Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Book Review: Misunderstood

The question of identity is central to the process of every human growing up, but as a Third Culture Kid (TCK) I've found that there are extra complications in finding a personal identity in the midst of having multiple cultural identities. To ask the question "who am I?" and find no answer within ourselves or in our surroundings creates panic. Tanya Crossman's new book, Misunderstood: The Impact of Growing up Overseas in the 21st Century, is a candle to hold aloft in the midst of that panic. A tool to help TCKs begin defining their identities.

(my copy, along with jewelry from China, jewelry form the US, and jewelry bought in the US that reminds me of China)

I knew I had been quoted in the book several times, so as I read I was playing this game trying to guess my own quotes before seeing who actually said them. So often, I would go, "oh yeah, that was me" only to realize it wasn't - someone else felt word-for-word what I felt. In essence, that is the power of Misunderstood. Here you will find that the things that define you (or your child, if you're raising a TCK), whether you're aware of them or not, are common in the TCK community. To me, this is both comforting and saddening.

I had to read this book slowly because sometimes it brought up memories or realizations that required some emotional debriefing before I could resume. This book is me, growing up. What a complicated thing to review.

I first met Tanya in Beijing in 2005. I was 14, she was 24. My family was in the midst of one of the biggest transitional phases of my life and during our 6 months in Beijing, I slept on the floor of an office - there simply wasn't room for more beds in our small apartment. I wore a lot of heavy eye make up and wrote a lot of dark poetry and felt incredibly lost. Truth be told, I didn't spend a ton of time with Tanya in Beijing, partly because I just wasn't there for long, but the thing that impressed me about her was that she stuck with me when everything around me was changing.

In the following decade, we only talked a handful of times, but she's always managed to be there at these pivotal moments, gently helping me to understand that major parts of my life are not flukes, but part of this rich tapestry of a global childhood which continues to define me in adulthood. We recently got to meet up again for the first time since 2008, right here in LA!

(Me, Tanya, and fellow TCK Pauline)

I moved to China with my missionary parents soon after turning 3. Between 1994 and 2008, I moved continents or major cities 9 times (not to mention endless houses within those cities). My family returned to the US for good in 2008, just as I finished high school. My dad found work in Santa Maria, California, where I have now lived for the past 8 years. I did not plan to stay, but I met my husband, settled down (to an extent), and had two children. That's the short version of my life so far, but between all those milestones, I've grown into an adult with a life-story that's been shaped by a myriad of experiences and pulled in countless directions.

Something that I found especially valuable about Tanya's writing and research is its ability to put names to my experiences. This happened during the behind-the-scenes process of writing this book, and then continued to astonish me as I read through the finished version. Some of these realizations have been dramatic - I realized that my husband was a "fence post", a relationship that I developed immediately after repatriating that helped me navigate life in America. Initially, I felt very rattled that something so personal as a relationship that turned into marriage played right into a textbook TCK scenario. The entire book has made me question what is me, and what is simply a result of my unusual upbringing?

Within the first few pages of Misunderstood, I'd uncovered yet another major realization. Tanya includes a graphic of all the kinds of people that fall under the TCK label, including refugees, immigrants, and adoptees. I've been working toward a career advocating for the rights and well-being of refugees and immigrants, never realizing that I am likely drawn to them as my brothers and sisters by experience. I may not be fleeing war or impoverishment, but I understand the experience and what it does to ones heart, and ultimately ones entire life. I think it is a common human characteristic to seek out others who are "like us", and for me, that is the transient community.

Sometimes, I resent that I'm often defined by something that I can't control.

I have had several meet-ups with TCKs since repatriating, though not nearly as many as some other TCKs. Part of my repatriation strategy was to avoid sheltering myself in a TCK-only community. I've never attended a TCK gathering or conference or gone to therapy to discuss what sort of impact my TCK-ness has had on me. In a way, this strategy worked, but in the few times that I have met up with TCK friends, I've been astonished at how easy everything suddenly seems. Even though I no longer try and explain myself to the general public, knowing that I have nothing to explain at all in the presence of another TCK takes an invisible burden off my shoulders.

Part of the struggle of being a repatriated TCK is that in many ways, I fit in completely: I look and sound similar to the people around me, and after 8 years, I can keep up with pop culture. Most people that I know around town do not know that I was not raised in the US. On the one hand, it's a mark of success for a a TCK to blend in so seamlessly in a place, but at my core, I've simply had to quiet the parts of me that don't fit in here at all. I'm 25 and I'm still getting hit in the face by how Chinese I am - how I will never raise my voice at someone in an argument because that would only embarrass my honor.

In the book, Tanya writes, "TCKs spend a lot of time explaining. No matter where they are, someone does not understand key aspects of their life and experience." I spend a lot of time trying to deny this, because I think it causes pain for my non-TCK friends when I allude to the fact that they just "don't get it". In some ways, I like being a chameleon, but I wonder if things would be more straightforward if I looked Chinese. I have this innate desire to associate with the Chinese (or Southeast Asian) people I come in contact with in the US, but I'm not really one of them either and it must be incredibly strange to them that I stare and try and be close to them.

If I were fully Chinese, then I wouldn't have to explain how frustrated I am with America (or living in America) sometimes and how sometimes I think of myself as separate from "regular Americans". I'm American when it suits me, but I am not-fully-American/a TCK when America hurts me or confuses me. Both are true.

The feeling of belonging is a powerful experience. So powerful, in fact, that some researchers suggest that a TCK's (in the article, referred to as "in-betweeners") lack-of-belonging in a new place can make them more susceptible to the call of ISIS or other radical choices. I don't point that out to be a sensationalist, only to emphasize how important the experience of belonging (or lack of belonging) is.

One of the most powerful take-aways from Misunderstood was validation that a TCK's life is one of grief. Acceptance and the ability to work through grief is a major theme in the book. I never experienced a single event that was what I'd consider tragic - no one close to me died, no terrible illness or calamity befell me or my loved ones. Saying goodbye and being uprooted frequently was "normal" to us, and neither something that we could control or something that ever occurred to me to complain about.

I usually don't talk about being a TCK. I have wonderful memories, but I can't help but focus on the fact that I can't access that part of my life any more, even in my memories sometimes, as they begin to fade. I have a happy new life, but remembering the first half is almost always sad. In reading Misunderstood, I felt like I finally had permission to admit that the cumulative affect of loss, even if it was not actual death, broke my heart repeatedly and that I still carry those wounds, even if they have mostly healed.

Misunderstood made me realize that I might not be as at peace here in the US as I thought I was, but I see that as a positive thing. I do think that I've settled here in the US - it feels more like home than China - but sometimes I think that in order to "fully be here" I have to forget my previous life so that the hurt of losing it isn't raw. Although it sounds childish and perhaps even sad, I thought I'd more or less put being a TCK behind me. Instead, Tanya has helped me to see that being a TCK is this rich and vibrant opportunity stretching out in front of me. I believe that knowledge is power, and the more I can dive in to what has shaped my entire self, the better I will be able to overcome the parts that hold me back.

I can not overemphasize how much Misunderstood touches on every aspect of my life. My faith, my friendships, my marriage, my siblings, my parents, my patriotism, my parenting, my career. Sometimes I want to stop being a TCK, but I can't. I can't separate myself from this, so the only thing is to move forward in it and let myself be open to growth and the pain that accompanies it. Having a guidebook through this ongoing experience is something that I didn't know I needed until now.

(photo: my copy is filled with notes, realizations, and reminders to myself)

Misunderstood has also been incredibly helpful to me as a parent, as I gaug whether I want to move overseas with my own children. Right now, the answer is no. It's hard for me to say that, because I do desperately want them to experience the positive aspects of life overseas, but I'm still reeling from all the ways in which my life has been changed by being a TCK, and so much of it being defined by grief. I know that grief is a universal experience, but I hesitate to knowingly bestow it on my children. I hope to provide them with a stable home base and still be able to travel with them in more of a vacation setting.

In a practical sense, this book is not a strategy book for how to navigate life as a TCK. Instead, it is a guidebook to what defines TCKs. If I didn't feel like it would undo so much of my settling-in work, I would push this book into the hands of every non-TCK that I love.

