Monday, July 22, 2019

Friendship

In probably the least mature thing I’ll say all week, one of the harder parts of growing up has been realizing that not everyone is going to like me or care to be friends with me. Throughout my life, I’ve always had my core of people, but I’ve always been a social butterfly too with lots of friends in different circles. That just becomes increasingly hard to do as we grow up. Everyone only has time for their close-knit crew, and I get that. I feel it too. It’s hard to make time for people who don’t just get you, and I’m not sure why that’s been so hard for me to swallow. No one is slighting me by not wanting to be in touch. No one is obligated to give a shit about me, even if I start giving a shit about them. That’s not to say I feel unloved or unwanted; I have people who fulfill me in both of those capacities, but it’s hard to accept that sometimes, the effort you put into developing friendships isn’t what others can or will give.

I feel like New York might exacerbate that feeling a bit. "The city that never sleeps" is that way because people here are constantly busy. I've found myself struggling with the line of wondering whether people genuinely want to be friends but don't have time, or they don't want to be friends at all. I think part of it goes back to what I said above, and that people simply want to utilize their free time with the people they care about most because they get so little of it. That's hard to a certain degree for me as a newcomer to town. Nobody owes me their time, and the way these things make me feel needs to be a result of my own outlook.

I got really used to being the person who initiated friendly contact when I lived abroad. I was so busy with my life and having no routine and learning things totally foreign to me, that I reached out to friends when it was convenient, and I'm sure I pissed off some friends and lost some. Coming back to the US and not having constant stimulation has been more difficult than I thought it would. I realize how many people I had supporting me along the way who I probably neglected. I think I have exactly two friends who reach out to me semi-regularly, and that's a hard pill to swallow in terms of my hypocrisy. I can't just expect people to reach out to me now that I'm more accessible, and I can't expect my attempts at spending time with folks to necessarily be reciprocated.

I've always sort of had trouble with reading the social cues of friendship. I want to be friends with everyone. I want to be liked, as I think we all do, and I've always been pretty open. I think I probably catch on way too late when people are giving me cues that they don't want to be friends or give me their time, and I generally worry that I seem desperate when I reach out to people. I feel like it's hard for me to know if someone is the type of friend where I just need to put in the effort and then they'll want to be friends, or if someone doesn't want the effort to be put in at all. I'd be lying if I said it isn't something I've been struggling with.

I feel like an old man when I lament about modern day friendships and relationships, but I also have some serious issues with the unwritten rules, both in my understanding of them and in my acceptance of them. Don't double-text someone, wait a while before responding, etc are modern social rules that don't make sense to me. If I want to say something to someone, I try to say it. I don't really know where the way I interact with people fits, or if I come off as a crazy person because none of the weird intricacies of social media and digital interaction really make sense to me. If you've seen my Facebook profile and its longwinded political rants, you probably know that I just say what's on my mind, often times for worse than for better. I've always sort of treated the digital world like it's real interactions, and it's not.

I think my life up to this point has me struggling to connect with people. I feel like I'm some weird step off from the people I routinely meet. I didn't feel like I was stepping out of normal society to go live abroad, but now that I'm home, it always kind of puzzles me when people talk about my "returning to normal life." Is this my normal that I left behind, and I'm just struggling to accept that? I don't really know. I've found myself trying to grab at the straws of spontaneity to not settle into too much of a routine, and where I loved that life in the past, it feels desperate now. I run this podcast and have on all of these crazy adventurers, and I can't quite reconcile myself and my friendships in the life I'm living now. It all feels very foreign, which compounds the strangeness considering that for the first time in 5 years, I'm living in my home country.

Maybe it's just growing pains, and all of the rest of my friends accepted it after college because they were here facing these challenges head on while I was preoccupied with other things. I feel awkward about friendships, dating, social culture, office culture, and just about everything else. It's a weird lesson in reverse culture shock that I feel like has most starkly mainfested in my friendships since I moved home. I'm not depressed; I know all too acutely what that feels like when I have flareups. I just feel out of place, like somehow the world made moves around me, and I'm stuck in the dust cloud realizing that it might take some time to settle.

I'm not saying I need more friends. I'm not even saying I need more from the friends I have. I just genuinely don't know if the way I connect with people makes any sense, or if I'm misreading the interactions I have with people. I feel like my strongest friendships are solidified. I don't see myself losing the few core people I've got, but I feel like maybe the way I grew up feeling like a social butterfly is something that was maybe never sustainable, and I'm just realizing it late in the game. I remember my mom saying something along the lines of that her fringe friendships faded as she got older and she lost touch with people, and her few close friends are there. Maybe you just learn to pick up with people right where you left off and accept that that's the essence of your friendships from now on as people go on with their daily lives.

Anyway, the random musings of a confused man's mind. I'm happy. I'm healthy. Everything is really good. I just find myself mulling these things over these days. Alas, as always, thanks for reading, and hope everyone's having a good summer.

Saturday, June 1, 2019

I’ve Been A Bad Person

I’m here to tell you that I’ve been a bad person. I’ve done some things, some even many years ago, that I still think of with regret and that give me shame. I’ve hurt people, and sometimes even done so intentionally out of envy, anger, or pain.

