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Sunday
Jan182015

Race Relations: Better Today—or Worse?

A fight between black and white that had little to do with race relations. Sometimes, sports are our most diverse arenas. November 21, 2014. Houston, Texas.

As regular readers know, I have a group of friends—all of whom have blogs—that bands together for one post per month on a round-robin topic.

This month’s subject, posed by Will Pora, confounded more than a few of us:

Have we gotten closer to or further from racial equality?

Yowza.

The topic arrived at a pertinent time. Numerous recent world events have highlighted extreme tensions between nationalities, government systems, ethnicities, races, and religions.

Do I need to enumerate them?

Black deaths in the United States at the hands of law enforcement, none of which resulted in indictments. Murder of French journalists at the hands of Muslim extremists. North Korea accused of hacking Sony due to concerns about a film’s depiction of Kim Jong Un.

And race relations in the United States seem to have received heightened attention—or perhaps I’ve only grown more attuned to the discussion due to musing on Will’s prompt. In recent weeks, the following items hit my radar:

We may feel race relations have grown worse due to the increasing attention to tensions in the news today.

Yet I’ll stand with President Obama in feeling that the coverage of these events—and the resulting broad outcry of indignation and outrage—shows willingness to bear witness to the ugly aspects of our society that we’d rather not face.

When we bring awful facts to light, rather than sweep them away in horror and embarrassment, we encourage dialogue. And dialogue means progress. When we stay silent, we perpetuate ignorance. Bringing issues into a public forum incites change—even if it means conflagration in the short term.

I’ve written about interpersonal tension on this site before, specifically in my posts about misunderstandings and my post about radio’s evidence of inequality.

And I hope the strife of today proves an inflection point into a better future.

None of us grow without struggle and discomfort. People do not like change. Groups grow more dysfunctional during change before they emerge improved.

Yet real change happens incrementally. Today’s troubles won’t make tomorrow perfect. We have very, very far to go. As Pew Research Center found in the summer of 2013, race equality will prove a work in progress for a long time.

Further, cascading disparities in racial socioeconomics, education, demographics, health care, and more have grown endemic—so much so that they’ve become culture and subculture. These divisions won’t erase quickly or easily.

Keep striving, my friends. We have work to do.

And on the broader question, about tension in the world increasing or decreasing, I’ve written most pointedly on the topic in my post about human nature and intolerance. I still stand by that article’s points.

Significant progress on race relations won’t make for a world without tension. Peace on earth has never existed—and likely never will. (As much as I love the notion.)

What do you think?

Have we grown closer to or further from racial equality?

P.S.—Want to see how my blog friends answered Will’s question?

Thursday
Jan012015

Shrugging off 2014 and Staring Down 2015

New Year's Day should always include the bright, optimistic green of matcha. January 1, 2015.

Like some sharks, humans must keep moving to survive.

A date marking the start to a new year—an arbitrary designation—has only the significance we give it. Though I recognize that one day looks much like any other and agree that no one should wait for any given date to start or stop anything, we all need prompts.

Since I started truly setting and tracking my goals a few years back, the end of the year has served as my prompt.

Reviewing 2014

I didn’t come anywhere close to achieving my goals in 2014.

However, a year-end review showed more progress than I’d noticed, even if it did highlight a few spectacular failures and starting-point mistaken notions.

Though I slaved away professionally in 2014, I didn’t make my professional goals. (Far from it.) And because I worked ridiculously hard all year, I failed at hitting my spiritual targets. (I define “spiritual” as mental wellbeing and happiness.) As I’d weighted my professional and spiritual life facets most highly for the year, much of my frustration with 2014 came from my failures to make the progress I’d wanted my most critical areas.

Silver linings:

I hit my health goals out of the park, doing better than I’d have expected on all targets, even the hardest ones. (In a recent yoga class, I mused that I may have hit better health in 2014 than I managed throughout the last two decades.)

Further, I met most of my financial, family, and educational targets—although I can’t give myself much of a back-slap there, as I hadn’t cast any of those facets as stretch areas.

And I met my social goals, yet I see in hindsight that I didn’t set my targets well in this area. With my professional life running rampant over every other aspect of my existence in 2014, even meeting my meagre social goals left me feeling that I didn’t spend nearly the time I would have liked with the people who matter to me most.

I See You, 2015

My professional goals still get top billing in 2015, as a few epiphanies over the past year have begun to blossom. I feel solid enthusiasm about what I have underway, though I’ve stayed realistic about the challenges and possible obstacles.

No false confidence here.

The dissolution of toxic professional stress will make achieving the goals I’ve set in other facets easier as well. (How could it not?) I’ll reenter the world of the living. I’ll have more flexible and free time. I’ll see a little more of the world—and even my own little corner of it. (Yes, beyond the office.)

I’ll read more. I’ll actually get some of these nagging writing goals tackled, goshdarnit.

