Where there’s smoke, there’s fire

Smoke from Canyon Fire 2, as seen from Garden Grove, California (2017)

“The way sadness works is one of the strange riddles of the world. If you are stricken with a great sadness, you may feel as if you have been set aflame, not only because of the enormous pain, but also because your sadness may spread over your life, like smoke from an enormous fire. You might find it difficult to see anything but your own sadness, the way smoke can cover a landscape so that all anyone can see is black. You may find that if someone pours water all over you, you are damp and distracted, but not cured of your sadness, the way a fire department can douse a fire but never recover what has been burnt down.” –Lemony Snicket


To Dream, Perchance to Sleep


“Don’t you have a dream? Something you’ve always wanted very badly? You can have whatever dream you want…you can have anything you want in the whole universe.” -Vina, “The Cage”, Star Trek: The Original Series

I’ve been clocking in a lot of screen time lately.

Either something has been nagging at my mind or I’ve just been unusually observant lately, but there’s been a recurring theme within the media I’ve been consuming. As Bill Nye would say, let’s consider the following:

  • The Mirror of Erised. For those of you who have spent the past two decades (has it really been that long??) of your lives living under a rock (or cupboard under the stairs), the Mirror of Erised is an item of magical quality integral to the plot of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. In Dumbledore’s words, the mirror

    “…shows us nothing more or less than the deepest, most desperate desire of our hearts. You, who have never known your family, see them standing around you. Ronald Weasley, who has always been overshadowed by his brothers, sees himself standing alone, the best of all of them. However, this mirror will give us neither knowledge or truth. Men have wasted away before it, entranced by what they have seen, or been driven mad, not knowing if what it shows is real or even possible.”

  • The Talosians. Around this same time I was drawn back to marathon re-watching the Star Trek Original Series . Its pilot episode, “The Cage”, deals with a similar situation. The Enterprise crew land on a planet inhabited by the telepathic Talosians that can create virtual realities for people based off their fears, desires, etc. To encourage “prime specimen” Captain Pike to remain with them, they try seducing him with a scene straight from his dreams: a “nice little town with fifty miles of parkland all around it”, his favorite horse as a child, a delicious picnic and a conventionally attractive wife by his side.Mojave_remastered
  • The Witch. I recently went to see Suicide Squad, which, suffice to say, was a blockbuster-hungry film that tried to drown out its own shittiness by blasting cheesy classic rock tunes as loudly as possible. During its most climactic scene, the Witch (played by Cara Delevigine, who-and I love you Cara-should stay away from acting), claims she can grant the remaining Suicide Squad members anything they desire if they choose to join her. Immediately their deepest longings spring to their minds in tear-jerking visions: El Diablo sees his wife and children, alive and well; Harley dreams of domestic bliss with the Joker, etc.

All themes are recycled in art, of course, but this fantasy vs. reality idea stuck in my mind for a while. An idyllic-if illusory-life is always offered by someone dark and sinister, meant to tempt the generally good-hearted but weary protagonist into madness or villainy. And the moral is always the same: it takes courage to turn away from what you know is not real, no matter how much your heart aches for it, and it takes cowardice to give in to the temptation.


In “The Cage”, Pike insists on resisting the illusions the Talosians’ orchestrate, while Vina voluntarily remains behind to live out her life with an image of Pike. In Suicide Squad, everyone appears disappointed when Harley appears to have accepted the Witch’s offer. In Harry Potter, Harry begins visiting the room with the mirror every night until Dumbledore advises him to stop, reminding him that

It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.

And yet, in a way, most of us do that every day. We daydream through school and work, sometimes even during our times of leisure and recreation. We make Pinterest boards of our dream homes, dream vacation, dream life. We revisit memories and long to live them again. We wish to be other people, we wish to be in other places.

There are two types of wishes, I suppose. The Harry’s and the Ron’s. The Harry’s are the wishes that, sadly, can never come true, things which we have no control over: love, death, sickness, past mistakes.  These are the dreams we’d do best to rip into tiny pieces and toss them in the bin. Not an easy task, I’m afraid, but if we work on letting go a little each day, we may one day get to the point where we stop digging through the trash and taping our should’ve’s, could’ve’s, and if only’s back together.

