Sunday, July 22, 2012

Colorado to California


Let me open this week’s post by expressing my condolences for the victims of the Aurora, Colorado shooting. A tragedy like this is both terrifying and unifying. It is easy to allow that sly disease called fear to drip from the words of journalists and eye-witness reporters and sliver into our hearts. But it is important to remember that this is not a tragedy faced alone. Like Columbine, like any other unexcused public shooting, our nation grieves as one. We must not let it become a polarizing issue. It is time for us to recognize the common fragility that we all share and to unite with empathy under the banner of our own humanity. If we do this, then James Holmes fails. 
Keep that in mind.
On a slightly warmer note, this has been a fairly significant week for the fall 2012 Invisible Children team leaders. I think it’s safe to say that summer has officially ended and the impending tidal wave of the fall semester has cast its shadow over our assorted crew. 
It started on Monday when we learned for the first time the names of our team members. It’s funny how easy it is to get into the routine of saying “my team” on the phone or in e-mails without having a face or a name to paste over that mental silhouette of our group. But the names have been announced and the first three-fourths of our teams are complete. 
I, for one, couldn’t be happier about my team. Christian Huisman is one of my close friends and our paths have been intertwined for nearly a year. He arrived in San Diego shortly before I left to join my old teammate Maggie on tour to Texas. For the spring semester, he led a team through the deep south, a region that includes my home state of Florida. And now he will be joining me for his third tour to travel the Greater Los Angeles area. I am excited for the experiences and positivity he will bring to the team. 
Claire Shannon, our other teammate, instantly brings energy and fun into any situation. She has been living with us here at the La Mesa house all summer and has been working for Invisible Children as an engagement intern. Her positivity has been essential when speaking on the phone to supporters and dealing with the not-so-supporters. I am excited to have her on my team.
If knowing our teammates wasn’t sufficient to allow the weight of tour to sink in, the team leader retreat this weekend certainly did the job. We ended the week early to drive up to Lake Arrowhead for an intensive, two-day leadership program. At the retreat, the Movement staff laid out their expectations for the team leaders and explained our responsibilities for the read, but also left room for a little bit of fun. We returned yesterday with a nervous energy but also a contagious excitement for the road. 
One week from now, the fall roadies will be arriving. It is time for us to step up and assume the responsibilities that this role entails. Summer is over and the fall tour is inevitable. I, for one, can’t wait.
P.S. I am still accepting donations at https://invisiblechildren.secure.force.com/pmtx/Donations_IC_DirectSupport?id=70170000000k3L6AAI. Please don’t feel obligated to donate, but if you are compelled to give I would really appreciate it. Living in San Diego is expensive. Especially when you work as a full time volunteer. Anything from 5 dollars to 50 dollars will be a huge help.
P.P.S. If anybody wants more current updates on what I am doing, follow me on instagram! My handle is austin_estes

Sunday, July 15, 2012

A Letter to Home


Back.

Again.

When I left San Diego in August of last year I knew I would return one day, but I never realized it would come this soon. You have to be careful to keep your eye on the time because as soon as you look away, days become weeks and months fly by in a whirlwind faster than the blink of an eye. Fall 2012 seemed so far away when I whispered the words “I’ll be back” last August. “I’ll be back some day.” But one year left of college became one semester left. My senior thesis became my first draft, became my final draft. I graduated from college. I said goodbye to my best friends of four years, my girlfriend of eight months, and my family. And I boarded a plane back to sunny San Diego. 

I am in this phase of life where “home” becomes such a flexible term. Where is my home? Is it in Melbourne, Florida? Melbourne is certainly my hometown. It is where I grew up. It is where I learned to love music, developed my faith and identity as a Christian, kissed my first girlfriend. I learned to love, learned to laugh, learned somewhat how to surf (or at least how to stand on a longboard). My family lives there and, if only for this reason, I would consider it home. 

And I think I think of Jupiter and I feel like I have to eat my words. My college years were so defining to my identity and the people I met there are lifelong friends. There were days when we wanted nothing more than to play board games and laugh, or take midnight excursions to fast food restaurants. The young soul is a wanderer’s soul, if only for a burrito grande and a Baja Blast. But then there were nights when we would talk about serious matters; of faith, world politics, of identity and truth. College taught me to think critically and to share my thoughts with my friends, for I believe that conversation is the best way to approach truth.

But isn’t home where your heart is? And isn’t your heart where you feel most alive? If that is the case, San Diego is my home. The community and energy that I have found within the walls of the Invisible Children office are addicting. When I was here last spring, I felt challenged to approach the world in a new light; to experience a more hopeful paradigm. Society is fluid and malleable. It can be changed for the better so long as your hands are well practiced and your intentions are humble. 

Where is my home? Perhaps this is the critical question. Where would I consider myself from? Where are my “headquarters”? Where and what is “family”?

I don’t think I can answer that question, at least not yet. For now, my home is everywhere, and my family is spread out across the country. Perhaps I am the luckiest person alive because I am always surrounded by people I love no matter where I go. 

