Wednesday, December 31, 2014

A collection of resolutions

Anthony Quintano / Flickr
Goodbye, This Year. Hello, New Year.

Unlike most people, I've never been one to make a New Year's Resolution. Partly out of laziness, but also because I've never understood why the dawn of a New Year was the prime time to make big changes.

My biggest life changes, from deciding where I wanted to go to college to becoming a full-fledged vegetarian, came about not because I'd been imbued with resolve by a holiday, but because I felt ready to make a choice and then pursued it.

However, this year I feel is a pretty big turning point. I've done a lot of guesswork in the past 365 days, gone through a lot of change and really had to figure out what it is I want out of life. What I choose now will determine what my life looks like down the road, and I want to do everything in my power to send myself down a smooth path.

So, without further ado, here is the collection of resolutions for my 2015:

1. Combat the sticks and stones.

When I reference this "smooth path," I make the mistake of assuming that any path of life can be without its rough patches. 2014 has been a year I'd characterize more by struggle than by growth, and I'd like to turn that around in 2015. Rather than trip over the sticks and stones that inevitably fall along my path, I'd like to learn to react and recover from them with ease.

Instead of being the person who wallows in her own misery, I'd like to be the one who laughs in the face of adversity. Those moments spent focused on self-pity are moments wasted. The moments spent fixing a bad situation lead to better and better experiences.

2. Think less about what other people think.

While the saying goes "sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me," that doesn't spell truth for everyone. I couldn't begin to count the number of times I've been told I need to develop a "thicker skin" in response to people's words. Even that comment has become an emotional pain in my side.

If I'm ever going to grow as a person, I need to learn to accept criticism, and to recognize the difference between that which is constructive and that which is insensitive. Once that distinction is made, there's no longer a need to hide from the criticism anymore. You take the constructive and let it strengthen you, and you brush off the insensitive. Simple.

3. Read one book a month.

The idea here is that I'd like to become more creative, more thoughtful and more receptive to new concepts. While I may equate that with reading one book a month, my slow reading pace may limit me, and I give myself leeway to miss my quota.

When reading a new book each month isn't an option, there are alternatives. I can start a new project - for instance, I've wanted to start illustrating for a long time - or I can learn about a new subject, which could be as simple as watching a documentary.

I'll endeavor to report back on my findings on my blog to keep track of my progress and hold myself accountable.

4. Continue writing every day.

While I've gone back and forth on whether or not I'd like to blog every day for another year, I do believe that writing each and every day is an activity I can maintain confidently. In addition to a short daily journal entry, I'd like to spend at least a few minutes each day writing something creative - whether that be a non-fiction personal essay, a fictional story or a poem.

This, in addition to learning something new each month by way of reading or watching or doing will hopefully make more well-rounded in the long term.

5. Go outside.

Being home in Southern California where the weather is constantly sunny and hot, my Elsa-like "cold never bothered me anyway" personality has turned me into quite the shut-in. But even if it's just for a short time, I'd like to promise myself to take a moment to walk and collect my thoughts and feelings every day.

Some people have very meaningful thoughts in the shower, but I think my mind achieves the greatest clarity on a good long walk. Or maybe a run, if the weather is fitting.

With these five resolutions, I'll be working toward vastly improving my way of life. In doing so, I expect not only to become a better writer, creator and learner, but a better person. And as a better person, I believe I could learn to become an even better friend, which is really the ultimate resolution.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The grand illusion

Has anyone ever told you that "[insert something here] will come true" or "You will [insert another thing here] if that's what you really want"?

In times of personal upheaval, I feel I hear these words of encouragement more than ever. Whether it's because I search for meaning and ask for the help of others, or they sense my pain on their own - the feedback usually sounds the same. But when I stop, look at myself and hear the words that are being spoken to me, I have trouble fully trusting.

As much as we, as humans, put our faith into what's beyond ourselves - the soul, supreme being(s), love - sometimes seeing really is believing. And when the universe inexplicably becomes indifferent to you one day, making sense of what you cannot see becomes so much harder.

Since I was a young kid, I was all about dreaming. When I wasn't caught lost in my own thoughts during class time, I was working toward my aspirations or writing in journals about them.

But dreams versus reality is a premise that is foreign to no one. We all partake in the wishful thinking that pushes us to great heights and sometimes even greater depths.

Then we have our friends who pick us up by saying "things will only get better" or "I believe in you."

Is this the grand illusion of life? That we are capable of whatever we set our minds to because that idea has been reinforced within us over and over and over again?

