Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Mind the Hedge

Just a quick post from yours truly today - I promised myself I would put in at least an hour of fiction writing before I head off to my internship today and so I'm afraid this post is going to have to be a bit abbreviated (I take the blame - I spend half of my mornings asleep now and the early bird in me is distressed. Oh, the problems of being both an early bird and a night owl).

Anyway, I came across this article from The Guardian while browsing Tumblr this morning and was pleased to find that the hedgehog may become the national emblem of Britain. Of course, I was pleased. I love hedgehogs (obviously) and they do denote a certain British cultural... je ne sais pas (but perhaps this is because hedgehogs are indigenous to the U.K. and not to the U.S.). Of course, I am also a very big fan of the the lion representing England and of course the strange and lovely fact that the unicorn is the national animal of Scotland (Scotland, I love everything about you. Truly). But hedgehogs... hedgehogs are just awesome.

Hedgehogs, according to another Guardian article that I read a while back, are also being endangered. Apparently changes in their habitats have greatly hurt their population numbers and these adorable little creatures are becoming rarer and rarer in the U.K. Which means that if the hedgehog were to become a national emblem for Britain, perhaps this could spur action to protect their species and keep the little darlings present in the U.K. Likewise, maybe it would behoove the U.S. to give the bee some national status to spur action to protect and save them (FYI, if you ever want to be terrified about the state of the world, read about the mass deaths of bee colonies. It is truly worrisome). Perhaps by recognizing how much an animal means to an environment and a cultural consciousness, certain measures can be taken to help that animal. Hey, it worked the bald eagle in the States - why shouldn't it work for the hedgehog? And who doesn't love hedgehogs? ;)

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Former Bestsellers

Hey hey! There actually will be a post today! (Ugh, accidental rhymes, gah...)

The other day, I was at the Mall of America with my friend Sarah, looking around the Barnes and Noble there when we saw this sign:

I couldn't help it; I cracked up. Far be it for me to impugn the work of my fellow writers (not that it's ever stopped me or will ever stop me) I found this particular sign incredibly funny. Basically this seems to state, "Hey, these were once a really big deal but not anymore and...well, won't you buy them to make the authors feel better and so that they'll read them anyway? Because you should all read bestsellers because... reasons."

I have ambivalent feelings about the idea of bestsellers. Part of me longs to write one while also being critical of the idea of being a worthy book to read just because it sells in vast quantities. But I read bestsellers all the time - it's hard not to, they're more or less the only books places like Barnes and Noble sells and acclaimed and talked about and (very often) made into films and so I like to read them. Very often they are good books. But every once in a while I read a book that I cannot understand why it becomes a bestseller and the entire idea of such things becomes very confusing to me. And they aren't books like Twilight or Fifty Shades where it's some sort of mass sexy appeal. No, the two that come to mind are Life of Pi and Room.
Life of Pi by Yann Martel is an award-winning book that has been recently adapted into film and has been widely praised. I never got around to reading it before because someone once told me that it was incredibly boring and, back when I was worried about taking such a risk with a book, I avoided it. However, I grew older and the idea of it intrigued me - the story of a young man dealing with religion who is stranded at sea after a shipwreck with no one but a tiger for company. After the movie was made, I finally got around to reading it. And I was sorely disappointed. Perhaps I spent too much of my time reminiscing about Hatchet by Gary Paulsen, my absolute favorite book between the grades of fifth and sixth, and using unfair comparisons to how a narrative about a person stranded alone in a strange wilderness should progress and be told. But it was early in the book I found myself irreconcilably distanced from Pi, the narrator, in a way that I struggled to work through while reading. It came at the end of chapter seven, in Pi's discussion of religion and atheism:
I'll be honest about it. It is not atheist who get stuck in my craw, but agnostics. Doubt is useful for a while. We must all pass through the garden of Gethsemane. If Christ played with doubt, so must we. If Christ spent an anguished night in prayer, if He burst out from the Cross, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" then surely we are also permitted doubt. But we must move on. To choose doubt as a philosophy of life is akin to choosing immobility as a means of transportation (Martel 28).
I'll be as honest as Pi was - this end to the chapter infuriated me. As a person who tends to describe herself as an agnostic depending on her audience, generally just to save time (because really delving into what I believe religiously is actually a two hour discussion at best) I was kind of offended that being agnostic is akin to immobility. If anything, I find embracing doubt very powerful, not as a final resting place, but as an acceptance, an inclusion, perhaps, that we may never know certain facets of... well, anything. Something in the character's tone here seemed very preachy to me and less like narration and more like a very strong statement from the author - not that it is a bad thing. It just rubbed me the wrong way and made it very difficult for me to continue on with the book, finding the story almost too obviously constructed to me as a tale about finding God in the worst of places. I should have been able to disagree with Pi but still connect with his character, but that didn't happen - and I don't entirely know why. Also, given the ending (which I'll try not to spoil) I wondered why the author chose to tell the story in this way, using animals and anthropomorphic themes (which are really interestingly engaged with throughout the book) rather than engaging more with the memory of a narrator who may not be entirely reliable. After seeing a very unique Tennessee Williams play last weekend called Camino Real, my friend Sarah pondered (something along the lines of this; sorry as I can't remember exactly how it was phrased!) if plays were more about expressing social issues or themes while books seem to explore more character psychological development. While obviously not all plays and books follow these differentiations (and the two can certainly overlap), I think it is a really interesting way to look at how plays function versus books. Thinking on this, I can't help but wonder if perhaps Life of Pi would have made for a better play than a book and thus might have seemed less preachy to me. Maybe I should see the film and compare.

