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.

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.

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.

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.

goal setting: unambitious, but consistent

How to eat an elephant? One bite at a time.

Long, complicated projects, or drastic lifestyle changes, are at risk of never being achieved or attempted because the jump from now to that seems unfathomably far. I have a method, though, that involves breaking down a project into daily, seemingly inconsequential, but achievable tasks. Keeping with this theme, let me first break down the method I used:

  1. Envision
  2. Define
  3. Do

First, have a vision for what you’re looking to achieve – an actual picture in your mind of what that looks like. For me, I wanted the easy, minimalist home life of my favorite YouTuber, Jenny Mustard – not necessarily the clean/white aesthetic, but the void of clutter and the air of simplicity. I wanted to drink water from wine glasses on the couch next to folded blankets.

Second, define the breakdown. For my vision, I figured I could best achieve it by decluttering my living space (organizing, decorating, etc, would not be my primary focus). I first considered where I was starting: I was a functional hoarder who’d saved everything from my high school track shoes to 7-year-expired dried oregano. With this in mind, how did I want to break down this monumental decluttering project into achievable, daily tasks? The difficulty for me was not as much the time it’d take to declutter, but instead the finite emotional energy of wrestling my aversion to “wasting” or “getting rid of something I might need.” What do I think I could accomplish daily, even on my worst day, that would add up over time? In 2019, I set a New Year’s goal to get rid of one item a day, for a year.

Along the way, I learned the most important part of “Do” was keeping it simple: today, what item will go? Some really good days I got rid of more than one thing, but on the harder days I didn’t let myself get overwhelmed and discouraged by making the task an harder than it had to be. For example, I often saved the task of deciding what I should do with the item – sell, donate, or throw away – for another day. This helped me keep my momentum.

I’m now on my 9th month (started my NY resolution in December) and the daily task I defined at the beginning has become a daily habit. Even better, this one good habit has sparked other good habits related to my goal of maintaining a living space. For example, I buy far less, since I know very well that, one day, I will have to deal with this item in the back of the closet – so do I really need it? Even when the year is up, and I’m no longer getting rid of something daily, I’m confident that the habit will linger in some form. Because I did it over time, and thought about it every day (even if for only 2 minutes) this one daily habit has snowballed into a lifestyle change.

In short, the method is about choosing a task that is very unambitious day-to-day, but will create a drastic change over time because of it’s effect on other habits as well as pure addition. Other possibilities:

  • For a vision of a Instagram-healthy-diet, the task could be changing nothing else but eating one vegetable a day (i.e. some carrots with your cheeseburger)
  • If you imagine waking up every day feeling fit and energized, the task could be moving 15 minutes a day, whether that be walking around the block, a serious workout, or anything in between.

I’m going to try this out for future visions as well, always considering where I’m at and defining a daily task from there: one that is unambitious, but consistent.