The Only Guarantees are Complications

I sat on stage during my high school graduation with the other smart kids. I was ranked 4th in my class. I walked off stage after collecting my diploma, and could practically taste my future successes. I got a full scholarship for my undergraduate program, and spent five years alternating between studying chemical engineering, and working a total of five internships. In practice, I disliked chemical engineering. I couldn’t imagine working as an engineer. I minored in math and business to appear more well-rounded when applying for post-graduation jobs unrelated to engineering, and got straight As in both. I networked, although I didn’t see the importance. I was self-assured. I graduated magna cum laude.

My disinterest in engineering as a career was a huge source of anxiety for me. It caused me more stress than getting good grades ever had. I reconsidered my future. I tried to reconcile what I had already accomplished with what I could do next. I thought about what I wanted and what I didn’t want. I thought about the relationship between success and happiness, and wondered if I had to sacrifice one for the other. I spent the next year studying analytics, in hopes of pivoting into a career in data science before one in engineering began. I completed another internship. I networked without knowing who I wanted to stand by or become. I was certain this time. I graduated with high honors.

These are not my qualifications. These are not reasons why I deserve a job or success or happiness. These are the facts of how I spent the first half of my twenties. I am not a success based on my accomplishments as they are written. I am still writing.

I was the first person in my family to graduate from college. By ‘family,’ I mean more than my parents and their parents before them. I mean my extended family: my aunts and uncles and older cousins. I mean all of those who came before me, raised me, and helped me define my point of view. I grew up fairly poor (although I won’t claim it was tragically so) as an only child in a blue-collar household. My mother was a stay-at-home, and habitual pot smoker. My father was a blue-collar worker, alcoholic, and heroin addict (sometimes recovering, and sometimes not). Through them I learned the importance of budgeting and hard work, and decided I wanted to live a life where I would not have to budget down to every last dollar. Through them I learned to be content with a little, and a fear of settling for not enough. 

This is not a sob story. This is not why I deserve sympathy. These are the facts from my childhood that defined what came afterwards. I am not someone who overcame odds, regardless of numbers or statistics. 

My mother didn’t expect me to go to college. This is not because she didn’t think I could, but because she didn’t consider it a necessity in order to live a good life. My mother would love me regardless of who I was, and when she tells me she is proud of me, I believe her. This doesn’t mean she set a low bar.

My mother sat with me to do my homework every night until I was in 4th or 5th grade, and she quizzed me with flashcards before every test until some years after that. She had me rewrite assignments if they were sloppy, and reviewed mistakes I made until I knew better than to make them again. She would tell me, when I came home crying because kids did or said something mean, that it is lonely at the top. In these ways my mother defined my early image of success, even if she would be proud of me regardless of my achievements.

My naive definition of success was a base of academic achievement followed by the climbing of a corporate ladder. It didn’t matter how I grew up, or what those before me did: I always knew I would go to college. However, I struggled with things external to the classes I was taking. I struggled with identity and figuring out what I enjoyed and who I wanted to be. I struggled with potentially making the wrong choices, and dealing with setbacks. I thought I needed early-on certainty to find success, but didn’t know how to craft a project as long-term as life with the idea I held of what it meant to be successful.  

The only time I remember struggling in school (prior to grad school) was when there was an assignment based on creativity. I loved reading, writing, and art, but those subjects took the back-burner to math and science since they did not lend themselves as readily to the view of success I had formed in my head. Moreover, creativity is subjective, and I was scared to create anything that highlighted my choices as individual. I was terrified I would get made fun of when there was not an objectively correct answer. Because of this, I (literally and metaphorically) colored inside the lines. The idea of taking a creative risk gave me anxiety, so I chose inaction over possible failure. Instead, I rested on my position as a smart kid who could get good grades. I rested on objectivity.

I have often felt plagued by having too many interests, and not enough time to entertain them as fully as they individually deserve. I have always felt that my creative and logical sides are at war. I may have created this war internally, but others have supported it. Creativity and intelligence are often viewed as separate, but I do not understand why, regardless of how Capital They claim the brain is partitioned. I imagine it would be fulfilling to be in a position that required active use of both sides, but I digress.

School allowed me to dream of a better future for myself. School rewarded my thirst for well-rounded knowledge. When I graduated from my analytics program, I thought I figured out how my interests and abilities could be reconciled with success and happiness in one cohesive future. I saw a long and fulfilling career ahead me. I thought I was ready for it. I thought I had sought-after skills. I found myself viewed by employers as a blank slate with two pretty degrees hanging on my wall in abject symbolism, rather than an asset with a variety of interests.

I had no concept of the length of time a career spans until I entered mine. I work for a startup and analyze healthcare data. I enjoy looking at information. I enjoy analysis and interpretation. I enjoy information communication and visualization. I cannot imagine sustaining the office lifestyle for this long a period of time.  I am at the very beginning, and already I do not have the stamina. From what I have seen, office culture crushes creativity, and the only sure route to success, as defined by the majority, is to become more and more cog-shaped and capable of performing just one task.

I do not want to perform just one task. I thought I could make the world a better place by learning how to play by the rules, but now, sometimes, I think I’d rather watch it burn because of those very rules.

