Best of 2015 (A Personal List)

December 30, 2015 at 6:22 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

One of my favorite recurring posts that I do is a top 10 list of my favorite albums from 2015. I effed it up last year and didn’t do a list (spoiler: the top album was Taylor Swift’s 1989), but I won’t be repeating that mistake again!

Here are my personal rules for this list: 2015 needed to be the first time I heard the album–I couldn’t have heard more than a single off of any of the albums released prior to this year and they had to be albums by a single artist/group, no compilations.

If you’re curious, here are my top 10 lists from 2012 and 2013. A lot of really wonderful music showed up for me in 2015, and top to bottom this might be my favorite group of tunes yet, though had I done one for 2014 the combo of Yes!/1989/Lights Out probably would have given this one a run for it’s money. Actually, that’s a lie, but it’s mostly because of the album that takes the top spot on this list. If you know me, you already know what it is, but are you willing to wait for it?

10. Chasing Rubies (EP); Hudson Taylor (2013)

The #10 album on my list is actually an EP, consisting of 4 songs from the Irish folk duo Hudson Taylor. I love acoustic guitars and sweet harmonies; this album has both in spades. What it lacks in length it makes up for in quality, and the fact that I’ve listened to it about a thousand times lets this album sneak onto the list. Though all 4 tracks are wonderful, my favorite is “Butterflies.”

9. The Silent War; The Silent War (2015)

I discovered the Silent War quite by accident when they opened for The Weepies at a show in Portland this summer. I was immediately impressed enough to get this album (or rather have my friend Rebecca buy me their self titled album, since she insisted on paying me back for the Weepies ticket. Great idea, Rebecca!). This album, coincidentally, also features an acoustically oriented duo in Garrison Starr and Adrian Gonzalez (who you might know from The Rescues). My favorite track off this album is “Some Kind of Soldiers,” which features one of my favorite lines in ANY song from 2015 – this is the silent war/this is what we’re fighting for/reclaiming victories that we’ve already won. I can also award myself some serious hipster points for this entry, since their album is not yet out in digital format. You’ve got to have a physical CD. I assume that will change shortly, but for now…super underground. Where’s the line to renew my Portland card?

8. Days Are Gone; HAIM (2013)

If you had asked me 4 months into 2015 “Jordan, what’s your best album of 2015? I would have given you the #2 entry on this list. However, I would have quickly added that it barely grasped that spot, because this album is GREAT. How it took me 2 years to get on the HAIM train I’ll never know. Eventually, though, I did get on, and I LOVE this album. “Jordan,” you say, “what the hell is it doing all the way back here at #8 then?” Sadly, there was a lot of fantastic music this year, and I honestly think it’s mostly recency bias that pushes Days Are Gone to the back of a logjam at the midsection of this list. I could have put 5-8 in any order and I would have felt good about myself. For better or worse, though, it ends up here. My favorite track off this album is “The Wire.” It rhymes with fire, which is what this album is.

7. Safe Travels; Jukebox the Ghost (2012)

In what I feel is most appropriately described as a musical blend of Billy Joel and A Great Big World, Jukebox the Ghost is an outfit I first heard this year opening up for Ingrid Michaelson at Edgefield. While they have a more recent album as well, it paled in comparison to 2012’s Safe Travels. This album is both excellent AND takes the listener on an emotional roller coaster. You can be rocking out one moment and listening to what is almost an introspective lullaby the next. I really enjoy these guys. My favorite track on the album is “Don’t Let Me Fall Behind.”

6. So There; Ben Folds & Ymusic (2015)

Ben Folds is one of 4 artists gracing this list that have appeared here before (I guess I know what I like), but So There might be one of the more interesting selections I’ve ever put on a favorite albums list simply because the last 3 tracks of the album are 3 movements of a concerto. I am not usually big into instrumental music, but I really enjoy what he’s done blending something of a pop sound with the classical music genre. My favorite track on the album, however, is “I’m Not The Man,” which…woof. Feelings.

5. How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful; Florence + The Machine (2015)

Florence + the Machine is a longstanding favorite of mine, and she did it again with How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful. Chock full of jams and ballads (and jammin’ ballads), this album is big and beautiful. It feels more purple than blue to me, though, for whatever that’s worth. It also contains what might just be my favorite song of 2015, “Which Witch.” Not only is it fantastic wordplay, it’s definitely the song I belted in the car most in 2015. It’s definitely the reason this album moved to the front of a crowd of really solid albums I talked about in the Days Are Gone section.

