Archive for June, 2015

Why it’s exciting to actually have TV (and money)

I’m sitting in front of the TV writing this now. I couldn’t have said that a month ago. And I’m kind of excited about it. Yes, it’s 2015 and I just said I’m excited about TV. If it was 1965, maybe that’d be acceptable, but now? Not so much. Still, there’s a reason I think it’s OK: because it’s a sign.

It’s a sign of a new level of economic status I’ve now reached as a twenty-something, and it’s refreshing. I can actually afford TV. TV with HD and a DVR. (Hello, recording Bulls games when I’m at night meetings! Hello recording silly things just to watch when it’s rainy or for some reason there’s nothing else to do!). I can afford TV with music channels and a YouTube app to watch workout videos and on-demand to watch movies and stuff. TV with so many bells and whistles I won’t even use them all, I’m sure of that. But I can afford it. Lucky me.

At 27 and three years into living on my own (aka not with my parents), it feels gratifying to be able to afford a last luxury-type thing that I previously thought was out of my range. TV service was really the last holdout, the last thing about which I could be accused of being a major cheapskate (other than small stuff like swiping extra napkins from Panera and Starbucks or reusing plastic snack bags because, c’mon, you obviously can put trail mix in the same bag twice).

It wasn’t so much that I literally couldn’t scrape together the money to pay for TV service, it was that it didn’t feel like the smart thing to do, and TV was something on which I was willing to skimp until I felt more comfortable with my money for the long term. We can’t expect to set ourselves up well for the future if we don’t make smart decisions now, so for a while, TV was out.

TV was my last cheapskate item, but maybe yours is a vacation a plane flight away instead of within a reasonable driving distance, or a vacation at a real hotel with a fantastic hot breakfast buffet instead of at a motel with a cracked mirror and questionable carpet. Maybe your last withheld luxury is going to pro sports games with friends instead of backing out half of the time, or having the free cash to sign up to run races, obstacle courses or triathlons.

So when you get that next raise or you make that last student loan payment and you realize, “Hey, I actually have money!” it’s going to be a good feeling – a good but subdued feeling. You won’t want to jump for joy. It might not even hit you right away. But eventually you’ll notice a few extra dollars in your checking account. You’ll wonder how it ended up there and what you should do with it. You’ll gain a new level of thankfulness for everything that’s allowed you to have this money – the blessings you can’t even count, your hard work, your parents’ support, your steady job, your education, your socioeconomic class, your parents’ support (so important it’s worth mentioning twice), your privileges and advantages everything that makes you you.

Maybe you’ll donate a few bucks. Or save a few bucks. Or decide to run the air conditioning more often, to move to a bigger apartment or splurge on expensive groceries from time to time.

Or if you’re like me, you’ll rejoin the world of 2015 and rejoice in some glorious TV. So for now, it’s back to the screen and a multitude of viewing choices.

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The trick of time and the post-college life

I’m standing near a drive-through at a suburban Dunkin’ Donuts chatting with a couple of cops. They assure me they’ve had their doughnuts for the day, but they’re actually here to collect donations for Special Olympics Illinois. It’s the annual Cop on a Rooftop day and I’m covering it for work.

So the cops and I are bantering and I’m writing stuff down. On a tangent unrelated to my story, one of them tells me why so many cops frequent this particular Dunkin’ Donuts location. Another cop tells me, more on-topic, thankfully, that he went to the start of the Special Olympics summer games last year and it was a really moving experience.

Then the first cop, the off-topic guy, asks how old I am. He’s not being creepy, just curious, so I smile and answer. He seems surprised to hear I’ve been out of college for five years. He tells me he wondered if I was an intern – 21 or 22 – because I seemed focused and good at what I was doing, but still looked young.

I smiled some more. I just got asked the “are you an intern?” question and it wasn’t an insult to my working abilities, it was a compliment! And it actually felt that way!

