By Catherine Duffy

Sending a quick “on my way” text, checking a notification or changing the song on our phones while driving is something most of us can unfortunately admit to having done in the past. But what kind of risks do these behaviors evoke? Between having lost people in my life due to collisions and having experienced a rear-end collision myself just two weeks ago, I vowed long ago to never use my phone while driving. But how can we convince other drivers, notably those in the younger demographic, to leave their devices aside while driving? Does it really take a tragedy to show phone users just how distracting these behaviors can be? If we put our phone away while commuting, the National Safety Council might have 1.6 million less crashes to report annually.

Back in July, my friend and I were hit from behind at full speed. Strangely enough, the crash occurred in broad daylight, on a straight road as we stopped for a pedestrian. It was clear to us the driver of the other vehicle must have been distracted in some way. Though using one’s phone remains the most common distraction, behaviors such as eating and self-grooming can be just as dangerous. In Saskatchewan in Canada, where I live, using your phone while driving or driving without “due care” poses a $580 ticket and four demerits on one’s license. Should this person reoffend, their second charge will be $1400 and their car will be impounded for a week (SGI).

So with such serious charges, why does the use of phones while driving remain such a big issue? I decided to do some research into the matter and used the Canadian Automobile Association’s website as my main source.

CAA shared in 2018 that phone use while driving remains one of the biggest threats to the safety of Canadians. This point is further justified by the National Collision Database’s statistics that share that 310 deaths and 32.213 injuries occur every year in Canada simply because of the use of phones while driving. As my high school driving instructor once said, all of these could be avoided and lives would be saved if everyone committed to putting their phones away while on the road. Many of you reading this might already know how dangerous this can be. CBC news reported in 2014 that though 95 % of drivers surveyed know and have been taught the dangers of using your phone on the road, 73 % of people still admit to having done it. So why can’t people resist the urge of sending a quick text?

CAA reports that phone addiction may be to blame. 93 % of phone users continue their use on the road to “stay connected” while another 28% have anxiety and worry about “missing out” should they put their phone away on their journey between point A and point B. 25 % are so confident in their driving that they don’t believe the use of phones will affect their driving skills. Another 14 % are anxious to keep their friends waiting on an answer and 6 % of phone users simply blame their addiction to texting.

Though I am sure that a great portion of the younger population are guilty of phone use, older adults have their fair share of distractions on the road as well. The CAA shares that GPS is the most distracting task while driving and even devices deemed “safer” such as hands-free systems are still involved in 26 % of all vehicle crashes. 

So next time you wish to answer a friend’s text, or share a quick photo of your drive home, remember you’re raising your risks of a crash by 23 times. Though it’s been said in millions of anti-phone use campaigns, I’ll be cliché and say it one more time: is sending a text really worth your life?

Works Cited:

CAA National. (n.d.). Distracted Driving. Retrieved July 30th, 2020, from https://www.caa.ca/distracted-driving/statistics/

SGI. (n.d.). Distracted driving penalties. Retrieved July 25, 2020, from https://www.sgi.sk.ca/distracted-driving-penalties

Images source: Pexels

By Sumner Lewis

Every summer I’ve experienced has a soundtrack that goes with it. Whether it’s Dog Days Are Over during the summer of 2011 or Golden Boy during Summer 2017, there has always been a summer theme song. Pop radio also participates in the “song of the summer” phenomenon, anxiously waiting to see which song will go viral with the masses. 

Even though most of us in Summer 2020 aren’t doing what we originally planned, the summer still deserves an awesome soundtrack. I’ve discovered a new sound in my Spotify mixes during my time spent alone at home and, may I say, they’re all bops. Here are my picks:

Album:

~how i’m feeling~ by Lauv

Lauv’s sophomore album is the equivalent of a deep breath for your ears. The entire album is easy to listen to, fun, and hits those seldom discussed emotions everyone feels. He teams up with multiple artists for duets including Alessia Cara on Canada and Anne-Marie on fuck, i’m lonely

Two standout songs off the album are Modern Loneliness and Billy. Billy is a buoyant song where the protagonist leaves behind a past where he was bullied, taking that negative energy to fuel him to strive for better things in life. The beat behind it is infectious, and paired with the dual level of synths underneath, it makes for a song that is often stuck in one’s head.

Modern Loneliness is the final song on the album and serves as a thesis statement for the intersection of Lauv’s internal feelings and how the current generation interacts with each other. The song begins morosely, just Lauv and a piano reflecting on how he’s become the person he is. It gets an uplifting injection of guitar after the first chorus, opening up into an enveloping sound by the second. He, and the gang vocals behind him, very aptly state that the current generation is “never alone, but always depressed.” The song is comforting, reflective, and saddening for the listener and the artist alike.

