This is my last full day in Turkey. I wrote that sentence and didn’t know what came next. It is kind of funny really, that I have the next fifteen months figured out, but I can’t figure out which words to put down on a page. This past week, I have been anxious and irritable, and it all comes down to being unable to work through my feelings. I say the words often enough to the people around me, but it doesn’t stick in my own damn head. My monologue goes something like this: “Last year, I lived in Dublin. Then I immediately moved to a new camp in a part of the country I had never been in before. As soon as that was over, I moved to Turkey. I am then going to travel for two weeks, go home for about 40 hours, and then leave for California again.” They usually give me this blank stare, either because what I have done is completely unimaginable, or because they have been doing the same thing for even longer than I have, so why is what I am doing even something to think about? That is the interesting thing about the Fulbright crew. We are all here with our different perspectives. Some of the Fulbrighters will tell the story of their time in Turkey to their grandkids, about how people thought they were spies, or how different the education system is. Others won’t have grandkids, because they will be FSOs and will be far too busy striding the globe to spawn. I remember how I felt at the end of my time in Ireland, and it is even worse now. I think I am scared to go home, to be forced to readjust. Don’t get me wrong, there are so many things that I miss. Just thinking about ordering a sub and being asked “Ya want hots?” sends rumbles of longing through my deprived belly. I want to be able to call a 1-800 number and not have to listen to the promps over and over until I can understand what they are saying. The list goes on. This past weekend, most of the Fulbrighters got together for one last hurrah. We stayed at an all-inclusive resort, with an open bar, a truly decadent number of swimming pools and a waterslide. It was like being in college again. A friend of mine ripped my button down shirt in karaoke because all of the guys had decided to go shirtless. We all went down the waterslide at the same time. People were drinking from 10 in the morning until 3 at night. It was… well it was something anyway. I do not think there was a single moment that would have made it into the Fulbright brochure, but after a year of being on our best behavior, everyone was ready to blow off all of the steam that had gathered. I had my guys, and we sat around one night in nothing but our boxers, just talking. There was beatboxing in the lobby bathroom and professions of love. In other words, it should have been the most carefree I have been all year. It may have been the most reckless fun I have had all year, but the fact that I was going home kept creeping up on me. I would sit with some of my favorite people on earth, the kind who have conversations that range from the cultural differences in the perceptions of religious space, to the correct way to dance to Bohemian Rhapsody (headbanging), and yet I was upset. My friends called it as they saw it. They knew I was upset because I was leaving, and I knew they were right, but that didn’t make it any easier. I have said my goodbyes, but none of them have felt real, even with the people that I know I will never EVER see again. I have packed and cleaned and paid my bills. If somebody told me I had to leave in 5 minutes I could probably make it in time… and yet. I just don’t feel ready. Maybe if I had more time at home, to ease back into life in America, maybe if I didn’t have such an intense summer ahead of me. Maybe. Maybe. Maybe. I like being busy, and I just need to stop worrying about everything that is coming my way. Easier said than done. But this year will be the first time in a while that I get a chance to stay in the States for a significant amount of time. After the initial adjustment period, I get to reflect before I jump into anything new. I am a different person from the guy who was writing this blog in September, and I am still learning who that guy is. So here is a toast to the present, because the future will come whether we want it to or not.
I started cleaning up my apartment today. It started out as a last harrumph in Turkey. You know what I mean, like when you work an eight hour shift, and its almost closing time, so you start pre-emptively cleaning the store so you can get out earlier. Like when you send not so subtle eye-daggers at the customer who comes into the store at 9:59 at night, and who walks around for half an hour while you think about locking them into the damned store. It started out that way, but then it changed. I started organizing my clothes, trying to figure out what I will be taking back home, and what I will be leaving in Turkey, when I kept finding little things from my year here. Short stories from my students, ticket stubs and receipts… and then I got to my tie rack. One of my first blogs in Turkey was about how I had already worn a collared shirt more times in one week than I usually did in an entire year. I remember feeling uncomfortable in what has been deemed business casual. Talk about euphemisms. Yet here I am nine months later, wearing a button down shirt of my own volition. Hell, I don’t even wash my t-shirts any more because I never wear them. I have changed a lot this year, and it is going to take a while to figure out just what that is.
Over the past few months, I have seen my friends chasing their dreams. Some are getting stories published, some are signing on with acting agencies, and some are opening three art galleries in the Boston area. Still others are getting into top three grad schools or getting paid by the State Department to put together traveling art shows. There are now people my age who are famous for what they have done, not for being so young for what they have done. I wanted to figure out how I have grown this year, and up until this Monday, I couldn’t have given you a straight answer. On Monday, I missed my flight. There were no other flights until Wednesday, and I was a 20 hour bus ride across the country. So what did I do? I hopped on a bus. Because I had to. At no point did I freak out, get pissed, or think about how much money I had just lost. I just did what needed to be done because it needed doing. If I can keep that attitude for the rest of my life, that alone will be worth the hardships in Turkey, let alone the other experiences that I have had, the friends I have gained, and the other ways that I have grown. Update- I smashed a $45 bottle of Scotch when I reached for my wallet too quickly. I saw the thing fall in slow motion, swore to myself, and salvaged as much as I could. I was ticked, but it didn’t slow me down today at all. I think my attitude during the 20 hour bus ride wasn’t a freak occurrence.
