Category Archives: Opinions & Musings de la Kendall

Collage Night.

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My good friend Bekah has been on a collaging kick as of late, and she invited me over a couple nights ago for a drink-PBR-and-make-collages night. I was a little skeptical at first, but once I got going, I slipped into a creative trance that I wanted to live in forever, cutting and gluing and arranging and rearranging. I was lamenting to a friend the other day how difficult it is to pursue creative projects that are free, but collaging seems an excellent solution to that dilemma: Bekah picked up a couple issues of National Geographic from the 1950s and 1940s from Half Price Books for just a couple dollars each, and I was amazed at how instantaneously and tangibly good it felt to be creating with my hands. I’m a collaging convert, guys.

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On a related note, the photographs from the old National Geographics that we used for collaging are incredible. Truly some of the most amazing compositions and subjects I’ve ever seen. And it’s so fascinating to compare these dreamy, fuzzy-around-the-edges photos from the 40s and 50s to the crystal-clear sharpness of present-day photography. It’s what we’ve come to expect from our photos, I guess, but I think I prefer the more approximate old style. There’s a sort of magic and mystery in the diminished detail of the old photos that’s really enchanting because, as Bekah astutely noted, they’re not trying to be so literal. All of which is to say: I’m heading to Half Price Books immediately to pore through more of these amazing NatGeo photo archives, and to bring a few home for another collage night.
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Thought Catalog.

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It took me the better part of 2012, but I have officially been published on Thought Catalog and can finally cross it off my 24 Before 25 list! Yay! The essay is called “Stop Catcalling Me” and it’s an elaboration on this post, which was inspired by this post. Even greater than my pride and satisfaction in seeing my writing on TC is my fascination at the range of comments that have been made: about 50% of the comments are from girls who agree and see their own experiences mirrored in my commentary and the other half are comments from men (and a few women) who insist I need to “loosen my corset.” There are a lot of people who strongly disagree with what I wrote, which I think is great because it reiterates that this is a really sensitive issue that the sexes stand very divided on, and it’s really exciting to see something I wrote facilitate a passionate debate among the commenters. Check it out here if you’d like!

Social Media Sites Are Weird.

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I can feel myself growing increasingly disenchanted with social media sites. It was six years ago that I became a Facebook user, four years ago that I became a Twitter user, and a year and a half ago that I joined Instagram, and while I’ve gone through varying stages of wild evangelism for all three, the past month or so has seen me receding from all of them as a user. It’s in no small part, I think, because I read this op ed piece by Jonathan Franzen in the New York Times and this cover story by Stephen Marche in The Atlantic from a few months back, and have not been able to look at, or participate in, social media the same way since.

Both pieces of writing, though they take different routes in getting there, essentially arrive at the same conclusions: that social media’s promise of a community of greater interconnection is boloney, that social media make us lonely and narcissistic and our interactions with other people superficial, that in a world of passive ‘liking,’ it becomes more difficult for us to actively love.

I think I always understood these statements to be true, at least on a subconscious level, but there’s something about the words being spoken out loud (or, in this case, written) that is particularly damning and impossible to deny. And now when I peruse my various news feeds, I can see nothing else but the truth of these assertions: in the Facebook likes I get from people I haven’t physically spoken to or seen in eight years, in the Instagram photos of bed comforters and glowing televisions that signify a solitary night in, in the tweets that betray a shocking lack of personal filter. It has always been there, but I’m seeing it with new eyes for the first time.

The rate at which we are inundated with equal parts deeply personal and deeply useless information via status updates, tweets and the like from our friends and acquaintances is overwhelming and frankly creepy to me. It’s almost as if we see ourselves as the narrators of our own reality, tasked with keeping our friends, our sea of “professional carers” as Marche would say, in the loop about every single thing that is happening in our lives, regardless of whether it is significant or mundane. I’m probably not the only person whose Facebook friends are largely acquaintances at best, but at least half of the status updates I read on a given day strike me as wildly inappropriate to be broadcasting to a large group of people who are not your close friends. One example that is, unfortunately, seared in my memory forever came from a girl that I knew from elementary school and haven’t communicated with since the mid-nineties, who posted a photo of her two-year-old daughter and her boyfriend in front of a television with a caption that read something like “Watching Barney after giving (daughter’s name) an enema :(” For the love of Pete, why is this worth of sharing? Because there is always a willing audience, and as a result, that line between appropriate and inappropriate seems to become increasingly indistinguishable.

