On the Olympics

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Olympics 1The Olympic games are important, y’all. They’re an international tradition, they’re good entertainment, they’re an opportunity to learn things about other places, they bring well-deserved attention to athletes who have worked hard for their achievements, and they’re an occasion for us to take pride in our country instead of arguing about politics and worrying about our nation’s future. I’m not trying to say that it’s everyone’s patriotic duty to drop everything and dedicate two weeks of your life every couple of years to watching the Olympics; most of us have lots and lots of other important things going on in our lives. But I think it’s a positive thing when people get excited about the Olympics, and it bothers me when others criticize or make fun of the Olympics.

When the Olympics started last week, I decided that I wanted to write a blog post about how cool the Olympics are. I wasn’t sure when I’d get around to doing it, (this summer has been a really crazy time in my life) and I wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted to say, but it seemed like something worthy of a blog post. I was thinking maybe I’d just ramble about some memories I have of Olympics in the past. I definitely have a lot, since my family always put a lot of emphasis on watching the Olympics. Even though we didn’t watch much of any TV at any other time, when the Olympics were on, our daily schedules were completely dominated by the television coverage of the games. I was used to admiring the athletes’ talent and dedication, appreciating the international and multicultural nature of the games, and enjoying the spirit of friendly, respectful competition between countries. Yes, I am aware that there have been instances of less than perfect sportsmanship in the Olympics, but it’s always seemed to me that those are the exceptions rather than the rule. And I guess I always assumed that more or less everyone held the Olympics in high regard.

Olympics 2The other day, I saw a youtube video that bothered me. (Here’s the link, if you want to see it)  I’ve come across videos from this channel before, and normally I find them pretty funny. Most of the ones I’ve seen have satirized cultural trends that I agree are pretty ridiculous. But this video is about the Olympics. I’m not going to address it point by point because a) this blog post could get pretty long if I did, and I want to finish writing it by suppertime, and b) some of his points are probably valid. I think what bothered me about it is that he portrays Olympic athletes as victims. When he talks about gymnastics, he accuses gymnasts’ parents of being abusive by “living through” their high-achieving children and insinuates that elite gymnasts are traumatized by their intense training. And later, when he talks about swimming, he says that the reason Michael Phelps is back in the pool is that he doesn’t know what else to do with his life. He repeatedly makes the implication that the viewing public is taking advantage of our miserable athletes by getting enjoyment out of the successes that they’ve worked so hard to achieve.

I don’t know the exact backstories of every individual athlete, and I can’t read their thoughts or emotions, so I’m not going to try to insist that everyone who’s ever competed in the Olympics has enjoyed the experience and gone on to live happily ever after. In fact, I know it’s true that people who work hard enough to get that good have made a lot of sacrifices in their lives. That’s one of the reasons that they’re so admirable. And I’m sure that it’s tough to be a former Olympic-level athlete who has to shift gears and work towards other goals and focus on academics or a career or family. But throwing around words and phrases like “abusive” and “traumatized” and “inevitable emptiness of the rest of his life” is unnecessarily negative. Most of these athletes work so hard because they love their sport, and I suspect that most of them mean it when they talk about how happy they are to be at the Olympics and when they say that their hard work has been worth it.

Of course, there’s a lot that could be said about personality traits and the psychological nature of perfectionism and competitiveness. I’m not an expert in sports psychology, or even general psychology, but I do know that people who are overly perfectionist often have a tendency to work harder than is healthy, emotionally or physically. Although I’m obviously not an Olympic athlete, I am an extreme perfectionist and I can attest to the fact that it can hold you back in a lot of ways, even if it’s (at least in the short term) pushing you ahead in other ways. And it’s probably true that most Olympic athletes are perfectionists, which is how they got that good in the first place. I definitely acknowledge that there’s a degree of truth in the concept that high-achieving athletes face emotional struggles even beyond the pressure and nerves associated with the actual competition. But I definitely don’t agree with the way that topic is expressed in this video. Because it’s not true that these athletes have dedicated an entire lifetime of hard work into a fleeting moment of glory, only to go home to meaningless lives. I would hazard a guess that the glory lasts for a lot longer than a moment, and that there are other goals to pursue after the Olympics.

Olympics 3

Also, can we just take a moment to acknowledge how incredible the American women’s gymnastics team is, and Simone Biles in particular? I mean, she’s so good that this was barely even a contest this year.

So I hope that most of you reading this post have gotten to see at least some coverage of the Olympics. I hope that you’ve enjoyed cheering for your country and your favorite athletes. I hope that you’ve learned something about Brazil and/or some of the other places you’ve heard about. And I hope that instead of pitying the athletes because you think their achievements are pointless, you’ve been impressed or even inspired by their accomplishments.


Socrates vs. Literacy

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Socrates_Pio-Clementino_Inv314.jpgReading is among the most important skills that people can learn. It is necessary in school and in most types of jobs, it is a valuable source of information, and it is a wonderful form of entertainment. As a librarian, I consider it part of my job to promote literacy and the enjoyment of reading. But literacy as we know it has not existed for all of human history. I wrote a post a few days ago on my other blog about the history of literacy. In the process of pulling together my facts, I came across a few fun tidbits that didn’t make it into that post. One of the most interesting was a list of reasons that the great philosopher Socrates opposed written language.

