Monthly Archives: September 2019

What I Do Not Understand

September 29, 2019

Culture and Society

There are realities in life that simply baffle me. These are circumstances and situations that exist because of complex reasons. They do not present easy or simple solutions, and in fact, they seem impossible to undo.

This week, I thought I would share some of the aspects of modern life that I find confounding. Here is my top three, but I have others.

  1. Gentrification
    It happens everywhere, and I have seen it change and complicate the landscape of an urban center. Here in the Nashville area, it has happened in the form of affluent white people moving into low-income neighborhoods comprised of mostly people of color and historic older buildings. Gradually, overzealous realtors and developers start to come in and market these areas as “hip”, “trendy”, and “affordable”. Rental rates start to increase, and the poor folks who have lived in these areas for years get priced out of their own homes. Shops and boutiques that use the word “artisanal” and “bespoke” pop up, and the neighborhoods start to look more clean and pristine (and less artsy and far less diverse). It boggles my mind why this keeps happening.
  2. Why isn’t there a cap on rental rates?
    Before I stopped living in Nashville three years ago, I paid $650 for a one-bedroom apartment that was less then 10 minutes from downtown. Rental rates have gone up significantly since then. In places like San Francisco and New York, it is not unheard of for a small apartment to cost $3000/month. How are these prices justified? If you are not the owner of a profitable tech-startup or in the medical field, how could you afford such astronomical prices?
  3. Why aren’t there limits on daycare prices?
    My sister and her husband have three young daughters who are not yet old enough to go to school. They both have to work full time jobs to support themselves and their kids, and they pay hundreds of dollars per week for daycare services. I get that caring for children is a valuable and delicate undertaking, but it all seems like highway robbery. There is no such thing as a reasonable daycare rate. It is all expensive.

These three points have a lot to do with money and economics within a capitalist society. I am not convinced that we have attained the most benevolent way of existing as human beings. Our version of economic prosperity is full of inequality and disparity. The poor remain poor and the rich grow progressively richer.

I hope that someday we can evolve into something better. I do not know what that looks like yet, but we should not stop until we have found it.


Stop Comparing Yourself to Other People

September 22, 2019

Culture and Society

There is one thing I have come to know in life. No matter how much I have accomplished and how far I have gone, there is always at least one person who has gone even farther and accomplished more. Perhaps it is human nature to compare oneself to others. Even so, I do not believe that this justifies perpetuating this behavior. Similarly, many of us are prone to destructive behaviors like alcoholism and drug addiction, but we ultimately have the choice not to indulge in them.

In my experience, comparing oneself to others only serves to make you feel less proud about yourself, your accomplishments, and your life in general. It can become a way to put yourself down.

Would it be terrible to just be happy for that person who is prettier/smarter/more wealthy/etc.? No, certainly not, but it is definitely not easy.

I suppose this is where jealousy and envy come in. Someone else has something you covet, and this makes you feel lousy and inferior.

Perhaps the root of the problem is an utter lack of genuine love, appreciation for, and confidence in everything in your life. That’s a big problem, but maybe there is something you can do about it.

Here is a short list of intentions to help you stop comparing yourselves to others:

  1. Instead of being envious, try to admire that other person and to learn from them. They did not get to where they are without at least a little effort. The lessons they have to teach can be invaluable to your own journey and personal goals.
  2. Take a moment every day to write about what you are thankful for in your life. Integrate this practice as a daily priority right up there with eating food and drinking water. Gratitude makes us truly appreciate the inherent richness within our lives.
  3. If you cannot help but negatively compare yourself to someone else, then see if you can ignore that particular person and shift your energy and attention to someone you actually admire and whose life truly represents something you aspire to.
  4. Lastly, see if you can actually meet the person who you are envious of and get to know them a little. You might find that they are human too and face their own challenging struggles. The truth that you discover may be entirely different from the glamorous impression you’ve been harboring in your head.

I have to say that none of this is easy. There is something incredibly difficult about not comparing yourself to others.

I constantly remind myself that life is not a competition and that I have so much in my own life to cherish and celebrate. Therein lies the key to preventing this self-defeating behavior. One must be constantly vigilant to watch out for when it happens and also celebrate everything about yourself and your life that is unique and wonderful.

