Waiting vs. Doing

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Today I ventured to the Apple store to fix my computer, which has been on the fritz for the past couple of months. I had a talk with the Genius (who said he was embarrassed to wear a name tag with the appellation) and learned that computers need to be shutdown at least once a week so that they have time to recover. Much like humans, if they don’t get that down time, they’ll start acting wacky. 

Comparing humans to computers is just one sign that time is moving quickly. Can you keep up ? If not, the doers are going to be getting all the worms while you’re contemplating what to wear tonight.

 

There are the waiters, and there are the doers. 

 

Then there are all the people in between who wait in between doing. Tasks take up energy, and sometimes we need to reboot in between each process to accomplish the goal we set out to complete. Self-care and a balanced lifestyle (sleep, diet, socialization, fitness, etc.) make for a high-functioning body & mind.

 

And don’t forget the soul. Putting passion into daily tasks makes you remember them more–it’s been proven–and can eventually lead to a more purposeful life. Instead of finding meaningful things to do, sometimes it can help to give meaning to the things you already do.

 

Are you a waiter, a doer, or somewhere in between ?

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The Rat Race

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Some of you may be wondering what happened to the regular posts on this blog. Just another blip on the radar, just another grain of rice growing in the fields of China, just another pixel in a wide-screen television broadcasting the latest sporting event. To be honest, the rat race had me wrapped up tightly in a chokehold. I was–and am–a slave to the system, whether I like it or not. 

Creative flourishing led into a period of intense creative stagnation, which covered me like sludge from the sidewalk as I stood dripping like a pole in the alleyway. It was an all-encompassing dirt, the kind that never quite washes out. Several thundershowers later, the pepper is flowing through my blood again, albeit without direction.

Inspired by My Ishmael, Daniel Quinn’s sequel to Ishmael, I’ve been considering the way we define success. Many people work part-time, some people work full-time. Most people work enough to get by, while others work enough to support their consumption habits. In a world with hundreds of thousands of different cultures and paths, who’s to say that you should work more if you have enough food? People think we should look to the gods, psychics, or gurus for answers to how to live, but the knowledge is in us. We just think of human nature as fundamentally flawed, but it’s not. It’s the system that’s flawed, and we conform to it because we aren’t presented with other options. 

Taking the GRE last week left me with an overwhelming desire for regression. To renounce all my possessions and work on a farm, living off the land and permanently muting the monotonous city soundtrack. To call this a regression is to apply our cultural norms to an alternative lifestyle–I’ve been brainwashed. Such a drastic decision would take a rebirth and a strong resolve to revolutionise my lifestyle. But why instigate change when things are comfortable ?

They say never to get too comfortable in any relationship or job. Ambition is healthy for the spirit. It is. To strive is to struggle, then thrive, in less-than-perfect surroundings. The question is, how long can we remain complacent living in a world where we have to trade our time for bags of food that are kept under lock and key in storage houses ?

That food used to be free. 

Trade in one situation’s problems for another situation and its set of problems. Or, find solutions. Community gardens, co-ops, and vertical agriculture all seek to eliminate urban food deserts. This topic is near and dear to my heart because I live in a food desert. The West side of Chicago has a beautiful park, but no grocery stores in sight. What comes next ? Indoor trellises with veggies and fruit snaking their way through the gaps ? Petitions ? Start-ups ? 

Living in an up-and-coming neighborhood has its perks. There are no obnoxious drunk people lining the street, the park is incredibly lush and well-preserved, and the culture is purely Puerto Rican. People have each others’ backs, and the bus drivers cut you a break when you need it. But after Riot Fest, we all realized that there would be less of the neighborhood spirit to go around once events started to happen more often. Give it five years, and Humboldt Park will be booming like Williamsburg. It’s a matter of time, evolution, and the rise and fall of civilizations. Maybe this place will find a sustainable way to live in this city, some method forgotten centuries ago. The machines are quieter here, so all you have to do is listen.

