Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Restraint, or as most like to call it: Adulting

It's been quite some time since the last blog post. I should write more, that way I don't have to keep reminding people it's been a long time. To that effect I do want to say I believe you should save your words when it comes to the internet. In fact, I don't want to write if I don't have something to say and lately I've been so busy I haven't found a message. Nothing anybody hasn't already heard by now.

Mostly I want to relate to all my fellow Young Adults out there. It's funny to me how my generation has taken the idea of performing like a grown adult and turned it into a singular verb: Adulting. Adulting comes in many forms so it's hard to distinguish between Adulting and your everyday life. I like to think of Adulting as: all those things your parents did that you took for granted.

Adulting can be anything from buying your own groceries to paying your own bills. Adulting can be opening a credit line or doing your own taxes. Adulting can also encompass fixing up your house, visiting your doctor to get something checked out, or organizing your best friend's bachelor(ette) party. It's a whole lot of mundane and milquetoast things that daunt and intimidate us. 

The number one complaint I hear about my generation, the Millennials, is: we don't know how to function in basic life because our noses are always on our phones. I'm sure Baby Boomers thought Gen X'ers were crazy for Gangster Rap or artists like Marilyn Manson. Still, there's two parts to this complaint and I only want to address one today.

Millennials both fear and enjoy Adulting. Paying your own taxes for the first time feels rewarding (even if you gave more money than you got.) Not being able to change your own tire, that's embarrassing. I know it sounds implausible, but there are people who can't do their own laundry in the world I live in. Nuts right? Why didn't we learn these skills? How did people before us learn them? When I think about it the answer is: their parents taught them/they had to learn it.

I'll be the first to admit I don't understand how my car works. Even simple things like changing my own oil I can't do. That's embarrassing. So why aren't we learning these things? I think the answer feels uncomfortably simple: we would just pay somebody to do it. I'm not talking about a maid or a cook. I'm talking about a Plumber, an Electrician, an auto Mechanic. It's fair to say that these jobs are irreplaceable and nobody is capable of this kind of work unless they're well trained.

But basic jobs that don't require professionals still give my generation pause. We never learned these tricks or nobody taught us. As much as I'd like to blame the Baby Boomers for these nuisances I think the blame's to share. We live in a country based on an economy of services now so it's important to employ those services. It's just- the things that constitute being a mature adult feels so disembodied from my generation that it has it's own word. Adulting.

I don't offer many solutions. You can learn all the skills you need if you apply some study, a little critical thinking, and the internet. I just want to offer this memo: if you're going to criticize the generation for being particularly useless you might consider where that comes from.

Monday, September 4, 2017

The Writing On The Wall

\So, I have to apologize before I begin. It's taken me quite some time to parse through the past couple month's worth of events. I've been studying and reading and trying to answer a question my generation has. Two things happened really prompted the following words:
1. Charlottesville and
2. My favorite film critic wrote an incredible essay.

This post is for the silent liberals who tell themselves they want to do the right thing but don't know what to do or say.

So, words matter. I've never doubted the validity of that idea. We share ideas with words. When we want to tell someone we love them we use our words (more often than not.) When we speak up against injustice we do so with words. We sing and chant and yell and cheer and pray and talk our way through all the things in the world that challenge us. Yet we don't seem to value them.

In the last couple months they've been used and manipulated. Fox News can put words in our President's mouth. Our President's words can be used by leaders of the Ku Klux Klan. Kim Jong-Un's words can threaten wars. When we discover the words shared between Russian diplomats and the American Presidency, investigations open up. The complete misuse and poor evaluation of the quality of our words shows me we've forgotten several things.

The first thing is: We have to use our words. We don't have a choice. 

In a world where words are treated cheaply it seems defeating to put our own voice out there and join the chorus of like-minded people. What's the point of all those Facebook statuses? Since when has calling out the President on Twitter ever changed the world? Everyone else already said what you wanted to. Why even bother writing?

