Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The rebirth of Stella

I am just about a week away from going home and considering what kind of craziness has transpired in my life for the past month, I'm glad to be heading back to the California sun.

I don't know that I've ever felt any less appreciative of Chicago at any point in my life. I've only visited the city once this winter and it was for an internship interview that went nowhere. The rest of my time was mainly spent in classes or waking up early to go to work and it's been simply exhausting. And cold.

The cold has been biting. I must have lost a layer of blubber on my skin or something because walking around unbundled-up is no longer as tolerable an activity as it once was for me in below-freezing temperatures. I used to take on the chill with a pair of tights as the only barrier from frostbite, but now I put on two coats, a scarf and a hat, preparing for Snowpocalypse 2013.

On top of everything, today was just a bundle of wackiness.

After handling the rains and cold temperatures pretty well, I was on my walk home from my final class of the day when I decided to take an idiotic turn on a longer path back to the dorm. Thinking I could shave off some time by taking a less effective shortcut, I ended up trudging through mud and sliding on ice, finally culminating in a giant puddle surrounded by icy shrubbery.

I had two choices: 1. Turn back and take the longer route around the very shortcut I was using; or 2. Continue on the shortcut and hope I don't submerge myself (and my boots) in a watery sinkhole death.

Well, needless to say, I am a lazy loser, which meant I chose option two without a second thought.

My boots and my person were safe, let's be frank. So my fears were not met.

However, I had no fear for my iPhone and that was what, in fact, became submerged in the watery depths of the giant muddy puddle.

Stella (that's the name of my phone) fell face-first into the puddle and for a moment the world stood still as I screamed into the puddle to my dad (who was on the other line of the phone at the time) "HOLD ON, I JUST DROPPED MY PHONE IN WATER. OH GOD."

Stella's face was fine, but somehow her audio functions had been messed up and for the next hour I freaked out and tried to factor in when and how I could find the time to get a replacement iPhone.

Then she dried up, and all was well. And the winter's torture of destroying my Stella's speaker function was over.

Well, where did that leave me?

After quite a few weeks of feeling entirely at the mercy of Murphy's Law, it actually felt indescribably amazing to have my phone resurrect itself from a puddle grave. I doomed my poor companion to a life of limited senses and yet she returned completely ready to be used in just a matter of an hour.

And I guess I'd like to think of this as a metaphor for my life right now. I've been feeling pressured and stressed and panicked because there has been so much to do, so little to look forward to and so long to wait for anything worth experiencing. I've been pitying myself and little did I know that the dissatisfaction was just leading me down a road of continued difficulties.

Essentially, the way I see it at least, I managed to bring about my own sadness because I kept letting stupid things like drowning my phone completely alter my mood.

Because otherwise today was pretty stellar. I have a lead on a few internships for the summer. I am well on my way to returning home for spring break. I've done the great majority of my work for the end of the quarter. If anyone has any right to be lamenting at the world, it's people in underprivileged countries or with terminal diseases.

The level of my life dissatisfaction should not warrant complaining. Or self-pitying.

Especially when a fix is as simple as a $100 replacement phone or an hour of patience.

So I'm suggesting that everyone who reads this just takes a second to look around them, calculate what in fact they're pissed or sad about, and then measure that against the grand scheme of things. We really have no right to be complaining over stupid junk that happens in our lives when in the long run we are lucky people - I'm not speaking for everyone of course, but certainly for myself.

In a week I'll be home with people who love me. I'll be free of the trials of this quarter. I'll have quite a bit to look forward to. And there will be sun.

The sun being both a literal object and a metaphor. Because I've been contending with winter for far too long and I'm ready to embrace sunnier weather and a sunnier disposition.

Thank you, Stella, for coming back to life and teaching me how to smile again.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

When it alteration finds

"Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.
Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle's compass come:
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
   If this be error and upon me proved,
   I never writ, nor no man ever loved."
- Sonnet 116, William Shakespeare

So tell me William S., what is love that ends?

I love this poem - and I have for many years. Since I wrote a paper on it in my senior year English Literature class and recited it in front of my class. And since I later found out that one of my best friends here at college had done the same thing at her high school. This poem links me to my peers, but it also links me to my heart. It is an ever-fixed mark.

