society

Goodbye, Year of Exploration. Hello, Year of Ambition.

For the last three years, I’ve rejected the idea of explicit resolutions and instead made a habit of declaring a single word to embody each new year. There was the year of discovery (2012), the year of dedication (2013), and even the year of exploration (2014). Each year lived up to its name, albeit sometimes in surprising ways that pushed me to my limits and then a bit beyond.

In 2012, I discovered who I was away from my friends, outside of my hometown, and apart from everything that I’d always thought was certain, as well as who I was when I came back. In 2013, I dedicated myself to whatever felt important, including finishing my bachelors degree in English and refining my art. And, in 2014, I explored whatever struck my fancy, even as that led me to travel from coast to coast for months on end and begin a master’s degree in criminal justice. No two years were the same, yet no year was more or less enthralling than any other.

All of that being said, 2014 was pretty intriguing. I spent three months in California, Oregon, and Washington. Then I spent three months in Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina. That’s not to mention all the states and shores I visited on the way to and from those places. I turned 21 and wasted my newest privilege by drinking a pitifully small volume of alcohol (say “no” to big kablue-nas). I began graduate school and discovered that sometimes the student teaches the professor. I baked foods and treats I couldn’t even pronounce and used ingredients I’d never heard of before.

In short, I explored.

Now it’s time to put all of that behind me, to close the door on 2014’s wild exploration, and step into the year 2015, which already seems daunting and intoxicating.

Over the next 365 days, I’ll be traveling back to South Carolina, the state I know only through my family tree.  I’ll be completing my Masters of Criminal Justice degree, complete with nerve-wracking comprehensive exams. I’ll be leaving my friends and the only place I have ever truly regarded as “home.” I’ll be taking control of my health and defying my genetics. I’ll be taking important steps in my personal and professional lives, striving to achieve success through desire and determination.

All in all, 2015 can and will be nothing less than wild and engrossing, fast-paced and sublime. Thus, in the same vein of thought, I’ve decided to call 2015 the year of ambition. I chose the word ambition to embody or headline this year mostly because I have a strong desire to achieve multiple things this year. I have an end-game in mind and nothing will stop me from reaching it. In addition, I’ve come to realize that being ambitious is just in my nature and that is something to use to my advantage, to accept as a benefit. So, this year will be a journey in accepting ambition as a facet of my nature.

Keeping with tradition, as I jumpstart the New Year, I won’t write down any particular resolutions because, well, it just feels awful when a perfectly composed resolution isn’t fulfilled precisely as it was written. I prefer to stick with matters of certainty, like the inevitable graduation and move, and variety, like the generality of being ambitious in all my endeavors. Along the way, I simply hope that at least 15 marvelous things will happen.

Here’s to a year of purpose and cheers to everyone reading this. I hope that you find precisely what you are looking for in the exciting days ahead. Happy New Year!

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Zac & Mia by A. J. Betts: A Book Review.

I’ve read a lot of books about sick people–fiction, nonfiction, the grey space in between–but, I’ve also witnessed sickness. I’ve heard lungs catch and breathes stop. I’ve felt the weakness of atrophying muscles. I’ve seen the red of a central line being removed. You see, sickness is a monster and, for all the knowledge you can have about it, it is facing it first-hand or alongside another that makes the ultimate impact.

When I was selected through Netgalley to read and review Zac & Mia by A. J. Betts, I was prepared for a watered-down version of sickness. Authors often seem too wary of the “delicate and impressionable” minds of young adults to do stories of sickness any justice, and the stories and their readers suffer because of it. In short, I was expecting a pretty inaccurate and mildly insulting portrayal; however, I’m happy to admit that that was not what I found during my reading.

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Within the pages of Zac & Mia, I found something painful and broken, yet altogether believable. It would seem that, despite its packaging as a young adult novel and my own fears of encountering the usual “sick-lit” cliches, this book presents something that someone who knows sickness can read without scoffing. It is undeniably the work of someone who has been touched by sickness, so perhaps it is fitting then that I read all 306 pages of this book while visiting my own mother at UF Health Shands Hospital.

To set the scene, imagine the methodical clicking of a morphine pump, the white-noise hum of a television with the volume turned down low, the low hissing of air blowing through an old grate. Imagine the sharp scent of alcohol and sanitizers, the deceptive flickering of shadows gliding by the bottom of the door, the feel of worn leather sticking to your legs. Imagine bruised skin, shallow breathes, weary eyes, weak limbs, rough speech, painful movements, nurses’ interruptions, doctors’ sighs, and my mothers’ chronic inability to remain conscious.

If nothing else, the stage was set.

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Zac is the quintessential good guy from a farm town who had the bad luck of getting stuck with myeloid leukemia. He knows his odds–55% chance of living five years without relapse–and he knows the odds of his fellow cancer ward residents. What Zac doesn’t know if how to truly communicate with the only other person in the ward who is his age–a moody teenage girl named Mia.

Mia is the ultimate city girl, used to parties, formals, and hundreds of facebook friends; however, she doesn’t know how to deal with osteosarcoma, and she is not so keen to try when ignoring her condition and treatment seems to be going so well. If she’d just listen, she would realize that she has the best odds of them all–90% even on her worst day. But, how can numbers matter when you feel otherwise?

