Asher speaks openly about “13 Reasons Why” controversy at Main Library

Originally published on thecspn.comP1030584

On September 8, “13 Reasons Why” author Jay Asher came to the Main Library, a Cincinnati and Hamilton county public library, to speak about his book’s evolution and controversy.

Asher said his inspiration came from his relative, who attempted suicide when she was a junior in high school. He said when she was in that state of mind, she had nothing to relate to and nothing to depict how she was feeling, which gave him the idea to write.

“Having spoken to her over the years about how she got to that place where she thought that was the only solution to her pain, in her case at least part of it was that she didn’t feel comfortable opening up because she didn’t see anybody addressing these issues in a very honest way,” Asher said. “They would make fun of people dealing with things she was dealing with, not knowing that she was dealing with it. So when the idea came to me, I knew that it was going to be a bit controversial, but that’s why you need to write about this stuff sometimes, so that it is out there.”

Asher said the events that happened to main character, Hannah Baker, were inspired by what he knows to be true about bullying from friends and family rather than by events that happened to the relative who inspired him.

“Very little of it was actually inspired by things she went through. Most of it was the emotions: feeling alone, feeling like she didn’t know where to go for help,” Asher said. “So (those emotions) heavily influenced that side of it, as far as each individual situation. Some of it was just made up for things that I knew Hannah had to go through, other things were inspired by either things I had been through or my friends had been through. I also sat down with my wife and two female friends to talk about their high school years — things that affected them years later that they thought they would have gotten over by now. Then, I would just fictionalize it, but it gave me a sense of what were sometimes the smaller things that still had a big impact on people.”

Despite the heavy subject material, Asher said the book was intended for teens to try and eliminate problems that his relative experienced. Even for his first time writing for a teenage audience, Asher said it was necessary to convey the raw horrification of suicide and to provide something for them to resonate with them.

“Because my understanding of the issue was inspired by my relative, I think that while I knew it would be more controversial to write it for teens, the only alternative was to not, to make it an adult (novel),” Asher said. “But that still feeds into the problem in our society of because we are so uncomfortable talking about this stuff, specifically about teens, people are always looking for excuses not to. Any teen then, who isn’t ready to read an adult book, would again not see anything out there representing what they’re experiencing, so (writing for an older audience) would just contribute to the problem. With my relative, there should have been people around her talking about this stuff. But when there isn’t they need to have something available for that person, and that’s what I’ve heard so often: readers saying my book is the first time they felt understood, which is so cool to hear but also so sad to hear.”

Asher said he wanted to teach teens to be perceptive of other people, because they never know what someone else is going through. He said he witnesses bullying all too often that would not have happened had the bullies known the victim’s situation.

“Since the book came out, I’ve been of course more aware of suicides, especially highly sensationalized ones,” Asher said. “I remember there was this one in Massachusetts shortly after the book came out where it was the first time people were charged with a crime for bullying this person. It was this big (question of) when somebody takes their own life, can somebody else be held responsible for it? A lot of the bullies said ‘If we had known she had dealt with this, if we had known she had suffered from depression, if we had known she had attempted suicide in the past, if we had known that her parents were getting divorced, we wouldn’t have done stuff.’ That hit the nail on the head of what I was trying to say that you don’t know what someone’s going through. It shouldn’t matter; you shouldn’t be like ‘I’ll do this,’ and hope that everything else in their life was fine. You don’t know.”

Sophomore English teacher and yearbook adviser Kurt Dinan is the Main Library’s Writer-in-Residence, meaning he interviews authors who come to speak at the library. Dinan said listening to Asher speak proved to him that he wrote the book for the right reasons.

“I love talking to other authors because I learn about who they are and what their personality is,” Dinan said. “Jay Asher is a well-known figure because of this book and because of the television show, and I think people make judgements based on the topic and how it is handled in the show and in the book. After talking with him, and listening to him speak, I know he’s a genuinely compassionate person. He’s not trying to make a buck off of this; he truly cares about mental health issues and about teenagers who are having suicidal thoughts and he wants that not to be taboo in society, for people to speak about it, and for things to be done.”

Back in March, Netflix created a TV show titled “13 Reasons Why” that is based off of the book. Asher is not heavily involved in the production of the show aside from reading scripts and answering questions for writers and producers.

Dinan said while he understands the concerns parents would have by allowing teens to read this book and watch a show, he thinks they will benefit teens by showing them they are not alone, and showing other teens that their actions have repercussions.

“I understand parents who are reluctant to have their child read this book or watch the TV show, I understand their concerns,” Dinan said. “But more importantly, I think it’s vital that teens know they aren’t alone and there are people they can go to for help, but also that their actions have ramifications. I think the book makes that clear, and the TV show makes that clear.”