These days, I wish I had the answer. Yet the very root of the problem is that I have no answers - and neither does anyone else. However, living in perpetual fear of disappointment is not an option. And neither is gallivanting through each day without a worry or care.

Success is created by the mixture of trust in oneself and fear of one's failure. And without both, we would seldom accomplish anything.

So while the illusion of our inevitable success is just a fantasy, the little pushes we get from the people who care about us are not rendered any less valuable. We need them, just as we need ourselves to occasionally bring back the perspective.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Confidence and cameras

Before the age of 11, I had very little fear of the spotlight. I used to dance and sing in video recordings, show off my best model poses for the occasional disposable camera. I'd gaze directly into the lens as if it was a dear friend, possessing confidence, poise and mostly a lack of self-consciousness.

That changed quickly when I hit middle school - I grew my hair long and I bought my first digital camera. From then on I wanted to be behind the lens or away from it entirely. I had no interest in the spotlight, no interest in documenting myself. If anything, I wanted to sleep away the years and wake up in a different time and place.

One day, when I was around 13 years old or so, my sister and I went to a local drugstore. While the details of our visit are cloudy and under-formed, what I remember was the moment at checkout when the guy behind the counter asked me why I was hiding my face. Until that point in my life, I didn't realize that my long flowing black hair was unintentionally turning into a personal shield from the outside world.

In time I grew out of this. While I maintained my long hair, I no longer found myself hiding behind it so much. I still didn't go out of my way to be seen, but instead of actively avoiding it I took it in stride.

Which is why, as of last year, I started to attempt vlogging for the first time.

Vlogging, a word that is clear to some but unbeknownst to others, is a combination of two other words: video + blogging. The word "video" should be self-explanatory. And I assume "blogging" is also clear as you are currently reading a blog right now.

Putting myself in front of a camera and uploading what I made to YouTube involved a tremendous break from my comfort zone. I chose, in doing so, to revert back to my childhood innocence. Instead of being hyper-aware of my faults, I let them go. I tried to ignore my concerns over how people would perceive me physically and intellectually.

And in doing so, I felt better as a person.

It's funny to me how by placing myself in the position of being judged by others, I felt relinquished of the anxiety of their judgment.

Though my productivity has wavered since I made that first video, I fully intend to keep on going with vlogging and to get myself comfortable in front of a camera again. Because while I enjoy being behind the camera very much, in the game of life it's not always beneficial to hide.

If you're interested, here's my first ever vlog (from 2013):

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Filler and fluff

In 2012, soon after I'd started writing The Songs of Spring, I decided I wanted to contribute to my then brand new blog on a daily basis. It was a scary idea, and it no doubt took its toll on the busiest of days. But looking back, I am proud of the hours spent committed to the art of writing. Even if this blog took me into the wee hours of the morning some days and often forced me to fight to stay awake while my eyes closed and my brain started to gently dream, it was still all worth it.

But back then (in 2012), there were aspects of my life that made it easier to write every day. I embarked on a study abroad trip to London for three months out of the year. In the other nine months, I was at university in the states and then an intern at a major TV studio.

My life felt a lot more interesting two years ago than it does right this very moment. In my eyes, at least.

Back then this meant if I needed to take a break to write about nothing for a night, I had the option. Because in 2012, even nothing was something.

Nowadays, things in life aren't so smooth and clear. A day in the life is hazier, and I sometimes don't want to share all my innermost thoughts, nor the detailed goings-on of my day to day existence.

Yet to be able to write in a blog on a daily basis, sometimes you have to be able to provide filler. Whether that be a sub-standard journal-type entry or, like I did many times - a photo compilation.

Just like in life, being a consistent writer is about powering through the good and the bad. Some moments will be high points, others lows. If you're going to improve in a craft, you have to take everything in stride. If you're going to live a happy life, you have to be at peace with both the great days and the less than exciting ones.

It's inevitable, as we live out our lives numbered by dates on a calendar, that some of those days will disappoint us. Some will simply not be worth sharing. But finding meaning in the mundane is part of being a writer and part of being a human being.

I've found in my life that the better I get at accepting moments of quiet desperation, the greater my ability to enjoy the good becomes. It's the dwelling on boredom that sparks the existentialist questions - and even though the mind wants those issues to be answered, the heart benefits more from moments of acceptance.

So I accept that this blog isn't my best. I may never even read it again. I may forget what it says by tomorrow afternoon. But just because it's simple doesn't mean it hasn't contributed to the ultimate goal - which in this case is writing a daily blog, but also being genuinely happy even in the most uninspired moments.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

A mission to civilize The Newsroom's critics

I began watching Aaron Sorkin's The Newsroom several months before the premiere of its second season.

