Learning Curve Part 2: Mediocrity

I’ve been wondering why I don’t write more about work. It’s odd, considering how much time I spend either at the office or meeting with students or driving to and from work-related events in the ever-increasing Austin traffic. It’s not like I don’t have anything to say (because Lord knows I definitely have things to say), but I think there’s a reason why I don’t like to write about work.

It’s because I don’t think I’m very good at my job.

This was hard for me to admit at first, especially considering how much I wanted this job. In college I would dream about going off to change the world and impacting lives. But when the dream was actually in front of me, the world started to look a lot bigger and I started to feel a lot smaller and impacting lives became a little fuzzy in the light of my own inadequacies. I started to realize I wasn’t really the person I thought I was.

Which is fine, really. My identity is not in my work (I remind myself on a minute-by-minute basis), but coming to terms with my shortcomings was a weird feeling, not unlike disillusionment. Don’t get me wrong, I love my job, I really do. I’ve learned a lot and I’ve met people who’ve impacted my life. It’s just that I’m, well, a little mediocre.

And mediocrity’s not such a bad thing, I’ve discovered. It’s not always the same thing as inadequacy, and it’s not the same as sitting around feeling sorry for myself, not believing I’m capable of greatness.

Because what is greatness anyway.I used to wonder if thinking I was mediocre was limiting me from reaching my full potential, but actually it helped me realize it’s not really about me. Which has been freeing, actually.

I have a student who loves to write. Two, actually. Sisters.

Loving to write doesn’t necessarily mean you’re good at it, nor does it mean that you do it often (I know this better than anyone I think). It’s more like, who you are, I guess. How you identify yourself.

It helps you deal with pain too, I think. One sister told me she can’t drive past the hospital where her grandmother died without falling into tears. She said it’s like a reflex almost, and she can’t help herself. What is that like, I wonder.

She told me her sister tries to numbs herself from the pain. TV, she said, and games on her phone. So when I met with her sister, I thought I might say something to help. I started to ramble, too loudly and too quickly. Writing is a type of art therapy, it can help you process your pain. Writing can help you have an outlet…my voice trailed off. I handed her a pen and a piece of paper. Write a letter to yourself from the summer, I said. Write down your thoughts.

I didn’t know if it would actually help, but I wanted her to do it. I wanted her to write. She picked up the pen, and I stared out the window where the window pane was starting to frost and the ice was beginning to stick. She wrote furiously for 10 minutes, and I worked on other things on my computer. When she was done I told her she could keep the letter. She got her stuff  and walked away.

I don’t even know if it helped. It would have helped me, I know that much. It has helped me, in the past.

I might regret writing this, a couple months or a couple minutes from now. But for now, I think mediocrity’s okay. In all honesty it’s not an easy job, and I guess it’s okay that I don’t really have it figured out.

On seasons

7 things I’ve learned (so far) about post-college friendships:

  1. Call, don’t Skype. It’s more likely to happen.
  2. E-mails are surprisingly nice, as opposed to texts or Facebook messages.
  3. Take more pictures, especially when you have the chance.
  4. Stay awake during crucial moments of conversations.
  5. Finding out about big life updates whilst browsing through social media is not cheating and/or pathetic.
  6. Inevitably, there will be moments you will not be a part of, and things they go through that you will not know or understand. It’s going to happen.
  7. But it’s still nice to be with each other, even if things aren’t exactly the same.

*******

The mind always associates smells and sounds with experiences. Once in high school, my best friend got in a minor car accident. She said that the moment she was hit, Sexy Can I was playing on the radio – that one part about the girl sliding down the pole. My friend was upset because now she could never listen to the song the same way again. But I guess there are worse things in life that could happen to you besides not being able to listen to Sexy Can I.

Anyway, that’s why the other night, when the rain started to fall in heavy sheets and I was staring into darkness and my car began to skid and I ended up driving over several curbs (yes that’s right, several curbs– why I even have a license I do not know), the first thing I did was turn off the radio. The last thing I need is for some top 40s hit to become a trigger for the fear and panic I felt while careening off the side of the Mopac service road.

I think I ended up driving into some neighborhood where I turned off my car and listened to the sound of the rain pelting the windshield. I remember instinctively taking out my phone and calling whoever came to mind. I don’t know why I called them, it’s not like there was anything they could do to help me, but I did. I remember thinking about it later and being surprised (but I guess, not really) about who I decided to call. Is that friendship?