Socrates lived in Athens in the fourth century B.C. At that time, the Greek alphabet existed and many Athenians were literate, but reading and writing were not as widespread as they were a couple generations later. Socrates is known for his oral discourse. He would converse with people on the streets, mainly by asking questions. Most of what we know about him comes from Plato, who was his student. Plato wrote extensively, but Socrates himself did not record any of his philosophical ideas.

Socrates’ back-and-forth method of philosophizing leads to one of his concerns with the written word. Written language is more permanent and unchanging than the spoken word. In a conversation, you can ask questions and give answers, you can clarify what someone else meant, you can amend what you have previously said or inform others that you have changed your mind. Of course, you can do any of those in things in writing, but the original book or essay or facebook post still exists in its original, inflexible state. Of course, Socrates didn’t anticipate the internet, where conversation can happen via written word in real time, and where posts can be edited. If he had, maybe that would have somewhat satisfied him on this point.

However, another one of Socrates’ complaints is something that is even more valid in the days of the internet than it was in his own time. Socrates put a lot of emphasis on Truth with a capital T. He believed in the importance of knowledge, which didn’t just mean knowing facts, but having a thorough understanding of Truth. Knowing a lot of factual information was, in Socrates’ eyes, a superficial form of knowledge. But it is that type of knowledge that is most easily transferred via books. By making information readily available to all people, we encourage a look-it-up mentality which, to Socrates, is very inferior to the seeking of wisdom. Although Socrates is known to have a very egalitarian view, he feared the idea of making information accessible to the “wrong people”. Even worse, the written word isn’t necessarily true, but someone who is just quickly looking up a fact is easy to fool. That’s where the internet is worse than books. Since anyone can post things online, the internet is full of quick facts without context and false information.

Finally, when people learn to rely on written language, it affects their ability to remember oral language. Although the Greeks are remembered for their contribution to written language, they also had a very strong oral tradition. As in many non-literate cultures, they remembered their history and their folklore by telling and retelling the stories, and therefore, individual people had to develop the skill of remembering words with great accuracy. Many making that information more quickly accessible, writing things down decreases the need for that kind of memorization.

In my opinion, Socrates’ concerns are valid, but the advantages of literacy outweigh the disadvantages. It’s true that the written word is less flexible than the spoken word, but sometimes, that’s a good thing. It’s true that the ability to read makes it possible for people to gain very superficial knowledge, but superficial knowledge is better than ignorance. It’s true that relying on written language decreases the ability to remember oral culture—and that is perhaps the most compelling argument ever made against written language—but the ability to remember things with absolute accuracy is sometimes more valuable than the ability to remember things without any help.

In our own time and culture, it would be unheard of for someone to claim that literacy is a bad thing. I don’t think I’ve said anything controversial by disagreeing with Socrates on this point. But it is interesting to stop and think about his objections and just how sensible they are. As cultures change over the centuries and millennia, our methods for storing and sharing information have naturally changed, and they will probably continue to change. (I, for one, do not think that the print book is on its way out anytime soon, but perhaps in another two thousand years, it will be.) For any change as major as that, there will be downsides. And as far as Socrates’ concerns go, it’s interesting to note that we wouldn’t be able to remember and discuss his ideas if Plato hadn’t written them down.

Happy Leap Day!

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February-29th-CalendarOnce upon a time, there was no such thing as the month of February. Februarius, as it was originally called, was invented around 700 BC by Numa Pompilius, the second king of Rome. The month was named for Februa, a festival of purification probably originating from Sabine culture. (The Sabines were one of many tribes that lived in ancient Italy) Februa fell on February 15. Even then, February had 28 days, although most months had an odd number of days because that was believed to be lucky.

Because the calendar was 355 days, which is not the exact same length as the solar year, it was necessary to sometimes add a month between February and March, known as the mensis intercalaris. (As a side note, Plutarch, a famous writer in the first century, referred to the intercalary month as Mercedonius.) Years with that extra month would be 377 or 378 days. But the system had its shortcomings. Evidently, the decision about which years needed an extra month was often made for political reasons, allowing political officials to stay in office for an extra month. And the common people didn’t necessarily know ahead of time, with the result that it was hard to keep track of the date. Clearly, calendar reform was in order.

The Julian calendar was introduced by Julius Caesar in the year now known as 46 B.C. That particular year is called the Year of Confusion because he made the year 445 days long in order to put all the seasons back where they belong in the calendar. Then, in 45 B.C., things were back on track with a 365-day year. Even then, there was such as thing as leap day, owing to the fact that the Earth actually takes about 365.25 days to orbit the sun. But “about” isn’t good enough. Every year, a discrepancy of 11 minutes and 14 seconds was added.

By 1582, this discrepancy had added up so much that Pope Gregory XIII solved it by deleting ten days during October. It was also Pope Gregory XIII who determined that February was the month to gain an extra day during leap year. He was even responsible for the terms “leap year” and “leap day”.  In order to keep that discrepancy from continuing to occur, leap day no longer occurs in years ending with 00 unless they are divisible by 400. Thus, 2000 was a leap year, but 1900 was not and 2100 will not be. This results in leap years occurring at the right frequency to keep the average length of the year accurate… almost. The Gregorian calendar still has an extra 26 seconds per year.

