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What is a Teenager?

11 Jul

For most of the last year, I’ve been reveling in, and suffering through, some major life transitions. Primarily, the transition from girlfriend to fiancé and the transition from graduate student to “real-world” job holding adult (that came with it’s own set of new job transitions a couple of times). It’s left me feeling unstable, in more ways than one, and a bit aimless. So, I’ve returned to focus on some topics that I love. And this is where I approach the topic of the teenager.

Mid-Year Exam, 1974 by Joseph Szabo
(via tumblr – click image)

It’s weird that when you say the word teenager or teen, most people feel like it means something very specific. There’s an idea that being a teen embodies more than an age range but also some aspect of identity. The word itself however, wasn’t used much before the early 1900’s and was originally popularized to sell clothing.

But if you’re a fan of pop culture, and I so am, you know that we are obsessed with teenagers. So it’s a fair question to ask: what really is a teenager? And why do we like them so damned much?

Continue reading

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The Disney Lightbringer

18 Jun

I love Disney.

above image via

Sometimes I feel like that should be treated as a dirty little secret. And I get it, for all the wonderful things (stories, characters, songs, theme parks) that Disney has played a part in bringing to the world; they have participated more than a fair share in perpetuating some awfulness. Despite that, I want to look at something else they’ve perpetuated, in the form of a particular kind of heroine. Because there’s a specific kind of character that I love from Disney, no matter how much it can drive me crazy at times, and it taps into one of the key commodities that Disney will sell by the truckloads: hope. I like to call her the Disney Lightbringer. Continue reading

A World Without Winners

10 Feb

As always, I’m sorry for the radio silence. To those of you who still choose to read when I have time to up-date, I’m really thankful! Having said that…

Last weekend, Daniel and I went to go see the new movie Chronicle. For those of you who haven’t heard about it, here’s the trailer:

In short, it’s a story about three friends (who weren’t always friends) who make a discovery, end up having supernatural powers, and what happens from there.

It’s not the most original plot, I’ll admit that, but it’s well done. It’s poignant, genuine, and (kinda barely spoilers alert) despite the fact that those powers inevitably bring out the best and the worst in these kids, they remain sympathetic characters throughout.

This fact won me over more strongly that I would have suspected and I had to ask why? Why? I talked to other friends who were not won over and, moreover, had a fraction of the emotional response that I had. Why is it that I am so obsessed with other people’s reactions and my own? Because, sometimes, I feel like I don’t understand how people aren’t more affected by the negativity we are bombarded on a daily basis.

Another reason, for sure, is that I recently read this article about Tyler Clementi and the tormentors who drove him to commit suicide.

The article, The Story of a Suicide by Ian Parker, is a simple and well-written piece that humanizes the aforementioned tormentor and forces the realization that, like many situations in life, there is no clear cut line between who is “good” and who is “evil.” However, there are are hundreds, if not thousands, of people who will be ready to tell you there is without knowing the full situation and without caring for the truth. My feeling is that this is because the truth, often, is hard to define and unsatisfying to hear. Why is it so much easier to believe the worst of people? To pick a whipping boy and demonize them past recognition?

To some degrees, both Tyler and his roommate were victims not of any one crime, but of a social situation. They were both quick to judge based on what they felt were fair markers of understanding who a person is: ethnicity, sexuality, and economic class. They avoided actual direct communication and researched each other via Facebook, Twitter, and Google. Where Tyler could have used more support, his roommate, Dharun, received support where he shouldn’t have.

Now, I’m not saying that I think everyone deserves to feel victimized all the time or that that Dharun is innocent of the crime for which he’s being accused. But one of the hardest lessons to learn at any age is how to take full responsibility for your actions. Human beings are excellent at crafting excuses and blaming other people. We’re also excellent at underestimating the effects of our actions.

Which leads me back to my previous concerns. How much of the negativity that surrounds us is our responsibility? How much to we rely on others to create our environment?

Living in a society that is so entrenched in the media machine, it’s easy to accept what we’re fed about the news and the world around us; this includes everything from entertainment to news. It’s easy to believe what others tell you to believe, whether or not it’s who’s a good singer or who’s the best candidate. It’s harder, though not by much, to find answers for it ourselves.

There are clear examples on all ends of the spectrum. From Lana Del Rey‘s SNL performance debacle, that some viewed as a rough first performance while others believe it was the most insulting waste of public broadcasting time, to the ridiculous spanning points of view on gay marriage that start with believing it’s a basic human right and range to The Marriage Protection Act and believing gay marriage would somehow lead to bestiality.

