Chinese Diasporic Female Sexuality in Saving Face

Chinese Diasporic Female Sexuality in Saving Face (Chelsea)

In the film Saving Face (2004), we are introduced to a mother and daughter who are both experience the challenges surrounding female sexuality in Chinese and Chinese American culture. In the beginning of the movie, we meet Wil, a Chinese American woman who is also a lesbian. She is very conservative about this aspect of her sexuality, embarrassed even, and we see that her mother is constantly trying to set her up with Chinese men. It isn’t until later in the movie that we find that her mother, Mrs. Pang, started these set-ups after she found out her daughter is a lesbian. Mrs. Pang shows similar sexual embarrassment when she shows up at her daughter’s apartment after her father, Wil’s grandfather, kicks her out for becoming pregnant outside of wedlock.  In the meantime, Wil meets Vivian and starts dating her. As Mrs. Pang refuses to reveal the identity of the father, Wil continues to hide her sexuality from her mother and the Chinese community, despite her relationship. Wil’s apprehension becomes apparent to Vivian, and creates tension in their relationship. Wil tries to help her mother by setting her up on dates with Chinese men so that she might marry and be re-accepted by her family. The real liberation comes when Wil interrupts her mother’s wedding to save her from marrying the wrong man. The father writes Mrs. Pang a letter saying that he wants to be with her and father their child despite their age difference, and Wil reveals the father in order to help her mother. Once liberated, her mother goes to the airport with Wil to stop Vivian from leaving. Yet, Wil cannot get past the cultural and societal stigma placed upon her sexuality, and cannot prove her love to Vivian via a public kiss, causing Vivian to leave. Three months later when the two meet again, Wil kisses Vivian in front of their Chinese community. This conservative approach to sexuality on both ends, female sexuality in general and then also female queer sexuality, can be attributed to the traditional Chinese cultural values that then transfer over to the diasporic peoples in the U.S. The women and their sexualities are not liberated upon the move here as they are still bound by cultural norms of their home country and diasporic ideologies.

In “Spoken Pleasures and Dangerous Desires: Sexuality, Marriage, and the State in Rural Southern China,” by Sara L. Friedman, female sexuality in China’s nation is discussed and the issue of its representation debated. Friedman poses an imperative question to her audience, centering her argument but also provoking thought around the subject of female sexuality in China. She asks, “[a]re there contexts in contemporary China in which women openly voice their sexual desires, and if so, are there consequences to such expression?” (19). This question not only pertains to the female population in China, but also females within the Chinese diaspora among other countries. Throughout the movie, female heterosexuality and homosexuality are both hidden. Mrs. Pang will not reveal the identity of her child’s father and watches porn privately and almost ashamedly, and Wil introduces Vivian as a friend rather than as her girlfriend to her mother, along with being unable to display her affection in public. It is thus seen that sexuality is acceptable to display only in a private context in this movie by Mrs. Pang in the privacy of her daughter’s empty apartment, and by Wil in the secrecy of Vivian’s apartment.

Friedman proceeds to discuss this further when looking at where in China this sexuality has become more openly displayed or even talked about.  She mentions, “that talking openly and even publicly about sexuality has come to constitute the hallmark of a specifically urban modernity, as seen in the proliferation of counseling hotlines in China’s major cities” (20). As cities develop and become more modern, this female sexuality is more openly accepted and displayed. It is interesting then how in the movie, in New York City, one of the most progressive and modern cities in this country, the women continue to feel as though their sexuality must remain oppressed. Within their diasporic community they will still be ostracized by their gender and sexual expectations despite their location in an urban and modernized metropolis. As the community is felt to be the root of support within most diasporas upon arriving in a different nation, their ideologies uphold regardless of location.

Harriet Evans looks at one aspect as to why this conservatism of sexuality was maintained in China, and thus trickles down to its diasporic peoples. In her essay “Defining Difference: The “Scientific” Construction of Sexuality and Gender in the People’s Republic of China,” Evans addresses the “science” behind female vs. male sexuality in China, or what was deemed acceptable by such notions in terms of ideologically acceptable behavior. It was presumed that women were only to have sexual appetite in order to reproduce, while men were granted more freedom. This “discourse on sexuality brought to this vision of ideologically correct behavior a code of normative sexual and gender expectations legitimized by so-called scientific authority” (359-360). The use of science to determine acceptable sexual behavior then works to justify the difference between male and female sexual expression, causing Chinese females to remain silent in their communication. This translates over to the Chinese American diaspora because within their own community the same ideals are upheld. Regardless of the fact that they are now in the U.S., the ideals, which guide and unify them in their home country, are what keep the community together in other countries. They therefore hold onto these ideals for their unity, however some of the ideals continue to oppress their women.

Audrey Yue’s essay “Queer Asian Cinema and Media Studies: From Hybridity to Critical Regionality,” looks at the ways queer Asian cinema came about and how it has framed examination of the issues presented in these films. One thing I found interesting that she shares with her audience is that only in “2001 [homosexuality] was removed as a mental illness in China” (146). This seems incredibly current to me compared to other progressive movements and those of the U.S. Because of the recentness of this development, “the popularity of these films among queer and mainstream straight audiences in the West and across Asia marks the “very suddenness of Asian film-making’s about-face when it comes to homosexual positivity” and “has been arguably more startling than elsewhere in the world”.” (147). Being a diaspora based strongly in ideological and cultural traditions, this boom would strike the countries as being exceedingly progressive and forward moving at a fast pace. It may even suggest a closer bond with the West in its ideas and progressively. As a result of its closeness with Western ideals, it propels a shift in how this media can be studied. Yue makes claim for the use of “bipolar reading.” She explains, ““bipolar reading” suggests how, despite the fact that plots and influences can be superficially Western or Eastern, these films invite resolutions that are not exclusive either to a universally Western or to a nativist Eastern imagination. Bipolar reading, a critical practice that mobilizes the double consciousness of Western and Eastern perspectives, promotes an “internationality/ intertextuality” that us key to the modern film medium and global cinema literacy” (147). What this bipolar reading does is bring the West and the East together by allowing us to read across cultures and binaries. The queer can no longer be considered a new and Western concept as it has clearly been embedded in Eastern tradition as well, only silently. Therefore, as it unifies the two cultures it also speaks across the two cultures as well as combines the two cultures, until it can be argued that culture becomes void in the face of sexuality. Sexuality, while perceived different among different cultures, is not exclusive to one culture or people.

