Recently, Karen and I have noticed that the apartment complex in which we live has been experiencing a large number of vacancies. It’s been my personal experience that, when your management begins placing large banners at the entrance for “move-in specials” and “referral specials,” you may be in trouble, because they begin to lower the bar of what applications they accept, in order to keep up their revenue stream.

And by “lower the bar,” I mean “admit more students who are fresh out of their dorm rooms and have no clue how to interact with civilized society yet.” Insert loud music, screamed obscenities from the parking lot, and late night parties from the neighbors here.

Personally, I love our apartment. Granted that the rent is a bit exorbitant for the area, but that’s because of the afore-mentioned difficulty keeping tenants. It’s a vicious cycle, I think, which is marked by two complete turn-overs in the management staff in as many years. Troubling.

Another piece of wisdom I’ve picked up from apartment living: as soon your management staff changes, move out at the end of that lease. The ship is going down fast.

Back to the point, though. We have a grand apartment, complete with an upstairs and a garage. I have my writing/creative space, we have plenty of room for the three of us, and it’s designed to be environmentally friendly, complete with a skylight for plenty of natural lighting. These apartments were premiere living arrangements in this area for a long time, and there were a great deal of young professionals, families, and quiet students here when we moved in. Now, not so much. And I have a theory as to why.

There are no fewer than seven colleges or universities in this relatively small city. As such, there is a huge market for students who want to live off campus. Thus, more apartment complexes are being built on a regular basis. Granted, they are cookie-cutter in the South, but they’re always going up, with some individualized conveniences, and multiple move-in specials are constantly around. So, I think that students are always moving to the next cool thing, partially for the financial break that comes with a move-in special.

Thus, difficulty for any one place in keep tenants, as what was once the premiere apartment space is now replaced for the next big thing.

I guess I don’t understand this, in a way. I’m as content as I was when we moved into this apartment three years ago, at least as far as the apartment itself is concerned. I have trouble finding anyone I know who has lived in an apartment that long, though. I’m having issues with the people moving in around us, but I still love our apartment, and will sort of miss it when we leave the area soon.

I guess I do understand it, though, as far as how badly I tend to want the next cool toy, the next operating system for my Mac, the latest gadget that seems super appealing to me. Perhaps it’s the same impulse, but I just don’t experience it with living arrangements.

Whether it’s me with toys, or other tenants with apartments, though, I see the same underlying issue: we get bored way too easily. Moreover, we become discontented way too easily. I think that this is because there’s an entire discipline of study and practice that specializes in making us discontent: marketing. We’re easily swayed by psychological methods to think that life will be better if we have the next toy, a better home, a cooler car. This is a boon for industries, and a bust for the individual, because it drives us to always spend more money, thus harming ourselves and making it progressively difficult for any business to build any loyalty among its customers.

And we wonder how we arrived at a recession.

Photo Attribution: Jill Clardy 

A Chilling Effect

I’ve heard it said that the only constant in life is change.

I expect this is the professional world. I expect it where life’s adventures take us geographically. I expect it in the forward momentum of life, like getting married and having our daughter.

What takes me by surprise, though, is how some of my personal preferences change so drastically from time to time. I’m not talking about what foods I like…tastes alter as we move through life, I know that (didn’t we all hate peas as children?). I’m talking about other things…like an unexpected appreciation for a type of storytelling that has always turned me off before.

Or, more recently, in the midst of a mild winter, the fact that I miss snow.

Long time readers and those who know me will pause here, and wonder who hacked my blog and is writing this post as a joke. But, I assure you, it’s actually me, of mostly sound mind, wondering how, exactly, I’ve arrived at a point in life where I would prefer to see some snow on the ground. I’ve even found photos of warm winter scenes popping up on my Tumblr feed, and wondering, “did I really just post that? What happened here?”

I’m not sure. It’s not that I’ve lost my fascination for the coast. Indeed, if you ask me at any given time where I would prefer to be, I would almost always reply that I would rather be on a beach. The ocean shakes me to the core with its grandeur, and I think that it always will. Lately, though, I’ve noticed myself missing the fact that there’s a bit of a slowing down during the winter that hasn’t occurred in the Southeast this year because of consistently Spring-like weather. Perhaps that’s because the slowing down is so profoundly evident here. We’ve sort of skipped winter all around, it seems, and, while I take the season best in small doses, I think I’d at least rather have a bit of it to grumble about than to not have it at all.

This pining for a winter of some substance is fitting considering that an upcoming life change will be taking us back to New England soon. Perhaps this change in perspective is providential, or perhaps there’s some deeply rooted coping mechanism that’s shifting into gear. Whatever the case, its odd that something so fundamentally a part of my personality would change like this. I still love hot temperatures, though, so perhaps its an “adding-to” that’s taking place, instead of a replacing.

Change is a good thing, right?

Photo Copyright by Austin-Lee Barron. Used by permission. 

The Nature of a Hero, Part II

I’m sort of continuing my thoughts on the nature of a hero, here, with some reaction to a recent comic book issue.

Leading up to this summer’s Avengers film, Marvel is publishing a line of one-shots called Avengers: Origins. While the art in most of the issues has been a bit stylistic for my taste, I’ve enjoyed the stories, which are simple re-tellings of the backgrounds of the heroes comprising the Avengers as they appear in Marvel comics (a larger cast of characters than will appear in the film, which will star only the most well-known of the core characters). I only dabbled in the Avengers titles when I was younger, and never collected them seriously, so these stories have been instructional for me.

