Friday, January 31, 2014

Saying How You Feel

We live in a society where our feelings often go unacknowledged. We don't speak of them, because we are either ashamed or afraid to mention it or (more likely) we find it unnecessary. We don't tell the people we love that we love them and we don't admit that we're having problems until it's too late. So often, we lie about how we're feeling saying a perfunctory "Good" (or "well" for those who care about grammar). No one ever says how they really feel most of the time, unless they absolutely must. I think that's a mistake.

I think this is because humans are afraid of making themselves vulnerable. There are a certain group of people who express as little emotion as possible. They are afraid of showing weakness because they are afraid of getting hurt. So they don't talk about how they really feel, not even to the people they love the most. They never take that extra step. They don't give out affection nearly enough to those they care about, thinking they don't need to. They bottle up their sadness and sometimes their anger too until it builds up inside of them and comes out in destructive ways. They don't tell other people what they want from them, so they never get those things.

Maybe not all of us are this bad. Maybe we only do it a little bit. It's still a mistake, though, each and every time we are less than honest.

I suppose there are people who show too much emotion or show it too quickly. I find that holding back too much is the more common mistake. If it isn't, then it's the more devastating. Regret for what you haven't done has a special potency that regret for what you have done doesn't quite have.

So instead of feeling that regret (and maybe some guilt for not telling the truth), why can't we just say how we feel? It takes some risk, of course, but sometimes the best things in life require risk. Sometimes those things will set you free. 

Tuesday, January 28, 2014


Loneliness is the one of the worst feelings that a human being can feel. It is an aching roar inside of your chest, an emptiness that claws and claws and claws until its talons have torn up everything inside of you. In the short term, it simply hurts. In the long term, it plays a devastating game with your psyche. "Eleanor Rigby" and "I am a Rock" are two of my favorite songs dealing with the subject; despite the fact that they are older songs, they are very relevant today.

Humans are social creatures. This is why being cut off from our peers (for whatever reason) is so painful. It's not natural, nor is it beneficial. Total isolation can make a person go mad. However, loneliness in lesser bursts can be destructive as well, only it takes longer for the effects to settle in.
Most lonely people are lonely in crowds. They go to work and school and so many crowded places where they encounter a variety of people. Yet they, for whatever reason, are not able to make connections with those people or get those to understand them or care about them. They are, for all intents and purposes, alone. They may be isolating themselves, others may be isolating them or some other factor might be isolating them. No matter what the cause, the effect is still the same.

If they continue long enough in that state, they will become depressed and/or anxious. If they remain even long enough in that state, their ability to form relationships and interact with others will be forever damaged, especially if this began when they were young. There will always be something "off" about them. Loneliness can even cause health problems and a shorter life (cut short either by these health problems or suicide).

Loneliness will make you edgy; it will make you not trust people; it will make you feel like something is wrong with you, deeply wrong. You will feel like it is your fault, but that you are powerless to change it. Eventually, it will become a perpetual state of mind. You will feel alone even when you are not.

I know this firsthand. I have spent the majority of my life alone, or at least feeling alone (it doesn't matter if you are actually alone or not, because if you feel alone, you are). I am not sure whether bullying isolated me or if I isolated myself. Maybe it was my weirdness that turned my peers off, some odd way that I was acting socially. Maybe they sensed a weakness and this only caused those predatory in nature to find me. It doesn't matter what it was. I think this sort of isolation is what has led to a lot of my problems (rather than the bullying like many might think), is leading those problems now. It was not the fact that something happened to me, but that something didn't happen: those vital social interactions so integral to growing up. I'm not trying to be self-pitying, rather introspective. There are millions of children around the world who are going through the same thing that I did. Plenty of adults too.

It's a complicated problem, very complex. I suppose that everyone grows through it at some point in their lives, to varying degrees. How in the world could everyone feel it and we not have a solution for it? Yet of course it's not so simple. So we suffer in silence, lonely.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Taking the SAT

I took the SAT Saturday. I'm not sure quite how I did yet, only how I took the test (and what I was thinking during it).

