Always On

Who would have imagined that we would take it this far — and how much further can it go?

This is a question I often ask myself as I flip back and forth between social media platforms, rapidly clicking my thumbs as I scroll through different timelines. My gaze resides firmly between being simultaneously transfixed and entirely apathetic. In the scenario I’m describing, the most likely thing to happen next is that I will click the button on the side of my phone, which will plunge my screen into darkness and force me to find something else to occupy my time.

Within minutes, sometimes seconds, I’ll be back refreshing the same sites I was on previously. I hope to see new content that will satisfy what feels like an insatiable need to be stimulated, plugged in, and present in the digital environment. Sometimes I don’t like what illuminates my phone screen, but I’m often deeply immersed. I fall into the age-bracket where I’m young enough to be a product of the information age, but old enough to remember what it was like before the internet. 

On this subject, I tend to err on the side of caution but do not assume a position of holistic rejection. This mindset is driven by witnessing what I think is the best and worst of what these platforms have to offer. It’s easy to simply view sites like Instagram and Twitter as incredible tools that have allowed individuals from across the globe to connect and converse all while carving out beautiful and unique spaces for various communities. We presume that this allows them to explore themselves and become more confident (myself included), build relationships, start careers, and self-express on a scale that they otherwise may not have been able to.

Aspiring photographers can post images on their accounts and receive positive reinforcement that they should keep shooting, even if they’ve never been told before that their work was worth anything. Even one compliment could be the pivotal difference that makes someone quit or keep on keeping on. A person who dreams of being a musician can upload their music directly to a platform like SoundCloud and expose their creation to the world, sometimes leading to fame. It seems that now more than ever, the gradual establishment of a tangible base of supporters can spawn online.

All of these observations are certainly true. But, it is difficult to appreciate those outcomes without acknowledging the more sinister alternatives. There are those who, rather than use the internet as a force for beneficial and healthy connectivity, have chosen to use it to make known the darkest parts of their being. Back when the website Formspring was closer to its height of relevance, I remember receiving anonymous questions that would range anywhere from arbitrarily insulting my appearance to criticizing me for “talking white” to making judgmental assumptions about my sexuality. Not only was it harmful for me to be inundated with these sentiments in general, but the fact that I had no idea who was saying it added a layer of discomfort. I frequently found myself obsessing over commentary by people who were only empowered when concealing their identity.

Another heinous example often seen online is when people become disgruntled with a public figure and, in their minds, justify the act of leaving mean-spirited comments on Instagram photos, hitting “send” on tweets containing words they would never utter offline, and even sending threats of violence in direct messages. I imagine these acts could be incredibly destructive to a person’s mind-state, especially over time.

There are countless examples of users weaponizing the anonymity offered by the internet to bully and harass others. Some have theorized that rather than social media corrupting the individuals who engage with it, the various platforms simply reveal their true character. Without the threat of legitimate, “real life” consequences when someone steps out of line with societal expectations of decency, people feel free to be as venomous or as sweet as they please online.

There are countless things I love about social media and what it offers, and for the most part, I use it daily. However, there are also days where I have to reduce my consumption, as I can feel it wearing me down mentally and emotionally. It is for this reason that I am empathetic to anyone who chooses to always be on, or always be off. We must be mindful of the tight grasp that social media platforms have on us to ensure that we use it in a positive manner and don’t let it fully consume us.

Is it all worth it? I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.



Photos by Sophie Kubinyi. 


Expecting Too Much

When we are young, one of the first things that we grapple with is learning what to expect on a basic level. What to expect of our caregivers, and what to expect in relation to the environment that surrounds us. In order to confront the sometimes subtle but ever-present intensity that just being a living and breathing entity presents, expectations can act as a safety mechanism to prevent us from constantly feeling like a deer in the high-beams of life. These initial, formative expectations teach us what is dangerous, what is safe, and what we should be uncertain about.

These expectations might take on a more simple manifestation — the essentials, just the things we need to be able to wake up every day, and get back in bed at the end of that day unharmed. But once those fundamental expectations are solidified and we grow as individuals, we start to develop more complex relationships to the people around us. The largely instinctual expectations that have guided us up to this point gradually become less prevalent, forcing us to operate in a more nuanced manner.

Although this relational nuance is something that we must accept, actually coming to terms with it can be hard.

I turned 23 years old last month, and it is a bit of a personal tradition of mine to reflect on certain aspects of my life around the time of my birthday. The truth of my current position is that I have found myself largely friendless. The majority of the friendships that came about in my college years have eroded with time, and with the lack of location-based convenience, each one had a shorter life expectancy than I would have hoped. Though I do mourn what has felt like the death of these friendships, I accept it as a reality of growing older and try daily to move forward accordingly.

