I was born and raised in a rich white suburb of Chicago. My parents (who would eventually come to make a great living for themselves down the line) were definitely not the “type” that “should” have lived in that area in the beginning. (“I’m from Naperville” is all one really needs to say in the Chicagoland area to be judged as an entitled yuppie piece of shit.) Throughout my entire life, the stuck up materialistic culture of Naperville has been the butt of many jokes between my parents and I. Nevertheless, in spite of modest beginnings, my parents always made it a priority to travel. Over the course of my 18 years worth of growing up, we traveled all over the US, the Caribbean, Central America, and Europe. The mission, upon arriving at each of our destinations, was to find cool locals that would point us in the direction of fun off-the-beaten-path things to do and see. From the subtle differences in culture between the US states, to the old embedded history feel of Europe, to the way Central America goes from prosperous city to utter poverty with in the span of a few blocks, each destination was an opportunity that I took to imagine how I would go about setting up a life in the place I found myself. Each destination also threw into sharp relief just how good my life actually was back home in yuppie-town USA.
At 18, after graduating high school, I moved to Nashville Tennessee for college. I studied Audio Engineering with the obligatory minor in business. It took me a long time to adapt to southern culture. It’s slower, more family oriented and far more talkative (about nothing in particular) than the north prepared me for. Self deprecating humor also doesn’t resonate quite as well down south. Either way, I graduated college in what can only be described as a fog of marijuana smoke and no debt!… but no money either.
I set my sights on breaking into the Nashville music industry. To finance my journey, I got a job working the night shift loading trucks for UPS. This introduced me to one of the most unique cultures I’ve ever come across. Working Class Southern Black culture. In the UPS warehouse I was the racial minority. The black guys around me were definitely speaking English but I had to concentrate to understand it and many times I ended up smiling and nodding because I couldn’t bare to ask ‘what?’ for the 4th time. By day, I was sitting in recording studios with rich white 20 somethings looking to be the next Taylor Swift and by night I was receiving a crash course in southern Ebonics from gang members. After a while, I made friends with (I’ll be honest) the guy who was selling me weed and his brother. Both of whom were so unapologetically black, “gangster,” and southern we spent more time sitting around laughing at the fact that we didn’t understand one another than actually doing anything. (Just for the sake of clarity- I speak like I’m in a job interview. They speak with a particular dialect of Ebonics that makes even black people from the north lean in to listen.) After finally making my break into regular work in music, I quit UPS and fell out of touch with most of my black friends.
In following the work I was offered, I went from working with primarily country music to mostly Christian music. I was a fan of neither genre and I grew up in a completely secular household. Over the next several years, I worked with producers who would tell stories about growing up in a small white coal town in the 50&60s where their father was the town preacher and their early and persistent doubt about the existence of the god they all worshipped. (The amount of people who work in Christian music but don’t necessarily believe is amazing.) I was left amazed at what a narrow frame through which we all look at the world and how important it is to spend our time expanding the bounds of that frame as much as we can.
My paradigm shifted again a few years ago when I was offered a job brewing beer at a local Nashville brewery. I was in the right place at the right time and sold the owner more on my ability to learn than my qualifications. Now, I have before me an entirely new culture of “beer people” that, I must confess, I’m entirely uninterested in engaging with. Its nerdyness with a touch of alcoholism leaves many of the people I meet with very little to talk about other than the last beer they had or the next beer they’d like to make. Culturally, it’s not my cup of tea but I do enjoy the hands on work and it leaves me plenty of time to listen to podcasts and audiobooks while I go about my day.
To wrap this up, I’m approaching 30years old and I feel the most secure in my own skin than I’ve ever felt before. I think it’s due, in large part, to the different people I’ve exposed myself to along the way. Looking back, I always inserted myself into crowds that I had very little in common with other than a desire to laugh. I’ve come away with an appreciation of, and a respect for, the fact that there is no one right way to live. MMA helps provide insight into why people choose to live the way they do and reminds me of the importance of mindfulness. I think ultimately the conversations that the pursuit of MMA inspire are the conversations that societies all over the world could benefit from having.