By: Bonne Leung
We’ve all seen the films — a group of young elitists leaving a shining white school laden with marble and adorned with Roman columns, hair flowing in the wind as they made their way down their steps in matching school uniform, the crest of their school upon their breast pockets, strutting towards some expensive car. Perhaps, once, you might have even wished you were them, wearing their navy blue blazers and shining leather shoes. But the truth is, in private educational institutions that are so often glorified on screen, rarely do students ever have the chance to be so liberal in how they present themselves.
In reality, uniforms come with strict policies that usually perpetuate often misogynistic and insensitive sentiments such as only having options for binary genders (skirts for girls and trousers for boys) or being more concerned about the length of a skirt than a case of bullying. School is one of the primary sources of social learning for children, especially as schooling starts at such a young age. Children should understand from a young age that the sex they were assigned at birth may not always be the same as what they present their gender identity as and that it’s normal to see a classmate they may think of as a boy to wear a dress or a girl to wear trousers. Enforcing strict uniform policies can lead to children having a binary sense of gender, which for some could lead to severe dysphoria and discomfort whilst growing up. Not to mention, children often have no regard for what they say and how it may affect others, which encourages them calling classmates that don’t conform to the binary genders they’re familiar with ‘gay’ or a ‘tomboy’ well into teenage years or even adulthood.
And let’s say that uniform policies were more flexible, that in a hypothetical situation, boys and girls both have access to whatever piece of uniform they wanted to wear and the environment they were in lacked the discriminatory situational factors. What of self-expression?
I attend a fairly diverse international private high school, which comes with a comparatively long uniform policy that essentially states that nothing should detract from ‘the image of school uniform’. Beyond the basic uniform rules, we are only allowed a maximum of two piercings per ear, one bracelet, one ring, no nail varnish and hair cannot be dyed an ‘unnatural colour’.
Most would argue that given the fact that students are already restricted in terms of what they can wear beyond what the uniform shop sells or the school permits, they should be allowed accessories at least as a form of self-expression.
But why is self-expression important? Well, self-expression is indicative of inner thoughts and personal identity. Imagine yourself as a canvas upon which myriads of colours mix and mingle together, creating a cacophony of colours that don’t quite make sense to anybody but you.
Because well, it is you.
You’re all of those colours mixed and poured into the vessel that is you, and since nobody can quite make sense of all of these colours, the only way you can outwardly express it would be through how you present yourself.
Be it brightly coloured hair or a preference of style, self-expression is important — certainly for young adolescents who have a hard time as it is trying to navigate the perplexing limbo of teenage years — because it encourages people to simply be.
Reducing it to just that makes it seem profoundly simple — because it is.
It’s so dumbfoundedly simple that it’s honestly the reason the whole notion of school uniform maintaining ‘school image’ or ‘disciplining’ students is somewhat asinine, to me at least.
Hair grows back; piercings can heal. Make-up isn’t anything less than art, save for the fact that its canvas and mediums are slightly different to that of conventional art, it truly is an art form, and with each stroke, it reveals a different part of the person wearing it.
I used my school as an example for what private institutions’ uniform policies are like, but truthfully, there is a lot more leniency — I feel, at least — in terms of how I can express myself. More often than not, teachers are willing to turn a blind eye to breaches, sometimes even compliment said breaches. But that isn't to say that there aren’t areas of improvements. As with all things, it’s never quite perfect. There’s still a culture of alienation when someone doesn’t conform to the norms of what is to be expected from a student. As a cis female student that is part of the ethnic majority at school, I can’t account for everybody’s experience, but improvements that my school could make could apply to others too: for example, accepting boys who would feel more like themselves in the girl’s uniform, eliminating insensitive comments, inclusivity for all ethnic groups and their forms of self-expression.
So no, uniform isn’t inherently a bad thing. In fact, I enjoy my uniform. I roll out of bed, tug on a collared shirt and skirt and stick my head through a school sweatshirt and that’s me for the day. But that doesn’t detract from the fact that the way I express myself is widely accepted as a ‘social norm’ whereas others may not.
A school community with unconditional acceptance is a long ways away for many, but we can start here, simply, perhaps with a small rebellion taking the form of a third piercing in one ear.
We can start by allowing everyone to simply be.
By: Thee Sim Ling
Every year, writers of all kinds, from the aspiring wannabe to the mega-popular bestseller, attempt the grueling challenge of the National Novel Writing Month. Every November, writers sacrifice everything just to scrap in 50,000 words for a novel they hope (in their wildest dreams, of course) to be published.
