Thanks for the Memories

Isn’t this a song from some emo-Hot Topic-esque band? I swear it is. Hopefully I’m not just making things up.

But I’m going to tell a little tale from last week that perhaps others can relate to. That’s usually what we’re all here for.

So last week as a team leader at my gifted camp last week was an awesome experience. Dealing with the middle school crowd was certainly a challenge, but most of all, I enjoyed being around the fellow team leads, having a constant group chat streaming, just hanging out. I can easily say that it’s the most social I’ve been in quite a while.

On one particular afternoon when we had some free time after lunch, some of us were talking about a staff talent show that evening where they usually have a slideshow of old (slightly embarrassing) photos of staff members. This turned into some time scouring through Facebook and laughing over some major throwback photos.

Except in that time of reminiscing over old photos, overly edited on Picnik and doing some weird pose that at the time you felt cool doing, I felt kind of left out. Not in that people were doing so intentionally, but I really didn’t have much to contribute.

At that age and even just in general, I don’t have many pictures of myself, especially with others. Whether it’s just that people don’t do that friend-selfie scenario when I’m around, or I know I am generally not the most social butterfly out there, but I don’t have that same kind of history to look back on through photos.

Even as a kid, once I knew what a camera was, I avoided it like the plague. Especially when the dismorphia comes into play, I feel uncomfortable seeing myself in a frame that I had not complete control over. I have trouble understanding how other people see me because hey, I really can’t do it well on my own.

If I’m the one in control, I’m fine. I can have the luxury to choose what I want to keep and remember myself by. But other people, it’s different. It really shouldn’t be something that I’m overly concerned about, which generally I’m not, it just makes me feel like I haven’t done anything in my past to show of. I don’t necessarily have friends I’m constantly with who take candid photos and use as keepsakes. I myself am not one to pull out my phone all the time to take photos, let alone with others. I’d feel awkward even asking for that. In my head, it sounds almost petty to ask, “Hey, can we take a photo together just to say we did and I have solid proof I’m not always a boring hermit? Thanks.”

With social media, we have permanent proof of our past. We have tangible evidence of the memories we have shared with others and the different activities we’ve done. We find self-worth and esteem from how many group shots we have with others, regardless of how those relationships might affect your life. It’s a superficial means of measuring our impact on others and the world, clarifying if we have led a “full” life.

Which I for one think is garbage. Why must we feel like we need to prove to others how satisfied we are with our lives? Why must we focus upon images from past and current times as our mark upon the world? Because no, I didn’t have many friends back then. No, I wasn’t about to appear in a photo thinking my existence was worthless. I don’t want to remember how mentally ill I actually was and every single detail that I’ve already blocked out of my memory.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with nostalgia and going through the depths of Facebook to find some now hilarious shots. But I hope if you’re in a similar boat as me, you don’t feel guilty for maybe not having that same opportunity. Maybe you just don’t take any photos. Maybe you have deleted some on purpose. Whatever it is, it’s okay. It doesn’t invalidate your life, your friends, your family, absolutely anything. You are just as worthy and have the same chance to reflect happiness as anybody else.

Life is not measured in the perfect and ridiculous photos you have online. It’s not measured in numbers of likes or followers. It’s not measured in the number of friends you have or the number of times you go out to socialize every week. Life is about helping and reaching out to others. It’s doing things not just for the photo afterwards, but because you truly enjoy it. It’s about the quality of the relationships you have. It’s about self-discovery and growth that the internet doesn’t have to see. And nowhere in that scheme of things does comparison of others’ unique journeys fall into the mix.

Meet people you love, do what you love. That’s a photo that speaks louder than words.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie


From Student to Teacher

Last week and this week, I have had the privilege to teaching some classes at the camp I’ve been working with and have gone to for years. Yada yada. Read what I wrote on Monday for the whole explanation.

But today I wanted to have a quick reflection on this particular aspect I volunteered to help with. While the two camps end up being much more than education, the opportunity to take classes about a wide array of subjects is one key aspect behind what the program stands for in general. To support gifted students, we should be expanding their minds in any way we can and not hold them back. So if that means they’re interested in storm chasing, musical theatre, or improv comedy, then why not offer it?

Luckily I did not teach any of those subjects I mentioned. Instead, I’ve taught both high school and middle school students about how to build a blog and an overview of veganism. Not in the same hour, might I add, but I figured I might be of some use to people who are interested in either and don’t know where to start.

Let’s be honest, I started out a little rough. So for the first week, I didn’t actually find out I was teaching until the night prior. So I got two slideshows together in a couple of hours and hoped for the best.

The first day I only taught about blogging, but you could definitely tell it was Wednesday at a bright-and-early 8 AM. Since I didn’t necessarily have a huge amount of content prepared and since it’s fairly easy to set up a WordPress account, I felt like I was pulling at some straws to keep kids interested. You can definitely tell that some were giving it a solid go of writing out a first blog post and figuring out what designs look best as a website, but others were literally writing out about how tired they were from two full days of camp already completed.

Which, I completely understand. I’ve been in their shoes. But it still made me antsy, going through the thoughts of “Am I qualified to do this? Do these people actually respect me? How many times have I said ‘obviously’ in the past hour?” Have to love anxiety and the constant voice in the back of your head thinking the absolute worst case scenario.

The next day, however, I was in the zone. I gave out food for correctly answered trivia questions. I had lots of information to go through. I even put memes into the slideshow, so I’m already stepping up my game. But I felt more comfortable in general. I felt more put-together. People were actually asking some great questions. They randomly applauded at the end as if I just did a choreographed routine or something.

