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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let’s talk greenbacks.

Two summers ago I read a book by Barbara Stanny called “Prince Charming Isn’t Coming: How Women Get Smart about Their Money”.

In chapter one of her book Ms. Stanny recalls how, on her twenty-first birthday, her parents revealed to her the trust fund established in her name. “‘You’re a very rich girl, Barbara,’” her father explains at the breakfast table. Stanny goes on to recount: “‘ You’ll never have to worry,’ I remember my dad saying that morning. It was the only advice my parents ever gave me about money. ‘Don’t worry.’”

At 21, my experience with financial management was a bit different than Stanny’s. Shockingly enough I wasn’t handed a trust fund document the morning of my twenty-first (although I did climb Mt. Sinai that morning, arguably as cool as any other birthday celebration). Far from neglecting to give me money advice, my parents have tried to instill within me the type of financial wisdom that I’m sure many children my age have received from their own parents. My mother taught me how to use and balance a check book. My father periodically discussed the fate of his stocks and the nature of his retirement account. I was given an allowance as a child and encouraged to handle it wisely. I was gently required to get a job when I was 16 and from then on began to pay for more and more of my expenses, like clothing, entertainment and gas.

When I was a senior at St. Olaf, my father instructed me to personally handle taking out a few student loans to pay for that year of college. I was in and out of the Financial Aid Office so often for a span of two weeks that the advisors began to remember my name and could recall my specific case without the prompting of their notes. It was an incredibly frustrating process, but I learned more about student loans in those two weeks than I had ever learned before. And then, after graduating, my parents informed me that I would thereafter be more or less financially independent.

I am a blessed child. My mom and dad have given me every comfort I could have asked for, and more – very, very few children in this world are nearly as lucky as I have been. Still, like Ms. Stanny (and probably like many of you), I’m finding that it’s a struggle to own my financial stability.

Money is a taboo topic, and yet it makes the world go ‘round. There seems to be a direct correlation between wealth and prosperity, between poverty and difficulty. Like Kat mentioned in a previous post, poverty isn’t simply a lack of financial capital; poverty is very much also a lack of opportunity. To evade poverty, to provide for ourselves and our families, to do and experience the things we enjoy, we find employment in part to reap the monetary rewards. And yet, as a society, we are notoriously stupid with our financial lives.

My experience with Thrivent has opened my eyes to this reality. Part of the beauty of our organization is our commitment to the concept of education. Unfortunately, it’s not enough to tell people that you can provide a learning experience for them based on financial wisdom and best practices; often, we require scare tactics to get us to listen. The facts detailing the ways Americans spend their money provide no shortage of shocks to the system. For example, did you know that…

  • …77% of the workforce surveyed by CareerBuilder in 2010 was living paycheck to paycheck?
  • …according to a 2010 Harris report, 34% of Americans are completely without retirement savings – even though we spend, on average, 20 years in retirement?
  • …in October of 2011, Americans owed $2,457.5 billion total in outstanding consumer credit?

So if our money situation is so universally bad, why do we as a people tend to ignore our financial wellbeing?

Part of my job at Thrivent is to promote a financial literacy program on college campuses. We instruct our student leaders to educate their peers on being wise with their finances now, especially because they’re young and have a lifetime to cultivate the right money habits and make decisions that will secure their financial future. It sounds boring, but it’s vitally important. I know the wisdom of my own advice – I’ve taken major steps, like creating a checking account separate from my parents’, maxing out my 401k match, and establishing an automatic payment for my monthly rent. But I still don’t have my own credit card. I don’t save nearly as much as I could each month for major expenses that will be coming fast down the pipeline: graduate school, a mortgage, a family. I’m lucky if I balance my checkbook bi-monthly. I don’t know what my account balance is half the time – I just know it’s above zero. I’m pretty much a walking hypocrite.

Very few people like to deal with their finances. Like so many things in our life we assume that, if we don’t pay attention to it, perhaps our financial problems will just go away. We spend money that we don’t have in order to obtain the standard of living we think we deserve.

So, is there a solution to our ignorance? I’d like to think so. But the point of this post isn’t to provide you with the answers—it’s to kick-start your own search.

Here are some resources I’ve used to help me begin my own journey to financial wisdom. Who knows – they might prove useful to you too…

smartypig! so cute. so financially wise.

con amor,

shan


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Brain Quest

Data. Information. Facts. Trivia. Learning. I love them all.

I was the child who read the encyclopedia. Played trivia games. Watched Jeopardy. Read every book I could get my hands on. Once, I wrote a report on the Bubonic Plague in 4th grade. For fun.

