Finding Simplicity in Death

I received word on Tuesday that my great, great Aunt Gerry had passed away at the age of 85 years. While this announcement didn’t shock me, as she had been on a roller coaster of health issues the past several months, it instead built up my concern for my family. This was mainly for my mother, the only relative that lived within fifteen minutes to Aunt Gerry’s home.

I’m not going to say that my experience with death of family members was ever easy–I mean hey, it’s death. But at the same time, when the announcement of a death in my family comes around, I always get concerned with the issues the closest family members have to handle. The will, the funeral arrangements, writing the obituary–all things that have to be taken care of, all while mourning the loss of a loved one. While I, fortunately, have never had to deal directly with those problems, I still see the toll it takes on my mom and her sister, in each instance that they have had to do this.

Death itself has never scared me. It’s an inevitable fate for all of us, and there is literally no way to avoid it. We’ve all felt the pain of loss at one point or another. But today, as we brought Aunt Gerry’s casket to the cemetery, something struck a chord in me.

It could have been the knowledge of the car Aunt Gerry left me (much to my surprise). It might have been the poor little Chow she left behind. It could have been the fact that it was my first time as a pall bearer. It also could have been the pastor’s sermon, which to me seemed a bit too negative and fear-mongering. It even could have been all of these things in tandem, causing me my stress. Whatever factor or combination of factors it may have been, I realized, while death itself is simple,  its immediate after effects are overwhelmingly complicated.

My only relief from this great amount of stress was a poem my mom found, written by my grandmother who passed away in 2004, addressed to Aunt Gerry on Mother’s Day in 1998. It was a simple, straightforward yet heartfelt poem expressing her love and gratitude for Aunt Gerry’s influence on her life. Hearing those words and seeing my grandmother’s handwriting for the first time in ages brought me a sense of relief. Amid all the chaos, we had found a source of peace.

That little twinge of the fear of death had been relieved.

In short, I’ve realized that I shouldn’t worry about how my death is going to affect the world around me, or how the inevitable death of my family members will affect me. When that day comes, I will deal with the pain by finding solace in the memories that made them special to me in the first place.

In the end, it’s not about worldly possessions or hefty funeral bills. It’s about the memories. And that’s all that matters.

Rest in Peace, Aunt Gerry. You will be greatly missed.

My Top Albums for 2011

I am one of those people who loves a good variety of music. Unlike a lot of people, I don’t limit myself to simply one genre, or listen to whatever I’m given on the radio. I like to explore, to poke around, to find a good mix of music that I can rely on regardless of my mood. So in the spirit of my eclectic music tastes, here is my (second annual!) list of my top albums of 2011…in no particular order.

#1: Florence + The Machine, Ceremonials

Why I like it: Okay, seriously, there has to be something wholly wrong with you if you don’t at least appreciate the ethereal sound of F+TM. I loved Between Two Lungs, but Ceremonials took me to a whole new state of mind while listening to this music. Florence’s polished, husky vocals paired with haunting and inspirational instrumentals never fails to make me cry at least once while listening to it. The best part is, it doesn’t matter what genre of music you generally listen to, Florence can find a way into your playlist. That’s how unique and versatile her music is.
Favorite song: When I first heard “Shake it Out,” I bawled. It was a song after my own heart, simply saying that everyone carries their own cross at one point or another, and that all you have to do is fight your way through your troubles, then “shake it out.” Amazing.

 

#2: Kelly Clarkson, Stronger

Why I like it: I am proud to say I’ve followed Kelly Clarkson from day one, back when American Idol actually made an impact on the music industry. I’ve seen Kelly grow from a little preppy pop star to a mature, creative woman who doesn’t let anyone tell her what to say or think. Stronger couldn’t be a more appropriate album for a growing artist like Kelly. She has her classic pop-rock sound, but then she throws in a few country-inspired tracks. While this was I was hoping for from Kelly’s new album, I was pleasantly surprised by how solid her vocals are.
Favorite Song: Do I have to choose? Okay, well, as far as ballads go, “Breaking Your Own Heart,” is perfect. It’s taking a topic few have addressed in music, and turning it into something amazing. And of course, “Dark Side” should really be her next single. You’ll have to listen for yourself:

#3: Natalia Kills, Perfectionist

Why I Like It: I got to see Natalia when she was just starting to get into the music scene. She was one of two opening acts for Robyn, before Maluca. From the start, I knew she would be successful as an artist due to her mainstream sound, not to mention being signed on to will.i.am’s record label. Her biggest selling point was that she was not only a musician, but also a filmmaker. Perfectionist is very mainstream in sound, but there’s a little extra edge to it that I really enjoy.
Favorite Song: “Love is a Suicide” follows that same idea of a mainstream pop sound, but it has an edge of masochism and desperation that, to me, makes it really stand out.

