Thursday, October 16, 2014

Greed

In English, greed is a very negative thing. In fact, it is one of the Seven Deadly Sins.
By definition, it is a selfish desire for something. If we want to spin greed in a positive light, we use words like "ambition."
When it comes down to the truth, what is the real difference between "greed" and "ambition"? At what point do we begin to call an ambitious go-getter "greedy?" In America, the answer would be: Never.

All my life, I have never heard anyone called "greedy" outside of a situation where someone was taking too many desserts or free swag and not leaving anything for anyone else. In any other situation, wanting the best out of life is normal, and even expected of all of us. In fact, if you are satisfied with very little, it's more common to hear those people called "lazy" rather than "minimalistic" or "easily satisfied".

Recently, while watching both Chihayafuru and Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood, the Japanese spin on "greed" has come to my attention.

One quote from Fullmetal Alchemist got right to the point; "Greed is neither good, nor evil"

In Chihayafuru, the main character Chihaya tries to pump up her team by saying that she wants them to win all of the tournaments so they can be the best in Japan. Over and over, her friends say she is "too greedy".

Hearing that took me by surprise. My immediate reaction was; "Of course she wants to be the best in Japan! She is ambitious! She wants to be the BEST!" And I only recently realized how American that was of me.

Yesterday, I discovered this thing called the Greed & Fear Index that measures the feelings of investors in the stock market. Even our Capitalist system doesn't try to hide it.

When you really stop to think about it,  our entire society is centered around Greed.
Some call it "Manifest Destiny", while others could easily call it greed. A want for something you don't have, and you don't need it to survive, but you want it anyway.

If our country was a little less greedy, would there be so much war? So much debt?
If we were less greedy, would so many relationships fail?
And yet, greed is neither good, nor evil. It's just part of human nature. I just think if people learned to identify it and call it by its true name, maybe we would be better off as a society.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

The Orphan Master's Son

It's probably a little too early for me to do a full review of this book since I only got up to page 85, which is the amount I managed to squeeze into my oddly busy life whilst waiting for my younger brother to be released from surgery last week and a lovely hour relaxing in the park today, but I can confidently say that The Orphan Master's Son is now going on my list of favorites.

I am not going to bore you with a standard plot summary you can read anywhere on the Internet. Just trust me when I say it's probably going to be taught in schools about what life is like in a real dystopian society. (At least, that's what my syllabus would include, if I ever went through with being an English professor.) I honestly think is more beneficial to teach young people about different cultures that are so vastly different than our own that actually exist than hypothetical universes that a student can brush off at the end of the day while they lay back in their bubble of a world view.
I was lucky enough to snag one of these first editions
The Orphan Master's Son should be a requirement, right alongside 1984 and Brave New World. 

While I sat in the park, I wrote down some of my favorite non-spoiler quotes.


"In my experience, ghosts are made up only of the living, people you know are out there but are forever out of range."

It's rare for me to read one sentence that hits me right in the gut. I think that it is so incredibly accurate, if you have even experienced going through that sort of situation. Maybe, in this world where everyone is connected online, that feeling is not as universal as I think it is, but it is at least relevant to my personal life experiences.


There was also a line during a scene where the protagonist talks about the fact that Korean sailors tattooed portraits of their wives to their chests:
"How was it that we didn't walk around with every person who mattered tattooed on us forever?"

Which is so significant, because the main character doesn't have anyone who matters to him enough to tattoo on to his chest. This one sentence speaks volumes about who this man is. Even the idea of having someone who would love him is enough to want him to tattoo their portrait on his body. It's that absence of a connection that pulls him to imagine the mother he never knew, who is more of a concept of someone who would love him unconditionally.

I won't go into too much more detail. I just can't recommend this book enough for your next plane ride.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Friday, September 19, 2014

I'm a Mess

My blog sucks.
I have no central topic or theme.
My layout isn't that great.
I do not update it consistently.
My posts are not super-interesting.
So why are you reading it?

I want to write books, and I can't even seem to stick to a consistent writing schedule. I started too many manuscripts for me to keep up with. I have so many ideas, but I just can't make it a priority in my life right now, and it is hard to get inspired.

