Friday, January 31, 2014

From A Friend:

Every year on January 31st I tell Emily I am going to write on her blog and I never get to it. It’s been 5 years and I finally got to it. I didn’t know where to start but here it goes…

Dear Emily and Emily’s heart,
Happy 5th anniversary.  You have worked perfectly together and had no major issues. Cheers to many many more years of bliss.

Dear Emily’s heart donor,
How can we thank you and your family enough for the selfless decision to donate your heart so that my best friend Emily could live. I am so grateful that you saved my best friend’s life and truly changed my outlook on life as well.  Thank you for setting a great example of how organ donation can save lives.  

Dear Emily,
I remember 5 years ago when you went on the donation list for a heart transplant on your 16thBirthday. I tried to stay calm and strong on the outside but honestly I was so nervous inside. I was afraid I could lose my best friend. I remember Saturday January 31st 2009 I got a phone call from you at 7am. I knew something was up because you are never up that early unless you’re swimming. I picked up the phone and you told me you had a heart and you were going into surgery that morning. I wanted to talk to you more but you had to go prep for surgery and make a few more phone calls. I remember running into my parents’ room and yelling “Emily has a heart!”  Then I just started to cry not knowing what would happen. I think it wasn’t till the next day that I got a text message from your mom saying you were ok. I checked the blog every morning to get the latest update. One morning I read about how you had received the package I sent including the fuzzy socks!  I remember talking to you probably a week later but you were pretty well drugged up still. You came home in March and I was one of the few people allowed to come visit you. We spent hours hanging up paper cranes from your ceiling. They did add a nice touch to your room.  I was happy to hear you would finish 10thgrade in time to move up the next year. It kinda would’ve stunk to be a grade ahead of you. We had many more adventures post-transplant including a trip to NYC to see Burn The Floor. We used so much Purell we probably could’ve had them sponsor our trip.  I look forward to many more stories, trips, adventures, baking parties, and years of awesome best friend stuff.  Always remember “At least it’s not a double lung”.  You are like a sister to me. I’m proud of you. I love ya. Have a happy heart day!
-Miranda J

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

This Star Won't Go Out

Yesterday Esther Earl's book This Star Won't Go Out was released. In a lot of ways Esther and I were extremely similar. She and I were at Children's Hospital Boston at the same time even though she was a lot sicker. She and I were dealing with pain, nausea, and migraines at the same time in the same hospital, but I didn't know her. She was a gamer who enjoyed playing competitive console games and multiplayer games. We both had a dream to become a writer. We both absolutely loved all books and in particular epic young adult fantasy like Harry Potter or the novels of John Green. Plus Ester liked Doctor Who, which just shows good taste. I identify a lot with Esther's story as a sick teenager who often felt "so guilty" and "useless." I think I would've gotten along with Esther Earl if I had known her and if she hadn't died. I wish I had known her because, everyone seems to think, "Esther has always been epic." I mean I can't guarantee we would have gotten along. Maybe we would have been too similar or I would've been put off by her trust in God and she would have hated my heathenism, but she seems so relatable to me. We could have talked about living, dying, and YouTube. I'm a little jealous of Esther sometimes. I shouldn't be envious of her because she was almost constantly sick, but she lives so much in her short life. She met John Green and Alex Day and had a lot of good friends who praise her, "profound capacity for compassion." I guess for those reasons I shouldn't be jealous of Esther; I should simply acknowledge my wish to be like her. John Green described her as, "a star [that] shines on our little planet." Everyone thinks she's internally gorgeous. Anyone who describes her notes something along the lines of her, "warm and understanding" nature.  Esther says, "I'm not always awesome" and I'm sure she wasn't, but I think she was always good. I want to always love the people around me. I want to be more of a "welcomer" like Esther.

I'm not enough like Esther yet, but the fictional character Esther inspired, Hazel, from my favorite book The Fault in Our Stars, is actually a lot closer to me. I guess everyone feels that way because almost ten million people have watched the trailer to The Fault in Our Stars movie, but I really, really feel like I'm similar to the fictional human Hazel Grace Lancaster. She is snarky and cynical and constantly worried about her imperfections, but kind and hopeful as well. I might never be able to be as much of an accepting friend as Esther Grace Earl, but I can be as open-minded as Hazel Grace Lancaster.

