Sunday, February 26, 2012

Buffalo, 1939

My great-great aunt passed away this past year at 92. My grandma found her brother's English notebook among her belongings, which we all enjoyed reading immensely. She typed up this particular essay to send to the leaders of a regional peace activism group she and my grandpa belong to. I thought you guys might enjoy it.


By My Great-Great Uncle Joe, 1939
The dictators in Europe have created quite a stir of excitement by their dramatic foreign aggression.  A world war once again seems imminent.  The question, "Can the United States stay out of war? " is being asked by everyone.

     President Roosevelt's dramatic appeal for a ten year period of peace has undoubtedly drawn America closer to the conflict which is brewing in Europe.  The President thinks that continued aggression and victory for the fascist powers, if unchecked, would eventually endanger the United States.  The recent Gallup Poll shows that the sentiment of the majority of Americans do not want war.  They will defend their country but will not fight to protect the so-called democracies such as Great Britain and France.

     So long as there is a chance to prevent war the endeavor is worth while.  It is hard to conceive the calamitous effects of a world war, whatever its outcome.  It might easily lead to a worldwide revolution.  It would almost certainly bring on depression far blacker and deeper than the one through which we have been passing.  It would result in human suffering and sorrow almost beyond imagination.  Statesmen, then, should leave no stone unturned in the effort to avoid or even postpone it, for until war actually breaks out there is always hope that something may happen to prevent it.  It is the duty of every person in America; father and mother, business man and farmer, tax-payer and politician to denounce the sins of war.  To refuse to take partake in war unless to defend our country.  I, a student, with millions of other students do not want to sacrifice my life just to satisfy those who want the United States to stand with other nations which oppose further wars of conquest.
He wrote this while he was in high school, and was later drafted and served as a mechanic and bomber when war did eventually break out.

I leave you with these words from my grandma in her letter to the peace council:

Uncle Joe described himself as "a person of average intelligence" in another essay. He never was the same after he was honorably discharged. 
Can we follow this voice from the past and resist the drum roll to Iran?  Will we ever learn?

Saturday, February 25, 2012


"What happens is not as important as how you react to what happens." - Ellen Glasgow

"I never make the mistake of arguing with people for whose opinions I have no respect." - Edward Gibbon

My school's paying for the entire junior class to take the ACT next week, so I had the pleasure of skipping my favorite class of the day to bubble answers to survey questions for an hour and a half today.

One of the questions was a bit difficult for me: "Please bubble in the code corresponding to your religious affiliation."

I was raised Lutheran.
I go to a Quaker Meeting when I can get a ride.
I've been liking Buddhism a lot the last few months.
I'm agnostic-borderline-atheist but hate using those terms for my "religion" since they just deal with god(s) vs. no god(s) vs. maybe god(s) and it's distinctly more complicated than that.
But "nondenominational" sounds religious in the traditional sense, which I'm not. ("Independently spiritual" is better, but that sounds New Age-y and mildly pretentious, and the "spiritual" section at Barnes and Noble is just filled with Tarot books and stuff.)
And then there's "other," which gives me the impression I'm just going to get shunned for not falling into one of the other groups. Which isn't a bad thing, but it sounds more "I sacrifice animals at midnight" than it does "I don't fit into your categories" to me.

So there's 6 different options, 4-5 of which are fairly accurate. And they expect me to choose just one.

I'm pretty sure I ended up going with nondenominational. Maybe "it's complicated" should migrate from relationship statuses to religious views.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Letters are Haaaard

“One death is a tragedy; one million is a statistic.” -Joseph Stalin (I was at debate practice today and somehow we got to collecting Stalin quotes. I decided I wanted to use this one but couldn't figure out a way to incorporate it into my case, so I give it to you all here instead.)

My mom told me to write a letter to my great grandmother today. I was actually perfectly okay with doing this, but then realized that I had absolutely no idea what to say. This is a woman who I see once a year, who doesn't know me at all, and lives in such a completely different world than I do (she doesn't understand the concept and use of her answering machine, for example), that I really wasn't sure what common ground we had except for our relatives.

I asked my mom for ideas, but she thought I was just procrastinating and got angry and was generally unhelpful. So then I went to talk to my sisters, who were also writing. How do you phrase a letter like this when you literally have no history of communication or anything else to go on? I asked them. Usually something funny or interesting or important happens, and I have a small list of people who will care, and then I tell them about it. I tell my grandma who lives here about schoolwork and grades. I tell my grandma who lives in New York about books and social activism projects and things about different cultures I know she'll appreciate and find interesting. My great grandma? Absolutely no idea.

They told me that it didn't matter what I wrote, because she would just be glad to hear from me and would just show it to "all of her little old lady friends" and be excited. Which was actually kind of my main problem. Because when anything is just as relevant and interesting as anything else, how do you decide what to say?

The whole thing was surprisingly difficult. I wanted to write a sincere and meaningful letter, and couldn't really think of anything sincere or meaningful to say. Everything felt forced and pointless and awful. And that bothered me.

So my sister asked me what big and meaningful things had happened to me since the summer. Nothing, really. Just a lot of little meaningful things that made me incredibly happy but didn't really matter much to anyone who wasn't involved, or maybe our close friends as well.

I didn't want to talk about debate, really, because I have a hard enough time getting my parents to really understand what's so wonderful about it. Same with writing and the books I'm reading.

So what did I end up writing about, in the end? The friends I did those little things with. Because even if my great grandma has never heard of Death Cab for Cutie or John Green or even Facebook and the concept of the AP class, friendship is something sincere and meaningful I knew she could understand.