At the back of my mind, a little part of me had been waiting for this moment. The moment when being asked, at strange times throughout the summer, if I’m an intern would actually feel good. The moment when I would be glad to look a handful of years younger than my true age instead of feeling worried about my lack of professional experience.

I guess it takes five years. I guess it takes being out of college longer than I was ever in it. Wait … what?!? I’ve been out of college longer than I was in it? It just hit me. And it’s scary.

This is a strange and remarkable moment because it doesn’t feel like it’s been that long. The four-year time periods of college and high school feel like entire eras in our lives. They have entrance and exit rituals, freshman orientation days and graduations. They come with their own sets of activities and stresses and growing responsibilities and entirely new circles of friends. It’s like a package deal.

But twenty-something life, while somewhat of an era in itself, doesn’t necessarily have entrance and exit rituals … other than, possibly, the 30th birthday. More importantly, it doesn’t come with easy access to new activities or built-in challenges to overcome or easy-to-find groups of friends. It doesn’t come with an instruction manual, a set goal of a new phase to enter once it’s over. It’s up to us to decide where we’d like to be by 30 and pursue our goals so we can get there. We won’t have the same tests to take or stresses to endure as the next guy or gal, and we won’t have a guidance counselor to show us the way. We’ll encounter trials of sorts and our lives will be more stable if we find mentors and guides, but again, it’s up to us.

Since this twenty-something phase of life is so different, and so much more free – in a great and overwhelming way – it’s hard to believe I’ve been living it for longer than I ever was in college.

I squeezed all I could out of those four marvelous years, and now I’m doing my best to get all I can out of every year thereafter. But to realize my post-college life is already longer than my collegiate experience really puts the fleeting nature of time into perspective.

It’s an altogether strange thought and it calls for more reflection. But at least it’s allowing me to be pleasantly surprised when I’m thought to be an intern. And I don’t even have to get anyone else’s coffee!

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Q is for Quelf … and that’s all I have to say

Q is for Quelf. I played Quelf once during a game night with a group of friends. I’ve been to game nights a few times, but I they’re really not my favorite. So that’s all I have to say. About Quelf, at least.

Knowing when you have nothing to say is a skill. A lot of people don’t have it.

You can see this clearly just by visiting Facebook. People in the suburbs of Chicago will comment on police violence in New York City or on pilot mental health policies in Germany or on a “religious freedom” law in Indiana. They’ll post instantaneous reactions, give them life online without so much as a second thought. I’m generalizing here, but I know you’ve seen it.

Before social media took over, I used to run into this problem with my siblings – I’d spout off without thinking and accidentally offend one of them, causing an argument. I’m still guilty of this with my dad sometimes. Whenever I stupidly contradict him without having a solid opinion, or whenever I question his views without being well-read enough to have formed my own, I regret it. I feel like I’ve spoken out of turn, and I can’t take it back.

That’s why I’ve been trying to build the skill of knowing when I have nothing to say. My job helps. I cover liquor laws and pension policies and road projects and endless other things I don’t really have a stake in because I don’t live in the city I write about. So while I spend my days calling others in power and average Joes and Janes to see what they think, I’ve learned my opinion doesn’t really matter. This doesn’t mean I feel insignificant, I’ve just realized it’s best to stay quiet on matters that don’t immediately pertain to my life.

There are exceptions, of course. I see nothing wrong with expressing my views on topics I’ve covered out of personal interest – the gender pay gap, the social issue of the heroin problem in the suburbs, the Naperville Marathon. And I think it’s great if people speak up when they’re passionate and knowledgeable about anything – be it global warming, safe road biking practices, equal rights, the stock market or the Chicago Bulls.

Because when people are passionate and knowledgeable, that means they have something to say. But when they’re uninformed, thoughtless and rushed, chances are, their words won’t be of value.

My mom always has loved a line she helped me come up with for an internship application essay, something about the “power and integrity of words.” I’ve always loved the line too. Because words do have power and they do have integrity. But only when you actually have something to say.