I didn't dislike the book, exactly - I just found it distancing and hard of me to read, not because I disliked the narrator (I've read many books where I've disliked the narrator but appreciated the book) but because I felt that I wasn't being affected by it the same way all those who acclaimed it had. It didn't seem entirely impactful for its story (though its after-effects and my experience reading it has been very impactful) and I felt like I was back in English class when I found a story I didn't particularly like but the teacher loved and I had the sinking feeling that I was reading it wrong. I also found myself realizing that, if I had written the book, I would have done it much differently. Which is always a difficult thing to deal with as a reader and a writer. It's not your story, you're not telling it, but there are some choices that the author makes that causes some significant tribulation to you while reading it that you have a hard time putting out of mind.
I began reading Emma Donoghue's Room yesterday and had much of the same reaction. I admit, I didn't make it much farther than the first one hundred pages of the book before shamefully giving up. I had been recommended the book by a girl I met with when I first received information about Teach for America (way back when that was under consideration) and was intrigued by it, especially as I had heard a selection performed in a Drama category of a high school speech tournament. So, I decided to read it, especially as it seemed very popular. My first attempt to read it, only a few days before I actually started it again, were bumpy - I'd been struggling to find a book to settle on and read and I was utterly distracted by the grammar usage of the narrator in the book, a five-year old named Jack. When I did read it yesterday, I felt much the same about it. While I'm all for experimental narrating, I had a really hard time dealing with the intentionally bad grammar especially given the dark nature of the story. I know it's meant to give that edge of innocence and show how Jack's view of the world is so different from only knowing an 11x11 foot room and only having his mother and the creepy Old Nick as human contacts in his life, but the story felt very slow going and I felt irritated with Jack's naivety instead of understanding that he's five-years old and of course he doesn't have perfect grammar (I'm twenty-two and don't have perfect grammar so the fact that this is even an issue for me is kind of embarrassing). I don't know why this is. Maybe it's because it seemed like he had a large vocabulary for his age but seemed incapable of understanding other things.

I feel really bad about not being able to finish Room. Really really bad. I always feel guilty for not being able to finish a book - it makes me feel like I'm weak or have lost some bet or don't appreciate literature enough or something - but I couldn't engage the story. It seemed to unintentionally trivialize what had happened to Jack's mother by having the story from Jack's perspective and make the plot slow-going (which is odd for me, usually I don't mind if a book is slower paced). But there were also moments when I was reading and thinking, "God, no, this story is far too dark, I can't deal with it." Especially in the instance when Jack's mom feels the need to tell Jack what happened to her and why the man called Old Nick is keeping her captive. I found myself wondering if I could read the book just to say that I'd read it, which is a terrible sign when reading fiction for me. While books are never just about entertainment, I often struggle when it comes to fiction if I'm not enjoying the process of reading it. Then again, I've read Lolita and thought the book was good and there is NOTHING enjoyable about reading that book.

So why am I having these reactions to these two particular books, especially ones that are critically acclaimed best-sellers? I know many people who have enjoyed them and I can't figure out what separates their reading experience from mine, especially if we have a lot in common. Is it my expectations for the book that are ruining it for me? Is it my INFJ judgmental personality? Is it my inability to deal with feeling distanced by a book? I understand that I'm not going to be able to relate with every narrator or character, but I'm so used to slipping easily into a narrator's or character's mindset that I find it really jarring when I can't. I believe in some ways it has to be a "it's not you, it's me" argument - while being a bestseller doesn't instantly mean a book is phenomenal, it does mean a lot of people have read it and some of them at least had to have been affected by it in some ways. It doesn't mean I have to read bestsellers because of this but it also means that I don't have to have the same reaction to the book. Because people are different and we all have different experiences and mindsets to draw from. We can't all react to books the same way. But I still find it frustrating when I can't see what others appreciate in something. I feel the need to draw in this Hufflepuff-attributed quote:
I think what I'm struggling with is I can't see why this "view" (or book) has been accepted (or "appreciated"). Not to say it's wrong; that part of the quote is irrelevant here. But I can't see what others see in this book. And I find it a failure on my part. Then again, I am not an omniscient being. I should really cut myself some slack.

I also find it all tied up in another debate. During the graphic novels course I took last spring, a student in class said that he absolutely believed that all art should be judged on the merits of bad and good. I wanted to leap out of my seat and argue with him but restrained myself. However, the pressure at how upset I was at this claim has never really been released and I still find myself irate about the whole thing. Art is art and judging it as bad or good is such a distraction from really discussing what's going on in a work. However, when I talk about books as I have here, I find it hard not to get wrapped up in the good versus bad debate because that's what our culture is so accustomed to in reviews. That's how we tell people what books to read or what movies to see. And while it does have its merits, I also find it kind of difficult to deal with. I love some really, really bad music (bad = cheesy, not exciting, overplayed, repetitive, annoying, etc). I dislike some really good things (certain kinds of meat, rum, the operas that I've seen) but I can still see how other people enjoy them. With Room and Life of Pi, I am blocked.

I am also blocked as to why people dislike some books I am fanatical over. Jane Eyre I understand (St. John needs to go. Really, his character drives me bonkers). But a while back I saw a review posted by someone on Facebook linking to their GoodReads account talking about how much they disliked The Elegance of the Hedgehog because it went on about philosophical things for too long. "It's fine if you enjoy that sort of thing," the reviewer essentially said, and I just found it strange that the person didn't like it. Have I ever mentioned that I make terrible assumptions at times?

The problem with books is that's its so easy to classify someone as a certain sort of person based on what they read. "Ooh, you like murder mysteries? Clearly you read Sherlock Holmes. Got a thing for fantasy? You must have read all of the Game of Throne books. Poetry? What kind of poetry? Because if you read all that emo stuff about death, then we can't be friends." Do you see what I mean? Books are a way to classify people. And when I find a book that I don't like and can't reconcile it at all but it fits the sort of classification of things I do like, I feel like I've failed myself or had some kind of identity crisis. My God, do I take book reading too seriously.

