Saturday, April 27, 2013

Of Hipsters and Nerds

I found this video on Youtube a few weeks ago while watching one of Gigi's videos from The Lizzie Bennent Diaries.

Oh, hipsters. How we love to hate you. But as I've said before, the line between hipsters and fandoms and/or and nerds is so fine. Both may have very selective things they are interested in. Both may have a superiority complex. Both might really, really likes scarves and alternative rock.

Part of the issue is that hipster can mean a variety of different things. It's the flannel wearing, organic-eating, mustache-loving, craft beer drinking sort exemplified in the video above. On Tumblr, it's fashion-loving, Starbucks drinking, YOLO lovers. If you're Russian, it can refer to a subculture where "stilyagi" (the Russian word for hipster) were kids who wore brightly colored 1950s style clothes that contrasted greatly from the Soviet environment around them (there's this great Russian film called Stilyagi which I've had the fortune to see and I recommend it. It's great in its own way). The one thing about all of these ideas is that it's a sort of surface, appearance-based idea of what makes someone hipster. Sure, there are certain strains of thoughts that are considered hipster but usually identifying them comes from appearance and dress (especially the website "look at the fucking hipster"). There's something sort of performative about it, as the video noted. But obviously there are different ideas of performativity and different ways its carried out. Which makes things complicated.

I could now go on to discuss the issues of hipsters and various ways of thinking about them and why they are so hated, but that's a dissertation, not a blog post. And I think I've talked about hipsters on here somewhere before and I want to try to keep from rehashing things I've already said. So, instead I'm going to mention one last thing before moving on to the blood feuds of Tumblr, and that's an essay I just read for my graphic novels course, of all things, by Susan Sontag on "camp" (like campy films) and ways of thinking about it (and look, I found it on online! Yay!). Some of the stuff she said reminds me quite a bit of hipsters, some of it not so much. Some of it bothers me just because we were using it to discuss two characters in the book Ghost World and I happen to not like those two characters very much at all. But overall the essay is interesting and there if you like reading literary/cultural/philosophy stuff.

But on to blood feuds. Here's the deal: Tumblr loves to pit the hipsters and the nerds against each other. Well, at least the people of Tumblr love to do this. Of course, hipsters on Tumblr are different than how this above video thinks of them and more along the lines of fashion-loving, Starbucks drinking sort, known for posting photos focused around glamor, music, love, and "artsy" sort of photos. If you're a Tumblr user, this might all be second nature to you. If you're not, this sounds a bit strange, I imagine. But there are different sorts of genres present in blogs and it's assumed that you're either one genre or the other.
Of course, this is a problem if you happen to be... well, me. I am pretty much a fandom blogger. I follow a lot of fandom blogs. But one of my best friend's sisters has a hipster blog and I enjoy most of the stuff she posts. And a lot of the time, I see fan blogs and hipster blogs post the same stuff *gasp*. And considering I like pretty photos (predominately a hipster thing) and TV shows/films/British actors (fandom things), and then have a whole slew of feminist and cultural posts (social justice blogs?) I feel like I kind of float in between clear boundaries of these blogs (not that I think these boundaries are at all clear or ever have been).

But the whole thing of disliking hipsters, especially from fandoms, has me especially confused. I
know with mainstream hipsters (okay, that's a beautiful oxymoron), sincerity is an issue with their "ironic" like of everything (which makes my head hurt - do hipsters think Arcade Fire is a good band or do they just ironically like them or do they like that Arcade Fire is ironic?) But the hipsters of Tumblr aren't really like this - they aren't the typical hipster. They aren't pretentious, from what I see. They aren't exclusive. They seem pretty chill. What I do unfortunately see are fandoms sometimes being rather hipster - "ruining" hipster posts, which is all fine and well at first, but gets to be kind of redundant and annoying after a while (why do you feel the need to do that? I'm asking that honestly, not angrily - I simply don't get it), flouting their fan status, judging hipster blogs that follow them.

Maybe hipster blogs come off as superficial and fake-y, but I don't really get that. They seem pretty sincere. Maybe it's about performativity, as the YouTube video above mentions. But I seem fandom as way more performative than Tumblr hipsters. Inserting this status into hipster posts, expressing their love of their fandoms through various means. I mean, for example, this is what I wore to class on Friday:

This photo took like ten tries. Do you know how hard it is to get an extended shot on an iPhone so you get more than just your face? It's really hard. Or maybe I just suck at photography.

Anyway, it's a Redbubble shirt, courtesy of geothebio on Tumblr. And when someone in my graphic novels class recognized what Tumblr artists made my shirt, I had a moment of euphoria, feeling almost vindicated and understood. I didn't expect anyone to recognize the Loki drawing, but when they did, it was a great feeling. Is this performative? Well, according to certain cultural theorists, everything is performative, so let's say yes for now. But just because it's performative doesn't mean it's insincere. I could go on a tangent about gender performance right now but that's a discussion better saved for another time.

What does seem kind of insincere is when fandoms hate on hipsters. It comes off more like a "my cultural capitol is better than yours" than a need to share their interests or an actual tangible dislike. Maybe they see Tumblr hipsters as shallow, but I'm not really getting that vibe - they have the same levels of shallowness and depth as the fandoms or any other group of human beings. It's a battle for superiority which, given how hipsters have more of a mainstream cultural scene than nerds do. Don't get me wrong, it's a great time to a be a nerd, but it's not so easy to just go out and be super-enthusiastic about something - it makes you vulnerable, especially to haters. Ironically something gives you a sort of shield. You have a buffer, because you don't really like it, you just like it because it's *insert adjective here.* Despite this, not that many people identify as ironic hipsters (aka mainstream hipsters; not the Tumblr ones). Part of this reason seems to be due to the idea that hipsters have a bit of self-loathing. Or so I've been told. Ironic hipsters don't really like themselves and thus try to represent something they can (ironically or not) like. Wow... guess what? That sounds incredibly like me as a teenager, before I got attached to nerd culture and found ways of expressing myself in ways that allowed me to grow to like who I was. Again, the differentiation is kind of lost on me.

And oh my God, this video my friend Danielle recommended just said the thing I said about vulnerability:

Okay, this video is one of the sweetest and sincere when discussing hipsters. Four for you, Nerd Writer.

Here's the conclusion I've come to: Hipsters are people who exhibit things that we don't like about ourselves - nostalgia, cynicism, dislike for mainstream - all of which we've likely felt ourselves. But we don't want to admit it and may not like these parts of ourselves and thus we hate on the hipsters. Because we're all hipsters, in some shape or form.

What makes my head hurt is how fandoms pushing hipsters aside on Tumblr seems... well, more ironic hipster than the Tumblr hipsters. This all bothers me because - wait, no, there's a gif:

Thank you for existing, Mean Girls.

Hipsters are us, we are hipsters. It might drive us crazy, but it's the truth. And I may not understand ironic appreciation (except for maybe in the case of the movie The Room by Tommy Wiseau which is so catastrophically over-dramatic that it becomes a side-splitting comedy) but I do really, sincerely like things that are considered hipster - mustaches, Arcade Fire, big sweaters, tea, fancy beers, and flannel (but I live in Minnesota; that comes with the territory).

