Nationalism & Identity: What’s all the hype about?

Dual

By Leslie Evans

Identity. It’s what makes us human. It’s what separates us from all of the other living beings on Earth. Our ability to classify, divide, include, label ourselves in regards to how we look, where we’re from, and who we are. Perhaps one of the fundamental markers of human identity is being able to claim a home or place of belonging. Nationalism incites a sense of pride for most people, a lifelong pledge of loyalty and an enduring source of self-importance.

The quizzical thing about identity, nationalism in particular, is that it is often-times out of a person’s control. One cannot choose where he or she is born nor raised. A person does not choose his or her race. Someone doesn’t necessarily choose to belong to a certain religious affiliation (although later in life a person may decide to abandon these religious views or change beliefs, much to the detriment and shock of the family and community). However, it is these factors, race, culture, religion, which are so crucial to forming someone’s identity.

In these contentious times, rife with environmental uncertainty, economic instability, political inadequacy (namely, concerning the United States), and global upheaval on all these fronts, questions of national identity have yet again made their way to centre stage. Usually it is during times of war in which nationalism becomes a hot topic. During the World Wars, the British were proud to display their loyalty to The Queen. Similarly, in this time American patriotism began to really pick up steam. Collectively, Americans have always been a very proud people; Unabashed in flaunting their affinity for the red, white, and blue.

I’ve spent roughly ninety-percent of my life living in the States. I have an unmistakeable American accent when I speak. I know all of the slang and lingo. I am fully aware of the social and cultural cues and oddities (such as saying, “we should hangout sometime” is really a formal and politer way of indicating that no, you will not be hanging out anytime soon). I attended grade school in the States and received my Undergrad education at a public state college. Anyone reading this account would certainly proclaim that I am undoubtedly American. Yet, whenever I find myself waiting in line at passport control I have a choice between my American and German passports.

I belong to two separate nationalities; Germany, the country of my birth, and America, where I was educated and raised. Two identities which seem diametrically opposed: showy winners and silent losers. While I haven’t lived in Germany since moving to the U.S. at two and half years old, I will be relocating to Bavaria next week. Having spent no more than a couple of weeks at a time in Germany for holiday, I am looking forward to seeing what is in store for me. While I feel excited, a sense of trepidation is beginning to develop.

I have never lived in a country where I did not speak the language. As much as I hate to admit, and while it is a bit embarrassing, I do not speak fluent German. I understand it for the most part and enjoy watching local TV shows and dubbed movies. Regrettably, my German mother never encouraged much German speaking in our house. I don’t blame her as my father is American, thus making our home mostly an English-speaking home. Whenever I would visit friends and family in Germany, most conversations would take place in English as European school systems are much better at preparing youth for a globalised, interconnected world. This move should be an interesting endeavour, to say the least. On a positive note, the German government will be paying for me to take language courses. In the coming months, I should be able to not fumble my way through the Bavarian countryside in broken sentences, mismatched articles (who knows where “der” “die” and “das” go anyway?!) and unconjugated verbs.

As a dual-citizen, you grow up with a connection to two identities. When watching the World Cup, for example, my brother and I would always root for the German team. Whenever the Olympic Games took place, seeing either an American or German on the podium would make me happy, not necessarily proud, but happy. Yet, having a background that is different from the norm does sometimes set one up for backlash. During a particular Open House evening in elementary school, when my classmates heard my mother’s accent they asked where she was from. When they found out she was German I spent the rest of the second grade hearing childish jokes like, “you’ve got germs cuz you’re from GERM-any.” Eventually, when we reached the age where we were taught World History, I felt the gaze of the class as we learned about the horrors of the Nazis. I wouldn’t necessarily consider this as bullying, it never really bothered me. I didn’t feel hurt or ostracised. For the most part, Americans like the Germans. Almost like a national pastime, Americans love to tell anyone who will listen all about their ancestry… “Well, you see, my great-great-great-grandaddy was German and his last name was Mueller!” Ironically, it’s like a badge of honour for most Americans to claim their German lineage.

