Use Your Words for Good

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Pieces of a reflection essay I wrote three years ago (for more about the short film, head over to my About Me page here):

She has a big nose. Her eyes are spread out weird. I don’t like her face. Sweetheart, don’t even try to be Katniss.

Seeing the comments appear on the previously innocuous page, like angry bees whose honey had been stolen, a similar buzzing swarmed to my ears, and I felt heat swimming to my forehead.

It is only natural for viewers to measure other interpretations against that of the official cast. I’d hoped fans would be able to see the effort that had gone into each and every frame. I had auditioned for and landed the role of a character I related to and admired. I had spent countless hours working with a professional team and meeting artists and actors who threw themselves into their work and perfected every minute detail. I had flown all the way to Tennessee to shoot the film with original costumes and props that had been carefully planned, and afterwards helping the team plan out how they could publicize the film to best reach fans. Another comment pulled me back to reality: “This kid is ugleee”.

The shocking part of the audience’s reaction was not the extent to which they attacked my physical features. Instead, it was the rate at which they whipped these comments at the computer, attempting to dismiss months of hard work in a few seconds of mean-spirited typing. There were a few good comments too, but the ones that resonated with me were the ones whose venom was meant to sting. One bitter comment stuck with me: “Sweetheart, don’t even try to be Katniss”. This random Internet user was condescendingly telling me to stop reaching for my goals and that this experience had been a waste, and I had a problem with that.

Every situation gives others the opportunity to judge and tell you it can’t or shouldn’t be done. There will always be someone who wants to stand in the way of your dreams, but it’s how you respond to these obstacles that carves the path to your future and makes a statement about your essence. Watching the finished short film, I didn’t see the “ugleee” face of a girl who would be stopped by others. Instead, I saw a girl who took risks regardless of the chance that others might disapprove. I saw a girl whose hope would open doors that would leave her satisfied that she hadn’t (and would never) let anyone else determine what she could accomplish in her life.

The sting of these comments has gone away as the years have passed. I learned pretty quickly not to read comments about my acting, and to take constructive criticism from people I trusted but not be tempted to find it in less moderated, anonymous locations. I’m so grateful that I’ve always had the support system to be able to deal with the type of comments that I received without it affecting my happiness or motivation.

Brad McCrary, who played Gale in the video and remembers the negative comments, says,”People… should never approach fights or arguments through a screen…. (it) leaves everything emotionless and then nothing comes across the way you want; everything is read the way the person wants it to sound and grossly misinterpreted”.

Jonathan Parris, the creator of the short film, says, “It’s interesting that the negative comments almost stopped after Mockingjay Part One came out. In fact, the Facebook page for it (The Mockingjay Propo) has received over 800 likes in just the past week alone. From what I’ve seen, it (the quick negativity) appears to be mostly late Elementary through Junior High kids. Right there in the prime ages where kids are the most insecure about themselves. Granted, adults can do pretty well insulting one another online too, but that age range is what seems to be doing most of it. Again, based just on my observation”.

I don’t think people are genuinely, inherently mean or bad- in fact, that’s what makes it so much easier for them to choose to comment online instead of pursuing aggression in person. They can elect to not see the hurt that they cause.

I’m also not saying my acting was great or top notch in this short film. I did the best I could, wholeheartedly. I worked really hard to maintain professionalism and pick up on cues from the talented people working with me on the short film as I transitioned from theater to film acting. I like to think I’ve grown since then, and I’m trying to continue to learn and grow as an actress and a person as I am exposed to more diverse people and experiences. Regardless of any negative comments, I’m so proud of the work the entire cast and crew did on the propo. We were all really passionate about the books and the short film that we made, and we all love the movies that Lionsgate has made. I am extremely thankful to have had the experience and the opportunity to work on the short film and interact with the trilogy in so many ways.

As users of the Internet and people with the power to lift or to harm, please think about the impact your words will have on someone or what you’re actually trying to express before you comment negatively and/or shallowly. Don’t perpetuate hate; perpetuate love. You never know how whether your words may come at a time or in a way that cracks someone’s armor when they’re most vulnerable. Choose to crack that armor with light instead of carelessly causing destruction.

Check out one of my favorite TEDx videos (above)

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Why I Want to Lose a Sweatshirt

Today in my Creativity, the Arts, and Social Transformation class (which is incredible, by the way- our first reading by Cynthia Cohen was about how the arts can aide the process of reconciliation after suffering, trauma, and/or war- you can find it here if you want to read more), we were encouraged to take a sheet of poetry and walk outside and observe the world for ten minutes. We let the sights and sounds wash over us and reflected about the world. I realized I let myself walk so much slower during this activity, and I realized how much of my environment I miss on a daily basis when I didn’t have time to truly absorb all happens on campus around me. However, what really got to me in the context of this activity was the sight of a blue sweatshirt tangled up in a tree on the side of the road. I got to wondering about the person who had left it behind and hadn’t noticed- where was he (or she) rushing off to? In my mind, I created a beautiful story about someone who was so focused on rushing to pursue a passion that they didn’t realize when their clothing was ripped off by a tree (which, admittedly, takes a lot of distraction).

I realized how much less beautiful the story would be to me if the person was just running late to something they were halfheartedly pursuing and didn’t have time to stop and fetch their lost item. This class has also sparked my reflection about how I think everyday lives are beautiful. I think part of that beauty is the capacity to pursue dreams and passions. There is definitely something to be said about creating a sense of security for yourself and making sure you have the means to get by, but society engrains us with this need from such a young age that we sometimes end up overvaluing its role in our lives. Personally, I’ve been given so much and so many opportunities that success is something that I want to reach, both for myself because I like pursuing goals, but also to be able to give back to those who have supported me my entire life. I’ve been so supported that failure is something I think I was afraid of for a long time, and stability was something I planned for and actively sought. Then I thought about the reasons the people I loved wanted me to succeed in certain ways- they wanted me to have enough stability to be able to relax and follow my passions. They support anything that makes me happy but worry if what makes me happy doesn’t guarantee future stability.

It’s kind of a vicious cycle- who knows if we’ll ever get the chance to follow our dreams again if we give them up in the name of stability, but who knows if we’ll have enough security if we follow our dreams wholeheartedly now. I  used to put a time stamp on my dreams, saying I’d follow a “plan B” if they didn’t work out, but now I think that’s silly. I’d rather push my dreams to the very limit of my potential, for as long as I can. Of course I want to be secure enough to be responsible and take care of myself and pay my bills. If I give up all of my dreams now and pursue something that doesn’t incorporate my passions purely for the sake of security, though, I think life will lose its vividness for me, and I won’t be able to throw myself into work in the way that success in a preordained path requires me to. I don’t want to give up. I want to blend my passions and find a way to balance them so I can find happiness in every day AND in the long run. I want to lose my sweatshirt not because the harshness of my watch’s ticking commands me to a pre-ordained path of timeliness for something I lack interest in, but because I’m spinning through the woods, losing my breath, winter air coloring my cheeks as I think of all of the possibilities I have to do things that I care about and follow my heart. And I hope that when I get cold without that sweatshirt, the people I care about will be there to warm me with their hugs, as they always have been before.

Screen Shot 2015-01-20 at 6.28.40 PM *P.S. I love John Green and the vlogbrothers-you can purchase this wonderful poster here.