Further, the level of self-absorption displayed on social media sites is insane. We complain in our tweets or status updates because there is always someone who will be sympathetic and it’s much more uncommon to be called out for being a Negative Nancy on the internet than it is in real life, and we brag about our new job or our travels or our perfect boyfriend/girlfriend because good news means affirmation, whether it take the form of ‘likes’ or ‘hearts’ or ‘favorites’, and affirmation makes us feel good about ourselves. No matter that it takes less effort to click a ‘like’ button than it does to stifle a sneeze. A friend of mine once described Facebook as social masturbation, which now seems more Truthy than ever; the output is always inward-facing because it is all a calculated effort to appear cool or clever or successful and to garner the attention or approval or jealousy of others. It is all about the benefit of the I. Jonathan Franzen puts it very succinctly: “We like the mirror and the mirror likes us. To friend a person is merely to include the person in our private hall of flattering mirrors.”

This is an indictment of my own self as much as everyone else. For the past month, every time I have thought about posting something to Facebook or Twitter or Instagram, I’ve stopped to ask myself “What am I trying to accomplish here? Do I really think that this is worthy of sharing or do I just want to be affirmed?” And nine times out of ten, I have abstained from posting whatever it was because I am in fact just looking for affirmation. And yet, I feel like it’s perhaps more creepy for me to be a social media lurker, scrolling through endless status updates and tweets and photos and absorbing everyone else’s thoughts and opinions without putting out any of my own. I don’t want to quit social media entirely because I do believe it can have great utility in my life, but I also don’t want to become the type of person who throws verbal discretion completely to the wind and thinks that every thing I could possibly have to say is worthy of sharing. So the conundrum is this: how does one actively participate in social media without being a self-absorbed cad? I’m open to suggestions.

On Letting Go.

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Last week I went and saw Celeste and Jesse Forever in the theater by myself. I do that sometimes, so there’s no need to feel sorry for me. This movie was really fascinating, because even though it was marketed as an indie dramedy, it struck me as a potent case study in breaking up and letting go. A brief synopsis: Celeste (Rashida Jones) and Jesse (Andy Samberg) have been married for six years, but as they both approach 30, Celeste decides that they should get divorced. All of their friends are weirded out because even after being separated for six months, Celeste and Jesse still live together and hang out together all the time as if getting divorced wasn’t a big deal, to which they reply that they’re still best friends even though their marriage is over, and why shouldn’t they still hang out? That line of thinking works great until Jesse starts dating another woman pretty seriously, at which point Celeste struggles to hide her palpable jealousy and starts questioning whether or not she made a mistake in asking for a divorce. Much drama and hilarity ensue.

Maybe this wasn’t the intention of the filmmakers at all, but throughout the entirety of the film, the question that kept returning to the forefront of my mind was “Why is it so hard to let go?” In the beginning of the film, we see Jesse struggle to let go of the slim possibility that Celeste will change her mind and call off the divorce, and once he starts dating someone else, Celeste can’t let go either, even though she’s the one who wanted a divorce in the first place. Are we all crazy people for not being able to let go? Yes and no, probably. Obviously I am no expert on such things, but watching my friends go through break-ups and surviving a monster break-up myself, there are certain things I’ve observed that seem particularly Truthy.

One, change is hard for a lot of people, and even more than that, oftentimes it’s even harder to accept the permanence of the decisions you make that act as a catalyst for change. When you break-up with someone or divorce someone, usually that decision lasts forever. But what if you made the wrong decision? What if your life with this person is as good as it’s going to get? What if you never love another person as much as you love this person, or worse, what if you never find another person who loves you like this person does? If that turns out to be true, then you will have no one to blame but yourself, and no one wants to have to live with the knowledge that they have ruined their own life. When Celeste starts second-guessing herself and her decision to get divorced, she turns into a crazy person who does crazy desperate things in an attempt to hold onto the relationship that she’s afraid will slip out of her grasp. Why not just let go? Because letting go is forever, and the reality of forever is scary.

