Wednesday, May 29, 2013

When bad things happen to good stories

(This blog post contains minor spoilers for Bones, Austin & Ally, and The Hunger Games. You have been warned.)

Being the perpetual 12-year-old that I am, my TV is often set on the Disney Channel. One of their newer shows I've gotten embarrassingly attached to is Austin & Ally. Maybe it's the music aspect of the show that drew me in. Maybe the characters are compelling. Or maybe it's because Ross Lynch, who plays Austin, is exactly the kind of guy I would have a crush on if only we were a little closer in age.

Your mileage may vary. (source)

The show follows Austin Moon, an internet singing sensation, and Ally Dawson, his friend and songwriting partner. Just like with most shows that feature two attractive, single members of the opposite sex, there's been romantic tension between Austin and Ally from the start. During the last few episodes of the second season (which aired around February/March of this year), the tension reached its climax.

Get your minds out of the gutter, you pervs. This is the Disney Channel we're talking about.

It starts the same way most of these plot lines do: Austin starts dating another girl, and Ally realizes she's jealous. When she starts getting attached to another guy, Austin starts to feel the same way. Slowly they gravitate toward each other instead, and end up a couple. And, just like most of these plot lines do, a wrench is thrown into their new relationship.

Some of these TV plot wrenches are rather harsh (I'll get back to that in a minute), but this one's actually pretty dull; once they become a couple, Austin and Ally suddenly feel awkward around each other and decide to go back to being friends. The last couple of episodes post breakup have the duo simply going back to their old relationship, as if nothing ever happened. Needless to say, the adult fan in me doesn't really like this new development, even if the TV watcher in me knows they'll probably end up back together eventually.

Another, more, erm, adult show that threw a wrench into one of our favorite couples is Bones. I've blogged about this show numerous times, especially the relationship between Bones and Booth. In this year's season finale, the producers threw the proverbial wrench into Bones and Booth so bad that my dad, who got me into the show in the first place, declared he may never watch it again.

Then again, maybe that will leave me to ogle David Boreanaz in peace. (source)

But once dad and I got to talking, I realized something. TV is not real life. Okay, duh, I already knew that. But people like watching TV (and reading books and going to the movies) because it's an escape from reality. If Austin and Ally don't get back together when I want them to, or if Booth doesn't tell Bones the truth about why he doesn't want to marry her, I can just stop watching the show. If I really break up with a guy, or if things aren't going right at work or home, I have to face it head on.

But at the same time, TV mirrors the struggles we face in life. The relationships between Austin and Ally and Bones and Booth aren't perfect because nobody's relationships are perfect. We want to see them in conflict because if they lived happily ever after and their lives were picnics, they would be unrelatable and boring. And that's probably the only thing worse than throwing a wrench into a fictional relationship.

And don't even get me started on Katniss and Gale. I'm still not over that one.

Monday, May 27, 2013

What Bones taught me about marriage

I'm not an expert on romance by any means. I've only had one relationship that was even remotely serious, and I've never considered myself a romantic person at all. Or, rather, I don't care to focus too much on the lovey dovey aspect of infatuation or the emotion of romantic relationships.
If you watch Bones as often as I do, you'll know who Bones and Booth are. I've blogged about them before -- that couple that you know from the start will be a couple but doesn't become a couple for several years, dancing around their growing sexual tension until something finally happens that convinces them they should be together.
For Bones and Booth, that moment was the death of one of their co-workers. In their emotion-filled grief, they ended up sleeping together, and Bones got pregnant. Most couples these days don't have children until they've been together for several years. Many (if not the majority) are already married when they have children. But the relationship between Bones and Booth went from 0 to 100 in a matter of weeks. Two people who had previously been nothing more than co-workers suddenly found themselves about to have a child -- and a life -- together.
I won't pretend to advocate one night stands, and Bones and Booth aren't even married, but maybe our culture can learn something about marriage from them. We tend to see marriage as emotional, something you do when you've been dating someone for years and you really really loooooooove them. But love -- or, rather, infatuation -- isn't enough to sustain a relationship for decades. I'm not married, so I may be wrong on this, but isn't marriage supposed to be a commitment between two people who are agreeing to make a life together? Doesn't it require a lot of work, compromise, and sacrifice, even under circumstances that might be less than ideal? And doesn't having a child put even more strain on a couple and their relationship? Bones and Booth don't always get along, just like any couple. But since they have a child, they'll have to deal with each other for the rest of their lives, even if they don't have the additional commitment of being husband and wife. They're not necessarily "stuck" in a relationship, but it seems like they're genuinely trying to make it work. Operative word: Work.
Marriage isn't supposed to be a bed of roses. It isn't even supposed to be about "true love" or "finding your soulmate." It's about two imperfect people coming together and agreeing that they care enough about each other to work together to make a life for themselves and any children they might have. We had a speaker at my school in junior high who said that love is a do verb, not a feel verb. Maybe our culture should focus less on the emotion of marriage and love and more on the commitment.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Life happens to you when you least expect it

