Classical Crash Course, part three: Mahler? I Hardly Know Her

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Mahler spent time in Leipzig, which is where you go if you’re a cool musician, like Bach or Handel. This is the Alte Borse, a concert hall in Leipzig. 

I want to start this blog with an apology to all 4 of you who are reading this so far. On Wednesday, I promised I’d be bringing you Rachmaninoff, but I made a mistake. I thought the piece that I was thinking of was by our pal Rach, but it’s not.

So instead of reading more about our friendly neighborhood Russian composers who were sad all the time, we’re going to talk about an Austrian composer who was sad, but only part-time. We’re also finally moving out of the extra-ness of the romantic movement into the slightly less extra-ness of modernism. When you think of modernism, think “innovation.” Modernists took all the big ideas from romanticism but added a twist – a twist in that they didn’t give an eff. About anything.

Enter Mahler. Mahler was the frontrunner of modernism, having arrived on the classical scene when romanticism was dying out. Unfortunately, although Mahler was a giant of his age, he wasn’t fully respected as a musician and composer until after his death. Since he was a Jew, Nazi Germany was not a fan of his work, so most performances of his music were banned. (At one point in his life, Mahler actually converted to Catholicism so he wouldn’t get overly criticized by the anti-Semitic press.

Mahler has a lot of well-known works. While his best-known is probably Mahler 8, the piece I’ve chosen is a movement from Mahler 5. The piece that I’ve chosen out of this symphony is speculated to be one of the most performed of his works.

HOW TO MAKE LADIES SWOON: Adagietto

If Adagietto were a truly “romantic” piece, it would be breaking a lot of rules. While romantic pieces, like Tchaikovsky’s “None But the Lonely Heart,” are sumptuous and sweeping, Adagietto is…sexy. Although the piece is written in a minor key and sounds somewhat melancholy, it’s actually a celebration of love. In fact, some scholars believe that Adagietto represents a love letter Mahler had written to his wife, Alma (Alma Mahler. Am I the only one who thinks that’s funny?) Here’s the text of that letter, translated from German:

(Also, if your man doesn’t write you love letters, DROP HIM.)

And if you listen closely, you can hear the music reflect these simple words. The repitition of the theme (introduced at the very beginning of the piece by the string section), the dearth of musical “sighs” (like the ones I talked about in Tchaikovsky), accompanied by some dissonant chords during the climax of the movement, which may represent his “lament.”

Before Mahler met Alma, he had quite the reputation with the ladies. Alma knew this, and wasn’t too keen on meeting him. But when she did, sparks flew and they were quickly married (she was already preggers, btw.) Their married life was not easy. Like most artists, Mahler was tempermental, and Alma was prone to be flirtatious. In 1907, their young daughter died of scarlet fever, and that same year Mahler was diagnosed with a heart defect, which ended up killing him in 1911.

Although there was difficulty in their marriage (as there is in any marriage), there’s no doubt that Mahler had a passionate love for his wife – how else could you write a piece as sweeping as Adagietto?

So boys, take a number from Mahler. Write her a love song.

a. w.

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Classical Crash Course, part two: None But the Lonely Heart

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What a sad, sad little man. 

If you try to google how many songs about broken hearts exist, you won’t find an answer easily. Believe me, I tried as I was researching my next victim for Classical Music Crash Course. That probably means there’s an infinite amount, and they’ve been written since the beginning of time.

There are some questions Google can’t answer, like why he broke up with you, or why she left you at the altar, or why she decided she didn’t want to settle down in Russia with you but decided to continue her career as an opera singer.

And that tactful segue brings me to the man of the hour, Pyotr Illyich Tchaikovsky – you can call him Peter. There’s absolutely no doubt you’ve heard some of Tchaikovsky’s music in your life, whether you realize it or not (The Nutcracker? Hello?) He’s considered a great amongst classical composers, and for good reason. While he wasn’t groomed to become a composer (he was actually educated to enter the civil service), he eventually was able to train at the prestigious Saint Petersburg Conservatory in Russia.

And Peter was sad. Sad people often write the best music, if we’re honest (hi, Adele.) His mother died when he was very young, and that started a long life punctuated by bouts of deep depression. Scholars also note that Tchaikovsky may have been homosexual, and the suppression of his sexuality played into his tendency toward solitude.

