Thursday, February 28, 2013

Turn of events

Note: This blog takes an unusual turn a little over halfway through. If that becomes confusing, then feel free to reach out to me personally to ask questions, but I don't know that I want to write about it anymore in this space for the time being.

Without even realizing the landmark occasion until just a moment ago, I'm happy to announce that this blog marks the 400th entry in The Songs of Spring (Note from after publication: I realize that I have two unposted blogs, so my entry total is only 398. I guess I'll have to come up with something great for the actual 400th!). It has been over a year since I started writing, over a month since I endeavored to stop and just a few weeks since I picked up again with regular daily entries. I don't think of this as a commitment anymore, but rather a place where I can let my mind run freely without fear of judgment, apathy, insult, stress or anxiety. It relieves all of my tension and it makes me feel good. Writing is a beautiful art - if you haven't done it in a while, you should try it sometime. I only have good things to say about it.

The entry I'm writing today isn't about blogging, though. It isn't about 400 days.

I figured since this is a special blog because of its high and especially divisible number, I should use it to a higher purpose.

Two years ago when my beautiful niece Sydney was born, I didn't have a blog. Though I've managed to write 400 entries, this blog has only actually existed for just over a year - so it has, in fact, not seen me through much of my life. As a reader, even if you went back and decided to read each and every entry, you still wouldn't have had a very thorough insight into everything that's happened to me in my 20 years. Try as a might to be thorough, to talk about a lot of aspects of my life, there's no such thing as a fully comprehensive autobiography.

Because I missed out on getting to write each day of my life, I figure when important occasions take place, it is my bounden duty to write about them. I missed on writing about Sydney's birth, so I will - as best I can - write about my new nephew's birth.

Unfortunately, I'm not in California right now and that is where my sister and brother-in-law's new baby will be coming into the world. I'm stuck in Illinois, waiting for a text or a phone call announcing his arrival, even then I know I won't get to meet him for over two weeks. I don't know that I can handle the anticipation.

I met my niece the day she was born. I had been over at my grandma's house that day and when I found out we had a new addition to my family, I was eager to meet her. In the evening, my brother-in-law met my dad and I in the hospital waiting room and snuck us inside my sister's room to meet the little baby Sydney. Her eyes barely opened, she was all pink and blotchy, her face was super round. She looked like a little blob - as all babies do. But a sweet, unaffected, beautiful little blob.

I instantly fell in love.

Since then I've spent countless hours with the little one. She's brought me joy and strife, a few scratches and a lot of laughs. She's a little ball of energy and a bundle of conflicting emotions.

But she's my little ball of energy. And my little bundle of conflicting emotions. Well, she's my sister's. But on days that I'm babysitting, those characteristics are mine to contend with.

Having the chance to babysit my little niece after her arrival in the world was a constant learning experience. In the beginning I could put her to sleep by setting her in her mechanical rocker for a few minutes. When she had outgrown that, I would try to sing her to sleep. Eventually I had to resort to rocking her in a rocking chair and reading her endless bedtime stories while she physically fought me, then giving up until she fell asleep in a ball on the floor.

Whenever I've had the chance to see her, to take care of her, Sydney has taught me new and valuable things. She's tested my patience. She's also made me a happier person.

Now she'll have a little brother. Without a doubt, he will be a crazy little rugrat. Hopefully the two will share some tendencies.

What I'm most excited about, though, is getting to relive and relearn the things that I discovered when Sydney was just a teeny infant. There was something so glorious about babysitting her while she sat mindless in front of a TV set. She couldn't crawl or even roll over in the early days and what a simpler job it was to take care of her then. The only problem I ever faced was watching SySy struggle when she would try to grab her bottle between her hands and it would inevitably fall on her face if I let go of it. I guess with that knowledge under my belt, I will no longer wondering whether or not my nephew can hold up a bottle on his own and just know that I need to do it for him. Until he's a few months older.

Unfortunately, I just had one of the biggest jolts of my life on the phone just now. And suddenly I feel my blog must take some sort of turn.

Though I eagerly await more information about my sister's labor progress - she's in the hospital now and should be giving birth at some point soon - I was just called by the same hospital where my sister is staying to be told that my grandma has injured her back and is in the hospital as well.

According to the nurse it's a minor issue, but seeing as I'm the only closely related family member to my grandma in the US, I got the first call. It scared me to bits.

So I have two things on my mind now. On one side is the anticipation for a new member of my family, on the other is hope that my grandma's recovery will be swift and that someone will be able to take care of her when I cannot.

This is when being on practically the other side of the country really starts to take its toll. It's been to the point lately that I've started to question how well I will bear my last few quarters at school near Chicago. The distance from people I love has made me lose relationships (i.e. romantic, not familial), feel distant from others and feel incredibly lonely by myself. I want to be able to reach out to some people, but I know they don't care to hear from me. And now I just feel lost.

I'm sorry for turning what was meant to be a joyous blog into something more emotional and depressing, but this actually characterizes my last few weeks pretty accurately. When something good is happening, something sad is there to squash it.

I hope my grandma is okay. And I hope my sister remains okay. If anything else goes wrong, I don't know how I will handle it.

I'm looking forward to a few weeks from now when I can be with the people I love again. Right now it's them that I need most and yet I'm stuck here by myself in my bedroom at a school that feels huge and busy and yet so alienating. It doesn't help that it's nearly midnight on a Thursday and there are some obnoxious drunk guys pacing my hallway and talking about Battle of the Bands.

I don't usually pray for anything, but tonight I'm praying that things just run smoothly for a while. I'm sick of everything going sour. If there is a higher power or karma or something else that can govern luck, please look over my family right now and make sure nothing else goes haywire. I want a baby nephew and I want a healthy grandma. I see no reason I have to trade one for the other.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Generation YouTube

Note (2014): In lieu of recent events, I no longer feel comfortable promoting the work of Alex Day. I was a long-time fan of his, and I won't pretend I wasn't, but I want to be clear that I don't condone his actions in the YouTube community. For more information, please visit this link.

The quarter will be ending soon and I am trying my darnedest not to go absolutely crazy at the prospect of how much work I have to do in just a couple of weeks. This happened to me in London and you'd think after the agonizing torture of staying up until 3 am to do research papers that I would have learned my lesson. I have not learned my lesson.

So what does someone like me - a girl who doesn't party or do anything remotely socially or extracurricularly stimulating - do with all the free time that she should be spending on homework but then refuses to use toward productivity?

Simple. YouTube.

I've had a long-lived obsession with the Tube. The television tube. This obsession has led to hours of my precious time spent sitting in front of a small box staring at pixels changing color, coming together to form some sort of coherent storyline. I might have regrets if those hours weren't some of the best of my life. Call me a rube all you like, but I think of my interest in the tube as an intellectual pursuit. Or a pursuit of personal fulfillment. In some twisted way.

Well it's 2013 now and while I do also have a television in my room, I've started to turn to other tubes. And by that I mean YouTube - the endless mode of entertainment, available even when broadcast television fails me.

The past few weeks I've found myself returning to old YouTube favorites, starting to watch new YouTubers that I now love and continuing with web series that have gotten me through bouts of both emotional turmoil and paralysis.

For those of you lacking adequate methods for wasting time, here are some of the ways I waste mine (coupled with explanations, to better aid in your search for YouTubers to watch):

Note: Keep in mind that I am a nerdfighter and therefore nearly all of the YouTubers listed will be nerdfighters as well. To learn about what a nerdfighter is, read on.

Charlie McDonnell (Charlieissocoollike)

I believe Charlie McDonnell was the first YouTuber I ever started watching regularly. My first experience with his videos was his "How to be English," which taught viewers how to ("properly") make a cup of tea. I don't know why it was that I was on YouTube at all at this point, but the video must have been featured at the time and the rest is history.

Since then I've watched every Charlie McDonnell video and even when I stopped logging onto YouTube regularly (because my school email account is a Google Account and fudges everything up), I've always kept up with his work. He's sweet, adorable, funny and geeky. And he's English. I think you will notice a trend in the nationalities of the YouTubers I watch in that since starting with charlieissocoollike, I've continued to watch mainly British YouTubers. Please don't hold it against me.

Alex Day (Nerimon)

I went to VidCon a couple of years ago and it was there that I met Alex Day. I admired him so much, even before I met him. I think it was because of his music. While he's mainly known for his vlogging (and for being best friends with Charlie), he also has a blossoming music career. And in my opinion his music is legitimately good - it contests a lot of more popular music nowadays if you ask me. Some of my favorite songs of his include "Hearts" and "Don't Look Back" (there are the most amazing views of London in this music video) from his album Parrot Stories and "She Walks Right Through Me," one of his newer singles.

