“he’s just so nice”.

I have heard that so many times.  “He’s just so nice”.  Someone who’s just so selfless and does things for people all of the time, someone who goes out of his way for no reason.  Someone who’s just so nice.

Well, I used to think that.

I used to see all of the favors done, all of the thoughts thought of me or the prayers prayed to keep me safe.  I used to think the food handouts, spare change, and bought meals were just part of that perfect niceness.  But it’s not.  He’s not so nice, really.

What is it to be a good person?  Is it doing favors here and there, smiling, asking about someone’s day, and making materialistic contributions to others?  No, it’s not.  Not at all.  Being a good person is doing things for someone that often never get acknowledged.  And it’s NOT about donating money and things but more about donating time and making sacrifices.

It’s about staying behind after work – even if you have somewhere to be – to make sure someone makes it to the car store for oil, not about asking if they’re okay and handing them cash then going home.

It’s about telling someone else “no” to something you wanted to do, like sub in a volleyball game, so you can say “yes” to do something you know means way more to your friend, like be the only fan she’s ever had at one of her games and sitting the whole way through.

It’s about volunteering or going to church to better yourself, but it’s NOT about telling someone else what you’re doing in hopes that you can win them over in some way.

But most importantly, it’s about treating those closest to you the best.  It’s great that your mommy thinks you’re just an excellent, attractive good-doer.  (Part of that is she has to, she’s your biased mom.)  But does mom see how you treat those who are emotionally the closest to you?  Who rely on you to feel better about themselves?  Who invested trust in you and then you broke it fifty times along the way?  Mom only sees what you let her see, and you’re not letting her see that.

Why do people give money anyway?  Well, honestly, it’s a selfish act.  Donations make people feel good without having to really do anything.  Seriously, look it up.  Why we do things for others.  It’s actually centered around ourselves more than the people we’re helping.  So when he’s being so nice, isn’t he really just boosting his ego?

And when you give out money, ever considered how it hurts?  To feel so incapable of taking care of yourself that someone with a similar job has to be giving you handouts?  So there we go.  You boost yourself up, I bring myself down.  Who’s it really helping?

I don’t care how much money you give someone or how good you make your life look on a resume.  If you can’t make real sacrifices from your own life to be a true, supportive friend… If you can’t stop thinking about yourself long enough to keep from breaking trust and wounding someone… well then you’re really not such a nice person after all, now are you?

Think about it.

Tiffany’s Evil Wrath in Cleveland

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Iconic shot from Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

TIFFANY’S IN CLEVELAND AND A HISTORY ON ENGAGEMENT RINGS

Out of all of the news that could have been talked about yesterday, the majority of things pressed through my ears and under my eyes were about the new Tiffany’s & Co. opening up at Eton Chagrin Boulevard in Cleveland.  Reporters dubbed this as an exciting moment for Cleveland, evidently more important than the war in Syria.  Women everywhere have been generalized in the news as lovers of the Tiffany’s box, as Hollys enthralled with the very idea of a sparkling rock.  How is this good news for Cleveland?  It’s not.  Absolutely not.  In a dead, burned out city struggling to get back on its feet, a diamond store doesn’t fit in the least.  Cleveland is third on the list of large American cities with a high percentage of low income families.  Stores like Tiffany’s only perpetuate the stereotypes and materialistic mindsets of young people who grow up thinking a diamond is in the future of any successful lifetime.

So what is the origin of the diamond engagement ring anyway?  The first type of ring worn by couples was recorded in Greece, but there were no pre-marriage rings.  Couples’ rings in Ancient Egypt were a simple band representing an eternal ring and doorway of life.  The Romans had the first true betrothal rings, likely taking the idea from the Egyptians.  These rings were used to signify ownership.  (Yes, ladies, so be super excited to get that ring from him… It means he owns you but notice how he doesn’t wear one.)  Not only that, but women had two rings: one nice one for in public, the other made of iron so they could do housework and not ruin the public ring.  Sometimes there was a key included, not to symbolize unlocking the heart like many want to believe but rather to suggest unlocking wealth.  Charming?  Not.  The ring then faded out and wasn’t revived until after the Dark Ages, mostly for the use of royalty and not for common folk.

