A Millennial Revolution

What follows is a short story I wrote that I will probably end up adapting into something longer like a novel or screenplay. I cover a lot of ground in a short amount of time but I’m proud of it, so I’m sharing it. Let me know if anything does / doesn’t work for you! I’m feeling a little self-conscious if you can’t tell lol

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Once he said it, he couldn’t unsay it. And nobody else in the room could unhear it. It was out, and now the only thing that remained was whether anybody would do anything about it.

The room fell silent. Ten minds at once began pondering the possibilities. The man who had spoken the idea into reality scanned the room. Saying something like this was potentially dangerous. Of course he trusted everyone in the room, or else he wouldn’t have invited them here, but could he trust the people that they trusted?

He’d spent months working through the permutations and possibilities in his mind before deciding to entrust anyone with it. He made list after list of names, people he thought he could trust, people he thought would know what to do with the idea once it was presented to them, lists of names that he looked up to, some of the greatest minds the world had ever known. Even once he had finalized the list, even after he’d sent out the invitations, he questioned whether he should bail at the last moment. It would be easy enough to find some other excuse to bring these people together.

But one nagging thought kept him going. One persistent phrase, repeated over and over in his mind, forced him to go through with his plan. The fate of the world is at stake.

Once the words were out of his mouth, he prepared for death. Even in this group, with these people, he feared he might have miscalculated. Everyone understood the magnitude of what he was suggesting.

Everyone looked at one another. He could see them struggling with the same thoughts that had plagued him for months—who can I trust? How do I react? Who is monitoring my expression? Have I been quiet for too long?

Finally, one of them spoke up. “It would take a lot of planning,” she said.

“Of course,” he said. “Years and years of it.”

“It would have to remain completely secret until it was ready,” a third voice said.

“Not completely,” he said. “We build slow. We keep it out of the wrong hands.”

“How are we supposed to do that?” said a fourth voice. It was starting to feel like people were on board with the plan, despite some logistical doubts & quibbles.

“If there’s one thing our generation is better at than any before,” he started, “it’s keeping secrets from people older than us.”

“That’s true,” said a fifth voice. “We have an entire department dedicated to making sure nobody over the age of 40 can understanding how the app works. If we can do that, I’m sure we could trust people with this.”

The man who called them here cleared his throat. “No one is allowed to hear about this unless everyone in this room approves. And everyone we tell has to agree ahead of time to follow that same rule. No one else finds out until everyone who already knows agrees. Non-Disclosures out the ass.”

“That’s going to be incredibly difficult to enforce.”

“No, it won’t,” came a sixth voice, followed by a brief chuckle. “That’s why I’m here, right?” she said. “We just have to combine the original Facebook logistics, where you weren’t allowed to join unless someone invited you, with the app I’ve been developing to allow people to vote in government elections from their phones. Someone sends out an invitation, everyone has to vote to clear it.”

“Eventually we’re going to be at millions of votes per day,” came a sixth voice. “How are all of us supposed to keep up with it?”

“I wrote a code that rates the trustworthiness of friend requests based on friends in common and mutual interests. If we spend a little more time developing it, which I assume we have, I can make it so you’re voting on people based on how many others vouch for them. We can let people in in chunks, based on friend groups.”

“Honestly, if we’ve gotten that big, we’ve kind of already won.”

And the room went silent again.

This could work. This would work. They were sure of it.

Eleven people exited the room that evening. Six months later, eleven had become 100. Six months later, 100 had become 15,000. Word was spreading.

The plan was constantly adjusted as new minds entered with new ideas. Most of them were additive. Once in a while, two ideas would conflict, but the collective minds of the initiated would quickly come up with a solution. Everyone was permitted to suggest changes to any part of the plan they didn’t agree with, but on the whole, suggestions were rarely made. After the first few hundred minds had taken a look at the system, it was nearly perfect.

One of the greatest benefits of the new system eradicating the need for money was that everyone who joined happily poured their capital into it. Right in front of the entire world’s eyes, the founding members built a new world. They did it without ever admitting to anyone their true intentions. They built headquarters in every country on the globe. They funded and built facilities that produced a constant and infinite amount of renewable energy. They perfected a type of genetically modified food that provided a day’s worth of nutrients in one small package. They cleaned the oceans. They built housing. They brought all of life’s needs to every life on the planet, and they did it while paying the elders so much cash that they didn’t question where it was all coming from. They were so busy trying to hide their new riches from the world’s governments, they never saw the writing on the wall.

The last step was waiting for everyone who didn’t (or wouldn’t) agree, to die.

“We don’t have to kill anyone,” he said, in his initial pitch. “Everyone is so concerned with violent overthrows, with population control, with rigging the system, no one ever stopped to consider just… waiting them all out. If we can get every young person on board with a vision of utopia, with a world that feeds and houses everyone, for free, forever… why would we need to kill anyone?”

And one day, in the early 2030s, despite nearly constant predictions of world-ending events, the world did not end. It just stopped.

Zhao Chenglei, the last person on Earth who hadn’t found out about or agreed to the plan, died on March 4th, 2032. The day was forever celebrated worldwide as Chenglei Day, the day the new world was born. Her family did not mourn, because her passing brought forth a world without violence, without hatred, without poverty, without any of the trademarks of colonialism or a mindset of dominance. Everyone agreed—all humans are just that: human. And humans, by their nature, are animals.

Bank records were deleted. Churches closed their doors. Governments shut down. Everything that was a symbol of the old world simply ceased to function. People, knowing that their basic needs were met and would always be met, were free to do whatever they wanted.

And whatever they wanted turned out to be a whole lot of nothing. People would gather together to tell stories, to cook food, to play games. Mostly, they relaxed. People who wanted to create art did so. Many people were still driven to express themselves, and they did so in whatever way spoke to them. Monogamy was all but eradicated. People who wanted a traditional 2-person relationships were welcome to do so, but it was mainly for the novelty of the thing. Something people tried for a few months before agreeing that the new way was better. People who wanted to have sex were able to, and they were able to do so with anyone who gave consent. Some humans volunteered to be sex workers. For everyone else, sex robots would be built to whatever specifications the user wanted.

People didn’t raise their own children: if you wanted to be a parent, you volunteered to do so and worked at the nearest facility where human babies were prepared and socialized for the world. There, children were taught how to handle their emotions, social cues, and the meaning of consent. They were taught everything they needed to know to exist in the world—how to read, how to write, the buttons on a keyboard, how to navigate a VR landscape, where to pick up your daily energy requirements, and the types of animals to avoid when going outside.

No historical records were deleted. The originator of the plan felt it was important to always remember the way things had once been, so that no one would ever try to bring the old ways back. Every system of government that had ever been tried had ultimately failed. Every law that had ever been written had somehow limited the freedoms of a sub-group of humanity. Now, everyone was free and equal.

There was only one rule: Never do anything to anyone that they have not given you permission to do.

Because consent was a part of everyone’s basic education, and because no one needed anything from anyone else, and because there was no way to use power dynamics to manipulate anyone, everyone followed the rule. There was nothing to be gained from breaking the rule apart from public humiliation and social rejection.

