On happiness and a fool’s errand

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

Our 7th grade teacher had given us each a slip of paper to write our answers and we all got to work with our pencils in silence. “Happy,” I wrote in stumpy block letters, thinking myself deeply and unusually intellectual for taking it there. A couple minutes later we read our answers aloud one by one and I was dismayed at the number of my peers who had written the same thing. I could only assume they’d copied my genius.

Realizing that happiness was a more worthy goal than, say, riches or fame, seemed like a big breakthrough at the time and it was something that stuck with me all the way through school. In fact it was during college that I became obsessed with the notion.

Every walk to class needed a soundtrack, every tree needed appreciating, every night needed reminiscing, every mild-mannered person needed cheering, every day needed to close with a hopeful journal entry. I remember writing down reasons I was “a generally happy person” on my old tumblr, as though people needed advice on the matter from a privileged white college student who was both financially and emotionally supported. Insufferable.

“She’s just really good at being happy,” I remember an old boyfriend writing in a letter to my parents, begging them to like him. (Not even this noble assessment of his convinced them, by the way.) I wore my happiness like a badge of honor and I needed everyone to stop in their tracks with me and tilt their faces towards the sun when a cloud happened to move at just the right moment. Everything was romance.

It wasn’t until I’d graduated and gone through some challenges that pushed my capacity to cheerily seek out the silver lining did I start to let go of – and even rage against – the idea that happiness was the ultimate goal.

Outside of the utopian bubble that was college, a lasting sense of well-being wasn’t as easy as a satisfying deep breath at the end of the day, nor should it have been. My life gained depth through a variety of experiences that weren’t all worthy of a syrupy journal entry. But still I often found myself scrambling for my old self, sure that I was a failure for losing my overly optimistic sensibilities.

I was recently looking through my writing from those first years out of college and re-lived the inner turmoil.

I don’t think I’ve been truly happy with my life and self for a long time. Not a long-term sustainable kind of happy. I’ve definitely had highs and a few moments of being content, but nothing that has really stuck. Nothing that has kept me warm at night and kept me waking up every day smiling. Nothing that has made me feel invincible to the conditions of life – like I could be happy no matter what. None of that. Fuck. Why am I not like that anymore? What happened to me?

Note the obsession with happiness. And a year later:

Tonight I laid on the carpet in the dark and listened to Everything is Talking by The Long Winters and felt all at once like a caricature of myself, but hoping that I could just stay in that warm and fuzzy place forever and not care about anything else ever again. I don’t care about anything.  I want to not. I like to not. All I need is this feeling.

 I really really really like not caring. I am much less concerned with being happy these days. Which is sad? But it’s honestly a nice change. I like the cozy little darkness that is my head these days.

Note the spiral into apathy. And 6 months later:

I feel so lost in some ways. Figuring out my identity…who I am, what I want. What defines me, what I want to define me. Where those two lists differ. Whether my wants are right or wrong. Whether to trust myself. How do I start to more actively live by the things I believe on deep/subconscious levels that take a serious sit-down to think about and sort out? How do I stop going through the motions and feeling fine? Feeling the emotions on a surface-level. Sure…this or that was fun. But how do I be alive inside my own head?

Note the dissatisfaction with previously-desired apathy. And another year later:

The profound loneliness that is just intrinsically part of “finding myself” can sometimes feel poetic, I’ll give it that much. But that pathetic little tear I produce in the middle of the night because I’m so utterly confused, so overwhelmed by the thousands of thoughts running through my brain? That tear doesn’t feel very nice when it’s running down my face, no matter how profound it may look in the movies. It feels sad.

 And maybe that’s it. Maybe this is all just a defense mechanism. Maybe “not feeling like myself” is just code for “I’m sad and thinking too much about it.” Maybe by defining sadness and discomfort as “not feeling like myself” I’m separating myself from it. Maybe I don’t want my personality to touch that shit with a ten-foot pole. Maybe I don’t want to get comfortable with it.

My relationship with happiness in college clearly haunted me in the years that followed. And when seeking it began to feel like a fool’s errand, what I failed to grasp for so long was that feeling a feeling isn’t an errand at all, it’s an effect. Happiness can be a choice in small moments and even from a zoomed out perspective, but attempting to always feel a certain way was robbing me of the present. The present which was inevitably moving me – either calmly or suddenly or subtly or violently – all over a massive and dynamic spectrum of human emotions. The very ones that define the human experience.

In a TED talk called What Makes Us Feel Good About Our Work?, behavioral economist Dan Ariely talks about what motivates humans to do what we do. I heard this snippet as part of a TED Radio Hour called The Meaning of Work, and this anecdote stuck with me.

