Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Opening Up Again

There are benefits to being alone.  One is that the only person you have to worry about disappointing is yourself.  Another is that you can follow your dreams without any pressure from outside forces to do it faster or in a way you aren't comfortable with.  I'll achieve my dreams, in my time, on my terms, we tell ourselves.

There are also downsides.  In being alone we can become so dependent upon ourselves that when life offers up compassion or friendship or even love, we may have a hard time accepting it.  Connection to another human being is a terrifying thing, and can lead us down a path to loss, grief and heartache.  After all, it has before, hasn't it?  For many of us, that's what caused us to be alone in the first place.

Today, I find myself feeling things I wasn't sure were possible beyond the iron-clad walls of my heart.  Yeah I know, cry me a river, right?  But years upon years of disappointment and disillusionment make it hard not to build those walls.  In fact, they build themselves.  Failed relationships, failed dreams and failed emotional connections each add another block to those walls whether we realize it or not.  Some of us are wise enough to recognize this and learn to protect ourselves while not closing ourselves off to hope.  Many of us find that harder to do.

I've always prided myself on my ability to see the light at the end of the tunnel.  It wasn't always my tunnel, but the light was always there and I could always point that out to friends, family and even mere acquaintances.  Little have I realized that my own lights were getting more dim as I turned my gaze away from them.  "Roll with life's punches and hope for a better tomorrow," became my motto. A better tomorrow.  Not a great one.

And yet....  Suddenly I find myself at a point in my life where compassion is surrounding me.  There are people, events and promises that radiate hope like fireflies asking to land on my palm and glow only for me.  No, not only for me.  They glow for the smiling faces around me as well.

I have friends I care for.  I have a family who loves me.  I have words and the ability to share them.  There's a whole beautiful world out there and every bit of it wants to embrace me.  I have a cause I stand for, and another I have never stopped standing for.  I have a little furry extension of my soul staring out the window sill.

I wasn't sure I could do it.  I thought I might have allowed those walls to grow too thick too fast.  And yet it has happened.

I have fallen in love with life.

Falling in love is a dangerous thing.  Sometimes the heart we put out there isn't sheltered by another. Sometimes it's neglected and left to wither in the elements.  Sometimes it's taken by another only to be discarded in a place that takes time to find again.  But sometimes...sometimes that heart is held...and cherished...and loved in return.

I am not afraid.  I will journey.  I will explore.  I will love.  Most importantly of all, I will accept.  Bad things will happen to me; but so will beautiful things.  I will lose some things and gain others.  I will love life, and while that love may not always feel requited, it will burn bright and pure and strong.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

To Give or Not to Give

Gave a homeless man a $5 bill today even though I knew he was probably trying to con me with an elaborate story about his car breaking down.  He said he needed bus fair to get home to his family and his "battery cable was fused to the blah blah blah" or something.  He was also on a cell phone with his wife, telling her after I gave him the money that he was about to catch a bus.

I was on my way to spend that $5 on a lottery ticket.  I figured possibly getting this guy a sandwich or bus fair was a better use of my money.    As soon as he opened his mouth, I felt a familiar conundrum rearing its head. I knew as I talked to this man that he was probably not telling the whole truth.  I don't believe the car he pointed to was his.  I think it's very possible there was no one on the other line of that cell phone conversation.  As I drove out of the parking lot, I saw a backpack and two shopping bags laying nearby that were probably his possessions.

This man probably lied to me.  And yet, I still feel like I did the right thing.  Though he probably twisted the truth in order to get money from me, he may have actually needed fair for a ride home.  Or he could have needed a sandwich.  Or maybe he wanted to buy a lottery ticket himself.  Whatever it was, this man needed something, even if it was just money for the sake of money.

Or he could have needed enough to walk down to the liquor store and ensure he'd be too smashed to remember the rest of the night.  Or my $5 could have contributed to a fund he'd been building for his next hit of heroin.  Maybe this is what he wanted it for.  Perhaps this was even probably what he wanted it for.

But I don't know that.  The man told me he needed help.  I could give it, so I did.

"We have been called
as if it were a dirty word,
We have been called
as though with shame
our cheeks should burn" - Jewel Kilcher

 My dad would and often did call me naive.  In fact, he called me that, angrily, for doing this very same thing once in his presence.  When I was a kid I gave a homeless man in San Fransico the $20 my parents had given me as spending money.  My dad made me feel horrible for doing so, telling me how the man was worthless and only wanted my money for worthless gain.  Maybe he was right.  Maybe that man did immediately take my 20 to the liquor store.

Or, maybe he fed his family for the first time in a week that night.

Though life has beaten a lot of hopes and dreams and yes, optimism out of me, I'm still that kid.  I still choose to believe that people have the best intentions, and that even though we all make mistakes, those people always end up passing my faith along and helping others.

