Bran/d

I had never seen them in any movies when they first became a couple, which was the point of it, really; it was almost a shock to see Brad Pitt’s face in Fight Club, in Ocean’s Eleven, years later when my world had opened up to the age-inappropriate. It was almost a shock to find out he was an actor – that she was an actress – that these words, movie star, were not markers of caste or superiority but descriptions for a job that people did. That they were paid to perform labor I could touch, see, consume.

It is a fact of childhood that the world is populated by two sorts of people. The first sort is the real: your parents, your siblings, your neighbors, your babysitter, your teachers, the dogs you see on the street. The second sort is the unreal: the monsters under the bed, your Barbie dolls, the cowboys and pirates you’ll be when you grow up, Harry Potter, Robin Hood, historical figures like George Washington or Abraham Lincoln who you can play-pretend as. The celebrities in the magazines you see at the supermarket.

This second sort are not false, not even quite imaginary. You can see them, speak to them, go on adventures with them. But you also know, instinctively and deeply, that you do not need to treat them like they are real. They are gone once you stop looking at them. There’s a flatness to them, an animation, a brightness that the real ones can’t summon. They are not there for their own sake; their stories are for you. You can put them back in the box when you’re done.

One tries to avoid the realization, for example, that one’s parents are people. It’s unavoidably unpleasant. No matter how wonderful the two people that raised you are – and many of them are very wonderful – it is awful to suddenly know that they too were born, grew up, thought and felt and think and feel.

It is often simultaneous with the realization that one’s parents are not perfect. But it is not synonymous, and this distinction is important: knowing that one’s parents have made mistakes is not the same as knowing that one’s parents are humans, that even their good qualities are human qualities, that they see each other as people and not as natural phenomena.

It is an unspeakably rich realization – all the more so for the fact that it comes shortly before one realizes that everyone is a person, that everyone has the same depth of feeling as oneself, that everyone has a distinct voice and a unique personality and a compelling story and a set of habits and quirks reflected in no other person. There is a more-ness to the world, afterwards.

But there is a less-ness, as well; and it is a lessening of that brightness, of that flatness, of that glamor and gleam and coloring and background soundtrack. It is a realization that all of one’s stories about other people are, in the end, imaginary. That eventually all of the painted sets in the Hollywood of the mind will be taken down, and the credits will roll, and the actors will be sitting in front of you, a little smaller than you imagined they would be.

I had never seen either of them in any movies, and that is the point of it, in the end. They had no jobs; they had no lives. They existed in magazine spreads for me, static, like a mosquito frozen in amber.

They were very beautiful there.

A Collection of Images and Sensations, In Order

Fall in Oakland meant the arrival of two things.

The first was a religious ceremony: Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. I would roll black tights with long runs in them up my pale legs, pull on a blouse the color of salmon, and along with my brother in his khakis and last year’s too-small button-down shirt, climb into the stuffy darkness of the car. We’d follow the click, click, click of my parents’ shining shoes down the sparkling pavement to the Paramount Theater. It would be late – or late for children; the September or October wind would bite at my cheeks, my arms. When I was small enough that I didn’t know what goosebumps were, that was where I learned – hurrying after my mother’s quick stride, watching my legs pebble pink under the sheer grey of my tights.

The other was a tradition that my parents had helped begin, and something that I assumed quite casually every block in every neighborhood in every city in America did until I was almost thirteen. It was a block party – a large block party, with nearly every house on both sides of the street bringing out food, setting up volleyball nets, filling water balloons, calling their friends and their children’s friends and their children’s friends parents to come and talk and laugh in the street. This, too, was a place of unexpected pain: I’d walk barefoot down the middle of the road, sharp rocks and the heat of the pavement pricking the soles of my feet. My sandals would be back at the house, just by the door. Nevertheless, I wouldn’t want to go and fetch them.

Where most of my childhood memories I see as through some sort of haze – a contextless image of an enormous redwood stump that surfaces whenever someone says camping, a bloom of preteen recognition at the smell of a particular brand of shaving cream, the vague and gently unsatisfying nostalgia of rereading Where the Wild Things Are – these are never blurred, never out of focus. I know, if you ask me, whose driveway would have a collection of mini-pumpkins waiting to be painted in anticipation of Halloween, and where the fire truck would come in just before the sun began to sink low in the sky; I know the exact shade and texture of the chairs in the Paramount Theater, how they felt when I wore velvet, how they felt when I wore cotton. I know how the apples they gave the children on Rosh Hashanah mornings tasted, crumbly and left-out-too-long, and I can sing the Hamotzi in the same voice I sang it as a child: hamotzi lechem min haaretz, we give thanks to God for bread. I know the slap my flip-flops made as I jogged through the aftermath of the water balloon fight, and the way my wet T-shirt felt on my shoulders and my stomach.

The block party was almost always after Rosh Hashanah, unless Rosh Hashanah came very late in the year. There was no danger of them being on the same day – though it was not true, as I assumed as a child, that everyone celebrated the Jewish holidays, there were certainly more Jewish families on the block than just our own – and besides, it wouldn’t be a block party without Yaron, our Israeli neighbor, cooking falafel.

It was a strange thing, though, that no matter how early Rosh Hashanah came, no matter how late we held the block party, the latter would be warm and the former cold. Oakland would fill up with fog and rain and cold winds for Rosh Hashanah, and on the day of the block party give us a perfect, golden afternoon.