But with the other type of wishes, their is hope. If Ron had only realized it, he would have seen the mirror as a psychological tool, a motivational nudge to pursue his dreams. Ron as Quidditch Captain or Head Boy could have been possible if he had worked through his insecurities better and worked towards his goals. And in the end, he did hold the Quidditch Cup in triumph.


These are the types of dreams we’d do best to focus on, not dwell on, mind you, but think about long enough to write out our game plan, whether it’s in that spiral notebook you hide beneath your mattress or simply in your head. Save up for that plane ticket. Say your sorry to that person from your past. Apply for the job you think you’d never get. Go back to community college and pursue the degree you buried ten years before beneath fears of financial instability.

Break the dream down into doable bits and pieces and work towards them every day. Even if you never reach the end goal, you’ll end up with a lot more than you would have if you never tried. Looking at it that way makes the unattainable idea of happiness seem so much more within our reach.

Because in the words of Captain Pike,

“You either live life, bruises, skinned knees and all or you turn your back on it and start dying.”

Not Yo Culture

Kylie Jenner poses for a selfie in cornrows. Shortly thereafter, she will be called out on this by Hunger Games actress Amandla Stenberg.

Hated YouTuber of the moment Nicole Arbour (see recent rage-bait video ‘Dear Fat People’-or rather, don’t) has been generous enough to bring us another highly controversial video addressed to another group of marginalized individuals: black people.

This time, Arbour attacks the concept of cultural appropriation, misdefining and trivializing it and advocating cultural ‘sharing’ because she sees nothing wrong with trying out bits and pieces of other people’s cultures that she thinks are cool.

The video features jump shots of the barely-speaking token black friend she brought in to ‘qualify’ her opinions, mockery of her own white girl-ness and a somewhat heartfelt speech about how black people are still discriminated against to this day.

There’s no sense in inviting anyone to watch the video and rack up views for her perhaps-well-intended-but-poorly-executed word vomit, but the video serves as a good example of the misunderstandings that exist about cultural appropriation.

A fashion spread using Native American imagery as accessories.

Cultural appropriation is a slippery slope, and it’s criss-crossed with many fine lines. It’s somewhat broadly defined as an instance in which a member of one culture adopts an element of another culture in a negative way. The controversy of adopting other people’s culture comes from the power dynamics of racism, and is especially bad when it involves white perpetrators, because they instigate most of the oppression against other ‘minority’ cultures.

The basic gist is, a)don’t steal things from people’s cultures without being aware of their cultural, religious or historical significance and b)don’t steal things from people’s cultures simply because you take a passing fancy in them and want to use them to seem quirky/exotic/cool/etc.

So what is it, specifically?

Cultural appropriation is wearing Native American accessories or costume -when you’re not Native American (and no, being 1% Cherokee on your grandmother’s side doesn’t count). It can’t be passed off as a symbol of appreciation or respect for a specific tribe, as the costumes are usually grossly inaccurate, sexualized or made fashionable. And, of course, there’s that little issue with settlers killing/raping/pillaging/upending Native American lifestyles.

Cultural appropriation is Kylie Jenner flaunting cornrows in an Instagram selfie captioned ‘I woke up like disss’. She very obviously didn’t wake up with hair like that, as so many black women actually do each day. Of course, when a black person has cornrows, it is considered ugly, unprofessional, or dirty. When light-skinned Jenner tries it out for a day, braids are suddenly cute, edgy, and urban. (Wow, what a trend-setter!)
Perhaps less obvious, but equally important, as they are the building blocks of the issue, are the small-level hypocrisies we’ve all become accustomed to.

Katy Perry performing costumed as a geisha.

It’s white people forking over money to get tan skin-but not too tan, because then someone might think you’re Mexican (gross). It’s people making fun of Hispanic or Middle Eastern girls’ bushy eyebrows and then worshipping bushy eyebrows as on fleek after white supermodel Cara Delevingne made ‘bold brows’ trendy. It’s Katy Perry dressing as a geisha for a performance, it’s Gwen Stefani parading around a silent Harajuku girl posse and using their unique style to brand herself and her products.

It’s white people gushing about how they love some small aspect of someone’s culture, like their hair, their religious imagery or their clothes, and then feeling entitled to use it for themselves.

