What Abstinence Only Doesn’t Teach

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When I was in high school, I took a Family & Relationships course. At one point in the class, we talked about intercourse, protection, pregnancy, STDs, and pretty much almost everything else connected to sex. While the teacher did believe that abstinence was the best choice we could make, she acknowledged that it wasn’t the only choice. As a teacher at a Christian school she also pointed out that, even though God had a lot to say about sex, that didn’t mean we couldn’t enjoy it.

It was a great class, and I got a lot of questions answered. But I didn’t take that optional class until I was eighteen and in my last semester of high school. Until then, I was subjected to both my church and my school giving me the abstinence only view of sex. In that time, all I knew about sex was that I should avoid it as much as possible—even talking about it if I could.

We Americans have a weird way of talking about sex no matter where we go. Some communities like to avoid the topic altogether. As a result of the way we refuse to acknowledge the subject, America’s teens will often go into high school—even college—without a full understanding of sex. Sadly, this leads to unanswered questions. And in some cases, the consequences of letting these questions go unanswered are too severe not to address. Here’s just a few of those questions.

  1. What is sex?

John Oliver discussed the lack of sex education in America’s sex ed programs (link to his segment below), summarizing that it’s easier to find out what kids aren’t learning than it is to find out what kids are learning. And…yeah, that’s the best way to summarize abstinence only programs. They’ll tell you that it involves getting naked, but they don’t usually teach about protection, getting pregnant, or even what consent looks like.

  1. What’s the Appeal?

One of the questions I never got answered growing up is “if it’s so wrong, why have sex at all?” The media in particular has a strong fixation on sex. There are several factors that could explain the phenomenon, including but not limited to a) you can make almost anything appealing by forbidding it, and b) it’s a human drive—not a need, but a drive. Point is, there’s truth to the phrase “knowledge is power.”

  1. Is Shaming Okay?

On one hand, we believe that the “old-fashioned” notion doesn’t exist anymore. But it does, and it’s weird that we’d gloss over the idea of saying no. The other day, I found an ad from dating coach Matthew Hussey saying the best reply to a new acquaintance asking for a naked photo is “I think you’re mistaking me for a future version of myself who’s been on more dates with you.” Okay, but what if we don’t want to exchange naked photos at all? Come on, Hussey, let’s forget about my love life and talk about the legal and emotional importance of consent for a minute, shall we?

But on the other hand, people still make fun of you if you’ve had sex outside of marriage, whether you chose to or not. When I was in high school, a girl in my youth group was pretty popular with boys. To my knowledge, she never went beyond casual kissing. Yet my youth group leader made it seem perfectly acceptable to humiliate her for her “suggestive behavior,” turning our group into a hierarchy and saying she needed to earn her place in the clique despite already being part of the small group. That kind of non-virgin shaming isn’t just appalling in Christian communities, it’s commonplace. The sex education programs at Christian schools give students the right to compare non-virgins to dirty shoes or walking STDs.

As mentioned before, there’s a lot of other things about sex we don’t learn in sex education. The John Oliver segment—again, link below—is both funny and informative, so please check it out when you have the chance. But the point is, sex is more than just getting naked and experiencing bodily pleasure. So if we want to prepare our youth, then maybe we need to be more candid and willing to talk about it in a safe environment where kids can ask anything without fearing paranoid criticism.

Photo source: http://act4entertainment.com/issues/human-rights-civil-justice/sex-education/

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12 Angry Men: A Message of Kindness?

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Spoilers!

When most people think of jury drama, they think of Reginald Rose’s play 12 Angry Men. And when some people think of the play 12 Angry Men, they think of the 1957 movie of the same name directed by Sidney Lumet. High school English teachers pop this movie in because of the way it defines American justice, its message that facts aren’t always as black and white as they appear, and its Schooling Juror #10 Drinking Game.

The story is about a jury deciding on the guilt or innocence of an eighteen-year-old boy accused of killing his father. 8 is initially the only one who votes not guilty, despite the fact that the testimonies and presented evidence show otherwise. He pokes holes in the facts and argues that the evidence isn’t as conclusive as it seems, and the other jurors slowly but surely change their votes.

