Monday, November 24, 2014

Adulthood Means Nothing

Shield your eyes, children. Shield your eyes.

I've officially been eighteen for two weeks. Everyone seems to look forward to that date, but so far as I can tell, the only difference between eighteen and seventeen is I can go to big kid jail. Even that's not a guarantee. Whenever I read an article about a teenage criminal, they always get tried as an adult. Then again, I'm only reading about newsworthy cases.
My English class has been reading Hamlet. Since Shakespeare is meant to be seen, not stared at on a page, we get to watch a movie. That means permission slips.
"I don't have to get a signature on this if I'm eighteen, right?" I asked my teacher.
She shook her head. "Not unless you're living on your own in an apartment."
Later, my mom showed up to check me out of for a doctor appointment. We asked the attendance office secretary if I could do it myself from now on.
She laughed at us. "Oh, heavens, no. You're still her legal guardian."
I can die for my country. I can vote, except I can't.  I can drop out of high school, but heaven forbid I sign myself out for a day. 

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Why Teens Need Social Media

This week, the hashtag #thanksmichelleobama is trending as students post pictures of their school lunches.

Meanwhile, this video shows a gym teacher forcibly dragging a swimsuit-clad girl into a pool after she refused to swim. She repeatedly screams "My top is falling down!" but he never stops.

Whether you support the First Lady's crusade against fat or not doesn't matter. Whether the girl was justified in staying out of the pool because she'd had her hair done doesn't matter. What matters is both are making waves on the internet. What matters is ordinary teenagers with cell phones are able to showcase injustices.
In the past, teenagers had to use our parents as go-betweens when we had a complaint. If they didn't support us in our struggles, we had nowhere else to turn. The internet is the greatest empowerment tool in the history of youth. Adults still roll their eyes. What would be called activism, controversy, or a social media campaign if coming from adults is deemed "whining" because of our age.
But that doesn't matter either. What matters is our voices are heard-and sometimes, adults listen. 

Friday, November 14, 2014

This Time, She Wins

Once again, a New Jersey young woman has sued her parents for college tuition. I can't help but notice the similarities between Caitlyn Ricci and the Rachel Canning case. But this time, she wins.
 Rachel Canning is:
1. An eighteen year old New Jersey girl
2. With married
3. Allegedly abusive parents
4. Who sued for college tuition and lost
5. And is seen by the media as a spoiled brat
Caitlyn Ricci is:
1. A twenty one year old New Jersey girl
2. With divorced
3. Allegedly supportive parents
4. Who sued for college tuition and won
5. And is seen by the media as a spoiled brat
I've got a college application open in another window right now. I've crunched the numbers. There is no way a teenager working a minimum wage job-and that's really all we can get-is capable of paying full college tuition by herself. Back in the sixties, my English teacher's husband paid for college on his own by working summers in a steel mill. That's not possible anymore. We petition our parents. We sign our souls away to student loans. We get a leg up from the government. We do whatever we have to now so we aren't stuck selling cigarettes from behind a gas station counter at age fifty.
A college education is required to move ahead in life. To move anywhere. I have friends who think they deserve college money for getting a 4.0. For playing a sport. For their ethnic heritage. For community service. For involvement. Is it such a stretch to assume she's entitled to money because she's born to parents who can pay for it? Parents have a responsibility to provide for their children financially and emotionally. Ricci's are cherrypicking. "One day she's gonna realize she needs parents," her mother said.
Sounds to me like she has. They just don't want to answer when she comes knocking. 

I Am the Champion

"If youth, throughout all history, had a champion to stand up for it; to show a doubting world that a child can think; and, possibly, do it practically; you wouldn't constantly run across folks today who claim that "a child don't know anything."
-Ernest Vincent Wright

In roughly three and a half years, I've written nearly three hundred posts, and in all of them, I use "we" to refer to teenagers. Adults are "they", or, when I choose to address them, the collective "you".
Legally, I am now an adult. Adulthood is purely legal for me at this point. I'm still in school and I'm subject to my parents' rules and whims. Still, I could be a they if I wanted to. But I won't. It contradicts every post I've written in the past, and besides, it confuses readers.
I'm going to keep up my blog. Numerically, I'm still a teenager for the next two years. Emotionally, I don't know if I'll ever leave. I wouldn't have turned sixteen if I had the option. I'll always be able to sympathize with teenagers.
For years, I've dreaded my eighteenth birthday. My youth is such a vital part of my identity. So is my blog. Once I lost one, could I keep up the other?
But I've decided to stay. I like blogging and there's a smattering of souls out there who care to read my words. If I can't be a youth myself, I'll be a champion. 

