Last thoughts on Talons and everything else

It’s the end of the year, classes are over, and summer is here! Sort of. I think someone may have forgotten to remind the weather that it’s nearly July. That aside, we’re not quite done. Provincials are just around the corner, as is my English 11 final project, which is what all of this is about.

I had a very clear idea of what I wanted to do for my project, or so I thought. It’s supposed to be a synthesis of learning, a representation of everything and anything English. Throughout the year, I had been writing things down. Not a journal or a diary necessarily, I’ve never considered myself a diary person, but just thoughts that I needed to get out somehow, with absolutely no censorship of ideas. I didn’t care about spelling or grammar, I said exactly what I felt or thought. No one would ever read it, I probably wouldn’t ever reread anything I wrote. But it was a reflection of me, and of Talons, and of everything that has changed, or hasn’t changed, since I started Grade 10. I wanted that to be my project. An accumulation of all the words I wrote down when I was at my best, and my worst. The highest peaks, and the lowest, plummeting, never ending chasms. I was going to condense it into one, shorter, personal essay, this time with proper grammar, and using the more tasteful anecdotes.

It was harder than I thought it would be. Everything seemed wrong, not good enough, not interesting enough, or too melodramatic. Especially that one, I think. It all seemed like I was being a spoiled drama queen, complaining that life sucked. It sounded like I was being a teenager. And more than anything, I am not a “normal”, conventional teenager. I don’t fit the stereotypes, most people don’t. But everything I ever say or do is accompanied by the little voice in the back of my head doing its best not to fit the stereotype.

I finished writing soon enough. I wrote three different versions, I chose the one I liked best. Coincidentally, it was the one with the least editing, and the one that took the least time to write. It took effort and thought, but I let the words flow a lot more than I had with the other two. I recorded myself, took out the visuals, and was left with a small, seven-minute mp3. After editing out all of the coughs, doorbells, extremely loud planes overhead, and curious younger brothers, it was about four minutes. And that was it. Just a voice, raw thoughts, four minutes long.

It felt like cheating. It felt too easy. All of the time and energy I had put into making those four minutes as amazing as I could, and as honest as I could, only resulted in a tiny little recording that could have taken twenty minutes to do. I thought about making a picture slideshow, or a video. Maybe making the recording longer? So I blogged about it, tried to get all of my thoughts and ideas out.

Modern technology presents us with incredible opportunities for creativity. Everything can be “improved” with computer software and flashy presentations, so much so that it seems expected. Should it be? Should we change the way we think and learn and communicate altogether? It seems logical to take advantage of the opportunities we have, but it doesn’t need to always be that way. There are many different ways to communicate. Through photography, music, spoken words, theatre, artwork, and yes, email and online communication. Shouldn’t we embrace all of them? Sending someone an email or an IM is often much faster and easier than phoning, or trying to meet in person. It makes business much easier, and allows you to communicate with those too far away to visit. But is it really necessary to text your friend when they’re in the next room, or email your neighbour when you know they’re home? Don’t laugh, it happens. And it seems a little lazy. The same thing happens in school. English is the only course required all the way through to Grade 12. And it’s because communication is one of the most important skills in life. Technology can complement and improve upon communication skills that students bring forth, but it can also detract from them, or even mask them. PowerPoints and Prezis offer beautiful, professional-looking premade templates. You can put words onto your screen, and no matter what it says, it will look more professional than if it was done on a blank piece of paper. So whether you are an accomplished novelist or a kid that can’t do anything without spellcheck, if you put a few words into a PowerPoint, you’ll look great. Doing a speech accompanied by music creates an extremely powerful effect. But when the focus is on the music rather than the words, there’s something wrong. Music can hide what we are saying, give an excuse to step back a little. The same happens with pictures. A speech perfectly lined up with a slideshow of beautifully photographed images looks great. How many of the words said do you actually hear? Or are you more focused on the pictures? Do you remember what they talked about? You don’t? Oh well, it looked pretty so it must have been good.

