That One I Broke up with Harry Potter and it Emotionally Messed Me Up for a While

I was battling with an inner dilemma last night in my apartment. All of my roommates were out. I really just wanted to watch anime on the big television in the living room. But there lies the problem. I enjoy watching anime. The issue is that not many people just enjoy watching anime. Either it is someone’s air, food, water, and shelter, or it isn’t. And those are the people who think the first group is weird. My fear was that you can only be in one group or the other. If I was watching anime at all then, well, there was only one alternative. While increasing polarization of society is happening, that isn’t what we’ll be looking into today. In the first Harry Potter book, Harry and Dumbledore have a conversation by the Mirror of Erised. Dumbledore tells Harry, “It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live”. It seems that many have fallen into the trap of dreams rather than the depths of reality.

One time, sitting in her car, one of my best friends described to me her struggles with friends over the past couple of years. She’d been more detached from our circle of friends because of various extracurricular activities and found a different group to be with. As her senior year progressed, she prepared for college and started focusing more on her personal goals after high school and what she was going to do to make her dreams a reality. Her friends, not as much. Their focus was much more on the books and movies and television that made them feel something. It was the Ministry of Magic instead of the government. Percy and Annabeth instead of real life relationships. My dear friend wanted to make her dreams a reality, not have her reality be dreams.

When I was younger, I read Harry Potter constantly. It was, in a sense, a part of my necessities, if not my drug. I was enchanted by the literary magic. The fact that someone could come up with such a world was beyond me. It captured my heart and mind. I fell in love with the characters and the style and the story. Yet I fell into the trap that it (the encompassing cloud of everything) was perfect. When I got older and had a greater presence on the internet, my world began to shatter. I had never really considered politics to be part of Harry Potter (or fiction in general). I was truly shocked. My idol, JK Rowling, wasn’t standing up for her work. She was just kind of going along with whatever in my eyes. That broke my heart. In that time, magic was dead, reanimated with the whims of the world. I had also subconsciously divorced myself from literature. I didn’t read for pleasure anymore. I was happy when I was forced to read for school, even though I didn’t realize why at the time. I still loved reading. I just hadn’t gotten over the split between me and “Harry’s Wondrous World”. It wasn’t until the end of my junior year that I truly started to come back to that abandoned love of mine.

I had the opportunity to take a Lord of the Rings class the third trimester of that year. It is one of the only of its kind in the nation. The way that the class was set up made it so that the focus was much less on the actual reading (which my A in the class without reading the entire series can attest to), and much more on the themes and messages of the series. One of the first assignments that we did in the class was to write an essay on our personal “ring” and who was in our “fellowship” in this particular journey of our lives. I didn’t turn in the paper on time. I thought about it for weeks and worked on it. By the time I was finished, I wrote twice that was required of me. And it meant something. The class continued to be taught in this fashion. We applied what we were learning to our lives. There were times where I wished it was a class called “Lord of the Rings and Christianity” where I could talk more explicitly about my personal beliefs. However, it was one of the most spiritually and emotionally uplifting classes I had ever experienced during my public education. It was in that class that I was reminded that fiction is meant to be an aide to our reality, not reality itself.

That is when my world changed.

That June for my birthday I ended up with four books: The Four Loves by CS Lewis, Mere Christianity by CS Lewis, Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones, and The Second Treatise of Government by John Locke. The Treatise was for reference for debate and I haven’t read it in full. I had also read Howl’s Moving Castle sometime ago (it was one of my sister’s favorite book). These were the books to the start of my recovery. CS Lewis is a theme of my senior year. His logic-with-faith approach to religion drew me in. The not-so-subtle allegory of The Chronicles of Narnia reinforced the idea that literature can and is an effective tool for life. I may have gotten a little obsessed, but it was with something that was very real. One of my friends also had an affinity for Lewis. The discussions we were able to have expanded my world and helped me to understand what I believed better. The humor in Howl’s Moving Castle still makes me laugh and know it’s okay to have a good time. As I get closer and closer to finishing The Lord of the Rings (it’s been a tough run), I continue to see that, even with my flaws, I am able to help accomplish incredible things.

In Camelot, King Arthur says, “We must not let our passions destroy our dreams”. Rather, we should make sure our passions help to achieve them.

