Under the Sun

 

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Here in Southern California, we mostly take the sun for granted. In the past I’d grown to resent the sunny day, moaning whenever the weather dared reach over a tepid 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Sunshine was uneven tanning, sweaty blouses and searing skin. My dream vacation was in Alaska.

Absence makes the heart grow fonder, sometimes. Between classes under fluorescent lights and working until evening, I hardly see the sun these days. It isn’t until my breaks and lunches that I notice how eagerly, how desperately, I rush outside to feel the sun on my skin, like a leaf reaching for the light.

The sun’s gotten a bad rap for a long time, what with the dangers of melanoma (fair-skinned friends especially, remember your sunscreen!) and global warming’s increasing heat waves. But feet up on a lawn chair, eyelids shut and glowing orange, I realized I’d forgotten that the sun could also feel so good.

 

 

To Dream, Perchance to Sleep

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“Don’t you have a dream? Something you’ve always wanted very badly? You can have whatever dream you want…you can have anything you want in the whole universe.” -Vina, “The Cage”, Star Trek: The Original Series


I’ve been clocking in a lot of screen time lately.

Either something has been nagging at my mind or I’ve just been unusually observant lately, but there’s been a recurring theme within the media I’ve been consuming. As Bill Nye would say, let’s consider the following:

  • The Mirror of Erised. For those of you who have spent the past two decades (has it really been that long??) of your lives living under a rock (or cupboard under the stairs), the Mirror of Erised is an item of magical quality integral to the plot of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. In Dumbledore’s words, the mirror

    “…shows us nothing more or less than the deepest, most desperate desire of our hearts. You, who have never known your family, see them standing around you. Ronald Weasley, who has always been overshadowed by his brothers, sees himself standing alone, the best of all of them. However, this mirror will give us neither knowledge or truth. Men have wasted away before it, entranced by what they have seen, or been driven mad, not knowing if what it shows is real or even possible.”

  • The Talosians. Around this same time I was drawn back to marathon re-watching the Star Trek Original Series . Its pilot episode, “The Cage”, deals with a similar situation. The Enterprise crew land on a planet inhabited by the telepathic Talosians that can create virtual realities for people based off their fears, desires, etc. To encourage “prime specimen” Captain Pike to remain with them, they try seducing him with a scene straight from his dreams: a “nice little town with fifty miles of parkland all around it”, his favorite horse as a child, a delicious picnic and a conventionally attractive wife by his side.Mojave_remastered
  • The Witch. I recently went to see Suicide Squad, which, suffice to say, was a blockbuster-hungry film that tried to drown out its own shittiness by blasting cheesy classic rock tunes as loudly as possible. During its most climactic scene, the Witch (played by Cara Delevigine, who-and I love you Cara-should stay away from acting), claims she can grant the remaining Suicide Squad members anything they desire if they choose to join her. Immediately their deepest longings spring to their minds in tear-jerking visions: El Diablo sees his wife and children, alive and well; Harley dreams of domestic bliss with the Joker, etc.

All themes are recycled in art, of course, but this fantasy vs. reality idea stuck in my mind for a while. An idyllic-if illusory-life is always offered by someone dark and sinister, meant to tempt the generally good-hearted but weary protagonist into madness or villainy. And the moral is always the same: it takes courage to turn away from what you know is not real, no matter how much your heart aches for it, and it takes cowardice to give in to the temptation.

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In “The Cage”, Pike insists on resisting the illusions the Talosians’ orchestrate, while Vina voluntarily remains behind to live out her life with an image of Pike. In Suicide Squad, everyone appears disappointed when Harley appears to have accepted the Witch’s offer. In Harry Potter, Harry begins visiting the room with the mirror every night until Dumbledore advises him to stop, reminding him that

It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.

And yet, in a way, most of us do that every day. We daydream through school and work, sometimes even during our times of leisure and recreation. We make Pinterest boards of our dream homes, dream vacation, dream life. We revisit memories and long to live them again. We wish to be other people, we wish to be in other places.

There are two types of wishes, I suppose. The Harry’s and the Ron’s. The Harry’s are the wishes that, sadly, can never come true, things which we have no control over: love, death, sickness, past mistakes.  These are the dreams we’d do best to rip into tiny pieces and toss them in the bin. Not an easy task, I’m afraid, but if we work on letting go a little each day, we may one day get to the point where we stop digging through the trash and taping our should’ve’s, could’ve’s, and if only’s back together.

