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An Abortion of Rights: The Problem with Poland’s Newest Ruling

By: Sarah Ansari

Protests have been raging in Poland since October 22, when the court passed a ban on abortions for fetal anomalies, which made up the majority of legal abortions within the country in 2019. With the ban in place, abortions are now only allowed under Polish law in the cases of incest, rape, or threat to the parent’s health. Poland’s ties with the Catholic Church, however, also enable the doctors themselves to refuse abortions or contraceptives on the grounds of religion. While this mass of demonstrations is one of the largest the country has seen in decades, it is not the first surrounding the matter of abortion. Government officials in Poland have repeatedly attempted to make the legislation regarding the termination of pregnancy stricter, but have been met with opposition and protests each time.

The most common argument besides religious beliefs against the termination of pregnancy in the case of fetal defects is that it’s cruel to tamper with potential life simply because of disability. However, this sentiment projects blame entirely onto the parent without looking at the situation that led to them making their choice. 

So, What is the Situation?

Although there’s no way to pry into the mind of every person who decides to get an abortion, we can come to an educated guess about the factors that play into the decision to terminate a pregnancy due to fetal anomalies by looking at the numbers. 

Most countries rule that abortion is permitted until the 12th or 20th week of pregnancy. After the 12th week, doctors willing to perform the procedure are harder to find, except in some rare circumstances. The first trimester screening which looks for fetal defects, however, occurs between the 11th and 13th weeks of pregnancy

Many pregnancies are unplanned, and may go undetected for a bit longer than usual, especially since symptoms vary between individuals– with some experiencing them after a few weeks, and others not experiencing them for months. An estimate for the amount of time it takes to be alerted to an unplanned pregnancy is 4 weeks, a.k.a the time it would take to notice a missed period. Between awareness of the pregnancy and the 12th week, therefore, the parent has 8 weeks (around 2 months) to make their choice. Abortion is a life-altering decision, and one that does take time to consider, although it turns out that only 10-18% of women who approached an abortion clinic for information were uncertain about getting one.

Compiling all this information, it’s safe to say that at the point when the first trimester screening is performed, enough time has passed to deduce that the parent wants to keep the child. To flip that decision is not something that they would take lightly; it doesn’t take a study (but here’s one anyway) to show that the parent is far from apathetic about the fetus (as some in opposition to abortion would believe), but undergoes severe trauma and grief.

Then, Why Do They Choose to Abort?

While it’s easy to say that the parent should have the child regardless of the fetal anomalies, some parents simply can not afford to accommodate a kid with disabilities. A study regarding the costs to raise a child with a disability until the age of 18 revealed added expenses ranging from $180-$8,000 a year (NOTE: the definition of disability is this study was very broad, so the minimum costs could be higher, depending on criteria). The cost of raising a child in the United States until age 18 is approximately $233,000. Going with a median number of about $4,000/yr ($72,000 over 18 years) for the added costs of raising a child with a disability in the U.S., we discover that it’s approximately 31% more expensive.

The average cost of raising a child in Poland is 49,000 pln. Assuming that Poland’s healthcare system is not as bad as the United States’ (although I will talk more later about how it still is not the best), I will give a rough estimate of about 20% higher expenses for raising a child with a disability– bringing the grand total to 58,800 pln. The average salary in Poland is around 5,000 pln/yr.  Raising a child with a disability costs about 12 years of salary versus the typical 9 years worth.

Enough with the Numbers, What Does this Mean?

It’s simple, really; as much as a person might want to have a child (although it’s okay if they don’t), they sometimes do not have the means to provide the kid with the life they deserve, and should not be shamed for that.

People desperate enough to get abortions will find a means to obtain one regardless, and may resort to dangerous methods. Ultimately the fixation upon restricting access to abortions comes down to one thing: a prioritzation of prenatal life, and a disregard for the already-born.

Abortions are allowed if the parent’s health is in danger. I’m sure you recall me saying that at the beginning of this article, unless the big mass of numbers in the middle made your eyes go all fuzzy. The toll of working tirelessly just to make ends meet to provide for both parent and child is in itself a detriment to health for both parties. While the Polish government does provide some assistance for those raising children with disabilities, the stipends granted are still not nearly enough, and often only cover the child’s bare necessities. The age-old (and totally true) saying is that disability is a product of environment, rather than the fault of an individual. The expenses behind caring for a child with a disability points towards systemic problems with how countries deal with disabilities, and blame should be placed upon the system, rather than the individuals who fall victim to it.

