How do you measure a year in the life?

Last Sunday (8/26) I managed to roll out of my bed after a lazy afternoon, lace up my shoes, and despite a dull throb in my head that screamed to me: ‘don’t do it,’ I set off on Starkweather St and began running. For me in any given run, the first mile is always the hardest to predict. It can be the mile that makes or breaks my attitude and spirit. Some days the first mile is a simple task and before I know it I’m on mile 2, and yet on other days my beleagured breath can leave my heart beating fast, throat aching and sweat dripping from my forehead. Sunday’s first mile felt like the latter of these, and by the end of mile two I wasn’t faring much bettering.

I had initially planned to run 3 or 4 miles depending on how I felt at the halfway point. My apartment is situated in such a location that I can always turn back at mile 2, take a brief shortcut, and end up at just over 5k total. But on Sunday I hit 2 miles and I had resolved that I should at least do 3 out and 3 back. By the time I reached 3 out I had resolved to do 3.5, and by 3.5 the target was 4. It went like this for 6 miles, at which point I had realized I could loop around Ann Arbor Rd. and end up with an even 10 miles, and from there the logical leap to 13.1 miles wasn’t very far.

So why is this significant? In and of itself it is not a remarkable feat (I’ve run over 13 miles in my life probably 15 times). What is significant is that on Sunday I ran for about 2 hours 20 minutes and it gave me a lot of time to reflect.

The week of August 26th will always be a significant and life-changing week for me… For it was on August 26th, 2008 that I spent my last day in the United States before I traveled to Japan for a year abroad. It was on August 23rd, 2010 that I arrived in Henan, China. And it was on August 26th, 2011 that I received a job offer from NCI Mfg. Inc. to join as an Industrial Sales Representative.

Today, Tuesday, September 4th, is my one year anniversary of reporting for work as a full-time, salaried employee. So how do we measure a year, really?

Recently, one of my favorite radio personalities and sharp-witted humorists passed away. For the better part of my life, I’ve listened to David Rakoff on This American Life as he narrated clever rhymes, gave life-changing insight into the nature of humanity, and occasionally offered scathing criticisms of ‘popular’ culture. David Rakoff didn’t always have the best sense of what would be popular, and he often made himself the alien in our modern culture. Upon his passing, This American Life did a brief retrospective of David and took the time to play a piece I hadn’t heard before– David’s take on the hit Broadway musical “Rent.” Here is his take, in full:

David Rakoff

There are 525,600 minutes in a year.

I learned that from watching Rent.

From watching Rent, I also learned that the best way to mark the passing of these 525,600 minutes would be to measure them out into something Jonathan Larson, the writer of the musical, called seasons of love. What does that even mean, seasons of love? In Rent, the characters live out their seasons of love in huge lofts. Some of them have AIDS, which is, coincidentally, also the name of the dreaded global pandemic that is still raging and has killed millions of people worldwide. In Rent, however, AIDS seems to be a disease that renders one cuter and cuter.

The characters are artists, creative types. They have tattered a million clothes. Some of them are homosexual, and the ones who aren’t homosexual don’t even seem to mind. They screen their calls, and when it is their parents, they roll their eyes. They hate their parents. They’re never going back to Larchmont, no way. They will stay here, living in their 2,000 square feet of picturesque poverty, being sexually free and creative.

Here’s some ways to broadcast creativity in a movie. Start plinking out a tune on a piano, scratch a few notes on some music paper, plink some more, suddenly crash both hands down on the keyboard then bring them quickly up to your head and grab the hair at your temples, screaming, “It won’t work!” Or sit at a typewriter, reading the page you’ve just written, realize that it’s shit, and tear it from the platen and toss it behind you. Cut to waste paper basket overflowing with crumpled paper.

Here’s what they do in Rent to show that they are creative– nothing! They do nothing!

They hang out. And hanging out can be marvelous, but hanging out does not make you an artist. A secondhand wardrobe does not make you an artist. Neither do a hair trigger temper, melancholic nature, propensity for tears, hating your parents, nor even HIV. I hate to say it. None of these can make you an artist. They can help. But just as being gay does not make one witty, you can suck a mile of cock– it does not make you Oscar Wilde. Believe me, I know.

I’ve tried.

