Hoquiam, Uzbekistan, and Doing

So you’ll recall that I recently went to Ocean Shores. If you’ve ever driven there from the area I live in, you’ll have driven through the booming metropolis of Hoquiam, Washington. If you’re reading this and you currently or have ever lived in Hoquiam, firstly I’m so, so sorry. Secondly, I apologize for the caricature I’m about to make of it.

Driving through Hoquiam with a car full of high schoolers, the characterization that immediately sprang to mind was in the form of a catchy moniker: Hoquiam, graveyard of dreams. And that pretty much sums it up. Most of the region, really. Generally depressed (and depressing), much rainier than our Harbor, the kind of place that seems hard to leave and even harder to stay in. Hoquiam epitomizes this, as it can’t even summon up enough spirit to be quite as nice (in relative terms) as neighboring Aberdeen.

Hoquiam. Oh Hoquiam.

That part of Washington has held onto its logging identity longer than the more urbanized Puget Sound and it looks it. It can be a gorgeous area crisscrossed by scars of clear-cuts and muddy makeshift roads. I’m torn between thinking that it’d be an interesting and cool place to live (for a little while) and thinking that it’s a miracle people still do at all. Anyway, I don’t write this to be offensive but to give my honest, if superficial, assessment of the place. Less than ideal at the very least. Graveyard of dreams, perhaps.

Anyway. This week has had me a bit down in the dumps, to be real with you, and it’s no secret why. This country scares me. I give my fear three categories of reasons: I feel personally victimized, I empathize with others who are being targeted, and I worry about the implications for our country and world as a whole. I don’t want the world to be like Hoquiam and, if I’m being my best self, I don’t want Hoquiam to be like Hoquiam either. As an aside, Grays Harbor County voted for Trump by approximately the same margin as my home Pierce County went for Clinton.

What kind of system are we supporting? Those of you who know me well know that I have never been a fan of capitalism and every day I continue to exist in world only reaffirms this for me. And this week, I just seem to be surrounded by the worst. Political, economic, social…

Last night, I was really trying hard to think of something to write this post about and not having much luck. All I really wanted to do was complain about the eight million things that have happened that left me open-mouthed and shocked. The things that made me angry and humiliated and disgusted. Then, miracle of miracles, Facebook presented me with an article of real, active news that actually lifted my spirits. It’s just a simple human interest story, but I’d like to share it with you because it was so much what I needed.

This article from NPR (possibly facing defunding) gave me a bit of a pat on the heart and got me turned around in just the right way.

If you don’t feel like clicking the link and reading for yourself, it’s just a quick tale of the recently-recalled Golden Door beside which a certain lady in green lifts her lamp of hope. A family from Uzbekistan (a Hoquiam of countries if ever there was one) finally receives American citizenship. Acquainted with the tyranny of governments dictating where people may live, the family seems hopeful that the America they now participate in (they immediately registered to vote) is worth loving. That’s a belief that I share in my good moments and scarcely can imagine in my bad.

Also yesterday, I called one of my US Senators. I feel very strongly about pretty much everything in this administration thus far but I could not stand by the nomination for Education. Hearing that this senator of mine was perhaps uncertain of how to vote, I called and registered my opposition to her confirmation. It took, in grand total, one minute and forty-one seconds. For a second contact with the government in this way (after the letters I wrote about a couple months ago), not too shabby, I thought. And though it took kind of a lot for me to actually call, once I did I realized that this is real. I’m not a hypocrite on this issue, I want change and I do something. I may not do much, but liking things on Facebook has informed real action. I am politically active, even if in the barest sense, and I will not be looking back thank you very much. Too much is at stake.

So here’s my thing. There are so many real and metaphorical Hoquiams and Uzbekistans all around and within us. But that is not the way it was meant to be.

I believe that everyone has something or someone they care enough about to act on. So may we all overcome our fears and do. Go to a march, sign a petition, call an important somebody. Talk passionately to everyone who will listen– listen to them, too, and keep pursuing the facts and the right wherever they may lead you.

Like I’ve heard it said, compassion is to care enough to do something to help. If we’re not doing, we’re not loving. Not really.

Gifts

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Ocean Shores, Washington

When I was in Dublin, my house between Cabra and Stoneybatter was about a ten minute walk from Phoenix Park, the largest park in the city and one of the largest (walled, urban) parks in Europe. My first excursion there, shortly after I moved into our house, was less than ideal; autumn had turned the trees into sticks, the leaves were brown and half crackling, half stewed with rain, and the steely grey light from an unforgiving sky illuminated the park with a half-light that failed to obscure as much as I might have wished. (This is how it was in my memory, this is not how it was.)

I did not return for several months.