Marriage! Baby! Mid life crisis! (source)

A week or so ago, I burned my thumb on our giant popcorn machine at work. I get little scrapes and burns like this all the time, so I didn't think much of it and figured it would probably be gone in a day or so. But a few days later, it was still there and worse than ever. It eventually started to heal, but the process was much slower than I expected. This afternoon, I finally peeled off the last part of the scab, leaving a pink, mostly healed thumb.

Kind of an insignificant even in the grand scheme of things. But it did get me thinking. When I got that little burn, I never expected it to last as long as it did. Life is kind of funny that way; the most unexpected things happen to us quickly and with little or no notice.

- In the late spring of 2005, I never expected to leave the arts school that I had worked so hard to get into (and stay in) for three years.

- In early 2006, I never expected to meet a guy, fall in love, and have the relationship fall apart after just a few months. I never expected to spend the week of my high school graduation nursing a broken heart.

- At the beginning of August 2009, I never thought I'd meet a celebrity. Two weeks later I met the Jonas Brothers. A year later, I met them again.

All of the significant events in my life, good or bad, have been unexpected. A few weeks or months earlier, I probably never would have predicted them. How many times have we heard celebrities sit down for interviews and say "this time last year, I never though this would happen to me"? This isn't to say, of course, that we should sit back and wait for things to happen to us, because then nothing would happen. But just as you're tired of working at something, just as you're getting tired of waiting to see something pay off...something happens.

I've got to remember that sometimes.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Advice for aspiring authors

There are probably millions of aspiring writers in the world, and there's as much writing advice out there as there are writers. I graduated from college in 2010 and have spent the past 3 years teaching myself everything I could about being a professional author. Since I spent a year at community college before transferring to a 4-year school in 2007, that means I've now spent as much time teaching myself something as I spent in classes as a Creative Writing major. I'm not an expert by any means; I'm not even published yet. But I thought I'd sum up the major things that I've learned over the past 3 years and give people who might want to break into the business some starting advice.

1. Read a lot. Write a lot. This is the most common piece of writing advice, but also the most important. Read everything you can get your hands on that looks even remotely interesting to you. Read what's popular and what's not popular. Read high literature and sparkly vampire romance. Read published novels and unpublished work up for critique by your fellow writers. And through all of this, you should be writing. Never expect your early writings to be good. Keep practicing and keep reading, and you'll see your work gradually improve.

2. Study the market. As you continue to read and sharpen your writing skills, you'll probably figure out your tastes and what you primarily want to read and write. Like writing high literature? Great! Unfortunately, your chances of making a living from it are extremely slim. You have a much better chance at making money writing, say, fantasy or paranormal fiction. Write primarily for yourself, but keep the market in mind. And never, ever write in a particular genre just because you think you'll make more money from it. You'll likely fail miserably, and be rather miserable as well.

3. Decide which path to publication you'll take. Will you aim for traditional publishing and look for an agent who will pitch your book to a major house? Will you send your book to a small press? Will you self-publish? These are all viable options, and the one you take depends on what kind of person you are, what kind of writing you do, and what your writing goals are. Research each one and decide which is best for you.

4. Get involved. There's a whole community of writers out there, both online and offline. Many writers find it difficult to join together because a lot of us are introverts and not very comfortable around strangers. But if you ever want to be published, you have to face the fears of dealing with other people and their reactions to your work. A critique group is critical for authors, especially new ones, because we can't always see the flaws in our work when we've looked over it a hundred million times. Look for an in-person writing group in your community. If there isn't one, or you try them out and don't like them, look for an online community. It's important to network with other authors. Sure, it can open lots of doors for potential connections in the industry. But the primary benefit is the feeling of knowing you're not alone in this crazy endeavor.
Similarly, you should be researching not only writing and publication, but writing advice. Absorb everything you can about both writing as a craft and the publishing industry. Keep in mind, of course, that not all of this advice is good advice. Keep researching and find experts you trust and advice you can use.

5. Prepare yourself. Writing is hard. Really, really hard. Sometimes it's so hard you'll want to bang your head against a wall or throw your computer out a window. It takes a special kind of person to string tens or hundreds of thousands of words together and have them be not only coherent but entertaining. And it's slow. And an uphill battle.
The Stephenie Meyer success stories are rare -- most writers don't get a book deal six months after they write their first novel ever. Most writers struggle along for years honing their craft before seeing any significant results. Yet millions of us continue to write day after day because we love it so much. And if I haven't scared you away yet, you have a pretty good chance of making it. Just like any other worthwhile path, becoming a professional author takes a lot of persistence. So as long as you can't see yourself doing anything else, don't give it up.

