Saturday, February 20, 2016

Caucus Day Thoughts

Since the media won't let you forget about it, you've probably already heard that the Nevada Democratic Caucus was today. For weeks the political climate here in Vegas has been growing more heated. Campus has been particularly obnoxious. "Excuse me miss, are you registered to..." "Excuse me miss, are you going to caucus on..." "Excuse me miss, can I ask who you're..."

"I AM REGISTERED IN ILLINOIS, DAMMIT. YES, I HAVE AN ABSENTEE BALLOT. LEAVE ME ALONE."

I get why they were doing it, but it was suffocating nonetheless. Sometimes a girl just wants to walk in peace.

You've probably also heard that Hillary Clinton narrowly won the caucus today, which most of my friends surely aren't happy about. Like most people my age, I run with a crowd that is solidly Feeling the Bern--with good reason, I think. We did everything our parents told us to--worked hard at school, went to college despite the costs--and we were rewarded with lots of debt and few jobs. (Unless you're me, but I recognize just how lucky I was to land a job in the middle of the recession. I'm well aware that I'm the exception to the rule.) Bernie Sanders is the only candidate addressing this problem in any meaningful way, so it's no wonder that we find his campaign appealing. Plus, his other beliefs align more with my own than Clinton's do--though I won't go into that here, as it's not the point of the post.

The point of this post is: even though I support Sanders, I can't stand the way people have been treating Hillary Clinton during this campaign. It literally makes me cringe. It's fine to disagree with her policies, but people act like she's some kind of monster, which is ridiculous.

One complaint that I see a lot is this: "But Hillary supported Barry Goldwater in 1964! An anti-civil rights Republican!" Yeah, that obviously wasn't a good move--but she was seventeen. If we all held the same beliefs that we did at seventeen, I guarantee we'd all be in a great deal of trouble. I certainly hope that each and every one of you have changed your minds about many things since high school.

How about that popular Sanders vs. Clinton meme? You know--the one where Sanders makes an insightful claim about any number of subjects, while Clinton's answer is either idiotic or blatant pandering. This NPR article does a good job explaining how sexist the meme is: "...it plays into insidious stereotypes about women: that they can't be funny, that they are calculating, stiff and that they are inherently unlikable." I completely agree with that assessment of the meme. I don't see why so many Sanders fans insist on smearing Clinton--although I suspect it says more about current Internet dynamics than it does about Sanders supporters in general. Still, the prospect of being lumped in with a group of people who think that meme is funny makes me gag a little.

I also object to the criticism that Hillary Clinton is too "establishment." Or rather, I object to the idea that Bernie Sanders isn't "establishment." Yes, he is a Democratic Socialist, and that political philosophy makes him very different from Clinton. However, he's served in Congress since 1990. How much more establishment does it get? He's a career politician. I can't help but respect Hillary Clinton. She's been playing what has been traditionally considered a man's game for years, and she's been playing it better than most of the men. True--it's not the best game to play. It's a corrupt game, full of trade-offs and lies and secrecy. But that's just what politicians do, for the most part. And I think it's impressive that she does it so well.

Here's the other thing: if Clinton becomes the Democratic nominee, the country is not going to explode. I'm confident that she can beat Donald Trump--or any of the potential Republican nominees, for that matter. The changes she proposes will not be as radical, and that will be a shame. But she'll stand up for women's rights, for civil rights. She won't be fighting in the wrong direction, at least. And if Bernie Sanders gets the nomination, it's likely he won't be able to do a single thing he promises to do. It's hard to have a political revolution with a Republican-dominated Congress blocking your every move. If Sanders gets the nomination, it will be crucial that liberals dominate the next midterm elections, or else his presidency will make little difference.

That's mostly all I had to say. Here is a beautiful ALL-CAPS RANT that says it better than I do. Happy election season, everyone.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

weight.

For a few months prior to and during winter break, I was on a Low-FODMAP diet in a gastroenterologist-recommended attempt to cure my constantly fussy stomach. Over break I also went back on anti-depressants for my anxiety, and a few weeks later my stomach woes were largely gone. Turns out I was worrying myself into a stomachache. I'm not particularly surprised by this. Few people know how to worry better than me. However, because the Low-FODMAP diet cuts out gluten and several kinds of dairy, I ended up losing almost 10 pounds. Now that I can eat regularly again, I've gained some of it back, though not all of it. And I'm frustrated at myself, because I feel bad about gaining the weight back, even though I know it's completely illogical. The rational part of my brain believes that weight doesn't matter--it's nobody's business but your own, and it does not correlate with other aspects of your life. Being awesome is not contingent on being thin. But despite having boosted my confidence a million times over since junior high, there's still part of my brain that sees weight gain as a serious personal failure.

I imagine this is partially due to the fact that any amount of weight loss results in a lot of compliments. Both when I dropped several sizes my senior year of undergrad, and over the recent break, people could not stop talking about how great I looked, as if losing a few pounds were the epitome of achievement. It doesn't matter how many other successes I attain; I can publish stories or win scholarships or learn new skills, and I guarantee that those accomplishments will never earn me more compliments than if I lose weight--probably because weight loss is simply such a visible accomplishment.

