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Goodbye (20)13

It’s the last day of the year, so of course I have to do a cliche “looking back on this year” post.

But as cheesy as it is, this year was probably the biggest of my life. I graduated college, moved to New York, and got my first real job. 

It was a scary and surreal and ridiculous year full of change. I got to do some amazing things. I went to some great concerts, met my celebrity crush, went to 2 awesome ComicCons AND LeakyCon. Got to come to New York and explore the city. Hung out with great friends and made some new ones as well. Looking back, this year was basically ridiculous. 

2012 was a tough year for me. There was a lot of loss and grief and depression. So going into 2013 my main goals were to work as hard as I could to be as happy as I could. Now that I’m able to look back on the year in full, I can say that I’ve mostly succeeded. It was rarely easy, but I made it where I wanted to be and doing what I want to do. And despite being stressed and anxious along the way, unsure of what was going to happen, I still made time to have fun with friends and family and enjoy my life.

I want to thank everyone who supported me this year. I am so grateful to everyone in my life. When things were hard, you all helped make it easier, and when things were happy and fun you were right there with me. 

There’s probably a lot more I could say about this year, but I’ve never been one to dwell when there are good things coming up. And with how well 2013 is ending, I am optimistic and excited for what 2014 will bring. 

And now that the sappiness is done, I’m going to turn on Netflix and avoid drunken New Yorkers for the night. 

Happy New Year!

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Employment Unlocked

Considering I have used this blog as a space to talk about my job search, I figured it was only fitting to make a post about it’s end.

That’s right, folks, I am now a gainfully employed adult.

Today marked the end of my first week at my new job, working as a Community Manager at an ad agency in New York City (you know how brands have Facebook pages? Well, someone has to run them. And that would be me, for a few of them at least).

When my life goes through big changes, I tend to roll with it. I focus on the minutiae, the day-to-day. As soon as I got the offer, I started thinking about the practicalities of my now permanent move to New York, and I’ve been focusing on the actual work of my job. It’s only when I’m talking to family and friends about this BIG change that I step back and go, “huh. This is a big deal.”

For some reason, I get a little self-conscious and uncomfortable talking about my job hunt as a whole ever since it got this fairly ideal ending. It was a really tough 5 months, and while I never gave up trying there were definitely times I lost hope. And I know that I’m lucky to have gotten such an amazing job, and one that will likely start a career in marketing and advertising (I wish). It’s so surreal to think that a year ago I would fantasize about living her and working at a place like this, and now it’s my life. How does that even happen? I’m currently sitting in a freezing apartment that has a mouse living somewhere in it, so my life is just not-perfect enough that I know I’m not dreaming or in some weird Matrix-reality. I think. But it’s weird. It’s weird to think that my adult life is starting now. That I’m settled, and there’s no “next step.” This is just my life. I’ve never had something like that. Ever since I was a kid I’ve been focused on the next thing: applying for college, college itself, post-grad life, getting a job. Now I’m there.

Now I guess I get to actually live my life.

How crazy is that?

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Unabashedly in Love with Disney Right Now

Earlier this week I saw the newest Disney princess movie, Frozen. Now, like any human being who grew up in the Western world (or at this point planet Earth), my childhood was shaped by Disney. Especially since I grew up during Disney’s renaissance in the 90s. And while my world-views have changed since I was a 5-year-old naming pet fish after Disney princesses and princes, I still carry my appreciation for the cartoon classics.

Nevertheless, Frozen had me laughing out loud in the theater for its blatant judgement of Disney tropes. 

This latest princess film is loosely based on a Hans Christian Anderson fairytale, taking place in a land that looks a lot like Northern Europe and containing a princess with magical ice powers and her feisty little sister. There’s a pet with attitude and a talking snowman, just as you’d expect, and a charming and handsome prince. But the usual Disney storyline differs EXTREMELY in this movie.

*Warning for spoilers!*

Early in the movie there is an entire song devoted to a couple, the main princess Anna (voiced by Kristen Bell. She’s the younger princess) and a prince she’s just met, Hans (Santino Fontana, currently the prince in Cinderella on Broadway). The song is about how they’re just met and have fallen in true love and at the end they become engaged. Classic Disney. Except that from that point on, every other character points out how insane it is to marry someone you’ve just met. Despite the fact that every princess (except for Belle) has done so. In fact, it turns out that Hans was not such a charming guy, and that he was playing Anna in order to steal her sister’s throne. Whoops. Turns out it IS a bad idea to trust the man you’ve literally just met. 

