Dear Slighted Millennials

Dear Slighted Millennials,

Hi. I guess I could be considered one of you.

*Fist bump*

I couldn’t help but notice yet another one of your adjective-laden op-eds flooding my Facebook feed – although I guess it’s better than one of those BuzzFeed articles about the Top [insert numeric] Ways to [Enrich, Worsen, Waste…] Your Life. I applaud your political activism and how you thread it through your appropriately angsty social commentary – especially the parts about thanking your forebearers for the sociopolitical inroads they paved to your slightly less stressful life’s doorstep, right before you kindly tell them to fuck the fuck off.

I understand your rage at everything. For most of my twenties, I lived out of several motels whilst working my way through the Great Recession as a shovel bum, returning home to my mold-covered basement apartment long enough to tabulate another tragically paltry paycheck, pay for the rest of my Master’s degree, and buy canned soup. I did all that and then completely changed careers because there was nothing I wanted to do less than what I was doing, even if I had a Master’s in it.

The world often seems to be in shambles. And it doesn’t help that the lunchbox you carried around in 1987 is suddenly in a vintage shop window and you’re left alone bracing against the cold wind, staring into a puddle, wondering where your life went.

So when a presidential candidate full of amazing ideas and outlooks and ideologies starts inching into the limelight, espousing all of these life-changing notions that’ll transform America’s tattered, sweat-stained polyester-blend fabric into locally-sourced, free-range cotton as soft as a hamster’s belly, your awe is well placed.

*High five*

But I have to wonder how this politician is any different from the rest. I mean, sure, he’s supposedly the antithesis of everything we associate with a run-of-the-mill politician: a certain slimy, easily corruptible, fickle so-and-so. Who knows, maybe he’s none of those things. Or all of them deep down. All I know is that he seems like a nice enough guy trying to change America for the better. And I agree with 98.9% of what he’s all about. I, too, think our country needs a political face-lift.

*In sync booty shake*

IN SYNC. Not NSYNC. Jesus. Fucking Millennials.

Where was I?

OH, right.

All that to say I’m bunkin’ with The Hillz. For now.

(Oh, c’mon, you #feelthebern. I can come up with something equally as bizarre, sans sounding like I have indigestion or a problem down there.)

I could start defending myself to everyone on the street, each individual user of The Internets, spout off statistics about the feasibility of his plan on this or hers on that to the old high school friend I scrounged up on Facebook even though I’m sure they’re a racist, misogynistic, homophobic asshole. Because that seems to be what we’re supposed to do these days – bait and bite hard, unfriend, friend again, vow to leave the country and unfriend everyone.

I’d rather just laugh, really. And suggest that instead of all this silly infighting, we agree on one thing: Whether you #feelthebern or believe #thehillzhaveayes, let’s all circle up on November 8th, sing Kumbaya, and vow to never vote for a Republican. They cray, y’all.

Kisses,

A Disaffected, Slightly Amused Gen Yer/Millennial/Whatever I Am

Leaning In

Life is weird. If being an autonomous agent in this world teaches you anything, it’s that. You can plan and scheme and outline your entire future – or even just your morning – and everything can change without pomp or circumstance, without some clouds parting or an internal voice telling you “This is your moment.”

Things change. People change. We get older and more tired. But something that few of us leave behind fully is a taste for life, for the sweet, sometimes unexpected bits sprinkled into our daily existence like toppings over ice cream. And right as you’re squaring your jaw, drawing a hard line, you break into that bizarre, alien sweetness – an experience that, again, throws you off balance just enough to make you pivot and change course.

This past year has been full of heartache and changes. We’ve said gut-wrenching goodbyes, moved from a desert to FernGully, had plenty of hiccups, and started all over again.

As freeing as moving here and there can be, I’ve found myself waiting for that inevitable push elsewhere, using a bad day or passerby’s glare to fuel some choking ember into an inferno – raging and demanding change, being that ostensible evidence that I belong somewhere else.

Not long after we rooted in Seattle, we both started having misgivings. Perhaps we succumbed to Seattle’s permeating dampness, its seemingly impenetrable gray skies; or maybe we just needed something in the world around us to reflect our internal dialogue. So, yet again, we vowed that perpetual motion was the only way out of this overwhelming, emotionally draining welter. And where better to funnel our efforts than toward the place where we first met, where we first made a home together – on the other side of the country.