But what’s a good sad story without a broken heart? Remember how I mentioned an opera singer earlier? At around age 30, Tchaikovsky was infatuated with a young soprano named Desiree Artot, and they were engaged to be married at one point…until she put her career before him and broke it off. He later claimed that Desiree was the only woman he ever loved. At the age of 37 he got married to a former student. The marriage lasted two and a half months. Awkward.

All of that to say, Tchaikovsky was sad more often than not (after all, he lived in Russia. Have you seen the kind of weather they have? Also, communism.) So obviously, he wrote a piece with this title:

NONE BUT THE LONELY HEART. 

(Did I mention Tchaikovsky was a romantic composer? Remember how I talked about how romantic composers were very extra?…yeah.)

In 1869, Tchaikovsky wrote a set of six romantic pieces for voice and piano. “None But the Lonely Heart” was the last one to be written. It’s based on a poem by Lev Mei, “The Harpist’s Song” (are harpists sad?) which he got from Johann Goethe, a philosopher dude who wrote about Satan and heartbreak a lot (kind of like me.)

Check out the text, and get the tissues out.

None but the lonely heart
Can know my sadness
Alone and parted
Far from joy and gladness
Heaven’s boundless arch I see
Spread out above me
Oh what a distance drear to one
Who loves me
None but the lonely heart
Can know my sadness
Alone and parted far
From joy and gladness
Alone and parted far
From joy and gladness
My senses fail
A burning fire
Devours me
None but the lonely heart
Can know my sadness.

Well okay then. (Unpopular opinion, but I think this would make a great Metallica cover as well.)

But if you think about it, I think a lot of us have been there…maybe in our more melodramatic moments, but a broken heart feels pretty bad. After all, it’s inspired a lot of heart-wrenching songs across the board – songs that we have pounding through our earbuds when we’re wallowing in self pity (“I Hate Everything About You” has been my personal fave in the past, not gonna lie.)

Broken hearts are as old as time. Even though the video I shared doesn’t feature voice, you can still hear the melancholy. Tchaikovsky’s piece features something called a musical sigh (I think there’s a more technical term, but I forget what it is. I was only a music major for one semester.) You can hear a brief example at 00:12 of the video. It’s almost as if the music takes a brief breath, like someone does when they’re sobbing and need more breath to cry. You can almost imagine the violin player (the impeccable Joshua Bell) stretched across a chaise lounge surrounded by roses or something. Very sad.

Any observations from this piece that caught your attention? Spout off in the comments. I promise not all the pieces I choose will be about sadness or Satan. Next time, we will be looking at another Russian boy – Rachmaninoff!

a. w.

Dreams vs. Goals.

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Hello, internet. It’s been awhile since I’ve checked in on you guys. (It hasn’t been, actually. I check the internet every day to find out more about Kim Kardashian’s baby, obviously. But it’s been awhile since I’ve written.) Life has been busy for me. I recently moved, made adulty decisions like what internet service to use, found a boyfriend (!), and started my last semester of college. I set a goal for myself to post at least once a week, but…life. And also writing is stressful (will write a post about it. Stay tuned.)

Speaking of goals, you probably noticed that word is in the title, so that’s obviously what I’m going to be talking about, right? Well, that’s my goal. (Wink.) After reading through all my childhood journals, I started thinking about how much I have changed. When I was nine, I wanted to be a writer, or a spy, or a cartoonist, or a writer-cartoonist-spy. At thirteen I wanted to write novels and make money off it (ha.) In high school, I wanted to be a teacher one year and an actor the next, until I took a career assessment test and found out I’d make a great funeral planner (no thanks. I’d rather die.) I started college as a music major, then I moved to broadcasting, and I still have a broadcasting major but don’t think I’ll actually use it for broadcasting, but instead go on to get my masters in marketing (big question mark there.)

So here I am as a senior in college, and it’s safe to say my dreams have changed every year of my life. My career dreams, my relationship dreams, my life dreams. They’ve all changed pretty fluidly. In second grade, my biggest dream was to own a gold Honda van and be an ice cream lady. Big. Dreams. At 21, my biggest dream is to be able to take a nap this weekend. That’s only a little bit of an exaggeration.

My “dream,” in general, is to write and create in whatever job I end up in. But I’m not sure if I’d call that a “dream” anymore. The more I’ve thought about what dreams and what they are, the more I’m turned off by the idea of having “hopes and dreams.” I’d rather not live my life in abstracts. Dreams are fickle, and I’d rather not live a life of dreams.

