Friday, December 19, 2014

"This I Believe: The Benefits of Misery" by Leo

This December, Advanced Composition students studied, wrote, and recorded audio essays. Students wrote and recorded their own "This I Believe" essays inspired by the weekly This I Believe Podcast. While we're publishing the text of each essay below, we strongly encourage you to listen to each student's audio essay for a more intimate experience.

Growing up, we are taught that misery is a bad thing and that we should always try to avoid it. Our parents spend our childhood trying to shield us from the tragedies of life, keeping us happy and content.  However is misery all bad? Is it only a tragic aspect of life or can it be more than that? Can it, instead of hindering us, help us grow as individuals?

Ever since middle school, due to, let’s say, romantic situations, I have been miserable with my life. Now yes I know what you may be thinking. “Leo, it was only middle school. You were young and ignorant and didn’t know any better about what mattered and what didn’t. You’ll get over it.” See, that’s the thing. If it wasn’t such a big deal, then why did that experience impact my life so much and at such an intense level to the point where I’m writing a paper about it?

I was miserable. Now sure there were moments when life did seem to brighten up and make me forget my troubles but, inevitably, it would never last. Year after year, month after month, day after day, I would wake up every morning and feel the weight of my depression conquer my spirit. I only wanted to go to sleep and live in my dreams. It was the one place where I was truly happy. I did try to make myself better throughout those years, but my attempts never worked, at least not permanently. I just became miserable again. The misery got worse when it started to become physical. Instead of waking up with depression and sadness shadowing me, there was nothing. I ceased to feel any emotion and just became numb to the world and to myself. I didn’t want that, so I started to hurt myself. Whether it was ferociously punching whatever I could to the point where I couldn’t move my hand, or cutting myself repeatedly in the same spot until a permanent scar would form, these were just about the only things making me feel something. It got to the point where I was comfortable with the self inflicted pain. It even started to feel good because at the time, something felt better than nothing.

The worst came when I was contemplating suicide but, as you can tell, I didn’t.  Sure I could have killed myself and ended all the pain and mental suffering I was going through, but I had a personal belief that denied me the right and privilege to suicide. If it wasn’t for that belief I would have been dead a long time ago.

I had hit a mental rock bottom. Since I wasn’t allowed to take the easy path and end my suffering I had no choice but to deal with it and overcome it. Of course I didn’t do it in one big step. I had to take each day one by one.

I had survived the worst of it and because of that I started to learn what it’s like to go through those experiences. I understood feelings of depression, suicide, and self-harm. I started to recognize it in other people. I saw their depression, their pain, their misery. As a young teenager, without having experienced that pain, I would have never seen it in other people. I gained empathy towards those I knew had gone through the same things I had. I learned that someone with depression, someone who has had it for a long time like I did, has learned how to hide it and become actors to the world they live in. I learned that when we start having depression we easily show it to the world but as time goes on and it lingers inside us, we become reserved and start to hide it all because we don’t want to bother others with our suffering. I learned the difference between someone cutting on their wrist and on their arm. One wants to feel and one wants to let out a cry for help. I know this because I did the same things. Everything I endured, I learned how to see people in a different perspective.

Misery made me smarter than any book or lecture ever could have. Misery made me a better person. I believe that misery, and all the baggage that comes with it, can, if we survive, positively make us better people and show us a new perspective towards the people around us. I believe that it can mold our mindsight to have empathy for those in need just like us. I believe that misery can cast us outside the norm of society and give us the opportunity to observe the world that we live in. Misery does not only harm and hinder, misery, I believe, can help.

"This I Believe: Seals and Whales" by Martha

This December, Advanced Composition students studied, wrote, and recorded audio essays. Students wrote and recorded their own "This I Believe" essays inspired by the weekly This I Believe Podcast. While we're publishing the text of each essay below, we strongly encourage you to listen to each student's audio essay for a more intimate experience.

The first real cry I remember was while watching a documentary about Killer whales.The title, “Killer Whales: deadly predators” did little to clue my 7 year old self on what the show was actually about. My eyes began to water in sync to the whale's deadly dance through the dark waters of the ocean and my childish sobs were uncontrollable as three massive whales surrounded a seal that paced helplessly over the surface of a floating piece of ice. I sobbed for a while, asking my father why this had to happen, asking him what the seal's family would ever do without him, how would they recover? Did he have kids?

My father watched the waterworks from his spot on his recliner, curious and annoyed and for the first time I can remember, (and I reckon, the last time since then) he was speechless. He had no clue, really no idea as to why I was crying over a Discovery Channel special on whales and I really didn't either.

