Rant #2– Rap

Listen to Stereo Hearts by Gym Class Heroes. Listen to the first few piano chords. And how they are played. How with every strike of the chord comes a strike of the heart. How each strike sends thrills down my spine. Then the voice of the rapper. Rapping to the beat. The voice, it crackles, like fire, and it warms me. But the beat is also moving me; I’m bobbing my head up and down. Then Adam Levine’s voice, perfect, pristine, but moving. The tune brings me on a roller coaster. It’s not speaking to my intellect, it’s speaking to something deeper. It’s speaking to more than my emotions, it’s speaking to more than my feelings, it’s speaking to my being. To me. To my very existence.

That’s what I feel when I hear music. It’s alive. People think rap is some random cussing and swearing, but no, it’s poetry, but with a beat. People think pop is just some mainstream shit with no value. But no, it’s an art, that gives out a message, no matter how stupid it may seem. I do admit, a lot of people take music for granted. I asked many people why they like “Monster” by Eminem and they say, oh, it sounds cool. It’s as if people nowadays listen to music for some immediate gratification of some sort, and that’s all. Yet, they miss out on what the song is really about– it’s more than just sounding great, it’s about conveying the emotions of a person with hallucinations and suffering from mental illnesses. There’s an inner beast he’s trying to deal with, that he has to compromise with. That itself is what gives value to music.

Before, though, I only listened to music for the pure superficiality of it. I listened to classical because it simply made  me jump up and down, or mainstream pop because it was cool. I saw music as simply music. Just a nice treat for the ears. I remember just listening to “Call Me Maybe” over and over and over, because it simply was, well, awesome-sounding. All that changed, though, with my depression. I started ranting often, about I hated myself, about why this world was so messed up, but then maybe I was messed up for thinking the world was messed up, then ended up cursing at myself, and it went like that over and over in my head. Rant, rant, rant, it was all I did.

Then one of my other depressed friends re-introduced me to Eminem. I had listened to Eminem before and I hated it; it didn’t sound great like Bruno Mars or Kelly Clarkson. It had a rock-genre, harsh, feeling to it, and because it didn’t sound great, I immediately dismissed it. But when I listened to it again, I was shocked. It was just like my ranting, and the message behind his songs I began to see for the first time. They weren’t stupid dilly-dally love bs like “Call Me Maybe,” but dark, melancholy messages that resonated deeply with me in my depression.

Eminem

One of the first songs I heard from Eminem is “When I’m Gone”. It starts off with a ringy tone, with children laughing in the background, kinda innocent. Then it goes straight into a heavy, dark beat, as if all that died. Starts off with about a dad, how he loves her girl so much, but yet, he ignores her, tells her girl “Sorry, daddy’s busy.” Then the dad is suddenly on a stage, and he’s rapping, and he’s getting praise, then he suddenly sees his girl, his girl is like “Daddy, its me, help mommy, her wrists are bleedin’,But baby we’re in Sweden How did you get to Sweden?
“I followed you daddy/You told me that you weren’t leavin’/You lied to me dad, and now you made mommy sad.” Then the girl ditches the dad, and then the dad realizes he’s a bitch, and then he gets sad, then then my favorite image: “How could it be, that the curtain is closin’ on me/I turn around, find a gun on the ground/Cock it, put it to my brain, scream Die Shady! And pop it/The sky darkens, my life flashes/The plane that I was supposed to be on, crashes, and burns to ashes.” And after he dies, he then sees his daughter, and kisses her, and tell he’s sorry.

Not just the storyline itself but the way Eminem raps reinforces this feeling of sadness that I felt, the way the world was being torn apart around me, and I had made the biggest mistake of my life, and that it was too late to change anything. And then the way he raps the chorus– it’s like a sweet motherly tone, saying, it’s ok, go die, don’t feel sad, because I’m still happy.

But I’m getting off track (I’m writing this in Starbucks so it’s hard to focus). The point is, I want to be a rapper. Or a singer. People think I’m joking, they say, face the facts, you ain’t black, you can’t rap. But I will one day. Because nothing, not even the fact that I sing and rap horribly now, will stop me from reaching that goal. To me, music is another way for my words to come alive and take shape. It’s a way for me to cope with my feelings. I’ve written a lot of rap lyrics already, but one day, after I take some vocal and rapping lessons, I’m gonna start rapping those lyrics and topping the charts.

