5 Ways To Overcome The Quarter Life Crisis

I was going through it from late summer until mid October. If parents are reading, Johnny and Jane aren’t just going through a phase if they’re freaking out over post-college plans or if they can’t seem to find that one stable job.

Growing up has taken a whole new meaning to the generation with the social label of ‘Millenial’ placed on them. The economy in the United States has shifted many a mindset from saving to holding onto what you have for dear life, for the ‘kids’. If 20-somethings aren’t kids anymore (we’re not) we are now at the very bottom of the totem pole in the adult world.

Things are different. A friend told me once, “Getting a good job nowadays is like getting a record deal.” This is what my personal quarter life crisis had centered around. This is how I managed to keep on keepin’ on through some recent hard times:

 

1. Self Awareness.

 I made a lot of friends and memories in my young adult years (18-24 years old). Looking backwards and forwards like a confused driver who can’t fit into his parking spot, I’ve realized what kind of person I am. Mistakes were made and awesome times were had. I hold no regrets in my mind or on my chest or anywhere else in my proverbial anatomy. Growing up doesn’t always mean logging your height on your doorframe. It means taking a step back and looking around to see what it is you want in life and how to achieve it. Achieve on, friends.

 

2. Breaking up with Denial.

 “My parents don’t want to me to do this.”

 “I love him/her, it doesn’t matter if they’re not good for me.”

 “I’ll do that life changing thing later, it’s too much work.”

 Those statements are all BS. If you think BS thoughts then YOU are BS. Think about it. It’s one thing to take on too much at once and then implode; I did that and it sucks. But to deny responsibility for one’s own actions is an irreplaceable trait of the unwanted. No one digs a liar. Contemplate on that before you apply to do anything you have to apply to do. It will hurt you more in the long run to “Fake it ‘til you make it” then to “Be real and see what happens.”

 

3. Have Fun

 You have a lot of responsibility, you young adult you, but it’s still a great idea to go to that concert, meet someone new, and kick ass on the dance floor when you can! This is the basis of life: enjoying it. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, and chicks don’t go for the dull boys. Same thing applies to all other romantic combinations. If you can’t have fun while being destroyed by The Man or your job, then they have you on a tighter leash than you may be willing to admit.

 

4. Toning Down The Nonsense

 Not enough fun, sadly is not as bad as too much fun. Such is the downfall of many a Millenial crossing over into young adulthood. I’m a victim of my own inner party animal running a bit too wild and free. We all love to party, but some of those late nights should count for something more than being the one to last the longest on a keg stand. Toning down the nonsense simply means every night is not a good time. Some nights suck. A lot. What matters is being able to hold back that rave-thirsty individual within you until the time is right and in moderation with more important priorities. I’ll be rereading this paragraph for months to come to let it sink into my own head.

 

5. Self Reassurance

 Does life suck?

 Yes.

 Getting exactly what you want out of life is never easy and very rare. Working to get what you want makes whatever comes your way all the more easy to deal with. Times with friends can help you forget that you’re alone in the world, fighting tooth and nail to achieve whatever you set out to do. Family will always remind you that you never really were alone in the world. As long as you don’t get too down on yourself or go crazy with stress, you’ll be fine; I mean hey, I did both and I’m still hanging in there. – RSM

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19 Hilariously Cute and Deep Thoughts From My Fourth Grade Journal

A couple of days ago while clearing out old boxes in our apartment my mother found a journal I had kept as part of my daily class assignments in the 4th grade. Every entry is dated between Sepetember 1999 and June 2000.

It was humbling as well as mind blowing to see what was on my mind when I was 9 – 10 years old. I realized that despite a 14+ year difference from then to now I have a very similar outlook on life as I did while in elementary school. A few words are misspelled and some entries are unfinished, but a lot of what I re-read from the journal made me think really deeply about my own perspective and how it has evolved with age. It was also a laugh riot much of the time. I read through the whole thing a few days ago and have several interesting quotes to share from my pre-pubescent, unwaveringly optimistic self:

 1. My prediction of what life would be like at age 20:

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September 15, 1999:

“At the age of 20, I’ll probably look for a job. I want to be either a lawyer, a cop or an architect.”

I was way off there.

 

2. A more accurate prediction about ‘The Simpsons’: 

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September 21, 1999:

“My favorite TV show is The Simpsons because its so funny. I watch it every day. I think that show should never come off air. It’s the best show.”

The Simpsons have not gone off the air since their first season in 1989. Called it, bruh.

 

3. My theory of how space travel would solve the eventual problem of overpopulation:

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September 23, 1999:

“If I went to space, I’d try to find planetary systems. I’d build a glass dome on every planet I find so people can live on other places than Earth. I’d make spaceships go much, much faster. That way we can reach new planets faster, that way Earth won’t get crowded.”

Not a bad idea I guess, although technology isn’t there just yet.

 

4. An eerie anecdote about a recurring dream:

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September 30, 1999:

“My dream last night was a [dream I had] dreamt before. It’s when I’m on a swing over train tracks. I almost got hit and then, I wake up.”

