Friday, March 28, 2014

Reflections on John Plumtre

Apparently in continuing with last Friday's theme, I have found another 19th century figure for which to I can lay my blame upon. His name is John Plumtre.

Who is John Plumtre, you ask?

This is he.

"But, that's Tom Hiddleston," you say.

Yes, the actor is Tom Hiddleston. The character he is acting, however, is John Plumptre, a character in the film Miss Austen Regrets. Please note that it is Mr. Plumtre I am cross with and not the actual, living actor portraying him. (Yes, I am angry with a fictional character who I claim has negatively affected my life. Roll with it.)

I first saw the film Miss Austen Regrets when it aired on PBS during a celebration of Jane Austen, in which they featured films of her works. This was probably around 2008 or so and I was a rather serious, sardonic, angsty teenager who was already infatuated with the story Jane Eyre and may or may not cared a great deal about Twilight (spoilers: I cared). I recall being very excited about Miss Austen Regrets because, unlike the other films being shown on PBS, this was actually about Ms. Austen and, as a young writer who adored Austen's wit and characterization, along with being interested in her life - given she wrote such great romances but never married - I was looking very forward to this film.

I wasn't disappointed. But I was greatly unprepared for the heartache that was about to ensue.

What I remembered from this film years later was that it was very sad, it had tormented me, and John Plumtre had really great hair. What I really remembered, which only resurfaced upon my rewatching this last Monday, was that it perfectly encompassed all my fears of becoming a writer and becoming an adult involved in relationships. I was worried that being someone who refused to put their writing aside to stereotypically wife-y things would automatically result in never getting married. I was worried that people wouldn't understand a certain writing style and, like Mr. Plumtre, be upset at the way certain matters are dealt with (in this case, Plumtre is upset that vicars are always portrayed as silly fools in Austen's writing).

Mostly I was tormented by the relationship between Plumtre and Austen's niece Fanny. Fanny likes Plumtre but is uncertain if he's "the one," if he's her Mr. Darcy. Jane assures her that she will do her best to not hold him against a fictional comparison and to be honest in her assessment of him. Plumtre seems to be a rather sweet, chivalrous fellow, even if he doesn't entirely care for Austen's assessment of vicars. He's kind, well-mannered, intellectual, and deeply cares about Fanny.

However, Fanny is upset by his dislike of dancing. She begins to wonder if she really likes him as much as she thinks she does but, when the idea of Plumtre proposing enters her mind, she knows she will say yes. However, when Plumtre is actually on the verge of proposing, in her excitement and earnestness, he believes she is mocking him. Thus, Plumtre walks off in an embarrassed, humiliated huff, Fanny is hurt and heartbroken, and the viewer is left sobbing and yelling at the screen, wondering why it's so hard for Regency Era people to talk about their feelings - and why it hasn't seemed to have gotten any easier two hundred years later. The most upsetting part of all of this is that while this story is about Jane Austen, it isn't written by Jane Austen and there is no "Darcy and Lizzie finally talk about their feelings and realize that they've both been fools and the beautiful couple is beautiful together." Plumtre and Fanny never make amends and Plumtre marries someone else, which Fanny reveals to Jane in a heated fight about Jane's views on men, marriage, and heartbreak. Jane previously believed that Fanny would easily get over Plumtre and only realizes her mistake when she has a moment of sympathy for Plumtre's situation and understands what it's like to care about someone who seems more flippant and flirtatious in their affections than sincere. However, she still doesn't see Fanny's real affection for Plumtre until the argument, when it is far too late for her to persuade Fanny to reconnect with Plumtre. This is not Pride and Prejudice in which Darcy can explain himself to you via a letter after saving your sister from an uncertain fate and you have the opportunity to run into him at his house. You can't show up at your love's house with a boombox blasting Peter Gabriel because it's the 19th century, boomboxes and Peter Gabriel don't exist yet, and this isn't a John Hughes film. So basically, the perfect couple troupe is made impossible, Fanny marries a widower, and the viewer is left feeling a bit confused. While the film may be based on actual events and may be a more realistic portrayal of relationships, a viewer yearning for a more Austen-esque tale can't help but feel dissatisfied. Why couldn't Fanny have more willing to work through the differences she had with Plumtre? How in the world did the proposal get so bungled? And dammit, Plumtre, why couldn't you just get yourself together, get over your pride and embarrassment and really tell Fanny how you felt?
My real anger with Plumtre lies on a level I was certainly aware of when I first saw the film but only truly recognized on the rewatch. I am upset with Plumtre because I am Plumtre. I am often more serious than is truly necessary about issues. I am afraid of being misunderstood or mocked when I am trying to tell express something I am sincere about. I am bad at telling whether someone is just flirting with me or whether they are really interested in me. While I absolutely love dancing, I until rather recently was rather embarrassed to do so because I was convinced I suck at it (I may still suck but I fortunately no longer care if my moves or impressive or not). I am not always as good at expressing myself in speech as I am in writing and I worry that in a situation like Plumtre's that I would act exactly as he did and bury my heart deep down rather than revealing it, even if it makes me look like a fool.
However, I'm also a bit like Fanny - I'm afraid that I am too young or naive to know what love really is, that I don't understand my own feelings - or believe that I won't and will be easily swayed by other people's opinions. I am worried that what people's judgements about love and relationships and my significant other would influence me rather than letting myself follow my own mind and heart. It's interesting I'm writing this post after having just seen Othello on Wednesday evening, a play which hinges on the destruction of a relationship because of the distortion, prejudicing, and lies told by one person. With no communication as to what's really going on in the relationship, assumptions about each other are made and it ultimately ends in tragedy. The story told in Miss Austen Regrets is certainly not dark at all, but it certainly plays with the ideas of pride and prejudice and leaves the question of why is communication and love so easy in stories but so hard in our lives?