If you think about it, there are all kinds of strange behaviors in the world around us. Think about something like mountaineering and mountain climbing. If you read books of people who climb mountains, difficult mountains, do you think that those books are full of moments of joy and happiness? No, they are full of misery. In fact, it’s all about frostbite and having difficult walking and difficulty breathing – cold, challenging circumstances. And if people were just trying to be happy, the moment they would get to the top, they would say: “This was a terrible mistake. I’ll never do it again. Instead, let me sit on a beach somewhere drinking mojitos.”

 But instead people go down and, after they recover, they go up again. And if you think about mountain climbing as an example, it suggests all kind of things. It suggests that we care about reaching the end, a peak. It suggests that we care about the fight, about the challenge. It suggests that there’s all kind of other things that motivate us to work or behave in all kinds of ways.

Of course! An interesting and worthwhile life is one that visits all the corners, pockets, cliffs, and peaks of the emotional spectrum. My desperation to stay in one static position was so intense that I’d built my entire identity around it. I’d laid the cement on happiness and stuck my feet in, sure that I could stay there forever if I just took a moment each day to let the sun warm my stupid, smiling face. When the tides of life inevitably shifted my ground everything felt wrong and I thought I’d lost myself. I wrote furiously in the middle of the night in search of my real self, my happy self.

But of course I was there all along. The problem was never that I wasn’t in a perpetual state of grounded bliss but that I was completely out of touch with reality. I’d aligned my internal self with the dreamy, romantic version of life I was sure I could hold on to forever with a little gumption. “HAPPINESS IS A CHOICE!!!“ I screamed at myself until I was too tired scream.

Happiness is one choice, yes, among millions of others. It turns out I’m as good at being happy as I am good at being any other emotion because that’s what it means to be alive.

The catch 22 of finding peace with this inevitability is that disruption is the beautiful and necessary counterpart to that peace. It’s an unsettling thought isn’t it? What if the point is just to participate? To participate and savor the dulcius ex asperis, the sweetness after difficulty, that will inevitably punctuate the experience of life on earth?

As Francois would remind me, instead of washing the dishes to get them done, I must wash the dishes to wash the dishes. Because the point of being alive is probably just to live.

Thank goodness I didn’t think of “alive” when I wrote out those stumpy block letters all those years ago or I still might be high off the smugness.

Emails with Francois

Francois and I used to work together and we struck up a friendship over a mutual interest in the seedy underbelly of our brains. We often disagree but, in his words, “make great sparring partners.”  My respect for Francois’ mind and accomplishments runs deep. He was always regarded as a wise and ingenious Creative Director around the studio (miles more than I ever was) and I would never claim to be on his level, but I think he took a liking to me because I was stupid enough to question his assertions. In turn he’s always kept me on my toes and given me new perspectives.

This week we got into an email debate on a topic I was considering writing about. At the end, I asked him if I could just paste our conversation instead and, luckily, he obliged. He had some really interesting things to say. If you have the stamina to finish this thing, I think we’d all get along.

On Sep 28, 2015 at 5:40 PM, Haley wrote:

Ellipsism

n. Sadness that you’ll never be able to know how history will turn out, that you’ll dutifully pass on the joke of being alive without ever learning the punchline – the name of the beneficiary of all human struggle, the sum of the final payout of every investment ever made in the future.

On Sep 28, 2015 at 9:27 PM, Francois wrote:

Maybe that’s part of the reason they name the exercise machine the elliptical?! Nice to get one of your provocative esoteric emails again.

Thoughts:

Philosophically rooted in capitalism and the destination as the reward instead of the journey. We can find ourselves at any point in history and find resolution…or conflict. Who said life has a beneficiary or punchline? The sum of a final payout of every investment ever made?! This sounds like someone from Wall Street had a moment of existentialism! The pervasive underlying assumption is that the only reward is embodied in a “thing” whether that be a climactic moment in time, a goal attained or some sort of physical object of desire. Not that these can’t be satisfying but it excludes the process which also brings great joy if you love what you do or the ability to savour and celebrate all the small moments in life instead of waiting for some level of epicness that somehow only happens when we’ve died?!

How do you find these obscurities. Distant cousin to solipsism perhaps.

On Sep 29, 2015 at 12:17 PM, Haley wrote:

My interpretation of ellipsism is that the punchline is proverbial…it’s not a single point in time necessarily nor would it be the same in every context. I don’t like the way the person wrote this, but I think I understand what they meant. Don’t take it so literally!

I think a person can both experience ellipsism and also follow your buddhist line of thinking that life is in the journey and not the destination (that was my senior quote by the way, thought I was pretty cool).

