Film Review: Eighth Grade

I’m no film expert or critic. I’m not exactly in the position to preach anything about the cinematic experience, about what makes something artistically “good” or “bad” – although I’ve done that before and will most likely do it again (refer to my Stealing Beauty movie review from many moons ago). Instead of trying to get all the right words out, I’d rather delve into how Bo Burnham’s directing debut actually gave me an anxiety attack, #triggered me, if you will. Please spare me the eye-rolls and hear me out.

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The film centers around Kayla Day, a present-day insecure, stuttering, social media- addicted, and unavoidably lovable eighth grader walking through her last week of middle school. The subdued fire inside her that she fights to make seen is one of the many personality traits I connected to from the beginning, recalling all the time I also spent alone trying to enhance my personality and prepare for the performance of everyday life. The embarrassment and disappointment Kayla feels when class superlatives are announced and she’s labeled “Most Quiet” strikes a harsh chord for anyone who’s ever been deeply misunderstood. I remember being told that I was “mysterious” in high school. I remember feeling like I was easy to forget in contrast to the look-at-me personalities who dominated the stage at all times with ease. Like Kayla, I wanted the attention too, and knew I could own it when the timing was right – but anxiety forced me into a shell. In the confines of my room, on stage during dance recitals, in front of the camera when no one was looking, and in the safe embrace of my journals, I came alive.

Kayla’s overwhelming urge to be seen and liked, the to-do lists and talking points written on sticky notes throughout her bedroom and bathroom, the YouTube Channel used as an outlet to transform into her “better” and more confident self, poignantly shed light on all the ways people with anxiety incessantly try to improve, even from as early a stage as puberty. The powerful reality of this portrayal is truly a testament to Elsie Fisher’s acting chops. She fully embodies the sense of urgency and desperation throughout, which makes the viewer impatient for her moment in the sun too.

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I shed one tear of many when Kayla courageously chooses to sing karaoke in front of her classmates instead of bail from a pool party hosted by a fellow and more popular eighth grader. This particular character’s lack of empathy, and her blinding desire to be cool shoved me into memories I had blocked out for many years. All of a sudden, I was reminded of every time I had been inhumanely judged and treated like less for being myself. For instance, that time in eighth grade one of my earliest friends from elementary school refused to sign my yearbook in front of two of the “coolest” guys in middle school because, at that point, she had grown too popular to be seen acknowledging me. I was “weird” and she was “normal”. That was that. I swallowed my pride and walked away. I believe that was the day I realized what it meant to be a sociopath, blatantly devoid of empathy, and that I would always be different (Is that too harsh an insult for a thirteen-year-old girl? Oh well!). With that being said, I was blown away by Kayla’s ability to stand up and sing in front of her judgmental classmates, even though she knew they could eat her alive. Miraculously, we watch as her classmates actually smile along and get hypnotized by her enigmatic light for that one song – the first of many moments when she lets herself be seen. The scene is truly a testament to the power of conquering your fears, a skill we develop and reap the benefits from at any age.

As the movie plays out, we watch Kayla develop her own version of confidence. She finds a way to finally talk to her crush during a school shooting emergency drill, meets up with her new high school friends at the mall, and eventually speaks up for herself when one of the high school boys forces himself on her. Though it takes her a while to say ‘no’ to him, the self-assuredness in her voice when she does is enough for him to stop. It’s a heartbreaking moment in the movie to watch, because anyone who suffers from anxiety empathizes with the mental juggling she has to get through all at once: wanting to appease this older guy, fearing for her social life that he’ll talk shit about her to the new friends she desperately wants to keep, and, most important of all, the part of her that is deeply uncomfortable and wants to tell him to back off. The fact that this scene is drawn out for so long conveys the reality and horror of what can unfold when you’re battling with too many inner voices at the same time. I’ve been there, and I know countless others have too.

Eventually, after all of this, we get to a scene where Kayla and her dad burn a shoebox full of memories she had saved in the 6th grade for her 8th grade self. This is the moment that triggered my own anxiety in such a way that had me crying and unsettled for a couple of hours after we left the theater. As Kayla burns her past belongings, a symbolic act of self-destruction in which she burns away her past and a lot of her present self in the process, she asks her dad if he is ever saddened by her existence. His reaction, his desperate need to nurture a deeply embedded sense of insignificance, is perfect.

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He reminds Kayla that everything she had accomplished, all of the genuine kindness and creativity inside her, was hers alone – traits he watched her develop in awe without his guidance. Regardless of how little she saw in herself, he would always be her biggest fan. This hit me hard. I often looked for this reassurance in my parents growing up too. I carried the guilt of feeling like a disappointment, like if I could just be better, if I could just be more extraordinary, everyone in my life would be happier. It often plagues me that so many people carry the weight of this pain, a version of self-criticism that can lead to more pressing mental health issues down the line. As I left the theater, I realized that I was still a version of my middle school self: insecure, afraid, and full of guilt at times. It made me realize that we never stop evolving and that’s why Bo Burnham’s Eighth Grade stands the test of time. It’s about being human, wanting to be seen, and fighting the good fight.

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Listen to Yourself: On Achieving Self-Discipline

“The greatest medicine is the emptiness of everything.”

