Some Late Musings on Fathers Day

Yellowstone - Dark Sky

Father’s Day was different this year.

The beginning of the day was busy enough that I didn’t even remember that it was Father’s Day and by the time evening came there was more to think about than usual.

My day started in Waverly, IA.  I woke up in a tent surrounded by hundreds of other tents at the tail end of the Gentlemen of the Road music festival.  The rumblings of other campers waking and packing marked the otherwise quiet morning. I drifted in and out of sleep as I listened to them and stared at the morning light glowing through the nylon of our tent. As the sun got brighter the stuffiness of the tent got worse, so I shook Tim awake and we began packing up our things.

I didn’t think about my Dad once.

We had accumulated enough things at our campsite that it was impossible to only take one trip to the car, so we packed half our things and walked to the parking lot. There had been so much rain during the festival that the field in which everyone had parked had muddy patches that were deep and sticky enough to rob people of their shoes and trap some cars.  Ankle deep in mud, we filled Tim’s car and drove it out along the driest route we could find.

I didn’t think about my Dad once.

We parked in a nearby neighborhood and walked back to the campsite, munching on GoMacro bars I had left over from a promo.  We took down the tent and emptied the cooler as we recounted the awful condition of the parking area to our friends.  The campground began to hum with the sound of everyone realizing that a leisurely morning might mean stuck cars.  We couldn’t have timed our exit better.

I didn’t think about my Dad once.

I drove.  We had a brief murmured conversation about which turns to take to get to the highway and which Taco Johns we would stop at on our way back into the cities.  And then Tim, who stayed out a couple hours longer than me almost every night, fell asleep.  I put the music on shuffle, glared at the Illinois driver who could not maintain a speed to save her life, and ate a million Jalapeno Cheetos.

And I thought about my Dad a little bit.

I thought about the idea I’ve had recently, about how my Dad isn’t one person anymore.  About how in some ways his lack of existence makes him a quantitatively negative presence.  When a person dies they become a -1 instead of a zero.  Remembering my father is to experience a gap, a blip, a moment of negative space. A zero would be something that never was.  A -1 is something that should still be.

Driving through Iowa, I briefly worried that I had missed my exit, especially when the highway randomly branched in a way that didn’t quite make sense at 75 mph.  I drank some Rockstar, looked at Tim sleeping beside me, and switched the music to a Murder By Death album (which is much less metal and much more folk than the uninitiated might assume) that had caught my ear on shuffle.

I thought about my Dad a little more.

I thought about how when my Dad died he fragmented into countless pieces in the memories of everyone who knew him.

I thought about how I have as many fathers as there are people who remember him.

That is not to say that anyone who remembers my Dad is responsible for imparting their memories of him or that they are responsible for filling roles he left empty.  Rather, my father simply exists in the minds of everyone who remembers him and in each mind he is a slightly different person.

My Dad continues to exist in my life, my mother’s life, my siblings’ lives, and his friends’ lives, but he is not the same person to any of us. Every once in a  while we will disagree about what advice he would give or what opinions he would hold. None of us know how the last eight years would have shaped his personality and worldview, and we unsurprisingly speculate in our own favor.  How could this man, who we loved and respected so much, not also come to exactly the same conclusions about everything?

And so there are all of these ethereal, inauthentic Carletons floating around in the minds of everyone who knew him.

The Taco Johns we chose to stop at was in Tim’s home town, so I shook him awake and he gave me a tour of the neighborhoods he had lived in, his high school, and the places he had worked.

I didn’t think about my Dad.

We got back on the road and Tim found out that he would not be celebrating Fathers Day with his family until later in the week.  He seemed a little disappointed, but insisted he wasn’t when I asked.

I thought about Fathers Day.

I couldn’t remember most of them, but I could remember the one from two years ago. I had just moved with my boyfriend at the time to his hometown and, despite really liking his dad and despite my boyfriend’s assurances that they would probably barely even acknowledge the holiday, I couldn’t bring myself to celebrate with them. I sat on the rooftop deck in our new building, feeling guilty and staring across the city and into the ocean while I thought about families and holes in lives.

We got back to Tim’s place where we unpacked, showered, and took naps.  We had left the campgrounds early enough that there was still a lot of light, so we biked to a nearby Asian grocery to buy soup supplies.  He seemed really down, so I asked him again if he was disappointed that he wasn’t with his kid for Fathers Day. He said he was just tired.  I was doubtful.

