End is not in sight

We are undertaking a vast experiment in the days and years and decades that we are alive.

As creatures of habit, we are forever attempting new ways to structure guarantees into life. This is a tricky choice and an attempt to bring greater assuredness into the daily experiences and relationships that defies the essence of being alive in an unknown and unpredictable world. Despite all the messages and signals that we have been told, we do not know what to do in order to know what lies ahead. This we cannot know. Entire lifestyles have been created to offer predictability and a greater perception of knowing what will happen. But we cannot know what will happen; we may know what can happen but are not the entire determinant of whether something will happen as we imagine it to be.

In the midst of all this not knowing, there is concern, anxiety, confusion, and a strong pull to be in control. Control is a fiction where we believe that only one factor, or a few factors, determine an outcome. Control has a confident, brash ego that tells itself and others that it is all that matters; it is unclear whether Control actually knows otherwise, or genuinely believes in its perceived superiority than any (and all) other factor.

Immersed in the lie of Control, I settle into Faith. Faith that there are many factors and divergent forces swimming amongst one another. Similar to the choppy, erratic movement of Brownian’s Motion that I learned if in Form 4 Physics. Fast moving but not in a single direction, so much force. Much uncontrolled force. Uncontrollable.

Faith that there are much greater forces than humans alone and all of humankind on this Earth. Faith in the dogged resilience that fosters life, spawns evolution, encourages experimenting, and embraces change when it happens. Faith that there is much more happening than I can see with mine eyes, hear with my ears, taste, and sense in all ways. Faith in tiny, miniscule, microorganisms of force and Faith in profound, vast ecosystems that harmonize air, earth, water, and fire.

9 months later, and 10 years on

May 2015. Today is Mike Brown’s 19th birthday. This I learned from the political education and relationships that I have benefitted from through the It Starts Today campaign that ends today on Mike Brown’s birthday. April 2005. Ten years ago, I was invited by John, Courtney, and Jamie to apply to join the Advisory Board at Resource Generation. I did so. I entered my first board meeting at the Walker Center in suburban Boston in a cohort of rookie board members along with Andrew, Ajita, Penny, and Meg. We were some kind of board Fab 5 heading into headwinds of organizational turbulence, interpersonal challenges, and divine breakthroughs that I could hardly fathom when I first walked through that doorway as board member. It was revolutionary to attend meetings where the culture was to introduce yourself by saying four things: Your name. The place you live. Your class identity. Your “PGP” (preferred gender pronoun). I’ve been more schooled in and on gender and sexuality from the colleagues, friends, comrades, and confidantes of RG than any Women & Gender Studies classes could have instilled. At the first RG conference that I attended (circa 2006), multiple RGers did not only talk about their inherited wealth but told stories of how they could trace their white families’ wealth all the way back to slavery. The hairs on the back of my neck stood up. It rocked my world. And, I was hooked. RG gave me the tools, the political education, the camaraderie to be able to say that “my mom grew up in a working-class, white family” for the first time. I had never understood this, nor seen this facet of my family tree before being immersed in spaces that were explicit and unapologetic about class, classism, capitalism, and class dynamics. Not by being outwardly focused and waxing philosophical about class in society, but by being inwardly focused on families and the belief systems and biases that color my choices. I have been off of the board for just about four years and forever give thanks and have multiple, daily appreciations for the gifts that having been a board member at RG has bestowed upon me. Wisdom, love, patience, courage, trust in others (in their anxieties and their daring feats and so much more), impatience, humility, a yearning to tell stories and write blog posts among them. And ask others questions so they will write their blog posts and tell different versions of their stories. Today, I honor the life, the premature death, and the legacy of Mike Brown and all the people of Ferguson, Missouri. As one more name, place, and episode in the long legacy of lynching and the addiction to violence that discolor the US Constitution. I had not known the name of Ferguson before last summer. The people and popular outrage of Ferguson compelled me to figure out how I could act where I was and with those people that I already knew. To inquire who were the small group of people that I could band together with in such a nauseating, perplexing, horrifying time. If you’ve got some change in your pocket, some discretionary dollars in your bank account then go and invest in Black liberation, in Black leadership, and in Black dignity. By investing in Blacks in America, we are investing in all humankind. Thanks, yall. And, praise Jesus that I’ve learned to see that those who believe in freedom are of all races, of all classes, of all nationalities. And, I will continue to seek out those who believe in freedom and civil disobedience.

