With a sigh, I placed my head on my hand, propping it up while I stared at the instructor in front of me. His voice was monotonous, dry, and he seemed to drone on for ages. I’d always had a bit of an issue with paying attention during lectures anyway, but this man did nothing to keep my attention. My mind wandered, as it often did when things left me bored and uninterested. Sometimes it would just wander to what next class would be about. Other times, I would think about my chores for later in the day. It never wandered to anywhere particularly interesting, but wherever it went always seemed more interesting than the lectures at hand.
Except for today.
Today, as my mind started to wander, it seemed almost as if what I was seeing was blurring together and changing into a different world completely. Instead of going to thoughts of things that would concern me later that day, I went to a world of fog. Dark, deep, dense fog.
It was neither cold nor hot, but the air was heavy with the stuff. As the fog swirled around me slightly, I saw a faint light in the distance, almost beckoning me towards it and away from the darkness the fog held. It was towards that light that I wandered.
The journey out of the fog seemed to last ages. I would stumble, fall, and pick myself up. At one point, a fall scraped both my knees and palms, but as I had done before, I picked myself up and continued on. My urgency to get out of the fog wasn’t because it frightened me. In fact, there was no fear in this place at all. The fog that surrounded me provided a sense of security and comfort. I somehow knew that whatever was at that light was something I needed to get to, and that knowledge fueled my sense of urgency to get out of the fog. The lighter the fog got, though, the more difficult the terrain became, and the more frequently I stumbled along my path.
Almost without warning the fog broke, clearing my view to a forest thick with spring and new growth. Moss covered the ground beneath my now surprisingly bare feet. I curled my toes against it, enjoying the softness it provided and the coolness that came from it. Behind me, the fog I had just left seemed to have disappeared completely. Instead, I was surrounded by trees – ash, birch, and aspen – that were just starting to bud. Off in the distance, I heard a robin’s song as it went about its business. In front of me, I saw a large willow, and unlike the trees around it, this tree was fully green, as if winter had not stripped it bare of its clothing.
A narrow dirt path led up to the tree as tall grasses grew on either side of it. I headed towards the willow, curious about it and how green it had remained, and the closer I got, the shorter the grass became until was once again replaced by moss. The ground underneath the tree was home to a variety of blooming flowers. Some were tall, narrow, and purple; others looked like short, fat bushes covered in pinks and whites. Here and there, I could see lone yellows, oranges, and reds. I couldn’t begin to name them all, and some I didn’t even recognize.
This magical forest delighted me. With a small smile, I found a patch of bare ground underneath the willow and sat, breathing in the sweet air that surrounded me with sigh. How could it be that, at the start of winter, this area looked so much like it was in the height of spring, or even summer? The air still held the bite of early spring, but the ground told another story completely. It was so beautiful; I wanted to stay in this place forever.
After some time, soft humming caught my attention, and I sat up straight. “Who’s there?” I called. Who was in my magical place? The hum came again, sing-song but not identifiable. “Who’s there?” I called again, but only another hum answered me.
I looked around to the other side of the willow where I had sat down, but there was no one to be seen, only more flowers and draping branches.
The humming seemed to have disappeared, so I relaxed against the willow once more, only for the humming to return, more loudly than before, and a little less melodic. I jumped to my feet and moved away from the tree, looking more carefully for the source of the sound. There was no one.
Now irritated, I turned around to head back to the sanctuary the willow had provided. Instead, I was met with a sight that dismayed me. The tree and the sanctuary it had provided were gone. In front of me sat nothing but desolation. It looked as though a fire had ravaged the forest that had been behind me just moments before. I turned to go back into the forest that should have been behind me, only to find it too had been destroyed.
Slowly I turned around, trying to find any glimpse of green. Tree stumps stuck out from the ash-covered ground, charred black and leafless. Rocks stuck up here and there across the barren landscape, and as I took in the view, the smell of smoke started to sting my lungs and eyes.
A growl came from my left. Carefully, I turned and looked at the source. A large, black wolf with bright yellow eyes. It stood there, fur bristled and teeth bared, quietly growling as it stared back at me. Now I was frightened, terrified even.
Carefully, I took a step away from it, but it moved to match me, keeping the same distance between myself and where it stood. What had I done to anger this wolf so? I took another step, but it did as before, never letting the distance between us change. It growled again before snarling and snapping at me. Startled, I fell down, landing on my butt. I pushed myself up so that I was sitting, only to see the wolf charging towards me. One arm raised up to block my face instinctively and I screamed, leaning into the other hand as it propped me up off the ground.
