Monday, July 7

Shiny Makeup~

A couple years ago, after the announcement of the rerelease of the Sailor Moon manga, I giddily hoped for a new adaptation of the series. On Saturday morning at 5 a.m. (oddly enough, the same time it used to air on the WB) that dream became a reality when Sailor Moon Crystal aired.
This is not a big deal for most people, but for a lot of 20 and 30 year old nerds, it feels huge. The series from the 90's and the manga translation we had access to were pretty fine for preteens, but the opportunity to read professional translations and to see the story animated in a series that's more faithful to its original materials feels right. Watching Sailor Moon Crystal, despite its faults (and there are some), feels like coming home.
I watched the new episode yesterday twice, once with an 11 year old girl (awesome!) and once with my husband. The animation style is a bit wonky, but I love the new theme song, and I love the overall tone of the show. It was sweet and whimsical and fun. More than anything else I really love that the new show feels like the manga. Sailor Moon was created by a woman with a female audience in mind, and the original animated series really forgot that. If you show an episode to someone unfamiliar with the series, they will undoubtedly comment on how much nudity/upskirt shots are in the show. I remember trying to explain this away as a kid and I couldn't. I wish I could time travel and say to my younger self, "Some gross male animators took this series out of the hands of its creator and adapted it in a way that allows other gross males to latch onto it. Bottom line: men are disgusting." Sailor Moon Crystal is delightfully, refreshingly, beautifully devoid of fanservice. That's not to say I think the show will overwhelmingly avoid sexuality (and let's not kid ourselves, there is a huge difference between a character's sexuality and an essentially non-consenting panty shot), I just think it will approach the matter the same way Naoko Takeuchi did: with the female gaze in mind. There are a million other things I will inevitably think and feel about this new series as it continues, but I'll stop myself there for now.
I wish I could explain why this show was so important to me as an 11 year old girl, or why it's stuck with me for the last 17 years, but I don't have a concrete answer. I first heard of Sailor Moon in grade school when my friends were watching it at the crack of dawn on Saturday mornings. Even for cartoons I wouldn't get up before 8 on a Saturday, so I missed out on the initial bandwagon. A couple years later Cartoon Network began running the series in the afternoon and I was smitten. I know I liked that the show was unlike anything else I'd seen before. It was animated, so it felt like it was for kids, but the subject matter was different. There was something about it that felt very adult to me, and I realize now that was probably because the show dealt with teenage girls who had teenage girl issues and relationships; to an 11 year old, boy probz is the epitome of maturity. Of course on top of crushes and friendships, the girls also fought monsters and saved the planet. Unlike other shows on TV, this was the only one where all of the main characters were girls and they were girls who actually did cool stuff.
I think that combination of things, the meeting of bad ass superhero stories and stories about teenage girls, is what made the series so valuable for me. Maybe that wasn't exactly it, maybe I just liked their outfits, but it was really special to me, and even through the years when some of the show has gotten a little immature and some of the fandom a little overwhelming (why is there so much merchandise???) Sailor Moon is just always going to be my favorite super hero. I'm really excited about what Sailor Moon Crystal might bring and I'm even more excited to be a part of a community of adult nerds who all have sparkly crystals with wings for hearts. 

