Sunday, December 30, 2012

With a heavy heart

It's almost been a year of writing a blog entry a day. I have been astonished at how much has happened in such a short amount of time. In the earliest days of The Songs of Spring, I was using each essay as an outlet for little tidbits of thought, or especially difficult emotions that I had to deal with at the time. I felt unstable and I needed a way to express all that was going on in my head. I had my heart broken back then and it was important that I let all the negativity come out in some constructive way.

The way I chose was better than any sort of catharsis I'd invented before. It was better than talking to friends, better than writing in a private journal that no one could read and sometimes even better than talking to my dad (I shudder, since he is one of the few people in my world who I feel can always lift me up when I'm feeling indescribably awful).

As time went on, I began to feel inseparable from the daily blogging. It was an extension of myself, something I had to do to get the feelings out, or just to feel like I'd done something accomplished every day. It served its purpose; that purpose was giving me something to look forward to at the end of each day.

But time kept passing and the catharsis began to wear thin. When I found myself meeting new people, some who perpetuated my broken heart and others who actually helped me mend it, I discovered that not every feeling required an outlet. Sometimes having to share everything became stifling in itself. And even though I felt like I had hundreds of stories to tell, when writing 365 blogs, several hundred stories can even seem like a sparse amount.

I tired out a lot of my best material early on. Occasionally I've found myself repeating premises because I haven't been able to keep up even with what I've written. Sometimes a person will approach me about something I've written, either with a compliment or a complaint and I'll barely remember even writing what I did. Since most of this is done late at night and in addition to that, it is done each and every single night, a lot of stories get lost in the shuffle. Even going back now to read earlier entries feelings like getting an insight into a younger me, despite the fact that the younger me wasn't even a year my junior.

Yet I persisted. I kept going and going until I'd depleted all the intellectual content I had in me. Or at least it felt that way. And the stifling feeling I got from getting to share my stories and ideas became even worse at the loss of creativity.

This evening I was sitting with my dad trying to show him how to put photos and videos from his phone onto his laptop. It wasn't a particularly difficult task (despite his difficulty in understanding how to use a computer), but throughout the process I felt my getting more and more frustrated. It wasn't his fault, though. And it wasn't necessarily mine.

What was getting to me was that on this Sunday evening, when I felt entitled to an evening of rest, I was being asked to perform tasks. Not just showing my dad how to transfer media from his phone to his laptop, but writing a blog when I'm sleepy, delirious and simply uninspired.

This has been a common issue for me: a lack of inspiration. I arrive at 7 or 8 pm each night and I have to just watch the seconds tick by on the clock, begging for some topic to spring to my head. Regardless of its worth, if it has enough content to occupy several paragraphs, that's enough of a criteria match for me.

I chalk it up to the fact that any person who tries to write on life may, as a result, forget that the point of living is to create more of those stories about life. It's this eternal paradox. If we want material for our literary pursuits, then we give up on living occasionally. If we want to live, we may not have time to think of everything as a subject for a blog.

The point I've been scooting around but trying to arrive at is that as I go forward into a new year, 2013, I need to set boundaries to the blog-writing. It's not that it has been destructive for me - at least not as badly as it was a few weeks ago when I was staying up late just to write a blog I'd forgotten earlier - but that I feel compelled to preserve my success as a writer, not allowing myself to write about the arbitrary just to fill up space, but to create prose on subjects that matter.

That may not happen each day, but that doesn't mean I want my writing to become infrequent either.

The most valuable part of this experience has been the constant reminder that I do have what it takes to be a writer. If it's a born talent, then I've been blessed.  Even if my style isn't amenable to all people, it is something that satisfies me.

So maybe it was a selfish thing, going on day after day like this when even I've grown tired of the sound of my own ideas. Even if it wasn't, I think I've finally come to the decision of how I will proceed with The Songs of Spring after the year-long mark has been reached.

In mid-January, when I've reached the end of my self-made promise, I will from then on treat this blog as a weekly rather than a daily outlet. Though I haven't decided on a single day of the week during which I will post a blog, I do know that I make no strict limitations at this point.

That is to say, I won't definitely only post once a week. However, I promise to post at least once a week. Because what I've learned in this process is that scheduling can be the most stifling thing, even if the thing it is that you're requiring yourself to do is extremely fun.

It is with a heavy heart, but a lot of enthusiasm, that I go on for these next few weeks toward the end of the daily blog. I will try my best to make them the best they can be, even if it means sleep deprivation or anxiety.

After that, I will finally regain my sanity. As of now it is still relinquished. Maybe it's the insanity that make the best writers, though. If there's one thing that has happened to me these past few weeks it's that I've learned what a great asset neuroses and pattern-following can be.  It may seem strange to say, but it was those two factors that kept me in check for over 300 posts (and presumably for the rest).

I hope you enjoy my daily ramblings for the next few weeks. As those round out and 2013 really begins, there will be change. Not too drastic, but change nonetheless. I hope you enjoy that too.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

The best years of our lives

Are these really "the best years of my life"? It's one of those trite sayings, the kind you hear from older people all the time as they refer to their youth, wistfully reminiscent of the once fascinating life they led away from the troubles of career, family and old age. "Those were the days" is another one.

My room is cozy and I'm snuggled under a fleece blanket the way I do when I am at university during the winter. It's just a long enough blanket that it can cover my whole body if I sit "Indian style" (because that's slightly politically incorrect, I apologize in advance of your protests), leaving only my neck and head peeking out and my hands sneaking through to type.

For some reason, just the feeling of being warm under a blanket during a cold time of year makes the world feel idyllic. It's one of the experiences I will always associate with college, and one that stands as an example of the kind of pleasure I've seen since I arrived there in September 2010.

But despite the brief moments of sheer bliss, it's hard to look back on my experience and call it the best of my life. For that, I'd retreat further. To preschool or early elementary school, when there was no homework on the weekends and after school I'd watch back to back episodes of Boy Meets World. Now those were the days.

So when I was watching Liberal Arts just now with my dad - a movie that I chose to purchase on DVD due to my assuredness that I would in fact fall in love with it (and I was right) - I found it hard to grasp the concept of college being the best time of my life. At least upon immediate observation.

Then I thought about it a bit more...

After a quarter away studying at a university in London, I lost a bit of my enthusiasm for collegiate life. Something about having to walk through busy thoroughfares just to get to class in the mornings must have spoiled me on it. After all, there's nothing like rolling out of bed and walking on snowy tree-lined sidewalks to get to class.

There is, however, something really special about being in such a beautiful insular environment like the one I have back in Chicago - the one I'll be going back to in less than a week.

I remember reading a Facebook status once where one of my friends talked about realizing that people back in their hometown just weren't as smart as people at university. Occasionally, a similar conversation is sparked upon return from winter or spring break. We get so used to being among bookish intellectuals that we can hardly fathom going back into the real world, it seems.

The movie itself is about 35-year-old Jesse Fisher (played by Josh Radnor, who also directed and wrote the film), a man who works as an admissions officer in New York, but goes back to visit an old professor of his at his alma mater (modeled after Kenyon College, Radnor's actual alma mater) in Ohio. During his return trip to Ohio, Jesse meets an enchanting 19-year-old college student named Zibby with whom he spends an afternoon of coffee, long walks and intelligent conversation. They maintain a long-term friendship via hand-written letters and eventually plan to meet up again. Amidst their conversations is the ever-present question of what their age difference signifies. Is this Jesse being intellectually stunted or is Zibby advanced? Is it even morally right for someone like him to pursue a girl so young and impressionable? The stakes are high and the contentions numerous.

But it isn't the conflict that drives this story, it's the reliably fascinating content of the dialogue. Radnor's previous film HappyThankYouMorePlease stunned me in much the same way. With a typical collective cast of interlocking stories set in a recognizable location (in this case New York City), it managed to amaze with the plethora of psychological questions it raised. It was the reason that months ago when I was interning at CBS, I tried so desperately to visit the set of How I Met Your Mother. I wanted to meet Radnor (who plays Ted on the series), if only to tell him how much his ideas about life inspired me.

Alas, I never got the opportunity. But that didn't diminish my love for Radnor in any way. In fact, his distance perhaps made him more of an item of fascination for me.

Which is why I've waited so long and so anxiously to see Liberal Arts. It was released in London when I was studying there, but I had no one to go with to see it (or at least no one who was interested in seeing it to go with).

But now that I have, it raises a feeling within me with which I'm happy to return back to my home institution. College may seem like a grueling time for those of us who are still right in the thick of it. We have so many classes to keep up with, so many essays to write, so many tests to study for and so many extracurricular activities to be a part of. How are we expected to enjoy the experience if most of it is spent fulfilling responsibilities?