The movie, therefore, provides some insight as to how these ideologies surrounding female sexuality in Chinese culture pertains to Chinese American culture, and also queer culture. If Chinese American women remain oppressed in terms of sexual expression, then Chinese American queer women are even more so oppressed in that their sexual expression is more of a taboo than that of simply the hetero female Only being liberated from the stigma of mental illness within the last fifteen years, the women undoubtedly feel the pressure that Chinese science and ideologies have placed on their sexual freedom. We can better understand the roots of sexual oppression within diasporic peoples when considering the traditions and socio-cultural influences placed upon them by their home country. As the culture unites the diasporic peoples in their new country, it ultimately binds them to these ideals, preventing them from rapid progression into what is considered the norm of the new country. Because of this, Wil and her mother felt the need to hide the truths behind their sexual natures, feeling the pressure from their Chinese community. These traditional ideologies can be seen to create a hindrance upon the sexual liberation of Chinese women even in the U.S. 

Works Cited:

Evans, Harriet. “Defining Difference: The “Scientific” Construction of Sexuality and

Gender in the People’s Republic of China.” Signs. 20.2. 1995. 357- 394.

Friedman, Sara L. “Spoken Pleasures and Dangerous Desires: Sexuality, Marriage,

and the State in Rural Southeastern China.” East Asia: An International Quarterly. 18.4. 2000. 12-39.

Wu, Alice. Saving Face. Destination Films, Sony Pictures Classics. 2004

Yue, Audrey. “Queer Asian Cinema and Media Studies: From Hybridity to Critical

Regionality.” Cinema Journal. 53.2. 2014.

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Levels of Oppression and Distance in Livingston’s Paris is Burning

Paris is Burning is an integrative documentary filmed in the 1980’s by Jennie Livingston focusing on issues surrounding race, gender, and sexuality as intersectional components. Delving into drag ball culture in New York at the time, the documentary looks at the different drag houses and balls where queens competed for titles ranging from “school” to “butch queens,” while voguing and throwing shade against opponents. Despite the entertaining ball scenes, Livingston’s piece reveals the unavoidable issues surrounding minority homosexuality and transsexuality, as well as the disconnect created by her position in filming.

While providing insight to the drag houses and balls, Livingston’s position shows levels of oppression through the amalgamation of racialized gender and sexuality in transgender minorities, and creates a subjective approach to these issues. Livingston shows the levels of oppression that one faces when further oppressed by gender and sexuality within minority group. When already oppressed by its race, a homosexual or transgender is then additionally oppressed as its sexuality is once oppressed and gender twice oppressed with a sex change, resulting in the racialized, gendered, and sexualized oppression. By this maintaining oppression as the focus, Livingston removes herself from the subjects, distancing them from herself as the director, and consequently her viewers. In an interview with the New York Times, Livingston states, “I am educated and I am white, so I have the ability to write those grants and push my little body through whatever door I need to get through… If [the queens] wanted to make a film about themselves, they would not be able,” (Green 11). Her asserted position in creating this documentary adds to her disadvantages in lacking connection to her subjects, and in turn forms a disconnect between the queens and viewers. She subjectifies the queens to her composition of the documentary, therefore placing them under her representation and hindering audience identification.

Drag balls have transformed over the decades, from categories remembered by queen Dorian Corey where the competitors would dress like Vegas showgirls, to the call for more “real” categories into the 1980’s. In these real categories, the queens would dress for Realness- that is, trying to look the most convincingly real or authentic- in the determined category. This Realness, however, transitioned from an act during ball walks to a way of life for those looking to survive and live “happily” in the “real” society. Octavia and Venus are two male-to-female transgenders who are looking to live the real female life. One desires to get married in a church wearing white, and the other wants to marry the man she loves and adopt children. In other instances, the documentary mentions that children of the houses have to utilize this Realness once they leave the safety of the balls to avoid being mugged on their way home.

Realness in is perpetuated by the identity of the wealthy, white society emblematized throughout the documentary, and ultimately excludes those of minorities, especially homosexual and transsexual minorities. Dorian Corey recognizes this, stating, “[b]lack people have a hard time getting anywhere. And if they do, they’re usually straight,” (Paris is Burning). In his essay “”The Subversive Edge”: Paris is Burning, Social Critique, and the Limits of Subjective Agency,” Phillip Brian Harper identifies imaginary Realness. This applies to two kinds of subjects, “the critical difference between normative subjects and those produced in the enactment of Realness is that the former are discursively constituted as recognizable within the governing social structure and thus are legitimated in a way that the latter are not,” (Harper 96). The queer and transgender population in the documentary fall under those which are “produced,” and may be able to pass within this Realness, but they as individuals are not validated by this identity as are those who are the “normative,” or those in natural possession. The Realness does nothing to legitimize those to whom that “real” identity is not authentic.

