Tuesday, April 14, 2015

A Girl Obsessed

Here, I will aim to map out the constellation pattern of my lifelong obsessions, from two week phases to five year devotion. 

In case you aren't related to me or have been friends with me for any year, one fact of my personality is that I (very easily) get obsessed with stuff. And not, like, good for me stuff, like doing math equations or running or cooking kale into my every meal. I get obsessed with stuff that sucks my soul and mind into a different world and pushes me inside my inner world - television, books, music and movies. Throughout the entire scope of my adolescence and pushing into my adulthood, I cannot help but allow my life to be shaped by the different kinds of media I encounter.

I can't say why this all began or how, just that by my nature I am an obsessive person, prone to addiction. In addition to books and movies, I get a little bit obsessed with people: friends, my family. (Concurrently, I get un-obsessed with people and push them away from me. It's a push-and-pull life and something I always try to overcome.)

I used to re-read books a lot. Judy Blume's Just As Long As We're Together was one of my frequent re-reads, and Blubber as well. You could call me a Babysitter's Club fiend, if you wanted. And though I loved Harry Potter, it wasn't until seventh grade that my love for it merged into a lifestyle - no, my first obsession is quite possibly the strangest: the 2005 movie musical Rent.

Much of this obsession was fueled by a new friend, with whom I bonded over and loved Rent with. I spent all my free time and much of my homework time on my family's desktop, on Photobucket, Xanga, and YouTube, anything and everything connecting me to this musical that had captured my heart. Luckily for me and my parents, much of the content went right over my dumb little head. I was far too emotionally immature to understand the nuances of the plot, its socioeconomic commentary and especially its keen awareness of gender fluidity.

Ultimately, what grabbed me and propelled me into grandiose obsession (I had a literal binder, like, a hardcopy thing where I stored my Rent stuff, that I printed off the computer, because it was 2006) was its soundtrack, first of all, which is amazing, and second of all, its portrayal of all the different kinds of relationships. Rent presented me with an idea of the world that was so far different from my white Catholic sphere that it allowed me to become far more accepting later in life, of transgendered individuals, of addictions, of the spectrum of sexuality. It was all I talked about my entire eleventh year, all I listened to, all I ever wanted to watch.

After Rent and a little during, I entered my "emo phase" where I pretended I was a certain thing because of the music I liked: Panic! At the Disco, Jack's Mannequin and Fall Out Boy, and later Boys Like Girls and All Time Low. This weird little phase took me further into adolescence, from my round middle school days into my high school life, and the music I listened to would continue to affect how I saw myself, others, and the world until I would graduate high school.

Here is where I have to become grudgingly honest and expose myself to the entire Internet: I love Twilight and I feel no shame. It all started during eighth grade. My grade school best friend and I had fought horribly the year before and spent much of the year cold shouldered and then just when we made up, she moved two hours south. Eighth grade presented me with a different group of friends than I'd had the last few years and I felt at times very uncomfortable in my quiet, scholarly skin, knowing that in just a few months we would all be parting ways as I would be attending a private high school and they would carry into public.

I think I felt alone and uncomfortable with my tendency towards introversion. I was happy, and having fun, but at times very insecure. And all this uncertainty and insecurity and instability and coming change led me straight into the very white arms of the Twilight Saga.

It all began in the fall of 2007. I was preparing to take my entrance exam at Mags and knew I'd finish the sections long before time was up (I always did and always do) and brought a random book from my stack from the library with me to keep me entertained while I waited. That book was Twilight, the first one, and I was so engrossed that I refused to stop reading until I finished, far past my arbitrary bed time, heart pounding in my little twin bed in my adolescent bedroom.

Honestly, it stole my life for awhile. It was all I thought about, talked about; I powered through the sequels. Distinctly, I recall sitting on our old couch in our living room, crying as Edward left Bella in New Moon, trying to hide the tears from my mom, my brother, my dog. After I finished the books, I held them hostage from the library until my parents gave in and bought me the box set for Christmas. I cried. I read fanfiction, wrote fanfiction, made Edward and Bella Sims and thought all the time of these characters and their world.

I don't know what it was about the Twilight saga that enraptured me so - though I continue to look on it fondly, I recognize its inherent problems narratively, politically, economically. I think it was the blandness of it. Bella is a normal, pedestrian girl. She wears normal clothes, has normal hair, has a painfully boring divorced parents backstory. There is nothing extraordinary about her and I think it was that that appealed to me, then, that she, like me, was a normal girl. As an adult, I realize the flaws in that, in my constant desire to be unique and ethereal when at my heart I am a basically a carbon copy of a million other middle class white girls.

