Friday, May 30, 2014

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

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

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

So why in the world did it take me so long to diversify my reading habits? Some of it had to do with my surroundings - growing up in an area where much of the population looks like you and most of the literature marketed in stores is about people who look and act like you and most of the stories you read in school are about the same influenced this. I read nearly every Betty Ren Wright book in existence because she wrote about Midwestern girls who stumbled across ghosts and had to reconcile their fear, and while I will love Betty Ren Wright until my dying day, reading only books like this might have stunted my reading habits for a few years. There's also the caveat that I developed certain levels of insecurity in my later childhood years (between seven and nine years) and reading books about characters I could easily identify with helped me feel better about my own self-construct. However, the more books I read about people I felt like I should relate to because we lived in similar circumstances, we looked the same, we lived in the same part of the world and yet couldn't relate to them at all worried me. I felt like there was something wrong with me if I couldn't relate to these female protagonists in middle school because they wanted boyfriends and I wanted to find pirate treasure/join a quest with Aragorn and the rest of the Fellowship/solve crimes with Sherlock Holmes (note: these were all legitimate daydreams of mine in middle school. What the hell, these are still legitimate daydreams of mine). I hit a brick wall in reading and found myself rereading the same books over and over because they understood me (Inkheart, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Tuck Everlasting, Jane Eyre, A Series of Unfortunate Events, The Little House on the Prairie and every Laura Ingalls Wilder book in existence, the Redwall books, Shannon Hale's The Goose Girl, Jennifer Donnelly's A Northern Light, an assortment of Sharon Creech books). It's not a bad selection by any means (well, I did read Twilight far too many times) but there was so much out there and I was kind of stunted in some ways. I had an interest in the Holocaust but I could only read so many books about that before I felt too sad to continue. Somehow, though, my reading interests began to expand. Partly this was due to school - taking Honors English and AP English classes forced me to read things I wouldn't have read otherwise (thank you, English teachers of Lakeville South High School, for making me read Shakespeare. I am eternally grateful). But there were other influences - I'd moved to Minnesota, leaved near a large city which made me more interested in urban life than I'd been before. I was getting recommendations for books from more people, and I was finally at the age where books mentioned in shows like Wishbone (another PBS wonder) were finally at my reading level (let me tell you, when I read The Hunchback of Notre Dame and found out how it really ended, I cannot express to you how upset I was) (okay, so I had an Illustrated Classics version - essentially a fancy Sparknotes version of the text that I'd read before - but STILL. Quasimodo deserved better, Victor Hugo, and I'm upset that you ended it with a far more harsher realism than Disney). Also, I was recognizing my own limitations of reading. When I saw friends reading fantasy novels and realized I'd only ever avoided them because I didn't like the cover art, I made myself reconsider my life choices. And trust me, once you start realizing that you have things in common with alien races and fantasy creatures, you start to see the light and realize that, duh, you totally have things in common with people of other culture, nationalities, and experiences.
One of the first books that really, really made me realize how much I had in common with people I prejudicely thought I had nothing in common with was The Outsiders, by S.E. Hinton, which I read in 7th grade. Though this book focused on male characters, gangs, and death (topics I tried to avoid), I loved the book. Something about the prose, the quoting of Robert Frost (a poet I grew up loving thanks to my father), elements like Grease and West Side Story, and a slick, dangerous, exciting plot line that I could empathize with regardless of my privileged, started to make me realize how much I'd been misunderstanding writing and storytelling in general. Stories could tell so much more than I'd initially granted them and only focusing on a small piece of the literary world was a serious mistake.

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

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

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

So why is it that it was so easy for me to picture being a governess ala Jane Eyre but living in a town in Nigeria seemed too difficult? I can't really say now, except that certain prejudices were certainly alive and well in my life and at some point in time, I might have been told that some cultural boundaries couldn't be crossed. But now, I understand the characters of Adichie's novels as well - if not better - than I understand Jane Eyre. Realistically, I have very little in common with Jane Eyre. But something caused me to think that I would understand her better than other characters of different cultures, and I shudder to think how much I unknowing followed this.
We need diverse books for a number of reasons and one of these reasons is to avoid mistakes like mine. If I had known earlier on that the point of writing is to help us understand each other, to work through out differences, to understand another culture without prejudice or fetishization or postive stereotyping/halo effects. Writing can break down boundaries rather than establishing them. And I'm forever grateful for people like Maya Angelou and projects like Reading Rainbow that express this.

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

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Dystopia Now

I picked a bad weekend to re-read 1984.

After hearing about the shooting at UC Santa Barbara/ Isla Vista along with the twisted ideology - and the even more twisted response - of what appears to be a shooting spree motivated by misogyny, the ever increasing about the power of the Ukip along with other election returns in the EU causing concern (I am not very knowledgeable in EU politics so I can't speak to a lot of what this article discusses. However, what I've heard via various news sources about Ukip and other various extremist parties in Europe is extremely frightening. The fact the Guardian describes several groups as "neo-fascist" and "neo-Nazi" makes me very, very worried), and a general fear felt at a more local level when discussing with my mother how Cub foods essentially has a supermarket monopoly in my hometown of Lakeville now (which led to a discussion of whether monopolies are gaining ground various parts of American consumerism in general), I'm a bit perturbed, to make a gross understatement. I was off the grid internet-wise for most of Memorial Day weekend, choosing to use the American holiday as a chance to hang out with my parents, relax, and recharge after some busy weeks. Now coming back to the news and the reactions to what's going on, I feel a bit like I woke up in a different version of events than the one I left it in.
Monday afternoon, admits all this turmoil, I was sitting on the deck at my parents' house, soaking up the sun and reading staging of 1984. Forgetting how troubling and unsettling I found the novel (which I'd begun to reread the day before), I was utterly enveloped in the story and realized that, while "critics may argue... about the particularly literary merits of 1984...none can deny its power, its hold on the imaginations of whole generations (Orwell 3)." Or so Walter Cronkite states in the introduction of my copy of the book. When we think of dystopias, this is one of the first books to come mind. Orwell's novel has greatly formed or informed our way of thinking about the downfall of our nation-states into turmoil and tragic governing structures. And so, being so immersed in other dystopic narratives - The Hunger Games, Divergent (which I haven't seen the film or read the books but many I know have), my perpetual meanderings over Coriolanus, and my own personal attachment to Margaret Atwood's novel The Handmaid's Tale, reading one of the key players in dystopian books and hearing about the news events occurring while I am none the wiser makes me impulsively wonder if we are closer to a dystopian life than we might think.