For a long time, I had a dream of becoming an actress. I wanted it really badly. I’d sing through entire Broadway albums when my parents weren’t home, I’d stage musical numbers in the shower – I wanted it so bad. Wanted. But I didn’t set up a goal. I just imagined things would eventually fall into place and I’d magically find myself in New York City with a paying acting job.

But take into account how much work it takes to be a full-time professional actress. You have little to no down time. Your entire life revolves around perfecting your craft, keeping your body in immaculate shape, and do everything you can not to get sick – or worse, vocal nodes.

I totally understand that some people have big dreams like these and actively chase them. They work their tails off working, training, and auditioning to finally make it. A lot of times that hard work pays off. But it didn’t take me too long to realize that for me, that dream was just that – a dream, and nothing more.

It was the same with being a full-time writer – little more than lip service. I didn’t have anything to show for that dream. No plan lined up to make that dream a reality. Is it good to dream? Of course it is. I still hope that somehow by some turn of fate I could end up a Hollywood actress or Broadway singer. But those aren’t my goals. 

My goal is to work for something I believe in, in every aspect of my life – at work, at home, with or without a ring on my finger, with or without a child or children, with or without multiple degrees. That goal is definitely reachable, and it’s something I’m willing to work for. The saddest stories are the ones where people’s dreams remain unfulfilled. Attainable goals are easier to fulfill

All of that to say, I think we can do away with “dream” language. Dream job, dream house, dream this and that. Because your dreams are usually fixated on one particular thing: that one partner, that one amazing car, that one specific job. Goals can encompasss every aspect of your life. You can see them play out in real time. Maybe you have a goal to graduate. What can you do to expound on that goal? Start searching for jobs before you get a diploma? Make a plan to travel the world after you graduate? And what about after that? Goals are growable and adaptable. As a freshman, my goal was to graduate in four years. I’m graduating in three and a half. My next goal is to find a career by summer 2018. Who knows where that will go.

Kick the dreaming to the curb. What’s your goal?

“For those who build their life on dreams

it’s prudent to recall

A man with moonlight in his hand

holds nothing there at all.”

“To Each His Dulcinea,” Man of La Mancha

– a. w.

How to Succeed in Crushes Without Really Trying

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What’s it like to have a crush in your twenties? It sucks.

I developed a small crush at the beginning of the summer. But you know how “small” crushes go. I mean, there’s a reason it’s called a crush. We were chatting online and I found that our similarities (and our differences) were attracting me to him. I was excited to meet him – y’know how those butterflies can be. But a few weeks after sporadic texting, he dropped the bad news (bad news for me, anyway) – he was into someone else and they were going to start dating.

I felt like any dramatic teenage girl at that moment, completely floored. (I responded with a “that’s ok” but YOU KNOW it wasn’t the truth.) In short, it hurt. It wasn’t anyone’s fault, it just wasn’t meant to happen.

But do crushes go away once that happens? Aw heck no.

I think it’s safe to say we’ve each had a few crushes in our lifetimes. The stupid elementary school ones, the even worse “I’m-gonna-be-alone-forever” high school ones. College ones are tricky. I’ve had a few flash in the pan crushes, but on a small Christian college campus, everyone knows everyone and they can give you the low-down (“oh he’s got issues,” “he’s dating someone” – usually they are cuz it’s a Christian college campus, haha.)

Having a crush utilizes every corner of the spectrum of human emotions – or at least it seems like it when you feel yourself developing one. Elation, joy, hope, despair, rage, Netflix binging, water faucet tears (don’t leave me hanging, here.) It feels like insanity.

Because it is!

I bet that made you feel a lot better about your current crush, didn’t it?

But for real – insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. You develop crushes on a rolling basis and expect a different result, but the end of the road is usually disappointment – unless you have really good luck.

Before I go further, I’ll tell you that it is totally okay to have a crush on someone. In fact it’s pretty normal. We want to feel wanted by someone we want, so it only makes sense.

It’s when it becomes all-consuming that it gets risky. Take it from someone who’s been there multiple times.

