On Fangirling, Social Media, and Positivity

Recently, a writer seemed to conflate fangirling with praising other women and pegged these gestures, especially if made in public spaces, especially online, as disingenuous. Later, she adds that in the past, when contact information or an address for celebrities and other known individuals was harder to find, sending a letter of praise actually took some work, so it meant more. This is the old “I walked three miles to school in the snow, up seven hills, and barefoot” cliché. Just because something took longer or was more difficult to achieve doesn’t automatically give it more worth. Social media isn’t a throwaway for most people. The argument comes off as a dismissal of the modern instead of realizing that people often simply find new ways of doing the same things. We’re social animals, and just because we can reach out to those we admire more easily and openly, it doesn’t devalue the statements within.

An example cited in the piece was a tweet by actress Anna Kendrick talking about shaking at the unforgettable moment of meeting Beyonce. Now, putting myself in that position, I would also be shaking at meeting Beyonce. None of this effusive praise is new; it’s just the format has changed, grown, and widened.

I was sixteen when I attended a reading featuring Dominican-American author Julia Alvarez, whose work I devoured, related to, found traces of my own family within, and from her work, even drew inspiration. I was a poor girl and didn’t have the money to buy a copy of her latest book, but I joined the line at the public event in the hope I could just get a moment with her. My turn arrived, so I approached the table, probably stumbled over some words or spoke too rapidly, forgot to inhale, communicating just what her work meant to me. She took my hands, a kind, steadying gesture, and one I won’t forget. She thanked me, and I told her I was also a writer, that I loved her work, and she asked about me too. Finally, she wished me luck and even signed notebook with “Suerte” and a heart.

This was before social media, but fangirling has been around far longer than widespread internet, if by other names. These moments may pass unregarded, sentiments tweeted or expressed in comments on Instagram or in a Tumblr reblog, may be ephemeral. Yet, being interested in someone’s work or having shared interests, especially if those interests elicit similar emotional responses, these are the types of connections that, with some degree of luck and circumstance, may last long term. For an artist, a show of support may be more meaningful than a fan will ever know directly, and there’s nothing lost in expressing it.

There’s nothing like meeting someone else who was a total stranger to you yesterday, then discussing a shared interest, fandom you both follow, your tears over a death or development in the series that made an impression on both of you. Sometimes that ends in a hug and staying in touch. Sometimes these very interactions expand your whole universe. Devaluing the rich variety of channels we have these days to connect with one another comes across as extremely shortsighted. Criticizing positivity and happy messages, even simple supportive posts and tweets of approval, which can be very gratifying, just seems like sour conduct. This isn’t a case of sycophants, but mostly seems like harmless positive expression and declaring someone or something they have done is valuable.

It’s certainly better than a slew of articles suggesting women hate one another. We’re individuals, and some of us like to express our positivity. Would I still be a writer had Julia Alvarez not been so kind to the awkward teenager before her? Yes, I think so, but that memory, the positivity of that experience stays with me. So does the support I received from some friends I met who, shortly after I joined a shared online group, listened to and helped me through an issue that took months of frustration to resolve. It was an unexpectedly strong treasure to find at that time in my life, and these friendships have lasted.

So, yes, I’m on the positivity train. If someone is hurting or going through something, I try to offer words, at minimum, but sometimes gushing openly about how awesome someone is could lift both of your days. Even tweeting to someone you respect, engaging with them, might lead somewhere. You never know. Being excited about things, feeling joy, gratitude, and inspiration, these are some of life’s finest moments. Should receiving them intersect with moments of despair, loneliness, or loss, there’s a special kind of hope in these connections that is likely as old as humanity.

Sometimes it feels like joy is looked down upon, shamed, or discouraged. When something is clearly meant to be enjoyable, it’s often disparaged as being of poor quality or not meaningful. Down with that. Meaningful doesn’t have to take huge effort and because of that, tell someone she’s awesome today. And tomorrow. And so on. It will feel great.

We Have Always Been Here

This anonymous Ask over on the Why I Need Diverse Games Tumblr has already received strong responses from many, but I felt strongly enough to add a short one of my own.

