Thursday, October 8, 2015

Thoughts on New Moon

For some reason with all the drama going on in my life and all the other stuff I need to get done, I decided to reread Twlight: New Moon. New Moon is my favorite book of the series. It has lots of  Jacob, not so much Edward, and you see the Volturi for the first time, which is exciting.

Reading the book again, I noticed that there actually is some good writing. Meyer really manages to convey the pain of going through a break up--especially your first one, especially when it was also your first true love. I didn't date at all in high school or college, but since the last time I've read New Moon and now, I've gone through a break up with my true love, and let me tell you, it's hard enough in your 20s when even at the worst moments there's a little voice in your head saying, "You're fucking awesome. And you're still fucking awesome even if the only person you've ever loved just doesn't find you interesting anymore." When you're a teenager, you don't know that.

So I began reading this book as the story of someone who had her first love, mostly based on hormones and inexplicable attraction rather than long term compatibility. And like many relationships it falls apart when the guy loses interest and the fundamental issues rear their ugly head. Of course, because this is fantasy, we readers can guess that Edward is just as torn up about the breakup as Bella is, and he's only leaving her so she can have the chance to live a normal life.

Which, you know, actually still really fucking hurts. Because when you're in love you're like, "Fuck normal life. Fuck convenience. Being with this person is enough to make up for everything else." But then one day one person can wake up and go, "Nah. Normal life is more important." Even if it was supposedly for Bella's good, it still wasn't what she wanted.

Next Bella goes through a lot of pain over the next few months, because the person she built her life around is gone, and she's living in the same place with all the same old memories but not the person she shared them with. That's rough. Edward was a huge part of her life in Forks. For her, Forks almost is Edward. Which is both why she wants to stay and why it's so painful for her there.

However, sooner or later Bella breaks the pattern of only seeing old scenes and being reminded of Edward, and she meets someone new: Jacob. She starts developing new interests and new routines she didn't have before. At least in the moment, she feels better. But the pain still comes back when she's alone.

The weird thing is that reading this book as an adult, I can see that Bella/Jacob is a much better pairing than Bella/Edward. Edward and Bella spend most of their time talking about their love, because it seems like they just don't have anything else in common to talk about. Okay, maybe they both like books. But even the Romeo and Juliet movie just reminds them of their own romance. On the other hand, Jacob and Bella have their own little in-jokes (who's older), their projects, their shared childhood.

I'm not sure whether Jacob integrates better into Bella's social circle. He does at least agree to go to a movie with everyone, which Edward never does. And Jacob's dad gets along pretty well with Bella's dad, although I can't really call the Cullen family unfriendly when they're mostly concerned about Jasper biting someone. So I'm not going to go with a hard "Edward isolates Bella" line, but I feel like the werewolf has fewer social issues than the vampire.

Other good points about Team Jacob is that it feels more like a relationship between equals. Jacob repairs the motorcycles, but Bella makes the plan and provides the funds. Bella initiates plans with Jacob. She thinks hard about what she does and doesn't want from their relationship and tells him honestly. He also is honest with her and understanding about her feelings. Whereas with Edward Bella was just sucked into a relationship with no will of her own, with Jacob she's acting on her own will.

Instead of considering it impossible for Jacob to love her, Bella just knows that he does, even though she can't give him everything he's hoping for. Instead of doubting him, she's secure in him.

Overall, the story feels like a slow de-tox from a very intense relationship, and the beginning of a healthier one. But of course, with any addiction there is also extinction burst. Every time Bella is happy with Jacob, her depression comes back doubly strong to make her pay for it later. The more she's drawn to Jacob, the more conflicted she gets.

Eventually Bella and Edward are thrown back together by the Plot Monster and de-tox switches into full relapse. The heightened emotions of seeing each other again and realizing they both still have feelings for each other are just too strong. Now they are more strongly tied before, because if they ever think of breaking up, the question is not "It would hurt so much. How could we stand it?" but "We tried. It didn't work. It's not an option."

But I can't really fault the story for ending on a relapse because this is also a true-to-life ending, although it's a sadder one. I would like Bella to move on, but I know how hard that is to do. I remember meeting up with my ex to see a movie once and just feeling so right hugging him again. Like this was how things were truly meant to be. Then we saw the movie and ended up having a huge fight after because he found out I had hooked up with someone after he dumped me. Yeah. Not exactly true love.

On the other hand, reading the book encouraged me not to be afraid to move on. Look at the good relationship unfolding right in front of you instead of idealizing the past. Sometimes you get lightning instant attraction, and sometimes you get, "Damn, why do I keep liking you more and more?" and both are real.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

How to Feminist Your Writing

How to Feminist Your Writing

Most people want to be feminist in their writing. Maybe not in a rabid way, but enough to show that they believe that humans should not be discriminated against based on gender stereotypes. That’s reasonable enough. You would think this stance would be easy enough to convey in written form.
The thing is, it’s really not.
When I’m reading an article that brings up gender issues in some way, I never know if I’m going to get an article that actually addresses issues in a thoughtful way, or one that merely throws around the word feminism while simultaneously engaging in some seriously lazy anti-women (or occasionally, anti-men) rhetoric.
I don’t mean that the author is woman/man bashing out of malice. Just the opposite. I think sexist language is so engrained, that it takes a real effort NOT to use it.
Or you could just be born a woman. But anyway…
So if you’re trying your best to support gender equality, but something just seems off about the tone of your articles, this guide is for you. I’m not going to go into any actual feminist theory—everybody knows that already. These are just some quick, dirty tips to automatically make your writing sound more feminist.