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The many milestones of twenty-something life

This month is shaping up to be full of big days for me and a bunch of my friends. And it’s all just an illustration that this phase of life can be full of milestones, even though we’re past the phase of first kisses and high school graduations. I offer a few examples:

  • One of my college roommates is beginning her three-year medical residency to become a pediatrician. The process of getting “matched” with a residency is one more that’s even more subjective, unpredictable and crazy than rushing the most selective of sororities, so it’s amazing that she got placed at such a well-regarded hospital (Advocate Lutheran General in Park Ridge) and that she’s finally made it to the last step of toward becoming a real-life doctor.
  • One of my close friends from college is being deployed. He’s headed to Japan and/or Korea after more than three years in the Navy. And he still has about two years left of his commitment to service. He’s been training as a medic and learning the combat techniques of the Marines, and now it’s go time. I’d be scared.
  • Another friend is moving into a townhouse she and her fiancee just bought in Des Plaines. I’m not someone who has lot of friends who’ve bought houses, so this is a big deal. And it’s a bigger deal for this friend and her fiancee, who have been dating for more than five years.
  • Another couple I know who’s had a house for a while – a starter house of a duplex, actually – is moving soon into a brand-new home they just. It’s kind of on the far edge of suburbia, if you can even call it that. But it’s making them happy and that’s what matters.

Sadly, though, I don’t know which milestones are being reached by everyone who’s mattered so far in my life. I’ve lost touch with some of my formerly close friends from college and high school. With one college roommate in particular, this breaks my heart. But it’s a sign. The moment you don’t know what’s going on in the lives of some of the people with whom you used to share everything, you know adulthood is here.

It’s the big leagues now. These milestones will keep piling up. They’ll matter to us, but less deeply than milestones did when we were 10 or 16. But these moments will tell us we can’t hide from it anymore: We’re adults and we’ve already been adults and we’ve already been acting like it – for a while. This comes with self-determination and freedom, chores and duties and responsibilities.

But we’re ready. We wouldn’t be moving in with our fiancées, beginning the last step toward becoming doctors, getting deployed overseas, buying houses, building new houses or otherwise chasing our dreams and taking names if we weren’t.

So enjoy your milestone, whatever it is, and make sure to share it with those you want to keep in your life. Because they deserve to enjoy it, too.

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Kids are extra-special, but what about the rest of us?

Anyone who hears me gripe about covering education probably thinks I hate kids. I want to prove them wrong.

I don’t hate kids; I like them. I think they’re hilarious and sincere — a welcome breath of fresh air from this serious adult world. I like kids, but I don’t worship them. I just don’t think they’re any more special than anyone else.

Kids often get preferential treatment: free restaurant meals, cheaper basketball tickets, free festival admission, even free airline tickets if they’re young enough. And everyone seems to think they need to be first in line for everything, to be spoken to in sing-songy voices and to receive prizes and awards galore.

I’m not saying we should ignore kids or jack up their ticket prices because they might cause a scene or do anything to make them feel like their accomplishments aren’t significant. I’m just suggesting we apply our respectful and caring treatment of children much more broadly – to everyone, not just those of us who are still cute and little.

For all the energy and effort our society devotes to babying our kids or talking about them as if they’re more important than anyone else, we could spend just a little more of it treating everyone better – regardless of their age, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, or any of those pesky differences that often divide us.

We seem to value children more than anyone else, but we should be honoring everyone’s dignity, promoting everyone’s accomplishments, supporting everyone through their struggles.

Sure, kids have their whole lives in front of them, and they’re our future. Yeah, yeah, yeah. So were we, when we were lucky enough to be considered kids. But now that we’re twenty-somethings – ahem, adults – we have the power to expand our top-notch treatment of kids into top-notch treatment of all people – ourselves, our families, our least favorite people, our friends, our co-workers, our bosses, even strangers.

So let’s remember that everyone used to be a kid, and everyone still deserves the respect and fair treatment some reserve for only the youngest among us. Let’s treat kids well and bring our treatment of everyone else up to that standard. Let’s do it today.

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