But where did diamonds come into play?  It wasn’t until the 1400s that royalty giving rings caused nobility to pursue more expensive gifts, such as diamonds.  This tradition didn’t really take off until the 1870s when African colonies were being ripped to pieces to gather diamonds and sell them to the world.  Sure, this made diamonds more affordable for the common folk to buy now, but only after depreciating their value.  Rings, however, never really kicked off the way we know it until the 1930s – during the Great Depression.  WWII made wedding rings more popular for men who wore them to remember their wives.

 

BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S

Yet the real reason why 80% of women are given diamond engagement rings and girls everywhere are so childishly infatuated with the “tradition” is supported by a long line of ownership, greed, and… of course, the Entertainment Industry who has continued to popularize the idea and make a diamond ring an attractive possession.  Just think of Breakfast at Tiffany’s.  The movie, based loosely on a book, stars Holly (Audrey Hepburn), a ditzy, greedy, wanna-be socialite woman…that now so many women today idolize?  The story includes crooks, crime, and corrupted relationships.  If you take away the glamor of the picture, there really isn’t anything attractive about the story.  In fact, here’s what my  pessimist person takes away from the movie: Holly is a horrible person, she only cares about money and things to make her seem wealthy whether she is or not, she has no care in the world for the feelings of others, and she strives to marry rich men for their money without any shame to admit it.

While everyone lusts over the aesthetics of this movie (well, mostly of Hepburn and the diamonds in the shop window), I begin to wonder if anyone really pays attention to the storyline at all.  Tiffany’s, from my perspective, is symbolizing a tyranny of greedy, unnecessary, flashy things.  Silly Holly is sucked into this world of Tiffany’s and acts like something she is not, just like any not-so-great, not-so-rich, and not-so-nice woman lusting over her way too big diamond ring or necklace.  Paul is finally someone who breaks through her bad run of men and manages to – somehow – fall in love with Holly.  Here’s the irony of it all: Holly realizes what  wench she is at the end, when Paul tosses a Tiffany-engraved ring on her lap.  Sure, there’s some Tiffany’s in it…but the ring itself was from a Cracker Jack box that her ex-husband had.

Read the signs people: Diamonds = greed, stupidity, and a perpetuation of a stereotype.  The Cracker Jack ring signifies how meaningless diamond rings are, especially in today’s world.  Diamond rings don’t prove love; they prove the ability to be swindled into wasting a lot of money on a Blood Diamond, on a piece of greed, on a shiny rock.  What are we, parrots?  (No offense, parrots – you probably have a lot more common sense than most people.)

 

MY VIEW ON ENGAGEMENTS

In today’s world, marrying in your early 20s or sooner is not logical (unless you have unplanned incidents that might sway your plans).  Today is too competitive.  We young people have to build a career – one that defines us and easily changes us – before we are actually able to settle down and make those kinds of decisions in our lives.  Furthermore, the idea of marriage has become such a fickle, disposable thing in modern times.  It’s left people with the impression that it should happen quickly and that it comes without significant consequences.  But marriage isn’t about a wedding day or a honeymoon or jewelry; it’s about finances and, well, that’s really probably the heart of it.  It’s about survival and how teaming up can increase your chances.

Think you’re ready for marriage because you’ve been dating the same girl since high school?  She’s been eyeing up jewelry and dropping hints?  Don’t fall for it.  You have to both be prepared.  If she’s so infatuated with the idea of it, chances are she isn’t ready.  If you have any qualms, don’t be tricked into it.  I see too many guys getting dragged around by overly eager, silly, ignorant girls and it angers me that these kinds of people are out there perpetuating the stereotypes the media consequently lays on me of needing shiny things to feel like I have self-worth and am loved or whatever they get out of it.  I would rather see that money donated to a cause I care about than invested in a stupid ring.  I hate the thoughts of weddings for the same reason.  (“Oh, let’s start a life together!  And blow ALL OF THE MONEY WE DON’T HAVE in the first 24 hours!” – NO THANKS.)  My motto is: If she isn’t willing to marry you without any rings at all, then she doesn’t really care about you let alone love you.