This film is consistently modern and has some amazing messages, all twists on the perceived Disney traditions. Anna does have a love interest, ice-seller Kristoff (Broadway vet Jonathan Groff). But the two only dance around each other in the movie. Kristoff’s friends, a group of love-expert trolls, sing to the pair that though they’re both “fixer-uppers,” they can be “fixed” by being in love. But instead of leaving it there, the song makes it clear that love is not some kind of magical catch-all:

“We’re not saying you can change him, ’cause people don’t really change./

We’re only saying that love’s a force that’s powerful and strange./

People make bad choices when they’re mad or scared or stressed./

But send a little love their way and you’ll bring out their best.

Everyone’s a bit of a fixer-upper, that’s what it’s all about/

Father! Mother! Sister! Brother! We need each other to raise us up and round us out.”

From the studio that brought you, “true love makes a beast into a non-abusive boyfriend,” we have “love doesn’t change a person, but supporting them when they’re going through tough times helps them!” 

But the most important way that this movie is different from it’s predecessors is that it is a princess movie that isn’t about finding some prince. It’s about two sisters, Anna and her elder sister Elsa (the amazing Idina Menzel in a very Wicked-esque role). Elsa has ice powers and has been hiding them for years, terrified that she’ll hurt her beloved little sister. She runs when the kingdom finds out, afraid of losing control and accidentally setting off an endless winter, then again accidentally dooming her sister. But Anna’s love for Elsa, and Elsa’s love in return, saves both of them and the kingdom. When Anna needs an act of true love to save her from her sister’s powers, she assumes it means kissing Hans or Kristoff. Nope. It means sacrificing herself to save Elsa’s life. Because loving some Prince is not the be-all and end-all of her life. But having a good relationship with her sister, her only family, is. Disney has had movies about siblings before. Lilo and Stitch is a beautiful example. And Pixar’s Brave. But Anna is the first princess who’s lesson is not “find a husband,” but, “be a good sister.”

As a younger sister, I related. As a person who grew up with Disney, I loved this shift. Sure, I want Anna and Kristoff to get married and live happily ever after. But more importantly, I know that Anna and Elsa will live happily ever after as loving sisters who build snowmen together and rule their kingdom with love. Nothing is more important than family, whether by blood or by choice, and it’s refreshing to see Disney make that so explicit.

Plus, with 4 of the 5 leads being Broadway vets and an amazing batch or original songs, I’ve had this soundtrack playing on loop for days.

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Feeling Old

Happy Hannukah!

Since yesterday was the Shabbat of Hannukah, that made it the 10th anniversary of my Bat Mitzvah (obviously in the Hebrew calendar. My Bat Mitzvah was on December 20th, 2003). When I realized this, I couldn’t help but feel old. It’s been an entire decade since I was 13, when I was first told that I was an “adult.”

Ha.

Now that I am technically an actual adult, I know that 13-year-old me was far from that level of maturity. Heck, even right now I generally feel anything but adult, despite having a college degree and living on my own and having a job. Plus paying bills and having to feed and clothe myself. 

Wow. I guess I am an adult. That’s more than a little terrifying. And it only took ten years!

Anyway, I thought that my Torah portion from that fateful Hannukah Shabbat is fitting for this stage of my life. Sort of well-done cosmic timing. It is the story of Joseph, specifically his earlier life when he starts to interpret dreams and is sold into slavery by his siblings. You know, the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical.

I chose that portion because of the story. I had been Joseph-obsessed as a kid and felt the strongest connection to that section of the Bible. I’m still not entirely sure what it was that drew me to that story. Maybe it was the entertaining family drama, or Joseph’s rise from slave to prince. But it is the bit about dreams that I feel the most connected to today. 

In the Bible, Joseph has the ability to interpret dreams. Once in Egypt, he uses this gift to get himself out of prison and to save the Egyptian people from a famine, resulting in his becoming the Pharaoh’s right hand man (and leading the Jewish people to Egypt, where they would eventually be enslaved and then Passover happens, but in Joseph’s lifetime things were all good). But as a kid, Joseph’s dream-focus was just another annoyance to his brothers, something else they could hate him for. Besides being the favorite of 12 sons (and a daughter), he was one of those obnoxious kids who spends their time dreaming of all the great things they’ll somehow impossibly accomplish.

