The Perpetually Unsortable

IMG_0156Kelly has always been a Hufflepuff. My mom has always been a Hufflepuff. My dad is unequivocally a Gryffindor.

I, however, am the perpetually unsortable.

Just before Pottermore was launched for the first time, there was a surge of self-sorting. Everyone had an idea of where they thought they should be, where they thought their friends should be. And yet, one of my best friends said to me the night before we’d all be able to take our tests “Well, I can see you in Gryffindor, sure. You’re pretty Ravenclaw-ish. But with a Slytherin slant. Anywhere but Hufflepuff, honestly.”

I bet you can guess what happened next.

This was back when you had to wait to get a Pottermore username, but I knew some people high up in the Potter world (yes, they exist) and immediately after getting sorted into Hufflepuff, four of those people donated extra usernames so that I could take the test again.

And again, I got Hufflepuff. I got Hufflepuff three times before the test let me pick between Hufflepuff and Slytherin. When I took it again after the Ilvermorny launch I got straight Slytherin.

But none of these houses feel totally right to me. If you ask my sister, she puts me in Ravenclaw, with reservations. If you ask my friend Lauren, she puts me in Slytherin without a doubt. Anyone who has ever so much as looked at my sister funny has seen the Hufflepuff loyalty in me.

I’m not a Gryffindor though. I’m just not that brave.

sortinghatWhatever else we are, we are also the Harry Potter generation. Was does it mean for one of us to be perpetually uncertain of our house? I think we are all looking for the Myers-Briggs description and the buzzfeed quizzes and, yes, the sorting. But I’m never sure about any of it. I’m greedy for descriptions of myself from people I know, especially when they don’t necessarily match up with how I see myself. I’ve always felt pretty centered. I didn’t write my name all over my walls. My knowledge of myself feels innate, but completely indescribable. I find myself anxious and uncertain about all kinds of things, just like everyone else – decisions I’ve made or not made, social interactions, things I’ve never done before or don’t know.

But I don’t know what Hogwarts house I would be in. I’ve never trusted my Myers-Briggs (INTJ).

Kelly just walked in the apartment and said, “Well, you’re hard to pin down.” I’d like to believe this is true, because who doesn’t want to be inscrutable. But I suspect that I’m supposed to read into the more subtle messages of Harry Potter – sorting is just one way to understand ourselves. And perhaps not a very good one at that.

How I became a Hufflepuff

When my parents were moving out of my childhood home last year, I went down for a few weekends to help them clean, as well as take apart my old room. Posters and important papers I had kept were tacked on my wall amid all the lettering and painting I had done as a child (much to my parents chagrin). If you’ve ever been in my room, one thing you will find along every wall in various forms of sharpie and paint, was my name. “Kelly” or “Kelly was here” labeled my closet, the trimming of my windows, the areas behind my desk and dresser. I was tucked in almost every corner of that room.

As I found all these declarations I started to wonder why I felt the need to write such a phrase over and over. I remembered the emotions behind wanting to put my name on everything I touched, but not the reasoning. I mused this out loud to my mother and her answer startled me. “You were trying to find your identity.” she said.

9b23804a2e69a778e3d91ca8272ab6ee

This, in a sense, blew my mind. It didn’t occur to me that writing my name over and over in different mediums and styles could be a symptom of my mind trying to work out who I was. Considering all the coming-of-age movies and books I had read, I thought, or at least assumed, that discovering what you’re all about as a person would come after some weird hardship or a super crazy house party. It didn’t come from the loneliness of a small, quiet room.

