Lost at Sea


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Photo essay: Unemployment, August 2019, Greenpoint, NY

I’m writing this at a cottage by the sea. Some would say it’s quaint, as its located at the far eastern end of Long Island, to the north of the tony Hamptons. Earlier today we walked with our friends at a nearby boardwalk, where we found a few multi-million dollar yachts moored to the pier alongside a few lesser yachts, those of which would still cost a hefty 2nd mortgage to own. One of the passengers on one of the million dollar yachts disembarked to walk her two dogs along the pier. Of course my wife and kids had to make the “cute doggies” face as they proceeded to fondle the lady’s pups. Awkward moments ensue as the adults tried to make small talk with this woman while ogling the designer accouterments adorning the luxury back end cabana of said yacht. I was trying to ascertain whether this lady was actually the owner of the yacht, or merely on staff by sizing up the breeds of the dogs, and psycho-analyzing whether someone who owned a multi-millon dollar floating castle would actually walk their own dogs, much less interact with the common folk salivating at the sight of ostentatious wealth that was a plushly carpeted gangplank between them and infamy. Also, with the tech-fueled disruption of everything from the taxi industry to Lear jets, it wasn’t wholly ludicrous to imagine that some millenial entrepreneur had invented a startup that lets you rent a luxury yacht by the hour. Uber for yachts.

Anyway back to the cottage. I suppose when you allow someone else to book your accommodations, you abrogate any claims you might have had to what “quaint” means. In this case, it’s a cottage straight out of a 50’s beach movie with a view of the Atlantic ocean. Orange shag carpeted bungalow units with lacquered wood paneled walls and a wicker ottoman with pink cushions. One can easily imagine a retro-photoshoot for a hipster magazine based in Brooklyn or a Hollywood re-boot of a Twin Peaks movie. The wi-fi is really no-fi, and convenient USB-friendly power outlets are nowhere to be found. Thank goodness my Chromebook works without any internet.

This is the second half of our two-week vacation out east. The first half was spent in a bucolic utopian gated community with strong wi-fi and a Starbucks kiosk within easy reach. The time spent there was of my own making. Now in the second half, we are traveling with another family so negotiated itineraries are the currency of the day. My vacation is no longer my own. Much like my almostĀ decade-long quest to return to gainful employment – to transition from being an at-home dad back to a professional dad. It hasn’t been easy.

All of this is a preamble to what I really wanted to write about, which was the state of my dis-employment circa 2019. Two months ago I actually took on a new full-time job. But I decided I hate this job and through some maneuvering got to take two weeks off right away. While on vacation I’ve been semi-hoping that when I get back, I’ll discover they fired me while I was gone. (Update: I’m still employed, but they scheduled my first shift back for 4 AM). The thought of returning to something unfulfilling makes staying in a cottage with a dysfunctional bathtub and musty odors sound kind of quaint.




A Photo Essay

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August 2019, Greenpoint, NY

Chautauqua Redux: More Magic Needed

A 2nd visit to Chautauqua Institution Five Years Later

Five years ago in 2014 we visited a special place in upstate New York called Chautauqua Institution. I wrote a series of essays back then about our experience. You can read them here, so I won’t belabor the backstory. Since that first visit I’ve been wanting to return to a place I’ve called an American Utopia. It’s an idyllic place to spend a week recharging one’s intellectual, spiritual, and physical self. This time around we knew what to expect, so I wanted to find out if I would still feel the same way about it given the passage of time.

One of my observations from the first visit was that Chautauqua (CHQ) had to change and adapt to the rapidly aging base of its core constituency: primarily upper-income, white, and drawing from the east coast. I observed that CHQ needed to attract younger families, offer more compact experiences than its traditional nine-week summer season, and attract a new audience of more racially and economically diverse patrons. These observations have been echoed largely in the institution’s newly unveiled strategic plan.

But is it enough? The desire might be there but does the pace of change need to occur at a faster rate? There are some positive signs in that direction. Three of the best talks I attended this week were all from people of color under 40. A lot of the talks were about racial equality and income inequality. Bill McKibben reminded us all that we only have a few years left to save the planet.

I feel CHQ has a similar existential crisis looming on a much smaller scale. I had a brief chat with a “local” at a church lunch and asked how the other locals felt about the Institution. He told me that the county we were in was one the poorest in the state and perhaps one of the poorest in the nation. Much of the progressive messaging from all the speakers inside the hallowed grounds that needed to spread outward wasn’t making it out. Meanwhile inside the grounds, I perused the real estate listings and saw one home listed for $2.6 million dollars. There’s definitely a sort of magical realism here filled with lots of nice grandmas and grandpas, the grounds are manicured and lovely, kids can ride their bikes around without fear of being kidnapped, and every moment is filled with opportunities for self-improvement. I did find a septugenerian who wrote a letter to the editor of the daily newspaper here complaining about the increasing presence of riff-raff they let come here who are rude enough to talk during the post-concert organ recital. That, my friends, is about the level of acrimony around here.

