Tuesday, October 15, 2013

If I Can Stop One Heart From Breaking

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I had sort of a blah day on Sunday and Monday, filled with a less than stellar shift at work, a sick cat, a body that will no longer wake up to my alarm no matter what, and a general feeling that this week was going to be difficult. It's only Tuesday, but I've yet to be proven wrong.

It's less to do with personal events in my life and more to do with the general mojo of the universe - okay, the US. The government is still shutdown, there's discussion on who will be the world's first trillionaire - which Blogger here doesn't even count as a real word (and given the discussion on how much a trillion dollars is in one of my classes, this makes me very nauseous), and according to my management class, life expectancy has dropped to 48 years for men, 51 years for women - which is a huge drop. However, I can't find a source for this - other than a Forbes article about how certain demographics seem to be having a drop - so I don't feel too certain about that, especially since it came up in class discussion and no source was given (and if it's from our textbook then I'm still not sold). Regardless, the world is sounding a bit bleak and because I am having that little voice asking, "What the heck are you doing with your life? All you do is work and go to school and sometimes have time to write and sleep. Are you really happy? Is this really what you want? Shouldn't you be doing something else to help people or something?"

Yes, the echoes of existential crisis are still there (echos of existential crisis... sounds like a ridiculous band name), causing me to doubt myself once more. It doesn't help that people are talking about the US government ending (a bit extreme I think - I hope) which would make my career path pretty much null and void. It doesn't help that I'm beginning to realize that after four years in a liberal arts track, going to a business school has a very different way of thinking and one I'm having trouble reconciling. I'm there to keep learning, to develop new skills, not because I think a degree will get me a job. And I'm living proof that that's not the case anyway. I also just can't care about making money; not that I'm entirely uninterested (I'd like to not be broke, please and thank you) but seeing money as the only driving force in the world is really quite... bleak. And it's troubling me. What's more, I had a very grim dream a week or so ago where, for some indescribable dream circumstances, I believed that I was not going to live past the age of twenty-four. Depressing. I think that's my brain's way of worrying about time, about doing what I really want to while I can. But in some ways that's a luxury that's not available to me.

For this first time in my life, I'm realizing how short the days are. I don't have enough time to do all that I want to do - not at work, not at school, and certainly not in my free time. I'd love to volunteer in the theater community, I'd love to do community outreach, I'd love hang out with my friends in the evening when they get off work instead of going to work at that time. I wish it were January and not October, which is something I've never wished in my life - autumn is my favorite season, but I want to be at a different point in my life, not where I am now.

I came across this quote from Amy Poehler on Tumblr last night and it articulates perfectly what I'm looking for: "I want to be around people that do things. I don't want to be around people anymore that judge or talk about what people do. I want to be around people that dream and support and do things." While I happen to be the sort of person who talk about what people do and judge - quite often on this blog - I find myself tiring of it in certain respects. While I love my academic background, we spent a lot of time doing this and it's what I'm good at. It's often necessary too. But I recall what my professor Ben said back in my sophomore year when I told him I was a Cultural Studies major. It was something along the lines of, "Make sure you double major in something. Otherwise CSCL will burn you out and turn you into a jaded nihilist." Four years later and I'm still fighting against the jaded nihilist call of over-criticism and over-critique. There's a certain point where if you're constantly working like this, always pointing out the faults of everything that you can't enjoy anything or really experience anything. It's exhausting and limiting and a sort of warped ideology of its own. It's more than being aware - it's constantly ruminating but never doing anything about it. It's passive, not active. And I need to get away from that and do something.

Of course, it's difficult to find people who are actually doing something you feel good about. Again, once you start seeing the world in problematic terms, there's no unseeing it - you just have to learn to live with it. I'm really struggling with the business aspect of some of my classes and trying to get a idea of whether it would be appropriate to bring in critiques of things (like textbooks, or large issues like work ethic in the US) in classes. What's more, I just signed up to sponsor a child through an organization called Child Fund International. And literally both sides of my mind are at war with each other.

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Part of me thinks it's probably a bad idea because I don't exactly have the highest salary (though I do actually have a salary, yay retail!) and it might be a mistake to spend that kind of money right now. The other part of me is drawing back on everything I wrote about UNICEF and humanitarian aid. I don't know much about Child Fund other than what the guy who stopped me on the street told me (and the fact that they are often on the U of M campus and in downtown Minneapolis in green vests talking to people about their organization). The whole thing sounds a little white savior-ish and uncomfortable to me - you sponsor a child, they send you letters and stuff apparently (it was described to me as a sort of penpal but it sounds awkwardly more like fan mail), you give someone more opportunity in their life, and the whole thing is tax deductable. It of course sounds too good to be true. Questions filled my mind after I filled out the paperwork - does the child I'm sponsoring, Jose Hernandez of Honduras, speak English? Is he really writing me letters or does someone write them and pretend that they came from him? Is this going to turn into that episode of Wallander where Rupert Graves deeply scarred my subconscious and made me doubt humanity forever (which is discussed more in all its terrible glory in this post)? Then I just ended up feeling terrible that I can't trust anyone about anything.

But I decided to do it anyway. Why? Mainly because I don't have a good enough reason not to. I want to do it. I have a job and a steady income. I did tell the Child Fund representative that I was in school and wasn't sure I could afford it, and he mentioned that college debt doesn't really go away and could be worked around. I realized that I don't even have college debt and thus have even less of an excuse (and on that note, is that how my generation has come to think about college debt? Somethings that is always there and we'll never pay it off? It certainly seems like it). I really want to get involved with organizations like this - preferably UNICEF, in the future. I want to be the sort of person who donates to charity and supports the local public radio station and volunteers in the theater community and is aware of what they are doing, aware of the pitfalls, but tries anyway. Yes, I want to have a good job, but I want what I do to matter, to have some sort of motivation. I want to do some good, even if it is limited or flawed, or whatnot. Maybe I took Emily Dickinson and that fable about throwing starfish back into the ocean too much to heart. But if I can make a difference, even just for one person, I would feel a lot better about life. I don't want to live just for myself and I don't want to focus on getting ahead. To me, life is about so much more than that. And that's how I chose to live.

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I can opt out of Child Fund at any time, so perhaps if I find some unsavory information about the group or decide to save my money, I can do that. But for now, I'm going to see how it goes. And likely, I'll switch to UNICEF instead and try to do something that involves me personally, not just my money. I want so badly to believe that groups like this can do some good - and I want to see if that can be the case. Maybe I'm only being driven by selfish altruism, but I truly hope that it's something more. Back when I critiqued Life of Pi, I mentioned that I disliked the main character's perception of an agnostic's doubt as immobility. I see doubt as a means to move towards something, an impetus to keep thinking and wondering, even if that doubt will never be resolved. However, I better understand how doubt can keep a person from moving, from doing anything at all because you can't know and so you simply get overwhelmed with it all. I am resolved to not do that. Doubt is important, I continue to think that, but it's also important to have belief - even if it is just in the belief that doubt is important. We live in a dark, grim world. It's incredibly easy to see that. But I want to work to see the light in the world, to really bring it out and recognize it and do what I can while I can. Like Sam tells Frodo in The Lord of the Rings: "There's some good in this world, Mr. Frodo, and it's worth fighting for." This might make me a bleeding-hearted fool. And I'm okay with that.

I've had this Billy Joel song stuck in my head since this morning, long before I agreed to the Child Fund support, but it seemed fitting from the start, even more so now. So I'll leave you with this:

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