Thursday, September 27, 2018

9.27 - Finding God; Today on the Bus

I felt disgusting after work today. I had spent most of the day with my ears glued to the Dr. Christine Blasy Ford and Judge Brett Kavanaugh hearings. Regardless of who you voted for, it was impossible to turn away from those hearings in a pleasant mood. Hearing the witness recount her experience of sexual assault through tears, the political grandstanding from both sides, and the barrage of opinions/takes/rants on social media made you want to curl up in the fetal position. There was a woman telling millions of people the worst experience of her life, couldn’t we just listen? Is this what the shining example of Democracy has come to?

When I’m overwhelmed with these sorts of political things, I try to step back and look where I can find God in my day. This time, it was on the No. 9 bus. About 20 people got on at the corner of 7th and Nicollet. The bus was running late and people were cranky. I ended up sitting near the back next to a kid who looked to be in his early 20s. He was carrying a big red orchestral instrument case.

I got that feeling in me knowing I needed to do something. I’ve come to realize that’s God nudging me, so I started a conversation with the kid. I asked what instrument he played. “Cello,” he responded. I joked with him about having to carry such a big instrument on a crowded bus. He laughed. I asked him about school and future plans. He said he was a sophomore at the University of Minnesota and he eventually wanted to play professionally. And then his stop came. I wished him luck as he exited the bus.

And that was it. It was remarkable how much better I felt after a 10-minute conversation with a person I’ve never met, and who I’ll likely never see again. (Unless he rides that bus again.)

Today was dominated by painful recollections, senators looking to score political points, and a spewing of social media reactions - some cathartic, some insightful, but some just noise.

I’ll be thinking and praying for that kid with the cello. I want to put stock in something hopeful and beautiful today.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

6.1 - How to be Happy in a Dumpster Fire

A lot has happened since I last posted here. To be specific, a lot of good things have happened, to me. I ran a half-marathon in a half-decent time. The World Cup has started. And, most importantly, I got engaged. It’s not a stretch to say that this has been one of the biggest weeks of my life.

It’s also felt like one of the most disgusting news cycles in recent weeks. There are kids being kept in cages along our border. Trump’s seems hellbent on destroying alliances with allies and making friends with dictators. And people seem more intent on defending their “team” rather than doing anything.

If there was one person I didn’t want to hear from the weekend I proposed to Kelley, it was Trump. I didn’t look at news, I only checked my notifications to see who liked our engagement photo, and we soaked up the moments when we shared the news with our family and friends. Hearing my aunts choke up over the phone, seeing the reaction of Kelley’s brother and sister-in-law, and seeing messages from friends who I haven’t heard from in years was fantastic and life giving.

Yet, Trump wasn’t going anywhere. I knew my Facebook feed would still have articles documenting the wanton cruelty, corruption, and recklessness of his administration. These things would still be happening. The reality of the world would eventually pop my bubble of warm fuzzies.

Social media doesn’t help any of this either. If you’re silent, you look apathetic. If you’re posting about stuff like #MPRraccoon, you’re accused on trivial and inconsequential things. If you’re angry, be prepared to spend half your day moderating comments on a post. It just doesn’t seem like a productive use of time, even if it’s your only outlet.

A tweet from one of my favorite movie critics, Tim Grierson, summed up how I feel. He said, “Being angry all the time is exhausting and corrosive. Not being angry feels morally irresponsible.” A reply to the tweet stated, “None of this seems particularly complex.
Anyway, I use my anger as fuel. Looking away is a privilege I refuse to indulge in.”

Something about that response made me angry. I don’t doubt that the woman who wrote it is a good person whose intentions are in the right place (and I don’t want to judge the person based on one tweet.) However, it dismissed the complex, beautiful, and subtle things that make us human beings. We weren’t born with two emotions: anger and not anger. Anger is not my main fuel. And yeah, you can look away, because if you’re shocked by everything, pretty soon you’re shocked by nothing.

I don’t think it’s healthy to feel one emotion all the time. I don’t think we should strive to feel one emotion all the time either. Sometimes you embrace your anger. Sometimes you embrace your sadness, and sometimes you embrace your joy (and you shouldn’t feel guilty about any of these things.)

Yes, I’m going to continue to be angry by the inhumane treatment on our borders and make my small voice heard how it can. But I’m also going to be watching a lot of World Cup games and sharing my enthusiasm with my friends and family. I’m also going to be working hard planning a wedding. And I’m going to revel in the journey I’m taking with my fiance.

The world is so much more complex than we think it is. Embrace it. 

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.

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.