Monday, February 28, 2011

Action/Adventure: 3

Action/adventure: 3

“How're the buses? On time?” I asked.

“So far,” the clerk answered, “but you shouldn't be asking that question if you want them to stay that way.”

I laughed, he was right. The slightest jinx in this weather and I would never make it to my final destination. I was going to Boston to see Ciera in The Golden Age. She was playing Dr. Simon, the stern asylum doctor. I didn't want to jeopardize that opportunity at all. I thanked the clerk and took my seat. Only a few minutes until they boarded. Not five minutes later, the attendant came up to me and told me that my 10:00 had been canceled and that they were moving me to the 9:45. It would go through Springfield before ending in Boston.

I was worried. The weather was bad and the road to Springfield is a series of 2 lane back roads. To put it simply, I was glad to be a passenger and not the driver. On the road it became apparent I was right. The roads were slick and nasty, the snow quickly turned into rain. I felt safe on board but I could feel the tires shift on the slushy mixture coating the road. Springfield, a small city with a bleak bus stop.

The adventure continued. I somehow made it to Boston within 30 minutes of my original arrival. I walked as fast as I could to meet Ciera at the Paramount. It was raining now. Heavy and cold, it soaked my jacket and hat. I stood outside the Paramount Theater. The lights on the sign reflected onto the passing cars, tracing their curves. The weather was just another struggle with adversity.

I got the call from Ciera, she was out of class. I met her and we made our way to her apartment. My back was killing me. I was exhausted from all the travel. But she was there and I had found my space. I collapsed on the bed, happy to be there. The weekend was just starting.

Fairy Tale is another way of saying

What are the stories we tell to our children? Do we tell them about the pain? Do we tell them that love is not the easy thing we imagine it to be?

Do we tell them that we fell in love when we were most vulnerable? Do we tell them that it was the most painful experience of our lives? Do we bitterly stand up and yell at the movie, “lies!”

We sit quietly and smile at the romantic comedy. We tell them fairy tales. We tell them that life is straight forward. We tell our kids that everything will work out. Life isn't hard, and people are good. We tell them that it is all safe, an enormous game where at the end, despite all the pain, we go happily. We hide our pain. We hide the complexities, the lies, the sadness.

We tell them the happy stories. The times we were with our friends. The crazy things we did as kids. We tell them about the time we tied up the babysitter. We tell them about the first date, where we went clam-digging instead of going to a movie. We tell them about the time we stayed up until dawn talking to our friends.

We don't tell them about how hard love was to come by. We don't tell them about the hook-up culture of college. We don't tell them about the years of uncertainty, the off and on relationships, the burned bridges. We don't tell our children about that party where we finally gave in to peer pressure. We don't tell them about the divorce or how hard it was. We don't tell them that we are just people too. That we do not have the control we say we do. We don't tell them that we are weaker than they are.

And we hope they live the fairy tale. We hope they don't experience divorce, loss, confusion. We hope they make the world a better place. We hope that when they become adults that they will actually live up to the maturity and meaning behind the word. We hope they will be better.

But who can say? I hope I can give my children that innocent world. I hope that they will be the last generation to experience pain. I hope they will never have to deal with the complexities of life as it is now. I hope they live the fairy tale.

And I know it is a lie to myself. But I hope that when I tell my children, it is not a lie to them.

Action/Adventure: 2

Action/Adventure: 2

I awoke, looked at the time on my phone, groaned, and turned my body out of bed. It was 7:22 a.m. I took a peak out the window. Beautiful flakes of snow falling. Sometime during the night the weather had turned drastically. It was snowing rapidly, layering everything. I scrambled out of bed and got dressed as fast as humanly possible. The drive would be a nightmare.

I went into the kitchen and saw James, we looked at each other and got into action. We had to leave immediately. The weather was not getting better. The adventure took a turn for the slow. I took the first shift in the bad weather. We were driving to the Albany bus station to drop me off.

It is a peculiarity of bad weather that drivers suddenly forget how to drive. It thus becomes a recipe for disaster. The roads were barely plowed. The car was responsive but not built for the bad weather. An Acura TL, it drives wonderfully in decent weather and can hold its own in snowy conditions, but this was something different.

We entered the freeway, going at an enormously fast 40 mph. At that precise moment, four cars tried to enter the on-ramp at the same time, and a pack of cars and semi-trucks in a tight clump passed by on the freeway. I was locked into my place with barely any room to move in the case of an accident. It was a death trap. In bad weather, cars have a weird tendency to clump together in schools. These groups move at an agonizing pace, make sudden changes in lanes, and are way too close together.

I followed a truck out of the group on the left hand side; we were now moving around 50 and, despite the white-out conditions, ok. It was an unintentional convoy, a semi-truck that was indecisive about which lane it was in, a small pickup, and me. We were in the left lane, stuck on the tire tracks. The slightest variation and the wheels would slide nervously. It was harrowing. We came up to a school of cars. A large black SUV wandered slowly into my lane, pushing me out. I heard the grooves in the road warning me that I was on the shoulder. I goosed the gas, honked, and found the road again. It was a close one, my hands were shaking.

The snow continued to fall down, obscuring my view. I tried to talk to James, just calmly analyzing life. We tried to listen to music. But every minor turn presented a challenge. We had no idea how bad it was. Just a few more miles and we would be quickly enlightened.

Stop. A dead stop about a mile and a half before the Thaddeus Kosciuszko Bridge. It took over a half hour to travel about two miles. The danger subsided but the agonizing pace was almost more tortuous. At the end of the traffic there was an accident. Another car on the side of the road. During the trip there were at least five accidents that we saw on the side of the road. I gripped the steering wheel a little harder and kept my wits about me.

We eventually made it to the bus station. I got out thanked James for the ride and headed inside. I had passed another test. Just a little longer in my journey.

This was just another part of the adventure.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Action Adventure: 1

Life is an action/adventure movie. Well, sometimes people thinks it's a rom com or a drama or a—well anything else. I choose to believe it is an action/adventure for now.

An action/adventure movie or an AA tends to have an awesomely handsome and fearless protagonist that overcomes adversity and wins the girl. I totally have all that. It is fraught with challenges and obstacles, a life lived with constant adrenaline pumping action. My journey starts with hot yoga and ends in Boston.

It was sometime during the third chataranga that the epic struggle became apparent. Sweat was dripping from my forehead obscuring my eyesight. My body was on fire, the room was on fire. I was pushing the limits of my body. But somehow I was relaxed, calm.

I stepped out into the cold. My body was still peaked. The air felt brisk but not frigid. I stepped into the back seat of Alex's car, strapped in her butternut squash. At pizza I ordered a chocolate milk and absorbed the setting. Claire, Alex, and I had munched down a salad and a large pizza. All the food disappeared into our gullets without pause. A brief respite from the action.

On Thursday I was back in the fray organizing my army of mediators to fight the evil powers of miscommunication and ignorance. We were gearing up for the fight for the very community and sanity of the campus. Skidmore's identity crisis had become my crusade, a constant battle to understand what it means to be a student on campus, what kind of institution we all want to build, and where every student stands to make a difference. My job was to build the framework for the conversation—the battlefield—for how it would all play out. Everyone on campus was affected, only a fraction participated in the last conversation. I crusaded on.