I spend a lot of time thinking about the future, where our society is going, when we’ll interact with other life forms….and I know you do too. It kind of punched me in the gut when I looked at this curiosity through ellipsism. Like, shit!! We will not live to answer so many of our questions.

I listened to your rec, Screen Time. Loved them! Particularly liked part 1, found it fascinating. Some of part 2 disappointed me.

Virtual movies? Virtual worlds? What if we miss all this?! In our time we’ve experienced the boom of the internet – which is amazing – but which is embroiled in intense growing pains…in the new social conflicts created by a different type of communication and we are all feeling the intense stress of it. The paradox of choice! We have the ability to know everything that’s going on in the world but can’t do that much with this information yet.

It’s very precious that we are all trying so hard. A little sad too.

Anyway…the future will always be compelling I know. But just because that’s always the case and it’s part of being human doesn’t mean it’s not still a little bit of a punch to the gut. To wonder so much about something but know you won’t be alive to see it. So much of being human is a punch to the gut.

Then again, I spent the morning listening to Christmas music and it seriously put me in the best mood. In so many ways I really am just a dumb animal.

On Sep 29, 2015 at 5:21 PM, Francois wrote:

In so many ways, you’re also one of the most brilliant and magnificent creatures around! You’re very good at walking the fine line between the narcissism of social media and the self aware wisdom to laugh at its absurdity….indulging in the superficial fruits of the vanity fair yet never allowing it to define you. You’re also gifted with a super sharp bullshit meter which makes me laugh every time we talk about things  that trigger the eye roll.

Listening to Christmas music is healthy, I don’t do enough of it!!

“Sometimes, a smile can be the source of your joy.” I listen to Frank Sinatra’s Christmas song and get all sentimental and cheery and shit.

Talk about being punched in the gut, I watched “Cowspiracy ” on Netflix and felt so sickened by the world and myself. I wouldn’t recommend watching that unless you’re ready to abandon the comfort of not knowing.

While extra terrestrial life forms intrigue me, I’m still trying to figure out how we’ve become so disconnected to known life forms here. I was told by some IOT people that the future technologies will enable us to be closer and more one with the earth by enhancing out senses. Wtf dude? I guess the shamans in the Amazon rain forests had it all wrong. Maybe I need to get a pet like bug. I’ll send you a cat gif I came across, they’re such funny creatures.

You’ll live to see virtual movies and incredible media like that! They’re gonna happen really soon, they’re actually happening right now, just not mainstream yet. I know I come across a bit like a curmudgeonly luddite sometimes but I am really grateful for technology!

You have a knack for creating playlists. I’m not nearly as diligent, I just throw a bunch of things I like in a folder. I’m enjoying fall 15 nice work.

Maybe we are just animals playing a game at the end of the day. But what game do we choose to play ?

On Sep 30, 2015 at 3:18 PM, Haley wrote:

“Sometimes a smile can be the source of your joy.” Who said that? I remember reading the scientific proof of that somewhere. Cause/effect conundrum! Human bodies are totally insane. Did you know looking up also gives your brain a dopamine hit? So basically we should stop with the dramatic emails and just walk around outside smiling like idiots looking into the sky with christmas music in our ears.

First of all Cowspiracy is such a good movie name, second of all I think I’ll wait on that. Will wave my ignorance flag for just a while longer on the meat front. I watched Food Inc in college and remember going to this health food store all sanctimonious and smug…wait for it….once, as a result. Someone should do a study on the self-righteousness curve of people post-documentary viewing. Remember when everyone cared passionately about captive killer whales with every fiber in their being for like 20 minutes? LOL.

The above said, I really am a coward when it comes to learning about meat and stuff. I am weak. Did you know hot dogs are actually white and they dye them pink? That scarred me for like 3 weeks, tops.

Poor poor cows..

As for your nostalgia for Amazonian shamans, are you worried about being a past-romanticist/sensationalist? There was a lot of terrible shit going on in the past. I really liked the guest on Screen Time (part 1) who spoke about teaching computers to read our emotions so our comms with technology could stop being so soul-sucking. Her words, paraphrased: there is no point in trying to get people to stop text messaging. They are going to do it. So how can we improve this experience rather than try to reverse it?

Is “getting back to our roots” or “getting back in touch with the world” realistic beyond a personal shunning of society? Or worse: is it the existential equivalent to Trump’s goal to make america good again?! If reversing isn’t possible, shouldnt we instead iterate?

I don’t know. Society is all fucked up. But I like your assertion that even if life is a game, we get to pick what game we play. In that light, I’d say you’re probably right that we aren’t necessarily playing the right one.