Maybe it's his irreverence or his strange, patterned clothing, but something about Alex really struck me when I first became acquainted with his videos. While at times I've been driven away and forgotten to check in on his videos, when I do they are consistently good. Random and rant-y at times, but good.

Laura (Laurbubble)

As with Charlie, I can't remember how exactly I happened upon Laurbubble. Perhaps it was in a featured video. Among my favorite YouTubers, however, she probably has the most traditional style. She makes videos in her room while speaking into a camera. She talks about the world and her life, throwing in character dress-up and putting on voices to fit the circumstances. Occasionally she throws in little bits of graphic overlay - explosions and the like.

A couple of times I've seen Laurbubble resort to doing in-video advertising which disappoints me, yet I still appreciate her work and think she does a good job of putting together simplistic, yet fun video blogs.

The Lizzie Bennet Diaries (LizzieBennet)

Now this is something completely different. Again, I couldn't tell you how I discovered The Lizzie Bennet Diaries. What I should say is that it had nothing to do with the Vlogbrothers - of whom one brother (Hank Green) was responsible for putting the series together. I happened upon the series one day and fell in love with it, only later finding out that I had come full circle and perpetuated my nerdfighter-dom (keep reading to find out what a nerdfighter is) without even realizing it.

The Lizzie Bennet Diaries is a modern-day take on the Jane Austen novel Pride & Prejudice. As I've mentioned many times before on this blog, I love P&P. While other girls drown their sorrows in tubs of Ben & Jerry's, I save mine for viewings of Pride & Prejudice (the 2005 version) or The Lizzie Bennet Diaries. Even though I didn't fall in love with Darcy in LBD like I hoped I would, I still anxiously look forward to new episodes of the web series twice a week. It's a wonderful way to measure the passing of days.

Johnny Durham (JohnnyDurham19)

Back to the male English YouTubers. Partnering with other YouTubers, Alan Lastufka (fallofautumndistro), Todd Williams (toddly00) and the aforementioned Charlie McDonnell and Alex Day,  Johnny Durham became known as one of the fiveawesomeguys. He is a YouTuber with an adorable accent, a handsome face and an endearing personality.

He's obsessed with giraffes, he designs t-shirts and he makes lovely and quirky videos (when he graces the internet with his presence at all). It's been several months since Johnny made a video, but I still appreciate him regardless. He's a vegetarian after all. Enough said.

Dan Howell (danisnotonfire) & Phil Lester (AmazingPhil) &

I have been most newly converted to fandom of the looney YouTube personalities of Dan Howell and Phil Lester. While interacting with a friend over Facebook, these two became known to me and since then I've made it my purpose in life to catch up on several years of not knowing who they were. I must repent for my sin by spending hours in front of my computer watching quite a bit of video footage of the two best friends.

They're weird, they're funny, they have few boundaries when it comes to putting themselves on the internet. And I love them for it. They're a good pick me up whenever I need one and since I haven't yet watched their entire oeuvre, the entertainment is seemingly endless.

John & Hank Green (VlogBrothers)

Last but most certainly not least are the VlogBrothers. If you've read this far then you are probably wondering why I never made good on my promise to explain what a nerdfighter is. Well watch a couple of videos of Hank or John Green - two brothers who live in separate states yet keep in frequent contact by making videos addressed to each other (and now to their fanbase) several times a week - and it will all make sense.

John Green is an author (his most recent book The Fault in Our Stars was recently named the number one fiction book of 2012 by TIME Magazine) and Hank Green is some sort of super-amazing-video-game-playing-innovator-musician-inventor-extraordinaire. Together they make some of the most interesting videos on the internet - not limited to their channel, but including various other shows like Crash Course, SciShow and Hank Plays Games. Their fans have become known as "nerdfighters," their motto being DFTBA (or, "Don't Forget to be Awesome"). It's almost a cult of sorts - with many hardcore fans going to VidCon (a YouTube conference) each year and a lot of people even starting their own channels with aspirations of similar success and fulfillment to that of the VlogBrothers.

I admire these men because along with being two of the most popular players on YouTube, they have other intellectual pursuits and successes. John Green in particular is known for his work as an author, and in watching his videos his way with words is practically palpable (even when talking to his three year old son).

Though Charlie McDonnell introduced me to the idea of serial vlogging, the VlogBrothers were the reason I continued to watch and learn more. Even though I don't make video blogs myself, I feel intimately involved with the community just because I value it so much.

So that's why I watch YouTube. Aside from the mindless entertainment and the hours of time wasted in the hopes of finding peace and solitude during the long days of trudging to class and dreading homework, tube-viewing is a way for me to feel like I'm part of something bigger than myself.

I hope you will take the time to watch a few videos of the YouTubers I've mentioned. They are worth the time and you may actually find yourself enjoying their insights. Some are weirder than others, some are sweeter, but all of them are interesting. So click some links and enjoy.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

On my own again

When you're a girl who lives more in books than in reality, you have trouble not always aligning yourself with the protagonists of your favorite stories. Whether you see them in a play, in a movie, in a TV show or in the pages of a book, somehow the identification becomes unavoidable. You start comparing your own life to theirs, finding meaning in their experience, relating everything that's happened to you to what's happened to them in a much shorter time frame.

I will whole-heartedly admit to doing just this.

Perhaps it's a fault; I should be ashamed for not living my life for its own sake. Instead of taking things as they come, I live by some unreasonable standard set for me by my favorite literature and art.

That's not fair. No one's life is like art. But does that mean I'm not allowed to identify with characters who speak to me?

Here are just a few of the characters who I've identified with at one point or another, specifically in their experiences in love.

Eponine from Les Misérables

This will probably sound morbid, but for a long time I've considered Eponine as an emotional match for me. Even when I was in my young teens, I could see her story playing out in mine. She loves a boy, he acts like he has feelings for her. They flirt, nothing happens. He falls in love with someone else, he uses her to get to that girl and Eponine is left in the shadows. She still loves him, but it's unrequited.

Eventually Eponine dies. And while I wouldn't say that my life will end the same way as hers, the song "On My Own" has always spoke to the pessimist in me. Somehow throughout my experiences in love and not in love, I've found myself returning to Eponine's soliloquy for comfort and guidance. It only serves to make me sadder, but in a commiserating sort of way.

Elphaba from Wicked

Less depressing than the story of Eponine is the tale of Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West who is the subject of the musical (and book) Wicked. Elphaba feels unappreciated and misunderstood for the first half of her story. She laments that the boy she likes won't like her back because he'll instead fall for "gold hair with a gentle curl."

She's out of the ordinary. She's green. Sometimes I feel like I'm green. Kind of in the Kermit the Frog sort of way. It's not easy being green, after all. It's a bit alienating (pardon the pun). In the end, Elphaba does find that the boy she likes loves her back, though. They supposedly live happily ever after, but only when he's put in his right place after becoming "brainless." It's a tragic ending, but a beautiful one. I hope I have a beautiful ending too - more like the love between Elphaba and Fiyero rather than death like Eponine. I'd like some semblance of happiness.

Cosette from Les Misérables

For a while I found that my life felt more like Cosette and it seemed weird to me that I identified with her character. I've always despised Cosette - the way that her life became so easy after Jean Valjean saved her from the Thenardiers seemed so inauthentic. At least in the musical Les Misérables, once she's in her teens she manages to lose any depth that she had in the beginning of the play. Somehow the little girl singing "Castle on a Cloud" has more dynamism than the older Cosette singing "A Heart Full of Love."

What she does have, however, is a boy who adores her and wants to be there for her always. I thought I had that. When I did, I identified with Cosette. Then I didn't. And until I can trust men again, I don't know when or if I will.

Elizabeth Bennet from Pride & Prejudice

The men I know I can trust are in the pages of Victorian novels. When reality fails me, I have Mr. Darcy. To have Mr. Darcy, I must live vicariously through Elizabeth Bennet. She misjudged him and he misjudged her; they went through some craziness before ending up together, but their story is so undeniably beautiful that it makes me numb to the toils of actual romance.

When I'm lonely, I always turn to Pride & Prejudice. And in my decision to become involved with Mr. Darcy rather than real men (who always seem to prove unsatisfactory), I find that I'm infinitely happier. I could decide when I've just broken up with someone that I need to move on as quickly as possible to the next suitable alternative. I could use that effort to hurt the person who broke my heart. But I'm better than that. Mr. Darcy is my answer, not some rebound. I guess Mr. Darcy is my rebound. And Lizzie Bennet is my homegirl. She shares her man with me.

Mindy Lahiri from The Mindy Project

Mindy Lahiri, unlike all of the characters already listed, is one who doesn't have luck in relationships or outside of them. She's always looking for new people to become involved with, always being hoisted by her own petard when she starts dating someone new. It's disastrous, it's funny.

