Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Job Job Job Job Job

 You probably think I'm going to talk about my work. I'm not. I'm going to talk about Job the person. The one from the bible.
In English we read the bible book of Job and now we're reading "J.B." by Archibald MacLeish. So far, my favorite part of the play is when one character says "You are a bitter man" and the other replies "I taste of the earth". Ohhhhhhhhhh! Shivers.
So we've been talking a lot about the question "why do bad things happen to good people?" If you have an answer, let me know. Or not even an answer, maybe just a belief. Or a theory. I'll even take a hypothesis. An idea? Surely you have an idea. As it says in the play "there's always someone playing Job." We're all Job. Bad things happen to all of us and we have to find some way to make peace and continue on. How have you made it this far?
[Seriously though, comment on this one, God Damnit]
Another teacher (my current favorite) said to me the other day "Everything happens for a reason" and I chewed her out, because quite frankly, I don't buy that in the slightest. So yesterday she said to me, "I've been thinking about what you said and I don't mean that everything happens for a reason, I mean that the universe is not random."
So I've been pondering a lot. And I've come to this perhaps cynical conclusion:
I don't believe there is meaning or order to the way things happen in this world. I don't think God makes bets nor do I believe some huge karma-like power governs the universe. I happen to believe that everything is random. BUT, I believe growth comes out of experiences. No, I don't think everyone's life is hand-tailored or even universe-tailored to happen to them. I guess I just feel that if I am open to learning from whatever it is this "dung heap" of a world throws at me, then I'll turn out quite alright in the end. I've learned from the good and the bad things that happened to me, and I could have learned just as much from the good and bad things that happened to my neighbor 4 houses down. Yes, I am who I am because of the life I've lived, but who's to say I wouldn't be just a great if I'd had a different life. As much as I want to see myself as this exceptional product of the universe, I'm a common person. I'm not that irreplicatable. Knowing that I can grow in whatever random turns my life takes is enough hope to get me out of bed in the morning. So suck on that Job.

ps. I got into the India trip. YAY!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Young Women's makes a liberal out of me

So, maybe I'm overreacting, but when the question is asked "what legal institutions are destroying the family?" and without hesitation the answers "gay marriage" and "abortion" are given, I get angry. Today I literally bit my tongue. So, since I'm on a liberal swing right now, enjoy this:

Quote Whore Sunday

Okay, so truth be told, I'm a complete and total quote whore. I love quotes. I used to keep them on little tiny index cards in my wallet until it stopped closing. I have quotes written all over the mirror in my room, and the only piece of art in my room made my me is a watercolor Vonnegut quote. I'm picky about "discovering" my own quotes. If I hear a quote I like, I'll read the whole book so I can "find" that quote myself. I don't like inspirational or spoken or cliche quotes. I like my quotes to be underlined in a novel I've read. So maybe I'm just a literature quote whore.
Another truth be told, I've always wished I had a blog tradition - something I blogged every week like "wordless Wednesday" or "cookie Friday" or whatever it be.
That being said, I don't take myself that seriously.
So, on that note, I'd like to introduce to you Quote Whore Sunday! Where we rejoice in the fact that I whore myself out to quotes and enjoy the irreverence of placing the words "whore" and "Sunday" next to each other.

To kick things off, here's a quote from my very favorite book in the whole wide world, East of Eden, by my favorite author in the whole wide world, John Steinbeck (I also call myself a Steinbeck whore).

Samuel Hamilton is the only character in literature who makes me cry every time he dies. (This is possibly because Larry from The Razor's Edge doesn't die. Side note: I really want to reread The Razor's Edge, but I love it so much right now, and I'm terrified that if I read it again it won't make me feel as much as it did the first time and my heart will be broken). Sam dies half-way through the book, and I always end up asking myself "how can I read the next half of the book knowing that Sam won't be in it?" It usually takes me a few days or hours until I can pick up the book again and move on. And I miss him through the next three hundred pages. I feel his absence like I feel the absence of music when I'm driving my car in silence.

