Looking Back At March/Forward to April

Today is March 31st (a date which does in fact exist) and thus today marks the end of my month-long blogging endeavor.

Over the course of March 2016, I wrote 20 blog posts (including this one). This was somewhat significantly below the target goal of a post everyday. Some days I skipped for reasons that I could rationalize to myself (I spent the whole day with friends or was driving for many hours) and several days I skipped for other reasons (I didn’t plan well or just…didn’t.). But hey, I’ll take those 20 posts since I sure didn’t have them before!

My intention setting out was to flex creative muscles, get in the habit of writing meaningfully on a regular basis, and have some structure in my day that would motivate me to get other things done as well. I do feel like I’m thinking more critically and creatively about the media I consume  and I think more about how Internet writing works and what factors affect it. I definitely was able to write on a more regular basis; the WordPress stats page is surprisingly motivating for me (much more so than the notebook I carry around with me but never open). And there were some days where I was able to procrastinate writing a blog post and writing cover letters off of each other, or where writing one seamlessly flowed into writing another. Different weeks have been better and worse in that regard.

The jobs I’m applying for and the things I think about all day do not overlap very much. I’m glad to be developing an outlet about these ~new media~ interests, an outlet seems more productive and meaningful than me trying to explain to my dad who Ellen Page is. I want to continue this process to create some balance in my life  and remind myself that these other interests have worth, especially if I end up working in insurance or finance.

I want to set new goals for April. I realize that there is a tradition on Youtube of VEDA, or vlog every day in April, but I guess I just did the blogging equivalent a month early. For April I want to make sure that I write a post three times a week. I think that will give me a little more flexibility and if I’m feeling particularly verbose I can feel free to post more. I still have a lot of free time so it will be good to keep producing in some way.

Thanks for reading! Keep following to see where April takes me!

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How Having a Smartphone Has Affected My Life

I bought my first smart phone just about two months ago. I had held off for a long time due to a combination of sticker-shock, inertia, and stubbornness. I also know that I have slightly addictive tendencies and would easily become obsessed with an all-powerful computer that lived in my pocket. I made it through college without just a flip phone (and frequently no laptop) but after I finished school a sale on iPhone 5S on Virgin Mobile was too tempting to pass up. I let the phone sit in its box until my month on my plan was up before I upgraded and then I was smartphone in hand and ready to go!

I have now had my smartphone for 2 months and I’ve been thinking about and trying to quantify what impact it’s had on my life. I definitely haven’t maximized the potential of the phone yet (I have no music on it, email is not connected) but the apps I do have have already made a difference.

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What I’m Reading and Why

I first started reading non-fiction for pleasure when I was around fourteen. I had been a fantasy-dork as a kid but a combination of adolescence and anxiety meant that fiction suddenly became overwhelming. I was internalizing the problems of the characters in the book, ruminating on them long after the last page had been turned, and that was not really helping my over-all life. I needed something different.

That spring I would walk home from school a few afternoons a week, sneaking out the door by the gym instead of getting on my bus. The library was on the way home and I would spend an hour curled up in the young adult non-fiction section. Since I was a semi-closeted deeply repressed young gay kid, I would quietly read books geared at LGBT teens, often hiding them behind an Oprah magazine. 306.766 is the call number, don’t want anyone seeing you looking it up in the online catalog! After I felt a little more validated, I would pack up and walk home to do my homework.

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The Problem With The Practice Montage

In the first High School Musical movie, there’s a series of scenes where Gabriella and Troy practice with Kelsey to prepare for their call-back audition. They practice individually and together, in secret during study halls and after school (this is the part where Sharpay can faintly overhear their rehearsal and tries to find out what they’re doing).

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There’s no reason for this series of scenes to have become so stuck in my brain. I was late to the High School Musical game since my family didn’t have cable, but I remember girls practicing the finale dance routine in the middle school bathroom. I think I’ve only seen the movie once or twice at various friend’s basements, though I did buy the soundtrack from a five dollar discount bin. But somehow this montage has made its way permanently into my brain. This montage-style of practice is somehow how I’ve come to envision working towards my own goals. (Edit: I realized after writing this that perhaps a more well-known practice montage to reference would be from Rocky. But nope, High School Musical is what’s stuck with me.)

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Thinking About Creativity and Perfectionism

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about creative output.