Air blew past me, but the grasp of teeth or pain of claws didn’t come with it. Hesitantly, I opened my eyes and looked around. The nearby forest had returned, though the meadow and willow had not. Its stump remained nearby. The hand that had kept me propped up against the wolf’s attack pressed against moss once again, rather than the ash it had felt moments before, though the patch was small and surrounded by dirt.
Wide-eyed, I dropped my defending arm and turned, to see the same wolf standing calmly behind me. The ground beneath my supporting hand seemed to shift and I looked away from the wolf. Slowly, flower buds began to emerge from the moss in a circle, and inside that circle came a large, if shallow, silver bowl. I waved my free hand towards the bowl, thinking it would go through it, that the bowl was merely some sort of illusion. Instead, it created a soft ding as it hit the bowl.
Coming around now, the wolf sat down in front of me with the bowl between us, head tilted ever so slightly to the side. It was completely, totally calm and relaxed this time, but it looked like the same wolf from moments before. I nervously got to my knees, considering if I should try to run away from the creature. It stood again, nosing at the bowl between us slightly before backing up a step or two and sitting down again. Every instinct in my mind told me to run, to get away from this creature. Instead, I sat back on my heels and stared at the creature in front of me.
His eyes pierced into mine for a few moments before turning down towards the bowl. Mine followed. Slowly, the bowl began to fill with a crystal clear water and the buds that surrounded it opened into little white blossoms. My eyes returned to the wolf then, the confusion evident on my face. What was so important about this bowl of water?
“You have to decide,” the wolf said then, in the clearest, calmest voice possible. Shock must have overtaken the confusion. I heard a light chuckle from the wolf. “You have to decide, my dear one,” he said again, taking a few steps towards me and lowering his nose towards the bowl again.
I looked down again at the bowl. An image appeared in the water depicting the spring forest, and I looked back up to him as he spoke again. “Do you follow the path that will lead you to blessings? To happiness? Or will you follow the path that will lead you to destruction and sorrow?” he explained.
The scent of smoke began to fill the area again, and I looked back into the bowl, the image now showing the desolation of before. “Understand, if you choose to keep going down the path you’ve been heading, I will fight you every step of the way. You deserve better than that, child.”
My gaze finally raised up from the bowl to the speaking wolf. “Well, where am I supposed to be heading then?” I asked him, earning nothing more than another chuckle.
The wolf walked around from the other side of the bowl towards me, pressing his body up against mine and pushing me into the bowl. “You will know when you find it.” I started to scream as I fell into the water.
The bell rang then, startling me out of my daydream. The hour had finished. Our homework was written on the board. I quickly copied it down in my notebook and left the room, walking to next period.
I noticed my palm itching slightly as I got to my locker, so I scratched at it slightly. It felt strange, so I looked at it while pulling out books with my other hand. It seemed normal at first, but the itching was replaced with a heat. I noticed what could only be described as a burn mark appear: a paw print.
Photograph made available by Maria Teneva via Unsplash
While most people can say, “Oh, I’m Hispanic,” or “I’m from Europe,” many Americans hit a point in their life where they ask themselves, “Where am I really from?” We look for something that is more precise than the possibilities that we’re given by our parents or grandparents. As Americans, unless you’re a very recent immigrant, we recognize that there’s a strong possibility that we don’t know the full story.
Up until a few weeks ago, if someone had asked me my ancestry, I would have told them “I’m Irish and German, but we also think that maybe there’s a little bit of Middle Eastern in there.” See, my mother’s side of the family has always been interested in tracing where we came from, and I had very little clue as to my biological father’s side of the family beyond my birth name, thanks to adoption. But when we have to say, “I think,” it leaves a lot of room for questions and wondering what the real story is.
So earlier this year when I was gifted a discount code by my friend Courtney to the Ancestry DNA Project, I jumped on the opportunity to learn more about myself and my family. Thankfully, the process was simple. Ancestry DNA sends you a little vial, you spit in it, and you mail it back, and then wait.
My first email from them arrived about a week after I mailed the vial back, letting me know that it had arrived and they had begun processing. It would take six to eight weeks to get my results. The next week, I had another email: my results were almost finished and I would have them in two to four weeks. A week later, I had an email sitting in my inbox. I suppose I must have hit their processing center at a time period when they weren’t that busy, because six weeks had turned to three. My results were ready to view.
