Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Fictional Detectives (04/27/16)

I love reading mysteries. Based on how many detective shows there are on TV, I would guess that most of America likes mysteries, too. So why is there so little variation in each story line?

Let's start with five examples. I cannot vouch for all of these as school appropriate because I am not familiar with them well enough to make such a call.

Hercule Poirot is a character created by the famous Agatha Christie. He's described as a vain, white, Belgian man with catlike eyes, an egg shaped head, and fabulous mustaches. He really understands human nature and solves his cases with psychology rather than tiny scraps of evidence. The endings are spectacular (may I suggest The Murder of Roger Ackroyd? Ultimate favorite!), although I do find it hard to plow through the abundance of exposition sometimes, especially when the murder takes nearly half the book to occur.

Flavia De Luce is a white schoolgirl in the 20th century in a series by Alan Bradley. She uses her outgoing (and slightly arrogant, yet lovable) nature and her love of chemistry to discover the killer of victims in her small hometown. She tells the story in a very lifelike first person, which I think sounds best in the audiobooks. I'm only halfway through book 2, but I really like this series.

Sherlock Holmes you probably know fairly well already. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's original stories have been the object of multiple TV shows and countless allusions. He's a white, British, male who may be a little eccentric and/or arrogant at times but is extremely good at finding what others can't.

(Adrian) Monk is a character from a TV show (and apparently a book series, although I haven't read them and I don't know if the books or show came first) who uses his obsession with perfection to help solve crimes. He's a white American male who has OCD and a fear of everything unclean, so the show incorporates some humor of forcing him to act against his character.

Shawn Spencer (Psych) is a TV show character who is also white, male, and American. He has a special gift for noticing details, which he passes off as being psychic. His sense of humor (and immaturity) spices up the plot, especially with the foil between him and Detective Lassiter, the stickler to all the rules.

It seems like most detective novels and shows we have available focus around white, middle aged males in the most powerful country in the world at the time it was written. The main character has some sort of superiority complex or quirk that makes him (or the occasional her) annoying but lovable enough to keep making the writers money. An introvert is unheard of.

And it isn't just fictional detectives. It seems like we always focus on the "ideal" person in the media that fits all of the standards of society. When we make our own characters, they have to meet the standards we ourselves cannot meet. So I challenge all the writers out there- give your characters flaws. Make them awkward just to make them awkward, not to enhance your plot. How about an introverted main character? A female who doesn't have to be Hollywood skinny to be beautiful?

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

How to Survive Middle School (04/20/16 part 2)

This is an extra post to make up for missing last week.

I am mostly writing to those in or about to enter middle school. I haven't changed the way I write to try to talk down to what others may think is your level of reading or maturity. You're really no different than me, so I treat you as a peer, although you are slightly younger.

Everyone is allowed their own phrase that they would tell their younger self if they went back in time. I would guess that most people who are out of middle school would return to tell themselves something about life that they didn't realize back then. Some may say specific things about a certain person, and others may advise against doing a certain dumb thing that backfired. (Admit it, we all have those moments!) People like me may have more broad ideas and concepts that our younger selves didn't understand that we would explain.

But why fantasize about time travel when there's a whole bunch of people who are going through the same struggle right now whom I could help with my own experiences?

Middle school isn't all bad. People may have a bad experience in middle school that makes them cringe, so many of us beyond middle school may say negative things about the time. At the time, I really didn't feel like it was all that bad. I guess I still mostly agree.

The main problem comes with the new ideas of maturity and growing up. Kids who were friends for years may suddenly find themselves drifting apart because of the differences in how quickly they are maturing. One may want to sit and talk while another still wants to run around and have fun the old way. Also, the topic of dating and romance starts becoming more accepted like it is in college and beyond rather than the little crush you had on your neighbor when you were three. No pressure!

