Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Movie lies and life truths

When I love a movie, I love it to death. After the initial viewing and corresponding emotional connection I am likely to re-watch the film at least once over the next 2-6 weeks, depending on whether I watched in a cinema or at home. I will read as much trivia I can find, look up and memorise quotes and trawl message boards to see other people's opinions.

'Obsessed' is a state I am clearly familiar with.

This goes for most genres of film and the timeline is pretty standard. Watch, re-watch, obsess, frighten others with knowledge. Rom-coms are different. When I love a rom-com, I follow all of the usual steps but on a greater scale. I particularly like watching rom-coms online as it means I can schedule my first re-watching for immediately after the first viewing. I will watch a rom-com over and over and over again and am unlikely to get tired of it. I don't necessarily offer my undivided attention each time. After the second viewing I am likely to watch the film accompanied by a game or other pastime which only requires half my attention. It's not that I don't want to pay attention to the film; it's more that I feel that most films require my virtually undivided attention to continue to have an impact (for example: I can't really imagine films such as The Silence of the Lambs or Black Swan eliciting a passionate response unless my eyes are glued to the screen). Rom-coms are more like companions to my life. Background music, if you will. I like to have them there so that I can continue to interact with the characters and enjoy the story but I don't need to focus entirely on them to keep enjoying them. I know where the characters are going and how the story will end. This is the case with other films I've seen before but a rom-com is often comfortingly predictable so it doesn't feel so bad to not pay attention to every pratfall a couple (or love triangle - ooooh! different!) faces on the way to the inevitably pleasing ending.

I mention all this because I was thinking the other day about one of my absolute favourite rom-coms, He's Just Not That Into You. Central character Gigi, played by Ginnifer Goodwin, has the task of delivering the film's closing moral monologue. (Spoiler nazis, keep your hair on. She basically paraphrases her opening monologue and it doesn't give much away if you haven't seen the film and even if it does she is the central character in a rom-com, of course she ends up happy!). Gigi presents the audience with some uplifting advice, which I will repeat here:

"Girls are taught a lot of stuff growing up. If a guy punches you he likes you. Never try to trim your own bangs and someday you will meet a wonderful guy and get your very own happy ending. Every movie we see, every story we're told implores us to wait for it, the third act twist, the unexpected declaration of love, the exception to the rule. But sometimes we're so focused on finding our happy ending we don't learn how to read the signs. How to tell from the ones who want us and the ones who don't, the ones who will stay and the ones who will leave. And maybe a happy ending doesn't include a guy, maybe... it's you, on your own, picking up the pieces and starting over, freeing yourself up for something better in the future. Maybe the happy ending is... just... moving on. Or maybe the happy ending is this: knowing after all the unreturned phone calls, broken-hearts, through the blunders and misread signals, through all the pain and embarrassment... you never gave up hope."

Now I can safely say that I have never tried to trim my own 'bangs' (I thought about it the one time I had a fringe. I was five and hated the frizzy wave that made my forehead itch and obscured my vision. Luckily my mother explained to me that if I did go down the radical route and chop it off with my little pink safety scissors I would be left with an ugly little tuft of hair that would grow back into the detestable fringe before it achieved the all-over, even look I was going for), and I have never believed that ridiculous thing about how if a boy likes you he will treat you badly and . Although my parents happily left me with my "boys have cooties" delusions in primary school neither of them would have let me think that if someone was mean to me it was because they liked me and any parent who tells their kid that is just setting everyone up for trouble down the line. I'm more inclined to agree with Justin Long's character Alex in the same film who gives Goodwin's Gigi a wake up call when he points out that "if a guy is treating you like he doesn't give a shit, he genuinely doesn't give a shit. No exceptions." That makes much more sense. Even if the guy does like you and is just "treating 'em mean to keep 'em keen", is that really the sort of guy you want? One who doesn't treat you as well as he should because society has suggested different behaviour? Excuse me if I expect a little more.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

"As I'm sure you know, a good night's sleep helps you perform well in school, and so if you are a student, you should always get a good night's sleep...unless you have come to the good part of your book and then you should stay up all night and let your schoolwork fall by the wayside, a phrase which means 'flunk'."
~ Lemony Snicket, The Austere Academy

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

My natural progression from the written word to the digital sphere


Some months ago I was required to write a final essay for my first-year university subject Writing Ecologies detailing my experiences with technology and literature throughout my life. At first I thought it would be easy. After all, I was not only writing about myself (as anyone who knows me will tell you, I am quite an expert on the topic and not at all averse to showing it) but incorporating a particular aspect of my life which has had often significant effects on me. Then I thought it would be difficult. After all, this was not a navel gazing memoir I had been charged with but an academic essay incorporating the varied opinions of true experts as well as my own musings. Like many things in life the writing of the piece proved both challenging and rewarding in terms of how easily some sections flowed from brain to purposefully typing fingers. Once submitted, marked and returned the essay could have simply disappeared into the oblivion that is my overflowing home desk. Yet today I found the original copy on my laptop and thought, hey, why should my six pages of hard work be limited in audience to a couple of university lecturers? So here it is, almost in full (I tweaked a few things; somehow phrases which seemed perfect before now seem clumsy), including references. I certainly would not recommend reading all of the quoted commentators for yourself, and that's not just because I object to being labelled as a member of an 'increasingly illiterate generation'. I do hope however that you find something of interest in these paragraphs, even if it is only to reminisce on your own childish introductions to technology.
And so, without further ado...


