Category Archives: personal

The Truth About Screen Time

According to the Screen Time function on my iPhone, I average about 4.5 hours each day staring into one (1) glowing rectangle.

If you are over age 40, you’re probably thinking: “That’s because your generation is addicted to screens.”

4+ hours does seem like a lot, especially considering I don’t have my phone with me during the workday. For that much daily screen time, I must have my phone in front of my face from the moment I get home until I put my head down to sleep. Do I?

The answer is a little complicated, both yes and no.

If the purpose of Screen Time is to raise consciousness about how much we use our phones, it’s doing a decent job. Getting notifications every week with those statistics invariably generates the same response from me: “Huh, am I really?” With that in mind, whenever I’m tempted to scroll endlessly on a social media app, I reflexively recall that Screen Time will confront me at the end of the week with an exact figure for my idleness, which does inspire me to use these apps with a little more purpose. In fact, Screen Time awareness brought Facebook down from the #1 to #4 most-used app on the list. Not bad.

Here is how my current average usage breaks out from a pretty typical week at the time of this writing (the last week of May):
Safari 7.5 hours
Libby 5.5 hours
YouTube 5 hours
Facebook 2 hours
Nike Running Club 1.5 hours
Instagram 1.5 hours
Tumblr 1.5 hours
Facebook Messenger 1 hour
Google Maps 1 hour
Music 1 hour
Messages 45 minutes
Podcasts 45 minutes
Notes 40 minutes

What stuck out to me right away is the number for the Podcast app. If you know me, you know this: I listen to a truly untenable, possibly immoral, number of podcasts. Turns out that the definition of “screen time” is pretty rigid: the time that the phone screen is literally on, no matter what else is running in the background.

How we use our phones expands so far beyond just sitting and staring, scrolling on pictures, crushing candy. We use our phones even when they’re not in our hands; for me, it turns out, this is when I use my phone the most.

I went back through all the podcasts I listened to in the past seven days. If my screen had been active for all the time I was listening, that number would have ballooned from 45 minutes to 1,002 minutes, or almost 17 hours. (In just one week! Great, that’s a number I’ll never unsee!) But because my phone screen is turned off while I’m listening, Screen Time tracking doesn’t kick in, and my sins remained hidden – until now. This is true for Music, too. I listen to music while I drive and work out and shower, all of which probably adds up to an hour or more per day. But because my phone screen is not on during that time, it doesn’t count toward Screen Time.

YouTube presents the opposite example. The hours spent on YouTube seems really high, and I know it’s accurate because my phone screen has to be on for YouTube to continue playing. I use YouTube for a ton of different things, though, and very few of them involve me actually looking at my screen, which seems completely contrary to the nature of the app. I like to put on clips of late-night comedy shows as something to listen to while I’m cooking and cleaning and doing things around the house – something I can glance at without having to commit my full attention. The number of hours spent on YouTube is actually a good indicator of how much time I spend on chores every week. Less than an hour per day seems about right.

All combined, I spent about an hour or two per a day on social media apps. To some, this will seem like a lot. To others, not much at all. For most, it’s probably average.

It shocked me, though, that none of my app games amounted to enough time to show up in these numbers at all. I feel like I’m always checking my cats on Neko Atsume. But these check-ins, while quite frequent, only last a few seconds at a time, which even in weekly aggregate don’t amount to much.

So, a more truthful rendering of the Screen Time weekly tally would look something like this:
Podcasts 17 hours
Reading 13 hours (Safari and Libby)
Social media 6 hours (Facebook and Messenger, Tumblr, Instagram)
TV, distractions 12 hours (YouTube and Music)
Fitness 2 hours (Nike and Notes, which I use to track my workouts)

All of this is not to exculpate myself, to make it seem like I’m above being glued to my glowing rectangle. Evidently, this is not the case, and clearly I need to be distracted from thinking my own thoughts at all times. But giving some consideration to the numbers that Screen Time puts in front of my face every week made me appreciate the variety of ways in which devices have made themselves relevant to the minutiae of our lives, keeping us connected and entertained even when they aren’t the recipients of our undivided attention. In fact, it made me realize that my phone usage has changed drastically from my eyes to my ears, from active to passive – not unlike how devices are now, too, always listening, always ready for the command to solicit their input.

What will a post about device usage look like in a decade? A century? Will we outgrow the physical aspect entirety and these device functions will merge seamlessly with existing infrastructure (smart homes, etc)? I hope I find this post again when I am very old, if the internet is not obsolete (cool) or abolished (very cool). I hope I can look back fondly at how quaint and naive I am now and how far technology has come. Or maybe we will soon reach another innovative plateau, one that I personally won’t see the other side of. Either way, a pre-loaded app in my phone made me think for quite a while about the integration of devices into our lives, and that was something I absolutely was not expecting.

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Six Lessons from Marie Kondo

I’ve been struggling to come up with the least patronizing term to describe Marie Kondo’s process. The sanctimony of “minimalism” makes my skin crawl and, more importantly, misses the point, highlighting the result over the endeavor. Even “tidying up,” a phrase that has become more or less synonymous with the KonMari brand, doesn’t instinctively call to mind the necessity of discarding first. The closest I can think of is “downsizing,” but even that conjures a problematic context: of being unable to afford things, of having to get let go to survive.

I want to talk about applying Marie Kondo’s principles to my life in a way that doesn’t invoke a moral imperative on the part of the reader. The argument for letting go of clutter can be made, sometimes even convincingly, but it’s not my job to make it. The thing about Kondo’s method is that it is so completely relative. It’s not about discarding things based on the criteria of strict, stark utility. An excess of possessions can certainly weigh one down, but deciding what is the “right amount” of things is a deeply personal, individual experience. What works for me might not – probably won’t – work for you.

The core of KonMari could be summarized like this: “Wouldn’t you enjoy your home so much more if you only surrounded yourself with things that make you happy?” It seems so obviously true that it feels insulting. A lot of people, misunderstanding her, have taken a very bizarre sort of offense to her principles, when “[s]he literally just wants to help people declutter so their physical belongings no longer take a mental toll on their well-being.”

I guess I started off as part of the problem, too. Before I read her book, I feared that Marie Kondo and her Shinto-inspired ideas were going to come into my home and throw away anything that didn’t contribute to a sterile, characterless space, only teak and white linens and a single plant for color. But Kondo never specifies what the end product looks like, only offering the occasional suggestion. The process is about finding what makes her clients happy. She is always willing to disregard even her own rules if they bump against someone’s an immovable anxiety. As with most things, it’s about the journey, about the self-understanding that comes from addressing the totality of your belongs and discovering the “right amount,” than it is about the aesthetics (or even functionality) of the result.

So with all that said, for the past few months (yes, months), I’ve been KonMari-ing my home. It was way more work than I was expecting, but all in all it was a positive experience. One, Marie promises, I’ll never have to do again.

