Iron and Wine, Chucks and Pour-Over Coffee: The Chronicle of a Self-Hating Hipster

“I asked you a question and I didn’t need you to reply
Is it getting heavy?
But then I realize, is it getting heavy
Well, I thought it was already as heavy as can be”

-Iron and Wine from “Waiting for Superman”

Being in your late 20’s is a weird thing. I am 28 now. I live in Kansas City, a city that I would have never though I would ever reside in back when I was in high school. In the six years since I have graduated college, I have been to many different places, experienced many different things, been through different relationships and relished my own unique joys, and walked through my share of painful valleys. Furthermore, it’s amazing too how life, culture, society has changed in the six years since I left Gonzaga and made my way toward Culver City, California. Back in 2009, the touch phone was still a luxury, twitter was just becoming relevant, and I’m sure there was still a size-able minority that still thought MySpace was a legitimate form of Social Media.

However, the biggest rise in the past six years has been the emergence of the Hipster. Yes, the coffee-drinking, flannel-wearing, Chuck taylor and rolled up jean sporting socialite that has become such a recognizable figure in our society. Much like the Beatnik to the 50’s, the hippie to the 60’s, the yuppie to the 80’s, the hipster is the “culture” of the 2010’s. Some people embrace it thinking of it as the new progressive approach to life. Others despise it as a hypocritical figure of 21st century consumerism. Whatever side of the fence you find yourself on, the “hipster” will generate debate in all kinds of communities and forms.

The “hipster” debate always strikes a chord with me though because it is tough for me to not find myself falling into that taboo demographic. After all, I am in my late 20’s, PBR and Miller High Life tend to be my beer of choice (typical for hipsters), I have found myself shopping for flannel shirts at thrift stores as of late and I have grown to adore Indie folk bands (such as Iron and Wine, Mumford and Sons and Low Roar), even going to concerts here in Kansas City, which is something very atypical of me (I have never been a concert-goer until this past year). So with this being the case, why do I to hesitate to consider myself a hipster? Why do I still feel anxious to categorize myself as someone that is characteristic of the decade that we currently live in?

The answer to that question is really two-fold, stemming from both my previous relationships here in Kansas City. The first part centers on my second-to-last ex who I moved here to Kansas City from Pine Ridge for. In all honesty, she really was a hipster. She listened to that indie folk music (though she also tended to listen to a lot of hip-hop, so she was kind of a “uber-hipster” I guess, if that does exist), she always wore beanies, she tended to be very anti-consumerism with her shopping, preferring farmer’s markets and thrift stores (which was mostly due to her best friend, who was totally on that spectrum), had tattoos, and also smoked and preferred cheap “non-popular” beer (i.e. not Bud Light). After we broke up, though I found myself enjoying a lot of the same interests, I did not want to admit it because it brought up painful memories. Memories of her, both good and bad, whenever I engaged in these “hipster” activities. And that is why I did not want to typify myself as such a person: it would put me in her category, and not only would it make me recall less-than-stellar memories, but make me feel as if I was her, which would make me feel worse, almost masochistic, since I was embodying her in some way by embracing “hipster-ism” even though the ending of that relationship had been so painful and life-altering that October through January of last year. It sounds strange of course to think like that, but it’s funny how a relationship, both current and past, can alter our mindset or approach to mainstream activities, even if it is fun or gears toward our interests.

So, I didn’t want to be hipster initially because of my first ex. But that was only the first part. The second part centered around my last ex, who was a Latina woman in her 30’s who had 3 kids. This woman was the total opposite of my first ex  (i.e. not hipster at all). She liked Latin and pop music, she tended to be more traditional when it came to buying food, clothing, etc (i.e. fell in line with the common consumer trends), and didn’t see how the “hipster” lifestyle was attractive or ideal in the slightest. It seemed like the perfect fit. Not only was I with this attractive woman, but she was the complete polar opposite of my last ex. If anything was going to drive me away from being a “hipster”, it was this woman and this relationship.

Instead, I found my tendency to gear toward the “hipster” ways pop up from time to time. When it came to BBQs, I would buy PBR or High Life, and she would make a remark about that. She constantly made note that my personality would be a better fit for one of her single “hipster” friends rather than her (this was probably a sign that this relationship was not going to work: when your girlfriend suggests that maybe you should be dating their friend rather than her because you share a like for flannel, a band or a certain brand of beer). Of course, I tried to fight against it: I liked Romeo Santos, I tended to fall too “in-line” with society to be categorized as a “hipster”, I was done with the “single” scene typical of someone my age. And for about 11 months, we were able to believe that, think that was the case, and carry our relationship as if we were really truly meant to be with each other despite our difference in personality, and specifically my own “lingering” personality characteristics being suppressed (though willingly on my end at the time).

