— Cormac McCarthy in Blood Meridian, describing a shadow.
My name is Kyle Sacks. I’m 25 years old and I’m an early member of Generation Y. And what a crazy generation we are, so unhappy and entitled. Oh wait, that’s not right. We’re actually idealistic, full of desire for justice and social change! Eh, that’s not it either… Gen Y, we just want to have fun and enjoy youth… right?
Every day, someone is making a sweeping statement about my generation and it’s comical how contradictory they are. No one can decide if we’re going to save the world or if we’re totally screwed. Though I have my opinions on the topic, I think the whole Gen Y discussion is indicative of a bigger disconnect between the generations. Take this quote:
They have trouble making decisions. They would rather hike in the Himalayas than climb a corporate ladder. They have few heroes, no anthems, no style to call their own. They crave entertainment, but their attention span is as short as one zap of a TV dial. They hate yuppies, hippies and druggies. They postpone marriage because they dread divorce. They sneer at Range Rovers, Rolexes and red suspenders. What they hold dear are family life, local activism, national parks, penny loafers and mountain bikes. They possess only a hazy sense of their own identity…
Seems to nail down Gen Y pretty good, huh? Except it’s an excerpt from a 1990 Time magazine article about the slackers of Generation X written by a Baby Boomer. And the G.I. Generation said the same thing about the Boomers and the Depression Generation said the same thing about the G.I. kids. The truth is, not much has changed about being young. Look at this awesome picture. Any idea when it was taken?
Aside from the fashion this could be almost any year in the last century. Shoes thrown off, big smiles… all they want is a tan. Youth is youth. Sometimes the environment around it changes, but mostly it doesn’t. We young’uns are dumb sometimes, it’s part of life. Yes, we need to get our heads out of our asses, but everyone had a time when they needed to get their heads out of their asses. The problem is adults can forget that.
My point is that the kids are neither alright nor are they doomed. We’re just young—writing about us on the internet isn’t helping anyone. What will help is to be in our lives and get to know us. We want people with life experience to take an interest in us. We want mentors and bosses who see us as more than lost idiots who need to get off Instagram.
I’ve had the opportunity to mentor a group of boys for the last five years (through their middle school and now high school careers). It’s been nothing if not eye opening. Sure, a lot of their problems seems silly compared to adulthood issues. So what? Those problems matter to them just like they mattered to me when I was their age. Realizing that has softened my judgement toward the yoots and helped me relate to people from many stages of life. Perspective. I always need more perspective.
So instead of writing another post about ‘21 Things Millenials Can Do to Be Less Entitled in the Work Place,’ take an entitled kid from your work to lunch and ask her questions. Remember that youth, while often great, is also terrible. It’s scary and confusing and that matters to us. If you care about helping us grow up, care about that first, then try to guide and teach. We’re going to grow up either way. The question is, are you going to wag your finger or are you going to be a part of it?
Ah Kuerig, what kind of black magic are you? With one touch of a button, you send liquid salvation pouring forth into my mug. You’re some straight-up Star Trek nonsense.
And yet I find you a bit… unsatisfying, Kuerig. Where’s the fun? The closer we get the 50’s dream of an automated house, the more I see how boring it would be. I’m not the only one either; the do-it-yourself mantra has exploded in my social circle.
My friends are making their own furniture, creating decorations for their weddings, raising chickens, growing vegetables, and brewing beer. These aren’t shocking tasks for some people, but for us suburban-raised kids, it’s enlightening to get dirty and have something to show for it.
Personally, I find the act of ‘making things’ a great mental space to occupy. I can’t live without it. All the daily input of our crazy world leaves my psyche feeling fractured. Creating helps me pick of the pieces and make sense of my thoughts and feelings. Not everything I make is artistic or useful or deep. Just the act of doing it helps clear my mind.
Now, let’s come all the way back to the Kuerig. It’s so quick and easy that I started wondering why people still make coffee other, more time-consuming ways? Press, pour over, espresso… why not just drop the pod in, hit brew and check Twitter?
Sidestepping the debate about taste, one surprising part of manual coffee brewing is how much the process itself is part of the charm, for all the reasons I talked about earlier. I start my day by focusing on a task, step-by-step. It’s stimulation before the chemicals even hit my blood stream. My uncle and I recently turned my Kuerig-using Dad onto the Aeropress and he said, “I have found myself enjoying the process of making it. Weird, but true.”
I know many of you won’t care in the slightest about making your own coffee and that’s fine. Coffee is to be enjoyed and if you enjoy your present coffee, drink and be merry! But if you’re a person who loves coffee for more than it’s caffeine, you should explore the coffee world a bit. You don’t have to learn chemistry or drop hundreds of dollars to make good home brew (the Aeropress is $25 and makes the best cup I’ve ever had). Either way, make something. Write, garden, paint, build, code, fix, capture, edit; creation is such a key part of the human experience and we all have something we’re good at. So be good at it!