Shockingly, this is proving to be true. I took photos for this post when I finished in late March. I am writing this post now at the end of May. I expected my tidiness to have slipped between now and then – things out of place, folding a little less tight, new unnecessary acquisitions. So far, to my surprise, this has not been the case. The lessons that I learned from Marie Kondo seem to have stuck.

I followed Kondo’s plan as prescribed: starting with clothing, piling every article of clothing you own, from every part of the house, into one heap in one place, going through each item, piece by piece, and deciding if it makes you happy or if it’s time to discard it. Do the same with books, papers, miscellaneous items (komono), and sentimental items, in that order. Kondo says this structure allows us to attune ourselves gradually with what truly “sparks joy,” so that by the time we get to our sentimental items, we can make those “keep/discard” choices with confidence.

Was it “life-changing,” as the title of her book suggests? In some ways, yes. It forced me to confront some things about myself that I was not proud of, but going through it made me feel more confident about my decision-making in general. It also brought to light a lot of the positive aspects of who I am that I often take for granted. It has made my daily routine easier and I am much more considerate now of the quantity of things that I acquire.

The biggest change, though, is being able to sit in my apartment and feel so completely at ease, so filled with joy. Sometimes I’ll look up from reading and gaze around adoringly around my space, my little sanctuary. Everything was chosen and placed with love and deliberation; nothing is here “just because.” It is the first place of my own that truly feels like home.

With all that said, here are some general lessons that I learned from the KonMari process, some truths that stuck with me even since the tidying up came to an end.

Confront exactly what you own.

My personal issue, at the start, was that my small apartment always looks very clean, but as soon as you open a closet or cabinet door, things get a little wild. I had a pretty good idea of how I want my place to look in terms of what’s on display and what’s hidden away. I had a problem with things getting stashed away “just for now” or “just because,” without much thought, which often resulted in things getting misplaced.

This, I think, is the advantage of organizing by category, not by space. It is important to see, all in one place, exactly how much of one (type of) thing you own. Having some hygiene items in one cabinet might not seem like an issue, for example, but how many of those same, possibly identical, hygiene items are scattered throughout the house in different cabinets? I’m not saying this is a bad thing, but it helps contribute to forgetting the true extent of our ownership.

Even if you don’t buy into Kondo’s process, it is really helpful to begin any tidying journey with putting everything into one place. It was, at times, deeply jarring to me and to my idea of who I am – why, why, why did I need so many different kinds of shampoo? – but it was ultimately for the best.

Your belongings are part of your future.

Sometimes it’s hard to feel joy. Maybe you view clothing, for example, strictly for its utility, so it doesn’t inspire much sentiment. Or maybe you’re in a head-space where it’s hard to feel anything at all.

Marie Kondo offers several different ways of contextualizing “sparking joy” when happiness and gratitude might be a little out of reach:

  • What does this item say about me as I am, or who I want to become?
  • Does this item make my life simpler or easier? Does it support me in a way that I take for granted?
  • Is this worth carrying with me into the future?
  • And, to get a little bleak, is this something I want someone to find when I pass away? This is hard to think about, but Kondo is not afraid to challenge you. (She presented this idea regarding whether or not to keep old journals that might contain embarrassing material.)

The delightful flipside of this was not being so precious about things which I thought were “too nice” to use regularly. These were mostly gifts from other people that I wanted to treat with extra respect, but what that meant in practice was never using them at all, out of fear of “ruining” them. Making the decision to keep those things encouraged me to incorporate them into my day to day life and, what a surprise, it makes me happy to do so. It doesn’t cheapen the value of the gift at all. When I wear my watch, or pull out my wallet, or light a candle, I’m reminded of the people who gifted me those things, and I feel like that person is there with me in that moment.

Sometimes things get worse before they get better.

I see a lot of “before” and “after” photos on social media of people doing the KonMari method. I don’t see quite as many “during” photos, and I think I know why: it’s pretty rough.

Image result for marie kondo gif

Depending on how much you own, it might feel overwhelming. But, if you do it little by little, in the order Kondo prescribes, eventually you will come out the other side. I think Kondo’s Netflix show does a great job of demonstrating the frustration of this “in-between” time, when all the hard work is being done. It shows how Kondo’s clients deal with confronting the quantity of their belongings, which in turn forces them to confront themselves.

My spare room became a staging area, a veritable altar of excess, for whatever category I was working on that week. Sentimental items, or things that I couldn’t quite make a decision on right away, migrated to the corner of the room, to be dealt with later. When I emptied the bathroom closet and cabinet, the contents took up the entirety of my living room, which is also basically the entirety of my apartment. It was awful to look at, to know that this is my problem to deal with, and that it wasn’t going to go away on its own. For a while, it was tough to live, day to day, in a horribly cluttered space – that time in between “everything out of place” and “everything exactly where it should be.”

Put stuff away right away.

We are all guilty of this, and me most of all. We come home after a long day and we are tired. We dump our things on the kitchen counter or the dining room table. We want to veg out as soon as possible.

Discarding things is only the first part of the KonMari process. What do you do with the stuff you keep? The next step is finding storage. When you hear “storage,” though, what do you think of? Is it see-through stackable plastic containers? Is it cardboard boxes? Is it extra furniture with drawers?

Marie Kondo says to discard first, then once you’ve reduced to the point where you’re comfortable, find a place in your home where each item belongs. A home within your home. For me, this took some trial and error. I moved some things back and forth as I progressed from one category to another. At the end, though, I found a place for everything that I owned, and it was placed there as a thoughtful, conscious choice, not just because. This, I’ve learned, has two huge advantages:

  • Knowing that I want to exert minimal effort after coming home, having a designated place for all of my stuff means that I can tidy up by pure momentum and habit. Wallet and journal come out of the handbag and onto the tray in the entryway. Handbag goes on the counter, next to lunch bag. Lunch containers go into the sink to be washed. Book is returned to nightstand or coffee table. Uniform is hung up neatly. If I do this stuff immediately, as soon as I come in the door, I don’t have to think about it at all, my home remains neat and clean, and everything is found and collected easily the next day.
  • I know exactly where everything in my house is! Well, I say “house,” but it’s really a 700 sq/ft apartment. How could I lose stuff in such a small space? When things are scattered all over, or placed somewhere without much consideration, they escape our notice and blend in with our surroundings, eventually becoming forgotten. I have always had this problem with uniform items. I would have little caches of collar devices, ribbons, boot straps, and patches scattered throughout the house. I can’t tell you how many items I’ve re-purchased accidentally because I couldn’t find the one I already owned. The number of excess uniform items I donated was a horribly rude awakening. But by putting all of my uniform-related things into one box, and putting that box in a designated place, I know now exactly where to go when I’m scrambling last-minute for a crow to put on my collar, which happens about two or three times a year and feels like a crisis each time. No longer!