In short (short?) having a crush brings out a nasty little monster called idealization. We think that if we could just be with that person, everything would be swell. Girls especially (men, chime in if you do this too) idealize all day long. We picture cute dates, fun pictures, even weddings (yup, weddings.) Because at this stage we don’t have much to go off of about our crush, because chances are we don’t know them all that well. So our brains fill in the blanks (also called the Halo Effect. Pretty tricky stuff.)

The last big crush I had was in high school. I was pretty dead set on marrying the kid, because I was 15 years old and definitely knew what I wanted. Inevitably, it didn’t work out because it simply wasn’t meant to be – a hard concept to accept, but a good discipline to adopt nonetheless. In fact, that ordeal taught me something, and like I’ve said before, if something teaches you a lesson, it wasn’t a waste.

So here I am, still in the process of getting over a hyper-idealized crush. When you’ve made a crush into an idol or ideal in your mind, it’s a hard thing to shake. So don’t feel guilty if it doesn’t just disappear instantly in a puff of smoke. It’s almost a daily struggle. How do I divert my attention off this? What can I do to lessen this idol? I confess I haven’t gone about it in the best or most mature ways – emotions, am I right? But every step is a step in the right direction.

So take a tip from your friendly neighborhood coffee shop blogger – don’t let a crush crush you. You’re too good for that. Take it a step at a time. I look at it this way – you are a person worthy of being loved and cherished, and if you end up not finding that in the object of your desires, then let it be. You don’t have to get bitter or Taylor-Swift-crying-mascara-tears about it.

“When I find myself in times of crushes, Blogger Audrey comes to me, typing words of wisdom, Let it Be.”

– The Beatles, maybe

a. w.

Falling in Love With Marriage.

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A week and a half ago, I came across this on my Facebook newsfeed. I almost thought about sharing it after only reading the title – “You don’t have to get married to be happy.” I thought, “Yes! I’ve written almost the same thing in other blog posts of mine! Christians understand that marriage isn’t a varsity sport that every Christian has to reach in order to achieve the pinnacle of the Christian life!”

A few days ago, I decided to actually read the article. (Confession time: I often only read the titles of things and the first few sentences…I mean, who has time to sit down and read a full Atlantic article? Those things are like novellas.) I read it, and I was still satisfied. This guy was very honest and real about the Christian single life. Nothing I haven’t heard before. You can’t rely on a spouse to fulfill you because that’s impossible for humans to do. Heartbreak happens as a result. A song from the great band Jimmy Eat World says, “If I don’t lean on you, I fall.” Well, sometimes, you lean too much and you both fall over. Which is why you need to lean on the Rock. (Not Dwayne. You know Who I’m talking about. I’m just using a lot of Christian-ese.)

 

The gentleman who wrote the article is now married, so he’s seeing it from the other side. And he did a great job outlining our human yearnings and our absolute need for the love of Christ. But…haven’t we heard all this before?

That’s what some people in the comments section of that post were saying. I scrolled through the comments for a bit to see if there were any that stuck out (if it were not from a Christian website, I probably would have found some more colorful ones). None really did specifically, but a lot of them said something very similar, which I already mentioned.

Haven’t we heard this before?

It can seem like kind of a cop-out for the people who have waited years for a spouse to come into their lives.

“Oh, you just need to love Jesus more first. You can’t rely on someone else to do that for you.”

“Marriage isn’t really that great. Jesus is better!”

“Just pray about it!”

And the unmarried person, who might have that deep longing for companionship, will say, “Yeah, but…” And that’s totally okay. I remember sitting in a restaurant with my parents once, sobbing inconsolably, and just saying between tears, “I’m lonely.” That’s okay. God created Eve for a reason. Because it’s not good for man to be alone.

I decided to gauge the reactions of some of my friends as well. I talked to a couple who didn’t read the article in full, but understood the gist of it. One of my friends is vehemently single, and the other is in a relationship with my roommate, so you can imagine their opinions might differ.

“If you’re an unhappy person, getting married won’t change that. It can enhance your happiness, but it can’t change it.” That’s how my single friend put it. “I think Christians treat singleness as a plan B.”

My roommate’s boyfriend had something very interesting to say about it. “If you’re losing trust in God because you’re obsessed with finding a partner, and you start making deals with God, you have much deeper problems,” he said. “You just have to say, ‘okay, I don’t know why you’ve put this desire in my heart, but help me deal with it.”

