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Gun Violence in America and How to “Change the Discussion”

Over 50 people have been confirmed dead. Over 500 people have been confirmed injured. And that’s without a full and clear account of all affected victims. 

On October 1st, 2017, around 10:00 pm Pacific time, a domestic terrorist attack occurred, becoming the deadliest domestic shooting in America’s history. A so-called “lone wolf” gunman, Stephen Paddock, shot hundreds of country music festival concert-goers from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino hotel, located in Las Vegas. 

This is not new information about the terrorist; it’s been all over national news for the past 12 or so hours. So what am I doing here? 

Am I here to debate the politics of gun control? To hypothesize the terrorist’s motives? To assume his political leaning? To investigate his mental health? 

Not really. Nope. Hell no. No. 

Frankly, I don’t feel like giving a murderer more time and “recognition” than he’s already received. Instead of making this a long, drawn out, half-baked report of the intricacies behind the mind of a domestic terrorist and mass murderer, I’d rather focus on the larger issue at hand: mass shootings in America, and our response to these events. 

It’s no secret that America’s fascination with guns is akin to children anticipating gifts on Christmas morning. We Americans love our Constitutional rights and will fight to the death to defend them – especially Amendment #2. Politics aside, America has a serious issue with the lack of gun control and prevention of mass terror events like the tragedy in Las Vegas. 

Though the domestic terror attack in Las Vegas is traumatizing, this is not our first “rodeo”. Yes, we are all in shock and sadness over the countless deaths and innumerable injuries innocent people are suffering. And yes, we are praying and sending condolences to the “victims and their families”. We are changing our Facebook statuses and profile pictures to that of the Las Vegas Strip, illuminated by a glowing filter. We are posting tweets and snaps about how terrible this tragedy is. But what are we actually doing to prevent something like this from happening again? 

Until today, our most recent mass shooting happened quite recently: June 12th, 2016 at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida. Publicized as a massacre fueled by hate for gay men and an attack on the gay community, we all knew the “reason” and motivation behind that mass shooting. But since the Las Vegas shooter’s reason excuse for murdering over 50 people (and counting) and injuring 500+ others is still “unknown,” people start making up lies and unfair assumptions to justify his unjust actions, claiming he belonged to X political party or believed in Y faith system; he had “mental health” disorders or he was bullied or mistreated as a child…and so on. 

None of these reasons justify mass murdering anyone, let alone people unaware of their surroundings. These people were targets attacked from above without a chance for escape. There was no indication of anything awry other than the piercing sound of endless bullets coming at them full-force – for some, too late. 

Americans tend to want a REASON why murderers murder, and then chalking up said “reason” to a certain aspect of belief, a certain sense of hatred, a certain motivating factor that may not always exist.

Though this tragedy is still fresh and unraveling before our very eyes, even if or when we get a REASON why this person attacked innocent people, it won’t change the process of taking action beyond a recycled conversation about how these events are tragic and “should be prevented”. 

We will again listen to politicians debate the necessity of gun control. And we will again listen to people screaming “DON’T TAKE AWAY MY RIGHTS!” And we will again listen to the victims speaking out against this act of terror. 

And we will again do what we always do: we will turn the TV off, change our radio stations, re-tweet our politician of choice, and forget about this tragedy in a month’s time. You might shrug and say, “well, what am I going to do about it? There’s nothing I can do to help!” But is that really the truth?

Regardless of your political beliefs, we should ALL be outraged not only that mass shootings have happened, but that they continue happening – and in increasingly greater amounts as time passes. There ARE preventative measures that can and should be taken to try and limit, if not completely eradicate, the potential for people with murderous intent to get their hands on weaponry (not needed by your average citizen) used simply to harm other citizens.

See…

Our 1st Amendment rights should be protected. However…
– We should be vigilant and speak up if we notice someone who expresses signs of serious mental illness who may have the potential for using their illness to hurt others.
– We should acknowledge and prevent people who disguise hate speech as “free speech” from acting on their words and intimidating others.
– We should de-stigmatize seeking help for mental illness and promote it by making it a normal, regularly-discussed activity so that those who need help receive it. 