Your possessions exist to support you. They deserve respect.

One of the most heartwarming and charming aspects of Kondo’s book was how she personified our belongings, asking the reader to consider what life was life from their perspective. What is it like to be a sock that get stomped on all day and then gets rolled up into a ball afterwards? What is it like to be a backpack that gets stuffed full of things and then thrown around all day? How about the seasonal items that get brought out once a year and then are hidden from view the rest of the time? The idea of our things having little spirits of their own is very, very Japanese, but it encourages me to treat them a little better.

Kondo reminds us that the things we buy and own exist only to make our lives easier or better in some way. This seems incredibly simple and obvious, but when I was on the fence about whether to keep or discard something, it helped me to remember that keeping something in my home should be a conscious act, like adding a member to the family, and once that decision is made, that item deserves my love and respect.

She goes even further than that, encouraging readers to imagine our possessions as silently cheering us on all day, rooting for our happiness and success in their own unique ways. Your toothbrush wants you to have clean teeth so that you can smile at the people around you. Your handbag says, “I’m ready to help you carry all the essentials!” Your sunscreen stands firm in its solemn duty to protect your skin from damage from the sun. All of these things are designed with purpose, and imaging our possessions with motivations of their own reminds us to treat them well. As we put our things back where they belong, Kondo encourages us to thank them for helping us that day. This is incredibly sweet and it has made me grateful to a bunch of things which I took for granted.

Joy is a relative experience.

On a recent episode of the Judge John Hodgman podcast, he admonished one of the litigants for hanging a flag on the wall, telling them to grow up and find some real decor. For what it’s worth, I think he’s correct. Flags are supposed to be flown outside, not stapled to a wall indoors. It looks pretty unsophisticated.

With that said, I have a Rhode Island flag hanging on the wall behind my living room couch. I’ve thought often about whether or not it’s time to “grow up” and take it down. After all, part of my tidying-up process has been putting wall art into frames to display them properly. I could easily replace the flag with something else.

But I have strong feelings of attachment to my home state. It is where I grew up and where all of my loved ones still live. Rather than making me feel sad and homesick, seeing the flag reminds me that there’s always a place where I can return to. It reminds me of all of my fond memories of family and friends. Most of all, it displays our state motto – simply, “Hope,” displayed on a ribbon under a golden anchor – which inspires me not just in its content, but also in its boldness, its pithiness. Seeing it might not fill others with joy, but it makes me happy.

There will come a day where this flag outlives its use. Someday I’d like to own a home, an actual house, where I can hang up flags properly. Until then, Marie Kondo encourages people to be confident in their decisions about what makes them happy. No one else can decide for you. How we arrange our homes is an expression of our internal selves because our possessions show what sort of people we are. Any self-revelation involves some vulnerability. Marie Kondo, at the very least, helped me be a little braver about showcasing my personality through my ownership of things.

Image result for marie kondo gif

Well, that’s all good, but where do I start?

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up is a pretty quick read – only 200 pages or so. It details completely how Kondo arrived at her method. I thought it was very comprehensive and, at times, incredibly cute and fun.

Tidying Up with Marie Kondo debuted on Netflix at the start of this year. Real clever, Netflix, capitalizing on new year’s motivation. It is a very sweet and relaxing show to watch, but it might not be enough to make clear the logic of the KonMari method to those who are unfamiliar.

There are plenty of resources online, too! Search for KonMari on any social media platform and enjoy an abundance of images of idyllic, perfectly tidy homes.

Finally, for what it’s worth, I didn’t follow every piece of advice from Marie Kondo. Not everything made sense for my lifestyle, or it felt awkward when I tried to implement it. Some examples: I keep more than one pair of shoes in my entryway; I don’t store my drying rack, sponge, and soap under the sink when I’m not using them; I don’t remove my hygiene items from the shower when I’m done bathing. But I’ve found that these details don’t matter quite so much as long as I maintain the spirit of the method, which is to be mindful of what I bring into the house and where I put them.

This whole experience was a good reminder of just how much we are creatures of habit, how we want to exert minimal effort for maximum results. Using a system like the KonMari method requires a lot of work at first, but it produces ease and simplicity once it becomes a habit.

So should you KonMari your home?

If it would make you happy to live in a neat, functional space surrounded by things that bring you joy, then yes, for sure! It will feel like a slog when you’re going through it, but you’ll be glad that you did. I am.

If housekeeping and organization aren’t your thing, then you probably didn’t even make it this far in my post. That’s okay, too. It’s not for me to say what your home should and should not look like. Marie Kondo wouldn’t, either. Only you can decide what works for you and what makes you happy!

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Reflections on Turning 30

I mentioned in my year-end post that the dad of one of my childhood friends once told us that your body gets older on the outside but you stay more or less the same on the inside. Eventually you reach a plateau for emotional maturity, the crest of an upward trend that hopefully continues throughout the rest of your life, while your body begins to do the opposite, dropping down the other side of this metaphorical hill.

Years are going by faster and faster. My foot is pressing down harder on the accelerator and I am unable, will never be able, to slow down, not until at last I stop for good. Someday this will worry me. Right now, I watch these years pass with detached, almost clinical, interest.

I’ve struggled with collecting my thoughts, on finding significance, on reaching the big 3-0. It doesn’t feel more meaningful than any other birthday, which for me is actually a huge deal because I love an excuse to celebrate something. So actually I take all of that back. This is a great event, as usual! Tomorrow, on April 1st, it’s all about me, bay-bee!

In lieu of depth and meaning, here are some lists.

Things that keep me young

  • Great genes
  • Always being a lil bit overweight
  • General zest for life
  • Jokes
  • Having a tumblr account (see image below for reference)
  • Hobbies that I’m genuinely very passionate about
  • Extremely niche hobbies that I’m wildly, ironically passionate about
  • A “yes, and” attitude
  • 7.5 hours of sleep
  • Minding my own business
  • Spite
  • Not smoking (probably)

Things that I wish I had learned sooner

  • Always have electrolytes somewhere in the house. It might save you a trip to the ER.
  • You can be funny and kind or funny and cruel. The second one is easier, but the first one is worth it.
  • There’s a big difference between being nice and being kind.
  • Wear sunscreen.
  • Recovery isn’t linear.
  • thank u, next
  • Everyone loves differently.
  • Virtues get easier with practice.
  • You’re not eating enough protein.
  • God doesn’t say no. He says, instead: yes; or, not yet; or, I have something better in mind.
  • The more comfortable you are with yourself, the more permission others feel to be comfortable with themselves.
  • Sometimes it really do just be like that.

I realized today that I’ve been writing in this blog almost continuously for five years. It is mostly a pain, but it forces me to put something out there into the world/void about a dozen times a year. I just wanted to take a second to say thank you to anyone and everyone who is reading this. Whether you know me personally or you just stumbled here by accident (most likely, you are a soft combination of the two), thank you for giving me a few minutes of your day. Thank you for reading.

