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.

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.

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.

IMG_2563[127]

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.

IMG_2699[130]

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.”

No Longer Standing By: Teaching the Bystander Effect

There is this unit that I teach called “True Crime,” and in this unit, the class discusses our fascination with “true and fictional crime stories.” To do so, we read an essay penned by Walter Mosley: “True Crime: The Roots of an American Obsession.”  After reading a certain cluster of paragraphs, I draw my students’ attention to supplemental sources that refine his claims. One of them being:

“True-crime stories, murder mysteries, up-to-the-minute online news reports, and (as always) rumor and innuendo grab our attention faster than any call for justice, human rights, or ceasefires.”

This idea that we rather watch from the sidelines than have the coach put us in the game. Naturally, students are confused at first, so I use this statement to draw their attention to a few examples that showcase this belief.

As a class, we read an article on Kitty Genovese, a woman who was stabbed multiple times outside of her apartment. We read how, according to the New York Times article, 37 witnessed the murder. We read how out of those 37 reported witnesses, not a single one offered assistance to Genovese, despite her pleas. Throughout the years, this number has been contested and it has been argued that many did not have a clear understanding of the crime, and therefore did not see the need to intervene. However, these specifics only matter to an extent. 37 or 2, that is still too many people that chose not to help.

There is a looming silence that typically occurs as I read the article to the class due to a feeling of mutual disgust that occupies the room. However, there has always been one voice in each class: “I wouldn’t want to get involved either! I am not risking my life for nobody!” Although it saddens me that this can be an immediate reaction, I welcome responses such as this. I explain to my students that there are ways to get involved that do not result in immediate danger. I explain to my students the dangers of a society filled with individuals that match this sentiment. I use statements such as the one mentioned above to introduce my class to the bystander effect.

I show videos of the Smoke-Filled Room, and watch my students ridicule the woman who remains in the room far beyond their expectations (“She’s buggin’!” “Nah, if that were me, I would have been left!“). I show them a few more examples to drill the notion in their head. Students make connections to a time that they saw a car accident, or a fight that they witnessed, I hear so many different tales that all end in the same way. There is a multitude of factors that lead to this ending: fear of going against the norm; fear of risking one’s self; believing that someone else will handle it; etc. However, all of them end with a cluster of people watching rather than acting.

Half a century after Kitty Genovese, a teenager was stabbed outside a bodega in the Bronx. Whereas those involved in the tragedy of Kitty Genovese chose to turn a blind eye, these witnesses actively watched the crime. During the time of Kitty Genovese, callers had to dial ‘0’  to reach an operator and then get connected. Today, some phones are programmed to complete the call to ‘911’ after simply dialing the number ‘9.’  Yet no one offered Junior a hand because their hands were too busy holding devices recording the events.

After reading about Kitty Genovese and discussing the bystander effect, I ask my students, “Should bystanders be responsible for intervening when witnessing a crime? Are we obligated to help those clearly in need?” The class debates this issue and we typically reach the consensus that at the very least, individuals should report the crime. When that one voice I mentioned earlier continues to object, a bunch of students retaliate with, “What if your mom was the one that needed help? What if you were the one that needed help?” 

When I teach this unit again in the Fall, I will include this story of Junior. When I teach this unit again in the Fall to my 9th graders, who are either already 15 or turning 15, I will include the story of 15 year-old Junior. Not because I want to scare them of the dangers in the world – they are already well aware of this – but because I want to remind them to question the status quo. As history suggests, just because an event or action was accepted (or allowed) by a community, it does not make it morally sound. In fact, it is often the case that it only required one person to challenge normalcy for it to be altered. Our society has gotten so caught up in capturing the narratives that we have forgotten that we are all active characters that have the potential to alter its course. We continue to view ourselves as insignificant, and we therefore forget that all it takes is one to ignite change. We should not be afraid to go against the norm when it involves watching the murder of a 15 year-old boy.

“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.

200_d

“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?)

 

Quasi-Empathetic

Confession time:

I cry every single time that I watch The Hunchback of Notre Dame. . .

GoldenLittleBillygoat-max-1mb

Smile while you can.

and it is not because it is the most underrated Disney movie of all time. What truly gets me in the film is the scene during the festival of fools. My main man Quasi is stoked to finally be accepted by his peers. He even gets crowned KING – but unlike most movies, this is not an altruistic act from the crowd. He is only crowned because they believe that he has the most hideous mask; however, one guard in the crowd thinks it is a good idea to throw a tomato at Quasimodo. Apparently, everyone attending the festival is an asshole and joins in on the humiliation. And although I know what will happen each and every time I watch this scene, the tears remain consistent.

