Friday, February 28, 2014

Celebratory Music Break

I just submitted my grad school application this morning and can now take nothing seriously so, in lieu of an actual post, here's a brilliant power ballad from a group called Little Mix, whom I've recently become obsessed listening to:

This summarizes my feelings about grad school:

And also, because of reasons, here's some Daft Punk for your Friday:

Have a good weekend everyone and I'll be back on Tuesday!

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

OMG Shakespeare again!

Hey, this will probably be the last week I'll be promoting my vlog on here, but here's the link to the latest OMG Shakespeare video:

I can continue to post about the videos if there's a demand for it, but I figure since it's separate from my blog here, I might discontinue doing that. Otherwise, feel free to follow me on Twitter or subscribe to the channel on Youtube to get updated on the videos!

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

I have a long, long list of documentaries I need to watch and this past weekend I finally managed to see one of them. It was the film Bully, which, as the title implies, focuses on bullying in the American school system.

This was a fairly personal documentary for me to watching, having been somewhat bullied in my younger years and having seen a great many people bullied myself. While watching the documentary, I tried to think of any of my friends from high school who hadn't been bullied and I failed. I couldn't think of a single friend of mine who hadn't been bullied.

In my spare time, I often critique and ponder the American school system. I once wanted to be a teacher and have long been concerned about how much time is spent not learning but merely trying to overcome the opposition one faces just from one's peers in the classroom. With several GLBT identified friends who have a great deal of hatred for how our hometown treated GLBT people, I know how bullying affects people based on social orientation, race, class, gender, and whatever mere differences can be pulled out from their nuances and exemplified as something horrendous. Most of the bullying I personally experienced and saw others experience actually occurred in my days in schools run by the Catholic Church, despite the fact that Christian values are heavily against bullying. And so I continue to wonder how bullying arises, what makes one person a target and not another, why power struggles are so engrained into childhoods and education systems. I know the US is not the only country with bullying issues but the fact that it is so prominent and so much a part of our society - it certainly isn't new in our school systems, but it's changing and becoming more prominent - is deeply worrying.

Something that worries me even further is the disregard cast upon the issue. The documentary begins focusing on the assistant principle of a school in Iowa who proclaims, "What am I supposed to do?" This is an interesting question and one that's difficult to deal with. Schools struggle with being treated as if they are surrogate parents for their students while also being oblivious to the issues and problems their students have and not providing the basic things they should have. There's tension in the US school system based upon how it's designed in the first place, but bullying bring out an entirely different side of it. What's interesting is that the documentary doesn't continue with this perspective, but instead shows how inept the assistant principle is at dealing with her students and doesn't understand how bullying works in the first place. While this is an issue in itself, I wish there had been more of a perspective at how it shouldn't only be up to schools to fix bullying - this is an issue in parenting and a societal issue based on the norms and prejudices we express to each other.

This documentary, like many documentaries, does not give an idea of how to fix the issue of bullying. Rather, it is designed to draw awareness and attention, produce outrage, and spur action. However, it's difficult to know what sort of action to take. I once wrote a letter to Minnesota Representative Michelle Bachman, as her electoral district has the highest rate of GLBT bullying and suicide rates in the state of Minnesota. There had been an article about it in Rolling Stone, giving the problem national attention - especially as Bachmann was running for president at the time. I was at least hoping for a form letter response, such as I received when I wrote about racism in my school district to the school board. But I didn't even receive this. I heard nothing and still have heard nothing. And so, I ask, how are our voices supposed to be heard when our own representatives refuse to listen? I rationalized her lack of response due to the fact that I wasn't from her Congressional district, but then decided that this wasn't good enough of an answer. I am a Minnesotan, she represents Minnesotans, and just because she happens to not show a lot of empathy for GLBT issues does not mean she can just ignore a serious problem that is happening to young people right in front of her.

In case you can't tell, I'm still angry about this issue and I sent this letter two years ago.

Discussing all of this takes me back to Ellen Page's recent speech at the HRC conference. She nails everything in her talk, but this most of all:

Why is it so hard to be kind to each other? At what point did we decide to treat other so badly? And why do we continue to do so?

Part of it comes from bullying itself - being bullied makes you defensive and angry and hateful yourself, to the point that you run the risk of becoming a bully to, and some do. But it's hard to react differently. I myself am still angry with people who treated me badly in my past, though I have significantly let go of that hate more so than I had previously. But when it comes to situations such as the one with Representative Bachmann, it's very much impossible for me not to react with some anger and hate for her disregard to such issues, along with the other manner of opinions that she expresses which make my blood boil with fury. Working in retail I see how quickly those who are treated with less respect than they deserve instantly turn to anger and hate, be they employees who are treated badly or customers who are treated badly by employees or, more often, other customers. I don't like that this is where we turn to. So, much like the creators of Bully, I'd prefer to move towards a more constructive use of such emotional outrage.