Some people use other mediums to communicate, and so that is what they emphasize and show off. But if you want them to focus on something specific, don’t hide it with flashy colours and distracting noise. I did put together a brief slideshow to accompany my recording. But this is my final project. I want it to best reflect me and my talents. And my greatest tool is my words. I want all of this to be about my words. Watching bright images of flowers and smiling children on my computer screen, I didn’t listen to a word I said. So I pressed the little red x in the corner. I did finally give in and tried putting in a bit of music (really quiet though!), and I think it did sound good (it also helped make the really poor recording quality sound better, because it got rid of most of the annoying buzzing in the background). But I didn’t care anymore that it seemed “too simple”. It was a reflection of me.

It is amazing that our world is making so many advances. Medicine, history, space travel, super super super fast cars, it’s all really cool. But just because we have shiny new toys doesn’t always mean that the old stuff is invalid. They don’t always teach handwriting anymore in elementary school. People talk as if soon they won’t even be teaching printing. Only typing. So I made a point of writing everyone (and that’s a lot of people) handwritten cards for Christmas. I kind of like my printing. Typing gets really boring after a while. It’s always the same.


PS: I think this may be my last blog. Ever. On this blog anyways. 🙂

Reflections on English

I feel almost guilty posting work I wrote for the class blog on my personal blog. I’m not entirely sure why though; it is my work, my writing. I should be allowed to share it wherever I want. So here is something I wrote a few days ago. Originally it was just going to be some thoughts, and then I was going to post a second piece with reflections from my work in English 11 this year. But while writing this, I was thinking about English, and so I suppose this became a reflection in itself:

I love to read, I love to write, I love to talk. The English language has always been my area of expertise, what I have always been ‘known for’. From the age of three, I was taught to introduce myself saying, “Hi, my name is Rebecca and I am an incessant chatterbox!” I took pride in my abilities to conjure up stories of magical lands, or quote entire passages from books well beyond my years. But as I grew older, that pride and passion started to fade. I didn’t have as much time to read, I became self-conscious about speaking in front of others and what they would think of me, and I was scared to write. Scared because I didn’t think it was good enough. What used to be a fountain of open creativity, not caring whether or not it made sense at first, became long, tedious hours of searching through dictionaries and thesauruses, checking every spelling, every word, every punctuation mark.

In Grade 9, joining Talons, I was no longer the best writer, the most avid reader, or even the best speaker. There were others with more eloquent words and more persuasive arguments. At first I took it as motivation to improve, increasing my standards. But soon enough I shut down. I still wrote and read and spoke, but I no longer cared about being the best, and I stopped trying to be better.

As depressing and woeful as that may all sound (and I’ll admit, it probably wasn’t as bad as I may try to portray it as being), I did lose my drive to succeed. And it sucked.

Mr. Jackson offered five students, myself included, the chance to earn credit for English 11 in our Grade 10 year. It meant being more involved, being more of a leader, and demonstrating a higher ability in our work. To be honest, although there was no question that I was going to do it, I’m not sure I really wanted to. My effort and the quality of my work had been slipping, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to commit to even more work. But I did, and it may well have been what saved me (metaphorically, that is; like I said, it’s not quite the end of the world yet).

The English 10 provincial wasn’t difficult, but I wasn’t really motivated, and I’m sure my essay could have been a thousand times better if I had made use of the time I had left. I still did well, but I definitely wallowed in self-pity for at least a little while. Then, as an English 11 student now, we wrote our This I Believe essays. I found that particular exercise to be extremely difficult. I didn’t have anything heart wrenching to write about; my life would not make a very exciting movie. And at the time, it seemed like everyone else did. So I didn’t feel like my writing was good enough, because my story wasn’t good enough. But Mr. Jackson took a chainsaw to it, ripped it to shreds (not quite that violently), and told me to piece it back together myself. It worked. The story was still the same, the writing was not even that much different, but I had to confidence I needed, knowing that it was at least ‘acceptable’ writing.

