Academic writing in a nutshell

October 25, 2018

It’s been awhile since I have posted anything here. It’s been a busy semester at both work and in grad school. I haven’t had much time for reading or writing for leisure. It’s all been academic writing or reading academic writing. All of it so dry engaging with it requires chugging water by the gallon just to stay hydrated. A lot of academic writing doesn't sound intelligent and technical as much as it sounds like someone trying to B.S. their way to a specified word count.

I do understand that some stuff does require a specific jargon in order to communicate. But when studying education they make some of these studies needlessly dense and then wonder why there's a gap between research and practice of the educational methods studied. The part that tells you how and why to use the practice is barely touched on. So, maybe if they spent a fraction of the time talking about the implications for practice in plan, accessible language as they do showing off all the other studies that they studied prior to their own studies, there’d be less of a gap between research and practice. In other words, the gap exists because research papers are written for other researchers, Not practitioners. Not teachers.

Getting back to ways to word counts there’s that classic meme:

Text: I can't.

Email: I cannot.
3000 word term paper: I am unable to can. 

I added another step:

Academic Case Study: In order to determine the possibility in regards to the aforementioned request that was given to the individual in question we explored various evidence based practices tested against similar requests. A 2001 study determined that such requests were not at that time possible (Browder et al, 2001) due to various mitigating factors that were noted such as prior engagements (Hoffman, 2003; Johnston, 2013; Gunning, 2011; Spooner, 2010), feelings of fatigue (Shanker, 2018; Carlson, 2010; Roberts et al, 2015), and inadequate experience in the requested field (Archer & Slowdowski, 2014; Roberts, 2015; Shanker, 2018). A 2015 study by Stevenson was disregarded due to independent variables being irrelevant to the given case.

A mixed methods approach was used to determine the ability as to whether or not the individual in question is able to fulfill the request. This included comparing the schedule of the individual and the timeframes of the given request (fig 1). Qualitative data was taken of the energy levels of the individual who had be given the request. Quantitative data included comparing the number of hours worth of experience held by the individual and compared to the average number of hours of experience held by a professional in the requested field (fig 2).

Results showed that while the individual held an adequate amount of experience to perform the given task a combination of incompatible schedules and above average levels of fatigue prevent them from performing the requested task at the necessary time.

Implications for practice are that I am unable to can

Reminders of What I Left Behind

September 8th, 2018

I capped off my summer by returning to my home away from home. South Korea. I didn’t really do much in the way of touristy stuff. Why would I? I did all that in the four-and-a-half years that I lived there. I spent most of the time spending time with my friends and loved ones and hanging out at my old haunts. I spent a lot of time with my girlfriend, ate a lot of food, and got out and caught a couple of punk shows. Leaving was rough. Correction. Leaving again was rougher than leaving the first time. It was a brutal reminder of what I had left behind.

I missed the punk shows. Walking into a room, knowing everybody there. People knowing me, being happy to see me. I missed the food. I can’t find jjimdak here in Chicago. Sweet Holy Jesus do I miss jjimdak. If I had to live off of one food for the rest of my life, it would be jjimdak. I hung out at the vinyl bag cocktail place, ran into everybody on the streets of downtown Daegu. Hopped down to Busan, hung out on the beach, saw a show, had an Irish breakfast at the Wolfhound Pub in Haeundae. I hung out at Cafe Slow Life and worked on writing. I walked along the Shinchon River at night with my girlfriend and drank beer. I was able to hang out with most of my former bandmates, albeit separately. It was like I never left. And that’s what made it so hard. It was a lovely reminder of all the things (and especially the people) I’d left behind.

I’m not saying that it caused me to doubt my decision to leave and come to school. I am honestly somewhat glad to be getting back to work and school. I need things to do, I need the distraction. Next week I’m getting to go to Riot Fest, which is exciting. I haven’t been since 2012, I had been in Korea for every one since then. So at least that’s a reason to feel good about coming back. More on that next week.

The Vacation Paradox

August 8th, 2019

I’ve been busting my ass around the greater Chicagoland area for the last 7 months. It’s really been non-stop since foot hit continent. I was in school and working (or looking for work) and even with taking the summer off work the days were pretty packed. Moving, unpacking, taking three intensive courses over the summer. It’s very time consuming doing 15 weeks of course work in 4-5 weeks. Major projects are weekly, rather than monthly affairs. But I got it all done and I’m one week into having a full month of having absolutely nothing I need to do. It’s pretty nice. I just spent the last week driving around the south, visiting parents in Tennessee and a friend in Kentucky. I’ve got a couple days at home before heading off to a beach house, then back here for a day or two, then off to South Korea for a couple weeks before starting back up with work and school.

The odd bit is that sitting around my apartment today I felt mildly anxious. I’m so used to having things to do I can’t help feel a little off when shit’s not getting done. I’ve earned a couple days of marathon gaming sessions and binge watching shows I need to catch up on. I’ve EARNED this, dammit! So why the hell can’t I convince my oddly wired brain of this? Apparently trains of thought behave similarly to their non-metaphorical counterparts when it comes to the process of stopping. It doesn’t work on a dime. It’s a slow, screeching and clunky process. And, as I seem to find myself stalled on the tracks, the best approach is to abandon the vehicle and run towards the train and out from the tracks to avoid the debris from the crash.

Since that metaphor is as screeching and clunky as,well, a stopping train…what I mean is that it’s crucial to stay busy. Hence the blog entry and the near 20 hour road trip. Which is a long drive for someone with nothing to think about.