Our 2nd Amendment rights should be protected. However…
– We should have stricter gun laws that screen all people who intend to purchase firearms in order to make sure the buyer is of sound mind and clear mental health. 
– We should make buying automatic and semi-automatic weapons illegal to the general public as these weapons should only be used by and made for the military. 
– We should stop labeling domestic terrorists “mentally unstable” when we’d readily label a non-American-born shooter as a terrorist based on their skin color or religious affiliation.

Perhaps if we all contribute to society at large by becoming more vigilant, active, concerned Americans, our interest in the betterment of society will supersede the presence of unstable people who have no interest other than the destruction of American unity.

In the meantime, continue posting condolences and sharing your sympathies and prayers. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. These little acts of kindness do shine a small light of hope on the victims, their families, and the tragic situation. But instead of asking “why” or becoming desensitized to the increasing number of domestic terror attacks happening in the United States, do more than you’ve been doing. Be active. Speak up. Take small steps to recognize and diffuse potential future terrorist attacks on our land. And let the world know that we ARE the United States of America, and we will no longer self-divide.

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The House, the Dells, and the Stories No One Tells: Part 1

Last week, I went on a road trip and mini-vacation with my boyfriend. We decided a few weeks prior that we wanted to go somewhere that required minimal planning in our short window of time. We researched a bit, compared prices, and decided to head up to Wisconsin Dells for a few days – a nice little getaway about three and a half hours outside of Chicago.

The myth of growing up in Chicago or surrounding Midwestern cities is that a summer family vacation at Wisconsin Dells is a given. As I had never been to the Dells before, what many might think of as a “lame” vacation turned out to be the highlight of my summer.

I knew little to nothing about the Dells, so researching where to go proved to be a challenge. Apparently the Dells is actually a small tourist town with multiple water parks, hotels, and Zoltars (I’ll get to that later). For some reason, I had always thought it was a big city with one giant water park, plenty of upscale shopping and dining establishments, and a nightlife that contested even the liveliest Friday in Chicago. Boy, was I in for quite a shock.

But before I get into the details of the Dells, let me tell you about a quick stop we made…

En route to the Dells, we stopped off at a well-traveled tourist attraction in Iowa County, WI, called House on the Rock. With no clear indication of what the House was, we went in with open minds, excited for what we might see. Upon entering the guest service area prior to reaching the House, there was a museum-like vibe. Filled with artifacts, pictures, statues, music, and documents encased in glass, the first few steps into this building seemed no different than a typical museum.

We read from displays that the House is built on a chimney of rock; in order to reach the entrance, we had to pass over a walkway that brought us to part one. The walkway curved around a beautiful reflection garden outside, lush with green foliage and the sound of water falling onto the rocks below. Once inside the House, however, the natural light from outdoors disappeared. The fresh air became stale with strong scents of dust, water, and mold (invisible to the eye).

The swift shift in sensory and visual elements foretold the next three hours of our time.

With low ceilings under which my boyfriend had to duck to pass, we let our hands help guide our way through the dim, hazy, maze-like hallways. The walls were rocky and cool to the touch, apropos for a House situated on a rock. We immediately were drawn in to the narrow coziness encompassing the first rooms we passed through. With abundant seating areas, it was surprising that nobody stopped to catch their breath after the incline-fueled walk. The cloth on the couch-like benches was clearly worn and tearing at the seams; the surrounding area was covered in bookshelves, knickknacks, and a variety of artistry.

The dinginess of the House’s entrance was promptly negated after we exited the room and sent into the sunlight. The seemingly endless room of darkness took us back outside to the Infinity Room. As the name indicates, the Infinity Room is an elongated, suspended “room” (bridge) that extends outward – to infinity (and beyond)! We stood inside taking pictures of each other walking into oblivion before making our way through the remainder of part one of the House.

We had been given 10 tokens at the beginning when we purchased tickets, with little instruction on their purpose. As we passed from room to room, we noticed small music boxes or interactive art pieces that required one to two tokens to be seen. Naturally, our curiosity bested us and we shared the coins, playing music boxes and automated pianos as we walked along.

After we moved from the outdoor portion, our first of three stops inside the House was “The Streets of Yesterday”. We followed an indoor brick road on a darkened early 1900s street, lit only by dim streetlights. Along the road a variety of shops, displays, and interactive puppet shows sat. One storefront was filled with creepy girls’ dolls, many reminiscent of the infamous, haunted Annabelle. We passed an apothecary – equipped with a sign recommending tapeworms as the ideal method for weight-loss (innovative!), cocaine for other ailments (as it was not illegal ‘back in the day’), and other magic pills and salves to keep healthy in an early 20th century world.