I’m glad you like my fall playlist. My mood has considerably lifted with the overcast weather. I’m a freak, clouds just make me giddy.

p.s. loved your lowkey narcissism call-out. hahaha. touché!

On Sep 30, 2015 at 7:26 PM, Francois wrote:

I didn’t get a chance to write my last article for work. This isn’t it either…the article was gonna go blah blah blah about information diabetes and how we take in more information than we can process…just like in nutrition, it is not what we eat but what we process into our blood stream. Not that my emails are any type of rare precious fruits to be cherished but an acute mind like a strong metabolism is able to process information much more effectively and so it is without reserve that I unload long ramblings to you because it makes me smile to know most of it will be read and considered.

“Sometimes your joy can be the source of your smile but sometimes, your smile can be the source of your joy .” That was from the Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh. It’s totally about how the body’s physical state can inform the mind and emotions…btw, I am typing this looking up at a projection on the ceiling so i can get non-stop dopamine hits. Almost all of what we learn is through language (written or spoken) and while it’s incredible, it can only go so far. Some things can only be known through tactility and physiology. To quote mike tyson here because who else would I quote?  “Everyone has a strategy until they get punched in the face”…yes, we can theorize all we want until the body feels it…another form of processing.

I have sporadically thumbed through several of his books (thich nhat hanh, not mike tyson’s) and remembered from “the miracle of mindfulness” where he goes to explain that there is a correct way to wash the dishes and an incorrect way: 

(1) washing the dishes to get them done and (I prefer to pay someone if I can’t coerce)

(2) washing the dishes to wash the dishes. (the correct way)

I’ve taken from it that we should enjoy every moment of all experiences without an end goal as the reward…that the state of being is the reward…how you take care and attention in doing all things is the constant practice of living well. I am understanding this more as I am trying fix some poor guitar playing habits and realized that when you practice poorly, you just reinforce poor playing…you get better at being a bad guitarist…(not a BAD guitarist…) this would mean if we practice enjoying each moments in life, we would have lived a full life of enjoyment! Not just the handful of moments when we graduated college, got our first raise, got married, had our first kid, got divorced, etc etc.

I know a lot of the way we value and receive experiences is a result of how we’ve been trained to consume…there has to be a perpetual discontent that drives us to seek something new, greater and better is around the corner ( how else do they sell more?) and so we are not conditioned to enjoy or want what we have. We want more which translates into more money, things, experiences, cool friends, accomplishments…but rarely do we consider how more we can be cherishing and wanting what we have, doing less, experiencing less but more profoundly. 

I like your idea of doing a study on post-documentary self-righteousness!! That curve I imagine would spike as fast as it drops, like your one attempt which you openly admitted. Your self-awareness and honesty is both hilarious and disarming. That’s the problem, we’re all weak (and I’m the worst) and whatever truths we uncover that require us to change lifestyle choices that are demanding, we put on hold, dismiss or plug our ears and go “la la la!” 

Not to sound down on humans as pathetic and weak creatures of habit and whim, we are also incredibly capable of overcoming tremendous odds, changing and doing incredible, amazing things. Can I leave my urban lifestyle and go commune with nature? Probably not. Can I get people to be aware of the impact of their choices? Yes. Can I vote for what I want in this world by what I choose to buy? Yes. Can I give up leather jackets and bacon cheeseburgers? Maybe.. but.. not.. now… but it’s comforting to know our consumer choices are our ultimate power against the evil empire and we can do a little each day.

You should create a Christmas playlist to be listened to year round…name the playlist something like…”daily dose of dopamine” or “DDD”  Just please don’t put Beiber on it…pp-please d-don’t.

On Sep 30, 2015 at 7:43 PM, Haley wrote:

I was gonna let you finish, but Justin Bieber had the best christmas album of all time!

When stilletos outperform a gigantic scary dinosaur it’s really not that funny

Have you heard of the Bechdel Test? The concept was originally introduced by Alison Bechdel in her comic Dykes To Watch Out For and it’s become a popular tool to measure female representation in the media. To pass the test a movie must (1) have at least two named female characters (2) who talk to each other (3) about something other than a man.

The criteria might seem laughably loose (and are clearly not enough to indicate or prove a movie has well-developed female characters) but the number of mainstroom movies that fail to meet them might make you throw up.

bechdel

See more bechdel graphs here

The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Avatar, The Avengers, Up in the Air, 500 days of Summer, The Amazing Spider-man, Napoleon Dynamite, Big Fish, 10 out of 14 Pixar movies, every single Christopher Nolan movie …this list is getting silly and random, but you should google it if you aren’t familiar with the test. Tons of movies are released with critical acclaim every year that fail it. It’s shocking initially and ultimately sad.