Two, there is a comfort in the familiarity of a relationship that is hard to imagine living without. When you’re with someone for a long time, you take for granted how much of your life is shared and how much your significant other informs your identity, and then when you break up, you have to rediscover who you are as an individual and relearn how to live your life alone. I can tell you from experience, that is the worst. And if that thought alone isn’t enough to keep you hanging on, just think about the agony of jumping back into dating again. Early in the movie when one of Jesse’s friends tells him he should start dating, Jesse says “Maybe I just don’t want to start over with someone new.” Years of work go into the foundation of a lasting relationship, from allowing yourself to truly know (and be known by) another person to accumulating layers of memories and inside jokes and shared experience, and when that relationship ends, it feels like all that work was for nothing. The mere thought of starting from square and attempting such an intensive and laborious undertaking with another person seems a positively insurmountable task.

Strangely enough, as I was driving home from this movie, “Boys of Summer” by Don Henley came on the radio, which, aside from being truly one of the greatest songs ever (D HEN 4 LYFE), is an amazingly poignant song about the struggle to let go. The song begins with imagery that reflects the speaker’s aloneness, from “empty lakes, empty streets” to “the sun goes down alone,” and then launches into that heartbreaking line “I’m driving by your house / though I know you’re not home.” He knows that “those days are gone forever” and that he should just let them go, but in spite of himself, he’s living in memories, not simply remembering but seeing his ex’s “brown skin shining in the sun” and her way of “walking real slow and / smiling at everyone.” It’s such a beautiful song, and it totally puts a lump in my throat every time I hear it.

It also, I think, hammers home the point that much of the difficulty of letting go is a signifier of real care. It wouldn’t be so hard to do if the person or relationship you’re trying to let go of didn’t mean something you. It’s like the five steps of the grieving process: you have to mourn, to work through your anger and fear and confusion, to honor what was once but is no longer, and accept the loss in order to move on with your life in peace. That’s the point of letting go, I think. Not to pretend that it never happened or to always feel regret, but to find a way to be at peace with loss. That probably sounds very zen, but it’s certainly easier said than done.

Catcalls.

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Since returning to Seattle, I’ve been without a car in the city for the first time since I was a college freshman. Because busses cost money and I’m poor, I’ve opted for walking as my go-to mode of transportation, and strangely enough, I’ve noticed that, as a result of walking, the frequency with which I’m catcalled has increased tenfold. About a month ago, after a particular week of what seemed like endless catcalls, I read a post on Apocalypstick that addressed catcalling and I’ve been thinking about it ever since.

As far as I can tell, the point of Almie’s anecdote was to express that she felt weird and a little disgusted with herself for being flattered by this stranger’s catcall, and to question whether or not those feelings of weirdness and disgust were valid. As a lady who gets catcalled fairly regularly and never feels flattered by it, I can say with surety that if the same thing happened to me, I would probably be flattered too. But that’s probably because I think there’s a very distinct difference between a catcall and a compliment, and I don’t see Almie’s experience as a catcall at all.

When I think of a catcall, I think of men sticking their heads out of moving cars like dogs to whistle or shout at you as they pass. It always seems to be a drive-by, or walk-by, experience. When you’re catcalled, there’s no acknowledgment of your distinct personhood or even of your humanity, really; you’re simply being appraised as an object, as a body without a person inside of it, and I suspect that’s at least part of the reason why it’s referred to as a catcall instead of a human-call. A catcall has nothing to do with being complimentary and everything to do with asserting power, like “Woman, I can tell you exactly what I think of the way you look because I’m a man and my opinion is important!” Catcalls strip you of control and force you to be passive, because there’s nothing you can do to counter a catcall: you can’t stop the cat-caller and say “Excuse me, sir, but I’m offended by the way you’re objectifying me” because it all takes place in passing, and you can’t even really shout profanities at them or give them the bird before they’ve made their way out of hearing distance. All you can do is let it happen to you and silently seeth later. All of which is to say: catcalls are not flattering, and in fact, there is no quicker way to make me openly hostile than to utter a catcall in my direction.

