Sunday, December 4, 2011

Not Alone

I just watched a video I came across on Facebook and I found myself doing a lot of reflecting. First, give it a watch:

In elementary school I was teased a lot. I was beaten. Even as a school patrol, on the main school corner with the police crossing guard, I was put in a headlock and pounded on the head repeatedly which left bruising. I had sand flicked in my eyes. I was chased down neighborhood streets fearing for my safety. I was dragged along the blacktop at recess. I was called albino for my fair complexion and hair. A speech impediment made me even more of a target. I was a student who adhered to the rules and these actions pushed me to fulfill the role of a tattle-tale which resulted in even more abuse.

I was anxious and worried, questioning even the most sincere acts of kindness in deep suspicion. I withdrew in fear of being judged, of having something else be fodder against me. At one point during a summer in middle school I was so anxious I no longer could pick up a phone or look out a window. Paired with the strong and confusing hormones at that time of life, --at hindsight--I made silly mistakes (what middle schooler doesn't?) that then felt like being cut down to nothing and even less. I was a bitter hole that sucks in others, friends, who were so generous and would eventually see no benefit in staying in that hole with me. I didn't want to pull them in and I felt terribly guilty about it. So guilty the rational of suicide came to mind. However irrational I knew I was, the emotion was there: I was exhausted of the cycle, of that toll I put on others, of always being beaten down. Ending my life in many ways made sense.

But I wanted to live.

I remember walking home one day from elementary school, passing the blacktop and looking over at some high schoolers playing basketball. A group of four or five guys carefree in shooting hoops. I found myself in envy of them when, suddenly, something clicked. I wanted to be like them, I wanted to get on that path and the only way for me to do that is to challenge myself. I needed to get out of this darkness, which I knew I could only do one step at a time.

It's now been over a decade since then and I'm still working on it. In fact, it wasn't until last year when I faced an election campaign in my organizing work that required full-time phone banking did I finally fully get over my anxiety of phones.

Ten years ago I pulled back that curtain at the window. I started to explore who I was and not let myself be written off by others. I started to enjoy life more, take a hold of opportunities head-on. In late middle school I went with People to People Student Ambassadors to Australia and New Zealand. In high school I worked two summer jobs with Hensel Phelps Construction Company on wedges 2-5 of the Pentagon Renovation Project. I was told at one point I was the youngest person to have clearance with the project. I was invited to speak to an educational conference with hundreds in attendance regarding my internships with the construction industry.

I grew my hair long for kicks my senior year, golden curls bounced around. I would find out years later it made me a bit of a legend. I became more passionate about my studies, particularly in the environment. I embraced some of my creativity and worked with animations and computer design. For my passion my teacher nominated me for a class art award at graduation which I received. Then I graduated high school and went to college at Virginia Tech.

I wound up at a statewide environmental youth conference and was amazed to find not only can I learn about environmental issues, but act on them. From planning a small tabling event on campus to a full day of action, my organizing skills grew over the years in college. Together with our community I was also faced with larger challenges, such as that of the shooting at Virginia Tech and having my previous blog become world-famous and quoted in numerous publications which I had to deal with (I just found a book on blogging that has a piece on me). From that experience I developed an appreciation of how the media works (and doesn't work with gross ethical violations) and just how important the support of a broad community is. The seed of sustainability-- a balance of community, environment and economy-- blossomed in my soul. By the next year I helped plan a large state-wide student conference at Virginia Tech with several hundred attendees. The year after that I ran for town council.

I found out about a program that develops the skills of environmental organizers, Green Corps. I applied and got in and soon found myself working on campaigns from protecting one of the strongest climate laws in the world to supporting family ranchers and stopping oil pipelines. I knocked on hundreds upon hundreds of doors over last summer, talking to people about protecting streams and health. Now I'm with the Sierra Club in Denver, Colorado, a place I always dreamed of being with an organization I always wished to work for. I may not be playing basketball on my elementary school's blacktop, but things have worked out great.