Tip #1 Gender Neutral Language Is Your Friend
I can hear the anguished cries. “The IS no language without gender! I can no more give up gendered language than I can myself stop being my own gender! You maniac!”
Okay, okay. I get that side too. No one will be asked to give up his or her own gender, or to eschew gendered words forever.
But I think gender neutral words get a bad rap. There are so many perfectly good ones. And they can be plenty descriptive.

Trusted friend
Loved one

I’m sure you can think of loads more. Great! The obvious advantage is that any of these words can be applied to either a male or a female. But how exactly does this make your writing more feminist?
Actually, I’m not sure. But since this essay is about technique, not philosophy, I’m not going to spend a lot of time worrying about why it works. It just does. I think when you avoid gendered language, you force your audience to consider the situation in universal human terms. Okay, that’s ended up being a philosophical explanation anyway.
The Nostalgia Critic is a good example how to use non-gendered language. Sure, he uses plenty of gendered terms as well. But watch his videos and you’ll see how often he calls characters out for being unprofessional at their jobs, unbelievably stupid, or just total jerks. The analysis just wouldn’t be as entertaining if he just said “Dumb bitch” instead of, for example, “She’s just going to leave two helpless children home alone in the middle of a typhoon? Worst parent of the year!”
To take another example, I’ll always remember from the Nostalgia Critic’s The Top 11 Batman Episodes review, how he said that Mr. Freeze is a layered character because the image of a “frozen loved one” is so compelling. Why did the Critic say “loved one?” Why not “woman” or “wife” or “girl”? Maybe the word choice wasn’t even intentional. But I certainly noticed it. I noticed because the phrasing made me sit up and pay closer attention. Because I’m not a man in love with a woman. But I have loved ones. Everyone does. If the Critic had used any other word, I wouldn’t have identified at all with the character he was describing. But since he used a slightly more unusual phrase I was really moved by the story. So my advice is to just try using more human condition words. You might be surprised at how poetic your writing sounds.
Enough explanation! Let’s do some practice:

Finding Nemo is a story about the immortal bond between father and son.
Finding Nemo explores the bond between parents and children: how even the best-meaning parents need to learn to let go.

I hear he got in a bit of trouble after seducing a girl at the office.
I hear a coworker reported him for sexual harassment.

Hey, no one calls my mother a slut!
Wow. That was incredibly inappropriate. What alternate universe do you come from where broad personal attacks against another person’s family members do anything but damage your own credibility?
Extra credit: Go back after reading to the end and find other examples of feminist and non-feminist sentence structures.
Now for point two.

Tip #2 “You” and “People” include more than one gender

Now, most people get this on a theoretical level. We all know that our readers probably represent a range of ages, races, and genders. That’s why it jolts you to be reading along in a paragraph where the author is describing “your” possible feelings or reactions and realize, “No. That’s not a thing that could in a million years happen to me because it’s not biologically possible.”

For example, in a hypothetical article about self improvement, aimed at a general audience.
When you go to ask out a pretty girl, you’re likely to feel nervous…
Um…No. Because not lesbian?
Now, this article is about a lot more than trying to snag that perfect girlfriend.
Good. Because still not lesbian.
Most guys will feel like…
And most girls? What will we feel like? TELL ME!

I’m not talking about articles specifically aimed at men or at women. In that case, of course I assume the advice is slanted a particular way. I’m talking about supposedly general interest articles where somehow whenever the author addresses the audience, he assumes it’s white and male (like himself).
And now an example from an article talking about gender issues:
“If you lived in a polygamous society, you’d get to have as many wives at you wanted. Which sounds pretty awesome, right? But then you’d go broke paying for all your wives’ expensive shit, and you’d have to compete with the richer, more confident men for the best women. So it might seem like a sweet deal, but there’s actually a lot of valid reasons why polygamy isn’t the best choice for society.”
Imagine what happens when it becomes:
“If you lived in a polygamous society, and you’re female, you’d probably have an arranged marriage at a young age, and you’d become one of several wives or concubines in the household. You’d be a status symbol for your husband, or at most a high-class servant. Contrawise, because the genders are so unevenly distributed, poor men would have difficulty marrying at all.”
It all depends on whose perspective you take.
It shouldn’t be a brainwave that when you’re already writing about feminist issues, you should consider both male and female perspectives. Except sometimes it is.
If you do want to address a statement to specifically men or specifically women, just add a qualifier before whatever description follows. Instead of “people” or “you,” try, “If you’re in this situation, and you’re a man…” (Or female, as per my example above.) Nothing wrong with wanting to address a single gender. Just be clear about when you’re doing so. Don’t assume that all your readers come from exactly the same point of view as you—and if they don’t, that their perspective doesn’t exist.
The rule applies to all groups, not only your readers. Be careful when referring to any mixed group of people, because it’s so very easy to write as if the members (the important ones) are all male.

Example: In the X society, they allow women a fair amount of sexual freedom.
Sounds great, right? Yay feminism that allows women freedom! But there’s a problem. Not the dangling modifier (the pronoun “they” has nothing to refer back to). Who exactly is “allowing” women freedom? The members of the X society?
But aren’t some members of the X society women themselves? Are we supposed to read the sentence as “In the X society women take power into their own hands to make decisions regarding their sex lives”?
I doubt it.
You read it as, “The men in the X society are lenient and allow their women sexual freedom,” right?
Not so feminist after all. 

