Thursday, May 5, 2011

Your Life is Now

Recommended listening: Your Life is Now by John Mellencamp

For the first time ever, I rushed home to blog. Although I do enjoy blogging, I have never felt compelled to the point where I would disregard the urgency of an upcoming test or the growling of my stomach or the fatigue pressing my eyelids shut. No, today I have come home invigorated.
Just minutes ago I was part of a Student Advisory Board meeting, our last official meeting before our end-of-the-year cookout. Student Advisory Board is comprised of students from all four grade levels who have the unique opportunity to meet with a variety of administrators in order to discuss issues ranging from cafeteria setup to curriculum.
Today, our discussion began with the documentary Race to Nowhere. Although I have not seen the film, I cannot wait to get my hands on it. And, after a brief summary by our principal, a majority of the room was nodding in agreement and yearning for the chance to share their thoughts. In fact, several students stayed well after the final bell rang in order to tell their side of the story.

My side
Although I could, like many teens, rant endlessly about the overwhelming stress I've been under or the incomprehensible amount of work I've been given, I believe that point has been made clear. Sure, there have been nights when I heard birds chirping before I even put my pajamas on, and classes that I fought to stay awake in, and material I failed to understand -- but there's so much more to it.
However, I have to start off by saying that I have been incredibly blessed. I go to a wonderful school in a wonderful community with so many faculty members who have a true passion for educating young people. And, even better, I have never felt any pressure from my parents to do anything more than my best, even if that means grades and test scores that are not perfect.
I know that the environment I've grown up in has benefitted me in countless ways, but I also see it destroying people. I've heard parents verbally harass their children for not achieving the 36 they should have or coming in 1st at whatever competition they are expected to excel in. I've witnessed teachers assign an outlandish amount of homework with no sympathy or understanding for the situation they have put their students in. And, most tragically, I have seen students push themselves to chase an image of perfection that is both unrealistic and unhealthy.

What I've learned
With exactly one month until graduation, senior year has given me some much-needed perspective. After getting deferred from what was always my "dream school", I was forced to reconsider what I wanted for my future and how I planned to achieve it. I realized that, after busting my butt throughout high school, I wanted to relax and enjoy myself a bit more in college. Although I plan on double-majoring and maintaining a solid GPA, I also plan on pursuing my passions and learning about life, not just facts. Rather than selecting the highest-ranking (and coincidentally most expensive school) I was accepted to, I have chosen to attend The University of Wisconsin -- Madison which has a balance of the academic standard I believe is necessary, as well as the student life and social opportunities I hope to make the most of. And if there is one thing I am proud of myself for it is the fact that I was able to select a school based on how well it fit me and my goals, rather than just its prestige. If there is one lesson I could pass on to underclassman, and even overachieving middle schoolers, it would be that it is not about the numbers -- your ACT score does not define you, your GPA does not define you, and the ranking of your college certainly does not define you.

What now?
After the passionate discussion that today's meeting elicited, we have decided to schedule one more before the final cookout. And, with only one month left, there is little impact I can feasibly make at my school. So, here I am, writing to whoever is reading this with the following questions:

  • What is propelling you to do what you do? Are you passionate about the things you invest your time into, or is some outside force driving you to do whatever it is that you do?
  • What is your ultimate goal? Is it all about the college you are accepted to or the grades you earn or surpassing your peers? Or is it about connecting with people, exploring new concepts, and growing as a person?
  • Why? Just ask yourself, why? Is this all really worth it?
Although grades and scores do matter to some extent, they by no means define me or anyone else. I have written all year about identity, and not once have I attributed identity to a number. 

Four years ago I took a summer school class called Art Foundation in the hopes of taking photography throughout high school. I never took a single photography class.
This summer I will finally begin to explore photography, not for a grade or college credit, but solely because it is something I want to do. It is better late than never, but there is certainly no reason to put your passions on pause in order to win the race to nowhere.

These kids come to the table with this creativity and love of learning, let's just not take it out of them.
Race to Nowhere

Sunday, April 17, 2011

I'll Cover You

Recommended listening: I'll Cover You from Rent

Today my high school participated in The Day of Silence. Sponsored by GLSEN, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, the National Day of Silence is a day of action in which students across the country take some form of a vow of silence to call attention to the silencing effect of anti-LGBT bullying and harassment in schools. Through their activities students can speak out against harassment and organize for change for their schools and communities. 

