Friday, May 30, 2014

Guys. I'm Gonna Graduate.

Right now, I pretty much feel... restless. And as much as I don't really want to treat my blog like my diary, I feel like I can say this here. Because it's one of those Big Events in Your Life.

What spurred on the thought was the Senior Awards Assembly two days ago, where they hand out all the medals and cords and whatnot. It takes hours and it's boring. The same people win all the awards -- you know the type, who wear so many medals for music and student council and Honor Society and everything, that when they step up to the stage to receive the next award you can hear their medals jangling.

I was mentioned exactly three times. Two of those times were just being recognized for achievement in (*ahem* just for signing up for) AP classes, no medal or pin or even certificate necessary. The third time I received a gold cord, for "Honors Graduate," which is a fancy way of saying I took honors classes and got good grades like I was supposed to.

Still, it's one more award than others got. Some people didn't receive anything at all. (And one guy received a couple of awards for publishing a children's book and I'm trying not to be jealous right now, because my novel is still at a cringe-worthy stage.) I am not coming out of four years of an institution which did more to harm my understanding of the world than it did to help with nothing. It's a gold cord, sure; a few flimsy badges and a little pin for "participating" in gym in previous years. All will decorate my sash-thing. (Does anyone know what that part of a robe is called? You see it in graduation gowns and in choir robes, and you can never tell if the short end should be facing front or if it should be the longer end? Or am I confusing you?)

But the thought still surfaces: I am going to graduate. In less than two weeks, I am going to claim a piece of paper which will tell everyone I am sufficiently versed in English, Science, Math, and Social Studies to pursue a higher education. (Yes, it's necessary to capitalize those. If I believed anything school taught me, I would think they are the only important things in the entire world. They even had an entire section of the Awards Assembly dedicated to giving out awards for "excellence" and "achievement" in those four areas. And no, creative writing is apparently not considered an English elective, even though AP Statistics is considered a Math elective.) After four years of doubting myself, of mornings where I absolutely do not want to drag myself out of bed and do so anyways, of days where I feel as if I might vomit but head to school anyways, of endless rounds of homework and memorization in classes I do not care about, of every last little injustice I've felt, because I am too quiet to tell my lab partner to let me participate, too, or because of my apparent inability to operate in social surroundings...

After everything, I am finally leaving it. There is no guarantee I won't find it at college. In fact, I probably will. But that is months away. Right now I am leaving it. Maybe I'll encounter it in the workplace, if I have to work at the factory where my parents work, because I cannot, technically speaking, afford college. But I do not have a job yet. Right now, all of everything is finally laying to rest in the building in which it occurred.

And I don't want it to happen. I don't want to let go of the familiar maze of hallways, suppressing the tears when I do not get any awards even when I know it is technically my fault for being too quiet to join anything, the teachers who are nice and try to help us understand, even when I either already know it or do not care. I don't want to leave behind the awful boredom, the wandering thoughts which grasp the concept and then forget it next period, the exhaustion of having information of one subject rammed down my throat and then, in the space of seven minutes, get to another class to have information of another subject stuffed into my ears.

In a way, it's a sort of dilemma, a meeting of opposite forces in my heart: the desire to stay behind, to just remain in high school with the lunches with my friends, and the rare occasion I learn something I want to, and the way some of the teachers even try to encourage my own thinking and self-expression; and with letting go, leaving the good and bad behind, because I have been ready to do so for a long time now.

It's scary, to think I'll be graduating. I will have to go to college, where they'll actually let me study what I want to, but at a high cost and risk of debt; or I will have to join the workplace or the military, a mass of people even larger than the crowds at school, where even fewer people will know me or care. This world is full of possibility, of money and happiness and exploration and everything they never think to teach within the confines of a school building. A place where I am as unprepared and new at everything as a newborn, where I might as well be another seed on a dandelion head when someone makes a wish.

But it's exciting, in a nauseous mix at the pit of my stomach, to think that I will not be something to treated with condescension. Hopefully, no one will repeat the same thing in simplest terms for five minutes, just to make sure I get the point. There will be no homework besides working on a home. I have the chance to learn what I want to and hold a job I love to work on, even if it's a chance and not a guarantee. I will have a whole lifetime to spread a pair of wings I have been cobbling together, away from the eyes of kids smarter than me and more involved than me or less caring and less intelligent.

I am a smart girl. I received a recognition -- three of them -- for it, when others got nothing. I may not be dripping with medals and honors, with people praising my abilities and potential. I may be too quiet, too inclined to stare unprotesting when someone else does the work for me. But I can do many things I keep out of view of others, like hold whole worlds in my head and read over a hundred books a year, every year, and I can write essays about works of fiction that receive top marks. I get top marks on AP exams, which are college level before I am in college.

