A List, If You Will

I’ve been thinking a lot about money lately. What I have, what I don’t have, what I’d like to have. Why I choose to spend money on certain things when I don’t know that I really want them. How to prioritize better. How I want to make money. Why I can’t just have money. I can’t quite figure it out- all I really want out of life are food, travel, and books. This shouldn’t really be that hard do and yet I have all these cravings I can’t satisfy. Maybe when I say that I’ve been thinking about money, what I really mean is that I’ve been thinking about food, and books, and travel. I do that a lot.

………………………………

Eventually in Supernatural, Sam and Dean will reach the nexus of good and evil, when the best thing they can do for the world is hang up their bloody demon-killing knives and their holy oil, and live that apple pie life that they keep trying and failing at. They just play at too high a level. When Death is on your speed dial, when both Heaven and Hell have turned you out, when Lucifer seems a paltry villain compared to your current adversaries, your fight is probably going to do more harm than good.

When all that’s true, and you’re still willing to bring the world to its knees to save your brother, when his beating heart and breathing lungs are still your top priority, well then you know your battles are going to do more harm than good.

…………………………..

“The sea!” the note said. “The sea!”

It was not signed, and said nothing of where he was going or when he would be back or why he must leave. Still, Ned’s father knew all the same.

IMG_1191The sea
meant I love you.

The sea
meant I will one day return.

The sea meant I must find the world and hold the world and live in the world. And I must love the world. And love it and love it and love it. As much as I love you.

In his mind’s eye he could see his son – the boy, the youth, the man – standing in the midst of limitless space. Water, wind, sky. The core of the earth. The slice of the mountains. The roof of the stars. The pulse and rhythm of the ocean’s ceaseless waves.

Ned’s father pressed the note to his heart. He closed his eyes. Tasted his own saltwater tears.

The sea!

                              –The Witch’s Boy by Kelly Barnhill

…………………………

Music was the offering you gave to the empty places you created. I wonder if it still is. I wonder if the price is still too high.

…………………………….

We play a lot of Disney music in the store I work in. And I always find myself feeling weirdly guilty when “Do You Wanna Build a Snowman?” or “For the First Time in Forever” from Frozen come on. I over identify with Elsa, closed off and too cautious and too protective. Kelly is Anna, my red headed, messy, determined sister. The parallels aren’t perfect, for reasons both subtle and obvious, but still when Anna starts singing about missing Elsa, who is hiding from her, or about her loneliness, I get a little secondhand twitch.

When I told Kelly that she said, “Well that’s cause you’re Dean.”

…………….

There will be peace when we are done, but we aren’t done yet.

Science The Sh*t Out Of This

Look at this sad, sad man on this sad, sad, planet

Look at this sad, sad man on this sad, sad, planet

I recently stayed up all night finishing The Martian by Andy Weir, a book about how a man, Mark Watney, gets trapped on Mars and his quest to survive and return to Earth. It was an excellent book and a unique read; not many science fiction books flat out explain to science and reasoning behind their ideas or plot points. But every single turn, Weir gave the readers a detailed account  of Watney’s survival and rescue. We are given a layman’s explanation, which only draws us more deeply into the story, as we can mentally work through the problems Watney faces with him.

Basically it’s a book about how to science your way off of Mars after you’ve been stranded there. And it’s awesome. I’ve talked about my love of Space on this blog before (remember this?). Space – it’s the final frontier as Gene Roddenberry so kindly made aware for us. This is what makes Space – and in turn The Martian – so interesting to me.

My STEM skills are basic at best. Every time a math problem or principle complicated a lesson (which was a lot) then the subject matter quickly got away from me. But despite this I always loved science. I loved what happened when you saw an experiment play out, after analyzing what you thought your materials would do. I liked predicting and I liked problem solving. Science can be so creative and that’s what I was drawn to, the creativity of making something out of, seemingly, nothing. It’s almost like it’s magic!

But The Martian reminds us that there is nothing magic-like at all about science and how it plays into our everyday lives. It’s not an over-complicated system of ideas or an secret code that only a few can crack. It’s about understanding how the smallest parts of our universe interact with each other, and how that affects the lives we lead everyday. Maybe I couldn’t have come up with any of the life-saving ideas that Watney did, but I can understand them and his reasoning behind those decisions. It’s just such a fascinating mixture of science report and dramatic novel – I haven’t read a book like this in quite a while; a book that demands concentration and understanding of the reader, but also does it’s utmost to get the reader to understand and comprehend exactly what’s going on. It’s science fiction, with the science fully explained.

For someone like me, this is gold. But I think it can be gold for everyone. Science is really cool and can be really exciting! Things can explode, or break apart, or change properties because of one small chemical reaction. Hell, our entire universe as we know it was probably created by a small chemical reaction. Remember when I talked about how it’s a miracle you’re even here, because of all the small things that had to happen for humans to even exist? This book reminds me of the same sentiment, made even more relevant as it’s a story about survival and rescue and beating the odds.

