Thursday, December 29, 2016

Defining Direction

Every once in a while I get hit with that "OH MY GOD I'M WASTING MY LIFE AWAY" feeling. To feel productive, I end up redesigning my blog, going for a cleaner, svelte look. I kept the basic layout, but I tightened up a few things with the fonts and the header. I'll admit, I may have oversimplified it a bit, so it is woefully plain, in my opinion. Overall I'm fairly satisfied with how it looks, but I know eventually I want to upgrade to a dynamic theme for a more professional look. And the code itself is probably a mess, but that's ok. Welcome to Mythos et Regia V3.2!

It also happens to be the end of the year! There's something promising about the start of a new calendar year, despite the fact that it's entirely arbitrary in the grand scheme of things. As usual, I'd like to take a moment to reflect on previous resolutions and establish some new goals.

Two years ago, I set the goal of "Mindful Body Wellness," aka, establish an idea of basic human healthy habits because I really didn't have any before. This past year was "Core Self," or, who am I? It meant a lot to me to figure it out because I can't know what I want without knowing who I am.

Honestly these concepts are pretty abstract and not resolutions as much as they are general concepts to be aware of. It's like the distinction between themes and main ideas in high school essays. These phrases are the "theme" of the year; resolutions are main ideas. For example, under the theme of Mindful Body Wellness, I had the main ideas of skin care, eating right, and exercise. Core Self consisted of less focus on other people's opinions, more focus on my identity, and ultimately, being comfortable with who I am. Though it was not a goal I explicitly worked on, I have found that my experiences and internal struggles this year have been very conducive to figuring out my identity. Most importantly, I have learned that I am the only one who can define who I am.

2017 will be the year of "Defining Direction": taking concrete steps to achieve what I want — to really be the person I want to be. Most notably of these steps are getting a job to move towards financial independence, getting my license so I have mobility, and learning the social conventions of how to be a "real" adult (like how to do taxes) so I'm not completely lost by the time I graduate. Other little things are like how to set a table for a dinner party, and heck, maybe even figuring out how dating and relationships work. I'm feeling surprisingly optimistic about this goal because it is more concrete, so it'll be easier to gauge progress.

Unfortunately, I have neither the time nor resources right now to be who I really want to be. Eventually I'd like to be more of a person in terms of things I do outside of studying and work: drawing/painting/art, swimming/stretching/exercising, healthy cooking, smoothie-making, personal style expression, engaging in new experiences. Not the things I have to do, but the things I want to do. Being alone in the apartment this winter break has only bolstered my enjoyment of living independently. I can't wait until I have my own little place, with my room set up just so, a workspace, a corner to paint in, etc. Until then, "Defining Direction" will be laying the foundation to reach that point.

Seeing the positive trend as my semesters progress, I'm hoping that it continues into greater fulfillment this next year. It'll also be a huge milestone age wise, as I move out of teenager-hood and into the realm of the twenty-something (scary!).

Goodbye 2016, welcome 2017! ◊

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Finding A Platform

I've been happier than I think I should be, spending a Walden-esque week alone in my apartment. It's possibly unhealthy to be as isolationist as I am, but honestly, I've been positively ecstatic to lounge around in my pajamas for a week straight and not have to interact with anyone in real life. I'm sad that it's over so soon; I feel like I could do this for at least a month straight. The apartment gets lots of sunshine and has big windows for fresh air; I can sit and listen to music uninterrupted while lost in thought; everything is so clean and quiet. I could do with more visits from friends, but living by myself is a dream come true. Woo!

But without IRL visits, the only way to stay connected to people it seems is through social media. I don't know what it is about it, but I have a strong aversion toward social media sites. I have all the accounts — Instagram, Twitter, you name it — but I don't use them. I don't post or like or tweet; I refuse to use the Facebook app or keep myself logged in on my browser. Perhaps these apps were more relevant in a small high school setting where everyone knew each other and wanted to keep up with what people are doing. In a way it's good for staying connected to those people once everyone leaves for college, but I don't want that. It's too draining to think about people I don't care about, who probably don't care about me either. When I spend time scrolling through social media catching up on irrelevant people from my past, I feel like miss out on life that is happening right now. Maybe I just don't have enough friends.

