Sunday, June 28, 2015

I Choose Not to be a Perfect Child

I'm a teenager.
I get grumpy.
Not because my hormones are unbalanced.
Not because I'm a rebel without a cause turning my wrath on the nearest authority figure.
If I don't act happy, it's because I'm not.
I complain when my parents, who have heard me say I'm a vegetarian for twelve years, take me out to a steakhouse.
I complain when my mother, who turns off the modem every night so I won't have internet access, asks me what a modem is.
I complained when my parents take me to my graduation dinner and show up later to pay the bill.
I complain when my dad, who wouldn't let me learn archery the entire summer I was fourteen, teaches my twelve year old brother archery skills after him asking once.
I complain because nothing gets better when you don't.
I don't complain because my parents are some subhuman evil.
I complain because they aren't perfect superhumans.
I complain because I'm human.
And you do to. So don't cast the first stone.

Monday, June 22, 2015

The Vital Importance of the Teenage Selfie

Teenagers need to take selfies. If we don't, history will collapse. As proof, let me present everyone's favorite young outlaw.

This is Billy the Kid. In fact, it is the only photograph ever taken of Billy the Kid. As you can probably tell, Billy was drunk when he decided to stumble into the photographer's studio and get his picture taken. He was near twenty at the time.
If you're making an hour long documentary on Billy the Kid, you can show this photo. Or you can show his Wanted posters that also use this photo. You can use the colorized version of this photo. But your viewers will have nothing to do but look at this photo. For two hours.

Yeah, I'm bored already.
And here we have the only known photo of recluse poet Emily Dickinson. This was taken when Emily was around sixteen years old. Acquaintances claimed it didn't look much like her.

Writing a biography on Emily Dickinson? Here's your cover. New edition of a poetry book? Here you go. Making a PowerPoint report and your teacher wants a different picture on every slide? Yeah, good luck.
Emily and Billy teenagers, or thereabouts, at the time these photos were taken. Every scholar, student, biographer, and documenter wishes they'd posed for more. But they couldn't, because photographs were time consuming, expensive endeavors. If only they'd had smartphones.
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There you go. I don't know if I'll be Emily Dickinson of Billy the Kid, but there you go. You'll thank me in a hundred and fifty years.
History is only one reason selfies are important. The second is perception of  beauty and body image.
Taylor Swift on the cover of Glamour
Taylor Swift waking up in the morning.
See? Mortal. Don't you feel better now?
Keep in mind that celebrities aren't the only ones taking selfies. Normal teenage girls (and boys) proudly post pictures of themselves looking like normal humans on the internet for all to see. A 2013 Samsung pull found that selfies make up 30% of photos by people aged 18-24. Media critic Jennifer Pozner called selfies a toll for young people to break through "media gatekeepers" and say "I'm great the way I am."
And before you say selfies are a modern craze, here's thirteen year old Grand Duchess Anastasia Romanov taking one in 1913.
The Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna of Russia, the youngest daughter of Tsar Nicholas II, the last sovereign of Imperial Russia, took her very own selfie in 1913 -- five years before her untimely death

The Grand Duchess, who was executed with her family in an extrajudicial killing by members of the Cheka, the Bolshevik secret police, on July 17, 1918, appears to be one of the first teenagers to take a picture of herself

Here she is decked out in pearls for a formal portrait a year later. Thousands of photographs were taken of Anastasia and her siblings during their short lifetimes. Online archives show her with everything from a cigar to a shaved hear. But this one is the most widely used. As royalty living a few decades later than Billy and Emily, Anastasia had more access to cameras. Romanov fans have all kinds of content that captures her true personality.

As will the fans of another world leader's daughter.
So next time you ridicule the young people around you for taking selifes, remember we're going to go down in history. And we don't care if we look fabulous while doing it.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Take a Number and Live it Up

Never at any point in high school did I take a theater class. I hung out with the theater kids and went to all the shows, but I was always on the sidelines. One of my Senior Bucketlist Items was auditioning for the school musical. I made it, and after closing night, I decided to call it good.
Until the student directed mini plays came around and they talked me into auditioning. So here I was, back on the inside again. In the theater world but not part of the theater world. One day I was sitting around at rehearsal, watching everyone group themselves into cliques, and I felt alone. People talk about sociality is a pyramid or ladder, but I decided it was a continuum numbered one to ten. And I was a one. Then I factored in all the other facets of my social life and decided, "No, I'm more of a six. Is six good?"
So I turned to the girls next to me."Hey Hannah, rate your social life on a scale of one to ten."
"I'm a four."
It quickly became a game. We called out to people passing by, who gave us every number from negative three to twelve. Then we started rating people ourselves.
"She's seven."
"Definitely five."
"He's a nine."
"Wait, what? Are you talking about me?""
Nothing, Sam. Just rating your social life."
I've seen people play the same game with physical appearance, so we didn't feel bad in the least.One common thread I noticed: When we asked someone to pick their own number, almost everybody shortchanged themselves. Including me. Here I was, a six sitting with friends in a room full of people I mostly knew by name, and I felt like a zero.

