Country/City Girl

Yesterday, I visited my friend on her farm.

Yes, that’s right, a farm. I have friends who own farms now. God, I feel like an adult.

I can’t even fathom owning a farm, let alone one that makes you feel like you’re at Green Gables. I have a hard enough time dealing with the fact that the tiny patch of dirt in front of my porch is growing plants (albeit poorly); but just imagine having several acres of land, with crops and ponds and tractors. I mean, we actually sat on the porch in the evening and husked corn that was pulled straight from the garden. You can’t get a more farm-like moment than that (well, you probably can, but let me have this one thing).

Living in a city often prevents me from having these kinds of moments. In the city, I don’t get as much fresh, country air, and I don’t get to sit on my front porch and watch the mist roll over the mountains as a flock of starlings dances its greeting to the day. I don’t have a car, so it’s hard to disappear into nature whenever I desire. If I want to go hiking or camping, I have to convince friends with cars to go with me, and walking along the river can only be so nurturing when there’s that constant sound of cars rushing by on the street adjacent. And living in a city also means missing out on stargazing — Harrisburg’s cityscape isn’t even that bright, but it still overpowers the sky.

Needless to say, there are times when I wish I could live out in the countryside. But there are also times when I’m really glad I live in the city. Like when I remember I don’t need a car to get to work — I can walk there, and virtually anywhere else that I need to go on a daily basis. I also thoroughly enjoy being so close to so many people, and to so many social landmarks. Cities are a constant reservoir of entertainment and social gatherings. Luckily, Harrisburg is small enough that the social scene isn’t overwhelming — which I can only imagine is the case in places like New York — but it isn’t small enough that you can’t find this scene if you put in the effort to connect with people.

But I still long for the countryside every once in a while. Dipping my toes into the “other world” creates some sort of balance inside of me, proving that I could never be a full-fledged city girl. Or a country girl, for that matter. Yesterday threw in a little yin to satisfy the yang and soothe my soul, but I do need both. Sometimes a weekend trip or a day trip here and there is all I need to quench that thirst. Of course, I won’t deny that sometimes I need a lot more than a weekend, but for now, I am perfectly content.

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The A Rating

The world just keeps getting a little brighter.

This week I made an interesting discovery: recently, four Swedish cinemas have announced that they will be using the “A rating” in addition to the typical film ratings. If a film gets an A rating, that means it’s passed the Bechdel Test — a quick evaluation derived from Allison Bechdel’s 1985 cartoon strip, “Dykes to Watch Out For”. It’s a simple litmus test with three provisions:image

  1. Does the film have two or more female characters?
  2. Do those female characters have a conversation?
  3. Is that conversation about something other than men?

The test does not qualify a film as a “feminist film”, or even that it’s a good film — in fact, a sexist movie could pass the Bechdel test, or vice versa, a feminist film could fail to pass the test. It is simply a tool to measure how often the film industry tells a woman’s story.

Why is this important?

It’s such a worn out idea, but it really is true: art does reflect reality. So if the majority of films are underrepresenting (or misrepresenting) women, then that says something about our society and where we places our values. Hollywood is very much a man’s world at the moment: statistically most films are about men, and most writers, producers, and directors are men. In a study in 2011, women made up 33% of characters in films, and only 11% of protagonists. For a world in which women make up about 50% of the population, this is an alarmingly uneven reflection of reality.

So the Bechdel test does not measure the film, it measures the industry. It is a way of looking at what is presented to the world, recognizing that it is lacking in a woman’s perspective, and saying, “Why is that the case?”

It’s important to realize that the significance is not in the rating of the film — it’s in the fact that it causes you to analyze the entire system. Not only are several cinemas picking up the “A rating”, but there is even talk of other ratings that would indicate if the director or writer is a woman. Hopefully, if more people start questioning why there aren’t more stories about women, or more female filmmakers, the film industry will step up its game. (I also realize that it does often boil down to who has the talent to create the films… but as I’ve mentioned in other posts, often there are plenty of talented filmmakers whose voices never get heard because they don’t have connections. Read: men helping men.)

We can also use the Bechdel test for minority groups: switch women and men for black people and white people and we start to see just how Caucasian-focused society is (if we haven’t already noticed that already, of course). Personally, I’d like there to be a rating for this, as well.

Do I think the A rating will actually affect the film industry? Maybe not directly. The A rating is not perfect, and I think it will take a long time to change how disproportionate the film industry is, no matter how many tests we throw at it. But I do think it’s important to try. And as long as we’re trying, the world will remain that little bit brighter.

Groceries and Ambitions (or: Why Dogs Have Got It Good)

My friend took me grocery shopping last night. He’s got a tiny little beat-up convertible that he had just gotten back from the shop, it having been out of commission for a couple of months due to repairs, and as we started driving, he said, “Should we put the top down? Let’s put the top down.”

