New Year’s Resolution Update – January

Stuck to my resolution pretty well for the first month. I don’t miss The Bachelor or Downton Abbey as much as I thought I would. I have plenty of books to read. I can still watch most episodes of 30 Rock, which is what’s really important. Here’s a comprehensive list of media I mindfully consumed in January:

  1. Both seasons of Transparent, created and produced by Jill Soloway
  2. Room, written and produced by author Emma Donohue
  3. Carol, directed by Todd Haynes and written by Phyllis Nagy
  4. The Danish Girl, written by Lucinda Coxon and produced by Liza Chasin
  5. Sharp Objects, written by Gillian Flynn
  6. The first two episodes (SORRY, I KNOW) of Making a Murderer, written and directed by Moira Demos and Laura Ricciardi
  7. The first episode of Chelsea Does, created and produced by Chelsea Handler

Currently reading The Edible Woman by Margaret Atwood. I’m noticing that most of the entertainment media I’ve consumed is created and/or produced by women, and I’d like to make a conscious effort to focus more on LGBT writers and writers of color moving forward.

AP’s 2016 New Year’s Revolution (Wordplay!)

This year, I resolve to broaden my horizons. I want to think bigger, more culturally, more globally, more inclusively, more ethically. I want to challenge the status quo. For as much of 2016 as I can, I’m going to challenge the status quo specifically in terms of the media I consume. Most of the media, the economy, the government is driven by the patriarchy – straight, white, cis males. But it doesn’t have to be. I resolve to be more mindful in terms of my media consumption. For the next year, I will only read books, watch television, and view films written, produced, and directed by people who don’t identify as straight, white, cis males.

To close loopholes:

  1. The books I read will not be written by straight, white, cis males.
  2. The TV shows I watch can have a straight, white, cis male in only one of these roles: director, writer, showrunner. Other roles must be women and/or minorities. Rules apply to individual episodes.
  3. The movies I watch can have a straight, white, cis male in only one of these roles: director, writer, executive producer.  Other roles must be women and/or minorities.
  4. I recognize that music is another medium driven by the cis-, white patriarchy, but I also don’t particularly consider music a part of my life. It’s just kind of “there” for me. Someone else can feel free to undertake that project.

As I write this resolution, I’m struck by the fact that I naturally feel I have to use “opposite of straight, white, cis male” to set parameters. It’s kind of disgusting that the patriarchal power structure is so engrained in how we communicate that this is necessary.

And that’s what this project is fighting. How much richer would our culture be if we more readily consumed media that didn’t so comfortably fit what we’re used to? What is there for me to learn from people who don’t sit at the top of my society’s power structure? People with experiences different from what I’m used to?

It’s not like I exclusively consumed media produced by straight white dudes before 2016. I’m just endeavoring to prove that a more inclusive media industry has the potential to lead to greater cultural inclusiveness and understanding.

The Force Awakens will have to wait until 2017. As will season 6 of Game of Thrones. Mad Men won’t be in my “recently watched” Netflix queue for the first time since June 2012. No reruns of The Office, no The Bachelor. White dudes have done some pretty fantastic things for the zeitgeist in the past – I certainly can’t deny that. But we can do better. My life will be just as culturally delightful as it was in previous years.

This resolution won’t be easy to keep (but also not as impossible as 2013’s resolution to stop burning my mouth on hot beverages). It’s actually going to hurt. But I’m fairly confident I’ll look back on my 2016 New Year’s Resolution as a positive, enriching experience. I appreciate your accountability and encouragement as I set and strive toward my goal. Comment with book/TV/film suggestions – and feel free to join me in this experiment!

(Full disclosure: I’m not looking for people to agree with me. I’m looking to start a conversation. If you have opinions about this project, don’t hold back.)

Sometimes I Want to Punch You in Your Facebook

Begin rant.

I hate the necessity that Facebook has become. It’s necessary for group messages, communication with friends in different countries, planning and publicizing events. I met someone recently who, within several minutes, said, “Let’s add each other on Facebook” – it’s assumed that every individual has a profile. Personally, my dad is the only person I know who doesn’t have an account, which didn’t used to be weird because he’s over 50, but even his mom has a profile at this point, so, yes, it’s out of the ordinary to be off-the-grid in this way.

