Dating myself

Want to know something that kind of sucks? Long distance relationships. Of course I love my girlfriend, but on days like Valentine’s it can be rough. I have a Valentine, and she is someone I really, really care about. She is doing amazing things and the pride I feel in her is so overwhelming I sometimes feel like it all has to be a dream. How does a scrub like me get someone so incredible? So I feel ungrateful to complain, but it can be agonizing to have her hand a thousand miles away when I am walking around campus seeing couples hold hands. Even just that little bit of human contact sounds divine.

In the absence of my cuddle buddy, I am learning how to take better care of myself. I mean, to be fair, I am not very good at the whole self care thing. I’m not necessarily self destructive, I’d never actively try to hurt myself. It’s more that I push myself without regard for my well-being. I know I have limits, and I mostly know where they are. It’s just that I ignore them. With this intent to treat myself better, and my Valentine closer to Trudeau than myself, I decided to treat myself to a nice dinner. Alone.

I went to Cafe Brule and had a wonderful meal, but then again most meals are wonderful on their own. While I do like eating alone, I’ve always felt a bit sheepish about going to a restaurant on my own. Of course this isn’t any major social issue, but people do give me a bit of sideways glances. I had to wait a while because the wait staff assumed I was either expecting someone or else was stood up. Not so, the only thing I was waiting on was my food. If I’m going to tell the truth, it was one of the nicest meals I’ve ever had.

Not because it was overly fancy, just some nice comfort food for my belly, I just was able to sit and enjoy internal dialogue with myself. Depending on who you ask talking to yourself is either a sign of brilliance or insanity, but I chose to ask myself, so I got the chance to learn about myself better.

I’m still digesting and the more time I spend learning about myself the more I realize I still need a lot more time. But I think I liked that guy, and I’m eating with him again tonight.

Her eyes

A while ago I noticed a peculiar habit my family has when they talk about my partner. Whenever she comes up, my family always extols her many virtues (and there are plenty of those that I’d like to write about at a later date), she’s funny, she’s smart, she’s kind, but my family always has to sneak in “not that it matters, but she is really beautiful.” I can’t blame them, that’s how I feel too.

Honestly, looks never mattered all that much to me, I’m much more attracted by intelligence, but there is no denying that it’s a great quality that she’s one of the most beautiful people in the world. I could talk write about any of the many things that make her a real stunner, but the one that stands out to pretty much everyone are her absolutely gorgeous eyes. For those who haven’t seen them, her eyes are the most bright blue sapphires you will ever find.

They have so much to tell. They say the eyes are the windows to the soul and hers show just how beautiful she is inside and out. I could stare into them forever. The sheer amount of kindness in them always overwhelms me. Honestly, I have more than my fair share of issues. It feels isolating.

Some days I feel like I’m all alone in the world. Even when people tell me they care about me or try to understand, there is always a little piece of me that just can’t trust them always. But when she looks at me, I know that I am not alone. Seriously, they are magic. Of course there is the aspect that she just helps me so much directly, but her eyes give her a unique advantage.

Don’t get me wrong, she can do a lot to relate to me and that really does help. And her heart is so full and open that she could really help anyone. Just go read her blog and you’ll see. You don’t even need to meet her in person to see how wonderful she can be for those she comes into contact with, even online. Now imagine that, all of her heart and mind, being amplified and projected through two perfect sapphires. I hope to look at those eyes for the rest of my life.

I’ve written and rewritten this multiple times. This is probably my seventh or eighth draft. I keep trying again because I am incapable of conveying the feelings her eyes give me, and while a picture’s worth a thousand words, even photos can’t do her justice. So maybe I can’t write magic, but it should be known that even her eyes make me feel better. I love her because she makes me feel good, so I thought I’d start with my most obvious and outwardly apparent away.

Realistic escapism

For as long as I can remember, I have been drawn to escapist expressions. At the risk of sounding like a hipster, I have always loved fantasy, comics, sci-fi, video games, anything that lets me escape to somewhere more fantastical than the world I live in. So, in the stressful media world of Trump’s America, I must ask myself why I can’t seem to lose myself in the worlds I love so much.

My Steam library is packed to the gills, I have a significant reading list on my Kindle, and there is a ridiculous amount of good content on HBO, Netflix, and Amazon. So much, in fact, that I needed to get an app to sort through it. There’s a really great app that aggregates movie and TV choices called Mighty, they describe themselves as Tinder for streaming. I made sure to input a lot of my favorite things so most of the recommendations are off the charts good. Things I wanted to see I didn’t know were available to me, and things I really like were appearing with my having no prior knowledge of their existence. Here’s the thing, none of them are the sort of escapist show I have been previously drawn to, Westworld, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Stranger Things, and any number of other shows I have enjoyed throughout the years. I have watched almost exclusively documentaries.