 And speaking of mainstream pop….
#4: Lady Gaga, Born This Way

No, the actual album cover does not have Paula Deen riding her.

 Why I like it:  Okay, I would first like to say I am commenting on the album. Aside from her vocals, I do not think Lady Gaga is all that great. She is not a “fashion icon” or a good dancer, and her music videos for this album were horrendous. The music on this album, however, is fan-freaking-tastic. If her intention was to introduce the darker side of electronic music into the mainstream world, she did it incredibly well (“Born This Way” being the exception).
Favorite Song:  “Fashion of His Love” is pretty amazing, only because its reminiscence of a classic 80’s Cyndi Lauper hit.

#5: Zola Jesus, Conatus

Why I like it: I’ll admit, I haven’t listened to this album a whole lot. My only reason is that it is so overwhelmingly incredible, that listening to it casually would only make me stop dead in my tracks and forget that I’m on this planet. Zola reminds me a lot of Florence, in that she has a deep, other-worldly voice that could easily open portals to other dimensions. Even as I’m listening to this album now, it’s very difficult for me to write because I…wait…what was I saying?
Favorite track: ……….where am I?

*changes album*

#6: Rihanna, Talk That Talk

 Why I like it: Every time Rihanna releases a new album, she puts the previous album to shame. I seriously can’t listen to “Pon de Replay” any more because it sounds like crap compared to the music on Talk That Talk. Even Rated R (which was on my list last year) and Loud still pale in comparison. The best part about this album is that it is a fine mix of sentiment and naughtiness.
Favorite song: Definitely a tie between “Cockiness (Love It)” and “Where Have You Been.” I love dance-worthy songs, and if I had a separate list of those, these would definitely be on it.

#7: Evanescence, Evanescence

Why I like it: Rock has finally re-entered my life in a big way! While some people take issue with a rock band with a piano, this is what makes this band so amazing! Even better, the band actually got along in the creation of this album, which really shows in the impactful percussion, unique use of guitar and, of course, Amy Lee’s soaring vocals.
Favorite song: As far as new sounds go, two thumbs up for “The Change.” But I cannot tear myself away from “Lost in Paradise.”

#8: Britney Spears, Femme Fatale

Why I like it: Because I love Britney Spears. Do I need any more of a reason? Okay, well this is certainly a step up from the hastily-produced Circus. And this is certainly the album that has gotten Britney back on the charts as a driving force in pop music. And the Femme Fatale tour only made me love the album even more!
Favorite Song: “Trouble for Me” has this fun Euro-pop sound that I love. And while I didn’t like “Criminal” all that much, the music video was so epic that it certainly jumped up on my favorite list!

#9: Avril Lavigne, Goodbye Lullaby

Why I like it: I only recently began to appreciate Avril for her talent in the past year or so. When Goodbye Lullaby came out, it solidified my love for her music. This adorable little guitar-wielding Canadian threw me for a loop with this album, especially with the release of “Alice” for Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland movie. All I can say is, can you believe those vocals? Not only in the album, but also in her live performances, she has such perfect pitch yet with so much emotion in her voice at the same time.
Favorite Song:  If you haven’t figured it out already, I’m a sucker for ballads. “Wish You Were Here” has made my list for that reason.

#10: Dev, The Night the Sun Came Up

Why I like it: I didn’t like Dev when she hit the airwaves. I thought she was just another mass-produced female artist with no talent that producers hand out to “rappers” to make a new hit song, then leave behind for another. But when my friend Eli told me to give The Night the Sun Came Up a chance, I’m glad I did. I don’t think Dev has a lot of talent as a singer, but I just love this album for its chill beats that I wouldn’t mind rolling down my windows and blasting (if I did that sort of thing).
Favorite song: “Breathe” is such a SEXY song!

 Honorable Mention: Iamamiwhoami

Okay, Jonna Lee. I check your YouTube Channel EVERY DAY for a new video. Every single day. It’s been nearly six months now, and all we’ve gotten this year is “John” and “Clump.” While amazing, we need more. Better yet, just get an album out there. The music combined with the intensity of the organic/synthetic imagery has to make this the best and most innovative music in a long time. Your fans need more!!! Please give us something soon!

