Memorial Day

Today I want to take a moment to remember what our lives were like, a moment to think about what they are like, moments to imagine what they could be.

As I drove to work this morning I saw Poplar getting ready for it’s big Memorial Day Parade and I felt that familiar sense of escape, or duck-and-cover when the national anthem, the pledge of allegiance, or days like this come around.

I want to acknowledge the enormous and ultimate sacrifices made by many in the good faith of freedom. But I want to hide from what I experience the reality of that freedom to be. I want to acknowledge that perhaps all this time we have been fighting for something else, for someone(s) other than the us and our honorable ideals. I want to acknowledge that sometimes, under the guise of something beautiful, hides something rotten. That perhaps it is not a foundation of freedom that secures The United States of America, but a core of selfishness under a facade of marketing.

It is currently true that our history, battled and bloodied, repeats itself. You can walk around the cemetery, talk to your relatives, or just read cross-generationally. But it is not true that it has to in the same stained ways. Cycles, however stable, can be interrupted. So then under my duck-and-cover I am left questioning, why and how? Why do we continue to fight these endless wars, to sacrifice our sons and daughters for ideals that seem ever distant? What is the outcome to all this input of idealism, of sweat, blood, and commitment? How can our means more closely match our ends?

What if our Nation’s short history repeats itself because we’re really fighting for something other than freedom? What if it’s because we fight for the financial stability of a shrinking number of elites? And what if their stability comes at the cost of our freedom? I am left wondering what these elites are doing today. I know they are most likely not honoring their fallen family members, and I find that telling.

It is a privilege not to serve this country. It is a privilege to take advantage of it, and it’s people. I hope I live to see a Memorial Day where privilege is not a precondition to freedom. I hope I live to see a Memorial Day where selfishness is not the stepping stone to success, and elected office is not the profitable shield worn to insulate oneself from the tragedy of others.

Today, and tomorrow, as I sit at work and earnestly put in my hours towards equitable education as a tool for freedom I pray our minds will be opened. I pray I am not alone in my feelings of uncertainty surrounding our country’s fictitious foundations, our fundamentalism, our nationalism. I pray, without a clear notion of who I am speaking to, but a certain knowing that in dire times it is all one is left to do. I pray for those who have lost everything in the fallen lives of their family and friends. I pray for those who have given the most they could to our insatiable country. Finally I pray for the ones who have no one to remember and to honor today. I pray that someday they can feel honest honor for themselves.

Idealism is a beautiful tool, and a dangerous weapon. As I look backwards and forwards I hope one day we are equally as diligent about education as we are currently about death and destruction. Because without a foundation of deeply critical education our idealism rules over us, is manipulating us, and is killing us. We are not free, regardless of how many have laid down their lives for that ideal, but that doesn’t mean that one day we can’t be.

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Yeah, I Scoop Ice Cream

Yeah I am 24 with a MA in journalism and media studies and I scoop ice cream for a living. Well a pseudo-istilllivewithmywonderfulandpriveledgedparents-living.

I get that you don’t think I am doing what I should be doing with my education. You’re not alone. In fact the people who think I am on the right path are alone. So, you’re among the many. Thats cool. But also, I am so glad I feel alone sometimes, with my overpowered and ‘under-utilized’ grad degree brain, because the many never looks as happy as that little girl I get to notice as she continuously and enthusiastically covers the surrounds of her mouth with melted chocolate pudding ice cream. The many often seem too busy for such silly simple pleasures.

Today I am having a date with myself, with one of my ‘demons’ as Yumi Sakugawa (http://www.yumisakugawa.com) would call her: my time demon. It’s just me and time at the dining room table, yes my parent’s dining room table, chewing down on some golden, crisp, and flakey chocolate croissants that I’ve spent the last week making. Time and I are figuring it all out, as much as we can, which isn’t even close to all of it. Rather we are making inroads, as the next batch of croissants is butter-bubbling away in the oven, the next room over, and smelling up the entire house.

