Let’s do a story about love. About the coldest war we’ve ever seen and how its outcome changed the world forever. First a little bit about the author. My father was a failed novelist who spent the majority of his days sitting at home behind a plate of mash and the television. Mother was actually a deceptively successful recording artist. She spent her days at the studio toiling away on tracks for musicians from all across the country; always hated discussing her work, the result of either humbling modesty or worn out vocal cords. We lived in a house too big to keep clean, just outside the city of HAM. Though not quite fully submerged in suburbia, it was still an ordeal to get anywhere notable to me as a little one. I began skipping out of school far too young, spending days on end with my good friend Louie Feppo who lived with his mother on the town’s endearingly run-down military base. Under the mother’s disapproving eye Louie and I would rummage through old photos and piece together blueprints. We read accounts from journals and war logs and played out the fantastic fantasies scurrying about the vast empty hanger. There were too many things in those logs we didn’t understand, things nobody could hope to understand at that point. Didn’t care. Later on, we would bring girls over and hook up in the cockpits of dismantled bombers. Some nights, kids from the city would bring their trucks, bottles, red cups onto the landing strip where we would turn on the flood lights and dance and boogie till sunrise. When they played top chart records, I could hear my mother’s voice behind the rest of the clatter and felt funny in my gut.
I moved far away from HAM at age nineteen, went to live on the farm with my uncle and his lover Dean. They had gotten too old to tend to their small orange field so they contacted my father and asked if it wouldn’t be too much trouble to send some help over. At that point father was too apathetic and had gained too much weight to be in any position to lend a hand himself, so he had the smart idea of plucking me out of school and sending my hand along to lend his poor brother. The TV’s had been flooded with some strange new programming in those months before I left, I remember all the kids were feeling how I was feeling. We wanted to get out of wherever we were; the farm would be a welcome change of scene. After what must have been around two weeks of intense farm work I was full of regret and my brain was all spent and my legs were near busted and the sickles had all rusted. Uncle and Dean were very considerate, for they seemed to have already accepted their own fate. The Arnold family farm gobbled up what was left of their orange stock and snatched up their land a heartbeat after they stopped showing up to marketplace. Seeing as that farm was just about everything Uncle and Dean had aside from each other, it starts to make some sense that the day after Arnold’s acquisition they decided to stick a pair of shotguns up their mouths. I was sick to my stomach over the whole ordeal and decided I wasn’t in any mindstate to go home; and, as much as I had started to miss Ma and Pa and Louie, the thing I missed most was dreaming about those airplanes flying. Louie’s old lady gave Yellow Hand Base up for demolition (From the good old grapevine I’ve heard it’s been since converted into an art gallery or something like that) and lastly I didn’t even know what HAM would be like if I came back around. It had been two years. Looking back doesn’t seem like a whole lot considering the hell I’ve gone through since; but to a young boy, two years reaping snatched away with no rewards felt like the worst fate a man could be given. I took what I could from Uncle and Dean’s place and slipped out quietly before anyone from Arnold’s found the place. Set out on a road that I thought would take me to NED Yolk but instead ended up about a hundred miles south in the city of Hillderbrandt. I had grown out a beard by the time I got into town, hated to look like that upon first contact. The morning coming into Hills was the first time I had seen a human who wasn’t looking over the wheel of a tin can in god knows how long. I could feel the age on my skin, and knew that things would be different when I struck real land. I just never imagined how different.
During my year on the streets and gutters of Hillderbrandt, I always dreamed of death. I dreamed about slipping away unnoticed by the masses, miles away from family, years away from loved ones. I was blending in with the dimness death even in harsh daylight. I wouldn’t have even put it past pedestrians to simply ignore my passing. My body would have most likely just been viewed as an accessory to the filthy back alleys; the working men and women need not even look. I dreamed these hilariously horrible dreams on the daily. But I never once dreamed that I, this lowly trash of a man, would be blessed by audience with the queen. It was at the point that my career as a vagrant had reached its nadir that I was contacted for to inform me of my visit with the queen in three months.