But with the other type of wishes, their is hope. If Ron had only realized it, he would have seen the mirror as a psychological tool, a motivational nudge to pursue his dreams. Ron as Quidditch Captain or Head Boy could have been possible if he had worked through his insecurities better and worked towards his goals. And in the end, he did hold the Quidditch Cup in triumph.

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These are the types of dreams we’d do best to focus on, not dwell on, mind you, but think about long enough to write out our game plan, whether it’s in that spiral notebook you hide beneath your mattress or simply in your head. Save up for that plane ticket. Say your sorry to that person from your past. Apply for the job you think you’d never get. Go back to community college and pursue the degree you buried ten years before beneath fears of financial instability.

Break the dream down into doable bits and pieces and work towards them every day. Even if you never reach the end goal, you’ll end up with a lot more than you would have if you never tried. Looking at it that way makes the unattainable idea of happiness seem so much more within our reach.

Because in the words of Captain Pike,

“You either live life, bruises, skinned knees and all or you turn your back on it and start dying.”

Saving Syrians

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Mass killings. Shootings. Air attacks. Bombings. Kidnappings. Torture. Slavery. A country where, if you’re lucky enough to still have a home in one piece, you’re afraid to step outside of it. Homes which offer little to no resistance from the constant fall of artillery that could kill you or your family in one second (that is, if you and your family have not succumbed to starvation or fatal injuries already).

This is what Syria looks like as it enters its four-and-a-half year of its civil war.

As of this September, more than 200,000 people-half of them civilians-will have lost their lives due to the Syrian civil war, according to The New York Times. More than four million have already fled their war-torn country and the waves of people seeking refuge show no sign of ebbing.

Small nearby countries such as Turkey and Lebanon have taken in large amounts of refugees, the latter of whose population is now almost 20% Syrian refugee. Many Syrians make the perilous journey by dinghy to Greece, in hopes of seeking refuge in West European nations, many of whom are willing to take them in. Out of the 230,000 refugees who have applied for asylum in the EU, Germany has taken in a whopping 45% of them-this year alone.

Closer to home, Canada has received a little over 3,000 within the past year and has new prime minister Justin Trudeau’s promise that it will take in 25,000 more by the end of February.

And where does the United States of America, land of the free, home of the brave, stand in all this? The US has taken in about 1,869 refugees in 2015 so far, and that’s after months of intense security checks and screenings for each one.

The U.S. Department of State owns that “Since its foundation, the United States has offered freedom and opportunity to refugees fleeing the wJustin Trudeauorld’s most dangerous and desperate situations. The U.S. refugee resettlement program reflects the core values of the United States and our strong tradition of providing a safe haven for the oppressed.”

Then why aren’t we doing more to help Syrians in need? Why aren’t we at least being as good neighbors as Canada?

After the tragedy of 9/11 terrorist attacks and particularly after the recent triple attacks on Paris, America has grown increasingly more xenophobic and prejudiced
towards refugees. From many people’s point of view, it makes sense to avoid letting in people who are or will become terrorists and cause catastrophes in our nation. We should protect our own first, after all, and worry about the rest of the world later.

But when you look at the statistics-the fact that out of the almost 800,000 total refugees which the US has welcomed since 2011, only three have been arrested on terrorism charges-the more it seems
like denying refugees entrance to our country is simply based on fear mongering, selfishness, and inbred prejudice.

According to the Guardian, more than half of the US’s governors do not support admitting refugees into their states. And although it’s ultimately up to the federal government to make the decision, and Obama has declared that 10,000 Syrian refugees be admitted in the next fiscal year, poor support from states could put quite a strain on achieving that.

Mounted inside the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty, one of the most quintessential landmarks of our nation, are the words of Emma Lazarus’ “The Colossus”: “From her beacon-hand glows world-wide welcome…Cries she with silent lips “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

These have been our nation’s values since its inception, and compassion has lived on this soil even before then, when Native Americans offered food and shelter to starving pilgrims fleeing religious persecution. Yes, the threat of ISIS still snakes its way into our minds, and yes, there may be a chance in ten thousand that a terrorist could slip through, but what about the other 9,999 lives that could be saved?

Terrorist organizations spread terror, it’s in the name. But we shouldn’t buy into that fear and let it divide us, especially not right now, when it’s so crucial we all stand united against all this violence.

Politically Incorrect & Proud

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A Schuler’s Bakery in Dayton, Ohio just put up a sign on their front window which proudly reads, “This store is politically incorrect. We say Merry Christmas, God Bless America, we salute our flag and give thanks to our troops, police officers, and firefighters. If this offends you, you are welcome to leave. In God We Trust. Schuler’s Bakery.Trent A. Schuler. CEO/Owner.”