That there would also be a movie franchise fueled my devotion. I joined IMDb and participated in many a forum. This was 2008, the early days of fandom, before devoted fans found purchase on Tumblr. That fall, my brother, Jack, closest in age to me and my companion, left for college and I started high school, without any of the friends I'd forged that last year of middle school, at an all girls Catholic institution.

In the liminal space of that summer, when I was "scene" and on MySpace and obsessed with Disney and alternative music and still Twilight, always Twilight, I used Facebook to meet girl from my high school. Because of Facebook, Twilight and awkward adolescent determination to know at least one person not from St. Joe's, I met one of my to this day best friends, Grace. It would not be the first time in my life that one of my obsessions would lead me to lifelong friendship.

Twilight kept me warm until my junior year of high school, when I'd tired of the characters and all of the nonsense of the then-franchise. Instead, I joined Tumblr and spent much of October and November obsessed with Taylor Swift and her Speak Now album, which had just been released. Eclipsing Taylor, though, that November, was Glee.

I've written about Glee before. The eighth episode of the show's sophomore season, "Furt," made me fall head over heels in love with the show. When I learned that other people were crazy about Glee like I was - that they loved Finn and Rachel like I did - I felt like I had finally found a niche. No one in my real life liked Glee the way I did, no one thought about it like me; it wasn't important to anyone else. I couldn't talk about it with them, about this show that opened up my hard emotional self and cracked it, alerting me to things I saw in the characters that I saw in myself.

Glee was the first time I watched a television show and found characters like me, whose desperation to have love and respect made them selfish and mean. But besides what the show mirrored to me, I just loved it. I loved the stupid music, the over-the-top storylines, the conveyor belt of romance. The show became like a Punnett Square of relationships, so unlike my own droll life that I was ensconced. And, like Twilight, Glee came into my life when I was on the precipice of change.

Junior year, my body was changing. The weight I'd put on the year came off a little, I got into yoga, my figure shone through layers of baby fat. My mom was back from her year-long assignment but things at home were perhaps more unstable than the year before. I was making new friends from different groups, learned how to drive, dyed my hair. I started wearing my glasses every day. Everything shifted as I came into who I would be as an adult, but Glee gave me the stability I needed, an outlet for all this change to be funneled into so I wouldn't have to deal with it myself.

Every Tuesday at 9 in the evening, I had something to watch. When my dad had his heart attack, it was Glee that I turned to, unable to put into words besides a late night phone call to my best friend about how it felt, how scary, and absolutely avoided the topic with my mom and my brothers. When his life was saved, when I had to return home, I watched Glee on the little television in my room in relief. Things had shifted, absolutely, but I still had this thing - this show, this fandom - that remained.

In 2012, I graduated and began college and had a horrible time of it. The previous fall, Glee had brought Rachel into my life. The summer before college, we Skyped every single night, basically, and in those early winter days, where I found myself alone and friendless at BGSU, we continued this tradition, talking about Cory and Lea Michele and Finn and Rachel and writing and all the things we loved, then. An interview with Cory on Ellen DeGeneres brought Shanna into our circle. I didn't know then how important that night was, but it became clear as we exchanged Facebook information, cell phone numbers, emails, even addresses for Christmas cards that these were not Just Internet Friends, these were Real Life Friends.

Without them, I honestly wouldn't have made it through late 2012 and early 2013. I was lonely and sad and letting myself slip into dangerous introversion. But we chatted on Skype every single day all day. I would log on at three in the afternoon and we would chat through dinner, through homework, through writing and through bed time, sometimes past two in the morning if I had a late class. We laughed and I felt better, there, laughing in my little bedroom in small town Ohio than I had going out with the girls on my floor who had abandoned me.

Through my Glee phase, which spanned from 2010-2013, I spent two weeks obsessed with The Hunger Games, another few months dedicated to Doctor Who, in January of 2013 I discovered BBC's The Hour, which remains in my top five favorite shows. It was during this time that I found Joni, whose music has inspired a lifelong obsession. Hers is music I will never truly tire of, will never abandon like I have other things I have loved and am now forgetting.

All good things come to an end. I became a feminist and could no longer love Twilight limitlessly. I had to add provisions to my enjoyment of the franchise: I like Twilight, but Edward is abusive; I like Twilight, but Bella is not a character, but a shade. Glee ended when Cory died in the middle of July 2013. It came screeching to a halt, no preparation, no questions asked. Cory died and that same morning I deleted every single Glee song from my iTunes library. Earlier that summer, I had deleted all the episodes I'd downloaded. I went to the gym and ran out my sadness, deleted the Twitter app and took a break from the Internet and went on vacation with Grace to New Jersey and New York.