So I like things. Guess that just makes me a human. Cool. :)

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Life in a Northern Town

My mind is currently addled by the release of the new Thor trailer and the fact that I am carrying far too many responsibilities at once. Oh, and I'm apparently graduating in less than a month, despite the fact that Minneapolis got snow the other night (thought it's warming up now, finally). Regardless, the post I intended to write leagues away and the words don't want to come about anything else. So, if you don't mind, I'm going to prattle on about some issues of existing and hope that I can get back to more fandom related things on Saturday.
It is astonishing how much of my life is spent at war with space. By space, I mean the area around me - home, town, actual current physical location. I don't know if I've ever been completely satisfied with the area I'm in from a long-term perspective. For a girl who used to hate leaving a place due to several moves from one town to another when I was younger, I have become a rather restless individual, filled with wanderlust. And at the same times, I'd rather not leave where I am. I'm beginning to want things to come here, for Minneapolis to be more of a cultural iconic city, like New York or LA or even Chicago. Part of it is due to the fact that Minneapolis is an absolute fascinating city and yet a pretty well-kept secret as far as tourism and popularity of American cities goes. True, this is partly due to the fact that we get snow in April, but also because we're in "flyover country." To those of you who don't live in a country so large that it takes a week to travel across it (by car, I should mention), this idea is perhaps a bit strange. Because the United States is ridiculously large and consists of a great deal of sprawling land, there are bits large chunks of it that kind of get forgotten. Like the entire state of North Dakota (sorry, North Dakota). And Nebraska. And... well, if you watch the NBC Nightly News, you'd think the only parts of the country where things generally happened were the East and West Coasts (ie: New York and LA) and sometimes Texas and Florida. The Midwest, despite its great size and differing regions gets lumped together and often ignored. This wouldn't be a bit deal except for the fact that the US is personified as this big, homogenous landscape that's personified in either the NYC or LA lifestyle or the idealized suburban landscape and it gets annoying when there is so much more than that at play. I get frustrated when people think Minneapolis and St. Paul are the exact same city. Despite the fact that he only thing that separates them is a river and some neighborhoods and zoning lines, they are actually really different towns with different personalities. They developed differently, had different companies and businesses settle in them, and have different histories. They have much in common, but they are also very unique. Which is for some reason hard for some to wrap their minds around.
The longer I live in Minnesota, the more I think about how cool it is. It's a mix of lumberjack/Paul Bunyan mythology, Scandinavian roots, lake and river and wetland environment along with the Great Plains, frontier and settler history, mill and factory foundations... it's really complicated, actually. After growing up in a state like Indiana who's culture is much more... well, homogeneous, it seemed (of course, I was very young when I lived in Indiana and perhaps it just seemed more that way than how it may be), Minnesota seems really varied. When I consider how much the Twin Cities have to offer, culturally and so on, it really frustrates me how LA and New York have become such focal points instead of it being a little more of an equal playing field (and if I feel this way, how the heck does the rest of the world feel?). That's not to say that there aren't vibrant theater and music and film scenes here; there absolutely are. It's just that there's the idea in order to really "make it," you have to move to LA or NYC and, generally, that idea seems to hold true. And so, it's an ongoing struggle to keep film, music, theater, and other art forms stimulated when there such a strong impetus to go elsewhere. I realize that I live in a large city in a very unique part of the country and the world, so my complaining is rather pointless when there are other cities in other parts of the world that are being affected far, far more than Minneapolis is. But it kind of sucks to see from the inside how these - well, these almost cultural monopolies are hurting other cultures outside the US and the cultures of the US itself.

Admittedly, not everyone wants to go to the coasts (I've been told repeatedly how cutthroat it is), and so there are growing opportunities around the country for those who look at what it might take to make it in Hollywood and proclaim, "Well, screw that." Unfortunately, those areas are still privileged as more spectacular and innovative and are given a special prestige that other areas aren't. However, there are really cool people who live in NYC and LA and choosing not to go out there limits the people you could work with, the people you could meet, the life you could live. The space you lives in shapes you, perhaps not always in ways we realize, and perhaps in ways that are so obvious we don't consider it.

Clearly I've spoken before about my issues with space and culture, especially in terms of celebrity culture. I continue to ponder about why it matters so much that we don't have many "global" celebrities from Minnesota or why celebrities don't often come here for things. We are certainly not the only part of the world this happens to. But it's funny to think that, really, even though I live in the same country as half a bajillion celebrities, my chances of ever meeting them are really no better than that of someone living in Europe or Asia. There are 7 billion on this planet and yet I still I have the audacity to think that it could happen (sort of quoting the rapper Watsky there, but you get the idea).

I could ramble on about why there's such a draw to go to different cities (global cities, my suburbia professor might call them), but I'm going to assume that I'm not the only one who's longed to live somewhere else, somewhere where the "action" is happening, whether that refers to more activity in terms of work, people, or just general cultural iconic perception. I still want to live in London - mainly because I love London and also because it seems beautiful and fascinating and wonderful. But I also remind myself that some of the things that occasionally drive me to live elsewhere - feeling trapped, feeling bored, wanting to escape something - are things that aren't going to disappear entirely just because I live somewhere else. My environment may influence me, but so do the people around me and my mindset. Moving will not magically change anything. However, I still plan to live abroad eventually (much sooner rather than later, I reckon) because I'm restless and I like traveling. But I also have a greater appreciation for where I am now than I had just a year ago.

Minneapolis is a pretty amazing city. This has been a growing realization as a more permanent
resident of the town due to my college experiences. But working in the most renown theater in Minneapolis has really hit it home for me. Just last night I saw the play "Nice Fish," a new production stemming from the works of Duluth poet Louis Jenkins and actor Mark Rylance. If you are not me, you've probably heard of Mark Rylance before now. Before I heard about this play, I hadn't heard of Rylance, which seems pathetic and impossible in retrospect, because I have certainly seen him in films before. Anyway, Mr. Rylance is in Minneapolis, having co-written this play, is directing in it, and acting in it. And it is wonderful and lovely and brilliant, a charming, poignant sort of "Waiting for Godot" meets Norse mythology meets Minnesota culture.

The gloating sort of thing for the city is that it's gathered some attention - perhaps not from other parts of the US (it seemed the NY Times and other such publications were silent on the whole show) but The Guardian ran a little piece about it, especially as Rylance was the artistic director of the Globe Theater for ten years (excuse me, I need to freak out right now). The point is, Mark Rylance has been very quickly added to my list of favorite actors and I've realized that, despite the predominant focus on our big global cities, things are happening in my city. Sure, they're not the sorts of things that are going to show up on E! news or anything like that, but it's awesome in its own right. And this isn't even accounting for all the local bands, the experimental theater, the other amazing stuff that's going on but will never get the same press coverage and exposure because of... well, that's a different story, a whole argument about a sort of divide between "indie vs. mainstream" but I'm just going to hold off on that tension until Saturday, when I finally tackle the hipster vs. fan argument. 

