Friday, July 12, 2013

Why I Won't Be Depressed

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I've recently been playing my oboe in a pit orchestra for the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta  Ruddigore, an experience I've enjoyed although the show's plot line could have been conceived by the Honey Boo Boo Child. Anyone who plays in the pit orchestra of any operetta can tell you that there is a lot of waiting involved in the experience, what with you having to sit and twiddle your thumbs while dialogue between songs plays out. The bassoonist and I as a result used this down-time to read Ned Vizzini's It's Kind of a Funny Story. I'm very proud to say that this book almost made me break out the paper shredder.
     I'll make this frank, to the point--I was semi-depressed a few years ago. I'd loved childhood with a passion, so much so that I confronted all of my anxiety about leaving childhood with feeling terrible anxiety about entering adulthood. Does this make sense? Of course it doesn't, and that's what made this period of my life so frustrating. What it basically boiled down to was me worrying that I would end up being a pot-dealer, or a thief, or a murderer, or a child-molester--something so horrible that simultaneous thoughts both of me committing these crimes and my family's reactions to me committing these crimes were almost unbearable. To make the situation worse, I didn't identify with other middle-schoolers very well, which made two consecutive summers maddening deserts of social activity, social activity that could have distracted me from what what my mother--my impromptu therapist--called "bad thoughts". My summer days were spent in front of a computer, wasting time with slightly humorous websites and such, while nights were spent watching crappy sitcom after crappy sitcom on the television. 
     It was horrible. 
     Craig's life in Funny Story is hands-down much more horrible than mine was. He's not doing well in his excessively-demanding classes, he's upchucking everything that's able to sneak its way down his unwelcoming throat, and it's not getting better. He's letting all of his thoughts interfere with those things in life that he loves. This is something I'm very glad never occurred to me since what I loved most at the time-- school--distracted me well from September through June; my semi-depression wasn't like the deep cloak of darkness that's falling over Craig.
     But then that makes me think, because an element of that anxiety still lives inside of me like a scar (I'm a fervent believer in the fact that mental scars can exist just as much as physical ones). I think that maybe, if I get into the Ivy League schools I so intensely want to attend, I will become depressed. That the demanding classes will be too much for me as the classes at his gifted high school were too much for Craig, and some form of those "bad thoughts" will return to me, causing a complete destruction of potential self-sustainability in my life. Heck, what if it moves in right now, what if I become so bent on destroying myself with my own mind that I actually destroy myself--just randomly, out of nowhere, as nonsensically as the thoughts themselves are constructed. There's just this fear inside of me that I can't seem to eradicate. 
     What if I turn up like Craig, ready to jump off the Brooklyn Bridge?
     But then I think some more, and realize two important things. One of them is that I'm a highly ambitious person, and therefore simply have to face the facts that if I dedicate all that time to depression, I'm not dedicating it to improving my literary or academic skills. I will fall behind, and even if I do waste time in my life, do I really want that time to be wasted in depression? The second, more potent phenomenon is the scar theory--I have to always expect that this semi-depression will be with me since those middle-school years were so much of a funk compared to the rest of my life. And whenever I feel the scar, I'll just have to remember what Craig realized about how in life: that you must accumulate as many verbs as possible, that you should always be thinking less than you're doing
     After all, your legacy is not just the things you've thought, but the thoughts you end up doing. 

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Think Like an Intersexual

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Let me be the first the tell you that in the year 2013, junior year is a mess. Every single test you take feels like someone's way of saying "You're not good enough to do this" or "You're not good enough to do that"--it's like a perpetual episode of American Idol. Only on this season, you're not cut. You just keep doing every one of the stupidly-themed "weeks" kicking and screaming and wanting to go home, like a perpetual daycare. American-idol-themed day care, anyone?
     But it's a mess in another way as well--a mess of perspectives. Young people are trying to find out what it is to be man and what it is to be woman, leaving all concepts of what it is to be human on the sidelines. I've done a lot of thinking about this subject, as it's definitely been having an effect on my friends and I, and I've come to a simple conclusion that will hopefully solve all of the he-said-she-said, my-boyfriend-doesn't-like-me, dude-let's-fight, you-have-that-bra-size-? problems of the world:
     Everyone has to think like an intersexual.
     In Middlesex by Jeffery Eugenides, we are introduced to Cal Stephanides, who writes this book from the present day reflecting on his childhood. But he doesn't just talk about his childhood--Cal delves through the generations all the way back to his grandparents, who lived in a small, Greek village called Bithynios. Everything's quite normal in the story until brother and sister Lefty and Desdemona discover their exuberant love for each other and make themselves Cal's grandparents. This is the modern beginning of one mutation in the family's genome that leads to Cal's intersexuality. Nearer to the end of this book, Cal records how this intersexuality influenced his childhood, how it made him capable of seeing things from the male and female perspectives. Such a talent really helps when it comes to traditional teenage processes such as (almost) losing one's virginity--through all the feminine excitement (which he experienced because he was raised as a female), Cal can easily identify the small steps his lover is taking to seduce him, things that a heterosexual female may not take note of.
     It is with this kind of dual vantage-point that my friends and I should really be looking at our lives. When we try to look at life from the sole vantage point of a man or the sole vantage point of a woman, we just end up decreasing the amount of phenomena we expose ourselves to, beneficial phenomena that can easily be incorporated into ourselves. And naturally, a world where everyone analyzes everything from multiple perspectives can have great peace-making potential among individuals, whether that peace-making potential has to do with sewing teenage relationships back together (how many boyfriends and girlfriends swear never to talk to each other again because they just can't see from each other's perspectives?) or battling racism (illegal immigrants don't seem so evil when one considers his reaction to some of their situations.)
     Hate does not have to be combated with willingness to love, but simply a willingness to understand.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Awareness Shouldn't Be a Miracle