They don't always.  I know that.  Naive though I may choose to be, I'm not blind.  I do, however think that humanity is, at it's core, good.  That man today may use my gift for poor or wasteful reasons, but I will not condemn him for what he might do.

He asked me for help.  I chose to give it.

You might have guessed by now that I'm writing this to convince myself just as much as anyone.  In the back of my mind, my father's voice still resonates.  I'll never know that my actions will have good consequences.  But is a powerful thing.  Especially faith in others.

I asked the man how much bus fair was, he asked his "wife" on the other line, then said it was about $2.50.  I pulled out a 5; it was all I had, and handed it to him.  His eyes lit up.  "Thank you.  Oh man, thank you," he said.  I nodded and smiled and he walked away.  I got back in my car, no longer having a reason (or the money) to go into Kroger and drove home.

I don't know why that $5 made him happy.  I don't know and I never will.  The simple fact that it did is enough for me.


Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Age of Aggression

I read an article today about a woman at a graphic design seminar who stood up and attacked the speaker, asking him "how he slept at night".  The designer was taken aback by the question, and I have to admit, I was taken aback as a reader and as someone who works in the graphic design industry.  We don't typically think of ourselves as the bad guy, and this woman wholeheartedly believed that graphic design was another cog in the corporate machine that holds down the poor and unfortunate.  Walmart is currently the hated villain in Athens, the city I've recently adopted as my home, due to their plan to build a giant anchor store in the heart of historic downtown.  Though guys in suits sitting in boardrooms are who Occupy Wallstreet usually direct their hate towards, someone, somewhere designed Walmart's logo.

The article led me to an uncomfortable realization.  I am a part of a group that is hated.  And that realization led me to another realization:

Everyone is

We live in an age where aggression dominates our media, our discussions, and in many cases our view of the world around us.  Republicans hate bleeding heart liberals.  Democrats hate right wing religious nutjobs.  Christians hate those who do not follow the explicit teachings of their book.  Atheist hate Christians and anyone who pushes religion on others.  The 99% hates the 1%.  Home-grown Americans hate and mistrust Middle Easterners.  Hate...hate...hate.

I don't use that word lightly.  I don't just see displeasure when I read a political blog or listen to an Occupy rally or soundbites from a religious sermon.  These people aren't just angry.  Even though they will not outwardly say so, it's obvious in their tone and actions that they outright hate the group they're speaking against.  One human being hating another.  One human being wishing another harm because of ideology.

Hate between men or women has always existed, and often in much higher doses than we're seeing now; and yet I can't help but feel that this aggression is reaching a boiling point over the last five years. It's true that it started simmering after 9/11, but when the recession hit, all bets were off.  People were forced to look after themselves, and that meant looking out over their shoulder to identify those who wanted to take something from them.

The world we live in now is one of defensive protectiveness.  If we don't protect our jobs, we'll lose them to someone else.  If we don't protect our money, someone will take it.  If we don't protect our beliefs, someone will attempt to change them.  What's sad about this is that this is not an over-protectiveness.  All of these things, now more than ever, are absolutely true.  There really is someone, also trying to protect themselves and their families and yes, their beliefs, who will take from you in order to do so.

Knowing this has led most of us into a type of 24/7 battle stance, always looking for the next attack.  In that reality, many of us have decided to strike first; to point the finger at those we believe will take from us, and in doing so somehow weaken them before they can hit us where it hurts.  The Tea Party firmly believes that Obama and the Democrats want to take from them through taxes, over-regulation and attempts to alter their way of life.  Whether this is true or not, to the Tea Party, the current administration is a hated enemy who must be defeated.

Occupy Wallstreet, in this manner, is exactly the same as the Tea Party movement.  Big Business and corporate managers want nothing more than to take from us and change our way of life to suit their agenda.  Whether this is true or not, Big Business is a hated enemy that must be stopped.

Thanks to our media, these shows of protective aggression are not only louder, but spread much faster than they would or even could have in ages before.  True, both the Tea Party and Occupy movements are currently losing steam, but that hate remains, and other more timeless arguments over religion and ways of life are only gaining traction, and permeating into our politics, our entertainment, and even into our day-to-day lives.  No matter what we do, we cannot escape the aggression of others.

What's most terrifying is that in this age of economic vulnerability, we may not be able to escape that aggression within ourselves.  In protecting ourselves, we have a responsibility to avoid the temptation to turn those with situations different from our own into villains who want nothing more than to strip us and our families of what we have.  We can protect ourselves without turning to hate.  We can also protect ourselves from hate directed at us while responsibly striving to improve our situation.