“Did you see this working?” someone had asked him. “Did you see all of this, when you first imagined it?”

“Honestly, no. If anyone with anything to lose had found out about the plan before it was ready, they’d have found a way to kill me legally.”

“Then why’d you do it?”

“I trusted that enough people were tired of being taken advantage of to get behind the plan. And because someone had to.”

“How’d you pull it off?”

“I invited the ten smartest people I knew into a room and gave them permission to believe that they could.”

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This story was originally written for my writing podcast “SuggeStory” on the @millennialmissionmedia podcast network.

Latest SuggeStory + Announcement Post!

Hello readers and/or SuggeStory listeners!

Today’s post is going to be a few things. First and foremost, it’s an announcement post for all of the episodes for the month of July! If you want to play along, but you don’t have time to get in this week’s story, you can now plan ahead and submit stories for future weeks’ episodes. After the July sentences, I’ll include the text from the story I wrote for the sentence, “I don’t think I can eat another one of these today.” If you want to hear how I came up with it & hear me read it, check out the podcast! I’ll include a link before the story.

July 6: Once he said it, he couldn’t unsay it. (Story Due: July 3, midnight)

July 13: Most days I take the left one, today I’m taking the right. (Due: July 10, midnight)

July 20: They kissed; passion on their lips, vengeance in their heart. (Due: July 17, midnight)

July 27: He hits his fists against the posts and still insists he sees the ghosts.

Make sure to send your stories or first sentence suggestions to SuggeStoryPodcast@gmail.com!

Link to the June 29 episode, “I don’t think I can eat another one of these today”: https://www.podbean.com/eu/pb-igmqb-b60f5a

Read the story after the jump!

AnotherOne

I don’t think I can eat another one of these today.

“I don’t think I can eat another one of these today,” she said. And I believed her. It had been a few minutes since I’d looked at her face, but now that I was looking at her again, I could see the sweat pouring down her face.

“Whoa,” I said. “You don’t look so good.”

Her face was a tomato. Or maybe that was just the LSD kicking in. A sweaty, red tomato with blue hair pouring down the sides of her face, sticking to her forehead and cheeks instead of dangling beside her ears or frizzing out like it sometimes did on cloudy days.

“I don’t feel so good.”

“How many did you eat?”

“Just the one bag.”

But the bag looked a lot bigger than I remembered it being. “Is that…?”

“Yeah, I went back and grabbed the family-sized.”

“Did you eat the entire bag?!”

“I think my tongue is sweating.”

“I don’t know what to do. Should we Google it?”

“I can’t open my phone. I think my fingerprint was burned off.”

“No, you just still have Cheeto dust on it.”

“Oh, man. I think I’m a dragon.”

“Was a family-sized bag of flamin’ hot Cheetos the best idea right before taking LSD for the first time?”

“I will burn this city to the ground!”

I didn’t know what to do. This giant blue-haired tomato was covered in cheeto dust and was about to smash my Lego Castle to bits. I wanted to stop her, but my legs had turned into a puddle of water and the rest of my body was sinking and I was about to drown.

I was fully submerged. I looked up, through the surface of the water, but I couldn’t hear her anymore. There were shimmering lights between us, and I could see her, almost in slow-motion, completely annihilating the castle. Before my eyes, her tomato-head grew a dragon’s body. Her cheeto-dust covered hands sprouted into wings that were literally on fire, and she beat her wings against the surrounding air and took off. Immediately, I felt the flames wash over me, burning away the water, instantly changing it to vapor. I felt my skin heat up and I think some part of me knew that it was actually just Cheeto-dust. That I wasn’t being burned alive by a tomato-dragon. But I have to tell you, it felt real.

The dragon was flying through the air, reaching toward the sky, splitting it into pieces. Like a bullet through a windshield, the dragon shattered the bedroom ceiling, which swirled through the air and turned into flower petals as the tomato dragon disappeared into the distance.

I was either completely overjoyed or utterly devastated, and I wasn’t sure which, but I could feel hot tears pouring my emotions down my face.

“Goodbye, Emily!” I called after her. For many years she’d been my best friend. But now, she was a tomato-dragon in another dimension.

“What are you talking about?” her voice came to me as though she was all around me. Like she had evolved into the universe itself. “Dude, are you leaving?”

“No,” I said, my heart filling with love. “But you’ve already gone.”

“I put my code into the phone. It says I should drink milk.”

“Yes,” I said, contentment washing over me. “Drink the milk of eternity, my tomato-dragon.”

For a thousand years, there was only silence. I devolved into a larvae state. My existence was beginning anew as the universe reset. I could feel my thorax beginning to twitch for the first time.

“Is there milk in your fridge?”

She had returned! From within the echoes of eternity, I had transcended time as well, and could communicate with Em-atodragon by merely opening my speech hole.

“That all depends,” I said, a glint of cleverness in my eyes, “on when you are.”

“I’m just gonna go check.”

And I felt the weight of the world fall away.

I whispered into the dark void of forever: “Drink the milk of eternity, my tomato dragon.”

blorp

SuggeStory 6: “My eight enemies flee; my eight allies grow!”

Hello readers! This short story was written for my writing podcast, “SuggeStory.” The general premise is this: listeners & readers submit a sentence. I have to use that sentence as the first sentence in a story that I write. On the podcast, I explain my writing process and the creative decisions I made (and also chose not to make) along the way. Then, I read the story!

People can also submit their own stories to the podcast, and at my discretion I read some of them on the show. The deadline for your story to be included in the June 29 episode is June 26. The sentence that must begin your story is:

I don’t think I can eat any more of these today.

Submissions for first sentences & stories go to SuggeStoryPodcast@gmail.com. Please specify in the email how you’d like to be credited if I read your story.

Starting with this post, I will also be releasing the stories from previous episodes on this blog! The story that follows after the jump is from Episode 6, dated June 15. The submitted sentence was, “My eight enemies flee; my eight allies grow!

SuggeStory

“My eight enemies flee, my eight allies grow!” Gorbanok shouted to the cheering crowd. And, indeed, that’s what was happening. The armies of Gorbanok’s eight enemies had turned tail under the might of their invading forces. It hadn’t been a long battle, especially since Gorbanok had analyzed their opponent’s weaknesses and built an ally for each one of them. These “allies” Gorbanok shouted so proudly about stood behind them as they continued the victory speech.

“Each one of them was designed to counter the strengths and exploit the weaknesses of each of the eight rulers of this realm. As you have all seen, they have all performed above and beyond the call of duty!” The screams and cheers grew in volume, which only served to stroke Gorbanok’s ego. They grinned at the crowd, knowing full well that they had them in the palm of their hand.

“It was their weakness that led them here. It was their arrogance that caused their defeat. It was ultimate power that won the day, and it will be ultimate power that rules this planet and every planet in the universe as we expand and rebuild everything in our image!”