February 29 St BrigidBecause of its infrequency, a number of legends and customs have arisen around leap day. According to Irish legend, St. Brigid and St. Patrick agreed that on leap day, women can propose to men. In some parts of Europe in the middle ages, if a man refuses a woman’s proposal on leap day, he must buy her twelve pairs of gloves to hide the embarrassment of her lack of an engagement ring. In Scotland, it is supposedly unlucky to be born on leap day, and in Greece, it is unlucky to get married on leap day, or even in a leap year.

Whatever you do to celebrate this extra day in the calendar, have a happy leap day!

Why I’m Not Giving Up Sugar For Lent


Lent crossYesterday was Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent in the church calendar. It has been customary since the days of the early church to observe this season culminating in Holy Week by focusing on repentance, prayer, and fasting. Certainly, by the Council of Nicea in the year 325, Lent was an established tradition. In our day and age, Lent has also become a time for discussion of what fasting means. The term “fasting” normally refers either to going a while without any food, or to reducing the amount or variety of food for a longer period of time. Either way, fasting is usually done specifically for spiritual reasons. In Christianity, fasting is most commonly associated with Roman Catholicism, largely because the Roman Catholic church has codified what, when, and how much someone should eat in order to officially be fasting. (Essentially, Catholics who are fasting can eat one regular-sized meal and two small meals a day, but no snacks and on Fridays, no meat other than fish) However, fasting is also observed by other Christians, although it is generally phrased as “giving up {fill in the blank} for Lent”, where the thing being given up can be pretty much anything. The purpose is not only to exercise self-control, but to draw the focus towards Christ.

As it is generally practiced, giving things up for Lent seems to me to be pretty similar to a New Year’s resolution, except with a specified end date. Some people participate in this tradition by focusing on “giving up” a certain vice, which doesn’t make a lot of sense to me because it seems to imply that it’s okay to pick up that bad habit again after Easter. Other people decide to give up certain types of food. I get the impression that giving up processed sugars is one of the most common forms of Lenten fasting in twenty-first century America. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but I feel like a lot of people are motivated by the health benefits or the possible weight loss, rather than spiritual reasons.

For a couple years when I was in college, I gave up certain specific types of foods for Lent. The past few years, I’ve considered it. In fact, this year, I had briefly been planning on fasting in a fairly traditional sense by giving up several different types of food and essentially limiting my intake to a few specific staples. The reason I decided against that fast is pretty personal, but I decided to blog about it anyway because it’s helpful for me to put my thought process into words and because there’s a chance that someone out there might find this helpful to read.

Once or twice previously on this blog, I’ve alluded to the fact that I have struggled with eating disordered tendencies. I’m not going to go into the details and tell the whole story, but the relevant detail is that I’m very prone to going through phases where I essentially take a break from normal eating. I’ve never been severely underweight or dangerously malnourished, but I definitely have engaged in eating habits that count as fasting. But for me, it’s not a religious thing at all. On the contrary, it’s a distraction from God.

various types of sugarThat may sound counter-intuitive, so let me explain. In our culture, there is a trend of self-righteous attitudes about foods. Vegans and vegetarians often make it sound as if they view themselves as being morally superior to meat-eaters, which makes some degree of sense, since most people choose veganism or vegetarianism because they’re ethically opposed to eating animals. But people who eat low-carb diets or low-sugar diets or gluten-free diets often act the same way. Overeating and being overweight are associated with a lack of self-control and a lack of priorities, whereas a rigidly defined diet is associated with good self-control and balanced priorities. That’s not entirely wrong, but it’s not morally wrong to have junk food every now and then. In fact, I don’t think it would be taking Matthew 15:11 and Mark 7:15 out of context to mention those verses here. Jesus was referring to the Pharisee’s dietary rules when he said that it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a man, but rigid dietary rules defined by health guidelines are comparable to rigid dietary rules defined by Jewish law.

Of course, eating disorders are very different from—and in many ways, contrary to—a focus on healthy living and a clean diet. Even the attitude is opposite, since people with eating disorders are almost always highly self-critical rather than self-righteous. But most people with eating disorders have been influenced by that cultural idea that eating the wrong things is disgusting, unclean, and perhaps morally wrong. Eating disorders that are characterized by undereating are often (if not always) just an extreme of that concept, in which eating is seen as unclean in and of itself. Compulsive undereating tends to be driven by perfectionism and low self-esteem that is so extreme that it’s just as self-focused as arrogance and self-righteousness. For someone with a history of a restrictive eating disorder, even one as minor as mine, fasting doesn’t make room for Christ-centered thoughts, it makes room for more eating-disordered thoughts.

