Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Ferguson: The Michael Brown Case

So today, I wanted to talk a little about Ferguson.

I'm not going to go over and over again what has happened because there are plenty of places where people can learn about the fatal shooting of Michael Brown and the story has been repeated again and again in the media. That isn't the main purpose of this blog post. Apologies in advance if I get anything wrong in this blog post-please politely correct me. Also, apologies if this reads as a little shocked and unpolished. I guess things feel that way right now. I also apologize unreservedly if anything in this blog post causes offence to anyone-that's absolutely not my intention but please let me know-politely-if I've inadvertently caused any offence.

I'm not black. I'm not from a low-income background or area. I recognize that I can't speak for those people and I am not in any way attempting to appropriate their problems or to speak for them. But that isn't to say that the events in Ferguson have not affected the way I think about things or even forced me to reassess my view on a lot of topics.

The fact that Darren Wilson shot Michael Brown dead and has not been indicted for it, is evidence of police brutality. He shot a young man dead. A young man who posed no threat to him. He shot him dead. That is the simple fact of the matter. And now, an eighteen-year-old boy is dead. And Darren Wilson is not being punished for what he's done. The fact that a police officer's first instinct, when confronted with this young man, was to draw his gun and shoot says so much, not just about racism, but about the state of the police force today-because sometimes it seems like we have truly entered a "Shoot first and ask questions later" frame of mind.

The anger and the fear in Ferguson at the moment must be terrifying. I don't know how young children there are attending school. I don't know how people are living there. There were riots all last night, riots that have involved property damage and gunfire. The police have been accused of harming protestors, as they were a few months ago when the shooting first occurred. I can't validate those claims. But the thought of the terror of the innocent people in Ferguson right now is devastating. Imagine those children, young, black children, who will go to bed in that town tonight, knowing that one of their race was shot dead-and it is implied it was because of his race that that was the first course of action resorted to.

But more than that-this was a murder. And that mustn't be forgotten in all of this. There is a young eighteen-year-old boy who is dead. He's dead. He will never live his life. He will never grow up. He will never go to college. He will never get to do any of those things every human being has a right to. Because his life has been taken away from him.

His family have appealed for peace. They are asking for people to refrain from rioting. The last thing they want is the death of their son to lead to more violence.

One thing that disturbed me was Darren Wilson's statement. In this statement, he referred to Michael Brown as "it."

Not a "him." Not a "boy." An "it."

No matter why Darren Wilson shot Michael Brown dead, that comment says everything about how he saw him.

If I've got anything wrong here, please let me know. That's the last thing I want. Just let me know politely and I will change it.

But Michael Brown's body was left in the street for four and a half hours. As if he was a creature, a thing. Not a human being.

That is not right. It is madness that we are having to say "That is wrong." It is madness that every human being on this planet can not see, easily and simply, how terrible that is.

I'm only seventeen. I'm not claiming to be an authority on this case. I'm not claiming to be an authority on any subject. I've got no doubt that I'll make mistakes and that I'm not perfect and that I will handle things the wrong way at times.

But I can promise that I'll try my best. I'll try my best to raise awareness of things like this and I'll try my best to change it. And I don't care how many people tell us there's nothing we can do or that it's useless to try. Because if everyone thinks like that, nothing ever changes. We might fail but we have to at least try to change this atmosphere of hate. This world where an eighteen-year-old gets shot and left to die in the street. A world where that isn't considered murder.

I'm only seventeen but I know that that's wrong and that that isn't the way I want to live.

I'm going to remember Ferguson. And when I have kids, I'm going to tell them about it. I want them to look at it with the same incredulity we now look at segregation schools and park benches, and say "How did that even happen?" And by then, I want it to be something that's inconceivable of happening again. Because I might not be black or low-income or any of the other things that influenced this crime and I'm not trying to speak for them but I can still say that it's wrong.

And that I'll keep saying it's wrong, until something's done about it.

Because people might say it's pointless to try to change things. But look at it this way. If no one does something, you know nothing will change. If even one does something, there is a chance that things will.

It's got to be worth that chance.

                                                   Michael Brown
                                                     Rest In Peace

Saturday, 22 November 2014

The Whole Awesome Organization Thing: Lily Sarah Grace

In retrospect, they probably should have figured it out the first time I walked across a football pitch.

I was five. Everyone else was playing football. Our parents were cheering them on, with my mother passing me chocolate bars and grabbing my hand every time I nearly wandered off because my eyes were glued to my book, and I was trying to crawl into the pages. My cousin tapped my shoulder every time I nearly wandered off without thinking and my mother's eyes were pulled back to me again and again like I was her own personal magnet.

