Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people. - Eleanor Roosevelt

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Counting my blessings

Last night, I dined with a friend.

This friend has a son who recently graduated from college, and is working as a night auditor at a hotel in downtown Denver. He makes peanuts, but is nonetheless making payments on his student loans already, which are upwards of $100+ per month.

I almost spit out my drink when I heard the amount this kid owes in student loans: $80,000. Instead of spitting, though, I immediately asked: "What did he study?"

"Media relations," my friend said. "But he went out of state."

I told her how he could save himself a headache by deferring his payments for a time until he can make more than he is making currently. I also let her in on my experiences with my student loan, which is truly peanuts compared to what this kid ended up owing for his education.

All the while, I was thinking that this kid is going to be a slave to his student loans for life. I was feeling thankful for my situation. I was thankful that if I was making money I could pay off my student loan in a matter of months.

So, a bit of advice: Never forget to count your blessings and how lucky you are. And if you ever need a reminder, just talk to someone. I almost guarantee you'll see that your life is perfect just the way it is.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Feeling nostalgic while I anticipate ickiness

As Fall approaches, I can't help but feel a little down about my least-favorite season's inevitability. I also can't help but think back on last Fall, when I went on a trip to London and Paris, and was able to somewhat forget the icky feeling I get with the season.

I was only out there for a little under two weeks, but it really helped to be somewhere else to watch the leaves on big oak trees that are several hundred years old turn and fall, instead of juvenile trees held up with straps look even scrawnier than they already do. There were other things I saw in London and Paris that made the change of the seasons bearable for me, at least for the length of time I spent there.

Huge leaf on a sidewalk in London, Fall 2009.

Being that I am feeling a bit nostalgic about the fun I had on my trip, I also looked through my journal I sort of kept during that trip. I didn't keep up with it like I should have, because I was too busy enjoying the trip, but what I did write down brings back a flood of memories, filled with sights, sounds and smells. It makes me yearn for a repeat of last Fall.

"As we ascended into London, we had to break through a thick layer of puffy, pillow-like clouds. As London came into view, its old world, urban charm was immediately apparent. I was so very excited to get out of my seat and into London's humid air...

As we were walking to the kiosk to buy the bus passes, two good-looking guys in nicely-tailored suits approached us and one of them said: 'Excuse me, ladies. Can you tell me where the Olympia Theatre is?' I told him that we are tourists, which made him laugh a little...

The first thing we did was catch the bus from Warwick Road to Harrods at Knightsbridge...the sales people in the UK are still dressing nice in this day and age and maintaining professionalism along with excellent customer service...

We did a lot of walking. We visited Marble Arch, went into some popular clothing stores, like Next and Primark...

I fell asleep on the bus and was so glad to get back to the apartment so I can sleep after a very long and fun first day in London."

I can't wait to go somewhere new and have more experiences like this to get my mind off Fall.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

...and I'm an addict

I have an addictive personality. I wish that could be taken as me meaning that my personality itself is something that can get someone addicted to it, it's so wonderful and great, but that's not what I mean. I just mean that it's easy for me to get addicted to things.

My addictions are not related to drugs or alcohol or cigarettes or anything of the sort, no. Instead, I get addicted to people, ideas, works of literature, songs, movies, TV shows, sporting events, countries...anything that leaves an impression on me and inspires me to better myself and understanding can easily become an addiction for me.

Now, it's safe to say that my addictions are harmless and actually good for the soul and intellectual mind. Can you honestly hold it against me that I become obsessed with an author and spend months just reading through his or her entire catalog of works? I don't think you could, and in fact, I'd say that this addictive personality of mine has led me to become a curious and well-informed person in a lot of things I don't think I would know anything about if I didn't have this tendency to Google every little detail about something or someone.

Of course, nothing is all good, just as nothing is all bad. There is a pro in the face of every con, and vice versa. An addiction of mine has proven to be one of a bad kind.

You see, for close to four years now I've been very active on Facebook, going so far as to treat it as some kind of therapeutic place where I can update my status to get stuff off my chest, or just to put things into perspective. There's nothing wrong with that the way I'm putting it, and it's been going on for so long that it's hard to see the harm in it. But I spotted harm a few days ago and I can't help but feel like I need to have an intervention for myself.

The intervention has consisted of just me recognizing that I spend way too much time on Facebook and Twitter, checking my e-mail at an obsessive rate and generally being dependent on the Internet to provide me with entertainment. Realizing such a thing I decided to wean myself and get myself back into a healthy and balanced relationship with the Internet and what it offers, which is mostly good stuff, but only in moderation.

It's been two full days since I updated my status on Facebook. Twitter, I haven't even visited for those two days, and I only check my e-mail when I'm at the computer, rather than on my iPod every few minutes. I feel happier, more productive and generally less insane than I did when I was feeding into an obsession with something that eats away at a person's ability to just "be" without dependency on technology to make being worthwhile.

