Friday, January 31, 2014

In Defense of Social Media

I haven't written here in a while. Not because I didn't have anything to say, although I told myself at the beginning that that was part of it, but because I felt like I had nothing important to say. Which is the thing of it, isn't it? We can spend our whole lives on Facebook or Twitter or Vine or whatever and everything is condensed to status-updates-140-characters-seven-seconds-go. I deleted my Facebook over the summer, and I had Vine for like a minute, but I've been on Twitter for...three years? Four? I hit twenty thousand tweets last weekend, which may or may not seem like a worthy milestone, but for me, it meant something. I read a lot of things, most of them inconsequential, but one thing I've read pretty consistently is that social media is A Bad Thing. It's bad for teenagers, it's bad for adults, it's bad for activism, it's bad for bullying. There are myriad studies and surveys and people shouting from the hilltops that we need to stop doing everything online, and get back into the real world (dudes, save your voices. Why not just Formspring it?) - only, here's the thing. For me, and for a whole whack of people in my generation, this is our real world. 

Sure, I go to college classes that are chock full of human nuts, and I call my parents and my Bubbe on the phone, and I all-too-often have to get up close and personal with other people who take public transit. But I also inhabit a world full of people of all ages, races, colors, and creeds. They are from all over this world, in Australia and Brazil and China and Denmark and I could go on, but I'm pretty sure you know both the alphabet and basic geography. I deleted my Tumblr when I was seventeen, but recently came back to it after a fictional tragedy. That might sound a little melodramatic, but I get prettily emotionally invested in television shows. Maybe it's a writer/actor gene, because I am both of those things (and would love to one day write for and act on the small screen). A very lovable character died, and I was in mourning. But so was the whole community. And because of this connection, this ability to write and create and share art across continents and time zones, we can heal together.

This is true in real-life tragedies as well. Near daily, I see money being raised for a family who lost their son to suicide. They have taken their heartache and turned it into a force for good (you can learn more about them and their organization here). All this week, I've seen links to videos of Pete Seeger and his beautiful music. And though sometimes we forget that not everyone grieves in the same way, those of us who do find it helpful to grieve within a community are sheltered and supported. 

This is not to say that there aren't people who abuse these platforms. In every facet of society, though, there will be people who can't control themselves. Just like there are bad people roaming the physical streets of Earth, there are bad guys online. But I believe in the genuine goodness of humans. I believe that for every Twitter rape-threat, there are ten more messages of love. For every homophobic Facebook loser, there are twenty-five likes on a relationship status. And I have let fear and timidity dictate my life for far too long. I will no longer allow a few naysayers to tell me what I can and cannot do.

I got my start in the social media game on Myspace (hello, throwback) in...2006? 2007, maybe. I was no more than twelve, and my two older cousins had Myspace so obviously I had to get on that train. I had three friends - my cousins, of course, and Tom. That got old once I turned my page purple with stars and filled out all the quizzes that didn't talk about sex. So in the spring of 2007, I got a Facebook. At first, none of my friends had one. We were going into eighth grade, of course they didn't have them. I was pretty inactive until the next April, when the going-to-high-school prize for many of my peers was finally opening a Facebook account. By that point, I had already friended many people I met in my regional youth group, and I just kept expanding my social circle. Not that it made me any more popular or outgoing - my Facebook persona was very similar to my in-person persona, which is to say that it was mostly shy but a little bit sassy.

By the end of my sophomore year, in 2010, I had gotten a Twitter and a Tumblr. At first, again, I barely used them, but I had made a friend via (which I opened as a freshman when I started reading/writing for Buffy, the Vampire Slayer - we watched it in ninth grade English) who soon became the subject of the majority of my Twitter and Tumblr escapades. As that relationship dissolved, I came more into my own in those fora, and I explored myself in relation to others as well as through their art. Through our collective joy/rage/disbelief over various fandoms (the worlds in which various media exist), there were connections forged. I haven't used my LiveJournal in four-plus years, but there are still people I talk to and interact with whom I met on there. There are people I've met through who I discover ran in the same circles as me back in the day, but we never crossed paths. As huge and daunting as this world may seem at times, it is really very small.