Also, I think if I keep going on, I feel like this might arrive at a urban vs. suburban vs. rural debate which, as much as I'd like to talk about that, I'm not up for the challenge right now. And this post is already ridiculously long. So I'm going to stop talking and leave you with one of the best kept secrets of Minneapolis - the musician John Mark Nelson. I saw him perform just a few months ago and WOW. I mean wow. He's pretty much amazing. So enjoy.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Where There's a Will, There's a Way

Google as of late enjoys meddling with my life and somehow managed to delete the draft that was going to be Wednesday's post while I was trying to delete another draft. Hopefully there wasn't anything more important in that draft other than the links I wanted to incorporate (and I think I re-found all the ones I wanted) so I'm just going to have to go with it. Also, I failed to actually publish this on Wednesday because my many other numerous obligations got in the way. So it goes.
Anyway, the topic at hand today is (once again) Shakespeare and his presence in our current times. My love for Shakespeare continues to grow as I stumble across various articles about his plays. I've recently noticed how fantastic The Guardian is and came across a couple of really great articles about good old Bill's work - extremely fitting, as his birthday happens to be coming up on April 23rd (okay, so we don't totally know if that's his birthday, but that's what it's attributed as because it's also St. George's feast day and that's just beautifully fitting).

We'll start with this video/article from PBS, which discusses using Shakespeare to deal with school bullying. This seems clever but rather unsurprising to me. I have been, for many years, absolutely resolved in the idea that drama/theater in education can do amazing things for student, especially when it comes to emotional and personal development. Shakespeare is an especially powerful source, as his plays are filled with conflict and power struggles. Bullying is sort of power struggle,  so what better source than to go back to a writer who was one of the first to describe so poignantly the struggles in action and in language of people using power against one another? Not to mention Shakespeare is the pinnacle of why jumping to conclusions and reacting violently is a bad idea. Shakespeare in five words or less:
This article discusses how mutable and adaptable Shakespearean plays are, highlighting how many questions are left unanswered and how each production can have its own spin on things. For example, I saw this fantastic performance of The Taming of the Shrew by a British theater group called Propeller (they were at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis and MAN WERE THEY AMAZING) that had a really feminist take on the play (and it was performed by an all-male cast which was also really cool) (but I'm going to stop myself there or I'll be fangirling over this production for the whole rest of this post). Point is, Shakespeare leaves a lot up to the actors. Or as they state in the article: "Simon Russell Beale is fond of describing acting as three-dimensional literary criticism."

I really love this description of acting. I don't think I've ever discussed my strange relationship with acting on here (or maybe I have. I can't remember anymore :P), but I once wanted to be an actor. Except that I can't remember lines, used to be really uncomfortable in front of people, and... well, have dubious acting abilities overall. But in my mind, writing has always had a sort of parallel relationship to acting. They are both ways of looking at other people's experiences through language. One happens to use written words to express thoughts and stories, while the other uses verbal and physical language. I was discussing this with my dad over coffee one morning this winter (there is still snow on the ground, therefore it is still winter in Minnesota) and somehow the relationship between sharks and pilot fish came up. Maybe it's because I like biology too much, but this comparison seemed like an interesting metaphor. Pilot fish and sharks, along with clown fish and sea anemones are part of symbiotic systems, or mutual relationships in which the two organisms assist each other. I think
writing and acting are sort of symbiotic relationships because they share so much in common, work off of each other, and inspire one another. One of the biggest reasons I like Shakespeare is because this link is so clear in his work, perhaps because he was both a playwright and an actor, or perhaps because his language is so intricate that reading it carefully, thinking about how it's pieced together and how it could be different along with hearing it performed are equally necessary. Using acting as literary criticism is really fascinating because it's building off of this symbiotic relationship, doing something that, when usually done in words, might carry a different sort of power that traditional criticism can't. And because Shakespeare is so adaptable... well, it's the perfect platform for this sort of thing.

I could talk about this sort of thing all day, so I'm going to force myself to move on. This article is just fabulous because it discusses a current production of Othello at the National Theatre in London (which I would love to see, but thankfully the Guthrie is doing Othello next year - YES - and I am certain their staging of it will be amazing). There's a lot of really insightful and wonderfully phrased things here, especially in terms of Iago, who might be my favorite villain in Shakespeare (though Richard III is very, very close second). Like this:
Kinnear nobly suggests shared billing. "In the first half Iago is the engine of the play, but it gets to a point where he's no longer the puppeteer. He's just trying desperately to keep all the plates spinning, and it becomes very much this appalling tragedy of a man in absolute torment." But Shakespeare's great trick, he suggests, is to make the audience complicit in Iago's villainy. "He's afforded seven soliloquies to get them onside. That's part of the horrendous joy of the play."
The really wonderful (and exquisitely painful) things about Shakespeare's works are he marvelous villains that draw you in, show you their schemes, talk to you through soliloquies, and then leave you in an absolutely helpless position. Because you're just the audience and you can't stop them, even though you know things are going downhill faster than a cheetah with a jet-pack. Joss Whedon is releasing a film version of Much Ado About Nothing this summer and I believe this film will be brilliant, not just because Joss Whedon is brilliant in general, but because he also knows how to really draw in the audience, then tear out their hearts, set them on fire, and then stop on the ashes with football cleats. What I'm trying to say that both Shakespeare and Whedon are masters of wit and also kings of making their audience feel like this for much of their work:
Along with Whedon's version, there's also a Romeo and Juliet film coming out this year, which I'm curious about. Shakespeare can be kind of tricky to translate to film (and Romeo and Juliet can be so easily overly-romanticized), but I'll keep my hopes up and see what they do with it. It appears as if there's a reemergence of focus on Shakespeare right now and it makes me giddy. It's a fantastic time to be a Shakespeare nerd. :D

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Uncontrollable Fangirling: William Shakespeare

Ahhhh, it's Saturday afternoon and I have no idea what to blog about it. This is only a problem because I have plenty of draft ideas, but all of them will take too long for me to write about in order to get it published today. I mean, I would love to work on the post I've started about Shakespeare and use all the articles from The Guardian I just came across, or discuss the issues of being both a hipster and a nerd. But if I really dig into those posts, I won't be finishing anything until tomorrow at the earliest. And I refuse to throw off my groove of Wednesday/Saturday publishing. But considering that I plan on writing about Shakespeare next but that will probably stretch on for several billion posts, maybe I should start now.
As you may have gleaned from some of my previous posts, I'm kind of a Shakespeare nerd. It's only getting worse as time goes on through reading more Shakespeare plays, realizing how many people - be they writers, actors, psychologists, etc - he's influenced, and interning in a theater that has a strong appreciation for Shakespeare. Yes indeed; if you're friends with me, you're probably going to hear me blabber on about Shakespeare quite a bit now.

The immediate reaction I tend to get is surprise. Which is... well, surprising. Shakespeare is so well-known and so often quoted, I just kind of figured more people liked him. Apparently not. A lot of students I mention this to say, "But he's so hard to understand." Maybe I've been in school to long but I'd rather read everything Shakespeare has ever written than try to tackle David Hume or Descartes again, thanks. Shakespeare's writing is different than what we're used to, I suppose, but I find it fairly easy to get used to the way he writes. Also, his style allows for some of the best insults I've ever heard, which is certainly a plus.

