Thursday, March 17, 2016

Some Thoughts on Leaving

My apologies again, but this won't be a particularly witty or insightful post. But to continue with the ongoing theme of exploring the future, I thought I would share what it means to be a townie who's finally leaving the town.

For one thing, it doesn't feel real. For the past 9 months, I've relied so heavily on the anxiety of not knowing what to do come graduation, of scurrying around making plans, I almost don't know what to do now that I have a concrete plan. Of course there are always steps to take--such as securing a roommate and a car, or figuring out what it means to live in Colorado--but these are relatively minor steps, ones that contain relatively easy solutions.

It's terrifying. It's terrifying to realize that real growth comes from real discomfort, and I may spend my time at CSU wondering how the hell I thought I was a person for the past 22 years. It's terrifying to realize that I've had it pretty damn good since day one, and that jumping into the "real world" may not be as smooth as a transition as those who have already experienced more hardship than I have. Yet at the same time, it's terrifying to realize that those comforts I've come to know so well won't be as readily accessible.

What's getting me through this is that while it's petrifying to consider moving, it's unbearable to think of what may happen if I stay the same.

As someone whose memories, are, for the most part, collectively accumulated in one area, it can become overwhelming to live in a town that's colored by trivial heartbreaks, adolescent stupidity, and pure nostalgia. I spend a lot of time either remembering or avoiding--a favorite café becomes tainted by a bad series of dates. A yoga studio becomes a museum of self-esteem issues. A grade school becomes a reminder of what is lost.

I didn't stop to consider how these associations weighed on me until there was an end point, a finish line.

While my travel plans are just starting to blur the line between the hypothetical and the real, I can already understand how distance lends clarity. I am able to walk through this town with a sense of compassion for who I was--a much simpler accomplishment than maintaining compassion for who I am, but a start.

I can now see State College as a foundation for the future, rather than a space that limits me, that confines me to the experiences and categories that I've outgrown.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Genres of YouTube: The Fine Bros, Tradmarking, and the YouTube Community

There's recently been an outpouring of anger among the YouTube community.

More so than usual.

You should be afraid. Be very afraid.

Recently, the Fine Bros, a YouTube channel that does "react" videos (such as "kids react," "elders react," and "teens react") experienced a great deal of backlash when they announced that they were trademarking the react video, and that anyone who wanted to make a similar video had to go through the Fine Bros new business venture, "React World."

The brothers have since taken down that announcement, but luckily, there are a slew of outraged YouTubers who have saved the clips for us and further explained what's going on.
Yes, the podcast is nearly an hour long. However, it's DEFINITELY worth your time, a) because Jenna and Julien are magical landshark unicorns, and b) because it's one of the most well-articulated discussions I have seen on YouTube for a long time.

So, now that you're all caught up, dear reader, on the current drama of the Internet (actually, this is like week-old news, but I've never been one with the times), I wanted to share my unwarranted opinion with a bunch of strangers.

Because that's what the Internet is for...right?

My initial reaction was to be grossly horrified at the notion of trademarking the word "react." It's squashing other content creators' imaginations! It's purely greed based! They're horrible; why did I ever subscribe to them in the first place???

While I still find it ridiculous to trademark such a vague, pre-established format on YouTube, my take on the situation has since gotten a little more nuanced (I hope).

No matter the artistic format, there has always been a fine (hah, fine...gettit??) line between inspiration and copying. It seems that this has been an established debate in the music industry--remember the great Martin Gaye Blurred Lines controversy of 2013? The same goes with network television. The industry has been around for so long, we've reached, for the most part, an understanding of what makes an allusion to another show, versus what is considered downright stealing.

The trouble here is not that YouTube is filled with greedy, get-rich-quick  schemers. The trouble is that YouTube is still a relatively new platform. It's made massive changes since its inception in 2005, and it continues to grow astonishingly quickly. Everyone's pushing their boundaries because YouTube was built on the idea that people needed a platform to push boundaries. This isn't a new idea--it's just gotten more publicity as the popularity of YouTube expands. What's more recent, however, is that the boundary-pushing doesn't just end with creative content--it extends to the idea of ownership and business expansion as well.

