Friday, December 11, 2015

Life's Too Short

As I mentioned in a previous post, I'll be taking a hiatus from school, Internet, and life in general to serve as a missionary for my church for eighteen months. I won't leave until summer, and my application can't be sent in until one hundred and twenty days before my eligibility date, so I didn't start the application process until this week.
I have plenty of other friends who have, are, or are planning to go on missions. For years I've heard them say "I'm working on my papers" or "I just finished my papers". Whenever I tell people about my mission plans, even people in my church and age range who are fully aware of the 120 day rule, they ask, "Have you started your papers yet?"
So I always assumed the paperwork was this long, nasty, rigorous application. Even when my roommate Sabrina managed to get everything done in a single week. I thought she was just hyperproductive. After a quick interview with my bishop, I sauntered off to a science class review and thought, "I'll take care of all that nasty, rigorous paperwork over winter break."
As it turned out, I didn't need most of the information in the review, so I pulled up the website and filled them out on my phone. And then it was done. All this time anticipating the dreaded paperwork process, and I did it in under two hours between jotting down notes about ecosystems. I still have a few interviews and doctors appointment before I'm good to go, but so far as papers go, I'm done.
Yesterday I was getting ready in the bathroom with Sabrina and we got to talking about where we'll be in eighteen months. She's leaving earlier than I am, so she'll be twenty and a half when she returns, and I'll be twenty one. It seems like such a big chunk of life. Then she point out, "A year and a half ago, I was getting ready to start my senior year of high school."
That's so bizarre to think about. Everything from my fall semester of senior year still feels like recent developments. All the bad things are still raw wounds, all my epiphanies new revelations. I always rolled my eyes at the phrase "Life's too Short". It's the longest thing you'll ever do, people. But maybe there is some truth to that after all.
Life's too short to live without people who love you.
Life's too short not to have fun.
Life's too short to be stuck in a job you hate.
Life's too short not to learn every fascinating thing you can.
Life's too short to pursue other people's expectations instead of the dreams you've set for yourself.
Life's too short not to help other people.
Life's too short not to enjoy it.
High school is too short. Four years for most people-three for me-and yet it's such a defining and memorable stretch of your life. Same with college. Maybe it's because school is the only time you'll be doing the same thing as everyone in your age bracket. Maybe it's because pivotal moments come when you're young, so this would be a critical time in our lives no matter what we're doing.
Whatever the case, I've got approximately six months to live before I go to Texas or Tahiti or wherever it is I'm called, and that's too short of a time for me to not live it up. 

Thursday, November 19, 2015

That Day I Met Ruby Bridges

It's not every day that I get to meet one of my heroes.
Back in September, the mother of one of my African American friends wrote on Facebook that Ruby Bridges would be coming to speak at BYU in November. I've loved learning about the Civil Rights movement ever since I read We Were There Too!: Young People in U.S. History back in eighth grade, which is also the year I started blogging about age. My first period was history and I got in early a lot, so I'd flip through the book to pass the time. It had over nine hundred pages and only eight of them mentioned a teenager or child. At the end of each chapter was what I called the "minority half page", where they'd mention what women or racial minorities had been doing during that particular span of history.
So I went to the library and found myself a better history book. I tracked down We Were There Too on my own, but I later realized my history teacher had a copy on his shelf, right next to a book about Ruby Bridges. When he found out I was interested in minority histories he offered to loan me the first and I took the second.                    
So I marked the date of Ruby's speech in my planner and for the next few months I ran around campus telling my white friends, "Guys! Ruby Bridges is coming in November!"
And then my white friends said, "Cool. Who's that?"
Lots of people know the story once you start talking but she doesn't have name recognition.
Fast forward to today, when my friend Edie and I stood in the Line of Doom outside the art museum to get wristbands. College tip: Just because all your friends on campus don't know who a speaker is doesn't mean every white parent of an adopted black child within a twenty mile radius doesn't know. It doesn't mean that every fifth grader who did a report on Ruby Bridges doesn't know. It doesn't matter that every black law school student who already met her in fourth grade doesn't know. And they'll camp out in front of the museum. So show up early.
I hadn't thought to bring homework, so we passed the time watching people in the crowd. Especially the kids. When I was little, I had a lot of "day friends"-kids I met at the park or pool and never saw again. I've started using the term again in college to describe people I meet for a half hour in the cafeteria. I watched day friends from every ethnicity climb fences and cartwheel across the grass. Kids don't judge, I thought. Anyone your size is a good friend.
Me and Edie waiting in the Line of Doom. And we're happy about it. 
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Ruby talked a lot about friends. She was six years old when the NAACP asked her parents to let their child help integrate the first desegregated school of Louisiana. She was one of over one hundred and forty volunteers, but "the opposition", as she called them, insisted all the candidates take a test. Six girls, including Ruby, passed. They were split up. Three went to one elementary school and Ruby was supposed to have two friends, but their parents pulled them from the program out of fear.
Nobody really bothered to explain to a six year old what was going on. All her neighbors were strangely excited for her first day of class and kept saying "She passed the test!" So Ruby thought she'd tested out of twelve grades and was headed straight to college. That would explain why the building was so much bigger and nicer. And maybe it explained why she sat in class all alone with Mrs. Henry. She knew there were other children in the school (five of them, the rest had been pulled out) because she could smell food cooking in the cafeteria. It wasn't for her-she had to pack her own lunch in case of poison. Sometimes, if she stood in the coat closet, she could hear children's voices on the other side.
White students walking into Ruby's school. Images taken from her book Through My Eyes.
After many arguments with the principal, Mrs. Henry got permission to move the cabinet that blocked the coat closet's connecting door. Ruby stepped over to the other side. All the kids were white. She said. "It never crossed my mind what the kids would look like-I just wanted to make friends." She asked a boy if he would play with her. "My parents won't let me," he said. "Because you're a nigger."
At this point, a young white girl named Rebecca sitting on our row whispered, "Mom, what's 'nigger'?" Her mom explained. I'd asked Rebecca before the talk if she knew who Ruby Bridges was, and if she'd learned about her in school. I'd always thought Ruby Bridges was a Black History Month staple and every elementary school child should be able to name her alongside Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks. But apparently some of my college friends never learned about her or didn't remember. So I wanted to ask a kid. Rebecca said she'd learned about her "a little bit" in school but most of her knowledge came from a book.
Ruby has multiple books, but if it's the most popular one, the one I'm holding in my lap as I type, it contains that hateful word. And Rebecca stared at this Norman Rockwell painting for a solid hour before Ruby spoke.

