let's start out with an old essay/combination of emails that i wrote a few months back, at the end of my placement in tarija, bolivia with CARE and Esperanza/Bolivia.
This first excerpt is from an email to a friend who had lauded me for spending my summer doing what I’ve been doing. She herself is planning on a career in something that could be construed as service work, though she’s had very little direct experience in the field, especially outside of
This last one is certainly the angriest (again, sorry for the profanity). Beyond being frustrated with my placement (I was getting bored, and this is just before I made plans to start working with Esperanza/Bolivia), I was also frustrated about the situation in the Middle East (which directly affected someone very close to me) and a conversation I had had with a Peace Corps volunteer a day or two before. Basically, he seemed like a good guy (as I’m going to assume that most people who would donate two years of their life to service work in a developing country must be), but I was a little turned off by the inflexibility of his goals here. In addition to his normal project (beekeeping, basically), he wanted to teach rural adults (in a community that I’ve been to frequently) basic literacy in Spanish. Basically, as soon as he offered that, they told him no, they didn’t want to learn to read and write in Spanish (in my opinion, that community anyways is by far one of the more literate that I’ve seen), but they would like him to teach them English. Which I don’t think he took very well. Anyways, this little encounter really drove home the point that its not nearly enough to just have good intentions, you also have to somehow know what is best, and this idea of what is best must be agreeable to everyone involved. Or, to put it more simply, you can make some serious mistakes even with the best of intentions. So anyways, all of this, plus everything else I’ve seen and felt and done this summer made me seriously question (and I’m still questioning) what it is I really want to do with my life. For the past few years, I’ve been convinced it had to be something non-profit, for the common good and all that, that I couldn’t understand the people who just want to work to make money. Now, it’s not that I’m becoming more desirous of a comfortable life in the suburbs somewhere, but I’m certainly feeling a certain urge to run away from it all. OK, I think that went a little beyond context, since I explain most of that in this part, but here you go:
sorry for all the cynicism. i wrote jennie an email a week or so back, and she wrote back that she was really surprised by my writing style, because it didn't have a hint of any of the normal "patrick-cynicism". not a great way to be labeled, but i guess if the shoe fits. i think i'm more or less at the point where you were just after getting back. i'm so fucking angry and frustrated after seeing just a small, small view of how completely fucked up this world is, and my head hurts from banging it up against the wall and not getting anything changed for what i think is the better. it's too complex for me to totally understand, even after (what will still hopefully, i think, be) a lifetime of trying to figure it out, and as i start unwinding the threads, they just tangle themselves at the other end. i guess that's what "development" work is. the eternal firefighters, running from one blaze to the next, but always secretly fearing that the fires will finally go out, because then what will we have to worklivegetpaid for? a guy today was talking about something he saw on the internet, about how in 70 years there will literally be wars (as if there aren't already) over water. the destruction of the environment is progressing at a ridiculous rate, and what are we doing? my parent's generation is busy trying to get the last few drops of resources out before it's all run out. a few people just younger than them seem to be doing their best to help the people who have been ruined by the ruined environment, but knowinglyunknowingly placing greater burdens on them to preserve the few wild places left than were ever placed or are currently placed on the people bent on destroying those places (care, im looking at you), while the rest of the generation does their best to not see. and then there's us. it's our turn and i can't think of anything better to do, i'm ready to go back to atlanta and open a hookah bar with you and stick my head back in the sand where it belongs. my parents say often "we're so sorry for the world that we've left you and your children" and quite honestly, the best i can think of right now is to pass the buck. things aren't going to be better for my children, and certainly not for my grandchildren, in fact, they're almost guaranteed to be infinitely worse. i'm going to end up another old fart sitting around, dying of some sort of cancer (at least with smoking i can choose which type, with pesticides and petrochemicals i can't even hold on to that bit of agency), musing about how much better things were back in the good old 2020's and apologizing to my grandchildren about the shit that i've passed on to them. god, i hate it when people start things with "before, it was [like this, different somehow]". i've gotten into what i think is the good habit of always asking "before what?". here, the question is usually more pointed, being "before the arrival of the spanish? before the arrival of the incas? before independence? before the tin market crash?". still, even with such pointed questions, people can't usually answer. in fact, i don't ever remember getting some sort of satisfactory (for my curiosity) answer.