I just started following Youtuber Francesca Georgiou a few weeks ago and a couple days ago she posted a video about why she hasn’t posted a video recently. Yeah, I know, small Youtubers (and Fran is definitely a small Youtuber) post these kinds of apology/promise videos all the time. But Fran talks openly about the perfectionist loop of thinking that prevents her from producing content. If she can’t make it good, she won’t make it at all, and this can feed on itself for a long time. Fran’s definitely not the first Youtuber to talk about this (I remember Charlie McDonnell’s famous black and white video about how he felt about his content, Rosianna Halse Rojas talks a lot about creativity and producing content), but she’s what put the topic in the forefront of my mind this week.

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How I Got Through College Without a Laptop

 

college laptop

My laptop broke halfway through my junior year. It was slow at first, a little bit of flickering on the screen as the computer struggled to breathe. But after a few weeks the laptop couldn’t be on for more than a few minutes without the screen going black. The very intimidating and unhelpful IT desk at my college tole me that I should only expect PCs to last a few years anyways and that it was time to get a new one. Due to my tremendous fear of spending money, I said absolutely not, because it was just the screen that was broken not the computer itself. I borrowed a monitor from a weird computer science major and set up an elaborate desktop arrangement in my dorm room.

The Internet situation in my dorm room was less than ideal. This situation, exacerbated by my lack of a smart phone, meant that I was finishing college without any portable technology.

Luckily, my college (and most colleges) provide both PCs and Macs in computer labs and libraries throughout campus. Many of these computers have expensive programs loaded on to them (like ArcGIS or STATA) and so most students will need to use them at some point or another. They are also a point of access to the school printers (so expect a rush right before class).

The paramount tool of college sans laptop? Planning. Since I couldn’t just pull my laptop out of my backpack and crank out a few paragraphs whenever I had a few minutes to spare, I had to plan out my days and weeks to make sure I had the time and space to be near a school computer. To do this, I followed the school’s schedule so that I could be at the library computers when they weren’t crowded. For example, there was a class time block from 2:40-4, but I didn’t have class at that time on  Tuesdays and Thursdays. Instead, I would be at a library computer, treating that time like a mandatory class session where I could accomplish a lot of work.

Over the course of a semester and year, this planning becomes a routine. Every Tuesday and Thursday I did the reading response for my health economics classes in that spot at that time. Having this routine where there was no question about when and where I completed specific work made my lack of a laptop a non-issue. This was especially helpful for classes where the workload is similar each week. For example, last semester I had classes where there was reading due each class of usually the same length. I’ve also had math classes with problem sets due at the end of every week and having that routine helped prevent leaving a daunting assignment til the last minute.

Having set out those blocks of specific time for specific assignments in turn made me much more efficient. The social pressure of the library where people are constantly walking behind your computer screen (and waiting for you to be done so they can take your seat) makes it much harder to become distracted by social media. You don’t want to have someone walk behind you when you’re looking at their profile picture from 2010. The amount of unwanted porn on Tumblr takes it off the table as well. And because I sit down in my time and place with a specific task, I’m much more likely to complete it (or at least make significant progress) than I would be if I were working on it more haphazardly. This combination of good planning and a strong routine allowed me achieve this efficiency.

The final step towards academic success without a laptop was converting as many things to analog as possible. I got a free planner at the beginning of the semester. Most of the time, all of my professor’s distributed the syllabus digitally. This meant that I had to take the time to write down all the big deadlines and assignments in my paper planner. At the beginning of every week I would check again to write down the names of specific readings and assignments that were due that week since my classes often deviated from the syllabus. In addition, I had classes that required you bring a copy of the reading with you each week. This meant purchasing a bound volume of the readings or printing them out individually (I became very good at fitting many pages onto one piece of paper). Being able to carry those physical texts around let me read in places other than those computer desks in the library. This was especially nice when the weather was warm and I could do homework outside next to other students who were desperately squinting at their laptops.

 

Was not having a laptop in college convenient? Nope. But it did teach me how to plan out my work and complete it more efficiently, often giving me more time to do other collegiate things like lie on the floor of dorm rooms, work as a TA, and play intramural soccer. At my school, everyone had to use the school computers at some point when they needed special programming, so there was no stigma about using them. So have no fear, fellow laptop-less students, with a little planning you will have no problem.

Netflix and I Have Drifted Apart

It was a slow process.

