the value of a moment.

13145a99f1db93827395b3771f6dec89The “value” of something these days is too often taken as monetary.  There is such a thing as becoming too sentimental about something, but I see too much of the opposite.  I hear kids whine about how “stupid” a learning activity is or how “lame” going to grandma’s is when they were just about to pass level 50 on their video game and were interrupted.  (Won’t they see the value in those moments when they’re gone?)  No one seems to enjoy “doing it by hand” anymore and, if they do, it’s because it’s trendy.  They don’t see a gain in putting their time in.  Time is money.  Everything’s about money, about attaining that “easy life”.  (Again, I think of Miranda Lambert’s song Automatic.)  And because everything is made automatically by machines and with cheaper, lighter materials, we see more affordable items of lesser quality more readily available to, well, everyone.

There’s not as much value in something just because everyone needs to have it, and so a cheap solution is made up so that everyone can.  Even iPhones and Instagram seem to make my photography less enjoyable when I feel like I could shoot a pretty good picture with just a phone, and everyone has an iPhone.  It’s kind of like sugar, once a rare thing of high demand that suddenly was cheapened so it was available to everyone – and now we can’t get away from the damned stuff.  I look back on the things stashed away in our barn that came from my grandparents’ house and I just see so many things that were actually authentic, metal, wood, not cheap plastic that just gets thrown out when it breaks.

Yesterday, I went to go look at a Starr upright piano that came with the house a lady bought and she doesn’t want it anymore.  She’s had offers to scrap it, but she didn’t think that was the right thing to do – and I’m glad.  The piano is absolutely beautiful, although it could use a little work – which I am definitely willing to do.  It’s about 110 years old, completely original, and only one key doesn’t work well.  I asked her why no one wants it.  She just doesn’t play piano; everyone else, well it’s way too heavy and it’s not a Steinway.  Starr only produced pianos between 1849 and 1949 out of Indianapolis.  At it’s best times, 18,000 pianos were being made per year.  Starr won some pretty prestigious awards in the 1890s which are displayed on painted decals across the piano.  In my research, I’ve found that this piano has the potential of a $70,000 value – or at least it should.  However, people struggle to get $10,000 for it considering how heavy it is.  I see most sold for even less than that.  This one?  Free.  But that’s because the cursed thing is made out of wood, wood, wood, metal, ropes, and wood.  Lots of good quality wood.  Much heavier than plastic and aluminum, and that’s why no one wants an old, not-Steinway, obsolete piano made of wood.

When I mentioned the piano to a friend, all he could see was the money value in it.  Well, I see more value in giving it a life and letting it age further.  It’s a piano, and I want it to be used as such – not scrapped for parts and fuel.  This thing has some serious character.  But so many people fail to appreciate character.  They just see money, trendy, glamorous,… and they turn their noses up at the idea of having to put time in to move something like this piano, especially when it’s not already in mint condition.  They don’t see the value and pride in time spent doing something with your hands.  But what will they say in 100 years, when the Starr pianos have all been chopped up and burned away??  They’ll lament the “good ole days”, probably the same way they would have lamented a nice slab of buffalo meat had they actually pushed the buffaloes into extinction.

Ironically, I had these thoughts on the same day that I watched a movie with a similar theme.  My friend had mentioned Creator, a 1985 film that I had never heard of but decided to check out anyway.  It’s about this research professor who can’t get over the loss of his wife 30 years prior, so he’s hired a student to help him regrow her through a cloning process.  During the course of the movie, the professor becomes transfixed with his project despite having a new woman around.  The student, hoping to understand “The Big Picture”, falls in love with a girl who nearly dies.  The professor sees this all play out and finally comes to term with the hard parts of life and how moments that are fleeting have value because they are fleeting, so sometimes you just have to let go of the ones that are gone.  The juxtaposition of his dead love, possible future love, and the student’s fragile love really makes you see how you must identify and indulge in good things when they’re there because they won’t be for nearly as long as you’d hope.

And finally, it also occurred to me how frightening it would be if we really kept cheapening and devaluing everything in life.  Machines are already replacing human labor.  In some aspects, I want to see this as efficient and effective.  In other aspects, it scares me.  What is the need of a workforce at all if it can just be replaced?  If, in the future, people are able to do what the professor tried to do and can grow whatever person they want…well then what is the value of a life anymore?  Oh, sorry, I accidentally shot your friend…we’ll just grow a new one.  ….It kind of reminds me of what I was saying before, when something breaks these days because it’s cheap and you can just replace it with another cheap thing.  Maybe the “good ole” days are already gone, and now I’m just starting to see the value because it’s all just memories…

I feel like this has been a classic scatterbrain entry, so I will attempt to redeem myself with some photos from my Pinterest feed of little thoughts and little things that make up a happy life if you’re little enough to see them – so enjoy:

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but first, let me take a selfie.