Returning to a place you consider home almost seems a given these days. Or maybe it’s just a product of getting older, realigning priorities – all of those revelatory moments you witness onscreen and never imagine actually taking hold in your own consciousness, made audible by your two lips and shaky vocal chords. And for a while, we began to pave our road back to Raleigh, imagine house-hunting around our old haunts, remembering all of the goodness we shared with family – genetic and chosen. But, as I’ve said, life happens.

***

A few minutes into my 90-day review, I know everything is about to change. My director is leaving the organization, and I know with the utmost certainty that it’s only a matter of weeks before the other member of our dwindling department raises anchor and sets sail too. I swallow. I smile. I say all the things a professional would – interjecting humor where necessary, blunting cynicism with sarcasm.

And so the shift begins. A week after she leaves, my other teammate departs, as I’d suspected he would. So, it’s down to me.

This is it. There’s no point investing my time or energy here. 

But the departmental chaos reveals a chance to propel up the ladder a few rungs faster than I’d imagined. Coupled with a few other wrenches that’ve been thrown our way, we have a lot to consider, more than a few decisions to make.

***

It’s easy to run away; it’s harder to stay, absorb, learn, grow as much as you can, and have confidence that, no matter what, you’re doing something because you want to – not because you have to, or because it’s what’s expected at this point in life.

So, we’re leaning in. We’re staying in Seattle – for now.

We’re acknowledging that where we are today is incredibly different from where we were in May, when we first set foot in the Pacific Northwest. And that’s a good thing. And we owe it to ourselves to keep making it as good as possible, to let the ink dry on this latest map we’ve scribbled down before wetting the quill again and drafting a new one.

For me, the scariest character in all of our conversations has been that familiar specter – the great and powerful Unknown, which gobbles up fear and optimism, dreams and nightmares. And we never know if what we entrust to it will ever manifest down the line in some guise – vindicating or damning us.

But at some point we have to look beyond the paths we see ahead of us and take stock of what encompasses them – limitless beauty and opportunity and, yes, that terrifying, ghoulish Unknown bathing in a soup of ambiguity.

Left, right, back, or none of the above?

You can yoke yourself to the trite saying “There’s a time and place for everything and everyone” – that when you hit some arbitrary number of years on this earth, you must fall in line.

Or, you can acknowledge that there’re lots of places, and time enough to do some exploring.

Helter Shelter

While stamping down the sopping, saturated potty pad into the small, overflowing garbage can, I wield a tomato red bottle of pet cleanup spray – the label boasting an ability to remove pet pheromones to better prevent repeat accidents. I coat the X-pen’s lined floor and, for safe measure, the edge of a nearby blanket. Then channel The Karate Kid.

Wax on. Wax off. Wax on…

A minute later, there’s a new pad down, and the general area around Joanna’s temporary lair smells less like fermented urine and more like fermented urine overlaid with disinfectant.

Three minutes later, a steaming turd archipelago dots the pristine pad and freshly cleaned blanket.

Opposite her deposit, Joanna stares up at us through the pen’s mesh sides – her marble-like eyes darting from the offending nuggets to us, her five-o-clock shadowed saviors.

Andy puts on another pot of coffee, and I retrace my steps back to the cleaning supplies, my eyes heavy and knuckles dragging ever so slightly.

***

Adopting a puppy isn’t something you can do on a whim and expect it to just work out. Which is why, being the planners we are, Andy and I discussed every possible scenario, every sacrifice and associated cost, and asked ourselves a billion questions before taking the plunge.

Is this the right time?

Is there ever a right time?

WiIl Toby resent us?

Can we handle a puppy?

Can Toby handle a puppy?

Do we have enough time to devote to a puppy?

Is our apartment big enough?

Will it be harder to outrun zombies with two dogs instead of one?

Each round of cross-examinations ended the same way: we could handle it – and, after all, we’d planned for just about everything.

But life often has a way of dropping trou and taking a nice hearty dump on even the best laid plans.

***

Walking into the shelter, we have a very short list of dogs we want to meet – and one is Joanna. The narrow corridor is flanked by kennel runs, and very few dogs are out enjoying the unseasonably arctic winds. Midway down, we spy Joanna’s picture and, like kids in a candy store, press our noses against the plexiglass and ooh and awe at the lithe, tan Chihuahua mix curled in a bony ball on her bed. A few moments later, while rubbing her belly and having one-on-one time with her, we know she’s ours. But we still want Toby to meet her, and we’ve intentionally left him out of this preliminary screening so that we can get a sense for her personality sans furry counterpart. So we go to put her on hold, with the familiar mixture of exhilaration and anxiety flushing our cheeks.