At the beginning of the semester, I once again read Book X of The Republic for my Introduction to Literary Criticism class which gives a blistering attack on the nature of art and literature, the harshest criticism possible, for art as a whole.. I don’t agree with it by and large, but Socrates largely argues that reality is hard to perceive so having multiple lenses to distort a vision of the world can make it exponentially more difficult to see the truth. In a world of alternative facts, I am turning to the entertainment with the fewest lenses to find my joy.

Want to know what I just watched? A documentary about government surveillance. That’s not as light as In Search of General Tso, but it shows some truth. Of course everything has its own flaws and distortions applied by its makers, that goes without saying. That’s kind of the point of Socrates argument in The Republic. That doesn’t matter.

It is impossible to be a proper citizen of an Advanced Liberal Democracy without exposing oneself to the news. That is quite simply essential to functioning in the world, but frankly, it really sucks in the last few years. Real and legitimate news is under assault, and those attacking it won’t even allow us the courtesy of marking it as such. Of course right leaning sights were more problematic in the election, but its not lack of center right news available to them from reliable sources, look at The Economist, Forbes, or The Wall Street JournalThey all have political angles that do not align with me, but they have reliable records. They made their names on reliability, not on clicks.

So I turn to documentaries. True, reliable, and entertaining. Even the darkest ones are infinitely better than what I get in the New York Times everyday. Top notch reporting, but it makes me feel like I’m going to have a nervous breakdown because the truth is so much stranger than fiction with the Whitehouse acting as a reality TV show. It’s just not the strangeness I like.

Coffee coercion

Unlike the average American, I do not drink coffee. At least, I didn’t used to. The big thing for me is that as far as I’m concerned coffee tastes like wet gym socks. I really, really can’t stand the flavor or the smell of coffee. Unfortunately, there are quite a few benefits that I want to reap.

Let’s consider the word depression for a moment. A depression is an area that is pushed down. In the case of mental health, it is more than just a depressed mood, it is depression of a diverse range of features in life.

I personally feel a lot of depression as just being tired. It doesn’t matter how much I can sleep, I can’t go a day without feeling exhausted to a point of near collapse. So I really need to do something to stay awake all through class. I’m a good student, but sometimes my illness can almost drag me under during a lecture.

Medication exists, and I’ve been on some that tries to help, but i don’t like that way it feels. Lacking medically specific methods, I am turning to caffeine to get through my day.

Of course the titular coffee isn’t my only option for caffeine. But I want a source that balances health, convenience, and taste, in that order. Unfortunately, coffee seems to be the best balance of convenience and health.

Tea has caffeine. Tea is amazing. It tastes like happiness, and it is quite healthy. Most likely more healthy than coffee. Unfortunately, tea doesn’t have enough caffeine for my purposes, and it takes longer to steep good tea than it does to poor a cup of hot tea coffee, on top of which coffee is readily available pretty much anywhere you go.

Rivaling coffee in availability is caffeine rich sodas. There’s plenty of varieties wherever one goes. Thankfully USD is a Pepsi campus, and since that’s all garbage my situation is made it least a bit easier, but Coke (the Cola that is) can be more than a little troublesome.

Maybe it’s a family culture thing, but I really, really like the original cola. That little bit of acidity,  But I don’t think I need to go into how bad soda can be for a person. If you keep it simple, coffee is comparatively health.

Coffee is famous for having health evidence that can go either way for. Some studies show it’s good some say its bad, it really can go either way, but I don’t believe in alternative facts. I think there is one core truth, it might just be hard to determine, that’s why we have experts on the job.

For my money, or my health for that matter, the Mayo Clinic is a strong candidate, and they say that coffee is at worst a mild benefit, and could potentially be greatly helpful to the health of drinkers.

I still don’t like coffee. I’ve had at least three cups a week since the semester started and I’m still can’d stand that taste. But I stay awake as long as I want, so I’ll keep choking it down.

Before I go, here’s a quick fun story. Because of my schedule, I typically grab coffee right before my Russian class, and as a result, I drink coffee during Russian. I hate the taste, so I can’t help but make faces while I drink it, and often accidentally make my professor laugh as I gag to stay awake in class. That’s all, take it easy, and stay awake.

Time well wasted

I am a workaholic. I hate not having something to do, and I dread long school breaks because I feel so unproductive. I started learning a little bit of French over Christmas just to take up time. All I remember is je mange pomme de terre, and I’m not even sure if that is right. But I’ve found a problem, I overwork myself. I push too hard and then I’ll get dangerously close to having a minor breakdown, so I’ve had to teach myself a thing or two about self care in college. I’ve discovered that for myself some things work better for relaxation than others.

