Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Δ U ♥

Translation: change through love.

I’ll apologize now for the emotion-invoking picture. Not the way I usually do things. But it gets the point across. And so on.

Last night I had one of the more worthwhile and exciting conversations that I have had in a very long time. As you may have guessed from the photo displayed above, much of the conversation revolved around the problems of poverty, homelessness, drug use and abuse, and other problems facing the society we all live in. The excitement did not stem from the topics themselves – we all understand the immensity of these problems, we all recognize them as problems, we all want to solve them.

But do we?

The excitement came from the identification of solutions. Not systematic solutions. These may not exist, and any that do exist will certainly be flawed and extremely difficult to implement. No, the solutions are person to person solutions. In order to create change in areas of society that desperately need it, those areas need to be shown love. Love is without a doubt the most powerful emotion that exists. People fight and die for it, live their entire lives searching for it, and are miserable without it. There is no question that the greatest experience I have ever known is to love someone and know that I am loved in return.

The problem lies in the fact that many people living in our society do not know what it is like to be loved. Depending on whom you ask, the divorce rate in this country ranges from 50% to well above that number. According to enrichment journal on the divorce rate in America, "the divorce rate in America for first marriage is 41%, the divorce rate in America for second marriage is 60%, the divorce rate in America for third marriage is 73%" . This is a problem. The number of children born to single parents is growing every day. Children growing up without a parent – especially sons lacking fathers and daughters lacking mothers – are neglected, ignored and lack the support that children raised by two parents experience. This is a problem. Certainly there is no way to eliminate divorce; I would not begin to suggest that it is possible to eliminate single parenthood. Both of these issues are realities in the world in which we live.

The solution is not handing out birth control, or putting married couples through counseling. These solutions can curb the problem, but may not have the desired, lasting impact for a number of reasons, perhaps cultural, economic, ethnic or other reasons. The solution, then, is to insert ourselves into these communities. The solution is to love.

If a child is being raised by a single mother who is never around because the mother is working two jobs full time in order to provide food and shelter for her child, the child is more likely than not missing out on being shown love, being cared for, being told that they matter. This isn’t an indictment of the mother; rather, it is a reality of the situation. As an individual who was raised by two parents who love me and love each other, I recognize how lucky I was and how lucky I am. I have no complaints about my life thus far. I understand that this is a rarity, and certainly I would not want to flaunt my good fortune in front of those who have been less fortunate than I have.

Yet, is it not our duty to love the people around us? Is it not our duty to seek out the broken and the hurting and to show them that they matter? This brings me to the picture posted up above.

I don't know that man, I have never walked past him nor laid eyes on him. I believe that he lives in Toronto, Canada. But I met someone similar. During the four months I lived in London, every day I had a thirty minute walk from our flats to the class building. On that walk, most days I would pass through Trafalgar Square, one of the busiest places in the center of London. And every day, the same homeless man sat in the same spot, quietly, meekly. He never bothered anyone. Never caused a fuss. But he was always there, like clockwork. Begging is illegal in London, and the city tries to prevent homeless people from laying around in public places; I never saw the police even say a word to this man. He minded his business, and people minded theirs. He was alone, in every way.

One of my roommates and I decided one day to try an experiment at the expense of the British people. Brits are notoriously stoic, never showing emotion and rarely smiling. We decided it would be fun to smile, wave and say hello to everyone we passed by on our walk to class that morning. If I had to judge, roughly one out of every ten people we greeted on that walk responsed. And most of them did it with a subtle head not or a mumbled "good morning". More or less what we expected. However, as we walked through Trafalgar Square, I decided to say hello to the homeless man who was always there. As I walked past him, I glanced in his direction, made eye contact with him, smiled and said "good morning!" His response was not exactly what I expected. Instead of the quiet, meek man who I was used to seeing, I witnessed eyes light up like I hadn't seen in ages. I saw a man come alive for an instant. He perked up, smiled back and returned my good morning with one of his own.

The single person who I was able to connect with that morning was a homeless man.

I had forgotten about that story until last night, during the conversation I touched on earlier. I realized that this man most likely lacked human interaction almost completely. No one showed him love or attention. No one showed him that he mattered. If I could do it all over again, I wish that I had woken up thirty minutes earlier each day so that I could spend some time sitting with him and forging a relationship with him. Showing him that he mattered, and that I cared about him. I wish I had that opportunity again. Just to see his eyes light up again would be worth the trip.

Monday, May 24, 2010

For the Record

Someone I respect greatly told me once that anything I have to say has already been said more profoundly, more concisely and more eloquently than I ever could by someone far more qualified than me to speak. I write with that in mind.

