The Giver

The_Giver_posterAlong with the rise of superhero movies, it has been Hollywood’s recent trend to take popular books and turn them into films. With the success of A Fault in Our Stars, there was significant momentum going into the release of The Giver, an award winning young adult social science fiction story by Lois Lowry. It tells the story of a utopian society turning more and more into a dystopian society, eliminating emotional depth for sameness.

The film stars Brenton Thwaites as Jonas, the story’s protagonist, who is selected to inherit the position of Receiver of Memory, the person who stores all the past memories of the time before sameness. Jonas learns the truth about his dystopian society and struggles with its weight. The book itself has been met with a range of reactions from schools in America, some of which have adopted the book as a part of the mandatory curriculum, while others have banned the book’s inclusion in classroom studies.

Although being met with mixed reviews similar to the novel, The Giver takes the filmgoer on a metaphoric journey to question the meaning of thought, memories, feelings, and appreciate its importance in making humans different and unique. It is a film that is not meant for the oblivious, as they would not appreciate its purpose. It is an intense mental journey that makes you question the purpose of society – is one already born with a purpose? If we question the status quo, are we then shunned because we will go against the grain? And if we do go against the grain, will we eventually seek paradise or be shunned by society?

What is love? What is the power of a kiss, or touch? “If you can’t feel, what is the point?”

Is The Giver a metaphor for Jesus? Why was the Chief Elder dressed in white? Is Meryl Streep Jesus? Because really, can she do anything wrong?!

As if there was a question, Meryl Streep and Jeff Bridges deliver suburb performances as The Chief Elder and The Giver, respectfully. Thwaites is remarkable as Jonas. And one can’t ignore that he is strikingly handsome.

What The Giver allows the viewer to experience is deep thought and reflection into their own life on Earth – are we really living for the memories? What the film lacks in cinematographic elements it makes up in depth. This film is a phenomenal adaptation of the novel, adding to Hollywood’s continued success of adaptations, and also adding itself on my list of favorite films. | A+

The Gift

“Fuck Jesus!” I said that often within the past 10 months. There is this theory that He creates a plan for our lives. Although a great theory when things go wonderfully, I completely disagree. Because really, who wants to die?

Break ups are never easy. Frankly, “if it was, everyone would do it.” Although… America’s divorce rate is nearing 52%, lawyers advertise such things as a “quick/fast divorce,” and I came from a broken family, numerous actually, if you take into consideration my dad. Sooo, my argument seemingly just collapsed on itself. It is easy. Let me try again…

I have this old soul dream that… I’d be married for 50+ years, growing old, living in a home built by my partner and I, in a town that we both love, with our little tiny baby family, kids and all, sharing life’s moments and struggles. I want my partner to be my best friend. I don’t want to turn out like my parents. And I thought I found that. Those conversations were had, expectations and anticipation was building, and my frugal college budget bought a meaningful ring. He was my husband. And then it was over…

It wasn’t just a heartbreak. It was a heart blindsided and shattered, stomped and blended, with very little remorse, as an audience watched it happen with little movement. It was a life altered, shattered and devastated, scarred and irreparable. It was the loss of a dream, and I seemingly had no control. I screamed for help. Once again, the list of people that I have loved, then given up on me, had grown. I needed him, and them. He thought differently, and so did they. “There’s a thing about pain – it demands to be felt.”

I must admit that I was far from perfect in my relationship, and apologies (plural) from me are much warranted. But that is what the best relationships are: two imperfect people coming together to attempt to make a more perfect union. Losing my relationship amplified my already existing trust and abandonment issues. (The two most important people in my life have abandoned me.) I am cradled by walls so thick, yet so vulnerable, that it only seems normal to not allow myself to make new friends or have new relationships. It is not ok. It is just what I know.

And now, I’m dying. But…aren’t we all?

I am sad and very scared. It will not happen immediately. It is going to be an elongated deterioration, not knowing when it will happen, or how, but I know from what. It is sad to be so fearful of something smaller than the tip of a ballpoint pen. It is depressing to live in a paranoid world, scared of your own blood, a cold or the flu, fearful of shortness of breath, a collapsed lung, or even pneumonia. It is unfortunate to think that the possibility of dating has dramatically decreased, and that dream may never happen.