Judith Butler asserts in her essay “Gender is Burning: Questions of Appropriation and Subversion” that by adhering to this Realness, the queer and transgender subject in this documentary is one “who repeats and mimes the legitimizing norms by which itself has been degraded,” (Butler 131). The queens, therefore, do not simply act real to protect themselves from society by way that rejects their authenticity as “real,” but they are also acting in the means by which they are oppressed.

Octavia attends a model casting, and thinks that if she can one day model along side the women hanging on her wall, then she will have successfully made it in being real. Dorian dresses up with full showgirl makeup and a wig. Pepper takes pride in having beautiful skin, flawless of lines and wrinkles. This Realness in identifying with extremely gendered classifications in order to pass appears to bind the progression of gender and sexuality. Kimberly Chabot Davis’ essay “White Filmmakers and Minority Subjects: Cinema Verite and the Politics of Irony in “Hoop Dreams” and “Paris is Burning”” pinpoints this “gendered Realness” which feminists frown upon as being regressive (Davis 40). That is, in attempting to perfect this Realness, the transsexuals compromise gender progression in reinstating the binaries that classify what is “real” femininity and masculinity. In rebuttal, Davis suggests that this feminist critique is the nullification of the transsexual’s claims to express gendered emotions and desires (Davis 40). By deeming them as regressive, feminists denounce transsexuals’ ability in their identification, insinuating that they will never acquire this real femaleness.

bell hooks looks at femininity in his essay “Is Paris Burning?” hooks examines how femininity functions within Livingston’s documentary, asserting that “[w]ithin the world of black gay drag ball culture she depicts, the idea of womanness and femininity is totally personified by whiteness,” (hooks 147). She depicts how the queens idolize white models, white female celebrities, etc. This perspective along with the aforementioned gendered Realness places Livingston far from her subjects as she is of the idolized with her white skin color and her already real femaleness- according to society. This, therefore, results in Livingston “treating [her subjects] as exotic others,” (Davis 41). hooks comments on this as well, stating that Livingston is “an outsider looking in,” because “her presence as white woman/ lesbian filmmaker is “absent” from Paris is Burning,” (hooks 151). As she is already real, and they may not have access to true Realness, she is far removed from her film subjects; her inability to connect with them creates distance in her documentary between them and her/us. By othering her subjects, Livingston detaches the queens from her viewers, preventing an authentic connection to the realities of their circumstances within herself and her audience.

Livingston’s scenes with Pepper deliver insight to the oppression experienced by queer and transgender people of color. Pepper Labeija, mother of the house, speaks to the audience about sex-change operations and informs us that while he enjoys dressing like a woman in ball walks, he never considered the sex change, and always advises against the surgery. He tells us that males want the sex change because they have been treated badly as men, and they think they will be this treated better as women. To this Pepper states, “women get treated bad. They get beaten. Having a vagina doesn’t mean you’ll have a fabulous life,” (Paris is Burning). This relates to my earlier observation that transgendered people of color suffer added levels of oppression. A homosexual black male is oppressed by his race and sexuality, and when choosing to undergo a sex change he places himself into a further oppressed group, that of a female- but then even further, that of a male-to-female transgender. Pepper, as a homosexual black man, would rather remain as so than to become what would presumably be considered a “straight female” after a male-to-female sex change operation. Pepper’s opinion reveals how the body of a transsexual person is doubly gendered, and therefore doubly oppressed, intertwined with the oppression of its racialized sexuality, creating triple oppression.

Livingston’s documentary depicts how utilizing the illusion of Realness is only effective up until a certain point. Venus is sometimes faced with uncomfortable situations utilizing Realness while “hustling,” as she hasn’t yet had her sex change. According to Judith Butler in Gender Trouble, gender is perceived by “acts and gestures, articulated and enacted desires [creating] the illusion of an interior and organizing gender core,” which are “discursively maintained for the purposes of the regulation of sexuality within the obligatory frame of reproductive heterosexuality,” (Butler 136). In other words, this is what the queens do when using Realness as a means of life or survival. Critics such as Harper deem that this does not lead to a complete construction of identity or gender identity, despite the efforts of the queens to perfect Realness. He suggests that in identity construction, there is the notion that one then maintains some kind of control over how he is perceived (Harper 92). They are constantly at the mercy of how society chooses to receive them, and what it will or will not consider as real. By the end of the documentary, we learn that their Realness cannot save them, and that they are at the hands of how society decides to interpret their Realness. Venus is found strangled under a bed apparently after the man she was “hustling” found out she had a penis. This finalizing moment in Livingston’s documentary confirms the limitations and levels of oppression on the queer and transgender within society in how they are able to define themselves, and their exclusion from the real.

Butler, Judith. “Gender is Burning: Questions of Appropriation and Subversion.” Bodies That Matter. 121-140.

Butler, Judith. Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. New York: Routledge. 1990.

Davis, Kimberly, Chabot. “White Filmmakers and Minority Subjects: Cinema Verite and the Politics of Irony in “Hoop Dreams” and “Paris is Burning”.” South Atlantic Review. 64.1. 1999. 26-47.

Green, Jesse. “Paris Has Burned.” New York Times. 18 April 1993, sec. 9:1, 11.

Harper, Phillip Brian. “”The Subversive Edge”: Paris is Burning, Social Critique, and the Limits of Subjective Agency. Diacritics. 24.2/3. 1994. 90-103.

hooks, bell. “Is Paris Burning?” Black Looks: Race and Representation. Boston: South End Press.