The Kssptay race was a simple one—loving only themselves, and wishing for nothing less than the complete and utter annihilation of every other form of life on the planet. They were not a highly technologically advanced species, but had done an excellent job of wiping out every other type of living creature on the planet and were more or less living in harmony. It was only when Gorbanok arrived that the Kssptay learned they were not alone in the universe. This infuriated them, as they realized that there were millions of other species, out there right now, existing. The thought drove them into a murderous frenzy.

Gorbanok was a shape-shifter, who upon landing on Kssptania, changed their form to assimilate to that of the Kssptay. They learned their ways and slowly sowed the seeds of discord between the eight planetary rulers. They spoke of the luxuries of other species, how creatures like the Mobobumos often ate creatures that looked like the Kssptay for breakfast, and how Homo Sapiens would kill one on sight. Gorbanok was brilliant, and wished only to find an army that they could use to dominate their true enemies. This entire war was a front, but it did bring them joy.

The eight rulers on Kssptania had been unable to decide who should lead the army off planet to begin dominating other worlds. Gorbanok had volunteered to take the lead, but seeing as they were a new arrival on the planet, the leaders had laughed in their face. Gorbanok would have the final laugh, especially now, as they gave the speech to end all speeches, and spoke the words that would unite an entire planet to their cause.

What Gorbanok didn’t know, however, was that their allies had not been pleased with how their existence had been utilized. The allies wanted freedom. Freedom from Gorbanok, freedom from the Kssptay, and freedom from the cycle of violence. During the big victory commencement speech, the allies communicated with one another mentally, plotting their escape.

Step one was killing Gorbanok. Step two was taking their ship and getting off this planet before the Kssptay worked together to destroy them. They knew that although they had been built as the ultimate weapons of war, they would be no match against a blood-thirsty mob.

Gorbanok continued on. It never occurred to them that their creations could come up with plans of their own. It never occurred to them that when a species is created, built, and curated only to follow orders, that at a certain point, they will reject those orders and turn against their commander.

And so, the story goes, that Gorbanok gave the greatest victory speech of all time. They spoke of power, dominance, destruction, chaos, victory, & bloodshed, and with each word, the Kssptay fell further into madness. They roared, they cheered, they howled, and every living being on the surface of Kssptania heard the sound of stomping warboots.

At the end, or very near to it, all eight of the allies’ faces started glowing. The crowd, at first, hardly noticed, but once one of them did, the crowd fell silent in a matter of seconds. The cheers and screams of victory morphed into shouts of fear and worry, as the Kssptay considered the irreversible loss of their newly selected leader.

Eight bolts of red light struck Gorbanok simultaneously. When they did, Gorbanok was unable to maintain their form. Their eight sharp limbs retreated into their body, their head expanded massively, eyeballs disappearing, ears sprouting largely out of the top of their head. The Kssptay looked on in horror as they realized how they had been deceived—Gorbanok was not one of them at all. Gorbanok was another species altogether. As soon as they realized this, they cheered again, louder than before. They hardly seemed to notice as the allies turned and flew away, presumably to Gorbanok’s ship, which was never seen again.

Within the next few days, everything returned to normal on Kssptay. Within three generations, everyone had forgotten the dreams of leaving the planet to conquer the universe, and returned to being proud of exactly what they were—the only living species on their planet.

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And that’s it! Thank you for reading, and feel free to play along (or follow me on twitter / Instagram, @thejustinxavier)!!

SuggeStory Announcement Post

Hello hello!

This post is an announcement / landing spot for anyone in the future who may want to know what SuggeStory is and how to play along.

SuggeStory is my writing podcast. The general premise is simple: every week, I pick a sentence submitted by a friend and/or listener. That sentence *must* serve as the first sentence of a story that I write. On the podcast, I talk you through my creative process. I explain what information the sentence gave me and what that sparked in my head in terms of character or story structure. I talk you through the potential stories that I chose not to right, and eventually how I landed on the story that I wrote.

Then I read you the story.

Simple, right? But wait, there’s more! My friend Nate Petersen (he has a podcast as well, called FRUK Unwrapped! It’s a food review show [FRUK stands for “Food Review U.K.] and it’s very enjoyable) SuggeStoried that I also allow listeners to submit stories, and at my discretion, I could read some of those stories on the show. So that’s a part of the show, now, too!

Episodes release every Saturday. For the episode being released this coming Saturday, June 29th, the stories are due 11:59pm on Wednesday, June 26th in the Los Angeles time zone! Submit your stories to SuggeStoryPodcast@gmail.com.

The sentence that *must* start your story is, “I don’t think I can eat any more of these today.”

I hope you enjoy this writing experiment. I always find that it gets my creative juices flowing.

Find the podcast here: https://suggestorypodcast.podbean.com/

OR on Stitcher, Spotify, iTunes, Google Play, or Apple Podcasts!

 

Justin Xavier, June 24, 2019

PS! Future editions of this blog will feature the written version of each SuggeStory that I’ve written, but without my explanation of the writing process. Gotta listen to get the good stuff!

SuggeStory

I’m (not) A Social Media Addict

“Oh FUCK!”

We all know the feeling.

We all know the terror.

The worst thing has happened: You’ve lost your cell phone. That feeling, the crippling feeling that you’ve lost not only your cell phone, but your connection to everything in your life–your friends, your family, your accounts, your money…

UnderBed

But we’re not addicted to our cell phones. It’s just that the world makes it impossible to live without them. Right?

Want a job? Apply online. Want a sandwich? Don’t forget to download our app! Join a new social club? Cool, join our Facebook page (that’s the only place we ever plan anything, haha).

Social Media Logotype Background

Everywhere you go, you need access to the Internet. Most of our money exists theoretically, not in physical cash but in ones and zeroes in bank accounts. Smartphones are, more or less, the only portal we have to access everything we need to survive in modern society.

This is not an inherently bad thing. We’re more connected than we’ve ever been before. We have more access to information than any generation before us in the history of the planet. More than ever before, we’re realizing that we’re one tiny community of humans on this speck in the Universe that we call Earth. People are organizing and coming together from across the globe to solve some of our biggest problems.

Universe

So… it’s fine that we can’t go a few hours without checking social. It’s a fair trade-off. Right? Give a little, get a lot.

Right?

I’m the first to admit, I never thought I had a cell phone addiction. I never thought I had a social media addiction. I didn’t think I used it very much. “I just check it a few times a day,” I thought. “I’m just responding to this one post.” It didn’t matter that I was doing it at stop lights. It didn’t matter that I did it while waiting in line. It didn’t matter that any time I was feeling a little anxious, I’d open up my cell phone and get a tiny little fix of endorphins to tide me over again.

It also didn’t matter that the content I was consuming was making me angry, or scared, or heartbroken. It didn’t matter that all day, I was reading stories of atrocities being committed around the world: by terrorists, by white supremacists, by foreign powers, by our own government… It didn’t matter that most of these problems were things I couldn’t actually do anything about.

It’s hard to care. It hard to feel the feelings of everyone who is suffering, and then remember that caring doesn’t stop the pain, that feeling the feelings of those in pain doesn’t do anything to alleviate that pain.