Guys, I can not stand that Bob Marley Legends collection. You know this album, you’ve heard it a thousand times coming out of dorm rooms and boardwalk shops. It’s downbeat, Rasta, clouded with pot smoke and bums me out. If you’re like me, you probably grew up thinking Bob is what Jamaican music sounds like. I’ve learned that Legends-style reggae is only one slice of the fantastic music that has come out of Jamaica. Much of it is fun, breezy and exuberant. It’s a fascinating bit of music history to dig through.
In the 50’s, youths in Kingston combined calypso, jazz, and R&B heard on American radio stations with traditional island folk to form ska. Walking basslines and rhythm instruments played on the upbeat (or the skank) give it the jerky groove that is inescapably Jamaican. It grew most popular with the rude boys, Jamaican kids who wore suits with skinny ties and Tribly hats and danced and fought and watched cowboy films, all fueled by this new music. There aren’t many other examples of a musical style that grew to define a whole country and culture the way Jamaican music did.
Over two decades, ska begat rocksteady which begat reggae which begat dub, all of whom traveled across the ocean to mingle with punk in England, become to music of choice for London skinheads, help the birth of rap in New York, and even make it onto The White Album (Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da). And it all started like the best music scenes all start: young’uns using whatever crappy gear they could find to carve out a new sound all their own.1 And crappy gear it was, some of the old ska tracks sound very ‘AM-radio’ and are all the better for it. If all you know of reggae is Bob, give the playlist a shot. You might be pleasantly surprised.
The Playlist: The first four songs are all straight from Kingston circa ’67-’72. “You Can Get it if You Really Want” is a soul-tinged pop song. “56–46 Was My Number” shows off one of my favorite ska singers at his peak swagger. “Dollar in the Teeth” is a good example of a riddim. “007 (Shanty Town)” is the most classic ska songs ever written, paving the road for so many good (and really bad) bands.2 The final song, “Faster Bullet” was recorded in L.A. in 2007, but hot dang his voice is awesome. Listen to the music.
…People are paying attention to [coffee made in] Seoul and Tokyo and not caring at all about Madrid or Barcelona or Milan or Rome. Everyone thinks coffee is Italian or French because there’s a very powerful popular company whose identity is wrapped up with coffee being this Italian art that was perfected in Seattle and then exported in the world. That’s a corporate story; that’s not the story of coffee. Japan has a coffee culture that goes back to the 1600s—they’ve been doing coffee as long as pretty much anybody.
I have a small challenge for you. When you’re done reading this, you’re going to close your eyes, right where you are, and you’re going to listen to what’s happening around you. It might be loud, it might be quiet, but either way it’s where you are right now.
Do you hear people? Cars? Birds? The wind? Clicking keyboards? Your own breathing? Stop thinking about what you’re doing and just be here.
This might seem silly, but I’m sure you’ve noticed that we tend to rush and rush and rush and rushrushrushrushrush. We blast music, flip on the TV, talk talk talk until we’ve lost track of the world around us.
A few years ago I made a rule for myself: I had to walk around campus without earbuds in, just to see what I’d been missing. I found that listening to my campus bustle made me feel more connected to it. It wasn’t just me doing ‘Task A’ or getting to ‘Point B’. It was me as part of everyone, living right now, together.
This is a bit silly, but I’ve grown to love hearing the world around me.
David said, “This is the day the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it,” but we can’t do that unless we are in the Lord’s day. I don’t know about you, but I often struggle to be present if I don’t conciously take time to slow down. So that’s my challenge. Be present for a moment.
Now, close your eyes. Listen. What do you hear?
I’m trying to write and it feels a bit like pulling teeth. I’m rusty. How does that happen? I’ve been writing since grade school. It’s my love, my gift, how do I let life get busy enough that I’m out of practice?
But that’s how it goes. Life happens and things go by the wayside. I rationalize at first, “Hey it’s just a busy season. I’ll get back to it.” But then it’s six months later and I haven’t written a single thing over 140 characters. Now I’m trying to write some idea that should come easy and it’s fighting me every step of the way.
The truth is, all of us leave things behind as we grow. It may be a hobby, a craft, a friend, a memory, a dream or a freedom. It may be ripped away painfully or drift off almost unnoticed until one day you think back and wonder, “What the hell happened?”
This is often seen as a bad thing, like losing pieces of who we are. We fight it. We take pictures to remember every moment. We promise ourselves we’ll get back into our hobby when the kids are a little older. We assure a friend we’ll get coffee when life settles.
Who are we kidding?
Life goes on and things shed off. There’s no fighting that and we know it. All the promises and regrets in the world won’t suddenly make more time for the things we used to love or wanted to do.