My natural progression from the written word to the digital sphere
It is difficult to remember a time when the written word was not important in my life. Early childhood was filled first with the joy of being read to and the magic of falling into another world through literature. Learning to read these texts for myself opened more doors and introduced me to the euphoric feelings associated with the power to lose oneself in simple printed words on a page. Then came access to a computer and with it the realisation that illustrations in books weren’t the only images available and many of these could be created with a few digital programs.
Now it is difficult to remember a time when the use of digital technology was not the norm. Like reading and writing, in my memory there is no clear moment of introduction. Text, digital and printed, has simply always been there. Changes have occurred as developments have brought in different ways of doing things but the formula essentially remains the same: the written word provides a wealth of emotion and the ability to chronicle our experiences in life. Yet we must ask ourselves, what is the written word? Does the term only refer to printed text on a paper page? If this is the case then it would seem possible that ‘writing’ will very soon be something only referred to in the history books. Or perhaps, as many children of the digital age seem to feel, the written word is evolving to include those words that have not yet been printed. Those phrases that wait in the digital cloud for us to recognise them as a literature just as pure as the traditional book.

Like any other year 1994 was a mix of exciting firsts and forgettable continuations. It was a largely ordinary year, highlighted by events such as the release of Disney’s The Lion King and former President of the United States of America Ronald Reagan’s announcement as a sufferer of Alzheimer’s. It was the year of my birth and as such the year I was brought into the technological age, so it is fitting that the month of my birth also played host to the first International World Wide Web Conference, entirely devoted to discussing the commercial value of the World Wide Web, in San Francisco, USA.

Although I say I was born into a world of technology I wasn’t a precocious toddler touch-typing on the family desktop computer. Some of my earliest memories are of books, books everywhere: books filling shelves in almost every room, books being read aloud. Drawing was also a key element, with colouring books and pieces of paper covered with brightly coloured crayon blobs all over the house. The computer was always there as both the adults of the house used them for work but my parents were always more focused on getting me to read widely and enjoy the written word the way they did.

I probably used them at an earlier stage but my first clear recollections of using computers came with my progression through primary school. Typing up projects and reports were eclipsed in my desires by the Microsoft application Paint. Many hours were spent drawing squiggles and testing out the ‘spray paint’ tool. Looking back now these digital experiments, which I always demanded be praised by my parents, were really a natural progression of my desire to create. The computer offered a different way of constructing essentially the same images I had drawn on paper.

With adolescence came the joys of computer gaming, with applications such as The Sims and World of Warcraft fascinating me with their three-dimensional graphics and ability to personalise creations. The stories I could create in these games seemed so much wider and better developed than those I could create on paper. I wasn’t simply describing what I imagined but creating it in a way that others could see and understand.

As I grew older still the attraction of the Internet and the audience it gave me access to increased and necessitated membership to social networking websites such as Facebook and Twitter. The ability to converse so easily with friends and family drew me in and the desire to feel involved resulted in a frenzy of status updating. Similarly, although keeping a diary had never held much allure, the culture of blogging fascinated me. It had always seemed useless to me to keep a journal of mundane everyday activities but blogging encouraged my argumentative nature and desire to communicate as I held the belief that someday someone other than my parents might read and respond to my words favourably.

Bradley (2010) states that “the online writer has at his/her disposal the most versatile storytelling platform ever” as the Internet, “allows the seamless integration of the written word, sound vision, and motion”. The attraction of this wide range of entertainment and creative outlets is obvious and sets the stage for the change in culture, communication and language that has become particularly noticeable during the 21st century.

Kaiser (2011) stated that the proficiency of new technologies meant, “improved ways of communicating are mainstreamed into our society”. This is certainly the case with my experiences. How often have members of previous generations noted how comfortable members of my generation are with digital technologies? Even those like me who by no means consider themselves experts in the digital field are able to perform basic functions with very little thought or planning. Most of us have grown up with at least one computer in the house. Public school students of my age all received government laptops in 2009 and now there seem to be few academic courses or job opportunities that do not require at least a base form of computer literacy. You could be forgiven for being swept up in the excitement of the ever-developing world of digital literacy and agreeing with Stommel (2012) that “the capacity for something wondrous is upon us” in terms of how we communicate.

