Wonder Woman and Everything Everything Say Sorry Mom

I have seen both the movies Everything Everything and Wonder Woman back to back and I have never seen two movies so different and so similar back back. Everything Everything is the story of an 18 year old girl who is believed to have a serous sickness which prevents her from ever leaving her home. After meeting and falling in love with the boy next door, her small, safe world is forever changed (more spoilers as this article continues). It is a teen romance movie where the characters wear trendy clothes easily found in H&M and the soundtrack can be found in any Top 40 playlist with various up and coming pop and eclectic artists. Wonder Woman is based off of DC Comic’s female superhero, Diana, an Amazonian princess who meets a man that leads her on her own adventure (see the similarities yet?). Compared to Everything Everything, the movie Wonder Woman was an action packed movie where most of the music was mixed with roaring sound effects of explosions, bombs and gun shots. In addition, I don’t think Diana’s outfit can easily be found in your nearest mall. There are a lot of spoilers in this piece but the messages are spot on.

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Despite these movies seeming to target different audiences with different tastes, the messages and story lines almost mirror each other. Early in both movies, a handsome man comes infiltrates these women’s “safe spaces” forcing these women to accept the truth about themselves. In Everything Everything, the star’s safe space is her home. This home was a beautiful California home. The rooms were impeccably clean. The furniture and appliances were modern and state of the art. The home was specifically designed to let nothing of any risk even so much as touch the well off and sheltered girl. In one of the first scenes, the neighbor tries to give the mother a bunt cake which she rudely refuses. The daughter shouts from her room, “I’d rather try a bunt cake.” The mother replies, “It’s dry.” From my own experiences, I’ve had plenty of bunt cake conversations with my own mother, as I will assume other mothers and daughters have had. Many times, my mother looks at me like I am the most fragile thing to ever exist and make the decision to shelter me from dangers with the power of ignorance. Wonder Woman was no different. The first scenes of the movie start with Wonder Woman as a little, the only little girl in her world, her sheltered safe paradise. Like Everything Everything, Diana’s world was safe, there hasn’t been war or outside threats to this world hidden behind magic and fog for years. Like Everything Everything, Diana was seen as the most delicate and fragile thing to exist. For that, her mother, the queen, hides Diana’s true identity. As a woman, I find ignorance used as a weapon more often as I get older. There is a global fear and misunderstanding of women with knowledge not only about the world through books and education but about themselves. In both movies, the mothers keep a massive secret from their daughters that have kept them sheltered or better yet captive in these safe spaces.

I won’t delve too much into the hunky male superhero that, through fate, comes into these women’s lives. As a single woman all I can wonder is “Where the hell is mine?” But I will skip to the end. I forewarn, there are serious spoiler alerts so I would suggest saving this article once you have seen both movies or have no intention of seeing either movie. Both characters discover the strength within them once they have left their homes. It was not until the main character in Everything Everything, Madeline, returned from her life threatening adventure in Hawaii that she discovers she was never sick (I warned you reader). It was not until Diana realized that the evil she thought she was meant to defeat was actually the complex concept of human free will and inborn evil rather than some singular evil bad guy  that she discovered she was a goddess herself. Not only is she a fictional goddess but in many ways she is a feminine depiction of a God many people are familiar with. The theme of the movie is that humans, in their tendencies towards evil, don’t deserve her power and mercy yet she gives it anyway (sound familiar Christians?). Steve, played by the ‘he can get it any day’ Chris Pine, also thanks her for saving him by bringing him out of the water (sound familiar ladies). Diana’s strength is incomparable yet her mother hid it from her all her life.

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I have lived in a safe space my whole life. For years, I was a sheltered child whose media intake consisted primarily of Disney Channel, Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network. I had many toys and never worried about physical harm or hunger. I had a lovely safe space. Many women and girls like me have or had those spaces. Maybe they were not paradises, but they were the safe because they were familiar. Women are often pressured to stay within the family, not always for their own good but for the benefits of their family members. Even with good intentions, sexism often pressures women more than men to take less risks, desire less adventure, and require less self awareness of one’s own strength in order for these women to feel more obligated to watch over the family. However, no one, man or woman, can stay within their familiar zones and expect to really discover who they are and their true potential. Sometimes it takes the push of someone who is different to take us out of those comfort zones.

