Thursday, January 31, 2013

On Being Bullied.

I was bullied in high school. For the majority of my freshman and sophomore year, I was teased in the hallways and called a bitch and laughed at. I failed a bunch of my classes because I skipped school constantly, had very few friends, and withdrew emotionally and mentally. I've been out of high school since 2008 and I am not even remotely over being bullied. Someone screaming, "You're fat! You're ugly!" in your face doesn't go away easily. It doesn't get better. It gets different. I will have social anxiety and panic attacks for the foreseeable future, and although a lot of that is surely biology, I can trace most of it back to high school. High school fucked me up.

When I was a junior in college, I was seeing a therapist who told me that what I think people think of me and what people actually think of me are two entirely different things. I was 20-years old and I legitimately did not believe her.

This is incredibly immature of me. 
Over winter break, aged 22,  I saw a lot of people from high school--and, surprise, they were all cool and nice and fun to hang out with. But in the back of my head was the fact that none of them would have been caught dead with me if it were 2005. I should get over it, right? 2005 was literally eight years ago. I can't. I'm trying. I still have moments when I walk into a room and assume everybody was just talking about me. I don't think those things because I'm self-centered (although I am)--I think them because it actually happened to me, all the time in high school. It wasn't a figment of my narcissistic imagination.

A year or so ago I got a facebook message from the girl who did most of the bullying. I never responded. I never even read the whole thing. I'm bitter and immature and I can still feel the anxiety in my stomach when I drive past my high school. I hate that it still gets to me, that I can, with ease, place myself back at my locker in 2006, to that girl walking past me and making fun of my clothes. My palms are sweaty now. As far as I know, she never got into any serious trouble, and I still hate the teachers and administrators who knew what was happening and chose not to care or do anything about the bullying. I hope it haunts them the same way it haunts me. They aren't--and that motivates me. I want to succeed and stick it in their faces, show them that I made it This far without their help, despite being bullied.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

On Class Discussion.

The piece of writing below was originally writtenfor The Round Table, Beloit College's student-run newspaper. Now, in my real last semester here, I've already got my degree and discussion is about ten thousand more times frustrating. My writing style is a little less snarky, but, I am also a lot more jaded than I was, so it still rings relatively true. Enjoy:

   As a Creative Writing major, I am obligated to take literary analysis classes. I don’t mind the reading or the lectures, but often find myself rolling my eyes and clenching my fists constantly during class discussions. I’ve had a few bad experiences in history and political science classes with discussion, but nothing near as bad as discussions on literature.
   You will hear a comment similar to this one thousands of times in lit classes: “What we read reminds me of this other thing I read once.” Anybody who says it never has much to say after that, because it’s never a relevant sentence. It’s not helpful. It’s nothing but a way for an eager and pretentious student to let the professor know how smart they are. I would hear people make this comment and not understand how they continued to do it—I thought it was common sense that outwardly bragging about your intelligence isn’t exactly good manners.
   But even in my sixth semester at Beloit, I am haunted by bad discussions. I dread classes that are otherwise great. I walk into the classroom preemptively annoyed. Sometimes I’m scared to speak in class because I don’t want to be the person at whom everybody rolls their eyes and clenches their fists. The following list serves as my attempt to make class discussion more successful for me, but also for the rest of the campus.
   Discussion can be a really constructive way to learn, and we are lucky that we don’t have to constantly take ScanTron exams instead.  Take advantage of the type of education we practice at Beloit, and make class discussions better for everybody.
—Talk. Contribute. Say something. Silence is awkward for everybody.
—Do the reading.
—If we’re talking about something that relates to your other classes, or experiences you’ve studied with other professors, they could be interesting to bring up. You can steal points from a discussion in that class and bring them up here. Liberal Arts in Practice.
—Give exact quotes, not just general claims. Have page numbers ready if you can. Especially if you think what you’re about to say is controversial (even though it probably isn’t).
—Cite your classmates, get their names right, and build on what they’ve said instead of just repeating what they just said.
—Kiss your professor’s ass during office hours. Not class time.
—Say “I don’t know” if you’re questioned on something you’ve said and you don’t know the answer. Bullsh*tting your answer is just awkward
—Think about what you say before you say it. Please.
—Talk about your study abroad experience if its relevant, but not more than three times over the course of a semester.
—If you don’t understand something, ask questions. Asking questions is brave; if you’ve done all the work and still don’t get it, it’s not your fault. Other people are probably wondering the same thing but are too nervous to ask. There is no shame in not knowing everything.
—Reference a movie, ever. Unless the class is discussing a movie, or is discussing a book that has a movie. (Side note: I had a special request from a friend to say not to reference “Family Guy.” So don’t reference “Family Guy.” Just don’t.)
—Nod. You can nod a little bit, but nodding too much is annoying. We get it—you understand. You don’t need to show everybody you understand by aggressively nodding.
—Talk for more than about 30 seconds. After the 30 seconds are up, these two things are true: (1) nobody is listening anymore, and (2) you are repeating yourself. (This is why you need to think before speaking.)
—Say things like: “I looooooved it,” or “I hated it” and then not back it up.
—Interrupt, especially in an aggressive or attacking way.
—Use too much anecdotal evidence, especially if it’s not something you heard from a friend’s friend’s friend.
—If you need to preface your comment with a, “now, I don’t want to offend anybody,” then you shouldn’t say it.
—Tell us the obvious: that anything written in the 17th, 18th or 19th century was sexist or racist. Duh, of course it was.
—Use these words/phrases unless you are 110 percent sure you can define them: “satire,” “hetero normative,” “false dichotomy,” “ironically,” “pragmatic,” “ethnocentrisms,” “TRON,” “devil’s advocate” etc.
Call people out on their sh*t. You are the professor. You’re allowed to interrupt people and tell them they’ve talked enough. If somebody in the class has been speaking on the same subject for more than 45 seconds, and we’re all sitting around waiting for them to stop, you have the power to tell them to stop. We, as students, don’t have that power, as much as we might want it. You have a Ph.D., you can tell people with a high school degree and some college that they should shut up.
Please, tell us to shut up. And do it early in the semester so that we all know what you will and will not accept from your students. On a more positive note, when somebody makes a good comment, or  asks a good question, tell them what they said was interesting. You have a Ph.D. and we want to impress you with our ability to ask good questions. Doing things like this will make the discussion better for everybody in the long run. I can only do so much, so please help.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