I finished talking to Mark about the mediation session. We had pounded out an hour on a PINS (person in need of supervision) case, trying to get the mother and teen to talk openly to each other. One hour is but a moment in the world of mediation. We did our best and locked them into a future engagement. As mediators we were ready to fight for justice. Justice of the kind that only mediation can bring. A fight beyond right and wrong. A fight beyond violence. The most human of fights.

I led my army of miscreants to Regent street. We had just sparred together in a game of cards. I was the clear victor, with my wits about me I had remained president in a game of Rich Man/Poor Man. We were now walking from Natalie's toaster car down the street in the dark. I knocked on the bright red door and was greeted by Piper. I had fused my friend groups into one for a brief moment; 5 Dayton and Regent Street together. It was fun to say the least. We sat down, played Taboo, and engaged in a game of one-upmanship. Needless to say my team was more than victorious, they got drunk.

Natalie drove 5 Dayton to bowling, and I proceeded to challenge my housemates to the careful skills game of bowling. Katherine's technique, to walk up to the line and limply swing the ball out of her hand, worked poorly for her. But she tended to knock down more pins than James, whose beautiful form did little to make up for his streak of gutter balls. Natalie had me on the ropes for a few with several strikes and a decent number of spares. Jacob similarly had me running scared, but the beer definitely kicked in hard for him, and he faded fast. I pulled myself together, expertly threw the balls down the lane and nailed enough pins to pull out two consecutive wins. Victory tasted sweet.

I returned to my house to pack and sleep. A short few hours before embarking on the longest part of my journey.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Hot Yoga Yesterday With Alex and Claire

Every philosophy that I have found to jive well with mine requires a few things. Presence, compassion, openness, and honesty. That’s not to say those are the only things. They are the ones I just thought of and can’t disagree with. As always it is a process, never something I fully achieve—that would be pretentious.

Presence. Be it the Enneagram, yoga, rowing, conflict resolution, Buddhism, etc. I have learned something; it is impossible to escape reality fully. Being present and in the moment gives me the power to interact with people truly. Regardless of the situation, no one ever gets mad at me for being there. Showing up is a lot of the job, but being mentally in the activity—be it only talking—never is met with disgust. I choose to be where I am when I am as much as I can. It is the utmost form of politeness.

Compassion similarly is important for me. I emphasize compassion over empathy and sympathy because those are reflective on the listener. To genuinely care for someone regardless of my ability to relate to the situation is more than a little difficult. Compassion is caring with innocence to the situation. It is what happens when a small child comforts a parent in pain. The child does not know the complexity of the situation nor will it probably ever, but it does care for the parent. Everyone carries a lot of pain with them. I choose to be compassionate because I will never know all the pain; or anyone’s perspective fully.

Openness. This is the hardest one for me. I try not to have secrets. I do have a private life. There are things I don’t tell people. But I do trust people with everything I say. I will tell if only asked, and I am happy to forfeit information about myself. I will not, however, forfeit anyone else’s secrets ever. They can choose how open they want to be. As for me my life is an open book. I do keep a blog.

Honesty is integral to all of this. If I can’t be honest in the most basic sense of the word—telling the truth—then I can’t do any of the other elements. It is all a fa├žade without honesty. I try hard to tell the truth. Truth of course is relative, and I try hard to correct any misinformation I give. Honesty in a larger sense is honesty with myself. I evaluate myself periodically to see if I am living a fulfilling life as I define it. I have to be honest about the things I do wrong, the hurt I cause, and how much impact I have on other people in my life.

It ain’t easy. I hope one day it will be. I also hope that I don’t publish this and think I’m a pretentious prick.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Fight Club Part 2: Safety

Safety. In the process of mediation, safety is a huge concern. It’s also hard to make a call on. The mediator’s primary concern in terms of safety is that no one is in imminent danger. Down at Mediation Matters we only stop a session in the case of child abuse, or imminent harm to self or others. That means a lot of other stuff gets talked about. How do mediators make the call as to when the conversation becomes unsafe?

The short answer is that it’s really hard. The long answer is that by relying on my training, I already have the tools to know when something is awry. Safety means a couple things. Safety goes back to the voluntary nature of the participants. Every part of the process is voluntary. When it becomes apparent that certain parties are making concessions or doing things they do not want to do, mediators stop the session. A constant check-in is important. Power plays a huge role in how things are playing out. If the parties are collaborating and making open honest statements then safety is probably not a concern.

A safe environment takes precedence over many other aspects that we would otherwise prioritize in ‘real life’. As a mediator I constantly want to take a side. When I do that I am compromising the safety of the session. When safety is diminished, people shut into themselves and don’t say what is on their mind. If the goal is to have an open and honest conversation, the suppression of viewpoints ruins the process.

Which is why safety is such a large concern. When we can create a forum where people can express themselves openly, then the real issues tend to come out. I have found that one party may want to talk about one topic, but the other party may want to talk about something completely different. It’s not uncommon for two parties to come in and talk about living arrangements to only find out later that it has to do with the boyfriend. People have many things to say. The safety of the environment allows a diversity of views to be presented.

When brainstorming options, it is not what I as a mediator would like to see, it is what works for them. The constant focus is on how to satisfy the parties’ needs. As a mediator I constantly look to give people the opportunity to come up with their own solutions. The safety of the session thus becomes of utmost concern, because we may miss out on key input.

In short. Never compromise on the safety of anyone involved in the process.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Emerging from Franco’s Shadow: Spanish Internationalization and Integration in the European Union

This is the outline for my European Union Econ Class.

Part 1: Dissociative Identity Disorder
The peculiar case of Spain after World War II is one fairly unaffected by significant events in European collective history. Largely isolationist until the 1970s, Spain in the post-Franco era was one of radical change. This change resulted in a new democratic government, and a new foray into the world. Economically, it opened up and embraced the structures that had been created by the now established European Community. Because of the previously isolationist policies, Spain had to make many reforms before catching up fully to the rest of the community.

Several important aspects were at play. Its isolationist history, the distinct regions and disparate sub-national identities, and its national corporations all had to be addressed to gain parity with its peers. Spain then embarked on a new national regime embracing open economics, foreign aid, capitalism, and the European community.

As a member of the EC Spain proved invaluable as an exemplary nation, showing how liberalized immigration policies, liberalized corporate policies, aggressive debt reduction, and a diverse multinational identity could work. Spain’s large migrant worker population called for many changes to the structures of how the government dealt with them. In Spain, immigration is a huge part of the work force and the government’s efforts to reduce large unemployment overall also integrated a worker naturalization policy. During the reign of Franco, many industries were state owned and run. When Franco died and a democratic government was put in place, Spain experienced a crisis. What to do with the large inefficient corporations? The resulting restructuring had many positive outcomes that increased Spain’s competitiveness and reduced its overall unemployment. To become a member of the Maastricht Treaty in 1992, Spain had to reduce its public debt significantly. After Franco, Spain could be considered a developing country, but thanks to rapid modernization and other economic factors, Spain was able to join the Eurozone. Spain’s regions are distinct in their industries, class, and even languages spoken. These differences have made for difficulties with Spanish national identity and serve as a model for the evolution of the emerging European Identity.