I thought about Fathers Day.

I thought about the line in the blog I had written on that Fathers Day two years ago that said “I’m not married with children, so I can’t recalibrate and experience father’s day as a mother instead.” and I realized that there was yet another way of experiencing Fathers Day.  And, surprisingly, that way of experiencing Fathers Day was even more alienating than the last six Fatherless Days had been.  Surrounded by friends and family with fathers and spouses, I could not only be fatherless, but also incongruently childless.

We made dinner.  I overheard the tail end of a conversation he had with his kid on the phone.

I thought about my Dad.  I thought about my boyfriend.

I think we watched a movie.

I thought about my Dad.  I thought about my boyfriend.

We went to sleep.

I thought about my Dad.  I thought about my boyfriend.

And Fathers Day ended.



So we’re a couple days into 2015 now.

Welcome to the New Year, errbody.

I haven’t made any resolutions yet, partially because of that Habit RPG thing I’ve been harping on about.  I’ve already put the things that would normally count as resolutions (start drinking more water!  floss your teeth!  don’t be a slobby slobster all the slobbing time!)  into Habit RPG, so I’m pretty set with the whole self-improvement thing, New Year notwithstanding.  The goals and the methodology for achieving the goals are in their very neat 8-bit place and at this point it’s just a matter of seeing which ones stick and which ones don’t and then deciding if the goals that weren’t so sticky deserve more attention or if they were kind of a waste of energy to begin with.

Like reading poetry, for instance.  Why exactly do I want to read poetry every day?  Is that really necessary?  Or is it just one of those things that sounds good for a minute and is actually kind of stupid?


Something that I’ve been meaning to do is the Guillebeau Year End Review.  It’s a great way of looking back at the last year, evaluating what went well and what didn’t, and identifying the areas of your life that you want to put more (or less) energy into. It’s also great at distinguishing between goal setting as opposed to resolutions.

The thing is, though, that right now I’m just super content.

I mean 2014 was exhausting.

For a lot of reasons.

Part of that exhaustion was because of the good stuff.  I traveled to New York and Panama and experienced Chickentown (Sshhh) for the first time and saw some great concerts.  I went to a lot of plays and an opera, discovered some incredible albums and musicians, saw my nieces and nephews play sports and dance and sing.  I ate some really amazing food.  I met some really, really cool people.  I read some great books.  I did some really fun jobs, from managing a hostel to doing social media for a tiny publishing company and working some really fun promos.

Alternatively, I worked erratically and frequently was booked when my friends were getting together.  I lost a couple friends.  I had an ex who had a lot of trouble taking “leave me alone” at face value.  I sometimes had trouble balancing commitments, which made me alternatively feel like a bad aunt, sister, daughter, employee, friend, and girlfriend.

So it hasn’t been perfect.  And I obviously have goals and things that I’d like to be (or am) working towards right now, but life lately is very good.  I’ve been in Minnesota for a little over a year now.  I am surrounded by my family and am slowly by slowly rekindling relationships with old friends.  I’m able to spend time with my nieces and nephews and sisters and brother and mother with relative regularity.  I grab casual dinners with friends instead of catching up with months worth of material every time I swing through town.  I have a job that is very okay that pays better than okay.  I am half of an amazing couple and my partner is a person who I respect and love supermuch.  And the feeling is refreshingly mutual.  Lately I’ve been finding time to hole up in coffee shops and write.  I have started reading the stacks of books that I’ve accumulated over the years and I have the energy to read stuff that has actual content to it instead of the fluff that I’d started to read disproportionately.

2014 was, for lack of a less cliched cliche, a roller coaster.  And my head is kind of spinning and I’m a little out of breath, but I keep catching myself being straight. up. grateful. for where I am at this moment.

For now, instead of looking into 2015 for everything that it has to offer, I’d rather take a moment to appreciate the place that 2014 has deposited me.

Because it’s a good place to be.


I had a blog entry that I was in the middle of writing and I had to stop because secrets.

This pisses me off.  Not because I think that the world will be miss out on any great insights because I can’t write that blog, but because being gagged is unpleasant.

