On the brink of the new year and how am I going to celebrate? No idea. Hours to go and who knows what will happen.
In all honesty, I don’t really care much. I’ve done my New Year’s thing. Had some crazy, amazing ones and had some truly awful ones. And still, my love for the bubbly lives on. Some things just defy good sense.
End of year usually entails some version of introspection and today, I’m fully celebrating (albeit a little quietly) my inner fan girl I had been so good at keeping at bay.
Growing up in suburban California, I can’t say I had a lot of drama or strife happen. That found me later. But looking back, my sensibility was formed by two things my parents gave me. My dad and his love of movies (I watched Vertigo with my dad at age 8 and the memory of it haunted me until I was 16 and re-watched it. Still haunted me and is one of my favorites of all time…I digress). And my mom’s love of Asian soaps. Now, my Chinese kinda stinks. I don’t get all the nuances in the language but people can watch telenovelas without knowing a word the people are saying. It’s about feeling. You don’t have to “understand” it to understand it.
Somewhere between the big and small screen, my particular passions found a way to assert themselves. It seems so silly to say that watching these forms of media helped form my view of the world but corny as it is, they really did. Other than the people in my lives, film (mostly and then TV) showed me the world and made me question and think about the person I was and wanted to be.
Media served as a medium for identification. It wasn’t that I was heroic or fucked up enough to be on the big screen. That was never what appealed. It was about relating. I’m never going to be Spider-man rescuing some person from a burning building. But I can understand the need for that sort of heroism. To believe that something better and brighter can come along.
I don’t think movies and TV are supposed to mirror exactly what goes on in our lives. If gives us possibilities and choices to see the roads we could all travel.
A lot of folks watch movies to escape. I definitely have those days. But as my consciousness grew and my love for movies grew, I started to devour the theories and analysis of all these “things” I loved so wholeheartedly. What I started to realize about myself was that movies were personal to me. My life wasn’t particularly exciting. I wasn’t doing drugs, having sex and partying like the apocalypse was coming. That’s what they did in the movies. It was this safe way to look at possibilities and decipher what I would do without having to dip my toe in the actual water.
But I could only do that for so long. The more I saw, the more quietly impassioned I became and the more I knew I needed to seek my independence. It wasn’t easy within my family (is it ever?). Asian families definitely have a dynamic that doesn’t necessarily encourage independence. It’s about inter-dependence and togetherness. Melding the two has always been an unspoken strife underlying my family relations. What I know now is that in order to reconcile the two, I really had to understand what being on my own was before I could see the beauty in the collective.
I went to school in southern California (i’m from the Bay Area) and that’s where I got my first taste of being on my own. College, as much as I did enjoy the education, was always more about learning to stand on my own two feet in the world rather than how I earned my degree. Being exposed to so many things I had only seen but never really experienced…well, it was eye-opening. But it wasn’t enough.
I was still within the confines of California and whoever I was still needed more space and air to breathe. You see, movies served as my way of seeing a new world and now they were going to be my way into the world. Movies were literally my way out. Thru some wonderful circumstances, I was encouraged to apply to grad school for cinema. Apparently I had a natural talent for it. Not so much the movie making part of it…the academics of it. I realize this sounds a whole lot less sexy. Being a watcher rather than a doer. But I’ve never seen it that way. I’ve never wanted to actually make a movie. That’s not me. I appreciate things. I analyze things. I am, above all, an enthusiast. To watch, to understand and to identify the experiences with what humanity is and could be – that’s what I enjoy.
Now, I’m on the other side of the country. I left practically everyone I knew. I knew ONE person when I moved here. When I think of it now, I’m shocked I did that without much thought. But that’s how it needs to be. Some things can’t be overanalyzed to the point of paralysis. When something needs to be done, you just have to do it. NYC was where I needed to be because it’s where I became (and still becoming) who I wanted to be.
It’s funny. Sitting to write my last entry of the year, I was really inspired by something else and yet this has become more of history of how I got here instead.
Life moves in circles. I was always a media hound and while I had been in remission lately, that sensibility always finds itself back because it is innate. It’s my most natural state and the place I find most comfort in.
Recently, I’ve discovered a new TV fandom. While it started off innocently (don’t all epic stories begin like this? Ha!), my semi-curiosity and snarkiness soon turned to complete and total devotion. How? Who knows. Sometimes, the light turns on and then you’re just a goner. For this particular obsession, I find it is very much rooted in where I am as a person and my current emotional state.
To me, media isn’t just about entertainment..i’s also been about self-identifcation. I read or heard somewhere that the beauty of art isn’t that it exactly imitates what life is like day to day. That would be crazy boring. It’s that in dramatizing something, it can illuminate something in your own life and give it some sort of greater understanding. It’s like giving someone advice. You’re always better at giving it than taking your own advice. But sitting there in the dark, you’re forced to be complicit in these acts on the screen. You’re forced to look at what is happening and putting all your joy and sorrow and experience in the reaction. And in that reading of what is “happening,” art allows us to see what the human experience is. At least, that is what is it to me. It’s never been simply entertainment (although it can be). But the stuff that I actually love. The stuff I really care about…it’s what I can relate and feel for. It’s a version of me being played out and I am left to decide if I like what I see or if I want to change it.