I watched Season 3 of Orange Is The New Black as a force of habit, really. I wanted to keep up with what everyone was talking about and figure out how the gifsets I saw on Tumblr fit into the story line. Then I got into Bojack Horseman, watching it after work towards the end of a sad summer, feeling smug that I got in just before my friend’s at school started talking about. And then…

The Internet in my room at school was terrible. Our apartment had two other PCs so I couldn’t blame it on my dad’s long standing avoidance of Macs. My two roommates had no trouble in their rooms or the kitchen, but my busted laptop was hooked up to a monitor and it seemed like a deadzone surrounded my desk. Tumblr would load unbearably slowly, I would click play on a Youtube video and then brush my teeth while I waited for it to buffer, Googledocs was even worse. Netflix disagreed with the Wifi situation most of all, refusing to show a single frame of video no matter how long I waited.

This was the beginning of the end for Netflix and me.

I loved Netflix. I spent a week of my junior year of high school watching all that was available of The Office and I earnestly credit it with saving my life. I remember fanatically updating the queue when everything was still DVDs in the mail, making sure that the next season of my sitcom arrived before my dad’s hastily selected action movie. Netflix got me through the empty afternoons of my freshman year of college and I would listen to episodes of 30 Rock and Parks and Rec while putting in my hours for a data-entry job. We were tight, Netflix and I. I was never a person who let days fly by as the auto-play sucked me, and I never got into House of Cards or the thousands of bad movies. But Netflix was there for me when I needed it.

My Internet situation has thankfully stabilized and we have an old Wii hooked up to a television so we can watch Netflix on the big screen. Except I don’t, really. There were the few days here and there where I needed the soothing sounds of House Hunters after a too-tense episode of Elementary. Detectorists gave me panic attacks, the shows my dad watches at night are too violent, and watching Love was ruined by my dad’s cries of “this is so awkward!”. I would rather watch Youtube during the day (shorter videos! more variety! creators I have built a relationship with over years!) and then when primetime rolls around I’m on the couch with the network shows right when they air.

Now when my dad turns the Wii on (I know, we’re very 2007) I get up and leave. The process of selecting a new show or movie is too much, especially in a group. My dad likes to fall asleep watching shows on an iPad, but the bluelight keeps me awake. Binge-watching tests my attention span and I can rarely even commit to a 44 minute show. So I’ve stopped.

Maybe I’ll go back to watch a super-popular show that ~everyone’s talking about~. Or return to an old favorite during a time of crisis. But for now, no. Thanks for the good times, Netflix. I’m sorry to have left in this time of tremendous original programming, but we’ve simply drifted apart.

The Bachelor Is About Women

At the start of some season finales, the host Chris Harrison and the bachelor will surprise Bachelor viewing parties. Accompanied by cameras, they knock on the doors of nice little suburban houses and surprise the groups of women who are inside getting ready to watch a new episode. While I sometimes can’t quite believe how excited they are to meet Chris Harrison (I frequently want to wipe that stupid smirk off his face), those fun teaser clips remind me that this show is about women.

The women are what make this show popular. Yeah yeah Ben Higgins is pleasant to look at, but his personality, in the words of one of my Bachelor-loving friends, is milquetoast. The personalities and journeys of the women on the show are the reason that women across America tune in every Monday. Watching the finale last night, we care way more about the feelings and lives of JoJo and Lauren than we do about Ben (especially after he made some seriously stupid decisions).

The classic catchphrase of the woman dubbed the villain of the season is “I’m not here to make friends. I’m here to find love.” While this attitude highlights the competitive nature of the show, the odds are clearly stacked the other way. The friendships that are created between the women on the show are boldly displayed across the Internet and last much longer than the engagement that concludes the season. I love seeing these women retweet each other and post pictures on Instagram of when they get to hang out in real life; Carly was even Jade’s bridesmaid. They’re just like the friends I watch the show with. And after all, they just spent up to six weeks locked in a house together; making friends with your roommates in an emotionally tense and vulnerable time seems like a great and not unexpected outcome. Yes, it’s a competition, but the opportunity for female friendship is much greater than the opportunity for the prize of romantic love.

The Internet was thrilled to hear that JoJo would be the next Bachelorette. It’s a chance for redemption after she was so rudely dumped by Ben at the end of this season and besides, we really liked her all season. But The Bachelorette is much less popular as a show and many  Bachelor viewers will not stick around for JoJo’s next shot at love. This is partly because it airs in the summer, that time when TV-watching is much lower. And it is partly because the format still feels a little weird, this men competing for women. That weirdness particularly manifests at the end of the season when a proposal is supposed to happen: the final two men usually each bring a ring to the rose ceremony. If she’s not quick and clear enough, a man on one knee will then get rejected. This doesn’t make sense – she’s running the show, she should be the one proposing! This uncomfortable dance highlights how you can’t just flip the genders on the show in the name of equality, sexist norms are still at play.

