Category Archives: Guest Thoughts

95. Reunions

Guest Thought from Ben Weinberg

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It is a very joyous (and under appreciated) feeling to be able to meet up with friends who you have not seen in a long time. Sometimes it feels like you never left them in the first place. Sometimes it feels like you’re meeting them for the first time all over again.

The older you get, the more likely your friends will move around the country or around the world and it’s possible to lose touch with them. It’s natural, but sad nonetheless. I was lucky enough to see these three friends of mine again in New York City this past weekend after not seeing them for the six months after the end of our exchange student program in Istanbul. It was an ecstatic feeling being able to see all of these people who I had gotten friendly with during my study abroad experience back in the flesh in front of me.

The idea of a reunion plays into the very nature of human beings and how we are social animals above all else. We urge to be connected with each other especially after having not seen one another in a while. When we do reconnect, the memories come flooding back, for better or for worse. A familiar face is like a familiar song, able to bring you back in time.

My study abroad experience simply wouldn’t have been the same if I didn’t have friends to share with it. In all honestly, the people who you surround yourself throughout your life affect the experiences you have more than you would think.

I am one who prefers life’s experiences when I have people to share them with. Moments carry an extra significance when you bond with people as they happen. Traveling abroad, eating, drinking, dancing, and any other social activity that we human beings engage in throughout the course of our lives should be shared with others. I’m not against a quiet, solitary moment here and there, but we are social creatures, and reunions remind us of that.

Reunions can be spontaneous and you never when they’re going to happen again. It is important to savor those chances to meet up with those people again that you have not seen in a long time.

During this recent reunion with friends, I felt many positive emotions brimming to the surface and I remember trying to savor each of those elated moments that night. I enjoyed every laugh, every inside joke, every story we each shared together in Istanbul and it made me very happy to be able to see these friends again. It made me want to keep in touch with them even more and to see their faces again.

Distance and time are strong barriers but can be overcome quite easily in this day and age if you try hard enough. We exist for such a short amount of time and it’s the people we share that existence with that will influence us the most, so we should try harder to keep in touch.

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92. Wal-Mart Jesus

Guest Thought from Megan Chaussee

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There was a time when I dreaded my weekly visit to the local Wal-Mart Superstore. Once there I would have to contend with all sorts of frustrations and inconveniences just to restock my kitchen for the week. Every time I used the last of the milk to fill a bottle or Sippy cup, my shoulders sagged a little with the realization that I’d have to go back to Wal-Mart.

Crowds. Long lines. Crappy parking. Crazy people. Broken carts. Wardrobe malfunctions. It was an unpleasant errand, to say the least.

I know, I know. I could go to Whole Foods or a farmer’s market to purchase locally grown, organic produce. I could waltz into my nearest Nugget affiliate and enjoy the luxury of wide, meticulously manicured aisles and dairy products devoid of toxic hormones. I could watch in detached amusement as a well-spoken (read: white) bagger stowed my groceries carefully away in the back of my car. Unfortunately, the flipside to these options is very simple: they cost.

I was never willing (able) to spend the money necessary to consistently shop at these types of establishments. Instead I chose the politically incorrect, sell-your-soul for a Great Value option that is the Wal-Mart Corporation. There seems to be a snake’s head in this bag of frozen broccoli, but they’re only charging 89 cents for it. The savings are significant enough to forgive such sins.  Add to cart.

Having decided upon Wal-Mart as my go-to grocery source, I settled into an angry pattern of weekly shopping trips. Why won’t Miss Sweat Pants move out of my way? How long does it take to pick out a can of peas? Why is my cart shrieking?  Why is this line so long? Who’s yelling? Why didn’t anyone bring enough money to pay for their items? Why is this ladder here? What’s that smell?

The questions never ended – and I found myself exhausted, irritable, and disgusted with humanity by the end of each visit.

Within the last year, though, my outlook shifted. The answer appeared to me, as if from nowhere. Life is too short to be the angry mother-of-two pushing around a cart with a sour expression on her face.

Life is beautiful. Hence…Wal-Mart is beautiful.

Ever since, I find myself pacing the aisles with a serene, far away expression. I smile beatifically at the half-naked children throwing discount Blu-rays into my cart. The tattooed man blocking my path with his motorized scooter is my sacred brother. I will gift you the two dollars you need to purchase that feminine product, Ma’am. We bleed the same blood.