Instructions in Writing, week 2

What I heard and remembered to take notes on in Week Two of Fast Flash Fiction at the Santa Fe Community College were. Much of last night’s class was about editing one another’s work and what else to remember as I re-read and revise my own stories. Number 3-6 are cited from a handout given (citation needed):

  1. Anticipation | Hold someone on the edge of their seat until they are almost impatient.
  2. Beautiful moments | “I take out beautiful moments in each piece.”
  3. Personify objects/emotions | in ways that the reader won’t expect.
  4. Unfamiliar similes | will jump out at readers in positive ways.
  5. Conflicting images | take what readers expect in a character and turn it upside down by choosing conflicting images.
  6. Metaphors | are often what can propel or kill a story.
  7. Surreal | make it work.
  8. Stick to your core | “[There are] parts of your piece that you are going to hold onto with dear life. You have to remember that your voice is your voice.”

There were also a few quotes that resonated:

You want every paragraph to matter.

I create stories from what I remember in childhood, and change the ending.

Use adverbs sparingly. I love adjectives.

Instructions in writing, Week 1

I began my first writing class last week. The title is Fast Flash Fiction is a six-week course taught by Meg Tuite at Santa Fe Community College. Tuite, the instructor, cusses, inspires, and tells stories with plenty of tangents like thet legions of great storytellers that I know.

Tuite dispensed multiple dosages of simple truths in writing on the first night:
1) Read it out loud.
2) Keep your core.
3) Get it out | “I am not sure that I’ll call it vomit. Maybe, pink vomit.”
4) Deadlines are good.
5) Every page matters | in flash fiction where we have to condense our work.
6) Start thinking about the senses.
7) Brevity and ambiguity | These are essential in flash fiction, leaving the reader wanting to know more, to be taken along.
8) Gamble. That is where your voice is.

A couple of other choice moments were:
– “I get a lot of people published. Because you work hard in this class.”
– “Write about something that you are close to. Emotionally invested. Risk, risk, risk. The most exciting part of life –> getting close [to something].”

Lastly, there are three, simple questions to guide the workshopping and feedback shared with classmates are:
What do you love?
What makes sense?
What is confusing?

sensory apocalypse from the mail pouch

In my early teens, which were the Swaziland years, I read Sports Illustrated magazine regularly. It gave me some perspective of what was happening with sports back in the U.S.

The magazine would come through the “mail pouch” each week, which I believe meant that there was a large canvas pouch placed in the cargo section of a commercial airplane. As best as I understood the set-up, mail from the U.S. was sent to an APO or FPO address somewhere in the metropolitan Washington D.C. region that would then be sent by plane to the Embassy in Mbabane. Though, I never saw the mail pouch, I imagined it to be manila. There were so many manila envelopes inside the Embassy, particularly that had to do with communications so I associated the non-descript color to the mail pouch.

Earlier today, Sports Illustrated came to mind as I remembered a section in the opening pages called “Signs of the Apocalypse,” a pithy indicator of what was remiss in the wide, whacky world of sports and society. All of this came back to me because of a banana and hard boiled egg in my bag that I anticipated eating. In the midst of so many other smells, I considered a few other signs of the apocalypse:

  • the preference for the smells of Febreze to bananas
  • that Glade Plug-ins get commended while garlic breath is ridiculed
  • a cloud of cologne or perfume is more desirable to the lingering smell of onions on one’s breath or fingers.

Such preferences bewilder me. I find the artificial chemicals of cologne or perfume so pungent that I may lean away or even gag. I suppose that it may be due to a sensory sensitivity hard-wired in our brains that has little to do with choice.