This was at around 11:00 at night, which frankly is the perfect time to go grocery shopping. Not only are there significantly less people shopping at that time, which means not having to weave through the maze of carts, but it also means that you get to drive in the dark. I don’t know what it is about night driving, but it’s awesome. I think it’s that combination of street lights and car lights against the black sky that’s just so beautiful to me — I love nature, but I also love city lights.

And the open roof made the experience that much more enjoyable. As we drove along, I was struck by this feeling of contentment. I can totally see why dogs love sticking their head out the window — if it’s a nice day, that breeze feels so good.

Normally, though, I think I’d be so distracted by the events of everyday life to really enjoy it — too many appointments and checklists to attend to.

This is one of those weird moments where I’m deeply envious of dogs. Dogs will stick their head out the window, and think of nothing else but hanging their tongue out to catch the wind. No worries, no planning for the future, just sheer excitement as the wind rushes past you. I want to be able to do that.

 See, dogs know how to sit in a moment and enjoy life as it comes, because they don’t have responsibilities. Humans, on the other hand, constantly allow their responsibilities to get in the way. That is a distinctly human quality: we’re always stressing about making deadlines or worrying about an interaction that we had the other day. Humans dwell.

But that’s not always a bad thing. Sure, we load our plates up with responsibility, but the reason we do that is because we have ambition — another distinctly human quality. If I decide that I want to write a book, and really set myself to the task, the prospect of getting published will motivate me to trudge my way through the work. We dwell on dreams, and if we dwell enough, and care enough, at some point this will stir us into action. This is a fantastic thing.

But there’s got to be a way to dwell and notice our surroundings at the same time. There’s got to be a way to tie the pursuit of our dreams in with the enjoyment and contentment of the here and now. Being present takes conscious effort, but I think it’s an important effort to take. Because honestly, dreams are great, but what would life be like if we didn’t slow down for just one minute and breathe in the air, and think, Damn, today’s a nice day?

I think I tend to dream more than I allow myself to be present. Ironically, sometimes the way I endeavour to remedy this is by turning it into an ambition — I’ll make checklists to remind myself to ingest my surroundings — preparation to step out of the dream and remember what it’s like to be alive. Here’s my current checklist: Get up early so I won’t have to rush. Really look at the things I see on the street as I walk to work. Realize the things that make me smile, as I experience them — not later. Remember to ask my friends what’s going on in their lives. And make friends with more people who own convertibles.

I’ve Been Challenged: Catalytic Reminiscence

The ever-lovely Hazelnut Pie has nominated me for the challenge of writing about my first blog post. Weirdly enough, I was scrolling through old posts to get to the beginning, and it dawned on me that I’ve come a lot further with this blog than I initially thought I would be able to pull off. I thought I was going to give up after a month. So, spurred on by that realization, I gladly take the challenge.

Copy-paste, link, pingback (or whatever way you want to) your first post:

And so it begins.  

State what type of post that was – for example: introduction, story, poem:

I suppose it’s both introduction and story — though I was wary of the idea of a blog to begin with, so a lot of the post is just me rambling.

Explain why that was your first post.

Well, I wanted to start a blog, but I didn’t have a ton to say. Normal people would postpone their initial foray into the blogging world until they had a more concrete tale to spin, but I’ve always tried to push myself to do things that scare me. So post I did.

Rereading my first blog post has actually been pretty beneficial to me. I’m remembering promises I made to myself back in January, promises that I’ve woefully broken… like posting my film reviews here so that my entire body of work could at least be slightly more cohesive. So to begin that remedy, here are two of my most recent reviews: one for TheBurg and one for general use at Midtown Cinema. I’ve got my Twitter feed on the sidebar, so in the future I will be a little more dutiful about posting review links via Twitter.

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It’s really good to be reminded of why I started this blog in the first place. I wanted to flex my writing muscles, which a weekly blog has definitely helped me to do; and in a way I wanted it to hold me accountable for the progression of The Fields. I have made some headway with the manuscript, but not as much as I’d hoped to make in the last five and a half months. So, I’m going to give myself a deadline (the most terrifying of things to give yourself):

By August 15th, I will have The Fields ready to send out to a literary agent.

You wonderful people should make a note on your calendars and inundate me with messages on that day, asking if I’ve finished my work. Or better yet, the day before, to really freak me out.

There. I’ve set that wheel in motion. May it continue rolling, and may its best friends be hills and gravity.

Nominations (if you haven’t already been nominated):

Until All Have Seen
The Finding Felicity Project
Oneironesia

Enjoy!

Love Has Won (or, The Inevitability of Sore Losers)

Congratulations, USA! We have finally legalized same-sex marriage across the board, enabling everyone to have marriage equality. It’s amazing to see society finally progressing to this point. It’s not often that I want to express pride for my country, but this week — the week preceding the most appropriate time to express pride for your country — I have reason to do so.

