Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Hide your happiness

Why is it so hard to write about happiness? Right now, I'm getting ready to go home to sunny California for the summer. My work is dying down and there are a ton of great prospects on the horizon in the next few weeks. But I can't seem to articulate this lest I wish to bore myself and others.

It's especially strange because so often when I feel strong emotions, happy or sad, I become anxious to share them in any way I know how. To hold in powerful feelings is to feel trapped inside a bubble. All that exists is a reflection of yourself on the convex walls, and a distorted view of the world around, tainted by your perception of life through your happiness. Everything is somehow brighter and more pleasant and silly.

When I'm sad, I'm terrifically prolific. Almost to a fault, actually. I go outside on cold days and sit on a bench where I compose poetry or write emotional prose about the state of my heart. Granted, who doesn't look for an outlet for sadness? There's nothing that presses on your soul more, begging for release, than negative thoughts.

I've been known - to myself, I guess, because I don't usually share this with people - to write angry or depressing "love" poetry. When I'm feeling lonely, I retreat to the page to spill my thoughts and my feelings. Sometimes this is because it's the best outlet for my angst, sometimes it's because no one other than my pen will tolerate my whining.

But when things turn around, I no longer feel compelled to share and that's something I don't understand. In elementary school, my diary was filled with happy-go-lucky stories about how I learned to blow a bubble out of bubblegum or went to a play with my mom. But as I grew up, the events of my life came secondary to the internal musings.

I wish I could better reconcile the two.

Because events tend to be fun and musings tend to consist of extended periods of brooding thought, it's only natural that the second takes precedence in the art of writing. So much of literary composition is about being alone with your thoughts and expressing yourself in the most dramatic way. You can only go so far expressing your feelings for bubblegum blowing. Sure, it's an accomplishment, but how does it compare to being heartbroken? The latter is so nebulous and sad that you can't help but drone on about it. The former is so fleeting that there's not much more to be said than an exclamation of pride.

Where do the happy feelings go, then, if not into my poetry journal or onto my blog?

The problem is that there really isn't much of an outlet for them anywhere. At least not for me. When I'm happy that a boy likes me or that I have a great internship offer or something else, my only way to express the excitement is to tell people.

In this case, my writing is useless. Just as in writing film reviews, consistent positivity doesn't reflect well on the author. It seems immature and unsubstantiated. You need to mix in a bit of cynicism or you don't sound honest.

But cynicism isn't always an indicator of honesty, so why do I only feel compelled to share things if they involve me portraying an unhappy view of the world?

Even in real life, talking about exciting experiences and prospects gets old. Like those moments when I have to hold back my rants on sadness to avoid annoying my friends, I also have to avoid going on and on about my happiness.

The problem is that no one wants to know too much of one steady emotion. It's nice to see a couple embrace or hold hands, but once it becomes a bigger expression of love - whatever that means (kissing? something more than that which I don't feel like thinking or writing about?) - we purposely avert our eyes.

We do the same with how we handle the emotions of others. For a time, we'll listen attentively, bask in their pleasure or commiserate with their pain. But after enough time has passed, and we've heard quite enough, we force them into secrecy along with our waning interest.

Maybe I face this problem because I talk too much about what I'm feeling. That, coupled with the heart I wear on my sleeve, makes me a fragile personality.

I just wish I could use this space to express my happiness (the kind I don't feel fully comfortable talking about incessantly) in the same way that I share my sadness (that no one else feels comfortable with me sharing). But I guess no medium of expression is perfect.

I may never feel secure enough to spend an entire blog post gloating. I know people who do it: those who write about their travels or their wonderfully happy lives. They pretend they can find no fault in the world and that everything is sunshine and daisies. While I don't subscribe to this fa├žade, sometimes it's nice to just have sunshine and daisies. You shouldn't have to hide your happiness.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

A very imaginary concert

Someone who doesn't know me very well might assume I don't really care for music. I don't often go to concerts. I rarely talk about music. Unless you stand outside my door and listen in to what I'm doing in my room (please don't), you won't know that I play music practically every moment that I'm not busy doing something that requires thinking (e.g. unlike now when I'm writing my blog).

Yes, I do wear my iPod earbuds everywhere. And yes, I supposedly have over 75 favorite musical acts listed on my Facebook.

Okay, so maybe it isn't a secret that I like music.

But in the past few years I've definitely had my limited knowledge of modern music thrown into my face. Because of the spawn of hipster culture at my school and in the world at large, there is this tendency to believe that listening to unique things - unique, in the sense, that everyone who calls themselves "unique" listens to it, not that it's actually unique - makes you a more interesting person. If you cannot claim a passing knowledge of at least 200 different "underground" bands then you get a scowl or a raised eyebrow.

One of my closest friends at college - who will probably hate that I am writing about her right now, so I won't use her name - is incredibly interested in current music. This is so true in fact, that much of her work study money goes towards the cost of concert tickets. And much of her time is spent interviewing musical acts or writing about them.

But as we've talked about music over our two year friendship, we've never agreed on much of anything at all. She admits to not having as strong a knowledge for music that is more than a few decades old. I admit to carrying most of my knowledge of music from before the 1970s.

The disconnect is evident between us, but a lot of times it's hard to clarify my situation with people who just assume that if I haven't heard the newest Black Keys single, that I'm some sort of musical heathen.

Which is so wrong.

When I was growing up, I was obsessed with music. At three years old I won a singing competition with my beautiful rendition of "It's a Small World" (a win for adorableness, not talent). The ambition of my youth was to become a professional singer. My dad and I wrote songs together for my school's annual arts competition. I dressed up as a pop star for Halloween.

And though I had several stages in my development of musical taste, ambivalence to the medium was never one of those stages.

So just to set the misconception to rest, I'd like to share with you my line-up for the perfect concert. This includes "current" acts, older acts and some deceased acts.

And it's all me. Plus a few years of alternating opinions and developing musical taste.

1. Green Day

It's been a few years since I listened to Green Day religiously, but even now when I go back and hear their repertoire I'm amazed at how strongly I feel for it. It's the kind of music that makes you want to shut yourself in your room and just jump around and head bang for hours. Songs from their album Insomniac have wailing electric guitars and a practically screaming Billie Joe, but they are shuffled in with beautiful melodies like "Macy's Day Parade" on Warning or "Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)" on Nimrod.

There is so much depth to this band that people, especially those on the periphery in 2004 who claimed that American Idiot was a piece of trash, fail to recognize. They have the attitude of a group of college kids in a rock band, but the depth and musical skill set that some mature bands could never dream of having.

2. Fountains of Wayne

Stop asking me if they have any other songs besides "Stacy's Mom." Fountains of Wayne have come out with four studio albums since they formed in 1995. Just because they haven't had monumental success with all of their singles doesn't make them a one hit wonder.

This band has created some of the most interesting rock music that I've ever set my ears on. There's something almost British Invasion-y about their sound, but it's also firmly set in a sort of beach cruising/grunge rocking era. It's a sound all their own. And aside from that, their members have contributed to some other projects and bands including a song that was sung by...

3. The Jonas Brothers

Call me a loser for this, but in 2006 I went out of my way to get my dad to take me to Borders so I could purchase a copy of the Jonas Brothers' first album, It's About Time. In the car ride home, I qualified my purchase, saying "It's just a guilty pleasure." My dad told me I should never be guilty about what music I listen to.

And he was right. And I'm not anymore. I am the proudest fan when I listen to songs from their second, self-titled album like "Still in Love With You" and "Hollywood" and remember what wonderful times I had helping my favorite band at the time (and to some extent now) get to the top. Their music is good, wholesome fun and for those who judge it based on its reputation, then perhaps they don't listen to music for music's sake in the first place. Image isn't everything.

4. The Supremes

I don't have much to say about The Supremes except that I feel so strongly about the girl power message and the beautiful delicate vocals of Diana Ross. You really can't get better than listening to some Motown on a Friday night. Or a Saturday morning. Or a Wednesday afternoon. Anytime, really.

5. Billy Joel

Though I have only scraped the surface of Billy Joel's music, I've always wished I could have attended one of his concerts with my dad. After seeing a few live performances of his online, there's no doubt that he puts on an energetic show. And of course his music is stellar.

Anyone who doesn't appreciate Billy Joel's music simply doesn't have a soul. He has written some of the most powerful ballads and hummable pop tunes of the past few decades. It's the sort of stuff that will outlast even the most popular bands today. In just over a decade, would you rather be 30 years old and listening to Lady Gaga? Or 30 years old and listening to Billy Joel? I know what I'd pick.

6. Ella Fitzgerald

I don't know what it was that tipped me over the edge with Ella. Maybe it was her rendition of "I Can't Get Started" as Sookie walked down the aisle in Gilmore Girls. Maybe it was "Bewitched." Actually, no.