Ok, I’m probably dreaming too much again. But when I dream my dreams, a fire forms within, fueling, consuming, perspiring, bleeding like the ink from a pen. and I watch it bleed onto blank white paper, but the words that it bleeds reach the heights of skyscrapers. And I’ll climb that skyscraper and be at the top, and say, hey y’all, those who said I couldn’t do it,just fucking stop. and look at me, I’m up here, I rapped my way from the bottom, and now I’m in the air. this is my fucking kingdom.

 

The Real Reason Behind Low Voter Turnout

Recently, politicians across America have been yelling out a crisis– the lack of voter turnout, especially among the younger generation. As each year passes, the percentage of citizens who vote seems to be decreasing and decreasing. In March 2015, the voter turnout for Los Angeles’s municipal elections was only a dismal 8.6%. This is especially troubling for a democracy.

Politicians and analysts point out to various sources to blame. Some blame the bickering partisanship of politics that turn people off. Others say that voters don’t feel their votes have an effect. Many simply say the younger generation is simply lazy. All of this may be true, but lack of voter enthusiasm  isn’t the problem. It is simply a result of a bigger crisis our nation should be yelling– we, especially the youth, are not represented.

Just compare Congress to the general population. Women are 50.8% of the population; they make up only around 20% of Congress. Seventeen percent of the population is Latino; only 7% of Congress is Latino. These among many other discrepancies show under-representation, not representation, in the US.

Courtesy to www.newsnshit.com

Left: What Congress Is Today; Right: If Congress accurately reflected the US population. Notice the big discrepancies. Creds to http://www.newsnshit.com.

As a result, why would my friend, an Asian-American teenager, want to take his concerns around an organization of mostly white males? Most wouldn’t. Why would women even want to vote, if all decisions regarding women such as abortion are going to be decided by an 80% male Congress? More relevant, why would teens and adolescents follow politics and vote if a majority of their issues are being voted by predominantly older legislators?

I’d like to point out a startling statistic I just read from the LA Times: funding for schools have been cut so drastically that even for school meals, there isn’t enough funding– only 16 cents for each lunch and 27 cents for each breakfast is spent. Why such measures? Don’t they recognize the importance of good meals? Yes, they do, but since students under college can’t vote, no they don’t. Essentially, most politicians don’t accurately represent for the sake of representing; they only do so to garner the votes. If minors were given the right to vote, watch how much more the government would fund school meals.

jeremy lin 300 The real reason behind low voter turnout

Jeremy Lin. Creds to People Magazine.

So, how does one solve this issue of low voter turnout? The key to increasing enthusiasm can be found in Linsanity. Personally, I never followed the National Basketball Association (NBA) games. To me, they were games relegated to mostly African-American/ white gods such as Kobe Bryant or Michael Jordan. Basketball never turned my head, until I heard about Linsanity. That a young Asian American from California, just like me, was making headlines in basketball got me watching. It got me and other previously disinterested Asian-Americans (and Asians) all stuck up into the NBA. It was because we Asians saw ourselves up there, embodied by Jeremy Lin. As a result, even though Lin is now not faring well, I still follow NBA games.

This notion holds true with voting. Black voter turnout increased tremendously with the running of Barack Obama in the 2008 and 2012 elections. Similarly, if the government has a more accurate representation across racial, gender, and cultural lines, there will be much more interest in voting and politics. The key, though, is not that this will increase voter turnout. What matters is that it will reflect the democratic republic that our Founding Fathers envisioned– where the government truly represents the people.

The Girl With The Voice

She was there, Sitting, Looking down,
Her hair flowing across her face,
She sees me sit down in front of her,
She looks up, Smiles
Holds out her beautiful baby hands,
Offers me a black tie between the tips of her fairy fingers,
I handed her a shiny quarter,
My sense sacrificed,
And I bite into the apple, its juices streaming down my chin.