Charlottesville demonstrated there's a lot of angry men who think minorities and women and non-cis gendered people are policing their speech. Enough people, in fact, to gather as a mob and put fear into the heart of Americans. What shocked me the most was our President's response to an unequivocally simple use of words. What should have been a simple "I condemn Nazis" statement turned into a fumble at the five yard line and subsequent turn over.

Thanks to President Trump I realized there is no such thing as a neutral silence*. There's no positive way to just say nothing. I'm happy to excuse the naive and the young minded (to a certain extent) but the only people who get the luxury of silence are White-Upper-Middle-Class-Cis-Gendered-Men. I thought I'd spoken enough during my YAV year that people know what I stand for. Yet, here I am and I have to say with a singular and definitive voice:

I condemn Nazis. 
I condemn the oppression of minorities, of women, of people in the LGBTQ community, of refugees, of other religions.
I want to improve the living standards for all of god's creation.
I whole heartedly believe that the privileged class need to pick and choose their words more carefully to reflect a mindfulness previously neglected.
Basically: we need to be mindful of what we say, even as allies.

There is no such thing as a neutral silence. I can't believe I didn't learn that during my YAV year. But just as there is no neutral silence we cannot go screaming into the void. That's the whole heart of the issue.

"It's just two sides screaming at each other. Nobody willing to listen." - Everyone these days

Screaming gets us nowhere. I sound like your mom, but she was right. Even when we're on the right side of history our shouting and yelling doesn't help. In fact it often hurts the people we're protecting. It's one of the points Film Crit Hulk writes about: being an effective ally means sometimes not talking over your ally.

We try to speak on behalf of oppressed folks and that's about the dumbest thing you can do. Then someone calls you out. They say "You cut me off. That's mean." Suddenly you're the aggressor. There's only two responses, both are rather ugly.

1. You flip the script. You say "I can't be an aggressor. Didn't you hear me before? I'm on your side. You're the one making me out to be some villain." That's the uglier kind. It redirects the pure shock back at the person calling you out. It's backpedaling at it's worst.

2. You acknowledge it. Immediately you feel shame. Your atonement becomes serving your friend hand and foot, begging to be let off the proverbial hook. This is also ugly, because it distracts from the issue. Instead of acknowledging oppression it becomes about how you can be forgiven.

Film Crit Hulk acknowledges both as two sides of the same coin. They're really just about the ego. You're making the issue about yourself. The best way to address such an event is with few words:

"Thank you for telling me. I did not see that but you have made me think about it in a new way and I plan on thinking about this some more."

I'm glad you feel like sharing, but you need to be strategic about how and when you share a message. I learned this lesson the hard way, and as much as it hurt I'm incredibly glad I learned it. It gave me the opportunity to see that, even though I consider myself an ally to all that people like me have hated, I was still contributing to oppression.

You see we can't be silent, neither can we scream harshly. Our words matter more than we give them credit for. I'm a huge fan of nuance. Even though I'm no master of subtlety, nuance in our language gives us the opportunity to demonstrate complex emotions/ideas.

We have to be careful in constructing our sentences. There is no room for silence. There never was. I made the mistake of thinking so. It wasn't until Charlottesville happened that I realized: not saying something is just as powerful as saying something. Pick whatever Nazi-Germany-American-South metaphor suits you. My point is simple: those of us privileged enough to remain silent are obligated to speak up. But in a helpful, healthy way.

Look, I know it's a tall order. You have to speak, but if you do it wrong you'll get thrown under the bus. It's a thin line to tread, but we're obligated to tread it. It's saddening to see we operate in less and less morally grey areas,  but it's been my biggest lesson this summer: if it feels a little crazy to you (the privileged person) then it's probably righteous to the oppressed (those not so privileged.) I'm working to tread that line every day. Sometimes I fail and I'm lucky enough to catch myself. Sometimes I succeed in accompanying oppressed people. Occasionally I get it right.