Yeah, my life is good. Like pretty fucking fantastic. Yeah, I could probably get another job that would cost me more time and pay equal money, where I could ‘use’ my degree to relentlessly tell the world what was going on without the time or space to string an ounce of connection, community, or wisdom through it – or I could sit in the morning before my next shift at Bluebird and just be eternally grateful that this afternoon I get to spoon rainbow sprinkles on top of a kid’s ice cream cone as they practically climb over the counter to me in inpatient excitement.

What is great about serving ice cream is that there is an incredible amount of love and magic in it, every shift, every day. Time and I are feeling pretty damn good about that.

Sickness Part II – Again with Gay Marriage

What is really great about mainstream and public media is its ability to spark outrage, to reach deep down into our guts and get us upset in an unquenchable way that keeps us going back for more vicarious living. It’s the Doritos effect, also known as addictively unhealthy and socially unsustainable profit, also known as capitalism. What is really not great about any bit of this media is that it portrays a spectrum of disappointing truths, meaning that the world itself is upsetting – Also meaning the world is not upsetting, because nothing can exist without its opposite. Physics.

Today, I have been writing my thesis on alternative media and social movement theory, where the two collide and often overlap, which gets me excited about the not upsetting parts of our planet: the people who make life a work in process and progress not profit.

This week, we all voted over here in the beautiful United States of America, and if some of us didn’t we don’t really matter. America is a ‘democracy’, the personal is political, and if you don’t engage in your politics, however frustrating, you’re dismissing parts of your power. Anyways, the results are in, we still have a brilliantly bought two party system of wealthy and out of touch elected officials that have no clue how to solve the majority’s problems, because alas, they are the minority.

Unfortunately, while I was taking a study break today with NPR, I came across the headline: Gay Marriage Bans Upheld in Four States by Circuit Court (http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2014/11/06/362105290/gay-marriage-bans-are-upheld-in-4-states-by-circuit-court). My initial and audible response was ‘Are we really still deciding if its okay for people to love each other?’. Apparently, yes. Awww 2014 US democracy, you beautiful, undereducated, ignorant, and fearful beast.

What I think would be really great is if people could mind their own business with regards to other people’s personal lives, unless of course their personal lives are putting others in harms way. But in this case, the case of the sinning lovers, I don’t see any universal harm. If anything, the pure lovers will end up in a less crowded paradise – their heaven. Who can complain about zero population or strategically wiping out poor people to rid ourselves of a resource problem? Ingenious.

Ultimately, I’m pretty frustrated with the world these days because voting makes you evaluate your options, and I can’t stop realizing how much my options suck. I am left wondering how we are going to move forward because I can’t stop finding examples of arrogant people, in places of power, denying others their rights to dignity.

Tomorrow I am hoping to wake up as Will Smith, in a subversive version of Men in Black where I can funnel my frustration into revenge with the use of all his great gadgets and ridiculously fast cars. Or perhaps it would be better to wake up as Barack Obama, but a Barack Obama who is internally Edward Snowden. Probably it would just be best to wake up as Sarah Palin, because I hear Russia is beautiful, Jesus is all-forgiving, and ignorance is bliss.

23 and Falling in Love with Uncertainty

It has been difficult being home. 23 feels weird – and I am probably dealing with a bit of reverse culture shock, but I am resistant to the ugliness of that term. It should rather be called morning. There is more subtly in it than shock. At 23 I feel like I have woken up to a battered world majority where an isolated group of abusers continue to deify and isolate themselves in money. Often, I feel stuck in a sea of problems with their roots on elevated and unreachable land.