A wave of peace and rainbows isn't going to sweep over our society anytime soon and end the aggression, but if each of us acts, speaks, and thinks responsibly, we can at least turn that aggression into productivity and active discussion.  Hopefully discussions which will bring about the changes that will end our need to so fanatically protect what we hold dear.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Mourning Friendships Past

In my life I've experienced a lot of things that hurt deep down inside:  Being rejected by someone I was in love with.  Realizing that those I care for have been beaten down and defeated by time and misfortune.  Losing things I held dear and realizing that my hopes and dreams were being forced onto a new and harder path.

However few things hurt worse than losing a friend.  Friends come in all shapes and sizes, from close friends to brief friendships to intimate partnerships you think will last forever.  But they don't last forever.  Friendships seldom do; and losing one of them always makes me feel like I failed in some way.

I've lost friendships for a lot of reasons.  Most due to a simple growing gap in time or distance.  Occasionally I lose one due to choices I made, for good or ill.  Those are the hardest, because I know things actually could have gone differently.  I try not to have regrets and I realize that the choices I made were what I thought was best at the time, and in most cases I was right in thinking so; but nevertheless that friend is gone because of something I did or didn't say or did or didn't do.  I could have saved the friendship by making some sacrifice or choosing differently, but I did not.

This is a part of life and I know it.  Friendships come and go like anything else.  But as someone who yearns for connections with others, I can't help but feel like these are missed opportunities.  If I had just tried a little bit harder....  If I had just found the right words to say....  If I had found some magical way to bring an end to the conflict....

I didn't.  Because I didn't, I have lost those I once valued; who I once trusted and who once trusted me.

So today I mourn friendships past.  I mourn the good times we had; the laughter and the hope and the sharing of what made each of us unique, and worth each other's time.  I mourn the way we stood together in bad times and relied on each other when the chips were down.  I mourn a future where we still stand together, where we still share those hopes and that laughter; a future that will now never come to pass.

Those times are gone, and for various reasons those people are gone from me.  That part of my life will never return.  As the title of the blog says, I have to move forward.  Regardless of where we stand now, even if it be on opposing sides of a disagreement our actions brought into being, regardless of that I thank them for what they gave me, and I wish them the best down the road.  It's a road I once wished we could share, but in the end...I suppose we all walk our own road, don't we?

Thursday, May 12, 2011

The Daily Show vs Fox News. The slippery slope of choosing one over the other

I made an alarming observation today.  It's something that's been mulling around in the back of my mind since Obama's campaign really ramped up in '08.  We've been seeing an "us versus them" division between Americans for most of our history, but over the past few years it has really come to a head.  Republicans are penny pinching, war-mongering, racist religious zealots OR Democrats are weak-wristed, financially irresponsible, indecisive heathens.  To be an American who is at all involved in political discourse, you are really expected to choose one of the above statements and violently defend it, labeling anyone on the other side as ignorant, selfish and, frankly, downright evil.

Nowhere do I see this division more plainly than in the public rivalry of Fox News vs The Daily Show.  Now there's a big difference between the two.  The Daily Show is meant to be a comedic and sarcastic look at the world around us.  However many young "liberal" Americans takes their news from The Daily Show and enjoy seeing people like Glen Beck and Sean Hannity torn a new one by John Stewart's attentive wit while simultaneously learning about the issues of the day.

One thing Fox News is unapologetically guilty of is providing a soapbox for angry Republicans to voice their opposition to Obama and the Democrats, not to mention the "naive" young Americans who support Obama.  They are a news network without objectivity.  They have an opinion and their viewers like it that way.  They have a position; and though they labeled themselves fair and balanced, they really make very little attempt at backing those labels up, unless you consider Glenn Beck taking thirty minutes to angrily talk about how much he hates the show Glee "fair" and "balanced".

Both sides wear their opinions with pride.  Each believes that the other is fundamentally wrong, and that the American people are wise enough to know that their side is the correct one.  How can I compare a news network to a comedy show?  Because Fox News simply has no direct opposite.  Regardless of what some people mystifyingly read into CNN or MSNBC, there is no dedicated "Democrat" news network.  Mostly because Democratic talking heads (Al Franken, James Carville, etc) are simply not as ratings worthy (dare I say charismatic?) and outspoken as their Republican counterparts.  There's not a public demand for a 24 hour Democrat channel.  You know why?

Because the liberal political base in America is largely young.  The liberal American base doesn't park themselves in front of CNN, talk radio, or any other news outlet to hear their opinions validated.  No, they turn on Comedy Central, or, more realistically these days, they views clips online we are now...The Daily Show.  If John Stewart and Steven Colbert had a news network, it might be a different story, but being comedians, they do not.

