Thursday, September 29, 2011

Attention Seeking

Attention. We all want it and yet we all deny that need for it. Girls cry out for it with their clothes and their makeup and the hours they spend making themselves up in the morning, each of their carefully maneuvered move. Boys... While I'm not one myself, I'm guessing that their needs are similar but they project it differently. I'm guessing the reason why so many of them seem to act so stupid and cocky, particularly the ones who have not fully recovered from Eighth Grade Stupid Syndrome, is because of that very need.

I've been thinking about this topic for a couple of days but being let out for the Jewish holiday Rosh Hashanah (there's a lot of Jewish kids in my school district, hence why we have that excuse for no school) has given me more time to do so.

There are certain socially accepted rules on how to get attention. Girls aren't supposed to act out like boys do because it's weird; they are supposed to get attention in a variety of subtler ways. There's the wearing of however much makeup they can get away with wearing without looking like a slut. The same goes with wearing super-tight, super-revealing clothes (sky's the limit with this one, almost). Then there's always the I'm-going-to-seek-compliments-by-hating-on-myself (although it's hard to differentiate between someone who is truly hating on themselves and who is doing it to get attention). Of course the biggest rule of all is to never admit that you're trying to get attention because then that makes you look pathetic or conceited or whatever.

Being as I am not a boy myself, I can only speak from observation about them. It seems like the socially accepted ways for them to get attention by being loud, bad-ass and pretending not to give a shit. And, of course, like girls, I quite imagine that their casualness is quite forced and that they too think about every move they make.

I mean, don't get me wrong, attention seeking isn't always a bad thing as long as it's done tastefully. Feeling like wallpaper really sucks. A lot of people think that the kind of attention seeking shown by teenagers that I mentioned above proves that they have low self-esteem and all that. I won't deny that sometimes it really does. It seems that attention is something you do when you are high on confidence too (well except for compliment fishing. That's always done in moments of low self-esteem). Make-up can make you feel prettier and it can make you feel like you can approach someone.  Feeling like you can pull off super-tight, super-revealing clothes... That is definitely a liberating feeling, at least for me. I know that one of my friends thinks it looks desperate and that they're being pressured to conform to it but I don't think so. I mean... of course you're doing it for attention but it's almost as if you're doing it to increase that confidence even more. A compliment from someone undoubtedly does that.

Of course, when seeking attention, this attention has to be the right kind of attention. If people are going to laugh at you or look upon you with disgust then you are probably going to do your best to slink away and fade into the background.

For example, there is one unique boy who is infamous in our grade (an impressive feat, I might add, considering our grade has a little more than 460 kids in it). He is known for making comments that make other kids uncomfortable such as joking about his future take-over of the world and such. For English class, he even brought an ultrasound picture of himself instead of a current one.

People respond quite negatively to this of course and I am sure he has quite often received shocked and disgusted looks. Yet it seems quite obvious that he is doing it for shock value and... it works. No one really knows my name but his... Well, that's a different story.

I quite imagine this is his way of getting attention and I find it kind of interesting. I wonder if he is doing this because it is his way of getting the attention he needs or if it is his way of voicing his disdain at his peers or simply because he needs to believe that he can. Regardless, I find his nonconformity admirable no matter what his reasoning is behind it.

I suppose that I just find this topic fascinating, just as I find human behavior fascinating. No one really likes to live life governed by unwritten rules but we do anyway; the rules of seeking out attention are no exception to this.

What I'm trying to say is that everyone does it, attention seeking. We are social creatures and this is nothing to be ashamed of so long as it is done in moderation (because doing it too much and trying to make it too obvious does look a little pathetic and conceited). Attention seeking doesn't make you pathetic or conceited or full of low self-esteem but it makes you human.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Importance of Community

Community. It's what gives many people worth, makes them feel like they are a part of something and can contribute to that something. Sometimes people take it for granted, especially when their friendships seem so great and everlasting.

It is only when you lose that sense of community that you begin to appreciate just how important it is; that very feeling that a sense of community takes up is an empty place inside of you and when you are in places filled with groups of people that emptiness throbs inside of you like the beat of a drum. You feel like a freak, a loser, worthless. Society calls these people outcasts, loners, rejects. Rarely are these people treated with sympathy or compassion but instead with scorn, indifference or disgust.

Right now I do feel like I have that sense of community or at least somewhat. It wasn't that lack of community that made me yearn for it so badly like it usually is. This time it was by being at a club that I thought of this.

Maybe it's such a little thing to set off this kind of thinking. Kind of silly, if anything, and maybe a little pathetic. I can't say it's the first time that I've been surrounded by people who are like me (that was the sleepaway camp I went to the past summer) but still... It's not something that happens to me often and when it does I savor every moment of it.

I mean, let's face it, not many teenagers like intelligent things. Most of them don't read often and they don't engage in debate. It's pretty rare to find someone who can think for herself much less multiple people. Basically that means it's hard for me to find people to relate to; it's hard for me to be able to sift through the masses to find those very people.

Community is something that has always mattered to me. I'm a teenager so I'm sure that I'm not alone in this desire. As a human being, you can't help but be sucked into the want because human beings are social creatures. Going without interaction for a long period of time makes a person insane. Speaking from personal experience, living life without a sense of community (but with some interactions) can make you a little insane too. That's the first reason it's important I suppose.

One reason that community is important because it gives you a purpose. You are there to make people feel good. In a good community, you should be an integral part of the group that other group members couldn't go without (the only reason I say "good" is because that with certain groups of friends the people have barely any emotional connections towards each other especially in cliques). Community gives you a sense of belonging to something, something a little bigger than yourself sometimes.

Another thing is that community gives you an opportunity to bounce your ideas off of others and to talk about things you're really passionate about to someone else who understands it/ has similar opinions on it (especially if it's something no one else gives a shit about).

Community also gives you something to look forward to.  Even if the day sucks and you hate school, you can always look forward to seeing your friends at the beginning/end of the school day, in lunch and/or in certain classes.