Early on in its run, I watched a scene from the show that was said to take place within the journalism school that I was attending at the time. Watching the scene, but knowing I didn't have access to HBO, I tried to push it to the back of my mind. Someday I'd watch it, whenever that might be.

After a few months of deliberation, my excitement for the show inspired me to coax my father into starting a subscription with HBO. Since then, we've never looked back, and we have The Newsroom to thank.

Now, as the show steadily approaches its final episode, I can't help but profess many different feelings.

First and foremost, I'm sad that this show - which I consider one of the best on television - will be departing before its time was up. Unfortunately, due to critics' desire to upend any sociopolitical stance or measure of dignity the show had in the first place, it became incumbent upon Aaron Sorkin to bow out gracefully.

The negativity went so far as to push Sorkin to publicly apologize for the show's handling of recent newsworthy events, defending himself by saying he enjoys writing "romantically and idealistically".

What bothers me about the apology, and why I think it should never have been prompted in the first place, is that this show has - since its very first episode - done precisely what it set out to do. The cast of Newsnight 2.0, the show within a show of The Newsroom, embarked on "a mission to civilize" the news industry by bringing back honest and thorough reporting that features clear and concise storytelling with respectable and reliable sources.

The show did just that by tackling issues that have become increasingly relevant in the modern age of citizen journalism and social media domination of the industry. With the immense speed of news dissemination, meticulous research has taken a back seat to speedy reporting, which often leads to mistakes and misinformation.

Instead of applauding The Newsroom on using the entertaining television medium to bring this issue to light, responses claimed the show was too "preachy".

Which brings me to my next emotional response to the departure of The Newsroom: disappointment.

Looking back at the success of The West Wing, it astonishes me that The Newsroom's Atlantis Cable News team was not met with the same - if not more - respect than the Bartlet administration.

Both shows consisted of very righteous and indignant characters, yet what was perceived as strength in one caused the other to be looked down upon.

Without the press's sensitivity to this show's handling of recent newsworthy events, perhaps The Newsroom could've lived on for another several years. Its content certainly maintained a strong viewership even despite some unpleasant reviews, and even the network seemed enthusiastic about keeping it on the air.

Unfortunately, due to other commitments and likely due to the weekly battering of his very well-researched and well-written scripts, Aaron Sorkin decided to end the show by knocking out six amazing final episodes, constituting a third season of the show.

The most bittersweet part of all of this has been the fantastic final flourish of the third season of The Newsroom. Each episode has maintained the original premise of holding journalists to a higher standard, yet also continued the previous seasons' clever storytelling, biting and witty dialogue, and in-depth character development.

As the show winded down, the stakes have grown higher and higher and the show has lived up to - if not thoroughly exceeded - expectations. Having watched this show for the majority of its run at this point, I feel like I know its characters. They have become old friends to me. In just 24 episodes to date, I've begun to understand their quirks and anticipate their choices. I've come to love them and respect them and want the very best for them, and that's more than I can say of any other show that has existed for such a short time (save Pushing Daisies, perhaps, but that's another story entirely).

Yet even in the throes of this amazingly developed and beautifully impassioned show's final hours, critics have taken it upon themselves to tear it down once again for its method of handling a very relevant issue - sexual assault on college campuses.

Having believed personally that both sides of the situation were presented well - one firmly on the side of victims and the other on the side of "innocent until proven guilty" - I did not take issue with the episode. I cannot even fathom how it could've been handled in a more authentic way.

And as we exit what I consider to be one of the most powerful episodes of The Newsroom, I'm upset that the only aspect of the show getting coverage is this one small part of a much bigger and more complex episode.

What I saw come out of the penultimate episode of The Newsroom was not controversy, but a set of very poignant moments for almost every character on the show. By the end of the episode, I found myself impassioned as well as in tears, convinced that the emotional roller coaster I was on involved more than fictional friends.

Which leaves me at what I believe to be the takeaway of The Newsroom: pride.

This was a show that succeeded in doing exactly what it intended to do. It created a set of decent and relatable characters who were as smart and talented as they were virtuous, and equally as complicated.

The stories may have occasionally inspired heated debate, but if anything that is a testament to the show's quality. If it did not address real issues in clever and radical ways, then it wouldn't inspire any sort of dialogue. But The Newsroom did just that - it made its viewers think.

Moving on from the fictional world of ACN, I'm sorry to have to look back and see any amount of public sourness at what I think is one of the most groundbreaking and spectacular shows of the last ten years.

