Tuesday, November 23, 2010


For as long as I can remember, birthdays have been a strange thing for me. It's true that there were years when I was much, much younger that I bought into them just like every other kid, having my parents throw parties for the whole class and generally viewing the whole affair as, well, as a birthright. But those days are long past.

At some point I started seeing things differently. I was uncomfortable receiving all of the attention that came with birthdays, and I certainly didn't know how to accept the gifts with any grace. I didn't understand the tradition, and all I could think was "Why the heck are people giving me all of this stuff?" And in retrospect, I never really found an answer to that question. I never really DID anything to deserve the gifts, and even though it may be the anniversary of my birth, I could never understand why anyone else would be particularly excited about that. It was my birth, after all, not theirs.

The fact is that I couldn't accept that the people in my life would, sincerely or otherwise, feel obligated to pay some sort of tribute to me in honor of my mere existence. The parties, the presents, and the well-wishes are wonderful, but they're entirely inappropriate.

Should we celebrate birthdays? Hell yes, we should. But this is the anniversary of my birth, of my life, and I've been so incredibly fortunate to be included in the lives of those who have made such a difference to me. It's not your responsibility to commemorate my life, it's mine, and I want to take the opportunity to show my appreciation to you for being a part of it.

Without you, I wouldn't be who I am today. Thank you.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Jack Johnson: Oracle?

This is something that's been bothering me for awhile in a big way, and I really need to share it (before anyone else makes the connection).

By now we've all heard about Deepwater Horizon and the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. It's about a three hour drive for me to the nearest oil-soaked beach, so it hits pretty close to home, but I'll get to the point: I was listening to a song from Jack Johnson's 2003 album, "On and On," when I realized the lyrics were eerily relevant to the crisis in the gulf.

Have a listen:

Consumption Junction - Argument

To be perfectly honest, I'm not as much an activist as I like to pretend I am. I'll latch onto an opinion and occasionally make an attempt to defend it, but generally I avoid argument as much as possible in my daily life.

Capitalism is kind of a touchy subject. Here's my last-minute attempt to discredit it:


Consumption Junction

A Discourse on Market Capitalism

More than sixty years have passed since the start of the Cold War, and western civilization now stands -- more than ever before -- as a monolithic symbol for capitalism. This particular type of economy has, in modern times, become pervasive throughout the first world. Even many rising nations that had been formerly opposed to a free market (such as China and India) have warmed to the promise of staggering economic growth. In spite of this widespread acceptance, market capitalism is inherently -- and incorrigibly -- unscrupulous, destructive, and unsustainable.

"But what," you might ask, "about all of the clearly-overwhelming benefits that capitalism has to offer over the alternatives? Competition," you would add, "is a good thing, isn't it?" Students of economics profess that greed is good, extolling the virtues of competition as a tool for stimulating cash flow and innovation in the marketplace. In these aspects, they're right; the beauty of a free market lies in the propensity of a profit motive to manifest the will of a population. In other words, the promise of financial gain means innovative ideas and higher quality products and services at competitive prices. A constant stream of new and often-novel products and services leads to more active consumers and, in turn, to healthier economies. Considering these benefits from the standpoint of a consumer, capitalism is an easy sale, but it doesn't go so far as to reveal the actual price we're paying.

Outside of the context of competition, "profit motive" is a dirty term. It provides incentive for profiteers to commit to otherwise-unsavory tactics, taking advantage of human vulnerabilities and insecurities for the sake of the bottom line. The socioeconomic impacts of this, especially with the refinement of pervasive marketing campaigns, have been widespread. Remembering that America was -- for most of its early history -- an agrarian society, we've seen many significant changes with the rise of consumer culture, ranging from the death of our economic independence as individuals become increasingly specialized to sweeping changes in our eating habits.