This comes around the time that Starbucks was called out by a video on the Internet by a man named Joshua Feuerstein who claimed that Starbucks employees weren’t allowed to say ‘Merry Christmas’ to customers and suggested that having plain red-colored Starbucks cups rather than Christmas-themed ones was offensive.

The Starbucks “controversy” was received mostly with amused apathy, as was the situation at the Dayton bakery. No one else seemed to be offended by this suggested war against Christmas, but they also weren’t particularly interested, which, in this day and age, is somewhat unusual.

I’d hesitantly say that the country has become significantly more interested and mouthy about issues concerning race, sex, sexuality, and oppression, and this does bring out issues of oppression, but not necessarily against Christians.

As the world opens their eyes and begins pointing fingers at privilege, those who have had it good can come up at a loss. Privileged people often claim that those who face discrimination, however subtle, are overly sensitive and easily offended when in fact, people with privilege are the ones who claim offense at little things such as the color of their coffee cups. Men claim offense when they’re told their opinion on abortion is meaningless, white people get angry when they are reminded that they do in fact have it better in society.11902567_10152891045522723_35324526200009684_n

A lot of privileged people aren’t used to the spotlight not being just for them or being reminded that they need to help make the world more equal. So, they try as hard as they can to continue making it about themselves, including by mocking ‘politically correct culture’.

The owner of Schuler’s Bakery and the architect behind its proud signage said he was touched by the positive feedback he received from some people, telling the Dayton Daily News, “I felt it was time for someone to step forward. … I believe God has blessed me in so many ways, and I wanted to share that with others as well as being a positive voice in society supporting folks who put their lives at risk for us every day.”

He is right….and he is wrong. He has been blessed in so many ways, living in a country which, regardless of its first amendment, has always been founded on a belief in god, a country in which many police officers protect white people and other races not-as-much, and which overwhelmingly represents and caters to white needs. But not everyone has these privileges, and this is what makes these kinds of complaints boring, amusing, or just plain ignorant.

America’s black population can be offended by people giving thanks to cops, considering so many cops make it their hobby to shoot them and get away with it. Those who celebrate Kwanzaa or Hanukkah can be offended by the insistence on saying Merry Christmas, since Christmas has always been overwhelmingly represented in commercials, malls, retail, you name it.

Schuler, like Feuerstein, claims to be “standing up for his beliefs”, but this is like when people are proud to claim white nationalism. There is nothing courageous or revolutionary about saying you’re proud of things which you’re perfectly free and even encouraged to be/participate in. No one is attacking your right to be Christian in America, or your right to be grateful to your troops. If they’re being criticized it’s usually for legitimate reasons, and these instances should be acknowledged.

Using your freedom of speech in situations like this is only brave when you’re a member of an oppressed minority that has had to fight to exercise that right. When Schuler and those who share his views act like they have it as bad as others is ignorant, lazy, and yes, politically incorrect.

Not Yo Culture

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Kylie Jenner poses for a selfie in cornrows. Shortly thereafter, she will be called out on this by Hunger Games actress Amandla Stenberg.

Hated YouTuber of the moment Nicole Arbour (see recent rage-bait video ‘Dear Fat People’-or rather, don’t) has been generous enough to bring us another highly controversial video addressed to another group of marginalized individuals: black people.
This time, Arbour attacks the concept of cultural appropriation, misdefining and trivializing it and advocating cultural ‘sharing’ because she sees nothing wrong with trying out bits and pieces of other people’s cultures that she thinks are cool.
The video features jump shots of the barely-speaking token black friend she brought in to ‘qualify’ her opinions, mockery of her own white girl-ness and a somewhat heartfelt speech about how black people are still discriminated against to this day.
There’s no sense in inviting anyone to watch the video and rack up views for her perhaps-well-intended-but-poorly-executed word vomit, but the video serves as a good example of the misunderstandings that exist about cultural appropriation.

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A fashion spread using Native American imagery as accessories.