Now that I can relate to.

Joseph saw 11 stars bowing to his star. He saw 11 sheaves of corn bowing to his. My dreams have always been a lot less narcissistic. And thankfully mine have gotten a lot more familial support. But it’s tough, to have an idea of what you want your life to be or where you think it’s going, and to struggle on your way there. Joseph was sold by his own brothers into slavery and then thrown into jail when his boss’ wife hit on him. Those are some pretty major obstacles. But they were the challenges he needed to face because they were on his path to his destiny, and that bright shiny future where his brothers did bow to him and his dreams came true. 

Thankfully no one sold me anywhere and I am not in jail. I made it to the city I had dreamed about as a kid. But I am still working toward my ultimate dreams and goals. And things can be hard. Really, really hard. But I just need to remind myself, especially in times like these when the Universe is obviously sending me a well-timed anniversary message, that every obstacle is just another stop on my path.

I think I’ll skip the rainbow colored coat, though.

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Hashtag Good Times

I realize that it’s been a while since I made a post, but that’s because I generally haven’t had anything worth talking about. 

I spend my days working at Starbucks, looking for an “adult” job, and seeing friends (plus sleeping whenever I get the chance, which isn’t often). 

My birthday was the other day, and while my Facebook and phone were full of birthday tidings, most of my friends and family mentioned my live in NYC. I was surprised by the number who mentioned my amazing life here, how jealous they are, and all the fun I’ve been having.

To be fair, I am having fun and I do love being here. But I was momentarily confused. Where were they coming up with this perception?

It’s obvious, of course. When I do the occasional cool or fun thing, I snap a pic and upload to Facebook or Twitter or Tumblr (or all three) via Instragram. I update my Facebook with what I’m doing or Tweet anecdotes from my day. My social media, the main and often only way I stay connected with friends around the world, paints a clear picture of a young woman living it up in NYC. 

It’s a logical and even well-known concept that few really stop to internalize. What we see online is often a rose-tinted version of someone’s life, and is always merely a small slice of who and what they are. There are tons of articles out there about this idea, so I won’t push it too much. We all make choices as to what to show other people. 

I choose to upload photos of the New York scenery, mainly to document for myself but also to keep my family updated on what I’m doing (my Bubbie loves using Facebook to keep track of her grandkids). I post when I see a show and stagedoor, getting pictures with actors I love. I know these posts will often make my friends jealous, and that’s just a bonus. Everyone wants to make their lives seem as interesting as possible. I don’t let the world know when I go to work or do laundry and sit in my room watching Netflix. For one thing, none of that is interesting. And it’s not the kind of life I want people to see. I, like any 20-something, want to seem successful and fun and enviable. 

So yes, dear friends, I will keep living it up in NYC, doing amazing things that will make you key-smash comments on my Facebook page. But I’ll also still go to work, do chores, veg on my chouch, and be boring in the privacy of my non-Instragramed half of life.

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Screentime: Two Very Different Takes on Growing Up and Coming Out in Theatres Now; Kill Your Darlings vs. Blue is the Warmest Colour

Last week while trying to find respite from the sudden cold snap in the city, I took advantage of New York’s cinematic status to see two recently released films that are certainly not playing in my hometown in Ohio: Kill Your Darlings and the French film Blue is the Warmest Colour (also known as La Vie d’Adele). These films were completely different in language, tone, and overall experience, but they have both opened to film festival awards and general critical acclaim. And they do share a common theme, one of coming of age and homosexual awakening, though they are tackled very differently and for differing purposes.

I’m going to put it all out there at the start: While the performances in both films were phenomenal, I loved Kill Your Darlings and have a lot of trouble coming to terms with Blue. I could very well take the time right now to discuss the technical issues I had, how I loved Kill‘s directing style (from director John Krokidas), a sharp and modern and engaging technique that evoked the jazz age and called to the coming Beats. How Blue felt over-long and it’s director (Abdellatif Kechiche) came off as self-serving and heavy-handed, not to mention slightly pedophiliac. But right now I am much more interested in comparing how these films tackled the issues of their protagonists’ sexuality.

