Sunday, March 12

Real World Fairy Tales

I took a 12-hour break writing this latest entry. While writing earlier this morning, I came across a roadblock and could not for the life of me think of a decent conclusion. I ran some errands, and read one of my books on globalization, all in the hopes of getting past this obstacle. However, a friend mentioned I should not worry about reaching a conclusion because some situations in life do not always have clear and tidy endings. Initially the idea seemed like unadulterated insanity (I do not mean it as harshly as it is written), but since our conversation the idea has grown on me. Maybe I cannot conclude an idea in my head now, but perhaps I will later or with the help of someone else’s ideas.

The next paragraph is a bit of a departure from the first…I am warning you now.

In 1990, the United Nations published the Millennium Declaration, a “compact among nations” in an attempt to advance development by, in part, halving poverty and world hunger by 2015. I will not spend time throwing out statistics, you can read all about it in the UNDP’s 2003 Human Development Report (Unless you’re really interested…don’t bother). Making a long story short, progress towards these Millennium Goals has been negligible and in many parts of the world, the number of people living under a dollar per day and without access to clean drinking water has increased (Sub-Saharan Africa being the worst). Now I do have a point and am not writing in an attempt to pull on people’s heartstrings or raise awareness towards those who are appallingly worse off than we are here in this country.

In the pursuit of my Masters, I am taking a development course and we spend hours reading the flowery language of international politicians and bureaucrats. Yet the more I read, the more frustrated I become with the failure of these development policies the UN and other development agencies have created. When rich nations stumble across a new idea for development there is usually a 10-15 year time lag before the ineptitude of the policies really sinks in. Many of the policies so strictly adhered to in the seventies and eighties by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank have only recently been acknowledged as incompetent, and extremely detrimental to many of the nations they were forced upon, affecting billions of lives. Now, don’t get me wrong, I am no development expert, but I feel like these international organizations would be better suited to taking a scholarly or research-based approach towards development. Research poverty and brainstorm policy by living in a developing nation versus reading statistics in your comfy DC office about a country you hardly knew existed. Very little work is done on the ground actually examining the root causes of poverty. Most of the work occurs in towering glass and steel buildings in New York or Washington DC, in furnished offices with leather chairs. Yes, many strides have been made. The eradication of smallpox in 1980, and the dramatically increasing incomes of people in Southeast Asia throughout the nineties are examples. At the same time, poverty is skyrocketing in Sub-Saharan Africa and population growth rates are so high, more and more people are being born into abject poverty. It is a twisted paradox. Hold conferences and proclaim to the world you want to make a difference yet successfully manage to screw things up even more.

Now I will admit I can be a tad cynical at times. I spoke with my professor last week regarding this whole paradox and to my surprise he felt the exact same way while he was an economics student. He related to me how disillusioned he was with the international community especially considering he was a student at a time when the Millennium Goals did not exist and efforts at poverty reduction were a bit of a joke. In his mind, these conferences and reports were more of a way for the rich nation’s big shots to get together, write these reports and then pat each other on the back for all the hard work. As one might expect, politics plays an enormous role in preventing the policies in these reports from becoming a reality.

All of this got me thinking, is the eradication of poverty or ending world hunger even a remote possibility? All of the numbers tell a story of how easy it could be to improve the lives the billions of people yet nothing ever happens. And can this be applied to our lives? We hold our own “conferences” and invent our own utopia. Real world fairy tales to help us feel better about our own existence, justified by our ability to now say: “Well at least we’re trying to do something about it.” However, instead of working towards this perfect place, we spend our lives simmering in a dystopia, damned to mediocrity by the bureaucracy of our mind.

While on this contemplative streak, I am brought to another point. I have had countless discussions with people about how the world needs to relax and stop being so judgmental. We should not stress about what we have no control over and will not try to take control of. However, I find that when I stop worrying so much about the stupid things I argue about with other people, something else equally as dim-witted invades my consciousness. As soon as you feel you have reached a turning point, something comes out of your mouth contradicting everything you’ve just said. Like riding a carousel, I get off the horse and move to the tiger and then to the elephant, but I am still going in circles. May I please get off?

Monday, March 6


Another idea was provided complimentary passage to the Island of Misfit Blogs tonight. For a brief moment I had a great rhythm and idea flow taking me into the dark world of human interaction in the form of relationships. A very difficult topic to tackle well and, understandably, one I failed to convert into written form (for now at least). However, dumping the entry got me thinking about some of my earlier “Misfit Blogs”. I pulled one out from underneath the cobwebs and was planning on pasting it below this paragraph. It was a raw, uncut prequel to my Out of Context entry, though only by coincidence. As I was about to press the publish button, I had second thoughts and decided against its publication. Some of my writing is a little too uncut and inappropriate for viewing in a public forum. A number of these blogs could be polished for the Internet, but others should remain unseen. I am in the process of writing my next entry, which should be ready within a few days.

