Tuesday, December 2, 2014

December Song

Christmas is always a wonderful time of year for me, I have my mother to thank for that. Though sometimes it can be bittersweet because this marks the thirteenth year I'll be without her, there is a warmth there that allows the emptiness to be easier to bear.

Lately I haven't been able to write, it's been torturous. Then some Christmas magic happened: I magically was hit with inspiration and produced the poem below. I hope you enjoy.

December Song

The tree twinkles in the moonlight
as I sit enveloped in the warmth
of the fireplace. 

I am the only one awake
on this December night,
this holiest of nights. 

The house has fallen silent,
I hear each snowflake as it gently glides
down from the sky.

The flames twinkle as I await midnight
with only a blanket and tea
as my companions.

 It's hard to describe, 
this emotion that plagues me;
a peaceful silence

 coupled with a woeful emptiness.

My eyes divert from the fire
to a lonely ornament
 on the humblest of branches.

It has your name etched
in glitter, it sparkles
in the dim light.

I have so much more
than most this night,
but it is not enough.

I need you,
you who fostered this love,
you who taught

 that there is magic,

and peace is attainable.
I used to sing a December song,
now the lyrics are lost to me.

In this silent night
I'm on a journey
to find them again.

I close my eyes
and try to remember...
my heart longs for it,

for this night is
not complete without it.
Softly the fire crackles,

the snowflakes shimmy,
and the steam from my
tea floats above my mug.

I can hear it,
the soft melody of
my December song

within the silence.

It was never lost,
just forgotten until now.
A smile curves across my face,

I can feel you now,
my December song.
I will not falter now,

for now I have
this melody
etched upon my heart. 

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Confessions of a Girl Gamer

I’m probably going to damn myself to a life of ostracism by confessing this, but what the hell: I am a gamer. I love video games, I play video games, I have played video games since I was a little kid in the Nintendo age of the late 80s early 90s. I thought I would recant my experience in the gamer world.

It all started with Mario and the original Nintendo. I remember logging hours into that game, trying my best to get to that very last level before I had to inevitably cut it off and go outside—my mother was very strict about TV time and outside time and for that I thank her. Then came the wonderful PSOne and I’ve continued my love affair with the Playstation franchise ever since. I spent hours playing classics like Spyro the dragon, Crash Bandicoot, Rayman, and Ape Escape. I absolutely loved being taken away to these other magical worlds where I could do anything.

Then there was Tomb Raider. And it was then that my perspective on gaming changed.

I was fascinated by Lara Croft, her agility, her smarts, her badass guns; I loved her. It wasn’t until I was really into the franchise when I asked myself a very important question: Where are all of the female characters in games? Why am I always stuck with a strictly male character?

It wasn’t until I was much older when it really started to grind my gears. I went on to get a Playstation 2, and though there were more Tomb Raider games for it, it seemed as though Lara Croft was the only game in town for me. Don’t get me wrong, I love Tomb Raider (except for the shorts…come on now who the hell is exploring tombs in short shorts?!), but once I beat it there was really nothing left for me to do but go back to God of War and a male forerunner. I felt as though I was the only girl in the world who played video games and there was something wrong with that. I loved them, but I felt isolated because I wasn’t really being represented as a female.

As it turns out, I’m not alone. A recent report stated that nearly 50% of the gaming population is female, that’s almost half for those of you who aren’t good with percentages. However a more troubling percentage enters my mind: 3% of all the decisions made on how women are represented in the media are made by women—that means that 97% of those decisions fall to men. That’s staggering, even in the 21st century.

Then you have reasons like the one Ubisoft gave, who when asked why there were no female assassins in their new Assassins Creed game, basically said that making female characters is way too hard.
Um. What? That sounds like a cop-out to me…totally calling bullshit on this one.

Then they had the nerve to say about their new Far Cry game that there ‘are tons of women in it!’