This, in part, was due to my parents. When all of the other children my age went to amusement parks for vacation, we went to museums. This is probably because of my mom’s fear of rides and my dad’s hatred of crowds, but also because of their passion to make sure that Chris (my younger brother) and I loved to learn. They definitely succeeded. (Especially with Chris. He is a music and math major, who is going pre-med. Yes. Figure that one out)

My favorite places to go when I was little: Living History Farms and the Iowa Historical Society. When we would go on vacation, I would read all the guide books, learn how geographical features were formed, research all of the animals we would see (remember those books that you could fill with animal fact sheets? Chris and I were obsessed.) I also loved going to the zoo and learning about the animals. My parents scoffed at the families calling the lions, tigers, etc. “big kitties”; that wasn’t allowed in our house. They were Bengal tigers or snow leopards.

In the car we did not watch movies. We read books (or listened to books on tape like Matilda and Harry Potter). Played the “alphabet game” (First you choose a category:animals; The first person says the name of an animal: Jaguar; the second person must then come up with an animal whose name begins with the last letter of the previous word: Rhodesian Ridgeback, then Kangaroo, then Orangutan, etc….endlessly entertaining!). Played Brain Quest, which is possibly the greatest children’s game ever! Just tons of random facts. Questions were on the front, answers on the back. YES.

Now, from all this intentional learning I have gained two very important things. Number one: a lot of useless, although intriguing, information (I know more about the Battle of Little Round Top than strictly necessary). Number two: an obsession for gathering facts.

At work, we keep track of our “strengths.” My top strength is “input.” Now to be honest, before taking the strengths finder, I was a bit skeptical. I mean, one of those “career-path-finder-what-should-I-do-with-my-life” tests told me that I should be a plumber. Not something I would excel at; once my dad drove over an hour to fix my toilet (in two minutes. Thanks, Daddy!). However, I was surprised at how well my strengths described me.

This is how input is described: “People who are especially talented in the Input theme have a craving to know more. They like to collect and archive all kinds of information.” Truth. I collect data like its my job (it’s not). As a point of clarification however: Data entry=awful. Hours on wikipedia=awesome.

Now, what was the point of this entry?…Oh! Yes. Transitioning into a work atmosphere from an academic atmosphere has been an interesting journey for me. In school, spending hours researching in the good old reference room was useful. Even if I didn’t include every bit of information that I found, I always thought that the background information informed my paper. But work. I don’t work in a job where research is a primary focus (although I do get to do some and our organization is always doing cutting edge research on volunteerism!). I don’t spend all day collecting information; I spend a lot more time talking to people, thinking about ways to expand membership, marketing on social media sites, advertising for volunteer positions, etc. I do like people, too :).

But, somehow, I always find ways to collect data. I wrote an article for our newsletter. It was one page long and included interviews with six people. I had to do research for it. I did more than necessary. 4 hours of unnecessary. Well, I did end up using three very great pieces of data and finding out some fantastic things about AmeriCorps.

Also, Twitter. Have you ever been on Twitter? It is like a goldmine of interesting articles and facts and names and dates. I have to update our Twitter page and look for “retweets.” Woof. This is just a productivity stopper… but has lead to some great and informative finds!

I do want to say a few things. First of all, I LOVE my job. This is not an exaggeration. I mean, I get to spend all day focusing on volunteerism. I LOVE volunteerism. I love the work we do. I believe in the mission of our organization and the innovative knowledge we produce. And the other part of my job? I get to work with kids. YES. Secondly, I do get things done at work, mostly because I am pretty darn good at multitasking. Why yes, I can write a report on my research findings, reply to emails from volunteers, brainstorm ideas for fundraising, and listen to Ira Glass at the same time.

So. Surviving in the real world. Away from text books and lectures, late night studying and academic discussion, I find myself a little lost. A little lonely for my data. But I’m learning to adapt. I am learning to apply my data mining techniques at work, as I sift through resumes of potential interns, finish up research that I conducted, and continue to learn more each day about volunteerism. I am learning to take advantage of educational opportunities within my job and outside of work (I went to two trainings last week!). I will forever be a data forager and hoarder. I like that.

My ultimate brain quest: collect as much data, information, and ideas as possible and use my archived facts to create lasting, effectual, and just social change. Probably through volunteerism.

Much slub love,

Kat


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our first drive is the drive to actually belong.

For a bit of a pick-me-up after the Republican nominee debate this past Monday, Kat showed us this youtube video:

There are so many cool things about this guy.

