Anything’s Possible

I love this article. It’s inspiring and thought-provoking, and I could read it another few times over.

SENSITIVE NEW WORLD

everythingisinvented

The above illustration by Maira Kalman (part of a series called “Can Do”) is the most inspirational thing I’ve read/seen recently.  It very succinctly explains what life is and how to live it.

Understanding that “everything is invented” is the doorway to freedom and destroys any feelings of powerlessness.

It means:

  1. Everything is made up.
  2. Things that are made up have no power of over you.
  3. You become empowered when you discover #1 and #2 and make things up yourself.

“Things don’t exist in some natural state” means that at one point everything you see wasn’t there (and everyone was OK) and now because of ingenuity, courage, determination, and creativity they now exist (and everyone is still OK).

All art is a demonstration and understanding that “everything is invented” and “things don’t exist in some natural state”.  I love art because it is proof and a reminder that no…

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Musings of Mexico, Language-learning, and Tasty Jesus Sprinkles

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(Pedro and me enjoying the waves at the Maviri Beach near Topolobampo, Mexico.) 

Hi, thanks for visiting my blog! Alright, so recently I helped chaperone a youth group mission trip to Los Mochis, Mexico. The purpose of the trip was to share in a cross-cultural experience, which included painting an outside portion of this church and learning about Mexican culture. I had wanted to visit Mexico for a long time, and up until then I had only just crossed the border a few times for a total of maybe 4 hours. I was finally gonna practice my Spanish and experience a real Mexican city—not like touristy Puerto Vallarta or Cabo, but a real working-class city with its own unique history and culture. Before arriving, the trip leader and I had discussed getting me a night off so I could go out on my own, knock back some cervezas, and do “adult things.” Fortunately, me doing “adult things” never really happened. I ended up bonding really well with another chaperone on the trip, Pedro, who we picked up along the way in Hermosillo. We only “went out” on one night. Pedro and I went to one bar that was in another hotel, and it was filled with older people, one of whom Pedro suspected was a hooker and another, a member of the drug cartel. I still remember my ears being blown out by blaring half-live, half recorded Merengue music and getting bumped at the back of my chair because the dance floor was right behind us, and it wasn’t exactly a spacious area to say the least. We went there because there were no other decent clubs or bars within walking distance of our hotel.  Oddly enough, my first night of drinking in Mexico occurred at that bar. I wouldn’t have enjoyed it and I wouldn’t have felt nearly as comfortable if Pedro wasn’t there with me. On the other nights, we just hung out in our hotel room and talked about life and God and what was going on in the trip. Sometimes we made fun of the kids, because you know, why not? It’s a way to relieve stress. We also watched some Comedy Central on the TV. One afternoon, Dumb & Dumber was on, and we laughed our asses off.

Pedro is a real bud. Even though he’s a bit older than me and he’s married and has a kid, we get each other. We can chat about serious stuff and laugh about stupid shit, because that’s what real friends do. —

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(Pedro jammin in the hotel room.) 

I learned a few lessons while visiting Mexico. One of them was, “Don’t panic.” When I couldn’t find the right words to say, I tried not to panic. Learning a foreign language is not about getting it right all the time—it’s about making an effort to communicate. It’s about building bridges. It’s about interacting and occasionally sounding silly. It’s better to talk and make mistakes than to stand in front of somebody for a while without saying anything, because you’re too scared to make a mistake. That’s just awkward. And here’s the reality: speaking any language cannot be done “perfectly.” You and I aren’t perfect, so why would language be? No, instead, it’s dynamic. It evolves. Some languages adapt over time, while others die out. While I was in college, I cared a lot about getting good grades and impressing my professors. In hindsight, I should have spent more time with native Spanish speakers to interact with them and force myself to speak. I didn’t do it though, and here’s why. Reason number 1: Decatur, Illinois is not exactly a hotspot for Spanish speakers. Reason number 2: The people I did know who spoke Spanish were already pretty fluent in English too. It would’ve been dumb for them to watch me struggle, since English was always a viable option. Reason number 3: the suckiness of class work and studying basically sapped any remaining enthusiasm to practice out in the real world. It just wasn’t practical. It goes back to reason number 2. Why try to order a number 7 and a drink at fuckin’ Mi Pueb when you’re gonna screw up and sound like an idiot and the waiter speaks English? It just doesn’t make sense. Sure, the waiter may realize that you’re trying to learn Spanish, and they might appreciate you for your effort. But unless you have your shit together before you sit down at that table and order, it’s just gonna be awkward. And here’s why I say this: I’m kind of a perfectionist, and sometimes I’m too nervous to try things and look silly. I get frightened by the thought of being embarrassed more times than I’ve actually been embarrassed. I’m an overanalyzer. Anyway, I was getting good marks in my classes, so I believed that I was actually learning Spanish, but in reality much of what occurred was me drudgingly memorizing the weekly topic material (vocabulary or random historical shit), writing it down for tests, and then pooping it out of my brain immediately after. I thought that their way would help me learn a foreign language. Getting A’s on their written tests and oral exams was all that mattered to me. Doing that was the clean way—the easy way. Walking up to native Spanish speakers and forcing them to have conversations with me in Spanish (when many of them could speak English anyway) was messy and hard. But that is what a lot of life is—messy and hard. So, I’m not laying all of the blame on my college professors. They worked really hard, albeit I didn’t always like their methods or their personalities. Unfortunately, I let that (my dislike for some of their ways) hinder my own education and progress. I didn’t seize enough opportunities to excel as a Spanish speaker. I tried really hard to get good grades and look like a smart person, but I shouldn’t have done that. I should’ve put myself out there as a goof—as a learner. But I was too proud. I took my classes too seriously, and didn’t fight hard enough for my real education. —