If we only used computer programs to collate data and perform mathematically based functions perhaps there would not be such a strong argument for computers as destroyers of language. It stands to reason that a change in writing formatting from pen and paper to typing digital documents would inevitably result in a change in writing style.
Porter (2002) asks the question “How much do these computer-based writing technologies really matter in terms of their effects on writing?”
It would be easy to claim that the digital shorthand developed by computer users to make conversations more concise is damaging traditional language. In the extreme, the language of digital technologies seemingly bears little resemblance to arguably antiquated speech. Kaseniemi and Rautiainen (2002) note that mobile phone text messages in particular bear “more resemblance to code than to standard language”. Full of contractions and other simplified terms the language widely used in communication via 21st century technology bears little resemblance to traditional spelling yet follows the same basic structure. As Thurlow (2001) points out the language of ‘netspeak’ or ‘webspeak’, which began to rear its head among Internet conversers in the early-2000s, is a way of communicating favoured by teenagers and young adults due to their comparatively greater use of digital communication than previous generations. As a member of this community of young people I can attest to the allure of quick and easy communication. Unlike our parents and grandparents we have not grown up with handwritten letters and phone calls to and from single landline telephones. Instead, we have been exposed to the relative swiftness and convenience of communication via email, text messaging and social networking.

Crystal (2006) said that communication on the Internet and via mobile phone text messages displayed “much of the urgency and energetic force which is characteristic of face-to-face conversation”. When communication through 21st century technology can feasibly be as fast-paced as in-person discussions much of the formality of older forms of communication is omitted in favour of colloquial and contracted terms.
It is through this that Porter’s (2002) questioning of the significance of digitally mediated language becomes appropriate. As previously stated, language will inevitably change with the development of new ways of communicating. Being born into this digital age of convenience necessitates a desire to communicate in a correspondingly rapid fashion, yet this truncated form of conversation is not necessarily a negative by-product of computer-based development.

Stommel (2012) claims that digital shorthand such as that used in emails “fails to live up to the grammatical standards of typed or handwritten letters”. He goes on to argue that the prevalence of ‘netspeak’ among young people has rendered many members of this generation “terrified” of writing academic papers. The language style used for everyday digital communication is undoubtedly radically different to that used in academic writing, but does that therefore make it a problem? The outlets available for digital 21st century communication are not restricted to the polar opposites identified by Stommel (2012). Between social networking and academic papers there are a wealth of opportunities for contributions to writing which incorporate both modern abbreviations and traditional sentence structure. The growth of creative text outlets such as blogs and personalised webpages often produce a style of writing which is intelligently phrased but with personal, colloquial touches as per the culture of these mediums. This makes me inclined to agree with Porter (2002) that contrary to Stommel’s (2012) assessment, as well as that of Crystal (2008, as cited in Stommel, 2012) who argues that new forms of communication are “harming language as a whole”, the personal computer and its programs “is simply one more writing tool, like the pencil, that aid the writing process but doesn’t revolusionise it” (Porter, 2002).

The idea that young people want to learn and communicate in a way that incorporates their changing environments is not a new one. In 1970 Margaret Mead noted that the forms of education children considered most useful in preparing them to operate successfully as adults were those who largely depended on the changes in the culture around them. This is another argument that suggests that the increasing use of computers, particularly by young people, does not herald the end of language and the written word. In order to successfully abbreviate and condense information into the modern digital language the writer must initially understand the words and the meaning of the phrases they are condensing. In this way knowledge of traditional language is needed to communicate via digital mediums. This theory is noted in a similar fashion in the study noted by deVoss, Hawisher, Jackson, Johansen, Moraski and Selfe (2004), which found that children born into this age of “new media…have all developed considerable skill and success in conventional education settings and literacy environments”. Online gaming and social networking may be conducted in a different form of language to lessons in the classroom, but no more than children of the past adopted a form of shorthand when playing games outside. The effect of digital communication on academic literacy need not be substantial.

The world of literacy is changing. Developing technologies have changed so quickly over such a short period of time. In my own short life to date I have seen and experienced technologies such as the hard drive, VCR players and cassette tapes, all objects which my eight-year-old cousin has never known.  The way I communicate now is very different to the way I communicated as a child. Not only do I now communicate through computer-based mediums such as social media and this very blog, I also write amateur academic papers and converse face-to-face. The language used for each of these fields of communication is different but that doesn’t make one any more or less valid than another. Although it appears simplified much of the language presented on the Internet is as important and informative a form of literature as the traditional printed word. It is this that encourages us not to dismiss the typed word. Just because it is floating above our heads in a digital ‘cloud’ doesn’t make it less important, it just makes it different.



References
Bradley, S. D. (2010). Narrative theory. In C. Baehr & B. Schaller, Writing for the Internet: A guide to real communication in virtual space (pp. 81-93). Santa Barbara, CA: Greenwood Press.