Granted, Facebook is a convenient way to access people, Instagram is a nice digital photo book, and Twitter makes it easy to engage with trends across the globe, but those aren't my priorities. I want to be directly connected with the people I care about and only see content from them. However, they don't post much on social media either, so those sites are more or less useless. But for some odd reason, I continue to feel obligated to engage with them through social media, because I should want to be social in an extrovert's world?

I'm not saying that all social media is bad. There are social media sites that I do enjoy. I like the "media" part but I don't like the "social" part, which is why I find myself most engaged on content-based sites like Tumblr and Pinterest. However, given the aggregate nature of these sites, it's difficult to keep track of my own original content. Exclusively original content based sites are also insufficient. Having a blog, which by this point in digital development is almost pathetically old-fashioned, doesn't allow me to consume content from others. iMessage and Snapchat are closest to that middle ground, but they veer more towards direct communication than social media.

At the risk of sounding like an overrated hipster, I think Polaroids and scrapbooks are great for capturing memories. Maybe it's the nostalgia of being a 90's kid, but I remember a time before social media, and I don't think it's a necessity now either. Maybe I'm not using social media correctly, or something about my personality is incongruous to the use of social media. I want to engage in social media, but so far none of the existing sites that I am aware of fit what I'm looking for from the concept of social media.

I think I'd enjoy a platform that has the right balance of original content, passive media consumption, and interpersonal engagement. But since I don't see one yet, I might as well get rid of the guilty (?) social media weight on my shoulders. For 2017, I plan on changing my profile picture and then deactivating Facebook again once and for all. The bottom line is I don't want or need that kind of social media, period. There are so many more interesting things I could be doing with my time than scrolling through my Newsfeed reading about my second grade best friend's new car hobby. For now, though they're imperfect, iMessage and Snapchat are sufficient. ◊

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Not Your Manic Pixie Dream, Girl

For most of this winter break I have been entirely alone in the apartment. It's been quite nice; quiet; I haven't been lonely. This is exactly what I've wanted for a long time, to have a while when there are no pressing concerns or things to do. I have all the time in the world to sleep. Time is very much a construct, when I wake up and don't know what day, let alone hour, it is. In the back of my mind I am well aware that there are a great many number of things that I need to do, but for now I'm making self care a priority.

Given that I have no obligations except the bare minimum to keep myself alive, I thought I might as well knock off a few movies from my list of life to catch up on. I chose these two movies, Paper Towns and The Notebook, because I thought they would be fairly light and easy to move on from, but my penchant for overanalyzing got the better of me. If you haven't watched them yet, be warned: spoilers below (and also wow this is a much longer post than I thought it would be).

I'll start by saying I am not a fan of John Green books. The Fault in Our Stars was bearable at best; An Abundance of Katherines was so boring to get through that I put the book down in the middle of a sentence and never looked back. That's not to say that people who enjoy his books are boring, it's simply that they're not my genre or reading style.

However, I was intrigued by how Paper Towns was intended to take down the trope of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl. Film critic Nathan Rabin, who coined the term, defines an MPDG as,
"that bubbly, shallow cinematic creature that exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures."
Ever since I learned about the term in high school media analysis, I have been obsessed with that concept and its problematic implications in real life. I'm honestly surprised that I haven't published a post on the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope, though I may have started and discarded a draft or two.

If you haven't read the book or seen the movie, the gist of it (the movie at least) is that a boy, Quentin (who goes by Q), lives next to and befriends a girl in elementary school, but as they grow older, Q becomes a lame nerd and the girl, Margo, becomes a popular high school queen bee. One night, Margo remembers that Q exists and breaks into Q's room to enlist his help in exacting revenge on her cheating boyfriend and backstabbing friends. They adventure across town carrying out pranks on those who betrayed her, all the while leaving quirky post-it notes with randomly capitalized letters in the middle of words. (Honestly, who in real life does that. Also, who in real life holds cigarettes in their mouths because "it's a metaphor." Is this who you imagine yourself to be, John Green?) The next day, after this exhilarating break from his regular boring life, Q finds that Margo has disappeared, and he vows to hunt her down and bring her back because she's special and he's in love with her so clearly it's meant to be.