As human beings, we have a fundamental need for companionship. I’m an introvert, but I yearn for the companionship of my friends. If I come home and none of my roommates are there, I get a sinking feeling that only goes away when I hear a key turning in the door. Since we were created, we were innately programmed to want people in our lives. 

If you’ve ever watched The Twilight Zone, the premiere episode features a man who wakes up in a deserted town. There’s literally no one there. He walks into a drugstore, he steps inside a phone booth to call someone – nothing. In the course of the twenty-minute episode, he goes all but crazy. (Then the twist happens, which I won’t tell you about in case you want to watch it.) That man had everything he needed: food, clothes, a car, everything – but no people. And that drove him nuts.

People need people. And that’s okay. And marriage is one of the ways we manifest our need for companionship (there’s also the whole “be fruitful and increase” thing, but your parents can talk to you about that one.) Marriage isn’t just any relationship. You’re not just roommates who will separate once the lease is up. You’re not just best friends who meet up for coffee every Saturday afternoon. You’ve made the vow to spend every day with each other for the rest of your life, for richer or poorer, in sickness and health, through bankruptcy and stomach flu and love handles and hospital bills.

I think the writer of that post got it right – marriage isn’t the ultimate fulfillment, and many Christians have decided to devote their life to Christ instead of marrying (there’s this guy named Paul who did that a long time ago.) And that takes a lot of discipline in a world that’s saturated with love and romance. People might look sideways at you if you take a vow of singleness (and celibacy, in this day and age), but it’s possible to be happy without a lifelong partner.

But I want to address something that the writer didn’t quite address in his post, and that’s idealization. Are we just more in love with the idea of marrying than with the actual person? If you’ve ever read or seen the play Our Town by Thornton Wilder (if you went to American high school you probably did) one of the characters notes that people like to “make sure the knot is tied in a mighty public way.” And holy crap is that an understatement. People spend thousands of dollars and sometimes more for one day of their life to be “perfect,” sometimes not taking into account that there’s still fifty more years or so to go with the person they’re sharing it with.

Seeing all of those beautiful “fairytale” moments (they’re called weddings, in case I wasn’t clear) can make you kind of…want it, right? I’m not gonna lie, I would love a beautiful, romantic wedding. I cannot confirm or deny that I have pinned (multiple) wedding dresses and themes on Pinterest, without having any idea of when this special day is going to be. Raise your hand if you played wedding when you were little. Yeah. That’s what I thought.

Stock photos don’t help, either. This is what I found when I typed “love” into a stock photo search:

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Look at how happy and comfortable they are in that very awkward position!

And this is what I found when I searched “single” at the same site:

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I can hear your heart breaking through the screen.

Love and marriage is an ideal. It’s been instilled in us from a number of sources: tradition, stock photos, 80s slow-jam love ballads – but wherever the source, it’s undeniably there. And the main problem is we think it’s going to be perfect. We think it will be exactly what Johnny Cash said it was, “This morning, with her, drinking coffee.” How does your heart not melt when you hear that, how can you not yearn for that picture he’s painted? Of course it’s good, but it’s not like that every single day. And if we go into marriage thinking it will be perfect, that’s a bit of a tall order, isn’t it?

I think a lot of single people (including me) make out what we think marriage will be for us. And usually, we’re not right. It’s like what happens any other time you picture how something is going to play out – it usually doesn’t happen exactly the way you hoped. At sophomore homecoming, I was absolutely certain I would spend the evening slow dancing with my crush. Instead, I didn’t even see my crush at all, and stood in a hot room full of grinding adolescents for two hours wondering what the heck to do. Way less than perfect. Marriage is a little bit more serious than teenage musings, but you get my point.

And remember that it’s just as easy to idealize people as it is to idealize marriage. And if you end up marrying that person, it can lead you down a very messy road.

“Audrey, you’re being just like that guy. This isn’t anything we haven’t heard yet.” You might be thinking this. And maybe you’re right. Marriage is a topic that Christians like to mull over often. If we didn’t, there wouldn’t be singles groups at church that were basically free eHarmony sessions.

But maybe what I’m trying to say is, marriage isn’t easy, but neither is being single. Especially a single Christian who really isn’t sure if marriage is in the cards for them, no matter how many people tell them it is or it should be. Single Christians go to Christian colleges where it seems like everyone gets married after their sophomore year. Single Christians get pelted with advice on finding a good Christian man or woman. Single Christians have to deal with the tension and occasional social awkwardness of being a virgin at twenty-five, or even older. Or the guilt of being a single Christian and not being a virgin. Sometimes all of those urges together make us desperate. We’ll all but throw ourselves to the next Christian guy or girl who comes our way, because everyone is saying it’s the right thing to do. Because you need to put “happily married” on your Christian resume, or else your faith stands for nothing.

