Teens these days.

Uncategorized

(Photo: Carol Kaliff, Hearst Connecticut Media)

Today kids across America walked out of school to protest gun violence and the inability for our government to pass common sense gun control.

That’s incredible. I can only imagine being a government & politics teacher, or any other branch of history/American studies, and witnessing your students actively participating in and organizing peaceful protests. Or deciding not to participate because they didn’t agree with the protests. Either way, it’s a teach by doing moment. It’s teaching kids to be actionable instead of simply memorizing facts or spitting out theory.

Facebook is flooded with posts of alum, teachers and parents talking about the school walkouts or walk ins, where assemblies are being held in memory of the students killed due to gun violence. CNN is live-streaming the walkouts and the words of our CT Senator Chris Murphy. Across the nation kids are holding up signs stating their beliefs and desire for the adults in charge to be actionable. They are no longer complicit and trusting that adults will get the work done. The Parkland students showed them that their voice matters even when they are unable to vote. That you don’t have to wait until you’re 18 to voice political opinions.

I was young for my grade and didn’t turn 18 until I was in college. I remember being furious that I couldn’t vote in the primaries that year, even though I would be 18 by the general election. I was always highly opinionated when it came to politics, thanks to my mother who was always a well-informed citizen and my brother, who walked into the Democratic Headquarters at 16 to start volunteering. I would tag along with him, making calls to remind democrats and independents to vote, checking in on our elderly residents to see if any needed rides to polls, attending Chris Murphy’s debates when running for Congress, joining the Young Dems chapter my brother helped start and my favorite part of the process: going from poll to poll on election night to watch them count then ending back at Headquarters or a restaurant to hear the results roll in. I couldn’t vote, but I was more engaged in the political process than most adults.

Which was why I was furious when adults would undermine my intelligence in my teenage years. I would often hear that my opinions, and the opinions of my peers, were just echos of my family’s beliefs. I understand the thought, and recognize that may be true in some cases, but I could never understand why my civics teacher would take so much time explaining our nation’s workings to us, only to tell me that my opinions were just something I inherited from my parents when I got in a fight with a classmate over Bush’s reelection. Of course my family influenced my beliefs, but I was also smart enough to research and act on my own. I was old enough to hold opinions.

I remember a car ride where my mom and brother were talking a politics. I listened without much input, thinking instead of my recent civics lesson on political parties.

“What if I’m a Republican instead of a Democrat?” I asked my family.

I was constantly the lawyer of the family. I always wanted to think about situations from a different angle. A contrarian, always thinking of the other side before agreeing with my family.

“Your beliefs line up with the Democratic Party,” my mom replied.

“But what if they don’t? What if I’m a Republican instead?” I asked.

“Then you can be a Republican.”

I went home and did all the research I could on both parties. I spent hours trying to understand the difference and political platforms. I weighed policies against my moral beliefs and found that I did side with the Dems.

All of this was done my freshman year of high school. Clearly I was already intelligent and thoughtful enough to question my beliefs and recheck them against my political affiliation. My thoughts and opinions haven’t changed much. They evolved slightly with the times and my maturity. Whereas I used to think we should eliminate marriage entirely, calling everything a civil union, so we can eliminate the religious context of marriage, I’ve realized that battle gets misconstrued and calling everything a marriage is a better angle. I used to be much more fiscally liberal that I am today. I used to be pro-choice under medical necessity but am now entirely pro-choice. Tiny tweaks, but my adult mind is still in line with my teen mind.

So I still get angry that I was always underestimated. That adults did not believe that I researched my policies enough. To be fair, this still happens. I was constantly accused for siding with Hillary instead of Bernie because she was a woman, when in reality I thought she was the most qualified candidate we ever had and her fiscally moderate policies enabled me to reap benefits while still covering costs of social security and welfare.

People may say that I was a different type of teen. That not everyone was as mature. Well then, why not teach them to find their own opinions instead of dismissing them?

I think adults fall into an awful habit of thinking kids don’t know enough. We talk down to them and assume they can’t possibly understand. But clearly they do.

Today’s teens are living in a world where any question they have can be answered in a matter of seconds on their phones. Teenagers are actually MUCH better at recognizing “fake news” than we are. Aside from their obvious increased technical literacy, they’re also taught how to seek out information. As students, they have access to online encyclopedias and academic research. They’re constantly being told not to trust sites like Facebook and Wikipedia, and instead fact check every piece of information they want to use. They’re writing research reports and getting graded on whether or not their facts are confirmed. They’re much better at finding the truth than we are.

Without the ability to vote, I believe they’re getting antsy. I remember talking to my cousins, just shy of 18, about how much it sucked to be unable to vote in such an important presidential election. And now here we are, with massive school shootings happening at levels that I can’t even comprehend, and they’re done with us adults. They can’t vote, but they can speak for themselves and remind politicians that they’re voting very, very soon.