  1. He can draw mega fast and his pictures of people and animals are positively adorable. Especially the drawing of the elephant, dolphin and dog. Gaaaah.
  2. He uses the word “shibboleth”. I had no idea what the heck that meant, but now I’m going to use it every single day for the rest of my life. And look how convenient! Miriam Webster provided me with a list of words that rhyme with shibboleth: Crystal meth. Isopleth. Megadeath. Morning breath. Oh, the ways in which my vernacular is expanding…
  3. THIS: Thought bubble at 1:13 – The scientist who wanders into the Italian lab says, “I’m hungry. Mmm…nuts.” After he breaks the nut open, the confused monkey says, “What’s he doing? Eating the hard things!” Finally, the baffled scientist says to the MRI, “Stupid machine. Are you sick?” and the MRI responds, “It’s not me, although the monkey doesn’t taste that nice!”
  4. ALSO: 4:51 – the first angel says, “Have you seen death? Big fella, skull, wears a lot of black…” and the other angel responds, “Mmm…can’t say I have. His name doesn’t ring any bells!”
  5. I think Jeremy Rifkin draws himself in some of the scenes, and if his caricature is true to life, then he looks just like my study abroad leader Bruce Nordstrom-Loeb. So cute. So wonderful.
  6. He speaks complete truth: “It’s very tough being alive on this planet, whether you’re a human being or a fox navigating the forest.”
  7. He brings up some incredibly interesting points about human nature and our capacity to interact with and understand each other on a basic, empathic level. Some of my personal favorite quotes:

“We are actually softwired not for aggression, and violence, and self-interest, and utilitarianism – we are actually softwired for sociability, attachment…affection, companionship…the first drive is the drive to actually belong. It’s an empathic drive.”

“Empathy is grounded in the acknowledgment of death and the celebration of life, and rooting for each other to flourish and be. It’s based on our frailties and our imperfections.”

Every day, we reveal our empathy for one another. Story: Thrivent’s Minneapolis headquarters is on the corner of 4th Ave and 7th St in downtown, right across the street from the Hennepin County Government Center. The Occupy MN movement has been stationed right in front of the Government Center, and hence right across the street from Thrivent, for the past two weeks. Though I see occupiers rustle in their sleeping bags and tout signs around the Plaza every day, I know little more about the actual movement than what I’ve been reading on their blog. Still, the messages they post echo enough universal philosophy that I can understand the spirit of the protest, if not the exact mission. At its foundation, the Occupation is about rejecting the secondary drives that Rifkin speaks of in his video: narcissism, aggression, selfishness. Nora, Laura, Kat, Anna and I resonate with those concepts; you need only look at the work each of us is completing during this year for proof. The five of us believe that it is much easier to feel another’s joy and share another’s sorrow than to assume you are unconnected to the lives of others.

On October 17th, one of the Minnesota occupiers posted the Declaration of the Occupation of New York City on their blog. The first sentence of that declaration is:

“As we gather together in solidarity to express a feeling of mass injustice, we must not lose sight of what brought us together.”

I think Jeremy Rifkin would approve of that statement.

I’ll leave you with one last parting quote from the video:

“6.8 billion people at various stages of consciousness – theological, ideological, psychological, dramaturgical – we’re all fighting with each other with different ideas about the world. And, well, guess what? We all came from two people…we could have come from many. But the point is, we have to begin thinking as an extended family. We have to broaden our sense of identity. We don’t lose the old identities of nationhood, and our religious identities, and even our blood ties. But we extend our identities so we can think of the human race as our fellow sojourners.”

con amor,

shan


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I drive seven minutes.

I drive 7 minutes on Monday nights to a homeless shelter to volunteer. Just 7 minutes.

A delicious co-op in our neighborhood. Appropriately named.

Now, the slubs live in the Wedge, an area in Uptown. We are surrounded by young urban professionals (yuppies), a variety of hipsters, a number of delicious restaurants and bars, and beautiful lakes. Homelessness and poverty have a clever way of disguising themselves in our neighborhood. But it exists. I drive seven minutes and have a concentrated view of how Minneapolis has been affected by homelessness.

This isn’t a post about how privileged I am and how blessed I feel (although I do). This isn’t a post about guilt or feeling bad. Instead, this post is intended for you to think about two topics close to my heart: volunteering and housing. (Also, sorr’ about the length. This is a looong post)

I work at an organization this year whose mission is, “to inspire excellence in the field of volunteerism to impact communities,” especially through the development of volunteer leaders. We truly believe that volunteers have the power to inspire change in their communities and work to foster that in Minnesota.  We are especially encouraged by the fact that the Twin Cities Metro is ranked number one in volunteerism for large metro areas and Minnesota is the third most volunteering state.