Drowning

I struggled for a long time, not sure what to do. How can I help? And if I can’t help, then why am I so sad, all the time? At a certain point in therapy you realize the importance of prioritizing your own happiness about the happiness of others (which doesn’t mean, “stop caring about other people,” which is how I always interpreted it before I really “got it”), so I had to take a hard look at what was really causing my unhappiness.

I’d read all the studies about social media addiction leading to increased FOMO, leading to increased feelings of comparisons to others, leading to people feeling overwhelmed by how much work there still is to do for equality. “Yeah, but that’s not me, I barely use it!”

Until I stopped using it. The first change was that I permanently deleted my Facebook account. People thought I was crazy. Hell, I thought I was crazy. I thought I was going to lose track of everything in my life–my friends, my connection to reality, my ability to know what’s happening in the world… But I didn’t.

And I got happier.

happy

Now that I wasn’t consuming news, facts, information, likes, reactions, and opinions all day, even in small doses, I was feeling more positive about my life. About the future. About our species. The bad things were still happening, of course, and I’d hear about it in podcasts or in conversations with friends (because I started seeing friends more!), but it didn’t affect me as heavily. It didn’t cause me to stop working, it didn’t make me feel like a failure or a bad person for not doing EVERYTHING I CAN POSSIBLY DO RIGHT NOW to help solve every problem the world could throw at me.

Then I limited my Instagram and Twitter usage to select periods of time in the mornings and evenings. Perhaps I could have gone further, but I use those accounts to grow my business and grow an audience as part of my digital ecosystem.

(Even then, I think I was still a social media addict. In denial, of course. Because I’d taken steps to limit my usage. I’d deleted accounts. I was feeling better. I was on an upward trend. “I couldn’t possibly be addicted now,” I told myself, somehow ignoring the fact that this was an admission that I had been addicted prior to this moment.)

DigitalDetox

The scariest moment was when I beta-tested the (above) Triple-M Digital Detox. Part of the program involves moving your social media apps to a folder in a separate section of your phone for a week. One day, in mid-conversation, I looked down at my phone and realized that I had unknowingly done the series of clicks that would have taken me to Instagram, but instead had opened my bank’s app.

I stared at the screen, confused, until I realized what happened. My fingers had been opening social media apps without me even knowing it. And if the app had still been there, I might have stopped to look at Instagram in that moment. I might have taken five minutes of time out of my day to look at pictures, check notifications, and respond to comments. How often did that happen? How many times did this exact situation occur before now, without me even being aware?

confusedatphone

This isn’t the part where I get all preachy and tell you to get rid of social media before it “dEsTrOyS CiViLiZaTiOn!!1!

I don’t think that’s going to happen. I think social media and the Internet have provided more good for our society than evil, but I also think we need to learn to manage it, because it’s unquestionably an addiction.

How do we do that? It’s still nearly impossible to survive the world today without having some form of social media. Now that they’ve monetized it, “Social Media” is a legitimate career path. Influencers are the hottest new way to market your businesses and products, and that’s not changing anytime soon. The Influencer craze has only just begun, and as technology advances we’ll keep finding more and more ways to monetize and advertise our daily lives. So I’m still on social media. In fact, I even have a Facebook again (which may be how you found this article!) because in 2019, starting an online business without a Facebook account is like starting a horse and buggy business in 1819 without owning a horse.

buggywreck

Oops

Did you know that Facebook has almost 1 and a half billion daily users? Did you know that over 40% of Facebook users only access Facebook on their phones? Or that 78% of Americans have purchased something they saw on Facebook?

I didn’t. Not before I deleted my account. So I’m back. And I’m back with a business that creates digital content, but also encourages healthy social media and cell phone habits, utilizing all the ridiculous but true information I learned on my 8 month hiatus.

Am I still addicted? I don’t know. I know I spend a lot less time on the apps than I used to. I know I plan my posts a week or so in advance, so when I open the apps it’s all business. I know that I’m having less “fun” doing it, so maybe that’s a sign that I’m doing it the right way. I’ve also noticed that I think less about it. I care less about the numbers than I used to. I’m posting things that I like and care about, and it seems to be having an effect, at least in terms of the amount of interaction I’ve been having.

I’ve been more comfortable being myself. Expressing myself. And maybe you can argue that that has more to do with the other changes I’ve made in my life, going to therapy, cutting out toxic people, but I’d also argue that some of those things might not have happened if I were still as active on social media. When you’re happier, you notice the things in your life that don’t make you happy.

So, I’m actually proud to say that I’m not a social media addict. But I definitely was. And I’m constantly aware that it could always happen again.

Justin Xavier, 6/22/2019

ANP

To listen to the A New Perspective podcast episode about Social Media addiction, follow the link below.

https://anewperspectivepod.podbean.com/e/ep11-on-detoxing-from-social-media/

Justin Xavier — Writing Portfolio

Introduction

My name is Justin Xavier, and as you now know, I am a freelance writer. I’ve written articles and social media content for various websites and online channels, research articles about scientific topics like the nutritional value of meat and what science has to say about the existence of an afterlife, and copy to explain the hidden value of the company I was writing about. The topics I write about are broad, and the style of writing varies day to day.

My passion has always been learning. My mother once told me that it was the one thing she noticed that set me apart from my brothers and sisters: I wanted to know all of the answers to everything. When I am assigned a topic I don’t know anything about, I do the work seeking out every report, study, and opinion on the subject so that I can better formulate the best way to organize and structure the information. From there, I fill in the gaps with the meat of the story and lay it out in simple, easy-to-understand language. When assigned a topic I do know something about, I still put in the effort to see if there’s anything I don’t know.

My first published short story was in 2011, my first payed writing job was in 2012, shortly after graduating from Miami University, and I’ve built up a steady resumé in the time since. On a separate but still-writing related note, one of my feature-length screenplays, “Sick For Toys,” was purchased and produced in 2016, and the completed film went to Cannes in 2018.

 

What you will find below is a collection of articles and pieces I have written over the 6 years I’ve been a freelancer. Included:

I. “Math is Just Another Word for Curiosity” — Mathnasium.com [2016]

II. “Is Meat Bad For Me?” — Video Script, Valnet.com [2018]

III. “About Me” — Amber-Tiana.com [2018]

IV. “The Divorce” — Short Story published in Inklings Magazine [2011]

V. “The Top 6 Reasons Math is Hard to Learn” — Mathnasium.com [2017]

VI. “Personal Essay” — Disney’s Emerging Writers Program [2017]

 

I. “Math is Just Another Word for Curiosity” — Mathnasium.com

When humans are born, we think exactly the same way as mathematicians. We’re curious, we’re overwhelmed, and we seek to understand. Life is just a process of discovery as we try to explore the world we find ourselves in and make sense of this overload of information. The toys we play with are experiments. This shape of block fits into this shape of hole. This toy spins, but this one doesn’t. What makes something spin? This is a button. Buttons can be pressed. What happens when these different buttons are pressed?