Artist:

Quinn XCII

Quinn XCII has been a mainstay of my summer listening. His orchestrations are diverse: in a single song, he has soaring strings incorporated with a pan flute as the main percussive beat and even adds accents from a harp. The acoustic instruments blend seamlessly into the otherwise electronic landscape of Flare Guns

If musical experimentation isn’t your cup of tea, try Stacy, the lead single off his newest album A Letter To My Younger Self. The gentle keys draw you in for a peaceful yet intriguing listening experience. Notice the multiple guitar effects to create layers under the poppy drums and back vocals. The sound is enveloping and fun, as with the rest of Quinn XCII’s music. 

His music is beautiful. Above and below the surface, there is so much depth to his songs. One can listen actively or passively and still gain value because of how well constructed his songs are, but I suggest truly listening in to the extra touches that are meticulously placed throughout every song.

Song:

Level of Concern by Twenty One Pilots

Twenty One Pilots is pretty well-known across the radio waves. I haven’t been the largest fan of their music post-Blurryface, but Level of Concern is a certified quarantine bop. 

The song is written during and for the experience of quarantine. The overall story of the lyrics don’t seem cohesive, but separate bits make sense. Musically, each part of the song effortlessly melts into the next. The electric guitars set a static chord progression throughout except for the bridge. The piano leading the bridge into the final chorus is the aural version of twinkling stars. Listen for similar piano notes during the second chorus to tie the song together.

Playlist:

Playlist Radio

This playlist is Spotify specific because it’s automatically generated by them. It has the perfect spread of good summer vibes from Bryce Vine to AJR, The Band CAMINO, and PEABOD. 

The lead song the playlist is based off of, Playlist by Kid Quill, is a jubilant nod to the club music of the early 2000’s. If you need a theme song for your socially distant beach trip, this is the song you should be blasting. The three chord repetition in the keys keeps a peppy thread throughout the song, leading into the outro which samples OutKast’s So Fresh, So Clean and Nelly’s Ride Wit Me among others.

Other notable songs on the playlist include 100 Bad Days by AJR and La La Land by Bryce Vine. The throbbing bass uniquely creates almost a ‘negative soundscape’ during the verse of La La Land under the light guitars which is contrasted by the full sound of the chorus. The song is done with tact, ensuring the chorus does not accost the listener, then returning to the bass line of the verse in anticipation of the bridge.

If you’re wondering why a pop/rock band such as AJR belongs on a playlist with easy summer hip hop jams, look no further than the first fifteen seconds of 100 Bad Days. The synths throughout the song seamlessly integrate it with the rest of the playlist. The horns and the bass in the swell of the chorus remind the listener of the previous song on the playlist, La La Land, proving that good vibes are not confined to a single genre.

The playlist rounds itself out with the complex sound of Jon Bellion. Stupid Deep acts as an equalizer that calms the listener from some of the more sprightly songs, while still maintaining the simple, positive energy that this playlist invokes. 

Most of these songs aren’t within a genre I would normally listen to. My music taste mainly focuses around alternative rock, musicals, and male British singer/songwriters. However, I love all these new music finds, and I’ve discovered that they aren’t too far away from music I already listen to. It juxtaposes Summer 2020: even though I’m not doing what I originally planned, I’ve still found happiness in the different and unusual. With this new music, let’s all find the silver lining in our lives and listen to some good vibes.

By Fiona Rose Beyerle

Perhaps the best PBS Kids show on air in the early 2000’s was Arthur.  Who could not love the fun characters, cute storylines and life lessons taught on Arthur?  Although each character had their own unique personality, they all showed us what true friendship was, while going to the Sugar Bowl after school or hanging out in the treehouse.  Even though they do not age in the show, it is fun to imagine what Arthur characters would pursue in college.  After all, if this bunch survived being in Mr. Ratburn’s class, they would definitely survive university. 

Arthur: Sociology

As the protagonist, we saw a lot of Arthur’s inner thoughts about everything going on in Elwood city.  Almost all of the show’s intros are him introducing the big question of the episode and analyzing interactions among the characters.  On top of his sociology degree, Arthur would likely keep up his piano skills by minoring in Music. 

Buster: Video Game Design

Buster was the quirky friend who would definitely be the guy at college parties trying to convince you of his alien spotting stories.  Besides that however, Buster was a huge video game fan.  Combined with his knowledge of video games and fun personality, Buster would study video game design to create all the wackiest video games to be on the market. 

Muffy: Business

We all know how much Muffy loves money.  During college, Muffy would study business in preparation to take over her dad’s business: Crosswire Motors.  Muffy would also be that person who gets an iced coffee every single day on the way to class.

Francine: Sports Medicine

Francine was always putting the other characters in their place in any sporting event.  While studying sports medicine, Francine would also play on the university soccer team and be a well-known athlete on campus. 