I keep debating whether to deactivate my Facebook profile. Sure, it’s helpful for staying in touch with the connections I’ve made through preteen summer camps, high school, college, study abroad, etc. Friends share photos, life events, and political views. I can also see their photos and life events on Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, and LinkedIn (to an extent), but Facebook seems to be the primary medium – at least among my connections – for sharing at length their controversial opinions. Sometimes I just can’t help commenting on an ignorant, offensive post even though I know it’ll only invite hostility or disappointment, so I’m starting to think avoiding the whole Facebook platform might be the wisest option for me.

When I was in high school, it wasn’t uncommon for individuals to go back and forth commenting on statuses, getting into fights, sometimes ending with one person unfriending the other. Lately, we seem to have cut out the middle step. Instead of engaging in a discussion (argument?), we skip straight to cutting out the “negative forces” on our Facebook feeds by unfriending or unfollowing people who post political opinions that differ from ours. I’m usually the type of person who prefers concrete examples rather than abstract statements, but I think this situation is universally applicable enough that everyone can imagine a scenario in which something on the Internet has offended her. I’m hoping I can get away with not having to point fingers at specific examples from my own life.

This evolution of how we react to controversy on Facebook got me to thinking about why people would post their polarizing views on social media in the first place. I never really understood why anyone would get so heated about someone disagreeing with something they said. Doesn’t making a public statement inherently prompt discussion? Then I started thinking further: Why do people say what they say? Why do they say it on the medium on which they say it? Being unemployed when all my friends nearby have weekday jobs means that I’ve recently been conducting a lot of my human interaction over digital media, which allows me the time and space to think much more carefully about what I say, how I say it, why I say it, and how others might interpret it. Yes, you’re right, I spend way too much time in my head and no, it’s not usually a good thing. Sometimes people post links and go on controversial rants to legitimately start a discussion and engage with their peers on a digital platform that allows them to craft carefully how they want to respond. That makes enough sense to me. Other times, though, they’re looking for people to agree with them, which in itself isn’t a bad thing – we’re all looking for validation in one form or another. I just get annoyed when technology allows us to think twice about what we’re saying and how it might affect others… and then we don’t take advantage of it.

End rant.

Currently reading: Devil in the White City by Erik Larson

Currently listening to: Fresh Air on NPR

Currently (re)watching: season 5 of Lost

All Jacked Up on Medium Roast

I am twenty-two years old and freshly graduated from a prestigious liberal arts institution with a rather homogeneous student body. Unlike the vast majority of my classmates, however, my shit is the opposite of together. It’s very loose, like diarrhea – all over the place, floating around. Don’t worry, I’m taking steps to fix it: I’m eating lots of fiber to stay regular, and I’m cranking out cover letter and job applications at unprecedented rates.

I moved to Chicago a little over a week ago, and I’ve already begun to settle into a routine. I wake up (against my wishes), shower (sometimes), and haul my laptop to any coffee shop but Starbucks to get a caffeine fix (because I’m not really an adult and I don’t know how to make my own coffee yet) and siphon decent wifi (because what we get through the apartment building is actually, unbelievably worse than Davidson Secure). I’ve been lacking a bit in the energy department since graduating, and I’m only now discovering the productivity coffee magically enables, like the universe and Ashton Kutcher just punk’d me and if I’d started drinking coffee in college I would’ve gotten better grades and produced better writing samples and someone would have hired me half a semester ago.

So I get jacked up on coffee – black, because if it needs cream and sugar, it’s probably crap coffee anyway, and I deserve only the best – and peruse online job boards and reach out to my network to see if they have any leads. I’ve also been in touch with a staffing firm (that originally interviewed me for two internal positions and didn’t hire me for either) to try to capitalize on employment opportunities. Last week, they arranged for a phone screening with a telecommunications agency. “Phone screenings are pretty laid back,” the project manager told me. “They’re just looking to see if you have good communication skills and trying to gauge your personality.” So, naturally, the telecommunications agency determined that I, an aspiring communications professional, had less-than-stellar communication skills and/or a weird, unappealing personality, and I never heard from them again.