What's more, while many proponents of market capitalism argue that it rewards hard work and promotes fair competition, the system works very differently in practice. Though countless entrepreneurs might undertake the same venture, the majority of the business (and the profit) will ultimately go to the select few firms who come out on top. This is fine in concept, but the reality is that the element of chance is often a major factor in determining who is successful. Capitalism is a "winner take all" system, where a percentage of all of the work that goes into a venture goes to the victors while the remaining participants are left to fail. On the same token, participants who are aware of this will often not hesitate to undercut their competition. The potential rewards of doing business in this way encourage participation, and likewise have fostered a culture of ruthlessness among corporations. This system of imbalance only serves to amplify the wealth disparity, as the wealthy gain more wealth at the expense of weaker competitors.

This is all, as many will point out, simply the cost of doing business. Indeed, many people embrace these flaws, as certainly market capitalism's potential to gain outstrips any other market with a lower ceiling. Worse than these flaws, though, is the relentless, systematic destruction and consumption of the world's resources. Merriam-Webster's dictionary defines the word "consume" as "to destroy or expend by use; use up." More than any other market, capitalism and consumerism are inextricably tied, and it's easy to see why. A brief look at the typical supply chain as taught to business students around the globe shows something alarming: from harvesting to refinement to manufacturing to distribution and beyond, the flow of products moves in only one direction. The overarching business philosophy is a one-way track, focusing on the logistics of generating profit by enabling the consumption of resources. There's no cycle to the pattern of consumption; rather, the environment is treated strictly as a resource to be managed and converted to products. While companies have begun to "greenwash" their products to appeal to the environmentalist movement (who actually believes the concept of "clean coal?"), no amount of marketing or technology can change the fact that our pattern of consumption is irreconcilably finite.

It's easy to point to the numerous flaws of capitalism and insist that they can be overcome by simple regulations, that there are no better alternatives than the path we've chosen. Making any kind of meaningful change would require a collective effort that hasn't been seen since the second World War, but we cannot simply accept that we're doing the right thing when everything from the goods we buy to the food we eat are products of a broken system. It may be true that this is all just the cost of doing business, but is it a price that we can afford? Capitalism is destructive and unsustainable, and anything less than a massive change is, quite simply, decadent.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Roommates - Process Analysis

Saying that I HATE process analysis might be a little unfair. I definitely don't love it, though.

My professor is decidedly against using research in our papers (as he doesn't want to grade MLA citations until he has to, as far as I can tell), so picking a topic meant that I needed to stay in the realm of the day-to-day. Bad roommates are, I think, a universal constant, but I decided that my experiences were only the tip of the iceberg. I turned to reddit for additional insight, and got some really interesting stories, though ultimately I decided to keep it mellow.



Reaching adulthood and striking out on your own can be at once intimidating and exhilarating. Leaving the nest -- so to speak -- is an important coming-of-age ritual and a vital part of the development process; this is especially true in a society, such as ours, that so highly values individual capability and independence. Making your own way in the world at such a young age can be difficult, though, and it can be hard to gain any footing on your own. It is precisely this reason that many -- indeed, most -- of us seek a companion to help us as we take our first steps away from home. Be it a friend, a lover, or a total stranger, we seek a roommate for the stability we need to succeed on our own. A roommate can, however, be as much a curse as a blessing; a good roommate will ease your financial burdens and provide quality company and support, while a bad roommate is fully capable of the opposite: destroying you financially, eroding your confidence in humanity, and causing immeasurable grief and anxiety. With so much at stake, it is imperative to know how to successfully detect a troublesome roommate before the situation escalates beyond control.

While you should never judge a book by its cover, first impressions are crucial to filtering out the good from the bad. Every single day we rely on our first impressions to help us make critical decisions about many aspects of life. Our subconscious is adept at recognizing a huge number of factors that help us form a preliminary judgment which, while sometimes inaccurate and rarely complete, should not be ignored. When meeting a potential roommate for the first time, it is important to be aware of our first impressions and to take them into account when evaluating whether the person will be a good fit. Both parties should treat the meeting as a job interview: pay close attention to the entire presentation, taking stock of his or her attire, manner of speech, and any issues that the person presents as a priority. Beware of anything about your prospective roommates that could pose a potential problem, such as their reasons for looking for new lodging, their attitudes towards partying, their employment status, and even the specific jobs they work. It may seem cruel to simply follow our instinct in passing judgment -- and it can be difficult to say no to someone in need who is in a similar situation -- but being aware of these initial red flags can allow you to prevent a bad situation from ever occurring.