Plus, community gives you a sense of belonging. You don't feel like such a freak when you have a bunch of other people who think and feel the same way that you do. You don't feel like an outsider. Instead, you feel accepted and welcomed.

More than anything else, a sense of community makes a person feel good. Just the knowledge that someone cares about you and is looking out for your best interest is enough to get through the day and through life.

Now, I know what you're thinking... You're probably thinking how creepy it is that I got that much out of a club. I didn't. This post was partly inspired by being in the club but mostly inspired by past experience. Being in the club surrounded by like-minded people just got me thinking about everything and set the ball in motion.

Bottom line is that having a community and feeling like you belong is super important to a person's well-being. Community influences you in so many ways and not being a part of one does too. I hope it's a joy that everyone experiences, regardless of who you are and what you like.

Oh and just a nice little side note- If you see someone without one, try to invite them in. Even if things don't work out, it will still matter to them a lot.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Death Penalty

Note: Links are not provided here but I can provide them if asked. Oh and if anyone is pro-death penalty and happens to know my email (assuming you are family or a friend), I'm always up for a good debate!

People spoke. They ranged from everyday citizens to the Pope and presidents past. Still, with little evidence (not even the weapon itself), a man was killed. The Supreme Court and Georgia State let it happen.

And you know the saddest reason? If he was white, he probably would still be alive. He might even have been acquitted for the crime or he might not even have been charged for it at all. Unfortunately, Troy Davis was a black man living in the South in 1989 and he happened to be present during the killing of a cop. Maybe he did it and maybe he didn't but I'm sure that it really didn't matter. He was guilty in the jury's eyes either way.

We talked about it in class and had some very interesting discussions. Today I have become even more against the death penalty than I was before.

My biggest issue against the death penalty is how arbitrary it is. You wouldn't be punished for a murder in New Jersey as you would be in Texas. Certain laws may vary state to state somewhat but we are supposed to be UNITED in similar laws. There's a huge difference between putting someone in jail and executing them.

I'm afraid that it's not just a matter of location. It's also a matter of race. As I alluded to above, minorities get treated very differently than their white counterparts. Black people are more likely to be put on death row than a white person committing the same crime. Made worse is the fact that in cases involving a black murder victim, the white perpetrator is less likely to be put on death row than if the victim was white. Is the murder of a black person any less terrible than that of a white person's? Is their life really worth that much less? I've stated before that I find racism abhorrent but usually it's not a matter of life and death. In this case, it unfortunately is.

This isn't the only reason that I'm against the death penalty however.

For one, many of the men currently being killed were tried on evidence with technology that wasn't as advanced as it is now. They are being killed on insufficient evidence. Take for example the West Memphis (they all happened to be white so the racism argument admittedly doesn't apply to them). In the tiny town they lived in, three boys were brutally murdered in an apparent Satanic cult ritual. They were all friends, outsiders who dressed in black and listened to heavy metal but that was about the only incriminating thing about them. DNA evidence cleared them of the crime. Another important point to consider with this is that odds are the death penalty will kill innocent people, especially when this kind of evidence is offered.

Secondly, the current methods of execution (lethal injection in particular) are violent and borderline torture as well as the time in solitary confinement spent before they are killed. Potassium chloride is administered after sodium pentothal, which is supposed to put the prisoner to sleep. However, there is very little time between its administration and the prisoners often feel a great deal of pain before their death. Solitary confinement produces depression, anxiety, hallucinations as well as a variety of other symptoms. Without others to confirm what you are seeing, you lose a grip on what is going on around you. No matter what these people have done, they are still citizens and have a certain set of rights.

The final and most practical reason against the death penalty is its cost. Between appeals and the money it costs to kill someone, it actually costs more to kill someone than it is to put them on death row. Taxpayers' money is being spent on something completely unnecessary.

Many pro-death penalty people bring up is the relief it brings to the victim of the families and of how these people deserve what they dished out. These families, however, are grieving and therefore irrational. They are by no means able to see the full picture of the situation. By no means should we go by their logic. Our country is not a vigilante system but it is a system that is supposed to be based off of reason. Anyway, what good do their deaths do? It certainly won't bring back their victims.

In conclusion, the death penalty is unethical and a practice our country would do better without.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

DADT Repealed!

Movements and communications kept in check, a constant looking over the shoulder and a constant, permeating fear of being discovered. Everything incriminating had to be kept a secret- a relationship, visits to certain bars, etc. For years, that was the life of a gay service member in the US. It was a law that was supposed to help these men and women yet it was abused so regularly. Yesterday it was just repealed though it was certainly a long time in the coming.   
I know that I'm a little late on this... It's miraculous that I got to write this now (and that my homework was merciful enough for me to let up enough to relax a little) and I'm squeezing this in because I feel it's an important thing to talk about.

One may ask why these men and women would feel the need to announce this or even wonder why this is so important. Some homophobes may feel that it is the attempt of gay people to push their lifestyles on others. Yet it is a very important issue and a lot more complicated than these people are making it out to be.

At the very least, it is showing that mindsets are changing. It shows that even if things aren't perfect, they are certainly getting better. If Don't Ask Don't Tell is repealed that is one step closer to other LGBT victories such as repeals to discriminatory laws such as DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act).

The most major thing of course is the difference that it will make in these soldiers' lives. Most of those serving really don't care what sexuality you are as long as you do a good job. There are always exceptions to that rule unfortunately, which is why this injustice has happened for so long. I saw a cartoon a few months back with two caskets and a heading underneath it that asked: "Which one is the gay one?" That struck a chord with me. I mean, do their sexuality make them any less of a hero? Any less of a solider? Any less of a human being? It's not even a difference that you can usually tell unless the person discloses it themselves.

Despite its name, DADT didn't always quite work out that way. Many of the men and women discharged under the policy did not even disclose their sexuality but were discovered or outed by superiors or fellow servicemen. Many of these men and women have offered years into the service only to be dismissed into such a disrespectful way.