In that English Literature class, I was the go-to kid for interpretations of Shakespeare. While we were reading Hamlet, I had a side-by-side translation, but I rarely if ever looked at the American English understanding of the text. I could read through that entire play without questioning the dialogue for a moment. I think it came about as a result of many many viewings of Pride & Prejudice. I've become so use to the eccentricities and twisted linguistic styles of British English speaking styles past that Shakespeare stopped confusing me. Plus, I love trying to understand metaphor. I love constructing metaphor myself. It's too much fun to let go of that interpretive spirit that I would never read a direct literal translation.

So when I read this poem, I took it incredibly seriously. Especially after spending so many hours with it writing a paper deconstructing its text. Line by line, I took it apart. "True minds" meaning those who have similar hearts and temperaments. "Love is not love which alters when it alterations finds" meaning that if you purport to love someone then it is not something that can change on a whim. "O no! it is an ever-fixed mark that looks on tempests and is never shaken," meaning that love lasts forever and isn't enticed away by the lure of another person or what that person might offer.

Shakespeare writes in such pretty verse and he says such beautiful things.

But is he right? That I can't be so sure of.

How much love these days "alters when it alteration finds" and "bends with the remover to remove"? How many divorces take place? How many annulments? How many people say "I love you" to a boyfriend or girlfriend and then a moment later tell them that they can't say those things any longer?

I can't imagine a time when these things weren't true. Even in the days before divorce, when marriage was expected to last a lifetime and spouses were essentially stuck together regardless of how they felt, how could the word "love" be tossed around with such definitives?

That sounds incredibly cynical of me. But I think it's because I know that I have the capacity to love "to the edge of doom." This is not because I've loved for any infinite amount of time in my life, but because in my heart I know that I can love that way. And that if I say that I love that way, it means that I do.

I am careful with my words. I try not to make rash decisions when I choose to date. If I have, it becomes exceedingly obvious because I turn stand-offish in the matter of a few moments. I may perpetuate things if they're comfortable, but I will not throw myself into romance wholeheartedly unless I know that it is exactly that - wholehearted.

It is dangerous being in "like." Saying the word "love" is a completely different ball game.

When you fall in "like," you put your heart on the line. You ask someone whether or not they accept you as a potential companion, even for the short term. And that is an overwhelming and nerve-wracking thing. It is hard enough admitting you have a crush on someone, but proclaiming that you would spend a great deal of time getting to know them (as indicated by the word "like") is a commitment.

When you fall in "love," it is not just an elevation of "like." It is not just how you feel when you've surpassed those feelings of interest and entered some nebulous unexplained realm of wordlessness. It means strength of belief - of commitment despite anxiety, fear or difficulty. It's not just commitment to get to know someone, it's commitment to get to know them and care for them under harsh circumstances. It means putting in effort even when it's difficult because that person means enough to try despite hardship.

That's what I mean when I use the word "love."

Whether or not Shakespeare meant the same thing remains to be seen, but I feel that he may have. And I feel that society's notion of love these days is a completely different concept.

I remember being in middle school and seeing the abbreviation "ily" (short for "I love you") on my "friend's" MySpace comment sections. What the heck does "ily" mean?, I thought to myself. Even now, the phrasing confounds me. These were 13 year olds throwing around words that for centuries have indicated something powerful and unbreakable. But now they use it to refer to a short-term commitment to a boy or girl whom they will inevitably pass over for the next eligible pre-teen whom they find semi-interesting.

Well I thought that sort of immaturity ended in middle school, but as I've grown up I've seen nothing but sameness. In high school I didn't date, and thank goodness because things were just as silly then. Bring on college and I expected to be surrounded by literate nerds with minds and hearts. Well, I guess I wasn't totally off. We do have quite a few bookish dorks here.

Maybe there aren't any more "ily"s being thrown around willy nilly, but when I consider how often I hear the word "love" and how little it means to the world now, I lament as I look back at Shakespeare and consider how beautifully and eloquently he addressed the stalwart nature of the four-letter word.

It's probably immature of me in this day and age to still think that "love alters not with his brief hours and weeks," especially considering that so many of my relationships have ended in just a matter of weeks.

But try to convince a girl who has lived so much of her life drowning in Disney films and Victorian literature, and you're bound to encounter some stubbornness. The incongruities are visible to me, but I refuse to accept them.

At the moment, I'm not open to the word "love" because I know how much it can hurt when it's found to be false. As strongly as I feel about the fact that it does exist, how to decipher its authenticity is lost on me and I fear being fooled. So I'm resisting it.