I affectionately (sarcastically?) refer to my employment status as “FUNemployed,” but it’s hard to enjoy my free time when I’m dealing with constant rejection and I don’t know how I’m going to afford an apartment that I’ve just begun living in, let alone the multitude of city things I want to experience or the trips I want to take to visit my friends who are now spread out all over the country.

My depression always gets heavier when I start over in a new place: Los Angeles, then London, now Chicago. I become even more numb and feel even more hopeless – I’ll never make friends, I’ll never get hired, I’ll never find something, anything, anyone that I even like. Of course those statements aren’t true (I hope?), but it’s difficult to break the cycle once it starts. And it’s just as hard to act like everything is okay when it’s not, so I’m done doing that. A lot of the time, I’m not okay – and that’s okay. It’s okay not to be okay sometimes.

Over the years, I’ve gotten better at accepting and coping with my depression. I’ve been dealing with a lot of disappointments lately, but I’m learning to take pride in small accomplishments that I didn’t do sometimes when I was in Los Angeles or London: “Hey, it’s 3pm, but you did it! You got up off the floor and showered and ate lunch and left the apartment!” And I just had orientation to start volunteering at PAWS because dogs are literally the only thing that make me happy sometimes. So I’m unemployed, but I’m winning little victories here and there. That’s got to count for something, right?

It’ll be interesting to come back to this post and try re-writing it once I’ve got some distance from the situation (and hopefully a job). Ideally I’d like this blog to be longer, funnier, more unique personal essay-like posts that aren’t so “I” centric and self-pitying and are a little more universally entertaining. You know, the kind of thing that maybe some people would pay to read in print. So I guess you readers (Mama, Dad) should feel special that I’m letting you see my pre-writing and rough (ROUGH) drafts. This one is getting published at 5:30am, which I’m hoping is as rough as it gets.




Currently (re)reading: A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson (Mama, if you’ve been looking for your copy… it’s in Chicago)

Currently listening to: Illinoise by Sufjan Stevens (particularly “Casimir Pulaski Day” and “Chicago,” of course)

Currently Netflixing: Scrubs season 7 and Orange is the New Black season 3

The Worst Kind of Small Talk

Last weekend, my Great Uncle Roy won the Best Funeral Ever Award. The memorial service was “nice” (as memorial services go), but that memorial luncheon made clear the fact that while Uncle Roy parties in heaven, he wants us to party on Earth. Open bar? Don’t mind if I do. Cupcake bar? Absolutely, I will. Entertaining relatives? Too many to count. In all Roy’s 95 years, this extravaganza might have been the best party he’s ever financed.

Though I enjoyed myself, I ended up leaving with a sour taste in my mouth. No, the cupcakes were actually delicious. I had two (pancake bacon and chocolate salted caramel), and I’m proud of it. What bothered me was the blatant sexism I encountered.

Of course distant relatives and family friends I hadn’t seen in ten, fifteen, twenty years filled the banquet hall, and awkward small talk ensued. This is what went down when a particular second cousin ran into my brother Grant and me:

“Hey, Grant,” said Cousin Jerry*,”How’s ball going?”

“Basketball is going well,” Grant replied with surprisingly proper grammar. “I like my team, and I feel like workouts this summer have been paying off. I can’t wait for the season to start.”

“That’s good!” Cousin Jerry said. “Alex, you look pretty.”

And then he walked away.

I sat there waiting for a camera I could make a face at like Jim does on The Office. Really? That’s all you could think to say to me? Let’s ask Grant about his interests because he’s a human being. Now let’s comment on Alex’s appearance because she’s a girl and her interests take a backseat to how she looks. I’m sure Jerry didn’t think this consciously, but his actions expressed an underlying sexist attitude. He could have asked how school was going, or what I want to do after graduation, or what I did this summer. Instead, he made a simple remark that reduced me to superficial attributes.