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An Obituary for Alice Gleba, My Grandma

Grandma wrote her own obituary. She wrote down what song she wanted to play at her funeral and what clothes she wanted to be dressed in. She last updated it in 2014. This is a comfort: she was ready.

She wanted to be remembered for her family, of course. Her parents and siblings, all of whom predeceased her except for one brother. Her children, two daughters and two sons, and her seven grandchildren.

Grandma was the daughter of immigrants, first generation Americans from Austria. I wonder often about what their experience was like, coming to the USA at the turn of the century. Grandma was born in 1928, only a year before the stock market crash that led to the Great Depression. Her family owned a farm and a bunch of land in New Britain, CT, which must have mitigated somewhat the effects of the Depression, but my grandma was always ruthlessly frugal. So is my mom, who shared a bed with her sister during their childhood. She and I would share that same bed when we stayed over Grandma’s.

Grandma worked at Precision Grinding in New Britain, CT for fifteen years. Her children walked to school, just a few blocks from their home, and she wanted to be there when they came home for lunch. She must have given her children a decent childhood. They all turned out very well.

Her husband, my grandpa, died when I was still very young. I don’t remember much about him, besides the oxygen and dialysis machines which kept him alive in his final years. Mom told me that he volunteered for the army during WWII and stormed the beach at Normandy. She said it was a horribly traumatic experience, that he saw his friends dying all around him from a hail of bullets and from drowning. He didn’t talk about it much. He was so poor that the army was his best chance at a better life, if he came out on the other side of it. He did. I don’t know how he and my Grandma met. I don’t know much about him at all. He was very quiet.

My mom and my grandma were very close. Grandma would come see us in Rhode Island, taking us kids out for a day so my mom could have some time to herself. She would walk us down the street to the Newport Creamery. One year, when my leg was broken in a skiing accident, she pushed me in a wheelchair all the way. She would order a scoop of vanilla ice cream and pour a tablespoon or two of coffee over the top. As a kid, I thought it was gross. Now, as an adult, I think it’s very cool.

In her obituary, Grandma wrote that her “favorite pastime was working in her garden and taking care of her yard. She also enjoyed reading and making trips to the library for new books. She liked to take nature walks, ride her bike, and cook her favorite meals.” This is a beautiful and simple summary of a life that spanned almost an entire century.

In her backyard, Grandma had a big tree that cast the whole lawn in shade, like a giant umbrella, and a statue of the Virgin Mary. She kept old road bikes in a small shed, along with her gardening tools. She would ride her bike around the neighborhood even in her 80s. It took getting hit by a car to get her to stop. Even then, she still took daily walks, picking up trash in the street as she went. More than once, she was sprayed by a skunk, which we all thought was super funny. Neighbors recognized her. All of that land used to belong to her family, Mom told me. Now it is just the one house, the house my mom was raised in, and soon, not even that.

Growing up, the whole family went up to a German family resort in the beautiful Catskill Mountains during the summer. We would hike and hit golfballs at the driving range and swim and eat and eat and eat. Someone always got stung by a bee. One time, my brother got stung by about a dozen bees, and it was sort of my fault. It seemed like everyone there knew Grandma, and she knew everyone else. She tried to teach me how to dance the polka. She would clap along to the music and she knew the words to some of the traditional German songs.

She had a sly sense of humor. She liked to play Rummy. Whenever she wrote to me – for my birthday and Christmas and Easter – she would apologize for her bad writing and spelling. It hurt me that this was something she felt like she had to say, because there was nothing wrong with how she wrote. She didn’t think she was smart, maybe because each subsequent generation of her family was more educated than the previous one, but there are many different ways to be smart. My grandma was an intensely practical person and capable in ways that I will never be.

I would video-call her and my mom on Sundays. When I’m on deployment, it was the highlight of my week, giving me a boost in morale that would carry me through the next few days. She had been losing her memory for a while, and when I was away, she would ask me every week: where are you?

“I can’t tell,” I would say awkwardly.

“She’s in West Hartford!” my mom’s fiance John would yell in the background. He had been in the Navy. He knows how it is sometimes.

“You can tell me,” Grandma would say. “I won’t squeal.”

She told me I had a nice smile and, when I expected her to give me a hard time about my haircut, she said she liked it, said it must be much easier to deal with. Grandma got it.

“Do you regret joining the service?” she would ask in a low voice, heavy with confidentiality and some other emotion that I couldn’t quite pin down.

“No,” I would say, trying to sound positive. The word would hang there, suspended between us, never really touching down. I think we both knew I was lying, at least a little bit. I think my Grandma understood what the military takes from its members, even when it tries to give them back something in return.

In the last few years of her life, my mom went to see her every weekend, being there for Grandma as Grandma had been there for her so many years ago; “the circle of life,” my mom says. Grandma knew it was Sunday because her caregiver would help her into her sneakers in the morning. Mom brought her to the mall to people-watch. They ate at the same restaurant and everyone knew her there. She would watch funny animals on youtube, asking John if he knew the animals in the videos personally, and that’s just about the cutest thing I’ve ever heard in my entire life.

Even as her health began to fail, she was charming and funny and stubborn. She refused to move out of her home for an assisted-care facility, clinging to this last shred of privacy and ownership that often gets taken away during one’s old age. It was a source of controversy and, sometimes, frustration for my family – where does her autonomy end and overriding concern for her safety begin? – and demanded a revolving door of lady caregivers, a compromise. For Grandma’s happiness and pride, it was worth it. She was in the most comfortable and familiar place possible when she began to slip away.

Grandma died peacefully on June 23, 2018. My brother, a doctor, was at her side in her final moments. This, too, is a tremendous comfort, and he is very brave. The rest of the family was on their way to my uncle’s surprise birthday party. They were rerouted to the hospital instead. “You know how hard it is to get everyone together at the same time,” my mom said. It was a surprise of another kind, but at least everyone was there.

This is my first time dealing with grief from a grown-up perspective. I’m thinking – constantly, much more than I want to – about what it might have been like for her to die. Did she know it was time? Was she afraid? Did she think about her husband? Her kids? Did she know that her children and grandchildren were on their way to her, rushing, frantic?

“Don’t be sad,” my mom told me over the phone, still in the hospital room. “She wouldn’t want you to be.”

It’s a common idea, but it is true. Grandma didn’t have time for all that.

She was 90 years old. The scope of the history that she lived through is almost inconceivable to me. I think often about how different the world was when she was my age and what things were like for her then. I hope my mom lives as long as her mom did. I hope I do too, and see as much as she did, and be as vivacious and strong and tenacious as she was. I will miss you, Grandma. You were our connection to a whole different world of triumph over hardship and tradition. I’m lucky to be part of your family.