Monday, November 10, 2014

Eleven, Sixteen, Eighteen, and You, Erica Eliza

This is a post I've been holding back for two years. For a long time, I thought it would be my swan song. But you know what? Eighteen is still a teenager. I've got things I haven't said yet and the time to shut up hasn't come. Here goes.
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My Growing Up Girls
When I was three, my grandmother started this tradition of giving all her granddaughters a numbered doll for our birthdays. As you can see, they colonized my dresser. The oldest doll had a place of honor at the front, but when another year passed, she got shoved to the back. Replaced. She might have been the tallest, prettiest, newest doll at one point. But now she was obsolete.
That's how I viewed age. You spend a whole year getting used to saying "I'm eight" only to replace it with "I'm nine". But in the months leading up to my birthday, I didn't feel eight, since I was on the verge of being nine. But in the months after, I thought I was still too close to eight to qualify. It didn't matter what I thought I was because soon enough I had to say ten.
I have this love/hate relationship with time. I'm usually in February before I remember to write the new year. From fourth to tenth grade, I didn't set my clock back for daylight savings. It would be right again in six months anyways. Freaked people out when they came into my room.
I started this blog at fourteen. I created it under my middle name so my mom wouldn't know what I'd done. I was in eighth grade and thought I could take on the world just because I had Opinions. Spoiler alert: I didn't. It takes a ridiculous amount of time and energy to go viral. You have to spam, talk about trendy topics you don't care for, and hang out on about nine social media sites.
But I got used to it. Blogging is just screaming into a dark cave. I throw my own words back at myself to hear how they sound. And sometimes, the right people hear them too.
Two years passed. My sixteenth birthday was coming and there was nothing I could do to stop it. For some reason, I considered sixteen as some sort of deadline on my childhood. Maybe because it's old enough to work and drive and date. Maybe because the Growing Up Dolls don't go any higher. Whatever the reason, sixteen terrified me. I considered not identifying myself by age, the way some people refuse to give their race or gender. "How old are you?" "I'm unaged, thank you very much." But I wouldn't be able to drive a car, hold a job, apply to college, or get married without giving my birth date.
I had to grow up. But that didn't stop me from clinging to my last pieces of fifteen. Since my birthday falls in National Novel Writing Month, I used November to write a book about a world where people could call themselves unaged if they felt like it. A world where shouting "Ageist!" had the same sting as "Racist! Sexist! Bigot!" I've never shown it to anyone. Never described it until now.
 I also developed this fascination with age progression songs at this time and listened to little else.
This one was my special song. I know it's selfish to complain about longevity when plenty of people would give anything to live past fifteen. But I couldn't imagine what I'd do with all that time ahead of me.

This one's just a feel good song.

This is weird. I've watched it approximately a hundred times and still don't get half of the verses.

Okay, at some point I scrapped the bottom of the barrel.

Further evidence. But hey, it's a sweet song, right? 

I hated everything about this song. From Rolfe's condescending manner to Liesl's dependency. I used it for thinking music. Whenever I look for it on youtube, most of the comments were either from fifteen or sixteen year olds celebrating their birthdays. Now not even the number seventeen applies to me.