As a recent graduate of journalism school, I've found it very difficult to embrace the practices of many modern day news agencies. The Newsroom was one of the few shows that made me feel confident about my profession. It renewed my pride in journalism in a way that real life news programs rarely have.

So as a final farewell to The Newsroom, its writers, its production staff, its cast and the rest of its crew - I'd really like to extend my ardent appreciation and an honest Thank You. Despite its ending, The Newsroom will live on to civilize and inspire through the people who watched and embraced its fearless appraisal of the very industry it aimed to expose. From now on, we are ACN.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Zoella and the argument for authenticity

In lieu of recent events, and as a writer who shares her thoughts and feelings on a blog, I've decided to come out in support of the underdog.

The cover of Girl Online. (via Goodreads)
Earlier this week, a YouTube beauty guru I have been watching for quite a while now became the subject of controversy when it came to light that the novel she was said to have written was not solely her work. The reports, which centered on Zoe Sugg (or Zoella) and her debut novel Girl Online, claimed that the book was ghostwritten - whether in its entirety or only partly so remains unclear. For details on the subject, I recommend reading the Guardian's post about Zoe's temporary departure from the Internet. It is thoroughly researched and comprehensive on the subject.

The long and short of it is that there is an apparent ghostwriter behind the novel who publications claim has written the entirety of the novel. Zoe is said to have had creative input, but otherwise the work was that of another author - Siobhan Curham. This news came soon after Girl Online received intensely positive reports following its record-breaking first week of sales.

Ordinarily I stay away from topics such as this because, well, they're dangerous. People have strong opinions about entertainment figures and about controversial topics like ghostwriting, which can lead to backlash. Yet I feel there is a side to the argument being publicly ignored.

Zoe is someone I admire quite a lot having been an avid viewer for more than a year now. And in being a part of her community, I have seen her fan base up close - on the Internet and in person at the VidCon YouTube conference.

It would be an oversight to say that the success of Zoe's book was not because of her name and reputation. Her fans are devoted and passionate - they frequently hang on her every word. I can attest to this, having personally purchased make-up and clothing items per her recommendation. As a beauty guru and vlogger, she carries strong influence over millions of followers. And her book attracted that same audience with unsurprisingly enormous enthusiasm.

But Zoe's success is not the reason I've decided to confront the situation.

As someone who considers herself an aspiring writer, I've always taken artistic authenticity very seriously. When I write something and place my name along with it, I do not take that attribution lightly. It is important to me that the things I write are first and foremost my work, and I pride myself in being able to claim my writing as my own.

While I may not be able to attract millions of people to read what I write, I get satisfaction in knowing that the small audience of individuals who take the time to read my blog are reading an authentic piece of myself.

For Zoe, it doesn't seem like this was a possibility with Girl Online. As many readers are probably already aware, a lot of books (primarily nonfiction, but also fiction) are ghostwritten, or at least partially ghostwritten. This is not unusual, especially when it comes to popular celebrities being granted authorship by major publishers.

Everyone who watches Zoe knows that she is a writer as well as a beauty vlogger. Her blog is a testament to this. However, when dealing with a professional publisher looking for the next big marketable thing, an authentic voice may not have been high on the agenda.

The way I see it, in this unfortunate set of circumstances, there's an unfair amount of blame being thrown at someone who was likely not responsible for what happened. Zoe has become the subject of scrutiny, and pushed into temporary hiding for a choice that may not have been hers in the first place.

If I see any fault in this situation, it's the prevalence of ghostwriting and of the money-over-authenticity game being played in the professional publishing world.

Ghostwriting in general is a tricky issue. It frequently involves what could be simply compared to hush-money, provided to an author in exchange for quite a bit of work and minimal recognition. As a writer, I recognize the value in a byline or an authorship. These aren't small tokens. They are valued and often worth much more than a quick pay-off.

The truth is, our society and its extreme focus on economics has made us into willing participants in an industry of lies. Rather than encouraging the potential writing talent of Zoe or giving recognition where it's deserved to any and all contributing writers, stunt-casting becomes the priority. As willing consumers, we avert our eyes to the obvious, therefore letting the system continue on a downward spiral.

As intelligent people and discerning readers, it's up to us to show those in power in publishing that this isn't what we want. A hard-bound book with a celebrity's face on it would mean so much more if the words held within it actually came directly from that celebrity's mind. Can anyone really argue with that?

And on the other side, unknown authors deserve to be discovered and read on the basis of their own talent.

My sincere hope is that one day I will live in a world where people are lauded for their talent over their ability to be recognized at a mall. This is a courtesy that all artists deserve, and one that is so simple to attain.

