Tuesday, July 8, 2014

#NotDead

Considering I haven't posted in what feels like a very, very long time, I feel it necessary to open with this:

http://shockingblankets.tumblr.com/post/59537368952/masterpost-updated-here-x-and-here-with

While I can explain my absence, it doesn't excuse it and I apologize for the lot of nothing I've been posting. But this summer has been epically busy for me - and very, very good so far - and I have a bit of catching up to do on my personal posting of things in order to move on to whatever this strange little internet entity is striving to be.

First, work. I'm still working at Target, despite the fact that earlier in the spring I wanted this not to be the case. However, my work at Target has changed greatly since then. For one, the focus of the store feels different that it did during whatever strange transition we were going through post-Christmas and pre-summer, and it's a far more enjoyable place to be. Also, I've been promoted to price accuracy (at least I think it's the full promotion - regardless, I'm doing price accuracy work and it's fabulous). Price accuracy, or price change, entails coming in at six in the morning (the only drawback) to scan through select items, pulling out what's going on clearance, changing price tags, and salvaging items that can no longer be sold but can be donated. It's rather fun, as I work with the same group of people each day, have a less solitary tasks, am learning facets of the backroom, and feel generally like I'm doing better, more precise work. I've pulled an utter 180 about my job, rather enjoying it and actually looking forward to coming in each day. And to those companies I applied to when I was looking for other work (all of whom never even gave me a rejection notice), I can only shrug and say, "Their loss." Because I feel really at home at Target and really appreciated. And it's fabulous. (But more on that in another post; I feel I need to write another "working in retail" post because I rather enjoy those and I can't seem to shut up about my job).

Secondly, writing. In some epic twist of fate and blindly searching through Craigslist for freelance writing gigs, I actually managed to land one. I've just started contributing to Apartments.com, writing about Minneapolis, and I'm so excited about it I can hardly believe it's real. Not only am I being paid to write blog posts on whatever topics interest me, I'm writing about one of my favorite places in the world.

Thirdly, dramaturgy. Somehow, it's happening. I'm dramaturging. This summer, I've interning with History Theatre and providing research for the play guides of three productions they're doing this fall. And I'm going to be doing an observership with Theatre Pro Rata with fall on their production of 1984. I'm uncontrollably excited about both companies and feel incredibly lucky.

Which is generally how I've felt all summer. Expecting this to be a gloomy, stressful season, this has actually been an exciting, busy, wonderful time so far. Not to mention we've been having some glorious weather (in between the monsoon rains we've been getting!) and I'm writing this from the wonderful vantage of the porch at my apartment (perfect Minnesota weather - warm enough for shorts, cool enough for a sweater. I love it). In part, my lack of writing has been greatly due to my exhaustion at the end of the day when I get off work, but also because I'm afraid of sounding too gloating or boastful. I've been amazingly fortunate considering my plans changed greatly since the spring and now, finding I'm happier than I've been in a long time, I also find myself struggling to keep from letting my privilege and overwhelming joy sound pretentious and bragging. Though this isn't what I'd planned, I realized the other day (while getting my hair cut, of all times) that I'm living a dream. So many people dream of moving to a big city and having an apartment and doing what they love and, somehow, I've suddenly ended up doing just that. It's incredibly humbling to have realized that. It may not entirely be how I pictured it, but I'm doing it, and it's all the more beautiful because I didn't see it this way, I didn't have the stale images dreamed over again and again in my mind come true. It's all new and it's kind of scary, but it's also marvelous.

The view from the porch. Now I'm definitely gloating.

That's where I'm at. I can't promise you that my post is going to stick to the same consistency it once did with work and everything the way it is. I've also found that my content may be shifting in a new direction - I've hardly been on Tumblr at all in the past few weeks and other than missing the updates from the people out there, I don't actually miss much of the site. It's nice to get away from the celebrity gossip and the fandom bickering and really sit back and remember what it is about certain media that I really like, what's complicated about them, and how it feels to get away from the acidic, spiteful negativity I too often see online. I might be doing some changes here to the content, appearance, and general being that is this blog, but fear not - it won't be major overhalls. I'm not changing anything major - only finding a way to keep talking about fandom without using the same drawing source (I'm not getting rid of my Tumblr, mind you - I'm just using it far less.) There's a lot I want to write about and now, it's just finding the time and energy to do it. Despite my fatigue and work load, I have loads of energy and feel a motivation I haven't felt since last winter. So, with your patience and indulgence, more posts will be coming. I just don't know quite when (especially as I'm visiting my family in Indiana next week and will have limited internet access).