My poor house, which needs some love and attention, will get it. I’ll keep at the health and financial improvements. And I’ll serve as a much, much better friend and family member.

And I’ll get back to this blog, from which I took a much needed break at the end of the year. I had to cry uncle somewhere.

Will I write as many posts? Maybe at times. Will the nature of the content evolve? Probably.

Yet everything moves, evolves. As it should. People and things that stop evolving stop growing. And when they stop growing, they stop fully realizing the possibilities of their existence.

Goal setting pushes growth.

What do you see on your 2015 horizon?

Sunday
Dec142014

Does Travel Change You?

A stretch of private beach at sunset. Florblanca, Santa Teresa, Costa Rica. December 9 2014.

I have bad news: You’re not Aeneas or Odysseus.

In fact, muse on the entire genre of the epic novel or poem. Do any of the tales you can recall parallel any travel experiences you’ve had?

Right.

Journeys can change us, but journeys can take place anywhere, even at home, and require internal work more than external experiences. A journey can happen while on the couch, chewing through a book. (Perhaps even while reading The Aeneid or The Odyssey).

The vast majority of travelers take vacations. We want easy ways to escape the daily norm for a long weekend, a week, or maybe even a couple weeks.

Unlike Aeneas and Odysseus, we don’t quest. We don’t go places to change the world or even ourselves.

Instead, we go to theme parks, which curate our fun. We stay at resorts, which cater to our every desire, or we stay in hotels and hostels, which may serve only basic needs but which most certainly do not provide deep experiences of lives lived in different places. We go on guided tours, which show us historic sites and take us on adventurous treks that don’t mirror the daily life of the locals and remove all the guesswork and risk of traveling in unknown areas. We participate in sports that can only happen in certain places at certain times, like surfing, golfing, or skiing.

We have fun, take breaks, recharge.

And I see nothing wrong with that.

After all, we can’t expect travel without any goals beyond rejuvenation to change us. We can’t truly live like the locals if we only stay away from home for a week or two. We don’t accomplish something monumental within ourselves or within a new environment when we ride in taxis and tour buses and eat at restaurants.

And as for life-changing incidents that do happen while on vacation—whether negative or positive—many could have happened at home. Chance alone caused them to happen while on travel.

I have incredible moments from trips caught in the aspic of memory. I caved with a friend to see a Mayan ritual-sacrifice site in Belize. In a bakery in Madrid, I found a fantastic chocolate-dipped pastry that I munched in tiny bites as I meandered the winter streets alone. I tried every tiramisu I encountered in Florence to find the best version. I met one of my closest friends on the way to spending a summer in Russia; she and I later traveled Route 66 in a rented moving truck and even later visited Glacier National Park.

Yet I haven’t grown into someone different through traveling. (Living abroad was another matter.) Travel hasn’t significantly altered my worldview or the fundamentals of how I live my life in the ways that formal and informal education and everyday experiences accumulated over time have changed me. (Discovering a love for strained yogurt drizzled with honey while on vacation in the Greek Isles doesn’t count.)

Journeys—intellectual more than physical—have changed me. Travel has not.

Do you believe travel changes you?

P.S.—This is the second post in a monthly series for which a set group of bloggers post on the same topic on the same day. For other takes on whether travel changes you, check the following writers:

Sunday
Nov162014

Are Pets Worth It?

Ramona in her bed in the living room, waiting for me to stop working for the night. April 26, 2014.

This morning before dawn, I pulled my lighted alarm clock to my chest, rested my hand on Ramona’s sleeping body, and counted her respirations.

Over the course of sixty seconds, fully at rest, Ramona took seventeen breaths.

After we got up and ate breakfast, I wrote her respiratory rate in the log I keep magnetized to the bulletin board in my home-office cubbyhole. I looked at the list and felt a huge relief: At seventeen breaths per minute, Ramona’s breathing rate has stabilized since it improved significantly in September, shortly after she started taking medications and her respirations improved from rapid and gasping.

In late August, Ramona collapsed.

The emergency room didn’t have good news. “See a cardiologist as soon as possible,” the doctor said. The cardiologist diagnosed congestive heart failure. “We can put her on medications to control the symptoms. I don’t know how long they will work, if they work at all.”

Tears had come suddenly and uncontrollably since Ramona’s first collapse. I’d sobbed the entire way to the cardiologist’s office. I sobbed before Ramona’s diagnosis. I sobbed when they took her into the back to do tests. I sobbed when they told me the news, only relieved that they didn’t advise me to let her go that day.

I couldn’t have done it, if they had so advised. She would have had to continue to suffer. How long? I don’t know.

Hold on. The tears have come again.

Fortunately, Ramona has responded relatively well to treatment. We’ve made it a few months and the medications still work, according to my morning monitoring. (We’ll see what the vet has to say next weekend.) Her energy has improved. Her spunk has come back. She still knows how to make me laugh—and she does.

