There’s no easier way to experience time travel than to listen to music. I mean, what else can recreate memories so vividly that you feel that indescribable combination of nostalgia and joy? Who needs Stephen Hawking and Neil DeGrasse Tyson when you have Kurt Cobain and Robert Plant?

Defining what was my first album is kind of tricky. In the fifth grade, I bought (and listened to many times) a Rolling Stones greatest hits album called Hot Rocks, which I eventually gave to my dad as a Father’s Day present. Yet, I don’t consider this to be my first album; it was something I knew he wanted, so it served as a gently-used gift. My guitar teacher from when I lived in Boston suggested it to me, so I didn’t really pick it.

My actual first album was Nevermind, by Nirvana. My parents, my cousin Matt (who is my age), and I were in a record store in Berkeley, CA. In an attempt to not seem entirely clueless, I decided to buy a CD that had a recognizable cover. (I mean, who hasn’t seen the picture the baby with the penis in the swimming pool?) Feeling badass as I left the Telegraph Avenue shop, my dad took me back down to reality, asking me, “What’s your favorite song from that album?” while the CD was, conveniently, in the shopping bag my mom was holding. I stammered a bit, and he, picking up on what had just happened, changed the subject, pointing out the man urinating in the alleyway to our right. (Confession: this isn’t true; the homeless guy peeing was in San Francisco the following night.) A few days later, as we drove to Yosemite, we played the album in the car.

Five years later, having purchased multiple other Nirvana albums and visited their museum exhibit in Seattle, I can proudly call myself a fan. If you don’t agree that Nevermind was one of the greatest rock albums of all time, then we’re gonna have to take this outside then you simply haven’t listened closely enough. The passion — the strange, ugly beauty — is indescribable. If you want a quick taste of Nirvana’s best, listen to this cover of a famous blues song titled Where Did You Sleep Last Night (approx. 4 min. long). Cobain’s pain and expression in this song is what makes this, to me, the most haunting piece of music I know. I hope you enjoy it, too.

A couple minutes ago, as I brought up this memory with my parents, my dad suggested that I look up a particularly dark song by Lou Reed, titled “Heroin”. My mom promptly left the room. Apparently, my dad used to listen to the album that contained that track in the car, but my mom wouldn’t let him play it when I was in the car as a baby. I guess you can see who I take after more when it comes to taste in music.

An Analysis of a Curve That Seems to Resemble the Distribution of AP Chemistry Test Scores More Than an Ideal Measure of Wealth for Americans of Various Socioeconomic Deciles

That title sounds more like an Abstract for a research grant than a blog post… deal with it.

Fairness: an idea so commonplace, so basic, that we teach it to our children before they can even read or write. Sharing, equality, and fairness extend far beyond the Kindergarten classroom… or so we hope. In reality, most Americans face disadvantage in some form or another, hence making relevant the study of the “average American”. But who is this average American? We know that they have exactly 1.9 children, for instance, but how much money do they earn in a year? And what type of average are we discussing, anyway: a median? an arithmetic mean? More importantly, how does the median American income compare to the mean? That’s what this video (link here) is touching on: the fairness of the distribution of wealth in the United States.

Clearly, there is no better way to frame an economic discussion than to employ statistics. Drawing from reliable sources, such as Mother Jones and CNN, eye-opening data is presented with a guarantee of trust and credibility. Though the video is, overall, successful in presenting the topic neutrally, opinionated language does occur, such as describing the current distribution of American wealth as being “skewed unfairly”. While I may personally agree with this view, an argument can be made for some of the wealthiest Americans having earned each one of their dollars through hard work, ingenuity, careful planning, and wise risk-taking. However, the crux of this argument — that there must be a better way to distribute (explicitly not through government redistribution) the wealth of the American people — leans more heavily on our innate human sense of fairness than mere numbers. When shown the difference between the perceived ideal and perceived actual distribution of wealth, we are reminded of our pre-conceived notions of labor equity, taxation, and social mobility. Somewhat sarcastically, the narrator points out that even our perceived actual distribution of wealth allows for the top 10% to be making a mere “100 times that of the poorest Americans”. The following presentation of the actual distribution of wealth in the US shocks the viewer with the graph’s skew toward the ultra-wealthy. Likewise, the narrator’s argument plays on the audience’s pity, by showing that, under the current system, the vast majority of Americans have less money than they think others in their socioeconomic group should. As most people know, living in poverty is extremely difficult; if we were to implement the “ideal distribution”, virtually no one would live below the poverty line. Additionally, visual effects impact the viewer, such as representing wealth with bundles of money, and using blue to represent the poor (a color often associated with sadness and strife) while using red (associated with evil and malice) to represent the wealthy.  Lastly, the argument is appealing because it does not force an opinion down the viewer’s throat. Instead, facts are presented in a specific order that leads one toward a certain conclusion. In summary, the narrator, after building his credibility, plays on the viewer’s sense of fairness and pity, and juxtaposes different statistics in order to argue that the distribution of wealth in the United States needs to change.