Maybe it’s because 2014 just ended, or maybe it’s because I’m always listening to that new One Direction song, but I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how things change. On principle, I am not a particularly happy person, and left alone with my thoughts, my mind drifts between optimistically pensive and wistfully melancholy.

And maybe it’s because it hasn’t stopped raining for the past two days, but I find myself asking questions like – Is it okay that these friendships are changing? What if one day, we’re all like that old couple in the casino sitting there drinking coffee with nothing to say to each other? What if there’s nothing left for us to say?

People are designed to change, I’ve learned, and different seasons can be exciting. This fact used to make me really sad – the fact that friendships have seasons. But things should change, and if they don’t, where’s the growth? And isn’t this is all a part of becoming an adult?

What is adulthood, anyway. If adulthood is understanding real estate and cooking dinner from scratch, then I don’t have it figured out, and if adulthood is knowing what the plan is  and where my life is going, then I definitely don’t have it figured out. But I know what adulthood is not, and that’s pretending like things don’t change, so at least I’ve got that covered.

What I said about not being happy was actually a lie. I’ve been pretty ridiculously happy these past few months, for a variety of reasons, one reason I think being the fact that I get more sleep now that I’m no longer a college student. Regular sleep generally leads to a healthier emotional well-being.

Cheers to 2015, and cheers to seasons.

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The Guy From Stories Read to Kids at Night

I spent the last few days of 2014 in New Orleans. We ate oysters and listened to jazz music and tried to go easy on the beignets by eating only half and taking the rest to-go. We ended up splitting one more beignet and then splitting just one more and then we emptied the to-go bag and ate the rest of the beignets.

Once when we were buying pralines (pronounced praw-leens, we all learned for the very first time), I heard a band playing that one song by Fitz and the Tantrums and I started to sing along. Valerie said what if that’s actually them? And I said no it can’t be them and she said we should ask, so I asked the guy who was ringing up my order of praw-leens and he said I think it’s a band called Fitz and the Tantrums. I got a little excited but not too excited, and then we went and I took some blurry pictures on my phone to prove that I s aw them.

There was also this guy singing and playing the guitar on the side of the street. We heard his voice before we could see him, something like a mix between Jason Mraz and George Ezra, and once we could see him we ran to hide behind the postcard stand a few feet away from him so we could listen to his voice while pretending not to. After he finished we talked to him and learned he was actually from Austin and he went to UT and majored in Biology, which meant we all literally had so much in common.

I bought his CD so we could listen to it in the car, and we learned that his voice and his music actually sound better live. The music was still good though, by my standards. My favorite song is the guy from stories read to kids at night, because that’s what he was singing when we were hiding behind the postcards. There are other notable songs like Emily and Lonely as Balls. Emily is interesting because the first line is ‘Emily, come to Austin’ but I guess she never did, because his girlfriend’s name is Amanda. Lonely as Balls is also good. We listened to it over and over again during the trip, and I guess it was one of those things where we liked the song because we knew that none of us were actually lonely as balls, so it was funny in that way, but also funny because we all still knew the feeling, you know, feeling lonely as balls.

Other noteworthy happenings included:  a bookstore, a ghost tour, the smell of cigarettes and coffee in a casino, reunions, and vintage soda pop.

Things changed a lot in 2014. We reminisced a lot on mistakes made and all the times we were sad and cried. There are things I regret and there are ways that I would like 2015 to be different, but maybe it’s okay to regret things. I’m glad for all the times we cried, because it’s kind of nice to think about now.

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Quaint little independent bookstore in the french quarter. “The secret is that it is poetry written into prose, and it is the hardest of all things to do.” – Mary Hemingway

Meet me in Montauk

Meet me in Montauk

"Are you guys taking a picture?"

“Are you guys taking a picture?”

"It'll all be pointless if we don't take a picture!"

“It’ll all be pointless if we don’t take a picture!”

2014 Memories That May or May Not Matter

It’s been a long time since I’ve written anything. I mean, I’ve written things, like shopping lists, e-mails, and practicing a new signature (it’s more vertical and bubbly now), but I haven’t really written anything.