Even in an article about feminism, in a sentence praising a feminist society, you can still make the underlying assumption that men control women’s lives by default. Not because you’re criticizing the fact that men controlling women is ever a default, but because even when describing the exact opposite situation, you have no language to draw on that does not put women under the rule of men.
That’s scary.
Another example: “The thing that disgusts me about Evangelicals is how they treat their women.”
Yes, school me, you enlightened Atheist blogger. Evangelicals are all men. Women are only Evangelical property. I’m sure you’re much more lenient in how you treat your women.

Tip #3 Both Women and Men Are Actors; Women are not Property of Men

Let’s lead with another example.
John took his wife and children and moved across the country to follow his dream.
The children here are minors and have little say in where the family moves and little responsibility in actually arranging the move. But what about the nameless wife? Did John bodily pick her up and throw her in the back of the car? Probably no. Like most couples, John and Nameless Wife likely discussed the move together and each took some responsibility in the preparations. However, the sentence degrades the female partner to another box our hero had to label and stick in the moving van.
Let’s write, The couple and their children moved across the country to follow John’s dream.
We don’t believe in the patriarchal structure of Man as the head of the house anymore, but sometimes it still shows up in writing. So just check yourself. Do you refer to men by name and women by their relationship to men? 

John and his girlfriend
John showed up with a girl
John and his wife
John and a girl he had picked up somewhere
John was talking to a girl
John and the girl with him
John and the girl he was currently dating

If you know both people’s names, why not write both people’s names? Especially if both people’s actions are relevant to whatever you’re writing about.
More than any other context, granting agency to all players is vital when writing about domestic violence. Whatever genders are involved, you have to recognize the humanity of all involved in such a fraught situation. Or you could easily end up degrading the victim.
For example, I came across this sentence in an online article:
We all remember what Chris Brown did to Rhianna’s face.
This writer obviously had no tolerance for such violence. To consider another person one’s own possession, so be destroyed or not at will is an absolutely horrible mindset. Yet the writer’s language reinforces this mindset.
How many people are involved in the sentence? One. Chris Brown. He didn’t hurt a person. He just did something unspecified to a face.
Now, we all know the face belonged to a person named Rhianna and she apparently had rights not to be physically assaulted. We can do a little extra analytical work to see the humanity of women, right? That’s not too much to ask of your reader. I mean, the fact that the face belonged to Rhianna is written right there.
So imagine the writer had gone with,
We all remember how Rhianna endured horrible violence at the hands of her then-boyfriend, Chris Brown.
People may read the two sentences and feel no difference whatsoever. But I don’t. It may be just me, but even substituting a gender neutral word (as per tip 1) makes a huge difference. This is the kind of dialog that plays out in my head whenever I read about a violent situation.

“I hear he beat up a person.”
“OMG why did he go and beat up a random person? He’s a maniac!”
“I mean, he beat up a girl.”
“Oh. Why didn’t you just say so?”

Why is domestic violence in a different box in my mind from all other kinds of violence? Violence is just violence. I don’t care what gender you are or how you’re related to your abuser. You don’t deserve to have something nebulous done to your face.

Tip #3 Slut-shaming and violence against women should not be a default punchline to your jokes

This should be a given. In fact, there are a lot of things that should never be a default punchline. Racism, homophobia, anti-Semitism, ableism, misandry, you name it. Anything that dehumanizes a certain type of person and makes their unjustified suffering the butt of your joke. 

So let’s go with an example.
“My uncle Fred was so drunk last night. Maybe he raped ten women on the way back from the bar and totally forgot about it. He was that drunk.”

Whaaaaa? How did we go from a drunk uncle to a serial rapist uncle in two sentences? That’s not funny. In fact, your uncle should be pretty insulted if you accuse him of being a dangerous criminal.
But we don’t have to take these remarks seriously. They’re jokes, right? Yes, except for the total lack of anything even remotely resembling actual humor.
I’m still looking for a good real life example of this kind of joke, but a good place to go is podcasts hosted by white guys, and pay attention when they go off script. If they’re the kind to find violence against women funny, you’ll often hear an exchange like this.

Host: “So, about that cool sciency thing which is the podcast’s topic…”
Co-host: “What? Did you say woman being gang raped?”
Host: “Whaaa?”
Co-host: “Woman being GANG RAPED!”
Host: “What? Women??? No, I said ‘cool sciency thing which is the topic of this podcast.’”
Co-host: “Oh, haha. Cuz it totally sounded like you said women getting gang raped.”
Host: “Women getting gang raped? Co-host, you iz so random…Gang raped…haha. No, that wasn’t what I was saying at all.”
Co-host: “Well, I never know with you.”
Host: “Never know with—haha, cuz I’ve gang raped so many women! I can’t even get laid 90% of the time, man!”
Co-host: “Well, that’s probably why you…”
Host: “Now you’re just insulting my masculinity. You are cruel.”
Co-host: “And you probably leave their bodies in the sewer!”
Host: “Bodies in the sewer. Oh, you are hilarious. So what were we talking about? Besides women’s bodies being left in the sewer, that it.”
Both: “Hahahahahahahaha!”
Co-host: “Um, that sciency thing?”

And then they finally get back to the sciency thing I actually wanted to hear about for approximately two seconds, before they go off on another one of these tangents. And all the while I’m listening to them banter like this, my inner monologue is going,

Every syllable that’s coming out of your mouths is MAKING YOU STUPIDER! I am ASHAMED. Ashamed for men, and ashamed for the human race that this even passes as conversation. There is no brain activity here. There is just EW. Listening to this podcast I feel like I’m reaching up to my elbow into a backed up toilet because I accidently dropped my phone down there and I need to fish it out. Except I don’t need to listen to your shit to hear about the interesting topic you promised in the description you’d actually be talking about. I’M CLOSING THE WINDOW, SUCKERS.