I haven’t found…

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I haven’t found a drug yet that can get you anywhere near as high as a sitting at a desk writing, trying to imagine a story no matter how bizarre it is, as much as going out and getting into the weirdness of reality and doing a little time on the Proud Highway. – Hunter S. Thompson

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“You won’t arri…

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“You won’t arrive. It is an endless search.” – Sherwood Anderson

Searching for a career path in 2013 seems like a never-ending battle for recognition and responsiveness. For those lucky few that have a gig set up immediately after graduation, the post-graduate situation is a non-issue. Living at home and commuting, making enough to cover living expenses, and enjoying life are just bonuses to doing what you truly love. For others, the road to independence is bumpy, winding, and filled with pit stops. I write to you in balmy silence from a green oasis. A Little India, if you will. While it is not my first career choice, helping a new mother with household duties has taught me more about life than any book or office job ever could. I don’t plan on popping one out any time soon, but who knows when this could all come in handy ? Instead of searching for an endpoint, I’m learning to enjoy the search itself.

Feedings are every three hours. Instead of eating all their calories in one sitting, babies ingest calories periodically throughout the day.

Diaper rash is a given. You wear one, you get it. 

As I sharpen my previously non-existent housewife skills, I apply for jobs, study for group exercise certification, and keep up with the news. A friend of mine recently told me that if someone says they have it all figured out, they’re just faking it. That may be so, but as I keep searching (for a job, for an answer, for good people,) I’ll think of this as a pit-stop on the highway of life. After all, the more you look, the more you’ll find.

Quote via Literary Jukebox at http://literaryjukebox.brainpickings.org

The Hunger Games Trilogy: New Era of Science Fiction

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Imagine a dystopian future in which North America is Panem, a land of districts subjugated by the Capitol located in the former Rocky Mountains. All of the districts have a special trade, and the Capitol exploits poverty-stricken workers by rationing their food supplies. Every year since the rebellion of District 13, the Capitol has held the Hunger Games to make the people its puppets. On reaping day, a boy and a girl from each district are chosen to fight to death against the other districts in an ever-changing arena. Only one victor may win.

I spent months bashing this young adult series only to have myself reprimanded for not having an open enough mind to give it a shot. I tend to reject anything that’s a fad, but there’s a reason why it’s so popular. The Hunger Games trilogy has something to offer to almost every potential fan. For people with a 6th grade reading level and a short attention span, there is simple prose and a riveting story line. For bored people on spring break, there is the time-consuming task of reading all three books, which takes about four days on average. And for intellectuals, there are political undertones and sociological allegories interspersed with just enough romance to cushion the deathly blows brought on by continuous theoretical application. Not everyone will be a fan, but everyone can and should try reading the books, which are available on the internet and at local bookstores.

When introduced to Katniss, it’s hard not to notice that for once, you’re reading a children’s book featuring a strong female protagonist with a will to stay alive. No matter what critics say about the violence in these books, Katniss is a rare example for young people reading the series that girls, too, can be strong, and that having conflicting emotions is acceptable. In juxtaposition to the nature and love infused throughout the story, the violence is politically contrived and wrong. Within District 12, things are more or less calm until the Peacekeepers intervene. Much like NATO troops, these white-clad SWAT teams are anything but peaceful.

The next thing I noticed was an almost immediate focus on animals, wildlife, and food. Katniss lives in tune with nature by hunting and gathering for her family, and Collins describes the food and the environment in detail. By the end of the first book, I have a clear picture of District 12 in my mind.

The second part of the series, Catching Fire, is an elaborated version of the jeux politiques in the first book. It gives a new spin on the games, showing what teamwork and community can provide to competitors, even when they are fighting to the death. It also develops the overarching plot of the trilogy by illustrating the civil unrest among the poorer districts. By the end of book two, Katniss ascends to Peeta’s level when she realizes that they are just puppets in the Capitol’s game. This realization is not only pivotal to the plot, but shows Katniss evolving from a girl concerned with elementary needs into a young adult with heightened political awareness. Just like in our world today, solidarity and opposition are intertwined. Is all fair in love and war ? That’s up to you to decide.

Mockingjay is the last book, and probably the goriest. It’s a sad read, as many of the heroic characters are either killed off or tortured into submission. Katniss goes through ordeal after ordeal; just when her obstacles seem insuperable, the flame in her burns on, conquering the Capitol’s death traps. Katniss reminds me of Assata Shakur, the poster woman for the minority revolution in the United States. Her autobiography, Assata, is a must-read. To see the film, click here.

