Tuesday, February 21, 2017

My First Day at Hogwarts

On my first day of college, I opened  my schedule and found out my first class took place in four different rooms. One of them was a Friday-only lab, so that was a small comfort. But how could I manage to be in three places at once? At least the room numbers were close to one another. Maybe these were adjacent rooms, with nice sliding walls, and finding one meant I’d find them all.
After wandering around the basement for a while, I located Room B092. I thought, “Well, this is it! I’m officially a college girl!” I held my head high, adjusted my backpack, and pushed open the door.
I’d expected people. The room held a chair, a table, a piano, three normal walls, and the back wall, which was curved. Curved, and moving.
I shut the door and considered my options. Either I was still in seventh grade and having one of those nightmares where you’re an adult and nothing makes sense. In that case, I should try and wake up. Or, I’d arrived at a place I’d dreamt of long before seventh grade.
BYU was Hogwarts.
If that were the case, I was so changing my major from English to Defense Against the Dark Arts.
I wandered around the corner and found another one of the rooms on my class list. This time, when I opened the door, I was assured that BYU was a Muggle school.
The main classroom was an auditorium. At the back, there were merry-go-round sections with additional seats on slowly rotating platforms. I understood now. For large lecture classes, B092 served as overflow for the auditorium. When it wasn’t needed, it could turn around and provide seating for a smaller class.
It seemed a lot less practical than a simple sliding wall, but I decided to roll with it. This was how college people went to class! I decided to show the room I wasn’t afraid by walking right over the moving section.
I kept my eyes up, as if I went to class like this every day and didn’t even notice the ground moving under my feet anymore. But the instant I set foot on the platform, it froze.
The guy at the control panel glared at me. “It doesn’t move when there’s people on it.”
“Oh. Okay.” I knew that, sure.

I sat down in one of the non-moving rows and avoided the merry-go-round seating for months. Next semester, I had a class in the smaller room behind the auditorium, and we had to sit around waiting before each class for our chairs to show up. I always wondered why they built this expensive rotating platform when they could’ve just built a wall of sliding panels. 
Image result for harry potter stairs gif
Image result for harry potter gif

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Are Love Triangles All that Bad?

In the middle of finals week, I bought the third book in a series I like. I couldn’t remember how many books were in the series as a whole, so I looked up the fourth one on goodreads. That was a mistake. The very first sentence of the fourth book description said the villains of the third book killed “the girl he loved”. Well, there goes the entire story. In the first two books, the hero only had one love interest, so it had to be her who died at the end of the third book. 
Then I actually started reading the book. To my surprise, the hero got a new girlfriend in this book. That simultaneously gave me hope and made me nervous. I already knew “the girl he loved” would die by the end of this story. But who was she? Did using the phrase “the girl he loved” instead of “both his girlfriends” imply that one of them would live?
I had to know. Even though I was in the exam trenches, I devoured that book. I have five chapters left. Girl B just died and Girl A is heading the same way-but Hero still has a chance to save her. Is she going to make it?
Love triangles have received a lot of negative criticism in YA over the last several years. I've seen positive reviews praise a book for simply not having one. I once came across a "Love Triangle Free Zone" web badge on a review blog. Recently I saw an Internet Person claim that love triangles are unrealistic because “I’ve never been in one and I don’t know anyone who has.” I can only see that being true for the self centered version of the love triangle, where one person has two lovers at the same time, and even then it's a stretch.

If you date somebody and they formally break up with you for someone else, that’s a love triangle.
If you date somebody and they cheat on you, that’s a love triangle.
If you suffer from unrequited love for someone who's in a relationship, that's a love triangle.
In other words, your three sided shape is still a triangle even if you are not the hypotenuse. I can't go a week without hearing about one of my friends crushing on a boy, "But he has a girlfriend." The most basic and obvious reason for divorce (though not the most common today) is spousal infidelity. The only way to get through life not knowing somebody who's in a love triangle is to not know anybody at all. 
I’ve kept a tally of every novel, memoir, biography, play, graphic novel, and manga I’ve read this past year. At the time of this writing, I've read 55, 52 of them being fiction. 29 of the 52 have romance. 16 out of 29 have love triangles under my expanded definition. It’s an equal split between adult and YA. Of the 8 adult titles, 6 are classics, because I’m a student and that’s mostly what I read. Here are the descriptions of all the love triangles I’ve encountered over the past year. Titles are included in the cases of classics because I have no qualms about spoiling something that's been around for centuries.

-A woman leaves her abusive husband for a better man, but that man is also flawed. When he dies she marries her third husband who is the love of her life. Their Eyes Were Watching God
-A woman loves a man but she marries someone richer. He runs away, gets even richer than the married couple, and returns to marry her sister in law. Wuthering Heights
-A woman’s husband comes back from war with a concubine. She kills them both. Agamemnon
-A woman's husband divorces her in order to marry a princess. She kills the princess, the king, and, for good measure, her own two children from her husband. She flies off in a magic chariot with their corpses in tow, leaving her husband with absolutely nothing. Medea
-A woman loves a man who loves her back, but they’re both too stubborn to admit it. She bonds with a different guy over their mutual dislike for the first man. Then the second man runs off with her little sister and the first man pays for their wedding in order to protect the family’s reputation. His kindness for her sister softens the woman’s heart. Pride and Prejudice
-Guy brings a coworker home to meet his antisocial sister. The coworker turns out to be an old classmate the sister had a crush on. She finds out he’s engaged. The Glass Menagerie
-Wedding planner offers to do her ex-boyfriend’s wedding in hopes of stealing him away from his fiancee in the process. Falls for the best man instead and decides to let the happy couple be.
-Woman crushes on man. He likes her too, so they date. Creepy stalker dude follows her around until he takes care of him.

-Boy dates the same girl for most of his high school life. In the last week of their senior year and the first chapter of the book, she breaks up with him. He finds someone new.
-Girl grows up in a dystopian society and has a boy she likes. She gets shipwrecked on an island away from the society, and, presuming the boy is dead, moves on. Turns out he’s not, but she’s happier with the new boy.
-Boy likes girl. Girl breaks up with boy. Boy finds new girl. New girl is killed by a demon who goes for his ex-girlfriend next.
-Actress girl is scripted to play a boy’s love interest. She had a celebrity crush on him before, but quickly realizes he’s a Hollywood jerk. He develops a crush on her, she does not reciprocate, because she now likes a different costar.
-Girl has a human boyfriend at the beginning of the book. Aliens visit earth. She falls for alien boy instead and leaves her human ex-boyfriend on earth.
-Girl grows up in a very small ragtag band of refugees. She falls in love with the only boy her age in camp. After she gets out and sees the world, another boy falls for her. She does not reach a decision by the end of the book.
-Girl disguises herself as a boy to be a soldier. Two boys are aware of this but don’t tell her. For one of the boys, also a soldier, she’s the only girl he interacts with regularly. When she reveals her gender they both reveal having feelings for her. She does not reach a decision by the end of the book.
-Girl's coworker and friend start seeing her as a love interest. She's involved briefly with one of them while continuing to see the second as a friend. She and the coworker lose interest in each other and he goes off to live his life, leaving her to fall for the friend.

After crunching the numbers, only 3 (or 5.45%) of the books I’ve read this year have a love triangle with the most whined about definition. Love triangles appear in classic and contemporary literature because they reflect common life situations. People cheat, leave their lovers, and go on rebound. Relationships are messy.
Really, there’s not a whole lot you can do with romance. It's the most formulaic of genres. They meet, they kiss, they live happily ever after. Two person romances are predictable. We find comfort in that, which is why we read them. The most obvious benefit of including a love triangle is
1. They add suspense.
Let's go on, shall we?
2. They reflect realistic situations.
3. It gives the main character something to do over the course of a series. If everything works out great with her one love in the first book, what's the conflict in the second? Either you get a petty breakup or you have to send in a band of pirates to kidnap one of the lovers. Nobody likes that.
4. It can be entirely appropriate for the situation. In some of the examples I've listed, the main character lives in an environment where they meet very few people of the opposite gender. Their only option is to fall for the only guy or girl around, even if that person happens to have feelings for someone else. 
5. Follow the leader. Two of my adult examples, Agamemnon and Medea, come from ancient Greek theater, and they're only adaptations of older myths. Love triangles have always been around, why stop?
6. Let readers dream a little! Maybe the ugly bookish girl holed up in a corner of the library won't ever find herself faced with two equally devoted loves. That's why she's reading about it instead of going outside to face her pathetic dating life.