I think the moment that I realized I loved Ella Fitzgerald was when I was listening to her sing "Sleigh Ride." When I heard that song and connected the voice to the name, there was no looking back. I had a permanent favorite holiday song. I had a permanent favorite female vocalist.

There is nothing so soothing as listening to Ella Fitzgerald croon to absolutely any tune. If only there were voices like hers today to make even the worst songs sound wonderful.

7. Edith Piaf

Admittedly, I didn't know much about Edith Piaf before watching the film La Vie en Rose, but after that I couldn't not know much about her. Edith has such an elegant and fascinating voice with a healthy and unique vibrato that is countered by none.

It's so strong a voice, in fact, that I have trouble writing about her in the past tense. She is not alive anymore, unfortunately, but her memory lives on through the powerful music she performed. The song "Mon Dieu" does little less than bring me to tears. Music alone can be the bearer of that emotion, but with Edith it was her voice and her songs that made her such a memorable performer.

8. The Beatles

Is there anything left to be said about the Beatles? I feel as though the thousands of books written about them, the endless commentaries by distant collaborators and friends, the enthusiastic ramblings by fans and the music by the Beatles themselves speak to everything that ever needed to be said.

Still, I have something to say. The Beatles are a phenomenon not simply because they were such a popular act, but because they had such musical versatility and unrivaled talent to carry them through several different stages of their career, all within a decade.

I can't listen to anything written by Paul McCartney or John Lennon without feeling their voices. Songs from the various stages in the Beatles' career are such a reflection on the hearts of these two men, that any fan could only wish to see them on stage together in an environment that would actually allow them to express themselves without the screaming, without the bad audio of Shea Stadium, without the risk of being mauled by crazed fans.

By the time the Beatles were discovering a new era in their sound, they had already retired from the stage. We will never get those years back and we will never again see them perform together. Yet they finish up my list of acts young and old, alive and gone that I wish I could see.

Feel free to contest my line-up if you will. Or purport that I have no taste or affinity for music. Place yourself on the opposite end of the spectrum and suggest that you have infallible taste. But realize that these are performers that I have grown up loving. Once I found their music, I never let go.

Can you say the same for every band you're listening to right now?

Monday, May 28, 2012

What do you do? I archive

Lots of files.
My last day of work study for the year is fast approaching and I couldn't be happier. When I think about how much time I've spent filing and scanning and filing and scanning and filing and scanning, I get a little dizzy. And it's not because there's a lot of activity related with those two tasks. In fact there's barely any.

I work at the University Archives, but I'm a student worker. So I don't do much. But I'm pretty good at filing and scanning - as if you couldn't tell.

Before I got to this school, I'd never held a steady job in my life. I'd never held a job in my life, really. All my summers were spent sitting in front of my television or going to the mall with my grandma. Responsibility was not my middle name. It wasn't even very often in my vocabulary...unless you count finishing homework on time.

Back in elementary school, I would talk to my mom about college all the time. We spoke of it as if it was an inevitability. I guess that was right - I did end up going to a good university and it did seem pretty inevitable for all of my life. But what wasn't inevitable was the prospect of working while in college.

Some of my mom's favorite morality tales were the ones that ended with her telling me why you shouldn't grow up too fast. She told me that I should enjoy my time not wearing make-up. She would explain how once she started wearing eyeliner it made her skin less healthy (That must have been some pretty bad eyeliner). She told me it was a good idea to wait until it was absolutely necessary to shave my legs. If she had chosen wisely she would have waited until high school, she said.

I didn't follow her rulebook in either of those aspects of my life. By the time I was in tenth grade, I was wearing make-up to school and I'd been shaving my legs for three or four years. I didn't see the point in letting myself look awkward and ugly just to "preserve my youth" for a few more years.

My mom also had another rule. Don't get a job until you're out of school.

Well that suggestion didn't stick either.

More files.
When I got to college, one of my first steps was to begin applying for work study jobs. Admittedly, it was part of my financial aid package and many other students are also work study participants. It's not unheard of. In fact, I'm more surprised when people don't have the necessity for work study than I am to know that anyone does need it.

As I filled out the paperwork, I remember considering what my mom's perspective would have been on the subject. Would she have forced me to throw down the pen and walk out before I could sell my soul to the University Archives?

I don't know, but I'm glad it didn't happen that way.

What I do three days a week is pretty simple and uninspired. For two to four hours per day of work, I go into the old half of our University Library, say 'hi' to a supervisor...and then I file. Occasionally I look through photos and scan things. Or sometimes I return papers to their files downstairs or in the storage center outside of the library.

That's pretty much it.

It sounds exciting, no? I didn't think I fooled you anyway.

Despite all this negativity, being an archival assistant has undoubtedly given me some pretty amazing and invaluable experiences at my school. Or at least interesting experiences, depending on how easily you're amused.

For my work, I've gotten to look through artifacts of the school dating back to its earliest days before the turn of the 20th century. I've gotten to learn about some of the leaders of our university past and present, to know their brief stories when other students might not even recognize their names. I've found out about some of our most interesting alumni and read through strange papers and collections that speak to the history of the school.

Day to day - or at least Monday to Wednesday to Friday - at my job I get to interact with some seriously eccentric folks who know a bit too much about one little Midwestern school. And despite their oddness, they're great people.

But I think the best thing about working in the Archives is that I've gotten to be intellectually stimulated for so much of the process. Granted, I've spent hours sitting around in the same room clicking a mouse. I've also spent hours standing and putting papers away into file folders. It's not always a fascinating experience.

Yet among my most boring experiences - the ones that I often complete half-asleep - are the great things that I've gotten to do that my fellow work study students (who sit at a desk and do homework for eight hours) will never quite understand. Here are just a few:

1. I've gotten to read through a couple of holiday cards that alumnus Zach Braff sent to his old theater professor. On the envelope of the cards was a return address that I may or may not have written down.

2. There are pictures and pictures of student plays, including those with some famous alumni like Stephen Colbert, Ann-Margret, Paul Lynde, Warren Beatty, etc., that I've had the pleasure of looking through.

3.  Last year, I compiled a set of photos, books, clippings and dance cards about Valentine's Day and its relation to the school. For those who don't know what dance cards are, they're pocket-sized booklets where girls and boys would write down the names of whomever had asked them to dance at a formal.

4. In looking through the papers of a professor who dealt with the supposition of otherworldly life forms, I've gotten to read testimonials and see drawings of reported "UFO" sightings.

5. For a large portion of last year, I researched a hippie coffeehouse on campus that hosted concerts in the 1970's on and off campus, including a performance by the Grateful Dead.

And in an even broader sense, I've come to know more trivia than most students learn throughout their entire tenure at school. Simply by being surrounded by all the seemingly worthless papers of professors and students and alumni and administrators, I've experienced the history of my college in a way that most people don't ever have or take the opportunity to do. And I get paid for it.

I think I complain a bit too much about my work at the Archives. Sometimes I side with my mom, wondering why I take so much time out of my week to go to work for minimum wage when I could be using that time to finish up homework assignments.

But if I really think about it, my mom was wrong. Sure, jobs while you're studying can be a stressful addition to an already overloaded schedule. They can be a downer and a source of boredom in the few free hours of your day. But they can also be endlessly fascinating and unique. They can make you knowledgeable and inquisitive. They can help you manage your time more efficiently. They can show you the value of a dollar that you've worked hard for.

They can also make you a better person.

Political disconnect

Sometimes I wonder what hath the years wrought.

In a decade I've gone from immature preteen listening to Aaron Carter and innocently wearing shirts that said "Brunettes do it better" to an overly determined high schooler who qualified herself among the intellectual elite back to an infantile lover of all things representative of childhood.

I think something is wrong with this picture.

My years of greatest maturity were from seventh to eleventh grade. Between the ages of 12 and 16, I went through my late 30's. Now suddenly I'm going through my mid-life crisis. Except instead of buying a red convertible and going clubbing, I'm watching Blue's Clues over lunch and eating Fruit Roll-Up.

One thing that in recent years I've tried to hold on to but ended up giving up on is the all-important topic of politics. Try as I might to re-inspire my own interest in the subject, it is only fleeting. I can choose to be knowledgeable on the goings-on in the White House or on the Hill. Or I could find out what the Queen of England is wearing to her Diamond Jubilee. Or what's up with Kate Gosselin and her eight kids. Or who Kim Kardashian is dating.

Clearly I have my priorities set straight if I can answer the last three more readily than the first.

In high school I was sure I was going to be a political commentator. I saw myself hanging out with the likes of Ezra Klein and sipping decaf coffee while we discussed what the President's next move should be when it comes to the War on Narnia.

The War on Narnia. To be honest, that sounds more akin to my knowledge of the world these days.

