Buenos Aires

It has taken me a while to come around and feel ready to write this thing. Not because I’ve been struggling to re-enter life at home due to some sort of reverse culture shock— on the contrary, I jumped back into life at home as if nothing had ever happened. For the last three weeks I’ve hardly thought about the preceding five months at all except for when explaining to friends and family what exactly it was that I was doing for all that time, and then it feels strange and distant, as if I am describing what I did at summer camp when I was fourteen. In retrospect, the transition home was rather abrupt and unceremonious and perhaps that’s why I am feeling the need to write something commemorative, as if that five-month sentence is lacking a final punctuation.

I don’t know how to summarize my experiences in Buenos Aires. I think that the idea of summarizing such an experience is inherently somewhat self-defeating. To really understand what it was and how it is now important to me, it must not be summarized but co-experienced— explicated deeply, thematically, in full multimedia retina-display detail. While this is something I have generally preferred to do in person, it would be cheap to entirely forego any description. There’s no TL;DR for this one, sorry folks. Where to begin…

Entering to live in another culture feels like being fourteen again. You have enough basic skills to survive, but you are also just aware enough to realize that you don’t really get it yet. While this feeling may have been exacerbated by the Spanish language context, a lot of it has to do with understanding the country’s cultural and political history. In the case of Argentina, this was hugely important, as so much of current society, politics, and economics is a reaction to movements in the past.

I took a history class that was designed for gringos. It examined Argentine history independently but also in relation to the cultural history of the USA and select other countries. The professor was one of those real academics who have a bleeding romance with their subject. It would be a privilege to learn anything from him, regardless of the content. He succeeded in providing an organized context for us to learn the fundamentally necessary stuff: the effects of Spanish colonialism, the massive European immigration in the late 19th century, the antagonism between the city of Buenos Aires and the Provinces, the relationships between Argentina, Chile, the USA, and Europe, Argentina’s early prominence in the early 20th century and the importance of cattle, Argentina’s political/economic stances during the world wars, the rise of the political/economic/social movement that is Peronism (and the story of Eva Peron), the Junta Militar and ‘los desaparecidos’ in the 70’s and 80’s, Menem in the 90’s, and then the IMF default and devaluation of the peso in 2001 from which Argentina has not yet recovered— these topics are crucial to understanding contemporary Argentine culture.

For some reason or another, from Argentines and from people at home, I often received the question, “te gusta Argentina?” Do you like Argentina? I knew how I was supposed to answer the question, obviously, and responded by complementing the asado, the women, the wine, and the fútbol. But the question, “do you like _____(country)” begs a deeper answer. Do you approve of the way that the country is run? The liberties and services it provides for its citizens? Is the ‘country’ equivalent to the country’s government? Or is ‘Argentina’ a reference to the Argentine people? Can you ‘like’ the USA if you don’t ‘like’ the dominant party? Do I even ‘like’ the USA?

The answer I’ve developed to this question is that I very much liked my experience in Argentina, but I do not necessarily ‘like’ every aspect of the Argentinian history, governance, or culture. Frankly, I am quite critical of the country’s apparent historical values, trends, and current direction. Argentina is a bizarre hybrid in so many ways. The European influence on the city is obvious from it’s architecture and population (almost entirely white in Buenos Aires). Argentina has long fetishized French styling and therefore hired many great French designers and architects to construct a city that is somewhat in the style of Paris. But Buenos Aires is more like Paris’s gaudy, grungy younger sister, who would be stunningly beautiful if she were to take off her sequin-studded tiara, wear a bit less makeup, and stop embezzling so much money. Perhaps I’m just queasy around luxury, but Buenos Aires is candy coated with a veneer of sophistication that can hardly disguise the governmental corruption and the resulting economic suffering felt by huge swaths of the population. Instead of pioneering substantial political, economic, or cultural change, the government of Buenos Aires relies on clientelism, tit-for-tat negotiations in which the government runs massive handout programs to gain the voting support of the poorer classes but does nothing to change the flows of capital and class mobility.