Though I have spent considerable time discovering my own views about economic policy, I can see how this video would help one develop a sense of right and wrong regarding the distribution of wealth. Despite not reaching a new opinion on the issue, I took in new, interesting facts that I will factor (pun intended) into my own beliefs.

After watching this video, it is easy to see what inspired F. Scott Fitzgerald to write The Great Gatsby. Seeing the ultra-wealthy’s incredible disconnect from the financial struggles of regular Americans, the reader must realize that the rich lead fundamentally different lives than the rest of us: money is more of a source of social power than a means of acquiring material power. The elite are given no incentive to relinquish their wealth, and they exploit the system, thus perpetuating, if not expanding, the inequality of wealth distribution.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, the ultra-poor, like the Joads, live in abject poverty. Seeing no hospitality or positive government intervention until late in the novel, they are at the mercy of the greedy economic system that displaced them initially. The Grapes of Wrath comments on the disenfranchisement of the poor, and their social subjugation; likewise, the video points out that the wealthiest fraction of Americans control the vast majority of the US stock market, while the lower half owns less than a percent. I am curious as to how the distribution of wealth in the 1920s and 1930s compares to today’s, and to what extent we can apply these novels to our current situation. Obviously, the struggle of the poor and the cluelessness/greed of the upper echelon persists. Will we, as a society, embrace the sentiment of The Grapes of Wrath in its call for socialism, or shall any change in public opinion or outlook remain just that — an opinion?

Whew. That’s enough rhetorical questions for now. My brain hurts. I think I’ll walk from my full-size bed in my personal bedroom, across my remodeled kitchen, and take a dose of industrially-produced, brand-name Aspirin. That should help my headache.

I believe that it is crucial for those like me, who have much more wealth than the average American, let alone human, to recognize their privilege. In the 1970s and 1980s, my parents rose from poverty to PhD, through their grit and determination. Even they, coming from poorer backgrounds, acknowledge the ways society took mercy on them: for example, they did not have to fear racial or sexual orientation(al?) discrimination, or going bankrupt for not being able to pay for medical expenses. Teenagers, especially, need to take a step back and consider their immense blessings, whether they feel #blessed or not. Unless you are “a black lesbian dwarf with Down syndrome who’s in a wheelchair” (Please read this brief, yet fabulous op-ed by the creators of Key and Peele), you have a significant advantage of some sort, whether is is economic, psychological, physical, or social.

if you’re me

If you’re me, you remember how it used to be so easy to pretend that you weren’t human. Not that you’re superhuman (though that would be dope — if I could have a superpower, it would be Invisibility), but that, in the words of J.Cole, “I don’t mind ’cause I don’t matter”. You were so good at ignoring emotions, since they obviously were just neurological relics of earlier humans. You lived that I-don’t-give-a-damn-what-you-think-about-me mentality so well that you almost fooled yourself.

And, if you’re me, you will clearly recall the times you wish you could, just, go back in time, like how I want to go back and restart and re-word this sentence. (Of course, I could backspace, but that would defeat the point.) (I take back what I said earlier: Time Travel would be my superpower.) Not that you would have said anything different, but that you would have considered that, in the words of my wise grandfather, “the Junior knoweth not that he knoweth”. You, despite not being Christian, took this extension of Corinthians 8:2 to heart, and became some level of aware of your blindness, and your capacity to right the future, even if the past is unalterable.

If you are me (aside: ‘Me, I’m talking to you!’), then you can recognize when you’re in the wrong. Not that you necessarily can trace how you got there, but that, at some point, in the words of Black Dynamite, “You done fucked up!” You would, if you knew how, muster the strength to apologize to each and every person you’ve wronged on any level, and do whatever you could to do right by them.

On the off chance that you are me, and you can time travel, go back. Don’t do anything differently, however. Just pay more attention to other people than yourself. Don’t dwell too much, though; one cannot be led by a shadow. Move forward. Think positive. You’re getting better each day, whether you know it or not.

It’s Funny

It’s funny how your perceptions change with age. Do you remember your last visit to your elementary school? How small the chairs were? The tiny toilets? How that chair-rail on the wall used to be at eye level?

Do you remember your last visit to your grandparents’ house? How you used to slide down the stairs head-first and not fear crashing through the window at the base (because you wouldn’t build up enough momentum back then, and if not for this, you would still be doing it)? The sensation of all the body warmth trapped in the tiny living room? That final goodnight? That nervous goodbye?

It’s funny how your eyes are drawn to different things as you grow older. The stucco walls no longer catch your attention. The pit in the cafeteria is more like a divot the floor of a whitewashed cave. Those fancy Papermate mechanical pencils don’t looks so special anymore.

Do you remember when marching band used to be fun? When it wasn’t a rearrangement of the same already-experienced experiences? How tests used to scare you? How getting tests back used to scare you? How you used to try to come up with a coherent response to the plaguing question “Where are you going to go to college”?

