The Weapon We Have Is Love

It’s no secret I love being busy. Just four months after I graduated college, I had somehow managed to lock down a full time job, a part time job, and a volunteer position. And while many people could not understand why I would want to spend my free time doing work that I wasn’t getting paid for in addition to a 40 hour work week, I couldn’t be happier. Especially because my volunteer position was with one of the best organizations out there – The Harry Potter Alliance.

I’m sure you’ve seen posts from me over the past year sharing about the HPA’s campaigns, various articles I’ve written for our Medium publication, or simply expressing my love for my fellow HPA volunteers and staff members. When I talk about the HPA to my friends and family, I always describe it as “a social justice initiative themed around Harry Potter”…to which most people respond “how did you find something so perfect for you?” And honestly, they couldn’t be more right.

Even though my full time job is also at a nonprofit, The Harry Potter Alliance has given me the opportunity to expand my social justice actions even further. I truly can’t imagine myself doing any other work besides somehow helping people, which is why I was drawn to nonprofit work in the first place. So it’s no surprise that even when I’m not at my 9-5 job, I’m continuing the fight for social justice with an organization that not only aims to improve the world by turning fans into heroes, but also believes it’s just as important to share your Hogwarts House as it is to share your pronouns.

It’s been one year since I’ve joined the HPA as a volunteer, and in that time I’ve had the opportunity to take on many different roles on our campaigns team, better known as the Department of Magical Causes and Correspondence. First and foremost, I am the LGBTQ+ Researcher, responsible for keeping our staff updated on the latest LGBTQ+ related news in the world and providing resources and information that can be referenced in future campaigns, on our social media channels, and other projects conducted by the HPA. I’ve also spent time on the social media team, contributing to the HPA’s Pinterest page and assisting copywriters on various platforms. I also love to write articles for Medium, as well as generally help behind the scenes however I can. Working with the HPA has helped me embrace the fact that my love of fandom and my love of activism don’t have to exist separately. In fact, they’re infinitely stronger together.

Fandoms are a place where I’ve always felt comfortable. Whether I’m gushing about Harry Potter or YouTube or Broadway, I thrive when I’m surrounded by other people who share my level of passion and aren’t afraid to show it. There’s nothing more freeing than connecting with others who respect, understand, and celebrate your authentic self. With the HPA, I’ve been able to do that on a whole new level that I’ve never truly experienced before.

People feel comfortable in this group the moment they join. Though our communication is almost exclusively virtual, our relationships develop quickly and are always a solid form of support. We have come out to each other before anyone else in our personal lives, we’re open about our struggles with mental health and the need to take time off and recharge, we share self care techniques when we notice someone struggling, we have staff-wide discussions on how to better our communication both within the organization and out in the world, and more often than anything else, we’re always sending love, positivity, support, and lots of virtual hugs.

There are people in this organization that I’ve never met before who I consider some of my closest friends. We share jokes and bond over TV shows and always know the perfect GIFs to send each other. We all share a passion for making a difference, and it just so happens to be in a way that attracts other like-minded Harry Potter fans. Working with this group of superheros, wizard activists, and genuinely caring group of nerds is quite literally the closest thing I’ve ever experienced to magic. I could not be more grateful.

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Revival

I can’t believe I’ve had this blog for over a year! Let’s chat about then vs. now.

There were a lot of reasons I finally decided to take the plunge and publish that first post January of 2016, but in all honesty, I had no idea what this blog was going to become over time. My only thoughts were I like to write, I like to share my opinions, and I liked participating in bigger conversations. And this has definitely been the perfect outlet for me to do all three of those things. I’ve written posts about my favorite pop culture topics, commentary on social discourse, given dubious advice, and shared genuine reflections on my life as a young adult. In trying to brainstorm some new ideas for a blog post – considering it’s been well over two months since my last post, yay for consistency! – I figured it might be worth it to take a step back and reevaluate my purpose for this platform. Am I still posting for the same reasons? If not, what are my new motivations and challenges? Is anyone really reading this stuff? Will I ever write that post about why Ben & Leslie are the greatest TV couple to ever exist in the history of network television?

