What to Say

Knowing what to say is an envious quality.

My Saturday morning was spent as it usually is, volunteering with homeless youth at the center off Skid Row. The students were many and tutors few, so I had to come up with an educational game that could handle many kids. A game show was settled upon where I was the host and the points don’t matter.

The points aren’t supposed to matter, but these were all pre-teen boys playing, at that age, everything is a competition.  Sneezing can be made in to a competition of  loudest noise and furthest snot-rocket.

The game is going well, but we’re nearing the end and it’s becoming clear how the podium will shake out. The boy in last place is slowly becoming more and more despondent as he sees his inevitable rank.

The game is over (without any sort of a climax) and the other kids run off for free time to play at computers and video game counsels. Oscar (relax, I change his name) sits there, head in his hands, not moving to leave the room for play time.

“Oscar. You okay”?

No verbal response. “What’s up man”, I implore again. He wipes a tear from his eye.

My first honest thought was, Oh fuck. Not exactly something you can say to a kid.

I pull up a stool across from his and get on his level, “Hey man, what’s wrong? It’s just a game.

“You don’t understand. I never win at anything. I’m not good at anything. I’m always last, I’m always losing, I can’t do anything. I’m too weak. I’m too nice of a person”, he’s spiraling. It’s bad. He goes on about how weak he feels, how he’s not doing well in any school subject, how kids make fun of him–listing off the names they call him…

My brain is searching archives for something useful, but the only advice I ever remember my father giving me while crying was, “Life’s a bitch and then you die”. I was fourteen and at a funeral, a few years older than Oscar, but again, not exactly what psychologists call comforting.

I have to move on the fly.

I’d met Oscar only once before, a few weeks ago when I chaperoned a field trip to a nature center. The kids and I were talking about the bones we’d broken in the past, and Oscar had broken an arm.

“Oscar, do you remember when you broker your arm”, he nods. “Do you remember the pain you felt”, he nods again. “You don’t feel that pain now though do you? Right now, you’re going through some pain, but remember, that pain won’t last forever. When you broke your arm, did you spend every day smashing it against a wall? No. You took care of it, and let it heal.

“You need to take care of yourself. Don’t beat yourself up, calling yourself names others gave you. That’s their labels, their voices, that’s not your own. You are still so young, and who you are now, isn’t who you’ll be in a year, two years, ten years from now. If you’re not doing good in a subject, let one of us tutors know, we’re here to help. If you’re feeling weak, let’s do some push-ups together. Every time we see each other we’ll do them. And every time you wake up you’ll do 10 to start your day, so you can start your day feeling strong.

“Remember though, not to confuse goodness and weakness. You said you’re weak because you’re too good. Being a good person takes strength. I’m not talking Superman, lift a car over your head strength, I’m talking doing the thing no one else wants to do strength; standing up to that bully, defending those weaker than you, giving something of yourself so others can feel better. That’s why good people often feel weak, they’ve given up a part of themselves for others, but that’s not a weakness, that’s a by product of goodness”.

My Oscar winning moment was over, and I asked if he’d do some push ups with me. He said he couldn’t do any, then we did seven. “You lied to me”, I said, “You said you couldn’t do any then you pumped out seven. You underestimate yourself. If you care about justice, start by treating yourself fairly”.

A little girl walks in, “What are you doing on the ground”?

“Push-ups”, I say.

“You’re weird”, and she scampers off.

Oscar and I get up off the ground. He starts to walk out, “Oscar”. He turns around, waiting.

I give him a hug.

“I feel guilty”, he says, “I don’t even know your name”.

“It’s Peter”, I say, “Mr. Peter”.

Roll credits.

Asking

Asking

As King

As King would wont to do

As King I would be

As King, I wouldn’t make promises

As King, I’d know the hearts of men.

As King, I wouldn’t be able to know you all.

As King, I would have to leave some behind.

As King, I will do things you don’t understand, for reasons you can’t comprehend.

As King, I would ask for your trust.

Ruling leaders create a societal frequency.

Dictatorships are rather monotonous.

As King, I would listen to reason.

As King, I would dethrone myself.

As King, I would show no mercy.

As King, I would welcome pain.

As King, I would be

As King

Asking

A Diplomatic Shift

If the fight against terrorism means 44 dead children in four weeks, America needs to rethink it’s strategy.

122 ISIS fighters were killed in the same time meaning America’s actions read as, “3 dead ISIS fighters are worth 1 dead child”, never even comprehending that 1 dead child probably generates 3 new, future ISIS members. We’re in a constant cycle of generating future terrorism for ourselves.