I hesitate to refer to those next three months as “short months” because we all know that a month is a month and no matter of eagerness or joyfulness can change the cycle of the moon. But I tell you, those months certainly sped by. Nearly the day after the Red Man attendant had shaken some sense into me on the roadside, I dreamed of something different. Even though I still lay in the dirt and shivered as the winter’s harsh jaw bite away at me, my dreams were no longer plagued. I had one particularly pleasant one that recurred quite often. It goes as such:
A soccer field near an old girlfriend’s house. Louie and I would often smoke a cigarette each and sip our sodas while we watched the older kids train for their tournaments or whatnot. The field’s once stadium-grade lights had all puttered out and so kids would climb atop the poles in admittedly dangerous displays of their acrobatic prowess. They would fill the burned out bulbs with bottles of homemade glowing jelly and leave them up there for maybe a week or so, just until they faded out and the ritual repeated itself. No parents were ever surprised when the headlines at breakfast told of local children turned into splats on the ground after attempting to better illuminate their drunken football matches. Eventually they weren’t even honored with headlines, just shoved to the third or fourth page inserts above the bicycle ads. Anyway, in the dream at hand, there were no children plummeting from those towering lampposts. In fact I was alone with Louie, and the field was only lit by moons. There were more trees than usual, and it was quieter than usual, and the buildings were bigger than usual, Louie dressed the usual. He looked very sexy in moonlight, and we were both cold and he wore a scarf and there was a creek that had started to crackle a ways away from the pitch. All of a sudden there was an airliner with a red tail landed in the midfield. It looked at once like it had been ripped from the black and white photos we always poured through, as well as from an image of childhood. Reminded me of the plane with the red tail that my father often described when recounting the fable of Home Sweet. I don’t know if the tail was his own added detail or part of history or part of myth or what. Louie and I climbed in through a series of complex hatches, we spent ages fumbling around under the belly looking for the right dos and don’ts. It was still dark but we both grinned gleefully. The interior, though dusted with healthy a coat of dust, kicked around with some hard kicking boots, still riled me up inside. I ran my hands along the torn stretches of velvet on the seats, and I didn’t care that this creature was a relic. It was romantic.
Louie had managed to pry open the door to the cockpit, colored lights were flipping and flopping around gaily under their own coat of dust. It was still too dim to make out any labels. I pulled a flashlight out of my opposite hand and batteries out of somewhere else. There was a spurt and a sputter, then a warm and gooey stream of golden gold poured out across the control panel. Louie was fascinated by all this stuff, and I was fascinated by him. He pulled out an instruction manual from some sort of glove box and collapsed into the captain’s chair. I sat in the seat behind him and adjusted my seat so we were level with each other. There was a green captain’s hat in my lap and, after a once over to get rid of the dusty film, I slapped that old thing onto Louie’s head. He ignored his head, eyes locked on the diagrams. I wandered back into the main cabin, took off my muddy boots and straightened my socks. The black cotton worked wonders on the cherry wood floorboards. I slide up and down the aisle, propelling myself along with the springy spring seat backs. I was maybe ten years old. Some five minutes had passed and I was still lost in my sliding, I had gotten a really good one going too. All the way from the back of the cabin, around the galley, to the main passenger seating area. I felt like an ice skater as I swerved and spun and then I stopped. By the time I had flung myself halfway up the fuselage, time had stopped and I was still. I whipped my head around to see what was the matter and my eyes were caught by the window to my left. I scurried into the seat closest to it and stared out. The moonlit field was rotating before my eyes. I felt it in my stomach and I thought I was going to be sick. I felt in my head and then my ears and I thought I was going brain explode myself. When I pried them open a moment later the field was gone and I could see moons ten times brighter, I could see clouds and birds and even bigger pelicans flying in place. Flying with us. I rolled out of my seat, wracked with astonishment, and sprinted into the captain’s cabin. Louie turned to me and beamed. I followed his finger, pointing straight ahead, and fainted. We were in clouds together.
Throughout current culture in America, and arguably all over the world, communication is constantly evolving, and so are the mediums we all choose to express ourselves. Instead of walking up to each other and establishing a connection, or explaining to each other why we like the things we do, we just read it, maybe in the 140 characters of a tweet, or the 150 characters of an Instagram bio. The information we choose to post or the media we share with our followers is our definition of ourselves, ‘This is what you see, and that is how I want you to see me.’ In other cultures names or titles define who people are, what relationships they will have, and can convey storybooks worth of information, with just a few syllables. For the purposes of this paper the culture that will be examined is that of Bengali individuals and their lives portrayed when immigrating to America in the book, The Namesake written by Jhumpa Lahiri.
The main character, Nikhil Gangoli spends the entire book agonizing over his name, torn between his inherited Bengali culture, and his born to America lifestyle he spends all his time letting his name define him. He thinks people don’t take him seriously because of his name, originally Gogol, when he finds out, or rather as the reader you find out the only person not taking him seriously, or constantly doubting every move he makes, is himself.
“He is afraid to be Nikhil, someone he doesn't know. Who doesn't know him...It's a part of growing up, they tell him, of being a Bengali.” (Chapter 3 Paragraph 13) This quote taken from The Namesake is from Gogol’s early youth, when he gets renamed from his pet name, Gogol. Originally he is not fond of this name, because it is unfamiliar and uncomfortable for him to change what everyone calls him, his life title. So as a young boy, he chooses to stay Gogol, which later on he regrets, thinking his pet name is stupid, and changes it back to Nikhil. This back and forth struggle over, what people will call him, how people will view him, and the struggle of defining himself through a title that, at the end of the day doesn’t matter is the biggest theme of the book, and for many throughout their entire lives.
Through the way media has evolved, to include every part of our lives, people no longer know what it is to define one’s self, everyone simplifies and belittles what and who they are, to be interesting at a glance. This makes everything less meaningful, when people throughout the world should be able to just embrace their complexities. In a recent podcast titled, Finding the Self in Selfie (This American Life, 2015) a few teenage girls were talking about their experiences and familiarity with the rules of interacting on Instagram, and what it means to comment or double tap.