Cultural appropriation is a slippery slope, and it’s criss-crossed with many fine lines. It’s somewhat broadly defined as an instance in which a member of one culture adopts an element of another culture in a negative way. The controversy of adopting other people’s culture comes from the power dynamics of racism, and is especially bad when it involves white perpetrators, because they instigate most of the oppression against other ‘minority’ cultures.
The basic gist is, a)don’t steal things from people’s cultures without being aware of their cultural, religious or historical significance and b)don’t steal things from people’s cultures simply because you take a passing fancy in them and want to use them to seem quirky/exotic/cool/etc.
So what is it, specifically?
Cultural appropriation is wearing Native American accessories or costume -when you’re not Native American (and no, being 1% Cherokee on your grandmother’s side doesn’t count). It can’t be passed off as a symbol of appreciation or respect for a specific tribe, as the costumes are usually grossly inaccurate, sexualized or made fashionable. And, of course, there’s that little issue with settlers killing/raping/pillaging/upending Native American lifestyles.
Cultural appropriation is Kylie Jenner flaunting cornrows in an Instagram selfie captioned ‘I woke up like disss’. She very obviously didn’t wake up with hair like that, as so many black women actually do each day. Of course, when a black person has cornrows, it is considered ugly, unprofessional, or dirty. When light-skinned Jenner tries it out for a day, braids are suddenly cute, edgy, and urban. (Wow, what a trend-setter!)
Perhaps less obvious, but equally important, as they are the building blocks of the issue, are the small-level hypocrisies we’ve all become accustomed to.

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Katy Perry performing costumed as a geisha.

It’s white people forking over money to get tan skin-but not too tan, because then someone might think you’re Mexican (gross). It’s people making fun of Hispanic or Middle Eastern girls’ bushy eyebrows and then worshipping bushy eyebrows as on fleek after white supermodel Cara Delevingne made ‘bold brows’ trendy. It’s Katy Perry dressing as a geisha for a performance, it’s Gwen Stefani parading around a silent Harajuku girl posse and using their unique style to brand herself and her products.
It’s white people gushing about how they love some small aspect of someone’s culture, like their hair, their religious imagery or their clothes, and then feeling entitled to use it for themselves.
In her video Nicole Arbour bats her big blue eyes and asks, “Why don’t we all just enjoy whatever the f*** we want from every culture?”

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Gwen Stefani performs with her posse of Japanese Harajuku Girls.

Well, Nicole, because it’s mean. Because other people’s cultures are rarely represented and when they are, they’re not represented fairly, accurately or thoroughly. Because some people get judged or persecuted for being proud of their culture and especially in a melting pot like America, it’s something they should be allowed to keep. Because it’s not fair that when white people do something it’s okay, and when you’re any other color, it’s not. Because it strengthens racism, disrespects people, and cheapens and erases important aspects of their culture.
Again, cultural appropriation is a tricky terrain to navigate through and even those with good intentions might make a mistake here and there, but it’s still important to carefully think about what implications your actions hold.
Cultural appreciation and cultural appropriation are two different things-one is sharing and one is stealing. The difference is the number of people with something to gain.

 

Dear Nicole Arbour

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“If we offend you so much that you lose weight, I’m okay with that.”

These are words spoken by Nicole Arbour, a Youtuber with over 220,000 subscribers, on her six-minute rant entitled “Dear Fat People”, which includes the claims that fat shaming doesn’t exist and jokes that Crisco comes out of obese people’s pores.

The once-popular, non-infamous comedian received an avalanche of criticism for the video, and rightly so.

However, amidst her mocking tirade, Nicole Arbour did make one relevant point, something that we’re all aware of yet still discuss very nervously: obesity is an issue.

According to CNN, “More than 2 billion people — or almost 30% of the global population — are currently considered overweight or obese, and the problem is expected to get worse.”

A new wave of body positivity champions being yourself but turns a blind eye to the fact that maybe you’re also hurting yourself. Obese people announce that they are proud of their curves and will not change their diet for anyone (including themselves, apparently).

One can argue that one’s body is their own, and they have absolute freedom in what they do with it. Then again, that can be a selfish mindset. Openly boasting about being in poor health can be painful to those that care about you.

Being a little over or under weight is not a big deal, but no matter how you frame it, obesity is a problem, and this is not an attack solely on fat people-anorexia is a problem too, as is smoking, alcoholism and lots of other issues that a) are uncomfortable to point out and b) are often more complex than they seem.

Although some stigma still follow them, most people struggling with anorexia and addictions are understood as having a disorder and offered gentle help. Unfortunately, the world doesn’t grant obese people that same privilege.

We’ve fallen into the trap of using shame and humiliation in order to get people to lose weight when instead we should be targeting the underlying reasons and stop making hasty judgments.

“Many doctors don’t look at people’s problems without disregarding everything and blaming their weight,” says twenty-year-old Michaela Chakos. “People watch shows like “My 600 Pound Life” and develop an opinion on all fat people, even though they don’t know anyone over 300 pounds.

“My mom always says, ‘I don’t want you to end up like that’. I’m like, Mom, I don’t eat six Big Macs in one meal. But do I need to explain my eating habits and health report to every person who shows ‘concern’ for my health? No. Either way, health concern towards fat people is thinly veiled hate.”