Really? So how come we don’t have a playable one? How come you, Ubisoft, haven’t given us a playable female character in a Far Cry game? Oh wait…it’s too hard to make one; Even though the Far Cry franchise has historically been a first-person shooter and ALL YOU SEE IS THEIR HANDS.

It’s either one extreme or the other it seems in the gaming industry. You have one developer who says “Making female characters is too hard!” or “Nobody will want to play as a female character!” Then you have some other douche bag saying “Look at all of our strong female characters! They’re scantily clad and have tits the size of a bowling ball but they have great personalities!”

Seriously? Can’t a girl just have a strong, normally dressed, kick ass female lead?

All hope is not lost though. The past few years have brought us a revamped Tomb Raider (who FINALLY DRESSES LIKE A NORMAL WOMAN), Fem Shep in Mass Effect, Gravity Rush, The Last of Us, and most recently First Light, a DLC based off of the Infamous Second Son game. I’m sure there are more that I’m forgetting at the moment, but I still have an issue: It shouldn’t be that easy to list games with female leads. I should really have to struggle because of the number, but alas it’s still easy. Now naming a game with a buff white guy? Sheesh do you want the short list or the long?

Why are there so few female leads in video games? It’s a question I’m going to keep asking until I see results. As a female gamer, and part of a large community of female gamers, I feel that I should be represented in a positive way like any other sort of media. That’s what this is all about, I’m not asking for a major change here. It’s not that hard to write a female lead, nor is it that hard to make her compelling. So I’ll ask again: Why? 

Monday, June 30, 2014

A Letter to all of you Twenty-Something’s

I’m sad to say I’ve reached my late twenties. That point in one’s life where the struggle of being an adult becomes real. No more partying on the weekends (or after classes during the weekdays) because you have to get up and work the next day. No more sleeping until noon (or possibly later depending on the state of your hangover) because you will most likely get fired if you do. No more Ramen Noodles, Easy Mac, or cheap Chinese food (well maybe higher end Chinese food. I refuse to give up lo mien) because you probably should start thinking about your health and let’s face it: there is massive amounts of sodium and fat in all mentioned. You have to be an “adult” now. That means you have to learn how to do “adult” things. What in god’s name is an “adult” thing? How on earth can I do it if I don’t know what it is? Am I even old enough to be qualified as an adult? I still sleep in “Superman” pajamas for crying out loud!

            Personally, I don’t think one should be considered an adult until they’re at least 35. That seems like a legit age. But I digress.

            So what qualifies as “adult” things? Paying bills, managing your finances, buying groceries (beer no longer qualifies as your top “grocery” item guys, sorry), signing up for health insurance, paying bills…paying bills…paying off the inevitable student loans that you’ve probably racked up during your college years. Holy crap. This is getting scary. Life is starting to creep up on you. Slinking its long, gnarly fingers around your wallet and mind; threatening to drive you mad! Life! You thrust the skull high and dramatically say: “Alas poor Yorick I knew him!” Then you realize that you not only don’t know someone named Yorick, but someone else said that first. So you sit down in the corner and fall into the fetal position crying out: “I don’t want to be an adult! I can’t handle all of this!”

            Take a deep breath. Uncurl yourself from the fetal position, and sit up. You’re going to be fine. I know it’s a lot to take in and it’s scary as hell, but you are not alone. There are thousands of people going through the exact same thing as you, maybe not at this very moment but trust me they’re definitely going to feel it soon. I am one of those people; I’m terrified of becoming an adult. But being an adult doesn’t mean changing who you are completely, it means making a few tweaks here and there to make sure you’re successful and most importantly: happy. Let me explain:

First off, people unfortunately need and require money in order to survive. Wouldn’t it be better if we all could pay with pocket lint or something? Or pennies? There are probably more freaking pennies than there is pocket lint. Sadly, that’s not the case so one needs to find a job and become a contributing member of society; a taxpayer. Preferably, you want a job that makes you happy but alas, that doesn’t always happen. The truth is you’re going to have to work a few crappy jobs before you find one that makes you happy. I truly believe that if you keep pressing on, you’ll find that job. Just keep going kid, you’ll make it.

