In The Hills On My Own

Reflections of a Twenty-Something Georgia Boy

Category: Reflections

I’d Like To Thank The Academy…

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Those folks who are reading that have known me for a while know that my educational career has been… inconsistent. In the fall of 2004, after graduating from high school, I took classes for exactly one semester before dropping out. A year later, I tried again at Georgia Perimeter College, and lasted almost a year before quitting again. After a five year sabbatical, I started taking classes at Southern Polytechnic State University in the fall of 2011, and after changing my major to English and Professional Communications, I think I’ve finally got the hang of this “college” thing. Last semester I had a 3.5 GPA, the best I’ve done since, like, middle school. Today, as I pulled into the parking lot at SPSU, I was actually excited to start classes. In my first blog post after starting writing here on a regular basis, I talked a little about how I’ve come to realize the importance of education, but really I think the most important part is education on your own terms. This doesn’t mean not doing things you don’t feel like doing, but rather putting yourself in the right situation, one in which what you need to do and what you want to do intersect. For some people, this is possible right out of high school. For others, they’re able to fight their way through a less than satisfactory freshman year and find where they want to be. And for still others, folks like me, it takes a little longer to find that intersection.

I have been fortunate to be surrounded by people throughout the last eight and a half years who have offered me support and encouragement as I’ve wandered. My adviser at Berry who was disappointed I was leaving because the school “needed more people like me”. My parents, who encouraged and supported me as long as I was moving forward, not backward. The wonderful people in Athens, Georgia who helped me transform from a 20 year old slacker who went to the bars too much to a 25 year old with priorities and goals who still probably went to the bars a little too much. My buddy Brian who didn’t mind when I called him in San Francisco to argue about politics and talk about literature because I was afraid my brain was rotting while working in a parking deck. The folks from the wonderful Camp Mikell community who’s arms and hearts were (and still are) always open no matter what I was doing. The Georgia Conservancy, where I found out how I can use my skills to do work that matters and that work can be fun and rewarding at the same time. And my English Composition professor at SPSU who after I turned in my first paper asked what I was majoring in, and when I replied Construction Management calmly told me that that was stupid and that I should switch to English.

Reading over the last paragraph, I realize that this post would probably be better served coming after I graduate, but that probably won’t be for a while still. As I look ahead, it is refreshing to have ambitions and goals again, and I didn’t want to go on any longer without expressing my appreciation to the wildly different and wonderful group of folks that have supported and influenced me over the last few years.

Y’all are the best, and I owe you everything.

Thank you.

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So This Is The New Year.

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“What we call the beginning is often the end. And to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from.” – T.S. Eliot

A new year.

2012 was a good year for me. I finally feel like I’m accomplishing things, building toward a future. It’s a refreshing feeling after treading water for so long. 2012 was a healthier year; I lost around 45 pounds, which has helped me be more active and made me feel better about myself. Fall semester saw me earn a 3.5 GPA for the first time since early high school, mainly because I changed majors to English & Professional Communications. So aside from a few hiccups along the way, 2012 looked like a sea change year for JT.

At the beginning of each new year, I try to think of things I need to improve on and things I’ve been doing well that I want to continue. I hesitate to call them “new years resolutions”, because I think it’s important to do this on a more regular basis than once a year. I generally do it at the beginning of the year, beginning of the summer, and the start of the fall semester. This year, I want to continue doing well in school, continue improving my health, work on developing my personal relationships, manage my finances better, and work on using my creativity more often and in new ways.

Fifty years ago, all during 1963, Americans fought and died throughout the south working for equal rights and the end of segregation. One hundred years before that, the United States was in the midst of a war against itself, waged to grant freedom to citizens of this country who had never before tasted it. As we move into 2013, Americans continue to struggle with the great experiment known as democracy. We continue to work to become more free, more fair… a more perfect union. We still fight every day for our rights; our right to a fair wage, our right to marry whomever we want, our right to own a firearm, our right to control our bodies, our right to vote, our right to organize. As we move forward through 2013 and continue to have these conversations, we must remember the lessons of 1963 and 1863.

Here are some more big 50, 100, and 150 year anniversaries coming up this year:

50 years ago, on 14 January 1963The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath was published by William Heinemann Ltd. in London.  Published under a pseudonym, the author’s identity was not revealed until weeks after her death.

50 years ago, on 22 January 1963, an English translation of One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch by Alyeksandr Solzhenitsyn was published in the United States.

50 years ago, on 29 January 1963, Robert Frost died in Boston at the age of 88.