Here's the quote that encompasses Sam:
"I'm having enjoyment. And I made a promise to myself that I would not consider enjoyment a sin. I take a pleasure into inquiring into things. I've never been content to pass a stone without looking under it. And it is a black disappointment to me that I can never see the far side of the moon."

Friday, September 23, 2011

India Essay

I had to write an essay to get into a humanitarian trip Waterford is doing in India this spring break. Wish me luck. Here it is:


“In uncertainty I am certain that underneath their topmost layers
of frailty men want to be good and want to be loved.”
John Steinbeck

Part of me wants to believe I have some exceptional quality that entitles me to the lavish life I enjoy. It’s easier to believe that I somehow earned the right to my luxuries than to accept that a mere trick of fate landed me in this life rather than dumping me in a gutter in an underdeveloped nation. As this idea has worked its way into my mind, I’ve come to realize that there are many people who could do much more with the life I’ve been given than I can. I’ve also decided that with all I’ve been given comes the responsibility to make a contribution to the world, not by living a life of privilege aspiring to accolades, but by helping others reach their unearthed potential.
And still, it’s never become easy to give up what I have in order to help others. It’s amazing how quickly a sense of entitlement can sneak into my life. Though I don’t deserve my new shoes more than a starving child in rural China, and while I certainly need them less, I still want them. It’s always difficult to let go of things I want; things that, when I stop to consider them, don’t make me a happier or a better person. I plod along trying constantly to remind myself that giving is more important than having.
I know I’m .0000000001 percent of the population of this planet. I can’t go to India for a week and bring about any change. I could spend my life working in India and not cause change. The people who can actually change the way the world works, change the way people live, change the way people are treated, are few and far between, but I feel very strongly that that does not mean the rest of us should stop trying.
I suppose we try because on a basic, spiritual level we understand that loving others changes us. It’s impossible to serve someone and dislike them; the act of service creates love. This I know and believe with all my heart because I’ve learned it from a few experiences.
The first experience was attending the Birch Creek Ranch (three times). BCR is based on the philosophy of Lowell Bennion and includes four hours of service every morning ranging from bucking hay bales to cleaning a woman’s house to helping a local farmer move his sprinkler pipes to spreading gravel and digging out rocks for a new parking lot. I certainly didn’t change anything besides myself because of that service, but the inner-change was monumental.
BCR has a motto, which is a quote from Lowell Bennion. The part that means the most to me reads, “learn to like people, even though some of them may be different... different from you”. I can’t honestly say that I initially liked everyone at BCR, but as I worked with the girls I grew to love them, even the ones that at first seemed unlovable. As we worked towards common goals each morning, their flaws and differences seemed unimportant compared to the goodness inside, which became more apparent the longer we worked. By the end of my time at the ranch, it felt like anything that could be accomplished by only one person was not worth doing. It took a whole team, each with their unique contribution to bring a little bit of good into the world.
My other favorite part of the motto is “learn to like work and enjoy the satisfaction of doing your job as well as it can be done.” At the ranch, I learned the value of doing difficult things.  One experience particularly stands out. Though I’ve had horses all my life, I’d never bucked a bale of hay until I got to BCR. Moving seventy-pound bales of hay is a daunting task. With some encouragement from amazing counselors, I lifted the first bale. It was enormously heavy, but I moved it into the pile. Then I moved the second one. And then I moved the third one. The four hours passed extremely slowly, but at the end of them, I had a large pile of hay and one of the highest sensations of self-confidence I’ve ever felt. I can do hard things, and I learn the most when working at a task for which it feels I’m doomed to failure.
The other experience that has taught me about the love that comes from service is not so much an experience, as a person. Lucy moved to Draper from Brazil in February and since March I’ve been teaching her English. I’m not dedicating a huge amount of time to her; I only come twice a week for one hour. I’m not an exceptional teacher; her husband is American and could probably teach her as well as I could.  Yet, I have made a difference. Lucy can do small things like order at a restaurant and use the correct preposition because I’ve dedicated a small amount of my time to her.
However, the fact that Lucy can introduce herself in English is not nearly as important to me as the relationship we’ve formed. I love Lucy. She’s one of the most genuine, heart-on-her-sleeve, gentle people I’ve ever met. At the end of a lesson back in May, she said to me, “Hannah, you teach me English very good. We best friends.” That meant more to me than the hundreds of blanks she’s filled in with the right word.
So no, I haven’t changed the world by teaching Lucy English twice a week. I haven’t really contributed to the net good in the world. There are just as many women in forced prostitution now as when I started helping Lucy. But I have made a difference to Lucy. It’s not a monumental difference, but I know I will leave her better off than I found her. That’s what service is about; helping someone get to a better place, even if they only move a step.
The final experience I had was going on a food run with the Adopt-A-Native-Elder program last month. I got down to the reservation with absolutely no idea what to expect. Admittedly, I hadn’t done my homework. I’d heard about the extreme poverty “down there”, but I’d been hearing about extreme poverty for a very long time. I’d driven through hours and hours of shantytowns in Tanzania, and while it broke my heart, the “poverty lesson” didn’t begin to sink in until I met the people of the Navajo Mountain reservation.
We arrived at the center and immediately began unpacking the program’s “giveaways”. I was expecting minor luxuries, but instead found myself handling things necessary for life: dish soap, trash bags, winter clothing, laundry detergent, batteries, things that have been in my house since the day I was born. The elders excitement at receiving such simple gifts made me promise myself I would more intensely appreciate all that I had waiting for me at home.
I was not deeply moved, however, until an 86-year old woman came up to my friend and I (the only teenagers in the group). She didn’t speak English, but she showed us two handmade necklaces. She put one around each of our necks, like medals of honor, shook our hands, and sat back down. This woman, who had no running water or electricity or education, who had been born into poor circumstances, who was, to say the least, living a lower standard of living than I, had chosen to give me a gift; and I, I who live in a world of luxury, had no comparable sacrifice to offer her save my deeply humbled gratitude.
While all this is important, and these experiences have been meaningful to me, the most resonating lesson I’ve learned is that when serving, the roles of giver and receiver are interchangeable; every person I’ve ever “served” has given me more than I could ever have given them. The beauty of human relationships is that the give and take flow so freely, one can’t help another without receiving more in return. I would appreciate the opportunity to serve the people of Calcutta, but more poignantly, I would love the opportunity to learn from them.