Secondly you’re going to have to learn how to manage your money. I feel so hypocritical saying this because I am awful with money. But it’s something I am learning to do. If you have to, talk to someone about planning a budget or finance management. There are people out there who do that sort of stuff for a living (I know, shocking right?) so they’ll be more than happy to help you out.

Lastly, never lose track of where you came from; whether that place is lower class, middle class, or first class. Where you come from is an important part of who you are and it’ll keep you grounded. I’m blessed to come from a wonderful family who supports me in all I do, even when I screw up royally I’m able to come home and find my bearings. If you’re not as lucky as I am, then remember where you come from and become better. Remember that someone can’t be more human than you, if a human being did it than it is attainable for you. 

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Maleficent and Feminism

I don't normally do two blog posts so close together, I'm lucky if I do two in one month. However after seeing Disney's recent film Maleficent for a third time I felt that I just had to record the many observations I had during multiple viewings of the film. Spoilers ahead for those who haven't seen the film.

Maleficent tells the tale of the classic "villain" in a new way; it gives her back story and why she became evil. As it turns out, Maleficent had wings. Her wings represented freedom and identified her as a fairy, they were massive and glorious; they were strong and reliable. Utter joy and elation was on the characters face as she soared through her homeland the Moors, they gave her the freedom and the identity of a fairy. The Huffington Post recently posted an article comparing the loss of Maleficent's wings to rape. Now at first I thought it was a bit harsh, after all it is a Disney movie, however when I really sat down and thought about it and after my third viewing of the film...I'm inclined to agree with them. Here's an excerpt from the article:

Imagine you're drugged by someone you thought you trusted. You wake up in the morning with your face down in the dirt. You're aching. Your appearance has changed and you can feel that you're different as you try to stand through the pain. Beyond the physicality of it, your power was stolen from you. Your flight response. Your dignity.
You're confused. Enraged. Devastated. Angry. You set everyone on fire around you. You wish hatred on newborn babies. You want to hide in an evil shell of darkness where everything is black and no one can touch you. Or ever hurt you. They talk about walls on reality TV shows. Oh, you build walls -- they're walls of thorns with armed towering guards that will crush any man who tries to approach it.
 The story goes as follows: Stefan and Maleficent were childhood friends, this lead to young lovers. Stefan was ambitious and headstrong, he had a huge set of blinkers on and could only see what was in front of him. Maleficent coudn't understand the greed and folly of men's world and though she was hurt by Stefan's actions at times, he had never given her a reason not to trust him.
Recently defeated in battle by Maleficent and her comrades of the Moors, the King stated that anyone who could avenge him for this loss and his imminent death would be named king. Well this was the opportunity that Stefan had been waiting for and he was willing to do anything to get it. The whole scene is absolutely horrifying to me: Stefan goes there with the intent to kill Maleficent, he drugs her, and when the knife is high above her head he finds that he cannot bring himself to kill her. So instead he takes iron chains (we find when they first meet that iron burns fairies) and literally saws her wings off; he rapes her of her ability to fly. He takes her very identity, her freedom, he alters who she is, and wounds her both physically and emotionally.

Sounds a lot like a sexual assault to me.

I had to write this because I myself am a victim of sexual assault and it took three viewings of this film for my mind to finally accept that I was seeing an action of assault. So what does this mean? The Huffington Post has an idea:
But Maleficent is a commentary on current male and female relationships. It's a commentary on rape culture. And much more, it's a story that allows a woman to recover. It gives her agency. It gives her power. It allows her to reclaim the story. And this is something that can't be ignored.
Maleficent was able to reclaim her story, she was able to rise above what happened to her and get her wings back. Her wall of thorns came down and she was able to let the light in again. I think this is probably one of the most important movies that Disney has made thus far, even if this wasn't their intent. It shows that they are taking a new direction and telling more stories that women can relate to instead of roll their eyes at the classic patriarchal fairy tale.