Lots of love and adoration,

A huge fan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Please leave your thoughts below! Do you think I missed something on this list?


Respect for Our Veterans’ Legacy

Staff Sgt. Calvin Gibbs, (Photo via CNN.COM)

Just recently, I read a heartbreaking story of Calvin Gibbs, a U.S. Army Staff Sergeant who lead a rogue kill squad in Afghanistan which killed multiple Afghan civilians and planted weapons on them to make them appear as if they had initiated the violence.

And to make matters worse, he removed pieces of their dead bodies as souvenirs of their deaths, and had tattoos indicating how many people he had killed.

This is not how our country should be represented. And this is certainly not the point of having a military. I am thankful that Gibbs will be spending his life in military prison for these heinous and inhumane crimes.

When I think back to the various history classes I have taken, I recall the images of our country’s veterans. From the Revolutionary War and on, I always remember seeing that our involvement in international warfare was a necessity, a method of defending our country’s freedom and citizens. But as our military continues to grow and expand, the American impression of our military’s purpose seems to have shifted from defense to offense. Too often I have heard people talk about going into the military to “shoot some [racial slur].”

This never was, and never will be, the purpose of our military. In previous wars and conflicts, plenty of the young men and women who were shipped overseas knew their purpose was for defense. Any of them would gladly share stories of the troubles they endured, but never would you hear of them torturing innocent and unarmed civilians. Because that was not their job. So when people like Gibbs come along, with the cruel intention of ruining the lives of innocents, it not only tarnishes the image of our country, but of our military personnel, both past and present.

Out of respect for our veterans, we need to stop condoning the death of others just because they are different. Celebrating death does not make us bigger men; it makes us terrorists.

I don’t agree with the concept of war, but I understand its purpose and hold a great level of respect for those who serve. From my late grandfather, who served in Korea, to my cousin currently serving the Marines in Afghanistan, in addition to all my friends and family who risked their lives to defend our freedoms, I say thank you. Thank you for protecting our country, and protecting the innocent.

Thank you for doing your jobs.

Writer’s Block

So I realize that I haven’t posted since August…

oops.

Seems like I had a bad case of writer’s block. I find it funny that finally, after four years of strenuous amounts of homework and time-consuming meetings and shifts that I would be writing more than I used to, now that my schedule has really opened up. Since graduation–and especially since my last post–I’ve noticed myself becoming more introspective. Without major time commitments filling up my day planner, I have had plenty of opportunity to reflect on my life and the choices I’ve made. And because I was so consumed by my own thoughts, it never struck me that I write them down and publish them, as I have been over the past couple of years.

And to be honest, I hate it.

Now, that is not to say that I regret anything from my past. I am not the type of person to have long-term regrets. If I feel bad for something I have done, I immediately ask forgiveness. It’s the only way I prevent any regret or self-anger from building up and causing much greater long-term effects.

So while I don’t regret anything I’ve done that has led up to this present point in time, I recognize the effect my choices have had on my current situation. And I realize that, while I can’t erase the past, I can write my own future, on my own terms. I’m not afraid to admit that my current situation is by no means ideal (in some respects), which is why I can only hope that any choice I make from here on out will positively affect my future.

“Everyone here has the sense that right now is one of those moments when we are influencing the future.” ~ Steve Jobs 

I know I am not the only one out there. To my fellow recent graduates, I know it’s tough. It’s tough to admit that a degree didn’t come equipped with a career; that we make our living off part-time retail and food service jobs; that the student loan companies will soon be flooding our mailboxes and inboxes; that it feels like we’ve been climbing the social ladder all through college, just to be knocked down to the bottom wrung again after graduation. I know, because I’m right there with you.

So all we can do is hope for the best, and prepare ourselves accordingly. There are no two ways about it

Party Poopers

So, we’ve got an election coming up. It’s that important time that rolls around every four years, flooding voters’ ears and eyes with political campaign messages persuading them which candidate should be holding political office. Along with election time comes the need to self-identify with one of the political parties. Doing so makes us feel comfortable, and makes our decisions on whom to vote for a little less difficult.

Those of you who know me (and have read my numerous posts on Facebook) know how much I despise Michele Bachmann. Never in my lifetime did I think I would have more disdain for a person than I did for Sarah Palin, but Bachmann definitely proved me wrong.

