Archive for March, 2012

Road Show

Road shows are strange. Mostly because I never know where to stand. Don’t take this the wrong way. I certainly haven’t been to every venue in the Twin Cities, but of the venues that host the bands I like to see (playing in rooms that hold anywhere from 100-1500 depending on their popularity), I’ve managed to work out my favorite locations. When I’m by myself at First Avenue, for example, stage left balcony is one of the places you’re most likely to find me. When I’m with other people, I tend to be much closer to the stage, on the floor, stage right. In the Entry, it’s always stage right unless it’s too packed when I spill in from the Depot or whatever I was coming from prior, at which point I end up crammed in somewhere by the bathrooms. You can stand anywhere at the Triple Rock and it will sound great and you’ll have a pretty good shot of seeing things. The Varsity? Your best bet is to just walk right up to the stage unless you get one of those cool lounging couches for a laid-back show (good luck). At the Turf Club I favor the tables when I’m with people and the bar when I’m not, and if I really like a band, I’ll go stand right up front. Really, the only way to see a show at the Fine Line is to make sure you are up front, since the sightlines are terrible, but it doesn’t matter which side you are one. You can stand anywhere in Station 4 and it’s guaranteed to sound and look kind of terrible, because that’s just the way the venue is. Hopefully, you get the point. In the Twin Cities, at the venues I tend to frequent, I know where I like, for anything from aesthetics to sound quality. It’s when I get out of the Twin Cities that things get dicey.

DC9 is a venue that hosts a lot of cool bands. Shows that I would have gone to in high school if I’d been really cool or had an older brother who was in a band in the DC area to get me into good music (if it has been there that long…uncertain). It’s the equivalent of The Entry in my mind in terms of the bands it books. I saw Deafheaven, Alcest, Black Clouds, and Auroboros (whom I missed) last night (sadly, the Deafheaven/Alcest tour does not seem to include the Midwest since it was an outta Texas to NYC sort of tour). If I lived in the area again, I would live as close as I possibly could to this place (since it’s also walking distance from the 9:30, U Street Music Hall, and not that far from the Black Cat) since I could easily see myself spending 1 to 2 nights a week there (again, like the Entry). I have been to DC9 once before, for Free Energy two and a half years ago, before you or most people had heard of them, judging from the 40 or so people there (I have the 7 inch to prove it), and on that occasion, I really didn’t have all that much trouble getting sightlines, but I never really did figure out where to stand.

As an actual entity, DC9 consists of three levels. The first level is just a bar that has, in my short experience, always had a too loud DJ playing by the time the show is over. I haven’t been up to the rooftop deck, but it’s where the smoking is and it was definitely open since it’s nice here. The second floor is where the venue portion is. You walk into the bar, walk to the back, go up some stairs, turn right and basically walk back toward the street-facing portion of the building. As you walk into the room, there’s a bar on your right (no taps, always disappoints me when I see that). Ahead in the left corner is an angled stage playing into a rectangular room. There are booths that line both sides of the room, and I suppose potentially a few tables in the middle if there’s not music. It’s a bit awkward, to be honest. The sound is pretty decent, but this trip, I couldn’t determine if it were any different on the left or right side (which is good, but usually the sound does shift around the room a bit). And the sightlines are awful when there are people there. It’s a flat room and the stage is raised maybe 6-8 inches. They do have a lot of monitors around, but since the egress and green room are both behind where you come in and the bands stack up their gear between the booths and the stage. I’m tall enough to see pretty much anywhere at a show like this, but still, it was hard to make out too much of what was going on. They compensate by putting a decent amount of video monitors in the room if you are really intent on seeing. I found that I could see enough of Deafheaven and their swoonworthy lead singer that it wasn’t a particular issue, but definitely something to keep in mind for future shows should I find myself back there again (I’m guessing yes).

Maybe I’m just spoiled, but lots of good cities have lots of good venues, so I doubt that. It could be that I’ve just worked it out in the Twin Cities. I remember the same issue of not knowing where to stand at The Independent watching Keep Shelly In Athens. Not that sightlines were a particular issue in that place (raised stage and all). But I never did figure out the best place to soak in the music. Perhaps it’s just that I’m not on my home turf. Or even someplace that I have a great deal of experience with. Had I been at a show at the 9:30, I’m sure I would have known right where I wanted to stand, given that I’ve seen many a show there in my days. Though, in a way, that will always be my home turf, given that I cut my concert-going teeth there with the likes of bands that are mildly embarrassing to mention in retrospect (I’m talking about you, Better Than Ezra or Collective Soul) (though, if the price were right…). But that doesn’t change the familiarity with the venue. Tonight I’ll get to try and figure it out all over again as I make my way to Red Palace for Cloud Nothings and A Classic Education. And of course, it’s more than where you stand. It’s where you park, what the best thing to order at the bar is, whether the food’s any good, and so much more. A lot of little things can contribute to an overall experience, little things that you don’t think about, like where you stand or how long it takes to get there. A lot of that is expectation management as well. If you go into a venue expecting one thing, but end up getting another, you could end up with a completely different opinion. I never have that moment at the Entry anymore unless it’s in regard to the band playing. The venue still surprises me, but not enough to heavily influence my opinion of the product (whatever band that might be).

Still, it’s good to shake one’s expectations from time to time. Musically, I get that by consistently seeing new bands or seeing bands again after they’ve made a great change in terms of their sound, line-up, etc. But you can also get that the old fashioned way. A different city, a different venue, these sorts of things elicit different reactions, song choices, banter, emotion from the crowd and the artists. Some bands will probably never play Minnesota any time soon, if they ever do at all. So far this trip I’ve seen several that I’d have to travel to see because of that reason. And I will be spared the obligatory Prince/Replacements/Hüskër Dü comments at a show tonight, though it could just as easily be replaced with comments about The Dismemberment Plan or Fugazi here. Of course some of it’s showmanship, some of it’s also genuine though. Go to enough shows and you can start to tell the difference (or at least tell which artists are good at making that emotional connection in each city). Some bands just love playing First Ave and it shows (there’s a reason it’s one of the best venues in the US). But that’s not every band. And who knows when the next time I’m out of town I see a band on a stage that they take as one of their favorite places? I may not know where to stand in those moments. But I started seeing music because that’s one of the aspects that I love. You just never know what’s going to happen next. I’ve seen acoustic guitars smashed, people dry-humped on stage, simulated porcine sex (as some best put it), Brit Daniel randomly walk out for an encore with another band, just to mention a few things, and of course a ton of great music. Most of that stuff didn’t happen on the stage at First Ave or anywhere else in the Twin Cities. I am not comparing the other cities mentally in my head. I just know I’d be remiss if I didn’t carve a little time out of my schedule to do something that I still love, even when I travel. DC has things that Minneapolis never will musically and vice versa. It’s not better or worse, just different…okay, maybe the Twin Cities is a little better. I mean, First Ave. You never know, though, unless you go find out. Whatever it is that you love, go find out.

