And I Know Things Now

This Saturday is graduation. Instead of having end-of-job thoughts, it might be nice to take a sec to have some graduation thoughts instead. Graduation thoughts are hard, though, so I’ve taken some inspiration from a book and a song. Because, you know, that’s how I do.

Yesterday evening, I finished reading the first in a new series. Senlin Ascends by Josiah Bancroft. A really interesting book, a fantasy set in a world inspired by the kingdom of Ur and the Tower of Babel, but steampunk. Adventure and romance and conspiracy. It’s a fun read, and well-written. Would recommend, though we’ll have to see how the rest of the series pans out.

At the end of the book, there was a brief author interview. Mr Bancroft had this to say about his main character, Senlin:

He rushes when he should linger, and he is patient when he should insist. He does learn, but slowly; he grows, but not in a straight line.

When I graduated high school, I felt pretty good about where I was going. I tried to be open to the possibilities of the formless future, but I had a pretty good idea of a direction. Not a detailed plan but some strong, if general, convictions. I had fairly concrete goals, which started with a course of university study but continued after I received that diploma. I was going to go places and do things and it was going to be great.

Then, I redefined my goals, what I wanted my life to look like. A valid thing to do, but what I came up with as a replacement was exceedingly vague and, in response to the pushback I’d been given by the world, a little more half-hearted because I wasn’t sure that I could really accomplish much. Not that I’m entirely lacking drive or purpose, but they’ve both been tempered by setbacks which, I suppose, are inevitable to most people with dreams.

I’m not about to fill this blog with a bunch of advice for graduates. I’m not far enough removed from it myself, for starters, and I’m not sure that advice of that sort is as helpful as we’d wish it to be. Experience is sometimes the best teacher. I feel like parents can attest, sometimes children just do dumb things no matter how persuasively you explain that it definitely won’t end well. We will, like Senlin, learn slowly, misjudge, anticipate inaccurately, take lessons from situations that are not perhaps the lessons we ought to take away.

And in this, there is a constant kinship with the recent graduate. I’ve spoken with some older people recently, those who seem to have normal real-person careers and whatnot, and it seems to me that we’re all just bumbling around pretending that we know how to do stuff but in fact, we are still rushing when we ought to linger, being patient when we should insist.

Can I just take an extra moment here? I love that phrasing. So poetic and so exactly right.

I’ve had things pretty good. My trials have been trials, but they have been small trials. And for that, I am exceedingly grateful. I am not afraid of growing slowly (at least, not in my best moments). No experience is ever wasted, as I was always telling myself in Korea. I do know things now, many valuable things, that I hadn’t known before.

And take extra care with strangers,
Even flowers have their dangers.
And though scary is exciting,
Nice is different than good.

Now I know:
Don’t be scared.
Granny is right,
Just be prepared.
Isn’t it nice to know a lot!
And a little bit not.

May we know the difference between nice and good. May we learn to linger and insist appropriately. May we grow, be it ever so slowly and circuitously, into more compassionate, wise, and humble human beings. And may the growing never cease.

Mostly They’re Darked

The school year here is rapidly, terrifyingly, drawing to a close. For me personally, the end of the year doesn’t exactly necessitate any additional work or stress in the way that students and teachers experience it. However, seeing as I will be minus a job in a few short weeks, I have plenty to stress about. The proper phrase is job hunting, but I feel like the anxiety is more like running away from a hunter named Joblessness.

Days here in northern Michigan have lengthened considerably and I do love watching a flaming sunset over the lake. It is very calming and even the veritable hoards of midges cannot lessen my enjoyment of the moment (at least, not too much). I have posted pictures of the Lake Michigan sunsets before so I won’t trouble you now but, rest assured, I am enjoying them as much as I am able.

On the note of pictures, though, I will definitely come through with some cat pics. That’s why you’re here anyway, and I know so many wonderful cats. I also encountered this superb human/cat pair, both of which are very alluring to me.  Can I please move to Australia and travel with that man and his cat?

 

Quite a rogues’ gallery of cuties this week. Love them all. Even the poorly-photographed, screaming Copper. (Copper was one of two cats that I briefly cat-sat last Friday for my neighbor/coworker/friend).