Back to Poland

With all the information gathered about the reasons someone might choose to undergo an abortion for prenatal defects, the outrage felt by protestors is justified. However, the government is attempting to shift the rhetoric of blame back to the people, rather than holding themselves accountable.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, gatherings of more than five people are prohibited in Poland, yet the protests break this rule. The Polish government blames the recent spike in coronavirus cases on protestors, choosing to villainize them rather than listen to what they’re saying. Yes, protesting during a pandemic is less than ideal, but without action, the people would have to watch their rights stripped away in front of their eyes. Many believe that the Polish government even took advantage of the pandemic in the hopes that the law would pass without a fight.

In fact, the government is the primary actor to blame for the surge of COVID cases, not the people. As recently as the end of October (around the time when the protests began), the German government reached out to Poland to offer aid in dealing with the pandemic. While Polish officials thanked Germany, they insisted that they need no outside help, and that they are self-sufficient.While some may argue that this statement was made before the protests began to grow, and that perhaps Poland was self-sufficient at the time their refusal of aid was made, that notion is incorrect. Poland has been having issues dealing with the coronavirus for months now, almost since the virus began (take this article written in April as an example). To that end, officials are using the virus as an excuse of convenience to silence protestors, rather than taking active measures to stop the spread. 

Amidst the villainization of protestors, Poland has also mobilized riot police to monitor the crowds. While protestors did partake in vandalism, the demonstrations were largely peaceful. Either way, property damage does not justify the pepper spraying of protestors and excessive use of force. Here are links to some twitter posts that capture instances of brutality, but please be aware that footage can be graphic. These examples are also not meant to sensationalize violence, but to provide evidence for people who would argue in favour of the Polish police. (x, x, x, x)

The most recent update regarding the abortion ban in Poland has it that the ruling will be delayed, which is only a minor victory for protestors. Officials still intend to carry through with their plans, although they are willing to engage in “dialogue” with the citizens. Polish president Andrzej Duda has attempted to placate protestors by offering a “compromise” that will allow abortions in the case of fatal fetal defects. Such a compromise is only lip-service to attempt to mitigate backlash, rather than a substantive acknowledgment of the reasoning behind the protests. The Polish government and its abortion rulings are, ultimately, just another instance in which a majority (cis) male-dominated body places restrictions upon women and others with reproductive capacities without letting the people who are affected voice their own opinions.

If you wish to help protestors, this website provides some resources that you can contribute to: https://www.bustle.com/life/how-to-help-protestors-against-anti-abortion-laws-in-poland

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Donald Trump Solves the Healthcare Crisis!

By: Sarah Ansari

Friday, October 3, President Donald Trump was admitted to the Walter Reed Medical Center, infected with COVID-19. Toupee matted with exertion, the president fought valiantly for his life, the fluorescent lights of the hospital illuminating the sheen of sweat on his leathery, orange-toned brow. Gasping for breath, the president could only whisper a faint, “wrong” when instead of going for the bottles of bleach known to be the cure-all for COVID, the doctors instead went for more traditional drugs. 

Perhaps if the medical professionals had listened to Donald, known by himself to be a “very stable genius”, he would have been released within the day. However, the doctors (now under investigation as foreign spies) refused to listen to the president tell them how to do their job.

Still, Trump displayed an amazing resilience in the face of adversity. Unlike the Americans spending months in crowded hospitals recovering from Corona or the 200,000 people who have died in the United States, Trump managed to recover within days. Some insist that he was only able to do so because of his access to free, top-notch healthcare and a personal team of the nation’s top doctors. However, the president put those rumours to rest. Ever magnanimous, Trump released a statement revealing the secrets behind his recovery:

I will be leaving the great Walter Reed Medical Center today at 6:30 P.M. Feeling really good! Don’t be afraid of Covid. Don’t let it dominate your life. We have developed, under the Trump Administration, some really great drugs & knowledge. I feel better than I did 20 years ago!

What his hands lack in size, Trump makes up for in his brains, solving a global issue with a single tweet. 

Tons of U.S. citizens lament the country’s healthcare crisis– talking about inflated costs for medical treatment, the way hospitals favour the rich (with poor people often going broke just to be treated), and the overall lack of accessibility of the system. But, with Mr. Trump’s sage words of wisdom, those issues are a thing of the past.

Don’t let it dominate your life.

Unlike the right to abortion, to Donald Trump, sickness is a choice, a question– and much like the question as to whether he should be re-elected, the answer is no

(Remember to vote!: https://vote.gov/)

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So, We Have VR, but Queer Representation is too Far-Fetched for Gaming?