But don't think for a minute that I'm not looking, and I'm not dreaming and I'm not hoping. I will never stop being the wistful girl that I've always been - the one who thinks that Mr. Darcy is not so much a fantasy, but a reality hidden somewhere in this terrifying and often disappointing universe.

I don't think everyone is looking for love. In fact, at the moment I don't think most people are looking for anything even closely resembling "love" by the true meaning of the word, which is this: "a profoundly tender, passionate affection for another person." Keyword: profound. "Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds" because it is more than just a word we use to mean we care about something deeply. It is profound, meaning it has an inconceivably enormous impact - one we can't merely escape, avoid or ignore. It just sits there, profound and awe-inspiring. It stupefies us, it confounds us, it empowers us.

If we all wanted love for what it really means then we would use the word with a lot more haste. And until it becomes less a part of our everyday vocabulary and more a part of our special set of words put aside for important occasions, it will continue to lose the meaning it once harbored. From that I will learn, but never stop feeling sorrow.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Clandestine carnal knowings

There's something that has for one reason or another cropped up in my life quite a bit lately. Whether it's in class, during a discussion of a film or television show or just in conversation with friends, I feel like I've been repeatedly confronted with the concept of sex in the last week. It's not because I've pursued the topic or been looking for answers regarding it. If anything, this is one area of my life where I feel most secure in my feelings.

For those who don't know, I openly choose to abstain from sex. I am 20 years old and I am a virgin. Unlike some my age who might feel like this is something to be embarrassed by, I am happy, even proud to proclaim that I take the decision of when and with whom to have sex incredibly seriously.

It is only recently, though, that I've discovered how the strong feelings I have on the subject truly set me apart from most of society.

The other day in one of my classes, we screened two episodes from the HBO series Girls. The show follows several female characters around New York City, showcasing their exploits (including substance use, sexual and otherwise) and their internal struggles as young adults who have just left college. The show has some relatively uncensored scenes of nudity, self-gratification and other sexual acts. And to be honest, it doesn't bother me very much. I've seen too many films - and too much media in general (hi, one of my favorite musicals is Spring Awakening) - to take offense about any lack of modesty in modern entertainment.

Where I took issue was with the conversation that ensued after the screening of Girls was over, in which some of my fellow students discussed how they could see themselves in the characters on the show - that they could relate to them and their experiences. Which in my head translated at least partially to how they dealt with the sex in their daily lives.

Far be it for me to judge the choices of others. I have no right to say that those who take the idea of sex lightly are in the wrong. We are living in the 21st century and social norms have it that premarital sex (or, in extreme cases, promiscuity) is not frowned upon as it once was.

But bring to me a show where the only virgin involved is also a character who is desperately trying to get laid, and I have to question how this speaks to greater societal issues...

Like how society has gone from an earlier generation where it was normal to question and resist sexual liberation to a completely new set of morals which suggest that there's something stunted or wrong about not having sex (whether by choice or by circumstance).

Because the issue for me is not that people are having sex. It is a fact of life here at university - especially in collegiate dorms where thin walls often make us victims to the sounds of the sexual exploits of our neighbors. It may become an annoyance, but it's certainly not something I can judge without becoming an enemy to the entire world.

The problem I see here is that there is no dichotomy any more. What I see before me is a society where sex is the norm and abstinence is abnormal, even alien. It serves as a means of setting people on the exterior of ordinary social interaction - if we haven't done, then we cannot speak to a subject. And seeing as I'm one of those people on the outside looking in, I feel as though the alternative voice needs to be heard.

In some ways, I think it has been.

After the Girls debacle, I spent quite a few days hunkering down and doing all of my homework for the end of the quarter. Once I had finished with it all, I decided to sit down and watch an episode of Bunheads, the newest show from Amy Sherman-Palladino (creator, writer and showrunner of my favorite television series, Gilmore Girls). The show doesn't often breach the subject of major social or even personal issues. There are teenaged girls involved - as well as a woman tiptoeing towards being middle aged and another woman approaching old age - so of course there are moments of emotional self-discovery. But this is the first time in the show in which the idea of sex - other than in the case of the older characters - was really discussed in any detail at all.

The way they chose to discuss it - which was unlike most other television I have seen in the recent past - was very pleasantly objective.

