It Was Only Just A Dream…

Yesterday, I heard Carrie Underwood’s “Just A Dream” for the first time.  The lyrics and images flooded my mind, infiltrating my subconscious and clouding my dreams.

With the picture of Ms. Underwood’s dress morphing from white to black tucked behind my eyelids, I dreamt that I had just returned home after serving in our country’s Armed Forces.  Injured physically and emotionally, I wept throughout the entire dream as I watched the life I once had crumble right before my very eyes.  Nothing around me felt the same and neither did I.  And though I inevitably woke from this nightmare, I cannot help but be changed by this extremely realistic feeling of sadness and desperation.

But what must life be like for those whose reality has morphed into a nightmare from which they can never wake up?  My imaginary experience simply acts as a miniscule glimpse into how thousands of men and women end up feeling, whether they take on the task of defending our freedom or are related to those overseas.  They willingly sacrifice the lives they’ve known forever to fight wars that their predecessors began.  They face humanity at its ugliest so we can continue to live our pretty little lives.  They give their lives so those they leave behind may envision a brighter future for the next generation.

Though I know very little about Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, I know that my dream (which seems trivial compared to the real thing) shook something up inside me that will never quite settle the same way again.  To imagine how someone can live with such visions and depression seems incomprehensible, but Ms. Underwood’s tears of sorrow for her lost love triggers overwhelming sadness in the hearts of everyone who has ever loved anyone.

Below, you will find the “Just A Dream” music video.  Perhaps, after you watch and listen, these jumbled thoughts and feelings I’ve just unloaded will make a bit more sense.  And above all else, support our troops!

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We’re All Flying “Han” Solo

Why Validation Must Come From Within

As I grew up, I began to realize that the concept of actually growing had been lost on my DNA.  Even now, as a 23-year-old woman measuring just less than 5’, the short jokes get tossed about like a football.  (Cue traumatizing “Monkey in the Middle” memories.)  However, this then hurtful teasing eventually taught me the greatest character-building lesson of all – to defend myself and embrace my personality, humor and talents regardless of how petite the packaging appeared.

We live in a world fixated on conformity, so to find children who highlight stereotypes and ostracize others based on their interest or appearance simply comes naturally as they mature.  How one handles the situation often indicates whether such experiences turn out to be successful life lessons.  And for Katie’s mother, grace did not come into play when her daughter’s choices were under fire.

The entire fiasco began when Katie came home from school upset one day, only to confess that her male classmates teased her about bringing a Star Wars water bottle to school for lunch (though how they’ve managed to neglect her matching Star Wars backpack, I will never understand).  As her mother, Carrie Goldman, explains, Katie happens to be quite an avid Star Wars fan, but refused to carry the bottle any longer after the boys claimed Star Wars was not for girls.  When faced with a child breaking into tears, most mothers would console their child and teach them that they are special for there never has been and never will be another person like them in this world.  Most teach children to love themselves and embrace their differences despite the potentially overbearing opinions of others.

Instead, Katie’s mother hopped on the Internet to tell Katie’s story and solicit the help of strangers all across the globe.  Though she simply intended to find a few female sympathizers, Ms. Goldman seems to have underestimated the universality of childhood teasing.  And while it appears we have another heartwarming story of people coming together on our hands, we are actually witnessing the extent of the dangers the Internet poses to this young generation that has never known a time without Wi-Fi.

The Internet, you see, provides a forum for instant gratification.  With social networking now an integral part of our daily lives, we need only hop on our computers or Smartphone to gain access to a world of strangers looking for the exact type of approval and validation our dear Katie desires.  Instead of finding people who accept Katie for her differences, Ms. Goldman has simply found hundreds and thousands of people who are exactly like Katie, emphasizing a power in numbers and sameness, not the strength of individuality.  How will Katie ever truly appreciate her personality if she seeks those just like her every time she feels shunned by her peers?

Generations upon generations of children have survived such relatively harmless teasing, and all have emerged stronger and more self-assured than when they began.  Never once in this whole entire ordeal have we learned that validation must come from within and that self-confidence can only come to be when you are fully satisfied with yourself.  And to even attempt to equate such teasing with the severity of bullying as it has appeared in the news as of late has no concrete bearing, for children are bound to clash.  Tolerance and acceptance begins at an early age, and much bigotry comes from the unsavory values of one’s parents.  Promote confidence and independence throughout your child’s formative years and have faith in your efforts as a parent, for every child is different from another.  And while Dec. 10 now also stands as “Support Star Wars and Geek Pride for Katie” – a judgmental name in and of itself as it implies Star Wars attracts only “geeks” – not every child will find their mother scouring the Internet for support.  The rest of today’s youth will simply have to learn to love themselves the old-fashioned (and seemingly antiquated) way.