I was going to be vague, anyways.  I was going to use relationships instead of names and I could have just pulled the oldest trick in the book and written about “my friend” instead of specifically describing how I knew the people involved in my story.  Unfortunately, I’m a detail person and I am sure that if the right (wrong, really) person read what I wrote they would be able to easily figure out who I was talking about and suddenly they would know something that I don’t think they are supposed to know yet.

They probably do know already, though, because that is how secrets work, isn’t it?  Everyone involved suffers silently, wrestling with equal parts smugness for being in on the secret and agony for not being able to talk about it.  Then years later when everything is finally out in the open, surprisingly arid now not that it is no longer spoken in whispers, it turns out that everyone else fucking knew the whole time anyways.

There are a lot of secrets in my life right now and none of them are mine.

This isn’t to say that I haven’t kept secrets of my own in the past.  I completely understand the “need” to keep secrets.

A couple years ago I moved in with a boyfriend for the first time and the only family member who knew for quite a while was my little sister. She agreed that it was probably best to keep my living status a secret from the rest of the family.  That’s the biggest, longest secret I ever kept and it was incredibly frustrating because I loved the person I was with.  I would delightedly check off the box on surveys that said “living with significant other”.  I was rended emotionally, though, because faceless statistics about me were better informed than my own family.  Conversations with friends bubbled because I didn’t have to be careful about where I said I lived.  I could guiltlessly express how much I loved cuddling up on the couch with my boyfriend to watch shows late into the night or stretch out playing video games while I waited for him to get home.  There was a feeling, close to perfection that overwhelmed me occasionally.  It always overtook me when I was doing something completely banal, like locking the door on my way to school or walking up the stairs with groceries and then suddenly I was practically bursting with a kind of joy and warmth that I had not felt in years, that I don’t think I had ever felt as an adult.  Living with that boyfriend at that time felt like having a home again after years of dorms, apartments and hostels that lasted at most eight months at a time.  Living with that boyfriend at that time made me feel fulfilled, it made me feel like an adult, and it made me happy. I felt like a balanced part of a perfect equation of two.

The stupid thing about secrets is that they are often kept for the “good” of whoever is being shielded from them, which is rarely something that the secret-keeper is qualified to do.

I did not share my happiness with anyone I was related to (except that little sister) because I thought that my happiness would be a source of pain for them.  Many of my family members are Christians and they take the values attached to that tradition pretty seriously.  (As a quick side-note, because I think that Christians are often unfairly dismissed for being bigoted, I want to make it absolutely clear that my family is overwhelmingly conscientious and loving and they are infinitely more concerned with living lives that reflect their values than they are imposing their values on others. I think that is awesome and I admire them for that a lot.)  Anywho.

My happiness, of course, would not have actually been the source of any of any family members’ pain, but it would have been similar (INCREDIBLY imperfect comparison alert) to telling them that I had decided to become a professional burglar or hit-person because the stealing or murdering fulfilled me in a way that nothing else I’d ever tried could.  My family would gently suggest that although they were happy that I was happy, I could probably find ways to be happy that weren’t morally lacking.

That is the way the conversation finally went down, by the way.  When I told my mom that I was living with my boyfriend she was sad.  We had a really long conversation in which I repeatedly assured her that this was making me happy in a way that I hadn’t been in a really long time.  We acknowledged that what I was choosing to do did not resonate with her value system, but my happiness made it a little bit easier to bear.  Interestingly, no other family member brought it up in conversation.  No one said that they were happy for me.  No one said that they were disappointed in me.  It was an overwhelmingly Minnesotan response.

Unfortunately, by the time I talked to my mother, the happiness that I was trying to convince her I felt didn’t exist anymore.

That is the other brutal truth about secrets.  They hurt everyone who is involved.  The secret hurt me because I wanted to be honest with my family, but I was scared, so I spent more time and energy feeling scared than I did happy.  It hurt my family, although they didn’t know it, because I was shielding them from my happiness out of concern for their happiness.  Which is ridiculous.  The secret hurt my boyfriend because how confident can you be in a relationship that is shrouded in half-truths?

There were other factors, but a large part of the reason that I am not with that boyfriend anymore is because my inability to be honest with my family about my relationship with him created a rift between us.