While critics love this movie for its cinematography, acting, and obsession with the phrase ‘reasonable doubt,’ I thought I’d focus on a different aspect of the story: 8’s influence on the other jurors.

Let’s start with 8 and the way he interacts with the other jurors. He walks into the jury room, quiet and contemplative, only speaking when spoken to. When he’s asked why he votes not guilty, his only response is “I don’t know.” He starts his case by appealing to the other jurors’ humanity and asking to show the boy compassion by discussing the case.

As the arguments unfold and we hear about the testimonies and evidence presented, we learn that 8—though quiet—is by no means a pushover. Whenever someone says “this is fact” to him, he nearly always has a way of saying “maybe to you, but I’d like to know more.” He challenges them to stand by what they say, especially when they’re not as sure as they think they are.

But while he isn’t a pushover, he also isn’t a victim of toxic masculinity like 3 or 10. When he realizes he’s outnumbered, he gambles for support instead of trying to power through on his own. He respectfully listens to the opinions of the others, even if he doesn’t agree with them. In fact, the only instances where he ignores the other jurors is whenever 10 exhales bigoted bullshit. And the only time you see 8 visibly angry is when he catches 3 and 12 playing tic tac to instead of focusing on the case.

Now let’s look at the other jurors. 1 is a passive guy, trying and failing to keep the peace between the others. 2 is a passive banker who is more used to agreeing rather than voicing his own opinions. 3 is—as 8 refers to him in the story—a “self-appointed public avenger” who wants to see the boy die. 4 is a smart, analytical broker who is also the strongest advocate for sticking to the facts. 5 is a quiet man who grew up in the slums. 6 also tries to keep the peace, but he won’t tolerate any of the jurors being silenced or treated as less than human. 7 doesn’t care about the case at all, always checking the time and impatient to get to a baseball game. 9 is the oldest of the group who could pass for an empathetic psychologist. 10 is a bigot who values his own opinion too much. 11 is a quiet European immigrant who isn’t afraid to ask questions. And 12, like 7, doesn’t take the case seriously and cracks jokes when he probably shouldn’t.

The first six jurors to vote not guilty are 8, 9, 5, 11, 2, and 6. Out of the five who change their votes, four of them start off as quiet, and whenever they speak up they’re either insulted or not taken seriously by the other jurors. They’re treated as though their opinions don’t matter in the grand scheme of things (and if 6’s line “I’m not used to supposing” is anything to go by, they probably believe that they don’t matter). But as soon as they change their votes, they become strong advocates for the boy’s acquittal. In comparison, the majority of the other six (1, 3, 4, 7, 10, and 12) start out being loud, aggressive, and in some cases obnoxious. But by the time they change their votes, they don’t speak up as much—almost as if they’re humbled by being proven wrong.

What does this say about these two sides of the coin? Watch the film again and focus on how 8 interacts with everyone else—and how they respond to him. Again, 8 listens to everyone else and what they have to say. But he also asks questions. When talking to jurors like 2, 5, 9, and 11 in particular, it’s like he’s saying to them “your opinion does matter.” And when speaking to jurors like 3, 7, 10, and 12, it’s like he’s saying to them “your opinion is not the only one that matters.” With all of that said, maybe this movie was about more than just criminal justice. Maybe it also showed how kindness can empower the powerless and simultaneously humble the arrogant.

Photo source: http://screenprism.com/insights/article/how-does-12-angry-men-use-cinematography-to-build-tension-during-the-film

Why I Still Go to Church

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Christianity has had an interesting history, hasn’t it? What started off as a small, persecuted movement has now become one of the most well-known religions in the world. Many Christian churches go on to do great things that help other people, including (but not limited to) donating food and helping build homes for people who need it. But especially recently, Christianity—or even just the idea of going to church—has become less and less popular over the course of time. There’s been a rise in millennials leaving the church for various reasons, either because they need a break or because they don’t find meaning in the Sunday morning ritual.

As for me, I’d be lying if I said being around other Christians was a walk in the park. But I still go even if it’s not popular for my generation. And this is why.

