Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Thinking Spot

There is a place near my house, some three blocks away, where I walk to several times a week to think. It is a local marina on Lake Michigan with a park and a beach situated at the botton of a steep hill. I did not begin to appreciate such a wonderful place (right near my house) until this year when I began to go there more and more. I go there to think, to dwell upon problems, to create ideas, to rid myself of the constant distractions of school, work, and home. It is a beautiful place.

I leave my house and cross the busy street in front of it, which serves as a reminder that I am, in fact, still in the city. I travel down the sidewalk that leads through a neighborhood of cape cods and ranches that were built in the 30's and 40's. I sometimes look at the houses and admire the unique landscaping in their front yards. I think that, if I could live in another house, I would pick a certain one along that road. The street is lined with trees--oaks and maples, mainly. The branches hang very low at some points so that I must duck under them or let them brush into my face. The people, also, are very friendly and must know that I frequently walk along their street. They wave and say "good morning" every single time I walk past.

The houses abruptly end at a road overlooking the lake, which meets another road leading to the marina. From here I can see a view of the lake from a high point and hear the gentle hissing of the waves. I walk down the roadway to the marina, where I notice the construction of the nearby water treatment plant. It provides a good supply of tap water to my home among others in the city. As the roadway comes to an end, it gives way to an arched, teal footbridge that crosses a wide creek emptying into the lake. People often throw their fishing lines off of this bridge but seldom catch anything besides sucker fish. I prefer just to stand on the bridge and watch across the mouth of the river.

A jetty juts out into the lake, just past the yacht club and the beach. There are chained railings on each side of it, but I like to cross over them and sit on the rocks below. From here I can almost see Michigan on the other side, yet it is still only a blurry haze. I can also see the beach and watch the people swim with their families and friends. A great number of the beachcombers are immigrants from Latin America, so I like to listen to what they are saying and attempt to understand it. But mainly, I merely prefer to listen to the crashing waves and be alone with my thoughts. Any thoughts, really. Whenever I am at home, I become distracted with anything and everything around me. At the lake, the only thing I can do is relax myself and clear my mind. I believe everyone should have a thinking spot and indeed does have one without necessarily knowing it. I have been doing a lot of thinking these past few months and have been coming to the lake several times a week. There has been a need to escape the constant stress of this summer and clear my head of it. And when I decide to turn around and walk back to my house, I know I have reached a greater understanding than before.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Some Posts are not Very Deep

What can I say about July so far? Another roller coaster of a month and, as always, very busy. Between work, band, the nature center, and trying to have a social life, I have not had much time to write a decent post. And this post, although decent, does not have a lot of significance besides informing everyone about how I am doing. As much as I would love to sit down and write about a certain topic (and I do have many ideas), this month has passed very quickly and much of it has been left in the dark on this site. So I am going to use a self-interview format like I do in similar posts. Later this month, I will write about something less generic and possibly put some photos in. Until then, I will fill in the gaps between my last post and this moment.

Q: Where have you been these past few weeks? You haven't posted in a long time.

A: The main reason is that I spent a week in Hayward, Wisconsin, with my family. My uncle rented a house on a lake in the area and much of my mom's family was there. I have never been in that part of the state--it's amazingly beautiful. Just the variety of trees alone is impressive: aspens, firs, red pines, oaks, and quite a few more that I can't name. The lake was also very pristine. And the sunsets alone were worth the trip. Since the house faced to the West on the lake, we got a postcard sunset every night. I'll admit it was nice to get away from the city for awhile, but it was also difficult in some aspects. In the end, we felt it was too soon to gather for a week. Everyone was still very emotional and we weren't sure if the subject of my mom was taboo or not. My dad mentioned it would be a good idea if he, my brother, and I went on a trip just by ourselves later this year. It seemed there were just too many people and too many emotions for one house.

Q: Marching band season has started and you have a new director. How has that been going?