Even as I write this, I don’t think I have my identity pinned down, at least enough to talk about it in a blog post. And I certainly don’t have any film-worthy stories about discovering my identity and hopes and dreams and desires in high school while also getting the girl. But I can pinpoint a few times in my life where I realized what I believed and what I felt I stood for and all those instances combined have slowly helped me figure out me.

kelly

One instance I remember in particular was when I realized I belonged in Hufflepuff house. This was back when I was a sophomore in high school (about 8 years ago) before Pottermore, when sorting was something you and your friends did at lunch or at sleepovers. I knew a lot of people who put themselves in Gryffindor because it’s Harry’s house or it’s seemingly the best, but that reasoning didn’t sit right with me. I wanted to belong to a house, to feel like I had found my people. One day before band practice, I was listening to a Wizard Rock song about Hufflepuffs and it suddenly dawned on me that everything Hufflepuff house stood for, was what I stood for. Hard work, loyalty, trust, friendship – this was what I wanted people to think of when they thought of me. And so many people underestimated them, that I felt a kinship immediately and wanted people to know it. That was a moment where something in me clicked and it instantly felt right (and continues to feel right).

Another moment of identity crisis was during my senior year of college. My friends and I were hanging out and had heard about a test called The Five Languages of Love. The test basically tells you how you communicate love to others and how you best like love to be communicated to you. I never really considered myself a touchy-feely person, but my results stated that the way I communicate love the most is by touch. And almost immediately, I realized how true that was and is. I began noticing that during conversations when I agreed with someone or felt connected to them, I would reach out and touch them. I also realized what separated my acquaintances from my actual friends was how comfortable I felt touching them or they felt touching me. Of course not all my friends are touchy-feely people, but it helped to know that my primary form of communication was physical. It was a revelation to realize how my actions were an extension of who I was and am as a person.

I could on, especially about the numerous Buzzfeed quizzes I have taken over the years that have helped to define me as a person, but I think the real point here is that our identity is not something that is cast from birth and made to be still and permanent. We are not marble nor glass. We are clay, molded by ourselves and those around us. We are flexible and pliable and we can make weird shapes with ourselves.  Perhaps my endless quest to discover who I am is just a reflection of my self-obsessed nature. But outside influence can be harmful if not properly filtered. And the more I know me, the more I become me. And that’s all that really matters.

It’s Always the Little Things

IMG_0811I don’t have anything to say today.

It’s just been one of those weeks. I’ve been feeling really in the past week, some of it because of dumb things I’ve done or not done, and some of it because of a situation that is almost entirely out of my control. Still, that kind of uncertainty weighs on you. I’ve also been pretty bored at work, which hasn’t necessarily helped.

Do you ever just get tired of yourself? You know that you aren’t handling something well, that you aren’t making good decisions, and instead of dealing with it or at the very least, dealing with your emotions, you descend into bad habits? My bad habits, like you couldn’t guess, are a little too much wine and way too much fanfic. And honestly, it’s the fanfic that’s really been driving me crazy. Instead of reading books or manuscripts for work, or even writing or talking to people or listening to podcasts, I’ve just immersed myself in the literary equivalent of donuts for dinner. I broke the habit last night, closed the windows on my phone, made real food for dinner metaphorically and literally, and then I got a dumb assignment at work today and the whole plan went to hell.

The thing about fanfic for me is that sometimes it’s fun, and sometimes its really interesting, and sometimes the stories are really, really good. But at the end of the day, its pure escapism. That might not be what it is for everyone else, but for me it’s avoidance and safety – a big plastic bubble that you can make opaque any time you want.

The things that have been bothering me are stupid, regular life things – things that will pass or that I’ll learn to handle better once I get my swagger back. There are days or weeks or whatever when real life just gets you down, when you can’t make yourself do the smart thing no matter how much you try.

Those are usually the same weeks, I find, that you misplace your center and can’t let the little things go. It’s irritating, because it’s not existential dread or big questions. It’s cleaning the kitchen and stupid supervisors and not knowing what to say or when to say it. It’s minor things that you know you’re blowing out of proportion, but they sit with you, follow you around and whisper dumb things in your ear. It’s like a mosquito, here in our privileged urban centers. You know they aren’t going to kill you, or even cause you pain. But they are there, and they are annoying and for the life of you, you can’t make them go away.