I then spent a few short days at home, and turned around and left again for the weekend to visit the beach house my grandparents rent every year. I was pretty shocked by the sheer number of wives and children I hadn’t meet. When you’re gone for 4.5 years you don’t fully comprehend how long that actually is. A lot of people meet, fall in love, get married and have kids in that time. More than a few of my friends and family did just that.

The next step for my vacation is two weeks back in South Korea. Which feels like leaving home to go home, but only for a visit. Which is how it felt coming back to Chicago when I was living over there.

Shit’s weird.

Very bad neighbors

July 12th, 2018

I had started a blog about my new neighborhood, but first I gotta talk about the coach house two lots over. The ground floor of which is home to a white trash couple who scream at each other with a frequency that provides competition to the bell at the school across the street. More often than not this happens at about a quarter to eight in the morning. Some people have alarm clocks that play a jaunty tune. Some more advanced ones read the news and weather. The classic just beep or ring. My alarm clock shrieks “Get the fuck out of my fucking house!” in a voice that manages to be shrill yet scratchy from all of the tar and tobacco resin caked on the inside of her middle-aged throat. Sometimes it changes it up and shouts “Every day! Every fucking day! Every fucking day I swear to God!” from a beer-gutted diaphragm. Some days it doesn’t happen at all, but it’s always at a quarter-to-eight. Love is hard, I get that. Relationships are fragile. They require a great deal of care. Well, the good ones are fragile anyway.  Shitty relationships are apparently quite robust. Because shitty relationships often involve two shitty people. People who are not right for each other because neither is right for anybody. So they’re stuck together because nobody else will have them. Which I guess is why the phrase “deserve each other” is never used in a positive context.

The temptation to open my window and shout at them while shaking a clammy fist in the early morning air. People such as this cannot be reasoned with face to face. Another man proved that this very morning. Finally, someone on the street worked up the courage to knock on their door. He pleaded for some kind of sanity. “You fight almost every morning he said. You shout so loud.” He got a door in the face for his troubles. Presumably after being told to “mind his own business” with the bare minimum of one “fucking” used.

“Goddamn,” he muttered as he walked away. I say “muttered” but it was loud enough for me to hear him across a narrow vacant lot two floors down through closed windows. He’s kind of my hero right now. For today at least.

But here’s the thing, when you fight that loudly and that frequently you make it other people’s business. I’m trying damn hard to mind my own business. But you (they) aren’t given me much of a choice. Of course their failure to recognize that their behavior is impacting others is evocative of the levels of childishness that arguments of this volume and frequency require. This keeps up, I may just shout. But I struggle to have the mental faculties for such things early in the morning. It’s difficult to scold adult-babies before coffee. Each time I plan what I’ll shout next time. And what I’ve got so far is this:

Shut the hell up. Go to fucking counseling or just split up. But deal with it like goddamn adults, for fuck’s sake! Failing that, get a house out in in the middle of fucking nowhere and scream at each other until you cough up bits of your own throat. Just stop making it everyone on the block’s problem.

It would only fall on deaf ears, anyway.

Update (7/13): I was about ready to call the police when I heard a scream and then saw one of the teenage girls who live there run out the door barefoot. The woman (mother) chased after her. I moved to the front window to see what was happening when I saw the other girl walking back with a small dog. The dog had run away. She was screaming the dog's name. So I am glad I didn't knee-jerk a domestic disturbance complaint when it wasn't needed.

The more important note here is even the dog knows that house is fucked. He wanted out but only made it to Morgan street.


July 11th 2018

I'm not usually the type that shares dreams I have but last night James Franco destroyed my laptop because he thought it contained evidence of his drug use. A robot, not unlike Cogsworth from Fallout 4, came in to repair my computer and was shouting like an Army medic saying things to my computer like, "Goddamnit, stay with me!" "Don't you DARE fucking take this one, Lord!" "You're gonna make it! Don't you die on me!"

It wound up being good as new, but I was upset because the decals were ruined.

I think I might be working too hard?

UPDATE 7/12: Last night in class someone sitting next to me somehow managed to accidentally sever the extension cord for my laptop charger with a chair leg while it was plugged in leading to the smell of smoke and the fire alarm being subsequently pulled. Oh, and the Franco dream had taken place in a classroom.

Conclusion: I am a prophet.

Good Guys With Guns

May 14, 2018

I’m trying to think of a moment in my life when I saw a gun and thought to myself  “Oh Good. I feel safe now.” And ..nope I got nothing. Not once. Not one time has that gone through my head when I’ve seen a gun. Even on an armed guard. Some thoughts that do go through my head:
“Holy shit.”

“Fuck. A gun.”

“Holy shit, a fucking gun.”

“What if they shoot at a perp and miss?”

“What if I make a wrong move?” That’s a big one. I think “What if I make a wrong move?” I’m white and I think that. I can’t imagine what must be going through the head of someone with considerably more melatonin. Either way, I become overly conscious of how I take out my cell phone or wallet. Granted I didn’t grow up around them. Someone who did, might feel different about that. Which, hey, that’s fine. I don’t necessarily take issue with that. What I do take issue with is the toxic piece of propaganda that says:

“The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with gun.”

This chestnut of “logic” does more harm than good a lot of the time. For example, according to The Star-Telegram  in February 2018 a man held up a church in Amarillo, Texas. A man (who happened to be an ex-con) disarmed him, the cops showed up and shot him twice. He lived but this picks apart the slogan twice. One, the good guy didn’t have a gun, and still stopped the bad guy with the gun. Second, when the police arrive, they don’t know who the good guy is and who the bad guy is. In this case they just knew he was a guy with a gun. Similarly when an officer was shot during a protest in Dallas in July 2016? There was an open carry demonstration going on. No good Samaritans stepped up there. Just confusion. They guy was able to hide in plain sight among all the other people carrying guns. Not only that, they brought in the wrong guy. All the cops know is they’re looking for a guy with a gun. Oh, and they went after the wrong guy at first.