When I was in college, my church attendance was slowing down before it eventually came to a complete stop. I had a few reasons, most of them involving transportation and my repulsion at the idea of getting out of bed earlier than I wanted. But even between graduation and my first job, I was slowly getting fed up with the idea of church. Instead of being a place where the needy found mercy and compassion, the church had become a place where people could brag about all the nice things they’ve done. When I think about why I decided not to go back, what comes to mind is the Home Improvement episode where Randy decided he wanted to stop going to church. Like Randy, I hadn’t given up on God, but I wanted to find other ways of strengthening my faith that didn’t involve going through the motions of worship.

This break lasted for a little over a year. And if there was only one word I’d use to describe that time, it was “frustrated.” I was frustrated with my life because it wasn’t working out the way I wanted it to. I was frustrated with my job because—at the time—working there made me feel imprisoned. I was frustrated with my family because I didn’t feel like the daughter or sister they wanted me to be. I was frustrated with myself because I was convinced that I had failed to do what I wanted before I’d even started. But above all, I was frustrated with God because I didn’t know what he wanted me to do.

After a while, I finally started going back. I found a church close to where I live, and I’ve been going ever since. As an introvert, it’s taking me a while to make friends. And truth be told, I could go on for hours about the things there that I don’t agree with. But one of the biggest selling points happened just this weekend, when I realized why I wasn’t giving up and why—despite my complaints—I kept coming back.

For me, being a Christian is less about religion and more about faith. Rituals and traditions? Never been a fan. Hand motions to accompany hymns? Fuck them. Half hour sermons that almost always go a little too long? I’ll let you know when I stop drifting off to La-la Land. Interacting with God? Getting to know him through his word? Learning a handful of the ways he uses to communicate with his people? That’s what helped me let go of my self-hate. That’s what challenges me to be a better person every day. That’s my Christian bread and butter. I need the small Christian community I found to nurture my faith and keep asking questions. And as sappy as it sounds, I couldn’t have found that community without church.

So to my fellow millennials out there considering leaving church, I say this: if there’s something more you’d like to see churches do, bring it up. There are plenty of older Christians out there asking how to bring the generation back. And if we can all have that conversation with each other about how the church can spiritually flourish, then maybe we can come together to make the world just a little better than it used to be.

Photo source: https://blogs.thegospelcoalition.org/kevindeyoung/2015/02/05/the-plus-one-approach-to-church/

 

Moving Forward

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I know writing about politics isn’t my forte. I realize that a lot of the things I’ll say here have been said already. But after two days of thinking, talking to myself (as any self-respecting writer would), and watching people react to the election results, I thought I’d go mad if I didn’t say anything.

Now please keep in mind, what I’m about to say is based on what I believe. If I’m wrong, I’m wrong. If we agree, we have something in common. If we don’t, we can both get over it. With that said, here are my thoughts.

Like nearly all of Clinton’s supporters, I was disappointed when I found out the results. Even though I wasn’t her biggest fan, I believed she was our best chance of saying no to a lot of the things Trump advertised in his campaign. For me, the Clinton vs. Trump campaign was never just about Democrats vs. Republicans. The election as a whole certainly started that way, but as time wore on it became much more personal than that for everyone involved. By voting for Clinton, I voted to say yes to feminism, yes to racial diversity, yes to immigration, yes to equality, yes to civil rights, and yes to unconditional love. Again, if you disagree with this decision or the way I viewed my vote, that’s your right.

When Wednesday morning came, the weight of the whole thing didn’t hit me until after I got to work. What does this mean for the future of my friends and family? What does this mean for the school I love that thrives on celebrating diversity and culture? What does this mean for my friends, former classmates, and co-workers who are Latino, African-American, Asian, LGBTQ, or disabled? What does this mean for the people who moved here from different countries that decided they liked America enough to stay? What does this mean for my friends who were harassed and/or raped? What does this mean for our future generations?

