I’ve been collecting all of my writing from other sources onto this one blog, so today here’s an old post from Florida’s Myakka State Park. 

Today we headed over to Myakka State Park, “the real Florida.”  If you’re ever in the area, I highly recomennd stopping by.  At $5 a car, it is what my Cope calls “a good take”.  My family loves outdoors things, being tourists, and educational stuff.  State and National Parks are the intersection of these, and thus we have been to an inordinate number of them.  They have little passports where you get stamps at all the state parks around the country, and we are frighteningly close to filling it up.  

We sort of stumbled upon the airboat ride, which was goofy but fun.  Afterwards we did an elevated walkway, which was amazing.  It shook and rattled in the wind a bit, but it was great to get way up above the palm trees and see across the whole great damn flat state.  I’m fairly certain I saw Georgia.  
Over the course of the day we managed to see about fifteen alligators and approximately five thousand buzzards.  Speaking of buzzards, they get a bum wrap.  Rap?  Whatever.  Apparently, they aren’t flying in circles around dead stuff.  They’re going in circles because of the columns of thermal air.  They fly around for hours and hours for the sheer joy of it, which is something I can get behind.  
I also got the priviledge of eating alligator jerky.  I thought it was bizarre, but apparently the kooks in florida eat this all the time, selon tomtom.   Weird.  
Time to get some sleep so I can catch the Sox against the Reds.  Gnight
Originally posted Monday, March 2, 2009at 10:29 PM

Things to Consider Before Voluneering Abroad

Volunteering can be a rewarding addition to your life, whether at home or abroad.  However, an unfamiliar language, foreign setting, presence of extreme need and an attempt to set up your volunteering before you leave home can leave youe vulnerable.  You want to make sure that everyone involved benefits from the experience, so a little research (like talking to former volunteers) is imperative. 

  • Cost.  I’m not saying you should never pay to volunteer, but I have a strict policy that I will never pay someone for the priviledge to work for them.  If they are honestly providing me with something, however, I’m willing to at least check it out.  So what are you getting for your money?  Often it’s lodging, some meals, or even round-trip airfare.  Figure out what exactly “on-site support” means, and whether it is worth it to you.  Sometimes, the cheapest thing and the easiest thing isn’t the same, so figure out your priorities and pick an organization that matches yours.
  • Location.  Let’s face it, not everyone is cut out for every place, climate or situation on earth.  Feel free to test yourself and expand your horizons, but don’t set yourself up to fail. 
  • Why are you doing this?  If you don’t know the point of your trip as well as individual projects, it’s harder to decide the best way to do them.  Try to learn the overaching as well as immediate goals of the organization as well as your career as a volunteer. 
  • Are you taking away the job of a local?  This is a big one.  In Cuba, for example, volunteering or working as a foreigner is almost impossible.  Doing so erodes the state’s ability to employ the population, which is a huge part of the contract between the state and it’s people in a Socialist country. 
  • Are you providing a necessary service?  It’s easy sometimes to just go volunteer somewhere because it’s pretty, or you’ll get some great photo ops.  But there are so many places in people in need, wouldn’t it be a shame to be less useful than you could be, or in a situation where your particular skill set isn’t necessary?
  • Who is benefitting from that service?  Sometimes it’s easy to accidentally “help out” people who don’t really need it, and who are abusing your generosity.  It’s hard to understand what poverty or luxury look like in a new place, and it is sometimes easy to be tricked.  Also, never forget that everyone you meet has a stake in what you do and who you help.  It can be hard to face, but you are a commodity.  Be mindful of it and you can save yourself from being conned or used.
  • Local involvement.  This is very important if you want your time as a volunteer to be worthwhile and important to anyone other than you.  We call this local buy-in, and without it a project is often useless
  • Knowledge of the local culture.  Do you need to know the language in this particular environment?  Are there any dos or don’ts that you need to know, such as dress code and norms of behavior for women?  Are there religious practices that may be startling to you that you should learn about in advance?  How close do people stand when they talk, and how loud do they speak? 
  • How much are you willing to learn?  If you’re just going to teach English to children and not looking to learn yourself, for example, you may want to reconsider.  In order for this to be a worthwhile experience, you should be learning from the locals and from the community you’re in.  They have a way of doing things, and they have it for a reason.  It may not be in line with your morals, it may not be your usual way, and it may not even be the best way, but if you understand the way they do things and why, you’ll be better able to help them change if that ends up being necessary.  And if it turns out they have a better way, maybe you can help some people change back home!

Good luck, and happy volunteering!  Remember to listen and keep an open mind, but be aware of your impact as much as possible.

What Democrats Can Learn From Don Draper

Let’s face it, politics is all about advertising: yourself, your candidate, your party and your ideas.  people buy the product with a vote, campaign contributions and participation.  so what can Deval, Barack, Barney and John learn from Don, Peggy, Pete, Joan and the Rodge?  Turns out, quite a bit. 

