Sunday, December 28, 2008

I made a pretty pink hat for my soon to be born baby cousin!

So apparently you can get two pairs of knitting needles and a 50g skein of yarn for $3 dollars in Mexico. The same in the US would cost around $6 dollars depending on the brands. In fact, I could have gotten cheaper yarn. I bet the cheapest yarn in Mexico isn't even sold here in the US. I sure as hell couldn't find any great yarn down there (we looked in 5 different stores).

I don't have a problem, I swear!! Okay, maybe I do. But it's a very productive and handy problem to have. My name is Danny, and I'm a knittaholic. *Hi, Danny!!* I didn't bring my sweater-in-progress to Mexico for two reasons: I didn't think they'd let me bring knitting needles in my carry-on and I won't lose $60 worth of yarn and labor if my suitcase gets lost, and also I felt self-conscious about my knitting in Mexico. You see, there is more pressure in Mexico to be stereotypically manly than there is here. I was sure that my family would make fun of me. However, when a couple of my cousins busted out some outdated knitting technology (weird-looking tablets with nails that did a sort of knit-braid pattern) I decided to share my passion. A few days later I was well on my way to making my first baby-hat for my newest cousin-to-be, Zoe Jimenez Bernal. And what do you know– my dad was the only one to make fun of me. Everyone else was either silent/indifferent or else very interested in my project and impressed by the final project.

I must say, I don't think I could live in Mexico. And it's not just the lack of modern knitting supplies, or even the third-world conditions. It's the simple fact that if I were to live there I might as well forget about gay marriage– gay teens commit suicide all the time there. There is such a strong heteronormative culture there that I can't even think about coming out before getting a little sick to my stomach. I suppose I'll have to come out to my family in Mexico sometime. For now let them believe that I'm just enraptured in my studies and too busy for a girlfriend.

All things considered I really enjoyed my stay this year. I think for a few years there I was starting to take my annual trips to Mexico for granted. I mean, it's like a family reunion but with dirty drinking water, filthy rooms, smelly sheets, language barriers, scorpions, and not to mention different culture. But after not being able to go last year I think I learned to appreciate it more. This year I went with some very specific goals in mind. I wanted to learn more about my family's history, culture and share who I am becoming with them. I was able to do all of these things to extents that I had not expected. Slowly and a bit late I am getting in touch with my heritage, and finding that life is a whole lot more mysterious than I thought it could be. For now suffice it to say that I've been doing a lot of thinking about our identities. Sometimes it is hard to reason why we act certain ways or do certain things. There is so much that can be explained simply by looking at our heritage, our culture, our upbringing, etc. You never know what traits will pop up in any given stage of your life that can be traced back to your parents or family– but when you trace them back the connections you make can lead to beautiful things. Just knowing where you come from can sometimes be enough to overcome any qualms about the particulars in life.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Mexico 2.0

So at some point I want to write something a bit more insightful about my journey to my homeland. But for now I sort of just need to rant about my dad. Living with him has been a difficult undertaking, and our relationship has continued to get better since I was 10, but there are still some rough spots. Through my relationship I have learned a lot (and theorized even more) about the development of an individual as affected by genes, environment and upbringing. I'm pretty sure that if I had grown up with the same parents but in the environment he grew up in, I would seem a lot more like my dad on the outside. As I grew up in Saint Paul, however, the ways in which we are alike are a lot more subtle. We both get restless at night and like to sleep until 1 PM if we can. We're both really good with children and we like socializing with a lot of friends at a time. We're both creative, curious, and like to experiment– and we're both relentlessly stubborn about our own opinions of the world.

As you can imagine this combination of personalities under the same roof can be painful at times. The biggest barriers to arriving at understandings are cultural: language, upbringing, social maturity. Some of these, however, have started to crumble. My father is a lot better at English and I'm a lot better at conversational Spanish. After sharing my insight that I am a lot like him and that were I brought up in Mexico I would be even more so helped him see how my upbringing has affected me. And as I gain entry into adulthood, he is able to accept more of the wisdom his parents and friends give him to help see other perspectives. So, in Saint Paul we at least have an understanding.

