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All posts for the month February, 2013

gentle heart

Published February 28, 2013 by pipsqueak

I am not of a wounding spirit

rather I have a gentle heart – Sappho

 

It’s a thought that crosses me sometimes. It surfaces after I have been walking around, dressed to impress, making small talk, doing my homework, looking out for number one. It hits me when I’m trying to live my life as best I can.

It’s all superfluous to this fact: I can’t stand the negative impact my life has on the planet. I can’t stand the factory farms behind my food, the pollution caused by the lights in my room, the war for the fuel for the bus I take. I want my net worth to this planet to be one that leaves it a better place. It’s a useless desire, but it drives me to make little symbolic efforts that I hope will somehow resonate in a meaningful way: I eat vegan, I recycle plastic, I ride my bike. I know it’s not making a difference, and that pains me too.

And it’s not just the earth. I’m guarded, jaded, a girl encased in a shell. So is everyone else. There comes a moment after too many long minutes of meaningless small talk that I just want to say, “TALK TO ME. TELL ME YOUR DEEPEST SECRETS. I WILL NOT JUDGE YOU, AND I WILL GIVE YOU MIND.” I don’t care who it is, I want to talk to people. I want to kiss people on the cheek. I want to give people hugs. I don’t like these carefully pruned images we make of ourselves. I want to be messy, close, familiar with each other.

I’ve learned to be tough, but I just want to be vulnerable with other people. It’s the ones with the thickest shells who most need to reach out, to hold another warm hand.

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Growing Old In The Era of Selfies

Published February 27, 2013 by pipsqueak

truth bomb from Lord Henry

Back when I was struggling through high school, (a dark time, I think, for all of us) I used to comfort myself with the fact that was young and that nothing real had happened to me yet, i.e. “I have no right to feel this world weary! I’m fifteen! Just slap on some blue lipstick and eat a bagel and everything will be fine.” And hey presto, I emerged from high school without a heroin addiction or an unwanted baby, so hey! I guess I was right-ish.

I’m in college. I’m surrounded by eighteen-and-nineteen year old freshmen, although the people I converse with in a meaningful way can be as old as, say, 22. Some professors notwithstanding, everyone here is pretty damn young. Despite the overwhelming youthiness here, I’ve already started to hear the anguished moan: “I’m getting so oooooooldddddddd!”

I guess there’s a point. It would be cruel to deny the fact that it really feels like we’ve been through a lot to get here. I don’t know if I feel young. I just feel like myself, the aggregate of ~18.833333 years of being a human being on planet earth. I’ve seen some bad things that certainly make me feel world-weary. However, as life goes on, I will probably many worse things.  Yaaaay!

There’s a weird cult of youth in America, which is never more apparent than in that odious statement: “High school is the best time of your life!” Millions and millions of unhappy high schoolers have heard this and thought, “Seriously?… well, shit.”

And it’s not just my nostalgic grade school principal who gave me this message. I’ve been getting a lot from television, books, people over the age of 40. They look at me with dewy eyes and say, “You’re still young, this is the best time of your life., go do the wonderful things young people do.”What exactly is the fascination with youth? I’ve been told that youthfulness is when you are still figuring everything out. Absolutely right. So why is this incredibly shaky and uncertain time of my life constantly glorified as the best time I will ever had? Is there nothing to be said for being experienced and knowing what you are doing with your life? Is it because we aren’t wrinkly yet?

A man is as old as he feels, and a woman as old as she looks

– proverb

Okay, seriously, fuck whoever said that!

I’m a teen girl, I’ve been made excruciatingly aware of how highly appearances are valued. Being pretty buys a lot of kindness from people. I know I have a certain privilege that involves people pretending to like talking to me because they are mesmerized by my boobs or something.

And, I guess, since older women aren’t seen as attractive, I will lose that. I will get wrinkles and lose my youthful sex appeal and many people will drop the pretense of enjoying my company. Several older women told me this more or less literally, and I’ve heard the stories. Older men who leave their wives because they are no longer young and beautiful. Older women complaining about how they would give anything to be skinny and young again.

The message I’ve been getting is that once my tits get saggy I will be undesirable, so I better Buy All The Anti-Aging Stuff! I resent the fact that 50 year old men can leer at me now and call me “darling,” but once I reach their age I will be deemed unlovely by the exacting standards of society. I resent the fact that my attractiveness carries so much cultural currency. I resent all of this. So what are we temporally-bound women supposed to do? I guess we have to learn to not put so much stock in acceptance from the generic Male Gaze. After all, I have a lot more to offer the world than T&A.

Don’t get me wrong, a lot of the side effects of getting older are undeniably unpleasant. Disease, more people you know dying, the advent of the next wave of shitty pop music. However, I will not resign myself to the idea that “The Zenith of my Life” = “The time when I most resemble Scarlett Johansson.” As I get older, I understand myself better, get better at the things I’m good at, and just learn to be better at Being A Human. Surely we can replace naïveté with experience, don’t make the same mistakes again, and learn to live in a more pleasurable and productive way.