This one was really interesting to me, especially considering in recent years I’ve done much research on lucid dreaming and have tried successfully several times to make myself lucid. I even remembered what this dream looked like when I read this! It was something that hadn’t crossed my mind in over a decade and I didn’t even remember that I had recurring dreams at 9 years old. Triptastic.

 

5. A visit from the leaders of the Ursuline sisters to my school.

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Ocotber 8, 1999:

“I thought yesterday was great! Yesterday Sister Letizia and Sister Maria Dolorosa [De La Rosa*] came over to my school. I think they had a great time. I know I did!”

This was a very special day. The leaders of the Ursuline sisters, an international organization of nuns who founded my elementary/middle school St. Philip Neri came to visit the school. My 4th grade teacher was Sister Jeannie, an Ursuline nun who will always have a special place in my heart. She invited me and my classmate/best friend in life Bianca to come have lunch with the Ursuline sisters, one from Indonesia and one from Italy if I remember correctly. Me and Bianca were selected because we had the best grades in Sr. Jeannie’s class. It was a great time and there was even an article in the Roman Catholic local newspaper Catholic New York where Bianca and I were interviewed about the reconstruction of St. Philip Neri Church. I did a lot of internet digging but couldn’t find the article =(.

 

6. My undying love for The New York Yankees and my rivalry with my dad, a life long Mets fan:

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October 13, 1999:

“The Yankees are the best team ever! They’ve won 24 championships and this year ther might win their 25th! My dad says the Mets are better though. But that’s not true. Because the Yankees rule!”

The Subway Series rivalry has been a recurring topic between me and my dad throughout my life. The Yankees went on to win the World Series that year and made it a 3-peat in 2000. They won the whole thing again in 2009. I really hope Derek Jeter can retire on a championship this year.

 

7. My thoughts on the imagination:

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October 18, 1999:

“I use my imagination to do anything or go anywhere. My imagination makes me anything. I can be swimming with the fish or flying with the birds.”

I like this one a lot. By coincidence in recent years I used a similar line as the last sentence in a song I wrote.

 

8. Where I thought I would be at age 28:

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October 27, 1999:

“When I’m 28 I hope to have a nice life. I’d like to have a wife. I think I’ll have a child, too. I’ll have a decent job to support my family; I think being 28 will give me responsibility. I’m sure I’ll be mature enough to handle it . . .”

A surprisingly level-headed and humbling statement to re-read from my 9 year old self.

Who knows? I’ll be 28 in 4 years and usually don’t make plans past a week into the future. In 2018 this might be a reality, but we’ll have to wait and see.

 

9. My plans when I thought about running for President in 2000:

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November 5, 1999:

“If I were President I would make the U.S. the most enjoyable country in the world! I’ll make school fun! For lunch they’ll be McDonald’s food (which will be required by law). Every time someone has to take their child to their job, the kid automatically gets transported to the nearest D.Z. (D.Z. is short for Discovery Zone. This is also required by law.) D.Z. will include laser tag, arcade games and climbing tubes (this is all required by law).”

Dude. Lmfao.

My 9 year old fantasy of being POTUS involves a lot of ridiculously short-sighted executive orders mainly revolving around the happiness of children, which is great; in hindsight however I’m not too sure an exclusive contract between McDonald’s and every school cafeteria in the U.S. is such a great idea. It is a true shame though that Discovery Zone isn’t really around anymore. I was the epitome of a 90’s kid.

 

10. Another really cool one about dreaming:

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November 10, 1999:

“When I sleep, I dream about fantasy worlds, mystical journeys and mythical adventures. I can do anything in my dreams. That means I can do anything, anywhere, anytime, anyplace! But when I wake up it’s all over. But there’s always tomorrow…”

Totally love this entry! It reminds me that as a youngster I was just as much a free spirit as I am now, and wondered about life, dreaming and consciousness even back then. Sankofa in full effect.

 

11. Perfectionism and anxiety over my grades.

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November 17, 1999:

“I hope my report card is wonderful. I usually get good grades, but this is a new teacher I’m dealing with. I’m curious about my report card, but I’m afraid too.”

Another recurring theme in my life: grade anxiety. I love the drawing. Such symbolism. I had nothing to worry about; throughout elementary I school I got straight A’s for the most part. This may have been the trimester where I got first honors in my class. I’ll always remember that not so much for the academic achievement as much for the fact that when I got first honors in the 4th grade it was the only time I outdid my life long friend Bianca in that respect. She usually took first honors and I always got second honors. *Dusts off shoulder*

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*Drops Mic*

 

 

 

 

12.  A great entry to display on the 4th of July:

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November 19, 1999:

“Life in the colonial times was hard and diffcult. Well, that’s just my opinion. In the colonial times America had just started and they were still under the control of Great Britain. They had a Revolutionary War and to Britain’s surprise, the thirteen colonies won. If the thirteen colonies hadn’t won, we’d be slaves of Great Britain!!”

I made a scared face with the dots on the exlcamation points. I didn’t want to be Great Britain’s slave. Happy Independence Day. LOL

 

13. A weird little piece of flash fiction:

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November 30, 1999:

“One day, Dan Latchmen, the detective, was trying to solve a mystery.

‘There isn’t any clues to this murder,’ he said.

But when he asked a nearby neighbor, he received some information.