But she'd skimmed over the word to read the story and looked past the graffiti to see the girl.
Ruby said she didn't blame the boy for his refusal. If her parents had told her not to play with a kid-Asian, Hispanic, mixed race, white-she would have obeyed. That's what kids do. That's the moment she finally realized she wasn't in college. That it was all about her. The angry mob chanting racist slogans and hoisting a coffin with a black baby doll didn't clue her in. A child did.
Protesters outside Ruby's school. I really hope that girl is smiling because there's a camera and not because her family has her holding a Klan cross. 
Ruby now travels and speaks to schools, from colleges like ours to elementary schools. She shared stories of all the children she's met, how the schools today have progressed so far, and one quote of hers stayed with me: "Racism is a grown up disease. Let's stop using our kids to spread it."
Tonight I got to shake her hand, get a book signed, babble about how she'd been one of my heroes since eighth grade, and then a museum official let me step behind the table to hug her.
It shouldn't fall to children to correct the errors of our parents. But it does. Children are the only ones of us who are truly unbiased. When I was nine, I went to a family reunion that was crashed by two black girls who lived near the park. The ate our food and played our games, so I thought I had two new cousins. More then half of the adopted kids in my neighborhood were black. Their race didn't clue me in. My mom had to explain they weren't related.
Ruby wasn't the first child to desegregate a school. She wasn't the only one in her city. But she stands as a symbol of a generation and a movement. It's partly because of her perseverance that Edie and I can go to the same school.
Childhood is the best time to learn anything, including racial tolerance. Not just to be taught but to learn. A white fifth grade girl in the row behind me said that like Rebecca, she'd learned a little bit about Ruby in school, then she'd gone and read all her books. In her talk Ruby described a school visit where she met a girl who hadn't learned the term "biggest fan" yet. "I've been your very best friend since I met you on the book", she told her.
I think adults have a responsibility to educate the rising generation. But adults have a responsibility to do many things for children, and topics fall aside. Even if you cover racial tolerance you'll be missing something else. I believe we're also responsible for our own education. Your teen years and college years are just as good of a time to find heroes. If I hadn't hit up the library for a more inclusive history book in eighth grade, I wouldn't have become passionate about teen and minority history. I wouldn't be blogging about it today. Ruby Bridges wouldn't have signed my book today.
But she did, and I plan on using it to teach my children.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Nineteen and Counting

Note: Post written on November 10th but not published until the following day, because complications.

It's here.
Nineteen is never a number I looked forward too. I knew I'd have high school years, and they'd end at eighteen, and after that would come my twenties. Now I just look at this number and think, "What am I supposed to do with you?" The more I think about it, the more I'm sure I'd rather stay eighteen for the rest of my life. The last year has been rough socially and emotionally, but I like the number. I like the technicalities of being an adult while still having one foot in the teen world. After eighteen there's really nothing to shoot for. Maybe I'll just be transaged.
"Ma'am, how old are you?" "I'm a transaged individual identifying as eighteen." "Uh huh, cause you look eighty four."
Birthdays hit me hard. I haven't wanted one since fifteen because for some reason I saw sixteen as the great dividing number. I keep thinking I'll stop celebrating them as a sign of personal protest, but I keep doing it as an excuse to gather my friends together. My school friends in high school were pathetic layabouts and my birthday was one of the few times a year I could get them to plan a social activity. But I've got a better crowd now. That's one of the things I love about college. Everyone's always looking for a party. Just spread the word and offer food.
Which is fabulous if you're capable of eating food. I made grand plans to take my friends out for Indian food, and later invite dozens of people for brownies, but my stomach had other ideas. In addition to all this stuff:

My roommates gave me stomach flu. Diagnosis pending, but I'm pretty sure I have what they had.
So for the first time in nineteen years I am sick on my birthday.
One of my friends put "Wish Erica Smith a happy birthday" signs all around the building. Which is pretty useful when the chocolate pineapple delivery guy wants to know where you live. I've got so much junk food strewn about my room and all I can put in my body is ginger ale and crackers. Other than answering the door, I've spent my entire evening laying in bed, watching either TV or the backs of my eyelids.
Nineteen isn't a threshold birthday like eighteen. I'm a non smoker so there's nothing for me to do. The only other threshold I'm aware of for nineteen is it's the minimum age for a girl to be an LDS missionary. My first friend has already left and I've got a few more on the way. But I don't plan on leaving until after winter semester so I've got time to kill. Girls serve for eighteen months, and with my timing, I'll miss two birthdays. Mother's Day and Christmas are the only holidays where we get to call/skype home. 70% of missions are served outside the US, so this is definitely the last birthday I'll get to talk with my family and quite possibly the last one I spend in the country for the next three years.
And I spent it sleeping and vomiting.
That, combined with the fact that I was having another birthday in the first place, put me in a bad mood. I broke down crying while listening to 100 Years to Live, one of the age progression songs I grew obsessed with my sixteenth year. 
But today also reminded me why we have birthdays. Not to celebrate being "ex-bodymates with your mom", as one of my well wishers put it, but to celebrate being alive in a world of other people. So many people came through for me today. My only healthy roommate gave me a hug and let me cry on her shoulder, my extended family called me up, and, thanks to the advertisements, I had complete strangers walking up to me and wishing me a happy birthday.
I'm a big believer in our best days being the "up and down" ones. Maybe today wasn't the party I wanted, maybe I won't get a good, traditional birthday until I'm twenty two, but I had friends today. And I'm grateful for that.
Now for the question I ponder with as every chronological and school year comes to a close. Am I still young, and how long will I keep up my blog? Right now the answers are yes and yes. Nineteen is still a teenager. I'm still passionate about youth and fiery when it comes to ageism. so until I'm shipped off to Tennessee or Thailand for my mission, you'll keep hearing from me.
And at that point I'll probably start a mission blog because writing is a really hard habit to break.
Here's to one more year.