So, dear readers, I'm happy to say all is well. I'll be back soon with more of my ramblings :D

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Ableism

This blog post is a long time in coming and greatly motivated by my stumbling across these two videos. Watch them, and I'll catch up with you after:




There are three huge points the videos make that tie into my focus of this post: Zayid's description of disability as race and disabled people being the most underrepresented minority, Young's statement that believing disability is a bad thing and that it's an exception to the norm is a lie, and the mention both women make of social media's influence on disability.

http://www.ronnelsonlaw.com
Working retail has seriously made me think about society's views on disability more, mainly because it's the first time in my life I'm actually interacting with disabled people in a way that, as Young describes, isn't about inspiring objects. Because I live in a metropolis, the diversity of shoppers are much greater at my store than if I were working at a Target in my hometown. Often sales floor team members will do shopping assistance for guests who need additional customer service, not because they aren't completely capable of doing things, but because the world hasn't taken very kindly to people who have a different array of senses or a different spectrum of movement. Never before had I given thought to the fact that no products on shelves have braille on them. Never before had I realized that shopping carts are built for people with a very specific height and movement assumption in mind. I, an unknowing ableist, had spent my life thinking of disability in the way that it was presented in high school - a hurdle to be overcome, an obstacle that must be conquered, not a part of everyday life that was accepted and acclimated to. Perhaps if I had learned about disabilities in a different way, I would have realized much sooner how awkwardly stores are laid out and how narrow aisles are and how, essentially, everything is made with a certain idea of the human body in mind. Instead, I learned about how great Helen Keller was, not so much because of the things she did, but because she "overcame being blind and deaf." And, considering Helen Keller was the only disabled person I remember learning about in school, my knowledge of disability stayed limited until college, when it began to come up in more varied ways. But only in working retail have I really had better exposure and gained understanding to realize just how ableist I and the world around me is.

One of the first things I realized was height. I am 5'2'' and I struggle to reach the top shelves in the store, but often guests ask me for help to grab merchandise because shelves are not designed for anyone under 5ft to reach without assistance. A team member who uses a wheelchair often has others help him with work because there are certain shelves he can't reach. Working with this same team member has been a huge learning experience for me in several ways - for one, it's the first time I'd ever worked with a disabled person in an environment where he wasn't inspirational; he was just a part of the team. However, he is inspirational in the way that he's a fundamental part of the team - without him, we'd spend a lot more time trying to find where merchandise is because he remembers where almost everything is and generally by approximate or exact aisle number. Secondly, working with this team member made me realize how others treat disabled people and how utterly messed up it is.

Last Christmas, I spent nearly everyday working in toys with this team member. He knew the store far better than I who had only been there for a couple of months, but when a customers had questions, they turned to me and not him. Despite the fact that he has the general stereotypical markers of someone with more knowledge - male, older than I - being in a wheelchair overrode this. Often it seemed guests wanted to avoid him or ignore him if possible. This made me angry, especially as it just resulted in me referring guests to him anyway because I had no idea whether or not we had any of those damn Rainbow Looms/Crazy Looms in stock (if you have not heard of this loom thing, then you are a lucky, lucky person. They were all the rage last Christmas).

Doing shopping assistance for disabled guests has showed me similar issues with other guests. While helping a guest in a wheelchair, the guest accidentally backed into another standing behind him. I felt bad, as I didn't realize the two guests were so close to each other, but I also felt annoyed that the guest not in the wheelchair just stood there, not thinking the other guest might eventually back up in the very narrow aisles and that he might be a bit in the way. When helping guests who are blind, other guests either don't move out of the way and get stepped on or over-avoid and look as if they are afraid. Seeing this in others, while it irritates me, also causes me to realize instances when I've done this myself. And it makes me realize that everything I know about working with disabled people is self-taught and that I genuinely hope I'm not doing a terrible job of it.

Like Zayid says, disability is as visible as race. Disabilities cannot be ignored and should not be avoided. I, as terrible as it sounds, used to be afraid to work with people who were disabled because I didn't know how - I'd been told all my life not to treat them any differently, but that's a little hard to do when there are large differences. I didn't want to hurt or offend them, but I didn't know how to balance working with their differences and treating them as I would anyone else. While I wasn't supposed to single them out, they were singled out in a world that exceptionalized them and didn't always make life so easy for them. As Young said, smiling at a flight of stairs will do nothing, and it doesn't matter how nice or positive I am - if I can't do something to treat them as I would anyone else while still respecting their differences, I've failed.

I've failed at this a lot. Partly out of ignorance, but partly out of the structure of our world. I've learned to not be worried about asking what a guest prefers, whether it's taking the elevator over the escalator, or to grasp my arm while we walk, because at least I'm asking and not assuming. But short-comings extend beyond myself  - for example, check-out lanes are rarely wheelchair friendly, stores do not design themselves to allow for chairs, or assistance dogs, or really anyone who doesn't have the assumed sensory and motor perception that dominates our ideas of the norm. I learn from disabled people all the time, but it's what I learn from anyone else - that the world is a lot more diverse and a lot more interest than we accept it to be. And that we should really work on that.