‘I saw strange shadows,’ said the neighbor. ‘It looked as if one person threw a bunch of knives at the other person.’

‘Well, do you know who the murderer is or who he is?’ said Dan.

‘Mommy says I shouldn’t talk to strangers,’ said the neighbor.

???The?End???”

I laughed really hard just now while typing this out. Detective Latchmen was on to something there.

 

14/15: My ‘best dream’ and an unusual pet.

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January 4, 2000 (I wrote ‘1999’ out of habit):

“My best dream is when I’m flying with the birds over New York City. I can see everything! A plane passes by. A person inside waves to me. Then I hang on as tight as possible and hitch a ride to Hong Kong!!”

I totally love this. I completely forgot that back then I had dreams of flying on the backs of birds. I’ve had lucid dreams in recent years where I fly like Superman and it is the most amazing feeling. It’s really cool to see that this dream in particular was what I considered to be my ‘best dream’ over 14 years ago. A certain friend of mine would appreciate the reference to Hong Kong ;).

January 5, 2000:

“An unusual pet is an invisible dog.”

I’m not sure if I just didn’t feel like writing much at the moment or if I was just being a smart ass here. Probably a mix of both.

 

16. “I, Ruben Muniz, have a dream . . .”

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January 19, 2000:

“I, Ruben Muniz, have a dream that there will be no more violence on Earth at all. Every gun, rifle or bazooka will be thrown away. Anyone who tries to harm anyone else will be put in jail for 2 years or will pay a fine of $5,000.”

We did a writing exercise around the time of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day in which we wrote our own versions of ‘I Have A Dream’. Mine started off with a great topic sentence, but my details on how to achieve world peace may have been a bit off. I don’t know if 2 year prison terms and $5,000 fines would stop violence worldwide, but those damn bazookas have got to go!

 

17. Me definitely being a smart ass:

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February 4, 2000:

“I think we have rules to break them! Just kidding. I really think we have rules because we wouldn’t be sybalized [civilized*]. If there’d be no rules life would be wild and dangerous.”

In the fourth grade I was a top student in terms of academic grades but had one of the worst sets of conduct grades. This was probably around the time I got my report card with A’s down the line in every academic subject with a bunch of C’s and D’s right next to them in the conduct grade chart. I was venting, but I think had just gotten grounded for bad behavior grades even though I had a 90something average.

Could you really blame me?

 

18. ‘Crazy things’ on Valentine’s Day:

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February 14, 2000:

“It’s Valentine’s Day, and crazy things are happening. A kindergardener gave me a valentine, my friend brought his crush a rose, and two other boys are betting who can get a girl first!! Doesn’t love make ya do some stupid things? I think so!”

Lmao. Wise words about love.

 

19. “What did you learn in the fourth grade?”

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June 14, 2000:

“Some things I’ve learned is that you must believe in yourself. You have to give it your all every time and if you fail, try until you succeed.”

This was part of my last and favorite entry in my 4th grade journal. This one left me speechless for all the right reasons. I would say ‘I couldn’t have said it better myself,’ but, yeah.

It was such a humbling experience coming across writings of mine from such a long time ago. Reading through the whole thing and writing this article really reassured me that throughout all my life’s changes, I’m still the same kid at heart. – RSM

 

 

The Effects Of ‘Bandwagon Negativity’ On Celebrities

Bandwagon negativity’ is a phrase I use to describe when a ‘monkey see, monkey do’ attitude arises when anyone is being treated unfairly. For example, a kid in school gets picked on and the rest of his or her classmates follow suit. There are different words to describe people who do this, be it ‘critics’, ‘naysayers’, ‘bullies’, ‘haters’, etc. No one is perfect and at points in my life I have been guilty of this myself, as probably you have too. In a world where open mindedness and universal acceptance is on the rise in popular culture, there should be no place for bandwagon negativity anymore. Unfortunately this is not the case at all, especially when it comes to celebrities.

For generations over we have seen this happen in many avenues of life. Despite the world making great strides from the mid-Twentieth century to the present day in terms of inclusiveness there are still no scruples when it comes to berating public figures. Granted, there are celebrities out there that are not angels and end up doing things that make them unfavorable to the public. No matter how reckless or outrageous a celebrity gets, I feel like it is not my place as an individual to throw shame on anyone, especially someone who I have never even seen outside of the internet, TV and movies.

It goes without saying that not everyone shares this sentiment. One of the main quotes I live by is “To each their own,” because I know with the way I live my life if I ever happen to become a known public figure the same criticisms and judgments would be thrown my way as well.

It is for this reason I feel that celebrities who are constantly in the public eye often wish they were not. Some public figures become so popular that it has negative effects on their lives to the point of terrible tragedy.

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Princess Diana was no stranger to paparazzi, sadly even in her last moments.

Diana, Princess of Wales was killed in Paris in a car crash in 1997 trying to flee a paparazzi crew after constant media scrutiny during her marriage to Prince Charles and even more so after their divorce.

Michael Jackson was in the public eye since early childhood until his untimely death.
Michael Jackson was in the public eye since early childhood until his untimely death.