A: In a nutshell, not so good. A few months ago, our middle school band director was laid off because of budget cuts. She was also our head marching band director. When her position was cut, the other two marching band directors turned in their resignation so they could spend more time with family. So, basically, our marching band was left with only our color guard instructor. We were able to hire a new director, who we have worked with for the entire season so far. He is very experienced (a Milwaukee police officer and retired Marine Corps band member) and has a lot of new ideas. These new ideas, however, are replacing the techniques which we had used in previous years. I have a lot of confidence in his ideas and don't mind doing something different, but many others are resisting this change and morale is very low as a result. He is also a bit out of touch and seldom listens to a lot of our own ideas. What I am afraid of is a mass dropout, which would ultimately destroy our band because of its already small size. I can only hope that we can reach a comprimise with our director and work toward a decent score at the State competition.

Q: Are you still working at Hollywood Video?

A: Yes, although I am not glad to say so. The main problem is the store manager. She is constantly disregarding my schedule requests and is giving me more hours than I can handle. I had told her that I need Wednesdays and Thursdays off for marching band, yet she has scheduled me for Wednesday the past two weeks. I gave her my band schedule to reference, but she also managed to have me work during one of my parades. And when I trade with someone to work around those days, she gets angry and asks why I can't work. I also have not gotten a single raise since I began eight months ago, even though the company policy is to offer a raise after ninety days to workers who pass their performance review, which I have not gotten either. I'll be bringing these issues up with her next time I see her...If she doesn't change anything, I could always bring it up with the district manager. The silver lining is that if she fails another store audit, she will likely get fired. We can only hope.

So that's my update on the last month in a nutshell. There's much more to it, but I don't have much time to write about it. Sorry if this sounded a bit like an angry rant at some points. There really are a lot of negative things in this post, but this summer has not been going so well. On a positive note, the past few days have been quite good. I have had a bit more spare time to be with friends and relax. Hopefully, my up cycle will last awhile longer.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

The Nature Project

At times, I can feel imprisoned while living in the city. At night, I fall asleep to the sound of motorcycles and ambulances rushing down our street. On my way home from work, I pass through five stoplights, three of which I am stopped at every single time. A few times a week, I usually go for a walk in our littered park, which has been a slight reminder that I still have access to some type of environment.

Since I started volunteering at a nature center roughly a half hour away from my house, I have seen it as a brief escape from the city. I am not sure how large it is in acres, but I would say it is at least fifty if I were to guess. I feel at peace when the sun radiates upon me in the prairie, when the blooming spiderwort creates a sea of purple that rocks in the breeze. I love hearing the water crash down into the river from the waterfall at the edge of the lake. The mosquitoes are especially vicious this time of year, yet I have somehow grown to appreciate them as they symbolize the roughness of nature. They show how not everything in nature is beautiful or perfect--they just are.

My first day at the nature center was just over three weeks ago. Each day is centered around a certain project. Mondays, which I usually attend, are dedicated to the phenology hike, where a chart is filled out to show which plants are in bloom. I am the youngest person in the group, by at least fourty years. I was taken aback by their age at first, feeling slightly out of place.

"Who needs to use a big pen for their arthritis?" one of the volunteers had asked.

I simply smiled politely and declined her offer.

The rest of the group, though, contains some of the friendliest and smartest people I have met. Many of them are retired teachers, who have a great knowledge of the local flora and fauna. On Tuesdays, the projects require more manual labor and attract a younger crowd. It is focused around trail maintenance--things like spreading woodchips, pulling invasive plants, and repairing broken bridges and boardwalks. A few weeks ago, after the local flooding had done incredible damage, I helped to repair a broken footbridge and clear the sticks and debris that were damming a creek. Yes, the work is quite exhausting, especially when it is humid and the mosquitoes are dense. But it is the rewarding kind of exhaustion, the kind that lets you know you've worked hard and accomplished something. And there is always something new to accomplish.

I was reluctant to start volunteering at first. After my mother had passed away, I didn't feel a desire to do anything--work, band, seeing friends. I thought my entire summer would be drastically altered. Everything I wanted or had intended to do would be put on hold until the situation would clear up. But I knew such thoughts did not make sense. Change is sometimes inevitable, but the results of change do not have to be. I knew that if I let my grief consume my summer, I would regret it and learn nothing. I knew that my mother would have wanted me to make the best out of my summer, despite the situation. So I decided to give the new project a try and make something of the next few months.