Well I think it's the type of responsibility that is thrust upon you that dictates what your experience is like. Some of us may end up finding happiness after college, in a career that is directly correlated to our area of study or in something else that equally stimulates our imaginations. Others of us might peak at this point. And would that really be the worst thing?

College really is a wonderful period for most people. Putting aside that whole argument about "freedom" (which I refuse to subscribe to; no obsession with "YOLO" for me), the things that a higher education offer us include a tight-knit environment with other smart people, an opportunity to discuss and debate intellectual ideas and a period in time when we can pursue absolutely anything without serious rejection or negative consequences.

We may never have these luxuries again.

For Jesse, part of the thrill of going back to Ohio was getting to interact with modern students at his alma mater. They were living the life that he missed so dearly, experiencing the things he did. He liked the idea of reliving those times because they were times of hope and constant intellectual stimulation, two things he thrived on before entering the working world and having all expectations for the future sucked out of him.

My greatest consolation in realizing what a valuable period in my life I am currently experiencing (and will soon be leaving behind) is that during my time at university (and even in high school), I've managed to cultivate friendships with individuals who will ensure for me that the collegiate will never die in its entirety.

Even if the dream of reading books all night and discussing them all day dies away as I walk to a stage in a cap and gown, what I will never lose are the relationships that are maintained along with collegiate intellectualism.

This movie could easily instill fear in me at leaving behind the supposed "best years of my life." But I won't let it. And really, I don't believe that was Josh Radnor's intention. He ends the film on a high note, with Jesse finding happiness among people his own age and discovering peace in the idea of growing older.

At this moment, the idea of moving on may still seem frightening. It needn't always feel that way, though. Once we let go of the past, the only way we move is further. Further on, further away and further up. That doesn't scare me, in fact it's pretty dang exciting.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Les Misérables, breathless delight

So here's the scoop: I've been keeping something from you for the past few weeks. Back in early December, when the movie premiere was under way and press junkets were all the rage for the Les Misérables cast, I was given the opportunity to be present at a preview and a press conference for the film. I saw it a few weeks early, I had a chance to interact with some of the actors and I got to write a bit on it.

To be honest, I don't know how happy I am yet with the finished product of my article on the Les Misérables film. It hasn't been published yet, so I won't step on my own copy, but because I had the chance to watch the movie again today with my father, and see it like a normal fan rather than a critic, I thought it might be nice to trace my obsession with Les Mis. It has been a long-lived and passionate interest, supported by the mutual love of the musical amongst my friends. And here's where I'm going to tell you about it.

Maybe if you do get a chance to read my article on the film version, this will confirm that I am in fact an avid fan of the musical, in case that aspect doesn't come across as well as it should in my writing on it.

My first experience with Les Mis occurred similarly to most. That is, it happened in a theater. It was my first trip to London in the summer of 2007. It was an influential trip in general, sculpting my overall Anglophilia and fascination with life and culture in the capitol of England. But it also reinstated my Broadway-loving spirit. It had first been provoked when I was in elementary school with the works of Rodgers and Hammerstein, later reinspired by seeing a production of Wicked on Broadway with original cast member Idina Menzel. A brief lull (with continued admiration of the craft) would then be interrupted by and forever changed by Les Misérables.

It is my firm belief that this a show you should eventually see on the London stage. While subsequent productions I've seen have been acceptable, nothing ever amazed me so much as that first viewing of Les Mis on the West End.

My dad took me to the show because he thought it was an appropriate musical to see in London. I was happy with anything, so I let him choose what we might see when we arrived there in 2007. I didn't know what I was in for.

I came out of the theater begging for more. Though I had sobbed like a lunatic for half the performance - *Attention, spoilers in the next sentence - move past the parentheses if you're unprepared* *(first a bit at Fantine's death, followed by Eponine's, Gavroche's and Jean Valjean's) and also physically jumped out of my seat at *attention, another spoiler until the next full stop/period* the sound of gunshots when Gavroche was killed - I had been so moved and so excited by the show, that  I needed to be placed back in that heightened sense of enthusiasm once again.

My friend Kristin had serendipitously just been to New York City and seen the Broadway production of Les Mis. We grew in our excitement together, and when I returned back to the states from London, the show became our mutual obsession.

Together, Kristin and I sang "Confrontation," exchanging the parts of Valjean and Javert. We would collaborate on the part when Fantine, Eponine and Valjean come together to sing during "Finale." The harmonies drove us wild and in the same way we loved to perform "What is This Feeling?" from Wicked together, we felt a mutual satisfaction in singing it together.

Though over time my obsession with Les Mis wavered ever-so-slightly, I remember quite vividly walking between classes in high school listening to the soundtrack. I'd feel valiant and prideful listening to "Do You Hear the People Sing?" in the passing period between Geometry and Japanese. "In My Life/A Heart Full of Love" would fill me with wistful hopefulness during breaks in English.

If I remember correctly, it was my sophomore year when I got involved with Les Misérables again on an even more personal level. For a Concert Choir assignment, my friends and I were forced into finding songs in foreign languages to sing and be graded on by our teacher. While some people chose arias in Italian and a few of my closest friends picked Disney songs to learn various translations of, I decided to go to the original language of the musical I had loved for so long in a language that I also loved.

This was my first insight not only into the music of Les Misérables in French, but into the French language itself. At this point, I was a couple years into the Japanese language in high school. I'd always wanted to learn French, but never had the opportunity. I would a few years later, though, and during that brief stint of learning Français, would realize what a surprisingly valuable experience it was to memorize the lyrics to "Mon Histoire" ("On My Own" in French).

My friends still cite the experience of singing those foreign Disney songs as one of their silliest and most unforgettable high school memories. They claim that they forgot most of the lyrics during the recitation and performance, but since they had chosen songs in German and Japanese, it wasn't entirely obvious to our teacher at the time.

I, on the other hand, spent hours and hours and days upon days memorizing "Mon Histoire." I listened to YouTube videos of original cast recordings of the song. I watched people perform it live so I could see how their lips moved when they pronounced the words. I read the lyrics and sang along to karaoke recordings.

To this day, I can still sing the entire chanson without fail, without a mistake in the words.

I got an A- on the performance, but received the greatest gift ever from an assignment - a renewed obsession in something I loved.

Another lull in my interest in Les Mis occurred for the rest of high school and into college, until freshman year at university when one of our dorm-wide outings was to a theater in Chicago to see Les Mis on stage.

Because of my years of loving the musical, I felt somehow entitled to win a ticket to see it with my dorm. I didn't win. Instead, when my friends went out to see Les Mis, I went by myself to watch a musical on campus called Tick...Tick...Boom! (written by Jonathan Larson, who is one of my favorite playwrights and Broadway composers, for his autobiographical work in Tick...Tick...Boom! as well as for his renowned work in Rent). My dad was coming into town shortly after, and on a whim I searched for tickets to Les Mis.

We managed to snag front row seats. And I was reunited with one of the best musicals of all time.

Fast forward to a little over a month ago. I'm sitting in my room in London and I read an email from the film editor at a publication at my study abroad institution. It calls any readers out to submit their name toward a random drawing for an opportunity to attend an early screening and press conference of Les Mis.

I sent an excited email saying that I'd be interested in the opportunity. Then I realized my abruptness meant I'd forgotten to include necessary logistical information. I supplied that secondly. I was then reminded that these editors didn't know who I was, so I wrote another email clarifying that I have written about theater and film before for other publications.

And I guess my eagerness paid off, because I was the first person I know to see the film in its entirity. And it was beautiful.

After years of obsessing over Les Mis, I'm so glad it's getting the recognition it deserves now even from people who aren't traditionally interested in musical theater. As someone who considers Les Mis an institution of her teenagehood and adulthood (it's been a kind friend these five years), I will always hold a special place in my heart for the musical. I will also always gain just an extra ounce of respect for anyone who can appreciate it like I do.

So that's my Les Misérables story. I'd be interested to hear the stories of others, because mine started pretty ordinarily and ended up extraordinarily.

And with that I'll end with a quote from a song in the musical (and film) that used to bore me and has slowly warmed its way into my heart:

"Had you been there tonight, you might know how it feels to be struck to the bone in a moment of breathless delight. Had you been there tonight, you might also have known how the world may be changed in just one burst of light; and what was right seems wrong, and what was wrong seems right."

That line, sung by Marius in "Red and Black," has everything to do with how Les Mis made me feel on that one evening in the summer of 2007 and another evening in the winter of 2012. Les Mis has really set my soul on fire (then and once again).

Thursday, December 27, 2012

The good guy principle

For anyone who watches Gilmore Girls, you're in for a treat with the blog that I've concocted for this evening. For those who have not watched the show or have no interest in it, I apologize but you may be either so confused or annoyed by the references listed throughout that you might just tire of the post and move onto something that better suits your taste. I don't blame you.