You really start to wonder about people. When during a podcast, every off-the-cuff joke is something at the expense of women, or in an article where every added-in joke is something about male lust. What is the author’s mind like that this is the topic he always goes back to? (Yes, I’m using male pronouns, but I’ve honestly never seen any dialog like the one above come out of the mouths of women.)
It’s like when you point out a wrinkle in your friend’s rug. But they’re like, “No, it’s totally flat. See?” And they start jumping on it. But whenever they stop crushing it down, the rug goes back to its normal state. It’s just a crooked rug. In the same way, some people can force themselves to sound enlightened, but whenever they lose their focus they go back to being jerks.


I’m torn. I can’t decide if for 90% of people, no matter how feminist terminology they pick up, in their deepest hearts they still ascribe to mindsets that elevate men at the expense of women—or if while people have their hearts in the right place, but their clueless use of language undermines their good intentions. Either way, we’re kind of screwed.
Empathy really is the key to writing, speaking, and living well. When you consider the situation of someone who looks very different from you, you have to remember that inside they are the same. They also have thoughts and opinions. They have the same basic need to be treated fairly. No one considers themselves an inconsequential person inside their own head.
In the same way, I don’t want to imagine writers as if they exist in a haze of white male cluelessness. As if there’s this inner dialog in their heads going, I am so awesome. I have mastered feminism too! Women are so quirky. I will show them that I can speak their language, and they will praise me.
No one really thinks like that. We’re all just trying to communicate with each other.
Sometimes we just need better tools to do it.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Do you believe in Signs? (Or do you believe in context?)

Last night while half asleep I had one of those brainwaves that just hits you out of nowhere when you aren't even thinking of something related to the topic. While thinking about totally random stuff, I suddenly realized,

"Holy shit! In The Silver Chair with the third sign, C.S. Lewis pretty much tells kids not to worry about context and just think about how a message makes them feel at the moment. That's a terrible lesson for kids! Why did I never see this before?

The basic plot of the story is that the characters have to follow these four signs from Aslan to find a lost prince. One sign has to do with following directions written in stone. Aslan literally takes one of the characters, Jill, in a nightmare and shows her the correct writing to follow: the words "Under me," which Jill correctly interprets to mean they should start searching under the ground beneath the words.

Later a different character tells them that the words were part of a longer poem to honor a dead giant king. "Though under earth and throneless now I be/ Yet, while I lived, all earth was under me." It's an awkward moment, but Puddleglum reassures the children by pretty much telling them, who cares if we got the context wrong? It was in the right place at the right time, so it must be part of the plan.

On the one hand, of course Aslan would never do anything as douchey as show the characters a message and have it turn out to be something totally irrelevant and misleading. He knew there were some appropriate stone carvings lying around, so he used what he had.

On the other hand...What are we supposed to take from this? It's not necessarily true that all the signs in the story are meant to represent the Bible, even though Aslan's warning at the beginning echoes Deuteronomy. Outside of superstition, there's not really a real world context where certain portents mean you're on the right or wrong path.

But in any context, blindly following clues is not a good way to make major life decisions. I can't believe someone like C.S. Lewis would be so anti-intellectual. We all know the person who says, "I didn't know what to do, and then Jesus gave me this Bible verse, so I made my decision based on that!" But while we say "Isn't that nice?" out of politeness, on the inside we're thinking, "You read a thousand random paragraphs that day and probably dozens of Bible verses. The only one you noticed was the one telling you what you wanted to hear." Living by intuition has its merits, but let's call it what it is. It ain't divine. It's just our brains making sense out of a stream of information.

Or then there's the person who says, "This verse shows how special God thinks I am and how he's going to protect me!" and you think, "Yeah...that was a promise to Israel...which God broke...and it's followed by verses about how awesome it would be to smash Babylonian babies."

When you see a sign or message, should you investigate the whys and the wherefores, or should you just assume it was meant for you and charge ahead? In the story, the children could have exercised more caution, especially with Harfang, but is the message that caution is good for everything except matters of faith? When I think about it, whenever the characters are cautious and hold back in the matter of the signs, that turns out to be the wrong decision. Pretty much every one of the signs involves taking risks, not observing.

Maybe I'm way over analyzing. In real life talking lions don't give you vague directions either. (Would it really have killed him to say, "Btw, Caspian's the old dude"?) But then if there's no relevance at all behind the story, that takes out any merit the characters might have earned by following the signs. They had to because of the weird context of the story, but there's no relatability because no one in real life is in a similar situation.

Bottom line: if someone tells you to analyze everything except their own precepts, run for the hills. Context matters. Decide for yourself what the optimal decision is, while entertaining a healthy suspicion about other people's motives. Don't trust talking lions. They prevaricate.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Inside Out Is All About Parents

So far I've seen Inside Out twice in theaters, and I think it's probably my favorite movie of this summer. It's so nice to see Pixar doing a new story, not a sequel, and doing something kind of outside their normal story set of "nerdy guy goes on journey and learns lesson about self."

I think the parts of the movie that work the best are the ones that focus on the emotions of parents. Maybe it was totally accidental, or maybe they were trying to get that subtext in there. Anyway, the emotions in Riley's head somehow seem more like parents than her even actual ones.

For example, the imaginary friend Bing Bong seems a lot like a dad who realizes his little girl has grown up and all the fun things he did with her when she was little, he'll never get the chance to do again. It's very nostalgic. And like all the characters, he has to eventually learn to let go.

Joy also seems a lot like a mother to me. She refers to Riley as "our girl," which is something a parent might do. She takes a lot of pride in Riley. Like Bing Bong, she gets nostalgic when she remembers how Riley was as a little girl, saying, "I could listen to her stories for hours on end."