Last summer I had shared a link to a PBS article and video about a school in Colorado using The Tempest to talk about issues of bullying and I would like to mention it again, finding the whole idea so brilliant. Being a Shakespeare fan and theater lover, I can't help but marvel at what could be done if this approach was used more, if we used arts as a way to discuss these issues and express why the ways in which we think and treat others can be hurtful. If we were more aware of the ways in which our society sets us up for prejudices, they way in which parents and the school systems can express these beliefs, I believe we'd already be several steps closer to lessening the affects of bullying.
And yet I know how hard it can be to speak up against such problems. Often those who are bullied are told to get thicker skin, to deal with it, to believe that it'll be okay and to just ride it out without taking action. They are told it is is nothing or that everyone goes through it or that it's just the way kids are. Bullying is an expression of the prejudices in our society through our own youth and if it doesn't terrifying you to hear ten-year-olds using racist slurs or seeing young girls calling each other sluts, then I don't know what to do. I am tired of hearing about the US being a land of equality and seeing that some restriction most definitely apply. To ignore bullying is to ignore the fact that racism still exists, that social classes exist, that misogyny, homophobia, and a myriad of other discrimination occur not just in schools but in society in general. I was bullied for the most shallow of reasons - because I didn't dress as well as the other girls and because I was overweight. This hurt plenty. I cannot imagine the pain one goes through for being taunted based on something even more central to their identity than superficial appearance.

But that's the problem with most bullying - it is superficial. It is based on a lack of understanding and a lack of compassion towards people, a judgement taken only from the briefest of glimpse of who they are. We live in a fast-paced society where we are meant to make decision quickly and focus on what we want. Perhaps if we slowed down once in a while, thought of others, and thought about our own actions, we'd be less likely to act this way.

This opens up an entirely different issue of social communication, which I could really delve into due to my job, but I'm going to hold off on that for now. I was there was a clear way to end bullying but, like most societal issues, there isn't. But I'm grateful to documentaries like Bully which raise awareness and programs like the one using The Tempest which use creative approaches to deal with the issues. It doesn't end the issue, but it brings attention to the issue and can help us arrive at a deeper understanding and analysis. And that's what matters.

Friday, February 21, 2014

On Becoming a Dramaturge
The last few weeks have been comprised of me applying for grad school at King's College London, reading scripts and books about theater, applying for an internship with a dramaturgical focus through the Playwrights' Center in Minneapolis, and attending theatrical events. And I have never been happier. Part of me feels incredulous that it took me so long to realize my yearnings to work in theater, even though I realized this in just a matter of months. But looking back on what caused me to avoid making a decision is easier for me to see, just as it is easier for me to recognize what I want to do.

When I graduated from college, I was so glad to have graduated and to be done with course work for a while that I couldn't think about anything beyond that. I was worried about money and I wanted to get a job, to work and have a routine instead of my crazy school scheduling. But also, I was afraid. I was afraid of making a decision that I might live to regret. I was afraid I might be making the wrong choice if I went to grad school without really considering what I wanted to study. I didn't think I was knowledgeable enough about Shakespeare to pursue it academically. I didn't think I had the right skills, having not majored in English or ever having performed in theater. But I've realized that that's not true and, while I'm taking a risk and am facing ridiculous odds, it's a chance I want to take.

Since deciding to apply for the Shakespeare Studies program at King's, I've had more motivation than I've had in months. I oscillate between daring optimist and terrified fatalist, but for the most part, I feel positive. After recently finishing a book called The Shakespearean Dramaturg, I struggle to see how I could have ever thought that there was anything else I ought to be doing with my life. But just a year ago, reading such a book would have filled me with doubt that I would be capable of such work. But now it fills me with hope.

Have I ever spoken at length about dramaturgy here? I don't believe I have. In the risk of repeating myself, I'll discuss it, as it's not a term everyone is familiar with. I was only first told about it while discussing my interest in the Cultural Studies grad student office and a student came up to me and said that, essentially what I'd been describing about wanting to do with theater was dramaturgy. I recall being told that it's sometimes easier to describe what dramaturges aren't than what they are. They don't make the decisions in the production. They don't act it out. But they do a whole lot of other things that are fantastic. Professor Tandy, the instructor I had for my Shakespeare class, said a dramaturge she knew described it like being a midwife - you don't have the baby, you don't raise the baby, but you're there to help.
Dramaturges are somewhere between researchers and academics doing textual analysis, writers helping adapt a play and deciding what should be cut out, mediators between the text and the production, but most of all collaborators with the production team. The biggest part of their work is supporting the production and helping it to be its best. Sometimes that come in fighting for some part of the text you believes should remain in the play. Sometimes it comes from letting go of your interpretation of the text and allowing a different one to take its place. I saw how important dramaturgy was to me when I realized how deeply I loved Shakespeare and seeing how it was adapted. In an odd way, in seeing the Hollow Crown adaption of Henry V done by BBC and PBS, I realized how much dramaturgical thinking was already a part of my mind due to my interests in theater, writing, and in cultural analysis. Though I greatly enjoyed this version of Henry V, I was disappointed to see one of my favorite scenes cut, that of Henry's soliloquy on ceremony in Act 4.1. While I can see that it may not be the most important scene and may be necessary to cut for time's sake, I think it's deeply important in understanding Henry's role as king and the tension he faces between the public and private spheres. And thus I became really curious in how decisions are made in what to include in Shakespearean adaptations and how a production team deals with cutting a scene like this, especially if members of the team really adore that scene.

Most of all, I long for the community that being in theater creates. Something I loved about being part of the orchestra pit in the musicals my high school performed was being part of this larger group, this amazing diverse collective of people that came together to produce something amazing. I felt much the same about performing in band, but there was an added sense of magic with the musicals, perhaps with the element of all the layers built in to staging a show. It was incredible to see the show go from the early rehearsals and tech week into opening night and there was a thrill to it that I've missed dreadfully.