It was everything that I expected a standardized test to be. I had taken them before, so I knew what to expect in a sense. I had also practiced the test numerous times, so I knew what to specifically expect the test to be like. Filling in the bubbles certainly took me back to my days in public school.

The lovely thing about multiple-choice questions is that 50% of the time, you don't even have to do the actual work. Instead, you can usually substitute the answer or something and see what fits. Also, a lot of the times the answer to your question (or the formula or whatever needed to find the answer to your question) is usually someplace else on the test. I happen to be a really great test taker, so I know a lot of great tricks to help me out. SAT tutoring helped a lot with figuring this out too.

English, of course, was easy. I thought there would be some analogies on it, but there weren't (I guess that's only the SSAT, which I took to get into private school). For the most part, I aced it except for one I knew I got wrong (I forgot what "abstemious" meant and I had no idea what "intransigent" meant. I guessed 50/50 and I guessed wrong). The Math section was fair: not super easy, but not super hard. I ended up being able to answer most of the questions in time and even had a few minutes left behind for English. I might have fallen for some of the trick questions they ask you, but, for the most part, I was good.

It was longer than I expected it to be, that's for sure (it also didn't help that we started the test an hour late, with registration and my proctor taking so long. Ten sections and an essay. I only had three five-minute breaks in between, which hardly felt like anything at all. Most of them were twenty-five minutes (including the essay), but two were twenty minutes and one was ten. It seemed to drag on forever. Each individual section wasn't that bad, but, taking them altogether, it felt like my brain was turning to mush. There had to be at least two hundred questions, maybe more. I'm lucky that I had a sufficient amount of sleep and was in good health, which is more than a good deal of my fellow test takers could say.  

The knowledge that one of the sections (probably the last, given the impossible time length) was experimental really annoyed me. Like they were going to keep me there even longer? UGH.

So I survived it. Mom's like, "Aren't you relieved now?" I'm actually not. This is partially because I know that I'm probably going to have to take it again next year so my hell isn't over yet, and I'm afraid I didn't do as well as I thought or hoped. I'll have to see about that one, though. I definitely would dread doing this again.

Taking the SAT made me realize even more how stupid the SAT really is, as well as the SAT culture. It doesn't really tell you that much about a student or if they'll succeed in college. Middle-class and upper-class people are given a much greater advantage by not only having a better education, but all of this preparation for this test. More and more colleges are SAT-optional, but the bigger colleges will still use the SAT as a gauge for their students (perhaps out of necessity). There is a whole business set up around taking the test, and for that reason, it will probably stick around. The conversation gets even stupider when comparing the SAT with the ACT, because (while I've never taken the ACT and probably don't need to) they're still pretty much the same. 

On the bright side, this will probably be the last standardized I ever take. Hopefully.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Fat Shaming

I am fat. There is no getting around this simple truth or trying to sugarcoat it. I am one of millions of overweight and obese Americans and am trying not to be ashamed of it anymore. I have struggled with my weight since I was a child, using a variety of healthy and unhealthy methods to lose weight and jumping in and out of clothes sizes and BMI numbers.

What's the point of being ashamed anyway? It never seems to do any good except to make me feel bad about myself. I don't think it does a favor to anyone else who is overweight, either.

It's not like being of a regular weight is integral to being beautiful or even a guarantee. Adele, for example, is an overweight celebrity and she's gorgeous. There are plenty of plus size models who are gorgeous as well (although most of them are of average weight, rather than underweight like most models are). Often, it is a matter of presentation more than actual weight. If an overweight person presents themselves in a way that compliments them, it goes a long way. It is only a problem if it affects your health, but this isn't necessarily true for all overweight people.

Shame is not a motivator. It is not going to encourage a healthy lifestyle. Perhaps it might encourage disordered eating, yo-yo diets and even eating disorders, but not a healthy lifestyle. You have to want to take care of yourself and you're not going to do that when you're full of self-hatred.