When answering the famous question, “do you consider yourself more German or American?” The answer is equivocally, “neither.” I am a person. I don’t feel the need to tie myself to arbitrary feelings of pride or loyalty. Personally, I feel as though all governments possess some inherent level of corruption and secrecy. Politicians, regardless of national affiliation, will always be self-serving in the end and disregard/ignore the pleas and wants from his or her constituents. Such is the nature of politics. From a cultural perspective, however, I find many aspects of both the American and German cultures to be endearing. I love the Bavarian Christmas traditions. I love (and miss) the food and family-fun of Thanksgiving in America. America’s love of hip-hop and rap is more appealing than the German’s love of 80’s techno. I appreciate how the Germans care more for nature and spend more time outdoors, go hiking, tend to their gardens, and actively recycle their rubbish.

And while the Americans may point the finger and laugh that the Germans essentially caused and brilliantly lost two World Wars (oh yeah, and don’t forget how evil Hitler was or how bad the Holocaust was), it can be easy to forget that EVERY nation has blemishes on its history. The genocide of the Native Americans, the unprovoked military invasions into numerous countries worldwide, the poisoning of its own citizens through lead-tarnished water supplies, are just a bit of the negative aspects of American history which are turned a blind eye to. How easy it is to forget one’s own shortcomings when you’re busy looking at other’s downfalls.

Enough with the tit-for-tat showdown. As a dual-citizen, I am ready to uncover the relatively unknown side of myself, the neglected German half. Perhaps living in the place of my birth will help me discover aspects of myself I never knew existed. Will I pick up a newfound appreciation for hiking? Will I thoroughly enjoy sorting through recycling? Do I secretly love cheesy 80’s electro music? Time will tell.

 

Honesty is the best policy.. but can I be honest with myself?

Abstaining from alcohol…Can I finally do it {for real} this time?

Booze. [bewwwww-z]

It’s everywhere. Seriously. Living in Ireland where there’s no shortage of pubs, drinking alcohol is seemingly engrained in the culture. A pint of Murphy’s is the Irish equivalent to a slice of wholesome, humble cherry pie. Not to knock on the Irish and their love of a hearty pint, Americans also share an affinity for alcohol. Clubs and bars in Houston are always thriving on the weekends, teeming with a slew of anxious, over-worked young adults ready to let loose and forget about the pressures of another busy week. Admittedly, I was one of those avid partiers, going out every weekend.. Every. Single. Weekend.

How it started

My history with alcohol began like most people’s. I never drank in high school. Being an overly-conscious good-girl/nerd who was focused on the important things in life like my grades, my nerdy friends, and maintaining a trim physique, drinking alcohol never interested me. However, during my freshman year of University I was introduced to an entirely new social setting. Attending a school in a large metropolis, far from the watchful gaze of my parents, I ended up befriending fun, crazy, wild, carefree people who also lived in my dormitory. I admired their zest for life, the way they confidently navigated their way through the nightclubs I had just been introduced to… I also watched in wonder as they showed off their fake ID’s and detailed the various ways they were able to purchase alcohol.

I learned a lot more besides academics in my first year of college. My new friends introduced me to the world of heavy partying… From Thursday night (our favorite nightclub hosted Ladies Night every Thursday) to Sunday night, most of week was a blur. Blasting techno in our dorm rooms, we took shots of Tito’s vodka, using Sprite we had purchased with our student cards as chasers. Only when we were all properly sauced up would we venture to a downtown club or bar. Even though we were all underage at the time, we never had issues being let into these drinking establishments. The world is really your oyster when you’re young, pretty, and carefree (dumb).

In hindsight, I am amazed and grateful that no one was ever busted for a DWI or involved in an alcohol-related traffic incident. Seriously. These booze-filled nighttime outings occurred far too often than I care to admit. And although I was never the one who was driving, especially after I had been drinking, there were plenty of instances when I was a passenger of a highly impaired drunk driver. I really have to give it up to my guardian angels because they really worked their asses off for me during those wild, formative freshman nights.