The good people of Wal-Mart are my brethren. I walk amongst them and embrace their raw humanity. I wish them love, light, and peace when our time together is over.  I forgive them their sins. Aren’t we all cut from the same over-drafted, underdressed, slightly misshapen human cloth? We stand together, imperfect.

Wal-Mart is my new meditation; my true religion.

I am a Wal-Mart Jesus.

91. Fake crowds

Guest Thought from Sean Fryer

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Alright. That’s it.

I have held my tongue long enough. As a fan of cinema there is something that has been niggling at me for a few years now, simmering just below the surface of my subconscious. I didn’t know what it was specifically.

Then as I sat bored and channel surfing one evening, I happened upon a Revenge of the Nerds movie (which one doesn’t matter here). And I hung on that channel, marveling at what people thought was funny in the 80’s, and the movie was near the end where the two factions (nerds vs. jocks) are battling it out for something, a trophy or respect or both or something. There was a crowd of cheering extras, rooting and jumping and hollerin’ and clapping and shaking their fists in the air… and it dawned on me.

It looked totally fake.

It was as if the director had told them to be enthusiastic but LOOK like you don’t know why. Trust me on this. There are quite a few ‘fake crowds’ in dozens of movies, and only a few of them seem authentic (The Natural with Robert Redford comes to mind), but a great majority of films just don’t quite cut it as realistic.

Like any movie with a ski competition. Or Adam Sandler movies.

My point being this… Now I can’t stop scrutinizing movies with crowds and judging how real they look. And now that I put it into your thoughts, you will now do the same. Fake crowds in movies. Don’t know why they irk me but I’m sure I am not alone.

86. Favorites

Guest Thought from Jerry Carvalho

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We all have favorites: favorite movies, favorite songs, favorite foods, even favorite people. No one really knows why or how we choose our favorites. We could choose our favorites based on a smell, a touch, a fond memory, or a similarity to our own perceived condition. It does not really matter how or why we choose our favorites, it is just important that we have them because they help define who we are. When times are good we seek out new experiences with the hope of developing new favorites. Somehow, we hope that these new favorites will make us more popular, more hip, better people. However, when times are bad or stressful we always revert back to the comfort and familiarity of our good, old favorites.

85. Nostalgia

Guest Thought from Kelsey Taylor

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Nostalgic is one of those things that most people like to be; 90’s kids make Facebook groups or start forums where they talk about the awesome TV shows they used to watch and how they are infinitely better than Anything That Ever Was And Will Be.  “You kids don’t know what you’re missing!” they say. “Your childhood did not involve Robert Munsch or Pokémon and therefore is not as good as mine.”

Everyone has an image of an old relative or the grumpy old man on the porch who is convinced that they lived in the “good old days”, and that  society is on a downward spiral.  “Things just aren’t what they used to be,” they say.

People like to talk about what they’re nostalgic about, but don’t really think about why it can be a problem.

The middle-aged guy who can’t stop talking about how high school or university were the best years of his life: what about everything else?  Maybe you’re married.  Maybe you have kids, and if you do I’m sure they are an important part of your life.  You might not, but I’m sure you have friends and other people who are important to you.  You might have a job, and if you don’t like your job I’m sure you have some sort of hobby.  You probably read a newspaper, have opinions, and care about things.  Or did you write off the rest of your life when you graduated?

People will talk about how “chivalry is dead,” but forget that there was a feminist movement that started in between then and now.  Sometimes we get the sense that “old-fashioned” things are more sophisticated, and a lot of this gets ascribed to our conceptions of what is romantic, for example.

Nostalgia is looking at the past through tinted glasses, remembering everything that was good but forgetting the things that weren’t so great.  Or, they might’ve worked for you, but maybe some people or groups weren’t having the best time.  We also have new inventions, new books, new senses of humour, new ways of understanding the world.  The present is pretty awesome; we shouldn’t be viewing it through a lens of the past.

Remembering our past is an entirely different thing, though.  Things that remind us of the past give us a good feeling, and that’s not a bad thing.  That song that reminds you of drunk nights in university, that time you studied abroad, your wedding, whatever, might make you smile because it is linked to a good memory.  Maybe you have an inside joke with an old friend, and it will make you laugh to yourself while you’re taking the bus to work.  You get a warm and fuzzy feeling from the act of remembering, and we generally call this “nostalgia”.  These memories and associations are part of what construct our individual narratives.  They are part of our identity.  We are the culmination of our life experiences: my personality was certainly shaped, in part, by the fact that I was obsessed with Pokémon as a child or that I know all the actions to “Stop” by the Spice Girls.  …Somehow.