Mexican highways are entertaining. You can’t drive very far without passing a toll booth or a little village. The villages at first appear like ghost towns, but look closely enough and you’ll find who lives there. It’s a different kind of countryside than we’re used to seeing in the U.S. Instead of towering McDonald’s signs peering over you every few miles, you’d drive by colorful mom and pop taco shops, elderly folks playing dominos, guitar players. It’s like a community siesta, except instead of taking naps people are just hanging out–talking and watching life go by. It’s what I gather as the hardworking/carefree lifestyle of the lower class in Mexico.

It’s common to drive down the highway and every 5 or 10 minutes pass by a pick-up truck with, like, 10 people sitting in the back of it. It’s also common to see pick-up trucks loaded down with furniture, toys, home appliances, you name it. I imagine it’s mostly stuff that was thrown out by Americans at one time and is now making a new home in the south. Seeing this makes me draw some conclusions. One thing it makes me think about is how other cultures (Mexican included) are much more accustomed to sharing and lending. Family members and friends rely on each other to get around places when only one person has a vehicle. I also noticed that some of the items our Mexican brethren had, a guitar case for example, were just extremely old—tattered and worn. I got the sense that things have a much later expiration date than they do in the U.S. Now, I may be romanticizing their culture and my experience a bit too much—we really might not be all that different—but poverty did seem different down there. I mean, while we drove on the country roads, I saw real shacks off to the sides. And people were hangin around.

Something that piqued my interest about Mexicans during my time in Los Mochis is that the people work everywhere. They’ll work on the city streets, they’ll work on the highways—they’ll even sell stuff in other people’s shops! They’re relentless. Many of them appear to have an extraordinary work ethic. One morning while driving down to the beach, we passed by a couple of vendors lugging their push-carts along the highway, who we assumed had been walking under the scorching sun for several miles. The Mexican poor go to extreme measures to make a buck. They’ll sell you anything on the beach—inflatable toys, shell ornaments, Coke. I really admire it. I grew up in a wealthy family, and as a kid I never had to work under the weight of poverty. A part of me feels lucky for having grown up in that situation, while another part of me feels like I missed out on something. Something like learning how to buck up and get through really hard times, or how to find humor in the darkest situations, or how to entertain myself and others when there’s no food for dinner. —

Here are some moments from the trip I captured on camera:

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(One of the “coolest” things our group got to experience was visiting the “raspados” joint. “Raspados” are like slushies, except that the ice isn’t ground up by a machine—it’s done by hand! There are dozens of flavors to choose from: tamarind, chocolate, pineapple, piña colada, mango, banana, dulce de leche (sweet milk), strawberry, etc. All of the flavors are made with fresh fruit and syrup, and it definitely cools one off under the blazing Mochis sun.)

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(Some boys trying to retrieve a soccer ball floating in the pool at El Parque Sinaloa.)

We got to visit some neat places like “El Parque Sinaloa” (a large botanical garden), “la playa Maviri” (Maviri Beach), and “la puerta de Topolobampo” The port of Topolobampo). Our friends, Edward and Martin, who are Psych students in Los Mochis, helped show us around the city. They got to practice speaking English with us, too.

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(Our “Sahua-Mochis” group kicking the ball around on the beach.)

I have to touch on something a little more personal now. So, as I mentioned before, the objectives of the mission trip were to paint the church and to immerse ourselves into Mexican culture and scenery. Our hosts were generous and hospitable, and they were patient with me while I spoke Spanish. I could tell that the church members there are a tight knit group and they rely on each other for emotional and spiritual support. They talk a lot to each other, and they talked a lot to us while we were there! Before we arrived at la playa Maviri, I expected to sit on the beach by myself and just take a nap or read a book—but no! They corralled me in. I was playing soccer, taking walks with the kids, conversing with the elders over “pescado zarandeado” (a grilled fish seasoned with chili and garlic), and swimming in the Pacific with Pedro. In the early morning, we began our festivities with a church service…since, you know, it was a mission trip and all. The youth, Pedro, and I got to sing “Lean on Me” at the end of the service.