I also worry, because I am a bit of a hipster and am used to such things, that people will assume I'm saying that just to sound smart or be "fashionable." It's not something I should really be concerned about, but there is a certain elitism sometimes associated with Shakespeare. Which is kind of strange, really, because they're the sort of plays done by all sorts of theater groups, from high schools to world renown organizations. George Dawson has a pretty nice quote on this issue:
This makes me feel generally better about things. Of course, coming from a Cultural Studies background, many in that area of study have problems with Shakespeare less because of his writing but more because of how we think of him today. He's become "over-glorified" in their minds, I suppose you could say, and some don't like how privileged he's become over other authors. I've had good experiences with his writing where one can love and criticize him at the same time and this idea of Shakespeare being infallible isn't something I've ever encountered. However, I can see how those who've only had people being extremely fanatical about Shakespeare in, say, a high school class where it's required to read his work, one could easily end up disliking him.
Overall, what I like most about Shakespeare is his characterization. I feel like I've mentioned before how he was one of the first writers to describe individuals in the way we think of ourselves as individuals today (yay for Renaissance humanism!). Hamlet asking himself, "To be or not to be?" simply wasn't a thought people would have had before this time period. The fact that Shakespeare was on the cutting edge, putting these ideas into writing as they were essentially happening around him, is pretty awesome. Not to mention his focus on human thought is incredibly relevant today and a beautiful blend of psychology, culture, history, science, and language, despite the fact these things in these sorts of study weren't yet how we think of them today. People may not like how privileged Shakespeare is as a genius, but he truly is one. His vocabulary is huge - it well surpasses the average adult, I've been told - and, well, you can't argue that his sentence structure and syntax is pretty unbeatable. Not to mention he made up half of our language.

So yes, I am a Shakespeare fangirl. I don't assume everyone else is, but I love being one. Though I warn you, if you mention Richard III or Iago or Henry V around me, be prepared to have your ear talked off about my extreme appreciation for them. :)

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Haters Be Hating

There are many reasons why I decided to write on this topic next. Partly because a week or so about, I was listening to the Minneapolis radio station The Current and they were discussing an app called Hater on their Tuesday morning segment about social media. It's a sort of corollary to Facebook as Facebook only allows you to "like" a post and this allows you to hate things. The wonderful morning show DJs had differing opinions about this, one of them loving the idea of an app that allowed them to express their more negative views rather than Facebook which might create false positivity. But another DJ or the guest talking about the app suggested that it wasn't all that good, that it epitomized everything bad about the internet and created an unhealthy way to focus all on the negative.

In a graphic novel I recenly read, One Hundred Demons! by Lynda Barry, there was also a section about hate and the "hate lecture" children are frequently given, being told not to hate things or to use the word hate, even though Berry argues that there are different kinds  of hate, "the difference between the kind of hate that has destructive intent and the kind that's a response to something destructive" (Barry 84).
(Aw man, you have no idea how happy I am that this section is online.) I really love this part of the book. We'll come back to this.

It also helps that I've just begun reading Othello and the introduction to my copy discusses how Othello, unlike some other tragedies, is not about the control or a state or a royal biography or a study of heroism, but of love and its "vulnerability to hate" (McDonald, xxxi). There is a good deal of hate in Othello and love that turns to hate and so on. But I'll stop there, otherwise this will become an ode to the brilliance of Shakespeare and we can't have that right now (no, not now. But soon... soon).

And finally, the cherry on top, the reason I selected this post over some of the other drafts I have saved was because of the all-too timely appearance of these tweet series from Tom Hiddleston's twitter (and this is your lack of surprise, I am sure. Someone should make me start paying royalties or something every time I reference Mr. Hiddleston's Twitter; seriously, I feel like I'm getting ridiculous): 

I found this comment to the above tweet by accident when I was scrolling through Twitter and hit the "expand" option. Now, I wouldn't call this hate, but it's quite critical and considering the preceding tweets, which are:

(Sorry, technically the first tweet is on the bottom and the succeeding one is on the top. Backwards chronological order for clarification purposes.)

This got me thinking. If you've been following the ramblings about humanitarianism on here, you know (if you didn't already know) that no humanitarian cause is perfect. All have their downfalls. I am sure that Below the Line could be criticized as privilege-y and misconstruing things and what have you. What it comes down to is this - you can't know what it's like to be poor unless your poor. Which is an obvious and sound claim. But I'd argue that people participating in Below the Line, as shown by Mr. Hiddleston, already know that. They know that this is not going to show them exactly what it's like to be poor. It's only a simple measure of performing one aspect of what is involved in poverty in order to bring awareness to the fact that poverty is about a lot more than just money (it's about having money for food, the time and ability to cook food, having a home, having access to a grocery store or a garden, having a job so you have money to get food - okay, I'm going to shut up, you get it). Point is, it's not about completely understanding another way of living - that's kind of sort of impossible. But it's about trying to step into someone's shoes, as imperfect as it may be. It's the effort, the act of trying to understand that's being made, for social benefit and personal understanding. It's like making a film about poverty or writing a song about it in a way, to bring attention to the issue. Why then is it being criticized? If the person taking part in this campaign knows about the privilege-y connotations and the drawbacks, why say "you'll never understand?" Why the criticism of an attempt to at least try to understand? Have we begun to decide that it's just impossible to understand another person and trying isn't worth the effort and so those who try are just criticized?
This really concerns me. Maybe because I'm a writer, maybe because I'm a psych major, maybe it's because I'm one of the so-called "bleeding hearts" that likes to empathize with people, but I have a hard time dealing with this culture of constant criticism and often hatred that's strengthened in the past decade or so. We all like to complain - there's no denying that. Complaining can be healthy and beneficial. But when conversations become nothing but complaining, there seems to be a bit of a problem. I worry that this blog is nothing but complaining at times (and if you find this to be the case, then I encourage your commenting upon it). Something in our "post-modern" (if you use this term) attitudes with skepticism towards politics and political action as well as facts, news stories, and language in general has made it difficult for people to not only trust information and each other, but also care about things in ways we might have in the past. It's really hard to care about an election when you've got two candidates who sort of sound like they're saying the same things in slightly different words. It's hard to watch the news and stay informed when it's full of gaping holes and lousy writing. It's hard to care about things when organizations aren't acting as well as you'd like and people make mistakes and say ill-phrased statements. This has led into many different reactions of problems connected to criticism and complaining, two of which I see the most on the internet: apathy and hate.

Apathy I could (and probably will) write an entire post about. I was sitting in my Human Sexuality class on Monday, waiting for lecture to start, and heard a girl talking about how, when she graduates this spring, she doesn't want to do anything. She can't think about getting a job or planning for grad school because she simply doesn't want to do anything. She can't care about it or care about school. She is not alone; I've felt this way, I know people who feel this way, a lot of Tumblr feels this way. I mean, I see this gif all over Tumblr:

As funny as it is, it's also really relevant to a mental state I see in many age groups around me. People can't care - it's too exhausting or too complicated. As the Lumineers say in the song "Stubborn Love," voicing a well-known saying, "The opposite of love is indifference."

But love has another possible opposite - hate. Hate is one of those things that a natural, human response - everybody hates (or at least intensely dislikes) something. I, for instance, hate centipedes. Which is unfortunate, because they really enjoy residing in my apartment building. While centipedes are relatively harmless (except for being utterly disgusting with their gazillion legs and skittering around in malice and malevolence), I hate them for (presumably) self-preservation reasons. I see them as a threat. Despite the fact that I'm like 20x their size. Okay, so that doesn't make a whole lot of sense. But I have an instinct to hat them because they, to me, represent the epitome of disgusting-ness. It might be a bit extreme (it is), but it's a reaction.