We need to stop underestimating kids and instead listen to them. That’s how I treat the kids I babysit. I never want to influence their own moral and political beliefs, so I just listen to them and encourage them to think about where they stand. The other day a kid I babysat was doing a project on trans kids and I found that she knew way more than even I did. I offered no opinions and instead just let her inform me on the topic. When I was watching some younger kids, someone came to the door who was running for local office. What followed was an hour long conversation with the kids about what their platforms would be and how they can run for office within their school. While I would steer at times, like suggesting they invest in scientific research when they said they wanted to stop all hurricanes, I let them carry the conversation.

We invest so much time and money into our kids and their education. But often when they want to show us the results of that investment, we don’t listen. While what happened at Stoneman Douglas was horrific, it is inspiring to see the students use their voices and speak up for themselves when a politician is dismissive of their question. Unless you’re a teacher or school employee, the topic of school shootings will ALWAYS impact the kids in your life more than it will ever impact you. Empower them to use their voices, especially if they’re teenagers. I’m so proud of these teens who are speaking up for the students in Sandy Hook who are still too young to speak for themselves. There are no longer only parents representing their students, but students themselves being actionable.

Keep going teens. Stand up for what you believe in and know that your mind is worthy of respect and your opinions are worth being heard.

Why improv is really important.

Uncategorized

This past Thursday was awful. There’s no sugar coating it. It just was. Life happened and I was just trying to stay afloat.

On Thursdays I have my conservatory class at Second City. We’re more than halfway through the term, and have an audition coming up, which means we work. Hard. Our teacher pushes us and doesn’t let us slack. Since I’ve had this teacher before, he doesn’t let me rest on my bag of tricks and pushes me to expand my range. Which is what I’m there for, which is what I love about him as a teacher. But on Thursday I just wasn’t having it. My only goal was to last three hours without running out of class.

So I let myself slack without feeling bad about it. I was proud of myself for even going. I was elated when I did something useful and wasn’t hard on myself when I was called out for being in my head. Just show up. Just commit. That’s all I that expected.

Then during break I got some really rough news. I felt like someone gutted me, like the tiny sliver of control I had (and so desperately needed) was stolen and smashed on the floor. I was devastated and done. Just done with it all. The numbness that I felt for days suddenly became raw emotion and I didn’t know what to do. My body went on autopilot and I went back to class.

Autopilot Annie went up to my teacher and told him all that I could bring myself to say: “Just so you know, some really weird things are happening in my life right now and if I have to leave, that’s why.” My teacher told me to leave and take care of myself, but I knew that to take care of myself, I had to stay.

I turned around to find my class expressing genuine concern and sympathy for me, and not that fake puppy face shit, but genuinely asking if I’m okay. I assured everyone that I was fine, while trying to reassure myself that I would be. I sat down and kind of thought to myself, “Welp, now you have nothing to lose.”

The next hour and a half was spent not caring. I didn’t care about being good, or challenged, or expanding my range. I only listened to directions enough to perform the exercise, without trying to find exactly what he wanted. Everything went away: worrying about making my scene partner look good, worrying about whether or not I knew what was going on in a scene, finding relationships, setting up premise… all of it was forgotten.

I just wanted to laugh. I just wanted to make my classmates laugh. That’s it.

What I needed during that second half was an escape from reality. So much shit was in my head from the past week and I just wanted to feel happy again. I was sick of being numb and not having control. I so desperately wanted to be happy. And I was.

My teammates were so willing to join in on the fun. We all let loose and just fucking played like kids on a playground. My teammates and teacher just let me run around like a loose cannon and do whatever the hell I wanted to do. And for 90 fucking minutes I was able to leave all the shit behind and enjoy the moment. That’s what improv does. That’s why we do this.

So often we get bogged down in the hard work and late nights and forget that it’s about spreading joy, and bringing joy to yourself in return. Do you understand how powerful having the ability to improvise is? You’re able to escape whatever shit is happening in life and just play. Not only that, but you don’t do it alone. You have an entire team ready and willing to go down that hole with you. Ready to support you in any capacity.

I can’t tell you what I did on Thursday. I vaguely remember buttering biscuits and gutting someone. I blacked out and don’t remember the rest. All I remember is the incredibly alleviating feeling of forgetting that anything in my life was wrong. That’s what improv does. It reminds you that there can still be joy and fun, even when it feels like nothing is fun anymore.

At the end of class, my teacher came up to me and told me that I was really fun, and funny, and fucking weird… and that he hopes everything is okay. My classmates did something similar. And while I usually avoid any and all compliments, I really needed that reminder. I’m so fortunate to have such a wonderfully supportive and loving team. I know that it’s rare and special and I cherish the fuck out of every second I spend with these guys.

It’s natural to get caught up in pressure, expectations and being so tired because you are working so hard. But every now and again, give yourself permission to throw everything away and just play. It’s really important.