4. Sirens; The Weepies (2015)

We’re out of the logjam section now! The final 4 albums on this list are just SO. DAMN. GOOD. There’s a clear winner, sure, but this is where we ascend to the next musical tier in my mind. The Weepies make another appearance on an end of year list for me, and add an extra layer of awesomeness by introducing me to the #9 album. The Weepies are absolutely one of my favorite bands, and Sirens, recorded while Deb Tannen was going through cancer treatment, is a beautiful piece of work. Not much I can say about the Weepies that I haven’t said before, but from the first haunting chords of “River from the Sky” I was hooked on this record. It’s incredibly hard for me to pick a favorite off this album; every track is a win. However, if pressured, I would pick “Crooked Smile.”

3. What’s Inside: Songs from Waitress; Sara Bareilles (2015)

The first musical on this list (oh no…have I said too much?) isn’t exactly a musical at all, but rather a collection of songs from the new Broadway musical Waitress. In fact, if you didn’t know better you might assume this is just a Sara Bareilles album. It’s quintessentially her, and reminds me a lot of Kaleidoscope Heart. The fact that she brings in Jason Mraz to do the duets with her doesn’t hurt, either. Fun fact about Waitress: it’s the first Broadway show with an all female creative team! It’s the kind of progressiveness you might expect from one of the premier artists of our time. I love Sara Bareilles, and I love this album. My favorite track is “I Didn’t Plan It,” which is both musically awesome and exceptionally appropriate for people in the midst of transitions.

2. Carrie & Lowell; Sufjan Stevens (2015)

Sufjan Stevens…another longtime favorite, another artist with an album on this list. I got the chance to see him perform last summer, and my god it was worth every penny. The man is brilliant. This album is brilliant. A sort of love letter to his late mother, this album drips with emotion. I will also always love it because I listened to it a ton in Asia, and that association will always stick with me…falling asleep on the other side of the planet, listening to the strum of a guitar. The opening track, “Death with Dignity,” remains my favorite.

1. Hamilton (Original Broadway Cast Recording); 2015

How does a bastard orphan son of a whore and a Scotsman dropped in the middle of a forgotten spot in the Caribbean by providence impoverished in squalor, grow up to be a hero and a scholar? Listen to the musical Hamilton and you’ll find out! I could talk until I’m blue in the face about how wonderful this music is, how important it is (on a number of different levels), about all the cool musical and historical things that happen in this show…but honestly, if you’re reading this you probably know me and therefore are painfully aware of my love for Hamilton. I love this show for a number of reasons, but I might most love it because my first term of grad school was really hard in a lot of ways, and Hamilton was there for it. There were days when literally the only thing getting me through was this show – days where I was stressed and upset and wanted to give up. But Hamilton didn’t, and neither did I. In the darker moments this show was there for me, in whatever ways, and I will always be grateful for that. #1 in my heart and #1 on this list for 2015. My favorite track? So hard to pick…but either “The Room Where it Happens” or “Hurricane.” You could probably convince me in 5 minutes to change my mind to any song in the show, though.

 

Honorable Mention: Forest Fires (EP); Axel Flovent (2015)

 

I’m always looking for new tunes, so if I egregiously whiffed on something in 2015, let me know! Maybe it’ll make it onto next year’s list 🙂

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I Didn’t Plan It

November 13, 2015 at 8:20 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , )

Plans are funny things. We try to predict the future (with mixed success), but there’s always going to be something that jumps out at you unexpectedly. I’ve been listening quite a bit to Sara Bareilles’ new album “What’s Inside,” which is a collection of songs from her new musical Waitress. It’s really good – you should listen to it. One of the main themes that resonates with me, though, is the idea that life throws things at you that you can’t expect. You can either let that throw you off, or you can embrace the challenge.

I didn’t plan it / but the light turned red and I ran it / and I’m still standing 

I understand it / a story written by my own hands / life biting right at your heels

I used to think to myself “how different can grad school be from undergrad?” The answer is that it can be oh so very different. You don’t know what you don’t know, as they say. Still, it’s an exciting time, and we do try to plan to the best of our ability as to how best to get through it. I’ve decided on a thesis topic, which is pretty exciting! We technically call our theses “MPP Essays,” but functionally it’s the same thing. There are just slightly different semantic requirements, is all. Fortunately, I get to choose what I do my thesis on. Grad school is really challenging, though. Part of that is on myself and my own time management skills, and some of it is because there’s a ton of material to get through. Everyone keeps telling me that the first term is the hardest, so I’m holding on to that. For instance, this weekend I have 2 papers due Monday, one due Tuesday, and an Economics exam on Wednesday (just worth like 30% of my grade, no big). This, of course, on top of my GTA research. One the one hand, what a great opportunity! On the other hand, holy shit this is going to be a busy weekend. I don’t help myself too much by procrastinating on a Friday night, but I tell myself that writing myself into a better state of mind isn’t the worst way to spend it. A little self care is important, too. That’s my plan!