The city of Buenos Aires is huge and sprawling and interestingly not segregated by ethnicity or race, but rather almost entirely by class. I lived in the epicenter of Buenos Aires’ old wealth, Retiro, next to Plaza San Martin, next to calle Florida, the city’s prime luxury shopping district. There were two or three massive, Parisian-styled palaces within two or three minutes of my homestay. During the day, ritzy Retiro was crawling with men in suits and women in fur coats and once-glamorous older-folk walking toy-sized dogs. But at night, Retiro was deserted and dangerous. Right next to Retiro is the city’s main train station, and behind the train station is Villa 31, one of the first and largest Villas in Buenos Aires. Villas are slums that escape most government regulation and are hotbeds of crime, drug and human trafficking, and poverty. About 200,000 people live in 20+ villas in the city of 13 million. Many Villa inhabitants live in dangerously constructed buildings or are homeless. Drug addiction, especially to Paco, is rampant. While the government of Buenos Aires does not support the expansion of the villas, they also do not put much pressure on them to pay taxes or change their ways; there is something of a tacit don’t-ask-don’t-tell, look-the-other-way policy in place. Why? My professor at the University of Buenos Aires (UBA), who was admittedly a raving Marxist, explained that the government has historically had ties to many of the powerful ‘mafioso’ groups that have real authority in the villas. On the surface, this seems to be corruption at its finest. But on the other hand, a student in my class protested that these groups are often quite involved in the local community and establish schools, community centers, homeless shelters, and a distinct, prideful culture of their own in each Villa. If the government is supporting groups that support the people, regardless of their source of income, is the government wrong in doing so?

I could continue writing about my frustration with the hypocrisy and shallowness of various aspects of Buenos Aires’ culture, but this was not what particularly characterized my experience in Argentina. On the contrary, Argentina provided me with all that I needed to arrange for myself an incredible experience. I was hugely impressed and impacted by the genuinely good people that I lived with and otherwise met. I unquestionably benefited from the city’s education systems. Living abroad was ultimately the epitome of freedom within constraints, an exotic sandbox within which I played and experimented and learned from all that was around me. I flaneur’d, gloriously alone, every day. I spent many beautiful days exploring beautiful streets with people who became very close friends, most of whom were from the study abroad program, but were also from all over the USA, which was eye opening in itself. We enjoyed countless incredible meals and nights out immersed in Buenos Aires’ diverse and dynamic nightlife. We were young and sometimes irresponsible, and every day happened only once. It was a magical transience that compelled me to carpe the diem, to live alive, to shake my demons or address them so that I might re-open my eyes to the world around me.

And so I went to Argentina because I wished to live deliberately, to see if I might be able to discern the essential facts of life and of my life, to see if I could construct an existence in which I could really live. I did not chase every rabbit nor visit every nightclub nor seize every moment, but I followed precisely my own inner tendencies as closely as possible without being offensive to others, as is otherwise usually quite impossible. Life in society demands that we do things and go places. This was my experiment in designing a life that would demand only and exactly what I was desiring to do. “I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms”. Thoreau said it perfectly, and in the moment and in retrospect, I was and am proud of my implementation. I enjoyed so thoroughly my time abroad that I’m not thinking about it now.

How does that make sense? If a recent experience was truly impressionable, shouldn’t it continue to leave its impression upon its subject? If I was so set upon fully experiencing my time abroad, and so ‘successful’ at doing so, shouldn’t I be constantly reminiscing about and reliving those sublime seconds?

I think that this apparent discontinuity is the reason why I am at war with nostalgia. While abroad, I often entered museums and cafes and nightclubs and found myself thinking, “this will be the only time that I ever exist at this point in space-time,” then eventually to exit and think during the taxi ride home, “well, that was that, yet another experience has become memory.” At home it feels just as tragic. I got lunch with my mother yesterday. I will never get lunch with my mother yesterday again. It’s obvious but still somehow troubling. It’s an apparently useless hyper-awareness of feeling the present endlessly recede into the past.

Is it problematic, or is it somehow useful? Do I remember those moments better, having taken myself out-of-the-moment to commemorate it? Can you ever really do anything to take a moment out of time? One can write about it, or record audio or video, or tweet about it and commiserate with everyone else who is also loosing time, and so I do those things to give my faulty memory as many triggers for future recollection as possible. But to what end? What is the takeaway? Where is the peace in that? Like all existentialism, this goes nowhere. Why can’t I just accept that and live in the goddamn moment?

