Drunk Drivers, Hurtful Words, and Humans in General

January 17, 2013 § Leave a comment

My big sister was in an accident with a drunk driver the other night. She had a green light and was passing under a freeway when an old Ford came out of nowhere and flew in front of her. She was able to slam on the brakes in time to hit the back end of their car, but her car was totaled in the process.

She’s okay. She has some back pain right now and is currently having a hell of a time with her insurance company, but she’s okay.

But there are so many people who aren’t that lucky.

The kicker in this story is that the driver that could have potentially killed my sister was uninsured, unlicensed, unregistered, out past curfew, and fifteen years old. Fifteen years old.

Before I go on to my many other points in this blog post, can we all just sit back and ask what the actual living hell is wrong with some people? What is wrong with this kid so that he thinks it is perfectly acceptable to get into a car that does not belong to him and drive even though it is illegal for him to be driving? Not to mention doing all of the above while DRUNK.

What is wrong with this kid’s parents so that they raised him to believe that that kind of behavior is okay? Parenting is everything. Parenting doesn’t begin when a kid is fifteen and making bad decisions. Parenting begins the moment a child is born. Those parents had a responsibility to make sure their child grew up knowing the consequences of his actions and a responsibility to make sure their child knew the dangers of mixing alcohol and driving. They had a responsibility to make sure their kid didn’t find it necessary to drink and act cool. They failed. They failed miserably.

Furthermore, what is wrong with our society so that kids find it necessary to drink at all? There is such a taboo on drinking alcohol in the U.S. In other countries, teens start drinking wine at a young age and are allowed to sip alcohol at their parents’ parties and whatnot. Over here, you must be 21 to drink, no exceptions, period-end-of-story. There is such a restriction on drinking alcohol that it naturally becomes the Super Cool Awesome Thing To Do. It’s disturbing, really.

When stuff like fifteen-year-old kids getting drunk and getting into car wrecks happens, I sometimes forget to keep having hope for the human race. Whenever I hear about stupid people (because yes, kids are not the only ones who make bad decisions) on the news, or see them on the road, or hear about them through friends of friends, I just want to curl up and pull the covers over my head and not ever leave my house again. It makes me sick. It makes me so, so sad.

Another prime example that makes me want to quit humanity? The other night, me, my boyfriend, and a group of our friends went out to dinner in downtown Phoenix. None of us get out very much due to our workloads and lack of finances, so we were all excited to be able to go somewhere semi-nice and spend some time together. We were standing in front of the café, waiting on one last friend to show up, when a homeless man came over and asked if we could spare a dollar or two for him. We all shook our heads no and said, “Sorry,” because a) we are all broke college students and b) none of us had cash on us at the time.

This man’s response?

“Oh, I get it, it’s because I’m black. If I were white I’m sure you’d help a brother out. You know what, man? Fuck you.”

And he turned and walked away.

I was absolutely floored. We all stood there for a moment or two, completely speechless, unable to comprehend what had just happened. Then my I found my tongue and my temper.

“Um, actually, that is NOT true,” I yelled after him, “I just don’t carry cash on me.”

The man turned and responded with a few more explicits and my friends and boyfriend chimed in with their own rage until the man kept on walking. (He ended up pacing outside the café we were all in later, glaring at us while we ate, and even came in to use the bathroom and shoot us death glares… I was actually afraid he’d come over and start attacking us at one point.)

But I mean…seriously?

To pull that card because we’re broke and can’t give people money all the time? Racism goes both ways.

If that man had nodded, thanked us, and went on his way, I would have felt bad for him. Well, I still feel bad for him. I’m sorry for him because he is so angry and in a position in his life where he has to resort to asking college students for money. I’m sorry for him because he has probably hurt plenty of other people who have pushed him away as a result.

But that comment hit me hard. It hit me like a knife.

Humans are so fascinating to me. We love to hurt each other with our words. We’ve categorized our planet into countries and we have allowed some societies to advance to the point of the availability of near futuristic technology, and yet we allow some countries to bury thousands of their citizens every day because of hunger and thirst. We love to kill each other over interpretations of ancient books written by men and over what to call a potential deity. We do stupid things.

We do hurtful things to one another.

Some of us decide that it’s totally okay to treat others differently based on the color of their skin or their sexual orientation. Some of us decide it’s perfectly acceptable to belittle and verbally abuse other humans based on their financial status. And some of us think it’s fine to get into a car while under the influence and drive straight into an innocent woman’s vehicle and almost kill her.

