Wednesday, January 31, 2018

This Is Exactly What It Looks Like

Perhaps the most recent advertising controversy was low-budget fashion giant H&M releasing an image of young black boy modeling a sweatshirt bearing the slogan "Coolest Monkey in the Jungle." The Internet, as it often is, was outraged. Celebrities chimed in, breaking contracts with the company (Diddy purportedly offered the boy a contract with his own line). But of course, the hot-button topic quickly unraveled, seeing backlash from those who didn't see the problem and from those who did. Rachel Dolezal, most famous for wearing blackface and presenting herself as a black woman when, in fact, she's white, released a hoodie that reads "Coolest Prince in the Hood," positioning it as the "woke" alternative to the offensive article in question. Of course, the Venn diagram of "people offended by the H&M hoodie" and "people who are offended by Rachel Dolezal" is approximately a single circle, so a negative response ensued. Then, to top it all off, the young model's mother stated that she is fine with the hoodie, and thinks the surrounding controversy has been blown way out of proportion.

Because the social media news cycle functions at such a breakneck pace, this has already been more or less forgotten. But it will be replaced by another problematic advertising campaign (the Dove campaign in which certain shots make it look like their soap is designed to turn you from a black woman to a white one? The Pop chips campaign where Ashton Kutcher dons brown face?) and we'll have the same debates. It boils down to this: the side in defense of the contentious images will claim that "it's not what it looks like."

And I'm here to say, once and for all: visual content is what it looks like. Literally.

Advertising, television, and film are all visual mediums. They have internal context--the narrative of the images and sounds they're presenting--and external context--the sociopolitical narrative of the environment in which they air. Similarly to how words and symbols (the n-word, the Confederate flag, the swastika) can't exist in a vacuum, divorced of their perverse and traumatic meanings, so too must ads, TV shows, and movies function with the weight of their ideological predecessors. In essence: everything is happening all at once. We'd like to think that what we say and do is only happening in the year we're in (2018, in this case, which still sounds like a fake year from The Future), but in fact it's also happening in 1918, and 1818, and all the years that came before this one. Human beings assign meaning to things, and just because we assign new meanings doesn't mean the old ones immediately go away. I think a lot of the people on the side of "it's not what it looks like" think that slavery and the Holocaust and the suffrage movement and Stonewall all happened, like, a thousand years ago. In reality, it's only been the last 150 years that all of those things ended. In the history of humankind, that barely registers as a blink of an eye.

Speaking of eyes (ugh), as I was saying before, this controversial content is defined by how it looks. While "Coolest Monkey In The Jungle" is a fun, whimsical hoodie design on its own, you can't have a young black boy model it in a year where hate crimes are on the rise for the second year in a row. Ashton Kutcher darkening up his complexion and attempting a deeply offensive accent to play a Bollywood director (also--to sell chips? Who the %^@# came up with that one?) may not have been intended to hurt people, but it came in an era where brown people were (and are) still not represented, underrepresented, and misrepresented in the media. That Dove ad, when put into its larger context, clearly didn't have racist intentions. But if you can pull a couple of sequential screenshots from an ad campaign and make it look like a #woke soap company is trying to sell black people skin whitener, then you need to fire your marketing guy.

Just as there are SO many non-racist Halloween costumes for you to choose from, there are SO many non-racist ad campaigns you could come up with. When ESPN anchors debated whether their network's real-life fantasy draft mimicked a slave auction (black athletes standing on a stage and being more or less auctioned off to a mostly white audience), the conservative commentator offered the same plea that every other conservative offers in these arguments: "It's not what it looks like."

But that's the thing about a picture. It's got a lot of jobs. But its first job is to be is what it looks like.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

On "Cat Person," As A Real-Life 20-Year-Old Girl

Disclaimer: this post will discuss heterosexual romantic relationships between young cis women and older cis men, because a) that's the relationship described in the story, and b) those are the only relationships I have personal experience with. If you are trans or identify outside the binary, or your sexual orientation is not heterosexual, and you have thoughts about how other genders and sexualities interact on age differences, please reach out to me and tell me your stories. I'm always trying to learn more!