Instinctively, I want to say no. I think about how fortunate I am and how much worse things could me. But that's my privileged talking; that's the part of me that has never had to starve, never been homeless, never have been really harshly judged based on where I or my relatives were from. There's a text post that circulates around Tumblr from time to time and I don't remember the exact wording but the gist of it is that dystopias in film and books exit only when things that have been happening to marginalized groups start to happen to white or privileged people. There is a lot of truth in that, and it's troubling.
But what would happen if we were to declare our present reality dystopic? In novels, it seems that there is always one overarching threat - either framed by the experiences of those at hand, or framed by those who are trying to keep power in place. In our reality, the threats are multitudinous and come from many places. There is no one "Big Brother" we are told to fear and love. There is no one single aspect of government, or society, or commerce that we can pull out and "fight." I believe I discussed in a previous post about The Hunger Games how I find the enemy that is marked so clearly and tangible to fight as a means of easing the fact that it isn't so easy to fight and resist the problems we face in our world (of course, for Katniss, it may not turn out to be so easy either).

At the same time, I want to challenge myself from saying that our threats are hard to parse out - because they aren't, not really. It isn't unclear at all - we know what the problems are, we just struggle to do anything about them (or as a favorite song of mine by the band Kansas states, "The answers are so simple, and we all know where to look, but it's easier just to avoid the question"). I've begun my summer project of reading Hannah Arendt's The Origins of Totalitarianism and she discuss briefly in the preface the issues of totalitarianism and evil, saying, "And if it is true that in the final stages of totalitarianism an absolute evil appears (absolute because it can no longer be deduced from humanly comprehensible motives), it is also true that without it we might never have known the truly radical nature of Evil" (Arendt ix). This is the second time in a week that I've seen discussion of evil versus Evil (it was also mentioned throughout Stephen King's Salem's Lot, interestingly enough) and it's one of those age-old issues that takes on a new light when dealing with problems of dystopia. At what point have you switched from serious problems (evil with a little "e") versus a different force, a greater Evil (with a big "e") that can no longer be recognized as something that is understood with human empathy? If we want to trace out our problems we face, without focusing so much on our foes and pointing them out everywhere (as totalitarianism does to separate and isolate), how do we not lose hope if we are faced with Evil and how do we work to balance our empathy versus what needs to be said?

I think of this in the context of something I saw about fictional Evil in regards to Marvel heroes and villains, from the blog The blogger wrote:
I am so entirely sick of people ragging on characters that want/try to do the right thing. see: Captain America, see: Superman, see: Scott McCall
It’s always so utterly transparent too. Like I get it, these characters make you uncomfortable because you see them in all the most awful, horrible situations, the kind of rock and a hard place that would break anyone, only it doesn’t break them, it doesn’t force them into the darkness, it doesn’t keep them from being good and kind, and that freaks you the fuck out because you know, were you in that same place, if you had to make those same choices, you wouldn’t be good and kind, you would compromise. (and I include myself here, I’m no Captain America, none of us are really, but why should that mean we shouldn’t try to be? where did we all get this idea that it’s wrong to try to be good and can we pls get rid of it)
And for some of you, it just infuriates you, how dare someone challenge you or your beliefs, how dare they make you question your actions. You hear things like “You will give the people an ideal to strive towards. They will race behind you, they will stumble, they will fall. But in time, they will join you in the sun” and your reaction is I don’t want to join you in the sun, I want to drag you down to earth and make you just as twisted and wretched as the rest of us because I can’t stand the idea that I could ever be wrong about things, that I could ever need to grow and change and become better.
And I’m just so sick of it. I’m sick of people being enamored with darkness and amorality. I’m sick of people glorifying characters that are absolutely horrible (yes some of the most interesting characters, and some of my favorites even, are not always good guys, but jfc they are not who we should aspire to be like) and trashing characters just for having the audacity to be good people. I’m sick of people acting like being a giant asshole or even legitimately terrible wrong person is ‘cool’ or ‘edgy’, it’s not, it’s really fucking not. Being good is cool. Doing the right thing is edgy (don’t believe me, try doing it for once and see how much push back you get, it’s not so easy being good). Being better then you were a year ago, a month ago, yesterday, that’s cool. Captain America and Superman and all the other characters that challenge us to do better, be better, they are fucking cool.
The first thing that comes to mind is the humanization and explaining of villains like Loki. I am certainly a large part of this, finding Loki a fascinating character. But the blogger is entirely right to say that while these characters may be fascinating and exciting, it's wrong to find them more redeemable than the heroes and to focus on their wrong-doings more than their rights. Now, ultimately they are fictional characters and regarding this way is perhaps less dangerous than doing this to wrong-doers in our world. And while I certainly support regarding people with empathy and understanding, but there comes a point - such as in the case of the shooter at UC Santa Barbara - that I simply fail. I cannot understand that and I'm not sure I want to. And those that do empathize with him do so in a way that is harmful and terrifying. And in this case, it seems real Evil wins some ground and causes the world to look more dystopic.

This is something I struggle with. Viewing my world as a dystopia of its own seems wrong to me. Perhaps I don't want to admit that things have been bad, have always been bad, may always be bad in some regards. Each period of history would seem to have its own dystopic elements (wide-spread plague - seriously dystopic; slavery - obviously so) but to declare human history as entirely dystopic is a position I can't take. Dystopia has always been a literary move, a way to highlight the problems of our own society in literature, not a term to define and describe the present state of our world. Dystopias always focus on one small corner of the world - the United States turned Panem, the United Kingdom turned Oceania, and does not account for what else is going one (because seriously, Canada, what were you doing during The Hunger Games? I must know). Calling our world dystopic would seem to overlook the good that is being done and the work that we do to resist and change the more problematic aspects, and to see things in a limited scope. We haven't been entirely censored, we haven't been forced entirely into strict castes of being, many of us still have the power and ability to do something. To say that we are dystopic and entirely powerless feels untrue and bit like throwing in the towel and saying, "Well, there's nothing left to do here. Either we raze it all and start anew or learn to love Big Brother/The Bomb/President Snow and his terrifying army of Peace Keepers." And we're not there. I'm not sure we'll ever be there. Because the world is too wide for that and as long as there are people resisting against it, we'll never be entirely dystopic.

I don't think I'm denying the darkness that is present in the world. I don't think I'm playing the fool. But amidst all of this darkness, there is a damn lot of light. Sometimes you just have to look at pictures of bunnies and listen to the Talking Heads too loudly and remind yourself that people want to change the way we use solar energy by making solar energy roads to see it. But this of course takes a certain time, ability, and privilege to do so. Maybe that's the reason superheroes get a lot of hate right now, as the blogger gestures to in the post mentioned above. Maybe it is because they have the ability to act and do something that we despise them, because we feel we can't. We side with the villain because it easy to see ourselves in such a vilified position, to know what it's like to have power taken from us, to know what it's like to want to fight for it back. But more and more I think I see heroes becoming sympathetic towards those aspects of villains, but knowing the difference between those who have had power taken away from them and those who think they have no power only because they want to horde all of it for themselves. Villains oppress in response to losing ground instead of breaking through oppression, as heroes work to do. And heroes in our world don't have superpowers and great differences - they're people more like Steve Rodgers before he was given the super serum. Heroes don't always stand out because they're just like the rest of us.