I feel like I’ve almost forgotten how. What does my voice sound like? Do I usually use long sentences? Short sentences? Do I write with a lot of detail, or am I purposely vague?

Should I write about my feelings? I’ve been happy lately – should I write about that?

A lot has changed these past few months, and I’m not sure how to process it. Actually, I’m not even sure if I remember half of it. That’s the thing about time – it passes, you remember the big things, the occasional small thing, you see what changed, but after a while it’s all kind of a blur.

There are lot of things I wish I had written down. With work, life, friendships, and ministry, I don’t read as much as I used to and I don’t write as much as I used to (okay let’s be honest, I never read).

Something I’ve always done in the past, but not as much recently, is keep a list of random memories. Like, random things that I noticed or observed that made me think, that made me want to write. I found this list recently, and it trails off around the time I started work.  I’m not sure what to do with this list, but I don’t want it to only live in the corners of my mind (or rather, in an ambiguously titled Evernote folder).

List of Memories (exact dates: unknown, but some time between Jan 2014 – July 2014):

– Today I ordered the ugliest iced green tea latte from Starbucks. It was my first time ordering an iced green tea latte. I saw it on someone else’s Instagram and I wanted to order it then Instagram it as well, but it was ugly. Tasted great though

– Once when I was interning, this guy came in while I was working the front desk because his 8-year-old son needed to use the bathroom. He said he wanted to get him into martial arts. You could tell he just really wanted to be a good dad

– Tiffany and I were walking to Amy’s, but we passed the warehouse that looked rundown and creepy. We heard children screaming and I grabbed Tiffany’s arm and was like oh my god did you hear that, and then there were more screams, but then we realized they were just echoes from the playground from the actual Amy’s.

– We listened to this really sad This American Life story in Brian’s car. It was familiar enough to make me want to cry.

– We were playing some kind of truth game, and I told him that if I was dying and there was something I knew was the Truth, and I was absolutely sure, then I would spend every second of the rest of my life making sure I told as many people as I could. At first I was like, why am I not doing that now? But I realized it’s not the same. When you know you’re going to die in three days and everyone else also knows you’re going to die in three days, you can kind of be as in your face as you want, who cares, you’re dying.

********

These memories are not at all representative of my 2014. In fact, when I look back and reflect on this year, none of what is listed above comes to mind. It’s actually been a much happier, much more thankful year – especially the second half. But until I remember how to write, those things will have to wait.

A Guide to Austin Traffic

My job requires a lot of driving around to different parts of Austin. I came up with this helpful guide to remind me when there is/is not traffic on Mopac or I-35.

*I’ve only listed times that I have personally experienced driving on these highways. There is potentially more traffic than when is listed below. Actually, there is definitely more traffic than what is listed below. 
*These traffic times are subject to change by Spring 2015, supposedly

Mopac on a weekday

8AM-Southbound: Traffic
2:30PM-Northbound: No traffic :)
5:30PM-Northbound: Traffic
5:30PM -Southbound: TRAFFIC. VERY BAD.
7PM-Northbound: Traffic.
11PM-Northbound: TRAFFIC!!!!??
4:30AM-Northbound: No traffic :)

Helpful Tip: Sunday-8:30PM-Northbound: TRAFFIC. STOP AND GO TRAFFIC.

I-35 on a weekday

12PM-Southbound: Traffic.
3PM-Southbound: Traffic.
5PM-Southbound: TRAFFIC!!!!!
5PM-Northbound: TRAFFIC!!!!!!
8PM-Northbound: TRAFFIC!!!!!!!

Helpful Tip: ALWAYS TRAFFIC. ALWAYS.

Other Tips:

– Listen to NPR hit music stations because luckily Shake it Off will never not be catchy
– Do not tweet about traffic while you are sitting in traffic, unless you enjoy braking suddenly
– Buy T.S. 1989 to listen to while in traffic (I need to do this ASAP)
– Rain = Traffic
– Dance to Shake it Off
– 
Always have snacks (healthy snacks, if you’re in to that, like an apple or something)
– If you bring said apple, make sure you have a place to put the core when you’re done
– DON’T just toss said apple core out the window. I did that once, and even though it landed in grass and probably decomposed, I still live with the guilt

 

I hope this was helpful. I have more ‘Learning Curve’ posts coming up, but I needed to share my Austin traffic knowledge first.