50,000 words can only make up an amount of 200 pages (much smaller than the novels you have on your bookshelf), but the challenge is much harder than it seems. It is a painful struggle to heave yourself out of bed an hour early to type in a few hundred words, only for an irritating family member to pop in at the most inconvenient moment and distract you from your masterpiece-in-the-making. The rest of the day, you can’t even find a single second to log on to the NaNoWriMo website, and when you finally have a pocket of spare time, you can do nothing but stare at the blank page. Even if you did meet your daily goals on the first couple of days, you are likely to lose your momentum within a week.
That exact scenario happened to me last year. My year-end examinations had finished in October, and I had thought that with the stress-free life and approaching school holidays, I would totally be able to win the NaNoWriMo challenge, no sweat.
I failed miserably short of the goal.
This November, I was determined not to repeat my shameful failure of the past year. I vowed to myself that I would find a way to reach 50,000 words. And I’m delighted to say that I did reach that goal. With a few days to November 30, I won the challenge with 50,036 words. Not only did I enjoy the feeling of victory, I also learnt a few lessons along the way, and if you would like to take on the challenge next November (or any month of the year), here are some pointers:
Only Write A Story You Believe In
Whether you plot your stories beforehand, or you believe in making it up as you go, it is vitally important that you only pick a project that you deeply believe in. In your head, that novel idea might sound great, but will you really be willing to stick with it for one entire month, come hell or high water? Or will you slowly fall out of love with that idea? The beauty of NaNoWriMo is that it is the ultimate test on your faith (or lack of faith) in the story world and plot that you create. This writing exercise brings you back to earth and helps you take your idea seriously.
I learnt that the hard way in my first year of NaNoWriMo. I came up with an idea which I wasn’t enthusiastic about at all. The first few hundred words sent my hands flying all over the keyboard, but after the initial excitement, the intoxicating enthusiasm and adrenaline rush disappeared. There were many days when I simply stared at my screen, not knowing what to write at all. This year, I chose another deeper and more complicated story idea. Sure, it required much more planning and research, but I loved it more than I would have ever loved Idea No 1. Bestselling authors didn’t become famous writing books they hated. They believed in their ideas and persevered to the end.
Get Into A Writing Routine
If you deliberately carve out time for writing in your life, you have a better chance of hitting the word count you desire. Look in your calendar or diary and find spare pockets of time where you can write your novel. Maybe you can wake up an hour earlier, or stay up an hour later. Maybe you can type a sentence while queuing up at the cashier on everyday grocery trips, or compose a paragraph before doing your homework. Schedule reminders in your mobile device to remind you of your NaNoWriMo novel writing time. Use visual cues such as a particular chair, a specific notebook or even your favourite type of snack. If you write well with music, compile a Spotify playlist of songs that gets you motivated to write your story. And (my favourite writing tip!), always end your writing session with a half-finished sentence. Yes, an ungrammatical half-finished sentence. It is easier to continue a half-finished sentence than start from scratch. Your incomplete sentence reminds you of what’s going on in your story and helps keep up the great momentum from your previous writing session.
Last year, I had less control of my time, so I could establish a concrete writing routine. This year, I made up a morning ritual that I religiously followed every single day: wake up before 8 am, read a book, check email, before writing as much as possible until it was breakfast time. I always sat in the same place and typed on the same laptop, so I always had a familiar typing posture, which helped muscle memory.
Confide in Your Writing Friends (Or Any Friends)
Writing is a lonely journey, so it’s always better to have a buddy! On the NaNoWriMo website and its Young Writer Program website (a website for children and youth under 18 to participate in the NaNoWriMo challenge), there is an option for you to find writing buddies online. These new friends can act as accountability partners to make sure all of you are reaching your daily goals. If you know a real-life friend who’s joining NaNoWriMo, ask them to create an account on the website so you can buddy up and compare statistics. Join your local NaNoWriMo community by searching for the region you belong in. If you have any questions, you can ask the friendly people at NaNoWriMo. Chat in the community forums and, if possible, join writing sprints to get an added boost of motivation. (Do remember to be cyber-safe, though! Never give strangers your personal information.)
This year, I had the fortune to join the Society of Young Inklings in their NaNoWriMo event on the Young Writers Program website, and was provided with many useful resources. I also appreciated the regular supportive messages from the local NaNoWriMo community in Singapore. And, whenever I felt frustrated, I turned to my sister to confide in her. She may not be a writer, but she acts as a (reluctant) cheerleader and sharp critic.