But I’m not going to dwell on when I’ve been a bad person, because I’ve also been a good person. There is no such thing as the 100% bad guy or the 100% good guy. I think, philosophically speaking, we’re the sum of our actions or what we do habitually. I’m not habitually bad, and although I’ve done bad things, I try to make habits of doing good things. I think I’m a good person overall. I think Donald Trump is probably a bad person overall. I do however think nuance is important. I think we need to be able to recognize that one action doesn’t define someone (except in the case of rapists and murderers, I’m cool with defining them based on one action).

I wonder how many people like me struggle with beating themselves up over past actions. In some cases, I don’t even know what I’ve done wrong, but I know I’ve hurt people and they’re mad at me, and I go through periods where I agonize over it. In other cases, I’ve apologized several times, but I still can’t shake the shame because I feel like a bad act was an act of character. It takes realizing that these actions are out of character to forgive yourself, and I definitely have trouble doing that sometimes.

I feel like self-help gurus and people who make a living off of pitching quick fixes to issues of self say lines like “you have to forgive yourself,” or “you have to learn to love yourself before you love others.” It makes sense that they employ these lines because they’re true, but they’re not as easy as saying them, snapping your fingers, and then you’ve changed and love yourself and all is forgiven. It takes time, and it takes constantly reminding yourself that you’re worthy of love and of forgiveness. It takes looking at your flaws and constantly trying to hammer them out and improve, even when it’s hard. It takes talking to others who can help, whether that’s a therapist, friend, or family member, and being honest. You have to be honest with yourself and others about who you are in order to confront flaws or shortcomings and to accept past failures.

So, yes, I’ve been a bad person. But I’d be pretty upset if someone ever told me I’m still a bad person. I try hard every day to try to make the right decisions, the just decisions, and to advocate for people who need it. I’m not perfect, and I never will be.

I recently was called out by an Instagram follower for referring to a place as my personal Mecca. This follower was of the Muslim faith and said they found it disrespectful. At first, as I thought about it, I found it overly sensitive. After all, people say God damnit and Jesus Christ, and it seems more colloquial than a true aim at disrespect. But the more I thought about it, I realized my opinion doesn’t matter. Something we like to talk about in higher ed is impact vs. intention. My intention was irrelevant if the impact was negative. I was in the wrong, and I owned up to it. 

This same person later posted on their “finsta” about the interaction with me, posting a screenshot of our interaction and calling out the behavior but somewhat commending me for owning up to it. At first, I was a bit embarrassed and hurt that the screenshot was posted, and I asked them to not use my photo for such things in the future. But the more I thought about it, the more I thought that if I want to be honest about my shortcomings and that I genuinely want to improve, maybe it’s a good thing to be publicly called out. I didn’t mean harm, but it showed that even though I hurt someone, I genuinely try to be as good of a person as I can.

I will hurt people in the future, probably both intentionally and unintentionally. I’ll continue to feel pangs of regret over the years and to need to make amends and ask for forgiveness, both of myself and others. However, I’ll be doing my best to avoid doing so, and I’ll be trying to forgive myself and be the best I can be in pursuit of making the sum of my actions positive and my habits true and just.

So, if you’re reading this and you’re beating yourself up, I hope it resonates a bit and you realize that you’re not a bad person. You mean well always, and that’s why your shortcomings haunt you. You’re trying to be good at all times, so when you don’t measure up, it hurts. The more your failures hurt you, it’s probably a good sign that you mean well generally. I like to think I do. Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

The Journey

Hello, dear friends.

I live in New York now. I keep having this little moments where I'm looking at the city from the train or looking out my apartment window and trying to make it seem concrete. I'm committed to New York for a pretty long while (comparatively at least), and that's a very new thing for me. I've been on one-year contracts and one-year leases and one-year visas since 2014 without ever having it set that I'd be in a place more than a year. It's a change of direction I knew I was making but that I wasn't entirely prepared for.

Things are different when you're committed to a place. Going on a date seems like it makes more sense. Committing to a place seems to be the foundation for committing to things in general. I'm volunteering again with GiGi's Playhouse, and I'm thrilled, but it couldn't have happened if I didn't plan on being here a while. I wouldn't want a person with Down syndrome to take a year to get used to me then I randomly bow out. I have to admit, I've become an expert at the one-year and done, and committing to things feels scary and foreign in a lot ways. At the same time, it's a relief also. My brain and heart are still processing the fact that this is home at least for a few years.

Another thing that has come up is the difficulty of settling into routine. It's not because I don't like routine; it's actually very comforting, and I've always gotten into some semblance of a pattern in my life, but not quite as extreme as it is now. Some days, I start to get anxious that my life is becoming point A to point B. I think the commute and the 9-5 make that an easy feeling, where being a graduate student and being in residence life were different things every day. Sure, I did similar functions throughout my days, but each day was a new class session or a new student issue to deal with, and I didn't take the same train every day into the office. It's more structure than I've had in a long time, and yes, I get that that's part of entering a more advanced role in my field. It's just an adjustment, you know?

I've found that the remedy for the adjustment has been something I've always done but have made an effort to be more aware of recently. I need to pause. I need to reflect on what makes each day different and exciting. I've been trying to step back and force myself to have those daily reminders of the joys that come in the routine and the endless opportunity that is New York. I've started doing things I always wanted to do but really couldn't because of my nomad life, like starting a podcast and a DIY project. I'm going to buy a real smoker for the summer. I'm joining an Italian speaking group. I want to start taking classes when tuition remission kicks in. I feel like my roots are starting to sink in, which for as much as I've loved everywhere I've lived, hasn't felt like a real thing in my adult life until now.