“Oh, actually, we can’t hold puppies. And we don’t require them to have an intro with other dogs in the house.”

While I bite my tongue about this seemingly big ass hole in their adoption process, Andy gives me the WE CANNOT LOSE THIS DOG look – mostly because three people kept hovering outside Joanna’s kennel while we engaged with her, all of whom seemed extremely interested.

It's Joanna time!

But what about Toby? We fret for a few minutes before coming to the realization that Toby will disapprove of any new addition that isn’t a glazed ham or personal pan pizza.

And after the adoption contract is signed and stowed in the car along with Joanna, and we get home, Toby doesn’t disappoint.

Sibling rivalryLike any big brother, he’s skeptical, but completely intrigued. Until Joanna makes a beeline for the overflowing toy basket, her playful growls most likely translating in dogese to something along the lines of “I’m gonna play with your toys now! BU-BYE!” And he’s all, “OH, GURL. NO.”

We observe the typical dominance dances with baited breath, and are relieved to see that, as we’d hoped, Joanna is ingratiatingly submissive. We mop our brows, and keep reassuring both of them and, quite honestly, ourselves.

This is our family now. We’ve got this.

We look at each other over the pups and smile.

And then, like a leaky faucet, Joanna spritzes the floor, and doesn’t stop for the rest of the afternoon.

***

It’s pretty common knowledge that a new puppy translates to sleep deprivation. And we spend the next day pounding back coffee while making trips to the curb every 20 minutes. Little by little, we make potty training headway. We begin feeling invincible.

And then Joanna breaks her leg.

It’s one of those disturbingly slow-motion moments – watching as she launches herself off Andy’s lap, despite his buffering attempts, and her long-limbed body’s kersplat-thwack on the floor. And then, the yowls.

Oh, the yowls.

Ten minutes later, we’re sitting in our vet’s office cradling our shocked little monster, listening to the vet’s recitation of Joanna’s injuries and feeling like the worst pet parents in the entire universe. With a tractor-adorned cast as a souvenir, Joanna heads home with us and some heavy-duty painkillers.

Puppy painkillers - yay!

After another sleepless night, we’re sitting in another vet room listening to a speech about bone plates and surgery. Joanna’s broken ulna and radius have to be mended immediately, so we hand our little baby over for the night, head to the nearest big box pet store for all of the necessary recuperation accoutrements – including a massive X-pen corral since her cast makes crating even more uncomfortable – and reflect on the joys of puppy parenthood.

***

The next day, I leave work midday, snag Andy, and collect our broken baby. We get stuck in pre-Thanksgiving traffic hell; I wear my stress like a well-tailored sport coat, and curse the congestion – my knuckles gripping the steering wheel tighter and tighter with every inch forward we take.

But then I look over to the passenger seat where Andy holds our precious, dazed, drugged cargo, cooing things in her ear and rubbing her neck.

And I remember – We’ve got this.

A Legacy

A shattered Guy Fawkes mask leers out from the murky puddle; bits of paper and food wrappers bob up and down, congealing with saturated, shredded cardboard into a slimy slurry that laps at the curb. Ahead of us, a crow hops across the street, its beak protectively clutching a shimmering condom wrapper.

Toby dances and shakes in the perennial mist that blankets Seattle’s November skies, and angles for a dried patch beneath an overhang. Across the street a vacant thrift store looms quietly – the antithesis of its former thrumming self, alive and full of hipsters squealing about some vintage jorts or acid-wash jeans. But now the door fronts are laced with graffiti, and tarp housing is rigged in one of its deep entryways.

Like crumbs, makeshift signs dot the sidewalks every morning – some quoting scripture, others soliciting drugs; but most are tragically direct: “Help.”

We’re a pretty fucked up species. We see the problems plaguing us and just increase our speed, damn the torpedoes, and charge ahead – as if pure obliviousness will actually do something proactive. We choose not to act appropriately, not to help.

Every single day, I do just that. To an extent, we all do. For me, it’s become an unfortunate side-effect of living in big cities. Throw in horrible world events, and I close myself off more, assume the worst in people – only letting random moments remind me that, at a base level, plenty of people are good.