Michael Jackson died of a heart attack via a prescription drug overdose in 2009. He spent his entire life in the public eye as both one of the world’s most influential musicians as well as one of the most constantly and heavily harrassed celebrities of all time.

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John Lennon and Yoko Ono were advocates for peace until Lennon’s death in 1980.

John Lennon was killed outside of his home in New York City by a deranged gunman in 1980. After making his mark on the world with The Beatles and with his solo career he was criticized heavily for marrying Yoko Ono, who the media openly referred to as ‘an ugly woman’. He and Yoko Ono faced numerous threats of deportation from the United States while speaking out against the Vietnam War with songs like ‘Imagine’ and ‘Give Peace A Chance’.

These are a few 20th century examples that the world should have learned from, but didn’t.

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Britney Spears fell on hard times in 2007. The media had a field day with it.

Britney Spears spontaneously walked into a hair salon in 2007 and shaved her head while having an emotional breakdown, which of course was caught on camera. This gave way to a tabloid media explosion. Since then she has been under a conservatorship.

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Amanda Bynes was hospitalized after a series of provocative tweets documenting wild parties as well as brushes with the law.

Former Nickelodeon child star Amanda Bynes was on a Twitter-amplified drug binge which involved several brushes with the law and resulted in an involuntary admittance into a psychiatric hospital.

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Justin Bieber is the one of the world’s youngest megastars, which comes with as much negativity as it does fandom.

Justin Bieber has been loved and hated throughout the world since his music career started as a teenager. His video of the song ‘Baby’ featuring Ludacris is one of the most viewed YouTube videos of all time. It is also #1 all time in dislikes. He has been criticized for his ‘boy next door’ image as a young teen as well as his androgynous looks, and is now criticized even more for recent arrests, tattoos, his past relationship with Selena Gomez, and also for growing up in the suburbs of Canada with the vernacular of a hip hop artist. Let the kid breathe.

This trend is not a new thing and probably will continue throughout human history, which kinda sucks if you think about it. Success comes in many different forms as do setbacks and as a result it is no one’s place to judge anyone else, period. Why should anyone point fingers and try to tell someone else how to live? Raising children is a different story, with the intention of course to lead children to make good decisions for themselves. When it comes to celebrities, however, especially in terms of Hollywood gossip, tabloid newspapers, paparazzi crews and the like,  there is no place for that in a supportive and open minded world. I have my own favorite celebrities just like anyone else, but they are not on some kind of holier-than-thou pedestal in my mind and should not be held to a higher standard than anyone else.

Suum cuique pulchrum est. I would rather see this Latin phrase Googled more than Katy Perry’s most recent ‘provocative’ outfit, but that’s just my opinion. – RSM

How I Lost 30+ Pounds In 7 Months Or Less For The Third Time

In October 2013 history repeated itself within my life and I was determined to make a lasting, healthy lifestyle change. I had ballooned up to weighing over 200 pounds for the third time since 2008. Since I was 16 I’ve had struggles with maintaining a healthy weight, which was an unexpected struggle at first. Growing up I was one of the skinniest and shortest kids in my class year after year:

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My First Communion in 1998. I was smaller than most kids my age.

My freshman and sophomore years of high school I was on the football team and was in the best shape I had been up to that point:

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During my first two years in high school I was in perfect shape, and of course as a result took teenage bathroom selfies.

After a long stint in and out of psychiatric hospitals following a nervous breakdown I had when I had just turned 16 I had gained way too much weight due to being on so many meds – I went from weighing around 130 lbs. in February 2006 to about 185 lbs. in September 2006. Needless to say it was a big, uncomfortable change that I did not want or need:

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I gained almost 50 pounds in 2006. I still took teenage selfies though. Good times.

When I was a freshman in college 2 years later, I weighed around 208 pounds. This is me right before my first semester at St. John’s:

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Me at my Freshman Orientation in 2008 at St. John’s University. That shirt made me a minor celebrity that year.

Being a former high school athlete and given that my whole life I had the personality and energy of a super-charged dance battery I decided enough was enough. I went to the gym most days throughout the week and ran at least 2 miles a day on the treadmill. I started doing it on a whim in September 2008 and by March 2009 I was happily shocked to be down to 169 pounds! I made hardly any diet changes aside from drinking more water than soda:

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A before/after comparison I made after my freshman year at St. John’s.

I got really lazy, really fast after this. I stopped hitting the gym entirely and got careless with my diet. By December of 2009 I weighed around 195 lbs. Standing at 5’8 my goal weight range was between 175-165 pounds. It felt like it was such a waste of time working so hard my entire freshman year to get back up to the weight I did not want to be:

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Me and a good friend of mine from high school in December 2009. All the progress I made losing weight the last school year had been erased.

I went to Europe for 4 months in 2010 on a study abroad program. I lost a bit of the extra poundage there and took long jogs regularly around Rome, Paris and Salamanca, Spain, but didn’t get to where I wanted to be. I started the trip weighing about 200 pounds and came back to New York at around 185. I felt great about it, especially considering that on my semester-long, memory -filled excursion across the Atlantic I had focused mainly on academics, sight seeing and partying my ass off. Weight loss was not my main focus and I still did pretty good, but I was still not within my goal range of weight, which left my perfectionist self a bit disappointed.