By: Sarah Ansari

When young, children tend to gravitate towards characters that they see themselves in or that they admire, taking them on as role models who shape their attitudes and ways of thinking. The world grows more globalized in lieu of new technology, allowing media to be streamed across a multitude of platforms. Because of this, more people from different walks of life can access video game content from around the world in some form– as YouTube videos, simulators, or physical copies. Representation in video games is more important than ever; consumers wish to see characters in their favourite franchises they can relate to and find a role model in. 

There are about forty video game franchises where one or more games in the series has a queer character. The key word here is “a”. Within each game, there’s usually only one such character (seldom more). Oftentimes, the portrayal of queerness is not made explicit within the game either, but constitutes “deep lore”. Non-casual gamers would have to look through interviews and other supplemental material to find any information on the gender or sexual identity of their favourite characters. 

Take Toad from the Super Mario Bros franchise as an example. Although Toad is assumed to be male, Nintendo revealed in a 2014 interview that Toad was created without a specific gender in mind. While the presence of an agender character in a franchise familiar to even non-gamers seems progressive, the announcement of Toad/Toadette’s lack of gender only six years ago when the characters have been present in Mario since 1985 (and have stereotypically gendered traits) comes across as performative, especially since none of the games ever make mention of this information.

Although Nintendo is a Japanese company, a majority of its revenue comes from sales in the Americas. Around the same time period in which Toad’s agender identity was announced, the United States was going through political reform with the legalization of same-sex marriage (four states legalized it in 2014, and all fifty states had legalized it by 2015). While the timeline of these events could be coincidental, Nintendo had to be well aware of how Toad was perceived, yet they never made a public announcement of their identity until directly asked.  The information itself was revealed to Gamespot magazine, a popular gaming news company with a predominantly Western audience (the company does have a Japan branch, established in 2007, but it’s arguably less well-known than the American and UK branches). The original article was written by an American writer as well and published in English. As a result, Toad’s “gender reveal” feels more like a placating publicity stunt than a sincere attempt at representation.

Nintendo’s controversial portrayals of queer characters do not stop at Toad, however. The Fire Emblem series, known primarily through its multitude of characters in Smash (such as Marth and Ike), has recently begun representing LGBTQ+ relationships in-game, allowing players (in some games) to choose their gender and/or to be in a same-sex relationship.

The most recently released game in the franchise, Fire Emblem: Three Houses, is perhaps the most progressive installment yet, having a number of queer characters present in it. However, Fire Emblem games have a long history with their mistreatment of LGBTQ+ characters and the controversies that have arisen over the years are a reminder that not all representation is necessarily “good”, especially when it promotes harmful stereotypes or practices. The games themselves are strategy-based RPGs with battle mechanics that mimic a game of chess (using a turn-based system). The plots of the games revolve around politics and war, where players must fight against characters that, in another playthrough, might have been their allies and friends. Rather than being solely battle-focused, however, character interactions and relationship-building are prioritized, which is where the discussion of queer politics begins.

Before Three Houses was conceived of, Fire Emblem: Fates offered same-sex romance options– and came under fire for homophobic content. The game was sold in two different versions, Conquest and Birthright, each with vastly different plots (as they take place from different sides of the warring nations). In one version, the player controls a male main character, and is allowed one gay option; in the other, they play as a female and have a single lesbian option. The ability to play one storyline over the other, therefore, directly conflicts with the player’s choice of sexuality. Players looking for representation must sacrifice their choice in game route or must pay for the other version of the game. In addition, each of the queer romantic options is typecasted as villainous. The male, Zero, is casted as sadistic, while the female, Syalla, stalks potential romantic interests. Rather than uplifting a minority who might be excited about seeing some in-game representation, Fates makes a caricature of queerness.

In the same game, an openly lesbian character (Soleil) is only romanceable by the male version of the protagonist. The reasoning behind this pairing begins with Soleil continually being “distracted” by women on the battlefield. In order to remedy this “issue”, the player must give her a powder that causes her to see men as women and women as men. When the powder wears off, Soleil returns to finding girls attractive, although she makes an “exception” for the male main character. Not only does the scene imply that Soleil was drugged, but the fact that her sexuality is treated as a problem in need of fixing in reminiscent of gay conversion therapy. Within a few minutes of gameplay, LGBTQ+ players are ostracized and given a negative form of representation that can easily damage self-perception. Nintendo responded to the backlash by removing the scene from Western copies of the game, although evidence of it still exists online and in non-localized versions as a monument towards the microaggressions experienced as a queer gamer. 