In that case, I sympathize with Benny and Rafi Fine. They were pushing limits and finding new ways to expand their business--they probably should have known their audience and realized that it would massively backfire,  but the idea itself wasn't entirely unheard of. It was simply one of the first highly-publicized risky business ventures that we've seen on YouTube.

However, we really can't gloss over the fact that react videos were around on YouTube long before The Fine Bros ever created their brand. What the Fine Bros did, rather, was establish and popularize a genre of YouTube.

If people started trademarking genres, no one would be able to make anything ever.

Think of it this way: there's a much clearer understanding that there are literally thousands of beauty gurus who will do Sephora, Bath and Body Works, and Ulta hauls throughout their careers. The formats of these videos are basically identical: a pretty girl with extraordinary eyelashes sits on her bed with dozens of shopping bags, says "hey guys!" in a really chipper voice, and proceeds to show the camera what she bought that day.

As far as I know, no haul video has tried to stray from this format, and Zoella hasn't tried to sell "Haul World" to her viewers.

This is where Jenna Marbles' argument comes into play: YouTubers gain inspiration from other content creators all the time. That's what makes it an interactive platform. If there hadn't already been react videos, or "what girls do when..." videos on YouTube, numerous viewers would never realize their creative potential, would never create anything. The interactive nature of YouTube is partly what distinguishes itself so well from things like network television.

And, as Jenna said, it's flattering to see so many people inspired by your work.

Maybe this is just how I view the Fine Bros, but I never saw them is the prime example of what YouTube is about. Watching their videos, I always perceived a sense of distance between myself as the viewer and the Fine Bros as creators. They were clearly excellent entertainers, but, unlike other YouTubers, they didn't emphasize the importance of collaboration, or instigating conversations in the comments section. They were a show, a brand. They didn't really fit in the YouTube community in its current state. They worked as entertainers in the same way we might see The Daily Show.

So, in my view, the Fine Bros biggest mistake was not knowing their audience and not knowing what people look for in the YouTube community. They succeeded at making a simple formula that generated views. Because of this, I didn't feel that Benny and Rafi Fine had personally failed me. They simply failed to understand the consequences of trying to turn a community into an entertainment center.

Again, these are just my (largely uneducated) thoughts. I'd be happy to welcome other opinions and insights!

And, just to break up the tension, here's Jenna Marbles being a pro:

Saturday, February 6, 2016

New Blog: An Announcement

Yes, it certainly seems like I'm announcing a new blog every two seconds, but this time I really mean it (no, really).

As I apply to teach in South Korea through the EPIK program, I wanted to document the highs and lows of the application process--and, if I get in, the actual adjustments to living and working in Korea. Even before applying, I relied heavily on other expats' personal experiences to be better informed on life in Korea, and to make the decision if it was the right move for me. However, I would have liked to see more information about people's personal experiences with the application process, which is why I'm starting this project now (even though there's a chance that I won't get in and this will just be a disappointing reminder of my failures).

The blog is titled "The K-Odyssey" and you can find it here.

If you have any questions about the application process, I 1)will probably be freaking out right alongside you, but 2) I will try to help in the best way that I can. Conversely, if you have more experience living and teaching in Korea, I would love to hear your advice!

And, to make this a less boring post, here is a video of a dinosaur figure skating:

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Re-Thinking Titles

I'm a fan of titles. Not so much hierarchical titles such as "Mr., Mrs., and Miss," but more so titles that I hoped would explain the meaning of human existence. This has always been a poorly justified reason for indulging my ego and taking the Myers Briggs test five million times.

(In case y'all were curious, I'm an INFP, which basically means I'm that person who breaks down in tears when people say "you look tired."

One of the reasons that I started this blog four years ago. was to clearly define who I was and what I liked. I was bound and determined to transform myself into the stereotypical yogi that rocked a head of dreadlocks and could not only resist a heaping of Wendy's chicken nuggets, but was the epitome of healthy living.

Two nights ago, I stuffed my face with chicken tenders and ice cream. So you tell me how that one's going.

While my obsession with coffee has never been an issue, my self-proclaimed yogi title has caused a lot of inner turmoil, as seen here and here. (There are more, but I'll let you save yourself from the soul-crippling boredom go down that rabbit hole yourself.)