***

It’s getting close to quitting time at work, and I glance at Facebook and notice something about Paris. So, in typical techdrone fashion, I simply Google “Paris” – nothing more, just a word, and boom; there it is: world news at my fingertips. My head feels heavy, and I turn to look outside. Cars pack the bridge near my office, and the wind-tousled trees bend this way and that. Still, I have a few hours to go. I feel trapped.

On my way home, I stop to grab some groceries and movies for the weekend. We need an escape from the week, and, as guilty as I feel for thinking it, an escape from the burgeoning Paris headlines. As I pull into the lot, I notice a man I’ve seen before. He stands by holding a familiar sign, with his faithful shepherd laying on a towel a few feet away.

I come to find out his name is David, and his dog’s name is Legacy. “Legacy” is actually an acronym, most of which I forget immediately; but I do remember “love,” “goodness,” and “caring” are sprinkled in. The duo lives in a battered Ford Expedition, visible halfway down the block. Cars pass by, and I can feel people staring. But I just keep talking to David. Legacy rouses momentarily, eyes me suspiciously, and then takes a keen interest in the bag of kibble sticking out of the grocery tote.

David and I continue our chat, and we discuss white privilege, social responsibility, and animal welfare. We just talk about life. And laugh.

“People think I’m out here begging and lazy and homeless by choice. But I work, and do what I can to keep gas in that.” He points to the Expedition. “And, you know, keep Legacy here safe.”

Completely disinterested, Legacy sets to licking his privates.

“People say ‘Home is where the heart is’ and my and Legacy’s hearts are tied together, so we can never be ‘homeless’.”

We start wrapping up our conversation. David nudges the bags behind a dying shrub, and I turn to go. But he interjects one last thing.

“You know, there’re three types of people I encounter. The ones who ignore me. The ones who stare right through me. And the ones who sort of get it and actually do something decent.”

He leans and extends his hand. I extend mine. And there, in a random parking lot, we two strangers become less estranged.

I don’t lose it until I get back to the car. Raw emotion floods out, and I lean my head against the headrest. The neon Target light blazes through the mist, drawing in hoards like a bug lamp. I snuffle some more, not really knowing why or for whom I’m crying. Maybe for David. Maybe for humanity in general.

We have a long way to go as a species – to recognize that we’re all pieces in a massive puzzle, that we all fit together. That every person, every being is valuable – that together, we accomplish amazing things.

All we have to do is remember that we can – bit by bit, hand in hand.

Into the Void We Go

I already know my response as I, head bent and focused on Toby’s trot trot trot along the sidewalk, keep the man in the corner of my eyes, passing him in the quintessential straight-walk-no-nonsense trajectory specific to Busy City Person – enshrouded in an impenetrable, soundproof shell.

And then Toby dead-stops, causing me to trip slightly and over in front of the man.

He chuckles a bit, matching Toby’s inquisitive gaze and following it to the pet food store a few feet away.

“He knows what he wants, huh?”

“That he does,” I smile, then scoop up Toby as politely as possible while conveying my no-time-to-chat-mustrun internal dialogue.

“Quick question?”

No. NO. NO.

“Do you think you can take something beautiful with you while helping a veteran?”

Per usual, my steely “city” persona is about as thin and easily cracked as an eggshell. I acquiesce.

“Sure?”

Clutched in his hand, stowed beneath his cracked, black leather jacket, are two conical, yarn-wrapped floral bouquets, not-so-freshly picked and browning around the edges – some stalks wilted in on one another.

“You’re welcome to take one. Anything you may like to donate will help.”

Now, it’s Toby who’s pulling in the opposite direction, while I stand rapt in attention – examining each, identifying flaws, and, ultimately, deciding on the closest.

“Alright. I’ll take this one.”

He releases it like a fledgling bird out into the world for the first time. I reach into my wallet and take out what I have and extend it to him, thank him, and turn, letting Toby pull me down the block.

A few streets later, Andy comes into view, and I present the bouquet. We talk about our days, sidestep sidewalk muck and the occasional condom or needle cap, and buzz ourselves into our building. I close the windows, shutting out the commotion; the shower clicks on as the stove heats up.

I sink into the quiet of the moment, watching the bouquet bob slightly in its tiny vase until the saturated yarn pulls it down. Paper-thin pink and white blooms droop over the rim and silently meld together into a fragile, translucent mask.

