Lent 2015

This past weekend, I found myself delicately traversing the icy banks of the Chicago Lake Shore Drive trail long into the evening. What originally began as a twenty minute walk to Belmont Harbor became a four-hour long journey from the North-side to downtown and back, and as any Chicagoan knows this path would present its share of obstacles in the wake of a frigid Chicago winter evening. As much as I bundled up, I couldn’t help but return home with a slight numbness on my face.

Yet on this walk, what began as an excuse for some fresh air became a mental adventure of sorts. With my mind merely on the music blasting in my ears and the howling wind biting my face, I was transported for a moment from the troubles of the world and the expectations of reality. Cut off from the various problems that I approach during my daily grind, I experienced a sort of lonely serenity that is difficult to discover during the trappings of a typical 24-hour day.

Somewhere along my walk I stumbled upon an iron park bench, covered in snow and colder than the weather itself. After shoveling off the mound of snow with my hands, I laid out on the bench for nearly an hour, legs crossed, dove deep into my music and thought. Alternating between perusing the stars and dancing about my thoughts, coupled with whatever music happened to be finding its way into my ears, I experienced one of the most relaxing and comforting escapes that I’ve felt in years.

Maybe it’s a product of our society as a whole, or maybe it happens to be the friend group that I’ve found myself fastened in, but I’ve become slowly conditioned to believe that happiness and ‘escape’ come from universally agreed-upon sources; crowded house parties, the last sliver of liquid at the bottom of a nearly-spent bottle of fireball, conversations that move nowhere and personal questioning that has cemented itself so solidly that it leaves and returns through a consistent feedback loop. Tradition, more realistically touted as routine, becomes a sort of trademark of the life of someone in my position.

Netflix binges, hours in front of the TV playing the same video game over and over, feeling overtly awkward as a strong introvert at a party full of extroverted social butterflies; these have all been the personal results of me being conditioned to view the world through this lens of analysis. It wears me down, it slowly saps a personal level of willpower that I’ve always taken great pride in.

I can’t escape all of these things quite yet; I have social obligations, expectations pinned upon me by large groups of people who still depend upon me for things. Yet even beyond the obligations that I cannot escape for the time being, there are things that I can do.

The arrival of the Lent season provides for me a certified way for me to justify changing as a person for a short amount of time. As opposed to the year-long commitments of the ‘New Year Resolutions’ that rather go unfulfilled after a few days, Lent provides me a time to give up the negative sources of my unhappiness and to absorb myself in the things that bring my life warmth. In the past, I’ve given up soda for Lent and even my own bed, yet this year I’m taking a more concrete spin on how I approach this spiritual challenge.

From the start of Wednesday the 18th until Easter Sunday, I’ll be giving up alcoholic beverages. So yes, I’m sorry to my friends who haven’t been able to take me out to a bar now that I’m finally legal. That will have to wait. It’s not that I even have a problem with drinking (I think it’s a lot of fun), but it’s not something I need to do. It’s just not the sort of escape that I need.

Beyond the negative energy and the negative people that I’ll be cutting out of my life, I’ll be adding things to my life as well. There are eventually moments during Lent when my desires begin to trump my common sense; I’m sure that somewhere during this ordeal, my eyes with stumble upon a bottle of super cheap wine and I will adamantly deny that any harm could come from drinking a little sip of it.

Somewhere during this process I will most likely fail. My temptations will overcome my common sense, I’ll forget to read or write as much as I aimed to do, a shot of some kind will find itself in my hand at a party. I’ll enjoy this escape for about five minutes, and once realizing how much I deceptively duped myself in believing that I could control myself, I’ll waver and retreat all the way back to where I was before I wrote this blog entry.

Or, maybe I won’t fail. Maybe I’ll wake up on Easter Sunday, peruse through a large stack of books that I read over the span of Lent, thumb through a large copy of a draft of a short story I wrote, and feel that heart-warming sense of accomplishment inside. That would be great, wouldn’t it?

We’ll see where this all gets me. But for the time being, happy Mardi Gras!!

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I Survived 21 Years of Life. Now What?

I apologize deeply for my lack of haste in regards to the timeliness of my blog postings. I swear, I’ve been very busy with school and the overall experience that is life. It’s been over a week and I still haven’t publically acknowledged the passing of the final barrier to adulthood, so I figured I’d mention it briefly here tonight. On Saturday the 31st of January, I finally bid farewell to the innocence of childhood (I haven’t considered myself a child for probably a decade, but let’s toss that aside) and welcomed in the beginning of my 21st year on Earth. Woohoo, how exciting!

Like any good member of productive society, I drank to celebrate this most joyous of occasions. I averaged around 0.78 shots per each person that attended my birthday party, and considering that my apartment was packed you could say that the drinks were flowing. I’d like to also like to thank all of my friends who not only attended but also brought me some real alcohol to balance out my young yet growing stash of Washington State-made wine currently residing on the top of my fridge. If it wasn’t for you, my party would’ve been the college equivalent of soccer moms getting wasted over cheap Riesling.

It took me until the dreadful morning after, and the horrendous finish for the Seahawks in the Super Bowl, to be brought back down to Earth and realize the importance of 21 years.

