On Pent-Up Political Anger

I have been very angry today. Thankfully, none of it has been directed at people I actually know.

I’m taking a class called That Just Happened: A History of the 2000s in school. (I’ll get to the angry part in a little bit.) The teacher is amazing, and we’re learning a lot of interesting things. It’s fun to see what I understood at the time compared to what actually happened. For example, I heard the word Tora Bora being thrown around when I was eight, but all I knew was that it had something to do with Osama Bin Laden had getting away, which was a Bad Thing.

The first thing we did was watch Recount, a film about the 2001 elections. I spent the whole movie muttering about how much I hate Katherine Harris (Madam, if I see you in real life just know that I will be mentally shrieking at you for being a vile, vile woman and obstructing justice.), George Bush, Bush’s entire campaign, and everyone who ever advised (Professor Poopy-Pants) Katherine Harris. And when I wasn’t muttering, I was complaining to Jacob.

Well, we finished that movie a few weeks back, and moved onto to talking about 9/11. Cue crying and hours spent wondering how anyone could do that in the name of Allah. Islam is a very peaceful religion and to have it be defamed by extremists who kills hundreds of innocent people is a travesty. Why we cut Christians a break is beyond me. We also use religion for ill. Does Peoples Temple or the Crusades ring a bell? It’s disgusting, and I have trouble forming coherent phrases about this.

To bring this up to date: So we’ve spent the last week watching the Pat Tillman Story, a film about Pat Tillman, a man who walked away from a multi-million pro-football contract to join the Army Rangers. He was shot in the head on a mission from friendly fire, but his death was originally presented by the military very differently. They framed it as him being shot while leading the rest of his platoon (I know that’s not the right term, so don’t quote me.) to safety. He was turned into a symbol of patriotism and American virtues by the Bush administration and the military. The cover-up was extensive and was exposed by the hard work of the family and journalists. The movie made me cry as my eyes got wide and crazed with anger. I ended up spending a majority of this morning fuming as I worked on my English midterm.

Five hours later, I got home and read these articles.

“Protecting” Marriage

STUPID DUMB IDIOTIC Tennessee

Then, I went down to the basement and screamed about it for a minute.

At around three thirty, I found this, and the rest of the day has been quite a bit better.

On a related note, Audrey is the best.

Happily Studying for AP Government and Politics

I’ve been freaking out all week about the Government and Politics AP Test. Finally, on Friday afternoon after an hour of tears, I sat down with my prep book and got started. And surprisingly, it wasn’t that bad. I had to laugh as I remembered that I am good at history. Unlike math, it’s incredibly easy for me. To top it all off, government and politics is topical and downright fascinating, and studying for the test is actually very enjoyable. Bottom line, if I can get through the book before Tuesday’s test, I’ll be fine. Like a five or maybe a four fine.

In other news, we might be going to the beach this coming weekend. I plan on having my interest group hold a luncheon and donate a lot of money (Citizens United, you suck) to my parents’ nonexistent reelection campaign. Hopefully, it’ll work.

Two Thoughts for Monday

One:

Tomorrow, I am skipping school and going into the city with the seniors in the Executive and Judicial branch of our government small learning community. I’m giddy with excitement. So giddy that I’ve already picked out an outfit and packed my bag. It’s going to be great. Just great.

To commemorate this excellent happening, I’ve decided to make a Thoughts From Places video. The Vlogbrothers make these sorts of videos whenever they go traveling, and I just love them. They film bits and pieces of what they see and do and tell a beautiful story about it. Here are two of my favorites.

What ensued after this video is an amazing story that I will share with you another day.

The quote, “what if a child’s pool were enough to imprison you?” fascinates me.

The prospect of this project is terribly exciting.