And she spoke words that
Slithered their reflective skin
Around my ears
Like a cool breeze in the middle of a summer day
But soft, warm, and mellow,
Breathing the air into my lungs,
Clear crystalline water fills my chest.

And that voice
Is dripping with honey,
Melding with sweet warm milk,
Into a river of milk and honey
That leads me into the land of Canaan.
And my boat capsizes,
And I drown in this beautiful liquid of sugar and warmth.

And I wash ashore
Onto her smile, Into a garden of daisies
Under the warm shining sun,
So I pluck the most beautiful of them all
And I hold it close up to my nose
And I breathe….

Her aroma lures me in,
Her body telling how she loves me,
Her sound, seductive, beckoning me to come
The hole in the earth opened up once again
And the gold revealed I fell.

But…. you know what she did to me? You know what happened? What, she, she did to me?
She took me, got a knife,
Carved my breast out, and my heart,
My aching heart, exposed, vulnerable, threatened,
And she gouged it
Like a man gouging his eyeballs out because he’s too afraid
Too afraid to see the truth
That maybe, all he did , the kingdom he inherited,
The wife he married, the children he bore,
Was a lie.
A freaking lie, so I
Too scared, crushed my own heart.
So she couldn’t.

Suicide is the only form of relief when it comes to love.

But everytime I look back at her
She seems to get farther and farther.
As if a dream is slowly floating away
And I can only admire….

That Kid

I remember walking home from school one day, and I saw this kid. A kid– not a typical high school teenager walking with swag and backpack on, but a different type of teenager. He was shuffling, to God knows where, with glasses all the way down to the tip of his nose, with his humongous backpack hanging from one arm. Just shuffling like a penguin. And as he shuffled past me, my eyes followed him.

As my eyes followed him, I thought. What if I were him? What if I had that same ignorance of how people viewed me as weird and different? Wouldn’t I be free? Wouldn’t I be unrestrained by the chains of society? So I looked on as he shuffled with a mix of admiration and envy.

But then I remembered. I remembered how when I was little, I was weird, hyper, and uncaring. I remember that kid, when he first went into that restroom, how he pulled down his pants all the way to his shoes at the urinal, and how all the little classmate boys would laugh at him. And he would stare at them with questioning eyes and wonder what was wrong. And when he saw what the other big boys were doing, he copied them, but he never felt no shame for what he did.

That kid, who would always joke around in class, even during the tests. The more the teacher said hush, the louder he talked and the funnier he joked. All to impress a girl next to him. I can’t believe I was already falling for girls since kindergarten.

That kid, who thought everybody laughed with him, but in reality they laughed at him. That he was the class clown. But he never knew. He thought, why, the whole school is my friend! That kid, who wet his pants in kindergarten, first, and second grade, three years in a row. The weird kid who pees his own pants. But he never thought his friend would think him no wrong. That kid, just a Charlie. Even the teacher suggested to his parents he go to special ed.

But like Charlie, he matured. It was just a late maturity. And he realized that it’s a cruel world out there. That all his friends weren’t real friends. His innocent outlook at life gave way to a mistrust. The fact is, people are two-faced. One day he’s your best buddy; the next day he’s gonna backstab you.

But like what? This guy was just in 2nd grade. He didn’t care much; all he wanted to do was play and have fun.

Fast forward to middle school, and you know what I see? A suddenly transformed student, working hard on all his classwork, acing all his tests, making a name for himself. No more class clown. This kid’s a genius, they all say. The top of the top. Dam, he’s got potential, he’s got future. And the kid bought into it, and he smiled. Outside, he didn’t say much, but inside, he was bathing in praise.

But in return for that praise he got no friends. Except for one. He was a golfer, and he was in the grade higher. And everyday after school, that kid would meet with him in an underground classroom and all alone, just the two of them, would philosophize. About chess, math, life, speech, everything there was to know. It was Plato and Aristotle once again, in the streets of Greece, singing hymns of wisdom to each other. And it was in these hymns that the little kid started thinking ever more ferociously and ever more actively.

From that thinking, the kid gained an outlook on life– that the meaning of life was to pursue intellectual wisdom. So he climbed that ladder, and up and up he went, and right when he was about to reach the top, he realized he was a fool the whole time. And his hands slipped, and he fell all the way down.

