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26) The American Dream is a Prison Cell

Growing up, I was under the illusion that my father was good with money and was conscientious about his investments and what he chose to buy. I learned later on that my father’s motivation was entirely based on my mother’s hormones. He would do anything to assure that she stayed with him, even moving our family when we were better off, financially speaking, to stay and pay off the home we lived in. All of this was hidden from my view; yet, I continued to think that he was making sound choices all along.

As I began attending college, I had to take out student loans, like the majority of other middle class students who were lucky enough to attend college. My primary motivation was that I had to pick something that would land me a job. Survival and independence was the ultimate goal. I often wondered why society calls it education, when the reality is to get a job and serve a life prison of work for pay to consume.

I first majored in Business. Like many young people, I was swayed by the idea that knowing business will be a guarantee to get a job and thus achieve success. As I spent the first year of college in business courses, a great anxiety slithered along the edges of my perception like worms in moist earth.

I didn’t like what I was doing or learning. The language was empty, calculating, devoid of the natural world. Dressing up, making appearances, walking the walk, talking the talk, my soul plunged into the void. Oxygen escaped through my pores every time I opened the doors of the creaking building.

The light disappeared into the polished floors of the hall; every classroom was filled with the templates of PowerPoint presentations, Excel spreadsheets, and cut and paste Word memos with cheesy clipart I had seen on thousands of student flyers stapled onto billboards. Being ‘creative’ was equated with changing the color scheme and typography on your spreadsheet.

Everyone dressed in smart suits and shiny, black shoes clicking as they walked, like the sound of register tape pounding out numbers and dollar signs. Some days, I would stroll down those halls, feeling sick, observing my fellow students regurgitate business principles and economic trends mimicking their pale faced heroes on the trading floor of Wall Street, going blind staring at an endless stream of financial tickers.

scantron

About this time, I saw the film, The Matrix. There was no color to this world, no life in it. After taking a marketing class, I realized that my DNA was fundamentally opposed to everything I was being taught. A storm passed over me, a kind of existential crisis. I tried desperately to study for tests. I was a poor test-taker to begin with. Give me an essay question and I can explain everything. Our tests consisted of multiple choice and true or false questions, just like all of the CTBS tests I took in grade school with many rows of dots on Scantrons.

I was never any good at them. I overthought my answers and had difficulty with the process of elimination. Elimination is waste and in my world, everything must be considered before being discarded. My Business Law professor told me I think too much. I was completely depressed. What can I do in this world that has meaning and real satisfaction? I can’t buck up to make this work without going absolutely mad or becoming a sociopathic asshole.

My roommate, Tracy, was also a Business major. I came home to our apartment in tears. After several cigarettes and a few beers, she pulled out the course catalog and showed me a major I had never heard of.

“I was thinking… you are really creative. Why don’t you see about getting into the Graphic Design program?” she said. “It’s still business oriented because you work in marketing and advertising, but you design logos and other stuff.”

I took one look at the catalog and knew that’s what I wanted to learn. I needed creativity. I needed more than black numbers on white paper. I needed color and hues and tints; I yearned for new ideas, research, strange juxtapositions and conceptual exploration.

Three years later, I was in my junior year in Graphic Arts taking a class on Ethics in Design. Once again, I found myself in a panic, questioning how I would make a living in this field and I began to worry. Even though I reclaimed my soul in the creative element, would I be chained to the whims of business interests, would the color of my world dissolve into oblivion with the incessant needs of my clients to sell things I didn’t believe in?

After all, I would have to engage clients whose bottom lines were engrained in their business plans and the bottom line is all anyone can focus on. Was I willing to sacrifice my creative energy to see it produce another useless consumer product, more waste, more of the same? Was I willing to use my design skills to manipulate the public in ways that inherently were wrong and completely unsustainable?

The answer was – No.

After graduation, I took a retail job as a temporary solution with the hope of planning my next career step. After a year, I signed up for a 401(k) and contributed more than was recommended, having educated myself on money and trying to save more than I spend, once again knowing the future was uncertain and I had to pay my student loans. I subscribed to Money magazine and drew up a spreadsheet, keeping track of my expenses and re-balancing my portfolio every year. I did this for five years, careful to plan everything out, how much I would save and keeping my interest income figures low, just in case. That all changed…

I was clearly the wrong demographic for Money magazine, so I let the subscription lapse. Money magazine was for people who had $5,000 to invest, a mortgage, a kid or two in college, and a nest egg of at least $100,000. Nothing in the articles represented anything I was going through.

Four years later and an economic upheaval in 2008, I began to focus less on money, and yet, I saved it because I needed to sustain myself even though I knew the system was absolutely screwed. I began to downsize my living to the bare essentials. I stopped servicing my car and driving only when I absolutely needed to. I became more reliant on my computer for communication than my phone.

Now, my lifestyle is still at bare minimum. I have enough money for my creature comforts; coffee, cheap wine and $1 books at the library bookstore. I pay for a phone I hardly use and pay off my credit card each month. Debt is my enemy; a prison cell and I’d rather just go without, not see my friends, not drive anywhere. I write every day, I read every day and I hope every day for a revolution of consciousness.