It’s a sad realization, but I’ve grown to appreciate the freedom of not clinging to a different life. It can be so exciting to finally let an old dream go and look forward to the next one. To put the camera down and just enjoy the moment. To stop pretending like I’ll grab coffee with my old friend and focus my time on new friends I never expected to make.
We can’t do everything. Life is compromise. The key is picking the things that are actually part of who you want to be. I’m writing again because I’m a writer and its exactly who I want to be. I’m not trying to play the guitar anymore because I’m not a musician, never will be a musician and that’s fine. I’d rather put time toward the hobbies/people/dreams that make me who I am and who I am becoming, not who I thought I wanted to be.
Jonathan Moynihan has always been one of the hippest, most down to Earth people I’ve known. In high school I looked up to him as the kind of Christian dude I wanted to be and now he’s exactly the kind of friend, husband and working man that I want to be. He’s made mistakes, learned from them and is honest about how he doesn’t always have life figured out. I doubt there will be a time when Jonathan Moynihan is not someone I hold as a role model for my life. Which is why I was floored when he said something very similar to me.
About me: I work in advertising sitting at a computer all day. On Friday nights I’d rather read Batman comics than go out. I get excited over things like mono-spaced fonts and a new album from nerdy indie bands.
Yet Jmo thinks what I do is awesome. Whenever I spend time with him he makes me feel so cool. He compliments me on my taste in music and design, about my writing and my attitude. Me! Jmo compliments me! The lame kid who reads about galaxies and yells at people for touching his computer screen. (Seriously, you can point at my screen without putting your fingers on my screen. I will hit you.)
This humble brag does have a point. What I’ve been realizing through my friendship with Mr. Moynihan is that we’re all way more interesting that we think we are and people care way more about our stories than we think they do. I see myself as boring, but the truth is I have a pretty cool job. I’m good at things other people aren’t. I have ideas and opinions to contribute. And so do you.
In fact, I think you’re fascinating. I think you have unique talents, fun hobbies, and a great story. You and I might not mesh personally, but there are people out there who think you’re the “bomb-dot-com”, or whatever the kids say these days.
So go to bed tonight remembering that you’re the coolest you there is and people want to know who you really are.
Tinariwen is one of the best bands playing music right now, no hyperbole. They’re music is all soul, filled with the history of a people who’ve knew heartache before we were even on this planet. See, Tinariwen are part of a nomadic people called the Tuareg who have lived in Saharan desert for millenia, moving as they pleased. This isn’t a life style that meshes with modern society’s governments and boarders. This lead to civil war, death in the desert leading the Tuareg people into exile. This is where Tinariwen was born.
Leader Ibrahim Ag Alhabib built his first guitar out of a tin can, a stick and bicycle brake wire. He had no formal guitar training and came up with his tunings based on feel. He met other Touareg with a passion for music and they started to play. And play they did. Tinariwen’s music is alive. It’s full of longing, frustration and companionship, all stemming from decades of oppression. Desert blues that celebrate as much as they ache. It became the music of an exiled people in desperate need of identity.
The best thing about Tinariwen is, incredible story or no, they rock. They play their guitars in a way I’ve never heard anywhere else. The notes flutter and twist. The song here, ‘Cler Achel’, locks into a loose groove that’s open as the desert sky and driving as the desert wind. Listen to it. Feel it. Dance to it. Even if you don’t like the song, you have to admit that there’s nothing on the radio right now that feels this alive.
I went to Ecuador on a medical missions trip in November, and The Lord taught me a lot of things through the people we met and and the things we did. Today I want to talk about what the Lord taught me in the jungle, on the trails.
We visited four different villages during the trip. At each village we set up a mobile clinic complete with pharmacy, nurses, doctors and one very dedicated dentist. We drove into the first village and then hiked to the next three, through the jungle, with 20-30lbs of gear and medicine each. It was wild. This was no tourist hike, we were deep.
The first hike was about four hours long and kicked my ass. I joined this team knowing it would be physically demanding, but the first hike was a trial by fire. A good portion of that hike was straight up a hill. A steep hill. A steep, muddy hill that wanted us dead.
But we lived!
Don, the missionary leading our trip, said our second hike would be equally tough, but we were now well prepared for it. Don also said the next trail had never been hiked by a North American team before us, including himself. That’s right, he’d never done this hike before.
So, Wednesday morning, as we set out on our second hike, we were feeling wary but ready. It was supposed to take five hours to hike from the village of Kakataro to the village of Tapibara. Five long hours, but that’s part of the adventure, right?
The Second Hike
The first few hours weren’t too hard. We broke for lunch, laughed, ate MRE’s and then set out again to tackle the last two hours to Tapibara. We were told the rest of the hike was relatively flat, however the first 1000 yards after our lunch spot were straight up a hill. This should have been a sign to us that things weren’t as they seemed.