Two:

At around ten-thirty last night, I got a tweet sent to my phone from Audrey that said that Osama Bin Laden had been killed. Naturally, I made a mad dash for my parents’ room that involved missing a step on the stairs and making a tremendous bang as my right foot and knee smashed into the treads. Skidding down the hall and through the door, I announced, rather yelled, the news. They looked at me and blinked as I tossed my phone to my dad and ran to grab my laptop. A minute later, my dad and I were standing in front of the TV as the news anchors confirmed it.

I opened up my Twitter feed and just sat there pressing refresh over and over and over again. It felt impossibly shocking. Then, the White House announced that Obama would be giving a speech soon, and I turned on the New York Times’ live feed as my hands shook.

My dad went back upstairs, and I wrote my blog post, half muddled in disbelief. Obama spoke, and my friends and I rejoiced when he said, “Bin Laden was not a Muslim leader; he was a mass murderer of Muslims. Indeed, al Qaeda has slaughtered scores of Muslims in many countries, including our own.”

I turned off all the lights, curled up on my bed, went back to reading Twitter. Karen Kavitt, one of my favorite graphic designers, wrote, “It’s amazing how connected you can feel to the human population through Twitter when news breaks, even if you’re sitting alone in your room.” And it really was true. I wasn’t alone.

I wondered how it must have felt to receive similar news in the time before computers. Would I have called all of my friends to see what they thought, or would everyone just wait to talk until the next day and the arrival of the newspapers? My parents have seen both sides of the spectrum, and sometimes, I wish that I had their perspective. The dichotomy must be spectacular.

The Uncultured Project, one of my favorite charities, tweeted that Bin Laden had been killed on Holocaust Remembrance Day, which was sort of fitting. But it did feel rather odd that we were commemorating the deaths of thousands with another death. I really do wish that he could have been captured and made to understand the vast amounts of hurt he created. I desperately want him to feel remorse. I don’t want to fight violence with more violence, but I recognize that this was the way that it had to go. He never would have gone peaceably.

When I checked my phone after school, I saw that John Green had tweeted, “Like many people, I feel like celebrating. Remember this feeling. It is human and can help us understand when others express bloodlust.”

And while I do understand the importance of empathy and can validate others’ joy, I still feel caught. It’s horrible to celebrate a death, no matter how awful the person was. However, Bin Laden’s death also can be viewed as retribution for 9/11 and all the other atrosities committed by al Qaeda.

I don’t think that I’ll ever sort out how I should react to this event. And that’s okay. It really is. It would be worse to spring towards either end of the dialectic without acknowledging the truth of the other. Besides, I’m not alone. I know many prople are in the same tangled mess of emotions as me, and there’s never anything wrong with little confusion.

Though on a very practical note, I do hope that this event can help Obama get reelected. I love him so much.

In Which I Go to Philadelphia, Wear Shoes That Really Hurt, and Win a Golden Gavel: Part Two

I went out to lunch, journeying into the cold, grey streets of gritty Philadelphia. We walked all the way across campus in search of the food trucks, where I stood on tip toe to lean up to a truck counter and order a tuna salad sandwich. Then, we turned around again and walked all the way back to the Student Center to eat in a crowded, noisy room and watch a boy get recruited for soccer and a whole lot of people staring at laptops. I focussed on finishing my sandwich, and laughing as much as I could.

It’s those sorts of things that I love about Model Congress: The instants where everybody’s together, talking and having a good time in a way that we wouldn’t if we were anywhere else. At school, we’d sit in separate groups and never spend an hour complaining about immigration and other people’s stupidity. Well, we would, but we wouldn’t do it collectively and with the same sort of zeal. Every moment at Model Congress is crucial. Nothing can be missed. It’s go, go, go, win, win, win, but please have fun while you’re doing it.