However, it's how we handle that reaction that causes problems. For example, I really, really hate it when people spit in the middle of the sidewalk. I think it's gross and rude. But do I chew people out for it? Do I tell them that I hate them and that they should *insert some terrible and possibly life-threatening statement here*? No. Because it's not that big of a deal and that would be even more rude. I just deal with it, grumble about it in my head, and walk away. If it was ever a serious issue, I would mention it to the spitter, but it's not that big of a deal in the long run.

This issue of hate gets a lot more important, nuanced, and complicated when dealing with political or social issues. The first that comes to mind is marriage equality. I have an interesting relationship with
this issue because when I was younger, I didn't understand the concept of gay marriage at all and was thus against it. However, once I better understood people and love and relationships in general, it made total sense to me. I used to think that my previous standpoint would help me better argue and discuss with people who don't support marriage equality. Except that it doesn't. For one, I'm so firmly resolved in my position that I've begun to forget what it was like to have ever thought differently. And secondly, the arguments people generally make against marriage equality are like nothing I ever thought and often sound truly hate-filled to me. What occurs in this situation of some of these arguments (and this is where Barry is going to come in useful) are two parts of hate. There's those against marriage equality, who hate and do something destructive. Then there's the urge to hate back, to hate those that are doing the destructive work. Often this is where problems arise. For if you act on that hate, then you're fighting hate with hate. And that can come to no good end.

However, we have to remember that people who are against marriage equality see things in exactly the reverse - those that support gay marriage are doing something destructive and the hate of something destructive comes from that. However, I get lost at how exactly gay marriage is destructive. And this is where we come to a very important point: different does not equal destructive.

We blur this line, especially when things are not going to great. We're in a recession, so I'm not surprised that hatred is taking on creepyish tones. Some things certainly deserve hate: poverty. Genocide. Stuff like that. Note that these are events or circumstances. Not people. Admittedly, it's harder to hate circumstances rather than people - otherwise the issues of scapegoats wouldn't be so common. We like to put a face to our hate. Even if it makes things uncomfortably creepy. Even if it's not really related to our hate - we hate it. Even if there's no justifiable reason to direct our hatred at a certain person - especially on the internet - we hate. This post from Tumblr has me continually baffled (it's a bit hard to read but maybe that's for the better):
I cannot understand what would ever make someone so upset that they would react this way and think that this is an okay response. This is where the confusion between who's being destructive is blurred - to me, it's certainly the anonymous respondent. But there must be something that's destructive to the anon that's making them respond this way - right? Right?

Let's use another example, something not political. Okay, well, technically everything can be political but I mean political in the "government and stuff we vote on" realm. Take a look at this article about Anne Hathaway and why people hate her. Put aside whatever current opinion you have about Ms. Hathaway and think about what makes people dislike her -  her "fakeness," her perceived "forced sincerity" - she looks like a fake because she's too sincere, essentially. But she's never really done something that makes her look insincere. Could it just be that some of us are growing unaccustomed to sincerity and when we see it, especially if it seems different than how we think it should seem or sound, we don't believe it? We've been taught to doubt - and now we doubt everyone and everything (and if this sounds like something I've said about myself before, well done you. You are absolutely correct. I'm here in this as much as anyone else).

So what do we do about this? What do we do when hatred seems easier to express and more commonly expressed and more seriously believed and regarded and genuine than appreciation? What then? Well, it'd be unhealthy to pretend we don't hate anything at all - suppressing it wouldn't end well and might result in a need for catharsis, which is psychologically proven to not be very beneficial. But acting on hate every time we feel the need to is not healthy either. If the only way we have of venting or addressing issues or conflicts or navigating around problems in our lives that we don't otherwise know how to express is hating on another person, then human interactions are going to become incredibly difficult and terrible. It would be better to accept that language has its pitfalls, that people have their imperfections, that the world is not an easy place to reside in, and try to talk about it anyway. Besides, hating is exhausting. I wrote about this in a fiction piece I was working ong and then a day or two later found a Tom Hiddleston quote saying the exact same thing I'd stated, only more eloquently, so I'm just going to use his quote:
"It’s funny how negative energy is so exhausting and it was certainly a challenge to cultivate Loki’s hatefulness every day. I had to get inside his reservoirs of pain and make that feel real. Hating is exhausting; it’s much more exhausting than loving, and that’s what took it out of me.” (via: this post)
Yep, that's brilliant.
The problem then is what to do about... well, problems. Here's an idea balloon, going back to the topic of marriage equality: the issue, shall we stay, stems mostly from the idea of what marriage represents to people and what love and relationships encompass. If, for instance, we agreed that GLBT relationships were equal in every way to heterosexual relationships, this wouldn't be an issue. There would be no sense of someone causing destruction. Perhaps it would be easier to accept that there are differences - perhaps irreconcilable differences - but not damage-causing ones. I want to believe that, through discussion and dialogue and not letting hate take over our tongues that this is possible. However, I also know from meeting with people who believe things much different from what I believe (which, if you're curious, you can read about on my other blog, here and here), that talking doesn't always generate more understanding - for me, there was a wall and I couldn't climb it or break it down. Trying to understand differences doesn't always do what you think it will. But it's the effort the counts, the act of trying to understand someone even when it's impossible. And I'm going to bloody keep trying.

(Finally, the "you tried" star is relevant. YES.)

All citations from:
Linda Berry, One Hundred Demons! Sasquatch Books, 2002.
Russ McDonald, Introduction, Othello. The Pelican Shakespeare. Penguin Books, 2001.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Food for Thought

Surprise! You're getting a post on Monday! Why? Because I felt compelled to write and could not wait until Wednesday. Regular posting shall resume after this, but enjoy this little bit of randomness...

Today's impromptu post is inspired by Tom Hiddleston's Twitter feed, which I am addicted to... ahem, very interested in reading. He's been posting and taking part in a awareness challenge called Live Below the Line, in which people voluntarily live on £1 per day for five days (or $1.50 a day, for US participants). It isn't about starvation, it's about... aw, screw it, Hiddleston has a tweet that can phrase it better than I can:

There ya go. Anyway, I've been toying with the idea of signing up for this, except for the fact that it's
intent is to raise money with friends and family supporting you and, while I love the sound of that endeavor, I only have so many friends and family I could badger about this. So, I think it would behoove me more to do it on my own without registering but donate to another participant who is already registered on the site. But I'm getting ahead of myself; more on that shortly.

One reason I've brought this up is because, obviously, this ties right back into the previous humanitarian posts. Also, I'm a total foodie. I'm one of those hipsters trying to figure out what to make of organic and buying local and shopping at Whole Foods and considering vegetarianism... well, you get the idea. It's also family related, for health-related reasons but also because my mother works as a lunch lady in a elementary school in my hometown. She often comes home from work with interesting stories, in regards to nutrition and the free lunch program (a program that helps students from low-income families recieve meals if their parents can't afford to keep money in their lunch account). My mother had an interesting story for me when I was home over spring break when she came home from work one day and I wanted to write about it, but it wasn't relevant. Now it strangely is.