The Art Of Nothing

In the past, it’s been a general habit not to write in the Commonwealth. Whether it’s a lack of a computer or me not having the time, though, I’m taking this trip back to the homeland a bit differently. One of the problems that most of us have with vacations is that we try to do too much. One could argue that that’s a permanent sort of problem that most of us have. I am no exception. I may give off that vibe that I do too much all the time (though I don’t feel that I do). I may just do too much all the time. It could just be that I got lucky and won out on the “how much sleep I need to function” end of things. Really, we’re never going to know for certain. All I know is that today, for the first time in a long time, I really didn’t have anything to do. My parents asked me to help out with a couple things (considering the free lodging, free car, and years of expenses from my upbringing, certainly manageable), but otherwise today is a wide-open day to just sit around and not do anything. It’s really a glorious feeling.

Even when I try to do it in Saint Paul, I fail at it (at least on the larger scale). It’s hard to do nothing in your own space. When you look around, all you see are the big and little things that need doing, whether it’s a half-completed house project or a pile of dishes waiting to be loaded up in the washer. And it’s hard to do nothing someplace you’ve never been before. Shouldn’t one seize the opportunity to see what is down that next street in San Francisco, because it’s going to be something amazing? But this is Virginia. Not that I’ve seen it all or done it all, but growing up 18 years here, I certainly had the opportunity. And even if I only make it back once a year, I still have plenty of time to check off the little things I want to take care of on a trip, whether it’s a trip to a new venue (Red Palace) or a laid-back meal at the kind of brew pub we all need near where we live. So maybe this is just a bit of a unique space where it feels easy to get away with it. I’m not pressured to try some new restaurant, or go check out Air and Space for the nth time, or hit some trail. Certainly, I can and will do things like that on this trip. Just not today.

I definitely thought about making today a bit more busy. I was looking at things to do heading east into DC. Maybe a museum or something of that ilk. I was looking at things to do heading west, maybe a hike or just a drive away from all the people of northern Virginia. In the end I settled on something entirely me (Deafheaven at DC9) that doesn’t even start until a fair bit later. And while I could turn it into a hectic DC day of museum-hopping, monuments, and music, I just wasn’t feeling it. There will always be a monument that I haven’t gotten to in DC. At least when I only get back as often as I do. But there’s not always time for nothing. As we get older, it seems so much harder to find time to just do nothing. There’s always something that needs to be done. There always will be. When you are where you normally live, it feels irresponsible not to at least tackle some of the many tasks that need to be handled. When you are away from home, it feels irresponsible to not seize the moments that you have and do those things that you may never have the opportunity to do again. Though that’s just as true of wherever you might call home, the attached weight and pressure is just different. It’s easier to ignore something that you can (but won’t) do tomorrow, like go to the Minnesota History Center than it is when you are out of town.

But if there’s always going to be too much to do in the day-to-day, shouldn’t we as individuals make more of a concerted effort to find time in which we don’t do anything? Or least not anything that feels like it’s pressing down on us? I’m not just talking 10 minutes here or there. I’m talking half a day or a whole day. Certainly I did things today. So far I went for a run, grabbed lunch, swung by a car wash, and picked up a box fan. Somewhere, I carved out a bit of time to take care of this. And I just talked with my mom for a while, something that I definitely don’t get the opportunity to do every day, but nonetheless, another sort of carefree-feeling activity. Still, there are little spaces where I lie in bed or sit on the couch. Maybe a record’s on, but just as likely there’s nothing playing, and I just relax. I revel in those small moments of nothing. We all need them to recharge. Sure, there’s always something going on, and I do my damnedest to get to as much of it as possible. But there’s the paradoxical need to make sure that while trying to do as much as possible, I set aside those times to practice the art of nothing. I’m not talking putting on a tv show or a record or picking up a book. Not reading an article on your smart phone. Just nothing. For a few minutes at least. But sometimes you just need a bit more. Not that often, but I have to respect those times. Today is one of them. And other than stealing a few minutes here and there, who knows when the next one will come? Probably August if I get another backpacking trip in. Just remember to try and leave a little time for nothing somewhere, because I’m guessing just like me, you need it.

Frame Story

For whatever reason that anything begins to trend on the Internet, I’ve seen the following story or more easily digestible short recaps of it popping up all over the place: Why We Have to Go Back to a 40-Hour Work Week to Keep Our Sanity. It’s a well-written, decently well-supported 4000+ word piece about how we should all work 40 hours again because it’s better for us and we should start demanding it. It’s also Barmecidal (I’ve totally used that before recently, haven’t I?). Okay, maybe that’s a bit much to say about it, but I do think the somewhat tidy conclusion of we need to confront our bosses and change this, get back our work-life balance, rah rah rah is a stretch. In a multitude of ways. There’s the platitude-like nature of the statements in the ending as well. While the author does an excellent job of highlighting the problems, she really doesn’t do much to contribute to the solutions, or highlight the challenges therein.

I am not saying we shouldn’t be having this discussion. In fact, I think it’s great that we are. I agree with all of the items laid out. I’m not going to try and set myself up as some outlier. I’m sure the 40+ hour weeks I’ve put in for years and years do me no good. That time has to come out of somewhere (I certainly get my exercise, I usually have plenty of time to cook if I want, I’m guessing sleep, though even when I work 40 hours a week, that tends to get thrown under the bus). I get that. There’s a finite amount of time to do infinite amount of things. I, at least, am not salaried, though 1.5x the pay only ameliorates so well after you’ve had overtime for a long time. I consciously make plenty of other decisions that I know are not good for me all the time as well, though, staying up late to see shows, drinking, eating things that I want irrelevant of their overall effect on me at times. I could go on. We all have a lot of bad habits. Previous generations had bad habits. Future generations will have bad habits. Because they feel good. Or because everyone else is doing it. Just as we chastise past generations for their smoking, future generations will judge us for how much red meat we eat, or the fact that we even have fast food as a concept. The tide might be changing on a concept, but many of us are stuck in the past, in old ways that are hard to change.

And yet, it’s great that we have conversations about these things all the time. You never know when the next article you read, the next person you talk with, the next event you witness is the one that makes you realize that it’s time to change how you live. There’s a reason I bike to work. Because one day it clicked. Not that I can point to that exact moment. But at some point, it just made sense. I stopped making the excuses and figured out how to make it happen. It didn’t instantly cure all the other problems in my life. But in that one regard, I had finally changed my mind. I convinced myself to make the mechanics of it work. It actually makes me work less overtime than I used to in the past. So does living further from work. I made a couple changes that actually made it harder to grind myself down too much. So maybe I already did start to make better decisions.