The Brain: Physics

Although The Brain would be incredible at almost any STEM major, physics takes the cake.  The Brain was always doing science experiments, solving math problems and reading about science.  As a physics major, he would do undergraduate research and publish a ton of scientific papers, on top of being president of the physics club.  The Brain is also definitely the person who would ruin the curve for the rest of the class.

Fern: English (concentration in Poetry)

Fern was quiet, but you always knew when she said something, it would be important.  It would be difficult to picture Fern as anything besides an English major, with an emphasis in poetry.  Some may remember the episode when Fern wrote poems which Muffy essentially forced her to sell as “Fernlets.”  Fern did not care about selling her poetry, it came from the heart and was a way to express herself authentically.  As an English major, Fern would also get a chance to study some of her favorite authors like Agatha Christie and Mary Shelley. 

Sue Ellen: International Relations

Sue Ellen was a world traveler and not afraid to take the road less traveled.  She always stood up for what she believed in and did not care about what others thought.  As a lover of traveling, Sue Ellen would choose a degree in International Relations, after a long gap year traveling and volunteering at animal shelters of course.  With her degree in International Relations, she would be ready to fight for human rights, the environment and many other key issues the world faces.

George: Psychology

George may not have been in every episode, but he is definitely one of the most memorable characters on the show, especially due to added entertainment by his ventriloquist dummy, Wally.  George was extremely thoughtful and was always there to help his friends.  As a psychology major, George would be taking the first step to becoming a licensed therapist and helping others.   

Thank you to PBS Kids and Marc Brown for creating such a fun show to watch growing up and for teaching us that having fun isn’t hard when you have a library card (if you know, you know). 

By Sumner Lewis

Dating is, in the simplest term, weird. It’s exhausting, exhilarating, confusing, and so much more. I’m a freshly 21-year-old woman and I am filled with questions; it’s overwhelming.

Why does the world focus on the ideal romance instead of a solid partnership? The everyday love and respect that makes up a good partnership doesn’t sell books or movies. Therefore, all we are fed through the media is the thrill of a new relationship: the honeymoon period. 

It’s the all-encompassing bliss that lasts anywhere between 6 months and a year at the beginning of a relationship. Once it wears away, the real life of the relationship begins and people typically either fall into a routine or fight and part ways.

Romance stories still have an audience (myself included) even if they do not fully reflect reality. They keep us on the edge of our seats, comfort us, and give us something to aspire to. Those of us who haven’t experienced running into the love of our lives at a coffee shop eat it up. 

Why do people believe that the right person “fixes” someone? People don’t fix other people; people fix themselves. Maybe someone comes along who helps them or inadvertently teaches them a lesson, but it’s the person in question doing the work to better themselves. 

A good partner can inspire someone to be the best person they can be. They can question comfort zones or destructive behavior. But it is up to the person to change themselves, and only if they want to. It also isn’t only romantic partners who can inspire change. It could be a friend, boss, therapist, parent, or anyone. Romantic partners don’t have the monopoly on inspiring self-improvement.

What is up with the sentiment that people become “whole” when they are with the right person? Comedian Daniel Sloss has an incredible monologue during his Jigsaw stand-up special that has broken up multiple couples. It makes the viewer assess their relationships and where they want to be in life. He uses an analogy where the core of one’s being is a jigsaw puzzle. 

No one has the image of what the puzzle is supposed to look like, so we start out with the edges: simple things that make up who we are such as family, friends, hobbies, etc. Once the edges are in place, most people think that the missing middle piece is a partner. They’ll be complete once they get that perfect person.

People believe this so much that they try to jam just anyone into that middle spot when their piece is the wrong shape. When it doesn’t fit, one has to acquiesce and change some part of their edge pieces, the foundation of who they are as a person, in order to fit that ‘perfect’ partner into their lives and finally be whole.

I don’t necessarily buy into the idea that a partner will be the center of my jigsaw puzzle. My future spouse won’t define who I am as a person, nor will they ‘complete’ me. I am already whole.

What’s the goal of dating? Society dictates that dating leads to a relationship, which leads to marriage. Using the transitive property, the goal of dating must be to find someone to marry.

Choosing who you are going to legally tie yourself to is a huge life decision. It’s not just about love; you have to think about who would be a good parent to your possible future children, who you can stand to cohabitate with. Are they good with finances? That question answers whether or not you’ll get a joint account together. If you do get a joint account, do they have student debt that you’ll now be paying off too?

The first couple of dates can test compatibility through similar likes, dislikes, and how easily you settle on an activity or restaurant. After that, time together should obviously be enjoyable, but it should also be spent exploring shared values and how you could feasibly live life together.

What about casual dates and official relationships? I don’t see the point of dating someone I won’t marry, but I also want diverse dating experiences so I can form my own first-hand opinions of relationships. Also, going on dates is super fun. You get to know new people, share experiences, and learn about what you do and don’t want in a future partner.