In the time it took to hit a link, I went from “I’m Irish and German” to a much wider ancestry than I had even thought possible, and the more I dug into my results and DNA Matches, the more interesting the story became.
Just as I had known, there were indeed Irish and German roots in my family. However, it was the ratio of these that came as a shock. Both my mother and I had lived thinking that the two ancestral groups were fairly equal. The reality was quite different. Instead of near 50-50 split like we had expected, 80% of my ancestry is actually from the British Isles.
The remaining 20% included Western Europe, ie Germany, at a grand total of 5%, but it also included a number of other, far more interesting, results. I didn’t expect to see Scandinavia at 8% and Eastern European at 5%, or the Iberian Peninsula. I definitely wasn’t expecting Native American or Polynesia and the South Eastern Pacific, and while we had family rumor of Middle Eastern, now I finally had the proof.
Now, one thing that Ancestry DNA does is match you up with relatives, and because of this I was able to learn even more clearly where my ancestry comes from. Through this process, I was able to view the ancestry of one of my mom’s uncles, which explained her paternal history, and I was able to look at the results for one of my uncles, which explained my paternal history. I discovered that the majority of those ancestries came not from one side of the family, but from both sides.
They also give you a basic historical overview of some of the more predominant ancestries, or migrant groups they’ve been able to trace you to. For example, we had always thought that my biological father’s family had met up with my mother’s family after immigrating to America directly from Germany. Instead, Ancestry DNA traced that part of my family back to an immigrant population that first left the Rhineland and immigrated to England and lived there a significant period of time before later immigrating to America.
Of course, this whole process also opened up more questions, even as it answered others. Without further matches, we have a lot of history missing. Where and how do Scandinavia, Polynesia, and the Iberian Peninsula enter into the mix? Who was that random Native American that joined the family? Which tribe were they from? Is that Middle Eastern hit really from who we think it’s from, and was he really an immigrant from Jordan in the late 1800s? If there’s one thing this experience has taught me, it’s that we never really know what we think we know, and because of that, tracing our origins really is an endless cycle.
Photo made available by Gemma Evans via Unsplash
We spend much of our high school careers being told we have to plan for the future. You get it from the actions of the adults around you, in the questions that they ask you. What do you want to go to school for? Where are you going to school? What scholarships are you getting? Everything that happens in that four year period is to make you think about what you’re going to do for the rest of your life.
When I started high school, every question presented my way was to make me think about the future, and my high school career was geared towards a single goal. You see, as a young teenager, I had decided I was going to be an officer in the Navy, so my parents did everything they could to make sure I got there. By the time I was a junior, I was already applying for the Navy ROTC scholarship, and by the time spring my senior year hit, I was guaranteed admittance to the University of Oklahoma as an International and Area Studies student. The plan was to become a liaison officer after I graduated, a plan born out of the events of 9/11 and my understanding of how they could have been prevented with the right foreign relations, but that plan quickly fell apart.
After I learned that I wouldn’t be able to go into the career field I wanted as a Naval officer, I opted instead to enlist, still moving forward on the path to the career I picked. I spent the next six years working as a linguist. I figured I could establish myself in the enlisted ranks and work my way back up to my original goal, having gain experience relevant to the foreign relations world.
Instead, I ended up leaving the Navy, moved back to Kansas, and started going to school for a completely unrelated career field. Still, those six years taught me that I was not suited for the military life. For one, my personality was simply ill-matched, but there was also the fact that the military I had grown up with as a dependent was vastly different from the military I was working in. Attitudes had changed and bureaucracy was more rampant than I could have possibly expected, and I found myself being asked more and more to take actions I couldn’t morally agree with.
Now, I don’t regret the six years I spent in the military. Honestly, I almost stayed in for another six years, despite having learned that I didn’t really enjoy what I had picked for myself at 18 years old. I had a lot of push back from my family and a lot of doubt about where I was going to go once I got out of the military. It was nerve-wracking to leave something so stable for something so unsure.
I left the military anyway, because there was one thing I learned: whatever you do in life, you have to love doing it. Otherwise, you’re just going to go through life earning a living, to go back doing that thing you don’t like, to keep living, to keep going back to that thing.