For the record.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Open Road

"From this hour, freedom!
From this hour I ordain myself loos’d of limits and imaginary lines,
Going where I list, my own master, total and absolute,
Listening to others, and considering well what they say,
Pausing, searching, receiving, contemplating,
Gently, but with undeniable will,
Divesting myself of the holds that would hold me.

I and mine do not convince by arguments, similes, rhymes,
We convince by our presence.

Listen! I will be honest with you,
I do not offer the old smooth prizes, but offer rough new prizes,
These are the days that must happen to you

My call is the call of battle, I nourish active rebellion,
He going with me must go well arm'd,
He going with me goes often with spare diet, poverty, angry enemies, desertions.

Allons! the road is before us!"


I Believe...

that there is no black and white. I believe that life exists in the in-between, the grey. Seeking the extremes and absolutes of the black and white is a fruitless effort; such absolutes do not exist. My personal struggle is to avoid seeking the absolutes and instead rest, relax and experience life in the grey. I believe that I cannot be truly happy, full of joy, until I accept the fact that my surroundings are constantly changing, that the people I surround myself with are constantly changing, and that I am constantly changing.


Not a day goes by that my assumptions are challenged and the firm places I stand on are battered and torn. It can be scary, sometimes, for the things I thought I could count on most to become rocky or unstable. To be honest, it is always scary. Being unable to control my life and the events I experience scares the everlivin' out of me. I want to be in control. I want to be able to plan and create my future. I want to shape it into the vision I have always dreamed, but never realized. I want to experience my dreams while I am awake, but I know this may never come to pass.

My goal has always been to change the variables in my life into absolutes. This goal is far beyond my own reach; dare I say it is impossible? When I question things, I am usually looking to change them into something that better fits my worldview, my understanding of what life should look like.

I fail at this. Constantly.

I am not the only person who attempts to create absolutes out of volatility. But I have never met anyone who was successful. Napoleon had Waterloo. Caesar had Brutus. And so on. The goal, then, becomes to remove the desire for black and white. I am a selfish being, and above all else I want to be happy. I do not think this can exist while looking for absolutes. I believe that this can only exist while living in the grey, in the in-between. That is the place I am looking for.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

A Weight on My...Legs

Has anyone ever told you they felt like there was a weight on their shoulders at one point or another? That something was creating the illusion of a bearing a physical burden, and that before they could relax or not be anxious they had to make it so the weight was lifted? People I know talk about that kind of thing all the time. Usually its harmless, such as a project being due at work or an impending dentist appointment. Nobody likes the dentist. My dentist is a very kind person, but the profession doesn’t suit him. Too much poking and prodding and cutting and drilling. Makes me cringe just thinking about it. So you might see a way someone could justify feeling a weight on their shoulders leading up to an event as horrifying as a root canal. Which brings me to my point: today I woke up, got dressed and drove my little suburban car from my suburban home and went to work. Strangely enough, as I walked from my acres away parking spot toward the building, my knees began to ache. Before you ask, no, I don’t have knee problems. They aren’t falling apart, and I’m not going to go to the doctor or physical therapist. Rather, it felt like there was a weight on my legs, similar to that weight people describe as being attached to their shoulders. I started wondering why this was happening, as I didn’t have anything terrible or frightening ahead of me today. Not even this week. Then it hit me. I’m living in my early twenties, just beginning my tour of duty in the American workforce. If I work until the standard retirement age, that gives me between thirty and forty years to spend moving up the corporate ladder or stuck in a dead end job. Over those forty years, five days out of seven I will spend sitting in an office, staring at a computer screen. Eight hours per day of doing menial tasks and accomplishing nothing.

This is not what life should look like.

As Chuck Pahlaniuk wrote, “this is your life, and it’s ending one minute at a time”. That weight on my legs, holding them down and bringing them stress, is a burden caused by the contrast between what my future should look like and what it will look like, if I keep going this direction. Each of us is only given one lifetime to spend on this earth, some shorter than others. Don’t we owe it to ourselves, the people we love, and the one who gave us life to live our lives as fully as possible? I don’t want to look back fifty years from now and say I wrote mortgages, that was my purpose. I don’t want you to look back and say I pressed a button in a factory, that was my purpose.

That is not your purpose.

Your purpose is to further yourself, to improve the world, to love yourself and others – all to the best of your ability. Your purpose is to see new things, explore the wonders of the world, and be awed by them. The world was created for us to explore, engage with and enjoy. This cannot be done from a 5x7 cubicle with Google Maps. Living life means getting dirty, getting lost, getting hurt and getting the chance to see, do and find things that you have never seen, done or found before.

Don’t read this as a PSA for the travel industry. It isn’t. The place to start is in your own home, then in your community, among the marginalized and outcast, slowly moving out into the rest of the world. No single location is better than any other. London, Ohio is no better or worse than London, England. More people have visited one than the other, but both have a place in the world and value to add to your being. It is impossible to know where you are going until you understand where you came from and where you are. You cannot know yourself completely without engaging and learning from the people around you.