As we progressed into the jungle, our total hiking reached four hours and then five and then six. The trail was getting tougher, with hills, mud, rivers and logs. We were all starting to wonder, “Where is this village?”
Sidebar - Wao Time
Something you need to know about our guides is that they don’t understand time like we do. The Waodani don’t carry watches or follow a calendar. The villagers estimate how long the hike would take, but we didn’t know for sure until we hiked them. This didn’t always turn out well. By the end of the trip, it became a running (and not always funny) joke whether a predicted timeframe was in Wao time or Gringo time. Anyway…
The Second Hike Continues
At hour six, one hour past our ETA, we asked our guide, Gaba, how much further until the village. He said five hours. “Gaba, you’re going to have to go ahead and repeat that. Did you say there are five hours left?” To our relief, Don quickly dismissed that as an example of how the Waodani can’t estimate time, it was probably closer to 30 minutes. We started hiking again.
Hour six became hour seven.
Hour seven became hour eight.
We were in big trouble.
Sidebar - The Jungle
It’s a bit hard to describe hiking in the jungle. I told a teammate that my sliding scale of what is considered “the middle of nowhere” has drastically changed since that hike. Imagine hiking down a trail that is only a trail in the most vague sense. There are solid walls of green stretching over your head on either side. You could hike for days in any direction and see nothing but more jungle. It somehow manages to be alive and feral, yet eerily still at the same time.
Everything in the jungle is trying to kill you. Imagine descending a hill so steep you have to lean back to keep from falling forward. It’s covered in mud so you have to walk sideways to keep from slipping. Of course, you slip anyway and grab a tree to keep from going down the hill. Only after you grab the tree do you remember it could be covered with barbs that will break off in your hand and cause infection (we’re days from a hospital). Luckily the tree is safe… but the biting ants all over it are not and they’re now crawling down your arm. You let go to frantically brush the ants off which causes you to slide down the hill into the person in front of you. Do this for 10 hours in 100% humidity.
We waded through streams, crossed slimy log bridges, climbed hills, dodged poisonous snakes and got eaten by bugs. We were drenched, muddy and sore. This is what it was like in the jungle. A far cry from hiking through Patapsco Park, the Wednesday hike was the most physically demanding and dangerous thing I’ve ever done.
The Second Hike Concludes
By the end of the hike, it was getting dark and we were exhausted. I could barely think straight. During the last few hours, it was all I could do to put one foot in front of the other.
As we trudged on, our group started to spread out along the trail. Don stopped us and said that we needed to stay tight or the stragglers were in danger of getting picked off by jaguars. That’s right, he told us we might get eaten and he wasn’t kidding. We’d seen the paw prints. Big paw prints.
A few hours before hand, some of the villagers went ahead of our group because they move a lot faster without gringos trailing after them. I have a very distinct memory of stumbling along the trail, so delirious that I probably looked drunk, when the villagers that went ahead came back down the trail the other way. They had made it to the Tapibara, dropped their own gear and then come back to carry our packs for us. It was like seeing The Lord himself come down the trail surrounded by a flock of Cherubim.
Ten hours after leaving Kakataro, we stumbled into Tapibara delirious and exhausted. I collapsed into the grass and stripped my boots off my wrecked feet. Ben, our dentist, was collapsed by a hut calling for water like a wounded soldier. A few of us plunged ourselves into the Dayuno river and just soaked, piranhas be damned.
That hike had pushed me well beyond anything I was physically fit to do. I should have passed out or broken a leg. I should have gotten eaten or maimed or hopelessly lost. The weird part was, aside from being exhausted and sore, by the next day I felt pretty good. It made no sense. At least, it made no sense until I turned to scripture.
What The Lord Taught Me In The Jungle
In 2 Corinthians 12:9, Paul recounts the Lord saying to him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” That was exactly how the hike went. The weaker I got, the more desperate I was, the more His power was the only thing keeping me going. I never had a burst of Superman-like strength, I only ever had enough strength to go one more step. God had work for us to do in that jungle, and the hike was a reminder that it is by his power alone that we were doing it.
That’s how it is every day. Paul says in Ephesians that God has prepared good works for us to do. We don’t do these works on our own volition, but because God made us to do them. It’s by God’s power and permission alone that we do anything for His Kingdom, big or small. Some amazing things happened in Ecuador because God gave us the money, time, desire and strength to get down there and be ready when it was time.
So would I do it again? Oh yes. It was an incredible experience being so lost in God’s creation, well past the threshold of what I could handle on my own. It reminds me of what James says in 1:2-3 — “Consider it a great joy, my brothers, whenever you experience various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.” No matter what trials I go through, I will always be able to look back and remember when the Lord got me out of the jungle.