I've kicked off every summer since eighth grade with a homework bonfire. Last year, I invited six friends over, and 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 like sitting on one of these by yourself." 
Both of her hands were in the picture. It was obviously not a selfie. She spent that night at the first party of the summer and probably her last. If she felt lonely, it was self imposed.
So many people in high school complain about being outcasts. They complain, even as they chose to eat lunch in the choir room, in the art hallways at the back of the school where the lockers don't reach, or behind a trash can on the second floor. Every once in a while, I've run into someone who's helplessly awkward and can't make friends no matter how hard they try. But most of the worlds loners are such because they don't try.

I spent most of my high school career far below a six. I hung out with friends outside of school once a month, if that. Party meant eating Doritos in someone's basement while a Disney movie played on a grainy screen. I thought I was some kind of pariah.
I'm a pull-yourself-up-by-your-own-bootstraps kind of girl, so this year I decided to give my social life an extreme makeover. In the last semester of my senior year:

I convinced a group to play hide and seek in Ikea on a double date.
I asked a boy from another school out to our prom four days before the dance. Prom is boy's choice.
I tracked down a boy at eleven o' clock P.M., chewed him out for dumping my friend the night before that same prom, and had him in a suit the next day.
I've crashed parties and been accepted without a second glance.
I played laser tag with a mix of friends and strangers at 3:00 A.M.
I went out for manicures with a friend instead of curling up and crying the day a bully tore me down in front of a silent room.
I sat and talked for hours with high school royalty I never thought knew my name.
I went shopping in a flapper dress and, without changing, showed up at a church youth meeting designed to set up my age bracket as role models to the younger girls.
I wandered a strange college campus with a girl who'd been there even less than I had.
I snapped photos of a prank proposal while our principal looked on in disbelief.
I sprinted to the getaway car after leaving random plastic cutlery on the porches of various guys I know from school.
I hurled loose change out of my sunroof to pay some guy back for the lighter he bought us to go with the cranberry scented candle we picked out for a mini-memorial service that would take too long to explain.
I added eight extra pages to the back of my yearbook to fit all the people who think I'm smart, funny, pretty, and caring.

And you know what I've figured out through all of that?
Sometimes the best moments happen when you leave a party to watch Netflix until 1:00 A.M. with a heartbroken friend.
Sometimes the best conversations happen when you sit in your friend's driveway for three hours after whatever event got you out of the house in the first place.
Sometimes the most memorable part of a school trip isn't the museums and concerts, but that time you played Uno in the hotel room with a bunch of orchestra girls.
Sometimes it's okay to go on a shopping trip and come home with only a bag of silk fish tank plants.Sometimes the best parties are when you invite fifty people, only three show, and then the rain comes down and you spend the night bailing out a girl's basement instead.
Sometimes you have more fun eating donuts and doing dramatic readings of your diary in a dark park than anyone at the afterparty.
Sometimes you don't need money to have a crazy night, just a friend's employee discount and a cup of cookies and cream flavored ice split four ways.

The key to all this?
Be open to spontaneity.
Be willing to kick something off yourself, even if it doesn't pan out.
Stay true to your friends.
Find friends who will stay true to you.
Don't close your eyes to all the amazing strangers all around you.
Love yourself, so other people will too.
Remember, even the It Boy find himself on the lower end of the popularity continuum sometimes.
It doesn't matter if you spend most Friday nights at home with a book, so long as you make your sometimes the best.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Tomorrow I Graduate

As a closing assignment, my AP lit teacher had everyone write a graduation speech and present it to the class. I didn't end up trying out, but I'm proud of it, so I'll post it here for you to enjoy. There's some rah-rah-go silverwolves stuff that doesn't apply to you, but bear with me.

