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December 03, 2014 - Image 10

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 2014-12-03

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Wednesday, December 3, 2014 The Statement 7B
Personal Statement: Cool like 'Kill Bill'
by Alec Stern

from the pews: born to believe?

Looking around the oak din-
ing room table at every holi-
day family dinner, you'll
find one empty seat as we all grab
hands, tilt heads and listen to. my
Uncle Steve recite a prayer.
My Grandfather Albert - a
man who refused to surrender to
the nickname of Grandpa or Pops
- would be in the kitchen pacing.
You'd find him snacking on parts
of the turkey, muttering under his
breath and refusing to listen or
take part in any prayer.
Albert grew up in Kosice, Slo-
vakia in the confines of a strict
Catholic family. He was taught
that the Holy Spirit guided his
life, that a child would go to hell if
not baptized and that he must only'
marry a woman who was Catholic.
He had little in the way of expo-
sure to other brands of Christi-
anity, and yet, from an unusually
early age, he rejected this faith
entirely. My Grandfather Albert is
an atheist.
He rejected religious doctrine
as unnatural, as if science created
him this way, as if he were born
totally unable to believe in any
form of faith. Despite his culture,
background, family and environ-
ment - all factors influencing
one's spirituality - Albert could
not attach any part of his life to
ideas he viewed as "whimsical."

cal, genetic, tangible difference debunk spirituality as complex,
between him and the rest of the distinct phenomenon that is cre-
family? ated by an individual's heavy and
Putting religion up against sci- lengthy cultural background. But
ence, Molecular
Geneticist . Dr.
Dean Hamer
would say yes.
He argues that
genes can pre-
dispose humans
to be more
susceptible to
believe in spiri-
Robert Clon-
inger quantified
the tendency
toward spiritual-
ity through one's
level of self-tran-
scendence. Self-
people have in

searching for something
greater in this world, beyond their
own personal experience. This
can be viewed asa desire for many
things like compassion, art, cre-
ativity, expression, spirituality.
Hamer analyzed -over 1,000
individuals on Cloninger's self-
transcendence scale and observed
that the gene VMAT2 played a
primary role in individual's accep-
tance of spiritu-
ality and drive to
find something
greater than
the tangible
world. The gene
VMAT2 controls
- '"'# mood-regulat-
ing chemicals
called mono-
amines in the
S , brain. These
include sero-
tonin, which is
often considered
a contributor to
human happi-
ness or wellbeing
level, dopamine,
which is consid-

a small part of accepting this envi-
ronmentally molded spirituality
that is taught to you may be affect-
ed by the way you were born and
the genes you have. Just as each
of us is born with a unique gene
sequence, Albert's might have had
a variation that changed his abil-
ity to become someone his family
believed he should have been.
Some may argue Albert's indi-
viduality was linked to how his
family presented Catholicism to
him. Too strict, too oppressive,
too defined, so that it caused him
to reject it and accept the oppo-
site - a spirituality free lifestyle.
Or, if you find Hamer and Clon-
inger's line of thinking attractive,
Albert, and every one of us, is born
on a spectrum of susceptibility to
accepting a religion, taught to us
or not.
Religion is complicated. And
that complexity is intensified
when religious beliefs commingle
with scientific findings. But as
I grapple with the truth behind
what religion to grasp or reject in
life, I pause and linger over Hamer
and Cloninger's claim. I can be at
peace while contemplating that
the concept of "being religious"
may not be in my control entirely.
It may be the biological science of
my body and beyond some of my.
own means. '

have always made decisions
based on what other people
will think. I know it's wrong,
and outwardly I'm not self-con-
scious or paranoid. But it's always
been there. That tick. That nag-
ging voice in my head. An inces-
sant impulse to be something I
assume other people want me to
To be like everybody else. To be
normal. To be cool..
I can appreciate it now, but
growing up I always felt differ-
ent. Not quite an outcast, but just
deeply different from everyone
else around me. My mom would
tell me it was a good thing - that
I was her artistic son; the creative
one. But if there was one thing
I knew to be true, it was that
10-year-old boys don't want to
be "creative." At least, I certainly
didn't. I wished I had that aggres-
sive streak like most other boys
in my class. A part of me wished
I cared about which team won the
Yankees game the night before
but above all, I wished nobody
would care that I didn't care at
all. But that's the measure of boy-
hood. So as not to disappoint my
peers (read: subject myself to the
ridicule T thought I'd become the
target of), I just blended in.,
Let me be very clear, I hated
sports - it was the amalgama-