However, as luck would have it, the one thing I love more than titles is a good paradox. Thus, it was yoga that taught me to be less trapped in strictly defined categories, and to simply live my life as a complex, nuanced human being.

However, as yoga taught me a vital life lesson, that realization led me to conclude that I needed to spend less time defining--and letting others define--myself as "that girl who does those poses and breathes."

Sure, some of this stems from my own self-consciousness. I don't eat kale or vegan cheese. If I'm not in the yoga studio, there is rarely a day that goes by when I remember to meditate or chant. During my short journey in the yoga teacher training class, I felt like an anomaly who could never quite "just get it."

I guess I didn't advertise the "lipstick yogi" trend hard enough.

Mainly though, my reason for quitting the teacher training wasn't the fact that I couldn't fit in. I'm pretty swell at eating tofu, wearing long, floral skirts, and talking about the energy flow around me. My reason for quitting was based on my realization that I could fit in but didn't want to. I didn't want to try to squash my authentic, somewhat-materialistic-but-working-on-it, goofy, glitter-loving self.

Somehow, I knew that running through Eddie Izzard's "Cake or Death?" skit wouldn't fly at a yoga studio. 

It's scary to leave a place/community that has felt like home for so many years. But, especially at a time when refusing transitions stunts your emotional growth, it's necessary.

I should have expected this outcome, but ever since leaving the teacher training group, I've felt a much wider distance between myself and yoga. I still go to class, but I recognize that I fall short when looking past the physical benefits of an asana practice (just to clarify, I mean the fact that my body feels calmer and looser, not the fact that I have abs. As far as I can tell, I still don't have abs). But it's awfully freeing to admit that while I am happy to do pigeon pose for five minutes, being "the yogi" just isn't me.

I've come to terms with the fact that self-reflection can be challenging when you don't necessarily fall into one neat category. However, after years of wailing that no one in the world would understand who I was or what I was going through, I've gained friends who also don't fall into categories. I've, as my friend Brave Heart put it, "found my little group of misfit toys."

And somehow, even though I'm at a point that's more confusing than ever, I'm okay with that.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Things I'm Bad at as an Adult

So, my friend Maria recently wrote this post (which y'all should check out because it's funny and witty and all that jazz) as a response to Jenna Marble's "Things I'm Bad At As An Adult." As a response to the response, I thought I would chime in with my own list of adult-y things that I fail at. Because oh boy does it go on. And on. Apparently this shit doesn't get easier after four years of practice.

My only redeeming quality in this regard is that I can finally offer you alcohol in hopes that you'll forget about my shortcomings.

So how about some wine? Vodka? No?

The first thing that I fail at as an adult is being the chief "grownup" in a room. Get me in a room of peers, and I can lead the shit out of a group project. But if I'm leading a group of six year olds and I'm suddenly the sole person in charge, I freak out and forget everything I could have possibly learned in 22 years. Not only that, but I forget that I have the authority to say the magic word: no. As an elementary school volunteer, I've experienced some interesting incidents.

I was once instructed to tell the kids to sit down on the carpet. When the students told me they'd rather not, I was all "oh, okay, who am I to tell you what to do?"

Yes, there are times that I have to tell myself that I'm not the elementary school student. I'm being trusted to tell elementary school students what to do.

All I can think is, when the f*** did that happen? 

My second "adult" failure looks like I'm stealing off of Maria's blog, but my hatred of driving takes the cake. If I'm driving anywhere further than the grocery store, I either scream or cry. Possibly both. I've found that singing and talking in ridiculous accents helps calm me down, but I can only do that with my mother in select social situations, otherwise people tend to get this outrageous notion that I'm weird.

Hah. Wonder where they got that idea. 

I've taken this fear of driving to the next level, as a major consideration of my future plans has to do with my ability to avoid the daunting task. I am by no means a city person. I hate crowds. I would rather not break my bank account to buy a cup of coffee. But, I swear to God, one of the first items on my "pro moving to Korea" list was that I wouldn't have to drive.

If that's not dedication to avoid facing my fears, I don't know what is. Apparently I'd rather deal with crippling social anxiety than a normal, adult task.