"With great power comes great responsibility," the old Spiderman quote goes. And a lot of that responsibility comes from recognizing that power is not necessarily a bad thing. It can be really good and be used for good. But to deny that those of us do have power by saying everything is dystopic is a wrong move; it overshadows just how complex the situation of our world is and that all hope is not lost. I'm not sure if I've at all cleared up anything in this post - I don't think I really can; I suppose this issue is more to provoke thought than clearly express answers and this is an issue that can be argued and debated for the rest of forever. Maybe this is partially an effort on my part to fight an ideological battle, the one that refuses to take a view on humanity that sees us as horrid and wicked and monstrous and grim and prefers to take on a more positive view of people. This isn't a denial of the wrongs in the world; rather it's a refusal to let fretting over them and fear-mongering about them win. Yes, the world is a troubled place. But I've seen the good that people can do and that can cut through that grimness sharper than anything else. We just need more of it. So, as I once saw written above the door in an Irish pub and have loved to utter ever since, "Don't let the bastards get you down." Don't let the problems of the world make you give up hope. Hope is tough to keep, but I believe in it fully. I have to bring in Sam Gamgee for my closing line here, because he says it exactly as I would like to:

Rock on, Samwise Gamgee. Rock on.

Citations from:
Hannah Arendt. The Origins of Totalitarianism. Harcourt, 1976.

George Orwell, 1984, Commemorative Edition. Signet Classics, 1980.

Friday, May 23, 2014

The Avengers: Target Edition
Because I'm eschewing seriousness at the moment as I'm probably undergoing existential crisis part 277.2 (who's surprised - no one is surprised), I've decided to dedicate today's post in honor of many a fanfic idea that's crossed my mind during work. It involves the Avengers and what their roles would be if they worked at Target. Why? Because it's fun and makes me better enjoy my job and gives my mind something to do when I open on Saturday mornings. So here it goes.
Steve Rogers/Captain America
Position: Team Lead
Team Leads at Target are pretty much self-explanatory; they lead the team (gee, Gina, thanks for that really thorough explanation). They have a managerial position and set goals for the team, make sure that everything is flowing smoothly, and resolve issues on the floor while also doing basic customer service work (or as we call it at Target, "vibing"). Steve, being a military leader and kind soul, would rock this job. He'd make the best motivating huddle (or team meeting) speeches, he'd lay out a great grid to make sure the whole store is covered, and he'd be great at resolving conflicts - because he remembers what it's like to be the little guy getting the short end of the stick. He unfortunately has to trade in his patriotic outfit for more khaki though (but he gets to keep the red).
Tony Stark/Iron Man
Position: Electronics Team Member
Tony Stark would clearly work in the Electronics department. These team members are smart, snazzy, and know their products like the back of their hand. Tony would be a great driver of sales, although his snarky attitude might aggravate a few people. But given his experience at Stark Enterprises, Tony knows what he's doing (though he's far more likely to sell his own products - and try and make his own in the backroom), making him overqualified for the job and he knows it and uses it against people (let's for the premise of this fannish idea balloon assume there's a good reason why a bunch of superheroes are working in an American retail store. Use your imagination). However, it can't be denied that the attachment numbers and sales for the department skyrocket with him around.
Thor/God of Thunder
Position: Softlines, specifically Infant/Toddler, or Baby Hardlines
Look, I had this image in my head of Thor folding baby clothes in his giant Asgardian hands and it was way to cute for me to think beyond it. Also, people who work in Baby Hardlines often also serve as the operator for phone calls and it fills me with joy to think of Thor answering the phone, "GOOD MORROW AND THANK YOU FOR THINE CALL TO TARGET. HOW MAYEST I HELP YOU ON YOUR SOJOURN FOR PURCHASING GOODS?" Or something along those lines.
Natasha Romonoff/Black Widow
Position: AP (Assets Protection)
Initially I thought of Natasha as being a hardlines team member, seeing her working in the sporting goods area of the store and making the most she could out of the knives in the camping section. However, I decided that she'd more likely join up with a defensive side and use her skills in persuasion, observation, and action for good and join asset protection, or the police force within Target that works to prevent theft. I also have a really hard time picturing her in red and khaki, so the black security uniform meshes better.
Clint Barton/Hawkeye
Position: Backroom Team Member
Backroom Team Members are pretty great - you may not see them much, but without them, you'd be screwed. They put together pulls, or carts of items that need to go out on the floor, so guests can get what they need. They do their best to work around items that are sold out and to follow sales projections. They also get to use machines called the Wave, which are a kind of crane-like vehicle that allows them reach higher shelves to pull items from. I can totally see Clint going up in one of these and watching the backroom from above, providing a vital backbone for the whole endeavor.
Bruce Banner/The Hulk
Position: Market Team Member
It's probably because he turns green, but I instinctively put Bruce in the market or grocery part of the store (Jolly Green Giant reference, I'm so sorry). Also he seems like he'd be the kind of guy to really be interested in nutrition and agriculture and the science of how to improve the food-growing industry. He's probably actually got brilliant ideas that would solve the issues of GMOs and make produce healthier and cheaper. Tony Stark knows this and keeps trying to trick him into showing everyone why he should actually be working in the corporate level, enacting his ideas. However, every once in a while he loses it when a guest is upset that the store is out of eggs again and breaks the cereal aisle.
Loki/God of Mischief
Position: Hardlines
The last place Loki should actually be is in a space interacting with human customers, but he also needs to be in a place that Thor can keep an eye on him. Thus, the sales floor. Also because of those ads run for Thor: The Dark World, the idea of Loki working in the toy department is adorable and wicked. I suspect it would end with him having giant Nerf gun fights with kids and getting told by those working in Guest Services that if they have to repackage one more item because he messed with it, they're going to smack him. Natasha suspects he's also doing something fraudulent, but she can't prove it. And for some reason, he's actually being kind of nice to people and it makes every one nervous, because he's actually following Thor's "no killing" edict and it's great for business but nerve-racking for everyone on the team. Also no one's certain how he passed the criminal background check after New York (then again, Natasha isn't sure how she did either).
Nick Fury/BAMF
Position: STL
Nick Fury is the leader of them all, the over-arching store manager, or store team lead. Without him, there would be no store. His praise is the mightiest of them all and, while people may doubt his efforts, his store always pulls through to be the most amazing.

Phil Coulson/Son of Coul
Position: Instocks
Phil Coulson is a man of mystery. So is the position of instocks. It's a very important position - keeping track of what items are out of stock, working to see what needs replenished, seeing what sells fastest, and providing feedback about items are constantly out of stock. However, no one in my store really seems to know exactly how the whole thing works - even those who do this job. Thus, the man who survived having a glowy alien spear thrust through his chest gets the all-important yet not quite explainable job of instocks.
Bonus (because I really wanted to include Peggy Carter but couldn't figure out how to overcome the whole timeline factor, this is my second favorite Marvel lady)
Darcy Lewis/Just Darcy
Position: Trainee
Oh, I remember those first few days of work. That feeling of terror as you stepped onto the sales floor and saw just how hectic and crazy things were. How much responsibility was placed upon you and how much there was to remember. How cash registers are surprisingly complicated when you put a whole keyboard on them. How many damn acronyms are used. While things may be overwhelming and strange, at least Darcy is finally out of her unpaid internship.