Clearly, one of these examples far outweighs the others in importance, but the point is that no matter the seriousness of the subject someone exists to tell us often and loudly what they think we should believe. And unfortunately, we are easy to judge, easy to hate, and easy to self-righteous bigotry.

Famously, sources like Fox News are scrutinized for openly lying to their viewers to the point that their viewers, who are often religiously faithful, are wary about simple truths. This is not a biased statement.

This brings me back to my subject title. I believe that, in some ways, we are intent on creating a world without winners. A world where every success is only judged by the severity of its critique. As with Lana Del Rey, more and more, we criticize the arts for producing bland and boring but largely because of the fear that any tiny failure could be not just “Tomorrow’s Headlines,” but “10-Seconds-From-Now Headlines,” and Tweets, and Facebook status updates, and on and on.

I find it hard to separate these unimportant criticisms as feeding our larger problems. If we spend our time throwing insults at a TV, or by posting them anonymously online, aren’t we slowly inuring ourselves to this negativity? Do we stop noticing how much hatred we speak? Do we draw the lines between constructive honesty and real complaint or do they all start to bleed together? Because I know that, even as an adult, it’s hard for me to distinguish sometimes.

I’m not innocent of this myself. But I know that, as someone whose heart sinks at the piercing negativity I see others breed, I pause before I speak negativity. I hope to never (or as rarely as possible) be the reason that someone else has a bad day.

So what does this have to do with “Chronicle” or the article about Tyler Clementi? Well, maybe this blog post is just another ramble that I needed to clear my head. But both this movie and that article have reminded me that if there is so much I can’t control about this world, there is at least one thing I can control: how I treat people. Both the article and the movie remind me that each day is another opportunity for me to reach out to an old friend, to smile at a random person on the street, to focus on my small circle of the world and make that as good as possible. Because you never know what the person next to you might be dealing with.

I like to think that, if there is a purpose to life, it’s to make each others lives easier because life is, so very often, very hard. I’ve been called idealistic, optimistic, and naive because of this. I’d like to think I’m just not an asshole.

I’m a Jew on Christmas (and all those days after…)

27 Dec

Hello my intermittent companions/readers!

The holiday season is still making its final hurrahs and while many are thinking about gifts to return and the ongoing onslaught of emotional baggage, I’m thinking about this whole holiday culture.

The winter holiday season is a time many associate with familial traditions but more and more the mainstream conversation is circling the divide of the religious and the secular. Year after year, we argue about the “reason” for the “season” and whether or not saying “Happy Holidays” is somehow betraying your hatred for all things Christmas or just trying to include everyone in a generic statement of positivity. Having said that, let me place myself within this context before I go on.

I identify myself as Jewish and Agnostic (while verging on Atheist) and yes, that means I’m coming from an already complicated an ill-defined starting point. However, I grew up simply as a Jewish kid in a household that was only ever casually religious. And, as we all know, it’s often the way we grew up the more accurately sums up what we think the holidays should be. This means that the winter holiday, for me, was/is Hanukkah (or Chanukah, or Hanukah, or this website gives you sixteen different ways). I celebrated by lighting candles, opening presents for eight nights, eating fried food, and wondering why we didn’t have a Christmas tree or Santa but not really caring why.

Of course, as I got older I was taught to care by my friends. Why don’t you have a Christmas tree? Why don’t you celebrate Christmas? A simple explanation that whole CHRIST part of Christmas was really a Christian thing worked for awhile but then I grew up and suddenly even that got more complicated.

At some point, I entered the realm of discourse of adults that believed that Christmas exists on two different levels: the Church’s religious Christmas and the average American’s secular holiday tradition. The CHRIST part of Christmas had become relatively meaningless to most people (hence the prevalence in some areas of “Jesus is the Reason for the Season” advertisements) and so I was prompted to ask, why wasn’t it meaningless to me? Why wasn’t I comfortable participating in Christmas and all of the secular aspects of it because religion seems to be less and less of a Christmas calling card.

It’s really hit me hard this year. For the first time since I was a small child, I’ve asked myself: why don’t we have a tree? Do I want one? If the aspect of Judaism that I most relate to is the cultural and historical community that I come from, how does it’s religious traditions have any more/less ownership of me than the others? I mean, let’s get real, Hanukkah isn’t really a major holiday for the Jews. However, thanks to the gift-giving zeitgeist that is contemporary secular Christmas, it has become the Jewish holiday-cousin of Christmas.