I may have an addictive personality, but I have also been blessed with a clear vision of my faults, as well as the strength to try to fix them.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

What is fiction?

The question that is serving as a title for this post is pretty straightforward: what is fiction?

The answers to it can vary from a statement as simple as "It's the opposite of non-fiction," to as abstract as "It's the essence of life." However you identify fiction, one thing is for certain: it is a lie that's constructed in order to reveal a great truth.

Cervantes's Don Quixote, Hardy's Jude the Obscure, or even Meyer's Twilight saga...they are all made-up stories that entertain while they make a point about human behavior in the face of crisis.

I got to thinking about what fiction is after I had a conversation with my sister about an Arabic TV show. The hero of this TV show is hardly a hero. For one thing the show opens with him getting the cold treatment from his wife for an offense we're not privy to in detail right away, making us sympathize with him for having to put up with such abuse.

Our hero, being warm with his cold wife.

Yet as the show progresses, we realize that he is a repeat-offending cheater, and we know this because he begins to have an affair with one of his employees at his law firm and does it expertly, continuing to plead with his wife to warm up to him, all while getting warmth from someone else.

Our hero with his mistress, during after-hours.

The discussion got interesting, mainly because although this protagonist hardly ever does the right thing in any facet of his life, he does possess a certain charisma, and I would venture to say a romantic vulnerability that makes viewers sympathize with him, even though he doesn't deserve to be sympathized with. Aside from being a cheater, he also obstructs justice in order to win his cases defending far-from-innocent clients.

Our hero at work.

As someone who knows a little bit about the craft of storytelling, I knew that the ending would not be good for this character, that his wife would never warm up to him again, and that the woman he is having an affair with throughout the show is not going to stand for his dishonesty at work, or in the bedroom.

But the guy is just too freakin' likable, my sister and I agreed. And herein lies the greatness of fiction.

Although we wanted his wife to warm up to him, and we wanted him to get what he wants, knowing fully well that he doesn't deserve it, justice had to be served in the end. He had to lose the big case and lose the people he lied to and used.

I had an easier time with the outcome than my sister did, which I'm glad to report was one where justice was served and our hero was dealt the blows he needed to finally understand the repercussions of his actions.

Our charismatic hero, all alone.

My sister felt bad for him though and said that the show had ended in a very depressing way; she wished that he hadn't lost everything the way he did. I knew she was only saying this because the hero was likable, like I mentioned before, so I had to put things into perspective for her to accept that this sad ending was the only possible ending in what is ultimately what every piece of fiction and drama is: a made-up story about real life.

"If you heard about someone like him in real life, and didn't know what was going on in his mind," I began, "you just knew that he lied, cheated and schemed to get what he wants without any regard for anyone else's feelings along the way, wouldn't you want him to have an end like this one?"

"Yes," she said, "but still, he's so likable, I wanted him to have a better end than this."

"Well," I said, "that's the beauty of fiction and drama. It shows you the psychology of why someone does what they do, and makes you sympathize with the human condition, no matter how evil or horrible it is. It teaches you that not every evil act stems from the same place."

And with that, I suppose I added a new definition to fiction. Fiction is the dissection of human actions to help us understand, and, perhaps, treat each other with more compassion. Fiction teaches us to simply accept each other, for it proves we are all human, fighting the same fight. In the end, fiction is humanity.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Student loan, leave me alone

The issue of my student loan has come up, and now I am scrambling to fix an inadvertent slip-up on my part, all while having to navigate through endless phone mazes that only lead to insanity, way on the opposite end from a live human being who can actually help me.

I finally got a hold of a human being at a completely different phone number than the one that I've been given numerous times, and after speaking with the nice man on the other end, I can relax a little bit, although I feel more disturbed than I did before I spoke with someone.

This got me to thinking that I really hate the fact that after being so good about not borrowing any money that needed to be paid back during college, one semester the need arose for such a thing to happen, and here I am, nine years later, still dealing with a measly amount that just will not go away, no matter how hard I try. Education is important and worth every penny, but must we suffer for being good enough to go to school and finish, despite our financial difficulties during that time?

I'm disturbed, because I have to apply for a certain payment plan, and once I apply for it, if I continue with it for 20 years, the loan will be forgiven if I haven't been able to pay my balance off. Okay, that's disturbing, because even when someone files for bankruptcy, they are only in that category for seven years.

This also got me to thinking of a question I'd like to ask lenders...

People who are fiscally irresponsible in every facet of their financial lives declare themselves a legal label as a result, and only have to suffer for seven years? Yet people who go to school with good faith and will to ensure their futures are indebted to you for 20 years? Where is the fairness in that, oh dear lenders? In 20 years, I'll be over 50 and the school I graduated from may not even be around, who knows? But I still owe you until those 20 years are up, that is assuming I won't work something out to feed the hole that is you before then?

