A Farewell to 2013

Dear Father Time,

We regret to inform you that your daughter, 2013 has died. We want you to know that our thoughts and well wishes are with you on this most difficult of days. We are so lucky to have known your daughter, even though she was a difficult person to know, we literally could not have gone on without her. Personally, I will remember 2013 as the most formative year of my life. My list of personal accomplishments and triumphs this year dwarfs nearly every other year of my life. So, I’d like to honor your daughter with my list of accomplishments:

  1. Your daughter allowed me to find myself by making me too busy to continue looking. She started her life with me being an unemployed and thoroughly depressed former educator, living with his Uncle. She forced me to decide what I wanted to do with my life and most importantly, taught me that happiness is never beyond my reach. She blessed me with a renewed connection to my Chicago Family, without whose support I never would have made it out of Chatham sane. With support from my cousins I was able to move into Su Casa which, though perhaps the single most stressful place I’ve ever lived, was fertile ground for a personal transformation.
  2. I pushed myself to create meaningful, fulfilling relationships with a diverse set of people who took me out of my comfort zone. Working at 57th Street Books proved to be an amazing experience. The people who I worked with were some of the most amazing individuals I have had the pleasure of meeting. We make each other laugh in the face of common enemies and problems too numerous to count. I was fortunate to work with some of kindest, smartest and funniest people I have ever met. I know they are all headed on to do great things and I feel so lucky to have been able to work with them. My time at Su Casa saw the renewal of a cherished Friendship with a veteran of my College organizing days as well several new friendships. Where would I be without my friend, confidant and platonic life partner the Liturgical Michigander! Would I view breakfast the same without the odd mix of hilarity and sexual harassment every morning from the Michigan’s other #1 export? Would the word Freedom instantly bring a smile to my face were it not for Simone? Would I have made it through those harrowingly stressful months without watching Jericho reruns and talking about my childhood until 2 a.m? Not to mention hundreds of Puns, impromptu performances of “Gungdam Style” and the families who taught me that laughter and love are universal languages. Or to mention Germans who proved to be capable sparring partners in fantastical debates and volunteers I met towards the end of my stay who probably think I’m crazy but can at least respect the method [and reason] of my madness.
  3. 2013 saw the rebirth of my creative endeavors and witnessed the largest creative outburst of my life. In the last six months I wrote over 50 post on this blog and sent 6 pieces off for publication [with 1 published and another accepted!] All told 2013 saw me right over 100,000 words! Yes, that’s right, I wrote over 100,000 words in poems, essays on Masculinity, essays on Hip Hop, personal journals and fantasy themed letters to dear friends. I wrote more words for fun this year than in any previous year. And, thanks to my blog, the majority of these words were read by more people around the world than ever before. I have been blessed with readers from around the world. From friends studying in Mexico and the UK to strangers and kindred spirits in Estonia, Brazil, India, Vietnam, Korea, Poland and many other countries. So, 2013 will also go down as the year my insecurities, humor and philosophy went Global! I’d be remiss if I didn’t thank my loyal followers for that. I couldn’t have done it if it were not for friends who showed me what true beauty and unconditional support looks and feels like. From friends who discussed our principles in late night walks through downtown Chicago & who read everything I sent them to my Bay Area friend who gives me a much needed dose of reality. My Oakland comrade who teaches me to strive and taught me that sometimes all it takes to succeed is to have the guts to walk in like you own the place. And of course, my Bay Area native turned Chicagoan who encourages my writing as eagerly as he encouraged my teaching when we worked together in Englewood.
  4. 2013 saw me push past my geographic comfort zone in an all-out sprint towards my dream. 2013 say me move away from my erstwhile muse into the warm embrace of another city. I moved from Chicago to D.C and was greeted by dozens of amazing new friends. From Falcons who go as hard for social justice as they do for Dancing to social innovators fighting for a more just and democratic economy. I have met some truly wonderful new people here. Including some people whose drive, passion and creativity inspires mine. Though my Chicago and Su Casa family can never been replaced, I’m excited to know that I will not be lonely in D.C. I rekindled friendships with old SummerLinks friends, proving that the more things change, the more the stay the same. I’ve been blessed live in same metropolitan area as one of my most faithful snail mail correspondents, proving that sometimes the best friendships are the ones for whom distance matters the least.
  5. 2013 saw me struggle to understand my role as both oppressor and oppressed. I spent a large potion of this year thinking about the intersecting oppressions and privileges that constitute my identity. I like to think a have grown significantly from my first foray into these thoughts from a guilt ridden man to a confident man able to check his privilege more often than not and learn from mistakes when I don’t.
  6. I actively and respectively [if awkwardly] put myself out there. Never before have I gone for it so many times and failed so awkwardly or succeeded so unexpectedly. From awkward confessions of affections to completely disinterested women over NYtimes crosswords to 4 hour long dates that turned into new and exciting relationships 2013 was the year of putting myself out there. So, I may start the this new year as single as I started the last one but I start it with a lot more confidence and comfort in who I am.
  7. I was able to maintain and build upon my oldest and dearest connections. And, given that today is traditionally the day I spend with my two friends for whom Distance matters least to, I’d remiss if I did not give a shout out to The General and House Husband with no kids. My two oldest and dearest friends without whose friendship support and shared memories I would be lost. I was blessed to see the former get married and return safety from war the same the year. I was over joyed at knowing not only that he was safe but that his faithful wife, who I am thankful to count as a dear friend, can rest easier knowing he is back. The latter musketeer finally found love and college degree, while I knew both were inevitable; I am still overjoyed that he has found what he has been seeking for so long.
  8. I grew closer to my familyI developed stronger bounds by biological and informally adopted families. It was a year for learning my about my parents and being there as my friend welcomed his wife into our extended 21st century family. I have received so much support from both my families that it breaks my heart with joy.  2013 was also the year of the Goggans Family. Our arrival was announced by Drake, and we have started our take over. My parents are thriving in one of America’s better kept secrets, my Brother is traveling the world, my sisters are getting it done in D.C and my niece is coming into her own the only way she knows how: loudly and with plenty of style.
  9. I increased my commitment to my ideals. Whether it was by refusing to work in role that was unhealthy or by redoubling my commitment to service, I’m proud that stayed true to what I believe in. I was able to grow and create better, healthier relationships. I’m not perfect and 2013 stands as a testament to that fact as well, but I continued to struggle to live my beliefs despite set-backs and moral failings. I’m living a life closer to how I think it should be lived than ever before.