Thus far, I am very satisfied about my decision to start volunteering. It is an important step to becoming an environmentalist, if that ultimately is the field I go into. I have met some very interesting people there and listened to their stories. Some of them are teachers, some are environmentalists, and others are everything from software engineers to construction workers. One of the things I have noticed is the diversity among the volunteers. Before I started, I expected everyone to be either an environmental scientist or a teacher or a naturalist. Contrary to what I first thought, everyone there is decicated to something different and has different stories to tell. I am happy, now, to be a part of that group and preserve a chunk of nature for others to enjoy. It helps to know that I am able to escape the concrete jungle I call home whenever I need to.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Don't Turn our Environment into a Political Tool, John McCain

As often as I can, I try not to make this a political blog. I have seen online debates get really nasty, and I do not want to be a part of that except for protecting (not imposing) my own opinions. Looking over this site, I have posted only a few politically-oriented blogs, all on occasions which have either motivated, angered, or interested me. In this situation, I am angered. John McCain is creating a facade to make himself seem pro-environment for his own political benefit.

I first saw this commercial roughly a week ago and the fakeness of it was immediate. Sure, it shows how McCain disagreed with the President on several environmental issues. He aknowledges the threat of global warming, he voted several times against ANWR drilling, and he even supports alternative energy sources, proposing to lift the fuel efficiency standard to 35 mpg on American cars. These are all things which I stand for and would make it seem as if John McCain is genuinely concerned with the environment.

However, the commercial failed to mention his inconcistency with ANWR drilling. Although he did vote against it several times, he voted to preserve the existing budget for it. He also proposed a lift on a federal ban of offshore oil drilling in certain areas, letting the decision come to the individual state governments. His so-called plans for conservation do not agree with his funding methods. In 2007, he sided with President Bush, who vetoed $2 billion in funding for restoration of the Everglades. The funding should have been $7.8 as stated in the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan. I know our government doesn't exactly have money right now, but that whole problem is a result of the tax-cutting, laissze faire policies of him and his fellow Republicans anyway. Instead of standing for our natural resources, McCain sided with Bush and the real estate developers to cut the CERP funding even further. I know I'm throwing out different stats and facts at a rapid rate, but I'll just do one more. McCain voted against funding for solar power research as well, and we all know that solar power could have a promising future in areas like the Southwest, where it is usually sunny.

It is clear that the 2008 election is about change and both candidates are trying to portray that aspect in their campaigns. McCain is trying to distance himself from the Republican Party for that reason. My problem is that, if he wants to look pro-environment, his voting record should match up with that. He is playing the typical Republican game of skewing the truth (in this case, his voting record and who he sides with). I already know he generally does not support environmental change. But when he campaigns that he does support this, it is just another game of politics which we have seen for the past eight years. I am not disregarding any instances in which the Democratic candidates have done something like this. No candidate is perfect, of course, and we have seen it from Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama as well. And if, for some reason, I was running for president, I would have made many more mistakes than they ever did. But this sharade is big. He is creating a false image blocking out years of inconsistency and anti-environmental votes. So when he bullshits us on TV, it further strenghtens my dislike for him as a candidate. And I'm sure that most other environmentalists see through this commercial as well.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Writing Cures

It seems that, this month, there have been a lot of strange signs related to my mother's death. I am far from superstitious, yet (perhaps as part of the grieving process) small things seem like signs to me. For instance, the plant my mom had gotten my grandmother for Mothers' Day bloomed the morning of the funeral. Or, even some of the things my mom said the week before her death are comforting to me. I had overheard her talking to my aunt on the phone about my dad getting a motorcycle. "You never know when your ticket's up," she had said. "If there's something you want to do, go out and do it". Having heard this, I know she is at peace with everything that has happened.

But one of the strangest things was a journal that was sent to me last night. It was sent by a coordinator from the Wisconsin Donor Network, whom my father and I worked with in the hospital. There was an envelope from her, addressed to me. So I opened it, and in it was a copy of "The Healing your Grieving Heart Journal for Teens". It is a book filled with advice and open-ended questions with space to write in. When the answers are well-thought out, they can be very thought provoking and helpful as well. The strangeness about it, though, is that I destroyed the last journal I kept only a few days ago. I had been writing an entry, but I found it difficult to even think. Everything seemed so overwhelming. My brain felt like a fog of grief and frustration. Struggling to think about the past few days, I simply crumpled the pages. That was it. My entire journal with months of writing was destroyed, and I felt a sense of bitter satisfaction by doing it. I thought I would never write again--not in a journal, not in this blog, not in stories. I thought I had lost not only my ability to write, but my desire as well. Having this journal sent to me, I think, is a sign. I have to keep writing. I have written about everything since I learned how to do so. Giving it up would be unfair to myself and to my mother.