~Ali

Suck it Up and Show Your Weakness

While at a job interview yesterday, I was asked a question that I had been expecting:

“Why is confidentiality important?”

The job I was interviewing for works on a system on voluntarily asking for help in order to improve method and structure. I suspected that confidentiality would be an integral part of the work. It wasn’t until I verbalized my answer in that interview that really  thought about what it meant:

“When someone asks for help, they become vulnerable. We need to respect that in order to truly do something.”

While I wasn’t incredibly impressed with the eloquence of my answer, I did believe that the core of what I was saying was true. I have found that it is in the weak and honest moments that we have the greatest opportunity to change for the better. Vulnerability is the path to strength.

I began to look up more reliable information on vulnerability in the same way I had done countless times in speech and debate. Yay for Google. One particular researcher caught my eye. With over 6,400,000 vies on YouTube Brené Brown’s “The Power of Vulnerability”  is one of the most popular TED Talks in the world. With over a decade of research, Brown discusses connection, shame, and vulnerability. One of her quotes about vulnerability that stands out to me comes from a Dan Schawbel interview titled “Brene Brown: How Vulnerability Can Make Our Lives Better”  :

“Vulnerability is about showing up and being seen. It’s tough to do that when we’re terrified about what people might see or think. When we’re fueled by the fear of what other people think or that gremlin that’s constantly whispering “You’re not good enough” in our ear, it’s tough to show up.”

Showing up is hard for me. One of my greatest weaknesses is the amount weight I give to what others think of me. It’s hard to for me to put my writing up on social media. It’s hard for me to go to a dance party with only ten people at it. It’s hard to ask roommates and neighbors to do what I need them to do. I’m afraid that I won’t have friends and I won’t be loved. Trying to be the “perfect” person  for everyone means you aren’t the perfect person for anyone. Including yourself and God.

In asking a question, Schwabel mentions that, “People connect more with those who have weaknesses”. In this simple statement, I realized something simple. So simple that a little voice in my head said, “Well, no duh”. Weakness is important. Also that it is important to realize that weakness isn’t inherently bad, which I can’t remember ever explicitly thinking about. In Wendy Ulrich’s article “It Isn’t a Sin to be Weak”  , she describes it this way:

“We might define weakness as the limitation on our wisdom, power, and holiness that comes with being human. As mortals we are born helpless and dependent, with various physical flaws and predispositions.”

We must rid ourselves the idea that weakness is automatically evil and instead think of it as a limitation that can be overcome. A weakness of a baby is that it cannot walk. Yet babies are rarely ridiculed for this particular weakness. It is one that everyone has faced and many have helped others to face. The process takes time to fix and that’s okay. When we have this mindset, we are putting ourselves on a path of progression and growth. We can become stagnant and hateful with a negative perspective on weakness. Not only do we rob ourselves of personal improvement, we rob ourselves of connection. Perfectionism kills honest progress. As we attempt to hid our weakness, we also shove away our opportunity for real human belonging and connection. We seal the very well from which we wish to drink from.

Give a little of yourself. While life certainly isn’t easy, it can be simple. I have personally been trying to do this in small ways. Being genuine in conversation, being honest in wants and desires and needs. I have failed a lot. Yet each time I succeed, I feel a little better about myself.

Brown quotes Theodore Roosevelt’s “Citizenship in a Republic” when summing up her thoughts about vulnerability:

“It’s not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly . . . who at best knows the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.”

We make mistakes constantly. We mess up, let down, and misunderstand. However, thankfully, our mistakes never need to be our end  Experience never need be forsaken. Every time we say “I’m sorry”, every time we say “I’ll try again”, we make the most of vulnerability. It is our choices that make us who we are. How we roll after the punch. Our worst deeds can turn into our greatest resource for helping others. In that help, we can find the connection that we have so greatly desired to have.

In the past day, I have learned a little bit more about why confidentiality is important. It is important because it gives the chance for vulnerability in a small, private setting. Confidentiality leads to trust and human connection. It leads to progress. Confidentiality can be the first step to a happy, honest life.

Recognize weakness. Get help from others. Change. When we become better, life becomes better. Then we are one step closer to being able to say that life is so good.

