Thursday, 26 March 2015

Welcome Carissa!

Dear World, 
Hello! I'm the new co-writer Ilana recruited, Carissa. I'm a straight, cis female American high schooler who feels very passionately about equality for everyone. Ilana invited me to write for My Virtual Sword to help me fulfill my inner desire to make a difference, for which I am eternally grateful. As far as my planned topics goes, I'm looking forward to discussing several topics that have affected me very deeply over the past few years, including depression, anxiety, suicide, equality, and education. In school, I participate in band, steel drums, ukulele choir, and Quidditch. Music never fails to make me happy. Over the years, I've learned how to play piano, trumpet, bass, ukulele, and guitar. My best friend and I recently started a cover account on Instagram which is helping me work on my voice, improve my guitar skills, and build my self confidence. Now you know a little bit about me! I'm looking forward to writing again soon! 

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Leonard Nimoy

Hello There,
I apologise for being gone so long. In my defence, I've had way too much going on over the past few weeks, with tech week and performances for the play I was in, Seussical, followed directly by the SAT, followed directly by a week of Ohio Graduation Tests, also known as hell in a handbasket. (Side note, does anyone know where that phrase comes from?)
Anyway, back to business. In my absence, I have picked up a cowriter. She is writing up an intro blog right now, and we'll post it as soon as possible. Also in my absence, Leonard Nimoy died. The intense emotion of his death, coupled with my discovery of which box from the old house contained my video camera, led to me deciding that this week's post should be a video blog. I had wanted to get into video blogging (*NOTE*: I will never ever say the word "vlog". It's unnatural. I don't know why, but I hate it with a fiery passion.) a while back, and I figured that now was as good a time as any to get started. Thus, I made a video tribute to Leonard Nimoy for this week's post. 
I know it's not anything like my usual content, but I explain in the video (which can be found here) more about that. Now, the video didn't exactly go the way I had planned, but I felt the need to get it out there anyway. I may write a textual tribute to him that says more about what I wanted it to, and I may make another video. I also may just leave it be. We'll see. For now, though, please just enjoy this video as well as you can.
In honour of Mr. Nimoy today's closing will be a little different, so Don't Forget To
Live Long and Prosper,

Monday, 2 February 2015

Transgender Issues

Dear World,
I’m terribly sorry for my extended absence. I hate to explain it away like this, but I really do have an excuse or three, and they’re even true, at that. First, I was dealing with some major writer’s block. Honestly, I still am, but I figured that I should try to get some content out since it’s been more than a month and I disappeared without warning. Second, my family, especially my little sister, have recently embarked on a challenging journey. Over the summer, my little sister (then my brother) came out to our family as transgender. Thus began our six month long mission of secrecy, which ended in the beginning of the year when we sent out letters to everyone we know, finally ready to proudly proclaim her identity to the world. And so this past month has been spent supporting her, which I am more than happy to do, dealing with any negative reactions (which thankfully have been few and far between!), and reconciling with old friends who still wanted to be friends, but weren’t quite sure how.
Neither of my reasons excuses my lack of posts, but it does (to a certain extent) explain it.
It seems prudent to make my topic for today that of transgender rights and visibility, to honour my little sister. She and her friends, as well as thousands of young people throughout the country, and millions throughout the world, must deal with an unreasonable amount of prejudice and backlash for people their age (she is only 13, and most of her friends are not yet out of their teens). They face more discrimination, danger, and threats than any other person should, regardless of age. I don’t want to sit here and throw numbers at you, because that will do you no help, but I will tell you this: no matter what statistic you are looking at, the numbers will show you that a transgender person has a higher chance of being negatively affected than a cisgender (one who is born in a body that corresponds with the gender of which they identify) person. For example, according to The Trevor Project, nearly half of transgender youth will attempt suicide. In comparison, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, youths in the same age range without the classification of transgender have a suicide rate of only 10.9. Murder rates have an even larger figure gap.
Recently, the transgender youth community has suffered a great loss. Leelah Alcorn, a 17 year old transgender girl from my own home state of Ohio, committed suicide after spending a terrible five months imprisoned in her own home by her own parents. Not only was Leelah’s death tragic, but the circumstances that caused it were appalling. Here in 2015, after centuries, if not millennia, of complex gender identities and issues, how could a pair of fully grown adults with decades of life experience treat their own child in such a manner? How could they possibly justify that? What mystifies me is the way that parents, before their baby is born, often claim that they couldn’t care less what gender their baby is, so long as it is healthy and happy, but then once the baby is born, they become so stuck on their child’s gender that they allow their fixation to get in the way of the child’s health and happiness.
Leelah was a young girl with many thoughts, hopes, and dreams, just like any other person in this world. Her tragic death ignites a spark in me, as I hope it does in all of you, to stand up and make a difference so that no more transgender people have to suffer the way she did. Leelah left a final desperate request at the end of her suicide note, to “Fix Society. Please.” I intend to put forth my best effort to answer her plea and fix society, for Leelah, for my sister, and for every other transgender person out there who needs the world to smile upon them. It will be a difficult journey, but one well worth taking, because this world is the home of the entire human race, and all people (not only the ones who meet some arbitrary standard) should be able to feel safe and welcome here.
Thank you for reading, and my apologies again for my extended absence.
That’s all there is; there isn’t any more.
Don’t Forget To Be Awesome,