Last night, I began to read and write in the journal that was sent to me. I knew it would help and it did. The first section of it was about my relationship with the person and some of our memories. It made me think of the time we had spent at our cabin near Lake Sherwood--sitting by the campfire, playing croquet, riding our bikes to the gas station. Those memories hurt as much as they help. And I think it will be that way for awhile. Even though my fondest memories of her are painful, I think bringing them back is important. Shutting them out would make things even more painful. Part of the grieving process is remembering the person who has passed, and I find it a necessary thing to do. This journal will allow me to do that. Having the journal sent to me, I know that I must continue writing.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Saying Goodbye

It's one of those things that, even six days later, seems difficult and painful to believe. Sometimes a situation has no finality to it because you don't want to aknowledge it even started. This has been one of those situations. It has been six days since my mother passed away due to a spontaneous aneurysm.

I was awoken Saturday morning by my dad, saying that I needed to get up because there was a problem with Mom. So I got dressed and made my way downstairs to the kitchen. There she was, on the ground, aided by the paramedics. She was completely unconscious. Our first guess was that she had had a heart attack.

We rushed to the hospital, where she was sent to the cath lab to detect any possible blood clots. For a few minutes, my dad and I waited in the guest area, completely in shock. We knew she was going to be okay--maybe she would need a heart medication or surgery, but she would be okay. When the doctor came to see us, he said there was no blockage in any of her blood vessels, and the problem was likely neurological. I knew that either meant a stroke or some type of aneurysm, but I asked nothing. If it was a stroke, I knew it would be a long road to recovery. If it was an aneurysm, well, it couldn't have been.

A few minutes later, she was taken to a room in the cardiac intensive care unit. My dad and I entered the room to see her, hooked up to IVs and breathing tubes. She seemed peaceful, yet it hurt to see her in a condition like that. A few months ago, my aunt was waiting in the hospital for a liver transplant and she became very frail and sick. It was difficult to see her as well, but now I believe seeing that prepared me for seeing my mother.

The nurses and doctors began to run heart scans, brain scans, and blood tests. While that was happening, my dad scrambled to notify our family--some of my aunts, uncles, and cousins, who were camping together; my grandparents, who were in Seattle; the rest of my family, who was at home; and my brother, who was at college nearby in Waukesha. Shortly before my brother arrived, the doctor talked to my dad about the prognosis. I had overheard him saying it was an aneurysm and that the brain was damaged completely. There would be no chance of recovery. After the doctor left, my dad came back into the room and said, "You know what's happening?" I nodded and we both lost our composure. Even though it was my toughest experience so far, I am glad I knew what was happening then. Any bit of hope for recovery was destroyed, and I am thankful for that. Unrealistic hope is terrible for the mind. If I would have spent the next day thinking there was a possibility of recovery, I would have been crushed.

Over the next few hours, our entire family began to show up in the waiting room. The only other person who knew the exact prognosis was my brother.

The next few hours were very emotional as everyone came into the room to see my mother. The feeling of disbelief was undescribable. She had been so healthy, so young. She would always walk every day after dinner. The night before, there had been no complaints at all. There was no family history either. Why would this happen?

Naturally, the doctors decided to run a few more tests and scans to confirm what was happening. The results, of course, were the same. And by that time, everyone knew what was going to happen. There was no more denial. The chaplin joined our family in the room as we said a prayer of sorts. It was the most emotional experience of my life. Everyone was in tears and I must have hugged everyone as well. I still remember my uncle's words to me: "You have to stay strong, okay?" Technically, my mother was in a deep coma and the only sign of brain activity was a few labored breaths. Once it was determined that she could no longer breathe on her own, she was announced brain dead at 10:10 PM.