I’m going to end this post with the wisdom of Ani DiFranco.

If you’re not getting happier as you get older, you’re fucking up.

Book Review: Eeeee Eee Eeee

Published February 24, 2013 by pipsqueak
eeeee eee eeee

an average thing about this book is that talking bears can teleport in it

Eeeee Eee Eeee by Tao Lin is really, really, really postmodern.

I’m not really sure how to describe it accurately, so I’ll just tell you some things about it. There’s talking animals – bears, dolphins, moose, hamsters – and talking humans who deliver pizza. The bears like to cover people’s heads with blankets. Almost all of the characters are struggling with crushing ennui and depression, yet the text is far from lethargic. The text crackles and spouts bizarre insights on every page. The pages are punctuated by sentences that I reread several times for their brilliant bizarreness. For an example, I read this one out loud to several of my friends, my sister, and my mom:

Andrew had a flat tire once and the martial arts champion drove out to help, late at night. He seemed very nice and a little shy, but also like if he wanted he could walk quietly through a crowd with a neutral facial expression breaking people’s bones.

Eeeee Eee Eeee is surreal, sure, but it also smacks of realness. It’s a book about being a human in the 21st century, where disconnection and isolation are pretty much normal.

He didn’t want to elaborate. It would take forever to elaborate. Someone would eventually realize that the conversation was just a matter of semantics. Was there even a point to talking? … Not wanting to elaborate, that was a symptom of something – something bad. Andrew didn’t want to think about it.  Maybe he should take antidepressant medicine.

Tao Lin’s writing style mimicks the infinitely-distractible, faster-than-the-speed-of-starbucks-wifi mindset of Kids These Days. He also manages to bring up some pretty pointed observations about humanity without moralizing in any way. His book is about lonely and depressed people and the lonely and depressed teleporting bears/moose that interact with/kidnap/punch them.

Thoughts from a Neurotic College Freshman: I kind of forgot how joy works

Published February 21, 2013 by pipsqueak
white's light

“seek out the hidden places where the fire burns hot and bright” – the mountain goats

Humans aren’t meant to be sad.

Well, yeah we are. We’re built for it. We have brain chemicals and natural mechanisms that cause all varieties of unpleasant emotions – fear, anger, pain, sorrow, despair. But there’s something else to being human. I remember it from when I was younger, before my mind was enveloped with malaise. And I recognize it in art, in the poems of Walt Whitman and Allen Ginsberg and Matthew Dickman and Ani DiFranco.

It’s joy.

And you know what? I think it’s harder to find then you think, this deep joy that swells within you and gives you strength. It’s something we are all told to find in college, but it’s a far more tricky thing to actually find than it is to nod and smile when they say “Follow Your Bliss!”

So we follow other things, like the promise of money, like the comforting embrace of caffeine, like the brief high of those little red notifications on facebook. We’re in an age of instant gratification, but most of the time, everything feels deeply unsatisfying. Infinite distractions distracting from a certain underlying emptiness and uncertainty.

CAN’T YOU FEEL THE BANAL NEUROTICISM JUST OOZING FROM THAT PARAGRAPH???? ugh.

So here is my new manifesto: I will no longer be shy about seeking out the truly good things, about screaming the glory of books and dancing and running until my limbs ache and staying up into the wee wild hours of the night writing down my thoughts. My spectrum of emotion has too long stretched only from sadness to mild contentment. The suffering will take care of itself, flare up when it wants to, I think, but vital, visceral joy is owed some recognition in my life as well.

In which I start to read Nabokov’s Lolita and have to stop

Published February 19, 2013 by pipsqueak
lolita-vladimir-nabokov-paperback-cover-art

here be dragons

Alright, confession time. I knew, or at least had heard and accepted without much actual mental processing, the basic concept of Lolita. It’s about an older dude who… falls in love with?? (or so I had been told) a young girl. A reaaal young girl. But it had been mentioned so often, and with none of the revulsion I hear when people talk about pedophiles.

I think maybe what threw me was that it’s a capital-C Classic book. When I think classic literature, I don’t know about you, but I think Scarlet Letter, Tale of Two Cities. Things with morals. Books that have been determined, by a jury of Literary Elites, to be Good For You.

Lolita is no such book. This book is disgusting. It’s a rotting, putrid story wrapped up in finely-woven prose. The sentences are so beautifully crafted, so cleverly written, that I suppressed the sickening feeling illicited by Humbert Humbert’s prurient descriptions of “nymphets,” his romanticism about historical pedophiles, his young love affair that haunts him still.

