About Me

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Washington, DC, United States
I don't write here nearly as much as I should, but when I do, I'll try to make it count for something.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Soapboxes and Balances

It’s so hard to write about a complex topic when the weather is gorgeous and your mind wanders and pretty much only wants to take in things like playing with your dog and daydreaming about the cool fall days to come. It’s hard for me to think about things in the world that are upsetting when I’m feeling so good. But I think that actually ties in with some of the things that have been on my mind lately. I think people tend to get wrapped up in their own lives and take for granted the comforts that they are afforded. There is always a balancing act between being aware of what’s going on in the world and not letting these things consume you. I’m actually pretty bad at this balance – or at least I have been, historically. I’m either shielding myself from things, retreating into a world of happy hours, weekend outings, Netflix and comic books, or I’m living on a pedestal and yelling at people to make them see all the horrible things that need fixing. Neither of these things are bad but when it’s all you’re doing, you’re either diminishing the chances for change or the joy there is to be found around you. So what do we do?

Originally, I was going to just post about my thoughts on the quote unquote “War on Women” that’s been taking over our society (well, our media at least because let’s be honest, this stuff is nothing new) but I’d like to shift focus from simply expressing my outrage to having a very thoughtful conversation on why I’m so affected by it rather than why it’s so troubling to our culture.

This all began with a conversation I had with a male friend recently about #gamergate. For those of you unfamiliar with this topic, I recommend looking it up but very simply said it’s “a long-simmering pot of male privilege, misogyny, and slut-shaming in the gamer community boiling over” – as quoted from this nice little beginner’s article on the subject that you can find here: http://www.bustle.com/articles/38742-what-is-gamer-gate-its-misogyny-under-the-banner-of-journalistic-integrity. Now, to be honest, I could go on and on about this topic for quite a long time but I’m really going to try to stay as broad as possible – as not to alienate and/or bore my readers and also because I have other topics to cover. Additionally I want to admit that I’m already inherently biased on this topic because I am turned off by the whole concept of gaming to begin with. That being said, I have a lot of male friends (and I’m sure some female friends, though I can’t actually think of any off hand) who are into the gaming world and who happen to be great people with full lives and open minds so I’m not going to accuse ALL gamers of the following opinion. The thing is, I find that this world is a breeding place for escaping from human intimacy and is dominated by people who are troubled and unable to have basic human relations and use the gaming world as a hideaway while spewing their rage at a world that has been cruel or unfair to them. In some way, this tugs at my heart because I was really lucky growing up. My parents encouraged traveling and pushed me to participate in the world and instilled in me a certain type of bravery about stepping outside of my comfort zone – but not everyone has that. And honestly, some people are not inclined towards that anyway, which isn’t the worst thing in the world…. but when you are closing yourself off to being out there in the world, in a way you are not allowing yourself to be empathetic or compassionate about other walks of life.

Now, when you feel like an outsider and you find a community of other outsiders, it makes sense to gravitate towards that world… and when that world is suddenly invaded by other people – people, it feels in your mind, who caused you to retreat to this world in the first place – it also makes sense that you would lash out. I sort of get it. But where it starts to get sticky is when this “lashing out” is specifically aimed towards a group of people who just want to love the same world that you love. I mean, it’s more complex than that but the irony of creating a world away from the people who have abused you only to turn YOUR world into another version of the world you yourself are trying to escape from – that’s where my empathy disappears. But I guess hate begets hate and so on and so forth. And where does it end? How does it end?

The issues surrounding #gamergate aren’t new. I remember expressing my issues with the sexism inherent in the gaming world ages ago but I think a) the media is latching onto it because of the previously mentioned focus on The War on Women and b) women are finally speaking out more about this sexism more because the media is finally starting to give a shit (or at least they know what their readers want to see).

I’m going to jump tracks now. I’m not even going to bother posting the link here because I don’t think anyone reading this hasn’t seen it by now – and if you haven’t, a quick Google search will pull it up right away – but… the speech Emma Watson gave before the U.N. recently. Before continuing, I want to state that I think that it was quite brave for her to go in front of so many people – really, in front of the world – and to express her passion for women’s rights through the HeforShe campaign. I’ve felt for a long time that feminism, in its most recent form, just doesn’t work and needs some serious rebranding – and I think that maybe this is a step in the right direction. There are many reason why I feel this way but one of the biggest problems I have with it (and the very name of the campaign, after further thought truly says it) – it feels less focused on gender equality and more focused on a) drilling the definition of feminism to the general public and b) making sure we understand just how victimized women have been and continue to be. I know some people feel put off by my opinion – and that’s fine, I’m not trying to defend my opinion or make others feel the same way that I do – but the way that modern feminists represent themselves is polarizing. I’m not saying that I believe in the supposed man-hating that they’re accused of – that’s just pure fucking ignorance – but I do think that sexism is very real for so many groups and the feminist world doesn’t feel very welcoming. It’s just a perception of course and at a certain point, if you want to gain any steam for your cause, you need to stop screaming at people about what the “truth” of feminism is and find ways to be more inclusive. Also, there are a lot of feminist ideals I can get behind, obviously. But I don't identify myself as a feminist…. and yet, every time I have ever had a conversation about how I don’t identify myself as one to a feminist, the conversation always goes the same way: a long lecture on the history of the movement and how if I’m not part of the solution then I’m part of the problem. I’m absolutely not saying that every feminist has this stance – I want to be crystal clear on that – but I’m also not talking about one or two examples here. Or even three or four. And that, my friends, is a real problem. No, I don’t identify myself as a feminist but that doesn’t mean I don’t care about gender equality and it doesn’t mean that I don’t want to do my part to help us all move forward. There is a sort of defensiveness to this. Instead of just accepting a person’s belief system or limitations in how far they are willing to commit to a movement and finding ways to educate them in the ways that they could help in some aspects of the movement, concentrating on feverishly defending the movement as a whole seems counterproductive.