________

In this era of the Internet and NSA, that pouch seems so quaint. Even though the pouch was the primary means of getting us personal mail from stateside throughout the final years of the Cold War, it seems like such a rudimentary way to get contents from the U.S. to us in different countries. All of these memories make me wonder just how simplistic or elaborate that manila “mail pouch” actually was.

walking along a revolutionary road

I am watching the epic and tragic and brilliant story of Revolutionary Road again this weekend. I have a great appreciation for the intensity of the movie (as I have been told that I am an intense being) as it touches upon fundamental issues of life, purpose, and meaning. Each of these have profound reverberations on the people around us, too. This is where there is beauty in life when acted upon, or loss and dismay as is the case for Kate Winslet’s and Leonardo DiCaprio’s characters in the movie.

On the surface it is a love tragedy. Yet, wrapped in layers and layers, the movie is an illustration of walking the road less traveled (as M. Scott Peck calls it. A book that I would like to revisit this year, after more than a decade of being untouched). It is when stories of love, family, work, career, art, travel, journeys, passion arise. So many factors that they can cause a lump in a throat because they are too much to comprehend. Yet, it is not about the comprehension but the ability to act or decisively choose (in such a way that choosing sometimes feels like plunging) in spite of all the unknowns. In our hyper-intellectualized time and the delusion of logic, we attempt to know everything before acting. This set up is an impossibility. As we cannot know all that we need to know (nor can we know all that there is to know). To wait until all information is adequately known results in paralysis.

This delay of choosing, or inaction, at pivotal moments in life is what resonates for me in Revolutionary Road. Contrary to the revulsion or sadness that many others felt about the movie, I was drawn to it. I appreciated the darkness. It is a stark telling of what is far more common than I believe is acknowledged. Furthermore, it is an indictment of what happens when the pursuit of professional success trumps personal relationship.

***

The road less traveled requires walking through a doorway of choices, of choosing the less common, less appreciated and less understood choice(s) especially when these lesser knowns are frowned up or objected to by society, writ large or one’s inner circle. Every day there are moments when we have to choose (what are called choice points). Even when we decide to not act, we still make a choice. Life is chock full of possible choices and our choices impact not only other people and circumstances around us, but impact the remainder of our life.

Too often, we cower to the pressures of what is normal, what is acceptable or tolerable to family, friends, coworkers or to other people we perceive as being in our same social order. Perception is a dicey thing because it is our individual ideas of who we consider as being like us and being with us. Yet these we can trap ourselves and deny life-giving choices because of what the very same people want. Sometimes it is that we accurately see others as they are, and correctly understand what choice they want us to make; there are other times where our perception is mistaken and the very people we care about and care about us wish for us to make decisions that are more freeing. However, we may not because we cannot see (or hear or understand)) that that is what they, too, want for us. These are some of the ways of how we can trip ourselves up and become trapped. A paradox about being social beings is that we defer to others even when that is not in alignment with our inner self. When we repeatedly do so, we establish a pattern that can make it harder and harder to listen to the inner wisdom of intuition because we seek the counsel of others’ voices, even when it drowns our own voice.

For six years of the last decade, I waited for others’ permission to make choices that were mine alone to make. I come from two strands of families, where masculinity was defined as fitting within certain social structures and social orders. The lives of both of my grandfathers looked very different, yet each created families and built professions that placed them in contexts where their choices affected others — at work, in their home, in their extended families. While I cannot know what it was like to be fathers in their time, I reflect upon what their lives were and how they have profound reverberations two generations later.

***

Part of my attraction to this movie is that I was on a path that mimicked the path/s of the primary protagonists. For five years, I had limped along my path, stumbling. My feelings of being unseen and unheard were reaching a peak when I watched this movie. I could see a version of the movie’s storyline playing out in facets of friends’ lives and relationships more easily than in my own life. Yet, it was a story that resonated with me because it was foreboding — even when placed in an entirely different time and place than my own life.