I am a teenager. Sometime in the next decade of my life, I expect to find and marry someone I love. I don't expect the road to be easy. I would love it if every boy I crushed on turned out to be single. I would love it if no boy ever cheated on me. And yes, I'd love it if I never had to pick between two guys I loved equally. Some people do meet their true love at sixteen, date exclusively, and marry out of high school. But most love is messy. 

Of course, I am basing my statistics and conclusions off my own reading. It might not be yours, but that's actually a good thing. Half of my love triangle list (AKA everything on the adult side) are titles I read for school or my internship with a publishing company. For the YA, I picked what I read. In other words, I managed to read only three books in the past year with self centered love triangles. They're easy to avoid. 

I've long suspected that the reason love triangles are unpopular is they give you a chance to lose. Readers fall in love along with the characters, and when the protagonist makes they opposite choice, we feel betrayed. Chuck that book across the room! I believe it's a sign of shallow readership to only tolerate characters who behave and decide exactly as we would. We have our own love lives to make those decisions. Fictional characters stay in their spheres. And should I one day wake up in a world where my favorite fictional characters are living and breathing, I'll be thrilled that my love interest of choice was rejected by the heroine.
Because that leaves more of him for me. 

Friday, November 27, 2015

Book Review: I Love I Hate I Miss My Sister by Amelie Sarn

I Love I Hate I Miss My Sister by Amelie Sarn
Genre: Contemporary
Rating: *****
Pages: 152
Original French Title: Un Flouard Pour Djelila (A Scarf for Djelila)

There's nobody Sohane loves or hates more than her little sister Djelila. While Sohane's praying in the mosque, Djelila's out partying. She's pretty, and she knows it. But so do the boys-both the ones Djelila flirts with at school and the religious extremist dropouts who roam the projects. Sohane keeps
wishing someone would teach Djelila a lesson. Until the dropout gang decides to do just that.
In the wake of the Parisian terrorist attacks, I've been looking for some way to understand the issues at play. My preferred method of education is reading and fiction packs power that naked facts don't. I'd heard about this book before, but forgot about it until I searched my library for Muslim YA reads and found one set in France.
I read this hoping for an understanding of life in France, but I didn't get it. I realized while reading this that the only France-set books I've read before were by American authors and written for an American audience. This one was not. The French setting is assumed, not built. I did, however, gain a greater understanding of Muslim life.
This is a beautiful little book. I'm Christian, not Muslim, but there were so many little details that were relevant to me as a person of faith, and I believe they'll be fascinating to many readers regardless of religious affiliation. When Sohane talks about going to the mosque, it's not an actual mosque, but a room in a local man's apartment that he's set aside for worship. This is the best they have because they don't live in a community with a high Muslim population.
The issue of wearing a hijab is explored in depth. Sohane gets kicked out of school for choosing to cover her hair while Djelila is attacked for not wearing one. Every non-Muslim character she talks to incorrectly refers to her hijab as a veil, even though she's standing in front of them and they can see her face is completely bare. The day Sohane decides to wear her hair in a scarf, she and Djelila go to visit her grandmother, who has several friends over. All of these elderly women give her reasons to stop wearing it. When she goes to a community meeting about Djelila's murder, the women organizing it, who don't know she's her sister, immediately kick her out.
"You don't belong here. Our group fights for the liberty of women, for the defense of their free will, and for the abolition of a chauvinist society. You disavow these values by accepting to wear the veil."
"I feel like shouting, not out of pain this time, but out of amusement at the irony. Of course, how did I forget? I can't participate in a debate that uses my sister as a symbol! I probably can't even be Djelila Chebli's siter, not the Djelila Chebli these women have chosen as the mascot for their own convictions!"
This book may be short, but it tackles complex issues of identity, religion, sisterhood, violence, sexism, and grief. Even though it has a violent murder scene, it brought me peace in wake of the terrorism that took the Western world by storm. It gave me the greater understanding of Islam I was looking for and it's a beautiful, tender portrayal of sisterhood and loss. Pick this up. It won't take you long to read and it's well worth your time.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Tricolors and Pink Ribbons: The Power of an Empty Symbol