You'd accept me, right?

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Great Migration

“The Wildebeest migration” our guide tells us, “is one of the wonders of the world”. Which world, I find myself wondering. The animal kingdom? Surely, this mass of bovines is not greater than the powerful carnivores that hunt them. The ancient world? The beasts must have been migrating while the pyramids were built. Our world? My world?
Wildebeest make me uncomfortable. They’re ugly and stupid. They reproduce like mad and invented “herd mentality”. And, they’re remarkably similar to humans.
Being a Wildebeest is not about quality but quantity. The individual is all but meaningless. Hundreds of thousands of Wildebeest roam the African savannah and I realized that while some may be slightly smarter or faster or stronger than the rest, they’re all essentially the same. The rest don’t care how “special” that one is.
I’ve watched the wildebeest stampede. A lion appeared and they went running by the thousands. I know that most of the stampeders didn’t see the lion. A few who caught its scent went running and the rest followed, because clearly they were supposed to be afraid of something. It’s amazing how one tiny brain directs the mass.
I’ve also seen the carnage after a wildebeest stampede. I’ve seen African rivers damed by the corpses of wildebeests trampled during a crossing. The herd was, for no reason, in a hurry to cross the river. Individuals could care only for themselves. They couldn’t notice that under their hooves were not rocks but their brothers.
I heard about a person who got trampled. He was trampled by people rushing into WalMart on Black Friday. Getting a television for a good price was more important than his life. I wonder what they wrote on his tombstone. I wonder if the people at WalMart that Friday took responsibility. I wonder if they kept their television.
Once, I saw a pilot land a passenger jet, and then exit the plane with his copilot as soon as they were at the gate. I saw them help carry strollers, wheelchairs and bags up the stairs to the gate. I watched as they, in their white shirts and pilot hats, took trip after trip up and down the stairs. I watched as the men in the orange vests, who usually carry the bags, sat down and took a break.
My best friend has started her own charity. She has an annual charity bike ride that people choose to participate in. She’s had her face on television and her story in the newspaper. She’s raised tens of thousands of dollars. And, the part she cares about the most is the house she built for grandma Virginia.
In East of Eden, Steinbeck spends 600 pages telling the story of Cain and Able, coming to the conclusion that “we are Cain’s children” and as such, we must accept that we are flawed beings. Perhaps if we had descended from Able, no one would be trampled in the grocery store. But we belong to Cain. Shit happens and people cause most of it.
As we come our nature – our nature of weakness and filth and the murder of our brother - we also must acknowledge the miracle that is goodness. People choose to love, to help one another, to dedicate their lives to improving the world. They do it not because it’s easy, but because it’s right. We are neither bound to Cain nor doomed to be a wildebeest.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Rivers

