Wherever you go, there you are (April, 2016)

Somehow I find myself back at the beginning. Back in the OxBox.

The beginning(ish).

I left London awhile ago, short on notice and itinerary. Bound for Oxford, Ohio, but lacking reasons beyond “just because”. Sure there were excuses—just ask my parents. But really I just came back just because. Because Oxford. Anyone who’s been here knows what that means. It’s fun. It’s chill. It’s pointless. It’s not real life. It is home.

Sometimes though, you have to leave home to find home—sometimes more than once. Bermuda is my home, first and foremost, but a past and future one. The present is full of uncertainties and responsibilities and bullshit. So I must tend to that before I find my way back for good. Visits are full of fun and sun, certainly. But as I said, I’m beyond and before the beautiful ‘Rock’. Until it makes sense for me to go back, it’s just another past and future that I simultaneously miss and long for—yet cannot have. Like Oxford. Like the world.

Once more, London is my destination. Before me it sits, glowing much more brightly than the last time. It means more than it did before. I got a legit job, finally. Not sure if that’s why it means more, but it counts quite literally (£££) for something. My beautiful parents will tell you: “about Goddamn time”. They won’t say Goddamn, because they’re God-fearing, but they mean it.

I’ll be working for the Economist with their Social Media team. However shite I am at actual writing, I guess my Facebook and Twitter presence is doing well enough to further my brand. A brand of booze and ball and borderless bounds.

I never really knew who I was, and I don’t suppose that ever changes. Who we’re born as is who we die as. So I attribute many homes to myself, with the hope that one day I’ll find Home. I’ll be Home. I’m not sure any of us truly find Home, though. We just eventually say we do because we become too old and too sad and too lost to go on searching.

Enough with the dreary digressions, digressions that likely have something to do with my (frequent) self-imposed writing conditions. I wrote this listening to Canadian music (Drake), drinking Bermudian rum (Gosling’s), thinking about an American girl (…)—mind already prepared for a London life. They say wherever you go, there you are—no truer words have ever been spoken.

Anyways, Homeward bound…

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My Oxford return, my Oxford departure

A couple weeks ago I booked a one way ticket from London to Cincinnati, Ohio — my final destination being Oxford, Ohio. I was headed back to where it all began. Where I spent four years of undergrad. Where I met some of the most important people in my life. A time and place that will remain forever a part of who I am and how I will go on to define my life. In other words, it was a homecoming.

Thinking about it, maybe it was a couple months ago now. I don’t really know, this place is timeless. Since being here my reality has been warped into a seemingly endless dream. When I departed London, I didn’t give myself much time to prepare. It was all a bit sudden. I mean, I literally didn’t book my flight until 6 days before my departure. So “sudden” might even be a slight understatement.

I also didn’t really tell anyone. My friends were shocked. My parents were suspect. My job was left scrambling to find a replacement. Within that final week I had to pack, say my goodbyes, find a replacement for my room, and tie up any other loose ends that remained frayed.

Despite the rapid and unexpected nature of my departure, I think the move was a long time coming. It was due since the very first day I set foot in Oxford and began my Miami University career six years prior.

And I was somehow absolutely confident in this decision. Inexplicably so, I was more certain than I’d ever been about anything in my life.  I guess I knew I’d be back in London in a few months to start working, although the job — now confirmed — still seemed a distant figment of my imagination at the time. In some ways, though, it seemed I was saying a permanent goodbye. Perhaps not to any particular individuals or places, but a final goodbye to a time in my life which I not only wanted to leave behind — but desperately needed to depart from. To move on. To grow up. To progress in life.

The irony in all this is I was returning to a place — Oxford — which I knew I’d never fully be able to forget. A place that fostered the immature behaviors that I was growing tired of. Not that I wanted to forget it. However, it’s almost as if I felt the need to finish the final chapter and close that book for good. To proceed with my life, I needed to say one final goodbye to Oxford. Not to say I won’t ever physically return, mind you. But when I do, I’ll most likely have different priorities.