In her video Nicole Arbour bats her big blue eyes and asks, “Why don’t we all just enjoy whatever the f*** we want from every culture?”

Gwen Stefani performs with her posse of Japanese Harajuku Girls.

Well, Nicole, because it’s mean. Because other people’s cultures are rarely represented and when they are, they’re not represented fairly, accurately or thoroughly. Because some people get judged or persecuted for being proud of their culture and especially in a melting pot like America, it’s something they should be allowed to keep. Because it’s not fair that when white people do something it’s okay, and when you’re any other color, it’s not. Because it strengthens racism, disrespects people, and cheapens and erases important aspects of their culture.

Again, cultural appropriation is a tricky terrain to navigate through and even those with good intentions might make a mistake here and there, but it’s still important to carefully think about what implications your actions hold.

Cultural appreciation and cultural appropriation are two different things-one is sharing and one is stealing. The difference is the number of people with something to gain.


Dear Nicole Arbour

Screen Shot 2015-09-07 at 4.09.31 PM
“If we offend you so much that you lose weight, I’m okay with that.”

These are words spoken by Nicole Arbour, a Youtuber with over 220,000 subscribers, on her six-minute rant entitled “Dear Fat People”, which includes the claims that fat shaming doesn’t exist and jokes that Crisco comes out of obese people’s pores.

The once-popular, non-infamous comedian received an avalanche of criticism for the video, and rightly so.

However, amidst her mocking tirade, Nicole Arbour did make one relevant point, something that we’re all aware of yet still discuss very nervously: obesity is an issue.

According to CNN, “More than 2 billion people — or almost 30% of the global population — are currently considered overweight or obese, and the problem is expected to get worse.”

A new wave of body positivity champions being yourself but turns a blind eye to the fact that maybe you’re also hurting yourself. Obese people announce that they are proud of their curves and will not change their diet for anyone (including themselves, apparently).

One can argue that one’s body is their own, and they have absolute freedom in what they do with it. Then again, that can be a selfish mindset. Openly boasting about being in poor health can be painful to those that care about you.

Being a little over or under weight is not a big deal, but no matter how you frame it, obesity is a problem, and this is not an attack solely on fat people-anorexia is a problem too, as is smoking, alcoholism and lots of other issues that a) are uncomfortable to point out and b) are often more complex than they seem.

Although some stigma still follow them, most people struggling with anorexia and addictions are understood as having a disorder and offered gentle help. Unfortunately, the world doesn’t grant obese people that same privilege.

We’ve fallen into the trap of using shame and humiliation in order to get people to lose weight when instead we should be targeting the underlying reasons and stop making hasty judgments.

“Many doctors don’t look at people’s problems without disregarding everything and blaming their weight,” says twenty-year-old Michaela Chakos. “People watch shows like “My 600 Pound Life” and develop an opinion on all fat people, even though they don’t know anyone over 300 pounds.

“My mom always says, ‘I don’t want you to end up like that’. I’m like, Mom, I don’t eat six Big Macs in one meal. But do I need to explain my eating habits and health report to every person who shows ‘concern’ for my health? No. Either way, health concern towards fat people is thinly veiled hate.”

We have no idea why someone is fat or thin. We don’t know what they put on their plate or how hard they work out. Everyone’s bodies are different and just because a certain lifestyle makes you a certain weight doesn’t mean it’s the same for the person next to you.

Not all fat people gain weight through indulgent eating and laziness. Weight is often beyond their control, becoming a result of genetics, metabolism and environment, or reflecting something bigger like a disease or mental disorder.

Mocking never achieves improvement. It’s cruel, unfair and does nothing to rectify the situation.

Nicole Arbour’s rant reminded us of the problem of obesity in America, yes, but her ignorant taunting also reminded us of another problem in America: bullying. She can whine all she wants about us not having a sense of humor but she needs to understand that there are some things that you just don’t joke about.

“but gay marriage isn’t what god intended”


In lieu of gay marriage being legalized across the United States, my Facebook news feed has been plagued by devout Christians and their tacky photo-quote posts about how they don’t believe in gay marriage and that they deserve the same respect for their beliefs as gay people do, yada yada yada. Which is, firstly, bullshit, and secondly, a very poor analogy.

