Dear White People

I watched a movie this weekend, which was relaxing because my recent weekends have consisted of feverishly reading finance books before they’re due back at the library. “Dear White People” was great. I wasn’t too sure at first, but it was both hilarious and profound, both honest and poignant. The film was set on an Ivy League campus and focused on how different kinds of black people adapted to and resisted against the ever-present culture of mostly white academia.

I am half black and half white, so “Dear White People” held a special significance for me. At different times in my life, I have been both too-black and not-black-enough, both ethnically-ambiguous-suburban-youth and educated-employee. I had to prepare a quick response for when people asked “What are you?

I related to some of the characters, both white and black, as well as their social philosophies. Being mixed has its benefits, one of which is being able to see both sides. Another is being able to say whatever I want and not be called a racist.

Dear White People

One Step Forward, One Step Sideways

After three months of ferocious studying, I passed both CompTIA A+ exams, and earned my certification. This victory puts me one step closer to my goal of volunteering in Bolivia. Only entirely-too-many steps to go. In celebration, I didn’t study anything for almost an entire week.  Upon reflection, I don’t think I’m meant to relax. As soon as I finish one gargantuan mission, it’s on to the next herculean task. Maybe I should take up Tai Chi and calm down a bit before I run myself into the ground…then again, there’s always more to learn.

Furthermore, I got some disappointing, albeit not unexpected, news yesterday. Some friends and family members have asked if they could donate to fund my journey and use HOPE Worldwide (the organization I’ll be working with) as a sort of fiscal conduit to deduct their 501(c)3 nonprofit contributions. Unfortunately, the IRS says “nah, you can’t do that.” It’s not the end of the world, hopefully people will still support the cause even if they don’t get a tax write-off.

Now, I’m focusing more on my Spanish. I converse in Spanish once a week with a friend of mine, which has been most helpful. I’m also going through some flash cards to slowly build a greater vocabulary. Once I reach the B1 proficiency level, I will most likely go back to the IT side of things and start studying for the Network+ exam; because why not, all these certifications will add up sooner or later.

One step at a time, at least we’re making progress.

One Step Forward, One Step Sideways

The Weasley Family

Long ago, when we were kids, it was my younger sister’s turn to pick a movie to watch on family night.  The four of us crowded around the old TV in our townhouse basement and ate pizza as we watched Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.  Not long after, I got the first four books, all that had been released at that time, and started reading.  Our parents used to pay my sister and I a penny per page for all the books we read.  This helped us learn to love reading, but the arrangement stopped since The Goblet of Fire was so thick.

Over the years I have read through the saga many times.  I pre-ordered books 5, 6, and 7 to ensure I had them in my hands as soon as possible.  Book 6 was released while I was out of the country.  A friend of mine somehow had a copy with her in Jamaica, so I avoided spoilers like the plague.  We have since fallen out, so I can’t look at The Half Blood Prince’s cover art without remembering a lot of drama and tense text messages.

My plan was to re-read them all again for the last time and then donate my hardcover set to someone for whom the magic would still be magical.  I plan on finishing the seventh book tomorrow and now I’m not sure if I can stick with my plan.  For one thing, my name is written in different handwriting inside the covers of 5, 6, and 7.  For another, this was the first story I really loved.  I grew up with Harry Potter.  No longer having these books, in varying states of spine damage, on a bookshelf for the rest of my life wouldn’t feel right.

So we arrive, finally, at the point: The Weasley Family troubles me.

I never wanted to get married, ever since I was a teenager, and I still don’t.  My reasons are ill-defined and wavering, but they are based on the theory that I don’t want to be married.  Long-time readers may remember when I went to a friend’s wedding, their love and joy was so palpable it rocked my worldview.  We can learn something new from every story, no matter how many times we’ve already turned that page.  This time around, the Weasleys have started changing my mind.  I found myself thinking that maybe it wouldn’t be so bad to have a family.  Maybe it would be great, we’d be like a team.

The Weasleys are giving, just, and brave.  They’re also poor, because they have seven kids.  Even though they live in a rickety house and aren’t well respected by their bureaucratic peers, they seem to have no regrets.  They love and support one another and that’s enough.

Their example, combined with another lesson I heard recently (self sufficiency is the road to poverty) makes me think that there’s a good reason why most people pursue relationships.  It’s a flickering candle in the void where my love should be, but who knows, maybe that’s enough.

The Weasley Family

Feeling Frustrated

Yesterday was unreasonably distressing.  My life is fine, I have no serious complaints, however, like a lot of comfortable people, I’ll invent problems where none exist.  As you may know, I still plan on volunteering in La Paz, Bolivia for a year.  The earliest I could fly out is [redacted], and there’s plenty to accomplish between now and then, while working full-time of course.

  1. CompTIA A+ Certification
  2. CompTIA Network+ Certification
  3. Out of Debt
  4. Attain B2 Spanish proficiency
  5. Fundraise $10,000
  6. Logistics (Visa, Immunizations, Flight, etc)

Paying off approximately $70,000 of student loan debt within 4.5 years is a big deal.  Learning a foreign language well enough to have operational fluency (B2) is a big deal.  The IT certifications aren’t that serious, but the tests cost a few hundred dollars and I need them to be more useful while volunteering.  I’ve been told it costs about $10,000 to support myself in La Paz for a year, so I’ll need to come up with that somehow.  Each one of these steps is its own mountain, and I have to climb them all (while praying that no unforeseen expenses set me back) concurrently.

