Hair: The Snipping & Styling of Identity

I pleaded and begged. I  even cried, but my mom remained firm in her stance, “You are going to school.” I wiped the tears from my eyes, unfastened my seat-belt, and dragged my feet to the hell-hole that most adults called Middle School. Normally, I didn’t mind going to school. I had a decent amount of friends, I did well in all my classes, and it was better than being at home. But that day was different. That day I accidentally washed my hair with body wash and I didn’t realize until it was too late. On the way to school, I examined my hair in the passenger mirror to see the damage. It looked oily and greasy. I was mortified. The school day consisted of people asking me about my hair. Each time I refined my response but I ultimately concluded with: never again.

When I was younger, my hair would always be cut into a short bob. I didn’t have much of a say nor did I care. Until my sister and I had lice. My dad cut both of our hair. I remember thinking how ugly I looked. Zigzagged and crooked. I had to take my school photo with that haircut. Never again. I began to realize the value of my hair. I let my hair grow. Too much. Got bangs that were not maintained and covered my eyes. Experimented and got a side-bang during the rise of emo culture. I even got highlights. Chunky. Blonde. Excruciatingly painful.

In high school, there was this girl that had super glossy sheen hair. I envied her as I examined my standing hairs and split ends. She claimed to put lemon juice in her hair to create natural highlights. I looked it up. It was legit. I started to put lemon juice in my hair. No results. Just an acidic smell that I needed to constantly wash out.

I bought in a picture of Jennifer Aniston: “I want my hair like this.” My hair came out like the photo, but my face did not. I stopped bringing in photos of celebrities. “Ya know, people don’t realize that it will never come out looking like the photo.”

When I went to get a haircut, I would have to suppress my tears as I watched the hair dresser cut off too much.  One of us did not know how to measure hair length and I became tired of paying money just to cry in front of a mirror. I began asking for less than I actually wanted cut. I also started selecting hair dressers based on how their hair looked. Long hair clipped back – they play it too safe and will try to talk you out of any “bold” decisions. Extremely short and spiky hair – they are too rebellious and will use their judgement to determine how much of your hair to cut off (despite the MEASUREMENTS that you give them).

I once shaved the right side of my hair. I almost cried when I saw it all gone. I got more compliments than I thought I would. I explained my decision to my peers in college: I wanted to try it and it would grow back by the time I began applying for jobs. To which a classmate responded, “if they don’t hire you because of your hair, then maybe it is better that you don’t work there.”  It took forever to grow back. Forever to have my hair even. Never again, I told myself.

Tired of having my hair plucked and experiencing the sensation of being scalped, I got my own box of dye. Blonde. Red. Rose Gold. Auburn. Chestnut. One time I dyed my hair red and let too much dye fall onto my forehead. It stained my skin for a while. It made for great graduation photos. Never again, the photos remind me.

I was planning on having my hair return to its natural color. It took too long. I started talking about the colors that I had dyed my hair. I got hair dye. Strawberry blonde. Makes for a nice pink hue.

It has changed throughout the years, but it has always remained a part of my identity. It has actually been the one factor that I have the most control over. Despite all my “never again” moments, it was always my choice. Even with all the changes in color and style, I never had anyone else feel threatened by my hair. Yet I see others who cannot display their natural hair as my artificial color remains praised. With dye, I am able to rebirth myself, as others have parts of their identity die. Through rejecting another’s hair, our words forcibly cut off a piece of their identity – and unlike the changes in my hair – it becomes permanent.

Life Simulations: Are You Playing to Win?

After work, I made myself a delicious Lobster Thermidor because my cooking skills are top-notch (level 10 to be exact). The TV is on the fritz again so I attempt to repair it on my own before calling the repair man. This is a tragic decision as I am electrocuted. Luckily, my husband is home and can afford to gamble his life in a game of Rock, Paper, Scissors with the Grim Reaper.

