Quote of the Day

“We are all a little weird, and life’s a little weird, and when we find someone whose weirdness is compatible with ours, we fall in mutual weirdness and call it love.”

          Dr Seuss

I think that the happiest couples are also the weirdest ones. In my experience with dating and relationships, if we weren’t acting a little weird, something was wrong. When the talk turned to normal things – on dates, things like the “What do you do for fun? Do you have any brothers and sisters?” routine, where the conversation stayed on that level, or in relationships, the “How was your day?” “Oh, it was fine,” routine, that seemed to be a red flag that the connection wasn’t there or that it was weakening. Every time the staleness would set in like that, I would get a sinking feeling, and sure enough, the other person would tell me that they don’t feel chemistry, or a spark, not long after. I think part of the elusive “spark” that our culture alludes to comes from unpredictability and authenticity. It’s no guarantee. Some of the most fun and spontaneous dates I’ve been on never turned into anything more. But, overall, my best memories from dating involved people who I could have a little mutual weirdness with:

The one who would say “tally ho!” when we were leaving for another place, and I would always respond, “Let us venture forth!” or “Let’s flee the village!” It was fun having someone to flee villages with.

The one who talked me into talked me into going on a skyride despite my intense fear of heights. I was quaking with fear, but I enjoyed seeing the waterfall from up high.

The one who took me to a toy shop where we dropped marbles into a wooden marble run and talked to each other through stuffed giraffes. I love people who can channel their inner child. Actually, I really love people with kind of an ageless quality to them, who have an old soul and a sense of wonder at the same time.

The one from OkCupid who wrote several paragraphs to me about how much he likes the sound of rain, while most people would say something like, “Hey how r you? Interesting profile. Would you like to talk?” It was very refreshing.

It seems like when a date or relationship is going well, we can do or say things that would make most people go, “What the what..?” And when it’s not going well anymore, it somehow reverts back to a place where we say things that could be said or done with anyone else; the connection becomes less specific, and more general.

I am a hopeful romantic, and I hope to someday have that sort of connection with someone, where they can say “Yeah, I get her, and she gets me.” In our society there’s a narrative about being strong and independent and not caring so much about having a relationship. In all honesty, I really do want one. I wouldn’t say that I’m necessarily happy about being single, but I am okay with it. I would rather be single than be in a bad or mediocre relationship. I raise a toast to all you hopeful romantics out there. Rock on with your bad, awesome selves, and happy Mutual Weirdness day!

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Poem of the week: The Journey by Mary Oliver

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice–
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
‘Mend my life!’
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognised as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do–
determined to save
the only life you could save.

 

I found some solace in this poem because I’m trying to do exactly what the narrator is doing – saving the only life I can save. I feel that the wind has been prying at the foundations of my own life as I have begun to question what I hadn’t questioned before, what I had just taken for granted as the path set before me. For years, I had assumed that my life would follow a certain pattern, including going to college, marrying a man, and having children. But I have come to realize that college may not be the right environment for me right now, I’m also attracted to people of other genders, and I’m not sure anymore if I want to get married or have children. Just like in this poem, people shout their bad advice: “Oh, so you want to work minimum wage the rest of your life?” “You’re not bi, it’s just a phase.” “You’ll change your mind.”

I’ve been charting unexplored territory here. It’s been invigorating, and I try to focus on that instead of letting other peoples’ reactions make me feel small. This poem challenges us to break away from society’s expectations and take care of ourselves. It’s heartbreaking to read about the narrator having to turn away from people who are also suffering, but I think that by making our own self care a priority, we will become wiser and stronger and ultimately more equipped to help others.

Source: http://maryoliver.beacon.org/2009/11/new-and-selected-one/

Book Review: Battle Royale by Koushun Takami

[Content Note]: Violence, rape, suicide, totalitarian government

I found out about Battle Royale during the Hunger Games hype when I was perusing through book reviews of the series. A lot of people said it was better than the Hunger Games, and some even accused the author of ripping off from Battle Royale, which was published nine years before in 1999. They both have very similar storylines about a group of teens being forced by the government to fight to the death.

