Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Five Things You Can't Live Without?

Yesterday I was reading a blog and saw that the writer had an entry about the five things she couldn't live without. At first it seemed like a fun thing to think about, but I was quickly struck by how shallow those five things seemed, and how much the answer to that question depends on where you are and what your circumstances are at that very moment. It made me think how her list, which contained items like a curling iron, face wash, a down pillow, coffee, and design magazines, really reflects the heart of American culture. All five of her things are material, and in the big picture that is the rest of the world, they don't matter. I know I shouldn't judge, because I'm as guilty of gross consumerism as anyone else in this country, but it sort of made me sad that of all the things in the world, these were the five she chose. Then I started thinking about what my five things would be, and would they be the same?

The truth is, if we limit this list to things I routinely buy/own and don't ABSOLUTELY need for survival (i.e. food/water/shelter) then I'm not sure I can come up with five things that I truly would never be able to live without. So far on my list I have books. That's it. I couldn't fathom a life without words and knowledge, so books would be on the list, but I don't really have anything else. This makes me wonder why someone else thinks that they really NEED a curling iron and couldn't live without it. Is their life truly summed up and determined by the presence of that curling iron? It makes me sad to think it might be.

My true list of five things, however, would have nothing to do with material goods, for the most part. If it's a given that I have the basics to survive, then my list would include many intangible things that people don't think about, but they need to truly live the life they are given, not merely survive it. So, in no particular order, my list is:
  1. Love
  2. Passion
  3. The Great Perhaps, the possibility of adventure.
  4. Beauty in the world
  5. Knowledge
Those are the things I think of when I think about what I would never be able to live without. It's not about what money can buy, or what I think I need. In reality, our perception of "need" as a society is so grossly distorted that it's no wonder there are people in the world who see us as greedy and selfish. In so many ways, we are. We put value in what we own, what we can purchase, not what really matters. I'd imagine that if we asked this question of someone in Japan right now, in the wake of the earthquake and tsunami, their list would look very different than the woman who needs her curling iron and coffee. It makes me think that maybe we, as a whole society, need to stop and consider what is truly valuable and start actually valuing it.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Bitten by the Reading Bug

I decided to take a break from being political (I know, right?!) mostly because I'm a little weary from the struggle of trying to find ways to rise up and fight the system or whatever. So, I'm going to talk about something awesome instead. Growing up, I was a super avid reader to the point where my parents had a hard time keeping me supplied in books. This continued up until I started college and had little time for my own personal reading since I had so many English classes requiring me to read other books. Then I got out of college and life became very busy so I didn't have much time to read the (literally) hundreds of books that were lining the giant bookcase in my library. Sure, I'd read a book here or there, but I didn't have the time to commit to devouring literature the way I used to, and finishing a book took forever because I was tied up doing other things. But, lately I've felt like I've been missing my old reading habits and I've realized that 2 years without a vacation and an incredibly rough year in general have left me feeling really frazzled and in need of some escape, so I decided that I'd pick up some books and roll back into my old habits. I've been starting slowly, picking up a variety of Young Adult books that I've been meaning to read for a while now. I figure that picking up something short and not overly heavy in a literary sense will at least let me get through the books more quickly than I had been. The last "literary" novel I read took me over 6 months to finish, but I blame that on the fact that I felt like I was trudging through the text waiting for it to get interesting. Since I make a rule to finish a book if I start it, it took some time. Thankfully this hasn't been the case with my recent collection of books. I have swiftly whipped through Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and The Hunger Games trilogy, and I just started John Green's Looking for Alaska. Easy reads? Sure. It doesn't matter, they've all been great so far, and hard to get enough of. And, what's more, I feel myself getting back to where I used to be, where I consider not going out with friends because I desperately want to finish my book. I sit around thinking about the plot while I'm in the car, or when there's a lull at work, working everything over in my brain and trying to pick apart the strings that weave together the tapestry of a story. It's the first time in a while that I've felt like me, the whole me. Not just the fractured pieces of me that I've been trying to harness together for months now because some really awful events left me shattered, but an actual whole and working me. Bit by bit, story by story, I feel like the words aren't just putting the plot together, they're knitting me back together one tiny piece at a time.

This rekindling of my book obsession has triggered something else. I used to write. Not blog write, but actually write. I'm not saying I was a great writer, but I was harnessing this need to be creative and channeling it into something that felt good to do, I was taking the words that are constantly abuzz in my head and making them into something useful, something tangible that made me feel like I could turn ordinary words into something beautiful. Then one day, I just...stopped. I stopped writing and the words dried up and I was left with nothing. I never took the time to think about it, but I am realizing that maybe I stopped writing around the same time I stopped reading. I stopped craving words and at the same time, I stopped producing them. Now that I'm back with my nose buried in a book, I find myself overflowing with this strange desire to not just take in creativity, but to actually create something. I'm not sure what, at the moment, but it's building in me like a geyser, very slowly right now but I think if I keep this up, it's going to overflow into something, which I can hopefully be proud of.

So thank you Suzanne Collins, Steig Larsson and John Green for lighting a fire that had gone out long ago. I needed it.

Friday, March 11, 2011

America is Not Broke

America is not broke
We are broken...
We asked for your tired, your poor, your huddled masses
When we sealed up the borders, we started making them ourselves.
A nation fueled by greed
Where Corporate America will soon brand the citizens
Because they will own us, if the greedy have their say.