Afterall, Christmas itself isn’t even really Christian. It seems every year a couple of emails go around to remind us that.

So, even that which divides was born as an amalgamation that was an attempt to unite. 

Which I guess is what was bothering me to begin with. In year’s past there American culture has gone out of its way to make sure to honor everyone during the holidays. The de-emphasis of Jesus and the re-emphasis peace and brotherhood as an effort to unite during the holidays was always refreshing and welcome. 

But this holiday season, my TV shows disappointed. Even Glee, which has episodes that forefronted their Jewish and Atheist character’s different beliefs, ended with those same characters cooing over a telling of the Jesus story (again, the capital R “Reason” for the season). Frankly, it was disappointing.

Christmas has come and gone, gifts have been given, and many of us have headed back to work. We’re edging up on the New Year and I’m left feeling just as ambivalent as before.

Because here’s the real thing that bothers me. Christmas, and any other holiday, is only what you make of it. This year, no matter how much I wanted to celebrate any holiday no matter what it was, my family was hit by tragic circumstances (a family member is still in the hospital). In addition to that, my fiance got one day off from work and we won’t be able to visit family for a few months yet. 

This is reality. And maybe this is why people fight over what the holidays mean, because like anything else in life they are constantly changing. But for whatever reason, this is the time of year where we tell ourselves it’s okay to take a break on yourself, to think of hope, to spread love.

When it comes down to it, I don’t care why you choose to do it. If it’s because you feel compelled by the story of the birth of a savior, the story of a magically burning lamp, the story of a people and its principles, or if it’s purely because it’s cold outside; if you choose to focus on peace and spread love, you are choosing to bring people together. And that’s enough for me.

So, for all that 2012 will hold for us, I hope it holds more reasons to focus on those aspects of life that bring us together instead of those that will force us apart. Because no matter what religion or philosophy I believe in, I believe that there is a goodness in people that can work wonders.

My Post-MFA Malaise

22 Nov

Hello there blog-reading world! I’m back— but this time, I’m making no apologies and I’m making no promises.

Why?

Well, I’m trying to be realistic. In the six months since finishing my MFA, I have been on a roller-coaster of emotions and expectations that has left me confused and excited, determined and depressed, and all of this at once.

malaise

Because identifying the problem is the first step...

I had this idea that Grad. School would give me the tools to achieve all my goals but not just that, that it would help me understand what those goals were and how to achieve them. In some ways, it did and others it didn’t. I understand the academic world, and really the adult world, more than I did and got to know myself as a writer but I was always able to step away when I wanted to because, I was a student after all.

I had my heart broken a few times, by friends and colleagues, by the business, bureaucracy and bullshit that comes along with it all. I realize every day a little more how much of an idealistic I am.

It wasn’t until I had the experience of getting my first “real-world” job (and then a second) and was caught up in its own milieu of problems, that I’ve had the distance to really recognize this.

But what I think I’ve really learned is that as a writer, as an idealist, as a human being, it is our job every day to fight for ourselves.

And as if every day wasn’t enough, the most recent episode of “The Simpsons,” titled “The Book Job,” discussed over here, was a handy reminder of this fact.  The story itself was fun and Neil Gaiman’s guest role was funny but what caught my attention and tugged at my heart, as always, was Lisa’s shining moment of addressing her own disillusionment.

Lisa Simpson is often held up as an avatar of what it is to be the idealistic woman of our generation and, in this episode, also what it is to be a writer. We watch as she scorns those who write for *gasp* profit and sets off to write on her own, for the sheer love of it, and fails.

Which brings me back to where I am. Because of all the things that the MFA program did teach me, it didn’t prepare me to be my own business. Which, in the long run, is part of being a writer. Promoting oneself, sending out to get published, finding others to collaborate with, and any other aspect of writing is a full-time job. One that can feel impossible to maintain on top of those jobs you must keep to pay the bills.

On top of that, there is a strong sense of isolation. My years in Michigan have left me feeling profoundly isolated, even more-so than the semester I spent in China the year after my mom died. It might be because of the ridiculous weather here. It might be because I am, for the first time, confronting the realities of things like “adulthood” and “career”. But it might also be that artistic notion of finding my voice and myself that, once you think you’ve found the answer, that answer immediately becomes less and less satisfying.