Yesterday, I sat in on a session that talked about belonging and how important that is. I'm starting to feel like I belong in New York, and at NYU, and that I'm valued and loved. I felt those things in England, Italy, and Korea, and definitely in Chicago, but for the first time in a long time, I don't have an end date. I don't have the next step or the next deadline planned. It's odd. I can settle into that belonging a bit more. It's refreshing, but also a bit terrifying.

I've got all these places I call home, and in some ways, I don't know if I'll ever be fully committed to a place forever. Particularly in higher ed, the chance that you move vertically by moving physically is always possible. Bearing all that in mind, I kind of like not having to immediately be thinking about what's next. My concept of time is changing. I'm thinking in weeks to months more than in months to years. I feel far more present in the last few months than I have in parts of my past. I feel like I'm investing in my job in ways I haven't previously because I know that I can see longer projects and initiatives through. I'm talking about future annual iterations of events that I'm part of. I don't think my job is my dream job necessarily, but I enjoy where I'm at. I feel like I'm at the right place at the right time.

I spent a lot of the last year or two doing self-evaluation, which I've spoken about briefly in the blog before, but it involved a lot of looking back at who I've been, taking stock, and trying to improve. I've made that a regular practice, but I don't necessarily think that was possible without thinking about the past first. Everything seems to be very centered on the present right now, and I can really take a step back and take in the spot I'm at. I haven't felt this appreciative of the present, of the journey I'm on, for quite some time.

Also, that's unsettling because life has a funny way of taking your present and smashing it to bits. So, very consciously, I'm taking each day and celebrating it, even if it's tiny victories at work or just sharing a smile with a hurried New Yorker. Things are good, and I'm going to try to hold onto that now and remember it when things aren't as fun.

Final note, if you haven't listened to the podcast, you should. I've knocked out 5 episodes with a 6th coming soon, and I love doing it. I love the stories people have shared and the experience they've related. It's that sort of connection and sharing experiences that I think helps us all to connect a bit more with the folks around us and have some understanding of one another. Search Spotify, iTunes, or SoundCloud for Travel For A Loop.

Have a great week, party people.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

What happens if I die tomorrow?

I make jokes fairly often about being old, sometimes I think to the point of annoying those who hear me say it often (especially if they're older than me!). In some ways, I feel really old. My body hurts more than it used to. A few drinks can give me a headache for 24 hours. I need my sleep to function. It's little things, and 30 is on the horizon, so all of these things make sense, but somehow aging continually catches me off guard. I don't mean in the sense of "adulting," but more like physically maturing. I've been thinking a lot recently about age and about death. I haven't been thinking about it in a morbid way as much as it's been rather existential.

One of the joys of the life I've led is meeting people from all different walks of life, whether it's been traveling, through jobs, or otherwise. Want to know what all of those people had in common? Every single one of them will die. It could be today, tomorrow, or 80 years from now, but it's a guarantee. We're all going to die, and we have to figure out how we're going to deal with that.

A few mornings ago at 7:30, my grandfather got a phone call. It was unusual to receive a call so early, so I asked him what it was. His friend from years past had died, and the man's son felt compelled to call my grandpa even though he and his friend hadn't spoken in a few years. My grandpa said something that stuck with me about how the man had lived a good long life, and that part of life is accepting the inevitability of death. I spent a lot of this week mulling over that idea. We all fear death instinctively. People who stare down death, especially in service of others, are people who we consider the bravest of the brave. At the end of the day though, we all have to decide for ourselves how we're going to view death. Are we going to let the fear cripple us or guide our lives?

Reactions to the death of people around me have very much shaped my understanding of my own impending death (hopefully not any time soon, but it's no guarantee, right?). I've lost a good handful of people in my life who I was very close to. Their deaths were difficult, often devastating, but they shaped who I am. It's really interesting for me to reflect on that fact. Someday, when I die, will my death and how I lived my life before it have profoundly impacted someone in the way that those deaths impacted me?

I only realized the impact that many peoples' lives had on me after they died. "You don't know what you've got til it's gone" is a cliche, but I think it holds true in a lot of ways. When Brad Zandstra was here, I rarely thought about the things he did for me and how he affected me. He was just a friend. When he died, I reflected on what he taught me about being a man, about treating other people, about braving tragedy. I know I handled his death much better than I did his son Chris's because Brad talked to me about the pain of Chris's death. I remember so vividly a summer night on Brad's porch, smoking a cigar and him trying to describe the pain of losing his son. Both of us were in tears by the end, but not in sadness as much as it was sharing the experience of the greatness that was his son, but also understanding that he was gone. Every time I smoke a cigar, I think of Brad, and the effect he has had on me in so many ways.

I recently asked friends what the point of living is if we all die. It's a problematic question in a lot of ways, but I think it stirs the sort of thinking that's been going on in with me. What does it all add up to if we all end up in a hole in the ground? I think you can view the question very negatively or rather positively, depending on the sort of person you are. I don't think life has to have meaning. I don't think we all have a purpose. I don't think there is a shared purpose that we all have to get to. For me, I want to leave the world better than I found it and to have that effect on people that Brad had on me, that I made them better. But that's not the meaning of life, it's just a goal that I have for my life. I think we often get caught up in making meaning as humans, but not everything has to have meaning. We're here, and I think that's enough sometimes.