However, what has proven more challenging to deal with are the friendships that have collapsed as a result of some sort of fall out. As humans, we can at times be reactionary. In the heat of the moment, and for days, weeks, and sometimes even years after, we will place blame on another person for the way that something played out — despite the possibility that we also be at fault.

One of my favorite front-women right now, Sophie Alison of Soccer Mommy, once said “Oh I choose, choose to blame it all on you / cause I don’t like the truth.” Something that I’ve recently determined is that many of my friendships have failed because of an unequal balance of expectation. Generally, I end up expecting more than I maybe should of the person, and when conflict arises, I implode in a way that has likely been frustrating and even confusing for past friends. This has, in most cases, led to those people slowly distancing themselves from me.

Many of these conflicts, generally occurring between myself and college friends, would manifest in the form of me reaching out to someone in an attempt to coordinate a hang-out. More often than not, me reaching out would be met with something that usually came across, in my view, as an excuse as to why we couldn’t spend time together, but to them, a valid explanation. “I’m too busy/broke” etc. The harsh truth that I’ve frequently faced is that sometimes when people say they’re too busy, broke, or whatever other myriad of reasons they offer up, what they really mean is they’re too busy for you, they’re too broke for you. They have the money and time to do what they want, but they’ve chosen to spend it in the way that is most fulfilling for them. The reality is that we aren’t always going to be a person’s first choice.

Since then, I’ve realized my perception of the depth these relationships was inaccurate. Some of these fall outs were happening with people that I, in the grand scheme of life, did not know for very long. Yet I wondered why I was getting passed up by friends of mine so that they could spend time with those who they had deeper relationships with? My misconception of the intimacy of these relationships likely has to do with my tendency to become emotionally invested in people very (too) quickly.

Another aspect of this expectation based issue I’ve encountered is that I can be an incredibly spontaneous person, the type who will hit you up out of nowhere and suggest that we hang out that night or within a few days. While this works for some, for a lot of people, they require you to ask them x amount of time in advance otherwise it’s not going to happen, typically leaving me feeling frustrated and unimportant.

I’ve come to understand that these people were operating in this manner because it works for them and makes their lives easier, not because they were intentionally trying to make me feel ostracized. Are there people that I genuinely believe treated me in a questionable way and possibly even manipulated my investment in them for their own benefit instead of just being honest with me? Absolutely, but that isn’t always the truth and it’s unfair of me to act like it is. Everyone can’t “do” spontaneity, and not everyone should have to just because I prefer it. I was placing certain expectations on others without having consideration for what might be best for their schedules.

There are some people who simply prefer to have as few expectations placed on them as possible, especially by people with whom their relationship only has a finite history, and instead of me trying to force these people into relating how I relate, I should have just moved on — or, modified my expectations to be more accommodating, which sometimes is easier said than done, especially for me.

So for the time being, the conclusion I’ve reached is that I must declare a death of expectation. The less I expect of others, the easier it is for me to move through life in a way where I don’t feel continually damaged by a lack of reciprocation, because the toll it has taken on me has proven to be overwhelming. Decreasing your expectation of others, while it can be painful and disheartening, provides a freedom to take things as life brings them to you, allowing you to be more grateful for the good that comes your way. Plus, this way it’s less discouraging when something doesn’t pan out.

For those out there like me, who naively jump in too deep too fast and end up getting hurt, I want you to know that I feel you, I see you, and I hear you. That said, it is up to you to figure out what is healthy and functional for your relationships. For me, I’m opting to lower my expectations.


Photos (in order of appearance) by Joseph McDermott,  @wiissa0, and Victor Sjöström.



On Loneliness

Being lonely is something that I have dealt with for the majority of my life.

I’ve been fortunate to have loving and supportive family members throughout my life who have been there to reel me back in with loving affirmation when the emotional turbulence has become too much to bear. Unfortunately, though, there are sometimes situations where loved ones can only do so much. The instances in which I’ve felt most alone have been in some way related to segmented, peer-based experiences: meaning that while the safety and reassurance of a nurturing parental bubble feels good, in order to live and function in the world as a productive member of society, the bubble must be exited as one ages into adulthood.

Loneliness has manifested itself in several ways as I’ve grown, changed, and experienced different aspects of life. When you’re younger, loneliness, really any feeling, is easier to chalk up to being an evolving human being. In this stage of life, emotions and feelings are believed to be less substantive — whatever you’re going through at the time is said to be a hormonal driven “phase.” But people questioning the legitimacy of someone’s thoughts and feelings, discrediting one’s experience rather than attempting to understand it, can make coping that much more challenging. 

