Wednesday, March 28, 2018

3.1 - Two Americas in Minneapolis

There were two Americas on display at the Minneapolis Convention Center today. One, called “ Tax Cuts To Put America First Event” featured the Vice President of the United States of America talking about how tax cuts have improved the economy. He was up on stage with two congressmen who are afraid of their constituents and a businessman who’s taken part in some sleazy advertising practices.

About eight hours later, one floor up, at the “Step Up” event,  one of the convention halls was filled with 400 teenagers getting critiqued on their job interview skills by about 100 working professionals. The kids ranged from ages 14-21. Most all of them were kids of color, many of them were kids of immigrants, and about 25 percent of them were Muslim girls.

I interviewed four kids. One kid, named Johnny was a bright kid with an enthusiastic spirit and a good heart. He wanted to do well in school for his parents, who were from Mexico. I found out he was a soccer player. I asked him about a time he was challenged while playing soccer and he spoke about the time his club team was down 5-1 in a state championship game at halftime, but they came back to win. I was impressed. He also played center-midfielder, which is one of the toughest positions on the field because you have to direct the game, but also keep an eye on everyone.

I talked to another kid who was quiet, but he wanted to help other teenagers with mental health issues. There was a young Somali girl who didn’t speak a lot of English, but her eyes lit up when she talked about a school project she did about Nina Simone. My last interview was with a Somali boy who went through the program last year, but was looking for “an indoor job” because it was hard for him to build playground stairs in the summer while he was fasting for Ramadan. Kudos to him because I could barely keep my Lenten promise for this year.

While I’m not going to wade into the weeds of tax cuts and job growth numbers, I did see that Pence did not mention anything about equality in hiring, or giving opportunities to people like those kids. While Pence touted how many jobs his tax cuts have saved Minnesotans, he didn’t mention that the state is second worst for racial inequality.

I wonder what Vice President Pence would have said if he had just been able to stay a little bit longer and talk to those kids. I wonder how those kids factor in to his and Trump’s “America First” plans. After all, they are American, too.

Monday, February 26, 2018

2.6 - One Beer

I had a beer on Sunday. It was one of my Lenten resolutions to give up alcohol for 40 days. I did it last year, and while it was difficult, I lost a few pounds and felt great after Easter. I took a little bit different tack this year. I decided to do it because Kelley and I were celebrating two months together. It was a wonderful day out. And we had a heckuva time talking about home repairs to my water-damaged apartment. I really wanted to have that beer as a culmination to the day.

I used the excuse of “Oh yeah, you’re able to break your Lent promise on Sundays.” (Which, for the record, I’m not sure is an actual thing.) We went to Steeltoe Brewing in St. Louis Park and we each enjoyed one beer together. It was a wonderful way to end the day.

I justified this beer because my real goal this Lent is to have a more mindful relationship with my food. I’m don’t think my habits with food are unhealthy, but they could definitely be improved. I sometimes eat a second lunch if there is extra food leftover from a work meeting. I have a donut even if I feel full, and I tend to eat way too close to my bedtime. The pleasure of eating has dulled due to my mindlessness.

I’ve started a Google Doc of all the food I’ve consumed since Lent. It helps me examine all the times when I could have refused something. I’m not removing myself from pleasure, heck, I had a donut and coffee on Friday, I think I’m just pinpointing the times that really make me happy (like one donut on Friday, as opposed to donuts three times a week.)

I think the expectation to be “full” all the time is one of the leading causes of unhappiness in our society. Whether that’s with our food, our entertainment, or just how we get through everyday life, it’s damaging. I think the more things we count and take note of, the happier we’ll be.

And I took note of that beer.

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People who know how to do home projects: A pipe burst in my apartment this weekend. It damaged a good portion of the floor in my roommates room. Now I have to think about new flooring, and a bunch of other projects that I want to get done. It’s all very stressful. Luckily, my girlfriend Kelley is very good at organizing and planning, two things I could use some help with. I’m thankful for that because otherwise my only home furnishings might still be a secondhand card table and three mismatched folding chairs. Also, half of my floor would probably still be torn up.