By next week, most of this will have gone – I will have found the serenity to accept the things I cannot change and the courage to change the things I can. Or at least to wait them out. In the mean time, I’m going to try to kick this obsessive fanfic thing one more time. And make frozen pizza for dinner.

It’s just been that kind of week.

The Internet vs. The News

I love the internet. I am a millennial who has slightly introverted tendencies and who loves all her passions deeply so of course I love the internet.  It’s where people like me gather to find other people like me.

The internet is a tool so I don’t believe that it can be inherently good or evil. It is a way for us to research, to connect, and to play, all at the touch of a button. And if I’m being honest, there is just as much amazing content created on and made for the internet as all the vile things I hear about being online (I don’t know about you, but I don’t seek those corners out, I just have people let me know they exist). The way I see it, as long as we find our appropriate corners than all should be well as we surf the web.

Finding those quiet corners is still possible, but not when it comes to my news feeds and platforms. We, as a society, continually use digital sources to share and collect news. But along the way my news feeds and timelines suddenly become saturated with the same stories – each one appearing directly after each other on my platforms. Sometimes this is a good thing, especially when said news helps marginalized people or helps save lives. But when the news that is saturating my feed is filled with celebrity gossip or misinformed take-down articles, or any kind of clickbait, then sloughing through my feed to find actual information becomes almost impossible.

Now I could very easy combat this problem myself – the solution is simple. In order to escape the mind-numbing monotony of stories and articles I could never care about, I just simply have to not use any social media platforms for news ever again. But if information technology and the internet become as integral to human life as it’s threatening to become, then soon we will rely even more heavily on our news feeds to provide us with the information and articles we need.

3ogrflswfkzceq5klm

‘Need’ is the key word in that sentence. Don’t get me wrong, I love random facts and information as much as the next person. But there’s a time and a place. I don’t need a news alert when a celebrity posts a new picture on instagram nor when they are dating somebody new. I also don’t appreciate misleading headlines or opinions being presented as facts. There are so-called ‘news outlets’ that create 100 word articles that essentially say nothing new or noteworthy and they disguise them as articles about SOMETHING YOU WILL NEVER BELIEVE. It’s valuable time/energy/space wasted.

This makes me tired. It makes me less likely to click on any links that news outlets promote, particularly if the sources’ links have proven time and time again that they contain no information of value (looking at you Time). And I know I’m sounding a bit like a grumpy old man right now, but thinking back I used to want to be in this industry. But now nothing makes me happier that I quit being a journalism major as the state of media at the moment. If being a journalist means that my reporting skills are used to write six different articles on what Kim Kardashian has posted on instagram lately, than count me out.

The situation is not dire yet. There are still plenty of reporters who are doing their due diligence. But I worry  and fret because it is not what I see everyday as I scroll up and down my timelines. I really do believe the internet is one of the greatest inventions of our time. It connects our world together and proves to us that we are not alone, that there are people like us everywhere and they care about making the world a better place. But if we don’t start talking about the things that really matter in this world, we’re going to forget what those are. If we treat everyone as if they are smart enough to get it, eventually they will.

Featured image source

What Is A Bad Movie Anyway?

Our starting premise: X-Men Apocalypse has a 52% on Metacritic and a 7.4/10 on IMDB. Independence Day: Resurgence has a 32% on Metacritic and a 5.6/10 on IMDB. Conclusion: Everyone is an idiot.

Many of you know that my taste in movies is not really to be trusted. I like explosions and superheroes and fast cars. I like spaceships. I like aliens. I like it when the good guys are good and the bad guys are bad. I could make an argument for these movies, but that’s not this blog post. This blog post is to say that given these two disaster movies, anyone who picks X-Men over Independence Day is an actual crazy person.