My greatest fear is that I'll forget myself. I'll have my own children and associate young people with them instead of myself. I'll go to college and love the woman I've become more than the girl I was. I'll watch teen movies with adult actors and think, "Yeah, she's sixteen, or close enough." I'll read YA books and think, "Not another whiny teen girl protagonist."
 And most of all, I'm afraid I'll stop believing in the wrongness of ageism. I'll pick up wisdom here and there and think it's due to age rather than experience. I'll talk down to youth. I'll sneer the word teenager, taking advantage of those gross eee and err sounds.
That's part of the reason I've kept up this blog. I'm no longer naïve enough to believe one Person of the Internet can change the world. I'm a low profile blogger. Oh, I know I have readers. I keep an eye on my pageviews and rejoice when they spike. I pour over comments and imagine the people behind them. I like the idea that I'm changing the way at least some people, whether they're adults or teenagers or children, view adolescence. But Teenagers These Days is a time capsule more than anything. I have a ridiculous amount of paper journals stacked beneath my bed, but the memories inside them will die if my house burns down. The internet lasts forever. I blog so Erica will never be able to forget Eliza.
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My other doll collection
In the middle of all this, my English class read the story Eleven by Sandra Cisneros. Here's an excerpt.
What they don't understand about birthdays and what they never tell you is that when you're eleven, you're also ten, and nine, and eight, and seven, and six, and five, and four, and three, and two, and one. And when you wake up on your eleventh birthday you expect to feel eleven, but you don't. You open your eyes and everything's just like yesterday, only it's today. And you don't feel eleven at all. You feel like you're still ten. And you are--underneath the year that makes you eleven...Because the way you grow old is kind of like an onion or like the rings inside a tree trunk or like my little wooden dolls that fit one inside the other, each year inside the next one. That's how being eleven years old is.
Now, I don't think of age as one doll replacing the next. Instead I imagine myself as a Russian nesting doll. Each year is a new layer. You can look at a matryoshka and use its size to guess how many dolls it contains. But you have no idea what they look like. Who they are. I'm still the thirteen year old who got kicked out of a gift shop on Independence Day (for not having adult supervision) and thought for the first time about what it meant to be independent. I'm still the fourteen year old who started this blog and idolized Claudette Colvin. I'm still the fifteen year old who didn't see the point of being an adult. I'm still the sixteen year old who devoured dystopian novels and craved revolution. I'm still the seventeen year old who grew to hate the hypocritical phrase "adult content".
Today, at 10:00 P.M., I turn eighteen. I'm no longer a minor. I can check myself out of school. I can live on my own. I can order useless infomercial products. I can't smoke or drink, but that's not something I ever plan on doing, so I'm an adult in every way that matters.
Except for one.
There are seventeen new dolls locked up inside me. Others might not see them, but I'll always know they're there. I won't shove off my old layers, like a caterpillar breaking free from its chrysalis. I refuse to fly away from my past. I'll let each year harden around me before I get to work on another one.
I know you're there, Erica Eliza Smith. And I know you haven't forgotten me. Actually, I don't think you ever will. Ursula K. Le Guin said, "Love doesn't just sit there, like a stone. It has to be made, like bread; and remade all the time, made new." People are the same. Look at you. Look at how far you've come. At fourteen, you decided you were going to take on the world and blogging was the way to do it. You still have "change the world" and "go viral" scrawled on the bucket list tucked away in your eighth grade diary. Somewhere along the way, you realized it would never happen. But somehow, it didn't matter anymore. I just wanted to shout my thoughts into the void and wait for the echo. I just wanted to know there was a chance someone out there could be touched by my words. I just wanted a time capsule for my adult self.
But whether or not future audiences care about your words isn't your problem. What matters is that you can take the your hopes, your hates, your passions, and pound them into a keyboard. What matters is you right now. Because guess what? That's all you'll ever be. There's no such thing as the future. Just an eternal parade of todays.
It's okay to grow up. That's why we're here on this earth, to make mistakes and get messy and, eventually, get something right. We get remade with each new today. I've come a long way since sixteen. I've crushed problems that tormented me and gained a few new ones. I've lost qualities I didn't know to admire until it was too late. But I've gained a few new ones. I no longer feel worthless. My new life motto is I Go Up. But I'm also less idealistic and I can't express a snappy opinion the way I used to. Oh well. The words are there for me when I want them.
You won't forget, Erica. It's not in your nature. I trust you. Now go live a good life.
Erica Eliza Smith, age 6,574 days