Ideologies can’t be bombed or shot. They’re a kind of mental tunnel vision, only broadened through experience, education, and compassion.

War is to the country as torture is to the individual. It doesn’t work in achieving the goal. The US Government’s own research has validated this point saying the best way to get something you want from someone else is “rapport building”.

Without America taking the role of leader in an international, diplomatic shift, we’re bound for more of the same, and Billy Preston’s “Will It Go Round In Circles” plays on repeat in my head.

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/syria-war-us-air-strikes-civilian-death-toll-deadliest-on-record-isis-donald-trump-a7751911.html

100 Hours

As 2016 comes to the end of it’s death march and 2017 awakens with all the elegance of a passed out tramp rousing from a night-long bender, like many, I can’t help but reflect on the year’s events and what they meant for me.

New Year’s Resolutions are poppycock for most, wishful thinking if you will. For me they’ve become personal challenges and a promise I hold to myself. As a kid, every year when Lent rolled around (a 40-day holiday about sacrifice and contemplation like many religions), my Grandma Gert would drop cigarettes for 40 days, cold turkey. She smoked cigarettes every day for over 70 years, and every Lent she dropped them without fail as a promise to herself (and God).

That dedication and determination always stuck with me. The ability to say something and do that thing is no easy task in this modern, 24/7, over scheduled, always on-call life we live (granted, Gert didn’t grow up with all the buzz of technology, just old-school technology like the radio and atom bombs).

At the beginning of 2016, I was feeling unfulfilled. Donating to charities has always been a part of my life, growing up in a religious household (donate 10% of your income they say), and although I’m no longer religious, I still believe in a circular economy, in which those who can afford to give, give what they can afford. Funny thing is, giving money never provided me any real fulfillment. Maybe a thank you letter comes in the mail, but you it’s not the feeling you get when you use your hands to create something for someone, to see the look in another’s eye of establishing a relationship and providing a needed service.

As 2015 vomited the last of it’s bile, I decided 2016 would be the year I donate 100 hours of time to a charity I could physically be at, to work with human peoples.

My skill set is rather limited. Everything I know and study is pretty much about maths, sciences, economics, and religions; everyone’s favorite topics. Math though, that’s something people have always struggled with, and a subject I’ve tutored throughout middle school, high school, and college. I asked how I could apply this skill with a charitable need, and a quick google search 0.52 seconds later brought me to School On Wheels, a service that provides free tutoring to thousands of homeless youth throughout Los Angeles.

Immediately I signed up, and after a few hours of prep video (which I cried my eyes out to) and a quick meeting and background check, I started in January, 3 hours, every Saturday, at their Skid Row center, from 9a-12p.

My very first day tutoring, I was excited to talk and teach math to whoever was curious. Aristotle looking for his Alexander the Great (nerd alert!). Instead, I ended up making puzzles with children of various ages. One girl stood out because of how bored she was with everything. When a child gets bored, they usually become a “disruption” (not her fault, the puzzles were easy). I sit next to her with a book and start reading quietly to myself. She sees me, asks what I’m reading, and I tell her it’s a story about three little pigs and an agro wolf.

She leans over the pages and I say, “Here, why don’t you read it to me”. We spend the next 40 minutes reading fables from a book. She has a hard time sounding out words and I keep gently reminding her, “Slow down. There’s no rush. This is the place you’re allowed to take your time to get it right”. Every time we came to a word where I’d hear her voice waver, I asked her with an intense curiosity, “What’s that word mean”? If she didn’t know, we looked it up. That’s how she learned the word “cozy”.

After the kids left back to their shelter, the woman who runs the org lets me know that’s the first time she’s seen the girl be still that long, much less read out loud.

The experience I had that day wasn’t what I wanted, or what I was expecting, and it turned out to be so much greater.

Every Saturday I returned, sometimes I’d teach math, other days it was science, reading, or even (with the younger kids) just the basic alphabet. Sometimes I would see the same kids, sometimes one and done (over time, that became a bitter-sweet reality of the work, when kids are there a long time you get to develop relationships, but that means they’re without stable housing longer).

Quickly, I was known as the math guy. The king of nerds. I would walk around during their free time when they can do anything, “Math? Anyone wanna do some math? We can talk fractals, algebra, calculus–this isn’t about me, it’s about YOU! What do YOU want to know”?! Now, there’s a crop of kids who love doing math, and request to do math their entire time. It’s enough to make my big, robot heart swell from their enthusiasm for what’s, by many, a despised subject.