Crystal, D. (2006). The language of netspeak. In Language and the internet (2nd ed., pp. 31-39). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

deVoss, D., Hawisher, G. E., Jackson, C., Johansen, J., Moraski, B., & Selfe, C. L. (2004). The future of literacy. In C. L. Selfe & G. E. Hawisher, Literate lives in the Information Age: Narratives of literacy from the United States (pp. 183-210). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Herman, I. (2009). International World Wide Web Conferences (“WWW2000X”). Retrieved via http://www.w3.org/Conferences/Overview-WWW.html

Kaiser, B. A. (2011). Text lingo as idiosyncratic communication: The new frontier of dramatic interaction. Ojela: Ohio Journal of English Language Arts, 51 (2), 15.

Kaseniemi, E. and Rautianien, P. (2002). Mobile culture of children and teenagers in Finland. In Katz, J. E. & Aakhus, M. (eds.). Perpetual contact. Cambridge University Press, New York.

Mead, M. (1970). Culture & commitment: The new relationships between the generations in the 1970s. Columbia University Press, New York.

Porter, J. (2002). Why technology matters to writing: A cyberwriter's tale. Computers and Composition, 20(4), 375-394.

Reagan, R. (1994). Text of a letter written to the American public announcing his diagnosis with Alzheimer’s disease. Retrieved via http://www.reagan.utexas.edu/archives/reference/alzheimerletter.html

Stommel, J. (2012). The Twitter essay. Hybrid Pedagogy: A Digital Journal of Teaching and Technology. Retrieved via http://www.hybridpedagogy.com/Journal/files/Twitter_and_the_student2point0.html

Thurlow, C. (2001). Generation txt? The sociolinguistics of young people’s text-messaging. Department of Communication, University of Washington, Seattle. Retrieved via http://faculty.washington.edu/thurlow/research/papers/Thurlow&Brown%282003%29.htm

Friday, June 7, 2013

My new relationship with Twitter...

Although it is difficult to admit it, I am a Twitter fiend. Although I don’t post a-million-and-one updates on my life a day, I am likely to post something daily, often more than once. All of this is relatively new to me. Until I started a Writing Ecologies unit at university and was instructed to write an ‘essay’ on Twitter (a novel concept I rebelled against for, oh, two hours, and whinged about for two weeks) I had been one of the many who considered Twitter silly. I couldn’t seem to reconcile the great new way of communicating users of the website talked about with something I had always thought of as navel gazing.
Not surprisingly, I have since had to remove my foot from my mouth and admit that I now post to Twitter far more than I do to Facebook or any other form of social media available to me. Within a few minutes of navigating to the Twitter website I had downloaded the app to both my iPad and iPhone (for convenience, in case there were more tasks, I told myself). Ridiculously appropriate, my first Tweet was a whine about having to use Twitter. Oh the irony. Then I re-Tweeted a celebrity’s Easter message (it was funny! It didn't count!) and finally posted my Twitter essay.
I might have been able to defend myself if my use of Twitter had stopped there. But no. Less than a week later when I saw scaffolding going up in one of my favourite studying spots at uni my first thought was to photograph the scene and take to Twitter to air my wrath. It was official: I had become a Twitter user.
Since then, I have come to recognize the possibilities available through this new truncated form of social media communication. Whereas Facebook has a similar base structure of a newsfeed of posts by people and groups the user has chosen to become involved with, Twitter has the added bonus of making all these updates brief and largely to the point. While scrolling down a Facebook newsfeed can be laboriously time consuming due to the often lengthy posts and widely spaced layout, Twitter’s restriction of length to 140 characters a Tweet means that a user can take in numerous updates in a matter of minutes. To view pictures, links and other more lengthy details the user needs to ‘open’ that particular Tweet, which saves space on the feed. If you don’t want to read it, you can simply continue scrolling down. With such short messages it takes only a moment to scan a Tweet and decide you aren’t interested.
The ability to link Tweets through a hashtag (#) or to attract the attention of a fellow user by including their name preceded by this symbol (@) also allows people to connect and share more easily. There is also the added bonus of feeling as if you are involved in a wider group as hashtagged Tweets may be picked up by people over the other side of the world who have similar interests.
All in all, Twitter is not as terrible as I previously led myself to believe. Tweets from news providers all over the world lets me know the headlines of breaking stories and updates on current ones. Not only this, but Twitter has made me and many others, it seems, question how much we really need to say to get our points across. Does the news really only need to be brief snippets of the key points? Can an entire fictional tale be provided with only 140 characters? The number of authors who have given it a go would seem to suggest that some can. And I think we’ve all at times wished that a friend’s seemingly never-ending Facebook status about their day had just been a few events shorter.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Fair treatment rant

A few weeks ago I was given an assignment for uni: write a blog post styled as a rant.
Oh boy oh boy did I have fun with that one. Not surprisingly, being the angry little mile-a-minute chatterbox that I am, I went over the suggested word limit.