For those who argue that this shame is only to keep people healthy, I say that they don't know what they are talking about. The problem is not weight; it is unhealthy patterns. Overweight and obese people who adopt healthy habits are at equal risk of health problems as regular weight people who adopt healthy habits. Fat shaming fails to address the many causes of being overweight and obese, the sentiment being that it's just easier to shame us and let us figure it out.

Unhealthy lifestyles are the problem, not weight. No one ever mentions the fact that being underweight can lead to just as many health problems as being overweight (regardless of whether it is on purpose or not). Also, no one ever mentions that dieting counts as an unhealthy behavior or that it is more likely to make you gain more weight in the long term than lose it. How convenient.

Fat discrimination is one of the last accepted forms of discrimination. According to Harvard's Implicit test, one quarter of people tested a strong preference of thin people over fat people (this included the overweight and obese participants). Even campaigns that are supposedly meant to help us shame us. I can't help but feel that this is not out of a desire to help us, but out of one to make us feel badly about ourselves.
The media loves to make those who don't conform to their standards of beauty feel ashamed of their bodies. By definition, this includes fat people. They send the message that we shouldn't change for our health, but to look beautiful to others and to be accepted. Now, a lot of this is for monetary purposes. The diet business is huge in this country. Other industries that are fueled off public insecurity include the makeup industry, the fashion industry and the tabloid industry. However, a lot of it is because the media recognizes the public need to have a socially acceptable Other. Fat people fit the bill. Rather than being actual people, we are characterized only by being lazy, undisciplined and gluttonous. Occasionally, they'll throw us a bone and shame skinny people (feeding off public envy). All skinny people have eating disorders, naturally (and, of course, by this means fat people can't have one). They aren't "real" women, either.

A lot of people see "fat" as an insult. Jennifer Lawrence even went as far as saying calling people fat should be banned. I disagree. Overweight and obese people are, by definition, fat. That isn't the problem. The problem is shaming people for it.

Yesterday, I went to Forever 21. I was heartened to see that they had quite the array of plus size clothing. It's a sign of progress. Many stores don't include them, not wanting fat people to represent their clothing. This often limits overweight and obese people to plain, baggy clothing. This is another way of shaming us. Admittedly, I flit from wearing plus size clothes and regular size clothes, but this is still a legitimate issue for me.

Fat shaming probably won't stop any time soon. Still, it's a real problem for millions of people. Fat shaming isn't just hurtful: it's useless and counter-productive, doing more harm than good.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Snow Days

Today was a snow day for me. The calls came in today at around five that school would be cancelled for the day. The snow fell down so heavily that snow had to be cancelled. Snow is still falling and has been falling for quite a while now. I'm not sure when it will stop.

Snow days are, without a doubt, amazing. They're a great chance to catch up on sleep and be lazy, not really worrying about anything. Netflix and snow days practically go hand in hand. Of course, if you didn't do your homework, you have time to do that, but, if you did, you don't have to worry about anything. If you're working on a research project (like I am now), it's a useful time to work on that.

In the days of my childhood, I would take advantage of this time to go out in the snow and play. As much as I would love to do that now, there's something holding me back. Perhaps it's the fact that I would have no one to play with me anymore or no clothes to play in or the fact that I would notice how freezing it is outside. Probably a combination of all three. Still, I miss it. At least I can see the snow falling out the window and it's a pretty sight.

I used to have to worry about making these days up. In public school, I had to go to school 180 days no exception (this was especially painful when making up Hurricane Sandy days). Considering the amount of snow days I've been having, I would have had to make up quite a great deal of days. Now, in private school, I don't have to worry about that. Snow days are free holidays for me, nice surprises.

I feel so bad for my homeschooled friends and friends in hot places for never knowing this joy. If the snow keeps up, maybe I'll get off tomorrow too and the snow day can continue.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Getting My License

I got my license on January tenth. I don't know why I waited to write about it until now, but I did. I am now a registered driver in the state of Pennsylvania.

It was on the first try, too, and in the snow. I'm the first in the family to pass on the first try. I should mention that I was with a driving instructor for two hours beforehand, so that definitely helped. But still.