This past weekend I went to Chios, a Greek island off the coast of Turkey. We chose this particular island not just because it is close to Turkey, but because of the way that they celebrate Easter. Starting at about 10 PM on Easter Saturday, two churches start launching fireworks at each other in barrages that light up the sky for minutes at a time. Thousands upon thousands of fireworks careen off of the churches and houses nearby, as horns honk and men taunt each other by bellowing at each other with bullhorns. Most of the group went into one of the churches to see the fireworks, but a group of us wanted to continue drinking, so we walked to the top of a nearby mountain to finish a box of the finest wine and make up stories and chat. In a group of 15, it is hard to have a conversation that involves everybody. In a group of 4 or 5, well… It just works right. We sat there, making each other laugh, talking about our lives, and doing our own thing until well after 1 at night. We managed to hitchhike back down the mountain even though none of us spoke a word of Greek, and by the time we got back to the hostel the rest of the group had already been there for about an hour. We went back to our room, and decided that we needed to steal some members from the other group as discreetly as possible. We thought we were sneaky, but the next day we found out we practically kicked in the door of the kitchen, picked up somebody’s chair, and took them back to our room. Suffice to say, it was a very different Easter than I am used to having.
This group of guys are the closest friends that I have made in Turkey, and they made the weekend worth the trip and the expense. We played Dungeons and Dragons for most of an evening, had a writer’s workshop to edit each others short stories, and hopped barbed wire fences together. I am trying to convince one of them to come work at camp all next year, and to be honest, I don’t have to work very hard to state my case. Sure we are young guys in all the normal ways, with a night where we had to carry a friend home, while he shouted at cars… but they are also some of the most intelligent kids that I know. It makes good conversations even better, with all of us feeding off of the energy and laughter of the others.
I also went on a run for the first time in nine months. While I ran with two friends who have been running all year, and I ran the four miles in a sweater and khakis, I still managed to keep a solid pace, thumping farther and farther ahead of them. I forget sometimes that I am in better shape than I think, and that there was a time in my life when I used to run four miles every single day. I can slip back into that runner’s mentality quickly after years of practice. Even when my lips start fusing together from all of the lactic acid, I just keep right on running. I zone out, zen out, and just listen to my breathing. I miss it a lot, and I cannot wait to start up again when I get back to the US.
I also want to make sure that I get back to the Greek islands at some point. I loved the food, and people actually spoke English! I feel like it would be pretty easy to get around most of Greece, and that it is worth further exploration. As Laura pointed out “I do not know when we will be able to travel,” but I do know that I want to make it happen.
I am having friends come and visit me in Sinop this weekend, and then all the Fulbrighters are heading to Antalya for a weekend, and then I am done! I head off with Marissa on our travels starting on the 13th of May, and head back to the US on the 29th. I am home for about 48 hours and then head off to California, only to return in August for a family gathering. The fact that I do this to myself is sheer insanity, but it is nice to know that after the summer, I should have a chance to stay in one place long enough to slow down.
Two weeks ago, Laura came all the way out from California to visit me in Turkey. For a second time. Yah I know, pretty awesome. At this point in my life, this journey was the longest that I have ever traveled with just one other person. This record will not stand for long however, as my friend Marissa and I are spending almost two weeks traveling before I come home in May. I forget who said it, or the exact words that they used, but somebody important, probably a dead white guy, said that “You don’t really know somebody until you travel with them.” Many relationship advice type people will say that you should always travel with your significant other if you want to see how strong your relationship is. If you can handle traveling in a foreign country with someone, you are probably in pretty good shape. Laura and I like to travel differently, but we make it work. She is very much about scheduling and knowing details, and I like to figure out the barebones and see where things go from there. We were able to make it work during our week together. We spent the first two nights in Istanbul, the first night serving as an opportunity for Laura the Delirious to get some sleep. A trans-atlantic flight can take a lot out of you, especially when it is all the way to Turkey. The next day, we went to one of my favorite places in Turkey: The Prince’s Islands. They are in the tour books, but never make the list of top things to see in Istanbul. Usually people swarm Sultanahmet for the Aya Sofya and the Blue Mosque, hop to the Grand Bazaar and the Spice Bazaar, head up to Taksim for a night or so, and then feel like they have seen Istanbul. Laura had already seen these things on her last visit, and I didn’t think she would be too interested in seeing some of the other neighborhoods (though I did bring her through besiktas), so the next day we took the ferry out to the islands with friends. The Prince’s Islands are in the Sea of Marmara, and are definitely worth a visit. The old mansions of exiled royalty and dignitaries loom over the windy roads, a remnant of the time when Istanbul was the center of civilization. There are no cars allowed on the island, so people get around with bicycles and horse drawn carriages. The last time I came to the island, a friend and I used a tandem bike to get around, this time, the four of us walked up to the monastery and then took a carriage back down. Nothing says class as