I don’t know why that meant so much to me, but after that essay, I think I did start writing more. I got back into finding time for free writes, and I started waking up in the middle of the night to write down ideas in the notebook on my bedside table that had been neglected for almost a year.

All through the month of May, I managed the Talons class blog, this blog, by editing and publishing work by other students. Few were signed up to write in May, so many days still needed a post, giving me reason to blog more myself, as well as reading others’ blogs to find more material. Editing others’ work proved to be much more difficult than editing my own. I often spend more time editing and changing my work than I do writing it in the first place. Everything needs to be perfect in my eyes before anyone else can see it. But when changing someone else’s writing, there is only so much you can do. You can’t make it yours. Writing is an art form, and it has to retain its identity, the creative stamp of its original author. So while editing posts for the class blog, I would fix spelling and punctuation, make a few minor grammatical changes, and little else. If needed, I might talk with the author about taking out a paragraph or two, or expanding on an idea to add a bit more. But I can’t make it my own writing; it still has to be the same communication of ideas that it was when someone first put their fingers to a keyboard. I know that this, what I write now to be posted, will be looked over by someone else’s eyes. Changes will be made before it is put out for the public. I don’t plan on editing much; there will probably be lots to change. But it will still be mine, and mine only.

I’m not really sure what all of this means, but I have a feeling it’s important. I didn’t want to take risks. I was scared to challenge myself in fear of failure. But although I might still be hiding a little, I have a feeling my bubble of security is more transparent now. Thanks to those who pushed me just a little more to succeed, I let myself go, just a bit, and started doing what I love again. Because no matter how good or bad you are at something, if you love doing it, it doesn’t matter in the slightest.


Are You Perfect?

This was posted on our class blog a while ago, with nothing in mind other than how I felt at the time. Now that Mother’s Day has just happened, and the class work I have been doing seems to be reflecting what I blogged about, it seems logical to post it here as well.

Have you ever wondered what your life would be like if you were smarter? Prettier? Richer? More talented? If somehow, by a small chance of fate, you owned the winning lottery ticket? Have you ever wished that your life was just like the lives of celebrities on those superficial reality shows that you always make fun of? If your life was, for lack of a better word, perfect?

I am not perfect. Nor will I ever be. Nobody is ever perfect, yet most expect no less. Many say that you should always strive for perfection, because if you aim to be perfect, you will achieve excellence. But excellence isn’t always good enough, because you know that the only reason you got to that point was because you tried so hard to be more, to be perfect. Excellence is not perfection, and perfection was your goal. Therefore by attaining excellence, you have failed.

Is this the world we live in? An endless downward spiral of disappointments and failures, never satisfied because we know that it could always be better? If you win an Olympic gold medal, the public expects you to win another. One simply isn’t good enough. You found the cure to a fatal disease? Good for you, now what about the rest of them? Why haven’t you found a solution for cancer yet? Oh look! You got all As on your report card! Now how come you only got 89% in Math?

Teenagers constantly complain about parents ‘never’ being satisfied. I love my family more than anything, and I have a great relationship with my parents but even I sometimes can’t stand their contradictions. For years, all I ever heard was “Stop reading, get out of the house. You need to work at your friendships and get outside more. Why don’t you ask if Breanna wants to come over? How come you never play with your friends?” Now, I’m told on a regular basis that I need to spend more time at home, with my family, or doing homework. Why haven’t I picked up a book in over a month? Why must I spend so much time with friends. What is the point of going to the mall if you aren’t going to buy anything? Get up, you’re going to be late for school. You need to spend more time on your schoolwork. Then, why do you have so much homework? You need to get more sleep!

And on and on and on. I’m sure almost every child, every parent, every boss and employee and teacher and student faces these problems every day. You can’t please everyone. And more often than not, you can’t even please just one person. There’s always something wrong, or something that could be better. ‘Good’ is not acceptable. ‘Excellent’ is rarely good enough. If you truly want everyone to love and admire and respect you, you need to be perfect.

