Friday, August 1, 2014

The Frugal Shopaholic by R. Brooks

If I could chose something interesting about my personality, it would be my near-addictive pattern of shopping. I am a shopaholic, if you would like a label. I thoroughly enjoy walking through every single aisle looking at all the items I could buy if I had more money. It is exhilarating to me… it is most closely related to an adrenaline rush. I could browse for hours just to find that perfect item to go home with me. I am not picky either. I love shopping for clothes, shoes, organizational items for my home, and really anything else I feel that I can use! I pick and choose the perfect outfits that would flatter my figure. I like trying on as many shoes as I can: flats, sandals, high-heels, and boots. I feel like shopping truly calms me down. I ignore all other distractions while I am shopping. When I am in the stores, I will not talk to anyone. I am notorious for shutting my phone off or ignoring calls while I am browsing the aisles; it is just me and the merchandise I have to select from. For a moment, in my extremely busy life, I have some peace and quiet. Nothing can get in the way of me and that perfect item!

That is… until I get to the register. I forgot to mention, I am one of the most frugal people you will ever meet. I absolutely HATE spending money! It literally makes me sick to my stomach when I swipe my debit card at the register. I hate how you can get three items at a store, still spend over fifty dollars, and yet, they are able to fit in a tiny bag. I have made restrictions on the amount I will pay for certain items of clothing, and if I spend even a dollar over, I get very upset. I have found creative ways to avoid my impulsive spending habits. I keep myself busy so that I have no time to shop. I will also “lose” my debit card deliberately so that I have no way to spend money. My debit card is lost right now, in fact. 

I know it seems like these two parts of me couldn’t possibly go together. And often times, I am most definitely fighting myself with my “spend!” or “save!” mentality. But all in all, I have it worked out pretty well. On my everyday shopping, I refuse to pay full price. As often as I can, I extreme coupon. This helps me save enough money to “reward” myself with something nice. Once a year, though I want to much more often than that, I splurge on myself; I always get two pairs of shoes and three outfits for myself just for staying within budget all year. During the year, I make myself believe all the necessities are actually fun to shop for… you would never guess how fun it is to buy toilet paper in my house! I recognize that my personality clashes; however, it does so perfectly! You can call me “The Frugal Shopaholic.”

A Second Set of Eyes by R. Brooks

It sits there in a box now, collecting dust like an old beat-up book. Just being near it, I can close my eyes and remember when we were one. So many stories were told through its eyes. It has seen many parts of the world, in both color and black and white. Yea, it may just sit there silent now, but my camera is the best storyteller that I know. 

I remember when I first laid eyes on it. After over a month on EBay, losing bid after bid, sometimes by a mere second or a penny, I found “the one.” I would stop at no cost; that Pentax P3n was mine! It came down to the final five minutes. I was so close to having my camera! At a steal, I outbid my opponent and won my camera for $62.01. It was the longest seven days of my life waiting for the UPS truck to arrive. 

And then it came! It was a Friday, and I feared I would miss the delivery since we were leaving for dinner at any moment. Just as I walked out, with my head hung low, just knowing I would now have to wait until Monday, the truck pulled up. I almost knocked the delivery man down running to get my package. I don’t even remember signing for it; the next thing that I know, all of the stuffing was on my living room floor and my beautiful “new” camera was right there in my hands. I grazed my fingers across its smooth body, every single part intact and in perfect condition. I couldn’t wait to take it out on the town and tell my stories through its eyes. 

We first went to the most pure place in the United States: Alaska, “the last frontier.” Everything there was still in new, unused condition, unlike here in the Midwest. My camera helped me to capture nature, wildlife, and waterfalls yet to be named. The stories uncovered behind the lens of my camera are etched with me forever in the photos we created. We took a three hour train ride in Fairbanks, snapping many parts of history in the process such as the old goldmine cemeteries and historic steam engines of centuries past. We were able to catch water drops dripping from an elk’s fur thanks to the telescopic lens. We spent one whole month in the purity of Alaska and other western parts of the United States. By the end of that magnificent month, we returned with twenty-six rolls of film to develop, our stories to be printed as latent images fixed on paper forever. 

Then my camera took me to some of the most abandoned places in my own backyard: Saint Louis. We traveled to the northern parts of the city to capture old houses with their bricks crumbled in piles and old warehouses tagged by graffiti artists. It has seen homeless people, run down parks, and abstract lines of our great city. Sometimes, it was a step back in time. I often imagined what it would be like to live in those homes in a different era; my camera took me there with every click of the shutter.