But somehow I didn't realize I missed it. I'd buried it underneath my concerns for other things and my fears that I wasn't meant for theater work because I'd been led elsewhere or I'd led myself away from it. Then I interned at the Guthrie and things began to change. I realized that there was definitely a place for me in the theater world. I was still afraid to jump into immediately, but I knew where I wanted to end up eventually. And while trying to take paralegal classes at Globe University, I did exactly as Professor Tandy so wonderfully stated, "You realized you were at the wrong Globe."

I've been considering why I ever closed off my love for theater and my longing to work with it in the first place. Was I disappointed in myself for not pursuing acting in high school? Was I devastated about not getting into the School of Music at my university? Did I think doing something like this would distract me from writing? Did I try and replace theater with an interest in other things - film, TV, media studies in general? Did I feel tempted to listen to the woman who, in my first year of high school, told me science made more money than theater and play-writing and though I ignored her, her comments continued to echo in my mind? Was I afraid of choosing something to pursue, afraid it would box me in from other options? Yes. Yes to all of these.
I've spoken before about my agnosticism and being a doubting Thomas. This is a trend that extends beyond religion and into much of my ways of thinking. I find doubt comforting in that I don't have to decide upon something, that I can keep my options open and don't have to worry about closing my mind off to something. However, when it comes to life choices, I can't stay undecided forever. I felt the pressure of needing to make a decision and found one that seemed perfect. And I was wrong. But if I hadn't made that decision, if I hadn't made that mistake, I don't think I'd be where I am now. My strange, circuitous path has given me a certain sort of decisiveness that I didn't have before. Everything is clearer and, while I have decided against certain things, my mind doesn't feel closed off. This comes from the ridiculously obvious realization that you don't know until you know - I didn't know what I wanted to do until I knew for certain. And I'm just grateful I didn't realize it too late.

Dramaturgy and academic study is so multifaceted and full of so many opportunities that I know I won't feel closed off to anything. But I am afraid. So many friends of my friends have been rejected from the grad schools they have applied to and I'm beginning to worry that I have no chance, especially as an international student applying for a program that only accepts a small number of people. I feel like I have an interesting program and at least a good chance of being noticed by the program. But my sentimental heart and skeptical mind continue to duke it out is fluctuating between optimism and brutal realism and I have no idea what to expect. I worry that getting another internship with limited theater experience is a long shot and hoping to land both the internship AND grad school is asking for far too much.

But I'm going for it. And that's what matters to me. I've been throwing myself into so much theater the past few weeks - seeing several shows performed here in Minneapolis, revisiting the theater community on the U of M campus and envying their collaborative supportive community, volunteering at the Minnesota Thespian Conference at the Guthrie and experiencing the sheer joy of being back there again. I have to at least try for this program and, if I don't get in, it won't be the end of the world. I'll find other opportunities and other routes to do this. I'm just happy to know what I want to do now. And I'm excited to do it.
It feels a bit vainglorious to write all of this down, but I want to celebrate how far I've come in just the last year. Too much pride may be a vice, but I'd at least like to allow myself some pride, as for too long I didn't have any for myself. Especially, I share this here because somehow, incredibly, I have discovered an amazing, supportive environment of incredibly clever, kind individuals in the readers of this blog. Some of you are very interested in what I'm doing with my life and, while I feel a bit baffled that people actually are that interested in my shenanigans given my general insignificance in space and time, I certainly owe you an update on my life happenings. I quite honestly owe you all more than I can ever give and I'd like to take the opportunity to thank you all for that. The support and comments I get on this blog are astounding to me, especially when discussing things I struggle to write. I often wonder who you are all are out there, reading and sharing your wonderful thoughts. I cannot express how much I appreciate your readership and I hope that I can somehow pay forward all the wonderful ideas and encouragement you all have given me. I have absolutely no idea where I'll be in the next few months, but I'm excited to see where I'm headed and I'm happy to share it with you. Thank you all, for reading, commenting, and being the most positive group on the internet. While I long to be part of a theater community, it's amazing to see the cyber community that's appeared here. My gratitude for you all is endless.

So once more unto the breach, dear friends! Let's do this thing :)

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Ellen Page

I'm feeling terribly distracted and rather giddy today, likely do to the warmer weather we've gotten, and can't seem to get my mind to focus to write a cohesive post today. Instead, I thought I'd share the video of Ellen Page coming out at an HRC Conference which you've likely already heard about. But I really love her talk and really admire what she says and how she says it. So give it a watch :)

Friday, February 14, 2014

The Prestige, Part 2

I was in a coffee shop in Northeast Minneapolis Wednesday, catching up with my friend Jordyn about my London trip and life in general. The conversation turned to Tom Hiddleston, based upon my seeing Coriolanus at the Donmar, and Jordyn mentioned an interview Mr. Hiddleston had done recently in which he'd said this:
("I don't want to sound like a twat, but sometimes you just don't want to stop and take a selfie.")