Paris is Burning. Dir. Jennie Livingston. Miramax, 1991. Netflix.

I woke up to the sound of gunshots this morning.

I woke up to the sound of gunshots this morning.

One. Two. Three. Four.

All evenly spaced, concentrated and deliberate. I was awoken by the first, and heard them all, unmistaken for what they were.

After that there was silence. There were no resulting noises. No screams, no excited voices, no glass shattering, no car alarms, no sign of anything having been shot at, no scuffling or acknowledgment in the apartments above or below me. No immediate response by police cars… that was more disheartening.

I lay clutching myself pressed hard against my bed thinking stay low– that’s what they do in the movies, anyways.

After a minute, or maybe ten, I gained the courage to move. 5:19 am, my phone said.

Do I call the police? Were those really gunshots?

I had to pee. And I started thinking What if I had to get out of here right now? Could I do this? Am I ready? Ducking, attempting to stay lower than my windows, I put some pants on and made my way cautiously across the room towards my dresser. I silently pulled my keys out of my purse, as if anyone from street level could hear my minor movements through shut windows- as if this was even about me.

I peered my head into the hallway of my apartment. It seems neither of my roommates had made it home for the night. Not that it would matter, entirely, if someone decided to shoot their way into the three family house and spray the apartment. They were guys, but what are two guys against a gun?

Slowly, I made my way to the bathroom, listening the whole time. Listening for what? Listening for anything.

I returned to my room safe, I suppose, safe of body.

I lay in my bed, overly stimulated and no longer tired. Should I call the police? What if those weren’t gunshots?

I had never heard gunshots in a public area or domestic area, or at least I don’t think I have.

I have only ever heard gunshots during shooting practice, in a somewhat controlled environment, aiming at a target, preferably using some type of rifle. This was out of context for me… out of my comfort zone.

Finally, the flashing reds, whites, and blues of cop cars reflected off the blinds on my windows. Am I safe, now? Those were gunshots…

I crept over to my window and pulled down one blind so that I may watch the procedure.

There were four cop cars dispersed along the street. Four police officers in bulletproof vests were searching the street, if you could call it that, with their flood flashlights. I say, “searching,” in that they were staying pretty close to their cars, and shining the flashlights into the distance up by the houses and back yards. Regardless, I felt a little more comfortable with them there.

I observed their body language, their response to the situation. They were unfazed by this. This was too normal for them. I’m not sure if that is common of police officers in general; if this is the demeanor they have to assume when reacting to a shooting, or if this was just too normal- too comfortable. They were nonchalant– they scanned the area nonchalantly, discussed among themselves nonchalantly, as if this were all normal. Well, this is not my “normal.”

After watching the cars drive up the street, I returned to my warm, stiff bed, gathering the plush down comforter close around my face.

No, I don’t need a Taser; I need a gun– I thought, as this reminded me of a conversation I had had with my dad’s wife. What protection would a Taser do me against someone with a gun?

Okay maybe not a gun… it would be too risky to store here, and I don’t think my landlord would allow it. Plus, like a Taser, I can’t take it to school with me.

No, what I need is an escape plan, for if I ever am to hear a lunatic rushing up the stairs towards my apartment, then I can just jump out the window with my keys, and drive to safety. Wherever that may be.

From now on, I would go to bed in full enough clothing, and then leave my sneakers and keys beside me, so that if needed I could quickly move from my bed, slip on my shoes, and leave the apartment.

That still leaves the issue of leaving the apartment. I could get one of those hanging ladders that you unroll from your window to the ground- that would be my best bet. Otherwise, I would have to run up the stairs to the next apartment, maybe to the roof, and pray. I like the former option.

I thought about calling my mom, but knowing her she would yank me out of here, and probably have me withdraw from my MA program. I thought about calling anyone, but what good would that do? I gave a helpless sigh, and felt the stinging sensation of oncoming tears in my nose. But the feeling was fleeting.

Instead of acting in any way on my thoughts and meditative plans, naturally, like a typical English major, I came here to write about it.

What was the point of shooting at nothing? Letting off four rounds? Shooting just to shoot? These were my thoughts as I attempted to fall back asleep, and wake up in a world without the gunshots.

To demonstrate power. To exercise control. To instill fear. To let us know that we are not completely safe here. To remind us where we are and who lives on these streets. To make us aware. To keep us on our toes in this neighborhood we are living.

To demonstrate power. To exercise control.

The Difference Between Compromise and Control

Control is cunning and sneaky. It can creep up on you, and slowly infiltrate your life disguised as Compromise. Compromise, naturally, having a softer and more inviting connotation is vulnerable to Control’s ploys.

 

 Compromise (n):

A settlement of differences by mutual concessions; an agreement reached by adjustment of conflicting or opposing claims, principles, etc., by reciprocal modification of demands.

 Control (n):

The act or power of controlling; regulation; domination or command; the situation of being under the regulation, domination, or command of another.

 

Most commonly, Control masks itself as Compromise in relationships. Compromise signifies the ability to work together, or “team work.” It excites couples to be able to compromise; they feel they are making some great achievement in being able to decide on an even-keeled and equally beneficial resolution.

But what is the couple, or what are the individuals within the couple, not achieving by compromising?

Yes, in some situations compromise may be beneficial and necessary – equal, even. But is this always so? When compromise leans more towards one side than the other, it no longer can be classified as Compromise, instead becoming comparable to Control.

When the “compromise” better accommodates or favors one over the other, the latter is allowing for compromise to transform into control. This often happens as a result of love; “I will do this for my significant other because I love him/ her… I will compromise my precise wants to meet his/ her wants because I love him/ her, and in turn he/ she will compromise for me at some point.”