I walked back to Huntsman, looking through the basement at oddly and irregularly
numbered and lettered rooms for my committee.  I slid into a grey desk, tugged at my blazer, and braced for impact. This morning went really, really well. It should be smooth sailing from here on out, I told myself. I stood up to present my bill to the committee, feeling on top of the world. I gave my speech, leaving exactly fifteen seconds for points, and then the strangest thing happened: no one raised their hand. I was discussing gay marriage, a topic that really riles people up, and no one had a question. I had statistics, a highlighted copy of the Constitution, graphs about how it would help the economy, case law, and no one cared. My eyes got so wide that they started to sting, and the chair told me to sit down.

Then, when they asked for someone to speak against it, no one raised their hand again. Finally, a guy stood up and said that he opposed the bill because it didn’t “go far enough.” Go far enough?  Are you kidding me? As I gave him the knitted forehead are-you-crazy look, he went on to say that we should be allowed to marry as many people as we want, animals, and inanimate objects. Suddenly, the debate became focussed on that and not gay marriage. I was quite ready to slam my head into the desk. Things were not going as planned.

An amendment got passed, supporting his insane belief, and I got up to give my final authorship speech in a daze. It went something along the lines of: This bill is only about gay marriage. I am upset that it got changed. Business. Economics. Health Insurance. Seeing People in the Hospital. The Constitution. Vote for this. I have no idea what is coming out of my mouth. Sit down.

The bill passed, and it was all over. Hours of preparation for a big battle turned into twenty minutes of confusion. I felt like a week old helium balloon–slowly floating down from the ceiling a wrinkled, sorry mess. But I couldn’t cry yet, there was the “game” to be played. After every bill, the chairs gave the author a topic, such as states in America, and the author had to list as many things within that category as they could in thirty seconds. I got given languages, and let me tell you, it was easy. I swept through Europe east through west, dipped into North Africa, did all of South Africa’s official and tribal languages (thank you ten-page sixth grade report), and headed off into the Middle East. I got twenty-nine. I can’t believe that my bill fell on its face, but I just performed phenomenally well on a categories game, I thought.

Once the shock wore off, I began to cry. I excused myself from the room, and found myself in an odd circular quasi-room with financial newspapers and a screen with important stock market numbers (It’s phrases like stock market numbers that prove that I have a future career as an investment banker.) that changed every second or so. One of the girls from the committee left see if I was okay, which was incredibly kind, and a little while later one of the chairs came out to speak to me. Apparently, my bill had been really good after all, and I was “standing out in debate.” Strange.

Once again, Lady Macbeth offered me her sage advice to be courageous, and I marched back into the room ready to kill Duncan and some poorly written bills. I was feeling fine. Not good. Not bad. Just fine. And somehow it all worked. Debate came naturally.

I went out to dinner with people from my school, magically finding the ability to eat half a Caesar salad in ten minutes. With a spring in my step, I walked into the last committee session of the day. A girl introduced a bill that would give money to a militant “whale-saving” organization that would tries to tip over Japanese whaling ships, and I felt the wonderful aggressive intelligence feeling wash over me again. A long speech about international relations, unprecedented actions, and constitutionality later, I was feeling pretty darn good about myself. But sure enough the tears and the fear of failure came, and I found myself in the hall.

But like every time before, I picked myself back up, dusted off my hands, and headed back into the fray. One of the really great guys in my committee introduced this awesome bill:

I was ready to do battle. I had a printed out sheet of federal prison statsics, more than a working knowledge of psychotropic medication, and very strong feelings in support. Out of all of the speeches I gave in committee, that one by far the best. It felt awesome. Like chocolate Milky Way ice cream on a sunny day awesome.

Committee ended, and I scurried back across campus through the dark. I had packed Taboo and was desperate to get a game going. Besides, my shoes had begun to hurt. Not just the I’ve-been-wearing-heels-all-day hurting, but these-shoes-are-rubbing-the-skin-off-of-my-feet hurting. I would have done anything to walk back barefoot. But city streets have glass and God knows what on them, so it wasn’t exactly an option.