So at the end of the day the decision wasn’t much of a decision at all. Whatever I’d be doing — or not doing — over the ensuing months, it was something that needed to be done. My fate was set. I’d returned to the lovely oasis in southwest Ohio know as Oxford. A place where the pace is slow, the drinks are cheap, and the people are beautiful. Where I first discovered who I was and what I would be. A trip back to briefly reminisce on the defining years of my life — and ultimately move on to a new chapter.

Looking back, I’m confident I made the correct decision — and I’m very glad to be back.

 

Getting started in freelance writing

Climbing the mountain that is a career in freelance writing isn’t nearly as easy as some make it out to be. If it were, I guess more people would attempt the journey. There’d also be far fewer failed ascents. Sit any successful freelancer down away from their motivational blog, one on one, and they’ll truthfully tell you that their path wasn’t easy. It takes hard work, determination, and patience to succeed at freelance writing, blogging, or whatever your craft may be. I know this better than most because, as of yet, I’ve found little success — I know exactly what not to do. So here I offer a bit of wisdom on how to fail at becoming a successful freelancer, so that more of you will take an easier route:

 

1. Avoid overconfidence

So you’re a decent wordsmith. Your mother and all her friends think you’re the best writer in the history of the world, and now you want to get more serious about it. And, since 98% of everything you read nowadays is utter garbage, finding legitimate freelance work will be no issue. Potential employers will see your well-manicured cover letter and world-class portfolio and automatically hire you, right?

Unfortunately, regardless of whether or not your mother was lying to you, you’re sadly misguided. No matter how Michelangelo-esque your sculpting of the written word — or not — no one is as good as they think they are. And you and your “original” little WordPress blog that you update twice a year are certainly no exception. Only once you realize this will you be able to think realistically about your work, take on constructive criticism, and ultimately improve your craft — or reevaluate your career goals.

 

2. Avoid over-complication

Over-complicaiton is the death of beauty in the written art. If you’ve studied most any subject to the Master’s level you know what I’m talking about. Having to read esoteric academic papers by self-satisfying academics having meta-discussions that may or may not be relevant to anything, you begin to realize that there is inherent evil in this world. Overcomplicating your writing not only strips it of its beauty, but also the practical application of understanding. So whether you’re a fiction novelist, content blogger, or academic author, do us all a favor and refrain from the abstruse.

“- Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
– Never use a long word where a short one will do.
– If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
– Never use the passive where you can use the active.
– Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
– Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.”

— George Orwell’s six rules

 

3. Avoid bad opportunities

If you’re a sucker for the too-good-to-be-true opportunities like me, there will be many people in the freelance industry who will look to take advantage of you. There are employers who will underpay — or not pay at all — for your quality time and efforts. Some successful freelancers encourage new writers to take these opportunities regardless of pay, as they can boost your writing portfolio and help set up future jobs. This is partially true. Just like in the traditional job market, an unpaid internship isn’t always a bad thing. It can indeed help you hone your craft and begin to build a foundation for the future. However there’s a caveat. Make sure you do your homework before committing to working in a “portfolio building” capacity for someone. If the person/site you’ll be writing for is illegitimate, and/or the content you’ll be producing doesn’t align with your broader career aims and objectives, pass on the job. Don’t waste your time writing for someone else when you can be creating for yourself.

 

4. Accept good opportunities

As mentioned above, avoid bad opportunities like the plague. There’s nothing more frustrating than producing content you hate for a client who undervalues you. However, when a good opportunity comes along, don’t let it pass you by. If you’re offered the chance to write the stories you want on a platform that will provide exponentially greater viewership than that free WordPress blog you started freshman year, take it. If an old friend or acquaintance you can trust has a new startup blog idea and wants you to get involved at the ground floor, do it.  Even if unpaid at first, the chance to write content for a wider audience is wildly important to the future success of a young writer. One thing to bear in mind, though, is to avoid complacency. Remember what your long-term aims and objectives are, and keep your work aligned with them.

 

5. Accept a timeline

Rome wasn’t built in a day, and your writing career certainly won’t be either. Even if you’re halfway decent, the lack of a strategic plan will leave your writing as less a career and more a hobby. Treat your life and career like a business. Set short, medium, and long-term targets as if you were chasing that profit. Because let’s be real here, you’re ultimately chasing that profit. Even if you hate to think about it because writing is your “art”, something’s gotta pay the bills. And since the thought of a part time gig working the McDonald’s drive-through window to support your hapless writing endeavors for the rest of your life is what nightmares are made of, sleep soundly by doing a bit of planning at the beginning. If you know where you want to end up, you can map out how to get there. If you have no final destination, you’ll get lost before you even leave.