Also like a lot of parents, she's very invested in Riley being happy, to the point of being micro-managing. Joy is willing to alter dreams and push unwanted negative thoughts (Sadness) out of the forefront of Riley's so that Riley can keep her happy state of mind.

In this way, Joy mirrors Riley's actual Mom, who at one point encourages Riley to keep up a happy face when things are going wrong. The advice is well-intentioned, but leads to trouble later because Riley can't be honest with her parents about how sad she is. We don't even really see her considering going to her parents for advice or support when she has a bad day at school or flubs hockey try-outs. Pent-up emotion leads to resentment and desperation, and Riley goes into a downward spiral which is only reversed by Sadness intervening.

Another thing we learn about Joy (and Joy learns about herself) is that she has a selective memory. For example, she remembers one day as a happy memory, while Sadness remembers it as a sad day. When Joy replays the memory from the beginning, she sees that the memory was both happy and sad. In fact, Riley had to go through a painful time before she could be reassured by her friends and family and be happy again.

I don't know if this was intentional--whether one thing we can get from this is that the nostalgia goggles are strong in parents and they remember children's young lives as being idyllic when in fact life is always more of a jumble of emotions. In the movie Joy stops trying to force Riley into the childhood state of "primarily happy all the time with a few blips of other emotions" and acknowledges that for a more adult life Riley needs to have the tools of a variety of emotions to help her process tougher situations. But I also wonder what would happen if Joy had replayed more memories. Would she find other things she had missed? You could almost make the argument that not only is Joy trying to stifle a child's growth, but that she's trying to preserve something that never really existed in the first place.

In the end, I think you could see Joy as a primarily nurturing character who learns to give up her micromanaging and occasionally dick-ish behavior. And the message for parents is about letting go, while the message to kids is about acknowledging that you have a range of emotions but are still in charge of your actions.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Customers You Meet at Kohls (1)

Working retail, you meet a lot of interesting people. Some you see over and over again....

One type is Asian Coupon Lady. Unlike your average bargain scrounger, the Asian Coupon Lady does not harass you or try to get more deals through force of annoyance alone. No, the Asian Coupon Lady does not need to use arguments. That's because she KNOWS the deals. She has her shit together.

As soon as you start ringing up the  Asian Coupon Lady's purchases, she brings the coupons out of her purse. The are all active. They all apply correctly to her purchases. The Asian Coupon Lady does not complain that her coupons have expired, because she plays fairly. She also checks them carefully before she goes to the store.

All of the Asian Coupon Lady's purchases are on clearance. She does not shop in any other section. Moreover, they all come up as clearance, when other people's items often come up as a different price from what they expected. Somehow the Asian Coupon Lady is not fooled by the items that mysteriously wander into clearance on their own.

After the Asian Coupon Lady has checked all her items and presented all her coupons, her total will come up to less than ten dollars. Sometimes, it will come up to less than five. The Asian Coupon Lady will pay in cash, in exact change. If she does have the Kohl's card she will often pay it off directly after purchasing. However, she is more fond of the point card.

As customers go, The Asian Coupon Lady is by far not the worst you can get. She doesn't get angry and abuse you. If the line is longer, it can be a bit tedious to go through her elaborate dance of coupons and gift cards, but the line will always be with you, and there will always be someone who is slow for whatever reason.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Part Time Job

So after nearly two months of being back and trolling Craig's List every week, I finally got a job! I'm a Sales Associate at Kohl's. I pretty much got the job because my friend Cassie is a manager there and put in a good word for me. But meh...I have no shame. At least half the jobs I've ever gotten have been because of knowing someone.

I started training last week and doing the registers myself this week. I've made plenty of bloopers because I'm not exactly quick at catching on. But I also got a lot of work done and helped a lot of people check out. One lady even signed up for a Kohl's charge card randomly. Haha. I don't even have any "asking people to sign up technique" or anything.

My next shift is on Friday, when I'll actually be covering a busy shift. I'm sure that's going to be way more stressful...

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Archery Class

Last night I took my first archery class in ages! It was really low-key, which I liked. The instructor kind of reminded me of my coach in college.

Since this was the intermediate class, after a brief introduction we divided into a first line and second line and shot at about 9 yards. So when the other line was shooting, I was resting. Which seems like it would be boring, but personally I have zero energy so if I shoot continuously for an hour I get tired. So worked for me.

No targets yet so we just worked on the anchor and posture. I found it very relaxing to shoot blank bale and just try to get my hand in the same position each time. I've been in a rut lately with this bow, so I liked having some one on one instruction.

The best part is, they shop let me store my bow there in between lessons! Now I won't have to assemble it before class every time.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Japanese Market Mitsuwa

On the weekend I went to my first Japanese shopping center in America! I realize now I should have taken pictures of stuff besides the food I ate. >.< Silly me. When you're there it looks like any supermarket that has Japanese brands.

I was pleased to see not only lots of snacks and seasonings and pastries, but also Japanese brands of shampoo and makeup. Looks like I will be able to buy my old favorite brand of shampoo/conditioner after all! When I was living in Hiroshima, Lux was like the best thing ever and I thought for sure I couldn't get it over here.

I also saw my favorite Japanese eyeliner pens, so I'll be able to stock up on those when the ones I'm using run out. However, the people behind me in line were looking at those at the same time and asked "What's this??" When I said it was eyeliner they scoffed "Eighteen dollars for eyeliner? No thanks!" :( Well, it's only about ten dollars in Japan. And it's way better quality than a pencil.