“Geekdom is the only place where socially shunned males can be save and be themselves [sic]”, it begins. Then, the asker attempts to utilize concepts like “safe space” in order to, ultimately, justify attacks and harassment with language that takes a militaristic tone. Couching the defensiveness of a growing mainstream audience in such language is a glimpse of how some folks feel – that broadening the reach of certain types of media belongs to some finite pool of attention that will be bestowed upon those who share their taste. “So when women,” the asker continues, “who exclude them outside geek culture, invade those save spaces and force the scene to conform to their wants and rules they leave the men with nowhere to go. Where can they flee?”

First of all, women have always been a part of geek spaces. A woman is considered the inventor of computer programming. A woman wrote what is regarded as the first sci-fi novel (Frankenstein). Women have been gaming and creating games for decades. One year, a comics shop opened next to my local movie theater. An afternoon matinee and time in the comics shop, especially if I had a few bucks from babysitting in my pocket, was a wonderful way to spend the day. Star Trek movies were even on the marquee at times. I attended dressed in a Starfleet Academy shirt as yes, a socially awkward teenage girl. I liked other awkward geeks, for friendship and romance. We had shared interests, just enough to make it interesting, and just different enough to learn from one another.

After a couple of decades playing video games, growing up with sci-fi and fantasy, and counting Star Trek as an influence on my life, I’m not seeking to ‘qualify’ or gain any sort of geek cred, but others in my life who also enjoyed many of these things were other girls. We have always been here. We’re not invaders, anonymous, and I understand the perception and socialization that leads to ostracism and feeling alone as a geeky person, but try stepping out and defining yourself outside of products you consume.

But anyone, regardless of gender, should have safe spaces, real ones, and using the idea of gatekeeping to attempt to justify harassment just falls apart in the doing. Gatekeeping is simply never okay. It’s a much richer experience to have broader, more inclusive, and more diverse options.You might discover something unexpected or even meet some good, kind, and talented folks with a more open mind. Might even surprise yourself.

There is also no limit on how much art can be created. Only so much of it is commercial. Seek out new experiences, enjoy the art, games, and writing created by other fans whose creative energy presses against their mind, fingers, or very selves, and must simply get out into the world and be born, shared, and lived.  Put down your weapons, including your pride.Art isn’t finite. No one is invading anything. The more variety and more choice we have is a good thing.

Salma Hayek, Sci-Fi, and Diversity: Still More Promise Than Reality

México en el ❤️! Felicidades #Sub20 @miseleccionmx

A photo posted by Salma Hayek Pinault (@salmahayek) on

Salma Hayek appeared at the Cannes Film Festival recently, promoting her new fantasy-horror film, Tale of Tales. However, she made another important appearance at a panel at the Women in Motion talks in France, where she spoke about Hollywood’s double standards not just for women, but for minorities as well. One thing she said, about an unnamed director who really wanted her for a part (which sounds like Sandra Bullock’s role in Gravity), but caved to the studio in order to get the film made, resonated with me. The studio’s repeated rejections were a hurdle because executives expressed  incredulity at the concept of “A Mexican in space?”

Rodolfo Neri Vela, the first Mexican in space, blasted off 30 years ago this year. A Cuban named Arnaldo Tamayo Méndez was the first Latino and the first black person ever in space. An astronaut from California, Ellen Ochoa, was not only the first Latina in space, but she is the current director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. Franklin Chang-Diaz, Sidney Gutierrez, Joseph Acaba, John Olivas, Jose Hernández. Those are just some of the astronauts of Latin American origin or descent, including, yes, of Mexican heritage. The studios could’ve easily looked to reality to see that not only have Latinos been to space, but so have non-whites from other countries. Whoever the studio executives were,  their inability to see a Mexican as someone who could convincingly play the part of a woman who, under some circumstances, traveled into space, that says a lot about the work that still needs to be done in both Hollywood and in our society, given who we picture in certain roles.

A report from USC released last year says that Latinos had just 4.9% of the speaking parts in the top 100 films of 2013. Latinos do, however, make up around 16% of the US population, and about 25% of movie ticket buyers. In fact, audiences heading to Furious 7, a film with a very diverse cast, were 75% POC and half women, which was named as reason for that film’s great box office success. In the US, the percentage of high school graduates going on to enroll in college is now greater than the percentage of white students. With Latinos and demonstrated buying power, as well as growing population and educational attainment, the idea of a Mexican in space shouldn’t be so far-fetched.