I could walk out on the Manhattan street and die five minutes from now. That's not ideal, and it's not expected, but the possibility is a fact. That can induce one of two things: crippling fear or motivation. I want to remember that the next time I feel like I'm in a rut. Five minutes from now, I could be dead, so what's stopping me from going and doing? What's stopping me from pursuing something? It makes the fear of failure seem so silly. Why are you not trying to live your dreams? Why are you not doing what makes you happy? I'm so happy in my life right now, but if I wasn't, I know this thinking would put me on the move.

We all have to come to terms with death. Hopefully someday decades from now I'll be in a bed surrounded by friends and go in my sleep, then there will be a funeral where they play Vulfpeck and serve pizza and have skeeball and bowling and whisky. And in this dream I'm creating, people will drink a sip of whisky or hear that song and think of a time when we did those things together, and I made them smile. I'm living my life for that moment when I die and someone thinks about what I did for them. I'm living my life so that when they spread my ashes wherever the hell they end up, I've left no stone unturned and tried to help as many people as I could in pursuit of whatever will give their eventual deaths peace.

I think it's only because I've lost people that I don't really fear death. I don't think there's anything after death or any afterlife, and I'm really okay with that because of the profound impact that the people I know who have died have had on my life. We live our lives for the people who keep on living. You don't plant a seed expecting to sit in the shade of an oak tree thirty years from now. You plant it because it enriches a place for people to come when it's grown to its full potential. I think it's why we humans are so keen to build and to create. I might be forgotten 25 years after my death, but it's my hope that something I've done affected someone who in turn affected someone else and so on and so on. In that way, I might be dead, but it certainly wasn't for nothing. The opposite is certainly possible; if you're a shitty person, you could instill bad reverberations through the eons. Abuse your kid, and maybe they abuse their kid, and it gets normalized. I want to normalize good things that can echo in eternity (see what I did there?). I want to die knowing that even if I didn't get my name on a library or cure cancer, I moved atoms and changed trajectories and turned the path that the world was on in a different direction for the better.

So, I've been thinking a lot about death, but in a good way. Death isn't so scary when you put it in the perspective of your life. It's always going to be hard to lose people who are close to you, but I've found comfort in knowing that they changed me, and that change in me affects those I interact with, and in that, those people live on. I'll never forget them, but even if I'm the last person on earth who remembered them and I die, they still live on in how those they affected affect others.

If I die tomorrow, turn up the music, drink the booze, and dance. I'm working to better the world I'm in, little by little, and if I die tomorrow, I'll have died happy in pursuit of that. So save your tears and smile big.

As always, thanks for reading, and if anyone has lost someone or just generally needs to talk, I'm always willing. Take care.

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Hindsight Impostor Stuff

They say hindsight is 20/20, and I sort of think that's a load of shit. Sure, sometimes, looking back on things makes things clearer, but sometimes, it just gives you more questions or muddies things needlessly. So, from now on, I'm going to start saying hindsight is 20/60. In the scheme of things, it's not horrible vision, but it sure as hell ain't perfect, and sometimes you've got to put on some glasses to see clearly.

I tell you all this to tell you that I'm out of the woods, but looking back on the last few months has had me doing a lot of thinking that is really muddying my thoughts. In my last post, I talked about emotions and handling them and how that was certainly part of the problem that caused a bit of a downtrend in my life between Oxford and New York. It was, but it was certainly more complex than that, too. As I find myself in a better place than I was this fall, I find looking back isn't easy because that time really sucked, but looking back is both making things clear and giving me doubts about what exactly went on in my brain at that time.

All of that aside, something I've been seeing as I look to the past is that I certainly deal with a bit of the impostor syndrome. I struggle with feeling a bit like a fraud. I've worked hard, but I've also been given a lot of opportunities I don't always feel deserving of. My brain will make up these thoughts, things like, "Am I capable? Do I deserve any of the goodness I've got? Do people see me for what I really am?" To a certain degree, I think we all deal with internal questions like these, but it's a lot easier to pinpoint them in times of struggle. It's sort of like a weird version of asking the question, "Why me?" Not "why are bad things happening to me," but rather, "Why do all of these good things happen to me?"

In the fall, I was asking myself this a lot. Why was I lucky enough to have had opportunities abroad, to have gotten into my master's program, to have friends and family that cared about me. My brain was shouting, "you're not worthy of all of that." While I have been afforded a lot of opportunities that aren't afforded to everyone, or even to many people, I think I've realized that there's a balance to be struck as I think about it.

Part of the problem in my mind (cue Ale Mariotti clapping at this sentence) is I think grappling with my own privilege. Acknowledging my privilege and trying to use it to the benefit of less privileged communities is a duty, a requirement of privilege in my mind. Privilege doesn't mean I don't deserve good things, happiness, or opportunity; rather, I think it means I need to be aware that I have good things, happiness, and opportunity that isn't afforded to some people. I should be grateful for those things, but also acknowledge that there is work to be done. In the fall, I wasn't seeing the work to be done or my capability as a person of privilege. Instead, I thought, "Why in the holy hell do I have all of these things? Me, this flawed, often really troubled human being! I don't deserve it, and I should feel like shit about it."