Anyway. I had an interview yesterday, which was a nice change of pace from the usual direct-to-rejection pipeline. I’m not getting my hopes up too high because, you know, I’ve been burned before. But it was nice. Made me feel valued. It annoys me that some part of me derives feelings of value from a corrupt and corrupting system of morally bankrupt capitalism but what is a poor twenty-something gay to do.

As an aside, I kind of hate the construction behind ‘twenty-something’ but whatever, I am what I am.

Thinking about places I might be going. And having truly, absolutely no idea where those places might be. It’s easy to get discouraged. Even with the giddy high of having an interview with a cool place, immediately after I felt like I might have squandered the opportunity. Not that it went poorly, but it just didn’t seem like I made myself exemplary and so might not get this cool job. Too early to say, but it just was sad to take a second and go over the 48 hours between confirmation of the interview to its completion: ecstatic to morose. Yech.

I have quoted before Dr. Seuss’s Oh, the Places You’ll Go and I would like to do so once more today. Near-ish to the beginning of the book, as you’re getting on your way with brains in your head and feet in your shoes, there is a brief warning about some of the places you might encounter. The narrator says:

You will come to a place where the streets are not marked.
Some windows are lighted. But mostly they’re darked.
A place you can sprain both your elbow and chin!
Do you dare to stay out? Do you dare to go in?

I feel a bit like I’ve wandered into some town way out there in an unknown land. Walking through the gates, seeing window after window darked. Not even because they are paths that are closed to me, but more because they are just obscured. And in that darkened obscurity, I very much feel like I might sprain both my elbow and shin.

There is no question, for me, about daring to stay out or go in. I am not staying here and so, necessarily, I am going. The question is also only partially whether to turn right-and-three-quarters or maybe not quite. There’s only so much I can do, applying to jobs. I feel justified, having this education and experience and living in this current economic climate, not taking a minimum-wage-ish position. But maybe it’ll come to that while I move somewhere and continue applying. Let’s hope not.

I think what I’m trying to say is that things are a little bit scary, but I’ll survive. The streets are not marked. The windows are not lighted. But the streets and the windows are there all the same and I’m learning that, while I may not be too smart to go down any not-so-good street, the not-so-good streets that I’m faced with don’t have to be doom, gloom, and slump.

Sometimes, it’s better to light a candle than curse the darkness, as they say. But sometimes, I think it might be better to step into the darkness exactly as it is and find that maybe it’s not so bad. That’s the hope, at least.

 

There’s Only One Way to Find Out

I contend that one of the chief pleasures of life is reading in the sun. For me, it is a joy and satisfaction that few activities can achieve. A uniquely gratifying way to pass time, and an occupation which I treasure long after it is finished.

I know I’ve talked about it before but somehow I’m startled over and over again. There is a true contentment that settles deeply in my inmost parts when I am reading in the sun. A park, a bench, some shade, some breeze… It’s almost more happiness than I feel a right to. Profoundly pleasurable.

It has taken longer than it should have, but this week spring finally got itself together enough to allow that and I am all over it. I was so all over it on Tuesday, in fact, that I got pretty sunburned. Which isn’t ideal. But it was a cost incurred in the course of a supremely good pursuit, so I’m dealing just fine.

I do not know what I am doing with my life. Pretty much everything about my future is currently up in the air. But then I have a day like Tuesday, when I spend most of my hours engaged in what some might describe as frittering but I would describe as necessary. Yes, there were more productive (essentially so) things that I could have done. Should have, even.

But I will not apologizing for frittering away my time in such a fashion, even though I am in a bit of a press.

Putting in the effort is necessary. Things generally haven’t just happened to me, I’ve had to go out and see what there is to see, and I expect that trend to continue since I would like to have another job (sooner rather than later). However.

Some opportunities should not be missed. A Tuesday afternoon getting sunburned while reading. A Wednesday evening baking cinnamon raisin quick bread. A Thursday morning publishing an obscure blog. Without these things, even in the midst of the urgent press of ‘what I’m doing with my life,’ I think the uncertainty of it would all be a little too much to bear.

It’s true that I have no clue what is coming down the track at me, a few short weeks away. But, as I am often fond of saying, there’s only one way to find out. Stride into the future and live it.

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Carpe archa, seize the box.

Avatar Aang

My sister requested more cats and it would be unforgivably remiss of me if I did not comply. Here are a couple pictures of her precious ones. How are cats so cute. I for real cannot handle it. Yes and forever.