Friday, June 27

How It Is

An old friend of mine passed away last week and I haven't known what to feel about it for a long time. There was a lot of numbness, so much so that it took walking into the church for her funeral to finally start crying. During the service there was a period where people could get up and talk about her, and sure as shit any time there was a lull, any moment where the pastor thought it might be time to move the service along, someone else would run up and say something. This continued on through the night at an open mic at everyone's favorite dive bar, the Hub, (decorated with Christmas lights, tissue paper, photos of Liz; there was art supplies everywhere and bubbles and feathery shit. She would have loved it.) and all night people would wander up and share an anecdote or their feelings. It took listening to all these people all night to figure out what I wanted to share about her, and it will take a couple hours of writing and editing to get this right, but here goes.
Liz was easily the most difficult friend I've ever had. If you could hear the dozens and dozens of stories about her that were shared, it wouldn't be hard to infer that she was complex. She had a lot of faces, a lot of ideas, a different way of being for her every changing whim. She was spontaneous and wild and strange and she was not easy. For me, she was not easy. As I have aged I have slowly become very type A. Things have a place, fun should be scheduled, outfits planned, etc. This did not make it easy to be friends with Liz. She would text me at 11 p.m. on a Thursday night and ask if I wanted to go dancing. She would decide to go tubing at 1 p.m. on a Saturday, so late that we wouldn't even get to the tubing place until 3 when the sun was gone and the water was cold. She managed to make a zine that included the work of all her friends and it was so beautiful and weird and terrible, and for whatever reason the second issue could not be made. When we actually managed to schedule a fun thing she would enjoy, like a costume party, she would show up late without dressing up, be surprised and say she didn't think it was really happening, have to leave to put on a costume and would come back even later looking great. Meanwhile, we've all been drinking and sweating off our costumes, thus making photos of the evening queerly lopsided in her favor.
Thinking of this now, it's pretty diabolical, but if you knew her you knew it was never on purpose. It was just how she was. Everything about her was flighty and flaky and ephemeral. I can do things on a lark, Liz lived her life on one. And if she invited you for a ride, you never wanted to miss it. It was annoying to me to begrudgingly agree to her wild hares, but I did it because they were fun, she was fun, and as difficult and irritating as it was for me to put off whatever I actually had scheduled for a day, she was so magnetic that it was worth it. At the funeral my friend Jon said that Liz made you do shit you didn't want to do, and that was her for me. I did a lot of things I didn't really want to do for Liz, but I'm glad I did. You always were.
One night, for some reason, I wandered late into the Hub pretty tired, feeling bloated, wearing a stained Totoro t-shirt, flip flops and glasses. She was there with another girl and they both looked great which made me feel even shittier. There was a band playing covers of the Talking Heads and the Pretenders, and Liz was really stoked and wanted to dance. God damn it all I did not want to dance, did not want to move my shitty body in front of everyone when no one else was dancing so they could all see the stain on my lame t-shirt or the smudges on my glasses while I sloppily shifted around next to a beautiful, effervescent Liz. I was very unhappy about the prospect of dancing, but I did not say this. I got up, took off my flip flops and danced bare foot in a bar with barely a drink in me just because Liz wanted me to. And I fucking hated it, but it was also pretty fun.
A few years ago she texted me and said she wanted to do teen things. She wanted to be a teenager again. She picked me up dressed like a mall goth and we cruised Wash and went to Big Cigs and bought cloves to smoke, and we went to Taco Bell and Discontent. We kicked hack in a parking garage. Around this time I was applying to graduate school, and I got an e-mail saying something was wrong with my application. I was suddenly very depressed because I couldn't take care of the issue right away and the incident completely snapped me out of reliving my teen years despite the fact that I could taste clove cigarettes all over my mouth and I was combing through a rack of tie dye in a head shop. As fun as so much of this day was, I also remember feeling really frustrated. Liz was trying to make her nostalgia tangible, asking me to come along with her for the experiment, and I couldn't. This cloud of responsibility was weighing over me, preventing me from going back. I felt very lost, and I feel very lost now. I got a call about a job interview the other day for a real, adult teaching job, and as exciting as that is I've also spent this week combing through nostalgia, trying to find the right story or the right memory to make sense of my feelings about Liz, about her passing. I don't really know where I'm at in time anymore. I've never felt older in my life than I do today, thinking about my friend who didn't even make it to 30, thinking about being a teenager with her and all the shit she made me do that I didn't want to do. I never played hack as a teenager, I hated it, but I pretended for her and it was fun. I don't know why I never played it before. There doesn't seem like there's going to be an opportunity for it anymore, which is weird to say, but it feels like that. The only person who could bring me back to a time in my life when the pinnacle of fun was literally just driving around is gone. I've felt my youth dwindling for a long time and yesterday I think it was buried. I know, I'm rolling my eyes too. Here's part of a poem.