So there you go. The Avengers at Target. It's nutty, but it makes my job sound pretty awesome.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Emotions in Motion

After the weekend I had - a weird conglomeration of awesome greatness and fun along with moments of soul-crushing self-depreciation and assorted human rudeness - I feel tempted to write a personal post. But on what? How not getting into grad school might have emotionally caught up with me on the sadness spectrometer? How no matter what I do, I still feel angry and Hulkish at people who behave in ways I struggle to deal with and am losing the ability to put up with people who say things I find rude (if I ever had the ability to put up with this in the first place)?

The struggle I face is this - we live in a world where it seems cynicism is becoming more and more valued, a world that sees it as productive and positive and makes people cleverer and stronger. I don't entirely disagree with this - a skeptical attitude and certain cynicism is necessary and can work towards positivity. What bothers me is how much cynicism is being dwelled in, prized, and used against others.

I was sketching down some thoughts the other night and wrote something along the lines of this:
We are not in a world that appreciates softness. We admire hard bodies, fierce intellects, strong beliefs, and rigid logic. The softer side is left to die out or be hidden firmly beneath this harder, molded side.

People like me, people who are soft with hearts of butter, are not meant for this world. We often lose and must change to a rigid, plasticy surface that does not betray what lies beneath. For beneath, we cry when someone sharply criticizes. We weep often over small things.

Sensitive, they call me. Thin-skinned. As if I am somehow wrong and they are right. I am not wrong. I am a different way of being.
I should note that I tend to get over-dramatic when I write while feeling melancholy. But there's some good reflection here on issues that I haven't thought about for many years. I was the girl who cried in class - who cried when I got embarrassed or when someone accused me of doing something I hadn't done. I remember weeping a lot in my childhood and hating it, because it always made me feel as if others were judging me for my emotional expression. When I got to middle school and high school, where people who weeped were seen as weak and mocked and ridiculed, I forced my softer emotions under the surface. I became more sarcastic, more cynical, more angry. This wasn't necessarily bad - I needed a wider emotional range other than just crying when I was upset. But I got more hateful in someways and more impatient. High-school me felt a bit like the Hulk - people say I have a long fuse, but when I get angry, I explode. I would pent up my emotions and, under pressure, they would unleash themselves like dynamite.

College was another change. I found a way to better balance my emotions, to focus more on the positive and avoid situations that caused stress and hurt and turmoil. Of course, those situations can't always be avoided, but I felt by the time I'd graduated that I'd somehow better balanced things. I was not so soft that the slightest thing would make me cry, but I was not so hard and bitter that I was a super-cynic who thought them superior to all others.

And then I started working in retail. As a person who has now cried several times in front of my co-workers, this Saturday being the most recent when I tried to get myself together in the backroom only to be found (and fortunately comforted) by one of our team leads, I'm having flashbacks to my weepy elementary school days and am worried about it. I am not the balanced happy skeptic that I thought I was - I am a fluffy buttery bunny-loving fool who can't deal with harsh critique and the fact that not everyone expresses themselves the way I do. I no longer find crying negative - it's cathartic and I generally feel better after a good sob. However, I'm still stigmatized by other people's reactions to it. I worry now that crying at customers' unnecessary rudeness will be problematic. It doesn't happen often, but it's been enough to make me worry.
There's an idea of proper emotional display and controlling one's emotions. In some ways, this makes sense - for example, hurting someone because you're mad at them is really not a good idea for anyone involved. However, not all people express emotions the same way. Some people don't cry when they're sad. Some people sob when they're happy. Emotions are really, really complicated and even I, who have been told I'm good at "reading people" struggle on a daily basis to understand what people are feeling and knowing how best to react. So, for someone who is very emotional, I understand why a more reserved, controlled presence is preferred. But I also think that deciding that a certain kind of emotional stasis is unhealthy and impossible. When someone blatantly treats me with an attitude that clearly shows a position of using the power dichotomy between customer and sales person against me, as occurred on Saturday, it's going to be nearly impossible for me not to react to it. I may be able to act with a certain persona on the sales floor, but I can't keep that up at all times. Yes, I tend to take things too personally, yes, I tend to let issues get under my skin rather than shaking them off, but if I allow myself to react to them as I instinctively emotionally want to, I can cope with it much better. If I cry about it, I'm less likely to mull over it and let it bother me later in the day or the next day. I imagine people that feel force to create some emotional reaction or hide other emotions feel much the same.

So what then of the argument that I see on the internet, that people want to act with rudeness because people are rude to them and no one deserves politeness because they don't act polite? What about those that react with extreme, violent anger because that's how they feel and that's how they instinctively react? This is a caveat of a different nature, but related all the same. Because I'm more of a nurture over nature psychological supporter, I think that a lot of emotional reactions are cultivated by our society, rather than "natural behaviors." I mean, yes, obviously crying and getting angry are natural, but acting in a way that certain incidents only end in anger or violence are not positive. Unfortunately, behavioral therapy sometimes focuses too much on "normalizing" emotional outbursts into a certain way of acting, when I think expanding and focusing and exploring emotions might be more useful. Because repression sure as hell isn't it.
On the rudeness factor: I get it. When people are rude to you, you want to be rude right back. And not following social norms is all cool and punk and whatnot. Not being polite might seem like subverting social norms, but social norms were created for a reason and some are actually good and beneficial. And not being assholes to one another is a pretty good one. Feel free to argue that asking, "How are you?" is complete utter and social nonsense - because you're right, it is, but it's our silly human way of reaching out to other people. And if you tell me that you are having the most god-awful day of your life, know I respect your honesty. Even if I then fail to know how to react properly because that is a social construct we could really work on building up.

