Friday, October 29, 2010

a place of disconnection

My goals seem so impossible. While I tell myself to think well of people during my 6 hour shift, it is difficult to maintain a positive outlook amidst the psychological violence that Americans unconsciously commit to people in service careers such as mine. Yesterday I came home partially destroyed from the judgmental looks for very inconsequential mistakes, from the non-responsiveness to questions such as "how are you?", from the always time-crunched and fragmented communication that happens between co-workers. Yet this is the day to day world in the service industry - both in my experiences as well as in service professions far beyond coffee service. Still, it is in this environment I will continue to promise myself to listen, love, and pay close attention.

It will never cease to amaze me how many people are blatantly able to ignore such a very simple question of greeting. Yet, the words, "How are you?" get ignored more times than I can count. "Yeah, can I get a decaf late with some vanilla" is often the very out of touch response to my question. This makes me look right at the heart of disconnection that plagues US society. A person with a uniform is 1/4 human, 3/4 object of service. Even if i go to a Walgreens and I am really trying to be more awake to humanity, by the time I have an incident with a uniformed women doing her job right in the way of the toothpaste I would like to grab, I have some mental episode that tell me that her work setting that label can wait for me to grab my toothpaste; she is the worker, I am the buyer. And I ask to grab that toothpaste.

What I mean when I use the word 'disconnection' is that people have this tendency to be asleep, or disconnected, to the truth that all people are equally thinking and feeling beings who are trying to be as well as possible in each minute of every day. I think that plenty of evidence points to how, in a way, the overall U.S. culture values this brand on disconnection. Perhaps it achieves temporary kinds of superiority that is socially hard-wired into our desires. When I stop the woman from her job so that I can carry out my toothpaste task, I get to be affirmed that the world revolves around me so long as I am the one spending the money at that store. When a customer cuts off my connection-making question of "How are you?" to move straight to the ordering of their drink, they tell me that they have no obligation to connect with me. The only obligation is one of service. No one is wearing a uniform to be alive and connected. We service people are there to serve.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

A New Racial Autobiography

My racial autobiography, 2008-2009:

In the fall of 2008, I moved from Salem, Oregon to Chicago, Illinois. There, I started work in the all-black setting of North Lawndale College Prep High School. The first black person I started to see daily was Joe Berry, who was the tech coordinator at Free Spirit Media. He graduated high school some 6 years back at NLCP, and was deeply connected with the community in North Lawndale. I remember feelings of wanting to talk to him more about race relations (having studied it so much in college) but I felt like such an infant all over again. After all, I was recognizing that here I was making mental note of the 'fact' that I was building a relationship with someone who was culturally black. So, time went on and I made a few good moments of connection over chicken that he would bring in now and then. Though, I remember being jealous that last years volunteer, Jesse, had such a good relationship with him and that the two of them could talk openly about race. This was perhaps what I aspired to have the comfort and competence to do.

Before long, the first trimester was over, and Elizabeth, Jesse and I said goodbye to Joe and moved our location to the other campus of the same high school. Over there, we were right across the hall from Johnita and Shaun, both black, and I had high hoped of reaching across the cultural divide over there. Not so much though, at least not in the first 10 weeks, where my daily interactions included the awkward repetitive phrases of "Hi Shaun, hi Johnita, how are you?" Each next day that I said the same thing, I felt a little bit funnier that I had no more to really be social about. Then, one day Johnita and I went on some errands together, bonded over our common struggles and some good music, not to mention our shared happiness talking about family and small children. From that point on, we suddenly started to recognize that we enjoyed seeing each other. Simultaneously I realized that I could say whats up to Shawn with a little more confidence and welcome.

All the while, I look around at other white people and conclude that I am the only one who goes through these thoughts, and awkward distances with my peers of another color and neighborhood and cultural background. I see myself as the only one feeling like there are barriers, and it was (is) an isolating place indeed. Every day, now that I am at 8 months, is less isolating than the last. I just want to keep going, too, and keep coming out of my shells to the point where I feel the equality of my relationships with people of color.

With the students I started with the most rockiness. I had to ask them to repeat things, and again had so many of the same conversations over and over. I was in a routine, not genuinely friendly. Now I give an entirely new something, as it is the kids for which I show up each day to connect with. It is because of how wonderful the kids are that I never want to go anywhere else, or relate to young people who I don't have the added reward of sharing love despite crossing racial and cultural barriers. And it's only getting better; I'm getting more relaxed and comfortable in each day I spend at the school.

With a love crossing from a place of disconnection to a place of genuine connection comes also the possibility of much deeper hurt. It is at times such as learning that K got held up by a 12 year old, and that C lost her older brother to gun violence, and M was there when the three young men drowned, P is having her child in a matter of months, and W might be hanging to his high school education by a thread. It is a full load to bear, and I hardly have the life experiences that give me a clear relation to many of the things that these teenagers face in their ordinary growing-up. Sometimes, I just need to sit ad I guess write about it, because the racial barriers are real in consequence here. My color and class and culture grew me up so far away from any of these kinds of stories. Still, now I find myself connected. And I wonder if I'll never see life in its full human completion if I ever snap back to just relating to white sheltered privileged life again. I feel that my own humanity is opened by being connected to life experiences that don't share the shelter. I want to relate to it, not to be a voyeur, but because each day I am there is a day's progress to be able to be there enough to care genuinely for more than just my own race.

