Thursday, June 28, 2012

She must be from Utah

Yesterday I checked out The Universe (BYU's newspaper) online and read an article about how BYU's crime statistics are way lower than your average university but there is still a fair amount of theft that happens around campus. In the article, as per the DU's longstanding tradition of quoting people who sound really dumb, is this actual quote from a student who had her bike stolen shortly after her husband had his stolen:

“My husband left his bike (on campus) over the weekend, and he came back and his bike had been taken. Still, even after his bike had been stolen and the lock had been cut and everything, I still thought it was a safe enough place that I didn’t even bring a lock to campus with my bike."

Wow. Somebody obviously has waaaay more faith in humanity than I do. Not to mention a much slower rate of learning from experience. I mean, BYU students are generally exceptionally honest, but not everyone wandering around campus is a student and not every BYU student actually follows what they're taught in church on Sunday. I trusted people at BYU more than the general population, but not enough to leave my laptop on a table unguarded while I went to look for a book.

I always looked at it this way: If I accidentally left something of value behind in a classroom, I figured I probably had an 80 percent chance of getting it back, versus maybe 30 or 40 percent somewhere else. This generally proved to be the case: Over my four years at BYU I accidentally left a textbook, a financial calculator, a couple of jackets and a flash drive behind on campus. I recovered everything but the flashdrive from BYU's massive lost and found office. Yes, I know: I am an airhead. But that's not the point of this post. I actually don't remember the point of this post, because I started it yesterday and now am not entirely sure where I was going with it.

At first I thought the girl who was surprised her unlocked bike was stolen must be from Utah, because how could anyone else be so naive? But then I realized she must not be from Utah, because if she was she would have already known that not everyone who claims to be Mormon actually lives that way, whereas non-Utah Mormons tended to go "Oh isn't it lovely that all of the people around me here are as nice as I am" and ask a random stranger sitting near them at the food court to watch their laptop while they went to the bathroom. (True story: that happened to me more than once).

A favorite past time at BYU was trying to guess whether the people in my classes, etc. were from Utah or not.

There were a few indicators. For example, the more layers a girl is wearing, the more likely it is that she's from Utah. Never mind that wearing two colors of tank top, a short sleeved shirt, a vest and a scarf over a long-sleeved shirt doesn't actually make it any more modest than the long-sleeved shirt by itself. But layers have been "in" for a while now and Mormon girls are so used to not being able to wear the latest fashions because they're too skimpy that when a fashion comes along that they can wear the Utah girls tend to be WAY too enthusiastic about embracing it because they're busy trying to out-fashion each other instead of blend in with non-Mormon counterparts. So look for things like excessive sizes of flowers in hair (as in "Oh look, she's wearing a cabbage on her head"). Also, Utah Mormons tend to use weird slang. If someone frequently spouts phrases like "What the fetch," "She kicked my trash," and "Oh my heck," they either grew up in Utah or spent too much time going to school there. One of my goals for graduating from college included never once uttering the words "Oh my heck." If I had I think I would have decided finishing my degree was not worth morphing into the type of person who says Oh My Heck and I would have gone home.

But not every Utah Mormon fits the stereotypes. I knew Utah Mormons who actually understood sentences like "That guy was really hammered," weren't easily offended, didn't scrapbook, didn't dye their hair blond, had a mother who worked outside the home, didn't wear matching sweaters in their Christmas card photos and had no clue how to make funeral potatoes or green Jell-O salad.

Actually, I lied. I'm not sure I ever met a brunette Utah Mormon...

Friday, June 15, 2012

Please don't post that

Today I have chosen to write about things not to do on Facebook. I debated about whether or not to write this post, as it will describe the habits of many of my Facebook friends, which may offend some of you. Sorry. If you see yourself in any of the following paragraphs, please know that I still love you, I don't think you're a bad or stupid person and if it actually bugged me as much as it will probably sound like, I would have just unfriended you. So don't worry. These are just common things that I have seen from many, many people over time and not an attack on any specific friend.

