Sunday, May 8, 2011

Three Truthful Thoughts

As the high school chapter of my life draws to a close, there are quite a few things I’ve learned. Many of which were definitely explicitly stated at some point along the way, but there are some things I really don’t think are possible to learn by instruction. Here are my top three insights:

1. Do what you love (and want) to do.

I’ve spent a lot of time in situations I didn’t initially want to be in, trying to do what my parents or friends or overall societal norms thought I should. In some circumstances, I learned to like something I would have never given a chance otherwise. However, I’ve found that the majority of the time, it’s really not worth it. In the past few years, I’ve left school sporting events, declined party invitations, and stopped taking piano lessons because I realized that it’s more important for me to be happy than suffer through something in order to please others. I’ve also taken the time to discover what I really love: reading, biking, knitting, watching performances (to name a few). They might not be the most popular activities, but they make me calm, rejuvenated, and truly happy.

2. Show the people you love that you care.

Almost all human relationships end at some point. Whether it’s by distance, a bad break-up, a fight, or death, the time you spend with others is limited. In my psychology class, we discussed the importance of others in our own lives, and I realized that many of my old friends and relatives shaped me into who I am today, and I wish I could have shown them how much they meant to me while we were still in contact. There are so many people from my graduating class that I may never really interact with again, and in our last few weeks, I want to express my feelings for as many of them as possible.

3. Don’t give up on yourself.

This is probably my most cliché insight, and has already been declared on countless inspirational posters and by motivational speakers around the globe. But I must say, this is the greatest thing I learned throughout high school. At least for me, what makes life worth living is being involved and going back to #1, doing what I care about. In high school, I faced numerous rejections and obstacles (and if you want to hear more about those, I’ll send you one of my college essays). I’ve been extremely lucky in my family, friends and education, but in order to take advantage of all the opportunities that I have, I know I must believe in myself and not give up. That doesn’t necessarily mean that I can do everything I put my mind to, but I believe that I can find something that is right for me, whether it’s a job, a hobby, a sport or a lifestyle.

These ideas may resonate with you, or you may not have even began to come to them by your own conclusions. Either way, I hope they will spur personal thought and reflection, and maybe a little bit of inspiration. :)

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Speaking through Silence to Stop Hate

Today, classmates at my school participated in the Day of Silence, a nationwide youth effort to bring awareness to the suffering of the LGBT community caused by ignorance, name-calling and harassment. I am a strong supporter of the cause and I participated in previous years, but this year, I did not. I never felt fully invested in the event, and I think that’s because I didn’t know many people who were a part of the LGBT community. However, the 2011 Day of Silence opened my eyes to my connection to the community and made me proud to be a part of the teenagers of today.

When a friend asked me read his statement to our class, I didn’t fully grasp the depth of what I was asked to do. After reading it aloud and joining my classmates in applauding, I realized that I was just trusted with something incredibly important: someone else’s voice.

Our voices, our opinions, our primary outlets of communication are the strongest vehicle for change we possess. Obviously, the students participating hadn’t actually lost the ability to speak, but the symbolism and meaning behind their actions was powerful and demonstrated the injustice of those who are forced into silence because of who they are.

The last line of my friend’s statement was especially poignant. He wrote, “Today, through silence, I speak”. I really believe that this sums up the goal of the day perfectly. I just hope that someday, we won’t have to devote a day to raise awareness because there won’t be anything to be made aware of.

Since my last DoS, I’ve gotten to know a lot more about the LGBT community, thanks to an amazing blog and the friendships of some wonderful people. I’m so proud that this is an event that created by my generation. We may be materialistic, pampered, impudent or a host of other unfortunate adjectives that teenagers are typically labeled, but through events like the Day of Silence, we can proudly say that we are the most tolerant and open generation in history.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Discovering the Essence of Adolescence through Poetry

I recently went to the library to work on a group project for English Class, and when sent to find a book pertaining to our topic (Freudian psychoanalysis), I found myself happily cavorting around the shelves of the nonfiction section. This might be one of my nerdiest admissions, but I absolutely love libraries.

While my group waited, I stumbled upon a book in the psychology section that stood apart from the other technical, scholarly books about Lacanian symbols and Jungian archetypes. I read a few pages, and immediately was hooked. By the time I returned to my group, I had read a quarter of the book and knew I would finish it by the end of the night.