But I think it’s too close-minded to say that all employers want or expect endless overtime from their employees. In fact, I think it least in my general area of my employer, the management group is making a concerted effort to get to a point where they don’t need overtime. The first couple years I was there, it was a pretty rare thing due to the fact that they had it forever at the beginning of the century (love that I can say that). But the past 3-4 years have just been a batshit crazy time to be involved in the mortgage industry, whether it’s because you are working too much or too little is tough to say. I have been on the end where I’ve been working too much. Which is great for my bottom line in terms of what I’m taking in (again, I get paid overtime) and not that hot for a lot of other things in life. That is ignoring the fact that I should probably try to live within a pay structure that doesn’t include overtime. But you get used to what you have, even when you try not to. I’ve learned how to get that balance better while making it work for my employer. It’s not optimal, but that’s how it works.

In the meantime, it’s not like my employer has sat idly while overworking us. They’ve added many many employees to my overall area. They’ve added them as much as they can fit them in the building. They’ve added people at other locations in the country. They are making an effort to address the fact that we are busy, staying busy, and it’s not likely to change. But I work in a tumultuous business, that mortgage industry. The overall workflow, whether because a competitor changes business strategies (or goes out of business) to whether a state or the country changes regulations, has quite a bit of ebb and flow. It’s not my job, but looking up, it seems like a rather challenging thing to figure out how to appropriately staff. It feels like when we’re caught up there are too many people and the rest of the time there are not enough. There’s a balancing act involved with that, and it’s not just based on the more cynical thought of how we can maximize profits (though, I’m sure someone is thinking about how to make as much money as possible. It is business). I am sure that we are not the most productive people because of all of the various stressors and I am sure that the numbers in many various studies are well based in reality.

All of that isn’t even getting into the simpler costs of the matter. Where do we put people? We need the space, and those kinds of facilities cost money, whether it’s as simple as keeping the air on or paying the security for it. It costs money to stock those facilities with the necessary tools of our trade, computers, office supplies, etc, and we aren’t even in a capital-intensive business when it comes to what we need, but I imagine it’s still not cheap. So on that side of things, there’s certainly a cost. This doesn’t even scratch on the human capital, the fact that even though I don’t feel like my job is too hard for people to get the hang of, many people bust out, or what it costs to have an employee beyond just salary (insurance and other sundry benefits). In a perfect world where the people coming in make a sufficient amount of money, and we don’t have to worry about the lost capital of spending resources to train them, and the benefits work out for the best, there’s still a cost to bringing in and keeping those people. It doesn’t magically remove unemployment if we have a tough time finding people who can even do the job. And I’m not even in all that specialized a location in the industry (given my sweet B.S. in English Literature and all). Would you rather have substandard work from people who can do the job but don’t work as well working 60 hours a week or substandard work from people working 40 hours a week that just can’t cut it? Not a particularly enviable situation.

I get the impression, at least with my specific line of work in my specific area, that they are cognizant of all of that. But there are business pressures. There are still so many loans to deal with. So many. And as an employer, the decision between figuring out how to balance out taking on business versus taking care of everyone is tricky, but I’m not so cynical as to think that my overall boss doesn’t want us to be balanced as individuals. There are a lot of conflicting alignments pulling us all a lot of directions. Some of us have stretched ourselves too thin and need the extra money. Some of us would rather be there than a lot of other places in our lives, for better or for worse. Some of us just do what we’re told. In that sense, standing up for ourselves makes sense. But that’s not just in regard to a 40 hour work week. If you need the money, then why do you? Because of things you want? Things you need? Because life hasn’t shaken out well and it’s costing you more than you’d hoped? Look, there could be a million reasons. It’s not really too worth getting into. Or rather, it is, in your own personal life, in your own circumstances. You need to be asking yourself those questions. And I don’t have a platitude that’s going to change the unique circumstances in your own life.

I have, however, grown somewhat less cynical about the nature of things in life, especially in regard to the working world. I get the impression that, at least where I am, that they are making an effort. Have I been hoodwinked? Am I willfully convincing myself of that which is not the truth? It’s certainly possible. We do that to ourselves all the time. And while reading about the need to get back to 40 hours is great, what I have to ask myself is what am I doing to help make that a reality? Certainly just standing my ground helps myself (ignoring any potential blowback). But now that I’ve got a promotion and I’m moving up a little, how do I make it better for more than just myself? Maybe that means putting in slightly longer hours now until we can get more people up to speed.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve already learned that there’s too much to do and there will always be something else to work on. That’s just true of life. It’s not pithy, it’s not a platitude, it just is. Me just saying I am only going to work 40 hours is a selfish solution. Even if we all did that, it would be treating the symptoms, not the cause. When I read the piece by Sarah Robinson, I’m struck that it feels like half a story. It may be convenient or clean for the purposes of storytelling, but there’s not much discussion of how to actually address the problems. Standing up for yourself is one thing. Figuring out how to actually effectively implement change not just in your life, but in the lives of others? That’s a whole different affair. Because if life is about balance, it shouldn’t just be about taking care of ourselves. Yes, you have to look out for yourself. I’m not going to provide trite solutions to that. What I am going to figure out, at least in my own life, is how to actually sustainable get to the point where I do work a bit less. Which means not just figuring out how I can make a better contribution, but how I can get several other individuals to make better contributions. I don’t have the solutions either. But I think we ought to at least be talking about them.

What People Are Made Of

I’m not in the habit of discussing work all too much in this space (both because as a general rule I shouldn’t and because I don’t want to be dooced), but it bears mentioning that not once, but twice, my bosses commended my integrity on Friday. Not in the good way (well, it was in a the good way), but more as a preface to the fact that it may well dash other plans that I’ve had my eyes on for quite a while in regard to my CFE and continuing education opportunities. The core concern, of course, is representation and potential mis-identification of my opinions for the whole of my employer (corporate synecdoche if you will), one that I wholeheartedly understand, even if I disagree with it and I find myself disappointed about the way things currently stand. But that situation is still playing out, and if I’ve learned anything over the years, it’s that I’m constantly surprised about how well most things actually turn out if you don’t get too down. So I shall wait on that front. I’d like to think that the frustration doesn’t spill over into other areas of my life, but I’m guessing that’s incorrect if this weekend has been any indication.

I’m definitely not the first to say it, but life is a confluence of events, and the way they all come together at times is quite amazing. Probably the best personal example I can recall is when I was hit by a drunk driver at the corner of Cedar and Riverside late one night leaving a Cowboy Curtis show. In fact, that’s what the opening of that story is all about. So sometimes life is timing, and the moods of everyone involved, and all the other myriad shit that’s been going on in their life that might affect that. So as you can see above, I already had some stuff weighing on me. I try to leave work at work and I generally do a pretty good job of that, but sometimes you just can’t, and it’s colored my entire weekend. Even as I tried to entertain myself and enjoy Saint Patrick’s Day yesterday (even if it’s fucking amateur hour) and I crisscrossed the cities on foot and bike, it was always there bubbling. It’s still here right now, bubbling, though time assuages pretty much anything even if we don’t think it’s going to. So I spent the morning and early afternoon with the masses in Saint Paul. If you can believe it, when it feels like summer instead of March, a few more people come out. While I am by no means an agoraphobe, there’s only so much crowd I can take, and I was finding some odd triggers as I stood there watching the parade go by, from the wasted med students behind me to the families that just had to get to the front, but I maintained my decorum until I could get home and recharge.