And for the record, I don’t even know what a Tiffany box looks like.  Hmpf!

Fueling Up the Smart Way

just-living-is-not-enough

My grandma and I were making a trip out to Ohio yesterday when I stopped at Get Go to fill up one of our Audis with her Fuel Perks.  Get Go and Sheetz have always had my admiration for how they create savings for customers as a way to keep business in their favor.  With fuel prices always rising and falling, saving at the pump regardless of the prices is an attractive choice.  I’ve long given up watching the fuel prices and accepted that driving a car with Premium petrol requirements and fueling up at competitive stores with competitive prices is always going to leave me paying a hefty bill.  I’ve also driven enough in Europe to realize our fuel prices are – relatively speaking – outrageously low, even in California.  Still, how to maximize your dollar at the pump?

First, let me just say: I am actually a fan of rising gas prices.  Before you grumble too much, consider what these prices are implying: Sure, you can argue it’s the oil industry being the king that it is and taking what it can from the common people.  But doesn’t it also come down to demand?  Not only do prices rise when we keep burning up gas at higher rates than we usually consume and/or extract it, but the prices are able to rise with our increased dependency on fuel.  I think it should cost an arm and a leg to fill up your car.  That’s a tiny sacrifice we make for a life of luxury that we don’t deserve and which is in turn destroying the planet.  So let the oil giants live like kings for the time being.  Their luxuries are short-lived, but also their investment in the business is incredibly genius.  They benefit from our dependency, stupidity, and greed as a society.  That makes them no less of a criminal than all of the other enterprises that thrive off of society’s demands.

But let’s talk about saving money.  Part of that comes from making good choices for the environment, too.  Sure, sometimes the green solution is the more expensive solution – but it’s the right solution.  And it doesn’t always have to be more expensive.  Sometimes it’s a matter of living with less, or just knowing how to spend less.

First, I am notorious for my miraculously low to non-existant electric and gas bills at my apartments in Cleveland.  How do I do it?  By living the same why I live in the country in Pennsylvania.  For the life of me, I don’t understand why city people drive as much as they do.  They have public transportation AND you can find five of the same stores within a five mile walk!  You’d be lucky to find a house that close to where I live, let alone a sole store… but we still make do!  Furthermore, city folk are all about working out.  They pay for gym memberships, drive the the gym, then do the same work that they could do if they made better lifestyle choices on a daily basis.  Talk about hypocrisy!

So how do I keep up my country, fuel-efficient, healthy ways in the city?  First of all, I always pick do-it-yourself before anything else.  Without a question, you can guarantee I walk up every flight of steps, walk to any store within a predefined radius, carry my own groceries in reusable bags, buy only what I need as I need it, buy things that are not only made or grown locally but that belong in the local climate, and I let the outdoors dictate my indoor climate as much as I can.  That means I open and close windows during the summer to utilize the cool night air and the breeze without the need of fans or air conditioning, and in the winter I seal my place up and keep it as cold as I like.  If you’re going to spend money on sweaters and socks, you might as well use them!  I hate artificial lighting, and if you’re going to have a place with windows that let heat escape, well you might as well use those too!  I do everything by natural light, save for some moments when I light candles or do turn on the electricity.

I cook my own meals from scratch and I grow most of my ingredients or harvest them from the patches of woods I find around Cleveland.  I am appalled that there are people in Cleveland who have asked me, “Wait, what’s compost?  You do that?”  I know down to the cents per kilowatt how much energy I’m using and I maximize this energy as much as possible.  If I’m making tea, I’ll use the steam off of the hot water to heat something else.  If I’m baking, I’ll use the cooling oven to reheat other things or just let it dissipate to heat my room or even my socks before bed.  I’d use a wood fire to cook in Cleveland if I could.  Also, I prefer to take baths rather than showers.  This allows me to run less water (although water is fairly recyclable in urban settings).  After my bath, I use the water to hand-scrub my clothes which then hang to dry on my drying rack.  I dream of the day that I can run all of my products off of a self-installed solar panel array.  I also think bikes are one of the best inventions of all time.