Of course though, things did not work. That relationship ended for a multitude of reasons, but one of the subtle reasons? I was too hipster for her. I didn’t fit in with her personality, how she did things, etc. We were too different, going in two different directions, and we have not spoken since we broke up in November. Sad in many ways of course, but in the end it was a good thing. Though I didn’t realize it at the time, I was being someone I wasn’t, just to be in that relationship, thinking that was the main way I would be happy (being in a relationship with kids and raising a family, i.e the mindset of every 20-something in the Midwest.). As the months passed though, I began to come to the realization that it was good that I wasn’t in that relationship anymore. I wasn’t happy in that relationship at the end of the day. I wasn’t myself. And when you’re not yourself, it’s hard to maintain any kind of happiness, no matter how awesome or beautiful or supportive the other person in the relationship is.

So since that endeavor ended, I have been single since. And in my own “solo” status, I have grown to understand myself a little more. And for some reasons, being “hipster” comes back to the forefront. Was being a “hipster” such a bad thing? Was I a hipster in the purest sense? No. I didn’t have tattoos and didn’t plan on getting anytime soon. I don’t wear bottleneck glasses. I don’t live on my parents’ trust fund account. But the other aspects? Yeah, I guess I can consider myself hipster in that sense. But did that make me happy? Did that make me feel comfortable with myself? Or would it be another crutch, much like that last relationship with the 30-something-year-old mother?

In April, I bought tickets to the “Middle of the Map” concert at the Uptown Theater that featured Sean Rowe, Madisen Ward and the Mama Bear, Strand of Oaks and Iron and Wine. It was something uncharacteristic for me because I didn’t go to concerts. I didn’t see myself as a “music” guy by any means, let alone enough of one to go to a concert that featured the artists above. But I had my own “fuck it” moment and decided to do it, to do something different, even if it cost money and was out of my comfort zone. Would it be a hipster fest? Perhaps, but maybe I could determine if this was something I wanted and was comfortable with or if it was just a phase, a inkling that didn’t lead anywhere.

Sean Rowe and Madisen Ward and the Mama Bear killed it, while Strand of Oaks left a lot to be desired (I can’t get into a band that’s trying to be indie folk and metal at the same time; it’s like Mexican-Asian fusion cuisine…just doesn’t fit IMO). But what really hooked me, changed things for me that night was Sam Beam (i.e. Iron and Wine), especially his rendition of “the Trapeze Swinger”. This isn’t an exact version, but the video below is very similar to what he performed at the Uptown that April night.

Amazing, right? Well, after that night, that performance, my perspective on everything just changed. Being there, listening to him, along with a completely attentive crowd of 20-something hipsters dressed in flannel, rolled up jeans, bottleneck glasses, etc, I felt completely at ease. In that eight-plus minute acoustic performance, I felt as if I had broken from chains of anxiety, doubt, and to be perfectly blunt, shit. It was as if I had fallen back into a river and while lying on my back, I was just letting the water float me down the river, away from everything, away from my first hipster ex who brought me to KC, and my last relationship, which I still pressed about since I felt guilty about not only leaving her, but her children as well. As I floated on this river with the sounds of the “Trapeze Swinger” ringing in my ears, those two figures (my exes) simply started to disappear in the horizon, as the river took me somewhere else, somewhere new, somewhere where I could be truly myself and happy. It was a feeling I hadn’t felt in a long time, and certainly not at any point in my tenure in Kansas City since arriving in July of 2013.

And that is what I figured out about being “hipster”. Am I a hipster in the purest sense? It is it something I strive to be? Is it something I hold as collateral over other people to show I am better than them? Of course not. That is not me. It will never be me. However, I am hipster to some extent, and there is something freeing in that. I can say I am hipster not because I am comparing myself to someone or some time in my life, but simply because it is what describes me and brings out the best me and puts me in a good place. I wear flannel that I buy from the thrift store because I like the way it looks and it is cheap (4 bucks!). I get pour over coffee from “Oddly Correct” in Kansas City because it is delicious coffee. I wear Chuck Taylors for the first time in my life and they feel comfortable. I actually give a damn about music, especially Indie Folk. I can spend my nights listening to Iron and Wine, drinking PBR and playing Solitaire and be totally at peace. Maybe I’m not 100% hipster and maybe most hipsters who I bump into may “poo-poo” me thinking I am trying to “fit in” or “conform” in a non-genuine way. Despite what others may perceive or recognize though, in my mind, I consider myself a majority hipster and that is fine…

Because more importantly…I feel free.