The reason the test is an important indicator for feminism, or at the very least a solid jumping-off point, is because it highlights the astonishing number of female roles in movies that lack depth and exist solely as accessories for the more developed male ones.

My frustration with the lack of nuanced, complicated women in movies is of course, on a base level, because I am a complicated and nuanced woman myself as are all the women I know. But although personal relatability (or lack thereof) plants the seed of frustration, representation is about more than seeing your own self and your own world in the media you consume, especially when the You in question comes from a place of privilege.

I remember getting in a fight with an old boyfriend in the parking garage of a mall because he said he couldn’t enjoy books with female protagonists. He couldn’t relate to them, he said. I remember this pissing me off but not having the right words to articulate why. A common curse of being young and human (and one that I still often suffer from). It was all very dramatic on the mall-fight spectrum.

In hindsight I see my anger was due to his unwillingness to explore the female perspective – one that I not only held but desperately wished was more deeply understood and respected by the men in my life. It should have been his duty, I felt, as a white, straight male to attempt to understand those who stood in the shadow of a system he benefited from every day. You managed to find a book that wasn’t about a white male and you won’t read it because you can’t see yourself in the main character? Cry almost everyone else a river.

Yours for $17

Yours for $17

If females or black people or gay people are able to enjoy the millions of books featuring male or Caucasian or heterosexual protagonists, why can’t a straight white dude read a book about a woman for fuck’s sake?

We all have so much to learn and understand about each other and those at the top of the privilege chain bear this responsibility more than anyone in my opinion. Myself very much included in that group. Apart from my gender, I’m about as privileged as one gets.

The stories humans choose to tell in mainstream media are informing the way its consumers view the world, at least marginally for adults and most certainly for the younger set. And that’s no small impact considering today almost everyone counts themselves as one of these consumers. Opting out of it requires some serious intentionality and a lot of running away to farms upstate or something. Most of us have our shows. Our stories.

So what impact are we choosing to make when, with the largest opening audience in cinematic history, we create a female character who chooses to run from a deadly dinosaur for two hours in four-inch heels? Are we supposed to laugh?

Haha! Women and their heels! *eyeroll*

I’m talking of course about Jurassic World. I’ve been thinking a lot about it since I saw it in theaters last Sunday. There are many ways I think the movie failed in representing almost all groups except (you guessed it) white males. The movie might as well have been written and cast in the 90’s along with the originals.

Of course this isn’t a far cry from the landscape of most action movies, barring Mad Max whose creators actually took the time to hire Eve Ensler as a feminist consultant. Name an action movie and look up whether it passed the Bechdel. It’s embarrassing. Why aren’t representation consultants hired for every movie and show? It sure would save all of us a lot of time and feelings.

My frustration with the characters in Jurassic World was how irrelevent their predictability was to the story line. That is: a dinosaur on the loose in a theme park. A undeniably thrilling and entertaining premise on its own. Why not turn some of the tired clichés on their heads when you have such an incredibly huge audience? Why not upset the paradigm? Your story and its history stand on their own regardless of the sex and race of your cast. Why, for goodness sake, can’t you make the characters more interesting and special for the sake of progress if for nothing else?

But instead we get:

  • two rich white boys
  • a physically, emotionally, and intellectually developed white, straight male hero
  • and a cold high-heeled, white business woman* who can’t make a sound decision for her life until the male hero comes into the picture and sweeps her off her feet

*because don’t forget that “business women” can’t be of color, wear flats, or be warm people

*sob*

(source)

Heels totally not sinking into the mud, nope (source)

And I’m not the only one thinking this way either. Some quick google searches when I got home had me feeling less alone.

In Atlantic article The Perma-Pump: Jurassic World’s Silliest Character, Megan Garber writes:

And, while we’re at it, let’s also go ahead and acknowledge that Jurassic World’s smashing of its way through the box office to enjoy the biggest opening weekend of all time means, among so much else, that a significant swath of humanity has now watched a woman who is supposed to be smart doing something supremely stupid: fleeing an impossible animal in impractical shoes.

Perfectly put.

But I have my fair share of blind spots. It’s easy for me to notice the injustice when the finger is pointed at women, but this a much larger issue than misogyny. Oppression is scarily easy to miss if you’re not personally feeling the brunt of it – which I suppose is the very definition of privilege today and exactly why it’s dangerous for the majority to vote on the rights of the minority. The tides are too easy to miss when you got to start the game with your head above water.