Houston September 2015, there was a good guy with a gun who tried to stop a carjacking, and shot the victim in the head, then fled the scene. In North Vegas September 2017 a guy tried to stop a convenience store robbery and got shot 5 times. Similar stories coming out of Akron and San Antonio all within a couple month span of 2017, and that’s the first page of a Google search. Or how about that cop that got shot during a protest in Dallas in 2016? There was an open carry demonstration going on. No good Samaritans stepped up there. Just confusion. They guy was able to hide in plain sight among all the other people carrying guns. Not only that, they brought in the wrong guy. All the cops know is they’re looking for a guy with a gun.

Another thing to consider is just because people are carrying and took the conceal carry class, and can hit targets doesn’t mean they have proper situational training. Even when they supposedly do it can get dicey. Like the cop who pulled a gun on a man because he pocketed some Mentos after paying for them, because he thought the man was shoplifting. It’s a question of trust. Speaking for myself I don’t want some random person standing up during an armed bank robbery and taking shots at the perps. I don’t know their skill level, might might hit me like that dipshit in Houston who shot the carjacking victim. Or they’re going to escalate the situation and they’ll shoot hostages. Right after they the hero. Taking on a mass shooter, is basically counter terrorism. A few hours at the range doesn’t prepare anyone for that. It’s a fantasy.  People want to think they’re John McClaine. But he’s a cop. And he’s fictional. I like Die Hard as much as the next guy but I don’t consider it a realistic scenario. Much less a basis for policy.

Let’s say you do save the day. A guy comes into a theater, starts shooting. You pull out your piece. Put two in his chest. Uh oh. Body armor. He’s phased, but not down. Mini shootout, someone calls the cops, they’re just told active shooter or shooters. You get the guy. Between the eyes. Cops kick in the door, they just see bodies and you holding a recently fired gun. It’s basically what happened to the guy who disarmed the would be shooter in Amarillo. He got lucky and lived. How do you think the rest of that will play out, huh? They shot Philando Castile. He was licensed to conceal carry. He told the cop that pulled him over that although he had a gun he was licensed to carry as he was reaching for his ID, not his gun. Did Officer Yanez wait to assess the situation before shooting the man to death with his girlfriend and a kid in the car? No. He didn’t. And that was just a traffic stop. How are you gonna fair if found holding a gun while they’re responding to an active shooter situation?

Of course, there are situations in which everything seemed to fall into place, and a good guy with a gun stopped a bad guy with a gun. I’m not saying it’s never happened. But the operative word in the slogan in question is “only.” Amarillo showed that wasn’t true. The Waffle House shooting showed that wasn’t true. There, he disarmed the man without having a gun of his own. 

We should be trying to fix the root of some of these issues/ This is especially true of mass shootings. People keep saying, “It’s a mental health thing. It’s a mental health thing.” The school should have noticed or done something about it. The problem is this argument often comes from the same politicians who cut funding for mental health services, and the people who voted for them. So if they really think the issue is mental health they should stop cutting funding those services and for schools. Chicago Public Schools are woefully underfunded they don’t have enough people to provide those services. Again, if you think that’s actually the problem, and aren’t just using it as a chickenshit deflection to take the focus off of reasonable gun laws, put your money where your mouth is and fund those programs. If you want to have a gun, fine. But to make a statement about mental health and not follow up on it is disingenuous at best. To use a major problem facing this country purely as a means of misdirection is flat out despicable.

If you think the answer is to arm teachers and licensed school staff. Mr. Castile worked at a school. He was licensed, and killed during a traffic stop. I can’t imagine things would have played out much better for him if there was an actual active shooter and bodies. It also brings up the question of who will train them? The local police? Recent events would suggest there’s some shortcomings in the training they receive. Arm school staff? I am school staff. I didn’t sign up for that.  If I wanted to be underpaid to carry a gun I’d have been a cop. There was an armed officer at Parkland, and he hid too.


February 17, 2018

I’ve been home about a month and a half now, and I haven’t written much. I haven’t updated this blog certainly. I’ve been meaning to write about what it’s like being back. I’ve been meaning to see a lot of people. Throw a welcome back party. I’ve been meaning to do a lot of things. But I haven’t. A lot of it was just waiting for it all to sink in. I hit the ground running getting myself setup for grad school, getting back in the flow of being a student again for the first time in 11 years, and looking for a job. I’ve managed to get into a substitute teaching pool, while I try to find more full time work elsewhere. I think once I’ve got a job locked down I will start thinking about some kind of welcome back shindig. The next step is finding a place to live.

“What’s it like being back?” is the ubiquitous ice breaker from others. And my constant response is “weird.” Especially those first few weeks. English was around me a lot in South Korea, but in specific settings. Whenever I was out in the public spaces of the wider world, not work or punk shows, everyone was speaking Korean. My skills in the language never got to the point where I could eavesdrop, so it was always easy to tune things out in restaurants or on the subway. If I heard English from across the room or car, it would instinctively grab my attention. Now that I’m back home, it’s hard to be in public spaces for long periods of time because my mind gets drawn to every conversation happening around me. I am acutely aware that the couple two tables over from me is breaking up. Or that the guy on his phone in the Starbucks is trying to reschedule a doctor’s appointment. It becomes a bit of an information overload.