But it is not for the reasons you may think. While my views tend to sway a little more on the liberal side, I do not identify as a Democrat. When people assume these labels, they are committing themselves to a set standard of beliefs that they may or may not agree with. Plus, when Democrats get bashed on FOX or any other conservative network, they get defensive.

It’s not because Bachmann is a Tea Party Republican that I don’t like her. It’s that she talks about how firm she stands in her beliefs, but then fails to be honest and stand strong for what she believes in, as shown below:

When voting for our next President, I don’t want someone who is going to be wishy-washy. Even if I completely disagree with a candidate’s stance, I would be more comfortable with them if they stood for what they believed in and never thought two ways about it.

And while I may have liberal beliefs, I certainly haven’t limited myself to the liberal media. In fact, I’ve strayed away from some of them because they were constantly pointing fingers at the Republican party for everything that has gone sour in our political system.

I recently removed myself from an email list that encourages people to sign petitions for certain causes. When I started off reading these emails, I felt good in the petitions I signed, for both a local, statewide, and national level. Yet soon, it turned in to a Republican-bash fest that made claims about how Republicans were wrong, even in non-partisan issues. After about a month or so of these types of emails, I decided to opt out.

As Americans, we need to drop these identities for our own sake. When we identify as Republican, Democrat, or whatever else is out there, we are limiting ourselves to the perspectives of others, and fail to see what is actually happening in our political system.

Did you know that after our government finally finished bickering over the national deficit, they formed a “super committee” consisting of six Republicans and six Democrats. Their goal is to find how to save our country $1.5 trillion in the next ten years. While it may seem fair to have an even amount on both sides, we know one thing is for certain: none of them pay as much in taxes as we “normal” people do. Each of them makes at least $174,000 per year, meaning they are well past the exemption for paying Social Security taxes. If they didn’t get that tax break, then our generation and the one following us might actually be able to use social security after retirement. Shouldn’t the American people, the ones who actually pay the taxes to keep our economy barely functioning, be the ones to decide what should and should not be cut? Or are we just going to rely on a bunch of individuals who don’t want to sacrifice their three precious homes and luxury cars for the sake of the American people?

So when you approach the polling station this election year, don’t just vote because someone is a Democrat or Republican. Do your research on the issues, read up on the candidates, and make sure you are voting for someone who is in it for you.

America is relying on YOU to do the right thing. So get out there, and make a difference.

Only Tourists Look Up

Last week, Ben and I decided to make the trek up to the Galleria mall on one of our mutual days off to use up one of his gift cards. As we made the drive north on Vandeventer to get onto I-40, I had a shocking realization: That intersection we had stopped at provided an incredible view of the downtown St. Louis skyline. We caught a breathtaking image of the Cathedral Basilica, and the other architectural beauties surrounding it by simply looking beyond what we are used to seeing.

When the light turned green, I suddenly felt a different type of emotion; one of freshness, or renewed perception. It is the same feeling I had when I first visited Denver, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, and New Orleans, all of which invoked that emotion simply when I looked up at the skyline. So even by looking up in a city I am all too familiar with, I had renewed my love for it.

Even despite the painful job market right now, and all the woes that come along with it, I still manage to stay a generally happy person. Why? I exercise, eat right (as best as I can) and, most importantly, change things up once in a while.

I am not ashamed to admit that I am one of those people who would prefer sticking to the familiar and routine. Once I find something that works for me, I would stop at nothing to keep that consistency. But with that consistency comes a little feeling we all know called boredom. What some people might view as contentment with their surroundings and routines, could be mistaking it for boredom. Myself included.

One of my favorite movies of all time is Dead Poets’ Society, starring Robin Williams. As a more open-minded professor in a high-brow conservative private school, he encourages his students to stand up on his desk to see things from a different perspective. His purpose was to spawn new ideas and fresh points of view on the same tired old subjects.

O' Captain, My Captain

 

This became a theme throughout the entire movie, and the key reason why it is one of my favorites. The movie inspired me to continue to look at things from different angles, even if they happen to be the angles I’m not familiar, or comfortable, with.

This new life philosophy has made a lasting impact on my life. When it came to planning events or discussing major issues on campus with other students, I knew I had to break through my own personal boundaries and biases to have a unique and successful outcome.

So every once in a while, I will change up what I do just to keep things interesting. Sometimes I’ll take a new route to work or the store, sometimes I’ll sit on the floor instead of the bed or couch, and sometimes I’ll stop myself from getting upset over things that usually bother me. It’s all about new perspectives, and it makes me feel like a new person each time I do it.

