Fan-girling

Honestly, I want to use this post to fan-girl over Jared Callahan for a quick second. He was, by far, the best guest that we’ve had in class this semester – and I don’t mean this out of disrespect for any of our others guests, because they were all awesome, but Jared just went above and beyond. His enthusiasm and energy was vibrant and contagious. Honestly, I enjoyed his films but I loved them even more after hearing him talk about them and his passion for helping individual people and allowing the world to look at someone specifically and view their story while he tries to make you “fall in love” with them.

Jared’s enthusiastic personality about his work and what he does was just so refreshing and inspiring. I think I talked about this a little bit in a previous post but this semester has really opened up my eyes. I’ve never known what I wanted to do with my life and finally I’m starting to see a clearer path or at least a direction that I would like to pursue. I’ve never even thought about doing documentaries before but this class in particular has provided me with a newfound interest in social practice art and specifically in documentaries. Honestly, Jared is someone I can see myself wanting to be like – he is just so passionate about what he does and expresses that through his words, actions, and films. I just want to find my passion and I want to be able to discover myself and the complexities of the world in which I live in.

I’ve never been a super materialistic individual but this course has made me even less of one. Everyone talks about how important it is to have a good job and make a good living and be able to provide for yourself and your family. While I don’t disagree with that statement, I do disagree with the extent to which people take it. I’m never going to be the person that needs the latest iPhone or next model of sports car; that’s just not who I am. I’ve come to realize that all I really want to do in my life is make a difference, and maybe that’s an idealistic way to think, maybe I should be focused on making a living and being able to send my kids to college but at the end of the day, I just don’t believe that. Is it important to make enough money to live comfortably? Yeah I would say so. Is it important to save for your kids’ future and your own future? Yes of course. But is it really important to make more money than you need, buy things out of desire, and spend money like it’s your job? To that I’d say no.

I know that this post is kind of all over the place but I just needed to express how much I love this class and am so grateful for the opportunities, insight, and perspective that it has given me.

Feminism can’t be reduced to a “trend”

I decided to do my midterm essay on H&M’s new ad campaign, the video of which can be found here: H&M’s New Advert

Honestly I came across this advertisement on Facebook, as it was part of an article that was actually critiquing the extremely popular and praised ad. The article was by Gemma Clarke who founded this website called “Global Hobo,” which is described as “a space for writers to share original views on destinations, experiences and social trends. Our aim is to open our readers’ minds to fresh perspectives, show them new parts of the world and have a good laugh at ourselves and each other.” Clarke’s article can be found here: Gemma Clarke: Don’t Fall for the New H&M Campaign

Ultimately, H&M created an utterly badass video that people have said is redefining the way we view femininity and ideals of what it means to be “ladylike.” The ad includes a wide and diverse range of models, all of whom go against the social norms of what it means to act like a lady. It’s phenomenal, and if it weren’t for all of the underlying, deep-rooted issues with H&M as a company and their morals in general, I would be just as obsessed with this ad as everyone else is. But Gemma discusses quite a few points that raise the question – does H&M truly stand for women, or are they simply taking advantage of this new wave of feminism as a marketing strategy? Staff exploitation, child labor, and stores failing to actually stock a plus-size range are some of the issues she talks about. How can a company preach one thing but act in a completely different way? Well I guess that’s actually quite easy but it’s also disturbing and disheartening. H&M had the opportunity to do something truly remarkable here, but it seems as though they are just trying to capitalize on the current “trend” of feminism for their own profit.

Honestly, it just blows my mind. It blows my mind that huge companies, famous individuals, and people with such a great deal of power just sit silent on the sidelines. The people whose voices could be most heard are the same ones who fall discouragingly quiet. And I’m not going to generalize that statement to everyone with a great deal of power, money, or following, but for the most part, I’m afraid that this is our sad reality. It’s just so unfortunate because those that could actually have the most impact fail to stand for something bigger than themselves. H&M is just one of many, many examples, but if the company actually cared about gender equality and women’s rights, wouldn’t you think they would first make some fundamental shifts in their morals and actions before presenting this image of “we love all women” to the world? I guess that’s just me being idealistic but I thought, as humans, we were better than that.