America is not broke
We are broken...
Where money means more than people
And people are becoming desperate
But there is money enough to go around,
Except that it's being held by a precious few
And they're not giving it up any time soon.

America is not broke
We are broken...
A nation that shuts down women's clinics
Because someone might want a legal abortion
In addition to their cancer screenings
And their annual exams.
But what does it matter? They're only women...

America is not broke
We are broken...
Where medical care is a privilege
Not a right.
Where we pay for medical insurance
So that companies can deny us the care we pay for.

America is not broke
We are broken...
But the people are tired of being broken
The people are tired of being ignored
And the people are going to rise.
Do you hear the people sing?
You will soon.

America is not broke
We are broken.

Monday, March 7, 2011

You Say You Want a Revolution...

Jason and I were flipping channels over the weekend and we came across Les Miserables in Concert on PBS. I was excited, because we're going to see it live in a couple of weeks so I got to see some behind the scenes stuff about the production. But, as I sat there watching, I was thinking about the actual story behind the musical. The story crafted by Victor Hugo to tell the tale of a student uprising against an oppressive government, which is sort of the story of every revolution that has ever happened in France. And then I started thinking, isn't that the story of almost every uprising? In the 60's, it was the students who started to rise up against the government in protest of Vietnam, and during the Woman's Lib movement, it was the young women who started the uprising against the forces that were holding them down. Later, when bras were being burned, it was the young women who started burning them. This seems to be a common historical theme, that when the world becomes unfair and oppressive, the young people begin to rise up and fight the system. This is even reflected in recent literature. It's in Harry Potter, where the adults have become complacent and the youth rise up to fight evil. It's in The Hunger Games, where Katniss Everdeen lives in a dark and oppressive society and takes it into her own hands to quietly rebel against those in power. Then there's the revolutions we see happening in Egypt, Libia, Tunisia, and Yemen, all working through a small core of students and young people who fought against what was wrong in their country and worked to change it.

This leads me to the question that arose while thinking about all of this: Where are those young people here in the US? Honestly. If you think about it, we hear a lot of complaining about how government is a mess, how taxes and cuts to education are unacceptable, but most of that comes from the over 25 crowd. I don't hear much from those who are between 16 and 25, the ones who are usually starting all of these revolutions throughout history, throughout literature, throughout our very current events. Why don't we have those kids? Why don't we see today's youth fired up and stirring to change the system? I think part of the reason is that, although the amount of world suck is increasing these days, I don't know that the current youth have really felt much oppression or had a lot of struggle. They came out of a mostly decent economic climate for most of their lives, and only recently have they seen any real struggle going on within their lives. When the economy took a dump and their parents lost their jobs, they should have started crying foul but the truth is, I don't think they even really understood why it all happened. They got rhetoric on the situation, not actual hard fact news. So, there was no move to change anything, at least not in the vein of the protests in Egypt.

Then, in the 2008 election we suddenly saw what the youth movement could do as they came out in droves to vote and elect President Obama into office. Suddenly the youth had something to get behind and someone to support, because he promised change, and in a shocking youth turnout they got what they wanted. And then they promptly forgot about that power they had been wielding during that election. They stopped voting, they stopped paying attention, and nothing really changed. No one held anyone to their promises. And why? Because they did their part, they voted like they were told to do in high school government classes. Shouldn't that have solved the problem? I guess we have failed by not informing them that voting sometimes isn't enough.

When I sit down and really think about it though, I think the biggest reason that we see this overwhelming apathy among the youth today is because they've been convinced that nothing they do will make any real difference. They live in a world where protest, even when peaceful, can get you arrested. They live in a world with so many problems that they seem insurmountable, and they are constantly told that small changes don't mean anything and if you can't tackle the huge problems then you won't make a difference anyway. No one feels like their voice is heard anymore, and they find the responsibility of tackling problems to be exhausting. And, the sad fact is, some of them may just not care at all. But I think that the problem is that no one feels like their thoughts matter, and I don't really find this to be a good excuse. When I look around at countries where rebellion could mean death, and those young people are rising up against a much more oppressive government, I can't help but think that maybe our youth is spoiled and soft, and incapable of sustaining enough passion to make it to the end of a sentence, let alone to the end of a revolution. It makes me sad, and it makes me wonder what we've done wrong to leave our youth so disengaged. Or, maybe it's that we've done something right. Maybe that's what the nation wants now, complacency. That may make me even more sad than the apathy I already see.

Despite all of this, I do have hope. There are small pockets of young people out there who want to make real change. They want more from the world than what it currently gives them. There are groups out there, like John and Hank Green's Nerdfighters who strive to "decrease world suck", and groups like the HP Alliance, a group of Harry Potter fans who are out there trying to make a difference in whatever ways they can. And in Wisconsin where there are daily protests at the capitol building, we see students showing up to protest and fight for their teachers. There's a 7 year old girl in Texas who brought a sock filled with loose change into her school because she heard her teachers might be laid off and she wanted to help give the school money so her teachers didn't have to go away. It's out there, the youth movement. Perhaps not speaking out with the roar that it has the power to use, but it's softly rumbling in the background, and I can only hope that it's growing and that it will some day become too loud to ignore and we will see those in power held responsible for providing the world that our youth was promised when our forefathers set their own revolution in motion. I just hope it's sooner rather than later.