When we talk about marketing volunteer roles, we always talk about the benefit to our volunteers. What will they be getting out of volunteering with a certain organization. Is it a resume builder? Does it make them feel good? Are they able to utilize certain skills they have? What impact will they have on clients? I believe all of these reasons are great reasons to volunteer. Personally, I have volunteered for all of those reasons. But the number one reason I believe in volunteerism and reason I volunteer is the ability of volunteerism to foster and build community.

Like most people, I tend to only socially interact with people like me, almost exactly like me. Upper-middle class, usually white, college educated, socially liberal, etc. (oh yeah…and mostly women, but that may be because I work in nonprofits…). Volunteering is a great opportunity to get to know people that are part of my community but that I don’t interact with on a daily basis. It makes me feel connected to my community, and thus responsible for my community.

I drive seven minutes to a shelter in my community to volunteer. The shelter serves mostly men, although there is a small women’s wing, with emergency shelter for up to 28 days (90 days if residents choose to meet regularly with a case worker). It provides rooms for 2-4 men or women, a luxury in the world of homeless shelters, where many times shelter is cots or mats, hundreds at a time, on the floor. Like most emergency shelters, it is only open at night (doors open at 6 p.m. and men leave by 7 a.m.). We provide meals and according to the residents we have the best food in town thanks to some wonderful church and community volunteers, as well as activities, from job club to laughter yoga. We also provide toiletries, medical help, and more.

So you might be thinking, what do the men and women do during the day? Actually, many work during the day. Yes, that’s right, many homeless men and women work (Wilder Foundation reported that in 2009, upwards of 20% had a least a part-time job in Minnesota; with the tough economy this number has fallen a bit, down from 40% in 2000). For those who do not have jobs finding a place to go may be more difficult. During the winter if the temperature drops below 0 degrees or there is a major blizzard the shelter will stay open all day. Catholic Charities, down the street, provides day shelter. Many men actually choose to spend the day in the library as well: warmth, free shelter, and something to do. However, none of these options are open on Sundays…

Why homelessness occurs is a complicated question to answer. It disproportionately affects African-Americans (41 percent of homeless people are African-American; 4 percent of Minnesotans are African-American). 26 percent of homeless adults in 2008 had not completed high school. 65 percent have recently left correctional facilities. 55 percent have been diagnosed with a significant mental health problem. 46 percent have a chronic health condition. 33 percent report staying in an abusive relationship because they had no where else to live. In 2009, 40 percent reported job loss as the reason for loss of housing. 19 percent have served in the U.S. Military. But I want to stress the structural aspect of homelessness. Systems, not people, create and perpetuate homelessness. Epidemics are rarely individuals’ problems.

I volunteer because I believe that everyone deserves a home, a roof over their head, a house, shelter, whatever you want to call it. Safe and stable housing is essential to leading a happy, fulfilling, and dignified life. Volunteering reveals the obligation we have to one another (Appiah, anyone?). I feel connected to the wonderful people I work with in the shelter and I want to work to make sure that no one has to suffer the indignity of not having shelter.

And we should feel connected to the homeless, the marginalized, etc., because our decisions affect their livelihood, and theirs, ours. I don’t want to make this political because I believe that fighting poverty should not be a partisan issue. It should be about fostering relationships with people because they need a little extra help right now, and there is no shame in that. Sadly, however, the government must look to making budget cuts, and often these cuts affect social services and organizations that serve low-income people. Not including these homeless men and women in our economy and society means we are missing out on the talents and skills they have to offer. Your vote matters. It costs us (as individuals) more to have uninsured individuals go into the emergency room, than to provide them with health care (read T.R. Reid’s book, The Healing of America). We should want these people to lead lives that include housing, healthcare, education, and jobs because it will make our community better.

I drive seven minutes to commune and connect with people who deserve more than temporary shelter. And above all, they deserve a home and community that welcomes and supports them. Volunteer. We can make that change.

With hope,

Kat

Check out some great places to volunteer that the slubs have connections with (also Give to the Max Day is coming up November 16 and I am sure any of the organizations would also appreciate financial support!) For more general volunteering information visit handsontwincities.org or volunteermatch.org.

Northside Achievement Zone

Urban Homeworks

360 Journalism

Catholic Charities

Girl Scouts

MAVA (Special Plug: MAVA is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year! Consider giving 10 dollars to support the amazing work MAVA is doing to keep Minnesota on the cutting edge of volunteerism!)

Junior Achievement

Our Saviour’s Housing

The Crisis Nursery

Dakota Woodlands

Ruth’s House