But overall, I really enjoyed that experience. In classroom settings, I’ve occasionally done activities where you “teach” the class, but never just…me. No pressure, right? I’ve already had a deep respect for education though. It was never something I’ve wanted to do as a career, but since my mom has always done something involving education, I see the hard work that goes into it. I see how often students neglect the blessing it is to even have a quality education available to them.

If it was possible, I would have everybody fill in a teacher’s role, even just for one class like I did. See how you hold up. It’s quite a responsibility to know you are leading a room full of young minds looking to you as a mentor, to learn something new. You can really have a major impact on them. Just as they can have a major impact on you.

It’s so easy for people living in a developed, modern society to see education as just another hoop to jump through. The expected path to partake in order to fill that all-American dream and eventually go up the corporate ladder. Why do that when you can step out of high school and enjoy some newly found freedom instead? Go against the grain?

Regardless of the grade or institution, we cannot devalue education as a core human right, a resource that truly affects all aspects of life. Especially for those who might not have the same luxuries as America, education can turn a struggling nation into one that addresses economic, health, and security concerns in an entirely new light. Education can save lives.

Maybe a little spiel about setting up a blog or watching a video about veganism won’t do much in the retrospect of things, but I know that for me, it has been a wonderful experience. It has reaffirmed my affirmation that knowledge is power. That fully appreciating the world and people around us requires an openness to seek new things out, to discover and always learn. We are always students. Yes, some of us end up being teachers, too, but the wisdom we might gain beyond a general lesson plan is an opportunity we cannot pass up.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

More Than a Message

Technology is so wonderful. The capabilities we now have to learn more information and stay in touch with people near and far is, if you really dwell on it, surreal. I still remember having to use the landlines to call my friends and schedule play dates. Weird, right?

But back then, things felt much more simple. While it was certainly less convenient to rely upon a phone on the wall to make plans, there is also a reliance upon this technology to communicate in any capacity. As in people who, while in the same exact place, will still text each other. Or how about talking about very important topics that should be discussed, but being afraid to say them in person?

Yes, I relish the fact that I can communicate in a way that I can best articulate myself and have to time to think about my words, but there’s a time and place for that. Maybe it just shows my age that I have come to truly appreciate having an open conversation about something compared to an on-screen exchange.

Not that I’m planning to stop writing or texting any time soon, no sir. But I think that should be used as a starting point and as a casual way to catch up. It should by no means be a complete replacement for getting your point across, especially if you are discussing very important.

For any type of relationship, regardless of what it may be, if it’s something beyond an acquaintance, you cannot avoid talking. As easy as it is to fall back to a familiar keyboard, it’s a crutch. A virtual wall to hide behind to avoid a fear of opening up to someone and having an immediate response and every emotion that might come from that. If somebody cares about you, you deserve to receive everything, not just the snippets of composed, robotic words.

Again, let me reiterate, there’s still a place for our texts and messages and whatever else we send these days. We can get in touch with people at any time, from anywhere with a wireless connection. That’s crazy. People hundreds of miles away are suddenly at your fingertips, expanding your knowledge and world far beyond the naked eye.

It’s also much easier to reach out to others in general. If you have any hesitation with dialing a number, a quick message can be a thoughtful gesture. You can still find a comfort in making contacts with others, even if you have difficulties communicating.

Technology bridges past gaps in making contact, but to an extent, we abuse that luxury. We forget how to actually speak up for ourselves. We forget how to actually think in the moment, how to read other people’s emotions and body language, how to truly empathize with others. We overlook that valuable quality of simply being present.

When you do come across people who tend to be bug-eyed on their phones all the time, you really start to appreciate what conversation feels like. You can too often lose any sort of accountability with those people to receive a timely answer. (I’m guilty of this, but when did heart-to-hearts ever happen over Snapchat?) Especially depending on the subject matter, it is just common courtesy and respect to tell people straight-up what you’re thinking or planning.

Anybody can write a text. Heck, you don’t even have to use complete words or sentences. It’s easy. It gets the job done. Especially for introverts, it takes true willpower to make that extra effort to say something, and something that might be uncomfortable at that. But the fact is, if you cannot have an open stream of dialogue between somebody else, what kind of relationship do you actually have? As the Bee Gees once said, “How deep is your love?”

And if that’s the case, if you feel like somebody isn’t confident enough in themselves and in you that they can bring up a topic, as rough as this sounds, they might not be worth keeping a close connection with. You do you, of course, because everybody’s situation is unique and you know best. But you shouldn’t feel like you’re walking on eggshells and that you cannot mention certain things that you think are important. Any relationship you’re in should be uplifting, not draining. It requires work, and that work probably looks like having a difficult exchange of words every now and then.

Conflict sucks, but it can be unavoidable. And hopefully it’s ultimately productive. Constructive words and feedback can be the wake-up call we all need sometimes to slap ourselves awake and get our heads back into the present moment. While typing or writing our your thoughts can truly be a lifesaver to organize what you want said, that comfort zone doesn’t allow much room for growth.

We all have different preferences when it comes to communication and life in general. I despise talking on the phone and tend to avoid conflict like the plague. My mind tends to falter when translating my thoughts into spoken word. I fear I become muddled and cannot articulate myself how I want to. But how am I ever going to improve if I never try? How will I receive the openness of somebody else if I myself won’t meet them halfway?

Moral of the story? Always be open for self-improvement, wherever that may be. And do not settle for people who aren’t willing to grow and challenge themselves, too. Still expect me to be chatting away on my blog, making random remarks on Twitter, and relying on texts to keep my loved ones updated. But also expect me to make the effort to try new things, to venture into areas that scare me. Technology provides some stability, but I must remind myself to soar.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie