High Concept Labs

I’m excited to announce that I’m now a board member for High Concept Labs! We’re an arts service organization based in Chicago with a mission to support artists and facilitate dialogue between artists, audiences, and staff. This increases access and transparency to the artistic process and fosters transformational experiences in an environment of experimentation and discovery. Check out the full press release at BroadwayWorld.

It’s my first-ever board position and one made possible by the OnBOARD training and matching program of the Arts & Business Council of Chicago. OnBOARD not only provides you training for what’s involved in being a board member at an arts organization, but it also matches you with small- and mid-sized nonprofits looking for new members.

This is just another way for me to continue serving both the arts and business sides of culture in Chicago. Check out the HCL website to stay updated on all the great stuff we have coming up.

Financial advice for MEL Magazine

Got another call from MEL Magazine based on some of the first-person narratives I provided last year regarding how my wife and I worked our way out of $100,000 in student debt. The writer, Adam Elder, asked for my contribution to “The Normal Person’s Guide to New Year’s Resolutions: Spending Less and Saving More.”

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Two-week trip to the Balkans? Count me in

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(Not the actual lagoon, but close)

World Nomads is currently running a travel writing contest for a two-week trip to the Balkans. Comes with free flights, €1000 for a 10-day tour, apparel, a train pass and mentoring with travel writer Tim Neville of Outside Magazine.

I’ve entered in past WM competitions, with no success…but maybe this year will be different? Either way, go here to read my story on the contest them of “a place I’ll never forget” – in this case, the place I call the shaman’s lagoon, in Haiti.

Applications close on March 21 and winners are announced April 12.

Colorado

Over the past two months, I found myself headed out of Chicago every two weeks, first to see family in Boston, then for a long weekend in Venice Beach, and finally, to visit my brother and his girlfriend at their new place in Colorado, about an hour north of Denver.

It was my first time in the Centennial State, but between the mountains, big open plains and faint smell of cow, it definitely won’t be my last.

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An entire city waited beneath them

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If you read anything by Peter Hessler, make it Oracle Bones. It’s about the China I one day hope to meet. Here are a few parts I liked:

In Anyang, at an archaeological site call Huanbei, a small group of men work in a field, mapping an underground city. The city dates to the fourteenth and thirteenth centuries B.C, which the Shang culture was probably approaching its peak. Nowadays,the Shang ruins lie far beneath the soil, usually at a depth of five to eight feet. Peasants have planted crops for centuries without realizing that an entire city waited beneath them.”

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Now what?

When I went to bed last night, sometime before midnight and after Clinton won Nevada, I knew I was going to wake up to one of two nightmare scenarios: a multi-state recount or a Trump nomination.

After a few fitful hours of half-sleep, I checked my phone around 3 a.m. and saw Trump’s official win in big red letters. The first thing that ran through my mind was the image of Nietzsche’s madman running into the marketplace, declaring that God is dead while everyone went about their business as usual. The next thing that ran through my mind as I laid wide awake for the next few hours was, now what?

I came into this election season with clear eyes and determination – a first for me. I grew up far outside the political system and through my teen and early adult years I embraced what I called a political nihilism, informed by equal parts disenfranchisement, anarchism and a juvenile desire to watch the world burn. Me at that age would have loved a Trump presidency, only because I knew that someone of his mien would willingly strike the flame. Any of the candidates I ever took an interest in were so far outside mainstream interest (e.g. green party, far-left democrats, certain libertarians, etc.) that I didn’t think it was even worth my time championing their causes. The stats showed that not enough people listened, would ever listen.

I’ve voted dispassionately in all elections since I turned voting age in 2003, usually complaining about a two-party system and plucking my own version of the “Choosing between the Lesser of Two Evils” jingle that most people still haven’t outgrown. Over time, I’ve become far more pragmatic in my voting rationale. While my political philosophies land me somewhere only a few small degrees right of Gandhi, I quickly learned to accept the fact that no viable presidential candidate was going to meet my ideals. It only made sense to support the one who could do the most good, politically and ideologically; grow the economy, fuel job creation, forge beneficial foreign relations, reduce military spending, support gay rights, women’s rights, immigrant’s rights, etc.

So of course I got excited when Bernie Sanders entered the 2016 race. Here was a seasoned politician who was always an outsider, who understood my economic and political situation, whose record indicated someone ethical, honest and truly engaged with human rights. I was turned off by Hillary’s ties to big money and disengagement with both my economic caste and generational zeitgeist, but eventually learned to accept her candidacy after Bernie got voted out. Regardless of her D.C. provenance, there was something exciting about the idea of electing the first-ever woman U.S. president — someone who, by virtue of being herself, would defend women’s rights, stable foreign relations and business as usual. She likely wouldn’t change the world, but she’d do a damn good job in that chair.

