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.

truthfully, I wish I paid attention then

When do we start to care about democracy?

As a college freshman, I took a short study abroad in Hong Kong over the summer. I remember showing up to lectures hungover with my fellow American study abroad classmates, more focused on our plans for that night out than anything the professor had to say. The lecture was on democracy in Hong Kong, and she was passionate, and sadly, that’s all I remember.

Now it’s six years later and I know considerably more about what democracy is and is not, but more importantly, I care. Democracy in America wasn’t a perfect democracy even before the Trump election, but why did it take that for me to finally start looking into it?

First reason I think is that I grew up in a household that never talked about politics on any level – if we ate dinner together, our conversation was about our softball or basketball games. Next, and probably most important, is that I remember learning general history in school, but never anything specific to what it means to have a democracy, how it can dissolve, or what happens when it’s undermined. That being said, I did learn that explicit racism was bad and that it’s wrong to discriminate based on religion. So, when I saw this unfolding in front of me, coming from the highest office – I knew something was up. From there, I learned, read, and conversed my way through multiple essays, books (most recently: How Democracies Die), and conversations; I matched the insights against each other, compared my own thoughts, and held them up against what I was seeing clearly play out in the government (and on Trump’s Twitter).

Though, I still wonder, what does it take for a public to take an actionable interest in democracy, especially the people of Hong Kong against a Communist government? I listened to the New York Times’ The Daily podcast Inside Honk Kong’s Airport episode where they interviewed several Hong Kong protesters and Chinese mainlanders. The protesters filled up the Hong Kong airport, trying to reach mainland Chinese fliers about the importance of democracy, but felt they were at a standstill; as the NYT podcast portrays it, the mainland Chinese didn’t care as much about their lack of a democracy since the Communist Party had brought so much stability and prosperity in such a short time. **there’s more to learn for me here – my first questions: hasn’t the Hong Kong region been extremely prosperous as well? is it at all related to the British colonial history?

When it comes to the United States, I sometimes doubt our commitment to democracy – though, admittedly, I might be tainted by a skewed sample on my Facebook feed. Even so, when I hear something like Mayor Pete Buttigieg saying that his highest priority as President would be restoring democracy, I question: how sticky of a talking point is this? Even if America has been a democracy in theory for centuries, how many Americans really care or know how the threats to our democracy could lead to its ruin (i.e. lack of fair and secure elections, gerrymandering and a continuance of racial exclusion, etc.)? Then again, I care now – and the only leg up I might’ve had is the time and energy to educate myself on democracy and gain an awareness. Maybe Trump made a mistake in not quietly and slowly taking democracy back, and now, general people like me are woken up and hyper aware. Time (a.k.a. Nov 2020) will tell.

I now consider my University of Hong Kong lecturer: I wonder what she was thinking, seeing a bunch of American college students – America, the “symbol of democracy – not really giving a damn about democracy at all (especially while in a place that so desperately wanted it). If I could slide back into that lecture in Hong Kong from six years ago with the same knowledge I have now, I know I’d be on the edge of my seat. Though, truthfully, I wish I paid attention then.

weekends: my plan to plan

The only positive thing about being so drained from the work week is that I can sit outside and the mosquitoes don’t mess with me (nothin’ left here, boys). I work a remote job completely from my laptop, with full benefits, PTO, good pay, and a great team. It’s overall good gig and I’m real fortunate. The one thing it is not, particularly, is “my life’s passion” – which, no complaints here, but like adrenaline is to physical energy, inspiration/passion is to mental energy – without it, there’s a certain level until it’s depleted.

My responsibility for the weekends is to connect back to something I’m passionate about, or at the very least, disconnect from technology. A replenishing weekend for me is spent with friends or family, outdoors, or generally something enjoyable and consuming. I’ve learned that I have to plan these weekends in advance, because if I think it’s all going to come together Friday afternoon, when my metal tank is sputtering, then I’ll spend the whole weekend binge watching Silicon Valley for the fourth time and flipping through Reddit every 20 minutes. Not exactly “nourishing.” Maybe the best time to plan for a weekend is right after a great weekend. If I do this consistently, then I can avoid the Sunday Scaries because I’ll be full and ready for the work week ahead, instead of dreading it.

i’d pawn diamonds for sleep

Nothing is more luxurious than a full, deep night’s rest – waking up feeling, not like you have to somehow make it through the day, but instead, ready and pulling in the day with a lasso: the parts to enjoy and the challenges. I just slept eight and a half hours (diamonds on my neck). But no one will put any money into selling this idea of luxury to you. You can’t swipe a card and buy REM sleep. It’s one of the most elusive, priceless luxury goods not on the market. Known to some, but not all – available to some, but not many. The investment is time, energy, and focus on getting the most out of every night, both on an individual and societal level. For some of us, we’ve got to admit we’re prioritizing meaningless things over sleep and health – late night entertainment and overworking (recognition, achievement – for our corporate, late nights: do you ever just say, “hey, I gotta go – will start again tomorrow”?).