Which brings me to Call Your Girlfiend.

Call Your Girlfriend is a podcast hosted by Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman (whose work I’ve written about on here!) that covers a whole host of topics with the overarching theme being their funny, educated, and feminist lens.

The other day, hot on the heels of seeing Jurassic World, I was listening to one particular episode where Amina shared her experience of seeing Girlhood at Sundance, a coming-of-age film about a group of young black girls directed by Céline Sciamma.

Girlhood (source)

Girlhood (source)

Amina, who is black, explains the revelation she experienced watching a movie where people actually look and talk like her:

There are just no French movies with black women at the center. It was really shocking to watch, because I’m 30 and I’ve been watching French cinema my entire life and it’s the first time that I’ve identified with a movie, ever. I don’t know what that feels like! I was like ‘Oooh this is what white people must feel like all the time when they watch TV!’

Can you imagine the Bechdel equivalent for black people in media? If you know of something like this, please share, even though I shudder to even think of those results.

Based on my experience as a women I can only imagine that black people, black women in particular, must have an ingrained expectation to not feel represented in nearly every context of life. What could that possibly feel like? How would that affect my perception of the world and opportunity?

I’ll never forget hearing comedian Kamau Bell on an episode of This American Life The Birds and Bees share his experience of learning about racism as a kid.

My mom waited until I was 8 to tell me I was black…and I was like HOLD ON A SECOND. That explains everything. I thought every day I was just kind of having a shitty day. It’s good to know why now. It’s good to know there is a historical context for that.

Bell goes on to share a heartbreaking story that I won’t explain here (go listen if you haven’t!), but through the process introduces Elijah Anderson, a Yale professor, who developed an interesting point of view about the obligation black people have to navigate the white world called The White Space. The idea touches on a lot more than something as comparatively meaningless as a woman’s footwear in a blockbuster about dinosaurs, and it probably should be required reading for all white people.

Since the end of the Civil Rights Movement, large numbers of black people have made their way into settings previously occupied only by whites, though their reception has been mixed. Overwhelmingly white neighborhoods, schools, workplaces, restaurants, and other public spaces remain. Blacks perceive such settings as “the white space,” which they often consider to be informally “off limits” for people like them. Meanwhile, despite the growth of an enormous black middle class, many whites assume that the natural black space is that destitute and fearsome locality so commonly featured in the public media, including popular books, music and videos, and the TV news—the iconic ghetto. White people typically avoid black space, but black people are required to navigate the white space as a condition of their existence.

It’s jarring to look at the world in such binary terms isn’t it? But there’s something satisfying, too, about simplifying the emotional weight of something as vague as “not belonging” into such clear terms. Terms that help bring something so big and overwhelming into context for those who can’t possible understand the struggle. In this case: white people.

I’m attracted to the Bechdel test for the same reason. It quantifies, at least vaguely, the emotional experience of watching movies as a woman.

Movies don’t need to bear the burden of solving systematic oppression, nor should or could they, but they are a huge part of our cultural fabric and to dismiss them as entertainment would do them a disservice. Humans are more likely to learn through stories than anything else; the learning opportunity is undeniably huge.

A truth that brings the lack of representation into almost too sharp of focus.

In NY Times article Your Brain on Fiction, Annie Murphy Paul explains the immense value of storytelling:

Brain scans are revealing what happens in our heads when we read a detailed description, an evocative metaphor or an emotional exchange between characters. Stories, this research is showing, stimulate the brain and even change how we act in life.

See? IT’S SCIENCE. Stories are important.

Movies have the power to show us layers of humanity we couldn’t otherwise grasp through less gripping avenues (like, say, a blog post…) and that exposure can and will influence our world views.

This is why I’m sad to see top-grossing film after top-grossing film fail to hit more than one note when it comes to representation. It makes me feel like an angsty misunderstood teen. But overriding that angst is elation that I’m only one of many many people discussing this. Because education is key to spreading awareness and we are the ones who will ultimately drive this narrative. Maybe I’m even okay about the 4-inch heels if only for the controversy they so desperately needed to spark.

SPOILER ALERT: no warning is fair enough for >this gal<

I knew Austin and I had an uncharacteristically high aversion to spoilers, but I didn’t realize how ridiculous it had become until last night when we snuggled into bed to watch an episode of The Joy of Painting with Bob Ross, only to be thrown into panic-stricken disarray by the fact that the finished painting was shown at the beginning of the episode. We both threw our hands up to cover the screen and cried “Nooooooo! Spoiler alert!!!!!!!!”

Sorry didn't mean to spoil it for you too....