It isn't just that, though. Sexuality isn't all of a person obviously but I'm sure that many married or involved in a relationship would agree that their spouse/ lover plays a significant role in their lives (as well the children they've had with them, if they have had children with them). Straight couples never have to think about holding hands or kissing in public (which I find totally rude regardless of the genders of those involved but that's me personally) or proclaiming their love to each other. A straight person never has to think about confessing a crush to a friend or admitting they have a boyfriend or girlfriend. LGBT couples and people, on the other hand, risk persecution and harassment for daring to commit these same behaviors. For a long time, gay military service members who dared do this with their partners back home risked being fired.

But now they don't. DADT is dead!

There's a long way to go, of course. Prejudice is far from over and LGBT members of society still face it frequently. But still... This is a far kinder America than ones of years past and hopefully it will be a kinder one for the next generation. To any straight people out there, this is an issue that matters even if it may not apply to you. I am speaking from the point of view of a straight high school girl and from one relatively knowledgeable about history. Minorities get nowhere without the support of the majority around them and that's why it's so important for straight people to get involved too. As a someone of the female gender living in the United States, the reason I have any rights is not just because of the women who so bravely fought for them but also because of the men who fought with them.

In conclusion, the taste of progress is always sweet, no matter what is progressing.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Technology

I am a child of a technological age. I have been on the computer my whole life and using it is as easily as drawing a breath. My teachers don't write on chalkboards but they write on smartboards; they often give us assignments that require the use of a computer and I have handed in an assignment through the computer. I have had whole conversations with another person where I have not even heard their voice and I have even once had a conversation where I had seen their body movements and heard their voice when they were miles away from me.

Is this a good thing or a bad thing? After being bombarded with assignments and projects that do require a lot of technology, I am beginning to wonder this. My parents would probably tell you that it is generally a negative thing (after all the kids of their generation didn't have nearly the same levels of obesity and stress that today's kids do).

We do learn differently than our parents did, that's for sure. Our daily lives are also much different than theirs were and so our hobbies and forms of expression. We do not know anything else so this is our normal. We do not feel as if we are missing out on something or that this is detrimental to us because we just don't know any other way.

There are plenty of articles out there about the harm of Facebook and technology and whatever but I bet that most of them are written by journalists my mom's age whose very jobs are at stake as the newspaper industry is dying. Coming from the point of view of a teenager, I think that someone ought to hear the positive things about it too.

For one, it's a lot easier to talk to someone and to keep in touch with someone with today's technology. A person can get a text at any time so even if they aren't there they can answer back later. With phones you have to leave a voice message and not everyone really checks them (at least not frequently). Also mail also takes days to send while e-mails arrive in somebody's account in instants.

Today's generation also has cell phones. Sure there will always be kids who misuse them or use them too much but cell phones are really incredibly liberating. Without cell phones, we wouldn't be able to do half of what we are allowed to do. In my parents' age, kids were given the freedom to roam. Today the ability to access media has made parents a lot more aware of pedophiles than they were before and that same paranoia has spread itself to other areas of our lives (they also think about us getting hit by cars or getting lost or whatever, which I admit are actually rational concerns).

And of course there is the obvious benefit of technology in that it makes things that much more convenient and easier to use. Most teenagers have had to hear our parents nag about how easy they have it and what they had to do when they were their age. Instead of having to lug around eight track tapes and record albums, we have iPods. When we're bored, we have more than three channels to choose from on TV. We also can entertain ourselves in a variety of ways.

Of course, as so many adults like to tell us, there are admittedly drawbacks to technology.

People do abuse it and our generations faces unique problems because of people doing so. Sexting and cyberbullying were issues that my parents never had to deal with and issues that law enforcement is just learning how to handle. There is also, of course, the classic image of a teenage girl texting while having a conversation with her parents and there are kids who text a lot.

Because of texting abbreviations, many of my generation lack the grammar and spelling skills of their parents and sometimes lack the ability to communicate face-to-face as well (though many of those kids probably wouldn't have been as great without texting anyway).

I also think that technology has made my generation less patience. Being used to having things appear in instants, it's hard to wait for things. This is especially true for me.

A lot of kids have become super-dependent on things like video games and TVs and computers (me).

Technology has also made up this exclusive world almost. My best friend and I are the only people I know at my school who do not have a Facebook. I'm not allowed to have a Facebook (to be perfectly honest however the real reason that I don't actively use Facebook is because it's been boring when I've been on it with friends and I've figured it isn't worth the risks) and she chooses not to have one. I almost feel that I'm missing out on an entire world as I hear my friends talk about what happened on Facebook that night or what's been posted on their walls.

This is an interesting topic and it's one that I don't have all of the answers for. However much we may try to deny it or change it, the world is a constantly changing place and we can do nothing about that. I can only imagine the world thirty years ago.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Societal Expectations of Beauty/Intelligence

Some days societal expectations squeeze us like a mighty fist until we are wrung dry of everything we have and have nothing left to offer. In our sorry states, we come home and we give our parents shit and they call us moody. We have crops from the perceived beauty and reputation patrol huffing down our necks and commanding us to obey and then we have homework creeping around the corner. We are teenagers, the most hated age group and one of the hardest to deal with. Toddlers and elders are hard to deal with too but at least they are cute and sometimes pleasant; teenagers are simply acne-ridden monsters stuck in the in-between and we rarely offer happy moments.

Maybe it's just me but it seems that ever since the age of technology, these societal expectations have become increasingly stricter and harder to achieve.

A few events in my life have happened recently that has made me feel like this has been becoming more and more important to address.

I'll start with beauty first, because it seems like the most obvious and pressing issue. Despite the fact that it's been talked about a million times, it's still all just talk. Everyone still hates their body with the exception of a few fortunate souls, and quite frankly it's still pretty freaking obvious that the media still wants us to feel that way and will continue to make us feel that way for its own profit.

