The Circle of Hitchhikers

I almost missed them.  I nearly mistook them for a couple teenagers who were alternative enough to hang out in the sunshine next to a highway instead of on a beach.  Kids are weird sometimes.  It was the clothes that stopped me first.  The layers of dark colored clothing that might have been purchased that color, but were probably just really dirty.  I slowed and the snake bites, the disheveled hair most likely cut by razor blades, and the slightly excessive amount of bags piled around them told me all I needed to know.

I slammed on my brakes and scooted to the shoulder of the road.

“Where are you going?” I called through my window, which was still rolling down.
“White Bear, but every mile counts,” the young man answered, standing and coming closer to my vehicle.
“I’m only going up a couple exits.  I can’t take you far.”
“Every mile counts,” he repeated, smiling.

The phrase was familiar.  I smiled to myself and unlocked all my doors.

In 2009 I was the kid on the side of the road (that story told here) hoping for a ride instead of the adult with places to be who could spare a few minutes to load some stinky teenagers in and out of her car.  One of my rides was a young couple who picked me up in Idaho a few miles before the mountain ranges were going to begin.  The woman told me she was impressed that I traveled alone and I told both of them that people had only been nice so far, which didn’t seem to surprise them at all.  They spent the rest of our miles together reminiscing about when they had hitched and talking about how great it was to be on the other side of the equation now, paying back all the favors they had received in their youth.  When they got to their exit they gave me the remainder of a bottle of tequila from their trunk to “keep me warm”.

I opened the back of my car and shoved a few of my things out of the way to make room for their bags.

“Nice blades,” the young man nodded at my roller blades.  I smiled and thanked him in the faux Minnesotan accent I’ve picked up from my boyfriend and his friends, realizing at the last second that they wouldn’t realize it was fake.  I grinned and wondered what the two of them thought of me, the heavily accented woman in a shiny Prius with light blue roller blades in her trunk and a fancy cheese cake in her front seat. 

Hitchhiking gave me the opportunity to meet people I would never otherwise meet.  I met middle aged men who worried over their broken relationships or the monotony of their jobs.  I met a clean cut young man who had just found out that he and his wife were going to have a baby.  I met a woman who crossed the border from Canada to the United States whenever she was low on gas because it was so much cheaper on the other side.  I met a man who designed underpasses and bridges.  I met that young couple with the stories of their youth and the bottle of tequila.  I met a mom who was on her way back from a music festival.  I met a middle-aged woman who loaded her entire car with hitchhikers and their pets.  Some of them made more significant impressions than others.

Their tiny dog leapt into my lap, a surprise since I hadn’t noticed it on the side of the road.  

“He always wants to drive,” they said.
“My kind of dog.”

I looked over my shoulder once, quickly, and got the four of us on the highway.  It was my first time with more than one passenger in my car.  All three were strangers and one was a dog who wouldn’t stop switching seats.

When I returned to Minnesota after hitchhiking I tried to convince anyone who would listen that they should do the same thing.  I was always met with a rousing chorus of “Stranger Danger!”

Friends and family cited news stories or a recent episode of CSI where hitchhiking ended in a brutal murder or assault or rape or robbery or something.  I understood where they were coming from, but, like them, my fear of hitchhiking was attached to pieces of fiction or celebrity telling the story of how they stopped hitchhiking after years of happy, free travel.

It was only after I had been unplugged from the media for a few months that my social calibration readjusted to the point where I was comfortable hitching.  The media doesn’t have the power to make people do bad things, but it does have the power to make people fear bad things.  Without my crime shows and nightly news broadcasts I was able to see people as they tend to be (which is average) instead of fearing their most dramatic possibilities (as murderers and rapists).  And average is exactly what everyone tended to be.  I found that every person I met was boring, nice, mildly interesting, or mildly annoying.

The worst ride that I had was with a self-important liquor salesman who told me about the crazy parties that he hosts on his super fancy yacht.  I wasn’t impressed by him, nor did I really believe anything he told me.  My obvious boredom with his booze and money soaked stories ticked him off and our clashing of personalities culminated in the very dramatic conclusion of him dropping me off a couple dozen miles earlier than he had originally promised.

If we’re being honest with ourselves, all of us have met some version of that guy in the real world.  He sucks just as much when you’re trapped in a car with him.  He is no more dangerous in a car than he is in a club.