Pardon me for sounding crass, but that is absolute bologna, and I can only be thankful that my loan is relatively tiny to what other people owe. God help us all in the face of a greedy system that makes money off people like little ol' me!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

A question

I have family and friends who live in other states or overseas, and seeing as how we're not always up to picking up the phone, I use instant messaging online to converse with these people. MSN's Windows  Live Messenger is what I use, and I love the ease with which one can keep in touch through typing text, through video calls or just plain voice calls for absolutely no money.

Windows Live, as with every other instant messaging service out there, allows me to go online and pick and choose who I want to talk to, whether it be by allowing me to block people without their knowledge, or to choose from a variety of statuses that can deter people from talking to me when I just can't, even though I can still be visibly online.

Having said all that, I am getting to the question that this post is centered around, and hope someone out there can answer it:

If WL, and all instant messaging services out there allow users to tell their "buddies" that even though they're online they are unable to talk because they are Busy, Out to Lunch, On the Phone, or whatever, or even to appear offline even when they are online and can still converse with whoever it is they choose from their list, why is it that some insist on appearing online and available when they really aren't?

I mean, I understand that people are busy sometimes without realizing they are, but when it's an ongoing problem for you that you just can't find the time to talk to people who see you are online and available, then maybe it's a good idea to familiarize yourself with the options available to you, so that you let people know you are alive, but too busy to talk at the moment. That's all I ask.

In the meantime, I have decided to not say hi to anyone unless they say hi to me first, because when I'm too busy to talk, I just don't sign on, period, and that is a courtesy I want reciprocated.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

My current time capsule

If I were in a situation where I had to put together a time capsule that would define my life at this very moment, I see this time capsule's contents very clearly.

Here is a list of the things you might find in a time capsule prepared by me to define my life at this point in time:

1.) My iPod Touch, aka, all my music. Now, if you were to turn on my iPod and see what I'm mostly listening to at this point in time, most likely you will find that I am quite taken by Gorillaz's Pleastic Beach album.

2.) My laptop computer. Not only does it allow me to control the contents of my iPod, but it also carries a huge chunk of my writings. Of course, it also lets me write new things, therefore, giving me a form of release when I just can't keep things in order inside my head.

3.) A collection of short story collections. I have found that I am reading full novels, and trying to apply the same rules and pacing for my own short stories. Well, I haven't been too successful, so I've decided to start reading what I want to write before I venture into novels for the time being, which  are short stories. Not to say that I won't read anymore full novels, but short story collections are what I'm reading right now.

4.) My workout DVDs. Very important to me right now, as last winter brought with it a lot of extra pounds and flab. Exercise, of course, is a very simple thing. All one needs to do is move at a blood pumping pace to rev up their metabolism, but building muscle is a little more tricky than that. That's where my workout DVDs come in, which give me a series of strength and sculpting workouts to help me build muscle and burn more fat than without such tactics. Thanks to these DVDs, I have shed much of the poundage I put on in the winter, and hope to keep shedding more.

5.) Dresses and skirts. I spent years, or I should say wasted years wearing pants. Well, I made a vow to myself that at least in the warm months, I would always turn to dresses and skirts, keeping pants out of the picture for as much as I can. I'm happy to report that I have succeeded, and even made room for the more feminine options in the cold months.

Well, that's what you would find in my time capsule that covers this moment in my life. A good thing to keep in check, if not for entertainment purposes, then just to get to know yourself a little better.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Did you see that thing zipping by?

Well, I have no idea what happened with the first 22 days of July, but I know that they are long gone, blurred into the thousands of other long-gone days, never to come back, never to be repeated.

It sounds like I'm depressed, huh?

Well, I'm not depressed, as much as amazed how quickly time flies without realizing it has even passed. I remember when I was a kid in school, I would be sitting in class, listening to the teacher and concentrating one minute, and the next feeling like I just woke up from a long sleep to find myself somewhere I did not recognize, and wondering how everybody ended up 10 pages ahead of me in the textbook. I still don't know the cause of these (for lack of a better term) mental blackouts-- it could've been the ADD I suffer from today-- but they only happened on a small scale back when getting older sounded cool.

Nowadays, it's like my whole life is zipping by and no matter how hard I concentrate, no matter how well I listen, I am always disoriented and waking up to something I don't feel prepared to face. Not too long ago I read an article about the phenomenon of what I will informally call: the time warp. I wish I could find this article, because I don't remember the exact details of what it said, but the gist of it was that there is a scientific/psychological explanation for why when we are children, days seem longer than just 24 hours, while in adulthood, 24 hours is not enough to get anything done. When I was a kid, Summertime felt longer. When I was a kid four years seemed like a lifetime. Today, Summer is about two days long and four years is just one year.

And so life goes, right past me, and all I can do is try to keep up with it, enjoying it as best as I can. To do anything less is to fall behind, and that can only mean death.