Saturday, October 31, 2015

Halloween: Looking Back

Happy Halloween everyone! Hope that you've picked out your costume, and that you've had fun. This year, sad to say, is the first year my family didn't go trick-or-treating. It was more of a tradition than an actual candy grab, but I was hoping that we would get a chance to celebrate. In any case I got to wear my costume to a Toastmasters seminar, and show it off my Other Mother button eye mask. 

To commemorate the loss of tradition, and to move forward, I'm pasting an essay I wrote in 2008 for college applications, with the prompt "The Road". Enjoy seeing my writing from seven years ago:

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Halloween dominates other holidays with its spooky atmosphere; aside from the cute ghoul, people want scary thrills that allow them to sleep safely at night with mountains of candy pushing against the cupboard doors. 
 On my street, each October evening captures that same spooky atmosphere. As my mother and I walk, sometimes with a flashlight, we see orange streetlamps dot the concrete, illuminating a feral cat or the occasional pedestrian, ourselves exempted. The fence that protects a half-constructed house creaks in the cool breeze. Only a few days ago as I was biking, a cat shot out black as an opal towards the canal, right under a full moon. I don’t believe in superstitions, as I’ve had fairly good luck for the past few days. 
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Yet this street, thrilling and safe as it appears, can only be reached by one practical means: a car. No bike paths line the front lawns, let alone the roads outside of my neighborhood. Since few cars clutter the road, not many find this a problem. I love to drive to school during the autumn because the sun dawns, allowing light to shed on the green mangrove bushes and brightly painted houses. Many have personal gardeners tending the impatiens and begonias and whatever vine they can grow on a doorway. In one front yard they replaced a monstrous hedge with a turquoise leafy fence that partially hides a trampoline.
Sometimes I wonder why the neighbors only appear for the annual block party, and perhaps the neighborhood meeting. Some move in, and quickly try to sell us their house. My mother laughed at one offer; before the metal fences barred us, we had explored the home in question while it slowly converted from a dirt mound to a wondrous mansion.  

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Our road and its neighbors don’t know what to make of us. We never socialize, except with a lovely lady who brings us avocados, never try to show off our house because then it would be a parlor, not a home, and we never plan to move. Yet we have privacy and security thanks to our road, two elements that most neighborhoods lack. I can bike without fear under a full moon in the evening.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Sleeping Upside Down: A Few Thoughts

Last night I was trying out a new app, one that would track my sleeping habits. For it to work, however, I had to keep my phone next to my head on the mattress so that it could pick up the sleeping cycle; this is a problem since I'm a restless sleeper, and everything tosses and turns on the bed. In addition, the app recommended that the phone be charged. The nearest outlet to my bed is nowhere near the headboard and instead closer to the footboard. Thus I moved my pillow to the bed's other end, wedged my phone in a place where it wouldn't get lost.

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To try something new like an app terrified me. I worried about what would happen if it failed, what my disappointment would be. At the same time, I wanted to see if it could help with my issues of getting to bed and tracking my sleep health, especially with three terms to go. I want to be as energetic as possible each day.

I learned several things: one is that the part of a mattress that your tiny legs don't reach end up being quite stiff; second is that it takes a while to adjust to the new space, although it's not that far away from your headboard in terms of feet, and that it can mess up your waking up time; third is that apparently reversing the arrangement of your pillows is called "sleeping upside down," according to my beta reader, and some people place the pillow under their feet. By trying out a new device, I had exited my comfort zone in more ways than one.

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The literary character Pippi Longstocking sleeps "upside down," with her feet on the pillow and her head resting on her mattress in her Swedish villa. Pippi turns many other things upside down, including notions about what was right and proper for girls and kids her age, and knowing her absent father wasn't dead. As a kid I thought that she always bit off more than she could chew, but as an adult I can appreciate her courage and refusal to accept adults' perspectives on her life. Although some of the values she preaches wouldn't carry nowadays, such as claiming her father became king of an island in the South Pacific over the natives -- values that jar with the campaign to acknowledge conquerors like Christopher Columbus brought harm and genocide with them-- she was braver than I was, and still is.