“Especially because we, like just started High school, so we’re meeting a lot of new people, so you would comment on someone’s photo who you’re not really super close with or that you don’t know really well, and it's sort of a statement, like, ‘I wanna be friends with you’ or ‘I wanna get to know you’ or like, ‘I think you’re cool’. If someone that you don’t know very well commented on your photo, it's sort of like an unspoken agreement that you have to comment back on their photo. Like when you’re making new friends, if they comment on your photo, you comment on their photo.”
Almost to say that the way to meet new people and force friendships is through your online persona, how you present, or even more to the point, sell yourself. Later in the interview the incoming freshman girls admit, that the way you present yourself online, is almost like you’re marketing yourself, like you are the product, manager, and the marketing team, trying to keep people interested and concerned with knowing about you and your life. Squeezing anything cool or notable about yourself into an Instagram bio, or caption, and sticking a filter on a group picture of your friends having “Tons of fun!” being the only thing keeping us, in this generation current. And beyond that, people making friends and even romantic partners or hookups in the private message sections, or DMs of Instagram.
“...I tell her, don't you hate when you get screenshot, Bitch that DM wasn't for everybody, I love tha gram I love tha gram, I'm addicted to it I know I am...” A piece of a very popular rap right now, brought to us by Yo Gotti, who may not be a credible source at first glance, but as a voice for the young of this generation, and the behavior now known as normal, very trustworthy. People being debased to a steady photostream on their phones. This is being highly studied all over the world, and the impact of the internet in general on the mass public has been scrutinized by many since the mid 90’s, but the most powerful words, come from an actress, a media personality, and someone you think would be completely uninvolved in public speaking, Thandie Newton, who in her thirteen minute TED Talk addressed embracing self, and otherness.
“We each have a self, but I don’t think that we’re born with one...The fundamental state of ‘oneness’ is lost on us very quickly...it’s no longer valid, or real...” This transition from having a fundamental sense of ‘oneness’ to being completely withdrawn from everything comes quickly, almost without warning. Unfortunately though, most young adults choose to isolate themselves into different internet profiles in an attempt to recreate that oneness through a self-constructed image that in truth can never fully capture their entire presence. That being said, this trend will likely never end, but the self imposed need to sell ourselves on our media will hopefully be less impending through the different voices pointing out this almost self destructive behavior.
Ghosts in the Machine, NY Times
Quotes from The Namesake
Thandie Newton: Embracing otherness, embracing myself. (TED Talk)
This American Life: Status Update
Yo Gotti, Down in the DM
With the Super Bowl fast approaching it is time to reflect on the football season that has seemingly once again been whisked quickly in and out of our lives. Football is a sport that has a large and passionate fan base, but with passion can also come struggle.
While entertaining and meaningful to many, sports can have an impact other than fun. Sports can also distract people from their lives and duties. Students in particular can see their work suffer due to sports.
People dedicate much of their time to sports, sometimes even whole days. One high school student from Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia, senior William Derry, certainly feels the impact of sports on his life.
“On a Sunday I’ll wake up around eight or nine, I’ll watch countdown from about ten to twelve and I’m not going to do work during those times. I’m going to prepare for the game, you know when I was younger I used to go out to get pizza or maybe we’ll throw around the football before the game starts,” Derry said.
“So we’re talking my entire Sunday, besides going to church from maybe eleven to one, is dedicated to watching football. So I would say my Sundays [are] taken over by football.”
William Derry is certainly not alone. The rise in fantasy football, in particular, has caused an even greater impact on workers and students. In fact, in 2015 an estimated sixteen billion dollars were lost to companies due to inefficient working hours as a result of time spent of fantasy sports. This is according to a study done by Challenger, Gray & Christmas.
Micah Henry is also a senior at Science Leadership Academy (SLA). Henry is an avid fan of fantasy sports and not only lets them affect his work, but also his mood.
“You know I had these benchmarks due and like, I don’t know, fantasy football, I lost on Monday night because like you know [Carolina Panthers tight end] Greg Olsen got this touchdown,” Henry said.
“Messed up my whole week because I was winning on Sunday night and on Monday night I lost. I didn’t do any homework because I was watching football all night, so I went to bed late.”
While not everyone is affected directly by sports, other can be affected due to their relations with people who become obsessed. Parents need to continually remind their kids to focus their work and often become responsible for the success of their children in this respect.
Meanwhile students often see their friends fall prey to the addiction of football. Joseff Fillamor is a senior at SLA who does not follow or even enjoy traditional sports. However, his friends become obsessed.
“Yeah, I don’t really watch football that much, but whenever I wanna chill with my friends or something they just wanna watch football instead of going out and doing something. Like whenever I wanna go up to the park to skate they’ll just be like ‘uh yeah I’m watching football tonight, it’s sunday’ and I’m just like damn” Fillamor said.
The lesson to be learned here is not that football can cause a toxic environment or that you should quit watching altogether. The lesson is that football, like all things, needs to be taken in moderation. It is when you let it run your life that you can get in trouble.
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