Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Circling the Sinking Ship: Reflections on 2015

For a while now I have had an annual tradition of around New Years writing up a reflection on my experience of the year that is ending. Here is my reflection on 2015.

This year began in the thick of my big international travel excursion, in Macau, China. Shortly after that we (my wife Liz and I) went to Hong Kong for about a week, and then we went on to Tonga. We were in Tonga for about five months, staying at the national center for the Baha'i Faith in Tonga, and volunteering at a local international school there. At that school I served as a librarian assistant, an English language tutor, a history teacher, a science teacher, a meditation teacher, a substitute teacher, a recess playground manager and various other odds and ends. Working there really did feel like I was working at a job, except that I was not getting paid money (just given a place to stay). This turned out to be an undesirable situation for me, since I did not believe in what I was doing, I am not a Baha'i and I do not believe in the way that education is usually done. I can do work that I do not believe in, as long as I am getting paid. That is how the world we live in usually works. Doing work free of charge does not make sense to me unless I believe in it.

If I was a paid staff at that school I suspect that I could have enjoyed the work more, settled into doing the work on an ongoing and sustained basis, and set up something of a quasi-Tongan life for myself. Tonga is a poor country, some of the amenities that we know and love in the Western World simply are not there, or are hard to come by. And my white skin and American accent immediately single me out in a crowd as being a Unique One. But nevertheless, I believe that I could live there if I had to. I doubt that I will ever return to Tonga, not because I hate the place, but rather because it is so far away and out of the way (and it may be swallowed up by the rising ocean levels anyway).

During this year Liz and I had three different experiences that were quite similar to each other, where we spent about a week or a few days in a major world city, renting a motel room, and doing tourist stuff. The three places that I am referring to are Hong Kong, Auckland, New Zealand and Los Angeles. I had been to L.A. before, but I had never previously really gotten a sense of the city. The same goes for Hong Kong, since Liz and I were there briefly in 2014 right before going to Macau. These three trips were unabashedly tourist experiences, but nonetheless they were some highlights of the year for me. One of the things that I liked about these experiences were the unambiguous nature of them. They never pretended to be anything other than standard tourist experiences.

After our bouts with tourism then began a period of me visiting various places in the U.S. that I used to live at, and people with whom I used to live with. Altogether this list includes the San Francisco Bay Area, Eugene and Portland, Oregon, southeastern Pennsylvania and central Virginia. Visiting all of these places made me feel nostalgic each and every time, and part of me wanted to live at that place again, at each old home that I visited. It was both a literal and a figurative trip down memory lane for me, and in the end I was able to reach an appreciation for the fact that I used to live at all of these different places, but that none of them are appropriate for the person that I am now and where I am at with my life currently. It was overall a very helpful, and dare I say it, a "healing" experience for me.

Three experiences stand out for me during those visits through nostalgia-land. The first is being present at my brother's wedding in Portland, Oregon. That was a very unique and special experience for me, and one that I am glad that I was able to have.

Another is my involvement with the "August Program" at Camphill Soltane this summer. I had worked at a couple of those before, but this time really felt fun, loving, and like a true (albeit short-lived) experience of community. I also got to experience first-hand some of the new forays that Camphill Soltane is doing into the world of job coaching programs and group homes for people with developmental disabilities.

And the third experience was that of visiting Open Circle Community in September. With that experience I really felt like I was returning to visit family, in a good way. I was able to help out some, enjoy the company of the folks there, and it was a nice breath of fresh air for me before returning to my life in Minneapolis.

This now brings me to Minneapolis. I have been living here since September, first at Liz' parents' house, and then in an apartment of our own. Right around the same time that we got our new apartment, I also was hired for a new full-time job and we bought a new (used) car. After that transition occurred, I have been living this life of urban-dwelling employee-renter-car owner. It is kind a bizarre way to end the year, given what the rest of the year looked like.

My job now is that of working at a group home supporting adults with severe developmental disabilities. I have done this type of work before, but not supporting people with disabilities this extreme. All of the people whom I support are unable to walk, talk or eat, and they require total care, 24/7/365. I have met and worked with a wide variety of different kinds of people throughout my life, but never people like this. And now, here I am.

In the world of media, I read a number of different books throughout this year, but the one book that stands out as my highlight of the year is that of "Ends and Means (an Enquiry Into the Nature of Ideals and Into the Methods Employed for Their Realization)" by Aldous Huxley. This is a really obscure, out-of-print book, published in 1937. I able to find a copy of this book in a used bookstore in Auckland, New Zealand. This is a very thorough, comprehensive book about how to completely re-organize society along what could be called anarcho-pacifist lines. I basically agree with what is said in this book.

But, there is a catch to all of this. "Ends and Means" was written right before the Second World War, and it shows. Aldous Huxley seemed to know that something like WWII was about to happen, and he went to the effort of writing and publishing that book as an effort to prevent it from happening. That book came into the world, was largely ignored by the world, and the world then plunged head-first into World War II. That book has since largely been forgotten, and it leaves me feeling very cynical about the prospect of brilliant, articulate and carefully thought-out pieces of writing having any substantial effect on changing the world for the better.

In the world of movies, however, my favorite film of the year is actually an animated children's movie - "Inside Out" (which is ironically about some Minnesotans moving to the San Francisco Bay Area). This movie is a wonderful exposition on internal thought and emotional dynamics, a very playful and fun way to elaborate on how complex personal experiences work. Other notable new films came out this year, namely those reviving old movie franchises (Mad Max and Star Wars), but those films were very grim and bleak compared to the essentially uplifting and positive spirit that pervades Inside Out.

This year I was also introduced to a TV show that blew me away, "Mr. Robot". I loved this TV show for the same reason that I love the 1999 film "Fight Club". But unlike Fight Club, this show takes place in the modern (as in, 2015-ish) era, and season one for that show is about eight hours in total, instead of the around two hours of the movie. So this TV show leaves one with a lot to chew on, in a very contemporary context. I eagerly look forward to season two coming out next year.

But where does this all leave me, though, with all of the traveling, lifestyle-changing and media consuming that I did throughout this year? I now live in a city that does not really excite me, but is tolerable. The same can be said for the job that I have. I feel very alienated and disconnected from the various social scenes and subcultures that I am familiar with. I spend a lot of time on the internet, probably more than what is healthy. I am not exactly happy with my life now, it is just - tolerable.

I am happy to share my life with Liz, however. She has been my partner and companion through all of these things that I outlined here. It is hard for me to imagine what my year would have been like without her.

Looking forward, I feel like everything from here on out is just a waiting game of sorts. I am waiting for Liz and I to save up money from our jobs to do something different at some point in the future. I am waiting to be able to officially take vacation from my job while still technically remaining employed with the job. I am waiting for various things to change with various different far-flung family members. I am waiting for various new projects to emerge that I could find interesting and actually want to be a part of. I am waiting for The System to collapse, and for everything to look Totally Different.

But until then, there is as least a new Star Wars movie that will be coming out each year, starting this year.

I wishing you all the best!

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