The collision course that Zac and Mia set out upon after their initial meeting is essentially a “slice of life” portrayal of living with and after sickness. There is chemistry and romance, but this is not a love story. There is sickness and poor health, but this is not a scientific depiction. There is hope and, at its heart, this is a brilliant story of survival, desire, and courage. However, the beauty and uniqueness of this story is truly in the details.

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It’s in the uncomfortable and awkward questions that nurses must ask and family will overhear. It’s in the tests that must be done and redone in fear of and preparation for recurrence. It’s in the fragile hope of a mother who does word puzzles by her son’s bedside and brings new patients’ family members’ a cup of tea. It’s in the complicated request of a mother to a doctor to save her girl in spite of everything. It’s in the comfort of an answering knock on the other side of a beige wall. It’s in the fear of impending doom and the struggle to find the will to fight.

It’s in the honesty with which Betts describes sickness. As someone who has watched over their mother from childhood, someone who has acted as a nurse and a doctor and a friend and a daughter, this book resonated in a way that many “sick-lit” novels do not and perhaps cannot. Despite the fact that I am not sick and my mother’s sickness seemingly involves everything except cancer, I found my kindred in Zac, Mia, and their creator. There was a familiarity in the story that was simultaneously upsetting and comforting.

On a scale of one to five, I award this book four stars because it was realistic, honest, and it approached sickness with a level of understanding that I can only compare to the works of Lurlene McDaniel. I could not, in good faith, award this book five stars because (*spoiler alert*) the number of time jumps quickly became annoying and mildly detracted from the movement of the plot, rather than speeding or propelling it along (*spoiler over*). Overall, I felt that it was a well-executed story that delved into sensitive subjects with care and compassion.

I do not agree with the comparisons to John Green’s The Fault In Our Stars or Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor & Park because I feel like that is comparing apples to oranges. Green’s and Rowell’s works are amazing and I enjoyed reading them, truly; however, neither had the sheer authenticity and realism of this book. Perhaps that is something only someone who has been repeatedly touched by sickness can understand and appreciate though, and I do not know that the untouched will recognize or feel its resonance quite so clearly.

I would recommend Zac & Mia to anyone over the age of 14 who is interested in a truthful (yet still fictional) story that does not sugarcoat or glaze over the realities of sickness, mortality, and navigating life’s many plot twists. There are some mentions of topics of a sexual nature and the blunt discussion of death is nothing to dismiss, so I would be wary of allowing younger readers to delve into this novel unless their maturity level is particularly high for their age.

Anyone interested in learning more about A. J. Betts, her experience as a long-term hospital English teacher, her other literary works, and her guiding principles in life, should check out her facebook page, twitterwebsite, TEDx talk (“Why I Collect Shopping Lists”), this radio interview, and this article about “sick-lit.” Although I don’t know her personally, Betts seems like a wonderful person and I cannot wait to see what else she may write in the future. Cheers, readers!

(Disclaimer: I received this book through NetGalley’s Feed Your Readers program for Professional Readers in exchange for an honest review. The review I submitted to Netgalley has been posted here, verbatim.) 

The Sweet Taste of Technological Advance: Everything Happens “IRL.”

Almost two years ago, I wrote an article entitled “The Sour Taste of Technological Advance” and, more than anything else, it was a written exploration of the little ways in which technology has negatively affected society and human interaction. It was about awareness and consideration of current circumstances; however, it was not an outright rejection of technology.

This article is the flip side of that coin—the sweet taste of technological advance—as life is now, two years later.

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To the generations that grew up mostly without Internet it must seem strange that young people’s lives now are split between “the real world” and some virtual realm. I can’t tell you how many times even my parents, who admittedly aren’t that old, have questioned why the net is so important to me. Of course, the question is usually phrased more like “why do you waste so much time online?,” but the sentiment is the same.

The real problem, the real disconnect exists in this notion that what my generation does online is somehow unreal or less important than what happens AFK (away from keyboard) or IRL (in real life). Our lives are not split between real and unreal, but rather we conduct our real lives in two venues, simultaneously and, usually, identically. Despite all of the radio chatter about internet predators and social distrust, it is possible to be who you really are when you’re online, to live one life.

When it comes to meeting new people and building friendships, the internet is a powerful communication tool.

The internet is how we meet, where we meet, when we meet, and why we meet—it’s everything. The Internet is intrinsic, not separate.

And that is precisely why I disagree with the idea that people nowadays possess “online friends” and friends “in real life,” with no crossover between the two. I’m particularly against the perception of “online friends” as being somehow lesser—people, in person or online, are real and they matter.

Correct me if I’m wrong but, being friends means being there for each other and genuinely caring about each other’s welfare, yes? Being a friend doesn’t mean that you have to be neighbors on the same suburban street; it means being neighbors in heart and existing on the same emotional plane with and for each other. Physical proximity is not the primary determining factor for friendship anymore than blood is the only (or even the most important) determining factor for family.

Technology doesn’t just stop with or at the Internet and the human relationships it can aid in developing though…

There are cell phones, video games, and televisions. There are assistive technologies, medical technologies, productivity technologies, instructive technologies, administrative technologies, and information technologies. Technology, technology, technology—nowadays, we have a technology for anything and everything. We’re in a techno age and I don’t just mean the genre of musical; although, that is also technically relevant. (Get it, techno/technically?)