And that’s the difference between a catcall and a compliment, as I see it: catcalls make me angry, and compliments don’t. Here’s a story: when I was a senior in high school, I went on a trip to Chicago with my journalism class to attend a high school newspaper convention (right?) and when we had a little free time to explore the city, I found myself in the overwhelmingly huge Virgin Megastore. As I was riding an escalator up to the third floor, a male store employee turned around from his position a couple steps above me and got my attention. He was probably around my age, maybe as old as twenty. But he turned around and with a shy smile he said “Excuse me, I just have to tell you: you’re really beautiful.” And I said thank you, and he smiled more, and then we stepped off the escalator and he went back to work. I think it’s awesome when a male stranger pays me a compliment and then walks away after I’ve expressed my gratitude at their kindness, because that means they weren’t just leading with a compliment in order to get something else, like my phone number or a date. When a man looks me in the eyes and speaks to me instead of at me, and when a man says he’s not trying to hit on me and then doesn’t, that makes me feel empowered instead of powerless, and that’s what a compliment is meant to do. Of course there are exceptions, and men can definitely compliment you to your face in a way that’s sleazy, but my guts tell me when someone is being gross or when someone is being genuine, and I trust that feeling because it has almost always been right. And I like to think that all intelligent women who have a healthy sense of self-worth are intuitive enough to tell the difference, too.

Do you agree? Disagree? What’s your opinion about, or experience with, catcalling?

Self-Consciousness vs. Interestingness.

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Ever since reading What The Dog Saw, Malcolm Gladwell’s collection of essays, I’ve had a particular statement of his at the constant forefront of my thoughts. In his introduction, Gladwell talks about minor geniuses and why, when he’s writing an essay, he goes to the people in the middle, the people who do the actual work, instead of the people at the top. He explains that the people at the top are reticent to share information freely and are very careful about what they divulge because they have a lot more to lose, which leads Gladwell to conclude that “self-consciousness is the enemy of interestingness.”

SELF-CONSCIOUSNESS IS THE ENEMY OF INTERESTINGNESS. Does this statement resonate with anyone else as much as it does with me?

I’ve been ruminating for months on how this equation works, the equation being INTERESTINGNESS ≠ SELF-CONSCIOUSNESS. I totally get why Gladwell would draw this conclusion; I myself am very self-conscious when I talk to people I don’t know very well, and as a result, I feel the people often perceive me as boring. By that same token, I generally find myself enamored of people who seem to have a preponderance of self-consciousness, who immediately speak easily and freely about anything because they don’t give a damn if people find them impressive or not and who are always themselves regardless of who they meet or talk to; these are the type of people I want to know. There’s such a perpetuation of “political correctness,” of self-censorship so as not to offend, in American culture that makes dialogue so sterile and bland, and I think that has heightened the attractiveness and magnetism of people who don’t strictly adhere to decorum. I guess I can only speak for myself, but I think there’s a sort of exhilaration in experiencing the openness of a person that almost feels like breaking the rules, like I’m cheating the system by participating in a conversation that is unscripted and unguarded.

That said, there is also a fine line between openness and having no filter. I went to college with a great number of people who would pipe up during class discussions with whatever thought was floating around in their heads, regardless of whether or not it was fully-formed or even germane to the conversation, and their comments ended up being more disruptive than anything else. The need for gratification and affirmation is very prominent in people of my generation, I’ve noticed, and that inward focus paired with a lack of verbal filter makes people say some really stupid, and ultimately boring, things. That old adage “Do not say anything that does not improve upon silence,” comes to mind; it’s a sentiment that seems to have fallen on many a deaf ear.