Experiences I couldn’t have imagined a year before began to congeal.

Having a young black girl tell me she wanted to kill all white people to later that day asking if she could hold my hand.

Two young boys watching help and old man who dropped his personal items, then ask me why I did that. “Because that’s me”, I said, “I need no other reason. I don’t need money, a reward, even a thank you, it’s just what I do”.

Helping a handicap boy conquer his fear of heights by climbing down the side of a (low-angled) mountain.

Time after time, week after week, I learned a new lesson about myself, how I explain the world to a child, and the very special cases of the children I tutor.

Life for these children is beyond any difficulty I have ever faced or imagined. When doing problems involving “squares”, I would often give the example of the person’s bedroom and talk about the application of square footage. I would catch myself, realizing, these kids don’t even have their own room. Not only do they not have that private space, the public they interact with (Skid Row) is often filled with open drug use, the smell of urine, and temptations to fast money like prostitution (which I saw happen in front of me, a madame solicit an 10 year old girl to use her body when I was just working with that girl on her English homework). Volunteering makes me even more grateful for the life I’ve had, and makes me happy to be there, for those situations where I can tell young girls never to take money from someone who wants to make money off their body instead of their mind.

Most people my age or younger I talk to, who have this deep sense of cynicism, who feel this void/emptiness in their lives, aren’t involved in anyone else’s lives but their own. I live in Los Angeles, in a community bubble of mostly comedians, actors, and writers. Everyone strives so hard for their own pursuits, the accomplishment of their own personal goals (career, family, lifestyle), we quickly become an acidic level of selfish where we exclude the selfless and social activism needed to solve world problems. No amount of likes has given me greater a greater dopamine rush than the hug of a friend or the high five of a child.

There is no minimum either. One hour helping is better than no hours helping. If every person in America donated 1 hour of time a year, at 300M people (low end), that’s the equivalent of 34,000 years of donated work/energy. Small amounts on large scales stack up quickly (math!)

I only contributed 100 hours this year, an average of two hours a week. The average American watches 3-5 hours of television PER DAY. There is time to be shared, and the impact of an hour a week tutoring, mentoring, cleaning, food preparing, filing, whatever job or service you can donate, has a net positive impact on the community and your life personally.

There’s no denying all the garbage the sea of 2016 washed on shore. 2016 wasn’t a good year because of the global or national events which took place, 2016 was a good year because I made a change in myself I wanted to see in the world. Even if I stopped in 2017 (which I don’t plan to), no one can take away the work I did in 2016, and that’s a good feeling. Starting with yourself is an old message, and a corny message, but I like talking about math, science, history, philosophy, music, etc. It should be no surprise that for me corny is (=) cool.

 

Knowledge Is Power

Knowledge is power.

     Knowledge is power because we fear the unknown.

     The bump in the night could be rabbit or lion.

     It is unknown.

     Fear is the heart of ignorance.

     To ignore is to not know.

     To not know is to be uncertain.

     To be uncertain is to be insecure.

     To be insecure is to be unsafe.

     To be unsafe is to feel powerless.

     To gain power, you must know.

Knowledge is power.

I Tap Her Temple

I spent the day today chaperoning a field trip for youth in transitional housing (the majority of which are children of color), as part of an organization I work for as a volunteer. Due to someone side-swiping the bus before the trip even began, we were forced to take the metro from downtown LA up to Universal Studios.

A black man at the end of the train started yelling at me, saying things like, “white racist undercover”. He started flexing, pacing back and forth. He kept yelling things directed at me as the one white chaperon in his field of vision.

Our end of the train grew quiet and the children grew scared. Thankfully, he got off at the next stop, where he continued to pace and mutter to himself, as the train pressed forward.

The little girl I was standing next to, who is also black, quietly asked, “Is he gone”? Yeah, he’s gone, I said. She whispered to me, like it was a confession, “Sometimes I’m racist”.

Why, I whisper back.

“I don’t know”, she said, “But I can hate white people, Mexican people, sometimes, I even hate other black people”.

Why, I asked.

“I don’t know”, she said. “Sometimes, I wish white people would die”.

All white people, I ask her. There’s never been one decent white person you ever liked, or, ever helped you in your life?

“No, I wouldn’t kill all white people, just the ones that are mean to me. It’s not all Mexicans, or all black people, just the ones who treat me mean”.

You’re not racist, I said, you just don’t like mean people.

She nodded.