Wednesday, March 1

Are You Listening to Me?!?!

Some have described me as opinionated: ask me a question and I will have an immediate response. Normally we are not talking about an Ann Coulter or Al Franken response, one typically tilted viciously in one direction or another (though it has been known to happen before). Occasionally, my opinion is merely indifference or zealous moderation. I loathe the politicos on Capitol Hill; puppets whose opinions rarely oppose the party line with little regard to their constituencies or the welfare of the country. I also struggle to understand right-wing evangelicals and leftist quacks clinging so tightly to their special interests they convince themselves of the righteousness of their own opinions and the illegitimacy of any who disagree. Progressive? Following the path of Christ? Open-minded? Should I answer any of these questions or simply respond with nauseating sarcasm or perhaps with the irony of everything I have just said.

I spent the past weekend skiing in Northern Michigan, which up until a week ago had no snow and fifty degree weather. Now a pleasant two feet of soft powder covers the slopes, perfect for skiing. And great skiing it was. On the first day I practiced my own techniques since two rookies had traveled with the group. I showed them the ropes along with tips on how to avoid killing themselves, an experience far removed and gentler than the first time I ever went tumbling down a snowy mountain in Canada. Getting even further off my main point, I borrowed my brother’s snowboarding helmet for the first time and, amazingly, there was a dramatic transformation in my attitude. Normally I have been a little hesitant of the more difficult slopes (black diamonds), but now I was rocketing down every hill I could find, never passing up the opportunity to ski glades and terrain parks. It felt good to see a significant improvement in my skiing.

The second night we were there, the group played a game titled Hear Me Out! The premise of this game is to move your piece across a board by trying to guess what other people are thinking or by giving your opinion on Rorschach pictures and hypothetical situations. At first I thought this game would be a riot and a great incentive to consume alcohol. I quickly realized this game was most certainly not created for people like me. When you give an opinion on a hypothetical situation or try to interpret a picture, the remaining players are required to give you the thumbs up or down on your interpretation. Now unfortunately, it is not a requirement to provide a justification for which thumb you gave. And when I got booed, I started to get a tad bit frustrated.

I think this frustration was caused by two primary factors: my over-the-top competitive spirit (I cannot stand losing to people in general, but especially those I feel are not as qualified or up to my level of skill…I am not inferring my friends are worse than I, in fact, the opposite is more likely), and having to be subjected to opinions without competent justification.

During my tenure in D.C., I was unwillingly forced into a disagreement with one of my co-workers on a political issue. According to my co-worker, I was unable to present a valid argument because I was on the “wrong” side of the issue. When I tried to get a word in, he would cut me off while making whining noises like a child. I finally told him to bugger off and left the room in a fit of rage. I love engaging in meaningful discourse, but why must people resort to ignorant name-calling and petty insults as a means of defending their point of view? If you cannot support your opinion in an intelligent and thoughtful manner, then shut the hell up (or in the case of many television pundits, get louder and more belligerent).

I feel as though I am just ending my thought in an awkward place yet I have nothing meaningful to add as a conclusion to this piece. Instead I will end with this excuse not to write further.

Monday, February 27

Self-Stimulating Intelligence

When I look back at my previous posts, the few that exist, I am fascinated. I try and remember what was going on in my life that might inspire what I managed to upload into the ether of the Internet. However, I don’t want to dwell on my analysis of my own writing, the act of which seems very self-aggrandizing and makes me uncomfortable.

The other day I was asked the question: “Did you ever think about the fact that some of the most intelligent conversations you'll ever have are not necessarily with another person?” This was in reference to one my earlier blogs regarding Intelligent Conversations. This friend was implying most of the intelligence occurs within your own head and not among your group of friends chugging watered-down pitchers for $2.50 at your local watering hole. Answering the question without thinking, I would assume one might say yes. My statement is justified by a typical conversation one might hear on the street about clothes, money, or “that girl is a real bitch and I can’t stand her!” I will admit, I have engaged in all of those at some point.

A little more thought reveals a drastically different point of view. I agree I sometimes feel I’m the only sane person left on Earth – a leading cause of isolationism – but the train of thought in my head is constantly derailing on tracks that were placed abysmally out of order. I find myself chasing my tail repeatedly until I figuratively hit my head against the wall, and either make a decision or completely leave the thought process. I would much rather share my ideas with someone and listen to their opinion versus keeping everything bottled up. When you confide in another person, you allow for other views to expand your horizon of thought and possibly lead the train down tracks you never knew existed. I can be very cynical and love playing Devil’s Advocate, but I still encourage people to throw ideas off me and tell me what is going through their head. I try to remove myself from any bias and objectively analyze a situation. It fosters healthy social interaction and opens the mind to new frontiers. Obviously the majority of discussions I have with my friends are simply “shooting the shit”, but I think the most intelligent conversations are held with people you know and respect, who are capable of building upon your own ideas in a constructive manner.