Now, here in his house in Mexico there are different rules. I get the whole different culture thing. I mean, I don't understand Mexican culture just quite as much as he does, but I understand and expect differences. What I think is hard for him and easy for me is to see the culture and his family as they are now, in the 21st century. For me, I am just starting to learn about the finer points of the culture from my aunts and cousins. For him, he is stuck in the past and expects everything to stay the same. So much changes in 20 years that he has not been a part of because it's hard to stay in contact with people you only see once a year and who just now got internet access. When he goes to Mexico he hears gossip, he sees old friends to see where they are and he sometimes plays a game of soccer and then goes out for beers with the fellas. When I come to Mexico I am super-aware of all the differences because they stare me right in the face. I go to town with my cousins, I go shopping in the tourist city of Mazatlán, I talk with my aunts about how different my experience back in MN is. While he wants to preserve his history, I'm learning about the present.

What really complicates the matter is that it is hard for me to distinguish culture from the individuals. And I now realize that I looked to my dad to be the authority on Mexican culture. The fact is that his own family thinks he's kind of crazy with his attitudes about things. He's starting to lose his authority over my experience of his culture and it's really hard for him. All day long we've been fighting about stupid things like grammar and big things like how we should plan a trip to the aquarium. But he hasn't just been fighting with me, he's been arguing with the entire family. I happen to have an advantage because I know him better than his family does now. I know how to argue with the adult version of him, so I lay out all his shit on the table in front of his family, who sit there and laugh at him. And I feel bad, but what can I do? How can I tell him that I think he's been visiting a Mexico that hasn't existed for 20 years now? Better yet, how can I preserve my relationship with him, stop blatantly disrespecting him in a culture that values respect for elders and still keep my sanity and enjoy my week of vacation?

If you've made it this far, please feel free to give some advice!

PS - My mom, aunts and grandmother are totally on my side. This makes me feel simultaneously better and worse. It means I'm not crazy– just mean.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

If good things come to those who wait, why can't I wait for good things?

It's funny to me how when you least expect things from your past to creep up and surprise you– they do. I have been wanting to make a sweater for quite some time now. I would say about six months, maybe even more. This fall during RA training I was interested in this guy. I was so happy and surprised when I realized that he had knit his own sweaters. Here he was, practically a god in my eyes. Well, a few chats about knitting later and BAM– I was in his room looking at his first attempts at knitting heaven. That same night he asked out another guy. Needless to say my sweater interests were swept done the same hole my dating ones were.

Actually, I have Jenny to thank for reviving my interest in this project. I am proud to say that my sweater is about %25 complete and I'm going strong. I haven't thought about boys in a long time either. Lo and behold, I also have Jenny to thank for reviving my interest in them. Well, kind of anyway. I was hanging with Jenny in her area of town (yes, the entire area belongs to her) and she saw a group of dance people. They nodded over to her in recognition, but one of the guys she knew lingered a little longer in our direction. A couple other times he looked over– I wasn't sure if he ways glancing at Jenny or I. Now, being that I don't consider myself a looker I secretly thought he couldn't be looking at me. But when we walked past them Jenny stayed to chat and I walked around the other side. I got a couple more glances from this guy. Now, my gaydar points me in all the wrong directions, but I was pretty sure about this guy. A confirmation from Jenny later sealed the deal. A cute guy actually made eye-contact with me. Repeatedly!

I know it must seem like a small deal, but to me it's a huge one. My self-esteem is all self-invented. The only real self-esteem I have comes from areas that don't seem as important, somehow: math, teaching, music. I know that other people would kill to do the things I do with them (I know, I never gloat) but to me I would kill to find that perfect guy (or any guy at this point, really). The point is that I've started to realize that timing is never under my control for some things. And the harder I work for those things the easier it is to miss opportunities when they do arise. I fuck up more when I'm desperate.

My mother opened a trunk full of old stuff one day 10 years ago and she pulled out a pair of knitting needles. I had some strange attraction to them, and when I asked her what they were for she told me they were for knitting. I asked her to teach me how to use them and she said they were too hard– someday she would teach me. Now before I thank Jenny again for finally teaching me how to knit last year, I have to say that I'm glad I did wait until now to learn. While we were yarn-shopping the other day a mother came in searching for some needles for her 10-year old daughter. When the clerk gave her kiddy needles she scoffed, saying that her daughter would just die if she got her anything less than real needles because her friends were all using real needles. Instantly a picture of a whiny little girl with attention issues (from her friends and her mother) came to mind, and I didn't think that her infatuation with knitting came from the right place– she would never really enjoy the art. Good things are worth waiting for, even if you're convinced that they are what you want from the young age of 10. Here I am making a sweater, doing something I never thought I would do, and enjoying every minute of it. Maybe, just maybe someday I'll find what I'm looking for with guys, too.