Tonight I'm writing this for me.

This morning I was reminded of something that often slips my mind when I'm away from home for extended periods of time. If you read the first paragraph of this post, then you already know what I'm going to say. I often forget about Gilmore Girls.

This is a show that is rarely on television anymore. If you wake up early, you might be able to catch a single episode on ABC Family. Otherwise, you need to own the DVDs like I do. All seven seasons or bust.

Rarely have I ever made good use of the DVDs I own. The second disc of The Little Mermaid Special Edition, yes. Pride & Prejudice, the 2005 version with Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen, also yes. But when it comes to television series, not so much. I may like owning them, and occasionally return to them, but I certainly don't watch them over and over again.

Then there's Gilmore Girls, a show of which I've seen each episode at least five or six times. Some probably over a dozen times. It's hard to believe I've even been alive long enough to do so.

But it's got me thinking about what an important aspect of my life the show has come to be. Not only for the amount of cleverness and wisdom that I receive from each and every episode - which is plentiful, I will tell you - but for the my own experiences that directly correlate with plotlines I grew up watching.

I didn't choose to become a journalist off of a whim. Most of my interest in pursuing the career came from the subtle brain-washing of television journalism - and by that I don't mean CNN coverage, but the presentation of journalism in the entertainment media. Rory Gilmore, for example, is a budding young journalist who writes about the repaving of a parking lot and is lauded by her high school newspaper adviser. She ends up interning at a top news firm when she's in college. At the end of the series, her job search takes her on the road with Barack Obama (and the show ended while he was still running in the primary against Hillary Clinton, which is pretty awesome foresight if you ask me).

One subject, however, which I've always found personally significant is the variety of relationships on Gilmore Girls. It's inevitable that when you watch a television program, you end up rooting for various characters to get together. It's the same in cheesy teen dramedies, science fiction shows and children's TV (where would we be without the romantic end to Lizzie McGuire?, I kid).

Since I'm young, I tend to align myself with Rory. Which means I have a choice of several boyfriends. The first is Dean Forester, the second Jess Mariano and the third Logan Huntzberger.

For those who have decided to continue reading despite not knowing anything about Gilmore Girls, here is perhaps where the discussion becomes less centered around the show. Because what I really wanted to discuss today were the various tropes exemplified by Rory's dating life and how I've grown to see those tropes in different lights as I've grown up.

Dean will from here on out be the "good guy" trope. Jess will be the, unsurprisingly so, "dangerous guy" trope. Logan will be the "sketchy, but charming guy" trope.

In the earliest days of Gilmore Girls, the "good guy" trope began to take its full form in Dean who was a doting boyfriend, a modest and humble worker and a respectful and funny complement to Rory's early temperate neuroses. He was the perfect guy. And while things began to take a turn as Rory and Dean grew older - years after they'd broken up and in the midst of his failing marriage - there was still some sense that if they had remained together things would've ended up happy, however dull for lack of drama.

Jess brought some spice into the story with his unpredictability, his willingness to get into trouble and to convince other people (i.e. Rory) to get into trouble with him and his passionate and intellectual tendencies. He's the trope that all girls love, but also love to change. It's fun to imagine the "dangerous guy" as a lifelong partner, but only if he can be altered to become more like the "good guy" trope. And that just won't happen.

Then there's Logan, who despite becoming a kinder and more respectable character in later seasons, was always tainted by the notion that he was a filthy rich boy who was detached from ordinary life. He believed money could buy happiness, sex could heal wounds and frivolity was the essence to a happy youthful life.

At one point in time, each of these various tropes had their pull on me. The earliest was the "dangerous guy" who satiated my love for Holden Caulfield-esque breakdowns and Converse All Star-wearing, black skinny jean sporting men. I liked the idea of a guy who needed work because he seemed like the most emotionally available. I was going through a period of mutual self-discovery and self-loathing, which seemed a perfect complement to the brooding anti-hero type.

Luckily I wasn't dating then, just growing into my own and wearing black nail polish whilst listening to Green Day. It was a younger time, a more immature time. I would end up dating someone who resembled this trope somewhat, but that was short-lived and luckily the years had changed me enough to get over it quickly.

And soon I was on Team "sketchy, but charming guy". The idea of someone who was clever and detached, but seemed to have his life put together enough to keep me happy was intriguing. If he was smart, he needn't be devoted or loving. What mattered was that he have the traits I'm looking for in a man. If he didn't appreciate me back, then hopefully I could change that.

I started dating, and immediately got mixed up with a guy like that. He was clearly on his way to great things; he was smart and accomplished, and he had a lot of confidence. But what he didn't have was any respect for me. It wasn't meant to be for obvious reasons. But I continued to date, looking for the guy with the ambition and not the heart.

Again, time changes perceptions. And I think it was experience - and a re-opening of my eyes - that made me remember the character I'd been so long overlooking and who is most valuable when it comes to dating. "Good guy" receives his name for a reason. He really is perfect. In all the ways that are necessary anyway.

That doesn't mean that the perfect guy has to be in every way infallible. No one is without faults. And certainly no one fits tropes, even television characters.

But when I finally took a second to look back at Rory's boyfriends on Gilmore Girls - the ones I'd fawned over and compared my own relationships to since I started dating - I realized that it had taken me way too long to arrive at the kind of person who fit the "good guy" bill.

Maybe, however, I did this the right way around.

In the show, Rory starts out with Dean "good guy" Forester. She seems to grow bored with the stability and ends up secretly pining after Jess "dangerous guy" Mariano. Eventually the instability of Jess makes her go through a period of solitude and datelessness. Then she goes for Logan "sketchy, but charming (and frankly needs work) guy" Huntzberger. He gives her what she wants, but never what she needs. And in the end, when he proposes, she realizes that she can't imagine a life with someone like him. She chooses her career instead.

It took me a while to get past those Logan-esque and Jess-like tropes, to realize that what was stalwart and steady was what I should treasure.

I remember posing the question early on with my dad and amongst my friends. Who is your favorite of Rory's boyfriends?

Well my answer kept changing, switching back and forth between Jess and Logan for many a moon. Until about a half a year ago, when I decided that the drama of those characters may have made for good television, but that what makes for a good life is something more intrinsically satisfying. Something that doesn't bum you out as often as it makes you excited.

So I pick Dean now. And as I popped in the DVDs for the first season of Gilmore Girls again, it surprised me that it took me so long to come to this conclusion. I doubt I'll be changing my mind ever again.

There for you

Well it's internship application season, so first and foremost on my mind is the question of whether or not I'm actually prepared to re-enter the working world this upcoming summer. I've sent out a few email inquiries, made a bookmark category for internship search sites and started freaking out about not being on the ball up to this point. But it's an exciting time, and I'm happy to re-enter the fray, however stressful the situation may be as I go back to school in less than two weeks.

But on the note of internships, and indirectly related to the subject, sometimes I wonder how qualified I am to do any sort of job. In the way of literal careers, yes, I am in college and I'm getting a well-rounded education. So that's moderately squared away.

What about real life experience, though? Do I have enough of that? Or rather, any of that? Can I give anyone advice without looking like a shallow, inexperienced hypocrite myself?

When I was in elementary school, I read a lot of dating articles. I was 100 percent silly for doing so because i hadn't even reached puberty yet and I certainly wasn't old enough to have experienced anything romantic up to that point. But it was a topic that interested me.

I had a favorite website called that had an entire encyclopedia of dating and kissing tips, suggestions of how to get boys to like you and how to know if they liked you. While now the site is dedicated more to horoscopes and other such nonsense, back then I considered it a sort of romance Bible from which I could gather all the information I'd need to have a prosperous love life whenever that issue should arise.

It took quite a few years. But in the same way that stored knowledge over the years in elementary, middle and high school prepared me for the years I'd actually have to apply myself in college (and presumably beyond), the experience of reading articles on boys made me feel like I was more comfortable with the concept when I did start dating.

And more comfortable telling people about what I had never actually experienced.

Soon after I started reading MyJellyBean articles, I made my own website on this free webpage-building service. I called the site "CrushLove Advice." It was a great compendium of all that I'd learned from my own research, and even though it came from a place of inexperience, it was an example of my sincerity about the subject. This wasn't just me being frivolously interested in dating, it was me actually conducting my research on the subject like a science..and then applying it to my own "thesis"-building. If you could call the pre-made-template site that I created a "thesis."

Even before I dated myself, I remember friends coming to me with questions about their love lives. We'd discuss how their interactions with boys had occurred and we'd over-analyze every little thing. To be honest, even when I was pulling advice straight out of nowhere, my Sherlock Holmesian deductive skills (hah) and my fascination with the topic made my analyses fairly sophisticated for someone so immature.