In the dedication of Misunderstood, Tanya writes that it is "to my kids", and it made me tear up. She's never let go of us, even when so many others have. For that, she has my eternal heartfelt gratitude, and I think you will find that her book will be a comforting friend in times and situations of uncertainty, whether they are your own or your child's.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Confessions of a Racist

I remember the first time I realized I was a racist. It was in Mrs. Farley's English class at Allan Hancock College. I don't remember the exact questions she asked that led me to this conclusion, but I realized that I do treat the "others" in my city differently without even meaning to. My group of friends is pretty monocultural (white or mixed-with-white), and when I see young Hispanic men grouped together, I walk by quickly. When I see Oaxocan families at the grocery store, I expect them to be poor and dirty. When I see camo-wearing tramp-stamped parents in our school district, I assume they're alcoholics who only buy processed food and whose children are poorly behaved. 

I never say cruel things to or about these people, and I don't laugh at racial jokes, but I have preconceived notions none the less. I see people who aren't like me as stereotypes before I see them as people, and that is racism. I would not be surprised if my lack of clearly racist behavior toward black people is simply because I only know about 5 black people, none of whom I'm very close to. 

It is not the literal color of skin that causes prejudice anymore. I can honestly say I have no bias against darker skin - basically everyone has darker skin than I do, even "white" people. Prejudice is attached to the culture that we associate with dark skin. Firstly, culture itself is rarely inherently bad. Secondly, racism is so poisonous because it is inevitable that not every person with dark skin is a part of the culture we have decided to see as less-than. Therefore we will certainly be mistaken about others much of the time.

More than once, people who I have pre-judged have been considerably kinder to me than the average white person. White people, myself included, seem to have a habit of "minding their own business", even if speaking up (aka taking an interest in someone else's business) would help someone else. Once, I saw a police officer harassing a Hispanic man in the parking lot of the grocery store. I don't know what the situation was (which was one of my excuses for not doing anything) but it seemed clear to me that the officer was bullying a man who was defenseless in every sense. As I remembered the way I felt watching that scene from a few cars away, I thought, "maybe I should have called the police", followed immediately by a sense of dread and sadness as I realized that black people must feel that every day when confronted with the belief/perception/reality of "who is left to protect me or right wrongs when I can't trust the police to take my side over the harassing officer's?"

To see a problem and do nothing is to become part of the problem. 

This article about "good white people" really struck me. Even though I'm vaguely aware of my underlying racism, I typically think of myself as a "good white person": A person who cares. A person who would never go near a statement about black people that I thought even might be offensive. A person who is culturally aware and globally minded. The author notes, "What a privilege, to concern yourself with seeming good while the rest of us want to seem worthy of life."

Considering myself "not a part of the problem" by virtue of being a "good white person" isn't doing anything for change any more than openly racist people do. "Being good" is an odd description for sitting comfortably in a system that belittles others while helping me. I don't need to be punished (even by myself) for being white, but being white does mean that I that I have no justification in saying that lack of black nominees at the Oscars is "not a big deal". Brit Bennett, quoted above, continues, "I often hear good white people ask why people of color must make everything about race, as if we enjoy considering racism as a motivation." Lack of equality in places like the Oscars or between the pages of Elle Magazine may not hurt me personally, but I don't get to decide whether or not it has hurt someone else. Along the same lines, I have no right to criticize someone else's protest of injustice, especially an injustice that has cost me nothing.

Enter, Colin Kaepernick. 

I don't know that this will matter to anyone else reading, but I found it very humanizing to learn that Kaepernick is a 28 year old adoptee of Russian and African-American blood. Not in the sense that any other situation would have made him less human, but I find a connection in the fact that he's close to my age and of mixed background and adopted, all situations that I can relate to on some level. 

There are a lot of angles from which to come at Kaepernick's protest (not standing for the national anthem at the football games he plays in), but the thing that I think I admire most about it is that he probably doesn't give a rat's behind what I, or anyone else, thinks about it or what angle we choose to agree or disagree from. What's admirable is that he sees it as a way to bring awareness to a cause that is valuable, and so he protests in a public and high-profile way. That's more than I've ever done publicly for anything I cared about. 

I think that some people question what he has to be upset about, given that he's a wealthy man playing the US' most worshiped sport. If you think that someone can be too rich to protest, you don't understand activism or racism. I find so much hope in the fact that Kaepernick is protesting in spite of his wealth and prestige as a football player. He has a lot to lose in terms of popularity (which translates to money in the NFL) which makes him very brave for protesting. Furthermore, he is inspiring others to join him. I count myself among those others - Kaepernick has grabbed my attention and helped me sort through my thoughts and feelings about my role in America, and that is worth a lot to me.

Another obvious criticism against Kaepernick is that his protest is unpatriotic. To me, protest is patriotism. What sort of patriot can in good conscious glorify an America that has persecuted every imaginable minority since its inception? Personally, I do identify with wanting to distance myself from the current face of America.  Not every use of the national anthem needs to represent everything that has happened in the history of the United States, but I consider it fair that Kaepernick sees the anthem as a representation of an America that has often turned a blind eye on horrors going on beneath its own flag. Patriotism should celebrate the possibility of an America where black people don't feel the need to protest any more rather than perpetuate a history of segregation and unequal treatment. Far be it from me to say that the national anthem is too good to be used as a rallying cry for a higher standard of patriotism.

I read another TCK's (Third Culture Kid) comment - completely unrelated to protest - that really struck me. She said that rather than being proud to be an American, she was humbled to be an American. That encompasses so much of what I feel about America - I am so grateful for the advantages that being American gives me, and simultaneously heartbroken and disturbed that I'm attached to this nation that frequently crushes everything in its path. Yet another friend noted on Facebook, "if something hurts one part of the body, it hurts the entire body". By this logic, how can remaining untouched by racism against black people be anything less than racism on our own parts?

Yet another criticism of Kaepernick: "what is he actually accomplishing?" I touched briefly before on the fact that his protest has already changed me in some way, and I consider that a triumph on his part, but there's more to it than that. To ask, "who cares" or "why bother" is missing the point completely. There need not be an airtight plan of action before one decides to say, "enough." This is over quoted, but the definition of insanity is to repeat ones actions over and over, expecting different results each time. Yes, the Civil Rights movement was important and made things better than they had been, but are we really about to tell the current generation to stop whining because our grandfathers already fixed this? If previous steps have fallen short, how can the answer be to stop trying to move forward at all? Why is protest only acceptable if it's polite and quiet?

Can you imagine if black NFL players joined together to protest by refusing to play altogether? There would be no NFL without them, and that would sure get people caring. But we don't have to require that kind of organization from Kaepernick. For me, it is enough to respect and support his right to protest in the capacity that he knows and is able to do. The rest will come, because it must, even if it's not organized by Kaepernick.

My dad's initial criticism of  Kaepernick was that he is perpetuating an "us vs. them" mentality which only leads to more tension. I agree that divisiveness is not the end goal, but when we chide people - particularly black people - for trying to stand out, we ignore the fact that by doing so, they inevitably end up being swallowed by the "us" rather than us reaching out and joining "them". 

I like to think that in talking through all of this with my family, Kaepernick changed my dad's mind too. My dad said that he realized that in his own life in America, he's never been treated in a way that made him feel unsafe to be American or feel that his country not only failed to protect him, but even persecuted him for part of his identity. But Kaepernick has. 

Consider this: if you disagree with Colin Kaepernick's stance, what issue would you personally feel it was appropriate to boycott by not standing for the national anthem? If you can think of nothing, then thank God for how privileged you are. If you can think of something, be aware that lack of accountability for police officers in their dealings with black civilians is that issue for Colin Kaepernick, and we would be sorely offended to have him tell us that our issue did not warrant protest.

I find it endlessly frustrating when yet another shooting occurs (be it a mass shooting or a black man killed under suspicious circumstances) and everyone says, "this has to stop". I mean, DUH. But what does saying that accomplish? It's not like there's a critical point at which enough statements of "stop it" make it stop. I suppose it's better than not publicly decrying violence at all, but I think it's empty for me personally to say "this has to stop" if I don't follow that up with trying to do something.

Thus far for me, "doing something" has simply been realizing that I'm more sheltered or biased than I thought. Not maliciously, but none the less, blind to cultural nuances that give me an edge while shutting others out from being a part of the American "us". 

As much as I find satisfaction in posting on Facebook about my displeasure over racial injustice and calling for it to end, 
what good does it do if I don't consider myself to be part of the problem? I do not think that anyone that reads what I have to say was sitting around hating black people but then decided not to because I said so. It is in thinking that it's everyone else's problem that we become part of the problem. 

I AM the problem. YOU are the problem. Stop being a good white person and start being a conflicted white person. Maybe even sit for the national anthem and say, "I believe we can do better than this." 