And so, I have some trepidation when reaching for bestsellers, or scooping up a new fantasy novel, or even reading additional books in a favorite series. I am terrified of finding books that I hate because books are the one thing that used to be so easy for me to enjoy. Now with every book I read, I expect it to influence me in some way and if it doesn't, I feel as if I have missed something. Where did this come from? Since when did I start to expect so much? I think it was when I seriously started writing and found what I wanted to put on the page. I am driven by certain goals in my writing, goals that border between those message of social themes and character psychology that I mentioned earlier. And once again I find myself writing between borderlands.
Which brings me to my final point: authors that I adore too much. Michael Chabon. Margaret Atwood. Neil Gaiman. J.K. Rowling (because I so terribly wish I had written The Casual Vacancy). Just to name a few. Now that I have found authors that want to read, regardless of what they write, I find it difficult to accept when others fail to meet what sort of boundary I've created in my mind. I judge art without intending too and privileged bestsellers over former bestsellers. And yet... I'm discovering writers who are not bestsellers but are absolutely marvelous. I like the idea of indie books (can you call them that?) from smaller book companies and less popular writers and unique and self-published books. There's so much to read out there, it's hard to know how to find things you're interested in. Sometimes the internet wins, as is the case with a book I won in a giveaway from the author's blog (I won something! I never win anything!). The book is Shakespeare's Lady by Alexa Schnee which I found out about because of her blog, but am so grateful to have won and read. It was really, really marvelous and I enjoyed it entirely. However, it was different from others books that I like - here recently I'm very picky about romance, especially historical romances - but I adored the book and thought it was wonderfully written.

And so, I find myself realizing that I have absolutely no idea what sort of books I like to read. I'll read anything, but what makes them a favorite of mine is a sort of grey area. It's a large part writing style, voice, characterization (for fiction, at least), methods of storytelling, and purpose. But why I can appreciate some books while others like Room and Life of Pi that so clearly have this are disliked by me, I can't really explain. Probably because people are complicated, I'm complicated, we all have complicated tastes, and if I liked all the stuff I thought I'd like, I'd really have stuck with piano and ballet. So there you are - book reading is complicated. For rambling rabbits, at least.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Writer's Block

I'm finding myself a little bit befuddled as to what I should write about in today's post. Given that Comic-Con occurred last week, I should have loads of things to say about it, but I really don't have much, other than to comment that Tom Hiddleston is downright brilliant. I've been meaning to write more about the complicated relationship I have with tech groups like Tumblr and Google but am currently feeling uninspired on the topic. I have several drafts I could write up and publish, but none of the topics intrigue me. I contemplated writing about the complicated last few days I've been having but it's rather personal and drama-filled and serves no purpose being shared on the internet except to possibly incite more drama. And so, I find myself on this strangely cool July morning without a topic.
This isn't the first time this has happened, but generally I meander into some topic or simply don't post that day. I refuse to skip posting and so I'm simply writing about... not being able to write. It isn't exactly writer's block - I have things to say and I could say them. I just can't encourage myself to actually write them down. Part of me worries that I've said everything I can about fandoms - which is completely wrong. It's just difficult right now as my interaction with fandoms has changed in the last year and I don't really know how to write about it. I also feel driven to write more about social issues and personal experiences, which isn't a bad thing, but it's hard to write about them. I've had a post I've wanted to write about apartment searching in Minneapolis (which was an interesting adventure this year) but I've delayed writing it for the fear that it will just rehash other posts I've already written. And so once again I find myself writing a facade of a post without really saying anything. I'll see how it goes by this weekend, but I may need to take a week off from posting just to find some new inspiration, go through some drafts to see what I really want to write about and what needs said, and to just deal with some of the personal issues in my life. I'm not saying they'll be week's vacation in posting, but there may be. We'll see how it goes and where my brain is at in a few days. Either way, they'll be a post on Saturday - whether or not it says something substantial is yet to be seen. :P And there may be some activity on my other blog, The Rambling Rabbit, so please check that out if you are yearning to read my randomness. 

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Pride and Prejudice and People
Unfortunately, I've only got time for a very brief post today as I'm heading off to see Pride and Prejudice at the Guthrie (and am extraordinarily excited as A) I love Pride and Prejudice and B) my acting teacher plays Charlotte in the production - and I have a new love for Charlotte thanks to The Lizzie Bennett Diaries). Perhaps it's for the better that I am crunched for time, as I had an extremely strange week and feel compelled to talk about it instead of the more interesting fandom stuff, but I haven't quite figured out what to say about the week's weirdness.

Instead, I've been recalling the whole idea of bad first impressions in Pride and Prejudice because it is so relevant to my life. Remember back in the winter when I caused a fuss because I was upset with something one of my friend's boyfriends whom I had only just met said? Six months later and I'd like to think I'm pretty good friends with this guy. Yeah, sure, his comment was out of line, but that doesn't make him a terrible person. One of the many complicated things about being human is that we all have the tendency to say relatively stupid or terrible things from time to time. However, what matters is our capabilities to recognize that we do this and understand why it's wrong. Some people are oblivious - the Westboro Baptist Church is continually blind to the fact that saying gay slurs is utterly inappropriate, guys who catcall girls on the street likely don't understand what it feels like to be the recipient of such remarks, people who continue to say racist things and happen to be from the Southern US just make things... sad (I mean, really, Paula Dean? Really?) This doesn't make any of the people doing these things terrible (though what they are doing may be so). But what is frustrating and makes it difficult not to be angry at them and believe they are terrible is their inability to see why they are wrong. One needs to put aside their pride and their preconceived prejudices in order see from a different perspective and accept that perhaps what you said or what you believe may not be right, just as Lizzie and Darcy do in Jane Austen's book. This doesn't make it easy, it just makes it worth doing (though in this context it doesn't necessarily mean you're going to marry the love of your life :P).
The reason I'm friends with this guy is because I believe that he understands that sometimes he says inappropriate things and he is apologetic about it. Though I've never confronted him about the remark that made me irate (which seems so ridiculously miniscule in retrospect that I want to punch myself - but then again, different time, different place, I shouldn't be so hard on the reaction; I felt that way for a reason) he's come to terms with other things he's said and shown that he doesn't actively believe in any sort of prejudicial or hurtful concepts, as far as I can tell. Getting to know him has shown a different perspective that a bad introduction late at night in a car could never have given. But here I had to put aside my pride as well and get over anger - because it's hard to be constructive when you're angry. And so, I have successfully made a new friend despite all of this - and also just turned Pride and Prejudice into a means of discussing social justice-y things. What is my life.