In NYC the day before my 19th birthday, I met Shanna for the first time in person. I had been scared our friendship would change after Cory passed away, that not having the common thread of Glee, we would shatter and unravel. I feared our triad would break off and I desperately avoided addressing it when we did Skype.

Now I find myself mapping this lovely friendship that Glee gave me since it's the most important thing beside all the self-confidence, the writing ability, the outlet for all my grief and pent up emotions. After Glee, there was nothing. A little Fringe, a little Dawson's Creek; every television show I watch, I obsess over for a bit and move on, same with books. My reactions to the things I loved became somewhat mainstream. I liked a band, I recommended it and moved on. Or, I liked a television show and I reblogged a picture of it onto my blog.

And then I moved to England and lost the time to watch new shows, spending the time I had to watch Netflix rewatching old shows, Parks and Recreation, The Mindy Project, Gilmore Girls. What can I say - I love a good female-led ensemble comedy. But then the first semester passed and half the second and before I knew it I was facing three long weeks of spring break and only one set in stone travel plan, stuck on campus while all my friends traveled with each other and their families.

Then, The X-Files revival was announced. I'd watched the first two seasons of the show sometime in the midst of my Glee and post-Glee life but hadn't been too committed to finishing it for some reason. It was an old, long show and I had all the time in the world since it wouldn't be returning - and then suddenly, it was, and my desire to finish it spiked. For two weeks straight, I marathon watched, obsessed with every detail, every storyline, every interaction between Mulder and Scully.

Of course, as with all things, it comes when I am facing yet another change in my life - the end of my year abroad and my final year of university. I can't talk about it or I'll cry. But it's coming and I'm not surprised at all that I find myself obsessed with this crazy 90's show about aliens. It makes me happy. When I watched, it made me laugh and cry and talk aloud to myself. It gave me something to do when I was bored and verging on lonely, gave me a new thing to love and think about on the elliptical at the gym. Though my relationship with Shanna and Rachel has only gotten stronger since Cory's death (we've managed to meet three times since and are planning our fourth for this summer) and even better since I've been gone, somehow, The X-Files is another thing we all have in common that reminds us of the childlike way we loved Glee in the winter of 2013.

All these are things that are a part of me. The things I love make me me, I am what I watch, what I read, what I listen to. I am but a product of what and who I love. Without Glee, I would never have been so informed and would be years behind where I am now when it comes to feminism. Without Rent, I would have spent my adolescence confused as sexuality entered our lives. Without Twilight, I wouldn't have met my first high school friend, wouldn't have had that familiarity that I so desperately needed and held onto for four years, as rocky as they were. My reaction to change and trauma and sadness might be strange, but it lightens things for me, helps the weight of all my worry and anxiety off my shoulders. I would far rather be anxious about the alien conspiracy in the world of The X-Files than how I'm going to cope saying goodbye to Keele.

I would rather be what I love than who loves me.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Abroad Chronicles, VIII: OXFORD

After spending all of February at Keele, in the middle of March we finally ventured out and took a day trip to Oxford with the university's student support services. We didn't get nearly enough time in this little city but I'm ever grateful for the hours I did have.

Oxford is a college town, obviously, and it felt like one. Our first stop was Christ Church College, where they filmed some of Harry Potter. It felt a little like Hogwarts, to be honest.

England in bloom

These are THE STAIRS from Harry Potter and the Philosopher's (Sorcerer's) Stone!!!!

(blurry) proof I have friends

Day trips are often difficult to describe. We have to see so much in a short amount of time, bound to the laws of transit, that very often the experiences slip through the cracks. Also, at this point in the day - after Christ Church College - I was growing weary, so my memory is hazy until after lunch.

We did get a little turned around, ended up too far from the city's center and re-routed ourselves to find a place to eat on High Street. We ended up first in a candy shop and later in a pub for food. Besides Christ Church College, I wanted to see the Bodleian Library and Blackwell's bookshop, but the library was closed and I spent my remaining time in this little city in the bookstore.

I hope to someday go back to Oxford and properly explore it, be it this later this spring or the next time I find myself here in England.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

March On

Oftentimes, my weeks here are so filled - with homework, classes, socializing, reading, sleeping - that I'm not able to reflect as much as I'd like. February was a cold gray blip in time and for the first time since arriving here, I didn't leave this area once. I forget that I'm here, in England, away from home, that I do not go to Keele, that these humans I've befriended will be departing from me too soon. Maybe I'll be departing from them, since I'm leaving first. Ninety-three days feels like nothing and yet June feels so very far from here, where I am lying in the dark, putting off going to sleep of all things.

Today was the first day in a few weeks where I felt abundantly homesick. Here, I always am missing home, but not in an all day every day kind of thing, but today it resurfaced and I wanted to see my mom and dad and siblings and niece and nephews and my dog and my house. I want to take the people I have there and bring them here, wish I could double and be in two places at once.