{images: 1, 2}

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Fall 2016

This is not a good time of year. It's probably Fall in hell all year around. I'm not finding much of a silver lining this year, but feel free to browse the tag "The Fall Post" to see how almost-happy I was about it last year (and varying degrees of dealing-with-it for the past 6 years).

What I'm picking up here in terms of redeeming the color-palette of Fall is to make a light color 80% and accentuate with a "fall color". Instead of mustard, choose a dusty rose or a washed-out grey-teal. The color thread through each photo I chose is a muted dirt-ochre. A non-pink skin tone. Also spindly florals. I can live in this color world, at least until winter.

Images: 12345

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Inspiration & Anxiety

I feel a little stuck right now. These are two things I've been pondering.

Anxiety seems to be the vogue ailment these days, and I don't say that to belittle people suffering from anxiety, but these terms do seem to trend, which is kind of odd. At least in my circles, people are less depressed or gluten intolerant than they were 10 and 2 years ago respectively, but there's a lot of talk of anxiety. I find myself describing myself as anxious too. It's true, there are things I am anxious about at times.

For me, anxiety is this foggy feeling of unease. I'll have this urge to go through the files in my brain and put my finger on everything in my life that might be causing this unease, so that I can feel a moment of acute awareness or remembrance or pain. If I can hold it, then maybe I can resolve it.

Perhaps anxiety is just the new way of saying depression?

It's the knowledge that things are changing without my permission, but I don't know the details yet.

It's the feeling of not quite fitting in.

It's the feeling of wasted time, in the midst of business.

It's the feeling of being far away, and not being sure whether I want to exercise my way back into the sunlight.

It's the feeling of wanting to be different, but not caring enough to grow.

It's teeth on edge.

It's the feeling of finding out things you knew along, but don't like.

It's a romance with a phantom.

It's my soul flame threatening to snuff out. "A mouth full of blood."

As melodramatic as it sounds, it's the feeling of summer turning into fall.

I get this picture in my head of the Native Americans, and how in tune they were/are with nature. They probably would have thought it completely natural to have your body and psyche become ill or have an uncomfortable shedding of the skin as the seasons change and the world dies again and the skies storm up but never rain. It's the time of year in which I'm most aware of my emptiness.

If you'd told me 8 years ago that it would take me 10 years to graduate from college, I'd have punched you in the face. I'm pretty sure I will manage to finish by the end of 2017, and recently I got hit with a bit of senior, uh"anxiety", for lack of a better word. I suddenly feel like I'm running out of time to figure out what to do with my life. Not that that has to be decided all at once (I'm a firm believer that it shouldn't be a one-time decision), but none the less, I'm walking around under a bunch of question marks.

When it comes to Inspiration, I'm not sure whether it's really separate from anxiety to me. Or rather, the presence of one is the absence of the other. Nothing feels interesting to me right now. None of the things that I generally feel passionate about seem able to call me or grip me. I like that almost manic state of having your head full of too many ideas to focus on. Instead, I want to pour myself into something but can't seem to find anything that makes me want to get up. Cooking and getting dressed are two things that are often really fun for me, but recently, they're just chores.

Isn't this picture strange and beautiful? Someone was selling it as part of an album on Instagram a while ago and I didn't buy the whole album, but they kindly sent me a scan of this one because it sunk its teeth deep into...something... in me. I have so many questions. I want to write about it but I'm afraid that whatever I can make up will not do it justice or will stay unfinished forever, like most of my work.

I know this post is a little bit dark. Feelings pass and circumstances change. Philippians 4:6-7
6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

The weirdness of the world entangles me, but the Peace of God, when we uncover it, transcends all understanding. Strange things. Beautiful things. 

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Calling Girls Names

So, divulging my girl name stash in this post means I'm pretttty done having kids. Every once in a while, I think it's a bit hasty to say that, because I never know how crazy I'll get in 10 years, but then I tried taking my boys to the thrift store by myself and I got back to writing this post when I got home. ;)

I've always been very interested in names and naming our boys was one of my favorite parts of pregnancy. Maybe the only part, other than that people were extra nice to me. I wrote out the story of both their names (Ishmael, and Ira), and I mentioned in those posts that if they had been girls, their names were going to be Mercedes Magdelena and Ophira Dahl, respectively.

We didn't mean for them to both have "I" names (let alone have the exact same 4-letter initials!) - I've always groaned at families who give their kids matchy names. But I like that the "I"s in Ishmael and Ira make totally different sounds, and I happen to have always loved the name Imanuel, so my current top girl name is Imanuel Matisse, who would be Iman (pronounced E-mawn) for short. Even though it's another "I" name, it makes yet another sound, so it's all good. Mercedes, Ophira, and Iman/Imanuel sound nice together too.

Anyway, here are the other girl names that I've been hoarding:

Beau. French, meaning beautiful.

Berenice. English, meaning victorious.

Samsara. Sanskrit, referring to the cycle of reincarnation. There's a documentary on Netflix with the same name that is beautiful, but/and it puts me into a sleepy trance when I watch it.

Georgia. English, meaning farmer. It reminds me of Georgia O'Keefe who was a fierce and talented woman, and the state which I have a mild love affair with despite having never been there.

Marchesa. Italian, referring to a noblewoman. Pronounced Mar-KAY-sa. There's a fashion label with this name that is beautiful, though generally too girly for my taste. That's where I first heard the name, though.

Wallace. English, meaning foreigner or stranger. I really like Wallace Simpson as a fashion icon and her love story with Prince Edward.

Yrsa Rivera. 1. Unknown meaning, refers to a heroine of ancient Scandinavian literature, pronounced "Year-sa". 2. Spanish, meaning lives near the river, pronounced "RivEEra", rather than "RevAra". Both of these names were from characters in a show on Netflix called Sense8, which isn't very good. These are not at the top of my list, but I want to remember them because Yrsa, especially, isn't the kind of name I'm just going to happen upon later on if I forget it for now.

Rukhsana. Persian, meaning the beautiful cheeks. I've forgotten where I first heard this name. I think it was probably a historical figure with a story I liked, but when I look it up, there are too many Rukhsanas to tell which one was the most legit. I also like Roxelana.

Soirse. Irish, meaning freedom, pronounced "Sorsha". There's an actress (best known for the movie Brooklyn) with this name. I like the actress, but would not name a child after a celebrity. We made this same distinction with Ira - we first heard the name from the radio host Ira Glass, but we did not name our Ira after Ira Glass.

August. English, meaning great. I like this name for a boy, too.

Marcelle. French, meaning young warrior. The proper spelling is Marcel (which is a boy's name), but I think the "elle" makes it more feminine.

Zelda. German, meaning woman warrior. Zelda Fitzgerald as muse, not the video game. It feels both futuristic and antique at the same time.

I'm always finding more. I'm in a class with a Moroccan girl right now who's name is Majdouline. Isn't that pretty? I've also like Margot for a long time, but when I say it over and over in my head, I'm not sure it quite makes the list.

I've noticed that most of my friends who are having girls lately have given pretty classic names (Annie, Alice, Kathleen). Have you noticed any trends among people you know? What would you name a kid if you got the chance? Especially a child with a gender other than the kid/kids you have now? What names were runners up for your actual kids names?

{images: 1, 2, 3}

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Trader Joe's Favorites

Trader Joe's feels like a small store to me, but so often when I ask people what they like there, I've never heard of their favorite products. Items vary a bit from store to store and some things are seasonal, but there are also gems hidden in plain sight that will probably change your life.

Some items I love that are not exclusive to Trader Joe's but that I always buy there: Pita pockets, edamame, basil plant, Virgil's rootbeer (chilled = nectar of the god's! Made with cane sugar), and fresh flowers. The macarons (frozen dessert section) are unique to Trader Joe's (especially the price!) but I'm still on the fence about whether they belong on my greatest-hits list.

As for Trader Joe's-only favorites...

Triple Ginger Snaps - I love molasses cookies, but I don't like ginger and I'm not a huge fan of crunchy cookies. Somehow, these cookies manage to combine crunchiness and chunks of caramelized ginger into the most addicting spicy-sweet morsels. 

Mango Passion Granola Cereal - I usually make my own granola, but this stuff is yummy if you need to grab a quick breakfast. I used to keep a box in my desk drawer when I worked in an office. The freeze dried fruit bits are like grown-up lucky charms. 

Muhammara - This stuff if a Syrian walnut-pomegranate hummus-like paste for crackers and bread and what not. My Aunt Cathy introduced me to it, and it is delicious. 