My decision not to give up unhealthy foods for Lent was based partly on the fact that it might lead to long-term unhealthy habits, but it was mostly because it would serve no spiritual purpose for me. I don’t want to sound preachy here, but I think that even people without eating disorders might sometimes be fasting for the wrong reason. Giving up processed sugar or cutting back on carbs or consuming fewer calories are all things that people often do for themselves, either to benefit their health or to make themselves look better. If your Lenten fast is making you focus on your health, then it isn’t really a fast, it’s a diet. Even if you are giving up something that isn’t food and isn’t health-related, it isn’t really a fast if you’re focused on yourself.

The important thing to remember in Lent is that we are all sinners, (no matter how much or how little sugar we eat) and that sin is a big deal. It’s such a big deal that nothing we do, not even willing self-deprivation, can get rid of that sin or fix the problems it causes in the world. The only thing that can solve the problem of sin is Jesus’ suffering and death. This is the time of year for us to remember how sad that is, but when Easter comes, it will be time for us to again focus on the joy we have in our salvation. And that joy and that salvation have nothing to do with what you eat during Lent.

There’s This Book I’m Reading, episode 9


Star Wars bookWhile killing time in a bookstore with my sister and brother about three weeks ago, I came across a book with an intriguing title: Star Wars Psychology. (edited by Travis Langley, PhD, 2015.) Upon taking it off the shelf and looking at it, I found that it is a series of short essays by various Star Wars fans who also happen to have knowledge (and, in most cases, advanced degrees) in psychology or related fields. As a side note, I later looked at the contributor bios in the back and was fascinated by just how cool and nerdy most of those people are. One of them, Star Wars fan by the name of Jay Scarlet, is even a librarian like me, except cooler because he has a master’s degree in psychology as well. Anyway, as you have probably guessed, I purchased the book.

I haven’t finished reading it, but I probably will yet this evening or perhaps tomorrow. I recommend it for anyone who has interest in both Star Wars and psychology. It is slightly less academic than I had initially expected, making it a relatively light read, especially given the brevity of most of the essays. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. At the very least, the book is an analysis of the motivations of certain Star Wars characters. Just for fun, here are my comments on a few of the chapters that particularly caught my attention.

The second chapter in the book, written by Jenna Busch and Janina Scarlet, PhD,  is “So You Want to be a Jedi? Learning the Ways of the Force through Acceptance and Commitment Therapy.” I don’t know a lot about Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, but I was already aware that it focuses largely on the concept of mindfulness. Mindfulness, which is similar to but not synonymous with meditation, has received a lot of positive attention in the media and mental health world. I have mixed feelings about the very concept, because so many people praise it as a cure to mental illness or a way of solving everyday life problems, neither of which is scientifically feasible. However, I am given to understand that research does show that practicing mindfulness is helpful in reducing stress and handling emotions without shutting them down. Contrary to how some people describe it, mindfulness is not a mystical experience or a secret technique. Busch and Scarlet define it as “paying attention to the present moment on purpose, without judgment or distraction,” which is really the same as what the word means in vernacular usage. The writers of this essay assert that mindfulness is a core aspect of Jedi training. It may sound a little funny, but seeing mindfulness framed as a Jedi-related concept helps me to understand it as a beneficial and legitimate concept.

Another psychological idea that this book clarified a little for me is self-actualization, as described by the famous humanistic psychologist Abraham Maslow. It’s a phrase that I’ve heard quite a lot, but I didn’t have a clear sense of what exactly it meant. Apparently, it just has to do with feeling content with who you are and/or where you are in life. In this book, the concept was described using the example of Darth Maul, in chapter four, by Travis Langley and Jenna Busch. (Apparently I like her writing, since I’ve mentioned both the parts she wrote) Darth Maul doesn’t get much screen time, really, and his movie is my least favorite of the six, but he is a pretty cool villain. Busch, Langley, and Sam Witwer (who voices Darth Maul in the animated Clone Wars series) describe Darth Maul as being self-absorbed, but highly insecure, in contrast to being self-actualized. It’s interesting seeing self-actualization described as an antonym for self-absorption. But it makes sense that extreme insecurity is just as self-centered as over-confidence.

Although I find psychology fascinating in general, I don’t often gravitate towards topics relating to gender psychology; however, the aspects of this book that touch upon those topics interested me very much. (Not to mention the fact that this book took a very balanced approach to gender psychology, which I appreciated.) The chapter on “Grief and Masculinity: Anakin the Man” by Billy San Juan, PsyD, describes the emotional journey that led Anakin to the dark side. While no one who has watched Episodes II and III will be unfamiliar with that journey, it’s fascinating and even somewhat eye-opening to observe the way that parallels some people’s real-world experiences. And a later chapter, (“A Distressing Damsel: Leia’s Heroic Journey” by Mara Wood) describes Princess Leia’s character development throughout the original trilogy by drawing from the research and writings of a therapist named Maureen Murdock, whose works I am now interested in reading myself.

There are a number of other particularly interesting parts of this book, such as the short passages on personality traits that come at the end of each of the five parts. But in the interest of relative brevity, I will conclude here. If you want to hear more, read it yourself. (And don’t worry about spoilers; it was written before The Force Awakens came into being.)