England is a strange, funny place. I find something new to like every day and is blooming as spring comes. So thankful I am for having winter here, where it is mild and windy and wet instead of snowy and freezing. A few weeks ago I went on a walk around our campus because I had never really seen it since the fall was odd and the winter was cold. I feel like I wasn't here at all last semester.

Here, the clock changes later and Mother's Day is next weekend. The water is different and the sun is a stranger and flowers are sprouting everywhere. I can hear people all day in their rooms, singing and laughing and talking and wonder if they can hear me, too. My sense of style is stalling in the year I was born and there are less days until my birthday than I have been in England. I miss writing and have forgotten its simple pleasures and wish someone would lend me their characters so I could reignite that passion.

Already, I have read twenty books and I am writing this so I can sleep tonight. I am learning things about myself because I am a living cliché. I wonder what made me want to come here and am ever grateful for the perseverance that has brought me here, made me stay when it wasn't what I expected, that made me fall in love with this funny little place. I absolutely hate goodbyes but I love hello agains even more, and know now in March that I will be using that love to power through my goodbyes.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

On Loving Parks and Rec and Saying Goodbye

If you've given up using the Internet for things other than email, work, and reading my blog for Lent, then you probably missed the worst thing that has happened to me so far in 2015: NBC's Parks and Recreation coming to a close last week.

I have so many issues with how NBC treated its last good comedy and the general state of TV in that bad comedies (not going to name names but if you know me you know what I mean) continue to get viewership despite that they aren't funny. Other comedies (especially female-led ensembles, such as 30 Rock, Parks and Rec, and Fox's The Mindy Project, for example) have struggled with viewership, despite high reviews and cult-like followings. But rather than complain about that, I want to reflect on and write my own love letter to Parks and Rec.

Parks is set in an imaginary small town in Indiana. In next door Ohio, I could relate to the small town-ness, the boring ordinary of the midwest, the references to strange, important rural things, like little horses and summertime festivals. Even more, I saw something of myself concurrently in Leslie Knope, for her unbridled enthusiasm and liberal, feminist politics, and April Ludgate, for her cynicism and dark humor. I find a lot of characters on television that I am like, for whatever reason, but very rarely do I find properly flawed characters that I want to be like, that I can, realistically, be like.

In an absurdly real world, where civil servants shed tears over the death of a miniature horse and argue to put Twilight in a time capsule, Parks boasts a cast of characters who are, without a doubt, real. The things that happen to them - perhaps not. But the way they interact and love and get angry is undoubtedly reminiscent of the real world. Especially poignant in Parks and Recreation is the attention it gives to healthy female friendships. So much attention that Galentine's Day, a Leslie Knope-created holiday in the second season of Parks has become an actual day, like Valentine's, in which girls celebrate other girls. Ann Perkins is Leslie's best friend and soul mate, "tragically heterosexual," Leslie says in one episode, and one of the show's most moving relationships as we see both of these women flourish separately and together. Though the fight and their friendship goes through rough moments, they always make up, and when Ann (spoiler) leaves Pawnee, we as viewers are certain that these women will continue to be friends long after they move away from the town that brought them together.

Leslie seems to have boundless passion and it occurs in everything that she does, from friendships to romantic relationships and finally, to her job. The show never shames her for this. When she loses her job or comes into a political snafu, the show does not place blame on her. Parks is a show about people loving what they do and the people they do it with, something so refreshing in a largely cynical, digital age.

What is remarkable about Parks is that it, like other NBC shows (oldie [lol] Friday Night Lights, The Office and Parenthood), makes the ordinary - government officials - extraordinary. Not only does it turn a woman's entry to a campaign speech a moment of hilarious absurdity on an ice rink, it turns an ordinary woman into a remarkable public servant who, despite many a setback, never gives up.

In my internal, personal life, Parks ends midway through my second semester of living in England, and like leaving here will be, saying goodbye to one of my favorite shows is bittersweet. The finale may have been cheesy, but it provided long-time lovers of the show closure we don't always get in TV. Something I love about books is the frequent use of the epilogue, a convention largely missing from mainstream television and film. I didn't want Parks to end. I don't want my time in England to end. But Parks's story was over and its ending was perfect. Come June 10th, the chapter of my English life will come to a close, and I hope (as stupidly sentimental I am becoming) it ends in the same vein.

Thank you, Parks, for teaching me to always treat myself, to be positive always, to love my gal friends and my guy friends, that breakfast food is sacred, to embrace my inner child and inner demon, but above all: "We need to remember what's important in life: friends, waffles, work. Or waffles, friends, work. Doesn't matter, but work is third."