At 23 I am sulky and disgruntled and walking with Mom around Gas Works Park waiting to pick up Jess Spear election fliers to pass around North Seattle neighborhoods. Mom is concerned, because she is a Mom and her daughter looks spark-less. She says she just wants to help. I know that. I just want to help too, but I feel lost. I’m 23 and a lot of the time I feel lost. We run into a ‘stranger’, running the stairs at Gasworks who says ‘you know you love a place when you love it in idleness’. He is right idleness is a test of personal stability. Its easy to avoid yourself in the hustle. In this 23 year old idleness my mind wanders into the great unknown that is my future and feels small in a society that reacts to grandeur.

But then, last night at Town Hall I listened to an 8 person panel from a continent 1.11 billion: Africa. I immediately felt warmer hearing a series of familiar accents: thick Afrikaans, Nigerian, Ugandan, Zimbabwean. They were food sovereignty leaders, who for the first time in my life, publicly echoed my deep distrust of Bill Gates. From the beginning voices of the food sovereignty summit, and the mention of Gate’s name in disrespect, I felt bigger. It was the feeling of solidarity, grandeur by the connection of one to many.

I wonder if Gate’s feels that too, that extremely vulnerable unconditional love that reminds you why you’re living. The love that permeates a room of integrity, a love that tears away the strangeness of strangers, and reminds you that you are never alone. At 23, swimming in a sea of soot from a diseased mainland and the salt of solidarity I make a daily decision to continue on because of the people around me, our togetherness. Life is breathed into me by the spirit of us and our commitment to each other.

Mom wrote a blog post this week about getting aquatinted with yourself and all your little pieces, internal solidarity. I read it and felt a bit more whole. At 23 I still know myself. I feel lost sometimes and uncomfortable with oneness in a society that often isolates through individualism but then I go to church and meet a 98 year old woman who is up and walking, and talking, and listening to a fellow church goer describe the growth process in kid’s rejection of their parents. At 98, she sits and listens with ears of another time, patiently engaging in a weekly community of faith and strength. I know I can trust myself to go to Church, Town Hall and various other public places and listen to others listen to others. It is in these lessons of quiet mouthes and open minds that remind me Bill Gates does not know the power of unconditional love.

I’m 23 and sometimes grumpy but I know that success and grandeur come in different forms, and that I am only as lost as I allow myself to define the boundaries of ‘found’.

When People Die, Happy Tears Aside

If you start your week on Sundays, mine began with a wedding and then slid quickly towards three nationally based and internationally discussed deaths. The wedding was a beautiful celebration, as things are when loving sweaty work is put into them. The deaths were more like warnings, as things become when fear is neglectfully filed away for the unrealized courage of yet another day.

When Amy came walking up the grassy aisle, arm and arm with her beaming father, I couldn’t help but cry: nose running, I wish I didn’t have this much make-up on tears. She was radiant with a love nurtured for six years on a day when she would again mark a commitment to companionship and unity. She was making a decision, with good natured faith that demanded joy, all the ceremony-silenced tears of it.

When people die I don’t often cry. In fact, I think I might be more of a happy crier than a sad one. It could be that sadness does not surprise me as much, underwhelming in its frequency. Or it could be that death seems unceremoniously internalized. In this sense my tears are to be shared with those still breathing to illicit and bear witness to them, saved as a sort of communion.

Instead, when people die I often grow internally silent. A silence that waits for reason. A silence that is necessarily receptive to any external evidence for making sense. More often the sense is the same, terminal illnesses aside, people die because death is more naturalized than courage.

When the world morns with the noise of a shockingly remembered vitality I try to remain in a sustainable balance of acknowledgement, reflection and humble unknowing. This silence reminds me that I too am breathing with life. My daily beginnings must not be in the hastiness of reaction but in the understanding of continuation, ready for loving sweaty work underway now and necessarily to come.

Paris: the expected and then unexpected disappointment

I hadn’t exactly been enthusiastic about this current detour in France on my way home from four years on and off in South Africa. I had reservations about the French, speaking French and spending way more Euros than I would like to mentally convert on food and shelter, albeit not my own. By the time we reached the Johannesburg airport my expectations for the next leg of the journey had hit an all time low, to the point of ungrateful brat status. If I were to justify them I might say it was the culmination of all my sadness of leaving South Africa filtered into French resentment.