Or a perceived accomplishment, anyway. It can only truly be an accomplishment if you're trying to lose weight. And I don't think health concerns are the only valid reasons to lose (or gain) weight. You should be allowed to make your body look how you want it to look. My senior year of undergrad, I was actively trying to lose weight, so I happily basked in the glow of the compliments. Who doesn't love compliments? But those same compliments struck me as odd over break, because I wasn't trying to lose weight. I only lost weight because I was unwell, so it seemed like people were inadvertently praising me for being ill. (Not that this was their intention, of course.) What's more, I wasn't prepared for how fast the weight would drop off, so my body physically felt wrong, even though it was thin--like maybe my internal organs were going to start showing or something. 

But now that I've gained some of the weight back, I can't help feeling guilty. I was uncomfortable with it off, and now I'm uncomfortable with it back on. And the craziest part about it is that I'm not overweight in the first place! I'm only slightly heavier than I was a few months ago! I am still very much within a healthy weight range! 

I know that many people have struggled with these issues far more than I have. But I wanted to write about it all the same, because...well, because it's been on my mind, and this is my blog, dammit. I wish we could change the language around weight loss, that our society could stop universally treating it as an achievement, even when it's not meant to be. If people were to say "you look thin" instead of "you look great," that might help stop the association between the two. Of course, that might not work, either. Because I want people to tell me I look great regardless of my weight! I guess it would be useful, then, if there were a better way of discerning whether someone means "you look great in general," or "you look great because you've lost weight." Or maybe people should just be more liberal with their compliments all the time. Surely everyone could use the boost.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

words words words

As usual, I haven't been blogging as much as I should. However, I have been working hard on my novel--writing almost every day. I've been rewriting chapters, expanding them. I'm currently revising the ending, which is intimidating. I know how it needs to be--I just hope I have the literary power to get it there. If all goes well, it shall be zany and heartbreaking and glorious.

Actually, if all goes well, it will be finished enough to submit to my thesis committee--in just a few months! I need to keep reminding myself that my thesis doesn't have to be a perfectly publishable version of my novel. Mantra: nobody's thesis is perfect.

On a related note, a few of us in the creative writing program have been fighting the good fight against ProQuest lately--it's been weighing heavily in my thoughts. Like many other universities, UNLV requires graduate students to submit their theses and dissertations to a company called ProQuest in order to graduate. Back in the old days, a company like this would simply transfer the work to microfilm, and then the university would keep it as an internal record. Other academics could access it, but they'd have to go through the university to get it. ProQuest, however, puts your entire thesis online. People still have to pay to access it, or they need a subscription, but unlike the microfilm companies, ProQuest actually publishes your work; it's assigned an ISBN number and everything. In many fields, this isn't a problem--it's important to share new developments in the STEM areas, for instance, as quickly as possible. But in other fields, this is detrimental. Many humanities students hope to publish their theses as books, and they often need several years to revise. For creative students like me, it's absolutely disastrous. No literary journals or major publishers will accept a work that's already available online, and it's especially ridiculous because there's no legitimate academic reason why someone would need to access a creative thesis anyway. At UNLV you can request to embargo your thesis on ProQuest for up to three years, but you have to remember to renew the embargo consistently, or else your work will end up online.

Our goal is for the university to provide us with a permanent embargo option. We've brought our concerns to the faculty, who are discussing it with the deans and other administrators. We've also presented our case to the GPSA so that other graduate students are aware of the problem and can put pressure on their faculties if they're so inclined. Hopefully it will be resolved soon, but bureaucracy isn't known for its speed, so I'm afraid it won't be resolved by the time I have to submit my own thesis. I'm tempted to submit a dummy thesis of some kind, a hundred pages of x's and o's...but we'll see. That could get my committee into trouble, and I like my committee an awful lot.

I met with Doug today, one of my committee members, to discuss some of the later chapters of my novel. He had few line edits, which is always gratifying, and he had some extremely helpful thoughts about structure and character development. I'm constantly amazed at how insightful our professors can be. Now that I'm also teaching creative writing, I hope that I can be equally insightful for my students--but I'm probably not. So far most of them have been workshopping poetry; I think they're saving the fiction for later in the semester, so that they have longer to write it. It's difficult for me because poetry is not my area of expertise, and I'm terrified that they'll be able to tell that I don't know what I'm talking about. The important thing to remember is that I actually do know what I'm talking about--or at least, I'm probably more of an expert on the subject than they are at this point. Most of the poems that they write are earnest, but also overly sentimental--which is not that surprising, considering their age. In my notes, I've been suggesting that audiences don't typically like to be told what to feel, so it would be better to try to manipulate the audience into feeling using form and language. I hope that this is good advice. I tip my hat to Tim for making me think about it that way.

Thank goodness we MFAs and PhDs have each other! I don't know how anybody is supposed to teach a class without a gaggle of other people who are also teaching that class, or similar classes, to rely upon.

On an unrelated note (sort of), I turned 28 on Tuesday. I wasn't planning anything big, as I had to teach all day. I texted a few people to meet me at Stake Out for dinner and drinks that night--I wasn't expecting many people to show up, simply because it was a weeknight. To my surprise, so many people came that there wasn't enough room for us--it took literal hours before we could shove enough tables together to seat everyone. I felt so loved! Thank you, dearest friends, for celebrating with me. <3