And most people didn’t suck.

Almost every person I rode with gave me something or offered me something on top of the ride.  Sometimes it was just privileged information, like with the heartbroken man who lived in the middle of nowhere or the man who told me about the baby he and his wife were expecting before any of his friends got to hear the news.  Others offered up a warm bed in their homes, access to a hot shower, warm meals, snacks, drugs, booze, money, admittance to the most happening party in town that night, business cards, lectures, stories or advice.  Everyone had something to give on top of the ride they were already giving.

I asked them questions about themselves and their travel plans.  

They were both in their early 20s.  The guy was from this area.  The lady was from Georgia.  They had met in Georgia and were on their way to the West coast, where the lady had never been before. 

I briefly mentioned my experience hitchhiking and felt their perception of me shift ever so slightly.  I think it mostly confused them.  I was a yoga pant wearing, blond lady with roller blades and an expensive cheesecake, goshdarnit.  Could I be their future?  

Our conversation fizzled.  They had been traveling long enough that all of their responses to my curious questions were worn thin.  They were still polite and friendly, but they weren’t bubbling with stories of their trip.

Remembering the exhaustion I sometimes felt in the middle of a series of short rides I turned the music I had been listening to before I picked them up back on.  It was folky and fast.  I felt their perspective shift again.  It was something they would listen to.  Something they might play around campfires.

I had been an iteration of them a few years ago.  There were remnants of it in the stories I told and the music I listened to.  

I could be their future.  

This, I think, is what I like most about hitching.

This, I think, is why I don’t want hitching to die out.

When hitchhiking is something that our culture does across generations, I think it helps us see older and younger generations just a little more clearly.

I like that the people who picked me up were often people who used to hitchhike.

I like that I can be five miles worth of proof in the “People are Good” column of a young adult’s formative experiences with the world.

I like to think that the people who I picked up yesterday will do the same thing some day.

And maybe they’ll be surprised.  Maybe they’ll be surprised by how normal and grown up they look in their shiny new car with the gym bag rolling around in the back.  Maybe they’ll be surprised by how bad these new kids smell.  And maybe they’ll be relieved that the music they were listening to or the brief story they tell might serve as a hint to who they used to be.  And maybe they’ll start to think about the chance that one day they’ll be the ride instead of the rider.

And maybe that cycle of giving and receiving will continue forever.

2009hitchhikereturn

Me with my niece at the tail end of my longest hitching trip.

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.

And I am Writing

It is 1 pm on a Thursday and, according to the last 6 months of my life, I am not where I should be.

According to the last six months of my life I should be doing one of the following things:

1) Taking a rather pitiful lunch break, which would usually consist of me either reading a book over a plate of noodles or running up and down the stairs in an effort to cancel out the hours of sitting I had just suffered through.

Or:

2) Sitting at a desk for hours on end re-emailing or re-calling the same people about the same things I’d asked about the day, the week, the month before and typing their numerical answers into little boxes before saving their emails into digital folders as PDFs.

The work I did in those six months was uninspiring, it was mechanical, it was devoid of challenge, stimulation or social interaction of even the most minute depth. The excessive monotony of it took over other aspects of my life. The art that I like to do slipped through my fingers and I. Did. Nothing.

Two weeks and two days ago I told my boss that the work wasn’t right for me and that I wasn’t going to do it anymore. After two weeks worth of tying up loose ends I left.

And it was lovely.

We ate cupcakes in the office and I made a list of everyone who was currently ignoring me and what questions they were supposed to answer. We talked about how much we had enjoyed each other and I cleared all of the excess paper off of my desk. I clipped things neatly into binders so they could be easily managed and found by my successor. Tasks that usually would have frustrated me in their interminability were suddenly almost enjoyable because, though they would remain interminable, I wouldn’t be the one chasing gray scale rainbows anymore.

When I returned my keys the weight of six months worth of paychecks I appreciated for work that I did not was removed from my chest and I could breathe again.

So today did not begin with the usual screaming alarm at 6 am, followed by a joyless shower, standing breakfast and commute full of the usual jerkfaces cutting people off for no reason.

