Happy.

Next week I’ll be turning 30.

I’ve been embarrassed about my age for one reason or another for the past two decades. I never felt like I was in the right place. For the first of the two decades I thought that I was stunted—that if I were adequately mature I’d have more friends and would be going to parties or on dates. During my early 20s I waited for life to happen—which is actually an incredibly disingenuous way to say I was wrapped up tight in an opaque cocoon of egocentrism and nihilism. I spent the rest of my 20s feeling like I was playing catch-up. The stakes seemed so high! I filled my life with shoulda-woulda-coulda’s until there wasn’t room for much more.

Not that any of this is new or exciting. Especially here in the U.S.A., we live in a culture that prizes beauty above all else and equates beauty and youth. I grew up thinking that if I did anything of note it would have to be while I was young, because all the magazine spreads, news stories, TV shows, and movies stressed the impressiveness of age when youth and talent coincide. Even interviews with people who had long established themselves in their area of expertise often include stories about how so-and-so just knew they wanted to do whatever since before they were conceived. To me, that felt like a lot of pressure.

I think that’s what launched me towards media studies, feminism, and sociology. My own interest in media studies let me see that dismantling any narrative and critiquing its agenda was an option. Feminism told me—still tells me—that I have a voice worth hearing (among so much more). And sociology gave me so many gifts, like an understanding of the importance of a well-constructed study and its findings. It also taught me multiple theories about the function of society and its meaning, which included the idea that we craft our own narratives. One of my favorite professors showed the class how we cherry-pick elements of our past to make sense of our present by using some elements of her past to explain how she became a sociologist. She then retold her story stressing different events to explain how she could have become a singer.

I guess that my point in telling that anecdote is that I’m finally recognizing this belief I’d had—finding my passion so that I can become successful which would then make me happy and fulfilled forever—isn’t real. I can’t believe that no one had/has ever said that to me, but I can’t remember if anyone ever did. I remember a lot of people telling me what to do next, and then telling me that they couldn’t tell me what to do. I remember a lot of approving or disapproving glances or tones. I remember knowing who I was and being told that I was intimidating, too intense, unlikely to make a living, and should pursue different research interests.

Now that I’m turning 30, I just don’t care. I’ve lived with myself for three decades. I will continue to live with myself longer than I will have lived with anyone else, and I’ve finally realized just how much more important it is that I am happy with me.

For the first time in my life I feel like I am making all of my decisions.

And that is an amazing gift.

Happy Birthday to me.

Advertisements

Book Review: Anyway: The Paradoxical Commandments

Anyway: The Paradoxical Commandments by Kent M. Keith

This lovely inspiration book would make a great gift in nearly any situation. In it are Keith’s “Paradoxical Commandments” that promise to help the reader find meaning. They are basically calls to empathy and ways to help the reader interact more compassionately with others while staying true to who they are. Keith provides personal examples, and there is absolutely nothing objectionable or even outside of what major world religions teach.

Personally, I picked this book up in an attempt to find some answers to interpersonal rough spots I’ve been having recently. This book did not provide any specific answers, but I wasn’t expecting it to. Rather, I was expecting gentle reminders and ways of understanding situations I found frustrating. In that sense, this book fulfilled my expectations.

 

Bottom line: I would highly recommend this book. It is short, light, and generous—a truly remarkable tome.

On Why I Don’t Go to Movies

I used to love movies.

I don’t anymore.

I stopped loving movies in the summer of 2009 when I saw Public Enemies. That tail end of the movie, in which Billie Frenchette played by the extremely talented Marion Cotillard is beaten to the point of soiling herself and then is mocked for it before being literally carried to safety, was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I’m not naïve. I understand it was a movie based on real-life events during a time in which overt violence was much more acceptable. I also understand tropes that place women outside of the bonds of full humanity, often exemplified as brotherhood, and upon pedestals where we are painted as needing male protection and our socially constructed differences are cast as inferiority. And I understand that this movie, full of male-on-male violence in which the point of the violence was not to break and dehumanize the male characters also married the only instance of violence directed towards a female character with her degradation and need for a male savior.

In the summer of 2009, I was one year into what would be two years of immersive study on gendered violence. Through Susan Brownmiller, Carole Sheffield, Peggy Sanday, and so many others, I learned the complex theory behind gendered violence in a hierarchical, violence-prone society. At the same time I was reading bell hooks, Patricia Hill Collins, Jean Kilbourne, Sut Jhally, Michael Kimmel, and so many more who modeled how to build on the bare bones of that theory, deconstruct the uncomfortably commonplace, and cultivate a critical eye turned towards mass media. It was atop this enormous body of work that I finally understood that my disinterest in representations of women as primarily sexual objects, my extreme discomfort with the ways that violence was gendered in the mainstream, and my feelings of invisibility as a young woman of color were all valid. But now what? It seemed like every movie out there told white, cisgendered, middle-/upper-class, ableist stories about men which occasionally included caveats about the women they loved, saved, or raped. Even without with the increasing price of movie tickets and my poor student status, the cost was too high.