I think these are normal preoccupancies— I’m just another in a ponderously long list of humans who have obsessed over the conditions of our existence. If you’ve got answers or more questions, leave them in the comments.

Oh, Flaneur—

I’d like to share a concept that I have grown to adore and utilize widely in my life.

It’s an old French ideal, something probably upper-class and white and readily eyebrowed, but the art of the flaneur is a specific take on observation: Wikipedia says the word means something along the lines of “to stroll” or “saunter” or “loaf,” which alludes to that principle at the core of flanerie, which is to do nothing; to have no objective, no destination, no prerogative or goal in mind, except to observe in any way you might like the surroundings you encounter.

Historically, the flaneur has been important in some strains of academic thought including urban modernization, class conflict, and architecture. Important theoretic contributors include Charles Baudelaire, Georg Simmel, Susan Sontag, and Nassim Nicholas Taleb; of course there are lots of interesting learnings pent up in each of these contributions to the theme, but this being a blog and you having the Internet, I will let you explore ad libitum and I’ll proceed with what I’d actually like to write about.

I have now begun my semester studying abroad. Except for when I’ve had to participate in program-scheduled activities (picking classes, orientation etc.) I have had a great many hours of entirely unstructured time. Like most humans I do often enjoy the company of others and so I have certainly been getting to know the other international students as well as my host family and an interesting handful of native Argentines. But when I wake up on Friday and Saturday and Sunday (literally, every day this weekend) with nothing that I must do, I think to myself, I’ve made it. I’m here, this is what I’ve been waiting for. Enter, the flaneur.

I am in love with the idea of eschewing purpose, first in any location, as it matters not where you look but how, but with even more gusto in some place new and fantastic. Not that I have any problem with having guiding purpose in your day or life, as you would be idle to be without it. But so often, our purpose lends us spectacular clarity upon our destination and utter blindness to anything that might be even a degree off-course.

There is a nice parable that illustrates this idea, in which a rich man leads a crowd of people to see that he had laid out a trail of dollar bills on a sidewalk stretching as far as the eye could see. Immediately the crowd swarms, racing and elbowing each other to pick them up first. When they arrive, breathless, at the end of the trail, the rich man points so as to lift their gaze ever so slightly, to see that he had also hung hundred dollar bills from the trees on either side of the sidewalk. In the distance, not yet far from the starting line, a single man had noticed the hanging money and was about to climb the fourth tree.

To be alone in a crowd; to be one with its ebbs and flows, its conflict and resolution; to notice and admire each grand story as it marches past, mysterious forever; invisible (unless someone else is watching me, and then let them). Baudelaire looked to be one with the crowd. I look to be one part of it. A tiny part, scarily small, or perhaps the world is scarily large, and I’m still normal-sized. Perhaps I am enamored with this concept of relativity, that suddenly I’m not so important; I tire of placing myself on such a false pedestal, like why should I care so much about myself? I can answer this question only evolutionarily, and perhaps economically as I will likely someday contribute some value back from where I’ve taken it. But ethically, I am an arbitrary prince, my value arbited by fickle luck. In my selfishness I am disgusted. But I digress..

Now, im not so idealistic as to suggest that all of you with your busy lives and money-trails should suddenly stop these activities and squat on city corners for hours each day. In my luxurious moment, I am able to begin and end the day without having accomplished a single goal, except to have observed, and that is a truly precious privilege. However, I also have lived the busy life, and this mindset has not only just occurred to me in these spare minutes. For it is that exactly: a mindset. Often I’ll set aside a time slot,- nothing outrageous, perhaps half an hour, during which time I’ll set the single goal of getting razors and body soap from the CVS nearby. Unless each of our days are so routinely unfortunate that each task forever bleeds into the next, I think we are generally able to allot a bit of extra time for oneself at strategic points in our days. To do what? To do nothing. For me, I have seen the most hideous and the most beautiful things in these times, the most banal and the most surprising. If you are so jaded to experience that you do not feel the attraction to this activity (or lack thereof), then you should read my last post, which explained slightly why I like to keep my eyes open.