This could be the solution to our everyday problems. Let’s take the time to stand up on our desks once in a while, and take in the unfamiliar. By adopting that “tourist” mindset and looking up, we can uncover new perspectives, and become more open-minded and well rounded people as we go about our lives in this otherwise humdrum world.

Don’t Be a Dining D-Bag!

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about this blog–it’s purpose, the meaning of “Dunne That” and what direction I’m headed. I’ve realized that, while not a whole lot is going on for me professionally (yet), I still have a job waiting tables, and there is plenty for me to talk about. Especially after last night.

Mondays are fickle where I work. Some Mondays we get swamped, others are totally dead nights. Thankfully, it was right there in between. I had a family of five, plus a baby, come in and sit in my section of the dining room. Everything seemed to be going well; the family was friendly and patient, and (seemingly) understanding of the fact that we were out of our highly sought-after dinner rolls. Yet once I brought the food out, everything seemed to blow up in my face. The eldest man of the five immediately began complaining about the size of his salad and the fact that his onion rings hadn’t arrived yet–which was my fault, and I apologized for it.

But it only began there. He also blew up on our manager, complaining how the service was slow and how his crispy chicken salad just looked like a salad with chicken thrown on top (uhm…duh?), among many other things. When I went back to check on the family, this same guy said, “I don’t want to see you again until you bring us our check.” Needless to say, the manager took care of the rest.

This is not a common occurrence where I work. 95% of our customers are regulars at varying degrees, and tend to be easygoing, friendly and empathetic when it comes to delays. I found out later that this same guy has had incidents with other veteran servers who had been at the restaurant for many years. That’s when I realized that this guy is probably like this everywhere he goes.

Anybody who has ever waited tables before will tell you it is by no means an easy task. It is multitasking at its finest. And, because we are all human, we make mistakes sometimes. It is understandable that you may have a complaint when something is wrong with your food or service, but that is still no excuse to act rudely to someone who is simply doing their best to provide you with quality customer service. Acting like a civilized human being and politely addressing your issues with your server will most likely yield a new meal and maybe even a discount or free dessert; but all you have to do is ask.

When you are rude to your server and causing a stir, you are not only causing problems for the staff, you are also disrupting other customers. When this gentleman and his family left, my other three tables in the room told me I am doing a fine job, even despite one man’s steak being undercooked, which I immediately had fixed in the kitchen without any further problems.

Because this is my first major incident with a customer, it made me really think about proper dining out etiquette. While the standards may vary among different types of restaurants, there are some basic rules everyone needs to follow.

  • Ask questions. If you don’t understand a menu item, ask your server. This is especially important if you have dietary needs. Don’t waste your server’s time after they deliver your food by telling them you’re allergic to something you ordered. Actually read the menu item, and ask any questions. You also don’t need to lie. If you don’t like tomatoes, don’t make up some story about how you’re allergic. Just say you don’t want any.
  • Be polite. Yeah, you are the one receiving service. But you should still be polite. Rudeness and snide remarks and comments will only stress your server out, and make them more likely to forget something you need. It won’t kill you to say “please” and “thank you.”
    Also, don’t go out to eat if you’re in a bad mood. If you absolutely must, don’t take your problems out on your server.
  • Be patient. Pay attention to how busy the restaurant is. If you bring a big group of people without calling ahead during the middle of a dinner rush, don’t expect to get rapid service. The majority of the time, your server knows you’re there and will be with you as soon as previous customers’ needs have been met. You will get your food.
    If you have a time commitment after dinner, make sure you leave enough time. Don’t come in an hour before your movie starts and expect the full service cycle to happen within that time. It likely won’t happen, unless nobody else is there.
  • Tip. A lot of servers get paid less than minimum wage, and rely heavily on tips. When you don’t tip, you are cutting out a large portion of your dining costs and causing serious harm to your server’s personal finances.
    Tipping is simple. Unless the service was absolutely horrendous and nothing was done to fix it, you should always tip no less than 15%. If you can’t do mental math, that’s $3 for every $20 you spend on food. It’s easy.
Just remember, when you are going out to eat, you are not the only one. Behaving irrationally like the guy from last night will only hurt your chances of getting good service, and make other people around you think you’re just another dining d-bag. Going out to eat is supposed to be a fun experience; acting out will only ruin it for yourself.
If you know someone who is a dining d-bag, don’t be afraid to speak up. Real friends are honest with each other, and are unafraid of pointing out when others are being rude or obnoxious. It will only make things better for you and for other customers.