Society's first rule concerning beauty is that you are supposed to take pride in your looks and try to reach a certain ideal particularly if you are a girl (though that isn't to say that guys don't feel that way too). Yet at the same time you are supposed to never get there or at least never admit to getting there. The reasons for this are fairly obvious. Insecure people do not want you to get there because misery loves company and your happiness and/or prettiness makes them jealous (some of those people will try to tear you back down). Also the cosmetics industry wants us to feel sucky about ourselves so we keep buying their stuff. This is a vicious, vicious cycle

Beauty is a social construct and pretty much objective. This should seem fairly obvious, but lately it seems that more people have been forgetting it (including myself). The definition of beauty has been changing over time and will probably change again. Fat, pale and busty used to be in but now it's made almost a complete U-turn. Today it's skinny, busty and tan (although this has been becoming less and less important over the years, it seems). Being as these models today are so skinny, it might even be that little to no boobs are in. So if it's not concrete or defined, can't we create beauty for ourselves? If we can define beauty for ourselves, can't we make it to fit our body's looks as well as those of others and learn to love each other better? Nope. It's not that simple. For most of us, it will take a long, long time for our definitions of beauty to become more realistic and to become closer to loving our bodies. If it ever happens.

Beauty is a social construct, like I said. It's a way of thinking and it's a way to cast people into boxes. It's a way of thinking. I've come to realize that no matter how much I try to be "pretty" I never will be. Whether my body actually physically comes close to fitting societal expectations of beauty or not is irrelevant. Because if I fix another flaw, I'll find another. And another and another and another. Making your body "prettier" is only fixing a symptom and not the actual problem itself.

It's hard to love yourself when all you know how to do is tear you down and all the people around you only know how to tear themselves down.

A couple days ago, it was noted by a former friend that I was wearing make-up (I say former because I have decided to keep my distance from her due to her past behavior. It's not necessarily something that has been agreed mutually by us but made only by me. This isn't a topic I would like to publically get into, however). I made this decision over the summer because it makes me feel better about myself and more empowered. She made a comment about how it looked as if my lipstick was caked on too thickly. This particular girl has a way of making subtle passive-aggressive comments so that while others and even you yourself might consider them mean, they do have a way of making you feel like shit. No one else really responded to it, except for my one other friend who kind of came to my defense and said it looked fine. A few months ago, I would have taken this to heart and tried to take some of it off earlier. But then and there I simply thought, Fuck you, {insert girl's name}. It was not a problem with me but one with her (as well as stuff she did in the past. Again, a lot of that is stuff for a diary entry not a public blog post).

A friend of mine shared to me that something similar happened to her too, so this isn't a rare occurrence.  It happens all of the time, I bet.

So what I would like to tell her or anyone else who faced something like this a few days ago too (I've also been bullied too so that ties into there) is that that kind of behavior is not okay. It shows a problem with them, not with you. And when you go home and find yourself in front of the mirror crying about it, that isn't okay either. When someone tears into other people, it only reflects them and not anyone they hurt. They are making the problem worse and not better for themselves, though it may not feel like that when they do it. The only way we can fix this is if we confront what we and others think of beauty head-on.

Beauty isn't the only constraint that I face in my daily life. Another societal expectation, at least with teenagers, is one concerning intelligence though it is much more subtle.

You can't be too smart but you can't be too stupid either because if you are either than the teasing is merciless (though unless social issues come along with it, it is easier to be less intelligent than more so). You have to have good grades and be in at least one honors class but God forbid you actually show off your intelligence or admit to it. Intelligence is important but at the same time it isn't.

I am smart, at least in the way that most people have defined intelligence. More so than the average person and certainly more than the average teenager, I suspect.  I'm not supposed to say that because it sounds arrogant but it's true. My intelligence is a natural result of reading and writing as many things as I have so I believe that I have earned the right to say that. However as I say this, I do recognize that there are plenty of others who are still much, much smarter than me and that many of those kids go to my school. Some of those kids, unlike me, didn't even have to work for it (is it still intelligence when you had to work to get there? I don't know). Yet, while my rational brain knows better, I can still berate myself and make myself feel stupid very easily. Or feel too smart when I answer questions.

I think that people feel a lot of pressure in that regard too. Like beauty, it concerns feelings of inferiority and of how people think of us but it is more of a tightrope with intelligence.

"Society" and "the media" are broad, abstract terms. "Society" is you and I and everyone else you know and love. You are a part of society as am I and together we can change the way people generally think for good. When you think badly about yourself or another person for a stupid reason, YOU are perpetrating exactly what you are criticizing.

When you think about it, how important is it? Beauty and importance have very little importance really except for how highly we place it. Intelligence is only important in terms of how it gives you an advantage and how you can use those abilities for the greater good, though hard work and determination are much more important and will get you much, much farther. You can only do so much to change either. Something you CAN change and something that is becoming terribly underrated in society is being a good person. It's not just in the regards of being kind but it's in the regards of being giving and of being caring and of just generally being helpful. In the long run, people will end up responding much more to this even if it doesn't seem so at first. I think that would go a long way into fixing this problem and also creating a better world.

Maybe one day I can teach my children to love themselves more than I do and maybe they'll listen. I hope so.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Handwriting Theories

Handwriting. It's an issue that constantly comes up in school. If it's deemed poor, you are constantly chided for it and told to write neater for both rational and irrational reasons.

Whenever people rag on me about my handwriting, it's mostly people who write neatly. I've been told that it looks like I'm lazy when I write like I do and that it sends the wrong impression. I've been told that girls should have neat handwriting. I've been told that it's chickenscratch and utterly terrible (which is, I admit, deserved most of the time) and that I should practice writing better even when I've written the best I can and when I'm writing a story/poem that I don't have to hand in.

Okay so a few teachers told me in my life that my handwriting made me look bad, spewing some crap about "attention to detail" and how it makes me look less intelligent. Over the years and after persistent nagging from my seventh grade reading teacher (who was awesome but nuts about organization, which I also suck at), my handwriting has improved and when I write schoolwork I do my best to write slowly, which has helped me in more ways than the handwriting issue.

