airports, boundaries, and the three marks of existence

For me, a common source of alienation is the way travel gets romanticized. It’s not that something is wrong with other people for wanting to experience the world. It’s not that I haven’t had great experiences doing tourist stuff. It’s that I could really use some stability and lack of excitement, and it makes me come across as boring.  On OkCupid, I hesitate to message people who seem like they’ll want to drag me to the ends of the Earth.  It’s a lot of people.

These are my surface reasons for hating travel: I hate airport security, and I hate how the people near me in line don’t seem to hate it. I’ve read some Peter Singer, and I think the money spent on international vacations is better spent on helping people. I don’t get the feeling that people understand how energy-intensive air travel is. Planes are very heavy, and they go very fast, very far, and very high. You have to burn a lot of fuel to make that happen.

Those reasons are objective, but they don’t explain the depth of the feeling. This does.  Here is the sequences of houses I remember as home: a place in Fresno, 2 different apartments in Germany, 4 different houses from kindergarten through mid-4th grade in Washington, a temporary apartment in Sicily, followed by a few years in an apartment up the street. I returned to Washington in reverse culture shock, and things were relatively stable while I lived in the same house from 8th grade through graduation. I lived in 3 different dorms in college in Seattle, and spent a summer back at “home” with my parents, in the new house they’d moved to. I then lived in 3 apartments in LA (+1 month in Massachusetts), and I’m now in my 3rd apartment in the Bay Area. On average, I’ve moved every 1.5 years my entire life. I almost forgot about staying with my grandmother and aunt halfway across Germany from each other during school vacations.

Kindergarten through high school graduation involved 6 schools in 2 countries.

As a child, these moves weren’t fun or anything I had control over. My mom was very particular about the packing. To put it in perspective, my sister once sent me a link to this video of a Saturday Night Live skit called “The Anal-Retentive Chef.” It was nothing that intense, but there were a lot of Good Housekeeping magazines around. I wasn’t allowed to do my own laundry, and I didn’t help with chores because it was too stressful “doing everything wrong” and putting a dish away when it wasn’t bone dry or something. The problem with the packing was that my stuff would get packed in a way that only made sense to my mom, so items would be missing for long periods of time and get discovered in unexpected and illogical places.

Travel days started off stressful because of my dad’s military punctuality neurosis. He’d say we’re leaving at time X, and then freak out when we weren’t ready 20 minutes before that. My mom would be super tense (“Why are you taking it out on me?!” “Why not you?”).  X was definitely too early in the morning.

The airport meant I wasn’t going to be seeing somebody for years, or possibly ever again. I had friends in Germany I might see once every 2 years for 6 weeks. I didn’t see my siblings for years, since they were already grown by the time we moved to Italy. Later in life, the airport meant I wasn’t going to be seeing my long-distance girlfriend.

Then there was the time my grandmother died. I was in school in Seattle, 90 minutes from my parents. My mom had just been in Germany, knowing her mom was pretty old and in bad health. She’d stayed for some weeks, but came back to the US. I forgot how short the interval was, but it was soon thereafter that we got the call about my grandmother being in bad shape. I forget the exact sequence of events, but it came to pass that we found out that she’d died before my mom’s flight took off. We had them call her name out over the PA system, repeatedly, but she wasn’t paying attention. So she didn’t know her mom was already dead while she flew across the Atlantic.

When my dad died in Washington, my mom was in Germany and I was in LA. It was my long-distance ex-girlfriend who lived 90 minutes from him that called the police who opened the house up and found him.

My siblings live on the opposite end of the state, and my mother lives 2 states away. I’m always already (schon immer) “away.”

US military troop rotations had a determining impact on my upbringing. Also, my dad almost lost his job during the period surrounding the Germany –> WA and Sicily –> WA moves.

Running between gates all stressed out. The restraint stress of 9 hour flights. Pain in the ears from the air pressure changes, sad about some loss or another.

I’ll do everything in my power to avoid work-related travel, and in grad school I dreaded annual research conferences. Sometimes you’re just let down and want no surprises.

The three marks of existence, because of course. We pay lip service to appreciating the fragility of life, but usually don’t because it would mean changing, and in particular becoming emo:

Another way of saying it is that this upbringing makes you act like a desperate crazy person. I already knew that I do this, but I guess it’s “normal!” Emotional validation at last!

Why do TCKs do things so differently? There are several reasons, really. The greatest of them is the awareness that time is limited. We’ve lived so long in a world saturated with both expected and unexpected goodbyes that we enter each relationship anticipating that it could end at the drop of a hat—when circumstances, mission mandates, finances or the inherent transience of the international community rip us away from those we’ve loved.