The difference, I think, is when we make value judgements about the past.  Nostalgia in the abstract is fine – and the things we choose to emphasize and remember make up who we are.  Our past definitely influences our present.

We just have to remember that everyone has experiences, and we shouldn’t let our past define our present so much that we forget to live now.

79. Choice

 Guest Thought from Ben Weinberg

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No other mental task can be so challenging and exhausting, and yet so invigorating, as making a choice. Choice is a behavioral process that we undergo hundreds of times each day. These choices that we make can either affect our experience immediately or result in long-term impacts on our lives. From the type of breakfast cereal you buy to the location of your first home, choices have consequences that we can’t always fathom.

I tend to overlook how important choice is in determining one’s destiny or fate in life. As human beings, we make so many choices each day that it’s difficult to discern from what’s valuable to what really doesn’t matter in the grander scheme of things. This also plays into one’s individual perception of what is and what isn’t important in life, which is a long debate that should be left for another thinker.

The other day I was walking through the aisles of my local grocery store when I felt suddenly overwhelmed by the endless assortment of product on the shelves towering over me. Do we really need a hundred different brands of cereal? Picking one became an odd chore, as if having so many options meant I was being judged for which one I actually chose. Completely flummoxed, I’m not even sure which one I picked.

Many people have quite a different situation. Many people will never see a hundred different brands of cereal on a supermarket shelf. Choice might be overwhelming sometimes, but to simply have a choice at all is a gift that we should not take for granted.

My next bumper sticker will say: “I Choose Choice.”

Many people living in the world today have very limited options. Their chance at choice is much lower. It is hard, in a country like this where choice is not only commonplace but can have actual, tangible effects, to imagine a world where choices have been restrained. As humans, we seek fulfillment and happiness, and to be restricted in our choices toward that goal is terrible.

Next time, when you’re meandering in the cereal aisle, perplexed by all the competition, do not dwell for too long. Although breakfast is the most important meal of the day, your choice of cereal is not the most important choice you’ll make today. You know you’re going to get Honey Bunches of Oats, anyway.

In the next few days, pay attention to your moments of choice. Big or small, recognize choice as the gift that it is, then make it a good one.

70. Dogs

Guest Thought from Cheryl Carvalho

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Looking over my shoulder, I saw my Golden Retriever lying on the ground having what appeared to be a seizure. His front legs aimlessly pawed the air as he thrashed his head back and forth. I ditched my bike and ran back to him, thinking he twisted his leg in a gopher hole. When I knelt by his side and saw blood trickle from his nostril and a confused look in his eyes I knew this was going to be goodbye. I petted his golden fur and said, “ I Love you B,” for the last time. A passing jogger stopped to see what went wrong. He’d been watching Baxter trot happily behind my bike one minute, then fall to the ground the next. Indeed, Baxter had been loping along, sniffing everyone’s front yard and I’d scolded him only moments ago to mind his business and catch up. And now he was gone.

Baxter was the neighborhood welcome wagon with a morning routine of visiting friends and milking treats out of them by gazing sweetly into their unsuspecting eyes, casting a trance that said, “Please feed me. My people suck and you’re my only hope.”

Frantically I called for Zach to stay back and run home to get dad. I didn’t want Zach to see Baxter this way. Zach grew up with this dog. I have a million pictures of Zach as a baby, lying on Baxter like a pillow, the dog’s arm around him. Years ago, I was looking for the two of them in the backyard when I saw little human feet and a puppy tail poking out from behind the grapevine along the fence. Moving the leaves aside, I saw my diapered, dirt-covered baby feeding Baxter grapes in their own private fort. In the winter, Baxter chased Zach down the entire sled hill, as if to say, “What is WRONG with you people?  Letting my boy careen helplessly down this dangerous hill while you stand around like dopes?” Many nights, Zach would take his pillow and blanket down on the floor to cover Baxter and he’d fall asleep beside the dog.

My husband and the passing jogger hauled Baxter’s horse-sized body into the back of our Toyota and he was gone.

Word got around our street about Baxter’s death. Some houses seemed to know our dog’s name better than our family name. They hugged us, gave cards, and told their own stories. I heard from Mat across the street that his little girl would stand at the window each morning and wait for Baxter to come by. I had no idea.