This is a fine belief, however it is not always the case. Once one begins to compromise their wants and needs for the other, with no immediate reciprocation, the other may become sub-consciously, or consciously, aware of this, and realize the facility by which they are able to get their way. They ask for more and more until the compromiser has ultimately altered their life to fit the requests of their significant other. The compromiser becomes the controlled, the significant other the controller.

This is not compromise, and this certainly is not love, at least on the part of the controller. It is not equal love if one will compromise and the other will not.

Do not forget who you are in the name of love. Remember your ambitions and why you have them. Love your time. Love your ambitions, and value yourself and your ambitions enough to see them through, without compromise.

 

Writing Pangs

All writers  experience that inevitable doubt in their writing at some point. It starts when you begin writing a new piece, especially if it is a creative writing piece, a very personal piece, or a piece that you know will be shared or presented to a multitude of people. When writing for yourself, and yourself alone, there is less fear, less insecurity, because there is the assurance that you, and maybe a professor or colleague, are the only ones who are going to read it.

The insecurity comes when you are writing for an audience. Whether it is a poem for Slam Poetry night, a short story that you’ll be narrating to your writing class, a thesis paper that you have to present to a board of professors, or the writing sample you’ll be submitting to a panel of admission and program directors for graduate school applications – knowing you are writing for an audience instills insecurity.

The process usually goes something like this:

You brainstorm for a day or two, maybe jotting down your thoughts, or creating an outline, or writing out full paragraphs as they come to you, not necessarily in order – whatever your system may entail.

Then you begin to write, organizing your thoughts, trying to organize your thoughts, putting them together in some haphazard way in an attempt to convey on paper what is going on in your head.

Eventually it resembles a cohesive idea; you’ve finally captured the emotion and cadence you were going  for in that poem, your argument sounds strong and persuasive in that paper, or your short story finally has enough character development to create attachment to the story. “Go, Me!” you think, as you breeze through some surface editing.

You read it out loud, see how it sounds when the text is verbalized, changing sentence structures here and there, choosing different words that please the ears, catching the occasional typo… or maybe writing more and more.

ron writing

Overall, you think your stuff reads and sounds pretty good. Despite this, you reread and revise, because you can never reread or revise enough, can you?

This is when the insecurity sets in. At, oh, let’s say the fifth or sixth reread and revision session, you start to question your writing, and/ or your writing content. Now, you focus more carefully on the audience’s perspective; you have indulged in your writing, and now you are considering your readers’ interpretations. Does the poem really capture the emotion that you were trying to convey? Is your argument compelling and interesting enough to hold their attention? Can your characters procure the same attachment in readers as they do in you? Or are you just tooting your own horn believing all of this?

The insecurity produces a self-loathing towards yourself and your writing; some parts might be great, but maybe the whole is not truly good enough. At this point, you may scrap the whole thing in frustration, or you may continue revising, rereading, rewriting entire sections, all in doubt.

And this is when you realize, as much as you love to write, it is not exactly an easy task.

writing is hard

As a published author of a few fiction novels, the professor of my writing class gave us insight to this dilemma some years ago. He said that when you are writing, you will favor some parts of your writing over others. He affirmed that we are simply pumping up our own ego over something we feel is good, or are fond of, though is not necessarily good.

He then advised that we take those “good” parts, the parts that make us pat our own backs, and delete them. (GASP!) With what is left, you will have what you need to work from to begin creating your masterpiece.

I’m not sure who of us has the time or modesty to scrap what we consider “good” writing, just to work through what we deem is not so good, and make something out of that.

However, I do believe him. I do believe our ego comes into play when writing, to some degree. It exemplifies some areas of a piece, while bashing others, creating that blinded confidence, as well as self-loathing insecurity.

How do we overcome this? It’s likely that you have a deadline of some sort – or if you are writing just for fun and do not have a deadline to meet, then kudos! But for those of us who do, we write on and on, and prepare the final product. Hopefully, we are comfortable enough with our piece to feel the writing is solid, thorough, and finished. I have found that while I am typically happy with the final outcome, I always feel there is room for expansion with writing.

In the end, we have to buck up and submit the thing, right? A finished piece of writing is always the best feeling.

good feelings

How Do You Handle Rejection?

A question I was asked during a job interview the other day was: How do you handle rejection? I gave the most appropriate and optimistic answer that I could fathom, of course, believing that this is what prospective employers like to hear:

I handle it pretty well, I said, I consider it a sort of constructive criticism, more than anything

But was this true? I thought so. It wasn’t until later that day I realized the answer I had given was a boldfaced lie.

I went home and checked my e-mails eagerly; I’ve been awaiting responses from two graduate schools for about a month. I applied to an in-state and out-of-state school for their Masters programs in English. According to rankings, the in-state school has the better and more selective program than the out-of-state one, but I would be pleased to be accepted into either program.

Each school represented something different to me, and I wanted each for its own, individual qualities. An out-of-state school would finally force me to move and be self-sufficient – something I didn’t do with undergraduate, instead choosing a university 15 minutes away from my house. It would mean my own life, freedom, a new location, new scenery, new people. The idea excited me. The in-state school, however, represented something entirely different. Despite being an hour-long commute from my house, I planned to continue living at home, and to cram all my classes into two or three days to keep driving minimal. I would avoid rent payments, save money, continue to pay off student loans, and benefit from in-state tuition – making everything less expensive and more manageable for when I graduate in two years. The idea made me feel stable, responsible, and safe.