On My First Cat, Eleanor.

This is my cat. Her name is Eleanor. (After Eleanor Roosevelt, of course.) She is about seven months old, and I adopted her from a family in Wisconsin who couldn't keep her. She chirps instead of meowing, she loves to play, she's missing a little bit of one ear, and the spot on her right side is in the shape of a heart. She's quirky and I couldn't have found a more perfect cat.

Cats are just as cute on the internet as they are in real life.
I have wanted a cat of my own for a long time--my family has had two cats, but they always liked my mom best.  My father never let me have a cat at his house, and so I have been relatively cat-less my entire life. That has changed, and it is just as wonderful as I thought it would be. I clean the litter box and feed her twice a day and I don't find it tedious or boring. Eleanor makes my life better, and taking care of couldn't be a chore.

Almost literally too-cute.
I've written about my anxiety disorders here before. I thought having a cat would help with that, but I had no idea how much. When I wake up, she is always there--and I wake up earlier, too. Her purrs calm me down. Petting her calms me down. Instead of laying in my bed staring at my phone or computer, I'm laying in my bed bonding with my new cat. On the weekends, I'm more likely to go to bed earlier, and subsequently not drink as much, because I know she's waiting for me at home. The first cat I grew up with, Arabella, was my mother's, and she lived until she was nineteen. Their bond was strong, I could tell how much it hurt my mother when Arabella died. I look forward to having that much time with Eleanor, to bonding and chirping and playing and having her curled up on my lap while I read.  I'm living in an apartment for the first time and learning how to be responsible in so many different ways--a cat is just the best one. 

Sunday, January 6, 2013

On The Proust Questionnaire (Illustrated by My Instagram Photos).

Sometimes, I am in a particularly comedy-nerd-ish mood, and I end up reading Louis CK interviews at 3 a.m. That's how I learned about the Proust Questionnaire. (Am I late on that?) Vanity Fair does a series where they have celebrities fill out a modified version of the questionnaire. (So does Inside the Actor's Studio.) Louis CK's answers are hilarious, but he also seems genuinely pissed off about how personal the questions are:
What is your greatest fear?                                                                                            You think I’m going to tell you that? You think I’m going to let you print my greatest fear in a national magazine? No sir. I will not, sir.
I think Louis CK is right--if I were as famous as he is, I wouldn't necessarily want my answers in a national magazine-- but, at the same time, I've written pretty personal stuff on the internet. The other day, a friend asked me why/how I wrote about such personal things on this blog. So, here are my (un-funny, all true) answers to the Vanity Fair version of the Proust Questionnaire. 

What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Watching The Last Waltz, any time--but especially in the afternoon. Cleaning my room, with the window open, while listening to The Kinks. The first time any of my nieces and nephews really recognized me as somebody they knew/loved. My sports team winning. Kisses while laughing. When the episode before the finale ends, and all you have to do is click "Next" on your DVD remote to see the finale.  Walking and talking with friends while a little bit drunk. Re-reading something I wrote earlier and it being good.

Instagram of The Last Waltz in the afternoon.

What is your greatest fear?
Dying in a plane crash.

Which living person do you most admire?
My parents, for different reasons, but also for creating my brother who is like a smarter, funnier, wittier, more attractive version of me. The world is lucky to have him, even though he's a real jerk sometimes. 

Instagram of my baby brother and me.
What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
My utter selfishness. 

What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
Of the "Seven," chastity (for obvious reasons, its the 21st Century) and kindness. Because kindness is relatively easy to fake. Also kindness, for the most part, usually means boring.

What do you dislike most about your appearance?
My thighs or my nose. But really, I try not to focus on those. My hair and my butt are great. That's what I focus on.