 

6. Accept failure — and success

Failures such as writers block, so long as only temporary, can be a positive experience. They’re also natural to any creative process. If you’re writing all the time, chances are most of what you have to say is bullshit.The whole quality over quantity cliche rings true in this respect. And even when you begin taking your time to write on thoughtful and interesting topics, everything you produce won’t be gold. As a matter of fact, much of what you’ll write early on will probably be mediocre — and rightly scrutinized. That’s the nature of writing. So long as you don’t become contented with low-productivity, and take take criticism constructively, your creative willpower will ultimately prevail. With this will come improvement and verily, success.

 

Personally, I’m still working at the aforementioned six steps. I haven’t reached the peak — as a matter of fact I’ve barely left base camp.  However, failure is the mother of success. So the acknowledgement of my shortcomings — and the long journey yet ahead — will undoubtedly assist me on my climb onwards and upwards.

Bringing back the blog

I suppose the blog technically never left.

However, it has been less active than I had hoped when we, perhaps naively, started it up almost two years ago. I think initially we wanted to work towards posting at the very least once per week between four of us. A totally reasonable expectation, even considering our various obligations.

Alas, time and the harsh realities of life have dissuaded us from penning words to this electronic set of pages with any frequency for some time. Regrettably so, we’ve let this once exciting creative endeavour go stale with disuse and malnutrition of content.

Still, the yearning to write good shit remains. In fact, time away has exponentially increased our desire to produce quality written content on our lives and travels, struggles and successes, hopes and fears — and drinking habits.

What better place to write about good shit like this than the blog where, so long ago, it all began, you ask? That’s right, nowhere. It was a rhetorical question.

I’m gonna be up front about this, don’t expect anything too neat or orderly from this blog in the coming weeks and months. Our prior delusions about what this could possibly be have been tempered by reality. Still, expect more frequent posts about a hodgepodge of topics regarding whatever we’re going through.

This will — for the time being, until we make some broader choices on the direction of the blog — be a space for directionless experimentation with a variety of content.

So let’s bring it back.

Break from London

Sometimes you just need to get away.

Living in a city, or rather an infinitely expanding metropolis such as London, can be invigorating. There are endless possibilities of work, entertainment, leisure, romance—everything. It truly seems in the midst of it all that London is the Sun, with the rest of the world revolving around its mazy streets and endless noise in an unrelenting gravitational embrace. Most times this is a good feeling to have. It’s a feeling of power, possibility, and progress. One of importance. It’s a high that fuels the whole damn machine. That keeps everyone and everything moving forward.

The thing is though, that feeling is a lie.

London isn’t the center of the universe, the solar system, or even the pale blue dot we call home. London isn’t all that.  It isn’t any more or less special than New York or Paris or Oxford, Ohio. London, like anywhere, is what you make of it. The universe has no center, and for that matter an infinitely expanding limit. The possibilities are endless—be they in London or elsewhere.

For example, take work. Today’s workforce is increasingly globally mobile. It is easier than ever to move from place to place and find employment with relative ease. It is also, due to technological advances, ever so simple to work remotely and produce from no fixed location. London is a city that, perhaps more so than anywhere, is partaking in this new international economy. Given this reality, it’s not the absolute center, but merely one of many nodes—an intersection where people pass through to and from somewhere else.

The same goes for entertainment and leisure. A hundred years ago the vast majority of people were born and died in the same place. In 2016 those people are a minority. Ease of travel for education and vacation to and from most places is cheaper and more manageable than ever. This means that people and places are extremely interconnected and accessible. The world is truly our oyster.

Coming to terms with these truths can be difficult and daunting. It’s like an extended comedown from the most powerful kind of drug. It’s a realization that I and where I exist isn’t the be-all end-all. There’s an egotistical complex that needs breaking down, and that’s tough. There’s denial, anger, bargaining, depression. Ultimately though, there’s acceptance: A breath of fresh air and knowledge that the possibilities of wherever you are and whatever you do are indeed endless.