IMG_1277[4704]

Imagine longer hair and you have me 25 minutes into the Hunchback of Notre Dame.

I used to always be a bit embarrassed by my reaction. After all, I was crying over a fictional character going through a fictitious experience – yet now I know there is a deeper reason. It is not Quasimodo that causes me to cry (for he really doesn’t want to hurt me, he really doesn’t want to see me cry) – it is a testament to the animators’ ability to tell a story, and my own character. To quote the man behind my tears, Victor Hugo once said, “Those who do not weep, do not see.” I suppose that while watching The Hunchback of Notre Dame, I submerge myself into the film – I am not watching, I am seeing. Although the two seem similar, they are actually quite different:

Watching –  look at or observe attentively, typically over a period of time.

Seeing – be or become aware of something from observation or from a written or other visual source.

Unlike watching, seeing involves more activity. While watching, information stops once retained. Watching is a passive act. With seeing, information that is retained becomes processed, and it is through this process that connections can be made, allowing for empathy.

Up until recently, The Hunchback of Notre Dame would be the only time anything on screen would move me to tears. I did not cry as Mufasa died nor did I shed a single tear in Titanic – only Quasimodo resonated with me, he not only rang the bells of Notre Dame, but the bells of my heart. However, within the past two years, this was no longer the case. My eyes were like dynamites, ready to go off at any second. Here are some recent examples:

  1. Inside Out – as Bing Bong acts as a martyr and instructs Joy to “take Riley to the moon for him.”
  2. Community – “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas,” in which Abed envisions the entire study group as stop motion to cope with his absent mother.
  3. Queer Eye – every single time one of the participants revealed their new transformation and then said goodbye to the Fab Five.
  4. Forrest Gump – Forrest discovers that he has a son and immediately asks if he is “smart.”

These tears are not always a result of sadness. They stem from compassion (and typically cartoons). Yet this epiphany did not enter my mind until recently (ironically, this involved real people).

During my visit to the Georgia Aquarium, I watched a Dolphin Show. There was a segment in which one of the trainers had a child from the audience perform in the show. A crowd of 200+ people watched as a ten year old boy “trained” a dolphin. As the boy instructed the dolphin, we all saw the trainer discretely send signals to the dolphin – however, the entire crowd cheered for the boy. In that moment, all of us became united under a single cause: to make the boy believe. Yes, this is incredibly corny, but against my better judgement, I found myself tearing. I immediately tried to hide my tears – what was I crying for? When did I become such a baby?

After wracking my brain for some odd moments, a new question emerged: Why was I criticizing myself for experiencing the most heightened form of compassion?

Empathy.

In that moment, I was moved at how the entire crowd was able to function as a collective just to make one little boy – that none of us knew – believe that he was able to control dolphins. How absurd. How spectacular. How magical.

d-laverne23

Laverne illustrating the concept of watching from her speech at the cathedral (1996).

We are constantly told that there is no use in crying over spilled milk, and let’s not forget that it is banned from basseball as well. Big girls don’t cry (thanks Fergie). Boys don’t cry. However, to fully invest yourself into the life of someone else, real or imagined, is an incredible gift. So I say, crybabies, rejoiceth! In those tear-jerking moments, we stop watching, and we tear down the wall that we build to separate ourselves from others – after all, take it from Laverne, “Life’s not a spectator sport. If watchin’ is all you’re gonna do, then you’re gonna watch your life go by without ya.

 

 

You’re Present, But Are You Here?

If you could be a superhero, what powers would you have?

A question that we all know, and have most likely asked at one point in our lives. There is a thrill behind this question that derives from the anticipation of the answer. For some reason, it is very telling of a person once we hear their desired power. We also love to debate afterwards, desperate to prove to the other that our power is the clear superior choice. Upon seeing this question, you probably already came up with an answer, and I will contend with you that any power other than time manipulation is an absolute waste. Unless, of course, you are that one person who has to ruin it for everyone by claiming that you would want your power to be one that allowed you to absorb the power of others. If that was the case, take your non-imaginative self elsewhere.

I am a firm believer that time manipulation is the most superior power because it obviously trumps the other powers available.  It is clearly a jack of all trades. The other popular powers can easily be defeated through flashing forward to the future, or skimming back to the past. No matter what power, time can find a way to defeat it.

Time is the only thing that keeps us going, and it is ultimately the one thing that stops us. We are obsessed with time. Always searching for ways to do more with less.