Feta Cheese Spread - Once again, TJ's has taken something I don't like on its own (feta) and turned it into something I love. My friend Janae first showed me this spread, eaten at a picnic with a baguette, cherry tomatoes, white wine, and prosciutto. Easiest, most elegant, scrumptious picnic ever. I also use this spread in a Tzatziki pasta salad instead of crumbly feta. 

Savory Mini Thin Crackers - When not picnicking, I dip these babies into the feta spread. They're yummy and super crunchy, my current party cracker go-to. They're gluten free too, because they're rice based. 

Caramelized Onion Cheddar Cheese - Here's another one my Aunt Cathy found. It's not stiff and prone to chunking like regular cheddar and that onion is irresistible (but gives you powerful breath, fyi). I feel like the cheese section in general is something I haven't explored much at Trader Joe's. The prices can be off-putting to me, but when asked to bring something to a party, you're likely to find something delicious in there that will be festive, unique, and unheard of to most of your friends. 

Sriracha BBQ Sauce - I feel silly about liking this because I could probably just mix sriracha and BBQ sauce by myself, but honestly, it wouldn't be cheaper than just buying this, and making BBQ sauce myself (or messing with brands) does not guarantee a concoction as well balanced as this one. 

Cilantro Dressing - Nom nom nom. It's actually been a while since I've had this, and making salad dressing is pretty easy, but in a pinch, I'd definitely grab this.

Bollywood Popcorn - Once again, I could just make this, right? Wrong. Every time I try and make flavored popcorn, it gets soggy and unevenly coated. Just buy this. (Pro tip, though: pop regular salted popcorn in coconut oil. Next level goodness.)

Morello Cherries - These are very well priced and perfect for holiday cooking, especially if you don't want the goop that goes with regular cherry pie filling. I love to use the leftover juice to drizzle over ice cream or mix into drinks.

Pork Gyoza Potstickers - These are my go-to dinner when I can't bring myself to cook. Everyone in our family loves them and at about $3 a bag, I feel zero guilt grabbing two bags to throw in the freezer for an emergency meal. Also available with chicken filling, they're great as party appetizers or in soup as well.

Soft and Juicy Mandarins - These are a yummy snack that my boys love, and I like them because although they're simple, they seem kind of unusual to me - not a type of dried fruit you get in a mix. Sometimes I keep a bag in my purse to munch on when I skip breakfast or the boys are grumpy in the car.

Peruvian Inca Corn - Like giant, healthy corn nuts.

Finally, a few things I couldn't find pictures of: mango mints (near the registers), rice blends (Brown Rice Medley with amazing radish seeds, and Basmati Rice Medley) that are great meal-fillers or soup bulkers, and the dill tartar sauce (delicious, but I eat fish and chips once every several years, so...).

What are your favorites? Staples? Treats?

*post sponsored by no one :'( 

Thursday, August 18, 2016

What Is Happening to Social Media?

Every time I'm puzzling over something in my life, I find myself asking, "is this a real thing, or simply a product of my age (as in the amount of time I've been alive)?" It's no secret that I enjoy and frequently use social media, but the entire foundation seems to be shifting, and so is my attitude toward it. 

I've been a huge fan of Facebook from the beginning because it lends itself to the written word, and that is where I am most comfortable. For a long time, that's where the majority of my friends and acquaintances went to engage on the internet. I was too young (or too not-hip) for MySpace, no one I knew used Twitter, and I found Snapchat to be incredibly confusing (and redundant). I've been blogging for over a decade now, but "blogging has been dead" for at least half that time, according to plenty of people. I was very excited to join Instagram when I finally got a smartphone (circa 2013) and I've enjoyed it ever since, but in my circle of friends, IG is used infrequently, at best. 

In the past several months, Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, InStyle Magazine, and Vogue have all undergone facelifts, ranging from minor to major, but mostly major. I've liked some of the changes - InStyle's layout is sleeker, and even though it's a total ripoff of Snapchat, I love IG stories because it helps personalize Instagram and it virtually eliminates the need for Snapchat. IG stories also provide some of the day-to-day sounding off that I enjoy about Facebook. (artwork by Sofia Bonati)

On the other hand, Instagram's new algorithm is *POOP EMOJI*, particularly for my business accounts on Instagram, as is Facebook's latest algorithm, which I've heard unbelievably little about considering how poorly thought out it is. I've been pretty much fine with every other change Facebook has made - new layouts take a few days to get the hang of, but that's never tripped me up in the past. Similarly, I've rarely been against algorithms. I understand that it's unsettling to some people to have the internet get "smart" about who you are and what you like and then market to you accordingly, but I'd rather see ads for things I'm interested in than random ads if I have to see ads at all (which you pretty much do, unless you're paying extra not to see any). What I don't like about algorithms (I think everyone agrees on this) is not having control over what I like because a computer thinks it knows better than I do. 

This brings me to the latest Facebook algorithm which is stunningly bad, in my opinion. I had heard snippets about "seeing more friends and less news" which I support, if we're talking about promoted posts and stuff like that, but I actually used Facebook as my newsfeed for friends AND actual news. I follow a lot of news outlets and businesses that I want to keep up with because they either have no other platform on which they operate (Instagram is rough for non-visual businesses) or else I don't want to go searching the web every day or go to individual websites - I just can't remember all of that from day to day. Facebook allowed me to have most everything I intake online (which is a lot) in one place (that place not being my email spam folder - p.s. who even uses email any more?!) and I'm very disgruntled that that has been taken away from me. 

I do like seeing what my friends are up to on Facebook (mostly), but the new algorithm is completely wacky. I know you all have experienced this because I asked about it on Facebook (lol), but what is going on with seeing the same handful of posts at the top of your feed for 1-2 days? It only took me 5 seconds to read it, so why does it need to stay in view? 

So, am I just getting old and pining after "the way things used to be", or is social media really in a rut right now?  What is this obsession with constantly reinventing social media? Is it simply to stay competitive with other social media? The result I'm seeing is that people, including myself, are using social media less because of it, and that makes me panic as a friend and a communicator. 

I love the internet because it allows me to keep in touch with people I know who are literally all over the world, but what's the point if none of my friends actually use social media? As a sometimes-writer and general generator/sharer of stuff, I slump at the reality that how hard I work to promote my work is meaningless when up against algorithms. A computer is deciding whether my words and thoughts matter enough to be seen by others instead of other people getting to decide whether or not what I write is interesting to them. 

This makes me sad and anxious and I don't know what to do about it. 
That's really all I have to say... 
If you work in Silicon Valley, please fix this. 

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Instagrammies 7/28

More of my favorite Instagram accounts to follow, without further ado:

@introvertdoodles The name says it all. If you are an introvert, you will find your people on this account. I always went to bed before the other girls at sleepovers and asked to sleep in a different room.

@psychedeliccoven I'm very into psychedelic art for the foreseeable eternity. My one complaint
with this account is that they don't cite their sources/artists, which is kind of a massive downside, but I still begrudgingly love basically every photo.

I wish I was one of the @70sbabes. That is all.

Husband and wife painting duo (met via IG!) @kit_king and @oda.paints (also at @oda_and_king) amaze me. I follow all three accounts, but this one from Corey Oda really grabbed me.

Stacey Bendet is the lady behind the fashion label Alice + Olivia @aliceandolivia. I don't know a ton about the label, but her personal style is crazy good. Bonus: she does insane yoga.

@elizabethpawle has me won over to this whole yarn textile craze that I'm otherwise hesitant about (can we stop knitting white tassel triangles and using a stick to hang it on the wall now?). Her work reminds me of adult coloring books (also getting annoying) but with more commitment.

@antolpo is an account of beautifully made COOKIES. Yes, this is a cookie. I would never eat it, I would just stick it under a glass dome and stare at it. I'm especially fond of all the Japanese themes going on in this feed.

So much going on at @tunabake and I love it ALL. She's an illustrator with great personal style as well as a myriad of fantastic creative projects she's working on. What you'll see most of is her illustration-a-day, each of a women from history (mini history lesson included) - this one is of Dorothy Hodgkin. I can't wait to see the one she does on my birthday! I think I'm on the verge of worshiping this woman...

@chubbychinesegirleats is a handle to rival the best of them (in China, being chubby is traditionally a good thing) , and she happens to be a very impressive hashtagger too. Best of all, she posts the most amazing pictures of food of the variety I want to eat (creative, often asian). I follow a lot of food accounts, and this one always stops me in my tracks. This picture was captioned: "Chubby Mama's shanghainese fried dough stuffed "meatball" #homecooking Steamed with soy sauce. A burst of juicy umami."