I guess her character shows me that I don't need to follow in her footsteps. I'm better than she is even though I love her to pieces. I can dream of romance and not pursue it with a bunch of wrong men. Look where that got her. She's When Harry Met Sally-ing it up with Danny Castellano. So frustrating.

Celeste from Celeste & Jesse Forever

I'd like to top off my experiences with a little bit of Celeste from Celeste & Jesse Forever. She's a terribly sympathetic character. She's loved and tried to make things work. She's attempted to be friends after the fact. She's realized that friendships don't always work between exes, yet she keeps trying. She has a soft soul, which doesn't do her much good when she tries to move on from past experiences.

In a way I feel like I'm her. In a way I just aspire to be like her. A beautiful, intelligent, successful woman who is able to let go of the things that poison her life. Her best friend (and ex-husband), Jesse, did put a lifelong burden on her and she let go. It can be hard to be in that position but I hope that if I ever am I don't get led astray by overwhelming feelings.

C'est Tout

I don't know that there was any definite purpose to listing these characters or describing their worth to me. I guess in a way it just helps me clarify my own feelings to get to flesh them out. Within the medium of compare and contrast, I can make more sense of how mixed up I feel at the moment.

I'm in a good place because for the first time I'm not being a Mindy Lahiri or an Eponine. I'm not even being Elizabeth Bennet or Celeste. I never really was a Cosette. I'm just being me. I'm just working things out and forgetting about the things that don't matter - the people that hurt me who literally mean nothing.

So this is me throwing away bad feelings as best I can and just focusing on my own shtick. Me, not the protagonists I love. Hopefully that gets me somewhere. Somewhere good.

Curiosity killed the cat

I used to have four cats. All at once. Two of them were brothers (one of those brothers is still alive); they were named Mozart and Sebastian. They were the dastardly duo, a pair of cats with a hidden agenda who would often poke their noses into situations they were not meant to be involved in. This became extra apparent when my one female cat, Marie, came into the picture. Sebastian would always give Marie a hard time, sneaking into the room where she spent most of her days and bothering her until she would hide under cushions or in little crevices, hissing as her only defense mechanism. Marie herself was a bit of a drama queen, but even so there was something about Sebastian that irked her - his inability to keep to himself, his curiosity, his nosiness.

Sebastian was an instigator. He never kept his thoughts to himself. And even though he was a cat, somehow I always knew what he was up to. The furtive peeks, pushing my door slightly ajar, were entirely readable. He wanted to know what was going on even when it was completely none of his business.

We always forgave him for it. Because he was a cat. He may have annoyed me to pieces, but at the end of the day I always gave him a pat on the back or a scratch behind the ears. Because I loved him. He may have been an idiot, but he was my idiot. And you love your idiots no matter what kind of idiotic stuff they are up to.

That's true of an owner toward their pets anyway. Or a tolerant parent toward their children.

Not so much for anyone else, though.

I've found that in my relationships with others, the instigator tendencies that I share with Sebastian don't have much of a place. Start poking my nose into other people's lives and instead of being shooed away and then having my ears scratched a second later, I have the door slammed in my face, never to be opened again. No one wants to deal with a friend, a significant other or an acquaintance who bothers them too much.

Well that's a problem, because like Sebastian, I like to weasel my way into places I don't belong.

If Sebastian had been a human, I have no doubt he and his brother (again, Mozart) would've grown up to become detectives. Or journalists. The main reason I'm an instigator is that I am a researcher and a journalist. I love learning, I love knowing things. But learning is one thing and being too interested, too involved and too invasive is another. That's the line between investigator and papparazzo.

As a journalist, I do have an uncanny way of prying a bit too much in the subjects of my interest. I like to insert myself in a scene - get involved with it as much as I can and talk with as many people who will talk to me about it. And as a reporter, that's a fine trait.

But then I start doing that in my personal life. And while it's okay to be involved with people's issues - to let them confide in you and share their thoughts with you - forcing them to involve you is a completely different ball game.

I don't know what it is about my mind, but for some reason I enjoy knowing a few too many details about the people I care about. It's not because I'm a gossip, I don't take much pleasure in spreading secrets. It's really just because I like to have all the facts squared away. In reality, my intentions are honorable. In practice, they seem questionable. I realize that.

There needs to be an invisible line drawn in my head. A point at which curiosity stops and tact comes in. They say curiosity killed the cat and while that metaphor isn't true when applied to the real life situation of Sebastian (or Mozart), I can see how it makes sense.

How many relationships of mine have gone sour because I found myself too interested in what was going on in the life of the other person? How often have I let my desire to know more drive me to instigate so far that I alienate instead?

This is the first time in quite a few months that I've focused more on questions about myself than on questions about others. For the first time in a while I'm only surrounded by people I can fully trust; I've eradicated my life of the presences that were questionable, removed the interactions with people who were more concerned with their own self-interest than being a good friend to me. And that has made my life infinitely easier.

I don't worry about investigating my own mind. Unlike other people who become angry when I care too much and question too much, expending curiosity on myself will never cause any sort of rift. And that goes for instigators who want to know more about me. I'm not the type of person who gets sick of people for being instigators. To this day I miss my Sebastian, the tactless little Siamese cat who would pop his way into my life when I least expected it. For the moment, he often annoyed me; in the long run, his curiosity made me love and remember him.

If anything, I hope I can find people to add to my life who are as accepting of this quirk of mine as I am of others'. If I want to peer in doorways and ask for attention, please don't slam the door in my face. If I could control this trait in myself, I would, and I will continue to try. But if I can't, then I guess what I need most are people who can understand and who don't become upset because someone cares about them too much.

"Curiosity killed the cat" is an antiquated phrase. If curiosity did in fact kill anyone, then every journalist, every detective, every curious mind in the world would be doomed to a terrible fate. And I refuse to think that my often compassionate concern for others and my wondering about their circumstances is any cause for my immediate demise.

If it is, then surely I'll be struck by lightning tomorrow. It remains to be seen, I guess.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Happy Movie-Lovers Day

This is the one night out of the year when I can geek out amongst friends about movies and know that I don't sound like a freak for being so enthusiastic.

It almost feels like I shouldn't be writing about the Oscars. It's too big a subject - there's really too much to say. What right do I have to make judgments? So I'm not going to...not necessarily.

At least no bashing will commence.

There is something about the Academy Awards televised airing that I find comforting each and every year. Like the Tony Awards in a few months, it's become a tradition in my life to carve out a sizable portion of my Sunday night once a year to make time for the three and a half hour award show. It seems ridiculous even, thinking on how much could have been done it that time, that I was able to sit still and watch famous people reward famous people for being awesome without remorse. But somehow it leaves me more with a feeling of accomplishment than wastefulness.

What is it about award shows anyway? There's nothing incredibly instructive about them, nothing too inherently interesting. They're captivating, I suppose, what with all the waiting for winners to be announced. And of course there's the added spectacle thrown in for good measure - song and dance numbers, sparkly stages, beautiful montages. Tonight's was particularly wonderful with performance numbers from various musicals turned films - a genre of movie that I have a particular affinity for.

It almost seems like a silly way to spend time though.

I can say that from an objective point of view, but subjectively I don't feel my life would be complete without an annual viewing of the Oscars.

I love making predictions on movies I haven't seen and passing judgment on some that I may never even hope to see. It's fun to look at dresses from designers I'll never wear and ogle at attractive actors in dapper suits (Hello, Eddie Redmayne and Aaron Tveit).

It's one of the few times that the whole world is comfortably shallow. While I must often shush myself when I'd like to talk about the most recent episode of The Bachelor, worrying that if I should do so I might risk being judged by society, the same is not true of the Oscars. The overblown pageantry is outweighed by the cultural phenomenon and the love of quality film, so I feel no shame.

When it ends however, I'm incredibly sad. Another year has gone by and while I will continue to watch and critique movies, and I still have the option of guessing what will show up on the nominee roster next year, right now I feel almost incomplete. If I didn't have a nephew to look forward to meeting in a few weeks (I blogged about him last night), then I might have very little to look forward to.

Yet I will be going on with my life, movie-loving tendencies and all, even with the Oscars firmly behind me. That being said, some fond memories will suffice. It was not a particularly enthralling show, but the scene of the Les Misérables cast singing "One Day More" will continue to give me chills upon repeated viewings on YouTube. And maybe that alone will prove the three and a half hours well spent.

I love that I can share this obsession with so many other people now. My friends, my family, even some more distant acquaintances will have - in a rare instance in our heavily fragmented society - all watched the Academy Awards tonight or at least be up on the winners. It's like watching the Super Bowl for nerds and homebodies.