Of course, no one likes someone with no flaws. Why do you always have to make the rest of us look bad? Stop being such a snob.

It is only human to make mistakes, I suppose. And I think one of our biggest flaws, as an entire species, is not being able to accept that we make these mistakes. And I genuinely wish that we could accept ourselves for every little imperfection that makes us who we are. But I can’t judge, because I know that I’m one of the worst for not being able to accept myself. Sure I could list pages and pages of every mistake I’ve made in the past week. But acknowledging is not the same as accepting; I would also be able to come up with three different excuses for each one. I have a hard time admitting when something at all connected to me is wrong, or even just less than perfect. I suppose most people do, it’s not like I’m any worse than others. But it feels like that. It feels like I am so perfectionistic and obsessive about making everyone happy, that I forget to let myself by happy.

About a week ago, I got a huge wakeup call. I had spent so much time, I had wasted so much time, worrying about pleasing others, and not letting myself be happy, that in the end, no one was happy. Half of the time I was acting like a three-year old, whiny and obnoxious. The other half of the time, I was a depressed blob. A blob. And I was dragging everyone else down with me. My little brother was terrified of me, carefully tiptoeing around the house not wanted to say or do the wrong thing. My dad, already teenager-phobic, wouldn’t have a proper conversation with me. Only single, monosyllabic words. But my mother, trained in the art of dealing with bratty teens, had had enough. So she confronted me, and told me exactly what I needed to hear. Not what I necessarily wanted to hear, but certainly what I needed. She explained exactly how exasperated she was with being patient and putting up with me. It’s fine for a day, maybe two, maybe even a week. But you can’t be miserable forever. So I pulled myself together, and took charge of my life. It’s not like anything was really going wrong in the first place, I was just taking it with the wrong attitude. At first I thought my mom was being unreasonable, of course. I can’t just change my entire outlook on life, right? And I wasn’t even being that bad in the first place….right?

But I was, of course I was. Mothers are always right. There, I said it. And that’s what I said to my mom, which is why it’s now in writing, signed, on a piece of paper on the door of my fridge. ‘Mothers always know best (most of the time)’, and there it will remain until I change my mind again, only to be proven wrong yet again by an almost annoyingly superb mother. In the end, I didn’t change my entire outlook on life. I just remembered what it was like to live for myself, not for others, something which I hadn’t even realized I’d forgotten.

So you can’t be perfect. You can’t always be the best. And you can’t change who you are in one day just because you had a fight with your mom. But you can be happy. You can love yourself. The vulnerabilities, the flaws and imperfections, the mistakes, and the frustrations, but most of all, the beauty, the talent, the personality, and all of those amazing things that you probably never knew existed. Maybe you still haven’t found them yet. But don’t worry, one day someone will show you. [Thanks Mom]


Teaching others about learning

It’s just around the corner. Only a couple of weeks, a few days even. Right after we come back from the Adventure Trip, as soon as we’ve come down a bit from that energy high of being away from home for five days with Talons, it’ll be there. In Depth is over, and it’s time to celebrate!

The In Depth celebration night marks the end of our study. But not the end of our learning. Many of us will continue to pursue hobbies and activities long after our five month project is over. I still sit on my couch and play my guitar, even if it doesn’t “count” for anything. It might not be a school assignment, but it’s something that I am passionate about, and something I will continue for my entire life. I hope that Spanish can be the same.

On In Depth night, it’s not about putting hours and hours of work into display boards and speeches, like with some other projects. In Depth night is about showing your progress. It’s about the process, not the product. Some students perform and present on the stage, others make learning centres and displays to show some of the work that they have been doing over the past five months. Of course, being a Talons event, the entire night is organized by students, so we are also in charge of the food, decorations, layout, entertainment, pictures, invitations, greeting guests, etc. My task this year was phoning program alumni to invite them to the event, so I am already done in that aspect.