And this is where I’m going to stop calling sleep a luxury in a sense of what we all deserve. We have to demand a better economic system that doesn’t force people to sacrifice sleep at the expense of getting by. Sleep is a basic need to feel human – get your emotions right and find the answers. It doesn’t cost anything but stepping off the throats of the middle class and those in lower economic tiers (stifled by time & stress). The ability to take care of one’s health feels luxurious, but should not be reserved for a select few. Where health is wealth, this will be an America where we can all be rich.

by the lake, through the sand, and surrounded by trees

We need intuition to take us higher and intellect to articulate that intuition.

I’ve been in the mountains of Colorado for almost two weeks now, staying in a cabin with only the views of an alpine forest. Staring up at rows of pines, each shooting straight towards a sunny sky, I feel a sense of permanence – not of myself, or even of the the trees. I feel a permanence of truth, that even as we live in chaos, that truth has always and will always exist. It’s for the intuition to experience this truth, and the duty of the intellect to put it into understanding.

I live in Chicago. In the city, there’s not much uninterrupted nature – it’s more of an afterthought to human activity. For various reasons, the city is where intellect thrives – a never ending conversation between ideas and culture. The city is momentum, putting into words, and concrete action (and concrete in general). And yet, I’m beginning to think, in times that call us to a higher realm, our taking action within the same plane that delivered us is not going to meet the demand we face.

We must rise. I’m not sure it requires a cabin in the woods or likewise (it really might), but intellectualism alone is not going to save us. We can’t argue the finer points to a dark energy that’s formed a fog over our people. Rationalism is not end-all-be-all, rationalism doesn’t win elections alone. We need a new Age of Enlightenment that embraces the importance of the spirit – because, as humans, our hearts are not entirely made of reason, equations, and if-then statements. We have to speak to being human, instead of yelling our facts and figures. To not address the spirit is to ignore the human and address a machine (input, output) that does not and has never existed within us. We have more tools than words to speak with – music, art, and mostly importantly, we can speak with the energy we emit as individuals. Cultivating our own energy and intuition is half the battle, because it’s the foundation for whatever comes from us: activism, organizing, or simply our presence alone and how we represent the progressive movement. This is where the cabin in the woods comes in to play – where a walk on the beach might be required. Intuition will raise us, and from my experience, intuition is honed by the lake, through the sand, and surrounded by trees. We must cultivate a deeper intuition in order to reach above and give the intellect something higher to work with.

exactly what went down.

At every point in Ms. Pat’s autobiography, “Rabbit”, I’m thinking, “damn, this still ends well – even after this?” Patricia Williams, a comedian, grew up in the height of the crack epidemic as a black girl in 1980s Atlanta. Daughter to an alcoholic mother, with 2 kids of her own before 15, ‘Rabbit’ (Ms. Pat’s nickname as a child) turns to selling crack as a teenager before eventually turning her life around.

This book is a pure telling of events – Ms. Pat doesn’t cater to my or any outsider’s narrative of what it means to grow up poor and black in Atlanta. Want to validate a conservative talking point like people using welfare to buy drugs and booze? Sure, you can find that here. Want to lift the book as evidence of systematic racial inequality? You can, but then you’d be reading through a lens of knowledge you already have – Ms. Pat doesn’t steer her story towards any sociological conclusion outside of her experiences (which are are mostly tragic, yet somehow hilariously retold).

In fact, Ms. Pat doesn’t seem to steer the reader towards any definite conclusion – even about herself. Instead of persuading the reader how to feel, the book focuses more on the events themselves: at one point, she’s making considerable profits from selling crack cocaine to addicts, but then another turn and she’s taking in four kids that are not her’s while she is still a teenager herself (and more later on). I came away from this thinking, Ms. Pat did a lot of bad things and Ms. Pat did a lot of good things, with the context and understanding for both.

Ms. Pat tells the truth and crafts a hard life story into an engaging narrative. She writes, “Moving up in this world is not easy… I went from living in an illegal liquor house to running from the cops to living in the suburbs with a flock of ducks outside my window. The only way I can explain how it happened is to tell you exactly what went down.” And that she does.