I weighed around 190-200 pounds during the next year and a half. In 2011 I had reached the heaviest weight I’ve ever been. In 2011 I topped out at 211 pounds.

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Me at the Puerto Rican Day Parade in 2011.

I didn’t have much time to go to the gym with my course load as a senior in college, so I decided a different approach: pescatarianism.

Pescatarianism is just like being a vegetarian except that seafood is not off limits. I started a pescatarian diet from May 2012, around the time that I had my graduation ceremony:

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My massive self and my mom on my college graduation day.

The results were amazing. By the time December 2012 rolled around I had shed a whopping 42 pounds with minimal exercise!

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Me on stage with my band, Solitaire Revival in January 2013 at Sullivan Hall. I was on top of the world, and in perfect shape again.

I kept it going until around June 2013 when I started eating meat again every now and then. It was a bad move. By last October I was back at 206 pounds.

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I lost the battle of the bulge again in October 2013. Never again!!

Since October 2013, I pulled it off again and am determined to make the third time the charm. I took a patient, realistic approach and gave pescatarianism a second try. I hit my goal weight range around the last week of May 2014, and just now stepped off my scale, weighing exactly 175 pounds. I couldn’t be happier that I stuck to my new year’s goal of losing the extra weight again!

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Me a few weeks ago at Electric Daisy Carnival – New York. I hit my goal weight range a couple of days later.

The thing is, my new year’s goal is an open ended lifestyle mission, not just a number to reach. I wrote down in January of this year “Get in shape and stay there.” I got in shape. Now with my prior weight loss experiences to learn from I know the do’s and don’ts of how to maintain a healthy weight and lifestyle. I’m staying a pescatarian for the rest of my life. Say what you will about diet options and preferences; this is what has worked for me and will keep working as long as I stick with it.

The following is from a Facebook status I wrote a few weeks ago about my practices this time around to lose the extra poundage:

What I have done to lose the weight is this:

1. Lead an active lifestyle.

I take public transit everywhere, so I walk a lot more then someone who drives. I take long walks at any opportunity and do not hesitate to burst into a sprint to catch a train or bus. I don’t tally up distance on a daily basis, but I would estimate that I walk between 1-2 miles on average everyday.

2. A self-governing, strict but healthy diet.

I restarted my pescatarian diet in October. I only allow myself 3 meals throughout each month with meat as cheat days. Any other time I eat anything with fruits, vegetables, nuts, and fish, and anything else besides meat that is generally unprocessed and healthy. I try my best to avoid fast food and carbonated drinks although I do slip up occasionally. My true love has always been Wild Cherry Pepsi.

 

3. I weigh myself every 1-2 weeks at most.

I used to step on the scale everyday and found it to be counterproductive.

4. Exercise at your own pace, and have fun with it!

I do a few light sets of bicep and tricep exercises every day. I also play sports when given the chance and when I go to parties/clubs, I go mainly not to drink; I go to break shit down on the dance floor!! Lmao, I’m known to not stop dancing for an hour or more, my friends and especially my band mates can vouch for this. “Billie Jean is not my lover…”

Be patient and stay diligent. This is only phase 1, which was to get down to 175-165 lbs. I’m basically there and am very proud, but the challenge now is to maintain a healthy lifestyle for the rest of my life. I’m taking that challenge head on, and so can you!

Best of luck, whoever sees this that is trying to lose weight. If I can do it, YOU CAN DO IT!! Try hard every day, stick to the plan and “I PROMISE you, yo!” It can be done. – RSM

September 11, 2001 Revisited via The 9/11 Memorial Museum

A few weeks ago I went with my father to the 9/11 Memorial Museum at the base of the ‘Freedom Tower,’ the nickname given to the new colossal building at 1 World Trade Center.

It was a more bitter than sweet experience, which of course comes with the territory and history of that tragic day. Everyone who was in New York City on September 11, 2001 has a story to tell, whether they had lost a family member or friend or not. Most stories involve unexpected tragedy at a very unfortunate level. Luckily for me and my family, no one was hurt. I will forever be grateful for that. As for my friends at the time, we were mostly 6th graders in the same school, so it goes without saying we were safe. My uncle had a close call, but a personality trait of his ironically turned what could have been the end of his life into just enough time to get outta Dodge. Here are the details:

My uncle was working nearby the Twin Towers in 2001. He was running late for work that day. I wasn’t surprised to hear this considering he runs late to family gatherings and it has become a running joke that he’s never on time. On 9/11 my uncle walked out of the subway and to his surprise there were hundreds of people, everyone from Wall Street suit looking types to delivery boys running full speed uptown. My uncle was born and raised in the South Bronx and told me he knew from his childhood to run with a big crowd and not against it, because it usually means they’re running from a dangerous situation. He took off with the herd of New Yorkers fleeing lower Manhattan before he even saw or knew what had happened to the towers. He ran for dozens of blocks, and turned on the jets when he saw the flaming North and South towers at a distance. His street smarts and tardiness may have made the difference between life and death on Septmeber 11, 2001.

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The North and South Tower’s last moments standing.