^ Please go read it if you haven't.

The Internet was taken by storm this past weekend by "Cat Person," a short story by Kristen Roupenian that was published in The New Yorker. Because I am liberal scum, I am a paid subscriber to the publication, but I didn't know about the story until Sunday evening, when Kumail Nanjiani tweeted about it and I had to have a look for myself.

I was absolutely mesmerized. I am a reader, but I'm much more partial to physical books than digital ones. I can sit for hours with a paper book and be totally immersed (provided, you know, that the writing is good). But even a brilliant piece read from a screen can lose my attention, regardless of length, purely because of how easily distracted I am by my glowing box of diversions--other articles or stories, YouTube videos, Spotify, or the four to five Word documents I've got open at any given time, full of my own fledging novels or poems. With "Cat Person," I started reading and didn't stop until I was finished. I will admit that I took brief pauses after certain moments, moments that articulated thoughts I've had so vividly I had to take a break just to let them sink in. It was dizzying.

Despite the visceral discomfort we all feel when reading this story, nothing criminal happens. That's what's so crazy about it. It's just...gross. It's a little bit off. It's the uncanny valley of a sexual encounter. She's 20, he's 34--legal but creepy. She consents because she doesn't want to summon what she believes is the requisite amount of politeness and tact to say no--legal but upsetting. Their sex is at once almost an empowering one-night stand but also almost a case of sexual assault. It walks the line so finely and so articulately, most female readers can immediately drum up an occasion of their own that eerily reflects this one, whether they want to or not.

Being 20 is by far the most confusing age I've experienced yet. Really, I'd say from 18-25 or so, being a woman is complex in a way that being a girl never was. When you're under 18, you are a minor, protected by the law (ostensibly) and only engaging in romantic and sexual relationships with people who are also minors (except under awful circumstances). While the question of assault still looms large, and far too many young girls are plagued by predatory behavior that permanently traumatizes them, society has purportedly made strict rules about who young people are meant to date--each other. Over the age of 25 (this is just me projecting, as I haven't gotten there yet), many women have started living on their own, supporting themselves financially in some capacity, and thinking about marriage and kids as a possibility, even if it's not an immediate one.

It's that hazy area in between, where, in the words of professional adult adolescent Britney Spears, "I'm not a girl, / Not yet a woman." If we're still in school, we're college or grad students; otherwise, we've just recently entered the workforce. Many of us have never been in real relationships (cue Adele singing Hello, it's me). For those of us under 21, we can't even go into bars. And yet! There are men in their 30s, 40s, 50s (need I go on?) who are pursuing us romantically. I made the rookie mistake of setting up an OkCupid profile during my freshman year of college, mainly just to see if it was any better than the tragic hookup wasteland of Tinder, and I was propositioned by multiple men over the age of 30. One 58-year-old man messaged me asking me out, making him older than both of my parents. I shut down the profile pretty quickly after that.

Most girls are told from a young age that we mature faster than boys. Science backs it up (I think, but you can Google it). Therefore, at 20, when we are, by the legal definition, ready to date fully grown men, there's some appeal. Theoretically, the maturity gap is rendered moot by the age difference. These guys--these men--have money, jobs, stability. They don't share a house with seven roommates. They don't wear flip flops to dinner. They don't hook up with your friends, because they don't know your friends, because they're 30. I've never been on a date with a 30-year-old (and I hope I won't for at least a few more years), but this is the kind of bare minimum paradise I imagine awaits me on the other side of 25.

Despite all these clear perks, there are drawbacks. A 30-year-old man is gonna know exactly what he wants from a relationship, physically and emotionally, whereas a 20-year-old girl has no idea. Sex and love mean very different things to those two people. And the power is going to lie with the man, 99% of the time. His gender and his age position him above that woman, no matter how smart or sexually experienced or physically strong she may be. Of COURSE there are exceptions. But the danger comes when we as young women assume we are the exception, when of course, categorically speaking, we almost certainly are not.