Feeling up to NaNoWriMo? Start your own NaNoWriMo challenge any time of the year and pen down your amazing novel!
The Sun is Shining Bright
By: Vanessa C.
*opinion/reflection of the writer*
It all began on that escalator of Trump Tower, where the most unlikely candidate descended the steps: Donald Trump. No one thought he would win, I mean, he did not have any political experience or military service. How could he represent the views of the people? Late night shows often targeted him and told him he would never win. Donald Trump never had an ideal history; his relentless bullying and taunting did not begin in his Presidency. But they never thought he would win anyway, so why would that matter? He has and always would campaign on a note of pessimism and the desire to change. While the desire for change is an admirable quality in a candidate, it is not something that Donald Trump has pulled off well. But Donald Trump had something the political establishment did not: candour. He could speak his mind freely without worrying that he would be blasted for it or dragged all over the Internet. He did not have to worry about parties breaking rank with him. He echoed the views of the people who subsequently threw their weight behind him. Donald Trump was their idea of a Saviour. That somehow, he could be the person that helps and saves them. For years, the same establishment, the same leadership structure has not helped them. They were not getting any richer, and they were not getting the change they wanted to see in their country. They had nothing to lose. And so, Donald Trump was their answer.
They had every reason to lose hope, Donald Trump would not be leading the polls anytime soon against his formidable opponent, Hillary Clinton. Clinton had a long and distinguished career in politics and law, from Yale Law graduate to Senator, to Secretary of State and First Lady. She had insider information, she knew the political system very well, and she had experience with handling it. She campaigned as a proud Democrat.
And yet she lost. She lost her Presidency to the man no one ever thought she would lose to. And it became clear that Donald Trump would become the 45th President of the United States. And it stunned the world, not just America. What they thought would be an easy victory for Clinton turned out to be a loss.
Thousands of people marched on the streets, triggering the Women's March. People cried and sobbed because they knew how dangerous a man Donald Trump is and would be, holding the power of the highest office in America, and becoming the most powerful man in the world. Millions of people could lose their right to affordable healthcare, education for their children, the right to abortion, the right to express their sexuality, the right to practise their religion, whatever it may be, the goal to start anew in America, The Land of the Free. They knew that their fundamental rights could be taken away as Donald J. Trump and Michael R. Pence were sworn in.
Four years and he has failed every single test the world and his nation gave him. He turned his back on the people he swore to protect, he sowed chaos and division. He incited violence. Racial tensions were at an all-time high.
An America under Trump is an example of how these things can be taken for granted and how much responsibility you have as a leader. The responsibility of a leader has always been the ability and the spirit to guide and to uplift, to strengthen and to grow. And most of all, to be a decent human being, to be able to have empathy for those in plight and troubled times, to strengthen the bonds of a nation.
What has been done has been done, and when the History books are written, nothing can be erased. It was what it was, and in 2020, all of us hoped that America wouldn't make the same mistake again.
And they didn't.
Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are now the president-elect and vice-president elect. The world rejoiced, and we celebrated. The streets are now a different sight, sights where people were beaming. They were smiling, and most of all, they were happy. They were waving banners and signs which carried the faces and names of their soon-to-be new leaders.
I respect Biden because he has endured so much. I cannot put myself in a position to imagine losing your spouse and child in a horrific accident. But that was not all Joe Biden has had to endure. In 2015, he lost his adult son, Beau, to brain cancer after a long and hard fight. A man who could so easily be filled with rage, hatred, and anger instead campaigns with his heart and soul. He chose optimism and hope over despair and desperation. Look, Biden too, does not have a perfect political career, void of mistakes and shortcomings, I think people have pointed that out. But Biden makes it clear: he would campaign with hope and optimism, and that is something I will always admire.
And Kamala Harris? Enough said. She was the first black, Indian-American senator of California and now, the Vice-President elect. She will remain an inspiration to the young girls who watch her victory speech. I am convinced that one day those young girls will say that Kamala Harris inspired her, and when she takes the stage, she will show the world and her nation what strong, educated women can do. I am heartened at the incredible number of women elected. Intelligent, educated women who know what they want, to better their country, to empower their citizens. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, Sarah McBride, Cori Bush, Stacey Abrams, Michelle Obama, and now we have Kamala Harris. These women have inspired millions of other women, through their words and their actions. There are so many others whose names are not mentioned but contribute so much more than we know. For too long, they have not been recognized. Now, we see you, and we hear you. Loud and clear.