There was one extra little bit in the emotional meanderings I wrote over the weekend:
But there is also something strong and steely in the center that believes in me, that believes that I know what I want that that my emotions are my own and that, ultimately, I am the one who gets to decide what I feel.
We live in a world where it is hard to care, where it takes too much energy and those who care are seen as being false and doing it only for themselves. Spoilers: we are all operating in a certain degree of self-interest and that's not a bad thing. Deep down, though I am fluffy and butter and bunny-loving, there is a core of knowledge that I am acting beneficially for myself and for others when I listen to what I am feeling. It doesn't always mean that I express my feelings, it doesn't always mean I do the right then with my feelings, but I know that my reaction is my own and I'm feeling it for a reason. It's just what to do with it that's the tricky part. It's one thing to cry over a bad customer interaction but to spend the rest of the day in a funk is not how I like to come off of all that - I like to rechannel my energy and really appreciate the good interactions I have, the people who say "hi" back to me when I great them, people who treat me like an equal when I interact with them. There was a really cool quote I saw online from Antoine Lavoisier, founder of modern chemistry: "Nothing is lost, everything is transformed." I like trying to transform what feels like a loss into something positive. Unfortunately, this is lot easier in chemical processes and energy transfers than it is in recognizing and working with emotions. Here's the truth as I see it: Emotions are hard. Sometimes I agree with people that not having all of these complicated feelings would be so much easier. But then I thing about how boring that would be (and then I think about Daleks and Cybermen and freaking Brave New World and decided that, yes, I would much rather cry about dumb stuff than risk living in dystopia of some kind). Maybe I delve into my emotions more to convince myself that I'm not actually dead inside and really truly care about nothing. But I'd rather feed into my emotions than not; it's made me a happier person and it's worked for me. To reiterate, cynicism is important - it's got a certain emotional component of its own and it's protective, insulating us from a lot of troubling things that occur in our world - but letting it consume you as the only way to express emotion is not good. At some level, we often don't care about things - and that's okay. But to care about nothing, forever and always, troubles me. To move beyond a level of cynicism that is constant and perpetual, one that does not seem to interact with other emotions but mocks them, worries me. At work, I honestly I prefer interacting with people who have either limited emotional expression or lots of emotion than people who look like they feel absolutely nothing at all - not in the way that they can't feel emotion, but that they could but they can't trouble themselves to. They don't give a shit about anyone or anything, other than passively-aggressively pretending they do, and it hurts more than you can imagine. I don't know how that became so common and abundantly practiced, but I hate it. I want to destroy it with its own blunt, steely edge and break it open and make it feel in rainbow technicolors.

And now I'm totally that girl from Mean Girls. (And maybe a tiny bit of Elsa from Frozen. After she realizes feeling is good (which I which had been elucidated a little more from the film, but whatever.))

One more thought on all of this emotional jabber. I came across this quote when I was in the process of starting this post and once again thanked the powers that are for throwing me something exactly when I needed it:
Being tender and open is beautiful. As a woman, I feel continually shhh’ed. Too sensitive. Too mushy. Too wishy washy. Blah blah. Don’t let someone steal your tenderness. Don’t allow the coldness and fear of others to tarnish your perfectly vulnerable beating heart. Nothing is more powerful than allowing yourself to truly be affected by things. Whether it’s a song, a stranger, a mountain, a rain drop, a tea kettle, an article, a sentence, a footstep, feel it all – look around you. All of this is for you. Take it and have gratitude. Give it and feel love.” - Zooey Deschanel
Regardless of your opinion of Ms. Deschanel, I think this is a pretty good quote. You don't have to feel this way about things - but we should feel in general. This also reminded me of all the posts I've been seeing online about the initial dislike of Sansa Stark in Game of Thrones because she was soft and emotional and feminine and that people didn't like her because of internalized misogyny. I think some of my issues with my own emotions were that I didn't want to look "girly" and cry and didn't want to be too "masculine" and be angry. And then I finally learned that emotions do not come with distinct genders and that doing so is pretty dumb. Just because someone acts in a specific "feminine" manner, it does not make them any less strong or fierce. As shown by Sansa and by Princess Bubblegum (okay, so I've seen approximately twenty point twelve minutes of Adventure Time and love it), being feminine is badass.

So, to sum up, I'm an emotional ricocheting mess of humany-wumanyness. Being this way isn't better; it's just different and another equally awesome way of being. Maybe I don't always understand people who don't react the way I do, but if we can at least recognize our confusion, we can work through it, rather than not caring. Don't conceal, feel - that, I think, is a better focus.

Friday, May 16, 2014

More on the Future of Fandoms

On Tuesday, I posted a video from Youtube about the future of fandoms. Today I'm continuing on with that topic, along with an issue I briefly noted in my posts about loneliness a few weeks ago - that of organizing around loneliness, consumption, and fandom.

Fandom is a complicated, nebulous thing. Generally I feel positively about it, but here more recently I'm getting more negative portrayals more "really sketch vibes" to quote the song "While Lies" (which has been stuck in my head for the last month). There's issues of bullying in fandoms, of cutting people out because they have a different opinion, of generally perpetuating the bad things that happen to fans outside of fandom. But there's also another layer to this.

Fans, generally, are consumers. They delve into a certain product and soak up as much of it as they possibly can. Many, however, are also creators. They create their own works and own spin-offs and share them, often for free, on the internet. For the companies that own the product that fans are using to create other things, this is very often bad in their minds.

Why? I'm going to bring back a paper I wrote my senior year, linked here and one that was mentioned/linked to in the post "The Magic of Gifs." TL;DR, this paper discusses fandom culture and piracy and the tension between corporations and fans. The problem is that if you take something from an already existing cultural source - characters from a novel or TV show written in fanfiction, sections of a film turned into gifs, reproducing certain tropes and characters into fanart - corporations tend to view this as intellectual property theft and piracy. On the plus side, this makes fans pirates.


On the negative side, this makes them practicing an illegal act and violating copyright. Which means they can be fined and/or sent to jail.

This is an issues, especially when what fans are creating is really powerful and interesting, and are finding ways to not just passively view a cultural item but interact, create, and make something of it. This would seem to move them from Arendt's worries of a groups bonded by loneliness and commonness in consumption to perhaps a more positive, creative, and even collaborative exercises. So when corporate entities try to lay claim to cultural items, products that feel very much that they belong to we the common and not to them, it becomes a struggle not just between copyright and creation, piracy and redefining authorship, but also in how we organize ourselves in fan communities. If we are not allowed to produce and create texts that reference other cultural ones, ones that we create perhaps less to sell and consume but explore and learn from, then there will be a serious dearth in creativity and the positive affects of fandom.

What's more, what industries such as film and television are doing to make fans feel like they are participating and influencing the creation of such cultural items is troubling. While I love the fact that Marvel movies are continuing on and on and really understanding of what fans want, there's also a limited amount of creative interaction with fans. There's cons and Twitter and things like that, but fan input and actual creation with the Marvel movies doesn't happen (if it did, we'd have a Black Widow stand-alone film - or at least Tumblr likes to think so). I love the growth and expansion of the Marvel field but it's also a little worrying - they know what brings fans in, what makes them feel connected to it. I'm not saying it's bad, it's just difficult when an industry makes you feel like you have creative power and influence when you don't exactly and when you do create a work based on it, it's considered piracy.

Something else related to this topic, mentioned in the video from Tuesday's post, is the connection between politics and fandom. I wish the video delved into this a little more because I think it's super interesting, important, and maybe even a little dangerous. I'm not sure how I feel about politics and fandoms colliding in the way it's mentioned in the PBS video. I love the idea of using fandom as a way to engage with social issues, connect with community, and take action for change. I don't like the idea of turning politicians into oversimplified celebrity figures or using fandom as a way to get figures like John Green thrown into the political arena. It's one thing that Stephen Colbert has run for president; it would be another thing entirely I think if he actually ran as himself, not sardonically as the figure he plays on TV. Conflating politics and fandom like this makes the whole political area look more consumerist than collaborative, creative, and focused on change. But maybe that's the point -  maybe we're already there.