And now I can graduate, leave behind a place that has felt unhealthy to me for a long time. I am leaving behind friends, and good intentions, and the random everyday acts which sometimes helps me get through it. I am leaving behind bullies, and casting off the knowledge I never wanted to learn, not even if it is "good" for me, and all of those random everyday acts which grind me into dust and another face in the crowd.

Two weeks. Two weeks of nothing, of classes I am done caring about and final exams, three of which I don't have to and won't take. Graduation practice. And then the real thing, Saturday morning, June 7th. I'll be wearing the gold cord and my trivial little pins and badges, most all of them for being a good little girl and getting good grades in the "smart kid" classes. I'll be wearing a little black dress beneath my blue cap and gown, which isn't sexy or little, but knee-length and short-sleeved and still the most daring and the most formal outfit I have ever worn. And maybe, if they let me, I will be clutching a book as I climb the steps to the stage, trying to keep the one-size-too-large flats from falling off my feet while I accept a diploma.

My stomach has that nauseous mix again. I cannot tell you which force wins out, or which feeling will overwhelm the other. My heart pounds in its little cage -- or in its protective hiding spot -- and my hands shake, and I cannot stop my body from fidgeting or feeling sick when I so much as look at that cap and gown. But it won't be long until that is over, and a tether will have been cut -- the one that anchors me to an unhappy world. And maybe I carry that unhappy world inside of me, and maybe it won't feel better. But it's one less tie to such a place, to a place where I have no control over when I am allowed to go to the bathroom and what I learn.

And maybe, with letting go this anchor, I can stretch out a little, feel my nervous heartbeat and my shaking fingers, and I can tell myself that I have a chance now, a price to pay and a choice to make and maybe even a set of very good consequences for my future. That even while I am nervous and scared, there is something bigger, and better, and I'll be on my way to the version of me which I save for my daydreams.

I'll be on my way to a reality of my dreams, or a failure of them. But I have faith that I will allow the former to keep me happy, or to keep the latter from crushing me. Because I am a smart girl. I can get through four years of no control, over almost everything. So I can get through a lifetime with just a bit more freedom than I've ever been allowed.

Friday, May 23, 2014

On Baby Chicks.

So, today marks the last day I got to see my baby chick.

Perhaps I should back up and explain. I am in AP Biology. After the AP exam -- which was a couple of weeks ago -- my teacher bought a bunch of newly hatched chicks as a last, fun project for the year. (She does this every year, though only for the AP Bio students.)

Mine was (is) a little Rhode Island Red chick. She slept on my hand, mostly, and freaked out when I picked her up, and was rather antisocial. We had to do an experiment in which we took away the heat lamp from a group of 5 or 6 chicks to observe their behavior, and they were supposed to huddle together; but my chick turned her back on the others and just fluffed out her feathers.

I named her Imogen. "Imogen" is such a... a chic name, an unusual name, one which conjures up a calm, collected hipster. And if my chick could wear glasses and lounge about at some Paris cafe, listening to Imogen Heap (the music band) on an mp3 player, I think she would.

She had (has) soft downy feathers of a gentle red color, except for the tiniest splotch of black at the back of her head, like some artist had to put a finishing touch on this little piece of work. She never attempted to fly, though her wing feathers always looked long and a spotty brown-and-white and ready to feel the wind between them.

We painted their toenails different colors, to tell which one was our own. Since there are at least a handful of other Rhode Island Red chicks, I painted the middle toenail of Imogen's feet a bright pink. Just the middle toenail, or claw, whatever the proper terminology is, on both feet. Not that this always helped, as -- fun fact! Baby chicks are attracted to color, and will peck off any nail polish you might paint onto their nails.

Imogen also had the tendency, as I said, to freak out when I picked her up. There are still thin scratch marks across the backs of my hands, because she apparently felt much safer perched on the thin ledge of my wrist and the back of my hand, rather than safely cupped in my palms. Still, she was a sweet little darling. When I had her safely to the tabletop, she never left my hand, but cuddled into my palms and trembled just a bit, falling asleep and jerking awake at random.

And of course, I wanted to keep her. But I live in a suburban home, one filled with cats at that, and it wasn't really an option. My teacher assures us they will go to farms where they will be layer hens; they are not going to get slaughtered or mistreated. But I still feel kind of bad, because the entire point of the project was to get the baby chick to imprint with you, and then once you get imprinted they get sent away from their human "mother." I can't help picturing little Imogen at some farm, waiting for me to come by so she can perch in my palms and fall asleep in peace, even when she's big and unable to fit in my hands.