Out of Context

I don’t want to start this off giving the impression I am chronically depressed and think life is futile, which is not true. However, as you may know, life is not always cupcakes, and writing is my way of venting (HINT: That is why the topics here are not about sunshine and frolicking in fields of daisies). I become very pensive while I write, which creates a tone of seriousness. The creation of a blog entry actually requires quite a process. My mind generally has to have been obsessing about something more so than usual and I am forced to write it down to try and make sense of it. However, once I start writing, it becomes difficult to put my thoughts in the appropriate order and fully explain what I am trying to relate. Because of this, I have a number of unfinished entries lying around collecting dust. My hard drive is like the Island of Misfit Blog Ideas, ideas with great promise yet abandoned when I lose my inspiration or train of thought.

I find it eerily ironic how this issue has come to the forefront in my mind in the season of Mardi Gras. A friend who has read this blog once told me how much she appreciates the unabashed honesty I convey in my writing. We all wear masks around other people because we are always trying to make an impression. When I write, I don’t feel like I have to impress anyone or maintain a certain reputation. All of my walls come down and I can write how I really feel. It is my way of escaping the superficiality and hypocrisy of life through brief moments of keyboard honesty, something many of us find nearly impossible to do in everyday life. We feverishly toil on the maintenance of these “masks”, or lies we tell people everyday, both in the words we say, and the actions we take. Not the type of lie you say to keep yourself out of trouble, e.g. my dog ate my homework or I have a job as a foreign exchange arbitrager, yet in reality I am a bum living off of my parents, but the lie you perpetuate so people will maintain some opinion of you that you have created. The lies you create to protect yourself and your insecurities, your vulnerabilities, and aspects of your personality you are terrified of the world ever discovering. How many people do you think go through life, meet new people, get married, and have families while never compromising or eliminating the lies they have created around themselves? How many times have you been so honest with someone that you have lost control of your emotions and simply broken down into tears? And how many of us will never do that because we refuse to be that vulnerable around anyone?

But I am digressing from the reason I began writing this in the first place. I’m sure at some point you have felt misrepresented, perhaps by your own fault or by the faulty judgment of other people. People at their very core are extremely judgmental and our actions are no help in whether public opinion views you as too shy, too stupid, or too much of an asshole. So what happens when you have realized this facade, or these lies have festered a perverse misrepresentation of who you feel you truly are? That you’ve spent all this time developing a certain image only to finally realize its destructive behavior to yourself and the people you care about. Thinking this image is a ski lift taking you to new heights and the top of a mountain, only to be deposited not on fresh powder, but off a towering cliff. To feel like you cannot accept kind gestures and compliments from someone because you don’t deserve it after the way you have treated other people. And that for the rest of your life, certain people will judge you according to this behavior, people with whom you will never be given the opportunity to change their mind or are completely unaware of the little things you have done or are doing to try and become a better person.

To describe this entry as depressing might be an understatement. With my entries I usually try to include a resolution, which in this particular instance has been exceedingly difficult, though I will try. As I have said in an earlier blog, you cannot force people to change their opinions of you or other people. At the same time, you must not live in the past and continue to harp on what has already happened that you cannot change (advice I have stood by). Even when you want to become more honest, you cannot expect it to happen overnight, it may take years. All you can do is distance yourself from those who cannot see you in another light and try the best you can now and in the future to change for your own piece of mind, while hoping a few people realize and appreciate it, because to hope everyone will is a fantasy.

Monday, February 6

A Brokeback Moment

Two weeks ago I saw Brokeback Mountain, the new film directed by Ang Lee that is taking the country by storm. If you have not heard anything about it, you surely are living in a cave, perhaps in Afghanistan, perhaps with Osama bin Laden, and perhaps you should inform the authorities. However, the movie, set in 1960’s Wyoming, is the story of two cowboys who develop a relationship while herding sheep on Brokeback Mountain and the ensuing years of their struggle to hide this relationship from their friends and families. The movie has become quite a cultural phenomenon with everyone from TV personalities to my friends using it in their day-to-day vocabulary: “Another Brokeback Moment brought to you by Bud Light!”

The movie had a profound effect on me, not for the groundbreaking homosexual themes that have incredibly transcended all ideologies and phobias in this country, but for the overarching theme of the movie. As homosexuality is greatly frowned upon in the cowboy/ranching community they try, ultimately unsuccessfully, to keep their relationship a secret for over twenty years. Their fear of the consequences: destroying their families, and becoming pariahs lead them to discreetly meet twice a year back on Brokeback Mountain. While they continue normal lives, they long for a life together that in reality will never exist. Thus leading to the question:

Has there ever been a point(s) in life when you have been too afraid to take action when you should have or tell someone how you really feel?