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Harry Potter

*insert Harry Potter reference just because I can*

Growing up in a family of seven children, I was used to people making a big deal out of the size of my family. I didn’t mind that. I didn’t really even mind when people were shocked to discover that there were two sets of identical twins in the family. What did bother me was when people assumed that the fact that I had a twin sister was a core part of my identity. It’s true that my twin sister and I have a lot in common, and that, since we’re the same age, we did a lot of things together that didn’t involve our younger siblings. But both of us are individual people, and neither one of us appreciated the way we were always linked together, whether we liked it or not. We could never get away from it and people would never let us ignore it.

Now that I’m older, the fact that I’m a twin doesn’t play as large a role in my day-to-day interactions. Most of the people that I meet don’t know that I have a twin, and I don’t go out of my way to volunteer that information unless I’m specifically talking about my family to someone I know relatively well. But I still have to put up with the fact that, once someone knows I have a twin, they assume that my twin and I are essentially the same person, or at the very least, that our relationship is almost supernaturally close. It’s somewhat deliberate that I virtually always say “my sister” instead of “my twin sister” or “my twin”.

Especially when I was a child, but even now, my sisters and I frequently get asked what being twins is like. That’s a hard question to answer, since we’ve been twins from the beginning and I don’t know exactly what it’s like to not have a twin. But I imagine that it’s actually pretty similar to not having a twin. This blog post touches on some of the misconceptions I’ve heard most frequently and why they’re not true.

Just for the record, I want to make clear that I am speaking for myself and not for my twin sister, or my younger sisters who are also twins, or for any other twins. I do intend to send my sisters a copy of this post before I actually put it online, and I will change anything that they vehemently disagree with, but this post is not meant to speak on anyone else’s behalf. Which brings me to point number one…

Twins are not interchangeable

twinsIf I say something, that doesn’t mean that my twin sister agrees with it. If she is upset about something or excited about something, that doesn’t mean that I feel the same way. If one of us has a skill or specialized knowledge, especially if it’s something that we worked hard to acquire, that doesn’t mean that the other one has it. I think everyone technically understands this, but it’s amazing how often people react to something one of us has said as if we said it together, or how often people joke about one of us taking the other’s place.

Aside from being untrue, it’s very hurtful. There are times when we were children that my sister and I both got in trouble for something that just one of us said. When we were in our teens and finally got to split ways by taking different kinds of dance, people could never remember which of us was an Irish dancer and which of us was a ballet dancer, which upset us both because our own respective dance forms were very important to us both. And all throughout my life, I have had to put up with people occasionally making comments that my sister could fill in for me if I had to take time off from school or dance or work. Even if such remarks are made humorously, it undermines my identity as a human being and the work I’ve put into establishing my own identity and skills to suggest that another person, even my twin, could successfully “be” me.

Even identical twins don’t have everything in common

Sweet Valley Kids

Not gonna lie, I did love this series as a kid.

Not only are my sister and I not interchangeable, we aren’t really identical, either. The term “identical twins” refers to twins who developed out of the same fertilized egg, and yes, that means that at one time very, very early in our existence, we shared the same tiny little undeveloped body before we split into two separate bodies. Therefore, we have identical or nearly-identical DNA, (fun fact: identical twins don’t necessarily have the exact same DNA) but not everything is genetic. Scientists and doctors may debate about the respective roles of nature and nurture, but everyone agrees that at least some aspects of personality, opinions and preferences, and even physical appearance, are not genetic. Even very young twins will have some differences, and by the time they’re teens or adults, identical twins will have each developed their own identities in a large number of ways.

My twin sister and I do not have exactly the same personality. We do not dress the same way or do our makeup the same way. Last I knew, we do wear our hair in similar ways, but she has dyed her hair and I haven’t, with the result that we don’t actually look the same in terms of hair. We have slightly different tastes in books, music, movies, and TV shows. There are some differences between our political opinions. We have never liked the same foods, not since we first started eating solid food, which is something that often took people by surprise when we were kids. In college, we studied different things. Although we have some shared hobbies and interests, there are also a lot of differences in the things we like to do, and now that we’re adults, even our day-to-day lives are completely different.

On the flip side, some people like to pick up on the differences between twins and act as if they’re exact opposite. For example, twins often find themselves labelled “the quiet twin” and “the loud twin” or “the nice twin” and “the mean twin” or “the silly twin” and “the serious twin.” My twin sister and I don’t get this as often as our younger sisters who are twins, but it’s annoying to hear even on occasion. And it’s always hurtful to get stuck with an unflattering label.

Lots of twins don’t like being twins

Double Act

I remember this book just well enough to recall that it’s about a rocky relationship between twin sisters.

I don’t have statistics available for this one, but most of the twins I’ve known, including me and my twin sister, really didn’t like it. Just like any other sibling, a twin sibling will sometimes be your worst enemy and sometimes be your best friend and rarely be anywhere in between, at least not as long as you live under the same roof. My twin sister and I had lots of good times together, but we hated having to share everything, even our friends and our reputations. We fought with each other even more than with our younger siblings, which was probably because we shared a room for our entire childhood. But what really made it rough was other people’s reactions. People assumed so many stereotypes, asked so many questions, made so many jokes, and couldn’t tell us apart even when we helpfully pointed out differences between us. I remember one time when we still took dance together when our teacher addressed us as “Twin X and Twin O,” as if we didn’t even have real names. Our parents thought they were being helpful by not referring to us as “the twins”, but we got called “the girls” all the time at home, which was almost as bad and even more confusing, since there are six girls in my family. So, long story short, in case you’re wondering, no, being twins isn’t fun.