At the end of the day, a person cannot take in every single cause that they come across. That goes back to my original thought – having a balance when it comes to living your life and caring about the world around you. There are many issues I feel passionate about – being active in our communities, AIDS awareness, and artistic rights are paramount to me but I can’t force others to care about these issues the way that I do. Providing them with ways to help is the best thing we can do – creating tangible ways to be part of the solution. And in my experience, limited though it may be, this isn’t how my interactions with feminists have been.

But really, the fact that these conversations are happening at all is great – because that’s where it starts. It can’t stop with a cursory critique, either. I would be just as bad if all I had to say was, “Feminism isn’t working,” and just stopped caring. What’s that solving? All I can do is just continue to educate myself and continue the conversation as much as I can, right? And discover ways to be active. More balance.

So anyway, when I first came up with the idea of this post, I was angry and ready for fire and brimstone – and then an amazing thing happened…. I took a step back and realized that I have the habit of losing myself a little bit in my passions and so this brings me back to my original thought: what does it all mean? I am all for doing my part to improve the world in whatever small way I can but at what cost? This isn’t taking away from the importance of the issues mentioned above or the many other issues that exist that need our attention but, as a society, can we take a moment and realize that the whole point of any of this – of all of it – is to create a world of peace and prosperity. No matter what your political or philosophical stance is, I would hope that most people at least want that (keeping in mind that peace and prosperity mean different things to different people). And if we’re always angry and always shaking our fits and calling our leaders idiots and criticizing movements we may not full understand or wallowing in everything that is going wrong or could go wrong…. when do we have time to accept the good that is already surrounding us? I’m rambling, I do that, but I guess I’m wondering if anyone has figured this all out and if they can give me any clues. I want to care but I don’t want to despair and I don’t know how to separate the two things.

There are so many issues that we need to take on full force. So many things that really break my heart or fill me with rage aimed towards injustice but where can I find peace?

Just some musings I’ve been having. Thoughts, my readers, my friends? I’d love to hear them!

Friday, September 12, 2014

A Brief Note on Joy

I have a glass of wine next to me and I’m listening to the vinyl of West Side Story (given to me for my most recent birthday but a good friend). Also, I only got a couple hours of sleep last night and I’m forcing myself to stay awake for at least the next hour so I that I don’t wake up randomly at like 3 am. I’m putting all that out there before continuing so you understand that I might be feeling a bit punchy at the moment.

With the season changing and the air cooling and an impending trip to Italy on the horizon, I have a lot to look forward to. Sweater weather, day trips to pumpkin patches, the holiday season, visiting friends, and disconnecting over Christmas with my family! I know that this holiday season will be difficult, for sure – I miss my father deeply and I cannot imagine what the season will be like without him – but there is also a feeling of peace that I haven’t had for years. Every Thanksgiving and Christmas over the last couple of years has had a certain weight to it, a pressure like, “Is this Dad’s last one? We have to make it AMAZING!” Nothing ever felt like it was enough and with his health getting progressively worse and with alarming speed towards the end, there was always a darkness hanging over us. But the great thing is we’re no longer presented with so much physical suffering and, as for the loss, I have a crazy huge support system to help me through it. I know it’ll be hard but my father LOVED the holidays, to a near obnoxious level (just so you know where I get it from), and was OBSESSED with making sure his kids always had better ones than the when he was growing up. It would be a dishonor to his memory to let it pass without a degree of excitement that he would be proud of.

And with the turn of a new season, I have created a new playlist to fit my calmer state of mind and the slight chill entering the air. Lots of Miles Davis and Ben Harper and Wilco and Nina Simone and Simon & Garfunkel. Nat King Cole. Louis & Ella. Neko Case. Music is always the best way to compliment my psyche and keep it on the right track.

Also, this is the one and only time of year that makes me momentarily forget my West Coast pangs because the weather doesn't get better than this, right? It does make me miss my years in Boston a little, though.

In general, I’m pretty happy. Embracing the joy. Loving my current path. Moving in the right direction. Yay for proper footing and positive outlooks! Hugs all around. Kumbaya and all that shit.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Ode to Bibliophilia: Ten Book That Have Influenced My Life

I'm going to take a break from posting something super sad and depressing, despite the events of this past summer. Instead... I'm going to answer a Facebook post that my amazing friend Caraline tagged me in - name 10 books that have influenced my life. So appropriate, as I'm just starting a new creative writing course and I have books on the brain.

