Twelve years in the making — a graduation story

When I first started school at CSUN, I was 17 years old, hellbent on being a rock star and could barely grow a mustache. Now, at the age of 29, I’m graduating with a bachelor’s in journalism.

That seems like a long time, but not everyone’s journey is the garden-variety, four-to-six-year college plan.

Sometimes there are bumps along the way. Sometimes you make the wrong choices and have to spend years getting your life back on track.

Sometimes you have to get kicked out of your house at 20 and spend a year living on couches and in an apartment that you are eventually forced to leave (yes, this happened to me).

Sometimes you have to work the most nonsense jobs just so you have money to eat and pay expenses (some examples: tax preparation assistant, sign-flipping-on-the-street-corner guy, concessions at a movie theater, Blockbuster).

And sometimes, you get a nipple ring (actually, I kind of miss it sometimes).

The journey was full of ups, downs and all-arounds. I entered CSUN as a math major because I didn’t understand what the requirements were for the classical music program.

I figured it would be better to major in something rather than nothing, and since I really did like math, that seemed like the obvious choice. However, after getting a “C” in calculus, I quickly looked elsewhere for career choices.

I wanted to switch my major to creative writing, but never formally did so. My girlfriend at the time was a singer, and I played guitar. We both wanted to be professional musicians.

A mutual friend who worked at Hot Topic told us about a school called Musician’s Institute in Hollywood, and we ended up dropping out of CSUN and attended MI instead.

Although the aforementioned girl ruined the next few years of my life by physically and emotionally abusing me, I mustered the wherewithal to finish MI and graduated with an Associate of Arts degree in Music Performance in 2008. Translation: a piece of paper about as useful as poop-flavored lollipop.

The next four years went something like this: work, open mic performances, looking for band members, finding band members, a month or two of band practices and shows, band members quitting on me, searching for new band members, repeat all of the above.

I was trying pretty hard and getting absolutely nowhere. I thought I was talented and with the right people around me, we would make great music and live an exciting life as touring musicians.

What I didn’t know was this: I actually wasn’t any good, and I didn’t work nearly as hard as I should have. I spent so much money and time going after something for which I wasn’t suited. But it took a particular journalism class to get to realize that.

In 2012, I was attending Santa Monica College and I had joined their student newspaper, The Corsair. I already took an introductory journalism class online the previous summer, and I liked it enough to see what the student publication was like.

But I only wanted to write about basketball. But I had two months until the season started, and I was expected to produce articles right away.

So I chose an opinion story because I figured that would be a good way to ease myself into journalistic writing. What can be so hard about writing I think?

It turned out that not only was it harder than I thought, but my article turned out be lower than garbage. It was just terrible. But that didn’t stop me.

Over the next few months, I was writing about things I had no idea about, but I was enjoying myself and working harder than I had ever worked before. I found myself spending more of my time writing, researching and interviewing, and less time playing, rehearsing and songwriting.

I ended up quitting the two bands I was in at the time. Needless to say, it was very difficult to make the choice to leave something I was working toward since I was 15. But it was the best decision of my life.

I almost didn’t come back to CSUN. When the time came to move on from SMC, I felt I could benefit from a new school, a new area and a new start.

It was between Cal State Long Beach and CSUN — I don’t have to say where I chose.

Just in these past two years, I’ve grown immensely. I somehow started caring about my grades, which I never did when I was younger (I failed strength training because I was too lazy to go class). I also became much more sociable and joined a ballroom dancing club (I previously couldn’t dance to save my life).

So no matter what your journey to graduation is like, make sure you do it to the best of your ability, and stick with it. That’s the only way you can walk on that stage, turn your tassel from one side to the other, and be truly proud to call yourself a college gradate.

I know I am.

Permalink: http://sundial.csun.edu/2015/05/twelve-years-in-the-making-a-graduation-story/

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Pack up the yellow umbrella kids: “How I Met Your Mother” says goodbye

Warning: If you haven’t watched the How I Met Your Mother finale, you probably should. Like now. We’ll wait.