It's always been hard to put into words, this idea that I believe in, in a way that makes me think that maybe there are no words that I can string together to do it justice, but I believe in it just the same. It's that feeling I get when Simon crushes someone's dreams on American Idol, like a churning in my gut that makes me cringe and reach for the remote while trying to avoid looking at the heartbroken person's face, feeling as though the big fat no has actually been directed at me. It's that smile on my face that sometimes unconsciously spreads over my cheeks when the guy finally gets the girl, even if it's just a cheesy ABC family movie with awkward lines and impossible situations. It's like a love, unconventional and inconvenient at times that connects me with people and situations and sometimes seals.

It's a connection, an ability to relate, an understanding, a delight for the honesty of situations that are not my own. It's love and pain and fear and happiness that courses through me as it courses through someone else or through the surface of a screen. It's a different side of life that I experience through this attachment and fondness that I find impossible to ignore and impossible to describe. I believe in this, though, completely and unyielding. I believe in this kind of love for people and situations that makes it so easy to relate, that makes it possible to feel another person completely, almost touch them through our shared ability to evoke emotion, to feel tears running down our skin or disappointment churning in the pit of our stomach. I believe in this, I believe in it's value when it comes to appreciating my life. I believe that it makes me who I am.

"This I Believe: The Best Choice" by Smiles

This December, Advanced Composition students studied, wrote, and recorded audio essays. Students wrote and recorded their own "This I Believe" essays inspired by the weekly This I Believe Podcast. While we're publishing the text of each essay below, we strongly encourage you to listen to each student's audio essay for a more intimate experience.

I believe that many of the choices we make in life are not our own. If we could choose everything in life, we would all have jobs in fields we enjoy; we would spend most of our time with the people we love; there wouldn’t be so much anger about little things like no milk left for coffee or a bus that is seven minutes late. There is one thing, however, that I believe we can choose in life, and it’s happiness.

God’s greatest gift to me was happiness, especially the ability to share it with everyone around me. Where ever I am, I try to make smiles infectious and giggles spread faster than the flu. It’s an epidemic, and I’m patient zero.

I believe happiness is something that is essential to life. To me, it’s right up there with food and water. Happiness is who I am.  Happiness is me. This happiness translates into many different parts of my life. It allows me to be successful at my new job. It helps me make instant friends. Most importantly, it helps me grow in my faith. Happiness is so essential to being a Methodist. Our main idea is that we love everybody, because God made them, and He made us just to love them. It’s hard to love someone if you are angry. It’s hard to love someone who wronged you. It’s hard to love someone who will never love you. But I try to. And I hope that eventually, this will lead to both their happiness and mine.

Happiness is an everyday thing.  Happiness is the little random acts of kindness people do for each other.  It’s a choice to make other people happy, to love them. It may be an even bigger choice to let others make you happy. Just a smile or a wave can make someone’s day, if they allow it and if you allow it.  And if you do allow it, you choose happiness. And I believe that anyone can choose happiness.  

I know that some people suffer from diseases that make it hard to be happy.  Depression. Anxiety. But even those people can find a way to smile again. It takes work, yes. It takes forgiveness. It takes practice and patience. But in the end, happiness is worth it, and it’s there if you want it.

There are no restrictions to happiness.  No age limit. No race exclusion. No gender discrimination.  There is no ‘fee’ or test to be happy. No mandated sexual orientation or political stance. Anyone can be happy. And I hope that they will be. God put me on this earth to make other people happy. I do that and that is my choice. Whether it's through random acts of kindness, because of faith or morals, because of other people, or because of hard work of your very own, everyone has a chance be happy. That is what I believe, and that is what I wish to see one day.

Friday, December 12, 2014

"Spark" by Cadence Sinclair

Every human is a spark.
When we love, we fly.
When we cry, we simmer.
When we scream, we explode.
But after all is said and done,
The world is simply a spinning jumble
Of awakening and dying sparks
All at once,

All for only a delicate flash of time.

"Some Things are Better Left Unsaid" by J.K. Rowling

It was 11:11 and I had made a dangerous wish. At the time, it seemed like a great idea to wish to be able to read people’s minds. However it turned out to be a terrible fate that I could never escape. To be honest, I never expected my wish to even come true. But there I was waking up the next morning with a strange new ability.

I was unaware of the changes that took place after I made that wish until I walked downstairs into my kitchen and heard my mother say she thought my hair could use a good brushing. This caught me by surprise because my mom wasn't usually one to comment on what I chose to wear, let alone bother to tell me she thinks my hair is messy. I replied by saying it was curly and that would only make it frizzier. My mom then proceeded to apologize for she had not realized she had spoken aloud. As soon as my mom said that, a light bulb went off in my head. Walking out the door to my car to drive to school, I had a big smile on face. My wish actually came true! I couldn’t wait to go to school and test out my new ability.