An interesting adaptation of this concept is that of the cyberflaneur, in which this mindset of not being always-purposed is applied to our use of the Internet. Trends indicate that we increasingly use the Internet only functionally. In an article published in the New York Times last February, Evegny Morozov commented that our increasing societal single-mindedness is reflected on the Internet:

Something similar has happened to the Internet. Transcending its original playful identity, it’s no longer a place for strolling — it’s a place for getting things done. Hardly anyone “surfs” the Web anymore. The popularity of the “app paradigm,” whereby dedicated mobile and tablet applications help us accomplish what we want without ever opening the browser or visiting the rest of the Internet, has made cyberflânerie less likely. That so much of today’s online activity revolves around shopping — for virtual presents, for virtual pets, for virtual presents for virtual pets — hasn’t helped either. Strolling through Groupon isn’t as much fun as strolling through an arcade, online or off.

(Side-question: is social media helping or hurting our discovery of interesting things? Morozov seems to think that it’s a distraction from our own perusing, but technosociologist Zeynep Tufekci doesn’t quite agree; is there a ‘filter bubble’? Is seeing new and exciting articles from our friends on FB a new flaneurism, or is it the ‘daily me’?)

Again, not that I think we should all sit around flipping through page after page of Wikipedia or Reddit or TED, but in actuality, I do! Everything in moderation, but these tools of modernity can connect us with troves of brilliance and creativity, information about history, art, all of the academica under the sun, etc.

Set parameters. Fifteen minutes. Forty-five. Don’t allow yourself to over or under-do it. If you get so wrapped up in a wikipedia binge that you only look up two hours later, the next time you might have ten minutes free, you’ll think “I don’t want to start, because then I won’t be able to stop.” Not that self moderation is easy for everyone, but give it your all..

Be an active observer of your world. Loaf both on the curb outside Starbucks and then again inside; sip your latte, but use their WIFI to read about the folks that might have a cure for HIV in infants. Follow your money trail, but look to the trees! You might see a monkey 8-] (or a mantis??)

On Substitutes and Glitter-Bombs

Since I’ve been home since the end of last semester, I’ve been finding odd ways to use my time: I made a newsletter for my fraternity, designed a flyer for an environmental activist group on campus, visited Wesleyan a few times, and I got a job as a substitute teacher for a local school system (K-12).

Substitute teaching is psychologically strange. Especially for the younger grades, where kids are less socialized and perhaps more genuine, the substitute enters their lives, inhabits a position of importance for a day or a few hours, and then— leaves. For the kids, this means games of name-swapping, musical chairs, and mass misbehavior among the ranks. For me, the wide-eyed substitute, as I clean up the shrapnel from Joe and Allen’s glitter-bombs and separate cliquey Maura-and-Jess from jealous Andrea, I gain a glimpse of twelve or twenty-five future-adults, all of whom I will probably never again meet; I am left knowing of twenty-five people that I will never really know.

The word for this feeling is sonder, defined unofficially as “the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own.” It’s a feeling we should encounter a lot, really. Every time you step anywhere and see anyone, whether he is next to you on the bus, or she’s down out your skyscraper window getting onto a bus, or across the world being hit by a bus— there are simply billions of people that we will never encounter, each of whom might be perfectly invaluable companions.

I alternatively react to this feeling with either renewed motivation to meet people and see things and go places, or with extreme and impenetrable apathy towards people and life. Some days I’ll remember meeting Thomas while subbing in a 5th grade special education classroom and feel proud and bolstered by having boosted his day with my (hopefully) helpful presence. But only one second later I’ll remember how inevitably difficult life will be for Thomas, that his own biology will continue to conspire against him for the rest of his life. Thousands more are like Thomas. Millions of people lead tremendously difficult lives. Billions of salmon swimming upstream. Perhaps we’re all in these waters together, but some streams just seem unjustly gradated.