This film terrified me as a young, single girl convinced by the suppositions made by those around her that she was going to be an old maid because she chose writing over marriage and was a romantic, daydreamy, awkward soul. I should have been reassured by this film, that it explored these fears and realized them, rather than denying them, but instead I saw it as my worst nightmares come true. Love was not as simple as the stories sometimes made it to be and those you think you or others should marry don't always end up together - and if they do, it may not go the way you dreamed it. Watching this film again doesn't really placate those concerns - they're concerns, not fears now, as I've mostly managed them and understood where they've come from and how they're not as frightening as society would like us to believe - but somehow understanding what makes this film heartbreaking for me is some gain as I attempt to clean up the rubble my adolescence left in my brain.

Given that I just wrote last week about how unrealistic romances have ruined me, it may be confusing to you how I could also be ruined by possibly realistic relationships. It's okay; I'm confused too. The issue is that unrealistic romances made impressions on me to provoke dreams of the impossible. Realistic romances make me nervous that life is pain, your highness, and anyone who says differently is selling something (Princess Bride fans, you're welcome). Either way I end up worried about having impossible expectations, but also worried that if get involved in a relationship and it doesn't end well, a broken heart will be my undoing. Because I have a lot of time to ruminate on such things (it seems slightly better to ruminate on this than on how much my job is turning me into a terrible human being), I end up thinking about this phenomenon more than it might appear (though based on the increasing number of posts on this topic, perhaps it's becoming obnoxiously obvious).

All in all, it's incorrect to lay my blame upon Plumtre when it's really the issues dealt with in the film that troubles me, but it's easier to point out the individual rather than saying it's Regency era romantic social politics and how they've carried over into the 21st century that's ruined my life. Because that's rather wordy.

Yet at the end of the day, it's wrong to say my life has been ruined or hurt by any such storytelling. While I have been influenced and persuaded by certain themes and ideas in the film, it's only led me to a deeper, more complicated understanding of romance and people and an appreciation of how the movie juggles themes from Austen's novels in a portrayal of her life. Love is about more than first impressions, as Pride and Prejudice tells us, love doesn't always go as we think it should (and thus matchmaking and shipping can lead to Emma-esque fiascoes), and life is what happens when we're busy making other plans (John Lennon, not Jane Austen, but it works). While our "ridiculous obsession with love" may not always be healthy, it certainly is powerful and pervasive, perhaps because love is bizarre and strange and lovely and complicated. It's been written about so much because it's worth writing about, in all its complicated, beautiful and tragic expressions and variations. And so, while I may have once be cross with Plumtre for being a beautifully flawed character, I can continue to regard his story as one of an important, personal realization for myself when I first heard it and now. I would like to apologize, Mr. Plumtre, for my previous crossness, and extend a hand of camaraderie, for we have more in common than I once thought.