            Coming home 7 hours later, I was practically in tears and running for the safety and solitude of my room. Hearing people’s thoughts is not all that its cracked up to be. I was constantly hearing that I shouldn’t wear my jewelry, I don’t know how to put on my make up, and my jokes aren’t funny. It amazed me how people thought I was boring to talk to, yet they’re standing there smiling and nodding their head like their interested. I realized that people critique your every move and I was better off before when I was unable to hear people’s negative thoughts.  Unfortunately I’m stuck with this “power’ for the rest of my life. This experience taught me to be careful what you wish for, but mostly that some things are better left unsaid.

Friday, December 5, 2014

"A Reflection on NaNoWriMo" by Lindsey

10th Grade Tutor Lindsey took it upon herself to participate in the National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo. In addition to being a Varsity athlete and a stellar student, Lindsey wrote an entire novel in the month of November. Here are Lindsey's thoughts on her experience:

This past month, I participated in national novel writing month, or NaNoWriMo for short. The goal of this is to write 50,000 words in a month for a novel, or 1,667 words daily. Through the site, participants can have writing buddies and engage in conversations in forums about anything and not be limited to writing or novels. These features make it easier to focus and keep working if others are working right alongside of you, not to mention an enjoyable aspect.  Throughout the month, real, published authors give pep talks about their own experiences and tips for writing a novel. This year, Veronica Roth, author of Divergent, gave a pep talk. She was one of many, but she was the most recognizable, to me at least. I saw people participating in this last year through social media sites and always thought it was interesting. This year, I thought I would give in a try, so I created an account on a whim. I didn’t expect much, but I managed to complete my novel with two days to spare. In the end, I wrote 50,107 words taking up 82 pages, single spaced. Now that I am looking over my novel, I am noticing so many things wrong with it including plot holes and limited character development. I have a lot of editing to do before it is ready to read. I am excited to make this a completed piece and am extremely proud of myself to complete this daunting task. I was sure I would give up after a week, but 50,000 words later, here I am.

NaNoWriMo was such a great experience. I have developed as a writer and learned a lot about my writing style. I didn’t do that much planning, which was a mistake. I know for next year to plan carefully and stick to the plan. I drifted so much from my original plan that it the end didn’t make much sense. I knew this was a learning experience going into the month, so I was prepared to make many mistakes. I met so many great people through this program. I went to write-ins at my local library. Even though they were all adults and I was the only teen there, they welcomed me and I got some great writing done in that time. I also met a teen in Michigan with similar interests to me. We sent messages back and forth to encourage each other throughout the month.

Some things I learned:
  • Writing in first person is difficult because it doesn’t give much freedom in perspectives. I always thought first person would be the easiest, but there were many times I wished I could write what was happening elsewhere.
  • Planning is needed to know where the plot is going to go. I had a simple idea, but it ended up getting muddled with new ideas. The theme I was going for wasn’t clear.
  • Think of the backgrounds of the characters and why they feel the way they do. It helps to have all their character traits written out to refer to when writing.
  • It is difficult to advance the plot. Be careful on the action versus internal monologue. I found I would write an internal monologue rather than getting to the good, action parts.
  • It really helps to have other writers surrounding you. If there are writing groups at school or in the community, join them.

I would highly recommend participating in NaNoWriMo. It was so creative and a unique opportunity. In school, there are little opportunities to write with no limitations. Even if you don’t consider yourself a writer, that could change when trying something new. To find out more, visit to sign up and get started.

"Bob" by Marsha Mellow

His name was Bob and he liked to say things that were not in his place to say. No one could see him so he paid little mind to feelings or morals.

He told me that people needed it. He told me that people were spoiled by shelter and harmony.
He tells me a lot of things, some that I don’t want to hear.

His first words to me were “Hey you’re not like the others...not at all… not at all.”

There was a pause where anyone in their right mind would have ran the other way. But I took a step forward, then another, then one more. Bob told me we’d do great things together but it was myself I saw in the mirror every time. “That's not me… it’s not me….It’s him.”

His name was Bob and his feelings were gray, his intentions black. You'd never guess it though, you wouldn't, you wouldn't…..I didn't.

But what's in a guess? A conscience? An independent will? Those were Bob’s favorites. He was so good at blurring the lines of what was him and what was me. Sometimes I thought it didn't matter, maybe he was right and I was wrong and maybe I was already him.

Bob had a simplicity to him that was oddly calming… that's wrong...that's right...that's good..that's bad, but oh he was bad, he was bad. Sometimes when I doodled his name my o’s looked a lot like a’s and my b’s like d’s. I knew, but what could I do?

His name wasn't Bob.

It wasn't much of anything.