The Hunger Games have turned into a full-scale war of the districts against the Capitol, but the sides aren’t so clearly defined. Katniss’s family endures the likes of World War II and what I imagine to be the next Armageddon. The concept of the Hunger Games reminded me of the Holocaust and recent genocides in Sudan and Rwanda. When asked whether or not you would inflict the same pain on your torturers, would you pick vengeance, compassion, or something in between ?

Be careful what you assume about this trilogy. It’s different from other sci–fi novels in that it’s not that hard to imagine. This could be thousands, hundreds, or even tens of years down the line. It’s shockingly similar to the world today, and that is what makes it a best-seller. The best sci-fi stories are relatable and fantastical.

If you’re not looking to kill time, you can apply theoretical musings to every facet of the story. Unemployed college graduates, put those 4 years of liberal arts and sciences to good use.

Fifteen

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The tinny sound of jazz comes from a transistor radio, filling the humid air as my friends prepare a five-course French meal for which I typed the menu. It almost feels as though I never left Paris. The emphasis on fine ingredients, indulgence, and conviviality is ever-present, and the organized kitchen chaos is strangely comforting. This is not to say, however, that the past couple weeks back in Chicago have been smooth sailing.

The first thing I noticed when I strolled the streets of France was the crossing signal– the person in motion was significantly more petite than the one my eyes were accustomed to seeing in the States. Au contraire, the first thing I noticed when my plane landed in Chicago was the large number of overweight people, and the fact that almost everyone was wearing clothes that Parisians wouldn’t be caught dead wearing in public : sweats, t-shirts, sneakers, and gym shorts. What was this foreign land, and how did I manage to spend twenty-one years of my life partaking in this peculiar culture ?

The next day was Mother’s Day. I arrived at the local grocery store to pick up a white cod for some good old fashioned quenelles, Lyon style. As I walked through the immense parking lot and entered the incredibly wide automatic sliding doors, I noticed that I was overdressed. Apparently, a scarf, makeup, and tights are unnecessary to keep up public appearances here. The clerks and the customers were smiling at me, and I couldn’t understand why. I had never met these people before, so why were they bothering to make eye contact with me ? As I left the yogurt aisle, I wondered aloud why every single brand was fat-free and contained corn starch and food coloring. Had I grown up eating impure yogurt ?

Being accustomed to the low murmurs of the Parisian metro, my first trip on the El (Chicago’s metro) was disturbing. Reading a book was out of the question — I could barely hear my own thoughts over the yells of obnoxious Cubs fans in my train car. After I got off the train, I used a public restroom and drank from a water fountain, all for free. What a generous and wasteful country to come back to !

The other night, I went to Northwestern University campus for a “festival” called Dillo Day during which many people drink themselves into oblivion and listen to commercial music all day long. As I left the show, I looked back at a girl laughing while she puffed on a joint and flipped her hair. I realized I was no better than the people in this crowd, and certainly no less ignorant. My all-nighters at the Rex in Paris are over, and no outdoor pop-electro act could ever replace them.

I spent two hours wandering the winding campus paths looking for my car, to no avail. At that moment more than ever before in my life, I wished that Evanston had a better metro system. With no signposts or storefronts to guide my way, I was utterly lost in American culture with no way out. I walked to the corner store and bought some sour candy to match my mood while waiting for my ride to pick me up. These streets weren’t dangerous, and there were no discoveries around the corner. I was stranded in suburbia, but my situation was way less comical than the one in Dude, Where’s My Car ?


The Pixies’ “Where is my Mind ?” is more like it. America is more new and bizarre to me now than ever before. With every outing and cultural faux pas, I’m peeling back the layers of this country to reveal its core. Whether rotten, fresh, or somewhere in between, it’s definitely worth the dig.