The item on the menu for the day at her school were Italian Dunkers, these slices of garlic bread covered in melted cheese and served with marinara sauce for "dunking," if you will. Despite the fact that the kinds in my mother's school have eaten these before and have been in school for nearly an entire year now, they didn't know what the menu item was and ordered the alternative of a bag lunch or a salad instead. But when they realized the it was a food item they actually liked, they simply threw out their bags or salads and got a hot lunch, essentially paying for lunch twice and just tossing out the food they didn't want.

This story came either just shortly after or around the same time I was writing The Hunger Games post. Hearing this literally turned my stomach. I mean, it's one thing to already see so many parallels with the Capitol in The Hunger Games, like basically having the ability to push a button and have food appear for you. But this put it in such an extreme, darker perspective. My mom has told me stories before about all the food kids waste but this was the pinnacle of it. I could never have imagined doing this as a kid. For one, my parents would have been furious. But another was that I was aware that other kids didn't have the same conveniences I did. Sure, I was never given the "There's children starving in Africa line" but I knew not to take food I wasn't going to eat. However, the kids at my mother's school take loads of fruit off the food line only to just toss it out. In a society that seems as if it's more aware that there is hunger and starvation throughout the world, how is it
then that children don't seem concerned with food waste? That they will carelessly dump out one lunch just to get something that they realized they'd better prefer when I'm sure some of their own classmates are just happy to get the only square meal they'll get that day? Do parents not tell their children there are people staring in the world - not as a threat or a way to make them eat their vegetables, but as a way of being honest and encouraging gratitude? Do their parents even realize there are people starving in the world?

I'm sorry not sorry for lambasting you all with social justice-y posts all of the sudden, but these themes and motifs keep showing up in my life. I like to give people a generally positive regard, but when I hear about how careless people are with things like food, it just really bothers me. Maybe it's because many of us don't know what hunger and scarcity are anymore. The Great Depression is long enough gone that many parents today have put their parents' or grandparents' stories about this era in the realm of the "long ago" and poverty is something that can be disregarded in some cities. The United States already has a weird relationship with food, what with our lack of a standard cultural cuisine, our fondness for fad diets, issues with obesity, and our vegan/vegetarian/omnivore lifestyle arguments, as well as other countless food debates we have. This Live Below the Line campaign looks at this from a different standpoint. What does the debate over organic food matter if you can hardly afford to buy produce as it is? Who cares about that new food item that's so popular now if you don't even eat three full meals a day? Why are vegetables so expensive but potato chips so cheap?

What's more, this has made me realize the weirdness of my food buying habits. I confess, I don't buy my own groceries. I work for peanuts, so I generally have my parents buy groceries for me. Also, the U of M campus is ridiculously devoid of grocery stores. There's one on University Avenue (off-campus) that I can walk to, but it's a Lunds and they're essentially a luxury grocery store (lots of high-end, organic foods and carpet... I had never seen grocery stores with carpet in them before I moved to Minnesota. I still think it's weird). And thus, I generally don't know how much I'm spending on
groceries. I mean, it's not like I'm making my parents buy me expensive foods just because they're buying - I try to stay pretty cheap (minus Nutella - Nutella is not so cheap) (and my tea obsession... oops). But I don't really have to budget much, unless I go to Lunds to pick up a few items and cry when four apples cost five and a half dollars or something. I really can't decide if this is privilege-y, a necessity, or just kind of sad and pathetic.

I also don't know the cost of common foods, like bread and carrots and things. It doesn't help that every store has a different price point and that things like bread change pricing depending on whether it's wheat or whole grain or white bread or some kind of specialty bread. But I do know that living on $1.50 a day sounds ridiculously, ridiculously low. Maybe if you were able to buy foods in bulk quantities (like at Sam's Club, a chain owned by the same corporation that owns Walmart, which sells things in huge massive quantities for cheap-ish prices), it would be more manageable. But memberships to these sorts of stores cost money. So that isn't even helpful. Essentially, you're just screwed. And this makes me terribly, terribly sad.

As you can probably tell by all of this rambling, I'm interested in this. However, I'm probably not going to register for the challenge, as I mentioned above. I'd love to give money to one of the charities the campaign is supporting, but it would probably be easier for me to give to someone else who is already doing this then registering myself and trying to convince people to donate on my behalf. Also, I'm a college student. Living on $1.50 a day is going to be hard with class and everything. Passing out because I
My tiny kitchen
haven't eaten enough food in the middle of campus is probably a very dumb idea. And I have a weird dietary schedule as it is, thanks to my status as a college student and my tiny kitchen (and a weird relationship with food in my past, but that's a story for another time). Actually, as I was looking at Hiddleston's photos he's posting of the food he's been eating for the challenge, I was thinking, "Damn, I think he's eating a more balanced diet than me." Now I'm really curious (and genuinely concerned) what my food budget is. I just eat a lot of pasta. And a lot of toast. And tea. And apples. Cut out the tea, and that seems pretty low budget. $1.50 a day? Probably not. But I'm curious...

Sooo.... with that much ado about nothing, here's what I'm getting at: next week, for five days, I'm going to figure out what my average budget of food per day is (I'm waiting til next week so I can get groceries and know how much stuff costs). Then, I'll figure that out and decide whether or not I can manage the $1.50 per day. If I do it, I'll probably blog about it, if that wouldn't be super annoying. I'm really interested in this, in part because of my already present interest in cooking and cuisine and nutrition, but also from this standpoint of caring about people and poverty and so forth. Also, I blame my mother for ruining my life and caring more about the school lunch program more than I already did (why did you let me watch that Jamie Oliver show with you, mom? Now I care about your job way too much! Not that that's a bad thing :D)

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Double, Double Toil and Trouble
Nearly everything I've read in the past few weeks has involved doubles in some way. It began most obviously with reading The Double by Fyodor Dostoyevsky for one of my classes, which is about a man who encounters a Doppelganger of himself and the repercussions it has on his life. Reading King Lear for my Shakespeare class also had its fair share of doubleness, with Lear's madness splitting his consciousness in two, as well as his inability to keep public affairs separate from his personal life. Now I'm reading Twelfth Night for the same class, which is even more about doubles with a pair of twins, one of them being Viola, who disguises herself as a man, looking like her (presumed deceased) brother. This creates for her the feeling of being both a woman and man, living as herself and allowing her brother to live on through her, and causing a whole lot of trouble in her liminal state. Not to mention there's no easy way for her to reveal her disguise or be the person she was before she took it. Also, within the same time frame as reading all of this, I finally got my hands on the 2-disc version of the soundtrack for the musical Jekyll and Hyde (based off of the Robert Lewis Stevenson tale), all of which deals with the issues of good and evil, the doubles in people's personalities, and the facades people create to appear a certain way. On top of all of this, I've just recently finished reading Margaret Atwood's book on writing, Negotiating With the Dead (which is incredibly marvelous, by the way) and a great deal of the book deals with - you guessed it - doubles, discussing how the writer appears on the page and how they act in real life, how their writing may not be a representation at all of what they believe or think, or only shows them in an isolated moment in their lives, and the issue between what the writer writes and what the reader makes of it all.