Strangely, I find I enjoy things more as they seem more like a waste of time, so there is a scale of things. I like listening to podcasts and books, but both of those feel at least a little like work, a little too much like I’m being productive and doing something to enrich my mind. Nightmarish I know, but only for situations when I don’t have too much stress, just a little unwinding.

One tier below that is TV and movies. It’s much more passive, and often a good deal more silly. Watching Rick and Morty can be more relaxing than reading a book about the history of NPR when I just want to sit back and relax.

When I’m really feeling the ole grindstone grate against my last nerve, nothing will do in the place of some stupid video games.

Of course there are plenty of intellectual video games with strong points to make (my personal favorite of these is Papers, Please) but I’m talking about games that are serious wastes of time. Maybe there’s a story, but that’s not the lure of a game like XCOM, Hearthstone, or Ultimate Chicken Horse.

Those are all great, but my personal favorite when I need a pick me up is Stardew Valley. There’s the incredible music, the simple gameplay, and a whole other list of things I can rattle off, but the whole experience together blends into a place I can just get lost, be happy, and grow some corn.

I’ve always liked games, but for most of my life, I could never allow myself to value them. With rare exceptions, they were basically complicated toys, not anything I could have an intelligent conversation about. Then I had a really great class last year called Humans and Technology where I really got to value a wide range of artistic mediums. And from there, I realized I don’t particularly care if they’re of any great value.

Stardew Valley is a truly wonderful game that helps make me happier when I am going through some hard times. It is an experience that helps me find happiness. If other people don’t value it, who cares. I want to do things that make me happy in my life.  If that means some good old fashioned play time with some pixelated cows, then so be it.

Look like a man

Anyone who’s seen me in the last few years knows I like to dress well. It’s been years since I didn’t own a suit, and I live in sweater vests. I own a drawer full of vests, and I have grown very fond of cardigans recently. The thing with cardigans is they require something to be worn below, and I think a plain color t-shirt is boring. So instead I wear flowery shirts and rock a Hawaiian print Cubs cap.

I didn’t used to like flowers or paisley on my clothes because I thought they were girly. As I grew to realize how stupid gendered terms like that were, I never bothered to examine my clothes. Now that I have realized the error of this logic, I am examining what I think of clothing. I have realized the problem I have. Men’s clothing is so arbitrarily restrictive.

In high school a gay friend of mine pointed out to me how boring men’s clothing is, and I think I’ve come to agree with him. Don’t get me wrong, I love both my suits and my sweater vests, but I really like to wear a fun dress shirt with them. You have no idea how difficult this can be just to get some basics.

To be fair, I can have trouble find clothes my size period, but patterns are hard to find in general. You can get some subtle stripes and a few polka dots, but nothing striking. Of course the majority of these clothes are made for business and formal wear, and that’s fine. But it is a serious hunt for any sort of style. So, what about clothes not made for men?

To be clear, I mean style as in a subjective preference for appearance. I don’t care much for fashion, and I don’t think I ever will. But I know how I want to present myself to the world. I think of myself as a fairly businesslike man who likes color and patterns. Those are really hard to find. Clothing can be a small way of expressing our stances and thoughts to the world.

For instance, my recent adventures at the Women’s March in Sioux Falls. I wore a pink bowtie because I didn’t think it seemed right for me to wear a pink hat, but I could still show support. I really don’t have much expressive clothing, but I promise that is not for lack of effort. It is partially because of colorblindness, but that is besides the point. There just is not much available to me in general.

My girlfriend wears my sweaters, and I know plenty of women who feel comfortable shopping in the men’s section and that is great. I just really wish it could go the other way. In all honesty, I love the idea of wearing dresses and skirts. I have no doubt that a good amount of people read that and subconsciously questioned my sexuality and gender identity, and to the best of my knowledge I am indeed a straight man. They just look comfy. And there is a lot of fun things made with them.

Now, I know that might sound out there, the idea that a man would be anything but a clean cut and traditional business man is odd, but hear me out. There was a time where women wearing pants would have been considered extreme, and men’s fashion is heading toward lace collars and other traditionally feminine clothing tropes. I’m no fashion expert, but this excites me.

I’ll never be a trend setter, and not all female clothing appeals to me, I’ll still probably have sweater vests and khakis as a staple. Oh, and I live in the conservative and slow to catch on state of South Dakota at the moment. It’s a wonderful state that I truly love, but I feel like it’s safe to say we’re not known for our hough couture. But all things change with time, and I just want everyone to think about it. Because I would look great in a skirt.

Slow and steady

Before I begin let me say that I am aware that as a white man I am not in a good position to discuss diversity. Though I would say I am a hard worker I see no alternative but to acknowledge the many privileges I have had all my life. While I do my best to expand my understanding of the world and see things through the broadest lens I can find, please remember that everything I write comes from this limited perspective, so take it with a grain of salt.