I really enjoy doing shopping assistance because it allows me to spend more time with a guest than I would usually and to have a conversation with them that's more than "How are you doing?" and "What do you think of this weather?" but sometimes it's a bit difficult to feel like I'm doing it properly, as we never received training about doing such assistance, and the faults of the environment (ie: what the heck do we do when the elevator isn't working?) become faults I take personally. Thankfully, I've grown a lot more aware of the ableism around me, but I can't help feeling like I'm still failing, that in some ways I shouldn't even have to do shopping assistance because shouldn't stores be shoppable for any- and everyone? And yet at the same time I'm grateful that my Target offers shopping assistance because I have the sinking suspicion that my hometown store may not and that other stores wouldn't know what to do if someone requested it.

After writing all of this, I am abundantly aware that I shouldn't really be the one posting about this - we should be listening to disabled people, like Maysoon Zayid and Stella Young. We need their representation far more than we need more like me talking about how messed up things are but are not deeply affected by it. However, I hope this post comes across more of a "Hey, look, this is an issue; go learn more about it - because I'm trying to and we can learn together!" instead of a "Ughhh, the world is unfair to people of difference and I'm privileged and I can whine about it for you because I'm privileged" but I'm not entirely certain I've succeeded at that. So I'm going to stop talking now and hope that Zayid and Young's words speak louder than mine and that theirs' are the ones you remember while that mine are just a tangential, correlated piece that contributes, not obscures or undermines.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

"A Celebrity is Not a People"

After a zany week that resulted in two new tattoos, an internship with a local theater, and the realization that I like retail too much, I have a little more time to blog this week. However, I am tremendously sleep-deprived as I start at 6am every day this week, though I could be starting even earlier and I should stop being such a complain-y pants. Anyway, I'm keeping today's post relatively short.

Another great struggle with this post is how to make it discussive and contemplative without making it call-outy. You see, once more I'm addressing the issue of fame. And I'm hoping that this scene from The Muppet Movie can help take another look at this:

http://feministbatch.tumblr.com/post/82715325813

The title of this post comes from the last panel of this, with it being declared that "a celebrity is not a people." I find this scene from the movie ridiculously humorous, perhaps because at some level it's too painfully true.

I dig up this topic again like a grave robber (whoops, that's a morbid simile there) only because last week this five minutes I spent on Tumblr expressed to me that apparently people have been spreading rumors about Tom Hiddleston being rude to fans and doing cocaine, and because I came across this article about Lana Del Ray and her struggles with fame, with her stating, "I wish I was dead," a dark, trouble reaction to the harsh criticism she's gained. Both of these incidents are terrible and, given my respect and admiration for both of these artists, I cannot understand what leads people to be so cruel to others. Is it some reaction to success that some feel compelled to insult people without caring about what their words will do? Is it some attention-seeking endeavor? Bitter jealousy? Fandom and appreciation gone wrong?

http://www.kirstyfairclough.co.uk
I truly don't know. But somehow, I think, the mindset becomes precisely what The Muppet Movie (in jest) describes: we stop thinking about celebrities as people and think of them only as "celebrities," some other sort of being who cannot be affected by what we say because, somehow, it's believed that they are too insulated to hear such criticism or too full of themselves to let it affect them or utterly impervious in some other manner I can't even conceive. I'd try to liken why thinking this way baffles me, as I would never spread such rumors about my friends or complete strangers, let alone celebrities, but then I recalled this Morrissey song and realized that dealing with success of others is difficult and maybe these reactions, while inexcusable, do come from the fact that certain ideas of success are prized more than others and so difficult to obtain.

Regardless, there is a difference between envy and outright destructive responses and it seems rather harmful to hate someone to the point of no longer seeing them as deserving as the same privacy and respect you would demand for yourself. As a blogger on Tumblr put it, "[Mr. Hiddleston] is a person and should be left alone. Admiring his work is one thing, chopping his private life to pieces another!" This discussion is nothing new; I've posted about it time and time again. But I feel it bears repeating, especially when discussions of privacy are very integral to media and internet discussions. If you want privacy for yourself, then you should also respect the privacy of others. However, the yearning we have to know things about each other, especially people we are distant from, is a powerful thing. But if the rumor and criticism mills are embedded in such a desire, it seems far more distancing than bringing celebrities closer to their fans. Perhaps, then, its linked to a different mindset - that there can be no familiarity between fans and celebrities, that neither are people who deserve respect. And that is a very scary thought indeed.