much as a private coach. The next morning we boarded a plane and ended up in Antalya. After being on the Black Sea for a few months, you forget that it is warmer other places. The air feels like Florida, and the temperatures were just a little cooler than Florida would be this time of year. Antalya is a tourist trap for sure, but it is a beautiful one. The old town is a maze of old Ottoman houses, all of which are much better preserved than what you will find in other places in Turkey. Laura and I got lost for a little while on the way back to our beautiful little bed and breakfast, but the streets were empty of tourists that late at night, and it was nice to have the houses all to ourselves. We continued our breakneck pace out to Olimpos, an archeological site that has spawned a backpacker/hippy/tourist community. The site is isolated from anything else, and so the road leading to the ruins is now rife with hostels… with one catch. Because this is technically a protected area, hostels are not able to set foundations, so all of the rooms are elevated to various degrees. Again, in the off season, there were hardly any people there. Laura and I were free to climb through buildings that pre-dated the Romans, to weave our way through ancient tombs, and stand in Byzantine theaters. The Genoan castle that overlooks the bay had such good views that we had to stop for a while and sit. Our first night there, we went up to the top of Yanartas, a mountain famous for its fires. The mountain leaks a flammable gas, with fires burning up the side of the mountain. If you try and blow one of the fires out, it will simply light again. Pictures do not do Yanartas justice, as you have to see these sourceless fires for yourself. Next on our list of places to see was Faralya, which, while a pain in the ass to get to, was my favorite place we went to on our trip. The small village stands on a precipice overlooking butterfly valley, a place that is only accessible by boat or by some intense hiking. The place where we stayed in Faralya had the best bread I have had in Turkey, and some really friendly Turks run the place. Laura and I hiked down into Butterfly Valley, assisted by ropes on the steeper parts, and it felt really good to move that much again. I really miss being active, and it is one of the main reasons I cannot wait to be at camp again. That is one of the reasons that I loved the waterfall at the back of the valley so much. Unlike the hike down to the valley, the climb up the waterfall is a legitimate climb, but there are sections where you have to pull yourself through and up a waterfall. There were two times when I knew that if my grip kept slipping, I would probably break something. You would be surprised at the things you can hold onto when you have thoughts like that. I made it to the top of the waterfall and back down, sopping wet in my board shorts, and we baked in the sun until I was dry. Nights were spent reading and watching episodes of Stephen Fry’s Quite Interesting, or just lounging around. There was very little going out involved, which was totally ok for both of us. The week made me start thinking about travel in the future, and all of the places left in the world that I want to see….
This year, I am finding out the hard way that writing is not like riding a bike. When I put my fingers to the keyboard, I beg for the few wobbly pushes I get when I hop back on my Raleigh. I know there is a fraction of a second when I am unsure of myself, before everything becomes smooth again. This doesn’t happen with my writing. I try to push my paragraph powered pedals and end up crashing time and again. Sometimes I charge into it too quickly and end up having to start from the beginning, and sometimes I even forget where to put my feet. From the moment I start, I can tell that something is wrong, that something that should be there is missing. The worst part is knowing that there was a time when I could write like the wind, leaning into phrases like I can lean into corners, knowing where to place my periods so I could stop on a dime. I could make myself laugh with my writing as I stormed down a page, completely careless for my own safety, well aware of the dangers of word whiplash or a bruised brain, and just not giving a damn. But not anymore. Writing feels like a chore now, something I do to get it done. Hell, writing another entry on my blog is one of the permanent fixtures of my to do list. I am not proud, but today I found out an old friend has won all sorts of writing awards. Instead of feeling happy for them, I was jealous. You can feel the joy in their writing, something that I used to feel and miss dearly. I think it is one of the biggest reasons that I miss school. That is right, I said it. I have become that person who looks back with nostalgia on his time in college. I am a monster, and my old self would want me to be stopped. I miss creating things with my words. I miss sharing my thoughts in an environment where people will attempt to tear them to shreds. I miss having professors tell me “your writing is good”, not for the praise, but for the comma that follows. You know which one I mean. “Your writing is good, but…” I want to feel like I am growing. People say that education is a life-long process, and people say the year after college is an adjustment because you don’t have someone looking over your shoulder anymore. I don’t need grades to validate my life. I don’t need a class ranking, credits, or anything else. I just want to be in a community that pushes me to push myself. I want to keep creating things. I need to find that community, and not get sidetracked by all the bullshit. So that was quite the tangent huh? I haven’t even started writing about the fact that Laura came to visit for a week, or about all of the things that we did and saw. But I am worried that if I try and write it now, I will end up doing a blow by blow, a clumsy stutterstep right before I trip myself up and stop altogether. So as soon as this stops being fun, I am just going to stop, alright? Cool. Crap, as soon as I wrote that I lost all interest in writing. I will come back to this later, when I feel recharged. For now just know that it was an amazing week with plenty of swashbuckling adventure.