I try really hard to be transparent about my life.  I strive to increase the happiness of the people I love through word and deed alike.  I think it is disrespectful not to be honest.  It does not make sense to disrespect the people who you love.  Therefore, in order to actively love the people in your life, I believe it is vital that you are honest with them.

Is it not better to give people the opportunity to react to the parts of our lives that we think are incendiary and not have to live in fear?  I was afraid that my whole family would be disappointed in me for living with a boyfriend, but when they found out, they mostly said nothing.

That was its own kind of awkward, actually, but it was at least a kind of awkward that I didn’t have to feel guilty about.  Confused? Maybe.  Annoyed? A little.  But mostly it was just easier to breathe when I could describe my world as it was instead of how I thought people wanted it to be.

I will continue to keep the secrets of others, because it is not my place to decide what truths my family and friends are and are not comfortable with sharing.  Unfortunately sometimes you have to keep secrets because you love the people who have the secrets.

Truly, though, I think they would be happier if they could know their place in the world instead of just speculating about what it might be.

A secret is just a lie with a reason.  Very, very rarely do those reasons justify the silence that surrounds them.

Speak your truth quietly and clearly

2014 New Year Goals.

One of my favorite bloggers, Chris Guillebeau, does an annual review that I have found kind of inspiring.  Most of my favorite bloggers tend to suggest making goals for the New Year rather than resolutions, which is a helpful distinction for me.  It helps me create actionable plans for the next year rather than my usual wishy washy (or way too specific) goals…like “exercising more” or “reading one book every week”.  With resolutions I either have no idea where to start or I fall behind immediately and quit out of frustration.

Three is my number, so I set my goals this year in a system of threes.  First, I divided my life into three sections.  Each section is separated into three categories and I have three goals for each category.  I’ve bolded the goals so if you’re interested in what I’m doing, but not the specifics or the why you can skim.  Gawsh, I’m considerate.


Flowcharts are highly superior to lists. I learned this from Swedes in India.

I.  Passion
1)  Creativity
i.    Write lyrics song to the song Jeff sent me.  I like writing songs and finally have a springboard since I have no instrumental talent of my own.  Booyah.
ii.   Create nap time story blog.  I’ve started making up stories for my niece when I’m putting her down for naps.  Cataloging them in a blog would be a good way for me to practice writing fiction and might be fun to look back on later.
iii.  Paint the awesome painting in my head.  There is a painting I really want to make and have half created…in my head.  I would love to create it, but I want the appearance of oil paint and I’m used to acrylics and it isn’t my usual slap-dash experimental style.  I would actually need to do some planning, so it’s an intimidating project.
2) Travel
i.    South Africa for Isaac’s wedding.  I haven’t been to Africa since 2008 and who doesn’t love a wedding as an excuse to go somewhere new and beautiful?
ii.   Spend about a month in Panama.  (Read Path Between the Seas first)  I would love to do some outdoorsy stuff in Panama and evidently have a family member working out there. 
iii.  Teach English in South Korea for around six months.  Get paid to hang out with kids and see a new country?  Yeah, sure.  Sounds great.
3) Education
i.    Learn HTML and CS2  I am interested in getting into technical writing.  HTML and CS2 both seem to be necessary skills for technical writers these days.
ii.   Become conversational in Spanish by  year end.  Because I’m 25, monolingual and currently work in an industry where Spanish could get me better jobs.
iii.  Finish TEFL courses by mid-year.  I am not sure if I’m doing these yet, because it sounds like not all teaching abroad opportunities really care about TEFL certification, but dependent on a couple conversations I will have in the next few weeks, I would like to be certified around Easter, because I want to head to South Korea by May.