I could muse and prattle on about this forever, but I will stop myself before I get into erratic, circular tangents. Once again, more to think about, nothing resolved.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Critical Fans

So as you might notice, I'm posting on a Wednesday, not a Tuesday. This week is super busy for me and, due to a marvelous interview for an internship yesterday and work, I didn't get the chance to write anything up. Instead, I'm going to share with you this cool and interesting video on fandom, focusing on being a critical fan. Hopefully I'll have a chance to write something up for you all on Friday, but no promises - this is a week of utter madness (but in a good way). Enjoy this Youtuber's thoughts instead - and her awesome pink hair :D


Friday, June 6, 2014

Chasing Pirates

I've recently started watching this Youtube series called "The New Adventures of Peter + Wendy," a retelling of Peter Pan in modern day, and I'm thoroughly enjoying it (I have been and am becoming even more so a sucker for anything Peter Pan). The most recent posted video was incredibly poignant and well-timed for me so I'm sharing it here and writing about it's relevance to my twentysomething life:


How do you stay young when the world just wants to age you? How do you plan love? These lines hit me harder than Thor's hammer and have been the very things I've been pondering for the last year and half or so. The bit about the five year plan is a little too relevant right now - I've been job searching and applying and mulling over possible interview questions and, of course, this is one that's often asked (though I've never received it in an interview). I always used to hear it as ten years, but I think they toned it down to five (probably got tired of people answering as I would - "Not dead." Though if you asked me where I want to be in five years, that'd still be my answer). For some people, the answer is very clear to what they want to be doing in five years - working at X company, doing Y thing, living in Z place. Whether it will happen or not isn't relevant - what is relevant is that they can see vividly and clearly what they want. But I've never had this clarity. Where they see a highly contrasted, elegantly composed Caravaggio work, I see the future as a Van Gogh painting. There's bright patches and forms, but it's not totally fleshed out the way other plans are. There's a lot of swirls and splotches and movement.

This is giving myself more form and composition, actually, because usually my plans look far more like a Jackson Pollack painting. It's not that I don't plan, it's that planning, especially in high detail, rarely works out for me. Perhaps it's the community I'm in, perhaps it's the jobs I have, but I've learned to create loose, flexible plans so that if the worst or the best happens, I can adapt. Generally, this is a useful skill (given that I am actually flexible and don't collapse into a flailing heap), but the corporate world is full of doublespeak (to use an Orwell term for it). Opposing concepts at embraced and expected to be both easily used. One is meant to be flexible yet rigid, regimented yet open for whatever comes one's way. Which is, as you probably already know, really difficult.

http://www.stevewiens.com
Unfortunately for those who want the world to be more planned - and I'm not entirely outside this category by any means - I find myself wanting some stability, some security, but a whole bunch of time to do random, spontaneous things. For the last eight years of my life, I've been in a set schedule of classes and routines, of trying to attain a specific goal (expensive pieces of paper aka: graduation), and supposedly doing career planning - though it's kind of hard to plan a career when you don't really know what's out there). Now that I do have a semi-plan, I feel a little more secure and I lot more spontaneous. Did I buy theater tickets for Richard III? Yep. Am I going to buy tickets for Hamlet? If I am lucky enough to get them (and that's a bit if), yes. This may cause me deserved hate. I feel almost embarrassed to admit that I'm going to be traveling again to see theater shows, but at the same time, I keep thinking about all the people who told me to travel while I'm young, while I have the luxury and ability to do it, before I have huge commitments like a family or a mortgage or something (though whether I will ever have those things is questionable).

This leads me to another question - was there a time when people were allowed to do weird transition-y stuff after college? I grew up hearing about how graduates went on backpacking trips through Europe, joined the Peace Corps, took some quirky job, not because they had to, but because they wanted to or because they needed time to decompress after the dense and intense time. Maybe not everyone needs this transitive state - some people handle the stress better than others, some have rather less stressful experiences - but it worries me that the acceptance of this period seems pretty low. Expectations of getting a job right out of college seem very high and appear to engulf everything else - high unemployment will do that, I suppose. There are more options between getting a job and living in your parents' basement right out of school and, while we know this, I don't think there's a lot of discussion and support towards other options. Honestly, working retail has been one of the best learning experiences of my life, and exactly what I needed to move from college to whatever is coming next. But I don't want it to stop there. I want to move on to a new job, yes, but I still have a need to breath, to figure out a little bit more of who I've become after some of the most formative, exploratory years of my life. There's this Norah Jones song called "Chasing Pirates" and the song title feels apt to my mindset - I'm looking for something sort of romanticized, I'm being a bit reckless, but what I'm following does have a real, tangible root. I've got direction, just not clarity as to where I'm going to end up. Maybe my youth and naivete are showing, but I don't think this is a bad thing at all. I don't know everything, I don't have a lot of experience, the road ahead looks like an M.C. Esher print - and it's beautiful.