What is my point? My point is not that you shouldn't avoid social media if that's what works for you. Believe me, I have partaken in, and then left, many branches of media because they were emotionally damaging to me. People can be cruel - cyberbullying is not a myth, rape and death threats are not 'trolling', and internet anonymity isn't always so anonymous. I know people who don't use their real names to be safe, and I also know people like me who couldn't care less about being discreet online. It's a spectrum, and a very personal one. The point is that just because there are bad parts of something, it doesn't make the whole thing bad. To quote Kimya Dawson:
For me, I love to love. I use Twitter and Tumblr and Instagram because I love sharing in the triumphs and successes of others. I love seeing people I care about, whose work I respect, achieving good things because they've tried for them. I love helping people support causes that mean things to them. I love - love. Giving love, receiving love, sharing love. Love is A Good Thing. And so, I argue, is social media.

Find me @starophie on Twitter, starophie on Tumblr, starophie on Instagram (I am super predictable).

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Lesbian Privilege

Yeah, you read that title right. No, I'm not crazy.

Look. I know as well as anyone that the "lavender menace" (thanks, Betty) has not always been welcome in feminist circles, okay? I know we're not necessarily included in the lady folds (read into that what you will). However, it's time to put on our big girl panties and move on, because there's a shitstorm (shithurricane? shitsharknado?) of oppression happening on our shores, and ain't nobody got time for that.

As a future member of the Gold Star Club, let me preface this by saying I have no intention of ever requiring an abortion. Dicks kinda freak me out, ya dig? And I know that some of my fellow lady-loving ladies may feel that, because this issue is rather a moot point, it's easier to just ignore it and let the heteros sort this out. Well, the clock is ticking, and they're not sorting it out. So we gotta jump in.

Honestly, it never crossed my mind that this is an issue of sexuality until recently. I had a conversation with a woman who said her gay friends weren't really paying attention to North Carolina or Ohio or even Texas. She said that because it wouldn't directly affect them, they weren't trying to directly affect it. To that I say, uGHHH, because are you an idiot? That's exactly what the GOP assclowns writing these laws are doing!

Quinn knows how I feel.
In all seriousness, though, the reason we can never get anything done is that we never try. You try, and I try, and they try, but where is the collective outcry? I have donated all the money I can spare to make sure that Ken "The Cooch" Cuccinelli isn't elected the next governor of my state. I have helped ensure that #StandWithWendy trended on Twitter. I have pored over facts, and data points, and poll results, all to try and stop the radical right from taking away mine. But it's not enough, unless you help too.

Abortion isn't a joke. It's not a punchline, or a birth control plan, or something to be taken lightly at all. But that's the thing of it, right? No one put in that position is taking anything lightly. It's a serious thing, and a serious choice. But it is a choice. And really, 90% of women feel relief once they've had an abortion. The only guilt is projected, and perhaps less people would lie about cause and effect if there were less people listening.

Anti-choice is coming around, and soon it will be everywhere if we don't do something about it. Donate to Planned Parenthood or NARAL if you can. Write a letter to your congresspeople - tell them you won't sit idly by while they take control of our bodies, ourselves. Tweet about it; Facebook it; Instagram the hell out of every face that deserves the right to make her own way, on her own terms. We can make it happen if we do it together.


Monday, August 12, 2013

Welcome to Women's Week

Who am I kidding? Every week is Women's Week here at S&W. But in all seriousness, there is some crazy malarkey happening in the world of vaginae, and it's time to rub it out (zing). This is gonna be so much fun, you guys!

For MM this week, I have decided to put together a little primer, if you will, on some of the most incredible feminist media out there. Some are documentaries, some are fiction, but all are spot-on brilliant.

First up, the PBS special MAKERS: Women Who Make America. MAKERS aired in February, but you can watch the whole thing at the link above. This three-part doc interviews many women who were involved in feminism, from the early Mystique days to Women's Lib to some of Fortune 500's featured CEOs. Also, Ms. Streep narrates, so that's a huge bonus.

MAKERS is one of my favorite pieces of television, not only on this loose topic, but in general. I think it's because the film doesn't preach (well, anymore than it should). Merely, it presents the ideas of women from varying backgrounds and viewpoints, the stone-cold facts of the women's movement, and allows you to draw your own conclusions about feminism and the places women find themselves in today.

From the fictional - well, historical fiction - aspect of things, I bring to you the HBO miniseries/docudrama Iron Jawed Angels. I first saw this movie in an honors class I took in high school, and it was the most incredible, heart-wrenching, vomit-inducing, pride-filling spectacle I'd ever encountered. Iron Jawed Angels takes a look at the story of Women's Suffrage, through the lens of Alice Paul (played by Hilary Swank) and Lucy Burns. These courageous women, and their devoted compatriots, face innumerable obstacles and unbelievable hardship. From idiotic catcallers to unsympathetic husbands to the President himself, Paul perseveres. She does not falter in her beliefs, nor does she waver in her stance on injustice. 