I was a section editor at my high school newspaper. In the weeks leading up to the editorial staff decisions, I felt a growing level of tension over whether I would be chosen as Opinion Editor (which basically translated to Politics Editor) or Entertainment Editor. I had written equally as often for both sections. I felt that I had a firm command of both subjects. It could go either way.

The day finally came when our adviser would announce the staff. She published it in the paper and had us all open it up to the page as we walked into her classroom.

"You're going to like what you got," she said to me. I held my breath. Whatever was within those pages would determine what stories I'd be assigning and reading for the next year.

There was no going back.

I scanned the pages looking for the headline that would tell me the editorial staff had been chosen. Then I found it. In black ink was my name, sprawled next to the title "Entertainment Editor."

I felt disappointed. I knew I'd applied to both positions and I'd been qualified for both. I knew it was pretty much a shot in the dark which role I would receive. I knew that no matter what I ended up doing, I would be happy doing it.

I didn't know just how happy I would be.

For the next two years in high school, I continued to write for the Opinion Section of the paper. I composed tangential prose on the 2008 political campaign. I talked about Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert's places on the political landscape. I conducted myself angrily on the incredibly conservative constituency of Orange County in relation to the rest of California.

I was a regular Paul Krugman. No, I wasn't. I was pretty darn ambitious, but I had none of the qualifications or intellectual prowess to be any sort of quality political commentator.

Still, I had faith in myself and my opinions. I thought I had valuable thoughts to share. And my newspaper adviser seemed to think so too.

So why'd I get chosen for Entertainment Editor? Clearly I was qualified for Opinion Editor. And that's a better position, right?

Not once did I actually contest her judgment. I never complained about being Entertainment Editor. And to be honest, I'm glad I never did.

In the following years, both in high school and once I got to college, I realized that perhaps my adviser knew more than I did about where my strengths and my best work lay.

Once the 2008 election was over, my interest in politics was no longer what it used to be. Down, down, down the pique of my knowledge of the news in D.C. went as the craziness subsided from the Obama-McCain election (let's just face it, it was the Sarah Palin debacle). It wasn't that I no longer cared at all about what was happening with the leaders of my country. It also wasn't that I loved the spectacle of the election.

I actually don't really know why I no longer felt interested in politics. But I didn't.

Still, I hung onto what little insights I had on the topic.

In college, I still tuned into Countdown with Keith Olbermann and The Rachel Maddow Show. I'd listen to Meet the Press on the weekends and read the New York Times Op-Ed columnists. And of course there was always The Daily Show and The Colbert Report.

But what went wrong? I think I know the answer.

As early as junior year when I started editing for the Entertainment section, I realized what was to be had in writing about the subject. When I write about arts I don't feel frivolous. It sounds counter-intuitive since politics is supposed to be the intelligent man's sport and entertainment journalism could be considered a sort of opiate for the masses. The religion of Us Weekly and The National Enquirer is certainly no contest to the secular genius of The Nation.

When I wrote for Opinion, I was entirely dependent on whatever minimal knowledge I had on the political landscape of the day to structure my argument. I'd pull from little tidbits I'd heard on television, read in the news or whatever. But no matter how much you try to inform yourself, you will never know half as much as you'd like about politics. There's too much fine print, too many contingencies, to possibly speak with any authority unless you've really done your homework.

And I never really wanted to do my politics homework.

Arts are another thing altogether. Learning about a new play, a film, a band, a television program or even a visual art exhibit is something exciting and enticing. I want to absorb all the knowledge I can. And there isn't enough fine print that I'm forced to only get half the story.

It makes me feel smarter. And sure, people can make the argument that they prefer more intellectual pursuits. They like to absorb cocktail party talk about what Mitt Romney said at his most recent electoral rally.

To each his or her own, I say.

When I speak with people about what I know best, I feel just as sophisticated as political news junkies. It has made me question the authenticity of prejudices against entertainment journalism.

Because in truth, there are good and bad sides to every discipline. There are some crazy political commentators. I wouldn't want to sit next to Ann Coulter on an airplane (I can say this with authority because I did board an airplane with her and she wore a fur coat as well as a mask over her nose and mouth). Alternatively, I would love to sit next to Emily Nussbaum and argue with her about television.

My adviser was right in making me edit the Entertainment section. In a way, she was reminding me that despite the fact that the casual layman's perception of journalism might have them believing an David Brooks is more intelligent than a Roger Ebert, I had the power to prove that perception wrong.

What you do with your life doesn't necessarily reflect on you. It's how you do what you do.

I was a great Entertainment Editor. I assigned stories that covered everything from classical art to the most modern entertainment. I came up with ideas that spanned genres, mediums and age groups. I could've been a fine Opinion Editor too, I think. But because of the responsibility I had thrust upon me, I thrived and I found my niche.

Political disconnect or not, I'd rather have found that than have forced myself elsewhere.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

A Dillo holiday

Happy Dillo Day to one and all.

I was greeted this morning with a text that said "Happy holidays!" For some reason, this day that is utterly insignificant and which anyone who doesn't go to my school could care less about, warrants the same greeting as Christmas and the New Year.

Not that I mind.

For those who don't know, Dillo Day is a concert series that occurs one day a year here. Acts are revealed starting a few weeks in advance of the show and on the day of the Dillo (short for 'armadillo'), the stage is set up at the Lakefill on campus, fully surrounded by food trucks, tents with activities and free things. Lots of free things.

I think one of the greatest things about going to my school is that we have fun traditions and despite our nerdiness, we have the capacity to act like a "regular" school. One that isn't all about academics. Even though I err on the side of the overworked, straight-laced nerds, I can appreciate that we are a university with character. Where people - including someone who just walked past my window - feel free to scream, "I have a spray bottle full of shots. IT'S GIN!" at the top of their lungs.

This isn't my scene. But it's all right by me to watch it walk by and laugh at it, shaking my head as the partiers pass and being glad that I'm who I am and they can be who they are.

At 12 o'clock noon, my friends and I sat in one of our suites and talked about what our plans were for the day. We grabbed our purses and put on the shoes we thought could best last in the mud, thought about whether or not jackets were necessary and walked out the door to be greeted by the warmth (and looming thunderstorms) of spring.

As we made our way to the line that was forming to enter the Dillo Day concert grounds, we saw one guy fall over and roll around in the grass proclaiming he was just too drunk. If we didn't know where we were up until then, there was certainly no question anymore.

The wait was excruciating. People were talking at ever-increasing decibels and as some began pulling out cigarettes, more and more joined in on the lung-charring revelry.

For a while I couldn't understand why I was even there. Inhaling the ether of these people whom I don't recognize isn't my cup of tea. They may go to my college, but I've not seen them once around campus. And I don't think I ever really wanted to see them anyway.

All the ghosts and ghouls may come out on Halloween, but on Dillo Day all the drunken fratboys come out. Which of these is more entertaining, I wonder.

The experience of going to an event like this is entirely unlike anything else on campus. Aside from seeing people you've never met in your life or never hope to encounter again, it's a time when you can't avoid stumbling into people you have actively chosen to never see again.

Bringing people together in one corner of campus is like forcing all the awkward memories to resurface. And all within a few hours' time.

While it is a time for seeing that someone you've had your eye on and forgotten about for the past few months, it's also a time for seeing that person you had your eye on and wish you'd forgotten but never did.

I kept telling my friend that it was the day of reminders of failed romances. Or crushes. Or whatever the equivalent is once you get past elementary school.

It felt like no matter how hard I tried to avoid it, I was being forced into a melting pot with all the people I never cared to encounter again.

So while everyone else enjoyed their blissful, mindless, worry-less drunkenness,  I was all too aware of the fact that I was out of my element, out of my comfort zone and surrounded by people who made me feel out of place.

With all the over-activity in my mind, I couldn't have felt less like this was a holiday. Aside from the promise of a tie-dye shirt, I had nothing to really look forward to. The music? I don't like much popular music. The crowd? Who are these people is the real question. The activities? They're not all that exciting.

I think the one pleasure of this day - at least for the permanently sober me - is the time I got to spend forgetting that I go to this academic-intensive school. Other people do this by purposely forcing themselves into a state of incoherence. They want to make sure that they can enjoy their time so they remove any possibility of experiencing the world outside of their altered brains.

I can't do that. I choose not to do that.

But I still have a nice time. Sitting on the sidelines with my friends or waiting in line to take pictures or playing frisbee or eating empanadas.

I think for a lot of people it seems strange to go to a big event like this and not take the opportunity to go absolutely crazy. But people enjoy their lives in different ways and we're free to choose our own paths, our own methods of happiness.