And he finds her. Except it's not what he expected. Despite traveling for miles from Florida to New York with his friends, and deciding that he doesn't need prom because Margo is more important, she tells him she doesn't need saving. She goes her own way while Q is enlightened to his warped thinking, returns to Florida, and embraces life by partying at prom with his posse.

Despite its best intentions, here's where the movie fails to destroy the MPDG trope. We know no more about who Margo really is at the end of the movie than we do at the beginning. Her function in the story is to "teach [Q] to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures." Margo herself may no longer be a "MPDG" in Q's mind, but she still is a MPDG in terms of plot device.

One of the side characters, Lacey, in her very limited involvement, does a better job of breaking down the MPDG trope than Margo in her entirety. Lacey, as Margo's former best friend, is initially depicted as any other shallow popular girl. She develops into more than just an idea of a person when she and Q share a moment in a bathtub at a party. Lacey is upset that Q and everyone else view her as just a pretty face, revealing that she's actually going to Dartmouth after graduation. She goes with Q and his friends to look for Margo because she has actual concern for Margo. Her decision to go to prom with Q's friend Ben, another nerd, shows that she's a human who wants to have fun, someone more multidimensional than that pretty, perfect, cookie-cutter girl character people assume she is. Her role in the story isn't to change any male character's life. She has her own incentives and objectives, which we see on screen. Contrast Lacey to Margo, who for most of the movie, exists as an idea in Q's head. An idea can never be a real person, thus confining Margo to being an MPDG.

I think most people are well aware that MPDG characters are not "real" people and that they do not exist in real life. Maybe John Green and I interpret the definition of the MPDG differently. Green seems to think that the MPDG trope is about a guy idealizing a girl. For me, using Rabin's definition, the problem isn't that people romanticize versions of other people in their heads, the problem is that quirky, life-changing female characters are used excessively in lieu of having realistic female characters in literature. Margo is not a realistic female character. To destroy the MPDG, authors should write more stories with realistic female characters, not stories about guys who discover that their MPDG idea isn't real and become better people for making that realization. The intent of Paper Towns may have been to deconstruct the MPDG trope, but it misses the mark, especially in the movie — sorry John Green. Idealization does not make an MPDG. You may mean well, but you got it wrong. Furthermore, movie adaptations seem to have the extraordinary ability to become parodies of themselves.

To show how Green's definition is wrong, I now present how someone can be used as an MPDG without being idealized in another character's head. This, however, is best demonstrated through a slight twist in perspective: the Manic Pixie Dream Boy.

The Notebook, for all its dismissal as a shallow romcom as well as its actual flaws, does a lot more with its female characters. The "notebook" that the story is told from is written by the female protagonist, making the plot driven by the female gaze. In the movie, I would argue that Allie is the main protagonist — at least, her narrative is more engaging. We see her argue, her desire to be more than someone who marries rich, her seriousness in being a World War II nurse, her deep internal conflict. Noah is Allie's Manic Pixie Dream Boy, who swoops in and changes her life by encouraging her to break away from her highly structured life and do what she wants. However, Noah is not idealized in Allie's head. They fight, she screams at him and points out his flaws, and she is well aware that he is dirt poor. She is a dynamic character, progressing from a straitlaced daughter to her own independent person who chooses what she wants, through his help. Noah is fairly static, unswervingly devoted to Allie throughout the entire story and serving as a plot device to further her character development, making him the MPDB, without being idealized.

As a side note, it's a travesty that movies or any media intended for a female audience are disregarded as inherently worthless in both casual and serious media critique. I found The Notebook to have a number of deeper themes beyond its initial presentation as a love story. A subplot I found particularly compelling was Allie's relationship with her mother. She isn't afraid to point out the lack of passion in her parents' marriage, and when Allie must make her choice, she resents the option that she thinks her mother expects her to make. She doesn't know her mother's side of the story; Allie looks at her mother with surprise and curiosity as her mother gazes at her own version of Noah, and realizes that she has more in common with her mother than she thought. Her mother becomes more complex as a character, and their relationship gains depth as well. Additionally, The Notebook deals with the difficult themes of love despite disabilities — devotion in the face of dementia — a tad unrealistically, but it is a romance movie after all.