50 years ago, on 4 March 1963, William Carlos Williams died in Rutherford, New Jersey at the age of 79.

100 years ago, on 6 March 1913, the word “jazz” appeared for the first time in print, in the San Francisco Bulletin, as a synonym for pep.

50 years ago, on 18 March 1963, in the case of Gideon v. Wainwright, the US Supreme Court ruled that states must provide an attorney to all criminal defendants who can not afford one.

50 years ago, on 28 March 1963The Birds, a film by Alfred Hitchcock, was released in the United States

100 years ago, on 29 March 1913, Igor Stravinsky (30) completed The Rite of Spring in Paris.

100 years ago, on 5 April 1913, Danish physicist Niels Bohr dated his article “On the Constitution of Atoms and Molecules.”  In it he described the quantized atom.

50 years ago, on 29 April 1963, the US Supreme Court outlawed racial segregation in courtrooms.

50 years ago, on 3 May 1963, fire hoses and attack dogs were used to disperse civil rights marchers in Birmingham, Alabama.  Demonstrators remained non-violent until a state policeman drove into the crowd.  Blacks responded with rocks and bottles followed by rioting.  450 people were arrested.

50 years ago, on 11 June 1963, accompanied by Deputy Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach and surrounded by 150 state troopers and an equal number of journalists, Vivian Juanita Malone and James Alexander Hood attempted to register as the first black students at the University of Alabama.  Governor George Wallace stood in the door of the registration auditorium and prevented their entrance.  At this, President Kennedy signed an order nationalizing the Alabama National Guard who arrived on campus and respectfully carried the President’s demand that the Governor adhere to the federal court order.  At this, Governor Wallace left without incident and the students were registered.  In the evening, President Kennedy made a televised nationwide speech pleading for an end to racial discrimination.

50 years ago, on 12 June 1963, a few hours after President Kennedy addressed the nation on the subject of civil rights, NAACP organizer Medgar Evers was shot and killed in front of his Jackson, Mississippi home.

50 years ago, on 13 June 1963, municipal swimming pools were desegregated in Atlanta without incident.

50 years ago, on 16 June 1963, an agreement between the South Vietnamese government and the country’s Buddhists was signed.  Thousands of Buddhists rioted as they tried to attend the funeral of Quang Duc who killed himself on 11 June.  Police fired tear gas and warning shots.  One person was killed, five injured, 30 arrested.

50 years ago, on 17 June 1963, the US Supreme Court ruled that recitation of the Bible in public schools violated the First Amendment to the Constitution.

150 years ago, on 20 June 1863, West Virginia became the 35th state of the United States.

50 years ago, on 20 June 1963, John Sturges’ film The Great Escape was shown for the first time, in London.

150 years ago, on 3 July 1863, after an artillery duel lasting one hour, 13,000 Confederates attacked the Union center on Cemetery Ridge at Gettysburg.  They were repulsed with heavy losses.  In the largest battle ever fought in the Western Hemisphere, 7,058 people were killed, 33,264 wounded, and 10,790 were missing (many of these prisoners).

50 years ago, on 10 July 1963, the day after local black leader Hosea Williams was arrested, blacks rioted in Savannah.  Crowds were dispersed by police using tear gas.  After this, anyone seen demonstrating in the city was arrested on sight.

50 years ago, on 5 August 1963, a limited Nuclear Test Ban Treaty was signed in Moscow by the foreign ministers of the United States, Great Britain, and the USSR.  It banned nuclear tests in the atmosphere, under water, and in outer space.

100 years ago, on 25 August 1913, Leo Frank, manager of a pencil factory in Atlanta, was convicted of murdering Mary Phagan, a 14-year-old worker at the factory.  The case attracted national attention and was fueled by hysterical anti-Semitism.  The next day he was sentenced to death.

50 years ago, on 28 August 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. led a March on Washington by 200,000 people, demonstrating demands for human rights for all Americans.  They met at the Washington Monument and marched to the Lincoln Memorial to be addressed by Dr. King who made the most famous speech of his life.  Protest leaders also met with President Kennedy at the White House.

50 years ago, on 30 August 1963, the “Hot Line”, a direct communications link between Moscow and Washington, went into operation.

50 years ago, on 10 September 1963, President Kennedy nationalized the Alabama National Guard.  Those troops on guard to prevent desegregation of schools were ordered back to their barracks.  Black students entered previously all-white schools in Birmingham, Mobile, and Tuskegee.  The only incident was at West End High School in Birmingham where white students demonstrated and walked out of school.