Some may run outside their rooms yelling about the gin they're "hiding" (you're not doing a very good job if you scream about it upon leaving your dorm). Others may go to parties off campus and turn themselves into insatiable drones, inundated by the plethora of substances at their disposal.

And then there's me. And there are my friends. We don't partake in that little slice of college life. Maybe this isn't a holiday for us as a result.

But we made memories too. And tomorrow we'll definitely remember them.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Hierarchy of worries

In Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, there are five levels of motivation arrange in a pyramid shape that govern how we make our decisions. At the bottom are the most fundamental, the physiological needs like breathing, food, water and sleep. At the top are the least concerning issues, self-actualization concepts like morality, creativity, spontaneity, etc. According to the theory behind this pyramid, we make our decisions from the ground up - considering the needs of our physical selves before the metaphysical concepts we most value.

For me, there is a special kind of pyramid - one that isn't about what I need physically versus mentally. Moving up a level has nothing to do with whether I've fulfilled the necessity of the level below. In fact, more often than not, I don't finish the level below without pacing upwards to my breaking point.

And fuzzying up the metaphor even more, the pyramid doesn't measure necessity. It measures levels of stress. And it's probably not even a pyramid. It's more like a persistently growing set of rows with spikes and rough edges.

Lately I've had a lot of things on my mind. The end of the year is coming. This summer I will be busy on the weekdays. The next time I'm in school it will be overseas. I don't even know what my living situation is going to be when I get back to Chicago from studying abroad.

But I've noticed something about my stress levels recently. They tend to even out - if only for a few moments - when something even more terrible happens.

People don't usually notice that I'm nervous or anxious about anything. That's mainly because I contain my fright in one place - my stomach.

When I get nervous about anything - not getting my work done on time or looking stupid or  something else - the anxiety manifests itself with nausea. I can't do anything nerve-wracking without being nauseous.

The other day I was at work and my supervisor asked me how I felt as finals were approaching. I told her that I had two papers left and a big journalism assignment.

"You never seem stressed out about anything," she told me.

"When I'm freaked out, I generally don't like to take people down with me," I said.

Maybe that's my problem. The only time I ever share my stress with anyone is over the phone with my dad or occasionally with one of my best friends. But aside from that, no one knows that sometimes I'm just about dying inside.

So without the outlet of sharing my moments of internal struggle and sorrow with everyone around me, I must find my catharsis in other ways. I've tried taking longer showers. Or writing poetry. Or watching movies. Or taking naps. I've knitted. I've sketched. I've painted rocks (yes, really). It's no use.

There's really only one solution:

Make it worse.

A few months ago I was going crazy over financial issues. I spent hours on the phone with my dad talking through how I would pay for next year's tuition and worrying about everything - my present and my future.

It made me feel even worse to burden my dad by crying over the phone with him. I felt like nothing could be resolved for months. At the time I was drowning in my fear of loans to pay after college. But I'd simultaneously managed to get over something that before I'd assumed was bigger than anything else.

For a long time prior to those frantic phone calls with my dad, I'd been feeling awful about my first failed relationship. Nothing felt more terrible than being rejected by someone I thought I'd cared about.

It was when the financial worry started settling on my soul that I realized there were always worse troubles to be had. And the worse troubles were necessary to put the less stressful concerns into perspective.

Today I spent the first half of the day worried about figuring out my homework assignments. I have just a week left and at the last moment I feel like none of these responsibilities will ever be surmounted.

But today I also heard other news - it was both positive and negative - but it put me in the position of having to make a decision that will inevitably hurt in one way or another.

My hierarchy of worries went from relationships (not important) to financial concerns (important) and schoolwork (not important) to life decisions (important). And it's strange to think that it takes being kicked in the head with something twice as terrible to realize that what you've been worried about for months is of little consequence.

Sometimes I hate myself for getting so wrapped up in little things. I rarely get to enjoy the plentiful pleasures of life because even when there's nothing to worry about, I still find something. And it's only made better when there's something even worse to contend with.

But Maslow had the right idea when he constructed his hierarchy of needs. Because the concept is applicable to other concepts too. Anything that concerns the human mind is made up of a series of steps and consequences: the things that concern us one minute and the things that take over the next.

We're never at peace. We never find a moment to just lie back and have no worries for the rest of our days.

There's no problem-free philosophy. There's just a hierarchy of worries. At least for me. Right now. And every day. I want to get rid of it.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Thoughts of Places: The Underground

There was an old woman sitting in the long pasty white hallway lined with linoleum tiles and reeking with the scent of an outhouse. Her fingers were curled at their ends and she had a plastic bowl sitting in front of her. She didn't gesture to anyone or even acknowledge them as they passed by, but her bowl still had a few coins in it. Her hands looked vaguely like claws and she clutched them to herself, but she couldn't avoid notice.

I guess what she wanted was notice. And I certainly did.

When I think of the subway, I think of that woman. Waiting for the Metro with the sleeve of my sweater firmly pressed against my nose to avoid the stench of the underground world of Paris is not a pleasant memory, however fond my thoughts are of my seven-year-old trip to the City of Lights.

And unpleasantness pretty well characterizes my opinions of most underground transportation.

So I guess I didn't actually ride my first subway train until I was around seven. If I did before then, I can't remember when. It might have been in Los Angeles, though that car is so filled with exhaust fumes and honking drivers that I can't imagine going anywhere in the city without a set of wheels. But my first real memories of traveling underground are on the Metro.

If you were to compare subways to anything, you'd have to consider referencing a sewer. For all intents and purposes, that's where you are. You're below ground level and you're essentially traveling through an enormous pipe that can fit a giant train in it rather than just running water.

The first time I went to Paris, I might as well have been in a sewer. Every stop was a glorious reprieve from the terrible smell of the trains. A romantic and beautiful city Paris may be, but underground it most certainly is not.

Sitting on the trains, I'd cling to my mother's clothes to be sure she didn't get swallowed up by the crowds of people that overtook us. The room felt like a tightly packed can of sardines. It smelled like one too.

I couldn't wait to get off. And I couldn't imagine anything worse.

Then I got to New York.

New York, like Paris, is an exciting and wonderful city. When you're in the nice parts of town, you can experience culture, nature, innovation and soft pretzels all within a short walk from one another. There's no end to the possibilities.

But the innovation starts and ends atop the ground. Even worse than the Paris Metro is the New York Subway.

My dad is a New Yorker. He grew up in Brooklyn and took the subway to school. This is shtick that he should know. He didn't know a thing. We asked multiple people for directions. Once we finally got on the right train, we couldn't wait to get off. Everything about it was dank and dirty. Where New York thrives and growth and expansion, in the subway system the graffiti-covered trains speak only to a destitute history.

So when I got to Chicago I thought things would be better. And admittedly, they are. The El trains aren't terribly disgusting. The people who ride them don't seem deranged like some people I encountered in Paris and New York. But they're still sub-par.

Every ride is an ordeal with the trains only moving at a snail's pace. Delays are not uncommon and even when the El runs on schedule, you can never catch a train when you need it. The wait can often run upwards of 15 minutes. For a city-funded operation, you'd think they could at least invest in some padded plush seating to placate disgruntled commuters.

Complain as I do about the terrible offerings of Paris, New York and Chicago, I think the real basis of my disdain is that I've seen the future. The future is clean and tidy. It consists of couch-esque seating. It doesn't take 15 minutes for the next train to arrive.

My first time on the London Underground was in 2007 when I was making my way into the city from Heathrow Airport with my dad. It was the train to Cockfosters. If you've been from Heathrow into Central London then you know what I'm talking about. And perhaps you've laughed every time you hear the female voice say "Cockfosters" too.

Even if you haven't, you've definitely sat on the seats. And you know that if you're going to sit on any public transportation seat for 45 minutes, it had better be on the Tube.

I've gone on for blogs and blogs about how much I love London, I'm sure. It is no surprise to anyone who knows me that I have an unhealthy affinity for the place. There is no city to equal it in the world.

But if I'm going to make the case for this city, it has to be the fact that even the most menial offerings it has are somehow head and shoulder's above any other cities'. Going onto the London Underground is not like waiting for a Chicago El ride. There is always a sign that tells you when the next train is coming and it never switches to an advertisement. Even better, the trains usually arrive within a few minutes of each other. And they travel quickly.

The only time I've ever seen a rival to the Tube is in Tokyo. While I didn't ride their trains extensively, what I saw was a pure white, safe and traveler-friendly transportation system where people, however squished together, are relatively friendly and courteous. For each stop, the name of the destination is written out in Kanji (non-phonetic Japanese characters), Hiragana/Katakana (phonetic Japanese characters) and Romaji (Japanese words in the Latin alphabet). Everything is straightforward. Even I, who knew nothing about the city, made my way around with ease.

