Monday, December 11, 2017

Elitism in the Academy: Look Inside Ourselves First

I am the product of a system that consistently works in my favor.

Before you come at me with sticks, allow me to explain.

On the last day of my graduate seminar, my professor asked everyone to consider how they learned to write in an academic setting. I am a walking millennial stereotype, so I usually pounce at any chance to self-reflect. But at this moment, I realized, in horror, that I had no answer to this question. There was no "aha!" moment in which I'd clarified all confusion about writing in college because I'd never not been taught how to prepare for academia.

I've talked extensively about being the "product of academia," usually to end with a large helping of guilt that I didn't suffer more, that I wasn't a first gen-er who had nothing but determination to climb through four years of college. I feel like I've been screaming, "yes I know I'm privileged and I'm so sorry!" for the past two years. This is unnecessary and irritating for everyone involved. Privilege acknowledgment is productive; privilege guilt makes your friends want to stuff socks inside your mouth.

And so, it's about time I move past the self-pity stage, and instead toward privilege acknowledgment--more specifically acknowledgement that makes me a better student and teacher.

I know, a realization that in order to be a good person, you should look outside yourself. I don't think I can handle these profound epiphanies.

It's impossible not to bring your background into the classroom, especially as an instructor. This is why, in our composition-instruction course, all English graduate teaching assistants were asked to consider our backgrounds as students and connect them to our expectations and styles as teachers. I remember discussing elitism in that paper as well, only to conclude, "well it doesn't matter through, because these kids are in college now, and I'm just gonna go through the curriculum that's been assigned to me!"

Well. Not those words exactly. But you get the idea.

There are always exceptions, but typically graduate teaching assistants find themselves in this position because they maintained a grasp of academic discourse in college. Stopping at this realization and taking the "sink or swim" attitude I took my first semester is not enough, and hurts students who were set up to sink from the beginning. Sure, it's easier to dismiss the student who refuses to do group work as "not a team player" (every teacher--myself included--seems to forget that group work is the worst thing ever and will suck out your soul). It saves time to conclude that the athlete with an attitude is just coasting through classes to get their scholarship. It's easy to respond to these situations with grade penalties and frustration. The easiest responses are often informed by the most ignorant assumptions.

I frequently made these assumptions until I had an agonizingly difficult semester with quite possibly the most apathetic class, topped with aggression, plagiarism, and failure to follow even the simplest of instructions. I had, in particular, a frustrating case with a student that took up approximately 200% of my time. I often responded with irritation that I was putting effort into this student's success, while he was turning his back to me during class and flirting with his friend. An experienced teacher observed this dynamic, and suggested that my student wanted to try, but felt like he didn't belong in an academic setting. He was so uncomfortable in a college-level writing course, that he resorted to social interactions that he was familiar with and confident in doing well. Recognizing the reason behind the student's distracted behavior allowed me to consider how I might respond if I had never been anywhere near academic discourse before, and forced me to try to engage the student in other ways.

There certainly exists a risk in which instructors take this recognition too far and start to coddle their students. The student should be the primary actor in ensuring their own success, and if they cannot meet the demands of college-level writing, they should not be given a "free pass." I am in no way arguing that the responsibility falls solely on the instructor. What I am saying that we are often blinded by the assumption that we will say things like "traditional argument structure" and "critical reading," and each student will light up and go "oh! I guess now I have to carefully and analytically read sources, and synthesize them to make a nuanced argument!" Responding to a perceived lack of academic prowess with punitive measures only further alienates students who were wary of academic spaces to begin with.

We talk a lot about accessibility at CSU. Usually we associate this term with accessible architectural structures and digital access (all important things!). It gets trickier when we start to discuss accessibility in academic discourse. A lot of structures in college are explicitly designed to keep people out. Changing this phenomenon often extends outside of the feasibility of the individual. But, as instructors, starting with a shift in tone and mindset to and about students is a helpful place to start.

I admire the students who, just in getting into college, fought through obstacles and processes that were designed to keep them out, to halt their success right then and there. They will continue to fight through structures that continue to work against them, and it is our job to recognize and work to fight against those structures.

Starting the semester with an invitational approach not only helps build rapport with students, but can factor into student success in so many ways. I may not be able to reach every student, but trying to connect their backgrounds and experiences with college composition is a necessary first step in breaking down academic barriers. It takes time. It takes tremendous effort. But it can start to open collegiate success for all students, not just the students who were given access to academia-prep.