Photo courtesy of Chicago Now

The Line at the Ladies’ Room

A photo exposé on exposing yourself.

Stereotypes creep into society’s psyche in dozens of ways.  Like rumors, we are never entirely sure how they come to be, but they spread like wildfire despite their validity (or lack thereof).  And while no one, not even women, can argue with the fact that the line at the ladies’ room always has been and always will be (except in extreme circumstances) longer than the line for the men’s room, the reasons may not be what men would assume.

Men tend to complain that women take forever in the restroom because they spend many wasted minutes primping their hair and reapplying their make-up.  But, if that were true, then how can one ever explain the line?  We are certainly not waiting half outside the door just for a space in front of the mirror.  And judging from the perspective of a woman who wears hardly any make-up and has the most low-maintenance haircut in history, I cannot explain why it would ever take me just as long to escape from the depths of germ central as those women slathered in face paint when I barely even cast a glance in the mirror as I exit.

No, gentleman.  Our narcissistic behaviors have no bearing on the lines.  Instead, we have no choice but to wait thanks to the general lack of restroom maintenance.  While men do not mind standing around with their business dangling for all to see, women prefer privacy.  It’s the craftsmanship of said stalls that keeps the ladies waiting for another.

Let’s take a little stroll through some of the most well-made public restrooms I’ve come across recently, shall we?

For our first example (above), we have a stall from Toys ‘R’ Us.  As you can see, the toilet paper dispenser hangs about two feet higher than the toilet.  While most adult women do not have gorilla arms, such design becomes even more laughable when you remember that this is a toy store – a place where children run amuck and occasionally need to use the bathroom.  Sure, a great deal of mothers would be right there to help their child through such a difficult time, but what’s the point of potty training if they still cannot go alone?  Luckily, someone was nice enough to leave a roll sitting on top of the sanitary napkin disposal for those who didn’t realize they weren’t Stretch Armstrong until after they sat down.

Our next example (above) will make you want to slap your forehead multiple times.  First, we see that the hook on this Panera Bread handicapped bathroom stall seems extremely high.  (If you cannot figure out my logic here, you are just as horrible as the genius who hung that hook in the first place.)  But once you turn to look at the toilet paper dispenser (below), you will realize that our mysterious handyman struck twice.

For those who don’t notice the distance before they go, reaching shall be quite the struggle.  And if you are indeed handicapped, such a struggle may very well leave you stuck.

The next, a stall in Best Buy (below), simply makes one wonder how anyone could possibly get in the stall and close the door.  You see, the door only opens until it collides with the toilet, but you cannot even squish to the side for the toilet paper dispenser is right there, big and in your way.  Even the smallest of women, (read: me), cannot squeeze in, leaving those even just slightly overweight to wait for the only handicapped stall.  (Helpful tip: put the toilet paper dispenser on the OTHER side of the toilet!)

And last, but certainly not least (because this is solely a sampling), we find the largest gap between stall walls one could probably find without forfeiting all privacy.  Located in Sears (below), you will notice that you can see my mother’s entire ear.  Unfortunately, that was also the only available stall because, as you can see in the upper right corner, the store used caution tape to block off the other stall.  And, if that gap doesn’t satisfy a Peeping Tom’s delight, there’s always the door’s lock to give you a sneak peek behind closed doors.

Disclaimer: To all the men that might be reading this, please do not get your panties in a twist.  I’m sure your bathrooms are nowhere near pristine condition, either.  However, I cannot gain access to the mens’ room (nor would I care to), so I cannot quite speak on your behalf.  My main goal is to simply draw some attention to the lack of thought that goes into designing many a ladies’ room and the repercussions of such shoddy work.  We do not like having an audience as we go about our business, and we’d like to keep it that way.  (Oh, and it’d be nice to reach the toilet paper and have somewhere to hang our purse, as well.)

Want more? Read ‘Learning in the Loo: The Line at the Ladies’ Room, Part Deux‘!