The only thing I seem to have a never-ending inspiration to write are letters to an old friend who I haven't spoken to in almost a year, and I have no way to actually get a hold of him. He is out traveling and saving the world, being an all-around bad-ass while I'm stuck here in Jersey trying to make it by. In fact, unless he decides to contact me, I may never speak to him again, and honestly, I wouldn't blame him if he has completely moved on with his life and decided to forget about me, but for a long time, he was my best friend.

We could talk for hours about absolutely any topic. We never ran out of things to say. We were always laughing, but I wasn't afraid to tell him really serious shit when I needed to. There were a few times when we started talking around dinner time and didn't stop until the sun came up. Still, to this day, there has never been anyone on this planet that I have enjoyed spending that much time with. I honestly can't even fathom finding someone else who could ever replace him.

If you ask me to write about a fictional story or a self-help book, I only have so much to say. It would take months for me to finish. Sometimes, I can't find the right words to say on a topic, and I ask myself, "How would I describe this to Him?" and then, the words flow like a faucet on full blast. I don't even understand how one person can inspire so much in me, but he does.

I ask myself; "Why?"
In fact, I feel really stupid and embarrassed for writing so many letters. I feel like I am complete mess, especially when they will probably never be read by the person they are meant for. There are just so many moments when I think that nobody around me could possibly understand how I feel, except him. So I write it out, and hit "send"  into a virtual empty vault that will most likely never be opened, because he is the only one with the code.

Like the title says; I'm a mess...but maybe there are worse deep, dark secrets I could have.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Coupons or Bust

About a month ago, I became and Extreme Couponer.

No, I do not leave the grocery store with an entire cart worth of stuff for a penny. No, I don't have a massive stockpile. It's a very modest collection sitting in my closet. However, even after only working on couponing for a month, I bought well over $200 in goods for less than $10.

For the first time in my adult life, I asked myself; "Do I need anything from Walmart?"
And the answer was no.
If I keep this up, I will be able to pay off my credit cards in the next year.

At some point in my teenage years, I became my family's designated shampoo-buyer. It became an unspoken rule; so much that my brothers came to me instead of my mom, saying, "Shannon, we're out of men's shampoo."
My mom only bought the cheapest stuff from the dollar store, which contributed to my frizzy and unmanageable hair throughout middle school and high school. Unfortunately, I could never afford anything more expensive than a $3 conditioner.

Recently, I calculated that my family goes through a bottle of the smaller conditioners once every two weeks.
As the designated bathroom supply buyer, whose credit card do you think that went on?
Yep! It was mine!
(I can't complain. I don't mind helping out my family at all, but my point is, I was constantly adding more credit to my Target and Walmart cards.)

So, check this out:

This is my collection of women's shampoos and conditioners this month. From left to right:
Clear Hair & Scalp Therapy Lengthening Conditioner
Retail Price: $6.99
Out of Pocket after Coupons/Sale: $0.25

Clear Hair & Scalp Therapy Shampoo
Retail Price: $6.99
Out of Pocket: $0.25

Store promotion: $4.00 credit when you buy two Clear products.
Total: $ -3.50

Yes, you are reading that correctly. Instead of paying $14.00 for hair products I could never afford before,
I got paid $3.50 to buy them.

Skip the Dove, because my mom bought that. It was on sale, apparently, but I don't know how much she paid for it.

Tresemme Conditioner 
Retail Price: $5.99
Out of Pocket: $0.50
Store promotion: $+3.00 store credit
Total: $-2.50

Again, I got paid to buy this. I bought two bottles, but one is in my "stockpile", which is really just one shelf in my closet.

Nexxus Shampoo
Retail Price: $5.99 (So expensive for just the travel size bottle!!)
Out of Pocket After Coupons: $0.00
Store promotion: Make +$3.00 store credit
Total: $-3.00  

This is something I have been stockpiling this month, because it's free, and I just have to keep repeating the process. Nexxus is a salon shampoo. It does amazing things to my hair, plus it is a lot more convenient for traveling.