Also, briefly, since this is all distance rooted in my thoughts on feminism, I encourage you to check out this article in case you do want to get angry and try to work through it, as the writer has completely missed the point about everything in regards to feminism, masculinity, and gender in the 21st century (many thanks to Sarah for finding this. I considered writing a blog post about the article but decided against it - it's utterly pointless because it's so self-explanatory what is entirely wrong with this piece).

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Heat Wave
Unfortunately, there's really no blog post today because it's too hot in my apartment to think. I don't have AC and therefore I am very slowly melting into a puddle of sweat.

Tune back in on Saturday for some gibberish about something.

Until then, I'm going to dream of snow and pray Eddard Stark is right and that winter is actually coming.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

A Public Letter To Justin Bieber
Dear Justin Bieber,

First off, hi. You don't know me, we've never met, and I really find it strange that I'm writing a letter to you here on my hedgehog-y fan-focused blog. But then again, given my recent post on expressing opinions about people online and  everyone being published on social media sites, maybe you can see the relevance. I mean, a friend of yours did just film you peeing in a mop bucket and posted it to Youtube and I haven't the foggiest what your feelings about that might be. I'm thinking if you had a problem with it, it wouldn't have stayed up on YouTube. I mean, you're an international pop star - you probably don't just have an PR person but a PR team. So, if I may be so bold, dear sir, can I ask - what's going on?

I may not be a fan of yours, but I am deeply concerned about your actions. It started with the rumors that you were posting phone numbers on your Twitter and claiming they were yours, only to have fangirls frantically dial the number and contact some poor guy in Seattle or whatnot. It doesn't really make sense to me why you would do this (if you actually did, I know how rumors are). I mean, it probably gave you some kind of thrill but put yourself in the shoes of that guy in Seattle or whatever - would you be very happy if someone posted your number to their social media site and you got a hundred million phone calls all within a few hours?

Secondly, we have to talk about your pet monkey. I know that you didn't choose to get the monkey - a fan gave it to you - but one does not just leave a monkey in German customs. You just don't. You took the monkey as a pet and it was your responsibility to take care of it. This greatly soured my opinion of you, I have to admit. I will leave out your comments about Anne Frank being a Belieber because I'm going to hope you were crediting her strength and courage, not trying to insert yourself into a historical situation you seemingly may not understand.

Lastly, we have this whole issue with the peeing in a mop bucket. I could take this in many different directions - explaining why I find this inappropriate, how much of an inconvenience this must have been to the kitchen staff or janitor who then had to clean said mop bucket, how this makes you look more like a fame-blinded child instead of a famous, celebrated musician. Instead, I am more focused on the fact that a friend of yours filmed this stunt and posted it on YouTube. Mr. Bieber, you are famous and I am not, but I happen to value my privacy. I may run a blog and I may post details of my personal life out here, but I am very cautious about what I reveal on here. The internet is a great and terrible thing, Mr. Bieber. You may have found it on your side in the past, fueling your career and providing your fandom to have a chance to grown and flourish and celebrate you. But the tides can change and I sense that the internet is no longer celebrating you, but taunting you. There is a sense of bitter enjoyment, of schadenfreude, an enjoyment of watching someone else's misfortunes. Consider the criticism you have endured (from me and the like, as well as celebrity new sites and media groups) for the comments about Anne Frank, the treatment of the monkey, your most recent video-taped act. Your outlandish acts distract people from the misfortunes in their own lives and causes them to focus on someone who's life is more harrowing than their own. Unfortunately for you, this means that when you start having problems - as I believe you already have - we will all stand and watch you fall. We will stop and watch the star explode.

I would like to assure you, while I am part of the internet, that I am trying very hard not to be a part of that. But it is hard. I do not have the means to help you, for I am here and you are there. I don't even know what sort of help you might need, for you seem so proud and self-assured and confident, if not over-confident. You seemingly have no regrets about the YouTube video. You appear shameless. But how long will this last? How long until these acts, which only seem to be for attention, crumble away and you fall into the place of Lindsay Lohan or Amanda Bynes who have spurned their fans and gone too far and now have the media mocking them rather than insisting they get privacy and help? It is a double-edge sword here, for though you may need help, we cannot act because you have had every advantage we have never had. It seems that celebrities who burn out like this did it to themselves, even though this may not be the case. We collectively watch while individuals refuse help all while the camera continues to roll. It is a strange, strange way of things. And I have little idea of where to start to change it.

I know this will seem like I am passing judgement and doing the very thing I claimed to have a problem with in my last post, but I sincerely hope that this is different. You may be doing harm, if not to others, than certainly to yourself. I only wish the best for you, Mr. Bieber, and hope you take a moment to stop and think and breathe and not let the fame intoxicate your mind too much. Step out of the limelight for a moment and remember who you are and who we are.