The funny thing about rivers is that they're never ever the same; the water flows, plants flower and wither, fish get caught, get eaten, move downstream,, and little boys throw rocks and sticks in to see how large a splash they can make. In a way, those little boys are asserting their existence, saying "look I exist and this spray of water is proof that I can alter the world around me" as if the roads, the buildings, the trash and the tombstones weren't enough,

Maybe we like rivers so much because the change isn't shocking. We come back and fish in the same spot summer after summer, generation after generation. We search for the changes, and find comfort in their insignificance. Yet, when we remember our times by the river, they care categorized not by that which was the same, but by what changed. It was the simmer the big pine tree fell that I caught my fat rainbow, and it was the summer that the lupin got to be seven feet hight that my little brother fell into the river and lost his shoe.

They say the longest river is the Nile, but that the biggest is the Amazon. America's dearest river is the Mississippi, courtesy of Mark Twain. The English Channel and the Panama canal are squat rivers - not very long, but quite wide. Maybe they're square rivers. Or river pieces, like when you fly over Kansas and you can see the farming squares. Both the canal and the channel have been cultivated like a farming square.

Once, during an African safari, I sat and watched the river that ran alongside our campsite. It was a noisy river, because the water made small rapids as it ran over the carcasses of six wildebeest that drowned while crossing. As I pondered the cannibal trampling of the beasts, a hippo stuck her head up and quickly went back under. Suddenly, the river was not lazy brown water, but a special, rare opportunity. Hippos look like soft river beasts, but rumor has it they're fatal. I guess their nearest relative is the beautiful undercover CIA agents who catches the bad guys. I sat and watched and waited for the hippo to come up, wiggle her ears and sink back down to the bottom. Seeing her in split second intervals made the experience all the more romantic. Eventually, she stopped surfacing. I suppose she drowned.

People settle and thrive alongside rivers. It's ironic because when the rain comes, the river floods and everything is destroyed. For some reason, we're convinced we can conquer water and try to prove so by building places such as Venice and New Orleans and Holland. And we invent stories like that of the little boy who put his finger in the dyke.

I wonder if people attract themselves to rivers because they feel akin to them. A river is really a wonderful metaphor for a person. But I never liked metaphors, so I'll leave it at that.

And people don't just settle on rivers. We also build boats - all kinds of boats. If I were a river, I'd be insulted that man, in his insolence, thought that he could conquer a mightier river with a simple boat. Sure, boats work well enough for us most of the time, just to keep us on our toes, rivers make sure to turn a few boats over. Just in case we forget who is stronger.