I enjoy the casual date and getting to know a person. I just don’t think I want to be in an official relationship until I’m sure that I’m vetting them for marriage. 

Entering an official relationship is a big decision to make. You have to want a life with the person you’re entering it with, not just to have them in your life. You have to want to do the work with them, to be a team against the problems in the world. It’s significant to be committed to someone even if there isn’t a legal document binding you together. No matter your age, having a significant other should be treated with gravity.

Why am I asking these questions? I have unpopular opinions about how we view dating as a society. I prefer to be a realist about it: whoever you marry will set the course for the rest of your life, and who you date will wind up being who you marry. 

Date smart. Figure out what you do and don’t want in a relationship and then only date those who fit the bill. In my case, it’s important to me that my spouse is also Jewish, so I only seriously date Jewish guys. Remember that your values and who you are as a person should not be compromised for anyone. A spouse should complement you (and compliment you, because we all love some good positive reinforcement).

It does seem daunting to be looking for a spouse in your early twenties. But if you analyze your dating life early, there might be less heartbreak involved in the future. I hope you find what you’re looking for out there in the dating world. I know someday I will.

by Eleanor Kelman

I recently listened to a talk by Dr. Michael J. Breus, also known as “the Sleep Doctor,” in which he discussed the science of sleep. He was one of the featured speakers on an externship I (and thousands of other people trapped in limbo between school and not being able to find work) have been participating in, and his talk really resonated with me in a way few talks do. Typically, when I listen to a presentation I’m constantly fidgeting and attempting to keep myself from multitasking–well, distracting myself by scrolling through my Instagram feed or perusing Reddit forums. Listening to Dr. Breus speak was different. I was fully, wholeheartedly engaged in what he was telling me to do to improve my sleep schedule, and not once did I think about turning on my phone. I was so surprised at my own sustained focus that I attempted to figure out why I was able to pay attention for the full hour.

Maybe it was just his manner of speaking, but that’s never really been much of a factor for me. Other than once falling asleep while a beautiful voice slowly lulled me into dreamland while discussing the rather un-dreamlike topic of physics, I’ve never noticed the tone of voice in talks. Perhaps he was just a wonderful orator in general? Well, yes, but even the most passionate of speakers can still make me lose focus (of absolutely no fault of their own, mind you!). No, I finally came to the conclusion that what he was talking about was simply so fascinating and pertinent to me.

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[My newest idol… who also looks quite a bit like one of my favorite college professors?]

Sleep has been a point of contention for me for a long time. I sustained myself on a solid 4-5 hours during weekdays in high school, which led to a lot of dozing off in class and some lunch hours devoted to a quick power nap. In college, my quality of sleep improved ever-so-slightly but still negligibly. A roommate freshman year took to letting her alarm sound for two hours straight every morning, which always gave me a very rude awakening with zero reprieve. I never established a true sleep routine, even during my sophomore year while living with my boyfriend at the time who turned off the lights at midnight each night (while I toiled away on the computer next to him). Senior year I made a valiant effort to go to bed at the same time every night, but that was squandered by two suitemates who would be up yelling and playing music until two or three in the morning much to my chagrin. I never really got that coveted “sleep schedule” thing down pat.

I no longer had any excuse once quarantine started due to the fact that my house is a couple hundred decibels quieter at 9pm than my suite on campus was at 3am, but I still managed to finagle an excuse or two in there. I was going to bed at around 12 am and waking up around 8am to 8:30am depending on how many times I hit snooze, but I still couldn’t shake that desire to get up earlier and truly spend the morning being productive. I am certainly my most productive prior to lunchtime so I wanted to prioritize that time. Unfortunately, a lack of drive got in the way of those well-laid plans, but I still continuously wished I could be a bit better in a number of regards. From drinking caffeine at 8pm to rolling out of bed at a snail’s pace, I kept avoiding achieving my personal goals of maintaining a true sleep schedule and becoming a certifiable morning person.

Listening to Dr. Breus’s presentation lit a fire under me so to speak. I suppose it wasn’t actually the presentation at all, but hearing someone else say, “Do this thing,” made me want to do that thing, the thing I had been putting off for so long because it was solely a “me” thing. I dove in headfirst.

Instead of trying the recommended method of moving your alarm back 15 minutes every week until you reach your desired wake-up time, I went all in and jumped it to 7am and figured I would deal with the jetlag later. I also ended up setting two alarms: a digital alarm clock and my phone. With this, I had to jump out of bed to turn off the second alarm after the first one sounded. In addition, I made a pledge to myself to not just lie back down and fall asleep. I spend the first couple of minutes every morning in a hazy stupor but I allow myself to go back to sleep if I’m still tired half an hour after I wake up. Interestingly, I’m no longer tired by that point.