I am by no means an expert, and continue to struggle through the fine line between inviting and coddling. I wanted to end this post by posing a question to my fellow teacher friends: how do you invite opportunities for success among your students who may feel alienated from academia?

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

The Power of Wow (Or, the "Dark, Cliffy Spot" of Academia)

In keeping with my childhood tendency to exhibit behaviors that are no longer age-appropriate (I recall trying to convince my very cool friend to play make believe rockstars at age 13--the horror!), I, at age 24, have decided to rebel.

I haven't dyed my hair black (a $300 visit to the salon taught me that lesson already), nor have I taken to sporting inch-thick eyeliner. No, my rebellion is outside of the realm of the cosmetic, and instead, consists of me spouting complaints in class about the absurdity that is the game of academia.

In recent news, I said, out loud, (oh what have I done?) "isn't rhetoric supposed to enact social change? It just seems like a pissing contest between people who try to out scholar each other."

Needless to say, my professor was not impressed. There goes that PhD recommendation.

Despite my extreme embarrassment when putting my discontent into words for all of academia to hear, I've still, for the past six months, stubbornly insisted that I was right, that academia was simply a hoop-jumping, vocab-spouting, game of pretention. I felt that I had every right to be disillusioned with the institution.

And so, here I find myself, writing this very piece from the institution.

To a certain extent, I'm right (and humble too!). There is a fair number of hoops to jump through in higher ed, especially when you're a grad student who's new to the game. In writing my masters thesis, I have found that before I can bridge the gap between academia and popular culture, I have to demonstrate my ability to play that game, to talk the academic talk, to name drop the right scholars.

It's frustrating. It often feels purposeless. It makes me question if my degree will actually allow me to help people, to cause positive change in the world.

I know, a person in her twenties who wants to change the world. Bet nobody has thought of that before.

Ironically, it was a scholar who helped me understand the flaws in my thinking (an ecocritic named Ian Marshall who just happens to be my dad--what are the chances?). His piece titled The Dark Cliffy Spot: Ten Years After allowed me to see that my persistent need to be forward-thinking, to fear that maybe my degree won't help people in a practical or concrete way, is perhaps a surefire way to be miserable both in and outside of the academy.

Allow me to explain.

The "dark, cliffy spot" is a site--a dark and cliffy site, if you can believe it--at an environmental center in my hometown. My father originally gave a rather underwhelming area that name, only to discover that someone else had found an even darker, even cliffier spot, and thus this new site won the title. As such, he went to the new site to reflect.

And that rather reminds me of academia, the end.

Just kidding. Allow me to explain further.

In his "10 years after" reflection, Marshall (I'm just gonna follow genre conventions and call him by his last name even though that's kinda sorta weird, okay?) notes that the dark, cliffy spot is so beautiful, so awe-inspiring, that it forces those who look at it to say "wow," to look outside of themselves for a moment.

Marshall elaborates with the observation that "when you're saying 'wow,' you are not dwelling on internal strife or monologue. You are talking to the world, responding to something outside of the self, so it's not just your breath moving outward." He goes on to tie in the idea that even though nature is a great place to reflect inwards, it's the external forces--the site itself, as well as the people with which you create memories at the site--that make that experience meaningful. In a sense, these external forces encourage their onlookers to be fully in the immediate, simply taking in an experience.

I am not a nature writer, though I'm not without a great deal of self-reflection. In my case, my "dark, cliffy spot" is not so beautiful. It's full of difficult climbs without a promise of an end. It's darker than I'm used to, and I must use more strength than I originally deemed myself able. Looking inwards, I wonder what I'm doing, grappling with discomfort and the unknown.

And yet. Looking outwards, I can see the academia perhaps does achieve some sort of purpose. By participating in difficult conversations about cultural appropriation, or accessibility in the institution, I am, in a sense, talking to the world. I am part of a conversation that is bigger than myself. Through learning about various feminist theories and histories, I can not only reflect on my own struggles as a woman, but I can begin to understand how I might help women whose backgrounds and histories are vastly different from my own.  I'm doing this work with other human beings who I have come to respect and admire. And that's pretty cool.

I might not often find myself in landscapes that evoke the same kind of immediate awe as Marshall's dark, cliffy spot, but applying that same recognition of the power of wow allows me to realize just how lucky I am to be here, now. At a time in which most people are fighting for their education, I am awed by the chances I have been given, the people these chances have allowed me to meet. I realize that academia has allowed me to live in a place that I love. I see the mountains and continue to be awed by their quiet, sublime beauty.

