nothing just for kicks

I want to read far more fiction in 2020. Mostly because I want to understand how it’s done and how some books have impact and how some are just meant for entertainment, and that’s fine, too. I want to get the English degree I never dared touch back when I was in school; working class kids shoot straight for a degree that matches their first job title (or at least me here – an IT Management Consulting major, now an IT management consultant). I didn’t have a concept of an English degree as a way to shape the mind and hone critical thought, and I definitely didn’t know how it could still connect to a career in law, politics, anything else – never having seen it, I didn’t have a clue. My choices were engineering or business of some kind. Nothing just for kicks. Now I’ve got a little time and a little money, and I want to do something for the sake of it, but grad degrees are expensive still and still I got a mind that only takes ROI in dollars.

this is not okay and we need something to definitively say so

I didn’t read every last article about what the president did or didn’t do this time and I don’t know every nook, crease, and cranny on how the impeachment process works. Here, I’m taking a step back before diving in and organizing my simplest thoughts on impeachment:

  1. If the president committed an impeachable offense, then impeach.
  2. Impeachment is not a “waste of time” that detracts from the “real issues” because upholding democracy is a real issue. I think this argument against impeachment stems from being far too comfortable in the concept of an “eternal American democracy” and not realizing that decline doesn’t happen overnight.
  3. How impeachment affects Democrats’ election chances in 2020 should not be a factor. I believe Democrats should model what democracy looks like now; we cannot put a pause on the democratic process and then hope to reinstate it later. Model what you hope to achieve – and Congress, what is your job? 
  4. It’s a process, not theatrics, so treat it like one. This is a president that will thrive during his impeachment – let him throw his own party. He’s an obstacle in the way of American democracy and we must put that on full display without throwing cake (let the record speak for itself). As for Democratic elect-ability following impeachment proceedings, I believe swing districts will be put in less in jeopardy if Democrats handle the process with a straight face. In doing so, we will avoid a). further rallying a Trump base and b). pushing away any swing voters that are seeking a sense of political and societal stability.
  5. Removal of the president is a vote that will die in the Senate, and if not, removal will still result in Mike Pence. Impeachment here will not be about immediate, tangible results, but the precedent we set for the Democratic process and test of moral courage.

I’m not sure if this impeachment decision will be a reflection of American society’s moral courage or an example set for us by our elected leaders’ moral courage or lack of. For me, the jury is still out on whether or moral courage trickles up or down, but I do hope it comes from somewhere; after all, this is not okay and we need something to definitively say so.

spend my days watching crabs and the sunset

My whole world, in this moment, is observing crabs on a beach as I lay in a hammock made out of the same material as an elementary gym class jersey. I’ve never seen such an assortment of tiny crabs, scurrying sideways in and out of their dwelling holes, all immediately scattering if I flinch or sneeze. My beach growing up was the southeast shore of Lake Michigan; a freshwater lake where there were minnows, as I remember, but hardly any shore life outside of the myriads of families applying sunscreen and laying out beach towel after beach towel. Here, I watch the crabs for long enough to begin to know them; this one below me is the largest, and that one over there is small, but the most aggressive. A woman walks by, and she smiles and says, or maybe asks, “sabay?” This word I know to mean something like ‘happy’ or at least I understand it to be a ubiquitous answer to “how are you?” On a bus ride to Phnom Penh, I had listened to the driver chat merrily on his phone, continually chuckling “sabay-sabay.” I repeat this to the woman now, hoping to imitate the way Cambodians say some words twice.

The past few weeks have been a risky game for me as I’ve wanted to connect with the people through their language, the one I’m only beginning to learn. I fear making mistakes, or worse, being disrespectful. I fear evoking a rudeness I don’t fully grasp; the Cambodian language, as opposed to English, has far stricter rules for showing deferential respect to elders, monks, uncles, and more. Already I have made uncomfortable errors such as asking for “lady meat” at a family dinner (“lady” in Cambodian being dangerously close to the word for “fish”). And again, at that same table, I had asked the grandmother a question with shortened words only meant to be used with friends or people your age. Of course, I would learn of this discretion several weeks later, days before leaving on a mid-size cargo boat to arrive here and spend my days watching crabs and the sunset.

