slubs in the city

Slub (adj): Maverick; unorthodox; independent in behavior or thought.


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on abusing the concept of entitlement.

Regarding the business of being an American:

Recently, I read an opinion piece called 10 Things Most Americans Don’t Know About America”. I was caught by the title – I thought that the article would uncover some little-known, fascinating facts about our nation, of which I’m sure there are many. In this case my instincts were off. The author of the piece, Mark Manson, is an American reflecting on his home country through the lens of a world traveler, and he uses his platform to address the knowledge gaps he perceives in Americans’ own self-awareness of their place in the world. A quick scan of the article’s comment section reveals that, although Manson tries to stress his own personal biases, his beliefs are highly polarizing.

The list itself is worth the read, but in essence, Manson is driving home an oft-repeated message: Americans think too much of themselves and of their situation.

In summary: we don’t really impress anyone, mostly because other people don’t think about us on even an occasional basis when they’re making daily decisions. We’re ignorant about the rest of the world. We can’t express gratitude or affection because we’ve been socialized against it. Our quality of life isn’t actually that stellar, especially because the rest of the world isn’t actually a slum. We’re paranoid because we fear losing status and attention, which are two of our main life goals. We are an unhealthy population and, moreover, we’re unhappy because we overvalue the ease of comfort.

Manson uses the following video to polish his assertions with a Hollywood sheen:

In the video, Jeff Daniels’s character waxes poetic on all of the things that used to make America great but (according to the character) no longer typify our society, asserting that “the first step in solving any problem is recognizing there is one.” Manson echoes this piece of wisdom, claiming, “There are things I love about my country. I don’t hate the US and I still return to it a few times a year. But I think the greatest flaw of American culture is our blind self-absorption.”

 While I have many thoughts about the video (most of them negative) and about Manson’s statements (some positive and some negative), my largest reaction to the entire piece was: this isn’t anything that, as an American, I haven’t already heard.

Are we Americans self-absorbed? You could argue the point either way. But I do not believe that we are unflinchingly blind.

To say that we, as Americans, think that our nation is greater than it is would be to put words in our mouths. That is the problem with leveraging generalizations to make a point, however useful or applicable those generalizations may be. We are a people who have a personal awareness of our own, personal situations, and that awareness manifests itself on a more global scale depending on the individual – just as it does for Finns, or Ghanaians, or Turks, or Peruvians. Education is essential to expanding our awareness beyond our front porch, and as a global community, I believe that it is our responsibility to think critically about how our actions affect others. But the beauty and the difficulty of education is that it can be an emotion-driven experience, and we must be careful about how we label the problems we’re attempting to get others to recognize.

I do not believe self-deprecation will induce most Americans to gladly hop onboard the CHANGE AMERICA NOW train. I also don’t believe that shouting at us to wake up forwards the dialogue for the many Americans who would see our generation succeed in a society that we understand as being flawed. What we need now is a way to redirect the conversation towards unburdened progress, a progress that learns from and respects our history but is not strictly beholden to or punished for it. We must recognize that we are a citizenry that has been endowed with a rich set of values which have differentiated and aided us in the past, a values system that has continued to shape our present – but that we are also a citizenry that must actively work to transform our values for the future. This process of metamorphosis is not helped by those who would criticize us; rather, it is nurtured by those who would share with us an alternative path, recognizing that our way of doing things might naturally be different.

I am proud to be an American, regardless of the faults that others perceive to be inherent in that classification. I will be even more proud as our society rises to the occasion and greets the critique of others, not with defensiveness, but with a willingness to learn and the confidence to grow.

con amor,

shan


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to my future child, from your millennial mother.

To my dear future chubby-cheeks:

Lately, your future mother has been hearing a lot of noise about how her narcissistic generation needs to get over feeling like we’re anything special.

You see, a few years before you were born, I attended a Citizens League discussion titled “The Looming Intergenerational War”. The purpose of the dialogue: can entitled, liberal Millennials, ignored and indifferent GenXers, and social security-hogging Boomers sit in the same room without feeling the need to rip into each other for perceived affronts to their dignity and lifestyle? (Am I perhaps being hyperbolic, you ask? Pffft. As my child you should realize that I am never sarcastic. Ever.)

Say nothing about the conflict in Afghanistan: as I write this letter to you, my Millennial comrades and I are currently locked in a brutal socioeconomic fight to the death with our Boomer parents and even our GenXer older cousins. Why, you ask? Mainly because many major news outlets, politicians, and the Twitterverse have trumpeted in no uncertain terms that we are, in fact, at war. How can I possibly look at your grandparents now – my sworn enemies – without being moved to openly weep at the cruel fate that has placed us at opposite ends of the cultural battle field?

Future baby, here is the supposed plight of my Perez-loving soldiers in arms: our older coworkers call us lazy because we refuse to put in our time at the bottom of the employee food chain – after all, we’ve been so used to receiving trophies and accolades for our mediocre work that we now scoff at positions we deem “below us”. They say we whine incessantly (and unjustifiably) about Boomers leaving us to inherit a bleak economic future, even as we’re simultaneously instructed to get our s#!t together because Lord knows we won’t have social security to fall back on when we contemplate retirement. (Someday you and I will have an enlightening conversation about what that s-word means. Today is not that day.) We are looked down upon for being coddled, for having everything from grades to smartphones that we don’t deserve, for being unmotivated. Sometimes, we aren’t even called Millennials or Generation Y – our hugely inflated egos are more likely characterized by the moniker Generation Me.