50 years ago, on 15 September 1963, a bomb exploded at the 16th Street Baptist Church, Birmingham, Alabama during Sunday services.  Four black girls were killed, one blinded.  14 people were injured.  Black citizens erupted in violence.  State troopers were dispatched led by an admitted Ku Klux Klan sympathizer.  Two black children were killed later in the day.

100 years ago, on 10 October 1913, President Wilson pressed a button in the White House and Gamboa Dike was blown up, thus completing the Panama Canal.

100 years ago, on 16 October 1913Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw was first performed, in Vienna.

150 years ago, on 26 October 1863, the Football Association of England was formed by eleven clubs from the London area, beginning the standardization of football.

150 years ago, on 19 November 1863, the military cemetery at Gettysburg was dedicated in a ceremony before 15,000 people.  After a two-hour oration by Edward Everett, President Lincoln gave a “little speech.”

50 years ago, on 22 November 1963, United States President John Fitzgerald Kennedy was shot twice in Dallas by Lee Harvey Oswald (firing from a sixth floor window) as he rode through the city in an open car.  He was pronounced dead at Parkland Hospital and was succeeded by Lyndon Baines Johnson.  Also wounded in the attack was Texas Governor John Connally.  Oswald was arrested.

50 years ago, on 22 November 1863, Aldous Huxley died of cancer in Los Angeles at the age of 69.

50 years ago, on 24 November 1963, Lee Harvey Oswald, the accused murderer of President John Kennedy, was shot to death by Jack Ruby, a restaurant owner, in Dallas.  Oswald was being transferred from the city jail to county jail when Ruby burst from a group of reporters and fired point blank into Oswald’s side.  He died later in surgery at Parkland Hospital.

100 years ago, on 1 December 1913, the first continuous, moving assembly line was put into operation by the Ford Motor Company in Highland Park, Michigan.  A new automobile was finished every two-and-a-half minutes.

100 years ago, on 21 December 1913, the first crossword puzzle was published in the New York World.

100 years ago, on 23 December 1913, with President Wilson’s signature, the Federal Reserve Bank was created in the United States.  Twelve regional banks were set up.

Happy 2013 y’all, let’s hope it’s a good one.

This Much I Know Is True

I’ve been in a quiet place since Friday morning.

While I spent time with friends this past weekend and was my usual gregarious self at work yesterday, I found myself thinking harder and speaking less, more sensitive to the both tragic and uplifting stories of the past few days. I thought longer and harder about the things I was saying, and often times chose to remain silent, worried that the words I had were insufficient for the complexity of emotion I felt. Deep-seated and difficult issues found their way to the forefront of my mind, multifaceted and nebulous things like the causes of violence, the difficulties of parenting, the difficulties of calm objectivity in a time of crisis, and the proper response to a simple question like “Why?” or “How?”. And so, I have been quiet. If you, the reader, will indulge me, I’m going to use this space to lay out my thoughts from the last few days. In a sense, it will be an operation in catharsis. My hope is that from this writing, perhaps someone reading who has been struggling with similar emotions will find solace or hope, or simple peace of mind.

When I was in high school, I began questioning my faith. Indeed, it is possible that I never really believed, but rather went through the various rites and rituals of the Episcopal church because it made me feel like I was part of something important; adults seemed to take it seriously, so I played along. In 2003, I was elected a youth delegate to the annual council of the Diocese of Atlanta. The church in which I was raised was a wonderful community of openness and happiness. Services were cheerful and joyous professions of faith, with a diverse, intelligent, and kind group of parishioners who were active citizens within and without the church community. I was genuinely excited to go to church on Sundays, to be a part of a community that celebrated life and each other so beautifully. It was a natural place for me to be, and, at least I think, I thrived in this place. Clearly some people in the church recognized the connection I had made with the church, because I received this honor of attending Diocesan Council. In that same year, the Episcopalians of New Hampshire elected Gene Robinson, an openly gay priest, as their bishop. It was a monumental, groundbreaking decision, and one that ignited conversation in some parishes, celebration in others, and panic in still more. As a delegate to the council, I saw some of the most intelligent, rational theological conversation to which I had ever been exposed. And I was also witness to something I had no experience with in my church: hate. And so my idea of “church” and what I believed was the role of church began to crumble. This crumbling continued as a grew older, as I became more and more aware of the close-mindedness of so-called “people of faith”. My worldview now is based in a sort of moral agnosticism. I still find comfort and peace in the parts of church I valued when I was younger; community, love, gratitude, generosity, contemplation, meditation, and service, among a litany of others. The faith communities that support these principles are beautiful examples of the potential of human spirit and sacrifice. But far too often, I find myself thinking that the imperative nature of belief, that one must accept wholly unbelieveable things as true, is far beyond my capacities.