All this was weighing on my mind last night as I limped into the climbing gym.  Bouldering while suffering from minor nerve pain in my back was a disappointing experience.  Spoiler alert: 3 ibuprofen isn’t enough.  It was one painful frustrating failure after another.  In front of highly capable witnesses.  Eventually I left.

But the plan is the plan and the schedule is the schedule.  I will continue striving since I really want to help the needy.  If it doesn’t work out, that’s ok, I’ll just get started on my real life a bit sooner.  But I’m going to try.  Assuming I don’t go crazy from all this self-imposed stress in the meantime, we’ll see what happens.

Feeling Frustrated

Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World

Once upon a time, while bouldering, I saw a tattoo.  It was a large block of text on his right forearm, so I asked what it was about.  He told me it was a section from a book.  When I asked the obvious follow-up question, I heard that this youngish guy had a page from Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World tattooed on his body forever.  That was the most potent book recommendation I have ever received, I had to find a copy and read it, if only to validate that climber’s life choices.

“I never trust people with no appetite. It’s like they’re always holding something back on you.”

Many months later, I borrowed the book from the library.  I just finished reading the story tonight, and it was strange.  I read a fair bit, so I have encountered strange literature before.  I wasn’t offended or repelled by its oddness, but it bears repeating that this novel was more than a little bit weird.

“You got to know your limits. Once is enough, but you got to learn. A little caution never hurt anyone. A good woodsman has only one scar on him. No more, no less.”

I find it difficult to describe, and I fear that I would degrade the story if I gave you any hint as to its meaning.  However, if you, like me, find the fact that someone would have an entire forearm covered in words from this story for the rest of their natural life to be a compelling reason to read the novel that impacted them so strongly, then by all means, go for it.

“Life’s no piece of cake, mind you, but the recipe’s my own to fool with.”

Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World

Who Will Eat My Cereal When I Die?

My father’s mother’s cousin’s husband died last week.  I had met him several times over the years, but didn’t know him well.  He was a good guy.  The funeral was held in Baltimore.  He served in the military so there was an honor guard and a flag ceremony to commemorate his valor.  My grandmother happened to be in town, she helped with some of the arrangements.

After the funeral, she came to stay with us for the next three weeks.  She’s finally retired, but she needs to get back to Buffalo, NY to plan a party, and the closet isn’t going to paint itself.  As usual, she hauled an entire cooler full of food to fill our fridge with fruit, corn, steak sandwiches, lunchmeat, and everything else that could fit.  Instead of letting Denise throw away Charles’ breakfast food, she brought the Raisin Bran Crunch to my parent’s house.

I’m typing this at 9:12am and I just ate a dead man’s cereal.

I mixed it with some Kashi shredded wheat (for extra health) and realized that my dad purchased that box, and he’s a future dead person.  In fact, aren’t we all?  Which got me wondering: Who will eat my cereal when I die?

I don’t plan on getting married or having a family, so there won’t be anyone too close to empty my pantry.  I assume my parents will be gone before my time comes, maybe not, but I think that’s how they’d prefer it, so they won’t eat my leftover cereal.  My sister will probably still be alive, she might even be married.  Perhaps her kids would finish off Uncle Geoffrey’s old Froot Loops.

Then again, it’s always possible no one would eat my cereal when I die.  A masked man might throw everything into a huge trash bag and send it to the landfill.  My cereal might feed rats or ants instead of my loved ones.

Whoever eats my cereal after I have no further use for it, I hope they enjoy it.  I hope it starts their day well, and gives them the energy to carry on.

Who Will Eat My Cereal When I Die?

Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity

Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo is the most compelling narrative nonfiction I have encountered.  She spent years researching in Annawadi, a slum in Mumbai, and the results are stirring.  The story is one of real life, not unbridled success.  Some people do well, others die.  Some people are unlawfully detained and beaten, others aren’t.

I plan on volunteering in another year, and I would most like to do so in India.  Since I think of myself as something of a writer, I figured I would write about my experience.  Behind the Beautiful Forevers is the book I hoped to write.  It did exactly what I wanted to do: tell honest stories that help people empathize, not pity.

As every slumdweller knew, there were three main ways out of poverty: finding an entrepreneurial niche, as the Husains had found in garbage; politics and corruption, in which Asha placed her hopes; and education.

Pity is a complicated sentiment.  Some measure of sympathy might lead to individuals taking action to help alleviate another’s plight.  Too much pity devalues the subject.  They become helpless victims, defined only by what they lack, reliant upon a White Savior to cure their poverty.  I can’t stand that viewpoint.

In America and Europe, it was said, people know what is going to happen when they turn on the water tap or flick the light switch.  In India, a land of few safe assumptions, chronic uncertainty was said to have helped produce a nation of quick-witted, creative problem-solvers.

Among the poor, there was no doubt that instability fostered ingenuity, but over time the lack of a link between effort and result could become debilitating.

I was inspired by what I read.  No one works harder than the impoverished slumdwellers depicted in the text.  India’s poor work as hard as they can to survive.  America’s poor rely on governmental safety nets in their (brief) times of need.  I am not arguing against welfare programs, but this illustrates a profound difference in their personal responsibility.  Most Annawadi residents were entrepreneurs, and effectively, small business owners.  They understood market value, competition, governmental policies, and economics better than some Western business students.  They sold scrap metal, mitigated disagreements, cleaned bathrooms, and hustled hard to provide food and shelter for their families.

It was a great book, I am very glad I finally got a chance to read it.  Katherine Boo’s journalistic experience and tireless research made Behind the Beautiful Forevers a unique story, full of truth and life.

Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity