Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Pursuit of Happiness

Hiking down the Champion Trail, completing what would look like a large snake on Google Earth, I looked over to the left of me, and the wind created waves on the lake where Farmers Branch and Elm Fork Trinity River meet.  Across the lake were large buildings, office buildings with the well known brands displayed proudly upon the apex of the structure. To the right of me, a neighborhood of spacious, well built houses around park lands and canals and sidewalks.  People rode bicycles or tended plants near the trail, and it all seemed peaceful and calm.

I wondered, "Is this Happiness?" Of course it is, the realization of an American Dream, a house, a job, a considerable amount of security, the ability, probably, to go wherever you want.  Now that's freedom.  "But," I asked, "I'm happy. Does all this make them any more happy with their lives?"  I have an apartment, and it's not big, nor do I have the elegant openness of the houses I saw, nor the office in a large, glass-filled building where, at my leisure, I can look out over the parks and the lake and the canals and see my house. But I have a job that I am happy with and grateful for.  What makes my happiness different from theirs? 

I remember back in Georgia, as I have talked about many times, that my stepdad drove an ice cream truck around the poorer neighborhoods of Rockdale County.  We actually sold more ice cream to the children in the trailer parks than in the affluent neighborhoods.  The people watching their large televisions or playing whatever console was out at the time would not have bothered with the ringing bells of the rickety old van when they could get ice cream out of their own freezers.  But in those small streets that wound their way through the mobile homes, the ice cream truck  distributed not only ice cream, but happiness.  They ate sugary goodness, then continued to play outside.  I never once saw those children unhappy.  For while I'm sure they were aware of those places where rich people lived, where they were was home for them.  It was their world, and the things they had were good.  I will not pretend to think that it was all roses and lollipops for them, either.  I'm sure some had parents that were abusive, or drank, or worked all night to provide a roof over their shoulders.  I'm sure they came home tired and had no time for their children.  But so, too, are the people who live in the opulent homes.  They could be abusive, or drink, or spend too much time at work, not able to see their kids.  The conditions in which they live might be different, but often, the emotions around them are the same.  

So, back to my own situation, yes, I am happy.  I thought about it further, and realized that the ability to be happy in this country is the main reason why so many people come here, legally or otherwise.  And that's a rather common thing to say... you hear it on the radio and the television all the time.  But I don't think that people really know what that means.  To people who live in those houses, to them, why would people cross a river with nothing but what they could carry just to come here? I mean, poverty (as we define it) is here as it is elsewhere?  The difference being that here, there is the opportunity for happiness.  It's an old argument, one that goes back to the Declaration of Independence.  "Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness."  The argument from the free market 
Trail underneath I-635. Dallas loves their bridges!
world is that our government provides for the opportunity for happiness, not necessarily that you will achieve it.  Honestly, happiness is relatively easy to achieve here, with a job, and the basic needs of survival met, the rest is the pursuit of being happy, comfortable with your life.  Any external force that interferes with this should be dealt with by the Federal Government.  I will admit that this is a little more liberal of a stance than what I would normally take, but every citizen should be afforded the "opportunity" to pursue happiness.  According to Maslow, this cannot happen until the basic needs of human survival are met.  Shelter, Warmth, Food.  I think this is ample justification for the programs that welfare extend to those people who might not have it otherwise.  And this is something that is taken advantage of and used for political gains, undoubtedly.  I do not agree with the extent that these programs are used, but that they are absolutely necessary, I will stand by and defend.  I would even go so far as to agree with the need for basic health care, the basics that keep us all healthy and able to pursue our goals.  Again, this is not to say that everyone should be taken care of completely for their entire lives, as we have had thrust upon us, but for children and those who cannot afford it, it's absolutely necessary.  