Readjusting to the food has also been a bit...problematic. American food cooked American style doesn’t always sit right. But that’s just a minor issue. Things have changed. People here seem angier and the general state here is just much more aggressive. I mean, there’s Nazis again. Nazis. I can’t leave you people alone for five minutes can I?

I’m sometimes asked why I came back. I was happy there. Things here are so fucked up. Why would I want to come back? Simply put, I want to try to get on a lifepath of some sort. Even if shit doesn’t pan out how I want it to, it helps to have a plan. That plan includes grad school. And since my parents are moving to Tennessee over the summer, it was now or never on in-state tuition. So having been accepted to UIC for a Special Education Masters, here I am. Home. Which brings me to the next bit of weirdness.

My parents are packing already. I’m having to put things into storage soon so we can minimize the contents for when the house goes on sale in April. Pictures are coming down, rooms are being repainted to neutral tones so that prospective buyers can more easily picture their shit in our house.  It is very trying, to watch the house you grew up in slowly become no longer your home. I’m hoping to be out of there by the time the place goes on the market. I don’t like the idea of keeping everything perfect and being around when people poke around and cast judgment and analyze whether or not the place that was my home is good enough for them.

It’s not just about what’s weird about being back, it’s also about what I’ve left behind. I have more friends in Korea than I do here at home. I grew and developed myself out there. I grew confidence and swagger that I never had here. And with coming back comes a fear of reverting. Which, I guess I’m not too worried about. I’m still who I have become. But I could walk into shows or bars and know damn near everybody. Now, it’s a sea of strangers under a familiar sky. Where did all these new faces come from? I’ve never seen them before. Many of my friends have either moved or moved on. And I want to see more people. See old friends, make some new ones. But I’m not entirely in that headspace yet.

Technology makes talking to the girlfriend easier. But not being able to hold or touch is devastating.  I hate talking about my band in the past tense. Or my charity work, or the shows I put on. I can get that again, but it could be two years before I have time for that again, and will take months to build those connections in a new place. Which is an old place. And that’s the thing, I’m not sure if I’m back on familiar ground or exploring new territory. Of course, if my life experience has taught me anything it’s that most things are at the same time their opposites.

But I can say that classes are interesting. I can say that I’ve made the right choice. South Korea was at risk of becoming my own, personal Land of the Lotus Eaters, and time was starting to play merry hob. Going to Korea remains the best decision I’ve ever made, and leaving it, the hardest. It was not a trigger easily pulled, for damn sure. And while I remain confident that I did what I had to do, and while I remain optimistic about the future. I’ve got to ask myself, at least once a day, just what the hell I was thinking.

Turn the page

November 14, 2017

I haven’t really updated in awhile, because life the universe and everything has kept me pretty busy on account of a piece of news that can be filed under “Life-altering.”

I have been accepted to a Masters of Special Education program at the University of Illinois at Chicago. I will continue to write, hopefully prolifically. My ultimate goal here is to teach Lit & Comp to high-schoolers with emotional disabilities. So that’s something that fills me with a cocktail mix of excitement, joy, anxiety, fear, hope and regret. It’s a long island ice tea of emotion, to be sure. I got this acceptance letter two weeks ago and reality has a tendency to sink in slow. As I sat here this morning shopping for my plane ticket home it started to become very real. Which I think is the biggest factor in why I had put it off for a couple weeks. I need some plans to be settled first, sure. But really, it was because by buying that plane ticket, it made it official: this stage of my life is over.

It’s been a hard stage to end. I’m the happiest I’ve even been, and it’s hard to want to mess with a good thing. But I have a tendency to become complacent. If nothing ever changed I’d be just fine, and that’s a good place to be. I’ve kept my options open and it’s lead me to some pretty groovy things. I’m not getting younger, I’m just getting grey at the temples, and I should start locking into a secure career path before I look like Reed Richards. Before coming to Korea i was stagnant. For years. I was dealing with some inner demons, primarily depression, primarily genetic. I came to Korea after righting my ship just enough to cast off. And I can say, without a doubt, that I “found myself” here. I use the term loosely. I believe that existence precedes essence, so maybe “built myself’ or “grew myself” is a way of putting it more that’s more in line with my existential world view.

Look at that, I have digressed, as is my wont. But yeah, I grew here. I grew a lot. And I think a large challenge of going back is going to be maintaining the person I’ve become. Which shouldn’t be too hard, at least for myself. In the sense that the person I was before could never win in a fight against who I am now. He wouldn’t have the confidence. I’m more concerned about going back and all the people I knew before still seeing me as I was. And, with Hell being other people and all, we have a tendency to see ourselves as others see us, or at least how we perceive they see us. I’m really worried about, not just the reverse culture shock, but the whole readjustment. Things I had here;  the small, tightknit punk scene; the local foreigner community; my girlfriend won’t be around. And I’m returning to my country while things are the most tumultuous they’ve been in my lifetime. I’m going to need to see someone, professionally, when I get back, at least for a while, of that I have no doubt.

Fuck, man. I still don’t know how I feel. I have a goal. An actual long term goal, and I know what I gotta do to get there. I’ve typically survived so far by taking things a day at a time. Jumping on opportunities and keeping options open. I won’t say it’s yielded me nothing. I’ve got a novel and my band released recordings. Most people don’t do the small scale DIY version of their dreams. And who says it’s too late to do those things again somewhere else? As my checklist of things to do to get ready for going home gets more ticks than blank spaces, I can starting finding time to be creative again. I’ve taken the time to do this now because I need the therapy of hitting the release valve on my head. Pressure was reaching critical mass. I’ll probably doing a couple of these over the next few weeks. But I’m getting dangerously close to “TL;DNR” as the netizens say.