I have said this several times before on this blog, and I will say it again because it’s my blog and I’ll write whatever I damn well please: I am a huge advocate for personal choice. If you (and “you” is spoken in general terms) are endangering yourself, that’s your deal. If you are hurting yourself, I’m sad for you, but I cannot stop you from making your life choices.

But if you are endangering people around you, if you are harming others with your words or weapons or potential weapons or whatever, that is not okay.

That is not okay.

I continue to have hope for the human race because I’m a sustainability major and by God, if I didn’t have hope I would go absolutely freaking insane.

But some days I just want to hang my head and silently apologize to whatever’s up there for the way humans can be sometimes. Oh, how I hope we learn from our mistakes someday…

Rising Before the Sun and Acting Like A Grown Up

January 8, 2013 § Leave a comment

I have lots of memories of the days I used to wake up before the sun had risen. Lately I have been so spoiled I’ve been able to sleep in until at least the sun was somewhat out and about, but I haven’t always been that lucky.

Today I had to wake up at 6 in order to leave my house by 7 so I could be on campus at 8 in time to get a parking spot. It was far from the first time I had to drag myself out of bed in what felt like the middle of the night. In high school, even middle school, I typically woke up before the sun in order to make it to school on time. Whenever we went on trips when I was little, we were usually on the road while it was still dark. During the awful moves from Arizona to California and from California to Florida, we left our home early enough to watch the sun rise from the highway.

All of these memories came to me this morning as I was driving along my merry way to class. I left early enough to miss most of the traffic, but whenever I did have to hit the brakes and cruise along at a snail’s pace on the road, I looked around at the beautiful Arizona landscape – the mountains, the dawn’s fog clinging to the horizon, the way the saguaros stood against the lightening sky. Increasingly, though, I found myself fascinated by my fellow drivers. As I looked around at the people driving beside me, you know what I saw all throughout my drive?

Men in collared shirts and ties talking on their cell phones.

Women in nice blouses and pearls sipping their coffee.

Some of these people drove nice cars, some didn’t. Some seemed ready to take on the day, some were putting on lipstick or straightening shirt collars as they drove. They all had one thing in common: they were all staring blankly ahead in exhaustion.

Maybe I’m over-analyzing the way those drivers sat and tapped their fingers on their steering wheels. They were all probably just tired and unaware that a 21-year-old college student was creepily curiously watching them from her Corolla.

But something about being stuck in traffic with a bunch of full-time participants of society struck me. It reminded me of my worst memory of waking up early: the previous winter when I got roped into running one of the faraway offices for the medical clinic I worked at while their usual secretary was on vacation. For two weeks I was leaving my house by 6:55 in the morning and arriving at work at 7:30. I would walk into work just as the sun was peeking out above the horizon. I did not see it again until my lunch break at 12:30 and would sadly watch it set as I began my trek home at 4:30.

Those days sucked. They sucked big time.

Looking around at the tired, impatient people hurrying to get to their 8 to 5 jobs reminded me that I was one of them today on this cold January morning. If I hadn’t quit that medical clinic job, I’d still be one of them. And if I don’t follow the path I so desperately want to go down when I graduate, I will end up like them.

And then with this resolution come lots of other thoughts such as the fact that I’m in my early twenties and going to graduate soon and I’m already paying bills and drinking coffee too much. And one of these days I might just have to accept the fact that I’m turning into the boring grown up I swore I’d never be when I was little. But for now, I have a defiant little voice in my head that sees me through these episodes, the same little part of me that glanced at her fellow drivers in sympathy this morning:

You’re not a grown up yet! that defiant part of my mind always chimes in whenever I think these thoughts, You’re still in school! You still love chocolate milk! You don’t have kids! How on earth can you be a big scary grown up?

Why, the other part of me thinks reasonably, there’s no way, little voice. Not yet. Not me.

There’s a Faith Hill song called “American Heart” that I haven’t stopped humming all day, and the first line goes: “She’s up before the sun, on the run… another dollar, ‘nother day, another cup of coffee…”

That’s how I felt today. And while I sure the hell don’t feel like an official grown up just yet, for now, as I drive to class while the sun rises, I can totally act the part.