I Am an Emotion Creature: The Secret Life of Girls Around the World is a collection of fictional poems by Eve Ensler. The poems vary greatly; some speakers include a suburban girl dealing with popularity, an anorexic girl documenting her struggle with food through a blog, an Iranian girl forced to get a nose job, a rape victim, and a girl forced into sex trafficking. Even though many of their experiences were foreign to me, the honesty and accuracy with which Ms. Ensler writes is powerful and easily relatable. The words could have easily come from my or a friend’s mouth in casual conversation or a whispered secret.

One of my favorite poems was “You Tell Me How to be a Girl in 2010” (If you want to hear the author perform this poem as a monologue, click here!). It really hit home for me because it was basically an angry rant about the current state of the world and our place as teenage girls within it. Here’s a passage from it that I found particularly poignant:

“What happened to teenagers rebelling

Instead of buying and selling?

What happened to teenagers kissing

Instead of blogging and dissing?

What happened to teenagers marching and refusing

Instead of exploiting and using?

I want to touch you in real time

Not find you on YouTube.

I want to walk next to you in the mountains

Not friend you on Facebook.

Give me one thing I can believe in

That isn’t a brand name.”

Ms. Ensler eloquently points out the materialistic, impersonal nature of modern interaction and teenage life. I believe living in reality, and finding ourselves in nature and human connections are goals that our generation really needs to strive towards. This book was a welcome wake-up call for me, and I highly recommend it for anyone trying to connect to essence of adolescence.

Monday, March 14, 2011

The King and the Bard: A Perfect Pairing

Wise men say only fools rush in

When you think of Shakespearean romantic comedy, Elvis Presley isn’t usually the first image that comes to mind. But that unlikely combination is exactly what I got to experience this weekend when I saw Deerfield High School’s musical, All Shook Up. The show is based on Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night and involves lots of mayhem, mistaken identity and falling in and out of love.

I knew absolutely nothing about it and was going to support my friend who played one of the leads. (I saw him in a show at the beginning of this year as well, detailed in this blog post) Watching All Shook Up with no expectations gave me the opportunity to enjoy it for what it was: a little cheesy, a little quirky, but performed with so much heart and talent that I couldn’t help but fall in love, too.

As I discussed in a previous post, productions such as this are just one example of the universality of great literature. At the core of Shakespeare’s works are real emotions, motivations and desires that transcend time. There are quite a few modern movies, books and other media based on the Bard’s work, such as “She’s the Man” and “10 Things I Hate About You”. Don't have time to rent a movie? I found this really adorable blog that infuses Shakespeare into everyday life.

It’s pretty amazing how the story of All Shook Up is still so resonant. The characters are down-to-earth and preoccupied with finding true love; what teenager wouldn’t connect to that? Even though the play was written 400 years ago and was supplemented with the music of a teen heartthrob from 50 years ago, it (along with Shakespeare’s other works) is still immensely enjoyable today.

Want to see some clips from the show? Check this, this and this out!

Monday, March 7, 2011

From Lit to Life: An Archetypal Journey

A mythological approach to literature attempts to identify the archetypal patterns in a work that elicit innate and dramatic human reactions. If a perspective such as this can be applied to literature, it could also be applied to other things, like teenage life.

It’s actually surprising that I haven’t already blogged about the college admission process. It seems to be the encompassing obsession of all high school upperclassmen and I thought it might be interesting to examine this critical period in the modern teen’s life through a literary perspective.

We begin with the student, the hero in our college quest. As explained in A Handbook of Critical Approaches to Literature, a hero typically “undertakes some long journey during which he or she must perform impossible tasks, battle with monsters, solve unanswerable riddles, and overcome insurmountable obstacles”. It may sound a little farfetched, but figuratively, a lot of this parallels the college admission process pretty eerily.

Impossible tasks: navigate the CommonApp, hunt down teachers for recommendations, visit schools all over the country

Battle with monsters: I’d definitely say that some interviewers are as intimidating as monsters (or we make them out to be mentally, at least)

Unanswerable riddles: What does an “optional” essay mean? Do I have to do it or not?

Insurmountable obstacles: After all of this, which school do I choose??

Fortunately, we usually have someone who satisfies the “Wise Old Man” archetype, first documented by psychologist Carl Jung. This person may be a guidance counselor, parent or teacher (or as in my case, some combination of the three).