Usually, awe require work. A beautiful view requires an intense hike to get there. Meaningful change in academia requires some difficult readings, some theories that seem impractical. But looking to the power of wow, I understand just how beautiful it is to be part of something bigger, to create my own dark, cliffy spot.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Welcome to the Rest of Your Life

A few (okay, six) years ago, I wrote a post titled Welcome to Adolescence. I hope you, dear readers, have followed this simple how-to guide and flat-ironed your way through the rocky teenage years. Take a moment to congratulate yourself on making it out--all the way into your twenties! Wow! Treat  yourself to some victory anti-aging cream and an IOU for a drink once you've paid back all your student debt in fifty years.

In the spirit of entering "well into adulthood" range, I thought I would write an update about the joys of being an adult. There are plenty of how-to-adult guides out there (thanks millennials!), so I'd like to take the more positive route and confirm young children's beliefs that being an adult is, in fact, all that.

And so, without further ado (seriously, you're slowly dying, no more delaying the process), here is a list of reasons why being an adult is the best thing since sliced bread.

1) You have the opportunity to get creative with sliced bread.
No need to see those two minimum-wage jobs you're working as a soul-crushing act of dehumanization--think of it as an opportunity! Without the ability to buy real ingredients for real meals, you now have the chance to break out those childhood creative thinking skills and work that off-brand bread. Think vegan croque monsieur. Triple-decker bread sandwich. Your disintegrating apartment ceiling is the limit.
A delicacy, really 

2) No more pesky crushes.
Remember how intense those crushes on that one football/soccer/chess club player could be as a youth? Remember those wasted notebook pages filled with love notes and Hallmark-induced musings that taunted you through high school? Remember those hopeful G-chats filled with cringey emojis and clichés?

Just me? Alrighty. Moving on.

As an adult, you won't have time to crush on that hottie from gym class. First off, there are no more classes, so in order to have a crush, you'll either have to settle for that dolt from work, or you'll have to gain some superhero motivation to venture out into the world and be a person. But, better yet, you'll have far more pressing, glamorous, adult concerns to occupy your mind--such as:

Will I be able to pay rent this month, or will I watch my entire savings account disappear?

Should I starve tonight or tomorrow?

Will I still be able to produce healthy children with all their brain cells intact?

Will I be able to support myself, much less a family?

It's like problem-juggling. And don't tell me you never wanted to take up juggling as a kid. Now's your chance.

So crushes? Nah. More like crushing reality that you are your only anchor in this world.

3) No more cranking up the heat of your bedroom.

Your newfound layer of belly fat will take care of that insulation for you. But hey--no more gym class!

4) Forget that ambiguity.

Remember when guidance counselors asked you where you saw yourself in five years and you wondered if you would be riding a horse on Saturn? Well, I'm here to tell you that in your twenties, there are far fewer unknowns and ambiguities. For instance, I may have had no idea where I would be in five years as a sixteen year old, but at 24, I can confidently assert that I will be staring at my masters degree five minutes before my shift at the grocery store, wondering where it all went wrong.

And who doesn't love to have a plan?

You may question where and if you're going to live in the next year, but you sure don't have to deal with those pesky "what if"s: what if I don't get into my dream school? What if I disappoint my parents? What if I never get married? You will know for a fact that you couldn't even afford to look at your dream school, you have, without a doubt, already disappointed your parents at least five times, and forget that wedding if you don't have a spare $20,000 lying around.

And you used to think it was only God who had all the answers. Welcome to adulthood, my friend.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

The Beauty of Feminism: Empowering Interpretations of Zoella

Just as a disclaimer, this post will most likely be a bit rant-y, as I have some opinions about damaging, narrow-minded views of feminism. I welcome any and all respectful debate about the role of feminism in the beauty community.

As some of you know, and none of you care about, I am studying feminist disruptions of dominant male discourse in the YouTube community through narrative and storytelling in "get ready with me" videos.

Basically, I'm asserting that gee, isn't it great that marginalized women get a platform where they finally have a voice? Imagine that!

Unfortunately, throughout my research, I've stumbled upon popular media and scholarly journals alike that villainize and attack women who work in the beauty community. The more prominent the beauty guru, the more hate she receives--particularly among those with antiquated and narrow views about what feminism should look like.