Up until the last bit, the scenario sounds plausible, and while the latter half might sound outrageous, that’s as far as the envelope of reality is pushed in The Sims. As a fan of the game, I always found my interest in it perfectly normal. The game allows the player to fantasize about living a different life. I can pick up the newspaper and apply to be a criminal. Of course I have to start as a low-life pickpocketer, but with enough time and effort, I can achieve my dreams of becoming a criminal mastermind.

I am currently on my third life cycle in Bit Life, a life-simulation game. There is no objective in the game, just live the life of your assigned person. There is no mythical aspect – you are just living someone else’s life. To clarify, there is a difference in the simulation games available. I am focusing on the mundane, or real-life, simulations: “In a medium that built itself on unprecedented interactivity and literally boundless potential for action and adventure, the relatively passive experience of caring for an animal, a town, a field of crops, or even a little cartoon version of yourself, has become big business” (Nintendo Life). Games can transport us to different realms and time periods – yet with all these options available, I find myself most enjoying simulations that require me to do about everything that I hate in the real world. In Animal Crossing, I design homes and keep my villagers happy by performing various requests –  typically involving bug catching or fishing. In Harvest Moon, I have to go to bed super early to tend my crops and livestock all while wooing my partner in hopes of presenting them with a blue feather before I die (I usually stop playing before that can even happen #cheatcode).

Growing up, I suppose costumes were our first entry point in role playing. You could  become an entirely different person through selecting an outfit. A seemingly good use of a child’s imagination and a convenient way to have your child begin thinking of possible career options. Then there is “make believe” or as my brother used to call it, “be whatever you want to be,” to which  my sister and I would select a rock or tree to ruin his attempt in having fun. Yet even in this attempt, we still existed as something other than ourselves – do you know how hard it would be to curl up into a ball and say absolutely nothing? This imaginative play also contains house or school – you know, since attending 6 hours there was never enough. As children, these games are important as they allow “children [to] role play and act out various experiences they may have had or something that is of some interest to them. [These games also allow children to]  experiment with decision making on how to behave and . . . social skills” (Learning 4 Kids). Essentially, these games are training grounds for children to enter the real-world.

At my house, we had an elaborate game based on an episode from The Cosby Show. Theodore believes that he is ready to make it on his own, so to prove to him that he is not ready, Dr. Huxtable, removes all of Theodore’s possessions and charges him for amenities and supplies. When my cousins would come over, we would remove most of the furniture from the downstairs guest room and turn the play room into a furniture store. Using Life money, we would sell the room, furniture, and food. Unlike The Cosby Show, our episodes would always end with some sort of scam: selling faulty furniture that would constantly need repairs, or a shady landlord that would rob its tenants – we were criminals in the making. Perhaps that is what is so alluring about these simulators. In these games, we are allowed to engage in activities that would be frowned upon in the real world. We are finally allowed to feed into the voice that we desperately attempt to starve out.

Most of my favorite games fall under the life-simulation genre. I like being able to engage with the constant “What If?” nagging in the back of my mind. In these games, I can find the answer without endangering myself. “What if I told people what I really thought instead of just keeping my mouth silent?” Click, Scroll, Select: Insult. On the other hand, the simplicity behind these games is extremely rewarding. I can completely furnish an entire home, raise a family, and tend to livestock without having to leave the comfort of my room. Whereas I was barely able to attend college, student teach, and work part time. With my often chaotic schedule, it was soothing to enter a world where I was completely in control and constantly rewarded.

As huge of a fan that I am, there is a major problem with these games. As we began to age, there is an increase in the dissociation of self caused by them. From what began with being participants in costumes, and continued to masking our wishes behind dolls and action figures, we are now merely tapping a button. Simulations have become a double-edged sword. On one end, now more than ever, we are truly allowed to transport ourselves into another life without making any adjustments; however, in this transportation, we miss our stop, forgetting that in this instance, the journey is not the destination. We become so consumed with these fictional lives that we don’t realize the absurdity behind them. When playing The Sims, I would make sure that my family was skilled in every possible trade – I sat in front of the computer watching them read cook books, and despite the fast forward option, it was still time consuming.  To think, in that time, I could have read a real recipe! Instead of having a Sim that made a fabulous Lobster Thermidor, I could have become an accomplished chef. As I mentioned earlier, these games often lack fantastical elements, so rather than providing an escape from reality, they simply become an alternate reality – and that is where the danger lies.