To be continued...

Me Too

October 17, 2017

I’ve been slow cooking my brain in all of the “Me too” these past few days. Not only have I seen how many women (and even men) in my life that have experienced these things, I’ve seen several men share and honestly apologize for their past behavior. I’ve been stewing in it quite a bit. Most importantly it’s caused me to reflect back on my past behaviors. I know things now I didn’t know then. I am guilty of things I know now to be creepy and inappropriate. I was handsy and overly persistent on several occasions. I make no excuses for it, and I’m not writing it off. Just because people do way worse shit than I’d ever consider doesn’t make it okay. It’s not enough to be sorry. I need to be better. And I have gotten better, and will continue to get better. I’m not going to be part of the problem again.

It’s gotten me thinking a lot about what the hell was going on in my head when I crossed those lines.  The best I can come up with is that certain behaviors are so normalized (even celebrated in stories and films) that a lot of guys commit harassment without realizing that's what they are doing. Your typical rom-com and Hollywood love stories teach us that "persistence pays off" yet display behaviors that are absolutely not okay. The stuff guys pull in movies like Say Anything and The Notebook is framed as romantic but in reality it’s just downright creepy. It’s not okay to not back down when a woman tells you it’s not a good time for her (Say Anything), it’s not okay to (even as a joke) say you’ll kill yourself if she doesn’t go out with you (The Notebook). The level of “persistence” shown in these movies (and others like them) is actually stalking and harassment but men and boys are constantly bombarded with the message that’s what women want. The idea that “she’s just playing hard to get” contrasts with the far more important one that “no means no.” We shouldn’t normalize this shit and we sure as hell shouldn’t be putting it up on a pedestal.

I don’t share this to rationalize my behavior, or to make excuses. But rather to try and diagnose the issue at large. But I don’t think any man who blocked a woman’s exit or drugged their drink was at all confused about what she really wanted.

That said. Me too. I bumped into a big guy at a Flogging Molly show at The Vic, and spilled some of his beer. He said “You might as well drink the rest” handed me the beer and then grabbed my ass. While learning over the railing on the deck outside a bar in Des Moines (I’d stepped out to make a phone call) a large party of drunk middle-aged women arrived and several of them slapped me on the ass on their way in. Being in my early 20’s at the time, I was able to laugh that off. Once in a bar in Chicago I was very drunk and a guy kept buying me drinks (I was too drunk to realize that my glass kept getting refilled). He tried to take me home and when I told him I wasn’t gay he got aggressive “Why do you think I kept buying you those drinks, asshole!?” He found me later in the night and apologized. These are a just a few, but there’s not a lot more.

I don’t compare these things to what women face. I was able to laugh most of those off because I don’t face it constantly. At 5’7” (171cm) and 150lbs (68kg) with shitty posture I don’t cut the most intimidating figure, but I didn’t feel fear in any of those situations. Hell, in the second incident I even felt proud in the moment. Which is kind of fucked up. I think? It says a lot that I’m not sure.

But it comes down to this. We need to reflect on our past behavior and experiences. We need to be open and honest about that shit, even if it’s just to ourselves. We need to start seeing people as people, and stop seeing them as things. To anyone I have made uncomfortable, to anyone I've crossed a line with, I am deeply sorry. At one point I was part of the problem. Now I’m doing what I can to be part of the solution.

Gun violence

October 23, 2017

There needs to be a total and complete shutdown of men owning guns in the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what the hell is going on. We have no choice. Without looking at the various polling data, it’s obvious to anybody that the hatred is beyond comprehension. Where the hatred comes from and why, we will have to determine. We have to figure it out. We can’t live like this.

Amazing what happens when you changed three little words, yeah?

A Feel Good Kind of Weekend

August 24, 2017

My favorite event of the year here in South Korea is the New Generation of Ska Festival, typically held in mid-late August in Seoul. It features the best of Korean ska as well as bands from Japan and the United States. Starting back in 2014, the first one was held as a street festival in Sinchon near Yonsei University. It was funded by donations and merch sales.The following year it was held in a rented performance space and year-three was held at club SHARP, a club in Mangwon owned by the organizers. Although fun, the latter two years just felt like regular, albeit much longer than normal, gigs. So when it was announced that the festival would be moving back to the streets, I was ecstatic. It feels much more like a festival that way.

Having just passed my final subtest for the Illinois Test of Academic Proficiency, and finishing a major step in my grad school application process, I was in good spirits and looking to celebrate with friends I don’t see often enough, and cut loose to some good music. I planned to start drinking early and ride a nice, steady buzz through the day. The headlining band was The Suicide Machines, a ska-punk band from Detroit that was popular back in the 90’s, when America still cared about ska-punk. It was up in the air if they were going to be able to play or not. The lead singer had injured his back a week or so prior and cancelation was very possible. But, not keen to cancel their Asia tour, he was able to adequately medicate to ward off the pain without knocking himself out entirely.

I was running a bit late, in my attempts to save money I opted for taking the bus and we’d hit some traffic, but was able to catch the last half of the first band, which was Lazy Bone. I was worried that the newly reformed Rudy Guns would play first and that I would miss them. Rudy Guns had been one of the first bands I came across when researching Korean bands so I was keen to see them again. They’d been on hiatus for almost 2 years while male members of the band were doing their mandatory military service. So it was fun to finally see them play again.