I'll address that theory first, because it's the one that I most frequently stumble upon. Many of the teachers who have said this to me have been teaching for quite a while, meaning they've come across quite a bit of students. I'm surprised that they haven't been enlightened already on the topic already. Yes, most of the slacker boys do have terrible handwriting. Yet on the other end of the spectrum, I've found that most very intelligent people in history and that I've come across do too. Look at Leonardo da Vinci, Sylvia Plath (some copies of her pre-revision poems written in her hand are included in my edition of Ariel in the second portion of the book), Albert Einstein. Their handwriting sucked. I've looked back on my old stuff and it makes mine look like flowing script.

Drawing conclusions from handwriting is ridiculous and teachers really should know better. You could draw multiple conclusions from a person's handwriting but it is hardly an indicator of their intelligence level.

There's a certain type of people who write neatly (and who, to some, "pay attention to detail') who really bother me and who I feel really should be called on what they're doing too For them if you look beyond their beautiful handwriting, you'll find that their papers lack content and that they wrote extra neatly because they were trying to buy time to think of an answer. That they focus more on the cutesy stuff than the important things. I'm sure that some of them do this purposely to make up for that fact so the teachers give them more points than they deserve. The reason that many intelligent people have terrible handwriting is that they are trying to get their hand to make the pace of their thoughts. With the type of people I mentioned here, they tend to think more slowly therefore able to write neater.

I actually kind of used that tactic once. In my seventh grade science class, my teacher called me up to his desk. I went up thinking that I forgot a problem or something. He came up to me, pointed to the essay part of the test, and gawked at it. He said, "*Winter, your handwriting is amazing. What happened?"

What happened was that it took me forever to come up with an answer. Usually I write quickly because I'm trying to get it all down while I can still remember it or while it still sounds good. That particular time the answer only dawned on me a few sentences in. He gave me a lollipop and I got the full number of points for that answer.

Another handwriting theory I have come across is teacher-specific. It's one thing when a teacher who has neat handwriting nags me but quite another when a teacher who has worse handwriting than mine nags me about my handwriting (I've only come across teachers with sucky handwriting from middle school up. I don't know why). They think that just because they are a teacher that their handwriting doesn't matter but that mines has this super-special weight. I get it that they have to grade my paper and everyone else's and that sloppy handwriting slows them down. Yet when these teachers tell me that they are exempt from this rule I almost want to roll my eyes. These are the teachers whose handwriting I have to study and scrutinize on the board (or, well, not me but the other kids in the room. I'm pretty good with handwriting). It's inconvenient for them to read sloppy handwriting but it's also inconvenient for their students to decipher their sloppy handwriting. I almost want to tell them, fix your own first before you nag me or at least show some sympathy for my predicament.

The writing and gender handwriting theory has mostly been implied in daily thinking but it was stated once from a teacher (well, actually the assistant who checked the homework) but that really irked me. It's that boys have sloppier handwriting than girls and girls have neater handwriting than girls. It's just so stereotypical and sexist, putting boys and girls into that mold.Handwriting is handwriting. I fail to understand how you could ascertain someone's gender from that alone. I know that it's minor but I'm worried that kind of thinking manifests itself into bigger ways.

One last erroneous theory that I have come across is that lousy handwriting is always a bad thing.
Leonardo da Vinci, as I mentioned above, had sucky handwriting yet he purposely made it so. On top of it being sucky and horrible, he actually wrote it backwards when he wrote notes on his inventions because he didn't want other people to be able to read it. I never have to worry about snooping family members because my poetry and my diaries are unreadable to them.

I also think that if your handwriting is sloppy, then you are more likely to be able to read other people's sloppy handwriting. Or at least that's what it seems like to me. I've come to this conclusion for various reasons but the handwriting issue has come to light recently. One was that my English teacher this year read the paper I forgot to write neatly and he said he would trash illegible homework assignments. Another was that when yesterday my Spanish partner couldn't read the test we were given (the assignment was to make up our own test and then take someone else's to prepare for the real one) and I could read it mostly without a problem.

Teachers also know exactly who I am by my handwriting. If I forget to put my name on a test, they hand it back to me. The girls with that neater type of handwriting don't have that same luck. It's very distinctive to me, almost like a fingerprint.

It also enables me to write faster, which is really important as a writer (or as a poet, because I type most of my prose out now). If I forget the wording as I originally imagined it, it doesn't sound as good.

Also, as conveyed before, I got a lollipop that one time in science because I wrote neatly previously. When people have low expectations of you in something, it really impresses them if you do a decent job at it. When you usually write sloppily and then all of the sudden write neatly, people respond much more enthusiastically than if you consistently right neatly (there's a lot of things that sound wrong with that statement).

This has been an issue I've faced in school for years. Like I said, my handwriting has improved but it will never be perfect or even good. Bottom line is that my handwriting does not make me less smart or less of a student. It says absolutely nothing about my work ethic or anything like that.

*He called most of us by our last names, except for one boy whose last name was Smith. I changed my last name for the sake of privacy.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Driving While on the Phone

Driving while on the phone. Every driver has done it or at least they've seen people do it. Talking, both handheld and hands-free. Texting. Everyone is against drinking and driving but somehow the above behaviors are okay.

A couple days ago, one of the men who worked for my mom didn't show up to work. The reason? His wife and daughter were in a car accident, hit by a car that was barreling at 40 miles per hour. The driver was on their cell phone. Fortunately, it looks like they're going to be okay (though traumatized) but others aren't so lucky.

When you're younger, you think that your parents would always be able to protect you. They are the big giants ready to beat the monsters under your bed and in your closet. As you grow older, you begin to see your parents' flaws but that feeling never goes away entirely. When you're in the car with them, you trust that you will go to your next destination without a problem. A car accident can't happen to you because your parents are good drivers even though a car accident can be as simple as being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Yet I'm afraid that that man's daughter just had that innocence shattered. She will never think that way again and she will always be a bit on-edge when in a car. But that's the least of what she could have been dealing with now.

My parents drive and talk on the phone sometimes and I still think that nothing will happen to me. My mom says that since she's hands-free, it's not as bad because she has two hands on the wheel. Yet I can think of a couple times when we have fought on the phone over something stupid or she was stressed or we were heavily involved in a conversation over some news event or whatever. Now I recognize how dangerous that could have been and how little her being hands-free means. When you're on the phone with someone (talking and texting), your mind (or at least part of it) is thinking about the conversation not on the road. I'm not invincible and neither are my parents; these people who were in a car crash felt the same way once.