Just look at the shift in what children watch. It used to be Barney or Sesame Street – puppets replicating appropriate behaviors and social skillsNow, children go on YouTube to watch other children playing. I watched the above mentioned shows to fuel my imagination – to see and learn about things that I couldn’t see in my own life. But today? Children are watching to get an imagination. We used to be the ones calling the shots, clicking the buttons, but we have now become the ones waiting for commands. I used to joke around at the possibility that we are just like The Sims, controlled by some outside force, yet now I am laughing a bit less. Perhaps we should direct our focus on instilling an imagination in the upcoming generations instead of determining how we can make these simulations more authentic. After all, for me and for what I believe to be many others, the enjoyment of these games derives from the simple fact that it is not real. The escapism is what is alluring, but we need something to escape from. It’s time to customize our approach – there is no winning in life-simulators and there is certainly no winning if we continue on the path that we are on.

On Being a Woman on the Streets

A teacher once told me a story of a man who decided to follow her home. She stopped by a house nearby, relying on the kindness of strangers to pretend that she lived there so that she could call for help. Unlike many, she escaped.

Within her tale, she uttered,

“I was not walking as confident as I should have been.”

I’m sure that, in telling this anecdote, she did not expect that this would be the sentence that most resonated with me. That this sentence would echo in my mind almost a decade later. That this sentence would be the reason that I policed myself to walk “confidently” when alone.

“In January 2018, SSH commissioned a 2,000-person, nationally representative survey on sexual harassment and assault, conducted by GfK. It found that nationwide, 81% of women and 43% of men reported experiencing some form of sexual harassment and/or assault in their lifetime.” (Stop Street Harassment)

Yet how does one walk confidently knowing the statistics? Why should one walk with confidence to prevent an occurrence that should not exist? I didn’t know it at the time, but I internalized a mindset that blamed the victim. Despite a clear perpetrator, my teacher blamed herself, and, in that room, there was no presence available that altered the narrative. Perhaps if someone asked, “What does that have to do with anything?” the line would be long forgotten. In a room filled with skeptical students – ones who constantly challenged authority – no one thought to question. Does that reflect how we viewed such instances? Tragic yet preventable by the victim? Maybe. Or did we take this statement at face-value because it derived from the victim?

I imagine telling this story to my students, and with the most certainty, I can say that they would interrupt my telling once I mentioned walking up to a stranger’s home. They would not take kindly to this. Probably because they are more educated in “stranger danger” than my cohort. Whether this increased awareness is beneficial is certainly debatable (Are we desensitizing our youth? Or are we merely preparing them?), I want to focus on those who are similar to me. What can we make of experiences related to assault and harassment prior to the recent rise of the #MeToo Movement?

Although it was not as overt, most of the conversations about similar cases that I heard while growing up would be chalked up to “boys will be boys” or questioning of the victim’s appearance. I can’t speak for all, but I would like to believe that many of my peers outgrew this outdated (and heavily problematic) mindset. However, unlearning takes time. You have to work towards it, chiseling the misconceptions away, hoping that you do not remove something important. Yet even after all the chiseling, you are still left with the foundation provided. There will be ideologies that remain – ones that you might have to continue to combat.

I suppose that is where I am. As progressive as I believe to be, there are times where I find myself reverting to harmful stereotypes concerning my body and its agency. When I walk alone at night, I check my posture. Stand up straight. Look ahead. Be confident. My walk to my car is not a runway and I am tired of insisting that there is an audience. At times it feels as if I am justifying a possible unwanted encounter – this happened because you did not walk in confidence. Instead of telling a story about a lack of confidence, how about omitting the predator?