Also, last year on my birthday I blogged about my Growing Up Girl dolls. My grandma started giving them to me consistently at age five, so for the last few years, she's been filling in the years she missed. Here's the complete set.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Gianna Jessen: Teen Abortion Survivor

In the wake of the Planned Parenthood expose videos, I've been doing a lot of research on abortion. I've consulted both pro life and pro choice sources, not because I think it's important to balance out opinions, but so I can get all the facts. Pro life sources tell me the stories pro choicers won't. But pro lifers focus on the morality of the issue and I need to know the medical details. So I consulted Planned Parenthood, health sites, and testimonies of maternal abortion survivors for that.

I also discovered another kind of abortion survivor and read her biography. Gianna Jessen's birth mother, Tina, became pregnant at seventeen. She knew about the pregnancy early on and planned on carrying her full term. But at an appointment with Planned Parenthood, Tina was told she shouldn't try to raise a baby while living her mother, who was on welfare, and she didn't have the means to support herself. This was seven and a half months into her pregnancy. For perspective, I was born at eight. Her local Planned Parenthood wouldn't perform an abortion that late in the game, so they referred her to a clinic that could.
It has a haphazard, chop shop kind of place. After injecting a saline solution into Tina's womb, which was intended to choke and burn Gianna, the doctor went home. The nurse on duty fell asleep at her desk. When Tina came to fetch her after her water broke, she said "Okay" and put her head back on her pillow. So on April 5, 1977, Tina delivered her child alone.
Gianna during a recent congressional heading and an image of a saline birth used as a visual aide

Gianna's body should've been charred and mottled by the saline at this point. But by some miracle, she not only lived, but did so with minimal scarring. She does have cerebral palsy as a result of the solution cutting off oxygen to her brain. But it's less severe than many cases. After intense physical therapy and several surgeries, Gianna can walk unaided and played softball in her early teens. She stopped because at age fourteen, she began traveling the country, speaking and singing at benefit dinners, rallies, and debates.
Gianna performing at a Right to Life rally at age sixteen
At first she preached to the choir. What prolife organization wouldn't want a living, breathing witness standing in front of them? But before a year passed she accepted calls to speak on panels where she stood alone. She endured ridicule, booing, bullying, media skepticism, and was arrested multiple times for peacefully protesting at clinics around the country. As a teenager she was accused of being her adoptive mother's prop, although she usually spoke and performed alone, and her mother was accused of exploiting her for the prolife cause. In fact, Diana DePaul traveled around giving prolife talks before she ever adopted Gianna, and her daughter didn't know her birth story until age twelve. Diana's own activism gave her an idea of what Gianna might face some day. She encouraged her to adopt her stage name (Jessen) in middle school to keep her personal separate and avoid harassment. It hasn't worked, I follow her on twitter and see her fending off people who wish her dead daily. I've received such a retort myself when I sent an ill-worded tweet that made it sound like I didn't think she had a right to live.
I do. I've known for a while that babies have survived abortions. At fourteen I heard the story of Ana Rosa  Rodriguez, who made it out of the womb mostly intact, in casual conversations with a girl who'd recently graduated high school.

When I began researching abortion, I kept running into stories about Ana, Gianna, and a handful of other prominent survivors. I saw the same names so often I thought they were the only ones in existence. But after reading Gianna's story, I learned there's an Abortion Survivors Network that serves an estimated 44,000 former aborted babies living in the United States. A tiny handful, like Gianna, have made abortion their crusade and travel the world sharing their stories. Most are hair stylists and lawyers and homemakers and teachers quietly living their lives.
Many have disabilities and medical issues caused by the abortions. And many do not. A good number of survivors are twins. If you want to survive an abortion, it helps to have a brother or sister sitting in front of you.
Abortions done as late as Gianna's are generally frowned upon. I've only found one clinic in the country that advertises procedures past twenty six weeks. But under Roe v Wade, states can't forbid a woman from an abortion at any point in her pregnancy if she decides it's problematic to her health. So what's health? According to Doe v Bolton, a Supreme Court companion case decided the same day as Roe, health includes "all factors-physical, emotional, psychological, familial and the woman's age."
If I found myself pregnant several months from now, I could justify an abortion just because I'm unmarried and think I'm young. No actual health problems required.
I've been blogging about ageism since eighth grade, almost five years now. In all that time, I can't think of a single topic I've covered that showcases more blatant prejudice and discrimination. Abortion is the ultimate example of ageism. At no other time in an American citizen's life can the fourteenth amendment consider you a nonperson. At no other time will your age matter so much that the laws dice it down to weeks. At no other time is your status as a minor such a strike against you.
I can understand the pro choice mindset. I'm not entirely sure when a lost pregnancy is the death of a soul. But even if you don't believe life begins until some certain moment, you can't deny that Gianna is alive and human today. You can't deny that she wouldn't have been so if the saline succeeded. Isn't abortion murder because it cuts off a life that would and could have been?
There are more abortion survivors living today than we care to admit. But not all them get the chance to live. ANS founder Melissa Ohden, who testified with Gianna before the House of Representatives, spoke on how she could've been drowned in a bucket of formaldehyde. But she didn't. And no matter how inconvenient her existence may be to pro choicers, she's here today.

Gianna: Aborted, And Lived to Tell About It, was first published in 1995, and she was seventeen at the time it was written. Beyond a few chapters dealing with her birth and adoption, it's entirely focused on her activism as a teenager. I was the same age as Gianna when I started caring about world issues in general and ageism in particular. But while I simply turned to blogging she became an activist. I'm glad that the world has teenagers strong, determined, and passionate enough to make a difference in the world.
Especially when they're fighting for fellow children. 