All that boozing wasn’t free from consequence, however. I came to find out how much my body hated me, especially after subjecting it to copious amounts of sugary, cheap drinks. My hangovers were brutal. After a wild night out, I would find myself barely clinging to life. My head was pounding, a headache so severe that it felt as though a miniature demon lived in my brain. I felt so nauseous that I couldn’t even keep a sip of water down. On days that I found myself really hungover, I physically could not leave my bed unless it was to throw up. Apologies for the graphic nature of this retelling but the harsh reality is that there truly exists a not-so-glamourous side to drinking, despite what the Ciroc ads want you to think.

 

 

 

 

 

Despite how shitty I felt, I continued to drink. It was a social activity. And in college, no one is drinking water of tea at a party. I enjoyed the party scene, I liked being around fun people who I believed really liked me. I loved the feeling of being popular as I had never really considered myself popular in the past.

I learned various stealth techniques of smuggling alcohol into prohibited locations, from the basic (i.e. taking a vodka-filled water bottle into a nightclub) to the more complex (using food coloring to dye an entire handle of tequila a fluorescent aquamarine hue in order to sneak it onto a cruise ship using a Listerine bottle). In retrospect, I shudder to think of how bougie all that behavior was. It’s not as though I truly needed to drink… It’s not like I couldn’t live without alcohol. I never had the urge to consume it on a daily basis. For me, I guess, alcohol was a crutch for me to feel more confident, a way to get through social situations… As a naturally outgoing and fun person (I can crack a joke every now and again), feeling tipsy/drunk made me even more carefree and act even crazier. With a glass of vodka soda in hand I felt unstoppable and untouchable. Nothing mattered in life except that particular moment. The throbbing pulse of dance music. The sea of beautiful faces lined up in the queue actively trying to meet the bartender’s gaze so that another round of shots could be ordered. I lived for the weekend and alcohol was a constant weekend companion throughout my undergrad years, giving me a (false) sense of confidence and coolness.

After graduating, I moved back home with my parents while searching for a job (one which would afford me my own apartment, essentially). Away from the party scene, I rediscovered my love for nature and sport. I regularly visited my local gym and spent almost every evening walking through the woods. I lost weight effortlessly. I felt stronger and leaner. The biggest change, however, was emotionally. For the first time in a while I experienced a zen-like inner peace which I never realized I had been missing.

No escaping

Eventually, I landed my first “big girl job” and found myself working in a typical office environment for a large corporation. I had taken the job with the best intentions of having it develop into a long, respectable career. Much to my surprise, my work environment turned out to be anything but typical.

As I worked in marketing, it was common and expected to attend various social and business networking events. I had preconceived notions that business people are professionals and would never openly showcase wild drinking behavior.. I was mistaken. Every networking event seemed like an excuse to booze. Managers, VP’s, [insert prestigious label here] engaged in drinking unfathomable amounts of booze, even during daytime functions. The particular team I worked with even had the reputation of being the wildest partiers in the industry. This title was well earned as the kitchen in our office was always stocked with Miller Lite, bottles of wine, and even vodka in the freezer. On Friday afternoons we would start the weekend early, mixing up Micheladas and drinking at our desks. If my boss was in a good mood, she’d whip up some mimosas (see photo below). Occasionally, we would all meet up at a strip club for a boozy lunch… I’m not kidding. At times I had to make sure I was sober enough to drive home after work.

You may be reading this and think to yourself, “Hell, sounds like a fun place to work! I wish I had that job.” While I did have a lot of fun, I knew that this company did not possess the qualities of a reputable, long-lasting enterprise. I was right, as the company eventually was purchased by a competitor and we all found ourselves out of a job. The party had ended.