Iron Jawed Angels may be flawed from a factual perspective (Carrie Chapman Catt, though portrayed quite evilly by Anjelica Huston in the film, was in real life quite influential in suffrage). However, it doesn't take away the impact that watching these events has. One scene that had quite an effect on me is Alice Paul's hunger strike during her imprisonment at the Occoquan Workhouse (my brother's high school crew team raced at Occoquan, so that alone hit close to home). Based on the real-life event, we see tubes forced down Paul's throat, and raw egg poured down them. It's brutal, and scary, and no one should discredit the amount of bravery necessary to continue on after that. Obviously, there is a good outcome, but that doesn't mean the fight was easy.

The last movie is a modern-day exposé; an account of exploitation, defamation, and objectification of women and girls in the media. It's called Miss Representation, and it's quite awesome. The director is Jennifer Siebel-Newsom, wife of California's Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom, and former actress/current activist. She came up with the idea for the film when she had her second child, and he was a boy. When her daughter was born, they received many congratulations and gifts, she says. But when her son was born, he received a t-shirt that said "FUTURE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES". And she was mystified, and miffed, but accuses herself of similar actions. For example, she was picking out Halloween costumes for her children. And instead of going for the princess/Power Ranger section, she figured animals were safe. Only, she picked a lamb costume for Montana, and got Hunter a lion.

Miss Representation is not, I don't think, trying to say that girls should be tough and boys should be gentle (though there are tough girls and sweet boys and that's okay). It is, though, saying that in the 2nd grade, roughly equal numbers of boys and girls want to be President. By middle school, the number of girls has decreased by over two-thirds. It is saying that commercials and ads in magazines and billboards and reality TV saying over and over and over that girls are there to look pretty. That girls only matter if they're hot. That girls aren't/shouldn't be/can't be smart and pretty, kind and tough...and it's hurting us. It's causing eating disorders and mental illness and our obsession with makeup is not born, it's raised. 

I hope you stay tuned this week, because this stuff is important. I'll be back tomorrow with a special edition of Painted Constellations. As always, peace and love.


Sunday, August 11, 2013

The Absence of Fear

"Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the assessment that something is more important than fear." ~ Franklin Delano Roosevelt

It's a quarter 'til three in the morning, but I had to get this down before I lost my nerve. I'm not quite sure where to begin, so I'll start in the middle and see if we can find the original thread. 

Tonight, I watched a movie. That's not unusual, and it wasn't a particularly good movie so I'll spare you the title. The ending of the movie sent me into a crying fit. Also not unusual - I have a tendency, as I've noted previously, to get emotionally invested in the lives of fictional characters. I cry at sad movies; I cry at happy movies; I cry at comedies, because sometimes they're actually funny. But this was not a cry that ended. Sometimes, I start crying and I can't stop.

At first I thought it was because I went off my meds. Then I thought, well, maybe it's because tonight wasn't the best night (it wasn't). But the crying didn't, and hasn't, stopped. And I knew that there was a better reason. It's because the movie touched me, like many bad movies and shows do so well. They reach inside me, to that most tender of spots, and they poke and prod and jab and jar until I can't take anymore. And then they stop, and I have to deal with the aftermath.

There's a scene in the movie where the daughter is literally running away from her mother. And they're both angry and scared and upset, but the mother keeps running. Even though she's two steps behind, in heels, and completely hungover, she keeps running. And eventually the daughter stops, and they talk it out. But the mother never gives up. And I realized that I don't think I know what that's like. I can't say for certain that my parents would chase me.

I've written countless letters to myself. Younger, older, and in-between. I try to give encouragement; a bit of kindness from the future, and a bit of hope from the past. My sixth grade self told me she hopes we're better at "the whole family thing." I don't know if we are or not. I've also written letters to my future children, should I be lucky enough to have any. I wanted them to have written proof that I would do anything for them. But now I'm starting to think that maybe that message was meant for me.

"Dear You," the letter says. "You don't know me yet, but I am your mother. Well, one of them. And I just wanted you to know that, even though we haven't met, and I don't know how you look or act or smile or cry, I love you more than anything. I will always love you more than anything, even if we fight or if you get mad at me or you break the law. Even if you kill somebody (heaven forbid), I will be there to help you hide the body. That's what parents are for."