Mid-week they brought in a magician to do a show for the kids. Given the weight of all the worldly problems being discussed this week, it was nice to have a bit of magic to lighten all the depressing talk. And that’s what we all need right now with all the heavy problems we’re facing in the world now. A whole bunch more magic.

I don’t know what the future holds, or even how much longer we have to save the planet from environmental catastrophe. I do know that this visit, 5 years later, was worth the time and money spent to renew our engagement with a unique and special place. I only hope that if we return 5 years from now, we’ll see the results of more urgent, bolder actions to transform itself into a place that can sustain future generations of patrons.


2019 Reflections

In past years I’ve spent time around the New Year reflecting on my life and what’s been top of mind going into the new year. This time around I think I’m going to re-read some of those and see how well I accomplished or progressed on them.

One of the long-running themes I wrote about was the desire to quit Facebook. This past year, more stuff came out about all the bad things Facebook either did, or allowed to happen behind the scenes. I’ve observed more desire than ever amongst friends to quit the platform, or find a viable alternative. I don’t think much will come out of the desire to exit Facebook, but as of today, I’ve made my peace with the fact that I will have to stay on platform to do things like organize, network, and market the things I’m passionate about. So I’m going to stop agonizing over it, but still focus on Facebook as a channel to put my own ideas out there. I want 2019 to be the year where I create, not consume, content as my main reasons for being active on social networks.

Another long-running theme over the years has been my struggles finding a path back to full-time employment. For the past 2 years, I’ve been a rideshare driver, which I began shortly after posting my last update in December of 2016. I wrote about three years ago how I began to see leveling up in video games as a metaphor for how to approach making progress in your real-life aspirations, and I’d like to believe I took that to heart. Since 2017, I enrolled in a life-coaching program, worked a couple part-time gigs, became a rideshare driver, launched a new website, got published on a major website, worked on a political campaign again, and built my brand as an education expert in Minecraft. All of this has taken longer than I’d hoped, but I guess I’m still hopeful that this is leading to something awesome in 2019 or the years to come. I still would like to find that dream full-time job with benefits so that my wife can switch roles and become the at-home parent instead of me, but if that job never appears, I do have a plan B. Two years into the Trump administration, I think many of us have been pondering a plan B, whether that’s emigrating to a more progressive country, moving to a red state to turn it blue, or helping a new generation of more diverse candidates win office and take back our country. The road ahead is unclear as it always has been this last decade but perhaps I am gaining a better outlook with the opportunity to look back more deeply this year.
Happy New Year.

Make Facebook Work for You – not the other way around

One of my top 2017 New Year’s resolutions is to spend less time on Facebook. I’ve ranted about this for a while now. But given the time of year, I’d like to also recommend it for you as well, especially if there’s a new year resolution you want to accomplish as well.

You see, how Facebook makes money is that it basically serves ads to you as you browse through your timeline, reading all the content generated by your friends. You are in effect, an unpaid moneymaker for Mark Zuckerberg and company by generating content for free which they can monetize. OK but so what you say. Sometimes I just have to blow off some steam and see all my friends’ photos of cute kids, puppies, and funny Internet memes. I get that. We all need to chill out from our real-world stressful lives. But more times that not, I find myself logging into Facebook to do something tangible and relevant to my career or passion project, and instead I end up distracted for no good reason (funny kangaroo video for example) or sometimes a VERY good reason (friend announces they have cancer, etc.) Facebook is designed EXACTLY to do that – distract you so you stay on the platform and keep reading, liking, and commenting. That way they can serve you more ads and make more money.

So what’s the solution? Instead of you working for Facebook, make the platform work for you. In my case, I’ve set up this blog and some other external sites so that when I create something, it now gets auto-posted to Facebook and other social platforms like Twitter. Thus I get my content shown to people I care about without the distraction of having to login to the platform. Doing it this way also makes you more visible to search engines and builds your brand online better than if your content was stuck inside the closed walls of Facebook. Set yourself up this way, and then when you’re done, you can reward yourself with 10 minutes of viewing cute petsĀ on your timeline.

Online petitions

Interesting NYT article today on whether online petitions are worth it. I don’t know if it really answered the question, but after reading it leaves me more positive about clicking on the things that rapidly fill my inbox. Better yet, call your legislator directly. That has more weight than an online petition.