Posts

Showing posts from 2015

The social bad in selling social good

Image
March 2014: I'm at Seattle's We Day, the flashy event celebrating youth public service that happens in stadiums in various big cities every spring. In one of the more surreal experiences of my life, I take pictures with Seahawks coach Pete Carroll and Martin Luther King III in a backstage dressing room, slightly insulated from the chaotic throngs outside. The event fills Key Arena with cheering teenagers and flashing lights. It feels like a cross between a sports game, a Taylor Swift concert, and a megachurch sermon. Everything is choreographed.

I'm on a panel with two other teenagers and our moderator, musician Joe Jonas. The lights are so blindingly focused on us that it's impossible to make out a single face in the dark shapeless audience. I feel a strange pressure to say things that garner applause--which means staying light, upbeat, simple, saying happy things in the guise of "empowerment" that don't critique, observe, upset.

The questions are easy.…

Why the pain? Stories from New York City

Image
-0-

The city that never sleeps stays awake by dancing in and out of people's dreams. Once upon a time, I thought of the place as my future home. I idealized the Manhattanite archetype of the career woman, all high heels and briefcase, power walking down the sidewalk to meetings in skyscrapers. In truth, though, I've been many people in New York City, but I have never been that woman. The first time I came to New York City, the closest stock character to describe me would have been the wide-eyed ingenue from the countryside hoping to make it big.

I was six. Good Morning America, a TV show I had never even seen, put my family and me up in a swanky hotel room in the Millennium Broadway. I most remember the bathroom, clad in armor: black marble so shiny that the lights, and our faces, swam around in the reflection. There was a giant tub, although as we filled it with hot water my sister and I felt gigglingly self-conscious about its placement right next to a giant window. We didn&…

On Dressing Up

Image
When I was little, my sister Adrianna and I would gigglingly sneak into our parents' closet to try on our mother's clothes. The closet was big enough that it was the kind of place more generous Dursleys would have given Harry Potter for a bedroom, the kind of place you could huddle in for hours and never be found. When I was by myself in my parents' drafty bedroom, watching NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams or Seinfeld re-runs at 10 PM, I compulsively closed that closet door--something about its gaping dark scared me a little, sitting on the couch in the cold.

But in the daytime, with Adrianna beside me and the lights on, the place was a museum of wonders. There were the big heavy sweaters that came down to our knees, relics of colder places. Maxi-skirts that made our little frames look like we were drowning in the fabric that pooled at our feet. Spare pillows and sheets we stuffed in our shirts so we could waddle around, laugh at our newfound girth, and declare oursel…

Just Desserts

Image
It's that season again, for jingling, holiday cards, and early decision and early action college acceptance decisions. Anyone with Facebook friends who are high school seniors may have seen by now those Facebook posts in all caps: "[NAME OF SCHOOL] CLASS OF 2020!!!" "GOT INTO [NAME OF SCHOOL]!" or, for the spectacularly high-achieving students who applied to multiple non-restrictive early action schools, "[NAME OF SCHOOL], [NAME OF SCHOOL], [NAME OF SCHOOL]!" This will be my last year seeing a large crop of those posts, since I didn't know too many people more than two grades below me in high school. It made me think about what this time meant for me, back when I was a senior.

It has now been exactly two years since I received my own Early Action admissions decision. Senior year was going swimmingly. I was co-president of the speech and debate team with my best friend, and that December day in 2013 our whole team was at a tournament at another hi…

Arthur Dunn

Image
Names have been changed for privacy.
September 2011. My very first day of tenth grade. I'm young and new, and the way I clutch a class schedule in my hand reminds me of the intense grip people usually reserve for grabbing hold of ropes thrown down from rescue helicopters. Honestly, the schedule feels like my rope, though whether it leads to safety or danger I don’t know. Walking through the hallways, feeling increasingly diminutive compared to everyone around me, I feel inclined toward the latter.
It isn’t helped by the fact that I’m deep in my awkward stage. I put equally minimal effort into showering and fashion, wearing the same clothes most every day of the week. Pro tip to my lazier friends: you can get away with wearing the same clothes everyday...if it’s the right kind of clothing. North Face jacket plus jeans? Solid. My linty, knee-length, zip-up coat that seemed to act as Redmond High School’s duster, based solely on the sheer amount of detritus it collected? Hell no. Add t…

The simple life

Image
When I was younger, I dreamed of being rich.
I spun fantasies with the threads of $250 sweaters on the covers of the J. Crew or Anthropologie catalogues in the recycling bin. I ran around our messy, sprawling Redmond house with its random pieces of furniture cobbled together from garage sales and Craigslist, and wished desperately for real d├ęcor. I wanted dining table placemats, the kinds of thin black bamboo ones they have at fancy restaurants for chic twenty-somethings. Placemats were my imagined pinnacle of upward social mobility. I never had them growing up, and so the first thing I did after hauling in a giant wooden dining table for my new apartment in Berkeley was run to a nearby store and purchase them. They were only 6 for $6, making me realize that all along this “pinnacle of upward social mobility” had been decidedly, affordably, in my reach.
Perhaps it was a dangerous thing to realize just how much was within my reach. Last Winter Break I found myself bored at 1 AM, too tire…

Photographs

Image
An old friend, who I'll call J, is in San Francisco for a conference. It’s been a year since we last saw each other—another conference. We run that circuit. This night is one of those rare moments we’ve seen each other outside of an event with suited-up adults and boring keynotes we do our best to avoid. The one constant of both our lives, when they intersect, is that we are the only teenagers most places we go. At the white-tablecloth Italian restaurant we enter, we are the youngest people in the room. As we do, we immediately start talking about fanfiction and masturbation and hookups and pop music. There's a genteel elderly couple sitting next to us, conversing about a timeshare. 
I avoid eye contact with them, but I'm pretty sure they look scandalized.
J and I belt out Blank Space in his ritzy suite at the Prescott Hotel at 11 PM, and he says that I can crash overnight. The next morning I get on BART at 7 in the morning—earlier than I’ve been awake in weeks—and my mind w…

An open letter to The Atlantic's Caitlin Flanagan on political correctness

Image
Dear Ms. Flanagan,
As a UC Berkeley student and a longtime reader of The Atlantic, I was very interested to hear what you had to say on Real Time with Bill Maher regarding political correctness on college campuses. I hoped to hear you provide a nuanced analysis of some of the reasons many students ask for trigger warnings and seek to identify microaggressions. I was disappointed to instead hear you launch into an ad hominem attack questioning the intellectual capabilities of college students. “When kids come to college, they are by definition ignorant. They don’t know anything yet!” you said blithely, going on to describe us again as “poor kids who don’t know anything yet” before saying “the whole system is now being run by these kids.”
In 2010, I gave a TED Talk entitled “What adults can learn from kids,” and went on to speak at conferences around the world about the need for increased student voice in education (particularly K-12 education reform). This need exists because unfortunate…