Friday, June 28, 2013

What We Are

I don't like camping, but I've recently had group of people pressuring me to like camping.  When I told my family about the conversation I had with these people, the response was, "They probably think you're Miss Prissy and Pampered. Next time the subject comes up, tell them that you're not like that. You go hiking, you like being outdoors, you've traveled abroad, you've been on cramped 13-hour plane rides... camping just isn't your thing." I know that my family was trying to help, but this doesn't feel like the right response to me. Why? Because by naming these other things, I'd be trying to change their perception of me, trying to present myself as someone who is flexible and laid-back and just incidentally doesn't like camping. That's not true. I AM high-maintenance. I AM the kind of person who doesn't want to sleep outside on the ground. Whatever impression I gave these people when I said that I don't like camping is probably accurate.

This reminds me of the whole "guilty pleasure" thing. I have never had guilty pleasures - I just like whatever I like. But it always bothers me when other people refer to the music, TV shows, books, etc. they like as guilty  pleasures, because that makes it sound like there's something wrong with it. The majority of songs I listen to and TV shows I watch on a regular are basis are what other people would call guilty pleasures. I guess it might be different if something isn't what you normally do, like you fall in love with a country song when you don't normally like country music. But this is not a simple matter of saying, "I don't normally like blueberry pie, but I really love this blueberry pie." It says, "Liking blueberry pie is bad, so even though I like blueberry pie, I don't want to identify as a person who likes it." And that kind of culture just makes more people feel like it's not okay to do what they like.

I usually take a personal approach when I don't agree with what people are saying. When students complained about people wearing spandex pants to class, my automatic response was, "I've worn spandex pants to class." Even though I don't wear spandex regularly, this is sort of my instinctive answer, when what I really mean to say is, "People can wear what they want to class." And sometimes it backfires, because people find ways to say why my wearing spandex doesn't count: "You don't do it all the time," "You wear a skirt over them," "Yours aren't as clingy."   If I actually wore spandex regularly, I wouldn't want some excuse for why it was okay for me to wear them; I would want it to just be okay. The whole point was that we shouldn't be telling other people what to wear.

If I like something, then I am a person who likes that thing. And if I don't like something, then I'm a person who doesn't like that thing. It doesn't fix the problem for us all to say, "I'm not really like that," every time we do something that's not socially desirable. We should be saying, "I am someone who does this, and that's totally fine."

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

"Abstinence" BS


I have never supported telling people not to have sex because they're under a certain age. I don't support pushing people to stay "innocent" when innocent means not being allowed to enjoy things that you want to do. There is nothing wrong with having sex for pleasure, and you don't have to be a legal adult to do it. I personally wasn't interested in sexual intercourse when I was a teenager, but if I had wanted to have sex, I would have. I would not have held back, and if I had, I would never have forgiven the people who made me feel like I needed to hold back. Oh, and I've been acting out my sexual fantasies since age 11. I had a lot of fun, and I want to make sure people younger than me know that it's okay to do sexual stuff and not have to hide their sexuality or feel ashamed about it.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

What I Learned but Wasn't Taught

At the end of 8th grade, we had to write an essay about the most important thing that we had learned at our K-8 school, JCD.  I wrote that I learned to be true to myself. Now, our school was a very strict, conservative, homogeneous, not-accepting-of-differences type of environment where there was a set way that everyone was supposed to act. It was hardly the kind of school that would teach you to be yourself.  My essay described JCD as a kind of obstacle course, like "This isn't what you taught me here, but this is what I've learned." When I entered high school, which was a much better environment for me, I immersed myself in the school right away. I acted as if being a high school student was my whole identity, that I had never been to school anywhere else. Junior year, I was reading over some of the fictional stories in my journals, when I noticed a common theme: almost every story I had written during high school was an attack against JCD, in some way or another. And when I thought about it, almost every issue I talked about, everything I believed in strongly fell under the category of "What I Learned But Wasn't Taught at JCD."

At first I felt contaminated; I thought I had cleansed myself of JCD entirely. JCD was not who I was - it was the total opposite of me. And yet it kept popping up as the central issue of everything I generated. Sophomore year of college, I reconnected with my two best friends from JCD over the summer, and realized just how differently we felt about the school. One of my friends was just like me - she never liked the school, wanted to forget what we had been taught there, and actually threw away a lot of mementos that I had held onto. But my other friend had a lot of nostalgia about JCD - even though she didn't have the best time there, she wasn't against the school environment as a whole. That's when it hit me that having my school at the core of my writing didn't mean that my writing was contaminated. Because tons of other students have graduated from JCD, and I doubt that all of them were attacking the foundation of the school in everything they said or did. A lot of them are probably okay with it.