PS - The Star Trek book I'm reading now makes me sad. You all know how much I love to show off big words in everyday convos, but this author was using so many words I didn't know, I just got upset. Who does he think he's writing for? It's a Star Trek book, for crying out loud.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

I always forget how much Star Trek means to me…

So for my blog I decided I want to be able to share those things (random and intentional) that I think about a lot. Like all the little insights into things. I want to do this mostly because I feel like I should start writing them down, but also to get feedback. They always feel insightful– but to others they could actually make no sense. Going along with that I changed the title of my blog to represent my core belief about education: as long as you are trying you can't be faulted for not knowing something. Sure, there are grad standards and curricula and traditions/foundations of different knowledge bases, but really– how much are we really expected to learn or retain? The way we are affected by our education is mysterious and inexplicable sometimes.

For example: one day in philosophy this term we had a guest speaker from some east coast school. Ruth Millikan is this mousey woman with huge glasses and a propensity to sit on desks instead of in them. She has published a ton of stuff on various fields in philosophy, but today she came to talk to us about cognitive representations. She argued that humans are the only animals that seek out information for no direct purpose (like memorizing the countries in Africa or memorizing batting averages). I was a bit taken aback because it doesn't make sense to me for humans (whose behaviors I believe can be explained) to do something with no intent or purpose. Even if this intent is to have fun or to pass a test, there should always be some logical explanation for why we have the goals we do.

When we learn, though, it does seem almost uncontrollable. Years later when asked to recall things we have some trouble with seemingly random pieces of information. What we do remember sometimes surprises us, especially when we forget a lot of the same kinds of things. So in principle asking us to faithfully remember everything we study seems silly. Maybe that is why we study so much information. And it is most certainly why we require deep understanding of few topics to be able to graduate from any institution.

So back to my blog title. I feel like as long as you keep trying to learn new things and expose yourself to new circumstances at a reasonable pace (one that keeps you healthy), you're doing as much as anyone should ask of you. In practice this is not the case, as those Pre-Med students will tell you. But the important part is the relentless part. As long as you keep trying, things will keep getting better.

Lastly– Star Trek makes my heart feel warm. Seriously, I learn so much from that show and from reading the books. Today I learned that peace conquers everything– even the Vulcan Psionic Resonator that killed people with aggresive thoughts and feelings. I also learned that it is hard to maintain professional boundaries with your spouse if you serve on the same ship. And that for emotional people it is really easy to project emotions when you're under stress. Yeah, that's about it.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

How I Lost My Blogging Virginity

It all began with a trip to Morris. Actually it began when I got back to STP from break and there were twenty-million things that I found out about my friends that were kind of shocking. Granted, sometimes they were about the summer and I have no real excuse for not knowing the summer drama. The reason most people (who I can't imagine stay in touch that much better than I do) know these things is either because they live in the cities or they blog about things and read blogs.

So I folded, and here I am. Actually this is exciting. Here's to keeping my commitment to blogging.

For the meat of my first post I will explain some Morris updates. Last night we got here and it was just starting to snow. Now it's like two feet of snow outside and 94 is closed. Needless to say Tasha and I are staying until Monday. Actually we wanted to go to a local place for breakfast and we walked 3 blocks in the blizzard only to see that it was closed- we should have known. It was frickin' cold. But we had a good night and we stayed up until 3 talking. Well, most of us did. I had only had 3 hours of sleep the night before (I stayed up until 5 knitting and got up at 8 to go tutor at Breakthrough). Today we napped most of the day after we made eggs and toast at 1 PM, and we just made some Chicken Shahi Korma for dinner along with a whole 2-lb bag of rice. So yummy! We've returned to the cuddle puddle where we stay warm in the blizzard and now I made a blog and it's pretty exciting.