I went to an anti-Racism rally here in Dallas. It was my first ever rally. I didn't know what to expect. I didn't go alone. In fact, I brought a potential future YAV with me. The rally itself excited me. Of course I was scared. We learned after Charlottesville, bad things can happen at rallies. I probably spent more time being vigilant amongst my fellow protesters than actually protesting. I got some good chanting in. I didn't make a sign, but next time I'll do better. My goal for attending this rally wasn't to loudly chant into the aftermath of violence. I just knew I HAD to be there to physically accompany all the people who felt oppressed. I was required to be there.

That was the time for action. This is the time for words. I urge you, please, speak up and be particularly thoughtful when you do.

*I'm not saying President Trump's a racist. He doesn't see himself as a racist. He just fails to understand that by cont condemning racism you condone racism. There are only two sides to this issue and he ~unintentionally~ picked one.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Server Tales

Now that I've firmly established my position in the Fraternal Order of Those-Who-Wait-Tables I can safely look back and offer a perspective unmarred by any recent work disasters. As a person with an arts degree I can happily say I've gotten the cliché out of the way. Surprisingly I've found a lot of value in waiting tables. I like to call it the 'Servants' Heart.'

One of the best things serving ever did for me was create a habit of asking: "Do you need anything?" Whether it's necessary or not it never hurts to ask that question. The implication stands: if you ask the question you're obligated to respond. I ask every table at least once: "Do you need anything?" It doesn't matter that I just refilled their waters and they haven't eaten their food. They have to know I'm there. Now, in a restaurant it's my job, but in my everyday life it's my compulsion. I just do it now. I never realized how simple and how rare it is to ask somebody if they need something. Of course, I do it on reflex, but that's what's so important. I'm grateful serving others coached a habit of care into my everyday manner.

Serving also affords me the opportunity to see... life! In all it's varied and different forms. Whether I'm serving country oilmen, young twenty-somethings, or a family of eight I get a perspective on just who occupies this mysterious territory of "the rest of the world." I'm not saying that to be abstract either. When people ask "How could a nation vote a president like Trump in office?" I think back to all the people I served that day and it makes sense. It makes sense because I get to put my thumb on the beating pulse of middle-class America. The America that votes, that protests, but mostly that checks Facebook on their phone during lunch. My advice: never underestimate Middle America. I've gotten pretty friendly with that demographic and they are capable of all kinds of surprises.

I've developed this knack for judging tables pretty quickly too. It's nothing personal. It's just that- usually a server can pick up what kind of guest you're going to be by the time you've ordered your appetizers. You judge mood as much as personality. You judge the tone of the table (is it a business meeting or a birthday party?) You judge how much they'll eat (and subsequently how much you'll make.) Worst of all, most servers can judge what kind of tip you'll leave. They know, early on, and they still serve you. It's one of the worst parts of serving: you're required to take care of people who may not take care of you.

It's curious though, because isn't that what Jesus taught us? Treat others as you would treat yourself. Most of the time you find people ungrateful for whatever you served them. They want to hold you uniquely accountable when odds are good it's not your fault. That's the part about the job (and all customer relations jobs) that's crushing. People can be mean to you and there's nothing you can do about it. It's kept me very humble.

So, I see the best and worst of humanity. I like making my tables laugh, and serving in a restaurant makes me serve others; whether I like it or not. That's not perfectly fair to me, but serving never is. It's why we always complain about our tables in the kitchen. In fact, you can almost expect your server to be saying something about you if you're even remotely troublesome. It's stressful, back breaking work. It's given me a profound appreciation for Middle America. It's taught me to apply sharp criticism. It's also instilled in me a stronger spirit of service. After a year abroad, it's a hard-taught-not-so-refreshing-reminder of what service means.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

PSA: Conscious Consumer

We're powerless. 

That's the sentiment I gather from everyday, ordinary people every time I tune in. Whether it's in person at the restaurant or on TV news from street interviews. The People feel desperate. Costs keep rising, nobody's helping us out. We're eager for a champion. We're eager for a name to this force that pushes us down just when we thought we were back up. Powerlessness is part of why we elected a very... divisive man into our highest office. It's ironic because the feeling of powerlessness is so embedded in our generation that we've learned to look past it or just accept it and move on. Still, there's some value to that feeling.