It took being out of a darker place to think to myself that maybe feeling like shit about it isn't productive for anyone. That's probably not how things get done, and it's probably not going to benefit less privileged folks for me to turtle-shell up and feel self-loathing. I am capable, and I am a hard worker, and while my life may ultimately be the result of my privilege, there is more to it than that, and I can't discount that. So, in that case, I guess hindsight's vision wasn't all that bad. In a better place, I feel that I have the tools and means to help, to do good things for people who need it, and I'm trying to.

Where the hindsight gets muddy is when I try to figure out what got me into the bad headspace in the first place. I know that depression in my life is real, and the chemical imbalances of the body might be a part of it. The changing of the seasons might be a part of it. Those aren't the things I think of when I think of that time though. It's still fresh in my mind; I would say I started feeling better in late November. Perhaps not so coincidentally, that was when I got a job. That was also when I traveled abroad to England and Rome. So, what does that say about me? I started thinking to myself, is my happiness dependent on my function? Is that a problem? Do I have to be on the move with travel to be happy? I started questioning what I need and what it takes for me to be happy, and I don't really have any concrete answers.

In my adult life, I've felt like I know myself pretty well. This past fall was a shock to that system, a shock to a perhaps naive and arrogant belief that I had myself figured out. I felt I had a grasp on what brought me down and what brought me back up. The darkness of the fall came without warning, and it pretty much lifted without warning. My life was in limbo in a lot of ways, and there was a lot of transition going on, and I think I'm trying to find more of an explanation for those feelings of emptiness that there might actually be. We all go through tough times, and maybe I don't need an explanation. Maybe it was just one of those times in my life that was a downturn that happens to all of us.

Somehow, that hasn't been good enough for me. In my better spirits, I've been searching for answers as to why the spirits were worse off in the first place. I think I'll probably just have to accept that it was a perfect storm of sorts. There isn't one reason. It wasn't one fix. Things went sour together, and things got better together, and maybe that's life sometimes.

Writing helps me work through those thoughts sometimes. I don't know if I'd have been able to articulate that last paragraph when I opened this page and started writing, but that's the way the cookie crumbles, I guess. As always, thanks for reading. I'm happy and healthy, and I'm enjoying New York and all of the prospects that the new year has to offer. Thanks for putting up with me, y'all!

Monday, December 17, 2018

Emotions

It's been a while since I've done any writing, and I wish I could say it was because I've been really busy, but that's only partially true. I last wrote when I left Oxford, and a ton has happened since then. I've been thinking a lot about my time between Oxford and New York and how I approached it and how I processed it. It's a shame to come back to the topic of emotion that I wrote about a few months ago, but I feel the need to examine it again after how I handled this fall.

When I left Oxford, I was excited to be heading back to the States. The anticipation of something new, despite not knowing exactly what that new thing would be, was enough to have me in high spirits. I went to Chicago and then back to St. Louis, and I was really happy to see friends and family.

Things stuck that way for a week or two. I was eagerly sending away job applications and catching up with people who are close to me, and I was hopeful for the future. As time went on though, several things changed. One, the weather started to change, and seasonal affective stuff really has affected me in the past. In Oxford, I definitely felt less of it because it was a new, exciting environment, and I was constantly being social and keeping busy. At home, I was spending the majority of my days at home sending a few job applications then being bored for the rest of the day. I did okay with this for a while, but as time went on, my hopeful demeanor towards being home started to fade. I was getting lots of denials from jobs or just not hearing back, and I was spending a lot of time alone. By the time I got the New York job, I was absolutely miserable. I was depressed in a way I hadn't been in years, and I felt very dark and lonely. I didn't feel like any of my friendships were in good places (which wasn't necessarily true, you just convince yourself of these things), and I didn't feel worthy of any of the jobs I was applying for. I started to take it out on my mom, and I started to feel resentment towards my friends. At a time when I should've been looking to those important people for support, my defense mechanisms were telling me to grit my teeth and be strong, to handle it on my own and try to put on a happy face. This led me to a bit of a revelation, something I probably knew inherently but had never really acknowledged in full:

I really struggle with communicating my emotions.

I think it’s hard for everyone, and I think often it’s very hard for men in particular. I think despite our best efforts as a society to be aware, we continually ask men to be emotionally dull for the sake of masculinity. Whether it’s making jokes when we see a man crying or the tired tropes of “toughen up, grit your teeth and get through it,” I find that there’s often mixed messages for how men are supposed to handle their emotions, and that can be really hard to navigate.

I’ve been trying to express my emotions more eloquently and to bottle them up less. When I was home, I argued with my mom a lot, generally for no reason. I found small steps of simply trying to communicate what was on my mind would stop me from getting worked up enough to have an argument. I find with friends, communicating problems I’m having can really help me work through them. I remember in the last few months saying to a friend that I was really struggling, and their acknowledgment alone at my voicing it made a marked improvement. The sayings about not bottling up do seem to hold true.

Expressing emotions still does get mixed bag reactions though. I had a friend basically invalidate my feelings recently when I brought up a dilemma by saying, “well, you’re a white man, so you’ll be fine.” While I feel I have a pretty good grasp on privilege, I was really hurt by what was said. Ironically, I haven’t communicated that to them. It’s a struggle to want to put my emotions forth out of fear for how they’ll be received, and I think that’s a struggle for a lot of men. Will I be viewed as less of a man? Will I seem not strong? Sometimes real thoughts, but often just so engrained in us that it’s a subconscious process that keeps me from wanting to speak up about my feelings.