My experience was far less life-threatening than that of my uncle, but of course was not void of shock and awe. Around 9 in the morning my school’s principal announced that there had been a terrorist attack on the World Trade Center via hijacked planes being used as missiles to strike the dual skyscrapers. I remember in my 11 short years thus far I had always called those buildings ‘The Twin Towers,’ and didn’t know they were officially referred to as ‘The World Trade Center’ until that moment. The principal ended his emergency address and after 15-20 minutes of teachers going in and out of the hallways to sort out logistics, another announcement came. The principal then announced that one tower had collapsed, and the other was in flames and on the verge of collapsing. He also announced that the entire student body would be sent home shortly.

I could only imagine how many calls the secretary had to make in the main office, but within half an hour most students had been picked up by a parent or guardian. My mother is a teacher and couldn’t pick us up since her school was following the same protocol with their own students, and my father was on his way to Ground Zero, another new term I learned that day, to aid in sorting through the wreckage as an emergency responder with Con Edison. Since they were busy at work my best friend’s mother picked him and I up as well as his older sister who was in the 8th grade, and stopped by my sister’s high school to pick her up as well. From there, we had a chilled out afternoon at my friend David’s house. The boys played football, the girls watched soap operas and eventually all of us, along with the city and the world were glued to their TVs waiting to see what would unfold un the aftermath of this unprecedented event.

The "Tribute in Light" memorial in the years following 2001.
The “Tribute in Light” memorial in the years following 2001.

Last month the 9/11 Memorial Museum opened up exclusively to first responders. Falling into this category was my dad, who spent weeks as a Con Edison emergency responder at Ground Zero in the Fall of 2001. He invited me to come as his guest.

The mood was very somber within the walls of the new museum. Contained in the sleek walls and shiny new facilities were heavy hearts and teary eyes. One of the things that resonated with me was a pillar with quotations projected onto it that were accompained with voices narrating each one as they were displayed. A barrage of  reactions on the day were brought to life, some as simple as “Oh my God!” to news briefs describing the day.

Another interesting piece I saw was a charred and twisted cylinder of metal, about 15 feet long with a 12 foot diameter more or less. I looked at the sign accompanying the display and was taken aback to learn that this hunk of steel was  small part of the antaenna from one of the fallen towers.

They had a charred ambulance on display as well as about 3/4 of what was left of a firetruck pulled from the wreckage. I honestly did not meditate too long on these two emergency vehicles, because quite frankly, it was way too heartbreaking.

My 2nd favorite part of the day at museum was a room lined with a smiling portrait of every single victim of the attacks. This was room was more sweet than bitter for me. I’m sure if I had directly known one of the 2,900+ faces smiling at me I would not have been able to look around the room with such a positive attitude, but I felt it was a nice touch to show each and every lost life in their Sunday best, smiling.

So many people die of tragedies on a daily basis around the world. It’s nothing new. I did think to myself though that in recent times of emergency in New York City that I have lived through, be it 9/11, The 2003 Blackout, or Hurricane Sandy in 2012, New Yorkers have a talent for coming together in times of need, regardless of any other issue. We have a reputation that precedes us to be fast-talking, tough as nails and often rude city slickers, but when our own streets and neighbors need a hand, New Yorkers are there for each other. With solidarity and reverence in mind it truly warmed my heart to see all the faces of these bright young professionals, building maintenance workers, and especially New York’s Finest and Bravest honored in such a way. I’m not one to usually give compliments to the NYPD, but I will say that every single illuminated face I saw in that room will forever be heroes in my mind.

I thought to myself that of all the tragic events in human history, this one was the most recent one that had affected not so much my life as an individual, but most definitely affected the great megacity where I have always lived and where my heart will always reside. It was nice to see the tradition of New Yorkers coming together and honoring and remembering their fallen sons, daughters, fathers and mothers. I only wish that whatever tragedy may occur anywhere in the future, somewhere there are photos of whoever’s lives were cut short and that they are shown, being happy.

My favorite thing I saw that day was not really a thing, it was a person. My dad, duh! He invited me to the museum with the thought in mind that I would write this article. Although my uncle was the one who had to run for his life, and I am eternally grateful that he came out unscathed, my dad thought of inviting me to the 9/11 Memorial Museum to do what he always has done: to inspire me to write. With this in mind, I only have one picture to display from my trip there. It’s this one:

me dad freedom tower

As my born and bred Bronxite fingers tap the ending remarks of this article, I find myself wiping tears off my cheeks and ultimately, being grateful.

My dad could have gotten really sick like many others in the years following his work at Ground Zero, but’s he’s as healthy as a suave-looking 56 year old man can be.

My uncle put his son, my cousin and basically my twin, Jason through high school and college, the same high school and college that I attended. My cousin and I graduated together in 2008 and 2012, and are now advancing in our respective careers. My uncle also got married since then and now has a 2nd child, a beautiful little girl, my cousin Layla. None of this may have happened if he had been on time to work that day.

freedom tower

All in all, I like the name ‘Freedom Tower’ for different reasons than most. If you take a close look at it, the new building at 1 World Trade Center kind of looks like a phoenix-esque combination of the Twin Towers into a brand new, 21st century reincarnation of it’s fallen predecessors.