I like the direction that Disney is going, I hope they keep on this track because lets face it, women are powerhouses and they need to adapt to the changing times.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Preventable Tragedies: Mental Illness and Violence

It seems as though lately we have been living in an incredibly violent world. The recent shootings have prompted a heated conversation on gun control and how we need stricter gun laws. It seems to me that we are talking about everything else EXCEPT the one glaring similarity between the shooters: they all have a severe case of mental illness. A recent report on CBS News Sixty Minutes noted that most of these gunmen all have reported or we have found out about them hearing voices in their head telling them to do horrible and unspeakable acts of violence. This symptom is commonly diagnosed as schizophrenia, a disabling mental disorder that causes people to hear voices other people don't hear. They may believe other people are reading their minds, controlling their thoughts, or plotting to harm them. This can terrify people with the illness and make them withdrawn or extremely agitated. Its a dark, abysmal world that they inhabit, one that no one can understand unless you have been there. In the case of the Washington Navy Yard shooter, he went and told someone that he had been hearing voices and he was worried that something bad would happen. Nothing was done and he ended up succumbing to his illness and killing twelve people. Every single shooter that has killed mass numbers of people has had a red flag raised against them and people have been told that they were not only a danger to themselves but could possibly be a danger to another person as well. Nothing was done. 

In the late sixties when state hospitals were shut down, the patients (we're talking about a half of a million of them) there were supposed to be housed in residential treatment centers, supervised, and medicated. What happened? Well the programs were never adequately funded and so a half of a million severely mentally ill people were left to fend for themselves. Most of them are not being treated and suffering with their ailment. Instead of funding these residential treatment centers, we are worried about other things and not looking at the real problem here: These people need help. They need to be medicated, monitored, and have regular psychiatric care. Now I am not saying we bring back the state hospital system. That's a terrible idea. What I am saying is that people need to start paying attention to the fact that mental illness is a real issue when it comes to the safety of others. Its not the guns that are the problem, its the people pulling the trigger. 

It is incredibly difficult now to get help for someone suffering from either a psychotic break or having suicidal ideations, etc. Take the case with Virginia Senator  Creigh Deeds, whose 24-year-old son, Gus attacked him and then died by suicide in Nov. 2013. His son was suffering, and there were no beds available for him. This is a U.S. Senator, he has resources that average people don't and yet his son could not receive the attention he needed because of this messed up system we have for people with mental illness. 

Lets take me for example. I suffer from depression and anxiety, while now I am on medication and am doing okay, before I was medicated I suffered severe anxiety attacks which led to severe depression, and that led to suicidal ideation. I was so close to taking my own life last September that I nearly didn't make it to the hospital. Once I was there, the doctor said that my insurance would not cover my stay at that particular hospital and they said that they may have to send me up to Cambridge, MD where they have a hospital for people with mental health issues. Basically, I could not stay at my local hospital because my insurance didn't think it necessary for me to do so. I ended up staying at my local hospital thanks to my doctor's persistence but I couldn't help but wonder how many people that happened to. 

People with mental health issues also face a stigma that they are not "normal" or they are "special" in a bad way. This needs to stop. It's causing people to not go get the help they need, or even worse deny that they need help for fear of being ostracized. This world is tough and not everyone handles it the same way when life gets really shitty. There's not a day that goes by where I don't feel normal; I feel like I have to constantly apologize for my condition even though I know I can't help it. Because of this stigma, I feel like I'm...different, and not in a good way. 

So what do we have here? We have a broken system in need of repair, and a stigma that's permeated our culture. What can be done about it? Plenty. Write to your Senators, raise your voice and for gods sake remember that we are all human beings. Human beings are the same, no one can be more human than you. Just because someone has bipolar disorder, or depression, or schizophrenia, or anxiety doesn't make them alien. The world is a very difficult place, think of how much more difficult it is for them. 