This isn’t to say that emotions aren’t hard for women, too. They most certainly are. I think dealing with emotional expectations and the constraints of stereotypes are equally hard for women, if not worse. Women are expected the carry the emotional weight of everything; men are expected to be unfeeling potatoes that watch football on Sundays and grunt responses like a tired bear. A woman not crying at a funeral is remarkable to some in the same way a man crying would be notable to them. There’s these crazy stereotypes, often gender based but in other facets as well, that emotions belong to certain people and not all. Women have to deal with men saying they're crazy if they're too emotional, and that they're not feminine if they're not emotional enough. I imagine that's a tough tight rope to walk.

My point is, while gender isn't the sole determinant of emotional skill by any means, I do think growing up and identifying as male tends to lead to stunted emotional growth in a lot of men. I feel a lot of feelings, people! I shouldn't want to hide those. Every movie I've ever teared up in has been a rush to avoid anyone seeing, and come on, are you even human if you don't cry during Coco? When I hold in feelings of any kind, I find myself getting angry more easily, being annoyed by little nothings, and sort of just being a grouch.

As I came to the end of my time of unemployment, things really came to a head. I had very promising job prospects in Chicago, St. Louis, and New York, and I had no confidence that any would work out, despite what I was saying when people asked. I didn't feel welcome with friends in Chicago for varying reasons, and I wanted so badly to get out of St. Louis, back to New York, and away from what I was feeling. New York was my top option from the beginning, but I really started to worry where my headspace would be if I didn't get the job. I was exhausted, and I really had no reason to be. I hadn't been unemployed all that long, and I hadn't been working all that hard in the mean time. I was just exhausted from my own stubbornness. I wasn't talking with anyone about what I was feeling. I know depression is something I'll always deal with to varying degrees, but I also know that this particular episode was very self-inflicted.

When I got the job in New York, things certainly weren't better overnight, but I had the stimulation of getting ready for something new, and I recharged with a trip to England and Italy for my graduation ceremony. I came out realizing that talking to friends in Oxford about my experience at home was what was helpful. I felt better because I communicated what was on my mind. The job wasn't the catalyst for feeling better at all.

So, as we approach the new year, I don't have any crazy resolutions besides needing to get back in the gym in my new home. Honestly, I just want to try to improve my emotional intelligence. I always thought I was in touch with my feelings and pretty aware of what was going on in my head, but the last few months were a real wakeup call. I need to be more willing to communicate, to be vulnerable, and to ask for help when I need it. In a lot of ways, I've known in various ways that we hold the keys to our own happiness. I've lived my life knowing that for the last few years, trying to make the most of my time with travel and exciting times, and I've been really fortunate. That said, helping yourself be happy is easy when life is exciting. It was in the difficult moments of the past few months that I realized it's not always that easy.

So, to add a PSA to the end of this, let your friends know if you're struggling. That's why they're your friends. On the other side, I am really grateful to the friends who saw I wasn't at 100% and asked and cared. So, if you're in a good place, see if your friends are too. It can't hurt to ask. As always, thanks for reading, and thanks for being a part of my continued happiness. You all are!

-Ryan

Monday, August 13, 2018

Oxford: The Quest For The Best Sunday Roast

Dear friends, this is a post that many of you knew was coming. This is a post that is long awaited by all. This is a post with the most, the post of the Sunday roast.

For those of you who are new to the game here, I need to provide some back story. My Oxford experience has come to mirror my Sunday roast experience, and I wouldn't want anyone to not fully understand, so let us start at the beginning.

I arrived in Oxford last September, and the transition from Rome was harder than I like to admit. I was comfortable in Rome. I love it there, and moving to Oxford, I was anticipating some culture shock. I've told some folks the story of being at a party in my first week here, and I got talking to a girl who had also been kind of standing there alone. We were chatting the classic small talk, and I asked her what she studied. She told me she studied theoretical physics, and I that sort of set the tone for a start to my academic year of feeling a bit inadequate. I was surrounded by brilliant people who had done brilliant things, and my experience felt really small compared to some of the things these people had accomplished. My flatmate already had a medical degree and was a Rhodes Scholar (I love the guy now, but he was pretty intimidating at first). I just felt like a really tiny fish in a tiny pond filled with very large trout.

I felt like I made acquaintances very quickly. I remember saying to my mom about a month into my time here that I knew a lot of people, but I didn't really feel like I was forming any deep friendships. That was really difficult, especially coming from a place in Rome where I felt like I had lifelong friends and people I considered to be family.

One night, I was sat at my kitchen table with some folks from neighboring apartments, and the concept of a Sunday roast was first explained to me. It's a Sunday meal with family usually cooked in the home that consisted of a main dish (roast meat of several varieties generally, roast vegetables and other sides, and most importantly, Yorkshire pudding and gravy. What I liked about it was the idea of getting everyone together for a meal, which was one of my favorite parts of Rome. That's how you really get to know people, when stomachs and hearts are full with good food and good conversation. I was longing for that, and Sunday roasts seemed like a good place to start.

I quickly learned that most pubs serve special Sunday roast menus. I began to drum up an idea that would help me get to learn my new city and potential help me to make lifelong friends. I set out on a quest to find the best Sunday roast in Oxford, and my answer might surprise you. Follow along with me on this journey week by week, where you will learn a bit about my Oxford experience, and a bit about the Oxford pub scene.

I rated the roast based on atmosphere of the pub, food quality and price, and service. Perhaps you think these categories are unfair, but that's not really my problem. Enjoy with me this ride of a lifetime.