Returning to the Sleep Doctor, I’m supposed to fall asleep at 11:10pm to wake up at 7am every night. While I do attempt to fall asleep at 11pm, I ensure that I’m up and making my bed at 7am no matter when I fall asleep–thankfully, it’s never crossed 12:30am, a terribly late bedtime for me now that I’ve ascended to being a grandma. I’ve also stopped drinking a latte too early in the morning, which is an easier task than expected because I’ve replaced it with chugging water while I work out (I need to drink a concerning amount of water during the summer).

Who knew that presentations could be useful outside of getting participation credit for a class?

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[Herbal teas have replaced my nightly latte habit, a worthy companion to my bedtime routine.]

I won’t pretend that I’m not browsing the web at night or that I no longer engage in any unsavory nighttime habit, especially as nearly every night I’m on a video call with a friend, but I’ve been able to do just enough to achieve a goal I never thought really possible for me. On a very small level, waking up at 7am and not bemoaning my situation is amazing. It has represented for me such strong discipline that allows everything else to fall into place once I’ve gotten out of bed and started to get moving. On top of that, I can finally say with utmost certainty that I know I’m getting enough sleep, something I couldn’t say without crossing my fingers behind my back for most of my life.

Sleep may be for the weak, but I’ve got a real weakness for it.

 

 

By Catherine Duffy

The COVID-19 pandemic has been an event like no other for the present population. The three-month isolation period changed life as we know it as plans were cancelled and a new way of life surfaced. But did everyone have the same general experience? It is known that there are two big personality types in our world: the introverts and the extroverts. Some people even identify as a mixture of both. The quarantine has allowed these two personality types to peer into the other’s way of life. What unique emotional changes have introverts and extroverts experienced in 2020? 

Merriam Webster defines an extrovert as “a gregarious and unreserved person” whereas an introvert is known as “a reserved or shy person who enjoys spending time alone”.

The beginning of isolation back in March provided a major life change to extroverts around the world. The social beings began to feel trapped knowing that seeing friends and family was officially against the law, and that social calls to cafes were strictly prohibited. Social media and video calls filled their days at home and helped them put their social energy to use.

While staying at home reading books and making puzzles made the extroverts stir crazy, the introverts were extremely delighted. There was so much time to recharge now that time alone was just part of every day routine. New solitary hobbies were adopted and their anxieties may have begun to vanish. As an introvert myself, I discovered that I had much more energy to call friends and family at the end of the day having had so much quiet time to recharge on my own. 

While the extroverts counting down the days to freedom, the introverts may have taken every as a blessing. The social anxieties of big group gatherings, presentations and hours of interacting with others as they worked became a thing of the past.

Now that many restrictions have been lifted, a bit of the opposite has happened. Extroverts rejoice as they return to work. They have been finally granted the opportunity to socialize and talk to their hearts content once again. Introverts, on the contrary, have been reintroduced to the stress and social anxiety they knew before the quarantine.

Though this year has been filled with disappointment and tragedy, it seems as though both introverts and extroverts have gained insight into the other’s way of life. Whether it be being forced inside or forced to return to the outside world again, perhaps both personalities have gained a certain appreciation for the other’s routines as they have had the opportunity to explore them. Perhaps with this new insight, both personalities will be able to live in harmony, or at least show understanding when the other isn’t emotionally content.

Since the beginning of the worldwide shutdowns due to the pandemic, there has been talk about a ‘new normal,’ or a persistent wish to return to the old sense of ‘normal’ that everyone had become so comfortable with. Many continue to wish for the reopening of their favourite local café, the dance floor of the nightclubs, or for their university to begin allowing in-person classes once more. And these people are not alone in their wishes, as I too wish for the flexibility and care-free spontaneity of the past. However, this quarantine has allowed for many, including myself, to reflect on what the ‘new normal’ should look like and the changes that need to be made so that we can all move forward, together.

Image courtesy of Prexels

Movements such as the Black Lives Matter movement and the acknowledgment of the missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls have picked up steam during the past few months and changes within government, companies, and society at large have been numerous. Arrests still need to be made, police still need to be held accountable, and systemic racism must still be addressed, but change is happening, albeit long overdue. With the inequalities of our society being brought to light and gaining traction in mainstream media, it is necessary that we no longer strive to return to ‘normal’ but rather a ‘new normal’ that offers equality to everyone.

Image courtesy of Prexels

With Pride Month just behind us, it is also important to recognize the areas in which individuals in the LGBTQ2+ community continue to be disadvantaged and discriminated against. Whether related to discriminatory policy changes or the high murder rate of black trans women, there is still a long way to go for equal rights and justice. As such, our ‘new normal’ should be one of acceptance, love, and pride and individuals in the LGBTQ2+ community should not be forgotten or ignored.

There are many instances of a need for change and a need for this ‘new normal’. In order to achieve such a hopeful dream of equality, one must reflect inwards. It is about recognizing your privilege and becoming an ally. As a cis, straight, white woman I have had to reflect on my privilege and further educate myself about the inequalities that exist in the world. On top of that, I have also had to acknowledge the systems of oppression that I continue to profit from such as colonialism and racial discrimination.