From "How It Is" by Maxine Kumin

Dear friend, you have excited crowds
with your example. They swell
like wine bags, straining at your seams.   
I will be years gathering up our words,   
fishing out letters, snapshots, stains,
leaning my ribs against this durable cloth
to put on the dumb blue blazer of your death.

Monday, June 16

A Brief Inventory of My Grieving

I've been reading a lot of interesting and beautiful things centered around the death of a parent lately. I'm interested in death and the culture around it, and I think my interest has primarily grown out of mourning my mother for the last 7 years. It seems like a long time to mourn someone, but if you've visited a cemetery you know people put a lot of stock into grief. Some people continually decorate the graves of their family members, visiting often with balloons, single shot bottles of whiskey, the always appropriate bouquet of flowers... My husband's family visits their grandmother's grave every Christmas for a toast. My mother doesn't have a grave, though. Her cremains are in my dining room overlooking the dinner table and the living room. It's a good enough place for her for right now, but it's not her final resting place. She wanted to be scattered in the Gulf of Mexico and the Smoky Mountains, making her final wishes a bit of a trek and even a burden for my brother and I. It just hasn't happened yet, but I digress.
I know that part of reason my mourning has lasted so long is because she's not been appropriately laid to rest yet, but I also am starting to believe that grief is something that stays with you forever, like first love. I almost wrote "like first love, but sadder" but it's not. It's exactly like first love. You're sad about it, but you're also wiser. You've found a way to let go of the hardest parts and you recognize how you've grown from having lost. There are days you wish things were different, but most days you know you're both better off. You feel okay. But maybe that's just me.
Part of the grieving process both I and my brother resisted was keeping her things. This has also been something I've been reading about as of late - what it means to handle the belongings of someone you love who is gone. It's interesting to me that the items of the dead typically hold so much value to us even though they are utterly useless and often times merely clutter (this is the topic of many, many episodes of Clean House). This wasn't my thinking when I chose not to keep most of her belongings, however. Of course my brother and I chose some of her things to take with us, but the rest, for me, just didn't seem right. The things that were left barely seemed like her own things. I didn't recognize the clothes, the blankets, the shoes. She had an extensive collection of books at one point in her life, great stuff, Maya Angelou, the Madonna sex book, tons of Toni Morrison and Ellen Gilchrist, weird vampire books, books on world religion, literary erotica, lesbian fiction, but by the time she passed she had given them all to the thrift store; they wouldn't fit in her room at the house where she was living, where she had to live so that someone could care for her. It bums me out sometimes to think about how little she had and how little I kept, but the reverse may have been harder. I can imagine the day I finally decide to pare down and coming to that Madonna book. What do you even do with that thing? The Salvation Army won't take it.
Even now there are some things I keep that I don't need. Things I don't understand. I've written about her jewelry boxes and the ephemera they contain, but there's more. An ill-fitting, itchy pink sweater that I love to wear when I'm feeling gauzy and grey. A collection of ceramic forest animals that I loved when I was a child, but I realize now they must have meant something to her as they are completely not her taste. A red and peach satin blanket with embroidered cranes that she never let me use when I was young. I use it all the time now, and it shows, but I will probably use it forever. A small, plain black makeup bag that came with a purse she bought me. I never used the purse and so gave it to the thrift store, but I felt so bad that I kept the makeup bag. She bought me some underwear when I was a teenager and I still have them in my dresser, rarely getting worn but not taking up much space. A half empty bottle of perfume. Some crinkled up tubes of paint. In my attic in a large portfolio are some ct scans of her brain. I took the small ones and my brother took the large ones. I've always meant to do something with them, but I just look at them sometimes and try to decipher what's tumor and what's brain. I don't know what my brother does with his.
I've lost things a few things. The pendant with her name written in Hieroglyphics. A turquoise ring that slipped off my finger at Wrigley Field. I forget that these things existed until randomly I recall losing them and the loss feels so heavy, like I'm a kid again and she's telling me I can't wear something or have something in my room because I'll lose it. It feels like guilt.
A lot of these things feel like guilt, like I didn't say enough or do enough or keep enough, but I can never know. Just like I can't know if having kept more of her things around would make me feel better or make things harder or easier. I might have more questions, but I also might have more answers.
I don't think grief ever goes away, but I know it isn't always overwhelming. I know it turns into something else, something that's sad, but not terribly so. It feels like nostalgia, but not the kind you get for cartoons or your best friend across the street. It's nostalgia like when you're walking the dog and the light and the smell is just right and you feel like you're almost in a time that's gone but you're also not and you never can be. Like lost love, because it is, but it's okay.

