school

Accepting My Inner Hermione Granger.

From the very first time I picked up a Harry Potter book, I related to and adored the character of Hermione Granger. She’s intelligent, driven, focused, and dedicated, yet she is also awkward in social situations, fearful of failure, obsessive in her projects, and annoying in her relentless rule-following.

It seems that, for every reason she is likable, she is insufferable. There is a definite yin and yang within her personality. Just as she is someone you think you could be or already are, she is someone you wouldn’t necessarily want to know. Through these contradictions and complexities, Hermione became a stabilizer among characters like proud blood-traitor Ronald Weasley and fearless boy-who-lived Harry Potter.

In essence, Rowling wrote Hermione so profoundly that an intangible character became a finite human being that many of us can see ourselves in.

 

However, despite my genuine love of all things Hermione and continual defense of her necessity in the overall plot, I never before realized how thoroughly I connect with one particular aspect of her personality and practices: her incessant desire to learn, to know, and to understand.

While the boys wonder about the name “Nicholas Flamel,” Hermione pursues his record through the ancient tomes and dusty pages of a library that contains information well beyond her year.

When the pink toad known as Dolores Umbridge removes any trace of learning from Defense Against the Dark Arts curriculum, paving the way for the Dark Lord Voldemort, Hermione incites a desire to learn among her peers and, as a result, a full-fledged rebellion.

After horcrux-deluded Ron abandons she and Harry, Hermione reads and re-reads the only books available to her–Albus Dumbledore’s biography and The Tales of Beedle the Bard–until the next step on the quest becomes apparent.

Greater knowledge, man, it’s worth pursuing. Hermione proves it.

Academia and learning were where Hermione succeeded above all others. (We will just ignore the “Harry and the Half-Blood Prince’s perfectly annotated book” incidents.) Books and cleverness are dominant aspects of who she is and everyone knows it.

At every turn, it was Hermione’s intellect that helped herself, the boys, and her other classmates on their way, no matter how much they grumbled about her studying and hand-raising. Her intelligence and logic were as valuable as Harry’s heroism and Ron’s loyalty, if not more so in certain situations.

The truth of the matter though, is that while Hermione wanted to learn, she also desperately needed to learn. She was a young woman who woke up one day to a new world that, while beautiful and complex, did not wholeheartedly want her to exist within it. As such, Hermione sought to empower herself in the ways that seemed most natural to her: studying and learning.

It wasn’t until last week, amid responding to an email from my new graduate studies advisor, that I realized that I have sought to empower myself in the same ways. Apparently, without realizing it, I’ve become, or quite possibly have always been, a Hermione Granger.

Of course, as moments of clarity are want to be, the whole situation felt a bit absurd at first. If you’ve ever been fitted for glasses and experienced the sudden realization that the world looks different from what your eyes alone have allowed you to see up to that point, then you understand my meaning. It’s the experience of finally seeing the clear image that has always existed before your own blurry eyes.

You see, I’m still on an extended RV trip with my family and I just wanted to have the “graduate advising hold” removed from my account so that I could register for classes later this year. But, being more than 2,000 miles from home means I’m not exactly available to do the whole “don a pretty dress, worry over finding a parking space, search out the office that I’ve somehow never noticed before, smile big, and make small talk” routine with an advisor.

Luckily, the advisor for my graduate program was kind enough to run me through the routine via email, minus all of the typical rigmarole. He began by covering all of the simple yet important details that I will probably forget and relearn at least twice before the semester starts. Then he set in with the questions. What is my educational background? What about professional? Why did I choose this program? Have I taken undergraduate statistics? Am I prepared for graduate school?

Oh. Oh goodness. There is a special kind of anxiety that is reserved for instances of simply not knowing quite how to answer questions. It’s awful and terribly disconcerting to say the very least.

I then found myself writing what quickly became less of an email and more of an unintentionally egotistical essay filled with “buts.”

Yes, I attended these universities, but I attended them in this order. I took these classes, but I studied these subjects in-depth as “a bit of light reading.” I feel this way, but I also feel like this. As I struggled to explain why a person with a B.A. in English would want to delve into criminal justice, why I had already begun to do so, a “but” slid into every too-long-and-too-detailed paragraph. For every stated fact there was some seemingly necessary addendum.

At the same time, every statement about myself felt absurd. I know that graduating two years early and studying extra subjects for fun sound like lies of the kiss-up, trying-to-impress variety. I know that purposely picking a foreign topic to study at the graduate level sounds incredibly ridiculous. Despite knowing those things, both notions are true in terms of who I am and what I’ve done.