It is disgusting to know that my death is on the hands of the one who said we were best friends and soul mates, whose life I saved. My “husband.” And sadly, I will probably never get a sincere apology, even after forgiving more than I should have. I have been left to die in exchange for popularity – I am now “a failed existence in mutation.” I carry the burden and weight of a disgusting stigma that I must fearfully debunk. A lie, either intentional or by omission, can completely ruin another person’s life. He stole my life, and killed me in the process. You cannot play with, and fuck up, someone’s life!

It was not just a break up…I cannot just let it go…

How do you tell your family that you are sick, and the person that they invited into their home, to family gatherings, in family portraits, who was called “mijo,” and whose life I saved, was the one responsible? Where is my mom to hold me? Or my dad to defend me? I haven’t even earned my Masters degree! I haven’t traveled the world! I haven’t bought a house or gone on a cruise or gone on a train ride. I haven’t seen David Letterman or Ellen DeGeneres. I haven’t gone on a train ride, or to Las Vegas, or Hawaii, or Australia, or California, or Disney World!

I haven’t gotten married or had kids. Now, I question – will I be able to? Was this apart of His plan?! I did not want this! Who wants this?!

I believe it is essential that, as superior intellectual species, we must ask ourselves why we do the things we do rather than just observing the what. When we answer that question, we are able to display a good sense of humanity with some empathy. Seems that we are a generation that has failed to do this, to simply give a shit.

My silent struggle of the past 10 months would drive anyone to a gun, irrationality, therapy, alcohol, or partake in activities that are horribly unhealthy. (Four out of five ain’t bad… It’s passing!) You really have no idea what some people are struggling with. I hide it well with humor and a smile. People’s optimistic words seemed very unrealistic and not practical. Bad days seemed normal, accompanied with an unnecessary volume of tears.

You do not support the rapist. You do not support the domestic abuser. But they supported the criminal, reversed their word, and selfishly and mischievously placed him on an undeserving pedestal. He was glorified! It was a permanent pain. There is nothing worse than kicking someone when they are down. You do not just give up on people during their struggle. If one is to rely on another, require of another, lean on another, then that person should, without being asked, return the favor. We get so consumed with our own lives that we forget about someone who may need us.

Yet, I am naturally a realist, knowing that time was the only thing that could help. Then someone, through her persuading kindness and never ending resilience, invited me to an emotional day at church…

We cannot ignore the negative events of our life, or pretend they never happened. We do not plan on cancer, or our child’s death, or Mother Nature’s wrath, or a life threatening disease. We will constantly go through things that will drastically challenge our way of life, possibly changing your way of thinking. It will never be easy. But giving up on the challenge, or frankly, the person, is not what I believe He intended. On that emotional day, my life motto was solidified – once you meet great people, you have to keep them close. You may be giving up on something great.

He gave up on me, and so did they. And I needed them all…very badly. There has not been a day since that I do not think about what and who I have lost, and what could have been. Yet, I have a job in which I change lives and mold minds. I have been blessed with two amazing friends that have held my head when I have hurt and cried…literally. I have air to breath, food to eat, and a bed to sleep in. And a dog that runs my household…that bitch! Lastly, I am a great guy – some would say a catch, and I have been blessed with a massive heart that I unfortunately wear bruised on my sleeve. I might as well enjoy life while I still have it, trying my best to make a positive impact in the lives of others, and my own. So, I am doing good in this life. We are all given the gift, and choice, to live a positive life.

And at one point, I thought I was deep in love. Like, hold a boom box outside their window, get a ring, put their life in front of my own, love. I thought I finally knew that feeling…

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.” 1 Corinthians 13:4-8

I guess it is apart of the plan.

Happy Endings,
– PeeJay

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Dawn_of_the_Planet_of_the_ApesRecently, Hollywood has been rebooting many franchises. The Amazing Spider-Man has done pretty well, unlike Transformers, which has failed miserable and needs to end. And let’s not get started with horror movies… However, one of Hollywood’s greatest franchises, Planet of the Apes, was rebooted in 2011 with Rise of the Planet of the Apes, the prequel to the series a generation before mine may be better acquainted with. This week, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes continues this reboot in a way that is equivalent to modern cinematic genius.