Growing up, the only dogs I ever encountered were chained outside and lunged as I rode by on my bike, bearing their teeth and snarling menacingly. It scared the piss out of me. Even our own dog was a Charles Manson incarnate.  In 3rd grade, my friend’s German Shepherd lunged for my neck. He missed, putting a tooth in my leg instead. I feared dogs all my life until Baxter. I was a bumbling idiot of a dog owner and he tolerated my ignorance in stride and showed me that dogs aren’t to be feared but loved. When I gave that love, I learned how a dog’s behavior mirrors that of his owners. With Baxter around, we felt like pretty good people.

60. Smart phones, dull people

Guest Thought from Ben Weinberg

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There is no invention more prominent in today’s society than the smartphone. It is used everyday for things as simple as making a call to as complex as using an application to pinpoint your exact location on Earth.

I am the owner of an iPhone and it befuddles me to this day as to how a phone has come to be so advanced and influential within our daily lives. There’s not a couple of minutes that go by when I’m out walking where I see people absolutely absorbed to what’s happening on their smartphones, completely oblivious to their immediate surroundings.

The great irony of the smartphone is that while it has improved communications through texting, calling, and social networking, our person-to-person interaction has been harmed by this technology.

I fear that is a trend that is only going to get worse as technology continues to advance in the future. It can be a bit annoying to have a conversation or dinner with friends when some people are too busy answering a text or checking their twitter.

I’m not against having a smartphone or against their usefulness, but the extent of their role in our daily lives is a bit startling. Give someone two seconds without anything to do, and they’ll whip out their phone. It’s basically a knee-jerk reaction at this point. Makes me wonder what we did before all of this. Does anyone remember?

I recently watched a news report where they reported an increase in smartphone-related car accidents where people were distracted from texting while driving or pedestrians were too busy looking at their phones to look both ways before crossing the street.

Some obituary, huh? Death by smartphone.

I am sometimes guilty of paying too much attention to my smartphone and I am trying to limit the amount of times I use it during the day. It is a useful tool and has made many lives easier (or at least simpler).

I can’t help but worry about the negative aspects of what is no longer a trend but a normal way of life.

I was hanging out with friends the other day when there came a moment of stillness in the midst of conversation. One by one, like bugs to the electric blue light, each of them started to take out their phones. I was the only one not gazing into the alluring screen of a smartphone.

It’s as if we’ve forgotten what to do with silence.

We’ve given up sharpening our conversation skills for touch screens, and from this I fear we’ve grown dull

49. The gym

Guest Thought from Ben Weinberg

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Hate it or love it, the gym has become tuned to the pulse of our society. With the increasing number and size of gyms, it seems like everyone and their mother has a membership these days. I think this is a positive trend. There are gyms for all folks, from the muscle-mass addicts to the casual weight lifter.

As I get older, going to the gym is becoming more and more a part of my weekly routine as my daily opportunities for exercise and fitness are starting to decline due to sheer laziness or the business of my schedule. Finding the motivation and perseverance needed to go work out after a long day at the office or school is a constant struggle. It makes me miss those days before college where I would participate in mandatory gym class during school and then do varsity sports after classes ended.

I think despite the crowded treadmills, overworked weight-lifting machines and the occasional interaction with the obnoxious guys who live for the gym experience 24/7, it’s not such a bad routine to get into for those who don’t really partake in it yet. It relieves stress, clears your mind and makes you stronger. People do a lot of things to make themselves feel good, why not add going to the gym to that list? Even if all we did at the gym was run a few laps or do a few good stretches, the results would be positive. If we all gave it a shot, it could lead to a fitter and happier world.

Who knows? You might just like it so much that you make a habit of it. Don’t over do it, of course, especially if you’re new to the scene. My body usually gets sore and aches if I go more than three times a week, but a little soreness is to be expected. The hard work of running, lifting, jumping, and stretching usually pays off if you put enough effort into it.

Unfortunately, most people in this world do not have the chance to go to the gym, and even more worrisome is how few people take the time to exercise and take care of their bodies. The gym is a luxury we often take for granted, but exercising should never be overlooked. We should never be too busy to be healthy.

It seems counter intuitive that the more developed a nation becomes, the higher the risk of obesity becomes. It seems we slip into unhealthy patterns when we should be taking more advantage of the opportunities we have. If not a gym, then something else: yoga, kick-boxing, rock climbing…

While the gym is not as accessible or as affordable as it should be, it’s a step in the right direction in terms of giving society the means to improve themselves physically and mentally if they so choose to. We should always be encouraging citizens to pursue healthy lives.