Battle Royale takes place in an alternative Japan that became an authoritarian state called the Greater Republic of East Asia. Every year, 50 3rd year junior high classes are chosen to participate in a fighting program where they are stranded on an island and fight to the death There can only be one survivor. If the students somehow grouped together and refused to participate, their collars would explode, killing them all anyway. The forbidden zones get more restrictive over time, forcing them together, so that hiding and waiting for it to blow over won’t work either. Ships are stationed out in the ocean to keep them from escaping by sea. Overall, this is the most hopeless situation that I’ve ever encountered in a book.

The government claims that this program is for military research, but they actually made it to terrorize people so that they will be less likely to organize a protest. Sometimes people do try to protest individually, but the government shuts them down quickly by raping or killing them.

I stuck it out with this book because I cared too much about the characters to put it down. Shuya, the main character, wants to find a way to escape and save as many people as possible. Even in this situation, he looks for the best in others and trusts them readily. Shogo, his more level-headed counterpart, is slower to trust, but has the strength and skill to help their group survive. Shuya has also taken Noriko under his arm because his best friend, Yoshi, had a crush on her before he was killed by the program leader. Shuya’s original plan to group everyone together and make an escape plan didn’t work, but at least he had these two to fall back on.

Shuya’s group, as well as a few other characters, stayed calm and continued to plan strategies and hope. They still managed to think of others’ well being in a situation that would make a lot of people paranoid and desperate to do just about anything to survive. If I was in that situation, I would probably have been finished off very quickly. I am not fast, strong, or skilled in survival tactics, and some of these characters have much more courage and intellect than I. The story was very humbling and these characters had my respects. I was rooting for them.

The author, Koushun Takami, does a great job of showing the wide variety of ways people might react in this situation. Some characters, like Shuya, tried to work with others to protect each other and/or make plans to escape. Some committed suicide. Others killed out of paranoia or delusions, or even because they already had desires to hurt people and this program gave them an excuse to act on them. Others took a more passive route and simply wanted to hide. And there was a character who, to my surprise, took a risk to find their crush and confess their feelings.

Overall, the characterization was really strong, but there were a few things that bothered me. For one thing, there were too many extreme characters; saintly or ruthless, super attractive, martial arts master, genius computer hacker, and so on. I found it a little over the top, especially since they are only fifteen years old. Sometimes the book leaned too much on tired stereotypes. Predictably, a couple of the girls fell into the ‘damsel in distress’ stereotype; one of which being Noriko, a girl who didn’t do much for most of the book and mostly relied on Shuya and Shogo. The other was a girl who put on the act to get characters to let their guards down and then kill them. Also, the only LGBTQ character in the book was a boy first shown fixing his appearance in the mirror, and later revealed to have a stalker complex. He didn’t have a single redeeming quality. This doesn’t help with the stereotypes that LGBTQ males are appearance obsessed, creepy, etc. I think the author should have made him a more balanced character, or added more LGBTQ characters with more stable personalities, or both, so that he would at least not add to the stigma.

Sometimes the plot moved slowly because there were sooo many characters (probably over 50, 42 in the bulk of the book while they’re on the island). Most of those characters have at least some kind of back story, and their death scenes are shown in detail. However, I don’t really count the slow pace as a flaw because all of that backstory helped me understand why the characters responded the way that they did. It would have been nice to have more information about their government and how the program came into being.

I would not recommend this book for people who:

  • Don’t want to deal with a lot of violence
  • Lose track of who’s who when there are a lot of characters
  • Are looking for something more LGBTQ friendly
  • Want a book with a stronger/more well developed female character

This book has its issues, but it was a gripping read. It gets 4 out of 5 stars from me. I would recommend it, especially to those who enjoy political or dystopian fiction.