And finally, what's an instagram roundup without some hippie shibori with a compound brand name? ;) I want all the things from @serpentandbow. I also learned from their account that you can use loquat leaves to dye stuff pink! I'll probably never utilize that info, but I'm still pretty stoked about it. 

Saturday, July 2, 2016

15 Ways that Millennials are Killing It (In a Good Way)

I haven't been able to avoid the general feeling that 2016 is a pretty heavy year so far. As some funny person on Twitter said, "has anyone tried unplugging this year for 10 seconds and plugging it back in?" I've joined the ranks of doomsday predictors when it comes to American politics. But I can't change the fact that this is the time I live in, and I do have the opportunity to find the advantages to that. When things get harder, the treasure hunt is more rewarding, you feel me?

 (not everything is amazing, but sometimes we lose sight of the fact that a lot of stuff is)

I understand why people might deduce, from a steady diet of Beiber and Miley and the Jenners, that millennials are lazy, self absorbed, and whatever else people think of us. But I would love it if people stopped painting an entire generation with such a broad brush. As my dad said the other day, how would Baby Boomers or Gen-Xers feel if kids were always coming up to them and saying stuff like, "woah, you have a phone? I thought you were too old and dumb to know how to use that". It's rude.

Growing up right now makes plenty of people feel the urge to go into hiding, but it also empowers some of us to be innovative. It would be helpful if millennial-bashers recognized that "innovation", by definition, means that the way we come at the world will be different than the way the past generation (or 2) saw things when they were 25.

We have a lot to overcome, and a lot of it is in need of overcoming thanks to mistakes made by previous generations, so it's pretty frustrating to be told we're trying to fix it "wrong" all the time. Extreme times require extreme ideas, so I don't think we're a particularly gentle or passive bunch. Gun violence and extremism are normal for us. Life is increasingly expensive (except when the USPS dropped stamped prices recently, WUTT?!) and opportunity itself has become expensive. Rampant social inequality is normal, as is extreme weather. It feels disheartening much of the time.

If anything, I have a respect complex where I think older people are right-er than me by virtue of age alone, but today I've gotta say, if you can't help, just stop hindering. Apologies if quoting Bob Dylan is a massive cliche, but I just can't believe how relevant this song feels right now (all the verses!).

Come mothers and fathers
Throughout the land
And don’t criticize
What you can’t understand
Your sons and your daughters
Are beyond your command
Your old road is rapidly agin’
Please get out of the new one if you can’t lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin’

I watched this amazing talk by Adam Conover a while back, and if you want to understand the Millennial world (he even addresses that awful TIME article from 2013 that I also ranted about a few years ago), please watch it. The main take away is that Millennials don't exist. I exist, you exist, but "Millennial" is just a label slapped on to a vague bracket of years. I get it, we want to put labels on stuff. I love labeling stuff (especially with that little machine that makes stickers). It helps us divide up our lives and it's EASIER than not labeling stuff. But not at the cost of dehumanizing people who will eventually control your future. Shouldn't we be encouraging our rising leaders instead of trying to crush them at every turn? Even so, I'm going to continue using the label to point out positives if others insist on using it negatively.

I'm especially tired of hearing millennials be the subject of cautionary tales from the pulpit. Way to engage "the godless generation".... A big reason that millennials aren't particularly engaged in the Church is that the Church feels largely irrelevant to the issues we're facing. Jesus is by no means irrelevant, but the Church has lost touch in many ways, and if millennials are anything, they're very sensitive to what matters and passionate about what is real. I would like to clarify, in the words of Pope Francis, "The Church must say it is sorry for not having behaved as it should many times — when I say 'the Church,' I mean we Christians because the Church is holy; we are the sinners."

Technically, the window for Millennials has closed. Kids being born today are a part of a new label. I'm pretty squarely in the middle of the Millennials, but I'm less and less sure that I have my finger on the pulse of the main things that characterize what's hip and "now". Even so, I decided to make a list of all things that millennials do better or things I love about being in my mid-20s in this era.

Resourcefulness. Gardens on rooftops and bee farms in the middle of cities, apps that let you buy dinner from a good cook in your building, platforms for buying and selling secondhand clothing, building houses out of shipping containers. Uncertain economic times aren't always comfy, but they do make for a sturdy generation of people.

The comeback of Radio. Radio has had a major revival in the past 5 years. I largely equate radio with podcasts, but NPR is still going strong on the actual radio too. There's been a lot of innovation with the return of live drama on the radio like We Are Alive, in depth investigation on the radio like Serial, and public story telling like the Moth or This American Life. The quality of the information is often superior to news on TV, and you can access it almost anywhere in the country with the simplest of technology. I love the fact that being on the radio is a dream job for some people again.

A new brand of missionary. This one is obviously specific to believers and I don't have a great sense of all the facets of it, but I do know more and more people who are missionaries in a very different sense than missionaries of the past century. I think the idea that we're all missionaries no matter where we are is growing, and young Americans who are believers see the US as their mission field just as much as a foreign country. Missions seems less focused on Westernization and more focused on serving. I'm sure that is somewhat unfair to previous generations who did wonderful things for missions, but I feel much more attuned to wherever this new kind of missions work is headed.

Vintage revival. There's a Death Cab for Cutie song that starts, "she may be young, but she only likes old things". I don't know if it's just because I deal in vintage, but there seems to be this yearning for old stuff these days, partly because it seemed like a more honest time of manufacturing in both labor (in some regards) and product value. I think it's wonderful to recycle and cherish old things instead of consuming more new things. Nostalgia is both a respectful nod to the past and a promise to leave a lighter footprint on the future.

The rebellious spirit. I don't think any millennials are comfortable. And that's a good thing for everyone. We are entrepreneurs, questioners, dissenters, and rabble rousers. Some of us (so far not me) are willing to leave our homes and get in the street for causes we care about. I actually think we're a very compassionate generation, and it makes us a little volatile. Social media allows us to wear our hearts on our sleeve, and plenty of us do. Sure, we say some stupid stuff online, but at least we're not afraid to have conversations that matter with anyone who is willing to listen.

Long live print. They said print was dead, but millennials love nothing better than proving the Man wrong. There has been a resurgence of niche print publications, and many of them thrive! I mean, they cost like $17 an issue (not exaggerating) but people buy them, because the content is valuable and the pages feel wonderful and the photos are taken with love and careful attention. It's so nice to have that sort of media in a world of clanging symbols and gongs and immediate access to gossip and horror online.

Appreciation of food, nature, gardening, ruggedness, etc. This might be related the DIY movement? I'm pretty bad at DIY stuff when it comes to crafts or building stuff, but I am proud to have lots of hobbies that I'm good at. I can cook my own food, I can grow my own plants, I can identify a lot of plants in the wild, etc. Some of the millennial love for food, yoga, and homesteading borders on idolization, but I think the roots of this movement are solid. Food IS beautiful and I love to see it treated as artwork and elevated beyond a basic need. I think millennials are good at celebrating the things we love, and that is an excellent trait.

Community building, online and in person. For all the craptastic people mouthing off on the internet, there are some real winners as well. The internet lets you find people you identify with, no matter where you are in the world or what you're into, and it also puts you in touch with people who may be very different than you that you would never have run across otherwise. Millennials don't have stranger danger, which can go badly sometimes, but for the most part, I think it's a plus. Some of the smartest, coolest people I know are people I met online, and when it comes to parenting, online communities are probably the single greatest resource and confidence booster/teacher I've found. When it comes to in-person community, I think there's this huge trend (out of necessity and desire, both) toward drawing on one another's strengths and helping one another with weaknesses. Don't get me wrong, living with other people is hard, but sharing food, sharing space, and sharing bills stretches and strengthens us in ways that highly independent people don't benefit from.

The strengthening of families. Real families are messy, and they also take a lot of attention to properly nourish. There are a lot of broken families in this world, but I think we're also seeing this resurgence of young people placing a really high priority on the well-being of the family unit. Single parents adopting, stay-at-home dads, involved grandparents, close sibling relationships in adulthood - not all of these things are specific to millennials, but family is very important to us and statistically, we spend more time with our kids than the previous generation. One of my favorite things is the increasingly normalcy of dads caring for children and sharing more of the parenting burdens, whether that means supporting working moms or doing more housework or taking charge of their kid's schedules. It's about time we saw a generation of present, responsible dads. I'm confident that we'll be the generation that makes sure that mothers and fathers get adequate leave after a baby is born and starts treating parents like invaluable members of society instead of burdens.