Instagram of my self-esteem.
What or who is the greatest love of your life?
I'm 22, so I don't think this question is fair. I've only been in love once, and it was pretty great. But, if I get to answer one question non-seriously, I'll answer with Torii Hunter. I was obsessed with him during high school when I was severely depressed and introverted, and his smile is so pretty.

When and where were you happiest?
Ever? I don't know. Isn't that a boring answer? Recently? When my father picked me up at the train station after a 22 hour train ride and he hugged me. Then we stopped by my sister's house and when we opened the door I heard Sophie, 3-years old, say, "Is that Auntie Sha-sha?" Then I got in her bed and we cuddled and read a book. Also, watching the second episode of series eight of Peep Show, "Business Secrets of the Pharaohs." Its one of the funniest episodes of television I've seen in a while, and the Hamlet joke is absolutely beautiful. 
Instagram after getting off the train in CT.
Which talent would you most like to have?
I wish I were crafty. Not arts and crafty, but I wish I had an eye for interior design and DIY.

What is your current state of mind?
I drank coffee all day and now I've had one beer. 

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
I wouldn't have depression or anxiety. 

If you could change one thing about your family, what would it be?
I wish that sickness, death and financial problems would bring them together instead of keeping them apart. I wish people could get over their petty bullshit.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Graduating from college with Honors and a 3.6 after almost not graduating from high school.
Instagram of my parents and me after I walked in May.
If you could choose what to come back as, what would it be?
A human being. Like myself, but richer and better at everything I like doing now. 

What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
Honestly, Gollum.

What is the quality you most like in a man?
Stability and/or height. And at the risk of sounding like my hero, Ke$ha, a beard.

What is the quality you most like in a woman?
I don't know how to answer that question--because I really admire women who are confident, but I wouldn't necessarily want to be friends with them, because I'm sort of jealous.

What do you most value in your friends?
Friends have to be funny and interesting. Interesting here means at least as fucked up as me, so we can trade fucked up stories and not be too embarrassed. Also, good friends call me on my shit.

Instagram of a little drawing by Joy Belamarich, of her and me. 
Who are your favorite writers?
All-time favorite TV writer = Armando Iannucci; poet = Lucille Clifton. 

Who is your favorite hero of fiction?
I just finished watching Return of the King earlier today. So, Aragorn, obviously. Also, I'm currently reading Raymond Chandler's The Big Sleep and Private Eye Philip Marlowe seems pretty absurdly heroic, thus far.

Instagram of my newfound life as a LOTR fan.
Who are your heroes in real life?
My first heroes were probably the UConn women's basketball team, circa 1995. My big sister Lynn has also always been one of my heroes. She is funny, smart, compassionate, and has raised four wonderful kids (age 2-12) , all while working the overnight shift at her job. That's insane to me. I could never do that.

What is it that you most dislike?
Too many things are tied for first place. However, more than anything, I dislike waking up early. 

How would you like to die?
Nope, can't answer this.

What is your motto?
Even I am not self-obsessed enough to have a motto. 
Instagram of, just kidding, I have been self-obsessed since birth.
(But, even then, no motto.)
Also, I reccommend you check out Vanity Fair 's online archive of their Proust Questionnaire. There are some really great ones. Way better than mine.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

On Divorce.

I was talking to my mother the other day about how all of the people I've been hanging out with all 19-year olds. She said to me, "It's okay Sasha, both of my husbands were a couple years younger than me." My Dad is that second husband, and they divorced when I was about nine years old.

I went through old photo albums and found these.
I'm sure my parents discussed, for a long time, how to tell my brother and me that they were separating.  But I don't remember it. All I remember is coming home from a week or two away at camp, and them sitting me down on the couch. I don't even remember what they said. But then, we went out and bought stuff for my Dad's new apartment and everything was normal again.

That being said, I also don't have that many memories of all of us together as a family. But I don't really care. I have great childhood memories with my Dad and with my Mom that are surely a thousand times better than the ones we would have had together, especially if they were unhappy. I believe that I am closer to my brother because my parents are divorced. Whenever I got into a fight with my Mom, I could go to my Dad's house, and vice versa. I can pack everything I need for four days in about five minutes.

I have also never had one place where all of my things are. That's the only thing I regret about my parents' divorce. Everything I own has always been scattered. At first it was just scattered between my mom's house and my dad's house. Now its scattered between my mom's house, my dad's house, and the closet in my apartment in Beloit, Wisconsin.

All of my Beloit things, right now.
Outside of my room at my Dad's house are the four small boxes of dirty laundry that I sent home from Beloit. I should open them and wash them but the idea of more stuff gives me genuine anxiety. I will just have to send them right back to Beloit, where I will have to unpack again, and in May, I'll have to pack again. I'm a kid of divorced parents, and I can pack better than anybody else I know, but sometimes it gets exhausting. I'm guessing that growing up with two parents who clearly weren't happy would be much more exhausting. I am always amazed by people who are brave enough to make the right decision for themselves. I know them, and I know they are very, very different people. Getting divorced is the right decision sometimes, and I am pretty sure it was the right decision for my parents. I'm happier for it.