II.  Relationships
1)  Family
i.    Spend one-on-one time with every member of my family.  Because I love all my siblings and, strange as it sounds, I would like to get to know them all better.
ii.   Make sure that I give all of my nieces and nephews presents for their birthdays.  I am not always in Minnesota, so it can be easy to forget to get a gift for nieces and nephews when their birthdays come around.  Still, presents are really special when you’re little and I want to respect that.
2)  Friends
i.    Be intentional about doing things with friends instead of just grabbing coffee or drinks.  I love just hanging out with my friends, but I think it’s wise and fun to do interesting things with the people I like.
ii.   Figure out what qualities are most important to me in friends (a la AoM and Oprah, according to the google search I just did to find the AoM link) and be intentional about seeking out those qualities in new friends and realizing those qualities in old friends.
iii.  Give.  Love.  I think I’m pretty good about this already, but I haven’t been in Minnesota for a while and would just like to be especially aware about how I interact with the people I love.
3)  Self
i.    Play more.  I could stand to be a little less serious and a little more active.  Playing more would cover both of those bases.
ii.   Fix my super meaningful tattoo that Bridgeport Tattoo so kindly f-ed the f up out of a despicable sense tattoolitism.
iii.   Take the time to figure out what virtues are most important to me and be true to them.  Know thyself.  Or something.  (In all seriousness, in this last year I constantly found myself in situations where I did not feel like I was being true to myself, but I never had the certainty I needed to extricate myself.  I would like to cultivate that sense of certainty.)

III.  Adulthood
1)  Work
i.    Publish one story and one article.  Preferably a travel article.
ii.   Work out plans for Hot Cocoa Café and decide if it is a practical business.  Not to overlink the Art of Manliness or anything, but last year they did a fantastic post on Hot Cocoa.  It made me think about HOW MUCH FUN it would be to start a Hot Cocoa Café that specializes in all sorts of different kinds of hot cocoa, ranging from the bitter to the sweet, the classic to the current.  This year I’ll write up some design plans and toy around with the idea a bit just for funsies.  If I decide that it’s a practical business model, I’ll start seriously pursuing it next year.
iii.  Write a novel.  Preferably that futuristic Plato’s Cave thing that I started when I moved back to Minnesota.
2)  Money
i.    Pay off half of student loans.  (I might be changing this to 1/4 of my loans because for some reason I keep convincing myself that I only have $10k in debt when it’s really $20k.)
ii.   Start a savings account.  I’m a quarter of a century old.  It’s about time.
iii.  Invest in a new computer.  Especially since some of the learning stuff that I want to do (HTML and CS2, especially) are going to require a more modern OS.
3)  Home
i.    Keep the place where I am living clean.  No more living in filth would be nice.  And now that I would just be picking up after myself it seems much more manageable.
ii.   Research logistics on buying an income property.  Since I’ll be out of state for most of the year, I don’t think that I’ll get around to actually purchasing an income property yet, but it seems like a really good source of (mostly) passive income that would also allow for money-making while I was off doing other things.
iii.  Find an apartment.  Consider whether AirBnB would be practical when out of town.  Also decide if I want to live on my income property, too, or if the two should be separate.

That took a long time, so I am not going to edit it.  Doneskies.

What are your New Year goals/resolutions?  Do you prefer flow charts or lists?  Do you also plan on completely, wonderfully overextending yourself in 2014?  Did you know that writing questions at the end of blogs is actually SUPER FUN and kind of hard?  Because I kind of forgot most of what I wrote already.

An Explanation

There are things that I love about Shimer College.  I love the books that we read.  I love the rare discussion in which every student around the table is invested.  I love the papers that I wish I could work on for months and turn into tomes because I am so passionate about the material.  I love the facilitators who ask challenging questions and tease out the intricacies and the beautiful bits of texts that we might very easily miss if we were reading by ourselves.  But there is so much that is missing from the experience as well.

I love the idea of Shimer.  I love what Shimer is once in a blue moon.

A few posts back I wrote about an Aristotle tutorial that one of my facilitators was kind enough to put together for a few students.  None of that excitement was exaggerated.  I loved it so much that I am nursing a desire to get ἐνέργεια, a Greek word that Joe Sachs translated as “being at work”, tattooed on my forearm. It isn’t even that I’m a die-hard Aristotle fan, but I love the idea of an active sense of being.  I love the idea of continuous movement in both stillness and action that forces a person to work continuously for his or her virtue.

The day after I wrote that post I remember walking home, thinking about the tutorial in reference to my Shimer experience.  I thought about that post being put up on the Shimer blog under the label “Best of the Shimer blog” and how I knew it had gotten that because it oozed the exuberance of a Shimer student in love with Shimer.  I thought about how I was genuinely that student when I wrote it.  I thought about how there are bright shining moments when Shimer is exactly what I dreamed it would be.

