Actor Robin Williams took his own life today. By all accounts an extremely funny, extremely intelligent person, he lost a battle with depression. I’m probably more upset by this than I have any right to be — Mr. Williams being an actor and a public figure whom I enjoyed does not mean that he belongs to me in any sense. It doesn’t seem right to eulogize someone I have never, and now will never, meet, despite his featuring prominently in the entertainment landscape of my childhood. Maybe it’s just that his humor resonated with me, because I see similarities to my own sense of humor… and maybe because his actions today resonate with me, also.
Smart people are also marginalized in our society. Those who suffer with depression and other mental illnesses are likewise stigmatized. We use humor to deflect and cover up our wounds, and then we suffer quietly. Alone. As we spend more time alone, we are observed to be introverted. People who are introverted, on the whole, seem to be less desirable companions and are therefore sought out less by their peers. In the end, you get a bunch of smart, suffering, funny people with no close friends.
And then we kill ourselves because human beings aren’t meant to be islands (Bon Jovi had that right) but what choice does a person have when their territory is being colonized by naysayers and doubters and people who, in general, just want to make you feel bad for being who you are and enjoying what you like.
Seriously. Fuck those people.
This is what being a Stigma Fighter is about. Standing up to the unenlightened masses who would prefer to see a greatly homogenized culture instead of embracing and celebrating our differences, mental illness included. I wonder if Mr. Williams, had he known about our mission, would have joined us. Something tells me he might have done just that.
I never intended to use this blog as a forum for my rants — and I really try to avoid doing so — but given how many of my neighbors and community members have recently spoken with me about the following, I’m going to ask readers to bear with me.
Recently, a Huffington Post article about the 18 Worst Things About Hawaii made the rounds on Facebook. The author made some good points, despite purportedly not being from Hawai’i himself. As it was, though, the article swept the newsfeeds of local people due to one simple fact: We are all so god-damn tired of being accused of living in “paradise”. And I’ll tell you why.
1. Yes, the scenery is beautiful (most of the time) but you will rarely, if ever, have the opportunity to really enjoy it. This is due to the fact that the cost of living in Hawai’i is nearly 50% higher than the average cost of living for the contiguous 48 states. The national average for a gallon of gas is $3.54 — I would kill to be paying so little, when an average trip to the pump will cost me $4.25 a gallon. Of course, gasoline is still cheaper than some food staples: a gallon of milk at Safeway runs between $4.50 and $5.60 a gallon, depending on whether it is on sale or not. This is the reason that you and your roommates/spouse/partner will be required to hold down two or more jobs just to afford the basics. Not a lot of time leftover for lounging at the beach when you’re working 80 hours a week (unless you live on the beach, which plenty of people end up having to do).
2. Don’t think that just because the cost of living is so much higher that your income will be commiserate.Poverty level guidelines from the Department of Health put the poverty threshold for a family of 4 in Hawai’i at $27,090 per year, which you might recognize as more than half of the average salary earned by American males. In fact, certain careers, like teachers for instance, earn LESS than the national average for the same position in another state (about $35,000 in Hawai’i, compared to $56,000 national average). No wonder there’s such a big push locally to raise minimum wage. And if, as many locals suggest you do, you give up and want to go back home, I hope you’ve been saving up for that eventuality this whole time. The cost of shipping your possessions back to the Mainland is likely more than what they are worth in total.
3. Every time there is inclement weather on the Mainland, you will be inundated with snide comments about how much better/easier/prettier your home island is. Seriously, you can’t so much as make a comment about needing to put on a sweater without some Mainlander questioning you derisively, “What, you think Hawai’i’s cold??” Yes, when it’s 59* outside and your house does not come equipped with windows that shut all way to prevent drafts, it’s fucking cold. Maybe not I-have-to-spend-an-hour-shoveling-the-walk cold, but still uncomfortable. Besides, it actually does snow in parts of Hawai’i. We even get nasty golfball-sized hail every now and again.
4. The traffic is soul-crushing — and I’m from California. Now, I get that LA now owns the illustrious distinction of having the nation’s worst traffic, but that was a recent development — Honolulu was number one on that list until 2013, with an average of 59 hours spent in traffic in 2012. But even if LA is worse, consider how much farther you get to go on the Mainland. Living on the continent, it’s not uncommon to work 20 miles away from where you live — a distance that is hardly achievable on O’ahu. So, the two hours you spend to drive 20 miles is not equivalent to the 2 hours I spend to drive 15. Sorry, it just isn’t.
5. This actually isn’t a very family-friendly place to live. With the median cost of a single family home nearly three times the national average and a nearly equivalent earning potential, it’s not likely that you’ll ever be a homeowner here. This is one of the reasons why multi-generational homesteads are so common. And as I’ve previously mentioned, the cost of living can be difficult to maintain, so it’s not likely that you’ll have the spare cash for a $700 plane ticket to fly back and visit your folks at home. And if you’re considering raising a family here, think about how Hawai’i’s schools are some of the lowest ranked in the nation, and a private school education will cost you $17,000 per child per year, minimum. So just to recap, you can’t afford to own a home, can’t afford to fly out to see your family, the schools are terrible, and you will end up living with your parents, children, brothers, sisters, aunties, uncles, grandma, grandpa — forever — because you can’t afford to live independently.
