Category Archives: Story

Unused Candles

I once helped a hoarder clean her house. For the longest time afterward I couldn’t stop thinking about how disgustingly filthy she had let her house become. It took me a while before I could process the possibilities of why and how she let it get that way.

Hoarding is an obsessive-compulsive behavior in which someone cannot discard possessions they accumulate. For hoarders, it does not matter if the objects are worthless, unsanitary or hazardous.

It was clear to me that the woman whom I helped had an obsessive-compulsive disorder. She considered the condition of her house a little messy – an understatement of great proportions.

Cat urine saturated the carpet. Moldy, expired food sat in the kitchen without refrigeration. Gnats flew about the pungent remains of Chinese takeout. Junk mail, boxes, and a mess of random items scattered the living room floor in stacks. The smell made it difficult to enter the house. The mounds of accumulated waste made it almost impossible to go further.

For anyone familiar with the various TV shows about hoarding it is not difficult to imagine the challenge I was faced with. I spent several months cleaning and helping her get the house in some sort of order. It felt good to have made a noticeable difference in the condition of the woman’s house and life, but I worried my efforts wouldn’t last long. I knew there was a lot more I could have done.

I later found out I was right. Any trace of the progress I made quickly vanished. The house has once again become a monument of the woman’s inability to part with any object.

I understand that hoarding is a mental disorder and it is, to a certain extent, beyond a person’s ability to control. But my experience cleaning the house of a hoarder made me think of other people I know who aren’t hoarders at all, but are hesitant to use ordinary things that are perceived to be superior to other ordinary things. Things like fancy candles, expensive soap, a prized sweater, a handmade coffee mug, fashionable sunglasses or specific dishes.

The lesson I learned from my experience with hoarding is to enjoy what you have. Use it or lose it. Why save “good” dishes to only use a few times a year? Why not use “good” dishes all year?

It is clear that as a capitalist society we have become obsessed with stuff. Material objects are held in such high regard that we are not even able to enjoy them anymore. So it has been said, the stuff we own ends up owning us.

The purpose of life is to live. The purpose of a candle is to provide light and to burn. Wouldn’t it be better to live life and to burn like a candle until the last flicker of illumination is gone rather than to sit unused on a bathroom sink, collecting dust without the satisfaction of fulfilling your purpose?

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White Murder, Brown Terrorism

The recent shooting in Arizona has sparked a media maelstrom and a cacophonic debate. Accusations of hyperbolic political rhetoric are being tossed around. Gun laws are being reconsidered. The role of violent video games is receiving attention yet again. Gunman Jared Loughner’s use of marijuana has raised eyebrows. Even the hateful members of the Westboro Baptist Church are threatening to protest the victims’ funerals.

But amidst the yammering of the political pundits, what seems to be less of a topic of debate is the use of the word “terrorism.” When a mentally ill, white male targets a politician and commits mass murder, terrorism is not a word the media chooses to use.

When Joe Stack, a white male, wrote a manifesto denouncing the US government and crashed his private plane into a federal building in Feb. 2010, he was not a terrorist. He was just an unstable guy, angry with the IRS.

When Clay Duke, a white male, brought a gun to a Florida school board meeting in Dec. 2010 and shot at board members before turning the gun on himself, he was a relatively normal man that just cracked one day.

When Michael Enright, a white male, slashed the throat of a Muslim New York City cab driver in Aug. 2010, he was by no means a terrorist. According to his friends, Enright had a terrible drinking problem.

When Byron Williams, a white male, opened fire on police officers in California during a July day in 2010, he was depicted as a disgruntled, unemployed, right wing felon, not a terrorist. Never mind that after he was arrested he admitted he was on his way to the offices of a liberal foundation and a civil liberties organization with the intent to kill people.

When James von Brunn, a white male, entered the Holocaust museum, shooting and killing a guard in June of 2009, he was not recognized as a terrorist either. He was just some anti-Semitic nutcase.

Yet if any one of these white males had been Arabic or Muslim, there is no question as to how the media would have labeled them. The news channels would practically be chanting the word “terrorist.”

Are the actions of the white men mentioned any different than those of some bitter, darker-skinned males who hatched unexecuted plans to knock down the former Sears Tower, or blow up an airport, or buy missiles?