Week 1: Sunday, November 5, 2017. Port Mahon

Top side of beef, roast potatoes, beets and carrots, greens, cauliflower cheese, yorkshire pudding, and gravy. Price: £10.95


Now, a preface, I didn't remember to take a photo every week, so don't expect that. Week one, I was pretty down in the dumps and lonely. I went to Port Mahon alone, and I sat at the bar watching football (soccer, for you fellow Americans), and I had a crisp pale ale with my meal. I enjoyed this roast despite being a bit alone. The food was good for the price, and the atmosphere of the pub was pretty good. I was served immediately, and staff were friendly. The friendly staff made a difference given my lonely state. Overall, I gave Port Mahon a B+. Would go again.

Week 2: Sunday, November 12. The Turf Tavern

Lamb shank, roast potatoes, carrots, greens, mint jelly, Yorkshire pudding, gravy. Price: £11.25

Forgot a photo this week, and again, I went at it alone. This one was particularly sad because it was super cold and rainy outside, and they didn't have any seating available inside. So I ate my very average food alone in the rain and cold. It was a very average experience overall. Service was meh, food was meh, price was meh. Just meh. Appropriately, meh was pretty much how I felt at this point in my Oxford experience. I was socializing, but I didn't feel like I was getting much out of my courses, and I didn't feel like I was forming any really deep friendships. The quest for the Sunday roast had just begun though, and I would not be defeated. Overall, I gave this week a B-.

Week 3: Jericho Tavern

21-day aged sirloin of beef, beef dripping roast potatoes, roast vegetables, red cabbage, Yorkshire pudding and gravy. Price: £13.00



Those fancy descriptions of the food got me really excited for the meal to come when I ordered. That said, the chef wasn't in for some reason, and we had to wait an hour to order, so I was already a bit miffed. This time, my friends Matt and Barney came with me, and I was glad to have company. This was towards the beginning of what became a real friendship for Matt and I. I do love Barney as well, but Matt I think is a lifer. I'm glad I had the two of them there for the mess that was this week. The food was subpar and cold. The Yorkshire pudding was good, which is an incredibly important component of a roast, but the rest was sad. The price for quantity and quality was aggravating. It was a sad roast, but a happy time with friends, and my spirits were high.

Week 4: The Royal Oak

Half Shropshire chicken with pigs in a blanket, beef dripping roast potatoes, gingerbread stuffing, chicken gravy, veggies, Yorkshire pudding. Price: £12.25.

Well, I tried to take a photo of this one, then for some reason it didn't save. This was appropriate, because Barney and I had tried to go to a different pub known for its roasts, and we had to settle on Royal Oak. That said, it was not a disappointment. Atmosphere of the pub was pretty cool, typical British spot with a youthful twist. Chicken was perfect, Yorkshire puddings were dense and crispy, and the pigs in a blanket were a nice touch. A bit pricey, but not too bad. In step, my Oxford experience was taking a turn, too. I was starting to get into a groove with classes, and I was running for social secretary of my college's common room. I was making good friends. I was feeling better and more adjusted as December started to roll around.

Week 5: The Perch

Top round of beef, Yorkshire pudding, cauliflower cheese, veggies, horseradish, greens. Price: £16.95


The Perch came highly praised as an incredible Sunday roast. Barney, Matt, and I were pretty stoked about this one. We had made a reservation after the previous week's failed attempt, and we'd assumed it must be pretty good if they filled up every week. When we arrived, some was positive and some negative. We waited forever for food, and service was just okay. The outside patio was really cool and enclosed for the winter. Food was pretty darn good, and beef was perfect. They gave us a time limit for clearing the table even though we'd made a reservation. It was way too expensive and not a good enough product, which funnily, was how I was starting to feel about my classes. Overall, Perch got a B.

Week 6: Cape of Good Hope

Cherry orchard pork loin, roast potatoes, gravy and Yorkshire pudding, roast veggies, cabbage. Price: £11.75


This week, I went alone, and it was again sort of how I was feeling at the time anyway. People had begun to go home for Christmas break, and I was feeling the lack of connection to people again. The pub was empty, but it had a nice atmosphere nonetheless for a Sunday. I waited 20 minutes for food, but they had a nice selection of beers to keep me busy. The beef was tough and dry, and the Yorkshire pudding was kind of sad. The positives to this place did not really include the food, but I didn't hate it. I gave it a B overall.

Week 7: The King's Arms

Roast sirloin of beef, roast potatoes, honey roasted veggies, cabbage, gravy, Yorkshire pudding.

This is a classic Oxford pub always packed on weekend nights and filled with everything from people studying to passed out freshers to drunk old men spouting political garbage. I was pretty apprehensive about this one because I'm not a huge fan of the pub to be honest. Nonetheless, I went, and it was a very enjoyable experience. I was alone and hungover, and the food was hot and cooked perfectly. It was exactly what I needed. I forgot to write down the price, but I wrote, "Despite being a bit expensive, it was a good amount of food for the money." No price and no photo, so I must have felt really hungover for this one. This was my first roast back from Christmas break, and I was not quite in the groove yet, so the meal raised my spirits a bit. I gave it a B+ to A- overall.