Friday, June 13

30 B4 30

There's a thing where a person creates a number of goals to complete before their next birthday. The number of the goals to be completed is chosen for the age the person will be turning. For instance, I am turning 28 this year so my list of goals should be 28 items long. It's a neat idea but it's also totally insane. 28 things? You want me to do 28 things?
As usual I've decided to bend these rules, and I'm making a 30 Before 30 list 2 and a half years out. This allows me a better chance of actually completing the list and also provides me with the opportunity to include some loftier goals. Some of these I've already tackled (breakfast pizza, but it sucked, and kale chips, but some were burnt) and some I'm more excited about than others (lol squat 70lbs?? Who am I kidding?) but I think for 2.5 years the list isn't unreasonable and that's the bottom line. I'll come back to this in a few months and we'll see where I'm at. Maybe I'll finish The Odyssey this summer! (No I won't. It's been 7 years.)

1. Vacation Alone (Key West? San Louis Obispo?)
2. Figure Out Lipstick
3. Write an Amazing Resume
4. Run a 10k
5. Publish 2 Poems
6. Learn to Cook Kale Chips
7. Finish The Odyssey
8. Make a Good Breakfast Pizza
9. Bake a REAL Pie (Not Pumpkin; Homemade Crust!)
10. Have a Fenced Yard for the Dog and Cats
11. Make a Comfy Book Nook
12. Read the Toni Morrison Oeuvre
13. Go Fishing
14. Camp with Kiah
15. Get an Adult Job (At Least for a Minute)
16. Restart the Book Club
17. Go Swimming with Kiah Somewhere Cool
18. Make the house a Home
19. Grow a Shit Ton of Succulents
20. Canoe
21. Learn to Obsess Less
22. Journal More (WEEKLY)
23. Make Romance More of a Priority
24. Squat 70lbs LOL MAYBE? IS THIS CRAZY?
25. Take Some Kind of Exercise Class
26. Become a Morning Person (Talking 7 a.m. OKAY)
27. Learn to Be More Personally Body Positive
28. Give Less Shits About Other People’s Opinions of Me
29. Take the Dog to Dog School
30. Trick Family into Visiting Me & Kiah for a Major Holiday

Friday, June 6

How to Stop Sucking at the Internet with Critical Thinking

Something that's been grinding my gears lately is the lack of media literacy I see on Facebook. That's not to say that people are illiterate, but they let themselves get swayed by any number of things (sensationalism, a sense of activism or pride, outrage, etc.) and then perpetuate the cycle that is Viral Internet Media and time is a flat circle, we are all going to spin out into the void sharing and resharing the same Photoshopped images of kids with cancer trying to get 100,000 likes and the same 15 year old video of some Russian teens hurting animals forever and ever and ever.

My issue with this is simply that it's not good for us. Sharing misinformation, spreading uninformed outrage, watching and discussing the ugliest parts of our existence without any intention or ability to change those things, it's terrible. It hollows us out, makes us more pliant to have our critical thinking done for us, and it numbs us. It's also super lazy.

