We Can Do Better

It’s almost been a week since the protests and murder in Charlottesville and I’m still searching and struggling for my new normal. By new normal, I mean my new way of viewing society as a whole, which just happens to start at the top with #45.

How are we collectively to make sense of the horrible scene that unfolded in Virginia, if our president can’t act as our north star in this wilderness of clandestine racism and hate seeking convention? I don’t think I’m asking for much to say I want the leader of our country to clearly and thoroughly denounce the hateful and harmful actions of a group of people trying to drive a wedge through the collective mindset of the vast majority us who are loving, welcoming, and peaceful.

But now it seems we have two very real issues at hand. The first, and the more obvious is that we have an individual in charge of this country who embraces denialism, hate-fueled speech/actions, and blatant racism. Using his own words and actions since the spring of 2016, how can we come to a different conclusion? As a scientist, I’m taught to follow the data. Well, the data points, the correlation, the trend line, the r-squared value are getting to the point of significance where we can no longer ignore them.

I’ve heard political pundits continue to talk about how the president is merely choosing his words carefully to avoid losing his voter base and to ensure that his own political life is extended, even while other actual lives are being lost in the process. Well, I think that’s cutting him too much slack. It appears that his own views of the America he envisions or longs for is more closely aligned with those of the alt-right than the rest of us. Let me not equivocate here: There’s no trying to preserve political capital, there’s only a blatant attempt to return to the status quo of a whiter yesteryear.

And this brings me to the second issue, one that is even more serious. The United States of America isn’t exactly running from a whiter yesteryear and I think many of us are finally starting to see what others have been shouting to deaf ears for decades. Plain and simple, we are a racist country.

It actually relieves me to say this because it gives me a starting point, a clearly defined problem that I can act upon. This doesn’t mean each of us is racist, please don’t interpret my words to mean as much. But if we are going to crow with red, white, and blue feathers about all that is good in this country, then we also have to own all that is bad, and right now, we have a pretty major potmark.

But how do we grapple this elephant in the room? It’s different for everyone, but for me I took my first step last night. I signed up on 314Action.org to make my difference. Words are powerful. If I didn’t think so, I wouldn’t have this blog. But actions, as we all know, are much more powerful. I’m choosing to act by giving back to society via the political process.

I’m tired of watching my good name, our collective good name, run through the mud. I don’t like the actions of this new administration and I’m genuinely afraid of the tribalism before humanism mindset that has blanketed our landscape.

Even though I long for something better, this doesn’t mean I have forgotten and am not grateful for the good that has come before me. In fact it’s quite the opposite; I move forward with more determination because I know what we are capable of and I know the good this country has accomplished. It’s easy to let the bad outweigh the good in times like these. But let’s not forget that the United States of America has been the architect of so many wonderful things in the name of scientific advancement, freedom and equality, and global humanity. Let’s also not forget that we did these things together, regardless of political lean, religion, gender, sexuality, or ethnicity. And most importantly, we need to remember that we can always do better.

I don’t know where exactly my path goes or what my pace will be, but I’m glad to be on a path that I believe in. A path that starts with an uncomfortable acceptance of where we are in our current landscape, even if it’s a ugly place. Step-by-step, we will get to a better place. And if I lose my way? I’ll turn to my north star–the individuals that have and continue to do so many great things for their fellow humans just because we can do better.

 

 

Solitary Happiness

I like people. I like spending time with people. And I really like watching and learning from experiences of others. But for someone who enjoys the company of others so much, I spend a large chunk of my time in secluded areas by myself. But why?

Part of that answer is because of the nature of my job. I backpack into remote areas of the country, searching for and recording natural sounds that are the pulse of our national parks. It turns out it doesn’t make much sense to have others tag along on these trips since people tend to bring along noise and distractions. Not good when you’re trying to capture the essence of wilderness.

However, there seems to be more to my solo adventures than the necessities dictated by my job. For instance, my last three vacations have been solo adventures into relatively remote parts of the world. Not just remote in a geographical sense, as was my trip to the Boundary Waters, but also remote in a cultural sense, as were my trips to the lower Rio Grande Valley and Costa Rica.

Visting the Lower Rio Grande Valley and Costa Rica forced me into a level of isolation that only a language barrier can provide. Additionally, I was a minority in these parts of the world, something I’ve rarely experience in my life. And the thing is, I knew this was going to be the case, yet I sought them out anyways, as a solo. But again why? Part of the answer is because I wanted the unemcumbered opportunity to look at cool birds. I also wanted to push myself past my comfort zone. But there seemed to be something else at play here.

The podcast ‘Why Oh Why’ by Andrea Silenzi may have offered some insight. On one of the episodes Andrea was seeking a deeper understanding of her own heartache and how to move on from a traumatic emotional event; in her case, the end of a relationship.

One of the experts weighing in on the matter suggested that Andrea might try and seek a new life challenge, possibly in the form of solo travel. She emphasized that taking on a difficult challenge might teach us a lot about our individual capabilities during these times. And that this might ultimately lead us to understand ourselves better and potentially the realization that we are stronger than we think and are fully capable of taking on and leading fulfilling lives on our own.

And for me, I think deep down inside, this may be my answer. I took on new challenges that were intended to test me. Challenges that tested my mettle. Challenges that forged new and positive neural pathways in my brain, pushing aside unwanted memories that I have no use or want for any more.

I also feel there was a final lesson in these adventures that I needed to learn before fully moving on from my last breakup. And that lesson was simply learning how to be comfortable experiencing life alone in any situation, difficult or easy. Any that’s really not stating it strongly enough. What I mean is learning to be comfortable AND thriving alone.

And that’s where I’ve found myself over the last six months or so. I know now that I can take on these challenges by myself and fully enjoy them along the way. I learned that I’m actually not an extrovert and that I’ve been trying to force that narrative upon myself for most of my life. Sure I thoroughly enjoy being in the company of my friends and family, but I need time to myself to recharge and become a better me. This has been a greater revelation than I ever thought possible.

And finally, I’ve learned that I’m ready to take on a partner. An adventure partner for sure, but also a life partner. I think I’m finally my best me, at least when it comes to dating and potential relationships. A version of me that is open and honest about who I am and what I want. A version that trusts my evaluation of my interpersonal relationships and is no longer willing to settle just to avoid being alone.

I say all of this and where do I find myself currently? Alone in Sequoia National Park, ready to conquer another solo trip into the backcountry (I am posting this after returning from my trip). But, I’m ready to see the world with others. So let’s take a trip and experience all that life throws our way! I only hope you’re ok with looking at some birds along the way.

 

Solitary happiness–it sounds like a contradiction in terms, an implausible contraption that will never get off the ground.

–Julian Barnes