Have you ever tried to write about something you are proud of? It is almost impossible to do without coming off sounding like a pompous ass. I am trying to learn how to do this for my graduate applications, and also for this blog entry. For me, teaching English is a lot like teaching swimming lessons, which is something that I know pretty damn well. I spent three summers working on the water, and much of that summer was spent teaching children how to not die. Sound like a pretty valuable skill? The Y thinks so, which is why it is responsible for teaching the majority of American youth how to swim. Some of my friends and co-workers bitched about teaching swimming lessons, but I always loved it… As long as I got to work with the kids that hated swimming. For kids like that, there is almost always a reason why they hate it. Maybe they had a bad experience, or they just don’t believe in themselves enough to put their head under water, or even get in the water. These kids came in two different groups: those that were young enough for them to be a part of a large class, and those who were older, all alone in the class with all of their friends in the deep end. For the first group, as soon as one kid followed me into the water, the rest would not be far behind. We would run into the water and fish around with our hands for rings, and then run back up onto the beach. Maybe I would transform into a wild-eyed monster, and the only way for them to be safe would be for their whole bodies to be under water. If any part of them was showing… I could tag them, and they would become a monster with me. Usually by the end of a week, all of them were out of my class, and were swimming at a high enough level to be allowed in the deep end. With the older kids, it was a much slower process. There was a lot of hand holding and coaxing them into the water. We might sit on the dock and talk with our feet in the water. After a while, they may make it up to their belly button, and from there it was only a small step to trying floating on their backs with my hands underneath them. Then no hands. Then dead man’s floats. Then underwater. Seeing those kids swimming underwater was like nothing else. I loved camp, but moments like that just made it that much better. I have found that the same is true for English learners. I just taught two classes yesterday, one to a room full of nervous Turkish students, and one to a much more advanced class. Guess which one I enjoyed more? I felt like I was teaching swimming lessons to 7 year olds again. Make a fool of myself, help them laugh, and before you know it, people are trying to communicate in English. Don’t get me wrong, there were some miscommunications during the class. At one point, I tried to get them to write three things about themselves, and they all wrote three things about ME. At one point, I had written “What does ___ mean?” To give them the form for asking about a word, when a girl asked me in Turkish what that sentence means. I told her “ne demek”, which means “What does that mean?” in Turkish. She responded “evet, ne demek?” I said, a little more forcefully this time “Ne demek.” She got a little confused, and I realized we had entered the realm of abbot and costello, so I wrote “What does ___ mean= ne demek” on the board. We laughed and kept going. I had a class right after my first one, and a few students stayed through the same lesson again because they enjoyed it so much. What I am trying to say is, the difference between being a Fulbright ETA and a 17 year old swimming instructor is a lot smaller than college advisers would like you to think… also that it was nice to have a reminder that I love teaching. After two months of no classes, I was starting to sink into a pit of boredom and self-consciousness. A few good classes can change that.
Let me first off start by talking about the events of the past few days. The United States waited for the United Nations to make a decision before acting. France and Britain opened the way for the United States to act by sending in warfighters (France) and a submarine (Britain). Shortly after, American bombers dropped bombs on targets all over Libya, and the US Navy fired 119 Tomahawk missiles at Libya’s military infrastructure. Each of these missiles costs about $575,000… for a total cost of 68,425,000. That is $8,425,000 more than NPR is funded in a year… and yet the Republican house is trying to cut all of its funding.
ANYWAY. The Arab League is complaining about the West interfering with a Middle Eastern country, while members of the UN, John McCain, and John Kerry complain that Obama didn’t get involved sooner. Pressure on one side to not act at all, and pressure on the other for unilateral action. Was my blog for a few days ago right or what? It is a classic damned if you do damned if you don’t situation, and Obama took the middle road. Which means that both sides are pissed at him. No one knows how long we will be in Libya, or what the goal is, and anything less than the removal of Qaddafi is going to look like a horrific failure. Obama just cannot catch a break can he?
To top it off, there are protests breaking out in Syria, with a few dead and multiple arrests of school children, but there is no sign yet that protests will catch on throughout the country…
I have been threatening to write a blog about Bulgaria for a while now, and I just cannot get around to it. I looked back at my blog on Georgia and felt like it was the weakest one that I had written in a while. A big part of that is due to the nature of the trip. Sure we wanted to see Georgia, but even more than that, we wanted to be someplace with each other. It didn’t really matter where. Being with other Fulbrighters feels safe and homey. I do not need to be on my guard, or think about what I say. I can relax and be myself. I feel the same way about Bulgaria. It was the backdrop to our shenanigans, not the center of the experience. That being said, I still have some things to say about it.