Two things stuck out to me from the beginning. We, as humans, do not realize the importance of nonverbal communication. (It’s 93% of the way we communicate.) The first 10 minutes or so shows Caesar, the leader, communicating with his “ape wife.” (I’m not really sure what you call an ape’s wife…) It is fascinating that one can completely understand what is being communicated, as well as understand the emotional connection being shown.

Secondly, let’s take… for example, Independence Day or Armageddon. When they were first released, they were applauded because of their special effects. Now, we notice how… dull they are because we have movies that make things look sooo real. The creators of Gollum from the Lord of the Rings help create extraordinarily looking apes, to the point that the viewer forgets that the apes are computer generated images.

This film takes the viewer on a compelling cinematic ride of rooting for apes, then rooting for humans, then apes again. Few films are able to capture your attention spans for over an hour and a half, but this films keeps your interest from beginning to end. And there are two…yes, two ape vs. ape fight scenes that are extraordinarily tense and visually amazing.

Similar to a book, there is a massive turning point (climax) in the middle of the film that completely takes the viewer on a hard right turn, and amps the film into serious overdrive. There are also numerous metaphors that elaborate on humanities love for guns and violence, as well as their mistrust for other human beings. More than anything, this film may make the audience realize that we are just animals…

In a summer with few blockbuster films, this film has given me faith in Hollywood that rebooting a much loved film series is possible, and these film makers have done it perfectly. Through its CGI effects, storyline, leaving the audience satisfied, and opening the option for a third prequel, this film captivates in a way blockbusters should. | A+

Transformers: Age of Extinction

These films need to stop! That was said after the third Transformers film, which was also panned by critics. This film, the fourth in the Transformer series, should be the nail in the coffin. There were so many issues with this film, but we will begin with the casting. Mark Walhberg, however amazingly sexy he may be, was a horrible choice for this film. The character was supposed to come off as a nerdy inventor dad. However, when I see Walhberg, all one may really want to do is… take his shirt off. He is far from what the character was meant to be.

More so, what Michael Bay has a tendency of doing is forgetting about the cinematic aspect to his films. Blow some shit up, add some nice cinematography, get some actors to talk, then you got a film? It was the little things such as: the time of day changed in the same scene sequence (this happened numerous times), they were in Chicago during one fight, and then in a field, then back in Chicago, in a matter of minutes. The editing, and frankly, the entire story line was horrid.

What is extremely sad and telling about current American films is the power of cooperate America. From Lambougini to Victoria’s Secret to Bud Light, there were numerous cooperate sponsorships throughout the film, so obvious that it made me feel stupid for seemingly watching a short Bud Light commercial during a Transformers film.

Lastly, similar to the scene at the end of Man of Steel where they destroy Metropolis, how the hell is Hong Kong going to “come back” after Transformers destroyed their city?! This was the exclamation mark to the fact that the entire film was just…quite ridiculous and horrid.

There were only two good things about this film: the action sequences, although they didn’t make sense, were very well done, and the appearance of the brand new Camero. Other than that, this film was horrid. | D

A Much Warranted Apology

As many of you know, life events can get in the way of life, derailing it for a period of time to the point that it’s no longer recognizable. Sadly, this is what has happened to me for the past year.

Luckily, being the greatest thing and the worst thing about life, time has allowed me to very slowly get back to whatever I may have considered normal.

Nevertheless, because of this absence, I have neglected my skill with the written word, and this avenue. I have also neglected people who read my gift, and frankly, people in general. I know no other way. And for that, you all deserve a much warranted apology.