Curious about this, I considered looking for the interview, but thanks to entity that is Tumblr, I didn't even have to look - it found me. This post came across my dash and, while I generally wouldn't link to someone's Tumblr blog, I think it's important. I also came across the interview mentioned above on the same Tumblr user's blog and gave it a look-through.
This situation is one I have given much thought to recently. After seeing Coriolanus and, while not having any overtly negative experiences at the stage door but feeling very odd about it, hearing about negative experiences people did have, and thinking about the show itself, along with the assortment of thoughts collected in the first prestige post, I have been juggling issues of celebrity culture in the back of my brain for the last few weeks. Shakespeare's play, with its consideration of acting, playing parts, and assuming roles to please the public is full of allusions that could be made to represent current issues within celebrity culture. While seeing the performance, I thought perhaps it was just me looking for these issues in a staging with a lead actor who, in what I believe is his first return to theatre since the rise of his cinematic popularity, might be juggling issues of performing in a small theatre with a world-wide fanbase. I didn't want to conflate what I was perceiving socially about the actor with what I was seeing onstage, though I couldn't help but notice it. After reading both the Tumblr post and the interview, I'm wondering if perhaps I was on to something.

The Tumblr post is poignant and refreshing. It's great to see someone analyzing both their position as a fan along with issues going on in the fandom in a way that is personal, touching, and wonderfully phrased. C.J., the blogger who wrote this, says things that I have precisely been thinking about myself.

C.J.'s initial reaction of feeling foolish and guilty was how I felt reading the quote discussing odd fan experiences as well. Not long ago, I wrote a blog post formed as a letter written to Mr. Hiddleston. I often regret writing that post because, while it did provide a certain way for me to grapple with my more fannish thoughts, I am not certain it was the best choice of mine to publicly share it. However, I did not share it with said celebrity in question, so perhaps it isn't that different from the other usual shenanigans I get up to out here on my blog.

I also love C.J.'s comment on not regretting being able to thank him in person - given the experiences shared, this must have been a wonderful opportunity and one well deserved, and also gives light to the fact that interactions between fans and celebrities do not have to be weird.

But there are some weird things. I thought I had noticed the same "subtle shift" in Mr. Hiddleston's attitude that C.J. notes and, after seeing Coriolanus, felt the production had some influence upon that. As a would-be dramaturge and academic of theatre, I am trying to imagine what it must be like to leave work each day with throngs of fans waiting outside, how one can focus knowing that after the show you as an actor will face a very large, public entity that is very intent on seeing one person and having their desires met. Having started in theatre and now returning to it after being in the "Hollywood spotlight" was something really exciting for Mr. Hiddleston. But now I worry that issues involved with fandom and fame might make it less likely for him to continue to do this in the future.

There are two paragraphs that C.J. absolutely nails - okay, the entire post nails it but I particularly like these and am going to include them here:
Tom, and every other celebrity, is a HUMAN BEING. He is quite rightly entitled to respect and privacy. He is a human being. He is NOT Loki. He is NOT the characters he plays. He is his own person, with his own beliefs and morals. He is under NO obligation to interact with fans the way that he does. He DOES NOT owe you anything. He is NOT the embodiment of your fantasy, who will drop to his knees and profess his love for you when you finally meet him.
I feel both angry and guilty that the entire fanbase has been relegated to “insane” and “obsessive” because of the actions of a few. I feel that we can never apologise enough to Tom for the behaviour of certain people within the fanbase. I feel that we will never be taken seriously as people, due to how the media has interpreted this behaviour (do not even get me started on the interviews involving fanart).
Again, nailed it. I so grateful I had the opportunity to Coriolanus performed, if not simply because it was a marvelous show and with actors of an amazing caliber, but also because seeing a favorite actor of mine perform live utterly changes things. I know I've said this all before, but seeing someone the internet is so fascinated by in the flesh adds a different dimension. It gave me a certain sort of clarity and understanding that, yes, Mr. Hiddleston is a real human being, not a fairytale entity. I know nothing about this human being and yet I still regard him with utter respect and admiration. While it has made it insanely difficult for me to deal with fandom behavior, both on my part and on the internet now, it's a dimension I'm grateful to now have.

There's another layer to add on to this, thanks to my having seen Anton Chekhov's The Seagull last weekend. Though it is described as a comedy and, when performed, is actually quite funny, the play ends very tragically for many of the characters involved. In Act II, there is a fascinating conversation between the young woman, Nina, who longs to become a famous actress, and the esteemed writer Trigorin who, while claiming to not care about his fame, constantly yearns to be as well regarded as other Russian authors. On one hand, there is something sympathetic about Trigorin - he seems confused by Nina's obsession with him and his fame, thinking him such a genius, while he expresses that such thoughts are "like gumdrops, which I never eat." He sees writing as something he has to do, to the extent that every bit of daily conversation, everything that happens he must "capture and lock up in the back of my brain" (Chekov 132-133). But Trigorin also uses his fame for a terrible end, having an affair with Nina and leaving her when he is no longer interested, destroying her "like a seagull" which is killed earlier in the play and Trigorin considers writing about, using Nina as source material. The story that Trigorin aims to write is the story that he enacts on Nina and the one which ruins her life.Though there seems to be more than one seagull in this play, Nina is the one who recognizes it on stage, and grapples with it, muttering, "I'm the seagull...No, that's not it," seeming almost crazed by her struggles (Chekhov 158).

Seeing how fascination with fame and misunderstandings of it can be destructive is a powerful piece to this puzzle. In the play, it's a fan and a aspiring actress who is impacted by longing for fame and injured by someone who is not self-aware of how fame has affected them. Trigorin is unhappy with his status and is consumed by trying to better it, unaware of how his own yearnings and desires work to destroy those of Nina's.