A major upside to the number of different technologies is that life is, in many ways, easier for everyone from Jane Dow and Joe Blow to the Big Bad Businessman and that Crazy Cool Corporation. People can communicate quicker. Information is more readily accessible. Entertainment has been diversified. Healthy and ill individuals alike can live longer. Schools are able to teach in and out of classrooms. Dangerous jobs have been delegated to machines.

Life is good, don’t you agree?

Technological advance means that I, as a person, am more capable than those who existed in the world of a century ago, or even those who already existed as little as two decades ago when I was born.

I can build and maintain friendships with people in other hemispheres on a daily basis.

I can access and make use of information without leaving the comforts of my home.

I can apply for and even accept an offer of admission from a top-level university program.

I can attempt to prevent, combat, treat, and even live with a variety of newly discovered illnesses.

I can maintain records for years without taking up an inch more of physical space.

I can navigate a conversation with someone speaking or writing in a foreign language.

I can call for emergency assistance on a deserted country road long after midnight.

I can live vicariously through a close friend’s gorgeous vacation photos.

I can work for a company whose headquarters or singular office building I have never entered.

And, I can write about technology and start a conversation without opening my literal mouth.

It’s undeniable that technology and society have changed, and technology and society will continue to change in an endless cycle. For the most part, humans benefit from this continuous change. We help ourselves and each other, and we ensure the possibility for a greater future for upcoming generations.

If society and technology didn’t change, didn’t advance, we would stagnate as a race. Had the sword never made way for the gun, had the abacus never stepped aside for the calculator, had the typewriter never bowed down to the word processor, we would have faded out of existence amid a graveyard of old ideas.

Change, you see, if absolutely vital and ultimately unavoidable. Thus, why not embrace it?

But, at the end of the day, there is sameness even in the world’s vast number of changes.

Friendships and relationships still take time, effort, and personal investment.

Information still has to be wanted, willingly accessed, and thoroughly absorbed to be useful.

College students are still tired every day and adamant that they didn’t go to that party last night.

Personal health is still neglected…until the problem is so bad that we can’t get off the couch.

Records are still messy, disorganized, and prone to being lost, even when kept in virtual files.

Conjugating verbs is somehow still imperfect even with instantaneous translation apps.

Being stuck on a deserted country road long after midnight is still dangerous.

Photos, whether polaroids or megapixels, still fill viewers with intense wanderlust.

Work is still required to make a living and provide more than memories for yourself.

And, a conversation still requires more than one active participant.

I invite you (i.e. beg you) to share your opinions on societal change and technological advance in the comment section below. Any contribution to the conversation is a step in the right direction. Does technology put a sweet or a sour taste in your mouth? Is technology anything worth wondering/caring/conjecturing about?

Tell me what you really think, what your best predictions are, or just tell me if you think The Gentleman’s Armchair is an amazing webcomic (I concur).

Or, consider the as-of-yet unspoken battle between these two ideas:

vs.

Whatever you decide to say, just say it (go, do it, right now), and I’ll get back to you as soon as possible. After all, in this day and age, I’m only a Macbook/Kindle/iPod/cell phone away and physical distance means nothing. Cheers to accepting that everything, on the net and off, is truly happening IRL.

AFK.

In Defense of the English Major (Sort Of).

Growing up, the one thing people said I was good at was English. Sports? I fell every two seconds. Music? I couldn’t get my fingers to cooperate. Dance? My feet were just like my fingers. But, English? That I could do.

It’s a rather broad statement though, “You’re good at English.” I wondered back then which way I should take it each time someone offered it up like a complement.

Was I good at writing, even though I never felt comfortable with the essays I turned in? Was I good at speaking, even though presentations made my heart beat in my throat and my words have extra syllables? Was I good at communicating, even though I didn’t know how to start a conversation with anyone my own age?

Was I good at English?

I didn’t think so, not then.

But, despite my discomfort and doubts, I was involved quite heavily in what my friends generically titled “English.”

I carried a book everywhere I went and ditched lunch for the library. I reviewed ARCs for Harper Collins, Random House, Simon & Schuster, and Penguin. I wrote a blog and built strong friendships in the blogosphere. I did well on writing assignments. I was featured in the yearbook sophomore year for being a reader and reviewer. I was put on the yearbook staff solely because a teacher liked how I wrote copy…and a year later I was editor.

I’m babbling, but I promise there’s a point to this.

There was evidence–public and glaring–that I was a lit kid, that I was thoroughly immersed in the infinity of English. It’s just that, back then, I refused to acknowledge any of it. I did what I did and I blushed, anxious and uncomfortable, when others brought it up. I was someone who did and didn’t see, who was and didn’t know. But, my friends, teachers, and parents saw these parts of my life and labeled me someone who could do English.

When college applications came around, I didn’t know what I wanted to be or do, and my school’s guidance counselors were glorified schedule-changers. I wrote “English major” on every application because, well, I didn’t know what else to write.

After all, how are you supposed to know what your want the rest of your life to be like when you’re not even two decades old?