Monday, October 19, 2015

Keeping the Stars in Your Eyes

Last week was homecoming. In addition to the football game and other day activities, we had a parade circling around campus. I've always loved pomp and circumstance, and you can't ask for much more of that than a parade, so I wandered around for a good half hour before I finally found a good place to watch. I could hear the echoes of bag pipes and tubas, but I couldn't figure out where they were. I didn't dare ask anybody for directions in case wanting to see the parade turned out to be another cute little freshman desire. Maybe the reason I couldn't find anybody else looking for it was because nobody cared.
At last, I found a spot at sat down beside some other girls to watch the parade go by. After a while I thought, "Really, this isn't something spectacular. Cars with banners. T-shirted club members with bags of taffy. Teenage girls in lots of makeup waving from streamered platforms moving down the road." Parades quit being fun when you strip them down to their parts instead of the sum.
But then, so does everything.
Halfway through our poetry unit, my English professor joked that poets in general Emily Dickinson in particular must have had what she called "low wonder thresholds." Emily probably walked downstairs in the morning, gasped, "BREAKFAST!" And ran back to her room with enough inspiration for a month. How else could she wax poetic about such simple things for so long?

The most valuable thing children have is wonder. We lose that as we get older. Partly because the shininess of the world wears off the longer we live in it. We've seen enough sunrises, what's one more? A miracle? Sunrise just means breakfast, breakfast just means getting ready for the day, getting ready for the day, getting ready for the day just means leaving home, leaving home just means eight hours until you get to come back.
In my non-GE classes, I hear older students moan about how college is hard and it's getting old and could they just graduate already and what to do after graduation and life is haaaaaaard. They've lost the stars. But I'm determined to keep them for as long as possible.
A few days ago I went to the cafeteria for breakfast and got hash browns, yummy runny eggs, and an English muffin, all on the same plate! I sat down by some stranger. He asked "How are you", but instead of answering back with a "Fine", I told him how excited I was for my breakfast. Because I honestly was. I've checked the university app every day since to see when that meal will come around again. I've gone to lectures and club events and campus activities just because they sound fun. I'm still marveling at all the ways college is different from high school. The library has a 3D printer and I can make anything I want! My civ classroom has a back section that rotates like a merry go round! I could take a class in floral design or glass staining or Scandinavian cinema!
I know I'll get a college callous eventually, just like I did for high school and middle school before that, but I'm trying to prolong it. There's still joy to be found in eggs and parades. I don't think poets are born with low wonder thresholds, I think it's a matter of training. You can choose to retain a childlike sense of wonder even as you mature.
I have to believe that. After all, what fun is life if you can't live it with stars in your eyes?

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Dear High Schoolers: Five Things to Look Forward to

Well, your life sucks. You're bound to your parents, homework's got you down, and studies show that you probably have the same stress level as an average psychiatric patient from fifty years ago. But guess what, high schoolers? It's gets better! Just hold on in there until college.

Everyone is Lying to You

I'm sleeping way more than I ever did in high school. Sophomore year was my worst. Back then, I averaged five hours and fifteen minutes a night. Now I've achieved that mythical eight hours. Since I pick my own schedule, my classes started at 10:00, 12:00, or 1:00, depending on the day. My only motivation to wake up early-and by early I mean 8:30-is getting to the cafeteria in time for omelette hour.

Not Sitting Behind Pentagram Hat Boy

In my last semester of senior year, I spent my seventh period sitting behind this kid in a knit pentagram beanie. He and his buddies, who'd all chosen seats against the wall, would complain about how they got kicked out of some place for smoking and had to go to the vacant lot against the street, but the lot itself wasn't so bad, just that "there's not even a wall to lean against, just a pole", and they didn't want to take turns with the pole.
College separates the wheat from the chaff. Of course you'll find new annoying people, but they're a higher caliber of annoying, so this feeling is gone.

When Are We Ever Gonna Use This is Dead

Only one or two classes are required required. Some grit-your-teeth-and-bear it classes are required for your major, but you chose your major because you liked it more than a hundred or so other options. Your schedule dissolves into the needs and wants: stuff you have to know for your future and stuff you want to learn just because you're in college and you can.
At least, that's my life. I had a graduate from my major and a guy who works for the university sit next to me for two hours while I planned out my schedule. That's why I can take fun classes and sleep whenever I want. Not everybody had that foresight. A few weeks ago, a girl in my study group complained that she'll "Never need to know" all the factoids about Mesopotamian pottery we were memorizing for a test. All I could think was, "Well, you signed up to pay hundreds of dollars for this class instead of the one of the fourteen classes from eleven different programs that could fill this requirement. That's your first problem."
Okay, so there's still some chaff.

People Exist Outside of School

For years, I thought there were two types of people my age: school people and outside people, who came from my neighborhood or extracurriulars. Sometimes school people could become outside people if I invited them over. But most of the time they stayed in their sphere.
Then I'd go somewhere, like Target, and suddenly they're there buying orange juice. It was always jarring. Were they supposed to exist outside of school? In high school the boundaries got thinner, since we had afterschool culture and cars to meet up places, but now they're completely gone. You sleep a floor away from people in your classes.

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Everything is an Adventure

Today I made an egg salad sandwich.
That sounds like such a small thing, but I'm in a dorm room and don't have a good way to boil eggs. Not to mention that buying a carton would take up half the space in my mini fridge. Then there's mayonnaise and mustard. If I buy them, I have to be intending to make a habit of this, because I don't need entire bottles for one sandwich.
Then a few days ago I went to the gym vending machines for a snack. Gym people want to be healthy, so this vending machine has real people food instead of just skittles. Apparently some people like to suck on eggs while they walk to their workout. There they were, already hard boiled, two of them nestled snug against each other. But I still needed condiments. Our cafeteria has a no food past the door rule. But I've smuggled deserts and fruit before. This time I filled three condiment cups with mayonnaise, mustard, and a salt and pepper mix. I snuck them out the door. Success!
Now, after four days of eying those eggs in the fridge, I get to eat them.
I've made plenty of egg salad sandwiches in my life. But this one I'm proud of because I had to plan it out and find a way to put all the pieces together.
It reminds me of getting my driver's license. Sure, I'd been in hundreds of cars before, going thousands of places, but this time I got to take the wheel. So when I told weekend stories to my friends every Monday, I was careful to say "I drove to the movies" instead of  "I went to the movies", and they'd get a play-by-play of my adventures in traffic. Doing things on your own makes every little thing an adventure.