In the final episode of the season, the group of four teenaged girlfriends are studying up on the implications of having sex at their young age (just before graduating high school). They read books, look at websites, try to set up meetings to discuss the issue with a trusted adult. It's all very systematic, but it's in the interest of deciding whether or not to have sex - and as an audience, we can reasonably assume that they will choose to do so sooner rather than later.

In Bunheads, Amy Sherman-Palladino doesn't represent sex as some unfathomable or improper object. In fact, in many of her stories, it plays an integral role. In Gilmore Girls, Rory's birth is the result of Lorelai's unplanned pregnancy at 16 years old. It becomes a point of contention on the show because in addition to uprooting Lorelai's young life, Rory's birth also marked an important transition for her - it made her into a self-motivated and hard-working woman. Sex, however, is also presented as something valued and significant in Gilmore Girls. In the third season, Rory is approached by her friend Paris who has just slept with her boyfriend for the first time. Paris feels guilty for having given into temptation. She asks Rory if she's slept with her boyfriend too. Rory admits that she's still a virgin and Lorelai takes pride in that - having overheard her daughter's conversation with Paris. When Rory loses her virginity at the end of season four, the timing sparks an argument between the mother and daughter, but in time they reach an understanding and the conflict ends.

The multiple facets surrounding the idea of sex make this a more palatable and authentic address of what, in my personal opinion, is an incredibly important and sensitive subject.

The end of Bunheads had, much in a similar way to Paris' admittance of her first sexual experience, a moment of reflection and regret in the aftermath of one of the main character, Ginny's, choice to lose her virginity to a boy she thought was "beautiful." It's a terribly tragic end to the season, which up until this point has barely breached the subject of sex and now presents us with this question of whether or not one of our most beloved characters will be permanently scarred by her first encounter.

This is a character with a heart that questions. She doesn't open herself up to the idea of sex as an inevitability. She wonders whether it was done in haste or if it was worth the choice. It's that agency and that intensity and thoroughness of thought that makes this story speak to me, especially when compared to so many other texts that discuss teenaged or young adult sexuality with a design of trivializing.

With all that said, I'd like to address an issue that will most certainly come about should anyone read this article who believes in unhindered sexual liberalism: What right do I have to pass judgment on those who take sex lightly? Why do I have any right to take issue with a television show like Girls that treats sex as just an ordinary and normative part of life?

Well the truth is that I don't have the right to do that. And that's not what I'm trying to do at all. Like I said earlier, the choices of individuals on whether or not be sexually open are completely personal and no one has any right to judge each other for that.

But much in the same way that it bothers me for people to judge me on the basis of my being vegetarian when I choose not to judge them on the basis of their omnivorous tendencies, I don't see any fairness in the representation of sex in those texts which only serve to glorify it (never putting it in perspective).

Admittedly, Girls depicts a character who contracts an STD, so the act of sex is not one without consequences in the show. But even that is handled with some passivity, to the point that it becomes a secondary plot point (as opposed to perhaps an episode of Degrassi: the Next Generation which would involve an entire episode revolving around the STD - essentially the show is an enormous PSA).

The reason I found so much more happiness in watching Bunheads tonight was that even though it has a liberal heart and mind, the show has a moral structure that prevents it from going overboard, desensitizing and minimizing a subject that is not as simple as television or film would have you believe.

There are physical and emotional ramifications to the decisions represented in these texts, and those aspects are what make me a cautious personality. But when, in my life, I become the subject of raised eyebrows for my hesitation and carefulness, I can't help but believe there's something wrong with the one-sided argument.

I want to believe there are still people out there who believe that sex is about love and not just instant gratification. That if you really care about someone you can wait until they're ready to become involved in that way, and until then you can be happy getting to know someone for their heart and mind rather than their loins.

The way sex is represented to me now, it's no longer something to anticipate or feel strongly about. It's just something that happens. Something that's meant or expected to occur.

To my mind, that is the completely wrong way of addressing an important issue. And it irks me that it's the only way society (other than religious sub-sects) seems to be viewing sex now.

So after that long rant, I'd like to simply extend my thanks to Amy Sherman-Palladino, who addresses the issue of sexuality with grace and poise, with moral tinges and liberal tendencies, existing in unity. It's neither wrong nor right to choose to be sexually active, and the same goes for abstinence. But even more than that, the latter choice should never be regarded as weird. I just wish everyone could see it that way.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Forward no dread

Right now I'd like to focus on everything that's good in my life. While I could write more about worrying over my grandma's health or other issues that are taking a toll on my heart, I figure it will actually be more beneficial to just take a moment to reflect on the great and wonderful things that are happening. I am always worrying, so why not use this blog to remind me of what there is to be excited about?