And after my experiences in these luxurious public transit systems, it has become even more of a chore to go into Chicago twice a week for class via El. The trains always smell faintly of an odorous topical medication. Often you will find yourself tipping over the edge of the track on a swift turn and feeling like you're about to plunge to your death. And even with all that adherence to quality, they still can't seem to get the trains to arrive quickly enough.

In places like London, I can't get enough of the subway. I have a necklace with a charm on it that has the Underground logo of a red circle with a blue line in the center.

So give me a reason to travel, CTA, Metro, Subway. You have examples set for you. Take the advice.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

I am the food fiend

Home. In just a week and a half, that's where I'll be. With a warm queen-sized bed and a television with full satellite service, a kitchen with enough pasta to last through the nuclear winter and two lovely cats that I can't wait to see. Oh yeah, and my dad. But he's not the point of this essay.

Let's step back, shall we? Before my dad. Before the cats. Oh, there we go, food. The food of home. La nourriture de la maison. C'est magnifique, non?

When I got to school I thought eating at a buffet style dining hall for every meal of every day would be the greatest experience of my life. Before I was on campus, I would go to the website which listed the cafeteria menus and sigh over all the options. Curry, stir fry, meat alternatives, the list goes on. And when I ran out of inventive options, or just felt like retreating to a fail-safe meal, there was always pasta.

The first week of college is always an interesting experience in freshman year. You take any chance you can get to meet new people, introducing yourself in the hallway, sitting with them in the suite, joining them at meals. And perhaps you bond over the excitement of new experiences: higher level classes, relative freedom and the abundance of food.

It was during this first week of living on campus, I think, when I was in the dining hall and decided to sit down with the first person I saw. He was hoarding milk and exclaiming over the sheer quantity of the stuff at his disposal. He could fill a whole reusable bottle with it if he wanted to. What a luxury!

I shared in his enthusiasm and was glad to meet someone who was willing to exude enthusiasm for the dining hall food that I'd spent hours thinking about at home.

But the enthusiasm waned pretty quickly.

After a few weeks, I saw the same meals repeated over and over. I realized most of the food was not all that tasty. Even the pasta had failed me. I figured out that the reason the milk was such a draw was because there was little else to get excited over.

When I came home from college for the first time, I ate up a storm. My dad treated me to In-N-Out and real pizza (not deep dish, however I do enjoy it). By the time winter break was over, I looked like an inflated balloon. Whatever weight I'd lost on my weak dining hall diet had been replaced by my several week-long inhalation of junk food.

You would think, especially after my rambling argument about the terrible nature of school food that coming home would be a healthier culinary venture, but when I'm home I have a fully stocked kitchen, a grocery store (that isn't an unreasonably overpriced Whole Foods) a few blocks away and all the accoutrements to bake to my heart's content. Health is not even a consideration.

Whereas here I have set meal times, at home I can eat whenever I want. Snack food may be available in my room here, but I don't overindulge like I do at home.

So I could complain in both senses really. On one end is the too terrible food that discourages anyone from overeating in the dining halls. I return to a healthy weight because I have no desire for seconds. On the other end is the too terrific food of my home: the pasta, the take out, the sheets of fresh cookies and pans of brownies and cupcakes. It's here that I become like Violet Beauregarde before she goes to the Juicing Room.

I really can't win.

In a week and a half I'm going home. I will have a full-sized fridge in a full-sized kitchen with a full-sized car ready to take me to the full-sized grocery store whenever I want to buy anything.

I'm lucky, right? There are children starving in all corners of the globe and all I have to complain about is that there's too much food.

Home is going to be great. For the queen-sized bed, the satellite television, the cats, my dad...

And all the food.

Yes - All the food.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Back to the drawing board

One of the best pastimes that I have never fully taken advantage of is drawing. In my room I have this pretty thick and practically empty sketchbook that constantly begs for me to take it out onto the Lakefill and draw something, anything, everything.

But I don't. At least not enough. And I wonder why.

Flipping through my notebook, I realize I have a tendency to only produce one type of sketch - the portrait. While I've deviated from the norm on occasion to draw the TARDIS and to attempt a preliminary sketch of a landscape that I could transfer to acrylic paint on a canvas, of the few drawings I have, they're pretty much exclusively of the faces of people.

I've thought a lot about why I enjoy drawing people. And I've come to a conclusion. It's not that people are more interesting than landscapes or objects. It's not that I feel a particular compulsion to stare at people rather than places. In fact, I often prefer to be in peace while I sit around and observe nature rather than humanity. I get enough of humanity in classes, on television, in movies. No one takes the time to film or appreciate nature for long periods - save for National Geographic, but I don't subscribe and I can't access the TV channel.

Yet when I have the opportunity to draw, I'm drawn (pardon the pun) to faces.

When it comes to art, minutia is the deciding factor over whether your work has a sense of realism or fantasy. While I've always enjoyed being creative and coming up with new ways of representing something that already exists, I have very little talent for interpretive art - which is generally lacking in minutia. So I've turned to incredibly precise representations in my drawings.

That isn't to say I'm accurate. In fact, though my characters are usually identifiable with their real life inspirations, they are often a sort of illustrated take on the person.

[Side note: From here to the end of this blog, I'm going to pretend that all I draw is portraits. Thank you for your consideration.]

But where I do put a focus on accuracy is in one area in particular: the eyes.

Someone once said that the eyes are the windows to the soul. I don't know who it was or why they said it, but it's certainly caught on since then. And I've come to really believe it.

When I draw, after I've established the shapes that make up the facial structure of my subject, my first take on the real person behind the image I'm creating is to copy their eyes. If I could, I would sit with my sketchbook for an hour just working on eyes. When I find that there is anything off about the eyes, I erase and start over.

You cannot make a mistake with the eyes.

What I've found in my limited experience with drawing is that no matter the other features of a person, when you've found their eyes you've found them in the piece.

Sometimes it scares me. I'll be in the middle of creating a face and have finished drawing both eyes. Suddenly, I'm no longer alone. It's almost like the character on the page is jumping out at me, watching me construct the rest of them. I feel a connection with what I'm putting on paper.

It all sounds strange and slightly schizophrenic. And I think most of writing about art does. There's really no better way to characterize the way an artist feels when creating their work other than schizophrenia.

When I listen to or create works, it's like I'm splitting myself up into two parts:

First is the part of me that is the creator. I'm sitting (or standing) with my work - whether it be music that I'm singing, an image that I'm drawing or a photo that I'm taking - and manipulating it. I feel detached from the work in that I am overseeing it rather than participating in it.

But the second part is where I may need a psychoanalyst. Because while I'm drawing or singing or taking a photo, I start to feel myself inhabit the space that my subject is in. It's not that I'm them, per se, but that I'm with them. If I'm drawing I can feel myself and the image looking back at me, if I'm singing I can hear my voice as a separate entity from my body, if I'm taking a photo I can recognize myself as a part of the image since I'm behind the camera.

I don't know what to make of it exactly.

All I know is that for some reason the eyes have it (play on words, get it?). Everyone understands that feeling of peering into someone's face and learning about them through their eyes. Or feeling someone's eyes on them when they're not looking. There's something penetrating about a stare, even a look. Even if it's not there.

I wish I would draw more. If only to feel the intimate connection that I do when I'm drawing a face. When I work on the eyes, I become entranced in the work. Time and space seem to disappear. That might even be why I avoid it.

When I draw, I could do so in a matter of minutes. But I usually end up taking an hour at least. It's not the obsession with intricacies that does it - it's the fact that in that frame of 60 minutes I become stuck in the world of what I'm drawing and I can't get out. I drown in the eyes for hours.

Still, I'm grateful for any opportunity I have to become a slave to my work. Even if it doesn't become a daily occurrence or an undying passion, I love that feeling of wanting desperately to express myself - or the object I'm drawing's self.

There aren't enough things in life that you never want to end. A good movie, sure. A summer vacation, yes. A day at Disneyland, I know all too well. But when you can find something completely within your power to do on a daily basis, you have to hang onto it.

And I need to get back to the drawing board.

Conundrums and dialogues

It took me a while to realize how many of my classes are full of subjectivity. Since I am not a math or science student, most of my work involves writing papers and taking tests that are 90 percent essay format. And while this gives me freedom to express myself how I like, sometimes I find that even my ability to make sense through a coherent argument fluctuates. That's why I hate reading comments on graded homework. Truly, I hate it.

I was at a really interesting event yesterday for my journalism class. A group of theater runners and performance art enthusiasts gathered to participate in a panel on art as a vehicle for community engagement.

At some point during the panel, the conversation descended into a heated argument about the multiple interpretations of art and how the bringing together of a community around theater performance, visual art, music or whatever else shouldn't be contingent on that community's ability to maintain a singular perception of the collective artistic work. Instead, it should open up a dialogue.