Monday, October 5, 2015

College Students vs. Homeless People

College students do weird stuff for fun, okay? The other night my friend Susan decided to do a Mexican food run at 10:30 P.M. After that, we didn't know what to do with our lives, so she took us on a tour of town until we ended up in a park at midnight. The park was full of not-quite-asleep homeless people. For a while, I wondered if we'd get kicked out of their park, but they respected us and we respected them. We stood a polite distance away and kept our voices down so they can sleep.
Homeless people are so often stereotyped and I was cautioned away from them my entire childhood. But after chilling out in the park for a while, I'm convinced homeless people and college students aren't that different.

Homeless People: Sleep on benches and grass in the night.

College Students: Sleep on benches, grass, and the floor of the Japanese periodical section of the library where no one will look for them. Usually in broad daylight.

Homeless People: Show up to soup kitchens and charity dinners to get free food.

College Students: Join clubs, go to school spirit events, and date just to get free food.

Homeless People: Carry everything they own around with them in bulging backpacks and bundles.

College Students: Carry everything of value around with them and in bulging backpacks and bundles.

Homeless People: Get to be homeless for free. Apply for government assistance to stop being homeless.

College Students: Pay thousands of dollars each year for the privilege of being college students. Apply for government assistance to continue being college students. If they didn't, they'd have to get student loan debts, which will come back to bite them and suck future paychecks dry. They don't want to do that. After all, they could end up homeless.

If I ever end up homeless and need a place to hang out, I'm going back to college. 

Thursday, September 24, 2015

I Went to Zumba and Didn't Die

Last night I did something daring, something ludicrous, something no college student has ever done before.
I got nine hours of sleep.
I slept through four alarms and probably would've slept more, except my roommate called the Outlet Repair Guy and he woke me up at the unholy hour of 10:00 A.M. Note to self: Not everyone who knocks on the door is my roommate. In fact, if they're knocking on the door instead of using their key, they're probably not my roommate. Wear real people clothes when answering door next time.
You know how people make bad decisions on three hours of sleep? Well, apparently the same is true for nine hours of sleep. I had all this energy and didn't know what to do with it, so after class, I marched over to the campus gym and bought a $50 aerobics wristband.
Now, a little bit about the history of exercise, which is directly related to the history of me hating exercise. Nobody had any idea it was good for your body until this scientist named Jerry Morris did a study in 1949. Nineteen. Forty. Nine. And he didn't clue in the general public until four years later. That means the idea that exercise is good for your body is younger than sliced bread, Hollywood, and Hillary Clinton.
One of these things is not like the other.

But then the eighties invented work out tapes and leg warmers and now you're supposed to exercise or you're an awful person. But I'm a rebel. A noncomformist! I'll show you, exercise culture. I refuse to move. Did my dad have a heart attack at the ripe old age of thirty five? Yeah. Should I exercise more to ward that off? Yeah, probably. But my grandma had skin cancer and you don't see me putting on sun screen. It's the sun. Giver of all life. If it manages to kill me I'll just take that as proof of natural selection.
I suddenly realized why I'm passionate about teenage life. I'm going to die young.
Or maybe not, because I actually used the wristband and went to Zumba Step Cardio or whatever it's called. Lots of bouncing and arm flapping while Meghan Trainor booms in the background.
It's not like I've always been a couch slug. I took gymnastics and dance and swimming and tennis and the like. Off and on. About a year ago, during one of my off stretches, I was sitting around on the couch when my mom came back from CrossFit. She told me her instructor was being outrageously demanding, so she just told him "No, I think I'll just do five burpees instead." And he listened.
I was confused. How could she just tell him no? Wasn't CrossFit dude the boss? Then I remembered my mom is an adult.
As a kid, I always equated fitness instructors with other authority figures. Like teachers. But for my mom, they were like dentists or waiters or salespeople. They take your time and money, so you can make demands.
I'm not sure what creates the difference. Is it just age? Money? When you pay someone yourself, you feel like they're indebted to you. But when your parents pay someone on your behalf, you feel like they're being given stewardship. Or maybe it's about living independently. Telling my roommates "Bye! I'm walking to the gym!" is so much more satisfying than hearing your mom say, "I signed you up for ballet, ungrateful eight year old. Get in the car."
Or maybe it's just a state of mind and I could've had this attitude all along but didn't know it.
Either way, I went to zumba tonight and didn't die. But now I'm committed to at least nine more classes before I can earn out my wristband, save $2 more than I would've paying for each class individually, and laugh in the face of the exercise industry.
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Because, you know, that was my plan all along.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Under the Wire

The longer I'm eighteen, the more I'm convinced it's no different than seventeen. 
My roommate, Eden, is seventeen years old. She'll stay seventeen for most of the school year. She moved from New Zealand to America a few years ago and the terms didn't quite match up, so she skipped a grade. Two other girls in our hall are seventeen but I don't know their birthday situations yet. If any of these three girls want to meet with our RA, they're required to have someone else present. They can't be alone with her because they're below the age of consent.
Our RA is nineteen. The age most of us will be by the end of the year. I turn nineteen in November, so in a few short months, Eden will be sharing a bedroom with a nineteen year old. But spend five minutes alone with a nineteen year old in a permission of power? Heaven forbid. 
This summer I watched over my neighbors' house and dog while they were out of town. Spending night after night in a big, empty house with only a collie for company can get lonely, so I invited friends and cousins. The first night I had a twenty year old friend sleep over. When I got back the following morning, my mom told me she'd been anxious because my friend was older than me and we were sharing a bed.
I took this same friend on a family boating vacation the previous month. We shared a bed then. But oh, there were adults aboard, and that makes a world of difference.
PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT: Most young women between the ages of eighteen and twenty aren't rapists. In fact, a lot of them are attracted to men. So they are not out to prey on just-below-the-wire teenage girls.
I'm not denying the girl-on-girl rape happens, and yes, I know that girls are statistically more vulnerable to sexual assault than women. But the psychology and vulnerability of an eighteen year old is no different than a seventeen year old. The only difference between the two is lifestyle. College freshmen (often but not always) live on their own. High school seniors don't. But even though the American school system would normally have Eden in high school, she's living the same life as me. As I mentioned in my last post, plenty of girls from my graduating class are still living with their parents, essentially stuck in the same lifestyle they had in high school.
An eighteen year old can be jailed for prostitution where a seventeen year old would be treated as a human trafficking victim. Rape of minors carries longer sentences. Child pornography is illegal and immoral while adult porn is completely acceptable to most society. And really, what's the difference? I wish we lived in a society that was more concerned with protecting people on both sides of the wire than putting up caution tape around secure, independent teenage girls. 