The Como Conservatory: It was a very sunny day on Sunday. After two snowstorms in the previous 48 hours, I was ready to go outside. I had been worrying about my floor all weekend and I didn’t want to listen to the hum of fans and a dehumidier anymore, so Kelley and I decided to go to the gardens (which she had never been to.) I don’t think I appreciated being in tropical heat when there is over a foot of snow on the ground. There’s something great about the freedom to just be outside without worrying about getting your feet soaked or your nose freezing. Also, I can’t wait for spring.

The Black Panther: I saw the Black Panther last weekend. I’m not going to go into the cultural significance of the film, there is plenty of that and you’d be better off reading about the deeper meanings of the film with other writers. I will say that it’s nice that we have a cultural event that’s come close to achieving a shared experience to a wide swath of people. The film is probably going to break the $1 billion dollar mark and people of all ages and races have enjoyed it. Critics have given it almost universally positive reviews. So, in an age when the biggest unifying event seems to be gawking in awe at the U.S. President, it’s nice to have something more meaningful to take in. 

Sunday, February 18, 2018

2.5 Lent

I’m behind on my music review writing. Maybe that’s a sign that I’m not going to go through with it. Who knows? Oh well, I’ve had a few other things on my mind recently anway. I thought about. I’ve been thinking a lot about Lent recently and what I should be doing.

First, I’m giving up alcohol again. It was difficult last year, but I’m glad I did it. I lost some weight. I felt pretty good about myself, and I think it was good discipline for future things. I’m not as intimidated by the challenge this year. It also helps that Kelley is giving up alcohol as well.

Second, I started writing down everything I eat. I’ve been pretty mindless about my eating recently. That’s been an especially problematic at work. We always have leftovers from one meeting or another. I sometimes have eaten more than one lunch, or more than a few snacks. I’ve also started not to feel as well about everything. I’ve gained some weight and I’ve just not felt as energetic. I suppose that’s partly due to the weather, but I like the thought of thinking more about my food. I think I’ve tended to just throw food down my gullet at times. I think it’s good to stop and reflect about what your putting in your body.

I’ve also noticed that not a lot of people say hi here near me. I’ve decided to become more proactive about saying hi to people. Most of the time in my apartment, people just tend to walk by and not even make eye contact. I figure if I start to say hi, and maybe even introduce myself, things could probably change. It’s just a weird and uncomfortable feeling when you walk by someone, you know they know that you’re there, and they don’t even make an effort to say hi. I kind of want that to change.

I’ve got a good feeling about being able to grow a little bit more during this time of Lent. It’s odd how I think it’s become one of my favorite times of the year, when I used to really hate it. I think I like the idea of the challenge and being able to force yourself to grow a little bit more. We’re rarely challenged at a deep level on our own. I think that’s a good time to try and change that. Day five in the books.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

2.4 - Thanks

I’ve had a hard time getting things together this week. So, we’re just going to reflect a little bit on three things that I am thankful for.

New Things - I went to the National Women’s Hockey League All Star game this weekend. It was at the new Wild practice rink in downtown St. Paul. I had heard about the NWHL before, but all of the team’s are located in the northeast, so I haven’t been to a game. There were about 1,000 people there to watch the game. I’m happy to see people support a league that isn’t in the mainstream of popularity. I saw a lot of families and friends of the players. So, kudos to the NWL, hope to see it gets more popular as time goes by.

Lent - I really enjoy Lent much more than I used to. In an age of excess, it’s always good to be reminded of our mortality. This year I’m going to be giving up alcohol again and keeping a food journal of everything I eat. I want to become more mindful of what I’m putting in my body. I feel like I’ve become a notorious snacker and I want to rein it in a little bit. I think it’s always better to have a healthy relationship with food. Giving up alcohol was a little tough last year, but this year my girlfriend is doing it as well. I wouldn’t mind losing a few pounds either.