To be honest I thought I was a shoo-in at the out-of-state school, considering it my back-up despite my advisor’s recent warnings that graduate schools have been accepting less students due to lack of funding, and to not be upset if I didn’t get in right away. Ultimately, I figured I might not be admitted into the “better,” in-state school, but I would definitely be admitted into the out-of-state school; and I wouldn’t be upset if I had to go to out of state because that meant change – and I like change.

You can imagine my reaction when I sat down to check my email after this interview, and seemingly harmless interview question, to find that I had been rejected from the out-of-state school.

How do you handle rejection?

Apparently, not as well as I anticipated I would. This was not constructive criticism as I had claimed; this was a closed door, a “NO,” an option I unwillingly had to take off the table. Now I only have one school, one option, and it no longer strikes me as safe, as it is my last, yet unsolidified, resort. I was crushed. I am crushed as I still wait to hear from the other school. I don’t have an alternate plan. Sure, I’ve been applying to countless jobs, but those were simply supposed to hold me over until I could start my Masters in the fall, and pursue my true calling. What if I don’t get into the other school? What the hell am I going to do? I never made a back up plan in the chance that I wasn’t admitted into school for the fall.

Why did I only apply to two graduate schools, and not more to increase my chances and “lighten” this blow? To be honest, applications are expensive, and I was picky. I could only find two programs that I liked, that fit all my criteria in terms of expenses, location, course offerings, faculty, etc. Maybe I should have spent the money and applied to two or three more schools that I didn’t really care about. Maybe I should have applied to schools further away from home. Maybe I should have made a Plan B – or maybe now is the time to make another plan.

Why can’t we always do what we love? Graduate students and seniors finishing up undergraduate studies are all in a very awkward position right now. Do we continue with school in our desired program and rack up more student loans? Or do we try to get jobs, probably not even pertaining to what we went to school for – what we love – just to pay off these loans and make a living in this broken economy? And when things don’t work out how we had planned… how would we handle it?

The next time you want to tell yourself or someone else how “well” you would handle rejection, go on ahead and get rejected. How do you really handle rejection?

Tapas: Spanish Recipes for Cultural Indulgence

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I could rant about Spain forever: from the medieval art and cathedrals to the tropical Canary Islands, from the inexpensive, yet excellent, riojas to the flamenco guitar and dance. But more than anything else, I could rant about the food. Originally I had been hell-bent on maintaining my vegan lifestyle before studying abroad in Madrid, Spain. This rapidly changed upon entering the country. All the food, that in the U.S. had no appeal to me, started to tempt me- maybe it was the fresh aromas or the all- around- organic- and- better products I know compose the food in Europe. Either way, I gave in and became vegetarian: enough flexibility to enjoy the decadent quesos and tortilla Española, but still far enough from eating Jamón Ibérico. While savoring the food of a different culture broadened my tastes, new experiences, while sometimes hard to swallow, broadened my American-college-student-abroad horizons.

Ham Croquettes: Culture Shock

It was…. weird. This would never happen at home.” Blog Post

It is actually uncommon to tip in Spain because restaurant service is expected to be bad, as the waiters have a set hourly rate, rather than relying heavily on tips like those in the United States; mistakes are frequently made when taking and delivering orders. While I had not infrequently witnessed this, I was never actually bothered by it until, expecting to bite into a cheesy croquette, I was surprised with a decidedly meaty flavor. Before swallowing, I checked the inside of the croquette: yup, ham. I spit it into my napkin and, instead of explaining to the waitress that I had ordered two cheese croquettes and that I don’t eat meat, I left it on the side of my plate, simply moving on with the rest of the meal. This is the most effective way to handle culture shock: experience it, deal with it, put it aside and move on.

Every traveller is inevitably confronted at some point by culture shock. I was wary of my place and actions in Spain, heeding all the warnings of study abroad advisors from school, as well as those from the abroad program. Despite this, I don’t really think anything could have prepared me for my first witness encounter with gypsies. When I first think of the word “gypsy,” I am pleasantly reminded of Esmeralda from Disney’s “Hunchback of Notre Dame” movie. How cruel of Disney to trick me into thinking gypsies are equivalent to Disney Princesses. Sitting in a Starbucks in Madrid with some of my roommates–our first mistake, being American and going into an American establishment–our table was approached by a young girl carrying a piece of paper. I watched in confusion as everything happened very quickly; almost before the girl thrust the paper in front of my roommate’s face with forceful desperation, the Starbucks barista was already running towards them, yelling with flailing arms. The girl quickly reached for one of the cell phones on our table, but somehow my roommate was quicker and snatched the phone before it could be stolen. Violently, the heroic Starbucks barista dragged the girl out of the coffee store, arms pinned by her sides, spitting at the barista. Gypsies?! The Spanish culture couldn’t have hit me any harder; I became instantaneously scared and home sick.

Quail Egg: The Quest for Cultural Differences

My roommates and I went to a club called Joy that was very American. A very nice club, but all the music is American and there were a lot of Americans there, possibly more Americans than Spanish people. So it felt very comfortable, but I was kind of wishing that we had gone to a more Spanish place because it was almost too comfortable.” Blog Post

I sat alone in the Restaurante Gaudi at Hotel H10 Meloneras Palace of Las Palmas, Gran Canaria. Slightly embarrassed that I hadn’t even thought to make a reservation at this apparently exclusive restaurant, I tried to act like I belonged there. The truth is, I hadn’t been feeling like I belonged in Spain. I traveled there to be immersed in the cultural experience but I seemed to be continually intercepted by Americanized propaganda along the way. Two drinks in–because I had finished the one I ordered, and for a reason unbeknownst to me, they give you a free drink when you sit down–I’m staring at the menu with no clue of what to order. Most of the entrees have meat, and we know I won’t eat that. I scan the tapas section, hoping I can make a meal out of these meatless small plates. I see a “Local Quail Egg Salad,” and think well that’s disgusting… but maybe it’s not, I mean an egg is an egg, right? And if I want to try to have the “cultural experience,” I may as well try something that’s actually local. So I order the salad, with a local quail egg.