When at last I did, however, I saw things differently indeed. I do not recall exactly when I decided to go back, only that it was a lovely day, lovely and warm, earlier than later in the spring. I took a book and decided to do a little more exploring than I had before, knowing that the first impression had, perhaps, been just as bad on my part as it had been on the park’s and wishing us to give each other another chance. First of all, it was green. The grass was lush and lovely, the trees were new and alive, and the flower beds were awaking with the strange combination of hesitance and gusto particular to new life. Secondly, the sun cast a yellow glow across the scene whose radiance lent the park a much cheerier air than previously. Of course, it was still early, and in Dublin the spring comes perhaps later than elsewhere, so the air retained a certain chill and the earth still clung to a cooler winter, yet the atmosphere of the place was warm and inviting. The breeze was a constant irritation, cooling me when I was not in want of cooling, and ruffling that which did not want to be ruffled, but even the wind could not detract from the transformation, and I knew that I would make the journey many more times.

And so I did. Seeing as classes finished the first week of April, I had plenty of time to spend lounging in the park. I continued to explore and read and simply enjoy myself. There is a herd of wild deer that lives within the walls, naming field and grove as equal abodes, and we became if not well acquainted, at least passingly familiar. It did not take me long to find a favored reading place and it did not take long for that place to become mine. There is an old armory and fort on a hill overlooking the Liffey, now decrepit and closed for renovations (whose completion does not keep me in suspense). However, a few steps beyond it, there is a collection of benches facing the water, right across from the War Memorial Garden on the south side.

The spot was not perfect. There is a busy road that follows the river and the scent and sound of passing vehicles did not add particularly to the atmosphere. The view of the river was largely obscured by a straggly stand of trees clustered on the hill coming up from the road and they, too, were not overly cosmetic. And, of course, the wind was a constant companion, rarely fierce but always blowing on one side and then the other, seemingly irresolute on everything other than being as large an annoyance as possible.

All the same, it was a spot of extraordinary beauty. You could catch glimpses of rowers on the river in front of you, deer in the trees behind, the sun glinting off spires and windows across the city, and the old fort sitting quietly to the side, as much a ruin as a construction site. There are few joys like reading in the sun, even reading a bad book, and that joy covers over a multitude of complaints. I read long and well on those benches, not always the same one, but always with the same feeling. I would at times snap at the wind, as if it would heed my rebuke, and at others grumble about the state of the trees or road or city at large. But I always retained  an immeasurable gratitude for the great gift of those mornings and afternoons with hardly a care in the world, or at least none worth dwelling on.

So I return there, sometimes, in my memory, to realize gifts that I perhaps have taken for granted, or disdained, or allowed to become stale. In those long, sunny hours, caught whenever possible, I remind myself of the great skill of recognizing a gift when we have it. In this way, I am teaching myself to be thankful for simple gifts.

A Discontented Sojourner: Now Free

This week I have encountered plenty in the national and international news cycles that put a cloud over my head. Perhaps most of us are often made aware of Syria ongoing, but how often are we reminded of Ukraine? Yemen? Myanmar? How many other things are simply overlooked? It sometimes feels overwhelming to care about all of these on top of threats and challenges in our own lives, much less our own country.

Rewatching The King’s Speech with some friends, I was reminded how precious it is to have a voice and to have that voice heard. Certainly many problems we have been collectively facing of late stem from voices being too strong, voices that speak loudly and falsely. But for others of us, not on the national or global stage, the problem is with speaking too quietly, if at all, and too timidly. We do each have a voice and, while I might not wish to hear several among us, their speaking is not the problem. See, the privilege of having a voice is accompanied by the privilege of having ears.

I was going to write this whole post about that movie and some good, topical take-aways I got from it. In the event, surprise, that is not how it has happened.

There’s not loads to report on my life this week, other than frustrating paperwork being worked on and the like. Going on a brief trip this holiday weekend to Ocean Shores so I had to stock up on warm and cozy cat snuggles.

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I did not watch all of the farewell speech this week, but I did read the entire transcript. It was well written and well taken, more than I anticipate from any speech that will be forthcoming from the Oval Office in the next several years. Anyway, I liked the speech overall and I wanted to discuss a bit one particular moment from it. Talking about life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, Obama said,

It’s the insistence that these rights, while self-evident, have never been self-executing; that We, the People, through the instrument of our democracy, can form a more perfect union.

Self-executing indeed. I am always struggling with what these rights look like in my own soul; I cannot imagine working them out for an entire country millions strong. As much as I fervently believe that we can, together, build a more perfect union, I also believe that perfection is unquestioningly unattainable. My teleological worldview does imply an eventual end to history but it does not require an arch bending toward justice. I do not believe that we inherently march toward goodness. All I know is that one day, everything will be good and perfect, regardless of what has come before.