Okay…seriously though, baby. I want you to know that, regardless of our age and generation – Boomer, Gen X, Millennial, what have you – very few of us today actually believe this crap.

Grandma and grandpa are not perfect (despite what they might tell you), but both your uncle and I will strongly assert that they brought us up in the best and most loving way they knew how. If my mom and dad have ever told me I’m good at something, it’s because I legitimately am. Listen baby, your momma is fully aware that she’s a hot mess when it comes to math and science. My pride has been kicked down a notch on more than one occasion regarding my (lack of) athletic and artistic abilities. So why is it such a complete and utter travesty that I’ve ever been encouraged for being good at something, like possessing a knack for written communication, or having talent with a musical instrument, or being able to think critically and objectively?

What’s more, some of the best praise I have ever received has come to me in the form of criticism. A story (and you’ll probably hear this one often, baby, so listen up): when I was a freshman in college, I pulled an all-nighter to write a large research paper for one class and a one-page literary response for another. Both were deplorable examples of scholarly work. However, when I received a check-minus on the one-page response (the symbolic equivalent of “at least you strung some letters together on a piece of paper…”), I was indignant and felt I had been misunderstood. I went to my professor’s office to plead my case and prove that my argument was clearly articulated and supported by textual evidence. He replied, “No, it wasn’t. You were wrong. I know what you’re capable of producing, and I will always expect more of you.” I thank God for that professor, and for the lasting impact he’s had on my self-esteem, because he was right: I can do better. Remember this, baby: regardless of your strengths, you should never assume you have learned all you could learn. We can all, always, do better.

Generational war is largely a myth, child of mine. Your generation will struggle to find its place in the world when you grow up, just as my generation is currently working to build a successful future that we can claim as our own. Rest assured that your grandparent’s generation, and generations of ancestors before them, has done the same. History can give us context for our decisions, but the only person responsible for your life is you.

Someday, baby, you will grow up and leave me. I can’t promise I’ll be the coolest mom in the world, and I can’t promise I’ll always do everything right by you, but I swear that I’ll raise you the best way I know how, just like your grandparents raised me. I will help you to recognize and to grow your talents, because without them, you won’t know how to establish your place in this huge world. And I will encourage you to surround yourself with people who are more talented in other ways than you, and who will give it to you straight when you need a slice of humble pie. You are not perfect, baby, and while you should be bold in the knowledge of your strengths, you must never forget to be vulnerable and open in your weaknesses.

And most of all, baby, I vow that you will always know that you’re special…because to me, you already are.

With love,

Your mother*

*Nope, I’m not currently pregnant. Hope we’re all on the same hypothetical page here.


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taylor swift ain’t got nothin’ on this love story.

If I approached my love life like popular culture suggests a woman my age typically does, I’d realize that it’s probably time for me to dump my boyfriend and try out a few drunk, crazy, liberating one-night stands. I’m 24 and I live in a big city (although Minneapolis holds nary a candle to NYC), so I guess that means I should really relate to the romantic trials and tribulations of the characters in Girls on a very deep and intimate level.

Except that I don’t relate to those characters, any more than I can relate to Lena Dunham, the media-proclaimed “voice of [my] generation”. Ms. Dunham is an incredibly talented artist who has managed to capture the story of a particular youth subculture in an effective and entertaining way, and who has fortunately made a living from doing so. But Ms. Dunham’s story isn’t my story.

okay, so i guess i can relate to these girls in one way — i’ve totally taken a fake laugh group photo before. awkward. [image credit: here.]

I frequently browse the New York Times’ column Modern Love, a series of articles submitted by big- and small-time authors alike that aims to holistically reflect on the meaning of love as it is understood in our day and age. The submitted articles are sometimes uplifting, sometimes painful; they are all candid, and for the most part do not boast to reveal anything more than a subjective experience with one of humanity’s most basic and primal emotions.

Yesterday, while perusing Modern Love, I stumbled across an article written by a man who, four or so years ago, was a senior in college. His submission, titled “Let’s Not Get to Know Each Other Better”, is well written, witty, and in many ways a fairly accurate glimpse into what it means to be a 20something navigating the social scene with other 20somethings. Musing on his colorful dating history, Mr. Walkowski asserts, “For my generation, friendship often morphs into a sexual encounter and then reverts to friendship the next day. And it’s easy as long as you don’t put yourself on the line or try too hard. Don’t have a prospect? Check Facebook. Afraid to call? Text.”

And therein lies the problem: I am part of your generation, Mr. Walkowski, but your love story is not my love story.

My brief and arguably vanilla history of amour includes a handful of dates, a couple of fantasy courtships that existed and played out entirely in my head (I’m looking at you Joseph Gordon-Levitt), one short summer fling, and one very long relationship. I didn’t have my first kiss until I was 18, and in the six years since that relatively embarrassing but forever memorable occurrence, I have only kissed one other person. If hookup culture is actually a thing, I wouldn’t know – in fact, I’m still not exactly sure what all the term “hookup” implies.

jgl

zooey deschanel may have passed you up, but i never will, JGL. just so you know. [image credit: here.]

Regardless of my own lack of experience, I don’t believe that my peers’ ability to love casually, freely and openly can be easily classified as either a bad or a good thing. It just is. We have a myriad of ways to find someone to date, and relatively few social taboos that regulate how we go about dating that/those person(s)  in a manner that fulfills our needs. We all have so very much love to give, in a variety of shapes and flavors and colors and forms, and it would be tragic if that love were confined exclusively and selectively to one other individual for the duration of our short and unique lives. It is not my place to judge the way you love, just as it is not your place to judge the way I go about achieving the same dream.