Well, first and foremost, I'd like to welcome my new baby nephew into the world. His name is Wyatt. He is a quiet little boy. I've already spent quite a bit of time with him over FaceTime - to which I say "woohoo" for technology - yet I'm even more excited to meet him in just a couple of weeks.

His birth was a particularly joyous moment for me. In the past few weeks I've felt like almost nothing could go my way. On top of feeling especially lonely, I couldn't get into the classes I wanted to, I was sleep-deprived and overworked, etc. Problems piled onto other problems and I was just worn down. Fed up. Sick. I'm surprised I didn't literally become ill (knock on wood).

Then my sister went into labor. And it's weird, but in a moment like that everything basically stands still. I got a text notifying me of the rush to the hospital while I was in class and I practically leapt out of my seat. All I wanted to do was hop on a plane to California at that very moment. I still wish I could - for my new nephew and to be there to help my grandma. But unfortunately, responsibilities still weigh on me and I have to focus on final homework assignments rather than where I really should be, which is home.

Still, the little ray of sunshine in my darkest days was the baby nephew I'd be welcoming to the world. The morning of his birth, I woke up to a photo of him in my text message inbox and I just couldn't stop smiling.

So there's that.

Then there was this moment - and now I realize I'm not going in chronological order - that I found out I could transfer into a class I really wanted to be in. Though my schedule still isn't ideal, I am now taking a screenwriting course in the spring. Maybe you'll think I'm blowing it out of proportion, but the prospect of that excites me to no end. Even if I'm placed in the course that is exclusively made up of freshmen, there's something about getting to be creative and learn a new style of writing that very much appeals to me. I can't wait to learn the new skills and practice my art of dialogue writing.

The moment I switched into the class, however, was not so simple and not so joyous. I was in class just about to start a film (It Happened One Night, one of my favorites) when I randomly chose to check my "shopping cart" to see if any classes I wanted had opened up. I saw a little green dot next to one of the screenwriting classes and immediately my heart started racing. If there were other students vying for the same position, I'd certainly be shut out. Plus I was attempting to register from my cell phone which inevitably forgets how to work as soon as I need it toward some important purpose.

Despite my iPhone freezing every couple of seconds, I managed to transfer. Not without sweating and shaking in my seat, though. But it got done, and that made me happy.

Finally, today while I was freaking out whilst doing research for my final assignments of the quarter I felt strangely happy. In the fall when I was in London, all of my classes were reasonably interesting, but they left no room for creativity of personal interest in their research papers. The most interesting paper I wrote while in London was on Mark Rothko and the play Red, and that was because my professor had given us the leeway to create our own topic. Unfortunately, all my other essays involved looking at the same books as at least a dozen other students, and trying to deduce the same boring thesis statements they did. It made the essay-writing process insufferable.

This time around, I have a paper to write on Walt Disney. I have another paper to write on The Bachelor. I have a photo story to edit that covers a comedy group on campus. And finally, I have a paper tracing the transition from Screwball Comedies to Romantic Comedies between the 1930s and now.

Well, seriously. Let's compare for a second. In London, I wrote papers on the Boer War, on poverty in lower class London in the 1800s, on female artists Berthe Morisot and Mary Cassatt (okay, I'll admit this one was interesting), on the royal rituals, the European Economic Community, the "Alternative Vote" and the media's influence on British politics. I guess in theory all of those topics sound fairly interesting. And I tried my best not to pick the most dry and mundane options. But Walt Disney vs. the Boer War? I think I can make my choice pretty easily.

I'm quick to let little things get me down. I have a problem with being a bit of a believer in Murphy's Law. Even though I consider myself an happy person, when one thing goes wrong I start to lose faith in all things. And that's ridiculous. At this point there's more in my life that is good than is bad. Some of the bad things are certainly scarier (i.e. I won't let myself stop worrying about my grandmother) and more preoccupying than the happy things, but that doesn't mean my life should be a downer. Or, God forbid, that I should be a downer.

I like being a happy peppy person. And I think generally I come off that way. So I hope to keep things according to that design.

My next couple of weeks are going to be so crazy and busy, but how about looking forward to it rather than dreading it? Right now that's what I'm endeavoring to do. It seems to be working at the moment.