Recognizing your privilege can be difficult and challenging but it is necessary to create a better, more just world. It is important to keep in mind that your privilege does not mean that you have had an easy life, it just means that there are not factors of your identity that are making your life more difficult. For example, if you are white, your white privilege does not mean that you have not experienced hardships, but rather that the colour of your skin has not contributed to your hardships. I think it is important to keep this in mind, especially when educating yourself on the inequalities of the world.

Overall, there is hope for a ‘new normal’ that is inclusive, accepting, and equal and that ‘new normal’ begins with everyone. It is each person’s responsibility to work for change and to be an activist and an ally. We have the opportunity to create a ‘new normal’ and it is time that we begin to realize these much needed changes. 

by Sumner Lewis

people at theater
Photo by Monica Silvestre on Pexels.com

(Spectators wait for a theatre show to begin).

The very first musical I ever saw was The Lion King. I was five and I can clearly remember the amazement I felt as I watched the performers on stage. My family and I sat in the first row of the mezzanine at the Bushnell Theater in Hartford, CT, right next to a little platform where actors would occasionally come and make beautiful birds dance in the air over the audience below. 

I fell in love that day with the concept of a musical, which I saw as an art form that enveloped me, inspired me, and made me want more. I didn’t just want to watch the show unfold before me; I wanted to be up there in the hoi polloi.

The next show that caught my attention was Wicked. I was seven when my mother saw it for the first time and brought back the cast album for me. I learned every word, note, and harmony on that CD. It became my dream to one day play the role of Elphaba. Idina Menzel’s voice spoke to me. Elphaba understood me.

Idina_Menzel_Defense.gov_Crop

(Idina Menzel gained prominence due to her role as Elphaba in Wicked).

If you’re into musical theater, you can’t deny that you’ve wanted to play every single character in your favorite show. I’ve gained a larger appreciation for Glinda as I’ve grown older and I want to challenge myself with playing different kinds of characters. But then I remember that she is blonde and I’m not. Where did anyone ever see a blonde Black girl in the late 2000s/early 2010s? Nowhere. So that also rules out ever being Elle Woods from Legally Blonde.

I inherently knew from a young age that race was everything in theater casting. Not as well as I know that fact now, but young girls need to see people who look like them inhabiting the spaces that they want to be in. Representation is everything. The more musicals I got into, the more I understood the subliminal message that there wasn’t a spot for me in a show except for playing a green witch that I love so much. Even in The Lion King, the performers are mostly darker-skinned, much darker than my tan, biracial skin.

In 2015, my discovery of Hamilton caused a revolution for me. I saw people on that stage who reflected me and my life experiences, a phenomenon which had not happened within the sixteen years that I was alive before that time. It didn’t matter what race you were as long as you were a person of color. Read that again. It didn’t JUST not matter what race you were, the casting directors WANTED people of color. That stage was a celebration of the skin tones that have historically been labeled ‘other.’ I finally saw a show I could actually be in.

The problem doesn’t solely lie on the shoulders of casting directors. There is simply a lack of characters being written for broader people of color. Sure, there are some Black characters, some Latinx characters, a couple Middle Eastern characters, but I, an ethnically ambiguous person of color, don’t get to play any of them because they have a distinct ethnic heritage to display. I’ll never be Nina from In the Heights (although I really, really want to be), Jasmine in Aladdin, or Nala in The Lion King. 

My most recent role was Ronette in Little Shop of Horrors. The show has four female roles; three are reserved for women of color. However, the leading female role is the single white woman in the cast. The other three women are the cast’s backup singers. We worked as a trio, three harmonies that would be lost without the others, but it meant that we were more of a conglomerate than we were individuals. 

Only two people of color showed up to audition for a show with three spots available for someone with that description, so it wasn’t even a competition to get a role. Sometimes I wonder if I got the part based on my own merits or if they didn’t have enough people to fill a historically Black role. We almost didn’t have enough people to fill all three spots and had to hold another round of auditions, to which only one person showed up. She got the role.

On top of that, the urchins are written as the stereotypical sassy Black girls. There are so many different ways to be Black. The only requirement is to wake up with your Black skin every day. Playing a sassy character can be loads of fun, but when it plays into racial stereotypes, one has to wonder why they were written that way.

I’ve always said that Hercules should be adapted into a stage musical just so I could play one of the Muses (and now it has, last year for a short run at The Public Theater). I love the strong, Black women with incredible harmonies and powerhouse voices. They are a Greek chorus, and they work as a nameless group behind the scenes. No one Muse exists without the others.