Thus, as an undergraduate, I fell into being an English major.

It wasn’t so different from how someone might fall into school sports because their parents forced them to do little league for years. English was the thing others recognized me for, the thing I could do passably well in relatively easily, and the thing I enjoyed even when the work was challenging. If you’re good at something, you should do it, right? Apparently it’s not that simple.

Just as quickly as I fell into my major, I fell out of it.

(FYI, this is completely inaccurate.)

I read the news reports that called English a “soft skill.” I heard professors talking about the English program being downsized in favor of “more necessary studies” in science and technology. I talked to my peers and listened as they stated the import of their potential degrees in comparison to the uselessness of mine.

The talk? It got to me, a lot. But, even worse than the talk was the other English majors who were also abandoning ship like the penultimate scene from Titanic (1997). Into the icy waters of indecision we will go!

I changed my major once and then I changed it again. Then, just when I’d finished planning my next ten years, I changed my major again. Call me indecisive why don’t you.

I ignored the regretful twist in my stomach when I registered for classes like “Intro to Computer Programming” and “Accounting 2301.” I said that I picked English by default to begin with, therefore picking something else would be easy. I decided that who I was–who I was only just realizing I was–wasn’t good enough and I desperately tried to shed my skin.

It wasn’t working.

I realized I was at the wrong university and in the wrong degree program. I realized I was making plans that I didn’t want to come to fruition. I realized I couldn’t unzip my skin like a jumpsuit and step out with new interests and skills. I realized that I picked my path long before and I needed to do English with an awareness I didn’t have previously.

I reversed course and went back to the start. In very quick order, I switched to a new university, became an English major, registered for six writing courses, and started blogging and reading again. But, there wasn’t some magic spell that suddenly made everything okay. I still wondered about the practicality of getting an English degree.

I worried that I was just playing at doing English because I hadn’t written ten novels, forty fanfics, and four academic articles by age 19. And, only after months of hitting myself over the head for not being farther ahead did it occurred to me that that’s normal.

When I walked across the stage and officially received my Bachelor of Arts in English, I still questioned whether I’d made a mistake. There were a lot more business majors than English majors after all. But, I also knew that my choice of degree could be defended. Being an English major–doing English–means more than having a stack of old essays and loving libraries. It means:

~Strong communication skills

~Superior critical thinking and analytical abilities

~Deep connections and empathy with other people

~Genuine willingness to work and rework an idea or project

~Focused desire to create something from nothing

~Natural diversification of interests and knowledge

~Inherent fluency in the arts of subtlety and irony

The truth of the matter is that being an English major means having the precise skills and talents that are so in-demand, so necessary to life, that people will take them for granted unless we remind them.

English majors have necessary skills. English majors possess significant knowledge and experience. English majors can fulfill a need in almost any business or work environment in the world because communication is necessary everywhere–we just have to market ourselves as such.

Once we see ourselves, we have to make people see our skills, knowledge, and necessity too. It’s not about proving ourselves to anyone else, it’s about proving the continuing usefulness of English major and putting ourselves into positions where we can do what we love.

We have to shatter the idea of English skills being “soft” and instead showcase that we are masters of what every day, every moment of life requires. We have to wield our words like tools and weapons. We have to work for work, but as long as we are willing to make that effort, we’ll be fine.

Don’t fret too much; we’ll do English, it’s inevitable.

Without a doubt, being an English major is a meaningful pursuit. Holding a bachelor’s degree in English–or master’s or doctorate–in our hands will represent an immense accomplishment. It will be the moment.

And, in that moment, it won’t matter that we aren’t child geniuses with a list of thick novels to each of our names. It won’t matter that we changed ours major three times before committing to the English major. It won’t matter that we cried with worry and fear in our hearts before the graduation ceremony began. No matter what, we will be okay.

There will be doubts along the way to that fancy piece of paper with a college seal. There will be naysayers. There will be instances where we must explain our decisions. And, none of that matters because, once we’ve bypassed those people and breathed through those moments, we will do English and it will be more rewarding than anything else we could have done.

It may take a journey for some of us to come into this major, and it may take hard work to make others see why we stuck to this “foolish” path, but, if it is what we love to do, then we will do English. We will love and we will do and we will be, and it will be a perfectly imperfect existence.

Give the English major a chance and maybe, just maybe, you will end up defending it too.

Go do English.

 

Fandom, Fanfiction, and Fangirling.

 

When the last Harry Potter movie, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, came out in July of 2011, a community of readers and movie-goers simultaneously mourned the end of the series and celebrated the very existence of the series. For days before the London premiere, fans of the series gathered in Trafalgar Square and the surrounding areas, enduring rain and poor attitudes for even a single glimpse of Harry Potter Queen J.K. Rowling and the cast of the film.

There was little to gain from attending the premiere aside from memories, experience, and, for the lucky few, an autograph or two. Fans dressed in homemade and store-bought Hogwarts robes, wielded wands, ate Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans, read and reread the books, watched and re-watched the films, and enjoyed the company of others who were just as dedicated to the books, movies, and wizarding world. For a few days, people who spoke a common language (spells) and held common interests (he-who-must-not-be-named needed to die, duh) were together. Common ground is a powerful thing.