I have digressed some, but that's okay.  My main thought was that I am just as happy living my life right now as the people living in those houses and working in those buildings.  I know I've had a lot of stressful things that have happened to me (my Cousin who is a psychologist pointed out that of the list of the most stressful things that can happen to a person, I've had most of them happen to me in the past couple of years). I think I've come through the fire , with Help, of course, very nicely, and that, with that same Help, I can overcome any obstacles in my way.  The journey that I'm on, one that, in the end, will result in my independence, in my "growing up" as it were (you know that's not going to happen fully, but a little maturing wouldn't hurt), is just starting.  The one lesson that a lot of people need to learn is that looking up at the houses on the hill, or the towers of offices and the opulent stores that sell temporary satisfaction, all these things are just that, temporary, and there's little of that which is different from what I already have.  What ultimately improves that happiness is what I do with it.  From the people I meet to the things that I do, that will provide happiness, not the material objects I have around me.  Again, this sounds like a common theme, realized over and over again in sit-coms and cartoons, but it's the truth, and is something that is so hard to realize.  Not when every window out in the world broadcasts what you don't have, and how wonderfully happy those people are that do have it.  It's not the "haves" and "have nots,"  but the "lives" and the "lives not."  I would rather live, and be happy, in my small abode, than toil and strain, simply to get more of what is out there, and not be happy at all.  As Candide said, I am happy simply "tending my garden."  That is what I intend to do.  

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Roadrunners, The Galleria, and Global Warming...

In other words, it's time for a "things that bug me!" post.  That's right, once again I find things that irritate the fire out of me, and I let you know what they are! Aren't you excited? I knew you would be.  And this episode is the special Texas edition.

In the last episode, I talked about my Blessed Flyswatter.  You know, the one I can't find in all my boxes and shelves because I. Don't. Need. It. Here. Either the Arts at Midtown Apartments have amazing pest control specialists (and they probably do. I've seen a cricket, and a couple of little bugs inside my apartment, and absolutely nothing outside.  In fact, the whole time I've been here (a month now), I've seen exactly one cockroach (but more on that in a minute).  We have two stray cats on the premises, or at least, I think they're strays, probably belong to someone around here. I've seen no stray dogs. In a huge city like Dallas.  I saw a skunk once, while I was driving home from the college. Never seen one of those before.

The reason I bring this up is that in Texas, as you know, everything is bigger (and that's a stereotype with loads of truth in it). In Texas it's what eats the cockroaches that is a pest.  I need to send these things over to Georgia... they'd have an absolute feast!  Thing is, I don't know what they're called. but they're everywhere.  Birds.  About the size of blackbirds, but they don't fly, and are brown-ish.  They have their mouths open constantly (mainly because it's probably 110 degrees near the pavement), and they make insanely loud squawking sounds.  I call them roadrunners, not because they are, but because the run on the road.  They sweep the streets clean of bugs, leftover food, anything they can devour.  Even the bugs off of cars.  And they're not scared of you at all.  They stand on the sidewalk and watch you pass, about like the buzzards do in Georgia.  And they're everywhere!  I guess it's a mixed blessing, to have no bugs, but lots of large birds around.  (after some looking, I think they're called "Great-Tailed Grackles," and from the description that wikipedia gives them, it makes sense.  A pack of Grackles is called an "annoyance."   It says they're not afraid of humans and make loud, raucous sounds.

Couple weekends ago I took a two minute trip west to the Galleria Mall, the opulent center of human decadence located conveniently right next to my apartment.  I even dressed up to go in, thinking it would be better than shorts and a t-shirt.  Four floors, with the bottom being an ice rink and food court, and the other floors ascending as they decreased in price.  On the main floor is Nordstroms,
along with alternating shops that sell the finest of women's clothing and purse/handbags stores.  Fine jewelry, watches, accessories for the latest Apple products... all of which is totally worthless to me.  The one store I was delighted to find was one owned by Papryus.  Borders carried a line of Papryus products, and I was glad to find such great greeting cards within such a short distance of my house.  I would definitely go back to that store for birthday cards and, of course, for amazingly sparkly wrapping paper.  :)

