Losing my Ambition

Maybe its a function of growing older, of being a late bloomer, or of simply being American, but I often find myself questioning whether what I have is enough: professionally, socially, gastronomically…

It's good to be the King.

I spent much of my latter college years questioning the upward mobility always need more tendencies in American culture and expectations. I went to college for the same reasons as most of my colleagues had: it was the logical next step, it seemed like it would be fun, and also the important thing to do in order to succeed in life. But I also had a love for learning (I really did), and a passion for music, and an optimism that could make flat pop bubbly again. I didn't lose those things (completely) during my four years of college, but I also didn't finish my degree “ready” for employment, or really much “ready” for real life. I suppose there isn't much that can prepare you for “real” life, apart from living it, but I think I was surprised at how NOT ready I felt. So I fell out of my career path for a while and chose another more blatantly “pious” one–the pious are still surprisingly ambitious, or at least I was.

But I digress…I think many of my questions/frustrations about ambition and upward mobility are culturally driven, and possibly cross culturally driven as well. Yes, Brasil has a slower moving culture, and many people where I live value family much more highly than any career path, and yes the United States is near the opposite, where we often move across the country for better jobs, and can't help but try to find the BEST of everything: be it toothpaste, toilet paper, or televisions (yes, I meant to be alliterative here). But I'm not satisfied with this answer yet.

 

Is there a point that we reach when we realize that UP and DOWN are not the only ways to move? What does sideways look like? Diagonal? Parabolic? I seriously don't know which is happening in my life now, but between kids, professional mediocrity, personal vacancy, artistic spasms, and consumeristic daydreams, I hope that in the end, I make something pretty.

A Pretty Cow Fractal

 

A Race-y bit

Just read an article that got me thinking about race…well, actually I had been thinking about it recently anyway. We often watch movies together as a family–sometimes more recent ones, and sometimes movies that I or my wife grew up with. Netflix has expanded some of their Musical offerings, and I just can’t help but get excited about showing these to my kids. Emblazoned in my memory are extremely happy moments where I was either enjoying, re-enacting, rehearsing, performing, or listening to many of the masterpieces of American musical theater.

Yes, I very often do “feel a song coming on…”

Our last movie night the musical offering was “Oliver!” and I had a wonderful time sharing “Who will buy?” and “Oom Pah-Pah” with the kids. But one thing REALLY surprised me: I had never noticed the strong Jewish stereotypes in the character Fagin–he is dressed like a raggid Hasidic, secretly rich from thievery, and always singing in suspiciously placed augmented intervals (oh that darn augmented second, just so…Jewish?). After a little “wiki”-research, I found that Dickens’ original novel has often been condemned for the overt anti-semitism portrayed through Fagin’s character, and that Lionel Bart’s intention was to lesson that effect by making the character more of a loveable theif rather than an outright villain. But I’m not sure what’s worse: suspiciously copious augmented seconds or straightforward semitic stereotyping.

I ask the same question a lot here in Brasil. When I first arrived, I could see that the colors of this society were much more integrated, and there is definitely a different racial “feel” here because the history of slavery, while still prevalent, did not leave such an indellible mark on society (but don’t worry, there are recent dictatorships and rampant corruption to fill that void). Instead, class differences linger, and divide, and in many ways, continue to drive Brasilian society. Under the surface, racial tensions aren’t that much different here than they are in the United States; while there is racial integration in all levels of society, it’s still a pretty safe rule that the darker the skin gets, the poorer the population becomes.

And amidst all this, what IS a parent to say? The issues (if not the solutions) are obvious to me, and I am always tempted to make them clear to my kids as well. So, what did I say about the movie? I think I first remarked out loud how interesting all the stereotypical Jewish references were, and then I told the kids (who were already tired from a 2 1/2 hour movie) that sometimes people like to have an over-simplistic version of certain groups of people because they feel it is funny, or at least easier to understand. “What is over-simplistic, Dad?” Well, I tried.

 

I really hope this isn’t catching…

As I have said here before, living in any foreign country is no easy task, and usually there are many moments of each day that I am reminded of the difficulty.

I regularly have the opportunity to explain Brazilian laws to other Brazilians: they always appreciate this, and while they usually respond with a raised voice and claim that I am wrong to think that a crosswalk would be for pedestrians, I usually find I can yell louder.

This tendency to find ways around the law can be “cute” sometimes, other times frustrating, and other times horrifying. Last night, a large truck carrying steel rods overturned on a road near where I live, killing at least three people, possibly more. By law, that truck was not allowed to be driving on that road. Not such a “cute” cultural tendency when it turns out this way.

There are a number of things that happen in daily life here that cause me to pause, to reflect, to pray, to yell my head off. And then there are the things that happen that make me think: My God, we have GOT to get out of here!!!!!! RUN FOR YOUR LIVES!!!!! well. I can be a bit dramatic sometimes.

A good friend of mine visited recently (he is Brazilian) and we had some time to just sit and chat. We talked much of the things we love here, of life, of faith, and some, yes, of our concerns for this growing giant, Brazil. He too has noticed many of the things that concern me (he lived outside of Brazil for 5 years from which he gained a certain amount of perspective), and for me it was enlightening and confirming to share my thoughts with a native. I believe that cultures (just as people) have fantastic, wonderful, and one could even say, “holy” elements–characteristics that enable them to rise above pain, to create beauty, to foster love, to harmonize people. The opposite is also true: cultures have sins, diseases that fester and threaten to break them down, to limit their ability to grow economically, spiritually, creatively. I realized many of these cultural truths while living in the US, and they are becoming clearer and clearer to me here in Brazil as well (some I have already shared here). But recently I have considered some of these malodorous elements of Brazilian culture and I have wondered, or worried: are they catching? contagious? I do not remember much envy in my thoughts before living here (judgement, yes, but not so much envy), but now I find it creeping into my thoughts, my decisions, my desires. I would never before have considered the possibility of just “parking wherever I want” no matter the consequences for others or the law, and yet many times I find myself making choices while driving that show no regard for my fellow citizens or for the law.

And maybe that’s why some days I find that I’m so tired. It’s like my mind and spirit and soul are fighting off a cancer, and that can be hard work. Constantly sifting through the elements of my day, searching for what can be kept, discarding what may be harmful, adapting my character, my ideas. Gruelling work, revealing my ugliness, my holiness–yes, sometimes I yell, but I’m finding other things surfacing under that rage, pushing their way to the surface for air: sorrow, and hope.

A good friend just returned, and I’m so happy to have him back in town. I picked him up last night, and he remarked about how much my driving had changed. “Dude, you drive like a Brazilian now! Hahahaha!” Yes, I said, BUT I do one thing different. I stop for pedestrians.