The series finale in two paragraphs. Ready? Go!

The mother dies. She’s been dead for the entire series. There, it’s out there. Oh, and her name was Tracy. Barney and Robin get divorced, and Barney is randomly given a daughter after knocking up one of his floozies, apparently changing him forever.

Ted reveals that “the mother” gets sick, but doesn’t say from what. Then, his daughter suggests that the entire story — and hence, the entire 9-year series — was only told because Ted had the hots for Robin and wanted to ask her out. Ted then goes out, gets that blue french horn HIMYM fans know all too well, and shows up on Robin’s doorstep. The end.

Say it with me, fans: “Um…what?”

From an emotional standpoint, the finale is a definite tear-jerker, especially when Ted announces abruptly that he has to leave Barney and Robin’s wedding reception, leading to one-by-one, heart-wrenching goodbyes with each character. Ted was supposed to be leaving for Chicago in the morning, but when he meets Tracy at the train station, that plan gets abandoned because, well, it’s Ted.

Cute sentiment, but after that, the storyline veers off into a weird territory.

Robin and Barney’s marriage falls apart in three years, fueled by her insane workload and constant traveling. What’s disappointing is that, for many seasons, we saw Barney slowly transform from a disgusting, womanizing person to one who can commit to a relationship. And after all that (plus a vow to Robin saying he’ll never lie to her again), their romance gets derailed by Robin’s profession as an international news reporter?

For a divorce between two emotionally unstable, yet completely right-for-each-other people, their end was incredibly anti-climactic.

Marshall and Lily make plans to move into a bigger home now that they are expecting third child, and Marshall gets another call to become a judge, cementing the fact that their story throughout the entire series was the least depressing. This was probably the only part of the finale that made sense, much like their entire relationship over the course of the show.

What’s upsetting is that the entire series, which took millions of viewers on a journey of laughter and borderline emotional turmoil for nearly a decade, was essentially just a ploy to get Robin back. Ted meets the woman of his dreams, has children, and his beautiful wife dies, but he’s still hung up on Robin?

The disaster here is one of “character trueness,” which is a term I just made up five seconds ago: Mosby spent the entire series making us believe that he was a die-hard romantic who would do anything to find the perfect woman. Then he finds her. Then she dies. And after all that, he goes back to another woman who couldn’t keep her own marriage going? This is not the Ted Mosby we’ve all come to know and love.

The writers could have done so much more with the ending. For instance, when it’s revealed that Barney’s going to be a father, it would have been great for the mother to be Robin. And Ted could have been telling the story about their mother to his kids for a sweeter reason, rather than just getting their permission to chase Robin…again.

Make the series finale totally awesome? Seems like it was challenge not accepted.

Permalink: http://sundial.csun.edu/2014/03/pack-up-the-yellow-umbrella-kids-how-i-met-your-mother-says-goodbye/

Getting the Lakers from zeros back to heroes

The Los Angeles Lakers were once the powerhouse of the NBA. They were in the playoffs year after year, won 16 championships with the help of Hall-of-Fame players, and carried an aura with them whenever they stepped foot on the basketball court.

Now, with a record of 24-48, they are one of the laughing stocks in the league. For the past two years, they have been ridiculed for not being able to keep Dwight Howard. They recently suffered the worst defeat in franchise history to the Clippers in a 142-94 massacre. Even I, a die-hard Laker fan and apologist, look at games on the schedule and say, “Yeah, they’re losing by 25 tonight.”

If the season were to end today — and many fans of the purple and gold wish it would, already — the Lakers would get a top-six pick the upcoming draft. Teams with even worse records include the Utah Jazz, Boston Celtics (life isn’t all bad) Orlando Magic, Philadelphia 76ers (who just broke their 26-game losing streak) and the Milwaukee Bucks.

So what went wrong? How can a team that epically won the 2010 title against their long-time rivals, the Celtics, have the proverbial pie thrown in their faces just four years later?

