Thursday, August 28, 2014

Journals. Do They Still Matter?

This week on twitter, @Farah_Gazan, a sixteen year old girl who has tweeted through the Gaza siege, described herself as a modern day Anne Frank.. This sparks a question. Is a twitter account really comparable to a paper and ink diary? Which is more valuable?
I love paper journals. I (usually) like social media. I can't think of anyone else who's more capable of holding this argument, so I'll do it with myself.
Team Paper: I'm nearly finished with my thirteenth diary in six years. Paper is the way to go.
Team Digital: I have three blogs, a twitter feed, and a facebook. Digital is the way to go.
TP: A diary has more in length and depth than anything you can find online.
TD: Yes, but what social media lacks in quality it makes up in quantity. Oh, and speed. They help you reach an audience faster.
TP: Most diarists aren't meant to have audiences. Some bloggers treat their blogs like diaries anyways, spewing forth secrets and opinions for all the world to see. "Paper is more patient than man." Everyone gets in that mood sometime where they need to get their words out of their head. Paper is a safer way to do it because you get that satisfaction of fathoming your starry thoughts into constellations without having to write for an audience.
TD: Some diarists do write for audiences. If Anne Frank were alive today, she wouldn't keep a diary. She'd have a twitter account.
TP: That's the worst idea I've ever heard. Twitter is public, moron. She wouldn't tweet out her location to the Nazis.
TD: Fair point. But she wanted to share the story of her time in hiding, right? Let's pretend staying alive isn't an issue for Anne. Wouldn't she want to reach an audience FAST?
TP: No, she wouldn't. What lots of people don't realize is The Diary of a Young Girl is more than just Anne rambling on paper. She intended for it to be published. She went back and edited what she wrote. I can't see her posting typo-filled tweets without polishing them first.
TD: Oh, you're worried about readability now, Team Paper? Tell everyone why you can't read your journals from eighth grade.
TP: Wait, no need to bring eight grade into this-
TD: They're in code. She can't even read them now.
TP: I can too read them. It just takes forever. Besides, Anne Frank made up the code I used, so it's cool.
TD: She made up one of the codes. You used, what, five? You're only fluent in two now.
TP: I still have the keys somewhere....let's get back on subject. Journals are a valuable historical resource. And not just for Anne Frank. When we watch documentaries on the Civil War, they read passages from soldier's diaries. I'm doing a project on the Industrial Revolution right now. Harriet Hanson's writings about her time in the mills is one of the most valuable resources for anyone interested about the role child labor and women workers played in the advancement of the factory system.
TD: Oh yes, and there are so many people who care about that topic. What a narrow universe you live in. Besides, the only reason journals are a valuable historical resource is they're all we have. When you watched a documentary on 9/11 last year, did you read diary entries? Or did you watch news clips? Two hundred years from now when someone's doing a report on the 2010's, they won't go to your journals for information. You will never be Anne Frank. You will never be Harriet Hanson.
TP: Oh, is that how we're going to play? Well, you're never going to go viral. That sneezing baby panda on youtube will always have more views than you do. And it doesn't even know how to use a computer!
TD: I no longer aim to go viral. I just want to reach the people out there who care about what I have to say. I can shout my thoughts in the void just as well as you can. Actually, I like being a low profile blogger. It means I don't get death threats via comments like real stars.
TP: I'm reaching my audience, too. My audience is myself ten years from now. She'll read through my hundreds of thousands of words.
TD: If your house burns down, your blogs are all you've got.
TP: Oh yeah? If blogger ceases to exist, your journals are all you've got.
TD: We know which is more likely.
TP: Well, I happen to like ink flowing from my fingers to the page in elegant little loops.
TD: There's nothing more satisfying than the click-clack-click of the keyboard under my fingers. Besides, I've been able to type faster than write since you were on your fourth journal.
TP: Paper has a quiet dignity about it.
TD: Digital has a fresh, fast feel to it. Let's stop soon. We're approaching nine hundred words and I, as the superior record keeper, know how to keep posts short.
TP: I write short all the time! Wait, Team Digital?  Team Digital? Where'd you go?

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

In the Brain

I volunteered with a group of special needs people this last year. I'll never forget the day one of the "buddies", a woman named Lindsay, stood up at the front of the room and said, "How many of you have depression?"
Hands went up.
"How many of you have anxiety?"
Hands went up.
She rattled off a list of friends and relatives she knew with one or both. Then she said, "My friend passed away of anxiety and depression. I have anxiety and depression. So if you have one of these and you need a friend, come talk to me."
We had almost as many volunteers as buddies. Together, we numbered around 200. Yet as I looked around, I noticed none of the volunteers raised their hands. Surely in a group of this size someone was waging a war inside their heads. They just didn't feel like they could raise their hands.
Our leaders never tossed around euphemisms like "differently abled" or told them, "You're not a special needs person. You're just a person with special needs." None of the buddies who could talk were shy about saying "I have down syndrome" or "I'm autistic."  One boy even had a bright orange shirt that read CAUTION: AUTISM AHEAD.
We have this idea that an illness needs to be visible before you're allowed to talk about it. From down syndrome and autism, all of them had something going on in the brain. Something that showed up in their face or speech or the way they carried themselves. Two were deaf and many used wheelchairs or walkers. And in addition to that, they had "normal" mental disorders. The kind you're supposed to conceal instead of fighting your battles in public.
One of the most powerful words in the English language is community. It's a fighting word, and more importantly, it's a defensive fighting word. Community implies people banding together. Community garners respect. I tell people I volunteered with the special needs community. Our school's Christmas fundraiser wasn't set up to help deaf people buy hearing aids, oh no, they're for the deaf community. People acknowledge the visibly handicapped as a community, as they do religions and ethnic groups.
Never once have I heard a reference to the depression community. They exist, there's no denying that. Robin Williams' death has brought them out into the open. They may not meet for lunch every other Tuesday, but there are lots of them, and I don't think it's a stretch to use the c word.
I am not clinically depressed. But I live in Utah, depression capital of the universe, so three of my five closest friends are and a fourth lost her father to suicide. So often, I've seen that the "problem child" isn't always the one with piercings and hair dye. Plenty of people prefer to conceal their depression instead of living a stereotype. It's amazing what you can hide just by putting on a smile.
What can we do to help fight depression? The biggest thing is for people who don't have clinical depression to stop tossing around the word. Never say you are depressed. You can say you're feeling depressed today, but please remember that it's also a medical condition, and you are not depressed after a bad break up any more than a man with an injured foot is a paraplegic. Only then can a depressed community distinguish themselves. Only then can the very word be a cry for help. Only then can we give the depressed community the help they need.