The activity in itself is something to celebrate. You'd be hard-pressed to find another time when a whole dorm can come together to watch a single event (I was lucky enough to watch the Oscars along with the rest of my dormmates last year and the year before), or even when you can drag a friend into your room to watch a show for nearly four hours because you're the only one with a small working television on this floor and you're just both so in love with film.

I had a lot of fun tonight. It took me out of the real world for a moment - kept me from thinking about homework and responsibilities and anything else that's been weighing me down - and let me dive into frivolity for just a few hours.

Now I'm not ready to re-enter the real world again. A new week is starting and I will inevitably have to start remembering what it was I blocked out of my thoughts so I could whole-heartedly enjoy the Academy Awards.

But I think with the added pleasantness of a night spent watching Paperman win an Oscar, listening to Anne Hathaway rattle off too many names, seeing Jennifer Lawrence trip on stage and hearing Ben Affleck speak faster than Cary Grant in a 1930s screwball comedy, I can take on what the week has in store. I'm looking forward to it even. Who knew a little award show could turn things around so much?

He'll be coming 'round the mountain

What is it about boys? I don't understand them, I don't think I ever will. As my paternal grandfather has said in the past, men and women are different species. I think he says that with some degree of seriousness. Sometimes I believe him.

I don't often feel like I can connect with the men in my life on much more than a superficial level. We can make small talk, occasionally base conversations on mutual interests (however rarely; i.e. I don't like sports), complain about some of the same things, etc. But with some exceptions (i.e. my dad), men will always be an enigma. They're cool, interesting, even fascinating. But they just confound me.

That's why I'm excited to announce on my blog - maybe I've mentioned it in passing already, but I'm particularly enthusiastic now in using it as the basis of an entry - that I will soon be an auntie for the second time to a lovely little boy.

When my niece was in the womb (and before she was old enough to have her gender definitively labeled), for some reason I assumed she would be male. When my dad and I were predicting the sex many months in advance, I was almost entirely sure of it. I wanted her to be a boy, in fact. But looking back, I'm glad I got to practice my auntie-ing skills on a girl, especially one as adorable as my niece. She's tested my patience at times, but reminded me how much I'm capable of loving someone even when I'm responsible for cleaning up their diapers and being swatted at when I wipe their face after they eat. And being a girl, I've felt an indescribable kinship with her. Not just because we're family, of course, but because we share some inherent traits in that we're both female.

Now I'd be lying if I said I wasn't looking even more forward to meeting my nephew for the first time. While I won't be home for the birth, I will be returning soon thereafter and getting a chance to interact with a brand new newborn.

How strange to think that two years ago I was in this same place. Waiting and watching social media for that moment when my sister would be off to the hospital.

My excitement probably sounds strange. You don't often hear about aunts and uncles eagerly anticipating the births of their nieces or nephews. That's the job of the parents or the grandparents. Well color me strange, but this is something I've been looking forward to more than anything else.

There are great things on the horizon for me. Lately I've been trying to improve myself in as many ways as I can. I've been conscious of arguments and outbursts I have, keeping them to a minimum and attempting to maintain healthy and communicative relationships with people I care about. I've been applying to internships, hoping to work out my plans for the summer. I'm looking to possibly return to London for another quarter if possible - whenever that may be - because I know it's where my heart belongs. I've been doing my work as best I can, focusing on my studies and my responsibilities whenever possible. And I've been treating myself to time off. Lots of time off during which I can just sit back, relax and hope to God that the status quo of my life can be maintained.

But what I've been most looking forward to - what keeps me in high spirits even during a challenging moment in my personal development - is knowing that in less than a month I'll be holding a beautiful little baby boy in my arms who I can call my nephew.

I'm gushing now, I realize. But there is a reason, other than just the addition of a new member to my family, that excites me about this forthcoming nephew of mine.

He's a boy. And as I mentioned earlier, I just don't understand boys.

I've had nothing but trouble in this department. Even when things have seemed to work out for me with men, I've always returned back to square one and had to continue on the search hoping that things pan out better under future circumstances. After failed relationships, I've looked inwardly hoping that I could square things away so that I wouldn't have destructive romantic interactions anymore. I've limited who I have crushes on, pursued those that I do, prevented myself from making rash decisions and constantly checked my back to make sure I wasn't doing anything stupid. On a personal level, I think I've been doing what I need to for myself.

But maybe that doesn't align with the male gender. Because no matter how hard I've tried, I've never found a guy who respected me in every way. And I guess that's just hard for me to wrap my head around.

So now I look at my nephew as a sort of case study. He'll be my first true insight into the developing mind of a bouncing baby boy. With all his quirks, eccentricities, sweetness and gruffness (I'm assuming he'll have all four), I hope to at least gain a little bit of extra knowledge about why it is that I have never been able to meet any male (again, other than my father) half way.

I want to teach him so much. I hope to be a positive presence in his life. I want to expose him to Disney movies and musical theater (sorry, Matt) so that when he's older and girls he likes inevitably are interested in those things, he won't be thrown for a loop. I want to be there for him as an auntie so he will always trust me as someone in his life who will love him unconditionally.

Because as rude as it may be to say this, I don't really have that with my aunts and uncles. And I envy those who do. And I want to be what I never was lucky enough to have - the auntie my niece and nephew can count on. The kind of older relative who will never judge them and treat them like they're inferior or uncared for.

Beyond teaching, though, I want to learn about him. I want to see how he grows, to learn what makes him tick, to discover things about him and study him so that he becomes less of an enigma.

In a way, I knew what I was getting into when my sister gave birth to my niece. As a female, I find girls an easy study. We may be complex, but our temperaments are pretty standardized. But how will my nephew be different?

I can't wait to learn these things. And I hope in some way that I can fashion a better understanding of the other half of the human race as a result. Because as of now, I've got nothing.

So if you should ever read this, my little nephew, I hope you will recognize what a blessed appearance you will be making in my life. I am so thankful for you, so looking forward to your arrival, so hopeful for all the beauty you will add to my life by just being born. Your sister did just that and I'm glad to get to know you next.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Que Sera Sera, whatever will P&P

Everyone who lives within a 10-foot radius of the bathroom/shower room that I use probably hates me now. Each and every night when I partake in my daily shower routine, I like to sing a few tunes. Whatever pops into my head, whether I know all the lyrics or can reach the high notes or not, I start singing. It's become an impulse - something I can't control. Showering without my voice feels empty now - like looking at a computer without typing or scrolling; or reading a book without actually flipping the pages. The two separate activities have become intimately linked. I can't separate them anymore.

So yes, that makes me sorry to everyone who lives in an area close enough to the bathroom to hear my warbling.

I think I'm a fairly good singer so I don't feel much shame in doing it. And even if I can't sing a song from start to finish quite perfectly, I enjoy my own attempts. Just hearing the music of my choice is comforting - and there's something about letting the music come from my own mouth which is beautiful and exciting.

This evening one of the songs I sang was "Que Sera Sera."

Whenever I think of this song, I immediately am reminded of a scene from Gilmore Girls in which Lorelai Gilmore is walking on her porch in the early morning and her foot falls through the wood below her. She discovers later that her foundation is falling apart as a result of a termite infestation and it completely rocks her world.

I haven't had a termite infestation lately, so this song continues to consistently put me in a good mood.

Lately I've been trying to find ways to help myself into a good mood when I'm feeling particularly temperamental or testy. One thing that helps, in addition to singing in the shower (and perhaps specifically singing "Que Sera Sera") is watching the movie Pride & Prejudice.

What is it about Pride & Prejudice specifically? For those who have to ask that question, I doubt I could ever make it perfectly clear. It's just something inherent, intrinsic. It doesn't really make sense unless you feel the same way.

Do you have any movies, television shows or songs (or anything else that deals in the realm of art) that turn your whole day around when you watch or listen to them? Do you ever have a moment of anxiety which you know can easily be dealt with by turning on or partaking in some random piece of entertainment?

Well that's Pride & Prejudice for me. Some people listen to a relaxing song. One of my friends told me recently to listen to "Let it Be" because that is his tried and true method toward improving his mood (I'm sorry if you didn't want me to mention that to the world, friend-who-will-not-be-named-for-privacy's-sake). There are songs that inspire certain feelings for me - and others which coincide with feelings I already have - but nothing does what Pride & Prejudice can do.

I love just sitting down and listening to the theme music. I love hearing the sound of rain, the clinking of dinnerware, the sounds of family life in the film. I love the dialogue. I love the style of speaking. I love the cordiality and the classical Englishness of it all.