The only thing that makes you an artist is making art, and that takes the opposite of hanging out. So when they sing the anthem of the show, that’s a lie, really. Every song in the show is an anthem delivered with adolescent earnestness. It’s like being trapped in the pages of a teenager’s diary. So when they think the title anthem of the show, “We’re Not Going to Pay This Year’s Rent,” followed by a kind of barked cheer of “rent, rent, rent, rent, rent, rent, rent,” my only question is, well, why aren’t you going to pay this year’s rent?

It seems that they’re not going to pay this year’s rent, because rent is for losers and non-creative types. Rent is for suits. By contrast, they are the last bastion of artistic purity. They have not sold out. And yet their brilliance goes unacknowledged, so fuck you, yuppie scum.

I know what it’s like to feel angry and ignored. I lived in Brooklyn a long time ago about a block away from a prison. During the day, the neighborhood bustled with lawyers, judges, criminals, bail bondsman, private detectives. I lived on a block in a little two-story building that once been a couch house in the 19th century. And the basement had a red dirt floor. On the ground floor below me was an office that did– what, exactly, resumes? I can’t remember.

What I do remember is the man whose office it was. Raul was knee-bucklingly handsome. If my life had been different, like– I don’t know– if I were a hot girl with a driver’s license, I could have put on a tube top and gone outside to wash my car in slow motion or something. But, alas.

Once during the day– it must’ve been the weekend, because I was at home– I could hear Raul having sex in the office downstairs. I skittered around my apartment like a cockroach on a frying pan trying not to make any noise while desperately looking for a knot hole in the crappy floorboards. Eventually, I just lay down flat against the tile of the kitchen floor, listening.

Lying flat against the tile of my kitchen floor, listening to someone else have sex is essentially my 20s in a nutshell. I was robbed in that neighborhood twice. And there were days when it hardly seemed worth it to live in a horrible part of town just so that I could go daily to a stupid, soul-crushing, low-paying job, especially since, as deeply as I yearned to be creative, for years and years I was too scared to even try. So I did nothing. But here’s something that I did do. I paid my fucking rent.

Anyway, how do you measure a year?… Well, here are a few metrics to consider:

  • Minutes: 525,600
  • Hours Worked: ~2100
  • Flight Miles: 45,000 miles (95% since January 1)
  • Amount Expensed to Company: $20,700
  • Miles Run: 250 (averaging more than 1 mile/day!)
  • Miles Biked: 80
  • Number of First Dates: ~35-40 (Estimate)
  • Number of Dates that Progressed to Relationships: 1
  • Locations Lived: 3
  • Number of Roommates: 6
  • Rent Paid: $5340
  • Student Loans Paid Off: 2 (of 2)
  • New Credit Cards: 2
  • New (used) Cars: 1
  • Visits to Ohio: 8
  • Visits to Japan: 1
  • Visits to China: 0 (Thank the FSM!)
  • Kaifeng Reunions: 3 (including at least myself and one other foreign teacher)

So are these metrics very useful? Maybe not. What I know is that right now I’m on top of the world. Things aren’t the most secure that they’ve ever been, but currently I’ve got the best relationship I’ve had at any point in the past 5 years, I’m in the best financial situation I could’ve hoped for, I’m in the best shape of my adult life, and I have a more positive outlook than I’ve possibly ever had about my future.

When I think back to the decision I made a year ago, I still question if it was right or wrong. I’m a year older, a little grayer, and probably loads less wise…

But I guess if I had to do it all again I would.

In a heartbeat.

And mostly for one reason: That decision has lead me to be the person I am today– and it’s a person I like.

(As a final note, this is my favorite (stereotypical) Robert Frost poem. Perhaps it is inappropriate because maybe I didn’t take the actual One Less Traveled– in fact, maybe I took the easier route. This is an argument I’ve had with myself time and time again, but ultimately in my mind (and in conjunction with my moral preconceptions of the affair) I certainly feel I chose the One Less Traveled. And that has made all the difference)

The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

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I got a job.

It’s not the best job in the world, but it’s a job. It’s a job in an economy that is lacking. It’s a job that will allow me to finally settle down in one area for an extended period of time. To make new friends, fall in love with the world around me, and learn more about myself.

I got a job. I’ve been working there for just over a month and the responsibility is already overwhelming. My boss is excellent. A teamplayer of the highest caliber with all the professionalism, humility, and politeness one might expect from the Japanese. His ability to take my opinions into serious consideration despite the knowledge and experience gap that I have is astounding. I respect him.