Humans certainly are fragile creatures. There's one place that my metaphor doesn't work. When it comes down to survival, we're about as strong as an infant rabbit. We can't run fast or bite hard. We're not big enough to fight, not small enough to hide, not nimble enought to climb. All we've got is a big brain, and we don't even use all of that. Our big brain built guns and turbo engines, but where has that gotten us? You see, despite our cities, our governments, our wealth and our poverty, despite all we've created, people still drown in rivers.I don't mean to sound dower. I love a big city, wearing clothes and Starbucks as much as anyone. I just love rivers too. And when all is said and done, I admire the hudson river far more than I admire the New York City skyline. Maybe beause the river was there first and it will be there long after.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

September the Eighteenth

A week ago, there was lots of attention payed to the September Eleventh attacks, the victims, the survivors, the attackers, the heros. I've spent the past two weeks or so feeling a lot about those attacks. It feels like the anniversary has passed, and life should resume. But a part of me remembers that when anniversaries of loss come around, the loss remains potent for much longer than a day. 
When the planes hit the towers, I was in second grade. I remember driving to school, and hearing on the radio that there was a plane crash and people died. My reaction was "yeah, so?" I was accustomed to fatal accidents. I'd been flying since I was little, and to a 3 or 4 or 5 year old, plane turbulence feels a lot like a car rolling over. In my little head, fatal plane crashes happened as often as fatal car crashes, which were common enough to have affected me.
I didn't understand the tragedy until I was in New York last spring and went to the temporary museum. That museum broke my heart, not because of the thousands of people that died, but for the many more thousands of people who lost someone they loved. Those people who would go on doing the dishes and going to school in spite of the pain that wracked their hearts.
One of the most interesting parts of "the anniversary" for me was Ira Glass' interviews with people who lost those they loved in the attack. Marian Fontana's comment was that the theme is " "never forget", but to heal, you have to forget." I guess she's right. Who is the rest of the world to bring up her tragedy and pain and loss as if it is our own?
We've been reading 9/11 poems in my English to kick off our poetry unit. Here's one of my favorites:
"8:48" by Iris Schwartz

It was 9:08 when a coworker told me
A plane had struck the World Trade Center
He could see a small fiery 
Photo on the net 
I am ashamed to say
I was upset 
Over a petty work issue
And thought there had been a 
Minor accident. Yes, 
My thoughts were on myself
It was 9:11 when other coworkers started 
Talking, milling around
Still, no announcement was made
Soon we heard that a second tower
Had been hit
No announcement yet and
We had to work
It was 9:27 when I realized that one of
My two best friends no longer works at some 
Other building downtown
That her new workplace, her new job
Is at Tower One
And I called and I called and I 
Called her office number but
Nobody answered and
The rings were the loudest, most
Disquieting sounds I had ever heard
It was 10:10 and still they wanted us to work
Though everyone I neared in the halls
In the bathroom in the pantry
Shook his or her head
In disbelief in horror in slow motion
It was 10:23 when I had
The presence of mind to call this best friend
At her home and was thrilled though terrified
To hear her sobbing to hear her 
Ragged voice
To hear her 
Tell of being a few blocks away and 
Seeing it all, and
Seeing and hearing from no one in her office
Though she had been calling and calling
And she lived just ten minutes from work
Had thought that was a blessing
Now she did not know
What had become of her coworkers
Some had become friends in
The last three months
At her centrally located new job 
At my office we were not yet told 
To go home and it was 12:30 when 
I went out to lunch. On the midtown streets
I saw armies of
Workers: white, blue, 
Pink collars 
Aged young in-between 
Scurrying shuffling dazed looking up into the sun 
Fearing more planes? 
I wanted to join them
I wanted to walk keep walking walk away 
I wanted to join my two best friends
My man
My cat
I didn’t even know then that 
Another friend in Brooklyn has
An ex-boyfriend who worked in Tower Two
We had doubled-dated, gone to Great 
Adventure Amusement Park 
I didn’t know to be scared for him as I was for all the 
People I didn’t know and
For myself, too, even though I wasn’t on site
And still I couldn’t lose sight of the fact that
We had to keep working though how could we
How could we edit words that now seemed to fall off the page as
We would later learn people were to fly try to fly off the towers
Finally at 2:04 we were told by voice-mail to 
Take off if we had personal things to attend to but
How do you attend to the death of
Thousands of people you do not know and to
The possible death and near death of people you do know
And to the destruction of your stupid innocence along with a
Landmark building, a symbol 
How do you return to work 
The next day at 9:00 because 
Otherwise it will be a personal day and
You do not have the time for a personal day
Who has the time the time
The time: it was 8:48
 

