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What Colour Best Defines Me as a Person and Other Dilemmas

I have trouble going to the mall — or really partaking in any shopping related activity — without thinking about Brave New World, Fight Club or both. Since reading/viewing these works, I’ve been acutely aware of our consumerist culture and what a bad thing it is for our humanity and our individuality. This, in itself, isn’t so awful. But, I’ll be brutally honest with you, I’m very materialistic. Which creates quite the internal conflict when paired with my immensely introspective nature and my awareness that my materialism completely goes against all my morals and beliefs. 

Credit: cartoonstock.com

When I say I’m materialistic, I don’t mean in a I-like-a-good-pair-of-shoes kind of way — that is completely acceptable and normal behaviour.  I mean I’m materialistic and consumeristic the way consumerism is portrayed in Fight Club. You know how the narrator reflects that he would wonder about which Ikea dining set defined him as a person? Well, yesterday I was at the Apple store, on the verge of a panic attack. Why, you ask, was I on the  verge of a panic attack? Because I needed to buy a protective skin or case or something for my new MacBook and I couldn’t decide which colour best defined me as a person. Not which case — I had already decided to get the same one everyone else has — but which colour. Because that’s the kind of thing that concerns me. What colour best defines me as a human being. What colour best conveys my personality, my strengths and my vulnerabilities. 

Of course, then we could have a whole other conversation about how Apple plays into the whole advertising-consumerism-identity debate. Whenever we have one such discussion in class, iPhones and iPads and Macs (oh my!) always find their way into the conversation. One of my favourite points to rehash is that Apple’s ads and products (sometimes subtly, other times overtly) claim to sell you individuality. Buy an iPhone, there’s an App for whatever you need, so you can customize your phone and make it unique to you. But then, half the reason people are switching to iPhone now is because everyone else has one. Buy our product, so that you can be an individual — just like everybody else!

I may be making some valid points, but while I was making them I paused to check my iPhone. And, if that weren’t enough, I’m typing up these points on my shiny new MacBook. The real irony of it is how I came to my decision to switch to a Mac. Earlier this year, I had to give a presentation for my English class about how Brave New World is relevant to today’s society, including quotations from the book and examples from modern-day society. I chose to focus on consumerism, identity, individuality and conformity (which I put together into a brilliant thesis that outlined how interconnected they all are).

For my current examples, I obviously picked out an Apple ad — I wanted to find just the right one from their “I’m a Mac — I’m a PC” campaign. So I spent an evening watching them all on YouTube. While I did this, I was taking notes and making connections to the novel and figuring out what to say to my class about basing one’s identity on material possessions. In the end, I went with an iPhone commercial, because it fit my purposes better and related more clearly to my argument. And those ads, that I though so deeply about and “completely saw through” were what pushed me over the edge and made me realize that I really needed to make the switch to a Mac. Of course, when I finally got one, I had a panic attack because I didn’t know how to use it and I wanted to get it all personalized (and individualized) but that was just too overwhelming. I was also concerned that it was stealing my individuality one click at a time.

Lately I’ve been thinking about the fact that a laptop isn’t anything on its own. It’s a vessel, it’s a vehicle. It’s what you do with your laptop that counts, that makes you an individual. I use my laptop to blog. I use my laptop to write. I use my laptop to watch movies like You’ve Got Mail, Emma (the one with Gwyneth Paltrow) and Romeo and Juliet. And maybe that’s what makes me an individual, not the fact that I’m doing these things on a MacBook Pro and not that my fancy new Mac is covered in a hot pink case. 

At least that’s what I keep telling myself… To reconcile with the fact that maybe I shouldn’t have gone with hot pink — because really, that’s just not the type of person I want to portray myself as.

Do you define yourself based on arbitrary material things? What colour would you say defines you as a person (this is different than just your favourite colour. Obviously. There’s, like, an exact science to it — I’ll let you know when I figure out what that exact science is.) Are you a Mac or a PC? Do you think that reflects or affects your personality? Maybe that’s just me. It could be that I’m just crazy… And a little to susceptible to manipulative advertising campaigns (despite my ability to notice how manipulative they’re being).

Un-Constructive Criticism

Yesterday the world came really close to ending. Okay, fine, maybe that’s just my melodramatic adolescence speaking, but still, it was pretty awful.

