Midnight musings – March 30, 2016

“And just now I pick up the blessed diary of Virginia Woolf which I bought with a battery of her novels saturday with Ted. And she works off her depression over rejections from Harper’s (no less! – – – and I hardly can believe that the Big Ones get rejected, too!) – The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath, Cambridge Diary, 25 February 1957

As I was scrolling through my tumblr feed earlier this afternoon, I chanced upon this quote, originally posted in a longer extract, from Sylvia Plath’s journal. Attached to the post were several tags, the first being, “#this is EXACTLY me right now”, an exclamation of joy and marvel in its full, teen girl-esque glory. There was something so resonant about it – the quote, the tag, the capitalisation of “exactly” to reflect speech patterns – it felt almost serendipitous.

It’s incredibly strange but pleasant to realise that an author you’ve long admired revered Virginia Woolf just as much as you do – to fancy that Sylvia Plath herself shared the same unrestrained excitement upon discovering that Woolf was turned down by Harper’s! The sentiment, “I hardly can believe that the Big Ones get rejected, too” is so innocent one can hardly believe it came from Plath – or at least, not when one knows of her legacy. Rather, it seems to more befit someone of my humble position, which perhaps was why it elicited reactions such as the aforementioned tag.

I don’t pretend to know very much about Plath beyond her poetry  – I’ve yet to read her journals – and to callously picture her as a literary fangirl may seem surreal to the point of absurdity. But I’d like to think that she curls up in bed at times with Woolf’s novels (or diaries) and tea, as I do, and gasp at the very bits of brilliant writing I gasp at. To put myself in her massive shoes, or to put her in mine? Maybe, just maybe, the legendary Sylvia Plath’s just like all of us.

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Half sleep-deprived, half deranged

After pulling my first all-nighter of the semester, deliberating between what Austen would call “half agony, half hope”, I’ve finally conquered the linguistics essay which I should never wish to encounter again – though my minor requirements necessitates three more linguistics modules so such a wish is futile.

With three more reflective pieces, a report, and two articles to go till my to-do list is ticked off completely, I suppose a Great British Bakeoff marathon would now be appropriate to occupy my time before I attend a guest lecture on the gender wage gap this evening. Evidently whatever remains of my faculties of logical judgement has been utterly savaged by my lack of sleep and overconsumption of coffee. Remember when I promised myself I’d stop procrastinating at the start of the year? Turns out I procrastinated on that.
No, I should resolve, instead, for the cure of my want – or need – of sleep.

In appreciation of female friendship

Note: I’m writing this as I rewatch the Girlpool documentary – a reward for surviving the day despite my panic attacks this morning – whilst one of the many college bands plays outside my window so the resulting post may be rather incoherent. 

Another note: I never intended this to be a Women’s History Month post, but I suppose since it is Women’s History Month and merely a week since International Women’s Day, this shall double as my WHM post for I suspect an embarrassing, uninhibited expression of adoration for all my closest girl friends is to follow. 


I’m in a state of exceptional sentimentality right now. Perhaps it is that the Girlpool documentary makes me want to cuddle all my friends (cue Lauren Mayberry squealing “I love tales of girlhood and teenage discovery” about the very same documentary), or that I’ve merely regressed to my excitable twelve year-old mentality after spending the past day listening to all of Paramore’s discography; but yes, I’m brimming with a rather juvenile bliss about my girl friends. Whatever happened to the quintessential English self-repression and stoicism? Austen would be absolutely appalled at this. I must admit, however, this joy presents a welcome change from the negativity that’s been plaguing me over the past semester.

And because I’m getting so uncharacteristically sentimental, here begins my unabashed declaration of appreciation for girl friends.


(I)

It is odd that most portrayals of female friendships in mainstream media – which are few and hard to come by – are inexplicably mired in drama.

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Paris all-my-life-goals Geller calls out sexist media

Though I would not be so callous as to make the sweeping generalisation that all female friendships are otherwise, I find it hard to believe that they should be so fickle and superficial. After all, I’ve been blessed, in the past two decades, with the generosity and friendships of the most brilliant women such that I should think it regrettable for anyone to get on without such.

 

(II)

Lately, Internet lingo has spawned the terms “mom friend” and “sister friend”. I used to be the latter in my friend group until the “mom friend” began to renounce her duties (her degree understandably requires her to take care of her coursework more than us) and my anxieties left me to fulfil the vacuum she left instead. It is, however, curious to note that as traditional media depicts the female relationship to be turbulent and catty, girls are re-appropriating and redefining their friendships according to kinder and more affectionate terms – for this is how female friendships are: a warm sweater over one’s soul.