Part 2: Consequences
Spain’s rapid growth and astounding ability to join in the EU-15 in 1999 was not without consequences. In the years leading up to the financial crisis, Spain’s housing market grew substantially. The unemployment rate dropped below 10% and Spain was a model nation for growth in Europe. When the market collapsed in 2008, Spain was hit particularly hard. Its steadily growing economy was poorly shielded from the downturn.

Certain industries suffered more than others in Spain. Spain’s economic policies directly reflect why it was so close to the brink of financial doom like Greece, and how certain structural idiosyncrasies of Spain both aided it in the boom and exacerbated it in the bust. The skill level, transitory nature of the jobs, and education of the Spanish population all hurt the country’s ability to remain competitive. Spain tried to shield these deficiencies with supply side policies, but ultimately did not promote the right jobs or industries.

Unemployment rose to over 20% for a time, developments were abandoned, and industries were left exposed. With their monetary policy out of their hands, Spain enacted several fiscal measures to cushion the fall and successfully pulled itself from the brink of disaster. The ECB also played a large role in making sure that Spain did not collapse. The policies enacted by the ECB had direct and positive impacts. A series of reforms on labor and financial restructuring, enacted quickly in the wake of the collapse, have helped Spain recover slowly.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Fight Club: Voluntary

Fight Club: Part 1 Voluntary

Voluntary. Confidential. Neutral. These are the three words I use to describe my job all the time. Conflict resolution in almost all of its incarnations follows that philosophy. But what does that mean and why is it important to me? More importantly why is it important in everyday life? Why would anyone want to be burdened with these requirements? How can it be restructured to fit into daily existence?

Voluntary. In many states this has a double-meaning not immediately evident to participants. Most trained mediators are volunteers. In my experience, the mediators I have met are passionate and driven to restore our sense of community and self-empowerment one case at a time. It is mandated in the state of New York that every county have a mediation center. These centers are required to provide services for free or a nominal fee. Similar statutes exist in other states.

Voluntary also means that the parties in the session are there of their own volition. This gets tricky with some circumstances. The thing that mediators are constantly aware of is the voluntary nature of the participants. In some instances—parent/teen, abuse cases, other extreme and obvious power differences—mediators have to be hyper-vigilant. Often, processes like the caucus are used to gain a more thorough grip on the power structures and check-in to see how willing the parties are to actually be at the session. That is not the only use for a caucus though.

Voluntary is what makes mediation run. While participants may sometimes reach agreements even if they were unwilling to originally come to mediation, willing participants are far more likely to reach an agreement. I've seen many people go through the process, and the ones willing to find a solution and there by their own volition come to an agreement. Mediation does not exist to make anyone do anything they do not want to do. If that means letting the parties storm out and finish the process prematurely, so be it.

The basic application to my everyday life is that I approach life as if it were all volunteer work. I feel that doing things for pay is a great extra bonus, but I try to do things as if I wanted to do them regardless of selfish gain. I try to want to be where I am doing what I'm doing. Personal immersion in whatever I am doing is necessary for me. It also means volunteering. I often find myself volunteering for things that I am not sure of, but later having it pay off exponentially.

In a broader sense voluntary also means, “don't do things you don't want to do.” I firmly believe that if I didn't take the time to understand why I do certain things, I would be driving through life blindly searching for something I'd never find. I reject that notion. Living a fulfilling life requires volition and purpose—even if that purpose is searching for purpose. I am an autonomous agent for my own life. I am here because I want to see what happens; I want to see if I can come to my own solutions that fit for me.

Blue Line

Ciera and I walked down the stairs and found Laura waiting for the blue line to come in. The three of us had decided to go north for the day to enjoy the beach, the crowds, and the summer.

The blue line clanged and jolted as people entered and exited. Warm yellow light and the crisp blue of the water flooded through the windows. The rhythmic humming, the jostling, and the steadily passing scenery made me comfortable. We happily made small talk and observed the passengers. The mid morning was warm and hazy. The day would be hot, humid, and perfect for the beach. I remember the pavement, the cars, the artificiality of everything before the beach. The pavement heats up, and smells so distinct.

It is one of the smells of summer. The hot pavement embodies a warm comfort, symbolizes the end of the day. That exhausted feeling, the anticipation of getting into a cool air conditioned space. Sand everywhere, skin glowing and dry. The pavement is terra firma, a contrast to the sand and the sea.

We found our space on the beach and I watched the world pass around me. I pulled out my sketchbook and tried to draw everything. I tried to capture the moment. The seagulls. The children playing in the water. Our feet dug into the sand, the humidity, the crowd. All of it. What I ended up with was an odd collection of lines.

Laura took a nap while Ciera and I chatted away. Ciera made a run for the water. Tried to get me to follow. The warm sand and frigidity of the water presented an easy choice. No amount of coaxing could get me to abandon my seat in the sand. I watched the waves come in. I watched people try to interact with the water.

The hours ticked by slowly. It was good. Every minute that passed was a relaxing eternity, the escape from the wilderness of Boston.

Eventually it did end, Ciera came back from the water, Laura woke from her nap, and I grew tired of my drawings. We wiped off the sand as best we could and traveled back to the city. The smell of concrete hit me as I shook the last bits of sand from my towel. We transitioned back to the solid world. Ciera fell asleep on me on the way back. The afternoon light passed into tunnels. We switched to the green line, walked the five blocks home and took a long nap. The best days are sometimes the ones where nothing happens.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Helpless and embarrassed

Being helpless and embarrassed is a fact of life. It happens suddenly, the rug is pulled out from under you in a crowded space. Everyone turns and laughs.

At the UJIMA fashion show, an incident like that occurred. One of the more elegant and attractive models came out and did her walk. She had been running the catwalk like it was her business. She was currently in a flowing dress, working her heels, and looking good. She made her way back to the curtain and was about to exit when she made a final turn to the audience. It looked good until her face contorted, promptly disappeared in a sea of cloth, and was replaced by a pair of long legs and the point where they intersect. Both items were presented to the audience in a fashion unaccustomed to most of us in a public setting, unencumbered by spankies, underwear, leggings, stockings, undergarments, or anything of that nature.

Alicia and I had no idea what to do. We had been watching the tragedy or comedy, not sure what it was, unfold before us. We sat on the couch together, contemplating how to disappear completely. Our plan had been to hide in our shirts until the awkwardness of the moment passed. It wasn't working. Claire had probably had too much to drink and some sleazeball was hitting on her pretty hard. Claire has a bad habit of being really nice to people she is trying to get rid of. I have watched it many times. It's like Mean Girls. I was helpless. Alicia was embarrassed. Katie and Jess took action and set to get the guy out. The two basically pushed him out of the house, curtly told him good night, and slammed the door in his face. Claire breathed a sigh of relief. Alicia and I slowly emerged from our shirts.

In mediation training, Duke Fisher tells his students to be fearless. I say it all the time. I work hard to live up to it. Sometimes I do not achieve it. But I try. Be fearless.

Ben's Antics

Ben came to visit here. In his words, “it's surreal.” I think it's a lot of fun to have him here. Sometimes it just feels like the place is missing someone. It was nice to sit around last night, shooting the bull like we always do and see Ben. He's right, the conversations are like they always are. James defends New Jersey, Korena says something incoherent, Katherine falls asleep on the couch, I yell at everyone they are wrong, and Jacob tells us something historical. It's a funny juxtaposition.