It’s the easy conclusion to announce loudly to oneself that “that’s just the way it is.” Some people have it rough. What could I do about that? Welcome to the world, bad things happen. Nasty people win the lottery and good people never play it. And that’s the gut-crunching truth behind it all— it’s luck. As you sit and revel in your satin-eyed armchair, remember that you could have been born anywhere, anytime. Of course, we shouldn’t live guiltily for having begun where we did, but we also shouldn’t forget how vast a quilt this civilization has become.

Unfortunately this leads back to the same fork-in-the-road: will this substitute teacher be left with renewed motivation to meet people and go places and experience life, or will he saddle up and hunker down with impenetrable apathy against the world?

There is no answer for everyone, but I think the worst sin of all is to ever become jaded: to life, to love, to happiness, or to despair; to take for granted that which you have inherited, earned, or lost; to never feel sonder.

Stay curious. Throw a glitter bomb at a stranger. Don’t let apathy become your default.

And if you ever find yourself too complacent in your ways— try substitute teaching.

Summer Summary

So I didnt end up blogging biweekly, or even more than once, and I think thats okay with me. It’s not that I didn’t have anything to say, or that I was too lazy to write, or that I was too busy doing fancy internships and having corporate meetings. I have plenty to say, and I wrote more this summer than any other time in my life, and, as I said before, I pointedly avoided any-and-all career-friendly resume-builders this summer. Plenty of time for all of that.

I came to view this summer as one long, disjointed (yet cohesive) meditation. Yes, meditation— though perhaps my definition of the act is not in accordance with those of antiquity, as I spent very little time in any cross-legged positions— but I did meditate according to this wonderful definition:

Meditation is a practice of concentrated focus upon a sound, object, visualization, the breath, movement, or attention itself in order to increase awareness of the present moment, reduce stress, promote relaxation, and enhance personal and spiritual growth.

This, I did. Usually it was between 9am and 12pm (although those wee morning hours are always contemplative), and usually I was alone at the time, though I could have been sitting on a train zipping through some windmill-dotted countryside with my family quite by my side. Disjointed, yet cohesive, as it is all now bound between black walls; a summer’s worth of thought, poured into a paper vault. A lot of molting happened in these pages.

I am my own best audience, just as I am also my own best companion. Thoreau said something like that. Screw quotes, I go for gist. The ability to quote is a serviceable substitute for wit. Hear that, Joe?

But I actually ended up doing a lot this summer. I’m not good at doing nothing, so I don’t. Instead I chose experiences and activities that I thought would grow my point of view, help my search for self, raise a new perspective— all with the aim of exercising our human-specific infinite molting potential. Lord let me shed my skin!

Early in the summer, I participated in StartingBloc Boston ’12, which was hosted at Babson College in Wellesley, MA. Though I touched upon this experience in “Reflections…“, I want to highlight this experience in my timeline of life events. StartingBloc was important: a five-day entrepreneurial boot camp that brought me into the remarkable company of my fellow fellows, an inspirational bunch of socially conscious, entrepreneurially-minded folks who are all working in unique and impressive ways to change the world. We prescribed to mantras like “CRUSH FEAR,” and “embrace uncertainty,” heard verbal inspiration from folks like Scott Sherman from Unreasonable, and Rachel Weeks from School House, we had entrepreneurial dance parties, and we drank a lot of coffee. This was framed by the Social Innovation Challenge (SIC), in which ReWork, a company that “connects exceptional professionals with companies that are making the world a better place,” challenged us to dissect, analyze, and rebrand key elements of their business plan, company message, and expansion strategy. 100(ish) StaringBloc candidates were separated into 9 (or so) teams, which each presented their innovations in a friendly and competitive forum. PROUDLY, my team, the Blueberries (BLUE, BLue, blue…!) won the challenge, which earned me and my team special interaction with the ReWork founders and a ticket to the all-fellows summit in Chicago in October. Hell yeah.

So that was all really exciting, and most importantly, affirmational of my current aspiration to create something, to start something, to bring something into the world. However, as I have realized repeatedly and again this summer, I have not yet discovered what I am passionate about.