As a sidenote, I would also like to remark that it's especially bizarre to watch a film you saw when you were younger that has an actor in it you now highly regard, and find that you have been a fan of his work far longer than you thought. It's very mind-bendy and timey-wimey.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

101 Ways To Die In Sweden

Recently, I read Stieg Larsson's best-selling mystery novel The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. While I'm quite late to these books, I rather liked the writing and storytelling. However, I couldn't help but think about how, while I've read little about Sweden, every book, film, and TV show I've seen about the country has involved gruesome murder plots. While Sweden has just come in fifth in a ranking of happiest countries in the world and seems to be a very pleasant place to reside, their storytellers certainly know how to weave a gruesome, horrifying tale. The media I've been exposed to makes life there sound rather dangerous and twisted, full of gorgeous landscapes and brutal murders. There's a certain frankness to violence and death which seems different from US murder mysteries and I rather admire it. However, this frankness also makes these tales incredibly frightening and I'd like to share the stories that have filled me with such terror here.
1) Wallander: I admit that I haven't seen the Swedish version of this show, nor have I read the books the show is based off of. But I have seen all but two episodes of the BBC version and shall never recover from it. The series takes place in Ystad and follows the dark adventures of detective Kurt Wallander. I initially watched this show because of the cast, because there was no way in hell I was turning down a show that had Kenneth Branagh playing the lead and Tom Hiddleston in it to boot. However, I watched an entire season of it in one day, finding the show so riveting and horrifying and well-done (I was also sick with the flu and felt like tormenting myself with grisly murder tales because I was too sick to do anything else). Full of some of the most twisted killers I've encountered, this show terrified and captivated me. I spent the entire series wanting to tear out my hair from the stress and tension of the plots and being convinced that Wallander was going to die, either from a vicious serial killer whom Wallander had uncovered, a criminal who had a personal vendetta against Wallander, or a friend, family, or coworker who was totally done with Wallander's shit. I recently discovered that there will be a fourth series of this show and I am elated to see more wonderful acting, horrifying mysteries, and more reasons to sleep less soundly at night.

That's it; that's the show. (
2) Let the Right One In: Some day I will talk about my ridiculous interest in vampires. For now, I'll have to suffice in saying that I love vampire stories - especially ones that make vampires into clever, complicated characters (that don't sparkle). Let the Right One In is everything I could want from a horror story about vampires. It was recommended by Margaret Atwood at a talk I saw her at and it is certainly recommended by me. It involves a young boy named Oskar who becomes friends with a girl who lives next door to him who happens to be a vampire. There's a heavy darkness in this film from the start, from the bullying that Oskar endures, to his family problems, to Eli (the vampire girl) and her strange activity. While it isn't an extraordinarily gory film, the gore that is used is powerful and horrifying. Vampires are certainly portrayed as dangerous and killers who murder humans for their blood, who make bonds with certain humans to help them survive. It's spooky, full of tension, and plays with the eeriness of short winter days and long winter nights.
3) The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo: Again, I'm ages behind in having read this book and not seeing either the Swedish or American version of this film, but I was blown away by the narrative style as well as terrified by the utter violence in this book. Full of abuse and assault, mainly sexual and mostly against women, I spent a lot of time reading this book curled up in the fetal position, fearing and hating the patriarchy, and putting the book aside for a while to recover from some of the scenes or information in the plot that had just been conveyed. While I can't really say I enjoyed the book - it feels wrong to say I enjoyed something that was so brutal and horrifying - it was a a very engaging read and created the riveting character of Lisbeth Salander, who has learned to combat the cruel acts done to her with the same ruthlessness.

Overall, the knowledge I have gained of Sweden from reading and watching habits is an interesting one, if a kind of biased one. It seems to be a fairly a very happy place that is portrayed as rather bleak and full of very grisly crime and horror stories. And while these stories terrifying me and haunt my dreams, I can't help being hooked and engaged by these stories and longing for more.

Friday, March 21, 2014

How Charlotte Bronte Ruined My Expecation In Romance
I love Charlotte Bronte. She's been one of my favorite writers since the age of twelve or thirteen, when I first read Jane Eyre. I love her writing in a strange sort of way - I don't always like how the plots develop, I don't always like her characters, I'm occasionally uncertain if I like how she portrays people. But overall, I love how she puts words together. I love how she writes from the perspective of her characters. I love how she describes emotion and passion and trying to balance between logic and emotional thinking.

In many ways, reading Bronte at a young age shaped how I thought about the world. Of, course, I was also interested in her writing because it aligned in a way that matched aspects of my thinking. So, it's uncertain if Bronte shaped my thinking more or if my thinking matched Bronte's heroines thoughts. Jury's out. Regardless, I'm a fan.

But it's not without its drawbacks.

Namely, Charlotte Bronte's writing is full of a lot of passionate suffering. Everyone suffers while in love and nobody really enjoys it. While over-dramatic high school me enjoyed this (because I found having crushes to be most inconvenient and troublesome, while also being heavenly and hellish), I now find it to be perhaps not the healthiest way to think about love and relationships. Aside from the fact that falling in love with a married man who keeps his distraught, unstable wife in the attic is not exactly a good thing (though, as has been argued, putting poor Bertha in an asylum at that time likely would have been far worse), posing love and logic against one another is the makings of trouble for a reader already captured in a Cartesian, guilt-filled mindset. Jane's angst about falling in love with her employer was probably the last thing my already angst-filled mind needed. But damn was it comforting.