When I was in Japan a few years ago, the only film I brought with me on DVD was my copy of Pride & Prejudice. I kept it in my laptop bag and whenever I felt like I needed to speak English - and for some reason that feeling came more than you might expect - I would pop in the movie and get just the right sampling of my native tongue.

It was on that trip that I realized what the movie itself meant to me. It wasn't just a link to the English-speaking world, it was also the only film in my entire hoard of DVDs that I always wanted to watch. I would turn it on and not skip over a bit, focusing on little details and big picture details at the same time, enjoying each and every moment. Other times I'd keep it in the background as the most enchanting white noise.

There's something about the writing, the character development, the subtleties of production, the muted colors, the quiet and beautiful soundtrack, the misty air that pervades the entire film. It's so idyllic, so perfect, so romantic.

No matter what mood I'm in, where I'm at or what I'm doing, I will always crave some P & P.

I don't know if this is just an eccentricity or it somehow speaks to how perfect a film Pride & Prejudice is, but either way I'm glad to have found something in my life that even in the darkest of days picks me up and gives me high hopes again.

Is it weird that I sometimes envy Elizabeth Bennet? Or that I idolize Jane Austen and even count her among the most influential individuals in my life? Should I stop wishing I could have a sister and best friend exactly like Jane Bennet? Is it ridiculous that Matthew Macfadyen as Mr. Darcy somehow convinces me that not all men are scummy?

All of those things are unorthodox, I'm sure. But I don't think there's anything wrong with them either.

The best thing about an obsession with Pride & Prejudice is that when I'm feeling bummed out, or when I just feel like bumming around, I have it there sitting among my collection as an option for entertainment. At times when things aren't just perfect in my actual life, I need that stability and that comfort.

Tonight I had that in "Que Sera Sera." While I sang in the shower I felt at peace in a way that I haven't for a few days. I loved the sound of my echoing trills in the shower room. It made my tonality sound more beautiful than ever.

I also had a chance to watch Pride & Prejudice, though. And maybe it only takes those two things to set me over the edge, feeling indescribably happy. No matter what my emotions are before, in the instant that I sit down in front of my laptop and pop in P & P, things are different. I'm different.

I'm happier now. I'm ready to relax and take on this weekend without anything but enthusiasm. And I can thank Doris Day and Lizzie Bennet for my positivity.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Friends not acquaintances

Today in my reality television class - a course which examines the inception and success of the reality TV genre - we had a guest speaker who talked about his methods in getting casted on one of America's most popular reality shows, Big Brother. We learned about how he created a caricature during his interview process so that he would come off as being an easily labeled character, even if that character didn't necessarily resemble him. Then when he arrived at the Big Brother house, he used some master skills in manipulation to learn about his opponents and use the information he gained on them to eventually defeat them and their weaknesses.

What I took away from the talk was different from what the general overview would suggest. In a few minutes of the lecture and Q&A session, this visitor - who I've yet to mention was Dan Gheesling - described how it was that he got to know people so he could use information he learned about them against them.

He talked about being incredibly fascinated in how other people thought, and what they thought about. He talked about books that he read suggesting how to become better at making friends and interacting with people. He said something that I always knew was true but that for some reason I've never been able to apply in my own life.

Stop talking about yourself and start listening.

That's the principle that stuck.

In his experience, this was a way to keep yourself in the shadows while others revealed their truest and most vulnerable selves. I can see how it might be used to that advantage. That's not what I want from the advice, though.

It has come to my attention recently that though I do have a small and wonderful group of friends in my immediate circle, I have a sort of impediment that keeps me from interacting with a lot of people and forging friendships with them. The impediment is that I don't do well in the kind of interactions that Dan was talking about today.

As I've written in my blog before - and as is evidenced by the fact that I have a blog - I have a lot of thoughts about myself. I don't consider this me being self-centered since most of the time I end up judging myself and trying to work out ways to become a better person. A lot of my blog involves self-help; I recognize my faults and I try and outline ways to work through those faults.

Because I am so often working on me, though, I've come to realize just how many relationships I've passed up with people I've met throughout my life.

I'm an introvert and an inward-looking individual. Often I prefer spending time alone because it allows me to stop worrying about how others perceive me and how I interact with them. It's easier to just shut myself up and not meet anyone at all.

But I'm a human being, and in being a human being I need to interact with others. Being someone who often fixates on her own personal issues, a lot of those interactions end up not being as fulfilling as they ought to be. I don't follow the cardinal rule of successful conversations which is to push the conversation away from yourself and engage the other person in talking about their life.

Being a journalism student should mean that I'm good at this. But I'm just not. I can interview someone when it's my responsibility, but when I'm in a casual situation I just don't. It's not because I am not interested in others, but because I become even more introverted as soon as I put myself out on a limb by trying to ask them questions. If I run out of questions, what will they think?, I wonder to myself.

It's silly, because objectively I know that if I want to get to know people and forge better friendships, I have to open myself up to their stories and their lives. Without that, a friendship means nothing. I'm not a fan of superficial relationships, so I never quite understand the point of being close to someone and not opening up to them.

If I'm looking to open up to others in the process of becoming friends, I have to learn to help them open up to me too. This is a problem I've faced for years, but one that I've never examined and never realized was so incredibly detrimental to my ability to meet and be friendly with everyone I wish I could be.

Well that's going to change. I don't know quite how yet, and maybe it will just have to happen organically, but I really need to start opening up to people - making conversation before it's made with me, asking people about themselves and not trying to relate that to my own experience per se, just being present in the moment and open to the words and stories of others.

This kind of receptiveness won't just help in making friends, but hopefully will help in doing other things. Maybe it will make me better understand the psychology of others (and thus my own mind a well), maybe it will give me material for my writing. If I'm lucky it will just make me happier.

Because as much as I love my alone time, I love being around people and feeling like I belong with them. Not to use that kind of relationship toward a particular purpose like Dan did on Big Brother, but because I simply like having wonderful people in my life. It's time to find some more wonderful people.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Panic attack

This is the last day that I'm allowing myself to freak out. For a while now I've been overloading myself with responsibilities. The most treasured time of my day - the evening - has been monopolized by random (fun, yet time-consuming) events that I have felt compelled to attend. Instead of coming back to my room each night after dinner as is proper, I've left the comfort of my dorm around 6 pm each night and not returned until 8:30 or 9 pm. As a result, I've made my legs go numb multiple times, made my lips chapped over and over, dried out my hands, etc., until all I can think of is how lovely it would be to just spend one morning, afternoon or evening hanging out in the solitude of my bedroom watching television. No responsibilities, no classes, no extracurricular activities, no nothing.

Television. I haven't even been able to watch any of my television from this week. Usually by Wednesday night I've caught up on The Bachelor, Bunheads and The Mindy Project. All I have left at this point in an ordinary week is Parks and Recreation (and 30 Rock before it ended).

Right now I have an episode of The Bachelor, an episode of Bunheads and an episode of The Mindy Project waiting on me. Then tomorrow there will be a new episode of Parks and Recreation on in the evening, plus a new webisode of Burning Love and another of The Lizzie Bennet Diaries.

At this point you're probably saying to yourself, "this girl has no life."

Well, you'd be correct.

I'm not ashamed. In fact, it's having no life that keeps me sane.

These past few weeks have been really difficult for me. I've been broken up with, had to take a midterm that I hoped I wouldn't need to, found out that my friends will be living in an apartment without me next year, been made to schedule in tons of extra hours of work on top of too many hours of class each week. On top of everything, today I found out that my class schedule for the spring was being switched around without my previous knowledge and I couldn't do anything about it.

It was the straw that broke the camel's back.

At lunch time, after finding out the news, I tried to meet with an adviser to help me organize my thoughts. She was "too busy" and thus couldn't meet with me to work through my schedule. The interaction with the receptionist at her office reduced me to completely uncalled-for tears, and as I walked out I thanked her for the help and ended up sobbing to myself on my way to lunch.

In a few minutes I realized that what was going on wasn't just emotions. I was having a mild panic attack.

Without the ability to talk through my scheduling conflicts, without anyone around to give me a hug or remind me that things would be okay, I was being bested by my anxiety. Weeks of sadness and stress piling up were no longer tolerable.

I've never had a panic attack. I never really knew what it would feel like to have one. To be honest, it didn't frighten me too much - probably because it was mild - and I self-diagnosed pretty quickly. My breathing was quick, punctuated and difficult to reel in. I started crying even though I knew there was no rational reason to cry.

I made a fool of myself. A construction worker walked past me as I cried whilst crossing the street and he laughed at me. I walked into the dining hall for lunch knowing that I had to relax in order to ease the pounding my chest, but I couldn't betray my own appearance. I looked perturbed. It felt like everyone was staring.