6. No matter what your skin color, somebody thinks you’re a fuckin’ haole. I’m really surprised this fact didn’t make it on to the Huffington Post article about the worst things about living in Hawai’i because this is a widely known truth — if you don’t look Local, get ready to rumble. Maybe this isn’t something people like to talk about, since we all like to believe that Hawaii is America’s melting pot, but truth be told, everyone’s a little bit racist out here. Sometimes, it’s a well-meaning kind of racism (if there is such a thing), like comedian Frank De Lima performing skits for school children that rely heavily on the racial stereotypes developed during Hawai’i’s plantation boom, when immigrant workers from over the world poured into the state to find work in the fields. We laugh when he sings a Filipino Christmas, and when he talks about the Portagees (my people) and Haole Anonymous. But most of the time the underlying racist attitudes carried by the born-and-bred locals harken back to the ancestral memory of Native Hawaiians being denied rights to their own land. The Hawaiian word “haole” actually means “foreigner,” though it’s most commonly applied to white people, because, let’s face it, it’s always the whities who show up thinking they own the place. This in turn translates in to a sort of running joke that really isn’t funny: “Oh no, I don’t go to the beaches out Ewa-side — I don’t wanna get beat up!” And given particular conditions, shit can get real ugly, real fast.
7. You will mostly likely be sick a good portion of the time, at least for the first few years (and then periodically forever after). The climate in Hawai’i is special, and by “special” I mean “stupid”. If you’ve ever suffered from an autumnal hayfever, be forewarned: pollination season for some native plants is year-round, and guava trees are especially pernicious to the allergy prone. Not to mention vog, the toxic mix of volcanic ash and noxious gases that drifts back over the East-most islands from the West in Kona wind weather. If you’ve ever had asthma, you’re in for a real treat. Especially since climate change is shortening the number of tradewinds that we have and increasing the number of Kona winds we get instead. I never had sinus problems in the 18 years that I lived in California, but after moving to Hawai’i, I need antibiotics at least twice a year.
8. You will get island fever and it will make a polar vortex sound like an adventure you’re willing to take. Granted, I’ve never lived in a place where I have had to shovel snow. If I had, I probably wouldn’t think it looks so pretty. But by that same token, you have never lived on an itty bitty island in the middle of the Pacific ocean that offers you just over a 20 mile radius to explore. No road trips, no weekend get-aways (unless you can drum up the cash to island hop), and a very limited number of things to do that aren’t outdoorsy — I mean, I like to hike and snorkel, but I could do with a little art and culture every now and then. Which leads me to my next point…
9. Make a list of your favorite things. Now tear it up, because you’ll never find them here. Your favorite bands will never come play here, and if they do, the show will probably cost you hundreds of dollars, if you can get tickets at all. Heard about a new art exhibit traveling the country? Yeah, Honolulu probably isn’t on the list (worse, if you live on a neighbor island). Or maybe you enjoy live televised sports? I hope you’re willing to watch that football game at 7:00am on a Sunday, because depending on daylight savings time (which we don’t have), Hawai’i is up to 6 hours behind the continental US. And the list just goes on and on: chain restaurants and department stores that you love have no local establishments, shipping costs severely limit the amount of things you have justify buying online, and new products released on the Mainland will take untold extra time to make it out here, if they come at all.
10. In large part, it’s like living in the middle of a giant tourist trap. Just like Vegas, San Francisco, New York, and other city destinations, Honolulu is crawling with tourists on the daily. But they don’t just stay in the city. They get in their rental cars and clog up streets all over the island, pulling over on the freeway to take photos of the Ko’olau Mountains and flooding all of the three major malls on island to find more tourist schlock they can bring back home. The majority of business establishments prefer to cater to the tourist industry, since it’s so profitable, which means insane mark-ups on products and services that you won’t see elsewhere.
11. You will be frequently assailed by the Paradisiacal Guilt Complex. Whether it’s your Mainland family and friends giving you a hard time when you complain about work because “at least you live in Hawai’i” or your own feelings of anxiety when you decide that you’ve had quite enough sun and just want to lay in bed all day, someone is always going to assume that since you live on a tropical island, there is a certain way you ought to spend your time (as if you could really afford to go to the beach everyday). You might even develop feeling of mild hatred for the beauty that surrounds you, because it seems to mock you every time you have a bad day: how dare you not recognize what a paradise you live in! You are blessed, damn it! BLESSED! Yes, well, it really is gorgeous, but I still have to work, I still have bills to pay, and I’m still wasting half my life in traffic. I don’t have the same right to bitch and moan as someone from Schenectady because my backdrop is prettier? I call bullshit.
So there you go. In addition to the things mentioned of HuffPo, another 11 reasons why living in Hawai’i kind of sucks. That being said, I know there are worse places to live. I guess my consolation prize for living on the verge of poverty forever is all the pretty rainbows I get to see and periodic whale watching.