I would love to time travel. To be able to visit my past self and grant myself with advice. Some simple: cheetah print and velour do not make a good combination for pants. Some far more complex: stock up on naked chicken chalupas because there are some dark times ahead. I would travel to the future to answer questions burning inside me: Who will be our next president? How is Scandal going to end? Will we have VR theaters?  In the Year 3000, has much changed except living underwater?

Yet if there is one thing that movies have taught me, it is that time travel cannot happen (we all live vicariously through movies so don’t knock me). In the movies, science is never the issue. After all, why should it be? We have phones that talk to us, hover boards, and we can transmit information from a computer onto a piece of paper in a matter of seconds. Time travel cannot exist because we cannot handle it. In the movies, the time traveler always realizes that there are consequences for pulling at the thread of time. Nothing ever goes the way as planned, and the hero ultimately realizes that it is not the past or future that needs changing, but the present, and how they currently view it.

So why in a society so fixated on time do we choose to hope and reflect rather than live in the now?

“The present changes the past. Looking back you do not find what you left behind.”

– Kiran Desai

The reason we adore the past is quite simple. The past is selective: “According to Alan R. Hirsch in his report, “Nostalgia: A Neuropsychiatric Understanding,” nostalgia is a yearning for an idealized past — “a longing for a sanitized impression of the past, what in psychoanalysis is referred to as a screen memory — not a true recreation of the past, but rather a combination of many different memories, all integrated together, and in the process all negative emotions filtered out’” (Elite Daily). When we recollect memories, we manipulate them in the process, and because of this, that one memory of our birthday is a tad better than the actual event. In fact, each time we go back to that birthday, the moment changes up until the very point that it can no longer be classified as a memory. Realistic fiction probably. Memoir, not quite. We dream of the past because it is literally a dream.

“I’m looking forward to the future, and feeling grateful for the past.”

– Mike Rowe

We already know that the unknown intrigues us, which is a huge part in the future’s appeal. Perhaps the future fascinates us because of its potential, causing an “optimistic, extreme positivity bias toward the future. . .To the point that people “always say future events are more important to their identity and life story than the past events. Talk about being nostalgic for the future” (The Atlantic).  It reminds us that despite the helplessness we often feel, we can ignite change. Today might be horrible, but if we get through it, there is a better tomorrow. When I was at the tail end of undergrad, I was working part-time, attending school full-time, and student teaching. I would rush from my teaching site, to classes, to close up the store – just to get home to grade or begin an assignment due the following week. I told myself that it was temporary and promised myself a tomorrow where my life would not be like that. Here I am, 5 years later and my life is pretty much all work and no play. Where did I go wrong? Probably when I began investing all my time in the future without distributing any to my present. I viewed the present as a means to get to my destination. Yet the question constantly burning inside me was: Am I there yet? What future was I working toward? At first it was completing my BA, then my MA, then my first year of teaching, now until I get tenure. We like looking at the future because it gives us a reason to ignore the present. In the present, time is limited. Looking at the future, time suddenly seems limitless.

“It’s being here now that’s important. There’s no past and there’s no future. Time is a very misleading thing. All there is ever, is the now. We can gain experience from the past, but we can’t relive it; and we can hope for the future, but we don’t know if there is one.”

– George Harrison

Despite our longing for the past and dreams of the future, we are constantly advised to live in the present. Yet the present is not equipped with the nostalgic feeling that we find in either the past or future. Time is cyclical but not equal. We wish for time travel without even knowing that we already are time travelers: the present is a culmination of the past and future. The present is constantly fleeting and generating. In this very moment, the first lines of this sentence exist in the past while the rest remain in the present, as my next sentence exists in the future. That is, until I have completed it, and until you read it.

Time travel cannot exist because once it is apparent that we have a hold of the past and future, we will no longer crave it – just as we reject the obtainable present. I mentioned nostalgia in this post, but I think now is an appropriate time to examine its definition:

“a wistful desire to return in thought or in fact to a former time in one’s life, to one’s home or homelanda sentimental yearning for the happiness of a former place or time” (Dictionary).

It is pointless to reiterate how nostalgia and the past are linked, so let’s focus on the future. Although nostalgia is deeply rooted in what has happened, it’s connection to the future is simple. The future, since it is yet to exist, has been imagined. Notice the past tense? We will always yearn for the two, yet as the wise prophet West was once quoted: “You never know what you got ’til it’s gone, I guess that’s why I’m here and I can’t come back home.” It’s time to make the present our home while we still can.