On The “Real World” (14.2.9)

This piece was originally published in Voices of Youth Advocates, in their “Notes of the Teen Underground” Series in October 2015. I was 18 at the time of its publication. I still stand by the intentions and main kernals in these early essays. However, I was new in my development of my opinions and the language needed to properly express them. These pieces can be clumsy, and contain missteps.

My language, eloquence, and beliefs are continually refined, and hopefully my writing mirrors that improvement now.

This iteration is lightly edited for typos and clarity only. Enjoy.

Many adults talk about the “Real World” in settings with youth who are not yet legal adults, or those who are not yet teenagers. It’s a phrase that’s used to mean that each age is not yet in the real world, that we are somehow living in a fake world often thought of as softer than the “Real World”. Before you’re eighteen you hear it so much that you begin to think you’ll never be living in a real world.

Though, the way the real world is described, maybe that’s a good thing. It’s a place of seemingly boring responsibilities and goals, tasks, and safety hazards; where you have to listen to the person above your rung of the ladder, no matter what your conscience or heart says. So maybe we shouldn’t want to live there, even though society holds it up as a goal. But then again, this world isn’t all that great, however fake and pretty it seems to the adult telling you how harsh the “Real World” is. We still have boring responsibilities, boring goals, boring tasks, and horrible safety hazards. We are still forced to learn from and respect people whose morals and consciences can be far inferior to our own. Just like all the other “Real Worlds” we’ve heard about or seen. Which world is truly real, which world should we aspire to? Or perhaps both worlds are a societal illusion?

I hear a lot of people talk about the “Real World” as a place that’s not got a bit of decency or any kind of ideal in it, and you’re told to throw away your sense of self to fit in and “succeed”. We’re supposed to aspire to a fictional “Real World” that is even more frustrating than the world we already live in, the supposedly fake world. Perhaps the world of the teenager seems unreal or surreal to adults looking out from their own world, but that doesn’t mean it’s not actually real. Sometimes I think adults feel that our world is too real for us to handle as such delicate young creatures, so they pretend we live in a fantasy world where the only problems are the ones we invent for ourselves – instead of trying to deal with the actual problems.

Our world is as unreal, surreal, and too-real, as the adult world. Each is no more or less real than the other. They certainly may be different, but difference does not question reality. Describing adulthood as the “Real World” and implying that the teenager’s or child’s life is not does nothing good, and does much harm.

The myth that we’re waiting to start living hurts. It seems the “Real World” where we will finally be accepted, as warped and corrupted as we will become in the process of getting there, is just out of our reach. It hurts more than the single person who strives for that world – and can never make it to a place that never existed – it hurts all of society.

Teaching teens that they’re never living in the real world means that our actions have no consequence, that everything we feel or think is fake, that we’re always waiting to truly live. And that is not the kind of adult you want to have around you. I’m not saying that all teens should suddenly have the same consequences as adults, or be thrown into the next stage of development before they’re ready. I’m saying that real is a word that describes all stages of life, and that reality should be dealt with rather than ignored.

Rain, Catalyzed. Watcher Garden #8 (19.2.1)

Vast pool of information catalyzing into chains of molecules, the slime that pours itself from beakers. Found by a girl huddled in the corner of a street in the busy part of the town, where the suits and proper houses stand. Playing in a puddle with a stick or a finger, discovering the strands of water that hold themselves together with a stir.

The girl who’s met the spirits, who would know how to birth sciences, if only given the chance.

She stirs the water, its links finding themselves, information evaporated from the gardens and rained down upon the town.

Mechanisms not understood.

A misery to the one who sleeps in the street. Then a magic.

If she can understand the links, she can unlock the self she longs for beneath her skin.

Journey Towards Understanding. (14.10.23)

This piece was originally published in Voices of Youth Advocates, in their “Notes of the Teen Underground” Series in April 2015. I was 18 at the time of its publication. I still stand by the intentions and main kernals in these early essays. However, I was new in my development of my opinions and the language needed to properly express them. These pieces can be clumsy, and contain missteps.

My language, eloquence, and beliefs are continually refined, and hopefully my writing mirrors that improvement now.

For this essay specifically, there are several ways I’d change this piece if I were to write anything like it now, and there are many ways I feel like I haven’t learned enough to revisit any of these ideas. This article makes me feel for several reasons that I’ve left things unfinished in developing this relationship with the culture I was learning about, and with the learning itself. I hope to have the mental and physical means to invest in deepening my knowledge and interaction.

This iteration is lightly edited for typos and clarity only. Enjoy.

I think I’ve always had a little knowledge that sign language existed, but it wasn’t really on my radar growing up. I’m not deaf or hard of hearing. My dad had his hearing damaged, but it never seemed to be really noticeable or problematic. None of my relatives or friends were deaf and no one knew any kind of sign language beyond the ever influential middle finger.

When I was about eleven, I was volunteering at a local library putting stickers on new young adult books, and I found one that looked interesting. I remembered it and later I read it. It was called My Most Excellent Year by Steve Kluger. It said on the jacket that it was about love, Mary Poppins, and Fenway Park. This book is still, six years later, one of my all time favorite books.

It was about two best friends, T.C. and Augie, and a girl, Alejandra. And then T.C. met a six year old boy. His name was Hucky, he was deaf, and orphaned. Learning sign language became a priority for T.C. as he learned more about the stubborn and sad boy who was obsessed with Mary Poppins. Along the way T.C. and Alejandra fall in love, Augie falls in love with a boy named Andy, and a little magic happens.

This book proved to me that a happy book can be just as powerful, meaningful, and beautiful as one that uses pain to find its epiphanies. My Most Excellent Year opened my eyes, and what I saw was the world I want to live in.