In Jane's longing and romance, I found a character who had a justice complex, a small, quiet soul who had been told not to speak out and found herself at odds with those she was surrounded by. She struggled with her own thoughts and her internal perceptions of herself and was likely the first female character I ever strongly identified with. She also fell in love with someone she believed she could never have. In my state of falling for fictional characters and experiencing naive teenage crushes, I empathized with this an inordinate amount.
Continuing on into my later years, my I found myself always going back to Jane Eyre as a book of comfort when I felt down. For a few years I read it over Valentine's Day as a pick-me-up to keep from getting down about "Singles Awareness Day," to inspire myself that even things that seemed impossible could happen, and that falling for unobtainable people was a trend that even 19th century women experienced (which for the "I'm the only one who feels this way and knows what I'm going through" mindset I had in my early college years was incredibly beneficial).

The problem now is that every time I reread Jane Eyre or Bronte's other books, I'm confronted by these emotional wallops. Either it's through recalling what it felt like to read these books at a certain point in my life, or it's a recollection of how I felt realizing how convoluted emotions could be or it was through recognizing how I was experiencing - or perceived I was experiencing - such things in my own life. When I read Villette, I struggled through it the second time because the emotional impact was badly timed. Recently, I read The Professor and, having not read Bronte for a while (well, this Bronte sister - I'd recently reread Wuthering Heights, but that's a different story), I'd forgotten just the way in which she'd expressed love and emotion in her characters. Take, for example, this excerpt from Jane Eyre:
...My eyes were drawn involuntarily to his face; I could not keep their lids under control: they would rise, and the irids would fix on him. I looked, and had an acute pleasure in looking - a precious yet poignant pleasure: pure gold, with a steely point of agony: a pleasure like what the thirst-perishing man might feel who knows the well to which he has crept is poisoned, and yet stoops and drinks divine draughts nevertheless (Bronte 163).
Not only is Bronte's writing effective for me, the scenes and events that Bronte incorporates are even more so. I irrationally love the part in Jane Eyre where Mr. Rochester disguises himself as an old woman fortune teller to find out whether or not Jane is in love with him. In The Professor, there is a scene where the main character, William Crimsworth, stumbles across his sweetheart, Frances, in the cemetery. Considering Frances is mourning the loss of her aunt, is in deep need of separation, and has just been sent away from her place of study and employment by a jealous schoolmistress who is also in love with Crimsworth. This scene seems like something out of a daydream, filling in a moment when one needs empathy and love most and having a loved one appear out of thin air. Again, it's hard to say whether I think similarly to Bronte or whether her writing influences the sort of daydreams I have, but when I've had down times, I've imagined scenes very similar to this.

The deep, spiritual bonds that often accompany Bronte's relationships, attractions that are based on some certain mindset or philosophical nature, not on appearances, is also compelling. Add that on to Jane Eyre's longing to be treated like an equal by Mr. Rochester and Bronte's plot lines about overcoming class and societal expectations, and I find her stories absolutely riveting.
However, they also might be dangerous for me. Considering her novel affected me so deeply at such a young age, I'm concerned that it's built me up for a yearning to have some passionate, deep relationship that must overcome massive hurdles and require cross-dressing to be fulfilled. I definitely desired this when I was younger. But now, if this turned out to be the case, I don't think I'd handle the drama very well (then again, maybe I'd be fine. Either way, wives locked up in the attic are definitely out).  And on the other hand, I wouldn't mind being an absolutely non-dramatic relationship. If I'm happy and my partner is happy, and we have the most boring love story on the planet, that would be totally fine with me. So I've come to this point in finally realizing that high school me had a different mindset and focus on romance than I do now. Would I love being whisked away on a romantic adventure? Absolutely, as long as it doesn't involve utter heartbreak and me almost starving to death on the heaths of England. But I'd be perfectly content with something a hell of a lot more simpler and less... well, Gothic novel-y. The love of my life will likely not show up to comfort me in a cemetery in a time of need. That's okay. I'm not sure how I'd feel about that anyway (it would really depend on the moment of need. And why I'm in a cemetery).

(Also, Google searching images for Gothic Romance gets lots of vampire art. Just an FYI.)

Regardless, I will always love Charlotte Bronte's writing and I will always find a place of relevance for her stories and her views. And most importantly, I will put equality (and men who put aside gender norms to impress their loves) first.