To a hole. A hole in his heart.  I see a kid, sitting there, near a dumpster late during the day, eating his own sandwich, just staring at the trash around him. Sometimes, it rained, and if so, he would look up at the rain and feel it meander down his own face like the blood from his heart. And he’d watch how the sun was covered up by those dark, gray clouds. But no matter. In his eyes, the sun was gray, too.

I see a human being drowning in the water of his own mind, in a sea of alcohol he was drunk on. I see a kid, walking alone in the dark, the passing cars shining their lights on him and then disappearing, and how the kid looked up at the sky for stars. But there were no stars.

I see the kid, trying out for track team. He sees all his teammates jump high, lift weights, throw heavy balls, sprint, do anything. And all the kid can do is just stare. He can’t even lift the bar. He can’t even throw the ball. He can’t jump shit. He can’t do nothing. Pathetic. Hopeless.

And that kid was dying. He was succumbing to this cancer inside, that was feeding itself over and over and over. And the only ailment he found was the pen.

And so I looked at the shuffling kid, shuffling across the traffic light. And that kid got run over by a car. Maybe I dream, but I know it’s truth. Cuz I saw that bloodied body somewhere, arms torn up, legs cut off, brain smashed, heart gone. Yes, I’ve met that kid somewhere. I’ve met that kid.

Don’t Forget The Males

“I am a strong, independent woman,” she would tell me. “Be strong, independent women,” my English teachers would constantly say. A strong, independent woman. Society promotes, applauds, and praises such an image. Don’t get me wrong—I praise it too. Yet, along the line, as a male, I feel somewhat lost—I have never heard any encouraging statement regarding males ever. Although women’s rights are major stepping stones towards gender equality, gender equality is two-way—you cannot leave men out of the equation, something society is doing often.

The main reason behind why men’s equality isn’t focused upon often is the false notion that males already have it good. We males already have the resources. We males are already naturally supported by the work environment. We males can readily adapt because the status quo favors us. We males don’t have to worry as much because things will go our way.

False. False. False. False.

The last time I remembered, my high school classroom had perhaps more girls than guys. They were learning the same things as I was and had the same teachers as I had. I don’t remember receiving special VIP treatment just because I was a male. If anything, women have more resources, because there are always those pro-feminism organizations that offer scholarships and programs to females. Where are those pro-masculinity groups? Oh wait, society calls them sexist because it’s male-only, so they can’t exist. I guess somehow female-only is not sexist at all.

Trends are as well showing how more and more women are receiving college diplomas than men. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women are now 33% more likely than men to earn college degrees. As a result, there has been a correlation where women are gaining jobs and men are losing them. Two years since the recession, according to USA Today, men lost 74% of jobs while women only lost 26% of jobs. This is great news for women, and as a person who loves gender equality, I support this. However, once again, men don’t have it as good as society thinks.

Of course, women are behind in many areas, such as domestic abuse. Even in those cases, though, women get much coverage from the media, and society is actively improving the situation for women, as seen with the many anti-domestic abuse bills passed in the government. Yet, what happened to those cases where men are abused? Society often dismisses it as impossible or ridiculous, yet it is not impossible. There are as many as 10,000 cases in the United Kingdom, for instance, where men suffer the abuse. Yet, no coverage. For a man to be abused is simply not “manly” enough and deserves no special attention.

That leads into the most false notion– that we are adaptable because the status quo favors us. If anything, the male stereotype is perhaps the most rigid stereotype of all—the status quo lashes against men if they ever step outside of the stereotype. For instance, one would think that Brent Kroeger, a person who aspired to be a stay-at-home dad, is adaptable—he’s a male transitioning into female roles. One would think that a pro-gender equality society would support this—no. He has to avoid mentioning about it everyday, because of the nasty comments he receives and because “I don’t want other men to look at me like less of a man,” said Kroeger. Same goes with male nurses or male preschool teachers. While society is relentlessly promoting females to transition into male roles such as scientists and lawyers, there is a disturbing lack, if not criticism, of males moving into female roles. That is not gender equality—far from it.