A lot of things seemed to be Americanized in Spain, and sometimes it was hard to get the “Spanish Experience.” In Madrid, the clubs we went to played American music, the bars were infested with Americans, shop owners, waiters, cab drivers, and locals generally spoke some English. At one point my friends and I made it a mission of ours to discover bars and clubs that were authentically Spanish, where only Spanish music was played, and where only Spanish people went to socialize. It was very difficult for me to feel completely immersed in the country, I almost could not feel the differences between Madrid and New York City sometimes, and maybe that was my fault for picking so cosmopolitan of a location.

Chorizo and Rabbit Paella: The Ugly American

“Side-note – these Cultural Experiences Abroad students are so freaking annoying, I’m in the caf and these girls just keep screaming, singing songs on youtube, and talking about how wasted they got.” Text Message

During travels in another country, one is inevitably bound to encounter something they may feel is rather disgusting. This happened to me early one Saturday while meeting my roommates at Mercado de San Miguel. Walking across the market, I could practically taste the different products at each kiosk. The fresh burratta being swirled to my left, the mojitos mixing to my right, and everything in between- fish, olives, wine, gelato, cheeses, marzipan, etc. But what I was heading for was the paella. Sure, it would be the same vegetable paella I had ordered before, but it was the comfort food among Spanish food, and I was in need. Upon finding my roommates I see they have all ordered their paella servings and were kind enough to order mine as well before the bustle of a Saturday at San Miguel set in. It all smelled delicious, and theirs mostly looked like the same seafood paella I had seen multiple times, although Erika had one with meat I couldn’t recognize. She informed me it was “rabbit,” and I couldn’t help my expression from articulating the revolt I was feeling. I’m used to other animals being processed into food, but rabbit? To me, that’s just gross, and I wanted nothing to with smelling or being near that plate. So I moved, I avoided the disgusting plate all together, similar to how Spaniards generally avoid we disgusting Americans.

“Ugly American” is the way we are sometimes perceived by those of other cultures. I have to say that by traveling with three other study abroad groups in Spain I do not blame the Spaniards for not wanting to interact with us. Actually, I can completely understand why they would not want to talk to us. Sitting in the cafeteria, trying to finish my homework before class, my thinking is interrupted by an explosion of what sounds like hyena laughter coming from the other end of the table. The CEA girls are yelling excitedly about something they did over the weekend or something they’re planning, I’m not quite sure. Turning my music up on my headphones to drown out the noise, I am thwarted again as they begin to sing some … country song? I shake my head, aggravated, I thought we were in Spain – ugh, be quiet! By now I’m pissed. Not only have I completely lost focus, but also all eyes are on our table, and while the girls relish the “attention” with their I-don’t-give-a-crap-I-do-what-I-want American attitudes, I am humiliated to be associated with them.

A similar instance occurred while my roommates and my first night hotel mate were going for a night out. Apparently my Hotel Mate had had a few too many glasses of vino before meeting at our apartment. Trying to catch up with my roommates, I was left behind to meander with drunken Hotel Mate. The streets were packed, and loud, cars and bikes were zooming by, I had no idea where my roommates had gone but figured we’d run into them in line at the club. Much to my chagrin, Hotel Mate stops abruptly and, as though trying to outshine the noise of the city, begins to belt out “God Bless the USA” at the top of her voice. My first instinct- walk away immediately and leave her, as she was creating an extremely embarrassing scene for the two of us, and also marking us as targets for pickpockets. I was a few steps away before I realized I could not- rather should not- leave her alone, so instead I slapped my hand on her mouth, mid   “ . . . AND I GLADLY STAND U– ” and hissed at her to “shut the hell up!”

As a result of such interactions, or displays, as these, it became difficult to meet Spanish people, to experience the culture through them, because they didn’t actually want to be around we ugly Americans. A rapid separation occurred in the University cafeteria; the Spanish students left three adjoining tables near the exit free for American students, and they claimed the rest. Out in social settings, clubs, bars, restaurants, Spaniards had no desire to intermingle with us despite our efforts because there was usually one, like Hotel Mate, who was making a fool out of his or herself, attracting negative attention, and basically holding up a sign that said “Americans Are Idiots, Stay Away.”

Spanish Tortilla: An American’s View on American Tourists

 

Dad: “Screw it, I’m coming back to Madrid, I’m sick of running around trying to see 10 things in one day”

Me: “Yayy! Yeahh just leave them, haha it’ll be more fun- we’ll chill, get some food, have some drinks”

Dad: “And the 1 euro street beers! Una cerveza por favor”

Text Message Conversation

Jerome said that he had found the best place for Tortilla Espanola, or Spanish Tortilla, in Sol. I had to believe him, he had explored on his own so much more than I had. Upon entering the restaurant, I noticed it was very crowded and small; it was three in the afternoon and we had to wait for a table. I was kind of surprised but I suppose I should have been used to the crowdedness of everything by then. The walls were a matte chalkboard black, with some maroon accents and vague blue and gold detailing. I felt like the simplicity of the wooden chairs and tables didn’t match the rest of the décor at all, but I guess that’s what made the place feel so comfortable. Finally seated with our backs practically touching the backs of the table next to us, I had my tortilla. It was my first time experiencing tortilla, and it was very different from what tortillas are in the US. It was not a thin bread wrap, but instead an inch to an inch and a half thick round solid type of sponge made of eggs and potatoes. While it was not American by name, it was American in flavor, texture and structure- in our terms it was an omelet. I was experiencing an American breakfast food through the Spanish tradition and culture: an American looking at an American thing, through a Spanish lens.