The Environmental Impact of Reading

As an avid reader, I’ve been trying to figure out how to be a more socially conscious and environmentally friendly consumer. In my city, Auntie’s Bookstore holds poetry slams and other events that contribute to a thriving culture, so I have been buying books to support them. I believe in supporting small businesses because they add character to a community, as well as dollars and jobs in the local economy. On the other hand, I’m also concerned about how buying new books leads to manufacturing, production, and cutting down trees. According to the Green Press Initiative, more than 30 million trees are used to make books sold in the U.S each year.

Transporting books from the publisher to a bookstore, and again to a new residence (or back to the publisher if they fail to sell, where they become waste) takes fossil fuels. E-readers help circumvent these problems, since no trees are required, and readers can buy books without using fossil fuels for transportation. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that e-readers are more efficient.  E-readers require energy to use, and lending someone books on an e-reader is more difficult than lending them physical copies. According to Emma Ritch of the Cleantech Group, “It’s not just buying e-books that matters.  The key is they displace the purchase of 22.5 physical books.”  For less frequent readers, buying hard copies may actually have an equal or lesser environmental impact. Another key factor is to use the same device instead of upgrading to new models to prevent e-waste. If you really want to upgrade, pass it along to someone else instead of throwing it away.

As for myself, I can’t afford an E-reader right now, and I have been trying to think of a way to balance my environmental concern with wanting to support a bookstore that is an important part of my city’s economy and culture. I’ve decided to continue buying books there, but to mainly go for the used ones,  and, when I’m done with the books I buy, to donate them to the library, sell them, or pass them along to a friend. This bookstore is on a bus line, which helps cut down on carbon emissions. Fortunately, the library I go to is within walking distance, which allows me to cut down even more. I bring my backpack with me so I can put the books I check out straight into it without using plastic bags. Libraries have some of their own issues, such as printing receipts as long as a person’s arm (at least mine does, not all libraries do this), but overall I consider them to be the most environmentally friendly option. Buying physical books and digital ones both have environmental advantages and drawbacks, depending in part on other factors, such as one’s reading habits. No one way is necessarily better than the other.

Happy reading!

Ask vs. Guess Culture

This post on Captain Awkward illuminated some really important truths for me that I will remember for a long time. The idea is that there are two basic kinds of communication, called Guess Culture and Ask Culture. In the former, people figure out meaning mainly from observation. If they want something, they can drop hints and wait for an offer, but asking directly may be considered rude or imposing. In Ask Culture, people can ask directly for what they want, as long as they respect that the answer might be no.

I generally prefer Ask culture because it eases the anxiety of trying to decode hidden meanings. Then, I saw that some of the comments mentioned friends/significant others/etc. who walk way ahead. I suppose, in this case, I’m more of a Guesser. As a slow walker myself, due to chronic pain issues, I hope for the people in my life to take that into consideration. I hate having to choose between lagging way behind, struggling to keep up, or repeatedly asking them to slow down. I was uncomfortable with the idea of Guess culture when I first read about it. Now I see that at its best, it’s about having empathy for someone else, and that’s pretty awesome.

Do you consider yourself more of an Asker or a Guesser?

Sexual Assault Myths

[Content Note]: sexual assault, rape

A while ago, I was looking forward a date with a sweet, dorky guy who loved animals, video games and travelling. I couldn’t wait to try sushi for the first time. While I was fumbling around with my chopsticks, he launched into a story showing a terrible view of women and sexual assault issues that is still pervasive in our culture. He told me that a girl, who he described as “really weird, and into furry kink stuff” had accused someone she had dated, who he knew from his dorm, of sexual assault, and that “he didn’t seem like the kind of guy to do something like that.”