My heart was jumping out of my throat, everything in my body leaden. It almost didn't feel real, like my mind was disconnected from my body. Still, I managed to drive to the center anyway.

I was the most worried about parallel parking. I know that everyone worries about that, but still. Half of the people who take the test fail. I didn't think the odds were very good for me.

I had been practicing it with my dad the night before, but we weren't doing too well. I was getting frustrated and he was getting frustrated and we weren't really getting very much accomplished. He finally said, "Just forget it. You're not going to pass tomorrow." That made me so angry I insisted on doing it. I can never stand being told I couldn't do something, which is maybe why I was so hell-bent on passing (that and my instructor's pointers).

I was the second person in line. The person ahead of me failed. Maybe I would be the other half who succeeded? I didn't know yet. The weather outside was getting worse. I saw the roads being salted, but they got icy again by the time I took the test.

The guy testing me was pretty nice, talking to me as he filled out the forms. He made sure I knew what to expect from the test, how if I accumulated enough points, I would fail.

Knowing that, I got started. I could hardly breathe.

It was easy enough until I got through parallel parking. That was the real moment of truth. Then I suddenly had to remember everything that I learned so that I could stay behind the lines, not hit the barrels and not run over the grass. Yet I managed to keep my head and do it and also managed to keep my head enough to get out.

After I did that successfully, I knew that I was probably going to pass. I wasn't out of the clear yet, though. I still had to remember use my turn signals and stop before the white line. The ground had grown even icier and I had to go very, very slowly on both the road and out on the course. To my relief, I didn't skid when I braked and I parked straight, so everything worked out well.

I was still shocked when he said, "Congratulations, you passed." I couldn't believe it. I had been dreaming of this moment for months, but it always seemed like a dream, something that couldn't actually happen. But it was.

I met up with my driving instructor and then went to take my picture for the license. Even the woman taking it was impressed with my passing. She said she liked my smile.

My driving instructor took me home, saying I probably had enough. The conditions were so bad they shut down the course and I was thankful I took the test when I did.

My whole family celebrated and I got steak for dinner.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

The Anonymous Project

Letters littered the Quiet Lounge. They were on books, backpacks and a table.

"What in the world?" someone said.
"I think they're from that anonymous person," Meg* said. 

Audrey opened her note. Then Parker, then Ella, then...

The Anonymous Project had begun. I left before anyone noticed I was there, but not before catching some of their smiles.

That wasn't the first time I had executed my plan, nor was it my last. It was, however, the first time my plan had gained recognition.
Since I hadn't yet given the letters to everyone, I made sure to use my anonymous email to make sure to tell everyone that more letters were to come. Then I got back to work.

Letter-writing was a tricky thing. First, it was the physical act of writing it. I made sure to write them in cursive, so that my fellow Loungers couldn't guess my identity. I was much less adroit at cursive, so it took me longer. Then there was the content. Usually, I had to think of precisely what to say as well. I already knew I thought these people were cool, but why? The process usually took between twenty and thirty minutes.

 At first, I was only going to write letters to the Quiet Loungers who really needed it: those who were struggling, those who had low self-esteem. In particular, the letters were meant to help one Quiet Lounger in need.  There were times in my life when I would have loved something like that, just a sign that someone cared when no one else did. I wanted to make sure that no one else felt the way that I did in those dark days, wanted them to know how much that I cared about them all. They had all been so wonderful to me, so opening, that I wanted to give back in some way. I knew that I wouldn't be able to fix their problems entirely, but I just wanted them to feel better for one moment. I hadn't planned to write letters to everyone.
Then I started to see everyone's reaction, the smile on their faces. I started getting a response: hearing people talk about me (even on Facebook), responding to those emails. So then I figured,  "Why not?" I wanted to spread brightness to as many people as I could. So I got to working.

The whole dropping off of the letters wasn't easy, either. I had to make sure I got the right backpack and that no one was seeing what I was doing, which wasn't easy with everyone else around. Usually, I made it look like I was doing something else around those areas. Then I would casually drop them off and wait for the results.