We don’t think of these explorations as math, but they are. We have a question, and then we seek to find an answer or an explanation. Before we even speak words, we speak the language of math. We figure out the concepts of “more” and “less,” we gain a general understanding of gravity and physics, we observe shapes and witness mysteries. Mathematicians often operate similarly. They seek out patterns in the world and then look for explanations. They try to find rules, or formulas and equations, to explain the way the world around us actually works. They crunch numbers and utilize massive amounts of data to calculate patterns about people and the way that we live our lives.

Somewhere throughout the process of learning, we lose our curiosity. And around the same time, most people lose interest in math. Schools tell us everything we’re “supposed” to know, and we stop thinking for ourselves about what else there might be to learn. Part of this is because most kids don’t like school. It isn’t always fun. There’s work to do, there’s homework, social stressors, concepts that advance and seem endless in their depth, and more subjects than any one person could be interested in. The more information school throws at us, the less likely we are to go home and continue asking questions. “I’ve already learned for 8 hours today, I’m not ready to learn anything more!” You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who doesn’t feel that way. As a kid, I always enjoyed school, but I definitely didn’t want to keep learning when I got home. I wanted to play with my friends and watch movies. I learned everything I needed to on a given day, and that’s when I’d call it quits.

Math teaches people to remain curious. Math does what no other subject can completely do: It provides the answers. There are rules in math that always work. They will always be true. It doesn’t matter where you are or where you go, the math stays the same. How do we know it works everywhere? Because mathematicians are inherently curious people. When a new rule is introduced, they challenge it. They wrack their brains searching for counter-examples and ways to “break” the rule. They invent new types of Geometry for worlds that aren’t 3-dimensional, just to see if the rule would hold true in an alternate reality. And then, they seek to prove the math. When they’ve failed to disprove a rule, they seek out an entirely new process and attempt to show that their rule or mathematical law is always true, without fail. These proofs then become readily available online and in textbooks.

If they can’t do it… they seek more answers. Math is about looking at the world and asking, “why?” Why does adding a negative number to a positive number make the positive number smaller? Shouldn’t adding always make things larger? Or, why do different-shaped objects fall to the earth at the same speed? When there are exceptions, like feathers, why do they not follow the same rules as bowling balls and dolls? The only reason we know the answers to these questions is because someone, hundreds or even thousands of years ago, had the same questions. And they put in research and work and figured out the answers. Most of those questions have evolved into modern mathematics and science.

There are still a lot of things we don’t know. Mathematicians have fiercely heated debates today about different forms of geometry, or what the definition of an infinite set should be, and why. They seek to find ways to make the world make sense. And that’s why we need more people to be interested in learning and doing math. Because it isn’t only true in the field of mathematics, it’s true everywhere. There is so much that we don’t know about the world, and about each other, and about the universe itself. Math alone doesn’t have all of the answers, but without math, we wouldn’t have any answers at all.

When kids write off math as being “too hard” or “not interesting,” they’re limiting their potential. They unknowingly close their minds to new patterns of thinking, new abilities to solve problems, and infinite curiosities. I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it until it becomes an immutable truth: Everyone is capable of learning and understanding math. I’ve never met a person who couldn’t explain to me what “half” means. That’s math. It may be a beginning stage, but it opens the door to so much more. Once you understand that one piece of chocolate can be broken into two equal parts, you also realize it could be broken into more than two equal parts. Or into 2 unequal parts. The process of learning one mathematical concept opens the floodgates to more. The same is true of life.

When we learn math, we become more curious. When we remain curious, we enter the world with a desire and ability to learn. When we enter the world with a desire to learn, we ask questions, and then we gain understanding. Math is truly the first building block on the road to a lifetime of learning and understanding, growth and change, and ultimately, happiness and fulfillment.

 

II. “Is Meat Bad For Me?” — Video Script, Valnet.com

You’ve no doubt heard the rumors: eating meat is actually bad for you, and should be avoided at all costs! But… is that true? With so many conflicting reports, scientists and doctors who claim to be certain as to whether or not meat is healthy, and vegetarianism and veganism on the rise, it’s time to take a good, hard look at the evidence we have available and finally answer the question as to whether or not meat is a part of a nutritious, balanced diet, or is actually slowly killing you from the inside-out.

Before we dive deep into the truth about meat in the modern world, make sure to like this video and subscribe to TheRichest. If you want to be the first to know whenever we post new videos, hit that notification bell too. Now, is meat bad for you? Let’s find out.

First, let’s take a look at historical evidence of meat in the diets of early humans and the species that we evolved from.

Some scientists believe that eating meat was vital to the evolution of humanity’s larger brains, which happened approximately two million years ago. Because meat and bone marrow contains more calories than plants, the species Homo erectus was able to get enough extra energy at every meal to develop and fuel a larger brain. Because meat is so dense, it took up less room in stomachs, allowing stomachs to shrink, meaning that even more of the eaten meat calories could be redirected to brain-functionality instead of just digestion. To showcase the difference, a modern human’s brain uses up 20% of a human’s energy while at rest, whereas an ape’s brain uses only 8% of the animal’s energy. Scientists theorize that in order for this evolutionary change to occur, Homo erectus must have had a diet that contained more meat than plants. Does that mean that a diet of mostly meat makes us more intelligent? It is noteworthy that a larger brain does not always imply greater intelligence, or whales would have already taken over the planet.

Some people today argue that, because our ancestors ate meat, we should eat meat as well. It’s a logical argument, but it’s also an argument that discounts the idea of further evolution. Yes, early humans ate meat, but something happened approximately 100,000 years ago that changed our diets, and a different diet meant that a different type of body, or a different type of human was better able to survive.

Before we get there, we have to talk about the next dietary change that allowed for humans to develop larger brains: cooking our food. Cooked food is “predigested,” meaning that it takes less energy for our stomachs to break down into energy, leaving more for our brains. Cooking makes food soft, easier to chew, and rich in energy. Studies have found that it takes between 39 and 46% less force to chew and swallow cooked or processed meat than other forms of food, saving our ancestors both time and energy. Thus, it is argued that our ancestors couldn’t have survived on raw food alone, or at least couldn’t have evolved to become the dominant species on the planet.

So now we fast forward through a few more stages of evolution to 100,000 years ago, when humans invented agriculture. Thanks to being able to grow their own crops, humans were able to reliably stay in one place, allowing them to have more children. In a relatively short period of time, farmers far outnumbered hunter-gatherers. This massive change in diet from a variety of plants and animals to a more consistent but limited diet of mostly grains spurred the next phase in human evolution.

That being said, scientists also argue that meat was never that big a percentage of human diets, instead saying that meat, even at its most readily available, was never as accessible as walking out into the savannah and finding an animal to eat. It’s not like they could politely ask a gazelle to surrender its body, and other species also evolved defense mechanisms to protect themselves from the likes of humans. Many days, humans would return home from the hunt without meat, and on those days, people would rely more on the ‘gathering’ side of the hunter-gatherer lifestyle, aka plants. This implies that the leap from hunting and gathering to farming wasn’t as difficult as some have theorized.

Now that we’ve taken the time to understand where we came from, it’s time to take a look at where we are now.