So in watching my new obsession, I became so very enamored of this female character on the show. She’s pretty normal, babbling girl but stuck in extraordinary circumstances (isn’t that the way?). I find her character to be strong, independent minded and optimistic – all things I hope I am and want to be. Finding well-rounded, well-written female characters isn’t easy but even more rare when the show is not based around her (it’s based on a male lead, shocking!). She starts off more as a supporting character then moves up the ranks cuz, well, she’s AWESOME.
After binging on the 50+ episodes in a weekend, I needed to feed the beast. So I do what any normal person would – I took to the internets! And the fan girl was unleashed. Lord love all the tumblr pages, fan sites and random critical reviews all over the joint! I do love the gifs and various fun tidbits people make but truly, my academic nerd side really just reading analysis and breakdowns of characters/scenes/themes. It brings me so much joy.
And in reading all these various takes on her character and her actions, I started to realize why I love her so very much. It’s because I’m in a similar spot right now. She is vulnerable, kind but that doesn’t mean she is a pushover. There are many tropes in regards to how women must react in movies and TV. Unless the woman is the actual lead character, her actions only hold importance if it is in relation to the lead male and usually, this means romance. In this case, yes, she is now the primary romantic lead and since the show is named after the lead dude, it’s inevitable that her actions are usually in some sort of relation to him. BUT what I’m finding so fascinating about the pairing and how the romance plays out is what she doesn’t do. instead of the normal waiting and pining you would expect (remember I grew up watching Asian soap operas i.e. chaste hugs and longing looks and tons of self sacrifice), she doesn’t do that. She takes care of herself and keeps on moving. Not that there isn’t love. Not that there isn’t hope. But as much as she cares about the guy, she loves herself even more. The girl has self-respect and that’s why I love her.
I don’t necessarily think it’s super rare to see that on TV but it’s sad that it’s still somewhat revelatory. Having to somewhat battle the media images ingrained in me about what love is (melodramatic/pining/sacrifice), it just felt like such a “fuck yeah” moment. It’s not that she gets the guy or that she won’t eventually get him. He’s irrelevant. It’s that she made a decision to take care of herself because the other person doesn’t have his shit together but she does AND she’s not waiting around until he does.
It’s funny to me because I don’t think I would have felt so close to this development had I not experienced a few romantic mishaps/timing issues in the not so distant past. In some ways I felt like a martyr, playing out my part the way I had seen growing up. The messiness of what love and romance can be never really can hit home if you’re just holding on to the simplicity of a rom com. At some point though, after many many bourbon-soaked nights, I realized it was pointless to put my life on hold for something that was never going to go my way. I had learn how to piece together my life so that I could look at myself and not be ashamed.
Looking back at the romantic foibles, some part of me was always waiting for that person to see I was someone they should take a chance on cuz i felt ready to take a chance on them. When the feeling wasn’t mutual, I went into a tailspin cuz I was heartbroken but also because they weren’t fitting into this neat narrative of what I believed how relationships should behave. In retrospect, everything turned out for the best. They were never the right fit. I just wanted them to be. My ideas of romantic love were foiled by the reality of what caring for someone actually was like. Things don’t fall into place just because you’re a good person. Beyond the fact that values might have been different between us, it was always the wrong timing. Eventually, I got wiser. But nobody ever told me standing my ground was going to be as hard as it turned out to be. Letting something go, even when it’s not healthy for you, was harder than I thought. Common sense and self-preservation aren’t always the first things that come to mind when my emotions were flying wild. Only now, can I appreciate I had to go through the hurting phase but ultimately, I had to recognize my own self-respect before I could demand it from someone else. Truth is, it’s not something I actually wanted to do. I wanted to crawl and be weak and semi sorta get the guy. But I’m making myself sound wimpier than I am too. Deep down, I also couldn’t follow through when temptation rose. It can be so easy to pick up where you leave off but nowadays, with distance and a better wisdom about me, I just can’t do it. I didn’t like who I was during those darker moments. I like myself now and I don’t want to betray my own progress. I have to be good to me or else, who will?
When I was home for my break, my friend and I discussed this briefly too. We had lived together with another pal at the time who turned out to be a horrid bitch. She tried to railroad us both at various times but we were both somewhat naive and innocent at the time. We were finding our way to be who we needed to be. It wasn’t just with boys that we were foolish and eager to please. This happened in our friendships too. But we get older. We grow stronger and we stand bolder.
It’s somewhat mortifying to think about how disrespectful I was to myself. Not all the time. Just at some of my lower points. I’m not proud. I’m not supposed to be. But lately, I’m finding some sort of peace with that and cheesy or not, I find that some of it can be attributed to watching this character play out her scenes. Watching her continually stand her ground (even when it’s crazy difficult), the awkward (almost cringeworthy) manner in which she over-shares her emotions makes me feel a greater compassion and love for my own past. Her story isn’t finished yet and neither is my own. But watching hers play out gives me a major appreciation of how I got to where I got to and be excited enough to see where else life can lead.
My life will never be exactly reflected to me on the screen. But when I catch glimpses of where I was, where I am and where I want to go, I feel kinship. I feel connected. To know that there are only so many emotions in this world and to have one that seems so personal identified in this larger context..it makes me feel less alone. It makes me feel connected to “her”, to other humans and to forgive the ones who have wronged me and to forgive myself for wronging others.
So today’s last word will be about self-respect. How I discovered what it meant to me, how it applied to be and how I embraced it so I could understand what I deserve.
It’s a roundabout way of looking at life but sometimes a mirror isn’t enough. Sometimes, I just need a bigger screen.