The world moves forward but the conversation remains the same. As much as we are getting older and the world is changing around us, we keep rehashing everything we've said before. Life is both circular and linear. It reminded me of the good times with Ben.

We were headed to somewhere. Not sure where we were going. We had found ourselves far more inebriated than we had intended. Ben, probably more so than the rest of us. We had wandered down to the bus station and were waiting for it to arrive. Typical night. The street lights were so bright, everything else disappeared into the dark night. Ben found himself, as many of us do under the influence, in the precarious position of needing to relieve himself. He implored us not to look. And he promptly wandered over to one of the lamp posts.

He then proceeded to lean against the pole with it obscuring our view to his nether regions. “Don't look over here.” He said it again. Korena and I were doubled over in laughter. Unable to contain ourselves at his unstable posture and earnest request. We did not oblige. After all, he was the only thing lit up in the area.

The post may have protected our group from viewing his man bits, but anyone walking on the other side of the post would have seen all of him. That is precisely what happened. Two young ladies walked by gawking at him. They could barely suppress their giggles as Korena and I collapsed in fits.

It was later that year, Ben was having a rough time. We were in Korena's massive room, and once again found ourselves under the influence of alcohol. Ben, sometimes being a bit of an introvert, had taken to hiding himself in Korena's closet. He then asked me to join him. We had a quiet conversation, free from the music, people, and any light. Korena opened the closet door and pushed her face into the wardrobe. “What are you guys doing?” I politely explained to her that we were having a meaningful conversation. She seemed hurt that she was not invited and shut the door with an announcement, “Ben and Nick are in the closet. Come out of the closet Ben and Nick.”

I laughed, it was all I could do to not strangle her sometimes. Ben needed an ear. Someone to listen. It was a tough time for him. He was searching for his identity I think. I think we all are searching for our identity still.

And now he's moved on, beyond Skidmore's bubble. I am not sure he always has someone to talk to, but I know he will find what he is looking for. And he seems directed now; sure of where he is going and who he is. And yet he is still the guy in the closet, still the guy leaning against a lamp post, still the same old Ben.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Her Favorite Door

A short story:

I stared at the door. Watched it move. Looked away. Looked back. It was still. The door didn't move. The hum of the fans. There is no hum. They don't have vents in here. Silence. A tinny ring. I could hear the nurse walking down the hall. She was coming to give me my medication. She didn't come. The footsteps were never there. They don't give us meds that way. I still heard her coming down the hall. Click click against the tile floor. It came closer. It was too close. It was in the room.

Silence. I looked around. The room was the same. Except for the corner. The corner was dripping. Just a trickle of water. There must have been a leak. I was sure of it. Curiosity, I rose to touch it. It was water. Touched it. Smelled it. It was black. It was red. It was blood. It wasn't there. I stared. Heard two men outside my room.

They were speaking in whispers. I heard the man next door raise his voice to a fever pitch. He was screaming. I held my ears. He was yelling at me. He was gone. I heard people running down the halls. A quick shout. A struggle. Silence.

It continued to ring all around. The ringing. It was gone again. Everything was gone again. I was deaf. I would never hear again. I was sure of it. I stared at the door. A shadow passed by the tiny window in the door. I couldn't leave the room. Another whisper in my ear. I could hear again. I couldn't. They were just in my head. The doctor came in. Told me it was in my head.

He looked at me angrily. The door was locked. He smiled. He started to undo his belt. He walked toward me. I stared at the door. It was the same as before. It was locked from the outside. There was no one in the room with me. I was on the bed still. I was looking at the door. And it was the same still.

I closed my eyes. Felt around in my brain for my favorite people. They were angry though. Their faces contorted. All the men started to undo their belts and unzip their pants. All the women had long fingernails and kept me from escaping. I was too frail in their claws. I opened my eyes. I could not escape. I heard the whispers again. Outside the door. I got up. I looked out my little window in my door. A man and a woman, naked, were laughing. They seemed happy. I turned. Heard the hum of the fan. I couldn't breathe. They poisoned me.

I woke up on my bed. I looked around the room. I stared at the door. It was a peaceful moment, my mind was briefly quiet.

The Pearl of Rights

The Revolution of St. Domingue can be seen as the surest refutation of the success of the philosophy of human rights. St. Domingue exposes the collapse of an economic system. It does not show a triumph or advancement of a doctrine of rights. The intersection of French and British political and economic forces at St. Domingue is the perfect lens through which to examine how a philosophy can disguise the selfish tendencies of countries and whitewash the truly revolutionary forces of another.

The revolt in St. Domingue occurred in 1791, but it took the French government until 1794 to declare the official freedom and equality of the slaves. By then, events had already been set into motion, and importantly the rhetoric did not match the reality. Hochschild briefly mentions that rights were not part of the language used by the slaves in the revolts, “rarely did they demand freedom as an inherent right (Hochschild, 264).” But the French meanwhile had drafted up their Universal Declaration, and were scrambling to find the logical conclusions that stemmed from it. This is far more important than Hochschild gives it credit for. Rights weren’t part of the revolution. St. Domingue’s rebellion was escalated by the contradictory messages sent to it by the tumultuous French homeland (Hochschild, 266). The language of rights, and the granting of certain powers, was up in the air during the entire period, making it rhetorically irrelevant.

What was relevant? It was clear for the revolutionaries that they were tired of being exploited by foreign powers. The slaves called for their freedom and equality irrespective of a doctrine of rights. In fact, Hochschild freely admits that the majority of Toussant’s army was composed of illiterate slaves. Rights, as a doctrine, do not exist for the St. Domingue revolutionaries. “The slaves of St. Domingue…undirected by any of the [French] revolution’s architects in Paris, made universal and immediate its promise of freedom (Hochschild, 259).” Freedom and equality, self-determination; all exist as rights in our modern philosophy, but the slaves did not put them in that structure. The forces that did use rights used them not as tool for freedom or to grant the slaves their requests. France actually used rights as a way to control their slaves and protect their economic interests. In 1794, in hopes of containing the rapidly spreading unrest in the colonies, “slavery was abolished and equal rights granted at least in principle to slaves (Hunt, 149).”

This is important to note, the French government granted certain rights to the slaves as a way of maintaining colonial powers; in principle. The French interest in maintaining the economic powerhouse of St. Domingue actually led to the use of rights as a form of oppression. It was oppression in the sense that by creating a peaceful (at least temporarily) situation, the general economic business of St. Domingue could be allowed to continue. Almost perfect proof of this comes in the form of Napoleon’s reinstitution of slavery in Guadeloupe in 1802. This signified that slavery was not abolished, and that the people of St. Domingue were not free under a government that could rescind rights at will.

