Category Archives: So Cultural

Where Children Sleep.

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I stumbled across a photo essay on Mother Jones a couple days ago that took my breath away: photographs of children around the world and their bedrooms. James Mollison began this project as a way to engage the issue of children’s rights, and over the course of a few years, he had a collection of photographs of children, aged seven to fourteen, and their rooms that spanned 18 different countries and a diverse range of cultures and socio-economic statuses. His stunning and unsentimental photo series is now collected in a book titled “Where Children Sleep.” Of the project, Mollison says:

“I found myself thinking about my bedroom: how significant it was during my childhood, and how it reflected what I had and who I was. It occurred to me that a way to address some of the complex situations and social issues affecting children would be to look at the bedrooms of children in all kinds of different circumstances. From the start, I didn’t want it just to be about ‘needy children’ in the developing world, but rather something more inclusive, about children from all types of situations. It seemed to make sense to photograph the children themselves, too, but separately from their bedrooms, using a neutral background. My thinking was that the bedroom pictures would be inscribed with the children’s material and cultural circumstances, the details that inevitably mark people apart from each other, while the children themselves would appear in the set of portraits as individuals, as equals, just as children.”

As a child my bedroom was a personalized sanctuary to me, and even now as an adult, I continue to regard my bedroom as a space that represents who I am as an individual. I don’t have the same posters of Hanson that I had on my wall as a tween in Michigan, but every detail of my room has been carefully curated to reflect my personality and project an aesthetic that’s in keeping with my identity, or at least the identity that I choose to present. It’s fascinating and sobering to observe how much that is not the case for most children around the world, and to put the idea that, as Mother Jones puts it, “wherever a child lies down at night is not so much a retreat from as a reflection of the world outside” in perspective.

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To see more of James Mollison’s photos from “Where Children Sleep,” click here.

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.

Post-Olympic Cities.

Ever since the closing ceremonies concluded the weekend before last, I’ve had an Olympic-shaped hole in my heart. I remember getting really excited about the Olympics as a kid, but these Games were the first that I’ve invested time in watching as an adult, and truth be told, it was a little magical. Everything is so big! And Olympians are so impressive! For the first time, I understand what a simultaneous honor and struggle it is to be an Olympic athlete, to represent your country on a world stage and perform at a consistent level of near-perfection. I would watch the Olympic happenings at Nate’s house with he and his roommates and it was a very communal experience, to sit together and cheer on Gabby Douglas and Misty May-Treanor and Allyson Felix and to all be emotionally invested in their victories together. There was such a latent excitement surrounding the Olympics this year, and it was fun to live in that excitement for a couple weeks.

But what happens when the Olympics are over and the excitement disappears? I came across a series of photos the other day on FlavorWire that attempt to get at that question. The Olympic City, a collaboration between photographer Jon Pack and filmmaker Gary Hustwit, is a photo collection of the ruins of former Olympic host cities. As it turns out, many of the grand Olympic structures built for the Games have faded into obsolescence, and a few have been repurposed for wildly different uses than they were originally intended for. These photos are really beautiful and haunting, and it makes me wonder whether it’s worth it to pour so much money into such a temporary grandiosity if this is the fate that awaits future Olympic sites. It’s an interesting and tricky question to consider.

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See more photos from The Olympic City Project here.

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?

Mantra.

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