Right now though, on this beach, I feel over 30 hours of language lessons coming together towards a simple sentiment: a smile and a “sabay?”; which, in combination, I feel I fully understood as, “isn’t this nice? a hammock, a beach, and an endless ocean – wherever you’re from, whichever language you speak, surely, you feel the same?”

on style, identity, and torn Prada boots

I went to a wealthy, private university in the same not-as-wealthy surrounding town that I grew up in. In the midst of wearing striped Forever 21 tops and college logo sweatshirts with leggings, I had bought myself an $800 dollar pair of Prada boots (on sale) over that first winter break. When I didn’t have a sense of style, I wanted to wear something that had at least something to sayeven if it was only to ask, “I fit in here, too, right?” A tall, calf-length booth with buttery, burgundy-tinted brown leather, topped off with a gold-plated Prada emblem at the top of each boot – this will do. To drive my point home, I wore these with my full knee brace and crutches following a recent knee surgery. This must have been a chaotic time in terms of identity – after all, why did I insist on wearing these boots? I distinctly remember a new friend (today, a very close friend) holding my arm after class as I walked hesitantly across ice in these luxury boots with no traction – the left partially covered still by my knee brace. Later that month, on a Saturday morning in a crowded parking lot, those same boots would be torn as I crawled through the rear hatch of my hand-me-down ’97 Camaro; both the driver and passenger side doors had been frozen shut (thanks to a northern Indiana winter) and I didn’t have the patience to be kept from enjoying IHOP pancakes, even in my torn Prada boots. Eventually, I would learn that the crowd that will stay behind to help you across the ice in your silly boots, is also the crowd that is no further impressed or dismayed by them. That style should be to express who you are, and not necessarily what you’re worth; and that, if you feel the need to express what you’re worth, then maybe there’s some more evaluations to be had on where your identity is centered as with that of the people around you.

meet you in my neighborhood

We were told to follow our dreams, we were told that courage is king, we were told to do the right thing; oh, the things we were told. Yet, if these were meant beyond platitudes, then tell me, who cared to show us how? We now live our ideals in fragments around what consumes most of our time. In the face of all that was said, a retreat into safety replaces our highest aspirations – what we believed as teenagers and what we heard at our graduation speeches. Did the adults in the room know? Or do graduations only exist as a cyclical flair of hope that this one, maybe this one, will have the courage to live their life as they imagined? Oh, the Places You’ll Go!

So, this must be where resentment is born and raised, is it? Remembering those years where anything is possible, and then refusing to recount each decision we fell into, taking us further and further away? Maybe we’ve retreated so far that we lash out at anyone with the courage to live and ask for anything different than what’s on the menu. This is the land of Dairy Queen, SUVs, and Little League games, not a bad life by any standard, but one void of the vision most of of once had; no one is 16 and dreaming of living without dreaming, having two weeks of vacation a year, with evenings spent falling asleep in front the TV (any channel will do). 

Here, there is basketball, football, hockey, but there is no art. With subdivision after subdivision lined with house after house of the same cookie cutter mold, how could there be any art? Art is something not to be taken seriously because art is only meant for artists, not the physical therapists, not the bank tellers, and not the plant managers. Art is only meant for those who can feed it through capitalism, and we all know that only a few artists can actually make it. 

Our neighborhoods have man-made ponds with flocks of geese, but we left ourselves no tools, no precedent for the expression and understanding of our souls; so when we are confused we are automatically angry. We are then so disconnected from anything human and so willingly tied to a line that pumps into our veins so much boundless interactions and information that nothing means anything at all. Do you now wonder why so many people in the land of the free voted for the angriest, most disjointed reflection of themselves they could find? Do you now understand why anything that seems like human decency doesn’t actually seem to matter? You have to feel human to act human, and here we are at the breakneck convergence of the mighty rivers all depriving us of it: mass market capitalism, mass erasure of the practice of art and culture, and the mass mind warp into our back-lit screens as a retreat from anything that might ask us to fully grow into ourselves as human.