For my learning centre though, I will need some way of presenting and displaying what I have been doing for In Depth. Although my In Depth study was learning a language, I want as little text as possible. I plan on having a display board, just a traditional three-fold science-fair-style board, but with lots and lots of pictures. I have hundreds of pictures from Cuba (and I’ll certainly be stealing some from some friends), as well as lots of souvenirs and suck for people to see.  Everything from musical instruments to jewellery to artwork to toys, all a reflection of Cuban and Spanish culture. I will also have a couple of work samples and writing in Spanish from my course, but not too much, because although it is relevant, no one really has time to read everything you have written.

Also on my display board, I had thought of having a world map, with coloured pins indicating countries and area where Spanish is either commonly spoken, a primary national language, or a secondary national language, as one of the reasons learning Spanish was important to me is that I enjoy traveling, and it is an extremely common and versatile language.

Finally, I will be at my display, speaking and interacting with guests, explaining what I have been working on, and maybe even teaching a bit of Spanish.

I can’t wait for In Depth night! 🙂


Jaws – Post #3

Jaws was actually based on a book of the same name, written by Peter Benchley. I plan on reading this book of course, but have refused to let myself read it until I am done studying the movie, because my whole plan in choosing to study a movie was that it was not a book. I don’t want the book spoiling the movie for me (wow, that’s a first!).

Peter Benchley was inspired by real events concerning shark attacks, and unusually large sharks. Jaws was his first published fictional novel, and had a positive reception, staying on the bestseller list for forty-four weeks. The problem, however, arose when trying to come up with a name. Initial ideas included The Stillness in the Water, Fathoms Below, and Leviathan Rising, all of which seemed somewhat pretentious. Can you imagine Jaws being the same if it was called The Stillness in the Water? It wouldn’t be the same book, the same movie, the same fear, the same effect… But Benchley chose a different name, less than an hour before the production of the book began. While speaking with his editor, he finally settled on something, and even then wasn’t so sure.

“We cannot agree on a word that we like, let alone a title that we like. In fact, the only word that even means anything, that even says anything, is ‘jaws’. Call the book Jaws. He said ‘What does it mean?’ I said, ‘I don’t know, but it’s short; it fits on a jacket, and it may work.’ He said, ‘Okay, we’ll call the thing Jaws’.”

And Jaws it was called. Soon enough, the film rights were purchased and Spielberg, intrigued by the title, became the director.

What’s in a name? Sure you can say that a rose is a rose is a rose, and all of that, but would Jaws be the same if it wasn’t Jaws? It would still have been published as a novel; the name wasn’t decided until shortly before production began. But would it have become a movie? Would Spielberg have asked to direct it, or would he have simply thrown it to the side?

When I walk into the movie theatre with my family, we always know exactly what we are going to see, but we’re sure to look at posters for upcoming releases, things we want to come back for later. And the titles are what get our attention. Titles, and actors. If the name is too long, or too boring, there’s little chance we’ll ever see it. And of course, my dad refuses to watch anything with Ben Stiller. But the names are important. My family would probably never watch something called Leviathan Rising. But Jaws? It’s short, unusual, and intriguing. It makes you wonder. It has potential to be an amazing movie.

So Jaws became arguably the first summer blockbuster. It dominated theatres all over the place. It made millions, and won countless awards.

…and then they made a sequel.

Spielberg refused to have anything to do with it, saying that “making a sequel to anything is just a cheap carny trick”. Benchley wasn’t involved with the movie either. Some of the cast and crew returned, and a screenplay was written. Production was just as difficult as with the original movie, but Jaws 2 was finally released on June 16th, 1978. Despite not having nearly the same effect and scare as the first Jaws, it became the highest grossing sequel at the time. It didn’t have Spielberg’s touch, but managed to get some positive reception, and brought forth one of the most famous lines in movie history: “Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water…”

Why not quit while you’re ahead? Jaws was a phenomenon across the nation, Jaws 2 did pretty well seeing as no one from the original movie really wanted it to happen… But oh wait, remember the 3-D from my last post? Of course we need a Jaws movie in 3-D! So Jaws 3 was released, complete with those oh-so-stylish cardboard polarized glasses. None of the original cast returned, many laughed it off as a joke. It received some pretty bad reviews, but still managed to earn #1 at the box office for a while.