Maybe this is how my anti-racism has reared its head. Maybe it is through knowing that I can be white and yearn for connection outside of my limiting and self-glorifying culture. I think that I still give my white issues far to little attention, but already my racial autobiography has widely grown to a form of inter-cultural relationships. For these I am so thankful. Its going to be hard to leave especially the all-black community at school, but I'll still keep faith that there is more in store for me in Seattle. Perhaps not getting the job at University of Puget Sound was God saying, "hey Brandon, don't settle in with the white crowd quite yet, you still have a lot to learn if you want to understand what it is to be an anti-racist."

Saturday, October 11, 2008



It seems to me like time moves so fast lately. These days, as I watch it whiz by, I’ve been engulfed with constant thoughts around the subject of art, and so my mind is constantly moving. I notice that I feel particular parts of a creative self surface within me. In a word, I could say that it’s been exhilarating to be in the company of artists when I’m in my work setting. Suddenly, I don’t feel strange to want to dialogue about our student’s need to have a “creative space” [physically] in which to do work, as such conversations are commonplace in the work setting full of fellow artists. As it is, I join with others in the belief that it is a basic human need to express yourself and be empowered to think in ways that extend beyond the everyday.

I have been recently enlightened to realize that creativity is like a muscle. I can look back in my own life and remember the times that I was "physically fit" in this regard: early childhood, my summer at the poetry camp, ski days with the camera out, making a music video and bike movie in my high school video class, creative essays in Writing Workshop with Professor Moon, and making poetry in Imaginative Writing with Jim Bertilino. Each of these situations placed me in a creative space, and let me dwell there for a little while. And each time it felt good.

Now I’m there again. Even more unique, I’m there in a more fully immersed way than I’ve ever before managed. After all, I spend probably 10 hours of each day thinking about creating, or, how to get others to create while learning, growing, and enjoying the process. Most recently, I’ve motivated myself to try on my own artistic projects. I’ve taken on the chance to get out there with my own video camera, talking to people on the street after work, and then bringing my shots and talks home and arranging them on my computer through Final Cut software (you may have watched it at the top of this entry). And indeed, I’m remembering that through the constant actions of thinking creatively, and looking upon the world for its artful possibility, everything around takes on a different look. Recently, the world has seemed more rich and interesting to me.

This, in a big way, helps me find a home in the urban environment of Chicago. There are not mountains to gaze upon, but gradually I find that there are people and city movements here that are in fact still beautiful. And that when properly looked upon and interacted with, a similar sort of soul-fulfilling gaze can be creatively developed.

So there is good news here in Chicago, which is that my mind is occupied in pleasurable ways. How could I be bored in such a creative space as this? As a result, time flys, the youth voice develops at North Lawndale College Prep, and I feel fulfillment as I connect back into something deep within me so that inner-creativity gets exercise and opportunity again, and this time in a very big way!

Take care, ya’ll.

also... watch "Hope in America" on the video bar. Its what two of NLCPs star students filmed at the DNC in Denver last month. When finished, it won an Illinois-wide video competition!

Saturday, August 30, 2008

This is real now

It is starting to sink in that I have a year ahead of me. Through the event of working my first work-week in a high school setting, it occurs to me that this is my first real job. My commitment is expected to be more than the months of summer. I have a year in this position, and with that, I’m feeling something between exhilaration and terror.

The exhilaration is that I am working with Free Spirit Media. This educational setting is one of my dreams. In it, youth are not taught as objects into which information must be banked, but rather creative instruments that can be enabled by way of handing over cameras and basic skill sets. One of the jargons that I hear commonly in this community of media educators is “youth voice,” and it reminds me that the very basis of our teaching theory will be continually be based on the idea that education is meant to be empowering. I find myself in a role where my job is to hand over the camera and skills, and then guide youth to be both creative and reflective, a precious combination that is at the center of leading youth (especially structurally disadvantaged youth) to a place of learning their deserved power to be subjects of the world around them. It’s already very obvious to me why my goal, similar to other FSM staff, is to facilitate “youth voice,” and also to judge my educational successes based mainly on this crucial criteria.

While I am so inspired, I feel also some pangs of panic. I still feel new, and I realize that I basically will be pushing to stay just one step ahead of the students for the first half of this year: hence the panic. It’s a rather awkward place to be, but I guess that’s the life of a first year teacher.