I spent 6 weeks this past summer in India, among the most genuine, kind-hearted, compassionate, and selfless group of individuals I’ve ever met – the Tibetan monastic community. Those 6 weeks helped me gain a lot of perspective and gave me some insight on what it being to simply be a “human being.” It’s absolutely crazy to think of the millions, probably billions of people that don’t go about their days in the same way – with a genuine and compassionate heart for every individual that crosses your path. Again, I’m being idealistic and I know how remarkably unrealistic that thought it, but is it really that difficult? Is it really THAT hard to just be a good person? Sometimes I swear I keep myself up at night thinking about things like this, because all of the hate, injustice, anger, and violence in the world just doesn’t make any damn sense.

Imba Means Sing & the 72 hours that gave me clarity

This past week has honestly been a crazy mix of emotions. Within 72 hours, I went to the Nonprofit Networking night, watched two powerful documentaries Imba Means Sing and Audrie & Daisy (incredible documentary about sexual assault), and got the chance to meet the producer of Imba Means Sing. I’m the type of person who usually loves to have a game plan and a schedule but have been consistently unable to put my life after college down on an agenda pad – and it has been beyond frustrating. Everyone is constantly asking me what I want to do with my two majors (Human Health and Anthropology) after I graduate, or what field I want to go into after college. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve said “I’m not sure yet, just kind of doing my own thing and seeing where it takes me;” I also can’t tell you the amount of disappointed looks I’ve gotten from that response. I mean I’m a junior… I’m supposed to have my life together right?

All of my friends have awesome internships and summer jobs lined up, and all of my friends who have graduated are living in big cities, loving life, and working for great companies. And then there’s me. Unless you count babysitting and “interning” for my dad’s financial services company as work experience then I literally have none – yep this is terrifying, I know. Part of this is because I’ve always been consumed by basketball (I was on the varsity team here at Emory for my first two years) and part of it is because I just didn’t want to get a job, I didn’t want to grow up and have to “be an adult.” So yeah, in the end I’m the only one to blame and I take full responsibility for my lack of work experience but I also take full responsibility for my desire for life experience. I crave new cultural experiences. I crave the feeling you get when you go to a place you’ve never been before. I crave the independence that rushes through my body when I’m traveling without my mom by my side or the perspective I gain by going to different parts of the world that are so different from what I’ve learned to label as “home.”

If one thing has been a constant in my life, it’s how much I love to do nonprofit work. I know I’m kind of going on a rant here but I promise it’ll all add up in the end. I’ve been involved with volunteer work for a really long time and it was never something “I had to do” but always something “I wanted to do.” But still, I’ve gone through high school and half of college with absolutely no idea of what “I wanted to do” career-wise. Then this past week happened, and everything started to make sense. I should probably mention an event that I went to the week before – the all-anticipated Career Fair – and I should probably mention, sorry if I offend anyone, that it was literally the worst thing I have ever been to… ever.

Stand in line. Have multiple copies of your resume – wouldn’t want to run out. Smile! Wear lip-gloss. Look pretty. Shake their hands firmly. Make sure you get a $40 leather portfolio to put all of your freshly printed resumes in! Compete for a spot in line. Don’t let someone else come by and take over the conversation. Assert yourself. Be confident – but not too confident, especially if you’re a woman talking to a man, I mean you wouldn’t want him to think that you’re full of yourself (don’t get me started here…).

 So yeah, I absolutely hated it. Because of that experience I almost didn’t go to the Nonprofit networking night because I was so drained from how ridiculous the Career Fair was, but I changed my mind last minute and went. The contrast was immediate and extremely refreshing. It was everything the Career Fair wasn’t and it was everything I could’ve hoped it would be. I had some amazing conversations with incredible people running/working for inspiring organizations and I loved every second of it. This is where 2 + 2 was finally starting to equal 4. I want to work with a Nonprofit – or start my own! Duh! It was so obvious, why hadn’t I thought of it before? Well, a number of reasons, but I can address those some other time.