We have no idea why someone is fat or thin. We don’t know what they put on their plate or how hard they work out. Everyone’s bodies are different and just because a certain lifestyle makes you a certain weight doesn’t mean it’s the same for the person next to you.

Not all fat people gain weight through indulgent eating and laziness. Weight is often beyond their control, becoming a result of genetics, metabolism and environment, or reflecting something bigger like a disease or mental disorder.

Mocking never achieves improvement. It’s cruel, unfair and does nothing to rectify the situation.

Nicole Arbour’s rant reminded us of the problem of obesity in America, yes, but her ignorant taunting also reminded us of another problem in America: bullying. She can whine all she wants about us not having a sense of humor but she needs to understand that there are some things that you just don’t joke about.

Hating Your Job

Art by Bisparulz @ DeviantArt

Every time I see a doctor, I come away feeling oddly unsatisfied.

They’re polite. They’re professional. But their diagnoses are quick and careless, with little curiosity or sympathy. Their sole intent seems to be getting me out of the room as quickly as possible so they can call in the next person and zip through them as well.

After a while, I figured out what it was: they were bored.

Imagine getting up every morning and dreading what you’re going to be doing for the next eight hours of your day. Imagine feeling that way every day of the week. According to last year’s statistics conducted by the Conference Board, 52.3 percent of Americans describe themselves as “unhappy at work,” which means that more than half of all Americans hate the job they go to every day.

Getting stuck with a career that you hate, or even just feel neutral about, is possibly one of the worst things you can do to yourself. Sadly, it’s a situation that seems to be increasing.

More and more often students are being pressured into making hasty, poorly-informed decisions based on stress and fear. Schools demand you declare a major fresh out of high school, parents pressure you with their expectations, and the news scroll depressing employment statistics to remind you how poorly the economy is doing.

Job outlook and financial stability are significant and important concepts to consider in terms of your career, but it’s horrible that they should be the determining factors in choosing what you want to do for the rest of your life.
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Questioning fellow college students on their career choices says a lot. Some are becoming engineers, but not because they love working with numbers or have a passion for progress. They’re just doing it for the paycheck. Likewise, many people going into the medical field, my doctors probably included, don’t appear to have any avid interest in medicine or display much joy in helping people.

Some students work hard through high school, college and internships, just to get the job that they think they want. But once they obtain it, they stop learning. They end up doing the bare minimum each day and never contributing anything meaningful to their field because they’re not interested in their job beyond being able to keep it.

To do great things you have to be willing to work hard, not just up till you get a degree or job, but every day for the rest of your life. And in order to be willing to work hard, you have to love what you do. Nobody ever became great by not caring.

Students shouldn’t be taught to pick jobs out of fear; they should be encouraged to pursue what they love. In the words of Stephen Hawking, a man who accomplished much through his love of science: “However difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do and succeed at.”

 

“but gay marriage isn’t what god intended”

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In lieu of gay marriage being legalized across the United States, my Facebook news feed has been plagued by devout Christians and their tacky photo-quote posts about how they don’t believe in gay marriage and that they deserve the same respect for their beliefs as gay people do, yada yada yada. Which is, firstly, bullshit, and secondly, a very poor analogy.

Being gay is not a ‘belief’-homosexuality is not some kind of philosophical movement or deviant cult. As has been repeated patiently by the gay community, sexuality is not a choice (if it were then I’d be kissing girls instead of maneuvering landmines of fuckboys). Religion is a choice; despite being highly institutionalized, there is still room within Christianity for people to interpret the Bible as they wish and even to reject outdated/atrocious aspects of its history in favor of progress. So, yeah, guys, you are making a conscious choice to deny people basic rights.

As for their request that their beliefs be respected-how about no. We’re not under any kind of obligation to respect everyone’s beliefs simply because they have them. No, I’m not going to respect your beliefs if they involve ignorance, weak logic and prejudice. I’ll respect you as a human being (as in I’ll resist the urge to smack you in the face).  I’ll respect that you don’t like cherries. I’ll respect that you wear sandals with socks. But I don’t have to respect what you say. And I don’t.

“Yes I still love you. Yes we are still friends. But no, I don’t think you should be able to get married to the person you love because I read in a book that you shouldn’t?? And obviously an old book deserves more respect than actual human beings??? Who’s with me???” Lol no one, please go home and rethink your morals.

(I’m aware I’ve committed ad hominem fallacies basically throughout this entire argument but I’m tired and annoyed and my point still stands ok.)