So I guess I want you to leave you with this, if you’re a single Christian and feel guilty for wanting someone: don’t feel guilty. If you have a yearning for a spouse, that is a beautiful yearning. It’s a fundamentally human yearning. Don’t think that just because you want a partner, it means that you don’t want God enough.

But I would encourage you to let God in on your yearnings. Don’t hide them from Him. “God, I want a husband.” “God, I want a wife.” “I want to know intimacy with another human being.” “I want to live my life with a companion.” These prayers are 100% valid, even if they seem strange. God wants in on your yearnings. If you let Him in now, He’ll guide you in the future.

I’ll also leave you with this, which is probably something you already know, and quite possibly a thought you’re afraid of: I can’t promise you that God will answer that prayer the way you want him to. My prayer for you is that God gives you the strength to accept that answer.

Because the choice to be content with being alone is one of the bravest things you’ll ever do.

Dear Millennials: You’re Not Victims

We live in a time where no one wants to take responsibility for themselves. When things go wrong, it’s never our own fault. It’s always someone else’s. Fewer people are getting married because it’s too much responsibility – it’s easier to just live with someone under the illusion of marriage. Fewer people are having children. They’d rather have a “fur-baby” than an actual child because raising a human is a lot of responsibility. Sometimes they go so far as to get rid of a child because they refuse to own their choices.

Nothing is ever “our” fault. It’s “their” fault, whomever “they” might be – rich white men, capitalism, conservatives, liberals, the economy, the education system. You name it, it’s been blamed for something. I’m not pointing out any specific person, religion, political party, or any other belief – it’s everywhere you look. News media has grabbed hold of it, celebrities have grabbed hold of it, and, in turn, culture at large has, too. This kind of behavior leads to one becoming a victim of his circumstances. Never making gains to solve his own problems but asking people to solve them for him – because he deserves it, gosh darn it. Because “they” owe it to him. Because he is a victim of “them.”

Being a victim of your situation isn’t such a new thing. I haven’t lived long enough to know what it’s looked like in past generations, but I definitely know what it looks like among millennials, because I am one, and I’ve fallen into the “victim” mindset before. Millennials are crying for “safe spaces” so they don’t feel offended or attacked. Instead of engaging in healthy debate and conversation, they’re blocking traffic in “peaceful” protest or attacking one another on social media, or simply whining about something, whether it’s the state of our nation, their paycheck, or other things they feel victimized by.

If it sounds like I’m being harsh, it’s because I am. Millennials don’t like harsh. Can’t we all just get along in a world of fluffy animals and cat memes? Why get a wake-up call now when I can just retreat into my safe space and rock back and forth in a fetal position until I get what I want?

I think this is something millennials need to hear. Millennials were raised believing they are special and the world is their oyster. Many graduated into a crappy economy with a mountain of college debt, leaving many disillusioned. And yet, instead of standing up and being responsible, many are choosing to be victims. Yes, I said choosing. They think they deserve something that they’re not getting, and they take personal offense to that.

“This is all the baby boomers’ fault.”

“This is all the liberals’/conservatives’/whatevers’ fault.”

“This is all the American school systems’ fault.”

True, there are a lot of things in this world that are out of our control. We couldn’t control when the economy took a turn, or who got elected before we could vote, or the cost of higher education, but if we become victims to these circumstances, we’ll never get anywhere or change anything.

Sadly, a lot of millennials have adopted this mindset. They choose to lay down and die, or continually complain about their situation without taking strides to change it. And some even openly call themselves “victims” when they aren’t even victims at all. They still have a job, a paycheck, and a life with many freedoms and luxuries many people in the world do not have. But when their feelings get hurt, it becomes a national tragedy.

Do you know who real victims are? Corrie ten Boom, who faced unimaginable atrocities because she chose to help people in grave danger. Talk about owning your choices. Or Anne Frank, who didn’t even know she was going to become a hero to millions. Who lived in constant fear of her life but still continued to dream and live.