My Day of Silence
Today, I had the privilege of taking part in The Day of Silence for the 5th or 6th time. When the bell rang I found myself donning a purple shirt that begged the question, "What will YOU do to end the silence?" However initially, there was nothing anyone could do because my entire carpool was supporting The Day of Silence.
As I went throughout my school day, I was faced with a new reality. Although I am not a novice by any means when it comes to The Day of Silence, for some reason this year I found it truly resonated with me. I think my Social Studies teacher set a good, meaningful preface for the event by asking all students who planned to participate to prepare a statement to be read aloud (by someone else, of course) on the DoS. The few statements read aloud in class today by my peers were far more touching than I can convey in a blogpost, or to anyone who was not in the room.
Throughout the rest of the day I continued to think about my DoS; the strange way people assumed I could no longer hear because I was silent, the obnoxious manner in which some students tried to make me talk and break the silence, and the beautifully supportive attitude so many people had towards me. This day has left me with mixed feelings, to say the least. On one hand, it was incredible to see the love and respect that so many people have for the LGBT community. Yet, on the other hand, the pervasive ignorance and hostility I continued to see disgust me.

A Voice
Clearly, and quietly, the DoS exemplifies the importance of having a voice. Fortunately, I am quite out-spoken. I have the good fortune of being passionate about my views and ideas, and caring very little about those dismiss of them. At times this makes me stubborn, but in most cases this makes me strong. Whether it's for LGBT rights, or the environment, or your loved ones, or whatever else moves you -- you must stand for something. 
Obviously, your views and values ignite a fire within you that can dominate and drive who you are. It varies from person to person, but you certainly have little to offer yourself or others if you do not care about anything.
So it's simple. Today was a day to take action, silently, but it spoke volumes. Our objective, no matter who we are, is to do the same.

Questions to Consider

  • What is a cause you are passionate about? Why? [Or, if there isn't any such cause, why not?]
  • How do your strongest convictions play into your daily life? Your identity as a whole? The way you describe yourself?
  • Who or what has influenced you to stand up for whatever you believe in?

No government has the right to tell its citizens when or whom to love. The only queer people are those who don't love anybody.
Rita Mae Brown

Saturday, April 9, 2011


Recommended listening: Blackbird by The Beatles

My apologies for the hiatus, but as fourth quarter starts off I am back to blogging. As of late, we have been focusing on an ecocritical approach to literature (specifically children's stories) as well as other documents works that connect language and the environment.
One particularly striking activity we did was journal about our relationship with the environment by responding to several questions.


  • Do you consider yourself an "outdoorsy" person? Why or why not?
  • Which of your most salient memories involve nature, the outdoors, animals, plants, etc.?
  • Are you drawn to certain ecosystems or environments, such as the ocean shore or mountains? What do they mean to you?
  • Would you say that nature is something you escape from or escape to?
  • If you were an animal, what animal would you be? Do you feel connected to animals?
  • What are your favorite places? To what extent are they connected to or removed from nature?
It isn't hard to imagine that these questions led me to deeply consider nature as a factor in identity construction. 

My Nature
As I began considering my relationship with nature, I immediately thought it was non-existent. I've never gone camping, and I felt that was a pre-requisite for being an "outdoorsy" person. However, as I began to answer the above questions, I noticed nature plays a more important role in my identity and life than I initially realized.
Although I may not consider myself an outdoorsy person, I appreciate nature. I love trees and autumn's changing leaves more than anything. I've had incredible memories that are very much intertwined with nature, like Kairos at Conference Point Center in Williams Bay, Wisconsin. And when it comes to considering ecosystems, I have escaped to beaches and mountains on numerous family vacations. Fortunately, these vacations were both relaxing and luxurious -- which are adjectives I would never have connected to nature.
Simply ruminating upon such questions has lead me to understand that nature is both prevalent and significant in multiple aspects of my life. My favorite and most meaningful memory, Kairos, was deeply enhanced by nature. The crisp, fresh air, glinting lake, wooded paths, and pouring rain added to the majestic feeling I had on the retreat. Many of my family vacations are closely tied to the feeling of sand between my toes or snow-capped mountains. Even on a daily basis, the tranquility I enjoy by going on a walk around my neighborhood is all due to nature.