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17) My Car Ate My Homework

I was in my sophomore year in high school in 1990. We had an open campus back then. At lunch, hundreds of starving teens descended upon the fast food establishments of the land like caged chickens, pumped full of hormones and suddenly set free.

The unbridled rage of rabid teenagers instilled terror deep in the bones of every underpaid college student working at drive-thru windows within a 10-mile radius. Panic materialized as the scream of hundreds of rubber tires chaffed against asphalt, like a thousand growling hydrogen bombs.

Rotting orange

We piled into convulsive, exhaust-spewing vessels, stereos blaring an angry bile of anarchy and destruction: mini trucks vibrating base from wolfers giving nearby earthworms an erection so intense their heads implode like cherry blossoms in April, the pavement blisters in the sun, sports cars without mufflers set off car alarms and dogs’ ears bleed in backyards where pretty rhododendrons wilt all over the Inland Empire.

This hearkening of affluence summoned the lunch-hour, sending chills down the spines of every doomed restaurant manager, the whites of his eyes reflected against the name badges of his cooks hurriedly preparing to satisfy the beasts at their door – my friends.

My small, insignificant tribe of 20 nihilistic Goth-types piled into our own belligerent vessel: a white Toyota pick-up, blaring the flamboyant verbiage of Oingo Boingo’s Only A Lad out of the cab windows, open wide for maximum effect through the smog-filled particles that lodged inside our ears as our asses slammed against the truck bed going over potholes and railroad tracks to seek out large slices of pizza, luxuriously drizzled with ranch dressing poured to capacity on paper plates.

For 45 minutes, we were free: free to roam, free from indifferent parental units, free to inhale the corporate seduction of Camel cigarettes, free to make out and then, like reluctant slaves, we were forced back to the hive, wheels screeching, circling the parking lot to find an open space and finish off our last two classes for the day.

And then, I got my own car… Counter to all that I was supposed to do, my car took possession of my soul and drove me to imaginary places: silent mansions, dark places, crumbling architecture, antique leaning willow trees. The bamboo whispered stories to the wind and I listened and walked and walked, seduced by the ghosts of pungent orange groves and time disappeared among the smells and sounds of the orchard. I walked the trails that wandered in secret pathways throughout the Kimberly Crest Mansion, one of the oldest buildings near our high school.

Kimberley Crest GateThen, as if my manual stick changed to automatic, my 1966 Volkswagen Beetle drove along, running parallel to an old cemetery with tall cypress trees and then on up to a place called The Point. It was here that I had a bird’s eye view of the universe; it was a haven for solitude and reflection. It was a place where a troubled teen could experience suicide without actually doing it. It was the ideal space where I learned to think, to feel, to reflect  – all of which are necessary in a world full of complexity.

It took another year to get my HS diploma. I learned on my own, to think for myself in a world of contradictory claims and incentives that don’t make basic sense. I learned to look on a level above the tree line, to watch, listen and absorb all the moments in my life and in high school. I found that everything I ever needed to learn was inside as long as I took the time to listen… on top of a hill… in silence.

The Point


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07) Once, I Was a Mall Rat

In the late 80s, I used to hang out at the Inland Center Mall in San Bernardino with my best friend. We would do anything to get away from our parents. Luckily, her parents would drive us to the mall, drop us off and we would shop, smoke cigarettes, look for cute boys and catch a movie afterwards.

1989 Mall Rat

We bought colored eyeliner and burgundy lipstick at Center Stage. We caressed the sweet smelling leather at Wilson’s Suede and Leather shop, hoping for fringed or zippered jackets with pumped up shoulder pads for Christmas. Sipping on our Orange Julius’s, we inspected the CDs at The Wherehouse, scanned the latest Teen Beat magazine for River Phoenix and Kirk Cameron at Waldenbooks and tried on clothes at Wet Seal and Contempo Casuals.

Taking a break from our mall routine, we would sit in an open area on a bench and smoke cigarettes (you could smoke inside the mall), looking cool with our designer brand bags and blown out hair.

We were 14 and 15, but could pass for 18. We never got carded for cigarettes at 7-Eleven and if we were desperate, we could buy smokes at any vending machine (I hated vending machines since they only came in soft packs, which were instantly mushed in the bottom of my small purse). Cigarette vending machines were found at just about every public place at that time.

If we detected a crop of cute boys, we followed them slowly, talking in British accents about some made-up vacation on a ritzy beach somewhere to peak their interest. We practiced this all the time, pretending as if we were the latest girls of Duran Duran’s, Simon Le Bon and John Taylor.

My best friend had more money to spend and I bought cheap accessories with the hopes that in 6 months to a year, she would be bored of what she bought today and I’d inherit her clothes as hand-me-downs. Since, her wardrobe was ‘way’ cooler than mine, I had no sense of expiring ‘hotness’ when it came to fashion. I trusted her judgment and would wear her clothes until there were holes in them and the bright colors faded to pastels.

She was really boy crazy and the bolder one. I just went along with her, having no real identity of my own. It wasn’t until we got a little older that I would stand up to her and understand how superficial, meaningless and desperate our teen years truly were.

[image from Newspapers.com]

[1987 • Article via Newspapers.com]


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