The quick answer: bad luck. No one could have predicted then-NBA Commissioner David Stern would rob the Lakers of Chris Paul in 2011, only for Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak to say, “Well screw you, Stern, I’ll get Dwight Howard,” then actually get Howard only to lose him to free agency for nothing one year later.

No one in their right minds thought Jim and Jerry Buss would pick Mike D’Antoni over Phil Jackson, arguably the best coach in the history professional sports, when the team fired Mike Brown last year after only five games. How is that possible? For those of you keeping score at home, Jackson has won 11 NBA championships. D’Antoni’s count? Negative 50 championships.

Did the Buss family forget who Jackson and D’Antoni were? I feel like the conversation over who to choose as the next Lakers coach went something like this:

Jim Buss: “Dad, Phil Jackson wants to coach the team.”

Jerry Buss: “What team?”

Jim Buss: “Our team.”

Jerry Buss: “Really?”

Jim Buss: “Yes. But Mike D’Antoni’s available too, and he’s very interested.”

Jerry Buss: “Isn’t that the guy who coached the Knicks the last few years but left because Carmelo Anthony hated him and he lost the team’s respect?”

Jim Buss: “Maybe…but his teams always score at least 110 points a game!”

Jerry Buss: “110?!?!?!”

Jim Buss: “Yes, daddy, 110!”

Jerry Buss: “It’ll be Show Time all over again!”

JIm Buss: “Exactly! So what do we do?”

Jerry Buss: “Well Phil has the resume. And he’s coached the team before. And Kobe thinks the world of him.”

Jim Buss: “But dad…..110 points…PER GAME.”

Jerry Buss: “GET D’ANTONI ON THE PHONE!”

Also, no one thought this season’s Lakers would be hit with the worst injury bug since the Portland Trail Blazers were stung so badly, their coach got severely injured during a practice because the team didn’t have enough healthy players.

So instead of LA trotting around with the likes of Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Steve Nash, they are left with C-list players like Wesley Johnson, Chris Kaman, Kendall Marshall (who is actually a D-list player since he came from the D-League) and an occasional sighting of a fragile, paper-mache marionette dressed like Nash, which breaks after one or two games and doesn’t come back for a month. I need to lie down.

Bryant is in no mood to wait around during a rebuilding period, and recently said he expects to contend for a title next season. But with their current roster, they have a better chance of changing their names to the Washington Generals and beating the Harlem Globetrotters. Who am I kidding? They’d lose to the Globetrotters by 25, too.

But there’s hope. The Lakers have over $21 million in cap space next season, and only three of their current players are under contract after this year, which means they are in a great position to completely overhaul their roster and, thereby, their outlook for Kobe’s twilight years.

Here is what the Lakers need to do to give themselves the best chance to compete for the Larry O’Brien trophy in the next two years, barring major injuries to key players (possible due to age of Bryant and Gasol), California getting hit by an earthquake so big it separates from the United States (definitely possible) or the zombie apocalypse (might have already happened…you’ve seen Steve Nash).

 

1. Replace Mike D’Antoni

Sorry Mike. It’s not you…it’s…yeah, it’s you.

D’Antoni’s Lakers have been atrocious this year. They’ve lost two-thirds of their games and get blown out with regularity. Yes, a lot of it is due to injuries to Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash and every other point guard, but that’s no excuse for a lack of effort — defensive effort to be exact.

The Lakers allow 108.9 points per game, which is the second-most in the NBA, according to basketball-reference.com. This is not an anomaly. D’Antoni-led teams have been among the worst in points allowed ever since he started coaching, with one exception: the 2011-12 New York Knicks. That team ranked 11th in the league in defensive efficiency.

The irony: that was the year D’Antoni resigned in the middle of the season, and was subsequently replaced by Mike Woodson, who is all about defense. I will bet my cat, the incorrigible Johnny Stripes, that it was Woodson who made that team better on defense to end the year.