While I didn't buy any makeup, I did buy some moisturizer masks because 90% of the "masks" over here come in a tube and are meant to treat acne. Ummmm not really what I need right now, thanks. More like, Moisturize Me!!!!!

The line for ramen was suuuuper long, so I pushed for eating okonomiyaki instead. I was with my friend Anthony, and we had already tried okonomiyaki at this Japanese izakaya in Mountain View, but Mitsuwa had a special thing this week where an actual okonomiyaki chef ran a food boot, so this was much more authentic. Unfortunately, it was Kansai style instead of Hiroshima style, but you can't have everything. Anyway it was AMAZING, way better than the weird pseudo-Japanese cooking at the izakaya, and Anthony said he liked Kansai style better. I told him to wait until he tried both in Japan before he made a final judgement because then one we had before was NOT authentic washoku.

The okonomiyaki of awesomeness!
 When we were getting the food (in true Japan style, we had to pay cash), I asked the server in Japanese if there was a place to sit down eating, and apparently he had heard that a lot because he answered me in Japanese right away. But Anthony was pretty impressed and called me out on wanting to show off my Japanese abilities.

All in all it was a successful trip, and I think I will be able to make yaki-soba with the ingredients I bought there. I will definitely go back in the future next time I run out of shampoo or want to buy some Japanese item.

Friday, May 22, 2015


Today I ended up seeing Tomorrowland with my family because it was bland enough for everyone to agree on. I liked it overall but for a movie called "Tomorrowland" they sure didn't seem to spend much time in Tomorrowland. Actually, the only time we got to see it was in the very beginning, and the rest of the time it was just a commercial, and then a distopian version without all the cool stuff. I wanted to see our protagonists have some kick ass adventures in this futuristic world and navigate some really weird technology while discovering secrets and saving the day. There was a lot of weird technology, but it mostly happened in the regular world as the protagonists were running from robots.

I liked the Athena character a lot. I thought she got some of the best lines and scenes. Seeing this history she has with her one-time protegee Frank was pretty deep. Also, she is the only character who actually changes the future in the story. Everyone sees projected versions of the future (a few seconds ahead) which they end up fulfilling. At one point she sees a projection and acts quickly enough to change it. That's cool.

For a pretty straightforward feel-good sci-fi adventure, the movie also made a good point. Naive idealism is bad, but so is uncaring cynicism. Sometimes it's easier to focus on a dismal future than to imagine a bright one, because if the world is going to end anyway, there's no point in trying to make things better. Trying to fix things is really hard, and you can't fix everything, but there's a lot good being done in the world by people who don't give up. I felt inspired to go out and make a positive difference too.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Post Surgery: Two Weeks = No Tape

Today I went to the doctor for my second follow up appointment and got the tape off! Sooooo happy that I can finally shower without trying to keep my face dry!

Dr. White was about a half hour late this afternoon because he was delayed in surgery. It was definitely worth the wait because I didn't want to go back home with the tape still on after driving 40 minutes to get there (and an hour to get back because of the traffic). So I hung around the waiting room reading People magazine and watching makeup tutorials on Youtube. At least it wasn't time wasted. Then after a while Dr. White came in, still wearing scrubs, and I looked up like "Hey, I know you!" And pretty soon after that I got to go back to the consulting room.

Again, recovery is going well. The stitches fell out by themselves since last week, so no more uncomfortable tugging at my nose. Apparently the tape is necessary for shaping the nose after the splint is removed, and that's why I had to wear it an extra week. Good to know.

There is still a bit of swelling at the tip, which is normal for this stage. My next appointment is in six weeks, so maybe it will go down a bit by then. But I don't think anyone will notice, so I feel confident about going out and about again. If people think my nose looks different at all, they'll probably put it down to hair or makeup instead of thinking that my nose has actually changed size.

Overall I'm happy to have my normal face back. Without the tape, the proportions look totally normal again. But I'm not gonna lie. I asked to have the bump taken out, and there's still a tiny bump in my nose! Grrrrr. Why couldn't he give me just a tiiiiiiny dip in my nose instead? It's straighter than it was, but I'm afraid the bump is going to come back now and I don't want to get surgery again!

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Don't Understand Vs. Don't Agree

I think everyone has the experience where they feel like they just can't understand something no matter how hard they try. For example, a complex book, a life principle, or a theological concept. So for years you rack your brains thinking, "Why is this so hard???" and "What did I miss???"

Then years later you go back to the same idea, and one of two things happen. Either you think, "This is incredibly simple! Why didn't I get it before?"

Or you think, "This is a load of crap!"

Both are a normal part of life. I think I'm going to call this something like "The very thin line between 'don't understand' and 'don't agree' and how it can be exploited."

When you're very young or very impressionable, "I don't understand" is a lot safer than "I don't agree." Sure, a lot of times you don't understand at first and you need more information to make an informed opinion.

But lately I've come to realize there's a turning point...For example when your friends are all trying to get you to like Game of Thrones or Frozen and you finally go, "No! I know what you're going to say, I know all the arguments for why it's popular, but I still think those are stupid reasons." And moreover, you can explain why those are stupid reasons.

At this point you could keep beating yourself up for just "not getting it," but that's dishonest. In fact, you get those franchises pretty well and you've just come to different conclusions from your friends. You don't need someone to explain to you how a universe with dragons and zombies relies on gritty realism (i.e. sexism), or why victim blaming (she got engaged in one day, what do you expect???) is the height of feminism.

Now, this "fine line" can be exploited by someone who's used to speaking from a position of authority. For example a teacher or a pastor. I think we've all heard the, "Now, this passage says this, which may seem problematic--but properly interpreted in the original Greek, it actually means this totally different thing..." The audience is being reassured that, no, they don't actually disagree with the passage. They just don't understand it.