On a side note, I recently discovered that Elizabeth Gaskell, author of North and South and Cranford, was a friend of Charlotte Bronte's and her biographer. After reading North and South, this makes sense to me - there is something a bit similar in their approach to emotion and characterization. Oh how amazing it would have been to see these two chatting. Anyway, I highly recommend North and South and I'm hoping to read Cranford soon. Because Gaskell is another one of those rare, amazing writers who can back so much emotion into a handful of words.

And on one last random note, I'm writing this post mostly because I'm dressing up as Charlotte Bronte for a party my roommate Sarah and I are hosting called the Dead Writer's Party. A local Irish bar used to team up with the Loft Literary Center and host this around Halloween, but it was cancelled this year, so Sarah and I are throwing our own. Because that's how we roll. I'm trying to get the Bronte bun just right and I'm hoping it's at least close...

Citations from:
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. Bantam Classics, 1981.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

But Is the Internet For Porn?

Well, this is going to seem like an extreme leap, seeing as I just discussed asexuality not that long about but, realistically, it's not that extreme. Today, I am going to discuss porn.

But first I have to tell you a story.
When I was in high school, my friend Kevin, for reasons I no longer remember, was discussing something and said porn. Except that he didn't say it as one would normal speech, he said it in a faint, terrified whisper, in which I can only express in print as *porn*. It was ridiculously hilarious at the time and my friends and I teased poor Kevin about it mercilessly, so that every time the word came up, we said in the same tone and timbre he had. Little did I know that Kevin's own discomfort with the word would later become a metaphor for how our culture deals with porn's existence.

This post has been circulating around Tumblr and I got interested in it. Give it a read, as I won't copy its contents over here and, because it's important, I'm linking to the actual Tumblr blog. But, as it warns you from the beginning, it's highly full of triggers. It's on the porn industries and misconceptions (to utterly understate the issues) surrounding it. What got me really interested in it was when someone I follow on Tumblr reblogged it, along with her reactions as she occasionally posts graphic/pornographic posts. To get the real affect, one would have to follow her posts as she worked through her thoughts on Tumblr, but I won't link to her blog as I've never actually interacted with her and that would feel like using some moment of personal rethinking and analysis for my own blogging benefit. So she will remain anonymous.
However, her reaction was really powerful and important. As the user embraces feminism and sexual positivity on her blog, I had initially though of the Tumblr user when I saw the post as I don't see porn on Tumblr save for her blog and a few others (which, when I occasionally tell people I have a Tumblr, shocks them, because as I am continually reminded "the Internet is for porn." Right. Strangely, it took me until I was actually 22 years old and following random fan blogs until I actually saw anything pornographic, and this is merely because I don't use any filters or Tumblr Savior or whatnot and I, unlike some, did not go looking for porn). Between her occasional sexual postings and writing smut, her blog had become, through her followers and her recognition of this, a sort of haven in which young women could talk about sex. Running a blog with a fandom aspect but a distinct sexual edge to it, the user appeared to feel guilt, confusion, and responsibility for her postings in light of the information about the porn industry and recognizing the ways in which it is misogynistic, racist, and highly problematic given her posting of gifs not knowing the sources they came from while supporting a healthy sexual attitude, recovering from an abusive relationship, and juggling how to feel when some porn is enjoyable for her but knowing its consequences. In the end, she decided to remove most of the pornographic material from her blog, feeling responsibility for herself and to her followers, and do some reconsideration of what it means to watch porn and how it affected her own relationships with men.

I think this blogger's experiences are highly important. After facing shocking information, cognitive dissonance, and what she saw as past hypocrisy, she decided to make a change, instead of ignoring the information or making excuses for the porn industry. While it can probably be said that not all porn is the way in which the post describes, but clearly it cannot be overlooked or downplayed. While there may be porn out there that is safe and consensual, a great deal of porn doesn't look this way and isn't acted out this way.

But now's the part where I have to admit that, until about six months ago, I had no idea that porn actually required actors to have sex. I had believed before then that it was staged and faked, perhaps more along the lines of how sex scenes are filmed in movies (but maybe we need to back up and talk about how sex scenes in movies are filmed so I can stop feeling like a baffled child because I don't understand how that works). Porn is acted, it's inacted and this is why that Tumblr post is so important - it illuminates how porn is actually made. Because do people really think about this when they watch/see it? I've thought about it when those gifs come my way because when I see what is occurring, often my reaction is, "Shit, I didn't know the human body could do that." In some ways, sex becomes educational tool, filling in what sexual education classes don't, about how the body works, how sex works, and how it can be enacted. However, given what porn portrays, this is terribly dangerous and warped. If young men watch porn seeing men dominate and beat women and believe that this is how sex is supposed to work, they are being taught that misogyny is okay. And this is terrifying.