Kill Your Darlings, starring Harry Potter himself, Daniel Radcliffe, as the great American poet Allen Ginsberg, centers on Allen as he becomes entrenched with the enigmatic and dangerous Lucien Carr (Dane DeHaan), and meets the artists who will help him define a generation. Though the plot of the film is heavily focused on Ginsberg and Carr’s friendship and Carr’s murder of his tumultuous lover David Kammerer, the real story is that of Ginsberg coming into his own as an artist, discovering his poetic drive and style as well as coming to terms with his sexuality. His relationship with Carr is based on intimacy, and while there is a homosexual sex scene, it is interspersed with three other scenes of plot and character, like a woven web. Allen’s sexuality is not the central point. His connection to Carr is not shown to be one of lust, though the physical is a factor. It is as much about art and poetry. And while the film does not shy away from the historical issues of homosexuality in the mid 1940s, Ginsberg’s discovery of his sexuality is not played as odd or wrong. As a modern audience, the film wants us to be happy when he finally allows himself to be, truly, himself, despite the ever-present fear of arrest and/or public shaming. Thematically, I think the film handles its homosexuality very well. It is tasteful and it is not the be-all-end-all of Ginsberg’s life. It is an aspect of who he is, just like his relationship with his parents, his friends, and his poetry.

Blue is the Warmest Colour is a different story. It is a French film that opened at Cannes and won the prized Palme d’Or, which was unusually awarded not just to the director but also the two lead actresses as well. Starring relative newcomer Adèle Exarchopolous as the lead who shares her name, the film (based on the French graphic novel by Julie Maroh that shares the English title and was only recently released in English) is the story of a young woman’s discovery of her sexuality as she falls deeply in love with blue-haired artist Emma (Léa Seydoux). Not to give too much away, but their romance is anything but easy, and while they have a happier ending than their graphic novel counterparts, their ending is far from a Happily Ever After.

This movie is all about desire and appetite. The audience is constantly seeing Adèle eating, or focusing on her mouth, or viewing her body in separate objectified parts. We see her desire for friends, desire to be normal, desire to be a teacher, and overwhelmingly her desire for Emma, even when her actions cause her to lose her. In some ways, the movie is not only about Adèle being gay. Though we see her facing bullying at school in one scene, and see her purposefully not coming out to her parents in another, most of the plot is about Adèle’s growing up and maturing, finding a career she loves and trying to make her relationship work. These are things that transcend sexuality.

But there are moments in the movie that, to me, void all of the positive scenes. All of this, again, in my opinion, are down to the director. Reports from the actresses say that he was very difficult to work with, especially in the sex scenes. These scenes are incredibly graphic, giving the movie an NC17 rating in the US. And wow, those scenes. The first is incredibly long, and has every position you could imagine possible between two women (except for one, which happened in the second sex scene, causing me to awkwardly laugh at my friend and say, “I wondered when that was going to happen”). This infamous scene, which is more than uncomfortably long, is blatant and stark, very much like porn. The camera leaves no room for emotion, though often the women are looking each other in the eye. They are sexualized with no intimacy beyond the physical, no warmth or heart. In fact, it isn’t merely like porn, it is porn. And while I have no problem with porn existing, I do have a problem with this kind of scene taking time in a story that should have been about emotion and relationships. To me, this scene and the director’s preoccupation with objectifying his stars and the female form, as well as female relationships, ruins the movie. The writer of the graphic novel recently wrote:

“Because – except for a few passages – this is all that it brings to my mind: a brutal and surgical display,  exuberant and cold, of so-called lesbian sex, which turned into porn, and [made] me feel very ill at ease. Especially when, in the middle of a movie theatre, everyone was giggling. The heteronormative laughed because they don’t understand it and find the scene ridiculous. The gay and queer people laughed because it’s not convincing, and [they] found it ridiculous. And among the only people we didn’t hear giggling were the potential guys [sic] too busy feasting their eyes on an incarnation of their fantasies on screen.”