I have friends who have gone out with older men. In most cases, they were not scarred for life, physically or psychologically. They just didn't work out, because one or both parties realized that they were just too far apart in experience to have a lasting relationship. I have wound up in conversations with men at social events where neither of us realized the age gap. Twice I found myself flirting/chatting with men in their late 20s as an 18 and 19-year-old, respectively, and both times when they found out my age, they politely ducked out of the conversation. I was hurt--I'm legal (sort of), what's the problem--but in hindsight, these were just good dudes. They weren't trying to tangle themselves up in the type of gray-area sexual encounter described in "Cat Person," and they definitely weren't looking for a relationship with a girl who still had the word "teen" in her age. My total lack of life experience was prohibitive. I am so glad that these men found my age disqualifying instead of titillating.

There's one other fascinating aspect of "Cat Person" that has been touched on decidedly less than I'd like in the thinkpieces I've read so far. I'm talking about Margot's perception of herself. While she and Robert have sex, she becomes most aroused when thinking of herself through his eyes, as a young, thin, beautiful girl that he was grateful to have in his bed. It's the kind of thinking that has attacked my psyche in the past. In practice, I am horrified every time an older man makes a pass at me in public or yells something lewd at me from a car. I feel violated and scared. But in theory, when I think about what I represent to them, this beautiful object that they will never have...I feel...powerful? As insane as that sounds? While I've established that older men will always have greater agency in sexual encounters with younger women, there is a weird sort of synthetic power that comes with being a young woman in a society that teaches women their greatest assets are their beauty and their youth. I have struggled with self-esteem about my looks my entire life, but even at my lowest moments, I am still a 20-year-old girl, and that alone makes me appealing to a disturbing subset of older men. Some dark corner of my mind derives pleasure from that. It's a thing that I've never admitted and that I've never heard any of my female friends admit. But seeing it in "Cat Person" has me wondering if anyone else in my demographic experiences the same thing. If so, what does it mean? What do we do with it? Do we try to rewire our thinking to avoid these infrequent but very real thought patterns? Or do we accept that we are not saints, that our more insidious feelings are just a part of being human?

I don't have answers to these questions, and I don't have a surefire way to avoid unsatisfying or unsettling sexual experiences in the future (if you do, WTF and also who are you?!). What I do know is that "Cat Person" represents the type of fiction I'm always dying to read. It exposes us, it challenges us, it forces us to confront what we think we know about people, forces us to admit that we might be wrong, not just about others, but about ourselves.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

I Am Scared And Nauseous: An Incomplete List

1. literally everything about the president, everything he says and does and stands for. but he's gonna reappear on this list many times more specifically

2. the fires currently eating my hometown/current place of residence

3. maybe we're on the brink of nuclear war with North Korea?!

4. hurricane-damaged areas of the US still reeling

5. Nazis are back?!

6. pretty stoked about all the powerful predatory men being taken down by brave survivors but also I'm genuinely terrified about the possibility of backlash because as far as I can tell when men are publicly humiliated they tend not to take it well

7. we've had about eighty gazillion mass shootings this year and no one will do anything about gun control

8a. the tax bill that just passed raises taxes on literally everyone except for people with private jets. like even regular rich people are paying more taxes you have to literally be a sultan who drives a car made of gold to benefit from this tax bill

8b. they snuck in a bunch of CRAZY CRAP like anti-abortion stuff and other seriously problematic cuts to healthcare


10. I have a lot of finals tomorrow

11. boys????? still sending me mixed signals???? in this economy???


13. there's a real chance that the president and/or his closest associates colluded with a hostile foreign power to sway the 2016 election, taking it from a competent/experienced politician who literally would have sawed off her limbs for the job and giving it to a bigoted hot-tempered manchild who among other things has: mocked a disabled reporter, not known what clean coal is, said all mexicans are murderers and rapists, said the central park 5 were guilty even though they were exonerated by DNA evidence

14. I have submitted about eight hundred million poems to lit mags and most of them are taking forever to answer but of the ones who have responded I have gotten one acceptance and six rejections

15. sometimes the frat/srat people in my buildings have very loud parties a) on week nights thus disrupting my sleep/study schedule b) and then they don't even invite me ok thanks for the flashbacks to high school

16. I only have like a year and a half until I graduate college with a degree in popular music (what was I thinking) and like I'm probably gonna go to graduate school but the program I'm looking at is only a year and a half and then what???? I am not a pop star yet!!! I am not even pop star adjacent!!!! WHAT AM I GOING TO DO

17. MUSLIM BAN??? yeah that got passed. bet you didn't even notice. but they added north korea (duh) and venezuela (?!?!?) to the list so now the supreme court is like "oh I guess it's not racist/xenophobic/Islamophobic anymore so it's fine!!!!!!"