My final point refers to the title, the strain of growth on a mother daughter relationship. In both movies, neither women return home to their mothers who nurtured and cared for them all their lives. Back home, they did not exist. Madeline mentions in Everything Everything that only a small handful of people knew she even exists. She was her mother’s. In a similar fashion, no human knew Diana’s world existed. In her world she was simply the princess. In Everything Everything, Madeline says “You’re not alive if no one knows you exist.” In different words but with the same message Diana says to her mother before she leaves home, “Who would I be if I stayed?” As a millennial, I’ve learned a lot of the things my older relatives have taught me were wrong. That is the hardest thing to realize because you know there is usually little to no malice in what they teach you. However, you know what they say is not always what’s best for you. In similar tone with love and persistence both characters in summary say, “Sorry mom, but I have to be myself.” As Gen Y people we have to get out and discover the truth about the world around us and Gen Xers need to trust us with the truth.

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These story lines aren’t new. Disney has used these stories in movies like the animated Rapunzel or Brave. However there is something about these two movies that make the similar message different. Maybe it’s the use of actual people. Madeline, played by the girl who played Rue in Hunger Games, can be any black girl, you meet. As a black woman mentioning her race is relevant because it is nice to see people that look like me on the big screen. However, Madeline can be any girl who knew they were in a safe space but knew they didn’t belong there. Wonder Woman was edgier than the Disney princesses. At times she was stone faced and cut and dry with her responses. She did not flirt or sing around those who doubted her to make a point. She looked her doubters in the eye and said, “Watch me”.  There was something more real about these ladies discovering their physical strengths, history and sexuality.  Regardless, both movies make me proud to be a part of a generation where slowly women, people of color, people of foreign descent are in control and making a difference in the world.

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A student and an athlete but not a student-athlete

Spring 2016 semester has started. I have completed syllabus week and am now officially starting my second semester as a graduate student. Being a full-time student, being a TA and being a full-time athlete was a difficult balancing act in the fall semester. One would think that if someone could survive being a student-athlete for four years, there should be no difference to being in grad school for two years. Here is the difference. I am no longer a student-athlete. I am a student and an athlete. Being a student-athlete in undergrad came with accommodations that made balancing my studies and my sport possible. Because I was running for the school and using school facilities, the school in return provided resources to student-athletes that allowed us to better explain to our instructors and peers why we would miss certain classes or wouldn’t be able to hand in certain assignments on time. The Athletics Department also provided academic assistance more readily available to help student-athletes.

Buzzfeed sums grad life best with 21 photos that even now bring me anxiety to what entails in the upcoming 15 weeks, give or take. In graduate school, your social life in non-existent. Of course, I understand those with complicated majors, as I like to call certain majors, probably are already living the grad life just without the title. But there is a different mindset when coming into grad life.

It’s really that mindset that distinguishes the difference between being a student-athlete and being a student and an athlete. As a student-athlete, there is an understanding, depending on your reputation and/ or sport, that academics may not be your passion and sports may very well be the one and only reason you go to school. A former student I taught as a TA argued that college athletes should not get paid by NCAA because students go to college to hone their skills not just play sports. There is so much to say about that statement, but what I will focus on this. For a student-athlete, going to college includes honing their skills as an athlete. During my undergraduate years, I didn’t just improve in times while on the track team. I learned persistence and proper running technique and grew as an athlete. I also learned and was successful in my undergraduate classes, but it the lessons I learned as an athlete were equally as important in directing my career path.

 

But going back to being a student-athlete, you CANNOT be one without the other. You do not perform to the academic standards that the athletic department, your coach and/or the school sets, you do not compete and/or train. That simple. For some who are on scholarship, if you do not compete or train to the best of your ability and follow the rules of the sport (I leave that open to interpretation), not taking into account injuries or emergencies of course, you were not guaranteed the same amount of scholarship thus affecting your ability to pay for school thus affecting your education. As a student-athlete, education and athleticism are valued equally.student athlete

As a student and full-time graduate student, especially one with a teaching assistantship, these values and standards change dramatically. This scenario gives a better idea of what I mean. Last semester, I told one of my professors that I was an athlete, and although I did not plan on missing assignments, I did want to let the professor know in case I missed any classes for competition. The professor was understanding and told me that it is good that I was a runner because it is important to have a “hobby” outside of grad life. I cringe hearing the word “hobby” in regards to my running. But I understood why my professor would say that. In graduate school, at least my specific department, there is an assumption that those who attend graduate school share a passion for academia similar to how athletes share a passion for their sport. You come with the commitment to dedicate your time and energy to your assignments in class. You enjoy academia to an extent where research and reading educational articles are enjoyable. Anything not connected to what you are studying or does not directly benefit from your studies is a side attraction. It is something to break the monotony of studying. It is a hobby. Also, and this is merely an assumption, I don’t think professors teaching graduate level courses encounter athletes as often as they would at the undergraduate level. This means that the obligation, for lack of better words, to be more understanding and considerate of athletes’ competition and training schedules does not exist. This is not a critique of graduate school, but merely an observation.