Later that evening, I found myself at First Ave (as I am wont to find myself) watching E.L.nO. by myself after my plans for that portion of the evening fell through, and it was good and enjoyable, but that feeling was still simmering even as I took in wonderful covers like “Telephone Line” and “Mr. Blue Sky” (I not so secretly love E.L.O). After that and some Irish pipes, I stood at a decision point again, where to go next, what to do next, and I decided, if I can get into the Entry for free, why not see what’s over there, but after a couple songs, I realized that this was just not doing it for me, so I gathered up belongings and I bid the fine staff of First Ave a good evening. My mood had, if not improved, at least leveled off.

Now here we are at one of those moments again (but aren’t they all?). I’m sure in all of my time downtown, plenty of drunks have stumbled and fallen on my bike when I’m not around. Plenty of times, people have the gall (whether fortified by liquor or not) to tactlessly question my gender, though sometimes it’s quiet enough that I’m sure I can’t hear. Plenty of times I have been in a foul mood and have been ready to take the head off of the nearest person who pisses me off. All of those things probably happen with some regularity (unfortunately). As I am digging my rear light and gloves out of my bike bag, three just over 21 looking guys wander up the sidewalk on First Avenue. One of them, in the state of his amateur hour induced drunkenness that is “being Irish”, falls on my bike. Hey, it happens, I’m willing to look the other way after a quick word or two. No harm, no foul in my book. The bike’s fine, I’m fine, he seems to be fine. Everyone’s happy. It’s when the inebriated jackass spits out, “Hey, are you a guy or a girl?” that I’ve had enough.

I get it. I don’t conform to everyone’s idea of gender norms by any means. We can save the debate about what passing means, whether anyone actually does it (even in their given gender) 100% of the time, and why it does or doesn’t matter for another time. All I know is at that exact moment I would have absolutely none of it. Not from some punk who’s too drunk to walk in a straight line, not after the kind of weekend I’d had so far, and not again. There are so many times when it comes to the things people say to me that I just take it on the chin. You can’t fight every battle. You just can’t. It’s a shitty reality. It’s not meant to signal that you should just roll over. But there’s a time and place. And there are a million different ways to deal with the slights we all face on a daily basis, irrelevant of the reasons. I tend to adhere to decorum, even when I don’t want to. It’s the Issola in me (I do love green and white…). And maybe last night was the flip side to that. I shot up in an instant and I got right in that guy’s face, and I asked him in no uncertain terms if he had a problem.

At this point (or maybe the point where his two either less drunk or more reasonable friends realized they were dealing with a big, angry 6’2″ individual irrelevant of gender), some cooler heads prevailed as one his friends kept going with him and the other one apologized for him (no apology at all really, but at least that guy wasn’t a jackass, points for him). I spouted a bit more invective about him and a bit more about how this happens to me all the time, regardless of the day or the drunkenness of the individuals (though I’m sure neither of those things had happened) and I’m sure I entertained a few people on the streets and they developed their own thoughts on the entire situation. And though I was still quite angry that I even had to deal with it, the moment had passed.

But for a brief moment, I wanted nothing more than to destroy that guy. I am so sick of the questions. I’m so sick of what they reveal about how many people I deal with every day think about me. It can be easy to get despondent over the fact that I am a woman in a world that largely does not view me that way. Or that an encounter like that (setting aside my reaction) is fairly common. Not that any of that really crossed my mind. I am sure it was all sitting there, coursing through me. Not that getting an assault charge would have made it better. Or really made me feel better. That was just impulse, all of that, all the factors coming together to make that the impulse that I felt right then. So what stopped me, then? Certainly, I had a couple drinks myself, but I wasn’t drunk, so I had my facilities about me. But you don’t have to be drunk to start a fight…so what was it?

There it is again, that integrity. Look, taking a swing at some poor sap isn’t going to solve anything. There are certainly times where it’s worth fighting for something, and this definitely wasn’t one of them. I wasn’t in any danger. And this guy, even if it didn’t feel like it at the exact moment, he just wasn’t worth it. Physical or otherwise, I have plenty of other fights ahead of me, of that I am sure. Fights that will work out better for me if I maintain that integrity. Whether it’s fair or accurate or something else entirely, I feel like I have to hold myself to a higher standard. I am not just representing myself. None of us are. Whether it’s fair or not, whether I mean to or not, I represent all the things that comprise who I am. I represent my employer and my college and my high school and my home state and my gender identity, etc. All the time, whether I mean to or want to or not. Which facets of what we represent (or at least which representation stands out) vary greatly from situation to situation, but we all represent those things all the time, or at least have the potential to. And at the end of it all, it’s not worth damaging my integrity just because of some random drunk on Saint Patrick’s Day. It’s impossible to judge the influence, if any, that I will have on that guy or his friends because of that experience. But I wouldn’t have been true to who I am had anything more happened. That certainly doesn’t mean I’m not going to fight for myself. I continue to, every day, in a variety of ways. Just not like that. Maybe that’s what my boss was talking about.

It Was Supposed To Be So Easy

There’s a lot in a headline. Here’s an example: Sweden Moves to End Forced Sterilization of Transgender People. This came up a few days ago in a friend’s feed, and well, who am I to resist a good trans link? Now, there’s nothing wrong with the story, or really particularly the headline, but as I commented in short, it does touch on some of the more complex nature of being trans, and how one goes about getting society to accept it. Now forced sterilization is essentially what I went through. I, of course, understood that the very nature of a vaginoplasty ensured that I would never genetically have children (having not frozen sperm or donated it, etc). But there’s a lot in word choice. Most states, at least to change your birth certificate, require that you have had, or have scheduled, surgery, along with requisite proof from the doctor who performed it. While there can be a lot of debate about what “irreversible medical procedures” are, at least in the MTF world, a vaginoplasty is a pretty irreversible thing with respect to sterilizing you. But how are you selling it? Are you getting a vagina and aligning your genitalia with who you are or are you going through sterilization? There’s a ton of gradation between those two ends as well.

Of course, to complicate things, surgery certainly isn’t the solution for everyone. Whether it comes down to money or a simple desire not to (there are many other factors as well), plenty of people who identify elsewhere on the gender spectrum than their birth gender and choose not to take surgical routes to ameliorate that. What do we do with those people? How do we figure out how to meet their demands? Because that’s essentially the problem that you start running into when you try to figure out where you draw the line in regards to how gender shows up on legal documentation. The U.S., for all its craziness, actually is a pretty amenable country when it comes to getting things done (or so I’ve found at this time in life). Granted, I live in a rather trans-friendly area (the state of Minnesota in general and the Twin Cities in specific), so my viewpoint may be a bit skewed. While I was certainly worried, I didn’t actually have a great deal of difficulty getting my driver’s license changed (well before surgery). Once I got that changed, it was a bit of a domino effect as I had something legally binding to change the rest of the data (with a few exceptions). Of course, the concern is, with nothing to back it up, what happens when someone calls you out on it in some regard. I certainly didn’t view it as fraud (this is who I am), but that’s not necessarily what the rest of the world at large might believe. Who do you treat someone who is outwardly female, but might still have a penis (correct answer, not like this)?