PS: If you want to read more about Leelah, see this link:

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Your Secrets Are Your Own

Dear World,
Okay, so here’s the thing: people’s secrets are their own. If someone chooses to tell you a secret of theirs, that doesn’t mean it becomes your secret to tell. It doesn’t matter if it would make a really good piece of gossip or if you feel that someone else has a right to know; you need to keep your mouth shut unless they tell you otherwise.
Because I don’t want to tell stories about people in my life and potentially reveal something I shouldn’t, this story is a fictional one, but it is definitely comparable to nonfictional ones.
Meet Aidan. He is sixteen years old, he goes to a normal public high school, and he just so happens to be gay. He has come out to his circle of friends, but no one outside that. One day, he gets asked on a date by Chad, the guy he had had a crush on for months. He tells his parents he’s going to a friend’s house, and then goes to the movies with Chad. Over the next few weeks, Aidan and Chad get closer, and then Chad asks Aidan to be his boyfriend.  Ecstatic, Aidan says yes.
The couple spends a blissful few weeks together; Aidan has never been happier than when he’s with Chad. Eventually Chad (who is already out to his family) introduces Aidan to his parents. This makes Aidan think about introducing Chad to his parents. That would mean coming out to them, but he doesn’t think he has to be too worried about that. So the next day, Aidan brings Chad home with him, and they sit down to have a talk with his parents. They are shocked, but once they settle, they react neutrally, and since they still treat Chad just fine, Aidan is okay with neutral. Over the next few days, they are a bit distant, but they show no signs of any negative reactions.
Then, a few days later, Aidan’s mom says that she thinks he really ought to tell everyone at the overnight camp he works at, and has been attending from the age of eight. She explains that if she were the parent of the campers he would be in charge of, she would not want her child in a cabin with a gay man. She says that the whole camp deserves to know, for protection. The unspoken words are that she thinks the camp needs to be protected from him, because she doesn’t trust him.
Her words cut Aidan deep. It hurts him that she doesn’t trust him, that she has such little faith in him. Does she think that he would behave that way toward little children, or really anyone at all, especially when she was just introduced to his boyfriend? He doesn’t know what to think, except that he knows he regrets coming out to his parents. He walks around in a haze for a few days, unsure of what to do, until his mother tells him that if he doesn’t tell the camp, she will.
Now if her first statement, that Aidan should tell the camp because they deserve to know, didn’t bother you, well, it should have. It’s not okay to pressure someone to tell people secrets about themselves that they’re not comfortable sharing. It doesn’t matter who they are to you, or why you think the other people ought to know. You don’t pressure someone to do anything they are uncomfortable with.
If the first statement didn’t bother you, the second statement certainly should. It doesn’t matter that she is his mother. It is not her secret to tell. If she had trusted him with something private, say an affair she had a few years back (not that she would tell Aidan about it, since he’s her son… Oh, just work with me here.), he would not immediately rush off to tell his father. If he did, he would be grounded for the rest of his life, after his parents divorced due to the repercussions, of course. The point is, she would not want her secrets spilled for the world to hear, so why would she think it’s okay to do that to her very own son? Not only is it not her secret to tell, but she hasn’t even thought of the repercussions! Aidan would likely never trust her again, and their relationship would be strained for at the very least a good long while, if not forever. There’s also a possibility that there would be repercussions from the camp, perhaps even a termination of Aidan’s position there (depending on what sort of camp it is).
The moral of this story is, if you are told a secret by someone, there is only one thing you should do with it: keep it. Don’t assume anyone else knows, and don’t take it upon yourself to tell someone who doesn’t. It doesn’t matter if they are a friend, sibling, parent, or child, and it doesn’t matter what their secret is. Please, do not break their trust. Trust is a fragile thing, and you should do your best to protect it. Please try to keep this in mind as you go through your life.
And that’s all there is, there isn’t any more.
Don’t Forget To Be Awesome,