It only happened in a second. My mother looked away for an instant to pass my cousin an orange juice carton and I took a few steps away. I didn't just read. I was one of those people who moved when I read, who ran and skipped and jumped when I got to a part of the story I loved. And I did that then. Unfortunately, when I kept taking steps forward, I walked right onto the pitch. The football pitch where two teams were now charging towards me, with my eyes still trained on the book, totally unaware of the fact I was about to quite probably be crushed to death.

Of course that didn't happen. (I'm not a ghost.) My mother glanced up automatically, found an absence of strange-but-endearing daughter next to her, and staring around frantically, saw me standing in the middle of a pitch with the book still clutched in my hands, screamed my name at the top of her lungs, and charged across the pitch, seizing me under her arm in a move that would later cause my aunt to say that my mother should have been recruited as a team reserve. Apparently, I  never took my eyes off the book the whole time, even as my mother spent the next ten minutes with her arms tight around me and the next week never taking her eyes off me.

That wasn't the first time something like that had happened. And over the years, it definitely wasn't the last. It would definitely have made life a lot easier for my parents if we'd known then that what I had was dyspraxia.

Eventually, I did get that diagnosis (along with a bunch of others. Bargain.) I was finally given the name for the reason I couldn't draw in a straight line (still can't), took two years to be able to trace one third of a map (lines still criss-cross themselves in front of my eyes when I stare at them) and angles were my worst nightmare in maths class. (I don't take maths any more, but angles still make me feel like a five year old confronted with algebra.)

Point of talking about all this-I might not have been skilled with maths, drawing or basic geography (or remembering small things, like not to walk across football pitches. Or leave my bag in the car with my keys, which happened today.) But I was obsessed with stories and music and the weird idea that you could be someone else or somewhere else just through letting your mind drift and piece together a few weird thoughts. I did well with most of the grades I cared about but I always felt like I learnt more from the books I read, and the films I watched, and the music that filled my brain.

This isn't some anti-education crusade-there were classes like English and Philosophy that I loved. I've only been to a couple of schools so I can't judge the general artistic ethos of other schools. Maybe it's just the place I grew up in, but for as long as I can remember being educated, there was a focus on asking questions and using your imagination. Not just in school, either. I grew up with books all around me. My earliest memory is my dad playing guitar. I was in my first play age five with my drama class. There were piano lessons and building dens with my cousins and whenever we went into town, there were people in the streets singing and busking. When I asked my dad how did we know if there was a God when I was six, he said "I don't know. What do you think?" And from the start, I was always writing, writing songs and stories and poems and losing myself in words that formed other worlds for me. Besides the things that, to put it basically, I sucked at, there were other things that made life a lot better.

I was lucky. I went to schools and grew up in a place where the arts were an important thing, things that were seen as valuable. Other kids who have difficulties with some subjects-they don't have that emphasis.

And that's where Lily Sarah Grace comes in.

Lily Sarah Grace is an organization that aims to improve the education of American children by putting more emphasis on the arts and encouraging children to question things-to ask questions and expand their minds through learning. And, you know, actually enjoy themselves, rather than just pass  a lot of tests. They aim to make sure each kid gets to be educated  in the way that works for them and their learning style-not just a generalized plan. How can we generalize learning for kids? We don't expect all kids to have the same favourite book or the same hair or the same eyes or the same job when they get older so why do we expect them to have the same educational needs?

The story behind Lily Sarah Grace is the inspiration for the name. Lily, Sarah and Grace were three sisters who were creative, bright and vibrant-they, no doubt, had great lives ahead of them. Lily and Grace both also happened to have dyslexia. The arts were a huge interest for all three of them and by the sounds of it, they were all very talented with an enthusiasm for learning and living. Tragically, Lily, Sarah and Grace lost their lives three years ago in a house fire, when Lily was nine and Sarah and Grace were seven. There isn't anything I can say to express how terrible this must have been for their family-for all I talk about writing and words, I think there's some things that go beyond that. But with incredible strength, their parents started a charity in their memory-a charity that would focus on the thing these three amazing little girls had loved the most and helping other kids in their education the same way their children had been helped.

I don't think I need to say this is a worthwhile organization. I don't know how many people will even read this or if it will just be something that goes unnoticed in the world. But I'm going to write this because if even one person reads it, and learns about this charity, that's another kid that can be helped. That's another kid that doesn't have to feel stupid or lazy or useless for struggling with something. That's another kid that can find something they love, that makes them feel alive. That's another kid that can be reached, that can be helped in some way, that can be made to see they're worth something. That there's something there for them, a place in the world that's theirs. Another kid who can go on to change the future.

I had a great education but there were times I felt stupid. There were times I felt useless. And there have been times when my thoughts pull me down inside, pull me down so that I feel like curling up in a little ball and hiding away from the world, at the risk of sounding like I'm dripping with teenage angst. But it was writing and acting and music that pulled me up again a lot of the time, too. Even just picking up a pen and scrawling out some words can make me feel as if my thoughts are being put back together, pulled up and onto new paths to different destinations. I can disappear into the cracks of my own world and make myself even more visible in this one.