Coaches available right now that can fill this void include Lionel Hollins, Stan Van Gundy, Jeff Van Gundy and, my personal favorite, Nate McMillan.

All of these coaches play at a slower pace (perfect for an aging Kobe and Pau), have stressed defense with their teams, and always seem to put together winning seasons with deep playoff runs.

2. Keep Kobe and Pau Together

So many analysts are saying the Lakers should get rid of Gasol, that he needs a change of scenery, that he has a better chance of winning a title elsewhere.

But the fact is, Gasol doesn’t want to leave. He wants to be a Laker for life. Also, Kobe Bryant wants The Big Spaniard to stay put, and has said so multiple times publically and to Lakers management.

Kobe and Pau have history. They’ve won two back-to-back rings together. They communicate in Spanish on the court together. This bond should not, and cannot, be broken. If the Lakers want to really appease Kobe, keeping Pau at all costs should be at the top of their list.

3. Add a third difference-making player

It’s Kupchak Time.

As previously mentioned, the Lakers have a lottery pick this summer that could be as low as number six — or even lower if they get any worse. If they land one of the best players in what’s supposed to be a stacked draft class, the Lakers could be on their way to a title soon.

But there’s another way — a faster way — to get better, and that’s by trading their lottery pick and packaging it in a deal to acquire Kevin Love.

It’s been rumored that Love wants to play in Los Angeles and some other teams. He’s from the LA area and even attended UCLA. The Lakers seem like the perfect fit for him.

But if they Lakers use their cap space to acquire, say, Carmelo Anthony this offseason, they may not have enough room for him and Love. In fact, if the Lakers get Carmelo, Love is pretty much off the table. With the lottery pick as a bargaining piece, the Lakers could send that and some other pieces (Kent Bazemore, Marshon Brooks and the Laker Girls maybe?) to Minnesota in exchange for Love. The Timberwolves would certainly be tempted to consider, at the very least.

Or, Kupchak could go into his magical GM laboratory and somehow devise a way to keep his lottery pick and get Love in the summer of 2015. You mean to tell me you wouldn’t be surprised if this happened? This is the same Mitch Kupchak who got Pau Gasol for almost nothing in 2008 and won two titles in three years.

If this did happen, I wouldn’t be surprised if Kupchak held a press conference after the deal was finalized, brought up Minnesota President of Basketball Operations Flip Saunders, kicked him into a giant abyss in the ground next to the podium, and yelled, “THIS. IS. KUPCHAAAAAAAK!!!”

4. Bring back current role players

As bad as the Lakers are, their roster has some surprisingly good players. Jordan Farmar is a solid, starting-caliber point guard who can shoot 3-pointers at a high clip and wants to play in LA. Nick Young scores at will and isn’t afraid of the big moment. Jodie Meeks has carved himself into a multi-dimensional player who also plays solid defense.

As for the big guys, every team needs a scrappy, rebounding, energy guy like Jordan Hill, and Kaman can still put up points and is an underrated rim protector.

And for a D-League guy, Kendall Marshall knows how to run an offense and distribute the ball.

The Lakers don’t need to pay these players much more than they’re making now, and a few of them will make solid additions to the bench unit. Keep these guys around and add a couple of superstars, and you’ve got yourself a contending team for at least the next two years.

Permalink: http://sundial.csun.edu/2014/03/lakers-zeros-heroes/

Not all condoms are created equal

After a romantic dinner and a hand-in-hand walk down the beach, you and your date are back home and things are getting steamy. Right before the moment of truth, you reach into your pocket and pull out your protection: a condom. All systems go.

But for those who either have never used a condom during sex or have never had to buy one themselves, the choice on which type is best can be daunting. Condoms come in enough different shapes, sizes and colors to confuse even the most promiscuous Don Juan.

Here are five kinds of condoms, rated on a scale of 1-5 (Rubber Rating), which could help you make the right choice for you and your partner.