I really think that's the root of media illiteracy: laziness. I'm not here to vilify laziness, I'm unemployed and woke up at 10 a.m. today, but when it comes to information we've really got to do better. You don't need to terrify your grandma by sharing an unresearched infographic that claims her water is poisoned just because you didn't feel like doing a little more reading. We really need to spend a little bit more time thinking about what we share and why we share it, if not for the people in our lives then for ourselves.

So, what does it mean to be media literate?
According to the Center for Media Literacy (an educational organization whose mission is to increase media literacy the world over) "To become media literate is not to memorize facts or statistics about the media, but rather to learn to raise the right questions about what you are watching, reading or listening to." Oh. Okay. No, that's valuable, but it's vague. How do you do that? How do you know which questions to ask? Well, let's take this blog post as an example. Where does it come from? Who is writing it? Why are they a reliable source for this information? What’s in it for them? 

Well, I'm not an expert, I'm your friend, someone you know, and I’ve done very little research on this topic. However, I am sort of reliable. I grew up in that sweet spot of the Internet age where I was taught to use it as a tool and not just a place to watch porn and argue with strangers. Also, I've taught research writing in addition to doing lots of my own research. So I'm not an expert, but I would say I'm media savvy. What’s in it for me? Ideally I get to see less garbage on my Facebook feed, but if nothing else I get to use my brain to compose something educational and entertaining, which is nice considering that I've been out of school for a couple weeks now and am feeling pretty listless.

Still, I want to write something that's more informed than "I read the internet and am bored" so I did a little Google search and found there are lots of professional, legit, .org groups who are into media literacy. These people do lots of research and spend a lot of time thinking about what media is and how and why we should teach people to think about it critically. It should be noted that the CML and probably a lot of these media literacy people are very interested in selling curricula and sending people to your business to teach your employees how to Google, so they're not in it for nothing, but that doesn't exactly devalue their work. I don't have a million dollars to spend on a media literacy kit just so I can write a blog post, but I know enough to talk about reliability, so let's start there.

When it comes to consuming media, I think that asking questions about what you’re consuming is the most important tool to help you assess whether or not it is worth your time and the time of others. This isn't just an issue of whether or not you agree with something or enjoy it, but whether or not the information is reliable. The biggest question for me is to consider where the information is coming from. Unfortunately I think that blog culture has really made this a lot trickier. I see a lot of information that comes from shady blogs, and the reason they’re shady is subtle. The website will be a blog, just like this one called ARTS AND FARTS where an idiot posts pictures of her pets and writes about the Free Willy soundtrack, but the blog looks professional and has lots of traffic and ads. Just because you see comments, ads and other signs of web traffic on a website does not mean it’s a reliable source - that actually just means the website makes money. It's also important to note that many of the blog posts on sites like these will be written by regular people, writing about how they swished coconut oil in their mouth twice and their skin looked sort of better. Fine, swish oil in your mouth, but be aware that the link between that action and the perceived result has not actually been proven by a reputable member of any scientific community. It's a blog post, not a peer reviewed journal.

I do think that blogs can be a really good source of information and inspiration, but it's important to consider that there is a big line between anecdotal evidence and True Facts, and you can see it. A good, reliable blog will use and link to multiple sources throughout their text to allow you to confirm their story. Check out this Gawker article from a few months back. Gawker is a blog known for reporting the news with snark, but they do work to keep their readers informed. The post includes not only quotes, but several links to outside sources, including law blogs, the Supreme Court's blog, and other relevant places of interest (including some jokey links). They mean to show you that the information isn't coming from out of nowhere. On the reverse of that, if you check out this article from a popular health and wellness blog, you'll notice there is a lot of information and very little citation for that information. In fact, the only link to another source just leads to another article on the same site. That's a reliability red flag.