Then, we watched Imba Means Sing and I just fell in love with every aspect of it. To be honest, I’ve always loved documentaries and although I’m not extremely talented with a camera, I’ve always enjoyed making mini-movies for class projects and things of that nature. Not only did I love the documentary but Erin was such an incredible person to have the chance to meet and her work is truly inspiring. I didn’t even know The Creative Visions Foundation existed and this past weekend I stalked every component of their website and signed up for anything/everything I could through them! I honestly can’t say what exactly it is, and I’m still immensely confused/scared about my future, but something clicked for me this past week and I’m so excited to move forward with this newfound inspiration and potential life goal.

In regards to Imba Means Sing specifically (sorry I digressed from the questions), I think one of the main strategies that made the film so accessible to young audiences was its focus on the children. A lot of individuals in my generation can more easily empathize/connect with younger kids versus adults, at least in my opinion. With their focus on the children, and a focus on 2-3 in particular, the filmmakers were able to elicit an emotional response from the audience. Young audiences were able to develop relationships with the “characters” and as the documentary progress; we wanted to see them succeed.

Moreover, I think that this increase in social practice art is due to the characteristics of the world, or at least country, we live in today. The US is defined by its technological advancements and our generation is equally defined by our reliance on/proficiency with all things “social” via technology. That being said, videos, pictures, and documentaries are a very successful way to relay messages to our generation, as those are three platforms we are familiar and comfortable with. So, linking social change to art inevitably increases the change’s potential for success. It also makes social issues or concerns more accessible. Sometimes issues taking place halfway across the globe don’t impact people because they don’t seem relevant. But I believe that once someone creates a tangible piece of art to almost bring that issue “to life” it becomes more accessible and in turn more impactful for the general audience. I’m not saying that this is how things should be – we should care about the world that we live in and want to take part in something bigger than ourselves everyday – but I think it’s how things inevitably are.

Becoming and Outsider in the place you call Home

Orange, CT is the place that I have lived for nearly my entire life. It is the place I call home, the place where a multitude of memories, experiences, and people close to me still reside. It is the place where I felt most comfortable, a place where I knew everyone and everyone knew me. I was Mikaila Schmitt, daughter of Felicia and Ron, Amity High School basketball player, straight A student, and friendly to everyone. I developed relationships not only with my peers but also with my teachers, neighbors, adults, and people all throughout my town. I knew this place inside and out and it knew me just as well. I was so connected to my community, my high school, my family, my friends, and everything that had to do with Orange, CT, I’ve never felt like such an “insider” anywhere else in my life.

Then, graduation day came and with college just around the corner I moved 946 miles away to start a new chapter of my life in this place called Atlanta, GA. Eight weeks, eight weeks was all it took for me to become an outside in a place that I had called home for 12 years. Atlanta was great but by the time Fall Break came around I was so ready to go home to my place where I felt comfortable and familiar. I was so ready to be in my house, my room, visit my old high school teachers and friends, fill the neighbors in on how it’s like to be a “college girl.” But quite honestly as soon as the plane touched down in CT something just felt off. But I figured I would see my parents and everything would feel right again, and when that felt off, too I told myself that I just needed to get back to my house and then everything would be normal. This process continued until I came to the realization that things weren’t going back to normal anytime soon. Eight weeks, eight weeks was all it took for me to become an outside in a place where I had been the definition of an insider for the past 12 years of my life.

Back to my Old Roots

This week’s observation assignment had me going to a place that I was very familiar with – the gym. In my head, the gym always meant the basketball court, and basketball has been something that has “defined” me for the last 15 years of my life – until this past spring. I was recruiting to play varsity basketball at Emory and ultimately it was one of the main reasons why I came to this school. Basketball was my life and had been my life for an extremely long time, it was the first thing I went to when people asked me to “describe myself” and it was the one thing that had always remained constant in my life. But after my sophomore year season I decided to leave the team. I started to find myself dreading going to practice or even games – which were supposed to be fun. I started to find myself becoming more and more miserable, few and far fetched were the days when I had a genuine smile on my face. Mostly, I was filled with this constant anxious/nervous energy, worrying about practice. The environment was an incredibly negative one, it was one where I never thought I was good enough and I was frequently reminded of that. “Don’t shoot, just pass” “Make sure you’re getting rebounds we need you in there for defense but don’t try to make moves you know you cant do” “Look at your stat line, all I see are zeros.” The negativity invaded my body and took over my thoughts and my feelings. The sport that I once loved became something that I resented, and that was never something I thought I’d ever say.