There's more I could say on this, I'm sure, but I'm going to leave it there for now. As ever, fandoms are complicated and thinking about them along these terms makes it more so, but if we continue to focus on collaboration and creativity, I have hope that fandoms can lead to positive affects rather than negative ones.

And I am not sorry for all the pirate gifs.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The Future of Fandoms

So I've been busy, both with work, social things, and reconfiguring my life so I unfortunately didn't get around to writing a longer post for today. However, I did come across this really cool video from the PBS Idea Channel on fandoms. I'll leave it here for you to watch and I'll come back to the topic on Friday (especially since I haven't had a post on fandoms in far too long). Enjoy!

Friday, May 9, 2014

Bring It On

I suppose as as blogger who often ties in her own life to her blog, I should start off by telling you something.

Yes, alright, Sherlock, I'll get right to the point. I heard back from King's College on Wednesday. And I didn't get in.

I can't really say I'm surprised, because grad school is insanely competitive and what exactly they're looking for in students is utterly up in the air. But I was sorely disappointed and saddened and was really glad I had bought Chipotle for lunch so I could wipe away my tears, put my computer aside, and eat a carnitas burrito bowl and focus on the deliciousness of that for a moment instead. After that, I gave myself two hours of moping on the couch, eating chocolate and listening to the Only Lovers Left Alive soundtrack, looking less artistically disheveled and morose than the cast of the film. Then I took a deep breath, pulled myself together, and realized I actually felt okay. (At least until a tour of our apartment came by and freaked me out because I totally forgot they were coming.)

If I didn't feel it important to share this information on my blog, I wouldn't really have mentioned it. I don't want to mull over it and if it weren't for the necessity of sharing news with friends and colleagues who maybe only know what's going on through this blog, I probably wouldn't. But I'm actually okay with it. I mean, not totally okay - I'm sad about it on some level and it's totally their loss and I'm peeved that Wednesday morning when I checked my application status before I got the email (because I had some weird sixth sense-y feeling that I would hear back this week and I was strangely right) they still hadn't reviewed my transcript or my second recommendation letter. Which means I've probably been rejected for a while, as that hasn't changed since April. But it is what it is. (Totally lame because that second letter was Professor Tandy's letter and I guarantee it was spectacular. Dammit all.)

I walked to a friend's apartment for a book club we started that Wednesday and as I was walking, I realized that there was a strange sort of bounce in my step and that I felt oddly relieved, like there was a burden off my shoulders. I felt a bit bad about being relieved, but it was there. It was just nice to finally have an answer to an unknown, as, for the past few weeks, as I'd been waiting to hear back from King's and time kept passing and I still heard nothing, I began to wondering if the program really was the right fit for me. Should I really go back to school right now or would it be better to do something else - get a job in London, jump right into theater work, continue to work at Target and try to write a novel? I assured myself this was doubt getting to me, but I also wanted to have a plan B. Besides, the more I listened to "Helplessness Blues" by Fleet Foxes, the more I realized that I was tired of waiting for "the men who move only in dimly-lit halls and determine my future for me" (okay, pretty over-dramatic, but I was getting pretty stir-crazy and scared and the weather we've had this spring was not helping). And then this week I listened to Field Report's "I Am Not Waiting Anymore," which I hadn't heard in a while, and found it oddly inspiring. I'd begun to dangerously pin my only plans on King's and, while there was nothing totally wrong with it, the fretting about it was starting to fatigue me. I was afraid and it was better to recognize that fear and do something proactive rather than try to ignore it. So I started coming up with alternatives, researching jobs in London and thinking about theater internships. I'd already been turned down for one this summer, but kept thinking about what I could do, although I felt odd focusing on something else. In the long run, it was good that I was starting to do that. It made this a lot easier than it could have been.

That's not to say this doesn't suck. It does. But I've never been so motivated by a rejection before. The night after I got the email, I was already applying for an internship in San Fransisco, applied for another the next day, inquired if yet another was still accepting applicants, and totally revamped my LinkedIn profile (not that it's ever been super useful to me, but it's out there, so why the heck not). Between all of the wonderful support I got from my friends and an overarching sense that I felt fine, I realized that while it's a shame about King's, I at least figured out what I wanted to in the process of applying for them and, now, I just need to find a different way to do it. That will have its own challenges but I'm not really down about it. I feel good. So don't feel sorry for me - because I don't, not anymore. I'm certainly not the first person to get rejected from a school and I'm sure as hell not the last. I'm not as upset as I thought I would be, it doesn't hurt as much as I feared it would, and it is nowhere near the worst thing that could happen to me.  I am positive there is something else out there for me to do that could be a better fit for me. And a lot of other good things are happening - I got recognized by a team lead at Target for all of my hard work, I almost got a story published with a company a friend of mine works at, I'm finally reading William Thackeray's Vanity Fair after staring at it on my bookshelf for two years, my roommate got into Georgetown, a friend of mine is interviewing at Google, I've now got tickets to see Martin Freeman in Richard III in London this fall (this just happened and has not totally set in yet; I'm in that shocked, giddy stage of ticket purchasing), and spending some time in the Twin Cities and getting to better know the theater here sounds like an awesome plan B. So hey there, unexpected future. You always surprise me with your unpredictability. You know what I have to say to you?

Aw yeah. Let's do this. And if you know anyone in need of a dramaturg, I'm your girl ;)

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Ten Reasons Why 'Only Lovers Left Alive' is the Best Movie I've Ever Seen

After a lot of waiting and a lot of overwhelming fears that this movie would never be released in my state, I finally saw Only Lovers Left Alive.


And here's ten reasons why.
1) The Cast
This cast cannot be beat. Tilda Swinton, Tom Hiddleston, Mia Wasikowska, Anton Yelchin, John Hurt -it's marvelous and beautiful and I love whoever did the casting for this film. The actors are so attuned to their roles that while the are still generally recognizable, they aren't by their actions and I found myself more or less forgetting who was before my eyes (though Anton Yelchin's character took me back a bit to Charlie Bartlett, but that came with the role, I think).

2) It's a vampire movie that doesn't discuss vampirism. 
Stakes, garlic, blood - all of these things are relevant mentioned, but I don't remember the word "vampire" actually being used by anyone. There are no vampire hunters, there aren't battles between vampires and some foe, there isn't in-depth discussion about how one becomes a vampire or where they came from initially, and there seems to be no awareness from humanity that vampires actually exist. It's a nice change from other books that, while they may create really interesting back stories and add to the mythology of vampires, sometimes focuses on this more on the daily life of vampires as if they casually co-inhabited the world and we humans are none the wiser. Also, the fact that there's no Bella Swan moments of, "I know what you are." "Say it." makes me so very pleased. Which brings me to...
3) This nullifies my whole Twilight fandom days, right?
Probably not. It is nice to see the vampire myth get reworked in a sexy but not ridiculous way. However, this nullifies nothing for me - if anything, it probably exacerbates the whole issue because the character of Adam is exactly what I wanted Edward to be - a kind of angsty but mature, intellectual vampire who you can't help but like even though he's pretty negative towards humans (calling us zombies, for crying out loud) and convincing me that once Hamlet gets out of his emo days, he totally becomes a hipster. He doesn't watch young teenage girls while they sleep or attend high school classes because he'd much rather spend his time being a secret rock god in his half-demolished house on the outskirts of Detroit and debate about whether his immortal life is really worth living. Is there a high school girl who smells like his particular brand of cocaine? Um, no, there's not. And thank God for it. 

