Yet, there is still a connection. It’s cozy. Just listening intently to her voice, trying to imagine the things she is describing. We begin.
Emy: “Where do you live?”
Amanda: “Oh, gosh! Out of a suitcase at the moment, for the past six months! So, I had been living in D.C. for two and a half years, moved down there in June of 2011. I moved there without a job, I had just left my hometown of Buffalo, and I had graduated in the Fall with my masters in Library Science and my specialty was school libraries, so it was difficult to find a job in January. I was working at a pre-school and job hunting during the days. My brother was living in D.C. so I thought ‘I’m gonna go there, give it two months and just see what happens!’ I got down there and applied with the D.C. public schools. By July I was working with them, then did that for two and a half years. That job wasn’t the job for me, so I quit! I had been writing the whole time in my free time, just sort of trying to cram it in. So, I took a risk and I quit, lived with a friend for a month in D.C., then I came back home to Buffalo. I am actually in Buffalo right now and I have been writing full-time for four months. It’s definitely something I want to keep doing.”
Emy: “You’re living out of a suitcase now, but has that been the majority of your life? Have you always been a traveler?”
Amanda: “I think it started in 2014 when I quit that job. Like I said, I really wasn’t happy. So, on my 27th birthday I booked a plane ticket to go to the Azores, which is a volcanic island off of Portugal. My dad said it’s amazing and he always talks about it. He’d never gone, but he’d sailed past, so from the time I was little I always thought I was gonna go! So, I went for ten days and I’d never been out of the country, other than Canada before, and definitely not alone. It was this incredible trip. I felt like it sort of breathed life back into me, like I was sort of just going through the motions for a year and a half at that point. I knew that was a feeling I wanted to hold onto and have as often as I could. So, I got back and was having a really bad day at work, then got on my lunch break, walked to the back, and booked a one-way ticket to London. I ended up spending my whole summer traveling throughout Europe.”
Emy: “Oh my goodness!”
Amanda: “Yeah, it was pretty incredible. I think I went to about fourteen different countries, I met amazing people along the way. It was an amazing experience and now I couldn’t see myself ever not traveling as often as I can!”
Emy: “So, in this new chapter of your life what are those things that make you want to keep traveling, that make you want to go back?”
Amanda: “Definitely the people. I was talking to a friend and it is definitely about the people you meet, but there is something about traveling alone that teaches you something about yourself and I don’t know if you’d have that same experience if you were traveling with other people. You just have to be so self-reliant. From the time I was about sixteen to twenty four I was always in a relationship, and not all of them were healthy, or good and I came to rely on other people for my happiness a lot. Now I find that when I’m sad I get to decide other than that, if I’m going to talk to someone, wander quietly in my head… I guess it’s just seeing how you translate as a person in a new place. I’ve found that kindness and openness and willingness to talk translates everywhere. Seeing myself put myself out there was cool, then to see how that allowed me to meet some incredible people. I was on a trip in Iceland, then flew over to London and on the plane I ended up sitting next to a woman named Kari. We talked the whole flight, then we explored London a bit together, we parted, and ended up meeting in Budapest about three or four weeks later. She was out on a six month solo trip, and I was out on two months, so when she got back I went and stayed with her in Seattle. It was just amazing to feel like we kind of traveled the world together, then came back and spent time together! She actually photographed the photo of me up on top of the castle in Budapest!”
She goes on to talk all about Kari, how Kari runs Haiti Babi, a non-profit that employs Haitian moms to make baby blankets. Kari explained that in many of the Haitian orphanages the kids actually had parents who weren’t able to afford to keep them, but would visit them everyday. Simply heartbreaking. So, she wanted to come up with a solution for that!
Amanda: “…Yeah, but she’s incredible! So, meeting people like that! I never would have found out about Haiti Babi, I never would have gotten involved with that, I’m going to help out with their annual fundraiser, and none of that would have ever happened if I hadn’t gone traveling.”
Emy: “Let’s talk a little bit about the people in your life. You’re dating someone, a very good photographer (Nicholas supplied the majority of Amanda's Reveal photos), so how did you meet him?”