18. THE LIFE EXPECTANCY OF A BLACK TRANS WOMAN IS 35 YEARS OLD HOW INSANE IS THAT. how are people literally murdered just for existing. black trans women have spearheaded so many of the most important milestones in LGBTQ+ history. and no one is doing anything about this

if you have anything else you'd like to vent about please leave a comment I'm gonna go KEEP STUDYING FOR FINALS WHILE LYING IN THE FETAL POSITION ON THE FLOOR

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Coming of Age on the Internet (or; I Miss Adolescence?)

My sophomore year of high school was rough.

Without getting too too personal, it was a difficult transition. I was halfway done with my 7-12 prep school which necessitated a change in campus. I went from being a top dog ninth grader who had a handle on social and academic pressures to being a bottom-of-the-food-chain tenth grader who was struggling in pretty much every subject and felt utterly lost in the social landscape of high school. I have never (read: NEVER) been popular, but freshman year I at least felt like I had a foothold. Tenth grade it was like all the process I'd made completely evaporated. Plus, my older brother went off to college, and it was the first time in my life that my family situation had experienced any upheaval since my little brother's birth ten years prior. I was shaken.

The summer before that school year, a few of my friends stumbled on YouTube vloggers, specifically attractive, college-aged, British boys. I knew what YouTube was back then, but it never really registered with me outside of watching covers of my favorite songs. During the summer of 2012, I not only found Vlogbrothers (John and Hank Green's YouTube channel), but also Jack and Finn Harries, Dan Howell, Marcus Butler, and a whole slew of others. Most of them hailed from the UK, though there were a few from Australia, I think, and South Africa. They were three to five years older than us but barely looked it. They had endearing accents. They made silly skits and answered viewer questions and doled out vague platitudes on Twitter about how all their viewers were beautiful and special, even though we were fifteen and utterly unremarkable and there were millions of us.

The infatuation with these boys lasted all through my sophomore year. I rejoined Tumblr with renewed vigor, I watched their videos every time a new one was uploaded, I posted pictures and GIFs of them on Twitter and on my friends' Facebook walls. We play-fought over who would get to marry who, over which of them we were most like, over which (identical) Harries twin was hotter (you'd think it was Jack but then you'd mature and realize it was Finn. It was the hair. Don't ask). In hindsight, part of my social alienation could probably be attributed to this obsession. The "cool" girls had real boyfriends and real social lives. I had YouTube. I had Tumblr. I had imaginary relationships with boys an ocean away. We could never fight. We could never break up.

When junior year rolled around, I regained some footing (and some sanity). I made new friends, I joined more activities, I got refocused on schoolwork because My God It Got Real. Sure, my YouTube boyfriends could never break up with me, but I definitely dumped them. I stayed subscribed out of laziness, but I watched their videos less and less, until all at once, I wasn't watching them at all. I unfollowed them on Tumblr and Twitter to improve my ratios. I fell out of the loop on their lives.

I grew up.

Recently I've been having a bit of a nostalgia renaissance (what a phrase). I've been looking at old Facebook posts and old tweets, cringing at my past self and the things I thought would make me seem funny and cool on the Internet. In that vein, I decided to rewatch some of the videos that brought me so much comfort in my younger and more vulnerable years. The main thing I noticed is how young these boys look! At 20, I'm now the same age as they were when I watched them, if not a bit older. I found a Jacksgap video from 2011, which would make the twins 18, and they look like absolute babies, younger than the boys at my university. It's hilarious to me that when I was 15, they seemed like mysterious older men. They were kids. They were trying to find themselves or get attention or some combination of the two. They didn't know any more about the world than I did. The other thing that strikes me is how the videos were kind of...stupid? I thought they were so quirky and witty at the time, but now it all seems so trite and embarrassing. I always assumed that their target audience would have been people their own age, but now it's clear that their demographic was always just a bit behind them. The socially awkward 19-year-old boy seems "adorkable" to the 14-year-old girl who doesn't know any better. Ah, how I was misled.