In the meantime, it’s difficult not to feel a deep-seated restlessness. This restlessness stems from a knowledge that we will never get it right but somehow we’re meant to. We had the blueprints for perfection but somewhere along the line each of us tore them up in favor of living in comfortable squalor instead.

I contemplated, briefly, having this post simply reproduce Wordsworth’s The Prelude because it’s over six hundred lines of magic. But I did not because it’s over six hundred lines. Then I contemplated including just the first stanza because it’s beautiful. But I did not because I could not decide where to cut it off, perhaps it needed more than just the first stanza, perhaps I could use just part of the first stanza. Alas.

In the end, a single line from the opening made its way into this entry. It is the title. This line haunts me with its eloquence and tenderness. And its truth aches and emboldens.

Every day, I feel myself a discontented sojourner in this world so often dismal. Every day, I must remind myself that I have been freed. It does not matter where my steps are directed, they are taking me home. I am yet a wayfaring stranger in this world of woe, but while I’m here I can embrace the freedom that comes from declining to care what this world thinks of me. I can use that freedom to love in ways that other people think are foolish at best or downright disgraceful at worst.

I would much rather be counted a fool for loving much than wise for loving little.

The Wand Chooses the Wizard

Certain someones were not pleased with the cat omission last week, so I thought I’d settle that right off the bat. Bubba, being precious in front of the Christmas tree (and you can even, like, see his face) and then me enjoying some two-cat love.

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I hope 2017 is off to a reasonable start for you. We woke up to a lovely coating of snow and had a white New Year’s Day, I guess, in lieu of a white Christmas.

Over the past several weeks, my family and I have been rewatching the Harry Potter movies (I also plan to reread the books). I just really, really enjoy them. They’re not perfect (especially episode V) but they’re great nonetheless. There’s so much to them that resonates with me and that just generally endear them to me. Also, definitely have a #1 for books and movies–Goblet of Fire. In this particular go around, I’ve been replaying a line from the first movie in my mind, one that’s just cool, that foreshadows so much, and that I’ve decided applies to my life right now by a sort of convoluted rationale. But.

First, let me say that this is in no way intended to be an explanation of fate, my beliefs on predestination, or anything remotely of the sort. Instead, please understand this as a metaphor for things that I don’t really grasp and don’t really feel the need to.

So here’s the thing: I’ve gotten a job. I hesitated to say anything earlier because I felt (still feel) like it can’t be true. Something will go wrong, most likely a mistake on my part. Because after so many applications I struggle to believe that I’m employable. But anyway, I definitely am and I know it. I won’t go into that too much because it just makes me too ugh. What I want to say, though, is that I have applied to approximately eight million jobs, in twenty seven fields, in (literally, actually) five countries. And in those eight million applications, as one might expect, were not only jobs that I don’t think I would like (it’s my first job, that’s fine) but also jobs doing things I really had no intention of doing ever in my life. And so, of course, that’s the job I got.

In the next couple months (hopefully), I will be moving to an as-yet unspecified location in the Republic of Korea to teach English to middle and/or high school aged students. The contract is for one year, possibly renewable. And so.

It feels a bit like impending doom because I have actually no idea what to expect. I know very, very little about the country/language/culture/everything (except for the food which I have sampled many times in my life and heartily approve of with the prominent exception of kimchi). Also, I’m not certain I really want to teach. Or teach English, at least. Or, at least, in South Korea. But I’m staying positive about the whole thing for several reasons:

  1. It will be cool to see a totally different part of the world than I have heretofore seen.
  2. The pay is decent and I really need an actual job.
  3. I like students. Mostly. I think.
  4. Friends, family, and God will not desert me if I’m a miserable failure at it.
  5. No experience is ever wasted.
  6. It is actually pertinent to other things I want to do, definitely a solid résumé builder at the very least.
  7. I’m 22 and it’s only one year.

There you have it. It’s a bit of a shocker to me still, but it is what it is. And don’t get me wrong, I’m definitely excited about it too. There are so many possibilities for this to be a really cool, if unexpected, journey and I look forward to seeing where all this road may go. Certainly, I must always be on my guard against default cynicism and skepticism, but I’ve done a fair bit of traveling in my life thus far and I feel like I’m pretty game for taking risks and trying everything. So I’ll definitely be eating unknown food; been there, done that, still alive. And I do like working with students, and language, so here’s hoping.

Anyway, my point is this: October 2016 and I would not have believed this was where I was going. And here I am. Going into unknown territory in more than one sense. And as much as I like to know things ahead of time and as much as I consider myself a homebody, when it comes down to it, I will always choose the horizon over the harbor.

The wand chooses the wizard. It’s not always clear why.

With that, I leave you until next week.