(Photos by Anna Papachristos.)

The Art of Eliminating Earwax

This page is my best friend.  It is the letter I send to you, dear reader, my anonymous pen pal who knows not my return address.  It is the ear that listens to my every word, considering each worry and emotion without judgment or interruption.  It is the journal in which I write feverishly, chronicling my daily life and spilling my deepest secrets.  This page is the therapist who will never require hourly compensation.

You see, ears no longer hear what emanates from the mouths of others.  Hitting someone’s head against a wall would cause more sound to resonate within the confines of their skull than any syllable to come from your lips.  People of today’s society hear only what they want, tuning out bad news, ignoring the inconvenient and disregarding reality in lieu of this fantastical utopia their minds have conjured to help buffer the horrible truth of our dwindling community.  With so many aspects of our world falling to pieces right in front of our eyes, instinct tells us to shield ourselves from such atrocities.  However, the more we try to hide from our troubles, the greater they become.

Our first lesson in listening came many years ago, when our parents taught us never to run from our problems, but to face things head on.  Yet now, even those who raised us have plugged their ears, leaving the younger generations to try and rectify our crumbling economic and governmental pillars.  They are the mess-makers; we are the maids.

But while we are a generation whose combined therapy bill amount must rival that of the national debt, the true problem doesn’t lie within the decisions rendered by elected officials, but by the lack of communication skills we have been breeding into the collective consciousness.  Though many enter the field of communications, making said topic the basis of their study and livelihood, we continue to live in a society where a single opinion – the mere metaphorical act of “stepping on someone’s toes” – can launch a world of chaos.  Though “communication” and “community” share a common root, most fail to listen to one another, increasing hostilities instead of harmony.

When you say you’ve heard what someone has said, the implications of your statement can be rather vague.   Anyone can hear someone speak, aware that words are pouring from their lips, but they often neglect to pay attention, letting the syllables flow in one ear and right out the other. “But there’s none so blind… as those who will not listen,” according to Sweeney, one of many vessels who speak of universal truths in Neil Gaiman’s American Gods (p. 43).  When we fail to listen to another’s thoughts, feelings and concerns, we fail to see the commonalities that make us all human, the traits that unify every single being down to their very core.  If we cannot hear the words of our brothers and sisters, we will never see the injustices, we will never right the wrongs. We will never learn to band together and we will never attain even a small fraction of that mystical concept called peace.

Sketch by Alyssa Papachristos.

What May Be Gone Tomorrow

Today will be the only (insert date here) of your lifetime — in the history of the world, even. Each day is unique, each minute, each second. They pass with the blink of an eye, yet there will never be another moment exactly like this.

Some fill each moment with excitement, while others become enveloped in despair.  Some moments are filled with tears, though others are filled with laughter.  Some moments are accompanied by music; others are awash with silence.  Yet my biggest fear is a moment filled with nothing.  Moments filled with empty wishes for the day to be over or the storm to pass leave us longing for the eventual despite the fact that we can only be sure about the here and now.  So much can happen between this very minute and that moment you’re longer for, so much that you can never be quite sure it will arrive.

What we must do is fill each and every moment with something – a laugh, a scream, a tear, a hug, a kiss.  But most importantly, we must fill each moment with a piece of ourselves.  Whether we are here tomorrow or gone for eternity, the seeds we sow now are what will live on long after we’re gone.  We may not be able to fill every moment with something distinct, but we can constantly work toward something worthwhile.

All we can hope and aspire to during our brief time on this earth is to leave something or someone (even just one person) better or happier than they otherwise would have been without our presence.  Even the simplest of smiles or the kindest of words can take deep roots, for such gestures may brighten someone’s day and instigate a domino effect of positivity.

Soon They’ll All Be Weeping Willows

Plain, white envelopes grace the inside of my mailbox on a nearly weekly basis.  These envelopes say nothing more than my address on the front, with the return address across the back flap, all in a very appealing (yet suspicious) font.  Perhaps it’s simply a gimmick – make the recipient “discover” that the envelope holds a pre-approved offer for a Discover card.  Eventually, however, the novelty wears off and such envelopes remain unopened, shredded to prevent any possible identity theft (or whatever crime is trendy at the moment).