I am more rational than my childhood self. I know now that my feelings of safety more of a delusion than I think they are. I know that my parents would not hesitate to die for my sister and I but it's not that simple. My parents may be good drivers but they are still human, as are the other drivers on the road.

Texting while driving has been proven to be worse than drunk driving but talking while driving is pretty freaking bad too. According to distraction.gov, drivers who use a handheld device are four times more likely to get into crashes serious enough to hurt them. Using a phone (hands-held or hands-free) delays your reactions just as much as having a blood alcohol concentration of 0.8 (a little better than drunk driving as that's the legal limit but just a little). Distracted driving (this is not just using the phone, I admit) is on the rise and it kills.

When you drive, you are putting your life your own life into your hands as well as your passengers and those on the road (who are doing the same with you). I'm not a driver and I don't look forward to becoming one in two years because I know this.

It's really not worth it. That phone call or text really can wait. If you don't think so, just ask anyone whose life has been altered by this destructive behavior.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Clubs

Clubs. They are the very thing that filled me with hope about this year even if at one point it did not seem that there was much hope to go by.

In middle school, there weren't enough of them. Yet now... well it seems as if there are too many of them. I have all of these clubs picked out but not enough time to do them. I have a hunch that all the smart kids finally broke free of their constraints and demanded a place where they could be themselves in peace. Peace without strange, confused looks or snickers or eye rolls. And they got that place. Many, many times over.

I am flooded with clubs. A freaking tidal wave of clubs. There are so many clubs that not even all of them are on my school's website or in their packet of brochures. Something for every eccentricity in the student body. I'm sure to my upperclassmen it isn't nearly as scary but as a newbie to all this.... It definitely is. This is just one more layer to the mountain of change. My best friend wants me to do all these clubs with her and it's like... ah. She's a sophomore and she knows all of these juniors and seniors so she knows her way around. No wonder so many of the clubs I want to join originally barred freshmen.

It all seems like all these clubs meet on Tuesdays and Thursdays, which seriously sucks. That means I can only commit myself to two clubs (this doesn't make any sense. Don't they realize that kids like me have to make this kind of decision?). There's also the little matter of transportation. My school district's budget cuts meant no 5:00 buses, making it very hard on those without cars. I have no idea of when these meetings will end or any of that.

I'm letting myself worry over something silly though. Out of all the problems I could be having, this is super tiny. A good problem, almost. It would be much worse if I could find no clubs at all. The Activity Fair is coming up so I'll get a good look at the clubs then. Anyway with all the announcements, they hardly seem to be thinking of confused freshmen like me (we always have to ruin everything, don't we?).

Sunday, September 11, 2011

September 11, 2001

September 11th is a day that will never be a day that is normal again. I was four when it happened so I personally can't remember a day when it ever was just a normal day. It has always been an anniversary, a moment of silence held on the announcements, a conversation in Social Studies class.

Since I'm an American, I know that I'm supposed to feel like it was a personal tragedy for me. I'm supposed to have memories of that day and I'm supposed to never forget and everything. Like I said though, I was four and in kindergarten. I suppose I must have learned the details of it over time because I don't remember experiencing it or of hearing about it (like I first heard of the Holocaust when I was about eight).

I can't relate to many of the feelings my family has felt about it. Part of me almost feels like, Well no one you knew died, so why are you so sad about it? Of course there's always the compassion and sympathy I feel for the families who lost loved ones. Yet it doesn't feel that much different than hearing of a sad event on the news except for the fact that so many people died at once (yet again I'm sure if you added up all of the dead people reported on the news across the country every day, they would probably be equivalent to the people who died on 9/11 so maybe my feelings aren't entirely misplaced). I can't imagine why anyone else would feel like it happened to them personally. The lingering feelings felt by so many adults that I know is the only thing that keeps it real.

Yet the other part of me cannot begin to imagine the terror that everyone must have felt. The terrible sadness and helpless horror that happens when you watch a tragedy unfold in front of your eyes and are unable to do anything about it (as in, what people must have felt when they saw the towers collapse and people jump). That, I suppose, was the very thread that made it a personal tragedy for all who could comprehend what was going on. I don't live in New York but I do live on the East Coast. I'm sure that everyone in my town must have been thinking that if they bombed New York and Washington D.C. then they could bomb our town or somewhere close to us. They must have been terrified that there was more of them. It's occurred to me once or twice that they hit a building where a lot of accountants worked. My mom is one so I've wondered what my life would have been like if she was one of the people there and that very thought is horrifying. I'm sure that similar thoughts have been thought after 9/11 by kids who were then around my age.

Like I said, I can't empathize with them. I can't feel like it's happened to me because it hasn't. All I can do is imagine what those people must have been thinking stuck in those buildings or in that plane or even in front of that television and those thoughts fill me with a deep sorrow for them.

I also can't fully understand a lot of the post-9/11 feelings that still linger in much of American news and culture. When one of my family members declared her disgust and fear of Muslims (and of course with the thought that being Arab and Muslim were synonymous and she therefore harbored these feelings for both groups), I couldn't comprehend why she would feel that way. It was only after thinking about how she must have been feeling that day and knowing that that was how she processed it that I began to understand. When others declared support for the TSA body scanners as well as torture/wiretapping and other similar government measures, I initially couldn't understand why they would so easily forfeit their freedoms.

I've written of my dislike for bigotry and the importance of our freedoms so I won't write of that again. What I am saying is that as we vow never to forget this tragedy let us vow never to let go of our rational thinking and to never let fear paralyze us to the point in which we cannot function (easier said than done, especially coming from someone who never had to deal with the terror left of 9/11). It's always good to be careful but not paranoid. After all, if this has taught us anything it is that life is short and can end any day. We have to appreciate every day in which we are fortunate enough to live.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Homework

It's that very thing that creeps into your life and smothers you, a silent foe. It's in that casual, dismissive wave calling out to you just as you are about to leave. It's that thing that gets your heart rate climbing and turns your hands into fists ready to pound something out of pure frustration.
Yep, that's right. It's homework. That classic, time-old opponent faced by school-age kids for as long as school's been around.

