The Concept of Privilege

The concept of privilege can be a challenging one to get across, but it’s one of the key factors that has shaped the inequalities, imbalances, and prejudices of society today.  In order to fix the problem, the first step is acknowledging it.

Too often, when a person is informed of their privilege, they are likely to respond “Hey, I worked hard for what I have.” However, what this person isn’t realizing is that acknowledging the fact that they are privileged doesn’t invalidate any hard work they might have put into their career, social life, and so on: it simply contextualizes it.  To be privileged doesn’t mean that a person had everything handed to them on a silver platter—though it can, if they did!—but rather, in many cases, privilege means that a person was born with the right set of circumstances that allowed them to achieve success through hard work. Not everyone is so lucky.

This really isn’t a complicated concept to understand: whereas a person born in a luckier set of circumstances (for example, a family that can afford to send them to a private school) can achieve success through hard work, another person born in more difficult circumstances could work just as hard, yet not achieve the same results, due to the unfairness of their birth conditions in relation to society. The widespread deception that “everyone starts on the same level playing field” is a dangerous falsehood that has festered in the American psyche for generations, and it accounts for a huge amount of the anger, racism, xenophobia, class warfare, and so on today.

Imagine an Olympic race where one person gets to begin running at the starting line, whereas another person—against their will—is forced to start ten feet back and wait twenty seconds, for no good reason. Sure, both runners might have given it their all. But one of those runners had a huge advantage at the starting point, and that’s fundamentally unjust.

Many factors play into privilege. Class is the most obvious one: it’s much harder for a person born in the working class to move upward than it is for someone born in the upper class. That’s pretty basic. However, race is arguably an even bigger factor: people with more melanin in their skin face irrational prejudices against them at every corner, combined with the horrors of systemic racism, and surveys have shown that far too many companies still are less likely to call back resumes with less-white sounding names. Sex is also an enormous factor, as women today still face the constant realities of sexual harassment in the workplace, and surveys show that, on average, women still earn 79 cents for every dollar a man earns. Disability, neurodiversity, nationality, gender, religious background, and so on are also factors.

Privilege is the invisible benefit one receives when one doesn’t have to worry about their race, sex, class, religious background, or so on: privilege is when a person gets to go into a job interview, and to know that they’ll be seen for their decided traits/experience/individuality, rather than the labels that others have applied to them.

Again, the first step toward fixing the privilege problem is acknowledging that it exists, and spreading that awareness to others. One of the best explanations I’ve ever read of the subject was actually featured in a web comic titled On a Plate, by Toby Morris. Give it a read on this link to TheWireless.co.nz, and next time you’re looking to explain privilege to someone, consider sending it along to them.

Link: On a Plate

 

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Skydiving in Phoenix

You know what’s insane? Skydiving.

You know what’s more insane than that?

…well, not much. At least, I’ve never experienced anything that feels more insane while it’s happening. My mind never stops flashing back to that moment where the door flipped open, air rushed inside, and every instinct in my suddenly very-mortal body was screaming to me that this whole “Hey, I’m going to jump out of a plane!” idea was not conducive to survival. You’re going to die! People can’t fall this distance! Then, the surrealness of actually doing it. Putting my legs out of the plane.

It’s like crashing through the gates of reality. Doing what you think is impossible.

Somewhere around the point where my feet were over the edge, and the desert landscape was spread out below, all sense of reality that I’ve perceived up until that point in my life totally shattered. The next 40 seconds — less than a minute spent flying through the air like a superhero, with adrenaline pumping harder than it probably ever has before — felt like it lasted for months, or even a year, in all the right ways.

And it was absolutely amazing. For anyone who has this one on their to-do list, all I can say is: don’t miss out.

What about you guys?

Have you ever gone skydiving, or thought about doing it? Let’s hear it!

Sedona Arizona Nicholas Conley

Sedona, AZ: Traveling Back Through Time

Whenever someone asks me where I’m “from,” there’s no easy answer to that question. While many people grew up in one location, I moved around a lot throughout my early years. Do I say California, the place I was born — and where I traveled back to when I became an adult? That one does make sense. But there’s also North Carolina, where I went to high school. Or what about New Hampshire, where I live today? On top of that, all of the travels I’ve been on as an adult have left their mark on me, as I always carry a little bit of Morocco, Thailand, Laos, and other places with me everywhere I go.

All of those journeys form a part of my history, each location a shimmering strand on the spiderweb that is my life. But none of them are really where I’m “from.”

But then again, maybe I’m needlessly complicating things. Because when it comes down to it, the place I’m truly “from,” the place where my roots really go back to, is the town of Sedona, Arizona.

 

Nicholas Conley Sedona Arizona

Sedona, a town famous for Red Rocks, vortexes, adobe houses, and breathtaking views, is probably my favorite place in the world. There’s something special about it, something indescribably magical. Maybe it’s the scenery. Maybe it’s the history, or maybe the vortexes. But it’s something.