The final assignment for my Writer’s Craft class at school is to write a short story and we’ve been working on these for the past month or so. It’s a really fun summative assignment, far ‘easier’ and more enjoyable to write than the essay I’ve been working on for Ethics, about the morality of torture. The one caveat is that we have to workshop these stories. As an entire class. Which is basically a half-hour of sheer agony. We go around the class, giving each student a  turn to point out any and all flaws in your work. As you may have guessed, my story was on the chopping block yesterday, and it didn’t go over well. Wondering why that line is crossed out? I think my Writer’s Craft teacher (we’ll call her Ms. A) would feel that I’m telling too much, instead of showing. She thinks I shouldn’t explain quite so much. I think I need to explain some more, because she didn’t even understand the point I was trying to make.

The whole experience was just so disconnected and impersonal. To borrow a metaphor that’s been used a million and a half times (and is by now probably a cliché — oops, another strike against my writing skills), the kids in my class just don’t seem to understand that we’re discussing my newborn. And they aren’t just ‘discussing’; they’re informing me that her shirt doesn’t fit right and she spits up just a little too much. Okay, fine, I can maybe see what they’re saying about her shirt, fine, no big deal, I’ll change it if it’s really bothering you all that much. But with regards to the spit-up, she’s a baby, that’s what babies are supposed to do!

Before you call me on my whining, and start thinking that maybe my story just wasn’t all that good,  and un-follow my blog because you think perhaps I really can’t write, I just want you to know that I had another English teacher (we’ll call her Ms. B) read my story too and she didn’t see any of the flaws mentioned by my teacher and peers during this confidence stealing session.

I also want to make it clear that I do see the merits of these sorts of critique sessions. It helps to have a pair of fresh eyes look at what you’ve done. If it’s the right person, or group of people, this can help you see what needs improvement as well as how well the message comes across. However, this sort of thing has to be done effectively and gently. It’s difficult for anyone to have her writing critiqued, even if that criticism is given constructively and with care, by someone concerned for her feelings and best interests. It’s hard to hear, but can lead to a lot of strong improvement. But to be critiqued (and by that I mean criticized) by a class full of kids who literally telling you that your ending (of which you are very proud) just isn’t very good? And that your character is unrelatable, because they’ve never been in that position? That’s unproductive and unhelpful. It gets very overwhelming, very fast and you stop thinking rationally enough to (effectively) hear and weigh out what anyone’s saying. Personally, I just completely shut down.

I don’t really deal with these things very effectively and after I got home from school yesterday I was a mess. But worse, because I wasn’t just a stormy mess of tears that quickly blew over, I was a repressive and, consequentially, hyper-sensitive mess. Ironic, seeing as how that was the major theme in the story that brought on this awful state.

This class was second to last period, so I spent an hour seething and stewing, quietly at my desk (okay, that’s a lie, I spent it seething and stewing while I wandered the halls with my friends) before I even got home. Then I tried going for a run; you know how physical activity is meant to alleviate stress? Didn’t work, it just left me even more drained than I had been. I stewed some more, then tried pouring out my heart and soul to my dear diary. I gave up in frustration, feeling completely broken, having lost all confidence in my ability to write, even a silly, little diary entry. Then I tried watching some TV, but even Friends couldn’t heal my wounds. (It just occurred to me that a woman in my story is watching Friends and it also leaves her completely unmoved from her depressive state — what a strange coincidence.) Finally, I tried reading Runaway, an amazing collection of short stories by Alice Munro, that I’m in the middle of reading. Again, this did nothing to ease my state of discontent and, being drained from my both real and slightly melodramatized emotional state, I gave up and went to sleep.

R.I.P. my former Data Management binder… Just another way of venting my emotions last night. Don’t worry, I finished the course already.

Then I woke up feeling awful this morning, almost like a hangover from my ‘grief-fest’. Regardless, I dragged my unsettled stomach to school, having had an essay to hand in and a dreadfully boring PowerPoint to present for my Data Management class. Still feeling less-than-serene, I went to speak to the teacher we called Ms. B. I’m so glad I did. She, a supportive critic, actual helped me figure out how to change my story ever-so-slightly, so that it’s how Ms. A wants it, without taking away from the message I want to portray. I felt so much better and more relaxed after that.