I want to see more diversity in the theatre community. We need to see characters on that stage that reflect who we are a society and the world we wish to be. Take Hadestown for example; it is written and cast in a way that any person, no matter the color of their skin, can play any character in the show. It is art used for a purpose. It encourages the dreamers, those of us who see a better world in our future. I see a better world where, even if my dream of performing in shows professionally doesn’t come true, I can share my love of theatre with my future children and they will see themselves represented on stage, celebrated, no matter the color of their skin.

Many of us are graduating into one of the worst job markets in history, at a time when lots of organizations are on a hiring freeze. Society as a whole is changing as a result of being in a COVID-19/post-COVID-19 era, and the generation coming out of college is stuck right in the middle of it. It seems to make sense that we will at least have our homes to unwind in, somewhere to go that will always be a place of safe haven. The places that feel like they are ours; that in some way they are integral to our stories as human beings. Yet what is home? Can it be defined as just a place where you sleep? Does it have to be?

Most people will tell you a house is a home. Yet this concept of home limits the very definition, as for some people a house is not a place where they can go to relax. Whether that be because of internal pressures, or exterior, where you sleep may not be where you relax. And what about the people for whom their house has changed throughout the years? In the last six years of my life I’ve lived in five different “houses” for varying amounts of time. From houses, to dorm rooms, to an apartment in an old warehouse, or an old duplex, all of these places have been places that I’ve laid my head to rest in, yet are all of them home? For many young people taking whatever jobs they can, their house may be too new to be considered a home.

What if we expand it? For many of us, our hometown is the place we grew up in, the place that formed our first memories. For me that was South Pasadena CA, a small town in the middle of Los Angeles. It is the kind of town Hollywood uses when they want something midwestern and small. It has got a wonderful little main street, with brick lined buildings only one or two stories tall. A Carnegie library sits just off mission, and the clang clang of the train rushes through the town on the regular. It is a peaceful escape from the insane world that is Los Angeles, a forgotten haven in a city of traffic, smog, and celebrities. I can name a number of places, some of which have changed over the years, where my attachments are more than solid. I consider them as much my home as my house. Yet something is still missing. In this case we need to look towards the oceans, and some adventures that lay along it. 

At work, when we were asked where we were from, others said specific cities and towns. Yet for me, home is the west coast. I grew up in LA, spent a summer working in the bay, and for four years attended school in the Pacific Northwest before taking a job in New England. That is a huge span of space, far larger than a house, but with specific reasons, for which we have to go north, to a little town in Washington state. 

As I mentioned I grew up in LA, but I spent four years in the Pacific Northwest, in a little town called Walla Walla. Unlike the town I grew up in, Walla Walla was best known for being near nothing at all. Surrounded by wheat, grape fields, and onions, it was a town rapidly changing. The downtown, which had once been all but abandoned, had been taken over by the rapidly growing wine industry. Some call it what Napa Valley looked like 50 years ago, still early in its development. I attended Whitman College, a small school located on the top of main street and three miles from the airport. I worked in the gallery and student center, lost many hours of sleep in the library, participated in a number of organizations and most importantly, came out as a transwoman. As a result of the support I received from so many wonderful people, I went from dreaming, to living in reality. Hallways became the places where I celebrated, and where I went to think. I studied the past, and realized that it would become my future. I joined a sorority, after years of considering it impossible. I curated, or helped to curate, two full exhibitions, one entirely mine, and the other as a part of a team. I even helped to run the tabletop games club, and played some club softball in the rain. These moments cemented Walla Walla and Whitman as a kind of home for me, even if I lived in three different places in my four years there.

Add in things like an In-And-Out burger, saying “The” in front of freeway names, laughing when people from the east coast talk about their “mountains”, or memories munching on some of the best Asian and Mexican food in the country, I am forever marked as being a west coaster through and through. Unfortunately, when we limit it to land and physical property, we leave out the number one thing that allows us to feel at home in the first place. And perhaps our memories can lead us to the answer, something that we are all searching for. 

All of these are focused on land, but isn’t it as much about the people that made us who we are as the adventures we had on the way. Any of those coming of age movies will tell you that it isn’t as much about the space that you occupy, but about the people that you do it with. Saying that my soul resides in the west coast is true because I have left part of it with the people I love. The people who I will travel across the country for a week, taking 20 hours to do so, just to see their faces in person. I did just this in February, traveling further north into the bitter cold because I couldn’t handle going a year without spending time with my sisters, my friends, and my chosen family. I spent that week sleeping on a beanbag in a friends house, and visiting with old friends. Many times I’d be walking along and suddenly I’d get ambushed by someone, as if I was everyone’s queer aunt returning home. While I was here I got an acceptance letter to the University of Washington, and it was here that I cried tears of joy again, another memory at home. 