My prized possession does not work anymore but I still embrace the albums filled with stories that we have told together. They are the novels of my life, my biography, if you will. Some tales may be as clear and vivid as the wildlife in Alaska. Other times, we are left to our own interpretations, leaving us to ponder the history behind them. It may be silent now, but for many years, my camera helped me see the world in another light.

Photos: All photos taken by the author, R. Brooks

Friday, July 25, 2014

Summer 2014 Education Narratives

Here are new Education Narratives by English 030 students at Forest Park. These stories are difficult, dangerous, heart-breaking, and inspiring.

"Education Narrative" is the story of learning how to give to others after a lifetime of disappointment and abandonment turned a young boy away from being the selfless care-giver he once was.

"Acceptance" is a journey of learning to live with--and thrive in spite of--a devastating epilepsy diagnosis.

"My Lesson I Learned" is the story of a newly independent working woman's lesson in paying bills and living independently.

"Hardships and Triumph" explores the journey of a mother's most difficult choice, and her lesson in giving too much.

"My Hardest Lesson" is the story of a young man's difficult journey away from his family and into financial and emotional independence.

"Learning to Think Before I Act" is a narrative that takes us into and out of prison to show how a man can learn and grow from his mistakes and regrets.

"My Life Story" shows a young student learning the importance of school, reading, writing, and asking for help.

"The Lesson I've Learned" tells of a young woman whose bad choices in school almost cost her the opportunity for education.

"Legendary Angel" tells the story of a tragic loss, a sudden and unexpected new family, and a young woman's journey from only child to sister.

"Education Narrative" by Student J.

I did not know it to be a lesson at the time, but my first one was selflessness. I was around three when my mother and father divorced. My brothers, mother and I had nowhere to go, so we had to move in with my grandparents. My mother always seemed very sad. One night I woke up it was very cold, and dark. She was crying and I got out of bed to see what the matter was. When I walked into her room she was looking into the mirror brushing her dark brown hair, with tears running down her face. I asked her what was wrong. She said nothing and I went over and crawled onto her lap, gave her a hug, and told her everything would be alright. I was only worried about her and how I could help. It was a very long time before I could care for anyone like that again.

When my father left, I stopped believing in people. I blamed myself for a long time, and it really took its toll on me. I took the hatred I had for my father with me everywhere I went and took it out on everyone I could. I believed if I hurt, you should too. Fredrick Douglass recalls how at one time he felt about his life: “I have often wished myself a beast. I preferred the condition of the meanest reptile to my own. Anything, no matter what, to get rid of thinking! It was this everlasting thinking of my condition that tormented me. There was no getting rid of it.” At certain times I could not think of anything better than not being me, but I could not get away from myself.

At a young age I started to be defiant, and never did what I was told. I always did what I wanted to do no matter the consequences I smoked my first cigarette at six, and I drank alcohol and smoked weed at seven. I started to steal at a young age also. One hot summer day in Jackson, Mississippi, I decided to steal two cartons of cigarettes from Piggly Wiggly. I walked in like I owned the joint. I walked over to the cigarettes and put them up my pants legs. Back then the smokes were out in the open and we always smoked for free. Before I could get out of the store, I was arrested and taken to jail. My mom had to come get me. I went to court later that summer and I was sentenced to a state boys’ home at the age of thirteen.

The boys’ home was intimidating, the other boys were much older and all we did was fight. The food was bad; the staff treated us like we were animals. It was a prison for children, a very scary place for a little thirteen year old boy. My heart grew even colder, and my hatred for everyone and everything grew stronger. When I finally got out, six months later, I was sent to live with my aunt. She tried to do her best to help me. I went on doing what I did best drinking, smoking, drugs, and doing whatever I wanted.

I made it through seventh, eighth, and half of ninth grade. One night in Waco, Texas, I went to a party about midway through my ninth grade year we were all drinking and getting high and my friends pulled out a gun and started to play around with it. I left and the next morning my aunt woke me up with the newspaper my best friend was dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. Things really got bad after this. I helped carry his coffin to his final resting place. What a sad day, one of the hardest days of my life. I never wanted to care for anyone ever again. I started to use drugs and alcohol to kill the pain, but it did not work. Things got worse, never better. I had been in trouble a lot because of drugs and alcohol but none of that mattered, only drinking and drugging were on my agenda.

Years later I was driving intoxicated and wrecked my car. I hit a van doing about seventy miles an hour. I was in a black out, all I remember is waking up in the hospital with a tube in my lungs and machine breathing for me. I had been in a coma for three days. Things like this happened on and off all of my life but I never thought I had a problem. I knew deep down that if I did not find a better way to live I would be dead before my time. I was a slave to drugs and alcohol. Fredrick Douglass reflects on how he saw his life if he were not to be a free man. “I often found myself regretting my own existence, and wishing myself dead; and but the hope of being free, I have no doubt that I should have killed myself, or done something for which I would have been killed.” My life had gotten so bad that at times I felt the same way. My life had no purpose and death would have been a blessing.