There is nothing wrong with fame, but what is wrong is trampling on the underdog instead of lifting that person up to shine to their full potential. I feel in this situation, neither the credited author nor the ghostwriting author were given the credit they deserved as creators. But with just a small adjustment in our expectations as readers and buyers, maybe we could affect change and encourage authenticity from the people who make the final decision over whose name goes on the book jacket.

Saturday, December 6, 2014


Some people just don't want to be found.

In the years since my mother passed away, I've become obsessed with learning about my roots. As a person whose family tree loses certainty around the early 1900s, it's been very hard to complete a thorough search. Though my curiosity returns frequently, it loses steam just as quickly as it gains traction. Because no matter my enthusiasm for the search, some parts of my family's past are so shrouded in mystery that it's practically impossible to unearth them.

The last time I saw or heard from my maternal grandfather was in 2008. It was at my mother's funeral. I remember him looking very small. The last picture of him in my memory is at the cemetery service. Standing on the green hillside, he seemed unstable, as if any moment he might collapse into the grass. Whether from grief or old age, he didn't possess a strong veneer of grace.

At the time I didn't think that would be the last I'd hear from him. But as the years passed, I came to realize that what was always a quiet and unassuming relationship would soon wither into nothing.

As with so many other acquaintances, my grandfather disappeared from my life. It happened in an instant, but it didn't hit me until much later.

Occasionally, I send out search signals in the hopes that I might find him again. But knowing his absence from my mother's life growing up, and seeing how little he cared to keep in touch with me after her passing, I feel all hope is lost.

The long lost relatives do not start and end with my maternal grandfather. One of the greatest mysteries of my life is that of my paternal grandfather's father. From what I've been told, he was a Polish immigrant and the black sheep of his family. The stories of his past stop there.

With genealogy research, I've concocted conspiracy theories but never found any solid answers.

And through these experiences, it's become quite clear to me how sometimes the people who go missing do so of their own volition.

These men I've spent my life wondering about and searching for disappeared not due to lack of adequate record-keeping. They chose not to be found and therefore became lost.

In the age of social media, I feel it has become easier than ever to not be forgotten. By tweeting and sharing and commenting and posting, I've put myself in a position of being seen. My existence is documented. Being found is now as simple as tagging your location on Twitter or including your phone number on your Facebook profile. Because of this ease, many of us make the conscious effort to ensure that we are found.

I'm thankful for the people I've lost who have let themselves be found. As we pass through our lives, most of our acquaintances will become lost at some point or another. Even our closest relatives may disappear with the passing of time.

While it may be hard to accept mystery, it is necessary sometimes to simply let go of the people who refuse to be discovered. Stop searching for them and instead place that energy into reuniting with those who are eager to be in your life, into the people who want to be found.

They're the ones who deserve to be seen anyway.

Friday, December 5, 2014

The floodgates are open

I think I must have been born to tell stories. That isn't to say I have some god-given talent for it, or that I can claim to be any sort of exceptional writer. But I still feel it must be true. Nothing in my life has ever felt so natural, or so necessary. When I feel something, anything, I find myself compelled to share it - and the only way I know how is through stories.

And that's been the root of my problem.

Storytellers are sharers by nature. We long for listeners, begging for the ears of our friends. We become overzealous and sometimes even obnoxious as we shower our neighbors in tales of our experiences.

The act of storytelling isn't in itself a bad thing. In fact, it's mostly good. I've always prided myself in being able to clearly explain myself through stories. It's the only way I've ever been able to write a successful term paper, or take part in an interesting conversation.

Where the problem begins is where storytelling turns into over-sharing, a personal affliction I have become deeply infected with.

You know over-sharers as the people in your life who can't help but vent and vent and vent. We who like to tell stories often unwittingly step over the boundary between being open and opening the floodgates. Once the floodgates are open, there's little we can do to close them back up again.

For some, there is the luxury of a gatekeeper who knows how and when to maintain those floodgates. In my life, I've had less than a handful of these people. To them, I am extremely grateful.

In those times when the gatekeeper is off duty, it becomes our - the floodgate storyteller's - responsibility to tame the wild waters of our stories.

To my mind, the best way to tackle this is to share stories on paper. To achieve a catharsis this way is to evenly distribute the water so that it doesn't flood, so much as let the land before us blossom and flourish.

As I write here again, several months since my last The Songs of Spring entry, I am making an attempt to gently open the gates and let my thoughts swim about - not as a flood for the willing listener, but as a stream to those who may be too sensitive to handle the flood.

In other words, I'm back to blogging. And it is my intention to keep the gates open for a steady stream of stories to flow through - for 365 days (give or take a few).