I haven't been able to make the assessment that anything is more important than self-preservation. I can't tell my parents that I wish they'd tried harder to understand me and less hard to change me. I can't say that I wish my parents hadn't scarred me so deeply or left me so wounded. I'm white; I live in a good house, in a good neighborhood; I have had a brilliant education; my parents make more than enough money for the four of us. I understand privilege. But I don't think privilege has a place anymore when you're a little girl screaming out for attention and love. I don't believe privilege is relevant when all you want is to stop being hurt.

How do the statements I make about pacifism and charity carry any weight if I can't forgive my parents for trying to do the right things? I think it's all over with and I think I've moved past this baggage but then it's 3:15 AM and I've been crying for two hours and it's hard to breathe.

Inhale, exhale. Inhale, exhale. My nose is clogged from crying, which is why my vision got fuzzy. I forgot I could breathe through my mouth, too. I want to go to sleep - my head is killing me - but I'm afraid of the nightmares. Those happen more often than I'd like. I feel silly for being afraid, and I feel sillier for what I'm afraid of. They're always people I know - teachers, friends, family - and they tell me that they're tired. That they can't associate with me anymore. That I'm too much to handle. Same words, different people, and always like a punch to the gut. I think they're worse because they're real. If I couldn't imagine them happening in person, they might not be as scary. But they've happened before.

I used to wish I was adopted. That somehow, my real parents made a mistake, and they were in a better place and wanted to take me in. I used to picture myself running away, and having some kindly family take me in and raise me as their own. I could've written and starred in so many '90s family movies that it's kind of a bummer I wasn't born earlier, but I have countless early stories featuring me in various stages of pitiable-ness. 

Sometimes my closet isn't so scary. There are some skeletons, sure, but the door's open and the light's bright and the stack of suitcases in the corner make a nice bench to curl up on. Sometimes the bulb breaks and sometimes the suitcase wobbles and sometimes I can't go in there at all. But I'm getting better. I'm realizing that patterns can start to look symmetrical, but if you examine further, there's a different commonality that's more irregular than not. I'm realizing that even if things are technically about me, that doesn't mean that it started or ended that way. I'm realizing that bags are lighter if you share the loads.

I stopped crying. I still wish there was someone to sing me a lullaby, but I feel a little better when I sing one to myself. Good night.


Monday, July 29, 2013

A Midsummer Night's Rockin' Eve

It's Monday, again, and that means that I've got another media review for you! This one's a classic - well, it is to me - and it represents many a happy evening with my friends. If you like musicals, Shakespeare, and/or awkward teens having silly romantic escapades, this movie is for you!
From left: Striker, Allison, Berke, Kelly, and Dennis
2001's Get Over It stars Kirsten Dunst, Ben Foster, and Ed Begley, Jr. It's about a boy named Berke (Foster), who's in love with a girl named Allison (Melissa Sagemiller). Allison falls in love with another boy, Striker (Shane West), who also happens to be the lead singer in a well-known boy band. Berke is heartbroken, and spends about 3/4 of the movie trying to get her back (while ignoring the love that's right in front of him, etc).

In addition to all of the times people gratuitously sing "Alison" by Elvis Costello, the music in this movie is hilariously done. There are some not-as-gratuitous numbers, because Dr. Desmond Forrest Oates, the THEATRE director, (Martin Short, natch) turned A Midsummer Night's Dream into a musical. He's written songs for Diana Ross, it's cool. But there's a scene at the beginning where Vitamin C is leading a parade of people (UPS workers, jogging grannies, a gardener; casual) down the street, singing Captain and Tenille's "Love Will Keep Us Together" because they're following Berke home from his break-up with Allison. There's also, of course, auditions, which might be the best part.

Berke wants to be in the show because Allison will be in the show. But Berke is not a theatre kid, nor is he quick on the spot. Plus, he's a ginger. Draw your own conclusions. However, Berke's best friend's younger sister, Kelly, is a theatre whiz, and she offers to tutor him. Felix, Kelly's big brother, is not very happy with the arrangement, but would do anything to help a friend (except get him out of the harness he was put in by a dominatrix at a sex club). Berke gets cast as one of the king's henchman, but is bumped up to Lysander because the show's star gets injured on set.

Kelly, meanwhile, is an aspiring songstress, and thinks Forrest Oates' songs (especially for Helena, her part) suck. So she pens her own, thinking F O will be permissive, if not entirely thrilled. WRONG, he's furious. And also miffed that she would use quotes from the original Shakespeare because hell-ooo, so boring! So Felix, being a good brother, slips the sheet music to the orchestra on opening night. Martin Short and his assistant, Jessie (Jeanie Calleja), make good use of their walkie-talkies during that scene - "Jessica. JESSICA!"