Still, my love story can’t be tracked according to Taylor Swift’s biggest hits.

it’s okay t-swift. you just do your thing. [image credit: here.]

Neither, however, can it be defined solely by the man who has shaped my notion of love for the past eight years.

I know that there are couples among us who were high school sweethearts, who have only ever dated each other, who got married when they were barely into their twenties even though people told them they were “too young” and are still together and in love. There are people who instinctively know, upon first meeting someone, that they will marry that person – even if they don’t know much else. Some teenagers meet their one big love as a freshman in college and are done forevermore with the entire dating game. I’m aware that this kind of ell-encompassing romantic attachment exists because I’ve read about it, over and over, in its countless iterations and manifestations. I’ve also been fortunate enough to witness the beginnings of big life love in at least one of my very dear friends, and it has been inspiring and comforting for me to watch her grow as a woman in such an environment of commitment alongside her partner in crime.

It’s quite possible that I met The One when I was a socially awkward 15-year-old and sat near him in AP English. Tomorrow he could choose to put a ring on it or to break my heart and move on, and that uncertainty keeps me on my toes more often that I would currently like it to. But in the end I know that my love story can’t be explained by an episode of Sex in the City any more than it can be summed up by a Nicholas Sparks novel.

And to me, that’s the very point of modern love.

If we all love differently, then no one relationship is “right” – which means that, for all the movies and poems and articles and novels and artwork and songs and plays composed about love, none of us really has any idea what we’re doing. We need shows like Girls and the Modern Love column to help us process our own feelings and emotions related to love, because our desire to create and maintain affectionate relationships – in their dizzying variety of forms – is what compels us, in part, to move forward with our lives. But we can’t assume that we’ve learned everything there is to learn about love simply by viewing another’s experience, nor can we pretend that our own knowledge on love can even come close to fully conceptualizing the idea.

My love cannot be contained within a sociological oversimplification of the way my generation functions. Neither can yours.

Isn’t that an amazingly freeing idea?

Sometimes I think about all that I could experience if I played the field, dated around, met new and exciting people to share my life with. Sometimes I get jealous of my friends who are engaged or married, and wonder if there’s something wrong with my own relationship. But when I’m feeling restless, it’s helpful for me to remember: wrong or right, my love story is my own.

For the record, I think I’ll stick with my current catch. He’s pretty fantastic. Unless you’re reading this, Joseph Gordon-Levitt…in which case, we should talk.

con amor,

shan


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oh queen anne, my queen anne

I found this table at an antique store in Rosemount, and I’m currently coveting it like mad.

It’s an expandable Queen Anne.

It comes with 6 black, high top chairs that only match the table if you have a vaguely eclectic aesthetic taste.

And the fantastic textile on the chairs pulls the look of the entire set together in a surprising way.

It’s all very hipster vintage. I can picture it sitting elegantly in my future dining room with a rug underfoot – maybe bright red? – and a vase of freshly cut flowers. My gut was telling me to impulse-buy the hell out of that table and chairs.

And then reason stepped in.

The summer before my senior year of college I landed an internship that required me to become baseline financially literate. I read a couple of different books to build up my minimal financial knowledge, but the one that most caught my attention was All Your Worth: The Ultimate Lifetime Money Plan by Elizabeth Warren and Amelia Warren Tyagi. The authors’s recommendation for navigating your financial life is simple — get your money in balance. They advocate the 50/30/20 plan, the breakdown of which is explained by this nifty pie chart:

[image credit: here.]

Being a single girl without a mortgage, children or even a dog, and (thanks entirely to my very selfless parents) living a debt-free lifestyle, it’s been relatively easy to stick with the 50/30/20 plan. In all honestly, though, I’m more ready to give credit to my own ignorance for that success than I am to thank my limited financial understanding.

Proof in point: instead of pouncing on that dining set from the antique store, I made myself walk away so I could sleep on my decision. I also decided to balance my monthly spending plan (which I haven’t done since…July, maybe?…) and see how much money I have left to play around with.

To date, I’m in the red $66.14. And I don’t get paid for another 4 days.

I don’t know about you, but when I think about spending money I get tripped up on the scientific difference between a “want” and a “need”.

Here is a list of things I DESPERATELY NEED that would probably only qualify as wants if I was cold-hearted and had absolutely no material desires.

  • The hipster vintage dining room set of my hipster vintage dreams
  • Every piece of clothing that J Crew and Banana Republic has ever manufactured in the history of ever
  • A vacation to Scotland to be with my ginger-haired brethren
  • The new iPhone 5 because I am privileged and think my iPhone 3 is a waste of technology
  • A sassy pair of brown leather boots

Here is a list of the things that I actually do need in my life.

  • A completely new set of tires for my car
  • Enough cash to pay for upcoming birthday, wedding and holiday gifts
  • Renter’s insurance
  • Food from the actual grocery store
  • A check to pay back my mom after having freeloaded on her auto insurance policy and cell phone plan for the last four months

How do you find a balance between addressing your priorities and indulging in your precious life to its fullest? How do you go about making sure that your money provides you with the opportunity to choose, rather than with the limitations of choice? Some days, I think I may be starting to get it. Other days I realize that I really have no idea.