Perhaps the dominant group within American society, white males, is too big to define using only one term. We can’t just lump neo-Nazis with unstable alcoholics and crazy loners with anti-abortion extremists. To do so would be useless, right? There are just too many types of white male terrorists. I mean mentally unstable white males.

It is easier for Americans to reduce Muslim extremists to a single, imaginary group. Sunnis, Shiites, Hezbollah, Al Qaeda, Taliban, Saudi Arabian, Pakistani, Saddam, Bin Laden — it’s all the same. No?

No; there are different sects of Islam, many Arab nationalities have various lists of grievances — not to mention the fact that many of these people falsely lumped together actually despise each other.

Of course, the use of the term “terrorism” boils down to semantics. The New Oxford American Dictionary defines terrorism as “the use of violence or intimidation in the pursuit of political aims.” It is an “ism” that hints at something almost pandemic.

The word conjures up the image of an elusive, dangerous threat lurking somewhere unknown. Terrorism could happen anywhere, at anytime. The use of this term magnifies the most pathetic threat, making minuscule plots become bigger and scarier. The word is a self-rationalization.

The white males’ acts of terror, in contrast, are depicted as “hate crimes” or “tragedies.” These terms more so depict isolated events. Those who commit such acts are thereby seen as individuals rather than lumped together as some collaborative, menacing threat.

Some may think squabbling over such a word is unnecessary. However, language informs peoples’ thoughts and actions; and therefore popular terms repeated in the media must be accurate. Everyone would benefit if we started choosing our words more carefully and articulating ideas more precisely.

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Similar Feathers

Every morning I go to the library on my college campus and sit in a chair by the window on the second floor. There is a ledge outside of the window. On the ledge a bird lays dead. It has lied there for three weeks.

There are many seats available in the library but I feel compelled to sit by the dead bird. I look at its mangled body, its snarled beak, legs gripping for something, but there is nothing to grip.

Every week the bird corpse deteriorates slightly more. One day it will be a skeleton and one day it will be gone.

But it is here now. And I come to the second floor of my college library and sit by it watching to see how death works.

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Consumer Love Story

The freshman college boy sat next to the sophomore college girl on the bench as they waited for their bus on an early fall semester day. They had a science class together but only the boy knew this. The boy admired the girl’s confidence and her well kept manner. He wanted to tell her this and more. He wanted to tell her that he was a good person and would show her the respect that her beauty deserved. But he couldn’t just start there, he had to start small. She was playing with her cell phone, checking her calendar and text messaging.

                “I like your phone,” he said.

                “Thanks.”

                “Is that the new Droid?”

                “Yea,” she replied uninterestedly.

                “That’s cool. I’ve been thinking about buying it.”

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The Forest

In the forest we were explorers, we were outcasts, we made our friendships and kept them. In the forest we built hideouts, we talked about forbidden knowledge, we talked about the biology of a woman’s body and we wondered about the limits of the universe. In the small forest we had in our town, we imagined it to be much bigger and since it played such a vital role in our lives, it was.

As teenagers my friends and I would smoke cigarettes in the forest. This was a big deal. Cigarettes were hard to acquire during those awkward, pubescent years. Mainly, we would steal them from our parents or buy them for outrageous prices from older kids. I remember the first cigarettes my friends and I smoked were ones I hand rolled from my fathers stash. They were sloppy and limp. We’d spit tobacco leaves out after every drag. Not the smoothest smoke. Regardless, it didn’t stop us from being hooked. Smoking cigarettes in the forest became sort of a badge of honor among my friends and I. Watching the smoke curl around our faces, sitting atop a fallen tree by a stream, nothing could touch our sense of cool confidence.

As we grew older, we’d still visit the forest frequently, with different types of smoke curling around our face and a case of beer in tow. We had a preferred spot, a nice clearing with ample seating and a fire pit. Nearly every weekend during the warm seasons we’d gather there to alter our reality. There’d be jokes told, stories embellished, truths confessed and questions posed unanswerable. We were strange that way, always talking about open-ended ideas, wondering about philosophical possibilities. Of course, we didn’t know much. Nietzsche, Sartre, Heidegger, Kant, these names were not part of our vocabulary. Yet, we knew enough to spend hours entangling ourselves in a lively conversation.

The forest was our sanctuary, our escape, the gathering grounds of our tribe. I miss it and everything it represented.

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