Wednesday, January 4

Friend or Schmuck, Part Deux

I now realize I may have been a tad bitter in my last post, more so than necessary. After a couple days more of logical thought, I feel I've reached a succinct and rational conclusion. We all know certain decisions and events lie under our realm of control and the rest do not. How other people treat each other is something I have no control over. However, I do control the way I treat people and it is my responsibility to do so with respect and dignity, while having the sense of humor to poke fun as well. To hell with how other people want to act, I am going to take control of my behavior, and worry less about how other people think of me [insert sarcastic "Girl Power!" remark here].

"I control how I feel, not the environment or people around me."

Monday, January 2

Friend or Schmuck

The holiday break provided me ample time to think about life and such. Occasionally one has to wonder whether all this thinking really serves any purpose. Sometimes I feel my thoughts and logic are all cyclical and quite frankly it is very frustrating. I spend countless hours pondering, and in the end does it really get me anywhere or am I just chasing my tail? Always seeking self-improvement, my train of thought led me to the frontier of actually writing my thoughts, hence the existence of this blog. We frequently lose our place in the arguments we create in our heads and by physically recording my mind I can effectively use a mental bookmark, helping me to establish what ground has been covered, and how I might proceed if at all.

A group I belonged to has a sort of pseudo-digest written a couple of times a year. This “publication” generally uses sarcasm and insensitivity to poke fun at everyone else in the group. As mentioned, I no longer participate in this group, but I do enjoy spending time with current members I met and became friends with during my tenure.

I had the so-called privilege of reading the publication the other night, though I may have wished otherwise. The dripping irony of this entire story would be Seinfeld-esque if only it was amusing. I was celebrating a friend’s 21st birthday at the time, something I take seriously because this is arguably the most important age in American society. You want to be there for your friends on dates important to them, considering life happens only once and you never get a second chance.

On a lighter note, we played the most dysfunctional game of quarters I have ever been involved in, and no one rivals the way one of my friends played several guys out of their money and drinks. I think the birthday girl landed her quarters on the first try with the same consistency as the sun rising every morning.

However, let’s return to the reason I am writing. There were numerous references to my group of friends, more specifically as the older guys who are useless and a waste of space. Apparently, since we are not yet wildly successful or millionaires, we aren’t welcome in their revered presence, the epitome of the holier than thou attitude (you first have to know, where I come from is defined by arrogance and populated with spoiled, selfish brats). I understand the whole intention of the publication is jest, but there was a thinly veiled dagger hiding beneath the photocopied sheets.

After I finished reading, I began thinking and evaluating my relationships/friendships. I realized just how manipulative and two-faced some of the people I associate with are. Now I do not want to appear to be passing judgments and casting stones because I am perfect, I am not. It also dawned on me how those same adjectives may be applied to myself just as easily. Rarely do I find flaws in people around me without quickly seeing those same flaws in myself. The human race is fickle and hypocritical in its whole to begin with. We claim to be altruistic and empathetic, yet when your back is turned we embezzle your money, life and dignity. How many times have I turned my tongue against someone when they weren’t in the room? How many times have I exploited another’s weakness and insecurity for my own personal gain?

We refer to a person as our friend and then vilify them. We drink with them, allow them to confide secrets in us and then we turn around and call them a raging bitch. And do we realize that through this gossip we expose ourselves? Do we expect the people we degrade to always be blissfully unaware of our actions or the ones WE confide in will not turn around, return the favor and stab us in the back?

At this point you wonder: do I really have any true friends or is everyone just in it for themselves? My brother spoke about the camp he is a counselor at and how everyone acts as if you are their best bud, but when shit hits the fan, no one is there get your back. In the end, the ends justify the means as long as I’m the one enjoying the good end, right? The society we live in is a festering pool polluted by violence, greed, apathy, and the almighty individual. The many people who work for a better world (and they do exist) always appear to be fighting a losing battle to the “me, me, me” in everyone. Throughout this continual struggle, we are losing the foundation of friendship: loyalty. Friends are not merely someone you hang out with, they are supposed to be there for you when life is intolerable, and they fight for you when no one else will. Where is the loyalty? What do you have when your “friends” talk shit about you behind your back? You have empty, meaningless relationships based upon superficial premises. We treat our friends as these people we associate with until we find someone else, someone we can better manipulate to further ourselves.

There is a point to this entry and I will write my conclusion tomorrow when my brain is not as tired.

On quick note, we always say the grass is greener on the other side and when we get there it’s not always as green as we once thought. Just remember, you only think it is greener, the reality is rarely true.