The View from Empire

Greetings, friends. Thank you for taking a sec to read this, even if it’s just the preview on Facebook. I appreciate you.

Now that I’m feeling more settled in my job and its happenings (though by no means totally on top of things), there’s really not a whole lot to say. It’s hard for me to gauge whether there ramblings of the life updates are more interesting to you. Obviously, the cats are Reason #1 for reading so over included a couple later in the post. I thought for today I’d mostly just describe one afternoon for you. Kinda cheesily poetic and kinda combining philosophising and daily life.

On Tuesday, I drove down the road a ways just to explore a little. In the next town over, there’s a little park on Lake Michigan and I stopped to read there for a while before getting dinner. It wasn’t quite blustery and it wasn’t quite chilly but it was windy and cool cloudy and the first day that really felt autumnal.

I walked along the beach a while but mostly I sat in the car and read. I had parked right in front of the water, maybe ten yards away. The sky slowly darkened as the clouds went from lightly overcast to a duller blanketing. My windows were cracked so I could hear the water with its steady white noise. The sea grasses trembled in the wind and the trees shivered with the first oranges and yellows of the season.

I don’t know if I’ll return here often, but during my time there I certainly thought about it. It’s only fifteen minutes away from school on a relatively flat drive (I’m constantly evaluating topography from a driving-in-snow perspective). Coming here in winter with no other visitors, sitting in my car by the water, reading contentedly before heading to dinner in the village. It sounds very appealing. I just might make a habit out of it.

 

 

How, I ask you, am I supposed to deal with such cute cats.

Anyway. One other note. On Wednesday, I finally went and got my Michigan drivers license. And, because it happens at the same time, I registered to vote. So that’s handy. I reflected to the coworker I went with that voting in Leelanau County, Michigan is going to feel very different for me from voting in Pierce County, Washington. Things will not be nearly as aligned to my preferences. Here’s hoping with that, I guess. At least I can vote on some statewide stuff as well. Votes always matter but I guess I’ll feel like my vote will count more here, if that makes sense.

Good luck this week, have a happy equinox. Register to vote, if applicable.

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Welcome

So this week, I’ve had a better handle on the day and such. Things haven’t been totally passing me by and I had myself together enough to write some bits and bobs through the course of the week, as I typically have done. Hurray, routines are forming!

Anyway, I now have some standard shifts under my belt and I kind of even know what I’m doing. The job itself doesn’t really entail a whole lot, it’s mostly just making sure you know where students are, they get to where they’re supposed to be when they’re supposed to be there, and you handle problems and pass them off as the situation requires. Even the lateness of the hours hasn’t proved too much of a problem (yet).

There’s truly not much else to say about the job itself. Its activities don’t really merit a long discussion unless you’re the one actually doing it. In a broader sense, though, there are things that I’m still trying to figure out. As I’ve hinted before, my role here is primarily that I have a Role. Our head of school is fond of saying that we’re all teachers, all of the time.

Since it’s the beginning of the school year, I’m still getting to know people and routines and processes and all that jazz. In particular, I’m trying to get to know my three main charges. Which is hard largely because, as this blog has shown repeatedly, getting to know people isn’t my forte. So I’m working on that. Trying to be a compassionate and interested listener as I pry answers out of them. But I’m also trying to do something else.

I’m trying to create an atmosphere. Or, rather, participate in the creation of one. Most of the time, it’s not really a conscious choice, just how I am in situations where I don’t really feel totally comfortable. But I’m trying to be open and friendly and encouraging in each interaction I have–students, staff, whoever. The other staff here are also pretty excellent with that, so it’s not at all like I’m doing this on my own. But it’s something that I’m thinking about because it’s the first time I’ve really had occasion to do anything of the sort.

I titled this post Welcome because that’s what I think I’m striving for. Welcome, belonging, feeling at home. I wish this were a reality for more people in more places. At work, at school, at home, at church. Even at the grocery store, the dentist, the library. Everywhere has the possibility of giving that peace, few places manage it. Or so it seems to me.

The feeling of belonging is so elusive and so essential. It means so much to each individual as we move through school and work and life. How much more so for communities, for nations. On a note totally outside of this school but, I think, quite related, it’s got me thinking about immigration. And from there, living in diversity. And prison. And all the people that people don’t like.

I say it all the time and it kind of annoys even myself, but it’s such a thing that matters–and such a thing that seems to have so little traction right now. Jesus was very clear: love everyone. Welcome the immigrant, the homeless, the unclean, the criminal, the unpleasant, the different.

Thinking about the ‘American dream’ and how easy it is for people in power to snatch that dream from any and all. Also, I once said here “love the lukewarm” and I think about that a lot.

If we love only those who love us, we are shirking our responsibility, nay our opportunity to live in the Kingdom of Heaven. Love your enemies. Bless those who persecute you. Build welcome wherever you can, with whomever you find yourself, because we are all hoping to get it somewhere.

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Shel Silverstein wrote, “If you are a dreamer, come in.” Would that we could all offer such a welcome.

The Land of No Routines (Yet)

So here’s the thing. I’d forgotten it was Thursday again. Michigan has not been good for my normal routines yet. And I haven’t really had time to process much new-job-wise. But also, not much has happened. I’ll do my best to fill you in.

In my dorm, there are currently four freshmen and sophomore boys who arrived yesterday. It was a bit of a whirlwind of registration for them but for me I mostly just introduced myself and handed out keys when they were ready. This morning, they left for “Exploratory” so they’re out at an outdoor center and then camping for the next couple days. I’ll visit them this afternoon, but otherwise I’ll be here.

Saturday will be the real start for me, and then we’ll see. First impressions, things seem good, doable, reasonable. The timing of the shifts will be an adjustment, much more so than Korea, but I think it’ll be okay once I get into a routine.

Most things, I think, will be better once I get into a routine. I’m a very routine-based person. Not in the boring way but just in the sense of having a baseline of activity from which I can depart occasionally. Okay so maybe in a boring way. Whatever, I’m over it.

As a random aside, the dining hall has some flags hanging around and I want to tell you about them because it’s a random assortment. On one side are state flags: West Virginia, Indiana, Washington, Illinois, North Carolina, Montana, Texas, Colorado, California, Iowa. Which, oddly, excludes Michigan. The other side has national flags: Costa Rica, the Bahamas, Guatemala, Russia, Germany, Spain, Canada, Thailand, Mexico, Israel, Turkey, Bangladesh.

So that’s a thing.

Chantel is sitting across from me at the lunch table and complaining that I asked her to tell me what else to say when she’s only had four hours of sleep. She told me to add that it’s a valid argument, which I agree. Time will tell but I’ll probably get there before too long. (She’s a house parent in the girl’s dorm).

I’m sorry for this post being late again. I know that most of you truly don’t care but it feels weird to be. Going back to the routine thing, I’ve usually had a good blog routine and I don’t have one right now. I don’t like that. But I’m working on it.

Chantel was also so kind as to provide a fitting conclusion to this post: to anyone reading this, send good vibes. Welcome to the start of the school year.

The Start of My Modeling Career

Last May, I lost my longest Duolingo (Russian) streak after 74 consecutive days of practice. I was sad, and got over it quite quickly. But after I got over it, I continued to practice Russian on Duolingo. And today was my 432nd straight day.

I have very little personal discipline. It’s something that I’ve been aware of for a long time, and I’ve tried a number of things to try to work on that. In this moment, at least, I am very proud of my Duolingo streak.

My sister gets angry when I don’t post updates on the Arizona kitties, plus they are absolutely Very Very Cute. So here’s a picture of them being their cuddly,  yin-yang selves.

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Anyway, I promised to tell you about Michigan and what is happening (spoiler: I don’t know).

The school I’m living at is right on Lake Michigan, which is nice. It’s a quick walk from my door to the beach. And it is a very nice beach, very sandy and, well, beachy.

There’s also a large protected area right around the little town: the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. And by dunes, I learned, they really mean Dunes. Because they are very tall, very steep, and very deep. I hiked a couple miles through it (and hiking up and down steep sandy slopes is, like, Very Hard) and it took about an hour to get from the parking lot–viewing Glen Lake–to Lake Michigan. A lot of sand.

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Away from the dunes, I’m just here, getting through training to be a house parent to some freshman and sophomore boys. It’s a thing. The job mostly entails making sure disasters don’t happen and dealing with the small ones as they inevitably occur. The main thing is staying up very late.

It’s hard for me to give you more details than that at this juncture because I don’t really know. I know more than I did last week, so it’s probably for the best that I didn’t say much then. But the students don’t arrive until next Wednesday and school doesn’t start until the following Monday so it’ll be a sec before I really get a picture of what my life is going to look like for the rest of the year.

One major victory that I’ve already won is ensuring that I’ll have Sundays off, which will enable me to go to church. I visited one in Traverse City last week and it seems like a pretty cool place. It would be the first affirming church that I’ve attended and that has every possibility of being a game changer. I haven’t really thought of it as a huge issue for me, since none of the churches I’ve been to have been very overtly homophobic, but at the same time I think it’s going to be tremendously liberating.

Most of the ‘training’ this week has been kind of vision casting from our new Head of School, just talking about the point of the school and how we do things. A word that comes up in every sentence, it seems, is ‘model.’ If we want students to know this or have this value or understand this, how do we model it for them? And that’s something that I want to be really deliberate about. In particular, about sexuality insofar as I am able because it’s something that I have worked through myself and wish other people could have an easier time of it.

How do I model acceptance, not just of others but of self? How do I model self-care? How do I model environmental stewardship? How do I model empathy and compassion and kindness?

There are so many things to model. And I’ve thought about it before. But now it’s literally my job. So here’s hoping on that.

More Than This

Surprise! It’s Thursday (or is, at least, when this is published). This very much caught me off guard because I’ve lost track of the days in the short time I’ve been officially resident in Michigan. Because, guess what, I live in Michigan now. I really wanted to talk about the last part of my drive and first impressions but apparently it wasn’t to be.

Suffice to say, for the moment, that I have arrived safely, am settling into my school apartment, and things seem generally to be looking up. I feel like I have some valid feelings about things but 10/10 it all seems at the very least livable and twenty times better than Korea (though work training stuff doesn’t start until next week).

Ugh, there’s so much I wanted to say but because I try to post these at mostly the same time, even being in the eastern time zone I’m running late today. Luckily (or not, I’ll let you be the judge), I have something that’s been hanging out in my drafts for a sec. It’s long-ish, thoughtful, maybe controversial, and I’m not sure that a) I express myself well or b) I know exactly what I’m trying to express. But it’s a thing so here you go. Good luck.

I was reading an article about Queer Eye a while ago (because how else was I, a temporarily unemployed gay man, supposed to spend my time). I didn’t agree with everything that was said but overall it was quite remarkable, chock full of immensely insightful and quotable lines. One particular bit really shouted at me and I’ve continued to think about it. The author had been talking about comfort zones for different groups of people, and how it felt to live your life entirely outside of the majority’s zone. She said,

Many political roadblocks would be more navigable if the general public did not so often mistake their comfort zone for the moral high ground.

What would it be like to consider for a moment, not only that your way of life isn’t the only one, not only that it may not be the best one, but that it may not even be a good one? To realize that other people’s perspectives have more than just heartwarming value-added witticisms but an entirely new and sometimes better way of doing things? I want to challenge you, even as I strive to challenge myself, to simply be mindful of the thoughts we have and the decisions we make and the reasons we make them.

What have you done lately to listen to someone very different from yourself? Have you critically evaluated your worldview, tested its assumptions, and investigated alternatives? Do you believe that you are living by the best possible system of values? If you believe that your values are the best, how closely do you adhere to them–in deed and not just in word? When you are confronted with someone living outside of your comfort zone, are you willing to consider their actions and motives in a generous, loving, compassionate way?

I have two thoughts about this, the first has been clear to me but the second has taken more time for me to really recognize. First, learning from the lives of oppressed people helps those people secure themselves in a society where they were previously marginalized. For example, as LGBTQ+ people become more accepted, they can live out of the closet more comfortably (there’s a lot to this but you get the gist I’m going for, I hope).

The second, though, isn’t about the marginalized group at all. When you learn about other ways of life, you’ll inevitably encounter some things that strike you as better than what you’re doing. You come to identify the harmful and oppressive mechanisms in your own system that you had previously not noticed because you were simply accustomed to them. For example, the more straight cis people engage with not-straight and not-cis people, the more clearly they can see the hurt done by cleaving to strict and unattainable standards for gendered behavior.

When you willingly relinquish the power that comes from living in the comfort zone of the majority, you will learn–I hope–that sometimes the seaweed is actually greener in somebody else’s lake. Giving up your privilege and power doesn’t mean you become oppressed, it just means you take a step toward the place where the rest of us live–outside a comfort zone that we didn’t construct. As someone who still resides in a multitude of privileges, I can only tell you this about stepping out: finding that you have more to learn about living a good life is scary but also invigorating. The status quo isn’t as good as it gets. There is more than this life you’re living.

Listen. Be open. Learn. Mostly, love.

Smoke

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So I woke up this morning in Banff, Alberta because why not. My route on the way to Michigan is this: Gig Harbor, Kamloops, Banff, Regina, Grand Forks, Milwaukee, Traverse City. So far, the drive has been plagued with lots of smoke from wildfires (I’m very thankful I’ve never been threatened by a fire). Even so, it’s been beautiful.

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The thing is, it’s hard to (try to) look at all this beauty and reconcile the gross things people do. Obviously, forest fires happen naturally and are sometimes necessary for the ecosystem. But also humans have clearly changed the calculus. And when I see people smoking while looking out over an incredible landscape, truly just the tip of the melting iceberg, I really can’t stand it.

I know that people can be so good, so loving, so caring, so compassionate and considerate and conscientious. But, especially coming on the heels of my Alaska trip, I also know that people are trash. With everything going on in the world at large of late, it’s easy to feel like the trash part is the only part (this also comes from self-awareness, it’s not like I’m immune).