Most of all, it shows what you project is what you get. Donald Trump thrives on people's cynicism, their anger, their desperation and most of all, their hopelessness. And people called time’s up. They decided it was time for new leaders to take the country forward in a historic moment.
A new reality is dawning, and that we are standing on the cusp of a fresh dawn, one where optimism, hope and love live on. I believe, and I think you too, that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris will restore some peace and stability that we sorely need right now. Because love, hope and optimism have always defined us as one humanity. We have, throughout the years of tragedies and poor leadership, seen how messed up we can get, but I think that it is a choice that we have to keep making. Our human potential is limitless, and this goes both ways. We can be as cruel as we want to be, and as loving and generous as we should be. Let us choose the latter. Human innovation and curiosity are still, I believe, fundamental human traits. And we can't do it without the optimism, the consideration and the care of humanity.
I once again congratulate Joe Biden and Kamala Harris and wish them the best of luck to restore the peace, the stability and for everyone's sake, the sensibility.
Change is coming to the world, and when the dawn arrives, the storm clouds phase out, we will celebrate once again, as a united humanity. Because that is who we have always been and who we will always be.
Be kind to everyone, believe in change, keep hoping and remember to keep looking out for one another.
The Dilemma of the Pandemic
By: Alina Gao
The dilemma is these trying times: feeling like you should be doing something and not. It’s feeling guilty for feeling relieved that everything has stopped. It’s feeling as if days are never going to end but also as if you could blink and miss a month of your life. It’s feeling like you should be doing more but also like this is finally your chance to slow down.
When the pandemic started, people didn’t know what to do. There were people dying and jobs being lost. The people in quarantine suddenly had heaps of time on their hands. Some took it as an opportunity to improve themselves, work towards their goals, and bake bread. That became the standard of what you were supposed to do while quarantining. I went on social media and there were all these people starting small handmade craft businesses, and all I did was feel tired. Tired, stressed, expectant. Waiting for something to happen. I didn’t know when or if school would begin again, so I did my best to learn by myself. I thought quarantine should be a time to study and excel, to extend myself as far as possible. But instead, every day I woke up at 10 a.m. just to go on YouTube for two hours and accomplish nothing. My expectations to suddenly transform into a productive human who consistently exceeds expectations were impossible.
Other people were taking this time for themselves. They were actually sleeping, relaxing, and using the extra time to do things they loved. I was spending my time worrying about the economy, falling behind on school, and thinking about how long this would last. I tried my best to use Khan academy and read books, but I just felt exhausted but relieved that I finally had time. But with that relief came guilt. How could I be grateful for all my extra time when people were dying? I wanted to help those people, but I felt like I couldn’t do anything.
I was supposed to be doing work, and I wasn’t. I was sleeping and watching videos and worrying. I felt stressed to do more and go farther. I was wondering why I wasn’t the best human in the world yet because I had all this time. But there wasn’t enough of it. Days passed like tests - slowly and agonizingly but still too short. And then it was summer and I had all these plans that I couldn’t follow. I couldn’t go downtown and pet all the dogs I saw. I couldn’t see my friends. I felt like I was wasting my life away. Then I felt bad because there were a lot of people who were experiencing a lot worse. People were calling the pandemic “the new normal” and I wanted to yell at them because I couldn’t accept this as normal.
Then school started. I shoved nine clubs down my throat and my extracurriculars started. I was busy and tired, but I finally felt like I was justifying my life. I felt like maybe I was worth whatever it was that I wanted.
Yet even that wasn’t sustainable, and I broke the Elmer’s glue holding me together. But everything is okay. And I ask you to do one thing if you feel like it’s not - just breathe.
The 7,000 Mile Heartache
By: Anna Janumov
It’s been about a month now since the conflict erupted again. I’ve been struggling with what to say, when to say it, and how I should say it. Every day I sit in front of my devices, refreshing my social media over and over again for just a glimmer of hope that the conflict will come to an end again. Even now, I’m too scared to even say which conflict it is out of fear that somehow, someone from the opposition will find this article, find me, and threaten me or my family.
However, it would be a shame if I didn't say exactly what is on my mind.
Growing up as a first-generation American, it never crossed my mind that this conflict would explode to this extent. I always sympathized with my friends who had family struggling overseas because I knew how it felt. My family always tried to help our members back in our homeland. Before immigrating, my family had their fair share of hard times, and I’ve been extremely grateful to have a proper roof over my head, a good education, food and water.