And yet.

I miss being misled. I miss being a lost 15-year-old. Being a lost 20-year-old is harder. The stakes are higher. Sure, I still live in my hometown of Los Angeles and my parents are always just a phone call or excruciating freeway ride away, but a lot of my consolation has to come from within. The questions I'm dealing with aren't about where I'll go to college or if I'll ever get asked to a dance or how to find the area under a parabola (I've already forgotten all the math I know). I'm figuring out how to get people to pay for and pay attention to the words and music I write, how to forge healthy romantic relationships, whether or not I'm brave enough to live my dream of traveling the world in my 20s, what my role is in the confusing, chaotic terror of the American political landscape. I'm defining womanhood and blackness for myself. And if I achieve the visibility I'm hoping for, I'll be the role model to the teenage girls just a few steps behind me, trying to get a glimpse of What Could Be.

Coming of age on the Internet is a crazy thing. We're the first generation to do it. Our adulthood will be defined by what online fads and jokes we were a part of and which ones we elected to skip. The idols of our generation aren't just musicians and actors, they're the YouTube and Twitter famous. We are the most depressed, anxious, dryly funny, politically engaged, socially conscious generation in human history. We are unprecedented. Which, of course, makes the future sort of terrifying. Yes, at times I wish I could go back to 2012, to unironically (then ironically) saying #YOLO, listening to the hip new pop song "Call Me Maybe," to when the worst thing that a presidential candidate said during a debate was that he had binders full of women. But it's 2017, kids, almost 2018. The Internet babies are voting and buying liquor and going to war. We're graduating and falling in love (for real) and running for office.

There's so much ahead of us. It'd be a shame if we spent so much time looking back that we missed it.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

I Am Not Special & Neither Are They

The first time I ever got catcalled I was 15. It was outside a concert, by a man at least twice my age. I don't remember what he said, just the ice cold fear that swam over my body when I realized how he was looking at me. When I was in eighth grade, I read Tina Fey's memoir Bossypants. In it, she dedicates a chapter to how when women are asked when they first felt like grown women, they hearken back to their first incident of public sexual harassment. That night in February 2013, despite the fear that overcame me, for the first time in my life, I felt like a woman. Not like an adult with any autonomy or agency, but like a woman, with a woman's body, a woman's body that men would claim and comment on from that day forward.

These days, I get catcalled at least once or twice a week. Sometimes, it's benign ("hey, beautiful, give me a smile"), sometimes, it's invasive ("nice ass"), sometimes it's direct ("give me a blowjob" - once that was actually screamed at me from a car), sometimes it's just bizarre ("Girl, I wanna take you to South Florida" - yeah, that one actually happened too).

When the harassment started, I was two weeks shy of eighteen, and no boy had ever even looked at me. I was so anxious around them, so inexperienced, so insecure. I was a kid. A prime target.

He lived on my floor. I thought he was the cutest boy in the hall, but I was surrounded by cute boys in the music school, so I rarely thought of him. I heard he hooked up with another girl on our floor. He didn't seem like an option.

The first weekend of the year, two weeks after we moved in, he got stoned out of his mind at a party a bunch of us went to. On the encouragement of a fellow partygoer, he began to aggressively hit on me. We were standing in a circle of all our floor-mates, plus a few strangers, and all I could do was giggle nervously as he leaned into me, as he made comments about my body, the body I still didn't feel like I owned. I had never felt so...physical. So defined by the body that carried the code-red thoughts I was having. After a few minutes of discomfort, I literally ran away. I recognized the symptoms of the panic attacks I started having the previous year--my throat closing, the sound of my heartbeat in my ears like a kick drum, the cold sweats. After hiding on the other side of the backyard for a while, I ran into some of my other friends and slowly reintegrated into the landscape of the party.