(/Sappy moment over.)

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Motivational Thoughts From The Ghost of Pre-Calc Past

"You should find something you love to do, and then figure out a way to get someone to pay you to do it. That's the recipe for happiness in life." - Brandon Sanderson

I was cleaning my room today and found a piece of paper I haven't looked at since around this time last year--a list of questions my pre-calc teacher wrote on the board toward the end of the semester for our contemplation.

  1. Are you aware that your actions impact others?
  2. Are there people in this world you appreciate? Do they know it?
  3. Are you succeeding to your fullest potential?
  4. Are you willing to step out of your comfort zones?
  5. Are you seeing the change you want in your life? If not, what are you doing about it?
  6. Does character count?
And I am pleased to say that I can answer "yes" to these more truthfully than I could when I first copied them down. Particularly numbers 2, 4, and 5, although in 2 there's still some notable things I need to work on.

This makes me happy.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

In Which I Realize My Priorities Have Shifted

"Writer's Block - when your imaginary friends won't talk to you." -a T-shirt

Characters have the most rotten lives ever.

We make all of the worst things happen to them to invoke empathy and create tension, and then we completely abandon them for months at a time, leaving their lives at a complete standstill.

I miss writing. I have no freaking idea where the time I used to give it went.

Next weekend. Next weekend I am going to bed early and waking up early and sitting down at my kitchen table and plowing through one or two thousand words. We have two days off from school next weekend. This is going to happen. The next month of my life is going to be utterly consumed by a massive AP English project and the next big debate tournament, and then April is another big English project and the debate team is going to States, and then May is AP exams, so if it doesn't happen now, it probably won't until the summer. 
Plus, you know, all of the smaller things. Like playing Free Cell while watching mediocre science fiction TV shows.

Conclusion: There is far too much I want to do in life for the time I actually have. No one has ever come to this realization before- I'm far too profound for that.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Ain't I A Woman?

"I love my abs so much that I protect them with a layer of fat." - my sister (who is actually in pretty good shape)

I started reading a master's thesis written by the owner of Feminist Frequency, a website that focuses on feminism and pop culture, and something confused me a bit.

"Heroic women in science fiction and fantasy television shows have done much to represent strong, successful women in leadership positions. However, these female roles that are viewed as strong and empowered embody many masculine identified traits, maintaining a patriarchal division of gender roles."
If the women are embodying "masculine" traits, doesn't there's less of a division of gender roles? I don't want to sound critical of this particular thesis, because this is something I've seen in a lot of places, and this just happened to phrase it most clearly.

If we don't want strong, successful women in leadership positions having "masculine" traits...what exactly do we want? Isn't the whole point to make those traits less "masculine" and more "characteristic of strong and successful people"?

The thesis actually looks really interesting (and it focuses on women in sci-fi/fantasy shows, so it may as well have been written just for me), and it's entirely possible she means that opening paragraph differently than how I'm interpreting it.

She seems to be writing about how traditionally "female" things need to be portrayed as equally important  as "masculine" things in media, which is all well and good, but nowhere does it talk about how it's kind of detrimental to everyone to label things in that way in the first place.

If I want to be assertive and confident and physically strong...I just want to be an assertive and confident and physically strong woman (and I don't want debate judges getting mad at my opponents when they're too aggressive towards me--which some guys on our team say is sometimes a legitimate issue). Not a woman who has decided to act like a man. Done.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Clash of the Debate Titans

"No amount of fire or freshness can challenge what a man will store up in his heart." - F. Scott Fitzgerald

I spent last week feverishly preparing for a massive two-day debate tournament at a nearby university (which totally looks like Hogwarts), so my mind has kind of been too consumed with birthright citizenship to blog. I had switched into a new current events-based event because my friend's debate partner couldn't make it, so I was filling in. Partner debate is fun (and I had a great partner), but I'll be happy to go back to my one-on-one philosophy/morality topics for Districts and States later this spring.

I've been too exhausted to think about much of anything else since the tournament (which was insanely fun but I probably got 10 hours of sleep all weekend), so this post is going to be about debate.

I've had arguments with at least two of you about the merits of our style of debating, and I heard an interesting justification for it over the weekend, and thought I'd share it with you.

The idea is that when the two debaters are forced into either pro or con regardless of their personal views on the matter, you're also forced to find, confront, and present all of the positive aspects of that particular side, and so is your opponent. Over the course of the debate (if it's a good one, anyway) you clash the merits of each side together, and see which one comes out on top.

Now, what the judge decides isn't necessarily always the "better" side, of course, since you have to factor in the skills of the debaters, and there could very well be key points that neither side had the time/evidence to present, but as a debater(s) who has to prep cases for both sides, you're forced to weigh them within your own mind.

A few weeks ago I asked my dad if I should play in the pit orchestra for the spring musical or debate at Districts, which is on the same weekend. He immediately said "musical," and I launched into reasons why debate is better. My sister told me it sounded like I had my mind made up already, and I said "But I need someone to argue for the musical so I can decide better!"

She rolled her eyes and told me I definitely needed to do debate.

I know this applies to things like Ethics Bowl as well, and I'll be the first to express my appreciation for it, but that really is how my mind works--I need you to argue against me in order for me to make sure that I'm right, and that's one of the many reasons I enjoy debate so much.

The other main reason is that I love the rest of my team to pieces. (We established that I have psychologically added them to my "tribe," meaning I'll willingly share my food with them without bitterness.)