The way I see it, whenever I look towards lower Manhattan I don’t just see the tallest building in the United States, nor do I see just another Manhattan skyscraper. I see everyone who I saw smiling in the museum who had passed on in the attacks of September 11, 2001. I see New York City reflected in all its posh splendor, it’s dreamy mystique, it’s gritty, hardworking everyday people and everything in between, from Staten Island to my home borough, The Bronx. I see everyone I have ever known or walked by in my life throughout the streets and avenues who survived and now live to tell about their experience that day. New Yorkers, just like me.

When I see the Freedom Tower, I see my family. I see my uncle, who had the biggest brush with danger, and my dad, who brought back his Con Edison helmet to my mom a few days after 9/11 with Bill Clinton’s autograph, as part of a running joke they had about my mom having a crush on the former president. Most of all when I see the Freedom Tower I think about myself, my own life. I think about all the ups and downs, thicks and thins I have been through and how grateful I am that my family and friends made it safely through the events of September 11, 2001. When I look at the Freedom Tower and think of all this, I feel free. I feel free, to worry about my everyday life, my career in music and writing, my family and friends, and I feel free to not worry about someone I had lost that day anymore than the occasional ‘What if?’ Most of all, I feel free to live. Not many people feel this unique freedom I feel when they look at the same building.

In all its infamously tragic events and all that followed as a result, September 11, 2001 will forever live in my mind as the ultimate day of grattiude for all the things I have in my life. I think of all that I have and how close things had come that day to having many of them taken away. When I’m feeling down, all I have to do is look up; it puts me back in a place where I always love to be: a New York state of mind. – RSM

Racial Ambiguity: Caught in the Middle of Gentrification in New York City

The changing demographics of neighborhoods in New York City is nothing new. The Bronx, my home borough, was originally home to Native Americans, then the Dutch, the British, Irish, Italian, and Jewish diasporas long before it is as today, with Latinos as the slight majority. Oddly enough, there are times when I’m on my home street and I can’t help but feel like an outsider. Allow me to explain:

I live in Wakefield, a primarily African American and West Indian neighborhood. I have lived here since I was 3, with the exception of my years in college. Looking back on my life, my friends, neighbors, and family as well have always been very diverse. I went to elementary school a few neighborhoods over in the Bedford Park area of The Bronx, a neighborhood far more diverse than my own. I grew up unassuming, open minded, and figuratively colorblind.

In retrospect, I feel like it took me a while to grasp the idea of ‘race’ and different ‘races’ of humans. I just didn’t see it that way. Seeing that my friends’ ancestries vary tremendously and some people in my family are of mixed races, I just didn’t take much heed as a child. I still don’t take that much heed at all nowadays….

 

My best friends and family on my birthday.
My best friends and family on my 24th birthday.

….EXCEPT when the topic of gentrification arises. I feel like I’m caught between a rock and a hard place. When I walk through Williamsburg, Bushwick, or Downtown Brooklyn it’s almost as if there’s not humidity, but tension in the air. I can feel it lingering around every train station, bike rack, street corner, and every other public place where Native Brooklynites now co-exist and share public space with out of state, 20-something transplants, or ‘Hipsters,’ if you will. I feel that same tension pressing on my lightly tanned skin, dyed blonde hair, and casual/rocker style of dress as I walk through certain neighborhoods.

I’m a Latino who can pass as Caucasian, or even Pacific Islander depending on who’s guessing. It’s great to look racially ambiguous when you’re talking to a pretty young lady at a bar in WIlliamsburg, but once you leave that bar you become a hipster to the natives of the neighborhood, and a questionable figure to cops, wondering why they see some surfer-looking whiteboy strolling through the ghetto.

About 2 months ago I was headed down White Plains Road, the main avenue of my neighborhood and also the closest shopping district to my apartment. It makes sense that I would go down this street for an innocent afternoon of commerce, right?

Well, it didn’t make sense to the cops who saw me chatting with a tattoo artist outside of his shop.

They parked their patrol car, approached me and asked me “What are you doing around here?”

Kinda like they didn’t think I belonged in the neighborhood I have always lived in.

I told the 1st police officer that I had always lived around here while the 2nd proceeded to stop and frisk me.

He felt up my bookbag, which contained nothing but my netbook, a book I was reading and a few ‘Living Buddhism’ magazines.

“Whoa, you got a heavy bag,” said one of them, “You got a gun in here or something?”

So there I was, not even half a mile from my house, being questioned for being in my own neighborhood. I didn’t know whether to be confused or enraged. I was a mix of both, but I held my tongue. I knew better than to make the cops feel as stupid and racist as they were actually being, and I knew if I had said anything back to them things could have gone much worse.

After a few more patdowns and another “What are you doing around here?” they realized that I wasn’t exactly Tony Montana, and let me go.