The next night, the boy came into my dorm room with a bunch of other people (we were kind of the social room, much to my chagrin). He stayed after everybody else left so he could apologize to me.
"I didn't want to make you uncomfortable," he said.
"I was just really, really high," he said.
"But I do think you're beautiful," he said.
I choked out giggly replies, anything to get him to leave. I remember thanking him. I remember smiling because finally, at long last, a cute boy thought I was beautiful.

It wasn't over. For the next three weeks, he came into my dorm room almost every day with a flimsy excuse. He sat next to me in dining halls. He liked all my Instagram posts, including the hundreds of photos I'd posted before we'd ever met. I remember watching in amazement as my notifications updated, surprised at his boldness. He would untie and retie my shoes, tug at my clothes, play with my hair. I never asked him to stop, just froze and waited for the touch to be over. Sometimes, I think (I hope), I ducked from his hands, only for them to find their way back to me. More than once, he would make me eat or drink whatever he was eating or drinking. I would say no, and he would beg, and beg, and beg, to the point of making the other people at the table uncomfortable, and I would just giggle like an idiot and submit, eating or drinking whatever it was. During one of his many visits to my dorm, he put food directly into my mouth while I was still asking him to stop.

The symbolism was not lost on me. Every weekend, he asked me to go to parties at his frat house, and I would decline. If he didn't listen when I turned down his offer of potato chips, what would happen when something else was on the line?

So how did it ultimately stop? I tried everything. He was the king of doublespeak. He would tell me and my roommates that he "really liked me" and "just wanted to get to know me better." But he would tell his roommates and the other guys on our floor that he was just after me because I was "playing hard to get." A couple times, his roommates told him to back off, and he would reply, "no, trust me, she wants it." I cringe as I write those words.

The only thing that got him to let it go was when he stumbled on some of my tweets. I had written a thread about him, without naming him publicly:

I don't know what came over me, this digital boldness that I so clearly lacked in real life. But while we were eating in the dining hall one evening, he located the tweets and read them out loud. I tried to laugh them off as a "general feminist rant," but I could see his face fall. He knew they were about him.

And all at once, the advances stopped.

My roommates were relieved, partly for my benefit, mostly because they were probably just tired of hearing me talk about it all the time. The girls on my floor gave me daps for my #feminism. The guys on my floor told me to apologize. (??!?!) Yes, they said that our friendly antagonist was upset because "I'd hurt his feelings" and that I should say I was sorry. I recognized even then that apologizing would be absolutely insane, so I didn't. And I don't think we ever spoke again.

Last year I invited a boy up to my apartment. We'd talked all night at a party, a Halloween party where I'd spent most of the night with my shirt half-unbuttoned. I thought maybe he just wanted to keep talking. He didn't.

"Is this gonna happen, or...?" he asked.

"Um," was all I could say.

"I's 3 a.m.," he said. "And you're wearing...that."

I blamed myself. You did a shot, he could see your bra, you touched his arm like a video vixen, you invited him up to your apartment, what did you think was gonna happen? The panic rose again, the cold sweat, the heartbeat rhythm section, the tightening spiral of my throat.

"We could go to the bed," he said (ew). "Or...I could leave."

"You should leave," I said.

And he did.

He told me he'd text me.

He didn't.

I tell these long-winded stories to express solidarity with all the women harassed and assaulted by Harvey Weinstein and other serial predators like him. But maybe even more importantly, I want to reach out to girls harassed and assaulted by trusted authority figures, by friends, by family. The guys in these story are not special or unique. They are devastatingly average college guys who did a devastatingly average thing. People, but men especially, are so quick to say that rapists and other sexual predators are shocking or rare. But they're just not. I am lucky that nothing serious happened to me. These guys thought I was too much work and gave up. Had they been more determined, our stories might have had different endings.