x-men_billboard_h_2016-large_trans++LyQuLaWi53vasyfRaiyWAVQYArzCZkfUqg3bUYglOXQLet’s start with X-Men Apocalypse, shall we? The women are lamps. All of them. The only female character who has any influence on the plot at all is Mystique. In a movie that is supposed to introduce the new generation, Storm (raging, powerful, beautiful, awesome Storm) hides for most of the climactic fight scene. Moira, the CIA agent from X-Men: First Class (who barely served a purpose there) has no purpose in this movie except to kiss Charles, because god forbid the most important relationship in the franchise be between two men (who definitely want to make out). Psylocke has two lines and I don’t remember what either of them were. At the end of the movie, in the psychic battle between Charles Xavier and Apocalypse when the whole world is about to fall apart, Jean Gray has to wait for Charles to give her permission to save the world. Jubilee is so much erased from this movie that I didn’t even know I was supposed to care about her until Taekia started ranting about it after the fact. Michael Fassbender’s skeptical expression mirrors the viewers’ – none of us have any fucks to give. Which is particularly note worthy because they give Magneto another family, a wife and daughter whose sole purpose is to die. As if the horrors of the Holocaust weren’t motivation enough for Magneto’s understandable pain and fury to keep cresting and falling over and over again.

I could keep going, but, well, I lost you for a little bit, didn’t I?

main3_IDR_trailer06_zps4winxvaiFor it’s sins, and it has quite a few, the women in Independence Day are fighter pilots, researchers, and presidents who contribute to the plot, have their own motivations and experiences. The main relationship in the movie is between two male best friends (who also want to make out) – no contrived romantic drama, no tearful waiting around at home, no letting the men go off to destroy the alien ship. We’ll take our own fighter jets, thanks. There’s romance, sure, but it’s just there. It’s not the plot, and it’s nobody’s purpose.

I don’t want to argue that Independence Day is a good movie, but its homage to the first is clear – it’s a funny, dumb, disaster alien movie in which things get blown up and people make out, and giant space ships descend on the skyline. It tries something – to tell a story, to engage its characters, to entertain its audience. It gives its women something to do. They don’t wait around for permission to save the world. They take a seat on the plane whether it’s being offered or not.

X-Men was a slog – it was poorly constructed, poorly written, choppy and uncertain. But more importantly, its women were forced to tiptoe, to ask permission, to die before we knew them. Independence Day might not be doing anything particularly interesting, but it isn’t lazy. It doesn’t fall back on old tropes, on old silences, on old stories and old hurts. Instead, it tells a story with characters, flawed and fleshed out, and most importantly, active. I wouldn’t argue that either movie is good, exactly, but only one of them was bad. And dangerously so.

I can’t believe there are so many people who can’t see that. Or maybe the worst part is, that I can.

X-Men image source

Independence Day image source: it is also notable that this was the closest I could find to Maika Monroe being a BAMF, which she was. 

Commitmentphobia

Lately I’ve been experiencing a bit of commitment-phobia. I’m sure there’s an actual scientific term for this, which I haven’t looked up yet. One sec…

Gamophobia! The word derives from the Greek words Gamos (which means marriage) and Phobos (which means fear). Now I don’t actually have Gamophobia, but lately it has gotten harder and harder to go back to projects or tasks that I have started and haven’t finished. I’ve written a third of three books, I’ve watched half of countless television series. I haven’t committed to any new travel plans (save one), or the fostering of new and old relationships. Things have been slipping.

There are probably a host of reasons for this. A friend of mine and I were discussing “decision fatigue” a few days ago, a concept I am now very familiar with. When one spends all day making decisions, the last thing one wants to do when one gets home is make more decisions. When I come home from work, I want to eat and then let the dulcet tones of the television lull me to sleep. And though in theory this sounds perfectly fine, is does not make for a particularly interesting lifestyle.

The problem could also be stemming from me, or who I inherently am as a person. I have a lot of different ideas and dreams about my future – goals that I want to accomplish. I want to write a book, and make a film. I want to get better at understanding plot and story structure. I want to have a wider circle of friends and I want to see as much of the world as humanly possible. But occasionally I get stuck on the practicality of these dreams and my desire to be the best. What’s the point of working on something when it’s not going to turn out the way I want it to?