Christmas Consumerism, the Retail Suckhole, and the Church of Stop Shopping

November 22, 2012 § 1 Comment

Shoppers vie for copies of video games at a Black Friday sale at a Wal-Mart Stores Inc. store in Mentor, Ohio, U.S., on Thursday, Nov. 24, 2011. Retailers are pouring on the discounts to attract consumers grappling with 9 percent unemployment and a slower U.S. economic expansion than previously estimated. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images

From the Huffington Post: Shoppers vie for copies of video games at a Black Friday sale at a Wal-Mart Stores Inc. store in Mentor, Ohio, U.S., on Thursday, Nov. 24, 2011. Retailers are pouring on the discounts to attract consumers grappling with 9 percent unemployment and a slower U.S. economic expansion than previously estimated. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images

“We’re proceeding into the shopping season under an enormous misunderstanding. We think that we are consumers at Christmastime. No, we are being consumed at Christmastime.” ~ Reverend Billy

OOO

Christmas has turned into the biggest retail nightmare in human history. The season has become a monstrous undertaking for each individual due to the hundreds or even thousands of dollars that simply must be spent on everything from holiday-themed potholders to the countless presents that will be torn apart come Christmas morning. On average, Christmas is something that is dreaded nowadays rather than eagerly anticipated. On average, the holiday has become a time of irrational spending and incalculable debt. It has created what I have disgustedly dubbed the ultimate Retail Suckhole.

Every year the expectations for all things Christmas grow larger, and every year the market faithfully and cheerfully provides for these demands. The terrifying part? There is no stopping this rapid progress because it is not fueled by the government nor is it powered by evil conspiracies and corrupt organizations. We, the people, are the consumers. We are the ones who stimulate the materialism that Christmas now represents. Ask anyone – child or adult – and he or she will tell you what all anyone is thinking about this time of year: presents. It’s all about the presents, the long lines at jam-packed stores, the stampedes at shopping malls, the bargains and sales and the desperation of eager customers to find them. Santa Claus and his elves have become metaphors for parents that run around getting gifts for their children. The work of this beloved folklore character and his workers has become a metaphor for people going to great lengths to go above and beyond their friends’ and families’ wildest dreams all for the sake of it simply being Christmastime.

In 2006, the United States alone spent nearly half a trillion dollars on Christmas (What). Let’s look at that number again. Half a trillion. That is $500,000,000,000 – 500 billion dollars. Divided between 300 million Americans, that is (on average) $1,670 per person. This money goes to presents and gift-wrap and ribbons and bows. It goes to trees and lights and ornaments and tinsel. It goes to a ridiculous amount of food that will be consumed all at once by families. It goes to new clothes for this party, and new shoes for that outing. It goes to toys that will be played with for a week or two then thrown under the bed and forgotten. It goes to satisfying the ever-increasing lists people make in anticipation of receiving anything they want this time of year.

Speaking of gift-wrap and ribbons and bows, 5 million tons of waste is created from the packaging for these presents. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the average American created 4.2 pounds of trash per day in 2008, which is just over 1,500 pounds of trash per person for an entire year. 5 million tons (which is 10 million pounds, for those of you keeping score) of extra trash is produced in these holiday-driven weeks. These figures are difficult to imagine since they are simply numbers on a page, but think about it for a second. That is a lot of trash. Furthermore, that is a lot of unnecessary trash. Not only do people splurge on unneeded materialistic goods, but our planet pays a heavy price for our gluttony.

So what am I getting at? Why am I taking the time to describe in great detail what happens in the United States around the holidays? It’s simple. I am trying to stress one thing and one thing only:

This is madness.

This Retail Suckhole is madness. It’s insane. It has to stop. And as I type these words I can already hear the roars of outrage from economists who will argue that Christmas is a huge stimulator of the economy and essentially helps our capitalist society. There is no denying that fact. I simply wish to say that the desire to show our love for our children by rushing madly from store to store in order to buy a mortgage’s worth of presents is completely outrageous. The idea that the most valuable things in life can be bought and wrapped up is saddening and disturbing.

Now, if you think I’m one of the only people that think this way, let me just say right now that there exists a church called the Church of Stop Shopping. I’m not kidding. These guys go around to malls and other public places imploring and begging people to stop their shopping and turn to what’s truly important in life. Their documentary, What Would Jesus Buy? depicts the commercialism of this nation and the Retail Suckhole we’ve unintentionally created. Led by “Reverend Billy” and his “church” members, the group reveals how the holidays have turned into a hellish shopping battleground.