My intention in pointing out these differences isn't to bash anyone or drag anybody through the mud, but when it comes to media literacy it is really important that we take the time to consider reliability, especially when it comes to the things we share. It may not seem like a big deal to you, but really this is why kids are getting illnesses we thought had been eradicated: the thoughtless spread of misinformation. If you read an unreliable article (say, something you found inspirational, thoughtful or useful) by all means share it, but talk about why it's valuable to you. Without any kind of reflection, you're just spitting out more flotsam into a dark and dirty sea where people float along without aim or any conception of truth...

We also seem to have stopped valuing effort, or at least our own effort. Instead of taking the time to think through and compose our own opinions, we latch on to Pinterest-y images that vaguely state our thoughts about whatever it is we feel ~passionate~ about. "Like this image if you think this girl is beautiful even though she has no hair from chemo." "When did this kind of celebrity become more attractive than this kind of celebrity?" It's pretty silly, but I do get it. We do it because it's hard to put ourselves out there and compose our own thoughts and feelings. It's harder to stand up and tell everyone "I have something to say!" than it is to simply hit "Share." Composing your own thoughts and feelings makes you vulnerable because they came from your brain, so any critique of those thoughts feels like it's a critique of you. It's scary and stressful to reveal yourself publicly, but it means so much more to those who are listening. Your friends and family would much rather read about your personal journey of self-discovery and kale in your own words than see you reblog Tumblr graphics made by teenagers. Additionally, they'd take your message much more seriously.

This kind of super chill, too easy way to say something without actually saying anything is also the root of what's known as Slacktivism. Essentially, a slacktivist will share all sorts of noble things on social media with the intent of "spreading awareness" but the fact is that awareness on social media, especially in the form of a video or infographic, doesn't do a whole lot for the cause. Fortunately, slacktivism is so easy to combat. Next time you're inspired by some viral video or Tumblr meme, donate $5 to that cause and then write something about it. You get a next level of feel good giving a little bit of money to the thing you care about and then you get to inspire others to do the same with your own words because you ACTUALLY did something besides just hitting "Share" on Facebook. If you can't donate to the thing (which is sometimes the case) Google the issue with the phrase "what can I do to help" and someone will have the answer. That might mean you have to write a letter to a Senator or sign a petition, but relish in the fact that you are, legitimately and actually, making the world a better place by doing so. Or, you know, just continue to perpetuate this cycle of idiocy.

Really, at the end of the day Googling a thing is always your best bet. When I heard about oil pulling for the first time I was intrigued, but after reading a few Google results I decided it wasn't worth my time. Whenever there's some shocking viral video that comes up on my feed or a picture of Bill Gates with a sign that says he wants to give me $300, I Google it or check out Snopes to see if it's real, if it's current, etc. and go from there. It's not worth it to blindly go forth and get pissed or get excited when so many of the things we consume and share are bunk. Again, that's not to say that some of what's bunk isn't valuable to certain people, but it's better to discuss those things with your own words than to keep sharing the same infographics and Pinterest posts.

I think with this post I can come off as a skeptic or someone who is distrustful or stolid, but I'm not. I just like to think about things, and I wish everyone did more of it. I think critically about everything from anime to pop music to the irritated feeling I get when I see young people in my favorite dive bar dancing to Kesha. I think about these things because I want to be a better, more thoughtful person. Being media literate with critique and assessment doesn't have to be about tearing things down or proving yourself through argument; it can simply be about being thoughtful and caring about what we consume and share. Critical thinking isn't a perfect skill anyone has, but it's a tool, a process, a way to continue growth and learning beyond work and school, and it's so important today when we are constantly being bombarded with information and ideas and opinions. I would like to encourage you to become a media literate person and to stop merely reading things, to stop mechanically consuming and sharing, consuming and sharing, consuming and sharing. Ask questions of the things that interest you, discuss what those things mean to you, assess their value, learn more about them. What you actually, personally think and do means more than a graphic or a YouTube video or somebody's stupid blog.