Still, who is going to buy my truth when it smells strongly of baloney?

I had to question the entire situation. What do you do when the truth sounds like a series of lies, and you don’t want to lie to make the truth sound truthful? The only conclusion I’ve come to is that you just stop. You stop worrying. You throw caution to the wind. You let the admissions counselor judge you, critique you, and come to some half-arsed conclusion if it makes him feel good. You give up on appealing to others and fitting yourself into expectations, preconceived ideas. Maybe, just maybe, you realize the truth.

You realize that you’re a Hermione Granger, and that’s completely okay. Okay?

It’s perfectly fine to be something that sounds false as long as it isn’t actually. The truth is what matters, plain and simple, not how the truth sounds. Who you are and what you do are worthwhile and essential to a balanced world. There must be a Hermione for every Harry, Ron, Neville, Seamus, Luna, Severus, Minerva, Dumbledore, and so on and so forth.

It’s alright to be the brains, the student, the autodidact. Having knowledge is half the journey to understanding. Just don’t forget that there will always be something you don’t know or understand, and that is why you must keep trying, keep living. Learn, grow, and know as much as you like. Dismiss the “tone of surprise.”

Ron (by way of the wonderful HP Queen Jo) once commented on Hermione, saying her philosophy was “when in doubt, go to the library.” I’m come to realize that I believe and do the same thing because, as a much older man, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, once said, “the scholar and the world” are together in “the love of learning, the sequestered nooks, and all the sweet serenity of books.”

If you’re like me, if you’re a Hermione, embrace it. You’ll be glad you did.

Without further adieu, if you ever have to explain who you are, narrowing your whole being into one measly message, do not feel ashamed, fraudulent, or confused. All the words you’ve read will be insufficient to describe you. You’re just a Hermione Granger–one of a large community of insufferable know-it-alls–and there is nothing “just” or “merely” about any of us.

(“Hermione Reads Before Bed” by Lorena Garcia, fan artist)

 

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Thank You for Teaching Me to Learn.

When you graduate from university several things happen at once.

First, you realize that it all went by–primary, secondary, university–much faster than you thought when you were 5 years old and dreaming of going to “big kid school” with a grown-up backpack and fancy pens of your very own.

Second, you start to miss things that don’t make sense like the person with the cool jacket that you never got to know, laying on the concrete while waiting for your ride, and the feeling the first day of your last semester.

Third, you suddenly don’t know what to do next, not really.

When you’re a month out of university and you aren’t starting graduate school until you’re moved across the country, you start to look back because the future is too uncertain to contemplate. You start to wonder what you did right and what you did wrong. You start to see what the grey area of your education contains.

That’s where I am today. I’m floating, weightless, in the grey area between what I did and didn’t do to get to where I am today, and for some reason one phrase keeps coming back to me: “thank you.”

Obviously I’m thankful for having graduated, especially without any debt, but there’s something, or rather a collection of someones, that I’m also thankful for–the teachers and professors that helped me get to this point. This post is dedicated to them and all the “thank you’s” I should have said before now.

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“I have come to believe that a great teacher is a great artist and that there are as few as there are any other great artists. It might even be the greatest of the arts since the medium is the human mind and spirit (John Steinbeck).”

——

Mrs. Thornton,

You were the first teacher I ever had. You were the image that I had, from fall of 1999 onward, of what a dedicated teacher was, and every other educational figure was internally scored on a scale based on you. You taught me to write beautifully in cursive, read books like they are going out of style, and create anything and everything whenever possible. You were the last teacher who ever had to tell me to stop chatting with my friends and the first to tell me that not talking to my friends during class didn’t mean I should ever let anyone stop me outside of it. You awarded me a trophy for “citizenship” and taught me to sing Spanish. It is because of you that I have penmanship that others still compliment and bookshelves full of journeys I can take at any moment, as well as a voice and a desire to learn and create, that no one can ever stifle. Thank you.

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Ms. (who may now be Mrs.) Nawrocki,

You were the youngest teacher at the school that year and still relatively new to that all-girls Catholic convent school, just like me. You encouraged me to read, even when it meant that I spent all three breaks each day sitting at a picnic table with my face buried in pages. You coaxed me into making friends, even when I was ready to stay off to the side and prepare for the next class. You made me talk things out with those friends, even when we made each other cry at recess because none of us knew how to handle multiple friendships. And, when I wasn’t in your class or grade level anymore, you still said “hello” in the courtyard and asked about my family. When everything else made me feel like a misplaced and awkward child–and even as you interviewed me for your thesis–you made me feel better, normal. Thank you.