4) Um, yes I would like to apply to argue with vampires because of reasons.
Remember that bit where I mentioned that Adam calls humans zombies? Yeah, I'd love to debate that with him for the next half century. Because I'm pretty sure he has some good points, but it's also somewhat incorrect. The main characters Adam and Eve (yes, I know; read into it and enjoy the hell out of it) have a love-hate relationship with humans. On one hand, we humans have done really brilliant things - we've got marvelous scientists and poets and musicians and philosophers. But here recently humans have apparently been sucking quite a bit (do not make a pun on sucking, I swear...) and kind of failing at...whatever it is we're supposed to be doing in our weird world. Which we're destroying and causing our blood to be kind of poisonous and often undrinkable for our secretive vampiric brethren. I love this plot point - for once, it's not vampire blood that's poisonous, as it is in so many tales. For example, in Dracula, Mina Harper says, "There is a poison in my blood, in my soul, which may destroy me; which must destroy me, unless some relief comes to us" (Stoker 454) (I did not go out of my way to find this quote - I was conveniently rereading Dracula when I wrote this). But here, it the humans who are causing problems and killing vampires with their blood. Vampires are generally pretty chill and don't seem overly fond of killing humans - though it seems they do so if they're super hungry and kind of immature, or if they absolutely have to in order to survive (in which case they'll most likely turn you and, yay, newbie vampires!). But instead of preying upon humans, these vampires get their blood - specifically O negative - through doctors or other means, and go for the really pure stuff that isn't bogged down with whatever makes it dangerous. Anyway, vampires respect us, but they also seem to think we're a bit daft. And I would love to debate a vampire about that and see how horrifically I fail.
5) The esthetic of this film is BRILLIANT.
Muscle cars, lutes, Tangiers, appreciation equally for science and for art, stunning cinematography, witty dialogue, gritty and luxuriant scenery - this film is jam-packed full of it all and it works. I don't know why Adam driving a muscle car and living in the urban decay of Detriot, making music in what was once Motown and building his own generator out of old parts is so wonderful, and I don't know why the flat in Tangiers full of books and bright colors, contrasting with Eve's paleness is so pefect for her, but it is. Also, Tangiers makes me think of the music of the Deux Love Orchestra, none of which I can find on Youtube (at least not the songs I wanted), so check them out here in iTunes if you're interested.

I also love that the vampires wear gloves and sunglasses frequently, that they only drink O negative blood, that they don't go outside during they day and it's not clear whether they can't or just won't, and a thousand other little things that are never explained why and left to the imagination to mull over for the rest of eternity. Brilliant, I love it.

6) I don't know what it is about vampires and destroying human flesh with acid but it's creepy and I love it.
In the film Let the Right One In, there is a horrific scene involving acid. There is also a scene of the same nature in Only Lovers Left Alive, which is far less horrific, but still creepy. For some reason, this works for me as a new trope of vampire mythology. Maybe it has something to do with how vampires are thought to be burned in sunlight and so tables are turned and human flesh is burned by acid instead. Who knows. Regardless, it's efficient, creepy, and never fails to make me nervous about vampire intellect and powers.

Also, doctor's scrubs are way more unnerving than I thought they were. Just so you know.

7) I will now proceed to listen to the soundtrack every day for the rest of my life.
I recently discovered that my appreciation for the lute has not been recognized enough in my life. This film and soundtrack aid in that. Also, the music is a great mix of... I don't know, grungy kind of rock with funeral dirge with experimental string/electronic effects, and strains of Middle Eastern ragas and Arabic pop, along with some Western Classical elements and maybe just a hint of Motown and funk... Regardless, it's brilliant and I've listened to it nearly ten times already. Here's what I think might be my favorite track from it though:

8) I'm starting a band called Soul Dracula and you can't stop me.
"Soul Dracula" is a thing that Mia Wasikowska's character Ava discovers on Youtube (yes, vampires use Youtube. Eve has an Iphone. Adam eschews most modern technology because he's a super hipster that would rather rig up a camera-television-telephone system to video chat with Eve instead of buying a new computer). I present it to you now, because it's actually on Youtube and it makes my life.

I just think this would make a really great band name. And I think a video of this nature really needs to be a part of my life somehow.

9) Can all movies delve into random discussion of Spooky Action at a Distance, naming plants in Latin, and packing books in suitcases for travel while also dealing with some low-culture stuff (looking at you, Soul Dracula)?
I think my favorite part of this movie is all the interesting little tangental things that are discussed by Adam and Eve throughout. There's Einstein's theory of Spooky Action at a Distance, they name plants and animals in Latin (because, if you're going to live forever, you might as well learn these things), they talk about stars that make sounds like gongs, Adam buys beautiful musical instruments and talks about that time he wrote a movement in a piece for a famous composer (the name of the composer escapes me at the moment - was it Brahms? Grr, I don't recall...). Also, this film includes perhaps the best inclusion of a famous person as a character since Craig Ferguson included Carl Jung in his book Between the Bridge and the River. It's not really a spoiler but I didn't know this until Entertainment Weekly stated so in their review, but John Hurt plays Christopher Marlowe AND IT IS AMAZING. But my favorite part of the film? When Eve leaves Tangiers to visit Adam, she packs her luggage - not with clothing, but with books. I feel this on a spiritual level.

I also have a thing for vintage cars so... good job with whoever's idea this was.
And we're not even getting into the themes of this movie: love, life, death, what exactly being humans mean (and who knows, because these are some pretty human-acting vampires), what happens when looking forward doesn't look as good as it does looking back, what the meaning of life is... you know, that sort of thing. They're all dealt with in really interesting ways but that's probably a thesis, not a blog post, and I'm going to let all that be.

10) Basically this film reinforces how hipster I am and I do not care.
So this film is probably uber hipster and I really am not ashamed to love it. Sometimes the world needs more hipster - especially of this caliber.

If you haven't seen this film, I strongly recommend it. Because it's a bloody marvel.