I have a strong feeling that the last one is a solid yes.

One of my biggest hesitations to start my blog was the fact that I never wanted to restrict myself to a schedule. Writing posts was (and still is) the most enjoyable for me when the inspiration was fresh and I felt passionate enough to share my thoughts. Unfortunately, I don’t have very much control over when these moments of inspiration happen – as I’m sure most writers can attest to, harnessing this motivation and discipline to write is one of the most difficult parts of putting words on paper. And while I was able to maintain a semi-regular schedule of posts for a while, these last few months had me getting a little worried. Was it worth it to write something half-assed for the sake of adding content? Or should I wait even longer for the new idea to strike, even if it meant my blog would remain silent for a number of months? I couldn’t really decide, but I always leaned toward the latter. That’s just how I tended to operate. Either I was passionate about doing something or I had very little interest to do it at all.

If you look back to the last post that was published on my blog, you will see another aspect of why I’ve been silent on this platform. The frustrations of the world around me have taken a pretty big toll on my mental health, and over the past few months, I’ve been dealing with a nasty bout of depression. This doesn’t quite mean I’ve been having trouble getting out of bed or that I hate the world around me; mental illness is a lot more complex than that. With everything that has been going on with society as a whole, plus my own personal obstacles I was working through, I found very little interest in a lot of stuff that I would often rely on for support. Any time I had the tiniest speck of an idea for a blog post, the drive to run to my computer and open a new document quickly dissolved, leaving me with tons of unfinished ideas and half-hearted brainstorm sessions.

And while it might have been that nobody gave a shit that I hadn’t posted anything in a while, I gave a shit. And I still do.

So maybe my blog will continue to be a place for me to share stories and ideas with you all, and maybe I won’t post as frequently as I’d like. Or maybe this post will spark a resurgence in my passion for blogging and I’ll pump out a bunch of different posts in the next few weeks. I’ve decided that I’m up for any outcome. Like all of my social media platforms, I like to think of this blog as a more polished representation of me; these posts are the thoughts and ideas and feelings and other things I want to share but may not be able to put into words face-to-face. Instead, I take the time to type them out and organize them and put in some silly jokes or fancy words to get my point across. But that’s also the nature of who I am – I’m a planner, I’m a thinker, and sometimes, I can be a bit of an overachiever. And for now, that seems to be working out just fine, so I think I’ll keep it up. Until it’s time for a nap.

I did it, y’all!

book

The summer before I started college, I started writing a silly little story, simply motivated by the need for more diversity in the books I loved to read. I’ve lived with this story for more than 4 years now. I wrote on trains, in the middle of the night, in class. I wrote when I was sad and I wanted to live in another world. The story changed while I did, but through it all, it was something I could rely on. Every time I read a new book, I felt empowered to work toward my goal. “I can do that,” I would always think. And now, after the most difficult journey of my life, I did. I did it. I wrote a book.

“Suddenly I’m…”

I wrote this little ditty for my Feminist Literature class in college (because DUH) and I’ve been wanting to share it so here we go! Contains spoilers.

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The musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch, written by John Cameron Mitchell and Stephen Trask, explores the themes of sexuality, gender, and the body in a way that is very rarely seen in media. The story is told in monologue form, focusing entirely on the life of German rock star Hedwig and her band “The Angry Inch”. Hedwig offers a perfect example of a queer character that challenges the definitions of supposedly understood concepts, such as sex and gender. The way Mitchell presents the complex character of Hedwig invites discussions and conversations about how we perceive what society deems normal about identity politics. Hedwig and the Angry Inch offers a brand new dynamic of exploring sex, gender, and the body by encouraging ideas of multiplicity and how we construct identity.

Multiplicity and the Rejection of the Norm

After escaping communist East Berlin by getting a sex change operation and marrying a United States lieutenant, Hedwig is forced to navigate her life in a new body, a new country, and with a completely new identity. Hedwig uses she/her pronouns throughout the play, but also describes herself as a “girlyboy from communist East Berlin” so there is a question of how exactly she identifies in terms of gender. Her sex change was motivated by her desire to leave Berlin, so she did not actively set out to transition based on her identity. However, with wigs, makeup, and clothing, she presents extremely female and takes ownership of her femininity through her overall appearance. With Hedwig comes multiplicity; while some may label her as trans or genderfluid, it seems that Hedwig doesn’t feel the need to associate herself with a label at all.