Gina Musto, a fool

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

We're All Published Now: Why Social Media is Weird

The internets and I are having a strange relationship right now (God, what a way to start a post...). Partly given all of the NSA and Snowden stories in the news, one may not be too surprised that once again my complicated relationship with social media is... well, complicated. It's gets more so with Facebook's new idea of adding in Graph Search being kind of creepy (and if I need to use Facebook to find out who lives near me so I can become friends with them/internet stalk them, I think there might be a problem).

My use of Tumblr is also getting strange. I find myself going on there less I did during the school year but I also find myself scrolling through my dash like someone mindlessly eating a bag of candy, waiting for some kind of reward or glorious end result but instead merely build up a sugar rush and feel sort of overexcited and queasy. And I'm still terribly uncertain of how I feel about fandom posts sometimes.

This week, for instance, was the week in which pictures surfaced of Tom Hiddleston with a new lady friend and my dash was full of the fandom(s)' reactions. Everything I saw was mostly positive but there were insinuations that other fans were less so and I found myself waxing poetic about public/private issues online and how we live in such an instantaneous time that photos of a celebrity can be show across the world within hours of them begin taken and how utterly, utterly bizarre the world is. (Is this part of having an existential crisis - realizing that everything about everything is actually very bizarre? Like since when did eclectic not mean what I thought it mean? Why don't we all live in tiny houses? (Gina, your hobbitness is showing.) Why is the job application process so much like a lease application process? Why am I so preoccupied with thinking about things all the time?)
Part of my problem is that my life has been utterly ruined changed by studying culture and Shakespeare. If there was a guy who really liked talking about the issues between public and private (conveniently enough in an environment where the idea of property ownership was in flux), that guy was William Shakespeare. Examples: King Lear did a bad job of keeping family affairs out of his work life. Calling people sluts publicly ruins lives. Being a war hero who can't focus on his honeymoon because people keep interrupting him about work stuff causes a lot of strife, especially when you trust people named Iago. Being a war hero also means people expect a lot from you and will probably be upset when you publicly show that you're pretty pissed off with the plebeians. Given that Shakespeare was an actor as well as a writer, it's understandable that he was so interested in the divide between privacy and publicity and when one is acting (a public action) and when one is not and whether this divide is actually clear or really exists at all. (Oh, look - more fuel for the existential crisis! Yes!) Also, Shakespeare is possibly one of the first big artistic celebrities of Western culture and it's interesting to me how much of his writing could be applied to life in the 21st century ideas of the cult of celebrity (which is such a weird phrase, when you think about it), social media, the focus on fame, paparazzi, the press and celebrity news, and immediacy and opinionated-ness of the internet. As the Current's Morning Show segment about social media (called the Throbbing Hive, which I encourage you to check out here) discussed this week, thanks to social media, we're all published now. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr - all of these are publishing sites to express our opinion, to share our photography, to talk about what we're doing. Although this is utterly obvious, it's still strange to thing about it this way, especially when I see countless photos of celebrities with people's reactions written under them on Tumblr. Which has suddenly become weird and foreign to me, despite having done it myself countless times and seeing it everyday. Feeling the need to express your opinion on what a certain celebrity is wearing or what their doing in a photo has always seemed strange but now it's accumulated another certain layer of weirdness given the Hiddleston photos. What does it matter if he's out and about with a lady friend? Do we need to express our opinion on that? Why are people more motivated or at least provide more words when the opinion is negative? Why do we have an opinion and why do we need to share it with the public? What are we trying to say about ourselves when we do that? Why are all my attempts to not have an opinion and reaction foiled by the fact that some part of my mind works faster than another? Why was the photo take in the first place and why was it shared and, specifically, why was it shared on Tumblr? Do the subjects of the photo know it was shared and where? Do they mind that it was shared? Why the focus on these people and not others? And on and on and on...

As you can tell, I'm obviously lots of fun to be around right now, with my rhetorical ramblings.
I started this blog in the hopes of attempting to understand the internet, which very quickly lead me to the realization that I will never understand the internet for the mere reason that I don't understand people. Not entirely at least. Maybe people aren't here to be understood. Maybe we're just here to try and figure things out and do our best at whatever it is that catches our attention. But we still have opinions - clearly, as here I am blogging about it, irony of ironies. I could give psychological rational for all of this (I'm an INFJ which means that I tend to be more judgmental than perceiving) and perhaps more prone to opinion than others. But I think my culture values opinion as well - I'm often asked for it and expected to explain and support any opinion I have. Yet there's still a difference between having opinions and expressing them and how they are expressed. And I am continually interested in the question of why.

So I still don't know how I feel about the photos on Tumblr and maybe that's for the better - maybe I shouldn't have any clear feelings. Maybe a muddled opinion is just fine in this situation - not to say that one opinion is better than another, but that I shouldn't concerned that I don't know.

Oh... look at that. Existential crisis resolved as well :)

Saturday, July 6, 2013

London Calling

Towards the end of May, I had my mind entirely blown by the information that Tom Hiddleston and Mark Gatiss would be starring in a staging of Shakespeare's Coriolanus in the winter of 2013-2014 at Donmar Warehouse in London. Needless to say, when I heard this, I totally freaked out.
There are three things I love too much: Shakespeare, Mark Gatiss, and Tom Hiddleston. Having these three together, in London, no less... well...
It's the chance of a lifetime and once I got the idea of going to see the show in my head, I couldn't get it out. My parents seemed fine with me going and, given that I have money in a savings account (thanks to relatives kindly giving me money for birthdays for the last 22 years of my life), I would actually be able to afford it. I inquired to my Facebook friends whether anyone would be adventuring with me and my wonderful friend Tyler said he would love to go to London. I proceeded to freak out once again.
And so, I stayed up very, very late on the night of June 24th into the morning of the 25th so that I could buy tickets at 3am CST (9 am in London when tickets went on sale). Was this ridiculous? Yes. Was it necessary? Considering that I had to wait in a queue for three minutes before I could order tickets online and the first few dates I picked only had the wrong availability or no availability at all and I started panicking until I finally got a date that worked and the theater is very small to begin with and I know from past experience trying to get concert tickets that things sell out ridiculously fast... yeah, it was worth it. I then did a ridiculous dance of glee around my apartment once my purchase had been confirmed only because far too many times have I tried to buy tickets and the order has timed out on me or the tickets have sold out before I could get them.