Making myself anonymous made it so much more worthwhile. I didn't want to cheapen the project by revealing my identity, because I wanted to make it about them and not me. I also had went deep into myself to start writing those letters and I made myself incredibly vulnerable. Being discovered wouldn't be the end of the world, but it wasn't something that I wanted. 

Word spread. Dropping off the letters became harder and harder to do and it felt like the areas were being watched for clues of my identity.

Worse yet, some people were catching on to my identity. I knew it was inevitable, given I was doing it so often. Someone would catch me.

It didn't help that that letter showed so much of my personality and voice that it became obvious to people intelligent enough to read it. I'm also really bad at keeping a poker face as well.

All of those factors together made my identity fairly well known. Thankfully, most people played it cool, but some people went up to me afterwards thanking me. Those moments were awkward and gushy, but it made me feel good. Samantha even said she was inspired to do something like this, although I don't know if she has actually started to do that. 

This has led to positive, rather than negative things, of course. On the bus, one boy, Luke, was particularly obnoxious about his ecstasy over discovering my identity. The bus driver was so touched that she bought me a Vera Bradley pen and stationary, telling me, "Keep writing. We need more people like you." The people who discovered my identity have treated me differently: it's been a quiet difference, but they definitely treat me with a sort of reverence that they hadn't paid me before. I still feel odd about it, because it doesn't feel quite right.

I do want to keep going, although I'm not sure quite how to do it. I don't just want to sit and talk about wanting to make the world a better place; I want to actually do it. I want to be the change I want to see the world.  I may not keep going with those specific people, but I want to keep making positive changes in some fashion. Maybe writing letters to strangers? I don't know. What I do may not make a difference, but I'll try. I just want to make as positive of an impact as I can.
*names changed.

Post written on request

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

New Year's Resolution

 I have a few New Year's resolutions this year. I know that it's generally a bad idea to make New Year's resolutions, but oh well, here it is.

1) Lose weight.
I know, I know, not an original New Year's Resolution. Still, I need to do it. I'm going to face facts: I have weight issues. I've struggled with being overweight (on and off) since childhood. In my darker days, I've used incredibly unhealthy methods to lose weight, but, more importantly, I was using an unhealthy mindset. I didn't know how to lose weight without using those tactics. I had managed to make astonishing weight losses in the past, but it just wasn't worth it. I had further perpetuated my self-hating habits and nothing was ever good enough: I had to keep losing more and more weight. Yet using fat shaming to lose weight is never the way to go. I was also losing weight for the wrong reasons (that is, to be aesthetically pleasing). For a long time, I thought that I would have to decide between tackling my mental health problems or tackling my weight problems. Clearly, tending to my mental health is more important. Confidence is more attractive than a skinny body, anyway, and it feels better. I thought that once I got better, the weight issue would sort itself out. Not the case. So now I'm going to tackle that and, hopefully, without any fat shaming, and any unhealthy behaviors.

2) Improve my mental health.
I've made considerable strides in this, but I still have a lot of ways to go. It may appear to some people like this is no longer a struggle for me, but it still is. Too often, I've fallen back into self-loathing thoughts. I still bully myself and belittle my accomplishments. I don't believe I've found peace within myself quite yet. Yet I've made considerable achievements, practicing more self-love and refusing to tolerate this kind of behavior from myself. I know that I don't deserve to have anyone else treat me like that, so I can't treat myself like that, either. Still, this is a continual process and I know that I'll have to check up on myself to make sure I don't slip into old ways.

3) Make more friends.
Because this is always a good one. Friends are always a good thing! Being in a new school, I need as many of them as I can.

4) Pass AP US History (and the AP test) while making sure I don't neglect my other classes. Oh and getting good SAT scores. 
I'll have a much harder time of attaining this goal (especially given how impossible that class is), but I'll figure it out.

5) Continually improve myself. 
This year, I am going to try to work on being more assertive, but try to remain kind at the same time. I still want to be positive, but not naive. I know I have a lot to work on, but I want to do it without hating on myself.