7,000 miles away, I’m here every day, my heart hurting for civilians on both sides of the conflict, feeling helpless as I can’t do anything about it. It’s difficult to form a coherent opinion about this; I know that no mother wants to see their child sent off to such a brutal fight. Children my age are being sent off to fight a war that is older than them.
I am left speechless at the rapid progression of the war. I’m speechless for those who continuously provoke the war and who threaten an ethnic cleansing. I’m speechless for those who refuse to speak up about this conflict, even when I constantly repost informational posts that I know they can see. I am especially speechless at those who threaten my loved ones online with the most horrifying, degrading messages I have ever seen, just because of our ethnicity, something we have no control over.
But despite the constant discouragement, I see my friends speaking up about this with their families. I see my loved ones donating, protesting, and encouraging anyone and everyone to speak up about this to avoid a repeat of a tragedy. Most of all, I see my community joining together like never before, doing anything they can to support the soldiers and families abroad. I see nothing but love and compassion for our culture, and the undying will to keep it alive.
7,000 miles away, I’m here with a small light of hope, praying for peace, for my family, and for anyone who has a loved one currently fighting in a conflict overseas right now.
The reality of being “Smart”
By: Julia Patterson
“Of course SHE did good, she always gets A’s.” “Wait, I did better than you? That never happens.” “You got a 98? How, that test was so hard!”
Phrases like these are commonly heard for students with high grades. For some, these grades come easy; but for others, this is not the case. Many students, myself included, spend countless hours late at night studying and trying to comprehend complex subjects. Hearing terms of endearment such as, “Oh, a 98? Great job,” celebrate one’s accomplishments, while ones like, “Of course you got an A”, simply do the opposite. This article is not to come off as “braggy,” but simply to inform others that words can hurt, and provide a new perspective on your school’s typical “nerd.”
On the outside, a classmate may recognize me as the smart, “nerdy” girl- a tryhard. Little do they see of me hunched over textbooks, oftentimes tears streaming down my face. I am far from being “naturally smart.” By doing my homework, attending my school’s opportunity period (similar to office hours), and studying until I fully understand a subject, I feel as though I get out what I am putting in. Fortunately, my parents don’t pressure me like I know other parents do. I put pressure on myself. I know that by staying up until 2 or 3 am memorizing information, I will get a better grade. I know this will improve my GPA. However, I forget the toll that this pressure to “live up to my potential” takes on my mental- and physical health. AP kids need to ask ourselves — is the risk worth the reward?
In other words, how many hours of sleep, meals skipped, tears lost, is worth an A? And for student-athletes, coming home after a long game to hours of homework and preparation for tests the following day is exhausting. Personally, as a lacrosse goalie for my high school, I feel completely drained after a week packed with practices and games, along with the stress from schoolwork. At times, this stress can feel overwhelming. Stress is something everyone experiences. Unfortunately for some, this stress can physically and mentally tear someone apart. While stressed at school, my acne increased exponentially, I lost sleep, and overall just lost myself. I lost the healthy habits I worked so hard to establish.
After realizing this, I began looking to find a balance. I learned to manage my time in order to keep up my grades, while doing more things I enjoy and need to stay healthy, like sleeping. Through this, I discovered that finding a balance is what I needed to be happy.
With self-reflection, I realize that my health is not worth risking for a high mark on a test. I discovered that I need to spend more time doing activities I love, like spending time with family and friends, volunteering, and taking some time to focus on myself. Every day is special. Instead of stressing over a grade, do something you love.
Why We Need Feminism
By: Vibhuti Nagar
Feminism is defined as the belief in social, economic, and political equality of the sexes that include men, women, and the LGBTQ+ community. The movement feminism is manifested worldwide by various institutions committed to initiating activity on behalf of women's rights and interests. The women's rights movement touched on every aspect of their experience on various topics like politics, work, family, reproductive health and sexuality. Many misconceptions are afloat about the feminist movement, which has misled many people and hence, diverted them into not believing in the movement. Feminists have a goal to attain equal rights for all. Many laws and lawmakers do not allow women to make their own decisions about themselves. Women are considered weak due to cultural pasts and we haven't been able to fix this.
Women are scared to call out men who catcall at them because they might get stalked or followed home. Questions rush into our heads before taking the next step- should I yell at him ?, should I run or should I look down, ignore, and walk away?