And if this post even reaches one person and helps pull them up-gives them something to grab onto, something that puts their own thoughts back together-if this post reaches even one kid and gives them something they love, something that makes them feel like they're worth something-then it's done it's job.

Please support Lily Sarah Grace. Support it for all the kids who are going to be building the future.

Lily Sarah Grace

Friday, 14 November 2014

The Whole Outside, Inside Thing

I always smiled at the parties when I was a kid. I could spin around in my own world, my own stories spilling out of my mouth in silent streams, and have countless hands pat my head, ruffle the hair of the little girl who could lose herself in her own world. And I stood and watched them, and I was watching from the outside, even when they hugged me tight, I was watching from the other side of the invisible barrier no one else could see, even as I smiled and didn't know why I felt like crying.

Everyone else is lost in a party of words, their sentences jostling to meet each other. And my own slide in amongst them, little laughs in full stops, in the commas that fall from my mouth, and they laugh and tug me into their conversations, while inside my head my voice is thin, and a whisper that begs to be heard.

On the outside, I'm dancing and inside I'm falling.

I talk about the things that are happening for me; about the fact I'm getting a piece of writing published and Christmas is coming and fairy lights are glittering either side of the pathway I walk. And I think about the fact my eyes are empty when I want them to be full.

On the outside, I'm talking and on the inside, I wish I could be.

One second, the world is opened in front of me and it seems as though each next moment will be laughter, will be words that taste sweet in my mouth, will drape me in everything I want. The next, everything is closing inside my head, and I am curling up in the darkest corner of my skull, huddled away from the rest of the world, even though on the outside I'm laughing as if I will never have to think again.

On the outside, I've got everything, and on the inside, everything's got me.

On the outside, I've got music playing and there's nothing to trip me up in the next verse, and on the inside, the music is clashing out of rhythm inside my skull, and my fists are crashing against my ribcage, screaming for something I want that I don't even know.

When I was a kid, I used to hear about how people thought the world was flat, that Christopher Columbus had been told he would sail off the edge, go spinning off into space, and how he rounded the world and found that there was more of it than anyone had ever known. Me, I wait and dread for the opposite to happen.

On the outside, I'm laughing in the centre of every other word tossed through the air. On the inside, I'm waiting to step off the edge of the world.

Friday, 7 November 2014

The Whole Cool Character Thing: Noah and Jude Sweetwine

I literally cannot choose which character I love more from Jandy Nelson's I'll Give You The Sun, so I have to write about both.

Noah and Jude Sweetwine are twins, inseparable since they were born, but drifted apart at the age of thirteen, after a family tragedy. The past at age thirteen is told by Noah; the present, at age sixteen, is told by Jude. The two twins are, at thirteen, completely different; Noah, introverted, dark, obsessed with art, Jude, outgoing, blonde, and violently against going to CSA, the art school Noah is desperate to get into. Noah is close to their mother. Jude is close to their father.

At sixteen, Jude is obsessed with the supernatural and good-luck charms. Noah is into athletics, and is a popular guy. Jude goes to CSA. Noah doesn't.

Noah hasn't drawn in years. Everything Jude makes breaks.

And they each know the same mysterious model.

You really, really have to read I'll Give You The Sun. I'll go as far as to say it's my favourite I've read this year. And I've read seventy one this year.

It's the little things that make Noah and Jude leap off the page. Jude slips good-luck charms into people's bags. Noah pulls the moon out of the sky for his sister's birthday present.

And it's the way they deal with things that make them real.

Noah is gay and falling in love with the boy next door at thirteen. Brian and him go so well together, clash in a burst of light. They're fantastic together. Each has what the other needs. But they're both afraid, afraid of the repercussions if they're together. And at times, they can be cruel to each other because they're in love and they're thirteen and they're confused about the world.

Jude is hanging around with the boys that torment her brother and the girls she finds boring but when she's with them, she manages to forget all of that. She doesn't want to be that girl that her mother warns her about. At the same time, she does. Noah and Jude are young and vibrant and artistic and they make mistakes because they're young.

But their sibling bond is intense. They have snakes of jealousy, as Noah puts it, curled in their stomachs. But they're tied together. And in some ways, they desperately want to be apart.

I can't quite explain why Noah and Jude stick in my head so much. Perhaps it's because of how achingly real they both are-even in a novel imbued with magical realism, the sheer reality of the way Noah and Jude cope, the way at sixteen, they both try to be invisible. They try to be invisible because of the problems that being visible caused. And they capture that desperate push and pull you feel as a teenager, the desire to belong and the desire to stand out.

And even though they have to find their own identities-go from being NoahandJude to Noah and Jude-I have to write about them together. As far as favourite characters go, I wouldn't choose one over the other.