So, all in all, your daughter 2013 will be sorely missed by us all. Yet, I think 2014 will be Time’s finest year to date. While I know it will bring sadness and hurt, I have no doubt that 2014 will also bring triumph and success. Who knows what adventures I will find myself having in the next 12 months? All I can say is that for this 25 year old, youth will not be wasted on the Young! I look forward to new causes and new friends. Not to mention being excited to see a few old and cherished friends in a few weeks! 2014 is going to be a year for the record books.

So that’s my year in review. How about you? I’d love to hear about what 2013 meant to you. To paraphrase a question from my friend, what did you do this year that you were most proud of?

Living Life Intentionally

I realized recently I’ve spent so much time worrying about updating this blog with enough stories and poems to keep this blog fresh that I haven’t thought to update people about my life. What good is having a blog if you can’t put every thought out on the internet and pretend that the people who are reading think it is profound? I would be certifiably derelict as a self absorbed, fame obsessed millennial if I didn’t devote any time on my blog to writing about me as a real person. So, for those of you know me and for those of you who don’t [yet] what have I been doing?

Well, honestly, if I had to sum up what I’ve been spending the last year doing it would have to be spending my time trying to live my life with increasing intentionality. I spent a number of months, years really, going about my day to day life being intentionally about one or two things. The rest of my life was almost on auto-pilot. I took a lot of things and people for granted. Towards the end of 2012 I began to feel increasingly dissatisfied with the way I was living my life. My work was stressful and seemed like one crisis after another in a way that was completely unsustainable for me. I spent most of time outside of work escaping from the stress of work in way that were very unhealthy like eating and retail therapy. Around December of 2012 I knew that something had to give.