I will explained the lesson learned soon

A Dog Saved Me

A friend of mine from Houston came to visit me in San Antonio. It was a much needed visit, as it was turning into a very emotionally blindsiding semester, one I will never understand. After lunch, I informed her of my desire to get another dog to continue our family. I soon realized that this dog would be the start of just a family of my own. My friend and I went to one animal facility, and I was adamant that the time was wrong. (It was meant to be a gift for someone later in the year.) I took her to another, where I was introduced to this beautiful black and white bull terrier, with a distinct white strip and story-telling scars on her back. I put my hand against the gate, as she pushed her entire body toward my hand. I think…I feel in love…

I was persuaded to walk her. As I sat on the grass, she just fell into my lap. I thought, “She was it! This has to be the dog, but…” I was still very hesitant. As we walked back into the kennel, she resisted. This damn dog didn’t want to go back in! She pulled me back, laying her body on the floor, not wanting to go back into her cage. I looked at my friend, “I have to take her…”

Unknowingly, she was scheduled to die two days later.

What she has taught me about family, and friendship, and love, and trust, and education, and technology, and forgiveness, and God and life, is more than I could have ever imagine. However, there was one week that I felt she helped me more than I have ever helped her.

I have good days, bad days, and really bad days. Those really bad days consist of laying in bed, and frankly, not moving unless my body called for it. Depression is a horribly debilitating mental illness that isn’t given enough empathy, rather an unfair and ignorant stigma. However, it is my dog who came up to my hand that week and licks it, in a way, telling me, “It’s gonna be ok. Now I want some food damnit!” And I feed her, and laid back down. Then, she licked my hand, telling me, “It’s gonna be ok. But if you don’t get the fuck up and take me out, I’m gonna piss and shit on the damn carpet!” So, I walked her, and laid back down. Then, she licked my hand, telling me, “It’s gonna be ok. Now play with me dad!” And I played with her. That week, I soon realized that she needed me, and I needed her. At that point, all we really had was each other. She gave me purpose when I didn’t see any.

A dog becomes apart of the family, getting their own place at the dinner table, and their own stocking at Christmas. They become your children. A dog is man’s best friend, always there when you need them, and frankly, when you don’t. But they sure do know everything, and are Italian-gangster loyal. If you give a dog your heart, they will give you theirs. And within time, a dog will trust you with their life.

A dog will learn what you teach them, with patience and time. They’ll tear up your phone because they want your undivided attention, actually wanting to just hang out with you. If you wrong your dog, they may piss on the floor. And you may not want them around for the day. But tomorrow, they’ll be licking your hand, asking for your attention, and you’ll kiss them like nothing ever happen. You’ll both just let it go. Finally, they can care less what you say – they don’t understand you! However, they will always notice what you do.

They’ll also become your prayer buddy…

“A dog has no use for fancy cars, or big homes, or designer clothes. A waterlogged stick would do just fine. A dog doesn’t care if your rich or poor, clever or dull, smart of dumb. Give them your heart, and he’ll give you his. How many people can you say that about? How many people can make you feel rare, and pure, and special? How many people can make you feel…extraordinary?” – Marley and Me

My Nala was named from my favorite animated movie, The Lion King. But most importantly, she is named after a character who was strong, traveled across her land to find her trouble friend, just to make sure he was ok. She never let go, forcing and helping her friend to emerge from a dark place, and fought along side her friend for what was right. And in the end, it was love and family that endured.

As humans, we hate and hurt and betray and kill each other so much. And all a dog wants is for you to love them. Dogs will constantly teach you to be a better human being: loyal and trustworthy, caring and empathetic. For anyone that has a dog, anyone that is looking for one, or anyone that has never had the luxury of having one, there is one thing that a dog will teach you more than anything: unconditional love – human or animal – will endure anything if you just stick together. I saved her, but she really saved me. I may never be able to have kids, but I now have a girl of my own. It’s the start of a beautiful [daddy-daughter] relationship.

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So in this New Year, with a blank slate, how can we make ourselves better? What can we change? How can we help others less fortunate? How can we be a better friend, or spouse, or parent? What can we fix that we have broken? How can we complete all these New Years resolutions? Frankly, all some of us have to do is look towards our dogs for guidance…

Happy New Year, and Have A Great and Safe Spring Semester!
“Be the change you wish to see in the world…”

Happy Endings,
– PeeJay

I Do What I Do Because Of You

I want to thank Ms. Dawes for choosing me to speak to you tonight, and I want to congratulate all of you for achieving this honor.

You’re probably thinking … who is this 5’4” child-looking person talking to us tonight. Well, I am a teacher.

