Category Archives: connection

Where America’s Day Begins

When you think about colonization, I’m guessing that the historical context is what comes to mind. White Europeans invading exotic foreign lands, forcing the local inhabitants to give up their way of life and become more civilized. Drawings of Christopher Columbus and Hernán Cortés in textbooks, navigating their ships onto deserted beaches. Definitely something of years long past.

Let’s shift gears for a moment and think about vacation spots. I don’t know about you, but when I think of vacation, I picture a tropical paradise. The Mariana Islands, in the west Pacific Ocean, are beautiful and very tropical. White sandy beaches, coconut trees, and coral reefs that make for great snorkeling/scuba diving. One of my favorite places for a relaxing vacation.

So where am I going with this? What does colonization have to do with my favorite vacation spot? My hashtag above may have given it away. The Mariana Islands are a colony of our very own, U.S. of A.

“Saipan, where America’s Day Begins”

The slogan above is used for marketing to tourists of the islands. As the capital, Saipan is the 2nd most recognized island in the chain, next to Guam. It’s a part of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (or the CNMI for short). They are a remnant of America’s strategic colonization, well positioned in close proximity to Asia.

Residents of the CNMI have U.S. citizenship and a representative in Congress. That sounds great, right? But even as US citizens, residents on these islands cannot vote in federal elections, like the president. And those reps in congress? They can speak during debate but again, they have no vote.

So, why does the US want to keep hold of these tiny island, on the other side of the world?

Strategic position. During WWII, the US invaded these islands with the hopes of gaining a stronghold in a location that would allow them to attack Japan with more ease. Planes could make a round-trip flight from the islands to Japan and back, on one tank of fuel. For this very reason, the atomic bombs, that would later be dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, were launched from the island of Tinian, in the CNMI.

Even though advancements have been made to allow for planes to fly much further distances, the US still maintains a military presence in the CNMI. This presence puts residents of these islands at risk of attacks, like the recent threats from North Korea.

I love these islands. Not just for vacation (but I would recommend that), but for my family and friends that still live there. These are islands of beauty, although tainted by the blood shed by American and Japanese forces. I maintain hope that one day, these islands will find peace.

It’s Time to Save the World

“Is my English OK? Is the microphone on?” asked Greta Thunberg, in one of her most recent addresses. “Because I’m beginning to wonder.”

Laughter from the audience.

It wasn’t a joke. No one seems to be listening.

Nine years ago, when I was Greta’s age, I wasn’t aware. I wasn’t politically, globally, socially, environmentally aware. I wasn’t aware of what our biggest problems were–or that I, as a kid, could do anything about it, even if I did know what was happening in the world.

Nine years ago, I was LARPing (live-action role playing). For those who don’t know, LARP is a game wherein you create a character for yourself, dress up in costume, and run around in the woods at night, fighting faux villains with foam sticks. It’s like playing make-believe in the backyard when you were little, but on a larger scale, with maybe a better production value.

LARP comes in a number of forms, but the game I played was mostly like Dungeons & Dragons. It was a fantasy game. Swords and sorcery. Lightning bolts. Storming the castle. All of that.

While I knew that the events in the game weren’t “real” and that the character I played wasn’t “real,” they always felt important. They felt bigger than the small “reality” I actually lived in. I often felt that my character was better than me. She was stronger, prettier, freer. She had more goodness in her; more to give. I wanted to be like her in real life.

This disconnect–the idea that my character was false and somehow separate from me–affected my growth in a number of ways. I could write a book on it. There’s a lot to unpack. But the point here is that even after I managed to quit the game, I had a hard time developing an idea of who I was without that character.

Recently, with the changing of the seasons, I was hit by a wave of nostalgia. It would be the start of LARP season now, if I was still playing.

I’m still sorting through it, but one of the things that finally occurred to me was that I could be like the heroic character I used to play. I already was like her. She came from me.

But there were still situational differences, systematic differences between that character’s world and mine, dragging me down.

I posted this on Facebook:

larp

And, only days later, the sentiment was echoed by somebody else:

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I’ve been flailing for a solution. Something I could do to help the environment, and reconcile the reality of my apparent helplessness with the idea of once having played at being someone courageous and able to create change.

In this video, Jane Goodall advises people to act locally. “Quite honestly,” she says, “if you think globally, you get depressed.” Break it down, then. Start with what you know you can do. Do something. Even if it might seem small. “We’re all interconnected.”