What’s more is that I realize the huge transition of community that I’m undergoing right at this moment. The good news is that I’m learning a lot about myself. The challenge, however, is that I’m gradually understanding how dependant I am on my home base community. I already see more clearly that I define myself by the people around me, for better or for worse, and after having such a close-knit group at Willamette, I’ve had to face the ‘fish-out-of-water’ reality that has set upon me in Chicago. For example, its weird right now to concretely put my finger on my core sense of humor, how I act around people, my spiritual needs, how I dress, and what I do for fun. Basically just some pretty funny feelings of being slightly lost have come up as a find myself in this whirlwind of newness that is occurring while my community and best friends are not right by my side anymore. I guess some people say the year after college often has a natural outcome of redefining oneself, and I’m beginning to have insight as to what they may be talking about. Though I must admit, I thought it would be more ‘challenge by choice’ rather that this automatic space in which I find myself.

So basically, there is so much going on! I hope this helps you to know me better. It’s still so early in my time here, but then again, so much is happening so fast in each day, and for that reason I feel pretty resolved to pay attention and write about it. I also have some cool reflections about how my ultra-urban experience in my neighborhood is the most community friendly out of anything that I ever experienced in Boise, Salem, or Seattle. Isn’t that interesting? Also, I notice that it’s class related because community doesn’t look the same in Blake’s neighborhood. Interesting, right? It’s a surprise that I’ll be enjoying immensely though, I can already tell! And also, there is so much going on in this city. Free Jazz Fest this weekend, free Andrew Bird concert at Millennium park on Wednesday, and then a bloc party concert coming up with Ratitat, Neko Case (my two-door-down neighbor, did I mention?), and this popular Chicago punk marching band (with my upstairs neighbor, crazy, everyone around me is artsy and famous. So bizarre, I love it!), ALL IN THE SAME NIGHT. I hope I go.

I hope I stay centered. I hope life keeps interesting and all these thoughts continue to be meaningful and life-giving. Thanks for listening. B

Monday, August 25, 2008

First Week in Chicago: (new intersections, right?)

One week ago today, myself and my three housemates moved into our new lives in Chicago. In the elapsed time, it’s actually become difficult to think of much that hasn’t happened. In the course of our busy week, we have moved into an apartment that started off a disaster (cabinets pulled, sinks on the floor, drywall-dust covering the floors), tapped into new social communities with past LVC volunteers, gotten to know our neighborhood, started our new jobs, picked up our local organic vegetables CSA share (yum), attended a movie-at-the-park, biked all over the city, I saw my brother Blake, and also saw my old housemate Jacob Swenson, went back to work, realized that I’ll actually be the one teaching tomorrow, and lastly, I learned how to bake bread (it’s rising right now). Basically I think they say, “he hit the ground running” for occasions like this.

In this current moment, school is probably the biggest deal to me. During the first two days in the school, I’ve more or less laid low in Elizabeth’s (lead teacher) courses. Basically, I’m trying to get a feel for how I should and shouldn’t present myself in front of everyone. I notice that I’m really questioning myself and my confidence as a authoritative figure in a video production classroom, which is a stressful event in itself. With reflection, it is becoming more obvious to me that the students’ mature age combined with their cultural difference from myself is the intimidating combination that causes me the stress. Tomorrow, when I ride my bike past the several neighborhoods to the south and west, I need to remember that even though I come from a world apart, I can still take the seat as a teacher. After all, they don’t know more than I do about video production, at least not these sets of kids.

Still, I notice that my summer backpacking job with the Asberger’s kids was simply laid out for me to feel successful. It always seemed like I had the responsibility and capabilities to get them both through and out of the backcountry. With video, I doubt my leadership more. So I struggle forward right now, knowing that I need to learn how to see myself as part of a team of educators that will without a doubt succeed at relaying good and useful knowledge to these kids at North Lawndale. Right now, I may not know the most about video, but then again I didn’t know the most about backpacking and Asperger’s syndrome when I set off on my summer job. It’s definitely my hope that I will rise to this new occasion in a similar way as what happened on the summer excursion.

I’m sure I’ll have more to write in another week. Not to mention probably another thousand un-job-related items… like moving in a new gas stove - TBA. On that note, I have a stomach that needs the attention of the newly baked bread.

Friday, June 27, 2008

An Idea

The idea for this blog started after some talking with my best friend and love Kara, reading some of the gospels in the Bible, watching Motorcycle Diaries, and then dialoguing over lunch with Erin Murphy about the necessary commitment to live a life of intentional human relations. The purpose of this space, then, is to get me to record my encounters of what I perceive as meaningful events and human intersections in my life. I hope to talk about what I learn of our human selves from thoughtfully communing with others in a fully present kind of way. While this space may have the usefulness of updating people on my life and thoughts, the most honest reason that I started this is because I wish to continue to step courageously out into conversations that may yield insight and spiritual connectivity between people in the world. I see this blog as my accountability to keep these interactions up, write about them, and reflect the deepest layers of our being alive with one another. I want to live a life of faith, hospitality, and boldness with those to whom I find myself similar, but more importantly to those around me whose lives I find much different. Essentially, with this blog, I intend to follow a spiritual call that tells me to get out and live in more communion with the diverse world around me. So, this blog will be the journal of the everyday interactions that I'll choose to write about.