Saturday, March 31, 2012

Longing for Revolution

There are moments when I wish I live in Syria.
There are perks of living in America, of course, like mass produced high calorie snacks and a government that isn't really trying to kill us.
But if you're an American teenager and people call you a rebel, it means you're a saucy loudmouth who does drugs and and scrawls illegible gang graffiti on school walls
I crave rebellion. I wish I could have been with those boys in Daraa who sparked the uprising by spraying anti-regime on a school wall. They were arrested, of course, and beaten and tortured hourly. Their captors asked them, "Why did you write on the walls? Who told you to write on the walls? Who are you connected with?"
As if a handful of schoolboys couldn't have problems with the regime.
All teenagers have passion, a yearning to stand up. To make impact. To make their voices heard and respected. To leave this world better off than when they were born into it.
For me, that passion is aimless. The youth of Syria have found their target: Assad. They've seen the bodies of the martyrs and keep on fighting, putting their families, friends, boyfriends, girlfriends, education, jobs, careers, and lives on hold.
All revolutions depend on young people who haven't yet built up a callous to the world, who decide they'll prefer scars. Particularly this one-the internet has changed revolutions forever. And who are the mavens of facebook and twitter and skype and the blogosphere? Not all of them are over thirty.

Monday, March 26, 2012

What I Learned in Middle School

     Some of the most valuable lessons are the ones teachers teach without realizing it.
1: The world revolves around math, since Earth's orbit can be demonstrated by an equation.
-Mr. Lewis, math, seventh grade
2: Teachers are allowed to tell "your mom" jokes
Ms. Howard, language arts, seventh grade
3: Diagraming sentences are necessary to your eternal salvation because my language arts teachers examines the sentence structure of the scriptures in his spare time. Who cares if it isn't part of the core.
-Mr. Varga, language arts ninth grade
4: Only engineers, research physicists, and archietects use math in real life, so stop asking.
-Ms. Mitchell, math, eighth grade
5: The meaning of phrases changes overtime. Today, "Meet me at the flagpole after school" means there's going to be a fight. Twenty years ago, it meant a partiotic wedgie.
-Ms. Howard, language arts seventh grade
6: Grades don't matter too much. Just graduate high school, don't do drugs, and remember to abstain until marriage.
-Ms. Torres, health, eighth grade
7: If you're enough of a brat, teachers will eventually give up trying to discipline you. Even the former Marine gym teachers who have been known to dock girls points if their gym shorts aren't blue enough.
-Ms. Tweed, gym, seventh grade
8: All social studies teachers feel kind of  stupid standing up their, blabbering to a silent audience. Attempt to show them up or offer a comment, snarky or helpful, and they will love you as their darling little discussion provoker.
-Mr. Richins, social studies, seventh grade
-Mr. White, history, eighth grade
-Ms. Linsley, geography, ninth grade
9: Romeo and Juliet isn't exactly a school appropriate play, but we're fine so long as the principal doesn't walk in right this very moment.
-Ms. Von der Lohe, theater, seventh and eighth grade
-Mr. Varga, language arts, ninth grade
10: Keep your head down, shut up, and don't cause trouble.
-Everybody else

Friday, March 23, 2012

Hunger Games is Awesome. Not Horrifying. End of Discussion.

Yesterday was the day I've been looking forward to for the past four months, ticking off the remaining days from 126 until I finally reached 1.
I got my braces off.
Back on subject now. The 74th annual Hunger Games have begun.
At 7:30 I put on my Effie Trinket costume-pink wig, red heels, random pieces of jewelry, a spring green 1990-something bridesmaid dress salvaged from the back of my mom's closet. I wore that through the premiere party, which basically consisted off me getting weird looks from various people, congragulatory smiles from other various people, answering Hunger Games trivia, throwing darts at a poster of President Snow, and finally watching the movie. This all came to an end at 3:30 in the morning.
I planned on taking a nap after school today. Then I came home and saw a newspaper lying on the floor with this picture in the top right corner.

I turned to the appropriate page and found an article entitled "Children and Violence: Dark, Thorny Themes Make 'The Hunger Games' A Case Study for Complex Issue". And below that, another article called "'The Hunger Games' is not carefree entertainment". Six pages in, "'Hunger Games' isn't appropriate for young children".
Being me, I read them all. The first one featured some guy with a fancy Ph. D. spewing out all these dangerous sounding statistics about violence and children. Other than that, all three were virtually identical. A brief summary of the novel for you slackers that haven't read it yet, a lot of chatter about violence and how the film really portrays bloodshed as a bad thing, and the resolution that it's a great movie, but parents should think twice before allowing their young children to go.
Duh. Obviously people shouldn't be draggging their seven year olds into the theater. They aren't mature enough to fully comprehend the entrancing themes of poverty, oppression, uprising, and bittersweet sacrifice that make Suzanne Collins' work a masterpiece.