I stopped going to movies. It was one of the few ways I could protect myself. I was tired of paying good money to an industry that was nullifying my existence.

I’ve continued to stay away from mainstream movies. I love stories of overcoming and internal turmoil set against all manner of different backdrops, but I’m jarred out of suspended belief when I’m asked to envision a post-apocalyptic world with no people of color, save the neutered/villainous male Black best friend/archrival’s henchman or the ever sassy Black female compatriot. And I’m enraged and disgusted that it still seems like mainstream media uses rape and other forms of sexual violence against women as a lazy, go-to device to identify the morals of male main characters.

You and me, the people making the movies, the people going to see them, we’re better than this.

As representations of people, characters should be like real people—that is to say, more than one person’s perceptions and the things we survive. That said, this is deeper than the vanity of wanting to see someone more like me on the big screen. As the scholars I name checked earlier (and so many that I didn’t) drive home: narratives serve double-duty as scripts that shape our understanding of what is or is not possible. I mean, even in fantastic settings, on the whole and as a society, we cannot envision a world in which non-white, non-cisgendered, non-disabled, non-male, and otherwise non-hegemonically-conforming people/beings are allies, protagonists, and agents of change. Meaning that we regularly and systematically choose to support the failure to acknowledge the world as it is.

I’ll keep waiting for those movies I really want to see—movies that broaden my view, movies that reflect some of my life and the people in it, movies that aim for more than distraction and box office sales—but I’ve long stopped holding my breath. As long as mainstream cinema keeps expecting me to compromise and support a vision of a world that doesn’t even remotely look familiar, I’m happy to use my money and time elsewhere.

After all, there are cultural festivals to attend and museums to visit. There are countless books to read, and of course there are also stories to write.

 

Book Review: Doc Unknown Vol. 1

I’ve almost always found value in savoring good experiences. As Emmanuel Levinas, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., and countless others have expressed more thoroughly and more eloquently than I ever could, it’s these small instances of sensory enjoyment that feed and sustain us as we move through life. The need for something to look forward to is the sole reason it took me three weeks to finish reading Fabian Rangel Jr. & Ryan Cody’s Doc Unknown Vol. 1: The Secret of Gate City.

April was just shy of being completely soul sucking for me. There was some bad news, and just a bunch of weird, petty stuff happened and continued to happen. I needed a palate-cleanser for my life—something that would help restore my faith in right and wrong and remind me of the amazing things people can be capable of. Enter Doc Unknown. And after a week of white knuckling it, I turned to the first page and could not help but smile.

Doc Unknown is comics at its best. It’s noir. It’s conspiracy theories. It’s mysticism. It’s gangsters and martial arts. It’s a great story with compelling characters portrayed in a bold, cohesive style. And, it accomplishes all of this while being totally independent.

Generally at this point in the review, I’d write about representation. So here it is: Absolutely do not rule this book out because of the way the protagonist looks. Doc Unknown is special because it does what so few books do successfully—it suspends all belief. Rangel Jr. and Cody have crafted a world that entices the reader into to rolling with the fantastic, and the payoff is enormous.

Doc Unknown is special—the first panel of the first issue makes that apparent. I purposely put off reading the last issue in this volume so that I would have it when I truly needed it. And now that I’m done? Now that it looks like things in my life are beginning to turn around? Well, now I have Doc Unknown Vol. 2: Winter of the Damned and Other Tales and Boss Snake: Cold Blood, Cold Streets to enjoy.

 

Bottom line: Do you like good things, want to support independent comics, and have $4? Doc Unknown Vol. 1: The Secret of Gate City could be yours right now.

Book Review: Captain Marvel Volume 1

Captain Marvel Volume 1: In Pursuit of Flight written by Kelly Sue DeConnick with art by Dexter Soy.

Authors like Kelly Sue DeConnick and artists like Dexter Soy and Emma Rios are why I started reading superhero comics. DeConnick’s Captain Marvel has everything: friendship, the struggle to find and define self, WWII-era fights with spaceships, time travel, a heist, underdogs overcoming, and so much more. What’s more, Captain Marvel is totally relatable while simultaneously remaining aspirational. She’s smart and strong, but she struggles with the past. DeConnick’s storytelling abilities would still be impressive regardless of artist, but in the hands of Soy and Rios (respectively), Captain Marvel becomes outstanding. Both Soy and Rios have very different styles, and changing artists can be jarring if one artist is weaker than the other. Happily, that is not the case here. Soy and Rios both bring their own interpretations and thus their own energy into this series, so the differences in style are refreshing.

Bottom line: Buy this book. It’s fun, compelling, and thoughtful—a unique trio to be sure. And, resist pigeonholing it because it’s a superhero book. You won’t be doing yourself any favors if you pass this one up.