Sometimes I get too focused in what I am doing I forget the journey of where I've come from. The challenges I've overcome and still am dealing with-- my Dad passing earlier this year, for instance, or finding out I have Graves' Disease and deciding to have my thyroid surgically removed in 2009. When I begin to imagine where I might be in the next ten years, I realize anything can happen and the potential is limitless. But I know everything I've listed here, everything I've done, every step has been a challenge to overcome for me.

It is videos like what Jonah made that remind me of the path I've found myself on, and where I came from. This is a path that is not uncommon. There are a lot of Bryces and Jonahs out there, lost in the darkness and oppressed by people and shadows. Some of us don't make it out. Stepping out from under the oppression we find ourselves in is never easy. But you can learn more about it, why it happens and how you can personally manage it and then extend a hand to others because we are all on this journey together.

My boss for a Buddhist environmental non-profit I worked for once told me that we all must cross the same river but we get to choose the vessel we go in to get to the other shore. The waters can be turbulent, but we ride the same waves together.

Life is still far from perfect for me, but that's how life is. While I've made strides, I'm still not where I want to be in fully appreciating the day-to-day beauty of existence that is out there. But I'm working on it. One step at a time. And I have amazing friends across the country and beyond who are there for me.

Good luck on your journey, Jonah. You're going to do great and are already strides ahead of the game.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Embracing Videography

Long, long ago I got into animation. I really liked being able to create an experience or story someone else can have and share. Animation was long and tedious, you have to literally create a scene from a blank canvass, piece it together and then mold it frame by frame. Then I found videography. The hardest part is over, it's already created. Now you just have to piece it together. If I ever find myself pursuing another profession, it would be related to film.

Anyway, I've been stretching out as I settle down out here in Denver and have spent a bit of time working on a couple quick spots involving my travels.


Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Eye Contact

This evening has been one of those evenings in which you drink too much caffeine earlier in the day and late into the evening you have too much to think about. You think about the weight of the world around you, of the systems and metrics that over-simplify the infinite complexities of life and existence. Your thoughts drift from your own health to that of others, of those that have passed and of those yet to be born. You think about the imaginary power institutions have and utilize, how information is developed and manipulated. How endless bureaucracy endlessly loops around the roads and highways of the world.

You wonder how can we ever even begin to redress these challenges and pursue the goodness that humanity can possess. Kindness and stewardship. Fresh air and water. A lush world environment, nurtured by our ability to care for it and each other. All of our lives are under the dark impassable weights of the world's systems that we've developed. Subject to work within its endless forbidding corridors to ends unknown, wondering who or what could have created this path we blindly follow.

As the evening sky is eaten by outstretched light posts, nestlings wildly reaching into the night for a morsel of the last visible star, you feel lost and confused and alone. How can we fight the world that is forcing us into lives so unnatural, unripe; simply waiting for an unattainable self-enlightenment? What can you believe in if all is part of this tangled circular growth?

The city around you is breathing, rasping into the still-warm night air. The homeless line the streets in their sleeping bags like cocoons waiting for first light to emerge as butterflies never to be delivered. The lights stare at you indifferently and you sigh as you quietly walk your way home, lost in thought as you bear the weight of the world.

Out of the darkness emerges a passing face in close view. Your eyes lock and with a smile a man kindly, softly, asks "How are you doing?" with a tone so knowing of exactly where you are that the moment has already passed where you hastily replied "Good, how are you?" with automatic, systematic perfection to realize: you are not alone.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Just the beginning

About two years ago I heard the group Beyond Coal was coming onto Virginia Tech's campus, whose mission was and still is to shut down the Virginia Tech coal-fired power plant which distributes steam for heating in the majority of the buildings on campus. I immediately dismissed this idea and group as ridiculous and radical. The only way change will happen is if we go through the systems established.