I’ve purchased them a bit out of order, and the most recent issue I’ve read is Avengers Origins: Luke Cage. I remember Luke Cage as Power Man when he, partnered with Iron Fist, comprised Heroes for Hire.  I was unaware of his origin story. A former gang-banger from Harlem is what looks like the 1980’s, Cage spends time is prison after being framed for a crime he didn’t commit, although he had committed his share. A victim of racist treatment in prison, he volunteers for an experiment that is intentionally botched by a guard who hates him, and endows him with amazing physical strength and near invulnerability. Cage escapes with these powers, and returns to the life he knows: committing crimes in order to survive, all the while plotting revenge for the old friend who had framed him. During one of these criminal ventures, he witnesses an elderly security officer paralyzed as a result of his actions, and flees with this haunting him.

Ultimately, Cage discovers that he can, in fact, use his abilities for good, and decides to profit off of this as “hero for hire.” His actions haunt him, though, and he spends the next several years unable to see himself as a hero, and attempting to make restitution for his actions, until he is finally forgiven by the paralyzed security officer. Only then does he recognize himself as a hero.

Of course, comic history shows us that Cage goes on to become one of Marvel’s more well-known heroes as Power Man. This story resonated with me because it shows a different aspect of the nature of a hero: the hero who has turned from evil to do good. There’s something almost mythological in this: the street-wise fighter who knows the ways of evil but chooses to eschew them for good, bursting through the darkness in a massive display of power to save the day. There’s something amazing about the hero who has previously been on the wrong side of the law, and then repented of their wrongs and moved to a life of restoration. Theologically, this would be repentance: a changing of one’s mind, an intentional turning of one’s life in the direction of good after recognizing the evil.

Of course, not every hero comes from such a background. This isn’t a necessary qualification, although many heroes have experienced some degree of darkness in their lives before becoming a hero.

So, when confronted with the epiphany that the way a villain has been using his or her powers for evil, if that villain changes their course and chooses to do good instead, then they are no longer a villain. They are a hero. And these heroes appreciate second chances, because they’ve received one of their own. Cage escaped his prison sentence, to never be re-discovered. He chose to be a hero in his new life, and thus experienced a sort of cultural forgiveness. Again, this is a theological concept: one who has been forgiven of much, will show greater love to those around them. And this, ultimately, is what a hero does: he or she shows love to those around them, by placing their own lives at risk to save those who cannot save themselves.

I’m not sure how this plays into my fictional explorations of the nature of a hero, but it must somehow, because I think that this is as critical as it is inspiring.

Photo Attribution: Zach Dischner 

There’s something so amazing about being involved in good conversation with someone, especially with someone whose views are different than your own. These conversations force us to examine our beliefs, to better understand why we hold them. They help us learn how to respect each other, and how to do civil discourse. And that’s really important, because it seems that discourse in our culture just isn’t so civil, of late. 

Right Away…

Karen and I have some disagreement on when goals should be achieved.

That is, once I get something in my head, I’m of the opinion that it needs to happen now. In fact, yesterday would be a good time. Its not that I make decisions rashly or impulsively, at least not most of the time. That’s actually part of the issue. I feel that I’ve reasoned through the decision, reached a goal after careful consideration and introspection, and all of that has taken time. So, there isn’t any point in wasting any more time. Its time to make things happen.

Karen, conversely, plans the execution of the details. She’s very wise about it, as well. There are no assumptions, no approximations with her. She plans every detail to the minutiae. Which is a great compliment to me, because I tend to gloss over certain aspects of life, to see the big picture instead of the smaller details. Of course, the big picture is composed of the smaller details, and I need someone to fill in the holes in my plan as they materialize.

And they inevitably materialize.

A serious life change is coming up for us (like we didn’t just experience that with the birth of our daughter), and I think that its been too long in the making. We had made a decision over a year ago, but hadn’t formulated an exact plan. Over the course of the year, Karen planned and led in the execution of a strategy that took care of almost all of the details, at least all of the ones that we could control. Now, we’re about to move forward in a much more secure manner, because of her planning. Had I been leading the charge, I never would have had the patience to wait this long. Once we had made the decision, it was time to go. Details, I tend to think, can be improvised.

It isn’t, though, that simple. Almost never.

I think that my problem is that I’m afflicted with more than my share of our instant gratification culture. The ability of the consumer in the digital age to immediately acquire so much of what we want leaves us of the perspective that this generalizes to the rest of our lives. Once we decide what we want to do with our lives, we think the education should happen immediately, that we should rise through the ranks of our new field immediately. We leave out the work and planning and intentionality that it involves.

I had a conversation at the beginning of the weekend about the difficulties that occur in a marriage when a couple has children. Many couples divorce during this time frame, often not for lack of wanting their problems to be solved. Yet, it seems (and I have no statistics to support this) that couples who struggle through the garbage of jobs and raising children and time restrictions and so on, and make it to the so-called “empty nest” period, make it. They’re closer, now, because they’ve learned as they’ve worked through it all. That experience can’t be rushed. We have to live through things to acquire it.

I’m not good at patience, even though I’d like to be. I really need people to tell me that my self-imposed deadlines aren’t always realistic, that there are things that I need to experience before I make it to the goals I’ve set for myself. Those experiences are what make achieving the goals worthwhile.

We always appreciate more the things for which we’ve waited.

Photo Attribution: gemb1