Watching these two movies and thinking critically about the MPDG trope also led to some important realizations about my own life. My avoidance of a "real" relationship stems from the fact that I refuse to let myself commit to a version of someone that I've idealized in my head (it is so uncomfortable to realize something like this about yourself; I physically recoiled from my computer and sat upright for a good minute after typing that out). I am painfully aware that I idealize people, and in an effort to avoid that "treacherous thing to believe that a person is more than a person," I subconsciously self-sabotage to preemptively avoid disappointment. I'm somewhat repulsed at the idea of "dating" because how can you really get to know someone in that artificial setting of a date? But the problem isn't solved by not idealizing someone and losing interest entirely; I have to actually get to know them. But that's too scary, so I don't.

TL;DR: The existence of MPDGs is as a plot device, not real people. The Paper Towns movie is confronting the consequences of idealizing a person, which is fine, but in doing so, uses an MPDG as a plot device. Destroy the MPDG trope by writing realistic female characters and let the reader know who they really are, not by writing male characters who discover that MPDG characters are not real and change for the better because of it.

I could go on at the other side of the MPDG coin — incorrectly labelling strong, dynamic, interesting female characters as MPDGs (Holly Golightly is the example that most infuriates me) — but that is a post for another day.

I wrote 1800 words on this because I am peeved that John Green feels triumphant that he has destroyed the trope, when the movie version absolutely has not. Welcome to my blog where I write about things that no one else cares about. ◊

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Semester Reflection

Somehow, this semester is finished. Just like that, I'm done with half of my time in college. I'm proud of what I've been through this semester. The aimlessness and the struggle were more pronounced at certain points but ultimately succeeding and getting to a better place internally and externally was worth it, despite how painful progress is sometimes.

The last week of classes this semester in particular left me overwhelmed in the worst (academic stress and such) and best ways, with the love I felt from my friends and being aware that I am in a situation where I feel safe, despite continuing mental health problems. I remember crying because I realized how lucky I am to have such wonderful people in my life, and I can only hope that my presence in their life makes them as happy as they make me. When I come home to an apartment flooded with sunshine and I feel full of life, I reflect on how I never thought I could feel so happy but now I am.

More than anything, I have found that I am capable of handling stress better than I thought I could. I have confidence in my ability to get through even the toughest hell weeks, now that I've been through a few. I'm no longer intimidated by times when everything is happening at once.

That said, there are still a lot of things to figure out, like how to express that I'm struggling without being negative. Now that the academic part of the year is over, I'll hopefully have some time to go to the counseling center and get some professional help. I have exactly one month before classes start again in January. But first, a well deserved nap. ◊

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

#obsessed: Fire (ft. Evalyn) — Louis The Child

I've been getting into a lot of new music again lately, diving back in to browsing on Spotify (most notably the dancePOP, Indie Pop! and Good Vibes playlists). This song stuck out to me a lot because the lyrics are a very fierce, desperately independent aesthetic. It's a good song to listen on a late calm night after you've been working hard when you need a little reminder about why it's worth it to keep going strong. ◊

Saturday, December 10, 2016

How To Love

Despite the last few posts, the issue of my identity is still a thorn in my side from time to time. As it is indeed the thick of "cuffing season" and I realize literally everyone around me is in a relationship and I am again the single friend, the issue this time is my relationships, or lack thereof.

Especially in the midst of finals week, when I'm stressed and something is bothering me, I tend to spiral, ending up unproductive and in a mental dump until I figure out what's wrong. This particular issue came up during dinner with my freshman year roommate, who was adamant that most people are not asexual and therefore I'm going to end up forever alone, or with very slim chances of finding a successful relationship (not actually what she said, I'm hyperbolizing to get the point across). That bothered me, because I've never considered sex to be an important part of a relationship and cannot fathom how it is for some people. But I don't want to be forever alone based on that fact solely.

Because I'm so far removed from thinking about sex and sexual attraction, the issue of sexual identity has never been relevant. I think it's a common realization among asexuals to not care about sexuality, or to feel like they don't have a sexuality; to label the absence of something is just awkward. Having to "come out" as asexual this summer to a group of coworkers, it was just a weird experience because I don't strongly identify with that label.