gargh, i don't know, everything is just too complex. life is really overwhelming, if you think about it. i mean, first you've got to eat, but make sure that everything that you're putting into your body is a) something it needs and b) something that's not carrying something that's going to hurt you. then you need to worry about expelling everything you take in, either as waste or energy or whatever. then you need to worry about keeping your outside, and limited parts of your inside, as close to sterile as possible, so as to make sure that what you don't choose to put in your body doesn't somehow get in anyways. then you need to find a place to sleep, and in more general terms just places to live, which aren't going to negatively affect the fine balance that you've constructed with all your selective intake/output. after all that is satisfied (or perhaps before), you're expected somehow "contribute to society" in a way which will merit society giving you these silly little slips of paper that tell the people in the grocery store and the pharmacy and the gas station and the apartment complex that you have been deemed fit to possess all these things that are necessary for your body. and simultaneously you're expected to actually be a part of the society that you're supposedly contributing to, but first you need to define what this "society" is that i'm talking about, it's limits and limitations, and then you need to go about locating yourself in this made up, bounded entity (or perhaps better: this entity with made-up boundaries). and then there are some of us that are stupid enough to think that we can somehow keep all these flaming, screeching llamas flying in the air above our heads while we reach for the flaming, screeching llamas of other people's necessities, trying to lighten their load because, for one reason or another, we have decided two very arbitrary things: first off, that these people are either incapable or unfit to juggle their own flaming, screeching llamas. and second, that for some reason we are. so then on top of all of that, first of all i've (now this is back to being a self-centered email) got to figure out why i've made these two arbitrary decisions, but i've also got to somehow decide for these people, whose flaming, screeching llamas are whirling over my head, the best way that these people's flaming, screeching llamas should be whirling. in this decision over the whirling, i'm supposed to balance something between what my desires and ideas are for the proper whirling of flaming, screeching llamas and whatever i can find out (and thus try to understand, but always wondering if it's really for my own purposes) about these other people's flaming, screeching llama whirling preferences. how do i weight whirling preferences? is one necessarily better, eclipsing the other, or do i need to find some middle ground, which would then be based on both my always faulty understanding and my equally (or perhaps more, but probably not less) faulty judgment of the merits of both sets of preferences? and then as if that weren't enough, i need to worry about the juggling of other people of other flaming, screeching llamas, because the way they make their llamas whirl might cause them to crash into mine, or vice versa, and if i really care about the flaming, screeching llamas of one set of people, shouldn't i care about the flaming, screeching llamas of all sets of people? or is ok to bound my concern for the juggling of flaming, screeching llamas? does the exclusion of one set of concerns based on supposedly pragmatic grounds call into question my concern for all others? does it even really matter, since these concerns have already been called into question in other steps in the process? all i can really say that is some days it seems like a really ridiculously huge burden to just have to wash my clothes, or brush my teeth, or eat or poop, knowing that i'm just going to have to do it all over again the day after that and the day after that and the day after that, and so on and so forth and forever and ever amen. why can't i just get all my sleep out of the way right now, sleep for 20 years straight, then get up and live last 40 or so years of my life without having to worry about it? it would thrill me just to eat one big meal that will keep me for the next few weeks, let alone the next few years or decades. it's enough to want to stick my head in the sand while i start up some useless cafe or company or whatever that serves clientele that could be just as well served at the cafe a few blocks down the street. but hey, at least i could sleep at night, rather than staying up all night writing stupid, desperate, crazy, barely intelligible emails to my best friend. and even now i know that i'm not being fair to people who are in no way hiding from the world by running a cafe, but really they're just following a dream, a calling, a lifegoal, however you want to define any of those things.
self-knowledge is a bitch, even severely limited self-knowledge like mine, if it even merits that label. so i guess the best thing i can do now is just to put my head down, not quite in the sand but certainly at least enough to keep the wind and burning sun out, and just head right on. yeah, i'm still planning on going to public health school, in fact, i've got something of a 5-year plan worked out. the problem is that i can't decide if i'm doing this because i really think it's the best thing for me to be doing (or for that matter, if i even care anymore) or if it's really just a lack of imagination on my part, an inability to imagine myself on a different track. yeah, i know stuff never goes as planned, and the some of the best trips i've taken have been approached with a complete lack of expectations, but i've got to have something to fix my sight on, mostly because i'm worried that without some sort of fixed point, i'll end up going knowinglyunknowinglyuncaringlyevenhappily in circles.