Being gay is not a ‘belief’-homosexuality is not some kind of philosophical movement or deviant cult. As has been repeated patiently by the gay community, sexuality is not a choice (if it were then I’d be kissing girls instead of maneuvering landmines of fuckboys). Religion is a choice; despite being highly institutionalized, there is still room within Christianity for people to interpret the Bible as they wish and even to reject outdated/atrocious aspects of its history in favor of progress. So, yeah, guys, you are making a conscious choice to deny people basic rights.

As for their request that their beliefs be respected-how about no. We’re not under any kind of obligation to respect everyone’s beliefs simply because they have them. No, I’m not going to respect your beliefs if they involve ignorance, weak logic and prejudice. I’ll respect you as a human being (as in I’ll resist the urge to smack you in the face).  I’ll respect that you don’t like cherries. I’ll respect that you wear sandals with socks. But I don’t have to respect what you say. And I don’t.

“Yes I still love you. Yes we are still friends. But no, I don’t think you should be able to get married to the person you love because I read in a book that you shouldn’t?? And obviously an old book deserves more respect than actual human beings??? Who’s with me???” Lol no one, please go home and rethink your morals.

(I’m aware I’ve committed ad hominem fallacies basically throughout this entire argument but I’m tired and annoyed and my point still stands ok.)

Still Not Asking For It: Sexual Harassment & Rape Culture


When I was in middle school, a female student was told that she should stop wearing low cut tank tops because “it drove the boys crazy and distracted them from their homework”.
This casual comment was met by laughter and effectively made the pre-pubescent breasts of a 13-year-old girl responsible for the lust and poor performance of the school’s male population.

In school or out, girls are taught that that their clothing choices cause them to be harassed and assaulted, one of the most twisted lessons in present society. Tight leggings, mini skirts, and even visible bra straps are prohibited in school’s female dress codes. Instead of teaching boys to respect girls, they teach girls their bodies are inappropriate.

Being approached by skeevy men is a regular part of women’s lives-most of us are so used to it we’ve ended up ignoring or dismissing it as just another nuisance of the day.Perceiving it as normal, however, actually makes things worse.

The reason men get away with sexual harassment-because, yes, this is a prevalently male behavior-is for the same reason men get away with everything else. They whip out their favorite excuse-that they have biological urges rendering them savages with no self control over their sexual instincts. How convenient for them.

Many men feel entitled to having women as visual pleasure. Some think we enjoy or seek this attention, others get satisfaction from knowing we are powerless to stop them. Although the vast majority of men are not rapists, this thought process-the basis of the rapist mentality-is all too common.

It’s hard to explain to men how sexual harassment feels because most men never experience it. It’s only when men are accosted by other men that they realize what it feels like to be on the receiving end of one of their so-called “compliments”. (For the record, compliments should not make you feel degraded or threatened.)

And although women are assaulted and harassed whether they’re wearing sweats or a mini dress, no one gets as much stigma than girls who were wearing form-fitting or revealing clothes.

Society teaches women a great contradiction-that we should look pretty enough for men to want us but not pretty enough so that men attack us. Men reinforce this idea by ogling women in sexy clothing and then putting those kinds of women down as morally inferior.

Enough with telling women to stop dressing “provocatively”-wearing a short skirt should not provoke sexual aggression any more than wearing an ugly shirt should provoke a punch in the face.

And enough with dismissing men’s behavior with “Men are pigs.” Men are not pigs, they are human beings, fully capable of learning a little respect if we actually start requiring them to.

In Defense of Body Modification

tumblr_inline_nmixdmwxZH1ql3ax6_500A furious debate churns constantly in tabloids and Instagram comments: is Nicki Minaj’s magnificent rear end actually real? Are Kylie Jenner’s pillowy lips the result of dermal fillers?

For whatever reason-jealousy? boredom?-people feel entitled to judge other people’s cosmetic decisions, often denouncing them as “shallow” and “fake”.

According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, 15.6 million cosmetic procedures were performed last year, and yes, some of them could have been influenced by society’s crushingly high beauty standards-definitely a negative reason.

But for the average person, going under the knife is a big deal and a very personal decision. Most people don’t change their appearance to please other people, they do it to please themselves, and in these cases, cosmetic surgery is entirely positive.