“If you don’t like what’s being said, change the conversation”

Re-frame the issue.  This reminds me of getting people in kansas to use alternative energy.  The reason the republicans are so succesful is how they fram the issue, and which values the make it synonymous with.  If you change it to an issue about (in this case) thrift and patriotism, instead of small government and god, you’ve at least got a fighting chance.  Way too often, the democrats are willing to argue their side in the republican conversation, rather than starting a new one within a favorable frame work. 

Tap into emotions and you’ll win

facts are hard to escape, but they’re also easy to forget.  people will stick with an emotional narrative more closely than a logical one.  nostaliga, especially, is popular for don draper.  Clinton is great for this, and Barack is learning how as well.  I remember at the 2008 DNC, that great feeling when bill came out.  “Oh! I forgot what a great speaker he is,” my grandmother nearly cooed, while we all reminiesced about his good fiscal policy and attempts at peace in the Middle East.  Barack, on the other hand, is doing his best to conjure up that great feeling of hope, change and inclusion from 2008, while shooing away the feelings of betrayal and dissapointment.  As Don teaches us: “nostalgia literally means ‘the pain of an old wound.’ It’s a twinge in your heart, far more powerful than memory alone.”

If it’s not working, change the name. 

No one will feed their dog horsemeat.  People don’t eat rat, it’s grass-cutter.  And to bring it back to season 1 episode three again, “It’s not called the wheel. It’s called the carousel.”  Global Warming became climate change.  The war on terror?  We don’t even use those words anymore.  And people are (finally) starting to call Park 51 a cultural center (akin to a YMCA) instead of a mosque, which it is not.  We need to pick good names, get them out early and often, and remain unified in terminology.  That is, until the terms don’t work.  Then we pick better ones.

10 Twitter Tips to Get You Started

Here’s a few things I’ve noticed after talking with some people who are confused by or hate on twitter, as well as some mistakes I’ve seen made by new people who follow me.  These are written to be understood by my mom, a budding technology user who has never been on twitter before in her life.  That means that even if you still type with hunt and peck, or don’t know how to set your facebook privacy settings, you’ll still be able to create an account and use twitter.  Not that my mom should do that.  Oh no…

  1. If you’re terrified of it or don’t understand it, don’t worry.  It’s like facebook status updates but without all the farmville junk getting in the way.  Well really, facebook stole twitter’s format because it’s so popular, but ya know.
  2. Don’t worry too much about your username–you can change it later!  Try not to make it too long or people won’t retweet you.
  3. Fill out some of the profile information and make a bio.  It doesn’t have to be great and you can change it later.  But people with similar interests are more likely to follow you if you look less spammy and show these interests right away (when they get an email saying you follow them, it will show your username, picture and bio.  So you should have all three.)  Continue reading 10 Twitter Tips to Get You Started

Cuban Novio, Cuban Boyfriend

By far, the majority of my traffic centers around these search terms.  That worried me.  It says that there’s a need.  There are these women out there with Cuban boyfriends, or wanting them, and not knowing how to handle it.  What to buy them, how to get one, how to know if they’re cheating, what to feed them, when to believe them.  I didn’t just put those thoughts into people’s heads, they’re all very real search terms I see all the time.

Here’s the thing: I’ve never had a novio cubano, for a variety of reasons.

If you want to know what it’s like, read Whitney’s series Adventures with a Cuban Boy over at her blog On Love and Other Things.  She has great prose, genuine thoughts and enchanting pictures.  And more importantly, she has the experience.

I won’t talk about other people’s experience, but I cant talk about mine.  Here are a few posts I’ve written on the male/female dynamic in Cuba, from the perspective of a young, white American foreigner.

I had a hard time with the novio thing in Cuba.  I’m a girl who’s used to having close guy friends, and a few good circles of guys to spend time with.  I’m also used to people finding out I have a boyfriend and respecting that, rather than trying to make me forget or “live in the moment.”  I’ve taken a bit of crap from fellow travelers for disliking some of the attention I get when abroad, but I don’t think anyone should have to put up with harassment, and I think everyone has the capacity to understand boundaries, even if they are foreign to them.

I really hated that it was hard to have platonic friends in Cuba.  I felt I had to keep my guard up; any time I didn’t, I noticed not-so-subtle behavior changes, or I heard about my “blossoming relationship” later from other friends.  Many who travel short term to Cuba, or who don’t leave the resorts, never experience this.  I’m curious how other extended visitors found things to be.  Most Cuban guys, in their own words, told me that unless my novio was on the island, it didn’t matter.

This all probably sounds really stuck up.  And I’m sure people will claim that the guys had one reason or another for continually deciding to ignore my” just friends” mantra.  But I don’t think that sitting next to one of my guy friends for a couple innings at a baseball game and honestly calling him a childish idiot for blowing up condom balloons constitutes flirting.