I'm bad at looking like an adult. Not only has my face made the wise decision to convince people that I'm fourteen years old (if you tell me I will appreciate this when I'm fifty, I will slap you), but somehow, as I've gotten older, my outfit choices have gotten younger. It may not be acceptable for a twenty-something to pretend she's a cat, but that doesn't mean she can't rock a pair of fuzzy ears like nobody's business.

Said no one ever.

You might think I restricted this look to Halloween. You would be wrong.
I'm bad at dates.
Now I know what you're thinking: 1) why does this girl think I care about what she's bad at? (To which I say thank you for your honesty. Let me offer you more alcohol) But also, being bad at dates is a terrifically adult rite of passage. Suffering through a bad date is an essential part of human existence.

Right you are. But somehow I missed the memo that somewhere between high school and college, it was the polite thing to ask someone out for coffee/dinner/a movie that one or both of you pretends to be intellectually stimulated by before sucking face and introducing said face-sucker as your boyfriend at dinner parties.

Thank you for believing that I get invited to dinner parties.

While, in theory, I'm all for getting to know a person before spending your entire savings account on them (kidding, but actually, relationships are hella expensive), the thing is, I'm terrified of dates. Not because I'm shy (well, kind of because I'm shy), but because I'm so used to the one lovely part of high school when a guy would walk up to me, be all, "hey. I like your face. Be my girlfriend?" and I could say whatever I wanted to him because my mouth knew his mouth.

It's a well-known fact that kissing someone makes you feel 2000% more at ease with them. Except when it doesn't.

But no, now it has to be a backwards process, in which you go through that mortifying dance of "let's sit here and ask superficial questions and pretend to want to pay for some overcooked lobster" just for the mere possibility of not dying alone.

I guess I should be more concerned by the fact that I'm bad at doing important, adult tasks in favor of blogging about why I'm doomed.

May your adult experiences go more smoothly than mine.


Sunday, January 10, 2016

Step-Parents: How to Deal

I've been avoiding this topic for a long time.

It's personal. It's messy. And no matter how neutral I try to be, it almost always sounds like I'm trying to play the blame game. When you go through your entire life unsure of how to spend time with someone who's technically family, it's easy to point fingers and accuse "the other" of being at fault.

That's what I did to my step-family. And even though I'm tantalizingly close to having my own home, my own life, I'm still in that place. It's almost comical for a grown woman to cower in her room, trying to work up the courage to have a conversation with her stepmother.

BUT, even though I'm not fully out of that period of my life, I've lived with this situation for nearly six years. I've done enough spouting of my own personal resentment for a lifetime, but looking back at my 16-year-old self, I would have loved to have someone give me advice on how to cope with a step-parent who just doesn't mesh with me. The Internet helped me through a lot of shit, but everything I could find about step-parents seemed more akin to an episode of True Life: I Live With a Monster. 

Entertaining? Sure. Helpful? Not so much.

Thus, I'll try to keep the whining-level minimal.

1) The most helpful thing to realize is that while you're trying to bond with this new human in your house, they are desperately trying not to overstep their bounds. They have been told repeatedly that these are not your kids. Don't act like you can control them. In my case, I was fourteen by the time my father re-married. It would have been weird if my stepmother had started setting bedtimes or telling me to clean my room. Raising kids is already a point of tension for "regular" married couples (but what really is regular anymore?); the tension is one thousand times worse when there is someone who tries to parent kids who aren't even theirs.

With that in mind, remind yourself again and again (and again) that the distance you feel between you and your step-parent is not disdain. It's respect.

Repeat until you believe it. Make it your mantra if you have to. 

It was difficult for me to remember this when my stepmother cooked breakfast for her son every day and I was left to my own devices (again, comparisons are never constructive, but such is life), but then again, who's gonna have an easier time transitioning come time to move away from home?

So, because of this inevitable (respectful) distance, you won't get the close bonding moments you see between parents and their kids. But on the flip side, you won't get the nagging moments either.

I'll cook my own damn eggs if it means being able to take charge of my own homework, thank you very much.

2) Just remember that even though you're not paying the bills or buying the groceries, you also have a voice in the household. Of course you are not the chief decider, but that doesn't make your input any less valuable.

