I’m riding a train this morning to work. Not the subway but an actual train from Philadelphia to NYC. It brings back potent nostalgia for Barcelona.
When I was a teacher I would take a regional train from BCN to Molins del Rei. I didn’t mind the commute, in fact I got excited every time I got on the train. I got excited because I was SO new that I could feel myself getting better every class I taught.
I also loved the small amount of money. I can’t remember but I think it was about €60. I got paid daily, in cash. The day that it was enough to cover rent that month, felt like such an accomplishment: one more month I could make it as an immigrant.
In the United States right now that can be a heavy word, immigrant, but to clarify my circumstance: I moved to Barcelona with two suitcases of clothes, a good amount of savings and a plan to support myself teaching English. I used my savings, taught English, but was unable to secure a visa. So, being undocumented really limited my travel. I couldn’t hop around Europe as I hoped, but Catalunya was enough for me. I also couldn’t go back to the USA until I was comfortable with the possibility I’d be barred from coming back to my new home in Barcelona.
When I filled my envelope under the mattress markered with RENT, the rest was mine. Each day I went to work was another 40 to 60 euros for cheap beer, jamón serrano, galletas Principe, wine, subway tickets, pay-as-you-go cell phone “top ups.” They had ATM style kiosks around shopping centers where you type in your phone number, insert the cash, and then your available balance on the phone gets updated. Wow.
So, each time I got on a train I would look out the window and soak up the sequence of quotidian landscapes. I didn’t know how long I would be there. Each day was an exciting step and I just wanted to keep going.
I can’t help comparing this feeling to present day. Now I ride a train and feel that nostalgia, but rarely look forward to work. Maybe it’s because I don’t have the daily reward and the Pavlovian effect has worn off. I definitely need work to pay the bills, but it’s no longer a day-to-day survival. I also don’t feel that daily progression that I did with being a new teacher. Now I work with a big company that only dares take incremental steps toward some undefined goal of “generate more money/customers.” Most employees aren’t needed for a specific day like a teacher is required each day for a class to happen. My work is spread out over the course of weeks, months, and then I don’t see a final result sometimes for a year.
There isn’t an inherent negative to taking the long view. In fact sometimes it is most valuable. [The Long Now Foundation] I also recall feeling a little lost in Barcelona, taking life in little pieces, with no idea how they added up to a big piece or what the next big piece should be. I’m sitting here on the train again, no longer at a loss for the big pieces, but missing the delight of the little ones.
Perhaps writing is one way to get them. Actually writing this very message feels like mixing the pallet of big and little, but to get meta about it, the act of writing is small in itself. I like that.
I don’t necessarily agree with everything said in the following, but I stumbled upon this question in Quora, which was by pure chance that I didn’t instantly delete the newsletter from my email, and found it refreshingly plain, yet (mostly) accurate. My reservations are on the part of social performance and skills of entertaining – i.e. playing the guitar – but I get the main idea. I suppose some of these aren’t interesting to me, but they would apply to someone far more successful than I. Either way… just sharing:
Q: What can I start doing now that will help me a lot in about five years?
I will appreciate any suggestion. You might want to know that I’m 23 years old and currently a physics student with large desire for progress, not only in my profession but also in all aspects of life.
A: Want to see your personal stock double or more in five years? Here’s the prescription.
We are all evaluated and judged in social and work settings all the time and usually in a brief instant. We are not judged on education. We are not judged on grades. We are not judged on IQ.
We are judged on skills, pretty much solely. People prefer the company of those who are physically handy and socially adept. Competence counts. In fact, people with high IQ or lots of schooling but low skill levels can be judged quite negatively.
Can you change a flat tire or swap out a dead car battery?
Can you pick up a guitar and entertain a room?
Are you handy at crafts?
Even more important are the social skills, particularly…
Are you an excellent listener?
Can you instantly make people at ease in your presence?
Can you control the atmosphere in a room, making it light or serious as appropriate?
Do you have moral courage? Are you willing to say and do the necessary in any circumstance rather than shrink back?
Other social skills are important…
Can you speak from the heart?
Are you free from glib, gratuitous, offensive and non-productive remarks?
Can you compete when necessary, collaborate when necessary?
The social graces are also important…
Can you dance? play the piano? sing? tell rousing stories? etc.
There are bonus points for gender cross-over skills. When a woman can…
Use common tools competently.
Not shrink in the company of males.
Roll up her sleeves and do hard physical work when necessary.
Or a man can…
Comfort an upset child.
Cook, sew, do laundry.
Feel at home in the company of women.
Such cross-over skills indicate androgyny, or high skills across the masculine and feminine range. The highest slots in society are usually home to the androgynous.
Figure out the skills you’d like to possess. Take classes. Read books. Practice every day. Push yourself. Build on your strengths and eliminate your weaknesses. It’s fun, a great way to make friends, and your stock will rise quickly.
Don’t worry, just for a little bit… only while I have to!
For the record, I generally hate politics and think of it as a system incongruent with our ideals, but almost entirely unresponsive in practice. I feel entirely ineffective as a citizen, and this entire post is most likely going to be useless, but when something has a great enough emotional weight it will move anyone to try what they believe to be impossible.
Net Neutrality = The Internet as you probably think of it right now
It’s important to me to feel that I will always have full access to any corner of the internet. I also don’t like bills, but that’s another story.
What, in broad strokes, the FCC and Internet Service Providers (ISP) are doing:
Chopping up the internet website by website, based on demand
i.e. Netflix > Yahoo
Popular sites become an extra commodity – even if you pay for the service itself
i.e. Buying a cable sports/movie “package” for TV
Less popular sites, like this one that actually provide a voice for people, will trickle in at much slower speeds.
Don’t forget that “popular” is now decided by your provider (Comcast, Verizon, etc) and American politics shows that those with more money are also closer to politics. So, despite sounding like a conspiracy theory, a risk of complete or partial (slow/reduced access) censorship is very real. China has been doing this for years. It’s called the Great Firewall of China by the outside world. Google it while you can.
I’m not suggesting that my site is important – by any means – but the lack of hierarchy, the freedom of choice, the delight of discovery, whatever you want to call it, is dependent on a blind or neutral connection to all of the websites in the world: Net Neutrality.
We have lost this battle. The United States does not legally require your service providers to be neutral with regards to the internet content they serve you. To finish off the saying… we haven’t lost the war.
I’ve been taking pictures of interesting doors lately, but haven’t shared them. That’s probably because I doubt many (any) will find it them interesting as I do, but I get excited to see someone take a mundane form and exercise their creativity.