I spent six years in higher education, and regret none of them. If I could, I would make a career out of higher education, however, it could only ever be a prohibitively expensive hobby. Not to mention, more education does not necessarily equal higher employability. School is a stepping stone. School teaches information, not skills. School is a prerequisite for learning how to do a job, not preparation to do a job.

So I am working on a new definition of success: one that is based on living a life that is representative of my values, and has an intrinsic link to happiness. I am twenty-five, I have two degrees hanging on my wall, and neither will define my success in the long run: it is going to take more than that. I have a job that is alright for now, and I am trying to figure out what will be more than alright. I have a few ideas: I will let them consume me. I have come a long way: I am becoming the person I want to be. The road has not been straight, and I have went through revisions, but I have not made mistakes. 

I imagine my view of success will continue to change over time, and I hope the view, as defined by the majority, adjusts as well. I hope for a future where we are taught to ask ourselves individually: what does success mean to me? 

tiny spheres

I am inspired by people I have and will not meet; I have known a few of them. I am inspired by those who reclaim their own defeats; I have had a few, myself. I learn from what I read. I learn to be human from fiction. I write a letter. I sign my name. I influence a tiny sphere.

I am inspired by people who see their story as theirs to tell; I know too few of them. I am inspired by those who laugh at their own tragedies; I laugh and cry at once. I have one point of view. I exist under a dome. I am inspired by divergent interpretations of what it means to exist under that same dome.

You ask what it was like, and I insist it’s all the same; it always goes the same. You ask why it feels different, and I insist it always feels different; it’s a constant state of steady change, but only ever here and now.

This one lifetime. This witnessing of others. This reach without a grasp. This comparing and this yearning, but the only ever witnessing of others. This aversion to staying in place to enjoy just one rotational motion. This life under this one small dome; these influencing tiny spheres. 

we talked about the weather

The forecast is a scattered mess,
and the Cleveland skies are bitter.
I flip the coins held in my hand,
to look for a familiar face.

A weighted series of facts
don’t sum up to what’s deserved.
I blink to clear my murky vision,
but the faces staring past
are still too bleakly blurred.

I took the first extended hand,
and I gripped it far too tightly.
I thought there’d be a shutter
before the final gasp of air.

Compared to what I’m standing for
where I’m sitting’s all the ways away,
and I’m thinking flutter-thoughts of what
I’ll never catch my breath to say.

But I’ve said it all
I’ve said too much
I’ve negotiated with no one
for nothing in particular,
as a heavy-handed optimist
is unwatching hardly waiting
for another steep decline
internally conflicted
by the existential crisis
of learning how
to gratefully complain

No optimists in present tense
just pairs of eyes turned to the ground
My eyes are down and the sky is blue
and there are footsteps stomping overhead.

But I wouldn’t won’t can’t tell them
what choice they ought to instead choose.
Bring marshmallows and your popping corn
We fight fear and hate with firewood.

I want to live a billion years
but I only get a few.
I want to learn a thousands ways
to do what I will never do.
I want to stand my ground and
walk a mile in your shoes.
I want to forget far away and
remember the untruth.

I want what I will never have:
I want the right to choose
from options carefully curated
by those who know
someone always has to lose.

fresh starts

I woke up this morning with a more positive outlook than the one I took to bed with me, and I think I have all that I need. I am going to make some tea and I am going to get a little high and I am going to be 25 and I will not die soon. I woke up this morning to a kitten’s meow directed at a chirping tree and a breeze too chilly for August to remind me that this summer is passing too. I am inspired by my own personal eclipse. I am inspired by time as it is passing: too slowly and all at once. I am inspired by myself as I move on – as I take small steps like leaps and bounds and construct a plan from my last one’s dust. I am a stereotype for myself.

I woke up this morning, and I am ready to move forward. I am growing bolder, and I am ready to let go. I am sitting in a room I am sitting at a desk I am writing – no – I am typing. Typing like I live my life: with a general direction, but as I go. I hit the keys I tap tap tap I forget how to form my letters by hand. I pause. I remember how my mother taught me. I remember when I learned it all. I hit resume. I feel the familiar feeling of marks on ‘f’ and ‘j’ that tell my fingers where they are that help me place my hands – where they dance over words already forming in my head on my tongue – no – on the tips of my fingers, like the backs of my hands. Not known well enough, not well examined. I’ll never know it all. 

I woke up this morning and I went back to work, and I thought about the things I am grateful for. I thought about how I am grateful for the things I have, but too often find myself waiting for too much more. I woke up this morning tired of waiting, and ready to take too much more. Maybe nothing more, but a different current happenstance: I am aiming for direct exchange I am aiming for renewed wide eyes focused on another fresh start. Every time I open my mouth, I am scared I will complain. Every time I open my eyes, I see I have enough, I see I have today.

balancing act

Good news is no news at all: it’s quite a tragedy. Happiness is thought a right deserved, not something free to pursue, and not something that exists independently of other people’s points of view. If you polled a billion people, in aggregate: a stable state. But individual’s individualism fills headspace with malformed omnipresent mass-deafening complaint. 