Calling my dad on the phone was the only thing that kept me from just slamming my head on one of the dining hall tables. I had to let the feelings go into the phone and with a kind and loving listening ear on the other side, I was able to work through things.

Going to class 20 minutes later wasn't easy. Sitting through a film in that class wasn't easy either. But after a couple of hours had passed, I had all but forgotten what had transpired earlier. My class schedule still wasn't figured out, all of the troubles of my past few weeks were still there, but at least I had control over myself.

I've taken that for granted lately - that in these times of difficulty I have always had control of myself and my faculties. Today I felt like I was losing that control. It was lack of control over one of the most simple and fundamental aspects of my life that made the world fall apart around me. Just a little change in my schedule - accompanied by hours of time no longer used for winding down and enjoying myself this week - tipped me overboard and left me drowning, struggling back to shore.

But I made it back. And I'm convinced that nothing in this world will ever have license to make me panic again. Call me a control freak, but when it's the difference between having a say in my own life and letting everything fall apart around me including myself, then I'm drawing the line.

I'm lucky that I had my dad to listen to my explosive sadness this afternoon. And I'm lucky that after today I no longer have to worry so much about extra responsibilities. For this weekend at the very least, I'm going to try and live for myself a bit. Distractions and hard work may be good for getting your mind off of things, but not if they make you go out of your mind.

This is the last day I'm allowing myself to freak out. From now on anything that gets to me will not be allowed any power over me. Stupid trivial things, like what happened today when a schedule change almost completely destroyed my plans, should have no place in my heart. I give them no place. I'm moving on.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Just her and me

This has been more than a good day. After waking up feeling groggy, spending a few extra minutes with my head buried in a pillow wondering whether it was even worth it to leave my room (it was 7 am, okay?), I was surprised at the quick turnaround. Going to work, attending class, journalism-ing [sic] and capturing photographs turned what began as a lame day into a busy and successful morning, afternoon and evening.

But before I go on to explain that, I'm going to take a step back.

Because as much as I love being happy and feeling excited about a wonderful day and basking in the glory of accomplishment, what would life be without a bit of a downer?

You needn't worry that I actually believe that. I may be a cynic, but I'm not a pessimist. However this morning when I was at work and half falling asleep at my post, I started listening to my iPod and I was immersed in this song that made me - however in a good mood I was - completely heartbroken.

At this point, I do not doubt you don't understand why I found this heartbreak a good, rewarding experience. If I am to best explain my experience, it goes something like this: I truly enjoy identifying with another person or even a fictional character, and as a result feeling their emotions through their expression and using that as a form of catharsis. Especially when I've spent so much time trying to find my own methods of letting feelings go.

The song was "The Wicked Witch of the East" from Wicked, sung by Nessarose (Nessa, for short), Elphaba's (who is the Wicked Witch of the West) sister.

As long as I've loved Wicked - which at this point amounts to about nine years of my 20 year life - I've always identified with Elphaba. Here is this girl who is a humanitarian and a compassionate soul, but who because of being different society has been alienated and treated like an outcast. She cannot trust anyone with her feelings, cannot act like herself with most anyone, just because of something as trivial as the color of her skin.

If we don't take this as a direct allegory for racial discrimination, then we can assume Elphaba struggles in the way that any girl in this day and age does. As opposed to her foil, Galinda (the Good Witch), who signifies all that is expected, admired and cherished of a young woman, Elphaba stands apart and it has caused her to become embittered.

Eventually she tries shutting everyone out, taking on a persona that fits the stereotype that she has been pigeonholed into by her peers. But soon Elphaba realizes that she can't truly live without the love of others.

Nessa on the other hand doesn't come to such a conclusive answer. She dies before she has the chance. Because she is handicapped, Nessa has been discriminated against in some of the same ways Elphaba has. In the "Dancing Through Life" scene of Wicked, Nessa is tricked into thinking that a boy really cares for her when he does not.

Just before her demise, we learn that Nessa has made this boy into her (for lack of a better word) slave - forcing him to be with her even if he does not love her. In a fit of rage at learning that he loves another woman, she uses Elphaba's spellbook to shrink Boq's heart and spoilers ensue which I will not divulge for anyone who has not yet seen the musical.

After shrinking his heart, Nessa immediately feels remorse. What is her love worth if it only results in hurting the one man she purports to love?

In the song "The Wicked Witch of the East," Nessa sings a few powerful lines that have always made my spine tingle and my heart palpitate.

"Save him please, just save him,
My poor Boq, my sweet, my brave him,
Don't leave me 'til my sorry life has ceased.
Alone and loveless here
With just the girl in the mirror.
Just her and me, the Wicked Witch of the East.
We deserve each other."

I love the imagery.
It's as if in this moment, Nessa realizes that all this time she has not been with Boq. He may have been living with her, serving her and taking care of her (she is in a position of power and manages to strip the Munchkins - of which Boq is one - of their rights to freedom), but she was always alone. And looking in the mirror now, she finally sees that she's been by herself this whole time. "With just the girl in the mirror. Just her and me, the Wicked Witch of the East."

She recognizes her own faults. But it's too late, she's already stained everything that she ever loved.

Looking at this story and these lyrics, I can see two possible resulting emotions. As a listener, I could've started to feel animosity for Nessa. She bursts out in anger and channels that frustration into hurting others and that's a truly terrible trait.

But she's also such a pitiable character - someone who is still so young, so naïve, so taken with the idea of her first love - that it's hard to blame her for her actions. She's rash, but not out of spite. She's just incredibly scared.

Who can not relate to that sort of fear? When it comes to losing what it is you most desire - for Nessa this comes in the form of someone who accepts her (and she believed Boq accepted her) - it's hard to let go. She feels so much pain in fact that she ends up losing herself in her actions. Some handle this pain more casually, more calmly than others. But then there are people like Nessa.

As someone who does not always handle her emotions the way she ought to, I was touched by this song. It so purely expresses that feeling of remorse when you've done something horrible because you felt it might be cathartic, and then you realize after the fact how terrible an idea it was. You can't go back, can't fix what's already been done, but you can beat yourself up over it - looking at yourself in the mirror and figuratively dooming your reflection to a life of misery. Labeling yourself as a wicked witch.

Sometimes I battle that exact feeling - the one that Nessa succumbs too and which eventually secures her destruction - but thinking on it in terms of this metaphor makes me realize something that I never really thought about.

My tremendous guilt complex has no right to convince me I'm a bad person. I have no license to look in the mirror and tell myself that I'm "alone and loveless". As beautiful an idea as that pain is (sadness often being cathartic, moving and even creativity-inducing), as eloquently as it is expressed in Stephen Schwartz's poetry, there is never any reason to resign oneself to that level of sadness.

I think in the past few days I've saved myself from going down that road. In doing a lot of work, in forcing myself to be involved even when I'd rather just mope around in my pajamas, I'm enjoying the refreshing possibilities of giving into new opportunities rather than old demons.

So essentially, part of the reason I was able to have a good day today was because I immersed myself in the tragedy of another. A fictional another. 

I end this evening feeling accomplished, happy and excited. I'm looking forward to tomorrow. I'm excited for this weekend. The next few weeks are going to be perilous, but I can handle them. I may be alone at the moment, responsible for dreaming up ways to keep myself occupied, but I'm certainly not loveless and I will certainly never be a wicked witch.

So don't go dropping any houses on me anytime soon. If you do, I can guarantee my legs will not curl inward, but instead give me the power to lift and throw away the most challenging hardships.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Letterwriting and me

I've always been bad at writing with my hands. There's nothing wrong with my handwriting, in fact I really like it. It reminds me of the font Century Gothic. So I'm not ashamed of that. I also don't write particularly slowly, nor do I feel my writing is any worse on paper than it is on the computer or other technologies. So this isn't a rational problem.

But for a long time I've been living without the patience or the drive to sit down every once in a while and just take out some stationery, a pen and partake in the centuries old tradition of letterwriting. It's been an activity I've sorely missed, perhaps without even realizing it.

I watch a lot of films set in the distant past. My favorite film is Joe Wright's Pride & Prejudice, based off of the Jane Austen novel published in 1813.

There's something magnificent about how letterwriting is portrayed in films like Pride & Prejudice. There's an intricacy to the writing, an unusually large amount of time devoted to sitting down at a desk and composing a really beautiful piece of prose to send off and be read by someone else. It's almost magical how much effort was expended at that time to create simple and beautiful letters.

There were so many uses for letters back then - "letters of business too, how odious I should think them" being one, letters between friends and confidantes satisfying another category and love letters being yet another. In fact, one of my favorite stories in which letters played an important role was a love story.