I started my career at 23, after turbulent years others would enjoyably … call college. I could have chosen any career under the sun, but I choose teaching because … of a teacher.

I remember this one-day in high school. The night before was typical at home … felt like hell. It was one of those nights where I filled my pillow with water from my eyes, but came to school with the biggest fake smile on my face. I needed somewhere to go. So, I went where I felt comfortable … the journalism “suite.”

It was my sanctuary, my home away from home, my place to be creative, to be myself, to have fun … to feel loved and trusted, and to spend time with my hero. She is my hero, but I don’t think she knows it. She is the reason why I do what I do.

For some, our heroes are our parents or siblings or crime fighters or even celebrities. Spider-Man is pretty cool, and Ellen DeGeneres is a close second. But for me, my hero is the person who created a sanctuary for me to … escape. My hero is a teacher – a woman who created a classroom where students came to show their creativity and genius, and to have fun doing so. And with all the years of being queen of her castle, she has never lost that passion for teaching – that internal gratification that only teachers know.

When you see a great teacher, you are seeing a work of art, a master at their craft. When you see a great teacher, you are seeing the people that mold presidents, doctors, lawyers, astronauts, engineers, mothers, fathers, and other teachers. When you see a great teacher, you are seeing someone who creates environments and classrooms that change people’s lives. When you see a great teacher, you’ve met a hero.

Some are never held to the pedestal of their glory. But we all have had them; amazing teachers who are changing lives every day. Everyone has that one that they can look back and say, “That teacher was my favorite. That teacher taught me something. That teacher showed me the light, to look at life in a different way. That teacher is the reason why I am successful.”

Ms. Singleton created fan bases; people who grew up and remember that she changed their life. And she changed mine. She gave me purpose …

However, at 25, into my 3rd year of my amazing career, trying to change the world one student at a time like Ms. Singleton changed mine, mine has endured constant changed and hardship.

My mother’s and I relationships has ceased, nonexistent for about 7 years, effecting my life as a grown adult. I’ve seen my best friend seemingly on his deathbed, as it looked like he was about to float through the purely gates. Yet, I stood by his side, and assisted him through his … literal physical rebirth. More recently, thinking we were the exception to the rule, I lost my marriage, my best friend, and my non-traditional family, seemingly abruptly, and for reasons I still don’t know. I’ve dealt with life altering deceit, I’ve lost my health, a job, my father, and many I thought were friends. That’s all pretty heavy for a 25 year old to deal with. Unfortunately, the latter has all happened within the past 5 months…

I heard this analogy, and it fit perfectly; I felt like I was desperately holding on to a razor sharp piece of glass I called my life, yet that glass seemed to be slipping. The hurt was deep, festering, never addressed. You know that image of that person in the movies with a pint of ice cream, cradled in the corner of their bed with the weight of 12 elephants placed on their shoulders, that was me 3 weeks ago, painfully finding out who was going to support me, who was going to stick by my side, finding out what I had to wake up for, after seemingly loosing everything, with no sense of closure. I hit rock bottom, as everything that I knew changed … again. I was walking by myself …

Yet, what kept me waking up every day, and what keeps me waking up every day are … you, my kids. Our students. And knowing that I could do what Ms. Singleton did for me … for you. You give me purpose.

Sometimes, with the everyday mundane requirements thrown at us, and the political game we have to play, teachers forget why our life’s path has guided us toward education. And as I see the glow of success in this room tonight, and when I see the achievements in my own classroom, I am reminded why I do what do, why I can emerge from this valley so deep. Students, we need you just as much as you need us. We need you to remind us of, not only our faith in ourselves, but to remind us of faith in humanity and the next generation.