Granting rights was thus not about freedom; rather, it was economic. St. Domingue was the most valuable colony in the West Indies. By granting rights through the New French government to the slaves; France could hold onto its economic interests longer. The use of rights, as handed down through the ‘formerly’ oppressive government, was enough to keep the rebellion from fully succeeding until 1804.
Hochschild and Hunt both try to downplay the oppression by citing the French sympathizers. The revolt “was blamed on outside agitators (Hochschild, 257)” namely the Society of the Friends of the Blacks. Amongst the members were famous revolutionaries, “Brissot, Conderorcet, LaFayette, and abbe Baptiste-Henri Gregoire…campaigners for human rights in other arenas (Hunt, 161).” Realistically these sympathizers did not support the revolts, and Hochschild mentions that even during the French Revolution, the new government (supported by those very same individuals) did what it could to keep St. Domingue from a full-on revolution. The slaves visibly did not identify with their white counterparts in France, “most rebel slaves…did not generally wear the tricolor cockade…they wore the white cockade, signifying loyalty to King Louis XVI (Hochschild, 265).” They identified with the King because they believed, “the king had already freed them (Hochschild, 264).” This indicates an assumption that the ruler is benevolent and divine. Freedom, under this doctrine, is exclusive of the material world of rights. This divide showed the political nature of rights, and the failure of rights to supersede economic imperatives or classic governing structures.

The philosophical doctrine that was sweeping France at this time certainly influenced the revolution, but as for practical application beyond what was signed into law, it was either retracted or revised to lose meaning. Rights for slaves in France seldom made it beyond the paper on which they were signed. This is a product of an overriding economic drive; it gives lip service to rights while taking them away.
Britain declared war on France in 1793, and in an attempt to secure British economic interests, attacked St. Domingue. “Conquering the colony…would both gain Britain an immense treasure house…and stop the virus of rebellion from spreading (Hochschild, 268).” Britain’s interest in the area was to secure its economic future in the region. The protracted war that Britain waged against France in the colony of St. Domingue was a fight for economic security and superiority. During the course of the war a few things became apparent though.

Fighting in St. Domingue was tough. More people died of disease than actual warfare (Hochschild, 279). Slavery was becoming too expensive. To illustrate the economic imperative over the moral and philosophical; consider the many years it took Clarkson, Equiano, and Wilberforce to get any concessions out of Parliament. Their crusade started in 1789. It took until 1838 for slaves in Britain’s empire to be freed. It is important to note that slavery was on its way out regardless of the moral implications. “Insurrection in the crown jewel of Britain’s Caribbean colonies” showed “the country’s ruling establishment…that the price for maintaining slavery might be too high (Hochschild, 344).” Reform, the loud voice of the electorate, was still a whisper. Only one out of five adult males in England could vote. And working-class labor movements distrusted the upper-class fueled “politics of aristocratic benevolence (Hochschild, 352).” “Freeing the slaves, they have charged, was a much easier pill for the country’s ruling elite to swallow than permitting trade unions, banning child labor, recognizing the rights of the Irish, and allowing all Britons to vote (Hochschild 352).”

What was clear was that the costs of maintaining slavery as an institution far outweighed the profits. What was once a booming trade had dwindled into resource pits for the state. “Freeing the slaves was the only alternative to a widespread war…beyond the government’s military capacity (Hochschild, 344).” By 1832, it was a matter of saving face for the industries and institutions built around slaves. Upper class MPs saw abolition not as a “vote to redistribute political and economic power in England (Hochschild, 350)” but as a political maneuver. The emancipation bill passed in 1833 with a provision for compensation to the empire’s slave-holders. Slaves were given no compensation, and conservative MPs walked away with the satisfaction of “bowing both to public opinion and to [preserving] the sacredness of private property (Hochschild, 347).” The abolition of slavery, thus took on a different form in parliamentary politics. It was about preserving the security and economy of the nation, it was not the moral cause that the original abolitionists had spent so much of their time on.

So what worked? The French philosophical approach resulted in an immediate revolution that emancipated slaves within five years of its beginning. The slave revolts in St. Domingue avoided the philosophy of rights but produced extraordinary results—the Europeans left and eventually gave the slaves of St. Domingue autonomous control. The British took a traditional political stance: lobbying, making concessions, backdoor deals, large public displays, cost benefits analysis, etc. Ultimately they all have drawbacks. The French were unable to form a long-lasting government, and often wavered on whether slaves were free or not (1792, 1794, and 1802), and resorted to using rights as a tool for continued abuses. In St. Domingue, without a solid philosophy, the slaves found themselves in limbo until the final revolution of 1803. The British pragmatism ensured that the rights revolution happened fairly peacefully. Today, that is the legacy celebrated. But was it a victory when concessions were made to the perpetrators? By ending the institution it did not rectify the harms done. The force of the rights doctrine and the British approach are called into question by the compromises made to get it passed. Certainly there were plenty of moralists screaming from their soapboxes, but the most effective advances came from the economic imperative. It is a tragedy if the lesson is that institutional change must always be quantified in dollars or concessions.


Hochschild, Adam. Bury the Chains: Prophets and Rebels in the Fight to Free an Empire's Slaves. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2005.

Hunt, Lynn. Inventing Human Rights. New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 2007.


Monday, February 14, 2011

Happy SAD

Today was Valentine’s Day. I don’t know what that means. Today was Singles Awareness Day. I don’t know what that means. I know the acronyms are VD and SAD. That is funny to me. I wonder why we’d ascribe meaning to specific days that realistically have no importance. Big events in one’s life rarely land on the New Year, Christmas, Valentine’s, or the summer solstice. The big events happen on ordinary days.

I walked into work today and my work was more than cut out for me. Flower deliveries come to the Office of Campus Life. There were a lot of flower deliveries. I normally come in, do a little office work, and get all of my other work done. Instead, I spent the entire time today calling young women to tell them that they had deliveries. As they filtered in and out to pick up their flowers, I realized something.

Flowers may just be dead plants, and chocolates may just be foods, but the mere gesture of giving is important in itself. It is also funny to watch the competition. Some guys opted for the big arrangements with a balloon. Others had the small arrangement that had subtle accents of individuality. One girl received a bamboo plant. Every girl walked away happy. It made me happy. I also felt like a pimp. Handing out flowers. My job today was to make people happy. Even if it was only a product of me signing the paper saying I received it, I felt good watching people light up.

Some people aren’t always as happy about VD. But like I said, I see it as just another day. I think that today is an excuse to enjoy people and tell them you love them. Tell them you love them; not in a romantic way. Tell your friends how much you care. Take a moment to say, “I love you for who you are and all the happiness you bring into my life.”

And do it however you feel is appropriate. If flowers are your thing, go for it. If it’s digging up Star Wars Valentines cards, do that. If it is a hug or a smile, do that. If it’s to completely ignore the Hallmark standards and just hang with your friends, go crazy.

And then do that the next day.

Giving

Just bear with me for a moment.

The worst part about being a senior is being a smug bastard. I don’t know as much as I think ever. This weekend illuminated that—again. I hope it’s not the tragedy of being human. I never want to presume more than is true or beyond my scope of knowledge. I’m no Socrates—all I know is that I know nothing. He knew plenty. And I know plenty. I don’t know anywhere near everything though.

And I am searching for that clarity; the knowledge that what I know is useful and that there is plenty more to learn. I am searching for that innocence to approach everything as if it is the first experience. It is my goal in life to see things without the taint of other people’s prejudices; without my own. I suppose that is an impossible argument.

Bear with me. I want to listen to people without wandering around. I want to be present for everyone that comes to me. I feel bad every time I blow people off. I feel terrible every time I don’t listen. It is hard to quiet the busy mind. I am busy; my mind is going in many directions. I haven’t quieted it. I haven’t been in the moment recently.