This was the one. Sorry didn’t mean to spoil it for you too….(via)

And then I turned to him: “Oh my god. We seriously have a problem.” And we do. And it may have come to an absurd head last night – but we’ve been vehement Protectors of The End for a while now, both together and long before we met. An outsider might even say we surpassed ridiculous years ago when we started watching The Voice.

If you watch The Voice you’ll know what I’m talking about. The most violent perpetrators of spoiling everything in this world that is deliciously suspenseful are the soul-less robots (surely they can’t be human beings) who edit that godforsaken show.

Allow me to explain:

  • Step 1. *show starts* “Tonight! On The Voice: *SUMMARY OF THE ENTRIE FUCKING SHOW, THE ENDING ALL BUT FULLY SPELLED OUT FOR YOU*”
  • Step 2.  ~actual content~
  • Step 3. “Coming up after this brief break: *LITERALLY 4 MINUTES OF SPOILERS AND MORE FUCKING SPOILERS*”
  • Step 4. *commercial break*
  • Step 5. ~actual content~ AKA a slightly more drawn out version of Step 3 which was essentially A FULL RECAP of this step’s content.
  • Step 6. “Coming up after this brief break: “*SSSSPPPOOOIILLLEEERRRR AAAALLLEERRTTT*”
  • Step 7. *commercial break*
  • Step 8. ~actual content~ AKA a drawn out version of Step 6. Essentially all suspense ruined.
  • REPEAT OVER AND OVER FOREVER.

Am I explaining this clearly enough?! This is a suspense junky’s worst nightmare.

Who on earth are these “previews” AKA pre-recaps for?! This is not 1955. You do not need to convince me to “not touch that dial.” I promise I will still be here after the commercial break! If anything you are discouraging me from watching this show!

Want to know how Austin and I combat this gross misuse of airtime? We stick our fingers in our ears, squeeze our eyes shut, and scream “LA LA LA LA LA LA LA!!!!!!” like uncooperative 5-year-olds.

As my sister and mom would say: “Thank god you guys found each other……”

But seriously, is everyone following why we almost had to stop watching the show for the sake of our personal growth and sanity? I mean, we didn’t. But we almost did.

The other day I texted Chelsea that I hated a character on a show and she told me she “agreed at first but actually ended up liking him by the end of the series” and I basically gave up on the entire show because it now felt spoiled. Seriously – that’s all it takes to ruin a show for me: knowing that one character who starts out annoying turns likable. Why watch now? The whole character arc has now been revealed! AND WHAT IF HE ALMOST DIES IN SEASON 2 AND NOW I KNOW HE LIVES?

The world is one giant story to me just waiting to be spoiled. If I mention a book and you swallow, I will probably aggressively ask you why you swallowed. I have my rss blog reader set so that the oldest posts appear first because the most recent posts might spoil the earlier ones. When Kelsey revealed to me that she often reads the last page of a book before starting it, our friendship nearly ended and I still bring it up angrily over 5 years later. And please don’t get me started on movie trailers.

Did you read about the recent interview with George R. R. Martin where he said he thinks the hysteria around spoilers is stupid?

“This whole concept of spoilers is one that I’ve never gotten,” he says. “Yes, there’s a pleasure when you’re reading a book, or watching a television show — What will happen next? Who will win? Who will lose? But that is by no means the only reason to watch a movie or a television show. It’s not the only reason to read a book.”

I absolutely understand his point but unfortunately still loathe spoilers and will go to great immature lengths to avoid them.

My fiction writing professor in college took an even stronger stance than Martin. He despised surprise endings. “The story itself should be interesting and worthy of the reader’s attention, the whole way through,” I remember him saying. “You don’t need a twist. No twists. A story should be good without a twist.”

It surprises me zero that I’d forgotten this rule by the time my final story was due. It was set in 19th century England and unbeknownst to the reader, the little girl’s dad was dead the whole time!!!!! You know, a la The Sixth Sense? I thought I was pretty clever. And I know that’s a spoiler alert but it’s okay because you’ll never read it. It’s been buried as deep as something like that should be.

Awareness that my drive and focus would be better spent elsewhere is at full capacity after spending the entire day thinking about how much spoilers ruin my media-consumption experience. Am I crazy?

I’m going to go read this article on angora rabbits to feel reminded of what’s important in this world.

IMO: that Fran Lebowitz interview sucked

Did you read Fran Lebowitz’ recent interview about style with Kathleen Hale of Elle.com?