Take Zoella, for instance. One of the most subscribed-to beauty gurus, Zoella has been the product of media attack ever since YouTube gained popularity (and articles about the topic would most certainly get clicks!). Generally speaking, these types of attacks on alternative media are not unexpected. It has become a comical pattern in which an older generation working within a certain medium see new, evolved media gaining traction and success, and that generation starts to get frantic and jealous. Cue the hate clickbait and desperate attempts to remain relevant.

Sure, sure, we get it. It's not so fun to be outshined by successful, independent forces who decided not to wait for the big corporate boss to tell them they could be stars. But what really irks me is that many of these mainstream articles cry anti-feminism and poor influence on young girls when attacking beauty gurus.

An Independent article titled "Of Course, Teenagers Need Role Models--But Not Like Beauty Vlogger Zoella" by Chloe Hamilton embodies this narrow-minded view. Besides having an egregiously clunky title, this article doesn't warrant the clicks, so I'll save you the trouble: basically, Hamilton posits that because Zoella works with makeup and beauty products, she must be telling young girls that their vanity is the only thing worth worrying about--surely she's maliciously capitalizing on insecurity and consumerist society instead of empowering young girls!

To which I say, most eloquently, BAH!

Hamilton starts off her argument stating that with such a large following, Zoella has the chance to be feminist-extraordinaire, but, “unfortunately, Zoe’s (sorry, Zoella sticks in my throat and on my keyboard) particular brand of sickly sweet girl power brings me out in hives."

This argument is troubling on two accounts. To start, yes, I agree with Hamilton's claim that Zoella has built a brand. I'm not trying to argue that Zoella speaks to her viewers in the exact same way in which she speaks to a friend (although the expectation that YouTubers must be their pure, authentic selves is problematic unto itself). She has absolutely crafted a persona and created a business around that version of herself. Zoella has turned a cute, fun character into a product. She is also immensely popular, relevant, and successful.

This does not have to be a problem.

The fact that Zoella has created, with great effort and outstanding success, a beauty empire adds a whole new level to young girls chirping "I want to be just like you!" What much of the media hears is "I want to look just like you!" But what they're missing is that these girls are looking up to an entrepreneur, a business-savvy young woman who is constantly working--even when it appears that she is playing--and who essentially created a new career (if you care to look up the timeline of Zoella, you will see that YouTube was not a job, much less a fast-track to fame when she started her channel).

When a young girl aspires to be CEO of a successful company, do you deem her shallow and poorly influenced by un-fit role models?

Not to say that every young girl who tries her hand at YouTube will end up rich and famous--yet there are important skills to be learned from the likes of Zoella: business deals, video production, time management, and composition, to name a few.

So why, exactly, does Hamilton frame capitalization of a skill in a negative light? There are flaws in the system, but the truth of the matter is that we live in a capitalist society, and we as members of this society exchange our skills for money.

Hamilton, for instance, capitalizes on her penchant for targeting successful business women.

Moving on to her next point, Hamilton's language clearly demonstrates distaste and disrespect for the popularized "girly girl." This argument is a classic "feminazi" move, as it encourages a belief that one cannot be empowered or empowering to be a soft, sweet, female. To be girly, as Hamilton sees it, is to be weak, and we can't have young girls seeing that.

This is eerily close to the argument that in order to be proper feminists, women must look and act strong--and masculine (here's some sweet sweet feminism-turned-anti-feminism). Otherwise, they cannot and will not be taken seriously.

But Hamilton doesn't stop here--oh no! We've got to throw in some either/or fallacies before we go.

The author goes on to tell us that there can't possibly be well-rounded women who enjoy both books and makeup, that intellect and beauty don't possibly go together! (I guess those scholars who participate in the beauty community just don't exist, huh?) The following argument has so many holes in it, I felt like I was playing logical fallacy bingo:

It’s maddening that a girl who has made it her business to tell teenagers how to put make up on, or get their hair just right, now feels she’s in a position to admonish them for 'fretting' about their appearance. Why, if she feels so strongly about the pandemic of insecurity raging through the tweenage generation, doesn’t she vlog about going to school without make-up, or encourage kids to spend their pocket money on books or days out with friends, rather than on the latest liquid eyeliner to hit Boots’ shelves?

Whew, boy. Where do I begin?

Let's start with the obvious irony that Zoella, has, in fact, written a book, thus contributing to the publishing industry. No, she is not the next Dickens, but this act is a start in getting young girls to read and to visit bookstores.

Are there arguments about YouTubers capitalizing on their success with an outpouring of books? Of course. I said it was a start.