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When was the last time you sat in silence and felt yourself slip into nothing? Do you ever tune out the noise around you and pay attention to what happens next? If the answer is ‘yes’ and you’ve allowed yourself moments to stall out, this cryptic message taken from a fortune cookie might stir something inside you.

The more I write, the more the yin and yang of human existence comes up as a theme. It almost writes itself. It’s no surprise, as you can probably tell by my latest blog posts, that I’ve been struggling to find my place in the world after completing my education. It was all too cozy being intertwined in structured collegiate strings – classes, professors, friends, clubs, all keeping my mind and soul active. As I walked across the stage during graduation I felt the strings snap and release their hold on me. It took feeling the diploma in my hand, celebrating a once-in-a-lifetime achievement with my family and friends, and simultaneously suffering the grief brought on from losing the safest chapter of my life for me to understand life’s dark sense of humor. It’s a hard pill to swallow.

Slowly after this shift, I began to look to myself for guidance. The discipline came to me in “the emptiness of everything” — from the moments when I had let my life become cyclical, structureless, and empty. By that I mean, clarity would find its way to me when I was stuck.

When I was a freshman in college, I developed a hip fracture from a combination of dancing for 10+ years of my life and gaining a drastic amount of weight too quickly. I had to drop out of school for a semester to live at home and keep the weight off my legs. Though this could have easily been the worst time in my life, the solitude and quiet gave me time to get to know myself again, to let my mind wander, and to make plans for a better future. It was in those few months that I dedicated time to this blog, wrote poetry every day, painted again for the first time in years, took care of my body, and got accepted into Salem State University where I would eventually complete my education.

I often look back at this time and use it as fuel when life feels uninspiring again. I remember the yin and yang and that I am solely responsible for pulling myself out of the hole, for bringing passion back into my routine. We tend to move so quickly all the time, always set to autopilot at work and in our relationships. It’s easy to lose yourself if you’re not paying attention to the voices and urges inside you. I had to learn that the hard way. I now make time for myself a priority.

When I graduated I let the ensuing emptiness consume me by neglecting the things I loved to do most of all. I stopped writing and felt the strain of that on my entire body. Nothing was expected of me anymore, no schedules were put in place to keep me in line. It was on me.

I’m writing this because I wish it had been available to me around the time my life shifted drastically and I couldn’t keep up. I’m writing this to remind everyone that “the greatest medicine” in life is you. It’s remembering to read, write, think, sit with yourself and feed your intellect, even if no one is expecting that of you.

It’s ironic how much we hate going to classes, dread doing a homework assignment, and can’t stand being graded constantly throughout the majority of our lives, but feel dependent on it all when it’s gone. Most people won’t admit it, but the void is there.

Long story short, sometimes a fortune cookie from last night’s take-out can lead to an epiphany — but only if you give yourself the time necessary to reflect. Though I don’t have anything figured out yet and feel stuck quite often, I am steadily emerging from the fog. Adulthood is intimidating and isolating, but it won’t overpower you if you fight back. Listen to yourself.

 

 

 

 

 

Not a Fallback Plan

ImageI can’t say that I know what I want to do with my life at this point. I realize this makes me sound repetitive. I assure you, however, that this entry has nothing to do with my pre-quarter life crisis.

To begin with, I’ve gone through quite a bit of different career choices since I was about sixteen. I started out wanting to study film, then I looked into the arts, journalism, marine biology, screenwriting, etc. One career that I have always held onto as an option in case everything else didn’t work out is teaching. For some reason, teaching has always been a fallback career choice. I remember having an hour long conversation with my grandfather once about how much we both valued the teaching career. However, I never once, when asked, “What do you want to do?”, admitted to considering it as my future. I still don’t quite understand why, though I have a few theories. It’s a common understanding that teachers don’t make the big bucks. A great deal of them hardly make enough to provide for themselves. So, the few times that I have mentioned possibly wanting to be a teacher, the typical reaction is “Well, you know. They don’t make a lot of money”. Not only does that response annoy me, but the fact that it is accurate in many cases pisses me off to no end. Teachers have, in my opinion, one of, if not the most, rewarding, honorable and reputable careers that any person on the face of our planet can aspire to have.

How is it that the one career that shapes the minds and potential of countless children can be frequently overlooked? It doesn’t make any sense to me. What teachers offer their students is an impact that lasts throughout students’ entire lives. In a way, that makes teachers immortal. I will never forget the teachers that made an impact by helping shape me into the person that I have become up until this point. If that isn’t a job that should be rewarded with the highest respect, I don’t know what is. If I could offer kids the same inspiration, creativity, and knowledge that my favorite teachers have offered me throughout the years, I would die fulfilled. That is precisely why I’ve been strongly considering a career as a teacher, more specifically, for middle school or high school. I love working with kids of all ages, considering I’m still a kid myself. I think that’s what makes the idea of teaching high school a little too weird right now. The other day, I was trying to remember at what point, throughout my education career, that school become important to me to the point where I became interested and involved. That specific moment for me was in the eighth grade. Middle school marked the turning point for me in which what I was being taught became interesting and eye-opening for the first time. I want to be able to impact the way kids think during the period in their lives where it matters the most. I have a lot more I could say on the topic but I’ll add to this entry a little later. I plan to continue blogging about what career I end up deciding on but, I can assure you, teaching is absolutely no longer a fallback plan.