(III)

Over the course of our friendship, the best friend and I have marathoned countless tv series together, but the ones we liked most – and return to constantly – were those that portrayed women in the most genuine light. For TV writing is consumed with relationships, this essentially equates to frank and relatable representations of female relationships.
In Paris and Rory’s shared bookishness, Daria and Jane’s eclectic misanthropy, and Ann and Leslie’s loyalty; in Sookie and Lorelai’s fussiness and Olivia and Lucy’s absolute protectiveness over each other, we saw the best possible versions of ourselves.

(IV)

“Abandon the cultural myth that all female friendships must be bitchy, toxic, or competitive. This myth is like heels and purses — pretty but designed to SLOW women down.” — Roxane Gay, Bad Feminist

“My two best girlfriends are from secondary school. I don’t have to explain anything to them. I don’t have to apologize for anything. They know. There’s no judgment in any way.” — Emma Watson

“Women understand. We may share experiences, make jokes, paint pictures, and describe humiliations that mean nothing to men, but women understand. The odd thing about these deep and personal connections of women is that they often ignore barriers of age, economics, worldly experience, race, culture — all the barriers that, in male or mixed society, had seemed so difficult to cross.” — Gloria Steinem

(V)

“Any woman who chooses to behave like a full human being should be warned that the armies of the status quo will treat her as something of a dirty joke… She will need her sisterhood.” — Gloria Steinem, Sisterhood, for New York Magazine in 1971

As of late, the media has begun to get tired of the girl gang (or “girl squad”) motif – Dazed and Confused magazine has recently published a number of think pieces lambasting it. But as much as such a trope is typified by stereotypical “white feminism” today, the notion of belonging to a girl collective remains romanticised by many teenage girls. And while women have long since rallied in formally organised groups for common purposes, from early 19th C. suffragette movements to the female-dominated film production companies in Hollywood today, it is the inimitably Riot Grrrl-styled collectives that draws our attention. (After all, the best friend and I have toyed with starting our own collective for a while now but it proves tedious logistically.)
Perhaps it is the DIY nature of such collectives, with their zines, blogs, and podcasts that one can easily craft in the comforts of one’s bedroom that engages girls and women alike, or maybe it is the sheer warmth one finds in the unbridled support of other like-minded women that attracts them. Regardless, it is clearly evident that in such spaces, one is able to exist, occupy space, and be important. From Petra Collins’s art collective The Ardorous to Tavi Gevinson’s zine, Rookiemag and the Glasgow feminist collective TYCI – to even virtual book clubs such as Florence Welch’s Between Two Bookssuch groups grant women a sheltered environment to freely indulge in what they love to do and be recognised for it. In a world that continues to silence women, such spaces become sanctuaries.

(VI)

I returned to college during recess week crippled with anxiety but eventually found myself under the care of a friend I made only months ago. She gave me her copy of Didion’s Blue Nights – since she was clearing her shelf and I was the one who recommended Didion to her – and, after a long rumination over our shared concerns, decided to spend the day with me such that I wouldn’t spiral into another panic attack.
Later, induced by the fears that devours one in the dark of the night, I began texting the best friend, spewing a stream of messages that recorded the extent of my anxiety. I woke up the next morning to her best attempt at soothing me virtually with what little knowledge she had as a first year psychology student. Within the next week, I received a letter alongside several postcards from Glasgow half-filled with one side of a conversation that kept me sane in high school, and topped off with Gilmore Girls-inspired cartoons.
Each time my thoughts begin to consume me, I can always count on the best friends from junior college to commiserate with me, even if they’re halfway across the world. Group chats peppered with personal anecdotes become ironic competitions of whose life sucks more – we all end up feeling better about our mistakes afterwards.

❝ I remember going for my entrance interview at Oxford and meeting with the senior English literature tutor at what was to become my college—a forbidding-seeming Scotsman. His study was furnished with low-slung easy chairs upholstered in mustard-colored corduroy; one could either perch on a chair’s edge or sink into its depths. During my interview I shifted uncomfortably between one position and the other while talking passionately about Middlemarch. Afterward I walked across the cobblestones of a narrow lane and stepped into the wide, lovely sweep of the High Street in a state of exhilaration and anxiety. I felt as if my life were an unread book—the thickest and most daunting of novels—that I was holding in my hands. I didn’t know what the story would be, or where it would lead, and I was almost too overawed to crack its spine and begin. ❞ – Rebecca Mead, My Life in Middlemarch
I do urgently need such wide-eyed wonder in my approach to academia right now.
(Unfortunately I left my personal copy of My Life in Middlemarch – and Middlemarch – at home and I’m a tad too lazy to walk over to the library to borrow it.)