Seriously, I have been reading and listening to nothing but theories on doubles for the last several weeks. And all of this is happening just as I finished the self-publishing process of my book.

Yes, I am (someone, amazingly, miraculously) a published author. I mean, I've been published (blogging counts, right?) but now my fiction work is published... which is very, very hard to get my
head around. I went through a website called BookTango, which creates an ebook version (and ebook only) version of the manuscript. So, I have officially published an ebook (well, more or less. It's supposed to take 4-6 weeks for it to be fully distributed to some of the sites that sell ebooks, like Amazon and such, I believe). But it's more or less official. They sent me the email along with the site link to BookTango's bookstore the other evening and I freaked out in celebration, only to realize I had to dash off to my evening class. The weird double feeling of trying to accept I'd been published while trying to remember that I really need to focus on class material was more than a little difficult. The fact that one of my biggest goals in life has apparently been accomplished is incredibly baffling. And I am having a hard time reckoning that pretty much anybody who feels like spending $5 on an ebook can read mine. I feel kind of like I'm living two lives (okay, actually three, thanks to an internship I've begun) in which one part of me needs to focus on school and graduate and so on but the other part is all forward thinking and wondering where my writing career will go and feeling kind of classy and accomplished. And then I go back home to my kind of run-down apartment and realize I desperately need to get my head out of the clouds and write that paper for my Human Sexuality class. It has been a very fitting time to read about doubles as I suddenly feel as if my life is full of them.
Some of this stems from one basic challenge - how to tell people that I'm a writer. It's not as easy as you'd think. Or maybe you don't think it's easy, and you're absolutely right. I get weird looks when I mention that I write and usually get an idealistic comparison of to J.K. Rowling ("Maybe you'll be like her one day!") and, while I love her and admit that, yeah, ending up a success like her would be incredible, that's also a huge responsibility and there are a hell of a lot of writers out there who want and deserve that more than me. Despite my not-so-long-ago desires to be famous, I really don't desire that like I did before. It isn't a necessity or goal or anything as it was when I dreamed of being a writer in my younger years. Being a blogger has changed a lot of that. I know people are reading my writing and that's all I care about. Apparently I have thoughts people are interested in hearing. For reasons I can't quite explain, this continues to surprise me (probably because always being inside my head is nothing new and exciting and so I have a self-depreciating attitude towards it). Especially after reading Margaret Atwood's book, I keep thinking about why I published my book and why I did it when I did (especially after submitting it and no longer being able to make any changes upon it and realizing there were several thousand things I should have tweaked or added or expanded on). Even though there are things I wish I could have changed, really in the form my book took (which I'll talk a little about later, for those who are interested) I did about all I could do. But why really publish when sources like FictionPress exist and (It is entirely arguable that my book is a grandiose Frankenstein fanfiction by the way. But I'm getting ahead of myself).

The honest answer is: I don't really know. It just felt right. Margaret Atwood has a whole great list of reasons why writers write and, while most of them are relevant to me, it isn't something I really consciously think about. Why do I write? I don't know; why do I do half the things I do? I've been writing stories since I was eight or so and it's just something I grew up doing. However, it's something I haven't really expressed about myself very much until here recently. When people in high school or in the first few years of college would ask me what I wanted to do with my life, writing stopped being the first thing I would say. I convinced myself that writing was something I did on the side, something that probably wouldn't be a viable career option and maybe something I was really good at, but needed to go along with something else. And so I stumbled around many other things - music education, psychology (music therapy and clinical therapy), television and film work, a career in academia, evading the very fact that what I love doing most is writing. Finally, in the last two years or so, I realized that I want to write books - not films, not television shows, maybe plays - I do like writing dialogue - but really I'm focused on books. And I should stop trying to find something to do to occupy my time until I get published because... well, okay, I am published (still sounds weird). But
also because, while maybe one day I do want to be a full-time writer, a lot of my encouragement and inspiration to write comes from what I do in my day-to-day life. Thus, I should probably find a job I enjoy, one that compliments my interests, allows me time to write but also gives me something solid to do with my life, and (based on my plethora of posts on humanitarianism) gives something back to the world. I've got a clearer idea of that, at least. But being a person with many interests and many pursuits I'd like to undertake in my life, it's easy to let many aspects get left out. Unfortunately, for too many years it was writing. Which is a shame, because I've always had an affinity for words. When I was little, I used to tell my mom that I had a lot of words in my head and I had to get them all out. That's pretty much how it still is.

Yet part of the struggle with admitting one is a writer is being held accountable for one's words. I wrote my novel in a very short period of time in a very particular state of mind, one that I'm not
entirely in anymore. The ideas presented in it may not exactly be ones I agree with or intended to include or even realized were there. Whoever does that phrasing, that thinking, that compiling of stars into constellations, that strange double of me called the writer may not be who I am in day to day life. As Margaret Atwood asks, "How many writers have put on other faces, or had other faces thrust upon them, and then been unable to get them off? (Atwood 139). I wear a mask when I write - I have to. I have to create a generalized audience in order to get anything down. I have to put certain aspects of my life aside and say things I would never utter and create situations I might never engage in. It's interesting to compare my fiction writing to my blogging, as both have their similarities. I wear a bit of a mask for each, though here I try to be as transparent as possible with it. In novel writing, however, especially when writing in first person, it isn't really me that's speaking at all.

Writers may never quite be who they seem. And how are they meant to appear to their readers? Atwood considers this, stating beautifully, "Should the god of the artist be Apollo, the Classicist, whit his beautiful formality, or Mercury, the mischief-maker, trickster, and thief? Should you invoke as your inspiration the Holy Spirit, as Milton did in Paradise Lost, or a Muse of fire, as in the Prologue of Shakespeare's Henry V, or Harry Houdini, the hocus-pocus man?" (Atwood 105). The answer is that we're all of this at once and yet none of it. We sit solitary in front of our computers or notebooks, spinning stories, but I don't find it a solitary act at all, needing to be around people to bounce ideas off of and feel inspired and motivated, and for God's sakes to tell me synonyms for certain words. We are inventors and thieves and both invisible and visible in our writing. You can see why double start to become a good symbol for writing.

I could prattle on about theories on writing and being a writer forever, but that would be tedious for you. Instead, I'll say a bit about my book here. It's called First Light and can be purchased here.
What's it about? Well, here's the description I wrote up for the site: "Annabel Guerra is a first year med school student grieving the loss of her sister when she meets Doctor Victor Klemens, an accomplished anatomy professor, who hires her as his research assistant. As her work with him continues, she discovers that his research stretches beyond that of modern science and into the realm of the dangerous experimentation. Committed to curing death and restoring life, Klemens plans on creating a human being out of the bodies of the dead and, with Annabel’s help, his plans could become a reality. Against her better judgment, Annabel helps him and embarks on a journey of creation and destruction from which there is no return."(Would you believe me if I told you the idea for this book originally started out as a parody? That idea lasted about one minute before I realized there was something far more serious underneath). At the most basic level, it's Frankenstein fanfiction. It's a modern kind of retelling of Mary Shelley's novel, not because her novel needs updating or changing, but because there were ideas from the book I wanted to play around with in a different context and see what could be made of them. I promise nothing - it hasn't been professionally edited or reviewed and I didn't give it to anyone to read-thru before I went on to publish it. It's totally a shot in the dark. But it's a good chance to see if anyone is interested in reading the sort of fiction I seem to be writing.