So, if we’re solving for x (as in, INTERESTINGNESS=x), what is that secret sauce that we equate with interestingness? Does x=UNGUARDED? Does x=FILTER+INTELLIGENCE+OPENNESS? Or does x=SIMPLY NOT GIVING A DAMN? I’m not a mathematician, you guys, so I couldn’t say definitively. But I hope to figure it out eventually.

What do you think x equals? Do interestingness and self-consciousness necessarily have to be enemies?

In Defense of ‘Girls.’

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In the weeks since Girls first aired on HBO, the topic of the show’s apparent lack of racial diversity has truly been beaten to death. I’ve read so many opinion pieces on different blogs and news sites that criticize the show’s creator, Lena Dunham, for making four white girls the epicenter of the show and for ignoring the miniority-majority population of Brooklyn in its story lines. I had planned to write a big long treatise on why these race accusations are flawed, but the more essays I read about it, the more I realized that they aren’t entirely wrong. The world of Girls is a really white world, but Lena Dunham is not the only person to blame for that.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I have to confess that I love Girls. I think it’s hilariously brilliant, and not because I’m a white girl who only likes to watch television shows about white people; it’s hilariously brilliant because it’s really well-written. A person’s 20s has its own language and lexicon that Dunham captures so well, and the level of specificity employed makes these characters and the situations they find themselves in feel real in a way that most television shows don’t. I can’t help but compare Girls to the early seasons of Friends (which, interestingly enough, never received much criticism for its glaring lack of diversity during the ten years it spent on television), and when I compare the girls from Girls to Rachel, Monica and Phoebe, they seem so much more fully-realized and multi-faceted, containing multitudes the way that women do in real life, than the one-dimensional archetypes of Friends. Additionally, Girls doesn’t glamorize aspects of female life that have always been unnecessarily glamorized by male television writers; it is jarringly honest about the bleakness of dating in your 20s, the awkwardness of sex, and typically taboo topics like abortion and STDs, and that honesty is refreshing. As Maureen Ryan wrote on The Huffington Post, “This is a show in which a particular female point of view is not filtered or adulterated or otherwise bastardized. It’s not a show in which female characters are neutered, cute-sified or created to please male viewers… part of what makes it so refreshing is that it isn’t editing itself or censoring itself in order to avoid offending any particular audience segment. The specificity of the show’s female point of view is part of what makes it a good show.”

That being said, I’m confused at why so many people are up in arms about this show.

A television show about the travails of women in their mid-twenties that’s actually written by a woman in her mid-twenties should be a victory for women everywhere, should it not? Why is everyone putting the responsibility of representing marginalized groups squarely on Lena Dunham’s shoulders? She’s a young girl who’s just starting out in the world of television writing, so it seems unreasonable and unfair that people are so upset with her for not getting it exactly right on her first try. Perhaps it’s the broadness of the show’s title that has caused people to expect an all-encompassing and wholly universal account of the female experience, but the show itself has never claimed to be that. It’s a show about a very specific demographic of women and Dunham’s writing is largely autobiographical. As Dunham herself said, “The idea that I could speak for everyone is so absurd. But what is nice is if I could speak for me and it’s resonant for people, then that’s about as much as I could hope for.” If we’re really concerned about a lack of diversity and unique female perspectives in our television programming, then we need to hold all television shows to the same standard instead of targeting one individual show as the sole embodiment of these problems. Girls is not the problem, it’s a symptom of a problem that is widespread and too often unchecked. I can’t help but wonder if a show called Dudes that centered on the lives of four white guys would receive the same level of criticism that Girls has, and I can say with certitude that the answer is no. The overrepresentation of white male perspectives on television is largely accepted as the norm, and that is a problem in itself. The fact that a show like Girls is on television is sort of miraculous, and I don’t think it’s naive to think that this well-written, refreshingly unique and honest show about primarily white women could end up being the foot in the door that’s needed for well-written, refreshingly unique and honest shows about women of color to find a welcome place on television rosters. That this isn’t a present reality is not Lena Dunham’s fault; it’s television’s fault.

Have you watched Girls? What do you think of the show?