~Ali

It Was Like a Hug and a Kiss to Someone Who Was Homesick

No school. No job. No friends. It has been nearly two years since my sister Jill left for college, leaving me the only kid at home. I had gotten used to being on “my own” in a sense, even though I still had my parents. I didn’t do a lot with my friends, so much of my socializing was playing cards with my parents and grandma. Which isn’t extremely typical. I decided to move early to Provo to acclimatize myself before starting school. I was afraid, but felt good. As June 29th continued to approach, I felt there was still so much I wanted to do, people I wanted to see, and things I wanted to say.  Yet time went on, and I was awake at unholy hours that Thursday morning. I drove for the first part of the journey. My thoughts were thankfully unable to wander.  When we arrived at my apartment complex, my brother came over from his to help me haul my things to my room.  I went to the door and knocked. Nothing. I knocked again. Holding my breath I opened the door and it was unlocked. I was dismayed. Was there seriously no one in the apartment? I unpacked a little and left a slightly passive aggressive note on the table before heading off to Salt Lake with my family. Taking the train to Salt Lake was an experience. There was lots and lots of waiting. Which meant lots and lots of thinking time. Which meant a woe is me mentality. We ended up only having lunch (which turned into dinner) in Salt Lake. By the time the Provo train station arrived, the last thing I wanted to do was go to my new apartment. Yet time went on, and I found myself knocking on my apartment door once more.  I wasn’t excited. This time the door opened.

“Hi, I’m the new roommate.”

As soon as she stepped aside, my grandma shoved me in and started talking to my roommate. That’s where it all becomes a blur. It seemed as though everyone was home, and everything was happening (though that was far from true). Before I knew it, I hugged and kissed my mother goodbye. My brother left for his apartment and my mother and grandma left to spend the night in a neighboring city. I was alone. With three other people. Becky was really the one who saved me that first night. She just talked. About her family, about her college freshman dating life. I was unpacking and listening. I’m not sure that I experienced anything like it before, but it was what I needed. I was able to spend my first night in Provo, if not elated, comforted.

The next morning I woke up to my roommates’ 6:15 am alarm. The other two girls in my room worked together, ten hour shifts from 7 am to 6 pm. I was having a hard time sleeping, so I figured I might as well get up.  I didn’t get much done that weekend. I didn’t really feel like it, and I didn’t feel the need to do more than unpack. So I didn’t. Yet time went on. The problem with letting yourself do nothing is that other forces tend to get in the way of the nothingness. The more time went on, the more lonely and out of place I felt. Something need to change, but the problem was nothing was staying the same. I was drowning in change.

The hope came on Sunday. My roommates and I went to church about twenty minutes before one. The service started at one o’clock, so we made it in plenty on time. Over the past couple of days, I had tried hard to attend all the different activities that were going on. As other students entered, I recognized quite a few of them. When one certain person walked into the room, I took a quick little breath. It was my friend’s older brother. He is a couple of years older than me and I don’t believe that we have actually met. He was incredibly popular during high school to the extent that we we’re still talking about him years after he had graduated. It was small. It was simple. Even still, it was something incredibly, undeniably familiar. And I held on. He ended up speaking later in the meeting. If there is one thing that boy can do, it is speak. Every word was a hug and a kiss from every person I loved and every person I missed. It was greetings from home.

I could have listened forever. Yet time went on, and I was home from church. Before I went to church that day, I was uninspired and sluggish. After, I was happy and energetic. I loved Provo. I started calling my apartment “home” and I loved the people I was around. Things are looking up.

I learned (or at least remembered) much that Sunday. The show must go on, because time will go on regardless of whether or not anything is happening. Performing is much more fun and satisfying. We can use what is familiar to inspire positive change. For me, all I needed to move forward was to realize that I haven’t lost myself forever. That came in the form of a familiar face and voice.

Will Rogers once said, “Even if you’re on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there”. The past gives you many supplies and tools on the great journey of life. Be sure to use those things to propel yourself to a better future. You are capable of the incredible and improbable. It is easy to forget. When you are feeling lost or suffocating in change, look for hug and a kiss from home. Be yourself, because you never know when you will be helping someone who is a little homesick.

~Ali

Transitions

One of the good things about life is that if we fail, we usually get a second chance. Even if the opportunity doesn’t arise, life doesn’t become devoid of meaning. When failure occurs, we pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and move forward. We find the greatest amount of happiness and success when we follow this pattern quickly and always strive to become better.