Fourteen

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Put your name / on the line / along with place and time / wanna stay / not to go / I wanna ditch the logical / here’s a toast to all those who hear me all too well

This is probably one of those blog posts that makes you gag. You may be thinking, “This spoiled brat got to ‘Study Abroad’ in Paris for two semesters, and now she’s complaining ?” Well, it’s all in perspective. I have worked, hoped, and dreamed for this opportunity my entire life, and I know how lucky I am to have been able to have lived here for this long. My number one goal when I came here was to become trilingual, and I’m amazed to say that I’ve achieved it. There are words in French that, when translated into Russian or English, will never be as meaningful or sound as good to my ears. In retrospect, I guess you could say this has been an expensive experience. However, I think that getting cultured is priceless and that the benefits I reaped from leaving my comfort zone are innumerable.

It was a sunny September morning when I arrived at the Charles de Gaulle Airport, and I was extremely sleep-deprived. I had barely slept two nights before, and although I had flown overnight, I was sitting next to a horny old American antique merchant who bought me an Irish coffee and proceeded to engage me in conversation all night long. Being a coffee-holic, I enjoyed the brew, but–needless to say–I threw out his business card when I arrived at my home stay .

At this point, I still thought of Europe as one big adventure waiting to be conquered. The women were strong, the men were sensitive, and the food was exceptional. I soon came to see how deluded I was about my new adopted culture. I went to my first apartment party on Nuit Blanche (read : white night = all nighter,) a classic Parisian holiday in which the metro and museums stay open all night (Sacre bleu !) to encourage partying. It was here that I began to understand the differences between American and French concepts of masculinity and femininity. I say this with the utmost respect for French citizens, because many of them have confirmed my position : France has a strong macho culture. By macho, I mean the men are the buyers, the fathers, the leaders–in short, they are the patriarchs. It’s okay to dress well and be into fashion, because they rule the system. Since they are so aggressive when trying to get females’ attention, the women are conditioned to be stand-offish and extremely hard-to-get, giving them a streak that Americans might percieve as masculine. In the house however, it’s a different story. These gender roles are enforced via countless cultural norms, daily habits, and social discourses. Let’s just say that French men and women are not what you think they are.

Winter came around, and the lack of cold temps made me realize how habitual it was for me to expect extreme weather conditions all the time. I noticed that the mild Mediterranean climate makes for milder personalities, which is to say that the French rarely do anything in excess (except when it comes to political arguments). I travelled through Northern Europe and saw some breathtaking landscapes, all the while wishing I could share it with a significant other. Jaded, I knew it was next to impossible at this time for me to hold down a relationship because I was coming and going all the time. Everything was ephemeral, and in a way, it was beautiful. I just didn’t know it yet.

Then school started, and so did my babysitting gig. I grew more patient and acknowledged that all of this free time sitting in cafés and parks waiting for things to happen was exactly what I needed. My last semesters of college had effectively become my gap year, a way for me to figure out what I wanted to do to give back to the world I’d been living in for the past twenty-one years. Democracy, it turns out, is the coolest thing since sliced bread, and everyone wants everyone to like it. Instead of spreading the gospel, I decided I would join the camp that wants to make the gospel better (because it is a gospel of sorts, whether we admit it to ourselves or not). I want uncovering scandals, improving transparency levels, and educating the public about current issues to be my way of raising the quality of life (via sociopolitical evolution) while harming others as little as possible. I am thrilled that the recent French elections are showing the world that socialism is not a utopia, but rather a full-blown reality. I did not vote in the 2008 elections in America, and I should have. My sheer ignorance and laziness are finally exposed, and I will no longer take for granted my enormous privilege to participate in the representative process. True, the American government does less for the people than the French government, but that’s no reason not to vote. Maybe one day American politics, too, will have a strong social safety net. Until that day, I’ll try and make it better.

So here I am, many epiphanies later, with the end of my Parisian shenanigans near in sight. It’s been a tumultuous past several months, but I’m glad it all happened. I’ve made some unexpected friendships, and I thank all of the people I met for leaving a piece of themselves with me. My comic, welcoming, and oftentimes incredible French host family, the Algerian nanny, the French high school dropout, the Indian almond seller… the list goes on and on. These people, sights, and places will not fade quickly. What’s more, this is not the end. I’m coming back to Europe soon, and I’ll be back in France when I’ve enough reason and resources. This isn’t the last goodbye, this is just farewell for now. The long stretch ahead is winding and brambly, but I’m enjoying the journey as I mosey on down the road.