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Currently stressing myself out over deadlines, as I should given that I’m basically drowning in deadlines, and rewatching this episode of Gilmore Girls, my go-to episode whenever my academic life – otherwise just known as my life – gets to0 overwhelming (Rory gets her acceptances from Harvard, Yale and Princeton at the end of the episode!!!)

So counterproductive but so motivational.

#MakeRoryGilmoreProud

Incoherent ramblings.

I’ve been indulging myself too much in my own minute sufferings these days, ruminating over my anxieties so much that they’ve seemed to consume me. Susan Sontag and Sylvia Plath would approve. Leslie Jamison, whose collection of essays I reread a week ago, would approve. She muses in The Grand Unified Theory of Female Pain on her “wound dwelling” –

I wrote to a friend: “I’ve got this double-edged shame and indignation about my bodily ills and ailments—jaw, punched nose, fast heart, broken foot etc etc etc. On the one hand, I’m like, Why does this shit happen to me? And on the other hand, I’m like, Why am I talking about this so much?”

I don’t know why I’ve been sending my friends snaps of the enormous bruise that runs along my right thigh (the result of an unfortunate fall in a lecture theatre), or why I spent the past week lying in bed with books (Anne Carson and Didion, no less), broadcasting my wretched wallowing to my best friends, but perhaps it is that these women I looked up to wrote – and wrote so eloquently – of their pain that  it legitimises my doing so.

Jamison discusses the fetishising of female pain in her essay, the transformation of the rudimentary human experience into something so exquisite in art, that suffering becomes performative and beautiful. Giselle, who dies of a broken heart in Act I of the eponymous ballet, is frail and beautiful. John Everett Millais’s painting of Ophelia in her final moments is sublimely beautiful. Florence Welch, whose choir girl voice echoes notions of self-destruction and death, is ethereal and beautiful. The conflation of the conventional standards of femininity with such elegant suffering inexplicably leads to the aesthetic ritual of “wound dwelling”.

Is such performative pain – the glorification of suffering – healthy? On scrolling through the tumblr tag, “bruise aesthetic” (please don’t google it, trust me), I’d say perhaps not. Alas, melodrama offers the only way for female pain to be recognised without being dismissed as trite. Quote Jamison:

“…wounds are desired and despised; that they grant power and come at a price; that suffering yields virtue and selfishness; that victimhood is a mix of situation and agency; that pain is the object of representation and also its product; that culture transcribes genuine suffering while naturalizing its symptoms.”

I began writing this post to rationalise my behaviour over the past month, but this paradoxical nature of wounds remains insoluble. As a feminist, I’d be inclined to chide myself over my own over-dramatisation of the self and, like the “brilliant and powerful female poet” Jamison recalls in her essay, flinch at the “narcissistic self-pity” of Plath. Yet I’m guilty of such narcissism and such self-piteous tendencies. Then again, maybe there’s nothing to be solved here. The immersion of one in their own distress’s merely a way of coping – Jamison concludes,

“Pain that gets performed is still pain. Pain turned trite is still pain. I think the charges of cliché and performance offer our closed hearts too many alibis, and I want our hearts to be open. I just wrote that. I want our hearts to be open. I mean it.”


Related reading:
Grand Unified Theory of Female Pain
The Empathy Exams
Illness As Metaphor
The Existential Genius of Lana Del Rey: Performing Yearning Self-Destruction As Meaningful As Don Draper’s – And Just As Uniquely American 

Unsolicited company not welcome

My to-do list is expanding as fast as my brain size seems to be diminishing. The latter only seems so because of my complete lack of urgency in the face of deadlines that get deadlier by the day and the hour, though it is sufficient evidence of my loss of rationality (not that I’ve had a substantial history of being very rational.) The drive that shackled me to my desk all through last semester has completely dissipated, leaving me with three essays, two full length articles, three article pitches, and one massive painting project due within the span of the next three weeks, yet I’m not panicking at all. Sometimes I frighten myself.
But I digress, this isn’t what this post is about.