It all came to the point of many of my friends becoming much more romantically-involved than me over the years, yet I still offered them advice regardless of my own experiences.

And now, so many years later and still only moderately experienced (however happy in a relationship I am), I still find myself in that place of giving people suggestions and advice on a topic that is somewhat beyond me. And I still think that my analyses carry some weight.

So am I qualified to give anyone advice? After only living for 20 years, do I really know enough about anything to tell anyone about much more than filling out college applications and writing a good journalism lead? These are my most obvious categories of expertise.

In my experience, it has always been the advice of someone who cares for you or even just cares to listen that matters the most. Regardless of experience, regardless of similarities to the recipient of the advice, it's the fact that there's someone on the other end of the receiver listening to the problem and then offering suggestions that really matters.

I've always tried to be receptive in this way, and even when I don't think I'm entirely qualified to give suggestions, I try to the best of my ability to share with people how I might act in a situation similar to theirs. And I hope I never steer them too far off the track.

There are some people who are certainly not fit to be advisers. But I've always hoped I didn't fall into that category, because in my heart of hearts I really love helping those I care about. It goes as far back as CrushLove Advice and as recent as a text conversation I'm having at this very moment.

So as winter ends, as internship season gets into full swing, as I enter a period in my life where I'm still too young and innocent to offer sound suggestions on everything, but I'm wise enough to aid people with logic, I just want to thank anyone who has ever confided in me anything personal. It means so much to know I can be trusted, and know I can help. I love being there for you, even if I'm not qualified.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Yum yum food

Sometimes I wonder what it would've been like to grow up with Julia Child as a mother. Having someone in my life who cooks daily meals and knows the ins and outs of constructing a really tasty breakfast, lunch and dinner. Would it have been intimidating? Instructive? Yummy? Probably a bit of all of the above. But I guess I'll never quite know for sure.

My mom was not much of a chef. She liked testing out recipes when she had time, and she certainly had a love for food. In fact, she bought recipes books by the hundreds. She collected them like some do stamps or coins. When she passed away, she left behind tons of three and four-ingredient recipe books. It saddened me that she barely got a chance to make as many of the dishes as she wished.

The problem wasn't that she followed recipes badly or was a bad cook. She just never had the time or the energy to devote to the kitchen. And despite the many fast food dinners and nights eating out that we had together, I respected my mom when she did cook because she did it well.

On weekends and special occasions, however, we defaulted to trips to my grandma's house. My grandma is a wizard in the kitchen. She makes terrific Japanese food and taught me the bare basics of many of the dishes that I do know how to make on my own.

On Saturday mornings, I'd wake up early and instead of watching television in those several hours between when I would wake up and my mom would wake up (which was the case on any typical weekend), if I was at my grandma's house I'd creep downstairs and peek in on her cooking breakfast. Then I'd join her. And we'd make pancakes. And we'd make eggs. And we'd make dozens of other items for the table because my grandma always emphasized diversity in foods at each meal.

It was through her tutorials and those early morning insights into the cooking world that I became fascinated with the idea of working in the kitchen. While I never channeled that into a very passionate hobby, for years I've tried to apply myself in whatever ways I can when the spirit inspires me to cook.

So today, looking forward to a holiday dinner at my sister's in-laws house, I decided to cook a few things of my own. Being a vegetarian (and having a vegetarian father), it can be difficult to go to friends' for dinner parties without forcing them to make food specifically catered to our dietary needs. Making my own food would therefore accomplish two things: help me to become more confident in the kitchen and decrease the stress on others because I refuse to eat meat.

Looking at what has come out of the oven today, I'm pretty proud of myself. While I'm sure seasoned chefs and even amateur cooks might scoff at what I created, there's nothing like that sense of pride at making something when you've spent most of your life eating out or having other people make food for you.

It's not like I can say I haven't had an opportunity to learn to cook. My grandma has tried for years - and succeeded a few times - at showing me how to make certain dishes. The experience was always fun, however without writing down the recipes I'm not sure I could recreate them as perfectly as she does.

The problem is that I've never applied myself. But I truly believe that when I do, I have the power to be a good cook. For one, I'm very vigilant in the kitchen. In other words, I enjoy being present while my food is cooking. Putting aside my obsession with the aroma of cooking, there's something very soothing and fun about hanging out in the kitchen while you make a dish. It's like caring for an infant. You want to make sure it's treated in just the way it ought to be, so you keep peeking into the oven as if something might change in a few minutes. And eventually it does.

I also feel that I possess that one thing that makes cooking really valuable: I consider it a hobby. Maybe that's why I don't do it every day in fact. I've never been one to stick to a hobby and do it daily - much to my detriment, seeing as I have a lot of minor skills and very few developed talents - other than with writing, which is something that I do consider a hobby and a talent.

So instead of practicing until I become truly skilled at cooking, I do it sporadically and then never really get past the amateur-level.

Which leaves room for family and friends to frequently point out that I don't have any skills as a cook. And maybe that's true. I just hope it's not.

I guess I could call it my New Year's Resolution to become a better cook, but going back to university and trying to use a kitchenette (if my new dorm even has one) to concoct in the kitchen seems like an unlikely premise.

So I guess I should just plan to try new recipes whenever I feel inspired. Just like I have been doing. And when I have my own house and my own kitchen (and hopefully more time to spare), I will experiment more.

I may not have grown up with a Julia Child, but I did grow up with two women in my life who taught me that I could be a good cook if I applied myself. My mom was and my grandma is a good chef. And just because I never took the initiative to become an applied success myself doesn't mean there's no room for skilled cooking in my future. In fact, I believe there's a lot of room. Or at least I'm going to make a lot of room.

And I look forward to the aroma and the yumminess.

Little things in focus

There is nothing in my head to write at the moment. I've just woken up from a long nap which I didn't mean to take. It's nearing midnight. Similar situation as yesterday, but unlike yesterday I'm lacking the inspiration to create any interesting prose. Trust me when I say how hard it is to come up with an interesting story at the drop of a hat, especially at 12 am in a groggy stupor.

So I'll do the most forbidden task, which is simply to tell you about an event of my day. And one that wasn't too interesting either, I'm afraid to say.

Due to the loveliness of some family friends, my dad and I had the chance to go see The Addams Family musical which, despite my initial cautiousness, was actually a pretty cute and fully-formed stage play. When I hear about musicals based off of gimmicks, I always hesitate to embrace them for the fear of having them commodify my favorite artistic industry.

It's so easy to make musicals seem cheap and frivolous, so I'm constantly on the defense about the topic. It's something I've had to field questions about before. Why is Broadway so plastic? Why is musical theater so concocted and unrealistic?

I admit that these aren't atypical issues. But for someone who really loves the theater, it becomes an easy task to overlook the over-the-top to get to the heart of the story and to embrace that story.

If I'm going to prove this point, I guess I'd better take into account The Addams Family, which was admittedly a cutesy farcical musical and therefore perhaps within the category of the sillier, more frivolous style that many people love to hate on Broadway.

The story of this musical isn't just like a typical episode in The Addams Family television show or films. It asks the question of how parents Morticia and Gomez Adams would deal with the idea of their daughter, Wednesday, getting married.

Turmoil springs up right and left as Wednesday confides in Gomez that she has been secretly engaged, a secret she wants to keep from her mother until after an announcement during a dinner party with her fiancé's parents at the Addams family mansion.

There are issues brought up that, however exaggerated, represent real life concerns for people in relationships. Issues like honesty and compassion, devotion and passion. Even in a story about a group of kitschy goth-people, it is possible to address some highly realistic issues.

On a night like this, it's hard to find any value in anything other than sleep. I've spent about an hour in bed half-awake listening to BookTV on my television (thanks to my dad, by the way, for leaving it on). During that time, the broadcast kept convincing me that I had finished writing my blog and that in the process I had constructed some coherent discussion of the life of George Washington (which was the narrative being discussed on the episode airing in the background as I slept).

In my head I came up with marvelous analyses of life based off of the relationships between Washington and his parents, Washington and his wife, Washington and his adopted children. In reality I did not.

And more than the ideas of what makes for a good familial or romantic relationship (which, it seems, are common themes of pursued knowledge throughout my life), I feel that in recent times I've learned to embrace the concept of constant creativity.

Even when I wake up at 12 am after falling asleep at 9, it becomes my responsibility to create some sort of plot and let it run through my head until it becomes coherent and meaningful. I am forced to put it online so that everyone may bear witness to either its genius or its stupidity.

Most of the time, I try to ensure it has some depth.

Now I have discovered that even in my sleep, I try to make these connections. I try to take what isn't really significant in life and formulate a scenario in which it is significant, even if that scenario is the very act of writing it down.