Instead, I woke up later than I am used to, read for an hour and took pictures of the boyfriend’s cats so he would know I was awake. I did yoga in his kitchen while listening to a Louis CK comedy hour and nibbling on breakfast. I went outside to a spring day, every bit as perfect as yesterday’s. The sun, the breeze, and the budding green accentuated both my relief for one chapter closed and my excitement for the beginning of the next.

And now I am sprawled out on a deck in the suburbs as the wind whips around me. The sun glares out of a perfectly blue sky.

And I am writing.

I am writing.

I am writing.

On What People Think About Vegetarianism

Recently I’ve started this quasi-vegetarian diet, in which I can still have meat, but only if it was harvested in my state or a state touching mine. It’s a carbon-footprint thing.  Preferably (and so far almost exclusively) that meat is either wild game or raised on a small farm.

Being new to this whole quasi-vegetarianism thing, there are a few things that still baffle me a little bit.

“Gross.  This pizza is vegetarian.”

The other day I ordered one vegetarian and one “the works” pizza for a meeting I went to and almost everyone skipped the vegetarian pizza without even opening the box to see what it looked like. It was covered in green and black olives, green peppers, red onions and mushrooms.  It tasted so good.  It looked so good, but because the box said “veg”, no one wanted it.

Don’t get me wrong, I loves me a good meaty pizza, but it makes so little sense to pass up on something because it doesn’t have meat in it.  Like what if I refused to give any dessert a chance unless it involved cake?  Chocolate pudding?  Ew.  Creme brulee?  Gross.  Ice cream?  Wtf.  Cookies?  Hells no, you cannot have a dessert without cake, losers.

Fun side note: at the end of the meeting everyone was grabbing a last slice of pizza and someone made a snarky comment about the vegetarian option.  “I dare you to look at that pizza and tell me it looks gross.”  He rather abashedly admitted that it looked good.  Someone else looked over his shoulder and exclaimed over the green olives he hadn’t noticed.

There is so much delicious food that does not have meat in it.  Similarly, there are plenty of foods that kind of suck even though they have meat in them.  Using the source of protein in a dish as the primary measuring stick for how good it is going to be is childish and, dare I say it, stupid.

Don’t be stupid.

The Vegetarian Menu

It is weirdly difficult to find items on menus without meat in them.

Appetizers:  Plenty of sliders, chicken fingers, tacos filled with meat, etc. And then a veggie spring roll that your host warns you also has a little chicken in it. Or a veggie platter that is only celery and carrots.  Wheeee.
Salads:  Maybe one of them will not have meat sprinkled all over it.
Sandwiches:  One veggie option.  Even if it is a sandwich store.
Burgers:  Again, one veggie option.  I mean seriously, how hard is it to have two options with, like, a different cheese or sauce or combination of toppings on it?  That’s all any other burger is.  Same beef patty with different toppings.  Also, can we please get more portabella burgers everywhere.  Those things are make me drool.
Entrees:  Chicken centered dish.  Pork centered dish.  Steak centered dish.  Seafood centered dish.  Pasta…with your choice of bacon, lobster, steak, chicken, etc.  You want something vegetarian?  Get that one salad that doesn’t have meat on it.
Desserts:  OMG SUDDENLY IT’S NOT IMPOSSIBLE TO MAKE SOMETHING WITHOUT MEAT WHAT HAPPENED SOMEONE TALK TO THE COOK WE HAVE A PROBLEM WHERE IS THE CANDIED BACON.

The Vegetarian Tax

Usually, I don’t mind getting the vegetarian option, but it is frustrating to go to a place, see no vegetarian options, and be told that you can order the same thing as everyone else and just ask them to hold the meat, as though meat is that onion that you don’t like or something.

So you’re telling me that I can order something off of your menu, ask them to take off the most substantial part of that order and pay exactly what everyone else pays.

#thanksobama

“I could never be a vegetarian.  I like meat too much.”

This is the one that really irks me.  Mostly because I’ve used this line plenty of times myself, but now that I’m on the receiving end of it, I realize how little sense it makes.

Before I go any further, let’s take a moment to remember that I’m not a vegetarian.  I’m coming at this argument as someone who also loves and eats meat.