We function as if there is no time—because so often, there isn’t! When we meet someone new, it’s as if an invisible timer has started a countdown. Quickly! Figure out who this person really is. Tell her about your greatest joys and sorrows and see if she knows what to do with them. Ask him about his struggles and emotions, and see if he’s willing to be vulnerable. Throw every “like” and “dislike” at the person you’ve just met and see where your points of interest intersect. Then decide (just as quickly) whether this person is capable of the depth you crave and worth the inevitable pain that will come when your proximity is suddenly ended.

It’s a lightning-fast vetting process that serves two important purposes: eliminating the tedious, long-winded “getting to know you” stage and diving headfirst into the kind of meaningful connection that feeds your soul.

It’s, like…intense for people? My dad’s job was talking about the feelings surrounding child molestation and wife beating. He did case manager stuff. Restraining orders and suchlike things. It put him in conflict with the military command, because they weren’t like “holy shit we must immediately punish child molesters.” He was inconveniencing them hardcore, depending on who couldn’t keep from being a mean drunk. My dad’s black and grew up in the Jim Crow south, so I developed a deep instinctive fear of angry white men in uniforms. He taught me well.

In one exchange, Furminger asked an unnamed officer if he should be worried that the husband of his wife’s friend, who was black, had visited his home, according to court filings.

“Get ur pocket gun. Keep it available in case the monkey returns to his roots. Its [sic] not against the law to put an animal down,” the officer advised.

Furminger replied: “Well said!”

“You may have to kill the half-breeds too,” the unnamed officer responded. “Don’t worry. Their [sic] an abomination of nature anyway.”

Note that I visit San Francisco and simple bad luck could’ve brought me to the attention of “unnamed officers.”  Ever been to  Keep in mind that these exact people have ever-expanding surveillance powers over me.  Yet every day there’s a new opinion poll showing how many white people think niggers just complain too much.  Cops in San Francisco want to kill the half-breeds, but we have a black president!

Oh, and there were 3 Holocaust victims on my mom’s side of the family (2 sterilized for epilepsy –> suicide, 1 Auschwitz survivor for being a Jehovah’s Witness). So I always feel vague guilt about my moral cowardice for not getting tortured to death for my beliefs or fighting the KKK. On a day-to-day basis, I find it extremely disturbing that the message “torture is good!” is the background of daily life. Veganism mostly annoys people, but it had to do with feeling like brain damaging rats made me the kind of person who could’ve murdered my great aunt. Wanting to study the neuroscience of hallucinogens seemed idealistic, and how that has led me astray…

There’s this sort of implicit assumption that caring about bunny rabbits is unmanly and difficult. It’s not obvious that I’ve killed more animals than most people, and I’m surely less squeamish about needles and blood than lots of tough bros who go to the gym and stuff. It’s like…I’ve killed animals and the way people get off on it creeps me the fuck out and makes me not feel comfortable around them at all. It’s like, “OMG you’re sadistic and I’m next! Something about me offends you and I just know it! Best not to draw attention to myself.”

This has not been an exhaustive list of my life-issues.

I understand that this blog post is like a suffocating black hole of all the most awful things in the world. See how true that chart is? It’s not my fault that my identity is defined by emotionally intolerable things and I want to seize the day and relate as humans instead of talking about mainstream entertainment with insidious social messages.

Society is organized around avoiding exactly the things that by chance ended up defining my identity.

The education system is also really bad, and there are tons of patriotic people actively working against including American history in American history. Something I honestly don’t know is how much the average person understands about the social context of my parents’ lives and my own upbringing.

Since we actively avoid discussing race, do people know what sharecropping even is, and why it meant my dad was functionally illiterate, which is why he pushed me so hard to be good at school, which simultaneously made him proud, resentful, and simply less able to understand me? The literacy problems caused job instability, since recordkeeping in social work is obviously important. I found an escape in reading things. To my parents’ credit, there were always issues of Time and Newsweek in the house, and my mom would leave the TV looping on Headline News. I come across as over-intellectual and pretentious, and maybe I am, but I don’t expect people to understand why right away.

It’s indisputable that the lessons of WWII have been forgotten. Things remind me of the 1930s, because the 1930s are important to my family history. What does “1930s Germany” evoke for everyone else? Right now, it’s American foreign policy to support ACTUAL NAZIS in Ukraine. The US voted in the UN not to condemn Nazism, JUST RECENTLY. People have no concept of this, which is an enormous disconnect. I live with a sort of preconscious panic that the Holocaust is about to happen. Partly that’s from the Jehovah’s Witness stuff. Partly from real life. We’re cool with torture and surveillance and persecuting minorities. It’s like…fuck. American culture, itself, is traumatizing. My family background, itself the result of American foreign policy, makes it traumatizing.

People mostly like America, in America.