In fact, Hayek also emphasized women’s spending at the talks as a way for the industry to start paying attention. “The minute they see money, things will be instantaneously different,” she said at the talk. Given that women already buy over half of movie tickets and are still treated like a niche group in an industry where top executives are still mostly white men, making our mark with financial backing of films and TV is sending a message, but more needs to happen. Like the old adage about women ourselves, we have to work twice as hard to get the same recognition. Maybe our support of creative works has to be twice as loud or as financially successful to impact future decisions. Yet, even if women are being hired into prominent roles more openly, that doesn’t mean people of color are too.  Salma Hayek isn’t an unknown in Hollywood, and so the argument couldn’t be made about a lack of name recognition, even internationally. Not casting Salma Hayek because she’s not right for the  role is something I can understand, but if the director wanted her and believed she fit the part, but the dismissal came down to her ethnicity, that is a huge disappointment, especially since the film was sci-fi.

Genre fiction, especially sci-fi, through imaginative analogues, explore some of the toughest issues and difficult questions we face. Sci-fi can reflect a future where understanding and tolerance grow and reign, or bleakness and harsh treatment are the norm. Sci-fi can explore the strange, the weird, and the difficult, filtered through characters to identify with, empathize with, root for, hope alongside, be scared with, and even grow to feel almost like a real friend might. Sci-fi is a genre of potential, and for many of us, especially those of us who grew up as nerdy kids, especially nerdy minority kids, searching faces and names for people like us on our screens, in our books, or even in our games, it was one of the few genres to feature them. Although, even sci-fi and fantasy films aren’t always as diverse as we might have hoped, throughout the years, and often especially on television, there were opportunities for nerdy girls growing up between cultures and languages could see others who might bear resemblance to us or our family names.

Sci-fi, for many of us who don’t always see ourselves or anyone like us, represented in movies or on TV, or even in books or comics, was always a place of hope. Maybe that future someday will include someone like me. Maybe we’ll have those leadership positions in our own future. For geeks like me who grew up with well-meaning parents who taught us “You can be whatever you want to be”, to see stats like 4.9% of speaking roles in the top 100 films when we’re all adults now is disheartening. That’s not even saying anything about the quality of those roles or their adherence, or not, to stereotypes. Casting women and people of color in visible roles, including those of scientists, doctors, politicians, and yes, astronauts, helps show kids growing up, those kids who still search in our ever-connected, screens everywhere age, for people with names like theirs, heritage like theirs, and who look like themselves. Sci-fi still has the potential to break new ground, and casting a Latina in space would be a great step forward, and—a reminder—one that already reflects reality.

I Tried It: Blue Hill Farms Butternut Squash Yogurt

Butternut Squash yogurt

Butternut Squash yogurt

Note: I’m starting a new, casual series of reviews on here. These will be grouped under the I Tried It category and tag. Food (and other) reviews are one way to keep in the habit of writing them. All of these will be for items purchased myself, unless noted otherwise.

I’ve become accustomed to eating plain yogurt, enjoying the creamy freshness and sour tang. Years ago, I wouldn’t have touched the stuff without sweetening it up. Now, I can have it either way. Yet the idea of savory yogurts still harbor a certain strangeness, something that doesn’t make much sense given how wonderful yogurt is in savory dishes. It cools the mouth and adds a creamy texture without the heaviness of butter and cream.

On a recent trip to a local grocery store, I noticed Blue Hill Farms’ line of yogurts in flavors such as sweet potato, butternut squash, carrot, and beet. I bought the butternut squash out of pure curiosity after reading the label. For 100 calories, the yogurt contained milk, butternut squash, sage, maple sugar, and other spices that all made sense to anyone who has ever eaten butternut squash soup. Butternut squash seemed like one of the easier to like flavors, along with sweet potato, but at $2.50 each 6oz cup, this experiment was going to be done one at a time.

The butternut squash yogurt has a pale orange tone, as might be expected, and after one spoonful, I was unsure if I wanted to proceed. Despite the fact this yogurt was sweetened, it was very sour and definitely savory. The flavors were reminiscent of butternut squash ravioli, which is something I love to eat. Yet, having that flavor come not in a pleasantly thick ravioli filling, but in a lightly sweetened, yet tangy-sour, thinner yogurt felt out of sync in my mouth. It was also reminiscent of butternut squash soup with a sour note.

Butternut Squash yogurt

Orange, tangy butternut squash yogurt.