Once when working at retail, I had a customer enraged that his jeans were not on sale – reading is a fundamental skill, but one not yet possessed by the neanderthals. In a fit of rage, he called me a bitch and promised to be waiting for me outside, after my shift. Was I not confident enough when I explained the store’s promotion? Should I have been more assertive when he demanded a manager and I pulled, “I am the manager?” Unfortunately these are the questions that begin to form – but a more substantial question would be, why does this man believe that this an acceptable reaction to a misunderstanding? Is this how he communicates with other women? His threat remained unfulfilled, but I was shaken for a bit. Afraid that such a moment would repeat and that the next individual would be one who stood by their word. Needless to say, it was difficult to remain “confident.”

To address my earlier questions, I think we need a change in this narrative. Omitting certain details while stressing on others. Any successful author knows that revision is crucial before sharing a story. Sure, speaking without a filter can have its benefits (yet with our current president, I would beg to differ), but we have to remember that when we speak, it is not often for ourselves. We speak to be heard, so shouldn’t we keep our audience in mind? When speaking to those who might be susceptible, like I was years ago in that classroom, we should be delicate with our words, especially when dealing with fragile issues. It might seem like I am blaming my teacher. I’m not. Her thinking did not develop on its own. And that is where I think the problem lies. There is a difference between being the wronged and being in the wrong. I may not always walk confidently when I am on my own (could you blame me?), but I can confidently say that a walk does not translate to treatment.

Expectations and Reality: Can You Really “Have the Best of Both Worlds?”

A wise woman once said, “Life’s what you make it, so let’s make it rock,” and I attempt to live by that mantra, but I always find myself wondering if I am making enough of my life, if I am making it rock. To my defense, I do not have a limo out front, hottest styles, or shoes in every color, and with today’s society, it seems impossible to simply live your life (hey! ay ay ay) since there are so many vehicles available to transport you to jealousy and longing.

While scrolling, I come across several people my age or younger, that seem to have more fulfilling lives. What makes their lives more fulfilling? Perhaps it is the amount of likes attached to their post. Or maybe the fact that they have achieved a milestone that I am still waiting on (I saw someone my age become a homeowner, and rather than feeling joy for her, my selfish mind demanded to know why she was one , and I was not). Could it be their awe-inspiring shots of places that I can only imagine?

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Me on social media living my best life.

And I know that social media tends to be a place to share achievements rather than disappointments, highlighting the best of one’s life rather than accurately reflect their current status (I mean, there are even countless articles circulating online to instruct users how to practice humility when posting about their triumphs). I have yet to see a photo captioned, “After working my ass off to get my degree, I am happy to announce that I did not get my dream job.” No one wants to immortalize their failures because setbacks are meant to be stepping stones in our journey, not a destination. Even with all of this in mind, I still find myself drawing comparisons.

Most of us develop a plan for our life, but what happens when the plan goes awry? As I mentioned earlier, we don’t share it. Instead we mention our wishes, hopes, and dreams. The failures only seep their way into a post when surrounded by an accomplishment. Something along the lines of, “I remember standing in the rain everyday waiting for my bus to arrive. On my fourth birthday, my party was cancelled because a flood warning was issued. For years, I asked for better conditions, only to be denied. Ten years later and I am proud to announce that I am the rain and nothing will ever rain on my parade again.” Would we have heard the anecdote about the fourth birthday if the last sentence did not occur? When a dream comes true, suddenly “life’s what you make it.” Yet when faced with adversary, life is simply out of our control.

I used to think that by this age, I would have a family and a home of my own, and while I have come to terms that motherhood does not have to be an expectation for myself, I still find myself mulling over how different my reality is from what I previously envisioned.  I began my career at 23, something that I envisioned since I was eight years-old, yet I still feel like a failure. I feel as if I have not done enough. I am a quarter of a century old, but I don’t feel as if I have lived that long. I feel most valued when I am a productive – this is why I am a workaholic. During my “off-days,” I can be found laying on the couch binge-watching. Watching fictional lives instead of living my own. I tell myself that there has to be more. What kind of life consists of being an observer? Yet what else is there? Eventually, most things become a routine, but I suppose it is up to us to break the cycle (life is cyclical though, so maybe living in a cycle is simply ascribing to “living”).