I didn’t plan it / taking back what’s been taking for granted / ‘cuz I can’t stand it / I’m sick of the way I’ve been waiting to break free

I need saving / And a good mistake needed making / maybe you need the same thing

Shifting gears, I’ve also been thinking somewhat about long term plans. What am I going to do after grad school? Am I going to die alone? Is it too soon to be thinking about the post-Grad School dog that I’m invariably going to get? Should I already be feeling guilty about wanting a pug when there are lots of wonderful shelter dogs? Are these really the plans to be making when the final sprint to the end of the term is staring me in the face? Will I ever break my habit of writing entire paragraphs of rhetorical questions? (The answers, if you’re curious, are: doesn’t matter yet, probably, of course not, yes – but I could get TWO dogs…they could be friends!, it’s all about balance, and nah that ain’t me, respectively)

Ok, time to be productive. #notthrowingawaymyshot

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Satisfied

October 25, 2015 at 3:37 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , )

I love the rain, especially in the fall. The way it sounds falling on the roof. The smell in the air. It’s important to remember the things you love when life gets crazy.

When I haven’t been doing grad work I’ve been listening to Hamilton (a new musical) basically nonstop for the past two weeks. It’s incredible. You should check it out. One of the big themes in the show is this idea of Hamilton never being satisfied – he has to keep going nonstop all the time. His ambition allows him to attain dizzying heights, but it also leads to his political downfall and eventual death in a duel against Aaron Burr. I think that theme, though, dissatisfaction, affects all of us in various ways. We all have things about ourselves or our lives that we’re unhappy with, and we deal with it in a multitude of ways. I want to lose weight, I want to get better grades, I want a partner, if I only had x or y I would be finally happy, etc. Sometimes we drink to forget, sometimes we distract ourselves, sometimes we take action and change ourselves. Sometimes the things we want to be different are things that we can work on fixing. In those circumstances it’s important to take it day by day. Everyone (myself included) seems to feel that everything is a race across a finish line – if I do this one thing, I will finally be happy. I will finally be satisfied. It’s important to look at our goals day by day and moment by moment, though, because life is just one long continuation. It’s just one process. We’re never done. We are constantly “being.” The more we can become OK with that, the happier we will be. You have to be kind to yourself.

For today, though, I am mostly thinking about the things that are not under our control. I’ll say it again – you have to be kind to yourself. No one is perfect. No one has all the answers. Most of us have very few answers. I don’t particularly trust people who tell you they have all the answers (maybe that’s why I can be a bit standoffish toward organized religion as a general concept). Something I try to do is be OK with not knowing. I want to have the answers, but the world is large. Can I be enough, just being me? What if I fail? What if I do something stupid in front of my classmates, my peers, my professors? I know I really want to be liked; to be loved. What if no one does? What if I have all these implicit biases, and I say something hurtful? Can I atone for the mistakes I’ve made? Can I make less in the future? I’ve been mostly single for the past three years, does that say something about me? Can I be satisfied with myself? Can I be satisfied with someone else in my life eventually? Can I stop asking rhetorical questions? Am I wasting my time writing this now instead of working on my paper that’s due tomorrow?

I’m afraid of all those things, but I need to be OK with being afraid. That fear, I believe, is normal. Grad school is supposed to be hard. Your mid-20s are supposed to be a time of transition. As a book I read would say, it is the “defining decade” of your life. It’s about building a foundation of a house that won’t ever be truly finished. It’s the first verse of the song of your life, and you get to play it in real time. Every moment of my life needs to be enough. I need to be able to find satisfaction in my life, and find motivation in my dissatisfaction. Eckhart Tolle says “Accept – then act. Whatever the present moment contains, accept it as if you had chosen it. Always work with it, not against it.” Where would I rather be than right here, right now? I am me because of everything that has happened; me in everything that IS happening. I am luckier than many.

I could be thoughtful. That would be enough.

I could sit here, in this moment. Live here, because this moment is all there is. That would be enough.

I could view myself with kindness. That would be enough.

I could take one step toward my goals. That would be enough.

I could love, even when I’m upset. That would be enough.

I could make a mistake. That would be enough.

I could fail. That would be enough.

I could go confidently in the direction of my dreams. I could go unconfidently in the direction of my dreams. I could stall out for a while and stare at the wall. That would be enough.

I am enough.

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My Shot

October 12, 2015 at 10:52 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , )

I’ve been writing a lot lately. Reading quite a bit too. For better or worse, though, it has all been academic. I definitely feel like I’m finally getting my sea legs back under me in that regard, so to speak – 4+ years out of the classroom requires a bit of getting up to speed. Fortunately school has always been a skill of mine, so it’s all coming back.