It is through this perspective that I see fault in how the arts - specifically the written arts as evidenced through essay composition and its grading - are handled on an academic level. Instead of written work fostering a discussion between the students and professors, the dialogue only goes in one direction. We turn in a paper and eventually it's handed back to us. We're told how to improve, but we're not given the opportunity to use that advice. We just have to grin and bear the commentary.

I've never been able to handle teachers' commentary on my writing. Partially because constructing essays (like this one) is so organic for me and partially because I don't handle judgment or criticism all too well, I often avoid the comments on my papers like they're the bubonic plague. I leave a graded assignment sitting in my folder or my email inbox for days without looking at it. When I do eventually glance at the work again, I often write off the commentary as a speculative opinion.

But like the artists at the panel suggested, commentary, feedback and opinions can be an honest way to appraise and interpret work, maybe even improve it. And while I struggle with criticism, when it is forced on me insomuch that I'm required to revisit and repair an assignment, the subjectivity no longer bothers me.

Last year, every day for the whole of what I believe was spring quarter, I sat around in my Philosophy of Art class reeling with tension and boredom. In the class, students were encouraged to make broad assertions as to what constitutes art. We read essays upon essays to find answers, tedious tomes that talked about an audience being the decider of whether a work could be considered art or not and other similarly ridiculous arguments. It was in this class that I discovered how philosophizing makes me sick to my stomach - from nervousness and disdain.

I would sit in that class angry that so many of my fellow students could come up with meaningless arguments, only to be lauded or scolded by the professor on the truth or lack of truth contained in their statement. Then she would move onto the next raised hand and hear another pretentious rambling, allowing the cycle to continue with no growth.

I walked away from that class with no answer to the question "What is art?" because nothing was ever reiterated in my mind, nothing solidified as fact. Maybe that's okay for philosophy, but I believe real growth happens when we not just argue, but face conclusions. Subjectivity not for its own sake, but to locate answers.

Classes have been a struggle for me time and time again when a teacher's interpretation either secures me an "A" or dooms me to a strain of "B's." The few times I've been able to dig myself out of the inescapable hole have been due to one thing and one thing only: a dialogue.

Whether that means receiving a paper back with edits and being forced to read the instructor's opinions to rewrite it, or whether that's been facilitated through a classroom environment that encourages talking over and critiquing each other's work and opinions, anything but relying on the professor works.

I've come to truly hate the feeling of being pigeonholed as an average student by some of my professors. As this quarter ends, all I can hope is that once it is over I might have some right to revisit, revise and reflect. And then go home...that's what I want the most. But that's a whole different story.

Monday, May 21, 2012

The monster within

What makes a monster?

This was the question I asked myself as I walked out of a play that appeared at my school this weekend and - despite the implications of its name, Night of the Flesh Eaters - was one of the most fascinating and introspective performances I've ever seen on campus.

The number of plays I've been to here is absolutely ridiculous. I have a collection of all of my programs compiled since the beginning of freshman year, and the stack is at least several inches tall now. But there are only a few programs that stand out to me - because they are representative of the shows that actually made me think about something, made me feel something.

A few days ago, I sent a message out to a couple of my friends asking if they wanted to go see this new show about zombies or something. I didn't really know what it was about, but I knew it involved blood and gore. And sometimes I just enjoy blood and gore.

I didn't want to use photos of the characters I mentioned. Too scary.
I grew up on horror films. My mom was obsessed with the macabre. Whenever we'd go to the video rental store, she'd pick up a scary film to watch. We'd set up a fort on the couch and eat popcorn, screaming over Freddy Krueger or Jason Voorhees, Chucky the doll or the ghosts in The Sixth Sense. It was pretty awful - the sheer number of horror films I saw before the age of 10. But it somehow made me develop a masochistic love for the genre.

So I wanted to go see Night of the Flesh Eaters, even if it meant I'd be screaming my lungs into submission, trapped in a room with a bunch of people I didn't know.

When we got to the theater, everything was as I expected. My friend Danielle and I sat down in the front row and, though I immediately felt that being so close to the action might be a mistake, stayed there for the remainder of the performance. We inquired to the girl sitting next to us whether there was a "splash zone" for fake blood or any other concerns. We were told not to worry.

But I still felt anxious...and exhilarated.

What I encountered though, was not a zombie slasher play. It was a thought-provoking piece of prose.

In the story, there are four students who run into a shack on campus to escape what appear to be many many zombies that are chasing them, ready to devour at will. When they manage to make it into the safe-zone of the shack, they search for food and supplies while carrying on ethical arguments about whether or not the supposed "zombies" are still in any way human or not.

On one side are the characters who profess that there are still people inside the zombie-like shells. They purport that killing them is not just permissible self-defense because they are still human. On the other side are the self-preservationists that feel nothing but the need for survival.

The entire play became this jumble of provocative arguments which, at the very least, placed you into the story. You could feel yourself getting caught up with the characters - praying for their survival. For me, the show became a way of peering into my own perspective about what constitutes murder in cold blood and what is considered an imminent threat warranting self-defense through killing.

About half-way through the show, we discover that the character who is taking on the role of humanitarian in the group, Sam, actually has a motive for doing so. When one member of the human group leaves to find a car and a few "zombies" make it into the shack as a result, we watch the three people left over handle the flesh eaters. Sam ends up chaining her flesh eater to a pole instead of killing it like the other two.

At first this causes a lot of tension, especially when we find out that the flesh eater Sam has caught is her girlfriend, Zoe. But in time we also learn that this flesh eater can be used as an experiment to figure out whether these people really are "zombies," or if whatever is wrong with with them is reversible.

When Zoe is somewhat inexplicably knocked back into her senses, we realize that underneath the flesh eater shells are people still alive and still thinking with human minds, just unable to stop themselves from devouring anyone in their path. The ethical dilemma becomes even greater.

And it made me think.

Granted, most of us - I'm assuming all of us, actually - will never be faced with the decision of whether or not to kill a flesh eater. There is no disease that causes people to become cannibalistic zombie-like creatures with no control over their faculties, and thus this is a situation completely contrived.

But in some way, this is an issue many people confront in reality. In the face of danger, people must often make the decision of whether self-defense is warranted or not. Questions like this become even bigger debacles when we have to figure out whether someone is guilty of manslaughter or if they had any right to defense against imminent danger.

As someone who stands firmly on the left of the political spectrum, I very seldom question my own position on gun control. In this world, I believe there is no excuse to kill. I don't even believe in the death penalty and I am a vegetarian, so I take this argument pretty seriously.

False advertising? Not that I'm angry.
When I watched Night of the Flesh Eaters, though, I felt myself siding at times with the character, Mackenzie, who was willing to kill the "zombies" so that she could continue to live on - since she knew they could pose a threat to her and would show her no mercy.

Is it ever right to kill someone because you feel threatened? Even if there are other ways out?

At the very end of the play, Mackenzie starts pounding on the walls and the flesh eaters manage to make their way into the shack. The three other main characters - Sam and the two others, Neil and Doug, who have decided to side with her - are fighting off the zombies, but not killing them.

In the last moments, the flesh eaters manage to kill Doug. Neil is still standing at one door fighting off a group of flesh eaters and Sam is at the other begging Mackenzie to help her. Mackenzie stands and stares at them both, but does nothing.

Then one of them yells out how Mackenzie is the real monster. Suddenly Neil and Sam falter and become victims to the flesh eaters, meanwhile Mackenzie just hides behind a pillar.

She says, "I'm sorry" quite loudly. And all the flesh eaters turn away from their prey, shifting their eyes to her. And the room goes black.

And when it did, along with my piercing tension, I felt a sense of incompleteness. And sadness that none of these characters had prevailed. Even the strength of three of them couldn't save them from the fate secured by one overzealous and self-preservationist character.

Still, the message was shrouded in complications. Was it right for those characters who refused to kill off the flesh eaters to allow themselves to die because they refused to use a gun on their "zombie" murderers? Should Mackenzie have tried to help them defeat the flesh eaters without a gun and proven herself humanitarian as well? What were her motives anyway, and did she realize she was ensuring her own demise?

Was she a monster? And if so, what made her a monster?

I walked away from the theater feeling a plethora of emotions. But none of them were fear. What I had thought I was walking into was nothing like the actual performance that I saw.

And I'm thankful for that.

Because last night I went to sleep with questions. Questions like the ones above, questions about my own political and personal convictions, questions about who I can trust to stand by me and my opinions. I didn't look into the corner of my room - like I would often when I was a kid post-Child's Play viewing - and hide under the covers thinking that a monster lurked there. Instead, I was left to contemplate the existence of real life monsters.