I think part of me is waiting for when I “make it.” Not like reaching stardom – but just a moment where I place that final jigsaw piece and feel complete. I see stories about celebrities that rose during their later years to remind us that “there is still time.” That my “moment is coming.” Sometimes I feel that these stories are propelled to generate wishful thinking. To appease the masses that their big break is right around the corner as long as they continue to strive. Hence articles entitled, “35 Celebrities Who Became Famous Later in Life & Proved Giving Up Wasn’t an Option.” But what if it’s all bullshit? What if there is no major turning point in my life? While that may sound depressing to some, it relieves a lot of unnecessary pressure. There are many things that I want to achieve in my life. I want to travel the world. I want to own my own home. I want to publish a successful book. I want to make a difference. I want to open up a tutoring center. Maybe instead of sighing over all that I have yet to achieve, I should acknowledge what has been done. Maybe it’s best that the piece is never placed because can one truly live if life becomes complete?

giphyI need to remind myself that although we are all living, we are not expected to lead the same lives. I need to remember that there are no standards that I should be meeting. That my age is not an indicator of what should be occurring in my life. That another person’s success does not translate into a failure of mine. That online, we are all glamorous Hannah Montanas trying to hide the fact that our true identity is Miley Stewart. And in the end, Miley prevails as Hannah becomes nothing more than a blonde wig tossed in the wind.

Dethroning Anxiety: Arizona’s Gift

I recently took a trip to Arizona, and out of all my mini adventures, it was surprisingly the most thrilling. Typically, when you think of Arizona, adrenaline might not come to your mind. That word is probably replaced with hiking, death rays (or to Arizonians, “sunlight”), ASU (which is basically an entire neighborhood devoted to a college), and of course, the Grand Canyon.

To begin this post, I think that it is important to establish that I am a nervous wreck. Not in that cutesy “I have anxiety” type of way that people actually believe is amusing (those memes that float around with “SAME!” when someone is excited because their social plans are cancelled) – because, if you are like myself, you know that the nerves are inhibiting. In fact, I often do not even get to experience the excitement of cancelled plans because I cannot muster the strength to even arrange anything. To explain, I am constantly in a state of worry and paranoia. When I was discussing with colleagues that I was planning a trip to Arizona, one of them suggested to rent an Airbnb, to which I politely responded, “Hmm, maybe,” whereas my mind went, “Yeah, no fucking way. I am trying to relax on my vacation, not partake in some thriller where I am bound to die.” It is not a joke either, in my mind, I truly believe that it is a possibility. Whereas that might not seem as far-fetched, my nerves prevent me from other activities as well. Up until recently, I have had an incredibly irrational fear of someone breaking into my window. My room is in the basement – it is physically impossible for someone to fit into my window – unless they are a contortionist (a possibility that I have considered). When I’m in the shower, I’m afraid to wash my hair ’cause I might open my eyes and find someone standing there (how Rockwell wrote my life anthem 9 years before I was born still baffles me). Perhaps my crime induced paranoia stems from my late night binges of Law and Order as a child, so I will provide a few examples that are less criminal-based.

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Pictured: A terrified me smiling through the pain.

After quitting a horrible job as a barista in a Barnes and Noble Cafe (even though I was hired as a sales representative), I refused to step foot in the building because I was afraid that someone would recognize me (I mean, eventually I did return and quite honestly, no one cared). I love singing along when I listen to music, but you will never catch me performing karaoke because of my worry that people will watch and judge me. People that I know I have a less than 1% chance of meeting again, prevent me from fully enjoying myself.  There are many things that initially make me want to participate, but one millisecond of my brain processing turns into over-analyzing and then leads to me opting out. While we were at the Grand Canyon, there was a rock available in the middle of a flat spacious surface. I climbed on and immediately became terrified of falling, even though there were rails to prevent this and I was nowhere near them, and even if I fell, I would not be near them. These are just some of the ‘irrationalities’ that my anxiety uses to constantly disrupt my reality.