Week 8: The Trout Inn

Roast lamb rump with roasted squash, stuffing wrapped in bacon, roast potatoes, carrots, parsnips, greens, Yorkshire pudding and bottomless gravy. Price: £17.50


You read that correctly, BOTTOMLESS gravy. Hot damn. I was in good spirits this week, and I went to the Trout with my friends Ciaran and Paola. I really felt like I was starting to make good friends. Life was good overall, and I was in the Sunday roast groove. It was a really expensive meal, but the food was pretty good. Meat was a bit fatty but cooked perfectly. Potatoes were dry. Yorkshire pudding was odd and sweet but okay. I was with friends, and I was sitting in a beautiful seat overlooking the river, and I had decent food, so I couldn't really complain. The Trout rolled into the finish line at a B to B+.

Week 9: The Head Of The River

Roast sirloin of beef, squash puree, carrot, parsnip, potatoes, caramelized red cabbage, big Yorkshire pudding, deep fried cauliflower and cheese ball, dried onion shavings, "good" gravy. Price: £18.00


I went out of my way to note the quality of the gravy, so it must have been pretty good. I think I was at the height of my Oxford experience here, and I simultaneously found my favorite roast. This is what I wrote in my notes, verbatim: "Price for quantity surprisingly excellent, I am so full. All of the food was really good. Not a bad thing on the plate. Meat was perfect, and I only have good things to say." I was having the times I would remember after I leave Oxford. I had my close friends. I was involved in things around the city and the school. I was really happy. All this roast did was add to the happiness. The overall grade is an A, and it is well deserved for Head of the River.

Week 10: The Magdalen Arms

Tuscan roast pork ("similar to thick porchetta"), rainbow chard (what the hell? It was basically celery), green beans, roast potatoes. Price: £15.00

This one was far away and had incredibly limited options for roasts, so those two worked against it immediately. I was alone, and all of their roast options besides the one I got were really expensive and meant to be split between several people. That said, what I got was pretty good. No complaints on food really, but nothing that blew my mind, and the quantity left a bit to be desired for the price. Meh, it gets a B.

Week 11: St. Aldate's Taven

Roast beef, potatoes, season veggies, gravy, Yorkshire pudding. Price: £13.00



Classic British pub, but right in the center of town so I was nervous it would be super touristy and loud. They had 5 options for roast, which was kind of cool. Food was good overall and the Yorkshire pudding was excellent. Providing a whole boat of gravy was a nice touch. The quantity for price was subpar though. Life was rolling right along, and while I was going to many of these roasts alone, I was really happy, and the roast had just become part of the routine. I was realizing that the roast was really integral to my Oxford experience. I'd made something for myself in this quest, and it felt good.

Week 12: April 29, 2018. Jacob's Inn

Roast sirloin of beef, parsnips, carrots, potatoes, greens, Yorkshire pudding, gravy. Price: £17.00



Oddly, this was the first time I noted the date in a while. My Oxford experience was flying by, and I got to enjoy this meal with two people who ended up becoming good friends. Cassie and Alex were friends I met through mutual acquaintances from Korea, and I enjoyed getting to know them over the course of the second half of my time at Oxford. Things were starting to wind down. My classes were almost over, and the dissertation was starting to rev up. My brain was starting to stress about what would come after Oxford. I began to depend on Sunday roasts a bit more, especially with good friends, because it would distract me from all of the other stuff on my brain. This week. the meat was cooked perfectly and the potatoes were crispy on the outside and soft inside, perfect. The Yorkshire pudding I noted was "half good, half weird," which is exactly how I felt besides the meal at the time. The Yorkshire pudding tasted "like dishwasher," I wrote. Price for quantity was not very good. I was just glad to be there with my pals. I gave Jacob's Inn a B overall.

Week 13: The Chequer's

Roast rump of beef, potatoes, parsnips, carrots, greens, Yorkshire pudding, gravy. Price: £13.75


Alex and Cassie came with me again this week, and I ended up playing football with Alex afterward. I did feel a part of the Oxford community now, and playing football reminded me of the community I had formed in Rome. This roast was nothing noteworthy, though, as all the food was cold and the vegetables were the best bit, which is never a good sign for a roast. The quantity for price was not good, I noted. The company was excellent, and the rest was not. This place gets a B-.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------




So, 13 weeks out of a year might not seem like that much, and obviously I skipped weeks, but in a lot of ways the roast was one of the best experiences of my time in Oxford, and I looked forward to it every week. I developed a routine: sleep in, go for roast, Skype my parents, do schoolwork, watch Netflix, sleep. That was my Sundays, and I loved them.

Oxford wasn't always good. I didn't always feel like I fit in. Sometimes, the Yorkshire pudding tasted like dishwasher, and that's life. That said, I'll remember Oxford as a learning community unlike any other I had ever experienced. Intellectual discussion and varying opinions were lauded, accepted, and debated. I made great, lifelong friends here, and I'm sad to go. I don't know what the next step is for me yet, and that terrifies me a bit. I'm hoping to have a job lined up in the near future, but who knows what will happen. I had fun here, and I'm glad I made the decision to come to Oxford. I'll miss it. I'll miss my friends and course mates. It's an elitist place, and that bothered me. There's a homelessness problem in Oxford unlike I've seen anywhere else in the world, Chicago and Rome included. It's not the utopia some people would have you think it is, but I made it home for a year, and I hope I was able to contribute and improve it in little ways while I was here. All of you USA folks, I'm coming home for you, at least for now. Thanks for reading, and have a great week.