And while money supposedly doesn’t grow on trees, these lovely, natural structures are responsible for creating that paper.  We are bombarded by junk mail on a daily basis, recycling some, but simply tossing the vast majority to the bottom of our trash cans.  “Going green” seems to be a great and increasing trend, yet companies (most notably that of the credit card variety) pile stacks of heavyweight paper into large envelopes just to annoy and harrass us with offers for services we would actively seek if we so desired.

Instead of sending back the credit card applications complete with the required information, I propose a revolution (despite the fact that it will most likely never catch on).  To show our disdain for not only the personal inconvenience, but the detriment it imposes on our environment as well, I suggest that we use the very paper we receive to send them our own message.  Each company provides an envelope for returnng your application, many of them postage paid if mailed within the United States.  Perhaps, if enough people sent these applications back completed with feelings of contempt and disapproval for what this excessive paper waste may do to our environment, maybe we could raise awareness and get these major companies to pride themselves on their “green” acts instead of their pursuit of green.

The weight of a single envelope feels as if they are mailing an entire tree, and if this real-life spamming of the mailbox continues across the nation, too much paper will be used to promote the use of plastic.  Uproot too many trees and we will destroy what holds our world together, literally and figuratively.  And maybe, even if they fail to understand the environmental ramifications of their mailings, the influx of junk in their mailbox just may be enough to convince them how annoying junk mail truly is.

(Photos by Anna Papachristos)

The Legalization of Prostitution

When Donna Summer “works hard for the money,” we think of nothing more than “bad girls” singing a catchy disco tune that gets us on our feet.  When we are reminded of Julia Roberts’ famous role as a hooker in Pretty Woman, we think of an unlucky woman just trying to pay the bills who gets lucky – yes, it has two meanings – when Richard Gere whisks her away and turns her into the classy gal we all knew was hiding under that platinum blonde wig.  But once we turn our heads back to reality, we realize that prostitution is hardly rewarded with gold records and shopping sprees, but two silver bracelets and a lovely orange jumpsuit.

Yet reality keeps trying to convince us otherwise.  (Forgive me, I meant reality television, not reality realty.)

All based upon the phony concept of “finding true love,” we find season after season of The Bachelor and The Bachelorette slathered across our TV screens because, in lieu of creativity, the TV powers that be think that watching 25 women throw themselves at a single man (and vice versa) is the new wave of entertainment. This love fest culminates in the dramatic outpouring of emotions and inevitable proposal, followed by the couple’s eventual separation, keeping misguided fans talking long after their 15 minutes are up.

And now, ABC has brought back past Bachelor and Bachelorette rejects in a new reality series, riding a wave that has quickly morphed into the tsunami of overkill.  If watching one man or woman flirt, kiss and reach near pornographic levels with 25 members of the opposite sex in just a number of weeks wasn’t sleazy enough for your viewing pleasure, the creators of Bachelor Pad have upped the ante, adding a $250,000 bonus as incentive in an already deceptive crowd.

Now, in Survivor-like fashion, these 19 contestants – 11 women and 8 men – will compete in various challenges.  The winner will then get to choose three members of the opposite sex to take on a date, one of which will gain immunity when the cast decides who should stay or who should go at the end of the episode.  (This is where I could begin an annoying and much too feminist rant on what the gender imbalance could very well imply, but I think you can all draw your own conclusions pretty well.)  Here, these lovely cast members play for love and money… but mostly money.  (Read this article by Entertainment Weekly’s Mandi Bierly posted earlier today for more information.)

They are, in a sense, selling themselves by using their sexuality and permiscuous nature to earn quite a large payout.  And while I do not want to sound overly judgemental, I do believe streetwalkers and gigolos use the very same tactic.

We will watch them fight, play, scream, cry and kiss all for our entertainment and their own monetary gain – porn for primetime television, if you will.  The only spark of reality that will ever gleam from this show is the hard truth that television continues to wane in the creativity department, while the viewing audience continues to gobble up this garbage, voluntarily demeaning themselves and nixing any chance for intellectual respect.  In fact, perhaps the biggest perpetrators are those who have unleashed such horrendous intellectual crimes on our culture, numbing our minds so we’ll never notice the atrocious programming they continue to slap in our faces.  Because if these shows and these contestants accurately represent today’s reality, then what they say about the world going to Hell in a handbasket really rings true.  Loud and clear.

(Photo courtesy of abc.com.)