I met a man in 2003. I was in a treatment center outside smoking. It was a cold November day in Saint Louis. I wanted to stop drinking and using drugs and did not know how. He was there to pick up a friend and take him to a meeting. His friend was not there. He asked me how I was doing and I said fine; what a lie. I needed a drink so bad I could taste it. He said that he was going to a meeting, did I want to come along. I thought to myself, what he wanted. We talked for a little while and I said sure. We went to a place where everyone seemed to be happy, shaking hands, talking, laughing and just looking like they were having the time of their life. The meeting started and everything I heard had something to do with my life. It was a smoke filled room and the aroma of coffee filled the room. These people seemed to have found a way to live without drugs and alcohol. I did not want to listen to these men and women share, but it sounded like it was just what I needed. Fredrick Douglass recalls a situation where he was fearful of what the white man told him. “I pretended not to be interested in what they said, and treated them as if I did not understand them; for I feared they are treacherous.” When I was approached by people who were trying to show me a better way to live, I was also reluctant to listen.

I know today it is not all about me and what I can get out of life; it’s what I can give and put into life. I am no longer selfish. I help others, the same way I was helped. People took time out of their lives to show me how to live and today I do the same for the next person. My life is amazing today. I have everything I need and more. Most of all I have me back. Today I can be that three year old boy again, caring, loving, accepting, and selfless. I am a much better person because of this. I only get out of life what I put in it today. Looking back I put nothing into life all I did was take. I had to go through everything I went through to be the man I am today. My experience can help others not do the same. This is a great way of life. To give is better to receive. Fredrick Douglass was a great man; I’m just a man trying to stay grateful. Learning about yourself is very painful and is the only way most of us will grow. Helping others is the only way to go and it will definitely help you grow.

"Acceptance" by Student G.

When I was in the seventh grade, I was diagnosed with Epilepsy. Epilepsy is a brain disorder that causes seizures. I was told this at Children's Hospital in St. Louis. They quickly prescribed medication to me. I kind of scared my classmates, friends, and family but it didn't scare me really, because I didn't accept it. I was told things I can do and things I can't do, but I didn't listen. I acted like it would go away in a couple years. My best friend Rachel was always worried about me. She took care of me the most. When I went into high school, I basically kept this a secret from everyone except two friends that went to grade school with me. I was told I couldn't play any heavy contact sports, but all four years in high school I played rugby. Surprisingly I got hit in the head a few times but I got back up and kept playing. No one on the team knew about my condition. Until April came.

In April, 2010 I had two seizures. One of them happened the day before a rugby tournament. That day the team freaked out a little and found out that I'm epileptic. After the second seizure which was few days after the first one, I kind of went insane. I felt depression in me. I felt that my life was broken and felt what's the point to go on. As Frederick Douglass recalls "I often found myself regretting my own existence and wishing myself dead." He described himself as a slave for life. I described myself broken. I tried committing suicide twice. The first time was a complete fail. The second time I tried hanging myself at a friend's house. Before it was about to happen, Rachel stopped me by knocking me down. She told me just because my life is damaged that doesn't mean it's broken forever. It still works. You need to move forward. So I did and I started by accepting the fact I have epilepsy and I need to take it more serious that there's always hope. Just like Frederick Douglass points out "I consoled myself with the hope that I should one day find a good chance." Douglass is mostly saying that one day he wouldn't be a slave anymore and that he would be a free man. I too believe someday I will no longer have epilepsy.

I returned from home to school from my absence and recovery. After every seizure my doctor would upgrade my dose of the medication. That would happen I would be taking it easy for a few days. When I returned to school my rugby coach Pat Fogarty, was worried about me. He always kept an eye on his players but a closer eye on me. He allowed me to stay on the team, but he does not want me to get hurt or have a seizure during a game or practice. The rugby team to me was a just a team at first, but later I realized it is more like a brotherhood. We always had each other’s back. They made sure I was ok. One day after a game I had a seizure; a couple of them carried me off the field. That made me realized I'm not alone in this fight. I kept fighting mostly for Rachel. She changed me really. She saved my life. We weren't just really friends we're more like brother and sister. She always supported me through every time I was in pain. She changed me to the person I am today.