So here I am, speaking to you, able to spread a positive message. Believe and adhere in the golden rule. Actions speak louder than words and always will. Take a stand for what’s fair and right. Dream big. Be creative. Eat great food. Smile often and laugh everyday. Learn everyday. Try new things. Embrace change. Seize opportunities when they reveal themselves. Communication reduces doubt. Speak the truth, even if your voice shakes. Make time to enjoy the simple things in life. Love hard, with all your heart, and never give up on it. Have humility, apologize, forgive, even when it’s hard, and when given a chance. Make it right. Extend your hand down to those who may not be able to extend their hand up to you – a text message is not enough. Know your worth. Be true to who you are. Set your standards high because no one likes mediocre. Dumb and ditzy has never been sexy. Spend time with family and friends. Reminisce about the good old days, but look with optimism to the future. Take pictures … lots of pictures, just not those inappropriate selfies. Those will get you in trouble! Nevertheless, believe and have passion for something bigger than yourself in this amazing life that is never guaranteed tomorrow. But most of all, do not just like someone as a person, but value and appreciate them, and what they bring to your life. Cherish your human connections, because good ones are rare! There’s nothing greater than thank you …

With those human connections, those important relationships, have standards. These are the people who you choose to spend your precious life and time with. I have learned that at the lowest of the low in life, what will get you through are those genuine relationships.

I embraced this idea from one of the great filmmakers of our time … Tyler Perry. He says; if someone wants to walk out of your life, let them go! Especially if you know you have done everything you can do; you have been the best man or woman you can be, and they still want to go … let them go. Whatever they are running after, they will eventually see what they had. But by then, it will be too late. Half the people you sit around crying and worrying about, two or three years from now, you will not even remember their last name. Some people come into your life for a lifetime, and some come for a season. You have to know which is which …

So, put everybody that comes into my life in the category of a tree. Some people are like the leaves on that tree. The wind blows, they go to the left. The wind blows from the other way, they go to the right. They are just unstable. You cannot count on them for anything. All they ever do is take from that tree. What you need to understand about a leaf is that it has a season. It will wither and die and blow away. There is no need to be praying for a leaf to be resurrected. When it is dead, it is gone. Some people are like that. They are a leaf. They come to take.

Then there are people that are like a branch. You have to be careful with branch people, because you never know how strong they will be in your life. When you are going out on a limb, do not put too much weight on it at once, because it can fall and leave you high and dry. Sometimes, you have to wait for a branch to grow up before it can hold of the things you want to share with it.

Although they say that everyone comes into your life for a reason, the lesson that you may learn from a bad situation is not worth the effort or emotion you may put into it. Some will build themselves up to be someone they are not. And sadly, most friendships and relationships end because someone turns out to be a person you did not think they were. You may need to be disappointed more than once to realize that it is better to not have someone in your life. But you will always mess up when you mix seasonal people with lifetime expectations. So if you need to ask a friend to be a friend, then chances are that is not a friend you need to have.

Yet, there are people who are like the roots at the bottom of the tree. If you find yourself two or three people in your entire lifetime that are like the roots, then you are truly blessed. The roots do not care about being seen or heard. All they are there to do is hold that tree up; to make sure it stays in the air and gets everything it needs. That is what friendships and relationships should be about. That is what you need … people who want to be in your life for the right reasons. Once you meet great people, you have to keep them close. The rest, let them go.

No one says it will be easy. But when you learn to love yourself, you will end up giving standards to everybody around you. And if they do not meet those standards, you have to let them go, because they simply might be a leaf …

Lastly, one of the most important things I can leave you with is … when given a chance, always pay it forward. One of my favorite films says: the world can be one big disappointment, unless you take the things that you do not like about it, and you flip them upside down. It is simple; you do a favor that helps someone, and tell him or her not to pay it back, but to pay it forward to three other people, who in turn, each pay it forward three more times. Is it possible for one action, one idea, to change the world?

To conclude, wither you appreciate politics or not, Michelle Obama said something that I want to share with you, something I always hold true to this day, at a National Convention. She said, “Your word is your bond, that you do what you say you’re going to do, that you treat people with dignity and respect, even if you don’t know them, and even if you don’t agree with them.”

Tonight, I hope I have persuaded you to take a reflective look at your own life, and how you can change yours and others. Ms. Singleton changed mine, for which I will forever be grateful. My life has been nowhere near majestic. No one’s really is. And chances are, many have experienced greater despair than I. But I hope to be an example to you that through severe hardship – and deep hurt – one can still achieve success. So, I challenge you; be the leaders we need, buck the system, challenge the status quo, and change others and world. Be the change you wish to see …