I still want the table and chairs.

con amor,

shan

UPDATE: Yep…I bought the table and chairs. That happened.

[Additional photo credit: My kickass instagram skillz.]


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how the world perceives me: i really like wontons.

Comparatively, my work world is relatively small. Everyone here on the 15th floor of Thrivent’s Minneapolis corporate office works at wall-less desks, in pods of four, in a sea of pods placed neatly across an open layout. It can be easy to create relationships with people close in proximity to you, especially because they can hear every phone call you make, are privy to every conversation you have at your desk, and have no trouble spying on your computer screen as they walk past. Plus, our open floor plan is meant to mimic another concept we seem to prize here in Marketing Development: the regular and even distribution of employee talent across multiple initiatives and programs. So it would not be out of line to think that, after a cumulative year of working here, most everyone would recognize me by name.

But you would be wrong.

A couple of days ago my Development Coach broached the topic of personal branding during our one-on-one because, as she tells it, a lot of the senior management only know me by my rather distinctive color of red hair – but not for the things I’ve accomplished during my fellowship. And even that’s not a good enough distinguisher for some, because believe it or not there’s another Shannon with red hair who works 15 feet away from me.

I’m an introvert by nature. My introverted brethren will understand that this doesn’t mean I’m a tortured and shy soul who would rather jump out of a plane than interact with people on a daily basis. I like people a lot. I thrive on maintaining relationships. But to me, the instinct to create a relationship in the first place doesn’t always guide my every action. A very dear friend of mine incorrectly thought I was a little snobby at first blush (what she took for aristocratic indifference from accross the room in our class together was actually an all-consuming focus on staying awake), so it appears I’m doomed to repeat history if I don’t start purposefully seeking out relationships with some of my more illustrious coworkers.

Like any good Millennial I’ve decided to ask the internet for help. Dan Schawbel has graciously come to my aid with his article “Personal Branding 101: How to Discover and Create Your Brand”. He outlines the process of creating an entirely outward-facing personality in two easy steps, so I figure this is probably my golden ticket to critical acclaim. Please, follow along with me as I discover who I am by addressing Mr. Schawbel’s questions with your own personal answers.

HOW TO FIGURE OUT WHO YOU ARE SO YOUR POPULAR BOSS AND COOL COWORKERS WILL WANT TO TALK TO YOU

Step one: Discover your brand.

According to Dan, “Brand discovery is about figuring out what you want to do for the rest of your life, setting goals, writing down a mission, vision and personal brand statement (what you do and who you serve), as well as creating a development plan.”

I’m approaching these questions from a place of honesty and complete personal transparency.

  • What you want to do for the rest of your life: eat jalapeño cream cheese wontons.
  • Setting goals: engage in a brief and steamy encounter with Leonardo DiCaprio at least once before I die.
  • Mission: force everyone I know and love to speak exclusively in Spanglish.
  • Vision: currently it’s pretty poor because I’m nearsighted and have astigmatism in one eye.
  • Personal brand statement (what you do and who you serve): I play the Sims obsessively and I serve the god of jalapeño cream cheese wontons.
  • Development plan: I’ve already gone through the whole puberty thing so I’m pretty confident I’m stuck with barely B cups for the rest of my life.

wontons

jalapeño cream cheese wontons — you are my love and my life. [image credit: here.]

Success! I hope you were able to tackle these gargantuan ideas with as much ease. Let’s move on.

Step two: Create your brand.

As Dan instructs, “Now that you know what you want to do and have claimed a niche, at least in your mind, it’s time to get it on paper and online.” Here’s what Dan suggests you have in your personal branding toolkit:

  • Business cards. Is this really still a thing? I will condescend to ordering these only if someone has created musical business cards (like the Hallmark cards that play music when you open them) and I can hand out my personal brand stamp to the tune of Independent Women Part 1 by Destiny’s Child.
  • Résumé/cover letter/references document. I’d rather not waste all the paper handing these out to everyone and their mom, so I’m planning to screen-print my résumé onto the back of a lime green t-shirt and wear it to work every day.
  • Portfolio. This assumes that I have any artistic or creative talent. I once tried to copy a picture of Taylor Swift from a magazine cover during a particularly boring class, and my horrified friend informed me that the result made the star look like a geriatric loner addicted to crack and plastic surgery. Those are strong words.
  • Blog/website. If you’re reading this post now, you’ll know that I’ve succeeded in blogging to enhance my personal brand! One million points to Gryffindor!
  • LinkedIn profile. I don’t even want to admit how long it took me to figure out that what I thought was an L in the name of this site is actually an I, and that it’s pronounced “Linked-IN” and not “Linked-LN”…which is not a word. Baby steps.
  • Facebook profile. I’m still too lazy to convert to Timeline, even though apparently 115 of my friends have. Whoops.
  • Twitter profile. All I can tell of Twitter is that it’s largely abused by arrogant celebrities to broadcast their tired opinions and by masochistic Americans who take pleasure in torturing the defenseless intricacies of the English language.  I just don’t get it.
  • Video resume. Dan thinks you should create a short, one-minute video to explain why you’re the best for a job and what you’ll bring to the table. My video script would read like this:

SHANNON: I’ve got a college degree and a clean bill of health. You’re not going to get anything better. Hire me.

HIRING MANAGER: Sold.