Here is my work of anger, finished off with a clip from the only 2 Broke Girls episode I ever watched (the pilot) which had me punching my fist in the air and yelling 'Yeah!' Like I really did care. Also: please excuse the excessive sexual jokes and incessant laugh track in the clip. Those behind it seem to think these are necessary to the show.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that when it comes to manners, there is no universal practice in the treatment of waitresses. Now I'm not just talking about female wait staff of course. That would be sexist and blatantly ironic in a piece titled “Fair Treatment Rant”. However, as a waitress, I of course have first-hand knowledge of this side of the argument.
I have to say, most people know how to behave. In our society there is seemingly an understanding of the general politeness due to someone working in hospitality. You wait to be seated when required, you say please when ordering, you politely signal when you are ready to order and you wait to be attended to.

As I say, most people get this. It’s basic. Those who don’t, I split into two categories: those who think they are being reasonably polite and those who don’t give a damn. Those who belong to the former aren’t terribly offensive, they are often simply annoying, more so than is strictly necessary. Sometimes they become a part of this group after things haven’t gone well for them. For example, at the cafĂ© where I work Mother’s Day is the biggest day of the year. The place is always packed and regular customers have to be turned away because they forgot to book a table.

Now you might think that these dismissed regulars might be the problem: they have coffee at the same time, at the same table, every day. But no, last Mother’s Day it was the people with bookings who were troublesome.

The most prominent of the largely-inoffensive-but-still-fairly-annoying group was the woman whose booking couldn't be found. She claimed to have booked two weeks before but sometime between her phone call being answered, her booking being recorded and then transferred to the first and second versions of the final list, her booking was missed out. Not surprisingly, she was unimpressed when she and her group of nine arrived and there was no table for them. As hostess for the day, I bore the brunt of her anger. She let me know repeatedly that this was “my fault” and I “had better fix it”. As I said, fair enough. If you make a booking you expect a table to be made ready for you and by rights we should have done that. But it wasn't my fault, I was just the messenger. It was wrong of her to verbally attack me when I was quite clearly doing my level best to clear a table for her.

You might think that the trouble ended when her group was finally seated and their orders taken. But that was when she really became the badly behaved customer.
“I don’t mean to be a pain, but…”
You might not think it, but these are eight of the most annoying words a waitress can hear. This phrase is usually followed by “I’d like to change my order” or, “my coffee (which I have drunk all of) was cold”, or my personal favourite, “I know it’s not on the menu, but…”


NO.

This is not okay. Why? Because it means that the customer does want to be a pain. If it has been more than 10 minutes since your order was taken, five minutes if it was a coffee order, then it is likely too late to change your order without throwing out what has already been made and starting again. And is the customer made to pay for that? Of course not. It’s simply inconsiderate to ask for something like this to be done.

Then the cold coffee thing: it is not my fault if you were chatting for so long that your coffee went cold. And if it was cold from the beginning? WHY DID YOU NOT SAY SO? Too many times people have a problem with what they have received, but they wait until they come to pay to say something about it. Don’t come up to the counter when you are leaving and refuse to pay for your coffee because it is cold. We'll probably do it, but that’s just because we have to follow that truly awful rule “the customer is always right”.

Thirdly, there is the not-on-the-menu question. So many times I have wanted to make like sassy Max from 2 Broke Girls (who obviously doesn't have any worries about being fired) and say to customers: “Is it on the menu? No? Then you can’t have it. You know why? Because we are not your personal chefs.” Now this may seem a slight overreaction to someone who doesn't work in this business. But once you've heard “but whyyyyyy don’t you have scones?” one too many times, you really start to snap. We have a seven page menu, plus separate ones for drinks and kids foods. It’s not like you’re starved for choice.

I'll finish with the worst customers, the ones who seem to think wait staff are there to be their slaves.

To them:
• Clicking your fingers to attract the attention of the waitress is not okay. We are not here to be at your beck and call and we deserve a little respect.
• Demanding to know if your waitress is deaf, blind or stupid because she didn't notice you trying to attract her attention (from behind and many tables away, I might add) while she was serving another customer is not okay. That’s just plain rude.
• Asking a 14-year-old waitress about her personal life? A no-no.
• And placing a hand on the small of a waitress’s back to attract her attention and then joking that you’re a married man? NOT OKAY. (Most of these people don't mean anything sinister by their actions, but the point still stands: the waitress is not there to be touched.)

Like I said, these people are a minority and most of the time are quietly encouraged to leave by a considerate owner of the establishment. I'm not really talking to them. I'm talking to everyone else who has ever said or done the little things which just make my job that little bit harder. Next time you go for a coffee or a meal, remember to be nice to your waitress. She’s probably been on her feet all day and had to deal with the odd horrible customer while being paid a pittance to boot. Just smile, wait your turn and please only order from the menu.



Sunday, April 21, 2013

There's nothing quite like inside pressure

At the risk of sounding like the VoiceOver at the end of a Modern Family episode, you really can't overstate the power of family motivation. Families are generally pretty great. They tell you what you need to hear while also being so biased that they think you're gorgeous no matter what you wear (well, almost). They're great like that. But what they are also good for is supporting you, getting behind you and sometimes jumping into the raging torrent with you.

I am of course talking about the gym.

Now I have almost always been one of those people who would quite like to be a teeny bit thinner or be toned enough to pass for Jessica Alba but have never had enough of a problem with myself to actually do much about it (a few months of sporadic morning sit-ups and afternoon skipping reps barely count).
But when my mother convinced me to come along to her first taste of the local gym I was obliged to go along and sign up with her.

Not going to lie, the first couple of visits were tough. As a self-described energetic (read: spazzy) teenager, I had assumed that I would find the workouts far easier than I did and at no point did I entertain the notion that I would be less fit than my 40-something mother.

But I guess if it was easy they wouldn't call it a workout.

After a few visits I wasn't waking up aching the next day. Which isn't to say that I am ready to sign on for a personal trainer the way my parents have. Their frequent exclamations of pain and an inability to sit down without great difficulty days after a session aren't exactly ringing endorsements.
But my obligatory teenage whining aside I don't dread attending anymore. I like the feeling of achievement I get after completing a session on the exercise bike (man, is that thing painful. Ten minutes feels like an hour of uphill torture). And knowing that my parents are there too, working their hearts out on some other brutal machine, makes me want to work as well. Though they are in pain they still obediently go a few times a week. And when my mother chirpily asks if I will come too, how can I really say no?

Honestly, I don't think I would have gone if not for my parents' motivation. I'd thought about it, for five seconds every day as I walked past the gym on the way to the bus stop. And maybe I would have made it there on my own. Likely it would have taken at least another year of thinking and balking at membership fees. But with my parents there, all seemed possible. Realistically, I'm unlikely to look like a bombshell actress at the end of it. I'd need to become a vegan and spend all day working out in a private gym with a personal trainer, dietitian and dermatologist on hand. But I'm already starting to feel better about myself and look forward to promised future improvements. So thanks, mum and dad, for not so much pushing me as convincing me and for being there all the way with kind words behind your grimaces of pain.

Maybe shyness does pay dividends

I don't think I realised just how shy I am until I started uni. Making new friends is damn hard, especially when it seems as if everyone else already has someone. Some people are lucky enough to have school chums who have come along for the ride, while others are just monstrously outgoing and as such have no trouble meeting and bonding with strangers. I, on the other hand, have always relied on people I already know and people who introduce themselves to me.
This proved a problem when I reached my place of higher education as the multitude of people combined with the immediate workload from classes left me in a state of shock which saw me sitting alone during lectures and calling my parents during breaks so I would look like someone actually wanted me.

And you know what I realised? Nobody cares.

At uni, nobody really cares if you are alone and friendless, that you are sitting alone for the third week in a row. It's not a malicious carelessness. People don't go out of their way to exclude you or specifically ignore your aloneness. It's just that they are all far too busy with their own issues to worry about your teen-life crisis.

When I was in high school, almost every move was scrutinised and commented upon, and not just by people I knew. Whenever I straightened my naturally curly hair people who I seemed to only speak to on such occasions would stop me to comment on the dramatic change. New backpacks were noticed and discussed, and mufti days were a source of great consultation.
However, when I tried the hair trick at uni, no one said a thing. Not a single eyebrow was twitched. Notice was certainly not given.

Maybe it's just my vanity talking. It's nice to sometimes be noticed positively for changes and achievements. And when you are down its nice when people take an interest in your well being. But you know what? It's totally ok if they don't.
So far, of the people I've met at uni, there has been a clear distinction between those who will choose the neighbouring seat for the foreseeable future and those who are only going to be a source of conversation for one brief tutorial.
Of the former group, I seem to have acquired four. How do I know they are part of this group? Because one of them initiated (yes, initiated, shy little me didn't have to cyberstalk) a Facebook conversation just hours after introducing herself to me in a tutorial. A social conversation. Not in any way related to uni courses. There were pop culture references and in jokes and "haha, loves youuuus" which I wouldn't have expected from someone I had barely known for six hours.

It was amazing. And it didn't stop there. Barely a week later another member of the aforementioned group handed me her phone and asked me to put my number in her contacts as she "hated conversing online when you could have a perfectly good conversation on a phone". A person with the right ideals and wanting to pursue a friendship? Score!
An invitation to the first girl's upcoming 18th birthday party shortly followed, accompanied by a reassuring "you had better come, you know you'll make the party great- of course I'm inviting you!" to boost the ego.