From denial to acceptance

My time working in the alcohol-obsessed office really skewed my reality a bit. As I had moved out of parents’ house and was once again living in the city, I embraced the party scene once more, with even more fervor. Now being a working young-adult, as were all of my friends, going bar hopping was a normal activity. I felt as though this is what I should be doing. Everyone my age goes out. I would tell myself. And then I would spend yet another Sunday morning, dying in my bed from another hangover. Miserable. And then sheepishly regretting my actions from the night before. I shouldn’t have pre-gamed so hard. I should have just stuck with beer. Why did I have to take that tequila shot? Okay, those two tequila shots? And as I would spend the next 6+ hours of the day vomiting up my insides I promised myself that I would never drink again. However, true to form, it was another weak pledge I had made to myself… I would go right back into the going-out routine, drinking excessively, waking up hungover, cursing myself and vowing to stop. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

As I write all of this down now, I realize that I am confronting this issue honestly and blatantly. I have been putting off this self-intervention of sorts for far too long. Somehow we believe that an alcoholic is easy to point out: a disheveled mess of person, fumbling around in a dirty house searching for a fifth of the nastiest liquor just to keep the withdrawal symptoms at bay. Or maybe, some people picture an alcoholic as someone who has to drink every single day. With those generalizations in mind it is easy to see how one may rationalize one’s own behavior around booze, or any substance for that matter. And while I wouldn’t consider myself as someone in desperate need of AA or the like, I have to come clean to myself.. I’m getting older and it’s time to, finally, face an uncomfortable truth about myself that I’ve been avoiding/unwilling to admit: alcohol is NOT my friend.

I have to ask myself: Can I be a person worthy of my own respect? I think back to the last time I truly felt content with who I was as I person and it has been far too long ago. As I consciously choose to and work towards living a life free from booze, I hope to uncover what truly brings me joy, excitement, and confidence.

Cheers to the future. *raises a teacup

My name is Leslie and, after reviewing my long, complicated relationship with alcohol, have decided that a break-up is for the best.

The breakdown before the breakthrough

Out of curiosity: 

Does one truly have to go through a dark night of the soul in order to grow?

Is change really that painful? 

So often in life, we have to work up the courage to be our own champion. Never have I felt that more than now. I guess you could say I’ve lead a pretty easy, sheltered life. Some may even say spoiled. I grew up in a tight-knit, loving family. I did well in school, got the high marks, finished Uni, and got a decent job.

I basically “gave it all away” when I packed up and moved to Ireland, leaving everything I knew behind, including a teaching job which I felt gave my life meaning. Within me, I knew that moving away and furthering my education was the right thing to do at that time. Yet, a year later, a feeling of regret lingers in my chest along with the proverbial “Did I do the right thing?” question floating around in my mind..

Regret is not an empowering feeling to say the least. I blame myself for being silly enough to throw the comforts of a stable job away, to move to a country where I feel like an outsider. And yes, at times I do feel lonely and homesick, especially when the sun doesn’t appear for days on end and I long for a few moments of Houston’s heat and humidity.

Last night, after spending an entire day indoors because of Hurricane Ophelia, my boyfriend and I were preparing for bed. He looked over and asked:

Is everything okay?

Me: Yeah, why?

Him: You honestly just seem a little down recently.

Me: I guess it’s just who I am. 

We ended up staying up the entire night talking (and me crying like a sap into a cup of tea). Understandably, he was concerned by my low mood and, in typical boyfriend form, tried to come up with ways to solve it. Perhaps I was feeling sad because I was stir crazy from staying in the house for so long because of bad weather. Maybe the lack of a “normal” 9 to 5 has me feeling unimportant. Or maybe, the metaphorical elephant in the room was my loss of direction in my life and feeling as though I have nothing to show for myself. Quite a heavy discussion topic for a Monday night, but my rock of a boyfriend gave me the chance to explain myself completely.