***

Our Seattle chapter has been an interesting one. There have been more stumbling blocks than smooth walkways, more choppy waters than calm ponds. And countless metaphors for describing how difficult certain times have been.

We’re planners, and we have plans. And we hope we can bind them together in such a way that they don’t wilt or fall in on themselves – that even if they blend together into something else unexpected, we’ll be able to find the beauty in it and celebrate regardless.

Seattle has served as a protracted back-to-basics course for me. I’ve re-learned to wake up, do my best, be less judgmental, not beat myself up, and be kind. The adages about age revealing certain life-truths are a dime a dozen, and they’re easily referenced in times of severe want. But as I’ve experienced here, age and time and perspective and experience can converge for what seems like a brutally intense length of time, but which is absurdly short in the permutations of the universe’s clock. And from within that temporal crucible, I’ve looked out and glimpsed a future that I believe can be brought to fruition. But to get there, I have to leave cynicism and pessimism with their beloved bedfellows, fear and negativity.

I have to actually try, fall flat, try and fail some more, and then stop trying so hard. I just have to keep moving forward, propelling myself with beauty, sincerity, and conviction – reintroducing myself to the world.

***

Later the same night, I imagine the man from the sidewalk somewhere else – standing near a busy, loud corner or riding on a crowded bus with dim overhead lighting.

But then I consider him walking out onto his patio – ivy dripping down from an overhead pergola; a spool of yarn atop a potting table collecting dew – his windows open to let in the laughter rising up from the mass of humanity an arm’s length away.

And I smile.

Cock of the Walk

A man and his Chow Chow scoot along the sidewalk past me and Toby, and turn the corner ahead of a man looking completely lost, lingering at the crosswalk’s end; his attire screams tourist.

“Excuse me,” he calls, sunlight glinting off his sunglasses.

I stop long enough to smile, arching my eyebrows in a quintessential question mark face as I do. His camera clacks against his belt, and I wait for the expected “best nearby brunch place” request.

Images of French toast dance through my mind.

“Where’re the best cruising spots around here?”

Cruis’n USA’s arcade theme music reverberates in my mind as I stammer for an answer. Thankfully, Toby wriggles out of his collar and I turn quickly to re-lasso him, gathering my composure and feeling the man’s eyes burn into my ass from behind his lenses.

“Um, well, uh. Probably The Cuff?” It’s up a block and over. But I don’t think they’re open this early.”

He looks expectantly. Clearly, my one recommendation is tragically paltry.

“And, uh, Purr is down there. And R Place is down around the corner. R, not O-U-R. JUST R.”

Sweet Jesus, let him be satisfied.

He considers these options. Toby pulls impatiently.

“So if I wanted to suck a cock, where would I go?”

Like a middle schooler, I giggle a little. His brazenness is commendable. But I just can’t wrap my mind around the question with any hint of seriousness.

“I’d try The Cuff.”

“Okay. Thanks.”

“Yup.”

He walks up the street. Toby and I keep going, taking a more scenic route back to avoid crossing paths again.

By the next block, I’m fully awake and begin passing restaurants that’re rousing ever so slightly. Sandwich boards advertising drag bingo clack together as weary hosts set them up on the sidewalk, the faintest echoes of rap and country issuing from the open kitchen doors before the hipsterfied elevator music takes acoustic hold for brunch.

I absorb these moments, file them away – the embarrassing with the mundane. And I project forward – anticipating the day when life is quieter, when the sheen of city life has faded a bit, and I find myself pulling weeds from our raised vegetable beds, mopping sweat from my brow as Toby investigates something enticingly smelly near the back fence before running to the porch to wriggle into a weathered chair where Andy sits reading.

Until then, I’ll keep sidestepping garbage, hopscotching over condoms, remembering that home is just around the corner.

***

Last week, I shuffled into my 31st year with a migraine. I pushed through the workday, thought about all the things I’ve wanted to get done by this day – considered the book manuscript collecting dust in our closet, the blank sketchbook pages, the unopened camera tripod – and returned home to the most beautiful flowers I’d ever received, and watched the remake of Cinderella.

Over the past few weeks, there’ve been ample opportunities to let those tabled interests backslide into a dark, forgotten place. And I’ve entertained such notions – it’d be so much easier to let them go and start over with something else.

source

But recreating myself isn’t really an option – I’ve done that several times over the past few years: chased a sense of self and self-confidence that’ve always been there, that’ve stowed away in the back of my mind throughout the course of our westward trek. So I’m just left asking myself the same question over and over.