So, I’m trying to identify myself as a writer again and, for the first time, it’s up to me. Maybe this anxiety I feel is what people criticize as the phenomena of people not knowing how to write outside of the workshop. Or maybe I should trust everyone that says it’s okay to take some time and I shouldn’t be pressurig myself but really? There’s so much I want to do and so much I want to write that I don’t know where to begin.

Today, I’m choosing to begin here. And hopefully, I’ll keep to it this time.

Why the New Facebook IS Worth Complaining About, Kind of.

22 Sep

Yesterday, like everyone else, I logged into Facebook and was a little disconcerted to find everything in disarray. Things simply were not where I expected them to be and suddenly there were status-updates scrolling on the upper right that were also updating on the main part of the page and, well, that seemed a little pointless.

And oh! The blue tags.

Yes, I was annoyed. And so were others. As quickly as I thought to be annoyed memes were sprouting legs:

(I found via Urlesque.)

And this:

(Grabbed off FB, no idea where it originated, let me know if you do, overusing, commas, done.)

But as quickly as people started to complain, other people started to complain about the fact that we were complaining.

Evidence:

(Self-citing image is go!)

Yes, now I feel put in my place.

But then reality set in. People choosing to take the high road used status updates to proclaim that they couldn’t give less of a sh*t about the Facebook change because guess what? Lots of really shitty things are going on in the world.

Another 14 year old boy, who once believed that “It Gets Better” killed himself because the bullying wouldn’t stop.

A man, who many believed to be innocent, was killed by our justice system.

And this headline “Mexican drug lords dump 35 dead bodies on road as they wave guns at passing drivers,” from DailyMail.co.uk, is horrible without even having to hear the rest.

Those things are awful.

They won’t stop being awful.

I will be sad about them today, tomorrow, and for years to come. This news makes me want to jump up and do something with my votes, but also leaves me feeling sad and helpless.

Do we trust our politicians? What exactly are they calling class warfare?

The sad, and sometimes devastating, reality of our world is overwhelming. This is just a part of life.

But for many people, so is Facebook.

And whether you like it or not, Facebook is often how I find my news and I know I’m not the only one. I didn’t know about Troy Davis until one of my friends posted about it. The majority of what I know about the Libyan Revolution has been through linked information on Facebook. When there was the earthquake on the East Coast, I could pinpoint the location based on where my friends who posted about it were updating from. It’s also how many people during the last storm season let family abroad know they were okay.

I could go on but let’s say that Facebook is more than just “social” networking it’s a finely woven web of communication. I rely on it to find out about the well-being of my friends and the world.

And so what if it annoyed me when they changed their interface yesterday? It made it harder for me to find out about everything that really is important. It was annoyance that I could wrap my head around. It was an annoyance you could feel empowered by. You could say:

Facebook is annoying me. Facebook is making my life harder. Facebook is something that I can blame and feel productive.

Because when it comes down to it, it’s a fleeting moment of frustration that we can quickly learn to laugh about.

(Click to embiggen, go here for more.)

Whereas all those other things? They’ll never be funny. They’ll always be sad. They’ll leave us feeling frustrated and helpless and maybe even scared of the world we live in.

So don’t belittle the small battles we fight, no matter how meaningless they sometimes are, they fuel us to keep fighting the big battles. And man, we’ve got plenty of those on our plate.

What Can We Learn from Cons and Faires?

6 Sep

This weekend was a mixture of events in my own corner of the world. While I watched as Facebook slowly filtered in up-dates from my handful of friends and friended celebrities who were attending Dragon*Con in Atlanta, GA; I myself got to attend Holly, Michigan’s Renaissance Fair.

Between the two events, I’ve been thinking a lot about why it is we enjoy going to events like these.

Part of this, I realized, was a little bit of detective work of identifying what “kinds” of people are attending.

Ultimately, the first group I always identify are geeks. As a self-identified geek I don’t use this term as a derogatory judgment, instead I have come to think of geeks as those of us who are passionate (sometimes obsessive) in some corner of the world deemed “geeky.” This ranges from Science Fiction and Fantasy, the worlds often explored in the Con circuit, to reliving history, the realm of Ren Faires; and so much more.

But among the geeks come the tourists, the gawkers, the less-than-devoted sometimes fans and it’s their interaction that has come to be more interesting to me. Continue reading

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