That being said, this assignment took me back to a place that I hadn’t been to since last spring, and while many negative emotions came crawling back, I also realized that I had some sense of relief as well. The sport of basketball is something that I’ll always love and it’s unfortunate that my career had to end the way that it did, but the freedom to be happy and smiling on an everyday basis makes the decision so much easier to handle and makes it all worth it.

The Crossing – Reaction

Honestly the quote that began this article truly struck me. “ In the Congo you grow up thinking about escape. When I was little, no one asked me what I wanted to become. They asked me where I wanted to go.” Can you imagine being 5, 6, 7 years old and having your friends and family asking you where you wanted to go? I was only ever asked “So Mikaila, what do YOU want to be when you grow up?” and I would respond eagerly with, “I want to be a veterinarian and open up my own animal shelter, Grandma!”

Sometimes it’s just absolutely crazy how disconnected we are from the rest of the world, let alone our own world. It’s crazy that we don’t know about some of these life-altering events that take place right next to us. It’s crazy how much of a bubble we allow ourselves to live in – and not only live in but be content with living in. This is not how it’s supposed to be, this is not how life is supposed to work. We weren’t put on this planet to go in one direction for our entire life and individualize the world that we live in to the extent that we have become so naïve about the world that we actually live in.

Upon some of the boys showing pictures of their “heroes” Dr. Alexander writes, “One wears the uniform of his “good job,” where he works as a prep cook in an overcrowded kitchen. Another is standing beside a cement mixer on a dusty construction site. “They are living our dream,” I hear one boy say over my shoulder.” Is this not unimaginable? The fact that most people in the U.S. would look at these men in Europe and accredit their situation as poor or lower class, and there are boys who consider these men their heroes, living the dream of many, is absolutely absurd to me. Why do we have such extravagant, outrageous definitions of success and life in general? This is one of the many questions of the world that just blows my mind. The fact that the majority will define success monetarily or materialistically is something that I’ve been struggling with more and more. There are these men in the world who just want to cross over into a better life and would be extremely content and even ecstatic about a job as a cement worker and we are concerned about what new sports car we’re going to buy next? I simply cannot wrap my head around this idea.

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Picture taken from Dr. Alexander’s article “The Crossing”

I’m sorry – but is this picture real? The contrast in this image is so shocking but also something I’m vaguely familiar with. You have a group of men – beaten, bruised, and painfully abused emotionally and physically, climbing over a razor-wire fence as the backdrop to an image of a gorgeously groomed and bright green golf course, where two individuals are fully dressed, playing a game of golf. It’s actually unbelievable. When I was in India this past summer I experienced a very similar situation. My class was taking a field trip to the Dalai Lama’s temple, but in order to reach it you had to walk this mile-long path along the mountains.

Of course we were all ecstatic to be visiting the temple and everyone was laughing and smiling until something stopped us dead in our tracks. I’m not sure if you can tell from this picture but impoverished families lined the path we had to walk. Naked children held babies in their arms and all at once they came to us asking for money. They poked us with their fingers as they pleaded, “Ma’am money, money please, money hungry, ma’am money.” But our professor told us that we weren’t allowed to give them anything because if we gave to one we would have to give to all and it would end up turning into an aggressive situation.

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View of Himalayan mountains from path to Dalai Lama’s Temple

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View of the families that lined the path to the Dalai Lama’s Temple

So we walked. We walked with our hands around our bags and ignored these children for an entire mile. I walked away from these kids that I desperately wanted to help. I bring up this example because on this path to the Dalai Lama’s temple is the backdrop of the most incredible view I’ve ever seen, the Himalayan mountains, and one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been, the Dalai Lama’s temple, alongside the most crippling poverty I’ve ever witnessed.

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Front view of the Dalai Lama’s Temple

It’s just so hard to wrap my head around these things; it makes me feel so ignorant and naïve about my world – it also makes me feel so confused. It’s absolutely crazy to think that stuff like this happens every single day; it’s even crazier to think that not enough people care to do anything about it…