Granted, there are some twins out there who do like it, usually because they get along better overall with their twins than I did with mine. I had roommates in college who were twins, and they did everything together by choice and never gave me any reason to believe that they wanted anything different. I haven’t really stayed in touch with them, but they frequently post highly affectionate things about each other on Facebook. That’s great for them and for other pairs of twins who feel the same way, but I’d like the record to show that it doesn’t always work that way.

Twins do not have ESP

Twins shining

If twins really had the kind of telepathic communication that some people imagine, I would completely understand why twins can be seen as creepy.

I think most people are aware that twins don’t actually have some sort of supernatural means of communication, but it’s amazing how many people still assume that one twin is supposed to know everything that happens to the other twin. It’s been a while since people have asked me if I can feel my sister’s pain or sense when something happens to her, but I used to hear those kinds of questions a lot. Sometimes, people will ask me what she thinks about something, which is something that I obviously only know if she tells me. And sometimes, even family members think they can check in on one of us by asking the other, as if we somehow have closer communication with each other than with other family members. By the way, in our case, that’s not true. We do keep in contact through social media and occasional texts and emails, but we don’t communicate with each other any more than with our other siblings.

Some twins do develop their own forms of communication, more often as babies or toddlers than later in life. Researchers say that about forty percent of pairs of twins have their own language, called autonomous language because they make them up by themselves. The term cryptophasia has also been used. That is actually significantly higher than I would have guessed, but the important things to note is that it’s a lot less than one hundred percent and that it’s a phenomenon not limited to twins. It can occur between any two very young children who spend enough time together to use each other as a model for learning language, and there is nothing extrasensory about it.

All those stories you’ve heard about amazing coincidences involving twins are just that: coincidences. Even if you believe in some sort of supernatural link between twins, I can tell you from personal experience that it certainly doesn’t always work that way. I have never instinctively known what’s going on in my sister’s life, or in her mind, unless you count situations in which I had enough background information to make an informed guess. I can’t think of any instances where we have had the exact same experience, unless we had that experience together or there was some other perfectly normal link between the two events or situations. And yes, twins do sometimes finish each other’s sentences, but so do non-twin siblings and friends who spend a lot of time together.

Twin jokes can be hurtful

Yes, it’s true that some people have a hard time telling us apart. No, that’s not funny. It’s actually kind of sad, and downright insulting if it’s someone who knows us well. Yes, if we tried hard enough, we could probably do a reasonable job of pretending to be each other for a short period of time, as long as we weren’t trying to fool people who know either of us very well. No, we don’t switch places all the time just to play a joke on people. And no, we couldn’t successfully switch places just for one of us to get out of doing things, and if we did, that wouldn’t be very funny, either. It would be immoral and unfair and kind of creepy. Yes, we sometimes argue, and we sometimes say things that sound mean even when we aren’t actually fighting. No, it’s not hilarious that it’s even possible for twins to fight or disagree. Yes, having an identical twin is essentially the same thing as having a clone. No, that’s not particularly funny. Maybe it’s an interesting science fact, but it’s not actually humorous. Yes, we’re twins, and maybe that is fascinating, but there’s nothing intrinsically funny about it and I have always found it confusing that other people, even family members, are so quick to poke fun at the situation.

The rule of thumb is really the same as it is for any other situation. If you make a joke about another person and they are upset, or inform you that they find it hurtful, then don’t make that joke again. The person who bears the brunt of the joke is the person who gets to decide whether that joke is hurtful, not the person who makes the joke about other people. If you hurt someone’s feelings by joking about something that makes them different than you, the correct thing to do is to be apologetic and avoid hurting their feelings again, not to insist that they’re being overly sensitive.


In the spirit of internet articles, I probably ought to finish this post by writing a paragraph about how having a twin is actually amazing after all because of all the wonderful things about my relationship with my twin sister. And it is true that there are some positive things about our relationship. It’s true that when we were little, we were built-in playmates, and that we still have a lot of shared memories, inside jokes, and similar experiences. But all that would be the case even if we were a year or two apart. In fact, those are all things that are true to a large extent of my relationship with my younger sisters, too, and they’re nearly five years younger than me. (Not to mention my brother who is in between the two sets of twins in age.) So in the grand scheme of things, being a twin hasn’t made my life better than it would have been otherwise. It’s just the way things are, and it’s not any more of a defining trait of mine than my relationship with any of my other family members.

A Few Star Wars Fan Theories

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Star Wars 1Warning: spoilers ahead. Now that Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens has been out for nearly a month, I would imagine that the majority of Star Wars fans have seen it, but if you happen to be part of the small minority of people who haven’t yet seen the movie and don’t want to encounter spoilers, turn back now. I have seen it twice and want to discuss some of my favorite fan theories. I perhaps owe the internet an apology for not citing sources, but most of these ideas are actually pretty mainstream and easy to find in multiple places if you pay any attention to fan theories at all. There’s nothing here that’s directly lifted from one specific source.