I got a job. But funny things happen every day at work. Really ridiculous office hijinks that television comedies like The Office have parodied. I’ll blog about it sometimes, but I don’t know if you’ll enjoy it. Primarily it’s for my own enjoyment and rememberance. This is a transition.

I got a job. I left China behind 3 months ago, and as the time has passed so have I come to grips with that experience. The bitterness of those days has begun to fade, and although I will never admit to having had a good time in China, I will admit to missing the freedom and sense of adventure that I was afforded for a year. I will admit that I made some great friends and connections.

I got a job. When it comes down to it, from August 2010 to July 2011 I didn’t grow much professionally. I have felt, and still feel, that China did not push us to exceed expectations. Primarily because we lacked any set of expectations. Perhaps a stronger person than I could have succeeded at this task. Perhaps Ben Gutscher did that. Perhaps China just wasn’t my cup of tea. Wasn’t my bag. Didn’t suit my tastes. Felt too stagnant.

Live and learn. Make mistakes and grow. Struggle and fight. Go home, or go out. But do something. Always do something.

Occupy Wall Street. Participate in NoBankNovember. Develop a revolutionary MP3 player. Write a bucket list, burn the list, and write it again. Read a book. Learn an instrument. Invest in yourself. Love yourself. Love who you are. Find love and compassion outside of yourself. Love others. Smell the flowers. Do whatever makes you happy. Go and live. Stop and die. Your choice.

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50/50 – 外国人!(Foreigners)

How many times have we heard the shrill voice of a Chinese child call out in glee (or sometime fear) “外国人!”

What started as five people from two different schools eventually narrowed to a group of three. I apologize to Ben for leaving him out of this post. Ben was great, and helped me so much during the year, but when it comes down to it we didn’t spend nearly the amount of time together that Josh, Marlie and I did.

Marlie and Josh were always up for a good time, whether it was a ridiculous walk to the Kaifeng coal-fire plant, a night of watching 10 year old Survivor episodes, sitting back and drinking beer while watching the 14 year old Superman cartoon, or just getting into some other ridiculous shenanigans.

I will miss you both incredibly much. I wish you the greatest success in your future endeavors and I hope that our paths cross again in the future. Take care, and good luck.

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49/50 – Mr. Hou Jian

In my mind, there are no words to really describe Mr. Hou (pronounced ‘hoe). He has been my teaching assistant for the past year and has been a continuous source of interest. He generally arrives at my apartment unannounced, asks me to proofread a paper for a translation contest, asks me some abstract questions about philosophy, and then disappears for another month.

Mr. Hou has a good heart, and in his own way he’s managed to accomplish quite a lot for me. Although I often wish that he’d do things in a more ‘American’ way, I think I’m close enough to the end of this experience to reflect back and see that this is, in fact, just another problem I have with China.

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48/50 – Frisbee

Every Thursday and Sunday for the past year a core group of students have been getting together to play the wonderful game of Ultimate Frisbee. The students that participate are mostly from the Sophomore reading classes I’ve mentioned before, but we have a few students from Freshman and Junior classes as well.

Although I ended up teaching a lot more this semester outside of the university and I was unable to attend most of the games, I will always fondly remember the many hours spent on the field.

Many of the core group of players now thinks of Sunday frisbee as tradition. They told us last week that it had become unimaginable to sit inside and study on a nice Sunday afternoon. I will miss our little league.

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47/50 – 三轮车 (Three-Wheeled-Carts)

One might optimistically label these vehicles as deathtraps. If you look back at my video on driving rules in China you will see that nobody follows any sort of transportation rules when they take to the road, and these 3-wheeled carts are the worst offenders. Still, they have been a quick and easy means to get about. They’ve been frightening and entertaining over the past year, but as I enter my last two days in China I am relatively sure that I will not be going anywhere near them again.


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46/50 – South Gate Restaurants

Just outside of the South gate of Henan University there area  variety of small, family owned restaurants. The South gate restaurants have always been our main source of food, serving us many quick dishes of potatoes on rice, kung pao chicken (not for me), greenies and mushrooms, and many, many more. Josh and I are pictured above at one such restaurant known as ‘Troll Neighbor.’ We named Troll Neighbor such because directly next door there is a restaurant where a very large, loud, and rude Chinese man lives. We named him Trollman, and thus the restaurant next door became Troll Neighbor.

Troll Neighbor is full of spunk and always happening in a far out way. She and her husband are pictured below, along with Josh, Marlie, and myself.

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