First of all, Veliko Turnovo, the medieval town we stayed in, is much more beautiful than the boonies of Turkey. In Turkey, old Ottoman houses are left to decay, these unloved behemoths are only left untouched until someone gets permission to tear them down. They will inevitably be replaced with soulless blocks of concrete, painted in one of three shades… Even restoration work in Turkey uses concrete. The Turkish version of historical preservation is laying a layer of concrete over the original artwork and painting the concrete. At many Turkish castles, you can see the difference between the old and new bricks as they create what they want the castles to look like. In Bulgaria, the houses and windy streets are preserved. The hostel we stayed in was hundreds of years old, and it felt that way. It was sturdy, with thick walls, and it had a roof tiled in the Greek style. Sure all of the signs were in Cyrillic, but it felt like I was back in Europe.
It was an adventure even getting to Veliko Turnovo. After my flight being cancelled from Sinop to Istanbul, I had to get a new ticket from Samsun to Istanbul. The next day, we woke up at 6 AM, took a bus from Istanbul over the border… and our friend told us to get off in this little town because she thought there would be a bus there. Turns out there was no bus, no train, no nothing. I ended up walking up to a taxi driver, and negotiating for him to drive us the three hours to Veliko Turnovo. Before we left, he got a spare tire from a friend. That is when we knew that he meant business. There were five of us, and we paid 220 Lev for the ride… The only problem was, he had a small taxi. If we were pulled over, we would have to pay a large fine, and would be stuck hitchhiking on the side of the road. So, 4 of us crammed into the back and I had to put my head down, with my arm extended. For three hours. I eventually lost feeling in my arm, got car sick (didn’t throw up thank god), and tried not to pass out from the heat and uncomfort. Every time we passed a police car I had to shove myself even farther down… It was an experience I can tell you that.
There was a group of people who had come in the day before, and when we got to Veliko Turnovo, they wanted to go out. I just wanted to regain feeling in my arm again. After a few drinks and a little time to relax, the taxi crew pulled together enough energy to head out on the town. We ended up at a Bulgarian dance club, and for about an hour and a half we were the only people dancing, while the Bulgarians just stared at us. It was made worse by the DJ, who played the worst songs, and kept interrupting them to say things into the microphone, stopping the music. I needed relief, so I went up to the bar, when a thought struck me. In Turkish, the word for whiskey directly translates to “foreigner’s alcohol” and it is prohibitively expensive. I came back from Georgia with a bottle of scotch, and I figured I could get something even better in Bulgaria. When I went to the bar, I pointed to the most expensive looking scotch on the top shelf, aged 15 years. The bartender looked at me, pointed at the bottle, and then a knowing smile came over her face. There was a wooden box behind the bar, which she opened, and she pulled out a dusty bottle with the number 18 stamped across the front. I nodded emphatically, and she poured me a healthy serving. When the bill came, I laughed. A beer in Bulgaria works out to less than a euro, and this scotch cost about 7. It was the nicest scotch I have ever tasted, and it was cheaper than a cocktail in Dublin. Images of a truly decadent lifestyle swam before my eyes, only to be silenced by an even more sumptuous thought. Every time I have a challenging situation with a camper this summer, I can remind myself just how young they are. I have drunk scotch that is older than they are. That is a sobering thought. Well I guess an intoxicating one if you want to get really nitpicky.
I could go on about the food in Bulgaria, the hostel and pigeons, or even about how I somehow ended up carving sticks for a fire… I haven’t even touched this past weekend either, but what I really want to talk about was something that kept me up last night. My favorite part of working at camp is working with the kids that are struggling the most. I know it sounds insincere, but this is the part of my summer that challenges me the most, and I like challenges. I have been doing the job long enough that for most situations I can switch over into auto-pilot. Well not exactly an auto-pilot so much as an automated answering machine. Si usted habla español, oprima el cero. If you have a homesick camper press 1. If you have a camper who is afraid to go to the bathroom or shower in a room full of others, press 2. If you have a camper being bullied by his or her cabin mates, press 3. Those are all problems I want my staff to learn how to solve, and so I often will just model it once early in the summer with them and expect them to take it from there.
The most rewarding days are when I get the kid whose father died to stop following the staff around and to start interacting with other campers. Or when a girl who has been moved from foster home to foster home can feel comfortable enough to be herself. Seeing the kids in trouble smile, laugh, and be proud of themselves. So if I want to be there for those kids, why am I pursuing the PhD that I am? I love unraveling the decisions made in higher education, but how much of it will ever be applicable to these kids? In the US, only a little more than a third of a graduating class goes to college on average. How many of the kids I help are in this lucky third? Very, very few. How many of them will graduate from high school? If we include GEDs, about 85% of American youth graduate. What kind of person am I, if I see how much these kids need a leg up, and I leave them without doing all I can to give them a boost? If I leave to pursue something that I enjoy studying? How selfish is it of me to become an academic recluse, my nose buried in books and archival records?
If I end up in a university, the people that I will be teaching will be aspiring teachers and academics themselves. If I can help them help their students, would that be enough? Is that too far removed? What if I end up doing research for a university? Sure I will be fighting for a deeper understanding of what shapes academia, but who does that benefit? The people that are able to go to university. Is it ok to continue on the path that I am on? I need to think about it more that is for sure.