While my love of Kill Your Darlings and my dislike for Blue is the Warmest Colour is very much because of my feelings on the directing and editing of each, I do think they point to two very different ways of portraying non-heterosexual sexualities. While it is very possible to have a movie that centers on a character coming out and has their sexuality take center stage, it is more than time for movies with LGBTQ (also known as Gender and Sexual Minorities, or GSM) characters whose sexualities and genders are inconsequential to the greater plot, or at least minor in compared to other attributes. GSM individuals are just people, and what makes them great characters are the same things that make any character great. And I would love to see a film about a non-heterosexual female that did not objectify them or their love.

It’s 2013. Civil Unions are legal in many countries, and marriage equality is growing in the United States. The entertainment industry is at the forefront when it comes to those in the industry itself who are GSM or allies. So why the hell can’t that translate to the screen?

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What’s in a name?

A name is a powerful thing. In many cultures’ folklore, to name a creature is to control it, or to have power over it. Names define who we are, and when a person changes their identity, or take control over their identity, they change their name. 

Sadly, I have never felt a sense of strength from my own name. 

I recently read this article entitled “It’s Not ‘Exotic’: Respect The Weight Of My Name On Your Tongue.” The author, Mansi Kathuria, wrote about living with a non-English name that is uncommon in the US, and how she struggled with people not only mispronouncing it, but disrespecting her and attempting to whitewash and Anglicize it. 

Kathuria writes:

“My name is my history and my identity. It is rooted in my family, the language they grew up speaking, and the linguistic and spiritual roots of India. My name was carefully chosen by my father for it’s meaning. My name is not yours to mispronounce, not yours to make a mockery of. My name is a conscious choice I make. My refusal to adopt a more “American” nickname is a choice I make every day, during every new encounter, at every coffee shop. It is not my job to tell you consistently to pronounce it correctly; it is your job to ask.”

“To every person, their name is the most beautiful word, and the one heard the most clearly. Respecting a name is respect for that individual.”

Having lived almost 23 years with an uncommon, non-English name, I related completely to this post. 8 out of every 10 people I meet mispronounce my name when they read or hear it. I have said my name in introduction and had it returned to me two seconds later mangled and incorrect. I once had a teacher call me the wrong name for months, until a friend actually stood up in class and yelled the correct pronunciation. As a child, people would purposely say the wrong name to me, either as a “joke” or to insult or bully me. Even family members would do this. And it only ever enraged me.

Kathuria is right in saying that a person’s name is a huge part of who they are. I have lived my whole life with this one identifier. My family has lived in the US for generations, and they generally have very English and American names. Even my older brother and sister, who have two of the most common names of the last 50 years. But for me, my parents chose a Hebrew name, one they had heard and liked. But the consequences of that naming continue to this day. I know maybe 4 other people with my name, and most of them are very religious. It is not even a common name amongst people with Hebrew names. And, as I have said, it is constantly and casually mispronounced. Though it is connected to my culture, my religion, my history, in my life it’s really only been connected to me.

People love to tell me that my name is “pretty.” I can only shrug in response. It’s not, to me at least. It’s a weight I’ve had to carry. I get social anxiety when faced with having to correct my name in awkward situations. After months of being called the wrong name, how can I correct an authority figure? When is the right time? It is my name, I should never feel shame in correcting someone. And yet, I do. Because when people say my name wrong, it is no longer my name. I have no power over it, it has all of the power over me.

Kathuria feels that names are beautiful to their bearers. I have never felt this. I don’t dislike my name. Because I know so few others with it, my name is wrapped up completely in my perception of myself. I am it and it is me. But it is not whole or strong or stable. It is weak and it is vulnerable to attack.

As a little kid, I was obsessed with nicknames. My mother used to laugh because all of my favorite names, the ones I would give to toys or talk about giving to future children, all had to come with built in nicknames. “Their name is this, but I’ll call them this.” I’ve never had a nickname. I have pet names that my parents and siblings call me, but no real familiar versions of my actual name. No escape from what is written on my birth certificate.

Not that I would ever change my name. Just because I use my middle name at Starbucks doesn’t mean I prefer it. I don’t. Just because I plan on using a pen name if I ever publish doesn’t mean my name is not my own.

Just because I have not used my name at all in this post doesn’t mean I don’t want it to be used. Even though most of the people who read this know what it is. Even if I post this on my Facebook right under my name. Even if some of you still don’t know what my name actually is.

Because I’m taking my name back. I’m taking it home, keeping it safe, trying to give it more strength.

My name and I have been through hell together. And by using it sparingly, I am trying to take the power back.

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