Stark lines and sharp colors

Be selfish not for oneself, but for humanity.

There is and has always been an overwhelming obsession within humanity to define or describe people by a single word. Throughout all of history we have literally made up entire segments of a population, and conveniently categorized them under a single title. Socialist, communist, capitalist, fascist, anarchist, terrorist, Atheist, Muslim, Christian, Jew, etc, etc. The list is endless.

This speaks not to our extensive understanding of peoples and ideas, but rather the opposite. Our ignorance — both personal and societal — drives these derivations. We reject the challenge of trying to uncover more about a set of persons, so we square them and those we perceive as similar away. We place them all under an umbrella of beliefs so as to make our lives easier and allow us sweet and sound dreams at night. We in turn concede to be grouped within these segments of society based upon our comfort level with certain ideas and discomfort with others. 

This is mainly guided by the relations we have with those of our peers immediately surrounding us. Those who we engage with on a more frequent basis. Ultimately, we construct the systems that entrap us all. Unwittingly, we provide the world with fatal interpretation. Defining what’s ‘right and wrong’, ‘good and evil’, and ‘black and white’ seems to make life a lot more legible. Within our limited intelligence, we find peace in at least having control over these basic ideas (even if it’s a higher power we allow precedence to ultimate control of such). Due to this, we inadvertently place all of humanity in danger.

It’s these stark lines and sharp colors that will doom us all. We are all complicit. We are all responsible.

The Job Search: My Pursuit of Happiness

The job search is, quite truly, the most satisfying journey I have ever had the pleasure of embarking upon.

The job search is, quite truly, the most frustrating and emotionally draining chore I have ever had the pain of undertaking.

If you would have told me five months ago upon the completion of my Masters degree that it would take this long, I wouldn’t have believed you. If you would have told me two years ago before I even began that this was indeed the truth, I’m not even sure I would have gone ahead with it.

The job search is unbelievably frustrating in this way. It seems like an overcomplicated, unnecessary, and endless test/task for one who’s done the time and just wants to reap the rewards. Someone just hire me to do exactly what I enjoy doing, and pay me well for it! After all, what was even the point of all that organized education anyway? Over 20 years of schooling, and for what? An intellectual investment? I have no problem with knowledge consumption, but at some point — especially in a city like London — a man’s gotta eat!

On the other hand, perhaps the lack of structure after an entire life at the lower levels of various hierarchies of power is too daunting for me to cope with. I desperately want a job because I want more structure. Without it, I feel like a man lost at sea. With it, especially if I settle, I’ll feel like a man trapped in a windowless room for eternity. Sure I’ll have food, water, shelter, wifi, and an iPhone 6s. But what good is an iPhone 6s with no new people to call and places to take pictures of? Where’s the fun in comfort, lacking adventure?

I guess anything and everything in life bearing some perceived value — tangible or abstract — is worth working towards. Even following education, work experience, and an endless cycle of seemingly pointless applications, one must press on. That’s what life is about after all. Continued action, creation, and progress. Toward what? Guess that’s up to personal interpretation. But so long as we all have something to fuel our fire, that’s really all that matters.

In this respect, the job search is truly rewarding. It symbolizes life and the perennial search for something. Seeking out comfort — be it through seeking intellectual enlightenment, diverse experiences, or bourgeois bliss — is ultimately the same thing no matter how you define it. We’re all on the pursuit of happiness.

So I actually began this post 185 days ago, at the beginning of my excruciatingly beautiful post-education expedition with no idea what to expect. Looking back — and forward — I’m perhaps glad that I’ve been part of this worthwhile progression toward (fill in the blank). This is the time where I get to define my personal pursuit of happiness. My destination, my mode of transport, my passengers, and my playlist. There’s definitely beauty in that.

 

 

No Teacher Is Qualified

Not long after my last blog post, I received a job as a Chinese teacher. I had applied many places looking for work, but had been lacking in experience that most educational institutions are seeking. Even though I have really grown to love teaching, and am skilled at Chinese language, I never thought that I would actually become a Chinese teacher in the United States.  (Let it be known that Mandarin and teaching are not my only marketable skills!) I am now starting the Chinese program for a local school district, teaching over 90 students at three different schools. All I can say is, I’m not qualified to be a teacher. But, here’s a secret, none of your teachers are qualified.