Later that evening, we had a wonderful game of Taboo. There must have been fifteen people in our room, and everyone was rolling around laughing. But as fun as it was, I began to crash. First, my head started to feel a little foggy, and then the ticking time bomb set in. I was actually going to pass out in the middle of the loud game, if I didn’t get moving. It was like I was drugged, which, of course actually was the truth. (Thanks, Geodon. You rock.) I hopped into the shower, willing myself to keep my eyes open, blow dried, my hair, and curled up on a corner of my bed. Thankfully, Ashley or Doc–I can’t remember which–noticed, and everyone left the room. I was asleep within a minute.

In Which I Go to Philadelphia, Wear Shoes That Really Hurt, and Win a Golden Gavel: Part One

Originally, this was going to be one long post, but it quickly became too long to write in one day. I will now force you to read this story in parts.

On the morning of Thursday, March, 31st, I happily and nervously trotted off to school, wheeling my red suitcase and wearing my Dad’s old Jonathan Edwards Residential College tee shirt in celebration of Cecelia being accepted into Yale.

As I yanked my bag up the steps outside of the auditorium and pulled it into the coat check room, I bemoaned how weak my arms are. I mean, you could easily fasten a watch around my upper arm, and they start shivering anytime I try to lift something around thrity pounds above shoulder height. Carrying small children can be a real struggle, which is a major problem if you’re babysitting. But all that aside, I parked my bag and wandered towards the main building through the art gallery filled with pictures that I wish that I could have created.

There were little elves taking up residence in my abdomen, and as I walked and thought about the conference, they started hopping around and doing jumping-jacks. Like most enjoyable things that I do, Model Congress makes me equally anxious, excited, and happy. Even though I was going to be in school until lunch, the whole day felt different, which was probably due the fact that I wasn’t carrying a backpack. Instead, I had my big black bucket tote from Neiman Marcus from Obama’s inauguration. Stacked in between my English binder and a collection of John Donne’s poems, the binder full of research kept singing to me about how someone was going to find a loop-hole in my bill and how if I didn’t know the percentage of jailed drug abusers, I would immediately be sent home in shame. But I walked on, dragging my feet up the stairs to the library.

In English, I desperately tried to stay on task and write about a comparisons of Donne’s Holy Sonnets to his earlier ones, but it really was no use. The anxiety of in-class writing coupled with concerns about Model Congress turned my brain into jammed machinery, and I only succeeded in writing an outline and good introduction.

At lunch, I dragged Clara with me to go buy pizza with my babysitting money. It was drizzling, and the pizza was steaming, and I was struck once again by how much better hot food tastes when it’s chilly out. But the pizza eating didn’t last long, and soon I was dragging my suitcase back down the auditorium steps and up to the back of the bus. As the boys pilled the suitcases into the back seats, I took up residence in a two-seater and quietly prayed that we’d get to Model Congress safely. The memories of the November bus crash still haunt me.

Thankfully, no one died, and only eleven people went to the hospital.

But the bus began moving, and I pulled out my binder to go over my research. As the highway mile-markers slid by, I highlighted statistics and practiced arguments in my head about gun control and immigration. People chatted and Tiny Wings was played. Soon, we were off the highway and driving through Philadelphia, and like every time I go there, I was shocked by the dichotomy between the beautiful downtown, Penn campus, and historic district and everywhere else. It’s depressed, and posters sag on dirty buildings in need of window washing and new paint.

At the hotel, I rode the elevator up to the eighth floor and walked with Tal to the room that we’d be sharing with two other girls. I unpacked, carefully smoothing out my dress clothes. There’s a certain comfort in unpacking. It makes you feel solid and safe. You’ve got a place that’s yours for the time being, and you don’t have to get up and move at a moment’s notice.