If that's not enough, Zoella DOES encourage her viewers to read books and engage in other non-beauty-related activities. In her "monthly favorites" videos, she frequently adds movies and books that she has loved in addition to favorite beauty products.

The book recommendation starts at 17:28.

The argument that you can only be completely vapid and shallow or an intellect who rejects makeup is inherently flawed. Let's not forget the troubling view that an interest in makeup only stems from fear of looking ugly or not being good enough. A popular but misogynist view that makeup application is meant for appearing more attractive for men may be one reason that women wear makeup, but it's not the only reason. There is a certain joy in experimenting with makeup and various looks, as evidenced by the YouTube comments sections, my personal experience, and anecdotes from other YouTubers, friends, and family members.

To comment on Dodie's video, if you have an issue with YouTubers capitalizing on their beauty work, note that Dodie does not endorse any products here, and embodies the true joy of playing with makeup.

Lastly, Hamilton notes a paradox in which Zoella speaks against anxiety and then goes on to tell girl how to look better. I doubt this argument comes from malice; rather it comes from a rather misguided understanding about the nuances of anxiety, which often times have nothing to do with makeup or appearance.

Having been blessed with this condition, I have some ethos on the matter. Anxiety manifests itself in many ways, but I often find makeup to be a distraction from crippling anxiety that the worst case scenario (whatever that may be) has happened. Additionally, I take great comfort in a public figure speaking to the validity of an invisible illness.

But again, I guess we can't have someone who likes makeup AND confronts mental illness in an articulate, well-educated manner.

This isn't purely Hamilton's fault, however. This type of mindset about beauty gurus has been popularized in the media and extends to the scholarly as well. In a dissertation called "Beauty work: a Case Study of Digital Video Production and Postfeminist Practices on YouTube's Icon Network," Andrea Weare argues that beauty gurus advertise makeup as an act of self-expression, but that "few feel the freedom to put mascara on their cheeks, for example. As is typical of many female rituals, acts of beautification are rarely actually empowering. Beauty rituals are often aligned with conformity” (27).

To slide past the fact that this mascara example is ABSOLUTELY RIDICULOUS, I will, as an entitled millennial, make this about me for a moment, and show you that time I put obscenely bright eyeshadow on my cheeks:

In all seriousness, however, what these authors are saying is that women in the beauty community do not express themselves or encourage self-expression in ways that are appropriate for their versions of feminism. In a paradoxical manner, the authors are arguing against limiting notions of femininity by arguing for limiting notions of feminism.

So yes, young girls do need role models. And they can absolutely be beauty vloggers like Zoella.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The Product of Academia, Part III: Some Musings on Privilege, Priorities, and Pie

Okay, so I won't be reflecting on pie (not directly, at least). I just needed that last "p" for the alliteration.

I've been thinking about writing this post for a while--but, speaking of academia, my time often gets eaten up by grading, projects, and failed attempts at self care. However, a discussion in today's "situating composition studies" class, paired with a few rare hours of free time, told me that now was the time to write this post.

There will be some ramblings involved. You have been warned.

If I were to take away one lesson from this year at CSU--and there have been many--I would say that I am immensely privileged to be a grad student, much less a successful one, and there is very little coincidence that I am here. My education, class, and upbringing all led me to a circumstance over which I had very little agency.

Today, my professor instructed all of her students to stand up. With each non-stereotypically academic phrase that rang true (you did not receive A's in English, you do not remember getting praised on your writing ability, you do not have parents in academia), students were asked to sit down.

I was the last one standing. To put things into perspective, I'm probably the least intellectual member of my immediate family.

To me, being inherently academic isn't an accomplishment. I got A's in English, probably partly due to genetics, but also due to my parents' enthusiasm for looking over my papers. I relied on and learned to expect praise about my academic ability. I have not one, not two, but three parents working in the English department at Penn State. Even when I hated school and thought little of my intellect, I was still good at it (yay for desperate desires to please others!). Looking back at my sixth grade journal, I refused to call myself a writer, but knew that I would "go to college, of course." In many ways, I was funneled into a community that was comfortable, a game that I knew how to play.

We often talk about systemic issues in school, and in my case, the system is working directly in my favor.

No one, least of all myself, is surprised that I'm pursuing a masters degree in English. And I've realized this past year that I carry a heavy weight of guilt for following this path. I have repeatedly heard "oh, the apple doesn't fall far from the tree," and, from the more aggressive of sorts, "it's about time you had an original thought."