With that in mind, saying that you couldn’t be a vegetarian because you like meat is very much like saying:

“I could never stop drinking.  I like wine too much.”
“I could never stop smoking.  I like cigarettes too much.”
“I could never leave the office as early as 5.  I like working too much.”
“I could never give to charity.  I like spending money on myself too much.”

And yes, these are definitely things that people say.  But we react to them differently because if someone 1)  drinks too much they’re an alcoholic, 2) smokes they’re giving themselves lung cancer, 3) is always in the office they’re destroying their family life, and 4) only ever spends their money on themselves (and has the means to do otherwise) they’re selfish.  Every single one of those excuses is justifiably met with an eye roll.

If I was you right now, my reaction would be this:  “I get what you’re saying, Holly, but you can’t compare things like alcoholism to eating meat.  Alcoholism is a disease.  It destroys relationships and peoples’ bodies.  Eating meat doesn’t hurt anyone but animals and hullo food chain.  It’s falls completely within the natural order of things for animals to eat other animals.  Plus, people can drink and work in moderation and what people do with their money is their own business.  And smoking is gross.  Steak is not gross.”

Since those are my would-be reactions, obviously I agree with you.  Eating meat will not destroy your body or your relationships and every example I gave above (with the possible exception of smoking) can be done in moderation. Just like eating meat.

However, it’s significantly more rare for a person to be concerned their meats’ origin or environmental impact than things like the balance of their work and personal life or how many drinks are consumed in a night.  Which is not surprising.  The effects of drinking too much in a night or not spending enough time with your family are much more obvious than something as obscure as the carbon emitted by the meat industry before your food ever even gets to you, but the statistics are there.

The Carbon Foodprints of Different Diets

This photo is linked to its source, which has more carbon footprint food information.

Just as a friendly reminder:  I eat meat.  I had bacon last weekend (my farmer’s market has THE BEST BACON).  The best Bloody Mary I’ve ever had used beef broth and I was all about that shit.  My favorite dinner is chicken fried with kale OR, like, a giant plate of cheese and prosciutto and sausage and smoked fish with a baguette on the side and a glass of the smokiest red wine you can find.

I am definitely not attacking anyone who eats meat, because I get it, dudes.

However, as intelligent thinking creatures, I think we can agree that it is ridiculous to say “I can’t do *insert good thing here* because I like *insert contrapositional pleasurable thing here* too much?”

Fucking join the club.  Sometimes you don’t get to do the things that you like as much as you’d like because you’re a human and humans are supposedly smart enough to realize that the choices they make have ramifications.

This brings us back full circle to the conclusion of my first point:  do what you do, love what you do, think about what you do and, above all else:

Don’t be stupid.

On Writing With a Stutter

I just finished reading Wizard and Glass, which brings me to a very pathetic 7 books behind schedule for my “Read 100 Books in 2015” goal. Overambitious, perhaps, especially considering that I am not limiting page numbers on the books. I am trying to read a play and or a graphic novel once a week to increase my chances of making that goal, but it’s more of an idea than a practice right now.   (Plus I’m averaging 370 pages a week!  That’s good!)

I am also trying to put a review up on Goodreads (read them!) for every book that I read this year, which is what brings me here right now.

The other day I was reading an article about…writing articles.  Specifically, it was about an app that watches and records the way you write and then plays back what you wrote and how you wrote it.  It’s called Draftback. The playbacks are interesting to watch for about a minute of someone else’s work and, I would imagine, are excruciating when the writing is your own. The constant deleting and copy/pasting and subtle rewording and occasional typo (fun aside: if I was recording this you guys would have all just learned exactly how much trouble I have spelling “occasional” #perfectcomedictiming).  I have not installed Draftback and don’t plan on doing so, because I think it’s mostly a waste of time and I waste my time on enough things already.

HOWEVER.

One great value to be derived from it is the realization that sometimes you should just to fucking commit to what you’re writing.

Which brings us back to four paragraphs ago.

I was trying to write a review of Wizard and Glass and was having a tough time of it.  I would write a paragraph and then delete it.  I would add a sentence somewhere in the middle of a paragraph that I’d started and abandoned for another idea.  I would write a paragraph that was exactly the same as the last paragraph only written with slightly different words. And, throughout it all, I could not stop thinking about Draftback.  I could not stop imagining how embarrassing (another word I cannot spell) the tracking of my writing would look like.