The Age of Miracles
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Let's think of everything happening in our world today. A civil war tearing apart Syria, the Supreme Court deciding who has the right to no-strings-attached love, Russia becoming more authoritarian...there's quite a bit to go down in the history books. However, picture yourself in fifty years. If someone asks you what you remember about the Supreme Court's decision on gay marriage, will it be the court proceedings of each individual day that you remember? Or will it be how your grandmother almost threw a plastic spoon at your brother in a heated debate concerning the topic?
     I think the latter.
     In Karen Thomson Walker's The Age of Miracles, the turning of Earth on its axis slows day to day, causing mammoth environmental changes. At first thought, one would probably reason that our main character, twelve-year-old Julia, records a significant amount about how days progressively get longer and the effects on wildlife and such (birds dying, ecosystems breaking down, the like). But surprisingly, a much larger deal of the book has to do with ways in which, parallel to Earth's progressive change, Julia's life progressively changes. When her best friend moves away to a Mormon retreat dedicated to waiting out the apocalypse, said friend promptly forgets Julia. When Julia's mother becomes anal about collecting foodstuffs, her father begins an affair with the local hippie. Events such as these compose a much larger ratio of the book than information concerning the scientific portion of this "age." To a historian, such a trend is a complete and utter waste of time. To the average human being, it is the art of living.
     Now, it can definitely be said that many more people are aware of the oncoming Supreme Court decision mentioned above than the Syrian Civil War or Russian Authoritarianism. Why? Well, what subject is most bound to come up at the family dinner table? What phenomenon is most likely to cause dissent in the American family? What phenomenon is most likely to affect American individuals?
    The Supreme Court decision, obviously.
    But the unfortunate fact is that the Syrian Civil War and Russian Authoritarianism are just as if not more important than the Supreme Court's impending decision. Syrian families have been forced to live in caves for the simple protection of their lives (more info). Russian activists are being unjustly persecuted under Putin's regime (more info). However, these topics aren't easily grasped by the American public because they don't apply very much to them--but does that mean we shouldn't care?
     Absolutely not. America has a role in the world, and that role demands that we at least keep ourselves aware of international human rights violations. Even a simple statement of "We are here for you and wish you the best" is better than the ambivalent response we have now. Moreover, those of us that who are informed have a responsibility to the world, and that responsibility is to make these imperative phenomena applicable to our fellow Americans. Bring it up at the dinner table. Keep it in the awareness of our peers. Isn't penalization of Russian Activists somewhat similar to the Patriot Act? And if we were in the same situation as those Syrian families, wouldn't we find a cave to shelter our families in as well? We are all human--it's just haphazard groupings of letters called nationalities that differentiate us.
     And most importantly, if we don't address these issues now, we will be forced to do so when they become too applicable for comfort. Remember, the world is a dreadfully small place. 

Sunday, March 3, 2013

To Be Young

Looking for Alaska
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Youth is fleeting.
     Let that be the one thing I've learned in these past few months. Looking for Alaska by John Green has taught me the confusion of youth, how we teenagers really don't have a clue about anything. The reason why we appear so clueless, as I have since reasoned, is that we think that there is more to this world than our own feelings. We adolescents think that there is some kind of constant in human existence that puts our own feelings to shame, whose sheer might and  all-knowingness can show us how nonsensical our feelings really are in comparison to the entire world.
    So what do we do? We are young, we are determined in our youth, and we are determined in our ability to take advantage of our youth, so we try and chase after this constant. We try to chase after that universal truth. We chase after it by trying to experience as many different areas of life as possible--whether drugs, relationships, or simply secluded places in our hometown. Our common reasoning for such exploration is that something, somewhere will teach us this truth, will tell us how nonsensical and petty our feelings are in retrospect. Because what teenager wants his emotions to be the only things composing his world? Adolescent emotions are as passionate and fickle as your fat uncle's eating preferences at an all-night dinner buffet, so such a world would be quite the mess indeed. Some will of course object to my thoughts with examples of adolescents acting like they are always in the right, like they know more than every adult on Earth combined. We've all seen or been that stubborn, thick-headed teenager at times, haven't we?
     What the adolescent breed is trying to accomplish with such hardheadedness is even more exploration of the constant mentioned above; by being so stubborn, adolescents are testing whether the constant lies in accepting their own opinions as God-given law. We're bombarded with enough stubborn figures being successful and enlightened--Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Rudy Giuliani,  Gandhi, even Teddy Roosevelt--that we can't help but investigate. The realization soon comes, however, that our brains don't harbor enough maturity to lead such enlightened lives, and we continue to act so stubbornly because of our bitterness concerning this fact.
     Eventually, the truth comes to us: that human feeling is all that defines tour world. There is nothing greater, nothing less, and no hope for anything greater either. The problem is that after this revelation, we stop experiencing everything, we stop searching for that truth, we accept that our emotions are all that can ever be, and we become adults.  