Summer always did last longer in California than it did anywhere else. It was as if the sun, crossing from east to west around the planet, hung on a little harder to my little corner of the northwest – as if, even as the leaves turned brown and gathered in whispering piles on the pavement, the warm gold in the air and snapping blue of the sky that made the rest of America think of June and July came there when it was done with the East and the Midwest, and spread itself over October like a cat over a blanket.

Rosh Hashanah marks the end of the growing season. The prayers for its companion holiday, Yom Kippur, read, on Rosh Hashanah it is written and on Yom Kippur it is sealed: who shall live and who shall die, who shall die at his time and who before his time, who by water and who by fire, who by sword and who by beast… It is, in a more modern image, the moment when the Jewish people hand in our test to the teacher and wait, breathless, for the grade. It is the day when there is nothing more to be done for the crops, for the fields, for the harvest; it is the day when you put down the year, dust yourself off, and stand back to take a long look at what you’ve done.

It’s perhaps right, then, that fall should be a time of memory for me.

Whatever Happened to Internet Safety?

Once, late at night when I was about ten years old, I woke to my father shaking me. “Hannah?” he said. “Come upstairs. Your mom and I want to talk to you.”

This is never a good sign. I followed my father up the stairs with a pit of dread in my stomach; I didn’t know what I’d done (surely my grades were fine? I’d been doing all my homework?) but I knew it couldn’t be good.

Our family desktop was on, and open on the screen was a website called Gaia Online, an anime-themed social networking site. My friends had all started using it, and I’d jumped on the trend. My mother was standing by the computer. She didn’t look happy. “Hannah,” she said, “we want you to tell us why this person you’ve been messaging asked where you live.”

I panicked. The person in question, who had a cheerfully interesting avatar and a cool username, had been messaging me about an online role-playing game we were both involved in; I’d been happy to make a new friend. They’d asked where I lived, once, and I’d dodged the question and continued talking to them. After all, I figured, what was the harm?

My parents, who immediately ordered me to delete the conversation and never talk to the person again, saw our conversation in a different light. Who knew what this stranger wanted, why they’d been trying to find out information about a pre-teen girl? The Internet was a weird place, the Internet was a dangerous place, and you needed to protect yourself, you needed to be safe –

Not long ago, my parents called me for our weekly Skype. The window popped up on the screen; I could see them, but my screen showed only darkness. For a few seconds we were confused – then, “oh,” I said, “I have a Band-Aid on my webcam, lemme peel it off.”

“Why do you have a Band-Aid on your camera?” said my mother disbelievingly.

“Oh, because she’s afraid the government is watching,” said my dad, and they both laughed.

So whatever happened to Internet safety?

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There’s A Robot Asleep On A Comet Right Now. In More Important News, Kim Kardashian

When I was about seven or eight, my best friend and I used to make fun of what we called “girly-girls”. I’m not really sure where we picked the term up, or why we were so intent in our hatred. We were angry, yes, in some indefinable strange seven-year-olds-who-read-Tamora-Pierce way, at the fact that every book in the Scholastic catalog geared towards girls was pink and sparkly and full of curly writing, and that to get the dragons and knights and heroes we wanted, we had to read “boy books”; we were angry that when the boys on the playground chased us and tried to hit us and pull our hair, the teachers said that boys will be boys, and we had to learn to hit and pinch and punch back if we wanted to be left in peace, and then deal with being scolded for not being nice. We were angry about dresses, we were angry about fluffy things, we were angry about princesses, we were angry about ladylike.

But dresses and fluffy things and princesses and ladylike weren’t the fault of “girly-girls”. They were the fault of the teachers. They were the fault of the Scholastic catalog. They were the fault of the boys.

Nevertheless– it was the girly-girls, and anything girly-girly, that took the brunt of our resentment.

It was around this time that Britney Spears was having a very dramatic and very public breakdown.

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A Room of Our Own

The thing is, it’s not just the nudes.

It’s not just the pictures of Jennifer Lawrence, splashed across my screen when I clicked her name on my Twitter sidebar to find out what the hell was going on, splashed across everyone’s screen without her permission, without her consent. It’s not just the men who stole them, on the run from the FBI, loudly and confusedly contesting that they’ve done nothing wrong, not really. It’s not just the nickname– “the Fappening”, a joke, a way to laugh about the whole thing, a reminder of what the theft of the photos was ultimately about.

It’s not just Anita Sarkeesian– though it is Anita Sarkeesian, in a much bigger way than it is Jennifer Lawrence. It’s Anita Sarkeesian receiving daily death threats, being driven out of her house because of how serious they had become, it’s Anita Sarkeesian’s being harassed and bullied and going through things no one should have to go through just because she’d said sexism is real. It’s Kelly Weill, too, who I wrote about a couple weeks ago, a girl my age who I might know– who I might be– getting gory, sexual pictures, and yes, death threats, because she’d written an article about a damn Facebook page–

Look: let me tell you what it was like to grow up on the Internet.

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The Problem with Market-Based Education

“Children spend far more time off-task in a decorated classroom than in a plain one, and their test scores are also lower,” say psychological researchers in a recent New York Times Article, “Rethinking the Colorful Kindergarten Classroom”. The article covers the researchers’ new findings about the popular trend in kindergarten and elementary school classrooms of “vividly colored scalloped borders on the walls, dancing letters, maybe some charming cartoon barnyard animals holding up “Welcome to School!” signs”: that such “information-dense” decorations are over-pricey, distracting, and perhaps even “visually damaging”.

The picture painted is clear: schools are wasting money, teachers are wasting time, and “unadorned” classrooms are what’s needed for proper education. After all, the study says, a student learning in a “spartan” environment is less likely to go off-task, and more likely to have high test scores.

Which is what’s important, right?

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