Dear readers, before berating me please let me explain.

Most teachers have not worked in an IT department before, but are expected to function with the skill of a member of the IT Crowd (This applies especially to those educators who are trying to integrate technology into the classroom…)

Most teachers have not worked in sales, but are expected to deliver amazing customer service to students, parents, and the community with a smiles on their faces and in their voices.

Most teachers have not worked as designers or interior decorators, but are expected to pinterest, butcher-block-paper, and arrange their classrooms like masterpieces to create a learning-ready environment.

Most teachers have not worked as journalists or editors, but are expected to create newsletters and communication pieces for parents and community members.

Most teachers have not worked as a psychologist or psychiatrist, but are still expected to assist students in need, and assess when a student may be in need of extra support and resources.

Most teachers have not worked as tour guides, but still lead excursions and field trips, so that students may give classroom knowledge real-world application.

Most teachers have not performed as actors, comedians, or inspirational speakers, but are still expected to deliver engaging lessons that will transform knowledge into understandable chunks.

Most teachers’ qualifications are not up to par, but they still provide students with amazing educational opportunities. 

Although I do not always feel qualified nor ready, I do feel proud to be part of a group of people who can have a positive impact on the lives of young people. Teachers hold such a large amount of responsibilities, that honestly, their ability to balance them all is quite remarkable. Your teachers are quite impressive. This is not a post about how teachers never “really” get time off, or how teachers are not paid enough. This is a post about how teachers go into the classroom everyday to teach your students. Even though they may not feel qualified, or have experience in every challenge they pursue, or every task handed to them, most teachers try their best. What I have observed of my coworkers’ actions these past months has left me stunned and inspired. No teacher is qualified, but despite this, they do it all, and do it all well.

I encourage everyone to reach out an thank a teacher, educator, or mentor who has helped you reach where you are today.

And, if you ever find that IT-salesperson-designer-journalist-psychologist-tourguide-actor-comedian-teacher,  please forward me their contact information. I’d like to observe their classes. 

Reverse Culture Shock-It’s a Real Thing

Credit to Designbolts.com

Credit to Designbolts.com

A part of being abroad is the eventual re-entry into one’s country of origin. During this time people often experience what is known as “reverse culture shock”. After studying abroad multiple times, reverse culture shock is not necessarily something foreign to me; but, it is something that still deeply affects how I go about my daily activities.

Population Density Fight or Flight Reflex

Something about China that never evades discussion is the population. Not only is there a large population, but in many cities where foreigners will live, the population is quite dense. Alone time is essentially nonexistent. Want to go camping or hike by yourself? There will be herds of people doing the same scenic hike as you. Want five minutes in your dorm room to breath? Too bad you share it with seven other people. Think your daily commute is going to be therapeutic? Get ready to be molested by strangers on the subway. People are everywhere. Because of this, the Chinese people have developed different cultural habits. It is a rarity that someone will apologize for bumping into someone else on the bus, because let’s face it, they would have had to apologize 10 times for their 10 minute commute. It just isn’t worth it. People often push through lines and crowded marketplaces to get where they are going or what they want. The terms, “crowded” and “bustling” have become my status quo.

Fast forward to my return to Suburbia, United States. The amount of space I have been allotted is overwhelming. If someone pushes me, it might be considered rude. I no longer need to fight for the best produce. I stand in line patiently for my pharmaceuticals. The battle-ready complex I had developed for public situations is completely unnecessary. I now need to repress my need to “fight” for things. The pent-up energy makes me anxious in public situations. I can barely handle myself at a restaurant, because I always have the urge to yell for the waiter. I am now a nervous wreck. I know that eventually this will wear off, but for I am always a bit slightly apprehensive to go out.

Getting Fat

People have this misinformed idea that Chinese food is so incredibly healthy. The Chinese people on a whole tend to be thinner than most other countries.[1] Folks think that this is because in China, everyone magically eats more vegetables. On the contrary, Chinese culture typically involves a staple food (rice, noodles, bread, dumplings) and then dishes that may or may not involve vegetable and meat dishes that are at times doused in oil. Yum. However, this is not weight-loss inducing. But, people walk everywhere, ride their bikes, stand on the bus, and exercise frequently. The amount of calorie burn I experienced in China was much higher than that in the United States. I would either walk or bike to class. I would ride the bus to the grocery store and carry my own groceries long distances. I would often play badminton with my students, and run to get some “me-time”.