Like the relationship with my cats, I just see -- I don't know. A little spark of something, in their eyes, on their face. I like to think every animal is just as capable of thinking as I am, and judges me on my behavior as much as I on theirs. My baby chick is one of these intelligent animals. I think she does love me, in her little chickie way, and that she would want me around for a long time, just to sit in my lap and rest her little beak on the edge of my thumb while she drifts off. And it wrenches my heart to think she'll grow puzzled at my absence, and then maybe she'll get anxious, and then -- eventually -- forget all about me. As strange as she is, she deserves something good for her, even if it's a clumsy teenage girl just stroking her head and cooing at her in that quiet voice reserved especially for baby animals.

I am not entirely sure why I decided to share this post with you, about my somewhat pathetic empathy for a baby chicken, of all things, but I suppose I wanted to offer up a little lesson. Because, you know, teenagers learn some worthwhile morals that others can benefit from, too.

In the end, I think it's not just baby chicks who imprint on you. People imprint on others, too, and I guess sometimes you imprint right back.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

All About Character: On Theodosia

Let me tell you a little something about characters: the story is all about them. People force me to read literary fiction in classrooms, but that is the reason no one my age reads any more (besides people like me). Literary fiction about how it is written, not the main subjects of the story.

And so, this is why I feel the need to talk about my favorite stories characters. Because sometimes, main character or not, "likeable" or not, I need to express the warmth and love that fills my mind when I read good characters.

R.L. Lafevers -- yes, the author of Grave Mercy -- wrote Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos, which kickstarts the series of a young, curious girl prodigy whose main job is to take curses off of ancient Egyptian artifacts.

Theodosia... she's the girl I wish I was. At eleven years old, she juggles secret societies and vile magic and parents who simply don't understand. She doesn't whine or complain, even though this is the early 1900s and she is expected to behave in a more "polite" manner than sleeping in a sarcophagus and pattering about her father's museum. She rolls up her sleeves and gets to work, researching (in dusty old tomes) or collecting wax (it soaks up curses pretty well) or avoiding trouble (which, of course, always seeks her out).

What I love about Theodosia is her voice. Not old beyond her years, weighed down by her important duties; but not frivolous and empty-headed, like the girls in that boarding school her parents neglected to send her back to. She gets exasperated by the adults around her. She is wise enough not to elaborate on her role in keeping her parents safe from the magic her mother brings back from archaeological expeditions. She has her own scientific methods for getting rid of the curses.

Of course, I am neck-deep in Book 4. But I will focus on Book 1, the Serpents of Chaos. Theo, as she's sometimes called, has no qualms about looking peculiar. She's entirely unafraid of meeting new people, but loves her time researching in the museum's library. In fact, she creates a network of allies to help keep her (relatively) safe and informed.

I am not entirely sure I would be as level-headed if I were in Theodosia's position. This is what I love about her. She meets a secret society and holds a powerful Heart of Egypt amulet, and she doesn't bat an eye. The Serpents of Chaos, as they're called, steal the amulet, but Theo has A Plan. And it doesn't involve returning it to her mother, where it might get stolen again.

Of course, the other secret society she meets (for one secret society is just never enough) is on the side of "good." The Chosen Brotherhood takes curses off of objects as well, but none of them have the same ability to sense it as Theo does. And they help her out, a little, but Theo stands on her own. She creates her own plans, and implements them.

I guess, if I'm being honest, I love Theo's abilities as well. I mean, how amazing and dangerous and exciting is the ability to detect Egyptian curses? And she doesn't just guess; she's not new to this ability. She rolls up her sleeves and applies her First Level Test (wax) and Second Level Test (moonlight) to determine what the curses, she researches how to get rid of it, and performs spells with leftover bits and pieces (of gold wire, chips of red stone, colorful thread, and more). Fantasy stimulates my imagination more than almost any other type of fiction, and Ancient Egypt captures my attention more than almost any other time and place.

Theo has flaws, of course, but I find myself not caring. She can be a bit bumbling and naive. She can (and does) trust the wrong people, hate the right people, and sometimes botch up her relationship to her parents or her younger brother. But she's eleven. She is allowed to be human, in all of that complicated mess of dealing with other people.

Most of all, I think, Theo is unafraid to be all of the things mentioned above. She is unafraid of being the only one to see curses, of trusting the wrong people, of coming face to face with orders of men dedicated to chaos. She never apologizes for it. And I love her fearlessness, because fear never holds her back from the sort of adventure people love reading about.