Okay, fine. You didn’t quit while you were ahead. Now the Jaws franchise is on a steady decline. Time to stop, right? No, they had to make a fourth movie. Who makes three sequels? Other than maybe Disney, you can’t really get away with it. Jaws 4: The Revenge, was the final instalment (finally!), and featured a now deceased Martin Brody’s wife, Ellen Brody, convinced that a shark is seeking revenge and is now targeting her family. The movie is widely considered one of the worst movies ever made.

Moral of the story? Sequels don’t work. You just can’t top Jaws, so don’t bother trying. This is also quite possibly proof that a movie doesn’t need special effects and more action to be great. The Jaws sequels were all much more modern, with better technology and faster action with more blood and gore than ever, but Jaws, plain and simple, with a broken mechanical shark and a couple of cameras, will always be the best.

Jaws – Post #2

What was the last movie that you saw? Were there gunfights? Car chases? Massive explosions? Mind-blowing 3-D graphics?

Blockbuster Hollywood movies in recent years seem to be more about the action and the special effects than the meaning. Many of the deepest, most inspiring movies are completely overlooked and pushed to the side to be overshadowed by high-budget movies, visually out of this world, though often lacking in plot. We live in a world where everything has to be in 3-D, high definition, full colour, surround sound, with only the best looking actors and the most exotic filming locations.

It’s all about being fast-paced, with an easy-to-follow plot and insane special effects. The bigger, the better. Sure, maybe not all movies follow that formula, but really? Do you remember the last big action movie you saw? Chances are, there was lots of ‘pow!’, and not a lot of deep, meaningful plot. It’s how those kind of movies work; you need to draw your audience in, and then keep them there. We live in a world of multitaskers with short attention spans and a need for something better. So you can’t confuse them with symbolic, elusive plotlines, or bore them with extensive dialogue and setting the scene. You have to give them action, then some cool new technology, then more action. Everything is in 3-D now, even the things that really don’t need to be (does it really always make a difference?). Why? Because 2-D isn’t good enough.

I was reading some reviews of Jaws, and found many of them interesting. Of course, many insisted that it was a classic, one of the greatest movies of all time, a must-see. But few really said anything about the movie, just that it was about a shark. Then there were the complaints. All people really had to say was that the shark wasn’t realistic, or the acting could have been better. And when looking at the poor reviews, the number one critique? It’s too slow, there’s too much talking.

Really? Too much talking? In a movie about a giant killer shark terrorizing a community, eating young children alive, knocking over boats like chess pieces, and then being hunted and exploded by a ragtag team of men…there’s not enough action? It’s too slow???

And yet many consider Jaws to be a masterpiece, and one of the most terrifying movies ever. Maybe it’s the slower pace that makes it scary, the randomness that we talked about in class. In Jaws, you never know when the shark is going to attack. You never know who the next victim will be. Unlike more modern movies, where it is often just gunfight after gunfight, everyone dies, and you don’t really develop connections with the characters, the shark in Jaws takes only five victims (six if you count the dog). Only five people die? Compared to the hundreds of deaths in more recent movies, or the millions  in a movie like 2012, that’s not that much. But the randomness, the fear of the unknown, makes it scary. Really, really scary.

So who’s to say that any movie with more than a few minutes of dialogue is boring? Even if we don’t see the shark for the first hour, and we only get to see a couple of prosthetic limbs and a little fake blood (on that note, the fake blood packets, like the one in Quint’s mouth when he is attacked, taste terrible), there’s no dispute that it was a good movie, and one that changed the way our society views movies. And it wasn’t even in 3-D.

The second sequel to Jaws, however, was in 3-D. Compared to the orginal though, it sucked.

The second sequel to Jaws, however, was in 3-D. Compared to the orginal, it sucked.