Now I am back in the United States where I drive everywhere, throwing groceries in the back of the car to schlep inside once I get home. I am no longer motivated to exercise and run like I used to be. I spend most of my time sitting. I was quite happy with my weight Pre-USA-Return, now I’m steadily gaining weight due to this different lifestyle. There are still plenty of things I can do to manage my weight here, but it is just not as easy. I have less energy. I still like running and sports, I just do not as readily participate. It is a sort of weird empty feeling.

I Understand You and You Understand Me

The most disappointing thing of all, is that everyone understands English. While in China, I normally could say whatever I wanted as long as I spoke quickly. I developed the habit of cursing during class, outwardly talking about people right in front of them (Not rude things, mostly checking out attractive menfolk, okay?!). Basically, the need to filter my words was not an issue in China.

Apparently, I need to redevelop that ability. Although I think that everything I say is absolutely hilarious and should be written in my future best-selling book, I guess the rest of the world may not share this sentiment. I was constantly reminded this past weekend on a shopping trip in Columbus with my besties, that I needed to hush myself. The wonderful sales assistant at Ann Taylor Loft thought I was great, but my poor friends shuddered from embarrassment. Considering that I will soon be educating youths in the ways of Chinese language learning, this is something that I need to work to ameliorate. However, I also feel that a little bit of honesty is not a problem. If someone has nice tattoo, cute pair of shoes, well-behaved child, or did something nice in public, shouldn’t they be recognized for being awesome? I feel that as Americans, we are not necessarily a culture of compliments. I’m not saying that we should be throwing those things around willy-nilly, but if my nice sales assistant is obviously rockin’ her hair-do, I think she deserves a compliment. Just because.

Adventure Has Disappeared
Okay, adventure has NOT disappeared from my life exactly. But, it is available at a different rate. When in another country, one is constantly exposed to an unfamiliar environment. Even as I steadily became adjusted, everyday would still present some challenge, such as: a new character, new word, trying to order that new coffee drink in Chinese, looking for something to combat the mutant spiders and cockroaches, hunting for balloons, or trying a dish for the first time. Everyday took so much energy to get from place to place, or to use basic communication.

At home everything is instinctual. I grew up with this set of friends, I always eat these certain foods, I know what to expect while driving, traveling, shopping, eating. I know how to speak the language. I can easily ask questions. Nothing is really a “mystery” or “adventure” at home. It is easy. Too easy. Nerve-wrackingly easy. It’s uncomfortable. When exposed to another culture, or a new place, the status-quo becomes living with this extra stress. It’s challenging, but exciting. Being in the United States, I feel at a loss. There’s no challenge built-in to my everyday. If I want a challenge, I need to seek it out quite actively. It makes me feel lazy. I have an excess of energy. Sometimes I feel my mind racing from a nervousness that comes from everything being too convenient, too simple, too “easy”. My natural high has disappeared. I would not necessarily call my situation wanderlust. Everyday just feels like I have had a few cups of coffee and have nothing to do. (Which, I have plenty of activities to occupy my time.) It is not extremely upsetting, it is just a feeling that there is more, and that I could constantly be challenging myself to fulfill my greatest potential.

The Cure

Luckily, my friends are pretty awesome and understanding. Many of them have traveled internationally before, and they get it. They laugh when I say “Confession Stand” instead of “Concession Stand”, and help me do things such as get seated at a restaurant, support my weight management attempts, shake their heads at my unfiltered comments, and are actively making plans for our own adventures. Becoming readapted to one’s home culture is not necessarily an easy thing to do, but with supportive friends and family, it is possible. Especially when they are willing to create more adventures in the future with you.

[1] This article has pretty charts that support the fact that Chinese people in general aren’t fat. It’s also a good read if you’re interested in the obesity epidemic.  http://www.vox.com/2014/11/17/7230641/maps-charts-obesity-weightloss