Usually when I hear a pastor (tends to be a pastor) using the "properly understood" line, I have enough background knowledge to go, "Yeah....That passage is notorious for being contradictory. Your explanation is one way of dodging that bullet but there's still holes." But if I didn't know anything about the topic I'd probably just think, "Oh, silly me.There I go again thinking words mean what they generally mean..."

So I guess the rule is not to be over quick to tell someone "Oh, you just don't understand what I'm saying, let me explain" before you even know how much they know, and if you do give an explanation try to make it as accurate as possible and don't hide information to make yourself sound more sure than you really are.

Actually, I think it's sometimes really open minded to say, "I don't think we're really disagreeing on the important things. I think we're just defining terms differently and talking past each other." In that case it's more self-aware to realize you didn't understand where the person is coming from and when you get more information you both see that you're more alike than different.

Like when you suddenly go, "Ohhhhh when you say 'desire' your first thought is 'unbridled lust.' I was just using it to mean 'wanting something.'"

There are times where it's helpful to say, "We don't disagree, we're just not understanding each other." But I don't think it's really fair to say, "You just don't understand." You might think it, but at least be sure of what information the other person is missing before you throw it out.

One week after surgery--No more splint!

On Monday I went to Palo Alto for my after surgery check in. I was supposed to get all the stitches off but I kind of wimped out when the doctor was doing the ones in my nose. It freakin hurt! So I stood it for several minutes with a lot of flinching and muttering "owwwww" until he suggested that we could leave the remaining stitches for next week, if they don't fall off by themselves in the meanwhile. Anyway, the ones that were the most visible and pinching me the most have been pulled out, so I barely notice the ones that are left.

Everything else is doing really fine. The doctor said the remaining swelling it totally normal for this stage and will go down slowly as I continue to heal. Now I'm wondering if the swelling on Thursday was actually a reaction to the meds or if my face just swells up at the slightest provocation. Mehn. It would be great not have another antibiotic I'm allergic to.

And as was promised I got to take the itchy, horrible splint OFF my face! Then it was immediately replaced by tape, which I have to wear for one more week, and which also can't get wet.

You can't win.

On the bright side, the tape is much more flattering than the splint, and I can actually touch my nose when it itches now. That alone is worth it. If you told me two weeks ago I had to wear a piece of tape over my nose, I would have said, "Oh no! I'll look so weird....." Now, after having a huge bandage taped to my nose, gauze taped to my face, and swollen shut eyes from bruising--a little piece of tape is no big deal.

And here is my almost-back-to-normal selfie!

My face looks like me again!

Even from this picture on Monday, there still seems to be some swelling. Especially the area between my eyes. It doesn't look quite right, like there's too much forehead or something. the shape reminds me or one of those dinosaurs or lizards with deeply indented eyes on the sides of their faces and a really wide forehead, probably for crashing into each other to fight over the females.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Slowly recovering...

It's Saturday, four days after I got surgery, and I'm slowly feeling better. There's still some swelling which doesn't seem to be going away, or going away that fast, but I think I'll be okay until my appointment on Monday and if anything's weird they can check it out.

Here's how I looked yesterday in the morning. The bruising is MUCH BETTER but the swelling makes my cheeks and jaw look all weird.

The thing about the bruising that surprised me most was that my eyelids got red. The way the doctor and nurses described it, I thought the bruising would be mostly underneath the eye and on my cheeks. But it's kind of all around my eye. Which makes it harder to conceal.

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Taking a selfie for posterity...No matter how awful it looks.

Last night after I took a shower the swelling seemed to have abated somewhat.

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This counts as an improvement.

 The swelling seems to come and gets worse if I lie down for a while and better if I'm standing up. But my face is gradually returning to its normal form.

Another plus is that my eyes are opening again! Due to the bruising my eyes got really small and squinty. I could always see okay, but when the bruising started to go down I looked in the mirror and went, "Hey! My eyes got big again!" It's like I didn't think about how bad it was until it started to look better.

I think I look kind of like a movie villain with really close-set narrow red eyes. :P And a distorted face with a huge chin and jaw. And sometimes all of my face covered up because I'm wearing a mask and sunglasses. Now I feel a lot of sympathy for movie villains because they have to look weird all the time and not just after surgery.

So far my nose looks about the same. There's still swelling in the tip, but it probably won't really go down until the splint comes off. The doctor warned me that the tip of the nose gets HUGE and takes the longest to get back to normal. I was actually afraid that it would get really red, but thankfully it didn't. Actually, I don't even notice the tip so much because the splint and the bruising look so much weirder. Maybe when the splint comes off I'll be like, "OMG my nose swelled up!!!!" But even it that's the case I really want to get the splint off....

The first two days after surgery, I couldn't breath through my nose at all because it was so full of blood and scabs. When I fell asleep, I would wake up with a dry mouth and throat because I was breathing only through my mouth. It felt like my nose was full of rocks that were growing out of the inside of my nostrils. You want to just rip them out, but you know that until they get loose on their own you're just going to bleed a ton and form MORE scabs. And maybe get infected too.

Every day I can breathe a little more. (Some of the scabs did get ripped out but I'm really trying not to worry at it.) It's a big relief, along with my eyes opening up and my face getting back its normal contour.

There are stitches under my nose and under my chin, and the nose ones bother me the most because they stretch tight every time I smile or laugh and it hurts. I also imagine them getting buried in the skin...