A lot has happened to me in the past few weeks, but before I write a blog on that, I want to write about what is happening in Libya. I know that with the disaster in Japan the crisis in Libya no longer makes the front page in many news sources… but it is still incredibly important for both Libya and political change in the Middle East.
The fact that the New York Times has as much about an SAT question on reality TV on its front page as the events unfolding in Libya is shameful. Is it that American news readers have lost interest in the story after a couple of weeks? Are our attention spans really that short? We might not care anymore, but our own government is trying to figure out the best course of action as they come under pressure from France and Lebanon on one side, and Russia and China on the other.
This pressure pisses me off even more than the journalistic pandering to the lowest common denominator. These countries cried out in 2003 when the United States unilaterally invaded Iraq. I agreed with them at the time, but it was only after a few years of study that I could articulate why. I believe that overall, the role that the United States has taken on is unsustainable and is bad for the world as a whole. If you look at countries that “elected” Pro-US leaders and countries that accepted IMF and World Bank loans, or if you look at what American industry has become since the end of World War II… You may come to agree with the critics of United States involvement as well.
The United States is attacked both verbally and physically until there is a crisis, at which point its detractors immediately start criticizing the United States for not acting unilaterally. Sorry guys, you cannot have it both ways. Why is it up to the United States to make sacrifices in order to get Russia and China to agree not to use their security council veto? Why is the United States being criticized for not acting earlier, while other countries that could have gotten involved are not even mentioned? This pressure is hypocrisy at its worst. Do I believe that the United States should get involved in Libya? No I do not. Do I believe that the United Nations should get involved in Libya? Hell yes. If you want the United States to stop circumventing the power of the UN whenever it suits them, then stop begging it to do just that whenever it suits you.
Also, Lebanon. Are you there? It’s me Lucian. Remember when you took part in slamming the United States for its involvement in the Middle East? I do. It has been happening every year since before I was born. So why are you calling for it to bomb Libya now? Oh and Saudi Arabia? Remember when your glorious leader came to the United States for his surgery after verbally assaulting the American system and way of life? Because I do. It was about three months ago.
I believe that the United States needs to act differently on the world stage, but this bullshit hypocrisy will only breed more of the same. It is time the governments of the world started taking some of the responsibility that they give to the United States, or shut the hell up and quit whining when the United States does what it damn well pleases. I vote for the former over the latter, but that would require other countries to take risks… So the world will continue to bitch and moan about the United States, while still relying on its highly flawed policing tactics.
The human brain is a strange and wonderful organ. It constantly assimilates and processes data, whether or not we are aware of it. For example, when I look up from my computer screen, I see my room around me. What I do not see are the details of my room, because my brain chooses to filter them out. If I glance upwards my mind may notice that my room is slightly tilted, which it knows from the way that the Coca-Cola rests in its bottle. It sees the folds in the curtain, the cables hanging from the television, and my small coins strewn across the table. It takes in these details, but keeps them from my attention because it doesn’t feel that seeing these things is important.
I have the feeling that as I get older, my brain fills me in on these details less and less. As a young child, it is important to adapt to your surroundings, so the smallest details are significant. You may give a toy to a child, only to find that they would rather play with the packaging, or with pocket lint. Their brains aren’t filled the same ways that ours are. We see a door, and our brain tells us what it thinks we need: That is a door. You can walk through it. A door becomes an idea that is filed away in our minds, used and re-used a hundred times each day. Could you tell me the color of the handle of the door that you just walked through? I bet a child could.
While I might not be able to take in all the details around me, I never know what smell or sound will trigger a memory. I may hear somebody walking down a flight of stairs and be reminded of a staircase in my grandparents house, or see a swarm of ants only to suddenly think about the sidewalk in front of 289 Huron. My brain makes these connections for me, and they do not always make sense. For example, I went to Georgia this past weekend and when I think about my time there, I think about a single instant on the street. On our way to a restaurant, we passed an older woman wearing a grey sweater. Her sweater was stretched in the front and in the back, so that it only touched her neck below her ears. The style reminded me of old Eastern European armor, like that worn by a knight in an ancient mural, left fading and forgotten on a church ceiling. She couldn’t have been older than sixty, and yet she seemed so much older. The way that she walked hinted at things that she had seen. It wasn’t the walk of someone waiting warily for the next blow. She did not cringe, or walk carefully. She seemed resigned to whatever came next, as if it didn’t matter what she did, or how hard she tried.
I would like to say that this woman was the tipping point that made me realize just how poor Georgia really is, but it wasn’t. There were streets that were built up with casinos and restaurants right next to what looked like war zones… There were people selling moonshine on the street and clubs that doubled as brothels. So why do I remember this woman more than anything else? I have no idea. I honestly couldn’t tell you. I do know that somehow that two second glimpse of a person on the street sums up Georgia for me better than anything else could. Notice that I said “Georgia”, and not “my weekend.” The language barrier was too thick for us to be able to communicate with anyone. If it were not for our friend who speaks Russian, we would have been helpless. We were tourists in the classic sense, with the world around us serving only as a backdrop. We came into town loud and slightly inebriated, spending our foreign money carelessly. It was hard not to, with beers for a dollar, and a full meal for three… but I couldn’t help but feel a little dirty.