  • Wardrobe. Pffft. I’m all over this one. Banana Republic better watch out for the day I get a pay raise.
  • Email address. This one I should probably pay attention to, since I’ve shared an email address with some other woman for years and every once in a while get her emails about pregnancy and being a vet. Uncomfortable.

    this image shall, from now on, represent my personal brand. [image credit: here.]

Here’s what I’m saying: I recognize the need to make myself relevant in the eyes of my superiors, because they’ll undoubtedly help me get farther in life and because I respect them. But following Dan Schawbel’s suggestions (while they are very thoughtful and elegantly expressed) to build my personal brand seems like way too much work for a devoted slub like myself. I’m just banking on the fact that you’ll like me as I am.

con amor,

shan


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this is for you.

According to the US Census Bureau, there are over 7 billion people sharing our planet today. There are 7 billion people eating breakfast, talking on the phone, walking to work. 7 billion of us are brushing our teeth, becoming a parent for the first time, battling a disease, losing a loved one. Throwing a baseball, throwing a tantrum. Doing our homework. Singing and dancing. Shouting and fighting. Giggling. Weeping.

Over 7 billion people are living today. Isn’t it ironic, then, that in a moment any one of us can feel alone?

To date, our blog has been mostly about happy events and solitary reflections. But to me, the purpose of blogging – more broadly, of writing in general – is to chronicle a variety of emotions and experiences. Not every day is going to be a happy one. It can’t be, and it shouldn’t be, and that is a reality which every person in this sea of 7 billion must reconcile himself or herself to. Sometimes our day doesn’t end on a good note, but that’s all part of being one in 7 billion, and in certain instances a lack of Hollywood-like resolution should be embraced.

Aside from serving a functional purpose, in taking the bus I have found that public transportation can also provide a study in the human condition. I have overheard plenty of congenial and warm conversations, but I have also been witness to tense phone calls and outright verbal warfare. Some people quietly read a book or fiddle with their technology. A few listen to music.

Others, though, stare listlessly at their hands, at the passengers sitting near them, or out the window. Sometimes these individuals convey a sense of thoughtfulness, and I wonder what images or stories must be playing through their preoccupied minds. Sometimes they seem to imply a sense of weight, and I wonder what their lives have witnessed.

I was struck by these same reflections yesterday as I served an afternoon meal at a homeless shelter in downtown Minneapolis. Many of the individuals who wandered through the doors of House of Charity were polite, well-spoken and well mannered. They said “please” and “thank you”, just like my parents taught me to do, and they sat down to their meal with friendly conversation for whoever wished to join them at one of a few dozen communal tables.

Like on the bus, though, some of the individuals seeking a warm meal and a sturdy chair came to the shelter wearing their unhappiness on their sleeves. A few stumbled through the line, clearly intoxicated. A couple chatted nervously to themselves and to the servers. Many held their trays out to receive food, neither speaking with the volunteers nor making eye contact. Who has the right or the responsibility to judge their story? Who among us at the shelter was spotless enough to throw the first stone at the drunk, the drugged, the mute? I wondered at their lives as I passed out rolls and slices of bread. Some of those individuals no doubt had every reason to be heartsick. But while I was serving food from the other side of the table, with my own lunch waiting for me back at work, I couldn’t help but feel that our experiences might in some basic way be similar. I have felt the expressions of contentment and doubt that are reflected on the faces of bus passengers and meal-seekers alike register in my own features.

And yet their experiences are not mine, and mine are not theirs. Our world may be tumbling into the dangers of overpopulation but we each have our own lives to straighten out.

When I spend time wandering aimlessly through an internal dialogue on the human condition – what makes us be happy, and what makes us be sad – I find personal inspiration in the poetry of Brian Andreas. His written work is a mixture of simple statements and bold theories, and is illustrated by strange and fantastical representations of human beings that oftentimes I don’t understand. It’s one thing to document experiences with strangers on the bus and at the soup kitchen, but since Andreas has captured that quiet part of me that resonates with beauty and despair alike I wanted to end this post by sharing one of his best pieces. This is for you.

[image credit: here.]

con amor,

shan


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it’s not classy, but for some reason we do it anyway.

Yesterday’s setting sun witnessed a typical Monday night at the slub house: we continued our unhealthy obsession with awful cable shows by indulging in a 2-hour dose of The Bachelor.

Before you write this post off as another abuse of the blogosphere by a complete ninny, let me state that the Bachelor(ette) is a glittering example of the crassness of reality television. It is also one of the most degrading parades of desperation currently on air. The five of us slubs are fully aware that The Bachelor is completely dreadful, and yet last night we were curled up before the TV in our stretchy pants with a glass of wine and a fountain of scathing commentary.

There are many reasons the Bachelor(ette) is unworthy for general viewing.

(A)   The show perpetuates the idea that true love can be cultivated almost instantaneously, even amidst the treacherous realities of extreme serial dating and fantastical episodes of courtship. Shockingly enough, I’ve personally never spent a second date with a potential suitor on a tropical island with 5 other competitors.

…or you could go on a date with a bunch of other chicks dressed in dopey costumes! true romance!

(B)   On that note, here is our favorite reality show’s success rate: Of the 23 seasons of The Bachelor and The Bachelorette (not including this current season, considering we don’t “know” the results yet), only 2 couples who made it to the end of the process are married (and the first couple to tie the knot has been married for 9 year). Yes, I realize that the show has produced a third married couple, but the bachelor from that season actually became hitched to his second runner-up (which doesn’t count) and their 2 year-old partnership began with a nationally televised wedding (which makes everything seem rather suspect).

only successful couple. do you thing trista and ryan!