http://www.mcescher.com/Gallery/recogn-bmp/LW399.jpg
Somehow, I'm not terrified about the future right now - probably because I have a place to crash next year while I figure things out, a busy promising week coming up that might actually result in moving forward both theater-wise and day job-wise (*fingers crossed*), and enough world traveling planned to drown any lingering sorrow. Also Target Headquarters messed up payroll so for a brief moment in time, so tomorrow I will get paid double (at least until they fix the error) but... you know, I can imagine what it would be like if I did get that bonus (hey, fault's on you guys; just this once can we keep it?). I'm just happy that I've realized that I need a little bit of impulsiveness and childishness in my life. If I take myself too seriously - as I have for much of my college days - I'll burn myself out. After doing little but school work and more school work in my college days, I feel like living a little.

So what's my five year plan? Who can say? But it'll be an adventure. Now let's go chase some pirates.

http://www.redbubble.com/people/lalakay/works/8892193-play-like-a-pirate

(BTW, I own this t-shirt. It's the best.)

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

25 Questions You Probably Never Wanted Me To Answer (But I Answered Them Anyway)

I have all kinds of drafts on my blog for topics I'd like to write about, but none of them feel quite right for today. I'm in a summery kind of mood, I've been adventuring around Minneapolis in my days off from work, and I'm preparing for a busy month. However, this has left me all in a very "let's picnic in a park and fall asleep in a sunbeam" kind of mentality rather than a writing one. So, since I'm feeling particularly lazy and because I think I've gained a smattering of new readers, here's me answering some dumb survey questions because I can. (And if you're curious, all questions came from here, though I've edited out many of them for time/interest's sake.)

1. What are your nicknames? What do you prefer to be called?
Generally Gina is a bit difficult to shorten, but you can call me Gin. I prefer to be called Oz the Great and Powerful. (I am, of course, kidding. If you actually call me this, I might die laughing.)

kindnessblogdotcom1.files.wordpress.com
2. What books on your shelf are begging to be read?
Ugh, so many of them... Americanah by Chimamanda Adichie, a collection of Tenneyson's poems, several books about Shakespeare, All's Well That Ends Well, Trolious and Cressida, a book on Vincent Van Gogh that's taken me two months to read (I am determined to finish it this summer; only four hundred more pages to go!)

3. How often do you doodle? What do your doodles look like?
Not often, now that I'm not in school. When I do doodle, it's generally a lot of spirals and squiggly lines.

4. What do you do if you can’t sleep at night? Do you count sheep? Toss and Turn? Try to get up and do something productive?
I generally toss and turn and make up stories in my head, hoping that will tire me out, but if it's really bad, I'll listen to music or read. 

5. How many days could you last in solitary confinement? How would you do it?
That is a terrifying, interesting question. I have absolutely no idea. Probably not long. If I had some pen and paper, maybe I'd be okay, but just me, alone with my thoughts, with no human contact? No longer than a few days and I'd be sobbing for someone to let me out.

6. When making an entrance in to a party, do you make your presence known? Do you slip in and look for someone you know? Do you sneak in quietly and find a safe spot to roost?
Roost? Who am I, Hawkeye? No, I enter like Davide Bowie in Labyrinth, with strong gusts of wind and spiraling glitter. Honestly, I generally only go to small parties where I know most people and my entrance is immediately noted. I suppose at a larger party, I'd either go with someone I knew and interact with people as I can or, if I'm going solo, try to find someone I know or find some poor soul to try and introduce me to other people.

http://www.theplaystation.com
7. What is the strangest thing you believed as a child?
I used to think that there was a mirror-image world beneath our feet where everyone in human form was replicated in mouse-form. So there'd be a little mouse me going to kindergarten or a little mouse version of my class having story time. I also used to think that field trips would result in Scooby Doo-like mysteries or some grandiose adventure where all my wildest dreams would come true. I was always disappointed that field trips were never exciting as I'd hoped they'd be.

8. Who performs the most random acts of kindness out of everyone you know?
Ooh, that's a tough question. I know a lot of really kind people so I seriously can't answer that. 

9. How often do you read the newspaper? Which paper? Which sections?
Randomly throughout the week. I read them all online, mostly the Minneapolis Star Tribune and The Guardian. Otherwise I scroll through Twitter for headlines and click on links.

10. Which animals scare you most? Why?
I hate wasps/hornets. I love bees. But wasps scare me a great deal. Also, I am terrified of velociraptors, but thankfully they are extinct.
 