My aunt, as I mentioned, received a liver transplant roughly six months ago. She has regained a lot of weight since then and is healthier than she had been in years. Because of her experience, there was no question that my mom would become an organ donor. Until the next day, she would be kept on life support until the transplant operation. The operation, evidentally, went very well and she donated her kidneys, liver, pancreas, lungs, and heart valves. Until the next morning, though, my dad and I stayed overnight in the hospital. We tried to get a few hours of sleep, although it was hard because of the constant beeping and chiming of the hospital room. Not to mention, the stress of the situation made it difficult to sleep.

We are thankful that my mother's parents were able to make it to the hospital. Since there were thunderstorms and flooding around Wisconsin, their flights were cancelled and they spent the entire day in an airport. In fact, since they could not call us from the plane, we didn't even know which flight they were on. We used the nurses' computer to find that out and when they would be arriving. They finally arrived roughly an hour before my mother was sent to the operating room. So the four of us said goodbye and a few other things until she was taken away.

The funeral was Wednesday with a viewing on Tuesday night. So many people made it to the funeral--my dad's co-workers, my mom's co-workers, our extended family, and some of my friends and teachers from school. I want to point out how helpful everyone has been lately; donations to the school my mom worked at, giving us meals, helping with grocery shopping and laundry, and simply providing moral support. Our living room has been filled with the various flowers given to us. Yesterday had been our first opportunity to transition back to "normal". The funeral arrangements were finished and we had some time to ourselves for once. Of course things weren't normal then and they probably never will be. Obviously, we're discovering how difficult it is to run the house without Mom. I've learned how to do laundry, how to care for the garden, and how to clean. Besides that, it hasn't been easy to wake up knowing she isn't around. For a split second in the morning, I expect her to be downstairs making coffee or talking to our bird. Then reality sinks in and I realize things will never be how they used to. However, I'm confident that the hardest part is over. I know some days will be good, and some will be painfully hard. The only thing to do is to make it through each day knowing that, eventually, things will be closer to normal.

Monday, June 2, 2008

In the Name of War

Don't be fooled, this will not be a liberal, anti-war rant. That is for another day. See, final exams are coming soon and my English final is especially demanding. We had to pick some type of greater theme and connect it to something we covered in class. So my theme is: war brings out the worst in people. We also have to make three creative examples to demonstrate the theme, like a story or poem or song or drawing. The honest reason why I picked the theme I did is because I was listening to "Violet Hill" by Coldplay, which is an anti-war song. It gave me the impulse to do my speech on a related theme. I have been waiting to post some of my writing here, so this is a good chance for me to do so. This is a poem I wrote about what war makes people do:

The coming night was seemingly still
It was lit by the moon and shining stars
Until the masses came, ready to kill
The town we knew would no longer be ours

They circled the wall in a great big mass
While the mothers and children hid inside
The guardsmen took posts and shot to their best
But the enemy just threw them aside

They charged in through the gates and filled the streets
They raided homes and turned them into flame
Their mercy was not present in the least
Their so-called honor was all put to shame

Fathers, mothers, and even young children
All killed through swords, maces, arrows, and gore
The town was then open for pillaging
And all of it was in the name of war

I didn't have much time to put it together, but it's just a few of my thoughts on the subject. This project has been relatively tolerable, actually. I don't mind English projects so much because I like writing and giving speeches. The truth is, I haven't written a whole lot lately, besides in my journal and on this blog. I am finally finding some time to do that, so I have been thinking of a few ideas. I was hoping to start writing a short story last week, but things like that never go to plan. I have a nicely developed idea to use, though, so I will be expanding on it when I am ready.

Ironically enough, the idea I have been considering is slightly war-related. The basic idea is that it involves a young man who was deported from his home with his family. He had lived on a farm, which was raided by a "superior" race that sought to turn the area into a gigantic manor farm. He now lives in an urban slum and struggles to adapt to a new lifestyle. This should make a good premise for a short story or novella, but we'll see how it turns out.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Viva la Vida

Such a powerful message, I admitted while listening to the new Coldplay song for the first time. Once I heard that Coldplay would be releasing a new album in June, I suddenly felt anxious to get it. Although I can't buy the album yet, I just bought the singles for "Viva la Vida" and "Violet Hill". Those have, in fact, been the only two songs I've been listening too for the past half hour. I have everything short of an obsession with Coldplay--their music is beautiful and deep and meaningful. I am only judging from the lyrics, but they both seem like strong anti-war songs. "Violet Hill" makes a reference to the Crusades. I think it brings up the backwardness of war and the consequences of honor. I'm pretty anti-war myself, but these songs are just pleasing to listen to.