Sunday, November 25, 2012

The American Dream (Sucks)

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay
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I've spent a good sixteen years on this Earth. On a count of my downright pitiful social life (insert sad violin solo), I've listened to a few political speeches in this time--but only when I'm really bored, because politics honestly don't interest me much. However, even with this very limited exposure, I've found the repetition of one thing in these speeches to be so repetitive, it's gag-worthy. What is that thing, you ask?
     "The American Dream"
     One could quite possibly play a drinking game centered around every time a politician refers to this wistful, wonderful thing that nobody really knows the definition of. I'm going to stop the war in wherever to preserve the American Dream (take a shot!). I'm going to increase tax cuts on the rich to preserve the American Dream (take a shot!). I'm going to build a moat around the White House to preserve the American Dream (take a shot!). I'm going to wax my eyebrows more frequently to preserve the American Dream (take a shot!). You catch  my drift.
     There's obviously something wrong here. There is also something wrong in Michael Chabon's breathtaking classic The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay: from young Czechoslovakian Joe Kavalier not facing the psychological damage wrought by his Jewish family being right in the clutch of Adolf Hitler and eventually becoming a recluse to George Deasy dreaming about becoming a Great American Novelist but stuck in the dregs of American Pulp Fiction to young homosexual Sammy Clay not following his true love, Tracy Bacon, to a permanent settlement in Los Angeles and eventually marrying Joe's ex-girlfriend...things are pretty screwed up, alright. 
     I define the American Dream as what people basically saw as the American way of life in the early twentieth century--a husband with a steady, well-paying day job working for the ever-antagonized "'boss", a wife whom most tasks of home-making and child-rearing fall upon (maybe juggling a job in there, too), and two children. Said two children can include boys who want to be professional baseball players from an early age but sooner or later turn into their fathers, or girls who want to be princesses from an early age but sooner or later turn into their mothers. So if it were in the hands of our deepest, most child-like desires, America would be millions of baseball-player-and-princess couples. Oh right, and there's something about freedom and equality and religion and that guy on the Quaker Oatmeal box in there too. Yeah. That's the image which has been thrown on me since a very early age, and no, I'm sure not everybody thinks that way. The way I've learned to see it, this is the age when everyone's having eternal small-talk about how their families are as different from that American Dream as possible. However, just like the Caucasian who knows that it's wrong but can't help giving a second glance to a young African American walking down his sidewalk, I think I share this personal image of the Dream with most people (including many of those having the aforementioned small-talk), that most people and I in our dirty, prejudiced heart of hearts think that this perfectly unrealistic American Dream is what our country should be composed of.
    And since this image rings true within a great deal of us, we let it limit our productivity and futures. In the 1940s, when this perfect Dream was what people openly thought America should be composed of, Joe Kavalier all but closes the door on his Czechoslovakian family because he is sucked into pursuing the American Dream--he is attempting to attain a well-paying job at Empire Comics as well as pursuing a potential wife, Rosa Saks. He even tries to use the whole freedom and equality thing to attain safe passage for his younger brother, Thomas, into the United States on a charitably-funded chip named The Ark of Miriam. However, classic features of the American Dream--glaring, staggering, belief in its own righteousness and perfection--is what coerces America to enter the war (how can we let Pearl Harbor, a place where people pursued the American Dream in all its righteousness and perfection, fall without retaliation afterwards, retaliation to prove how horrible it is for one to destroy something so righteous and perfect?), and what therefore coerces German submarines to sink American ships like The Ark of Miriam.
     George Deasy wants to be that Great American Novelist, but it is that pursuing of that well-paying day job working for that "boss" which causes him to toil at Empire Comics nevertheless.
     Sammy Clay loves Tracy Bacon with all his heart, and Tracy Bacon loves Sammy Clay with all his heart, but Sammy does not pursue a life with Tracy because of reasons which all stem from America not accepting their relationship--one of the most central tenants of the American Dream is a marital connection between man and woman on which the "perfect" family is based. In pursuit of this Dream, Sammy marries Joe's ex-girlfriend once Joe, driven mad by the death of his brother on the Ark of Miriam, joins the army and cuts all correspondence with his family in the States.
      So here's one of many things which I want to say to politicians: the American Dream is not something to wave around at the American people like a piece of chicken fried steak from the Cracker Barrel. It's not something that will help Americans--actually, it's very much like the kinds of pressures which cause self-conscious teenagers to commit suicide. And the last thing we need is an America rendered suicidal from not believing it's good enough to be America.