Initially, this topic came to mind when my dad, a very open-minded man, told me that he did not quite understand what the big deal was. I confess, when the 2015 Oscars rolled around with major diversity issues (though I would note the Best Director winner Alejandro Inarritu is Mexican) I was of the mind that it was merely unfortunate. Yes, it was very, very bad that there were no people of color nominated for their role in the film, and a continuous lack of women among the ranks of directors, rather than behind the camera, but it didn’t seem impossible to me.

Though minority populations (and particularly Latinos) are rapidly growing, and on pace to create a scenario where white people are either a minority or races become mixed to a point that it doesn’t matter anymore, we are still the largest portion of the United States’ population. While people of color go through their growing pains in both population and socioeconomic growth, it seemed possible that we would have one year to eventually look back on with cringing laughter in a post-racial year. Heck, the year before had been a great year for people of color with 12 Years a Slave. Maybe that day will come, but I fear it may be further off than I anticipated.

At last year’s 2016 Oscars, there was the same pale domination of every category with the same solitary exception. This in a year with both Creed and Straight Outta Compton representing compelling and quality movies with primarily African-American casts (still not perfect representation, but take the victories we can get). Unfortunately, the only actor nominated from either film was Sylvester Stallone, who is certainty a competent actor, but it seemed like a wonderful example of the absurdity of the situation.

At the root of Hollywood’s diversity problem is the seeming inability of the institution to produce good rolls for people of color. While still an issue, and most likely an issue for years to come, the situation is slowly improving. While we still get horribly white-washed rolls like those in Gods of Egypt (though that was honestly the least of their problems) we do see some progress with purposeful diversity elsewhere. But even in a movie like Creed with a talented black man at the lead, the white supporting actor was the only one nominated.

So, maybe they didn’t want to pick a character who had race as a major facet of their identity, fair enough, I’m not fond of that sort of casting anyway and there have been recent awards for characters focused on race. I (as a middle class white man) am much more fond of characters like Trenton in Mr. Robot who is definitely a woman of color and practices Islam, but all of that is just a component of her identity as a tougher-than-nails hacker who helps bring about amazing wealth redistribution. While not exactly colorblind casting, it is a template for sophisticated portrayal of race.

So the only conceivable option beyond a race issue is a strong preference for colorblind or pseudo colorblind casting. Here’s the things, there was still some good options with colorblind casting last year. In 2015/2016 I saw Star Wars: The Force Awakens six times in the theater. Yes, I know that is too many.

Obviously I don’t expect Star Wars to sweep the Oscars right after the series gets a fresh face, but I think it is worth noting that two of the three new main characters are men of color. Obviously John Boyega (Finn) is of African decent, more specifically his parents are from Nigeria and didn’t know what Star Wars was when he was cast. With both a strong performance in the mega franchise and a strong acting pedigree, Boyega would make a good fit nominated as Best Actor. If I’m being honest, his snuff isn’t the one that really upsets me.

While Star Wars was barely a blip at last years awards, want to know what wasn’t? Ex Machina. The light sci-fi film got acclaim both for its core concept as well as its underlying thread about the objectification of women, particularly women of color. The film was nominated for Best Screenplay and won Best Visual Effects, but I get a bit angsty that the common actor between Ex Machina and The Force Awakens, Oscar Isaac (Poe Dameron in Star Wars and Nathan in Ex Machina).

As far as mass-appeal movies went, last year was clearly the year of Mad Max: Fury Road, and sometimes the Academy gets a bit full of itself and doesn’t want to acknowledge films that aren’t artsy enough. That’s fine, they want to keep a certain amount of prestige. But Isaac was also in Ex Machina. Though he is from Guatemala, Isaac falls into the category of “racially flexible” in a roll that has nothing much to do with any race and did a damn good job, he was even anticipated by some publications to be a contender to win Best Supporting Actor. But he wasn’t even a blip on the radar.

I apologize to all of my friends in minority communities for not understanding this sooner, I could blame it on the privilege, but that doesn’t absolve the guilt. One might have been viewed as chance in a certain light, but two shows a real problem. It is partially on the industry for not producing better films, but it is also partially on the Academy, they hold real power to make and break stars and hits that they do not share enough with marginalized communities. Before anyone accuses me of being a SJW, of course I don’t want a general awards show devoid of white people, that’s stupid. I want fair and well balanced representation of all sorts of communities. Numbers and percentages will inevitably ebb and flow over the years, but the previous state of affairs was a disgrace. This year represents another step to fairness and equality, and I won’t see another white gold Oscars as anything but discriminatory. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.