In Arizona, I fought those worries. We drove 2 1/2 hours to Grasshopper Point – for those of you not familiar, it is a creek located in the mountains, surrounded by cliffs. Naturally, thrill-seekers dive off the cliff. I watched in awe. When would one have the chance to be able to do this? Specifically, when would one from New York have the chance? I was met with an itch to join the cliff divers (many of whom were far younger than me), but my mind immediately went to work: Look at how many people are watching. What if you make a mistake? (If you are wondering what mistake could possibly be made, take it up with my mind since it was convinced that there could be one, and even more convinced that I would be making it). People are wearing shoes, they probably need it to protect their feet from the rocks after the fall, you don’t have shoes. You are wearing a bikini, the pressure from the drop might cause it to loosen and fall. Out of all the scenarios running through my mind, this seemed the most plausible, so I suppose that is why it stuck with me. My boyfriend could see that I was compelled to join them, but I told him that I wanted to watch a few more people jump (apparently, I would be able to watch enough divers to master their technique). I decided to go for it, but as I approached the cliff, the bikini issue came back. I was offered a t-shirt. Shit, now what’s your excuse? Since the t-shirt remedied one of my main anxieties, I found myself climbing. When I reached the top of the cliff, my fear intensified, my longtime fear of heights did not necessarily help. What if I slip when I try to jump? What if I somehow defy the laws of gravity and sink instead of float back up? What if this jump kills me? My dad would be pissed if I died from this. I would be pissed if I died from this. I pushed my entire body against the rock and watched those around me plunge to their deaths as their bodies rose from the water while they laughed like the maniacs that they were. In that moment, something clicked, or perhaps unhinged. I didn’t want to watch – I wanted to be involved.

I jumped. You may expect me to describe the beauty in that moment, how alive I felt, but it wasn’t majestic or graceful – it was awkward and chaotic. I swam back to the shore, freezing. But that was the point. I. SWAM. BACK. TO. THE. SHORE. Meaning, my mind was wrong, I jumped, I lived – I could do it again (if I had another two hours to spare to find my courage once more). This time, I would not wallow in regret on my ride home. I did jump of the cliff and it was exhilarating.

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No need for a t-shirt, photos are free.

The next day, we went to a wildlife preserve and were given the opportunity to feed a giraffe. We had the option of hand-feeding, or placing the celery between our lips to receive a kiss. I wanted to do the latter, but I was met with the typical obstacles. What if you mess up and everyone sees? What if you somehow break the celery in half and it falls on the ground? What if you pull back when the giraffe comes and everyone sees what a baby you are? “But I won’t be seeing these people again,” I told my mind. But you will be with them for the rest of this ride. How egotistical. As if these people journeyed all the way here just to watch me mess up. I know it sounds absolutely ridiculous, and that is the worst part, knowing it, but not being able to change it. Yet once again, I found myself asking, when would I ever have another chance to do this? I fed him twice, and the second time, I was so mesmerized by the creature in front of me, that I did so without thinking. I did “kiss” a giraffe and I did not need to buy a t-shirt to remember it ($30? I don’t think so).

Afterwards, we went to a reptile show that needed volunteers. Without knowing what it was for, I put my hand up immediately. Unlike many moments in my life, I was selected. We all walked over and they revealed the biggest python that I have ever seen. We were told that we would be the ones to remove the python from its bin. I was a participant in a show – people were kind of required to watch me. But I did not care. The excitement of the moment superseded my anxiety of a “what if?” future. I did hold a python and that shit was heavy.

I know that this trip did not remove my anxiety. It is a trait that will continue to follow me for the rest of my life. I have not transformed into an adrenaline junkie, nor will I be an Airbnb renter in the near future. However, this trip allowed me to tackle my anxiety head on. Instead of allowing my anxiety to dictate my actions and force me to remain as an observer, I challenged it. And each time, I was pleasantly surprised. I do not want to remain the king of wishful thinking, I want to dethrone the “I would, but” and knight the “I did and.”

“I know I’m Not the Only One” : How Black Panther and Meme Culture Taught Me About Individuality

Am I the only one who [insert typically unoriginal idea here]?