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There is an excerpt from the song “Tear Me Down” that discusses this tension that exists within Hedwig. Her husband sings the words that compare her to the Berlin wall, claiming that Hedwig lives “in the divide between East and West, slavery and freedom, man and woman…” This struggle to classify Hedwig’s identity is discussed multiple times throughout the play. There are many parallels found between physical borders – like her inability to leave Berlin – and borders of sex and gender that exist in terms of her identity. Rather than conforming to one particular label, Hedwig explores herself through the creation of her own unique identity. She does not decide between being a man or a woman, and she does not explicitly identify with either her German or American identity. Instead, she rejects the idea that she needs to fit into these predetermined boxes, and decides she would rather live as someone completely new.

In a song about Hedwig, her former boyfriend Tommy sings “you were so much more than any God could ever plan, more than a woman or a man”, exploring the ways in which she introduced him to a new way of thinking about identity. Tommy is described as a “Jesus freak”, and he had been taught since he was little that the most valued qualities of identity could be found in the Bible. But after meeting Hedwig, this concrete, binary-driven ideology that Tommy learned from Catholicism is suddenly destroyed. He realizes, unlike his parents, that he can choose how to construct his own identity without any guidance from the Bible. Hedwig helps Tommy to create his stage persona of Tommy Gnosis, who unlike Tommy Speck, does not care about authority or rules, and rather focuses on the intrigue of uncertainty. But with this resistance against the norm comes tension, which can be seen through Hedwig’s relationship with Tommy.

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At Tommy’s hesitance to take their relationship to the next level, Hedwig asks him “What are you afraid of?” Without a clear answer, it is obvious that Tommy is not ready to understand the ways in which Hedwig challenges the norms of sex and gender. Even with his own experience of rebellion against his parents, Hedwig’s rejection of what people expect from her instills a sense of fear. There is an essential fear of the unknown that people must confront when they are introduced to Hedwig. Therefore, Hedwig is forced to come to terms with continuing to face this struggle unless she fully embraces the multiplicity of her identity. She must further construct what it means to be Hedwig, her individual self, rather than what it means to be a man or a woman or any other label that may be assumed about her. By creating an identity surrounded by ambiguity and queerness, Hedwig works to make this new space and ultimately find acceptance within herself.

Not only does Hedwig refuse to follow any of society’s expectations about what it means to be a woman, or genderqueer, or any other label, but she also does so loudly. With her exaggerated use of feminine and glamorous aesthetics, as well as the conservation of a strong and dominating attitude, Hedwig lives honestly and without gender boundaries. She forces herself into the spotlight. She wants people to know who she is, ambiguity and all.

Queer Performance

Drag culture is another tool the show uses to discuss identity. Once Hedwig starts her new life in the United States, she must make the abrupt transition from Hansel Schmidt to Hedwig Robinson, and she turns her persona into a performance. She uses makeup and a variety of wigs to create different versions of herself, until she settles on the “punk rock star of stage and screen”. While this is perceived to be a very feminine way of presenting, the fact that Hedwig draws from over exaggerated drag and glam-punk styles of expression suggests that there is still no clear assumption one can make about her identity.

Hedwig & the Angry Inch Belasco Theatre

Once Hedwig meets her husband Yitzhak – who also has a passion for drag culture – her constructed identity becomes threatened. Because of their similar styles, Hedwig feels like the space she has created for her own personal identity is being replicated, therefore it may no longer be unique. Yitzhak’s stage identity, Crystal, is something he considers to be an important part of his identity. There is a part of him that connects closely to it, as shown through his jealousy of Hedwig’s role of lead vocalist in the Angry Inch. But while Yitzhak longs to explore this part of his identity, Hedwig prohibits it in order to maintain her own spotlight and validation. If Yitzhak were to play around with gender in the ways Hedwig does, would his uniqueness undermine Hedwig’s, therefore making it less special? Rather than risk this, Hedwig forbids him from performing in drag. She forces him to give up a part of his identity in order to maintain her own unique ambiguity.