Basketball - It’s good to have some basketball to care about in February. For all of my adult life the Wolves have been pretty much a laughing stock. They haven’t made the playoffs since 2004, when I was 16. The Timberwolves are currently in fourth place in the Western Conference. It’s nice to actually care about games again. I get upset when they lose, and I definitely feel calmer when they win. I just don’t want them to screw this up again. It would be nice to end the futility of being the team with the longest playoff drought in professional sports. I’m going another game on Thursday.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

2.3 - What I'm listening to...

Here’s what has caught my ear this week. These aren’t really reviews, but just things that I’ve listened to repeatedly this week.

“Be My Baby” - The Ronettes. For some reason, I really wanted to hear this song this week. I keep thinking about that Phil Spector sound. It’s not quite R&B. It’s more complex than a pop song. I keep hearing it described as a “haunting” sound. There’s something about the background horns and harmonies in the background of the song. It also not exactly a happy song. It’s feels like a girl begging to have her guy take her back. “So won't you, please, be my be my baby.” I wonder what the guy who she’s singing this to is thinking. What happened that she wants to get back with him so bad?

Drive By Truckers - “Brighter Than Creation’s Dark” It was the 10th anniversary of this album being released this week. That made me feel kind of old. It was one of the first albums I bought on iTunes. I got into this record because they were on the bill with the Hold Steady at First Ave, which I’m pretty sure was my first concert there. I’ve grown to love DBT because they provide a narrative about the south that cuts against what most of us in the north think. There’s depression, self-loathing, but also pride and partying. It’s got touches of magical realism, and deep sadness. I feel like I’m hanging out in Muscle Shoals, Alabama every time I listen to the record.

Ezra Furman - This has probably been my favorite musical discovery of the last few months. Furman has got a voice that’s got a scratchy foreboding. If the Turf Club in St. Paul had a voice, it’d sound like this. It’s dogged, but not a caricature of Tom Waits. I think the thing I like about him is that he identifies as gender fluid and he dresses however he wants. When I first heard him, I could picture some sort of Dylan disciple, but that’s not the case at all. Ever since the Beatles, bands have embraced a gimmick, a lot of the time for show biz purposes, but Furman does whatever he wants. I respect that.

Monday, February 5, 2018

2.2 - Busses

I was prepared to not talk with anyone on my bus ride back home. I was looking forward to just finishing out the most recent episode of This American Life. I sat near the back of the bus. It was crowded at first, but then it thinned out to just me and one other guy about two-thirds of the way of my ride. And then the gentleman, who looked to be about my age, asked me a question.

He was wearing decent headphones and was wearing decent clothes. He asked, “Where does this bus end up?” I told him that I didn’t know, but I knew that it went as far as the Louisiana Avenue Transit Center. I asked him where he was going, just in case, I knew a route to get there.

“Detox,” he said. I wasn’t expecting that. I took out my headphones and put them in my coat pocket. We were sitting across from each other. I didn’t know what to say, so I just nodded and gave him my attention. I couldn’t hear everything he said, but I got most of it. He was talking about how he just needed to get away from alcohol. I nodded and told him he was in the right place. He kept talking about how much he needed to get away from some people in his life. He had been on the phone for most of the route with I’m assuming someone from the phone company. He was trying to change his number because he was so sick of the negative people in his life trying to contact him. He thanked me for just listening and said that he just needed to get that off his chest.

I kept trying to encourage him. I told him that I had dealt with shitty people before and the best thing you can do is to just cut them out. I made a motion for the cord to request a stop. He asked me one last question, “How do you change?” I had about 15 seconds to think about that before I got off. The first thing that came to my mind was, “Turn off your phone.” He nodded and smiled, satisfied with that answer.