No, you are not. The fact that you even ask this question shows how unoriginal you are. Ironically, we typically ask this question because we are looking for confirmation that someone else agrees with us. In fact, agreement on certain topics often becomes the seed that blossoms into friendship. However, this question is not an invitation. We don’t ask “Does anyone else _______?” Instead we emphasize “only,” hoping that the answer is yes.

Yes, you are the only person that puts their cereal in the bowl before the milk. You are an anomaly. An American Hero. The messiah that has been selected to spread your teachings of cereal preparation to others.

We find ourselves constantly hoping that we have stumbled upon some originality in a world that seems to be lacking.

Despite the constant desire to feel interconnected, we tend to take pride in the belief that there is something about ourselves that makes us unique from the herd. After seeing Black Panther, I kept on telling my boyfriend how some scenes reminded me of The Lion King. I didn’t think that it was an astute observation, but I did think that it demonstrated some intellect on my part to make the connection. That is, until I logged onto Twitter and saw a tweet that mirrored my exact observations (to further my point, here are images taken from two different posts on two different sites, neither of them being Twitter):

 

Now, I know what you are thinking, my assigned FBI agent must have relayed the information to the NSA, yet this was not the case. My agent is sleeping on me because I have mentioned several golden gems (that’s right, I am giving you the go ahead) and have yet to seem them blossom into fruition (*cough* plan your own movie ending *cough* {for serious inquiries on this, please contact}). I remember watching Shark Tank and becoming frustrated over the fact that someone stole MY idea for an invention (yet mine would have been more fashion-forward). The idea that was sparked over the need to make walking with my phone and umbrella a little easier. The idea that was ignited because I had a difficulty with just keeping my phone in my pocket as I held my umbrella. The idea that was probably thought of by thousands of others since I am not the only person that has developed an addiction to my phone, so much so that I would rather have my umbrella blow every which way than to keep my phone in my pocket.

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“And I know,  And I know, And I know, And I know, And I know, And I don’t know”

The fact of the matter is, we are not entirely special – despite this mindset being instilled upon us from an early age. We inhabit the same place, engage with the same routines, so we will naturally have the same responses to those interactions. We like to believe that we are all unique. That there is something about us that makes us different – in a good way. That we are all our own little Ruldophs (which is a problem in itself – when we are the ones that are different, it is positive. When others are different, it is often the opposite).

Not everyone is the exact same, but we all possess the same traits and habits, just slightly altered. We are essentially all cut from the same cloth yet the seamstress can develop many different shapes and sizes to fool us into thinking that different patterns exist. Like when you go to Old Navy and see one pattern used for a dress, skirt, shirt, shoes, and bag (don’t worry, I worked there), I am sure that you can talk to any person and discover at least one similarity. Yes, I am aware that this is not a complex concept, but it needs to be said.

 “And so we are all connected in the great circle of life”

– Mufasa

Surprisingly, it was not until recently that I discovered just how mundane my entire life is. This is all thanks to meme culture. Ironically, memes are defined as “an element of a culture or system of behavior that may be considered to be passed from one individual to another by nongenetic means, especially imitation.” As nothing in life is truly original (after thousands of years, how can it be?), we develop copies, sometimes exact, others with modifications (interested in this topic? Enroll at Queens College and take a course on Simulacra). The term history repeats itself is less metaphorical than we would like to believe. Although we all possess the same innate desires and instincts, we tend to believe that our experiences are what make us unique. However, memes have proved that this is simply not the case.

When we come across a meme we like, we typically adhere to the three archetypes. (1) We laugh, write “I’m weak *cryface emoji”; (2) “I’m dead *skull*”; or for the more poetic: (3) “MEEE!” The fact that our responses tend to boil down to these three options is telling as well. We find the meme humorous because there is a ring of truth to it. This universality is the basis for comedy. Comedians are storytellers – the only difference is that they report life rather than fantasies. When I was in Atlanta, I watched an Open Mic, and I can easily recall the joke that made me laugh the most. The comedian was referring to the fire drill implemented during elementary school: Stop, Drop, and Roll: “Kids nowadays, they don’t practice that shit! In the 90’s catching on fire was such a problem that we had to invent a whole system for it, but today, kids have discovered that all they have to do is not catch on fire.” The audience responded well, but would the same response be present if the joke was repeated to a newer generation that never had to roll around putting out imaginary fires? Or if the audience were home-schooled and they practiced changing the batteries for the fire detector?