One of my favorite parts of “The Streets of Yesterday” was a box puppet show called The Magician. After inserting a token, the magician inside of the box, along with his talented assistant, put on a mini magic show for all to see! The music allured me like a siren’s song; I ended up playing it twice. Two tokens down. My boyfriend got a kick out of that.

After walking down the remainder of the “Streets of Yesterday,” we reached the second part of the House: “The Heritage of the Sea,” a completely nautical-themed series of rooms and artifacts. There were large handcrafted boats on display, as well as smaller nautical trinkets, like anchors, sailors, marine life, and even a giant 200-foot long replica of a whale. There were also various toys in the display cases along the walls, kind of misplaced – like someone didn’t know where to put their doodads.

The exhibit’s walls were painted a dark color, giving off the “underneath the ocean” vibe as we swam through the sea of onlookers. At the beginning of our tour, we were advised that walking through and viewing the entire House would take upwards of three and a half hours. With roughly an hour left before closing at this point, and still a full third exhibit to view, we had crowds of people rushing past, pushing into us to make their way by.

We made our way through the remainder of the “Heritage of the Sea” and almost reached the final section, “The Music of Yesterday”. But before we made our way through section three’s doors, we stopped in awe of the most spectacular marvel in the entire House: the world’s largest indoor carousel. With unmatched beauty, craftsmanship, and size, the spectacle of this carousel was not to be overlooked. Adorned with over 20,000 lights and 269 “creatures” (there are NO horses on this carousel), its magnificence is nothing short of a sensory overload – in the best way possible.

After gawking at the incredible carousel, we finally made our way inside “The Music of Yesterday”.

Ironically, the very beginning of the “Music of Yesterday” section had no music in it at all. Instead, we traveled a long, empty hallway filled with glass display cases. Inside, a circus took place. It was magical – like Ringling Bros. minus the animal abuse! (Who said that?) We saw lions and tigers jumping through rings; glamorous women showing off their physiques; acrobats performing daredevil tricks on tightropes and swings; ringmasters challenging talented animals; and the wonderful white top we all associate with the once timeless, formerly beloved tradition. Oh, and we also saw figurines of three clowns taking a bath together. Maybe it was a nod to the childhood classic “Rub-a-dub-dub” nursery rhyme. One can only hope.

We then followed a long, winding hallway with rooms off to the side, ears turning at the hints of jumbled music playing simultaneously. Finally, we had reached the pinnacle of sound.

Though we had already passed at least 100 or so music boxes, music-filled puppet shows, and other various music-based memorabilia, this exhibit was nothing like the rest. Every inch of the “Music of Yesterday” exhibit was filled with music; the enormous automatic machines either played independent of human interaction or when a token was inserted.

Many of the machines had a theme to them, with notes of Chinese artistry and song at the forefront, as Alex Jordan Jr. highly appreciated and respected Asian culture and music. One of the main sub-exhibits was a room called “The Red Room”. Now, if you have any familiarity with pop culture literature within the last seven years, your mind likely thinks of this “red room” – a far cry from the music and artifact-filled exploratorium Jordan Jr. envisioned.

“The Music of Yesterday” exhibit was, in part, my least favorite section at the House. Each of the machines played music over each other, either drowning out the other exhibits’ sounds, or clashing with other rooms’ music, making the varieties of music more like an assault of sound. To be fair, individually, the music was wonderful. At this point, we only had one token between the two of us, and since every music machine was massive (the larger ones always cost two or more tokens apiece), we didn’t have enough “money” to play anything else.

Another oddity about this section were the misplaced artifacts within the main attraction. For instance, there was a whole section dedicated to broken or detached ship parts – independent of the nautical room – that came immediately after we viewed the carousel. This warm, dimly-lit area was made up entirely of old ship parts: engines, pressure monitors, tools…you name it. The arrangement of much of the House made sense, but the placement of this still-nautical ship graveyard of sorts threw the whole dynamic of the “Music of Yesterday” section off.