I was simply going to respond with a list of books, no explanations, on Facebook but then I realized that I needed people to understand how and why some of these books have impacted my life - in good and bad ways. And because I'm the most verbose human ever, the response on Facebook I was getting ready to post was obscenely long. (PS - didn't Facebook used to limit the amount of characters we were allowed to use? I feel like they did. I probably need those reins.)

Anyway without further ado, my ten picks below - feel free to hit me with your feedback:


In Cold Blood by Truman Capote: read this book later in life but it stuck with me for weeks after reading it, haunted me almost like the subject of the book had haunted Capote those last years of his life. To this day is almost always one of the first books I recommend when someone is looking for a really good book to read. Makes you understand that sometimes in life things just happen that are senseless and also people are more than the worst or best thing that they have ever done. All people are capable of all things.


On the Road by Jack Kerouac: I feel like kind of a tool for picking this book but honestly…. this was one of the first books that made me interested in creative writing because it made me realize that it’s OK for the words on a page to come out exactly like the thoughts in your head and it would still be interesting and compelling – at least for me. Also it made me feel like it’s OK to kind of question what the American dream actually means.


Alice's Adventures in Wonderland/Through the Looking-Glass by Lewis Carroll: a set of books I love so much that I based a dissertation on it. Incidentally, I've never read any book more times than I have read Through the Looking-Glass. I still have the ratty old copy that my dad bought me when I was about 8 years old and I still have the VHS Disney version of the movie even though I don't have a working VCR. The magic of youth and discovering new worlds! This is all me all the way.


Maus by Art Spiegelman: this book taught me about the power that a graphic novel could be capable of – that it could be more than just superheroes and the like (not that I don’t love a good superhero comic book because I definitely do). One of the best pieces of literature I have ever read regarding the Holocaust and one that has stayed with me for years.


The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-ExupĂ©ry: I can’t even convey to you the importance of this book to me. There aren't enough words. I grew up with my parents (my mom, in particular) reading this to me. My grandfather used to read that book to my mom and her siblings. It sparked my sense of adventure and wanderlust, my love of seeing new places and finding new things.  Probably the single most influential book of my childhood.


A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare: I love much humor I found in this, even when I was 15 years old and bitter about all the books that were being forced upon me (even though I secretly actually loved having books forced upon me). It’s the first Shakespeare play I ever read and still my favorite. People always would tell me how dark his work was when I was in high school and I’m glad this was my introduction.


The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon: this is actually not my favorite book of his (that would be Wonder Boys) but this book, even though I am not a boy, made me think about my best friend in elementary school whom I still write letters to. And how much we've been through together. And how even though we don’t really see each other and aren't really even in each other’s lives anymore, we've been through a lot and she helped to shape me into the person I am today. We made this really horrible series of comic strips together (Miss Lilly Pad, a story about a really rambunctious sassy frog who was probably 15% Kermit, 30% Disney Princess and 55% Carmen Sandiego). We would camp out in our backyards and stay up at all hours of the night working on this ridiculous thing. It caused us to fight. It caused us to laugh. We cried and we yelled at each other. During the process of making these comic strips – the years we devoted to it – so many things happened in our lives. Deaths occurred in our families (my grandparents, her mother). Boys broke our hearts and we broke theirs. Also we both had parents (my mom is Italian and her mom was Swiss) who were pretty much immigrants and instilled in us the traditions of our families that date back centuries. I don’t know. I saw a lot of our friendship in this book; I related to it a lot. So much so that after I read it, I shipped her a copy as well with a note that said, “Miss you, Clay. Love, Kavalier”. Goodness I can’t believe I wrote so much about this one! Makes me want to re-read it (again).


The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende: one of the most beautifully written books I have or will ever read in my life. It’s the first book I ever read, as an adult, from cover to cover in one sitting. It’s the book that re-ignited my love for literature post-college when I was feeling kind of burnt out on reading in general. Highly recommended.


The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway: I’m actually going to list a book because for better or worse (read: WORSE), this book was the first book to teach me what I do NOT want in literature. A) I don’t need serious action to happen but I need something compelling to take place. B) I need characters I can relate to on some level, any level. C) I need you to not stick Christ symbols down my throat the whole time. Horrible horrible book. Horrible! It’s the first book I actually remember being able to identify, as a piece of literature, that I didn't like it and I could solidly discuss why. Frankly I could devote an entire blog post to it, if I really felt like it (but this book has already stolen too much of my time as it is).


The Autobiography of Malcolm X with Alex Haley: I took a lot from this book but the biggest thing I took from it is the importance of individuality and putting yourself and your people before the systems that our “leaders” force onto us. Do I think that every system that exists is evil or the purpose is always to take away our freedoms? No. But I do think we have a responsibility to ask the hard questions and to push back when the systems DO take away our freedoms as human beings – and pacifism isn't always the way. Sometimes you have to be willing to risk a lot to gain a lot. I thought this book was going to be a very angry one but honestly it was passionate but actually more pragmatic and spiritual than anything else. A surprising and beautiful read.