So that's it then. It's happening. This coming January, I am going to London with Tyler to see Coriolanus and gallivant around the city. I wish I could express to you how excited I am in words but I can't. I really can't. And just by searching for the promotional picture from Donmar Warehouse's site, I get the feeling that these tickets went really fast and that fangirls everywhere were trying to get their hands on them...
And this appeared on my Tumblr dash the morning after I bought tickets:

So it really didn't cross my  mind that this sort of thing would be an issue upon purchasing tickets. I
just really like Shakespeare and Misters Hiddleston and Gatiss and I've been looking for a good excuse to go back to London and this was perfect. But for some reason I feel guilty, like I stole a fangirl's opportunity to go or a hardcore theater fan who really wanted to see this or just someone who deserves it more than me. So if you tried to get tickets for this play and couldn't, I'm sorry. I don't want to sound like I'm bragging. I'm just ridiculously excited and happy and didn't even think of going as a "rabid fangirl" (I really hate that phrase, mainly because I like to believe that sort of activity is rare (perhaps rarer than it actually is)). I just really wanted to see a play in London that happens to have two of my favorite actors of all time in it. Of course now I'm worried about the fangirl label and what the audience is like and a whole bunch of other things that never occur to me when I go see a show at the Guthrie in Minneapolis. However, given the affordability of the tickets (I got two for ₤35, a ridiculously good deal even given the exchange rate and the price tickets go for in Minneapolis theaters) and the recognition of the actors, tickets would go fast regardless and I shouldn't feel guilty, should I? Sometimes I think a part of my mind refuses to let the rest of it have fun.
TL;DR: I am going to London next January. It hasn't entirely set in that this is actually happening and I expect that there will be more sudden freak-outs along the way. I haven't been to London since I was 16 and I was a very different person then (also a minor, there on a high school band trip, and far more introverted than I am now). But I am so excited to go and see all the sights I missed the last time (how the hell did I miss 221B Bakers Street? HOW?!), revisit some places I saw too briefly (Covent Garden, I am coming for you. And you too, British Museum and National Gallery), and bask in the awesomeness of Old Blighty once again.

Friday, July 5, 2013

To Be... or To Be Confused

You all are getting an extra special blog post from me today because I missed last Saturday and I'm feeling pretty weird from getting a tetanus booster shot today. Also, it's time for me to finally fess up I have absolutely no idea what I'm doing with my life.
Zero. Zip. Zilch. Love. Nada. I have no idea what I want to do and where I want to start. I believe that the existential crisis that comes with being a liberal arts college graduate who's bad at making decisions has finally made itself apparent.

It started making itself present when I realized that I'd really like to be a dramaturg and work in theater. Dramaturgy is something that is perfectly up my alley and I was a bit embarrassed to realize I'd never heard of before. Not surprisingly to me, it doesn't generate a lot of money and it tends to be volunteer work. Which is fine - I could do that and have a day job and maybe eventually work up to a place where I could eventually get a paying gig as a dramaturg.

So then I started looking into another career option that really interested me - doulas. Doulas are a bit like midwives, except that instead of being medically trained, they are there for emotional support for both the mother during pregnancy and for the partner. Overall, they couples transition into having a new life in their... well, life. Given my interest in women's studies and psychology, this also seemed like a perfect fit. Except that becoming a doula is rather unclear - you can take classes for it but there is no one place to do this training, and one can become certified through a few organizations but some doulas claim that this is not necessary. Also, it either functions as an independent business or unpaid volunteer work. Which would be fine, if I weren't already juggling the unpaid enterprises of writing and probably dramaturgy.

And so, after talking with friends the other night, I realized that maybe I should go to nursing school. People have before suggested that I go to med school because I have an interest in science and helping people and apparently have the right disposition for it. However, I claim to dislike bodily fluids and dodge this idea. Everyone wants to be a doctor or a lawyer, and that life's not for me.

Except... except that I have an immense amount of respect for nurses after interacting with them a great deal while my mother was in the hospital a year ago, an interest in medicine and health, and would like some stability in my rather loopy life. Not that nursing is stable, but it is a clearer career path than being a doula.

Of course, it doesn't end there. Going to nursing school would be a big decision - a big expensive decision - and I'd have to take at least three extra classes before I could even apply, because I have no anatomy, physiology, or chemistry background. It wouldn't make it impossible - my alma mater has a degree specifically designed for students with a non-nursing/science background to apply to their program - but I'm worried that I just want to do this because A) I have no clarity and this at least currently seems clear, B) I would like a job that is both fulfilling and is more than volunteer work (ie: it has a salary), and C) it sounds really great and wonderful and for once in my life I wouldn't have to spend five minutes just explaining what sort of work I do and people would generally recognize such work as rewarding and legitimate.

In other words: Hello, existential crisis.

I have to admit that I am considerably jealous of my friends who have jobs or have a clear idea of what they want to do in their lives. My friend Kevin has wanted to be a meteorologist since middle school and I sort of want to punch him for it not because he deserves to be punched, but because I am very badly handling my lack of career ideas. I'm envious of my friend Danielle who recently left with the Peace Corps to go to South Africa because I admire her ability to commit to a two-year program that, as difficult as it may be, she showed little reservation about participating in. Hell, I'm even jealous of my friend Sarah who commiserates with me about not knowing what to do with her life but appears better at coming with a plan - or at least faking that she has one.