One point that the documentary made really bothered me. Dr. Peter Whybrow, author of American Mania, stated that thanks to commercialism and the emphasis on materialistic goods, children now tend to associate good feelings and happy memories with toys. “Togetherness is now created over gift-giving,” Dr. Whybrow said. “Christmas almost died out in America after the Revolution. And then it was realized that this is a wonderful commercial opportunity because it combines this commercialism with a true feeling of love and affection.” It causes one to think. What would happen if children learned that they wouldn’t be getting any presents for the holidays? We could hope that we’ve raised them correctly and that they would smile, nod, and say, “That’s okay! As long as I’m with my family I don’t need presents!” But would that really be the case? Would they feel cheated, unworthy, and unloved because they didn’t get free stuff from Santa Claus?

Another rather childhood-killing point is the one that Christmas historian Dr. Steven Nissenbaum makes: “Our parents go to such immense trouble to make it seem to children that nobody shopped for Christmas, the presents were all brought by Santa Claus who made them each by hand, to disguise the fact that the gifts they’ve bought for their kids have, in fact, come out of shops and come out of a season of anxiety and sometimes frantic desperation.” Is realizing that a ridiculous amount of shopping was what actually put presents under the tree what ultimately kills the magic? Is finally understanding the debt and the pandemonium that goes into making those boxes appear what destroys the spirit of Christmas for us all?

So if the holidays are not about spending lots of money to fulfill our kids’ wildest dreams, then what is it about? What are the other options? What should Americans be focusing on during the holiday season? That is a gray area, something that depends on religious and/or personal preference. Christians celebrate the birth of their savior this time of year. Those of the Jewish faith celebrate the triumphs of their people and the miracle of one days’ worth of oil burning for eight days. Pagans celebrate their Winter Solstice. Kwanzaa participants celebrate their Nguzo Saba. Atheists and agnostics celebrate being around their loved ones and show gratitude for their abundance. Of all of these religions and beliefs, there is one constant, reoccurring thread that weaves all of them together, an idea that is buried under mountains of presents every holiday season and must be dug out and dusted off: materialistic goods are not important.

They’re not important.

That’s what we should be focusing on. That’s what we need to make a priority.

If I ever have children some day, I don’t want them to grow up seeing Christmas as the season of getting free things. I don’t want them to see mad rushes to shopping malls to get the best bargains that end in people getting carried away on stretchers. I don’t want them to see Mommy and Daddy spending money we don’t have in order to buy things we don’t need. I especially don’t want them to receive an insane amount of toys that are played with for a few hours then quickly forgotten. I don’t want them to retain the idea that a good Christmas = lots of good toys.

I want to see the smiles on their faces as they give food and clothing to those who spend the holidays in shelters. I want to watch them as they happily decorate the house and spend time giggling over making cookies. I want to see them light up as they receive a few very special toys that they’ve wanted all year long. I want to see them interacting with their family and those who love them. I want them to know that the true magic of Christmas can never be handed directly to them.

This retail catastrophe that has become Christmas is not the Christmas I know and love. The magic of Christmas does not come wrapped up in boxes, and I don’t want the next generation to grow up believing that it does. Should you have fun picking out one or two meaningful gifts for your close friends and family this holiday season? Absolutely. Should you try to make presents rather than buy them? If you have the time, of course you should. But all of this splurging and buying incessantly, this ridiculous obsession we have with materialistic items? It needs to end. We need a wake up call. We need to break free from these chains that bind us to our desire to spend, spend, spend. As a member of the Church of Stop Shopping said in their documentary, “We say ‘stop shopping’ just to get your attention. Certainly nobody can stop shopping, but you can have a conscience about your shopping. Think about how it affects other people. Just explore the options. That’s all we ask.”

Buy things less this year, and give yourself a little more. Give love, patience, acceptance, forgiveness. Spend your time, not your money. The holidays are magical not because of sales and specials. They are magical because we make them that way. We give our hearts to our fellow man. The more we do that, the more special the holidays will be.

In the perfect words from a speaker in What Would Jesus Buy?: “If we were able to change Christmas, we could change the whole year.”

OOO

“What was Christmas before the shopping started? Christmas is the birth of a child that we believe will grow up to teach us peace. And you don’t have to be a Christian to hope that’s true. Amen?” ~ Reverend Billy

 

Works Cited

What Would Jesus Buy? Dir. Rob VanAlkemade. Warrior Poets, 2007. Film.

 

[Cover photo from Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/11/12/walmart-black-friday-2014-thanksgiving_n_6140442.html%5D

Of Humans and Cycles

April 20, 2012 § Leave a comment

I was lying on my bed on a Sunday night in February 2012, watching a TV show online, when a single thought fell into my head and has not yet made its way out:

I and a hell of a lot of humans are living a life of bullshit.