If you have ever been harassed or assaulted, you are not aloneWe believe you. No matter where your story falls on the spectrum, it's not your fault, and it's not okay. I didn't owe that guy an apology. If you spoke out or fought back, you don't owe them an apology either.

If we allow harassment--if we condone the behavior of people who don't listen when we say no--we allow assault. Rape culture is built on the backs of the stories that don't merit expulsion from the Academy, the slippery slope of "it was just a joke" and "why are you being so sensitive" and "it could have been worse." That's why I'm writing this. Because I didn't get assaulted. Because I have stared the monster in the face. Because I felt its breath on my face. Because I didn't know what it looked like, walked by it on the street, said thank you when it flashed its teeth, let it get close, struggled to get away even when I didn't.

You are not alone. It's not okay. It's not your fault. We believe you.


Monday, October 2, 2017

False Alarm Symphony of Classical Conditioning

It's around 12:30pm on the first Monday in October and I'm sitting front-row in the psych lab I seriously considered skipping, and after a weekend of staying out too late both nights, I am taking a sorely needed day of vocal rest--not even the 9-hour sleep I got last night is going to save me--and I'm checking my email, I've got one from The New Yorker, because I am liberal swine, and they've hand-delivered me a series of articles on the Las Vegas shooting from last night, plus a handful of others on gun violence and terrorism the Trumpian response thereto, and I'm half-reading those while I half-pay attention to a lecture on classical conditioning that began with a Simpsonian preamble in which Lisa pits Bart against a hamster in an Olympic relay of conditioned tasks, and I scribble down phrases like unconditioned stimulus and conditioned response, and my TA puts us into groups and I frantically sign-language that I am without speech for the day, which my partner doesn't mind, she'll talk for both of us, and eventually the class has settled into that din of group work and I can turn my attention back to the thinkpiece on Jason Aldean and his grief-stricken fans when someone behind me says active shooter, and I think to myself well yes, of course they're still talking about it, I'm still reading about it, it hasn't even been a day, until one of them says but my roommate is there, at which point I realize my TA has left the room, and other people are also murmuring active shooter and when my TA reenters it's to say that I'm sure you guys have heard by now, but there's an active shooter on campus, we need to lockdown, let's move the desks, does anyone have a belt, stay away from the glass pane in the door, and soon the lights are off and we're all crammed into one side of the room, phones buzzing like tuning instruments, like the first movement of the symphony, the frantic messages from loved ones trying to squeeze out through the speakers before we can even pick up the phone.

In my lifetime, I have seen more mass shootings than many countries have in their entire history. Columbine happened when I was a baby, Virginia Tech when I was in elementary school, a whole slew of others in my adolescence and college years--Sandy Hook, Aurora, Charleston, San Bernardino, the Pulse nightclub, so many others I'm forgetting, and last night in Las Vegas, the nth time a terrorist massacre has been labeled "the deadliest mass shooting in US history" like a horrifying Guinness record where the evil keeps outdoing itself, over and over and over again.

I live in Los Angeles, and I was born and raised here. Our emergency training, outside of fire drills, always included earthquake preparedness, you know, growing up on the San Andreas fault and all. I don't fear them because I know what to do when they start. Feel the quake, get under the desk or the table, move away from glass or anything that could fall. I don't remember when lockdown drills started. I guess they were always there. In middle school, one of the security guards would enter a classroom in the guise of a shooter and we were meant to practice our teachings--belt the door, if we could, before he entered, and if he managed to get in, distract him, throw desks, throw chairs, jump on his back if need be, do not be a sitting duck, do not be a target, do not go quietly into that good night. A shooter never came for me, so the fear remained. I have a feeling that if (or, more grimly, when) he does, it will remain then, too.

And I do mean he. White men have carried out more mass shootings than any other demographic in the United States. The argument has been bandied about by my liberal peers for years, but it bears repeating, that brown skin and Islam do not a terrorist make, that if we want to start calling it what it is, we need to stop assuming its name will always be Osama or Omar, we need to name it Adam and Dylann and Eric and James.