Either way, when I think about the concept of “home,” at least in the way that others seem to mean it, I think of Sedona. I lived in Sedona throughout almost all my childhood, up until I was nearly a teenager, and the little red town left its imprint on me in a big way. Going back there, I’m always surprised by how much I connect to Sedona — by how many little elements, features, and aspects of my personality seem directly rooted in that one place, nestled between ruddy, rocky guardians.

Sedona Arizona Nicholas Conley Airport Mesa

The last few weeks, Veronica and I took a chance to go back and explore it — me, for the first time in almost a decade. Her, for the first time ever. Coming back to Sedona is always a major moment in my life, and it was truly breathtaking to go back there, to look up and see Bell Rock, Cathedral Rock, and all of the other old “friends” again.

Sedona Arizona Bell Rock

Whenever I’m leaving Sedona, I feel like I’m leaving a piece of myself behind with it. It’s always so weird, feeling so far away from the one place where all my childhood memories go back to. In many ways, it always feels like going back into a dream I experienced one night, a dream that felt real… except in this case, the dream really does exist. But I also feel like every time I go back, it marks some kind of major event. That I’ve passed through another threshold in life, and the next one is coming up.

I’ll always come back. I’ll always remember. And I have a feeling that the next time I make it out there won’t be so long, this time.

Sedona Arizona Nicholas Conley

Why I Wear Hawaiian Shirts

Really, if there’s one comment I hear more often than anything else, it tends to be, “Wow, man. You wear a lot of Hawaiian shirts.”

This habit has, whether fortunately or unfortunately, been one I’ve engaged in for most of my life. It seems like my tendency to wear these bright and colorful shirts is a source of curiosity, since it often elicits comments, both positive and negative — but always entertaining. I’ve received many questions about why I wear them: if there’s a deeper reason, a cause, a role, whether I lost a lifetime bet, and so on. You get the idea.

Well, actually, there is a deeper reason. A few, actually. So, why? Well…

Reason #1: Sentimental Reasons

Nicholas Conley

Basically, when I was a kid, my father often wore Hawaiian shirts. He enjoyed the look and feel of them, and like most sons, I liked the idea of being a little more like him, so I picked up the habit.

As longtime readers know, he died when I was 17; though I was already wearing Hawaiian shirts by that time, after his death, they took on a new significance for me. Continuing to wear them felt like a way of celebrating his legacy, a tribute to who he was.

Reason #2: Catharsis

jamaica_coffee

When I was younger, I had a lot of social anxiety, difficulty fitting in; you know the story, and many of you experienced your own version of it. Anyway, this all came to a head in high school, where at first, all I wanted to do was disappear into the background. I wanted to seem normal. Quiet. Nondescript. I felt horribly eccentric, incredibly weird, like I couldn’t fit in anywhere.

Then, I changed my mind about trying to fit in, and instead, I decided to wear my eccentricity on my sleeve.

During the summer, like many teenagers in the past and many teenagers in the future, I grew my hair out long. I grew a beard. And, of course, I decided to ditch the bland, basic, flat-colored t-shirts of the past, and make Hawaiian shirts my personal trademark.

Immediately, I started feeling more comfortable socially. I grew out of my shell. I became more confident. I started walking out there a bit more boldly, stating my thoughts aloud, openly being who I was on the outside as well as the inside. Ever since those days, I’ve never stopped wearing the shirts, nor would I ever want to.

Reason #3: Because Yeah, You Know What? Hawaiian Shirts Are Awesome

Nicholas Conley Sahara

Honestly? Hawaiian shirts are just really fucking cool.

Seriously. It’s not always easy to wear something so bright and colorful everyday, turning yourself into a walking billboard for a Caribbean vacation company. But Hawaiian shirts are fun, enjoyable, and people who wear them tend to make great company. A good aloha shirt is comfortable, iconic, timeless. They look great, and feel great. Why would I not want to wear them?

Nicholas Conley Bangkok Thailand

Really, this is probably what it comes down to, in the end: I just like Hawaiian shirts.

I like the way they look, and how they feel. I like the fact that they instill an automatic trust in a person, a sense that no matter how serious that person is, they know how to enjoy life and see the good in things, at least on some level. I have yet to meet a bad person wearing a Hawaiian shirt, and I hope I never do.

Nicholas Conley radio WSCA True Tales Alzheimer's audience

True Tales: Past the Horizon Line

Back in February of 2016, I was honored to have the opportunity to share a true story on the radio station WSCA 106.1 FM, and in front of a live studio audience.

That story, which I called “Past the Horizon Line,” was about my real life experiences working in a nursing home, and how my friendship with one particularly amazing Alzheimer’s patient had a profound impact on my life.