For now? And for how long? I can’t bear to think on it. I had hoped the medications would buy me enough time to come to terms with the reality of her—of our—impermanence. Instead, I’ve only reached the point at which I can talk and write about her condition without crying.

Sometimes.

Instead, I don’t believe that we—any of us—can ever come to terms with losing each other. I don’t think we can ever prepare for it—at least, not so that it doesn’t make us rage with sorrow when it comes.

Since the diagnosis—and perhaps even during the limbo period between Ramona’s collapse and the cardiologist’s news—I’ve talked to a few close friends, some of whom have gotten sudden calls at odd hours when I couldn’t talk between the tears yet needed to hear a loving voice. In these conversations, I’ve said that I don’t believe people—especially single people who live aloneshould have pets.

I have no one in my daily existence to fill the void of Ramona’s eventual loss. She’s the only creature who waits for me to come home at the end of the day, the only one to greet me, the first one I talk to in the morning and the last one I talk to at night. I’ve structured my days around our joint schedule; in her needs I have a purpose and a framework. I kiss her good morning and rub her back as we awake. We eat our meals together. We start and end our days with a companionable stroll around the neighborhood. I talk to her, dance with her in the kitchen, and feel she knows me better than almost anyone—humans included.

The bond between a single adult with few other equally intense emotional attachments and a companion animal grows so strong over a dozen or so years that the loss feels unbearable.

I can’t go through losing her. And so I can’t see how to justify this pain—nor can I see my way to voluntarily go through it again. A large part of me feels that having a pet isn’t worth the anguish of its departure.

And yet—

For what do we live if not to love? And how can anyone love without loss? We can all lose the ones we love—and unless we go first, we will.

If I wall my heart against the suffering and contraction of loss, I buttress it against the joys and expansion of love. One cannot exist without the other. We may think love and hate pose polar opposites, but I disagree. We do better to oppose love and loss. Love and hate at least share passion and fire.

Ramona introduced me to my current and former neighbors, some of whom I count among my dearest friends. She surprises me. She amuses (and frustrates) me. She gives me love and affection—and has done so through some of my most difficult moments. She’s taught me how to interact with others in a way I can’t describe in this post, though I’ve sat here and tried. And now she’s showing me anew the challenges and rewards of helping a creature leave this world.

Yet I won’t rush out to get another pet anytime soon. Not before she leaves me and not after. Not for a long time after.

I won’t feel ready. If I’ll ever feel ready.

Do you believe pets are worth it?

P.S.—I suggested the topic for this post—whether pets are worth it—to a few sharp blogging friends. I felt a need to write it, yet I hadn’t felt ready to write it. I didn’t know how to write it. I couldn’t face putting the news into the world, for fear of making it real. Clearly, I still haven’t gotten ready. Yet other perspectives on the subject as I struggle through a new world order with Ramona help. If you want to read some brilliant takes on the same question I’ve tried to answer above, all posted on the same day, read the following blogs:

P.P.S.—The bloggers listed above and I have decided to choose a topic each month to post on at the same time, with the intention of getting multiple perspectives on the same subject. Stay tuned for next month’s post from this same group, on a topic suggested by Joan Johnson.

Friday
Oct312014

Friday Links #5: Great Stuff Worth a Read

Assorted awesome reads splayed on my coffee table. October 2014.

Ready to get the Friday great-reads party started?

Without further ado (because I don't believe you read the introductory text, anyway), the below bullets list the outstanding writing I’ve read these past couple weeks:

  • The mind picture created by researchers completely recreating an era long past and immersing in it people who would have considered that time their prime of life—and the results of their experiment—completely captivated me. (And gave me hope as well.) Is age just a mindset, after all?
  • Once sentimental about physical things, I shed them now without compunction. Well, when I remember to clean out my closets and cabinets and drawers, I do. Marie Kondo’s system of extreme “thing” dispatching and intensive home organization inspired me. Now just to find the time—and the dumpster—to purge all my accumulated stuff.
  • Positive thinking can only get you so far, because envisioning drains you of the drive and energy you need to achieve your vision. Better, Gabriele Oettingen found, to daydream an objective, consider the obstacles to realizing it, and develop plans through which to surmount them.
  • Ah, asking for salary increases. Interesting that in 1931 Walter Benjamin provided sound advice on the topic that people still haven’t learned nearly a century later. How many times have employees come into my office just as Benjamin’s Herr Zauderer did? Take heed, folks. Take heed.
  • Should I call Richard Rodriguez’s piece in T Magazine, “Naked in a Digital Age,” an essay or a collection of musings? Either way, it captivated me—and will you—through evoking a complementary string of meandering thoughts about age and culture and fashion and beauty and community.

What have you read recently that I should read?