I’ve been worrying myself sick. I woke up today with a sore throat, and a headache, presumably from my newfangled teeth grinding habit. In an anxious, somewhat dissociated haze, I drove to the store for some groceries, just to get out of the house. Everywhere, meat and dairy. Things packaged in plastic. Delicious things that I only felt bad about craving. I bought one of those chocolate bars that claims to help endangered species, and felt doubtful about its impact, but I hoped.

On my way home, it seemed like all I could see was trash. Scattered along the side of the road, accumulating in the ditches, washed up along the curb. Plastic bags blowing in the wind and caught up in bushes.

Enough is enough.

I found a metal stick–one of those garden hooks for hanging bird feeders or little candle pots–and I filed the end to a point on my dad’s bench grinder. I walked across the street to the park outside my house, and I attacked the garbage in the rain garden. I chased it through the foliage, piercing it with my makeshift rapier, collecting its remains.

Maybe this will help.

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Photo by Robert Stuart Lowden

I’m an adventurer. It’s my job.

And for all the shitheads out there who consume without thinking, and leave their trash lying around; for the people who continue to make a mess of the world, I have just one message:

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The Thing About Taxes

I will preface this by saying I am not well-researched in the areas of politics, national financing, or whatever actually goes into this mess, in the United States or elsewhere.

But I think it might be worth mentioning my thoughts on a few things, based on personal experiences, and some things I’ve heard that just… don’t make a lot of sense.

Taxes aren’t inherently bad.

The word “tax” in itself has come to have largely negative connotations–if you’re being “taxed” by something, you’re being weighed down or put upon. We have classic examples of people, like the Sheriff of Nottingham from the Robin Hood stories, who abuse taxes.

In a truly ironic state of affairs, my dad is adamantly against any kind of raise in taxes, but he also works for the state of Minnesota, and part of our taxes are what pay his own wages.

But if taxes are being abused, for things like… oh, say, a giant wall, or a football stadium… then, yeah, I wholeheartedly understand the aversion.

I don’t think anyone is ever entirely sure what taxes are used for, but there’s obviously some mismanagement going on somewhere, and that’s the bad thing. Taxes themselves? They have some truly positive possibilities.

Let’s just, for the sake of imagination, pretend that a perfect world is possible. What should taxes, in a perfect world (and my opinion) be used for?

  • Protecting/conserving the environment
  • Researching and developing important new innovations in energy, transportation, and health (cure for cancer, anyone?)
  • Providing/maintaining a basic standard of health and well-being for everyone
  • Paying first responders, health professionals, and peace-keepers
  • Educating people well
  • Preserving culture by investing in arts, museums, libraries, archives, and community centers
  • Community improvements, like road construction, parks & rec, etc.
  • Providing some kind of safety net and/or rehabilitation programs for those who are  out of work and/or homeless. (This would include retirement, and being out of work due to an injury, veteran benefits, and other things of that nature, in addition to being in a bad situation for other reasons.)

Some people are really put out by the thought of providing for others. Which… I get, to some extent. At the moment, it’s hard to fathom providing for myself, let alone anyone else in the country–but that’s because a lot of things in “the system” are broken. They’re not being used the way they should.

If I had the peace of mind that came with guaranteed good health, the basic ability to learn the things I need to know without being in debt for the foreseeable future, and the reassurance that life as we know it wasn’t on its way to being toasted out of the Earth like a bad virus, I would happily give away a third or more of my income for the rest of my life.

In a perfect world, what would your taxes be used for?

What would you be willing to provide, to make your own life and the lives of others easier?

The Sketchbook Project

The Brooklyn Art Library, “a free museum where you can touch the art,” regularly offers a really cool opportunity, called the Sketchbook Project.

On a whim, I decided to participate in vol. 14. The process goes like this: purchase a sketchbook (a modest 5″x7″, my favorite size), and choose whether you would like your sketchbook to be included in the digital library (of course, yes, please). Receive your adorable, simple, blank sketchbook in the mail. Do something. Send it back by the deadline.

You can send your sketchbook back later than the deadline (vol. 14 needed to be postmarked by March 30th), but collections of the latest volume usually go on tour somewhere before arriving at their forever home in Brooklyn. Late arrivals will still be accepted at the Library, but will miss out on the tour portion of the project. Selections from the vol. 14 collection are going to cities around the U.S., including Brooklyn (of course), Boston, Providence, St. Petersburg, Washington D.C., Richmond, San Francisco, and Los Angeles.