I’ve had a lot of topics pass in and out of my thoughts over the last week but I haven’t sat down to write about any of them.  One that’s been reoccurring for over a year, however, is regarding vanity.  I’ve written a lot of things that reflect my dislike of silly trends and vain generations, but I’m not sure how often I’ve spelled out my frustrations of avoiding hypocrisy.  I was thinking about it a lot again today and decided maybe it was time to pen something out.



Case and point.  (If you haven’t watched that video yet, do it…because you’ll be hearing a lot about it for quite some time.  It’s the new, What Does the Fox Say.)


I have read sooo many articles lately that bash my generation.  “Vain”, “self-absorbed”, “egocentric”,… and at first I was nodding right along.  Then I thought, isn’t it a bit ironic?  All of these people from my generation keep writing about “those guys” in the same generation, the people who are giving us the “bad rap”.  But even us writers, here we are breaking things down and giving our view on some larger thing just because we think we have a valuable opinion?  That people will want to hear what we have to say?  And what about the fact that we’re still part of that generation?


I’m pretty sure anyone in our generation associated at all with technology or the internet is at least a little self-absorbed, albeit because they do have a Facebook account and post photos or because they play online video games and don’t associate with live humans.  I know there are people out there who refrain completely from technology.  But I’m not sure that struggling to separate themselves from the rest of the people doesn’t make them any less concerned about self-image and what demographic they represent.


Not gonna lie, though…I love having interfaces that put data in my hand whenever I want it, whatever I want.  I love efficiency.  I think that all comes from technology’s development and, as a result, an increased pace in society.  Pushing to get ahead, not just to be the best country at something but also as an individual trying not to lose that scholarship in college.  There are some justifications for technological dependencies, at least if you’ve ever been to college or worked in your career in recent years.


But I still make choices.  I don’t “selfie it up” in the bathroom, I dress in ways that make me happy for myself but not in ways that are meant to draw attention (ick!), and I refrain from being on my phone all of the freaking time.  You know how annoyed clerks get with that?  They don’t feel like “real” people when phone’s are used at the counter.  (Dewey’s Coffeehouse at Shaker Square even forbids phones in line for that reason.)


Yet there are some things that I see and that I wish I had.  For example, pretty much every friend I know has had professional photos taken for high school graduation.  Then again after college.  Well, yesterday was my graduation ceremony from Case Western and I thought, wow, I have no documentation of any of this.  No formal photos besides the classic headshot from senior year of high school to show how much I have or haven’t changed.  And it’s kind of nice to have real quality photos instead of selfies or some janky set-up your parents put together in your den.


However, I also see some other people’s blogs.  They are super fashion obsessed and I don’t mean obsessed as in my obsession with looking decent and classy.  No, I mean they think they are *teh shiz*.  When I see all of these photos of them that they post in the same outfit (sometimes pretty, sometimes seriously just a boring black shower curtain with a necklace), I have mixed feelings.  First, I think ick!  How obsessed are you with yourself!?  (You really think you’re that pretty?)  Second, I think what about me!  I want photos like that.  I want to feel special.  —–   But do I?


I think having fashion photos of me would be appealing if it were one casual shot in this outfit, maybe another casual shot wearing something else…but also in a pretty setting.  I can’t stand these girls who have fifty shots of themselves taken with the same building behind them every time, trying to strike poses that they’re just not pulling off and which I think look stupid in the magazines as it is…and so I can scrap any desire to look like that just by thinking of how vain they look!


Yup, I still hate the fashion industry.  I hate what it does to people, how it affects farmers, the pesticides involved in producing cotton, the rip-offs, the hoity-toity designers, how men design scandalous women’s clothing, how women think this is something to which they should aspire, just soo sooo sooooo so much about the fashion industry itself is stupid.  Then add on all of these “selfies” and “photo shoots” and you’re left looking at this generation and thinking, “Wow, what a bunch of egocentric airheads” and wondering if they’ve even graduated high school or if they were too obsessed with what they were going to wear to prom.


And now…my closing -siiiigh-….


P.S. I totally took a selfie today.

worth.

I have volunteered on projects my whole life, whether it’s a cleanup, fundraising, habitat for humanity, or construction work with Engineers Without Borders. I’ve slowly come to realize, as I’ve said before, how much money might have value, but time has something more. Not only is personal involvement more, well, personal, but it has an unmeasurable amount of worth to those affected.

How do you measure the worth of something? Well, it’s all relative.