In Fire Emblem: Three Houses, Nintendo is much more lenient about the amount of romantic dialogue they include between characters of the same sex. However, the conversations are often portrayed as “friendly” despite undertones that suggest otherwise. For example, two characters, Sylvain and Felix, have an A+ support, the highest level Sylvain has with any character except one (and barring a paired ending). 

For context, support levels mark how close characters are to one another, ranging from C to S. Some characters only have up to B supports with one another, some have no supports at all. The “+” supports (C+, B+, A+) are not present in every pairing (some can have just C, B, A or C+, B, A, etc.). A+ is the highest support attainable barring a paired ending… which Sylvain and Felix have together as well. If they’re paired, the story details their life as they grow so close to one another that they pass away on the same day, as if “conceding that one could not live without the other”. The trope of two people caring for one another so deeply they die together frequents romantic movies such as The Notebook; arguably, if Sylvain and Felix were of opposite genders, the pairing would have been romantic, rather than friendly (they have another childhood friend, Ingrid, who automatically has a marriage option with them because she is female).

Other characters, such as the leader of the Blue Lions House, Dimitri, continually have (arguably) romantic interactions with both versions of the main character (Byleth), but are locked to romancing only the opposite sex. Dimitri lets Byleth know that their smile is “mesmerizing”– regardless of gender– and continually tells them how brilliant they are, how much they mean to him, and how they are one of the most important people in his life, yet he remains a romanceable option only to female Byleth. Many players feel as though the game even wants you to romance him with how heavily he is pushed onto the main character (who aside from one line is not treated differently by him, regardless of gender). Queerbaiting remains an issue due to the fact that homoerotic subtext is used to attract LGBT+ consumers, while the company refuses to alienate more “conservative” consumers. In doing this, queer players find themselves cast aside or told that their experience is secondary.

Let me be frank– Fire Emblem: Three Houses is my favourite game. I have nearly 700 hours in it, I’ve replayed it seven times, and I’m still not tired of it. It depicts the struggles of mental health, the horrors of war, the importance of relationships. I think it’s a masterpiece. But I would be an idiot to turn a blind eye to its faults– of which I’ve only scratched the bare minimum. There’s a proper way to represent queerness, and while Three Houses made an attempt, it fell flat in many ways.

Perhaps a better example of an LGBTQ+ character would be Bloodhound, from Apex Legends. The character is canonically non-binary, with their voice actor (Allegra Clark), one of their writers (Manny Hagopian), and a backstory video confirming this fact. I admittedly do not have as much expertise on Apex as I do Three Houses, but from what I’ve gathered, Bloodhound is a smash-hit amongst the queer fanbase because they’re written… like a person. They do not embody harmful stereotypes and their sexuality isn’t made into their personality. Instead, they’re treated with the same attention and respect as any other character in the franchise; Apex Legends isn’t merely trying to win “representation points”, but is making an attempt to be more inclusive towards its audience. 

One problem with how LGBTQ+ people are represented in the media circles around companies attempting to make a singular character a “catch-all” for an entire demographic of people. I mentioned earlier that typecasting queer characters as villainous is harmful. However, I feel I must elaborate more on that. The representation becomes harmful when the villainous characteristics are portrayed as entwined with queerness. If the only LGBTQ+ representation that a game offers is a villain, the game is implicitly sending a message that “good” people are heterosexual and cisgender and “bad” people are the opposite. Queer characters can be villains, so long as there is representation of queerness amongst the heroes as well. When cisgender, hetero characters are written, their sexuality is given no thought– seen as the default. Instead, they are written as a person before all else. While queerness is an important part of identity and should not be entirely written off, it should be discussed in productive ways that open conversation and should not automatically become a character’s personality. While this article focused mainly on Nintendo games, save for the brief mention of Apex, they are not the only company at fault with their portrayal of LGBTQ+ characters. Rather, they’re the company I feel most qualified to criticise because of how involved I am with their games, moreso than any other company. While we can enjoy the media we consume, we have a duty to not turn a blind eye to its failings. Criticism of the things we enjoy sparks conversations about how they could improve and incentivizes producers to do better in the future. Gaming is, for most, a recreational activity, and people deserve to find comfort and camaraderie within the games they play. Perhaps it seems silly to some, but finding a character to relate to can shift people’s perspectives on their life and give them hope. And who are any of we to deprive someone that?

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What’s Happening in Lebanon?