It reminded me yet again why I like living in a place instead of going for a weekend. When you know the language and the culture… you have a completely different relationship with a place and its people. That being said, I am going to Bulgaria next weekend for another weekend jaunt… But again, I am going as much for the people as I am for the place.
I, like most other Americans, am the product of a public school education. However, I went to school in two different public school systems, so I was able to see the wide disparity in the education given to kids in the city compared to that in the suburbs. I went from the Cambridge system, with its school security guard stabbings and rampant bullying… to the Needham system. In Needham, every student needs to pick up an instrument in elementary school. After about a year, there is an unspoken, but strict divide between the genders, with all of the boys playing a certain set of instruments, while the girls played the others. It was like watching the Jets and the Sharks coalesce, except each member of the gang can afford an instrument worth about a thousand dollars. After school lets out, the streets are filled with tiny children hauling bulky cases bigger than they are. I often wondered why someone didn’t steal those instruments from the kids as they walked home. Nothing in the world could be easier, and it’s not like they weren’t going to get a new instrument as soon as a new one struck their fancy. In Cambridge, there were two instrument options available at school: the triangle, and building blocks. How did you play the building blocks? Well, with all of the joy of a child making as much noise as possible, you banged them together. This usually went on until Nancy came back from her cigarette break, at which point we could listen to Aretha Franklin while we all talked together. And forget about walking home with an instrument. You would be labeled a fag for the rest of your days if you did anything so stupid. Hell, I had a library book torn up in front of me on my way home from school because I was such a bitch. That’s right. Here is a fun fact for your kids: reading makes you a bitch. Cambridge is hardly the school of Hard Knocks, but it sure served as a nice juxtaposition for Needham. At Tobin, I was always one of the teachers’ favorite students. I cared about learning, and was well ahead of my grade level in almost every subject. When I got to Needham, I was interesting to teachers… for different reasons. When I started in Needham, my reading and writing abilities were slightly above average, but my math scores were absolutely dismal, to the point that I felt I could never recover. We started straight into Algebra, and I had just learned my multiplication tables. Eventually, I could do everything… except for long division. But if I admitted to a teacher that I didn’t know how to do something, something that was simply taken for granted that everyone knew how to do… I would feel stupid, and in Cambridge being smart was one of the only things that I had. I couldn’t admit to my teachers or to myself that I needed help. I limped through the next two years, just avoiding certain math problems, until we got into high school. All of a sudden, we could use those fancy calculators that did everything for us, and so I did not need to rely on just guessing at answers anymore. Of course in certain science courses where we weren’t allowed to use calculators I still skipped questions, but at that point it would be far too embarrassing to admit I didn’t know how to do long division. So there I was, with the ability to explain calculus questions to a class, but still completely helpless when it came to math problems that any Needham middle schooler could do in their sleep. On through the rest of high school, and through college, to now. A Fulbright Fellow in Turkey, Phi Beta Kappa… and still unable to do long division. While studying for the GRE, I found myself skipping problems that involved long division, as I always had, telling myself I would get by without it. Then I stopped and thought. I wasn’t stupid because I didn’t know how to do long division. I was stupid because I didn’t ask for help. I had gone too many years without just owning up to the fact that I needed somebody to show me what to do. So I went online, taught myself how to do long division, and felt only halfway done. So I am writing this blog, to admit to others and to myself that I was too scared and too proud to ask for help. I am a living example of the American education system, and I feel like at 22, I am finally overcoming one of my many remaining remnants of weakness. The vast majority of kids like me will never have the same opportunities that I had, and they will go right on being too embarrassed to ask for help… and I don’t know what I can do to help.
The Four Best Useless Superpowers
At some point, everyone daydreams about being a superhero. We all want to save the world, stomp the living piss out of our enemies, and suck face with beautiful women. Preferably all at the same time. We all know that this will never happen, no matter how much radioactive material we ingest, but it doesn’t stop us from planning our own victory parades. In an effort to ween ourselves off of these narcissistic musings, I propose that we set our sights a little lower, and imagine ourselves with less useful superpowers. The comic book industry has developed some truly terrible superheroes over the years, but these aberrations still somehow manage to make the world a better place… Which means there must be one kid, somewhere, who wishes he was Aquaman.
What if we take the level of awesome down one step even farther? Maybe if we think about our lives being only marginally better, we will be less tempted to waste time, and we will spend our day doing more productive things. Like watching videos of kittens on the internet, or finding out if it’s possible to eat an entire jar of mayonnaise in one sitting. The rules for these useless superpowers are as follows:
They cannot be used to save a life.
They cannot allow you to contribute to mankind in any meaningful way.