Then there's the issue of bodies. Ugh, I hate that word! "Bodies" reminds me of either corpses or anything about you that starts becoming awkward in middle school. Is there acne on your face? Do your armpits smell strongly of odor or an abundance of Axe? (Trust me, boys, using half the can at a time is not the best way to impress the ladies.) Does your face turn red at the mention of something you clearly don't want to talk about? (Cough, cough... me.) That's the fun of "bodies", and that's what you hear a lot about in middle school. I won't mention the rest, since that is still yours to experience.

But what would I really tell myself? It wouldn't be anything to do with my appearance or a backstabbing "friend". I would tell myself not to lose a great friendship with someone because he was a boy. I'm not the type of person who's naturally inclined to make friends with the opposite gender very easily, and I'm usually afraid that people will take a healthy friendship the wrong way. If there's something I hate more than the word "bodies", then it's when people imply that I should be in a relationship with someone. When I was in middle school, I missed out on a great relationship because I was afraid of what people might think. Please, no one do that. It's not fun.

One more thing- if surviving middle school is always awkward with everyone uncomfortable in their own skin and just starting to be treated like an adult, what you really need is a good friend. Find someone you can trust with your secrets, and make the effort to have fun with them. Don't neglect this person to try to force friendships that you know deep down will fail. Surviving middle school is all about having fun with people you can trust. You don't need to date someone to find that. You don't have to be super popular. If you are, that's great! Use it for good. The rest of us could use a bit of your help. :)

Don't freak out, it's not that bad. Figure out what you like and how you think. The better you know yourself, the more comfortable you'll be with yourself, and the more you'll enjoy being with yourself. Just have fun. Oh, and don't forget to master the art of sarcasm. It's not like you'll need it or anything... ;)

How to Survive High School (04/20/16)

Sorry, everyone. I had something written last week, but I just couldn't write anything. It's all blubber and fluff- insulation that keeps my ideas from escaping just because there's just too much of nothing.

Switching schools is hard. Starting high school is hard. Starting public school after always being in private school is hard. All three in the same year?

It's been done.

This message is for anyone looking to next year to whom any of these apply, but especially those to whom all three apply. That was me a little less than a year ago.

Survival Tips:

  1. Get a phone. I'm sorry, all you parents who don't want to give in, but it helps. It's not required, but strongly recommended. I may post more about this later.
  2. Make friends early. Fall sports that practice before the start of the year are a great place to meet people like you and know people before you're stuck on your own.
  3. Keep making friends. It's hard when it seems like everyone already has their cliques and you're just on the outside looking in. Try to look out for those who are stranded, like you. If someone includes you, don't let the opportunity go to waste. You're smart people; you know what to do.
  4. Beware of projects. I saw a significant rise in web-quests (worksheets that involve research through pre-selected links) and group activities. I don't want you to be caught off guard if your World Studies class (Freshman history class in my school district) has as many projects as mine.
  5. Study. It's easier to keep a good grade than try to raise it after a big drop, right? It's not a matter of the time you spend; it's a matter of how well you learn everything. Some people can get by just through paying attention in class and looking through notes the day of a test. Don't just assume that's you- you don't want to risk being wrong.
  6. Don't over-schedule. If you're playing a sport, your coach may think that sport is your life. If you get a job, your boss may think that job is your life. Your teachers may think school is your life. You don't want to stress yourself out by leading too many lives simultaneously.
  7. Take online classes (if available). If your school has the option, taking required extra classes online can really help the balance of life. ICT (computer stuff class) and Health are great online because you work on them on the computer at your own pace for a semester and you don't have to bother wasting time in a classroom. From what I've heard, the classroom versions are harder and more work, too. (Just don't take both classes at the same time like I did. Eeek!)
  8. Embrace the diversity. Going from a class of 30 to a class of 400, I realized that I wasn't really the only one like myself. If you're bad at something, chances are, someone else is worse. If anything is a sore spot for you, other people may know exactly how you feel, and you may even realize how normal you are in comparison to others. 
  9. Quirk alert! Teachers may have certain irks. Peers may drive you crazy. Anyone who catches you in a bad mood may make everything feel worse. Being mad at them gets you nowhere. Let it go, and you'll find yourself enjoying class more than you were before.
Don't worry. You'll be fine. If your high school years aren't your best, don't worry. You have so much more fun ahead of you than you can even imagine. Chances are, your fears about new people in a new school will be over before you know it. And really, who can sincerely say that they've never felt insecure or awkward? You aren't alone.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Personal Mountains (04/06/16)