But hand in hand with victory comes pain, as many still cry out against the ruling. I say “pain” and not “irritation” because I used to be just like them. To see my younger self in the face of someone who can’t understand equality and progression is a painful thing, because I want so badly for them to get there and fear that they won’t.

These past few days, I’ve been sifting through articles trying to wrap my brain around the mindset that I used to have. You know the mindset that I’m talking about: it’s the conservative Christian mindset (not to get all stereotypical up in here), the mindset that produces articles with titles like, “Gay marriage is legal in the US. Try not to worry.”

I grew up in a Christian household, and, until my junior year of college, believed that homosexuality was a sin. “Hate the sin, love the sinner” — that was my motto. But let’s be honest: if you looked at my life back then, you would find a girl who hated more just than the sin. I never would have admitted to it, because I didn’t even realize it, but I was a very judgmental, “me vs. them” person. I derived some sort of twisted pride out of the fact that I was “one of only a few Christians in my high school” — a fact that probably wasn’t even true, but if you didn’t fit my description of what it was to be Christian, then you didn’t pass. And yes, it was sad that everyone else was going to hell, but it also made me feel a little good — not that they were wrong about their salvation, but that I was right.

I remember telling my favorite high school teacher, in a roundabout way, that he was going to hell. This was my mentor and friend, and I still held him apart as separate and different from me. I’m sure if he had asked, I would have turned him toward Jesus, but for the time being I was content being on a higher level than he was.

It’s a form of self-preservation. I mean, if we want to be really honest — and I’m not trying to rag on religion, but if you really boil it down — religion is all about self-preservation. It gives us a set of moral codes to abide by in order to get to heaven. For the brand of Christianity that I grew up with, there was a specific moment that a Christian had in which he or she became a Christian, and from then on, you were on the path of righteousness — even if you sinned, you would still be going to heaven. Now, if you lavished yourself in sin, then people would say that maybe you weren’t ever a Christian to begin with, that you just thought you were… so whatever honest, heartfelt decisions you made before were disregarded if your mind changed about something. And while there was that idea that sticking to a set of morals was a way to get closer to God, it was mostly about ensuring that you would be with God in heaven (read: ensuring that you would go to heaven).

I read an article recently that discussed the Christian response to same-sex marriage, and there were many points that just made me cringe. My favorite cringeworthy moment was when the author stated that Christianity has always been counter-cultural — an idea that aimed to excuse the conservative Christian view:

If you think about it, regardless of your theological position, all your views as a Christian are counter-cultural and always will be. If your views are cultural, you’re probably not reading the scriptures closely enough.

Okay, so I totally understand that Christians believe they are supposed to be “in the world but not part of it”, because being a part of the world would taint their ideology and somehow make them lesser (again, the “me vs. them” concept). But you cannot measure the extent of your holiness by how counter-cultural it is. Our culture sees rape as unacceptable, but I don’t see Christians getting counter-cultural about that issue. It scares me that a person can adopt an uncompromising moral code that was created thousands of years ago.

The thing is, Christians never sit down and realize what the moral code is really for: for them, it’s to get to heaven, but for everyone else, it’s to make everyone get along. It’s to make society progress, and keep it running. That’s why homosexuality was looked down on in the first place: in biblical times, having children and passing on your name was of the utmost importance. It was what allowed the human race to survive and flourish. Not entering yourself into the baby-making industry was weird and illogical and unnatural. If you weren’t actively seeking a heterosexual relationship, you weren’t offering yourself up to the family standard that would keep society in existence.

Guys, we’re having the opposite problem now.

I feel that it is a little presumptuous to declare that your moral code will always be right. History has proven this wrong so many times, it’s not even worth the argument.

One of my closest friends from college is gay, but he didn’t come out until after college. In a selfish way, I am almost relieved that he waited to come out. Okay, I guess that sounds horrible… I didn’t want him to suffer and refrain from being who he truly is. What I mean is, I honestly don’t know how I would have reacted if he had told me before that pivotal point in my junior year that he was gay. Imagine clamming up and losing a close friend because even though you “love the sinner but hate the sin”, that relationship is still somehow tainted by this new piece of information. No, I’m desperately glad I learned that he was gay after I had worked that nonsense out of my mind. I’m glad that my response was one of surprise and not of trepidation.

It’s all about baby steps. Back in ’67, when we finally decided to allow interracial marriage (here, have fun with graphs), I’m sure there were plenty who grumbled. And even today, there are still those who stubbornly hold onto the belief that they’re right — but that number is rapidly dwindling. Time creates progression, and perhaps in another 50 years there will only be those stubborn few who are still worried about gay people getting married. One can only hope. God bless America.