Now I am an adamant centrist.  I'm a fiscal conservative and social liberal.  And since I'm honest with myself, that often puts me at odds with both sides in any given debate; simply because the two are not allowed to meet in the middle under our current political climate.  Agreeing with a Democrat alienates a Republican's "Joe everyman" fan-base.  Agreeing with a Republican alienates a Democrat's "young, hip, evironmentally conscious" fan-base.  Therefore, never the twain shall meet and never shall we get any damn thing done in Congress until one of the two sides completely takes over the other.

Centrist though I am, I'm also young.  I am environmentally aware and socially accepting and unconcerned with the apparent limitations of religion.  Oh, and I also spend a lot of time online.  That puts me right in the target market for The Daily Show.  So yes, I do watch The Daily Show more than Fox News.  I also listen to conservative radio, but that's besides the point.

The point is, Daily Show viewers, in my observations, seem to feel that they are above and beyond that division in American politics.  It's a comedy show, right?  And yet these viewers feel certain ways and have certain opinions just as strongly as the average Fox News viewer.  We laugh along at John Stewart and Steven Colbert on the Colbert Report, but what's more than that, while we're laughing, we're also saying, "that's funny because that's exactly how I feel!".

That's exactly how I feel.  It's the same sentiment as a Fox News viewer, a notion the average Daily Show viewer would find abhorrent.  You can't compare a young, socially informed, educated person to an ignorant, religiously blinded, socially intolerant person, can you?

The truth is, with either show, we often don't even think about the issues at hand until either John Stewart or Bill O'Reily bring them up.  At which point we say to ourselves, "Wow.  He's convincing and he has similar views as me.  Therefore I feel that way too!", completely ignoring the fact that the most worry we had on our plate before listening to this person was whether or not to order pizza or chinese that night.  We believe people that tell us things when they tell them to us in a convincing, entertaining manner.  And both sides are guilty of it.

The worst thing a person can do is allow social issues and politics to be spoon-fed to them, whether Republican or Democrat.  Your opinions of those issues should be formed from your experience of the world around you.  By simply choosing to define your views based on the loudest voice in the room (whether it be Bill O'Reily or your minister at church) or the prettiest face on the television (whether it be John Stewart or Johnny Depp), you're doing yourself a great disservice.  You want to worry about more than what to have for dinner at night, don't you?  You want to change the world.  Deep down in your core, whether you admit it to yourself or not, everybody does.

Moral of this particular story is, always be aware of what you're feeling and why you're feeling it.  When you agree with something on The Daily Show, don't just laugh, say he's right, and go back to playing World of Warcraft.  Think about why you formed that opinion.  Think about what it means to you and what you mean to do about it.  To the conservatives, do the same when you watch Bill O'Reily or Sean Hannity.  Think about what the man has just said.  Think about whether or not your life experience conforms to his opinion.  Think about whether or not you want the world to be painted in the same colors O'Reily or Hannity does.

Never, ever believe that you have to choose one over the other, regardless of your opinions.  A wise individual listens equally to all sides of an argument before deciding on which side he or she lies.  Be a wise individual.  Don't be a drone of the right or a sheep of the left.  Be yourself.  Believe what you believe.  And most importantly of all, know why you believe it.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Quit Playing Games With My Heart

*From my blog over at OkCupid, a dating site I've only rarely used for actual dating*

There's a phrase I keep coming across over and over again on this site, and really on every dating site I've explored over the past decade. That phrase is, "I don't want a man who plays games" or some variation thereof. Other versions include, "I don't play games, so keep on walking if you do," or, "Guys that only play games are a huge turnoff!"

First of all, I'm picturing a man playing Monopoly while a single tear streams down his cheek after he reads your profile. He probably looks like that creepy guy from The Lord of the Rings, but just broke his heart.

What I'm wondering is, do you feel that you're actually eliminating a subset of the male population by adding this disclaimer? Are there men who see this and say, "Man, I play games. Better not contact this chick"?

Any bad guy will always believe he's a good guy. Any douchebag will believe he's a knight in shining armor. What purpose does it serve to warn away people who will never believe they are the ones being warned away? Said douchebag will only say to himself, "Oh this chick has been burned by some sleazy dudes before, huh? Other guys are such assholes. Now let's see if she'll meet me for a booty call in my dorm room next Friday."

Now I do see how this can be a way to exclude yourself from girls who are into random hookups. Maybe that's what you mean by "playing games". Fair enough I guess. But if you're really just trying to say that you want a serious relationship and nothing less than that, why not just say so?

So please, those of you that have used the phrase or are currently warning away players of games, tell me why you think it's an important thing to point out. I'd love some insight. Maybe you just suck at Monopoly.

Oh, and while I'm at it, stop making duck faces. There's a reason it's not called "attractive woman face".