(C)   Every episode of the show is littered with cheesy metaphors for love. Last night’s gems included comparing the Swiss Alps to scaling the rocky peaks of a relationship and conquering a fear of heights to conquering a fear of commitment. Listen honey, it’s a cool date idea to swim with sharks in a protected environment with professional staff watching you like a hawk – but that does not guarantee that you will be able to navigate the choppy waters of your fledgling relationship with a man who has been making out with numerous other women for the entirety of your acquaintance.

best quote from jaclyn this season: “this is the first time i’ve ever been attracted to a sheep.” ouch.

(D)   Even though they have their pick of the litter and – surprisingly – a few seemingly normal individuals participate in the show (Chris Lambert), the bachelors and bachelorettes never appear to use their brains when deciding who to propose to. In fact, I’m fairly certain that many of them have made unsound judgment calls with…ahem…other body parts. That’s what pure animal instinct and a room full of beautiful people will get you. We are only human after all.

the man:woman ratio seems to be a bit off here.

Watching Courtney and Ben steam things up on the boob-tube last night, though, Anna and I discussed the arguably least respectful part of The Bachelor(ette): the show’s audience.

The plot never changes, the competitors never become more reasonable, the relationships never last, and yet my friends and I have been following this show for years. You know what they say about train wrecks: as gruesome a sight as it is to behold, we just can’t look away. Anna summed up the irony of the Bachelor(ette) best last night by pondering the following:

As a third world country we routinely call out other societies (such as Middle Eastern culture, for example) for treating their women with less respect and deference than we believe we give ours. So if our female population is so much better off, then why on earth is a show like The Bachelor – or even The Bachelorette, for that matter – in existence? And why the hell do we watch it?

Lord only knows.

Truth bomb: For some reason we just really enjoy watching the Bachelor.

It’s always best to shove some of your more grandiose thoughts under the rug once in a while. Fortunately viewing reality television has yet to kill anyone, to my knowledge. The slubs will still be watching the finale of the Bachelor when it airs in two weeks. And we’ll still trash talk the show until the world ends.

You know what, I think I’ve found a way to wrap this post up with a viewpoint that’s representative of our house as a collective: Pick you battles and change the world with the resources at your disposal – but if you happen to enjoy lounging around in gym clothes and indulging in a show that highlights the more absurd parts of humanity, that’s okay. If there’s one thing you shouldn’t do straight out of college (or ever, really), it’s take yourself too seriously. We support your decisions all the same.

con amor,

shan


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value [val-yoo]: noun, verb.

Presumably you’ve just read the title of this post and are now thinking, good holy Lord above, not another reflection piece. Here’s what’s up: I’ve been on an introspective kick lately, mostly because Kat and my lives have been lacking in epic adventure and our literary resources are stretched a bit thin. Some of you may in fact want to hear about how much queso (multiple bowls) and how many cupcakes (multiple dozens) we have consumed over the previous few months, but that wouldn’t make for a very long blog post.

                        but seriously.

My last entry was about everything I’ve learned in the past 226 days from working at Thrivent and living with Kat, Laura, Nora and Anna in Minneapolis. Writing that post reminded me of another blog entry I penned way back at the beginning of my fellowship, when I was still amped on graduating into “adult world” and there was thriving greenery outside: read it here.

The post recounts my experiences with a values card exercise. With the help of a deck of 50 flashcards, each with a moral principle and a definition, I selected the top 5 standards in my personal values system. But like Kate Middleton’s status as a commoner, those top 5 values are SO seven months ago.

she’s a duchess now after all.

I’m an entirely different person now, thanks to Michelle Bachmann the mouse and our recycling collectors. So I tried the values card exercise again, and – wouldn’t you know it! – 3 of my top values have gone the way of the buffalo. Or should I say, they’ve simply transitioned.

Check yourself, I’m about to create a stunning visual for you:

“OLD” VALUES                           “NEW” VALUES

1.   Diversity                              1.   Autonomy

2.   Education                            2.   Community

3.   Faith                                    3.   Education

4.   Freedom                              4.   Fairness

5.   Happiness                           5.   Happiness

As you can see, both Education and Happiness managed to stick around. Darn it all if I don’t firmly believe in my right to learn and be happy. But who invited those other three strangers to the values party?

Autonomy:

  1. The quality or state of being self-governing, especially: the right of self-government.
  2. Self-directing freedom and especially moral independence.
  3. A self-governing state.

My parents have a significant collection of home videos from when my brother Collin and I were little. During a family picnic in one particularly memorable video, a tiny Shannon stands brandishing a hotdog like a scepter and repeatedly shouting the name of our country into the camera for no rational reason: “Umnited States of Umehwika. UmNITED states of UmEHwika.”

My intense love for the political philosophical foundations of our nation appears to have begun at a very early stage in life.

I won’t go into this concept extensively. Practically every post I have written in this blog contains at least a sentence or two that read like Mel Gibson’s script from The Patriot.

AMERICA!!!

But I had to ask myself: why the shift from Freedom to Autonomy? To be free, to live without obligation, is a basic and unalienable right. To be autonomous, though – that is a privilege. It is a privilege that many ignorant individuals choose to abuse, and many more thoughtful citizens wish they enjoyed.  The buzz surrounding the upcoming election has reminded me that my ability to self-govern has been cultivated by my education, my upbringing and my personal status as an American citizen. If values are the standard by which an individual measures the worth of his or her actions, it would mean flagrant contempt of the political philosophies I respect to underappreciate the weight of Autonomy in my moral system.