Even those who were not in London were able to get in on the action. Worldwide, fans tuned in to live online broadcasts, posted their excitement and worries on messaging boards and chatrooms, did everything else the London-goers did, but with testy Internet connections and crowded feeds instead of a downpour and crowded streets. Children, students, employees, parents, and people from every other age group and walk of life were represented by IP addresses, screen names, and handles. World wide web (i.e. wizarding world web), indeed.

Somehow, the memories, the experience, the chance to mourn and celebrate collectively, was enough to make attending the premiere (virtually or physically) totally worth it. By the end of the day, every fan could understand what Neville Longbottom meant when he said “Yeah, we lost Harry tonight. But he’s still with us.”

That day? Those feelings? The experience? That is what fandom is for the fans within it, and it extends far beyond the world of Harry Potter.

Scientifically, or perhaps linguistically, fandom has been defined by Princeton and Merriam-Webster (for who knows what reason) as a noun referring to a subculture of people who share a common interest or attitude of being a fan. Socially, fandom is much more than a definition, it is, as Hannah Carter of Fandom Wanderers puts it, “an amazing thing, with amazing power” that incorporates and affects innumerable people in a broad span of places.

“I’m just really active in the fandom.”
“What the fuck is ‘the fandom’?” (Rainbow Rowell)

In a way, the fandom and their activities often break or breach the “fourth wall” of art, literature, and film. The fourth wall, which is typically referenced only in relation to film, theater, and television, is the figurative division between performers and their audience. As Aja Romano of The Daily Dot states in the article “The Crumbling of the Fourth Wall: Why Fandom Shouldn’t Hide Anymore,” this wall is supposed to insulate performers from the harsh judgment and sometimes real-life repercussions of a performance.

In all honesty though, the fourth wall doesn’t insulate anyone.

In all honesty, the fourth wall doesn’t exist. At least, not while fandom thrives.

Fans and the fandom overall are a dominating force. The reaction of fans, not critics or reporters, can make or break a film in the short and long-term.

For example, The Mortal Instruments: City of Ashes (2013) was a box office flop and, as a result, production for the second film has (reportedly) been put on hold indefinitely. Critics felt that TMI had the same ingredients as seemingly every other fantasy franchise, but, perhaps more importantly, book fans weren’t ready to become franchise fans. The Mortal Instruments film was, in all honesty, the product of a toxic mix of improper casting, faulty plot lines, and boring scene arrangements. The numbers didn’t turn out at the box office; the fandom didn’t approve. But, it’s possible that future fans will.

Psycho (1960), The Shining (1980), and Fight Club (1999) were famously poorly reviewed by critics when they first came out in theaters. But, in the long run, all three became cult classics with active fandoms that are still more than happy to cosplay Crazy Jack and Marla Singer. While one-shot films have decidedly smaller fandoms than those of franchises, their fans can still hold their own. Critics serve a purpose, sure, but in the end it is not their word that guarantees or destroys the potential for a film’s success, it is the fan reaction.

The fans, the fandom is important. It or they are the make it or break it factor.

Fans participate in their given fandom(s) in a myriad of ways. Creation of fan art, literature, and music, along with blogging, cosplay, and conventions are quite common. However, writing and reading fanfiction seems to be one of the most popular methods of participation.

Fanfiction.net was launched in October 1998 is currently the largest and most popular fanfiction website in the world with over 2.2 million registered users reading and posting stories in more than 30 languages. The majority of fanfics (i.e. fanfiction stories) posted on fanfiction.net deal with the characters and worlds of books, including Harry Potter, Twilight, and Percy Jackson and the Olympians. 

“The whole point of fanfiction is that you get to play inside somebody else’s universe. Rewrite the rules. Or bend them. The story doesn’t have to end. You can stay in this world, this world you love, as long as you want, as long as you keep thinking of new stories” (Rainbow Rowell, Fangirl).  

In fanfiction, the sky is the limit. Writers can correct wrongs, give minor characters a moment, and even create backstories for the canonically one-dimensional. There are non-canon and alternate universe (AU) fics where major features of a work are altered, and there are canon fics where details are the same and the story explores the grey space before, between, and after books. There are crossover fics (i.e. two books/series meshed together), slash fics (i.e. fics wherein characters of the same sex are romantically linked), and limes/lemons (i.e. explicit fics), as well as the self-explanatory angst fics, sad fics, bad fics, and dark fics.

In the realm of fanfiction, there are people to answer to. There are fans of fans and fandoms of fandoms, if you will. There are beta readers, commenters, voters, bloggers, readers, writers, co-writers, writing buddies, forum friends, and chat pals…it’s a whole community, a whole world that coexists with that of the original creator and their creation. It is a whole community that actively demolishes, or disproves, the fourth wall.

“There are other people on the Internet. It’s awesome. You get all the benefits of ‘other people’ without the body odor and the eye contact” (Rainbow Rowell).  

Fanfiction is but one feature in the subculture that is fandom, but it is an important one. It is a medium wherein Luke Skywalker can be unrelated to Princess Leia, Draco Malfoy and Severus Snape can have the redemption they deserve, Rose can be the Doctor’s forever companion (*intergalactic swoon*), Bella can end up with non-sparkly Jacob, and Kirk and Spock can get to together in every way (*wink wink*). It is a medium wherein anything is possible for anyone. It is a medium wherein people can discover over people through the things they love and cherish.