After writing my previous prestige post, seeing something like The Seagull is troubling. Fame can be destructive and Nina's mumbling, "I'm the seagull" is terribly heartrending. I don't want actors to become seagulls, to see them destroyed by the very things that could have led them to greatness - other actors, fandoms, celebrity culture itself. While it's a shame that Mr. Hiddleston has to say things like he doesn't want to stop and take a selfie and that he has to change the way in which he interacts with his fans, it's for the better. As the commenter says on the selfie quote, it's time for him to stick up for himself. He deserves respect and privacy not to have his kindness and open regard with fans be taken advantage of. It's a shame that it isn't already understood that he doesn't always want to stop and take a selfie and that fans don't always recognize this.

It's also good hearing this from an actor, to get a perspective on how they feel. One of the many things I loved about the Jack Gleeson video in the other post was him being so open about his feelings on celebrity culture, which is something I feel isn't often discussed as it's often pretended there isn't a problem. But how often do we really get to hear actors speak as themselves on issues pertinent to their careers? How often do we hear them speak as something other than a character and on something beyond the often banal questions they get asked in interviews? One reason I love the Academy Awards is because I get to see actors as themselves, if some public presentational version of themselves, and hear them speak about acting as actors, not characters. Speaking of which, I really wish Shia Labeouf would illuminate his art project thing he did in Berlin:

I admit that I am a strange soul in a strange situation. I want to work as an academic as well as work in theatre. I want to remain a fan but gain a different perspective, one that is partially insider and also self-reflective. I want to be able to handle having a Loki poster on my wall and going to work in an environment in which (if I'm really really fortunate) people might have worked with Mr. Hiddleston. But it's hard to juggle these things when most media forms continually pull out celebrities as different, stratified, not like the rest of us. When the environment you're in is built up so much in this way of thinking, how do you work through it?

And so, I leave you with an other post on celebrity culture, of which I'm accumulating quite a few. There's not really any resolution here but it's the thinking that's important. I just hope that more and more fans consider this perspective and remember that the celebrity they adore is not that different from themselves.

Citations from:
Chekhov, Anton. "The Seagull." The Plays of Anton Chekhov. New York: Harper Perennial, 1997.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Vlog 2: Romanticizing Romeo and Juliet

To advertize my new vlog, I'm doing another promo for it here! Check it out at this link:

A little bit about Romeo and Juliet, just in time for Valentine's Day :D

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Thoughts on Romance, Media, and Asexuality
This post started out on the topic of J.K. Rowling announcing last week that she regrets having Ron and Hermione end up together at the end of the Harry Potter series. It, however, delved off into something else and with this article a piece from the Guardian expounding more upon what Rowling said, I have far less quarrel with this topic. There is the continuing tension between an author revealing that writing doesn't end with the publishing of a book and the fans feeling a certain kind of connectivity and power with the characters. But this post didn't really deal with that. Instead, it dealt with the focus on relationships in books and other forms of media. And I decided to keep that bit in and nix the Harry Potter discussion and talk about something tricky just in time for Valentine's Day. This post (like so many of my posts these days) was difficult to write and it's highly personal. So if you don't want to deal with my TMI, then skip today's post.
Have I ever talked much about asexuality on here? Briefly here it seems. Well, I'm about to talk more about it. Over the last year or so I have deeply considered whether or not I myself am asexual. I certainly don't care about sex as much as some people, or perhaps even many people, and, while I do experience sexual attraction, it's very, very infrequently, and generally only after I experience some emotional attachment due to something a person has done, something they have said, or something along those lines. As I have greatly noted over the years, I do not have to personally know the person for this to occur. After seeing more and more about asexuality online, I have a great deal of understanding for asexuals, though I am not one myself (as I do experience sexual attraction) though I would say I'm some degree of greysexual (someone in some degree between asexuality and sexuality).

Realizing this has been a great comfort to me. In the recent past, when I couldn't understand why I had never really dated and why, perhaps more to my alarm, I had rarely met anyone I actually wanted to date, I beat myself up for it. I thought I was doing something wrong or that I was weird or just being "too picky" (as I had been told by my grandmother). I struggled to understand why people could so easily say things like, "Oh my God, I would totally sleep with him/her" or "He is so sexy" just by looking at someone and, more so, why they reacted so strangely when I disagreed or couldn't express the same sentiments. I struggled to understand how easily kisses could be shared when they seemed to have a higher intimacy for me than most people and I continued to be embarrassed that I'd never actually had one. When I wrote a blog post about struggling with modernity, isolation, and being single for one of my classes, I began to notice how unhealthy my fear was of admitting that I was in my twenties and had been single my entire life. I felt like I'd done something wrong, like I'd missed some vital part of puberty in high school where I was supposed to end up dating. But I hadn't felt like dating in high school. I hadn't really felt like dating until the later end of my college years. I was convinced that I was being too dreamy or too romantic or too focused on the impossible. I am dreamy, and to some degree romantic, and I have a strong belief in the impossible. But it wasn't this that had caused my perceived problem - it was the simple fact that I had never been in the time or place in which I had truly wanted to date someone. It took me two more years to really recognize this and only last fall did I finally really understand that there was nothing wrong with me but that I was just different. I was single because I was single. I had only once or twice actually physically met someone I wanted to date. My feelings of shame and embarrassment at twenty-three years of single-tude began to make more sense to me and was no longer enveloped in such negativity. I had never really tried too hard to date because... well, I had never met anyone that made me want to try. I was kind of lonely, I was kind of depressed about it, but when it came down to it, I couldn't really think of any opportunities where I regretted not being more in pursuit of a relationship. The one date I have ever gone on, I asked the guy out and, well, it didn't work out, but I'd done what I could (and now can't understand what I liked about the guy in the first place, weirdly enough. Perhaps because he got back together with his ex-girlfriend and I'm just happy that she got a second chance and I don't really care about myself in this matter).