Grandma

Alice Gleba, 1928-2018

 You can find her official obituary here in the New Britain Herald. You can leave a condolence for our family here. Thank you for taking the time to read this.
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Making Time for Yourself

Someone asked me recently what I would be doing to entertain myself if I was back home. I didn’t have an answer. This is, I think, for two reasons:

  1. I haven’t lived in Hawaii for long enough to carve out a familiar, comforting routine. Of the past nine months (whoa) since coming to Hawaii, I’ve been away for almost six of them, and the others were seeped in an overwhelmingly liminal feeling.
  2. Almost all of the things that make me happiest are portable.

Think about it: if you were to leave home for a while – a few weeks, or many months – what is it that you would miss? If you have a family or spouse or even a pet, they have to stay behind. That’s rough, but this is about you. Who are you, apart from everyone else? What entertains you? What activities make you feel like you are fully yourself?

I like to ask people what they look forward to doing when they get home from work and all the chores and errands are finished. My dad would never let us pick up an activity if there was work left to be done; it made really appreciate my leisure time and, more importantly, live fully inside of it, free from to-do lists nagging at the edge of my attention. So when it is time for you to put your feet up and relax, what do you reach for? If it’s something you can carry with you, then, I think, you’ll always have a little bit of home with you wherever you go.

I’m sure I have a biased perspective. It took a long time, but now I am used to living away from my family and friends, and I had to learn how to make myself happy without them around for support, filling up my time and space. And I guess I’ve always been a quiet, introverted nerd. Outdoorsy and athletic, too, but my parents wanted me to be, and I’m not sure how many of those impulses are inherent and how many are the result of habit and upbringing. In fact, even those physical activities are, for me, solitudinous – running, swimming, hiking: all alone.

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Illustration by Chris Buzelli (from a great essay, titled “At Home in the Liminal World“)

When your principle form of diversion is depends on you alone – your creativity or motivation – almost any hobby can be carried along with you. I do things alone. I associate solitude with home. In a way, then, I can bring a little bit of home with me wherever I go.

Even amidst the roar of propeller blades and the chatter of the crew on the headsets, when I open up a book, I am transported to a different place, any place of my choosing. I can play my Nintendo Switch in a crowded, noisy lounge and forget that anyone else is there. Even writing this post, or any creative writing – I keep a notebook in my backpack, ready to seize the opportunity when inspiration strikes, and my phones “notes” app is filled with scraps of ideas and descriptions that I want to remember or revisit. When I run, it’s just me and the music (and suffering). I’m getting back into video editing, which requires a surprising amount of concentration and a challenging learning curve and a lot more invested time than I remember from before. All of these things bring me the most joy, and I can do all of them whether I’m at home or on the road.

Sometimes people get their “me” time, some comfort of home, from being around other people – group activities, team sports, spending time together. They could feel comfortable wherever they go. That is wonderful, a truly enviable characteristic. But this post is not about that.

I am deeply interested in people who make it a priority to carve out time for themselves, who have some quiet interest that draws them away from the company of others. Now, more than ever, it is so easy to waste time. (I’m guilty of this just as much as everyone else my age; I spend a truly appalling amount of time scrolling through memes and watching the same youtube videos over and over.) I’m fascinated by people who have clear priorities, who set boundaries on the time they’re willing to give to others and the time they insist on keeping for themselves. It takes some bravery and focus, and sometimes awkward explanations, to detach from the world around you and turn the focus inward instead, to be wholly and authentically yourself. I have a lot of respect for people who make it look natural and effortless, especially since I’m pretty firmly entrenched in the “antisocial weirdo” camp.

So if you have some secret hobby or passion, something that you do for you alone when no one else is watching, I’d like to hear about it sometime. I think I understand you a little bit already, and I’d like to know more.

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I Didn’t Shave For Four Months. I Hoped It Would Free Me.

Most folks “let themselves go” a little bit while deployed. Our socializing is restricted to those on our crew, so eventually we stop worrying so much about putting up appearances, for better or worse. (Like all good things, this can get taken too far: on the ship, some people get disciplined into performing basic hygiene, like showering.) It is a refreshing reminder, for example, to look in the mirror after months without makeup and realize you’re still cute!

I was going to a cold and dry environment. Most of the time, my legs would be covered. And there would be no liberty, no seeing new people or new things, so there wasn’t much of a point in shaving. It seemed like the perfect opportunity to not shave and see what happened. I was hoping the experience would liberate me, like cutting my hair short. I thought I would cross a new threshold and realize it was so much better on the other side.

The hair on my legs went from stubbly to bristly to long, shockingly long, long enough that I could feel the wind through the hair when I walked around outside. (This, I realized, was a sensation I had never felt before, not once in my life. I started shaving my legs when I was so young, still in middle school, before I even had the chance to actually grow adult body hair.) The hair was dark but not particularly thick; it looked like the hair most guys get when they first start trying to grow a mustache. Frankly, it looked like pubes. It was longest by my ankles, disappeared by the tops of my calves, and returned, thinner and lighter, on my thighs. It was not soft, but then again neither is the hair on top of my head. My family has thick, coarse hair. My legs, it turns out, are no exception.

I hated it. I hated it at first, I hated it throughout the duration – it looked wrong, it felt wrong – and I hate it now, even with weeks of retrospect. I hate myself for hating it. I read many, many articles by women who stopped shaving and loved themselves more for it. I am deeply envious of them – and ashamed of myself for not feeling the same way. Being ugly, after all, is one of the worst sins a woman can commit. Almost anything else is excusable: be crass, be cruel, be empty, but for God’s sake be easy on the eyes while doing it. What does it mean when I find myself ugly? How much of this feeling is reducible to my own personal preference, and how much of it is the product of social pressure, drilled into my head since I was a child? How do I even begin to separate the two?

It is one thing to buck social convention when you feel well-liked and comfortable. You can take solace in knowing that you have people who will love you and want to be around you no matter how hairy you are. During this experiment, though, I felt lonely – something I feel not when I’m actually alone, strangely, but when I’m deprived of solitude and forced to socialize – which added to a general malaise of low self-confidence. This demanded a whole separate exercise in bravery, one that I struggled with a lot.

(To be fair, throughout the deployment, no one said a negative thing about my body hair to my face. In fact, the few people I confided in about it were very supportive and kind and understanding. I’m grateful for that. But being in an environment of constant negativity gets under your skin after a while. It amplifies that personal negative voice droning on in the back of our minds, the one that tells us we are ugly and stupid and terrible. It makes it seem more real, more manifested.)

But it wasn’t all bad. I didn’t mind the underarm hair. It grew into a soft and reddish tuft, a surprise. If I wasn’t such a social coward, I wouldn’t mind keeping it grown out. Another discovery: there is a spot right below my left knee where only a patch of hair grows, alone in an otherwise hairless area. It looked like a little goatee. It was hilarious.