Friday, September 4, 2015

Dependence Day

I am pleased to announce that I have survived my first week of college. In my spare moments between scouring basements with moving walls for my next class and trying to find the fourth floor library's checkout desk, I've been thinking about whether I should continue my blog.
Will I be busy with college life?
Am I in a different phase of life than the people we normally identify as teenagers?
But am I still a teenager?
Numerically, yes. And I still care. So I'll keep blogging until I leave for an eighteen month missionary stint at the end of the school year or until I run out of things to say. I think I know which one will come first.
I like to think of myself as independent. I wake myself up. I get myself to class. I keep myself fed. Most importantly, I'm living on my own. When mail comes to me, there is absolutely zero chance it will be addressed to "the parents of Erica Smith". I don't have a curfew. I didn't have an official one living with my parents, but there are no more 11:55 "When are you coming home?" texts.
Whenever I hear footsteps in the hall around midnight, I feel like someone's coming by for a light's out check. But no. It's just some girl getting back from a date. 
But am I really independent? Is anyone?
I have a friend from my hometown who's commuting to class every day. When I found this out, I felt bad for her because she wasn't living the same life of independence as I was. Then I realized I'm not independent either. At least, not in the technical sense. 
Let's look at some definitions of dependence.

1. The state of relying on or needing someone or something for aid, support, or the like.
reliance; confidence; trust:
Her complete reliability earned her our dependence.
an object of reliance or trust.
the state of being conditional or contingent on something, as through natural or logical sequence:
the dependence of an effect upon a cause.
the state of being psychologically or physiologically dependent on drug after a prolonged period of use.
subordination or subjection:
the dependence of Martinique upon France.

Let's focus on the first two and the final definitions, shall we? Three is dependent on number two and I don't really care about drugs and logical sequences right now. 

The most obvious kind of reliance is financial. No modern teenager can pay their own way to college. Not without some source of financial aid. Universities don't come cheap. My hometown friend is living with her parents and her parents are paying for it. I'm living in a dorm room and my parents are paying for it. So in that sense I'm just as reliant as she is.

I spoke more boldly and openly to my family in the last month of summer. I knew I wouldn't be living with them much longer, so I simply didn't need to tiptoe around their feelings the way I did for the first eighteen years of my life. Still, I wasn't stupid enough to burn bridges, because I'm still bound to them financially. Besides, when it comes down to it, I love my family. If trust is a form of dependence than the only way you can truly be independent is to cut off all contact with your family.

In this way I'm finally free. I've mentioned before that my parents turned off our home's router every night and didn't give my brothers and I the wifi password to our own house. When I get on my phone each night, my eyes still go to the wifi icon in the top left corner, waiting for it to disappear. But it never does. The router lives on my desk, it's little green flicker a comforting beacon in our dark dorm room. Even my roommate doesn't touch it. The password only changes if I feel like it. I have the privilege to take Internet access for granted, a force as invisible and necessary as air. And yes, Internet is necessary in the life of a college student, a topic that deserves its own post.

My life has changed drastically in the last week. But in the ways that matter it's still much the same. I'm stuck in limbo, not that I mind. I've always liked halfway points. New Year's, sunrise, and sunset in time, bridges, borders, and vestibules in space. I think I'll like college life for that alone. As for the actual lifestyle changes, well, I'll just have to wait and see. I've got a long year ahead of me.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Fear Only the Toaster

This time last year, my friend Dorothy was prepping for college while I geared up for senior year. Dorothy was the friend I looked up to as a junior. Part of this was that she was the only reason I passed chemistry. She would've been in AP if it hadn't conflicted with her schedule, so she would spend the period sleeping, reading comics, or talking to me, and somehow got her packets back with 100% scores. In addition to that, she was the kind of person who always had her life together. She got perfect grades but it never stopped her from enjoying her hobbies. She had plenty of friends, especially guy friends, so getting a date was never a problem. She didn't waste her time with boy drama and always seemed to be in a good mood. I figured if anyone was prepared for college, it was her.
But there had to be something. Her Achilles heel. And whatever Dorothy was dreading in her final days of freedom, I'd better start preparing for it now.
So I went up to her the day before she left.  "Dorothy, I want to know. What's the biggest thing you're concerned about for college?"
"Well," she sighed, all the weariness of a forlorn freshman dragging down her shoulders, "I don't know if I'll have a toaster."
"A toaster?" 
"Yeah. I know I'm bring the TV..." she rattled off a list of which roommate was bringing what. "But I don't know if anyone is bringing a toaster." 
And all my fears for my college bound friend promptly evaporated. "Oh Dorothy. Poor, poor Dorothy. Worst case scenario: you have to eat raw toast for a week before you can find the time to drop by a yard sale and buy one for a buck fifty."
(Also one of Dorothy's roommates ended up bringing a toaster so her life's in pretty good shape)
With two days left before I head out, I am pleased to announce that I have arrived in the Toaster Stage. A huge mound of Stuff lurks in a corner of my living room, ready to take over my dorm. Well, my half of the dorm. The other side belongs to some girl I've never met before.
But I'll be living with her.
When I'm not navigating a strange campus.
Full of people I don't know.
And classes I can't find.
Or pass once I get there.
But you know what?
I've spent years worrying about these things. Now, when people ask me if I'm "excited for college", I can't honestly answer yes, but I'm not "nervous for college" either. Just ready.
That's how you know you hit the Toaster Stage.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Body Language and Parental Permission in the Wake of an Organ Harvesting Scandal

I think by now we've all seen the Planned Parenthood sting videos, or at least read about the baby tissue and organ harvesting scandal, but here's one of the first videos for good measure.