Graduation Speech
            Senior year is an odd stretch of life because we're supposed to live in three times simultaneously.  The past. We're still wallowing in a lot of the same ruts we fell into sophomore year. But it's not all bad-we're also reliving our greatest hits. There are times I'm walking across the Commons, slipping in between these scrawny girls who could fit into lockers and boys who could pass as teachers if the mood strikes them, nothing on my mind but getting out to my car before the parking lot gets congested, and then it hits me. I have a car. Shouldn't I be, like, eleven now?
            Then there's the present. Our last chance to do everything is now. Join a club, go to prom, write crappy chemistry essays at three A.M. But while we're trying to do all that, we've got college applications and scholarships and trying to find jobs.
            And now for the big one. The future. All our lives, we've been told that we don't live in the real world. We've said it ourselves-"Nobody uses quadratics in the real world. What's the point of math if the most we do after high school is calculating a tip?" But to tell you the truth, you're already living real lives. Adolescence is a saga, not the prologue to the rest of your life. The world you live in right now is no less valid because you're a teenager. Tomorrow looks a lot like today. The problems and passions you have at eighteen are things you'll carry with you for the rest of your life. So are the people. More than half of Americans age twenty five or older live within fifty miles of their birthplace. So sorry, you probably are going to run into your ex and backstabbing friends.
            In the media, high school is either this fluffy, happy experience where we float from football games to prom night, or a gritty day-by-day struggle. If I've learned anything in high school, it's that no life is all one thing. Maybe you'll remember high school for the year you walked through the valley of the shadow of death, or maybe you'll only recall your highlights reel from the next year, but both happened. You can't help clinging to the past. Nostalgia will never bring your best days back, but reminiscing over your good times will do more for you than reliving your worst moments over and over again. I said the passions and problems you have in high school will stay with you for the rest of your life. That's true, but it's also true that you are also the master of your own memory. You don't get to choose everything that happens in your life but you decide which pieces to hold onto. So what do you want to be? There are different truths for different people. Do you want to move forward and laugh in the face of the future? Do you want to hold onto the days where you watched your world burn down around you, because those flames turned out to be the refiner's fire and you rose like a phoenix from the ashes? Find your right answer and learn to live with it.
            I've lived in Riverton since I was born. I've known some of you since kindergarten, and some of you I never got to know at all. Some of you have full ride scholarships. Some of you barely scraped by and you see no future beyond the entry level job you have now. But that doesn't matter. Not yet. You graduated high school and that is something no one will ever be able to take away from you. It was hard for you, and it was hard for all the supposedly perfect people you think surround you. Everyone has an invisible struggle.
            When you were six, adults asked you what you wanted to be when you grew up, and you had a different answer every week. Astronaut! Ballerina! President! When you were twelve, you had more "grown up" answers. Dentist! Librarian! Doctor-lawyer-engineer! Then you're sixteen, and you're supposed to have this bullet point list of how you're going to get your perfect job, pay off your student loans, and save for retirement all at the same time. Then you ditch it two years later because you're eighteen, on the threshold of adulthood, and it's finally dawned on you that you have no idea where you're going. Most of us won't live out our childhood dreams. We'll be marketing directors and human resource managers instead of astronaut ballerinas. But I've got news for you: you will not be a job when you grow up. You will do a job.  Life is so much more than just a career.
            You will do different things over the course of your life. Missionary, college student, working man, mother-but the only thing you will ever be is yourself, and high school prepared you for that better than you think. You've learned to feel comfortable in your own skin. You've learned to march to your own beat while fitting into the rhythms of life. You've learned to "keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you." You've learned to be the hero of your own story.
            Or maybe you haven't yet, and that's just fine, because your twenties are for figuring life out, and you're not even there yet. Don't let anyone tell you life is short. Living is the longest thing you'll ever do.
            The historian Bernad Berenson said, "I would, if I could, stand on a busy corner, hat in hand, and beg people throw me their wasted hours." Time is worth far more than money. The clock's still ticking but the time's not up. You've got a hundred years to live, or maybe less, doesn't matter, because you live life in the present tense.
            You probably think you've accomplished so much less in your high school life than everybody around you. But there are six hundred and fifty people around you thinking the exact same thing. I can't tell you how many times I've fallen into that trap, and I'm an AP student, Sterling Scholar, and I joined somewhere between six and nine extracurriculars this year. I've lost count. However you've measured your life in the past, I want you to look back and think about what you have done, and how much is still left to do. Wherever you go from now, whoever you decide to be, do something with your life. Raise a child, write a novel, fight a battle, let the world know you were here-but don't spend so much time in the world that you forget how to be you. It's a tricky balance, but you'll find it eventually.

            Everyone talks about graduation like it's the end of an era. False. Remember that theme song they piped through the hallways every single day sophomore year? It's time to begin, isn't it? You've come so far and you'll go farther still. You did it, Silverwolves. So hold your head up and walk like you know what you're worth. You conquered high school-you can do anything.