I didn’t finish this yogurt, though I did continue eating it for a bit to see if my tongue would think of it as less strange over time and simply begin to enjoy it. The yogurt is seasoned well, but the flavor wasn’t balanced and that was a big reason why I won’t be trying more from this line. It just doesn’t work for me, but if you go in expecting a savory treat, something along the lines of a chilled squash soup, you may just love it.

With all of the flavors in this line lending themselves to sweetness so well, it was jarring to encounter something so sour inside. At $2.50 each cup, the cost did not justify further experiments.

Blue Hill yogurt comes in carrot, sweet potato, tomato, parsnip, butternut squash, and beet. More information, as well as full nutritional information is available at http://bluehillyogurt.com.

Behind House of Cards, Much is Lacking


Note: the following is based on seasons 1 & 2 of Netflix’ House of Cards and refers to minor plot details:

“Bad guy wins” can be a satisfactory outcome of something….but if the rest isn’t good, if there’s no one to root for, if there’s nothing to invest you in the plot or characters, then it ultimately fails, and that’s why this show fails. Any sympathetic characters are either written paper thin, as complete suggestible fools, or just cannon fodder for Frank Underwood’s mustache-twirling, fourth wall-breaking, cartoon villain. The high production values, prestige, high-profile fans, and award attention might make you believe there’s something less hollow at the core, but that isn’t the case.

“Bad guy wins” works when there’s something to make you care. But there’s no one of any significance to empathize with around for too long. Characters you might root for flit in and out as long as they might be somewhat useful for Underwood to use and manipulate. They’re not there to have a background or agency of their own or to make us care–and that’s the central problem. The Underwoods, in their ambition, will steamroll over anyone, and for characters like that to chew scenes, you need cannon fodder. Lots of it. Characters that try to act with sympathy or empathy are quickly taken advantage of and disposed of nearly as fast, sometimes thrown a bit of plotline before being cut loose, murdered, or otherwise left in the wake of the main character. Sometimes characters we haven’t seen in a while are trotted out for an episode or two just to be manipulated or used against others and then summarily tossed away.

I know many that are enjoying the newly-released season three, but there’s no reward in this show for a viewer like me. Not all shows can appeal to every potential viewer. The best moments of House of Cards come when Frank shows what little humanity he has left tucked away inside, and not for personal gain. The eighth episode of season one, where he spends a night drinking and socializing with his old college buddies (including one he had feelings for) is the best episode of the series. The moment where he tries to show restraint and genuine caring toward ribs restaurant owner and friend, Freddy, only to be deterred by ambition, also gave us a glimpse of actual human being under the cold villain at the show’s core.

Cold is a good word to describe House of Cards itself. If you’re looking to watch and enjoy an ambitious, manipulative villain step on everyone’s backs with little to stop him, this might be your kind of show. I look for people to care about in the movies and shows I watch, and the qualities Frank Underwood possesses are entirely off-putting to me personally. Without someone or more than a few someones to consistently root for or care about throughout the show’s run, it simply begins to ring hollow and wear thin. It leaves me cold. If a meteor struck these people, I wouldn’t care. And that, to me, is a sign that something big is missing.

Pulling it All Together

This blog is now stitched together from several previous blogs that I’ve kept during various times between 2006 and the present. Instead of fragments of my writing in different places, it finally felt right to bring it all into one place. While some of my pre-2006 blogging is lost to defunct sites, anchoring my history right here on my site was overdue. So while it might look a bit odd around here, with posts from a few years back, some gaps, and a variety of topics (Going through some older posts triggered mixed feelings, both positive and negative – but hey, I’ve grown!). The gaps in this blog were due to a few of life’s circumstances, health pauses, and due to writing privately as well as getting published in various places under my own byline and not. Yet, I’ve always wanted to create and keep this as a place for thoughts, hopes, musings, reviews, and stories I’d like to tell.

Here’s to tending the garden, a garden seeded and nourished through the years, but with newly turned-over soil.

How the Mafia Saved Christmas

Over a casual conversation about our respective tree decorating the other day, my mom casually mentioned that the mafia was responsible for our Christmas one year. The…mafia?

Ariel Christmas ornament

Ariel ornament on my Christmas tree this year.

The owner of the local lunch counter in Brooklyn, which was apparently frequented by a few mob-connected gentlemen, had mentioned our situation to them. We were poor, since my mom has been on disability since I was little. Christmas was often hard, and while my grandparents always invited us to dinner and often had at least a few gifts, we still had to make do on our own. My mom struggled to keep us fed, clothed, and with the necessities on an everyday basis. Sometimes that didn’t happen.