my openness to abruptly slipping off the wall

Moving up a level in rock climbing seems to be congruent with my openness to abruptly slipping off the wall right as my body is stressing every little muscle fiber in order to cling tightly to the plastic rock holds. As in life, there is truly no ground to make without risking failure. If I don’t reach our for that new, small hold with my tired, sweaty fingers, then there’s no other options than the routes I’ve always done. I’m in that moment with my finger crimped along the rock, moving my foot to the next hold, waiting and seeing if that feather-light grip is enough, or if I’ll slip and be pulled from the wall by gravity, caught and hanging by my harness. When I make it, there’s a deep intake of air and a thought of holy shit as well as that little eraser-sized hold was actually possible. For the times my fingers or toes slide from the hold, it’s the briefest moment of terror followed by my conscious mind’s realization that there was nothing to fear at all – I’m caught by the harness, the safety net, and I can go right back to the wall or be belayed back down.

Growing up playing sports, that’s where I’ve found my most condensed life lessons. In basketball, I’ve learned that being reasonably good at something means showing up consistently, over a long period of time. Sure, I believe in natural talent, but I’ve also seen people assume they’re “not good at something” after trying it once or twice. For me, no matter what it is, I feel it in my bones that I’m not going to be “good” until I’ve tried it at least 100, maybe 1000 times. And that’s what basketball taught me.

Besides the benefits of physical and social activity, this is my other reason for seeking out a new sport as an adult: new experiences, unique challenges, and tangible lessons to be learned. Sports are a quick access to a sense of growth and achievement when otherwise feeling stagnant. On a day-to-day basis, they’re an outlet from the routine.

on a federal level, how can we arrange the tables to facilitate connection?

How do we create poetry in the land of Arby’s, McDonald’s, and Dairy Queen?

These corporations are detached from the communities they profit from. Ownership is not the neighbor who cut your lawn the summer your wife was sick.

Detachment: the state of America. Can we get a cafe grant? Federal funding to subsidize locally owned cafes, created in the spirit of the community with town-favorite brunches? After Little League games, let’s meet at the cafes – not the Dairy Queen as I did, where the recipe was created in a lab somewhere with no vein connected to us.

In my Indiana home town, there’s a small cafe that’s a Chinese restaurant by evening. It’s what I mean by serving in the spirit of the community. There’s no almond milk lattes with modern industrial style decor here. It’s got crispy fried potatoes, hot coffee, and framed Chinese artwork hanging above plastic leather booths. The genius part of the place is these long wooden tables that seat multiple parties. You want to eat here? More than half the time the only available seat is right up next to another family.

The last time I was in town, I went with my parents and we sat down next to my Mom’s former co worker that she taught with at a nearby high school almost 20 years ago. Her and her husband exchanged stories with my parents about retired life and decluttering their houses.

That kind of social connection, along with good prices, is why that place is packed, always. It’s not a fancy brunch menu (not an avocado in sight) or award winning interior design. It’s how the tables are arranged – that’s it. After all, there’s no way around it – if you want this bacon, you’ll be sitting elbow-bumping distance next to someone you didn’t come with – may as well chat.

Now my question is: on a federal level, how can we arrange the tables to facilitate connection? It’s multi-layered, I know, but it’s got to be the end goal as opposed to simply increasing our material wealth and calling it a day.

nostalgia of another era – one less digital, less fragmented, slower, and more immersive

The best time to listen to full albums is on a road trip. Otherwise, when is our attention captive long enough to immerse ourselves into 10, 18, or 24 tracks from start to end? Albums, in theory, are themselves a singular concept, made of smaller cohesive components or layers (songs). I had never really listened to a full album other than Beyonce, followed a few years later by Beyonce’s full visual album for Lemonade. I listen to singles as an experience and Spotify playlists as background music. I’m 25 – this could be generational. I have this nostalgic haze of a vision that things were different decades ago, that in the 70s we used to really listen to an artist’s album from start to end; to stop somewhere in between would be miss something from the story.