John Keats and Fanny Brawne were, for much of their time together, in a long distance relationship. While they were neighbors at one point, if I'm not mistaken, Keats was gone to the Scottish Highlands and to the Isle of Wight at various points in their romance. During their times apart, Keats and Brawne would send love letters to each other, expressing their intense passion for one another in a few pages of text.

It was such an important part of their relationship, in fact, that after Keats traveled to Rome where he died of tuberculosis, he was buried at the Protestant Cemetery in the city with all of the letters he had received from Fanny Brawne. Their love affair was documented in his letters to her, which still survive and continue to enchant the romantics among us.

There's something so beautiful about putting sentiments like love, friendship or admiration down on paper. It's not like writing something online - what I put in a Facebook status or on a blog doesn't have the same wonderfully tangible quality that a letter does.

In the past, I never wanted to devote the time or energy to composing letters. The idea seemed trivial. I can type so much faster than I can write by hand. Why not just print something out? Or better yet, send a heartfelt email.

That's all well and good. And in theory it sounds like a feasible alternative. But as most people would attest, there's nothing like receiving an actual letter written by hand from a loved one to you.

My problem with it before was not that I didn't appreciate the notion of letterwriting, but that I recognized the impracticality of it. The act is passé. We've invented new ways to contact each other so why resort to something that quickly turned obsolete in the 1800s by the creation of the first telephone?

Telephones are more convenient, the internet is more convenient, texting is more convenient. There's no longer much of a benefit to sending stuff by so-called "snail mail." It only hinders the process of expediency, which can be frustrating.

That's what I would have said back then. But I changed my mind.

A couple of days ago I wrote my first letter to my friend Kristin who has just started her preparation for a Latter-day Saints mission to Germany. She is not able to communicate with friends in any way other than in letters. She does have access to email, but uses it to send out very occasional updates to her family which are then forwarded to everyone else in her life.

So I've essentially been forced into the act of writing letters, or else risk losing contact with one of my best friends for a couple of years.

And in the process, I've been reminded why it is that letter writing is so romantic. I don't mean romantic in the literal romantic way - though I have in the past written love letters to send away by post. The word 'romantic' in this sense signifies for me a sort of nostalgia born out of old-world charm. There was something so serene and relaxed about past centuries. People didn't rush through letters by sending them via email. They took the time to write them out in fancy script, fold them just perfectly and seal them with wax.

Why can't I stop and smell the roses on occasion? Why can't I appreciate what it is to sit still for half an hour to write a thoughtful message to someone I care about?

In a time when I've been dealing with stress - a lot of which involves or is even at the hands of the computer (benefits of new technology, pfft) - letterwriting has been the one thing to drag me away from my keyboard and into a world that I haven't explored for years and years. There's some kind of catharsis that comes from writing by hand that is completely unattainable by any other fashion. It didn't take long for me, once I'd started writing letters again, to realize that.

From now on, I won't forget it. So I'm going to try to write more. More and more. To whomever.

So this is a call to action - to anyone who wants to write letters, or anyone who has thought about it and then changed their mind because they couldn't think of whom to write letters with - this is your chance to pretend you live in the Victorian era.

Because we all need a little taste of the past in our lives, especially if it means engaging in catharsis that makes us calmer and happier in the long run. Now I understand the idea. Now I want to write by hand.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Wake me up before I go-go crazy

O soft embalmer of the still midnight,
      Shutting, with careful fingers and benign,
Our gloom-pleas'd eyes, embower'd from the light,
      Enshaded in forgetfulness divine:
O soothest Sleep! if so it please thee, close
      In midst of this thine hymn my willing eyes,
Or wait the "Amen," ere thy poppy throws
      Around my bed its lulling charities.
Then save me, or the passed day will shine
Upon my pillow, breeding many woes,—
      Save me from curious Conscience, that still lords
Its strength for darkness, burrowing like a mole;
      Turn the key deftly in the oiled wards,
And seal the hushed Casket of my Soul.
- "To Sleep" by John Keats

It's been a while since I've seen this poem.

It never really spoke to me.

As much as I love Keats, this was never a writing of his that I much identified with. It addressed death so fondly, with so much calmness and acceptance, that I just never felt my heart melting into it like I do so many other works by my favorite poet.

I still don't really go along with the idea of death being a "soft embalmer." If there is one way in which Keats and I differ, it's that I don't welcome death like he did. His life was so full of tragedy, so rife with premature deaths of beloved relatives, that it's no wonder he welcomed the great beyond. Keats believed in some sort of higher being, and I'm sure he believed in heaven. So rather than scaring him, the thought of reuniting with people he loves in death probably enticed Keats. He may have feared death before his pen had glean'd his teeming brain (a quote from "When I have fears that I may cease to be"), but during his later years, and especially in his final months, it was death that was the only cure for his interminable sorrow.

This has never been the case for me, so it's not something I'm going to address. I see death as no answer to life's troubles. An escape, maybe, but to what end? As someone who believes she has a lot to live for, I refuse to even consider the idea of death for many many years.

On the other hand, I think Keats' imagery in this poem pertains to just what its title would suggest (sleep) perhaps even better than it does death. Sleep as the soft embalmer does, in fact, speak to me.

One of my favorite things lately has been sleep. Not because I've been particularly overworked or overtired, nor because I'm in a stage in my life where I need particularly large amounts of sleep. I never went through that stage, in fact. I remember my sister in her late teens and early twenties often sleeping in very very late after having late nights. At noon on weekend mornings I would wonder why her door was still closed, displeased because behind it was the only working computer in our house.

While most people go through a late sleeper stage, I never really became one of those people. I love waking up early. It's one of my weirdest and most confounding traits. Even I don't quite know why I enjoy being up at 7 am sometimes. There's just something pleasant about knowing that the day has just barely started and the rest of it lies ahead, ready to be tackled.

So why have I been waking up at 10 or 11 am these days? Why have I forgotten what it was to want to wake up early?

Well, for some reason early mornings have become the hardest time of my day lately. While going to sleep is a welcome experience, and sleeping itself is calming, being awoken from the sweetness of slumber is like pulling a very sticky band-aid off. It rips and tears at your psyche until all you feel is sadness, loneliness and emptiness at the beginning of a new day. And that's not starting the morning off right.

I love these lines: "Shutting, with careful fingers and benign, / Our gloom-pleas'd eyes, embower'd from the light, / Enshaded in forgetfulness divine".

Though I've always felt connected to Keats in some ethereal and incomprehensible way, this is the first time when a physical experience of his appeared so similar to one of mine. Keats describes the experience of being sad, of shrouding oneself in gloom and depression. But then he continues on to express the feeling of succumbing to the night, of letting the evening take over and erase memories, placing the sleeper into a trance. This is the only time they can live without the stain and the burden of the day.

I've never had much trouble falling asleep. I am not an insomniac. So whenever I've felt worried, sad, angry or broken-hearted, it's rarely affected my sleeping pattern. I'm usually able to let my lethargy drown my emotions at least to the point of letting me drift off. For that I am thankful.

But how it is that I go to sleep each night feeling content, warmed underneath my comforter and my sheets, yet wake up feeling as dejected as ever, I will never understand. It's as though the moment I wake I'm reminded that I can no longer live in the pleasantness of my dreams. I must face what is fact and go on living my life. And that puts me into my worst mood.

Now, in my darkest moments, I truly long for sleep. "Then save me, or the passed day will shine / Upon my pillow, breeding many woes,— / Save me from curious Conscience, that still lords / Its strength for darkness, burrowing like a mole," wrote Keats. To myself, I think of how deeply I long to banish curious conscience, to forget all woes, to evict the burrowing mole.

But unlike death, sleeping has a conceivable end. We all must open our eyes in the morning, and thus the sweet embalmer becomes a rude awakening each and every day. An inescapable one.

It's left me hanging around in bed for several extra hours each morning. Lying in bed and staring at the ceiling feels better than getting up and facing the day. Even if I want to get started with errands or just go on living life in the morning in some fashion, I'm hindered by my own insecurities.

I don't know how to fix it. Keats never had to. He may have suffered heartbreak, but before he could repair it or come to terms with it, he had died of tuberculosis.

I'm lucky that my life will not play out like that. But because it won't, it's also incumbent upon me to make the best of a terrible situation.

So for the time being my goal is to wake up each morning and think of something happy - to remind myself of something beautiful in my life or in the world that makes getting up worth it. It can be hard at times, when you're groggy and your mind is foggy, to think of what there is to live for. But just because I wake up in the morning and don't always know, doesn't mean there isn't something. There's always something to get up at 7 am for. Always.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

La musique de mon coeur

I wish I could write music. And by write music, I don't mean strum the same three chords on a guitar over and over, humming an imaginary song that means nothing to me until I've grown numb in the head and the heart. That might be useful too at a time like this when I'm overwhelmed with work and stress, but no. I wish I could write music that made me feel something, that made my heart sing. That could make me literally sing.