The truth is: The self-respect I’m so desperately searching for will not appear from outside sources. I cannot make other people, especially my boyfriend, responsible for my happiness. Additionally, I cannot let my memories of the past occupy too much headspace. As the saying goes, “comparison is the thief of joy.” Having spent so long comparing my life in Ireland now to what I had, did, etc. in Texas stole any chance I had on being content.

*Que the messy, ugly, emotional breakdown*

I’m shedding my perception of what makes me who I am. Without the labels (i.e. student, teacher, etc.) used to describe myself, I am left to define myself in new terms which is both liberating and terrifying. I’ve always had opportunities presented to me. I always knew my place, the role I had to play, the tasks I had to accomplish. Now I’m left with a blank page in front of me. Where do I go next? What should I do??

Each day is a chance to move forward. Though I may not have the clearest picture of where I hope to end up, fulfilling goals each day and being open to challenge myself are ways to fulfill my need for self-approval and dignity.

So, to answer the questions presented earlier:

Does one truly have to go through a dark night of the soul in order to grow? 

YES!

Is change really that painful? 

YES!

In closing, I am glad I shared my sadness and worries with my partner, and now I guess, the Internet community. Each day may be different, my mood may shift, yet I have to always remember that I have to experience the pain of uncertainty in order to grow and reach my full potential.

 

 

What’s the future of “tiny home” living?

I’ve always been fascinated by the concept of getting by with less. Noticing the increased popularity in “tiny home” living through trendy television shows such as HGTV’s Tiny House, Big Living and Tiny House Buildersindicates a growing demand for a more minimalistic approach to living. Recent films, such as the trending Netflix documentary Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Thingsdiscuss the financial and personal gains one can expect to receive once adopting an excess-free lifestyle.

After the devastating housing crisis and financial crash of 2008, many Americans began accepting the realization that living beyond one’s means is not a viable pursuit. Keeping up with hefty mortgage payments each month while maintaining the upkeep costs of a larger home puts constraints on one’s pocketbook. Dealing with excessive monthly expenses just to cover the bare minimum of home ownership cannot be sustained in such a turbulent and uncertain economy and job market. The days of spending an entire career with a single firm or company are over. Even more concerning, wages have not increased to keep up with the cost of living. A recent study conducted by the National Low Income Housing Coalition found that only 0.1% of US minimum wage workers can afford a 1-bedroom apartment.

As much as I would like to remain positive and hopeful, seeing the reality through rose-colored glasses cannot blind from the truth. Numbers matter:

Okay, the average income in the US is slightly less than $52,000. The average house price is near $260,000. Generally, I’ve heard that one’s house mortgage should be 2 to 2.5 times the amount of one’s yearly income. In this case, the average American income should afford a mortgage of $130,000. This is half of the amount of the average house price. The numbers don’t add up.

Could tiny homes be the solution?

Minimizing= More Money?

While one may choose to build a luxury tiny home complete with top-of-the-line appliances and amenities, the average price for a tiny home is around $23,000 (91% less than the average American house price). This Spruce article showcases five tiny homes that were all built for a minimal price: between $500 and $12,000!

Besides the financial appeal of tiny home pricing, living in smaller accommodations encourages (or enforces because of space constraints) one to adopt a minimalist approach to life. Living in a 300 sq. ft. or less house means owning less stuff. You will have to downsize your wardrobe as an overly packed closet will not psychically fit in the confines of the home. You will adapt to less space by ridding yourself of knickknacks, collections of forgotten DVD’s and CD’s, and other space-taking, unimportant  possessions (i.e. the dreaded “C” word, CLUTTER). You will learn to do more with less. You will begin to easily decipher between the things you need to survive and the things which temporarily filled a want.

Small square footage also cuts back on utility costs. This detailed list outlined by the Tumbleweed Tiny House Company (how cute is that company name?!) highlights the main ways tiny house living can save you hundreds of dollars each month! Furthermore, by saving less on housing costs you will have more money to save or invest in preparation for retirement. This is an appealing aspect of minimalistic living as the majority of Americans aren’t even saving for retirement.