This is a thread that’s presents itself throughout most Science Fiction books and entertainment. We are a society that like high stakes, that enjoys watching things blow up. We have (mostly) rational minds and can follow problems and understand basic principles – but it’s the drama and ultimately the fight that’s created in narratives like The Martian that keep us coming back. We continually place our protagonists in increasingly more desperate situations, and they continually fight back, using only their mind and the resources available to them. At the heart of it all, The Martian, like a lot of science fiction, is an inspiring tale of what it takes to escape an impossible situation. And that, I think, is the most important message any book can give us.

Really, The Martian only makes me wish I had better science and math skills. I want to know that I, too, can be abandoned on Mars and live to tell the tale. Of course this is immediately not possible because I require glasses/contacts to see, and that’s not a variable NASA wants to deal with. For now I will settle for seeing the movie 5 or 6 times.

Viva La Revolution!

201111032109-pk1811-redolutionAt the gym, I become a communist.

Normally, I’m a pretty well brainwashed capitalist. For example, I believe we need to pay everyone a living wage. I believe that if your business can’t pay a living wage you should not be in business. I don’t think that business should be tied to your identity and your sense of self, but I do believe your business should probably be forced out if you can’t afford to pay people a living wage.

See, capitalism? Competition, individualism, the market wants what it wants and it will get what it gets. And I can be a good liberal too!

Before I started grad school (bear with me here, it’ll all make sense in a minute) I worked for a professional association for special education teachers. It was a very well meaning organization, but there will people there who had been working there longer than I’ve been alive. It took our department 6 months to get a twitter account because we were waiting for approval from the Executive Director. Working there drove me a little bit crazy.

Never before had I really understood how far removed we’ve become from the means of production. There I was, going to the same cubicle every day, writing blog posts and filing expense reports, filling out paper time sheets and sending email after email after email after email after email after email after…

I’m sorry, where was I?

Despite the well intentioned organization, its near century of doing good work for special education teachers, it was pretty clear at that point that my entire job was made up. If I stopped showing up, if the organization folded, nothing bad would happen. No one would lose out except for special education teachers who might miss out on some advocacy that they would probably be able to handle themselves. The whole machinery of lobbyists and advocacy itself is something we’ve invented. People with money made it up to make more money by representing people with money. Sometimes people with less money (like special education teachers) also have lobbyists, but that’s because they have to compete with the people with the money. Who invented jobs to make more money.

You see where I’m going with this? Capitalism!

After a long day of doing made up work in the gears of a machinery I had no hand in creating and no emotional investment in, I needed to burn some energy or I’d go nuts. So what did I do?

I went and ran in place for half an hour. My body, which had come into being honed for growing things, for hunting my dinner and building my shelter (I told you it drove me a little crazy), ran nowhere for half an hour to stave off the insanity of sitting all day doing work that no one needed me to do, that contributed nothing to my life or my sense of self besides allowing me to pay my rent, and my student loans; that contributed nothing to anyone’s quality of life.

No wonder I’m a little gun shy about the 9-5 grind.

At the store I’m working at now, when people hand me money, I give them something. A tangible thing that I think will make their kids’ lives better. And in grad school, I can’t say I was making anyone else’s life better, but man did I love it. And there was the teaching, which at least theoretically was supposed to make the 18 year olds lives’ better, or help them make the world better. Or something.

So over Christmas, I’m going to Australia for a month. And when I get back I have no idea what I’m going to do. But if I end up in an office I might end up back on a treadmill. And who knows what kind of revolutions I’ll be starting then.

Maybe I’ll just stay in Australia…

photo credit.

What’s Next

fiduciary-standard-whats-next-waddell-ia0914-mi600-resize-600x338

I come home and all I want to do is sit, have a drink, watch some tv. Working hard, and working late means that I don’t have the time I used to. I basically went from being at home all the time with access to the outside world and a host of activities – to a working women who spends all her time answering emails. Since I started my job I have had much less time to work out, to write, to cook proper meals.

And so last week when I was faced at the prospect of writing a blog post about something I wasn’t that interested in, I shut down. I didn’t write a word. I figured Sara had skipped a week before so I could do this time. So I let it be and Thursday passed by and no one died! I thought it would feel good to take a break, to let myself get used to the routine of my job. But instead of feeling relaxed, I had a nagging feeling that I couldn’t shake. In a sense, I felt guilty for flaking. This is a project that Sara and I believe in and soon want to expand. Why shouldn’t I relish every moment I get to write whatever I want each week?