But I think that a larger reason that The Bachelorette is much less popular is that it’s mostly about men. And the men are very boring. The sisterhood of The Bachelor does not comfortably switch into brotherhood on The Bachelorette. The conversations that the men have in the mansion feel more stilted and less intimate; you find yourself rooting for a guy simply because he seems nice enough and has a mildly pleasant face. (This feeling is probably exacerbated by my being gay – perhaps straight women feel more interested in the male contestants).  This is not compelling television – this is why ABC has introduced more gimmicks, especially last season with two Bachelorettes at the start and the return of a villain from a previous season. The female fan-base does want to watch Desiree and Andi and Kaitlyn take charge and be in control of their destiny and send those lousy jerks home as they call all the producer-approved shots. But with just one woman to root for as she’s faced with a sea of beige boring beta men, it’s not any surprise that women in living rooms everywhere tune out.

Women want to see themselves (and root for themselves) on TV.

Yes, this is a horrible premise for a television show. But I don’t think we need more feminist critiques of how sexist it is to make twenty five women compete for the love and attention of one man. Everyone knows that the premise of the show is sexist. I refuse to believe that the average viewer thinks this is real or natural (my friends say I have too much faith in the average viewer). Yes, send me more articles about how The Bachelor interacts with race, and how messed up it was that those two guys on The Bachelorette pretended to fall in love. I want to here about the potential and success of queer Bachelor look-a-likes on other channels and how soon we might see that on ABC. (Also, if you want to watch a more equal but still heteronormative dating competition, Bachelor in Paradise is fantastic).

But this TV show features women more prominently than any other network television show. And groups of female friends across the country will sit in their living rooms and dorm rooms together, see these female friendships and journeys form on TV, and appreciate that while the premise revolves around one dopey guy, this is a show about women.

 

 

 

How I Watch The Bachelor

America’s guilty pleasure concluded another season last night with a three-hour extravaganza of love and tears: two hours of the finale where the winner was revealed and then one hour of After The Final Rose where the rejected gets one final chance  at an explanation. I, along with millions of others, watched it all.

I started seriously watching The Bachelor last year during Chris Soules’ season, but I had caught a few episodes here and there before and definitely joined in on the Juan Pablo hate. The show takes up a lot of time on the ABC Monday night schedule so if you’re channel surfing around the networks it’s hard to miss. In the two years of watching I’ve learned a lot about the way that the show is made and marketed and how other people watch it.

Last year, I started a Bachelor-routine with some friends at school. Several of us had class during the Monday night airtime, so we all pledged not to watch or read spoilers and would save the episode to watch on  Thursday as an early-weekend treat. Five or six of us would spend two hours crammed into a dorm room watching the show on a precariously perched Macbook. I loved watching it with this group of girls. A couple people were film majors and talked a lot about editing and the role of producers. Copious feminist commentary filled the commercial breaks. It was nice to relax with some silly enticing addictive TV once a week.

This year an early graduation and a few study-abroads have separated the crew, so I spent this season watching with my mom while dramatically texting and Snapchatting my friends. I also became entrenched in Bachelor live-Tweet culture. I mostly follow members of the Bachelor family: my favorite contestants from previous seasons like Andi Dorfman, Sharleen Joynt and Becca Tilley. The contestants from this season also often live-tweet the show as they watch back their whole experience, sharing where they bought their outfits and what they were really feeling in the moment. The next-day is recap time – bloggers across the Internet post their predictions and analysis.

Sharleen Joynt posts recaps on her blog every week and often focuses on editing. She focuses a lot on how the different characters are created, particularly who is dubbed a villain. This season, Leah became a villain for about twenty minutes as she tried to take down Lauren B by talking to Ben about how Lauren acted differently around the girls. This tiny little plot, as Sharleen talks about beautifully, had no basis and was here and gone in a minute. It didn’t make any sense. The characterization of Olivia was much more interesting; she was portrayed and edited as a condescending mean person when in reality she might just have been an introvert who didn’t click with the other girls (though the Teen Mom comments were definitely out of line). Sharleen has a large audience because of her dramatic exit from Juan Pablo’s season and because of her detailed explanations of how things work filming. She has spawned many other bloggers who are talking about the show in so many ways: how the show has changed with the growth of social media, how race is a factor in what contestants stay, how girl-on-girl misogyny manifests itself each season.