People modify their body for two main reasons: to change something they’re unhappy with or to decorate themselves. Doing this in small doses, such as wearing false lashes or push-up bras, is widely accepted.

Step over the unspoken boundary, however, and you get criticism. Getting breast implants makes you “shallow” and “insecure”. Getting giant gauges or surgically attached horns makes you a deformity and a freak. People react to surgical modification with anything from mild disapproval to outspoken disgust.

“…promoting insecurity in the form of plastic surgery is infinitely more harmful than an artistic expression related to body modification.” -Lady Gaga

A popular stereotype is that people get plastic surgery because they feel ugly or have low self-esteem. We are often told that we should love the skin we’re born in, which is a pretty unfair suggestion, considering we have very little say in what we look like.

Who we are and how we look are two separate things. We can love who we are but still be unhappy with certain aspects of our appearance. Since our genes give us limited and random physical traits, many people make cosmetic adjustments in an attempt to match their appearance with who they are.

DNA may give us the option of four different hair colors but chemicals can give us any color we wish. You may have inherited a large nose but a good surgeon can reshape it any way you like.

Cosmetic procedures are not always the result of insecurity; they can make people more comfortable with their body or allow self expression. When people choose surgery, the value of their character or their new body should not be up for debate-it is their business alone.

Whether you are “natural” or “fake” should not matter. All beauty should be celebrated, whether it comes from a scalpel or a strand of DNA.

Negative Relationship Constructs in 50 Shades of Grey

Just when you think there can’t be a worse love story than Twilight, someone decides to give Edward a whip and handcuffs.

For those who have somehow managed to avoid the steamy trailers for this book-turned-movie, “Fifty Shades of Grey” is author E L James’ Twilight-BDSM fanfiction. The so-called “erotic romance” replaces Edward and Bella with another equally frustrating couple, that of Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele. The two fall in love, their relationship complicating as Ana tries to comes to terms with Christian’s unusual sexual habits.

Besides being dull and poorly-written (sappy dialogue and awkward sex galore), the book is also jam-packed with negative gender stereotypes that lead to casual relationship abuse.

Relationships rely on a healthy balance between two people and boy are Ana and Christian riding a dangerous seesaw. Mr. Grey is the ultimate alpha male: a gorgeous, rich, and influential playboy. Ana, in stark contrast, is virginal, insecure, and clumsy. The polarity of their gender roles is painfully unrealistic and sexist.This power dynamic, resembling that of hunter and prey, is what often leads to abusive relationships. One person is weak and dependent on the other; this other is then free to take advantage of them.
Christian proudly boasts that he enjoys control over all things and knows what makes people tick, revealing himself as an expert manipulator. He insists on having his way, rarely expresses emotion (other than lust) and describes himself as broken and dangerous, drawing kind and curious women to him like a magnet.

Ana embodies the perfect victim, hopelessly insecure and with an under-developed personality. She is in awe of Christian, never feeling good enough and aching to please him lest he become angry or leave her. Although she is under constant stress, she remains, hoping to “fix” Christian and turn him from a dark knight to a shining one.


These stereotypes make the characters dismally one-dimensional, regardless of how much the author tries to give them depth. The story revolves entirely around their relationship, suggesting that they have nothing else going on in their life. The pair are disturbingly obsessed with each other; Christian tries to pass off his stalking as “protectiveness”, while Ana’s thoughts are a constant stream of incoherent worship.

In respects to the use of sexual consent, Ana’s ditsy narration offers little clarity; we never really know whether she wants to do something or not-maybe she doesn’t know either. Christian, of course, does what he does best and takes advantage of this, insisting on using consent and then ditching the idea whenever his loins ignite.

“Fifty Shades of Grey” was intended for mature audiences for a reason-adults will easily see through the frivolous plot and unrealistic relationship, but they’re not the only ones reading it. Teenagers passing the book around or sneaking in to watch the Rated R film can and will assimilate these dangerous ideas into their life.

Romanticizing unhealthy relationship standards encourages women to be meek and normalizes aggression in males, the foundations of relationship violence. Abuse is abuse, no matter how romantic it might appear through heart-shaped glasses.