Considering that just a few months ago I wanted to go to grad school to study Shakespeare, I certainly am in no position to make sudden decisions, not that going to nursing school would be one (I wouldn't start until fall of 2014 anyway). But there's so many things I want to do and I have simply no idea where to start or what to do with my skills. I love theater. I love writing. I love science and talking to people and helping people and discussing life and philosophy over cups of tea. What in the world could possibly combine all of that, besides being a philanthropic novelist who gives talks about... stuff? Which is what I'd really like to be but how to get there... no idea. Not a one.

Money isn't too much of an issue as I do have a pretty nice looking savings account, thanks to my family. But I don't want to have to use that unless I really, really need to or am using it for special occasions.  I'm an ace at making mistakes and I would like to have a little monetary buffer there in case I make a rather spectacular one. However, it also seems like I don't have a right to complain when so many of my compatriots have no such savings and have a lot of debt from school. Which only serves to make me feel worse that I have so many advantages and still no idea of what I want to do.

So. I'm in a bit of a crisis. Can't say I'm really surprised, but I'm hoping that I can at least get some clarity by the end of the summer. We'll see.

My apologies that this blog hasn't been very fangirly of late. Tomorrow's post will be about me but also some fangirly stuff, so there's that (and it will serve to show that as jealous of my friends as I am right now, I am likewise just as capable of incurring jealousy for my mad adventuring) and then I'll do my best to get more fandom topics back on here. Unfortunately, many of my fandoms have been rather quiet of late... which is unsettling. It's like the calm before the storm.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

We the People
As you might of noticed, there was no post on Saturday, mainly because I spent the day running all over Minneapolis with my friends, celebrating the Pride festival. Minneapolis hosts the 3rd largest Pride in the United States and is known for its family-friendly atmosphere. Here, it's become another sort of event to attend, like the State Fair or the Uptown Art Festival, which I think says a lot about how accepted the GLBT community is in the Twin Cities.

On a related note, when I sat down to write this post today, I found an email in my inbox from the White House. Don't get excited - this was a mass email sent out to those who had signed a petition asking for the Westboro Baptist Church to be formally recognized by the White House as a hate group, so that they can no longer be allowed to protest military funerals and hold up signs with their gay slurs written on them, shouting angrily that God is killing Americans because we're accepting of homosexuality. You can understand why I don't like this group. The petition, which I had signed some months ago, garnered this response from the White House:
Thank you for your petition.

The We the People Terms of Participation explain that "the White House may decline to address certain procurement, law enforcement, adjudicatory, or similar matters properly within the jurisdiction of federal departments or agencies, federal courts, or state and local government."
To the extent that these petitions request a particular law enforcement or adjudicatory action, we cannot issue a comment. In addition, as a matter of practice, the federal government doesn't maintain a list of hate groups. That's the prerogative of private organizations like the Anti-Defamation League and Southern Poverty Law Center.

That all said, we agree that practices such as protesting at the funerals of men and women who died in service to this country and preventing their families from mourning peacefully are reprehensible-- a point that President Obama has made for years. That's why he signed a law to ensure that protesters keep an appropriate distance at military funerals. As the President has said, “The graves of our veterans are hallowed ground, and when men and women die in the service of their country and are laid to rest, it should be done with the utmost honor and respect.”

Moreover, one of the remarkable things about this set of petitions is that it shows just how strong the bonds that unite us can be. Together, we’re more resilient than those who would try to drive us apart.
Take, for instance, this map of all the signers of the petition "Legally recognize Westboro Baptist Church as a hate group" -- that we built with the zip codes that people chose to share with us when they signed. The darker color indicates a higher percentage of signers for that particular area's population. While support for these petitions came from all over the country, it was densely clustered in two places that have unique insight into the actions of the Westboro Baptist Church -- Kansas, the state the church calls home, and Newtown, Connecticut, where the church threatened to picket the funerals of those killed at Sandy Hook Elementary.
Let me put my initial response in the form of a song: 

Fortunately, you're getting the written response to this email, not the angry verbal rant that my parents had to put up with after I'd read it. Okay, so the federal government doesn't maintain a list of hate groups (that's news to me, but whatever) but the handling of this issue really rubbed me the wrong way. President Obama has signed a law insuring that protestors keep an appropriate distance at military funerals? You know what the appropriate distance is? NOT THERE AT ALL. I'm rather irate that more action can't be taken against Westboro. While they are a very small group and could be ignored, they gain a lot of media attention and they certainly aren't a church - they're a hate group. Though Americans have freedom of speech, I feel that when your words start hurting others, your forfeiting that freedom because you are doing harm. Also, freedom of speech is centered around making sure the large entities (aka: governments, like the British government that influenced the formation of this part of the Constitution) don't take away the right of expression and speech through means like censorship. Would labeling Westboro as a hate group and not allowing them to protest at funerals be censorship? I certainly don't think so.