Trojan Classic

There are three words every man wants to hear when it comes to managing his manhood: reliable, comfortable and solid. A classic choice, the garden-variety Trojan is simple, yet effective. It’s sturdy enough not to break and there is minimal slippage. The only gripe about these is they are a little on the thick side, leaving it less pleasurable for the wearer. Opting for the spermicide-coated version could leave your hands smelling pretty funky and partners won’t want that stuff anywhere near their mouths. Still, for those who are looking to make their first condom-buying experience a positive one, you can never go wrong with a classic.

Durability: 4

Pleasure: 2.5

Package opening time: 1-3 seconds

Overall Rubber Rating: 4

Trojan Her Pleasure

The name says it all. These condoms were made for achieving the big O. With two different areas of ribbing, this condom will have your partner wondering when you became such a stud in the sack. When you put it on, it looks like the condom doesn’t fit because there is some extra material in the top-half, but little does your lover know that this is what is going to make their toes curl for the latter half of the night.

Durability: 5

Pleasure: 3

Package opening time: 1-3 seconds

Overall Rubber Rating: 4.5

Lifestyle

You get what you pay for. These babies can be found on the way out of your friendly neighborhood women’s clinic and at our beloved Klotz Health Center on campus — for free.

But don’t let the easy access fool you. This brand of condoms are by far the worst form of “protection” for any couple. They slip off often and break easier than an iPhone screen after a date with the pavement. When you can’t have a decent night of sex without worrying about a trip to Planned Parenthood the next morning for a quick hit of Plan B and penicillin, perhaps it’s time to reevaluate your lifestyle.

Durability: .5

Pleasure: 2

Package opening time: 3-10 seconds

Overall Rubber Rating: 1

Durex

Slightly more durable and just as easy to obtain, these condoms are the slightly hotter cousin of Lifestyles. Much like Trojans, Durex condoms come in different styles and varieties, which makes them more consumer-friendly than the aforementioned red-wrapped disasters. But wearing them is a slippery slope, as they too can come off easily with even the tamest of kinky nights. However, they hardly break.

Durability: 3.5

Pleasure: 3

Package Opening time: 3-7 seconds

Overall Rubber Rating: 3

Trojan Ultra Thin

Made to feel like you’re doing the deed without a condom (even though you are), these condoms definitely feel the best for the one wearing a latex hat on his Johnson. The thinner design also means more pleasure for the partner. However, less is not always more. These condoms are so thin that they’re prone to slipping. However, true to the Trojan brand, they are not in danger of regular breakage.

Durability: 3.5

Pleasure. 3.5

Package Opening time: 1-3 seconds

Overall Rubber Rating: 3.5

Remember, lube is your friend

Usually associated with dry nether regions, lube can serve as a useful tool in any couple’s bedroom bonanza. A drop of lube in a condom adds another level of pleasure for men during sex, and adding lube into the mix reduces friction, thus reducing the chance of a broken condom and a ruined evening. Arousing lubes, such as KY’s Warming Jelly or their Yours & Mine Couples jelly, provide a warm zing that can get partners tingling. Desensitizing lube is another option for men who want stay in the game longer than usual.

When choosing a lube, it’s important for couples to know what they want — water, silicone or oil. Water-based lubes tend to be free of chemicals and easy to clean up, but require more applications during sex. They’re also great when paired with toys. If partners are looking for a lube that’s one application only, silicone is their answer. Silicone should  never be used with toys, due to silicone-on-silicone chemical reactions. Due to its sticky base, silicone lubes tend to stay on longer, but are a lot harder to wash off of bedding – so beware of stains, and stay off the couch with this one. Finally, oil based lubes such as vaseline, are thicker and not to be used with condoms, as they break down the latex. This method is best for handsy couples.

It’s important for partners to test the jellies on sensitive areas of the skin in order to avoid an unsexy infection. And as with any sexual act, it’s important to know what your partner wants.

Taylor Villescas wrote section on lube. 