Being a HIGHLY sensitive person living with an...erm...assertive step-parent makes me struggle with this piece of advice (hello, hypocrisy!). But there are times when, for the sake of your self-esteem, you have to stand up for yourself. Yes, there are always going to be comments and accusations that you just have to let go of. But your step-parent has no reason to remember how fabulous you are. You have to remind them. Even if it's over-the-top cheesey, "I am an amazing human being, hear me roar," it's better than suffering in silence and believing that no one will ever understand that you are made up of unicorns and happiness.

There are many little digs that my step-mother has made at me, and each time, I failed to speak up for myself. Because of that, I replay them in my head. My favorite example is when we were cleaning up from dinner, and I offered to wipe down the table. My step-mother responded with "I don't think so. The table needs to be treated with respect. It's a nice table. It's a special table."

If I could go back in time, I would have politely explained that I was a functioning human with functioning-human-capabilities, grabbed a cloth and wiped down the table as aggressively as I wanted to. Unfortunately, time turners don't exist yet, so the next best thing is to offer my unwarranted advice to those going through a similar situation: you need to speak up for yourself. Even if it requires a level of assertion you are not comfortable with. You are awesome and fabulous, and you too can clean a goddamn table when you're 16 goddamn years old. 

Okay, I said I would TRY to give up the resentment. No one's perfect.

3) This ties in with the "speak up for yourself" bit, but there will also be times that you will need to fight to spend time with your parent. This will accomplish two things: A) you'll maintain a relationship with your parent, and B) you'll be reminded that you're not just living in a house full of strangers--even in the most foreign/uncomfortable moments, your parent allows some level of comfort and familiarity.

4) It's not necessarily a bad thing to escape to the safe-haven that is your room, but you will inevitably have to spend some time with your step-parent. I still sound like a bumbling, trembling idiot when I talk to my step-mother, but finding at least some common ground has been immensely effective. For us, it's feminism and cruelty-free makeup. There is no one who understands the anxiety-inducing experience of the face-to-face interaction more than me, but it's a helpful start to text or email your step-parent with interesting articles or tidbits about your common interest. You don't have to be best buds, but you'll feel better once you've made an effort, and your step-parent will probably feel better knowing that you're thinking of and appreciate him/her. 

5) This may vary depending on your situation, but just remember that you have another parent who loves and appreciates you. If tension is really terrible (or even if it isn't), go to your other parent's house and bake cookies or sing karaoke, or whatever it is you young people do these days (except don't drink with your parent. That's just weird).

6) Lastly, remember that no matter how high tensions rise, this situation is not permanent. Real life will crash onto you much sooner than you think, and you can finally be surrounded by roommates/pets who don't make snarky comments about cleaning tables.

Well, your roommates might. But that's for another time.


Sunday, January 3, 2016

On Cultural Appropriation

In the spirit of the new year, I have resolved to not be that white girl who purchases a dream catcher and thinks that she knows everything about native culture.

(Let's ignore the fact that I actually have a dream catcher hanging on my wall, okay?)

But actually, I've wanted to talk about cultural appropriation ever since my foray into Hinduism was introduced to me by a slew of white people. I just haven't found the right words to do so.

I still haven't found the right words, but I'm just gonna say some things, quote some smart people, and call it a day. It worked for 3 years of college, and it'll work now.

Cultural appropriation, for those of you that don't know, is "when somebody adopts aspects of a culture that’s not their own....It refers to a particular power dynamic in which members of a dominant culture take elements from a culture of people who have been systematically oppressed by that dominant group" (everyday feminism). 

Being someone who is part of the dominant culture, but is also interested in not living in my own American bubble, I've struggled with finding the line between cultural curiosity and cultural appropriation. 

This probably isn't helping my case:
An Indian woman once asked me why I had an "om" tattoo, and I was so nervous, I ended up saying "erm, I like yoga and stuff." Clearly the tattoo was more meaningful to me and yoga has been a huge part of my life, but there's something self-conscious about being flashy with the Sanskrit--especially when getting the tattoo was such a spontaneous decision.
 I am a huge proponent of being educated--a large part of receiving a meaningful education is being exposed to something outside of your immediate frame of reference. That should be an undisputed fact (although, unfortunately, it is still plenty disputed). You cannot learn, and, consequently, cannot grow without realizing that something exists outside of your own experience.