#4 The ability to levitate 2 inches off the ground
Reasons why its awesome:
There are so many wonderfully useless ways to utilize this superpower. Need a new horde of henchmen? Go to a yoga class and sit in front. After a few minutes, make a contented noise and start levitating slightly in the air. You just started a new religion.
Dolphins not included.
Would you rather not be a prophet? I cannot really blame you, based on how that turned out for the last few who tried. Maybe you would prefer a less dangerous profession, like joining the NFL. Just imagine, your team goes into the second half up by only a field goal, and they call you out onto the field. The center hikes the ball to you, and you curl into a levitating fetal position. No matter how hard the other team tries, they will never be able to bring you all the way to the ground, allowing you to run out the clock. Congratulations, you just ruined football.
Have you ever sat next to a loved one on a plane for hours on end to the point that you were driving each other crazy? Have you ever wanted to make a dramatic statement on just how little you like circling above Chicago? Well now you can. Simply yell: “Fuck this!” and grab your carry on luggage. Walk to the emergency door, pull the handle, and jump out.
Pro Tip: That last one is best done over land, and when you only have a carry-on.
#3 The ability to eat glass without harming yourself
Reasons why its awesome:
You could get anything you want in a bar. Forever. “But Lucian!” You cry, “How would eating glass in an establishment that serves alcohol be beneficial at all?” Let me give you an example.
There is almost always at least one dude in a bar who thinks he is the toughest guy to ever pop his collar and wear stunner shades indoors. When he goes up to order a drink, just push in front of him. When he tries to posture and threaten you, don’t say a word. Simply turn around and look him in the eyes without blinking. Pick up the nearest pint glass and take a bite. Now chew. Slowly. All you have to do now is swallow and smile and wait for him to shit himself. The variations on this situation are nearly endless, and they all result in making somebody fear for their lives, or winning huge bets with drunk patrons.
This could be you.
Reasons why its useless:
This one is pretty self-explanatory, there is no feasible way that you could do anything with this superpower other than mess with people.
#2 The ability to poop cookie dough
Reasons why its awesome:
First of all, who doesn’t love cookie dough? How would you like to have a log of cookie dough once or twice a day (depending on how much fiber you eat)? Don’t worry, I can answer this one for you. In addition to getting all of the obvious benefits of cookie dough, you also never have to worry about just how disgusting human beings really are. Afraid to sit on the toilet in the public rest room? Never fear, because you can shit directly into your own hands. Hell, you don’t even really need a bathroom, just a little privacy anywhere you can find it.
I swear I can explain officer.
Have you ever met your significant other’s parents for the first time? Have you ever immediately needed to deuce as soon as you step over the threshold of their house? Never fear, you won’t clog the toilet, or even stink the place up. If somebody needs to use the bathroom after you, it will smell like cookies. You would also, inexplicably, have a roll of cookie dough to share. Talk about scoring major points with your future father-in-law!
I could also point out that you would never have to wipe for the rest of your life, but between a nearly unlimited supply of cookie dough and getting away with feeding your feces to family and friends, it’s pretty much a moot point.
Why it is useless:
The “cannot save the world” caveat is pretty obviously covered, as no villain has ever been foiled by cookies. As for benefiting mankind, you sure couldn’t put an end to world hunger. Have you ever seen anyone who has eaten nothing but cookie dough? I haven’t either, because if somebody has tried, they died shortly after starting their delicious but malnutritious diet. Also, there is no way you excrete enough to provide for more than a very limited number of people.
Your poo is for you, by you
#1 Projectile vomit at will
Why it is awesome:
There are few things grosser than vomit, particularly if you eat things as vile as I do. When somebody vomits, there is only one rational reaction: to try your best not to vomit yourself. Your world stops as you fight for control of your stomach with your esophagus. Imagine being able to inflict this feeling on people whenever you wanted, and from a great enough distance to be able to disassociate yourself from the vomit if you want to.
Imagine seeing somebody you hate in a bar or across the street. Maybe it’s a politician, your grade school bully, or your ex. It doesn’t matter who they are, the only thing that matters is that in a split second, you can cover them in sick.
Are you forced to interact with somebody that is mind-numbingly stupid on a regular basis? Do you wish you could get them to stop saying such horrifically ignorant things? Well you are in luck! With this super power, you can train them with a Pavlovian response… except that instead of feeding them every time you ring a bell, you vomit on them every time they say something stupid. Just imagine. In conversation, they ask: “Wait, wasn’t Malcom X a wrestler?” Like most of these superpowers, eye contact is the key. Stare at them without responding. Wait for an awkward silence to develop, and then let it fester just a little while longer. When they start to squirm, vomit on them, preferably without breaking eye contact. If you do this enough, they will never say anything stupid ever again. Or, they will avoid you at all costs, which really amounts to the same thing.
Why it is useless:
While you may help others by training them to stop saying stupid things, this superpower is essentially the power to make people really, really uncomfortable from a distance. There is no world saving capability here, only the satisfaction that comes with knowing that you will always be able to one up people, for now and forever.