Downsizing creates options

One of the main allures of tiny homes is that they can be attached to a wheel chassis meaning you are free to travel everywhere with your home! Just as a tortoise travels with his home on his back, you are free to move about and pick your ideal housing location. If you have the luxury to work remotely, you have the options of where you would like to place your tiny home.

You may choose to live in the places you’ve only dreamt about; an expansive mountain range region, a sunny beach locale, a sweeping prairie are all available options once you’ve transitioned into a tiny house lifestyle.

Community appeal

The stereotypical tiny house dweller brings to mind a long-haired, scraggly-bearded recluse. However, as this lifestyle has gained in popularity over the years, the community has grown tremendously. There are many charming, well-maintained tiny house communities all throughout the U.S. Likeminded minimalists and tiny home dwellers also share their thoughts, ideas, and experiences through online forums on Facebook and Reddit.

What’s the future of the “tiny home” movement?

As this lifestyle is still viewed as “on the fringe”, getting these minimalist ideas to the mainstream may take more time and convincing. The American mindset is still clouded by notions of grandeur and comparison. The motif of “keeping up with the Joneses” is still very much embedded deeply into the American psyche. Despite dire financial struggles many families are facing these days, the pressure to purchase the latest and greatest items and showcase an appearance of wealth and privilege are still coveted American ideals. Banks continue to lend out large sums of money, encouraging those on fixed incomes to buy, buy, buy and pay off later. The pattern of inflation and frivolous money loaning which created the last economic downturn almost a decade ago has reemerged. A pattern of bubbles looms over the U.S. Student loan debts. Housing mortgage debts. Credit card debit (which is the highest it’s ever been in history, $1,000,000,000,000.00). What happens when the bubbles burst this time?

On a positive note, I am encouraged by the steady growth in the tiny house market. Perhaps another federal/global financial disaster will encourage more people to assess their earnings to spending ratio and adopt a simpler, more cost effective way of living.

 

Why do some people get pets when they can’t properly care for them?

Possibly the only uplifting thing (besides this blog teehee) on the Internet these days are memes or videos featuring dogs and cats. These adorable animals melt our hearts with their fluffy faces, their silly antics, and their ability to quickly become our best friends!

However, often people adopt or buy pets and become either overwhelmed or are too lazy to properly care for them. Throughout my lifetime I have witnessed and experienced neighbors adopting a dog or cat and eventually treating their animal with complete disinterest which leads to neglect.

As a child growing up in Florida, I remember our next-door neighbor leaving their poor dog tied to a tree in their backyard. Alone for hours on end, with the only interaction being a daily delivery of food in his dish, the little dog would whimper in misery. My mother, being the strong willed woman that she is, swiftly took action and wrote her dissidence in a note which she posted on his front door. When that neighbor failed to take action and care for his pet, my mother took the next step and contacted a local animal welfare group. I’ll never forget the feeling of justice we as a family felt when the dog was seized by animal protective services. Though technically leaving a pet outside tied to a tree to live out its life isn’t considered animal cruelty, the fact that the dog was severely underweight was cause enough to have it removed from our neighbor’s property.

As the years went by, I have encountered more experiences of people failing to properly care for their pets. Owners are leaving dogs in cramped cages while they are away at work for 10+ hours each day. Cats being left outside to fend for themselves and brave the elements. How can people be so careless, irresponsible, and heartless?

I am writing this post because I am genuinely appalled by how common animal neglect is. Recently, my next-door neighbors got a cute terrier mix puppy. While one would be happy for a new addition to the family, my neighbors only interact with their new pet by screaming at it to “SHUT UP!” This is because the poor little dog is locked outside in the backyard in a makeshift crate. He whimpers hours on end for some attention and has even started banging his food dishes around to create a ruckus.

What can be done to combat this heartbreaking issue? Animals are not soulless beings. They are sensitive creatures capable of providing love and affection beyond measure.

 

Out of curiosity, why do some people treat their pets with such a lack of compassion?