When I was younger I tried to write songs. If no one was in the house, I'd tiptoe over to my dad's keyboard and crank out a tune. Or at least a chorus. Or half a chorus. I'd make up lyrics and try to create music to fit it. I've always been a wordsmith first, and I think that's what was my ultimate destruction. Having the limitations of prepared words stifled me, prevented me from turning poetry to music. Instead it just became poetry, once I'd given up on the piano compositional part.

But I know this isn't my fate. I know I'm not incapable of making music.

In elementary school, I distinctly remember walking around the sandbox and singing made-up songs to myself. I would pace around the asphalt lining, holding in the sand and all the plastic and metal play sets, and I would compose. I didn't write any of it down so it didn't make much of a difference, but it felt nice to listen to myself sing something that never actually existed before I sang it in that moment.

Sometimes I'd do it when I was around family. I remember once hanging around with my grandma - I think she was cooking at the time - and I started humming a little made up ditty to myself. She mentioned it, saying she could tell it wasn't a real song - that I'd made it up. That disappointed me, but still I loved to do it. To make up a random tune on the spot, even if it was so incoherent that it was obvious not much work had gone into it.

I still do this on occasion. If I'm walking around campus or doing something mundane and I don't have a particular song in my head, I'll make one up. It doesn't have to be good, it doesn't have to be logical, it just has to fill the void that silence causes.

I've had a lot of silence lately. I spend a proportionally large time in my room these days. Occasionally I'll turn on a film or a television show, but for some reason I feel as though the excitement of my previous life at university has gone a bit dull. Or at least quiet. My old dorm is now inhabited by new people, I'm in this new place where the walls are thin but when I want to hear sound all I hear is silence (and when I want silence, I always hear one of those two people howling like a wolf and playing the same three chords on the guitar).

It's hard to kill the emptiness that is caused by the sound of silence. It's made me turn to belting in the shower or playing One Direction in my room and prancing around like I'm filming a Taylor Swift music video. I've turned away from being discrete because discrete makes me lonely.

I just wish I also had the power to turn the flamboyance into a new talent, a new catharsis.

As greatly as I despise the sound of amateur guitarists on my floor, I wish I could be one of them. In my preteens I asked for a guitar for the holidays and got a beautiful black Fender Telecaster. But I rarely used it. In time I realized that I probably would've benefited from having a lovely little acoustic guitar first. I wish now that I'd made that decision then.

Even if I'd had an acoustic guitar, who knows whether I'd have brought it all the way to school with me. I live thousands of miles away from my university, which certainly makes it difficult to travel with large items like musical instruments.

But just thinking about it makes me wistful, hopeful.

When I get home for spring break, my feelings might have changed. In fact, I'm planning on them changing. At this point I'm stagnant, letting myself harp on the past, but I'm determined to turn that around into forward-thinking happiness.

So maybe when I'm reunited with my electric guitar (and my dad's acoustic), I'll have lost the spirit that I know possess, the desire to sit down and compose.

But I hope I don't. Because even though I'm feeling confused and troubled with pent-up energy at the moment, I can feel creative energy pulsing through my veins and I want an outlet for it. I can only hope the enthusiasm will wait until the outlet is available.

Only a few more weeks - just over a month - until I am home for two weeks. If it's fair for me to ask fate for anything, let it be an easy few weeks and a lovely return home. And some beautiful music in my life until I can try and make my own.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Stop the clock

One of my favorite things about the 21st century is the ability I have to say to myself, "I'm going to watch a movie," and then find myself doing just that a few minutes later. Technology has enabled me to be counterproductive in so many ways, but for some reason sitting down to turn on some random independent film on Netflix never feels like a waste. More often than not it feels like the best way to spend my time even if that means shirking my responsibilities.

I chose not to have responsibilities tonight, though, so I end the evening with no regrets. No immediate, short-term regrets anyway.

The movie I watched tonight, which is a topic that may or may not interest you, was called TiMER. The title comes from the name of a company in the movie, which serves as the basis of the whole plot. Here's where an explanation may get tricky, so bear with me and don't zone out.

This TiMER company is a service which provides people with the ability to insert a timer (the business name makes sense now, doesn't it?) into their wrist which will count down the days until they meet their soulmate. Once they do meet their soulmate, the timer will make a distinctive alarm noise so that the interaction is unmistakable.

The catch is that if a potential soulmate does not have a timer, then the person with the timer will have a blank countdown. Does that make sense? Roundabout phrasing throwing you off? If so, watch the movie because my incoherent mind will inevitably screw things up further should I try to clarify.

I didn't know what to think of this film early on. It seemed predictable. At times it was. Characters would be introduced and I'd anticipate how they would factor into the story. There were still little elements of surprise here or there, and with a sort of inconclusive ending, TiMER actually does serve to impress.

What impressed me the most though was what I took away from it. As I've discovered recently in myself, I may not always be the type to critique films the way other people do. If I'm writing a review, of course I take on an opinion in regards to the film I'm critiquing and I try to support it with evidence. But when watching films recreationally, I try not to pick them apart, looking for shortcomings and complaining about missed opportunities for improvement. I also do not excitedly praise successes. I do, however, try and take away meaning or significance as best I can.

I think the principle behind this is that if I've sat down to watch an entire movie, I must have been enjoying it on some level. It's not an assignment, so why would I bear an entire film if I don't find it engaging?

Anyway, the point is not how I watch films. I would like to tell you specifically about what I perceived as the meaning behind TiMER.

In the film, one of the characters has chosen to remove her timer and in a moment of hesitation, the protagonist questions whether or not she should remove her timer as well.

The protagonist asks, "Question: Do you think the timer actually works, or is it just a self-fulfilling prophecy?"

The other character answers, "The chicken.. the egg.. It's all a big cluster f**k."

Why did I latch onto this scene and these quotes in particular? I think it has something to do with that desire to find meaning in every film I take time out of my day to see.

The guiding principle behind this movie is the belief that it is a good idea to essentially tell your own future, to predict the eventual finding of a soulmate and let it happen according to some pre-ordained plan. It becomes stifling to some of the characters, one because she may never find a soulmate and another because her soulmate may not be arriving for many many years.

It raises the question of whether it's important in the first place to know about these things, to anticipate them. Do we really need to know whether we'll find true love?

Within the characters' minds, this anxiety manages to twist and contort itself into a need for relationships at present, however dysfunctional they may be. They look for love-less sex, short-term flings, forgetting that by predicting their own futures they're only putting off the inevitable.

Were in their place, I don't know that I would have gotten a timer to begin with. It's like that age old survey question - if you could find out when and how you would die, would you do it?

With reasonable certainty, I've always answered "no." I don't know that I could live my life the way I want to knowing how it would end. In the same way, I don't know that I could adequately look for or judge love if I always had a timer on my wrist telling me whether or not it was real.

So how would I know when the (literal) time came, that I had actually found a soulmate? If I had no basis for judgment on it - no failed attempts because I'd spent so much time waiting for that someone - then what would the term "soulmate" even mean? How could these characters know? And how do they feel being virtually forced into falling for someone they've just met because they heard some ridiculous beeping coming from a device transplanted into their body?

These aren't just science fiction-y questions, either. The issue is one that pervades our lives as well. If we have never found our soulmate, how can we be sure that anyone we ever become involved with is our "soulmate"? They say that when you fall in love, you know it instantly. It's incontrovertible. Well is that the principle behind finding someone to spend your life with? Or is it just a shot in the dark?

Sometimes these questions make me feel like such a cynic about romance. If I was deflecting blame, I could just say it was because I watch too many dark movies. I've seen so many failed attempts on screen of couples trying to make their romance work and then seeing their efforts collapse around them. What is there to believe in any more?

Maybe there is nothing to believe in, and maybe that's what makes it all the more special if and when fate does occur. All my life I've assumed that certain things were inevitable - finding love, getting married, things like that. But what if I stopped assuming that anything was going to happen and just let the wind take me wherever?

It may be crazy, but I think with that frame of mind the probability of success is much higher.

So one of my favorite things about the 21st century is that I have the ability to watch all these amazing (and random) films that teach me virtues that I can apply to my own life. But in the same way, it's these films that disenfranchise me, making me analyze love in such a way that I place too much thought into it and thus come out with nothing. With knowledge comes burden, I suppose, and that's the cross I bear.

More than clarity, perhaps, I want to see where all these thoughts take me. I do not need to know the future, but I'd like to see in time how it plays out. Hopefully well. That's all I ask for.