This comes on top of a post that was driven from an mental crisis I've been having for a great many years - that of identifying as an American (especially since saying America refers to two continents - and yet the U.S. has stolen the term - but calling ourselves United Statesians sounds really dumb). Given that tomorrow is the fourth of July, the day on which my country-people celebrate our independence from the United Kingdom by blowing up ludicrous amounts of fireworks, eating hot dogs, hamburgers, potato salad, apple pie, and of course the alcoholic beverage or two, or twelve, ideas of American identity are very present in my mind right now. However, the older I get, the more I love the 4th while also having a growing ambiguous attitude towards it.
I don't think I've ever clearly expressed my political standing on this blog, mainly because I can't. I don't have a clear political standing. There is no political group I fit really nicely into. I don't like the two party system because it generally feels like both parties say the same thing, just in different words. I'm not clearly a socialist though I certainly have Marxist leanings. I'm sort of a libertarian except for the focus on private institutions and isolationism and the emphasis on small government (not that I'm entirely against small government, but why doesn't anyone ever talk about middle sizes? Or some flexibility? You know, have some growth here, shrink it down over here; that sort of thing). Sometimes I get all anarchist and hate the idea of political systems entirely, but then remember that general chaos is not really something I'm a fan of and I like having an organized way in which to express my opinion and my vote does matter, thank you very much. Given the fact that I feel my generation is entering an era that history will likely want to compare to the 1960s or 1970s, I've been thinking about what it means to be an American in this era a lot. And I've realized that I don't easily think of myself as one.

It's not that I'm not American, that'd be wrong and inaccurate. I live in this country, I was born in this country, my citizenship is with this country. But after discussing nation-states in far too many of my cultural studies classes, boundary lines start to look really arbitrary, especially given technologies that allow us to communicate from all over the world. Maybe lines on a map meant more when travel took far longer and we couldn't instantly message someone who was half the world away. Now, differences between countries are more nuanced, more specific, and our similarities are easier to see. It's difficult to see American identity as anything better than another sort of national identity and so, ideas of patriotism and citizenship have changed for me.

However, the United States is also enormous, and to try and have an identity as such in an immense nation that focuses mostly on the East and West coasts makes things rather difficult. There are certain markers of Americanness, some that I like and other that I don't, some that I identify with and others that I don't. There shouldn't be a limited amount of markers for what makes someone an American, but unfortunately (because yay, hegemony) that isn't always the case. Tie this into my already complicated political beliefs, the fact that my country has done a lot of things and continues to do a lot of things I don't agree with but also has done some really damn spectacular things, and the fact that I got this really timely email in my inbox, you can probably begin to see why being "American" is not as simple as apple pie. Actually, scratch that - I don't think pies are all that simple to make. Maybe that's a better comparison than I initially thought.
The point is, national identity has gotten rather complicated in our global world and when you live in the land of the free and the home of the brave, being American is weird. It's not bad, it's not good, it just is and it's bizarre. Tomorrow we're celebrating our independence from a country who is now our closest ally (and a place I have a strange appreciation for), a holiday that teeters between a day of strong patriotism and an excuse to get drunk (I use the number of people who injure themselves while setting off fireworks when intoxicated each 4th as evidence of this and not an exaggeration). I like the 4th because it allows me to contemplate something else - that while I do feel disconnected from American identity, that I have troubled feelings about the United States, this is also my home and has been for the last twenty-two years of my life. I may identify more as a Minnesotan than an American, but being an American is part of the Minnesotan identity and I know my roots here at least are deep. I may not always live in this country, but it has deeply changed how I see the world, for better and for worse. And just because I don't like aspects of where I'm from doesn't mean I should give up on it. I have high hopes for my country and I'd like to see them realized - being at Pride and seeing what sort of place we could live in outside the special event made me astoundingly aware of that.
On an attempt to come to some sort of closing here, I'll go back to the email that sparked all of this. The White House did get one thing right in their response - recognizing the number of people who signed the petition. While this was added in to appease the signers that they can't actually do anything about this issue, it hints at a really important point. We can't always look to our government for change - we just can't. If we did, we'd be waiting around forever. It took months for the White House to get back to the signers of this petition, and this is an easy response - it's a petition that can't be recognized because of how labeling hate groups work. Instead, it's up to those who signed the petition to do something else - find their own way to make sure Westboro's hate and bigotry can be limited. Maybe the U.S. government doesn't function properly or maybe it can't deal with every issue or maybe it's driven by corrupt means or maybe it's slowly creating change - I let others decide which of these to believe. Maybe it's all of these. However, it's a quote from Margaret Mead that I turn to now (one I found on a magnet at Pride and felt compared to buy): “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

As Gandhi (sort of) said: "Be the change you wish to see in the world." While labeling the Westboro Baptist Church would easily prevent them from their heinous actions, it wouldn't do much to get rid of that mentality, I suppose. If it's up to us, to the citizens, to promote this change, then we have to fight against the ideas that Westboro supports. It's a much harder fight but one, perhaps, that will have better long-lasting affects. As the 4th approaches, I think more and more of how I want to live in a country I can be proud of. And I can't expect that it will happen without some effort of my own. I keep thinking of this John Mayer song and how much my friend Sarah hates it because of its message:

If we wait for the world to change, we'll be waiting for the rest of our lives. C'mon John Mayer - I'm going to steal your song and rewrite it because that one little line drives me crazy. Listen to Margaret Mead. Change the world. Blow up fireworks and eat hotdogs and think about what kind of place you want to live in. And then make it happen. Maybe it's the drive I've gotten from Pride and seeing how the passing of the marriage amendment has affected the community (I mean, a proposal happened at one of the music stages they had set up and that wouldn't have been possible a year ago. By August 1st, marriage equality will be completely active and present in Minnesota - it makes me ridiculously happy). Maybe it's the fact that my future job perspectives look like they contain some degree of activism. Maybe it's because nothing really matters and because nothing matters, everything matters. I may feel disconnected from Americanness, not because I'm not one but because being an American is only a part of who I am in a global society. However, it's an important part and something I'd like to be proud and humbled of, not ashamed or arrogant of.

And so, I'm entering this strange holiday of ours with actually quite a bit of joy. Trepidation for the future, of course, worry about political situations and certain policies, certainly. But I feel a great deal of hope in myself and those around me. I firmly believe that groups of people can change the world. Now it's just up to me to find one of those groups and get shit done :D