I am not a psychologist or an expert on human behavior. This topic is something I have struggled with in the past, and I thought it would be worthwhile to share my thoughts on the matter. If you know of good ways to stop comparing yourself to others, let me know in the comments below.

Until my next post, be kind to yourself and celebrate everything in your life that you love and cherish.


Life Before Death

September 14, 2019

Culture and Society

I can remember the word “heaven” being tossed about since I was a child. At Sunday school, as an altar boy during Catholic Mass, throughout the parochial education I received in elementary and high school, and in virtually every religious ceremony I have ever attended, elements of an ethereal afterlife were always suggested.

When I was 10 years old, my homeroom teacher showed us a small painting of a world with billowing clouds and endless streets made of golden bricks (flanked on either side by singing choirs of angels no less). He showed this painting numerous times and held it as if he was dangling fruit to tempt the hungry.

I understand what that was now. What is deemed as an “education” by some is often a form of propaganda, even if it is well-intended. I see that now, and I actively question the need for the existence of heaven and any form of an afterlife.

I get it. Death is scary, and the fact that all beings are not immune to it does not make it feel any less terrifying. But does this justify the desire for a payoff at the end?

And what if the end is nothing more than blood and bones dissolving into the earth? Is that so bad?

For the sake of discussion, let’s imagine that when we die there is absolutely nothing else that follows. As bleak as that sounds, this scenario offers one glimmering possibility that comes to mind.

What if heaven is a place of our own making while we are alive and breathing?

During our lifetimes . . .

  • What if we chose to deeply and joyously love those who love us and to build long and meaningful relationships?
  • What if we relinquished scenarios and people who cause harm and unhappiness?
  • What if we regularly gave ourselves time to rest and refresh our spirits?
  • What if we invested intention and willfulness within every second of every day against forces that fuel our discontent?
  • What if that which gives us joy in real time is actually the heaven we seek?

No one truly knows what happens after we take our last breath. I imagine that, after years of steady engagement, the human body does not completely shut down immediately. After the heart stops beating and the lungs stop breathing, other, more remote, corridors of the body take their time to cease operations. Beyond the biological disintegration, no one truly knows what happens.

If there is, in fact, heaven after we die, then so be it, but whether or not there is, would we not be better off to make the most out of what we have right now? To have adventures and be audacious? To go big? Or, if it pleases you, to find depth and joy within the small footprint of your daily existence? Travel? Learn new things? Actively refuse to live a life of discontent?

I propose that we explore the vast, unlimited possibilities of life before death.

Heaven could be somewhere laid out right in front of you, but you have not seen it for what it is yet.

And when we die, we can go toward the unknown knowing the thrill and exuberance of the lives that we have lived already.

If you build your own heaven in the here and now, then come what may, you will always have the sweet and wholesome memory of it until the end.


My Summer Reading Review

September 8, 2019

Culture and Society / Reading Books / Roque Recommends

Alas! With the Labor Day holiday now come and gone, our summer days have now passed us. The last three months away from school has given me a lot of time to rest and do more of the other activities that I enjoy outside all of the academic work.

One such activity is reading books. This summer, I read seven books, and I wanted to highlight some of the more noteworthy ones here.

Dazzle Camouflage by Ezra Berkley Napon

In the interest of transparency, I actually know the person who wrote this book as well as a few of the people whose work are documented within. This book chronicles theatrical styles of grassroots activism that have been carried out in various regions of the US. If you are interested in the type of activism that extends beyond the usual protests, rallies, and boycotts, this book provides a striking view of the ways to incorporate performance art, satire, and unconventional artistic expression into all kinds of public advocacy work. The writing is easy to understand, and the historical anecdotes give clear examples of how this kind of activism can be done.

The Secret Piano by Zhu Xiao-Mei

I was drawn to this book primarily because I actively seek out books about pianos and pianists. Needless to say, this historical fiction and autobiography certainly met that criteria and then some. This story shares the struggles of a young pianist who has to survive the harsh conditions of a work camp along with the ravages of the Chinese totalitarian Communist regime that sent her there. It shows how her love for playing piano sustained her spirit during the tumultuous and dehumanizing cultural revolution in China.