I understand that Cousin Jerry was just trying to pay me a compliment. He had good intentions. And that’s part of the problem. So many people, men and women alike, don’t realize how an intended compliment can hurt when it’s in the wrong context. In this case, the context was an expressed interest in my brother’s life followed by an expressed interest in my appearance, thereby neglecting the importance of my hobbies or education or anything that didn’t have to do with how I looked. It’s not just what you say, it’s how and when you say it.

Sort of along the same lines, I went on a date a few weekends ago, and this guy – who happens to be uncommonly kind and respectful – told me I was hot. I didn’t say “thank you.” I said, “That makes me kind of uncomfortable. I hope you think I’m things other than hot.” I wanted to say, “I’ve lost twenty pounds in the past year and a half because I’ve been too depressed to eat. But at least you think this unhealthy body is hot, so I’ve got that going for me.”

I’ve been told that taking offense to comments like this is a choice. I could easily choose to shrug off the ignorance and move on. But if I did that, I’d only perpetuate the problem. Sexism is so engrained in our culture that most people don’t notice it if we don’t bring attention to it. If we want more female physicists, film directors, and CEOs, we’ve got to start praising girls – women – not for their appearances but for their talents and interests. I know I seem pretty nitpicky for calling out these unintentionally backhanded compliments. But someone has to say something. It might as well be me.

*Name has been changed.

Working On My Night Cheese

Should be writing for my writing class right now, but I’m at a loss for a topic. I’m kind of/sort of freewriting here in hopes that I’ll come up with something.

Let’s see, a lot has happened since I last posted. I started classes at Northwestern, so that’s been… fun. All my professors are interesting and clearly passionate about what they teach, so that helps make my days tolerable. Two six-week classes and one three-week class are too much to handle though. That’s a lot of work crammed into long days and short weeks. For the first three weeks, I’d get up at 5:30 to catch the 7am train to get to Evanston by 9, then I’d take the L train back to Chicago for my night class which got out at 9pm, getting me home at 10:30. I’m still recovering from that perpetual exhaustion. I don’t remember being this stressed out since I was in London – I wake up every morning with at least three new stress zits, and the first week of class, I didn’t poop for five days. It’s been rough. Between lengthy commutes and staying on top of my other classes, I didn’t have the time or energy I needed to devote to astronomy, and I failed. Whoops.

But the bigger, more serious news, is that I found out on Saturday that I have a million food allergies. My mom and brother both have food allergies, so I decided to get tested just in case, and now I can’t have
Goat milk
Kidney beans
Lima beans
Green beans
Sesame seeds
But they’re not anaphylactic allergies, so that’s good. They’re more like uncomfortable allergies that could get worse if I keep eating them. So on Monday I went to Gino’s East, ordered a whole deep-dish pizza just for me, and said goodbye to the love of my life. Living without cheese may be my most trying life experience. HOW AM I SUPPOSED TO GROW UP TO BE LIZ LEMON IF I CAN’T HAVE CHEESE?! Also green beans are my favorite vegetable, so that bums me out, too. Everything bums me out. On the bright side, if I ever decide to go vegan, I’m already doing the hard part. Okay, that’s a pretty dim bright side. Soy cheese tastes like cardboard, but there’s milk protein in it so I won’t be eating it again anyway. And Greek-style soy yogurt is a far cry from Chobani. Please, dear readers, comment with any suggestions for yummy dairy and egg-free substitutes so that everything I eat stops tasting like sad.

Thirty-eight days until move-in at Davidson.

How I Learned to Love My Butt

*I wrote this post as an exercise for my creative nonfiction class (write about an experience you’ve had with a body part). Since I lately find myself short on free time to blog, I hope this personal essay serves as an acceptable substitute.

I’ve always said there’s nothing better than a good poop joke. Over the past twenty-odd years, my body and intellect have grown and matured, but my sense of humor most definitely has not. Any sort of bathroom humor – poop, pee, vomit, farts, naked butts – never fails to send me into a fit of giggles. I don’t always poop, but when I do, you’ll probably hear about it because I find poop talk hilarious. Just look at the word! It’s so… symmetrical. Those o’s are cute little googly eyes googling at me. And when I say the word, I pronounce the p’s with such pop that spittle goes flying out of my mouth, and my conversation partner and I bond over how adorably awkward I am. Unless my conversation partner finds poop crass, but that’s her problem because everyone poops and everyone has a butt and if she’s not comfortable with those two facts, we probably weren’t going to have a functional friendship anyway.