I get it; it’s just a number, relatively arbitrary in the grand scheme of things (on the cosmic calendar, my existence probably equals an indiscernible percentage of time). However, for us it’s important. I can go buy cheap alcohol from the corner store, I can sit in the bar at a restaurant late in the evening, I can even attend ‘adult’ events where I have no intention of consuming alcohol. Oh, what a great feeling it is to be an adult!

So far, through my few days of legally consuming alcohol, I’ll admit that it’s sort of neat. Yet the importance of my 21st year alive doesn’t lie mainly with my newly-earned access to liquid-goodness, it comes from something much more substantial; freedom. When I say freedom, I don’t mean the sort of freedom you experience with the closing lines of the 1812 Overture on the Fourth of July, I’m talking about that sort of freedom that is indefinable to a point. With the affirmation that I have somehow, miraculously or not, avoided death for 21 years, the last barriers of adolescence are removed. The proverbial door has been opened, for better or worse.

I’ve come to the harsh conclusion that I, quite simply, have run out of excuses for not effectively managing both my time and my passions. The excesses of life no longer forbid me, these guilty pleasures that we drunkenly dabble in yet staunchly repress in our vicious hangovers. A sort of guilty freedom is the new norm for me, and so far I’ve taken its entrance into my life with a cautious yet hopeful approach.

I’m not a kid anymore, yet at times I feel like a helpless penguin waddling on an impassible ice sheet, yet here I’m constrained by nothing but myself. It’s a frightening thought to be completely severed from using innocence as an excuse. A humbling baptism through fire, though at times I feel like a match doused in the entire oil reserves of the OPEC states (required political reference complete).

Here I am, this weird human-being thing, and somehow I survived 21 years on this little pale blue dot. It’s a pretty eye-opening thought. Yes, I found a way to fit in a Carl Sagan line in this entry, apparently nothing radical shifted in my brain over the course of a few shots of Tennessee Honey (few, in this context, is indefinable and left to interpretation).

Here’s a point in my writing where I get out of my chair, peek my eyes upon the top shelf of my Ikea bookshelf, dust off the fading leather encompassing the words of Marcus Aurelius, and transcribe something beautifully epic about ‘acting as the rock standing strong through the torrent of the crashing waves’, thus some centuries’ old nugget of wisdom about being fortunate that I’m able to bear the tides of struggle yet stand to tell the tale. If you haven’t heard this before, shame upon you. Read a book, youngin’, But what I wrote above helps me reach full-circle in this ill constructed, rambling sort of reflection that I’ve designed in this entry. Sure, this is a weird point in my life, where the very foundations that I’ve based ‘common sense’ upon act more as free-flowing sand than bricks of stone, yet I’m glad for it. I both despise the uncertainties of discovering oneself yet cherish the very fact that I’m able to drag myself to my apartment late at night and bury my head in my journal. To avoid the cliché ofthe white knight, this humility and pure awe that I experience through daily self-reflection is the ultimate luxurious necessity that defines my privilege in life. For that, I’m truly thankful. Here’s to being a human being.

2014; A Year of Change Unexpected, Volatile, Yet Essential.

This could be an entry focusing on the current events that have shaped our world over the past twelve months, but I’m going to forgo that analysis and instead look at my personal evolution over the past year. I’ve written a lot about the events this year that have defined us as citizens of our nation and the world at large, especially changing race relations in the United States and the unbalancing of power abroad, but instead I wanted to share my brief personal reflection.

About a week ago I was scrolling through my Facebook feed, boringly wasting away a few extra minutes that I had before completing some online work, when I stumbled upon a few posts from my friends titled ‘a year in review’. I peeked at a few of them, though I could assume what most of them were filled with; pictures of friends, selfies with important people, beautiful landscapes from vacations past, cliché phrases meant to show the world how great 2014 was! I’ve always known that the meaning of social media has been partially to impart an idealized vision of what one’s individual life is; how awesome it is, how adventurous, etc. That has never bothered me too much. I just deal with it.

Most of these posts, however, were accompanied with the title ‘It’s been a great year, thanks for being a part of it.’ Which got me thinking; what kind of year has it been for me?

2013 had been an incredible year for me; I had found stability in a life of relative independence, I had been able to excel in a career path that I had thought of as virtually untenable, and for the first time I had been able to look at my idealized visions of what I wanted my life to be and witness a shred of reality within them. For the first time, dreams and goals that I had set for myself seemed attainable.

On New Years Eve 2013, I had basked in the victories of that year and expected the march to continue onwards in 2014. I viewed my life as a timeline of progress, and 2013 had brought a huge leap in that timeline that seemingly stretched far into uncharted territory. The possibility of that limitless potential followed by a unabridged optimism and oftentimes reckless ambition, foretold in my mind the possibility of huge gains in 2014. I didn’t expect anything less than full victory in 2014.

Looking back now, I realize that those thoughts and that mindset was one of somebody so wrapped in a greedy pursuit that he had lost all ability to stop and analyze the world around him, as well as himself. I had morphed into a being that I barely recognized, and the onset of 2014 ripped apart the façade of success at the seams.