Unfortunately, much of the time we do not have the luxury of knowing a bad roommate before we are in a living situation with them. For this reason, we must know how to recognize a problem as it manifests, before it gets out of hand. Cleanliness, for example, is an important factor. An unclean living space can play host to an entirely new set of problems, from negative social implications to potential health and safety hazards to pest control problems and even, in extreme cases, structural damage and degradation. Mountains of dirty dishes, scattered collections of long-forgotten food, significant clutter in common areas, trash buildup, and mold buildup are all signs of a bad roommate. While any one or two of these problems can, with some patience, be worked through, combinations of these symptoms will often mean that a roommate is incorrigible. The insidious buildup of filth can be easy to miss until it's too late, so on this more than anything we must remain vigilant.

Pets, too, can be cause for concern, and require a certain amount of attention. Many animals can be just as troublesome as a bad roommate, or worse, as they cannot be held responsible or be reasoned with for their actions. Recognizing a problem animal before it becomes a problem can be difficult, however, and in many cases the safest course of action is to avoid roommates with pets or, at the very least, to filter the kind of pet that you will allow. Smaller animals, for instance, are easier to maintain control of and clean up after. Some animals will help you determine the quality of a potential roommate's character: any well-trained animal, such as an obedient dog, will generally indicate that the owner is a capable one; other animals, like fish, require a fair amount of responsibility to maintain, and are likely to belong to a relatively low risk roommate (do not hesitate to ask, however, how long the fish have been alive in the owner's care, as they are not difficult to replace). Other animals can be a liability and should be avoided at all costs, regardless of the apparent capability of the owner. The great poet Lord Byron kept a tame bear in his dorms at Cambridge, though one would likely be wary of actually living alongside someone so "mad, bad, and dangerous to know."

It is said that you will never truly know a person until you have lived with them. And while we are more likely to overlook the transgressions of our friends or loved ones, the desire to preserve our relationships means that it is all the more important that these people are not exempt from scrutiny. Everybody has a number of annoying little habits that can, with some patience, be overlooked or worked through, but even some of the most assertive people can allow their tolerance to get the best of them. Early detection is key, as what may begin as a bit of unnecessary clutter, left unchecked, can progress to a nightmarish collection of filth. Knowing how to recognize the difference between an annoyance and a truly bad roommate is the key to taking control of a situation or, when possible, avoiding a problem altogether.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

You Get What You Need - Narrative

Summer term might have been a mistake. I wasn't thinking clearly when I signed myself up for four classes (out of pocket, I might add) in addition to a full time work schedule. Not all is doom and gloom, though; I've finally stretched my literary muscles for the first time in ages and have been given the opportunity (read: forced) to do some academic writing again.

Fodder for the blog.

This week's assignment was to write a narrative, 700-1000 words, detailing a true story with a lesson or moral. I've always preached that morality is inherently relative, but we've all learned a thing or two from time to time. I decided that in this case I would write a meta-essay, detailing the difficult process of selecting an essay topic.

To be fair, I spent much less time coming up with the topic than I did deciding whether I'd be blacklisted for it.


"You Get What You Need"

"It doesn't have to focus on some life-changing epiphany, just any time where you learned something. I think everyone can think of at least one time where you learned something." For the second time in as many years I found myself seated in an English Composition class. My credit didn't transfer but I couldn't wait any longer to find out why; I had made a plan to graduate and I wasn't about to put that off over some low-level English class. Besides, I'd earned this credit once before, how hard could it be? So there I sat, two weeks into the course, taking down the first writing assignment.