Two things stick out to me as I'm watching these.
1. Body Language
The woman in the first video refers to the lungs, heart, and liver as lungs, heart, and liver, but the head as a calvarium. When was the last time you heard any kind of person-doctor, biology teacher, guy on the street-refer to the head as such? It's showing up on my screen with a red line, for heaven's sake. She uses different terminology because, no matter which side you're on, there's something nausea inducing about crushing a head. Calvarium is a euphemism, a dehumanization. Along with that, both the Planned Parenthood executives and undercover "buyers" are careful to refer to babies as "specimens", even dodging the more politically correct term, "fetus".
I'm a writer, but sometimes I hate words. Words are just packaging for ideas. A rose by any other name and all that.
Last month my family went on vacation with my friend Ashlin's family. Her youngest sibling is eleven month old Layla. We all took turns caring for her, but she was mostly the responsibility of her family and the other girls on the boat. Towards the end of the week someone asked my brother, "Can you take Layla?" He responded, "I already held it." Since Layla is a born baby, hardly anyone calls her "it", so we found his answer hilarious. We spent the rest of the trip referring to Layla as "it' whenever he was within earshot.
In the English language, the idea of referring to a person with that pronoun is so dehumanizing, Dave Pelzar used it to title his infamous memoir about surviving childhood abuse. Yet people continue to do it with both pre and post natal babies.

2. Parental Permission
Most adults seem to believe that parental permission is the difference between right and wrong. That a young child won't have nightmares after a violent movie if a parent is curled up on the couch beside them. That a teenager drinking under parental supervision is somehow better than a teen having a kegger with friends. That those parent permission slips for everything from science fair to field trips to that Obama speech we watched in seventh grade (someone explain to me why I need my mom's permission to watch my president speak) actually mean something.
I think right and wrong is the difference between right and wrong. Whether you're pro choice or life, you can't deny that there's something wrong with scrapping a kid for body parts. Even if the mother did give the go ahead.
At the end of the day, abortion is always about putting the parent's wants and needs first while dehumanizing the unborn child.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Middle Schooler and Professor Face Off Over Irish Discrimination (Teen Wins)


Richard Jensen was an elderly academic who decided Irish discrimination was a myth.
In a 2002 paper, Jensen wrote that the infamous NINA (No Irish Need Apply) signs of the 19th century are an urban legend. After a supposedly exhaustive research endeavor that included combing seventy years worth of New York Times ads for the word Irish, he decided that they either
1. Never existed at all
2. There are so few of them that any Irish Americans who cry out in protest are hate-hungry oppression seekers.
When another academic, University of Missouri history professor Kerby Miller, begged to differ, Jensen accused him of being Irish and Catholic and wrong.
Miller is none of those things.
And we've got a fourteen year old girl to prove it.
Rebecca Fried was an eighth grader with access to google.When her dad brought home Jensen's article, she took to the internet. A short while later she found a whole crop of examples. She made a project out of it, organized her evidence into a thesis, and contacted Miller to read through it.
Oh, and in case you were worried?
She's not Irish.
Just an American kid who cares about discrimination.
Sorry, Jensen.
I've written before about how much I love teenagers who use their after school hours to quietly become experts in something. Fried-yep, I'm calling her by last name here, because she's a scholar-had her thesis, "No Irish Need Deny", printed in last month's Oxford Journal of Social History. From there it spread across the internet. As usual, because she's a teenager who figured something out, she's being hailed as a precocious wunderkind rather than someone who figured something out.
It gets better.
Jensen stumbled across Fried's work over on Irish Central and decided to grace the comment section with his presence. He claims that
1. This photo of a NINA sign used in the article, which I've borrowed for this blog post, is a fake (Keep in mind that even if it is, news sources regularly use stockphotos or similar sources to cut time or expense)
2. Fried doesn't have enough evidence
3. What she does have is the wrong kind of evidence, because for some mind boggling reason, anti-Irish newspaper ads are different than anti-Irish signs
And then Rebecca showed up to the party.
With all the politeness and professionalism teenagers are forced to use when defending their stance against someone older and crankier, she
1. Thanked him for gracing the comment section with his presence
2. Pointed him back to specific pages of her own article that contained tallies of NINA newspaper ads and store window signs
3. Thanked him. Again.
4. Closed with "I respect you and your work".
Can we raise the scoreboard?
Rebecca: 1.
Richard: 0.
In my most humble teenage opinion, I think Rebecca Fried is a savvy scholar who will give more teachers the what's for as she enters high school next month.
But don't take that at face value.
After all, some of my ancestors were Irish.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Why School Doesn't Suck Anymore

"What do smart people think about. Fancy things I suppose. I wish I knew some fancy things alredy."
-Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