Simply put, nature is all around us. It is impossible to escape our environment. Whether we seek refuge in the outdoors, or in the comfort of our homes, we are at all times tied to nature and interacting with it.
As my readers, I ask you to thoughtfully consider the questions posed earlier. What is nature in your life? How has nature made you who you are?

How strange that Nature does not knock, and yet does not intrude!  
Emily Dickinson

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Apples and Bananas

Recommended listening: Apples and Bananas from Barney

As mentioned before, lately I've been going to many college interviews and overall pondering my future. One specific question I've been asked multiple times is: What do you do for fun? And, each time, the first thing that has popped into my mind has been food. Whenever I have some free time, I love to spend it enjoying a variety of foods with good company. In this past issue of Torch, my school newspaper, I wrote a comparative food review of Meatheads and Five Guys. Whether it involves writing, discussing, or my favorite -- eating, I absolutely love food and it does play an important role in my life. Of course, that is universal. Everyone needs to eat, but what exactly we choose to eat sheds a bit of light on to who we are.
So, to give you a bit more insight into who I am and what I enjoy, here is another list blog!

Favorite appetizer:
Buffalo wings, specifically from Yard House.

Favorite soup:

Favorite salad:

Favorite side:
Mashed potatoes, specifically from The Gage.

Brisket, must be made by my mom!

Favorite style of cuisine:
It's a tie between Mexican and Japanese.

Favorite dessert:
Strawberry shortcake cheesecake from Junior's.

My brother and I enjoying some delicious cheesecake from Junior's!

Just writing this is making me hungry! 
As noted above, one of the greatest things about food is that our need for it is universal. Everyone can appreciate food and it is often a way to connect with others and explore various cultures
Feel free to provide some of your own recommendations in a comment!

One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.
Virginia Woolf

Saturday, March 5, 2011


Recommended listening: Anthem by Superchick

I just finished reading the play Hamlet by William Shakespeare. What made my experience of this text unique was that we read it by focusing on different critical approaches. One of the approaches which is strongly tied to Hamlet is the feminist approach. There are unique, dynamic and mysterious female characters that, despite having a limited number of lines, play a critical role in Shakespeare's Hamlet. By analyzing Ophelia and Gertrude, which I continue to do even after reading the play, I've really become enticed by the feminist approach.

One specific question that feminist critics ask that really sticks out to me is: How is the work "gendered"? That is, how does it seem to define femininity and masculinity? Which, of course, got me thinking about gender roles in my own life and how they shape identity.

Today's Society
Society, in many ways, is so deeply embedded with norms that it can be difficult to realize how they permeate our identity. When first studying the ideas of feminist critics I thought that they were hardly applicable in my life. I thought that, for the most part, I have been in complete control of my growth and identity. If I wanted to do something "manly" I would have no problem doing so. However, taking a closer look, there is practically no way to be immune to gender stereotypes and expectations without some sort of backlash.
I think one way that the differences between genders is clear today would be in terms of relationships. When dating, guys are often expected to pay, make decisions, and take control. They are supposed to "wear the pants", a common phrase used to express whomever is more masculine in a relationship.
By the same token, females are expected to be more submissive and obedient. When the roles are switched and the male seems to be the more obedient and submissive one he is deemed "whipped".
Our society is still very gendered in the respect that a stay-at-home parent is often expected to be the mother, whereas the primary source of income is "supposed" to be the man.
Then, of course, in terms of homosexual relationships gender plays quite a different role. I can't quite speak to that though.

My Life
I wouldn't consider myself very girly or manly, I just see myself as me. I don't doubt that gender roles and expectations, however, have shaped my understanding of Self. Sometimes I enjoy dressing up and getting all dolled-up as many females are expected to do. However, I typically prefer just chilling in sweats not caring at all about my appearance. I certainly do not enjoy or partake in cooking or cleaning of any sort. Which, by many standards, is perhaps my only purpose outside of childbearing.
I think that, in some ways, it is easier to be a woman and deal with gender expectations. If I choose to be sensitive and cry, as I did yesterday in Spanish class while watching Voces Inocentes, I am free to do so. If I choose to play sports or pig out with friends I may be considered "one of the guys" but that's about it. For boys, however, when they choose to behave in a more "feminine" manner, preferring to shop rather than play video games, their sexuality often comes into question. Personally, I think that occurs more often when boys act "girly" rather than when girls act "manly".

Have you felt that common ideas of femininity or masculinity have shaped your decision making? How does the feminist criticism play out in your life or in the texts you read?