What this has made me realize is that, it is important to do things you don’t necessarily want to, but that are good for you. Maybe I didn’t want to write my blog post, but establishing routines when you’re tired or you’re sad or you’re uninspired, is really hard. There are so many ways that you can excuse yourself from responsibilities that have no real consequences. Who’s going to yell at me for not posting? Certainly not my boss. But I believe that’s the wrong way of looking at this. I don’t want to be someone who can’t finish something, or can’t see a project through. That’s not how one becomes successful.

But being aware of your crap and actually trying to overcome your crap are two very different things (thanks Grey’s Anatomy). It kind of sucks when I look back at the last couple of posts that I’ve written and I see my posts as one-note.I feel like a person who complains about having no time, one who constantly laments on the struggle that comes with needing both money and flexibility. But I don’t want to talk about that any more. I want to talk about things that matter and things that inspire me, not things that make me feel tired or frustrated. And there are going to be nights that I don’t want to write or don’t think I have time. But it’s what I want to do because it’s what makes me feel like I am participating.

I don’t always feel lucky, or smart, or conscientious, or beautiful. Frequently, I feel the opposite of all those things. And I thought that’s what I needed to feel in order to create something special. But really what I need to do is write, as often and as powerfully as I can. My thoughts and ideas and desires to change the world and how people think can do nothing if they just sit in my head and don’t end up on paper, or spoken out loud to those who will listen. If you want something, you have to work hard, you have to show up. I thought I learned this when I finally got a job after a year of working hard for one I want. But there isn’t ever an ending – books and movies have kind of lied to us over the years – life doesn’t full-stop once you’ve achieved your dreams or found the one you’ve been searching for all along. Inevitably, tomorrow will come.

I’ve been doing a rewatch of The West Wing lately, and one of my favorite things about President Bartlett, is that after every meeting or conversation he asks, “What’s next?” That’s my challenge for myself the next couple of months. Whenever I think I am done, I have to ask myself, “What’s next?” Because I am planning on living a long time, and I might as well do something with it.

Kir Royale and Watch Me Overflow

IMG_1242Things I’m afraid to forget keep me awake at night.

On Sunday morning, I got up later than I intended (as I usually do). I reheated my leftovers-for-breakfast in a pan to give them a crispy edge, and I put a fried egg on top because that’s what my mama taught me. I microwaved some day old coffee and then I put on an episode of Barefoot Contessa because I like contrast.

The episode focused on the art of the cocktail party – how many hors d’oeurves to make, what kind of quick and easy cocktails you should provide for your guests. In the last few minutes, in answer to a woman who wanted some easy cocktails she could make after a 50-hour work week, Ina made her signature drink. A kir royale, which is black current liqueur mixed with champagne.

And just like that, a flood of memories. I was sitting in a dark bar in Caen, France with six girls I had just met a few days ago. They were all from the former Soviet Bloc – Azerbaijan, Belarus, Ukraine. They ordered kir royales, and I did too, even though I had no idea what it was. I was 20 years old, and I had wine with my parents sometimes, but most of my drinking was shitty beer, grain alcohol, and gin mixed with sprite. I was utterly lost. I don’t even remember what it tasted like.

Things I do remember:

The first day I arrived at an empty French college campus and stumbled around with my suitcases until I found the one occupied building. What follows is blank space – I know I registered for the (French language humanitarian) conference I was attending, unpacked my bags, met people from my program, but I have no visual memory of that. Instead, my next memory is deciding that I couldn’t spend the first night alone in my room. I was in France, damn it, so I walked down to the little town to explore. On my way, I ran into one of the guys attending the conference with me. He was from Germany, but spoke better English than I did French. I don’t remember what I drank. I think he ordered a Stella Artois. I was terrified, so I must have had the same.

Looking back on it, I’m stunned by how hard that must have been, buoyed again by pride that I didn’t just hide from my discomfort all week, nostalgic for the memories I’m losing. There was a girl there from Serbia who wanted to practice her English with me. She told me about living through the US bombings, about being afraid but also grateful. I taught about 12 Russian speakers that the English say “take a walk,” not “make a promenade” like the French do.

I have done hard things – a week in France by myself, studying abroad and getting trapped in Rome by a volcano (a story for another time, yeah?), two weeks in India, a couple Alternative Spring Break trips with a lot of manual labor, moving to Boston for grad school, quitting a job, standing next to two of my best friends while they get married, teaching classes. I’m proud of these things.

As I stare down an immense period of uncertainty, I have tabs open for publishing internships and for places to look for 9-5 office jobs. But I also have tabs for WWOOF, for writers in residence programs, for National Park Volunteers.

What happens if I forget the thrill of wandering out of my prison style dorm room, down a hill and into a small town, where no one knows me and no one cares about me, to drink beer with a stranger? Can I have both? Security and adventure?

Imagining the possibilities keeps me awake at night. But I’m not anxious. The particulars unsettle me, but the general state of possibility? Yeah, I think I’ll keep that open too.