Reading about asexuality on Tumblr and seeing this article that my friend Tyler posted about wanting to love someone without sex really hit me and helped me understand how I was viewing such things and thinking about them. Perhaps I found it easier to develop relationships in my head because not knowing someone prevented me from worrying about how I would have to handle intimacy with another person or I could handle intimacy on my own terms and not have to worry trying to explain it to someone. Perhaps I was so fraught with judgement and confusion about people who treated sex with causality because I could not at all understand it for myself. Perhaps I felt such stigma for my fangirly ways because I was concerned that on some level I would only have relationships in my mind and never in real-life. Realizing why I was thinking these things helped me to stop being so hard on myself for them and opening my mind more. I wasn't afraid of intimacy, I wasn't reluctant to experience it - I just wanted to experience it at my own pace with someone I trusted and truly cared about. And I simply had never met a person like that.

Now that I've burdened you all with my personal musings, the question remains of why am I suddenly talking about this? It was something I discussed with Tyler in in London and found the conversations enlightening. I talk about it here in the hopes that maybe my over-revealing will help someone who was perplexed like myself. There isn't a lot of discussion of asexuality and variations of it and, while I'm not exactly a representative for asexuals, I'd like to show my support and empathy for them.
And secondly, I am really tired of same-old romantic relationships in the media. I recently reread Romeo and Juliet for my vlog series and I think it unleashed all the built-up hatred I have about people reading the play and thinking it's the most romantic thing on the planet. It's not romantic; it's bloody sad that they die because of discord between their families and that they are in such a pressured time frame and state of mind, they think it's a good idea to get married right after meeting each other. The popular interpretation of the play in many ways better serves to show our issues with viewing romance in popular culture than what Shakespeare really wrote about (but more about this in the vlog). The point is, I have a lot of strong feelings about how we talk about love and relationships in society as it is. Initally, Rowling's comments about Hermione and Ron bothered me because it seemed like she was focusing more on the romance at in the books than the issues of them saving the Wizarding World. It seems to represent this need for marriage and children to have a happy ending that I've already seen too much in literature and film and, while Rowling can't be held responsible for this wide cultural trend, the fact that she included it so much in her last books continues to bother me.

But what bothers me is how much it's continued elsewhere. Try to think of a popular song on the radio that isn't about love - it's kind of a struggle. We're a society obsessed with passionate love and, while we mean well with it, it often covers up perfectly valid and just as powerful other forms of love, be they romantic or not, and they often don't get their due.

However, I still care deeply about romance. Yes, in my life, I want to fall in love (with a person in my vicinity, not in my head, thanks). And yes, I want to get married. But they are not the be-all, end-alls of my existence. I am more than a marriage that, honestly, may never come. Realistically, I have other stuff to focus on than just marriage. I've got things to write, books to read, topics that need researched, plays to see, friends to get coffee with, brunches to have with my parents, dead fictional characters to weep over. I have serious career goals and personal interests that I will not give up and people I care deeply about that I will not cast aside in the pursuit of "true love". Too often I see people throw away their dreams for a person who wouldn't throw theirs away for them and I refuse to do that. I'll make sacrifices, but only ones that I can truly make without regrets and ones that my partner would make as well. But when I'm in the home good section of Target, stocking shelves and watching couples shop to decorate their new apartment, I can't help but feel a little jealous. But I know that intimacy doesn't come easy for me and that, while I can see a lot of good in people, I don't fall in love as easy as I think. It might be a form of love I'll never know. And to see so much written about how negative that is and how unfulfilled my life will be without it deeply concerns me. I've known plenty of other powerful forms of love, thanks - family love, platonic, friendly love. A love for the world and a love for cities and a love for the way things just are sometimes. While I'd really like to experience romantic love, I also know that I don't like how selfish it seems in cultural perceptions. I don't want someone to be "all mine" and I don't want to possess someone. I want to share the world with them and understand how they see it. Basically, when I heard this song from Starkid's Twisted musical, I thought, "Yes, this is it! This is what I want!"

This blog post seems like kind of a mess to me, so I hope it makes some semblance of sense. I guess what I'm trying to say through all of this is that love is a lot more complicated and nuanced than it's often perceived and... well, I find it a shame to see relationships - even if they are fictional - whittled down to something so simplistic and narrowly defined. I'd love to see a world where relationships are more than just marriage and sex and supposed happy endings. I'd like to see more difficulties in relationships - I'd like to see the struggles between Ron and Hermione to make their relationship work, dammit. I want to see couples that are asexual, that express intimacy in different ways, that don't even have a romantic relationship but care about each other deeply. But I'd also like to see sexual relationships that are not heteronormative, that are not cookie-cutter replicas of each other, that define sexiness in broader terms, that focus on deep intimacy and communication. Relationships of this variety are emerging more and more and I'm grateful, but I'd like there to be even more acceptance of this. Because maybe if we can see and accept it in a fictional character, the rest of society - and ourselves - will be more likely accept it too. 