‘Yoga Pants Are Ruining Women’ and Other Style Advice From Fran Lebowitz

I dug into it with an eager curiosity that, much to my surprise, slowly morphed into a labored sense of dread. Lebowitz may be an ingenious writer, speaker and social critic at times, but I found this particular interview tiresome and unfunny. My takeway wasn’t a newfound aversion to platform sandals or men in shorts (two things she explains she vehemently abhors), but a sparkly new example of how I don’t want to age.

The interview pokes the beast that is Lebowitz’ longheld view on how people should and shouldn’t dress. I think her opinions were meant to come off as cheeky, wise, and a little controversial, but instead they come off crotchety and irrelevant.

A few examples:

“That’s what young people want: $2 T shirts that fall apart in the wash.”

“American women think that clothes fit them if they can fit into them. But that’s not at all what fit means.”

“People care more about trends now than they do about style. They get so wrapped up in what’s happening that they forget how to dress, and they never learn who they are because they never learn how to take care of anything.”

Can we agree right now that it’s a little dangerous to start sentences with:

“Young people want…”

“American women think…”

“People care about…”

Her assumptions spare no human.

Hyperbole aside, I get her point. And it’s not that I don’t see the benefit of buying fewer, more timeless pieces to be tailored and properly kept forever – but her failing to see the merit in any other way of living discredits her point, not to mention is likely causing her more internal frustration than it is inspiring a lick of cultural change. Such a narrow diatribe doesn’t open people’s minds, it just closes hers off.

People can wax poetic all they want, for instance, about the weighty satisfaction of a good solid book in their hands, the smell of the paper, the significance of turning that final page, but the validity (or even truth) to that statement will never change the fact that e-readers can enhance the reading experience in new and different ways. Digging your heels into the ground and denying that fact – or worse, taking an us vs them position –  doesn’t incite a worthy debate as much as it isolates you and your enjoyment of the world.

The ineffectiveness of vigorously shunning what’s new has been duly recorded in history books but so many older people fall into this trap. Pleeeeease let this serve as a wake-up call to my future self. I’m sure I will begrudge a lot of the changes to come – but I hope I remember that people stop listening as soon as you put “your time” on a pedestal.

What really gets my goat are her complaints about Young People. That is capital Y capital P because they are just one collective body with one common way of thinking and being. She takes the tired stance that Young People categorically never look outside of themselves and their time.

“If you’re 18 right now, you think you invented platform shoes. You think you’re doing something new. You think you’ve invented something so ugly that it’s beautiful.

“When we were young, we knew things. We knew basic history, even as it related to fashion. Now, when something reappears, an 18 year old has no clue that it’s a revival. Despite the fact that they’re almost always online they don’t get references.”

What?! I honestly think she just made that up to be angry about something. What 18-year-old doesn’t understand, at least on a basic level, that fashion is cyclical? I promise you, Fran, 18-year-olds have brains and many of them are capable of critical thinking. Just because certain people embrace progress doesn’t make them incapable of understanding what parts of that progress aren’t working. This may be an aggressive analogy but I feel a bit like I’m watching Fox News. Baseless assumptions for the sake of shaking her fist at kids these days.

Her comments in some places skew so ludicrous they tip into pure entertainment territory.

“Men never wore shorts when I was young. There are few things I would rather see less, to tell you the truth. I’d just as soon see someone coming toward me with a hand grenade.”

LOL.

“…more people should wear overcoats than those damned down jackets. Please. Are you skiing, or are you walking across the street? If you’re not an arctic explorer, dress like a human being.”

You seriously just sound crazy at this point. And mean:

“So if you’re naturally beautiful, wear what you want, but that’s .01% of people. Most people just aren’t good looking enough to wear what they have on. They should change. They should get some slacks and a nice overcoat.”

“On the one hand I think it’s hilarious that so many people think they look fantastic, because they’re wearing clothes that you should only wear if you look fantastic.”

“Drag queens know how to wear clothes. Can you imagine if women tried as hard as drag queens? We’d be a much more attractive culture.”

Yes please! Can we go back to the 1950’s when physical standards for women were widely based on looking perfect and pleasing men? I would love to get back to that!

It’s too bad she took this overly-assumptive angle. If she’d given her ideas a more level-headed slant, I might have really soaked them in rather than disregarded them with a chuckle.

She’s 100% entitled to her own point of view and 100% entitled to share it with the world, but the narrow-minded philosophy she’s touting is not for me. It hasn’t so much incited anger or offense in me as it’s further instilled my distaste for this particular brand of aging.

I hope I never forget that young people are capable of critical thinking. That a new way doesn’t always imply that the old way is wrong or bad, and vice versa. I hope I can learn to live by Amy Poehler’s feminist motto: good for her, not for me.

And at the very least, I hope we can all agree that Amy Poehler is a queen.