Outside again, our whole delegation walked to the sports bar we go to every year to get a very early dinner. I sat in the exact same seat that I had sat in two years before at the end of the table with my chair against the wall and across from Micah and next to John and Tal. I wasn’t the same girl I was back then. I’m maybe an inch taller, I weigh a little less, but I’ve done a heck of a lot more living. I’ve been through things younger me couldn’t even begin to comprehend. But in a way things hadn’t changed at all. Little me planned on going back to Penn Model Congress, sitting in that chair, and feeling nervous about debate.

Just like last time, we played the game where you write a person on a piece of paper, pass it to your neighbor, hold it up to your head, and ask yes or no questions until you figure out who it is. I had Pamela Anderson, who I know next to nothing about. Someone had to finally give me her initials. The whole debacle was just like Model UN this fall, when I had James Joyce stuck to my head, and someone told me that he was a social reformer. But the game was funny and made me laugh while I ate a bowl full of salad and a little Caesar dressing.

Back in the hotel, I picked up binder full of all the Green Senate bills and started going through the ones in my committee. With one hand firmly jammed in my hair, I cross referenced facts from my research, wrote down points, and outlined arguments. I was surprised by how poor a few of the bills were and thanked God that none of them were better than mine. Some of the worry wandered away, and I began to think that maybe I could do this. Soon enough, I was putting on my wrap dress and trying not to fall over while pulling up my stockings. I slid my feet into my pumps, grabbed my bag with both binders, and looked at myself in the mirror. This is what I’m going to look like as an adult, I thought, though hopefully I won’t be this nervous heading to the office.

As we walked across campus to Irving Auditorium, I repeated “I can do this. I am good at this. It will all be okay.” with each click of my heels on the stone path. Opening ceremonies began, and Joe Sestak gave an amazing speech. I nodded along when I discovered that our opinions about education policy are exactly the same. But the best part was when he was talking about the budget and how small programs that directly benefit the states and the people are being cut instead of military and other large program spending because of all a sudden he said: “It’s a pimple on an elephant.”

I laughed, and some of the anxiety washed away. But half an hour later, I was sitting in a classroom with fifteen other Senators feeling like the elves in my abdomen were having a rave and trying to claw their out through my stomach. I stood up to speak about the first bill and as always, thought that I sounded like a complete idiot. I began to cry, and as I tend do in public, let my hair cover my face as I slipped out of the room. This is it, I thought, Ella, you have seriously screwed up. And it really did feel like it was all a disaster, that I would be miserable for the next four days, and that I would go home royally embarrassed.

But Ashley was came out into the hallway and gave me a hug, and five minutes later, during his committee’s recess, Doc spoke to me. So after a few more minutes, I remembered Lady Macbeth, screwed my courage to the sticking point, decided that I would not fail, and marched back into the room. And things improved. They always do, even when it seems impossible. At the recess, I told the chairs about my anxiety disorder like a mature person, and did a tiny bit of socializing. I stood up to talk some more and used my research to make some great points.

Back at the hotel that evening, I relapsed and spent ten minutes sobbing. Pulling my act together, I promised myself that if half of tomorrow was as bad as tonight, I could call home. But the next morning was wonderful. We were in the Wharton School of Business, in a beautiful room, and I was in my element. I love talking to over a hundred people because no one is an individual anymore. It’s just me informing a mass of blurry faces. And I am pretty darn good at talking to blurry faces. I referenced and extolled the virtues of the Constitution, recalled New York Times and The Week articles from months ago, and wedged in a good deal of American history.

Home Again, Home Again, Jiggity-Jig

Model Congress was exciting, anxiety-provoking, fun, and fulfilling. Xanax, crying, and deep breathing was involved, but prizes were won.

I am bursting at the seams with stories, but I’m way too worn out to spill them all tonight.

Instead, please amuse yourself with my favorite game: Sheen or Gaddafi. A good score is hard to come by, and good times and laughs will be had by all. Post your score in the comments!

In other news, I pulled a muscle in my back, and it hurts. A lot. A lot a lot. Carrying around a backpack this week should be really fun. Also, my feet are torn up from wearing pumps and walking many miles for four days straight. Tomorrow just might be a flip-flop day. In 50-60-ish degree weather.