I consider my privilege often. I am incredibly lucky to have been encouraged to go to college, to be funded through four years of college, and to be handed the resources to do well in academia. In parts I and II of this series, I discussed how much I love having professors as parents, usually from a humorous angle.

But we're in grad school now, and we don't have time for humor.

I do still, to a certain extent, love having academic parents. As I'm currently 1800 miles away from home, I'm grateful to have teaching and writing as a point of connection. But being in this particular situation, I also wonder if I'm doing what I'm doing because I'm genuinely passionate about writing and adore school, or because it's familiar and safe.

Like my professor, I admire those who have strayed from a familiar path, who have battled a system that works against them to get to CSU. They've had to consciously consider and shift their priorities to get to a place that makes sense to them. I often feel as though priorities were handed down to me like a second cousin's sweater, and I went "cool! Guess I have a sweater now!"*

In the various households in which I've lived, school has ALWAYS come first. I was to get a job only if it didn't affect my grades. Evenings and weekends were for homework. The house was consistently quiet, usually because everyone was working on a writing project of some sort. My fuckups were usually driven by a desire to get the highest possible grade or to associate with people who had similar academic aspirations (gee, what a pretentious asshat!). These priorities guided me through good grades and awards, but they never really felt like mine.

I never truly reflected on the problematic nature of embodying these secondhand priorities until this past Thanksgiving, when I was encouraged to stay at school in lieu of family time in order to get more work done. Feeling a tad wounded after four months of severe homesickness, I openly rejected this advice, got zero work done, and ultimately felt wonderful.

In case you're wondering, this is the connection to pie. Disregard the fact that I hate pie.

I have always known that it wasn't just sheer luck that got me here, but from Thanksgiving forward, I realized that I didn't have to run with the academic privilege I was given. I could--and should, in fact--consider my own priorities and create my own visions of success. In a way, my work with digital rhetoric (a field neither parent has touched) has started this shift (although it's still within the steps, guys).

Despite these revelations that I perhaps had it easier going into higher ed, I still feel as though I made the right choice in going to graduate school immediately after college. I have found a passion independent of external influence (gender and identity on YouTube, anyone?), and, paradoxically, it was grad school that made me understand and critically consider my privilege in the academy. It also made me consider my role in removing barriers from those who want to further their education, but who do not benefit from the systems that have been put into place (I smell elimination of standardized testing!).

So I guess the second take-away from grad school would be to prioritize prioritizing. How profoundly intellectual.

As I'm at the halfway point to graduation (*gulp*), this is about the time I would be panicking about considering a next step. Professors and parents alike have recommended that I look into PhD programs. Comfort-wise, this option is tempting (although very few PhD candidates look particularly comfortable). Yet I've been challenging myself to look to other options that inspired my pre-intellectual self. As a chronic planner, this vast array of options terrifies me, but perhaps it's time to walk the plank a bit and drown just enough to solidify what I should and should not be doing with the rest of my life.

This metaphor is getting a bit morbid, so I'll stop here.

To use a favorite phrase among my students, to conclude, I cannot discredit my own achievements in considering influences that led me to academic success. But I can realize that I am not bound by things that I'm good at or experiences that come easy to me. I may be tempted by security, but I am also an advocate of character-building, which I've learned isn't always reflected on a CV.

If I write a post in two months saying "jk, I've decided to get a PhD!", please slap me.

*I actually really need sweaters, so if you have any sweaters that need a torso to live on, please let me know**
**the actual point is that my parents in no way pressured me to take certain actions, and they have instilled wonderful priorities and work-ethics in me. Which is another way of me saying "hey, I've got a great work ethic, hire me plz!"

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Things 2016/This School Year Have Taught Me: Random Life Lessons From a Grad Student Who's Just Winging Life

After another (accidental) hiatus from blogging, I wanted to do another year in review, only to realize that it's nearing April and oh doesn't time just fly right by when you get older? At this point, I can only attribute my lack of timely writing to laziness, but I'm already consumed by deadlines, so I won't feel too bad about it.

Life lesson #1. Don't feel guilty about missing imaginary deadlines.

And we're off to a profound start.

After such a jam-packed year, I've probably learned a thing or two, mostly that I like writing blogs with lists and that life is hard.

But life is harder when you're dumb, so I guess I've got that going for me.

Since we've officially exited "new year" status, this post will be a mishmash of things I've learned in this past year, in school, from friendships, and from staring at my wall for two hours. I like to call this act meditation, but let's be real, it's wall-staring.

Maybe 2017 will be the year I finally master meditation.