I keep hearing "politicians only do what pays for them." and people aren't technically wrong. There's a whole lot of self-interested elected representatives out there. It's been a historic theme since the Greeks (kind of) invented democracy. But you know what they didn't invent? Modern day capitalism. The forces that drive so much of our world (political, social, economic) derive their power from financial value. Everyone I talk to these days acknowledges it. Food has a money value. Gas has a money value. Trust has a money value. Art has a money value. We never realized abstractions have value until we found out how much they're worth. That's what marketing and advertising is for.

You know what's not being a "conscious citizen"? Sharing information that is only partially or exclusively false. Sharing sentiments online. Yes, you can debate policy and procedure until you've proven your point but isn't that kind of the problem? We, as citizens, need to take concrete action.

To be a conscious citizen I always advocate that you vote. It is your privilege (but also kind of your duty) to vote. Express your opinion in a way that matters. Another way I advocate being a conscious citizen is by marching. I have a friend who attended the March for Science. My older sister attended the March for Women. Those are perfect examples of people going out and speaking their mind with a loud, verbal outcry. A third method (and one I advocate consistently) is: watch your money. 

Look, I know it sounds a little dumb but being a conscious consumer is critical to influencing your world around you. Allow me to give you an example:

I try to only watch movies at The Alamo Drafthouse. For those unaware the Drafthouse is a cinema eatery that started in Austin, TX. They screen older movies every month. They host sing-alongs, quote-alongs, and themed movie parties. They feature local Texas beers and a wide menu of quality food. Recently the Drafthouse in Austin offered a screening of Wonder Woman for women only. Which received a collective outcry from little Men's online ego's all over. And you know what I loved most about all of this? Not only was the Drafthouse unapologetic, not only did the screening sell out (prompting a second, sold out screening), but the Alamo Drafthouse facebook page took the time to comment on several vitriolic posts. Here's my favorite movie chain, supporting a feminist cause, screening a feminist movie, and gloating over it. Using online men's trolling form against them. It's a bit drastic, but I can't help enjoy the pure schadenfreude of it all. I wanna give them my dollar, my dime, my penny. Whatever I can. To ensure they stay in business as long as possible.

Our world revolves around consumption. Whether it's beer, brussel sprouts, or HBO we 'consume' and thus add to the value of certain industries. Wonder Woman is my favorite example of this. Not enough women in Hollywood? Is there a surprising gap in female-led movies compared to male-led movies? Can female-centric action thrive? Take one look at the crushing, economic blow WW dealt to those ideas and you'll quickly understand that female led movies are AWESOME! By spending our dollars on a single movie we've guaranteed more Wonder Woman movies as well as any extra flicks they can get.

Being a conscious consumer involves understanding where our products come from. How does our chicken supplier raise their chickens? Where exactly do those eggs come from? I shop at Aldi's not only because it has ridiculously cheap prices, but also because it supports local Texas farmers and growers. I like their message and I try to support them by shopping their exclusively. Think about your gas. Where does it come from? How do they extract it? I can tell you it isn't easy or painless.

We aren't powerless. In fact we carry more power than we can imagine in our pockets. Our dollar goes so much further than we think. Imagine if we all stopped buying gas from Shell or Texaco or Mobil until they promised to follow strict safety guidelines. Our gas prices would go up, but they would abide by these practices until that changed. 

Here's a better example: think about McDonald's. 

They were the premiere fast food company for decades. They salted their fries better than Burger King, Wendy's, or any other burger joint. But what happened when Supersize Me came out? It started a national debate about health topics. McDonald's sales went down and they were forced to adapt. Think about it: there wasn't a salad on McDonald's menus until everybody realized how horrific fast food is to your body.

Do some research.
Find some favorites.
Compromise where you need to.