Again, I know I have become lazy with posts lately and this one is quite short as well. Perhaps later I will organize my thoughts and just write whatever comes to mind.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Green in the City

This shot was taken from the 2008 Green Festival at the Chicago Navy Pier! I know my posts have been infrequent lately, mainly because I haven't had much to post about except for the AP exam (which is over now). But one exciting thing I've been lucky enough to do was attend my first ever Green Festival.

The trip started in South Milwaukee, where a friend from school and I drove down to Kenosha (about a 45 minute ride). We'll call my friend "Sahara" to protect the innocent. We then boarded the Metra Rail, which is a very good deal at five dollars roundtrip with a weekend pass. So we got on.

"Is this the train to Chicago?" I asked a man sitting across from us.
"I hope so," was his reply.

After a slight leap of faith, we were on our way the Windy City and arrived after about two hours. On the way there, Sahara and I were completely fascinated to be on a train and spent most of the trip looking out the window, watching swampy forests give way to suburbs, which gave way to ghettos, which gave way to skyscrapers.

Now at the train station, we had one more method of transportation to experiment with--the bus. Since the bus stop was so crowded with Green Festival guests, we missed the first one but were able to board the next bus ten minutes later. The bus seemed quite like a downtown tour; it drove past the many skyscrapers, the Chicago River, and Millenium Park.

Finally, after almost four hours of transportation, we arrived at the Navy Pier. Being my first time at the Navy Pier, Sahara and I thought it would be a good idea to go on the ferris wheel. This is the view of Downtown from the top. Once we arrived at the actual festival, we were at first taken aback by the vastness of it. The main attraction was the expo, which was a massive series of stands with everything from fair trade chocolate to Nepalese paper to the Sierra Club. For lunch, I tried vegan empanadas, which were delicious. I'm not a vegan, but when in Rome...Still, you would never guess the empanadas contained no meat. For the rest of the afternoon, we explored the expo and tried a countless amount of free samples. The flax chips were one of the more unusual varieties. Everyone from the festival was so friendly! It was amazing to be around so many like-minded people for once. And everything around me was fascinating. When Sahara and I saw the stand with Tibetan prayer flags, we leaped (yes, leaped) in excitement. The prayer flags were my favorite souvenier, along with a shirt I bought that says "Coexist" inside a circle of symbols from different religions. This trip was a much needed break from the recent stress of studying, dramatic high school students, and work. I think the main thing it meant for me was independence, the ability to travel to a strange city without a parent or legal guardian. Being 16, it's hard to have access to traveling. Maybe since I took this trip without getting lost or missing a bus or train, I'll be able to go on similar trips in the future. I'm definitely hoping to attend next year's Green Festival to further explore the trends of being an eco-geek.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

The Examination Looms

It's finally May and 'tis the season for the annual advanced placement exams. Thanks to block scheduling at my school, I've had the chance to take an AP course as a sophomore--world history. Although the class finished a few months ago, the studying continues due to the upcoming exam. If all goes well, I hope to earn college credit for months of note taking, essay writing, reading, and lectures. World history has been an interesting class from the start. It's the first class I've taken with extensive lectures, which weren't as grueling as I would have thought. If I fail the AP exam, the class itself would still have been extremely valuable for college preparation. I wouldn't say the class completely equates to an actual college course--there were lots of inside jokes and the grades were nicely curved. But all the same, it has been an enriching challenge.

This past month has been a scramble, though! I've been attempting to re-read the entire textbook, write essays, and quiz myself. There are been two study sessions this week (which help a great deal). The wierd thing is that I've even had some dreams about world history. Like, when I was taking a nap, I had a dream about the spread of Islam through sub-Saharan Africa. The textook is beginning to control's a conspiracy. If this is a sample of what college is like, I'm in for more than a treat. Although, there will be a brunch the morning of the exam, which may lighten the load just a little. I'll just be happy to be done with the test to get rid of all the hooplah. Only eight days and counting...