When I was standing in a dusty yard in a small Cameroonian village watching children kick a torn soccer ball and I pulled little Belinda aside to give her a slightly used pair of lady’s shoes, no dollar sign could represent the emotion she had for the shoes. She literally grabbed my arms in shock, timidly put a shoe to her foot – a perfect fit –
then flat out collapsed in my arms and tucked her legs into the air. There I was, standing against a wall, holding a dangling child by my forearms who was so humbled by a simple gift that she buried her face in my stomach and couldn’t even look me in the eye. Then she grabbed the bag and ran home to her hut faster than an American child to an ice cream truck on a hot summer day.

How do you measure that?
Shoes, $50.
Visa, $140.
Plane ticket, $1,864.

Or…
Time spent in Cameroon, 3 weeks.
Time spent on project, thousands of hours.
The look on her face, UNMEASURABLE.

When I paid twice the price for a loaf of bread in Ouidah, Benin, the grandmother who couldn’t even speak French communicated by the happy tears in her eyes and her clasped hands. For an extra 200 francs. Or 40 cents.

Playing games with the children in the village last year…and then returning over a year later to the same children, slightly taller, wearing the same clothes (just more tattered), screaming my name and dancing the dances I taught them. Priceless. Their joy, for nothing, with so much worth.

Even better than the feeling of feeding the poor and sitting with them on Thanksgiving is taking a tag off of the Salvation Army tree, putting serious effort in picking the best gifts for the anonymous wishes, then dropping the bag off. You don’t know where it goes, they’ll never know who you are, and that secrecy feels so selfless that it’s selfish. And worth a LOT.

But even more simply, sitting here on a worksite, on a cold Sunday morning, covered in mud, one has a new appreciation for the DuPont suits given to the workers. They work so hard and so long, harder than I, and they are overwhelmingly appreciative when I give out company stickers for their hard hats. Because they earned it. Because it’s their badge of honor. But it’s just a silly sticker that I have complained about so often, one that is such an awkward shape that it doesn’t stick smoothly to the plastic. But things mean so much more when you’re a dedicated immigrant, happy to have a job and to live in America.

Finally, myself.

This is the kicker, my self-worth. How I measure myself. Well, how I have beenmeasuring my worth and not even realizing it.

Social media. How many likes I get. And it’s not just me! So many friends I talk to agree, we evaluate ourselves by the feedback we get when we put ourselves out there on social media.

I post something I love. I get little to no likes. On Facebook. On Instagram. Retweets or favorites on Twitter. Views on this blog.

My worth becomes the quantity of likes I receive. The quality? Some of these people I don’t even know…yet I still do it…

I compare myself.
He has more likes. She ALWAYS gets likes. What does that mean?? Do I have less friends? Am I not as interesting or popular or loved?? What does it mean???

It shouldn’t mean anything, but I have to admit that it means everything. Whether I want it to or not. And I hate it.

But at the same time, when I put something out there that I think is meaningless or controversial…. And people take my side – that is so incredibly empowering.

I guess we just need to get a grip on what something is worth, lest we continue to harm ourselves or under-appreciate things that could be a total game changer to someone else.

The Little Things.

I “get through” my day after day after day i.e. life by looking forward to something. It’s so easy to be distracted by only the big things, but really it’s those little somethings that make up the journey in life. What is a trail anyway? It’s a line, and a line is endless infinitesimally small points along the way.

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Yesterday, my big thing was a little something full of lots of simple smiles. I got to spend an evening cooking with someone dear to me. Jeff and I of course have fun skiing or playing volleyball like we sometimes do, but it takes a special kind of person to still go outside to build snowmen and to spend a few hours preparing a meal from scratch – and have fun doing it.

From walking to Heinen’s, to slam-dunking food into the buggy, Jeff making fun of me standing on my toes to look over shelves, wandering aisles because he’s too stubborn to ask for help, walking home in the rain, stirring frogs eggs pudding, cutting up Jeff’s first star fruit, sipping wine while making our own broth, fixing up pretty plates of roasted asparagus and improvised homemade hollandaise sauce…we had a blast. We sat down the watch The Bachelor, but we didn’t need a TV show to keep us entertained. I think we could make scrubbing dishes fun.

And that’s when I thought, how many people do that? How many people can enjoy cooking a time-consuming dinner? How many people in their late 20s would build a snowman with me in snow that won’t even compact? How many people take the time to read a silly, three-paged letter with joking references to the Hunger Games trilogy? How many people can still appreciate the little things?

Maybe we are weird, but I like it. And I’m really glad I have someone like Jeff to make being weird less lonely.

Our menu from last night included: white wine, champagne, roasted asparagus, homemade hollandaise sauce with lime, basmati rice, chicken/seitan in white wine broth with sun-dried tomatoes and seasoned artichoke hearts, arugula-basil salad with fresh mozzarella and balsamic-basil vinaigrette, frogs eggs (tapioca pudding), and a sliced star fruit.