Now my epileptic seizures come and go. It only happens twice a year during the spring/summer. Maybe a little aftermath pain too, because it takes time to adjust to the new higher dose of my medication. Frederick Douglass once said "It was the everlasting thinking of my condition that tormented me." He talked about his slavery and how thinking about it hurts him and more. Well that did it for me. My everlasting thinking wasn't really me thinking about my condition. It was really how every day I have to take large doses of medication, every time I see my doctor, and every time a friend or a family member asks me about it. It was a constant reminder. The number one question I'm always asked is "Grant how painful are your seizures?" I always reply that the pain doesn't come from the seizure itself, it comes from living with it. It reminds me that I'm limited. But I'm ok with that because I'm adaptable and I always look forward now. The hardest I had ever learned is acceptance.

"My Most Important Lesson" by Student C.

My most important lesson was to never give up. I realized this was important to me because there was a time in life when I felt like giving up on everything. It all started when I first found out I was pregnant in the year of April 2013.I was living in my Aunt’s house. It was a five bedroom home, but I wanted a place I could call home. Fredrick Douglass’s mistress proved slavery as injurious to her as it was to him. “When I went there she was a pious, warm and tender hearted woman. There was no sorrow or suffering for which she had not a tear. She had bread for the hungry, clothes for the naked and comfort for every mourner that came within her reach.” This description remind me of my Aunt because she’s warm hearted, powerful, intelligent, helpful and thoughtful. She reminds me of an angel sent from God. She’s always looking for something positive she can do like give to the needy and feed kids in the neighborhood.

Furthermore, I remember crying and stressing myself out during my pregnancy, thinking “How will I be able to take care myself and another human being?” I knew I had to get my priorities together I was still living with my Aunt but that was not where I wanted to be. It was, noisy, crowed and every time the doorbell rang it annoyed me. I had standards from that day on. I was working at Subway but I got fired from my job for eating. I wasn’t on break but I was pregnant and hungry. I knew if I didn’t eat I would pass for standing on my feet all day, so I took that chance to eat when there were no customers. After I got fired I was upset because it was the beginning of my pregnancy, I had help from my relatives but I wanted to provide for my child myself. I begin thinking it was a problem that I couldn’t solve. Douglass recalls “Have not I as good a right to be free as you have. I was now twelve years old and the thought of being a slave for life began to bear heavenly upon my heart. Just about this time I got hold of a book entitled “The Columbian Orator”. Every opportunity I got I read this book.” This memory reminds me of myself.Everytime I go through a tough situation I’ll read a book like African American stories or Romance. It helps me get threw things.

My Aunt always told me I could stay as long as I pleased. She provided food, shelter and a nursery for my baby. She explained to me if I didn’t have faith then I didn’t have anything. She told me this repeatedly until she realized I had it in me.Time passed and I had my beautiful baby girl. She was everything I could ask for. Beautiful, pretty eyes, long eyelashes she was perfect. The only thing we were missing was a home. After I left the hospital my family could see the anger in my eyes. I was angry because I felt lost I didn’t know what my next step was. I knew I didn’t want to go back to my Aunt’s house. I went to my cousin’s town home for a couple of weeks. Then I began to start my plan. I got a sheet of paper and thought about what step I was going to take next.

It was then December 2013, so I knew the New Year was yet to come. I knew federal income tax was coming and I also knew I wanted to start school in January 2014. Receiving the school financial Aid would have been a big help, plus I wanted to better my education. With the money I was going to receive from taxes and financial aid I was going to move in my own place. I eventually called my old job back and asked my manager can I come back. I was a great worker so she talked to the supervisor and he agreed.

One day I was looking in a newspaper I saw some apartments that was very affordable. I scheduled an appointment with them but when I saw them they were dirty, smelled like mildew, people yelling out the windows, and very small. I knew I had to be at work in an hour but I wasn’t far from my job. I walked a few blocks down the street and I saw a Now Leasing sign. I called the leasing office and told her I was standing outside of the complex she directed me to come right in. I talked to her and told her I was in a rush but I am looking for a 1 bedroom apartment as soon as possible. She gave me a date to meet back with her with all my information and the security deposit. In a couple of weeks she called me while I was at work and told me I got accepted come in and sign my lease. I was delighted!

Douglass became more depleted by the day.I often found myself regretting my own existence and wishing myself dead: and but for the hope of free, I have no doubt but that I should have killed myself, or done something for which I should been killed. While in this state of mind I was eager to hear anyone speak of slavery.” This emotion relates to me because I was going through a lot. After my pregnancy I wanted my life to be over. Even though I had shelter, food and support I was missing my independence. I thought there was nothing left to do but give up. I knew I had a responsibility. I too, wanted to hear words of encouragement from anyone that would listen.