But Humber Humbert does not restrain himself to trysts with prostitutes and lecherous gazing at the lecherous young girls that he deems “nymphets.” His description of these “nymphets” is heinous in itself: to his mind, these are young girls who know of their sexual desirability to older men and are willing to act on it. This sick fantasy gives Humbert permission to prey on these girls, but he never acts on it because he deems himself too cowardly.

Then he meets Dolores Haze, the Lolita of the novel’s title. She, too him, is the epitome of seductive childhood. He describes his lust for her, and then, in one scene, how he gets off secretly as she sits on his lap.

Right now, I’m not sure if I am going to continue reading this book. It is masterfully written, but guys, this is a deeply-disturbing look into the mind of a monster.

Also, anyone who says Lolita is a love story is wrong and should feel bad.

Goodnight.

LARPing

Published February 12, 2013 by pipsqueak
the answer will change your relationship to foam swordfighting forever

LARPing bring magic to your life… and awkwardness to your conversation when people ask you what you do in your spare time

live action role-playing game (LARP) is a form of role-playing game where the participants physically act out their characters’ actions. The players pursue goals within a fictional setting represented by the real world, while interacting with each other in character. The outcome of player actions may be mediated by game rules, or determined by consensus among players. Event arrangers called gamemasters decide the setting and rules to be used and facilitate play. – the omniscient Wikipedia

The first time the term LARPing was explained to me, unsurprisingly by someone who thought it was a little… eccentric, I quickly flashed through a variety of emotions. It went something like this:

  1. “Wait, what are the logistics of fighting and magic and such? Is this like a D&D model or…”
  2. “Wow, that’s a really geeky way to spend time. Definitely less socially acceptable than “Halo 9,” or whatever the kids are doing these days.”
  3. “It sounds… actually really fun oooo I may have to try that

So, yeah. LARPing. Although I was intrigued by it since I first heard of it in high school, I never donned my LARPing armor and ventured forth. For the one thing, most of the players were middle school boys, for another, playing seemed to mostly consist of whacking each other with foam swords.

meh (source)

no offense, kiddo. (source)

But years later, when my neighbor in French class mentioned that she was going to a LARP game the following weekend, and that the theme was The Vampires who Control the Secret Undead World of Bloomington…

Well, let’s just say that the next Saturday found me walking through the rain to the LARPing base wearing a crushed red velvet cape, a ratty black wig, and a Wednesday Adams style black chiffon dress. I also managed, with the liberal application of greasepaint and ripped-up facial tissues, to get a kind of flakey, “someone applied a cheese grater directly to my face” makeup look. Mmmm.

The game we were playing was called Vampire: the Masquerade. The premise is thus: there are supernatural creatures, including vampires, ghouls, werewolves, and many others, that lurk beneath the surface of society. The “Masquerade” is that the vampires keep their existence hidden from the snack food humans so they may continue to live their undead lives as they wish. There are multiple clans, each with a distinct set of traits and weaknesses. You pick a clan and then make a character from there, with different traits, abilities, and even a costume if you like.

creatures of the niiiiight (source)

creatures of the niiiiight (source)

The character creation was one of the most interesting aspects of the game to me. There are over a dozen different vampire clans you can pick from, giving you a predefined character type that you can then customize to your heart’s content. There is a broad spectrum of options, ranging from Clan Assamite, the leechy sorcerers, to Clan Ventru, the snooty ruling class. (I think have to say “Clan” first and then the clan name, because it sounds way more Goth that way. Or something.)

LARPing attracts a curious bunch of people. The largest portion of the group were men far beyond their undergraduate years – aging from late twenties to forties. Mon amie from French class and I were the only college-age women there. Although interacting with a group so removed from my own age range was out of the ordinary for me, it turned out that the experience of these LARPers made for a better playing experience. They were well-practiced in the methods of the same, and were happy to put the game on hold and explain things to me when I got confused (which happened at least four times an hour). None of them were your standard party hardy IU students. No one asked my major or made small talk about the last basketball game. Several people were tapping away on laptops, a small boy in the corner was playing a handheld video game, and the rest of the crowd was kicking back and bantering about food poisoning.

some decked-out vampire goodness (source: Malcar)

some decked-out vampire goodness (source: Malcar)

What they lacked in Urbane Etiquette Schooling they made up for in pure, joyous zeal for their roles. I’m going to make some amateur inductions and say many of these LARPers probably don’t fit in in normal, day-to-day life. I also imagine that many of them don’t want to, because they are bursting with desire to be something else, something flashy, mysterious, evil (in a fun way).

And the “something else” turned out to be really, really fun. Many of them slid into their new skins with remarkable ease. One preening bohemian managed to give the impression of reclining luxuriously on a chaise lounge while sitting in a boring plastic conference room chair.  A pet store owner transformed into a sociopathic, autocratic vampire prince. A softspoken student turns into a deranged undead flapper who soothsays with a piece of prophetic string.