I mean, what is there to say about this movie? Berke's parents have a sex talk show. Felix and Kelly Woods ostensibly have no parents, but they do have their aunt's dog who likes to hump their rubber tree. Dennis "Crazy Legs" Wallace (Sisqo) loves playing basketball, but also loves to dance (High School Musical totally lifted that plot point, I swear). There's a Kiwi model named Dora Lynn who sets a sushi restaurant on fire. Oh, and Mila Kunis in a bikini. You're welcome.

Hi there.
What's not to love?


Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Wish List Wednesday

I didn't have time to do this last week, but I have been quickly amassing a list of things I wish I had. This week's topic: dorm rooms! I am moving into my (as-yet unknown) dorm in just about a month, but I have been collecting stuff to go into it for the better part of my gap year. Here, in a perfect world, is a compilation of things I'd also take with me.
1 / 2 / 3 / 4 / 5
Happy hump day!


Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Fault Lines

I've been thinking a lot about guilt, lately. Guilt has always factored heavily into my life, and I can't seem to get over the toll it takes on me. I think everybody carries around a lot of baggage from their childhood; wrongs they committed against others or others committed against them; cheating, stealing, lying, and lying by omission. I wonder constantly if there were clues I should've seen to make better choices than I did, but I also wonder how to make more reckless choices now.

I feel so much pressure, and I don't know where it's coming from. My parents are the ultimate in relaxed - I don't have a curfew, I've never been grounded, and they're okay with underage drinking - so I guess it's not from them. My therapist puts a little pressure on me, but it's her job to be attuned to my needs, and she knows I'm heartbreakingly fragile. The pressure isn't from my friends - I don't have many of those, anyway. And that's where the problem started, I suppose.

I used to be a mean girl. I was friends with a girl whose grandfather started our synagogue (my family was there from the beginning, but no one ever mentions us). She had some sort of supreme power - everyone knew her name, knew her family, and thus, she was treated like royalty. So we pranced along, getting away with pretty much everything, from age three to age thirteen. At summer camp, we were bullies. In Hebrew School, we were brats. But when I was thirteen, I walked away from all that...and for the first time, someone said out loud what I had been feeling all along.

"You're a freak!" was the battle cry of girls I once thought cared enough to protect me from hateful words. The ringleader told me to "get some friends [my] own age." And it's true, though I've long tried to deny it. I have always gotten along better with people older than me - I'm quiet and careful by nature, and with my grandmother as one of my mostly companions, I learned quite early how to be respectful and polite. 

As with most turning points in my youth, this happened at camp. I usually befriended my counselors, but there was one in particular I developed a closeness with. We'd hang out on field trips; that progressed into going elsewhere together. We'd go to dinner after work, and she'd take me home. It makes me sick to my stomach to write about how she kissed me, in her car that smelled of pineapple and musty velour. After all this time, a part of me says this was my fault. I was too clingy, too vulnerable, too...young. I was stupid and heartsick and I loved her. I don't know if we were "dating" - I know that technically, she didn't break the law. And as thankful as I am for that, I can't help but still feel broken when I remember the cruel words she sent, via text, telling me that I was "a burden" to her, and that I had to stop calling every night just to hear her voice because she had "more important things" to do.

Sans kissing, this story has played out several times in my life. Always, always, it ends with me crying on the floor of my bathroom while "Daydreamer" plays melodramatically in the background. So if the continuing thread is me, I must be the problem. And thus, guilt.

I find it hard to separate fact from fiction, sometimes. When I watch a TV show, there's usually a character I latch on to right away. The trope term for it, I believe, is "the underdog." That's my vice. The character that everyone else hates? Automatically my spirit animal. The patsy or weak link in the cast? Somehow has to do with me. And attacks on the character become personal; the attacker turns on me, beating me with their club of justice. And I feel like I deserve it, usually, but that doesn't mean it doesn't hurt.

A character on Newsroom fits that MO. This character has had a series of missteps, and they recently experienced what I know all too well - they made a mistake, and the people they thought would always back them up (or at least hear them out) completely deserted them. And not only that, but they did it in the most humiliating and excruciating ways possible. And I just wanted to cry. I still do. I am crying, right now. Because that pain is not yours to laugh at. That pain is not yours to applaud. That pain is for me to hold; to keep me up at night; to taunt me in moments of joy.

People who love me (or who feel sorry for me, I suppose) will try and claim that this isn't my fault. That I was used and abused by lesser humans and someday, my princess will come. But then they turn around and argue that someone else had it coming. Those people are me - I am all of them. And I will fight until the day I die to protect them, because nobody protected me.