Regardless, one whisky and some horrible AirFrance food later and I came to my good senses. I love traveling with Mom, she always seems to bring out a light in people, holding that people are the point of life and travel. I was suddenly aware an adventure in France with her would be no different than any other. Going to a new place in the world was an incredible opportunity for adventure and growth.

The plane landed in Charles de Gaul at 5:50am, still neither of us spoke French, but we were ready to embrace our awkward accents and see all we could taking to the city on foot. Two days later I can honestly say my previous justification for Parisian distaste might have been a combination of just that sadness, as well as a well oiled intuition. For a city that is noted as the most well visited in the world, few to no Parisians seem to recognize the benefits of customer service or even a well timed smile. Instead they are proficient in english translation fees subliminally added into bland foreigner menus and stiff upper lips that look like they haven’t spoken a loving word in years. Yesterday was Bastille day, we were on the streets and in the Louvre for 6 hours, we met four friendly foreigners and I saw one Parisian man smile.

Happiness and gratitude here seem hard to come by for a country that has a handful of street people, physically harmless petty theft and some of the most beautiful architecture and notable art works in the world. But again I have only been here for three days. What I do know is that it took me a whisky and some terrible food to engage on a bit of beneficial self-reflection so perhaps the Parisians should trade out their insider menus for our overpriced foreigner ones, have a drink and practice exercising their appreciation based smile muscles. I was never one for faking it, air appreciation that is, but I have also never experienced such levels of seemingly misplaced dreariness. Regardless, I am increasingly more excited and grateful for home.

Why I Don’t Have White Guilt

A week or so ago now my roommates and I, 3 white university students, were having a conversation about white guilt. The conversation had started somewhere around the african-ness of white africans and landed squarely in questions of identity formation, specifically tied to geographic location or nation states. Ideas of alienation, otherness and guilt filled the kitchen as we all danced around each other simultaneously making dinner and consuming dessert. My mind drifted backwards and forwards to various points in my short life when these presently tossed around conclusions held weight. I was reminded of the constructive nature of reflection, a moments pause, and the gifts of contextualizing the present. 

I found myself thinking back to freshman year in Costa Rica, past the overall remembrance of what a roller coaster that was personally and academically, to the specifics of how I saw myself in the greater world. I remember feeling ostracized for being American, as if the weight of US history rested on my shoulders. I remember finding it difficult to trust others, because of prevalent crime, clumsy spanish, and an overall knowledge that to most I represented a politics that was most unfriendly. I remember feeling guilty about and angry with my country, as I accepted it as definitive of myself. It seemed the more I learned about our history, as individual nations and as neighbors, the more isolated I felt. In the end of my time in Costa Rica I took solace in something that was completely removed from the unsettling stigmas of the world, surfing. I remember thinking, this is the closest I will ever get to paradise, to a place where I am an accepted stranger and we are all just riding off the beautiful mysterious gifts of nature, a world of political irrelevance. 

That paradise, and the love I found in the ocean introduced me to a man around which I formed many more memories, a South African. And I remember sitting with him one day in Durban trying to have a conversation, about what I cannot specifically remember, but at a certain moment I was at a loss for words. My opinion was swept up inside me with no politically correct position for release and I vividly remember this South African’s assurance in me. I remember him saying, ‘Just say it. I trust you, trust yourself and your good intentions. If it seems problematic to me I can question you on it later’. When I learned to trust myself in whole, as existing beyond a physical representation of structures outside of me, as an individual with reflective, proactive and discursive agency I was free. And in that moment I could find a similar piece of surfing paradise in the city, because the paradise was not solely the beach, the paradise was a foundation of respect for one another and our common humanity. 