Permalink: http://sundial.csun.edu/2014/02/not-all-condoms-are-created-equally/

Minimum wage increase is past due

I get paid $10 an hour at a dance studio in Santa Monica to sit at a desk, make and take a few phone calls, accept people’s money and watch people dance. I work part-time and am able to pay my monthly bills because I live at home with my parents.

On the other hand, a full-time food service worker deals with people all day, wears a ridiculous uniform, makes unhealthy food and probably goes home to their children smelling like french fries, but only gets paid minimum wage, which is $8 per hour in California, and barely makes their monthly rent.

Something is tremendously wrong with this picture.

Nowadays, with cost of living constantly increasing, it’s getting harder for someone to make ends meet on the measly weekly paychecks they receive from minimum-wage jobs.

An employee working 40 hours a week at the federal minimum wage — $7.25 per hour — would make $15,080 in a year, before taxes. That is just below the poverty line of a two-person household in the United States, which is $15,510 per year, according to the US Department of Health and Human Services.

So if you’re a single parent trying to put your kid through school, it doesn’t matter if you have a full-time job; if you make minimum wage, you are poor.

And what does it mean to be poor? You are unable to save up money. People with disposable income have the privilege to save up for college, to eat healthier, go on family trips, etc. Needless to say they don’t have to live day by day.

This is why the recent vote by the California Legislature in favor of a bill that would increase the state’s minimum wage to $10 per hour by 2016 arrived just in time.

But actually, it’s long overdue.

The federal minimum wage has stayed stagnant since 2009, when it was raised from $6.55 per hour to its current rate at $7.25. It previously increased yearly since 2007, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

The bill, which was signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in September, will first raise California’s minimum wage to $9 on July 1, 2014, and then to $10 on Jan. 1, 2016.

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) want to take it a step further. In March, the congressmen introduced companion versions of the Fair Minimum Wage Act to the House of Representatives and Senate, which would increase the federal minimum wage to $10.10 per hour over three years, then have it increase annually, adjusting for inflation.

The act would also increase pay for tipped workers — those who work in restaurants, valets, etc. — to 70 percent of the federal minimum wage. The current federal pay rate for tipped employees is an ungodly $2.13 per hour.

According to the Raise the Minimum Wage website, the nation’s minimum wage should be at $10.74 if the U.S. had followed inflation rates for the past 40 years.

A 2012 study conducted by the Center for Economic and Policy Research contends that inflation is the not the only variable at work in this issue. According to the study, increased productivity since 1968 should put the minimum wage at above $21.

Twenty-one dollars an hour is pushing it, but the idea makes sense. Technology allows tasks to be performed faster, and therefore, employees get more done with the time allotted to them.

If an employee is getting more done during a day on the job, their hourly pay should reflect that. No matter how you slice it, American workers are getting paid too little for the work they do.

Opponents of the new California legislation argue raising the minimum wage will cause employers to hire less people. In a recent LA Times editorial, Kevin A. Hasset said that unemployment and poverty rates will be unaffected and there are better ways to pump money into households with low income, such as expanding the earned income tax credit.

Rush Limbaugh, on his radio show on Aug. 29, made the case that those who advocate higher wages for food service employees don’t think about the repercussions of paying a McDonald’s worker $15 per hour, an amount they and other fast food employees protested for in recent months.

“Maybe the consumer doesn’t want to pay $10 for a Big Mac so that people working at McDonald’s make $15 an hour,” Limbaugh said on his show. “It’s not just a one-way strata.”

These opposing arguments make valid points. No one wants to pay more for something just because the government decided to increase a worker’s minimum pay by a few bucks.

But look at the work they do for that money.

These employees are on their feet for hours, often times doing manual labor, and they get mistreated by the people they serve far too often.

Whether an employee is a teenager who landed their first job, or a wife who wants to help make more money for her household, increasing the minimum wage puts more cash in the pockets of consumers, which translates into increased spending and helps the economy grow.

On top of that, it puts more money where it belongs — into the hands of those who work their asses off for it. This country could use a little more appreciation for those types of people.