So I’m about to say something that might make your parents cringe:
It’s ok to change your mind about where you’re going, and it’s ok to be indecisive. Stop focusing so much on your future and focus on your now. Now, not later, is the time to take the risks associated with spreading your wings and exploring the world.
Don’t worry if you get through your first semester and decide you want nothing to do with zoo science, psychology, marketing or whatever major it is you picked. Take those electives and expand beyond what you thought you’d like. You won’t know what you’ll become passionate about until you try learning new things. If you find something that you like more than what you originally picked, take the leap and go after that thing. Take the opportunity you’re being given now to learn what you love, to figure out what it is you want to do.
That isn’t to say that you shouldn’t be thinking about where you’re going to go. Whatever leaps of faith you take today, do so responsibly, but you won’t know what you will find until you try it out. At 18 years old, you’ve still got many years ahead of you, and there will be a day when it’s time to settle down. Today is not that day.
Photo made available by Evelyn Mostrom via Unsplash
Social media has taken a pervasive role in the daily lives of many internet users. Since 2012, the average daily user has increased their social media usage from 90 minutes a day to over 135 minutes a day. Previously, social media usage has been correlated with an increase in mental health disorders such as depression, low self worth, and anxiety. Still, recent studies have indicated that this increase may be due to the way we use social media, rather than how much we use it.
Enter into the mix The Orville, at times a bizarre parody of Star Trek and at times just bad TV. Terrible humor aside, The Orville does what so many other Star Trek series have done in the past: it explores social issues that are prominent in today’s society. Since the start of the series, the writers have explored the ethical and moral standing of issues such as gender reassignment surgery, theocratic governments, religious based warfare, and the social impact an advanced society can have on a more primitive society.
The seventh episode of the series, “Majority Rule,’ opted to explore the impact of social media on society. A quick warning, spoilers will follow.
In “Majority Rule”, the crew of the USS Orville arrive at a planet that resembles 21st century Earth to find two anthropologists who have been out of contact for over a month. In a deviation from the judicial system we might be familiar with, Sargas 4 utilizes a form of social media to pass judgement. Every citizen is linked into a “main feed” by wearing badges given to them when they turn 18. Each badge has two buttons, a down vote and an up vote, which affects their overall standing within the “main feed.”
Each person’s standing in society is affected by their down vote totals. They are encouraged to share videos of other citizens to the “main feed.” The morning news broadcast consists of various apology tours for those who have reached so many down votes. After 1,000,000 down votes, a person is considered a felon and must go on those apology tours. After 9,000,000 million votes, they’re considered guilty. After 10,000,000, they’re “corrected,” a process which removes all negative traits to prevent recurrences of undesired behaviors, before being reintegrated into society.
This “main feed” system is used to decide other things within society as well. At one point in time during the episode, it’s shown that something such as accepting a new vaccine or diet is dictated by the majority vote. As one of the Sargonian characters mentions, something is right or wrong based on what the majority says. Something’s acceptability or someone’s guilt or innocence is dependant solely upon the majority opinion. The majority rules.
Now, without going into much further detail about the episode itself, we can naturally expect that the crew will get caught up in this system to some end result or another. It wouldn’t be a Star Trek parody otherwise, and naturally in that Trek fashion, the main characters eventually all escape with their lives, but not without making an impact on the planet below. In the closing scene, our main Sargonian character ends up abstaining from the next vote, her perception of the system forever changed by the visitors from space.
Ultimately, that’s all that social media is. A game of perception and people using that game to their advantage. Sure, we don’t use Facebook to determine if someone is guilty or innocent of a perceived crime, but as we’ve seen recently, Facebook was allegedly used by Russia to attempt to change our perception of the candidates during the 2016 election. It’s used to promote both sides of the vaccination movement, gun control, environmental issues, or any number of other things which impact our lives and the lives of those around us. But we also use to it make judgements about our own lives as they compare to the lives of those around us. Regardless, the view we are given is a matter of the perception the presenter wants us to see.
So the next time you log into Facebook and are inundated with all the negativity of the world, or you finding yourself feeling hopeless at it all or see your cousin in Wisconsin pregnant and wanting a baby of your own, think of The Orville with all its hokey humor, and remember: there’s more sides to the story than you’ll ever be given through social media. Then turn off the feed and go pet a kitten. No one needs to spend 135 minutes a day living in a game of perception.
Photo made available by Jakob Owens via Unsplash