This is where the balance of academia and athletics becomes difficult. When both aspects of my life requires a heightened amount of my time and dedication, it sometimes feels like I am being pulled in two different directions. As a student and an athlete, I can be one without the other. My athletic capabilities no longer affect my ability to afford school. If I decided right now to hang up my spikes, my academics would not be affected. My academics no longer affect my competition or training. If I failed out of school or quit school, I could still run and train. Of course it is not that simple. Graduate life also comes with the reality of bills and living expenses that need to be handled.

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I knew that this balancing act would not be easy, but I didn’t quite expect why it was difficult. The limited time and extensive work was expected, but the expectation from my professors and colleagues that academia is this passion burning in you was not what I anticipated. How do you explain that, although I still value academics as a student-athlete who was consistently on the dean’s list, my heart is not in academics in the way they expect? Of course, I value everything I learn in grad school, but not to an extent that I would make a career in academia. How do I explain to someone in academia who may have never played a sport in their life or spoken to an athlete, why it is worth spending a year or years of your life to pursue goals of athletic excellence? There are many questions about dealing with this dichotomy and explaining this dichotomy to someone who does not share your goals. Although many times I am frustrated, I am also excited to have this unique experience. I don’t want this to be a discouragement to anyone. It is simply one of various realizations I have had and will have in this track journey.

Proverbs 22 The Right Circle Part 1

As I scroll through my Facebook, I glance at the various accomplishments that my peers from Villanova University have achieved since I left my junior year. One person I enjoy following is a man named Kevin Monangai. He was in my graduating class. He also played football for Villanova University. We are not close. We were just two wildcats who rolled in similar circles.

So why would I follow someone I am not that close with? Well if you do not know Villanova University, it is known for basketball and at the time I was a student, the football team struggled. Yet, Kevin constantly posted about the strength of his team and his Nova pride. After graduating he posted about being scouted for the NFL. Because Villanova is not known for football, you wouldn’t think someone coming from a small team would even think about going pro. Yet, this man worked hard and is now with the Philly Eagles.

I don’t know if Kevin thinks of his story as an underdog story, but following his posts, that’s what I see as someone who sees herself as an underdog. His success continues to inspire to continue my goal in being an elite runner and using where I came from in terms of athleticism as motivation.

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So that was a long introduction to a simple verse. As I scrolled through my timeline I came across a post from Kevin Monangai with the verse Proverbs 22:29 “Seest thou a man diligent in his business? he shall stand before kings; he shall not stand before mean men.”

I read the rest of Proverbs 22 to get some context and see the general theme. I want to focus on for this post with my track mind is to make sure you avoid the wrong people, and in track you meet a lot of “mean men.” These people will discourage you, sabotage your work and drag your name through the mud.

Proverbs 22 names some of those people. Verse 10 mentions the scoffer or mocker. In track there is always someone who got something to say. No matter how hard you work or how great you improve, there will be someone who say you won’t improve or you are foolish for thinking differently from them. You can fight all you want and drive yourself mad trying to prove yourself to a scoffer but a scoffer is going to find something to scoff. It is 2016, perfect time to do some soul cleaning and rid yourself of negative energy. Wasting your time fighting with someone who doesn’t value your hard work doesn’t benefit you. In track, I learn to very politely ignore certain people and move on.

Verse 13 mentions the lazy man. My one track mind thinks of the lazy person as someone who accepts defeat. While the scoffer weigh you down with insults. The lazy man weighs you down by making you willing to accept what life has given you. Staying stagnant is just as bad as moving backwards. In track, when you work hard, you improve. When you improve, your goals change. Do not let laziness and discouragement stop you from achieving your goals. Track is a trying sport and a sport that you can’t rely on the efforts of others. Laziness always shows at some point.

Verse 14 talks about an adulterous woman. Lets talk about adulterers male and female. Man! Sex or passionate infatuation or just the general desire to be loved by anyone can drive anyone up and down the walls and more dangerously, off track from your goals. Sometimes it’s another person who drags you down by first building your ego while tearing down your morals or making you forget your goals. Many times you are your own adulterer. Yes I just went there. Yes, you can cheat on your goals and morals. My high school summer coach tells me “track is a jealous sport.” You got to give it your all. Getting caught with brief moments of satisfaction will make your goals seem that much further. I cheated on my goals with someone I liked. I’ll talk more about this man in future posts, but there were too many times I chose laying next to him over going to church or doing proper rehab. The sad thing was, he wasn’t willing to give up the same amount of time for me.

We like to think we are immune to negative people, but the truth of the matter is we are human and the desire to get or give human attention causes us to forget our immunity. It’s just important to avoid being with people who make you feel bad about your ambitions and yourself. As you find yourself being more successful, your circle will shrink. It’s cliche to say but so accurate. Be confident in your gifts and the vision God has given you for your future.