Of course, this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. When you want it all, it’s very easy to end up with nothing. I can sit here all I want and lament on my lack of time or my lack resources and say, that’s why it hasn’t happened for me! But that wouldn’t be remotely true. Though my job is demanding, it does not completely suck the life out of me, and there are usable hours that I let slip away because I can’t bring myself to get to work.

As Dumbledore said so wisely, “It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.” Being a person means you have to make decisions and commit to those decisions, no matter how hard it is or how tired you might be. And when we care and we’re committed to whatever we’re doing, our decisions get better and easier to make. Finishing projects and seeing things through makes us better people. We become more well-rounded, less half-assed.

There are a million different quotes about this subject and they are all very cliche so instead I will eave yo with this. There is a fantastic public art piece in Brighton, England by Naoimh Looney, along the Madeira Drive Promenade. There, giant steel letters form her proclamation, “I have great desire. My desire is great.” On cloudy days it is easy to miss. But when the sun is shining, the words glisten and the result is inspiring. My wants and desires run deep within me and have become entrenched in my personality. It would be a pity if none of them were ever realized.

When Daring Really Isn’t

science-fictionOn July 4, 2016, the New York Times published an interview with author Ben Winters entitled “In His New Novel, Ben Winters Dares to Mix Slavery and Sci-Fi” and the internet saw red. I also saw red. I imagine many of you are seeing red right now – don’t worry, I’ll wait! I’m not going to lie and say I read the article before I got angry either. Instead, I read the article today in preparation for writing this blog post.

Ben Winters is white. The article makes a point of telling us this over and over and over again. “It would be better if you were black,” his wife apparently told him. And yet with a “fearless” (I believed better of you, Lev Grossman) and “controversial” approach to American history, he tells the story of a world in which the United States never abolished slavery. His main character is former slave turned U.S. Marshal who hunts down escaped slaves. It’s actually an interesting premise, and a potentially provocative and compelling way to engage with current racial tension in speculative sci-fi style.

Anyone who calls it “brave,” however, is delusional.

It doesn’t take much to be a white writer. There is bravery to committing words to paper, to creating worlds and putting them out there, but it’s a small bravery for us. We only have ourselves to overcome. But to be a writer of color is to deal with marginalization, erasure, discrimination, and alienation. To be a writer of color grappling with slavery is to grapple with a nation built on your backs and your broken bones. To be a white writer grappling with slavery is not to grapple, it’s to confess.

Author Daniel Jose Older says it much more succinctly (Twitter not withstanding): “Being a writer of color is risky and requires fearlessness. Writing characters of color when you’re white means you get called brave.”

220px-Delany_SIMPLGOSWhen I first got angry about this article, however, I have to admit it wasn’t about the content, but the sheer idiocy of the headline. Dares to combine sci-fi and slavery? Dares? As if this hasn’t been done before in so many ways, yes, by white writers like Robert Heinlein, but more to my point, by writers of color like Octavia E. Butler and Samuel Delaney who see no mention in this article. The article, however, does see fit to mention Philip Roth and Philip K. Dick – there isn’t even a diversity of names that the writer of this article referenced. It’s possible that she has never read a sci-fi novel.

So if you want to read Ben Winters’ new book, get it from the library. It’s probably fascinating, but he doesn’t need to know that. If you want to buy one, I’m going to go ahead and recommend Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand by Samuel Delaney even though it’s strange and polarizing and, frankly, discomfiting. (All the best books are.) I’m not going to describe it to you because it wouldn’t mean anything to most of you and I’d end up leaving out all the best parts for fear of spoilers. Suffice to say it’s an epic bit of world building, its tragic and innovative, and it’s immensely wonderful. And perhaps the most romantic of all possible love stories.

I haven’t read Ben Winters’ book. I can’t comment on its quality. All I can say is this – it stands on a tradition he would do well to acknowledge, and he and the New York Times owe science fiction, writers of color, and readers everywhere more recognition of his privilege. And quite a bit less self-congratulation, if you please.

image source