It’s funny how you stop using that diary app when times are good, so that when you look back, and read all those negative combinations of words, and remember how lost you sometimes felt, and how you didn’t feel like you had anyone you could really trust anymore, when in reality you had a dozen just waiting for you to initiate a friendship, you doubt your sanity just a little bit. It’s funny how reluctant you are to let go of failing friendships when you doubt your ability to forge new ones.

Do you remember the last best friend you made? How you used to cry from laughing so hard? How you used to smile those finally-someone-understands-me smiles? How your adventures used to seem special, 1/1 for both of you, and not 1/100 for them? How you still felt that connection that best friends have, and didn’t have doubts about your importance to them? Because if you really do matter that much, why is it so $#@*&^ hard to even make plans?

It’s funny how hard it is to be happy when looking in the mirror. How losing 20 pounds isn’t enough, and minutely changing hairstyles, or getting new glasses, becomes so irrelevant so quickly. How all the clothes look the same and give off the image of a different person.

Do you remember the last audition that you left feeling satisfied? How first chair used to matter, or region band used to be some moderate sort of honor? How it felt before that one !$@*^@# audition changed everything?

It’s funny how you can dedicate months toward learning three pieces of music, countless lessons and hours, and moments of pure stress and confusion, and still come out broke on the other side. How failing means missing All-State by two chairs, and that all the pressure came from yourself.

Do you remember the last time you knew where you stood with your friends? How you used to have a group of people you could trust and confide in? How, even if you fussed, you knew they had your back?

It’s funny how easy it is to want to throw in the towel. To just give in/up/not a damn about what happens. The nihilism sets in, and then the vague depression — in that the whole %$*&# deal seems pointless –, and then, out of nowhere, something happens. Anything, really. A dog dies. A friend is made. A test is 100’d (since getting an A is not enough). And you snap out of it.

Do you remember the last day that you didn’t want to take back something you said? (Of course not.) Or when you made it a full 24 hours without… I don’t even know what I’m saying anymore.

I think I just got something off my chest, somewhere in there… honestly I’m not sure.

This Semester in English Class, I Learned That the 1920s Were Actually the Worst Decade Ever.

After reading such a dense, cryptic poem, I feel shallow in noting that the imagery of the first section reminds me of the Scarecrow from “The Wizard of Oz”.  (“We are the stuffed men/ Leaning together/ Headpiece stuffed with straw, alas.”) I picture a scarecrow standing alone out in a brownish-grey field, being pecked at by birds and leaking hay onto the sun-scorched ground.Honestly, though, this is a reasonable connection: since the Scarecrow from “The Wizard of Oz” desires a brain (meaning intelligence to complement his willingness to contribute new ideas and speak out), he parallels the ‘hollow men’ from the poem. The hollow men lack the strength to stand up to the crumbling world around them, perhaps because they enjoy participating in its decay.

Immersing myself in the intricacies of the poem, I think of a wealthy man having a nightmare (in his bed… in his mansion… in West Egg), in which he is stranded in a desert — perhaps Nevada — with no water, struggling to find his way back to civilization… or at least a pond of some sort. He, in his deluded state, makes out a figure on the horizon, which seems rather human in silhouette. Recognizing that it is not a mirage, he approaches it, as they approach him, and they collapse in exhaustion around a cactus, struggling to find the words to The Lord’s Prayer as they lay crumpled, parched, repenting their sins.

In comparing this poem to the overall message of The Great Gatsby (which ties into this poem preeeeeeety well… 500 bonus points to Mr. Williams), one can easily see that the desert from “The Hollow Men” sounds a lot like the valley of ashes. Mankind, embracing its carefree consumerism and shallow desires, has cast aside “big-picture” concerns, such as the physical environment, or ethics in general. Both works evoke a sense of decay and misplaced priorities. However, “The Hollow Men” seems to focus more on the failures of a generation of people, while Gatsby criticizes a segment of society — the ultra-wealthy — as a whole.

Perhaps, if I had to (and I have to, since it’s in the prompt… (my train of thought tends to get pretty self-aware, I’ve noticed)), I could liken the green light on Daisy’s dock to the “voices in the [wind] singing/ More distant and more solemn/ Than a fading star.” Both convey a sense of fading possibility, longing, and yet, hope. The voices in “The Hollow Men” are calling the men to do what is right, what they had done before the current (1920’s) time of moral decay. The men know they need to find their purity once again, but they do not know how. Likewise, Jay Gatsby knows he needs to have Daisy in his life, but, early in the novel, he cannot seem to get a hold of her.

Both of these works seem to reflect major changes in society, from traditional values to modern ideas of happiness, right, and wrong. It would be silly to say that the 1920’s were the only such instance; however, with so much great literature from the era available, we, the current generation, must learn how to approach the coming changes in our society.