"It is no measure of health to be well-adjusted to a profoundly sick society." - J. Krishnamurti
It's true what that "gamer-guy-who-has-more-video-games-than-friends" quote says: Sometimes the end gets you thinking about the beginning.
If I consider the beginnings of this semester, every class, every return to Richmond after breaks at home, has functioned as a sort of nail. But instead of those quasi-beginnings building something, the hammer has been flipped over, and the nails have been pried from their snug holes as I've been nudged to question the priorities and institutions that have long occupied our focus. That or I've just seen "Life as a House" too many times.
Beginning No. 1 at Richmond after a fall semester abroad in Spain would fare best in "Titanic" terms - except I didn't even have to begin the transatlantic voyage home to the New World to notice the iceberg right ahead. Warning came uncomfortably early with the dispatch of spring syllabi even before fall exams. I managed to reach American soil for winter break, but the ship had surely been punctured. I hadn't even opened my Christmas presents and I was opening e-mails about assignments due, thoughtfully, the first day of class.
And when I finally set my first toe back on campus, I was washed away like the white-vested, flashlight-waving guards searching for Jack and Rose below the decks as the water burst through the steel walls. The icy shock to the system numbed my mind except for one thought: Is schoolwork worth sinking the ship?
The Real Plane Crash Culprit
Beginning No. 2 found me at the Philadelphia airport, trying to return to Richmond after a weekend jaunt home. As the security woman confiscated my precious jar of almond butter, I cursed "Meet the Parents" for brainwashing me to "always carry on." Made from 100 percent raw, organic almonds, it'd cost $11.50 for the 8 oz. jar (Skippy costs $2.50 ... for 16 oz.), and Ukrop's doesn't carry it (... yet).
She said I could mail it to myself, but if I didn't have enough time to check my bag, I said, it was unlikely I had the luxury of a detour to the post office. With spring break pending, I inquired whether I could come back for it in two weeks. She was not amused. I'm only trying to concoct some AB&J sandwiches, not a terrorist attack, I said. She told me I could surrender the jar or surrender my seat on the plane.
As I grudgingly ate jamwiches for the following fortnight while I watched the semester plane-crash list elongate - Hudson River, the Amazon, Buffalo, Amsterdam, Montana, Tokyo - I wondered whether our safety resources were being well allocated. Again, did we have our priorities straight?
Flying Consumer Class
During the flight aboard what I'd naively mistaken to be an airplane, a special magazine informed me I had in fact entered the Sky Mall. "Just ask your flight attendant for a special Buy in the Sky order form and return it prior to landing," Sky Mall President Christine Aguilera wrote.
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It was subtler than the European RyanAir peddlers had been ("Ladies and gentlemen, we will now be selling ... toys and gadgets."), but seriously? I was amused, yet outraged.
"The Star Trek Full-size Captain's Chair," "The Continuously Freshening Feline Drinking Fountain," "The Digital Swim Mask Cam" - I did not want them Sam I am. I did not want to buy while I fly. All I wanted was my almond butter, which had been new. (And maybe "The King Tut Life-Sized Sarcophagus Cabinet," too).
But it wasn't until an insomnia spell a month later when I found myself searching the ringtone market to pass the time, that I realized the breadth of the problem. I'd always known I could shop anytime, and the Sky Mall was quite the carnival. But the idea that only a mid-sleep reach for my cell phone separated me from charging my credit card was nauseating. "10 Things I Hate About You" echoed in my head as I contemplated our "meaningless, consumer-driven lives."
"Someone else will set your clocks...
Again, our priorities? They seemed to go like this: Get into good college. Get good job. Make money. Spend money. All of it amounted to the transfer of money. Except not even, as the press of a key, the click of a mouse, the swipe of debit or Spidercard has rendered physical currency obsolete, with only 3 percent of the U.S. money supply existing in physical currency. We don't even realize we're spending anymore.
It seems we have created, in our collective minds, institutions that essentially serve to separate us - to elevate some and lower others - all through the transfer of money. Besides education in itself, this coincided with the main points of some of my classes this semester: Nations are imagined. Families are socially constructed. Race, class, gender, religion, sexual orientation, occupation - invented.
All initially fabricated as ways of forming groups to generate money and power for some and not for others. And some even call money itself a fabrication, created out of thin air by the fractional reserve banking system ("Zeitgeist Addendum" on Google vids should change your life.)
Yet each day, we maintain these constructions as we fight our way onto one of the "Titanic" lifeboats, as we spend more time getting ahead than getting to know each other. And for what? Or as "Zeitgeist" asks, for whom? "None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free." - Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.
... you won't find moments in a box."
Now that school's over and we'll have five minutes a day to ourselves, spend this summer questioning: Are the ways we have arranged our lives and our priorities how we want them to be? If certain states can decide to simply not participate in daylights savings, what's keeping anything, or any of us, locked into place?
"To the seniors in these troubling times," unfortunately the ad where I saw that line was for a retired living community and won't be much help to you. But as one of my professors put it: Can't get a job? Good. Go do something cool. (And feel free to write home to Richmond about it. Deadlines are still 5 p.m. Sunday.)
To my juniors, let us prepare ourselves for a "cheerleader-who-can-read" turn of the decade, one in which we put our classmates ahead of our class work.
To the sophomores: a) going abroad - buy your tickets now. Depart as early and return as late as possible. Always be with camera and you'll uncover the amusement masked as every inconvenient situation.
b) going to Europe - RyanAir Frankfurt airport is two hours from Frankfurt. Conveyor belts are warmer for lodging than tile floors. You cannot tour the Uffizi Gallery in Florence with a pizza box (but you can check it).
c) returning to Richmond - come hang out! Then apply to go abroad for the spring semester.
To the freshmen, as I know maybe two of you, I'm going to have to sign it middle-school-yearbook-style: Have a great summer. But I'm a lot nicer now - it's been a decade since I was almost suspended for being part of a "hostage recess situation" (Catholic schools can be so overdramatic) - and so I actually mean it. That summer was top two.
If you're considering transferring, remember that some things take time. Come back (unless you're the ferocious pair who tried to force down the bathroom door at a recent off-campus party. Tame yourself; then come back).
And finally, faculty and staff, thank you for keeping Richmond beautiful for us while we're away. Just please don't send me any syllabi - the first day of class in August will be early enough, thanks. Peace for now ...
Contact opinion editor Maura Bogue at firstname.lastname@example.org
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