——

——

Ms. Person,

When I walked into your class the first day of sophomore year, I was exhausted, nervous, and more than a little skittish. So, all in all, it was a pretty normal day for me. Throughout the fall of 2008 semester, I don’t think I said more than 10 words that didn’t relate to presentations and other assignments, but you taught me so much about writing and the world of nonfiction. Then, the spring semester happened, we talked about my book reviewing, and suddenly I was applying to be on the yearbook staff and being grouped with the students that were doing the same. Everything seems to have passed in a whirlwind after that: I was writing in styles that I didn’t even know how to do before you, I was using a camera that you put in my hands, and I was learning to love a school that you made me see differently. It’s because of you that I learned to enjoy the microcosm of society that is high school and I didn’t simply retreat into my neon-sock-wearing, review-writing, antisocial, pessimistic, sophomoric self. You helped me grow into myself and truly appreciate those around me; you’re a large part of the reason I see and love the world the way I do. I sincerely hope that I know you for many years to come. Thank you.

——

Mrs. Ramirez,

I think that everyone, at some point, has that teacher that they desperately want to impress for reasons that they don’t even understand. For me, that teacher was you. I walked into your class with my heart set on enjoying my best subject and I was hoping against all hope that I would have a teacher that loved English and writing instead of merely teaching either subject. You did. To my 16/17 year-old self, who thought about everything in terms of lyrics, you personified the notion of a “heart so big it hurts like hell.” Feeling and caring positively exuded from you, and your assignments made me care and feel too, and that was an incredibly scary thing for a teenager. Sometimes I would put off your weekly essays just because I was scared that I would feel too little or too much and my writing abilities just wouldn’t be able to match the emotions and ideas I was supposed to convey. You made me tiptoe a careful line between comfortably loving writing on my own and the abrupt realization that there was a lot about the literary world that I had left to explore. It’s because of that I realized there is no end in sight when you love something, there is only the passion of the process. Thank you.

——

Dr. Dumas,

The first day of class, you admitted that students and other professors called you Doctor Doom. You told us that your British Literature II course would be hard and that people typically failed or just barely passed. I think your speech was supposed to scare us, but I don’t remember being scared. As the weeks ticked on, you threatened us with bad grades, put us in our place with hard questions, and generally tried to personify Grendel, Grendel’s mother, and the dragon. It was exciting because you truly made me work for my grades. You made me run across campus to buy a test scoring sheet and defile a textbook by making notes in the margins. You made me discuss the works we read and admit my opinions before others could give theirs. You made me speak out when you saw my nose crinkle up at other students’ comments. You made me live up to my choice of a front row seat, and you didn’t allow me to be an insignificant 17-year-old among 21-year-olds. I usually hated any grade below an A, but I was incredibly proud of the B I got in your class because it was by the cramps of my hand and sweat of my brow that I earned it. When I dropped off my final paper at your office, I had never felt more accomplished. Thank you.

——

Professor Bayless,

If I had to point out a teacher or professor that I would most like to emulate, I would point to you. It’s not because I adored your lesson plans or got to know you personally, but because you love the material you teach. When I was in your courses, there wasn’t a single day that I felt as if you didn’t want to be there or that you resented what you were doing. Despite teaching being your job and a job being necessary to pay for all aspects of life, you didn’t seem to resent it like some professors do. Yet, you also didn’t settle and allow your job to become your life. When you spoke about your poetry, your wife, and the degree in creative writing that you got in spite of societal protestations, I couldn’t help but to feel encouraged in my own endeavors. If nothing else, your brand of optimism and insight was contagious. While I was only lucky enough to be able to take two fine arts courses during my degree, those two courses and you forever changed the way I look at art. You may not have taught me the quote, but you taught me the lesson: “Nothing can cure the soul but the senses, just as nothing can cure the senses but the soul” (Oscar Wilde). Thank you.

——

Dr. Redmon,

For a while, I felt as if you were my only professor. That is to say, how often does a student have the same professor as their advisor and for two or three classes for three semesters in a row? But, I think the feeling spawned from more than just the frequency of our interactions–your courses contained such poignant material that I couldn’t help but to think about the courses even when I wasn’t in them. You taught me about literature and films in such a way that the lessons resonated outside of the classroom and discussion boards. You taught me how one discussion or one piece of material can transcend that physical experience or existence. When I completed the assignments for your class, I felt like I was doing so much more. As I wrote about religious, historical, and literary modes of early American literature, simulation in films, and the sexualization of female characters, you made me realize putting pen to paper or fingers to keys was only the first step in changing life and society. You made me see how vital my education is to the world I live in and that, despite frequent dismissals of an English degree, skill with words and the ability to see beyond the obvious may be precisely what makes life worthwhile. Thank you.