I need to be with people where they are. That is a basic tenet of mediation and conflict resolution, and I have recently abandoned that. On Sunday, our wonderful and caring Mediation Trainer, Duke Fisher, spent an hour talking with me about goals for Fight Club. He gave me his ear, openly listened and reflected. Then he gave back valuable insights. And he was just with me. It is so valuable having an honest conversation with someone; it was a human experience. Duke tends to be the extreme in a world full of busy schedules and self-interest. He is a calming character; someone that gives his time, energy, and ear genuinely.

I’d like that more from other people in my life. I also know that I must do that to expect it from other people. Take them where they are. Support what they say. Listen genuinely. Give back what they said. Help them. Don’t shift back to the selfish id. The best way I can describe it is a perpetual hug with my presence. I want to give a comforting and genuine hug to those I interact with.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Impacts of Monetary Union in the EU


The Economic Integration of The European Union Dragon Lizard Thingy

Old man


What I do instead of learn about Human Rights.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Gearing Up for VD: Her

Short Story Pt. 2:

God, why did I have to run into Jerry? He’s great, but I’m not sure he has showered in several days. Whatever. Be polite. Smile.

“Hey guys!” Who’s that, I can’t quite tell from this distance. The sun is nice out, but his face is right in the sun. Who is that? Oh, yes, it’s him. He’s coming toward us. Ok, be cute. Yeah, no. Be sexy. I am sexy. Why am I wearing this ugly sweatshirt? Why are my hands sweating? Can they even do that? It must be a medical condition. He’s tripping. He saved himself, but he’s still a klutz, I hope he’s not a bumbling idiot in bed.

“Smooth” I can’t laugh too hard at him. Just like me please. Take me for who I am. He’s so shy sometimes, he never makes eye contact. It’s not like he’s staring at my chest, I’m wearing this frumpy sweatshirt. Jerry is hugging him. That looks uncomfortable. Ok, now I’m definitely laughing at him. Stand casually. Turn a little to the side to look more feminine. Yeah, good job.

“Nice to see you Jer.” He’s kinda short. Whatever, that just makes me look good in heels. Unless the heels are too big. Who am I kidding? I’m like two feet tall. I could wear around stilts and never reach his neck. Don’t check him out. I’m frowning. Don’t frown. Quick. Take an interest in him.

“How was your weekend?” I hope Jerry has to go. I don’t want to drop off some papers. That’s way boring. I want to go for a walk and feel the spring air. It’s so nice out. He’s cute. I’d do him. Or just cuddle up and watch a movie with him. I’m looking at his lips moving. Oh no, his lips are moving. What did I miss?

“—my head on my bed.” Alright, be cool. Respond so he has to tell the story again.

“Cool. Wait, what?!” Smooth. It was like squirting milk out of my nose. Quick save it. Speak in rapid fire about my weekend. Yeah, that will throw him off. “No I get that, I had a lazy weekend. This last week was killer and I was recovering from a cold and all the parties seemed so weird. Anyway, I just stayed in and was a total bum, I didn’t even put on pants until after 3 on Saturday.” He’s laughing. It was kind of more like a chortle or a guffaw. That’s a funny word. I’m laughing now, but for a totally different reason than he is. Now I’m giggling—as long as I don’t snort I’ll be fine. I just snorted a little. Whatever.

“I get that, chill out on the couch, do nothing. Cool.” He says cool a lot. I hope his vocabulary is a little better than just cool.

“Yeah, cool.” Oh no, awkward pause, just long enough for me to get stuck with Jerry. I’ll lean in a bit. I don’t really want to go. Now I’m leaning in like I want to kiss him. That’s weird. Personal space bubble. I have to remember it. I don’t want to hang out with Jerry, he smells like an old football.

“What are you guys up to now?” Nothing! Save me, I don’t want to be stuck here with stinky and his friends smelly and gross.

“Jerry is going to drop of some papers, but I’m just enjoying the nice spring weather.” Did he just smirk? I don’t care; I don’t want to be stuck here. Give me an out man. You know what. Screw you. If you don’t I won’t like you anymore. That’s right. I’ll still think you are cute anyway.

“Cool, same actually. I was going to take a walk down to the park. Wanna join?” Hell yes I’d like to join. Maybe if it gets too cold I’ll borrow his jacket and I can keep it as an excuse to have him come by later. And we’ll hang out. And we’ll cuddle up watching a movie. He’s looking down again. Sometimes he looks so sad. Reply quickly.

“Yeah, sounds cool. I’ll join you, as long as Jerry doesn’t mind me abandoning him.” I hope that doesn’t hurt Jerry’s feelings. Whatever. He’s being a cock block. What a jerk. Oh, he’s shaking his head no. Jerry is a great guy. I love him. He’s a big loving pit bull.

“Cool. See you later Jerry.” Yes, time with him. I love him. That’s clingy. Do not say that. That is a bad idea. Wait, which way is the park?

Gearing Up for VD: Him

Short Story Pt.1:

“Hey guys!” Please say hi back, I need validation. Especially from her; in fact I’m just saying hi to her, but I’m trying to be cool and casual. My hands are sweating. Why are they sweating? Smile and walk forward. For God’s sake don’t trip. They are coming to hug me. Act cool, just awkward enough to make everyone feel comfortable. Smile God damn it. Oh shit I’m tripping. Catch myself, play it off.

“Smooth,” she laughed. She laughed that means funny right. Just like me please. I want to sleep with her. Look at her chest; look away. Was it nice? Her chest was covered by a sweatshirt. Wait, what did it say on her sweatshirt? Now I’m just looking at her chest. It says Harvard. Read it again, maybe it will fade away and her tits will pop out. I’m a dumb ass. Oh shit, I’m getting hugged by Jerry. He’s freaking huge. It’s like getting hugged by a pit bull. Exhale, be dramatic about it. Yeah. Smooth. She’s definitely laughing at me now.

“Nice to see you Jer.” One foot down, put the other down. Hands at side. Affect a cool stance. Yeah, slightly tilted back, hands in pockets, shoulders relaxed. Smile. She’s being standoffish, what did I do? Nothing, whatever; be cool. It’s cool. Stop overanalyzing. I’m ok.

“How was your weekend?” She’s taking an interest in me. Where is this going? I hope I can get rid of Jerry. I like him but he’s a cock block.

“It was cool, didn’t do much. I woke up on the floor of my room, with my head on my bed.” That was funny right? Yeah it was totally funny. She’ll laugh.

“Cool. Wait, what?!” Ha got her, she is intrigued. I hope that means I can hold her hand in the near future. Or cuddle while watching a movie. I’d like that. Or kiss her. I’m looking at her lips move. Her lips are moving. Uh oh, what did I miss? “—so weird. Anyway, I just stayed in and was a total bum, I didn’t even put on pants until after 3 on Saturday.” She smiled at me, giggled. She’s looking for validation. No pants. I like that image. Wait, I have to smile and laugh with her. I can’t be a dumbass and laugh too loudly. Perfect. Now it’s time to respond.

“I get that, chill out on the couch, do nothing. Cool.”

“Yeah, cool.” Oh no, awkward pause, just long enough for them to both leave. This is the moment is she leaving? No, she’s leaning in. Social cue. She wants to stay. Jerry wants to go. Sounds good to me, bye Jerry. This is a chance, get her now.