What I learned that day and continue to hold true is a belief in myself, as a person outside of the history of national politics, often even in objection to them. What I know about this world is that it is necessarily unequal. Just many connected larger versions of an instance in childhood when my best friend got a bike for Christmas and I didn’t. Sameness is impossible, and we will always have to confront the discomforts of difference, which are undoubtably and uncomfortably more than mere ownership of a bike. But I have met too many people to believe that I or they don’t belong. What I felt in Costa Rica was a rejection of unconstrained capitalism, of imperialism, of oppression, not of me. It was hate, probably well guided yet misplaced hate. Because, what none of us could see as Costa Ricans and Americans, blinded by the misappropriation of national politics for personhood, is that we agreed with each other. That inside each one of us was not a political party’s manifesto, a corporate drive for unconstrained profit compromising social or cultural sustainability, or a fundamentally compromising allegiance to our singular skin color, but a person who by some incredible happenstance landed on this earth situated in a national history and amongst a family outside of their choosing. A person, who like all persons, most fundamentally spends their days just trying to eat.

On Having Your Best Days

I have been blog-avoiding for a while now. It is probably more apt to call it neglect. In any case, I have been living the in-person life with the occasional Skype date and letter writing session. Without the internet writing I have been moving and reading and speaking and looking and sitting in my head. Mostly, I have been enjoying beautiful days, distractingly beautiful days. Those days that draw you into the physicality of the world where key-typed words feel far off, foreign.

Life started to feel more saturated the moment I stepped off the plane in Joburg. That instantaneous feeling of being “home” again for perhaps the last time in a long while. Six more months, goodbye was startlingly imminent. Voices sounded sweeter, my reaction to frowns shifted from resentment to acceptance, frustrations turned quirky, life moved quicker. “ Presence”—that age-old self-help nonsense preached by capitalists parading around as selfless gurus that the overworked and overstressed consume at every opportunity—hit me over the head. Lately, I feel so incredibly fortunate when I wake up in the morning, when a stranger says hello to me, when I sit down to read for my thesis, when my roommates come home, when six teenagers show up to my photography class. The gratitude is effortless and un-ignorable.

Life and its multitudes of experiences both begin and end. Beginnings, with their newness, are often filled with sensory experimentation and enjoyment. Endings, with their historical significance, feel much the same. I was sitting on campus on the 19th of March, my 23rd Birthday, waiting for the vice chairperson of our Amnesty International society to meet me, so we could go over the notes from the prior meeting, which he had missed. He was half an hour late. The sun was shining, I was listening to music and reading, waiting. This continuation of my enjoyment startled me, and I was reminded of a time two years earlier in Durban—sitting on the pavement, shedding storm tears because my photography students were either late or just not coming. Those tears stemmed from disappointment with my students and the world at large. I had such big expectations, stressing-ly utopic hopes for our world.

Today, the race to perfection is gone, or rather imperfection has just taken over perfections unattained significance. Now as I wait for my students to stop talking in class, I know, with some unfounded degree of certainty, that I am doing the best that I can, that they are too, that everything else is outside our control. I think gratitude slides into life with the freedom of these feelings. Some days are unbearably hot, and that basic fact of breathing and feeling, the sweat and thick air, makes them the best days we can and will ever have.

Limited

The turbulence puts my pen to paper again. I have been writing and rewriting this post for the past two months, unsatisfied. This one however will be my final rewrite. I will do all I can to chase my mind away from thoughts of pee consistently jostled about by ill timed clouds and air-hosts with little faith in passengers balance.

10 hours before home and I have just watched the most remarkable story unfold before my eyes. I always know I like a movie when I have to pause it, for airline ‘food’, and realize I am already an hour in. The Great Gatsby, timing is everything. You see I haven’t found eloquence lately because I have been distracted. My heart has been hurting in an eerily silent and blinding way.

Three years ended in an insignificant instant and I was left pondering a phrase on a greeting card I had bought sometime back: your heart hurts because it wasn’t in the shape you thought it was. It was one of those cards I bought only partially understanding and fully hoping for the continuation of that partial comprehension. Yet, certainly a depth and breadth of life experience is useful and I have been spending these past few weeks reacquainting with myself and that heart, understanding the card. I apologize for the delay.