Well–paced and thoughtfully written, there is a delicacy and sweetness to this story that makes the whole saga purely satisfying to read.

A Gentleman In Moscow by Amor Towles

Simply put, I loved this book. It has the makings of classic historical fiction. The book’s central character Count Alexander Rostov is an endearing and enigmatic man of many passions. I could not help but cheer for him as he lives a simple but rich life living under house arrest in Russia’s iconic Metropol Hotel in Moscow. There are flashes of whimsy, intrigue, romance, and sheer delight in this fantastic narrative. The writing displays the author’s commanding gifts in the arts of storytelling and descriptive prose. I would emphatically recommend this book to anyone looking for a well-written and dynamic story. This is the best fiction I have read so far this year.

Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport

I have been making changes in the way I engage with social media and the digital aspects of modern life. This book has inspired so many ideas for me that I wrote about it in a recent blog post:

I have read many of Newport’s books and follow his blog. This book finds him in top form dispensing thoughtful ideas and practices toward combating the perils of modern technology (like cell phones and texting) and addictive social media usage. For anyone trying to live a life that is more engaged with actual human beings and the physical world around us and less entrenched in corporatized technology and websites, this book is for you.

Now that fall has more or less arrived, I have a set of new books to explore as the weather gets cooler and the beautiful fall colors start to arrive in my forest neighborhood. If you have any great book recommendations, let me know.

Find a wonderful book to settle into, and open up your world to limitless possibilities!


Details About my New Short Film “YUP”

September 1, 2019

Culture and Society / Roque Recommends

This past Wednesday (on my birthday), I released my short film YUP on Youtube! It was one of several film projects I worked on in the past year and a complete departure from anything I had ever done in the past. This week on my blog, I wanted to share a few of my thoughts about the project:

If you have not seen it yet, here it is:

Maybe you have a bunch of questions. Such as . . .

  • Where are the Chihuahuas?
  • What do the gym members drink when they enter the space just before getting slapped?
  • What is the code?
  • Why is Minerva besieged at the end?

I will tell you now that every detail of this little film serves some purpose. I put a lot of thought and intention behind the script and visuals. Entry into the space where everything happens is only granted by at least one swallow of the mystery liquid and a violent slap on the face. The answers to all of the other questions relate what happens further down in the story. If and when the sequels are made, all will be revealed.

When I was developing this piece, I had a few goals I wanted to accomplish:

  • I wanted to be bold and adventurous with the story. This meant creating a narrative that, in the long run, would not be linear in a traditional sense. There are a few elements that seem random, but this is by design.
  • I wanted to work with the immensely talented artists in my community here in middle Tennessee. Out of their willingness to help me tell this story, there was a synergy that bonded us together. It was magical.
  • I wanted to experiment with movement and dance. Again, I chose to express this in a non-traditional way. The stretching, the “reach for Satan”, the Versatile dance, and the “sinister approach” by the three spies near the end all reflect my ideas in this regard.
  • I wanted to use rich jewel and neon tones in the costuming and make-up. There needed to be bold splashes of color in as many shots as possible.
  • I wanted to take a stab at creating music made exclusively for this film. “WAWA” was the direct result of this. It was the first thing I worked on before filming, and I connected with my friend (and producer) Rob Tonini to record it shortly after filming wrapped.
  • I wanted to be creative with the dialogue by building frames through the movement of the arms and body.
  • Mostly, I wanted the film to be quirky and swim against the tides of convention. The opening sequence features what appears to be a man with a purse and wearing a tutu. A woman named “Laxatavia” wears strange make-up and seems to have violent tendencies. Another woman has the name “RaRaaa Kaka Kaka!!!” and uses kitchenware as a weapon. And then, of course, you have the “gently abrasive exfoliating skin creme”. What’s up with that?

Originally, this film was an assignment for my Single Cam II class at my university in which I simply had to film a conversation of any kind. I let my imagination run wild with this piece, and I gave myself permission to delve deep into dance and movement, make-up and costuming, and comedy well beyond the actual conversation in question.

I understand that this film was a creative risk. It may certainly be an acquired taste for some more than others, but I am okay with that. I was (and still am) vastly more interested in the creative process and development of this piece than its reception.

Sometimes, you simply have to create purely for the sake of creating. I am happy that I did just that.