I had no memories of any of this when she mentioned it, but when Mom spoke about the tree in our then-shared bedroom, which I got all to myself around age nine, it triggered a hazy puff of remembrance. How we slept every night in December with the smell of fresh pine in the air, and how we hated having to get rid of it. That tree sat between our beds in the center of the room, lit and festive. The mob guys were also responsible for a few small gifts under our tree.

While I don’t condone the actions of the mob, they did arrange that Christmas for my mother and I. A very unusual year. It’s things like this that make me think about the other side of people that do terrible things.

On #YesAllWomen

Some people question why women might feel the need to be cautious when approached. In the news today, where there is a sense of entitlement, there are real victims in California whose families have now lost them. Others face recovery and pain ahead. For many, our scars and experiences aren’t physical or visible. They might come in the form of triggers, anxiety, or even just a specific action. Reading the #YesAllWomen hashtag tonight, it’s just sad exactly how common this all is. It runs deep, across cultures, and it’s unclear exactly when it ends.

I’ve been followed by men who either later tried to ask me out (after following me around a store or for a few blocks) or who simply followed with unknown intentions. One night in 2012, I was followed by a tall man who asked me out. I turned him down, but he kept following me. He might have been a bit intoxicated. I walked faster, he continued to try to to talk to me, until I had to duck into a 7-Eleven. My pursuer then went into the store himself. Circled around. Waited. I kept to the other side of the store, listening to the innings tick away on the Yankees game on the radio. I kept him in my sight as I walked around, poured a drink, waved fingertips over chip bags. He didn’t even seem to pretend to try and buy anything. He just kind of waited, then when the clerk asked him a question, he mumbled something I couldn’t hear. I thought about asking the clerks to call the cops if this lasted much longer. Eventually, he left. I bought a drink after a few minutes, giving him time for what I hoped was him giving up and walking off into the night. I was terrified to leave because it was dark, I lived alone, and who knew if he would be waiting for me just around the wall when I left the store for the five minute walk home. Maybe he would follow me to my home. Then what? Luckily, he was truly gone.

During high school report card days, they’d make us gather in the schoolyard. The entire student body, which was approaching 2000 people when I graduated. Every report card day someone, cowardly enough to remain shielded by the crowd, grabbed my ass. The first time, it seemed accidental. It was very confusing. Then it happened the next time too. I looked around but couldn’t be sure of anything. Then again, at each report card cattle call. It happened again in the stairwell once or twice too. Similar things happened in general admission concerts, while squeezed up on the floor. It’s open season. The rapper Iggy Azalea recently said she quit crowdsurfing, has security barriers, and also wears more clothing on stage at her own concerts because men in the crowd would try to finger her. They would even declare their intentions online. Sometimes TO her. Sexual assault, entitlement, the right to women’s bodies. None of this is okay. And yet, it has lasted, culturally, for quite some time. High school wasn’t yesterday. I’m neither the first nor the last.

Years ago someone I had been friends with posted my number in places with messages. I saw some of the graffiti later and recognized the handwriting. I had recordings of him harassing me via phone and other means. I went to the cops. They refused to do anything.

Traveling alone to the subway to head to a New Year’s party when someone tried to grab me. Due to that and several events over that night, I had a panic attack.

On occasions, when having to come home late at night, I would make sure to buy a fresh Snapple before making the trip. I didn’t drink more than a sip or two. The bottles are glass, and when full, they are decently heavy and shaped to fit well in the hand. It is extremely sad and says something that I’ve ever come up with this, let alone done it at least a dozen times.

I don’t live my life afraid. I’m not a victim. Most women who have had these things happen, we just go through life. These events I’ve just written about don’t enter my thoughts too often. But whenever someone questions women’s (cis, trans, able-bodied or not)  caution when being approached, letting down men nicely or indirectly, not wanting to go home with him right off,  not wanting to have contact, or give our numbers, questions if we cross the street at night, or look behind us what seems like a few times too many, remember that these incidents aren’t isolated.

The result of Windows Speech Recognition listening to a recording of me brainstorming an article

This amused me, so I’ve decided to share. It’s only about a minute or two of the speech recognition failing to understand what it was hearing, but I assure anyone reading that my brainstorming sessions do not sound this jumbled!

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