When I watched a snippet of someone else using Draftback, all that I could think was how ridiculous most of the changes the author was making were.  The experience was very similar to watching someone adjust figurines on a desk or books on a shelf.  If your cat knocked the Superman figurine from his place of prominence in your Superhero shrine, yes, you should pick it up and put it back.  You can even spend a little time readjusting the scene if you think that’s in order.  But if you sit there for an hour constantly readjusting you are wasting your time and, at the end of the day, no one is going to notice the minuscule readjustments, least of all you.

If nothing else, Draftback makes a compelling case for this adage I am (probably not uniquely) making up right now:  “Write first. Edit second.”

Yes, there will be changes that you’ll want to make to your writing, but don’t prevent yourself from ever finishing (#hyperbole) your writing because you’re so busy editing it. Don’t write with a stutter because you can’t make it more than a paragraph without changing something in that paragraph.  Computers make editing and tweaking so easy, but there is something to be said for not tweaking everything the moment it occurs to you that you might want to make a change.

Anywho.  If you’ll excuse me, I’m going to try to write a review of Wizard and Glass in one continuous shot.  No stutter.  Old school.

SECRETS SECRETS ARE NO FUN.

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
-Desiderata

The Truth Behind the Truism

(The essay I stayed up all night writing for my Soc class.  This is how we’re turning it in…so hopefully it isn’t completely atrocious.)

Education shapes individuals, who shape their societies. Because of this, it stands to reason that the most efficient way to reshape a society is by refurbishing education. This is best done by first working to meet the present needs of students and second, to equip them to interact with the “real world” properly and with ease. Using Émile Durkheim’s On Suicide and W.E.B. Dubois’s The Souls of Black Folk, I will argue that as education is a powerful tool, especially when set up properly, it is the best resource we have to create desirable, sustainable changes in our communities.
To begin, I would like to briefly establish the importance and uniquely influential nature of education. Education is often seen as a cure-all to a broken society. Even if one does not think that education is a savior of sorts, most would agree that there is “infinitely more danger to be apprehended from half-trained minds and shallow thinking than from over-education and over-refinement” (Dubois 66). At its most basic education offers students a broader lens through which they can examine and appreciate life.
Great thinkers who have the means and the motive necessary to bring about and actualize revolutionary ideas are one of the most reliable and explosive ways of reforming society. When society reaches the end of its collective rope “intelligence is the only guide that we have left and it must serve us to remake our consciences… Knowledge…is the only weapon that allows us to struggle against the dissolution from which it itself results” (Durkheim 176-177). Because great thinkers sprout from great teachers it is through a working system of education that we are most able to offer our children the knowledge and intelligence they need to remake what has been broken in previous generations.
The power of education is indisputable. From birth we strive to learn, to understand the people who populate our lives and the greater world around us. When formalized education is available people scramble to reap its benefits. Dubois illustrated this by way of the common-school system in the South. Clearly proud of the African American response to the newly available education he says, “in a single generation they put thirty thousand black teachers in the South [and] they wiped out the illiteracy of the majority of the black people of the land (60)”. Education is powerful. It is magnetic. It offers people a way to actualize their goals in the most practical and convenient way possible.
Because education is so powerful, it is important to remind ourselves that education on its own is not enough. After all, “when we have vaguely said that education will set this tangle straight, what have we uttered but a truism” (Dubois 57)? Simply relying on education to cure our social ills without investing any effort into the system is a non-plan. The reformation of education is essential.
The relationship between education and society is circular. The first informs the second, which, in turn, informs the first, ad infinitum. Upon observing this relationship, Durkheim claimed that education can emerge exclusively from a fully healthy society because “education is only the image and reflection of society. Education is healthy when nations themselves are healthy, but it is corrupted when they are… Every new generation is raised by its predecessor, so the latter must be corrected if one is to correct the following one. It is a vicious circle” (416). Durkheim rightly points out that people are raised with the ideas that were instilled in them by their predecessors, but to imagine that society is responsible for reforming education and can only do so if it is itself completely healthy is ridiculous. Individuals must discover what needs improvement and then reform education, which will create more students who are ready, willing and able to continue the changes that were propagated by their predecessors.