I felt it was important for me to take a bit of time here, though, for some self reflection and honesty with myself. Writing has always been therapeutic, and I tend to treat this blog as more of a journal than anything else, so here we go…

Much like the beginning of a football game or a performance, beginning any new project doesn’t really start until you have take that first hit or sing those first couple notes. For me, that happened last week with my first grad school paper. It was 2 pages – nothing massive – but it was my first chance to prove to myself that I was capable of doing the work at this level. It’s one thing to intuitively feel it, but actually getting into the grind is another thing entirely. My first paper happened to go relatively well, but that just means that I need to continue to up the ante and get as much out of this program as I can.

I think sometimes about the idea of building a house. A small error in putting together the foundation can lead to big structural problems 2 or 3 stories up. It’s important to really take advantage of the time I have early to learn the basics (especially in research methodology and economics, where my background is not as strong) so that I can build my skill set in a way that will be effective. I’m trying to get into a routine that allows me to get everything done I need to get done, lets me be as social as I need to be for my mental health, and keeps me at least relatively active. The balancing act is one that definitely can be done, but it requires some thought and a lot of tinkering here and there to really make it work for me.

Speaking of social life, I feel quite grateful that I have met so many interesting, passionate, intelligent, and fun people here in Corvallis and the MPP program. I’m very lucky that my roommates just happen to be great humans as well. Life is always better when you get along with the people you live with. At the same time, though, I do miss many of my friends who are in the Portland metro, flung across the northwest, and beyond. There is a certain sadness inherent in transition, I think, that is neither good or bad. It simply is. As my life changes, there is a bit of melancholy knowing that nothing will be the same. We can’t remain static. I don’t want to be static – I want to learn new things and meet new people, hear the songs that I will sing to my children someday (if I have them), and maybe fall in love and out of love or at least have some interesting stories about dates I went on.

I can’t say that this is exactly what I imagined for myself at 25, but then again, I don’t know if I really imagined anything specific about 25 in the first place. It’s exciting. It’s new. It’s challenging. I’m in uncharted waters. I’m in a place that feels very different from just about anyone I knew before I came here. I’m trying really hard to be here, where I am, in any given moment. I’m trying to be myself in a world that thinks I’m too nice, or too yielding, or too whimsical. I want to change the world. I want to change myself. I want to feel like there is no distinction between those two sentences. I want to have all the answers. That’s actually untrue…I enjoy the mystery. What I really want is more comfort with uncertainty. I want to make my family and friends proud of me. I would like to leave people’s lives a bit brighter than I found them.

Just have to keep heading onward and upward.

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Song for a Friend

September 10, 2015 at 9:16 am (Uncategorized) (, , , , , )

Weddings generally make me thoughtful. Now, they also make me want to party the night away with friends, family, and strangers, but once the party part has passed, they make me thoughtful. I think it’s inevitable – you see people making a HUGE life choice and you say to yourself, “they were probably pretty thoughtful about this. What about you?” To the extent that we all can’t help but compare ourselves to others, I find myself taking mental notes about what I liked and didn’t like for my own potential wedding someday. I also think it’s pretty natural for single people at a wedding to wonder about what their future love life has in store. Those things are interesting, certainly, but they weren’t the dominant feelings I was experiencing.

Rather, I found myself filled with gratitude.

Gratitude for the fact that I have such wonderful/caring/fun/talented/sweet friends, gratitude for the fact that all the variances of life brought me to such a joyful moment, gratitude for the fact that everyone puts up with my silliness. Gratitude for the fact that you can be far away from people and always pick up right where you left off. I’m grateful that everyone is just a text message away if I want to hear from them. Happiness that I can be absolutely ridiculous, and my friends will not only accept but embrace it. Gratitude that I have so much that I can learn from the way that they live their lives and their friendship.

I think that the best way to be a positive change in the world is by being kind and loving to everyone you come across. Big, sweeping, societal changes are good (and needed!), but positive change needs to come from each of us individually, as well. I know I’m not always perfect – I can be kinder, more open to others, more generous with my time and attention, and more compassionate. The trick is to keep working at it, ESPECIALLY when you don’t feel like it, and then to be kind to yourself when you inevitably have a bad day and lash out at someone for no reason, ignore someone, or when you just can’t seem to get anything right. There’s always tomorrow – always an opportunity to be your best self.

The Dalai Lama posted something relevant on Facebook this morning:
“Change in ourselves and in the world in which we live may not take place in a hurry: it will take time. But if we don’t make an effort nothing will happen at all. Change will not take place because of decisions taken by governments or the UN. Real change will take place when individuals transform themselves guided by the values that lie at the core of all human ethical systems, scientific findings, and common sense.”