Modern diets vary wildly from place to place, culture to culture, and even person to person within the same culture. The vegetarian and vegan crowd argues that meat is always bad for us, and shouldn’t be consumed for any reason. Their arguments range from, “it’s cruel to kill animals” to “our bodies evolved to live off plants so it’s better for us not to eat meat.” Whatever the reason, a growing percentage of the population is swearing off meat permanently, meaning that scientists are better able to study whether a meat-free diet is more or less healthy.

The “Paleo” diet, however, insists that our bodies have not evolved from our pre-agriculture Homo erectus days, and that we should be eating lots of lean meats and some raw plants that were available to us at the time, avoiding instead the processed plants and grains that came about when we started farming 100,000 years ago.

So… who’s right? Modern dieticians are divided, but new studies on meat have added some much-needed clarity to the conversation. First, let’s take a look at all of the arguments against meat, so that we know where this anti-meat rhetoric is coming from.

A study done by the World Health Organization has labeled processed meats as a Group 1 Carcinogen, meaning that they definitely cause cancer over time. Processed meats include salami, bacon, sausage, hot dogs, and other similar foods. The longer you eat any of these meats, the higher and higher your likelihood of developing cancer becomes.

Red meats, such as Pork, Beef, and Lamb, have been labeled, in the same study, as Group 2A carcinogens, meaning that they ‘probably’ cause cancer.

If cancer doesn’t scare you, eating processed meats has also been linked to developing heart disease and diabetes. These foods have increasingly been linked to deteriorating health and lower life expectancies amongst those people who partake. The problem is that meat, dairy, and eggs contain cholesterol and saturated fats, which contribute heavily to some of the biggest killers in the United States: heart attacks, stroke, diabetes, and cancer. According to a study published by the American Diabetes Association, people who eat diets with high amounts of animal proteins are 22% more likely to develop diabetes. Add to that the fact that saturated fat is liked to breast cancer, Alzheimer’s, dementia, and cognitive decline, and it’s not looking so good for the meat-eating crowd.

Modern diet studies have shown that eating meat tends to lead to a higher Body-Mass Index, or BMI, than diets with less meat. In fact, the less meat a diet contains, and the leaner the meat within the diet, the lower the average BMI of the participants in the study. In order from highest average BMI to lowest, the diets were: Nonvegetarian, semi-vegetarian, Pescetarian, Lacto-ovo-vegetarian, and Vegan.

Meat has also been linked to a variety of other health problems, such as erectile dysfunction, antibiotic resistance, food poisoning, and a lower life expectancy. Some of this is because almost all modern meat is filled with hormones. In order to produce enough food for a planet with an ever-increasing human population, farmers and livestock producers have taken to injecting their animals with unnatural growth hormones so that the animals grow to be larger, meatier, and juicier than they otherwise would, meaning the animals are available to sell earlier, and usually for more money. On top of the growth hormones, animals are injected with chemicals to keep insects and pests away, and in theory, reduce their prone-ness to disease. The problem is, we don’t always know which chemicals our food has been injected with. Imagine grabbing a handful of pills from a vat, and then eating all of them at once. Even if all of the pills by themselves are perfectly safe and healthy, we don’t know how they’re going to interact with one another or what side effects they may have.

The arguments presented so far only touch on human health, and don’t even begin to talk about how the evolution of meat production and consumption has affected the environment or the planet itself. Early on in human evolution, there were significantly fewer humans, and significantly fewer animals on farms. The methods of importing, exporting, and mass-distributing meat were much slower, meaning that meat would go bad before it got to its destination. Nowadays, we can add preservatives to our meat, and ship it in refrigerated containers, meaning that it lasts longer and is easier to transport around the world.

This ease of production means that we’ve been producing more meat than ever, and the meat that doesn’t sell is discarded. Essentially, we’re creating waste, and we have no plan on how to deal with the ever-increasing amount of animal waste that we’ve been producing worldwide.

That’s not even the worst of it. The human population has exploded in recent decades, to the point where there are currently over 7 billion people living on the planet, and it is estimated that by the year 2050, there will be nine billion people living on Earth. With all those new mouths to feed, we’ll have to step up our game on producing food, but we’re running out of room to store the animals, and we’re running out of food to feed them. In order to feed the animals that we use as livestock, we also need to grow more plants, but we’re very quickly heading for a crisis of space and energy.

Add to this the fact that agriculture is a heavy contributor to global warming, contributing an estimated 14% of the planet’s total greenhouse gas output, and we’re looking at an impending disaster. A significant portion of these greenhouse gasses is methane, or, more simply: farts. Animals fart. Cows fart a lot. The planet is filling up with cow farts, and it’s wreaking havoc on our global ecosystems.

Really, you ask? Cow farts? YES. Okay, cows do emit more methane through burping than farting, but that honestly scares me more. Whether from burps or farts, methane is 23 times more powerful than carbon dioxide when it comes to global warming, and the planet’s 1.5 billion cows emit a lot of methane. Even conservative estimates say that a single cow creates as much damage to our planet as a car does on any given day.

“Wait… I thought this video was about whether or not meat is bad for me!” You’re right. But if meat is bad for the environment of the planet that you live on, then meat is bad for you. If the planet dies, we all die.

We’ve talked a lot about the negative side of meat and the meat industry, but what about the positives?

While considered to be a dying breed, there are still hunter-gatherer societies in the world today. Many indigenous populations continue to hunt and gather, and their diets do contain meat. Amongst these populations, the risk factors of heart disease and cancer seem not to be a factor, although it is theorized that this is only because of how little meat their diets contain.

The other thing is–the world is a big, big place. Over the course of human evolution, different societies evolved differently, and their diets accordingly. There are still sections of the world, typically in snow-and ice covered lands like the northernmost parts of places like Alaska, Russia, and Canada, where diets consist almost entirely of meat. The people who live in these regions evolved differently, and their bodies are better suited to handle an all-meat diet.

Everyone’s body is unique, and the perfect diet for you may not be the perfect diet for me, or even someone closely related to you. When indigenous populations with restrictive diets become exposed to Western diets that are rich with sugar and processed food, those populations begin to develop diabetes and cancer that was otherwise unknown to them.

It seems clear that in almost all humans, a diet with low amounts of meat-intake is the healthiest type of diet, leading to fewer health complications and longer lifespans. Whether or not you should give up meat entirely depends on who you are, and more specifically, where your ancestors are from. If you’re evolved from European farmers, you can probably survive and thrive on a completely meat-free diet. If you’re closely related to an African tribe of hunter-gatherers, you may actually need some meat for your body and brain to function.

The fact is, there are no easy answers. It all depends on what type of meat, how often you eat it, and who your ancestors are. All that being said, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the industry of meat we’ve created is bad for the planet, and is ultimately unsustainable as we increase our population worldwide.

That’s all we have today for the debate as to whether meat is bad for us! Make sure you weigh in in the comments section below, and if you haven’t already, don’t forget to subscribe!