But, paradoxically, it is nearly as ignorant as never learning about "the other" to half-heartedly step into another culture and make it all about yourself: your personal growth, your deep, meaningful thoughts whilst having these deep, meaningful experiences, your ability to assimilate. 

Chances are, your ability to assimilate is not as swell as you think it is. 

At 18, I had the glimmer of the idea that I needed to get the hell out of State College experience other cultures, and as I've talked about a million times before on this blog, I found Shoshoni. While Shoshoni's yoga classes were largely secular, we did participate in Hindu and Buddhist practices as a means for self-discovery. For the most part, these practices were presented in a tactful and sensitive way, although I probably could have read more than a chapter of The Idiot's Guide To Hinduism before chanting Sanskrit for an hour every day. 

However, I remember being assigned "temple tours," where I would take families (usually Indian) to the Shoshoni temples, allow them to pay their respects to the gods and goddesses, and answer any questions they might have. 

Although at the time I was too young to have a fully developed colonialism rant at the ready, my inner "something is not right" senses were tingling. 

Here I was, this wide-eyed white girl fresh out of high school, pretending to be an authority on Hindu practices. As far as I knew, Ganesha the elephant represented new beginnings and learning and Kali was the most badass goddess I'd ever seen.  
  It felt wildly inappropriate to take something others had spent their entire lives devoted to just because I wanted to "find myself" for a month. While I certainly respect and admire the people and practices at Shoshoni, I was uncomfortably aware of the fact that we were all white people engaging in non-white activities. We, as the dominant culture, had the privilege to do so. 

Maisha Johnson of Everyday Feminism reminds us that "marginalized groups don’t have the power to decide if they’d prefer to stick with their customs or try on the dominant culture’s traditions just for fun."

(It's no coincidence that the "alternative" Burning Man is chock full of white people.) 

Another instance of cultural self-consciousness happened during a PSIDE practice, when I was watching the African Dance group rehearse. The dance caught my attention, and I found myself wanting to try it out--however, my first thought was that it wouldn't be right to be a white girl in an African dance, that it would be disrespectful somehow. Which was slightly hypocritical, seeing as I had no qualms with being in an Indian dance. 

I brought up this concern with the co-director of PSIDE, and she also admitted feeling uncomfortable being the sole white person in a minority-dominant dance. However, she also brought up the very good point that PSIDE never claims to show authentic, traditional dances from other cultures. They are simply dances that are inspired by other cultures, and they expose the Penn State student body to practices we might otherwise have never known. While this is mostly rhetoric at work, it is a hugely important distinction to make. Claiming authenticity should not be done lightly. 

Additionally, we are taught why someone might do a certain dance, and in what context it is performed. For instance, Bhangra, an Indian dance, is done in celebration (like at a wedding party). We are not just told that we are doing a certain dance because it looks cool and we want to. That would be flirting far too closely with appropriation. 

Having been able to make these distinctions at PSIDE, I've found that avoiding cultural appropriation (while still not being an uninformed, un-interested asshole) boils down to two things: Historical awareness and the ability to distance yourself from the practice. All of these practices have a rich history, and it would be an injustice to simply gloss over the background information and visit the practice in its current (usually altered by a dominant culture) state. 

If I could do Shoshoni all over again, I would make sure to read much more (and a much wider range) literature on Hinduism and Buddhist practices. If I choose to do African dance at PSIDE, the same rule applies.  

In terms of distancing yourself from a cultural practice, I don't mean that you shouldn't do it. However, it is essential to realize that while you can observe a practice (even while participating in it), it is not yours for the taking. It's somewhat akin to walking into a friend's home, appreciating the artwork hanging on their walls, and not taking it home with you. 

Don't steal art, guys. That's just not polite. 

I've tried (rather unsuccessfully) to make this a non-ranty blog. If you've stuck with me this far, thank you; have a cookie. I have no cookies to give you. You'll just have to stick with eternal gratitude. 

Considering the ironic nature of my usual sign-off, I'll just stick with an "I'll see you lovely cats and kittens later."