Rather than a quote for this post, here is a heuristic activity we did in my psychology class. Read it and think about it before scrolling down for the answer.

A father and his son are driving on a highway and get into a terrible accident. The father dies, and the boy is rushed to the hospital with major injuries. When he gets to the hospital, a surgeon rushes in to help the boy but stops and exclaims, “I can’t operate on this boy—he’s my son!” 
How can this be? 

Some girls and I after our Honors Gym 60 minute run.

If people have a hard time answering, they may be making a false assumption. The surgeon is the boy’s mother.

Saturday, February 26, 2011


Recommended listening: Tradition from Fiddler on the Roof

Lately, the presence of traditions of all sorts has been growing increasingly apparent in my life. Last weekend I went to Turnabout, a dance in the spring that is more casual than other dances (Homecoming and Prom -- which are also full of traditions) where the girls ask the boys. This dance is a tradition at my school as well as many others. For our version of Turnabout the Marching Band decides on a theme, hires a live band, decorates the cafeteria according to the theme, and encourages students to dress accordingly.
Then there are the traditions outside of high school. The way we celebrate holidays, the manner in which we approach significant life events, or even smaller daily rituals.
After my interview with Emory University alum this morning, where I marveled at some of the traditions (such as a giant Coca-Cola shot the student body does together), I truly began to think about why traditions play such a critical role in our lives.

Tradition in my life
Personally, I love most of the traditions in my life. I enjoy all the Jewish holidays where I dress up, occasionally go to synagog, and then eat a delicious meal with my entire family. I love school traditions of getting decked out for spirit days and assemblies, going to dances and parades, and this year having the privilege to chant "Seniors! Seniors" whenever we find it necessary. It may be the nostalgia of leaving home kicking in early, but for some reason every chance I get to engage in some sort of silly custom, I relish it.
One of my favorite and most important traditions is the 4th of July which I always spend with two of my best friends Corie and Sarmel (her real name is Sarah). Although we've never gone to school together, we met in elementary school performing in local musical theatre productions. Ever since then, we've been best friends. Despite the distance and increasingly busy schedules we always make it a point to share the 4th together. Our day is packed, starting with the community pancake breakfast in the morning, then parade in the afternoon, and fireworks at night. The day is always punctuated with tons of hilarious stories, interesting run-ins with old friends, and plenty of food and laughs. More than any other times I've shared with them, my memories of the 4th always stick because the progression from year to year is always so incredible and the reliability of our traditions strengthens our friendship.

Traditions: Something to hold on to
Like I mentioned earlier, I think the reason I've noticed traditions so much lately is because I value them now more than ever. As I think about moving on to the next step of my life, I cling to traditions to create a sense of consistency despite other changes. Even when it comes to looking for a college, I feel comforted when universities have similar customs to those I enjoy in high school, or other unique rituals that I can see myself grasping on to.
I don't want to be blinded, however, by the role traditions play in my own life, because traditions are different for everyone.
What do traditions do for you? What are some of your traditions? How/what makes such traditions meaningful?

Every heart that has beat strongly and cheerfully has left a hopeful impulse behind it in the world, and bettered the tradition of mankind.
Robert Louis Stevenson

Monday, February 14, 2011

The Power of Music

Recommended listening: You decide! Comment with some of your favorite songs from 2011 :)

In honor of the Grammy Awards last night, I thought I would try something new and create a list blog. Throughout my blog thus far, every one of my posts has been named after a song. Without ever stating it explicitly, I've made it pretty clear that music plays a critical role in my life and shapes who I am. I get my music from Kairos CDs my friends have made me, musical soundtracks, and Pandora Radio. When I'm working on homework, spending time alone, or driving I typically enjoy chill, acoustic music. However, in times when I'm down I like louder, more intense music. And sometimes, I can't resist rocking out to some classical music. Music fits my mood, sets my mood, and accompanies me wherever I go.

Here's a list of some favorites:

Kairos music:
Ray LaMontagne
Relient K
Shawn McDonald

Musical soundtracks:
Next to Normal
Phantom of the Opera
Spring Awakening
Wicked <--fun fact, this musical was also my Bat Mitzvah theme!

Pandora playlists:
Glen Hansard
Joshua Radin
Missy Higgins
Owl City
Secondhand Serenade

Without music, life would be an error. 
Friedrich Nietzsche