So where other people might watch BookTV and yawn and move on - and yes, I'm one of those people as well - and where others might watch The Addams Family musical on stage and laugh a bit then forget all the subtext and morals of the story, I'm trying day by day to make life make sense through every little piece of experience I attain.

I don't know if I have my blog to thank or just my general demeanor, but it's been a nice journey these past few months, of that I'm sure. Because without this incessant need to wake up when I'm half asleep, I doubt I would spend half as much time really considering life within its smaller contexts. And to really understand my existence, it is important to place the tiny building blocks of understanding together to come to conclusions about broader issues.

Is a scene from The Addams Family something I'll draw on in the future when I'm dealing with an actual crisis? Maybe not. But who knows, maybe it'll be that one piece in the puzzle of my life the clarifies everything. Only time will tell.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Live another day

My first thought was to brush this blog off for the evening and plead with myself via text to only have to write about half of what I usually do. While I still might beg for that luxury, seeing as I've been asleep for about three hours already and at the moment my eyes feel so heavy that it's like an elephant is sitting on my face (hey, that's a weird simile, I don't even know what mean exactly), I think I missed something yesterday that I easily could've written about.

Though I may not do this topic justice in my loopy and groggy state, I guess it's better than forgetting to discuss it at all.

I think somewhere in a very small and easily silenced part of my heart, I always believed that there was some truth in doomsday prophecies.

Admittedly, that feeling became less and less prevalent as the years went on. Back in high school when the idea of 2012 was sparking the creation of Hollywood blockbusters and introducing Nostradamus specials to the History Channel, the conspiracy theorist in me sort of masochistically (and sadistically) wanted to believe something like that could happen. Not because I wanted to die or wanted anyone to die. And I certainly didn't want it to occur through tragedy. But sometimes mankind just enjoys latching onto fears like that. Otherwise why would there be so much literature, so many movies and so much of an obsession with the "zombie apocalypse"?

The idea of the end of the world has boggled us for as long as mankind has produced rational thought. It is an inherently rational thought. We all perish at some point, thus we all consider the possibility of death in our lives. The idea of an end of the species - even one as developed as ours - seems inevitable. It happened to the dinosaurs, and they were larger and more indestructible, right?

What isn't rational is trying to figure out when that will happen.

But it hasn't stopped us from trying.

I remember a time in seventh grade when there had been some (admittedly scientific) doomsday-esque freak out on the news about an asteroid coming towards our planet. The world shuddered for a second, but then returned to its business.

Everyone except me, I suppose.

At 12 years old, I didn't want to die overnight at the fault of some rinky dinky piece of rock. It didn't seem fair that I'd spent around half my life working hard and trying to do all I could to get to a good college (yes, I was thinking about college at as early as eight or nine years old), only to have my efforts destroyed by something like that.

In class, one of my teachers talked about the report. She did nothing to quell my fears. I imagine the rest of my peers had already gotten over it a minute later, but for the rest of my class period I was dwelling.

That evening I lay in bed thinking and thinking about "the end." It petrified me, that fear of never having a chance to accomplish all that I want in life. How dare nature try and thwart my plan!

The next morning I woke up and it was almost as if nothing had happened. I still remembered wondering about the factual accuracy and the likelihood of dying in some sort of catastrophic disaster like that. But having lived through the night, I didn't truly care anymore.

A similar situation could have played out in 2012 on the evening of December 20th all the way until the clock struck 12 am on December 22nd. But luckily my logical mind has developed to the point of no longer worrying about conspiracies.

Still, it makes me wonder how I might've reacted to this sort of situation if I was eight years younger. I doubt it would have been a very pretty sight to behold.

And that makes me angry. Because it's never fair, even when it's something silly like a doomsday conspiracy, to throw around ideas of death when there are children involved. Admittedly, whoever the journalist was who reported on the story that I heard about the possibility of an asteroid hitting Earth, probably didn't consider the ramifications of their actions on a sad little 12 year old in southern California. They were reading off a teleprompter in a studio. No skin off their back.

And it's not their fault. They're selling the news.

At the very least, it's the job of people in positions of power around children to be frank about these conspiracies. If my teacher had not just spoken about the risk of asteroids in our atmosphere and instead told her students that there was no reason to be afraid, maybe that would've saved me the trauma of that single night's lost sleep. It wasn't even a weekend, either.

I admit that in my life I've been somewhat impressionable. I open myself up to the influence of others too freely sometimes, forgetting that most people don't have my best interest (or any interest other than their own) at heart.

But on a day like December 21st, when I was old enough to no longer worry about dying in a cataclysmic world event, I worried instead for the children who hadn't been told they had nothing to worry about. Because there's nothing like being in the helpless place of a 12 year old told that the next day you may no longer be alive. If that's the case, why did I spend so much of my time doing homework rather than playing?

So, in moving forward, I hope that if we ever develop some other inane theory about the end of the world, let us do so in a constructive manner. We can make History Channel specials all we want, but we should supplement them with honest discussions with others - particularly children. Because it's truly unfair to let the most trusting among us put our faith in news reports that convince us that we may not live to see another day. It's a situation worse than any horror film. It's just not fair.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Writer, once again

I was thinking of doing another photo post on my blog because jet lag has me lacking creativity and wakefulness to construct coherent essays. But because I want to free up my evening, I'm going to try to write to you rather than take the easy way out by posting pictures rather than fully-developed thoughts.

Today I wrote my first journalistic piece in quite a long time. Though I've only spent a few months away from studying to be a writer, my experiences during that time have altered my perception of style and construction. I see merit in boring arguments, in academic essays that cut straight to the point rather than reeling in their audience like a fish with bait.

There's something really special and unique about the art of journalism. For those who have never written something themselves to be published in some sort of publication, I'll try and explain as best I can:

Even for the articles that are meant to educate and inform, there is always an initial angle of drawing in a reader - a consumer. As writers, we want people to want to read our stuff. It's how we make our living and how we keep writing in general.

So when I was trying to construct a story for the first time in months today, it felt very strange re-entering the fray. Much of my time as of late has been spent writing really boring academic papers. I've had the idea of introductions that end in a thesis and a topic sentence at the beginning of every paragraph stuffed down my throat for so long now that I can barely remember what it is to write a regular journalistic lead.

And I feel that there is a really problematic disconnect between the way writing is conducted in these two seemingly similar but actually very different (in practice) fields.

When I became an aspiring journalist, I always pictured myself as being a part of a lucrative and respected career. Journalists are writers. Writers are revered for the work. Surely the same is true for journalists.

But the terms are not one in the same.

One of my most depressing memories goes back to my Sociology class in high school when our teacher (who I'll come out now to complain about for his blatant political leanings and rude and short-sightedness about the other side of the aisle) gave us a list of careers and asked us to rank them in our heads according to respectability. In an official listing that he gave us later, journalism was ranked among the lowest respectable trades.

I couldn't believe this. When there are reporters embedded with soldiers in other countries and humanitarian journalists sharing stories from all over the globe, how can we call this an unrespectable career?

Well I guess it goes back to that idea of selling a product with a lead. Journalists are like salespeople. We gamble away some of our credibility because our writing becomes a commodity to be sold. This doesn't have to be a bad thing. But often times, it is.

Being a commodity in a good sense can actually amount to something really terrific. Because journalism is so palatable to a general public, it can communicate ideas more efficiently than more scholarly writings. It captivates the attention of its audience. In fact, that's how journalists are taught to write (except with hard news), which is why they make for such good storytellers and why even though there is a decline in the commodification of news for a profit, there is still a need for well-reported stories in some form. Even if it's in 140 characters or less.

Personally, when I'm looking to be informed on a topic, my first teacher of choice is a journalistic article. The writing is snappy and inventive, it uses clever tools and cultural references to clarify information, it caters to a younger demographic and aims its writing style at a more elementary age group. This doesn't mean journalism is stupid, but that it's more about the information than the actual presentation.

When I look back on all the essays I spent hours writing for my classes in London, I cringe at the amount of time I took putting together source lists and footnotes. All that time that I could have been doing research and compiling knowledge, I spent spewing out citations. I recognize the importance of sharing sources just as much as the next person - and especially as a journalist who recognizes that the paucity of secret sources is what makes them acceptable when necessary. But I also don't understand why I should need to know four different citation styles just so I can get an adequate grade on a paper. Surely if I am more concerned with function over form, I will be a more successful writer? That's been my thought process these past several years and as of now it has not steered me wrong.

So when I went back into my toolbox to retrieve my mental notes on how to properly write a lead for a journalistic essay, I was really proud that the manual was still somewhere in my head. Because while it's good to be able to write scholarly articles to pass a test, it's the journalist's style of writing that you will always return back to when it comes to being a casual (and happier) writer.