Just minutes before, I had been laughing at a funny story he told me about the time he volunteered at a Halloween haunted house for kids; now I saw him in a totally different light, and I was angry and uncomfortable. I had no idea what to say. Finally, I replied, “I’m not cool with you talking about it like that. Whether she was into kink or not has nothing to do with it, and anybody could be a perpetrator. It could be someone who seems totally normal, even a friend or a boyfriend.”

I wish I had been able to articulate myself better. I was completely caught off guard, and it triggered me to hear him talk that way – or that he even brought up the topic at all, when I wasn’t prepared for something like that on a first date. I have been sexually assaulted before, and sometimes the perpetrator was someone I considered a good friend or even someone I was dating – more often than not, someone I trusted. According to R.A.I.N.N (the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network), 73% of sexual assaults are perpetrated by someone who the victim knows. Perpetrators don’t just skulk around in long, dark coats, waiting in bushes and alleyways. They are can be ordinary looking people who act seemingly normal. They might commit a sexual crime and then fly under the radar because “He couldn’t have done something like that, he plays football!” or “He seems really nice, though.”

There is also a myth out there that women accuse men of rape or sexual assault out of regret, or to get attention or revenge. However, women are much more likely to suffer an assault and not report it than to make up a false report. Only about 2-8% of rape reports are false. Even then, there are some situations in which victims change their report to ‘false’ because they are crushed under the psychological pressure, or they are pressured into it by the police. Victims of sexual assault need to be taken seriously. Skepticism makes it even harder for them to find justice as well as support for what they’re going through. The lack of respect for survivors’ experiences is a sign of the rape culture problem we have in America, and that needs to change.

The Race Card Project

[Content Note]: Racism

Michelle Norris, former host of National Public Radio, started the Race Card Project to help foster honest conversations about race. Providing small, black postcards, she asked people to “think about their experineces, questions, hopes, dreams, laments, or observations about race and identiy. Then, [she] asked that they take those thoughts and distill them to one sentence that had only six words.” She is using the cards to get a snapshot of America’s views about race. Looking through the Race Card Wall, here are a few that stood out to me:

“Forget blindness; remember that color contributes,” by Kelsey Hamm

I agree with Kelsey that we should acknowledge race, not pretend that it doesn’t exist. Ignoring it won’t make the problem go away. To disregard race would be to also disregard the experiences of people who society perceives as non-white.

“My son’s not half, he’s double,” by Jon Letman

I love this one! 🙂

“Don’t assume all whites are racist,” by Theresa

This person is a librarian griping about how minorities have responded to her when she asked them to be less noisy or stop what they were doing. Even if they really were talking a little too loudly or something like that, it’s understandable that, after constantly experiencing racism, they would be a little defensive in response to a hostile white person telling them what to do. In this case, I get the feeling that she actually is being hostile and not just asking them to follow the rules. She writes, “I DEMAND that blacks and other minorities not assume I’m a racist before I even open my mouth…[also], don’t be surprised if I am less welcoming to other blacks or minorities when they come along after you, either.”

She is asking (actually, demanding) them to do something that she isn’t even willing to do herself!! Also, while I understand that being assumed to be racist is uncomfortable, it’s on whites to show through their actions that they aren’t carrying around resentment, a sense of entitlement, etc. This is similar to how it’s on men, as the dominant gender, to show respect towards womens’ boundaries, rather than demand that women not cross the street to avoid walking on the same side at night because they are offended at being thought of as a potential rapist or stalker.

I turned in my card at my school’s International Club. I don’t remember what I said word for word now, but I wrote something along the lines of “Friendship, community, International Club, awareness, respect.” These are the things that first come to mind for me because since I was in Kindergarten, some of my friends have been of another race and have dealt with being treated differently in society. We talk about race from time to time, and I am grateful that they have shared their experiences with me. If I hadn’t become close with anybody from outside my race, it would have been easier to be mentally detached from racial issues and perpetuate racism from my own lack of awareness and understanding. If we all continue having conversations about race and building relationships with people from other backgrounds (organically, not from seeking them out specifically because of it), we can further combat racism with understanding.