From this experience, I also got to reflect (more than I wanted to) on how much of my self-worth comes from the perception of how attractive I am to others and how much of my personality is rooted in a desire to be liked. Who am I when I’m not trying to be more socially palatable? To be sweet and funny and smart?

I’m still working on those answers. In the meantime, though, I started shaving again. There is some shame in letting social pressure win, but that defeat is quiet and personal and invisible. By contrast, body hair is a public, noticeable thing, an consistent opportunity to invite embarrassment. It was a serious emotional challenge to post these photos here, evidence of something now gone – never mind wearing it on my body every day.

A few years ago, I would have been mortified to see a photo of myself without makeup. That doesn’t bother me anymore. Maybe someday in the future, then, I’ll be brave enough to be hairy, live and in public. Not now, though. Not back here in sunny Hawaii, where everyone is always sun-kissed and in swimsuits and groomed. Not yet.

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2017

2017 is over. We did it, everyone! Good job!

2017

EVENTS
In January, I did a practice parachute jump in air crew school that didn’t go so well. Something felt wrong, but I wasn’t in pain, so I pressed on until the adrenaline wore off. I was shocked when the x-rays showed two fractures because, though my foot was swollen as hell and I couldn’t put any pressure down, it didn’t hurt at all. This is a sharp contrast to when, at a different school in May, I felt back pain so severe that I thought my kidneys were failing. Despite the pain, the ER said there was nothing wrong: a pinched nerve, maybe? They gave me a shot and I slept it off. It spooked me pretty bad that I could experience sudden, intense pain for no reason.

I bought my first car. It is a 2013 Hyundai Accent and it spirited me across the country from Florida to Washington, seeing some amazing stuff along the way. Maybe I should have been nervous, driving so far all on my own, but I wasn’t, even when situations might have called for trepidation. I’m glad I did it; this solo road trip was the highlight of my year. It showed me that there is so much of America that I haven’t seen yet.

The Patriots won Super Bowl SBLI in one of the most exciting games of all time. I will never shut up about it and I’m not sorry.

I completed some of the most challenging training of my life, forcing me to face a lot of fears. Someone once told me that you either have a good time or a good story. Some of it was good times. Almost all of it makes good stories.

I moved to Hawaii. Thanks, Navy, for letting me spend a few years in paradise. I’m going to make the most of it.

I went on my first aircrew deployment. They call them “dets” but I have a compulsive need to be contrary in the most pointless and petty ways imaginable. Anyway, I’m still out here, and it has confirmed two suspicions: that the aircrew life is offensively easy, and that I still want to get out of the Navy. I was afraid that I was going to fall in love with this stuff and struggle with the temptation to reenlist.

RESOLUTIONS
To write a blog post every month. I did it! I’m going to continue this goal. It has demonstrated to me the value in simply putting something out there, especially if it’s not perfectly polished. Usually, my attitude when submitting a new blog post is: here’s a new piece of trash for the garbage heap! But once in a while, I’ll scroll back through what I’ve written and it’s not nearly as bad as I thought it was at the time. Some of it is even okay!

To get back to (arbitrary weight). I made this goal before I broke my foot literally in the first week of the year. Then I moved from Florida to Washington to Hawaii. I am, of course, making excuses, but this was not the year for stability. The hardest part about staying committed to any body-related goal is that I’m more or less fine with how I look. My body is okay. It always has been okay. It is really hard to maintain a weight-loss goal when it’s not motivated, to some extent, by self-hatred. Is this what getting older is like? Just accepting your fleshy meat prison the way it is? That said, I haven’t given up completely. I still have to fit in to uniforms for another 34 months and I will not buy more!

Read as many books as last year. 32 last year, 48 this year. My TBR list grows faster than I can chip away at it. I’d like to be better and braver about quitting books that don’t grab my attention, but I have a hard time leaving them unfinished. This is ironic for someone who, at the moment, has 15 unfinished blog posts in the queue. (Soon, 14.)

I wanted to stop swearing. What was once edgy and is now so commonplace that it defeats the point. Cursing has evolved into verbal laziness; sailors substitute swears in place of any word at all, making the things they say ironically, unintentionally bland. Conversely, the recent rise of ironic wholesomeness and the use of creative non-swears packs a much more interesting punch. I like saying things in funny and, hopefully, memorable ways. So if I’m going to swear, it had better be a necessary component of the idea. Otherwise, I’m going to try to find a more accurate word.

I haven’t thought of any new resolutions for 2018. These are all okay, besides the weight loss one, so I guess I’ll just keep on with this sort of thing.

FAVORITES
MUSIC: I WAS BORN by Hanson
I finished a write up about another artist a few weeks ago. I let it simmer. When I came back to this post, though, I realized what I really wanted to talk about was Hanson. Yes, MMMBop Hanson, from our childhoods. Remember them?

I don’t know anyone who would call themselves a Hanson fan specifically, but I am almost certain that you have heard a Hanson song, enjoyed it, and had no idea who you were listening to. They are like that: every few years, Hanson steps back into our cultural consciousness, releases a top 40 banger, and humbly fades away.

Hanson released a two-disk, 26-track greatest hits album a few months ago: “Middle of Everywhere,” which I bought immediately after watching them perform on an NPR Tiny Desk Concert (it’s worth a watch). What amazed me the most was not how much they had grown or changed across more than two decades of making music together, but how much they had stayed the same. Not only do the older songs hold up over time – MMMBop was 20 years old in 2017, and it still has its youthful sing-a-long charm and positive, hopeful message – but Hanson has maintained their essence over their entire lives. How many of us figure out our artist niche as children? These guys did. In the NPR concert, when they play “This Time Around,” I found myself remembering the all the words, despite not having heard it in two decades. Hanson is like that: subtle, memorable, enduring.

There is something about Hanson that is quintessential to American pop, a slice of our music culture at its best: pure, upbeat, hand-clapping tunes with joyful harmonies that only siblings could pull off. Hanson makes good music, then and now. They deserve a lot more attention than they get.

I want to see the sights unseen
I want the extraordinary
Everybody’s waking to the same clock
I could never be another chip off the block

Runners-ups:
“GONE” by ionnalee
“Echo in the Hills” by Carrie Elkin and Danny Schmidt (2014, but listened to it a lot this year)
“New Rules” by Dua Lipa

MOVIES/TV: TERRACE HOUSE: ALOHA STATE
Terrace House is seriously underappreciated.

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It is a reality TV show in which six young people – three guys, three girls – live together in a house, and everything they do is filmed. Think MTV’s Real World, but not quite so 90s and much more Japanese. The biggest difference is the tremendous, echoing absence of the kind of drama we have come to associate with American reality TV. Much of Terrace House is, as a friend put it, “delightfully mundane.” We watch them go to work and school. We watch them cook and clean together. We get to see their outings to beautiful places. Sometimes they fall in love. The best part about the show, though, is the extremely Japanese tradition of having a crew of commentators routinely interrupt the program to discuss what had happened and what they expect will happen next. They are hilarious; I can’t believe the US hasn’t adopted this practice yet.