We worry about how society would perceive us if we wore short skirts and crop tops or if we go out to drink and party with our male friends. We’re scared of walking down the streets alone after 6 pm not because something could happen to us rather if something does the reason, people would question our actions, “why were you out so late if you would’ve been home earlier it wouldn’t have occurred.” Students and daughters are scared to be alone with a male teacher or a male relative, the phrase “will anyone believe me constantly runs through our heads.” Being in crowded places, the chance of getting groped brings stress because society would justify their actions with ‘it wasn’t his fault, it was crowded he probably didn’t even realize’. I’m scared that we are living in a century when five-year-old girls are learning how to protect themselves from adult men. I’m scared to accept a drink from my male friends, you never know if he drugged it. I’m scared for every woman around me because we have to be cautious about our each and every move, each and every step, and each and every word. Feminism will make sure I don’t have to protect myself, I don’t have to curtail my words and actions, I don’t have to do something I don’t want to just to get a promotion.
For me, feminism isn't just a trend that I can exploit to get more followers on Instagram or to get more retweets on Twitter. It isn't some silly movement to help teenagers get clout, unlike how they are treating it. Feminism is more than that; it's the movement that will help make sure I don't grow up in a world where one step up a man takes is equal to 100 steps a woman has to take to reach the same position. It ensures that in the future, I get paid fairly in comparison to my future male colleagues for doing the same job. It promises that I will get the same opportunities or few even better than a man gets which he most likely doesn’t even deserve. It makes sure no one questions my integrity or my ability to do a certain skill/job just because of my gender or my identity.
An Old Companion
By: Bonne Leung
It’s Saturday morning. The taste of the previous night’s rain lingers still in the air, deliciously cool after a long summer of heat. It’s a perfect day for writing. Not for anything in particular, but for myself. I’d long developed a habit of simply writing my troubles away (literally), and it had been a good week for my writing; I had written consistently the last few days and found inspiration in almost everything.
I open the window wide, petrichor wafting into my bedroom. It’s a small space, as rooms often are in Hong Kong, with just about enough space for my bed, my bookshelf, some knick-knacks like a guitar stand and a tray pooled with jewellery. And right beside the windowsill I’d spent so many hours in, curled up like a cat in the sun, tearing through pages of books, my desk. On the corkboard, pictures. Keepsakes like polaroids, ticket stubs, pins. Before it, my laptop, asleep.
I sit down with my morning cup of tea and rouse it from its slumber. The screen switches on like a welcome smile, and the familiar click of keys fills the room. My mouse lazily wanders to click on Spotify to play some music, and then, a blank page.
It’s a yawning maw of emptiness that’s staring back at me, a blank canvas for me to paint a story with words. I take a sip of tea and take a deep breath—
Writer’s block. The dreaded spectre that trails after each writer. Some ward it off with specific rituals: meditating before they write, writing only at a specific hour, eating superfoods. Others, like me, simply stare at a screen for a while before sighing dejectedly or stubbornly hallucinate about writing a topic that they don’t hate. But you see, the problem with spectres is that you can never quite be rid of them.
I imagine writer’s block like an old companion who drops in from time to time, checks it on you, shares a coffee with you, and overstays their welcome. That or the monster from the movie ‘It Follows’. Wherever you are, no matter how far, it will follow.
This time was no different. I sat in front of my laptop and flicked through my notes, my list of ideas that all suddenly seemed useless. It was a shame, really, seeing as it had been the perfect day for writing.
Perhaps those of you reading don’t quite understand the frustration of a writer who wishes to write but whose heart refuses to do so. To put it into perspective, Red Smith (a sportswriter from the eighties, a time long gone) once said: ‘You simply sit down at the typewriter, open your veins, and bleed’. To me, not writing feels as if the blood in my veins has slowed and that steady thrum of words at my fingertips as sure as each heartbeat— an ability that’s come as easily to me as breathing since I was a child — had disappeared.
When I was twelve, I got knocked off my feet during a rugby match and it was the first time I had truly gotten winded, the air snatched away. I had laid there on my back, gasping for air, seemingly having forgotten to draw breath into my lungs. It was a beautiful day, though. We usually play during the afternoon, just about when the sun starts to laze and the sky starts to fill with ribbons of red and blue. So I laid there and strangely, wondered how it was that the world went on even while I was gasping for air.
That’s what writer’s block feels like to me; that feeling of breathlessness and trying to reach for something you didn’t quite appreciate until it was gone.
Obviously, my coach rushed over to check that I wasn’t too hurt. He brushed the grass off of me, bandaged up my cuts and gave me ice for my bruises. He pulled me aside and offered words to soothe the damage dealt on my self-assurance, and back I went into the fray.