So we all have to do it ourselves. We have to take care of ourselves, of others, of the world around us. I guess that’s why weddings are great – it’s an excuse to throw off the societal constraints we sometimes have about being open and truly tell the people we love how we feel about them. It’s about two people making a commitment to one another, but also about everyone at the wedding to let them know that the love they experience is not limited to theirs. We’re all here for you; we love you too. We feel the abounding joy that comes when we let ourselves freely love other people. It makes you happier to wish and work towards happiness for others.

We can be the change. We can be the love. We can do things for each other and let a rising tide lift all boats, rather than be selfishly focused on our own self-interest. We can all kick ass and be awesome together. It’s about blurring the lines that divide us, to stop seeing the “other” and start seeing yourself in the faces of the people you encounter.

As far as general life updates…

So far Corvallis has been treating me well! My roommates are great, the town seems fun, and I’m excited to jump into my program and start working. I think the next two years will be a great experience, an excellent career launch point, and full of personal growth and adventure.

Football starts today! I’m very excited, even if the two teams playing make me wish they could both lose. It’s like Christmas, if Christmas also came with a bunch of reservations about head trauma, hyper-masculinity, and the exploitation of persons of color. It’s a complicated love affair, to be sure.

I’m trying to be better about writing more consistently, especially as I will have to write much more for grad school, and I haven’t had the experience of pumping out tons of text in the last few years. I’m going to see if I can either write or run (or both!) every day. No promises, but that’s the goal I’m working towards.

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Clockwatching

September 1, 2015 at 11:17 am (Uncategorized) (, , , , , )

This weekend I ran my first ever Hood to Coast relay – 198 miles in 31 hours! (I *only* ran 16 of them).

When Howard asked me I was slightly hesitant at first, since I had never ran that far in that period of time before, and because as great as this summer of traveling all over has been I was looking forward to one weekend where I wouldn’t have to be doing anything. At the end of the day, though, I can’t help but be a social butterfly, so I decided to take on the challenge. Worth it. Like any good adventure there were moments of pain and sleep deprivation where I wondered why in the hell I was doing this, but it’s always pleasing to set goals and attain them, and I was fortunate to have a great team to make the experience a lot of fun.

The most challenging part was my second leg, which involved running almost 6 miles at ~3am, up a mountain, in the dark, in the rain, and without any sleep. It was painful, but I was able to have a lot of fun with it because I managed my expectations well. I think that’s what it’s all about, and a life lesson that running has helped me with. You can know that a situation is going to be unpleasant, but unpleasantness mainly arises from what’s going on in our own heads, not from the situation itself. If I say to myself “I’m tired, this is awful, I’m upset” then I will be upset. If I say “I’m tired, this is awful, but I’m RUNNING UP A MOUNTAIN RIGHT NOW – LOOK AT THIS LIGHTNING, YOU CAN’T STOP ME MOTHER NATURE” all of a sudden I’m amped up and feeling good. Similarly, at any point in your life you can choose to change your perspective. Reality is what we make it. We all have the power to create a more positive existence for ourselves, if we want to.

I wouldn’t say that I LOVE running, but I definitely like it much more than when I first started. I really enjoy the challenge of competing against myself, and I have met a bunch of really great people doing it, so that’s a plus. I’ve had to change my mindset from one of a sprinter to longer distances – they require different strategies. I do sometimes hear Holman’s voice in my head from track practice, though, exhorting me to use my arms more. “Reach, Henslehh, REEEACH!” in his Nebraska drawl. Yes, coach.

Overall, I would love to do it again – especially if we can avoid insane weather and actually enjoy the party at the finish line. Now to make sure I keep my focus with running, have to sign up for a few more races. If you want to run with me, let me know! The more the merrier, always.

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Don’t Need No Trouble…

May 15, 2015 at 2:21 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , , )

…but sometimes trouble needs me,” goes the opening line of the second track off of The Weepies’ most recent album Sirens. Outside of this album perhaps being their best yet, and the fact that I can’t stop listening to the album (or getting excited about seeing them in June!), this line really resonated with me.

I’ve been thinking a lot over the last few days about how my life has shifted SO dramatically in the last few years. I graduated from college 4 years ago at 20 years old, burnt out, unsure of what was coming next, with big dreams and a big blank space where the future should be. Sometimes I feel terrified that I am still that kid with big dreams and a big blank space (although now I know it’s where I’ll write your name). In no particular order, though, I look back and see the things I’ve done over that time span: fallen in love, worked in retail, worked a graveyard shift (and stayed up for a personal record of 41 hours), had my heart broken, seen my parents get divorced, struggled as my brother was diagnosed with a serious mental illness, ran my first 10k & Half Marathon, traveled in Asia for 6 weeks, watched the Seahawks win a Super Bowl (and come within a yard of a second), managed 3 political campaigns, helped some wonderful students change their lives, got my car stolen, worked in government, made a host of amazing new friends (honestly, just SO MANY beautiful, wonderful human persons), wrote exactly ONE original song (and it’s not terrible!), done a whole lot of singing, lived at home, lived on my own, and lived at home again. I’ve been accepted into a great university with a full scholarship to a program I feel extremely passionate about. I honestly believe that even though there are days that I struggle mightily, I am in the process of becoming more the person I want to be.