Why is it so hard for me to look at the lumpy clay of my life and know that this pile is the only medium through which I can mold a future?

source

I guess the older I get, the harder it is to acknowledge all the things I want to be and do without balancing them with the reality that very few may actually come to fruition – regardless of energies and efforts I expend. But I guess it’s a good thing that my passions haven’t gone quietly into the night, melted into a comforting, emotionless routine. It helps remind me that they’re worth the fight – worth stripping away the lenses of apathy and malaise each day layers over them.

Achieving something easily rarely feels exhilarating or satisfying.

At the very least, hard, exhausting work and fewer pity parties will make me feel as though what I’m doing matters, that I’m working toward something larger than myself.

And while I don’t know what this 31st year holds, or what I’ll make of it, I can smile knowing, at the very least, how this sentence will end.

Mint Condition

Dust quietly layers the sideboard as the week-old carnations brown and droop. The apartment still smells faintly of cumin and chili powder and paprika from last night’s chickpea dish, and Toby attacks his new toy before dragging its stuffed carcass into our bedroom, his lair.

I close my eyes, sink into the reverberating sounds from the living room fan, and let my mind doze.

In two days, I start my new job. After a little over two months of applications, rejections, and interviews, I finally snagged a position that I’m actually really happy about. Even still, its imminent kickoff triggers all the typical qualms that most everyone whispers to themselves – all of which boil down to something along the lines of “Don’t cock it up.” But at least this time around, I’m not quite as fretful as I was starting over in LA – mostly because I’m not completely recreating my career. And I now know that mastering nonprofit code-switching is the key to succeeding in Nonprofit World. All that aside, it’ll be nice to get back into the swing of things, and do some good.

***

Lately, I’ve pulled back a bit from the world. Everywhere I turn – and every time I read through my Facebook feed, or peruse some news site – there’s so much ugliness and tragedy and terror that I want to curl into a ball and sleep, or throw a vase against the wall.

It seems I’m lacking a much needed groundswell of inspiration – something wholly necessary to offset the stressful annoyance of trying to bring this whole publishing-a-book goal to fruition. I’ve been hoping that the greasy sheen of oil pastels or the earthy richness of potting soil will jump-start my mind like a drained car battery.

Doodling...

More doodling...

And another doodle...

But there’re no sparks to be felt, no gears shifting around upstairs.

Usually, my recourse would involve complaining and violin-playing, and then I’d get over it. Now – whether it’s a few more years of wisdom, or a few more reality checks under my belt – I’ve found that putting a little good out into the world and having the courage to keep going are more appropriate responses. Because even if these tacks don’t spur some genius idea, or break through that writer’s block, I know that I haven’t fed into the defeatist mentality that lords over so many folks’ minds. My mind is still free.

***

Sirens howl through the afternoon heat, and I reach out and rub the tabletop geranium’s fuzzy leaves, their peppery fragrance steeping under my fingernails.

I look over at the mint plant’s new, fragile shoots bending upward toward the light – growing slowly, silently, and gracefully.

Growing, slowly but surely...

White Privilege: The Lion in the Room

I’m a few hours away from another phone interview. The hurdles we clear in the course of starting a new career are stressful and tiring, and we often just long for them to be behind us, with an offer waiting in our inbox.

But for me, there’s something more wrapped up in this particular interview.

When I made the decision to leave my papered academic past for nonprofit work, I knew it wasn’t going to be glamorous, the path wouldn’t be littered with hundred dollar bills. The adage “underpaid and overworked” became my mantra, whether or not I embraced and adopted it. And it was okay, because I felt like what I was doing was worth the exhaustion that nips at most nonprofit professionals’ heels.

Part and parcel to most nonprofit work is educating the public. Whether your organization increases awareness about racial inequality, STI transmission, human trafficking, environmental conservation, planned parenting, LGBTQIA advocacy, or animal welfare, the crux is always education. Because a more informed public is more likely to speak out, stand up, and effect meaningful change.

As a kid, I didn’t always grasp the importance of why I had to do certain things, and why my parents pushed me and my sister to branch out – always reinforcing how crucial it was to be able to relate to people from different backgrounds and respect differences. During those teachable moments, I – like most my age – would roll my eyes and complain about spending yet another valuable weekend of my youth planting trees, cleaning up roadside garbage, caring for injured wildlife, or taking food to people in need.