While the label is still odd to accept, I have no problem being asexual. I've always thought of it as a lack of preference like any other, like not enjoying Brussels sprouts or tea. But given that sex seems to be such a big deal to most other people, it's hard not to feel broken. In my conversation with my roommate, while she was well meaning for the sake of being informative, hearing that I could be unwanted based on not wanting sex really broke me down.

I was surprised to find my relief in the form of a Youtuber, Ricky Dillon. I don't subscribe to his genre of video, but in desperation tonight, I searched "asexuality" on Youtube and found this:

Youtube has long been a space where people have been comfortable expressing themselves and coming out as gay, bi, lesbian, so on and so forth — but I've never been able to relate to those videos. For a while I thought I might be bi because I didn't have a preference for one gender over another, but I realized that it wasn't an equal interest for both genders, it was more of an equal disinterest for both genders.

While I understood this technical definition of asexuality, I still found it difficult to relay how I feel about relationships to other people. It's so hard to explain, and I imagine that it's still difficult for someone who isn't asexual to understand what he's talking about either. I however, resonated strongly with a lot of his points and found myself vigorously nodding along to nearly everything he was saying. Some of the things that stood out most were like how he doesn't "have" or define himself by a sexuality because it's not something that is relevant to his identity ("if I had 100 words to describe myself, my sexuality would not even be one of them"). Also, before watching this, I didn't know how to reconcile still having crushes and being asexual. Hearing him say that he still does have crushes was reassuring, as it was based on being attracted to someone's personality, not in a sexual way, which I find to be true for myself as well.

Another thing I related to in the video was loving being alone, loving being independent. But it's nice to know that I'm not alone in being asexual. I am comfortable with who I am, but hearing that validation from a somewhat mainstream pop culture figure was incredibly soothing. Where I'm not sure if I differ is that it sounds like Ricky Dillon is aromantic in addition to being asexual. I think eventually I'd love to have a romantic partner, a mutually "best" friend, to share my life with, but until I develop that friendship, I don't care for a deeper relationship. I can't imagine being sexually attracted to anyone; I've never felt it; it is a concept that is as foreign to me as asexuality is to my former roommate. While I'm don't subscribe to his channel, I am incredibly thankful that he decided to make this video and I hope he never takes it down. Now, I can breathe a huge sigh of relief, and go back to focusing on studying for finals again. It feels so good to rant on this blog.

Thursday, December 8, 2016


In the debate between being lonely and being alone, loneliness is generally thought to be the worse option. Lately I've found that I definitely don't feel lonely, but I am desperately alone.

As a kid, I didn't believe in fairy tales, where the prince rescues the princess and they live happily after ever. A lot of that belief, I attribute to this song, the Cheetah Girls' single "Cinderella" — my childhood girl-power anthem, the foundation of my feminist values before I even knew what a feminist was. I grew up lip-synching this at least once a week at lunch as a first grader. Though I don't remember all the words, I've still found myself singing what I remember from the chorus from time to time (talk about empowerment! All of the lyrics are gold).
"I don't want to be like Cinderella // Sittin' in a dark cold dusty cellar // Waitin' for somebody to come and set me free ... Don't wanna be no, no, no one else // I’d rather rescue myself.
I will be there for him just as strong as he will be there for me // When I give myself then it has got to be an equal thing."
But it's not Cinderella's fault that she's in a situation that she needs to be saved from. I do argue that Cinderella is partly responsible for saving herself, as her kindness is what sets her apart. She did her part, and the universe rewarded her.

Another reason for taking month away from friends was that I know I want to be with them, but I needed to know that I didn't need to be with them. I value my independence too much, perhaps to an unhealthy amount, to bear the thought of needing any person. But even without talking with them for a month, I didn't feel lonely. I don't see them in person much anyway, unfortunately, but there is a strong enough bond that I don't worry about a lack of friendship.

If it hadn't been clear to me before, it was incredibly clear now: I know I'm capable of being alone. I've proven to myself time and time again that I can handle it. That's what I do. I can take care of myself. But I don't have to. And for once, I want to be with someone. I don't want to be alone. There's strength in that vulnerability, to put trust wholeheartedly into someone else, knowing that it could be shattered. I've feared that. I've experienced it, in trusting the people who were supposed to take care of me, but they hurt me instead. I also know I can recover.