“What are you guys up to now?” Please say nothing. Please say you aren’t stuck with hanging out with Jerry. I’m really starting to not like Jerry.

“Jerry is going to drop off some papers, but I’m just enjoying the nice spring weather.” Yes! Wait, shit. Don’t emote. Keep it together. Cool, I keep saying cool. Stay cool. Dramatic pause. Yeah. Smooth.

“Cool, same actually. I was going to take a walk down to the park. Wanna join?” There we go, jackpot. Maybe she’ll want to borrow my jacket when the wind picks up. Yeah, and I’ll let her have it and I’ll have an excuse to come by her house. Yeah. And we’ll hang out. Stop staring at her chest. It says Harvard, I think that’s been established.

“Yeah, sounds cool. I’ll join you, as long as Jerry doesn’t mind me abandoning him.” Laugh, that was funny what she said. She’s funny. Jerry is shaking his head no. Thank God, I hate that guy, he’s a jerk.

“Cool. See you later Jerry.” He’s such a tool. Yes, time with her. I love her. Too soon. Don’t say that. It’s creepy. Wait, which way is the park.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Experimentally Grotesque

A short story:

Finding my zen space is hard when I’m flatulent. I mean it. Try eating a bean burrito and honing in on your life as your body gurgles uncomfortably. I tried that. It didn’t go so hot. I’m sitting in my yoga class, something good for me to hone my focus or some crap like that, and everyone in the class is of the female variety, and I just can’t sneak one out.

In downward facing dog it happens, I can’t hold it anymore. Just a kaboom-pffffft. One of those monster farts that tells everyone, “I’m loud and I stink. Now you are all going to deal with me!” This is the kind of fart that laughs maniacally and makes your life a sudden sophomoric sitcom. I look around the room as the last of my fart whistles through my asshole and notice obvious signs of disgust and a few giggles. I can’t escape. I can tell the teacher is trying to hide a smile and keep the class under control.

I curse my sphincter. It has one job. To clench tightly in the presence of company. It is the polite muscle. The one that makes manners possible. Then it hits me. The rank smell of a bean burrito festering in my poorly conditioned stomach. My digestive system has been ripped apart by triple burgers with chili, bacon, and extra special sauce, it is a veritable graveyard of all of this country’s rotting filth that we call fast food. The bean burrito may have led the charge out of my anus, but the whole cavalry followed closely behind—forgive the pun.

It smells like a raccoon ate thai food, then got covered in open sores, crawled into the darkest dankest moldiest cave around, and died while scratching its eyes out. The dead raccoon then spontaneously combusted and took the dramatic blowing-up-the-death-star escape out of my rectum. Then it started settling. All the gases, heavy with the scent of a tauntaun’s entrails, succumbed to gravity. They gently waft to my nose, causing my face to contort like Jim Carrey’s. I’m beyond sick.

I am also beyond embarrassment. At this point I am much more concerned that I will get permanent brain damage from this stench. So I focus in on my zen space. I close my eyes; focus on my now very shallow breathing. When I wake up on the bench outside the classroom I am more than a little confused. They later tell me that a gas line ruptured under my mat and that it was seeping through the floor. It’s little comfort that the smell wasn’t all me—everyone still heard me, and if I could have controlled myself a little longer, everything would have been awkwardly acceptable. Needless to say I don’t do yoga anymore.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Man's Face In Shadow


I drew this a while ago when I was writing on some scratch paper

The Boat Moves

Rowing is all about working without working. It is a judo match, using all the energy that is already there to succeed. The boat moves under you as you row. The body doesn’t move until the boat does; when the oar catches the water, everything but the boat is in a fixed position.

Sometimes that’s how life feels. Everything moves around me while I am planted in place. All the forward momentum—the things I cannot control—are stuck in drive while I have to look back, moving in a fixed position just to keep up. I was looking at pictures of me as a ten year old. I don’t feel I have aged a day, I don’t feel like I know significantly more than I did then. If I look back I can see the changes. A slowly passing scene fading into the vanishing point. I can never really look forward; never get more than a glimpse over my shoulder. I have to have confidence in where I was to know where I’m going.

It’s exhausting. Life. And it requires enormous courage. It’s one of those things that everyone has to go through, but to make it proudly to the end is bravery of the utmost magnitude. To row past the finish line is a huge relief and an exhausting proposition. It also offers no catharsis; there is always plenty of water to keep rowing, you never see it coming, and it feels like everyone around you has done much better. The real success comes in knowing that you have gone from point A to point B with confidence and determination. To see the start line in the distance; so far away but you were there only a moment ago.

Let the boat move under you. Let the boat move forward with all of your energy in the moment, the precise point where the oars are dug into the water. Let it shoot forward, accelerating to the finish mechanically, methodically. Enjoy the view. Look back with an eye constantly to the future. A careful relaxation of the body as it recovers, the oars come to catch the water, and the body exerts a stronger push than before. Let the boat move under you; a constant rhythm, always giving everything, and then giving more.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Tomorrow's Plan

Short story:

Things weren’t going well. Every part of my plan was falling apart. I was learning lessons fast; I wasn’t sure if it was good. The door opened and a couple walked in, looked around and quickly left. The frigid outside air blasted in and drifted over to me. I felt it about three seconds after the door closed. I looked at my drink, it was mostly ice now. My drink and the table started to move; I put my hand on the counter to steady myself.

I guess my learning started when I stormed off after she said I never listened. I never committed. I never opened up to her. I couldn’t disagree, but I know I had tried. Doesn’t that count for something? My sore cheek said no. I now found myself sitting alone in the crowded bar, far too inebriated to actually make any plan resembling a good one.

Besides, this is all her fault anyway. She wanted this damn relationship. She wanted to try dating in college. I scoffed at her, but it was part of my life image. Get a girlfriend in college, get married a few years down the line, have a kid or three, be a professional in a desk job by 32. I had been following that plan carefully.

I may have romanticized a little. That’s no crime; it can even smooth over the rough patches a bit. I spun around on the bar stool. “Stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stu--” I was stopped. The world spun briefly and the many forms before me fused together. She was there. “I’m sorry” I blurted it out almost incoherently.

“Do you want me to take you home?” She asked sternly.

“That—that would be lovely.” I trailed off. She helped me up and we stumbled into the cold. She managed to flag down a cab while I sat on the curb. I stared at my hands. My butt was cold.

“Come on, get in.” She grabbed my arm and tossed me in a cab. The car spun rapidly and jolted like a rocket ship. We sat in silence as the motions of the cab threw us around. Five harrowing minutes later I was at my front door. “We’re here.” She paid the driver and I tripped out of the cab onto the sidewalk.

My front drive was icy and had a thin layer of snow on it; neither I nor my housemates had bothered to shovel. She helped me find my keys and go inside. I collapsed on the couch muttering to myself. She walked into the room. I finally looked at her; she was wearing a black dress and sheer leggings. Her hair was starting to come undone from the coif that she had spent an hour on. She had removed her mascara. I could still see a faint line running down her cheek though. She handed me a glass of water, kicked off her heels, and sat down. She started to remove her earrings.