Thursday, 4 December 2014

School Hours

Dear World,
School hours are beginning to have an affect on students; their lives, academic and social, as well as their mental and physical health, are being messed with, and it's having a negative impact. 
At any given age, a person's body naturally rests at different times. According to some research I did (see sources at the bottom of this blog), after reaching puberty, a person's body clock shifts two hours later. This means that if, say, I used to go to sleep at 9:00, now I won't be able to go to sleep until 11:00, although for most it can be closer to 12:00. Sleep cycles are around 90 minutes long, and it is difficult and possibly detrimental to your health (if done repeatedly) to wake up in the middle of one. Given that teenagers need 9-9.5 hours of sleep in a night to be able to fully function, this means that they should be waking up between the hours of 8:00 and 9:30. Doctors even say that a teenage brain cannot be expected to be fully functioning until 10:00 in the morning. However, this is where school hours enter the equation. 
Every high school I have ever heard of has started school between the hours of 7:00 and 8:15 (while elementary schools, which have students that generally wake up closer to the 6:00 hour, start as late as 9:00). That in itself is a huge problem. After all, according to the people who actually know these things (doctors), teenagers should not even be waking up until at the very earliest 8:00! That would have them at school at the very earliest 8:15, assuming that they all have access to a mode of transport that gets them to school within ten minutes, working in five minutes for getting up and dressed. But since breakfast is an absolute essential in order to "jumpstart your metabolism" (quote courtesy of my mother) and get you energized for the day, we have to work in 10-15 minutes for eating, which would bring us to around 8:30. Also, most teenagers take more than five minutes to get up, get dressed, and take care of personal hygiene. All this is assuming that the teenager went to bed at 11:00, which is the very earliest that specialists suggest they could. And if they missed the mark at all they would be waking up in the middle of a sleep cycle, meaning that it is harder to get up, and then they are more likely to be tired throughout the day. The fact is that most schools have earlier start times than 8:15, so this isn't looking very feasible! 
As if that weren't enough, we have to take a look at the other end of the school day as well. Most schools get out between the hours of 2:30 and 3:30. Since in the morning argument I used an example of 8:15, let's use an end time of 7 hours later, at 3:15. For a student that leaves directly after school lets out, and again has a mode of transportation that gets to and from school in 10 minutes, this gets them home at around 3:30. Their school day is not over then, oh no. Next comes their hours of homework. In many instances, each teacher is assigning what could be up to an hour of homework a night. If a student has five classes, that puts them at five hours of homework. Granted, not every teacher assigns a whole hour (although some *cough*math*cough* assign more).The average high school student gets approximately 3.5 hours of school work when all is said and done. 
That doesn't seem so bad, right? Wrong. Even if we continue to follow this student who has no extracurriculars whatsoever, and therefore always comes directly home after school (which, I might add, almost never happens for most students), their schedule is still packed. Let's say that after they get home at 3:30, they take fifteen minutes to have a small after school snack, since they most likely haven't eaten for three or four hours. That puts us at 3:45. If they sit down to their 3.5 hours of homework immediately after finishing their snack and don't take a single break the entire time, they will finish their homework at 7:15. Just in time for a late dinner. Then, they can have from around 8:15 until 11:00 to do any of their hobbies. Not bad, I suppose. Of course, you do have to take into account the fact that most students have all sorts of extracurriculars, or even just a social life, which often lead them to not even get home until 6:00 or 7:00. Then they have dinner, and after dinner (around 8:00) they can finally start on their 3.5 hours of homework, bringing us to 11:30, where they start the entire cycle over again.
At my school, we start on most days at 8:05, and I wake up at 7:00 to get there on time. However, since I can never sleep by 10:00, I often need to either wait until 11:30 to go to sleep, or wake up in the middle of a sleep cycle. Now, on Tuesdays we start at 8:45, which makes a remarkable difference, even though it's only a 40 minute change. I can swing sleeping until 8:00 on most Tuesdays, which leaves me with a much more achievable 11:00 bed time. I have found that on those later start days, I get moving faster in the mornings, and then once I'm up I feel more awake, both immediately in the morning and throughout the day. While late start as it is probably couldn't work permanently due to shortened class periods, I do believe that if they simply adjusted the schedule down 40 minutes every day, a start time of 8:45 would be beneficial to all. Honestly, I would be willing to give up the 3:00 hour to school if it meant school didn't start until 8:45.
The other problem I mentioned, that of too much homework, is one for another day, although I do promise that I will write about it at some point. I have this idea, though, that if students were to go to all their classes while their brains weren't messed up from terrible sleeping patterns, then it wouldn't take them as long to do their homework.
All in all, I would have to say that I think the entire institution of high school could be radically improved, if they would only bump school hours down an hour or two. 
Well, that's about it for now!
Don't Forget To Be Awesome,