Is Rey Luke’s daughter?

The biggest question raised by the new Star Wars movie is Rey’s identity. All we know for sure about Rey’s backstory is that she was left on the planet Jakku and is awaiting someone’s return. Maz tells her that she knows that the person she’s waiting for will never return, but that someone else might. The flashback that Rey has when she touches Luke’s lightsaber shows her as a young girl, tearfully protesting as someone leaves. Someone else is holding her by the arm, and a voice that resembles Kylo Ren can be heard. That’s enough information to inspire debate, but not enough to give a definite answer. Rey’s other visions could be flashbacks, but they could be insight about the future or about other people.

The most popular theory seems to be that Rey is Luke Skywalker’s daughter, and after much back and forth, that’s my guess. My main objection to it is actually that it seems too obvious, and I suspect the moviemakers want to spring a surprise on us. But Rey clearly has some kind of connection to Luke’s lightsaber, and the final scene, in which she returns Luke’s lightsaber to him, certainly looks like we’re supposed to view it as a father/daughter moment. The Star Wars franchise is quite fond of dramatic father/son moments, after all.

Star Wars 2 ReyNumerous fans have found hints to support this theory, such as the way Rey’s theme music sounds together with Luke’s, or the fact that she has a fighter helmet with her on Jakku. Then there’s her natural piloting ability, and, of course, the fact that the Force is strong with her, which seems to indicate that at least half of her parentage is Jedi. Considering that she has no Jedi training, it is a surprise that she’s a match for Kylo Ren, who has been trained by both Luke and, presumably, Supreme Leader Snoke, and is consequently well on his way to being a powerful Sith. And her connection with Luke’s lightsaber seems like a dead giveaway. Not to mention the fact that the entire Star Wars movie series is about the Skywalker family, so it only makes sense that the main heroine of the new movie is descended from Luke.

There aren’t many good arguments against it, but I think it still leaves some questions to be answered. For example, who is Rey’s mother? Certain books name Mara Jade as Luke’s wife, and some fans have guessed that the movies are going to go along with that idea, even though Mara Jade doesn’t show up in this movie.  My brother suggested the theory that Rey’s mother is the female Stormtrooper leader who Finn so intensely dislikes, who either turned to the dark side later, or who is acting as an undercover Resistance agent the entire time. I will have to watch the movie a third time in order to determine whether I think that makes sense.

Another question is why Rey doesn’t know she’s Luke’s daughter, and in fact, questions whether Luke and the Jedi are anything more than mythology. In her flashback, she appears old enough to know those kinds of things. So if she is Luke’s daughter, she was evidently separated from him even earlier than that, and it was someone different who left her on Jakku. And that makes me wonder, 1) who was her adoptive/foster family, and 2) why didn’t Luke and her mother raise her themselves?

Is Rey related to Obi-Wan Kenobi?

I thought that this theory was pretty fascinating, and in fact, when I first read it, I was pretty sold on it. The idea was that, while Obi-Wan was on Tatooine for all those years between Episode III and Episode IV, he had a wife and child that we never knew about, and Rey is either is daughter or granddaughter. Some people say that Rey’s father is Luke and her mother is a secret daughter of Obi-Wan. I’ve also seen mentioned the possibility that she is his niece or grand-niece, which I prefer because it doesn’t require Obi-Wan having a wife, which seems unlikely given that he was a hermit and that he never mentioned having family in the original movie. The best argument for this theory that I’ve seen is that Rey’s manner of holding the lightsaber is similar to Obi-Wan’s, although I admit that that’s hardly conclusive, as lightsaber-wielding surely is more influenced by one’s training than by one’s heritage. If Rey fights differently than other Jedi, it’s because she has no formal training, not because of who her father or grandfather is. Probably.

Is Rey Han and Leia’s daughter?

Star Wars 3 Rey and HanThe first time I saw this movie, this was my initial assumption, right up to the moment when Rey met Han Solo and acted as if she’d never met him before and viewed him as a celebrity. Even then, I was trying to piece together some way that it could be possible that she somehow didn’t recognize her own family members. To be honest, the best thing this theory has going for it is that it would be cool, but in my defense, I’m not the only one to have discussed it. Evidently, it does fit nicely with some of the non-canonical Star Wars novels that I haven’t read.

Did Rey have her memory wiped?

This opens up any of the above possibilities for her parentage, and it also opens up the possibility that Rey wasn’t a relative of anyone we’d recognize, but she was one of Luke’s students who survived the attack. Really, you can guess anything you want about Rey’s past if you assume she doesn’t remember anything. But I’m pretty sure Rey does remember who left her on Jakku; after all, she is waiting for someone and she evidently knows who. When Moz tells her that the person she’s waiting for isn’t coming back, but someone else might, that’s a pretty big hint. I just don’t know what that hint is telling us, exactly.

Who is the man in the opening scene?