In the amazing play Much Ado About Nothing Shakespeare has the great proto-feminist hero Beatrice announce that, "a star danced across the sky" on the day she was born. It may be narcissistic to see yourself as someone who matters. It may be incorrect to believe that our existence is important, but there are icons that people need to look to in order to be better. I hope that whether it is the real Esther or the fictional Beatrice or Hazel, people can look to the sky and see a special person who makes you feel like you can love your friends and family more deeply and thoroughly. That's something I want to do.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

SciFi Girls

I was observing a kindergarten class today. They were watching interactive movies about numbers and counting in the library for about a half hour. At the end of the fun math show all the kids were sad they had to go back to their regular day. One boy announced, "We should watch more movies! I want to see Star Wars!" I actually agreed with this boy and his assessment of the situation.

A young lady responded, "What would the girls do?" I sighed.

Another, different gentleman responded, "You could watch Cinderella or something in a different room!" with excitement. It took everything inside me to not stop the class. If it wasn't my first day with them and if I was more than just an observing pre-practicum student teacher I would've sat those six year-olds down and asked them why the girls can't watch Star Wars. I would have investigated with these tiny humans the gender biases that make geeky, nerdy girls everywhere feel ashamed. If I had any power over that class I would've stopped the whole situation. I would've done it gladly because somebody needs to tell the girls that it's acceptable to love a beautiful action-packed, romantic space opera and somebody needs to tell the boys that it's fine if they love fairy tales that make life seem easy and fun.

I think it's hard to be a girl that is in love with SciFi and it's hard to be a boy that's excited about medieval princes and princesses. It's so challenging because even in Kindergarten everybody already knows the norms. I thought it started later. I thought you got to just be yourself until you were in elementary school, but I was wrong. Apparently, kindergartners already are acting out gendered activities. Isn't that depressing? No one tells them that Leia gets a gun or that there are some pretty cool princes in fairy tales. I want to be that person someday.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

100 x 100s New Years Day Game

At 6AM on January 1st forty people gathered together to swim 10,000 yards. An observer might think it's a little crazy. They might wonder about this suspect group of individuals who would rather swim ridiculous lengths than drink with their friends. These people are not alone, though. For decades this event has been taking place. Years and years have been rung in by swimmers swimming long distance at the Glens Falls Family YMCA and I'm proud that I've had a little part in it even though I've never swum the actual distance. My participation has been to help make it fun. I make it a game. 
Jane McGonigal, one of my heroes, defines a game as anything with, "a goal, rules, a feedback system, and voluntary participation." That's the 100x100s.

The goal is to swim a very long distance. It doesn't have to be 10,000 yards. Some people chose to do 5,000 or 7,500, but they don't just stop when they're tired. These people have a large goal set.

The rules of the game are simple, but they are taken pretty seriously. You have to swim the laps on a certain interval. This year the coach picked 1:40. You have to swim 100 yards every one minute and forty seconds or you will mess up your whole lane. When you are doing the swimming you also have to answer a trivia question every sixth lap. It's an artificial limitation, to be sure, but a fun one. In the same way that golf wouldn't be fun if you could just put the ball in the hole the 100x100s wouldn't be fun if I weren't there as trivia master. I'm the question queen because it breaks up the monotony of a hard swim. It adds another layer of challenge to the participants of the game. Everyone loves a rule to make a game harder as long as the feedback system still encourages them appropriately.

The feedback system tells players how they are doing. I keep track of how far they've swum and how many questions they've gotten right. They are always sure how close they are to their objective because I write on the board exactly how far they've gone. It provides the motivation to keep going.

Everyone comes to the 100x100s voluntarily. They buy into the objective, the rules, and the feedback system. They know they are going to swim long and hard while somebody asks them obscure questions. It establishes common ground that everyone is playing the same game. They can enter or leave, but they are doing it because they are being intentionally stressed with challenging work in a safe environment. It feels great.

In the past I've wondered about why I loved the 100x100s. This year was the first year I realized I love it because it's A GAME. I always love games. Anytime someone teaches me some rules and asks if I wantto buy into the artificial limitations I agree. I like supporting good game design and that swimming event is great game design. It's hard. It has many levels depending on how good of a swimmer you are because you can do 50s, 75s, 100s, or IMs. It's just brilliant. I hope I'm there next year to see people play the game again. Games make us better. They make us more fit, more likely to like the people we play with, and they throw endorphins at you. Great game design to start a new year. I'm in love.