I wish I could have seen the film Don John so that I'd have another perspective with this post, as it deals with the issues of a man who is addicted to porn trying to have a relationship with a woman. I'd be interested to see what sort of statement that film makes about the porn industry and, as the commentary I've heard about it is seems to be more feminist, how it discusses porn watching as something more than release or gratification, but in a way that shows how these acts and images matter.

There is a deep difference between fantasy and reality, between roleplay and inacting in sex. The problem with porn is that it totally obscures and blurs these differences. This works to pivot our perception of sex from a male-dominated view and ideologically states the roles and acts that should be and can be performed, consent or no consent. It causes women to think that this is what they should want, even if they don't. I have nothing against porn as a broad concept - I get why people watch it, though dependence and addiction to it is a far different and harmful matter. But what we need is feminist porn, racially conscious porn, but porn isn't made with these thoughts in mind. Porn is shoved under the rug as a industry that is mocked and ridiculed, shamed and derided, and yet it is a thriving, highly watched industry. Not all companies have regulations and safety standards for their stars - as can be shown from the data given in the post - and it appears to be only about making money and capturing footage for people's gratification, no matter how it affects its stars. And that is terrible. Perhaps if our society were more likely to discuss the porn industry and its problems, if we were more willing to say porn rather than *porn*, if we were willing to accept that our watching of this material may be harmful in ways that are not as overt as it seems, we would be one step closer to understanding and changing the problems that occur here.

I wish now I had taken the Gender and Women's Studies class on porn that was offered at my university because, given the department, it would have been a highly critical and interesting class. But I backed out of it when I had heard that students just used it as an excuse to watch porn. And I did not want to be surrounded by a bunch of young men feeling uncomfortable about trying to talk about porn and feminism. I think this shows how comfortable I've become out here, being willing to talk about these issues and not being concerned about it, because the issues it deals with are too important to overlook. That's what I admire so much about the blogger on Tumblr who decided to go through the "messy" process (as she described it) of editing her blog and changing her views. She did it because "it had to be done" which I think is admirable and important. We have to be willing to change our views, to open up and recognize that issues are right before us in ways we didn't recognize until different information is provided. We have to deal with what we like being problematic and what we've seen being more powerful than it seemed.

I think that, under different circumstances, porn can be positive. It can be educational, pleasurable, supportive of healthy, consensual sex lives. However, I warrant that little porn out there supports this. Because porn has often not been taken seriously and is sort of a "black market" product, it's not often considered how it affects us beyond the ideas of "Sex is good!" or "Sex is bad!". Maybe if we were willing to gauge the issue in less shallow, colorless views, we might be able to have a better idea of what exactly is going on in gender, media, and culture right now. We've got to be willing to open our minds and ears and hear things we don't want to hear if we want to pursue change. It won't be easy, but if a fine, clever blogger such as the woman I've discussed above can do it, than we certainly can as well.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Creative Vampires

It's been over a week since I submitted my application to King's College London and, because I am wont to do such things, I have begun to worry about what exactly I submitted. Doubt starts small and builds and suddenly, it occurred to me one day last week that, while I may not have made a mistake on the level of John Travolta (poor guy), I certainly spelled King's as Kings' in the personal statement section of my application.

Now this begins to show the level of ridiculousness I'm at. Because I can't worry about whether or not I have a quality application or whether or not my ideas and writing are good enough to get me into grad school as I have no control over that, I instead worry about the things I do - or did - have control over. It is perfectly like my overachiever mentality to be convinced that a misspelling like that will utterly ruin my chance. And while there is a possibility that it may, my mindset assures me of it.

It doesn't help that, until recently, I only knew one person who had been accepted to grad school this next fall (now I know two or three). It would behoove me here to be honest and admit this than hide it: I am terrified and afraid.

While in London this January, my friend Tyler shared with me a song from the musical Title of Show called "Die Vampire, Die." As per the title, this song deals with vampires - but not the typical blood-sucking kind.

Rarely have I found a piece of music that so perfectly enraptures my creative fears and mindsets. Not only have I experienced every one of those pygmy vampires (do you know how many times I've worried my attendance to a state university in the U.S. rather than a private one is a disadvantage? Do you know how many times I've thought "Shakespeare already did that?") but the vampire of despair could be my evil twin. I have often felt that I am at battle against something (which perhaps explains my love for stories that do deal with battles) and it's fatiguing to see that it's all in one's mind.