Learning Curve Part 1: Service

Despite the fact that I live in the same city, this past month has been a steep learning curve and a whirlwind of transitions. When I started writing this post I was listening to the sound of rain falling on the pavement and coffee brewing – and I had some really insightful thoughts. But now it’s a day later and it’s a Monday no less and the sun has set and somehow I’m still working and I definitely have no more original thoughts left in my brain –  so instead I’m going to just summarize this great article I read. And I’m writing this all while listening to 5 Seconds of Summer on repeat, so yeah.

(This article will be helpful to read if you have ever volunteered at a soup kitchen, are a volunteer with a kids ministry,  are a social work major, think about giving money to the homeless people on the street, go on mission trips, want to save the world, or if you happen to be an AmeriCorps member with an education nonprofit, like me.)

I’m surprised long work hours haven’t killed me yet, but I guess it’s because I’m surrounded by my two favorite types of people – students/youth who are inspiring and funny, and kindred spirits who are wired the same way as me and are passionate about youth empowerment and education.

In this line of work there’s a lot of joy and inspiration and warm fuzzies – also some anger and some heartache and some tears. Those things are a pretty obvious part of the work, but there are some things under the surface that are kind of left unsaid and a lot of questions that are seldom asked . One very questionable thing that I’ve been wondering a lot about lately is service (a term that I don’t particularly like, but will do in this discussion).

serv·ice; ˈsərvəs/: the action of helping or doing work for someone:

“It’s not, we’re told, about the money”

I laughed when I read this. I pictured some bright-eyed recent college-grad (not me?) patting herself on the back – ‘It’s not about the money!’ If it’s not about the money, then what’s it about? Helping other people?

Adam Davis summarizes the main reasons why people choose to give their lives to ‘service':

1. We are all God’s children; by serving others we serve God
2. We are all children of the earth; there’s a principle of commonality
3. We identify with others, (I see you suffering and can’t help but imagine myself suffering)
4. We win praise by serving others- it earns me a good reputation
5. Guilt – “please let me serve you, perhaps I will suck somewhat less”

Why help people?

Somehow while writing this I’ve switched to listening to Sam Smith on repeat (this is more acceptable I think?) and I am becoming incredibly introspective and sad.

Service/helping people and the motivations behind it are incredibly complicated. The effects of service include much more than the act itself – and the questions you can ask about service are endless (Adam Davis came up with these, not me.):

Could the act of service be demeaning to the served? Does it matter, as long as the service is provided and the served receives what he/she needs?

Why is service good? Is it because of the aid it brings to those served? Are there act of service that make both the server and the served feel good but don’t necessarily have any external good? And if so, is that service still good?

Do some acts of service entrench and even extend the very gap they mean to bridge?

Ugliness in all

Anyone who knows me well enough (namely my mother) knows that I’ve always had a tendency to associate with reason #5 (Guilt) and sometimes #3 (Pride). Learning to serve others has been a long battle of wanting to love people, but knowing deep down that my true motivations are either A) so I can live with myself and sleep at night or B) so that my life accomplishments match the glamorous endeavors that will eventually go into the book I will write about my life.

“I serve you because I want to, I choose to, you receive my service because you have to, you need it. I live in the realm of freedom, you live in the realm of necessity.  By serving you, I confirm my relative superiority. By being served, you confirm your inferiority. By my apparent act of humility, I raise myself up. The happiness, Nietzsche says, of slight superiority.”

When guilt and pride are your primary motivations, the good of the server remains primary, and the good of the served is secondary. Disclaimer: I am extremely proud of the organization I am a part of, and all the work that we do for students. That being said, if the questions listed above are never asked – we risk doing more harm than good. No one has perfect motivations, and no one should pretend to.

Beneficence vs. Nonmaleficence

Doing more harm than good is the last thing anyone wants, but is it better to do nothing?

The idea behind service is to move the way things are toward the way they ought to be.Some (perhaps all?) service activity might be both good and bad.

What am I trying to get at here? I really don’t know. At this point, I’ve switched back to listening to 5 Seconds of Summer. My brain hurts.

TL;DR:

– Read this article
– Love my job. Love working with students.
– Is serving others always good? How do we serve others well?
– 5 Seconds of Summer > Sam Smith??