Home is about the people who make our lives worth living everyday. It is about the smiles, the laughs, and the moments of joy, as it is about the sadness, the grief, and the scary moments. Home is emotionally tied, but in a way that ties the physical to the self. South Pasadena is great, but I miss Hotbox Vintage, the shop I’ve spent so many happy hours in. Not necessarily because of the shop, but because of the friends I have made through it. The owner with whom I’ve shared many laughs (and expanded my wardrobe extensively) and who made me feel comfortable in my identity as a transwoman before I came out at Whitman. She lets me hang out there, in exchange for helping to put things on high shelves that at 6ft 3in, I can reach. I love everything about it, and there is a reason that I included it here. It is a store that is the definition of a hidden gem, and one that I return to on every occasion back in LA. Despite never sleeping here, I consider it home because of the culture that she has crafted within, one that makes you not only feel safe, but also welcomed (and when she reads this, I promise you I’ve meant every word). 

So when you think of home, don’t forget to think about the people that make it possible to come home to relax. The people who will welcome you with open arms, and with whom your memories will be shared with forever. The people you chose to be with, the ones who you’ll fight for on a minute to minute basis.  These are the people that you think about when you think of home. It is not about the physical places that make up our homes, but in the memories and people that fill them. These moments are the ones that help us grow, and the ones that make us different from everyone else. In the end, a house may be a home, but a house without the people who helped to build it is a house without a home.

By: Abbey Roth

May 25th, 2020 is a day that will be written in the history books: the day America was awoken in a way it has never been before. The unjust killings of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd within three months acted as the straws that broke the camel’s back in a long history of disproportionate harm to the black community in this country.  Protests in every state ensued shortly after the death of George Floyd, manifesting themselves as  beautiful displays of the power of the rage and hurt that an inherently discriminatory society has birthed inside the black community for nearly 400 years. For the first time in many young peoples’ lives, they are being forced to confront their individual complicity in a deeply white-centric and racist system. It has introduced the dire need for self-reflection and contextualization of everyone’s privilege.

The product of this much needed self-reflection has reared its head in public social arenas; social media has been overwhelmed with black squares, attention-grabbing infographics, and lengthy paragraphs full of statistics and opinions. The Black Lives Matter hashtag has been used over 21.9 million times. The awareness of police brutality, racism, and white privilege is expanding, knocking on the doors of those who have been able to hide away in the comfort and familiarity of their online social circles. While there’s no doubt that opening up the opportunity for discussion is crucial to breaking down barriers and deconstructing our defective system, we must examine the genuinity of the common Instagram story. Can the occasional post truly ever be enough? In order to answer this question for yourself, you must consider the poster’s intention, past behavior, and their concerted efforts beyond the social media sphere. 

Any intention other than to educate, to spread awareness, to convey hurt and anger, to present statistics to support a fully-believed argument, or to amplify Black voices, feels disingenuous. Posting to be included in a viral trend needs to be seen as an insidious act, as it seeks to feign support for a cause that desperately needs genuine involvement and commitment. It does not exist to be paraded on your feed. It exists to bring to light the injustices institutionally built into our nation that have cost real human beings their livelihoods, their lives. The poster who suddenly appears as a vocal proponent of the issue after a history of silence, complicity, or blatant racism also must be regarded as suspicious; is what we are seeing representative of personal growth and education, or is it their underhanded attempt to blend in and erase their historical lack of empathy for people of color? Are our peers hiding behind a facade of social media activism to absolve themselves of guilt? In either of these cases, a desire to be accepted by society as conscious and empathetic of the plights of Black people overshadows their need to actually act to help resolve the issue. Both of these cases are unacceptable forms of speaking out. Beyond the poster’s own personal beliefs, we must be critical of the extent to which they actually support the cause they claim to. Sharing is important, speaking up is important, but action is imperative. To feel strongly enough to post, but to forego any further use of the same technology to enact actual change–to sign petitions, to share and use resources, to call and email local officials–is a flagrant expression of laziness, privilege, and discomfort that acts to undermine any support, fabricated or not. 

As a young mixed American woman of both White and Black heritage, I have felt an immense sense of duty to challenge myself to use my voice to have difficult conversations with my loved ones. To face those individuals who were responsible for my first-hand education of racism and microaggression. To scrutinize my behavior in hindsight; how I personally allowed these microaggressions to permeate while simultaneously using my comparative white privilege to duck away from uncomfortable situations while my Black brothers and sisters could not have had the luxury of avoiding this distress. For me, just a post will never be enough. Another’s post will never be enough.

However, one of the most genuinely touching things that I have personally witnessed to come from this is the massive outpouring of true allyship from around the world. Gatherings of people in every major city across the globe speaking out about injustices of their own is a profoundly important display that lets us know that America is not alone in its systemic racism and mistreatment of Black citizens. Not only are Black individuals in the UK, France, New Zealand, and beyond conveying solidarity with the struggles of many Americans, but they are using action and movement to express a deep empathy and understanding that should disturb us deeply, as well as inspire us to spark change beyond the Facebook wall and Instagram feed.