Citations from:
Dracula by Bram Stoker. London: Puffin Books, 1994.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Defense Performances and Adventure Time-y Reflections
Between reflecting upon college graduation nearly a year later (I can't believe I've had a B.A. for nearly a year now...), watching my roommate struggle, fail, and succeed with her thesis, and witnessing others struggle with their academic environments (whether it be personally or through internet accounts), I sometimes wonder why in the world I want to go to grad school. Why do I care about getting another very expensive piece of paper that officially states that I have some such knowledge in one thing or an other and am qualified for some such possible work, when I already know that my previous very expensive piece of paper promises nothing, assures nothing, and is really a marker of how much I still have to learn than anything else?

Some days I have absolutely no idea. But after attending Ben's dissertation defense, it's easier for me to see why I do want to go back to school.

First let me describe how this dissertation defense worked. Described as a "public defense" and later as a "defense performance," this was not like the standard dissertation event. As I mentioned in previous posts, it was held at the New Bedlam Theater in St. Paul, a wonderful space with brick walls, wooden beamed ceilings, and an almost black-boxy feel with a collapsible stage and workshop-esque design. Then again, that was aided by the chairs set up in semi-circular pods of no more than four in which we the attendees were seated in which to discuss parts of defense (yes, a discussion-focused, interactive, collaborative defense. All ofter dissertation defenses shall forever be ruined for me). And the posters explaining main themes from the dissertation topped it all off, as well as reminding me greatly of the CSCL classed I had that utilized such visual aids.

What was most brilliant about this event was its own self-awareness and self-reflection that took place over the course of the evening. At one point during the defense, a man walked by the windows of the theater, peered in, and knocked on the glass. He walked on towards the front doors and came in. At first, I thought he was a late arrival. But from the way he hovered near the back, it seemed he wasn't. The look on his face is what I remember most - an awed sort look, the kind I imagine I have if I'm floored by a play I'm witnessing. When the other attendees noticed he was there, there was a sort of change in the atmosphere, especially as he walked forward into the seating area, closer towards the stage. During theater performances, I sometimes sense a shift in the air that I struggle to describe, something that happens collectively influenced by the actors onstage and the perceptions of the audience. For instance, a shift between a moment of levity to grimness or darkness onstage isn't felt just by me but apparent in the audience and is intensified by the feeling of those around me (either in their intakes of breath, gasps, or other general reactions, as well as just a change in the atmosphere). A shift of the nature - one that could be felt and seen - occurred as people noticed the man, wondering who he was, what he was doing, if anyone else knew him or not. The man, intrigued by the defense, began replying to Ben's statements, talking about the have and have nots. I think we were all thrown off by the man's unexpected interaction and Ben tried to keep the show going as he'd planned it while trying to interact with the man (which showed that this was not at all planned, unlike I'd initially wondered, as it seemed an interesting articulation of the issues at stake and a moment of improvisation). However, the man kept trying to speak though Ben said he'd get to his questions and comments later, which to the audience likely felt like interruption (I know it did to me, even though I was curious about what the man wanted to say). Eventually, an audience member tried to give the man some materials on the defense and explain what was occurring, then took him outside the theater to talk. I don't know what occurred between the two, but the audience member returned without the man as the event continued onward.
We discussed this occurrence later in the defense and how it complicated the whole event. In the middle of talking about how to engage with others in an open environment, to reach across boundaries and to be collaborative, there was a moment of difficulty, disconnect, and possibly failure. The event had limitations - people who didn't know how to work with the structure of the event were at a loss and we didn't entirely know to respond to their interruptions. We discussed how we didn't know his name, but that a few of us did know that he hung around the area quite frequently. Despite this potential failure, it was an important capitulation of the struggles to communicate, to create places that are welcoming, organized, and accessible but also lead somewhere - even if that somewhere is a massive tangent - but still have some sort of result. That moment was a giant, "The struggle is real!" indicator and, despite the fact that the man didn't stay, for one moment, something really cool happened. For one moment, that guy looked as if he'd seen something he'd always wanted to see, heard someone voice a concern he'd always wanted someone to announce. And it was freaking awesome.
What this defense pointed out to me were two main things: accomplishments and possibilities. In a moment of seeing how much a friend of mine had learned and how much of it he was able to teach us, I had a moment of reflection upon what I've done. If you're a regular on this blog or have personally heard my personal criticisms, you'll know I'm hard on myself and the world around me (as I've seen myself show even in just the last few posts). I grew up within expectations of perfection for whatever reasons and, while I still try to eschew them as much as possible, sometimes they end up enveloping me all over again. This event made me remember how important it is to not beat oneself up for the mistakes made, but see them as positive fails and recognize what limitations exist. It also made me realize how much sort of self-described success I have done. In that space where I didn't know many people, I didn't really feel shy or uncomfortable or out of place. I felt like I belonged there and I felt like everyone felt the relatively the same way. Perhaps it's because I'm not as much as introvert as I used to be, perhaps it's because everyone there was just really friendly and welcoming. But mostly I think it was because it was an environment that was structured to be welcoming, to be inviting, to be warm and interactive and pleasant. And because of this, it made others feel successful and thus made the environment more successful, in a sort of interlinking spiral of awesome.
Then there's the piece of possibility, of what could be by focusing on trying to make connections like the ones described over the last few posts. I touched on how I can see this being pertinent to my work in dramaturgy, and it makes me really happy. Sometimes I wonder if studying Shakespeare is too limiting, if I'm cutting out all of the people who think that Shakespeare is just a dead white guy in a ruff who isn't at all relevant to our lives. But then I realize that that sort of disconnect is exactly what motivates me to keep going, to show that, yeah, Shakespeare might be a dead white guy in a ruff, but he's a whole lot more than that. It convinces me to continue to persuade people that Shakespeare's writing is accessible to anyone and that those who purport it as highly sophisticated and for the cultural elite are only seeing a small aspect of Shakespeare (and haven't spent enough time thinking about Falstaff. This guy is clever and witty but also incredibly crass and vulgar. He's kind of the king of making jokes about bodily functions). Aside from Shakespeare, this thinking persuades me to keep writing, to keep blogging, to keep doing whatever it is I'm trying to do on my rambling tangent-y rabbity road of uncharted expedition. It shows me what can be possible when academic events are not held to some limited notion of what it means to be "academic" but are combined with other elements that can make a dissertation defense feel like a book group meeting mixed with an opening night at a theater or art gala mixed with a reunion of some kind. It shows that my experiences in college, while they may not have been like most, were some of the best I could have ever gotten and saved me somewhat from the warring against academia that many endure. It shows what happens when you focus on the heart and the person in your work and recognize that, as we discussed at the end of the defense, that asking what you are struggling with in your work is important, regardless of what work you are doing.

I've spent three blog posts writing about these because I felt compelled to write about it. It was a super important event for me, perhaps because it finally gave me the distance and also the closeness I needed to see what I'm hoping to achieve in my blogging adventure, my writing, and my application to grad school. As I nervously, anxiously, impatiently wait to hear back from King's, I know what I'm hoping to do, what others are hoping to do, and that I've got wonderful people to collaborate and work with, no matter what.

Also, almost all the photos in this post are from Adventure Time because they just seemed to work.  Thank you, Adventure Time, for existing.