Organix Brazilian Keratin Treatment
Retail Price: $7.99 
Out of Pocket: $2.00 
(No store promotion)
Total: $2.00
This one was a real "splurge" at $2.00, which was a birthday present to myself, because I just really, really love Organix products.

And that's just the hair products!
My hair is getting prettier every day. I will never have to worry again.
Seriously. Life is good. This is a major benefit to living in the USA.


Sunday, August 24, 2014

Extreme Poverty in America Post #1: Metal Scrapping

I decided I want to start a series of blog posts talking about extreme poverty in the United States. A lot of people would say it doesn't exist. Most people would say it is reserved for drug addicts or the mentally ill. There is this unspoken sentiment that the people in this country who are destitute somehow deserve it, and that makes it easier to pretend these people do not exist.

However, as the economy gets worse, it is obvious that people are becoming extremely poor at no fault of their own, which forces them to resort to money-making tactics that were once reserved for addicts in Camden and Philly looking for a way to pay for their next fix.

I live in a town where if you go five minutes east, you will be in the middle of cow fields with houses spread at least 6 acres apart. Five miles in the other direction, you will find apartment complexes, shopping centers, and houses practically on top of one another. For the most part, I live in a nice place.
I don't know if extreme poverty has always been in my area, or if it has gotten worse now that we are a few years into a dead economy.

American poverty is not always out in the open. It makes a lot of people uncomfortable. People try to pretend like it isn't there. However, if you know what you are looking for, it's all around us. The worse the economy gets, the more I notice.

This week alone, I noticed quite a few things:

 Someone in my neighborhood was throwing away a TV. It was a 40-inch flat screen, so I went to check it out. ...Someone cut the cord. I could see the exposed wire peeking from the back of the TV, and it was made of copper.

If you didn't know, you can exchange copper and other scrap metal for money. My dad used to build and
rehab houses in Camden. He told me that one of the most common problems was the locals breaking into the construction sites at night, ripping out the copper piping, and causing thousands of dollars in flood damage to the basements.

Let me explain something: Currently, copper is going for $3 per pound. That is what the metal recycling companies can get for it at a refinery. (Refineries usually do not deal with the public, because they usually accept metal by the TON, and normal people can't accumulate that much at one time.) This means that whoever is providing the copper to a metal recycling service is only going to get a fraction of whatever the recycling center will get, in order for them to stay in business and pay for the gigantic overhead costs of hiring their employees, paying for the warehouse, the trucks, etc. If this huge business is only going to make $3 per pound, you can only imagine what they will offer to get that inventory. That's right: pennies.

 Yes, there was more metal inside of the TV itself, but the person who cut the wire probably didn't have a car to carry it away. Essentially, they destroyed a TV they could have gotten between $50-$100 for if they sold it at a flea market, and they cut the cord and made it worthless.

Last summer, a thin man with a long beard drove up to our house in a pick-up truck. This man looked like he was an honest, hard-working dude. He knocked on the door, and asked my father if he could walk through the woods on our property looking for scrap metal. My dad told the man that he could take whatever he wanted, if he found anything. I wondered for a while how much money the man was actually making.

This year, my mom was cleaning up our shed, and put all of the metal we were not using in the back of her SUV. There was so much of it, I assumed she would come back with a lot of money. However, she came back with..............Wait for it- $8.

That man who searched through our woods wasn't a drug addict. He wasn't a criminal. He was just someone who was struck by the economy looking for a way to make enough money to eat, and probably put more gas in his truck, so he could keep driving until he found work or scrap.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Ferguson.

"We are not better," is a thought I have had repeated in my head recently.

When I saw what was happening in cities all over the world, I thought that police brutality towards peaceful protesters was something from the past here in the United States.
I hoped that Trayvon Martin's death would have brought attention to racism that is still alive today.

Michael Brown died. The cop gets an award for killing him.
Protestors try to be peaceful, but get tear gas and rubber bullets, just like the protestors in Caracas.

We are not better.

Right now, Ferguson is in a state of emergency. There is looting...Which honestly does not help the African American's cause. If you are trying to fight negative stereotypes, why feed the stereotype that black people steal?

I'm sure no one in Ferguson will read this. It's just a thought.
Maybe I need to go hide under a rock and stop reading the news.