Friday, May 17, 2013

It's okay to be like everyone else

Two nights ago, I got surprisingly offended at something that, logically speaking, shouldn't have affected me in the slightest. A book blogger I followed said that a certain *ahem* book obsession of mine wouldn't be around in twenty more years. I'm trying to be a grown up about it and agree to disagree. After all, different opinions make the world go 'round. But I will always maintain the opinion that this particular book's popularity is here to stay for a very, very long time.

Yeah, that book.

Realistically speaking, though, the vast majority of things that are popular today will be forgotten ten or twenty years from now. People have come to see this as a horrible thing, but is it really that bad at all?

People have a natural desire to feel important, like they matter and were put on earth to do something meaningful. If they create something that's popular for awhile, but fades away in time, they might feel like they didn't have enough of an impact, like they didn't matter enough.

The United States is an individualistic society. There's a lot of emphasis on self-identity, self-expression, and the ever popular phrase "be yourself." Which is great to a certain degree, but opens up a lot of doors for hypocrisy. When I was in high school, I got a lot of flack from people for wearing popular clothing brands like Abercrombie and Hollister. (Though I'm admittedly not too keen on Abercrombie anymore after the fiasco earlier this week.) We've all heard labels like "prep" and "stuck up" that come along with the Hollister/American Eagle/other name brand wearer stereotype. And that's exactly what it is - a stereotype. For all our society's emphasis on "being yourself," we still can't get past judging people for the clothes they wear.

And for all our society's emphasis on individualism, humans are social creatures, and we need to spend time around people who are like us so as not to feel isolated and alone. Trends start because a whole lot of people liked something. They found people they had things in common with, both inside and outside of their common trendy interest. They found what nearly every human being on the planet is looking for: Companionship. All through trends and popular things. But even the people who don't follow popular trends or pride themselves on staying away from the mainstream want the same thing. They're just going about it differently.

So it's okay to follow trends if you really like them. It's okay to want to be like everyone else and fit in with people, especially people you see all the time. It doesn't mean you're compromising your values or becoming a bandwagon jumper or mindless sheep. It means you're normal. You're looking for the same thing that everyone else is looking for. And that's not a bad thing at all.

Monday, May 6, 2013

The grass is greener on the other side of YouTube

Ah, YouTube. What did we do before we had it? I was in high school when it took off, and it's only grown from there. Now there's a whole new generation of self-made TouTube celebrities.
One of my favorite YouTube stars is JennaMarbles. A New York native with a Master's Degree, Jenna Mourey (as she is known offline) worked a variety of odd jobs after graduation before deciding to, in her own words, "be a grown up." For Jenna, that apparently means making videos about how to trick people into thinking you're good looking. Her first video went viral back in 2010, and now she makes enough money to own her own million dollar condo.
Sounds like a dream come true, right? It's always been difficult to make a living doing something you love. But for those of us who finished school right after the big economic collapse, we're doing good just to find a job that puts food on the table without making us want to strangle someone. Yet this 26-year-old manages to make six figures by posting videos about what girls do on the Internet or how she spends an entire day looking at pictures of cats.

Yeah, I might be able to spend a few hours looking at this stuff. (source)

A few weeks ago, Jenna posted her own video version of the popular "draw my life" trend. Near the end if the video, Jenna talked about her job with a tech company that ended badly, as well as a breakup with a long term boyfriend. She candidly confessed that she wasn't entirely sure where her life was going at this point. A couple of weeks later, The New York Times published an article on Jenna, ultimately painting her as a virtual recluse who rarely left her million dollar condo. Clearly being a self-made millionaire, even in an age where most twentysomethings are barely getting by, isn't  everything.

We've all heard that money can't buy happiness, but we don't always want to believe it. It's hard to be happy when you're struggling to make enough to pay the rent...but it's also hard when you can afford million dollar condos but not close friends. Sure, money can temporarily make you happy when you get some new object or make enough to pay your rent. But our long term happiness can never be dependent on our bank accounts.

So what does our happiness depend on? It can't depend on outside circumstances; we would find a million little things to weigh us down and upset us. Happiness has to be a conscious choice, an honest effort to focus on the good things we have in life. Whether it's spending five minutes watching a Jenna Marbles video or spending six hours watching the entire fourth season of Bones (not that I've ever done that before...), it really is the little things in life that count.

And now I'm off to watch Jenna rap about how much she hates being a grown up. I can certainly empathize with her on that one.