When Netflix produced the show, the production team made a few changes from the book, such as the way Baker dies. Asher said that he understands the reason behind every change because the medium of television depicts actions visually. With the combination of visual depiction and an increased time frame, the TV show made necessary changes that strengthened the message and contributed to reality, Asher said.

“They decided to not use pills because they didn’t want it to seem like an easy thing. They wanted to show it as emotionally horrifying as it is,” Asher said. “To show the parents finding her and how devastating that is. I’ve been hearing from viewers who say a lot of time when they are thinking about suicide they know it’s going to hurt people but at the same time, they feel that their life is such a burden to other people that even if they hurt them to some degree, they will be better off. And then seeing what it would be like to find them takes it and makes it this very realistic thing as opposed to however they romanticized the benefits to other people in their mind. So that’s been kind of frustrating when I hear controversy around it, when I’m the one hearing from others saying why it affected them in such a positive way. ”

Asher said that some of the scenes in the show, such as the showing of sexual assault, while graphic, are necessary for the majority of people to understand the seriousness and severity of the situation.

“We’re fine knowing that person got raped, but we don’t want to be made uncomfortable with it,” Asher said. “And sadly, there are people in this world who don’t have the imagination to understand how horrible something is until it’s put in front of them. We hear about that all the time — the way we like to talk about rape, especially with boys is ‘No means no. When a girl says no that’s it’ and that’s where the conversation ends. It doesn’t hit them the way making them uncomfortable by it would. When I wrote those scenes for the book, I wanted it to be read my males and females, but I wrote those scenes with males in mind. I wanted them to feel how uncomfortable that is, and if they’re not uncomfortable, they’re not getting it.”

Despite the criticism, Asher said he would not change anything about the book or the show because of the lives they have saved.

“The book has been banned a lot. And there has been a lot of controversy about the TV show,” Asher said. “Every specific thing people point out in the show or in the book that they think is inappropriate or done wrong, I’ve had so many people contact me and say ‘That was the scene that made me feel respected.’ There’s this temptation as a caring person who gets hurt to say that I would take out the parts that people criticize. But then, what would I be doing? I would be taking away the parts that really meant something to some people.”

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A Quitter’s Game

   When I was four years old, I started taking piano lessons. I remember going to class every Tuesday and immediately placing my fingers on top of the piano ready to play. My technique was terrible–my fingers were flat and I blatantly ignored fingering requirements –but I didn’t care. I just loved making music and playing the piano. But, a few years later, something changed. My upright piano slowly collected more dust, and the music throughout the house was music I was dancing to and not creating. I stopped practicing and started blaming homework so often that one day when I went to my lesson, my teacher asked, “Were you able to get any practicing in, or were you swamped again?” It was clear that my heart was not in it, and my passion was gone. So, I quit.
   The decision to quit was not an easy one. I knew that I was miserable, and I wanted so badly to not practice again, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I guess that part of the reason was the fact that I did not want to feel like the past ten years of lessons had gone to waste, but the majority of the reason had to do with my perception of quitting and letting something go.
   I have grown up with the idea that quitting was wrong, bad, and never the answer. If you decide to let something go in our society, you are automatically labeled as a quitter. While this is a technically accurate label, it comes with such skewed connotations such as ones that imply weakness, failure, or laziness. In our society, when you quit something, people assume that you didn’t try hard enough. They assume that you gave up and took the easy way out. But this time, letting piano go was tremendously harder than staying and pretending to love it would have been.
   This is nothing against piano. I’m so grateful that I have formal training because I still like to play it from time to time. It wasn’t one of those situations where I knew that everything positive I was expressing about piano was a show. I still liked it–just not enough to continue formally committing to it. And that right there was one of those most difficult things to recognize.
   It would have been so easy to sit back and go through the motions of practicing and showing up to lessons to convince myself that this wasnt over. It would have been so easy to try to balance an increasing homework load with dance and piano and pretend that I could handle it. But it was incredibly difficult to recognize the fact that something you have invested time and practice into for 10 years is not something you want to do anymore. It was painful to tell my teacher that this would be my last piano class. 
   We as a society need to amend our definition of quitting. In my case, quitting did not make me weak or incapable, it made me more honest with myself and involved in activities I truly loved doing. Letting something go is not always the easiest option because it forces you to recognize that you are different than the image you had in your head. Quitting can be a symbol of growth and maturity and not always of incompetence. Rather than desperately clinging to the past, it is more effective sometimes to just let it go.

Disney nailed it with Moana

Moana is Disney’s most recent hit. The story is about a girl who turns her head to all opposition to run to what she felt was calling her in order to save her homeland.  She later realizes that the call she was feeling was coming from within herself.