By: Sarah Ansari

Early in the morning last week, I opened up Instagram to mindlessly scroll through memes and came across a recording of a Tik Tok video. The girl in it smiled, looking as though she were about to break into song. She just made her way outside when something on the horizon caught her attention. Her eyes widened for a brief moment before she turned and ran back into the house. Her formerly amiable expression contorted to one of fear as she screamed. 

The explosion in Beirut, caught live. 

Lebanon has been caught in the crossfires of humanitarian, political, and economic crises, and to protestors, the explosion is yet another sign of governmental neglect and corruption. The ammonium nitrate that caused the explosion had been impounded as cargo back in 2013, and although worries were voiced about the safety of the chemicals, no action was taken by officials to address the concerns. Blame for the tragedy was passed around, with no one wanting to bear the brunt of responsibility(*1).

In the streets, the righteous anger of protestors steeped to an inferno. Security forces were sent to quell the protests, and videos circling online display an excessive use of force– particularly tear gas and rubber bullets– by the dispatched units (*2). The brutality used by security forces on protestors displays the intention of the government to silence rather than to listen.

But how could a government not expect retaliation from its people when it boasts a 25% unemployment rate, pervasive poverty, a trash crisis, lack of clean drinking water, and unreliable power? All these issues existed before the worldwide spread of the coronavirus and have only been aggravated since. The devaluation of the Lebanese pound and poorly-dealt with wildfires only fueled the growing resentment for the government(*3). Meanwhile, the sectarian nature of Lebanese politics prevented any decisive maneuvers to address the people’s concerns. 

With eighteen religious groups dividing power based on their population, and the inability to make any “major decisions [..] without the consent of all major religious communities, even the election losers”(*4), the political atmosphere within Lebanon remains stagnant and prone to the decay which it is and has been experiencing. Think of the deadlocks that can come with a divided Congress in the U.S., but multiply the discordant parties by nine. Without major reforms to the political system, the troubles in Lebanon will continue to grow, since the government will spend more time debating than fixing the issues. However, to bring about changes to the distribution of power and to hold officials accountable for their actions, the same officials have to agree to the reforms, something which they have had little incentive to do until recently (*5).

Following the explosion in Beirut, calls for the prime minister, Hassan Diab’s, resignation multiplied, and finally culminated in the resignation of himself and his cabinet on Monday, August 10. In an interview with npr (*6), blogger Gino Raidy discussed the incompetence the Lebanese government displayed following the blast, and noted that “the people […] took charge of the search and rescue, the relief effort, fundraising, and campaigning”. In other words, the resignation of the current officials places Lebanon in the same state they were in before; reforms and other efforts (humanitarian, environmental, etc.) are spearheaded by the people, rather than their representatives. 

Raidy does mention the near-certainty of widespread reform now that the government has been dismantled, although if foreign aid gets funneled through the officials, funds will likely go directly into their pockets, rather than to rebuilding and rehousing efforts. Because of this, the humanitarian aid offered to Lebanon comes on the condition that definitive reforms are made to combat the issues discussed earlier (*7). With the stage set for the reconstruction of the Lebanese government, the actions taken now, at this tipping point, will decide the country’s future.

If you wish to send aid to Lebanon, make sure to donate to the Lebanese Red Cross. Various people from Lebanon have said online that it is the most reliable organization to ensure humanitarian aid goes directly to the people.

SOURCES/FOOTNOTES:

This article acts primarily as a simplified overview of what’s happening in Lebanon for people who are unfamiliar with the crises. For further reading into the cited issues, I recommend reading through these articles, which discuss the issues in more depth.

  1. https://www.npr.org/2020/08/07/899776352/beiruts-explosion-looks-like-an-accident-and-a-sign-of-the-country-s-collapse
  2. https://www.hrw.org/blog-feed/lebanon-protests
  3. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-53390108
  4. https://www.pri.org/stories/2014-02-22/why-lebanese-politics-are-so-messed
  5. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/08/lebanon-pm-hassan-diab-resigns-anger-beirut-blast-200810135202076.html
  6. https://www.npr.org/2020/08/10/901064416/lebanese-government-resigns-in-response-to-protests-over-explosion-in-beirut
  7. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-lebanon-security-blast/change-needed-in-lebanon-after-beirut-blast-says-german-foreign-minister-idUSKCN258189
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Reading the Future

By: Sarah Ansari

By the time my mother found the source of the crashing, my sister and I had already destroyed much of the wiring on the tennis rackets. She rushed amidst the fray, eyebrows furrowed and demanding that we call a truce in our battle before proceeding to scold us for our carelessness. Try as we might to justify our actions, my mom did not seem to understand the pressing importance of learning to sword fight, a skill which I was certain from my extensive research would come in handy one day.