Given in small doses, it's irksome but manageable. Given in large ones, it's absolutely smothering and frustrating and panic-inducing (especially projects in which I have to race to get the right supplies. I also have this irritating compulsion to make sure everything is perfect, especially if that project is for English).

This weekend I happen to have large doses of homework and it's virtually killing me. Usually I do my homework in one sitting but it was just too much (I multi-tasked and watched one of my favorite shows Criminal Minds online to make it more bearable and make me feel like I totally wasn't wasting my time).

I don't even see the point in it. I've been told we have to do it to "practice" and whatever but I don't see why we can't do it in school. Sometimes teachers seem to give us homework for the heck of it (in these cases, they never check it).

My English teacher last year had to put so much time into grading our Holocaust research papers and it's like, why? Not to sound offensive to anyone but it's harder to fully appreciate the horror of the Holocaust when you have to deal with all the stress of writing a paper on it (I know this shouldn't apply to me as a writer. I actually happened to be pretty passionate about my topic which was how the Holocaust compared to the Rwandan genocide. For all that worrying how much it sucked, I got an A on it). We'd get the point much better watching a super-sad movie on it (we did that too, kind of. It was about these kids in the South who were trying to collect six million paper clips to represent all of the Jews killed in the Holocaust and at one point Holocaust survivors came to the school and were talking about what they went through).

I've found that the better teachers I have don't give as much homework actually. It's not that I like them because they don't give homework (plenty of the teachers who left me confused in their classes were funny and cool to be around just not that great at teaching) but because they tend to actually teach us instead of having us teach ourselves. Instead of dumping all of these projects/homework sheets on us, they'll give one sheet at most or none at all.

I confess that homework is probably a bigger deal to me because of my computer/writing addiction and the pressure/anxiety I put on myself so it's probably says more about me than about any of the teachers I have. Still... Homework's never fun other learning disability because I'm sure this has always been a lot harder for those kids than it's ever been for me.

The sad part is I know it's only just begun. I don't know what I'll do when it gets to its maximum pace (I guess I'll start skipping the lesser assignments).

A lot of the reason I freak out about homework is because I'm worried that I'll screw it up. However, I've made a conscious decision to try not to worry about school this much this year. Grades are only letters and they're definitely not worth my mental sanity. They don't define who I am as a person or as a writer or as a friend. Sure, they may be important for college but it's not the end of the world if I don't get straight- A's. I don't want to think in terms of my GPA or my current percentage or anything like that. I just want to try. If I forget a homework assignment and it lowers my grade a little, I don't want to freak out about it or let it ruin my day.

In summary, homework sucks. Here's another pleas to any teacher possibly reading this. On behalf of all kids who have a learning disability or who are spazes/perfectionists like me or even who just have lives outside of school, please don't feel the need to dump a bunch of homework on your students. Please.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Another Weather-Related Blog Post

It looks like floods have saved the day... again.

I thought all the weather-related posts would be over after Irene but I guess not. We just experienced torrential rains and apparently some areas are flooded (I don't see it). Before school was delayed two hours but just as I finished getting ready, they called school off.

So we already have to make up two days of school and we've barely been there a week. Being as I'm not nervous or stressed, I would much rather have that extra day of summer when I'll really be yearning for a break. A two hour delay would have been good because I would have caught up on my sleep and dealt with less school (but it still would have counted). But no, my school district has to go and screw things up.

At this rate, I'll be going to school in the middle of July (I heard that we ge five days so that if they need more, they'll just take more from our Spring Break. That would totally suck). There truly are four full seasons up here in the Northeast so we will be getting a ton of snow as well as super-hot summers (in other words, snow days will most definitely be used).

Oh well, I'll make the best of today.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Speaking in School

Teachers always love to pick on the poor little shy kid in the corner. Always. Even when these shy kids are alert and clearly listening to what the teacher is saying (or to their other classmates, in some cases). Now I'm sure that these teachers will come back and say it's for their own good blah, blah, blah. Something about "not being a passive learner" or whatever.

However, what teachers don't seem to realize/ remember is this. Usually the shy kid doesn't raise their hand for the following reasons: they A) don't know it or B) know it but are terrified to say something usually because they aren't entirely sure or don't want to be seen as a total geek or know-it-all by the other classmates. Either will make answering the question embarassing for them.

Lately I've been that poor little shy kid. It isn't just in Math, but in English too (obviously you might be able to figure out the standard reasons for both by the information I've given above but it's not always the case for either).

This problem seemed to have first appeared about last year or so and it's only been getting worse. High school has been a lot better in everything but this regard (oh and the anxiety and the stress I so stupidly put on myself. That's been getting worse, too but I've always been a spaz.).

Actually there are times I do force myself to speak up (usually in English and Social Studies) because I really do have something to say and I really want to say it (and prove that I'm not just sitting there like a bump on a log and that I really do have some decent ideas).

It's just that whenever I do speak in class, forced or otherwise, I sound like a complete idiot. Really I do. I feel like everyone is staring at me. My throat closes up, my heart beats super-fast and I somehow struggle to form a response with a tongue that morphs into a flapping, dried-up, super-heavy external organ. Sometimes I wish I was mute so I would have to write everything down instead because (in my logical state, I realize the downside of being mute of course). I can't stop yelling at myself afterwards.

This happened to me in English in this "informal seminar" discussing the short story we were assigned to finish reading. English, the class where I'm supposed to feel most comfortable. I mean I knew and understood the story and I think I had good ideas to offer up. It just didn't sound like it.

On the bright side, it seemed like most of those kids were nervous too and they barely noticed me. But still... I can't help but agonize over it.