So I've come to decide that it's absolutely okay for people to not seem to look like all the time. After all, the ego boosting from an excitable conversation finished with a love heart far outweighs someone who has never shown any interest asking you if you are wearing a wig because your hair looks really pretty like that.

Maybe uni won't be so bad after all. And those new Facebook friends? Not just for show.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Hey, it's a job

This is how every customer is going to appear to me at the end of my waitressing shift tomorrow.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

A little something I'm proud of...

Last year I was lucky enough to write a short piece for the Sydney Morning Herald on Taylor Swift, titled 'From a fan's perspective'. It was based on an interview with her, conducted by my father, that I was able to sit in on and my piece was to run next to his. Unfortunately for some reason that article is no longer available on the SMH website. I want ed to put a link to the articles I've had written on this blog but as I can't do that for this story, here is a snapshot of the page from the paper itself.

Also, I wrote a lot more than was eventually printed (not uncommon, especially for some no-name 18 year old *sigh*) so at some stage I may post the entire original story. But for now, enjoy :)

Oh and btw, I posted a review I wrote of Miss Swift's concert  a few years ago. You can find it here: http://vanillafantail.blogspot.com.au/2010/02/published.html or the original here: http://www.smh.com.au/news/entertainment/music/americas-fluffy-sweetheart-pours-on-the-saccharine/2010/02/07/1265477536121.html



Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Oz is colourful and perhaps even powerful - but definitely not great


It was a good friend of mine who urged me to start a blog. "You always have so much to say" she gushed. Although I'm fairly certain she was also suggesting I talk a little more than is strictly necessary, her words got me thinking about how, like many people, I have an opinion about most things in my life. And my life could certainly be said to revolve around film. Movies, television shows, glossy-and-not-so-glossy actors - all are able to command my attention and I am consistently accused of overanalysing a text. So it really should be a no brainer to use at least some of my rambling blog posts to put my film reviews to paper (metaphorically, of course).
With any luck, by next year I will have finally fulfilled the quest I have been attempting to fulfil for the last few years: by the time the Oscars roll around and I ensconce myself on the couch for excessive hours of glitz and glamour, I will have seen every film nominated for Best Picture.
As dreams go, it's not exactly life changing and it may not even be that difficult. What is difficult is finding other films to fill the time between the viewing of Oscar-worthy ones, for those days when you just feel like going to the movies.
It was this desire, (coupled with a desperate need to fill four hours between uni classes) that saw me scaling three frighteningly steep escalators to reach a showing of Oz the Great and Powerful.

The opening credits impressed me with their early-days-of-film feel with black and white 2D animations of dancing couples and carnival sideshows. This introduction to the film was sparky but not overdone, elegant but not long winded.
But, as they say in the classics, it all went downhill from there.
Since I left the session, I have used a variation of the same advice each time someone has asked me for a recommendation: see it if you will, marvel at the (almost) seamless special effects, gaze in awe at the stunning colours and costumes and if you are that way inclined stare dreamily into James Franco's eyes. Just don't listen.
Yes you heard me. Take earplugs. An iPod. Hell, take earmuffs. But my advice to you is to find a way to avoid the hammy, nonsensical dialogue and the storyline it dictates.
I am of the perhaps misguided belief that a principle character, particularly in a family film, should grow as the film progresses. They need not go from a manic serial killer to a kindly Santa Claus-figure. But if they began in a selfish form we should notice a character progression to one a little less jarring. Particularly if all other characters claim that there is a new messiah.
I have never been a particular fan of James Franco. I find him weasel-y and have rarely seen in him the prodigiously talented actor some journalists rave about, and my opinion was certainly not changed by his sojourn in Oz. Even the five diehard fans left to him following his disastrous turn as an Oscar co-host will likely find little to love in his portrayal of the deeply flawed would-be Wizard.
I could forgive the deeply unpleasant lead character. I am a Game of Thrones lover after all and am therefore used to characters you would really rather see falling down a well succeeding in their endeavours. But in Westeros no-one legitimately claims that boy-king Joffrey is becoming a better human being. Franco's Oz inspired in me only a desire to push him smartly off whichever cliff he happened to be closest to and at first it seemed that all but the excessively naive, later embarrassingly over acted Theodora, the young witch who would turn a rather sickly colour by the last third of the film, could see what I could. (No, it isn't a spoiler to say she turns green, not if you have read any review of the film to date. Whatever happened to leaving the third act reveal as a surprise? If you had not in fact heard that little titbit of information I apologise but you really should be reading more film reviews.)
As I said, Oz is a conman of the worst kind - a slimy, lying cheat who somehow manages to get young women with far more looks than sense to fall for him. That he is perceived to be the prophesied saviour of the titular magical land only made me feel greater sympathy for the doomed residents. That he manages to complete the task (again, not a spoiler - this is a kids movie after all) was only believable due to those behind the scenes choosing to utilise his penchant for tall tales blown out of proportion to fool some disappointingly foolish witches. A shame really, as I was truly hoping that Rachel Weisz's Evanora would emerge victorious, if only so the wider Oz community could learn the merits of sparkly green ball gowns. But no, the wizard wins, and as per the requirements of a film marketed as 'feel-good', he gets the girl. And here is where the storyline particularly smarts.