We’re all complicit, including myself, and that’s part of the emotional complexity of life, and it’s unavoidable, and that’s part of what makes it truly awful. However, raising these issues makes people feel sad and guilty, which it should, but then I just become associated with unpleasantness. People find veganism threatening, in the same way. They have to think about their own (in this case avoidable) contribution to the worst things in the world. Of course, it’s also part of our humanity that we couldn’t help it.

I grew up with stories about what it was like at a time when my parents’ marriage wasn’t legal in all 50 states. I think this time is quickly being forgotten. The Washington Post actually had a think-piece about how kids these have no concept of why a bunch of old fuddy-duddies get offended by the word “nigger”:

But what is new is the growing acceptance and use of the word in different settings and among different groups. That growth has been fueled by the generation — more multicultural and tolerant than any before it — that came of age during the 1980s and 1990s, as the n-word exploded anew in popular culture.

But this generation has almost no personal connection to the civil rights struggle and doesn’t equate the word, at least not exclusively, with racism. Perhaps these Americans had parents or grandparents who felt strongly about the inappropriateness of the n-word, but they grew up themselves with a level of comfort with it, and wouldn’t be as stringent in raising their own children.

“I’m empathetic to the older generation because they lived it — [but] why are we still attaching ourselves to that word?” said Stallworth, the former NFL wide receiver. “Let it go. I’m not saying let the emotions go or let what happened [in the past] go, but that word – let it go. To me it’s a word of the past. I’m not downplaying the significance of it. But today, in 2014, it’s time for us to let go of the baggage that word comes with and just start looking at ourselves as a different type of people.

“Let evolution happen. Let pop culture take that word away to the ocean, and let anyone use it. . . . That word’s not meant for us anymore. ‘Nigga’ is a part of pop culture. It’s just a word, but it shouldn’t be chained to us, for lack of a better word. It shouldn’t be a part of who we are.”

I’ve seen 2 drunken white guys calling each other nigga at the skatepark, and I was just sort of silently horrified. It’s hard to relate to them. My mom was 39 when I was born, so my parents were actually as old as some of my classmates’ grandparents. Culturally, my parents were definitely a generation behind. I’m in “this generation” and I very much had a personal connection to the civil rights struggle. But it’s in the newspaper that my peers have no concept, or an abstract concept, of my dad’s type of life. This also has to do with feeling old from a young age.   Not to mention how disingenuous the whole premise is, since conservative white people try to ruin public education and also own the media.

To recap: basic things about my identity remind people of unpleasantness, and they also make me want to tell people all about that unpleasantness before the merciless passage of time separates us. This is also called having attachment issues or boundary problems or a personality disorder or something. Getting to know people feels like this:


“TCK” makes it sound like I’m the vanguard of something progressive, emblematic of the postmodern condition, ready to lead the world into global cooperation. Hahaha yeah right.

At the end of the day, it’s my honest belief that immersing yourself in the world’s awfulness can be a psychologically beneficial form of corpse meditation. We pay lip service to the way death increases a person’s appreciation for life, but we’re very uncomfortable with anyone who takes it seriously.

PHUKET, Thailand — The grim task of cremating thousands of tsunami victims has fallen to Thailand’s saffron-robed monks, whose training requires them to stare at photos of decomposing bodies to better understand the transitory nature of life…

The macabre photographs, which many monks keep among their personal possessions, are publicly sold in religious shops throughout Thailand. They include news photos of people killed in accidents, suicides and fires, as well as pictures of corpses being dissected during autopsies.

Some photos show the grisly progression of decomposition of the human body.

The purpose of this traditional form of meditation is “simply to hold in your mind, very clearly, that when you look at a [living] person, you’re seeing only the external aspect of that physical person.”

“We just sort of live in denial of the fact that we have all these organs and bones and liquids and fluids,” Siripanyo Bhikkhu said.

“We are obsessed with the externals. No one wants to see the internals. But we try to see them in an equal light, neither delighting nor being repelled by the attractive or the unattractive signs of the external or the internal,” he said.

“It is very common with us to have [corpse meditation] pictures with us, to use them, or just to have in your hut, or have with you when you are eating, or just to look at and to contemplate,” he said.

“It sounds incredibly gruesome and almost bizarre. But it is totally, totally normal and understood in Thailand,” continued the monk, who sat cross-legged on the grass at Phuket City Hall, which has become a disaster-relief center.

“That’s what monasteries are for: They remind us of the true nature of life, which is this impermanence and transitory nature.”

Just because other people live in denial of things I can’t avoid, doesn’t mean I’m too negative. The “positive” people who tell you not to read the news because you’ll be happier are insidious, because they’re telling you not to acknowledge the suffering of other people, which is why the world sucks.