Celebration of the offbeat. Being funky or different is encouraged (to an extent). Modern times are a nerd paradise. Every imaginable random mash-up of niche interests can come true, like Golden Girls Legos. If it doesn't already exist, you can probably have it custom made. Some people consider the hipster hallmark of glorifying obscurity to be obnoxious, but that's only true if you're snobby about it and get upset if other people try and like the same thing you like. Having bizarre hobbies and then being able to realistically pursue them is awesome.

Efficiency. Millennials don't want to wait for things. There are downsides to this trait, of course, with patience being a virtue and all, but think of all the apps and services that are available now that allow us to cut down on time doing mundane stuff so that we have more time to do important stuff. And by important stuff, I largely mean things like investing in relationships or recreation. I think we get caught up in busyness easily, but we also have the option to optimize our time spent on responsibilities such that we have time to relax and enjoy the things around us. Multi-tasking is so easy to do well these days - we can talk to friends or listen to books or the news while we drive or cook or clean. We can remote control our sprinklers and our door locks and every other imaginable thing. I'm just waiting for this trait to take care of traffic in LA...

Crowd Sourcing. I'm not very confident about Democracy anymore, but I do believe in crowd sourcing. We already have amazing opportunities to pay producers of goods or services directly for what we want or what we would like them to invent. I love the hive-mentality of millennials and the idea that if you don't have what you need, someone else does and you need only ask for it. Kickstarter and Fiverr come to mind, but can you imagine how it would be if we could crowd source politics? On the one hand, terrifying, because Donald Trump. On the other hand, we could prioritize our social programs by choosing where our taxes went. Don't like how much the military spends destroying other countries but wish your kid's school had art classes or the road to work wasn't full of potholes? Pay the same percentage of taxes, but make it go to places that you care about.

We are really funny. I love to laugh, and laughs are always available in this day and age. Granted, there are plenty of bad jokes or jokes made too soon in situations that are serious, but good humor helps us see the absurdity of life in the midst of challenges and it's good at pointing out truths or half-truths that we may not be able to see on our own. It's a pretty non-threatening way to challenge social inequality and other genuinely sad and wrong parts of life. I think that joking is more a part of American identity than we realize, and it fascinates me to note the differences or lack of humor in some other cultures.

(we found this especially funny after a recent possum sighting in our yard)

Long-distance education. We have access to pretty much any knowledge from anywhere in the world. I love a face-to-face classroom, but it hasn't really been a practical in my life thus far. I'm so thankful for the opportunity to study at night from home. Like I said, there are some parts of in-person school that I think can't be replaced, but online education is relatively affordable and easy access to education can only be a good thing for all of us. It drives me crazy as much as I love it, knowing that I don't know the half of what is available to me. There are vast libraries accessible online, free lectures from Ivy League schools, archives of many magazines and newspapers, TED Talks for day, etc. etc. Also, Youtube, which I have barely utilized so far and my cousin's employer, ifixit.com. Again, I don't really know how to use it yet, but just knowing that I have access to most of humanity's knowledge is pretty fantastic. It almost takes the sting out of losing the Library of Alexandria. Almost. Just wait until we hook up virtual reality with education.

Excellent TV. Movies have been alright, but we are in a golden age of Television right now. There is way, way more quality story-telling going on than I have time to consume, and I assume the same is true for everyone else. There's something for everyone on right now, and it's very easy to access. I think there are still improvements to be made in TV culture, but diversity and experimentation and boundary pushing is gaining a toehold and I think it enriches our lives, honestly. I view television and movies as the modern equivalent of sitting around the fire handing down legends way back in the day. Think about it: TV is something that we can all talk about together and we get to live through all of these characters vicariously. Good TV makes us question aspects of ourselves and I find that a well-told story (in this case, a visual one) transports me into this whole other universe and has the power to shift my emotional state. It makes me excited to have the ability to manipulate words and tell stories because it's the power to change minds and hearts in a way that we're open to. Stories are harmless on the surface, but they very much weave themselves into our cultural fabric. Some of my favorite shows recently: Peaky Blinders, Newsroom, Orange is the New Black, Hannibal, Parts Unknown, Mind of a Chef, Call the Midwife, Master of None. Shows I'd really like to watch: [the new] Roots, Vinyl, Masters of Sex, the Knick, Penny Dreadful, the forthcoming Baz Luhrman show that's a take on West Side Story (!!!), and loads of others.

Bonus points: Our Pope is more legit. What an unexpected breath of fresh of air.

Are you a Millennial? A parent of a Millennial? A Millennial with children who are also Millennials? Tell me, what are the advantages that you see? 

Monday, June 20, 2016

An American Nightmare

I feel this storm brewing inside me, but it's lopsided, like a scatter-brained tornado. It starts to gather force and bare down, only to switch courses, dissipate into several little dust devils, and try again another day. So much in my life feels unstable right now, but I can't always put my finger on what aspect most needs attention such that all the others will begin to settle as well. 

My mom is a social worker and recently described a client of hers as having "existential depression". I'm plenty familiar with what depression is, but I asked her what the existential distinction meant, and she described this person as viewing Life as a game which he has lost. In order to avoid losing this game, he decides not to play. Man, I feel you. (image)

I hate reading articles about depression, because I never want to realize that I might have been going through a stretch without realizing it. LIKE I ALWAYS DO. I am what you might call a high-functioning occasionally depressed person, which makes it feel like lying or whining to say that "I can't see past the darkness, and I can't fix it". I even saw a headline that said "depressed mothers are almost never able to put their children first" and something inside me wanted to scream. I can not afford to drown in my own life or even the sorrows of the world at large when I have two precious and vulnerable people to love. Get behind me, Satan.

I have flicked my tongue in the ice cream bowl of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and found that it has no bottom. I'm sickened with awareness of all the truths I have no access to, tomorrow's shooting that I can't predict, and the hopelessness of pinning justice on culprits. I feel my desire for this knowledge and this justice stabbing in the dark, hoping to touch something solid. I am mummied by my smallness in the grand scheme of everything.

A big factor in this instability I've been feeling is a result of a history class I recently finished. I read about several historical events that I considered to be of major impact concerning the integrity of the United States as a nation that I'd never heard spoken of before in text books or classrooms or conversations. Apart from the invasion of Iraq, I would guess that 90% of my peers have never heard of these events or the US's handling of them either. I'm sure that part of this is because many things happened before I was born, but I'm also coming to grips with the realization that this country may never have been Great in the way that I thought it was, even though I have been more skeptical than most from the beginning. 

I feel that I have fallen captive to my own station, age, and place in life. I can't see anything other than what my outlook presents to me, and even when I can break through once in a strawberry moon, it only serves to make me schizophrenicly aware of how little I know. Sometimes truths flit across my screen or occur before me in broad daylight and I think, "this is too sad or obvious not to be news already" or "making a big deal of this makes me a loud nuisance" or "believing that this is real shapes me into a conspiracy theorist", so I move along to something clearer, sharper, bigger.

I can't carry the weight of every secret, but my keen awareness of the existence of ruinous secrets that I can't access makes it harder for me to trust anything. I know that I need not trust anything or anyone but my Savior, but I'm refusing to stop playing this Life game that I can never win. We are called to be in the world and not of it, but how can I even be in this world if I don't know what it is that I'm "in" anymore? Reality feels like a corridor of funhouse distortion mirrors. 

It has been very difficult for me to believe that politicians (and people in general) lie as much as I'm told they do. When I've heard, "well, he/she is a politician, afterall..." or "you can't believe anything you hear from the media", etc., I've always thought that was incredibly cynical. As humans, it is impossible to be completely objective in all circumstances, even if we witness something with our own eyes. 

Yet, there's a level of corruption in our media and our government that up until now, I've just refused to believe is anything but an occasional fluke. I thought critics of the response to Benghazi were just picking a fight, I thought Chris Christy and his staff closing that bridge was too ridiculous to be true, I thought there was something that must be missing to the story that would make a 6-month jail sentence for Brock Turner make sense. Instead, people in charge really do lie and really are petty and really do try and cover their own bums to progress in their careers. None of us are perfect, but even one lie tears a big hole, and there are more holes than fabric left in my worldview. 