So that is the backdrop that I have to consider when I think about my life, my insecurities, and my fears. I realize more every day about myself – both good and bad. We have to look in the mirror and accept who we are. There are so many parts of me that I truly enjoy, and a few (that of course the mind gives outsize importance to) that are quite discouraging. I want to be more generous, more open, less fearful. I want to have a better body image. I would like to not always feel like I’m the one who has to fix every problem. I want to write more often – to me it’s something quite therapeutic, but the words don’t always come out easily. I also think that in our society there’s a pressure to not be honest, the “facebookization” of the world where we only share the good things in our lives and hide the struggles.

Speaking of struggles, I’ve been trying to get back into running after the long hiatus in Asia. The first week went pretty well – minimal soreness. This week, though, I’ve had awful shin splints and my knees have been giving me a bunch of trouble. It might just be getting over the hump and back into running more consistently, but I’m wondering whether or not it might be because of something that happened in Thailand…

Kyle and I (after one night in Bangkok!) traveled down to Phuket to enjoy the sun, beaches, and to get Kyle a work visa (which is a story for another time). The second day we walked down the road to rent some scooters, because that’s the easiest way to travel around. Of course, yours truly has never ridden a motorcycle or scooter before, and these were much more in the vein of small motorcycle than Vespa. I had expressed some apprehension, but at the end of the day part of this trip was about pulling myself out of my comfort zone so I sucked up my fears (I have nightmares on an infrequent basis about crashing vehicles) and rented a scooter. We saddle up, Kyle starts to ride off, and the friendly guy at the scooter rental place shows me how to work the scooter. He says, “just grab the gas like sOOOOOoooooooo…” and I shot off like a rocket down the road after Kyle, his voice fading into the distance. That was my only lesson in riding. We get to the first intersection (did I mention we’re driving on the OTHER side of the road?) and I of course shoot straight through it, manage to stop on the other side of the road (we needed to take a right), get myself turned around, stop, and then lightly touch the gas, causing me to rocket forward and crash in the center of the the four way stop. The bike was a little scratched, nothing major. My knee was a little banged up, but not badly. I mostly was embarrassed as a bunch of other people stared at me. I picked the bike up and headed after Kyle. The thing about riding a scooter is that the balance is simple if you can ride a bike, and the actual driving is not difficult. However, it seemed that no matter how little I grabbed the gas I was either not moving or FLYING forward. This proved to be a problem after I crashed for a second time that day, smashing off one of the rearview mirrors. I was again more or less unharmed (I hurt myself way worse when my foot hit some coral), but I was worried that there would be no scooter left when we returned it in 3 days. The crashes were a bit painful, but more than that they were incredibly embarrassing. I was getting flustered, and that probably wasn’t an ideal environment to drive in when I wasn’t particularly skilled in the first place. So we returned the scooter, they were totally cool about it (just charged us the cost to replace), and I spent the rest of our time in Phuket right where I probably would have preferred to be in the first place: riding behind Kyle on a single scooter. We had a great time, and Kyle was gracious enough to give me very little shit about it while we were there.

In any case, my knees (the left one in particular) were quite sore for a week or so afterward. I was worried there might be structural damage – I’m pretty sure there isn’t, but running has sucked this past week. Just going to keep running and see what happens!

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Back in the USSA

April 29, 2015 at 10:57 am (Uncategorized) (, , , , , )

I’m back in the United States! I can see out the window of my mom’s house out into the gorge, and I have been repeatedly struck over the past few days just how beautiful it is out here. Travel is wonderful, but there’s no place like home.

Over the next couple weeks my goal is to reflect more about my travels (though I’m sure I’ll be processing this for a long time), tell some stories about my trip, and make myself write more consistently.

First some news I’m excited about, though: my official offer letter finally showed up from OSU, and I have been offered a Graduate Teaching Assistantship that will cover tuition and pay me a monthly stipend, which is pretty exciting! If I have the choice I would prefer to get paid to go to school than the other way around. It’s a great opportunity to really focus in and get myself ready for the rest of my life and career – there are so many things about myself and this country that I would like to improve and I’m so fortunate to get the opportunity to pursue both paths. For the next few months I will be volunteering, working temp and odd jobs as I can find them, and hopefully doing a tiny bit more traveling before this next chapter starts in the fall.

Before I start with any stories, though, I have so much gratitude to relay.