“Listen, I’m sorry. Relationships aren't easy. I’ve stuck around because the times you are good make up for every tough moment. That’s not how it’s been lately. I’m not giving you a second chance. I’ll give you another day though. And hopefully after that maybe another.” She put her earrings in her purse and started to undo her hair.

I took a sip of my water; felt it run down my throat. It was cold and made me shiver. I grabbed the blanket on the couch and haphazardly tossed it on myself. If I had only one more day with her, what would I do? I couldn’t plan out to 32. Any dreams of the future were one hundred percent dependent on the present. Her ultimatum had thrown that into a very stark light. I readjusted on the couch, spilled a bit of water on my hand, and slid out of my shoes. I looked at her—one of them at least, “I can do that.” It was a measured four words. I was defeated and wrong.

She came over, removed the blanket, unfolded it, and draped it on me. She leaned in, kissed me on the forehead, and got up to go.

I called out to her, “wait. What do you want to do tomorrow? I don’t have any plans.”

“Neither do I,” she smiled, “we’ll figure something out.”

BFD

I have had some of the most fun of my life in the last couple days. I have also had some of the biggest stress. Instead of dwelling on the difficulties, the momentary pain of a life settling into itself, I would like to write my ode to what has made my last 48 hours good.

I briefly looked around. Two thirty in the morning. A pizza place. The floor was wet from the muddy snow everyone had tracked in. A half consumed container of ranch was the centerpiece of our table. Three famished and exhausted girls stood around me masticating their lukewarm pizza with vigor. A couple in their 40s sat behind us. The couple generously shared their table with any college students that needed a place to sit. It currently was two young women wolfing down pizza in pretty black dresses, hair done up, and their faces on.

We were at the end of the night. My sleeves were rolled up, my hair was a mess. Alex refused to let me take anymore pictures of any consequence. Everyone was done feeling pretty, we were ready to go home. Fifteen minutes previous to this moment we were in Irish Times—a bar—stuck at the top of the stairs and trying to descend.

Irish Times is a great bar, large open space with a cool second floor. I had entered the bar knowing that my visit would be brief. I made a beeline to James. I said hi. Spilled someone’s drink. I hurried to the bar, explained my dilemma. The bartender smiled and gave me the drink for free. By the time I returned she had disappeared. I left the drink with Jason and headed to find other people. I was in my body. I felt good; enough alcohol in my system to interact with people comfortably without slurring my speech. I stopped halfway up the stairs and looked out. I couldn’t find anyone I was looking for. It was a sea of excitement; everyone dressed up and beautiful.

I dipped into my pocket and pulled out my phone; a new message from my girlfriend Ciera. I smiled at the message, replied with the wittiest thing I could think of, and closed my phone. I walked backwards in my head, stood at the table of Desperate Annie’s. I was talking to Jess; she was my ally in a steadily declining general mood. A slew of exes had suddenly been forced to interact with each other and we were looking for exit strategies. I was contemplating the tensile force of Jess’s purse strings when she got a call from Claire and Alicia and headed on home. I was momentarily alone on a high wire held tensely by the talking exes. It was fine. I was in a moment, compelled to watch the train wreck slowly emerge. Alex returned from the bathroom and commented on how fun the night had been.

I agreed and teleported my body three blocks away and forty minutes earlier. Katie ran up to me with a plate of cheese and chips. She promptly stuffed her face and tried to share. I grabbed a chip but realistically she had consumed the majority of the food. Alex laughed and stuck the lemon slice from her drink in her mouth. I laughed and looked out on the dance floor. Four years of people I had known since my genesis at Skidmore. 107 days until our lives changed in a way we could not comprehend fully. It was fine. The moment was perfect. Everyone I knew came by and said hi, everyone looked gorgeous. The girls were women now; the boys had become men. Pure fun saturated the room. The picturesque, the beautiful, the young, the carefree time, the us, the now. We all had what people spend their lives remembering. What they spend their lives trying to catch again. And we had happily embraced our privilege, celebrated our moment.

Greg and Korena were dancing together. Natalie was trying to teach Jacob how to dance. James was running between groups of people excitedly jumping and dancing. A typical night. It had started typically.

5 Dayton J. We paid homage to our earliest days at Skidmore. Some cheap booze, a game of beer pong, and characters we had known for four years. We became rowdy, egging each other on, rejoicing in the ease with which we could be together. The house was warm and the music was loud. It was easy to be there and laugh at every joke, to poke fun at each other, to embrace each other wholly and without consequence.

I moved forward through time and space; looked around the pizza place. I smiled at the older couple. They looked troubled and a bit bothered by the college students around them. When I smiled they released the tension in their faces. Alex hurriedly put on her coat and pushed us out the door.

At the bus stop on the corner, Becca decided to change her shoes. In the middle of the process, the bus arrived. We wearily made our way to the back and sat down. I looked at Becca. Then at her shoes. One pink heel and one black flat. Her comical mismatch was strangely symbolic. We were all transitioning to another state, about to wear the shoes our children would try to fill. Becca finished changing her shoes, complained about how cold and sore her feet were, and put the other pair of shoes away. I looked out the window and watched the lights pass by.

I later woke up in my bed and couldn’t recall how I had gotten there. I thought briefly about the night, smiled, and drifted back to sleep.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Chopping Veggies




Anthropomorphizing my dinner. It was delicious.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Snowpocalypse: The Slide Show



The day was eventful. James and I refused to go out during the lull in the storm...then we went and built a snow fort. Yay college

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Snowpocalypse

A short story:

I found myself standing alone in the woods. Brown vertical lines shot up from a white background. Distance was obscure. Everything was here and far away. I listened carefully. The snow was falling with a light crackle. I exhaled. It was an extremely physical task. The air escaped my mouth, fogged up, and left only the echo of its existence in my head.

The tips of my fingers were frozen. I had trudged out here to find calm, quiet. As I looked around everything seemed noisy. My breathing, my steps, the wind, the snow, the world was so loud. It was all noise. Even the visuals were noisy. The trunks of trees were tilting, erratic, and in chaos. I could hear branches break in the distance. A crow cawed in the distance, its form passed in front of me, broken by the sporadic lines across the sheer white background. Even the winter in a storm is noise.

I turned to go back. I would not find what I was looking for here. I crunched through the fresh snow. New tracks, so crisp and permanent. The tracks I had made on the way in were already disappearing though. My heavy shoes staggered onto the road. A car with its wheels spinning passed slowly and unsteadily. The beeping of a snow plow echoed in the distance. I looked up and saw its orange lights flash against the wall of a building. The snow turned to a brown slush, something messy. I looked around. Yellow light poured out of the houses before me. The white was steadily turning to grey; it would soon be dark.

Each step toward home reaffirmed my outer search for quiet had been futile. I passed an acquaintance, commented on the storm, “a snowpocalypse.” We both laughed at the meager joke. I came to my front walk, and stomped off the snow. Loud clunks; a satisfying purification ritual. I entered my house.

Warm air melted my frozen nose. A delectable smell entered my nose. I called out. I heard laughter. I removed my shoes. I entered my kitchen and saw my friends cooking, smiling, and enjoying each other’s company. It was a bustling center of activity, but strangely peaceful. I shed my winter layers, and instantly warmed up. I smiled at my friends; their noise was a steady pattern of constantly accelerating happiness.