Personally, I feel this rigidness. As a male, I am expected to be macho, buff, and courageous. Sometimes, though, I do get cowardly, such as when I shrink back from confessing to a girl I like. What do my male friends do? Do they support me? No. They relentlessly tease me, criticizing my lack of courage, that I wasn’t masculine enough. As University of Illinois sociology professor Barbara Risman said, “Boys make fun of other boys if they step just a little outside [the stereotype].” If girls are even called cute when they are shy, why can’t I be shy then too? As stupid as this sounds, my cowardliness or “feminine” side should be tolerated if this were a true gender-equality society.

I know many girls who dress up like boys, and there is a sense of pride in it. A boy wearing a tutu? He must be mentally flawed. It’s perfectly fine if a girl runs around crazy and dirty with a ball in her hand. A boy playing with dolls and knitting? He must be mentally flawed.

If anything, society is flawed when it comes to gender equality. Although there are still setbacks for women, there are perhaps even more setbacks for men when it comes to breaking traditional gender roles. True gender equality will require society to be equally supportive of males transitioning into female roles as it is now with females into male roles. We are far from that, but if society takes action now, it is never too late.

Israel’s Disgrace

Instead of blogging something new, I decided to share this Times article by Joe Klein, which perfectly describes my exact feelings on today’s nation of Israel.

A few years ago, I drove from Jerusalem to the West Bank, to the city of Bethlehem, to have dinner with TIME’s Palestinian stringer, the late Jamil Hamad. He was a gentle and sophisticated man, soft-spoken, and levelheaded when it came to politics. After dinner, I drove back to Jerusalem and had to pass through the bleak, forbidding security wall. An Israeli soldier asked for my papers; I gave her my passport. “You’re American!” she said, not very officially. “I love America. Where are you from?” New York, I said. “Wow,” she said, with a big smile. And then she turned serious. “What were you doing in there,” she asked, nodding toward the Palestinian side, “with those animals?”

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu

And that, of course, is why Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “won” the Israeli election. That is how he won the election even though there was a strong economic case against him, and people were tired of his ways, and about 200 former Israeli military and intelligence leaders publicly opposed his dangerously bellicose foreign policy. He won because he ran as a bigot. This is a sad reality: a great many Jews have come to regard Arabs as the rest of the world traditionally regarded Jews. They have had cause. There have been wars, indiscriminate rockets and brutal terrorist attacks. There has been overpowering anti-Jewish bigotry on the Arab side, plus loathsome genocidal statements from the Iranians and others. But there has been a tragic sense of superiority and destiny on the Israeli side as well.

This has been true from the start. Read Ari Shavit’s brilliant conundrum of a book, My Promised Land, and you will get chapter and verse about the massacres perpetrated by Jews in 1948 to secure their homeland. It may be argued that the massacres were necessary, that Israel could not have been created without them, but they were massacres nonetheless. Women and children were murdered. It was the sort of behavior that is only possible when an enemy has been dehumanized. That history haunted Netanyahu’s rhetoric in the days before the election, when he scared Jews into voting for him because, he said, the Arabs were coming to polls in buses, in droves, fueled by foreign money.

It should be noted that those Arabs represent about 20% of the population of Israel. About 160,000 of them are Christian, and some of them are descendants of the first followers of Jesus. Almost all of them speak Hebrew. Every last one is a citizen—and it has been part of Israel’s democratic conceit that they are equal citizens. The public ratification of Netanyahu’s bigotry put the lie to that.

Another conceit has been that the Israeli populace favors a two-state solution. That may still be true, but the surge of voters to the Likud party in the days after Netanyahu denied Palestinian statehood sends the message that a critical mass of Israeli Jews supports the idea of Greater Israel, including Judea and Samaria on the West Bank. This puts Israeli democracy in peril. The alternative to a two-state solution is a one-state solution. That state can only be Jewish, in the long run, if West Bank Arabs are denied the right to vote.

There will be many—in the Muslim world, in Europe—who will say that the results are no surprise, that Israel has become a harsh, bigoted tyrant state. It has certainly acted that way at times, but usually with excellent provocation. It is an appalling irony that the Israeli vote brought joy to American neoconservatives and European anti-Semites alike.