But this doesn’t answer the question of how to save money when I’ve gotta roll out my Audi and drive somewhere, like when neither a bike nor public transportation are suitable to haul my large hockey bag across seven states for my indulging in sports.  This is when I invest in Sheetz and Get Go.  Back to the pump at Get Go: I’m filling up only half of a tank on my grandma’s 50-cents-off-per-gallon discount and thinking, What a waste.  But my grandma is very particular about not letting the gauge go down too far and I know I’ve got to use it or she will complain.  Still, 50 cents off on only eight or so gallons?  I turned around to see a family with a huge truck tanking up, then unloading small gas cans and filling those too.  You’re not supposed to do that because that’s how you’ll make the system bankrupt, but they do it anyway.  Alas, my everlasting internal battle: social honesty or environmental responsibility?  I’d have to choose the honesty here.  I couldn’t milk a bargain that way without feeling guilt for how I was jeopardizing a widely-welcomed system.

However, filling up your truck – that is fair game and it’s a smart move.  I’m used to using Fuel Perks on my GMC pick-up truck, all 20-some gallons of it.  That’s why my tiny eight-gallon fill-up felt particularly illogical next to the F150 two pumps over.  But then I started recalling warnings from my parents about not using the Fuel Perks until a lot has been saved up and I realized that’s only true in a certain regard.  Honestly, you’re going to save the same amount of money regardless of the discount, right?  That’s just it, though: it’s a rate.  The rate may be the same, but your purchase size is what affects your savings.  So no matter if you’re saving 20 cents on a eight gallon fill-up or 40 cents on a 16 gallon fill-up, you’re saving the same amount despite the different rates.  What my parents were really trying to tell me is save up a lot of savings… then make a big purchase.  In other words, we rack up savings here and there, then buy a large quantity of fuel to expire our savings.  My little fill-up used up those savings on an unjustifiably small (if you’re not my grandma) quantity of fuel.

So do some math, weigh your values, and take the effort to do what’s right for your wallet – and the environment.  The point of this entry is really just to get you thinking about your daily choices and how it’s affecting your health, your planet, and your wallet in different proportions.

“Freelance” i.e. “Unemployed”

Cameroon

Picture: Me in Cameroon with some village children after being asked (and sponsored!) to help build a gravity-fed well system and act as a French translator, a useful hobby!

If you google what a “freelance” really is, you’ll find many defenses against paralleling “freelance” to “unemployed”. The defenders are, of course, freelancers. I, myself, have always turned my nose up on the title “freelancer”, truly viewing this as “I can’t get a job”, as something I’ve done as a hobby to get money on the side. I thought, maybe I’m just being a bit too harsh or critical? But, no, I stand beside my argument. Those who call themselves “freelancers” are, really, just “unemployed”. I was a freelance writer for a paper until I was offered a regular position, but I was doing it for fun because I write all of the time anyway. So, sure, there are people who do it for fun. They’re not necessarily “unemployed”. But anyone who relies on “freelancing” as a real job? Hmm…

My question is why do people who use this euphemism “freelance” in place of “unemployed” the same people who are so defensive about this topic? If you don’t have a job, why bother hiding? I would embrace the fact that I’m still trying to make money in what I want to do rather than giving up on writing or whatever altogether and working at a grocery store or a restaurant or some other menial high school summer job. Of course, I don’t think writing is a job. I don’t think art is a job either, and I can only half-heartedly accept music as a career. That’s because I do all of these things as hobbies. I’ve held jobs in all of those positions before, but always as side jobs for a little extra cash or because someone approached me and wanted to hire me. In a world with so many bigger issues than who’s wearing what, who can replicate reality on paper the best, or entertainment… I become skeptical of society in a heartbeat. And, quite frankly, I also become unsympathetic for the “freelancers” who can mope about their disguised “unemployment”.

So maybe this is more a debate of what kind of majors are truly significant to society or to what extent we should really “follow our dreams”. Maybe this is just me rolling my eyes at people who can’t get off their asses and move out of their parents’ house and get a real job. I don’t really know. I guess my point is, whether or not you choose to hang on to that unfruitful major and label yourself as a “freelance” whatever, at least acknowledge the fact that you’re “unemployed” and searching. The first step to recovery is admitting what’s wrong, now isn’t it?