So, if you have $5 you feel like spending, I would be happy to have you purchase my book. I get all royalties (ah, the perks of self-publishing) so if you trust me with your money, then go for it. However, as long as I'm out here writing for free (which is for the infinite future, as far as I'm concerned), I'm not going to twist your arm to pay to read my writing. But if you do choose to read it, let me know what you think. I'd love to hear your input!
Citations from:
Margaret Atwood. Negotiating with the Dead. Anchor Books, 2002.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Sherlock Holmes and Aspergers
Ah, there's a face we haven't seen on this blog for a while. As promised in my previous post, I'm segueing into a discussion of Sherlock and Aspergers, a connection that's been made several times to the BBC series.

First off, you might be wondering what Aspergers Syndrome is. The blogger Cool Blue Reason has a good explanation of it in relation to the autism spectrum (and it isn't overly complicated like the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual; the tool of diagnosis for psychologists) definition would be). (Also, there's a really interesting post on Aspergers in women, which is way better than any psych text I've come across, so give that a read if you're interested.) I have a personal connection to Asperger's, as I'd stated in the previous post, as a couple of my friends are Aspergians. Thus, when I heard theories about Sherlock being Aspergian, my ears pricked up.

As entertaining as the quote, "I'm not a psychopath, I'm a high-functioning sociopath; do your research" might be, and as much as I enjoy quoting it, I also know there's no such thing as a high-functioning sociopath. Sociopathology is... complicated. Really complicated. There aren't levels of "higher functioning" like we use to talk about autism, mainly because sociopathology is far different than autism (autism is hereditary and genetic, while sociopathology is related to the personality and more vague in its cause). The number one thing about sociopaths/psychopaths (the words are essentially interchangeable; some people try to distinguish a difference but in my experiences with psychology, psychologists more or less uses them to express the same concept. Sociopath is used more widely today, though antisocial personality disorder is the technical term - and yes, this gets really confusing as being "antisocial" has gotten confabulated with social anxiety/ avoidant personality disorder) is that they generally do not know they are psychopaths, do not attach to such labels, and would not be proud and assert that identity. According to Martha Stout, author of The Sociopath Next Door, (not sure if this is the best text on sociopathology, but it was an easy, interesting read and it's what I've got) sociopaths "are infamous for their refusal to acknowledge responsibility for the decisions they make, or for the outcomes of their decisions. In fact, a refusal to see the results of one's bad behavior as having anything to do with oneself - 'consistent irresponsibility' in the language of the American Psychiatric Association - is a cornerstone of the antisocial personality diagnosis" (Stout 49-50).

This is the number one reason that Sherlock is not a sociopath. Sherlock does accept responsibility
for what he does. He knows what he is doing and, while he may not always understand the effect his actions or his words have on people, when he does recognize the effect, he admits he is wrong. A sociopath would never do this. Let me use an example from the show - the Christmas scene in "A Scandal in Belgravia."As terrible as Sherlock may be to Molly in this scene, he sincerely doesn't understand how Molly is interpreting his deduction of her dress and gift - mainly because it never occurs to him that Molly did all of this for him. When he realizes this, Sherlock is genuinely sorry. A sociopath would not be genuine and would somehow manipulate the situation to his advantage. Sherlock doesn't do this; he accepts that he's wrong and apologizes to  Molly.
This is far more in line with Aspergers than with sociopathology. Sherlock clearly has a very strong idea of what right and wrong is - even though it may not always completely ascribe with everyone else's. I'm blanking where this line is coming from (the BBC show, the Robert Downey Jr. films, the actual books - it's one of these) where Sherlock says something about caring deeply about upholding the law. Sherlock is very devoted to his work and cares deeply about what he is doing - not for his own gain, but because it interests him and for seemingly ethical reasons (Donovan might say he "gets off on it" but he seems to be doing it for an appreciation beyond personal benefit). He has a moral code and he can empathize with others, even if he doesn't always understand people's feelings. I feel the need to point this out as people often draw comparisons between sociopaths and Aspergians, though from my knowledge and experience they are far different. One is open and honest, the other is impossible to know when they are being truthful and may seem that they are always performing and manipulating. If Sherlock is an Aspergian, then you could very well argue that Loki from Thor may be a sociopath (though a very, very dark, twisted, and tormented one). I have friends who are Aspergians and I trust them deeply - they are loyal and blunt and I appreciate that when people may be reluctant to tell me the truth on a certain matter. I also believe I have known a sociopath (according to Martha Stout, 1 out of 25 people are sociopathic; apparently they're more common than you'd think (Stout 9)) and this individual was very charming but also impossible to trust, saying things behind your back, telling one person one thing and another person something entirely different. It honestly surprises me that there has been such confusion between Aspergers and sociopathology because my experiences with the two have been so different. I obviously can't prove that the individual I knew was actually a sociopath, but the behavior and interaction with people was far different than that of my Aspergian friends. 

I could go on and point out how Sherlock Holmes is written and performed in such a way that he appears as an Aspergian, but thanks to loyal reader Rachel, I know of some really fantastic essays by the previously mentioned Cool Blue Reason which you can find linked here. They are brilliant essays with way more knowledge than I have and really great scene analysis from the show. One final thing I'd like to discuss a bit though is something Cool Blue Reason points out, which is the way Sherlock's Aspergers is dealt with on the show. John does mention it at one point (in "The Hound of Baskervilles") but I don't even remember this exchange (I've only seen this episode once - I know; I'm sorry) but not in a very positive or accepting way. As much as I love Sherlock being represented as Aspergian, I'd love it far, far more if he was presented as openly Aspergian and as a way of better explaining his behavior, rather than pathologizing it. As we head into series/season 3, I'm hoping for maybe some of this happening, but we'll see. Some fans are really against people labeling characters this way and I can sort of understand that. But this behavior goes back to the Conan Doyle stories and, honestly, they have expressed this idea in the show. Why not go one step further, make it canon, and present a likeable, recognizable figure that can better represent Aspergians in a creative, complex, and engaging way? Why not take a further step towards accepting that not everyone is allistic and thinking that everyone is can be deeply damaging?
On a final note, I also came across this Psychology Today article, where they discuss Sherlock Holmes from the novels and stories as having Aspergers and how Conan Doyle managed to do this (but wait! writers can study people just like psychologists? Amazing! (Sorry, I found this a bit insulting to my status as a writer)). It's was a bit "no duh!" to me as a fan, but it's still an interesting read and nice to know that the psychology community is thinking about such things.

Also, it seems like this twice a week posting is working really well. As I've unofficially been doing it, I'm officially stating that posts will fall on Wednesdays and Saturdays every week (though considering many of you read this from other parts of the world, it might very well be the next day for you before it gets posted. Yay wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey stuff). And as a preview, Saturday's post will be on writing and my personal experiences with it (be prepared for random literature and psychology references, as well as a hefty dose of self-promotion because... well, you'll see :D).
(Since this is all on Sherlock, I thought I'd change things up and end this with an otter for once :D)

Citations from:
The Sociopath Next Door by Martha Stout. Broadway Books, 2005.