I'd done quite well since London putting aside my vampires. I plowed through my application and had more motivation than I'd had since... well, in a long time. But then, with it finished, I felt my motivation slip away and a bought of low energy appear. While I longed for winter to stay on as it had been kind to me, I felt my winter blues that usually come in January appear with the latest round of cold winter. I was becoming desperate for spring to come and to run again. I began dreaming about London - and most painfully, dreaming of running in London. It was wonderful and painful at the same time. I began to wonder how I could be homesick for a place I had never lived. I'd felt like this before, after visiting Scotland three years ago, but this time it was so much worse, knowing I actually have a chance - as faint as it might be - of moving there.

Fortunately for me, the weather has warmed up, I was able to start running again this past weekend, and I'm slowly, slowly, feeling my motivation return, at least for my personal writing. My parents also brought me along to mass on Sunday and, forgetting how much I enjoy Lenten services, found it comforting and touching. The priest at the church we attend in Minneapolis also has the uncanny ability to write beautiful homilies about issues I am literally thinking about the day before and, while I don't attend mass often, always find it to be amazing and poignant when I do and he is presiding. While I may not always be the most pious, it's nice to recall my spiritual nature and dwell in that, especially in times of stress.

It also helps to admit I'm afraid. Instead of hiding the fear, it's good to accept that I do feel it. Everyone is so excited for me and hoping that I'll get accepted, and while I don't want to mar their joy for me with my own uncertainty, I also want to stay level-headed about this. I don't want to pin all my hopes on this - though who am I kidding, I already have - only to have it not come through. I suppose this is no time to be humble but if pride overtakes me, it'll make it all the harder if I am rejected.
A great deal of this revolves around the fact that I feel utterly unworthy. While I might have been able to prove my worthiness in my application, it's a far different affair in my mind. When I see those who have been rejected and know that they are just as talented and capable as I am, generally much more so, or those who have far greater struggles than I do and deserve great opportunities and luck so much more, I struggle to understand how I can be worthy. I have often felt I will never be good enough for a variety of things and it has been and will always be a life-long struggle. I have been so lucky in 2014, especially in a world that seems to think that this year is off to a rough start, and I am worried my luck is going to run out. You can't always get what you want, so why would I get this?

But why wouldn't I?

It's the mentality I have to keep so that I don't get drained by the vampire of despair. While my stomach remains knotted up over a piece of paper and I worry that if I continue working in retail, I will turn into a diabolical maniac, I need to keep in mind that my chances are not shot over a misplaced apostrophe and that if that guy who taught me statistics got in to a doctoral program, so can I.

Worrying about the future, however, is something that I'm especially good at. While I like uncertainty and surprises, I'd also really love a nice little plan of my life in a diary or planner somewhere, maybe with text messages and phone notifications too so that I know if and when certain things are going to happen. Even semi-vague notifications would be nice. Like if fortune cookies weren't a mass produced commodity.

I like this fortune.

A great deal of this concern comes from not being totally convinced on my plan B. Partly because my plan B revolves around moving back to the suburbs and working retail for another year (when I promised myself I would not make myself work another Christmas season). My plan B isn't the most exciting option and I'm afraid that I'll be lonely. It's bizarre for me to think that living and being lonely in a foreign country is somehow less offsetting in than being lonely in a place that should be home, but that's a big part of my current concern. And I also definitely left part of my soul in Regent's Park (as well as other places in London) and I'd really like it back.

(And does spring really look like this in Regent's Park? Because if it does, I'm going to cry.)

The problem with luck and opportunity is that they do little to neutralize the negative voices in your head. For a while, they fall silent and you have a blissful period of joy. But all too soon those vampires come storming back and the fight begins all over. I knew this would occur but, each time a new chance or success comes my way, I hope those vampires will be gone for good. They never do, but I'll keep up the working of slaying as many as I can.

And so it's back to business as usual and trying to occupy my mind with things that are NOT related to my application. The good news is that it's leading me to try and finding something interesting and academic to fill its place, which might be good for this blog - I sort of feel like I've strayed away from my long, academic-y posts and I miss them. So maybe I'll dig into that and remind myself that I can be clever and creative and that those bloody vampires need to die.

Especially the sparkly ones.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Why Buzzfeed is Surprisingly Enlightening
A great number of my friends having been using the site, Buzzfeed, which I began using quite a bit myself in London, taking ridiculously random quizzes on the site. Buzzfeed is an interesting conglomeration of social networking and blogging and, I have to admit, I've gotten pretty addicted to their quizzes (I also appreciated their unabashed enthusiasm for Benedict Cumberbatch and Tom Hiddleston, making me think they've got a fair number of fangirls on their staff).