My brothers play pee wee football. At least once a season they have a breast cancer awareness game and all the players wear pink socks. The first time they did this, one of their teammates put on his pink socks, ran around the football field wearing them, and came up to the coach after the game to ask, "What's a breast?" 
It is possible that his pink socks had some impact on the adults on the sidelines. Adults who are already aware of breast cancer because they know people who've fought it or at least read articles about Susan G. Komen for the Cure. But they have a knowledge base about breast cancer. They don't need pink socks.
Some time after that, my brother asked a question over the dinner table. "Mom, why is pink the cancer color?" He'd worn pink socks on the field and seen the pink ribbon icon on everything from key chains to soup cans. He had the vague idea that it was somehow related to cancer, but he didn't make the ties between pink and femininity, femininity and the female body, the female body and a disease that affects (mostly) females. Of course he couldn't, he was a little boy.
But he was given the responsibility of promoting awareness among all the parents watching him play.

Breast Cancer Action refers to this practice as pinkwashing. Customers will choose a can of soup with the pink ribbon over a can of soup without one, believing they're somehow benefiting the cancer afflicted, but any company can appropriate the breast cancer symbol. They are under no obligation to donate money to cure research in return. Never mind that patients are still suffering and dying just like they were before the logo was added to the product. Now customers are aware! That's the point, right? Not curing the cancer itself?
Cancer survivor and blogger Leisha Davison-Yasol scorned "National No Bra Day", a campaign purported to raise awareness for her disease, as diverting attention away from breast cancer itself. Surprisingly, flaunting your nipples in front of someone who's had hers surgically removed does very little to cheer her up. 
There are companies and individuals in the world who are legitimately concerned for breast cancer patients. They'll donate money to see it cured. But there are plenty of others who just want to pat themselves on the back for being aware of a disease. Good deed for the day, check! 
Last summer, I participated in the ice bucket challenge because a friend tagged me. But thinking back to it just now I couldn't remember what it was supposed to raise awareness for. A disease, yes, but which one? Not breast cancer, something else. I needed google to remind myself it was for ALS. And an additional search to figure out what part of the body ALS actually affected. I sloshed ice cold water down my back because all my friends were doing it. Beyond, "Good job, Erica! You did a good deed today. Go ALS patients!" it had no personal impact.
Diseases aren't the only horrors with empty symbols. As I've scrolled through my Facebook feed this weekend, I've watched a similar thing happen with the French flag. I have two Canadian Facebook friends. I have one Nepali Facebook friend. I have one Kiwi Facebook friend. Every other person on my feed is American. And with very few exceptions, all of their friends are American as well. Not French. But in the aftermath of the horrors in Paris, everyone is adding the tricolor to their profile pictures. To "show support". Exactly who are they showing?