To steal from Chuck again, you are not your job, you are not how much money you have in the bank, you are not the car you drive, you are not your clothes or your furniture. You are you, nothing more and nothing less. "I say may I never be content. I say deliver me from Swedish furniture. I say deliver me from clever art." Our lives are ending one day, one minute, one moment at a time. I owe it to myself to create the best version of me that is possible, free from materialism and social pressures. Willing and able to place myself among the marginalized, among the incomplete and insecure, finding truth and joy where the masses choose not to look. I am afraid that I will waste the opportunity I have been given. My focus should be on the outcasts, not the outlets. Doing so allows me to affect the world around me, as well as develop myself into the person I want to become.

Anything less is a tragedy.

Monday, May 17, 2010

With all due respect to Tyler Durden...

You are a beautiful and unique snowflake. While you may be made of 'the same decaying organic matter as everything else', the essence of who you are is markedly different than anyone else who has walked this planet. There is no other person, now or ever, who has embodied a person in the same way that you have. Such uniqueness provides a basis for the freedoms we all share and enjoy. Without uniqueness, there would be no basis for individualism.

I mention the name Tyler Durden with a point in mind; while I learned a great deal from the anti-materialistic views portrayed by his character, the struggle against popular culture and society, I take issue with his understanding of how best to live life. Clearly, the idea of a Project Mayhem is meant to be read as satire, but in many ways society tries to force this same one-ness and similarity. I do not want to wear cologne. I do not want to drive a Mercedes-Benz. I am perfectly content with the shampoo I currently use. I do not feel the need to look, smell, act, eat, think, talk and believe just as everyone else does. For college students, it is a North Face jacket and Nike shoes. For Tyler it was a shaved head and black t-shirts. This is not an option for me.

I was told recently that the marketing department of a large and important corporation in my hometown is overstaffed and in danger of trimming its headcount. Does a marketing department really need to be staffed by more than a handful of people? Certainly it is necessary to bring value to a firm, but I would expect less embracing of marketing campaigns by those with no financial interest in the company. Why does society condone the idea of marketing - the art of telling you what to think, to say and most importantly of all, to buy - and allow it to permeate every niche of our existence? If I am watching XYZ television network, not only am I barraged by fifteen minutes of commercials for every hour the television is on, but I am subliminally marketed to through the use of product placement and other means in the hopes of making me identify with the characters and wanting me to buy what they buy in a means to replicate the life I am seeing on television. Do I really want to dress like George Clooney, or smell like David Beckham? This is not an option for me.

The people I have been drawn to most in life are those people who have the least in common with those around them. The ones who stick out of the crowd, who can be seen from across a room tend to be those whose words have a lasting impact. The individuals who have most impacted the world generally do not look like what you see on television. Take note of this and consider what implications it may have. They are more numerous and more important than you may initially believe.

I prefer to pave my own way. My lack of designer jeans and overpriced shoes does not change who I am one iota. I am a beautiful and unique snowflake. No others are as I am. I aim to preserve this.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

A Personal Diaspora

Diaspora refers to any movement of a population sharing a common identity, specifically a permanently displaced or relocated collective.

I share a common identity with myself. As I am changed and molded by the people around me, by the experiences I have and by the decisions I make, I constantly relocate the population of me. Because the changes I experience will never move me back to the state in which I began, I am also permanently displaced from that beginning. A diaspora.

I have always found the human need to label self and others fascinating. You and I cannot simply be acquaintences, friends even; instead, we must be best friends, associates, teammates, etc. Some of this is necessary to perform simple duties of life, some of this is done for convenience. However, when I introduce to you my boss, my girlfriend or my brother, I do not begin with their name. Instead, I will introduce to you my boss, Joe. Label before name. Even as I do this, it bothers me.

Yet, it may not be quite the problem I initially believed it to be. In order to know ourselves or others, it is necessary to identify who we are dealing with. Such a label carries with it immense weight and meaning - when I introduce Joe to you as my boss, I am telling you that he has great influence over me, that I must be careful what I do and say around him, that he has a say in my future. The label serves as a constant reminder of who and what we are dealing with.

This brings me back to the beginning. My personal diaspora. You may think that I am foolish or silly for placing a label onto myself. However, I believe we forget who we are and what our purpose is more quickly and more easily than we believe we do. If I am willing to identify myself in a certain way and look at myself through that light, I have a much better chance of becoming the person I hope to become than I would otherwise.

I am starting this blog as a way for me to keep track of and reflect on the relocations and changes happening to this community of one. Feel free to join me in this. To create a collective of shared identities with you would be an honor.