The skill of a journalist, after all, is in creating a psychologically palpable story. It reaches out to you and pulls you into a scene, rather than making you stand on the periphery and examine it like an academic paper might. And as someone who considers herself a literary mind, I've always enjoyed being thrown right into the thick of a story.

Thank goodness I'm returning back to the school that I feel more comfortable in this coming quarter. And thank goodness I'll get to return to the style of writing I enjoy and thrive in. I can see now that I have chosen the right path for myself. Others can be so stifling.

Finally, I taste the sweet freedom of being a short-form, casual writer again. I love it.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

A problem that will always exist

What would the world be like if we no longer worried about hurting one another's feelings? If we all had some kind of barrier to feeling vulnerable to the remarks of our peers, to take things in stride and just stop worrying about the pretenses of social interaction. What if there were no pretenses?

I've always had trouble comprehending and handling other people's judgment of me. As someone who has grown up being excessively emotionally sensitive, it's hard to separate what's meaningful from what's frivolous, and often I forget that people don't always share their opinions decidedly just because it's valuable. Some people are just argumentative. They like their voices to be heard even if what they have to share isn't quite necessary. Sometimes the emotional impact they try to elicit is a feeling of failure in others.

I can't quite understand the motives there, but it's something I've encountered in many a person in my life, which has made it only harder to weed through the commentary and banter that is worth listening to, and the kind that is just created for the sake of tension and excitement.

Because people truly thrive off of passively aggressively destroying others. If they can do it anonymously, then it becomes an obsession. This isn't true of everyone of course, but in every society there are the people who make circumstances slightly less comfortable. The burglars, the murderers, the unequivocally mean for no apparent reason.

I hate these kinds of people because I can never really come to terms with their intent. Do people really plan to insult others? Is that why they become so candid and rude, potentially sacrificing the feelings of whom they're interacting with? Or is that just a by-product of short-sightedness?

I'd like to point out that I'm not addressing anyone in particular here. There is no single person in my mind who I am considering while I write this. This is really a general message to all bullies who have ever come into my life and passive-aggressively tried to ruin it.

The reason I write about it is because somewhere in the deeply sadistic and not-so-prevalent part of my heart, I wish I had the guts to be like them.

So often I've found myself in situations where someone needs to be told that what they're doing is hurtful. These very situations, in fact, often arise when I'm interacting with the kind of bullies I've just spent several paragraphs addressing.

It is in these situations that I start to realize how very unlike those people I am. In my head, I develop complaints on others. I have hard feelings. But I don't let myself run away with my feelings. Not because I don't feel they're valid, but because I have a filter that keeps me from wanting to hurt others. I care too much for being non-confrontational that I end up constantly confronting myself with the question of whether my thoughts are worth sharing. Are they too controversial? If so, then maybe no one needs to hear.

But there's something to be said about constructive criticism. Most vitriol that gets spread between people who don't know each other all too well has nothing to do with bettering the other person. It serves just to point out their faults, to make the arguer feel like they have the higher ground when they don't. Then at the end of what is usually (at least in my case) a one-sided argument, there is a feeling of inadequacy in the victim. This just creates more tension and sometimes inspires another one-sided argument.

This is assuming that both people have the ability to be argumentative. Otherwise they become like me: sad little hermit crabs retreating into their shells at the first sign of trouble.

I've come up with defense mechanisms throughout my life. When I was younger I used to let my mind wander if I was being yelled at. Nowadays I spontaneously burst into tears and have to excuse myself to my privacy to get a hold of my feelings. I don't do these things with any intention of getting attention from others, though sometimes it may feel and appear that way.

What I really want is just to be as strong-willed as the people who don't worry about hurting others' feelings, about breaking the societal cues of decency.

When I think about it again, though, having no filter would be a terrible fate. At the very least, it would create many enemies for me. That's something I've never wanted.

I realize now what a strange argument this is for someone who wants to be an arts and entertainment critic to make. But this is where I separate my thoughts, and realize how they come full circle. The anonymity of a publication - even if my name is attached - is provided by the scope of that publication. And as a writer I feel that my right to an opinion is somehow exempt and protected by the fact that I'm not addressing any particular person and I am speaking on behalf of a greater organization. Maybe that actually makes me just as bad as the trolls who have constantly hounded me - in my life, on my blog and otherwise.

Still, I like to think I have less disdain for mankind than the average critic and the average overly and overtly-opinionated person I encounter in my daily life. I guess I can comfort myself with the fact that I've had these thoughts at all. Self-reflexivity is better than ignoring the problem. And goodness knows it's one that will always exist.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Winter hangout in pictures

Today was reminiscent of an elementary school summer's day. Not in the weather - which was decidedly gloomy and cold even for a California winter - but in the way I spent my day. The morning was one of the laziest I've ever spent. I woke up early due to jet lag, but then proceeded to fall back asleep throughout the morning, not moving an inch until it was absolutely necessary. But then I went to hang out with friends in the evening, over the course of which we:

Peeled apples for Diana's mom...

who was baking a crumble which you will see at the end of this post.

We enjoyed the pretty poinsettias on Diana's dining room table...

and the lovely pretzel/Hershey's Kiss/M&M bites Eileen brought over as a snack.

Then we played a game called Loaded Questions...

and much hilarity ensued.

The questions were simple, but we made the answers silly as best we could...

and Diana Yellow was victorious.

The rest of us were moderately dejected, like Kristin who couldn't seem to get her hair out of her face.

And then the evening ended. We did not touch the crumble. It was pretty though.
The end. Happy winter break, everybody!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Rugrat remembrances

I'm sitting in the dark in my sister's living room. It took me several hours to get my baby niece to sleep. My friend Diana has just left, but it took our combined strength for much of the time she was here to get this little girl to take the nap she clearly needed (and wanted, even if she said "no" every time I asked her if she wanted one).

[And within the time I started writing this blog, my niece woke up and started freaking out because she wasn't well rested enough, but now that I've relaxed her I might continue writing.]

Sometimes I wonder how much she's going to remember, if anything, of a day like today. Particularly of traumatic experiences like when she woke up just now, had a meltdown and had to be put back into a state of calm by a repeat viewing of The Little Mermaid (third time today; she keeps asking to watch "Ariel" and I oblige because nothing else seems to arrest her attention in the same way).

There's so much that gets lost when you're young and growing up. The attention span is so minimal, that it's a wonder we ever retain any memories from before we can form full sentences.

But it's the fact that my niece can speak in any sentences at all that makes me believe that somewhere inside her, everything I do is being stored away as a memory. It's an exciting concept, but it scares me too. I don't want her to remember me bringing her back to her bedroom just now in her fit of exhaustion. She'll hate me. She'll remember I made her cry. I never want to make her cry.

When I look back on my childhood existence, it's hard to clarify anything. According to memories as a child, everything is relatively fuzzy. Even at nine years old, we're all still trying to make connections just as infants do. They might be more sophisticated, but they still involve some level of misunderstanding.

It's an amazing thought to think that all the confusion and all the mistakes can lead to the kind of self-awareness that most people have in their adult years.

Often I still consider myself among the children. I'm capable of throwing fits, of asking people for help when I inevitably don't know how to do anything. Am I still in that mode of learning? In that period of absorbing rather than knowing already? 

We limit these traits to our perceptions of the minds of children. But we're all learning much in this way. We memorize, we apply and we allow information to become part of our natural repertoire. It may not be so simple as my niece's memorization of the names of the characters in The Little Mermaid, but it's the same concept put to a different use.

So where can we draw the line of comprehensibility? Does my niece really understand everything I'm doing with her? Even the dumb stuff?

When I was in elementary school, I remember thinking my sister owned the Spice Girls CD. Years later when I breached the subject with her, I found out it was actually me to whom the Spice Girls CD belonged. I was projecting the interest onto her, but only out of childhood misconception.

Does this mean my niece has the power to displace her discomfort onto me? Will she think I caused her lack of sleep by being the person taking care of her when she had trouble falling asleep?

[Apologies for a second interlude taken just now. I fell asleep sitting up for about 15 seconds. I am all right now, fully functional and watching The Little Mermaid again.]

Maybe some of our greatest misconceptions in life are a result of this kind of belief system. It's like not getting the full facts when formulating an opinion when you're older, except slightly less complex and even more fundamental. And it shapes the way you live your life sometimes.

In less than a couple of hours I'll be heading out of my sister's house and even if my niece doesn't remember all the minutia of our day together - and obviously she won't at less than two years old - I hope that I can walk away having left her with some positivity towards me.

Because even after spending hours trying to put her to sleep and feed her meals when she doesn't want anything to do with what I'm offering her, I still think back on the entire experience as positive.

This little rugrat is just too much fun. I hope she can think of her auntie that way too.