47. Back to school

Guest Thought from Cheryl Carvalho

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When my daughter was a little girl I remember she loved back-to-school shopping. We’d acquire armloads of bags teeming with fresh supplies for the coming year. New shoes with spotless soles begged to be scuffed by a game of tag on the playground. Colorful, waxy crayons sharpened to perfection and lined up like soldiers in their box anxious to become treasured art. But maybe it was the empty notebooks that really got to her. The blank pages beckoned to be scribbled upon as she itched to spill her many thoughts. We’d remove tags, tear off stickers and stuff her pencil box with blunt scissors and hope. Hope for good grades & decent cafeteria food. Hope for nice teachers and to fit in with the cool people. This ritual of buying hope and new pencils has a beguiling fragrance with the power to bring a grown adult like myself back in time to Mrs. Walker’s 3rd grade class. The memory of Joe Flint stealing my Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup still stings. We played on outdoor equipment that would make today’s moms gasp in horror. The year wore on and my crayons wore down. The broken ones could be found next to the crumpled homework at the bottom of my locker.

45. Being late

Guest Thought from Rob Risucci

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Being late can ruin my entire day.

I’m not quite sure when my propensity for punctuality became so prevalent. I would assume it was in my early teen years when my chronically unpunctual family would arrive late and noisily to events and I would cringe at the stares I imagined we received when our dramatic entrance interrupted the proceedings already underway.

I recently immigrated to Sonoma County, California. My quest to explore and navigate this beautiful place has taken me down a plethora of windy two-lane roads. The blur outside my car window is a vast myriad of luxurious vineyards backed up against the valley and as I pass, my eyes flicker from one vinery logo to the next, each beckoning me to come have a taste-test.

If I weren’t in a hurry, maybe I’d consider it.

Today this usually enchanting two-lane road has forced its meandering and lazily curvy attitude on me and I just don’t have the time for it. Furiously impatient, locked in at a mere twenty-five mph behind the world’s most despised Fed-Ex truck and falling into a fouler mood mile by grueling mile, I sink lower in my seat, grind my teeth and succumb to the inevitable: I’m going to be late.

I hate being late.

In this specific case, irony laughs at me as I remember modifying on a whim the résumé I dropped off two weeks ago for the interview I am now hurtling towards to read “never late” in my About Me section. How swell.

I remember swearing silently under my breath whenever I arrived late with my family and to never allow myself to continue in that trend “when I grew up.”  Surprisingly, for the most part, I’d say I’ve been successful. After announcing my topic to a friend just now and hearing her guffaw I’m gathering that not everyone agrees with my alluded success in that area but awareness is key, right? Haha…

Luckily for me in this instance my interviewer was about 45 seconds later than myself and so I escaped detection. I got the job and now look forward to traversing that damned road for at the least 25 minutes each direction each day.

Although, in case of another dastardly Fed-Ex truck encounter, it would behoove me to give myself an hour cushion, eh? Either that or I need to grow some wings.

39. Dads

Guest Thought from Rob Risucci

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Dads…

If you’re reading this, you have one.

We know them, we know of them; we’ve never known them.

We loathe them; we love them… we nothing them.

Others say they see them in us: in a yawn, in a sarcastic response, in a nose, a hairline… And in the depths of a mirror searching, sometimes we see them, too.

We all, at some point, look back at them quizzically, sometimes resentfully, and then lean to peer as far down our endless swaying chain of known ancestry as possible from our vantage point at the front. What we see tells us who we are… It explains us.

We carry with us the traits and likeness of who came before us. For some, this is a fearsome reality and for others an immense source of pride. There are too, more than there should be, a group of us who are tragically blind to this side of their heritage and origin.

Despite inhabiting a generation (us) that prides itself on individualism and a teeming zealotry for the enlightened and new-normal, such backward scrutiny paints a picture for some that should not be lightly discarded in favor of a new start or laughed off in a scoffing of an older and sadly close-minded generation.

We are links. If it is within your ability and availability to look rearward at your dad and take stock of him, to acknowledge him or just know who and what he is then I implore you to not discard your chance. It is precious, and for those of us who have lived our lives blindly when it comes to glimpsing our own inherited identity, it something we have only dreamed of.

Do not tarry pettily.

However gruesome, however wonderful, however despicable or however warmly familiar it may be…

…Go meet your dad.