The dynamics of Hedwig’s marriage also demonstrate how she and her husband do not prescribe to the assumed gender norms created by society. In traditional straight marriages, the man is the dominant one, often times dismissing the woman in the relationship in order to maintain power. But it quickly becomes clear that Hedwig and Yitzhak complicate these roles. For example, Hedwig controls Yitzhak’s every move and every decision. She dictates the role he plays in the band, and he very often is shown taking care of Hedwig – brushing her wigs, getting her drinks, and constantly waiting on her hand and foot. He has no power in the relationship. Hedwig created these skewed power dynamics between the two of them by erasing the expectations that the wife had to be submissive and passive; though Yitzhak would label her as his wife, this term could be used loosely, as it is identifying Hedwig ultimately as female.

Sexuality and the Body

Throughout the play, there are a lot of references to Hedwig’s biology rather than how exactly she identifies in terms of gender. There is an entire song called “Angry Inch” that discusses the messy results of her “sex change operation” (Side note: this term is no longer acceptable and has been replaced with the more accurate “gender affirming surgery”). Along with her ambiguous gender identity, her perceived sex is also impossible to define, as she uses the words “where my penis used to be, where my vagina never was” to describe what is now an “angry inch”.

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The theme of the body in Hedwig ultimately works to deconstruct the binary. For example, along with her gender presentation, Hedwig refuses to prescribe to any certain expectation about her sexuality. On her journey to constructing her unique identity, Hedwig struggles to navigate how her own life story will compare to the story of Plato’s Symposium. This famous work, which is heavily discussed in the play, explores the story of the children of the sun, the Earth, and the moon – humans who were once combined respectively as two men, two women, and a man and a woman. When Hedwig’s mother tells her this story, she seeks its truth in her own life. She spends the majority of the play longing for her other half. While contemplating whether or not two people are actually meant to become one again – which Plato’s work suggests is the ultimate paradise – she wonders “is [my other half] a he or a she?” Along with these thoughts Hedwig also considers if sex is the physical way people themselves back together after being separated by the Gods.

But by the end of the show, Hedwig realizes that this duplicity can come from within. Once again, Hedwig must come to terms with the fact that rather than picking a side or finding the person who physically completes her and signifies the binary of her identity, she can continue to allow the multiplicity that exists within her to grow and develop. In doing so, she allows her body and her identity to live in a state of ambiguity – she is neither man nor woman, and she is not one half of a person looking for another to complete her. She is whole.

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There are many tools Mitchell uses throughout the play to offer new ideas about sex, gender, and the body, such as deconstructed notions of the body, drag culture, multiplicity, and rejections of the binary. Hedwig’s character is essentially queer in the ways she refuses to prescribe to society’s expectations of what it means to be a woman, or any gender at all. Hedwig struggles with the conflicts that are born from her preferred ambiguity, but she ultimately comes to terms with the fact that it is her difference that defines her honest identity. Hedwig learns how to construct her own unique identity both through her appearance and her behaviors, all which are applicable to the notion of identity as a construction and performance. Hedwig explores the ways in which sex, gender, and the body can be used as tools for people to construct their own brand of identity and express themselves through genuine authenticity, despite what society may deem “normal”.

My First NaNoWriMo!

The concept of National Novel Writing Month – or NaNoWriMo – has also terrified me. Every November, writers embark on the task of writing a 50,000 novel in the span of 30 days…like I said, terrifying. But over the years, as I watched others take on this incredible project, I realized the true goal of NaNoWriMo was never to finish writing a book in a month and then immediately submit it to get published. Because that is quite impossible. However, there are a lot of great skills writers work on during NaNoWriMo, one of the main practices being discipline. That’s what I decided to focus on.

Some of you may not know this, but I have been working on a novel for a few years now. Between being a busy college student and not having any sort of deadline, it has been difficult to find the time and motivation to finish. However, after graduating and developing a more reliable schedule, I wanted to making writing a priority again; specifically, getting this novel done.