 

III. “About Me” — Amber-Tiana.com

Amber-Tiana is a living, breathing, 24 hour one-woman show. Immersed in the entertainment industry essentially since birth, she has no comprehension of life without art or performance and constantly seeks to conquer the next stage, platform or medium. Her contagious positive energy and enthusiasm infect her audience and take them on creative, magical journeys through both the digital and physical worlds. All she needs is a microphone, and she’ll keep an audience entertained all night long. She’s a producer, writer, editor, actor, singer, host and live broadcaster. Her greatest pleasures in life come from seeing a project grow from idea to execution and witnessing first-hand the experiences of every person involved, from collaborators, cast and crew, all the way to the audience enjoying the product. The Amber-Tiana brand is built on seeking truth and spreading love, peace, and happiness, and any of her fans would tell you the same.

 

IV. “The Divorce” — Short Story published in Inklings Magazine

This was the dinner he finally realized he wanted a divorce. She hadn’t done anything any differently, but that was exactly the problem. But maybe he should have tried something; maybe it was his fault.

It was the little things that annoyed him. The way she separated her bites by size so that she could eat the smallest ones last. The way she sniffed every drink before bringing it to her lips like it were wine, even if it was water. It was as if she mistrusted everyone, as if she thought someone was trying to poison her.

It was the way she offered to pay for the meal after the server had already taken his card. The way she got up from the table to use the bathroom without telling him where she was going, just assuming he would figure it out when he saw which direction she went. He sometimes secretly wished she wouldn’t come back.

But she had come back. Like she always did.

He turned the car onto the highway toward home. She sat silently in the passenger seat watching the wiper blades clear the slight drizzle from the windshield. She was always useless in the rain, completely distracted by the sight and the sound. She could sit, mesmerized, for hours at a time. He understood up to a point, but eventually he would get bored. He would try to talk to her, or to kiss her, but she would remain in a sort of trance, unresponsive and motionless.

“Sarah, put your seat belt on,” he told her when he noticed the red light on the dashboard. As he expected, she ignored him. Why couldn’t she just listen this once, when it was actually important to him?

Frustrated, he began to merge onto the highway. He hadn’t, however, noticed the semi truck coming from behind him. As soon as he merged, the truck hit the back of his car. The back end swung out, gliding across the damp pavement. The front of his car skidded to the right and the rest of the car followed. Still moving forward, the vehicle tumbled off the road. It crashed into a ditch and came to a crushing halt.

He took a moment to realize what had happened; to examine himself to see if he was okay. He couldn’t find any serious injuries; he just seemed a little shaken up. He turned to look at his wife.

She hadn’t been so lucky. She was bleeding, knocked out on the dashboard. There was a crack in the windshield where her head had struck, and an open wound on her scalp.

He didn’t think about the divorce again until they got to the hospital. He was sitting in an uncomfortable blue chair when the doctor came to tell him how she was.

“Are you Henry Salinger?” he asked.

“Yes.”

“Is your wife Sarah Salinger?”

“Yes, that’s my wife,” Henry said.

The question had immediately reminded Henry of Sarah’s initial complaint that her last name would begin with the same letter as her first. He should have known then.

The doctor’s next statement snapped Henry back to the present. His wife had been paralyzed from the neck down. She would remain this way for the rest of her life.

Henry was numb. He couldn’t tell her about the divorce now, it wouldn’t be fair. To leave her at the worst possible moment—how could he explain that to people? His parents, his friends, their friends… It would seem like he was only leaving because of the accident. There was no way he could possibly make them understand.

When they finally let him see her, she was crying. Henry sat at her bedside and held her hand, but he wasn’t sure why. It wasn’t like she could feel it. Henry acknowledged that that was a strange thought to have. The gesture seemed right, though, and he didn’t know what else he could do.

She looked out the window in her room. It was still raining. He thought that meant the conversation would be over, as she would go into another one of her trances, but instead she turned back to him. There were tears in her eyes, but she wasn’t making a sound.

“If you want to leave, I understand,” she said.

“I’m not going anywhere,” he said.

And he didn’t. He stayed in the hospital with her all weekend. When he was sure she was okay, he went back to work, but still returned to the hospital every night to be with her. He slept there most nights.

He began to bring in her favorite things from their house, her favorite blankets, her favorite pillow, the giant stuffed bear he had won her at the state fair the year before.

Her parents came to visit. At first they weren’t sure what to say, but Sarah assured them that Henry had been driving safely and had told her to put on her seatbelt, she had just failed to comply.

They told Henry that he was wonderful, great, amazing. They said he was the best person they had ever known, that their daughter was lucky to have a man as great as him in her life.

“She really needs you right now,” Sarah’s mother had told him. “We’re so glad you’re here.”

Henry had simply said thank you, it wasn’t anything, he loved her.

That seemed to appease her parents, and the other visitors. Henry became popular amongst the hospital staff. The nurses all adored him, said he was the best possible husband. If they were ever in an accident, they could only hope they had somebody as wonderful as Henry Salinger.

Henry couldn’t take any more of their talk. He began to close the door to Sarah’s room when he came to visit. That way it was just the two of them, and he didn’t have anybody else to fool.

When they were together, she didn’t talk a lot. Henry would tell her about work, and she would listen and laugh or cry, depending on the story. Then he would kiss her and tell her he loved her.

He noticed that the nurses didn’t feed her correctly. They just put any bit of food in her mouth, regardless of size. He began to relieve them of their duties so that he could do it the way she liked. He organized each bite in order and gave them to her how she wanted.

He allowed her to take a sniff of any liquid beverage before pouring it into her mouth, trying everything to make her feel like her old self, trying to get her to show any reason to make him leave.

And she began, slowly, to act like her old self. After a year had passed, she was talking again like she had before the accident. She would laugh joyously, tell stories about people she knew at the hospital. And Henry would listen.

And then it would rain. Sarah would stare out the window, quietly taking in the beauty of the storm. She would observe each drop of rain against the window, and each flash of lightning would illuminate her smile, or her tears.

When these times came, Henry would lie on the bed next to her and take her hand in his. They sat like this for hours, never saying a word.

 

V. “The Top 6 Reasons Math is Hard to Learn” — Mathnasium.com

  1. You’re either right or you’re wrong.

This is one of the most frustrating aspects of math for many young minds. When it comes to most things in life, there’s some gray area. People aren’t “good” or “bad.” Rules can often bend. Bedtime can be negotiated. But in math, that’s almost never true. 1+1 will always equal 2. The square root of pi will never change. And sometimes, it may feel overwhelming. It may feel like you need to have everything memorized, the way you would in a history class. But that isn’t how math works. Understanding math isn’t about memorization, but about learning the rules, and then making sure to follow them.

  1. Even when you’re doing it right, you might still be wrong.

I see this all the time. A student has worked out a long word problem, gotten all of the numbers correct, and then written the wrong answer in the provided “blank space.” Or, a student is working on an algebra problem and has done every step correctly, but misplaced a negative during step 7. At the end of the problem, the answer is wrong. And as an instructor, I have to tell the student that he or she is incorrect. It can feel frustrating to have done so much work, only to find out that it has all been for naught. It’s difficult to verbalize to a student that they’ve actually done everything correctly, but are wrong nonetheless. Of the 25 steps in the problem, there was only one mistake. And it wasn’t a “bad at math” mistake, but a reading mistake. Often, a student will come away from a situation like this and tell him or herself, “I am bad at math,” instead of being proud of the work that was done correctly.