Monday, December 17, 2012

You've changed

Every few minutes I wake up and fall back asleep, with all the ambition to get back to writing this blog and actually go to sleep properly, but none of the stamina. I guess jet lag has officially settled in after my nearly 11 hour flight back to southern California from London. No surprise. It had to come some time considering the day I left I managed to stay up from around 8:30 am Greenwich Mean Time to 10 pm Pacific Standard Time. To paint a more calculable picture, that's about 21 and a half hours of being awake. And during that time I was by no means resting, but running around in all different directions.

To top it all off, I forced a little taste of California back on myself this morning. A trip to Disneyland is like a visit with an old friend who never changes no matter the length of time you are apart. You return to him or her (I refuse to give DLand a gender) expecting what is familiar and beautiful. You aren't often disappointed.

Things may get shuffled around however; today I learned that the hard way. Just to be clear though, by "hard" I mean "tangible" more than I mean "difficult."

Coming back during the holiday season was an event in itself. This is the time of year for things at Disneyland to be turned on their head. The park is decked for the halls with wreaths everywhere. The castle has a fresh layer of snow on it that remains there all through the holiday season. There are familiar tunes only heard in November and December playing over the speakers of Main Street, U.S.A.

Those were all changes I expected.

When I went into the Animation Academy at California Adventure, however, there was a change I didn't quite expect. What has become a tradition within my group of friends and between my dad and I is going into the Beast's Library and finding out which Disney character we're most like. You do so by answering quiz questions within digital "books." After a few, you are show a picture of the Disney character your answers most closely resemble.

Some time within the last few months they have revamped the quiz which, for me, was bittersweet as well as exciting. It's a new kind of feeling - coming to Disneyland and not meeting with exactly what you left behind.

But it's not a bad one. In fact, it's one that I embrace. Every new enhancement at the Disney Parks was at once a phenomenon I hadn't experienced. But eventually they become part of the routine and part of what I love about Disneyland. If I am patient that first new time, then that fate is inevitable.

New introductions were not limited to the Disney Parks, however.

This afternoon, once I'd spent several hours hopping and bopping around Disneyland already, I made my way (with my dad, who had accompanied me to the park for our mutual reunion with it) to my sister's house to be reunited with another love of my life: my niece.

Sydney - that's her name - is a year and 9 months old. That's 3/4 of her second year, actually, which has been a significant period in her life. When I left home a few months ago, I knew a baby who had just begun to talk and show signs of real aptitude and human interaction. I still felt like I only barely knew her. My insights into her mind were limited at that point.

But with only a brief reintroduction to this little girl (supplemented by a few interactions via FaceTime over the past few months), I feel like I know her infinitely better. She speaks her mind, she throws tantrums and knows what she wants, she expresses love more readily and more excitedly than I've ever seen her do before.

She's a little fireball. That is only made more appropriate by the color of her hair, which is most decidedly ginger now that it has grown in more than ever. I love her zest for life and the way she likes to talk in gibberish and repeat the words I say back to me. It's all exploration for her now.

She's a little rugrat. I imagine when she says nonsense that she's actually thinking real thoughts and trying to communicate them, in a way only other babies might understand. Like Tommy Pickles, she has enough agency to share her goals and ideas, but maybe only in a way that I can but half understand.

Tomorrow I'll be babysitting which will be a whole different adventure. The prospect is a bit nerve-wracking seeing as the last time I took care of this little girl she was still much more of a baby. But I look forward to getting to know her better. And still changing her diaper - proving therefore that she is still very much a baby.

Coming back to California has created a slew of new experiences for me. Not with unusual environments or one-off experiences, but by returning what is tried and true, known and loved, and getting to see how it's grown and expanded in just a few months.

Things constantly change and grow and that can be a bit frightening. But it can also be one of the most fascinating things about humanity and the passage of time. We never stay stagnant do we? Good for us.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Up in the air

At this exact point in time - when I am writing, but not yet publishing this blog - it is only about 10:40 pm in the UK. Dialing the clock back a bit, this means it's only about 2:40 pm in Los Angeles. I land at 7:30 pm. 15 minutes behind schedule.

Today has been fascinating, possibly just because it's brought me to so many new realizations. As my flight departed from London several hours ago, I burst out in tears and had trouble putting them to rest. I had already cried earlier at the airport, so I had hoped my tear ducts would have tired out. But I guess that is one part of my existence that I can always count on - the ability to shed a tear at any particular moment.

This "visit" to London has been something extraordinary for me. I am leaving with an attraction to the city that is no longer superficial. I love it not just for the sights and the sounds, but for the unfathomable feelings that it conjures up in my heart. That I can look out the window and the gloomy pale sky and just think how lucky I am to be in what I consider the most beautiful place in existence.

I also walk away, however, with a new understanding of myself and what I need out of life. For a long time I looked at London as a place that could sustain me in the same way that family and friends do. I feel so much love just for the city itself, that it almost felt like an alternate friend, a replacement for the kinds of relationships I have at home.

In this day and age, this shouldn't be much of a concern. We have Skype and Facebook at our disposal. And there are always people like me who use the internet to share thoughts from every waking moment of their lives. We're constantly in contact with each other.

But there's something to be said about being at home and surrounded by those you can count on. And while I see my friends parting ways and probably heading off in different directions in the very near future, I am glad that in many different points on the globe I have people who I can turn to in the event that I need them.

And people who I want to be with for the rest of my life, wherever that may be.

I'm on a plane right now, very alone. There are people all around me - except for the seat next to me, which I may happily report is empty! - but I have no one to talk to and I'm virtually cut off from the world. It's given me a moment of peace to think about what it is to be with the people I love.

Love isn't a place, even if it may manifest itself in a particular location. Love isn't a person. Or an object. Or a verb even. It's a nebulous concept that surrounds us and yet tears itself away at a moment's notice.

No matter where we are, we will never be fully surrounded by all the love we covet. Because if there's enough love in our lives, it will be scattered throughout the world.

My love right now spans countries and an ocean. But it's also right back at home, in the very place where I will be laying my head to sleep tonight.

It's also in that little land in Orange County they named after Walt Disney. But that's a love I will have to discuss some other time.

Many moons ago, I wrote a blog about the very different distinctions of love. Of object love, friendship love, familial love and romantic love. But as I left a place that, for me, oozes love, I thought of how arbitrary that whole argument becomes.

Because the feeling I feel now - of simultaneous heartache and immense and palpable passion (here come the waterworks again) - can't be defined by any of those categories.

The melancholia of leaving London is one that I doubt I could recreate for any other. It's a weird feeling because it's one that has no tangible attachment. There are moments I can relate to it, but no actual objects. And mixed in with the depression that slowly arose as I looked out over the yellow lights sprinkled around my aerial view of the city, was an odd feeling of excitement. Of leaving a place that makes my heart so full, and getting back to a place that makes my heart flutter in a different way. Completely unrelated, but equally valuable.

Right now I'm in a little netherworld between London and southern California. I'm not sure where I stand on the scale of happiness because everything is lukewarm on an airplane. But what I do know is that I'm looking forward to a few weeks in California, and I'm equally looking forward to a swift return to London.

No matter where I am, it seems there's something to be excited about.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Always look on the bright side of life

I apologize if this one's speedy, but as we speak there is a warm bed in front of me calling out for my attention and I, unfortunately, have lifted myself up from it temporarily to write a blog because that's what I do even when I don't want to.

But since I will be on my way to California in several hours, I'd like to give myself as much time to sleep as possible. Ten hours on a plane will be a trying experience like no other, especially on my own once again. And if my experience on the way to London back in September will be any indication, it's going to be painful and overheated and unpleasant.

The reward will be a return back in Los Angeles in the evening, feeling groggy but hopefully happy enough to enjoy home once again. Sad as I am about leaving London, I have constant reminders in my sister and my dad that I am loved across the ocean. My sister even sent me a note yesterday/today saying just that. And little reminders such as that make all the difference to a heart worn down with sadness at leaving a place it loves.

There really is so much to look forward to when I get back.

After a lovely last night in London, followed by some melodramatic sadness and some time taken to relax before heading to bed (and inevitably waking up to write this thing), I will try desperately to wake up early and have a shower before finishing my packing and actually getting up and moving toward the airport.

If not for having aid tomorrow, I should surely die on my journey to Heathrow. But I have been blessed with an extra pair of hands, so things are looking up.

As much as I dread getting on that plane and leaving behind this place that I only feel I've just started to get to know properly, it will be nice going back to the luxuries of a city and a home and a family that is familiar to me.

I'm excited to have my car back, to have a fully stocked supermarket just down the road, to have Disneyland a short distance away. These are things I take for granted whenever I'm at home, but when I go elsewhere (even to Chicago where my school is nowhere near a regular supermarket, only a Whole Foods) I realize how very lucky I am.