I find reading lists like these to be a product of spending too much time on Thought Catalog helpful, so hopefully someone somewhere on the Internet-verse will find my ramblings useful to their "life journey" as us Coloradoans like to call it.

Life lesson #1: The hype probably isn't worth it.

It's not the most serious lesson in the world, but as a self-proclaimed Gilmore Girls addict, the revival had to be in here somewhere. I've seen some quality content in the 10 years since Gilmore Girls last aired, but nothing compares to this show's witty dialogue, the show that brought my family together. When I heard that the show's creators were coming together for a revival, I thought that the entire fan base was getting a chance to "do it right."

And then I saw this.

For 10 minutes. Followed by stilted dialogue, TERRIBLE acting, and fat-shaming/homophobia.

I could go on. Somewhere in my blog hiatus, I planned on writing a formal review of Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life, so maybe I'll follow through with that sometime in the nearish future.

Formal review or not, I learned not to get so excited about reunions, revivals, and the like. There's something sacred about leaving childhood loves as they were. I can always hang out with Rory and Lorelai on Netflix without being scarred by awkward musicals and a tragic lack of Sookie St James.

Life Lesson #2: You will get hurt. You will have to get over yourself.

For the sensitive type, this advice sounds easy enough, but try to implement it and you'll end up feeling like you're being forced to run a 5k with a bullet in your chest.

I've never experienced either, but I can't imagine it's a pleasant feeling.

I've had my fair share of an absence of fairness or sharing, and consequently getting rather hurt about it. But in order to be a person in the world, I have to revisit the very things/people/circumstances that have hurt me. And, to put it elegantly, I have to face the fact that not everything is about me, and I have to get the fuck over myself.

Not to get overly "dear diary" on you, dear reader, but I've met quite a spread of hurt--a sadness buffet, if you will--and I must say that how you deal depends on your personality and the nature of the situation. One might necessitate getting outside of yourself and putting a goddamn smile on, and another might necessitate staying inside of yourself and leaving the critiques and remarks for other ears.

Basically, it depends. I should get paid for this.

These less-than-ideal experiences have ended up being a part of adulthood, but unlike adolescence, I have the perspective (as well as a wonderful reminder from the podcast Welcome to Nightvale) to remember that these situations are nothing more than blips in an otherwise fortunate life.

Life Lesson #3: Don't let unbreakable toxic relationships take up too much mental space.

It seems a clichéd and overly simplistic piece of advice to state that you should rid yourself of toxic relationships, but unbreakable (read: familial) contentious relationships are a bit more nuanced and tricky. I've spent far too long thinking about, writing about, and ranting about what I considered to be a broken relationship, only to realize that this particular family member was wasting zero mental space doing the same as I was. Rather, I was just spending years and years torturing myself in my head and seeing the same patterns in my life.

And now I'm 1800 miles away, I have the rest of my life ahead of me, and I'm wondering what exactly I spent so many years torturing myself for.

These frustrations don't exactly make riveting conversation starters, and honestly, they're a little self-absorbed. So I had to get the fuck over myself (I'm sensing a theme here) and devote my energy to relationships that made me happy rather than a ball of anxiety.

Life Lesson #4: Speaking of anxiety (what a segue!), it's not a made-up, first world problem. Anxiety is a serious mental issue, and as beneficial as yoga, weed (I've, erm, been told), and herbal tea may be, those are coping mechanisms, and not treatments.


Seriously. Talk to a therapist. Get on medication. Get help. Your friends and family will thank you.

Life Lesson #5: Selfies aren't inherently awful.
Social media is a lot less straightforward than many make it out to be, and I (again) plan on writing a longer blog exploring this issue. Basically though, after much selfie-based research and years of guilt for enjoying selfies, I've come to the conclusion that binaries suck, a girl can celebrate her beauty without turning into Kim Kardashian, and not every instance of narcissism can be directly linked to selfies.

Selfies can be, in fact, linked to higher self esteem. Imagine that! A platform that encourages young girls and women not to hate themselves!

Life Lesson #6: Teaching is hard. But it is also one of the best ways to get over self-consciousness.
This is the spark notes version of lessons I've learned from teaching, but TLDR, I encourage anyone with performance anxiety or anxiety in general to try teaching.

After a month of crippling fear and the slight sensation that I was going to vomit at any moment, I've had the privilege of learning that most freshmen and sophomores in college don't care if their instructor has stumbled over one word. And then an amazing, magical transition happened, in which I went from worrying what my students thought of me to wondering what I could teach them.