Need I say this scene is amazing? Sometimes it pays to change the story.
Does this picture mean nothing to you? Then read the dang book.
Sure, there's violence. But you can barely see any of the action because the stupid camera is moving so fast you can't tell who's on top of who. And what you can see they dumbed down. In the book, Marvel is shot in the throat, pulls out the arrow, and drowns in his own blood. In the movie, it's a nice clean chest shot. And Glimmer's corpse was so less grotesque than I imagined.
The only thing that bugged me about the book while I was reading it was what you could call the sensual content. Katniss is one of the lucky few tributes to grab a sleeping bag. The arena's so cold, one girl lights a fire at night even though it sends out a literal smoke signal for others to track her down and kill her. Katniss, being a nice person, shares the sleeping bag with two friends she makes throughout the book. The first is Rue, a sweet twelve year old girl who reminds Katniss of her own sister, Prim.

The second is Peeta. He's seriously injured and it would be just plain selfish to have him sleep on the cold cave floor while he's teetering on the verge of death.

In the movie, Katniss pulls the sleeping bag out of her backpack, looks at it, and then it vanishes forever. Neither she or anybody else sleeps in it. I was a little puzzled when I saw her choosing to sleep on a rough tree limb with only a rope holding her in place. Maybe a wolf ran out and snatched the sleeping bag in its gaping jaws while the camera was pointed elsewhere.
There are a few more swear words than the novel, bringing the movie up to a level somewhere below The Sandlot.
All in all, Hunger Games is a good movie. Take your parents.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

The Wonder Called the Internet

So many times we hear about the dangers and downfalls of the internet-time consuming, pornographious, trivial, you can really take any angle. And they're all true. But there's more truth. The internet is really an astounding phenomenom.
Back in the day, protests were limited to however many people you could fit in one city square, as many posters you could create, as many flags you could lay hands on. And we still see that. But for every physical protester there's somebody sitting in the relative safety of their bedroom, laptop balanced on their knees, fingers tapping out a well worded comment.
The internet is chatting with your best friend who moved away seven years ago via gmail.
The internet is lonely teenage girls projecting their feelings onto facebook for anybody to gawk at.
The internet is one very stupid guy confessing to murder on an anonymous secret sharing website.
It's a BBC reporter's interview with Joseph Kony, that scummy general in Uganda who has been forcing children into his army for the past two decades.
It's average people sitting in front of their webcams with their take on the Ugandan civil war.
It's a tribute to a favorite cartoon character with dozens of clips and striking background music.
It's some rather stupid but simultaneously funny videos of an orange somehow enabled to talk.
Even his face is annoying.
The internet is a collection of teenagers reenacting the Cornucopia scene from Hunger Games and getting very carried away with the fake blood.
It's yahoo users posting cynical comments on articles, somehow finding a way to relate absolutely anything to Obama, liberals, the 99%, and their personal loathing of the Kardashians.
It's a Canadian kid with a high voice but some degree of talent uploading his music on youtube and then going on to Hollywood.
It's parody videos, fan clubs, hate clubs, and a failed attempt by hackers to send that same Canadian kid to North Korea.

It's a chain email of that Canadian kid and his long lost twin in the Amazon rainforest.
It's instructions on everything from painting flowers on your nails to surviving a zombie apocalypse.
It's a webpage to commemorate victims of 9/11.
It's up to the second updates on world wide conflicts and the ones happening right in your neighborhood.
It's a fifteen year old girl staying up till midnight for the course of several days, brainstorming and researching and editing and polishing a blog post.
Once upon a time, the only people who could make a splash were journalists, generals, celebrities, politicians, leaders of popular uprisings or charities. Big people. The internet empowers everybody. I'm making a little ripple right now sitting at my family PC.
So can you.

The internet is everything.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

How Not to Feel Worthless

This occured to me about twelve seconds ago as I was listening to Demi Lovato. I switched windows. Is there a teenager out there who has never felt depressed, worthless, pitiful, friendless, and all that fun stuff? A ghost slipping down the halls. A drop of murky oil bobbing in a sea of happy, chaotic people who have life inside them. A shadow in life. I know I have until recently. Here's a few tips:
1: Don't commit suicide.
That's downright stupid. Picture your funeral. There's you, stiff and boring in the coffin. There's your emotionally scared little brother. Or cousin. Neighbor kid. There's your mom wondering what the heck she did wrong. There's your grandmother wondering how she's going to explain this to Great Aunt Ethel at the next family reunion, where by the way, you will not have the priviledge of sampling the vegetable platter. There's Michael What's His Name from math class. He looked at you last Wednesday when you handed him the stapler and now you're a corpse. He knew you.
Congratulations. Now your school has miserable foggy atmosphere and you've got everybody else thinking suicidal thoughts.
This happened in my school. A boy committed suicide and two years later to the date, another boy followed suit. Don't give anybody ideas.
Life needs tragedy. If all your problems were washed away you'd find something else to complain about. Scabs bleed because we pick at them. It's better to live a life of joy and sorrow, no matter the amounts, than to throw out any chance at joy.
2. You aren't that ugly.