I hate being told to” live in the moment.”  Especially when I know they don’t mean my moment, they mean theirs.  I hate being told to stop thinking, to stop being so serious.  This is not How Delia Got her Groove back.  I’m 21; I have groove.  I hate that for so many guys, their only interpretation of fun was getting drunk and flirting with white women, and having them buy dinner.  I hate that so many white women for decades before me had already set the precedent that this was true and okay.

Sometimes going to other countries, ones with even stricter gender roles than ours, reminds me just how little I fit my gender.  I stick out as ornery and a run for everyone’s money in the states–imagine how that comes across in a Muslim or machismo society (the two are more similar than you’d think).

I believe I have the right to dance however I want with my friends and not get touched by strangers.  And yes, I understand respecting customs and the importance of context.  It isn’t so big a deal if you’re somewhere for a week or a few days, or if you’re constantly surrounded by western backpackers.  But after a few months in a foreign country where you can’t let you guard down or go out with just women, it gets awfully lonely.  That’s all.

Making Friends Abroad

Some blogs and travelers will have you thinking that only agoraphobic lepers have trouble makeing friends on the road, but it’s not always so easy.  I find that for the most part, people who are good at making friends at home are also good at it abroad.  But if you have a hard tme, it can often be even more difficult in a totally new situation, where nothing is familiar.

  • Talk to children.  I know it sounds goofy or weird, depending on how creepy your mindset is, but children are much more willing to engage with strangers.  This is also great if you want to practice a foreign language.  Obviously they won’t go out drinking with you, but befriending the neighborhood kids can be a great way to break up the loneliness.  It also can ingratiate you to the rest of the neighborhood, if you’re staying someone for more than a few days.
  • Look for other travelers.  Hostels, museums, cafes and bars.  They’ll be easy to pick out, even in local spots.  Promise.
  • Find college students.  No matter what age YOU are, college students around the world are open and willing to meet new people.
  • Source your network for an introduction, even if it’s a thin connection.
  • Try not to seem closed off.  Make eye contact (unless that’s a no-no in the local culture), don’t cross your arms, and smile at strangers.  When you do meet new people,
  • Say “YES!”  this is one of the biggest tips, especially at the beginning.  You should obviously maintain common sense (my rule?  no boat parties with strangers–no escape route), but saying yes to things you normally wouldn’t do will open you up to new experiences and people.  Once you become more friendly you can suggest times or activities that are more suitable to your tastes.
  • Sign up for something.  A day tour, cooking class, whatever.  It will give you routine and expose you to new people in a condensed setting, where it’s normal and easy to make new friends.
  • Have a conversation piece.  A good book, a funny story, an interesting piece of clothing.  Something to catch a stranger’s eye or to fall back on when conversation lags.
  • Learn some canned phrases.  When in doubt, just ask them about themselves.  Family, hometown, career, travel.  If it’s a local, you’ve got it made: just ask everything you wish you knew about the country.  But make sure you stay polite.
  • Remember: Taking the plunge will get easier with time.

Relax, good luck and be yourself!

Something Worth Celebrating: National Coming Out Day

Instead of some long-dead jerk who didn’t really discover America (he DID land in Cuba though!) and even if he had, was clearly second-best to the vikings, let’s celebrate something real, something American.

Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.

That’s really what this is all about.  I don’t care what your politics or your religion are, everyone deserves to be happy.  They deserve to get promoted or hired based on their skills, to adopt if they’re fit parents and so choose.  To go on dates in public and not feel glares or hear slurs.  To go to school and learn, not hide from bullies.  If you have a problem with that, I think you’ve misunderstood America and what we’re doing here, and I’d kindly direct you to re-read some of our most important documents.  Or might I interest you in a stint in North Korea?  I hear Kim Jong-il isn’t a big fan of tolerance or civil liberties either.

For National Coming Out Day, I encourage you to post on facebook, twitter or your blog encouraging our friends, families and neighbors to be comfortable in their own skin, whatever that may mean to them.  You should also look at the It Gets Better Project over on youtube.  Far too many kids have been bullied and lives have been lost.  Show people you Give a Damn.

And finally, a plea: if you’re cruel to people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, questioning, trans, intersex, in transition, or a myriad of other things that simply don’t fit the standard view of normal, you’re only hurting yourself.  Inevitably, there are people in your life who are in those categories.  Do you know what happens to gay teenagers whose families don’t accept them?  They find a new family.  They lead happy, successful lives where they build their own tribe out of friends, coworkers, boyfriends, girlfriends and spouses.  But they won’t feel comfortable with you.  They’ll limit their time with you, because pretending around you and limiting who they are, will suck.

So don’t drive loved ones away, and don’t spread hate.  Learn more, and make sure everybody, no matter how different or special or marginalized or weird they are, feels welcome here.  Because that’s what every good, patriot American should do, right?

Happy coming out day!