Through a few events and moments in time that tested my character and made me realize the true fragility of dreams and visions wrapped in fantasy, I began to retreat from problems. I scurried away from the world for a short period of time, and to many this may have seemed like the actions of somehow dealing with a beast that they didn’t know how to tame.

In reality, I didn’t entirely know how to deal with the major identity crisis that hit me this year. Sometimes I attempted to forget the problems by masking my personal trepidations in a shroud of calm, and sometimes even unhinged frustration. At times during this long process I moved away from the best elements of my character, and sought refuge, unsuccessfully, in the purposed ‘perfect’ image of a young man with dreams such as myself. The more I did this, the more I struggled with a terrifyingly heavy burden of doubt and self-remorse.

The worst of my troubles spanned intermittently from April to November, the brunt of it from April to June and September to November. April and May became some of the toughest months of my young adulthood; times where the very idea of who I am was thrown into flux.

I had tied myself to people, once trustworthy and loyal to a fault, who were proven to manipulative, dangerous, and downright negative. I was locked into a livelihood that was slowly destroying the things in life that had always brought me the greatest joy; creativity, the pursuit of knowledge, liberty, and a progressive attitude rooted in the future. I was stuck, like a wagon in a deep mud somewhere far away on the Oregon Trail. I knew this for a while, yet I ignored it for a while. Suddenly these problems combined and forcefully came roaring into my life, where I was surrounded by a fear of failure that had never surrounded me before.

With my departure from College in June, I was able to push aside the problems of the not-so-distant future and instead retreat to the comfy confines of life in my home state and hometown. My independence was the only thing that forced me to confront the inner-demons that have rested deep within me, so the brief summer respite from this independence allowed me to be comfortably shied away from the troubles of finding oneself.

Fall quarter provided its own period of soul-searching. I describe my fall quarter as one would describe the aftermath of a major battle; the violent overturning of my identity in the spring had demolished all foundations that I had laid, and the fall was delivered to me to afford the opportunity to rebuild the future. Though many would see this as a regression, I always viewed it as a massive progression in my life, for sometimes a rotten foundation must be uprooted to make way for building blocks of stone.

For the first time in years, I spent the waning hours of my day doing things that I truly loved. On occasion, I locked myself in my apartment and dove headfirst into my library, forcing my way through dozens of works of literature that had sat dormant over the past two years. I explored knowledge in an introspective way that I had never done before, and I discovered new perspectives and paradigms that fundamentally shifted my worldview.

During weekend evenings, I cut back from social gatherings and instead jaunted around the entire city for hours and miles at a time. Carrying my books and listening to the many songs that have inspired me in the past, I took midnight pilgrimages to the lakefront, where I sat quietly and gazed upon the stars for hours. I memorized a variety of the constellations, lost in the glimmering of the many planets and stars thrown against the black canvas of night. I studied the words and observations of the great poets and artists that have written about the stars, and for the first time in years I felt the curious majesty of the cosmos tugging at my heart strings.

I reconnected with a long-lost tool that I had used for healing and observation throughout my high school years; the pen. I wrote about the world, about life, the people I met and the music that lifted my soul from the deepest depths of insecurity, and somewhere on one of those late night walks I had the greatest prophetical dream that I had ever had about how I wanted to be as a person. For hours I sat upon a stone wall, gazed upon the cosmos, and dug deep down inside my soul and searched.
In this long process I have often times remembered things about myself that I had long discarded, and yet discovered even more new things about my character and my hopes and aspirations.

I won’t lie; 2014 wasn’t everything that I wanted it to be. My prior vision of life was overturned, and it threw into question my own stability. I was tossed asunder repeatedly like a man o’war skirting across the ocean, and I knew this pain would sting for days, weeks, and months to come.

Yet I’ve come to learn, even in my rebuilding pride today, that 2014 has been so far the most transformative year of my life. I was able to venture into the deep unknown of the feared ‘identity crisis’, and to this day it seems as if I have finally triumphed, albeit a victory that may not last forever. Maybe even this yearlong battle will delay or even diminish the need for another such identity transformation that may make itself in my young adulthood or middle ages.

All I know is this; 2014 was a bitter year, filled with anguish and at times distrust of a pathway towards my dreams that had been ingrained in my mind ever since I had dared question my identity many years ago. It was difficult, sure, but it was necessary.

Many of my friends, even family, probably have or will face such similar problems in their own lives, or maybe you’re even facing them now. My advice to you is this; be grateful for the health you have, the friends you have gained, and the memories you have enjoyed, but don’t shy away from the realization that your past year on this earth was not all you wished it to be. I have certainly come to that realization, and I have become a better and more stable individual because of it.

On one final note, I’d like to thank everyone who has been a positive influence on my life over the past year, and shame on those who haven’t been. I’m very thankful for my health and my relative privilege in this life, and as always I’m thankful that you’re reading this short entry of mine.

As I’m watching the clock tick closer to midnight, I’ll be reflecting on this past year and looking forward to the year ahead, along with the memories that will be made and the many friends that will be gained. I hope we have the opportunity to share in a 2015 that is one for the ages.