So how do you do it? This isn’t to say I don’t support Sweden’s effort to change the legislation, but where do you draw the line? Society is constantly shifting those things. We say no to athletes taking performance-enhancing drugs even though the goal is to make them better athletes. You could start making a case about how that damages their body, etc, etc, etc. But I can’t genetically have kids. From that standpoint, I’ve elected to do some pretty significant damage to my body. Not including whatever fun effects estrogen has on me (hopefully, my pancreas will never melt, as Dr. Feldman so eloquently put it). It’s a pretty simple example, but society is judging where we put the lines. And I, I try not to judge. Certainly, something like BIID doesn’t make any sense to me. That’s just not my experience. But how is it any different in terms of a high level look than what I’ve been through? How is any amount of surgical modification? Yes, it still seems weird to be addicted to plastic surgery and have hundreds of surgeries. But one tummy tuck or a nose job? Or even just handful? What if it is because you went through an accident? Does that suddenly make it more palatable? There’s a line, of course. But where is it?

I didn’t do a thorough amount of research, but just looking back at the Mother Jones article, it does fail to mention where is that line? There does have to be some sort of arbitrary place. Is it living 2 years in your chosen gender if not a surgical option? More? Less? Look, I get that the gatekeeping is frustrating, and it leads to a lot of pain for a lot of people (costly, time-consuming, etc). It also concentrates a lot of decision-making in the hands of people who maybe shouldn’t have it. There’s a ton of valid questions about how and what is the best way to figure out as a society how everyone else will recognize your transition. In that regard, I think Sweden’s efforts to have that discussion and shift that line are great. As a society, we should constantly be revisiting those sorts of things. But to get back to the specific example of transgender individuals…A ton of it is internal, and there’s a ton of validation in being yourself. But there’s even more validation when you both want and can get your documentation updated too. It’s empowering to realize that it’s not just in your head anymore when you share it with your friends. It’s just as empowering when you’ve got the state (or whatever governing entity exists where you are), maybe more so because you’ve got that back up. It’s a nice feeling to have someone in your corner, in any regard in life. Having society, in its laws and strictures, recognize that who you are is valid? It’s that feeling times a thousand.

I would love to think that having gone through the specific experience of transitioning I’d have something more authoritative to say about where that line should be, or at least what’s right, or what’s definitely wrong. But I don’t. I’ve seen people who only need to go through the bare minimum of therapy because they’ve got their shit together and they are just looking for someone to sign off on things for the insurance. I’ve seen others where it may take a lot longer to get through it because there’s a lot more than just being trans to sort out. I was somewhere in the middle. Some people will circumvent the gate-keeping entirely, choosing to go it on their own or electing not to utilize the services that it provides because they neither need nor desire it. Or because they can’t afford it. Or because they aren’t even aware that kind of support structure exists. It’s not fun being told there’s something wrong with you even though there isn’t. But the insurance coverage that comes along with someone saying there’s something wrong with you? That’s pretty nice. And that’s currently how it’s structured if you want insurance to cover your estrogen. Or if you’re lucky like me, your surgery. Which is what I needed to do to be able to change my birth certificate. That’s certainly not why I had surgery, but it’s a nice bonus. The people of Sweden are currently trying to change where that line is. And to them I say good luck. It’s not an easy thing as an individual to decide where that line is, much less as a society. But it is nice to see that it’s changing and those sorts of conversations are happening.

Explore Minnesota

As I was riding home today, I’m pretty sure I saw half of the Twin Cities, walking dogs, riding bikes, jogging, just enjoying what has been the best day in a winter full of good days. I think we can officially put winter to bed for 2012. Certainly it will be chilly in the mornings still, but I don’t see a high below 40 or a low below 20 for the next several days, so I can start thinking about shedding a layer on the morning rides, slipping in an extra five minutes, and hopefully getting home a few minutes sooner since it’s that much less clothing to put on and take off. That’s the hidden cost of winter biking. There’s a lot of layers going on there, and all that clothing takes a lot of time. So I think I can suffer through a couple mornings in the near future as I keep hitting the bike.

Unfortunately, I only just crossed the 700 mile mark for 2012. I know, I’m so lazy. On the plus side, I have ridden 32 of out 66 days (outside, at least…exercise bikes hardly count), and that percentage is sure to go up as we get into the stretch where I ride to shows, Twins games, or whatever the hell else catches my interest. I know that the longer days are ahead of me, when I start turning in 40 and 50 miles instead of just 22. And you know what? I look forward to it. Of course, spring and summer come with their own special hazards as more and more people crowd the roads and trails. It’s always a little treacherous on these first few nice days, not because of the ice (though that will be back in force one of the next few mornings), but because everyone out there is getting their bearings. I want them to, but you have to pay attention. People are still working on the kinks on their rides, still getting back in the swing of the simple courtesies of the road, and generally that stuff is not automatic. But it does come back (except for those jackasses who just never had it and never seem to want to find it).

It’s going to be tougher to get a tune-up, but that’s a good thing. That means more people are getting ready to get out there. Don’t take it into the shop just to put it back in your garage or basement and not pull it out again. There’s a bike storage room in my building and I swear 4/5ths of those bikes never move. Some of the owners may not even live there any more at this rate. Setting that aside, I should call Freewheel and schedule some time, because my bike needs some work as it is.

And if you want to see Lake Calhoun, you better go now. Because it just gets ungodly as it warms up. It’s the one place I am happy to be when it’s raining or cloudy or cold because half the Twin Cities is there if it’s nice. Bless their hearts, but there’s too many people who are just there to be seen. And there are so many better lakes in the chain. Maybe you are out there to see and be seen. I’m fine with that when I’m walking. But it’s a mess on a bike. There’s just not as much to see at 15 miles an hour.

Look, I’m not saying I expect you to start biking to work tomorrow (though, you know, it’s not that hard…). I know we all have a lot of things in our lives that pull us simultaneously impossible directions. While it would be noble to ride to work every single day, that’s just not going to happen in my life. Not that I shouldn’t try to make it happen every day, but there’s a lot to juggle. Sometimes I need to be in Brooklyn Park at 6, and while I certainly could do that on a bike, there’s still the fact that I would somehow need to get back to Saint Paul later that evening. Even someone like me who bikes a fair amount has to make those decisions. And maybe it’s not biking for you. All I’m saying is, I get that winter is an easy excuse to not do things. Especially this winter, when the normal wintry things weren’t even possible. Minnehaha was a little sad, though it was also nice to see the only partially frozen falls. It’s a bit different.