If you have not seen Avatar: The Last Airbender, I highly recommend it. Both because it is, in my humble estimation, deeply excellent, and also because this post is going to have pretty much the largest spoiler. You have been warned.

The show is great because it’s a goofy children’s show that takes place in fantasy land. But at the same time, it takes on a lot of heavy issues. Not just things like bad parents and awkward relationships. Literal, actual genocide. The whole premise of the title comes from the fact that all the other airbenders were massacred in a war a century ago. It may not look at genocide as deeply as an adult show could, but it definitely doesn’t shy away from it.

This week, I had a sudden and intense urge to rewatch the grand finale of the series. It’s a four-part, hour and a half, episode that includes the culmination of all the storylines and a happy little denouement. In particular, I was interested in seeing again the titanic battle between Fire Lord Ozai and Aang. Because of how it plays out.

And here’s the spoiler (that really makes sense, in the quasi-Disney children’s entertainment sort of way): Aang doesn’t kill Ozai. They spend three seasons trying to come up with a way around murder and come up empty. Aang asks a bunch of his past lives and they were all telling him to do it. Even the peaceful airbending Avatars. Something about needing to sacrifice your own spiritual wellbeing for the sake of the world.

But Aang, this random twelve year old gentle soul, refuses. When it comes down to it, even in the midless Avatar state, he does not kill. He does something probably no human has ever done–he takes away Ozai’s bending. He’s not just thought outside the box, he’s done what had been heretofore impossible, unthinkable, and unknowable. But he did it, and it was perfectly executed (pardon the pun).

I just think it’s kind of an incredible feat. Not just the act itself, which is obviously avatar-awesomeness. But that someone was so utterly convinced all life was sacred that, even on the brink of essentially the end of the world, he refused to bend the principle. Not saying that we should precisely follow in his footsteps.

But it is a heartening reminder that principles matter, integrity matters, even when it seems like they’re barely the dust on a villain’s shoes.

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I have been enjoying some lovely days (we’ve had some pretty trash days, too) though for the most part it has remained rather more chilly than I’d prefer. On Sunday, we had surpassing good weather, pure sunny and even getting up above 70. Now, of course, we’re back in the upper 40s, but still some sun mixed in with the rain.

Flowers have been blooming and that has been a great comfort to me in this trying season. Trees haven’t quite gotten the message that they’re meant to have leaves by this point but they’re getting there. Deciduous trees. I know they can’t help it, they were born that way, but couldn’t they just try to be coniferous?

Not much else to say, other than the (apparently, unfortunately) annual cycle of job applications has begun in earnest. So far, I’ve only applied in this country (sad face) but I’m up to seven states. Here’s hoping. I’ve given the Great Lakes a go, let’s see where to next.

Good Laws under a Free Government

This week, I’m just going to do a reading and explication for you, everyone’s favorite pastime! The text is George Washington’s farewell address, when he declined to put himself forward for a third term as president. It is quite lengthy, and written in the high formal style of it’s time. Today, I will quote it liberally and offer my humble thoughts and layman’s translation of sorts. I’ve never tried anything like this, and it’s a weird turn of events for this blog but hey. I will be using the copy of the text from the Lillian Goldman Law Library at Yale, since they have it online and it was a top Google result. Bear in mind that this truly is very long; I preserve a great deal of block quotes because I love the language, it’s so beautiful.

The first president of this country was a man of his time. There are plenty of things about him that I’m not wild about, to say the least. He is problematic, as is idolization of all founding fathers. However.

He had some excellent ideas which he believed, as far as I can tell, with deep fervor and expressed with timeless eloquence. He sums up what he thinks about the country he helped birth and gives some warnings that everyone promptly ignored. But, as he himself says, they are warnings worth reviewing periodically across the span of history. Here is my attempt to highlight a few of his points.