See this guy? He's a lemming. Yes, those things jump off cliffs in masses. Peer pressure is so much fun. Is he an adorable honey colored fluffball or what?
EDIT: I have recently discovered lemmings don't jump off cliffs more than any other species. Urban legend.

Fluffiness never was happiness. There will always be somebody prettier than you. Go to the grocery store. Buy a copy of People magazine and some kind of chocolate. Ignore the photoshop, plastic surgery, and professsionally applied makeup. Read about these beautiful people with death and divorce and infidelity and loss of custody and DUIs.
There will always be somebody uglier than you. Go to somewhere public. Yes, a place with people. Look around and there will be somebody who looks like they applied their makeup in the dark. Using their toes.
Even less than handsome people have gone on to do great things.

He was so ugly, an eleven year old girl wrote him a letter advising him to grow a beard.
This is what happens when politicians take advice.
Still homely, but now he's President of the United States of America.
These guys drove 2 hours just to go to my book signing!  (Taken with Instagram)
The girl in the middle has been dubbed "ugliest woman on earth". Her name is Lizzie and she has a medical condition so rare, only two others people in the world have been diagnosed. Basically, she has no body fat. When she was in high school, some scumbuckets posted a youtube video mocking her. Viewers left comments calling her a monster and urging her to commit suicide.
But she rose above them. Today she's a motivational speaker and author. If she can do it, so can you.
Now for a guy.

This is Nick Vujicic. Also a motivational speaker. He has a head, a torso, a foot, and a hot wife. He tried to kill himself when he was ten. If he had gone through with it, he wouldn't have a hot wife. Or a foot.
Look down. Do you have a foot? If yes, then you too can have a hot wife.
Note: Ever look at somebody really close up? You see pores. Blotchy pink skin. Oddly positioned freckles. Funny little bumps on noses and too stretchy lips. On everybody. Nobody's beautiful. That's why they invented photoshop.
3: Expand your definition of friend.
So you don't confide your deep, dark secrets to a vast number of people. At least, not without a laptop as a shield. I mean, you just googled "how not to feel worthless" or something similar. Yes, my blog tracks search phrases. No, I'm not stalking you. You're a very special person but I have better things to do with my life. As do you.
Anyways, friends. You have some. Maybe not the slumber party sister for life kind. But there's the person you carry on the randomest conversations with in biology. The shrimpy kid with the acne who passes by your locker between fifth period and lunch and you wave to them out of pity. That eerily perky girl who always wants to know exactly how good your day has been. You smile and lie to her on an almost daily basis. How is that not an interesting relationship? Then there's that kid you sit by at church you'd love to hang out with, but he transferred to some random charter school around the time you noticed his existence. And that girl you don't like to count as a friend because she's two years younger than you and that's not something you imagine yourself bragging about at parties. The upside, you are her cool friend. Seniority! And don't forget Michael What's His Name.
4: Get a life, get a hobby
You are good at something-that dark poetry when you channel your depression onto paper at two in the morning,  the way scales overlay perfectly when you draw dragons, your ability to manipulate google into actually producing something useful, and the fine art of pouring soda onto your sister's head. Nobody else can aim for the ponytail holder and actually hit it.
There's something you're good at. Anything. Think about it.
(Insert imaginary Jeopardy theme song here)
Got anything yet? Than keep thinking, you lazy sea slug.
There's probably even a Big Thing you're good at if you try hard enough. I like writing. In seventh grade I joined the school newspaper. It was intimidating, to say the least. But it was the first year and everybody sucked just as much as I did-some more! I picked up some of my weirder, ahem, more awesome than average friends there. There's the Harry Potter fangirl, that guy with absolutely no personality unless you mention girls, the girl who occasionally dresses in all orange, the brilliant class clown slash techie nerd hybrid. Even one of my very best friends, this redhead wannabe pickpocket with an unhealthy Les Miserables obsession. Her hobbies are stealing my pencils, speaking in a Cockney accent, complaining about her little sister, theater, smearing my face with ink, flicking water at me when I try to wash the ink off, and trying to force me into signing contracts to be her personal servant for life.
See? Everybody has their thing.
5: Your life isn't that bad.
Today I gave a smoothie to a homeless couple in front of McDonalds with a cardboard sign. In some countries, you can't get a piece of cardboard to make a sign because somebody else is using it to make shoes. Forget about pens-people are melting them down to make new pens.
As you read this article, their are millions of starving children around the world who don't have internet access.
6: Submerse yourself in depressing entertainment
I mean mood music, movies where everybody dies at the end, and books. Ooh, books. It's so nice to know somebody else out there went through the same stuff you are. Try reading Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, Shock Point by April Henry, or Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer. Then there's historical fiction-holocaust, anybody? All of a sudden, your life does seem pathetic. Pathetically easy.
7: Ignore Step Number Six
Trust me, you'll get sick of it.
I like music, especially when I'm doing homework. It drives away that gray monotonous feeling that makes my brain feel like it's stuffed with something boring, like pencil shavings.
Anyways, music. Here's my Bad Day Playlist:
Believe In Me by Demi Lovato
Keep Your Head Up by Andy Grammer
Keep Holding On by Avril Lavigne
Live Like We're Dying by Kris Allen
Sound the Bugle by Bryan Adams
Not Alone by RED
Absolutely anything Disney
Then move onto whatever strikes your fancy, because I don't know you or your musical preferences. Watch stupid happy romance movies and read the books where everybody gets married and rich by the end.
8. Pray
I don't care what your stance on religion is. There's so much good in it and it helps me to know there's a God who cares. If you've got so many thoughts in your head that there's hardly any room for you, why not get down on your knees and whisper to someone who can help? No one will know. You have nothing to lose.
9.  Do Unto Others
You aren't alone. No, really, this is my third most popular post. So many others are having the same thoughts, and you pass them by the same way everyone did to you. Smile. Talk. Take interest. Don't wait for someone to take you under their wing. Spread your own wings and fly.