11. Are you more likely to avoid conflict or engage it head-on?
Depends on the conflict, but usually avoid.

12. What was the most recent compliment you’ve received and savoured?
A customer at Target told me the other day he liked my hair when I had it braided and I really appreciated that. People rarely compliment me on my hair. 

13. What is something about yourself that you hope will change, but probably never will?
I worry endlessly about health/weight but I'm really not bad off on that. I probably wish I could me a little less stressed about things and more extroverted, less nervous about meeting new people.

14. When was the last time you really pushed yourself to your physical limits?
The last time I went on a really long run. It's tough, working in retail and standing on my feet all of the time and trying to keep up a running routine. My legs are so physically exhausted that on my days off, I really prefer to sit around and read than running or exercising. So I'm trying to balance that out so I don't overdo it.

15. Are you more inclined to “build your own empire” or unleash the potential of others?
I have never seen this question asked this way. And honestly, I don't really know. I mean, I don't think of myself as an empire builder, but I also don't think I help people as much as I could. So I don't know. Both? Neither?

16. What’s a strange occurrence you’ve experienced but have never (or rarely) shared with anyone?
One night when I was walking home from work last fall, a couple that had been fighting came up to me on the street. They were a man and a woman and the man explained to me that he had been down on his luck and that he'd been trying to turn his life around. He was struggling with communication with his girlfriend and felt that she was cutting him out. I don't remember the details now, but she had been a foster child growing up and had struggled with intimacy/closeness with people. He loved her deeply and didn't wan to let her go, but he also didn't want to cause himself pain. I don't remember what I told the both of them, but they came out of nowhere, asking me for advice, and because this isn't the first time people have done this, I wonder if there's something about my face, something about my presence that just gives people the feeling they can tell me anything. Regardless, I spent maybe fifteen minutes talking to them about how communication is a struggle and love is hard and other honest things I thought they should know. I don't remember what I said now, but it affected them and, in return, they affected me. I wished them a Happy Halloween (it was October 31st when this occurred) and the man told me he didn't believe in Halloween, didn't like the whole affair of it, but that Happy Thanksgiving was better, that family and support of that nature was more important. Somehow, I'd alluded to my own current unhappiness, being at a school I didn't like and missing my family and their support, and his thoughts on Thanksgiving struck a cord with me. Wishing him a Happy Thanksgiving, I went home, made some terrible mistakes in the days to follow, and decided to change what I was doing with my life. I don't know what happened to them and if things worked out, but I continue to wish them both the best, even though I no longer remember their names.

http://www.ci.minneapolis.mn.us
17. Where’s your favourite place to take an out-of-town guest?
I don't have many out-of-town guests, but if I do, I'll insist on visiting the Guthrie Theater, going to the Wilde Roast Cafe, going to Nicollet Mall downtown and eating at Brit's Pub, and visiting the Sculpture Gardens near the Walker Arts Center (they are particularly gorgeous in the summer). Also, it's impossible to do any of this without seeing the Mississippi River, so there's a good lot of walking around that area. And Uptown is pretty sweet too. And Lake Calhoun. Man, there's actually a lot of things; how long are my out-of-town guests staying?

http://studenttravelplanningguide.com

18. What’s your all-time favourite town or city? Why?
It's a terrible, complicated tie between Minneapolis and London. But I will also always have a soft spot in my heart for Columbus, Indiana, and Denver, Colorado. I am also really fond of Edinburgh, Glasgow, Fort William, and Aberdour, Scotland.

19. What are the top three qualities that draw you to someone new?
Discussing the same sorts of books/shows/films/music I like and saying something about them that either I agree with or hadn't thought of before, expressing some opinion or belief I find fascinating/compelling, and having an easy-going, open-minded, and outgoing personality.

20. If you could eliminate one weakness or limitation in your life, what would it be?
If that garrulous, disconcerting voice of negativity and unreason could go away, I'd be a lot more carefree.

21. If you could restore one broken relationship, which would it be?
I don't know if I'd restore this relationship, but I really messed up with a friend of mine in high school and, while I feel my reactions were reasonable, I still have regrets about it and I wish that things had happened differently, that we could have at least remained acquaintances instead of losing our entire friendship.

22. If you had to change your first name, what would you change it to?
I was obsessed with the name Catherine when I was younger because I inexplicably wanted to be called Cat. Now, however, I can hardly see myself with a different name, but if I had to choose one, I'm going with Wren (I toyed with the idea of using it as a pen name for a while but decided against it).

23. Do you hold any convictions that you would be willing to die for?
Uffda. That is an intense question. I'd like to think I do, but I don't really know. I'm pretty sure I'd die to protect love and friendship, and I'm pretty I'd die to defend basic human rights. But I don't really know, because I've never been in that situation. And while I'm not entirely terrified of death, I'm afraid of suffering and pain that leads to death. So if I knew I was going to be in an immense amount of pain or tortured or something, I don't know how I'd react.