As longtime readers know, much of my writing — including my novel Pale Highway (which deals with Alzheimer’s), as well as Clay Tongue: A Novelette (which deals with post-stroke aphasia) and my upcoming book, Intraterrestrial (which deals with traumatic brain injuries) — has been based on my experiences working in healthcare, but it’s not often that I get to share too much about what those real experiences were like, and how they shaped the person I am today. For that reason, I’d like the share this clip with you all, where I tell my story, “Past the Horizon Line.” Thank you for watching.

 

 

My Writing Space

As any creative professional knows, the zone where you create things is your castle. Some people have roaming workstations, while others need a specific spot at a specific time, but there’s always a place where the magic happens — whether it’s a physical location, a psychological one, or (most likely) both. It’s the same for all forms of creative passion: we all have our desks, our studios, our work tables, or whatever else we may need.

For me, while I do enjoy getting some work done in local coffee shops every so often, the primary place where the writing happens is in my office, at home. Whenever I sit down here, as I am now, I feel a sense of purpose, belonging, a focus. With a mug of coffee in hand, I feel ready to conquer the next manuscript before me.

Longtime readers will recognize little touches like the Spider-Man poster and the coffee mug; the desk is never complete without that mug there and filled with hot coffee, as you might imagine. The dinosaur is an old childhood relic that reminds me of my father, and which has been on my desk for over 10 years. It has taken on increasing importance over the years, as childhood relics tend to do. As for those “slugs” roaming around the plant… well, those are the marvelous creation of my endlessly creative wife Veronica, and readers of Pale Highway will know why they’re there.

But let’s not stop with me. What about you guys? What sort of creative workstation/s do you have? Let’s hear about ’em!

Southeast Asia Part V: Southern Thailand, the Final Chapter

And at long last, the saga of our 2017 Asian adventure comes to an end.  I was intimidated at the prospect of first writing these entries, but I hope I’ve properly gotten across just how amazing southeast Asia really is. This was easily one of the most unbelievable trips my wife and I have ever been on, and we can’t wait to go back one day.

Before I get started, some catchup:

Southeast Asia Part I: Thailand

Southeast Asia Part II: Thailand

Southeast Asia Part III: Laos

Southeast Asia Part IV: Cambodia

So, after our travels in Cambodia, and with less than a few weeks left in our trip, we boarded a flight right to Phuket, the most famous island in Southern Thailand. Phuket is definitely the Los Angeles of Thailand. It’s huge, constantly moving, with a myriad of events taking place in any direction the eyes can see.

It’s highly commercialized, of course, far more than the rest of Thailand. It’s definitely a carnival, but still worth seeing, if only for the mesmerizing beaches.

From there, we then escaped to the shores of Ko Yao Noi. This remote little island, which has a 90% Muslim population, is one of the most amazing and beautiful places in Thailand. It’s quiet, simple, rural, with very little going on, and that’s the beauty of it. Veronica and I spent our time there riding around the island on a scooter, laying on hammocks at the beach, and loving the peacefulness of it all.

And of course, there’s always excellent coffee if you know where to find it. The scene pictured below, again on Ko Yao Noi, definitely qualifies for an updated list of Top Coffee Moments™. (you veteran readers of this blog will remember these Coffee Moments, as well as your top ones!)

Nicholas Conley coffee Ko Yao Noi Thailand

We felt so at home at Ko Yao Noi that it was heartbreaking to leave, but there were still adventures ahead. Most importantly, scuba diving off the coast of Ko Phi Phi.

This was my first time ever scuba diving, and I absolutely loved it. I have to admit, the first few moments were terrifying, but once I’d adjusted — thanks to the calm, relaxed training of my instructor —  it easily become one of the most fantastic experiences I’ve ever had. While I’d often imagined what scuba diving might be like — who hasn’t dreamed up seeing the mesmerizing coral reefs and sea creatures up close? — I’d never imagined the experience would be so calm and meditative. The focus on breathing, exhaling and inhaling at a slow and steady pace, puts one in a mental state very similar to meditation or yoga. Combine this with the unbelievable thrill of seeing blue starfish, moray eels, mountain ranges of coral, swimming through schools of fish, and even seeing a blacktip shark(!)… and, well, the whole thing was unforgettable.

Luckily, the ship had an underwater camera man on board.

 

After a few more days soaking up the sun, islands, and more, our time in Thailand finally came to an end. We finished the trip by heading back to Bangkok for our last few days, where we ate our final dinner at a restaurant with a fantastic view of the city, reminiscing on everything we’d seen and done.

And now, we come full circle, back to where I began — writing about the time period in which we first came back, which is when I started writing this series, and which now seems so long ago.

thai-southern-scuba1

Thank you, all of you, who’ve continued reading this series from the beginning until now. After over a month of southeast Asia posts, next week will begin something new. As for what it is, who knows? We never know what stories the future holds for us.