That’s what makes fandom and all it involves somehow significant and worthwhile: the people within it.

Often when people talk about fandom, they forget that the word references genuine, real people and a state of being. It’s easy to cast the fangirls aside, especially when there are minorities that take fandom to the extreme (e.g. Bieber fans cutting themselves and shaving their heads in his name, threatening Kim Kardashian “for him,” taking over Twitter and ridiculing those within other fandoms, etc). But, we can’t forget and we can’t let anyone else forget because people, no matter who they or what they love, are important.

“You’re not a book person. And now you’re not an internet person? What does that leave you?” (Rainbow Rowell)

The fandom world isn’t just online, and it isn’t something that pales in comparison to “real life.” It’s the seasoning, the spice on top of a piping hot serving of life–fandom is something extra, something wonderful, something worth exploring. It is an unbreakable bond with people all over the globe, it is passion that can turn to positive action, and it is an identity that is as real and significant to fans as their last name or hometown.

Fandom is a bit like family.

It is crazy and trying. It requires devotion and inspires bravery. It is a part of us and we a part of it even when we are not actively participating. It acts as a support system and maintains accountability. It is a voice and a channel for ideas and concerns. It works to unite the divergent and incites the discovery of common ground.

Don’t make fun of fangirls; they’re incredibly brave to throw themselves into something with no promise of tangible returns. Don’t dismiss fanfiction; it is proof of passion, of dedication, of skill. Don’t demean fandom; this subculture has a purpose that is in no way sub par.

Fandom is a force.

On “Pretty Woman” Moments & Retail Judgment.

If you’re a Julia Roberts fan, you can vividly recall the scene of the Pretty Woman “shopping snubbing.”

Roberts’ character, Vivian, enters a shop on Rodeo Drive with $3,000 in cash and a few credit cards borrowed from Edward (Richard Gere). Three female associates give her the stink-eye the moment she enters, but she keeps to herself, nervously chewing on her fingernail, and begins browsing.

A young associate dressed in the store’s offerings approaches Vivian and inquires as to whether Vivian needs any help, which Vivian politely brushes off. When the associate remains by her side, Vivian amends her statement, admitting that she needs “something conservative.” The associate sarcastically responds “Yes,” eyeing Vivian’s streetwalker clothing, and follows her further into the store.

After Vivian’s compliments of the store’s clothing fail to draw out more courteous or helpful responses from the associate, Vivian inquires as to how much an outfit on a mannequin costs. Instead of stating a price, the associate says, “I don’t think this would fit you.”

When Vivian refuses to take that answer, another sales associate joins in and the two associates proceed to gang up on Vivian, saying arrogantly, “It’s very expensive” and “We don’t have anything for you. You’re obviously in the wrong place. Please leave.”

Embarrassed and seeing no further recourse, Vivian leaves the store upset and more than a little angry. There are no snappy comebacks or repercussions for the sales associates to offer viewers any comfort…at least, not yet.

Stylistically speaking, J. F. Lawton was a visionary to include such an emotionally charged yet simplistic scene in the Pretty Woman screenplay. It represents a major launching point for Vivian’s transformation from a mere dreamer to a dream seeker. But, culturally speaking, this scene represents so much more, something that happens every day in the consumer industry (not to mention every other sector of life): judgment.

Who among us has not felt ignored, insulted, or otherwise mistreated by the people who are paid specifically to treat us? Not one person can honestly proclaim that every shopping experience they’ve had in life has involved 100% positive relations with sales associates.

The reality of retail is that sales associates come to oversimplified conclusions about each and every potential customer the second they walk into the store. Determining each person’s economic status is the name of the game and, somehow, age, race, dress, physical form, body language, and a myriad of other purely visual details come into play.

Ladies and gentleman, sales associate are simultaneously the judge, jury, and executioner of each shopper that dares to enter the shopping world. Buyer, beware, indeed!

The fact that all of this is known about the shopping world, however, does little to quell the horrible feelings that sales associates can induce when they mistreat you.

It doesn’t matter where or how often it happens, it hurts and that pain resonates.

 What you need to understand about me is that I look much younger than I am.

A guy friend of mine frequently jokes that I was only six years old in high school. I still get carded for R-rated movies and a year ago I had to show ID to prove that I was old enough to be in the mall without a parent. When I turn 21 this year, I can only imagine the looks that waiters will send my way if I deign to order something a bit stronger than sweet tea.

In addition to being short and petite, I know that my face is youthful. As a result, I’m careful to dress my age, act maturely, behave professionally, walk with my head up, and strive to be a few steps ahead on the “growing up” scale—hello, college degree, thank you for being in my possession! All in all, I think I do a pretty good job of compensating for genetics.

Like Vivian, I appear quite young, even child-like at times, but we can both put on a few years if we try.

Yet, despite my best efforts, when I walked into the beauty and cosmetics section of Nordstrom in Tacoma, Washington, a few days ago, I was promptly treated like a child and ignored. You see, I knew precisely what I’d come to buy—Laura Mercier crème foundation in one shade darker than white crayon and (maybe) a few bits and bobs from the same line—and I only needed an associate to get it from behind the beauty counter.