Happiness is an ideal told to children, and it is nothing to hold onto, but rather something to personally strive for when circumstance permits. Happiness is with counterbalance, save for in poorly-written stories of some individual’s utopic twist. The stability found in nature is a fundamental balance of positive and negative; it is light and dark, and it is black and white, but it is not cut and dry: we have too many equations and not enough constants for one solution alone to, in and of itself, satisfy.  

The stability found in nature is a lesson in taking the good with the bad as they exist because they both exist, simultaneously. It is a lesson in why it is the ground on which we all stand. It is fundamental. But it could also be a lesson in division and in how to stand divided and in how to pick a side and to put yourself on one too. Remember how leverage works before standing too close to an edge. Remember that fractions are parts of one whole. Remember, always remember, what it is you know. 

Think about the counter-intuition of existing on opposing sides of the same perceived problems. Think about being given different directions on how to satisfy your same drives. Think about the guidelines: pursue happiness although it is not explicitly given, raise your hand when you need to speak, and inhale when you require oxygen to continue to breathe. Think about having individual instructions for an assignment and being graded, alongside others with the similarly individual instructions, according to the same rubric.

We know everything. We have all of the information. We have forgotten. We have different instructions for the same assignment, which is to live just one life and to pursue the minimization of its frustrations. The unintended interpretation: to judge others as you, yourself, would not want to be judged. Knee-jerk reactions, in their numbing half-aggregate, are waiting for the opposition to be forced to budge.

We are not going anywhere. There are no sides, just balance. We are not going anywhere: we are waiting. Waiting for a shift in abstract tectonic plates to push and to shove and to force a newer brighter shinier steady-state. But newer isn’t always better. Recenter your gaze: focus, and remember, always remember, what it is you know.  

The sky above is blue beyond the fog, and the grass is always green, at least from where I am still standing: on the ground.

the fluid dynamics of language

Last text message stamps that turn from time to day to date watching fiction fabricate where love profession became kiss-sealed fate. Determining if terminal velocity has been accelerated passed at a change in change in distance greater than gravity while existing unknowing with respect to and with no respect for

space. A little bit too tipsy to the point of topsy turning. A little bit too little: a tiny chunk: a minuscule nibble. A finger in to test the waters, the temperature of misplaced tea. The temperature of a tepid day with higher than bearable levels of humidity for individual hairs to stay put in organized chaos. Chaos so chaotic it can only be described by a law, the second one, it’s fundamental thermodynamic the heating the cooling trying to contain to construct to solidify the abstract into the concrete so concrete so rigid so indifferent unemotional.

why i don’t participate in politics

This world is not a dystopia: it is a constant plus or minus variation on the ever-changing landscape of time, made up of individuals exchanging the highs and lows of tiny experiences, all subjectively placed on a spectrum ranging from good to bad and probably reaching far better and worse than those.  This world is not a dystopia, but there are a lot of things wrong in the world if wrongness is determined by at least one person believing that a change could cause an improvement in their life or the lives of others (either present or future or both).  There are a lot of things wrong in the world, but it seems that this wrongness stems from differing opinions on what would constitute an improvement in the current state of existence, and what would constitute a degradation.

There are a lot of things wrong in the world, but I don’t think they all have to be fixed with some blanket solution that appeases everyone, because such a solution is an attempt to achieve an unreachable goal, and such movements towards that solution produce smaller and smaller ever-exponentially decaying returns on investment to an asymptote of maximum overall utopic appeasement that both cannot be reached and should not reasonably be strived for, for to strive for maximum appeasement is to reduce the importance of gratitude when good enough should be good enough because it is enough and contention towards contentment is a fight for fighters who say they want peace but won’t give into peace because peace doesn’t force the equality that satiates the whims and needs of all individual indulgences in a consumeristic society. Isn’t a good deal one where both sides feel like they are getting screwed but walk away knowing they could do no better, assuming neither side wants to be on the losing side nor wants to force others to lose with a great recognition of loss? 

There is a natural order to everything, with tension and opposition, where wrongs are not righted by direct opposition, but by a settling balance. The tug and pull of differing perspectives with mismatched rankings of importance where both sides are striving to right a clearly marked wrong reaches a power-play-produced equilibrium where both sides are fighting so hard to correct said opposing wrong that neither can make the other budge from their position of supposed rightness (which may (at times) be more out of pride and stubbornness than infallible belief in a cause). This kind of balance risks breaking with a sudden snap and forcing one side forward and another back with a chaotic blast that shocks both parties and breathes life into brand new problems with brand new opposing solutions as teams once again form along The Next Big Panacea’s proposition lines.  

If both sides were to concede and accept some imperfections, that too would represent an equilibrium, but one where both sides could relax with a tension much less likely to reach a breaking point. Peace is not a state of perfect equality, but a state acceptance and appreciation of inequalities. A body at rest can and will stay at rest, when all of the forces acting upon it are in balance. I want to lessen the pressure exerted on my own body, and remain at rest, by accepting my own lot in life, and doing what little I can to overcome my little struggles and navigate my own personal highs and lows.  I checked the weather today: it’s not so bad out there.