When iTunes was created in 2001, some artists pushed back against the idea of their albums being fragmented, cherry-picked, and sold for 99 cents a single. And yet, these fragmented singles are all I’ve ever known of music. So when hipsters started buying record players and playing vinyl, it seemed like a novel concept (to me, and the other hipsters, presumably around my age). “It sounds better” is the reason given, though I think it’s more to do with the nostalgia of another era – one less digital, less fragmented, slower, and more immersive. I just looked this word up: anemoia – nostalgia for a time you’ve never known. That’s what I believe those vinyl records are offering to the under 30s.

I recently took a road trip where I experienced one album all the way through, twice. To listen to the high points and low points, cohesive mixing of genres and paces, is a hobby I want to start – a form of meditation if you will. I’m curious now, are most artists still making albums with the album concept in mind or are they mostly collections of singles? I have no familiarity with the evolution of the music industry at all – I just have Spotify premium and some Bose headphones. Now, I could try to answer my question, but first I’m going to kick my feet up and put on a record.

prescription to “eat healthier” ??

Chronic and persistent inflammation due to stress, lack of sleep, and diet is the root of so much more illness than than we’re letting on. The doctor knows the answer, but will prescribe medication to relieve the symptoms, or clean up a resulting sickness, which can often be detrimental to our overall health (antibiotics, etc.). After all, would we ever accept “eat healthier” or “sleep more” as a prescription? Don’t get me wrong – get your vaccinations, take antibiotics for Lyme Disease, etc., but a cold (and more) can be best avoided by sleeping and best cured by… sleeping.

This is major gap in our relationship with medicine today and not enough people are talking about it. It’s putting (often times expensive) band aids on chronic lifestyle related illnesses so that we don’t feel a need to take care of ourselves. Habits don’t change overnight, but if there’s one priority, then creating a healthy lifestyle (even if over time) should be it. It’s the foundation for taking care of family, making decisions, and having good mental health (after all, the brain is the body). This is not going to happen through exercise, forget entirely about exercise: it’s all about the food.

Relegate meat to a side dish. Dairy and bread is an every-now-and-then. Green leafy things, other produce, legumes (beans, chickpeas, lentils), and nuts are the main affair. When you cook your hands should first be washing dirt off of whole foods from the ground, a bush, or tree. Turn some music on and add some spices, oils, salt and pepper – learn how you like it. Have a rotation of go-to staple meals. Look for vegetarian recipes (even if you aren’t vegetarian). Eat as much as you want. Don’t count calories. Stop caring about what you look like (it doesn’t matter); start caring about how you feel. Have wine, have ice cream.

Pursuing health is an uphill climb that pushes you to carve out time and devote mental energy towards creating a new lifestyle (my thoughts on goal-setting) . This could be just a little bit, every day, until some day it all adds up and before you know it, you’ve arrived – healthy is easy because it’s just how you live. Invest time and money into your food journey. Health is wealth and the ROI is exponential.

watching the script play out

Reading a history written in history and seeing how all history is understood through the lens of each generation.

I read German and the Jews: The Right, The Left, and the a Search for a Third Force in Pre-Nazi Germany first published in 1987, by an German emigre historian. In school, I learned about the Holocaust, but recently, I’ve been interested in how it got to that. What were the events leading up to it? What did it German society feel and look like – from the dinner table conversations to the classrooms to the streets?

“German and the Jews” focuses on the different factions of political thought and alliances in pre-Nazi Germany. It answers part of my question. It shows how, when neither communism nor capitalism could provide answers to the chaos following WWI and the Great Depression, a third option emerged: nativism, or going back to the way things were. It showed how “going back” could be revolutionary.

“Make America Great Again” is a homage to conservative revolutions: as to say, “let’s move towards something behind us!” It mirrors the Volkish revolution in early 20th century Germany, a revolution to return to German roots, nativism, and “blood and soil.” It’s the convergence of striving towards something and believing that that something only existed in a past society. In this way, history repeats itself: when people feel threatened in some way, what do we often do that remains the same across nations and time? Resort to tribalism and other-ism, resulting in dehumanizing the “outsiders.” Yet, will simply having this knowledge stop it in it’s tracks or will the tape continue rolling? There has to be something in order other than watching the script play out, mumbling each line before it’s said.