When I was a little boy, my grandmother would sing me to sleep with the Israeli national anthem. It still brings tears to my eyes. My near annual visits to Israel have always been memorable. About a decade ago, I was at a welcoming ceremony for new immigrants—­thousands of them, Russians and Iranians and Ethiopians. And I thought, if Ethiopians and Russians could join that way, why not, eventually, Semites and Semites, Jews and Arabs?

That was the dream—that somehow Jews and Arabs could make it work, could eventually, together, create vibrant societies that would transcend bigotry and exist side by side. The dream was that the unifying force of common humanity and ethnicity would, for once, trump religious exceptionalism. It was always a long shot. It seems impossible now. For the sake of his own future, Benjamin Netanyahu has made dreadful Jewish history: he is the man who made anti-Arab bigotry an overt factor in Israeli political life. This is beyond tragic. It is shameful and embarrassing.

Detrimental Effects of College Rankings

As a high school student, I know firsthand the pervasive presence of college in a student’s life. From volunteering to grades to hobbies, college is always in mind.

However, not any college works. Students aim for the nation’s best colleges, and to find the best, they turn to ranking systems—specifically the U.S. News and World Report’s college rankings. Apparently, it doesn’t just function as a ranking system; it can dramatically influence the behavior of colleges that strive to top the rankings to garner more applicants. The results? Detrimental.

For instance, a key aspect U.S. News analyzes is the amount of money a college spends, whether on classes, teachers, or facilities. Less money spent therefore correlates to a lower ranking, encouraging colleges to spend recklessly. Indeed, benefits have arisen—many universities now contain top-notch research centers and professors. Yet, this reckless spending has not only added to the inefficiency of the college financial system but also to the already staggering tuition rate.

Another aspect is selectivity. The more selective a college is, such as requiring higher SAT scores and GPAs, the higher its ranking. What does this mean? Colleges will, once again, lavish money on ads to entice more applicants. A larger pool of applicants, however, does not result in a larger number of admissions; thus, the acceptance rate is lowered. Perhaps more drastic is due to higher standards, colleges that once catered to pools of lower standings will all now rush for the same elite 2400 SAT score students. Good for the elite, but there will be fewer options for students who aren’t, putting them at a severe disadvantage.

The aforementioned problems trace back to U.S. News’s college rankings, composed by literally, magazine editors. This calls into question: are these rankings even accurate? In many reported cases, colleges easily cheated the system, like in 2011 when employees at New York’s Iona College lied about test scores and other statistics.

Perhaps the better question is, is a ranking system necessary? Harvard University consistently outranks the University of Chicago, but is Harvard really indeed better? Surely, Harvard is superior to community colleges, but even comparing those two is inaccurate; for a student struggling with high school academics, Harvard would in fact be the worst choice. In essence, it’s all subjective.

Ultimately, the easiest way to fix the ranking’s overwhelming influence on colleges lies not in colleges but in applicants and their families. Colleges want to climb the ranks only because applicants follow the rankings. Unfortunately, many families have the incorrect notion that the only good college is a highly-ranked college. Society must rectify this notion, possibly through public campaigns or counselors; this will all allow for a more efficient system.

My Theory of Photography

My first point to make: I am no professional photographer. I am simply an amateur– a passionate amateur however. Before you continue reading, please check out my photography page (<–click).

Now, looking through my page, I’m gonna be straight up honest– a good amount of those photos aren’t “wow” or amazing. A good amount I might even say aren’t good quality. However, what I want you to notice is not the pictures themselves, but the captions. And so keeping this in your mind, I will now dive in to my view of photography.

Society has a big misconception of art. Artworks that look good or unique are praised, and those that aren’t are immediately bashed. A regular person visiting an art museum would most likely look at just the pretty pictures and statues, and say “Wow that looks great” then move on.

Duchamp and his “Fountain”

The artist that defied this (and my favorite artist of all time) was Marcel Duchamp. He embodied the concept of anti-art– if you look at this artwork “Fountain,” it is quite literally  an urinal turned upside down. When first shown, people were outraged– how in the world could this be art? A disgusting piece of urinal cannot be art! The art exhibition show that presented it was looted, and sadly, to this day, there is no surviving piece of Fountain– it was so scandalous it was destroyed.