This was a rude awakening to me. I never did mind growing up my whole life as a Latino in a mainly black neighborhood. I actually liked it very much, as well as the Bronx and New York City in general. I do find it alarming, however, that upon first glance nowadays I may be viewed as a neighborhood invader to my own block and as a result being on the NYPD’s radar. I usually get along with everyone I see; my friendliness and the reciprocation of such from most people I meet have allowed me to keep my inner-child’s eyes figuratively colorblind. As a child and adolescent I had always felt that I fit in everywhere. With gentrification on the rise in many minority neighborhoods in New York City, coming from a neighborhood that I’m the minority as a Latino has never mattered to me until recent years, and especially since the cops breathe down my neck as a result. Sometimes I feel like my notion that I fit in everywhere is a naive illusion; when I see an organic grocery store next to a bodega, I still feel like I could fit in at either place. There are times, however, when I feel like I don’t fit in anywhere, especially when I see a police cruiser around. -RSM

I was inspired to write this article by When Gentrification Brings Racism to the ‘Hood by Irvin Weathersby, via ebony.com.

Why I’m Proud Of Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor

When I was a junior in college, I attended a Greek Life workshop with a few fraternity brothers of mine as well as representatives from every other Greek lettered organization on campus. It was an interesting workshop; there were large photos of famous, groundbreaking leaders from many different but equally important walks of life. The workshop facilitator, a middle aged, upbeat motivational speaker kind of guy, asked all undergrads in the room (about 50 of us, at least) to go around the room and write down comments about each of these leaders of their professions. After about 15 minutes, the workshop host then asked students to volunteer to pick a leader, say what they knew about this leader, read off the comments anonymously written by people in the room, and say whether you agreed or disagreed with said comments.

During the first phase of the workshop I immediately spotted Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. I wrote a few positive comments on the posterboard next to her photo, and went on to Bill Gates’ posterboard, that of Oprah Winfrey, etc. During the second phase, I gravitated back to Justice Sotomayor’s photo and read the comments attributed to her. There were some positive comments, including my own, but they were outnumbered by many negative comments about her. She had recently been appointed to her position as Supreme Court Justice and her name and image had been circulating in the news, mostly via smear campaigns in order to sabotage her appointment as a Supreme Court Justice. Sadly, many students believed what they had heard on the news about her, and as a result posted comments like “Underqualified” and “Too Liberal” on her comment section. Most, if not all of these comments were short, vague, and ultimately baseless and void of any fact. She is one of my personal heroines, so I was not happy about this.

I volunteered to read off the comments and tell everyone what I knew about her. I let off some fumes as professionally as I could. Most of my classmates in the workshop were surprised to learn that not only did she go to my high school decades ago, but I had actually shook her hand myself at a career day event a few years back. More importantly, I took my time happily dismantling every negative comment that was attributed to her, tearing down every falsehood and half-truth with facts supported by evidence. My favorite part of my informative rant was when I took apart the ‘underqualified’ comment, refuting it with details about her education and how she had served on the U.S. Court of Appeals for quite some time before being nominated as a Supreme Court Justice, notably ruling on the 1994 Major League Baserball strike case. Ending my onslaught of corrections and highlights of Sotomayor’s career, I put the nail in the coffin with a personal challenge and said: “And if anyone who wrote these false comments or anyone who disagrees with me would like to prove me wrong at all, I invite you to try.” No one took me up on it.

 

Official Portrait of Justice Sonia Sotomayor

 

Justice Sotomayor has been in the news recently for expressing her dissent on the ruling regarding Michigan’s affirmative action policy. The ruling upheld that affirmative action, currently banned in Michigan, could be successfully defended and remain banned by decision of a popular vote. The logic is a bit wishy washy, considering that affirmative action is designed to try and level the playing field for underpriveleged college hopefuls who are mostly minorities. Now, does it really make sense to leave this decision in the hands of a popular vote when the decision would be based on the majority vote, when those who would be most directly and negatively affected are minorities? This decision will potentially threaten affirmative action policies of other states, which is sure to have been a factor in determining the future of many lesser fortunate and/or minority students who would otherwise not be able to afford or even be given a chance at higher education due to economic or other social or circumstantial issues. If all goes horribly, affirmative action may be repealed in more homogenous, conservative states (where it is actually needed most) and will shut the door of a quality higher education experience on the next generation of high school grads. When you factor in the rate of arrests and imprisonment for petty crimes amongst black and brown teenagers, the perpetually dilapitated condition of inner city schools, and how both of these factors tie into the prison-industrial complex, the odds for more impoverished teens of getting into college are grim, specifically those in inner-city neighborhoods across the U.S.

This is especially disheartening to know as it stands, even with affirmative action in place. To eliminate affirmative action in college admissions offices would kind of be like running a basketball shot game at a carnival, giving the one kid with the worst shot an extra ball, and then taking it away just because you changed your mind. Picture that, but with the educational aspirations of kids who have been through some shit, and want a better life.

All in all I commend Justice Sotomayor for expressing her dissent. Given the fact that she is a minority from an impoverished area and had excellent grades as an adolescent and young adult, affirmative action may very well have played a factor in her education, as it probably did for my education, and many of my friends and family members. Quite contrary to conservative responses on her dissent, I feel that if she didn’t express her dissent for this decision she would be doing all potential college students a disservice. In a world where college tuition and debt is through the roof, the only worse fate than having a degree with no guarantee of finding the means to repay student loans and finding a job is the fate of not even having a fighting chance of getting into a good school after high school. Let’s face it, Generation Y is damned either way, but at least let us have an equal chance to be damned with an education under our belts than without. -RSM