Happily, this is occurring in American schools today. Magnet, language and charter schools are becoming popular, so much so that their waitlists sometimes outnumber their student bodies (Abeles). Pressure to recreate education is constantly increasing and consistently being productively answered. One example of this is the “Blue School” founded by the Blue Man Group in Lower Manhattan. This school is characterized by its “child-centered curriculum”, which “is designed to meet the individual needs of children…[by] identif[ying] children’s developmental needs, abilities, interests, and learning styles” (Blue Man Group). In other words, teachers pay attention to their students’ interests and learning styles and adjust the curriculum accordingly.
American society is clearly not cured of all its ills, but there are successful movements that are trying to change education so it will benefit even very young students as entire people rather than mere workers.
We are beginning to understand what Dubois professed long ago: education of the liberal or technical arts alone is not enough. Teachers cannot merely be “trained in technical normal methods; they must also, so far as possible, be broad-minded, cultured men and women, to scatter civilization among … people whose ignorance [is] not simply of letters but of life itself (60)”. The greater aim of education is not to simply to spread ideas and knowledge, it is to create well-rounded people who can offer something to their communities with pride.
The pursuit of education necessitates goals. Any “[negative impacts of education] disappear when education has another cause and responds to other needs” (Durkheim 176). Because of this, it is important that schools create achievable goals that they advertise to their students and that can be measured with something more reliable (and possibly more abstract) than standardized tests. This is where charter and magnet schools become increasingly relevant. Allowing students who know where their passions lie to focus their energies in that direction is vital to the success of a good education.
Dubois recognizes the importance of various systems. It is “…foolish to ask what is the best education for one or seven or sixty million souls! Shall we teach them trades, or train them in liberal arts? Neither and both” (54). Education must take into account its students’ interests and proficiencies and aim to nurture those traits on an individual basis. Blanketing all students with lectures focused on the liberal arts is counterproductive. The study of liberal arts is a great base for any student and a great specialization for some, but “to seek to make the blacksmith a scholar is almost as silly as the more modern scheme of making the scholar a blacksmith” (Dubois 52). We must be willing to educate our students in their areas of interest and ability.
Aspirations vary astronomically, in children and adults alike. However, as children grow they learn that some aspirations are more noble, profitable or safe than others. Passions are quashed instead of encouraged and people become unhappy, restless and unproductive. It is vital that education fans the flames of passion, regardless of what they may be, rather than stamping them out. I ask that you humor me for a moment to offer a comic that illustrates exactly my point:

A miserable astronaut will not do as much good in his field or in the world as someone who wants to be there could. Anyone dedicated wholeheartedly to his craft, no matter how basal or elevated it might be, belongs in that field and should be offered the relevant education.

Dubois, again: “The function of the university is not simply to teach breadwinning, or to furnish teachers for the public schools, or to be a centre of polite society; it is, above all, to be the organ of that fine adjustment between real life and the growing knowledge of life, and adjustment which forms the secret of civilization” (52-52). Education shapes futures, both individual and collective. It is the foundation of our morality. It is the manifestation of the best part of ourselves, but it cannot be any of these things unless we make it so.
Durkheim cautions us “not to see education as an end in itself, when it is only the means to an end” (177). Education is not meant simply to educate, it is meant to create and improve. Through educating ourselves and our children, we are trying to encourage something greater than ourselves and that something is not merely a profession. It is a passion that leads to a more whole human experience.

“The final product of [education] must be neither a psychologist nor a brickmason, but a man. And to make men, we must have ideals, broad, pure, and inspiring ends of living, – not sordid money-getting, not apples of gold. The worker must work for the glory of his handiwork, not simply for pay; the thinker must think for truth, not for fame. And all this is gained only by human strife and longing, by ceaseless training and education; by founding Right on righteousness and Truth on the unhampered search for Truth…” (Dubois 54)

This is our goal. We are to create a system that creates people who are inspired by their careers and aim to inspire others through the work that they do. Education does not rob anyone of their passions, it gives individuals the tools they need to become themselves.

Penultimately, our goal is best expressed again through the pen of W.E.B. Dubois. “[Education] must develop men” (66). We must forego education as a truism and embrace it as a viable means for change. We must build a system that creates people of outstanding moral character who are motivated and intelligent and follow their passions rather than pride or pocketbooks. When this is achieved we will have served our purpose and education will fulfill its role impeccably.