I’ve been doing graphic design for TEDxKabul this summer. If you don’t know TED, you should first hire a contractor to heavylift the boulder you’ve been living under,— and then go immerse yourself in one of the greatest collections of knowledge and discovery ever assembled. It’s glorious— TED presents extraordinary people with extraordinary “ideas worth spreading.” TEDx conferences are independent TED events, where accomplished individuals each give “the greatest speech they can speak” in 18 minutes or less. TEDx events have been organized all over the world- Tokyo, San Francisco, Boston, Mumbai— and now, (in mid-October), Kabul, the war-torn capital of Afghanistan.

And so I’ve been working with Eileen (whom I met at StartingBloc) working on event branding, social media, and infographic design. And from watching video after video, and reading article after article, I have become quite convicted about Afghanistan’s current plight and future promise. I have thought even, after watching&reading such articles, that I could dedicate a solid decade of my life to building Afghanistan, and I would feel righteous and fulfilled contributing what I can to their struggle.

But then I remember MINDS— the nonprofit that I work for at Wesleyan, which works to reduce stigma surrounding mental illness in rural India. Please explore the website for more information, but this is an incredibly important issue of human rights, and another that I would feel righteous and fulfilled contributing what I can to their struggle.

I have elected my path- entrepreneurship- but I have not yet found what I am truly passionate about. I am just as attracted to (or horrified by) this disenfranchised group as I am the next poverty stricken neighborhood. The world is a big place. There’s an awful lot of poverty and disenfranchisement. I will do the greatest good for the greatest number of people that I can, taking into consideration my unique characteristics and attributes. But what will be my angle? Which problem, of those millions, am I to tackle? Cue the age old musing: what is my purpose in life?

As these questions are obviously inconclusive, I return to my current catch phrase, that I’m “gathering inspiration and education” in order to figure it all out. I’m happy with that. I am just about where I’d like to be in this whole process of becoming.

And so I collect! I read a lot this summer, including Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography (written to his son), Walter Isaacson’s biography on Ben Franklin, Sula – by Toni Morrison, a hefty chunk of My Life – Bill Clinton, The Power of Unreasonable People – John Elkington, Audience Evolution – Philip Napoli, and because he’s a creative master, Welcome to the Monkey House, by Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

And as Susan Cain stresses in her IMPORTANT speech about the power of the introvert, I spent a lot of time in nature, sitting, writing, (taking pictures). If you sit still enough (and the fates feel kindly), sometimes the mosquitos don’t seem to notice you.

And now summer is coming to a close, and while I’m still prone to never-ending contemplations about best-using-my-life-for-the-world, I think I am a few inspirations closer, and slightly more educated, and also altogether happier than I was at the beginning of summer, as death and time begin to tire of combat. I am ready for my classes, eager to have some structure and predictability in my days, and looking forward to reentering my long-abandoned social spheres. Summer, check. Ready, set, molt.

On (not) Choosing Paths

Yesterday I went to a high school reunion party (or so I’ll call it) at my friend’s house. Just about all of my good friends from those ever glorious high school days were there. It was great to see everyone and catch up with people and see how they’ve changed and grown and progressed. We collectively sighed with relief. Finals are over. Done with our first semester classes. It’s almost Christmas (well, I guess it’s Christmas Eve now). Good. Life is good. Now what.

Well, a month(+) to sit around and sleep and waste time and, at least for me, ponder the future. At the reunion party, I found that in every group of people that I talked to, someone (and occasionally I) inevitably wound up asking questions like, “what are your plans next semester,” or, “what are you going to do after college,” or “what are you going to be doing in a year/decade/tell me your plan for the rest of your life.”

Jeesh. These are big questions. They really are- don’t mistake my tone in the previous paragraph for a belief that these questions are unimportant or unnecessary or wrongly timed. Because that’s what’s scary- these are the questions that we should start to think about at this point. And by “start to think about,” I really mean that we’ve gotta make decisions, STAT. It’s a little bit incredible to me. I feel like this point in my life- where decisions actually matter and my most pressing daily dilemma is not what to get after track practice from the vending machine- has snuck up on me. BOO! OK now choose: Doctor? Lawyer? Congressman? Cog in the gearbox of a rigged capitalist system? An English professor or a neurosurgeon? Or a bum. On the streets. Because if you don’t become a doctor-lawyer-congresswoman-cog-in-gearbox-of…(etc), you’ve failed whatever silly expectations you impose on yourself (or are imposed on you).