Thus far, Buzzfeed quizzes have revealed a great number of things through pictures and options such as picking a food item, color, or catchphrase. The quizzes have stated that:
- the European country I belong in is Monaco because I like the fine things in life (Sure?)
- I will have a nudist wedding (in Monaco?)
- I would win the Hunger Games
- out of the cast of Harry Potter, I am apparently Harry Potter
- out of Joss Whedon heroines, I am Inara from Firefly
- in the cast of Scandal, I'm Huck *internal screaming* (If you've seen the show, you'll understand why this bothers me) (*spoilers* He tortures people)
- The celebrity I should get drunk with is Emma Watson (yes please)
- I should have a wombat as a pet
- Out of food, I am sushi
- In the Spice Girls, I am Baby Spice
- Out of dog types, I'm a mutt
Snowths (
- In the world of Muppets, I'm a Snowth (see the picture)
- The next thing to cross of my bucket list should be learning a new language (or relearning French as I'm actually considering doing)
- If I were a disciple, I'd be St. Thomas (the accuracy of this one is terrifying. Doubting Thomas indeed)
- If I were a Shakespeare character, I'd be Beatrice (WIN. EPIC WIN)
I have taken far too many of these quizzes and, while there's certainly nothing very scientific about them, it is a fun way to consider aspects of my personality that I hadn't really focused on before, or things that I knew but hadn't really sat back and thought about. For example, I deeply, deeply love Beatrice from Much Ado About Nothing. If I were ever to perform Shakespeare, she'd be the first character I'd pick to play. To actually get this character as a reflection on my personality felt like a tremendous compliment and honor, though I think Buzzfeed might have been overly generous to me:

You’re wise, you’re funny, you’re willing to risk everything, and at times you’re genuinely a character to be feared. The audience LOVES you!

Pair that with the picture of Emma Thompson that came with the results and I'm feeling tremendously not worthy of the attribution. But if Buzzfeed says it, it must be true.

So let's not talk about how I'd torture someone I care about for the greater good in Scandal...

Anyway, I greatly enjoy these quizzes, as if they somehow peel away some layer of my self-concept and reveal funny, quirky bits underneath. While I will continue to question that I am as Scottish as Sean Connery (no one is as Scottish as Sean Connery), I appreciate that Buzzfeed seems to think I have an authentic regard for Scotland and their culture. While I also doubt that I would actually ever have a nude wedding, Buzzfeed is spot on that I would love to save money on a wedding (maybe not the dress because I have a secret buried interest in fashion) and may be slightly less interested in traditional features and instead doing what fits my significant other and I best as a couple.

That doesn't mean I think the quizzes are perfect. I don't really think that I'm Harry Potter and there is no way in hell I would survive the Hunger Games (love to think so, yes, but considering I haven't been running due to the eternal winter in Minnesota, I'm not feeling very fit or confident about that). Sometimes I go back and change only one answer and the quiz results are significantly different. I don't know how they gauge the results, but often I think they all hinge on one question. Also, in one quiz about "What would happen to America if you were president?" I chose a slow loris as my vice president, and I got my face on Mount Rushmore because I was apparently that brilliant. I don't care if every other answer I gave on that quiz was perfectly logical, I CHOSE A SLOW LORIS TO BE MY VP. I don't think that would work out well (then again, maybe that would work great. I just couldn't die in office).
But I'm not complaining; these quizzes are just for fun. And who doesn't like to hear that they're the pink people from the "Mahna Mahnam" song? (Seriously: "You have a great talent, but you sometimes feel outshone by those with bigger personalities. You’re punctual, reliable, and never without a friend." That's sweet of you Buzzfeed. And scary accurate.) Even being a mutt is positive: "You’re a renegade, an artist, and you will not be confined to any sort of box. You have tons of real-life experience that makes you a great dinner-party guest with tons of stories. Plus, you are cute in that 'je ne sais quoi' kind of way." And they still manage to often say deep things. For, "What classic author is your soulmate?" I got Virginia Woolf, which informed me: "You’re not daunted by women who are brilliant but emotionally fragile. On the contrary, you’re selfless and kind enough to want to really nurture someone and support their illustrious career. Yours is a truly deep love because it is a love of the mind, and it will surpass all the hours." Considering I am a woman, I'm a bit confused at how to read the results, but I appreciate it. Maybe it's telling me I need to find another artist who will support my art? I don't know. I think about these quizzes too much.

I like reading horoscopes, even though I know they have little basis in any actual knowledge of one's personality, so it's no surprise I like these quizzes. But somehow these quizzes do manage to pin down aspects of personality, and it's really quite fun. And as an added bonus about personality and how we distinguish aspects of it, here's a video about blood types in Korea from one of my favorite vlogs. Enjoy!