I decided to leave my job as a paraprofessional at a school in Englewood. It was a very difficult choice for me but looking back on it, I am more and more convinced it was the right one. While I still love the kids I worked with I felt that, for a variety of reasons, I was not helping them develop in positive ways. This started a few months of unemployment and spending money that would quickly run out. I eventually got my act together and applied to live at a Catholic Worker on the southwest side of Chicago. Around the same time I got a job at a book store in Hyde Park. After a few days of getting settled into this new life I begin to spend more and more time inspecting my life and my beliefs.

During this time one of oldest and best friends also got married right as I started my new life at the Catholic Worker. We was married to… the Girl of my dreams for him if that makes sense? I firmly believe that you should not look for a wife to complete you yet I think my friend and his wife complement each other in a way that is truly magical to behold.

I often worried about this particular friend because he had tendency in high school to give more to girls he dated than they deserved. I realize that he did this more out of a fundamental belief in what it meant to be a good person than in some naive romantic beliefs on dating. While I’ve always found this to be admirable I did worry that he, as a man clearly destined to be financially and  personally successful would either end up with a wife who didn’t appreciate what he had to offer or a wife who merely recognized he was a great guy but didn’t offer anything of equal worth in the relationship. Fortunately he found himself someone who was equally smart, funny and driven. Someone who would give as much to the relationship as he would.

At their wedding I realized several things. One was that how all of my oldest and most dear friends viewed me. They all mentioned how proud they were that I quit my job and did what I thought was right. They were all proud that I had chosen to continue being my brother’s keeper and all called me successful. I was shocked because I had felt so unsuccessful and lost for numerous months previous to this. I also realized how much I missed out romantic love.

Compounding this feeling, my other equally old and equally dear friend was also at the wedding and a member of the wedding party. No one has taught me more about the meaning of the word loyalty than this friend. He also reminds me about my younger self. He reminds me of the moral, self righteous and hopeful 17 year old I was when we spent the summer working at a call center in Colorado Springs.  8 years ago he said that he could imagine the three of us meeting once a every view years for the rest of our lives. The three of us committed to that idea and it is the only promise I made as a teenager that I intend to keep.

At the same time, so much time had passed since we last hung out. We had changed in so many untold ways. I was amazed at how easily we feel into a similar routine and accepting we were of how we had all changed. My conversations increased my desire to explore what changes I needed to make in my life because I knew that regardless of how I changed, I had at least two friends who would stand by me.

On my last night at the estate where the wedding was being held in upstate New York I called another best friend. [All this talk of best friends reminds me of a Mindy Kaling quote “best friend is not a person, its a tier] This friend lives out in the Bay Area is by far my most honest friend. I think of him like family now more because he embodies the blunt honesty and stalwart support of my mother’s family than because of the length of our friendship. Though honestly, our five years of friendship would be enough.

I talked to him about my odd mix of elation at seeing my friends and a feeling that something ineffable was missing. He said something that resonates with me still. He said that most adults he knows usually only have involved relationships, meaning the kind where you spend almost every night hanging out, with romantic partners. He suggested that was part of what I might be missing.

Living at a Catholic Worker was very challenging for me. I met a lot of new people and was forced to live and work with them through all the false assumptions, misconceptions and misunderstandings that go along with diverse community life. I decided that as part of living in a community I wanted to understand my roommates as much as possible. I quickly began to realize that things that I had thought so universal believed as to be assumed to obvious were often vehemently disagreed with.

I lived with people who didn’t believe in human progress only change. I lived with people who considered themselves Christian but believed that all religions held equal truth about the world. I lived with white straight middle class christian men committed to be an ally to oppressed people in new and startlingly refreshing ways. Slowly my paradigms about people and the models for human behavior that I developed started breaking down. As these things broke down I continued my introspection.