If you have never had the pleasure of picking up this book, I recommend it. Theodosia is a complex, confident character, and whether you like Ancient Egypt or not, whether you read fantasy or not, this series is worth reading for her.

Have a blessed day.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Ugh, Really? Or, A Rant on Education

Alright, so if you've read this blog, you probably realize I live in America. More specifically, in the Southeast. Most specifically, I live in Virginia. (But I refuse to name my street address, full name, and full identification. This is a personal blog, after all, not some free-for-all for criminals.)

And I would like to inform you about education. The public educational system. Not precisely the one I'm in -- thank goodness -- but it happened in Richmond earlier this week.

Guess what? Richmond schools are protesting.

If you're unwilling to follow the link to the Richmond Times Dispatch, let me spell it out for you: 150 students protested Monday, because their schools are falling apart. One of the students in my class, who used to be in the Richmond public school system, claimed he once saw a rat there. On the news Monday, they interviewed a few students, and a couple say they're worried about ceiling tiles falling on their heads and injuring them.

The protest was going to peter out, of its own volition, without any news coverage at all. Until the mayor of Richmond showed up, and invited the students in to talk about it.

It sounds nice, doesn't it? The mayor shows up and for 30 minutes out of his busy schedule, sits down to talk with students about their concerns. Except, he doesn't really answer them. He wants to build a baseball stadium nearby -- yes, you heard me: a baseball stadium. And he keeps telling the students that building it will increase revenue, help the economy, and that then he'll have money for the schools. Oh, but he also claims that it's the schools' responsibility to deal with where the money goes, not City Council.

And I would have posted this earlier in the week -- say, the day it happened -- but thinking on it makes my blood boil.

First of all, really? The city has money to build a baseball stadium, but not enough to keep kids safe? And you want to build an expensive baseball stadium in order to bring money in, rather than simply using the money you have to first help the schools and then figure out a plan to raise revenue?

Second of all, it really angers me that someone would forego children's safety like that. When even one kid is in danger, parents rush in to save their child. But when it comes to sending them to school, it's alright to put them in danger? None of the people on City Council, or even the Superintendent of the schools, knows what it's like, to be in these schools.

I am so blessed to be in a school system where I won't (hopefully, ever) see a rat; I feel safe in the building. But I don't exactly have a choice to go. I never had a choice, to go to my high school; it's simply the default school I go to, since I didn't get into any specialty program elsewhere. It's the same with kids in Richmond. They don't have any choice over what school they get to go to. They simply have to go. And unfortunately, they have to go to a school system they don't feel safe in.

How did a system meant to be for the benefit of kids end up such a nightmare? How did it ever come to this, that kids have to protest to get proper maintenance for their schools? When did a system meant to enrich children's lives with learning end up a place where they are nervous to even walk in?

Everyone talks about bullying, and assaults, and gun violence. They talk about how college is way too expensive. But where is the attention for the public school system when it comes to something they have so little control over? No one talks about how maintenance can scare kids as much as bullies, so that they are afraid to come to school.

I once saw a cockroach in my school. My biology teacher killed a mouse eating her supply of lab "equipment" (dried beans, which she uses in a couple experiments at the beginning of the school year to teach evolution). My Spanish teacher was legitimately concerned that Spanish classes after the third year taking the language would get canceled; she asked several kids in my class to go around talking to the third-year Spanish students in order to encourage them to sign up.*

But this is nothing. It's nothing, that our textbooks are battered. Nothing, that the air conditioning rarely works, so that it is either freezing during the spring months -- so much so that I wear a jacket to school, even when it is over sixty degrees outside -- or too-boiling-hot. Two years ago, in Honors 10th grade English, there were so many students in my class that the temperature in there was always seventy degrees. I switched to an AP English class last year and this year, because there are fewer students.

That. Is. Nothing. At least I haven't seen bigger bugs; at least I don't worry about ceiling tiles falling on my head. At least I am lucky enough to be in a decent school, even though I had no control over where I would be going to. I didn't choose to go to my school because it was safe. And some students? They didn't choose to go to their schools in the city, because those schools are grim. Luck is all that separates me from those kids.

And you know what? I'm so sick of it. If we are required by law to go to school, then it had better be a good place to go. Because you can't just sacrifice quality when it comes to kids. To people my age and even younger. You can't take risks with safety. So why can't anybody pay attention and fix this mess -- or better yet, why didn't anyone pay attention enough to have stopped this from happening in the first place?

There are so many questions. And there are no answers. Not for me. But I am proud as anything that some kids had the fight in them to stand up and demand some sort of answer to these very questions.

*My school requires a student to take three years of one language or two years of two languages. After that, it's optional. I'm in Spanish 4.