As the day unfolded and our sadness turned to anger, it seemed like everything went from bad to worse. Say what you will about the reactions from both sides of the argument, but frankly I found neither of them hopeful or encouraging. While some Clinton supporters burned American flags and swore to leave, some Trump supporters ripped a hijab away from a Muslim woman without warning or consent and put a sign on a gay couple’s car reading “I look forward to seeing your marriage dissolve, #Godbless.” And at the time I’m writing this, it’s only the end of Day 2.

I won’t lie, I’m still tired. I’m still sad. I’m still angry. I’m still disappointed. But as an American citizen who wants to see a better world for everyone, giving up is a luxury we can’t afford. Obama, Clinton, Sanders, and other government officials have all promised to keep working to make America a better country than the one we woke up to just a few days ago. And even if they won’t, we still can. It starts with us as individuals and groups promising to do our part to make the world a safer place to live in.

With this last thought in mind, I leave you with these things I hope to live by from this point on.

I will control my anger before speaking up. I will harness my sadness and turn it into empathy. I will listen to what you have to say, even if you disagree with me. I will get the facts before I make any judgments. I will admit when I’m wrong. I will define good comedy as a means for spreading joy, not hate. I will offer hugs to anyone who needs one. I will put aside my cowardice to stand with people who need justice. I will try to set an example for my nephew, as well as any children I may have in the future. I will educate myself and stay up-to-date with news around the world. I will show kindness to people of all faiths, genders, and cultural backgrounds in any way I can. I will draw attention to both evil and good so that we may know the difference.

Photo source: http://www.mnn.com/earth-matters/climate-weather/photos/10-stunning-images-of-rainbows-and-their-less-famous-cousins/at

What Qualifies as Art?

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October: the month of creativity and all things creepy. To celebrate this year’s Halloween on my blog, I opted to ask what qualifies as art. I mean, yeah, we have storytelling, paintings, and music. But could we say the same about cooking or sports? And if so, what makes them more artistic than science or politics? Well, the best way to answer the question in the title is to take a look at what we know about art and go from there, and that’s exactly what we’re going to do this month.

Art is: A Means of Self-Expression

Most artists will tell you that they create because they want to. But for other writers, this is a completely different story. One of the reasons we love writers like Stephen King and JK Rowling is because they found clever ways to express—through fiction—what they’ve been through and what they think about the world around them. In the blog post “Why We Make Art,” film director Pete Doctor explains “there is that universal desire to connect with other people in some way, to tell them about myself or my experiences…we talk about ourselves, our feelings, and what it is to be human.” For these people and more, art is a coping mechanism. We create because, in a chaotic world filled with injustice and tragedy, art is all we have.

But in some cases, you have to wonder what some artists are trying to express—or even if they’re expressing anything at all. So while this might apply to some, it doesn’t quite apply to others. So what else can art be?

Art is: A Teaching Mechanism

For many who call themselves artists, this is the case. Fairy tales can teach the rewards of kindness, love songs can teach the ups and downs of romance, and Taco Bell can teach what Mexican food doesn’t taste like. Some teachers will even use various art forms as tools to help their students learn the material easier than in a lecture, like the alphabet song or Sesame Street.

Not surprisingly, using art solely as a teaching mechanism can come off as either pretentious or unrealistic (*cough* Focus on the Family *cough*). And on top of that, this quality might apply to some art forms, but not to others. Which brings us to our third possibility…

Art is: An Experience

A lot of art forms are famous for engaging the senses and/or soul, creating a mysterious but amazing experience for both audience and artist. Music engages hearing, cooking engages taste and smell, visual art engages sight, and physical activities engage the entire body. And even if the art doesn’t apply to your senses, it almost always applies to the soul. If it inspires you, makes you feel alive, or touches you in some way that you can’t explain, you can assume that it’s a form of art.

Yet, as in the cases of the two previous qualities we explored, this might not apply to all forms of art. Not all food stimulates the nose, nor do all fairy tales breathe life into readers.

 

So maybe there’s no one sure-fire way to define art. But maybe this is what’s so great about it. It’s one of the world’s greatest mysteries that we mere mortals can neither grasp nor define. There isn’t one solid definition of what constitutes as art, and even good art has a variety of formulas and recipes that we still haven’t fully explored. As the song “Some Enchanted Evening” goes, “Who can explain it, who can tell you why? Fools give you reasons, wise men never try.” Whatever the case, even if we can’t explain art, we can still enjoy it for the beautiful, intangible mystery that it is.