But more often I don’t get it.  The feeling of fullness that follows a near-perfect discussion or a perfect tutorial the small slice in the pie chart of my Shimer experience.

I should quickly say that this is not a critique of Shimerians.  It is only my experience.

I sit in classes and I want to participate, but half of the conversation is anecdotal or flounderings by people who haven’t done the reading but still want their speaking points.  Questions are asked and either abandoned before they are answered or brought up again and again if the people who asked them first are quiet.  People think out loud in ways that are not helpful to the class discussion.  Students stop participating as some classes progress because the class dynamic is intimidating or overwhelming and never once have I seen a facilitator try to fix that.

Shimer prides itself on being the kind of school that rewards hard work.  Students who are capable of helping themselves are supposed to do well at Shimer, but it is ridiculous to expect students straight out of high school, hell, even students who are in their mid-twenties or thirties, to intuitively know that they are doing poorly if you don’t tell them.  I have talked to student after student after student who feels alone at Shimer.  Students who want to do well, but need a push that their facilitators don’t give them.  I have heard countless people say they feel like their opinions are met with condescension by their peers and no one does anything about it. 

There are reasons that we have high drop out rates.  These are some of them.  We feel abandoned and disdained.

I thought facilitators would be more shepherdly.  I thought they would call attention to how we deal with each other in class or after class, to let us know what we do well and what needs improvement.  They give themselves 15 minutes at the end of the semester to accomplish that and they are always frustratingly vague.  I feel like all I ever hear at the end of the semester is “we love what you do!  do more of the same and then you’ll be exceptional!  your quality is always great but your quantity is lacking!”

I don’t know how to respond to that.

I want to like this school but it is hard to like something that tells you that you’re okay because you’re great but you’re not great often enough.

I wanted Shimer to improve me.  If anything it has done the opposite.

I have less confidence in myself and my ideas.

I don’t discuss as well as I used to.  Something about feeling like no one values your opinion and getting tired of trying to wade through other people’s shit when they won’t return the favor.

I feel uncomfortable around a lot of Shimerians because people are gossipy and I don’t like knowing awful, random, strange things about people I’ve never spoken to and knowing that they have probably heard things just as inaccurate about me.

I have trouble evaluating my performance because I can’t get a read on what acceptable behavior in a class is.  One of my classes was observed by a faculty member who was evaluating my facilitator (because he’s new) and I thought it was an awful class.  No one listened to each other and pretty much two people talked while the rest of us listened.  The observer said it was a great class.  That he was very impressed.

I don’t get it.

I have a year left.  I don’t know if I’ll make it.

Painting and Daisies

My room started changing colors today.

It has been blue and green for a decade.  Today it began its journey toward pinkness.

Before I could begin painting, though, I first had to remove everything that I didn’t want to be a casualty of an unwieldy paint roller.  The accompaniment to my work was supposed to be the recording of the Odyssey that I checked out from the library, but a new This American Life was downloading in my iTunes and an hour long presentation by Ira Glass seemed a lot more palatable than eleven hours of mandated Homer.

I hit play and started pulling books off my bookshelf with the energy unique to the beginning of an arduous task.  Ira explained that he had heard the following story in a theater and had been inspired to broadcast and fact check it, which is all that this week’s show really was.

And it was powerful.

Mike Daisey, the original teller of the story, opens up by confessing his addiction to technology.  I laughed along with his live audience as I stacked books in my sister’s room and dumped the clothes I’ve been meaning to bring to Goodwill on my other sister’s floor.

He mentions the curiosity sparked after seeing four pictures posted on a Mac “news” (rumor) site. Someone had found them on their brand new iphone and shared them with the internet.  They were clearly test photos, taken in the factory and accidentally left on the phone when it was packaged and sent from China to its eager new owner.  I smirked, thinking of test cameras in places like Best Buy and took the peacock feathers from my godmother and the Kenyan doll from my brother off the ledge by my window.

Eventually these photos inspired Mr. Daisey to take a trip to China where he spoke to people who worked in the factories.  He saw huge nets outside of the surprisingly large building and learned that they had been put in place because in a relatively small window of time twelve workers at the plant had killed themselves by jumping from the windows.  He mentions a chemical used for cleaning screens that dries faster than alcohol, but put tremors into the hands of the people who used it.  He met fourteen year olds who told him how easy it was to get and keep a job at the big technology factories, despite supposed age restrictions.  The bright humor that had laced the beginning of Daisey’s story became increasingly subdued and I furrowed my brow a little as I attacked my light switch and power outlets with a screwdriver.