If you're anything like me you probably can't fully afford the best, cleanest versions of everything out there. I understand you have to buy gas and you may not have a choice. But if we all took a little extra time to understand what we're buying when we buy it, we'd realize we're buying not just a product but endorsing the system of production, distribution, and consumption. We vote with our dollars as much as our actual votes.

We carry responsibility for being consumers.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Picking Back Up

I'm back. As in settled. As in home, happy, and filled with purpose. I admit: the journey took much longer than I thought I would. In fact, sometimes I look around me and conceive of a different time and place where I still exist. I often feel like I'll wake up from some elaborate day dream I'm having. My eyes will snap to and there I'll be: on the cliff-side in Lima, feet dangerously close to the edge, peering past the ocean towards the skyline. What have I been doing? You might have heard some of it, but nowhere near enough to tell the full story.

Let's see, I came home at the end of August. I was home three short weeks. Long enough to move into a new house, greet all my old friends, tell everyone how much I missed them, and play some frisbee. Then I left for Ghost Ranch to debrief about my experience as a YAV. Through copious worksheets I came to understand my experience was only the tip of the iceberg. Hiking through box canyons surrounded by my fellow YAVs talking about what we felt we learned to cope just a little bit more. During the debriefing I experienced my very own prejudices and realized just how deeply my own privilege ran. I felt extremely defeated. How do you complain about privilege when that is, in and of itself, a privilege? I'm glad my YAV friends were there. They helped pick me up, and I returned home with a new outlook on life.

Then, after twelve hours back in Dallas I hit the road again. I served as a translator for Pastor Luis Miguel Fernando. He's a Colombian pastor for the Presbyterian church in Bogota. He helped broker a peace deal between the guerilla army (the FARC) and the government. We toured Phoenix, AZ as well as Knoxville, TN and finishing in Wausau, WI. It was a fantastic job! I learned so much about the country I returned to. I learned about the armed conflict in Colombia. I made a new life-long friend in the Pastor. It was a fantastic way to taste the Presbyterian church outside of Texas. While I generally enjoyed myself the work of translating proved exhausting and by the end of the trip I missed my home.

Following the adventures around the US I settled back home. That's when the real existential crisis set in. I now had to find employment. I had to purchase a car. I moved into this new house with several roommates and no plan on paying rent or utilities or groceries. Well, I found work as a server at The Rustic. It's this country bar and grill. I've been serving there for four months now. After I found employment I managed to get a car loan to purchase a car. I did that for several months and attempted to normalize my life.

It's only just now, after being home for seven months can I say I feel remotely at home. Things are different for me. I'm not a college student like my roommates so we run on different schedules. I prioritize my career over many things. I can't quite seem to get a date. More importantly my outlook has equalized a bit. Allow me to explain.

In YAV we talk about privilege. How deep it runs. How we can utilize it to our advantage. How the work we do isn't impactful on anyone other than ourselves. We explain the value of the experience. After a year of learning the true boundaries of my privilege (and a painful reminder one time at Ghost Ranch) I see all the privileges everyone me exploits on a day-to-day basis. I found myself retracting from friends who have no idea the damage they're doing. I could feel the microagressions. I could see all the little things happening around me that demonstrated a power dynamic. What could I say? It was an oddly helpless feeling. Instead I felt myself sinking into the old traps of life-before-YAV. Especially after working in a restaurant. A LOT of filters I had thoughtfully created were slowly removed while I worked there. So now I'm a bit lost.

This time, I'm okay with being lost. I just worked my first professional film set. I actually kinda knew what I was doing. I'm a generally functioning adult. I've got aspirations and plans. I find ways to feel fulfilled. I still haven't exactly scored the date I was looking for, but there's still time.

Don't expect much from this blog anymore. I intend to write, but I don't intend to edit. It's just- I still have stories to tell. Often they relate back to my YAV year. Sometimes they don't. Read on, if you like. The adventures get much more exciting and equally mundane from here on out.