I think that everyone should watch this movie. It was inspiring to me, even as a high schooler. Maybe this is the English nerd in me talking but the symbolism in the movie was so perfectly planned to resonate with older people, and the story was expressive enough for the message to resonate with children, even if they just understood the literal meaning. The message itself was a powerful one: When you listen to your heart, you can open yourself to your unknown potential.

As teenagers I think we get so wrapped up in things like school, extra-curriculars, relationships, friendships and college, that we forget what it’s like to chase something we’re passionate about. We smirk when we think about going with your gut or listening to your heart because doing something just to try it and see where it takes us just seems too pointless. But I think that if we took some time to think about this story, we could be surprised at how much we can learn:

The movie was about a girl who wanted to  venture far out into the ocean for no reason, other than the fact that she felt like it was calling her to save her island. She was perfectly fine where she was but she wasn’t satisfied until she went as far out as she wanted to go. Once that happened, she faced obstacles and opposition from her family but ended up doing something great by fighting the obstacles and opposition. Nothing told her to go out to sea except her heart. And when she listened to it, she was able to save a whole island. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t think with your head, but remember to listen to your heart as well. What you accomplish might surprise you.

Isolation

They’re afraid of me.

I don’t blame them.

The concrete walls I built

turned them away.

They take a step forward

and I launch a fireball to their face.

Why bear the burn?

It’s easier just to run.
They retreat.

Disappointed.

Hurt.

Scared.

What happened to their daughter?
The sweet open book

became a cold mystery right before their eyes.

So I don’t blame them.

Because I too would be afraid

of a stranger

who was once

all I had.

Ventura brings awareness to disabled community at DD Advocacy and Awareness day

Originally published on thecspn.com

Students arounds around the state of Ohio stood up to make their voices heard, and among them was an outstanding student from Mason High School.

On March 8, senior Jose’ Ventura represented Warren County at the Developmental Disability (DD) Advocacy and Awareness Day. This annual event is funded by a grant from the Ohio Developmental Disabilities Council (ODDC) and was held at the Ohio statehouse. At the event, the attendees spoke to senators and heard speeches from students and from Governor John Kasich.

Ventura said the purpose of the event was to make the government aware of the importance of funding services and facilities for disabled people.

“We talked to one of the (senators) about transportation for the advocacy group,” Ventura said. “(We also talked about) people who need transportation for their disabilities and medicaid waivers.”

This is Ventura’s first year going, and he said he enjoyed seeing his peers both within and outside his group.

“It was my first time, and it was awesome to be there,” Ventura said. “Each of the counties had some people there to represent them, (and) most of the people from the advocacy group that I’m in were there.”

Ventura said one thing that inspired him was hearing about how one student was able to play guitar and show that having a disability does not put a limit on what someone can do.

“There was one boy who gave a speech who also learned to play guitar and is in a band,” Ventura said. “(He played) two songs on his guitar, but he told us how he achieved getting there. He mostly did it by himself, but he also had parent (support).”

Work Study and Transition Coordinator Keri Thompson said the underlying purpose of the event is to educate the people who can help the individuals who are disabled by providing funding.

“The purpose is just to show that people with disabilities can do anything they want to do; it’s just that they may need some support to get there,” Thompson said. “And that was the whole point: To try to make sure the policy makers and the people in charge of funding realize that those policies and that money does go to do some good things.”

Thompson said she is proud of Ventura for attending and taking initiative at the conference.

“We’re very proud of Jose’ representing us there,” Thompson said. “He did a great job, and he approached Governor Kasich on his own and said, ‘Hey can I get a picture with you?’ So that’s a pretty big deal that he actually sought him out for a picture.”

Tragedy or comedy?

We just finished reading Macbeth in English, and it made me think back to reading Romeo and Juliet last year. One of the major issues we discussed in that play was whether it was a tragedy or comedy. What is interesting to me is how one piece of writing can be rightfully argued as two genres that are about as opposite as they can be. There are plenty of essays with compelling evidence for either side even today, hundreds of years later.

We prepared for this essay with sheet that listed the elements of comedy and the elements of tragedy so we could analyze the play using those to help us make our decision. I remember having a very tough time choosing because both seemed right when I was actively searching for each element.

I do want to clarify one thing: comedy doesn’t always mean laughing until you can’t breathe, especially not in Shakespeare’s time. When people argue this play as a comedy, they are not saying that it’s comparable to modern sit-coms or comedic plays of this generation. They are analyzing the play from a technical point of view. In a tragedy, something specific usually happens to the main character, and in a comedy, something different usually happens. So even if you didn’t find Romeo and Juliet a knee slapper, you can still argue it as a comedy.