For April Fools Everywhere

Ella is off doing political battle — well, mock-battle — leaving her dad to write tonight’s post.  And what springs to mind?  Spring.  Today begins the month that T.S. Eliot called the cruelest.  He saw a near-obscenity in April “breeding lilacs out of the dead land, mixing memory and desire.”  In the wake of ‘The Great War,’ a profusion of spring flowers probably did seem like nature mocking humanity’s pointless bloodlust.  Scanning today’s news – war, disaster, cruelty, terror, deceit and tyranny – can make one feel that in the return of birdsong nature is mocking us still.  The challenge of climate change, after all, is not that we need to save the planet – it will endure.  It’s that we need to keep from so thoroughly fouling our nest that we can no longer thrive.

But spring comes nonetheless, whether sunny and bright, or as this morning, with snow flurries, drizzle and persistently gray skies.  Earth has swung once more round its orbit to tilt its northern end toward the sun, just as in billions of orbits before, and billions more to come.   Like it or not, we’re in for some beautiful days ahead, at least until the next equinox.

Which leads me to another thing that springs to mind this April first: Rebecca Black. Even amid earthquakes, civil wars, tsunamis, air strikes and nuclear meltdowns, reviewers of her song “Friday” suggest she has raised disaster to new heights.

I have to confess I’m thankful for “Friday” in a way that old Tom Eliot might never understand. Despite a domestic and global political climate that seems like it can hardly get bleaker, one gormless teen can rise up and geek-bop her way into our national consciousness.  The middle east may be teetering on the brink of genocide or civil war, but we have bigger crises here at home.  Today the Arab world must choose, under force of arms, between tyranny and democracy.  Our Ms. Black faces a choice every bit as stark: “kickin’ in the front seat, kickin; in the back seat, gotta make my mind up: which seat can I take?”

As art, “Friday” is undoubtedly an excrescence. But as a cultural lightning rod, it is merely one of Eliot’s lilacs, a vain burst of happiness that mocks us in our mourning for a world gone deeply wrong.  This, after all, is what April fools day is all about.  Spring comes as surely as winter, whether we greet it with a dirge or drecky pop.

Tomorrow I’ll return to worrying about the all-out war on working families currently being waged by Republicans in the House, and in state Houses across the country.  But tonight it’s Friday, and I’m looking forward to the weekend.

Tomorrow, I Go Into Battle

I’ve been preparing for this Model Congress Conference for weeks, and it’s a strange feeling to know that it’s tomorrow. I’m anxious, and jittery, and convinced that I am going to both fail miserably and have great success. But I put myself through this because I love it. I choose this stress. I choose this anxiety. I choose these racing thoughts. They are mine, and I will overcome them.

I cried a lot at a Model UN competition this autumn, but I stuck it out. I would leave the committee room for five minutes and then turn around and march right back in. I stood up and debated even when it felt like the Atlantic Ocean was pushing its way out onto my palms. In the end, my partner and I won second place.

I won’t have the security of being with another person this time. I’ll be alone. But if I squint, it’ll just be like Congress every Wednesday. I stand up there and talk to a hundred people on a regular basis, and I do it well. Of course, I can speak to sixteen.

But now I pack.

 

Mourning, Silence, Competitions, and Complete and Utter Exhaustion

I don’t feel like writing anything substantial today. In fact, I don’t feel like doing anything at all. Here’s why:

  1. Miles, the boy I talked about in On Being the Only Girl, died on Tuesday morning.
  2. Today, I went to his funeral.
  3. I haven’t slept for two days.
  4. States for our government and politics competition is tomorrow.
  5. I am entirely worn out.
  6. My eyes are still puffy from crying.
  7. I just want to lie in bed and read Big Girls Don’t Cry until I fall asleep.