In ending the self-given tour, we were directed by signs to go outside to fully immerse ourselves in the reflection pond and garden. Beneath the wooden walkway, lily pads softly covered dark, clear water filled with bright orange fish (possibly koi). The fish swam at a moderate pace, unfazed by the giant feet walking overhead. Families stopped to take selfies and bask in the serenity of silence surrounding the garden. A mini waterfall poured down over a rock formation, creating the perfect ambiance of relaxation and invigoration.

As the House is surrounded by a healthy, thriving forest, the unfortunate reality of this is that we could never actually get a complete look at the House from the outside.

Our final stop at the House on the Rock was the gift shop. We browsed briefly, inhaling delicious scents of homemade fudge (yeah, they make and sell fudge in their gift shop!), and deciding which shot glasses and magnets we wanted to bring home to our families. He bought me a magnet, and I got him a shot glass (cute, right?). Before we continued our journey to Wisconsin Dells, we took a minute to situate ourselves and absorb all of the magnificence we had just been immersed in for the past three hours.

Deep breaths, deep breaths.

Check back soon for Part 2 of my Wisconsin adventures!

On Being the “Planner”

Ever since I can remember, I’ve been the “planner”. You know, the friend who plans everything: the hang-outs, the parties, the cookouts, the brunches, the sleepovers – everything. Every friend group has at least one planner. But after awhile, those of us in this position find it a tiring, thankless title to maintain.

When you’ve been the planner for so long, your kindness is taken for granted, becoming an expectation rather than a welcome surprise. There is never a change in roles, and your friends become complacent that someone else will take the wheel while they sit back and enjoy the fruits of your labor. But is their complacency really their fault, or yours for allowing it?

You see those fleeting “We should really get together sometime!” moments as a challenge, an event to be planned. Instead of letting the comment fall on dead ears, you grab it by the horns and run. “Sure, how’s next Saturday work for you,” you ask, already setting the time, date, and location in your head. Sometimes, they’ll bite: “Works great for me!” And other times, they’re trapped into giving you a tentative “yes” to appease your inquiry. If it’s a one-on-one hang out, it usually goes off without a hitch. Group events, however, are often a different story.

For instance, you think: it sure would be nice to go to a summer barbecue! But since most of your friends live in multi-unit apartments with little to no backyards, the event planning falls to you. Now, you’ll have to plan AND host the event. No big deal though; you’re an expert planner.

First, you send out an invitation via Facebook a month to the date of your barbecue. Ample time for people to request time off, get out of familial and work obligations, or block off time on their calendars to relax. Out of 25 invitees, 10 reply immediately with a seemingly solid “yes”. Three more respond with a shaky “maybe,” and the rest leave you on seen while you try to estimate a headcount in order to start planning your shopping list.

As the date approaches, you become excited with anticipation, so you send out a poll in the event you’ve made, just to see two of the former “yes-es” change to stark “will not attends”. Flustered, you tell your friends it’s okay and you’ll see them next time! A week before, you ask for a final headcount as you’ll be going grocery shopping Tuesday after work. Another handful of people say they won’t be coming anymore, and the rest continue to ignore you as if you can’t see they’re reading what you’ve typed.

Three nights before, you sit on your couch wondering if it’s even worth going through the trouble when you only have two guaranteed attendees with the rest left as maybes – aka the “not actually going to show ups”.

Defeated, you sigh, wondering why time and time again you go through the trouble of planning a kick-ass event nobody even wants to attend. So you decide you’re not going to anymore.

You vow to yourself:

No more FB messages asking your college best friend if they want to grab lunch.
No more texts asking if your work buddy wants to get drinks Friday night.
No more event planning for holidays, birthdays, or game-watch parties.
No more, no more!

You hope that your Vow of Independence will boast grand results: friends reaching out to you, asking what day is good to hang; asking you to lunches, brunches, dinners, and drinks; inviting you over for a Bachelor in Paradise marathon with plentiful wine and popcorn…

For a few days, you feel the rush of empowerment.

You stick with your can-do attitude and convince yourself the tables are finally going to turn. But a few weeks into your new “lease on life” pass by, and you realize you’ve heard little from your friends. Sure, you still send each other the occasional meme or pose a question about something that could easily be Googled, and SURE, they say they miss you (and you them), but they still don’t ask to hang out. What gives?

Mind swirling with questions, you scroll through your Insta and see Friend 1 and Friend 2 got lunch together earlier today. And Friend 3 went out with a group of people last Friday night. Friend 4 had her other friend stay the night, and then posted a Boomerang video of their mid-afternoon margaritas at that rooftop bar you’re always talking about.

You start to wonder if you did something wrong.

Did I make so-and-so mad? Was I being selfish expecting my friends to make plans with me as I do with them? Am I overzealous in my desire to maintain active friendships?

In reality, it’s probably none of those things.

Your friends are just bad communicators and even worse planners. Their complacency with someone else always making the plans has turned them into mush-brained zombies (sorry guys, love ya!) who can’t plan events – even if their lives depended on it.

Unfortunately, for those of you who relate to being the planner, I don’t have a cut-and-dry solution for this problem; it still happens to me all the time. What I can say on the matter though is eventually you’ll find a friend who puts in as much time and effort into your friendship as you do. They’ll reach out to you and ask you on coffee dates, tell you about the hot new brunch spot they found, and ask you for fro-yo and gossip sessions on the regular.

Maintaining a friendship isn’t hard if both parties put in equal effort. You just have to find the person who will.

Too Little Experience, Too Picky to Take a Chance

It’s no secret that recent college grads are one of the largest underemployed groups of people in America. Desperate for a job and a way to focus our attention on something other than the impending doom of permanent adulthood, college graduates seem to share commonalities regardless of their field of study: we’re hungry for employment that pays well and utilizes our areas of study.

Other than a few weeks to months between graduation and the start of a new academic year (in which most grads will not be partaking), the market for jobs overflows with young people seeking secure employment opportunities. But those “secure employment opportunities” are few and far between. Sure, recent grads can (and often do) scoop up sales positions because they are plentiful. But why waste four to six years of hard work in a field you were passionate about on a job you only take because you’re desperate for employment?

Similarly, many graduates flock to retail positions because the potential for rising up the employment ladder occurs more readily there than the existence of entry-level jobs in their respective fields. Again we fall into the cycle of overqualified, underemployed college graduates. It’s much easier to secure a position as an assistant manager at a big box retailer or fast-food restaurant than it is finding a full-time job as a copywriter, social media coordinator, digital marketing specialist, technical writer, and so on. But why should we keep taking jobs that pay at or barely above minimum wage when we’ve worked so hard to earn more?

Some lucky folks might have job offers waiting for them as they walk across that stage into a chilly, stale air-filled office, so this doesn’t apply to them, but not all of us have the luxury of a job in-hand right out of college. Even for the most qualified graduates, many positions require years of experience at similar employers before they even considering hiring “fresh blood”. Sure, you might have all of the qualifications of the right candidate, but you’re also 22 and couldn’t possibly have 3-7 years’ experience working in an office setting, managing social media channels for a multi-million dollar corporation.

Last I checked, Unnamed Marketing Agency #1 doesn’t hire 16-year-olds full time.

What happens then?

There will always be the chorus of people screaming, “Well you shouldn’t have gotten a LIBERAL ARTS DEGREE if you wanted to find a job!” (Wrong.) And the others screeching, “College is pointless! Learn a trade instead!” (No?) Ignoring individual opinions of the value of a student’s degree, I think we can all agree that there should be entry-level employment opportunities for recent graduates, regardless of their field.

See, the secret is that employers are nearly as desperate as their potential candidates to find someone to fill their vacancies, but what they have that graduates don’t is the luxury of being picky. However, when the median age range of applicants flooding your inbox is no greater than 24, yet you require years of experience without proper training to your potential employees, therein lies a gap: people with too little experience and employers who lack faith in future generations so much that they won’t take a chance on recent grads.

So how do we remedy this problem?

Well, if a candidate extensively studied in a certain field of work for (at minimum) four years, and their experience as a student falls in the realm of qualities and capabilities of a ‘hireable’ candidate, maybe employers should give them a chance. Hire the recent grad as a probationary employee. Within three months, provide proper training for the skills they lack and hone the skills they’ve learned in school by creating opportunities for continued growth with your company so they too can take charge and be the best data-entering, idea-pitching, sales-driving, number-crunching person they can be!

What a wild idea.