Above all, stay strong. Now get off the internet and do something with your life.

Friday, March 2, 2012

1899 Youth Strike Hits Broadway

As all of you theater geeks know, Disney's Newsies opens on Broadway on March 15. The play is based on Disney's 1992 movie (starring young Christian Bale), which is based on the true story of an 1899 newsboys strike.
So here's the strike in a nutshell. In 1898, the Spanish-American war breaks out. Newspaper tycoons, including Joseph Pulitzer and William Hearst raise the price of papers just so slightly to take advantage of all the exciting news. A bundle of a hundred newspapers now cost 60 cents instead of 50.
The war fizzles out. Most newspapers lower the prices, but not Pulitzer and Hearst.
This doesn't mean much to anybody but the newsies, the hundreds to thousands of children who sell papers to survive. Many of them sleep on the streets. They earn around 30 cents a day, half of what they paid for the newspapers in the first place. They aren't employees of the papers and thus aren't allowed to cash in unsold surplus.
So they live on one of the bottom levels of poverty with no hope of a brighter future.

Then some of them decide to step up. Kid Blink, so called because he's blind in one eye, is one of the more prominent leaders. The newsies formed a union. Pamphlets were written and distributed in place of newspapers. They held a demonstration in front of the newspaper offices until police were sent to break it up and arrest them.
After two weeks, Pulitzer and Hearst's  circulation was cut in half. The Goliaths were forced to compromise. While they didn't lower the prices, they agreed to buy back unsold papers.
The union evaporated. The strike faded from memory like an old newspaper blowing down the streets of Manhattan. Everybody forgot about them.
Until Disney got this idea for a musical.

And now they're going back to New York-Broadway, that is. Significant details have been changed. The movie had a middle aged male reported named Denton covering the story. Laurie, a newsie's sister, was the love interest. But nowadays strong female characters are mandatory, so we get Katharine Pulitzer, girl reporter, instead.
And they added Teddy Roosevelt. Because you gotta have Teddy Roosevelt.
Teddy (left) shown with Teddy (right).
A play to satisfy theater geeks, Occupy's 99%, and anybody who loves a good David and Goliath story.
But don't forget that this was real, and it wasn't glamorous and colorful. It was dirty and hot and painful, like the lesser known Pullman and Lowell and Triangle Shirtwaist Factory strikes. All of which occured around the same time and fed off child laborers.
Still, it's inspiring to know that these activists have not been forgotten.
UPDATE: Just saw Newsies on Broadway after spending the past month listening to both soundtracks. I have to say, it. Is. Awesome. Sure, they tweaked history a little. The play has the newsies' strike spreading throughout the city in what the characters refer to as a  'Children's Crusade'. But they also stayed true to fact.  The Disney movie ends with Pulitzer lowering the price of the paper, giving into the children's demands. In the play, they make a deal with Pulitzer. The price stays the same, but the newsies can get refunds for unsold papers, which raises their income quite a bit.
But my favorite part was how they worked in Roosevelt. You'd think a mature, influential adult showing up at the climax and voicing his support of the newsies means the cavalry has come. He's saving the day. But no. Teddy proceeds to walk off the stage, leaving Jack, our seventeen year old hero, to argue it out with Pulitzer. Newsies isn't just about seizing the day-it's about standing up for yourself, no matter what kind of Goliaths stand in your way.