Daisey described how an eight hour work day was a “joke” to the employees to whom he spoke.  They usually worked twelve hour days, sometimes sixteen, sometimes more.  He mentioned a man who died after working a thirty-four hour shift and said that such an event wasn’t irregular.  I thought about the 16 hour shifts I worked in Alaska.  I remembered swollen legs from too much standing, an alien cracking feeling in my back from leaning over conveyor belts that were painfully close to the ground and sore wrists from constantly flipping one identical fillet after another.  I shuddered, imagining 34 straight hours in a factory and started pushing my furniture into the center of my room where it would be safe from paint spatter.

Labor is cheap, he said.  The visions of robots creating iphones that he had once entertained were obliterated when he witnessed even the tiniest parts of cellphones and computers being put together by hand.  Labor is cheap, he said.  It turns out that our desire for our possessions to be handmade is less fanciful and more realistic than we ever imagined because it is cheaper to pay people to make these things by hand than it is to build machines to do the same jobs.  Deciding that I wanted more space in the middle of my room while I painted, I pushed my dresser into my sister’s room and thought about how when I get a permanent apartment or home of my own I will seek out a carpenter or learn to make my own furniture, rather than stapling together thin pieces of plywood stacked in flat cardboard boxes together and calling it a bed or a dresser.

I turn to my now empty bookshelf and unscrew it from the wall.  I pull it gently, not sure how heavy it will be.  It is stuck to the ten year old paint.  Daisey met a man with gnarled hands who used to make ipads.  His hands were destroyed from doing the same tiny task too many times with no variation. Daisey pulled his ipad out of his bag and showed it to the man who played with it for a little while and called it “some kind of magic”.  He had never seen one turned on before, even after working on thousands in a factory.  With one last ferocious tug I dislodge the bookshelf from the wall and drag it into the hallway.  My back hurts and my room is ready to be painted.

A few years ago I was talking to a family friend about development in third world countries.  I said something about how other countries are “behind” the Western world, that the problems they are currently encountering are ones that we encountered some hundred years ago.  I said it was unfair for the West to expect them to somehow fastforward through their development to meet us where we are.  Self-informed development is just as important to the stability of a person or nation as the end goal if for no other reason that growth is stunted if it is imposed by an exterior force.  The person I was talking to said that she didn’t think it was right to say that one country has progressed more or less than another, which would be a valid point were it not for the fact that one country was forced to suffer the imposition of another’s culture.  What was once essentially apples and oranges became apple and genetically mutated orange that better learn to be an apple if it knew what was good for it.

There was and is a process of adjustment where the first culture struggled to remain true to itself, but there is only so much pressure any institution, culture or individual can take before it inevitably crumbles and crumble it did.

Daisey suggests that Western countries and the corporations that use the labor from places like China have a responsibility to impose the same labor regulations that we fought for here, there.  I am inclined to agree with him.  Why only spread the diseased parts of capitalism without the salves?  The world we live in is a global one now, and much as I want to lift my hands defensively, recognizing that we’ve broken more than we’ve ever fixed, the reality is that we are neighbors now.  As neighbors, we have a responsibility to help rebuild what has been broken, especially, but not only, if we are responsible for the initial destruction.

Clearly I am contradicting myself.  There is the orange that was forced to become an apple that deserves and probably requires the journey toward applehood to be its own, but as neighbors in this ever-shrinking world, we also owe the orange any constructive assistance that we are capable of giving.  I think.

There is a lot more that can be drawn from Daisey’s story than a meditation on what happens to a group of people or a country has their values overridden by a more powerful country.  Not only that, but it’s captivating, well told and funny to boot.  I strongly suggest giving it a listen.  I linked it at the beginning, but I’ll link it again here, just in case you missed the first one.

My room is three quarters pink now.  Yay.

Explain Yourself

Honestly, I don’t understand it.  “It” being you and your personality quirk, of course.

I would prefer to have this conversation with you instead of one-sidedly ranting at a blog that I am quite certain you don’t read, but you have a tendency to shut me down and refuse to listen to anything that comes out of your, much less my, mouth.  So the blog gets to hear it instead.