Knock knock.
Who’s there?
Your butt.

When puberty hit me, it hit hard. I swear, God’s giant fist swung down from heaven and punched me right in the ovary. And then my butt swelled up and everything changed. I still found the idea of butts amusing, but mine was certainly not a laughing matter. The front of me looked like a kid, right down to the clear skin and flat chest and orthodontia-filled chubby cheeks. My backside was an inconsistency that made me so anxious I could cry. In the Kohl’s dressing room, and the Target dressing room, and the Old Navy dressing room, I did. Big, wet tears rolling down my face because every pair of pants felt too tight in the butt and too loose in the hips and I probably had only a few days until I had no option but to go around half-naked.

For as long as I can remember, I hated my body. Loathed it. Would not have minded if it were run over by garbage truck (so that my soul could reincarnate as a beautiful, graceful, government-protected buffalo). My repulsiveness permeated every aspect of my physical being, in my opinion, and my rear end embodied the worst of it. Fortunately, I gave up on trying to change my appearance before I did anything drastic. I lived a healthy, active lifestyle, and I knew that a hundred lunges and a thousand calories a day weren’t going to change my body type. I slowly began to come to terms with the notion that I had the shape of a mushy pear.

One morning during my freshman spring of college, I plopped myself down on a chair in the cafeteria and felt a searing pain shoot up my butt, starting at my tailbone. The sensation vaguely recalled memories of previous bruises, but this? This was a bruise so intense I thought I’d broken a bone, or maybe my keister had literally exploded. I didn’t remember falling or being hit, and I couldn’t see any bruising when I pried my butt cheeks apart and looked, so I shrugged it off and didn’t give it much more thought. After several days, the monster bruise still hadn’t healed, so I turned to every anxious person’s favorite resource: WebMD. Hemorrhoids. Oh, lord, please no. Take me now. I’ve lived a full enough life! It’s not supposed to be this way!

A trip to the doctor’s office revealed I was not experiencing hemorrhoids, praise sweet baby Jesús. In truth, I had a pilonidal cyst – basically a glorified pimple at the top of my butt crack – that required surgical drainage and removal. The doctor explained the nature of the routine procedure, and I quickly consented. A few days before the surgery, though, I went through one of my typical “what if” episodes: What if something went wrong? What if the surgery, which took place right in the middle of my caboose, irrevocably changed the shape of my butt? The idea of altering the only body part I’d ever really felt strongly about, even negatively, made me realize that perhaps I didn’t abhor my behind as much as I thought I did. The heftiness of my heinie may inconvenience me sometimes, whether refusing to fit into cute pants or eliciting unwanted catcalls on the street, but my posterior is just that – mine. I’d finally gotten used to my appearance, and I wasn’t ready for any part of it to change.

Of course, I recovered from the procedure with two shapely buns looking just as they always did, with the exception of a tiny scar that no one’s ever been close enough to see. My subconscious, on the other hand, seems significantly scarred. Since the surgery, I’ve had recurring anxiety dreams where my tokus deflates like a popped beach ball. Each time, I’ve woken up and had to reassure myself that I’m okay; I’m not a superficial robot because I care about how my butt looks. My insecurities don’t feed into “the system.” In fact, my self-love defies it. Society constantly tells me it’s normal for me to hate my body, and if I don’t, I’m a narcissist. I should work out every day so I have a tighter ass, not so I’m prepared for the zombie apocalypse, just in case. I should hate my thin hair and olive skin and long nose and mosquito bite, A-cup boobs. I should do more to tone my abs and fix my spotty complexion and distract from my asymmetrical ears. Except I don’t see a need to take those sorts of actions because finally, I love my butt and I like how I look.

Knock knock?
Who’s there?
My butt, looking fine as hell.