I proceeded to analyze all people and things American through a Spanish scope as I was hoping to integrate myself as thoroughly as possible into the culture. While watching Americans within Spain, a realization occurred pertaining to what our place is in the country, our differences, our ignorant social actions, and the perceptions of others and ourselves when visiting different cultures. My roommate and friend Julie had a way of describing this when talking about her dad as a tourist: “He thinks the whole world is a museum and that everything is on ‘David time,’ everyone and everything is placed here at his convenience for him to look at and go ‘Oh, cute!’” How disconcerting and inappropriate for us to think and act like that in another’s country and home.

And that is the exact behavior I had to endure when my dad, his mom, and his sister came to visit me around the week of Semana Santa, the week leading up to Easter Sunday. My dad and I, luckily, were on the same page; he wanted to experience Madrid the way I was experiencing Madrid, strolling the cobblestone streets, or sitting at a restaurant outside while having a cerveza or a glass of tempranillo, “hanging out,” and observing the city. Despite this, his mom and sister were determined to see at least twelve of Madrid’s wonders in less than a day, and then travel by car to see Las Ramblas, Cordoba, and Sevilla all within a two to three day period. It was a complete nightmare, there was nothing relaxing or vacation-feeling about this “vacation” I was on with them. Even worse, they were emulating precisely what Julie had described of her dad; instead of embracing the fact that they were travellers and that we were to try blend into another’s country, they acted like complete tourists, calling all the worst attention to themselves from making a scene about the lack of toilet paper in restrooms, to yelling and over-annunciating words that the Spanish speaking waiters could not comprehend- thinking this would help their understanding. I was ecstatic when Sunday came and I had to go back to Madrid for classes.

I was technically an American post-tourist viewing American tourists, and it was a very interesting place to be: to feel established enough in the country that I was no longer a tourist, however still far from a local. Being in this place, I could see the American tendencies that just did not work or belong here, and I could see the mistakes Americans make when travelling. Americans have a very arrogant air about them when travelling and, similar to Julie’s dad, they really feel that everything should be done and be ready for them on their time, because that is what they are used to. American travellers really need to revamp their views of travel, and instead of hoping for an Americanized experience in another country; they need to appreciate and respect the other country’s culture and differences. Maybe then we will all stop looking so idiotic while traveling to other countries.

Churros: The Delight, and the Burn of Tourism

“I decided to take a little solo hiatus to Gran Canaria. And while some people might think this was nuts, I had my mom find me an awesome safe hotel where I could relax and not be bothered or stressed by the potential of people wanting to pickpocket me. I’d say she did an awesome job…. Even though I left looking like a lobster- I underestimated the Spanish sun.” Blog Post

San Gines is the oldest restaurant that serves churros in Madrid. In fact, it is a specifically renowned churro restaurant, with the best churros and melted chocolate that I had tasted throughout my travels in Spain. You will not generally be able to see this restaurant from the streets of Sol as it is tucked behind an Americanized night club called Joy; however, if you venture down that street you will find yourself situated at the best possible location for those who have a sweet tooth. Sitting at the table you will notice green walls covered in pictures of celebrities, Spanish, American, and other nationalities, all who have ventured to eat the famous churros of San Gines. The place does not boast an alluring ambiance or exceptional service, you go there at any time of the day or night for one thing: delicious, decadent churros. My first time there, I admired the pictures on the walls as I sat talking with Julie, eagerly waiting for my churros. Once they arrived, with an overabundant cup of thick, steaming melted chocolate, I immediately grabbed one and dove into the chocolate. I was too excited, and the chocolate was too hot, burning my tongue. Life Lesson Learned: When diving into the new and the unknown avoid becoming overly excited or you may rush in too quickly and ultimately burn yourself.

I felt this burn, literally, when I decided, towards the end of my trip, to actually embrace the role of tourist in Spain. I would go to a touristy hotel at the Grand Canary Island, and be a tourist by not leaving the hotel area, but taking credit for having visited the Canaries. Also, like a tourist, I decided to be ignorant and not pay attention to some of the conditions of my vacation spot, such as the sun. I figured since I had been living in Madrid and tanning outside of my apartment, I was prepared for the sun and heat in the Canaries- it was still Spain, and also it was only March, how bad could the sun be? I stepped out of my hotel room in my bikini and cover up, carrying a towel and a copy of A Tale of Two Cities in hand, ready to find some medium strength sunscreen and get my tan on. In the gift shop, I perused the different sunscreens and couldn’t really understand the words or levels on some of them. I went with a factor four sunscreen, thinking it was a level four out of ten levels, so a forty out of one hundred. The heat from the sun on that 78 degree day felt amazing. Though after lying out for a half hour, and taking a five-minute dip in the (unknown to me at the time) salt-water pool, I looked only a few shades lighter than a red clown nose. Apparently the Canary sun could be really strong in March. At first I thought it was just mild sunburn, everywhere, which would go away with some aloe vera and shade. However, the progression of the trip showed me otherwise as nausea came every night, and a persistent chill seized my bones throughout the 80-degree days. I had sun poisoning. I was too excited by the tourist experience, and in turn I got burned.