Today, I am stronger, wiser and independent. I conquered what I never thought I could. It makes me now a better woman when I went through that term in my life. Now I’ve learned that you can’t wait on things to happen to you in life, you have to get up and get it on your own. Nothing came easy.

"Hardships and Triumph" by Student C.

One day, during the summer of 2013, my life totally changed. I was told that I had to leave my mother’s house. My mother and older cousin got into an altercation. They were verbally attacking each other on what each party felt wasn’t right. My mother got angry and told my cousin that she had to go, things got heated, and one thing lead to another. My younger cousins’ and I felt that it wasn’t right and tried to intervene. I was shocked and couldn’t believe my eyes. Then my mother turned to the rest of us and told us that we had to go as well. This started my journey in learning one of the hardest lessons in my life; I couldn’t depend on anyone but myself. My mother had never reacted in such a way. When it happened I was blown away.

Frederick Douglass suggests that he had at least one master who was even remotely nice at first. “When I went there, she was a pious, warm, and tender-hearted woman. There was no sorrow or suffering for which she had not a tear. She had bread for the hungry, Clothes for the naked, and comfort for every mourner that came within her reach. Slavery soon proved its ability to divest her of these heavenly qualities. Under its influence, the tender heart became stone, and the lamb-like disposition gave way to one of tiger-like fierceness.” Even though I have never been a part of slavery I knew what he meant in this moment. The same way he felt about his mistress was the same way I felt about my mother after the altercation. When I was younger my mother was always kind and very over protective and wanted to shelter me from anything harmful or anything that she felt was harmful. Along the way something happened to her that made her grow tired and less protective. As I got older her personality changed almost every day she went from a sweet loving mother to a woman I no longer knew. But it felt that overtime it was just from life’s hardships that took over her. It was as if she had a switch and could turn it on and off when necessary.

After the altercation, I had no choice but to call my child’s father. I could not take JaCole with me. I wasn’t sure where I was going to lay my head that night. So, I did the next best thing by sending my son to say with his dad until I could get up on my feet. I felt so ashamed that I could not take him with me. But, I knew he wouldn’t be in harm’s way. I knew I couldn’t be selfish. I sent him to stay just until I could provide for him and myself. It was the hardest time of my life. I knew it was going to be a while before I would wake up to his little hands grabbing my face. Or him kissing my forehead saying, “Mommy get up, its morning.” I would spend my day trying to do any and every thing to keep the situation far from my mind. I became depressed over not having my son with me. I became so depressed that I didn’t want him to see me in that light. I spent many nights being held and rocked to sleep because all I could do was cry. But, I knew where I was staying was no place that I wanted him either, so his father had him for the next three months. I got my son back on September 29th. It was one of the best days since being put out. I never wanted him to leave my side I would stay up late hours. I just watched him sleep. I would have a bad day and all I had to do was look at him and my troubles would wash away.

During the time he was with his father I was living with my aunt. While there she helped me learn a piece of my lesson as well. I felt used and taken for granted. I was the only one in the house with a job. I didn’t mind helping out with the bills but it started becoming more and more of a hassle. Instead of being able to save up so that I could get my own apartment, my aunt started to ask me for money for her own purposes, which stopped me from saving. Once I started giving her money for whatever she needed, I started having less and less money to set to the side for me to save up in order to get myself back on my feet and go get my son. She also taught me to not depend on anybody. I thought that since she was my aunt that she would help me out but, she was just using me for my money for herself and I was back at square one. A lot of family members would come to me telling me that they felt that I should move back home with my mama. They all said that they thought that maybe she only did it because she was frustrated. I felt that she did it on purpose. In Douglass’s reading he claims “I envied my fellow-slaves for their stupidity. I have often wished myself a beast. I preferred the condition of the meanest reptile to my own. Anything, no matter what, to get rid of thinking.” Like Douglass I often felt as if I wish I could have the same mind set as others. I wish that I didn’t know the truth; I wished that I was blind to everything such as them. But I knew all too well what was true. My Mother had been like this for the last few years when people weren’t around she would be mean on some days and other days she was extremely nice. So I knew that it was no mistake.

At first, I was kind and loving and gave my last to anybody. If you were near me and said that you needed one thing or another I made sure that I helped as best as I could. I would always put others before myself. I made sure everyone else around me was happy. When most of the time I was very unhappy. After this experience and feeling used I stopped just offering my help I make sure to do what makes me happy rather than making other people happy first. When it comes to JaCole he’s the only person that I put before myself. I never knew that one little person could have such an effect on my life. Now I cherish every moment I get to spend with him whether it’s a millisecond, second, minutes, hours or days. This situation has changed me completely and honestly I'm ok with it.