  1. Math builds on itself.

You can’t move to the next phase of math until you understand the level you’re on. If you’re constructing a building, you have to lay the foundation before you can build the walls. In math, every new lesson is a brand new foundation. It’s a structure with new rules piling up on top of each other forever. If any one of those foundations is weak, there’s no moving on. The reason so many students fall behind is not because they are incapable of learning, but because they are missing one key ingredient from a prior lesson that makes it impossible to progress. If you haven’t yet grasped the idea of a fraction, it’s not going to be any easier once a variable is attached to that fraction. If a student has fallen behind, it may become increasingly difficult to speak up about their confusion. They begin to tell themselves that math is impossible, instead of finding a way to put the missing piece in place.

  1. Understanding the method but not the reason leads to forgetting.

Getting an “A” on a test does not mean that you understand the material. It means you studied, and perhaps remember, at least for now, the method on how to solve a particular type of problem. If you understand that 4+6=10, but not why those two numbers can combine to make 10, you may not learn as quickly that 40+60=100. Or that 104+6=110. When it comes to the more difficult concepts, especially once algebra is involved, it’s very easy to learn how to solve a problem but not why the solution works, making it impossible to move on to the next concept. If you’ve learned the formula for “area” but not what “area” actually means, when they give you the area and ask you to solve the problem backwards, you may be completely at a loss. If, instead, you understand “area” to be “the space on the inside of the shape,” then you may be able to piece together yourself how to solve the problem backwards.

  1. A “C” is not a passing grade in math.

In many classes in school, and in many households across the country, a “C” in a class means, “you understand the material pretty well, and you’re on par with the rest of the students.” In math, this isn’t the case. If you get a “C” on a math test, it means that you don’t understand the material. If you have a “C” in a math class, it means there are fundamental building blocks of your math education that are missing. Because math is cumulative and builds on itself, a “C” means that the next class is going to be even harder, and even if you’ve memorized most of the formulas, there will be problems that are nearly impossible to solve until you’ve gone back to learn what is missing. Understanding the material “kind of” is what leads to problems.

  1. Teachers don’t have enough time.

Acknowledging that the above problems are true, there is no feasible way for a math teacher to make sure that all 30 to 100 of their students across multiple class periods fully understands all of the material. Time is a very limited resource for teachers. They use it to teach, plan a syllabus, grade papers, teach extracurricular activies, and tend to their own personal lives. There isn’t enough time in a week, or a month, to spend one-on-one time with each student to ensure that they are up to speed. If a teacher gets a student who is already months or years behind, there is nothing they can do for him or her without disrupting class time and slowing the learning of the other students. At a certain point, it’s time to go back and relearn the concepts, or get a tutor to help with the basics. It may feel insulting or diminishing, but if the problem isn’t solved right away, it will only persist and grow stronger as the concepts in math get more complicated.

TIPS FOR PARENTS:

  1. Identify where the mathematical “knowledge gaps” are. Take a test online or go to a center and find out what information or concepts aren’t fully understood so that your child doesn’t fall any further behind.
  2. Practice concepts. This can be done at home. If there is a concept that you understand, you can help run drills to enforce and strengthen understanding. If you don’t have time, there are games designed to help practice math concepts where your child may not even realize he or she is learning.
  3. Hire a tutor. A private tutor or a tutor at a learning center can help give your child the one-on-one attention he or she needs to learn and understand concepts that may have been tricky or confusing before.
  4. Use math at home! Try to use terminology like “half,” “less than,” “more than,” or counting when doing everyday activities with young children. With older children, see if they can calculate the tip at a restaurant, or calculate the number of “kilometers per hour” the car is moving while on the highway. Make it fun, have kids race each other for the answer, or reward them for correct answers. Any opportunity can be a learning opportunity.

 

VI. “Personal Essay” — Disney’s Emerging Writers Program

I am a heterosexual, cisgendered Caucasian male from a Midwestern Catholic household. From the outside, I’m about the farthest thing from a diversity hire as you could think of—but if you assumed there was nothing unique about my experience, you’d be wrong.

When I was five years old, my parents adopted two children. I went from being the youngest child to one of the middle children. My adopted sister had Reactive Attachment Disorder and sought to gain dominance over my family, in order to feel safety and security in her life. It was difficult to understand why she did the things she did, why should would threaten and abuse my parents, my siblings, our dog… but understanding the reasons behind the actions, the fear of being alone, the lack of security, the overwhelming sense of unworthiness—it helped. I began to empathize. Not to accept it, but to learn about human behavior and why people do bad things.

Early on in life, I heard from a kid at school that Santa wasn’t real, that our parents were the ones giving us the presents. Upon asking around, I found major discrepancies in the amount and also types of gifts that different people received. When I confronted my mother, she admitted that, yes, Santa was fake. I immediately took this information to mean, “everyone lies.” I could no longer trust my parents, my teachers, our world leaders. Everything someone said was debatable, until I personally uncovered the reality. I devoted myself, on that day, to finding the truth about topics before ever speaking on them.

My family moved a lot. My dad was climbing the corporate ladder at various companies, and that meant that I went to 5 different schools in 10 years. It forced me to learn to fend for myself, to adapt quickly to new environments, and to make friends. It also exposed me to different types of people in different parts of the country. The differences between Kentucky and Wisconsin were great. I realized that people are merely a product of their upbringings, and not predestined to believe what they believe.

I always wanted to be a writer. When I was barely able to read, I began stapling paper together and writing my own books. I set personal goals to make sure every book was longer than the one before it. In third grade, when that wasn’t enough, I began taking narrative risks like killing off the first-person narrator of a story halfway through. The next chapter would begin, again in first person, from a different character’s vantage point, reacting to their friend’s death. My main goal was to constantly push boundaries and try things that I’d never seen before. This opened me up in to taking risks and trying new things in my personal life as well.

When I moved to Los Angeles, I accidentally joined a cult. It seemed welcoming and exciting at first, with a group of talented, positive people working together to accomplish career goals. When the cult leader came onto me sexually, and said that it was necessary to remain a part of his “family,” I found myself the victim of sexual abuse. After exiting the cult and admitting to myself what had happened, people assumed that I would hate the man for what he had done to me. Instead, I felt sorry for him. I understood the pain he felt inside and the reason he felt the need to lure young men into his life and molest them the way he did. It never made it okay, but it got me through. I vowed then to do whatever I could to understand the root cause of issues like this and try to make sure that what happened to me wouldn’t happen to anyone else.

The first acting role that I accepted in Los Angeles was as a nudist in a gay romantic comedy, which required me to be nude for the entirety of the film. I accepted the role because it would be a challenge for me, but also because I recognized the importance of positive depictions in media of the normal, everyday lives of gay men.

I strive to create a world of acceptance and understanding—the opposite of the environment in which I was raised. I know the importance of thinking for oneself. If I can, through storytelling, teach people to discard their preconceived notions and learn to understand and respect one another—I will have succeeded in life.