It was always hard for me to understand just how JCD had affected me - since I started at age 4, I couldn't exactly say what my beliefs and values were before. I always wondered if my beliefs wouldn't be so off-the-charts if I had gone to a school that was better for me. But I realized that just because something went against what I was taught at JCD, didn't mean that the story was nothing more than an attack on my school. If you grew up with someone whose beliefs were the opposite of yours, does that mean that everything you say is an attack against them? I know I was young when I started, but with the number of students who didn't have a problem with JCD or with schools like it, I have to think that my beliefs have always been my own - they just happen to clash with the school I went to for ten years. And even if JCD was behind a lot of my stories, even if I was making a conscious attack on the school, it doesn't have to be that way for the reader. The reader might relate the story back to their own experience, or see it as a widespread issue. JCD is a part of my life experience, it's where I've observed things and gotten ideas and formed some of my view of the world. And that's okay.

I think I'm at that point now with Colby College. Not that what happened there will ever be okay, but I no longer feel a pressing urge to cleanse myself of the school or pretend it never happened. It did happen, it's part of my life experience, and it's been my main source of writing inspiration for a long time now. And that's okay. I may be making a personal attack on Colby with a lot of the stories and blog posts I've written, but these issues are not just Colby-specific. They exist in the real world, and I am making people aware of a lot of things and connecting with people who have had similar issues. I have gained a lot of insight from what I learned but wasn't taught at Colby. I will never say that my Colby experience was okay or that it was worth sticking it out, but the fact that I have been through Colby is a part of me now, and I can accept that. I don't feel contaminated anymore.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Looking Back

On our six-month anniversary, I gave my boyfriend a four-leaf clover that I had found and laminated when I was 13. I collected a lot of four-leaf clovers back in 8th grade - we used to have a ton of them in my backyard. I even found two five-leaf clovers. I gave some of them to family members at the time, and the rest I kept in an envelope along with some other things that were special to me. At some point before my sixth-month anniversary with Eric, I opened this envelope to show him the four-leaf clovers, along with the other items. One of these other items was my collection of  "confidence cards," note cards with drawings that represented things I had done that took confidence or that someone told me I couldn't do. Eric asked me to go through the cards and explain what each one meant, so I did. It meant a lot to me that Eric asked, that he wanted to know about this part of my life. I knew at that moment that he was getting a four-leaf clover.

After I decided to give Eric a four-leaf clover, I began to wonder why I hadn't given out more of them. I gave them to my family back when I found them, but once that stage of life was over, once I stopped searching my backyard, it didn't feel right to give them out anymore. I think the reason was that my four-leaf clover collection is very connected to a particular time in my life. After my grandpa died in 7th grade, all the relational bullying and not fitting in at school started to hurt worse than it had before. I made a beaded necklace that I wore under my shirt where no one could see it and pretended that it had magical powers that would ward off evil. When I learned what a placebo was, I cut sugar cubes into small pieces, about the size of a pill, and would take one and pretend that it would cure anything that was wrong. I wore a rubber band around my wrist because a teacher I liked wore a rubber band around her wrist, so it made me feel connected to her. I made my confidence cards. And I collected four-leaf clovers. The first time I found a four-leaf clover was about 4 months after my grandpa died, and I found it on the first try. The first time that I ever looked for a four-leaf clover in my whole life, it was right there. And I felt like that meant something.

I didn't think I would feel so nervous showing someone my middle-school envelope because it was all stuff from my past. All the things I drew on my confidence cards were things that would be no big deal for me to do now. But I realize that that's exactly why I was nervous. Some adults like to say that things won't matter ten years later, that you'll forget everything, that you'll look back and laugh at what you used to do. Some people want to bond over how "silly" we used to be. I'm not like that. I'm not a new person just because I'm older - I am the same person I was the day I was born. And if someone makes fun of something I did in middle school, they're not insulting some no-longer-existent 13-year-old; they're insulting me. Sure, those events from the confidence cards may be no big deal to me now, but I understand how big of a deal they were back then. By calling them "stupid" or "silly," I would not only be putting myself down, but I would be making it more acceptable to call other people's behavior silly simply because they're younger than me.  The fact that something is not happening now doesn't change the fact that it was happening before. The fact that some things are no big deal now doesn't change the fact that they mattered a lot at the time. I don't forget what it's like to be 14 when I turn 15. I'm not going to be one of those adults who doesn't get it or who looks back and thinks that nothing was what I made it out to be at the time. I am lucky to have all these records so that I can remember my middle-school mindset so well. It's easy to invalidate younger people if you invalidate your own feelings from that time, or say that everything was fine because you turned out okay. By respecting your former self, you'll also respect and value the experiences of people younger than you.