I have a vision for this blog. I want to us it to connect with family and friends all across the country. For now it will serve to update everyone on the east coast about my adventures and activities. Once tour starts, it will hopefully be a useful way to keep everyone informed on my whereabouts and mischief within Los Angeles. I only hope that it can serve to bridge the gap between the miles.

For those of you who don’t know, I am working for the non-profit organization Invisible Children this fall. I am going on tour as a team leader in the Greater Los Angeles region on a campaign to educate and update students on the LRA conflict in central Africa (Africa’s longest running armed conflict). I will be leading an international team of four on a ten-week tour through Riverside, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, and the surrounding region of southern California.

As you can imagine, this is a very taxing experience. Before I go, I have one simple ask.

As it stands, I am a poor college graduate working at a non-profit for a meagre stipend. I have enough to live off of, but not comfortably. I hate to ask for money, but I could really use some support and assistance from my friends and family back home. I want this blog to be a blessing to everyone and I don’t want anybody to feel obligated to donate. But if you have a spare 5 or 10 bucks, I  would really appreciate some financial help. Consider it an early birthday present. 

I have a page set up through Invisible Children where I can accept donations for support. Here is the link:


Again, I know a lot of you are in the same position as I am and I would hate to see you give out of your own scarcity. But if you could do me just a small, favor, share this blog. It could make a world of difference.

Thanks to all of you who are supporting me in your thoughts and prayers. I couldn’t do this without you. I miss you all and I think about you constantly.

Here’s to home. Here’s to adventure, and to redefining family.

-Austin

Saturday, July 7, 2012

On Rand: Integrity and Ego


So here’s the setting: I am sitting outside of La Mesa Village’s favorite local coffee shop, Cosmos. My coffee is long since finished and I am listening to Yellow Ostrich through headphones. It is a beautiful Saturday morning and, with the day empty before me, I can think of no better time to dwell on my most recently completed specimen of literature.

Those who I live with have seen me sprawled out on a couch or relaxing on the porch often over the past weeks, book in hand. I have been reading Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead, a book famous for its revolutionary ideas and theories. And I have to say, Rand has forced me to think. Her position is one worthy of a paradigm shift. She can make you see the world in an entirely new way or at least bring you to question what you believe about it. There is danger, though, in subscribing entirely to her system of belief. It is certainly important to take lessons from her words and digest her theories, but I would suggest doing so with a grain of salt.

Overall, I think Rand has a very pessimistic view of human nature. She sees the average man as incapable of taking ownership over his thoughts and opinions. To her, the masses merely exist to have their heads filled by the few in power. She calls these people second-handers because they are incapable of being truly original. Her character Ellsworth Toohey is a popular columnist in the New York paper The Banner who uses his influence to mold popular opinion. He praises mediocrity and elevates people of no talent to be worshipped by the masses. He creates authors, playwrights, and architects by manufacturing opinions that can be digested by his readers. In the same vein, he uses his words to destroy for the public eye the only character of true integrity that Ayn Rand develops in her novel: Howard Roark.

Roark is everything that man should be. He is unwavering in his beliefs, a true egotist who refuses to compromise or be swayed by public opinion. He swims against the current and makes decisions not because they are popular but because they are true to his beliefs. In spite of popular opinion, legal battles, and slander by the press, he stands strong and true. And because of this, Toohey finds it necessary to destroy him, lest the public recognize his true talent and integrity.

Rand believes that the ideal man seeks to serve only himself. He is indifferent to the needs or thoughts of others and behaves strictly out of a motive to benefit himself. She ridicules the thought of altruism and believes that the self takes precedence over the masses. This is evident in the character of Howard Roark.

I think there are two important lessons to take away from The Fountainhead. First and foremost, know what you stand for. It is true that humans, as social creatures, often put weight to the opinions and beliefs of those with the loudest voices. It is sometimes easier to let those around us make our decisions and dictate our identity. I, myself, am guilty of this. It takes a strong level of self-knowledge and scrutiny to lay the cement for your personal foundation. But it is so important to find your roots and stay planted. The human identity is like clay; you can take ownership over yours and mold it to your satisfaction. But it is also easily shifted by the pressures and temperatures of the world. Protect your clay because it is the essence of who you are.

The second lesson to take away is, contrary to Rand’s philosophy, that individualism is not beneficial to society. She believes that people should only be motivated by their own benefit. This is such a narrow lens with which to view the world. Rand is focused on the individual, on only his or her success. But in order to make real progress, we have to widen our view and take into account the millions of faces and voices that surround us. We can do so much more collectively by standing on the shoulders of giants than one man can accomplish on his own. Despite Roark’s absolute integrity and individuality as an architect, he still relies on the mathematics and structural theories of those who came before. He needs people to lay the bricks and raise the walls of his buildings. And when he seeks only his own good, he leaves destruction in his wake. As a society, we can accomplish much more by working together and lifting one another up than we can ever do alone.

At the end of the day, Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead is a fantastic book and I have to say she has challenged a lot of the ways that I view the world. Nevertheless, it is necessary to carefully process and sort through her ideas and understand which ones to learn from and which ones are inflated to suit the purposes of her book. Man is not set in stone and Rand’s caricatures of human nature are insightful but not often true. I do recommend the book and encourage anyone who finishes it to talk to me and let me know their thoughts.