I tried learning how to juggle once while I was working at a sports equipment store. I got fired the next day. Though my boss gave me some bogus reason about it being dangerous and unprofessional, I think he was more upset by how much of an eyesore my clumsy, labored attempts were. If customers were in fact driven away, it wasn’t for fear of getting hurt so much as it was fear of facing the embarrassment of asking such a miserable failure of a juggler for help.
Clearly, I’ve never been the multitasking type. God-forbid someone ever asks me a question while I’m cutting an apple, lest I chop myself into a permanent shaka. But, there is one multitasking skill I’ve always had in spades: daydreaming and walking.
I recall the halcyon days of my youth in an almost Technicolor haze, the streets of Kailua yawning by as I walked aimlessly around. When my mind cycled out the usual suspects – girls, where to get food, back to girls again – I would inevitably drift off into what Kailua must have been like, 20, 50, 100 years in the past. Of course, this was before I was able to find pictures from those time periods, so I concocted a village, and later a town, out of the ground from scratch.
As I reflect now on those imaginary episodes birthed from typical adolescent boredom, I understand that I wasn’t forming the Kailua that actually existed in the past. I was envisioning what I wanted Kailua to be right now. Mostly, it was an exercise in subtraction.
First thing gone: yuppie mainland types who bought a one-way ticket because “Hawaii is sooo chill.” Easily spotted at the Pillboxes every sunrise and sunset doing their best/worst impersonations of local mannerisms while taking pictures of themselves in yoga positions. You know who I’m talking about.
Next: Marines. The loud “HOORAH” types, rolling in and out of bars and stores en masse, lamenting the absence of strip-malls and high-rises like they had back home, who ostensibly enjoy leaving trails of litter behind them to remind themselves of their home towns.
Oh! Can’t forget the barneys, people who wear underwear under their board shorts and t-shirts into the ocean…
And like that, my mind drifted off until I slowly pinpointed every single thing I, as a teenaged haole kid wearing a Kailua Boys tank and fanny pack, didn’t like. It was my town, and they didn’t belong.
I’m older now, and I guess by default, a bit wiser. Some of those yuppies and marines and barneys are now my friends – teenage Donald would call me out in a heartbeat if he knew about it (he only entertained their friendship if they were female). But times have changed, my town has changed. I’ve changed. I’m no genius, but I’m smart enough to know that the good people and the assholes come in all flavors. Those escapist escapades were not just my attempts to sculpt an ideal community. I was figuring out something else, something a little more important.
But even though I’ve tempered my initial negativity, that isn’t to say the basic feelings I had were wrong; they were just misplaced. Teenaged Donald and Right Now Donald share the same concerns about the place they love, it’s just that Teenaged Donald was more focused on finding fault than solutions. The residue of that instinct is something I still struggle to wash myself free of.
Despite their differences, my past and present selves can see eye-to-eye on our passion for Kailua, a place that I believe is a synecdoche for many universal issues: Overdevelopment, an eroding physical landscape, community exclusion from decision-making, the seemingly impossible reality of ever owning a home, traffic – don’t get me started on the traffic. None of these are endemic to Kailua. I’m willing to bet most people, in any community, have felt the squeeze of at least some of these.
And yet, solutions for some issues may very well exacerbate other problems. If you think you have found magic bullet to cure all ailments, shoot yourself in the arm with it; you’re dreaming, and you likely require more than a pinch to wake up.
It was a seminal moment for me when I realized that my concerns for my town sprung from a font of passion for it. Passion is never the problem, but the concerns – or, more specifically, where those concerns are projected – are generally the causes of conflict. I assume we’re all guilty of painting villains with broad brushstrokes, usually where there is little perceived overlap between us and them. We all have built idealized versions of reality in our heads, and many of us fight to see those realities materialize.
That conflict is not only inevitable; it’s good. It’s healthy, because every community encapsulates a wide range of people, perspectives, and desires. Not everyone will get exactly what they envision, but when dialogue occurs, I have no doubt that we will discover the seams that tie us together. Those are more important and more constructive – albeit more difficult to come to terms with – than the frays that drive us apart.
I don’t have all the answers. I may not have any of them. Every opinion I have, no matter how authoritative or impassioned it may come off as, comes with an implicit caveat of “…but I might just be an idiot.” Greater minds than mine have tried to figure out why that is so difficult to admit, but ultimately it comes down to the fact that well-dressed ignorance is always more pleasant to look at than the naked truth.
One of my all-time favorite reggae acts, The Gladiators, put it best: If you talk too much, you will pay for what you don’t hear. In every op-ed, every comment section, every committee hearing, there is a whole lot of talking, but rarely does any genuine discussion occur. It’s unsettling. For that to change, we have to listen to each other, and be open to the fact that we could very well be wrong. We don’t have to juggle everything all on our own, because we got plenty of neighbors around us who share concerns, too. Trust me: multitasking isn’t easy. Sometimes it can even get you fired.
We have a lot more in common than we tend to give each other credit for. If that is understood and accepted, and we make our commonalities the starting point to build a future from the ground up, I think we have a real shot. But then again, I might just be an idiot.