Then I gave my presentation and went home to watch Sense and Sensibility. I watched the Emma Thompson version, which is fine, but next time I’ll be watching the 2008 mini-series. It’s long (four hours) but worth it; it has so much more detail than the shorter one, and I’m the kind of person who really cares about the details. Only after that, did I really feel better. I should have tried reading or watching something by Jane last night. 

You can read my story here, on Figment.com and judge how perfect or flawed it is for yourself. It’s the original version that was ripped to shreds by my class. I may be posting the revised version on the same site at a later date. You can tell me what you honestly think, and I’ll try to avoid crying and brooding over what I perceive to be your opinion of me as a person.

What do you think of critiquing as a group? How do you deal with criticism? Do you curl up into fetal position and cry about it, like I do? Or do you throw a temper tantrum (like I am also apt to do)?

My (Former) Reading Rules

If you’ve checked out my “currently reading” widget, you’ll have noticed that at the moment I’m in the middle of both Atonement by Ian McEwan and The Post Mistress by Sarah Blake. Now, I used to have this rule that I wouldn’t read two books simultaneously. I also used to have a rule that I would only read right before bed. Well, times are changing.

The Postmistress

Photo credit: good reads

This year I take grade 12 English, Writers Craft and Literature, so I no longer have such luxuries. Earlier this year I was reading one book for Lit., another for English and yet a third for my own personal pleasure. Some of my friends complain about such things. They also complain about the books we’re reading. They think books like Regeneration and Atonement are stupid and want to know why we can’t read “real” books, like the stuff by Jodi Picoult. I have no patience for such nonsense. They also complain that our teacher doesn’t give us enough time for the assigned reading. As if a month isn’t long enough to read a short book. Personally, that’s why I took three English classes, I LIKE to read. Reading is great. The books we read are great. (Except, perhaps, for Mrs. Dalloway, yes, I do understand its brilliance… it really is quite brilliant… but I didn’t enjoy it and I’m not really a fan of experimental works.)

So, now these rules seem to have gone out the window. It’s kind of post modern, the way I’m throwing away the rules and writing new ones. Rather experimental, you might even say. Okay, maybe you wouldn’t say that. And maybe I’m pulling connections out of the air just to finish up this post on a nice, tidy note. It’s kind of like English class, coming up with deeper meaning where there isn’t any. Maybe the author decided to kill that character just for kicks, not to emphasize some deep, insightful point about the randomness of life. On second thought, perhaps life is random and chaotic. Maybe there are no clear beginnings and middles and ends. No tidy conclusions. So maybe I’ll end this jumbled post on that random note (which was a major theme in The Postmistress, so maybe not that random after all) to emphasize that point.

Beware the ides of March!

Those are some wise, prophetic words, my friend. I recently found out that on March 15 I’ll be writing an in-class essay (on Regeneration — awesome book BTW) for my Studies in Literature class AND I’ll be having my graduation photo taken! Oh, the horror! That picture will end up on the wall of my school, for the whole, entire world to see, for all eternity! And EVERYONE in this town goes to my high school at some point in there lives! (Generally in grades 9 through 12…) And that essay? Well obviously my entire average, in ALL my courses rests solely on that single assessment, and if I do poorly (which is, like, an 80% at my school) my entire life will be over and no universities will want me! (Did you like my impression of 75% of the kids at my school?)

Hmm, I wonder what other great tragedies will befall me on that fateful day?

Favourite Books

Here’s a list of my favourite books so far, including when I read them and what led me to do so.  (This list starts in grade 10, because that’s when I discovered “real” books — I was a very literarily deprived child and my favourite books before then were along the lines of The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants and The Clique series *shudder*, but that was before I was enlightened by a certain amazing English teacher, whose class I’m no longer in this year 😦 )

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen — although, the author should really be obvious and if it isn’t, I suggest you get off this blog and go read it, because if you haven’t read this book, you don’t deserve to read my blog. I read this in Grade 10; it was my first love, and by that I mean the first book with which I was in love, not the first love story I ever read. And then there was also my one-sided love affair with Mr. Darcy (*cough* Colin Firth *cough*). This was the first of many recommendations from the aforementioned English teacher. Click here  to hear (er, read) more.