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24. In what area of your life are you immature?
Definitely the whole emotional-romantic-relationshippy realm. And yet at the same time, my thinking on it doesn't seem entirely immature, I just don't have a lot of personal experience/growth there. Also, I keep reverting towards interests of mine that I had when I was much younger and reacting like a rather over-excited eight year old. But I don't think this makes me immature either; I'm just a kid at heart. However, when it comes to financial planning and that sort of stuff, that I am entirely immature and inexperienced about and I can only hope that my current job searching will placate the judgement I've received on such matters.

25. When do you find yourself singing?
Anytime, all of the time, at really inopportune moments. I generally sing when no one's around because I rather think I sound like an owl being strangled, even though I also think I sound rather good. It's probably a mix of the two and I just sound pretty mediocre. But I always have music stuck in my head, so perhaps in some way, I'm always singing. 

Friday, May 30, 2014

We Need Diverse Books

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This week has been pretty pivotal in terms of news events for me as a writer and an avid reader. With the unfortunate passing of the author Maya Angelou and with the Kickstarter campaign for Reading Rainbow to relaunch this much loved PBS kid's show on the web and provide it for free to schools in need, it's been both somber and inspiring. While I regrettably have read a limited amount of Angelou's work, her magnitude and influence affects me and reminds me, as the death of any author does, how connected we are to these people and their words. Both of these events have caused me to ruminate further on something I've been thinking a lot about recently - diversity and literature.

In my younger years, I had a lot of prejudice against books. I wouldn't read something if it didn't have cool cover art (and grew frustrated when cool cover art misled me to horrid books). I didn't like reading things that didn't have certain elements that I found interesting - I would read any young adult ghost adventure story, but something about a spelling bee would be uninteresting because it sounded too normal or ordinary. Worst of all, I hesitated to read things that might be about a topic or culture I wasn't familiar with - I avoided Ghost at the Tokaido Inn because I knew nothing about Japan and I was afraid that I wouldn't get it. I didn't overtly recognize all of this, of course, until years later, when I'd finally grown out of it. But it's amazing to me that, as much as I loved reading and as much as I loved learning, there were certain borders I was afraid of crossing.

Fortunately for me, I managed to cross them. I somehow ended up reading Hatchet by Gary Paulsen, a book generally marketed for boys, read it multiple times, and loved it (it's still one of my favorites). I read the Dear America books and the Royal Diaries series attached to them, branching out from protagonists that did not look like me, even though I feared that their stories would not be relatable (I enjoyed seeing how wrong I was). I started having interest in books that took place in parts of the world I had never been and found myself drifting towards characters I was nothing like (aided by the fact that I was also reading more nonfiction and learning about how complex our crazy old world is). 

So why in the world did it take me so long to diversify my reading habits? Some of it had to do with my surroundings - growing up in an area where much of the population looks like you and most of the literature marketed in stores is about people who look and act like you and most of the stories you read in school are about the same influenced this. I read nearly every Betty Ren Wright book in existence because she wrote about Midwestern girls who stumbled across ghosts and had to reconcile their fear, and while I will love Betty Ren Wright until my dying day, reading only books like this might have stunted my reading habits for a few years. There's also the caveat that I developed certain levels of insecurity in my later childhood years (between seven and nine years) and reading books about characters I could easily identify with helped me feel better about my own self-construct. However, the more books I read about people I felt like I should relate to because we lived in similar circumstances, we looked the same, we lived in the same part of the world and yet couldn't relate to them at all worried me. I felt like there was something wrong with me if I couldn't relate to these female protagonists in middle school because they wanted boyfriends and I wanted to find pirate treasure/join a quest with Aragorn and the rest of the Fellowship/solve crimes with Sherlock Holmes (note: these were all legitimate daydreams of mine in middle school. What the hell, these are still legitimate daydreams of mine). I hit a brick wall in reading and found myself rereading the same books over and over because they understood me (Inkheart, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Tuck Everlasting, Jane Eyre, A Series of Unfortunate Events, The Little House on the Prairie and every Laura Ingalls Wilder book in existence, the Redwall books, Shannon Hale's The Goose Girl, Jennifer Donnelly's A Northern Light, an assortment of Sharon Creech books). It's not a bad selection by any means (well, I did read Twilight far too many times) but there was so much out there and I was kind of stunted in some ways. I had an interest in the Holocaust but I could only read so many books about that before I felt too sad to continue. Somehow, though, my reading interests began to expand. Partly this was due to school - taking Honors English and AP English classes forced me to read things I wouldn't have read otherwise (thank you, English teachers of Lakeville South High School, for making me read Shakespeare. I am eternally grateful). But there were other influences - I'd moved to Minnesota, leaved near a large city which made me more interested in urban life than I'd been before. I was getting recommendations for books from more people, and I was finally at the age where books mentioned in shows like Wishbone (another PBS wonder) were finally at my reading level (let me tell you, when I read The Hunchback of Notre Dame and found out how it really ended, I cannot express to you how upset I was) (okay, so I had an Illustrated Classics version - essentially a fancy Sparknotes version of the text that I'd read before - but STILL. Quasimodo deserved better, Victor Hugo, and I'm upset that you ended it with a far more harsher realism than Disney). Also, I was recognizing my own limitations of reading. When I saw friends reading fantasy novels and realized I'd only ever avoided them because I didn't like the cover art, I made myself reconsider my life choices. And trust me, once you start realizing that you have things in common with alien races and fantasy creatures, you start to see the light and realize that, duh, you totally have things in common with people of other culture, nationalities, and experiences.