Though this is simply me trying to get back into the swing of things after not writing on my blog for four months, I do believe that it is true. Progress is hard. It is even harder when you try to accomplish it on your own. My goal is to publish a blog post every Tuesday and Friday by 9 pm Eastern. I might not make this goal every week. Let it be known though that this is the mark.

See you again later today 🙂

~Ali

Thank Goodness Teenage Girls Don’t Write Speeches for the President of the United States 

I know plenty of women who can write, Helen. I know women who can blow the walls of brick buildings. This sounds like a girl.” -Sam Seaborn

At times it is hard to imagine a liberal today daring to say something that could be so easily misinterpreted. What was a simple distinction made in the early 2000’s is a war cry today. Our society doesn’t frown upon a toddler who isn’t making her family dinner. Yet by no means does this suggest she can’t. The one thing that this line really boils down to is this: Progress.

Not the progress of nations. Not the progress of political ideology. It is the progress you see in children from the time they are born to the age of six. Then the same thing again from twelve to eighteen. The mental, physical, and emotional developments that are seen during these stages of life make me wonder why anybody says that “people can’t change”.

This concept of progress is also seen in math. Children are taught how to count, then given meaning to numbers. They are asked to grasp something that is infinitely definite and they do. One can be one grain of sand, one feather, one ton of bricks, but it is all one. By giving meaning to one concept, a foundation is built on which the world can stand. Not much later after that, arrays are made with M&M’s and Goldfish crackers. Multiplication is learned. We can see that it works.  So we accept that and move on. There is a progression to algebra, geometry, and maybe even calculus. A learner can amount to whatever they want to. The amount of progression in anything is a choice.

This begs the question of “what if you just can’t”. People struggle with math, or reading, or [Insert Here] all of the time. What’s up with that? The easiest way of explaining is there is a gap in the staircase of progression. You find this a lot in public education. A student can often be pulled up to the next step without fully understanding a concept. This can get someone through a lesson, unit, or even entire courses. However, there can become a point where a new concept requires an old one (or several old concepts) are used that were never learned. This can cause the next step to be so high for the student that they can neither climb up it themselves or be pulled up. Often, it is at that point that people accept defeat. So, how exactly do we overcome?

CS Lewis best explains it when attempting to achieve our final destination in life. In the preface of “The Great Divorce”, Lewis describes life as a tree, starting at one point then branching outwards. One branch is taken, then another, and another. Making just one wrong turn can prevent us from getting to our destination. But we can always go back. That is hard.  Not everyone can do it, and some can hardly bear to think about it. Yet using this analogy, it is seen that sometimes the quickest way forward and to progression is to actually go backwards. It is vital to recognize when the basics are needed again.

Recognition of shortcomings is the key to an unshakable foundation and the greatest potential. When a firm foundation is created, the next step is to build a beautiful masterpiece. Before commencing is the time to check the foundation. But if the foundation does crack and the building is destroyed, there is no reason not to start again. It can be easy to be satisfied with a house, but the land around it is capable of so much more. As a foundation can grow into a house, a house can grow into an estate. The greatest amount is achieved in life by realizing that now leads to later and there is always something to contribute.

In the West Wing episode “The Fall’s Gonna Kill You”, Sam Seaborn meets with the Progressive Caucus  to discuss a line the caucus wants in one of President Bartlet’s speeches. Sam refuses to use the line and the following dialogue occurs:

SAM
First of all, it’s bad writing.

HENRY
What’s wrong with it?

SAM
It sounds like it was written by a high school girl.

HELEN
Is there something wrong with the way a woman writes?

SAM
There usually is when she’s in high school.

It was never about being a woman. That’s the thing that a lot of people miss these days. It was a statement of progress that happened to have a female as the subject. Everyone is at different stages of progression, but it isn’t a measure of what the end result will be. Rome fell and children who weren’t supposed to live longer than twelve hours have grown to adulthood. There is a time and place for most everything, yet there is a want and an expectation for good leaders to present an estate, not a foundation. Misplaced, heavy expectation does indeed break a perfectly good foundation. It passed by for the moment, for a different time or a different purpose. And there is no shame in that. Remember the reality of now. There is much more that can be accomplished in life than a high school research paper. So, thank goodness teenage girls don’t write speeches for the President of the United States.

~Ali