It seems likely to me that the old man who had the map segment at the beginning of the movie was filling the same role for Rey that Obi-Wan was filling for Luke in the beginning of the original movie. That is, he was posing as a random hermit in order to keep an eye on her from a distance without interacting in her upbringing until she was ready to contribute to the Resistance. That would explain why he would have the map in the first place, especially if Rey is in fact Luke’s daughter. The plan was probably that, once Rey was old enough and skillful enough, he would bring her or send her to Luke, who would then train her as a Jedi. (This idea works even if Luke isn’t her father, as long as he is aware of her existence and the fact that the force is strong with her.) But that doesn’t answer the question of who he is in the first place. The best answer I’ve heard is that he is a rebel pilot from the original trilogy. They aren’t major characters, but they are important to the rebel cause and they are people that Luke would definitely trust.

Who is Finn?

Star Wars FinnAll right, he’s a Stormtrooper who doesn’t have the ruthlessness necessary to carry out the Stormtrooper agenda, I get that. But doesn’t that seem a little odd that there’s exactly one non-conformist Stormtrooper? If that’s even possible for a Stormtrooper to reject his training, wouldn’t it happen at least a few times? Some have wondered whether Finn might be related to Mace Windu from the prequels or Lando Calrissian  from episodes five and six. I don’t think it’s necessary to assume that all black characters in the Star Wars universe have to be linked, but I’m not rejected those possibilities, either. The Lando one seems pretty far-fetched, but the Mace Windu theory would explain why Finn is perfectly capable of wielding a lightsaber, despite having no Jedi training and being (evidently) less strong with the Force than Rey.

Who is Maz Kanata and how did she get Luke’s lightsaber?

Star Wars MazMaybe I missed something, but the only background information I remember getting about Maz is that she’s someone Han Solo knows and that she has connections with the Jedi and the force, even though she isn’t a Jedi herself. J.J. Abrams has been quoted as saying that Maz and Yoda had “at one point crossed paths”, and I had a sense all along that there was something Yoda-like about Maz. But that still leaves a lot of questions unanswered. The biggest one for me is how Maz ended up with Luke’s lightsaber.

Is Supreme Leader Snoke Darth Vader?

Fan theories include the possibility that the Supreme Leader is Darth Plagueis, a Sith Lord who is mentioned but not shown in earlier movies, or the Emperor, who supposedly died at the end of Return of the Jedi. An idea that I find particularly interesting is that he could be Darth Vader. After all, the scars on his head match those of Darth Vader. Of course, Darth Vader was also supposed to have died, and he became a good guy immediately before dying. I’m actually not a fan of any of the three aforementioned theories, but I don’t have a good alternate idea to suggest. I did read one theory that suggested that he’s actually smaller than human size, since we only see him as a hologram. That’s interesting, but it doesn’t tell us who he is. And one thing is relatively sure: Supreme Leader Snoke is going to turn out to be someone we’ve met before.

What’s the deal with Kylo Ren and Han Solo?

Star Wars 5 Kylo RenWe know that Kylo Ren, originally Ben Solo, is the son of Han and Leia. We know that he was in training under Luke, and that he turned from the dark side and slaughtered all of the other students at Luke’s Jedi academy. And we see him trying to live up to Sith standards and drawing inspiration from his grandfather Darth Vader. (Some have criticized the acting and Kylo Ren’s coolness as a bad guy, but I’m fine with it because he’s clearly a wannabe Darth Vader who hasn’t reached that level of Sith-ness yet. He’s more like Anakin in the end of Episode III than Darth Vader in the original trilogy.) But we don’t know how or why he turned to the dark side in the first place, and I personally have a lot of questions about his relationship with Han Solo. It has even been suggested that Kylo Ren started out as a sort of double agent, joining the dark side in the hopes of getting rid of the Supreme Leader, but quickly becoming completely won over. (I will cite this one back to Reddit user vrso3g, since I have that information available to me and it sounds like this one was an original theory.)

My biggest question is what the deal was in the scene where Kylo Ren kills his father. The first time I saw the movie, I assumed that Han Solo made himself vulnerable with the assumption that Kylo Ren wouldn’t hurt him and the hope that he could convince him to turn back to the light side. But upon discussion with my brother and a second viewing of the movie, I now see Han’s actions as self-sacrificial. In fact, maybe the parallel to Obi-Wan Kenobi in the original movie was not just something the moviemakers threw in there; maybe Han Solo himself believed that he was doing for his son (or perhaps Rey and Finn) what Obi-Wan did for Luke.

Who’s alive and who’s dead?

Star Wars 4 PoeWe all know that Kylo Ren survived just because the movie didn’t conclusively eliminate that possibility. I personally think Han Solo is really and truly dead. Really, the only reason I can see to doubt that is because it’s so sad for him to be dead. But the Star Wars franchise has never cared about our feelings before. I love Star Wars, but it’s true. Which brings me to my next point. It was just really weird for Poe Dameron to come back the way he did. It seemed pretty clear that he was dead and pretty unnecessary, in terms of plot, for him to come back. Some fans have suggested the idea that he really is dead, and that the person we think is Poe later is actually a spy disguised as Poe. I’m cool with that theory.

Star Wars droidsThere is, of course, a lot more to be said about all of these theories. This is by no means supposed to be a comprehensive list or a detailed exploration. Feel free to leave your ideas in the comments, especially if they’re new and original. I’d love to hear them!

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