Everything in California is only a stone's throw for me - or at least that's how it feels with a pair of "wheels" (as they're called) at my disposal. And that will be something I enjoy returning back to. Convenience is the American way, right?

I don't know how the next day or so will turn out. To be completely honest, I'm really worried. For myself and people around me. I may not be in great spirits on my way home. When I get home that will change of course - once I've been through customs at LAX, which will inevitably be a nightmare.

My greatest hope is that today I can try to put my own anxieties aside and just be a calming presence. I need that for myself as well as others. I'm not a happy airplane traveler, so it is integral that I consciously try and not freak out about the prospect of getting on a plane.

I know that the next few days will be difficult, transitioning back into life as an American. Even if I do love southern California in some ways, it will never be what London is to me. But I think I'll take a page from Monty Python and try to always look on the bright side of life.

It is bright that I'm heading home. And it is bright that I'm leaving a beautiful city with every intention of coming back. And it's bright that there have been minimal hiccups in the process, as I hope there will be none of tomorrow.

I truly have nothing to be upset about. And when I put that in perspective and weigh it against a world filled with dire situations and turmoil, maybe I have absolutely no reason to complain at all.

That's why I'll stop. At least until I write again. Which will either be taking place on a plane or back on the ground in the beautiful sunny and bright California.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Where's that feeling?

I'm waiting for that feeling of pure and unfettered joy. I've been done with my papers for at least 20 minutes now; the last papers of the quarter/term are finished and I'm ready to look back fondly at the few months that have just passed with a sense of relief. But I'm not relieved. I don't know why quite yet. Maybe it's the fact that I'm leaving the country in less than two days. Maybe it's that I still haven't packed up any of my room. Maybe it's the fact that I'm feeling slightly depressed that the end is nearing so quickly.

I guess with papers in the way, marking a different deadline entirely, you start to forget that there's any true end to an experience like studying abroad. Even if you despise the writing process and lose all faith in humanity while putting together your final essays, it's some solace to know that since they still haven't been done, you're still in England. You'll still be in England for a while yet. Until you turn them in at the very least.

Tomorrow I turn them in. That's when it will really hit me, I think.

Right now I'm sort of in the netherworld between reality and make-believe-happy-dream-land. I haven't had dinner yet, so that part of my physical presence is very real to me. There's no mistaking the rumbly in my tumbly. But what is kind of being mistaken is the feeling of mixed relief and anxiety when ordinarily I should be feeling one or the other.

But the dichotomy makes sense, which I guess is some solace considering that under alternative circumstances this might be an indication of some emotional problem.

When I leave London, I'm taking so much back with me.

Aside from the many rinky dink trinkets that I've collected in my time here, I will arrive in the US with new stories, new experiences (good and bad), a new perspective on the good and bad in going to school overseas versus at home. I return without something too. Without someone who cares about me back in the UK. And I'm sad about that.

But in a few days I will also be back and surrounded by people who care about me at home. And then a few weeks later I'll be surrounded by more people who care about me in a suite with my friends in a new dorm in my old school.

I'm excited to re-embrace the familiar.

These past few months have been crazy. I blame the fact that my life in every other area - figuratively and geographically - is so comfortable. I know where I am going at any particular moment in time at my home institution. There's nothing strange about it, nothing that stumps me.

Back in September I was thrown into the fray and I honestly feared I would falter. In some ways I did (my GPA will certainly not be going up this quarter), but in other ways I didn't (I still managed to do well in all of my classes). There were positives and negatives throughout the experience. I'd be lying if I said it was all sunshine and daisies.

It's been tough. And not just because of the rain. I love the rain. And the freezing cold weather outside.

But I hope that even facing a departure from what has been an equally rewarding and trying experience, that I do end up feeling more of that heart-wrenching nostalgia than I'm feeling right now. Because at the moment it's being awkwardly counter-balanced by a feeling of anxiety about all that lies ahead.

There's so much to be happy about, though. And I'd be cheating myself if I'm not given the time to really ruminate on it. To appreciate it all.

I hope that the feeling I want (and need) comes when I go to turn in my papers tomorrow. And when the packing is all done and all that's left is an evening to relax before getting on my plane the next afternoon.

Because when I left school in June earlier this year, I never got that finality. I left with the beginning stages of strep throat and the worst body aches of my life. And even though I'm not as emotionally connected to this school or this dorm or any of the inanimate but tangible aspects of my immediate vicinity, I still have an intangible love for London. And for what I'm leaving behind.

So that feeling will have to come some time. I'll be sure of it. And I'll let you know when it does.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Words of wisdom

Right now is all kinds of good. It's nearing 5 am. The definition of "blogging every day" is getting looser and looser, but since I'm devoted to it, I've arisen from bed (and subsequent dreams of blog-writting in my head), to write this to you even if you never read it.

It may seem silly, this pact that I've made with myself. With the devil, actually (I am the devil in this scenario). But when I start something, I finish it. And even though this evening I went through several minutes of crying and considering never doing it again, I'm doing it anyway.

Why was I crying and trying to decide whether it was even worth it to go on?

Lately I've stopped feeling the spirit in me as a blog writer. In the beginning, this space was all about sharing new essays relating to various truths in my life. I always had new material because I had such a broad topic to work with: my own psyche.

But why don't you try writing about your thoughts every single day. Even if your mind is disturbingly hyperactive like mine, you'd be hard-pressed to think of new and insightful non-fiction prose to create and share each evening. And that's not even factoring in the amount of time it takes just to put those words into action. Because the thought alone isn't enough. You are responsible for constructing coherent sentences that relay the information in your head to a reader. What an arduous tasks for each evening around 11 pm. And what an even more confusing concept on a jumbled mind at 5 am.

These were the thoughts running through my head earlier this evening, but even so I was pleased to receive the encouragement that I should keep going despite adversity.

A lot of my anxiety about this blog has stopped coming from myself and started coming from the readership. I've contemplated no longer posting links to it on my Facebook out of fear of being ridiculed. There is a constant nagging feeling in me that I must censor myself.

A bit of censorship isn't a bad thing. It can keep you grounded when you feel like going off on tangents about any particular subject. Because not all ideas are offense-free. In the same way, however, pretty much every topic will garner someone's offense.

And even if the blog itself is not designed to this effect, there will always be that person who simply enjoys being offended for no reason other than their own subconscious sadistic pleasure (or displeasure, or some measure of both).

I have no way of accounting for the feelings of others. I can't anticipate them entirely. I can guess and I can try to predict and as a result change my way of addressing issues to appease the small public I've acquired for these writings. But how am I supposed to do that and maintain an honest place for my own ideas?

Originally when I started here, I thought it would be all about me. Maybe if I had never started sharing my daily entries, it would be that way. But when you include people in your daily thoughts, you are subject to their praise and their scrutiny. And the latter comes in droves without fail.

Yet I'd like to go from here, from a position of defensiveness brought on by an early-morning anxiety and then inspiration, to a place of humility.

Because despite considering these blogs to be a place solely for myself, the way things have developed has taught me something wonderful about the world - specifically the one I live in today.

I am surrounded by people who are ready media-absorbers. This is the reason for the existence of Facebook at all. We, as a society, can appreciate having the constant ability to be in touch with our peers via online social media.

And in being so, we become fascinated with the lives of others. Like looking through a microscope at some other world a far cry from our own, we take some solace in the presence of another's opinion - even if we hate it.

It burns me to the core that I have the ability to hurt or offend other people. Since I was born, I've always been a people-pleaser. In elementary school I used to hate turning my "card" to yellow, blue or red because it indicated that I had upset my teacher in some fashion. I always wanted to be the goody-two-shoes, the reliable one, the good kid.

That title has served me well so far.

But in this way, maybe it's my time to be taught the lesson of why goody-two-shoes isn't always the right path. If you're honest with yourself and with others, you might actually find more variety and more meaning in life.

This argument has nothing to do with the concept of "YOLO" (or, "you only live once"). In this day and age I feel like I'm always fighting modern clichés, but this essay has absolutely nothing to do with this all-too-obvious fact of life.

What I am to project is a question of pleasing others versus pleasing yourself. I've spent so long going along with expectations of me. But I must realize that having this blog at all is a departure of expectations. It's why every single time I post an entry I feel like I might be annoying people. In recent months I've even hesitated adding people on Facebook because I don't want them to think I'm a freak for posting a blog a day and sending out a link to my "friends."

But yeah, I'll admit that this is about myself. I don't mean that in a self-absorbed way, and hopefully it doesn't come off that way. Yet still I maintain the idea that a blog is a personal space, a journal is a valuable tool for self-expression and while the masses may be reading these things, that should never get you down.

Words of wisdom for the evening/morning? Check.