I love that we knew what to do in that room while we waited for the all clear--and it did come, for the record: this story ends with a false alarm so serene it was less siren and more soft ska--but I hated that we knew what to do. I hated that we moved into position and belted the door shut like choreography, I hated that my family kept calling to check on me, I hated that less than 24 hours from a tragedy we were staring down the barrel of another one, even when my gut told me that it was a false alarm, I hated that I had to wait until I knew for sure, I hate this conditioning and I want to wash it out, I want to wash the blood off the flag, I want to wash the gun lobby down the drain, I want to Australia these shootings out of the future because I know there's no way to erase the past.

When LAPD tweets that there is no danger, that we can all go home, my TA tells us to forget about the lab, that we'll figure something out. On the walk out of the building, every conversation I overhear is a phone call to a grandmother or nervous chatter about what could have been. This, too, is part of the conditioning: the aftermath of the real or imagined violence. Imagined: sighs of relief. Email blast/Facebook post/tweet that it's all alright. Real: the rote message from politicians I could probably recite from memory about thoughts and prayers. Funerals for the deceased and healthcare bills for the injured bankrupting the "lucky."

I have not been the victim of gun violence. No one close to me has been, either. That statistic should not be an outlier. The voice behind these marks and dashes is a coastal elite who reads The New Yorker for fun. Colorado and Nevada went blue in 2016. But South Carolina went red. So did Florida. With a single Google search, I found a website literally called Is this the new normal? Just another in a long line of conditioned responses?

Break the habit. Make Pavlov roll over in his grave.

Monday, July 17, 2017

College/University/Quarterlife Crisis Playlist

Hey friends! I feel like I haven't written about music in a while.

Since I am halfway through college, it only feels right that I curate playlist for you based on All The College Feels. I might revisit this when I graduate in 2019 (zoinks), but here are tunes for all the various college moods I have encountered so far. Feel to apply these songs to yourself if you are not in college, and are merely a young person in a time of extreme emotional upheaval.


1. night before I left home: "What Would I Do Without You" // Drew Holcomb and The Neighbors

2. first day / night in the dorm: "This House Is A Hotel" // The Wind and the Wave

3. first party: "No More Parties in LA" // Kanye West

4. first college crush: "ILYSB - STRIPPED" // LANY

5. missing an old high school flame (not really relevant to me but maybe you guys had social lives prior to the age of 18): "Miss You" // Alabama Shakes

6. REALLY FEELING YOURSELF: "Got Body" // Lion Babe

7. experiencing fall in a new city, or in the same city in a new way: "Rylynn" // Andy McKee

8. when it's late and you're walking home from a confusing romantic encounter: "If I'm Unworthy" // Blake Mills

9. going back to school after summer vacation for sophomore/junior/senior year: "Old Friends" // Pinegrove

10. self doubt: "Family Happiness" // The Mountain Goats

11. skipping to class when the weather's good: "OctaHate" // Ryn Weaver

12. General Sadness: "Woods" // Bon Iver

13. General Joy: "Biggest Fan" // Will Joseph Cook

14. realizing that you're better off without them: "Girls Like Me" // Will Joseph Cook

15. realizing you're not: "Hourglass" // Catfish and the Bottlemen

16. realizing you have to cut someone out of your life if you're ever gonna get over them: "Petrolia" // Donovan Woods

17. regretting that time you didn't speak up: "Something" // Julien Baker

18. for when you survive something you didn't think you could: "Loudspeaker" // MUNA

19. for when you haven't survived it yet but you want to: "I Wanna Get Better" // Bleachers

20. late afternoon done-with-classes feeling: "Love on the Weekend" // John Mayer

21. last day of classes before summer: "Emotions and Math" // Margaret Glaspy

22. the end of a good friendship: "High And Dry" // Radiohead

23. long-distance relationship feels (again, not for me, but for people I know): "Bless The Telephone" - Labi Siffre

24. weird being back home again: "Hometown Hero" // Andy Shauf

25. college movie montage, dancing with your friends in a well-lit backyard: "When Did Your Heart Go Missing?" // Rooney

If you can think of emotions I missed, songs that fit these moods, or some combination of both, I'd love to hear your thoughts. Till next time!