Not to mention mingling with my Seoul friends was great, especially considering that’s where the vast majority of my friends are these days. So Daegu has gotten a bit lonely. At least in terms of my music scene friends. I still have friends in Daegu. But fewer and fewer that I build and create things with. There’s a certain sense of community that I feel in a music scene that I don’t get from just running into the same people downtown. I’ve never really been one for groups, or fitting in so much. I’m a weird guy. Overly enthusiastic sometimes. A bit of a spaz, especially when I’ve been drinking. And I occasionally have trouble controlling the volume of my voice when I’m feeling manic. So, I know I take some getting used to. I try to channel that nervous energy into my stage performances.  But I’m getting on a bit of a self-deprecating tangent here.

Where was I going with this? Ah, yes. The trip from Seoul to Daegu isn’t typically convenient or cheap. But I make it as frequently as I can. Which, apparently doesn’t go unnoticed. During the after party I was talking to my friend Jeff of the band ...Whatever That Means, who was one of the producers of my band’s album, and Kim Goyang, the keyboardist of Skasucks and front woman for Billy Carter, said of me, “He’s always here.” Which, I chose to interpret positively. To which Jeff said, “Well, he’s a dedicated guy.” A small thing sure, but kind of an “Aw shucks” moment for me. I bring this up, however, to make this point:

Positive affirmations matter. When dealing with stress, anxiety, and/or depression little things like that stick with a person. I had spent the previous months studying my ass off for some tests that will determine my future. And even though I had passed, it’s really just another step in the process. There’s still numerous stages left before I’m where I need to be. So, all of that remained at the back of my mind. And though unrelated it’s nice to have small confirmations that efforts you make are noticed. And if it’s important to me, I have to assume it matters to other people. So it’s crucial, I think, to offer small things like that to the people in our lives. And it reminds me to get out of my own head once in a while to notice and affirm the people around me.

Once the show was done I ran into the singer of Suicide Machines. I said, “Great show.” he thanked me and apologized for it not being better. “I’m on a lot of drugs for my back. I didn’t want to cancel.”
“All the more impressive that you performed anyway. The show must go on,” I said.
“Always,” he said.

I’ll leave it with this. Chronology be damned:
During the show I happened to meet a military man who was attending the festival with his 12-year-old son. The kid was also named Kyle. I told the dad that anytime the kid wanted to crowd surf they should let me know. The dad turned to his son and said, “How about it? You want to go up?”
“Not just yet,” the kid said.
“Okay,” I said. “Just remember: If you want, people will lift you up. And if you fall, they will catch you.”
“I know,” the kid said, “I’ve been to concerts before.”
“I was being metaphorical, dammit,”  I said. “I was talking about life in general.”
His father just laughed, “That’s actually a really good lesson.”

Thoughts on Charlottesville

August 13, 2017

Charlottesville is not a wake-up call. It’s what happens after hitting the snooze button too many times. The tension, the bigotry, and the hate have always been there. More obvious to those it was directed at, but below the surface just enough that the rest of us could ignore it if we chose to.

The “Alt-right” or whatever innocuous euphemism white-nationalists are calling themselves these days marched on Charlottesville, Virginia to “Unite the Right” and protest the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee. I think we’ve all read the stories by now so a summary of events is probably superfluous at this point. So I’ll just dig into some of the thoughts that swirled around in my head through the day.

Point one. “Alt-right” my ass. These people are Nazis. Plan and simple. They can cry “Godwin’s Law” all they want. They can piss and moan that “insults like that further radicalize us.” But when people are walking with Swastika flags, sieging heil with salutes and chanting “Heil Trump!” Well, that’s pretty dictionary definition. When your viewpoint is people of different races should have separate countries, the label “Nazi” is no longer mere “name-calling."

All this started over a Robert E. Lee statue being removed. White-nationalists planned a rally to protest, Anti-fascists showed up to counter-protest, and shit jumped off. I can understand protesting the removal of a statue. However, this is a statue of Robert E. Lee. A general who fought a war to protect his “right” to own other human beings as property.

“It was about more than that!” they cry. “It was about states’ rights.”
“States’ rights to legalize slavery.”
“There were also economic factors…”
“Because the south’s economy was tied to slavery.”

The Confederate constitution reads:

“In all such territory the institution of negro slavery, as it now exists in the Confederate States, shall be recognized and protected by Congress and by the Territorial government; and the inhabitants of the several Confederate States and Territories shall have the right to take to such Territory any slaves lawfully held by them in any of the States or Territories of the Confederate States.”

One way of saying this is that “It protects the rights of citizens to own slaves they legally obtained.” However, if this were about states’ rights shouldn’t it be up to each individual state to decide if slavery was to be legal or illegal in said state? It’s effectively mandating that states within the Confederacy legalize slavery. That’s not allowing for “states’ rights.” It’s whitewashed, revisionist history to use the larger umbrella of “states’ rights” as a euphemism so that people can feel less guilty and more self-righteous about flying their flag which, by the way, was never actually the official flag of the Confederacy. And yes, there are statues of our founding fathers, who owned slaves, all over the country. Slavery will always be one of America’s greatest embarrassments. The difference with Lee and the Confederacy is that they fought to keep it.

Trump’s comments about the “hate on many sides” is about as close as he got to condemning the neo-Nazi marchers. But the man wouldn’t want to piss off his base, now would he? Trump pulled a similar stunt when half-heartedly dismissing comments by David Duke (days later). His position seems to be: “If they like me, then I’m okay with them.” But it is also representative of the centrist viewpoint that: “everyone has a right to their opinion, all opinions are valid, let’s have a civil discussion and reach a compromise.”