Do you know who real victims are? The children of Aleppo, who wonder if they’ll see their parents again, or even if they’ll see tomorrow. Syrian refugees who literally have no home and hardly a friend in the world.

Do you know who real victims are? Women and men who are fighting for their lives and their dignity every day as sex slaves. People who have been ripped from their homes and told they have literally no worth as a human being.

Puts things in perspective, doesn’t it?

Just because you graduated with debt into a bad economy, or because one person didn’t respect your customs or creeds, or catcalls you on the street, does not make you a victim of anything. Rather, it doesn’t have to. You have to own your circumstances, not let them own you. You’ll be miserable if you let that happen. At the end of the day, finger-pointing isn’t going to do anything for you.

This is my opinion, and if you disagree, congratulations. You have a mind that thinks for itself and forms its own opinion. This is me, floating my own opinion out for the sake of (hopefully) starting a (meaningful) conversation (that doesn’t involve namecalling or blaming.)

Own your decisions, own your circumstances, and you’ll own your life.

 

Things that Bring Us Together.

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If you haven’t noticed, this week hasn’t been great. For anyone. For various reasons. And if you thought I wasn’t going to talk about it, you’re wrong. Things don’t change unless you talk about it.

If we don’t talk, we become islands and we become bitter and overprotective of ourselves. If we don’t remind ourselves of what we have in common, we’ll become fixated on what we don’t. If we don’t realize we’re more alike than we think, we’ll spend our entire lives believing everyone is out to get us.

And it’s true. We’re more alike than we are different. Only a few strands of DNA separate us, but those strands carry traits that make us each unique – our hair, our skin, our laugh, our talents. And that’s beautiful. But, as you probably can tell, it’s also not sometimes. Because people forget that, other than those few strands of DNA, we are equal. We are all humans.

And for the sake of humanness, I want to remind everyone that we’re not all that different. That there are universal experiences that bind us together. We all experience happiness, sadness, joy, pain. These are all things that every human on earth can relate to. But I also think there are things beyond static emotions that unite us.

I’m going to list a few human experiences that I hope relate to most people. I hope you can relate to at least a few of these, and realize that we can relate through shared experience.

  1.  The quiet that comes right before the sunrise. When it’s cool and still smells like nighttime, when everything feels clean and new, when the world is just starting to wake up.
  2.  The smell of an old house. The feeling that people have been there before you. The mystery of what they might have been like.
  3.  Your best friend’s laugh.
  4.  The point in autumn where the leaves fall all by themselves, like nature’s confetti. And when you look down, the ground is carpeted in color.
  5.  Warm summer rain. The smell and the warm dampness afterwards. The distant thunder that gives you a little thrill every time you hear it.
  6.  When you sit and cry with someone you love. No words exchanged, only hands held, prayers whispered, support given. A beautiful kind of pain.
  7.  A hug from your favorite person in the world.
  8.  A kiss from your favorite person in the world.
  9.  A summer evening after the sun has just gone down, the world is warm and drowsy. A few birds are still singing, and the sky is slowly turning dark blue, insects beginning to hum a lullaby.
  10.  The touch of a toddler’s small, soft hand in yours. The way they look up at you with so much trust and hope.
  11.  A conversation that you didn’t expect to be long, but went on for hours and left you feeling enlightened and refreshed. The connection that’s made. The mutual understanding.
  12.  Sitting in a room full of people singing a cappella.
  13. The pearly glow of a cloudy sky on a winter evening. Everything is gray, but it’s a luminous gray, not dull or dragging. It’s so gray it’s almost silver.
  14. A warm shower or bath after a long day.
  15. The sound of lapping waves on a beach. The smell of wet sand, of leftover campfires, of coffee. The feeling of memories made.
  16. The sound of your mother’s voice.
  17.  A blanket straight out of the dryer, or straight from the clothesline. The way it feels like the warmest thing you’ve ever felt.
  18.  Cloudy, windy days where the cloud patterns are more beautiful than a blue sky.
  19.  Getting a compliment. Not just “nice shoes” or “I like your haircut,” but “I love your confidence” or “you are just such an amazing person.”
  20.  Hearing someone’s heartbeat. Whether it’s that of an unborn baby, your father’s as you snuggled up to his chest as a child, your lover’s as you lean on them for support. That reminder that there’s Life.

And where there’s life, there’s love. And where there’s love, there’s hope.