We won our championships that year.
But the thing is, when I’m writing, I don’t have a coach to pick me back up. I’m my own coach, bandage and ice, and winning seems like the furthest thing that I could achieve. The closest thing to team members that I have is the select few of my friends that could stand to receive a few (dozen) messages from me complaining about my old, spectral companion and asking them for ideas, desperate for something to relieve the pressure on my chest and the breathlessness.
But I sat there, before my laptop, staring into the great maw of the laughing beast, mocking that numb feeling that had spread from my chest to my hands, with no ideas.
I hate writer’s block. I’m not afraid to say so. I hate it. It’s a familiar fiend, but each time it visits I feel such an overwhelming sense of disappointment in myself I usually start to question whether I should be writing at all. I think for most writers, especially young ones still coming into their craft, feel as if they have to be constantly producing new content, be it an article covering the latest hot topic, or an elaborate allegory that could win a Pulitzer Prize. I certainly felt that way, though I never expected any prizes for simply putting my thoughts into words. I wrote for me, and when I failed even at that, I couldn’t help but scramble for something to blame. So I blamed the spectre.
More than once, I’ve sat at my desk, head in my hands, trying to conjure some semblance of inspiration. But something about that day, in particular, made me get up, close my laptop, finish my tea, and accept that perhaps writing was not meant to be that day. To most people, that would seem like the most logical thing to do, but to me, it was as difficult as accepting that I had lost something valuable to me and simply sat by waiting for it to resurface again.
I took a walk with my dog on the trail just behind my house, along the familiar grove of trees, across the bridge shaded by overhanging branches that I always closed my eyes and ran by when I was little, imagining sprites and ogres reaching for me to pull me down into the currents. We hiked until we were at the top of the hill, a long, arduous journey with a rewarding view. The sun smiled through the haze of clouds. I swiped away the browning leaves on the carved stone bench (nobody quite knew how it had gotten there), my dog and I both panting, and sat idly.
If you’ve ever seen sunlight through trees—the way its rays seem to cut through them like shards of light—it’s just one of those things nature likes to show you just to make you smile. Sceptics will scoff and put it off as just a natural occurrence, but leave me be. I want to believe that the world around me is trying to make me smile.
And smile I did.
I pulled my phone from my pocket then, took a deep breath, and opened another blank page.
I felt my old companion slide into the seat beside me.
I groaned, out loud because there was nobody but the critters in the woods and the trees to hear me. ‘I hate writer’s block’, I thought to myself, ‘So much.’
To be honest, I’m not sure how long I stayed at that bench, trying to think of something to write, seemingly locked in a chess match with a spectral opponent that didn’t want to move any piece on the board. When I finally stood up to leave, the afternoon heat had started to cool and the sunlight was starting to turn gold.
It filtered through the trees and flooded the path. My dog laid in the sun with his eyes closed, savouring the warmth the sun provided for just a moment longer. I sat beside him, on the floor with all the leaves, and did the same.
I would be lying if I said I hadn’t felt like the heroine in some classical novel, running away for solitude after disappointing my parents, declaring ‘I will never marry!’. It felt silly, but after a while, something in me shifted, like the heart of clockwork within a timepiece that had finally started to beat again.
So, the point? We are now at 1400 words and after all that flowery prose, you must be wondering, why? Why this particular drought of inspiration? Well, for one, I no longer see it as a drought.
Had my old companion not dropped by for a visit, I doubt I would have left the house and made that wretched (it truly was wretched; what I failed to mention was the perspiration that coated me in the aftermath of that hike (it didn’t quite fit the aesthetic nor the narrative)) hike. But wretched as it was, I had made a new friend. Of course, writer’s block is as familiar as its more celebrated cousin ‘muse’, but I’d never quite appreciated the relationship between us as I had with muse.
I suppose what I’m trying to say is that, as much as I hated writer’s block, to some extent, I appreciate it now. That isn’t to say I don’t still curse at it when it arrives or bargain my soul to some dark being for a spark of inspiration during its longer stays, but I do appreciate what it does for me.
I think writers feel as if they’ve failed at something when they aren’t writing something or thinking about writing at all times, but truly, I think writer’s block is as needed to be a good writer as muse is. It has created wonderful serendipity (I discovered how much I liked feeling like a heroine out of a Bronte novel) and we don’t thank it nearly enough.
So the next time your old companion stops by, share a cup of tea, spend some time together—because, after a while, you might miss the company.