One of the many results of this introspection as a rapid evolution of how I thought of myself in context. I was talking to people about their identities as they inadvertently said things that challenged mine. I spent a great deal of time thinking about gender and race and privilege [which resulted in The American Male]. I spent a lot of time coming to terms with being both oppressed and oppressor.  The more I thought about that duality, the more radical I became in my desire to stop being complacent in patriarchy and rape culture. Yet at the same time, it is becoming increasingly obvious and disturbing to me how difficult and murky a path exploring how I sustain patriarchy and rape culture will be.

As all of this was happening I met an extraordinary young man whom I who considering entering the Catholic Church. Those of who know me well, know that my views on religion have shifted a lot of the years but I was recently in a strongly anti-organized religion state of mind. Yet, despite initial impressions of thinking me and this bible thumbing, show tunes humming, cheese and fruit eating Michigander could never get along we developed a very strong bond. After hearing about his faith journey and opening up to him about my feelings of something being missing, I came to realize something very important about myself. I had never resolved my feelings about God. Oh, I had resolved my thoughts on organized religion and by extension my thoughts on God but not my feelings. I realized that so much of my anti-religious sentiment was based on a child hood of being told that I was going to go to hell for not being a christian and emerging into an adult world that I couldn’t reconcile with my faith.

I was also raised by two very religious parents whose faith journey, for lack of better term, was never very compelling to me. My parents have always given me logical and emotionally moving stories of why they are Baha’i but not why they believe in God in the first place. This lead be internalize a lot of the Baha’i faith’s morality which I feel has served me well but left me at a loss for explaining why I believed in God because God’s existence had always been assumed as a child. By the time I began to question it I was too upset with religion to respectfully hear my parents out.

My friend, the liturgical Michigander, suggested that I visit a spiritual director. Had he suggested this a few months earlier I would not have laughed in his face I actually would have probably been offended. Yet time and conversations had changed me. I was open to change and open to explore my inner-self. I went to Loyola University and meet with a Jesuit Priest about my feelings of lacking something in my life. He was a sort of no BS kind of guy and challenged me on every statement. Fortunately it was exactly what I needed at the time.

The Jesuit Priest and I talked about my goals in life and a increasing feeling that their was something more out there. I briefly brought up my concern about being single and he said “Are you seriously asking a celibate man if he thinks you need romance to be a healthy, happy person? Have you ever had a Dog? I guarantee you a puppy will give you more affirmation and a sense of being needed than any girl friend.”

While I don’t think that a dog is the same as getting married but I do think he is right about a relationship not being able to fill the void i was feeling. It was something deeper, something…well…spiritual. I came to the conclusion that I need to resolve my thoughts on spirituality and God and then decide on what I want out of life. Over the next few days I came to realize how much of my spirituality that I repressed out of anger, fear and stubbornness as opposed to just stopped feeling.

I decided to go with my friend, the liturgical Michigander, to the Baha’i gardens in Wilmette. There I was flooded with warm memories of my childhood spent in 19 day feasts and winter schools. I was reminded of my mother teaching me the remover of difficulties and my father explaining how he became a Baha’i. The experience almost brought me to tears.

Before I left I made sure to buy a prayer book, the Book of Certitude and The Seven Valleys. I committed  myself to explore this rekindled spirituality.  As time passed I realized that I could no longer consider myself to be an atheist but I also am a long way from being okay being in an organized religion.

So, with all of these things happening I am hoping to reinvent myself. I’m eating healthier, exercising, meditating, praying, working within a budget, reading, strengthening relationships with friends and family and being proactive in the dating scene for once in my life. This has all lead to hilarity, schadenfreude, a lot of apologies, a lot of stress, hunger, relief, catharsis and growth.

So, in conclusion, I’m changing things up. Hopefully things will work out for the best. I feel healthier, more stable and more…adult (?) than I ever have before. Ready for the challenge and it’s not even new years. I’ll write more of each individual aspect of my wellness plan but yeah…that’s how I’m living.