Virginia Tech, as an institution, has a lot of bureaucracy, strict professional standards and expectations, various hoops, unspoken tests, and a lesser level of classism to deal with in order to get something that radical to actually happen. A bunch of kids without any resources or finances or training or experience will only be a public spectacle and laughingstock for the rest of the relatively conservative university community. After spending my entire collegiate career, including nearly every break in those years, investing myself in building up an amazing professional organization who was committed to working with our university in bringing resources together to "Invent the Future," I felt cut down to see this new radical mentality take over and erase what I and many others worked so hard on.

That was two years ago.

Today, though, I proudly call myself a radical and am in fact leading Beyond Coal for Colorado. Today I proudly see our campus organization was not cut down, but instead transitioned. A radical movement cannot be stagnant, which is exactly what happened and why things needed to change. We live in a world demanding radical change and it is only the few that will deliver. The Arab Spring was just the beginning, now the American Autumn will follow with so many different and evolving elements that it will adapt to the whims of producers loyal to national media owned by, indeed, corporations.

Several years ago I would have put my hand up, shook my head and walked away from myself if I had begun to go into a passionate rant about how corporate power is destroying lives and our hindering our way of life.

Today I literally found myself joining a passing anti-corporate march (#occupywallstreet) to the state capitol and spoke to the hundreds gathered about my experiences in the last year and why we must fight without a moment's hesitation.

Over four years ago there was a mass shooting at my school that left 33 dead and dozens more injured. The media frenzy that followed was overwhelming to our community and quite often abusive from reporters dressing up as clergy to Bill O'Reilly's Fox News staff rewriting and re-contextualizing an e-mail I sent that they put on air.

Now I see more than ever how the media are free to manipulate and shift stories to their leanings, or not tell them at all. Only now are the #occupywallstreet protests becoming front page news as the blockade of Brooklyn Bridge can't be easily ignored.

A year ago I was reluctant to embrace my first Green Corps campaign because it was anti-corporate (and ironically funded by a corporation), but what unfolded made me realize that the power corporations have is daunting....

[to be continued]

Sunday, August 28, 2011


It has been over a year since my last blog post. Yesterday, I graduated Green Corps in what has surely concluded one of if not the most difficult year of my life. The challenges I've faced on a professional and personal level have pushed me more than I thought possible. I am a new person, someone who I am not ashamed to admit to having dreamed about becoming. I am skilled, confident and ready to take on whatever challenge lays out before me. I am sociable, outgoing, adventurous and a shameless romantic. I am political, engaging, and yes, even radical. I am not ashamed to say I am a progressive who wants to work with others to solve the entangled web of interconnected issues we are facing and have a lot of fun while doing it. This is said with it being noted that none of the aforementioned would I have been willing to confidently identify with just a year ago.

I'm about to transition into a new chapter of my life-- I have been hired to be the Associate Organizing Representative for the Sierra Club Beyond Coal campaign in Denver, Colorado. I am so thrilled to be able to go out there and fully invest myself into a community and work directly in developing the leaders that will take us to a sustainable future.

The next few weeks to months are going to be a hard transition. A metaphor I found myself explaining the way I have felt the last few weeks is like that of a mirror-- in the last several months it has cracked in several places--- cracked by the challenges I faced with working on Green Corps campaigns, cracked by the growing disconnect from high school and college friends, cracked from life challenges of friends and family and finding a balance to be there for them while keeping up my needs, and the final, major crack, was the death of my father in June which has left me, as many who lose a parent, in a small existential crisis. It was all I could do to hold the mirror together for the last few months bearing the weight of these coming-of-age challenges to finally have it shatter altogether, completing a challenging chapter of my life. Now, though, comes the exciting and terrifying time to piece together the remaining shards into a new frame, a blank canvass. Through the reflection of these shards I will start to write out my thoughts of the last 13 months of my life in a series of postings over the next several weeks.

But before I start reflecting on this past chapter, I must head to sleep as the winds of a fading tropical storm Irene tussle the trees outside the screen door in the darkness of night. At last, though, I am at a place I can blog.