You are a really cool person.  You have a great sense of humor.  You are charismatic and kind and generous and intelligent.  Your interests are unique and you are passionate about them in a fun way and you are, as far as I can tell, a good person.  I  enjoy spending time with you and I know other people do as well.

What I don’t understand is that despite everything that you have going for you, you are an adult child.  You are edging ever closer to the big three-oh, but you may as well be three.  Not in all ways, of course.  You are in what looks like a serious long-term relationship.  You are getting a college degree.  You are involved in your community in a productive way.  I am not calling you a bum.  Your life is fully functional.

What I’m trying to say is that on the outside you seem like an adult, which makes the child I accidentally discovered in you all the more jarring.

Let’s talk about how this started.

We were hanging out and you told me that you were about to make one of the biggest mistakes of your life by asking your girlfriend to marry you.  Those are your words, not mine, and you prefaced that statement with a comment about how the two of you are going through a rough patch right now.

I want to qualify, again, as I have repeatedly tried to do in our actual conversations, that I recognize that you and I don’t know each other really well.  We’ve hung out several times and had fun, meaningless conversations tinged with depth and that is it.  I recognize that.  I also, however, have never seen friendships as stagnant entities, so I naturally figured that we were testing the waters of a new kind of friendship (ie we talk about the serious parts of our lives amidst our goofiness) when you brought up your impending marriage proposal.

I’ve had friendships that have developed that far or further after a day of good conversation, so the fact that we had gotten there after hanging out five or six times was not surprising or strange to me in any way.

But it was to you.  I asked what made you want to propose when your relationship was not going well, if maybe you ought to figure out what the problem was and then propose when things were solid again so no important issues accidentally got glossed over in the excitement of engagement.

You told me I didn’t know you.

I agreed.

I maintained that the question was a valid one, though, especially since I was asking questions, not making judgments.  You painted pictures with words, all of them comedic, witty, so colorful that they barely made sense and extravagantly laced with ad hominem.  My personal favorite was the one wherein you told me that I was like an amateur animal enthusiast who walks into a zoo and tries to tell the lion how to be a lion.

But there was no laughter in anything you said.  You told me I was a shitty person who had no business taking interest in your business, but you refused to say so straightforwardly.  You refused to listen to anything that I had to say in response and blazed boldly forth on the trail of verbal abuse.

After what was probably a half hour of this verbal abuse I asked you if you realized you were being a douchebag.  (I could have chosen my words better, and I apologize for not doing that.)

You said yes.  You smiled.

I left.

I saw you again today after a little over a week.  We had talked on the phone and we had no issues.  It was an energetic conversation and I planned to meet you near your home so I could return something that you had lent me.  I biked over.  I returned your possession.  We chatted for a little bit and you made a crack that was more of a barb about how I had called you a douchebag the last time we had hung out.  Before I could apologize you plowed on through to your next sentence, saying that you’d called yourself a douchebag, so it really wasn’t that big of a deal anyways.

But you looked hurt, even as you continued to fill the air with haphazard sentences that made it impossible for me to say anything.  I managed to ask if we needed to talk about the conversation you had alluded to.  You told me you were doing everything in your conversational power to avoid it, which was odd because it was the only thing you were talking about.

You told me that it wasn’t about me.  You told me that I shouldn’t give unsolicited advice.  You told me that I don’t understand the world.  Again, you told me that I was a shitty person who had no business taking interest in your business.

I want to make amends.  I want to fix whatever is broken, because I really cannot figure out how such a tiny snippet of conversation could possibly be grounds for a shattered friendship.  It won’t happen, though.  I am more than willing to not offer advice or ask questions about your personal life now that I know you don’t like that, water under the bridge.

But you can’t drop it.

This is what I do not understand:  I do not understand why you bring up topics in conversation and then refuse to talk about them.  I do not understand how you can be so childish when you are as mature as you are in other parts of your life.  I do not understand why you lash out so viciously.  I do not understand why you can’t take a couple seconds to listen to someone how is trying to have a conversation with you.  I do not understand why you insist on stepping on broken pieces until they are dust instead of trying to put something that isn’t entirely broken back together while there is still a chance.

Explain yourself.