Some people tell me that one day I'll look back at college and laugh about everything, and it bothers them that I've said that I don't do that. I expect I'll have the same feelings when I look back on my college records as I did when I reopened that envelope from middle school. I value my former feelings. And that's a good thing.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Extrovert Issues

My friend gave me this link about the issues that extroverts face:

I talk a lot about introvert issues on this blog because I had a bad experience going to a very extroverted college, but I know that extroverts have a lot of issues as well, and that being extroverted in a more introverted group of people would be just as hard as the other way around. It seems only fair to share the other side of things.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

"That's Distracting!"

I always cringe when people talk about something being a distraction.Why? Because when you say that something is a distraction, you're telling someone else what to focus on. You're establishing that they should be on a certain path, and things that take them off that path are distractions. And many times, those things that you call "distractions" could be exactly what the person wants to focus on.

The concept of distraction isn't all bad. There times when it's okay, and times when it's not okay. I'll give a few examples:

It's okay to say that you can't concentrate because you're distracted by something like a light or a noise. It's also okay to say that another person can't concentrate because they're distracted by something like a light or a noise. This is because we're assuming that the person has no desire to just sit and listen to the background noise or stare at a flickering light - they want to do something else, and are unable to do it because these things (the light or noise) that they have no desire to focus on distract them.

It's also okay to say that you can't get something done because you'd distracted by Facebook, computer games, TV, etc, because since you're talking about yourself, you obviously know that what you want to do is more important to you than the things you're distracted by, even if those things do give you pleasure.

What's not okay is when you say that someone else - your student, your child, etc. - is distracted by their games, computer, cell phone, etc. when you haven't even asked them what they want to do. When you refer to things as distractions, you're establishing what's important and what they need to focus on, when what they want to focus on might be very different from what you want them to focus on. The things I did for fun were always more important to me than school. My daydreams were never distracting me from school - school was distracting me from my daydreams! School was interfering with all the fun things that I liked to do - NOT the other way around.

If someone asked you for directions, the first thing you'd ask is, "Where are you going?" because you obviously can't give directions without that information, right? Well, we try to do that all the time. What would you think if you were walking to the store when someone started yelling, "Hey! You're going the wrong way! The car wash is this way!" And you try to tell them that you're not going to the car wash but they just won't accept your answer. That's what we're doing every time that we refer to something as a "distraction" without even taking the person's own desires, interests, and focus into consideration.

I've had a lot of distractions in my life, a lot of things that interfered with what I was trying to do, and frankly, most of those distractions were the very things that I was told to focus on.

Standard Reality

One time in high school, a class was taking a survey about how long it takes people to get ready for school in the morning. When a student gave the survey to my two friends and me at lunch, I said it took me 30 minutes to get ready, and both of my friends said it took them 10 minutes. My two friends were surprised that it took me longer to get ready than it took them, and they started asking me questions about what I did in the morning. They asked if I showered in the morning, and I said no, I did that I night. They asked if I took longer to choose an outfit, and I said no, I picked out my clothes the night before. I knew they wanted an answer, but I purposely didn't give them one. Why? Because they seemed to think that 10 minutes was normal and that I needed a reason for those extra 20 minutes, when to me, 30 minutes was normal and I could have just as easily asked them why they took 20 minutes less.

This is a minor example, but I do this a lot when people establish their own reality as "normal." I did this every day in college, when people seemed to think that my schoolwork shouldn't take me as long as it did, or that I should be able to make time for something just because other people who had more work than I did made time for it. When people tried to get more info out of me, to find out why something was different for me than it was for them, I just acted as if my own way was the standard and that I didn't understand why they were questioning what was normal. Because there is no logical reason why 10 minutes should be more "normal" than 30 minutes.  So if I'm not giving you the answer you're looking for in a case like this, I understand perfectly well what you're asking - I'm just choosing not to accept your reality as more standard than my own.