I remember not being able to situate the movie setting the first time I watched the movie. The clothes and cars offered some glimpses, but it was not until I was far into the movie that I understood that this resonated deeply with me even though it was placed some 50 years earlier.

By placing Revolutionary Road in (what I believe is) the 1950s, I am reminded that the midcentury American Dream was not working for plenty of people at that time. Even for the people purportedly benefitting from that Dream, according to the dominant social narratives, which in this story is a white, middle-class, suburban family. The challenges shown in the movie — of responsibility, success, love — are timeless. The pressures to conform span generations; some conditions change with time yet the existential nature of life transcends decades.

At the time, I could not see the parallels to my life (circa 2008 or 2009) when I first saw it. In hindsight, i believe that I could feel a resonance, though. Years later, I now suppose that there will repeatedly be phases in life that can mimic this storyline. We may forever be on a path where forks in the path require that I choose one or the other. There are innumerable instances where I could choose something contrary to my inner self because of collapsing to social (or familial, professional, cultural) pressures. Grappling with the path that I am on and the choices to make may cease only when becoming free.

***

Despite the patterns and shaping that comes with repeating the same action over and over again, I have a delight that a different choice can be made.

One definition of what it means to be human: to suddenly choose something contrary to all the things that one has been prior to now.

For years, I have been astounded by attempts to simplify and therefore deaden what it means to be human. There have been formidable professional and economic pressures that choose systematization over spontaneity. It is core to the economic tenet of specialization, that long term partner of the endless growth demanded by capitalism. This growth is also a reckless growth as it prizes growth over wellbeing. In other terms, it chooses quantity over quality. Such brutal force is not nurturing to countries (pushed to focus on a few cash crops or a few products for export) nor individuals (pushed to repeat the same motion in manufacturing, or to do a segmented piece of work in services of white collar industries). The end result of a forced, narrow focus is the opposite of fulfillment and meaning.

Such brutal force, when seen through an economic lens, would be better described as abuse than specialization. It depletes life, denies flavor, substance and diversity. It trumpets homogeneity in a world that depends on heterogeneity. It squashes life when confining humans to repeated action even though evolving relationships and learning are fundamental to who we are.

Similar pressures and delusions have consumed educational institutions by placing greater value on testing than on learning. This, too, chokes the life out of students, out of learning, and pedagogy. Rather than investing in what gives life and causes us to flourish as humans, policy and budgets are correlated to metrics even though we are not machines. In our attempts to understand and to prove progress, certain elements have chosen false proxies as a way to define who we are and our experience.

Choices are the doorway to liberty.

Comfort foods sought

It has been an evening of breadmaking, washing dishes and leftovers. I am venturing out by cooking one of the staples of comfort food by cooking hash browns after seeing a friend mention them for months. In the midst of the death of two on this Sunday, I seek comfort food tonight. In addition to the comforts of the kitchen, the internet becomes another salve for me. Similar to the Margaret Mead quote that “each of us is unique, just like everybody else” I turn to the quiet abyss of the internet, trusting that the privacy of my words will be encountered by someone similarly alone, quiet and in front of a screen.

Do we gravitate towards comfort food during times of duress, loss, doubt because it is an acknowledgement that any meal may well be our last meal? I have inquired about the possibilities and proximity of death for some fifteen years, mostly in the inner depths of my own soul. The moment that kicked the consciousness of death doorway wide open was when I was a few hundred meters from coastline with my parents — the three of our heads bobbing up and down in rough waves. As a young man, I had barely embraced the idea that my parents were no longer the infinitely powerful beings that I had known them as throughout my first two decades. As we doggy paddled awaiting a dinghy that never came, I reckoned with the mortality of myself, and feared how long their fifty-something, smoking bodies could endure the turbulence within sight of land. It was then clear to me that my parents were no longer invincible.