Sexism in the School Dress Code
By: Kayla Pinkerman
I’m just going to say it how it is. Many school dress codes are sexist and unfair. Policymakers don’t consider that there are many different body shapes and students with long arms and/or legs. Following dress codes is a struggle for students whose arms reach past mid-thigh. Some live in warmer climates; are these students expected to wear jeans all year because of something they can’t control?
Also, do rule-makers know how hard it is to find jeans with little to no rips? In many stores for girls our age, it’s hard to find jeans that aren’t ripped. Even if you do, the prices may vary significantly.
On top of those issues, dress codes are extremely sexist. My friend wanted to see if her guy friends could get away wearing shorts that are shorter than the dress code. The rule on shorts for that particular school was that the shorts have to go past your fingertips if you stand up. So she asked her friends to wear some athletic shorts that a girl would usually be sent home for. They made it through a whole school day. She told me that they walked past administers, and they said absolutely nothing.
They were doing this because earlier in the week, the school announced that girls couldn’t wear a specific type of athletic shorts. Where I live, it gets to a heat index of almost 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Now girls can only wear long shorts, but guys can run around in shorts that we would be sent home for.
Dress codes can also make students feel self-conscious. As a result of the dress code, there are many girls who may start to think things like “am I a distraction?” or “do I really need to hide my body?”
Teachers and staff at the schools say they are trying to prepare us for life after high school. So, instead of teaching girls to not be a distraction, we should teach boys not to be distracted.
The Disney Live-Action Remake: Why Most Fall Short while Still Making Millions
By: Ines Laimeche
Whether you love, hate, or love to hate Disney’s live-action recreations of classic animated films, there seems to be no escaping talk about them. Over the course of October, I rewatched several of the most major live-action adaptations from Disney from the last 6 years (Maleficent, Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, The Lion King, and Mulan). I wanted to answer the question that’s always been in the back of my mind—why has Disney devoted more and more time and energy over the last ten years into these remakes, and what could this mean for the future?
To start, none of these movies are artistic failures. To save from wasting time on individual tangents for each of these movies, I will agree with the critics that the visuals, costume design, and musical score in Disney’s remakes are their strongest points. But the problem with these films that keep them from being universally loved is that they lack what a movie on its own needs most—an individual voice. Several remakes (Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King, most notably) were noted to be incredibly similar to their animated source material, with little or no added development to any of the characters or the story overall. To their credit, however, films like Cinderella (my personal favorite), escape this issue by either finding a way to insert actual depth to originally one-dimensional characters without altering the storyline in a major way, as Cinderella does. Or it can go the route of Maleficent and turn the story on its head altogether by looking at it from a new perspective. By doing this, Cinderella and Maleficent both often escape the criticisms that remakes get, and are both genuinely good films on their own. They laid the groundwork for how remakes of classic films should work. However, for whatever reason (be that the higher-ups at Disney or the makers of the films themselves), nearly all of the remakes that followed went in a completely different direction.
But that’s not to say that the films that didn’t follow the paths of the more objectively better remakes weren’t completely unsuccessful—with the exception of this year’s Mulan, all of the aforementioned remakes were incredibly commercially successful, often becoming one of the highest-grossing movies of its release year. Some of them, such as The Lion King, even made it onto the list of highest-grossing films of all time. No matter the actual artistic merit of these films, people have continuously decided to see them in theatres. Not to sound like a broken record, but once again—why?
From my perspective, nearly all of these movies prove over and over that often they only have two things going for them more than anything else—a celebrity cast and the ever-alluring nostalgia factor. The Lion King, for example, garnered much buzz for its all-star cast including the names of Beyoncé, Donald Glover, Keegan Michael-Key, and so many more. No doubt celebrity appeal is an important element, but the element of nostalgia is as well, if not more. Very few people can escape the joyous jolt of familiarity that comes with hearing a song from your childhood in something packaged as new (even if it, at its core, is not) or seeing a character that you identified on the big screen once again. Using nostalgia to bring audiences in borders on ingenuine from its makers, but it is certainly effective.
Relying on nostalgia is certainly not a tactic that Disney’s remakes alone are using—a significant amount of movies that have come out in recent years seem to be reboots, or sequels. All three of these types of films use the ever-prevalent public yearning for escapism, to go back to a more idyllic time when life seemed to be simpler. The COVID-19 pandemic (along with everything else that’s happened in 2020) has seemed to ramp this desire up tenfold, and that is why I believe that no matter how bad many of these remakes, reboots, or sequels have been, they will, ultimately, continue to do so for the foreseeable future.