With all of that being said I think it’s really interesting how a shift in perspective can turn something from a tragedy into a comedy or vice versa. If you look at the same story from a different angle, your whole perception of it can change. With some more analyzing and my love of sit-coms, I have found that this principle holds true with a lot of comedy shows today. If you take the most basic summary of the show, and say it, it can go either way. What makes these shows funny are oftentimes the delivery of the lines and the fact that the readers know it’s a comedy. Even the shows that have jokes in their scripts and are clearly funny could be argued either way at its most basic level:

Master of None– This is a Netflix comedy created by Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang. Oftentimes, the humor in this show is created by situational humor, rather than jokes in the script. The show does cover a lot of heavy material such as racism in the media, but the reason that people find it funny and not more like a drama is because they know it’s a comedy so the look for and pay more attention to the comedic elements rather than the serious ones. With a few tweaks in production, this is one of those shows that could easily be a drama (at least the first half of the season) because the subject matter is pretty heavy and you probably would not find very many jokes if you read the script–it’s all about the way the script was delivered.

The next shows I am going to talk about don’t follow that format, but I still think it’s interesting how the one-sentence idea of the show can be read different ways, even though it is not directly related to my point about Shakespeare. Just read:

Speechless–An ABC comedy created by Scott Silveri. This is about a boy who has a mental disorder that costs him the ability to speak. The show focuses on how he lives his life without speaking, and how his family tries to help him.

The Office (American version)–An NBC comedy adapted for American TV by Greg Daniels (originally on BBC created by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant). This is essentially about a boss at a paper company who desperately wants to befriend his employees and fit in with everyone at his office. Once he leaves the show, it becomes about employees living their lives at a paper company.

The Mindy Project–A formerly FOX and currently Hulu comedy created by Mindy Kaling. This show is about an Ob/Gyn who is single and desperately trying to settle down, find love, and get married.

This probably isn’t profound at all–just something that is hitting me right now. But if you read what each show is about, it does not sound like a comedy. Speechless and The Mindy Project sound like dramas, and The Office sounds sad and kind of boring (which is so hard for me to write because it is my favorite show of all time). But they are all hilarious. The Office and The Mindy Project has scripts that will make you laugh out loud because of the amount of jokes in them, and Speechless has funny scripts but a lot of what makes it funny is the stage direction and the delivery of the lines.

I even remember watching a panel discussion of The Mindy Project because I love the show, and the cast went down the line and talked about their favorite romantic comedies. I found it funny how a cast member would sometimes name a film, and someone else would argue it as a drama, because they focused on different aspects of the movies and looked for different elements of “tragedy” and comedy. The same movie, with a different perspective, can be taken in such different ways, even when we are given more than just the script. Maybe it’s just the writer in me, but I find it fascinating.

 

Pasta for pennies campaign continues; Nerf Madness raises money for cause

(Originally published on thecspn.com)

Forget about March madness, Nerf Madness is where everyone’s at.

On February 10, Mason students gathered in the Mason Intermediate 45 gym for National Honor Society’s annual event Nerf Madness to raise money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Co-advisor Sheila Nimer said that this is their third year doing Nerf Madness, which was created by Connor McCormic, Jackson Brown, Sam Wendell, Dylan Bryant, Carver Nabb, and Connor Bryan.

Nimer said that this event raises money for a good cause in an interesting and fun way.

“I just think it’s a different way to get groups of people together and just another way to raise money for a great cause,” Nimer said. “Instead of asking for donations, it’s having fun, but the money goes to something near and dear to our hearts in Mason.”

NHS President Nathan Rodrigues said that they beat their turnout goal of 50 teams and beat last year’s total of $2,200.

“We had 75 teams, which is the most we’ve had ever,” Rodrigues said. “We’ve already exceeded everything we’ve done in the past, and we’re really excited about it.”

Junior Naren Singh said that he’s excited to compete with the school in a fun way after all of the work done during the school day.

“It’s a pretty big event,” Singh said. “So being able to compete in groups and having so much fun on a Friday while still doing schoolwork is pretty cool.”

Junior Lorayne Perez said that she and her friends are excited to try something new and become closer as a group.

“(We’re excited) for the new experience and to be closer and have more fun as a group,” Perez said.

Perez said that she was surprised to see that some of the people at the event were not high schoolers.

“I thought there were going to be less people,” Perez said. “I thought it was going to be just high school, so it’s a lot of people.”

Rodrigues said that he enjoys seeing the community come together and have fun while still supporting an important cause.

“My favorite part of Nerf Madness is getting to see the entire community come out and have fun while the money goes for a good cause,” Rodrigues said. “Basically anyone coming from the intermediate school all the way up to senior year (can come).”