Meanwhile, the prospect of a Trump presidency was becoming more real by the week. Starting in 2015 with his staged announcement that he was running for political office (remember, the one where he hired an audience?), it was clear that this wasn’t going to be a normal race. The younger version of me would have reveled in his minstrel madness, his volatility that would spell pure disaster for the U.S. as a leading world nation. But I grew up, especially because the things Trump was proposing — Muslim bans, stifling of free speech, torture, imprisonment — weren’t funny. They were and are extremely dangerous, not only to the international standing of the U.S. and our fragile economy, but to individual families and lives of immigrants, women, Latinxs, black people, and anyone not rich, white and male.

While things looked up for Bernie leading up to the DNC, after Hillary outpaced him, it was also clear that she was the only candidate who had a realistic shot of keeping Trump out of the White House. I was willing to put my quibbles with her aside for the sake of ensuring that Trump wouldn’t win.

And this is where I started to split with people. As time went on with Trump’s campaign, he earned endorsements from the KKK and various white nationalist groups. He welcomed Mother Russia into the American campaign process. He made lie after bald-faced lie, but not like a normal politician. Everything about him screamed fascist, and the fact that he was exploiting racial hatred, economic fear and hardline totalitarianism to build his numbers was and is absolutely terrifying. Especially to me, as a Jew, whose entire matrilineal bloodline was snuffed out by a German politician that stoked exactly the same fears and rose to leadership on exactly the same emotional mechanics.

I got frustrated with the people who waffled on Trump, who were willing to look past his “character flaws” (including sexual assault) and consider him as a legitimate politician, despite his total lack of experience and itchy trigger finger. These people got frustrated with me in turn, claiming that my total dismissal of them was hypocritical, coming from a liberal Chicagoan who is supposed to be open to diverse opinions. But this goes far beyond that. I’m willing to engage with people from different viewpoints, unless they’re wearing a swastika. And in Trump’s America, a swastika is everything from a cheap red hat to monosyllabic campaign messaging about making America great again.

I don’t regret anything I’ve said to the Trump supporters that rose from the woodwork in my extended social networks. I don’t regret alienating them or calling them names the same way I wouldn’t regret puncturing Reinhardt Heydrich‘s lungs with an icepick or shooting all of the camp guards at Dachau.

If you support Trump, you are part of history repeating itself.

If you support Trump, or even hesitantly defend him, I am not your friend, the same way I’m not a friend to Nazis and their sympathizers.

God didn’t save the Jews, gypsies, gays and disabled in Germany, and he surely won’t save the Muslims, blacks, gays and women of America. But see, I paid attention in history class, and I’m not going to sit on the sidelines like the people living in their houses across the street from Auschwitz. From this date forward, I will do everything in my power to stop the worst from happening again.

At this point, on two hours of sleep and facing another long day at work, I’m not quite sure what “everything in my power” will look like on a day-to-day level. But as a human being who believes in the American dream, who believes that Black Lives Matter, who believes in a woman’s right to choose, who believes in common sense and decency, Trump’s win has empowered me with a renewed mission: to make sure that love trumps evil. I know what my skills are, I know where I live, so now I’m going to start seeing where I can make the most difference.

My search begins now. This could mean working with PACs, volunteering with human and immigrant rights groups, supporting women’s causes, building false walls to hide fleeing Muslims from Trump’s personal Schutzstaffel. Or just getting people informed enough to cast a fucking smart vote.

Whenever I personally encounter failure, it just makes me want to try harder. Every rejection I’ve ever received has made me that much more driven and focused, because I refuse to believe that I’m a failure or a reject. Trump’s win is possibly one of the greatest rejections of democracy in American history (with only Republicans, “protest voters” and Big Media to blame), and I refuse to accept that this is our future.

As soon as offices start to open today, I’m pounding the pavement. I’ll share whatever I find, and hope you’ll join me in the fight for good.

Venice Beach

I recently took a long weekend to hang out in Venice Beach, the Land of Lebowski. No itinerary. We ate some good food, rode some shitty bikes, stayed in an AirBnB along the canals, hiked to the tallest peak in the Santa Monica Mountains and caught our last dose of Pacific sun before heading back to Chicago to hide inside for the next six months of winter.

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