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Self-Worth

It's been a funny few days.
In my class about poverty, we watched a documentary called "waging a living". The most resonant part of it for me was when this woman with five kids finally gets a break. She gets a good review at her new, higher paying job. She starts crying and says, "nobody's ever said that to me." Through the next few minutes of film, her confidence radiates. She is happy and finally sees worth in herself. It's inspiring, and also heartbreaking that it took her so long to figure it out.
Today, I had a meeting with our head of school (the Nance), and was told that I, along with 3 other students, would be representing our student body by participating in a panel with two professors at Columbia. It was really exciting in a "wow, you think I'm really smart", but it's also scary in a "wow, it would really suck if I make a fool of myself" way. Anyway, I'm going to try really hard not to swear for the next week, because it would be awful if I got up to talk and said a less-than-appropriate word.
The last thing that happened was that I got my senior portraits taken. I've never thought of myself as particularly beautiful. I don't say that in a self-deprecating way. I just mean that when I'm listing my strengths or talents, beauty is lower on that list. So when I get back these professional portraits, and they are beautiful, I'm not sure how to react. Part of me is incredibly happy, and another part of me is mad for being happy, because I don't want to derive my self-worth from the way I look.
So, it's been a funny week.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Photography

I love the way words and photographs can break your heart into a million pieces.



Zoom in and read the note

Sunday, September 11, 2011

What up, real world?

The real world hit me almost 3 weeks ago when the dental surgeon knocked me out with his malicious needle in arm and stole no less than four of my teeth.
Maybe that's a little dramatic.
The real world hit me almost 3 weeks ago when I woke up sobbing after having my wisdom teeth out. What? I don't get to have fun and continue to live like it's summer for the rest of my life? What?
They didn't even give me good pain killers. All I got was oversized IB profen. I could have just overdosed on tylenol. I wanted Lortab dammit.
The real world popped up again when that Wednesday my dad sold the business. It's a silly thing to stress me out, but now, we've got all we'll ever have. What if something horrible happens and we lose all our money and I don't get to go to college? What if the insurance company decides I'm too poor a driver to ensure and the company can't absorb the price of a teen driver anymore? What if the US government defaults on it's currency and all we've got is the house? I want to go to college.
The real world hit me again when I realized I had a summer reading book heavy enough to be a dumbbell that I hadn't cracked the spine on. So I read it. I read all the parts I wanted to, and I read all the parts I didn't want to, but was expected to.
The real world knocked again when I woke up before 7 to go get on a bus so I could go to the Great Salt Lake to row a boat. I hadn't done that in 18 months. And then the real world ran me over when I remembered how hard rowing a boat can be. Funny how easy I remember it being. Maybe someday I'll feel that way about Kili.
The real world made it's final entrance into my life when I put on my uniform last Tuesday. My last first day of school. In 96 days, I could know where I'm going to college. Or I could know where I'm not going to college. Fingers crossed for the latter. This year, I'm only taking classes I want to. It's the best schedule I've ever had. Right now, my calc class is my favorite one. Still not sure how that's possible. And, unfortunately, I think the real world might be here to stay. In fact, my world will keep getting more and more real. But I think that's okay, because I'm surrounded by wonderful, sometimes inspirational people who love me and who I couldn't live without, and because even though sometimes it doesn't seem so, the future is bright.
Yesterday, one of my 56 amazing classmates brought up a wonderful Churchill quote, "Now, this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning."

The real world and I are going to get along just fine.