So he snogs Glinda. The good witch. Michelle Williams. The glowing princess of frou-frou who up until this point has pulled no punches when letting him know he is being an ass. Which he still is. Just with added castle. So why does she kiss him? Because the script told her to. Honestly, it felt like a cop out. But he saved the land! He defeated the witch! He finally thought of others before himself!

Well, no, he didn't. He just realised that being the effective king of Oz, with access to whatever he wants at a click of his fingers (and what he wants is shiny, gold and smells like money), is a far better offer than a life as a small-town conman with a trifling talent for slight of hand and pissing people off.
I hate seeing people rewarded for being a tosser and the fact that the film was beating me over the head with its assertion he was so much better now only served to make me want to shoot all involved more.

So if you really feel you must see the film, if your rugrats need entertaining or you refuse to believe that anything related to your beloved Wizard of Oz could ever be less than wonderful, then be my guest. But don't go talking smack about it later because I did warn you.

And don't forget those earmuffs.






Wednesday, March 13, 2013


It's like the songs say ~ Love really is all around


The best love is the kind that awakens the soul and makes us reach for more, that plants a fire in our hearts and brings peace to our minds.

                                                                           ~ Noah Calhoun, The Notebook



I want a love that consumes me

Making Friends...from a distance



    




  It could be said that all social networking websites are simply electronic replacements, admittedly with a few shiny extra features, for traditional means of communicating and archiving. Blogs are online diaries, Twitter posts are notes passed in class. Facebook is no different. As a form of communication it is like a town or youth group meeting: it connects us with others in similar circles we may not necessarily have met before, expanding one’s friendship groups far beyond those previously available.                                                                  
  Not only does it widen communication possibilities, Facebook is like an online scrapbook of memories. Textual and visual communication techniques are combined to allow us to post and catalogue photographs, share ideas and comment on events. In this way a Facebook user is not simply displaying elements of their life but also having them stored on the internet much like an online annotated photo album.                                                               
 The style of Facebook, that of being a website which allows for networking as well as sharing media, can be seen to have been inspired by the early social networking website Friendster as well as the colloquially named ‘face book’ for Harvard students. The former also allowed for the uploading of photographs along with communication between geographically separate individuals. Its influence, as well as that of the previously mentioned Harvard University student phonebook, can be seen in Facebook’s focus on extensive profiles and ability to find and interact with widespread users.                                                                                             Facebook’s simple, easy to use design is perfect its user base. As the website is in theory open to anyone over the age of 13 the need to present a format everyone can understand is vital. A single search bar allows for wide searches for people, places, games and discussion pages without the confusion of multiple search routes. The constant flow of reports coming from the newsfeed also plays to a user’s laziness as it presents almost all new information about the people and pages subscribed to without the need to actively search for any of it.                                                                                                                                               Social networking websites represent a colossal shift in the way people communicate and interact generally. With sites such as Facebook as a mediator there is no longer a need to meet people in a traditional sense as two people can have entire relationships over the internet without ever needing to converse in person. We use Facebook, superficially, to communicate and share information about ourselves like a public diary yet perhaps we also use it to hide. On Facebook, you can have thousands of friends. And at the end of the relationship, after finding out everything about each other through dated timelines of statuses and photos, the ‘friendship’ can be terminated without mess or fuss with the click of a single Unfriend button. 

Sunday, March 3, 2013

All that glitters is not gold...but maybe we can dream it so

I was thinking the other day about how the character narrators in books so often muse on the beauty of the things around them in life. I had just finished reading The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky. Protagonist Charlie spends much of the novel describing his surroundings and attempting to find beauty in some of the most surprising things.

So I decided to look out for the beautiful things in my surroundings. 

When I walk home from the bus stop after uni I walk past this large vacant lot. Its on the corner of two main roads and is completely overgrown with grass. I mention this place because to walk past it I have to walk along a narrow path and i have discovered that if you walk staring at the ground your field of vision is restricted to a thin strip of concrete hemmed in on both sides by tall grass that sways in the wind. If I block out the noise of the nearby traffic I can imagine myself walking along a path in the middle of an overgrown field, perhaps on the banks of a river.


As I stared at the ground while walking home that afternoon I was struck by how easily such a simple thing had transported me into another world; a world far more quiet and tranquil than the one of the busy road just a few feet away. 

And I think that's a kind of beauty.


The overgrown path is an oasis in a desert of car noises and exhaust fumes. And yet the oasis itself is largely a mirage brought on by my almost desperate desire to see a classic and romantic kind of beauty amidst the hustle and bustle of modern life.