The ones inside each and every one of us.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Real rites of passage

As I wrote before, I never really cared about getting my license. The age of 16 came and went like any other with no significant changes in my perception of life. I didn't actually start driving until I was 18. That's over-the-hill as far as getting behind the wheel goes and practically ancient considering I didn't get my permit until that year.

But I've had my own little rites of passage over the years, markers of my growth between different stages of life. And in a way, I think they're even more significant than those instituted by the law.

The first one occurred when I was around six or seven. I was walking through a department store with my grandma and my mom. We would frequent the clothing sections and I would saunter around with a little toy handbag filled with candy and hair barrettes. And I would smile at everyone I passed.

This one day, as we walked around the store, I went along the aisles as usual smiling at everyone I saw and receiving smiles in return. Then I looked up at one man and he scowled at me. There was no hint of affection on his face. He found nothing admirable about my childhood cuteness. Maybe he even found it repulsive.

I was stunned. For years I've frolicked around with everyone admiring me as I go, but now this man can't help but look at me with the utmost disdain. You'd think it would have been hard to bear as a young girl, but I guess I brushed it off until a few years later when I realized I was down to creepy old men on the side of the street smiling at me and everyone else carrying their blankest expression when we met eyes.

Still, that was a moment of truth. And it came coupled with a few more moments of "Oh, I'm no longer cute and tiny anymore." One of the most prominent occurred when I was playing hide and seek at my dad's house. My go-to hiding location was often the cupboards of the house. Either the linen closet or the cabinets underneath the bathroom sinks. I would climb into them like a cat burrowing in towels and pretend I could hide there forever.

One day I could no longer fit. And like looking in the mirror and realizing you aren't infallibly cute anymore, trying to fit into a cupboard and realizing you're far too big for one now is an incredibly jarring toss into older childhood. I almost felt like Alice eating her cakes and growing big and small. The change seemed instantaneous and I couldn't imagine where all those inches had come from.

Little did I know that size was only the first thing that would change.

When I was in elementary school, I loved playing on the little kids' playground. Our campus was divided into two sections: one for first through third graders and another for fourth through sixth graders. For those first few years, we had access to an amazing lawn and an exciting jungle gym. Everything was located right next to the lunch tables and there was nothing but perfection.

In fourth grade, I transferred schools. At my new school, I was thrust into the world of the fourth through sixth graders' playground with little to no preparation. Back at my old school they'd had us somewhat assimilate by putting the childcare program near the big kids' playground. But at this new place, I was lost.

There were no swings. The sand in the monkey bar section was soon replaced with wood chips. The field may have been bigger, but it was also used for running days and other PE activities, so it wasn't associated with all fun and games.

And I realized that I was no longer little enough to just have fun during recess. Recess was now for recreation and physical exertion and learning. If I wasn't into that then I would have to hang out by the portables with a book and a Fruit Roll-Up. Life would never be quite the same.

The final rite of passage, after the cupboard fitting was no longer of concern and I was over the fact that I couldn't swing during recess anymore, consisted of me realizing I was finally on my own.

This didn't happen for the first time in high school or college. It struck me in the face on that first day of middle school, as everyone scurried around campus looking for their classrooms and I grasped my map in my hands and stared at it, hoping if I thought hard enough about the location that I might apparate there.

The same morning, I'd shooed away my dad when he offered to come with me on my first day of middle school. "No one else's parents will be with them," I told him. I was wrong. Everyone's parents had come to help them find their classes.

Only I was there by myself, searching for one of the classrooms all the way out on the hill overlooking the track and field.

Unlike the first two experiences, finding my way around campus was like figuring out how to use my wings on my own. It wasn't a let down like finding out I'm old and big or discovering I have to face the real world and no longer play in sand. Instead, it was getting the chance to see what I could - rather than what I couldn't - do. I faltered a bit on the first attempt, but after a few minutes I'd figured out where I was going and had made it to class just in time.

Some people think of driving at 16, smoking at 18 or drinking at 21 as big accomplishments. The rights we have given to us at certain ages make us eagerly await our transitions into adulthood. But my rites of passage were all based in learning about who I was and about life in general. Maybe for some, drinking is life. Or life is learned through driving.

For me the greatest lessons have been those that test my strength. My strength to handle a situation (like having people scowl at me), to make the best of an experience (like finding ways to enjoy a swing-less recess) and to grow and become self-sufficient (like locating myself on a map in middle school) has always been founded by smaller events. Smaller events, but still significant. To my mind, those are the real rites of passage.

Faults in the system

My dad has been dwelling on one topic for the past few weeks. It's practically all he talks about, maybe even all he thinks about (it's really not, but sometimes it seems that way). When I call him up, as I do a few times a day, he'll often bring it up assuming I'm curious. But have I ever really cared about cars? Other than my childhood pink Barbie convertible, the answer is decidedly "no."

This summer, I'll be driving to and from an internship in Los Angeles at least twice a week. I am inheriting my dad's old car, a silver Toyota that I am now affectionately referring to as "The Doctor." And he can't seem to think of anything else. For the week before purchasing his new car, my dad (whom I love) stayed on the phone with me to ramble through his financing options. Obviously, I owe him my attention (at the very least) should he want to talk about something car-related. It's because of his willingness to give me his old car that I will be able to work this summer.

But I also have no patience for two things: financial discussions and talking about cars. Mostly the latter.

I am inheriting "The Doctor" purely out of necessity. Not once since I have been of the legal age to drive have I cared for an instant about actually using my state-given right.

Once, I was sitting next to my sister in her deep emerald green Toyota Echo, drowning in the zebra-print passenger seat cover and talking to her about driving. "When you turn 16, you're going to want to drive," she said. "No, I doubt it," I replied. I was 13. And I was right. Though she protested, saying my feelings would change, a few years down the line I proved that I was not susceptible to the sweet sixteen driving craze. In fact, I wanted nothing to do with it.

When I was a junior in high school, all of my friends started getting licenses. If I ever wanted a ride, I would awkwardly ask them and then remember the rule about 16-year-old drivers not being able to escort anyone under 18 for one year unless an adult was present. But even then I refused to get my own license.

Often, I'd sit in the backseat with my friends as we went to Disneyland with one of their mothers driving. Their whole conversation revolved around sideview mirrors, turn signals, switching lanes, freeways, etc. And I would sit in silence. "I'll never need a car," I thought to myself. When I'm old enough to commute to work I'll be living in New York or London. Yo ho, yo ho...a public transportation user's life for me.

In my first year of college, though, I got my kick in the head. As I began applying to jobs and internships for Summer 2011, I realized I couldn't honestly answer one question on the apps:

"Do you have access to transportation to and from work?" I thought, "Sure, my dad can drive me." But was I really being serious? A 20-minute commute for him to and from Disneyland twice a day just so I could make minimum wage?

This would not work.

I didn't end up getting any work between freshman and sophomore year, but before I found that out I realized I needed to make necessary preparations in case I did. During winter break of freshman year, I began studying for my permit test. While the kids I knew who'd gotten their licenses before me had taken courses, I just spent 24 hours reading through the California Driver's Manual. And I passed on the first try having only missed one question. Clearly, they make this test passable for anyone with half a brain who can read English.

For my actual license, I put in an equal amount of effort. As in - about 24 hours worth. My dad and I did "behind the wheel" training in the parking lot of my high school's West Campus. We took it to the next level on a residential street where I practiced stopping at stop signs. After a bit of practice on streets with stoplights, I took my driving test.

And it lasted all of five minutes.

When I got into the car, the proctor immediately marked me down for getting flustered about locating my defroster. When I was on the street, I forgot I could turn right on red and when I finally came to my senses, he had me turn around and go back to the DMV.

Though I managed to get my license on the second try - albeit with a few mistakes and a different proctor - in some ways I am still conflicted over whether or not I'm happy to be behind the wheel and to have gotten myself there the way I did.

This summer, I"m going to be downtown. I'll be driving on freeways, through busy intersections and probably unsafe areas. And while driving is a nice luxury to have, it still scares me. And sometimes I"m still the 13-year-old who doubts she'll ever really care at all about having a license. Because even though I do now, I still don't really care. But you know who should care? You. Because you're the one who'll be out on the road with me this summer - the girl who learned how to drive from a book and in a parking lot. Better watch out.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

And this I dedicate to CRC

Today is one of the last days of the last weeks I'll be spending in my room. For two years - or the better part of the past two years - I've loved this place. I've come to know it better than I know my bedroom at home. It's cozy and warm. There are just the right number of plugs to keep all my electronic needs satisfied. I can practically reach across it to retrieve something from my desk without getting up. It's the packrat's dream.

But in a few weeks I'll be moving out of this dorm, out of this university for the summer and out of this life that I've known since freshman year in my dorm.