  • He begins by saying that he’s really pumped to retire and almost did before his second term, but decided that things were in such a delicate state that, when they asked him to stay, he thought he ought. But wow, he’s excited to get out of town.
  • He then proceeds (as, in fact, he does throughout the speech) to indicate that he knows how flawed and imperfect he is saying, “I will only say that I have, with good intentions, contributed towards the organization and administration of the government the best exertions of which a very fallible judgment was capable.”
  • He thanks the country for all that it has given him and hopes that whatever good has come out of his presidency, it will be helpful for all future Americans

If benefits have resulted to our country from these services, let it always be remembered to your praise, and as an instructive example in our annals, that under circumstances in which the passions, agitated in every direction, were liable to mislead, amidst appearances sometimes dubious, vicissitudes of fortune often discouraging, in situations in which not unfrequently want of success has countenanced the spirit of criticism, the constancy of your support was the essential prop of the efforts, and a guarantee of the plans by which they were effected.

  • When things get tricky, and people aren’t thinking clearly because everyone’s so worked up, the support of the people made sure we came out okay

…that your union and brotherly affection may be perpetual; that the free Constitution, which is the work of your hands, may be sacredly maintained; that its administration in every department may be stamped with wisdom and virtue; that, in fine, the happiness of the people of these States, under the auspices of liberty, may be made complete by so careful a preservation and so prudent a use of this blessing as will acquire to them the glory of recommending it to the applause, the affection, and adoption of every nation which is yet a stranger to it.

  • He hopes things go well for the country and that it inspires great things in all countries around the world–to support freedom, wisdom, and happiness
  • He decides to give some advice and hopes people will listen since, as he’s retiring, he doesn’t really have a stake in things
  • He says that unity of government is absolutely essential, and he knows that internal and external forces will work to attack that unity for unsavory reasons. Therefore, we need to keep an eye out and always return to unity as our foundation

watching for its preservation with jealous anxiety; discountenancing whatever may suggest even a suspicion that it can in any event be abandoned; and indignantly frowning upon the first dawning of every attempt to alienate any portion of our country from the rest, or to enfeeble the sacred ties which now link together the various parts.

  • Citizens, “by birth or choice,” must identify as American over regional identities
    • The North, South, Atlantic, and West are all bound together for each others’ good, don’t let politicians exacerbate/exaggerate/make up regional differences for political gain. National unity is in everyone’s interest
  • The Constitution is great and should reflect, at any given time, the people. The people can and should change it when necessary.

The basis of our political systems is the right of the people to make and to alter their constitutions of government.

  • Obey laws. Parties are a “fatal tendency” and obstruct law. Party interests are not the people’s interests. And when parties change power, they disrupt the orderly function of the government.

[parties and factions] put, in the place of the delegated will of the nation the will of a party, often a small but artful and enterprising minority of the community; and, according to the alternate triumphs of different parties, to make the public administration the mirror of the ill-concerted and incongruous projects of faction, rather than the organ of consistent and wholesome plans digested by common counsels and modified by mutual interests.

    • They may be popular for a moment, but they are never good in the long run

…cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion

  • Be careful about changing the Constitution, but also make sure that the government doesn’t become weak. Liberty requires a government strong enough to make sure that it can protect rights, maintain law, and combat factionalism

The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism.

  • Parties are bad and, in the end, lead to dictators, basically, because people get tired of the back and forth and grow distrustful of the mechanisms of government
  • Parties might be kind of helpful in monarchies, as people can express themselves, but are entirely bad in democracies
  • People in power need to respect that power and make sure not to expand their spheres beyond their constitutionally designated areas (checks and balances)
  • Government requires morality and morality requires religion
    • This isn’t really a thing but whatever
  • The “general diffusion of knowledge” is absolutely essential. People need to know things to participate in government.
  • Public credit is precious. Use it, but use it wisely

Observe good faith and justice towards all nations; cultivate peace and harmony with all.

  • He’s really big into neutrality, other than time-limited alliances as necessary.
    • Don’t have countries you hate, don’t have countries you love. Both will make you do stupid stuff. Just be nice to everyone.
  • Be super wary of foreign influence
  • Don’t get involved in foreign wars
    • I’m neither here nor there on this

Though, in reviewing the incidents of my administration, I am unconscious of intentional error, I am nevertheless too sensible of my defects not to think it probable that I may have committed many errors.

  • I’m going to retire and it’s going to be great

Bringing up Trump and Congressional Republicans at this point seems a little on the nose. And besides, pretty much our entire governmental system would probably be pretty disappointing to President Washington. Like I said, I’m not 100% behind all of his thoughts and everything, but I like much the above. I guess we can only shrug and, to paraphrase another president I like (Teddy Roosevelt), do what we can with what we’ve got where we are.