Now I certainly don’t mean to lecture anyone about making decisions or on how to lead your life or to say, “you can be anything you want to be” or anything hokey like that. We have all been made conscious of expectations before- from ourselves, from our parents or friends, from our college counselors and high school teachers- all epitomized by the competitive world of academia. But I want to formally ask these questions of you, (my friends+fam), but also really anyone at any age and at any time, because these questions will be with us always after now. 

What are you good at? BRAG. Tell me what you’re skills are, what you are passionate about, what do you pride yourself in? (1)

What do you want to get good at? What skills do you want to develop? What can you do, learn, or think about that will help you to achieve whatever goals you’ve imposed on yourself?

What goals DO you impose on yourself?- or rather- what are your goals for the future? Separate your goals into time segments, or life sectors (ex. academics, occupation, romantic/sexlife/lackthereof/michaelchizazu).

Or “simply,” what do you want to do with your life? In your brief existence on Earth, what mark will you choose to make?

Sorry. Chill, chill. I know there are people on both sides of the rope- some of you saying “hey, I know perfectly fine what I’m doing with my life,” and then some of you saying “holy shit holy shit hoLy SHIT!” And both of you are perfectly justified in your reactions. We’re all at different points and have different perspectives on the issue. But the one thing that is now universal among us and our age cohort, I think, is that we must think about it. We cannot evade these questions, because by evading them, we implicitly answer them. Music time.

Freewill is a great song- Rush is the best of the 70’s and 80’s prog rock movement. But really I just love its chorus:

You can choose a ready guide in some celestial voice
If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice
You can choose from phantom fears and kindness that can kill
I will choose a path that’s clear
I will choose freewill

“If you choose not to decide, you still had made a choice.” This truism, first highlighted for me by my father, is what I wanted to write about. Big questions must be asked and answered- now- because every day we move closer to one goal and farther from another. Are you cogent of what goals you’re approaching, and conversely, which goals you’re leaving behind? Are you sure that you’re advancing towards the “right” one, whatever that is? I am challenging each of you to question your faith in your alleged life plans; are you actively advancing yourself towards and away from the goals that you genuinely believe are correct or incorrect for your individual life?

Many of you are. Most of you are. But some of you are not. Life will not change by itself. It’s physics, dude. No object will move unless an outside force acts upon it. Ask yourself those questions, or at least read them out loud. Try to answer them out loud, too. Saying things makes them more real than just thinking things. After all, what are thoughts? After the fact, they don’t seem to really exist. I forget most of them anyways.

Here’s one last and important question, which I already kind of asked. But for emphasis,

What goals are you moving away from? Perhaps they are goals that you set at an early age or stage in your life, or maybe they are even now appearing to fade in importance as you continue through life. What doors have closed? What doors are closing against your wishes? What doors have you consciously closed?

Close doors. That is my advice to you, the proverbial royal reader. Close doors. Carefully, of course- don’t slam the door on the way out, don’t throw tantrums or spew crazy bullshit to family members, and don’t close a single door without making sure, with exquisite care, that you can justifiably do so. Some of what clouds our vision into our future is the stunning and overwhelming array of things that you can do in this world.

Don’t categorize yourself. Just choose the categories that you’re not going to be part of. It’s like the blacklist vs. the whitelist in Self Control (if you have a Mac and have ever had to do homework). Don’t limit yourself to all of a single category. Even those who say pre-med, pre-law, pre-biz (did I just make that up?)- I would say practice the same exercise as “the undecideds.” Pick out the things that you don’t what to become, but retain a list of the goals or aspirations that you aren’t currently acting on. Life is surprising and cyclical. Who knows what you’ll really end up doing.

Think about it. Really, think about it. Wake up from whatever stops you from controlling your fates and live deliberately.

Happy Holidays and best of luck in the New Year. Make some resolutions? Why the hell not.

(1) Post your brag anonymously below in the comments. Of course, all the fun will be in guessing who wrote what 😉