Can we be quite quick? Alas, we cannot. Just like Alan Rickman’s character in Love Actually, my trip to the shops was destined for failure.

I approached not one, not two, but three sales associates and was met with only unpleasant looks and dismissals. Of course, that doesn’t even include the five unoccupied associates who simply ignored me as I meandered past them in search of the correct counter. I was watched, but not helped.

When asked directly for service, one associate even stated that she “couldn’t handle makeup from another person’s counter.” This quickly proved false as I witnessed three associate/customer pairs, including the associate I’d spoken with and the customer she’d approached after abruptly leaving me, moving between counters.

I waited patiently for the associate that worked the Laura Mercier counter to return from helping another customer—at another counter, might I add—but she never did. Upon inspection, I discovered her giggling with her fellow associates across the floor, sans-customer. I caught and held her eye, smiled, and turned pointedly back toward the counter.

Guess who still didn’t get any service? Guess who felt like a fool standing there waiting? Guess who walked out the store, upset and more than a little angry, without a single purchase made?

Oh, I kept my cool. I walked out with my head up, I smiled at the young associate who didn’t even smile at me, and I climbed into my parent’s car filled with righteous indignation.

This is why I hate the cosmetic counter, I kept thinking, this is why I avoid shopping. This is why I just shouldn’t try.

But, I had money to spend. I was courteous. I waited my turn. I was dressed well. I requested help. I was—joining a million people incensed over the same things happening in different places for only slightly different reasons, and none of us did anything wrong.

You see there is this thing called ageism and I experienced it along with, quite possibly, a bit of classism. Every day, other people experience the same thing I did, along with racism, sexism, ableism, anti-Semitism, and heterosexism. Each of us has been or will be a victim of the “isms” at some point or another. While instances can vary in degree and frequency, all instances of an “ism” are as valid as our feelings about them. You feel, you are, you have been. It’s not a competition because we’re all caught up in the same emotional storm.

The truth about the “isms” in the retail industry is that associates, who are often paid on commission, take advantage of perceived patterns in customers in attempts to increase their sales and, as a result, income. They call it consumer profiling, but it can be a bit more convoluted, and even nefarious, than it at first seems.

For example, a recent Harvard study published in the Journal of Consumer Research revealed that sales associates in luxury stores were more likely to assume that those individuals “willing to deviate” from social norms—such as dressing down in gym clothes while shopping—had the money to buy something.

So, if we want to be treated like human beings and helped in our endeavors, we must sacrifice our own style? It makes no sense.

Similar patterns or assumptions that are relied upon in retail include the notion that young people and people of color are more likely to be thieves with no “real” (read: large sums of) money to spend, leading them to be either ignored or followed. In the same way, the disabled and elderly are often infantilized based upon the idea that they are incapable or without means, making them either easy to oversell or not worth the time and effort. Plus-sized individuals are frequently considered difficult and unlikely to find anything that will fit, and effectively dismissed with the (only sometimes) silent message of “leave, change, and come back.”

When you lump in other assumptions about gender, sexuality, religion, and political affiliation, the list goes on so long that everyone becomes a perpetual victim. That’s the crux of the matter though: when one person is victimized, made to feel even the slightest bit of discomfort or embarrassment, we all lose out eventually.

It’s easy to try to “win” in the moment or shortly thereafter, it can even be incredibly satisfying, but it doesn’t solve everything.

In Pretty Woman, Vivian returned to the shop where she was snubbed, dressed in luxurious clothing with a collection of bags in hand. Ignoring the associate who approaches her as she comes in the door, she rounds on the associate who was disrespectful the day before. Vivian first asks, “Do you remember me?” to which the associate replies in the negative; however, after reminding the associate that she wouldn’t wait on Vivian, the associate comes to realize the woman she snubbed and the woman before her are one in the same.

As the associate stares at Vivian, shocked, Vivian hefts her designer bags in the air, declaring “Big mistake. Big. Huge. I have to go shopping now.” As Vivian flounces off, we see the associate look on in humiliation.

Of course, Vivian is pleased with herself—and what audience member wasn’t proud of her—but she doesn’t truly win against those who put her down in that store until much later on when she helps another streetwalker, her friend and former roommate, Kit, see that she can have a better life as well. People win together, not apart.

A few days ago, I wanted to demand service. I wanted to yell at a manager. I wanted to shove my true age, economic status, and resume in the associates’ faces. I wanted to pull a Gordon Ramsey and teach them how to do their job properly. I wanted to know what happened to a customer being a customer no matter how much they buy or spend.

I wanted vengeance.

But, what better to do than follow the Pretty Woman example and deny the judgmental, unhelpful employees an addition to their income AND tell others about the horrible experience? No snarky quip can hurt as much as a potential loss in customers and earnings.

Maybe I wasn’t wearing thigh high boots. Maybe I wasn’t showing my midriff. Maybe I wasn’t smacking gum. But, even if I had been, I would have deserved better service than I received. The fact that I look young—just like being a lower or middle class, a person of color, plus-sized, disabled, or so on and so forth—should not mean disrespect and being ignored.