——

Open Letter to a Potential School Shooter:

School-Lockdown

I’m not going to tell you not to do it. It’s been said a dozen times already.

I’m not going to tell you that there are better ways to handle the problems of the world than violence. I don’t know if that is true.

And, I’m not going to tell you that everything will be okay. Maybe everything is damaged beyond repair.

Instead I’m asking you to listen to a story and then I will listen too.

I wasn’t much back in high school. Oh, I did my work, I got high marks, and for the most part I played the part of the upright student who had it all under control. I enjoyed the friends I had, and I lived for the long writing assignments in my English and history courses. But, I felt older and more tired than I thought my true age would entail.

A lot of the time, I was a ghost walking through halls where I simultaneously hoped someone would notice me yet dreaded the awkward exchange if they did. Most of the time I was okay with that paradox though. I was okay with being a wallflower and an academic. But, sometimes I was incredibly uncomfortable. Angry even.

I was upset that no one saw me. I was confused by the fact that no one in the world seemed to care about anyone else. I was irritated that I was never the person the teachers noticed or my peers gravitated toward. I was enraged by the students that cheated their way to the top and the others that played their way to the bottom. And, most of all, I was infuriated with myself for being “me.”

For most of my high school career, I was that person. I might have worn neon clothing, written essays far over the minimum requirement, participated in numerous clubs, led a yearbook staff, gotten accepted to all my colleges, and laughed at lunch, but I wasn’t “okay.”

Here’s the thing: I was never consciously going to become part of the small but ever-increasing number of people who bring weapons into schools. When we were doing lockdown drills, I was never the kid that people said would bring a gun. I was more likely to be asked to help with homework or to take pictures at the dance.

But, maybe I could have been that kid at some point. Maybe, at some point, I was desperate enough to have unconsciously become that. Maybe I was closer to the edge of self-destruction than even I knew. Maybe we were all at that point once, when high school was grinding us into dust, testing us before we were even fully developed.

It really could have been any of us.

Maybe the girl behind me in class had a gun in her closet. Maybe the teacher proclaiming peace was thinking about building a bomb. Maybe the group at the end of my lunch table had it all planned out. Maybe we’re all capable. The difference being only that a select few will act–only a few will realize or exemplify the animal side of being human.

Looking back on it now, I realize that no one was okay. High school was but a moment in time. Our lives were in upheaval then because that is what growing up entails. But, eventually, it all levels off, if only we’re able to see through the clouds during those dark days.

The thing is though, in those dark days, we can’t see–or, maybe, we won’t see. Because of that, it could have been any of us.

So, I need you to do something for me.

For you.

I need you to win.

You see, if you do this, if you go after this permanent solution to a temporary problem, and we’re all truly the same, it means that we all lose. We all fail. Together and at once.

If you pull the trigger, set the fuse, or take the punch, all of us–the whole of the human race–lose. We lose the fight and the war. We cave to a flawed fate. We lose the lessons of the past, the thrill of the present, and the possibility of the future.

If you do what you are thinking about doing, we have nothing.

I need you to stop and think about this once more. I need you to decide to win, for all of us. I need you to see the fight through. I need you to shirk fate. I need you to forget about everything that is wrong and I need you to make it right.

I need you to succeed over all the people whose voices echo inside of your head at 3:00 A.M.

I need you to not do this because, we’re the same, and we win or lose together.

Put it all down. Breath it all out. Feel it all and then let it go because everything you’re experiencing doesn’t last.

Let’s show each other what we’re made of–that we’re stronger than even we expected.

Let’s win this, once and for all.

Let’s win this together, all of us.

Everyone needs this win.

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Disclaimer:

Please note that this post and the author in no way condone violence of any kind. This post is merely a written exercise intended to provoke thoughts and a conversation regarding school shootings, and the related topic of workplace violence, as both topics have been increasingly debated in recent days. It is this author’s personal belief that such topics must be discussed in order for any manner or level of societal to occur and theoretical exercises such as this may facilitate discussion.

If a given reader intends or feels the urge to commit such violence as that which is alluded to and described within this article, please seek assistance by contacting one of the hotlines listed below or emergency services by dialing 911 (US) or 999 (UK). I heartily encourage said individuals to defy any violent or dangerous urges that might come and seek help that is so readily available.