At the end of October, my friend Katieprofessional journalist, nbd – asked if I would join her in doing NaNoWriMo this year. I was hesitant at first for a lot of reasons, but mainly I was worried about failing. I didn’t know if this goal was something that I was ready for, mentally and practically. My worried thoughts included What if I miss a day and fall behind? and I’ll be so disappointed in myself if I don’t finish. So rather than completely dismissing the opportunity because of the fear of failure, I decided I’d make NaNoWriMo my own. I told myself that, if nothing else, I would use the month of November to focus on getting back into the habit of writing. This meant writing every single day, setting a timer or word count, and keeping myself on track to figuring out an ending for this story I’d been working on for so long. I knew I didn’t need to “win”, I just needed to try.

So for the month of November, I wrote a lot. I wrote stuff that was completely irrelevant to my story and I wrote horrible scenes and basically typed out any nonsense floating around in my mind, hoping that somewhere in the mess I would find some progress. Thankfully, I did.

I didn’t track my daily word count to reach 50,000, as most NaNoWriMo participants do. I simply promised myself that I would write for at least one hour every day. While some days were more and some days were less, I finished up the month much closer to finishing than I had ever been before. I fixed a lot of errors I’d been frustrated about and I cleared up some questions and I was finally able to conceptualize an ending.

So even though my NaNoWriMo experience wasn’t as traditional as most, I’m so happy I did it. Maybe one year I’ll attempt the word count and start from scratch, but this experience was exactly what I needed as a final push toward the finish line. I have had the same New Year’s resolution for almost two years now: to finish this book. And while I didn’t finish within the month of November, there’s still a few weeks left of 2016. And I gotta say, I’m feeling pretty good about it…

The Beauty of Bullet Journals

Here’s a list of things I love more than most people:

  • Dogs
  • Bread
  • Lists

SEE WHAT I DID THERE? 😉

I’m notorious for having multiple notebooks, post-its, written on hands, etc. to keep track of my life. But as you can probably guess, not having one go-to place for my lists made it even more difficult to stay organized, leading to dumb stress and somehow even more lists. Then I was introduced to the idea of bullet journals and, no exaggeration, my life was changed.

A bullet journal is a to do list, planner, and diary all in one. Rather than just simply writing down events, reminders, and random thoughts in a notebook, a bullet journal gives you the opportunity to be creative in an incredibly organized way. (I’m not going to take the time to explain the particulars about bullet journals because Buzzfeed already did that – it’s the most comprehensive look at bullet journals I could find and it definitely encouraged me to take the final plunge and start one. Thanks, Rachel!)

Some people may see a bullet journal and think “that looks like too much work” or “I’m not artistic enough for that”. Trust me, I would agree with if either of those things were true; the way to make your bullet journal work to its greatest potential is to throw away any expectations. At first, all I could think of were the pretty Instagram photos I would take and all the different colored pens I could carry around with me. But when I sat down to put everything together, I realized that all I wanted was to keep track of things in a productive way.

The aesthetic of a bullet journal is definitely appealing, but it doesn’t magically happen, and it’s not really necessary. You can find endless Pinterest pages of handwriting tips and decorative layouts, which actually do look really great, but I know that if I tried any of these things, I would get frustrated when it didn’t turn out how I expected. So my main advice with a bullet journal is to make it your own. If you start your journal and change your mind along the way and decide you want to spend more time making it look “Instagram-able”, GO FOR IT! There are so many choices for this journal, all with the same overall outcomes: organization and productivity.

Most bullet journals start with tracking monthly, weekly, or daily scheduling, including things that need to get done, events, birthdays, or notes that you want to jot down throughout the day. In addition to these daily to-do type lists, lots of people like to use their journals to keep track of other stuff, like what TV shows are on your binge radar, how many times you go to the gym, or even hobbies and moods. My personal choices are keeping track of my monthly finances, great quotes I come across, and daily gratitude. But as I said, there is no “correct” way to choose these lists, and they don’t need to be the same throughout the span of your journaling! Choices!!!!

Here are some cute photos of my journal! Are any of y’all planning on starting one? Let me know and we can share ideas!