Tonight I'm going to try again, this time moving my pillow back to its original spot and not plugging in my phone this time since I'm not going anywhere tomorrow. Comfort zones are one thing, but I like that space at the headboard, where the mattress knows me and I know it. I certainly have a new perspective on things, but I think that perspective will do for now. Sleep well, everyone!

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Friday, October 2, 2015

Banned Books Week: The Awkward Questions

"But who is wurs shod, than the shoemakers wyfe, With shops full of newe shapen shoes all hir lyfe?"
[1546 J. Heywood Dialogue of Proverbs i. xi. E1V]"

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Before I turned thirteen, I thought that book censorship happened to other kids in other places, and that it wouldn't be tolerated in this day and age-- the early 2000s. Harry Potter book burnings seemed absurd, to think that witchcraft in this day and age posed a threat, not to mention anonymous callers harassing Judy Blume for writing a middle grade book about the existence of God and how a preteen could choose a religion.

My family is highly educated, and I inherited my brother's taste in books, from Harry Potter to Artemis Fowl to Ender's Game.He in fact had to push books on me because as a kid I didn't realize that books could be fun. I was a reluctant reader, until I discovered the joy that Redwall and Harry Potter brought, and more so when I learned that you could take multiple computer tests on the books that you read in school. It seemed all fun when I won an award for reading the most books in the school, and for discovering the power of Bruce Coville when it came to unicorns and dragons.

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Then I hit middle school, and discovered Harry Potter fanfiction without ratings, Neil Gaiman through Sandman trade paperbacks, and adult renditions of fairy tales. The latter anthologies that made me do double takes at the violence, and some interpretations of the fairy tales that I read with bright illustrations. Some of the phrases that evaded me made me doubt that such acts existed, that it could not possibly be what I was asking.

I asked my sister an awkward question while we were uniform shopping. She explained to me the answer, with some patience, and told me to not ask so loudly. I expressed some disgust when she told me the definition of the term, and later on she and my brother started to screen the books I read, not allowing me to read volume 6 of Sandman due to the graphic violence portrayed during the French Revolution. My mother freaked when I mentioned some ridiculous notions about Wonder Woman that psychologist Frederick Wertham had made about a female superhero that has a lot of female sidekicks, and confiscated my Internet privileges. This confiscation felt very insulting and violated the education that I had learned about censorship.

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A painful transition over several years followed, where I started to believe that certain books can spark dangerous and unhealthy ideas, and that dark fiction inspired terrible thoughts to high school students under a lot of stress. I stopped reading fanfiction because at the time downloaded a lot of viruses to the family desktop I was using, and the actual Harry Potter books coming out nullified my need for more wizard lore. In time, I asked about more mundane things like how to survive high school and broken friendships. My reading diverged into more traditional fantasy and science fiction, from Isaac Asimov to Scott Westerfeld, and to this day I find it hard to read traditional romance novels or gore fests, unless Shakespeare or Stephen King write the gore or Meg Cabot writes the romance.

As an adult, I now understand the position in which I put my sister. Having to answer a young teenager's awkward questions in a public place or in a conservative household makes for an unpleasant experience. Often censored books make people ask questions, and too many questions makes one reluctant to confront them, especially when the answer seems to absurd to be believed. As a kid I had no filter, so I was curious about everything.

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With that said, questioning the world and its fictional representations allows our minds to grow. Harry Potter's detractors in the 1990s claim that the book promotes witchcraft, completely missing the point that despite the wizards and witches having magic to solve the energy crisis and problems of our world, and they cannot overcome the human errors of prejudice and tolerance for cruelty. Parent Melanie MacDonald calling a young adult novel "smut" for addressing the serious issues of bullying among girls shows a lack of perception that such issues occur, often under an unwilling public's nose.

Education starts in the home, and I imagine biases and handling awkwardness comes into play when trying to nurture a child's mind. While my family screened the books I read, they didn't impose that screening on other children or parents, or by complaining to libraries. They knew their comfort zone, and mine, but comfort zones vary with each family. For that I am grateful, and I am grateful for having the ability to question my world, and its absurdities.

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