Photo source: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/436145545140657779/

Sources used: http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/why_we_make_art

Ten Random Facts: Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory

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On August 29, 2016, classic actor Gene Wilder passed away at the age of 83. He played a wide range of characters that we’ve remembered in the past few weeks, but one of his most widely remembered roles is Willy Wonka in the 1971 Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. While the film itself had many noteworthy moments and performances, Wilder’s interpretation of the infamous candy man left an impact on many that can’t be described. So in honor of his memory (and just two months after the film’s 45th anniversary), we’re taking a look at ten random facts about this movie today.

  1. If you think the chocolate river looked nothing like chocolate, you’re…mostly right. It was made of chocolate, water, and cream. But it spoiled by the end of filming, so if you thought Augustus Gloop was making himself sick by drinking it…you’re probably right.
  2. In addition to speaking various languages (as well as backwards, if the phrase “Hsaw Aknow” gives any indication), Wonka quotes a lot of classic writers throughout the film, including–but not limited to–William Shakespeare, Oscar Wilde, and John Keats. His musical lock to the Chocolate room also serves as a nod to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Kind of makes you wonder what he does in his spare time.
  3. Included in the long list of actors who wanted to play Willy Wonka is the cast of Monty Python. Probably a good thing we got Wilder, because I’m not sure I’d like to know what would happen if they made “addleberries” a thing.
  4. You know how Harry Potter got published because a girl read a chapter and demanded more? That’s pretty much how the Willy Wonka movie happened. The girl in this case was Mel Stuart’s daughter, Madeline Stuart, who with her brother makes an appearance in Charlie’s classroom.
  5. Most of the stuff you saw in the Chocolate room was edible, with a few exceptions. One of which was the cup Wilder bit in, which was made of wax. So we can probably conclude that Bertie Botts did not, in fact, steal anything from Wonka when he invented the Every Flavor Beans.
  6. To this day, Roald Dahl’s true reaction to the 1971 adaptation remains…mixed. Many sources argue that he hated the movie, refused to let them adapt the sequel, and freaked out after accidentally watching a snippet in a hotel room. Though we don’t have any adaptations of his sequels, others say he was fine with the adaptation and even visited the set during filming.
  7. While he admitted that Johnny Depp and Tim Burton were both talented, Wilder’s distaste for the remake was no secret to anyone. He found the concept insulting, seeing it as a gimmick to make more money, and evidently never saw it.
  8. To add the element of surprise, a lot of scenes (particularly with Wilder) weren’t rehearsed before filming. Which means the actors didn’t know Wilder would fake a fall before sommersaulting in his intro, that he’d have a Nicholas Cage freakout in the infamous boat scene, or that he’d start screaming in the last scene where he’d put Charlie’s kindness to the test.
  9. Wilder and Peter Ostrum (the actor for Charlie) grew close while filming, eating lunch together and sharing a chocolate bar on their way back to set. In fact, Wilder wanted to tell Ostrum ahead of time about the scene where he screams at him, but the director (Mel Stuart) wouldn’t let him do so. So when rehearsing the scene, he’d sound disappointed but he wouldn’t raise his voice until they started filming.
  10. The first half of the film (before we go inside the factory) is expanded to include Charlie’s take on everything going on. In the book, the family members voice their opinions and Charlie just nods his head and agrees with them. And in the 2005 remake, Borely Bucket–I mean, Charlie–stays true to the book. But in the 1971 film, we see Ostrum portraying the desire for something good to happen in his life. In the beginning, he stares into the candy shop silently bemoaning the fact that he can’t partake in the seemingly free candy (since we never see him interact with kids, you could argue that he didn’t feel welcome in places where money was required). While initially excited about the prospect of finding a golden ticket, you see his greed and resentment coming out while watching Violet Beaureguarde flaunting Ticket #3, quickly replaced by depression following his conversation with his mother. And when he finally comes across the last ticket, he and Grandpa Joe partake in easily the most upbeat yet strangest song number in the entire film (and that last bit is no small feat).