So when I look at the wake of tragedies like the one in Connecticut on Friday, and I hear people frame the conversation in terms of Christian faith, I find myself uncomfortable. Even if all of the victims were Christian, why should solace and comfort and hope be for people of faith exclusively? And then I think of the wonderful attributes of “my” church. The love and comfort and generosity I value so much in that church is something in which all people of all walks of life can celebrate and participate. When the Episcopal Bishop of Atlanta Robert Wright spoke on CNN this afternoon, the anchor asked him about people who do not believe in Christian dogma, what role they can play in service to the victims of tragedy. My answer to that is the most beautiful and graceful parts of a church community are just that: community. And while some people of faith may use this as an opportunity to advance their hate-filled agendas, most people will use it as an opportunity for thought, meditation, love, and selflessness. These are doors to the church that are open for all people. As humans we are broken and imperfect creatures, capable of horrible selfishness and greed. But we are also capable of breathtaking generosity and love. That potential is not native to one faith tradition or another. When it comes to comforting others and spreading love, we can all be ministers. This much I know is true.

* Credit for the title goes to the author Wally Lamb, who wrote a novel by the same name.

Oh SNAP!

Food Justice

After a lot of thought, I’ve decided to undertake what has come to be known as the SNAP Challenge. The SNAP Challenge has recently seen an increase in publicity due to the efforts of Newark, N.J. mayor Cory Booker, as well as other celebrities trying to raise awareness of food justice and nutrition issues in the United States. In it, participants voluntarily restrict themselves to the weekly budget determined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. In simpler terms, you simulate living off food stamps for a week.

There are a few reasons I want to do this. From time to time I find myself losing perspective on the issues facing some of the people who live near me, folks for whom an extra few dollars really does make the difference between eating that day or not. Obviously, a week of eating for about four dollars a day wont accurately portray the long term mental and physical effects of a lack of adequate nutrition, but I hope it will help me understand to some extent what people go through. I’ve also been thinking a lot about how hard it is to eat healthily when you have little to no money for food. There are some organizations that are trying to change this, like Wholesome Wave’s efforts to double food stamp values at farmer’s markets. One reason I stopped being a vegetarian several years ago (in addition to the fact that I really, really like meat) was that it was very difficult on a strict budget. Finally, I think an important part of the Thanksgiving/Christmas/Holiday season is being thankful for the good things in life, and remembering those who struggle to make ends meet.

So here’s my plan:

For the next week I’m going to do a lot of reading. I’m going to do some background research on the history of the food stamp program, various efforts to provide healthy options for those receiving SNAP funding, and budgeting my week. I’ll be writing about some of this reading over the next few days. I’ll start the challenge on Monday, December 17th, and finish on Christmas Eve. Throughout that week, I’ll write about my experiences, post my meals for the day, and answer any questions folks might have. If you or anyone you know has already done this, I’d love to hear about that experience, and if you’re inclined, feel free to join me in this effort. Hopefully this Christmas, while I’m enjoying my family’s annual massive brunch, I’ll be doing it with a more open mind and thankful heart.

As The World Interns

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There are two Starbucks within a three block radius of my office. There are four within a mile. I know this because I looked at Google Maps.

The overwhelming impression most people have of interning is that of the haggard-looking twenty-something, balancing seven cups of coffee trying to cross a busy street, to get back to the office to spend six more hours in the copy room. Most interns could probably tell you where every coffee shop in a mile radius of their office is from memory, knowledge acquired during entire summers spent without doing anything resembling skilled labor, just so that they can put the company’s name on their résumé. Perhaps they get in with a big firm in New York or D.C., places where a intern’s stipend barely pays a month’s rent. Obviously every situation is different, and an internship can be a valuable real-world experience in college. But this stereotypical idea of interning does exist, and there is some question about how valuable that experience really is.