It’s a place with sadness, true, but it’s also a place with delight, friendship, brotherhood, love, and happiness. It’s a place where you can be yourself and have people around who love you. That’s the world I strive for when I write, fiction or opinion.

Later on, my Sophomore year of high school, I took American Sign Language (ASL) for the year, primarily because of the influence of My Most Excellent Year. I learned a bit, mostly that I wanted to know more, and I was more successful at learning ASL than the other languages I had previously attempted. My high school class never managed to keep quiet and it was hard to learn to actually hold conversations because of that.

So the next year, my junior year in high school and my first year in college, when I signed up for ASL 1 I didn’t expect to know anything. My college level ASL class was taught by a deaf professor, and a few times the class had a substitute, who was another deaf professor. This made the classroom environment much more conducive to learning ASL. I was pleasantly surprised to realize that I remembered some of the signs, and the rest were pretty easy. Except, it was hard too. It’s a language, it’s complex and varied and has its own rules, dialects, and conventions. And it’s attached to a culture that’s complex and varied with its own rules, conventions, and nuances.

It’s fascinating to learn about, it’s amazing to be a part of even in a peripheral way. But it’s scary to talk to other people in ASL. You’re afraid to say the wrong thing, to forget a sign, to mix up signs, or not be able to understand any signs. ASL looks good on resumes too, but what if you’re expected to know it well and then you freeze and remember nothing when you need it?

I am taking ASL 2 now, from the same professor. It’s once again one of my easiest classes and hardest classes – at the same time. I think I understand the language more than I did before, but the same fears plague me. I hope to take ASL 3 soon if I do well enough in ASL 2. Someday I hope I can sign fluently enough to ease some of the fear of letting myself, and those I want to communicate with, down.

When you begin learning ASL you feel very isolated, and quite often confused. You don’t know enough sign to talk with your classmates, you can’t speak out loud because it’s a deaf-friendly environment and a classroom environment, and you can’t always understand the professor without the help of the teachers’ aid or an interpreter. It feels similar to what I imagine it feels like to be deaf amongst a group of hearing people. But slowly, very slowly, it begins to become clearer.

As you learn and understand more and more, there’s a moment you cherish. When you are watching a conversation in ASL, and you finally understand. Some of the signs are unfamiliar, some of it doesn’t exactly seem to be signs, and some is just too fast. But you understand. The story unfolds in front of you.

ASL is an entirely visual language, and sometimes, especially when I’m watching someone tell a story, or sign to a song, it’s as if the air around the signer becomes animated with the concepts of the signs, gestures, and finger spelling. It’s amazing.

This language and culture isn’t something I can claim, but I am a better person for knowing even the small amount about it that I do. I would wish this understanding and opportunity on everyone who wanted it, in the world I write for.

Complications. Watcher Garden #7 (19.2.1)

Guesses perhaps, are the creation of a new path, for a new universe. Perhaps their guesses permeate our universe, soaking into constraints, shifting the tides.

Each then, walks amongst other universes, casting their own multiverses in their gazes, their speculations.

These complications, they do not stir the otter sleeping in a calm eddy of the quandary river running through the edge of the garden. The otter’s whiskers twitch with dreams, their paws curling about themselves in comfort.

The Loan Beach Walker. (13.7.9)

The night is still, silent as motion can be. A silver moon hangs low across the water, casting it’s light over the rippling waves. They crest at the beach and break over the dark sand. Rocks and seaweed are light against the black sand beach. A sea wall up the beach a way, now the end of the beach, stacks logs against it and things live there. Things besides the children of the day in their imaginations as they play.

Things that you’ve never seen, things you couldn’t see even if you tried.

The beach is full of people in the day, practically swarming with them. They’re alright. They live behind the sea wall only a road and a sidewalk away, where the beach used to end. They put the concrete down and built the wall. They hold the sea at bay yet wish they had more contact with the natural. With something they haven’t touched. Only when they wade in the water and the kelp brushes their legs do they think about this, and then it’s only I wish I could see more, or holy shit, what’s touching my leg?!

Tonight the water is alone, the people are gone. The colors fade between blue, blue green, silver, gray, and black. The picture is layered, water, waves, crashing surf, layers of beach, logs, sea wall, and a jagged reaching of buildings and people’s creations behind it. The fence and gate keeping the sea from the people and the people from the sea are locked. No one should be here.

The beach is alone, nothing shares with it the space beyond the fence at this time. The consequences of such an action are severe, and no one should tempt the harsh government of the time.

The tall figure of a man walks along the beach near the surf’s edge seems to fade into the shades of the beach. He walks here alone every night, watching the sea and the surf. He knows this beach, every contour. He knows what the people bring to it, and he knows what they take away. He watches as it changes, and he feels a calmness the sea brings out in him.

As he walks, occasionally he stoops, plucking a piece of plastic or bit of fabric from the sand. With each thing he picks up and stows away in his bag, the line of his jaw tightens. A spark of fire lights in his eyes, and burns his soul to see the rubbish left here. This is his place to be himself, alone, with his thoughts and himself. Everything he sees is a personal insult, an affront to the sea.

He’s been a boy when the wall was constructed, he had been watching the men always moving things around, building, creating, destroying. Yet through everything, even when the beach looked its worst, it had been his. More than anyone else, it was his.

And no matter what the people did to it, the sea seemed to like them. To care about them, help them. And the beach was his, friend. He would help its task, and he would keep it safe, as much as he could. He and the beach, the man who walked along the monochrome layers of sand and salt and waves, and the water that rose and fell to his step, they were a team.

This piece was originally written for the Seattle Acquarium’s Creativity Inspiring Conservation creative writing course, and was displayed during their 2013 student art reception.

The statement written for the program:

I feel like there’s a deep connection between people and the environment, I think it communicates with us, and I hope it will get easier to find people who are willing to try and listen.