Community: a unified body of individuals, as…

  1. An interacting population of various kinds of individuals in a common location.
  2. A group of people with a common characteristic or interest living together within a larger society.
  3. A group linked by a common policy.
  4. A body of persons or nations having a common history or common social, economic, and political interests.

Reading through my definitions, I’m realizing how polar opposite Autonomy and Community sound. I’m running with it though:

While every individual should have the privilege to self-government, we all have the right to belong. Sure, we may start and end our lives alone, but every second of the time in between is spent muddling around on a planet populated entirely by other people. At a fundamental level we thrive primarily on human interaction, even if the people we meet aren’t necessarily like us – but life is so much sweeter when we feel like we belong to a group. There are an infinite number of interests and character quirks represented by our world’s population, and I guarantee that you will find a place to fit in somewhere.

for instance, i’m obsessed with the sims. and i’m certainly not alone. i have a community!

You are never truly alone. Whatever your definition of the idea, everyone should have a home. In some small way, everyone should have a community to belong to.

Fairness:

  1. The state, condition, or quality of being free from bias or injustice.
  2. Evenhandedness.

Listen. It’s really, really hard to be fair where human emotions are concerned, and in case you haven’t noticed, it is actually impossible for us as a species to completely detach ourselves from any and all emotion. Even Spock couldn’t go without indulging his feelings every now and then. I do not espouse unquestionable fairness in every circumstance, especially if it means the death of all passion and drive. Autonomy doesn’t necessarily tango well with Fairness in all situations, and I believe that there has to be a balance on the dance floor if we’re going to succeed as a community. (Not that I can dance with any measure of grace anyway.)

             look how emotionally happy he is!

But in the spirit of laying it all out there, I must warn you: it is dangerous to engage me in conversation if you have no inclination or ability to consider any part of the opposite side of a story. If you are the most avid human being ever about cause X or initiative Y or debate Z, I envy your zeal. But if you have never once stopped to put yourself in somebody else’s shoes and consider the value of their opinion, stance or experience, you will never gain my personal respect.

I believe strongly in making an attempt to treat others with as much consideration and objectivity as I can, because I hope to be treated fairly in return.

So the moral of the story is…

A couple of days ago, Kat and I volunteered to teach a Junior Achievement course on Careers with a Purpose to a class of 9th graders. Standing in front of the kids in all our employed and self-righteous volunteer glory, we waxed poetic on our own values and how they’ve served to guide our career decisions post-graduation. If you’ve read any of Kat’s previous entries about volunteerism and why she’s chosen to complete a year with AmeriCorps, it’s easy to picture how eloquently and passionately she spoke about pursuing a career path that fulfills a higher personal purpose. The “teenagers” responded by taking the stickers from one of our activities and slapping them on each other’s faces.

This made me slightly frustrated, before I realized that I didn’t have an attention span when I was 15 either. Mine and Kat’s frustration that the 9th graders didn’t take their values seriously, however, proves just how important they are to us. Our values determine and guide our moral standard, and understanding what makes us tick is essential to being happy.

That, or everyone should just run around with stickers on their face and call it a day.

con amor,

shan


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what it means to be America

This past Monday, in commemoration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, the slubs paid homage to our academic foundations. First, we sat down to watch Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, given in the formidable shadow of the Lincoln Memorial to a crowd of over 200,000 marchers on August 28th, 1963.

If you have never heard a recording of Dr. King giving this speech himself, it’s entirely worth the 17 minutes to experience. He was a true wordsmith, a master orator, and the way he draws listeners in to the hypothetical and idealistic world of his dreams is an art form. The imagery used in this speech is legendary. His words powerfully unfurl themselves in waves over the crowd and they react in turn, as you will too.

Notice how Dr. King repeats key phrases at the beginning of the sentences of select paragraphs in his speech. He does this to over-emphasize his point, in effect stirring up the audience and clearly driving his message home. The slubs would like to point out that this rhetorical technique is known as anaphora.

After we had spent some time discussing the legacy of Dr. King’s dream and the relevancy it holds for America today, we moved on to watch President Obama’s 2008 election victory speech. This speech, as well, is rich with imagery. Particularly powerful is President Obama’s story of Ann Nixon Cooper, a 106 year-old American whose lifetime has witnessed the most drastic events of the 20th century. His speech is a true lesson in election-time patriotism.

As a Political Science major I recognize the craftsmanship in both of these pieces. Dr. King and President Obama take full advantage of our uniquely American brand of civil religion, infusing time-honored messages of American patriotism with (Christian) religious undertones to create a political-spiritual cocktail of words. (To conceptualize American civil religion, examine the text of nearly any speech given by George Bush directly following September 11th – he portrays America as a city on a hill, a super-unique nation where the word “democracy” evokes the same type of spiritual reverence as “righteousness”.) Each section of these two speeches acts as a subconscious cue for the audience to respond appropriately. Based on the textual meaning of a phrase or the tone of the orator’s voice, each listener knows what he or she is supposed to feel – elation, approval, hope, victory, perseverance, thoughtfulness, joy. Dr. King and President Obama guide their audiences through a range of emotional reactions, and by the end of their speeches we’ve all experienced the intangible influence of their words.