tion of everything that didn't
come easy to me. I didn't have the
natural ability to throw a spiral
like my brother. I couldn't run
as far or as fast as my friends. I
certainly didn't enjoy it as much
as my classmates. To me, "cre-
ative" might as well have been a
synonym for "uncoordinated."
My relationship with organized
sports is even more haunting. In
my mind, it was a series of never-
ending practices, impossible exer-
cises and embarrassing tantrums.
In Little League, upon finally
attaining the coveted "pitcher's
helper" position, I was swiftly
replaced; in the car ride home I
told my parents it was because "I
sucked." In roller hockey, I was
relegated to the bench on a team
my own family member was the
coach of. In high school, I closely
monitored the number of kids
trying out for the lacrosse team
because I knew if there were cuts,
I wouldn't make it.
The worst part of all this is that
I could have stopped at any time.
Everyday I told myself to just give
up. I could have forgotten about
everything and done exactly what
I wanted to do; it's my life, after
all. But it was easier said than
done. Instead, in my unfailing
desire to be like any other kid -
to not stick out in the crowd - I

forced myself to keep trying, just
rotating between sports until
maybe something stuck. Nothing
ever did.
But away from school, when
the voices of everyone else in my
head subsided and I would finally
hear my own, I could just be me;
the artistic son my mom seemed
to appreciate so much. Unbe-
knownst to anybody at school,
I took acting classes. I painted.
I saved up money to buy a video
camera and taught myself how to
edit my own clips together. And
in 2004, at the very ripe age of
10 years old, I saw a movie that
totally changed my perception of
I was instantly enamored with
"Kill Bill" - an almost cartoon-
ishly-quick, magnetically power-
ful attraction, as if every movie
I had seen up to that point no
longer mattered, and any movie
I would see in the future would
undoubtedly pale in comparison.
It was stylistic. It was interesting.
It was uniquely itself and wholly
unapologetic. "Kill Bill" was the
first time movies were cool; not
traditional or acclaimed or widely
popular, but just cool in a way I
never thought any expression of
creativity could be. And I latched
onto it.
The movie became my iden-

tity; it was my thing, my signi-
fier. I thought the more I engaged
with it, the more "Kill Bill" 's cool
would rub off on me, and I would
be cool in the way I wanted to be
- not just in the way I thought I
needed to be. As the years went
on, it was easier to embrace the
different sides-of myself because
of how "Kill Bill" became a part of
who I was. I wasn't embarrassed
by it in the way I was embarrassed
about other artistic things. I was
embarrassed to take acting class-
es. I was embarrassed that I would
rather film a lacrosse game than
actually play in one. But "Kill Bill"
was different. I might not be able
to explain it, but for the first time
in my life I felt better about being
me. It didn't matter if I were at
school or at home or at a practice
for whichever sport-of-the-sea-
son I chose. Because of "Kill Bill,"
I knew I could grow up and grow
into myself in a way that would
ease all of the harsh feelings I had
harbored over the years. One day,
I would make something as cool as
"Kill Bill" - something that was
mine, and I'd no longer struggle
with uncertainty over my identity
or dependency on someone else's.
When I came to Michigan four
years ago, that conquest for tra-
ditional normalcy didn't subside.
If anything, it was almost like

it started all over again - new
friends to make, new people to
win over and new opportunities
to use as a disguise. But that's not
how I look at it now, three years
later. With each year, I no longer
see my college experience as a
new chance to fail, but rather as
a new opportunity to introduce
myself, truthfully. Each year, I
get better at being me, and most
importantly, I rely less and less on
fiction to do so.
Now I'm at a turning point; it's
the first true crossroads in my life,
and I can see both paths ahead of
me. It's fitting - poetic, even -
that Michigan is right in the mid-
dle of where I've been and where
I want to go. One road leads back
home. East. My family is there.
My friends are there. I could go
back to living my life as if it's a
reflection of everyone else.
The other road is more daunt-
ing. I would be in a place I've never
been before. I would be totally on
my own. I would finally be forced
to think only about myself. What
do I want? Who do I want tobe?
I know I have no choice but to
go West, otherwise all of this -
my childhood, my struggles, my
growth - would have been for
nothing. I owe it to myself, and
I'm terrified. But at least now I
know that I'm doing it for me.

T H E Statement
Magazine Editor: Photo Editor: Managing Editor:
Carlina Duan Ruby Wallau Katie Burke
Deputy Editors: Illustrator: Copy Editors:
Max Radwin Megan Mulholland Mark Ossolinski
Amrutha Sivakumar Editor in Chief: Meaghan Thompson
Design Editor: Peter Shahin
Amy Mackens

So why, out of generations of ered to affect reward-motivated
Catholics, does my grandfather behavior, and norepinephrine,
stand alone in his family by reject- which is a neurotransmitter
ing these beliefs? Are the feelings released from the heart involving
of his discomfort when ques- sympathetic hormones.
tioning faith linked to a biologi- The research doesn't aim to

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