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Why I need Superheroes

There have been several things said about Superheroes over the years, and I'm probably going to repeat some of it in this essay. There are a few poor, unfortunate and sometimes ignorant souls that don't see what the big deal is with superheroes, or just flat out think that they're silly. I want to make a case for their importance, and in using my own personal experiences I hope to do just that. 

I was about thirteen or so when I really started to get into comic books, I can remember vividly my first purchase: New X-men volume 1. I had grown up with the x-men and justice league cartoons and I was basically brainwashed into loving these characters. I can remember really connecting to both Wonder Woman in the Justice League and Jean Grey of the X-Men. When you're a kid, you don't really have a concept of these connections; you just like them because they're cool and they kick ass. I wouldn't realize how much I would need these characters, how much they would mean to me, and how closely I would be able to relate to them.

When my mother died, I was thrust into a world of darkness and pain. I'll skip the grim details, but needless to say it was a bad time. This is where the purchase of that X-Men comic comes into play. I can remember the cover:

I was afraid of ridicule because at that time, comic book people weren't really that cool. In fact they were labeled as nerds and outsiders. Being thirteen, self-conscious, and concerned about what people thought I hid my adoration for this series. I can remember being excited about Jean Grey's revival, see she dies...several times. It's a long story, just check out this article on Wikipedia and you'll be set. Anyway I was so very happy that she was back. It meant more to me because the sign of the Phoenix was a very powerful one for me. See everything that I was, all of my being was wrapped up within my mother. She was my idol, she was my best friend and she was the only person (besides my father) who really understood me. When she died, I lost everything. I didn't really know who I was or if I could do anything worthwhile. Jean Grey struggled with the forces inside of her; she struggled with her dark side. The Phoenix Force proved to be both a blessing and a curse. Her mind gained great power, her telekinesis grew, and she ultimately became the most powerful being in the Marvel universe. However this power came at the cost of her sanity, her husband, and eventually her life. I could relate to that. Even not having powers, I could relate to the human struggle with darkness inside. Jean was able to rise from the ashes eventually but the darkness was always there. It always haunted her. I can relate to that. 

Along with Jean Grey, Diana of Themyscira AKA Wonder Woman also gave me hope. If you've seen my previous blog post about Diana, you'll see that it's no secret that I adore her. She gave me hope, she gave me peace, and she allowed me to believe that I could do anything despite what circumstances life had put me in. Wonder Woman gave me a reason to believe again. 

Superheroes are our mythology. The Greeks and Romans had their gods and we have ours. They are modern mythology in motion. I will never believe that Superheroes serve no purpose. They were born out of the Great Depression, when America needed an ideal to live up to, they needed something to give them hope. Superman did that, he was the first. He never let us down and still continues to give us hope. 

I don't want to live in a world without them. I don't ever want to go to a city or a town and not find at least one comic book shop. I want to share these stories with my kids. Superheroes are coming back, the recent box office shows that. People want that ideal to believe in, that there is something good and just in this sometimes shitty world. They want to see Captain America, or Thor, or Superman come in and save the day. They know that these guys will never let them down. 

That simple belief, is the reason why I believe Superheroes will always live on and why we need them now more than ever. 

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Wonder Woman, all the world is waiting for you.