I never thought I'd want a prince showing up and fixing my problems, but now, it's fairly tempting to want someone to come into my life and make it all better. Sometimes I'm too tired to take care of myself, and sometimes friends aren't available to help. For once, I want to be sure that I am someone's priority (and naturally, I want to make that person my priority.) I know I can be alone, but I don't want to be alone anymore. ◊

EDIT/ADDENDUM: This goes for any relationship, friend or otherwise. It's not that I want or need a "relationship," but rather the security of having a guaranteed mutual best friend-ship.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Attitude Adjustment

It is now December, and to reflect on a thing mentioned a few posts ago, I cut communications with two friends for the month of November to force me to focus on developing healthy outlets for internal negativity. Part of me is well aware that that in itself was not the healthiest decision, but to a large degree it worked.

As Kylie Jenner (voice of a generation) says, "I feel like this year is really about, like, the year of just realizing stuff."

Realize stuff I did.

To begin, I realized am insufferable. When a friend first told me this in high school, I reveled in it. I wanted to believe that I was better than other people, and I didn't mind that other people saw this about me. Of course, that was a result of an incredibly warped worldview wrought by my childhood, the reality of only getting validation when I was quantitatively better than other people. I held, and still do, hold onto unnecessary little grudges as a leftover coping mechanism, or rather, survival technique. The only way to fight against parents who would bring up every shortcoming of mine from as far back as I could remember was to do the same to them. Thus continues the journey of unlearning toxicity.

In response to the above realization, I realized that I need to chill. The little petty things in life that ruin my day, the things that other people mess up on, the things I mess up on — it's all water under the bridge. Once a thing happens, I can't change that it's happened, but I can change how I react to it. I can either dwell on the negative, or I can put it all beneath me and move on.

Part of this realization comes from doing archery. As mentioned in another post, I've decided to keep archery as my zen self improvement project. It's too cold to go to weeknight club practices anymore, but Sunday mornings when the field is fresh and the sun starts to peek out, I find myself wrapped in the tranquility of deliberate focus. Every arrow is a clean slate. Dwelling on a bad arrow only crowds out the mental space of setting up the next shot.

Speaking of being deliberate, another thing I often forget is that I must accept that I am a human being who is not capable of doing things all the time. As silly as it sounds, sometimes I forget that I need to eat and otherwise take care of myself. I'm working on being aware of myself when I'm eating, to think about eating; when I work, to dedicate time to working (and failing at both right now as I write this post while eating dinner). I assume that I can fit in these little human maintenance things between classes or homework problems, but when those things invariably take longer than expected, I skip over eating proper meals and such.

What ends up happening is that I get so tired that I become incapable of functioning, which makes me feel guilty about taking any breaks when I need to work, and this spirals into an awful cycle. Similarly, on a macro level, I need to remember that during a long term break (Thanksgiving, dead week, etc.), it's important not to schedule things to work on every day. That only causes guilt when it inevitably doesn't happen, and it's painful to force yourself to want to do something that you've been putting off. Instead, the first thing to do during a break is to rest, and work when you're ready. Especially now as the days get shorter and the sun sets earlier, it's been harder to get things done. I'm worried that I'm falling into a spell of depression again, trapped in the comfort of passive self care — sleeping all day — when I should be investing in active self care.

Despite the fact that I know it's important to take breaks, there remains the unshakeable feeling of not being good enough (again, this stems from my parents, and is therefore something I need to change). This mindset is easily amplified by being surrounded by so many incredible people at Berkeley. Lately, in response to a scholarship rejection, I've realized that I've been pushing myself too hard, and all for what? Yes, it's important to accomplish things, but a resume only makes sense if you believe society is a meritocracy, which to some degree it isn't. I've had to scrutinize why I'm doing what I'm doing, trying to figure out if I'm doing it because I want to, or because I believe it is correct. Doing so has helped me reach the conclusion that when life goes wrong, I'm going to be my own happiness. I don't need to react so negatively (at this point I realize that this is a very circular post, so I'm going to stop). ◊

This is a really messy post & I'm not sure if I understand what I wrote; I'm going to publish anyway.