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Adult Privilege

At sixteen in a half, I went to the DMV with my mom in tow to renew my learner's permit. The lady behind the counter printed off a new permit and handed it to her. "If you don't like her grades, her skinny jeans, or her boyfriend, you can take it back and we'll revoke it."
And they wonder why I'm glaring in my license photo.
I felt so crushed and powerless. It was bad enough that I got my permit late. Parents, don't lose your kid's social security card. It's kind of important. It was bad enough that I couldn't take driver's ed through my school during the summer for the same reasons I couldn't vote this year. My birthday, November 10th, landed four days after the cutoff date. My friend who was born eight days earlier took it. Meanwhile, I sat through this scammer program where a raspy voiced old lady had us watch VHS tapes on driving safety while she played solitaire in the back of the room.
Obviously, I learned nothing, so here I was getting a learner's permit six months after my age qualified me for a license. It was bad enough that I heard adults referring to driving as "my right" when arguing about traffic laws while I got this droning mantra-"It's not your right, it's a privilege." But up until then, I never knew something as vital and fulfilling as a learner's permit could be demolished by parental tyranny.
Eighteen months passed. This morning, I woke up late, threw on some clothes, dragged a brush through my hair, dug up some change for a PopTart, grabbed my keys from the TV shelf, and ran out to my car. On the way to school, I didn't think about what a miracle it is that I can go anywhere I want when I want. I didn't think about how a car is a symbol of teen empowerment. The only thing on my mind was, "Do I park closer to my first period or the hall with the vending machines?"
Then I turned on talk radio and let it feed me election results while I navigated traffic. That's when it hit me. All rights eventually dissolve into privilege. Voting, like driving, is one of those rights.
I refuse to turn into one of those adults who skips out on election day because they're oh so terribly busy. I don't want to be one of those adults who votes for whatever candidate they saw advertised on their neighbor's front lawn. And I'm definitely not going to be one of those adults who gripes about jury duty. You get the chance to influence a court case, m'kay? Embrace it.
My Women's History class watched Iron Jawed Angels just before Election Day. It's about the suffragists who picketed in the snow and went on hunger strikes so their daughter's daughters could have the privilege of voting. I usually love underdog stories. Revolutions, civil rights movements, suffrage campaigns-I don't care if the underdogs are a different race or nationality. I don't care if they lived centuries before my time. I don't care if they're oppressed in a way I could never be. All underdogs are my people. That's how it's been since July 4th, 2010, the day thirteen year old me thought for the first time what it meant to be independent.
But this time, their crusade couldn't thrill me. So what if an army of women aged twenty one and up got thrown in jail for picketing the White House? It doesn't do me any good, because I'm six days short. Children are the new women. Every argument used against these suffragists- "You don't have the mental capacity! It's just another vote for the man of the house!" and every argument they hollered back-"We're taxed without representation! It's our country too!" Echo arguments I've waged with adults today.
In a way, I'm glad I fell short of Election Day this year. You never appreciate a right unless you don't have it. I scrawled this in my diary last night, but I'm posting it here because the internet is public and permanent: When I get the right to vote, I will vote in every election until the year I die.
To the rest of America, I hope you got out of the house this Tuesday and did the same.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

T Minus Nine Days

I've always been a compulsive rule follower thanks to my OCD. As a child, I could never hit my brother without shouting "Sorry!" after. Or before. Or during. In sixth grade, I threatened to tell on my friend Aubrey for picking up a handful of rocks on the playground. That was against the rules. Sure, the "don't touch rocks" rule just meant we couldn't throw rocks at each other. But I couldn't see beyond the letter of the law.
I had this idea that all rules were moral rules and picking up a handful of gravel could pave a highway to Hell. Thankfully, I became a teenager. A healthy dose of rebellion beat back the OCD. I learned to tell lies, like saying a story happened "the other day" instead of "back in March", or that it happened to "my friend" instead of  "my cousin's boyfriend's sister".
Then I turned fifteen. I was eligible to get a learner's permit, but I didn't dare get it before reading the driver's manual cover to cover several times. When I hit the road I made sure I never ran a stop sign, changed lanes less than 100 feet before an intersection, or went 41 miles in a 40 zone. I've heard horror stories from classmates who got pulled over for driving two miles faster than the speed limit. I knew my age made me vulnerable, and besides, rules are rules.
After two weeks, I realized everyone drives 45 or 50 in school zones.'
After three months, I trusted myself enough to change radio stations while driving, even if it meant taking my eyes off the road.
Today, aka thirteen months after being licensed, I told my friend Vanessa I'd watch a movie with her at 3:00 P.M. At 2:54, my pocket buzzed. I knew it was her asking when I planned to show up. I didn't look at it. Since I'm a teenager, the law requires me to pull over before turning on my phone, while adults just can't send a text.
Then I realized I'll be eighteen in nine days. I'll have maybe three hours worth of additional driving experience in nine days. But I'll still be the same kind of driver. That's what matters. What doesn't matter is this societal idea that an eighteen year old is competent enough to glance at a phone while operating a motor vehicle.
Still, I pulled into some random neighborhood and parked my car before I dared look at it. When I got back onto the forty mile an hour road, I was surrounded by adults drivers going fifty. In the rain. That's when I snapped.
I'm done. Sometimes I have to check the time while I'm driving to school because my phone's synced with the school clock and my car isn't. Sometimes I  have to call my mom for directions while I'm behind the wheel. And those breaks in the lines? The ones that mean it's okay to get into the turning lane? They're never 100 feet away.
I won't say I'm a better driver than most adults. They have experience on their side. But I am safer. More cautious. Law abiding. Why don't we focus more on enforcing existing driving laws instead of dreaming up new ones to cripple teenagers?