Well, here’s the deal. For the time being, I consider myself an agnostic—or a borderline atheist. I just grew up with way too many crazy beliefs thrown at me, and so now, science and reason seem to be the only things I can have faith in…other than people, of course (and nature). So, on the trip, there were a couple elders of the church who, when I revealed my spiritual beliefs to them, felt concerned for my well-being and then throughout the trip began to inquire more about my faith journey. They also shared their two cents about their walks with God and Christ and how they believed he was calling out to me and wanted me to read the Bible. Now, I respect these women very much—for their kindness, their bubbly personalities, and their sense of humor. However, I can’t lie—I felt really uncomfortable with them inquiring about my salvation. Although they were gentle in their approach, their own personal statements made it seem like there was little need for a conversation—that, clearly, they were right and I was wrong.  They just wanted me to be like them. And I guess I can’t blame’m. They believe what they believe. I’m just thankful that, at the time, I kept my cool, and—for the most part, I held my own during a theo-spiritual conversation in Spanish!

Some of you reading this may be confused, alarmed, or worried about my current spiritual beliefs, and I get it. I really do. And I’ll accept your prayers. I’ll smile when you tell me Jesus loves me. I may even pray with you if you feel the need. But I won’t stop searching. I won’t stop figuring out how to make sense of all the noise in my head and how to make sense of the world around me. I grew up with evangelism, and now I’m moving on to something else. I still like some Christian music, and I’m still a super fan of Jesus. I’m just gonna try to follow him, not worship him. I think that’s what he really wanted, anyway. —

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(Our group peering out and off into the Bay of Topolobampo around sunset.)

Take a look down below for more pictures from the trip!

 

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(I pause to share a moment with Matoso, a collector of “vintage” items and an all-around maintenance guy, who gave his original dominoes set to me as a parting gift from Los Mochis.) 

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(Pedro, Martin, Matoso, and Domingo sit around for a serious round of Dominoes by the pool.)

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(Some delicious tostadas paired with a sweet jamaica–the meal that the church prepared for us at our welcome party.)

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(Just beyond that passageway would await some mouth-watering grilled fish [pescado zarandeado] and, of course, the Pacific Ocean.)

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Thoughtful Hikes and Friendly Conversations

This is me on the peak of Mt. Wrightson, which is 9453 feet tall.

This is me on the peak of Mt. Wrightson (9453 feet tall) in Coronado National Park, near Green Valley, AZ.

Although I would not consider myself an explorer, I do enjoy hiking. I like to take in all of the scenery and align my thoughts with the rhythm of my steps. It helps me to recoup if I’ve had a stressful week at the office, and it makes me feel like I’m not wasting away during my spare time, where otherwise I’d be lounging on my couch watching TV shows on my laptop (which always isn’t a bad thing). It’s also about removing me from the rampant online social world for just a few hours, getting out into nature, and remembering just how simple life can be. The picture above is me standing on top of Mt. Wrightson which is in the Santa Ritas and is 9453 ft. tall (I’m holding up my hiking stick). I felt pretty happy to be up there, even though the peak was swarming with ladybugs. The view is tremendous—you can see in every direction for countless miles—distant mountains, vast desert brush and cacti, even the round copper mine. It was the first time I had hiked up a mountain by myself, so naturally I felt proud.

A cactus flower--one of the pleasures of hiking up a sky island.

A cactus flower–one of the pleasures of hiking up a sky island.

Where I pondered if I could really make it to the top.

Where I pondered if I could really make it to the top.

About an hour and a half into the hike up, I wondered if I was going to have the strength to make it to the peak. Thoughts were firing around like cannonballs in my head, and the persistent brain chatter felt like it was taking a toll on my overall hiking performance. I was wearing a light backpack, but I felt like the thought-load in my mind weighed me down too much. Fortunately, there were other hikers along the path that I smiled at and said hello to. I shared conversation several times along the trail with a guy named Hywin, A Chinese American who works at United Technology in Phoenix. I learned about his background in mechanical engineering as well as a college experience in 1980s China when his American English teachers shared “subversive” Western culture with his class by playing Wham! on a cassette tape. He talked about his passion for hiking (he’s seen several wild bears before), and the fact that he’s excited for his 9-year old son to almost be old enough to accompany him on a hike up a 14er (a mountain that’s at least 14,000 ft tall). I really enjoyed meeting Hywin, and he said that I was a pretty cool guy, too.

Hywin

This is Hywin. I remembered his name by thinking of Tywin Lannister from Game of Thrones. I even made up a parody catchphrase for him: “A Lannister always hikes his best.”

Anyway, the point I’m trying to make is that every person, including myself, needs other people to share in our experience and get us out of mental ruts. Author and vulnerability researcher Brené Brown once said that,

“Imperfections are not inadequacies. They are reminders that we’re all in this together.”

You can watch her TED Talk on the power of vulnerability here.

Sometimes, our brain chatter can be too much for us to handle, and when that happens it’s important to reach out to other people to “change our frequencies” for a while. It doesn’t always have to happen on hikes—most of the time it can happen at work or out in public when instead of staring down at your smart phone for minutes on end you choose to look up, smile at somebody, and start a conversation. Let life happen instead of letting your thoughts overwhelm you before you act. Learn to relax more, and let your worries take a hike.

[Check out this dope spoken word piece about the power of “looking up”]