I found that the more over-the-top the characters were, the more fun they were to play. LARPing has an advantage over real life in that setbacks and weaknesses, even ones as embarrassing as being transfixed by a fast food sign, just make the game more fun. I found myself designing my character to be the grossest and most misanthropic she could be. And lo! I transformed from lame freshman girl to a deformed and cynical vampire, skulking around the room and muttering under my breath with a bad French accent.

It’s undeniable that LARPing carries a certain stigma. It may bring to mind images of friendless losers and socially stunted people who may or may not have just blue themselves.

i don't think the dude making anonymous memes can really talk

is the dude making internet memes really one to talk? reaalllyyyyyyy?????

And sure, it’s not your prototypical grown-up hobby. But besides being socially unacceptable… where’s the damage? The LARP club was clearly a tight-knit group. Still, I got the impression that this was a group mostly comprised of working adults who had jobs, houses, kids. Most of them looked like they would be ill at ease at a polite office party. Something about the theatricality of their conversation, the way they laughed loud, made raunchy jokes, spoke over each other, seemed to affirm the idea I had gotten about LARPing: it’s for people who aren’t satisfied with living their mundane lives and watching adventures on television.

Compare to the Big Lazy Three pastimes: internet surfing, video games, and tv watchin’. At least LARPing involves being actively creative, expressing yourself face-to-face with other humans (albiet humans who have taken on imaginative new identities), and using your imagination in a dynamic way. In my extremely biased opinion, LARPing is both a fascinating world unto itself and the most unrestrained fun I’ve ever had with such a diversely aged group of people.

And if you think differently you can take it up with me. I’ll be the one in the corner staring darkly into the middle distance and hissing about “toreador scummmmmm.

nosferatu copy

all the haters wanna be me

Book Review – Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World

Published February 8, 2013 by pipsqueak

Hard-Boiled Wonderland and The End Of the World, by Haruki Murakami, is not a book easily pigeonholed into a genre, although “magical-realism sci-fi noir” kinda fits. It could also be accurately described as a head trip (for more reasons than one).

Hardboiled Wonderland

Hard-Boiled Wonderland  alternates storylines chapter-by-chapter. One story takes place in a fenced-in community known as The End Of The World, where unicorns roam and all newcomers are severed from their shadows upon entry. The members of this town share a mindlessness that relates to the loss of their shadow. The amnesiac narrator tries to cope with his confusion and decipher his surrounding, and The End Of The World slowly surrenders its secrets as the book unfolds.

The other is the story in narrated by a Calcutec, a man programmed to interpret and synthesize information in a modified compartment in his unconscious mind. The nameless narrator is hired by Grandfather, a genius scientist with data-scrambling needs for his work interpreting bones. In joining this assignment, the narrator meets his teenage granddaughter, who is constantly referred to as ‘the chubby girl.’ She is probably my favorite character – she wears only pink, knows how to do everything from manipulating the stock market to spelunking, and makes a habit of sexually propositioning the narrator every few chapters.

Don’t take the namelessness of the characters as a sign of blandness: oh no. This is Murakami, and he bestows unforgettable character traits on each of them. The narrator, a poshly cosmopolitan loner, observes the strangeness of the events unfolding around him with wry shrewdness, but willingly goes farther and farther down the rabbit hole. Myriad unexpected elements, such as monstrous water-creatures known as INKlings, a beautiful librarian with an incommensurate appetite, and a meditation on Bob Dylan add spice and humor to the  story.

HarukiMurakami

Murakami is one of those authors who is the absolute best at what he does. This is partially because no one could hope to replicate his curious form of storytelling, but mostly because his mind works differently than most people’s. He’s a sort of writing monk, an ascetic of the written words and the mind.

When I’m in writing mode for a novel, I get up at 4:00 am and work for five to six hours. In the afternoon, I run for 10km or swim for 1500m (or do both), then I read a bit and listen to some music. I go to bed at 9:00 pm. I keep to this routine every day without variation. The repetition itself becomes the important thing; it’s a form of mesmerism. I mesmerize myself to reach a deeper state of mind.

-Haruki Murakami (source)

Murakami’s absorption in and fascination with the functions of the human mind translates into some insanely complicated neurology-themed subplots in Hard-Boiled Wonderland. Readers are tossed into unrecognizable worlds and cultures at the beginning of the book, and must maneuver some elaborate technical descriptions and do some guesswork in order to find their way. However, it’s a gratifying complexity, the kind that leads to really electrifying “Aha!” moments as the plot unfolds.

I picked up Hard-Boiled Wonderland and The End of the World because I had read Murakami’s short stories and wanted to dip my toes into his longer work before starting on the behemoth that is 1Q84. I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys science fiction, mind-bending plots, the Matrix, and mythical creatures. It’s an intelligent and compelling read.