Photo source: https://www.relix.com/blogs/detail/watch_willy_wonka_and_the_chocolate_factory_gets_full_primus_treatment

Sources used: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0067992/trivia

http://www.news.com.au/entertainment/movies/why-gene-wilder-hated-the-willy-wonka-remake/news-story/e7bb3321cadced2ea0ba8f152a2a07cf

http://moviepilot.com/p/willy-wonka-and-the-chocolate-factory-facts/2491839

Perfection vs. Connection

I’ve wanted to be a published author for years. Yet the older I get, the more daunting the path becomes. I graduated college with the mindset “This is your first book, so you have to make it perfect. If publishing companies don’t like it, you’ll never get published. If critics and audiences don’t like it, you’ll never get published again. And how can you live with yourself after that?” It got so bad that there were times where I couldn’t write anything thanks to my crippling self-doubt.

Then I watched two recent reviews from the Nostalgia Critic (both of which I’ve attached links to at the bottom of this post) that helped me change my tune.

The first review was his Old vs. New of Disney’s two Cinderella movies. At one point, he compares the two heroines and decides the 1950 version was better. He argues that the 2015 filmmakers were so focused on making their leading lady flawless that she became impossible to connect and identify with. The 1950 Cinderella was easier to connect with because the storytellers allowed her to have her breaking points. She got angry, she got frustrated, she broke down when things escalated, and she did let the pain of her situation get to her.

The second review was his editorial “Can a Film Be So Good it’s Bad?” He touches on virtually flawless movies that everyone loved (for example, The Truman Show) but never struck a strong chord with the Critic himself. He moved on to talk about his favorite movies, acknowledging their flaws but noting that the parts he loved made it all worth it.

These reviews got me thinking about my favorite stories and why I love them so much. Harry Potter has a number of plot holes that plenty of people made fun of, but I still love the fantasy world JK Rowling created and the way she made it relatable to the real world (that, and the fantasy creatures were AWESOME). Though Ella Enchanted is Gail Carson Levine’s magnum opus, I prefer Two Princesses of Bamarre because I identify more with Addie’s struggle to find courage. And even though Fantasia and Beauty & the Beast are two of Disney’s best animated movies, I find myself enjoying Mulan and Fantasia 2000 just a little bit more. I took these favorite stories and found one common denominator: I related with these stories and connected with them. They all had an impact on me in some way, and they all gave me a support system to fall back on.

At this point, I realized I lost track of what my job is as a writer and what I really want to do with this odd, fidgety quirk I’ve been given. I want to give something valuable to the people who take the time to read my work. I want to entertain and allow my readers to enjoy themselves, and once they’ve finished reading I want them to walk away thinking “You know what? This gave me something. I don’t know what, I don’t know how, but it gave me something.” And if I want to be that kind of writer, I have to do two things.

One, I need to take more risks and step out of my comfort zone. It’s easy to be a perfect writer if you’re playing it safe. But if that’s all I ever do, then I’m not going to build the connection I want to have with my readers. And sometimes, the best art often comes from artists who are willing to take risks in their work for the sake of expressing who they are and how they see things, in the only way they know how.

Which leads me to the second thing I need to do: I need to be open about who I am and what I believe. It’s almost impossible for anyone today to express a belief without having a crowd of people screaming at them, whether in person or online. And if you flip through some past blog posts I’ve done, you most likely won’t find a shortage of examples where I played it safe for the sake of getting something written. But again, if I want to improve then I have to start by being honest. I can’t afford to run and hide whenever confrontation pops up. Instead, I need to learn how to face it head on with both courage and sincerity.

It’s important to improve and get better. But it’s even more important to write the works I’d be proud of years later—not because they’re perfect and marketable, but because people connected with them the same way I connected with my favorite stories.

Only then can I call myself a true storyteller.

Photo source: http://bleedingink.blogspot.com/2012/02/what-i-really-do-meme-for-writers.html

Sources used: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4tzsQ5clVQM