Thursday, February 6, 2014

I did it. I made a vlog.

Remember that time I tried vlogging and it resulted in disaster?

Well, I've given it another. This time, I've created a new channel called OMG Shakespeare, in which I make short videos discussing, what else, Shakespeare.

Unfortunately I can't seem to figure out how to embed the video in the post as it won't come up when I search it in Blogger's video function. So I'll have to suffice with the link and have you check it out that way:

It's a bit scripted and awkward, but it's the first video; it's bound to be. It's a work in progress but I'm excited to make more and hopefully I will be posting them once a week. Any feedback on the vlog would be great and hope you enjoy it!

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

The Prestige

Given the nature of this post and my appreciation of Phillip Seymour Hoffman, I feel the need to discuss his recent passing. I deeply admire Hoffman's work and, upon hearing about his death on Sunday, I was shocked and saddened. The shock has not worn off yet, nor has the sadness and I debated whether or not I should write something other than this post, perhaps a discussion of Hoffman's amazing career or the difficulties that come in hearing about death of someone you admire yet have never met. Instead, I've decided to push this all aside at least for now, as I feel I have nothing to say of any real substance, and will share NPR's reflection on his career and this article from Esquire, which are better written and more poignant pieces than anything I could write about Hoffman write now.

I will, however, turn to celebrity culture and back to what this post was originally going to be on, though with an added layer I was not expecting to write. While in London, my friend Anna mentioned a talk Jack Gleeson (who plays Joffrey on Game of Thrones) gave on celebrity culture to Oxford Union. Very curious about the video, I happily watched it upon my return - and I was not disappointed. It's around thirty minutes long and well worth a watch. 

I love how Mr. Gleeson discusses this issue with frankness and insight. It marvels me to think he's being boring while I'm watching the video saying, "Yes! This! Exactly! I was exactly thinking that very thing!" The mentions of Baudrillard, Max Weber, explaining three different theories on celebrity culture - it all makes the academic in me fist pump the air. And having just seen my favorite actor/celebrity perform in person, there seems a no more relevant time than now to consider these issues.

Gleeson's first remark on how "people call me Jack on the street" instantly walloped me due to an occurrence in London. When I went to the stage door of Coriolanus on the second attempt and a man wearing a suit and an ear piece informed the fans that "Tom isn't doing signings anymore," a fan came up to me after this announcement, having been unable to hear the man. I parroted back the response then felt suddenly odd. Had I just called Tom Hiddleston simply "Tom?" Was that acceptable? What was I supposed to call an actor I'd never met? Was using a first name too familiar?

That aside, there is something about hearing a celebrity reflect on celebrity culture not just from personal experience but from an academic standpoint that is widely illuminating and admirable. The producing versus consuming  - that we are consuming content and perhaps the very people who make the content - is an important and powerful one. In a twisted sort of way, we consume people, and based on the media's fascination with stories such as Lindsey Lohan's and Justin Bieber's, there is a greater consumption and fondness of people who fall apart in the public and under the eye of the media.
Something I think Gleeson does marvelously in this talk is balancing the privileged of being so acclaimed and recognizing that there is talent involved while also expressing humility at his abilities and still showing how being famous is highly problematic. His emphasis on the dangers of failing to look back on those that look at you, the exclusion from everyday life, and the problems with privacy being treated as ordinary and abstracted at once are wonderfully expressed and explained. Something that occurred to me while watching this was whether it was wrong to extol his thoughts because he was a celebrity and whether that was just adding to the vicious cycle. But that's not the point at all. Perhaps he has a larger audience because he is a celebrity, but his ideas are damn good - and that's why they're worth listening to.

Watching this shortly after the recent Justin Bieber shenanigans were spread across the four winds, and the entire talk seemed to smack of Bieber, consideration as to why we continue to give him such attention when he's really not that great of a person and probably needs some reflection on his personal life, not the scope of paparazzi cameras watching him around every corner. While I think that Bieber is a bit of an asshat, I also wondered if some of his problems come less from his privilege and affluence allowing him to become spoiled and more from being extolled as this deified, god-like thing whom people adore even when he does shitty things. I live in a society in which being a "special snowflake" is both mocked and vied for, where being unknown is feared by those who want to be famous or be recognized and yet longed for by those who distrust organizations who can monitor their internet activity. I feel great comfort in songs like Helplessness Blues by Fleet Foxes in which being unique may not being the most important thing, but the world is still strange and baffling and the contradictions make it hard to know what to think.

All of this coming on top of my trip to London makes it incredibly relevant and personal to me. I learned uncomfortably that I'm not the sort who should go to stage doors after shows - I find that while I deeply want to share my thanks with the actors, I have no idea how to do so without wanting to talk about the show for the next two hours. After seeing such a dark show and then demanding that a very exhausted and very human actor sign something and perhaps take a photo just seemed wrong. But I also still feel a lot of stigma about being a fan who studies fans and something about standing out there not exactly wanting autographs or photos but a discussion just felt weird. And after coming across this article on Tumblr, I feel even weirder and twisted about it. The author describes how upon seeing Coriolanus, he saw a very negative side of fandom in the group of people that arrived anticipating Tom Hiddleston coming out. I am now sensing why we were told that Hiddleston no longer does signings. Someone who had reblogged this post on Tumblr described how one of their friends, who is a fan and had been stage dooring, came back with terrible stories of what the fans had been doing. This saddens me deeply to hear that apparently the fans had been a problem, and maybe on some small level I'm upset that the one opportunity that I might have had at stage dooring and maybe finding I wouldn't have to feel weird about it seems to have been made impossible by a select group.