When you light up a world famous building, the people of Paris hear about it. That's showing support. But tricoloring a picture that will only be seen by a hundred or so non-French Facebook users is no more effective than hanging a French flag in your closet. 
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I understand that many people are doing this for personal comfort. Bloodshed abroad brings down the morale of people far removed from the action. I've traveled to Paris before and I've been looking into Paris as a study abroad destination. But even if I didn't have these (miniscule) ties to the city I'd be horrified by the bombings. I'll #PRAYFORPARIS every night until the storm settles, but I'm pretty sure God will hear Parisians' prayers before mine. I'll keep up on news and join in conversations with people who know more or have thought more deeply about the tragedy than me. But I'm not going to pretend I'm benefiting Parisians. It's for my own peace. 
All cause awareness symbols have impact. That's what they're constructed to do. Even when they're used in an empty way, they can do some roundabout sort of good. That pee wee football player learned what a breast was that day. That conversation wouldn't have happened without his pink socks. Some of my American friends will leave comments on posts from accounts that are followed by French Facebook users, making their profile pics visible for a few seconds of scrolling. Raindrops are a feeble force but a flood of French flags is convincing evidence that people outside of France's borders care. 
Cause awareness symbols have a tendency to spread the symbols themselves while the actual cause gets left behind. If you're going to use one, educate yourself on what it represents. Don't jump on the bandwagon for the praise of your peers, or worse, your own praises. Don't reduce someone else's pain and anguish to a trendy decoration. You do no good by wearing, buying, or posting an empty vessel, so go fill it up. 

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

On Refraining from Judgement: Dispatches from a School with an Out of State Majority

I am currently attending Brigham Young University (Go Cougars!) in the lovely Provo, Utah. We have a student population of over 30,000 and native Utahns are outnumbered 2 to 1. Most of them have never been to Utah beyond brief visits and haven't set foot of campus more than a few times since they got here. A lot of them are prone to snap judgments.
One day early on in the term, I was walking across campus with a Washington-raised friend. We passed the motorcycle and scooter section of the parking lot. She said it was a "Utah thing" because "No one rides scooters in Washington." I thought about it and realized that outside of BYU campus, I see about one scooter for every several hundred cars.
It's not a Utah thing. It's a college thing. Cars cost money and college students rarely need to go farther than the grocery store, so why buy one?
Recently I was eating dinner with a Texan friend and various other out of staters, They were talking about how Utahns have such weird and bizarre names.
According to the Social Security Administration, these were the most popular Utah baby names in our birth year, 1996:

1. Madison, Jacob
2. Jessica, Austin
3. Emily, Joshua
4. Megan, Tyler
5. Ashley, Michael
6. Sarah, Zachary
7. Rachel, Matthew
8. Alexis, Andrew
9. Samantha, Nathan
10. Hannah, Jordan

I know one Rachyl. For the other names, I never see variants beyond Hanna, Ashlee, and Meagan, the latter of which happens to be the names of my Wisconsin born roommate.
When I attempted to correct my Texan friend, she said I'd been rendered ignorant by growing up in Utah and couldn't recognize the oddities that surrounded me. So I politely rattled off a list of my friends names and sat back to smirk to myself. Was I really having this conversation with a Southerner?
When I was thirteen, I met a woman named Ann Parks. I asked if that was her full name, and she said no, it was her first. She was from the South. I could jump to the conclusion that Texas, being a Southern state, is full of nothing but Sue Ann and Mary Lou. I know this because I've actually met Southerners throughout my life. I have relatives who've been there. I know they're more than stereotypes. There were so many comebacks I could've used, but I refrained.
Two weeks ago I had to carpool with a boy from Colorado. He complained about Utah drivers the whole way there, but he knew so little about the Utah road system that when his friend in the backseat mentioned the wall (meaning the freeway divider) he looked around wildly, expecting to see what he termed a "Great Wall of Utah".
I'm starting to wonder if this toxic combination of ignorance and confidence is something unique to college students. But I've only been to one college. So I'll pass.
See what I did there?
I'm surrounded by people experiencing college and Utah for the first time. That's more likely the case.
When you're entering an unfamiliar place, you have an obligation to be humble and inquisitive, not self-assured and declarative. If you see something different from the way things are done back home, ask, "Is that a local thing?" before declaring it such on absolutely no evidence.
You have this obligation because everybody else is silently accommodating you. For the past few months I've patiently ignored people who mispronounce Utah place names, listened to complaints that scones here are closer to flatbread than real scones, and done math in my head to figure out where they want me to drive them when they ask for "One thousand four hundred south". "You mean hundred and fourteenth street? Sure, I know where that is."
Learn to think geographically. The world will thank you for it. 