It wasn't a particularly difficult assignment. In fact, it should have been easy. A few hundred words telling a story with a lesson and I could call it a week, it would be smooth sailing. He was right -- the professor -- to suggest it would be a simple matter; after all, I had my share of stories and it was only a matter of choosing.

At the end of class I waited for most of the other students to leave before packing up my things. I made my way down the hallway, empty and bleak in only the way that fluorescent lighting can achieve, and pushed my way out of the of the glass doors into the the night. Fresh air met my nostrils and twirled playfully across my face and I slowed my walk, gazing at the stars as I ambled across the parking lot. A steady stream of light appeared nearby and moved slowly and deliberately out of sight, the red and gold orbs of endlessly advancing cars. I reached my van and fumbled with my keys before climbing up to my perch and lighting the headlights. A quick turn of the wrist and the engine roared to life. "A few hundred words," I thought; "This will be easy. I'll start it tomorrow." The vehicle lurched forward, and I was swept off with the river of light.

Three days passed -- long, tiresome, unproductive days -- before I turned my attention back to the assignment. It was late on a Friday night and I was staring at my computer monitor. The word processor filled the screen and the harsh white glare lashed out at my eyes. The cursor stood at the head of the page, blinking, austere and immovable. The page was empty. One letter at a time, I typed my name. The cursor followed suit, moving reluctantly with each additional character. I sighed and leaned back in my creaky office chair, swiveling to and fro. The low hum of my apartment's air conditioner filled the room as I wracked my brain for something, anything, to write about. Outside, the rumble of thunder orchestrated a symphony of car alarms in the apartment complex. I groaned and sprang to my feet, stepping onto the porch in time to watch the first droplets of rain.

Sunday morning, she sat across from me on the couch. "So you just have to come up with a story with a moral? And you can't think of ANYTHING?" Tendrils of steam reached up from a mug of coffee and mingled with loose strands of hair. My roommate.
"It's not that I can't think of anything at all; I've got plenty of stories, I just can't think of anything that I really WANT to write about."
"If it's taken you all week, why can't you just pick something and get it out of the way?"
It had been five days and I still hadn't even decided on a topic. She was right, but I just wasn't satisfied with my options. My chair creaked as I leaned back. "It's just..." I bit down on the pen cap that I had been playing with and leaned forward, creaking again as my elbows came to rest against my knees. "I mean, I don't want to write anything too cheesy, but how many stories can I just tack an obvious moral to? I can't think of any stories that wouldn't feel forced. Or at least appropriate for school."
Elaine stood to leave, but paused before turning away. "It's just an essay. Stop trying so hard and just write it."

Later that afternoon I left for work and pushed the assignment from my mind. I still had a little over a day to decide on a topic; the words, I thought, would follow close behind. In the evening I stepped outside for a break, some fresh air to clear my head. The sky was beginning to darken and the clouds were changing hue, and my mind scrambled to find something to write about as I took a seat on a bench along the sidewalk. For all of the stories I thought I had, I could conjure nothing. Surely I've had plenty of lessons, but aside from cheap anecdotes and forced metaphor, what could I really write about? I could never turn in a story of some sordid romance, or a tale of unrequited love, and be taken seriously; could I? I stared up at the sun as it dipped low in the sky and as, one by one, red fluorescent retail signs were illuminated. Slowly, the shadows of distant buildings crept closer across the massive parking lot, and the clouds above changed from gold to deep, soulful shades of orange and red, and I was reminded of my conversation with Elaine. I chuckled to myself and watched as the last slivers of the sun slipped below the skyline. It really did seem obvious.

"Stop trying so hard, huh?"


I've been trying to re-evaluate the usefulness of this blog. Originally, I started it as a sort of bulletin board of English assignments, but when that dried up it turned into more of a scarcely-updated political/zombie blog (not to be confused with political zombies).

I decided that I would abandon this project until I got some materials together to start an entirely new blog. Then I started another English class.

First essay post is tomorrow.

About Me

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Nick Woll grew up in the Florida Keys, and is furthering himself in the fields of writing, software development, and web design. You can contact him at nwoll27 at gmail dot com.