But I have to admit that even some of the fannish things I did before seem wrong to me. I was reblogging some photos sets of Hiddleston on Tumblr and I felt immensely weird doing so. After seeing the actor perform in person it felt sort of inappropriate somehow. I felt no issue seeing the posts and didn't mind if other people posted or reblogged them, but I felt personally weird doing it. Maybe this is a stranger form of fannishness, in which adoration and deification has become dangerously pronounced, but it doesn't feel like it. If anything, I feel more aware of how celebrities are deified.
Gleeson mentions the dangerousness of doing this and I upon watching the video wondered how often I have done this. A while back, I wrote a post about my admiration of Tom Hiddleston. I received a comment and, though this was a minor point in it, the commenter said they didn't use Hiddleston as a source of strength and encouragement as their faith did that. I had a utterly bizarre moment of feeling that I had conflated fandom and religion and that perhaps, in some ways, I felt the way about Hiddleston that some people do about Jesus or other gods and prophets they follow. To say this was tremendously disconcerting is an understatement and upon rereading the comment, I still don't know what this stuck out to me so much - the rest of the comment was sweet and more important than that section. But I'd managed to send myself into a swirl of worry that I'd managed to do the very thing I so deeply didn't want to do - forget that the people I admire are in fact people relatively the same as me.

The prestige of being a celebrity perhaps was once a blessing but is becoming more and more of a curse. With social media and the speed of information, it's easier to hear their opinions and see them as ordinary and also easier to esteem them to a separate level and dissociate them from the rest of the world. With Philip Seymour Hoffman's sudden death, I heard a news report that evening discussing heroin use and I cringed to think that it was the first thing people discussed. Yes, he had drug addiction issues - but it felt as if somehow this was seen as sacrilegious, as if a renown actor and esteemed person couldn't have real problems.

There was a section of the Esquire article I rather liked, this paragraph to pull it out:
We live in the golden age of character actors — in an age when actors who have done their time in character roles are frequently asked to carry dark movies and complicated television dramas. The line between character actors and movie stars is being erased — in art, anyway, if not in life. In life, it’s different, because the “movie star” remains not just the product of looks and charm, but also a kind of social construct, with very distinct social obligations. Character actors like Philip Seymour Hoffman and James Gandolfini have found themselves getting more and more leading roles because they are permitted to behave onscreen in ways that George Clooney and Matt Damon never could. But the same permission extends offscreen, and that’s where we see the cost; indeed, we pay to look at men who look like us only when they convince us that that they live in psychic spaces that we could never endure…unless, of course, we happen to be enduring them.
I often wonder about what sort of toll acting takes on the people who do it. I pondered this with Tyler our last night in London was we wandered around near the British Museum. How, at the end of the day, do you escape the dark mind of the character you inhabit onscreen? Perhaps because I'm a writer and I'm never really off-work that this concerns me so much. I can't just push my ideas away at the end of the day and often the characters I create inhabit my mind as much as I do. Often I face a certain reluctance to write horror or darker works than I've created before because when I write such things, I lose sleep and feel unsettled by the ideas that manifest themselves. It baffles me how someone can physically embody characters that either I'm afraid to write or have to push out of my mind at times because their view makes me so uncomfortable. 

It's conversations like these that take me back to my deep regard for Heath Ledger and how infinitely impressed I am at his performance in The Dark Knight. However, I also feel a sort of uneasiness at admiring this role so much as it seems to be the one that was his undoing. In thoughts on method acting, it concerns me how deep actors will get in their rolls, such as living as their characters for certain periods of times and going to bodily extremes to look like them. As discussed before, I happen to not understand the physical aspects of acting as writing just doesn't have that edge. But failing to understand these physical aspects has rough repercussions - we criticize actors because they "don't look their best" or they changed their appearance for a role. We encourage them to really get into their characters but fail to empathize with them when it is a struggle. We expect them to be perfect yet watching their failings with rapture. And when actors are faced with serious, controversial struggles, we often turn to either pitying or scandalizing because we have put them as this contradictory level of ordinary yet extraordinary.

I am truly saddened by Phillip Seymour Hoffman's death as I was by Heath Ledger's. And yet, how do I mourn for someone I never even knew? What right do I have to feel sad by their absence when there are people out there who truly miss them?

There is a prestige for actors because of what they can do - they're a bit like shape-shifters; they can be people they aren't and we could never be. But the magic they create is not beyond us all and does not make them anything other than human. There is a strong difference between admiring and deifying and, while I take certain precaution because I don't always recognize the difference, I think most people can know the difference and I wish that there was more of an urgency to identify this. Instead, the media continues to consume the people we adore and I sit, anxiously worrying that one day I will find out that something terrible has happened to another of my favorite actors, either due to the dark side of fandom or because of the dark side of art. I love what's being created but worry about what it's being created in.

There's no neat way to end this post and thus I must leave it here with an unclosed end. But this is an unclosed problem and one I know I will continue to write about as time goes on.