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Space Turtles and Hiding Your Sources

"Creativity is the art of hiding your sources."
-I have no freaking idea

Someone said that. Here are three different versions, pick your favorite.

The secret to creativity is knowing how to hide your sources.

– Albert Einstein

Creativity is the art of concealing your sources.

-Nolan Bushnell

And most fittingly:

Appropriate remarks are meant to be appropriated; and originality is little more than skill in concealing origins.

—C. E. M. Joad

According to this article, C.E.M. Joad actually got there first, which makes the quote chain that much better. But none of these quite fits what I want to say, so I'll make my own.

"Creativity is the art of hiding your sources."
-Erica Smith

Terry Pratchett's long running Discworld series takes place on a flat planet carried by four elephants balanced on the back of a giant turtle swimming across space. I've never seen anything like it before or since. But in the introduction to the paperback reprint of The Color of Magic, Discworld's first installment, Pratchett claims our world is full of elephant-speckled space turtles.

If I had a penny for every time someone asked me where I got the idea of the Discworld, I’d have—hang on a moment—£4.67.
Anyway, the answer is that it was lying around and didn’t look as though it belonged to anyone.
The world rides through space on the back of a turtle. It’s one of the great ancient myths, found wherever men and turtles were gathered together; the four elephants were an Indo-European sophistication. The idea has been lying in the lumber rooms of legend for centuries. All I had to do was grab it and run away before the alarms went off.

Indeed, there are such turtles in mythologies around the world, though India has the best case for the first claim. But if you search for these creatures on google images, most results are Discworld art. If you know your Indian cosmology, maybe you get an extra smile every time the turtle is mentioned, but there's not a huge amount of Indian influence in the books. It's purely a bonus. 
I regularly read query letters (letters that wannabe authors write to literary agents) for fun and education. After about three years I thought I knew all the basic pitfalls, but I've just discovered a new one.
Yesterday I came across a query that called its novel:
1. A dark retelling of one fairytale
2. A genderbent retelling of a completely separate fairytale
3, 4, 5. And inspired by the folklore of three different peoples on two continents. 
I read back through the query, wondering if I'd somehow missed something, but I found no fairytale references and only a single folklore nod. The story could stand on its own.
I don't know how Terry Pratchett described Discworld before he got published, but I bet it wasn't, "So I'm writing this series based an the idea from Indian cosmology." The turtles and elephants are only significant in the first two books. After that, they're simply facts of life, and does it really matter which culture they came from?
In a modern world that worries about plagiarism and appropriation, that walks in dread of not citing our sources correctly, a lot of people feel this obligation to tell everybody where their inspiration came from. But inspiration is just that-inspiration. Just because you were inspired to write a switching places story after reading The Prince and the Pauper doesn't make it a retelling. And sometimes your story is flat out disqualified from  retelling status. I found a romance novel recently that the author and reviewers described as a retelling of the Book of Esther. But Esther isn't just a story. She lived and died. Here's her tomb. 
Queen Esther's tomb in West Iran
Yes, you should acknowledge your sources if you're taking large, recognizable elements from someone else's story, but if they only served as a springboard to propel you towards a story of your own, there's no need. Answer when people ask, but if they don't, just let them be bonuses. Your descriptions will be less cluttered that way.
Besides, you'll be mistaken for creative. 