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Off to the post office! Made it on time.

Part of my motivation for participating in this project was marketing. I’m trying to pursue several blogs and other ideas, and I thought this would be a really interesting way to (potentially) draw some attention to those prospects.

But it ended up being something very different.

It became more a form of therapy than anything. When I opened it, I was faced with blank pages, and the fear of messing up, of people seeing the opposite of what I wanted. I was afraid that my ideas weren’t interesting enough, or that my art wouldn’t be good enough. I was afraid that I was going to end up wasting my time and embarrassing myself.

I didn’t know how to start, but I had to do something with this book while I had it. So I did what I’ve been doing pretty much nonstop for the last four years: I started writing. Now, I hadn’t actually written consistently by hand for a long time. It had been even longer since I had written words in pencil–something smudgy and impermanent and so forgiving. I wrote before I went to sleep, random thoughts floating around in my tired brain.

The first page was unfortunate. It was clogged with anxiety and insecurities. But, as I went along, the pages became more optimistic, more reflective, more abstract. I added color, changed up the style and direction of the text. I sketched.

And then something amazing happened.

 

I completed the first full, inked composition I had done, probably since 2012 (seven years ago!) when I was at the Perpich Arts High School. I wasn’t entirely sure that I still had the know-how–but then it worked. I created another, and another.

I posted pictures of my work to a group on Facebook and got the very unambiguous reply: “do more of this.”

I want to.

Through the process of letting go and allowing myself the time and space to just do art, I rediscovered some of the self-confidence I had lost, and improved my immediate outlook on life. It was a little sad to part with the sketchbook, but I’m excited to see it again in the digital library, and for people to look at it and touch it and think about it in-person, across the country.

Toward the end of the time I had left to work on it, I traced my hand on an open page. I hope that many more people will place their hands in that outline. Maybe the page will yellow with their fingerprints.

I may have to go to New York someday to find out.

If you want to explore your own process, and share something of yourself with the world, vol. 15 is now available. 🙂

Connections Are Not Bonds: Communication in New Media

Cook’s Choice: POST 6

Mom with Dad and Grand Kids

My mom died recently and one of the tasks that we were beset with was letting everyone know and to get the information out for the visitation, funeral and interment. It was through this process that I realized, again but in a different way, how much our modes of communication have changed and how splintered communication has become to me.

Contacting our longtime family friends was easy. My dad has meticulously kept the same Rolodex all our lives. We simply divided the letters and started calling everybody. We also placed an obituary in both Twin Cities papers. Covered!

For my own friends, I sent out a mass text, email and I posted the obituary to Facebook. It did not even occur to me to call anybody. It is a reflection more of my friends than of myself, because so many of my friends are on Facebook now and never even listen to voice mail, much less pick up their phones.

It was surprising who showed up and who didn’t. One of my best friends, who has become a Facebook junkie during the course of our friendship, didn’t show up even though she responded to the initial text without the obit info. Two weeks later texted me to ask me when the funeral was. When I told her she missed it she said she was “in and out” of Facebook and that I had the wrong email address. To bad she didn’t send out an update on her contact info. On the other hand, my oldest friend showed up because of the post on Facebook. We hadn’t seen each other in decades and it was really good to reconnect.We have a date for dinner next week.

In the old days, before cell phones, I knew the habits of my friends. I knew when it was too early or late to call; I knew when they ate dinner and when their kids went to bed. There were life patterns that you were in tune with because you had a certain amount of intimacy with your friends and the most common way to communicate was by phone. This is not the norm any more and I think it has a lot to do with how our modes of communication have changed.

In the Atlantic article, “Is Facebook Making Us Lonely?” there are a ton of studies cited and points made about loneliness, narcissism and the difference between connections and bonds. The main point I took away from this fascinating article is that bonds are much deeper then an online connection. Research bears out that face to face contact is still the strongest method to build true bonds between people. In Facebook, you get out of it what you put into it, and the more “complex” a communication is, especially if it causes you to connect in person, the more high quality the interaction it is.

Especially after this class, I realize I need to use new media more intentionally than I have been, both for making a better world and for making my personal bonds stronger. But I won’t forget to invite someone to have a cup of coffee or have new people and old friends over for dinner on a regular basis. These actions build the bonds that truly are the ties that bind and keep a strong social net.