Service workers who get paid minimum wage deserve to be recognized and paid like other workers in higher positions in our society.

What’s God Got To Do With It?

Religion can define and affect a person in so many ways, as it did for me; but there came a point when I stopped and pondered on how far I can let religion rule my everyday life.

My Catholic education began when I was four years old. While going through elementary and high school, I went to church once a week, taking some sort of religion-based class every year. My religious education included knowing about morality, values and what being a “good person” meant in the eyes of God and Jesus Christ.

This was ongoing for 13 years–almost half of my life–until I ended the religious aspects subjected towards my lifestyle. Now, at the age of 27, I can confidently say that all those years of religious education and guidance were completely unnecessary in helping me become the person that I am today.

However, I used to enjoy being religious. When I did go to church, I was an active participant in every aspect of the proceedings, including singing in the church choir.

Prayer was also a regular part of my life. I asked God to protect my family, friends, and myself–as well as everyone else in the world who needed a helping hand.

But something happened in my second year of confirmation class at St. Monica High School, and the enjoyment vanished.

We were given a homework assignment that consisted of over 100 questions that was due in a few months. One of the questions was to find out where my local priest lived, write down the location, and find out some general information about that priest. It was at that moment that I wondered what that question had to do with religion and being closer to God, which is why I was putting myself through confirmation in the first place.

The entire assignment was bogus, causing me to stop going to confirmation class altogether.

Then, in my senior year, I went to Kairos, a retreat that was supposed to bring those who attended closer to God. For me, God was never a part of it. All the retreat did was give me a chance to connect with classmates I wouldn’t have associated with otherwise.

After I graduated high school, religion came to be less and less important in my life. I made it a point to question everything about religion and to do research–not only on Catholicism–but the Judeo-Christian movement as a whole. The more I searched, the less I felt that I needed it as a part of my life, and I disconnected myself from it.

My main issues with religion were all the rules and restrictions that seemed to be inescapable. Does God really care if you have sex before marriage? Or keep kosher? Or if you’re attracted to members of the same sex? There has to be more important things for God to worry about than these trivialities. These are aspects of life that we should be deciding on by ourselves, without the aid of religion.

I have friends who are gay and they’re some of the greatest people I know. I love me some bacon, which is the furthest thing from kosher. And as far as I’m concerned, falling in love with that special someone can’t happen until you’ve had sex. I hope to be married someday and that can’t happen if I’m not in love with the person. So, something’s got to give, and these decisions should be only ours to make.

These issues are not based on faith, nor are they conducive to strengthening one’s personal relationship with God or Jesus. They are merely traditional practices and attitudes that should be treated more as harmless personal preferences, rather than damning life choices that will land someone in “Hell.”

The other misnomer is the notion that morality and values are formed because of a religious foundation. The most classic example of this is the “Ten Commandments,” which teach you not to steal, kill, commit adultery and so on. I used to follow the Commandments, and while I wasn’t perfect, I genuinely did my best.

But when you think about it–with the exception of the commandments specifically mentioning God–they’re all common sense things, practices we should know as we grow up. “Thou shall not kill; thou shall not steal.”  This is a common sense thing any moral , decent person easily understands.

A person doesn’t need to go to church, pray, or even believe in a higher power to understand that it’s morally wrong to do those things. A person can learn to be moral and virtuous without the aid of religion.

Even the comprehension of gray-area commandments such as, “honor your father and mother,” or “thou shall not commit adultery,” come with experience more than anything else.

How are you supposed to know that it’s wrong to cheat on someone unless you have actually cheated or been cheated on, and experienced the immense feeling of guilt that leads you to never do it again? Real life lessons come through making mistakes, not by reading religious books.

Don’t get me wrong. Religion definitely has all the right intentions. It gives people a sense of direction in their lives, helps them feel better about the concept of death, and it’s a genuine opportunity to relate to those with the same belief structures.

But when you start letting all the little rules and restrictions take away your inherent right to learn from your mistakes, that’s where the problems arise.