As citizens, though, my roommates and I can appreciate the social value of Dr. King’s and President Obama’s message. Each speaks of a nation of freedom and responsibility, where all inhabitants have a right and an obligation to change their worlds to achieve a holistically “better” standard. They extol the virtues of the individual, but they are careful to remind us that our strength as a nation lies in our collective ability to believe in the potential of America. Can Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech still resonate as powerfully today as it did 50 years ago? Perhaps not in the same sense as it did during the Civil Rights Movement, but the idea that we can and must achieve the social vision outlined in the Declaration of Independence is the undercurrent which directs nearly every conversation in our public government arenas. History will look on these two speeches as snapshots of our citizenry’s particular and endearing brand of social capital.

We have so many blessings as Americans, not the least of which is the right to access our own governmental institutions (though this right is not currently extended to every individual living on our soil). Dr. King and President Obama reminded Kat, Anna, Nora and I of this on Monday, and for that we are grateful.

“…Young and old, rich and poor, Democrat and Republican, black, white, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, gay, straight, disabled and not disabled…we have never been just a collection of individuals or a collection of red and blue states; we are and always will be the United States of America.” – President Barack Obama, 2008

con amor,

shan


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the bewitching, enchanting, wizarding world of harry potter

As Shannon just mentioned in a recent post, the slubs are adults. Or at least attempting to put on the personas of adults. We are adult-ish. We pay bills, do laundry, clean, have our own place, have jobs, go to happy hour with colleagues, etc. And most days we are successful.

But this weekend I did something entirely childish. I was house-sitting/puppy-sitting for my parents when I became ill. Now really this means that I had a really stuffy nose, sore throat, and was a bit more tired than usual. This justified extreme laziness and napping, ignoring all cleaning and laundry that needed to get done. Proof positive that I am not ready to be an adult.

It also justified something else. Something so cliche and juvenile, that I am almost ashamed to admit it…if it weren’t so awesome. I delved deep into the world of Harry Potter, beginning with a screening Harry Potter and Deathly Hallows-Part Two. When this was altogether unsatisfying (I always expect it to portray HP much more book-accurately than it ever does), I began reading.

Now, when I read HP, I commit. Wherever I start in the series, I have to end with the last book published (now the final book). Thus, I have to carefully choose where to begin in the series based on the time I have to devote to the reading. This weekend I chose book 5, by far my least favorite of the books (for obvious reasons) and began a wonderful visit the the wizarding world of Harry Potter.

What about these books seems to help me feel better when I am sick, or moody, or going through transitions? This summer, amid the move to the house in Minneapolis and the release of the last movie, I re-read the entire series (and the last two books, twice). I don’t think I could have felt like my childhood was ending more than this summer. I had just graduated college, just moved into a house that wasn’t my parents for the first time, and was beginning my new job the next month. The Harry Potter series was officially coming to a close. A series that had been with me since elementary school. I read it though a move to Nebraska and a move to Pennsylvania. The seventh book came out the summer after my senior year of high school.

Some slubs dressed up as Sirius, Hedwig, and Fawkes before the Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part One premier

slubs at the movie…sirius, hedwig, and the hogwarts express

The last movie, like I mentioned, after senior year of college. To commemorate, Shannon, Anna, and I had a wonderful Harry Potter evening before the midnight premiere. The dining room was decorated with floating candles, the door to our apartment had the platform 9 3/4 sign, acceptance letters to Hogwarts hung from the door, there was an herbology and potions section in our dining room, and we finished our meal with pumpkin pasties. Slubs love Harry Potter.

you can still see the harry potter candles in our dining room

But why do I love Harry Potter? Why do I continue to return to it, year after year?

Maybe I love HP so much because it has to do with anticipation. Waiting for the next book to come out. The anticipation that consumed 13 or 14 years of my life (if we include movie releases). Anticipation that was consumed with reading online spoilers (and possibly fanfiction…) with friends as we awaited the next book. The anticipation of standing in line 15 minutes before midnight. The anticipation to finish the new book as soon as I could to get to the end…to await the next installment. The anticipation to see what would happen to the wizarding world and all the friends I had made over the years with the characters in J.K. Rowling’s books.

Maybe I love it for its themes of friendship, good, and hope. Strikingly simple. I wanted friendships like Harry, Ron, and Hermione had. I love that good ultimately, if predictably, triumphs over evil. I like that the series is not only about hope for a better world, but action that makes that better world a reality. I like that the book is full of wholesome morals, about how rules are sometimes meant to be broken, and that love is the ultimate truth.

But in the end I find this all too philosophical. I like HP for one simple reason. It reminds me of my childhood imagination, or more accurately, it allows me to imagine like a child again. Too often we are caught up in our realities and planning for the futures. We are surrounded with data and facts; stress and worry. We forget to imagine, to think creatively. Sometimes, we just need to escape for a moment, imagine a different world where people meet their soulmates at the age of 11, decide on their careers at the age of 16, and defeat their ultimate enemies at 17. Where, with a flick of a wand, you can travel wherever you want, make objects fly across the room, and turn beetles into buttons.

We need that escape, if only for a moment, if only in our imaginations. Like Dumbledore says at the end of the seventh book, “Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?” (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows  723).

So whenever I need to feel like a child again, when I want to feel the pure joy of imagining, I read Harry Potter. And I am transported. Out of my new adult world, out of worries and cares, bills and laundry. Out of a world of anxiety and stress. And into the wonderful, enchanting, bewitching world of Harry Potter.

Wishing you all the magic in the world,

Kat