When drama does happen –  well, first of all, it is incredibly low-key, since the Japanese are traditionally not super confrontational. But the tensions and arguments that do arise are emotional rollercoasters because they are entirely organic and authentic, not contrived by producers behind the scenes. When things get tough, you realize that these are real people with real lives and real feelings. You become invested in them and their happiness. You share in those quiet frustrations and awkward conversations because they are so deeply relatable. Terrace House captures the entirety of real lives: the good, the bad, and the ugly. What makes it so great, though, is how it shows that life is mostly good.

Aloha State – the first iteration of Terrace House to be filmed outside of Japan – was released on Netflix (worldwide) in late January, when my foot was broken and my own fate regarding living in Hawaii was up in the air. The second part was released shortly before I high-tailed it out of Pensacola, fully healed and confident that I was inching my way closer to the Aloha State. The third part came out when I was in Washington, only one school away from completing that wretched pipeline. Finally, the last part came out when I had arrived in Hawaii; I finished the last episode on the day I signed the lease to my apartment. I made it. So, yeah, this pick is a little sentimental, but it’s a good show and it gave me hope that I would make it to Hawaii someday.

Runners-up:
Get Out
The Last Jedi
My Brother, My Brother and Me
The Great British Bake-Off
Brooklyn Nine-Nine

BOOK: PRIESTDADDY by Patricia Lockwood
Boy, is it hard to pick just one, but it seems right to pick something that was published in 2017.

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Priestdaddy is a memoir about the author moving back in with her parents after her husband’s health troubles render them financially unstable. Her dad, somehow a Catholic priest, is a caricature of a man, especially a conservative man. Lockwood describes her childhood and adult interactions with her family in the most delightful, tender, earnest ways possible, but also with an edge of smarmy, self-aware standoffishness that I imagine must come naturally when writing about one’s family as though they were specimens under a microscope.

Seriously, though, Lockwood writes like a dream. She makes me want to write a book just like this one. It is the only book I read this year that made me laugh out loud like a maniac – multiple times. It is so, so funny – a perfect memoir.

Another reason why I chose Priestdaddy as my book of the year – and, argh, looking at the runners-up below, it was a tough choice – is that I could give this book to almost anyone and I know they will enjoy it. Lockwood’s family, despite being somewhat unusual, is described with such a familiarity that I think anyone can see their families in hers. It shows that you can be different from the people you love, and who love you, and still be important to one another.

If you read only one book this year, it should be this one.

Runners-up:
Fingersmith by Sarah Waters (2002)
Life Among the Savages by Shirley Jackson (1953)
We, the Drowned by Carsten Jensen (2006)

GAME: LEGEND OF ZELDA: BREATH OF THE WILD
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I’ll be honest: I struggle to maintain interest in video games lately. I’ll play for an hour, tops, then be ready to do something else. This is a huge departure from years ago, when I would block off entire segments of my day to play MMORPGs and online FPSs. My entire college experience consisted of having nervous breakdowns over my courseload and evading depression in the forgiving arms of World of Warcraft. Probably less destructive than alcoholism, but definitely more embarrassing. Anyway, all of this to say that it was a surprise to find myself sinking many, many hours into a game again.

I have some discussion of the plot here, but I don’t think anything constitutes a spoiler. If you haven’t finished the game yet and don’t want any preconceptions, skip it. Otherwise, you’re probably in the clear.

A criticism that I often hear about BOTW is the lack of story. We have come to expect video games to be so cutscene-heavy that they are primarily movies and secondarily interactive. In BOTW, there is as much plot as one is willing to find. The “lack of story” criticism misses the point: Link wakes up completely devoid of memory. The story is revealed mostly through found objects, locations, and conversations – things that jog Link’s memory. The entire plot of the game is figuring out what went wrong a century ago so he and Zelda can make it right.

(And this game’s version of Zelda is so human, so unforgettable – a young princess with a destiny so important that she’s deeply insecure about her ability to fulfill it. Early memories show her as abrasive and arrogant, distrustful of Link and resentful of his presence, lashing out because she’s so afraid that she’s not good enough. I’ll admit that I got a little emotional watching Zelda’s anguish over her failure to accomplish what had been set out for her, especially as the fate of Hyrule rested on her shoulders.)

Here are some more accurate criticisms of BOTW: controlling the camera is extremely annoying, especially in battle; the world is so vast and full of things to discover that it is basically impossible to fully complete (at the time of this writing, I’ve finished the main story and am working on the DLCs, and I’m barely 25% of the way done!); the Blood Moon cutscenes are frustrating and intrusive and sometimes unskippable; the final boss fight was easy and a little underwhelming (though I didn’t play it on Master Mode).

And here are some more good things about BOTW: the secondary characters, especially the Champions and their descendants, are wonderful; the game is fun to play even if you’re just exploring the open world, and it feels like there is always something to find or do; the game design and music are so, so beautiful; Link’s ability to climb on and over anything (an unbelievably important but underappreciated development for this franchise) makes the world feel completely open to the player; the impermanence of weapons feels authentic and realistic; the physics of the game are extremely good and allow the players to find creative and unusual solutions to puzzles.

BOTW is the best game I’ve played in a long time. It has completely revived the somewhat stale, predictable “The Legend of Zelda” games in a really exciting way. I’ve put more than 100 hours into it, and I still have a long way to go. I’m okay with that.

tldr: Link is my son and I love him very much.

Runners-up:
PUBG
Bury me, my Love
Super Mario Odyssey

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I RUN WITH NIKE AND YOU SHOULD TOO

The Nike running app – now called Nike+ Run Club – has gone through several transformations since I started using it, but its core remains more or less the same: it uses GPS to track your run, keep pace, and provide statistics. Achievements came and went and came back again. Social networking features were added. But NRC’s best feature – why I stay committed to this one app – is its coaching programs.

My running ability comes in ebbs and flows. For example, after finishing a particularly grueling training last month, I arrived in Hawaii physically depleted and unadjusted to the climate. I come back to NRC’s running programs time and time again because I know it will get me back to where I want to be with running. This time, specifically, I made a six-week program with the intention of preparing for the PRT. (Spoiler: I got a 12:30 – not my best time, but one that I am deeply proud of, given the circumstances.)

There’s nothing special about me. NRC spits out a program and I do it to the best of my ability. It always, always pays off.

Here is how to make a running program on NRC, and what you might expect from it.

Continue reading

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Hawaii, First Impressions

Those of you who have been on the island for a while might find this funny. Maybe I will look back on this in three years and laugh, too. But here it is anyway: my first impressions of Oahu, having been here for almost three weeks.