The upper floor is where the normal mall stores are: Spencer's, Hot Topic, Subway.  Packed within this area are all the people who, like me, couldn't afford the lower floors but have to buy something while at the Galleria Mall so they could say they did it.  I declined that opportunity, at least for now, and I do understand the attraction for seeing how the rich spend their money.  However, I feel much more at home at the Valley View Center on the other side of my street, or even at the Thrift Shops over on Harry Hines, where, amongst the loud Spanish Pop songs and screaming children and toys all over the floor, I found some great Jeans for $4.00 a piece, ones that I can wear when it gets cold around here (which I hope never happens.)

One thing I have loved here in Dallas is the 100 degree temperatures.  With relatively lower humidity than the saunas that are prevalent in Georgia.  I walk outside and feel the warm (to hot), crisp, air, and it warms the muscles, the skin, relaxes it.  It's amazing that such a ball of fire as the Sun, 8 light-minutes away from Earth, can generate that much heat.  It reminds me of my now long gone Large Dangerous Space Heater which I loved so very much.  Without the humidity, you sweat more here, but it evaporates, keeps you cooler when the Dallas winds go sweeping down the plains (oh, wrong state).  And every single person I know would think I was the craziest person on the face of the planet for liking warm temperatures... I mean, it's getting hotter, isn't it? We're going to bake in an oven of our own making? Global War... I mean, Climate Change... is going to do irreparable harm, and the only way we can fix it is to let the Government tax, regulate, and force us to be kinder to our environment.  After all, they know best, don't they???

Truthfully, do I think that we have had something to do with affecting the overall climate of the Earth? Probably.  I don't know what that is, as I have little proof and even fewer reasons to go looking for that proof.  But... do I want the Government to control everything that I do, consume, and waste, all in the name of protecting Mother Earth?  Of course not!! I will leave my lights on if I want, and sleep with icicles hanging off my feet if I so choose.  And I will pay for that in the electricity bill that I get each month (which, in Georgia, was in the summer around $350).

I say all this because the college that my bookstore serves is requiring every student in the school to read Global Weirdness, and wanting every professor, whether it's an English or History or Science or Math professor to use it in some way.  And I can see how it can work, I took Environmental Algebra at GC&SU, and made an A in the course. It was very enjoyable.  I only hope that in those classes, they are providing the students with a balanced look at the issue, showing evidence that, perhaps the world isn't going to bake in an oven as quickly or as dangerously as they think.  They could easily show how climate change oscillates from one century to the next, cooling and warming, and depending on forces like El NiƱo, climate is changed more by natural phenomenon than the things we are doing.

The main reason I couldn't care less about the whole Environmental movement is that sometimes the real goals are cloaked in the humanitarian mission of saving the planet.  Control, Power, Money...and the people who are ambitious for them, can easily use the Evironment as a tool to gain them.  And besides, let's be honest about our reasons for doing things.  Do I want to go back to incandescent light bulbs? Heck no... I had to change them every two weeks in fixtures that were impossible to undo.  Put an LED in there, save money, save time, and I can be lazy and not have to change it for years.  That's environmentalism for you.  If the college turns off the AC in a building because they are trying to "conserve" and be "green" about things, that's a load of compost.  They do it to save money. And that's fine.  Just tell us that you're saving money, and not because of some altruistic sense of duty toward this rock we live on.  I'd do a lot of things to help the environment (and I've seen the many things that liter, light pollution, noise pollution, water pollution (the rivers in Dallas are Green), do to our world, and I don't like it. But that's not enough for me.  Give me an incentive to take that extra step.  Saving money, or saving time, or letting me be just a little bit more lazy when I don't have to unscrew that light bulb.  That's all I want.  And that's the true answer to that riddle.... "As few as possible."  And while we're at it, let's go shop online and not have to worry about spending electricity and other utilities to power that thing to my east.  What savings that would create! We pick and choose, when it suits us.