I’ve been thinking of late about how to balance these two ways of looking at the world and I’ve come up with, I think, an apt and succinct summarization. Three things that I believe to be true. I don’t think it’s quite a syllogism but it’s a something.

Assertion 1: humans are trash.
Assertion 2: I am worthy of love and I have good inside me.
Assertion 3: humans are trash but are worthy of love and have good inside them.

In practice, this means two things. First, I expect people to be the worst and am not surprised by how horrible we can be. Second, I go through this world seeking the good in others and loving freely, even when I don’t find it. Or, at least, that’s the goal and you’ll pardon me if I’m not always excellent at achieving it.

So, driving through this fabulous land and preparing to be an Adult Someone to a bunch of high schoolers, that’s what I’m trying. Humans can be just as beautiful as the Coquihalla Canyon and Mt Rundle. Even if it’s all obscured by smoke, the beauty’s there. Very metaphor, I know, but whatever it takes right?

I don’t really know what I’m driving toward. I have a job, I know the basic description of suture, I’ve looked up the area approximately one zillion times. But mostly, it still feels unknown (I guess this is a trend with me, moving far away without knowing what I’m doing). I’ve been battling a relentless negative attitude but it all comes down to the fact that I’m going, I’m willing, and–to paraphrase Bill Widener–I’m going to do my best with what I have where I am. In other words, bloom where you’re planted.

Bloom, it might be said, not only for yourself, but for others. Maybe even others first. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: love first, there isn’t really a second.

The Last Frontier

 

So on Monday afternoon, I got on a plane to Anchorage, Alaska because I was blessed with means and opportunity. I’ll be here until Saturday evening, just seeing some things worth seeing and trying out the whole Alaska thing. I’ll give you a quick rundown on what I’ve done so far and then leave you with a few thoughts.

Before we get to the Alaska stuff, though, the plane ride itself. Because I’d never had occasion to fly over the Olympic Mountains before and they were positively breathtaking. Turn, coming down over Alaska, more breath was taken as we descended over glaciers and water and sub-arctic forests.

On Tuesday morning, my friend (we planned this to together not quite spontaneously but still only a but ago) and I got caught in the rain walking to breakfast. We knew rain was in the forecast but were inexplicably confident it wouldn’t start until after we returned. Alas. Breakfast was wet. Then we rented a car and set out.

Driving along the Seward Highway, the rain continued pretty heavily and most of the landscape was fairly deeply obscured. Our first destination was the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center and as we approached, the weather started to clear up a bit.

The Center itself involved walking a little long among the various enclosures. Unlike a zoo, which is totally uncomfortable, the animals mostly are there for two reasons: they were wounded and unable to survive in the wild (like the bald eagle who had one entire wing amputated when they found him) or they are part of a conservation/reintroduction program. The major highlight was, of course, seeing my beloved mush oxen which remain and forever will remain my favorite animal.

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After stopping for lunch and a bit of shopping, we decided to continue on to Whittier. I really want to tell you the whole story of Whittier, Alaska, but I don’t think I’d be able to do it justice in this space. Suffice to say that the majority of the population of about 200 lives in a single building built for the army during the Cold War. The other building from that era is in ruins and is very creepy. Also, to get to Whittier, you must pass through a very long, one-lane tunnel which changes directions every half hour. It is quite an interesting place. That is all I can say about it.

Yesterday, we spent the morning exploring Anchorage a bit, the downtown if I may call it that. Some nice little shops, tasty food, lovely views. Then we headed up into the mountains (still within the city limits) for a hike that turned out to be much more of a hike than we anticipated. Tabletop Mountain starts fairly steeply but reasonably, but the last portion of the trail is truly just rock climbing and we weren’t about that life. The best part of the trail was that there was never not an excellent view.

 

Overlooking the city, the expanse of tidal flats, snowy mountains in the distance. No picture does it justice, alas.

Today holds a trip to Denali, the highest peak on the continent.

I’m not sure how I feel about Alaska, the so-called last frontier (we all know space is the final frontier so…). Obviously, it’s incredibly beautiful, beyond description or photography. But it’s also in perpetual danger because humans are trash, even when they live in such a place. In some ways, the state is politically progressive and in others very regressive. It’s plagued by social ills to a degree beyond most other states but it also fosters its people in unique ways. I honestly don’t know that much about it but it’s a weird place.

As always, I’ve contemplated if I would live here and it’s hard to say. For one thing, snow. For another, it’s been sixty and rainy pretty much this whole week, which doesn’t bode well for summers generally. And the politics. All that balanced with the Beauty of Nature and a kind of isolation, even in Anchorage, that I find appealing.

 

Either way, it calls for further study and I would very much like to come back and explore more. I require more data points. Come to Alaska (just don’t be trash about it).