This has lead me to believe that loneliness, although a universal feeling, manifests in a variety of different ways depending on the circumstances of our unique identities.

I grew up as an adopted black kid raised by a white family in a predominantly white area of New York. Most of my peers came from sheltered, conservative upbringings. Because of this, I was continuously subjected to stereotypical comments about my race and skin color: assumptions that I knew the name of every rapper, (even though I primarily grew up listening to alternative rock, pop punk, and screamo) and jokes like “Where did Caleb go? We can’t find him!” Even those who called themselves friends would routinely say outlandish things about other ethnic groups and assume it wouldn’t affect me because I wasn’t really black. I was anoreo” as they dubbed me several times, in what I would now describe as an attempt to distance me from my own blackness.

As I grew up and gained more self-confidence, I began speaking up for myself. Nowadays, I have removed most of these toxic figures from my life and have moved on to focusing on myself and my goals. The process of solidifying one’s identity can be a lifelong journey, it is a journey I am still on, and each person should have the right to experience that journey without denigration.

Beyond my peer experiences of my youth, much of the loneliness that I’ve experienced in the last several years as an adult has been a result of a decision that I made. Even though I believe that this decision — moving across the country to a city where I did not know a soul in pursuit of a dream and personal growth — was one of the best decisions that I have made in my twenty-two years, it has not been without sacrifice. I have made wonderful, hopefully lifelong friends, and been able to experience things that I could previously never have imagined, altering my trajectory in an irreversible and impactful way. The relationships that I’ve formed, as well as the the opportunities and experiences that have come into my life, are things that seemed outside of the realm of possibility in the place where I grew up. My eyes have been opened to previously unexplored aspects of the human experience and my mind has expanded based on those realities.

All that said, even though I’ve had great fun in this new environment, it’s served as only a temporary suppression of the very the very human fears and concerns that, at some point, will infiltrate our consciousness. Regardless of my numerous attempts to lock these fears out, they always seem to have their own key.

Over the holidays I went back home, and although it was only for a couple of weeks, it was the longest period of time I’d been home in months. Seeing family was nourishing for my soul, and I am truly grateful for those weeks. After my trip home had concluded, I sat on the first of several flights to return to where I am as I write this, an apartment in Southern California. I tried my best to hold it together, and I did, at first. I eventually could not contain myself, however, and the tears erupted from my eyes as another passenger in my row slept peacefully in the window seat. It was at this point that I realized my attempt to suppress the sadness I felt was ultimately pointless. I cried because even though I was trying to tough it out, the reality of leaving my family meant returning to the ever-looming solitude of the recent past. It was an early flight, so the cabin lights were turned off, concealing me in darkness as I wept.

This was a couple of months ago, and I have since been in a brighter place, but throughout my life loneliness is something that I have never been able to completely shake. Being relegated to expressing sorrow in silence is something that has long plagued me as a black male who often felt that society had specific predetermined expectations for who I should be, and how my experience relates to others. An expectation to be hyper-masculine at all times, and to reject ever displaying anything that could be interpreted as weakness. 

As a teenager, I can remember countless instances where my sexuality was called into question by peers because I spoke, and specifically dressed, in a certain style. Not only is this harmful because it shames those who might choose to explore self-expression in a personal way, but in turn, it also tries to compartmentalize something as complex as human sexuality into unrelated yet equated quantifiers, whose only basis is in stereotypes and ignorance. Thankfully, in recent times a clear transition has begun to take place. Openly expressing emotion has slowly become more accepted, even encouraged.  But this was not always the case.

Today I am comfortable expressing that I have a great fear associated with death. Furthermore, as an individual who does not know if there is anything beyond this life, and who has spent a great amount of time doubting that there is, my primary focus has been living my life in a manner where I can express myself as freely as possible, while empowering others to do the same. The older I get the more focused I’ve become on spending time with people I feel truly value me; my family, my closest friends, and those who are committed to making the world a more accepting and loving place for all.

I want to tell anyone reading this that it’s okay to be afraid. It’s okay to think about how much time you have left with people and how best to spend it. It’s okay to feel like you don’t belong. It’s okay to be vulnerable. No matter where you fall along the spectrum of gender and sexuality, it’s okay to be emotional, to cry. It’s okay to fear being alone. Irrespective of your race, gender identity, sexuality, religion, or whatever you self-identify as, you should feel free to be yourself, and not feel as though you are being externally relegated to solitude or alienation based on who you are. I would not wish the loneliness that myself and countless other possess on anyone. For all I know, many of us may never stop feeling it, but I hope whoever reads this, no matter who you are, finds comfort knowing that they are not in pain alone, I stand here as an ally for you and with you.

Much love.