Here are five things you need to know about being Facebook friends with me:

1) I refuse to repost anything that dares me to. This includes the actual words "I dare you," but as we all know from our grade school playground days, there is more than one way to manipulate someone into doing what you want. So if something says, à la middle school girl, "Let's see who the three percent who have a heart and will actually repost this are" or "I'll bet 99% of people won't repost this," or "Let's see who actually reads my statuses and who just trolls," (improper word use, by the way) you will not see it on my wall. Even if the meme is "Let's see how many people actually think Jade is the most awesome person in the world." I do not think my friends will actually believe I don't love Jesus or don't hate child abuse if I don't tell them on Facebook.

2) If only one or two people in the whole world will understand something you want to say, a Facebook status is not the right medium. No matter how hilarious it was at the time (the time being 2:00 in the morning at a sleepover with your best friend), if you post a quote like "But my monkeys want to eat starfishes!" as your status it won't actually be funny. Even if you tag your best friend in it. In fact, everyone will resent the five seconds of their life they wasted reading that. This also applies to passive-aggressive statuses like "Some people in my life need to get over themselves and realize this is my decision. You know who you are." Or please-oh-please-ask-me-what-I'm-talking-about statuses like "Wow. Just wow." Facebook statuses are meant to communicate something to all of your friends at once. Don't get it confused with text messaging.

3) When I log onto Facebook and see that I have a notification, it's really annoying when I realize that notification is a useless request from a game like Killer Zombie Unicorns from Outer Space. It's too bad they haven't built a spam filter for that yet.

4) Even though I am happy for you that you are getting married, I don't need an update every single day on exactly how many more days there are until the wedding. Or since the wedding. Occasional milestones like a week or a month are OK. Just know that you make all of your still-single friends totally gag when you post literally every single day something like "Only 22 more days until I marry the most amazing girl in the entire world! I am the luckiest man alive!" or "My husband took out the trash! He is the kindest, sweetest, most loving guy! After 13 days of marriage I am still amazed that I was able to find such a wonderful person!" Even without the daily public declarations of your love we can figure out that you actually like the person you agreed to marry. Here it should also be pointed out that constant verbal PDA on each others' wall is also annoying.

5) I am continually amazed at how gullible some of my friends are. Some hoaxes on Facebook are fairly believable, but some are pretty ridiculous if you think them through. For example, if Facebook really wanted to check up on how many accounts are still active, do you really think one of the most successful tech companies in the world couldn't come up with a better strategy than relying on its users to copy and paste a message from their friends? Also, do you really think an organization can tell if you have posted a picture of a dying baby on your wall and will make a donation? Many of those types of hoaxes are very painful for the families who discover a picture of their beloved child (who often died several years ago) is plastered all over Facebook as some kind of sick joke. You can't believe everything you read on the Internet. There are currently several political graphs about presidents' spending, the deficit, etc. that have been going around and some of them are based on completely made up numbers. There are also a lot of quotes by celebrities going around that there is no evidence anywhere that they actually said it. And those "true" stories about standing up to racism and cool-sounding-but-abusive parenting that you've been posting with comments like "Wow I would like to meet this guy!" are often works of fiction.

Facebook is a great tool for staying in touch with friends--if those friends post things that you actually want to read.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Off to College

High school graduation was this weekend, and watching my brother and all the other seniors I know go through those final weeks of high school brings back a lot of memories of that excited/terrified/relieved/nervous/sad feeling that high school graduation brings. In honor of that, I'm going to play big sister to Logan, Claire and the others and give a little advice about college and life after graduation:

1) The best advice I ever got about college was to treat it like an 8:00 to 6:00 job. That means between those hours, if you're not in class or working at a real job you should be studying (except for brief breaks).  Trust me, it will greatly improve your social life.
For example: Say you had class from 8 to 10, then work from 11 to 2, then class from 3 to 4. It's really tempting to have an hour break at 10 and say "I'm really tired, I'm just going to find a quiet spot in the library and take a nap," and then during the break at 2 to go get something to eat and just chat with people or people-watch while you eat and then when you get home a little after 4 and aren't meeting people for dinner until 6 to say "I've been busy today and need some time to relax before I can get some studying done" and then spend the next two hours watching several episodes of your favorite sitcom or watching YouTube videos and surfing Facebook.
All together that's four hours you could have used to get all or most of the day's homework done, and now you have at least four hours of studying ahead of you after dinner. In the meantime, your friends and roomates and neighbors who are more productive/don't care are going to be texting you and knocking on your door inviting you to do all sorts of fun stuff, and you're going to be thinking "I totally would rather be playing ultimate frisbee with my best friends right now instead of the hour I spent alone in my room watching funny YouTube videos." At that point you will either miss out on a good time, flunk the test you're supposed to be studying for or start on your four hours of homework at midnight and then sleep through your classes the next morning.

2) The second best advice I got about college was "When you look back on your life you're not going to remember the nights you got plenty of sleep." It's true. The regret I felt for not getting enough sleep the night before usually didn't even last the whole morning, but the regret I felt when I skipped out on a midnight excursion and missed out on an adventure people kept referencing for the rest of the year lasted much, much longer. You want to stay healthy and be smart about what you sacrifice your sleep time for (go to sleep instead of watching TV), but the people who insisted on getting eight hours or more every night in college missed out on a lot of memories. You have the rest of your life to get a good night's sleep, so when everyone is out in the quad playing games or lying under the stars swapping hilarious stories don't be one of those lame people who at 11:00 says "Well goodnight everyone, I have to work at 8:00 tomorrow so I'd better get to bed" and miss out on all of the real bonding time that comes the later it gets.

3) Try new things. Your college will offer all sorts of fun classes and activities that will be a lot harder to try once you're in a small town and locked into the adult routines of an 8-to-5 job. When I was in college I took self defense (best class ever), learned to play the organ, improved my volleyball skills, took ballroom dance and world dance, went to an opera in Italian, tried all sorts of new foods cooked by the international students I knew, went to the first baseball game I had ever been to, watched international films, studied Shakespeare and film psychology and did all sorts of other things I had never done before. Now is the time in your life to be adventurous. Who knows, you might discover that you want to choose a major you never even realized someone could major in or find a life-long hobby.

4) Meet as many new people as possible. Get out there and get to know all sorts of people. If you come to the cafeteria or food court by yourself, ask a group of people you don't know if you can sit with them. Chat with the people around you before class. Get together with your roommates and invite another apartment over to dinner and games. One of the fun things about college is you can become friends with people who are into all of the same things you are but you can also become friends with people who are different than anyone you've ever met before (maybe you've never known any who is Muslim, for example).

5) Don't be intimidated. For most people who go to college, espcially if it's a really good school, they go from being a big fish in a little pond to being a little fish in a big pond. It can be a hard adjustment to make, because suddenly the things that defined you in high school are commonplace. When I was in high school a combination of factors (being Mormon, playing the piano well, having a good-sized role in the school plays, being in choir, having a big family, being valedictorian, doing a lot of community service, being a good writer) made me an invididual, but when I went to college all of the sudden it seemed like half the people I met not only had all of those things but did them better. So you have two choices: You can be bothered that you're not a star and don't get attention anymore and be jealous of everyone else and give up on things people are better at, or you can really enjoy being around such smart, talented people and try to learn from them. Just start practicing humility now because you're going to need it.

6) Learn to cook and clean and do laundry before you go. Don't be like the people I knew who the rest of us looked down on slightly because we had to teach them how to do dishes without a dishwasher or get soap scum off a facet or boil noodles or get stains out of their clothes. You will be better able to concentrate on school work when you're not dealing with the fact that you have to start over on dinner because it caught on fire and your favorite white shirt is now pink and you have to pay a $35 fee because you failed your cleaning check. Also get someone who has been through college already to teach you all the lazy tricks (for example, the more underwear you buy, the longer you can get away without doing laundry).