"When are we going to use this?"
That was our marching anthem in middle school. I'm not going to be an architect, engineer, or research physicist, so why should I learn this equation? Do I need to know the history of Texas if I'm never going to live in Texas? I'm pretty sure my job won't require me to write anything more complicated than an email. That plant's just a plant whether I know anything about the cell membrane or not. And tell me, senor, why am I learning how to say "Mis bis abuelos viven en un casa no muy lejos de tu casa?" My great grandparents aren't living, let alone living near anyone who speaks Spanish.
By high school our cries dissipated. Not because the teachers gave us answers we liked, but because we found our own. We became part time students, and spent the other part of our time in a vocational training that taught us things engineers, dental hygienists, and cosmetologists actually need to know. We interned at hospitals, aquariums, and publishing companies. When sophomores saw us walking the halls in scrubs or firehouse uniforms, name tags swinging from our necks, they knew we knew where we were going.
And how to get there.
We cut the fluff classes and applied for work release. We graduated early so we could save some money for college already. We went AP or stockpiled concurrent credit hours. And it finally clicked. Maybe we won't use any of our classes in every day life, except for driver's ed and cooking. But all of it's stepping stones to get us where we need to go.
I'm not just spouting this out. After thirteen years of school, I'm four weeks away from college and truly believe this. I couldn't be more excited-or more grateful. I have friends who aren't going to college, either because they can't muster up the confidence to do so or because their families aren't behind them. I thank my parents every day. My still-in-high-school friends are sick of my class chatter. "Did I tell you I got into my waitlisted plant science class? And that BYU offers a class called "Dinosaurs"? Not Dinosaurs 101 or Introduction to Dinosaurs. Just Dinosaurs. If I take that I can run around saying 'Oh crap, I'm late for Dinosaurs!' And I don't need math thanks to that ACT prep class. Oh, and once I get a few more English credits out of the way, I can take folklore!"
Now that I've passed all the stepping stones, I can learn whatever I want. And I've learned a secret:
It's not about the grades.
It's not about the diploma.
It's not about the transcripts.
It's not about the resume.
So far as society's concerned, education's about producing a population that isn't full of idiots, and so far as you are concerned, it's about making your life a little more colorful.
I'm ready, college.
Give me some fancy things to think about.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Abandon Ship: Or, Some Things I've Finally Figured Out About Life

Like many high school seniors, I celebrated my graduation with a "senior trip", although mine was a little different. For one, we left the week after the fourth of July, not immediately after graduation. Also, I was the only senior aboard.

From left to right: Layla (10 months), Natalee (17), Erica (18), Bonnie (12), Hanna (16), Ashlin (16), and Carly (15). Not pictured: Camille (20), who had to leave early
My family owns a 1/6 time share of a houseboat in Lake Powell, a giant freshwater lake in the middle of the Arizona-Utah desert. Our boat has air conditioning, a flat screen TV, a water slide, and two bathrooms. Deal, right? I thought so. But I couldn't get a single one of my senior friends to go.
Since we only have one sixth of the summer, we meet with the other houseboat owners midwinter to assign weeks. Our family's prep and planning for the trip starts a month or two in advance. They needed to know how many friends I had early on, so I started recruiting well before the summer, only to be turned down by literally everyone I counted as a friend throughout high school.
A few of them had legitimate excuses. "I'll be in Montana that week" or  "I'm spending eleven days in Israel for my graduation trip and I won't be able to get more time off."
But most of them didn't. One girl got a fast food job the week before we left and didn't bother asking for time off. The restaurant is so lenient, they let my friend Tessa work just Saturday shifts all through the school year so she could balance homework and lacrosse. If she'd told them "I can start a week from Monday," they would have let her. Another girl told me in May, "I don't plan that far ahead, so let's just go with no." But my favorite is the girl who, when invited in February (this is a July trip), said, "I can't. I'm cleaning my room."
I've been in her room. It's not that big. Plus, she said she needed to "get it ready for college". She's living at home for college.
So I brought four of my neighborhood friends instead. Three of them have stuck by my side since elementary school. One's a newer edition to my neighborhood, but she's been there for me in my darkest hours. My sophomore friend brought her younger sisters along. The more the merrier, right? When we were done, the ages of our party ranged from twelve to twenty.
I talked with my boss weeks in advance to make sure I could get it off. Camille took time off as well, and she had to leave early for a family reunion, but she committed to as much of the week as she possibly could. There's always room when you make it.
The day before we left, one of my fifteen year old brother's friends called us up to say that by some miracle, football practice had been canceled for the next week. Could he tag along? This was my trip, so my brother and parents turned to me for an answer. I almost declined out of petty jealousy. Did he really need a friend? Why should he have this miracle last-minute friend when mine said no six months in advance?
But I let him come. I'm proud of my brother and wish I would've been more like him at his age. Confident, fun loving, and surrounded by friends. All friends bring drama at the worst times, but no friend should bring you loneliness at anytime.
Then the morning of the trip, I had a dream that Hanna called. She said she'd accepted an unpaid job running the tech for a play in a city an hour away from our home. For an hour, I lay in bed, unable to separate dreams and reality. I wondered how the driving arrangements, meal plan, and other details would work with her gone. But most of all I wondered why all of my friends would put absolutely anything before me and my trip.
Hanna Snow's photo.
Hanna, Queen of the Cliffs
I told Hanna about my dream on the way down, and she laughed. The same sort of "that's absurd" laugh people gave when I told them about my friends who bailed. That is, when they're not staring at me in slack jawed stupor or asking if my friends are druggies. She told me she wouldn't miss my trip for the world.
That's when I finally realized the truth: I hung out with derps all through high school. One time I invited six girls to a backyard party. One of them asked me to take a picture of her on our two person swing. The next day, I found it on facebook with the caption, "Nothing says summer alone than being on one of these by yourself."
In the end, I'm glad for the way my trip turned out. The kind of people who can't stand the stress of talking to a boss, leaving Mommy's side for a week, or marking a date on a calendar wouldn't be able to handle jumping off thirty five foot cliffs or hurtling over the water on a jet ski at fifty miles an hour. They'd spend the whole trip lying in our stuff cubby bunks with three foot ceilings. We had our quieter adventures: lying out on the top deck, heart to hearts on the beach, and hiking the desert rocks in search of cell service. But after the best week of  my life, I've decided that I'm not built just for safe harbors.

Life, especially teenage life, is supposed to be enjoyed. I didn't realize that through most of high school. A lot of my older posts talk about how "real" teenage life is actually pretty boring. I now know that I misrepresented teenagers as a whole, that I took my experience and tried to make it universal. Real friends make an effort to see you outside of school more than a few times a year. Normal friends talk to you on a Friday night, not just in class. True friends are there for you in the light, not just your darkest hours.
I am eighteen years old. I laugh without fear of the future. I'm proud of every passion and pain my teenage year brought me, and now I'm a young adult. I have a fabulous, colorful, lovely, adventure filled life ahead of me, and nobody, friend or foe, is going to stop me from living it.