It’s not about what’s on the outside, I said to her, it’s about what’s going on up here (I tap the side of my temple). It’s about actions and words. How people talk to each other and how they treat each other.

Hate transcends color, but so does love. It all starts up here (I tap her temple). Your emotions lead to thoughts, and your thoughts can lead to action. It’s the same for all people. It’s too easy to group by color, size, or shape, everyone’s story goes deeper than that.

You can’t control others but your can control yourself. Control your emotions. Control your thoughts. Control your actions. And seek help when you don’t think you can.

Only you are in charge of you, and it all starts up here (I tap her temple).

A Letter To My Local Representative: Vote For Bernie Sanders

Dear Xavier Becerra,

I ask you change your super delegate vote to Bernie Sanders for the Democratic nominee.

As a mathematics degree holding citizen, and current/constant student of political science, anthropology, psychology, biology, physics, theology and history, as well as an accountant, educator, and comedian… my life’s work of continuing a personal education of all things Life lead me to the logical and moral conclusion, Bernie Sanders is our best hope to win the Democratic Presidency.

One of Bernie Sanders main goals as president will be the social cause of wealth redistribution, arguably, the constant and paramount theme of all society’s success and failure.

Easter Island chiefs and priests claimed relations to the gods to elevate themselves to an elite status as a reason to have lower classes give them a sacrifice or “tax” ultimately leading to the island’s deforestation and eventual collapse.

In Roman society, the leading elites’ continued desires for excessive luxuries lead to heavier burdens on the peasants and “working class” pushing them to an unsustainable level of debt and misery which ultimately lead to its collapse.

In in the Ch’in Dynasty, Han Empire, and several other occasions in Chinese history, aggressive military expansion combined with elitist excess lead to rebellions among the peasants as their bottom rung in Maslow’s hierarchy was wiped from their feet.

When the few have many and the many have few, the base of your societal pyramid erodes.

America is nearing this point. If the system of modern, free-market capitalism is not mitigated in some respect, the system will continue on its trajectory to grow with no bounds. The problem is Earth, our only habitable planet, is a closed system (with the exception of incoming sunlight). Money is the means in which a society accesses its resources. If Earth is a closed system with no additional resources, then money cannot grow without bounds. Everything under our atmosphere is all we have, and therefore, caps must eventually be placed on this machine lest we exhaust ourselves in this systematic attempt to shift all resources from the bottom to top.

This is all without mentioning how income inequality has direct impacts on education, crime, substance abuse, and the very notion of racism itself as the whole concept was created to generate mental and moral rationalizations for slavery in colonial America despite Darwin’s proof the only differences between humans are hereditary and ideological.

Why Bernie and not Hillary? Since the Republican Party’s nominee is most likely to be Donald Drumpf, there must be a balance on the Left’s side. Hillary unfortunately is not “liberal” enough to balance out the rhetoric and promises of Drumpf.

Drumpf should not even be considered a Republican. His party affiliation has flip flopped so much to suit him when he needs it (as he will do and say anything to get what he wants), the only effective counter to his Independent status would be another Independent; Bernie Sanders.

Bernie is so far left he’s off the political spectrum and Drumpf so far right, they each have started their own personal and political parties and movements. Drumpf’s party is one of lies, racism, and fear, while Sanders is one of integrity, accountability, consistency, and ultimately, the only one with a clear and effective plan to resolve America’s most concerning issues.

Bernie has the power of his track record on civil rights, healthcare, economic inequality and veteran welfare to convince more undecided, independent, and swing voters to vote for him. His clear and constant 30 year message is the tent pole to withstand Drumpf’s ever shifting winds of change.

America’s political psyche is divided. When a circle is cut, a two-pointed line is created. Two points, which were previously infinitely close, are now at opposite extremes. Sanders and Drumpf are such extremes. They are the symbolic representations of our psyche’s split. Two sides of the same coin as it were.

Sanders is Batman, seeking the best for his city while trying to minimize harm, while Drumpf is the Joker with no care for the well-being of the citizens, attempting to create chaos for his own satisfaction.

And while it may be fun to root for the Joker and the chaos he represents, ultimately, it is Batman who wins every time.

I urge you Mr. Becerra to please change your super delegate vote to Bernie Sanders.

A Thoughtful Citizen,

Peter Banachowski

 

A short list of works referenced;

“A People’s History of the World”, Chris Harman

“Collapse”, Jared Diamond

“The Emperor’s New Clothes”, Joseph L. Graves Jr.