I loved Creative Recreations, a shoe brand whose shoe designs reminded me of a pair of classic Vans, except for a velcro strap that reached from the inside of the shoe to the outside. Infatuation with Creative Recreations began as a mere seedling in sixth grade by friends already animated by a fever for popular footwear. It perplexed me at first, to observe my classmates abandon their muddied and scratched up tennis shoes and Adidas, replacing them with several pairs of sleek Nikes, Jordans, and even Supras. The origins of the money to buy those gleamy, new shoes perplexed me even more because if anything distinguished itself as an anomaly within the households of Sacred Heart Nativity school students, it was money. Yet, the new wave for “shiny new things” continued washing down the halls of our school, steadily rising until my classmates swam in its apparent fresh waters, a tolerance fixed into their heads, and eventually, into mine as well. Steadily, this seedling of tolerance, and then desire for new shoes sprouted, bloomed until I was as obsessed with shoes as my middle school counterparts. This began my dignifying mission to possess, to steal the appearances of fellow classmates, claim them as my own, and declare myself supreme master of all material things.
Daily, I investigated different shoe brands, from Nike to Jordan to Reebok, all in effort to match the quantity of knowledge my friends ostensibly inherited for footwear. I explored countless websites, from Nike to Zumiez, as I hunted for the brands and styles of shoes that graced my classmates’ feet, and further investigated the locations to buy them from. Despite it all, however, there resided a slight “tug” inside of me, pulling me away from completely imitating my friends. I still clung onto a relic of individuality and so I investigated shoes that remained more underground, but would still conjure compliments. Eventually, my fastidious research led me to discover Creative Recreation, a relatively unknown shoe brand that still carried a sense of vogue, casual fashion. They happened to be cheaper, too – around 40 dollars. I remember when a classmate acknowledged my Creative Recreations the first day I wore them to school, saying, “You finally got some cool shoes. What are they?” From that point on, gradually, compliments and questions began to drizzle on me and I reveled in the atmosphere of praises and wonder coming from the mouths and stares of my classmates. Wearing those shoes liberated me, to push me off the ground and carry me through misty clouds. I had ingrained myself into the fabric of social popularity while still managing to salvage distinction by avoiding the recurrent brands they wore and settling on the unheralded one.
During middle school my four pair collection of Creative Recreation was all I needed to prove a worthy competitor in my peer battle of material superiority, until it wasn't. My competitors moved from glamorizing their feet to glamorizing their entire appearance. Although they merely shifted from buying clothes from general merchandise stores to spending at the stores of the San Jose malls, following that pattern proved taxing. This “shopping upgrade” revealed itself as expensive and protracted, a hobby shared by friends that invoked brief aesthetic pleasure, therefore providing flashes of lifted self-esteem. At first, I blamed myself for not pacing along friends in their race for more material gain. Why did it appear so feasible for them to acquire an assortment of newly released Nike T-shirts, Diamond sweaters with the $50 khakis from zumiez and the uber-expensive Dri-Fit socks, while it was the opposite for me? Expecting my family to compensate for my destitution revealed itself as a luxury my family didn’t have. Therefore, I reluctantly continued buying my clothes from the Targets, the TJ Maxxs, and Marshalls, and a slight shame draped over me, causing me to keep my shopping endeavors discrete. What made me different from those classmates of mine? Their household incomes were near equal, if not more modest than mine. I doubted middle school students worked jobs, earning money, and subsequently spending expenses on apparel. Frustrated with my own shortcomings in this battle for material gain, I pushed my mother for visits to the mall, for money for the great cause of “personal uplifting” through superficial possession. I needed those clothes because my friends needed those clothes.
As I think back to those days in middle school, I realized how feeble this mindset for material wealth was. How petty my peers’ and my own mission was to acquire vast quantities of vogue apparel. Continually updating oneself on what was “poppin” proved exhausting, and, ultimately, worthless.
Initially, I blamed myself for falling into the trap of this chase for material gain. I blamed a weak mind, easily gullible and impressionable, a mind that could be stretched or squeezed into any form by the hands of the controller. But then, who controlled my mind? Who contorted my mind to divert away from creative expression, like drawing and writing, to concentrate wholly superficial interests? My curiosity did not pinpoint any single individual foul of poisoning the youth’s mind with petty objects, but instead an entire culture designed to make us buy, buy, buy, and barricade us from true passions. We lose ourselves when we decide to let money and clothes and shoes and cars, etc. control the directions of our intentions and actions. We let chains of marketing drag us farther and farther away from our creative roots and innate passions. I lost myself in the whirling tornado of material objects, its winds supplied by the companies and corporations targeting my peers and I to lead us away from our youthful passions and into the fallacies of material pleasure.
But, friends, brothers, cousins, all my peers who represent those most susceptible to this culture’s message of “necessary material possession” pushed onto us, know that we are not creators of this cultural fabrication, but its receptors expected to, one day, champion the proponents of our culture into the minds of the new generations. This invisible force inflicts our youthful, developing minds and squeezes out the juices of our creativity, extinguishes the rebellious fires inside our heads. How do we disband ourselves from developed superficial interests intertwined into the frames of our minds? How do we separate ourselves from interests that we have nurtured ourselves to feel comfort in? To, most importantly, feel accepted in? Even if the will to shed ourselves from superficial interests is there, how will we know what to fill the ensuing emptiness with? Although a tall task for many of us, we can escape this fate by questioning the trivial meanings and reasons behind this race for material gain. How much money am I spending on the clothes that I’ve bought? How much time and effort have I placed into these superficial items? Is there something else I can be doing? Something more I could be spending my money on? What is it that I’ve always wanted to do? Something I’ve enjoyed and want to expand upon? Let us recognize the wasteful amounts of money, time, and effort placed into these spending endeavors, and instead divert that money, time, and effort, into something more beneficial. A beneficial passion we can discover through painting, rock climbing, computer science, teaching, playing an instrument, photography, debate, cooking, running, basketball, astronomy, dancing, singing, business, etc., etc., etc. Lets allow ourselves to be swept away by our innate passions; passions that we can vehemently pursue and master, and that truly distinguish one from the other.
As one in the newer generation, I proclaim that my peers and those younger than I can break this intensifying cycle of material gain and individual loss. We can break the backs of corporations and companies that feed a culture that shrouds our realities, our original desires. We can stop the flow of money gushing into the arms of wealthy men that provide us with overvalued T-shirts for compensation. We can recognize clothes for what they are – simply clothes. There is no mandate requiring us to fancily dress. No biological rule telling us to feel shame when we don’t dress fashionably. We place these burdens on ourselves, and we can easily push them off by acknowledging the worthlessness of a culture that promotes material gain, and then pursue passions that will lead to self-discovery.
I believe that those trapped peers of mine can escape this cultural confinement and rediscover themselves. Hope overcomes me because I believe this culture can still be shredded, crumpled, and thrown away. I believe that newer generations can realize the falsity of this culture and avoid it. I believe because I was able to separate myself from the mild pleasures of superficiality, and I have a voice that will guide those trapped in this culture of “necessary material gain” out of it.