I vividly remember a dinner table conversation from when I was 13, angsty. I had realized a conflict in two of my Mother’s pearls of wisdom: between the ideal that anything with love, determination and dedication is possible and her remark that perhaps not everyone, regardless of an abundance of all three, could make it to the olympic national soccer team. We are not limitless.

I recently reached an insurmountable boundary and had been avoiding its confrontation while basking in an optimism that obscured the shape of my heart. In the noise of life what I wanted and what I needed had quietly divorced. Neglecting the present, I clung to memories and expired significance of the past.

There are so many uplifting cliches about love and life and yet sometimes despite how relentlessly you want something or someone it just doesn’t happen. The Great Gatsby is literary and cinematic reminder. Reality, in its entirety, is never a graspable one-liner. These past few months I have been trying to catch up with myself, the present, learning that boundaries exist and sometimes we fail.

Dead Alive

A classmate and I recently started a revolutionary book club, revolutionary in content not structure. Currently, we are reading Hitler. We meet every two weeks and digest bits of what we’ve read and inevitably end up translating Hitler’s meaning into contemporary contexts. Last week we got onto the topic of control after reading a rather succinct chapter on propaganda. Khanyile, my classmate, noted how at ease Robert Mugabe, the president of Zimbabwe, was with controlling people by overt force: death, disappearance, detention. He then contrasted this to the covert wielding of power in the United States, “you are all already dead, alive but dead”. These eight words, while physically nonsensical, made complete sense. This is what I was trying to say when I wrote about the dead man, blood spilling from his head in the Durban intersection. This is what I meant when I talked about the vitality in discomfort. Khanyile reminded me you can be dead alive.  

Vitality is the word I use when people ask me why South Africa. Beyond the manageable higher education costs, the people of this country captured me. People address each other on the streets, engage in conversations about race, politics, and religion with strangers, consciously acknowledge the life within humanity. I saw a courage in South Africans, a courage that they wore seemingly unknowingly. I used to attribute this vitality to their youthful democracy. They were vibrantly alive because they knew what democracy and freedom meant to them, they knew what it was to live without it. This was shortsighted. South Africans were necessarily conscious before the coming of democracy, and harnessed this awareness to progress into freedom. They consciously contested before political institutions legalized it.  

I used to link vitality to a historic and political circumstance, but South Africans bear better news: vitality is within us, graspable, regardless of circumstance. Americans could be complacent and apathetic because the living generations were not personally engaged with the struggle of politics and freedom, but most important Americans choose to be complacent and apathetic, inherently meaning that we could choose otherwise. Our complacency and vitality is not solely dependent on historic circumstance. 

I get this little high after talking to strangers, even a hello, or better a compliment, just generally recognition. When walking to school I pass a guard house and unintentionally give the guard on duty a fright as I come around a corner of a construction fence, unexpected. Surprised and smiling he says, ‘Hi Mama’ and we both have a laugh. We share an unexpected moment, instantly and subconsciously assessing our intentions, we acknowledge our shared humanity. We don’t know each other, but we do. If either of us were dead a moment before, we are now sufficiently alive. We woke each other up. 

Maybe its the cloudy cold, the mechanization and digitization of previously face to face social interaction, and the comfort of routine, but I find myself smiling less with strangers back home. There is less eye contact. There is the observably deplored smalltalk. There is this unspoken and under-appreciated obligation to living, ‘another Monday’. Life in South Africa isn’t seamless or predictable because it is alive. ‘You never know’, an often used expression sums it up quite concisely. This unknowing is the birthplace of curiosity and daily engagement. The more we presume we have answers and the authority that precedes them, the more we run from our unstable humility, the more we concentrate on knowing the less alive we become. We will never know, and that is the beginning of living.