My scholarly sources had been discovered a few months ago– my kindergarten had been hosting some competition, and I was a victor, my spoils consisting of several DVD movies, amongst which was A Quest for Camelot. Unlike the quality of the box TV that I played the movie on, I remember my first reaction with perfect clarity:

This is knock-off Disney.

Imagine my own surprise, then, when I found I could not tear my eyes away from the screen. The daring female protagonist with ambition to become a knight; the blind, witty hermit with his falcon; and the twin-headed dragons became regular guests in my household from that day forward. Four year-old me would sit in front of the T.V. with bright eyes, inching closer whenever I thought my parents were not watching and absorbing every detail I could about the fascinating new world of kings, magic, and heroes.

Really, the sword fights were a long time coming.

The grievances my parents held only multiplied as time passed. I consumed books about knights and mythology and monsters and samurais and cryptids at an alarming rate, reading by night light through the witching hour until dawn. Seeds, rocks, and plants mysteriously found their way into the crevices of our home for “potion-making” and other dastardly schemes I devised. At any given time, my bathroom held at least three hidden bottles filled with baby powder, water, deodorant, shampoo and other such ingredients, carefully selected to brew concoctions that were not so much magical as they were attractants for mold.

By the time second grade rolled around, a six year old me arrived from school every day with my backpack stuffed full of rosemary and other herbs I found in the wild (read: in the schoolyard) to present to my mom. Although I insisted she use them in her cooking, and she always promised that she did, I am beginning to suspect that was a lie. (Of course, when I say that I “suspect that”, what I mean is that I spoke to my mom recently, reminding her of my propensity to play gatherer, and she said that no, she never used the plants I brought home, because getting poisoned would be quite the inconvenience.)

Such anecdotes defined my life, although at the time, nothing I did was for play, and I performed my magical rituals with all the seriousness only a small child can muster. The same year as the potion incidents, my teacher had us write about what we wanted to be when we grew up.

More admirable than anything else about children is the complete belief that they possess in their capability to do anything. Never for a moment did my peers falter as they chattered excitedly about their ambitions to become singers, astronauts, doctors, and in my case, a knight. 

Holding onto the same wide-eyed hope of a younger me today would equate to nothing more than delusional naivete, but at the time, I believed with all my heart that the words I penned were truth. I distinctly remember the tremble in my hand and the shortness of my breath as I wrote the wish I thought framed my destiny.

I’d always been a big reader, due in large part to an insatiable curiosity that had me nagging my mother to teach me everything that my older sister was learning in school well before I had even begun it myself. If the origins of my personality were examined, it would require a long list of citations– a majority consisting of fiction. My stubbornness and love of languages came from constant re-reads of Ella Enchanted, a book which holds such a dear place in my heart that I make sure to pick it up at least once or twice a year and whenever I’m feeling sad. The fighting spirit (that has made my family joke that I would be a horrible secretary) and my admittedly too-sharp-at-times tongue trails its way back to Esmeralda from Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

I saw and imagined these powerful women breaking through the status quo and standing up for what they believed in, just as much a hero as any of their male counterparts. Their stories buried deep within me and filled me with dreams so grand that I blame the weight of them for my short stature. 

As I grew older, I became increasingly disenchanted with the notion I would ever become a knight. My mother laughingly remarked that when she had gone to the parent-teacher conference with my second grade teacher, they had talked about the essay declaring my path to knighthood and the other works I’d turned in throughout class. My teacher had leaned in with a conspiratorial smile and told my mom,

“Please tell her to mention me when she publishes her first book.”

Forward the reel to college, and here I am, an English major. An English major who fences, dabbles in archery, and has worked closely with birds of prey. My dream of sitting at the Round Table likely won’t be fulfilled (although you know who to call if you see a dragon), but the influences of my childhood heroes still burn within me, stuck in my heart like Caliburn in the stone. They, along with the real-life female role models who surround me (such as my mother and that teacher from long ago), have forged me into who I am today. 

When I write, I yearn for people to find the same comfort and camaraderie that I was lucky enough to experience in my work. Having someone (real or not) to look up to, that represents them, can shape a child’s future, instilling them with that indelible assuredness that they can do absolutely anything that they set their minds and hearts upon. The words they consume– read, hear, write down in a rowdy second grade classroom– might just frame their destiny.