Suicide Hotline: 1-800-273-8255

Abuse Hotline: 1-800-799-7233

LGBTQ Crisis Call Center: 1-866-488-7386

Additional resources can be found here.

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Share your thoughts in the comments or feel free to contact me if you would like to guest post. Best wishes, dearies.

"Paper Towns" by John Green and "Leaves of Grass" by Walt Whitman

This week was midterms at my high school and I swore all week long that they were going to kill me but, I survived.

I’m in all upper level classes and I was really worried about the upcoming midterms. That is, until I finished them and I realized that the hard part isn’t taking the tests, its not letting the constant companionship of a textbook, and no time for other reading material, drive you insane.

All week I was going through withdrawal from my books and, I must say, I truly despise Pre-AP Chemistry, Algebra II and Geometry textbooks now. My only relief was when I discovered Paper Towns by John Green and, the 12 related poems, Leaves of Grass, by Walt Whitman.

Paper Towns by John Green is the story of Margo, the beautiful, mysterious and unattainable girl, and Quentin, the childhood friend who lusts after her. For years, the two have gone their separate ways, Margo to the popular crowd and Quentin to the band crowd (though he himself is not in it), connected only by the memories of an unfortunate occurrence long ago. One late night, Margo reappears at Quentin’s bedroom window and whisks him away for untold adventures. Together they wrong some rights and right some wrongs, and Quentin’s life seems to be looking up, until Quentin returns to school the next day to find that Margo has run away for the umpth time. Her own parents choose to let her go, but, Quentin still longs for her and the small chance that they could be something together. He soon discovers that Margo has left clues for him in a highlighted copy of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. Determined to find Margo and suspecting her of committing suicide, Quentin devotes all of his time and energy, and that of his friends, to his search. The search leads them down many new paths, to both paper towns and an open mind, while leading readers through the same changes.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and could not seem to stop talking about it. This unlikely addiction led me to read Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman, which I borrowed from a friend who was just as obsessed as I was, am.

I breezed through the pages, hanging on every word, and finding myself eager for the few minutes before class and after exams when I might immerse myself in the perfect, smooth, words of Walt Whitman. It seemed that the poems were copied directly from my heart, somehow finding words to explain thoughts I could never verbalize. To describe scenes I could never replay. The first and longest poem, Song of Myself, seemed the perfect escape from the stress of quadratic equations and Lewis structures in class. Again, my friend and I shared this mutual adoration.

In one of his poems, Walt Whitman says “There is that in me…I do not know what it is…but I know it is in me.” I think I may speak for all of mankind when I say that this is an appropriate description of what it is to be human.

Throughout our lives, we are told to “be all we can be” and “make something of ourselves” and, most of us, try our best to do so; but, most of us, stumble along the way. We don’t always know what causes us to hesitate or diverge from the path and that is the unknown something within us that Whitman writes about.

Whitman also asks, “What have you thought of yourself? Is it you then that thought yourself less? Is it you that thought the President greater than you? or the rich better off than you? or the educated wiser than you?” Again, Whitman confronts the problems of all time, asking the questions that we all silently consider but do not voice. The same questions that the character of Quentin must wonder about in Paper Towns.

Again, I must say that Paper Towns by John Green and Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman are two perfect examples of literature, both modern and historic. They are truly incomparable and capture the questions of our own existence in a very fluid manner.

I also commend John Green on his excellent job of combining a true classic with his witty and comical style.

One final quote from Whitman concludes this:

“I know I have the best of time and space–and that I was never measured, and never will be measured. I tramp a perpetual journey…”

New Years Eve!

So, every year you’re supposed to have a list of New Year’s resolutions. Here are some of mine:

1.) Exercise more.
2.) Read More.
3.) Finish my novel.
4.) Interview more authors.
5.) Build my website.
6.) Bring my grades up.
7.) Make some sense out of Spanish class.
8.) Volunteer.
9.) Apply for college scholarships.
10.) uhh…

and a few other things.

If you want to share yours, put them in the comments. Thanks.

Busy!, Busy!, Busy!

It’s funny, as school is ending and the summer is coming closer, the teacher’s seem to be trying to finish anything they missed in the earlier part of the year and the work just gets piled on to a mile-high stack. Just since Monday we have been assigned an essay, a drama, a composition, like ten tests, and a ton of quizzes. Its so much work!!! Summer is so close, yet still an essay away! : (