When I moved back to Atlanta from Athens in August of 2011, I didn’t have much in the way of plans. I knew that I was going to start classes at Southern Polytechnic State University, but little else. During my first semester at SPSU, two important things happened; I had an English composition class that reminded how much I loved to write, and I met someone who was a grant writer, a career I had never given much thought, but all of a sudden seemed like a perfect fit. These things stayed in the back of my mind through that first semester, while I quickly also realized that I hated my Construction Management classes, which was my major at the time. It’s interesting to think about the paths we take through our lives, how the seemingly insignificant or unrelated decisions have major future ramifications. If I hadn’t wanted to be a Construction Management major, I never would have gone to SPSU, and would not have had a class with a professor who encouraged my writing as much as Ms. Strauss, my comp professor. If I hadn’t moved to Athens, I never would have met Allison, and never would have met her co-worker, a charter school grant writer. And if I hadn’t gone to Camp Mikell, I never would have ended up at the Georgia Conservancy.

It is, by all accounts, fairly rare to get career-specific experience, at a job you care about, with people you like, all during college. My experience at the Georgia Conservancy has been representative of what an internship should be: good, relevant, real work that benefits the company or organization and provides practical experience in the intern’s desired field. In late 2011, I was introduced to the Conservancy by my friend Bryan, who I had met several years previously through various Camp Mikell parties. Over the course of a poker game at his house, I asked about the possibility of interning there, an idea that he supported. After a brief interview, I started in January of 2012. Over the last eleven months or so, I’ve gotten an incredible amount of experience in grant writing, member outreach, board relations, and non-profit development in general. This rare experience will be invaluable after I graduate, and it’s thanks to the progressive outlook on internships at the Georgia Conservancy. Almost the entire time I have been at the Conservancy, I’ve been an unpaid intern, but the experience I have will pay for itself in the future.

If you’re reading this and considering an internship, or work at an organization or company that provides internships, I hope this provides a little insight. For those seeking internships: don’t just take whatever is available. Ask questions at the interview. Find somewhere where you’ll be doing real work in the field in which you want to have a career. Don’t settle for a place that will just look good on a résumé. Look for an office with a good community, somewhere where you’ll be respected and the people get along. For those who may be providing internships: please, please, PLEASE give your interns real work. You’re doing them a disservice if you don’t, but you’re also wasting your own time. Internships should be valuable for the intern AND the employer. If you aren’t going to give them real work, don’t even have interns.

I had to use Google Maps to find the Starbucks. Every intern should have to do the same.

End-note: Thanks to Chris for the idea for this post! And congrats to her on her new job, you’re gonna rock!!!

I’m a 20-something GUY and this is my life.

So a friend of mine has been writing (quite well) over at her blog about all sorts of interesting things, and it’s inspired me to spend some time here after a nine month hiatus. One thing Beano has done at Love Ya, Bean It is feature a couple of our good friend’s stories of their lives in their mid-twenties. These are some cool folks, and their pieces led me to think about my life after high school and the (roundabout) journey I have taken to where I am now; a twenty-six year old college sophomore living out some goals and trying to reach the rest.

Since I’ve turned twenty-one, when I became a “twenty-something”, I’ve learned some things that I, at least at this point, think are true. These are they:

1) You learn some things about life really quickly when you’re not in school and you make minimum wage. Some of these things are funny, like how creamed corn and ramen noodle casserole tastes (spoiler alert: it’s awful), and some of these things are not, like how quickly your wages can get garnished when a landlord takes you to court. It sucks at the time, but it opens your eyes to both the things you prioritize and the struggles of people who don’t have family and friends who will give you a hand.

2) My parents are my best friends. I never had as bad a relationship with my folks as some of my friends did when I was younger, but I was very wrapped up in myself and ignored some important things, like family. What I have come to realize (especially since I moved back in with them last August) is that I have at least two people in my life who more than anything else want me to be happy and do well. Its a simple thing, but sometimes you need to be reminded of simple things.

3) Getting paid and spending all your money in bars in one weekend is super fun. What isn’t fun is walking to work for two weeks because you can’t put any gas in your car. If you plan on seeing the girl in the bar you’ve been buying drinks for again, you’re going to want to be able to fill up your tank.

4) School is important. When I left Berry College after one semester in 2004, I thought I would be fine. For a while I was, but it really took moving to Athens and working in the UGA parking deck to make me realize that the way I imagined my life would be in ten, twenty, fifty years wasn’t possible working there forever. Something I have struggled with is trying to skip from step one to step sixty four without the middle parts. Sometimes they seem stupid, but the process is important.

Writing this has been very cathartic. Self-examination is hard, and doing so when you’re in a time of transition like I am can be even harder. I  hope this sheds some light on how the twenty-something Y-chromosome-rs live.

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