To Kyle, of course, for being generous with his time, his apartment, and himself. As my partner in adventure for the nearly 6 weeks, I couldn’t have asked for a better traveling companion. I’m glad we were able to do this; it’s a bummer that he lives half a world away.

To all the wonderful people I met on our trip, including (but not limited to) Hazel, Julio, Gilbert, Tyler, Courtney, John, Alamo, Lefty, Narelle, Michelle, Lily, Joaquin, everyone in Studio 188, Alex, and that pug at the scooter rental place in Phuket.

To my whole family (especially my father, grandparents, & Amy) who were supportive of my adventures both emotionally and financially, you have my unending gratitude. I have to give an extra big shout out to my mother, who was generous with travel advice, frequent flier miles, and logistical support. She was excited for me even as I knew that she was secretly worried – a part of her didn’t want me to go. She also let me move my stuff back into her house so that I wouldn’t have to pay rent while I was gone, and is letting me crash here this summer before I leave for school. She’s the real MVP.

I feel so lucky to have had the opportunity to see a bit more of the world, and as I reflect on the fact that I have gotten chances that many others haven’t my resolve is strengthened to help people be able to achieve the things that give their lives meaning – whether it’s travel, an education, meaningful employment, or anything else. We live in a world where everyone should be shown the same decency and given the same dignity.

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Under My Skin

February 2, 2015 at 8:56 am (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , )

The last few weeks have been crazy busy for me, and as such I’ve missed all of the annual posts that I do right around the new year, including albums of 2014 and my resolutions. Those will be coming, belatedly, whether you care about that or not.

For the moment, though, I’d like to stick to the present.

I could write 5000 words about the Super Bowl, but I don’t really want to dwell. What I will say is this: while that final play will haunt me forever, I have to give a lot of credit to this Seahawks team for what they were able to accomplish all season and to the Patriots for playing championship football. It’s a great time to be a fan, and I am excited to see us come back strong. My heart does ache, though. Moving on!

Today is the first day of the rest of my life! In that regard, I suppose it is similar to every other day, but in many ways this particular day is different. Friday was my last day as an AmeriCorps VISTA at Portland YouthBuilders. If I haven’t already told you, PYB is an alternative HS and vocational training program that works with low income students age 17-24. My role as a VISTA was to set up a volunteer program, systematize volunteer management, and build capacity in the organization to better serve our students through volunteering. It was challenging, exciting, inspiring, and ultimately one of the most fulfilling things that I’ve ever done. It’s not just that the organization was supportive or that I enjoyed the job, though those things are very real. I think what stuck out to me is the spirit of service that one has both as a VISTA and also working in an organization that is supporting young people who have been put at a disadvantage early in their lives.

If you talk to me, follow me on social media, or read this blog with any regularity you probably know that I am a big believer in kindness and community. It’s one thing to pay lip service to those ideas, but it’s another to put those ideas into action. The past year has been so empowering because it really has validated my world view, and forced me to confront the reality and the difficulty of living like that. I’ve found an inner strength when serving others that has helped me through what has in many respects been a very challenging year personally.

There’s a quote that I really love by Rabindranath Tagore, who was a Bengali writer and artist in the late 19th/early 20th century that goes “I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted and behold, service was joy.” In a nutshell, that has been my experience. I want a life that is filled with joy, but feel compelled to act on the injustices that I see in the world around me instead of pursuing a life that is purely pleasure or for my own monetary gain (which often people equate with happiness). Then when I act and serve I find the kind of fulfillment that I’ve always wanted. If this past year has given me anything it is a sense of clarity about the path that my life will take, even if I don’t know exactly where that might lead. Which is pretty cool.

I’ve now moved back in with my mom for the next few months before I start grad school, which is not the life every 24 year old dreams of, but makes sense financially and will be a good experience, I think. It will be nice to spend a little more time with my sister before she heads off to college (to become a Vandal, of which I could not be prouder) and I will also be much closer to my father and brother. I also will be saving a lot of money, which is important because I’m going to China! That’s right – I’m taking a trip to the other side of the planet to visit one of my best friends and to experience and see more of the world. I’ll be leaving mid-March and be gone for somewhere in the 4-6 week range (depending on how the financial situation works out – I bought a one way ticket). I’m very excited! I’m also hoping to do a lot of personal care, with lots of meditation, running, reading, and traveling to see friends all over the Northwest in the plans.

I’d like to end with a little Marshawn: “I’m thankful.”