Anyway, it’s time to get onto those goals. Because this year, I’m figuring out how to get my bike from Saint Paul to Hastings. And though my mileage was a little disappointing for the first couple months, 6000 miles is still a realistic goal. Because the 200 mile weeks will begin to pile up. It’s not all that much anyway. My parents will ride at least as much as me probably, and I have an uncle who will definitely ride twice that. I bike because I enjoy it. I don’t expect everyone to. But if you are getting out there, are you enjoying what you do? Because you should. There are too many great things to do, especially right here in Minnesota, for you to be spending too much time doing one that you don’t enjoy. Whether it’s on a lake, around a lake, or nowhere near one doesn’t really matter. We can get too caught up in all the various bullshit of life. The long work days, the things we need to do, I get it, I have them too. The dishes still don’t wash themselves and until there’s a fundamental restructuring of the way our employment is structured in this country, I don’t think the long work days will stop any time soon either. Personally, I long for the days when the bike paths and road trails are so crowded that we actually have to pay more attention to that infrastructure. While it’s a bit contrary to a large part of why I bike (seriously, cut 5-6 hours of driving in traffic out of your life and see how much less stress you feel) as more bikes mean paying more attention and probably falling into those same pitfalls, I think we as a society are a long way from that. And it’s never going to become most people’s primary mode of transportation. So if it’s not biking, that’s fine. And if it’s not why you bike, that’s fine too. Get out there and run, or walk, or take those dogs to Cedar Lake. Make this the year you finally see Cascade River or the Devil’s Kettle. And if you don’t live here, I’m sure there’s plenty to do wherever you are. It’s not that hard if you look for it. The question is, do you really want it?

Please Check One Or More Boxes

I get asked a lot of unusual questions in my life (then again, I’m pretty sure we all do, but I’m going to be selfish for a minute). Being that I’m the confusing intersection of gender and sexuality and we have enough trouble talking about those things as adults, it’s understandable. They are questions that you wouldn’t ask a lot of other people, though. Do you ask a random woman or man you meet at the bar to point out anyone that they think is attractive in there? I couldn’t tell if it was a question to try and peg me or not in terms of trying to parse my gender and/or sexuality, if he was hitting on me, or if he just wanted someone to share his love of Asian women. This was after a new entry into the all-time pick up line fail list; someone asked me if I was the mom of one of the band members in Phantom Vibration (hey, at least he got the gender right!) (also, really? Really?) during the show last night. Personally, I don’t mind answering questions like that most of the time (they are so entertaining). I try to be approachable because that’s who I am as an individual (I believe that is my grandfather’s work). It has nothing to do with my line of work, my gender identity, my sexual identity, my likes or dislikes, or anything like that. That’s just me. It’s just something I’ve grown into the past few years as I’ve found that I don’t particularly have anything to hide anymore. Not that I’m just going to divulge anything and everything to the random strangers I meet at The Bulldog or the Turf Club, where those conversations respectively occurred. What I’ve learned from it is that most of us lack an adult vocabulary to discuss issues of gender and sexuality.

Not that I’m really all that surprised by it. It’s just a little shocking how hard we work to categorize people (even if it’s unconscious). Putting it in more normative terms for most people, think about the people you find attractive in your life. We are constantly trying to come up with objective standards to judge it, but there’s an ineffable nature to attraction. “Why do you love the woman you are in love with? Because she is?” as Huxley said best. No matter how many qualities of your partner you enumerate, there’s always those ones that you can’t put into words. Istigkeit, if you will. Now this isn’t a problem when attraction falls into your neat little rubric for people you like in terms of traits. But what do you do when it doesn’t? How does it add up when someone who is normally outside of what you consider attractive turns you on. Life likes to put things into neat little categories, which is why we spend lots of time checking boxes about our gender, ethnicity, income levels, number of kids, whatever. We like to take that information and see if we can make sense of it. We are all outside of those boxes, though. They never get quite specific enough to capture everything. In our heads, we have our own ties to what we think of. Our types, if you will, of what we find attractive. Why, those boxes above overlap, don’t they? Those are all important things to a lot of us. Though I’m not trying to, I can pose a fundamental challenge on the basic level of my gender. Because I don’t fit as neatly into the boxes as someone might expect. Even people who know me have trouble figuring out what that means in terms of my sexual identity. And that can manifest itself in the form of a simple question; who I’m looking out over a crowd with a drink in my hand?

Also, I’m not particularly offended when people ask me who (in general) I am attracted to. It’s actually a really smart question, even if it comes from a place that’s just usually confusion. While it can certainly come across as an importunate sort of question, I find it’s because we tend to be more puerile than matter-of-fact in the way we discuss attraction. We shouldn’t assume that the people we meet in society fall into our normative (at least societally speaking for most people, heterosexual) mores of what sexuality is about. There may be a greater statistical chance, but it’s probably not a necessary judgment to make most of the time. And yet, most of us do, all the time (I’m no exception). Even though there are so many gradations within what being heterosexual means, we just take it on a very basic level. That’s not even getting into the fact that we conflate gender identity and sexual identity all the time. What does it mean when I say I am heterosexual? It is that simple. And yet, it obviously isn’t. Certainly, I had relationships with women in the past, and while there may have been attraction there, there was also the great sense that I needed to do something normative to distract from the fact that I was not facing my gender identity or sexual identity in an adult fashion. But that right there shows that it’s not simple. So now people who have known me for a long time have to wonder. Anyway, I can’t do anything in particular about that other than learn from the experiences and try to be more honest with myself going forward. So I am heterosexual. Because I’m female and I’m attracted to men. But…see where this gets problematic? It’s a simple statement, but it also has a lot to do with how other people perceive you. If I’m not being perceived as female by someone, where does that put my sexual identity? If someone is attracted to me, but has trouble accepting me as female, what does that say about their perception of their sexual identity? How does one rectify thoughts with feelings?

It’s negative for me because I’m unconsciously limiting the people I let in. I get tripped up in my own gender identity and wonder how anyone I meet will deal with that. When I shouldn’t. Because that’s not my problem to deal with. That’s someone else’s problem, and I have my issues to sort out. If I don’t want someone making those assumptions of me and my gender and sexual identity, then I shouldn’t be making the same assumptions right back at the people I meet. I can deal with whatever comes up because of that when it comes up, but I can’t preemptively handle anything in regard to my gender. I just can’t. The takeaway for me is that I just need to be more confident about it. And as open with myself as I am with other people at times. Even in the most normative sense, relationships are crazy, weird, messy things. No matter how simple, or normal, or great it looks to outsiders. No matter what the intentions of them are from the onset. They are a lot of work, and there’s a lot of communication that goes into it, even if it’s just something for the short term. Of course, at its most basic, there has to be that attraction there for a relationship to kick off. And I’m probably not going to end up in the relationship that I thought I would. Do any of us do that? Not that either of those guys took the greatest tack to trying to kick of a relationship last night. And not that anything was going to happen with that first guy. But it’s not like the second guy was too bad looking. He at least had the braggadocio to say that I could say him for who I thought was attractive at the bar last night. Not last night, though. But maybe next time.