Part of the ringing in my ears has to do with the futility of cutting through all the noise we/the media make on a daily basis, on top of scandals themselves. "The web’s algorithms all but removed any editorial judgment, and the effect soon had cable news abandoning even the pretense of asking 'Is this relevant?' or 'Do we really need to cover this live?' in the rush toward ratings bonanzas....And what mainly fuels this is precisely what the Founders feared about democratic culture: feeling, emotion, and narcissism, rather than reason, empiricism, and public-spiritedness. Online debates become personal, emotional, and irresolvable almost as soon as they begin. Godwin’s Law — it’s only a matter of time before a comments section brings up Hitler — is a reflection of the collapse of the reasoned deliberation the Founders saw as indispensable to a functioning republic." (source)

I feel this so acutely, but the alternative to ignoring the news and the internet is to stop playing Life. Instead, I have to run faster and faster to stay in the game, and I'm more and more confused by what the rules are. Perhaps it's not that the trivial things in the news are not true, just that it becomes impossible to weigh and intake what important truths are, which gives one a sense of mistrust which is only compounded by the fact that many of the things we read - or parts of things we read -  are untrue, and it's very difficult to verify the facts.

Did you know that the US has been at war for 222 of its 239 years (counting from 1776)? That fact on its own is not inherently bad, though to me it suggests that we've been swift to arms for our entire life as a country. In the case of our recent war with Iraq, the US invaded Iraq in the name of deposing Saddam Husayn, which I'm sure was a genuine objective of the invasion, but Iraq had recently annexed Kuwait, and the tension threatened to cut off access to oil in the region which would have been economically disastrous for the US. 

I find that to be a despicable reason to wage war, but even if we overlook that, the US bombed Iraq for days and days and days, despite having wiped out the Iraqi military's capacity to retaliate on the first day. Instead of killing Saddam (which I would dispute the right of the US to do in the first place), they laid waste to an entire country, which ended ordinary life for the entire population of Iraq and severely impacted the refugee crisis that was already going on in the region.

I wouldn't quote textbooks at you if I didn't think it was really important. Since my entire point is that it's really difficult to decipher what is true, I'm trying to cite someone more authoritative than myself to provide as close to factual truth as I can manage. This is some more detail about what I described above, written by William Cleveland.
Throughout the Arab world, the Gulf crisis generated anxiety and ambivalence. Although Iraq’s occupation of Kuwait was generally condemned, the arrival of a major US military force to reverse the occupation was extremely unpopular. The US intervention tapped a deep source of Arab resentment that focused on the United States’ double standard in the Middle East. Arabs noted that though Washington was quick to enforce UN resolutions against Iraq, it had not tried to compel Israel to obey UN resolutions pertaining to the West Bank and Gaza Strip. 
By concentrating on the figure of Husayn, the US administration gained popular support for military action directed against a ruthless individual ruler without having to explain the possible impact of such a war on the people of Iraq. Behind the rhetoric about the liberation of Kuwait and the cruelty of Husayn lay a more practical motive for military action. The rulers of the Arab Gulf states provided the United States and Europe with dependable access to reasonably priced oil. From the perspective of the Western oil-consuming nations, the stability of the Arab Gulf monarchies and their continued willingness to sell oil to the West were essential to Western economic well-being. Moreover, the Gulf rulers’ practice of reinvesting their oil profits in the West was vital to the health of the Western economies. 
Evidence released after the war revealed that US reports grossly inflated the size and the abilities of the Iraqi military in order to justify the massive force deployed against Iraq. The Iraqi conscript troops who had managed to survive the bombings were poorly supplied and thoroughly demoralized.

Beyond getting into things for dishonorable reasons, the US has a less-than-well-publicized record of making a massive mess and then not cleaning it up or apologizing. Two examples are nuclear testing in Micronesia and Iran Air flight 665

In the first example, the US detonated a H-bomb for testing purposes during the Cold War on an island called Bikini Atoll, from which they evacuated about 170 indigenous islanders beforehand. However, they did not warn surrounding islands, which woke up to 2 inches of radioactive dust on all surfaces, including sources of drinking water. Within hours, children and adults were experiencing extreme signs of radiation exposure, but it took the US government 2 days to begin treating and evacuating people. The islands have been uninhabitable ever since, and the islanders were ferried from one temporary camp to another, often with inadequate food and water provided. In the 1970s, the residents of Bikini Atoll were permitted to return home after being told that their land and crops were safe again, but the land certainly was not safe, and the entire process of radiation poisoning and evacuation was repeated. Admittedly, the strength of the bomb was not understood upon its detonation (which is an easy argument for why it should not have been detonated in the first place) and none of this destruction was intended, but none the less, great damage was inflicted and then aftermath handled shamefully by the US. The former residents of Bikini Atoll remain displaced today. (image)

In the case of Iran Air flight 665, I linked to the Wikipedia page, which provides a summary of the event, but I initially read about it in this book (which I highly recommend as a tool to see US international conduct more objectively). In one sentence, what happened was that a US Naval ship mistakenly shot down an Iranian civilian airplane, killing 290 people. Here are the highlights from Wikipedia that explain how the accident was grossly mishandled by the US. 
When questioned in a 2000 BBC documentary, the U.S. government stated in a written answer that they believed the incident may have been caused by a simultaneous psychological condition amongst the 18 bridge crew of Vincennes called 'scenario fulfillment', which is said to occur when persons are under pressure. In such a situation, the men will carry out a training scenario, believing it to be reality while ignoring sensory information that contradicts the scenario. In the case of this incident, the scenario was an attack by a lone military aircraft.
"Contrary to the accounts of various USS Vincennes crew members, the shipboard Aegis Combat System aboard Vincennes recorded that the Iranian airliner was climbing at the time and its radio transmitter was "squawking" on the Mode III civilian code only, rather than on military Mode II.
After receiving no response to multiple radio challenges, USS Vincennes fired two surface-to-air missiles at the airliner. One of the missiles hit the airliner, which exploded and fell in fragments into the water. Everyone on board was killed.
Even if the plane had been an Iranian F-14, Iran argued that the U.S. would not have had the right to shoot it down, as it was flying within Iranian airspace and did not follow a path that could be considered an attack profile, nor did it illuminate Vincennes with radar.Prior to the incident,Vincennes had entered Iranian territorial waters, and was inside Iranian territorial waters when it launched its missiles. Even if the crew of IR 655 had made mistakes, the U.S. Government remained responsible for the actions of the crew of Vincennes, under international law.
Three years after the incident, Admiral William J. Crowe admitted on American television show Nightline that Vincennes was inside Iranian territorial waters when it launched the missiles. This contradicted earlier Navy statements.   
George H. W. Bush, at the time vice president of the United States in the Reagan administration, defended his country at the United Nations by arguing that the U.S. attack had been a wartime incident and that the crew of Vincennes had acted appropriately to the situation. 
The U.S. government issued notes of regret for the loss of human lives, but never apologized or acknowledged wrongdoing. George H. W. Bush, the vice president of the United States at the time commented on a separate occasion, speaking to a group of Republican ethnic leaders (7 Aug 1988) said: "I will never apologize for the United States — I don't care what the facts are... I'm not an apologize-for-America kind of guy." The quote, although unrelated to the downing of the Iranian air liner, has been attributed as such.
Despite the mistakes made in the downing of the plane, the men of the Vincennes were awarded Combat Action Ribbons for completion of their tours in a combat zone. The air-warfare coordinator on duty received the Navy Commendation Medal, but The Washington Post reported in 1990 that the awards were for his entire tour from 1984 to 1988 and for his actions relating to the surface engagement with Iranian gunboats. In 1990, Rogers was awarded the Legion of Merit "for exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding service as commanding officer ... from April 1987 to May 1989." The award was given for his service as the commanding officer of the Vincennesfrom April 1987 to May 1989. The citation made no mention of the downing of Iran Air 655.
As you can see, the US handled the situation both dishonestly and uncompassionately. It is a great wonder to me why many Americans think that Middle Eastern nations harbor anger against the US for "no good reason", especially when our leaders publicly state that we never apologize for our actions. It's an entirely separate story, but did you know that the US removed a democratically elected prime minister in Iran without the consent of the people? Anyway, I do not believe that the US conspired to kill Iranian civilians in the airbus shooting, but consider that if the tables had been turned and Iran had accidentally/hastily shot down a US airline, the US military would most likely have bombed Iran to smithereens in retaliation

I understand that there's no need to flog ourselves continuously over past mistakes, but I'm appalled that I felt that these acts on the behalf of a government I have trusted and supported and spoke up for were not only swept under the rug, but never even owned up to as problems in the first place.