Don't get me wrong, there are still days that make me want to channel Obama's anger translator, but those days result in stern talks about my students' promising futures as toll booth attendants (kudos to my father for that one) and chances to drop the mic.

I don't have a mic to drop. It's the English department, you think we have money for those?

Life Lesson #7: Move. Move. Move.

Move out of your parents' house. Out of your hometown. Move to music and look like a fool. Move your mindset. Move your furniture and sit on the other side of your room. Move your car to the nearest café and people watch for an hour. Move to a yoga class and laugh at the irony of just how white it is. Move that red shirt you've had since high school out of your closet. Move in to a new apartment. Move on from an overdone past.

Move away from clichés (a meta post--how clever!).

Life Lesson #8: Prioritize prioritizing.

For most of my life, I prioritized and made decisions based on what the nearest person told me to do. It's a bit of an exaggeration, but for the most part, I never consciously sat down and considered what I wanted to get out of my life. I prioritized school over family because that's just what we did. I rarely thought that my priorities might differ from my family or friends'.

However, when I was met with vastly different priorities, that's when life started to get confusing.

It's worth taking pen to paper, or finger to keyboard, and just hammering out a few personal priorities and considering where those priorities came from. Those priorities may shift in a few years, which, as I've now realized, isn't flaky--it's evolution.

There will always ALWAYS be people who don't share or even agree with your priorities. That's when you make the mature move, stick your fingers in your ears and go "la la la la la! I can't hearrrrrrr youuuuuu!"

Life lesson #9: You're probably not as bit of a piece of shit as you think you are.

As much as I loved family visits, I also used to dread them because I felt like a lump of disappointment and wasted potential. I would stuff my face with peanuts in order to dodge the "so Kira...what ARE you up to these days?" question.

Peanuts are surprisingly helpful in awkward situations.

But maybe, just maybe, if you take some time to reflect on your accomplishments, you'll realize that you've done some cool things that your Aunt Mary would just LOVE to hear about. And even if you've had a quiet year, you haven't died yet, and that's an accomplishment unto itself. And just look how much you've grown this year!

In desperate situations, you can also brag about how great your cats are and how much you love them

Life Lesson #10: You cannot please everyone.
So perhaps I'm ending this post with a bit of a "duh" moment, but, in my experience at least, this year encompasses this lesson. If I waited for everyone's approval, I would probably be curled up in fetal position on my bed back home in PA. I sure as hell wouldn't be teaching a group of teenagers in Fort Collins. But if the aforementioned priorities meet your actions, then why wouldn't you go for it? Whatever "it" may be. Just don't do drugs or get pregnant, kids.

Or do. It's Colorado, for goodness sakes.

For the sake of your eyes and sanity, I'll stop here, but keep your eyes peeled for a part II, as I've learned some stuff and things, I suppose.

I'll see you cats and kittens later.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Visiting Ghosts: A Lesson on Coming Home

I have been home for nearly a month--I thought I would be visiting people, but I have been visiting ghosts. I have been reminded of what was, of who I used to be, yet I no longer match the outline of that girl.

When I returned home from a semester in Fort Collins, I assumed (ah! Another assumption!) that my transition would be easy--it would almost feel as though I had never left. I would be greeted by familiarity and the old relationships I had missed so dearly from afar. I thought I could slide into friendships as if nothing changed.

In my visions of coming home, I was laughing over "the good ole' days" with my parents over coffee and scones. I have never once eaten a scone with either parent.

But, as I learn time after time, visions never play out and life is rarely as easy as one imagines. I returned home, only to be reminded that ghosts are hardly romantic. Ghosts are never easy.

I did slide into relationships as though nothing changed, but only now have I realized that such a mindset is dangerous and crippling when everything has changed. Growth in a distant place throws everything off balance back home. I try on my "past self," but I no longer fit the mold of what my friends and family expect of me, how they treat me. The person my relations back home know and hold onto is angry, bitter, depressive. She is resentful, spiteful.

Going home pulls me back into a character I long to reject. I am done with her. Yet she taunts me in every corner of a claustrophobic town.

Back home, my active resistance of this past self I deplore evokes suspicion around me. Who are you really? This is a rhetorical question. They don't want to know who I am, really.

I am not only visiting a place--I am visiting a mindset, a painful reminder of the damage I caused. I am visiting hurt and disdain. I am visiting relationships that no longer make sense. I am visiting ghosts.