Amanda: “Well, the crazy thing is we basically met through social media. I had been following his photography through Instagram then on Tumblr for about six months. Just before I left for Europe I knew I wanted to do a cross-country trip here in the U.S. and I’d seen he lived on Vancouver Island. It looked so beautiful, and I knew I wanted to go to Seattle, take the ferry over, and end my trip there! So, on a whim I sent him an email and said, ‘Hey, we’ve been following each other’s stuff, I’m considering doing a cross-country trip when I get back in the fall, would you be open to showing me around the island for a day?’ He wrote back, said yeah, and commented how it was sort of strange, just how no one had ever really reached out to him like that and I was like, ‘Yeah, me neither!’ Then we started talking every day through email. Actually, the whole time I was in Europe I was talking to him. During that time he sort of became this daily constant, because as I was traveling through Europe it was always something new, but there was always an email from him at the end of the day. I came back, then in October I had flown out to visit him. We’ve been together ever since! With a few hiccups in the middle because of distance, but with this last visit I was there about two months. It’s not at all the relationship I expected to be in, and the way it happened! I’m really happy. Before this I was single for two years, maybe longer, so I took my time!”
Emy: “When did you begin writing? When did that spark?”
Amanda: “Oh gosh, I mean…when I was four, or five? I told you I’m home in Buffalo right now, and my mom keeps everything, so I was going through some old folders and files. I just found these short stories from Kindergarten that I was writing. I can remember being in second grade, and if you finished your lunch early enough you were allowed to go play a board game, or play something in the corner of the cafeteria. So, I would always rush through my lunch so I could sit and write stories. Writing has always been a part of me. I got my Bachelor’s in English and my Master’s in Library Science. That was six years of schooling where I was assigned anywhere from forty-to-one hundred books a semester to read, and then to write papers about all of that. I wasn’t writing at all for pleasure and I could feel that, that I just was not myself. I started a Tumblr just for my writing every day and a lot of those emotions started coming out. I started writing on online collectives and it just kept working out that everywhere I submitted I was accepted, so it’s sort of grown over time, and now I am making a very modest living from it! And really, I can only see that growing.”
Emy: “What do you write about?”
Amanda: “Non-fiction. I used to do a lot more poetry, but now a lot of creative non-fiction essays. I’ve been doing more travel writing, too. I am doing an essay right now about my notebook that I kept in Europe, and all the struggles I went through while traveling. Actually, part of how I paid for Europe was I self-published a collection of poetry and prose, all the best work form my blog. That actually sold pretty well, enough that I was able to cover some of my travels with the book. I actually handmade those, which was really important to me. I did the printing myself, then stitched all the spines, and hand mailed them to everybody. I could have looked to use a publishing company, but it was important that it came form my hands. I just didn’t expect as many orders to come in! So, it took a while, but I did it! “
Emy: “About how many orders did you get?”
Amanda: “I think it was four or five hundred. I was expecting maybe one hundred! It was this incredible feeling! There were a number of things. I had this ancient Macbook for all my writing and I really didn’t want to lug that thing around. I really wanted an iPad, but all my money had gone into flights and costs. I just really couldn’t afford it, so I put something on my blog that I was feeling really down about it and not at all asking for anything, but about two weeks later an iPad showed up on my door! It was from one of my followers and he just wrote this really wonderful note about how my writing had helped him in some hard times. He was from somewhere in Asia and moved to San Francisco. He was just going through a lot of transitioning, as well. That was incredible!”
Emy: “Your life sounds like such an adventure!”
Amanda: “Yeah, I worry sometimes that I lose sight of that and all the amazing experiences I’ve had, but at the same time I’ve made every effort to make sure my life is an adventure, like this Helen Keller quote I really love. I spent the majority of my early twenties tied down to other people. “
Emy: “Speaking of people, who are the people who have most influenced you in your life?”
Amanda: “I have a huge family. I just have two brothers and my parents, but both my parents have eight brothers and sisters apiece so I grew up with over forty first cousins and over forty aunts and uncles. I was close with all of them. Most of them still live in Buffalo and there was always that feeling of belonging and support. My family, definitely. And my two older brothers, Nate the oldest, and the second brother, Josh. Josh is the one who lives in D.C. and I would say that’s who I’m closest with. We are sort of opposites. He’s level headed, business-like and I am more emotional, feely. He’s always sort of been a rock, a calm for me, a safe place for me to go and land. He’s been a great example to me of how to be a calm, giving person. Then I’d say my best friends: Missy, since 5th grade, then a friend I met later in life, Kristin. Kristin lives in New York City with her husband and Missy lives here in Buffalo with her husband. They’re both two of the kindest women you could ask for and there hasn’t been a moment in my life where they haven’t been there for me, even if it’s four in the morning. I lived in NY on Kristin’s couch for a month, and Missy’s certainly taken me in over the years. They’ve just always loved me unconditionally. Those would be the closest, the ones I think I really let my guard down with, who know it’s not all fun and adventure and travel and care-free.”