I’m thankful for the experiences I’ve had this year, I’m thankful for everyone who is helping me grow into the person I someday hope to be, I’m thankful for friends who reach out to say hello and friends who are far away but think of me anyway, I’m thankful for the kindness of others, I’m thankful for the inspiring students I’ve worked with, I’m thankful for the songs in my head and my heart, I’m thankful for the people that push me to achieve and those who catch me when I fall, I’m thankful for football, I’m thankful for elation and I’m thankful for heartache, I’m thankful for those who make me smile and those who make me think, I’m thankful for all the wonderful attributes I see in humanity and thankful that I believe that some of those disheartening wrinkles can be smoothed out, and I’m thankful for this present moment.

“Service which is rendered without joy helps neither the servant nor the served. But all other pleasures and possessions pale into nothingness before service which is rendered in a spirit of joy.” –Mahatma Gandhi

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Thanksgiving Lessons

November 30, 2014 at 11:10 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , , )

The holiday weekend is over, and now that I’m back in the relative coziness of my own apartment I thought it might make sense to reflect on some of what I learned over Thanksgiving this year.

1. There’s a part of being around my family that makes me feel like a kid – I tend to feel more off balance and that I have a shorter temper than I do normally. I don’t know if it’s just that my family knows my buttons and pushes them (sometimes consciously, sometimes not) or if it’s just really hard to escape entrenched dynamics, but the change is real. I think an area I can really improve as a person is being as generous with my family (and myself!) during these times as I am with other people normally. None of that is to say that I don’t love my family or like being around them, but there’s definitely a change that happens in me during the holidays.

2. Improvement is real, but it is also incremental. I started running a little over a year ago, and last year’s Clark County Turkey Trot was my first real race. I did the 10K last year as well, but ended up having to walk a good chunk of it. I ended up somewhere in the 1:15 range – can’t recall exactly. I ran a 1:02 this year, which is better, but I could have gone much faster if I had been more consistently running. The part of me that is inclined to give excuses will point to me being sick and having some knee pain, but overall it was a disappointment as I was hoping to run closer to 55 minutes. I’ve done 10Ks before under an hour, so this was a bit of a bummer. On the flip side I ran the entire time, and I could feel the things that were holding me back were temporary. If I can get the gumption to run more consistently in the cold, the wet, and the dark this winter I can see myself starting to make some real improvements.

3. I have so much to be thankful for! In no particular order: friends (especially, though not limited to, Kyle, Danny, Kristin, Stu, Michael & Sara, Leila, Matt, Daniel, Katie, Jacob, Nick, Lindsey), family, my health, my occasional forays into being a pretty solid human being, living in the future and all the ways that I can communicate with people, great music, my VISTA service, coworkers, and our students, puns, sports and all the passion they stir in me, karaoke, and many more things that I will refrain from listing so as to not go overboard.

4. I am the undisputed champion of the N64 in our household. Haven’t played Mario Tennis in a decade? Doesn’t matter – aces for days. Did not lose a match of Super Smash Brothers to either of my siblings. There’s little practical use here, but as far as pride and bragging rights go I’m gonna go ahead and indulge.

5. Life is better when the Seahawks win. Can we storm back and claim the NFC West? It’s a difficult road ahead, but we’re getting healthy at the right time. The team seems motivated to win, and we haven’t turned the football over in a month. I’ve been a fan too long to be TOO optimistic, but I’m encouraged by what I have seen. We’re right in the thick of things, and who doesn’t love whooping the 49ers in primetime? Extra shoutout to the Blazers, who have made paying attention to basketball in greater detail super fun so far this season.

6. I don’t fit at the kids table or the adult table, really. I imagine that’s fairly typical, but it was extra apparent on Noodle Day (the bonus holiday on the day after Thanksgiving, for those of you who are unfamiliar) when it was people my mother’s age and older and my sister’s age and younger, and me. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with the situation – people can only be who (and what age) they are – but it fits a theme in my life where I feel like I am consistently the only person (or one of a few) in my early 20s everywhere I go. At times it feels a little isolating, especially after living so long in a college town where literally everyone was around my age. It is what it is – a continuation of a theme.

7. I listened to the entirety (thus far) of Serial this weekend. I could potentially have used that time to sleep or be productive, but I have no regrets. You should listen to it. My friend Leila kept at me for weeks about it, and she was absolutely (and unsurprisingly) totally right that it’s gripping. People are doing some amazing things with the medium.

8. As a society, we’ve come a long way, but we still have a long way to go. As a person I’ve come a long way, but I still have oceans to cross. I have so much to learn, so much to improve upon, and so much to grow. There are a thousand uncertainties that are waiting to grow clear, and as many more questions waiting to pile on top of those answers.

I am grateful for the opportunity to reflect on where I am, and to be able to look ahead to where I might go next. It’s fun to be a work in progress when it’s not terrifying.

I’ll close with a quote I saw recently that I liked:

“In the end, when our eyelids find their infinite darkness, you will know that our bodies were tiny universes, and that I loved you with a thousand seas.” –Christopher Poindexter

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