We're a very tight knit community. Or at least it felt that way for me last year. When I was looking for a place to live in senior year of high school, I remember looking online for as much information as I could find. I wanted a private bathroom. I wanted to be in a location close to the part of campus I would be frequenting. And I wanted to feel like I was in a community.

Well two out of three ain't bad.

I ended up getting the chance to live in a place where I would make all my closest friends at school, where I would become attached to everything and where I'd make invaluable life experiences. And it feels like I'll never leave. But I will be. And soon.

The first day I walked into my room is still incredibly vivid. It was barren and bleak and I had a ton of junk that I was ready to decorate with. I put up postcards and papers, threw a bunch of clothes in my closet and left my shoes strewn all over the floor. And I was home.

My bed. Equipped with a Wall-E plush toy.
As at home as I've felt at CRC, I've felt even more attached to my room itself. In preparation for this year, when I was going through the motions of picking out a new living space for my group of friends and myself, I made all the arguments in favor of the suite I lived in the year before. Sure, the points were right: 1. The first floor has elevator access for easy move-in and -out. 2. There are two showers to choose from in the shared bathroom between this suite and the next. 3. Was there even a three? I think those two sufficed. But the real reason I wanted to stay in this suite wasn't because I cared so much about the easy move-in or the bathroom. It was because my room has become my home. My itty bitty cramped and inexplicably cupcake-scented home.

By the first night I stayed over, I was already feeling the loveliness of my freshman single solitude. While all of my friends were hauled up in doubles with roommates whom they'd just met, I'd been blessed with my own living space, where I could stretch out (to some extent) and feel utterly alone should I need to be.

Still, I spent days trying to warm up to my co-residents. One evening while a bunch of sophomores who already knew each other were hanging out in my suite, I joined them. I felt so uncomfortable - not knowing what to talk with them about and barely knowing them in the first place - that I said barely a word. They asked me questions and feeling even more awkward, I ended up apologizing for not speaking and saying I just enjoyed listening. Still, I felt like in some way I'd joined a family there that night.

Right outside my single room door (and down a flight of stairs) was a friendly environment with screening rooms and a big screen TV, a meeting lounge where I went every Sunday and a host of other rooms I never frequented but was always comforted in knowing were there.

The thought of leaving it all behind scares me.

Not only will I be removing myself from the ease of living in a dorm where I know everyone's name. Or from a location so perfectly located that I never have to worry about being late to class. But I'll be leaving behind a room that holds a part of my soul in it. We're intrinsically linked.

I look around and like to think about all the memories in here. The chaos of my first relationship - though none of the chaos happened in my room - and the nights of staying inside by myself wondering why I was alone but then enjoying the fact that I had my little room all to myself.

It was here that I watched the Royal Wedding in the wee hours of the morning after I'd woken up with a sore throat and a runny nose. It was here that I heard the news that I'd been accepted to study abroad in London. It was here that I sat with my dad and cried while we watched Doctor Who together before he left to return home after coming to visit me at school. It was here that I've spent hours sitting by myself and feeling perfectly content - even if the walls are cement slabs painted egg-shell white and it only takes me half a second to walk across the whole space.

The walk to the front door. And dirty snow.
I'm not ready to give it up, but I have to.

I wonder what it will be like if I ever get a chance to revisit this place in a few years. Will the next resident in my room have changed the location of the bed? Will they move the dresser out of the closet? Will their refrigerator be in a different space in my room? My room. It's a phrase I'll never get over.

Somehow I want to leave my mark. I want this to be a place that I am forever linked with because in my heart, I really am always a part of this space, this room, this dorm.

After college, I'm sure I'll look back and remember a lot of different things about my time here. I'll think about my friends. I'll remember all the fun things we did. I'll think about all the boys I've liked and the nicknames I gave them. I'll remember the hours of sitting in front of my television and watching shows so I could review them online. I'll think about the daily routine of getting up at 7:15, washing my face and brushing my teeth and embarking on the day's adventures.

And at least 50 percent of all my collegiate memories - probably more - will be associated with CRC.

The past year has been different. I haven't grown as close to the people here. I haven't participated in as many dorm activities. I haven't felt as linked to the community as I would like. But the CRC in my mind is the one that existed for me last year. When I would go to every All College Meeting (ACM) and hope that the guy I liked would show up, or when I'd go all the way to the third floor to hang out with my friend Dana and realize that even though I loved my suite, hers was infinitely better. Those memories and more will forever color my vision of this place and of these years.

It's hard to let go of my room because it's a daily reminder of two of the best years of my life. Like walking away from my childhood home or seeing my grandma sell the house that I practically grew up in, this is a place that holds a million memories. Good and bad, but mostly wonderful.

I may not be ready to let go, and maybe I never will. But I'm lucky to have had a place like this at all. Somewhere where I feel part of a family but also centered and self-sufficient.

I'm luckier than I could ever have imagined I'd be.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Obsessive compulsive...not a disorder for me

The other day - or week, I guess - my dad was in town visiting so we could see a concert in Chicago together. My first sighting of him was outside my dorm as he waited in the car to drive us both to Wicker Park for the show. When I sat down in the passenger seat, we immediately fell back into a routine of talking as if we had not parted for a month. That's what I love about my relationship with my dad. It's steadfast, unchangeable and often silly. Sometimes it's also self-deprecating.

At some point during the drive we started talking about both our tendencies toward OCD. My dad explained how he was mildly afflicted. But I, feeling the necessity of one-upsmanship, went on for a few extra minutes on how my being born of two mildly OCD individuals had made me twice as OCD as either of them. For this, I am not thankful.

In the early years of my life, every night before my mom and I went to bed, before she read me a bed time story and I curled up under my pink Mulan blanket, she would check the lock on the front door. It became known between us as one of her little quirks, an unavoidable compulsion that seemed only natural since I'd watched her test the doorknob every night for years and years.

When I was no longer living with my mom, though, I started to understand why she couldn't help the compulsion to check the door. She had a mental disorder. Not an incredibly detrimental one, sure, but still an issue that taunted her day in and day out. Or at least every night.

I moved into my dad's house and soon after realized I'd inherited the "checking" gene. That's not a scientific term, of course, but it explains what the problem is in layman's terms. I can't help but check things over and over. Whether it's to be sure an object in my possession is still where I last left it, or the door is locked, or I said "I love you" before I got off the phone with my dad or I set the alarm clock to the right time, it is always imperative to do the checks. Or else I worry.

This didn't really start to manifest itself as a problem until I became a college student. Living by myself in a dorm room meant I had no cohabitant to make sure the door was locked for me. So I had to compensate by checking twice...or thrice...or uncountable numbers of repetitions.

In high school, my OCD rituals were a bit more abstract. I would test myself by saying internally that if I couldn't complete a task in a certain amount of time, something bad would happen. I remember watching a television program in Health class, "True Life: I have Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder," and seeing a girl suffering from the same problem, except her situation was magnified one hundred times. She would bet herself that if she couldn't do a task in a certain amount of time, her mom would die. It's like that childhood game where you avoid stepping on the breaks in sidewalk. "Don't step on a crack or you'll break your mother's back." Except, for some reason, the little rhyme became reality.

Though I've since gotten over the fear of my failed rituals resulting in the impending doom of my relatives, my friends or myself, the traces of OCD still exist.

Every night before I go to bed, I feel the worst of my compulsive checking. My first step is to set my alarm. I click the button on my clock and stare as the wake time flickers across the screen. I look to make sure the alarm is set to "Buzzer" rather than "iPod" or "Radio." Sometimes, if I felt I haven't been thorough enough, I click it off and on again just to be sure. I've even come up with rhymes in my head so that I'm ultra-aware that everything is set for me to go to bed.

Then I check the door. I look at the keys hanging on the wall next to the door to make sure they're present, then look at the lock to make sure the deadbolt has been secured. Then I check again...and again...and again...until I feel satisfied.

Usually being a checker isn't a problem - if you can remind yourself that once is enough. Lately I've gotten into the habit of stopping after I've checked something once so that I don't get caught up and stay on the task for 15 minutes, but that can be tremendously difficult.

Many people suffer from addictions and mental disorders that cause them to feel unsatisfied until they've fulfilled a ritual. And of all problems, this one is fully conquerable simply because it's so easy to be aware of it and force yourself out of the mindset of needing to be 100 percent sure of everything.

I complain with my dad about the fact that I can't seem to leave my room without checking the door twice and that I reset my alarm every night to be sure it will have me up at the right time. But, in a way, this form of OCD has increased my awareness of my own faults and made me better able to conquer them. In two years at college, I've never been late to a class, never left my door unlocked and I've come to understand that I can tackle my own insecurities, even if they are controlled by my brain rather than me.

So I can complain all I want, but being twice the OCD as my parents has also made me twice as reliable and hopefully even more self-aware. A blessing in disguise, perhaps.