“Freedom hangs like heaven over everyone
Ain’t nobody knows what the newborn holds

But his mama says he’ll walk on water
And wander back home…”

Iron and Wine from “Freedom Hangs Like Heaven”

Un-Lost in the Woods: How ‘Wild’ Connects with a Wandering Soul

“What if I forgave myself? I thought. What if I forgave myself even though I’d done something I shouldn’t have? What if I was a liar and a cheat and there was no excuse for what I’d done other than because it was what I wanted and needed to do? What if I was sorry, but if I could go back in time I wouldn’t do anything differently than I had done? What if I’d actually wanted to fuck every one of those men? What if heroin taught me something? What if yes was the right answer instead of no? What if what made me do all those things everyone thought I shouldn’t have done was what also had got me here? What if I was never redeemed? What if I already was?”

-Cheryl Strayed

It is one of Cheryl’s final lines in Jean-Marc Valle’s elegantly directed “Wild”, based on Strayed’s memoir of the same title. The quote comes in a voice-over as Cheryl crosses the “Bridge of the Gods” in Cascade Locks, Oregon, the final landmark of her 94-day trek up the Pacific Crest Trail which spreads from the border of Mexico to the border of Canada. While Cheryl does not hike the entire trail, the distance and speed matter less than the personal growth and discovery Cheryl realizes amidst the brutal and arduous conditions of her hike. A former drug-addict whose life spun out of control after the death of her mother in early 20’s, Cheryl’s quest for self-discovery along the PCT as chronicled in her memoir and the film adaptation, display the power not only of being in touch with nature, but also how pushing one’s physical, mental and social limits can result in life-changing enlightenment. Before Cheryl’s journey, she was addicted to heroin, unable to maintain a relationship with a patient and trusting spouse (due to her constant infidelity) and made life choices that would make the most traditional of citizens cringe. By the time she crosses the Bridge of the Gods, it is obvious that Cheryl is not necessarily a different person, but rather the best part of herself, the part she wants to be, the part she was when her mother was alive, when she was happy and most confident in herself. Cheryl didn’t transform into some brand new being because of the thousands of miles she hiked, but rather, freed herself from the gunk and abyss that had held her down and stolen her life in those seven years after her mother’s passing due to lung cancer.

Cheryl’s story chronicled in “Wild” though strikes a chord in all of us in a weird way. The film is breathtakingly filmed sure, and Reese Witherspoon delivers a dynamite performance, probably one of the best of her career (which is saying something considering she won an Academy Award in “Walk the Line”). But what hits you about “Wild” is the familiarity of the story and the theme: the search for understanding of one’s self. We have seen plenty of “road” stories where the characters look to find enlightenment in some kind of journey or traveling escapade. “On the Road” by Jack Kerouac, Kerouac’s semi-autobiographical novel about him and his friend Dean Moriarty’s quest for self-discovery on the roads and highways across America, echoes a similar theme to Strayed’s tales in “Wild”. People have issues. People are not happy where they are at. And sometimes, you just need to drop everything and just start going in a direction, even if you do not know what the end will be or where it will come.

At the quintessential core, “Wild” is a story about the searching soul, the wandering spirit who is trying to figure out what life’s plan is for them. It connects with all of us so deeply, at any age, whether you are a middle-schooler or in the last legs of your life. As a 28-year-old who is single and moving and changing jobs in a couple of months, it strikes me particularly deeply.  I may not be wearing hiking boots, a big backpack, or being approached by creepy bow-hunting men who enjoy Hamm’s tall boys in the middle of Oregon, but my journey is like Cheryl’s: I am trying to discover and become the person life wants me to be, and I need to search it out in a place that is both familiar and foreign simultaneously in a wonderful and intimidating way.

In two weeks, I will be graduating from Rockhurst University in Kansas City, Mo. I entered the graduate program for two reasons: to become a certified high school teacher while getting a master’s degree in the process, and to be in the same city and continue a relationship with my girlfriend at the time who lived in Kansas City. Before I came to Kansas City, I worked as a PE teacher at Red Cloud Indian School in Pine Ridge, SD, working as a volunteer through the Red Cloud Volunteer Program and Americorps. Teaching at Red Cloud and on the Reservation was one of the happiest experiences of my life, especially my second year, where I was dating long-distance with my girlfriend at the time, and really coming into my own as a teacher. In all honesty, it was difficult to make that decision to leave to Red Cloud. Pine Ridge felt like home to me. The people in both the school and general community felt familiar and comfortable. There were many teachers and people I knew that didn’t seem like colleagues, but family members to me. And I was leaving all this comfort, this familiarity, this place where I thrived and at the time fit in for not just grad school, but mostly a relationship, a person, and  a new life that I was sure I was going to transition to and be happy with. California was my home, but I never embraced being a “Californian” by any means. West Coast life had been too fast for me, and the allure of the Midwest, and being in a bigger city in the Midwest all while growing into a relationship I cared deeply about seemed like the right thing, the only thing to do at the time. I would be living in a small apartment in an old, richly historic area of Kansas City, Kansas, teaching PE at a local Catholic School, pursuing my Master’s Degree, and start my new life with my girlfriend and her family. Yeah, I loved Pine Ridge and Red Cloud. But Kansas City seemed to be my final stop in my mind, a place where I could build some roots for the long-term.