Going back to Fountain, however, is it art or not? I asked my friends– and a majority of them said no. True, common sense tells us it can’t possibly be art. But that’s because we are living by the societal definition of art, a definition that needs to be fixed.

I argue the Fountain is art because it makes you think. Duchamp’s art was never meant to be visually appealing; in fact, he was fighting against the standard societal norm that good art has to be visually appealing. Rather, I believe that art should be mainly emotionally and intellectually appealing rather than visually appealing. Just looking at Fountain makes you think– what is art really? Is this art or not?

Same with any other art like photography. I remember going on a Facebook group called “Photographers on Facebook,” and as I scrolled through the pictures, it was the same thing over and over again– close-ups of animals and flowers, shots of lightning, pictures of sunsets, etc. The only real meaning behind these pictures? Just because it’s “wow” or good-looking. After a few days on the group, I left because my eyes were being destroyed just looking at these generic pictures over and over again. In other words, good picture quality doesn’t set you apart, and good picture quality alone is in the end just a documentary of the subject– not an art.

I’d call this art– taking a picture of a blank white wall. Probably nothing too good to look at, but I’d find it beautiful– no, not the photograph, but the concept itself is beautiful. A blank white wall. For some, it may convey a feeling of emptiness, lack of activity. For others, it could simply be just a white wall. For me, the very idea that it is a white wall, with no subject, no portrait, no nothing, but whiteness– that excites me. The very feeling that it rebels against the conventional standards of photography. Amazing.

My photo “Second Time Around”

The point is, people in general take photography too literally– they focus only on the beauty of the photo, not the concept itself. And that’s the point of my photography page– when I post a picture of a guy walking, I don’t really mean, hey, look at that guy walking. I mean, look at the way he walks. Look at the way he slumps his shoulder. Look at that shadow following him– it’s more than a shadow. Look at what he’s carrying– it’s more than just a trash bag. Then look at the intense sadness that radiates from all those details combined.

If I were to just post a photo, nobody would get it. That’s why I back it up with captions– I want to show people that viewing photos is more than just what’s being seen, but that it can be deeper. And that is the kind of photography I aim at promoting.

Caged In The School System

I remember in English class a few weeks ago, my teacher was going over the concept of the American Dream. So to start off, she asked my class: what is your American dream? The first student she picked on answered, “Uh… probably go to a good college.” Second student she picked on said, “Go to a good college, and then get a good job.” Third student—good college and good job. Fourth student—good college and good job. Fifth student—good college and good job. And so on. The whole time, I was just thinking, wow, much diversity.

Not that there’s anything wrong with pursuing a good college and career. After all, it does provide a good shot at a secure financial future. Yet, what troubles me is how, out of all the possibilities, everybody had the exact same dream, almost as if they all had the same parents. Or perhaps a better explanation, they were all under the same system—this system of school, grades, college, and education and its essentiality in life that has been propagandized to us students.

So was I. Back before high school, I wasn’t just under this system, I was into it. Give me a history textbook, and I would read the whole thing like it was a story, even the sections that the teacher skipped. Give me some math, and I would spend hours trying to figure out a method different from the textbook’s. I was even reading high school books like Wuthering Heights and Great Expectations in elementary school, although I didn’t know it that time. Overall, my parents had really stressed education in my life, and I embraced it willingly.

Only thing is, I did it for the grades. I only did it for college as my parents told me to do, because I believed that my future was dependent on college. Not just any college, but it had to be one of those top-notch colleges or I would become homeless. Ridiculous ideas like these permeated my mind, and as a result, my attitude towards a subject was highly reliant on grades. If I got the A+, I “loved” the subject. If not, not so happy about it.

By the end of middle school, however, I had found my passion for writing and the arts, which was only reinforced throughout high school. It was a time when I thoroughly enjoyed a subject, regardless of letter grade. I was also getting tired of just doing tests and homework; to me, it began to seem more and more retarded, because who takes tests in real life? By then, my thought process was much more matured, and I realized not all people who went to community colleges were failures, and that colleges don’t really determine your life. That success wasn’t really about high salary and good name colleges, but more about personality, sympathy, and work.