Yes. Everyone does have right to their opinion. But all opinions are not valid. Robert E. Lee’s opinion was that some people were less than human and it was his right to own them as property. Richard Spencer’s opinion is that white people are superior and America should be a white ethno-centric state. I’m not going to pretend that those opinions are "just as valid" as "people are not property" or "I should be able to marry and raise a child with my Korean girlfriend." And what the hell kind of compromises can we reach with those opinions? Only some races can be property? Some races can stay in America? Here’s the thing: every halfway decent human being, that is to say "every person with a shred of humanity", agreed a long time ago that owning people as property is objectively wrong. And the last time we tried to “have a civil discussion and compromise” with Nazis they invaded half of Europe.

Finally, the white-nationalists showed up with guns, Swastikas, and stars and bars. They marched with torches and looked like a scene from a modern day remake of Frankenstein. I see these photos and what I hear in my head is Ignorant Villager #7  screaming “Kill the monster!” And as it has been pointed out Tiki torches are Polynesian. At first I thought it was kind of ironic. Then I realized it’s pretty much like them marching with trophies of a culture they conquered. Expect they got these "trophies" 2-for-1 at an Ace Hardware. Hell, one drove his car into a crowd, killing one and injuring dozens. A popular MO of terrorists these days. Why would he use terroristic methods?

Oh, right. Because he’s a terrorist. Attacking civilians to instill fear for political or religious reasons is terrorism. By definition.

Some might say, “Hey. The people doing Nazi salutes while carrying Nazi flags, and attacking people… this isn’t everyone. The protest was supposed to be peaceful. Those people are fringe and outliers.” The people who say this are very likely the same people who lumped all Black Lives Matters protesters  together with the people smashing Starbucks windows.

Either way, the very idea that opposing these people should be a controversial opinion is disturbing and surreal. This is toad-licking insanity. We fought a war about this shit. A war that is constantly covered in movies and documentaries and on educational television because it was the one war where the goal was clear. It was the one war we can say was objectively about right and wrong without controversy. Nazis are straight up, picture in the dictionary, evil. We settled that. Seventy-plus years ago.

How did we get here?

We always were.

The whistle is blowing. And the pot's boiling over.

Creative Outlets and the Art of Coping

June 20th, 2017

Some days when that alarm goes off I’ve considered ignoring it. And I usually do about two or three times. And I get that little “voice”, for lack of a better word, in my head saying why bother?  and nobody likes you and you can’t do anything right. I don’t like calling it “a voice.” That makes it sound like it’s some kind of auditory hallucination. Which is not at all the case. It’s more of a “lurking thought”. Anyone who has experienced mild to severe depression knows exactly what I’m talking about. Sometimes it feels like another person living in your head trying to take control of your thoughts. A passenger, and an obnoxious as hell backseat driver at that.

You have to find ways to get them to shut the hell up. Some do this with doctor prescribed medication, some self medicate with drugs and alcohol to jettison their passenger, others find outlets. Some of these -self-harm, violence- are not so healthy. Others use various forms of creative expression as a release, and it’s this last method that I have found to be the most effective.

My mind is a perpetual torrent, and it’s exhausting. I’m tired more than I often should be, because some days just keeping it together is enough to take a lot out of me. Any day I haven’t done something creative, I hate myself. These two factors are invariably linked. If I haven’t written something, practiced singing, or worked on a drawing or painting I can’t sleep. I can’t see my day as finished or productive. It makes me feel absolutely worthless. The solution should seem obvious: Do at least one creative thing each day. Blog entry. Short story. Work on a novel. Gig flyer design. A painting. A doodle. A self-portrait. Lyrics. Something. Anything. It is absolutely crucial to my existence.

I’ve self-published a novel, and written two more that will probably never see the outside of the drawer, and have several other projects in the works. I front a punk band called Food for Worms. We play gigs frequently and recorded a full length album. People have often told me, “That’s cool. I wish I could find the time to do that kind of thing.”  A response that has always rubbed me tail to head. “Find the time” makes it sound like it’s something I do because I lack pressing responsibilities, that I’m somehow free of important obligations. It’s not about finding the time. I have to make the time. You don’t find the time to eat, sleep, shit, piss, or breathe. For me these “hobbies” are just as crucial to my existence as any of those other things. It’s not part of my self-actualization. It’s part of my survival, and I stick it closer to the base on my hierarchy of needs. Very much like not sleeping or eating impacts your physical health, so it is with creative outlets and my mental health.

The fallacy, however, is that people think creative outlets expel these dark thoughts. They don't. It’s depression and anxiety, not a demonic possession. A creative outlet works less like an exorcism and more like a coming out party. See, depression never really goes away. It’s not really something you’re cured of, exactly. It’s something you learn to cope with. Expressing it is a way of driving with the top down, venting out the bad air, letting in some sunlight and exposing your annoying little passenger to the world. When you are truly able to put yourself out there, when you are unashamed of it, you take ownership of it. You use it as fuel to create. You are manipulating it and it no longer manipulates you. Then when someone hears your song, reads your story, stares at your visual art and relates to it,well, then you’ve made a connection. They understand and recognize that someone else feels that way too and they feel less alone. Then you see someone else relate to what you’ve created and you connect you are given validation that you aren’t alone either. Because the truth is that no one is really alone. The world is both small and vast simultaneously and there’s not a feeling or experience you can have that isn’t shared by someone else. And those people are all around you. Art, in any form, is about taking that which makes you feel alienated and using it to do the opposite: to connect.