If Not For Me, Then You

You may have heard me mention Ad Hoc a time or two. You may be familiar with Kickstarter. And you’ve definitely heard me mention their Kickstarter campaign. It seems to have set off an interesting flashpoint in the new media spheres as it relates to music, criticism, expectations, and what one should get out of the whole endeavor of doing what you love. I haven’t been paying a ton of attention to what’s been said about the nature of it until recently, as Ad Hoc and associated blogs like No Fear Of Pop make the case for why it is a $33k venture. I’ve obviously already chosen sides with my contribution to the venture. They sit only $4k away with just a couple days left. So there’s been a lot of push from sites I follow on Facebook or just go to. Me? Maybe this will count. Probably not. I’m not really here to make a case for Ad Hoc in general (though I will). I think it’s great that someone’s willing to do that. I give just as willingly to help support things like The Current, because as much as I don’t agree with all of their choices musically, the fact that we here in Minnesota have that resource is pretty amazing. And I think the two dovetail quite a bit in the sense of our expectations these days.

What are our expectations from our media these days? I think it all depends on where the price point was set. Many people are still perfectly willing to pay for their cable, for example, though I am not one of those individuals any more. And when I go to watch shows, while I don’t necessarily expect them to be free, I am pretty shocked when they haven’t eventually found their way onto Netflix. And yet I only pay $8/monthly. That’s apparently my price point when it comes to many things I’m willing to watch. If it’s not free on the Internet or readily available on a streaming service with a small nominal fee like Netflix or Hulu Plus, I am probably not watching it. There’s a small class of shows that I make exceptions for in terms of my price point, though, as evidenced by my DVD collection. I’m willing to spend money on seasons of Psych or The State because I think those sorts of things deserve my money. This is, after all, a user-defined effort. And the price I’m willing to pay is obviously going to vary depending on the importance to me. It’s easier to sell myself on paying more for a 22 episodes of an hour long show than it is on 16. I believe there should be a certain amount of commensurate scaling to the prices of such products. It’s tough to sell myself on $50+ for a season of Doctor Who, no matter how great the features are, but $20-25 for Community, I’ll gladly pay. And while I might feel there should be a commensurate scale for what I pay, I hypocritically do not have it worked out in my own head what my commensurate scale is. I make uneven decisions about what I am willing to pay for a show at various times, depending on my mood, how much the show means to me at that moment, whether I think it’s hit a price point it’s never going to hit again, or just because. It’s a hypocritical sliding scale as to what I’m willing to pay.

Not that I think it should be objective or even know how it should be. I certainly feel that way sometimes, but when I logically try to put it into words, it falls apart. It’s tough to make an argument that x should always be the cost of a record or a tv show or a concert. That’s part of what makes artistic ventures vary so much in terms of what we are willing to pay. Taking a look at my record collection, I can see a variety of items that I have paid a wide range of prices for. I was perfectly willing to pay $33 for Brighten The Corners: Nicene Creed Ed., yet every time I pick up some records walking the aisles of the Fetus, I hold them for quite a while, and I eventually put them back looking at the totality of the records I have. The past four trips, I picked up Returnal by Oneohtrix Point Never, and I walked the store with it, but it wasn’t until my last trip that I actually kept in the stack, eventually deciding that the $20.99 price plus the discount made it worth it. What changed my mind? Fewer other records that I just had to have in my stack as I winnowed before my final purchase? My growing love of the work of Dan Lopatin not being sated by what I currently had? In the end, it’s hard to say. All I know is that the factors (whatever they were) added up, and now that record sits on my shelf.

Live music brings with it the same batch of confusing hypocritical decisions. I didn’t want to pay $15 solidly enough to see Atlas Sound last night, so it sold out before I finally decided the day before that I had nothing else going on, so I might as well see Bradford Cox’s solo venture. And I like Atlas Sound. I just couldn’t quite convince myself to lock in before hand. The Entry is a poor example these days, but the Main Room still fills me with occasions where I question whether a band is worth as much as is being charged. Is Social Distortion a $30 band? I paid that much, but I’m still not sure. On the other hand, the first show sold out already and another one was added, so obviously, a lot of people say yes. Certainly, there’s basic economics to the whole sliding scale of who pays what for shows. I may not get another chance to see Madonna. But definitely I won’t pay $381.22 for a floor seat at the X. I don’t care how good the seat is. That’s almost as much as I spent on my First Ave membership for an entire year. And yet, there are plenty of people who have already paid that, as again, Madonna has already added a second show. The economics of the situation seem to dictate that yes, that seat is worth that much. But not to me.

Which brings us back around to Ad Hoc. I gladly went in for $50 when I initially saw that it was happening, in the past few days, as it was uncertain if they would make, I explored whether it was worth it to me. Yes, I don’t know what the new site is going to be. I can only judge past and present work of the individuals involved. But I think of the bands that I may have discovered otherwise, but definitely did discover because of Altered Zones. And the totality of the great music, from Food Pyramid to Jürgen Müller, The Caretaker to John Maus, Puro Instinct to Twin Sister, just so many great artists that I have records by, that I have seen (in some cases, multiple times). While it’s certainly true that I could have heard about them other ways, it’s just as true that I may have missed them, and I know for a fact that Altered Zones helped me get there. So yes, I have a similar degree of expectations from Ad Hoc, that they will keep introducing me to great information like that. And yes, I may have less of a need now that I’m more plugged in and have so many great blogs and artists to try and keep up with. Though I don’t think that’s true. But it’s not just about me. Ad Hoc could be a great resource to a number of people who were at the point I was at a couple years ago, looking to connect but not finding the right place to do that. That was it for me. I looked at the totality of that and decided, yes, not only is it worth it to me, it’s worth more than that to me, so I kicked in an extra $100.

The chief criticism, at least based on the comments I’ve seen from people around the Kickstarter campaign, is that it is a bit arrogant and/or unrealistic for Ad Hoc to ask for that money when there are so many places that do what they love and are willing to do it for free. It is certainly an understandable attitude. Ad Hoc is, at least nominally, trying to shift things a bit and pay the people who contribute, at least something. But I take the converse position. It is arrogant of us to expect that people continue to do things for free that we reap the benefits of. It’s arrogant to tune into public radio and expect that everyone else is going to donate. It’s arrogant to expect that just because people love doing something, they should keep doing it for us for nothing. And it’s downright foolish to expect that other people are going to help keep the things you like around, in any arena of life. Of course there are risks to doing something like giving money to a Kickstarter project. Those are valid concerns. I’ve participated in a few before and not had any bad experiences, but I see how that could really be a tough trust issue for some people, as one of the projects I funded last year took months to complete. I could feel like the returns I get are not worth the amount of money I put into any project by the time I finally get them. But to wish for the failure of people who are trying to put it together? Or resort to ad hominem attacks of the individuals at the associated blogs? That just seems like too much. Not that I’m surprised by it. Just disappointed.