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One of the first books that really, really made me realize how much I had in common with people I prejudicely thought I had nothing in common with was The Outsiders, by S.E. Hinton, which I read in 7th grade. Though this book focused on male characters, gangs, and death (topics I tried to avoid), I loved the book. Something about the prose, the quoting of Robert Frost (a poet I grew up loving thanks to my father), elements like Grease and West Side Story, and a slick, dangerous, exciting plot line that I could empathize with regardless of my privileged, started to make me realize how much I'd been misunderstanding writing and storytelling in general. Stories could tell so much more than I'd initially granted them and only focusing on a small piece of the literary world was a serious mistake.

The next big jump in my understanding of books I think came from the nonfiction book Reading Lolita in Tehran, which I read as summer homework for my AP Language class. Not only was it a book about books and reading, it was one of the first nonfiction books I'd ever really enjoyed and I read at it time when being from the Middle East was especially misunderstood. Reading Azar Nafisi's account helped me work through a lot of misunderstanding and hate that was surrounding me and as one of the first key steps for me becoming a feminist (compound that with the fact we did a project of discussing gender with this book and the film North Country and yeah, I was an instant feminist).

And so, with the passing of Maya Angelou, I feel a certain sadness that in the past I would have thought I never could have understood her work because she didn't share the same experiences as me or because she wrote nonfiction, or because her poetry was a different style than what I had grown up on. I harbored certain prejudices and I am ashamed that they kept me from reading works like hers until much later than I would have liked. But I Know Why the Cage Bird Sings will always haunt me, the first impression it made on me when we read her poetry in my AP Language class utterly unforgettable. Writing from authors like Toni Morrison, Margaret Atwood, Michael Chabon, Salman Rushdie, Studs Terkel, and Tony Kushner fundamentally changed my life and my reading habits and while I might have picked certain favorites over others, they all influenced me.

I don't think that you have to have diverse reading habits in order to support diversity, but I believe it helps. I love going from Jane Austen to Chimamanda Adichie, from Shakespeare to Margaret Atwood, from the books that I loved a child - and still love - to the books I love now, and seeing how much I have in common. I misunderstood writing when I was younger; I took "write what you know" far too literally and forced myself to write only about experiences I could imagine or knew personally, which stunted my writing. I read in much the same way - if I thought imagining a world different than my own was a struggle, I'd avoid it. I didn't believe in my own abilities to understand. Thank God other people and other resources did, or I might never have ended up where I was.

So why is it that it was so easy for me to picture being a governess ala Jane Eyre but living in a town in Nigeria seemed too difficult? I can't really say now, except that certain prejudices were certainly alive and well in my life and at some point in time, I might have been told that some cultural boundaries couldn't be crossed. But now, I understand the characters of Adichie's novels as well - if not better - than I understand Jane Eyre. Realistically, I have very little in common with Jane Eyre. But something caused me to think that I would understand her better than other characters of different cultures, and I shudder to think how much I unknowing followed this.

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We need diverse books for a number of reasons and one of these reasons is to avoid mistakes like mine. If I had known earlier on that the point of writing is to help us understand each other, to work through out differences, to understand another culture without prejudice or fetishization or postive stereotyping/halo effects. Writing can break down boundaries rather than establishing them. And I'm forever grateful for people like Maya Angelou and projects like Reading Rainbow that express this.

I will forever declare Chimamanda Adichie's TED Talk on "The Dangers of a Single Story" one of the most amazing things I've ever seen, and part of that is because I, much like herself, grew up reading stories like she did, never realizing that there could be other tales told. We need diverse books because everyone has a story to tell, because growing up reading about people from diverse backgrounds can only better people's own self-concepts and of the world around them, and because writing is not just for one group of people. We need diverse books because, without them, we'd only be telling a single story. And what fun is that?