Now I want to pivot to what's currently happening in the US, and how it has affected my view of this country. I think we can all agree that whatever is happening is about as complicated as that pile of wires for electronic goods that you may or may not still own, but are afraid to get rid of in case you might need one of them someday. You know the one I'm talking about. I'm not going to be figuring anything out in any solid terms here, but I am trying to offer some critically considered avenues of thought, none-the-less. 

We can't talk about this American ball of wires without talking about Donald Trump. Strangely, he doesn't scare me as much as he did initially (once he became an apparently real option, that is). He's even said a few things I like. However, he doesn't represent me as an American, and that has really led me to question what being American means if I'm unable to align myself with anything that my country stands for. Ultimately, I think this 2016 election is less about the candidates and more about what We the People have become, and why. I don't really know what America is right now, and not knowing what it is or where it's going makes me wonder what is used to be, and where my place was and is and will be in it. 

This little bit (also from Revolutionary Iran) from Ernest Gellner from 1995 struck me, and I've read it over and over trying to fully grasp it: 
"A collectivity united in a belief is a culture. That is what the term means. More particularly, a collectivity united in a false belief is a culture. Truths, especially demonstrable truths, are available to all and sundry, and do not define any continuity of faith. But errors, especially dramatic errors, are culture-specific. They do tend to be the badges of community and loyalty. Assent to an absurdity is an intellectual rite de passage, a gateway to the community defined by that commitment to that conviction."
What I think that means is that we, as a culture, are defined by our collective beliefs (which are separate from Truth itself), and we are especially knit together by our dramatically erroneous collective beliefs.  Once again, I feel trapped in time and space and the probability that being part of the group called Americans makes me unable to see our collective errors at times. At the same time - and maybe this is a beauty of being American - I think the essence of American culture is being able to say, "no, I see the way this is going, and even if I'm the only one, I'm going to be a different kind of American." As of right now, that is still legal in this country, and that's something I'm proud of. The statement may come from weak and exhausted lips, but it's being spoken none the less.

Even more encouraging, I'm far from the only one who is trying to fall out with whatever the collective course of error is. I don't want to go back to the way things were - they used to be worse in terms of poverty and racial injustices in this country. I want to move FORWARD, just in a different direction than we seem to be headed. 

My brother-in-law shared this loooong but excellent article (by Andrew Sullivan), that simultaneously helped me understand how Trump has garnered so much legitimate support (for so long I wondered, who are these people who like him?) and made me more concerned of the possibility of him as President than ever. 

The article talks a lot about Plato having predicted an arc of democracy and how, rather than democracy crumbling and giving way to a leader like Trump, it's democracy on steroids (literally everyone's opinion matters, and the emotions of the people - many of them idiots - take over in the place of reason) that leads to Trump. Sullivan notes, "It’s as if [Trump] were offering the addled, distracted, and self-indulgent citizens a kind of relief from democracy’s endless choices and insecurities....And it is when a democracy has ripened as fully as this, Plato argues, that a would-be tyrant will often seize his moment...The vital and valid lesson of the Trump phenomenon is that if the elites cannot govern by compromise, someone outside will eventually try to govern by popular passion and brute force".(Sullivan). Oddly, this is a very similar thought to what Michael Axworthy (Revolutionary Iran) puts forth, "In a revolution, new leaders emerge from unexpected directions, surprising those who were too quick to think themselves the masters, or proprietors."

In the past year or two, I have begun to question whether democracy is as worth promoting as I once thought it was. I'm embarrassed that the US pushes democracy on others in light of where ours has led us. I would rather be under a decent king than in the hands of a Trump-loving democratic mob.

I've been thinking a lot about revolution after reading about the Iranian revolution of 1979 and finding so many parallels to what is happening in the US right now. If you think that something like the Iranian revolution and its aftermath (generally thought of in the US as the epitome of oppressive societies) can't happen in the United States in the next five years, if not this very year, you are wrong.
"Mass movements, he notes (as did Tocqueville centuries before him), rarely arise when oppression or misery is at its worst (say, 2009); they tend to appear when the worst is behind us but the future seems not so much better (say, 2016)....When those who helped create the last recession face no consequences but renewed fabulous wealth, the anger reaches a crescendo."    
Sullivan goes into more (very helpful) detail about who Trump supporters are and why, but suffice to say:
"For the white working class, having had their morals roundly mocked, their religion deemed primitive, and their economic prospects decimated, now find their very gender and race, indeed the very way they talk about reality, described as a kind of problem for the nation to overcome."  
"The jobs available to the working class no longer contain the kind of craftsmanship or satisfaction or meaning that can take the sting out of their low and stagnant wages. The once-familiar avenues for socialization — the church, the union hall, the VFW — have become less vibrant and social isolation more common. Global economic forces have pummeled blue-collar workers more relentlessly than almost any other segment of society, forcing them to compete against hundreds of millions of equally skilled workers throughout the planet."
Don't get your panties in a wad when I say this, but I tentatively admire resistance groups like the Black Panthers (here's their 10-point agenda) and the Muslim Brotherhood, which were born out of a desire to retake pride and control from political power figures gone sour. Both groups are known for their periods of violence, but neither sought to be characterized by it. Both groups offered social benefits to people that the government was not providing. I must stress that I have merely surface-level knowledge of both groups (I know more about the Muslim Brotherhood), but I find it very interesting to study them as I ponder what my role is in an over-ripe democracy.

I'm contemplating what civil disobedience might look like under a President Trump. I can think of several things that he has suggested making into law which I would unabashedly disobey, even at the cost of going to jail or perhaps even harsher punishment. I would rather my children see me punished for breaking an unjust law than see me ignore injustice. (image source)

Sullivan's breakdown of Trump's character is very helpful, but also terrifying. I said before that I'm not afraid of Trump, and that is mostly true. I am more afraid of the atmosphere that has allowed him to gain prominence, and the possibility that that atmosphere will continue to encourage tyrannical leaders to rise up. As in Iran, even a democratically elected anti-establishment resistance leader can (and certainly does) seize control when trusted and that may well be the end of democracy as we know it. More than Trump as an individual, his rhetoric about shutting down the press (he's already banned the Washington Post from being in his presence) and threatening military and government leaders who oppose him signal something far scarier than a questionable individual for President. 
(Sullivan quoting Plato) A tyrant is a man “not having control of himself [who] attempts to rule others”; a man flooded with fear and love and passion, while having little or no ability to restrain or moderate them; a “real slave to the greatest fawning,” a man who “throughout his entire life ... is full of fear, overflowing with convulsions and pains.”....To call this fascism doesn’t do justice to fascism. Fascism had, in some measure, an ideology and occasional coherence that Trump utterly lacks. 
No modern politician who has come this close to the presidency has championed violence in this way. It would be disqualifying if our hyper­democracy hadn’t already abolished disqualifications....[He's] giving legitimacy to the most hysterical and ugly of human impulses.... It remains a fact that the interests of ISIS and the Trump campaign are now perfectly aligned. Fear is always the would-be tyrant’s greatest ally.
I'm not entirely sure how to sum up all the main points of this post. Perhaps I can just say that I want my children to grow up thinking that being the President is a cool job, worthy of respect as it is meant to be a position of servant leadership. I'd like to see the return of dual-party tickets. I'd like to see Kasich or Bernie win and share his ticket with the other, instead of a candidate being investigated for varying degrees of law-breakage (pick your party...). I'd like to see millennial women and first generation immigrants in the President's cabinet. But maybe this is the beginning of the end after all, and maybe there is an upside to that. Maybe I will figure out what it is and write another really long, some-what disjointed post about it. 

When I was a kid and we lived in China, our home was in a concrete block of apartments on the 5th floor. My parents never drove in China, so when our family was out past bedtime, a taxi would take us all the way to our building, and then if we were asleep, my dad would pick us up and carry us up all those stairs (no elevator) and into bed. I was rarely 100% asleep, but I still played dead so that I could be carried. I remembered how safe it felt to be in my dad's arms, knowing I didn't have to do anything but rest in that space and have everything I needed taken care of.

I was praying somewhat dejectedly in the midst of the mental and emotional exhaustion I feel from everything mentioned above (plus debilitating sickness in our home and multiple mass shootings, stabbings, and assassinations in the news this week) when that memory came out of nowhere. I had this intense desire to be taken care of in the eye of this storm, and to relinquish my burdens (Matthew 11:28-30). I'll get back to you if I figure out what being American means anymore, but in the mean time, I'm googling "can white people join the Black Panthers" (mostly kidding, but did you know that there was a BPP endorsed White Panther Party?!) and trying to rest in the thought that Jesus has already won Life, even if I never do. 
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