###

I still recall the light of an overcast day as it passed through the red of my fleece sweatshirt in the fourth grade. It was a day or two after the news of my grandma’s death had come courtesy of the telephone line, news carried from two countries away. Unable to cry at home or in the presence of others in my family in the days afterwards, I finally found the space and solitude to bawl during lunch as i hid (or shielded) my face from all the other students who had the same lunch period. I had no idea whether anyone else saw me that day, which didn’t matter to me as I was unable to come to terms with being alone in such an unfamiliar way. It was fortunate to not have to deal with anyone else at school, just as it had been at home. Rather than being in Colorado, it happened while in the surroundings of a new school with none of my three siblings anywhere around. It was the first death of a family member in my decade’s old life, my grandma who loved me, tickled me and treated me with the fawning adoration befitting of a grandparent to a grandkid.

In the two decades since then, attending to unfinished business, expressions of love, another home cooked meal (that can be either beautifully simple or elaborate) are some of the simple moments that I appreciate in this moment. Rather than subject myself to a tailspin of regret, second guessing and remorse, there is an unparalleled freedom when I readily acknowledged that death is with us all the time. It is all around, and rather than continue to participate in the delusion, avoidance, skirting over or skirting past, I prefer to notice it.

I don’t know that I am befriending it, but choosing to not neglect it feels like a path less traveled.

living history through primary sources

There have been some incredible pieces of historical documents written and distributed in the last month. Three that jump to the forefront of my mind are:

 

 

today, @umairh goes off on the economy + politics

Earlier today on Twitter, @umairh “Economist. author. slayer of zombies” stated:

I’m going to do five quick points on politics + the economy. This is gonna hurt. Enjoy!! |
1. The question is: how long will average incomes in the US decline? Another 25 years? Forever?
2. There is no reason to believe average incomes in the US will reverse their long run trend and rise anytime soon.
3. There is every reason to believe average incomes in the US will stick to their long run trend. And decline. For a long time.
4. The big problem in America is simple. The rich are getting richer, for no good reason. And everyone else is getting poorer.
5. Without major political reform — a system which can give the middle class basic rights — the US middle class is toast.
6. The US has a social model that has failed. It is working for thousands of people. It’s not working for millions.

… I don’t know how to stress this to you guys enough. This is deep shit. We’re going to come of age in a failing society.
Ok. Am I scaring you, telling you what you already konw, or you just don’t care?
Our leaders don’t give a shit. That’s exactly why you should.
Jail the bankers, stop the wars, restore rights, save the middle class, end poverty, invest in the young. It’s not rocket science.

… There are 47 million people living in poverty in America. While the 6 Walmart heirs are worth more than the bottom 150 million.
That, folks, is what a broken social model looks like.

… So those of us who’ve suggested the economy’s broken for years now have been proven right? And the pundits wrong? Surprise.
This economy could hardly be more broken. And that it’s taken the establishment a decade to get it is precisely why.
What should really concern us is that there is nothing on the horizong that’s going to reverse any of the problems in the economy.

A 5280 Family Reunion

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35 members of five generations of family who range in age from 7 weeks to a few weeks shy of 93 assemble in Denver and Aurora this weekend. Select moments of storytelling have been:
• two consecutive days of pool with my niece and nephew, including a 10-minute clinic on grips, how to place their left hands on the pool table, and steadying the cue on the padding between a thumb and forefinger. Last night, Diego said “thanks for showing me, Uncle Chad. I wasn’t this good at pool before.”
• telling Ms. Gayles, Aunt Barbara and Grandmother about ten years of vegetables and the proliferation of CSAs, community gardens and urban farms. It’s amazing when a diabetic says, “I had no idea that young people, your age, were so into their food like that,” as we talked about jobs, health, diets, fish chromosomes in tomatoes, the proliferation of and popular resistance to GMOs, and the future.
• stories of Count, Candy and GoGo, who were George’s three Dobermans in Dallas. Count, who was a guard dog, walked Sherry down the street one day causing a neighbor, who could recognize any Doberman, called George to tell him where his daughter and dog were.