I got off the bus and waved at him as the bus pulled away. Immediately I felt regret. I should have stayed on longer. I should have got his name. I should have given him my card. But then I remembered that saving the world doesn’t require superhuman gestures. Sometimes all it takes is just the willingness to listen.

My mind keeps coming back to the thought that every interaction you have is an invitation to encounter Jesus. I don’t think God works through big events. It’s really just the small things. I hope the gentlemen found a safe place for the evening. I’ll be praying for him.
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Three things.
Kids books. I never knew that kids books have actually gotten good. I went to dinner with Kelley on Saturday night. I was still feeling a bit antsy from the day because I had been pretty lazy. I wanted to walk around a little bit more, so we went to a Barnes and Noble. We ended up in the kids’ section, and I naturally started reading some of the books. They’ve got some really good ones! Who would have thought that children’s literature has gotten so funny? Also, my bedtime story reading talents are pretty good, in case anyone needs some bedtime stories read to them.

Schedules. I’m a much more organized person that I thought I was, or maybe that I give myself credit for. I mapped out my entire Sunday, right down to the hour. Surprisingly, I pretty much stayed on schedule down to the hour. I’ve come to the realization that things go a lot smoother, and the day doesn’t feel like a drag if you have a schedule to work off. I don’t think you have to schedule the whole day out, but it sometimes helps if you feel like you need to refocus your life. I don’t know if this is going to be a regular thing, but sometimes it just really helps.

Grace and Frankie. I’m surprised I haven’t written about this show yet. It’s been the best show I’ve picked up in quite a while. It’s about two women in their 70s (played by Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda) whose husbands (played by Martin Sheen and Sam Waterston) leave them for each other. It’s hilarious and heartfelt, much more than so many other shows out there today. I love that it doesn’t project stereotypes of so many different people out there. Fonda and Tomlin are lively as two 20-somethings rooming together. Sheen and Waterston don’t fall into the flamboyantly gay stereotypes that Hollywood has put out there for so long. It’s got a lot going on, and I’ve really enjoyed it as my go-to tv show recently.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

2.1 - SZA "Ctrl"

I didn’t care too much for SZA when I first heard her song “Drew Barrymore.” The song never really came together for me. At least according to her Wikipedia page, SZA’s genre has been described as “alternative R&B.” I never really cared for it. It always made me sleepy.

But then I saw that SZA was nominated for five Grammy awards. While one can debate the cultural significance of those awards, I think getting nominated for five still carries some weight. And there’s the whole point of this whole music writing thing. I could write about why I love Bruce Springsteen for the rest of the year, but that wouldn’t challenge me or force me to grow in my listening/writing. And being a white dude, there are obviously things I’m not going to get just by judging an artist I heard one time on my favorite radio station.

I delved into SZA and I enjoyed it more than I thought I would. While the two most popular black female artists out there, Beyonce and Rihanna, are fantastic in their own ways, the fact that they are people with real problems gets lost underneath their superstardom. I did not feel that way with SZA. She’s a 20-something with her own set of problems and a voice that should be heard.

She’s got clever lyrics that require you to listen with a more active ear than if you just treated it as background chill music. I liked the lyrics, “All I got is these broken clocks/I ain't got no time/
Just burning daylight.”

I watched a couple interviews to find out a little bit more about her. The first question in the interview was, when was the first time you found the love for music? She answered that it was this album. That sort of surprised me because it feels like you find your passion first, and you make it into a career. “I couldn’t figure out how to be the artist I wanted to be,” she said to the question. Music fans tend to forget that there’s a lot of work that goes into crafting a sound. What we hear from singers and bands is rarely what they started off sounding like.

On the album “Ctrl”, she also had recordings of phone calls with her mother and grandmother. I’ve never really enjoyed the chatter that goes on between songs on some albums, but I enjoyed this one.

I don’t know how much more I’ll listen to SZA, but I appreciate her a little bit more. At the very least, I’ll be sure to dig a little bit more into an artists discography before I make a judgement on them.