Thursday, April 30, 2015

They Called Her Margo

I have just once again finished reading one of my absolute favorite novels, Paper Towns. (So technically I listened to the audio book on YouTube and didn’t read a single word but, that’s beside the point.) The last time I read the novel, I was a whopping fifteen years old and the main thing I took away from the story was that the crazier, more mysterious kind of girl you are, the more people will like you. Now of course, I’m sure this wasn’t the theme that John Green had in mind when he set out to write the novel in the first place but alas, I was fifteen and in high school and drowning in people who despite my spot on the varsity cheer squad, were still in my eyes far cooler than I.

So, I suppose for a while, that’s what I did. I became Margo Roth Spiegelman. I sought out every wild and crazy adventure that I could in my small town and desperately attempted to meet people who were willing to accompany me. It was a roller coaster, for lack of a more cliche metaphor. Over the course of those two-ish years, I became so many things to so many people. (Of course, not all of these things were positive.) For some, I was the girl who was obnoxiously obsessed with cheerleading, even though I was never really a standout athlete. For others, I was the one who never had finished her Algebra homework when first period rolled around. I was the girl that brought everyone else to the dance floor at parties and dances, and actively spoke of my dreams to travel the world. I was the girl whose two best friends had died, and was SO strong to have made it through! I was the heroic founder of Hawk Compliments. I was so many to things, to so many people. And I’m not sure what I’m remembered for most, if I am remembered at all.

Because frankly, it doesn’t matter. Upon finishing Paper Towns, I realized that the true theme of the novel is not that one must be crazy to be loved, but rather, the true craziness lies in the way we humans idealize others humans. We consistently treat the people we’re infatuated with as if they aren’t regular people but instead as something more and better. Take for example, the obvious. The majority of the women that I know worship the ground that Beyonce walks on, (rightfully so.) But then forget that she is a person with struggles, with insecurities, and shortcomings.

Last year I was projected as the perfect exchange student. I fundraised to build schools. I hung out with famous Indonesians. I made wannabe vlogs that were eventually showed at the State Department. People told me things like, “You’re my inspiration. How do I live your life? You make it look so easy.” I was the Mallory they chose to see.

But boy did they choose wrong. I don’t deserve a pedestal. I don’t warrant heaps of praise. I’m to this day insecure about my Bahasa Indonesia abilities. I struggle keeping up with my online courses. I fight with my boyfriend every other week. I get anxious whenever anyone asks about my future plans. And I have a PhD in pushing people away. 
I have become so keenly aware of the way that this romanticization of fellow humans has harmed people in my own life, and all the ways that I have failed to unmoor myself from my particular point of view. Australia was my escape from this phenomenon, as is this new chapter I've begun writing here at home - My flight from the ideas of who I am that others have faithfully built for me.

And let me tell ya, I’m pretty stoked about who I found waiting for me on the other side.

“What a treacherous thing to believe that a person is more than a person.”

Monday, February 2, 2015

Some Thoughts on Being (American)

New friends from Iran
One of the best nights I have had since coming to Sydney was the evening that I was unexpectedly invited to watch an Asian Cup match - Iran versus Qatar. Having never been to a professional soccer game, much less an international cup such as this one, I had little idea of what to expect. I don't think I could have even pointed to Iran or Qatar on a map. But in the name of holy wanderers and adventures, I relentlessly joined. My time at Olympic Park started on a high when a bulky, Iranian man bearing a ponytail fell in love with me and felt compelled to (respectfully) tell me how gorgeous I am. I followed in his steps to the stadium, and immediately took the crowd majority's lead and rooted for the green-and-red-wearing nation, Iran. Though I had never been to either country, I was joyously embraced as though I was native to both. When halftime rolled around and neither team had scored, the already high energy of the stadium tripled. Stomping feet, waving flags, constant chants in Arabic, and plenty of, "Astaga!" But despite all of that noise and chaos and excitement and energy and rivalry, perhaps the most compelling moment of my time at Sydney Olympic Park was at halftime, when both fans from Qatar, and fans from Iran, came together to pray. Some on cardboard boxes, others on prayer rugs, but none excluded because of the colors they were supporting. Amongst these worshipping Muslims, stood non-Muslim Australian and American friends making sure they weren't disturbed - a miraculous sight given recent events in Paris and Sydney. As the second half of the game came to a close, Iran scored the only goal of the evening, deploying waves of red and green throughout the city. As I was exiting the stadium, I was invited to dance along with the Iranians, despite our countries not always seeing eye to eye. "You're very fortunate to come from such a beautiful country, I hope all the best for you" expressed one new Iranian friend. "Your country is so full of hope!" remarked another. 

Flash forward to the following week as President Obama gave his annual State of the Union address. I tuned in via YouTube along with many exchange students around the world, and fiercely participated in a Facebook group chat and Twitter conversation regarding the SOTU. For many of us abroad, there was a common theme. And that common theme was that, no matter where in the world we were, everyone had something to say about us being American. And more times than not, more people from outside of the US had something educated to say about American current events than did actual American citizens. I cannot count the number of times someone in Australia

In honor of Australia Day last week!
has remarked on me reading Hillary Cinton's memoir. Or the amount of times I hear foreign students stressing about taking the IELTS examine to enter American Universities. While I'm no believer that being American is some God-given gift, I am a firm believer that with that privilege comes some level of responsibility when it comes to taking advantage of all the things we are able to do, in comparison to people who are given far fewer opportunities. America is not perfect - but it is a place of hope. And the one thing I've learned in my journeys is that that hope, and that drive, is absolutely something to be taken advantage of. Many Indonesians I have spoke to can't imagine living the lifestyle that we are able to - so travel the world. Be an ambassador for your country. Witness Iranians dancing and the act of people coming together to play a game of soccer. Serve your country by tuning into the rest of the world, and embrace not only being American, but being a global citizen. I truly believe that that will make all of the difference.