Emy: “What is a day in the life of Amanda Oliver?”
Amanda: “I really haven’t had a normal day in so long! It does usually start with coffee and some sort of carb! Croissants, donuts, stuff like that! Recently I’ve just been sitting and breathing, not thinking about a list of tasks. My mind goes a million miles an hour and if I don’t do that, I start the day and it’ll be sort of scattered. I do that, then I make a to-do list because I’m scattered! Then I’ll take care of any sort of writing I have to do for about four hours, then I’ll give myself a break to go for a walk, or have lunch, or explore, then I’m inspired to write more! At night it’s sort of whatever I’m in the mood for. If I want to go out with friends I’ll do that, if I’m home I’ll watch a movie with my mom! There really isn’t a typical, but I’m kind of happy with that!”
Emy: “Where are you sharing your writing right now?”
Amanda: “I do freelance blogging, just pitching to online magazines, a few websites…”
She goes on to explain all the various places she is writing, how she got there, and it is all just one jump after the next! A leap of faith here, a leap of faith there–she makes a practice of living outside of her comfort zone!
Amanda: “It’s just a lot of hustling and really putting myself out there.”
Emy: “What have you learned from putting yourself out there? Is it worth it?”
Amanda: “It’s definitely worth it! People are a lot more willing to help and let you get involved than I imagined. Its worth is, to me, to find people in the beginning stages of something that their heart is really in. That’s what I was saying to you about what you’re doing. I could see that, it’s not like I’m just cold-calling anything that looks neat. I try to reach out to people who have a core purpose that resonates with me. People are generally responsive to that!”
Emy: “So, you’re not just reaching out to gain something for yourself, but giving, as well.”
We talk on and on about life goals, her obvious career choice of writing, and overcoming financial barriers to live her adventurous life. Endless plans, dreams, and seemingly impossible odds litter our conversation like confetti. Grand schemes for too many adventures to fit into one life! I think she’ll try to anyway. One of the many plans involved a possible cross country trip and living out of a truck! She could do it.
Emy: “What are the little joys of your day?”
Amanda: “I try to take a walk everyday and look for something that I’ve never noticed before. I want to continue taking moments to stop and notice. And, coffee. I don’t know where I’d be without coffee! The ocean. A brand new black Moleskine notebook, those are the only ones that I use and I love them. Loose-leaf tea. I love pouring the water over it and watching as the leaves expand. Globes! Every time I get near one I spin it and close my eyes and put my finger on it. Taking time to reach out to someone in my life. French fries! Post-it notes! Buffalo food! Looking at the stars. I get really excited when I see mountains! Any nature, oceans, mountains make me feel like a little kid and I just want to take off running! Coffee mugs, too. I have a thing for coffee mugs. That’s what comes to mind.”
She is a believer in hard-copy books. No Kindles. She loves short stories. She makes an effort to contact the people who inspire her and is often met with a friendly response! Her old apartment had a fireplace that served as her bookcase. She doesn’t like the color pink. Her biggest problem with traveling so much is that all her books and coffee mugs can’t go with her. She is usually reading about five books at one time. Her ideal vacation would be a tropical island, since she didn’t get to see the beach until her 10th grade of high school. She grew up in a humble home, only the essentials, but nothing extra. She comments that growing up with tight finances pushed her to try to see as much of the world as possible. She is someone who will listen to anything, “won’t be offended or shocked” by what someone has to tell her. She loves getting to know people. She has started to feel like her home is all over the world, and recently that has been the main subject in her writing. She shares a personal life problem that sometimes makes her feel a little less beautiful than she truly is.
We start to talk about what she does see as beautiful in herself, and I am not only surprised, but excited at her quick response.
Amanda: “My independence. A caring heart. I have really pretty eyes and a nice smile. I’m okay with saying that now. I used to think you weren’t supposed to like your own physical features, but I like those things.”
Emy: “It is incredible to hear you say that.”
Amanda: “It’s taken a very long time, and a lot of practice. When I get a compliment now I say ‘thank you,’ instead of ‘no!’”
We could all learn this simple lesson from Amanda.
Amanda: “I don’t feel beautiful every single day, but I know I am beautiful every day.”
I am refreshed and inspired as we close and chat a bit more, and I want to share the Helen Keller quote that so clearly encompasses this lovely soul:
Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.
I couldn’t agree more.
Introducing, Amanda Oliver.