Sense and Sensibility, Northanger Abbey, Emma, Mansfield Park  and Persuasion I read these in quick succession of each other (in that order), shortly after reading P&P (i.e. the end of grade 10 until the beginning of grade 11). I started S&S after the same English teacher (not-so-subtly) hinted that it was time to move on from P&P. She also suggested Emma; the remaining three, I found all by myself. Mansfield Park and Persuasion were my least favourite, and Emma and Northanger Abbey both come in a close second to P&P. I may write posts elaborating on each at some point in the future.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte was during the beginning grade 11. I remember not loving it and it being very different from what I would normally like, but I was unable to put it down. The recent movie adaptation did no justice to it, but made me realize how brilliant the book is (by comparison to the very un-brilliant movie) so I really want to re-read it when I get a chance. Can you guess who recommended it?

Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery, which, I don’t know about the rest of the world, but is pretty big here (in Canada) and everyone (who is a girl…) reads this book when they’re younger. Unless you’re me, in which case you’ll manage to make it until you’re sixteen before reading this book and the subsequent 7 in the series. I don’t know how I lived so long without Anne Shirley —  she and I are like the same person. I will definitely be expanding further about this series and the movie adaptation which was also incredibly amazing (seriously, it made me fall even more in love with Gilbert Blythe than I already was). Again, best teacher in the world told me that would would be my favourite book in the world — she was right.

After that was the Emily of New Moon trilogy, also by L.M.M. and which maybe shouldn’t be on my list of favourites, but is here anyways because it influenced me and my writing (Emily’s a writer). This was a follow-up recommendation, from the same teacher. (Are you starting to see a trend?) The final book in this series once kept me up half the night, worrying about Emily and her various suitors —  I think I get a little too involved in the books I read…

I read The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne just before and during final exams. It was also recommended by my teacher — whose class I was actually in at the time. This was such an amazing, thought-provoking book and I just wanted to discuss and dissect it, because the ideas it presented were so intriguing and presented so beautifully. I was one of those psychopaths who actually wished I could learn about it in school and so we could have class discussions and worksheets and write essays about it. I was able to do the latter point this year, as I was able to choose it for my independent study novel. It was not quite as wonderful as I thought it would be (perhaps because I couldn’t focus on its brilliance and what intrigued me about it, but had to compare it to a movie in a slightly contrived manner — although, based on my grade, my teacher seemed to think it was a good essay).

Then this past summer I read Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, which, shockingly, was not recommended by this teacher! This was an amazing, fun and easy read and I read it in my brand new hammock, under the gorgeous sun, which, of course, added tenfold to my  enjoyment. (And yes, it does get hot here in the summer and no, our houses don’t melt, because they’re made out of bricks, not ice). Less well-known, are two sequels called Little Men and Jo’s Boys which were both really cute (although they seemed to target a younger, more male audience, which didn’t detract from them, but I thought it was a little weird…) For more on my discovery of this excellent novel click here and here.

Which brings me to this year. I recently finished reading Regeneration by Pat Barker for my Studies in Lit class and it is one of the best books ever. It takes place in a mental hospital, during the first World War and it is far more “ugly” (if you know what I mean) and Postmodern than what I normally like, but my former English teacher (you know, the one I’ve mentioned about a thousand times in this post) told me I’d like it and (prepare yourselves) she was right. It was just really, really fascinating and I suggest you read it, because it kind of changed my life (okay, that may be a slight hyperbole, it isn’t Jane Austen or anything, but still).

Currently, I’m working my way through Adam Bede by George Eliot. It is amazing and I have no idea why it isn’t more popular (perhaps it’s been overshadowed by Middlemarch, which, the same English teacher (who, of course, told me to read this) claims isn’t even all that great! So, an appeal to the internet, I think you should all go read this book and realize how great it is, then tell all your friends and give it the popularity it deserves, because seriously, IT IS BRILLIANT. You know, in a occasionally-makes-me-want-to-throw-it-on-floor-because-the-characters-are-being-so-real-and-therefore-annoying kind of way.

Well, that was fun. Check back for elaborated posts on each of these books, coming soon to a computer near you. So, what are some of your favourite books?

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