This leads us back to meme culture. We reblog, repost, retweet, or share because part of us is excited that there is a community of others like us. A tiny part of us feels slighted, maybe even robbed: You mean other people did this as well? What does that mean about me?

individualitySuddenly, that one experience that tokened our individuality is revoked. As much as we want to feel like we are part of the collective, there is another part of us that wants to be the one happy yellow smiley-face in a sea of unhappy blue (if you can immediately recall the image, my point is proven once again). We want to be like everyone else, but we also want to be the one in the group that is slightly (only in a good way) different.

And that is just it. We are so fixated on differences that acknowledging similarities seems like a removal of self. We can only identify ourselves through the existence of an other. We feel like we have been robbed when we should really feel like we have gained. Yes, you may be special – but so is everyone else.  It may seem like I am contradicting myself since earlier I stated that we are not entirely special – so let me clarify, we are not entirely, but partly. Special can be defined as “better, greater, or otherwise different from what is usual.” We are not better or greater than others, but we are different from what is usual since normalcy is a myth. Why then does acknowledging others as special makes us feel less than? It is only this notion of uniqueness that we feel is reduced once more is identified. A rose is still a rose despite being packed with eleven others.

Perhaps it is best that we are not entirely different from everyone else. To go back to Ruldolph – yes he was different, and he was a hero, but he “wasn’t allowed to join any reindeer games” until he proved that his differences made him valuable. The truth of the matter is, in a society that praises individuality, we simultaneously frown upon it. We only like differences once they are shown to be practical, and once that happens, we replicate those differences until they seemingly lose their practicality. Constantly replacing the Mufasas with Simbas, until they are one in the same (have you seen Simba grown up next to his father?)

 

Little Visitors

They say that your body is your home, but in this home, he is never alone. They all come to visit, late at night, uninvited, and always over staying their welcome. The more he asks them to go away, the more they plant their roots to stay.

She has been aware of this for quite some time. Each joke that he makes allows one to escape. She catches them, hoping that they will stick to her and let him be. She tries to be the hero like the ones from the stories that she read while growing up. But she knows the truth. In this world, heroes do not exist – not the way that they are fantasized to be. We are all just scared, alone, and afraid. She is no different yet she attempts to suit up and be the protector, still frightened.

He is choking now. These demons never rest. He opens his mouth to scream, not knowing that his fear is what allows them to be. With each worry, another creature breeds into existence. His cries for help are useless – he is only creating chaos.

She inhales, now greeted by visitors of her own. Never exhales. She holds her breath until every last one has entered her being. At last she lets out a sigh. She consoles him, “It’s okay,” wondering what it really means to be okay when your house can no longer be a home. She feels the pests inside of her, tearing her apart, begging to breed once more. She swallows, ignoring the lump in her throat for she knows that the creatures have band together to abscond.

She looks at him worriedly. She wants to tell him that it will never happen again. That he is safe. Instead all she can muster are three words – anything more will allow the darkness she has captured to flee: “I am here.” She tells herself that much is true. She tells herself that she will protect him. She tells herself that she is in over her head. She cannot control what cannot be contained.

His breathing has softened. The monsters are gone, but the pain is still raw. The two of them have defeated the monsters in this moment all while breathing a new form into being. One that she, nor he, can tackle alone. One that would not exist if she, nor he, would have shared their worries.

Instead of consuming them, this plague hovers over them, waiting for a moment of weakness. A moment of darkness. She would rather sacrifice herself than have her brother experience this iniquity, but she knows that such a sacrifice would be temporary. These creatures are nomadic, never happy with the nest that they build because the moment they situate, they destroy.

She pulls him closer and says nothing this time. Silence seems like the best answer to the unasked questions that linger between them. They both inhale. Afraid.