I moved to Kansas City in July. By October of that year, my girlfriend and I split. Much like the death of her mom spun Cheryl’s life out of control, I too had lost a grip of where I was and who I was. After we had broken up, I had found myself alone, the only people I knew being an interracial Lesbian couple who ended up moving from Kansas City to Denver to be closer to the Rez of Pine Ridge by December (though the months I did spend with them was enjoyable and I am forever grateful for their support in that time). And not only was I alone, but I was miserable. It’s difficult to deal with a breakup in general, but when you tend to be more introverted and over-analytic, breakups like the one I had proved to be backbreaking at times. Sure, I wasn’t taking heroin or having random sex with partners like Cheryl, as chronicled in “Wild”, but I was doing my own things to fill in that void of heartbreak and loneliness that stuck with me everyday.

I took many different paths to get over the pain and depression. I went to a youth group “fellowship” meeting that a classmate of mine invited me to in Overland Park. The idea of weekly meetings talking about God, the bible and things to do for the “church” didn’t strike me as engaging, so I stopped going after the initial meeting. I went to a priest at Rockhurst for Spiritual Direction, but it was obvious by our first meeting he was more concerned about getting me to join the Jesuits than talk about the issues I had. The Jesuit vocation had already failed once for me, and I don’t think re-entering was going to solve any problems for me soon. I even got in a relationship with a beautiful single mother of three, thinking that not only a relationship was what I wanted but a family  as well, even if the children were not my own. 11 months into that relationship, not only did I find out that fatherhood was something I was not ready or prepared for yet, but she also figured out that I wasn’t necessarily the best fit for her and her kids as well, with the age (we were 7 years apart, her being 7 year older) and job factors (she was also uncomfortable with the hours demanded of me as a teacher) being too much for her to handle in a relationship.

Almost two years in Kansas City. I have gone through two breakups, seen two close friends move away, and have worked at two different schools. Much like Cheryl in that period of life after her mother’s death, there have been a lot of good and bad decisions made in my journey of life in my 20’s. I learned some values such as patience, flexibility and resiliency during these past two years. At the same time, I have struggled to find a fit in Kansas City, and the two past relationship failures have also displayed to me that maybe it was time to move on somewhere else, start anew, with a clean slate or at least a better one.

With my master’s degree being done in May and in the middle of making a contract decision in February, I felt the need to do something. I wasn’t necessarily depressed after the relationship with my second ex in Kansas City ended, but I wasn’t exactly happy or fulfilled either, and I didn’t feel I was going in the right direction. Something had to be done. I didn’t pick up a PCT book from the local REI. Instead, I put in a job application at my old school, Red Cloud, this time in the high school for a business teaching position (my certification is in Secondary Ed Business). A month later, I interviewed and accepted the position. When I first left Red Cloud, I thought I would never go back. And for a while, maybe a year, especially when I was dating my second girlfriend in Kansas City, I thought I would never go back either. But I had visited South Dakota twice while living in Kansas City, and both times it was difficult to leave. Why? Because it felt comfortable, it felt like home, it felt where I needed to be, where I was called to be. That is why I put in my application there in February, that is why I accepted the position in April, and that is why I will be moving there in July. I do not know if that is where I will be for the rest of my life, but I know Red Cloud and Pine Ridge is calling me to be there, to explore this journey, much like the PCT called Cheryl to her own journey on the trail.

The experience of Kansas City these past two years has been something. I have grown a lot in these two years. I have experienced a lot of heartache, but a lot of great, satisfying joys as well. It is going to be tough to leave some people here in Kansas City. There are some friends I have grown close to that I know I will miss come Fall of next year. At the same time though, I know the journey of Red Cloud and Pine Ridge a second time is something that is going to be life-developing. It is not the same Red Cloud I left two years ago. A lot of the people I was close with a couple of years ago are gone. And because of that, it is scary and exciting. Scary in the sense that I can’t predict what anything is going to be like, but exciting because I know this second journey is going to be different in all kinds of shaping ways.

Cheryl Strayed made a trip on the PCT to re-discover the woman she was meant to be. I am going back to Red Cloud and Pine Ridge to re-discover who I am meant to be both as a teacher and person. Much like the PCT, this journey back will have its obstacles, and like Cheryl, I may overpack in some ways and underprepare in others. And I know there will be various pains and challenges in the journey both physically, mentally and emotionally.

But despite all the risk and unknowing, I believe the journey will help me discover more about myself, and push me to see a little bit more clearly through thick, gray, intense haze of life. As my Aunt said when I first went to Red Cloud, this second trip to Red Cloud is “another exciting adventure in life” and I am open to whatever the trail of this adventure has to offer.

“How wild it was, to let it be.”

-Cheryl Strayed