I won't really know how my nose has changed until they take off the splint. Supposedly it's going to look a bit different but of course it's hard to tell at this stage. I've noticed a few things...Like if I feel the splint it seems like it wouldn't fit over my old nose. There's no room for the bump. Also when I was drinking a soda, it felt like I didn't have to account for my nose as much I used too. My nose still sticks out over my chin, but they seem to line up more than they used too. (Both of them are still really swollen, but hopefully they'll deflate together.)

A few nights ago I was watching Clueless and a few of the girls at the school have had nose surgery. I just wanted to point and laugh like, "Ha! Where is your bruising? Where's the dried blood? Why isn't your face a distorted mess with swollen shut eyes? You obviously didn't have any surgery on your face! You just a a tiny strip of tape stuck on your nose right before filming!" Clueless does not accurately portray the after effects of surgery. In case anyone was wondering.

Two more days! I can make it...Then I get to take this itchy, uncomfortable splint OFF my face and actually wash like a normal person.

Note: Tomorrow is Mothers' Day. My grandma is coming over for lunch and obviously we're going to take some pictures. I'm wondering whether to put on a mask or just bear the splint proudly. Either way, photos that should by all accounts end up in the albums for years to come are probably going to end up looking pretty weird. Instead of going "Awww how sweet! Three generations of women," relatives are going to be all, "Did someone slug Stephanie in the nose that weekend or what?"

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Sugery: The day after

Well, I survived my first day of recovery post-surgery! I had a little nausea last night, possibly from the medications, but that's pretty much worn off now. Yesterday I still couldn't eat much besides ice cream (yay?) so I'm just trying to ease back into normal food slowly.

The best news is that after last night, NO BLEEDING! I no longer have to tape gauze on my nose and chin! At this point, my nose doesn't hurt at all really--just feels kind of stuffed up--and my chin only hurts a little bit. Can't really avoid moving it around. :P

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However, this being the second day, the bruises have gotten much darker, especially under my left eye. I was kind of expecting that, since after my wisdom tooth removal it took a day for my face to get really swollen. Hopefully this will be the worst day for bruising.

I've been wearing my face mask every time I go out of the house. This morning my mom got upset just trying to talk to me because the bruising was so bad. I can see fine out of my right eye, but my left eye is a bit swollen. Combined with the splint on my nose and the mask, that kind of limits my vision, especially when driving.

On Monday I'm getting the splint off. It won't come a day too soon!!!! It also can't get wet, so when I wash my face I have to wipe carefully around the sides with a wet towel. It's not very refreshing.

Last night I had to sleep at an incline, and it was kind of hard to fall asleep at first because I kept jerking awake thinking "Oh no! I'm gonna fall off the pillow!" But eventually I got used to it.

Surgery Day!

Wow. So I did it! And I look pretty much like I got punched in the face.... :P In the morning I got up bright and early and aside from feeling tired from not sleeping much, I look pretty good.

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Feeling pretty jazzed

My Daddy woke up too to drive me to the Palo Alto Medical Foundation surgery center and we got there in plenty of time and checked in no problem. Then the staff called me to come get ready and it felt like it took forever to triple check all my paperwork. Bleh.

They had to try the IV twice because the veins on my left arm kept moving. I was like "I don't like the idea of my veins moving around of their own volition! I want them to stay put in my arm!" And the nurses told me, no, that's usually a good thing that they move around. Eventually they stuck the catheter in my right hand. Usually I can't even look at a needle poking into my skin, but I was kind of curious what it would look like. It wasn't icky but it pulled at the skin a lot and kind of pinched. Yuck.

They also said my heart rate was high, and said, "Yeah...that happens." I'm having surgery for the first time--go figure! 

While I was waiting for the doctor the nurses asked if I wanted my dad to come sit with me, and I said sure why not. But Dad was like, "Nah, I got all my stuff set up. I'm good." And that just cracked me up. Because I was doing pretty okay and all. The staff was really nice, and I knew I was going to be fine. But when your own daughter asks you to sit with her a few minutes before she goes into surgery, you'd think the obvious answer would be yes?

Eventually I got all prepped and put on the gown and they wheeled me into the operating room. It looked pretty weird with all the big lights and beeping machines. I was still wide awake at this point, even though they had started pain meds. They gave me lots of blankets because It was pretty cool in the operating room. Including this blanket that inflated and was heated. They kept calling it the "poofy blanket."

Then they gave me more pain meds in the operating room that were supposed to make me sleepy, and I remember them asking me once when I first got situated on the table if I was sleepy yet, and I was like "Nah...still awake..." but I don't remember them asking me again so I guess I dropped off after that.

Don't remember too much about waking up. But I did take a selfie while still on the bed in the operating gown.

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But first, let me take a selfie!

I remember I used the restroom before we drove back because I had been really trying hard to remember to go just in case. They wheeled me out in a wheelchair. On the way back we stopped at Mcdonalds and I got a milkshake. Dad got flavored french fries, which I didn't know they had in American. In fact, I had to check my texts to Mom later to see if Dad had really bought french fries or if I had misremembered.

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It was very necessary to have my store of Japanese face masks.

I had the milkshake at the table while everyone else ate lunch, but I didn't the french fries. Guess I was really out of it. Then I sat on the backyard swing for a bit and then lay down and slept for a bit.

In the afternoon, I began to notice some bruising under my eyes. The doctor and nurses said that was totally normal.

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Later today I went for a walk. Even though the bruise is still darkening, I look pretty normal with a face mask on. I can't drive until tomorrow, and any cardio activity is a no-no, but it was nice to get outside for just a bit. Hopefully I'll sleep okay tonight, and we'll see how the face looks tomorrow.

I'm genki!