Saturday, 29 November 2014

Thanksgiving Thoughts

Dear World,
This week is Thanksgiving, at least here in the US. It’s a pretty controversial holiday these days, at least as I understand it. I would like to share my thoughts on the subject, and boy are they complicated thoughts.
From my understanding, which admittedly could be very flawed due to where I got my knowledge (school and tumblr, mainly), Thanksgiving has two main roots: 1) celebration of the presumably successful harvest of that year (rather like the Jewish holiday of Sukkot), and B) celebration of our arrival in this country, which means celebrating taking it over from the Native Americans. The controversy in this is quite obviously part B. Many people feel that in celebrating Thanksgiving, we are either blithely disregarding the impact of our arrival on the Native Americans (what can be seen as a genocide), or we are out and out celebrating it. To me, it is completely wrong to even think about celebrating a genocide, especially coming from the perspective of a people who lost six million to a similar genocide (known as the Shoah, or Holocaust).
While I think that it is wrong to celebrate Thanksgiving from that viewpoint, I don’t think the holiday should be abolished altogether, or really at all. I think that as long as the holiday is taken away from its origins and context, it’s okay to enjoy it. After all, in my life and my family, Thanksgiving is used as a way to evaluate what we have been given in life, and to express our thanks for all that we have to fortune to have and experience. Sure, we throw in some turkeys here and there, but really it’s about appreciating family. The reason I love Thanksgiving time is that most years (not this one due to extenuating weather circumstances), it’s when I get to see all my family, all together, having fun and being friendly like a family should.
Now, I’m not saying we should ignore the terrible parts of the origin of this holiday. In fact, I believe that it is important to know about all the horrors of our past, and to teach about them to ensure that history doesn’t repeat itself, just as we do with Passover. People need to be educated about the wrongs in our history. But since this holiday is about giving thanks, I feel that it’s okay to do both, especially because you are then giving thanks for what you have learned. I think that it is equally as important to save a day out of the year to say thank you and reflect as it is to have a day of commemoration; too many people go through life taking advantage of what they have. And there can still be a day of commemoration for all that the Native American people have lost, there should be. That, however, is a topic for another day, as it goes along with all the other holidays I think this world needs or doesn’t need.
All in all, I think that it’s important to remember that Thanksgiving is a holiday for just that: giving thanks. I don’t often take things at face value, but in this case I do, in order to continue to give value to this traditional holiday. I know that there are many problems with the holiday as a whole, I’m not ignoring that, but I feel that it’s okay to celebrate as long as you are celebrating the right things, and acknowledging the bad parts. To me, this day is about showing people the good before them, and that is something worth celebrating.
Well, that’s about it for today. Feel free to leave me a comment with your opinion, or start up a discussion with me if you disagree.
Don’t Forget To Be Awesome,

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Quick Explanation

It's just now occurring to me that my blog title could do with some explaining. Basically, the way I came to this title was a simple thought process. I started by thinking about what I could say that would indicate my intention to use this blog as a way to make a difference, or in other words, as my weapon. This led to the phrase "the pen is mightier than the sword". Obviously, such a cliche title, and so long, too, was a bad idea, so I thought for a little while about how to shorten it for my blog. I wanted to use the idea of my writing, or my pen, but I wasn't getting anywhere. Finally, I hit on the perfect solution. "My Virtual Sword", which references the pen/sword phrase, and works in the fact that this is an online platform.