The director of The Bachelor is an alumnus of my university and last year he came to speak at homecoming. He talked a lot about how much footage is taken, how late the nights are, how the alcohol keeps flowing. He’s the one responsible for helping create the ‘story’ of a  season, especially with regards to the visuals. Listening to him speak made me pay much more attention to the production elements of the show. Are the in-the-moment talking head clips filmed outside or inside? Can we tell how far into the evening it was filmed? What questions might they have asked her? Is the camera-man right up in her face while she talked about her divorce? At this panel discussion, there were many questions about how the show would evolve to keep up with the times, when we could expect to see a POC Bachelor or Bachelorette, when we would see an LGBT season. This keeps me thinking about how the show maneuvers each season to set itself up for these possible shifts and evolutions.

This is how I watch The Bachelor. And I want to think that this is how other people watch The Bachelor, too. One of my friends says that I have too much faith in the average viewer, that most other people really are sucked in to the manufactured romance without thinking critically. But the communities I’ve engaged with around this show say differently. The community, both online and in real life, that is built around this show is strong and passionate and prepared to analyze every clip and voice-over. We know that this show is silly and contrived (and sexist and hetero-normative and often racist) but apparently it is not going away any time soon. These questions and critiques are what watching The Bachelor is all about. Now excuse me, I have to go read some more recaps.

 


 

Apparently I have a lot to say about this topic, so tomorrow I’ll be talking some more about The Bachelor and its relationship to women, both fans and contestants.

 

 

I Love TV

Last week, I was talking to someone about how I could make the routines of my day more invigorating and more productive. In my unending quest to improve my life in arbitrary ways, I often find myself forcing new hobbies into my life. I should try yoga before bed, and maybe jog before I shower in the morning, and commit an hour a day at least to practicing piano and ukulele, join a hiking club, start knitting again, take up quilting, commit to writing everyday. I have been incorporating these activities into my days and weeks with various success over the years. There was the weekly knitting club at the first college, the yoga date with a group of girls for a semester, the biweekly morning jog/walk with a new friend. Here we are on day 14 of one of my more recent endeavors, this blog.

“I just want you to have more happy things in your life,” she said.

This surprised me. When I think about my day, yeah there is time spent beating myself up for not being more productive. Periods of self-doubt, boredom, frustration. But the overall tone of my day, most days, is not one of sadness. What am I doing all day?

Well, every night I watch TV for two hours…

I watch TV in the traditional way. My family has a weird kind of cable, where we get the networks and then a variety of channels: Univision, public access, CSPAN and CSPAN2, and a lot of syndicated re-runs. So while endless HGTV marathons call to the deepest parts of my soul, my cheap budget means I mostly watch network prime-time TV. Every night.

My love right now is focused on sitcoms. I feel so much more efficient having watched four shows in two hours rather than two, I love not having to have watched the previous week. I love the just-right amount of investment required. I love The Real O’Neals and Brooklyn Nine-Nine. The Goldbergs grows on me more every week and my dad and I have a Tuesday night tradition of arguing about whether The Grinder is kidding or not.

At ten o’clock inertia keeps us on the couch and suddenly I have watched entire seasons of Dick Wolf’s newest empire: Chicago Fire, Med, and PD. Somehow I still know none of the characters’ names but have become very invested in the career of the female detective, though I am increasingly aware that this is very effective police propaganda packaged as a predictable procedural.

And that doesn’t even begin to cover my addiction to The Bachelor.

I love TV. This isn’t a passive activity turning me into a zombie like parents used to worry about. I look forward to my shows every week; I’m excited about the premiere of new sitcoms and mourn the death of dramas I don’t even watch. I love knowing what new shows are debuting on channels we don’t get. I love watching the cast livetweet episodes. I love knowing that thousands of people are also watching it right now with me. I love eating dessert on the commercial breaks and trying to remember actor’s names with my dad.

What I hate is feeling ashamed of my love of TV. I watch it every night, I occasionally have rearranged plans so that I can watch a show. It is not the only thing I like, but it is something that is regularly part of my day and something I can count on (except when news and football intervene).  But somehow I don’t feel comfortable telling people “oh yeah, I watch a lot of procedurals and sitcoms, it makes me really happy”. Why should this part of my routine be less valid as a source of happiness than a regular yoga practice or playing an instrument?

I love TV, I watch it live everyday, it is important to me. I’m still probably going to try to get some downward dog into my life as well, but not if it conflicts with Fresh Off The Boat.

 


 

Tune in later this week to hear about how I watch  The Bachelor and why I stopped watching Netflix!