I sat down to write and this essay ended up being about my all time favorite superhero: Wonder Woman. Five pages later, this is what I came up with:
            My adoration of this character started when I was just a kid watching the Justice League cartoons. Wonder Woman was voiced by the fabulous Susan Eisenberg, and I remember being spellbound by her; awed by her strength, compassion, and loyalty. That adoration for the character never faltered—she was always at the back of my mind. The only girl on an all boy team, a woman who didn’t need any male assistance nor did she feel the need for a lover. Sure there was her crush on Steve Trevor, and later Batman, and most recently her love affair with Superman—but never once did she need them. There’s not a drop of dependency in her Amazon body.
            Recently it was announced that she would be in Zach Snyder’s Superman sequel. At first I was happy—but that happiness only lasted a mere second or two. You may by wondering: “Why Lauren? As big a Wonder Woman fan as you are—you should be delighted!” I should be, but I’m very worried about how the character is going to be portrayed by actress Gal Gadot. Let’s start with a little bit of history first.
            Wonder Woman came on the comic book scene in 1941. She enjoyed a wonderful run until the 50’s—because of a book called Seduction of the Innocent (which basically blamed comic books for juvenile delinquency), a comics code of ethics was adopted; Wonder Woman’s pro female message and mostly female cast led the author of the book to believe that she was a lesbian and promoting lesbianism. So she went from kicking some serious ass and going on these grand adventures to being a romance editor and being carried across streams by Steve Trevor. She fell on some hard times after the code of ethics was adopted, in the 60’s she was stripped of her powers and was going on these ridiculous spy-fy adventures. That is until the first Feminist Movement led by Gloria Steinem; the feminist of the Movement demanded that she get her powers back—with much reluctance their wish was granted and Wonder Woman became a symbol of female empowerment. Her character continued to be invigorated into the 70’s when Lynda Carter put on the golden tiara and lasso of truth in the television show. The show was a huge success, running for nearly four years, but after it ended the Amazon’s popularity started to slip a bit—despite continuing in the comics. Throughout the 90’s and today though, her popularity has increased significantly in the last 30 or so years. Thanks to the Justice League cartoons, DC Comics New 52 movement, and her ongoing romance with Superman Diana has experienced a little increase in popularity.
            I wanted to give you that little bit of history because in order to really understand the character and how important she is to me—you need a little background.
            The reason I am concerned about our new Wonder Woman appearing in the Man of Steel sequel is because I want so much for the cast and creative team to get her right. She’s not just some superhero with tits okay she’s so much more and she represents so much more than just a pretty face with superhuman strength. Wonder Woman was created to be an ideal woman: strength, compassion, humility, equality, and beauty.
            Wonder Woman is strong—physically, mentally, and spiritually. She can bear the weight of anything, be it a two ton truck, a heavy decision, or a devastating loss. When she’s down she gets right back up and keeps on going no matter what, she keeps fighting and will fight to the death.
            Wonder Woman is compassionate, she can empathize with people. She isn’t just for female power but for the community of people and their needs. She never goes in fists blazing like other superheroes, she tries to find alternate ways to solve problems before fighting despite her warrior’s training—fighting is always her last resort. She’s the embodiment of love and compassion, never judging or bullying.
            Wonder Woman is humble—always reverent and respectful. She’s not arrogant about her powers or abilities but grateful for them; she knows that they are a gift that she could possibly loose. She is reverent towards the gods and is always respectful to those who are older and wiser—something we could all learn from.
            Wonder Woman stands for equality. She doesn't just stand for women’s equality but the equality of all divine beings on this earth. She comes from an island where all are equal, and does not stand for a patriarchal society. Equality belongs to all beings.
            Wonder Woman is beautiful. Thick, dark hair, big blue eyes, and a womanly figure that’s not unrealistic or subjected like most comic book heroines. Her beauty isn’t just physical—as clich√© as it is to say, her true beauty is a combination of all of the things I’ve mentioned; that’s what makes her beautiful.
            That is the Wonder Woman, the Diana Prince, which I have come to know and love. I want so much for this character to thrive on the big screen in a full length movie—she can handle her own, you just have to trust the character! The DC Universe animated film is still one of the most popular one they’ve made! It tells a brilliant story and it doesn’t try too hard to get you to like her because there’s no need for that: you adore her from the first moment you see her! If you’re going to do Wonder Woman you’ve got to do her right, and that’s not entirely difficult to do—it takes trust in the character and what she stands for.

            Who knows what Zach Snyder has in store for Wonder Woman; we won’t know anything until we see the movie. I can only hope it helps and not hinders Diana. After all—she’s fought a damn good fight.