What they don’t tell you about speaking out (and having different views)

If you are privileged enough to go to college, then hopefully you are challenged, faced with hard decisions, and exposed to new ideas. College is meant to be a place of self-realization, exploration, and enlightenment. I spent five years as an undergrad and didn’t fully realize how much college changes you until my last year. I realized pretty quickly that I had abandoned my ultra-conservative roots and picked up a more liberal, left-winged way of thinking. From the Black Lives Matter movement to DAPL, I consistently had different opinions than my loved ones (specifically on Facebook).

I am a loud and proud individual. I am privileged as hell. I suffer from white guilt but choose not to be immobilized by it. I am a God fearing Christian. I am all of these things and more, yet I find myself constantly questioning my role, what society is suppose to be, and how to make a true difference. All of these things I have learned about on the job, in the classroom, on a Saturday night three drinks deep at a bar. There is so much knowledge I have gained, questioned, and created – however they don’t tell you everything.

They don’t tell you how to respond to harsh criticism to your ideals and beliefs by your friends. They don’t tell you how awkward it will be at family events whenever you’re the “flaming liberal” who has betrayed their conservative upbringing. They don’t tell you about the tears, rage, and fear you feel (all at once) when a family member you have loved, looked up to, and have worshiped all your life tells you they don’t know who you are anymore, that you have betrayed your heritage – essentially cutting ties. They don’t tell you the pain you will go through as you change into the person your trying to become.

They don’t tell you that sometimes you will wonder why you even bother to speak out about injustices, the hypocrisy, and the hatred. They don’t tell you that your family will slowly walk away whenever you don’t sit on the same side of the political spectrum. They don’t tell you have you sit, for hours, wondering if all you have done is even worth it. There is so much they don’t tell you – so here I sit, wondering if my activism, yearning for a socially just society, and hundreds of hours of self-education is even worth it. What am I really accomplishing? Is it even worth it?

I don’t know. I am terrified. My greatest fear is being lonely. They don’t tell you about all the shit that comes with picking the high road, the road less traveled, the road not in-line with your family. I am so young, yet I feel so old. I am so privileged, yet I feel like I have lost so much. No one told me that I would be where I am at right now. The only thing I have left to do is pray, read, meditate, and reflect. I don’t know what I am meant to do in this life – what I know now is that it gets real ugly, real painful, real. This is not the guilt confession of another white ally. This is not the bickering of a privileged male. This is true hurt, true confusion, true desperation. This is so much and more – the things that did tell me when I started this journey.

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From Cotton to Corn: Grad School Year One

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Let’s be clear from the start, my transition to Iowa this year was awful. I have been in “survive” mode more than “thrive” and I even began a new grad school search in November. In my experience, I was sold a perfect picture of grad school from peers, supervisors, and institutions: cohorts that become automatic friend groups, opportunities all around, and all the adventures at your fingertips. We have done this to ourselves. We think of our experience in school and try to make it the same/think it will be the same for each new member. I genuinely struggled this year. I failed assignments, I cried, I wanted to quit and pack my bags for Mississippi (probably first time that has ever been said in the history of the world). To put it bluntly: this year was shit.

However, among all the failure, struggles, and loneliness, I made some self-discoveries. I’ve learned a great deal about myself, the profession, and just life in general. I’ve read some difficult articles, been challenged in class, and met confrontation head on. In true Rebel fashion, I challenged what was preached to me in classes and pushed myself and others. Now that the dust is starting to settle and I prepare for the summer and my two months of hard time on the beach at FGCU, I have a few things that I wish to share to the world about my adventures on the other side of the Mississippi (and 10 hours further up river).