It also happened in Math too when I got this super-simple problem wrong because I missed the division symbol, which was in the middle of the problem (damn PEMDAS for making a simple-looking problem so freaking confusing). My teacher there made me go up because I was one of the few who hadn't done so then. I wasn't the first to get a problem wrong but still... I felt like they were all smirking at me and thinking, "Tori is so stupid."

It's just something I really need to work on. You don't get anywhere in life if you just sit at the sidelines and refuse to do things out of your comfort zone. Maybe it'll be something that will get better in time (I mean talking's nothing compared to presenting, which I know I'll have to do soon enough).

To any teachers out there if any so happen to be reading this (which I doubt), please don't feel like you have to pick the shy kid in the back of the room. Let the shy kid raise their hand in due time.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Freedom Vs. Safety

In an ideal world, no person would have to decide. Freedom and safety would be doled out freely to all who sought it. Yet, unfortunately, this is not an ideal world. Many risk their lives every day just to go to a country where freedom can be granted (I was fortunate enough to be born into a country in which these freedoms were already granted to me). Dictators, both of the past and present, use(d) fear as a way to take control of a country, playing up a threat that was nonexistent or in reality much smaller than what it was made out to be(e.g. internal spies, Jews).

I just got done reading this book called After by Francine Prose. The book was about this school that got this grief and crisis counselor when a school fifty miles away had a school shooting. Things get stricter and stricter with all of these crazy rules. Anyone who breaks these rules goes to the mysterious Camp Turnaround. I won't write more about it except that it was one of the creepiest, scariest books I've read in a long time. If horror movies actually had decent, realistic plots like this one instead of stupid Hollywood  clich├ęs then maybe they'd be worth watching...

It sounds far-fetched at first but it becomes more feasible the more you think about it. On a literal basis, it was just about the high school. Figuratively... I definitely see this as being post-9/11 America or at least what it could have been/can still become. After I finished this book last night, I kept thinking about this.

Obviously 9/11 was a wake-up call for harsher security in airports. A repeat of that would have been absolutely horrible and ever more terrifying than the original. It's fair to say that we can live with an extra hour going through airport security if it can prevent even one more person from ever having to go through something like that again.

Yet on the other hand, Americans were also more willing to surrender many of their own personal freedoms and privacies. The government was given permission to search e-mails and tap phone conversations despite it being in direct violation of the fourth amendment. Torture, despite it being against international law, occurred under the Bush adminsitration (and still continues under Obama) against men who often weren't even proven guilty. It would be nice to say that arbitrary arrests and detentions haven't occurred here but I'm afraid Bradley Manning proves otherwise (and I'm sure that there are other cases that have escaped my attention). And, of course, over one million Americans are currently on the watch list.

I'm not going to go as far as to say that the government planned 9/11 or anything like that. What I am saying is that 9/11 left many Americans vulnerable and afraid. That very vulnerability and fear is what made and makes Americans so easily to manipulate and be manipulated. I was talking to my aunt about the TSA body scanners when that was still a controversy. She kept telling me that she never wants to feel that afraid again and that you can't understand that kind of terror unless you've been through it.

Of course, she's right. I was four years old when 9/11 happened and I suppose my parents must have successfully sheltered my sister and I because I have no recollection of it.

Safety is important. Yet our freedoms must be too if so many men and women died for it.

As I may or may not have stated here before, I put great importance in skepticism and rational thinking. In times of fear, it's easy to be governed by emotions. For a government, t's all too easy to play up a fear and use it to control a populace. As a citizen, it's also all too easy to listen to what the media and the government are feeding you. The easy answer is to just be like, "I'll do whatever it takes to be safe. I'll do whatever the government tells me and listen to everything they say because they must be right." The harder answer would be, "I'll stay up to speed with what's going on around me, hold government officials accountable for their actions and to challenge everything I hear."

I think that Naomi Wolf is right when it comes to this topic, at least partially so. I don't agree with everything that woman says, not by a long shot. I may not think that the government is or ever was actually trying to take the U.S. over but I do think that there are many people right now who would gladly do so. I agree with her that too many Americans are too compliant and ignorant when it comes to politics, myself included, and let themselves be led around like sheeple. Defending our rights and our freedoms isn't a responsibility that we can just hand over to other people, our politicians included. It's a responsibility that all of us hold as Americans.

So here's a very important question. If someone was trying to take over the United States and turn it into a dictatorship, what would most Americans do? It's not usually something that happens overnight but that happens over a long period of time. It usually happens gradually until the day you realize that all of your freedoms are gone and by then it's too late. In the book After, many parents were brainwashed by the flood of e-mails they continuously received from the school. Even as their children were being taken by the school for breaking minor rules and  as those rules became increasingly harsher, these parents stuck by the belief that the school was only doing what was necessary and that everything was and would be alright. This can easily symbolize the average American and the influence of the media.

If someone were to try to take over the United States, I would like to think my fellow Americans would put up a fight instead of handing everything over. As the tenth anniversary of 9/11 approaches, this issue and those like it do not become any less important but only more relevant.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

High School Reunions/Scheduling

So yesterday I embarked on my second day of high school. I was told by my friend to meet her in the music hall which was on the east side of the building. Half afraid that I would find the wrong spot, I entered a kid-packed hall and freaked out (fortunately, I found the right spot).

I must say high school reunions are quite... noisy. All around me friends were reuniting with friends, screaming and squealing (the girls, of course. Guys just gave each other high-fives and chest pumps). There must have been at least three hundred kids packed in the hallway, which totally didn't help my frenzied mind. It was my first taste of high school with upperclassmen.

The seniors didn't eat me though, I assure you. I'm still here. They didn't eat me today.

It wasn't as bad today, but there was still a lot of noise in the hall. Oh well. It's useful having such a network. Even if you're not exactly friends with everyone, you still have their back. And, as a freshman, it means I have connections.

Scheduling is so hard right now. Finding both reading and writing time has proven to be incredibly difficult, especially after summer was so flexible. I haven't had nearly as much anxiety about transitioning and finding free time as I did last year and I'm afraid that's going to change soon. I already have homework and I know that I'll get much more. And then clubs will come and... ah. I'll find a way, though. I have the years before.