If it wasn’t for me deciding to experience my life on my own terms, without the constraints of religion, I wouldn’t have had the experiences that made me who I am today.

Some experiences were difficult, and I made many mistakes along the way, but they are my experiences that I will remember for life.

I would rather go through life learning from my own mistakes, instead of constantly worrying about what God, Jesus and the rest of my religious community might think of me when I make a mistake.

Life is too short for that kind of rationale.

CDs: They’re Not Done Yet

You scream out of excitement and joy as you hear that your favorite artist or band is recording a new album. It’s been a while since they’ve put out new music, and even longer since you’ve seen them in concert. So, with every intention of getting that album in your hands—caressing it as if it were your most prized possession—you wait for its release like the dedicated fan you are.

You wonder if you can somehow, against all odds, get that artist or band to sign their new CD for you at their show, and add it to your CD collection.

But therein lies the problem; because of the rise of digital music downloads and the changed landscape of the music industry, CDs just aren’t popular anymore, and it’s rare to find people who become excited over holding an album in their hands. It’s even hard to find an actual retail music store these days.

Obtaining music digitally has grown exponentially ever since the release of Napster in the late 1990s. Nowadays, music streaming services like Pandora and Spotify are making it easier to instantly listen to that new Coldplay or Lady Gaga song with the tap of an app. It’s obvious that buying, downloading, or streaming music online is easier, more convenient and increasingly more cost effective than the alternative; an actual CD.

The error that most people don’t seem to understand that they are doing is that they are choosing convenience over substance. Going to your local record store and picking up the CD of an artist you love is an unparalleled experience of satisfaction and joy. The feeling of ripping open the plastic covering and opening the case to reveal great artwork and liner notes, interestingly designed lyric sheets, artist or band photos, and touching words of gratitude and thankfulness is lost in digital media.

Alyssa Mallen, a Santa Monica College student, still remembers her first CD purchase. It was her seventh birthday, and she had been waiting for the day she could buy the brand new Spice Girls album.

“I was so excited to buy my first CD and was like ‘I’m one of the cool kids now!’”

Another great thing about CDs is that they often are re-released as deluxe editions of a previous release. For example, if an album had 10 songs on it, it could be re-released at a later time with extra songs that were not on the original album. In addition to more songs, there may be a DVD documentary about the artist or band making the album or going on tour. These extras are normally not available in a digital release. Deluxe editions of CDs often come with unique packaging, custom-made with the collector in mind. You won’t get any of that good stuff on iTunes or Pandora, so a physical album is your best choice.

Santa Monica College student Sam Green said he downloads music online “99 percent of the time.” But he understands the value of getting a physical copy of a CD, compared to an online version. “I think CDs absolutely still have a place in the world, if only just for nostalgic value, and to have something physical to hand to an artist and say ‘Will you sign this?’” Green also said that if he really likes a band, he will go out and buy their CD.

Even with digital music on the rise, CDs are still going strong. In the first half of 2012, 61 percent of all albums sold were CDs, according to a report by the Nielsen Company and Billboard. This could potentially mean that people like SMC student Ashley Reese, whose trips to the record store have sentimental value, still have hope.

“I remember going to the record store all the time,” Reese said. “That would be our thing when my parents got divorced. My dad would take us to the record store and the book store. He’d buy us a book and a CD.” Reese often goes to the record store and buys multiple CDs at one time, stating that she buys CDs from artists that she knows will deliver an album worth listening to in its entirety.

CDs are not just something a person buys. They represent memories that we hold in our hearts, and reflect on the time we listened to that album for hours, basking in its glory. They remind us of a simpler time when we sat on our beds and sang at the top of our lungs, along with our favorite bands, while reading the lyric sheets that came in the CD case.

In a digital world of ever increasing vastness, it would be nice to have some things stay within the tangible. Even if CDs were to be replaced one day, let it be for something similar but better, the way Blu-Ray succeeded DVDs. Otherwise, we lose the little things that hold deep value and meaning.