It’s all a cycle, isn’t it? It’s a never-ending cycle that we follow throughout our lives. It’s a cycle of play turning to work and following repetition forevermore.

Think about it. You spend your childhood being told to walk and talk only to grow up and be told to sit down and listen for the rest of your life. Now, if you were lucky, like me, you had a great childhood. If you were lucky, unlike me, you had a nice transition from childhood to adulthood. But what really happens when you hit adulthood? Once you hit that magic number, eighteen (or twenty-one, if you’re interested in drinking), what does the cycle continuously throw at you and other emerging men and women? What is expected to happen to them, to us?

Here’s what happens: we work our asses off for our high school diplomas, then we sell our souls to earn our bachelor’s degrees. We play the grade game to earn points with our professors and our deans, we twist our words so they agree with others’ and do whatever it takes to get all ‘A’s and nothing less. Did you know that fifty or sixty years ago, it was perfectly acceptable to get a ‘C’ in a subject? That was considered normal. Nowadays it is expected that you get ‘A’s. Now, ‘C’s are looked down upon, and lower your grade point average, which is really another scheme set up by universities to get you to cry, scream, and go to the depths of Hell to raise that number until it reads 4.0 or higher. God help you if it is lower, society doesn’t like it if that number is any lower.

Once you’re out of college and saddled with about twenty years of mind blowing debt, you spend the next forty years of your life going to work in a tie or a skirt and blouse. You work eight or ten or twelve hours a day nonstop then go home and numb your mind by watching TV and go to sleep and wake up and do it again. Every day. For years. We kiss ass to the managers and, if you’re like me, stare at a computer screen for hours on end until you want to stand up and run and stretch your legs for once and never look back at the mountain of papers on your desk. We score points for paid vacations, for better benefits. It’s college all over again, but it’s your salary at stake this time, not your GPA.

And where does that salary go? Well let’s see – society demands that you pay rent, insurance, electric, water and sewage, garbage pickup, car insurance, gas, car bills, phone bills, everything bills. We buy a lot of food and a lot of clothes. We like to put money into savings and some of us attempt to hold off spending it as long as we can before it gets brutally ravaged by medical bills or house damages or whatever. Oh, but we shop, too. We love going to malls, we love picking out shiny things. I’m guilty of wanting everything I lay eyes on every time I go to a mall. It’s sick. We need bigger TVs, bigger cars, bigger houses. We need more gadgets and more jewelry and more things we can proudly display for our friends to show how awesome we are.

And speaking of gadgets, we increasingly, increasingly are slaves. Not official slaves, mind you, but we are bound to something that has changed the world for the better and for the worse: technology. God, how I hate how technology has made me its slave. I hate that desire to check my phone every few minutes for new texts, I hate wanting to leave my facebook open on my laptop so I can see new notifications instantly. I love it when people “like” my statuses and pictures. In fact, right now I just thought about whether or not this note will get any likes. It’s a sickness, a death grip on this generation, and I hate it. I despise it. I played outside today with my sister and all I could think about was uploading pictures and talking about it on facebook. I tried to read today and all I wanted to do was see what other people had posted about their lives. I don’t call my real friends anymore to ask how they are, I can’t even remember the last time I dialed numbers into my phone. I text them.

We spend our lives in this cycle where we abuse our planet and the resources she gives us. We abuse each other. People judge, people hide the meaning of their words behind fake smiles, people classify one another like insects in a biology class based on race or religion or economic status or whether or not a girl has blonde hair and huge breasts. People hate. God, how people love to hate.

All our lives we are told to do things our way and be creative only to grow up and enter the cooperate world where you have to follow a formula in order to succeed. We survive college only to earn a degree that will get us a job that will be hated and despised. Maybe we get married. Maybe we raise a family. Maybe we find incredibly wonderful and beautiful friends to share our lives with. Maybe little bits and pieces of what life is all about get through to us. But I feel as though we, for the most part, have been sucked into a shameless rotation. Each generation learns from its parents, and with every new generation of people we solidity that pattern that is getting harder and harder to break. And it’s madness. And it has to stop.

There, my friends, is my rant. Do with it what you will. “Like” it and move on. Read it and weep. I hope you take it to heart. As for me… my God, I don’t know how I’m going to break this awful cycle. All I know is that from here on out, I am going to try. All I want is to be happy.

Shouldn’t that be the greatest goal of all?

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