Revised 04/07/16
Say that a person took a theoretical test about the quality of their days (on a scale from 1 to 10) and they got the above results. Assuming that there is no interference between the actual quality of the day or by how the quality was measured, where would you think the person's perceptions of these days would fall? (If the graph is truly the quality of the day, not the person's perception.) Would the average person have a more optimistic view of their own life, or would the results show a more pessimistic view?

My guess is that most people would be pessimists, at least in this sense. Our society is especially good at tagging something as perfect and then finding fault with it. I think that kind of group pessimism comes from each of us into the group as a whole, and then the group pessimism enters each individual, like a cycle of pessimism.

Think about it- we naturally surround ourselves with the lowest points in everyone's lives. The books, movies, and TV shows we watch all need a point of highest action and lowest happiness, which is the climax. That may be why high schools give students such depressing books to read during one of the low points in their own lives- by learning about climaxes from books that are really good at them, we know how better to deal with our own lives when we really need it.

Also, if you want to argue that books, movies, and TV shows are a bad example of how we perceive life, consider the present-day, American church as a whole and as a metaphor. As we (as individuals) try to make our way closer to God, sometimes the handholds we think are reliable are weaker than we think, so we slip. The churches and pastors try to make a safety net at the bottom so you don't fall too hard when you can't hold on. They talk about forgiveness and tell you what to do when you mess up.

Is that okay? The answer is a definite yes! If I fall, I don't want to hit rock bottom, literally figuratively. (Literally, because it would be a rock, but figuratively because it's still in the figurative example.) I don't care if I have a helmet, mostly effective climbing gear, and complete confidence that I won't fall- if there's any chance of me falling and hurting myself, I want something or someone there to save me, and I get this through Christ and the church.

But what about that equipment? Can we anchor ourselves in a way that it would take conscious effort to let ourselves fall? I think there's merit in that. We already have the helmet of salvation (Ephesians chapter 6), which I would say applies in this case as well. The harness would be the web of our actions, beliefs, and strengths that depend on our support but are also rooted in faith in Christ. Our lifeline, word choice intended, would be what is more out of our control, like our friends, family, and church mentors, and it is once again aided by God. I won't get into the debate of whether or not we can sabotage ourselves by cutting the cord, harness, and/or safety net, because that's a debate for another time.

*This comparison is also not complete in all senses. Don't confuse yourself with connections that don't fit because they weren't made to fit in the first place.

My point is that we as a community focus more on falling and stopping the impact than we actually try stopping the cause. We're too worried about the Valley of the Shadow of Death that we don't realize that we've climbed the Mountain of Life to avoid it. The mountain climb is what we need more than the lack of valley traveling. That may be when we're the closest to God- when we don't realize what we're doing right because we always have more that we're doing wrong.

In conclusion, we need to appreciate the good days and the good times more than we should worry about whatever Valleys we are trying to avoid. We need a church to be our safety net, our faith to be our harness, our friends to be our lifeline, and Christ to keep us alive and keep us together. It's okay to be saved at a young age and never lose the faith.

It's okay to be a Christian your whole life and never have to completely test the strength of the other things holding you up. You don't have to be part of the crowd that doesn't get saved for years or gets saved and has to come back to the faith. Learn to recognize when you're spiritually strong so you can fortify your own equipment and help those around you. Appreciate your spiritual mountains. Always try to come closer.