I’d often think Where’s my freedom? Why do we have to do this? Nintendo and Bonanza marathons were much more appealing.

Little did I know, I was learning exactly what it meant to be free – and, not until I was much older, the problematic, insulating effects of white privilege.

***

Growing up in the Deep South, racial lines were socially mapped and cultivated in our consciousness through school and print media – and unabashedly writ into the landscape of our small Alabama town. In ninth grade, we weren’t taught World History, but rather Alabama History. We came to recognize “the other side of the tracks” or a “rough area” was synonymous with a predominantly black neighborhood or an area of violence. In daily dialogue, describing people without a racial preface was unheard of – there was no “There was this guy” or “That lady at the grocery”; often whispered, black became the most important identifier in a descriptive parable relayed from the day’s happenings. Without fail, that hushed tone conveyed something else – something sinister pulsing through that word and, by association, the person to whom it was applied. Everyone was guilty of such profiling – even if we didn’t realize the implications of what we were doing, we became complicit in widening that divide, contributing to tacit racial tension. But this proclivity wasn’t reserved for towns in the South. Whenever Andy and I talk about growing up, we always touch on how racism was just as prevalent farther north – just cloaked in different veils. We both grew up very differently, but we shared a privilege we couldn’t exactly articulate until now, in retrospect.

Even still, we also shared a nagging feeling that we were somehow different. In high school, I had an odd fixation with The Rime of the Ancient Mariner – the weight of the albatross a fitting analogy for the emotional baggage that’d been weighing me down, something that I was terrified was as obvious as a dead bird strung around my neck. But it wasn’t. And I could pass. Again, not until I was much older, I realized the color of my skin diluted my difference – made it more socially acceptable.

Not until I became more outspoken, and had the privilege of a collegiate education, did I start to comprehend the enormity of the problems humanity faces. We parse and segment as a means to better understand, but in so doing, we lose the connective thread that connects them all: education. And by education, I don’t mean post-secondary. I mean hands-on, face-to-face, person-to-person interaction; getting in the dirt together and finding common ground in meaningful, proactive ways. But many of us must first acknowledge our white privilege – that we have the luxury to obsess over the death of a Zimbabwe lion, while our black friends are under threat every single time they leave their home. Until we understand why black bodies are grossly policed, are subjected to structural violence, and take action to change it, we can’t really move forward to tackle everything that we face.

***

I’m inching closer to my interview, and I’m remembering why I was drawn to this particular organization: its emphasis on early, comprehensive education for every child, every family. And I can’t help but think about what I learned as a kid, and how much I want to teach my child so many of the same things – chief among them, respect.

I hope I’ll be open about difference, and be able to answer hard questions. I hope I’ll be able to appropriately frame how inequality hurts everyone, and how important it is to speak out and stand up for your friends, known and unknown – to speak and to act.

Because if we don’t first take care of our species – prioritize humanity – there’s no hope for those others with whom we share this planet.

Health Kicks

Health trends are so damn annoying, mostly because they follow a painfully predictable routine: you liquefy your diet, center your mind, and poo your brains out.

I’m all for being healthy, but I’ll never be able to cut all the sugary sweetness that I love. Still, I’ve been making strides to cut back where I can – not so much because I want to, but because I’m becoming aware that I can’t (1) have my cake and eat two more without repercussions; (2) skip breakfast; (3) process tons of daily sugar; and (4) go long without hydrating.

I’m chalking this up to a combination of being in my third decade of life and my body finally screaming “ENOUGH, GODDAMMIT!” In college, I spent next to nothing on groceries. I shopped at Dollar General for everything – made Venironi (venison mixed with packaged mac ‘n cheese), drank juice cocktail because it sounded fancy, and once subsisted off of generic frozen fish fillets and cheese food product (combined intermittently) during an interim summer semester. And I wondered why I didn’t have washboard abs.

I left most of that behind in graduate school and opted for eating disorders instead. But now I love food, and have a much healthier relationship with it. Still, though, I’ve found myself going off on sugary overloads – and dealing with the consequences. Ups and downs with blood sugar aren’t exactly fun.

So in the vein of downsizing stuff – as we’ve done during our time on this coast – I’m trying to get back to more simple eating. Granted, I’m basically a rabbit and can eat salads pretty much every single day. But that’s boring.