I get that a lot of us out there, whether it’s related to music, or some other great passion, spend a lot of time filling the Internet with endless amounts of commentary, the detritus of the modern age if you will. And no, I’m not about to turn this into some sort of plea for money. I do write because I get something out of it personally, and I bet a lot of the people at those music sites I read do too. But you don’t get what you don’t ask for. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with asking. There are other cool projects, musically and otherwise, that I’m thinking about kicking in for. Some, I’m sure, I will decide are worth it (I would be remiss if I didn’t shill for a friend right here, so here you go, Jason) and others I have already passed up on while mulling over. They all have their varying price points. We will decide what is worth what in our lives, and that’s constantly shifting territory with so many factors that you can’t even begin to lay firm ground rules. Other than being honest with the circumstances in your life at the time that you make those decisions. I am by no means a rich person, but I certainly have the wherewithal to support the things that I find meaningful in life to some degree. Not everyone’s going to have the same means. I get that some people may not have any means to donate to the things they love after taking care of the necessities in their life, and I totally respect that. We all have vastly different points from which we judge what is worth what. I understand that while I am up front about this and more than willing to donate, I’m probably myopically riding coattails elsewhere and getting things I love and not realizing that I’m not paying for it. Or realizing it, but just not doing anything to change my behavior in that regard. I get it, I’m a hypocrite. We all are in some form or fashion. It’s not all intentional behavior on our parts. At least I’d like to hope that. But I do believe our expectations of what things are worth, especially on the Internet, need to shift a little bit. Just think about it a bit.

We All Thought We’d Be Such Stars

Sometimes I worry that I will never get the hang of being an adult. I am cool with all the profoundly awesome things like paying for my own vacations; I am okay with working a day job on the whole because it subsidizes all those other things and something has to. Most of us are not independently wealthy, and I’m not even sure I’d want to be. What I have a lot of trouble with is the banal things. Convincing myself that it’s time to buy new socks; forcing myself to remember that at some point before I go to bed, I’m going to need to take a couple minutes and brush my teeth; spending time digging through the internets to learn the best time to buy luggage (conveniently, I need to buy luggage and it’s March). Not that I wasn’t aware that being an adult would be a lot of work. Being a kid was a lot of work in a whole different way. Life is a lot of work. It’s just amazing sometimes the plethora of things that we have to juggle in our day-to-day.

Have you gotten the hang of it? Or are we all just faking our way along? I’m inclined to lean toward the latter. Or maybe faking it isn’t quite right. It’s just that we get these perceptions of the adults in our lives when we are young. Think back to that time and you can certainly recall some unshakable giants who bestrode the landscape, parents, relatives, teachers, etc. For me, particularly, I can recall facts about those people, but they almost have mythical status. There’s your parents and grandparents, Scoutmasters and formative teachers, and like mythical gods, they are the personifications of certain attributes. Faith, perseverance, hard work, cool, whatever they may be…the younger people that we influence can certainly gain the same perceptions of us. And though it’s not glamorous to think about, our grandparents were probably muddling along just the same, worrying about how they were going to make it all work, wondering if they were making the right decisions. Maybe the what they were trying to make work has changed as society has shifted somewhat, but I look at my grandparents, and they both worked as long as they could while still trying to raise 5 kids. And I’m sure they were still dealing with the banal things just as much as they were trying to figure out how to make it work so their kids could have the things they wanted while simultaneously trying to find the things that they wanted. This isn’t new by any means.

No matter how much we read about it or listen to the stories of our elders, we just have to live it. (Though in a different context) there’s definitely a difference between knowing and understanding. We have to discover that there’s no one to wash the dishes until we have kids old enough (and those are expensive dishwashers), so there’s got to be time for that in between trying to catch with an old friend to take stock and see what the hell has happened to our lives. Certainly not what we thought when we were 16…there are other aspects to, that we can only learn by living through it. For example, getting paid to not have anything to do at work sounds like a glamorous proposition. Free money and all that. And yet, I find days like I’ve had recently where there’s not as much to fill my 8 hours to be particularly harrowing. Even in the Internet age, it’s very easy to stumble onto the end of the Internet in no time flat. And while the means that we thought we would entertain ourselves have changed, I’m sure older generations faced the same issues. It’s tiring trying to maintain a state of awareness, and whether you are doing the crossword puzzle by hand or online, it’s still hard to switch between the leisurely pursuits (even if mentally engaging) and work, and I doubt that has changed.

I think about a lot of the other things I thought life would hold when I was a kid, when I looked at those mythologized figures around me. But it’s pretty obvious that how I explained it to myself as a 10 year old is not how any of those adults were living it now. Of course, there are much bigger shocks that 10 year old me would have to face if I were able go back in time, but setting that aside, I think any of us, if we could go back 20 or so years (or whatever’s appropriate for your age) would find that our 10 year old selves do not believe us. And I think that most of the time, in the moment, we all wonder if we know what’s going on or if we are doing it right. As time goes on, our memories of the events crystallize, though there’s been a lot of discussion recently that the very act of remembering changes our memories. But I’m not here to worry about that too much. If it happens (and I’m inclined to agree), then we all do it.

How does that affect our perceptions, then, of what it means to be an adult? If we are recalling specific examples, particularly of those mythologized figures and a mythologized time (whether or not it is, most of us want to hold up childhood as a halcyon time, though it definitely isn’t for many), aren’t we changing our very thoughts of what it means to be an adult? Or our past perceptions at least? And aren’t those ideas tied to a time that is no longer relevant anyway? Certainly, there are lessons to pull across all times, but what it means to be an adult in 2012 is no doubt quite different than what it meant in 1992.

Yet, it generally comes down to the same thing. Being an adult means taking responsibility, for all the myriad things in life, whether it’s showing up on time or the massive undertaking that is raising a child. Some require more responsibility than others, but that’s the biggest defining aspect of it, and that has probably never changed. Maybe the age that we expect young people to take responsibility has shifted. For many of us, I doubt if our idealized vision of what it means to be an adult accurately accounted for the level of responsibility required. I doubt if it ever has. As a rule, I’d argue most of us (myself included) look at the rewards without thinking about the sacrifices required to attain them. The award of adulthood, then, is being able to define what you want to do. Within boundaries of course. You still have to figure out how to pay the rent and put food on the table, even if it’s just for yourself. We all thought we would be such stars, didn’t we? And to a younger generation, I bet we still look that way. It’s not our job to tell them the amount of effort it will take to burn brightly. They’ll figure that out on their own. Besides, I don’t think it’d stick with them at that age. So no, I doubt if I’ll ever get the hang of being an adult. I’m sure it looks like I have on the outside, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But there’s always room to wonder.

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