We all deserve better. We deserve the fairy tale of retail, or at least some fulfillment of the basic promises businesses and their employees make.

It is important to remember that, as Edward says to Vivian in the movie, “Stores are never nice to people. They’re nice to credit cards.” And, that’s not good or right, but, it means that in the end sales associates are dependent upon you and I, my fine friends. We are the ones that can change them because we are their livelihood.

Whenever someone is mistreated due to the realities of retail, the associates and the companies they work for have made a “Big mistake. Big. Huge.” They need us, but we don’t need them, and that’s why we win out in the end.

(Disclaimer: Obviously, all sales associates at all stores are not terrible. Some of you are quite lovely and helpful.)

Love, Marriage, and a Baby Carriage–or Not.

Last month, when the blog article 23 Things to Do Instead of Getting Engaged Before You’re 23 went viral, engaged, married, and otherwise committed individuals were quick to take offense. I don’t mean to cause any similar kind of uproar, but I do have something to say and I can only hope it won’t be taken the wrong way.

——

Right now, my Facebook news feed is positively flooded with enthusiastic engagement party invitations, Instagram-worthy pregnancy announcements, and dazzling wedding pictures. I’ve seen enough posts about cakes, dresses, and baby showers on Facebook to make me question whether I’ve somehow mistakenly ended up on Pinterest.

But, despite my genuine happiness and the atrocious squealing sounds that come out of my mouth with each new announcement, I suddenly feel out of place amongst all of these couples and budding families that I used to know so well as individuals.

Statistically, the fact that quite a few of my friends are getting engaged, married, and having children isn’t that unusual.

December is the most popular month for engagements, June is most popular for weddings, and August continually fluctuates between the month with the first and second highest number of births. The United States’ average age of first marriage is 29.8 for men and 26.9 for women, while the average age of women at first birth is 25. Not to mention, ages at first marriage and birth tend to be slightly lower in Southern states–I live in Texas–and my friends are the slightest bit older than myself, spanning from 21 to 30.

By the numbers at least, my attached friends are pretty average, and my unattached friends are destined to be ever-dwindling. As someone who intends to stay single and childless for some time, I’m quickly becoming the odd man out, even among people in their early twenties and, presumably, just getting started in life.

While everyone else–excuse my hyperbole–is getting married or passing on their genetic material, I’m not.

I’m a student, a dreamer, a free spirit with very few ties to keep me in a single place. I have my undergraduate degree, I’m starting my graduate degree in 5 months, and I’m not keen on making any lifelong commitments to other human beings at this point. You’d be hard pressed to even get me to commit to even being a solo puppy parent at this point. My sights are set on conquering advanced coursework, traveling the world, and figuring out what to do with the experience garnered from both. And, I honestly don’t desire a new ring or birth certificate amid all of that.

For me, marriage and my own little family will happen much, much later…if ever.

I understand that:

And:

But, I don’t want any of that yet because my overall view is:

Or become engaged to pie, get married to pie, or give birth to pie, etc, etc, etc…

Relationships are lovely, marriage is a beautiful commitment, and I don’t know a single person who can’t appreciate tiny humans in at least a third-party way. I just personally don’t feel the need for any of it and I certainly lack the want.

So, as much as I love my friends and am happy for them, I cannot truly understand them, and that’s an easily driven wedge when you’re already being driven apart by other aspects of growing up.

I don’t feel superior for not being married or expecting. I’ll freely admit that my choices are no more or less correct/appropriate/right than my friends’ choices to get married or start families. But, our choices do place us in entirely different positions. Our launching pads for life are different from here on out.

The ties that used to bind us together, like common interests and shared responsibilities, have suddenly come loose and we’re drifting in opposite directions, whether we would like to or not.

Given that, when I read “23 Things to Do Instead of Getting Engaged You’re 23,” I could understand where Vanessa of Wander Onwards was coming from when she said that millennials deserve the opportunity to discover themselves. She’s finding herself, but at the same time she’s losing many others, and that’s a difficult position to be in.

I didn’t and still don’t agree with the 23 specific experiences that she recommended having or the way in which she entirely dismissed young couples, but I can understand her motivations. Like me, young commitment isn’t for Vanessa, but she mistakenly applied that notion to all people everywhere. In a way, she’s displaying a bit of ethnocentrism and/or collective narcissism, with uncommitted and meandering young adults as the group that she considers to be “normal” or otherwise socially superior.

The truth of the matter is that there are different strokes for different folks. What is right for me is not right for others, and we all have to trek our own path. As easy as it is to give in and sum up the natural decay of personal relationships as “others making the ‘wrong choices,'” it’s just not true. The moment we cast aside others’ choices is the very same moment that we’re making a wrong choice.

With all of that said, my dear engaged/married/expectant friends, I truly am excited for you and I wish you all the best in absolutely everything. I welcome the inundation of my news feed with your cute pictures and sappy love posts, and I will squeal over the pudgy cheeks of your children and like every photo I see of your wedding ceremony. Please don’t be dismayed by people who will dismiss your choices or lifestyle, but also respect those who make other choices and take different paths from your own.

And, just know that, if we do truly drift apart because of our diverging paths, you will be missed and I’ll always be happy for you.