I like combining funky recipes with local foodie scenes and distilling out ideas that I want to incorporate into our daily eating, and developing reliable, healthy food standbys.

Like these summer rolls:

Summer roll deliciousness

Rice noodle salads:

Rice noodle salad!

And cheesy egg sandwiches with avocado-bacon spread (okay, maybe not super healthy, but good):

Sammiches!I’m also trying to cut down on my coffee intake.

I KNOW IT’S ABSURD.

But I can’t keep drinking pitchers of coffee. So after my two glasses of iced coffee (hey, I’m weening myself off…) in the morning, I’m pushing lemon water, which is supposed to have all of these great health benefits. Plus, I’m trying to take better care of my skin – all of that exfoliating, cleansing stuff that I never had time for until my complexion started looking a little off.

Alcohol has been super easy to cut out since we just sort of stopped drinking earlier this year. It wasn’t even planned. We just ran out and never bothered to re-stock. I think if we ever do, it’ll probably be more wine than anything.

But despite all of these cutbacks and whatnot, we have to enjoy some goodies every now and then. Like movie candy and cupcakes and the occasional ice cream truck score.

Turtle power!

Because if we can’t have some good-bad crap, life ain’t worth living.

This is 30…er, 31. Almost.

I’m not gonna lie: 30 hasn’t exactly been easy. And even though I only have a few months until a 1 shoves that 0 aside, I’m not discounting the rest of this allegedly life-changing year.

This new decade feels nice. I have the emotional maturity to deal with life as it comes, with an experiential arsenal chock-full of missteps and tiny victories to help guide me along. With the last plumage of my twenties shaken off, I’m a fully fledged adult – feeling less like an impostor with every passing day.

The associated life knowledge that comes with it severely blunts my ability and desire to blame others or Society or Life for my problems. Because I know, in the big picture, whatever I’m challenged by is pretty minor stuff. I’ve overcome plenty, and I’m more than capable of handling the hard stuff.

Still, there’re also things that I crave with the same ferocious intensity I reserve for my first glass of coffee (yes, a glass – in the morning hours, a cup is a laughably paltry half-measure) – like seeing more of the world, buying a house, adopting another dog, having a kid; not a long list, really.

But sometimes those things become clouded by battling expectations of what I’m supposed to want or do during this transformative decade: traveling to every country imaginable, renouncing materialism, living in a yurt, and finding inner peace while buying a massive house with a matching mortgage, having two cars and two kids, and having matching IRAs. These contradictory ideals often come in rapid fire bursts – shouted through social media posts or those annoying Buzzfeed lists. I’m somehow supposed to become a hippie with a Lexus – a socially aware materialist. Maybe these polar opposites stem from the Millennial context – growing up and balancing a pre-tech, outdoor-fueled childhood with a post-pubescent, office-centric tech explosion. And like plenty of folks, I find myself caught in between.

Do I want to see more of the world? Most certainly – but not all of it; I still want there to be mysterious places “out there” where my imagination can wander. Do I want a massive house filled to brim with kids and cars and stuff? No. But I’d love a small, manageable house with another shelter dog, where we can bring up a human pup sometime down the line.

To accomplish these goals, though, we’ve both acknowledged that we first must develop greater senses of self, and take care of ourselves. The thing is, prior to this decade, I’d already passed through a lot of mental sieves – left unnecessary, emotion-laden clutter and baggage caught in the webbing, and let thought and ambition and optimism flow through. None of it was easy, and I still have a ways to go.

But as I near 31, I’m at the point of looking in and past the mirror and acknowledging that, yup, this is it. And I’m pretty damn happy with it.

This is 30

So I need to treat myself accordingly, and embrace the all too infrequent senses of calm – of knowing that a decision or thought is true and right.

A few weeks back when Andy and I decided to move back to Raleigh in a year, I experienced one of those clarifying moments. All of the doubt and uncertainty I’d been feeling about making a home on this coast (the costs, the isolation, this and that and everything in between…) cleared. And I could see the future that we wanted. It’s still distant, but we’re inching closer to it every single day.

I’m not going to wax poetic and project ahead – assume that this year is going to be a revolutionary one.

To be certain, it’s going to be challenging. But every year, every decade is pocked with cake walks and welters of madness. So I’m not expecting 31 to be anything more than another year of me doing the best to live the life I want.

Because doing just that is interesting enough.