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The beaches here are lovely, but what I wasn’t prepared for was the beauty of the terrain itself: the mountains which encircle Kaneohe Bay rake the clouds like teeth and are lush with vegetation and have some of the most intense drop-offs I’ve ever seen. I can’t wait to start hiking all over.

Sometimes native islanders treat servicemembers badly.

The people I work with now are very different than the people I used to work with. Not a criticism, just an observation. They seem like a family.

The food is very, very good. I had a poke bowl for the first time today. If it was up to me, I would eat it every day.

I knew that leis looked pretty, but I had no idea how good they smelled too. I thought the air would smell better, though, like it did in Coronado. (California is fine, I guess.)

There is more of a Japanese influence here than I had anticipated, and I had anticipated a lot.

There is so much to do, all the time! I’m really excited about how many social events seem to be going on all over the island. I’m looking forward to meeting a lot of new people.

The climate is a tough adjustment, which was a surprise. The wind and heat are taking their toll on my run times. I’m doing my best to be patient with myself. It’s good enough to get through the upcoming PRT.

Air conditioning is a luxury here, despite it being 85 degrees every day. Electricity – well, everything – is very, very expensive.

I picked an apartment that is a mile walk to the beach and to one of the most beautiful and welcoming churches I’ve ever attended. My apartment is two bedrooms, which is one more than I need, but I want my friends and family to be able to stay with me and save money if they visit. One of my greatest disappointments from three years in Japan – and I still have feelings of resentment about this – is that no one did.

The library on base is very good and very underutilized.

Trying to register my car and get BAH here are two of the most administratively asinine and frustrating experiences I’ve ever had.

I’m on the “good” side of the island, according to friends closer to Pearl Harbor.

I’m still highly suspicious of how I managed to get such good orders. I’m going to do my best to make the most of these three years.

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CHARITY

I’ve been sitting on this post for a while. I struggled with it a lot. There is no way for me to talk about this subject and cast myself in a positive light; talking about it at all makes me hypocritical. I know. I agree with you. Ultimately, what this boils down to is trying to make myself feel better about my privilege. It’s self-indulgent and unproductive. But it’s on my mind, and tried my best to express my feelings, and I bear the responsibility of these problematic results.

No matter what I do, it never feels like the right thing. It never feels like enough.

There has never been a time in my life where my needs weren’t being met. Thanks to my parents, I’ve always had food, clothing, a place to live, healthcare, and a good education. I took them completely for granted. It was important to my parents to set me up for success in every way that they could. They both came from humble beginnings, but their parents – my very frugal grandparents, who came of age during the Great Depression and World War II – had just enough to build the foundation for my parents’ future. My parents both seized those opportunities and turned them into careers and investments, and they set a very strong example for me to follow.

I’m extremely fortunate. Even as an adult, if I were to reach out to my parents and ask for financial help, they would give me money immediately, without question, and without conditions. When I was thinking about buying my first car, I remember my mom telling me, “I couldn’t afford a car when I was your age, either. My aunt gave me the money for a down payment and called it a 0% interest family loan.” My parents understand that they are in their position today because they had a support system behind them, even a modest one, from the start.

After college, I swapped my parents for the military as a financial support system. True, the Navy employs me, but it also pays for my housing, food, healthcare, and even official travel totally separately. My paycheck is essentially my disposable income, used for leisure and whatever other bills I choose to accrue. With some planning, it was enough to pay off my student loans after four years in the Navy. Military pay isn’t going to make anyone rich, but the security of having the essentials covered is generally worth the trade-off.

I couldn’t be where I am today without the security and reliability of these financial support systems. I recognize this with an equal share of appreciation and guilt. I feel lucky, but it bothers me a lot that not everyone has had the same privilege as me. That’s why it’s important to me to give back, to do for others what was (and continues to be) done for me, now that I’m out of debt and able to do so. It is very, very hard to talk about giving away money without sounding like an asshole. The Bible isn’t everyone’s favorite source of moral guidelines, but I think it there is great wisdom in Matthew 6 on this subject:

“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.

“So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

Sorry, God, but if other people didn’t talk about the causes they support, I would miss the opportunity to do my part. I have to find out about the needs of others from somewhere (usually podcasts, let’s be honest). So here it is: where some of my charitable money goes, where I found out about them, and why I do it – so maybe someone out there reading this will have the means and motivation to do the same.

SPONSORSHIP
I heard about Cooperative for Education from the Stuff You Should Know podcast. The idea of a direct sponsorship is very appealing; it makes you feel like your money is having an immediate impact on someone’s life. Cooperative for Education focuses on Guatemalan children, particularly girls, whose educations are often cut short by joining the work force to support their families. The student I’m sponsoring is almost done with the 10th grade, and my sponsorship ends when she graduates. Sponsorships start at $35 per month.

On a Sunday in Salt Lake City on my recent cross-country road trip, the priest at the Cathedral of the Madeleine was working directly with Unbound, which focuses on helping those in poverty attain or maintain self-sufficiency. I was moved by his passion and commitment to improving the lives of the less fortunate. Since I was already sponsoring a young person, I asked the priest if there was any need for a sponsor for an elderly person. (I had my grandma on my mind a lot, and how my mom and uncles are so devoted to her care.) There was, and now I support a woman in Bolivia.

Unbound has a ton of giving options and a wide reach. It is a good place to get started. In case it wasn’t clear, this is an explicitly Catholic organization. Sponsorships start at $36 per month.

MICRO-LENDING
I heard about Kiva also on Stuff You Should Know. I had never heard of microlending before they talked about it there. People from around the world post the amount of money they need, what they need the money for, and those loans get crowd-sourced incrementally at 0% interest. Loans are slowly paid back over time, and Kiva encourages you to reinvest the returned money in another person. This creates a charitable revolving door. A loan of $25, once repaid, could get lent out again and again to those in need.

There are many other microlending organizations out there, and I think this is a fascinating system and absolutely worth looking into.

FRIENDS
When a friend asks for donations for a fundraiser or to help someone else in need, I don’t think twice. It feels good to show support for the people who love us. Plus, it feels good to give to a “cause.” It’s a win-win for everyone.

But when someone asks for money for themselves personally, we hesitate. Our egos get in the way. It feels uncomfortable to be the benefactor of someone we actually know. We worry that the person is trying to take advantage of us or that the friendship will be plagued by resentment. We prefer to give to strangers far away; we assume they will be grateful and will never depend on us for more.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot. It feels wrong to turn away loved ones when my own family has given me so much throughout my life, to the extent that I took it for granted. Because isn’t that exactly what I fear? Being taken for granted?

If we can’t depend on the people who love us, what else is there?

Not many other folks have been as fortunate as me. So much of who I am is a direct result of what I’ve been given. If I could do that for someone else, even in a small way, why wouldn’t I? Shouldn’t I?

 

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