7) Remember that you can't get away with as much in college. Generally when you're in high school you can convince the teacher to take an assignment late without much of a penalty, or if everyone doesn't meet the deadline for something like senior binders they just move the deadline out, or you can say "I'm going to be at my cousin's wedding on Friday so can I take the test a day early?" In college professors make fun of people (sometimes to their face, sometimes to the rest of us while they're absent) who think they're somehow entitled to turn in a paper a few hours after the class it was due because when they went to print it out on the way to class the printer was broken. I knew people who had to retake an entire class because they got confused about the time of the midterm and missed it or their apartment flooded and they didn't get to class that morning to turn in a big paper. A few professors might make an exception for some things but most of them are totally unyielding when it comes to things like deadlines, so don't leave anything to the last minute because even if you say "My roommate had a heart attack last night and I was at their side at the hospital all night" there are a lot of professors who will say "You were not at the hospital for the whole two weeks you knew about this paper. It's not my fault you left it until the last minute."

College will probably be harder than anything you've ever done but also more fun. If you realize this, you'll do alright.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

This playground is too safe

Yesterday I wrote an editorial about "nanny state" laws like the one NYC Mayor Bloomberg is proposing which would ban restuarants and theaters from selling drinks larger than 16 ounces, which is the size of a small drink from McDonald's. Reading about some of the ridiculous laws different states have passed in the name of health and safety made me wonder what kind of world my children will grow up in, considering how different things are now from my parents' childhood.

Of course, some of the things that have changed are probably a good thing. But surely there is a happy medium between "let's let our seven year old bike across town by himself with no helmet to play on a sharp, rusty slide over asphalt" and "have fun playing on this collection of smooth two-foot tall plastic blobs on mats while I hover."

Pretty much every playground I played at when I was little has since been replaced by a "safe" version, and let me tell you, I totally get why today's kids would rather stay inside and play video games than play outside. Parents who wonder why their children aren't enthusiastic about playing outside these days should consider whether their ten-year-old selves would find today's playgrounds, trampolines, and other outdoor activities remotely fun.

For example, take the slide. Slides used to be slidey. You could put a three-year-old at the top of a slick, straight, reasonably steep metal slide and catch them at the bottom as they whooped with exhilaration and shouted "Again!" Now those slides have been replaced with a rougher plastic version half as tall that curves around to kill momentum. You might as well stop calling it a slide and start calling it a scoot-down-slowly-using-your-feet. It is now much more fun to climb up them, which of course all of the adults are busy forbidding.

Also gone are monkey bars, jungle gyms, see-saws, tire swings, merry-go-rounds and pretty much anything else that actually got used for having fun at recess when I was a kid. It's not like I want kids to get hurt, but really, in first grade my shins always had bruises from jumping onto the merry go round while it was spinning and I grew up just fine. No therapy needed to deal with the childhood trauma. Ironically, the one time I was really seriously injured on a playground (they had to stitch my lower lip back together after I did a faceplant and bit through it) was in fourth grade, and it was on flat ground, where we were playing a game that involved holding hands with other kids and I couldn't catch myself when I tripped. I got over that, too.

Last year I read an article in the New York Times that said psychologists are starting to see study results that show that safety-first playgrounds are actually stunting childrens' psychological growth. Venturing a little higher each time on the jungle gym or leaping from one part of a tall structure to the other teaches children how to overcome fear, tackle challenges and take risks, which translates to other part of their lives. Children who play on safety-first playgrounds are also more likely to develop a fear of heights. As for older children, they get bored with play equipment designed to keep toddlers safe and either retreat inside or look for "fun" places to play, which are often more dangerous than the old-style playgrounds.

The people who change the world for the better are people who are creative, who see challenges as something to overcome rather than a permanent roadblock, who are willing to take risks but also have enough experience with risk-taking to know when it's a bad idea, who know how to pick themselves up and move on after they have gotten hurt. What happens when we spend all of our time trying to keep the next generation as far away from risks, challenges and hurt (physical and mental) as possible?