Maybe our lives do follow certain mythological patterns, or maybe we’re just predisposed to see them, similar to the “wooden hawk” example described by mythologist Joseph Campbell. Either way, I think there’s something comforting in knowing that your journey ends by “saving the kingdom”, or in our case, going to the school where we’re meant to attend.

Monday, February 28, 2011

It Ain't Over 'Til the Fat Cowgirl Sings

Last Friday, I attended a fantastic cultural event that let me to experience an interesting psychological phenomenon. My aunt took me to the Lyric Opera of Chicago as an early graduation gift and we saw The Girl of the Golden West. At first, I was quite confused on why we were seeing something Western in a arena usually reserved for the Renaissance works of opera written in flowery romance languages, but then my aunt explained that this opera was the Italian librettist Giacomo Puccini’s idea of the Wild Wild West. Thus, we enjoyed a three-hour production of cowboys, bandits and native Americans singing in Italian (with subtitles helpfully provided on a large screen).

I later discovered the term for the slight awkwardness produced by this culture clash: cognitive dissonance. As an American, it was somewhat jarring to see cowboys belting out arias and a name drop like “Jack” or “Johnson” amid Italian dialogue.

However, there are many operas where the subject matter does not match the language in which it is written, but the dissonance is less noticeable. One example is Aida: set in Egypt, written in Italian, based on the writings of a Frenchman This led me to contemplate why this opera seemed more dissonant as well as what the values of these operas are.

I think the reason TGotGW was especially dissonant to me (and other Americans) is because we are much more familiar with a topic like the American West than something like ancient Egypt. When the names, scenery and characters we understand are presented in a new context, we struggle to juxtapose the two. I wonder how Egyptians feel then, when watching either opera. Would something like Aida feel just as dissonant to them?

These productions (both dissonant and not) are valuable as a medium to understand one culture’s interpretation of another. One example of where Puccini’s interpretation deviated from reality was in his portrayal of Native Americans. The show only had two, and they were both submissive servants of white people. I think this shows how a culture may get a warped understanding of another if not all voices are heard. When currently analyzed, attendees can see what the most prevalent ideas about a culture were from a primary source. Many operas are decades old, but can still teach us something new.

Monday, February 14, 2011

A Clear Voice Amid the Chaos of Revolution

Lately we have been bombarded with news of the protests and revolution in Egypt. However, I have a problem with zoning out when confronted with blaring headlines and droning reporters. So in order to really get a sense of what is happening, I decided to hear about the Egypt from the best possible source for me: an Egyptian teenager.

I discovered the posts of Jessica Elsayed, a teen in Alexandria, Egypt, who writes for Youth Journalism International. She chronicled her experiences in the past few weeks and reading her articles has helped me understand not only the experiences of the average person in Egypt but also appreciate powerful, eloquent writing from a strong youth voice.

The news gives us instant updates and coverage of events, but by reading a firsthand account, I learned about what the Egyptian people were really fighting against. In one of Ms. Elsayed’s earlier posts, she details her experience actually participating in a peaceful protest and reasons for doing so. She says, “We want better schools for my younger brother and sisters, better health care for my grandmother…the media sometimes says this is an Islamic revolution, but it’s not. It has no connection with religion”. By explaining their causes in the most basic, honest way, she clearly communicates what impersonal media coverage does not. Her posts are intelligent and have given me so much insight into what is really happening in Egypt.

I would also like to commend her writing style. In her informative posts, she writes very clearly and explains in a way that engages the uninformed reader but also doesn’t bore someone who has been following the news.

She also uses beautiful language to convey her ideas. When especially moved by an event, her posts take on a poetic form. After the protest, she writes, “Today, I’ve inhaled a new air and we feel that victory is near.” Although it may be unintentional, the slant rhyme here emphasizes the fact that victory is not yet achieved and still must be strived towards.Then, after the resignation of Mubarak, Ms. Elsayed writes, “Egypt got its soul back today. Welcome freedom. Welcome liberty. Welcome justice.” I was awestruck by the profundity of her words, which are fueled by her drive to see true peace and freedom in her nation. Her writing proves that teens have important ideas and experiences that are worth sharing with the world. Although she is young, I believe Jessica Elsayed is a political and poetic force to be reckoned with, and I truly admire her courage and voice.