  • Loneliness. Moving to a new school, city, and state was hands down the hardest challenge I’ve faced in my life (privilege acknowledged). I have taken for granted all the many friends I’ve made along the way. I forgot what it was like to be a stranger in the crowd, the new kid on the block, the person that is from a place no one has been they ask “why did you come here?”. I have spent my share of hours and days by myself, without someone to casually hang out. Granted, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting some great people and finally have a small amount of friends, I still feel as if I am all alone. No one could have prepared me for this. However, I now revel in my loneliness. I have time to reflect, think, and meditate. I have learned more about myself than I could have ever done in the crowds at the Square of the Grove. I’ve learned to be ok silence and to sit in the quite. No I won’t go to a movie or bar by myself but I can go and eat a nice sit-down meal, go exploring, and shoot hoops for hours without talking to anyone. I’m always open to meeting new people but I now can handle being the only person I know.
  • Dating. It hasn’t happened. I’ve done the whole tinder, bumble, you-name-it apps. I’ve meet people through people and even tried the whole “lame pick-up line game” at the grocery store, bars, and the likes. I do not know what it is, but the belles up here aren’t the same as they are back home (must be the lack of sweet tea). Granted, I’m a white, cis gendered male so I have no room to complain about the dating culture (privilege acknowledged), but it has been “awkward af”. Granted I have some things to work on personally both in terms of myself and my past emotions, but still they don’t tell you about the difficulty of separating yourself from undergrads and trying to find a cute date. Not to mention the fact I live in a residence hall (but I have my own apartment!) and that tends to put an even more awkward twist on conversations. I’ve learned a great deal of patience and grown calmer in my spirit. I have journaled my struggles and don’t mind laughing with friends on my failed dates. I still am an eager beaver, but I know that my future is in fate’s hand and I am only playing my part.
  • Culture. The people here are weird. This whole “Midwest/Iowa nice” thing pisses me off. People run all over each other and are so damn indecisive. There isn’t any sweet tea, they put peppers or hot sauce and call it “Cajun”, and don’t even try and ask me about the tailgating (they do it in parking lots, they were this gaudy cover-alls, and they just stand there staring at each other drinking shitty beer). “Country” and “being from the South” to them is just a flannel and camo pants, talking in a “funny accent”, and kissing your cousin. They think they “know football”, “know what good soul food is”, and “know what hot weather is”. The amount of times I have shook my head, bit my tongue, and kept a level head this year when people talk badly about my home is astronomical (granted the South has a shit ton of problems, Iowa isn’t that far behind). However, I’ve learned every town, city, and state has its own unique culture. I’ve learned not to make Iowa like Ole Miss and to always learn in every situation. I’ve learned my way of living is just one of multiple realities. I’ve learned so much about my own culture back home and have noticed the many underlying privileges I have. It may not be Ole Miss, but Iowa is kinda nice.
  • Self. If you ask anyone around here what my name is they will (more times than not) call me Justin Kyle. JKT is a pet name, Justin is what I’m called when I’m in trouble or in Tulsa (long story), and Kyle is just another name in the crowd. I’ve always loved how my two names roll together and I spent the first part of the semester being so self-conscious about it because if I wanted to go by that, it would be “odd”. People have met me at various times of my life may be confused as to why this is. I’ve always struggled with making my own identity, name, and reputation. From Kell (oh high school) to Myrtle (because people my freshman year that it was hilarious), the words I’ve gone by have been many, but they just haven’t been me. In all the loneliness, awkward dates and talking about myself, and being a stranger in a new culture, I’ve discovered so much about myself. The things I have uncovered, re-discovered, changed, and shunned are many. The greatest of all, however, is my true name. A name that means the world to me. A name that gives me pride, makes we stick out, and truly captures my identity. Justin Kyle is more than just a couple words that confuse the hell out of people, it is who I am now from this point forward. The greatest thing I have learned since coming to Iowa is this: The man I was and the man I want to be is up to the man now to change. I am the author of my own path (in the hands of my God). We go to college to “find ourselves”, so even in grad school you can learn more about yourself.

The mistakes I have made in my life can make a grocery list jealous. I’ve pushed away people I have loved and not realized it. I’ve done what I can to impress others. I’ve been unauthentic, self-centered, and an egotistical bastard at times. I’ve done a lot, I’ve learned a lot, I still have a winding path ahead of me. Grad school has been hard, but it has been the best for me. No matter how much I wanted to leave, I know I couldn’t. I had to make myself learn by living in dissonance. I had to get out in order to come back home.

There is no telling what is in store for me from this point on, but I will take it head on with a stiff drink of Maker’s Mark, momma’s prayers, and passion for making a change. William Faulkner once said “to understand the world one must first understand a place like Mississippi”. For me, I’m trying to understand the world so that I can one day go home and make a difference. Iowa has given me a great deal of challenges, but a year in and I’m still going. Now if you’ll excuse me I’ve got 800+ students to move out of my damn building and drive to Florida for another experience. Cheers.

The “little too late” man

Regret is never a way to live out your life. Regret can come in many shapes and forms. Regret can come at any time, last any number of years, and quite frankly bring you to heartache.

I’ve had my share of regrets and I’m only 23. Dear God how am I to function in this life if I keep at my current rate?

You know that girl you were best of friends with and you just skipped by her and now it is too late. You know that friend you could have hung out with more and now you’ve moved away. You know that money you could have saved, that work out you could have done, or that job you should have taken, it is all gone now, it is the past.

Seems like we are hard wired to live a life full of regret. But is regret truly bad? Is regret better than failing? If you learn by failing can you not also learn by not doing?  These are the questions I ask myself late at night.

Regret can eat away at you. Taking away a little of yourself each time you think about “what might have been”. Although you might wish you had done this or that, would it not also not have worked out? It seems more and more you can’t have cake, you can’t eat it, but you most defiantly get calories just by looking at it. So I pose the question: What is regret and is it bad?

Relationships are for the Birds

So here I am, age 23, no long-term relationship, at grad school, yet I’m suppose to be in a committed relationship? Looking a lot of social media, Hollywood, and other various things, I apparently have fallen behind in life. Everywhere I look, someone is moving in with someone, people are getting engaged, and my God the amount of children being born. I have obviously missed some kind of memo.

Now and days it seems we are pushed to new channels of communication to interact with potential partners. Now we have things like tinder, farmers only, and whatever website or app you can find by typing “relationship” in the search bar. We are now the generation where we don’t marry the girl/guy next door but rather the girl/guy one state over, 10 hours away, or with a different citizenship. IT BLOWS MY MIND. I’m over here just trying to survive school, have some sort of fun, and decide if my pants match my tie.

Now don’t get me wrong, I have the typical southern idea of finding a belle of my own, having 2.5 kids and a huge yard to mow 2-3 times a month. But come on, can’t we hold off for a little bit? Everywhere I turn there is a couple on a date, someone posing for engagement photos or someone telling me where their registry has been set up at, it’s so draining.

It seems relationships are now a dime a dozen yet marriages last half as long as they did 50 years ago. Is it technology to blame? Is it because we are just becoming more good looking? Who knows, but I do know I am not close to calling it quits. I mean everyone has at least one person on their minds. Whether its the cute waitress, your fitness instructor, or some person you met in college you still are in contact with yet for some reason relationship is not what is happening. I guess the thing now to complain about is how to make “relations” happen, but that’s another blog for another day.

Keep living your life happy couple people, I’ll just be over here stuffing my face with Chunky Monkey ice cream and spending all my time with my lovely tv.