Most importantly, I realized that all that time I was a caged bird that didn’t even know it was caged. I had thought my cage was my haven, and I had docilely accepted the hand that fed me. But at that moment I refused my parent’s insistence to pursue a science path just because it paid more than a writing career, at that moment when I decided to screw worrying about college, it was the first time I looked out my cage—out of the society, the environment, my
parents, school which had carved for me a path to follow, which told me this was the way I had to do it. I looked out my cage, and I was freed.

Unfortunately, the majority of students is caged, and will likely refuse to admit they live in a cage. Hopefully, there are those who can be freed in the long run. Ultimately, the basic message is not to promote disobedience of parents or society or whatnot; they are definitely only doing what they think is best for you. Rather, the message is to change that “they think” into “you think,” to not let your vision be limited by anybody else, to make sure that your dream is definitely your dream, and to not be the same boring guy whose main goal in life is to go to a good college just because society demands so. As Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”

This article was meant to target my school audience, which is a very academically orientated school. However, I believe this can apply to any high-performing school environment and to the many students around the world whose entire life is revolved around college and education.

Why I Chase Suffering

Recently, ISIS has beheaded two Japanese journalists. Not too long ago last year, they also beheaded two American journalists. Were they soldiers? No. All they were was just normal people who wanted to travel to less fortunate places to help out. Some may call them brave, and I guess and in a sense yes they are. I’ve been mulling about it, though, ever since I was talking about this to a friend.

There was a picture that I stumbled upon, and here it is:

Photos like this stun me. (This won the Pulitzer Prize by the way.) They attract me. The deepness, the pain, the shame– all of it just really connects this to me. If I were to pursue anything in photography, I’ d like to take pictures like these. To be honest, in the bubbled society I live in, there’s really nothing too interesting to take pictures of. I mean, I could take pictures of streets or birds or flowers and make them WOW quality, but in the end, I don’t really connect that much. It’s just a picture. And the humans at my place are too well off to take anything too interesting. But I feel places of suffering are something more attractive, something much more connective.

When I showed this to my friend, he asked me, why do you want to put yourself in harm’s way? And he pointed to the journalists in ISIS and said I could end up just like them. True, true, I’ve always wanted to live in Honduras, and I know I’d probably be killed too. But my response would be– why wouldn’t I? I don’t want to grow up like the typical person, get a job, go home, and sleep everyday. That’s boring. I don’t want to be the ordinary person who just lives in the comforts of his home. I want to step out of this society and do something.

You see, I believe everybody’s life is like a story. Most people decide to write their lives normally– college, jobs, family. But I want my story to be an epic– I want to experience experiences not normally experienced. I want to be the protagonist who goes through many tribulations but passes them. I’d rather have a short dramatic life than a long, boring life.

And it’s not just that. It’s also because, there is something beautiful about suffering. If our whole world was an Utopian society where everybody was happy and well-off, well bullshit. That’s stupid. I guess for most people it’d  be nice, but then what becomes the point of life then? Just to live happily and that’s it? There’s no purpose.

You see, when one suffers, something human comes out. Your weak places are exposed but your strong parts are revealed as well. You learn something too– you learn what it means to be human. It’s hard to explain, but maybe I’ll touch upon this later for another post.

Or maybe I’m just addicted to suffering. Ever since my incident, the only thing that really comforts me is suffering. There’s something that feels out of place when I see people laugh and have fun at my place– it’s a good feeling, but I feel something off. The balance is off– they’re having fun, but they’re not suffering as much. It’s like me and them we have it too good.

The point is, why do journalists like those beheaded by ISIS do what they do? I doubt it’s because they chase heroism. I doubt even if it’s just really only for a good cause. At least for me, it will be because I’m searching for the right place where I belong. I know it’s not where I live, and maybe it’s not in those poor places either. But I want to go where suffering goes, merely for the sake of it, even if I end up dead. Because if I don’t go, who I am will be dead. My spirit and identity will be dead.  My art won’t flourish.

Well I realized I accomplished practically nothing in this post haha. Signing off.