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Stupidity with Sheila

I've had some dim lightbulb moments myself. All through my childhood, I heard people refer to lunchtime as "afternoon", but in first grade we ate lunch in midmorning. So until my upper elementary years I thought afternoon referred to eleven o' clock. In seventh grade I realized Ms. was a separate title than Miss, not an abbreviation, like Mr. for Mister. And I was seventeen before I figured out "Happy Holidays" is the all encompassing term for Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Winter Solstice, and other sundry celebrations, not just Christmas and New Years.
But luckily for me, I came to these realizations quietly, so nobody had to correct me. Or worse, try and fail to correct me.
I've been in that position a few times.
Here are the top three stupid conversations I've had with another human being. These all involved separate girls, but to avoid naming names, I'll call every last one of them Sheila.
Here goes.

1. The French-American Civil War
Sheila sat in front of me in an eighth grade class called U.S. History. Our textbooks said "American" on the front covers. There was a large map of America on one wall. Everybody in the class, including our teacher, was American.
At the beginning of our Civil War unit, he told us, "Take out a piece of paper and write down the two sides that fought in the Civil War and which one won. You can use the textbooks. You have five minutes."
Like the rest of the class, I ignored the textbook and spent all of five seconds on the assignment
1. North
2. South
3. North
For the next five minutes, I watched Sheila flip through the book. I figured she had finished and was looking through the coming chapter. The moment our time was up, she turned around to me.
"My French teacher told me France fought in the Civil War. But what was the other one?"

2. Goooooo Cancer!
Sheila's purse had a Susan G. Komen pink ribbon key chain on the zipper pull, One day, she and the boy next to her were fighting over the purse when he accidentally snapped it off.
"Look what you did! How am I supposed to support breast cancer now?"
"Um, Sheila?" I said, "You don't support breast cancer."
She turned to me in shock. "Of course I do! I have a key chain!"
"You support breast cancer research or the Susan G. Komen foundation or the race for the cure. Not the cancer itself."
"Yeah! That's what 'support breast cancer' means."
"Uh....no. It's not. I don't support breast cancer."
She was horrified. "You don't?"
"Yeah. I also don't support car crashes, suicide, heart attacks-"
"Guys! She doesn't support breast cancer!"
Sheila and the boy asked me the same question as I walked into class for the rest of the week. My answer never changed.

3. White Family Insurance

One day Sheila walked into my dance class, sat down on the floor, and then turned to me with a question that had been weighing heavily on her mind. "Does Dunkin' Donuts sell donuts?"
I was fairly sure they did. "They're in the name, Sheila."
"Yes, but lots of companies are named after things they don't sell."
"Well..." I said the first company that came to mind. "Does American Family Insurance sell insurance to American families?"
Sheila had a good long think about this too. "I don't know. They sell it to black people."
"Sheila. Black people can be American. That's why we called African American."
At this point a girl sitting near us took pity and jumped into the conversation. "Yeah! There's also Hispanic Americans, Asian Americans, Native Americans, European Americans-"
"I know that!" Sheila snapped. "What I want to know is, does Dunkin' Donuts sell donuts?"

4. No Culture For You
Just this Sunday, one of my guy friends left to serve as a Spanish speaking missionary of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in Texas. One of the girls (who is not the Sheila here) is heading out to the Philipines on her own mission soon. After the guy gave a farewell talk to his congregation, everyone who came to see him stood in the hallway to chat. We talked about the language and culture barriers they'd have to work with.
Hearing them talk about Spanish things and Filipino things reminded me of how Spain colonized the Philipines. I' said, "Doesn't the Philipines have a lot of Spanish influence."
"No." Sheila One looked me dead in the eyes. "They don't speak Spanish."
"Not the language. The culture. They were colonized by Spain."
"They don't have culture," Sheila Two said. "Just poor culture."
That's right, poor people. You're not allowed to have culture.
No songs.
No dances.
No recipes.
No fashion.
No folktales.
No holidays.
You have to be exactly the same as all other poor people everywhere.
Sheila said so.

And this, my friends, is why we send children to school. Although these Sheilas ranged in age from fourteen to eighteen. By that point, there's not a lot of fixing to be done. Some people are just stupid. Not uneducated, not misinformed, and not out of the loop. Stupid.
Stupid isn't what you don't know. It's refusing to believe that what you do know is wrong.