I had dinner alone tonight, as I had many nights before.
To dine alone is, as some like myself may suggest, not too big a deal, but it inexplicably appears strange to be eating all by yourself in a bustling cafeteria filled with a fraction of the hundreds of students living in the same building as you do. Given this common mentality, I’m sometimes approached by acquaintances who, seeing my rather unfortunate situation, ask if they could sit with me. I’d oblige out of politeness and end up having to make even more unfortunate small talk between bites –
“How’s your day?”
“Good.”
Pause.
“And you?”
“Alright.”
“I had [insert arbitrary number] hours of classes today.”
“You must be tired.”
“Yeah.”
“…”
Perhaps the conversation would have gone better should it have started with, “thank you for your kindness and for looking out for me, but I really don’t need, or even want that attention or social interaction now – I just want to be alone with this New Yorker article (or cat video) that’ll entertain me satisfactorily throughout dinner.”
But that wouldn’t be polite, so I make do with awkward small talk. I hate small talk.
Still, this isn’t exactly what this post is about either.

I’ve always liked being alone. As a child, I took pride in my quietness and my solitude when other kids were tight with their cliques, passing notes in class and playing catch during recess. (On a side note, I was that slightly obnoxious kid in your class with perfect grades, whom the teachers adored, who just thought she was slightly better than everyone else – so judge my childhood self, if you wish.) I eventually settled myself in various friend groups all throughout secondary school and junior college, but even then my friends knew me well enough to leave me in my personal comfort bubble when I can’t muster enough sociability to converse humanly. I must admit, I had – and still have – incredibly thoughtful and lovely friends.

And then came college, plunging me into a social dynamic completely different from what I was used to before. In my six blessed years of secondary school and junior college, I was primarily socialised with girls – ambitious, book smart girls who had the same nerdy interests as myself. Think: a congregation of Rory Gilmores and Paris Gellers sans Rory’s  perfectly charming life and Paris’s aggression.

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This – the 00’s version of staring at your phone at a meal – could be a perfectly reasonable way my friends and I had our meals and hung out together. Silence was normal. But not anymore at college, it seems.

In the past few months, as the excitement of university life has begun to die down and I return to my original state of unsociability, the centripetal pressure towards having constant companionship is, essentially, accentuated. My editor at the college journal has, oftentimes, asked to sit with me at meals upon finding me dining alone. Several acquaintances have texted and attempted to talk to me after chancing upon my posts about not physically feeling well. Others have all too kindly dragged me into conversations with their friends at events that I have absolutely no interest in.

I suppose if you’re genuinely looking out for me, thank you. I appreciate your concern even though this post may suggest otherwise. I just need my personal space, and this you might not have understood before.
Alas, most curiously, the majority of the aforementioned “friends” (I use that word loosely to mean acquaintances) happen to be male, few of whom have tried to hit on me. I’m not sure what any of them was trying to achieve by attempting to draw me out of my aloneness, but I would frankly rather be left alone if I’m ever seen that way outside of my room. Hence if I’ve ever acquiesced to your company whenever I’m wandering around campus or sitting at dinner by myself, please know that it’s only out of civility that I’ve done so.

Yes there are times where I crave the company of certain people, but in those times I’d reach out accordingly. Otherwise I’m most likely indulging myself in my own solitude, since conversation, at these times, would be a chore. Unsolicited company, then, makes me uncomfortable and is unwelcome.

International Women’s Day

Found myself, surprisingly, with nothing much to do last night since my midterms were just over and hence decided to make something in celebration of International Women’s Day.

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The portrait collage features several female creators (artists, musicians, dancers, actors, and writers – quite an eclectic mix, really) that inspire me daily, though my list of inspirational women definitely extends beyond these nine. I’d paint them all if I could, if I only had the material, time, and patience to do so.

The women in the collage, from L-R and Top to Bottom, are as follows: Misty Copeland, Mackenzie Davis, Susan Sontag, Florence Welch, Virginia Woolf, Lauren Mayberry, Frida Kahlo, Petra Collins, Rebecca Mead

Each one of them motivates me in their own way, be it through their activism or their art – some get me out of bed on my worst mornings while  others drive me to constantly strive to be better. And of course, all of them have played a part in shaping my feminist vision. Hence, I’m nothing but grateful to be able to have such brilliant and illustrious role models to look up to.

On a side note, because the work’s A2 sized, I’m not exactly sure how I’ll be able to scan it, but when I do I’ll definitely post a scanned version up since this picture’s rather grainy and the lighting’s pretty awful.