Teens these days.


(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.

“I will always try to be happy.”


Here’s a fun fact about me (that you probably already know): 99% of what I read is nonfiction. Most of my bookcase is filled with autobiographies, instructional books and opinion pieces on the Middle East. Every now and again I sprinkle in a little Hunger Games or Narnia. Since my commute can be up to two hours every day, I read a lot. Right now I’m reading Sarah Silverman’s autobiography, The Bedwetter (thanks to a raving review by my mom). Yesterday I came upon this paragraph, which made me pat myself down to make sure she didn’t have a wire on me or a chip planted in my head:

A lot of comics think the real threat of mental blockage lies in becoming happy. They fear that happiness or even just dealing with their shit might make them not funny anymore. To me, that’s a bunch of romanticized bullshit. I don’t know. I guess if you write your best stuff when you’re miserable, maybe, but I don’t. I’m paralyzed when I’m miserable. I sleep. A lot. I will always try to be happy. I don’t think people really understand the value of happiness until they know what it’s like to be in that very, very dark place. It’s not romantic. Not even a little.


I have a very hypocritical stance on this whole “tortured artist” thing. So many people emphasize that comedians come with baggage, with a dark past. And I hate that shit. But at the same time, I feel like a hypocrite because I had a dark past myself. However, my place in comedy really has very little to do with my struggles in life. Here are the only three parallels I can draw:

  1. When I spent my two days at SNL, I was happy for the first time since my dad died and that made me realize I could do the same for others.
  2. By having anxiety issues and depression, I realized how valuable happiness is.
  3. By losing three people prematurely and unexpectedly, I realized that life is too short to not go after what you want.

But the reality is that I could have very well pursued comedy regardless of my dad’s death. I grew up in a family that valued humor and encouraged me to perform. Everyone was very loving and supportive. No one in my house really had any big problems… my childhood wasn’t dark and lonely. It’s not like I started doing bits to get attention because no one loved me… I did it because my parents encouraged us to be creative and silly. So it’s unfair for me to say that my hard times were the contributing factor to my pursuit of comedy.

I wanted to call up Miss Silverman, meet her for coffee and give her a high five when she mentioned that misery isn’t romantic. Thank you, Miss Silverman. Maybe I’m being a bit of a dick when I make this generalization but whatever… this is my blog, and I do what I want. But I really think that those people who romanticize hardship and write best when they’re miserable don’t know what being really depressed is like. When I was in my dark days, I couldn’t write anything. I couldn’t even get out of my fucking bed. Everything was a black hole and the thought of even getting up to go to the bathroom was exhausting. I slept and cried. That’s it. Didn’t even watch TV or read. On my more functional days, I would read or try to write… but my writing read more like a sad and dark diary entry than anything. When did I write my poetry? When I was happy. I could remember and reflect on my misery… therefore being able to write about it… but it was done with a clear head. I didn’t get shit done when I was depressed. I got shit done when I was happy.

So I think that anyone who romanticizes depression and hardship hasn’t gone through it. Maybe you think you did… because emotions are relative. When I was younger, I thought that I was depressed when my cheerleading coach quit. I didn’t think it was possible to get more upset than I was at that point. Then I learned what real depression was… a debilitating, dark and miserable sinkhole. So, kudos to anyone who can’t relate to this. Anyone who thinks I’m being an asshole because I don’t understand their feelings. I’m happy you’ve never experienced what others have. But I really believe that anyone who knows what it feels like to be in a very dark place would never wish to revisit it, especially when you know what happiness feels like. I strive every day to chase happiness. If that makes me normal, boring or naïve… great. There were many years of my life where I prayed that one day someone would use those adjectives to describe me.

I’ll sum it up with this point… I would trade everything I have in this world if it meant that my dad could come back. My time in Chicago, the people I met through losing him, my SNL experience, the wonderful college years I had, my wisdom, how close I became to my family, the experiences that I was able to enjoy because of losing him, my own happiness… I would give it all up. So I hate romanticizing hardship because the truth is that if given the chance, I would give up my gift of creativity if it meant that I didn’t have to experience my dark days. That’s not romantic.

Strive for happiness. Appreciate it if you’ve found it. If you’re still looking, have faith that it’ll come. There’s no nobility in holding onto your sadness in fear of losing your creativity.