Which brings us to a bit of a conundrum. If a main benefit of art is connection and validation, does something have to be shared to truly be “art”? Are those novels in the drawer “not art” because no one else will read them? Is the painting in the attic “not art” because it’s got a vinyl cover over it? Don’t be ridiculous. Sometimes the benefit is just for yourself. It’s the act  of taking all the twisted shit going on in your head and turning it into something tangible. Something you can see, read, hear, or touch. Even...taste? If we fear most that which we cannot see or hear, then take that power away from it. Take it for yourself. Taking the time to create something is, in and of itself, therapeutic.

So to anyone else wrestling with that dark, gloomy backseat driver I highly encourage you turn it into something you can use. Turn it into art. Even if you suck at it, and chances are you will at first. But eventually, you won’t anymore. I’m not going to claim it’s a cure all. Even some of the world’s most famous creatives have succumbed. But still, it turns the darkest part of yourself into something beautiful and lasting. And that’s not nothing.

P.S.: There is no shame in seeking professional help too. I’ve had my own experiences with that and will share more in a future blog entry.

Also: Here’s a list of suicide hotlines by country. Click the country and it’ll bring up a list of cities.

How the hell do you talk about gender inequality to a room full of young Korean women?

May 29, 2017

My current job at the Global Station in Daegu, South Korea has me visiting area high schools for the occasional guest lecture. It's part of our mentoring program to help make up for the fact that budget cuts caused Native English Teachers to be cut from most high schools. I was recently assigned to speak over 4 periods across 2 days at the Daegu Girls High School. Now part of this program is that the teacher at the school chooses the topic and partially plans the lesson. The chosen topic, inspired by Emma Watson's speech to the UN was Gender Inequality. 

Considering I'm, you know, a man I felt a little odd about speaking out on the topic. Who the hell was I to talk about gender inequality to a room full of young Korean women about gender inequality? I didn't want to "mansplain" gender inequality to a group of people who, more than likely, have a helluva a lot more experience with the topic than I do. (Many of them have apparently been told by parents and grandparents "Don't worry about what you will do for a job, you'll just find a husband anyway", they don't need me to explain shit to them). I was supposed to discus my experiences and observations with gender inequality in both my home country (the U.S. of A.) and South Korea. I was also supposed to write an read a "resolution against gender inequality". So I went around and asked a bunch of my women friends, many of whom fall into the "strong independent" category to say the least, just what the hell I should say so I didn't come off as a dick or a try-hard. I talked to western women and Korean women about it. And many of them touched on the same issue.

They all mentioned the ideas of traditional gender roles. This, in one form or another, was brought up by every woman I asked. Many of them seemed to share the concern that it was also a men's issue. Which is a concept that was central to the Emma Watson speech the class was centered on. This also gave me something to talk about that connected to me and would seem more personal and less disingenuous. They wanted me to talk about how "feminism" means equality for everyone,fringe groups notwithstanding.

Anyway, below is a slightly altered version of the "resolution" I wrote up. I did not include some of the more complex and colorful language, and the end was a little different.

I am a feminist. Does that surprise you? Okay, I’ll say it again. I, Kyle Decker, the man writing this, am a feminist. Many people seem to have a very warped idea of what that means. But it means simply this: I think that women are people. I think men, women, and everyone in between are equals.

I’m not in a position of power. So how can I fight gender inequality? Easy. By simply showing respect for choices people make with their lives. Whether she chooses to be a politician, an artist, a CEO, or a stay at home wife and mother. All of these women deserve respect because feminism, first and foremost, is about choice.

Just as importantly, I can put my own insecurities about my masculinity aside. Because the traditional gender roles can be damaging to men as well. Men are told to not show emotion. Men are sometimes mocked for going into jobs seen as “women’s jobs” like nursing or teaching. I was bullied as a kid because I couldn’t give a rat’s ass about sports, my predilections were more artistic. I was called a “fag” and “girly” because I liked writing and theater more than basketball. You see, what feminism really means is equality for women and men. It means that a man can cry without anyone giving him crap for it. It means a woman can be assertive without being called “bitchy.” It means a woman can be a CEO or construction worker. It means a man can be a nurse or a stay at home dad. It means that you, me, all of us can do what we want and be who we want. But what we all need to do, all of us together, is show each other respect for these choices. Only with that support, can we all break free of these bogus, limiting gender roles.

So to hell with so called “tradition.” Because the time to move forward is always right now.

I have always considered myself a Humanist. Feminism is a obvious subcategory of that. If not, basically, synonymous. Overall having to sit down and think this one through, hearing people's stories while preparing, and hearing what the girls came up with was all a very eye-opening experience. 

For Boston

Apr 15, 2013

Bombs went off at the finish line of The Boston Marathon today. As of this writing there were 2 dead and over 90 injured, ranging from burns to lost limbs. And it’s still too early to know who or why or even what the fuck happened. The who and what and even why elude us, but that knowledge isn’t going to save us from this knowledge: people are capable of horrible things. Whether it’s Boston, Newton, Aurora, or Columbine. The World Trade Center or Oklahoma City. No amount of vigilance or justice can save us from knowing that there is evil in the world.

Fuck that. I refuse to allow myself to be further dragged into cynicism. On days like today you see what horrible things people are capable of. But it's important to remember that for every one person that sets off a bomb there are hundreds of people who show up to save the day. The world has villains. But it's got a lot more heroes. First responders, police, firemen, paramedics, blood donors, people offering shelter, people going back for loved ones, assisting strangers, the men who threw themselves in front of the bullets to save their girlfriends in Aurora, the teachers in Newton who shielded the children. People kick ass. Most of them, at least.

These incidents are tragic and awful. People can be horrible. But instead of just seeing these as reminders of what people are capable of doing to each other, also look for and be reminded of what people are capable of doing for each other.

It’s like Mr. Fred Rogers said, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”