Mothers and Daughters: An Exploration

“There’s a bond between mothers and daughters that’s timeless and universal,” my mom says during our weekly phone call. “A father has a role of teaching you things, but a mother has a role of teaching you feelings.”

Mothers and daughters have such a unique relationship. It is indeed one of feelings; it’s full of caring and hope and hurt and so, so much love it’s almost hard to take. A mother is a daughter’s first ally: She encourages your dreams, dries your tears, and soothes your insecurities from the day you’re born. The opposite is true as well. A daughter looks after her mother in a way that a son wouldn’t think to: We listen to her vent, learn to help with her household tasks, and soothe her own insecurities when they arise. Our bonds are built on shared experiences, secrets, sorrows and joys.

This dynamic is absolutely universal. My two roommates and I come from entirely different backgrounds: Divya is the child of an arranged marriage and grew up around the world, Erin was raised almost solely by her mother in New Jersey, and I come from an older mother who married a younger, foreign man and settled in the Pacific Northwest. Unique as are situations may be, we all have one thing in common: standing unconditionally behind all three of us are our mothers. We are all strong, stubborn young women who come from strong, stubborn mothers. This is, of course, equal parts encouraging and exasperating. There are no clashes as brutal as the ones you have with someone who’s just like you. But, at the same time, there is no love as strong as the one between allies of heart and home.

For Mother’s Day, I thought it was worth exploring the relationships the three of us have with our mothers. Their mark is in everything we do, from the way we put on lipstick to the songs we sing around the house. They’re so overwhelmingly responsible for the women we are becoming, and all three of us are grateful for their support. As we graduate from   BU and enter the adult world, our mothers may not be physically by our sides, but we know they’re with us just the same.

Divya & Amala 

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Traditionally, an Indian woman’s life is one of structure and rigidity. Being from the East, Divya and her mother Amala have had vastly different life experiences from those who grew up in the Western world.

Divya was born in Bangalore but was raised internationally. Her father’s job moved the family to cities around the world: She lived in four countriesIndia, Russia, Ukraine and Taiwanbefore settling in New York City for high school and then Boston for college. Now, as a permanent resident, she plans to eventually become an American citizen. Meanwhile, Amala and her husband Jose moved to Dubai two years ago, where he works for a UAE bank and she teaches fifth grade at an international school. Being away from her children has yet to get any easier for her, Amala says. “I’m sorry to say I’m not over being so far awaymy heart is still in the States because my kids are there.”

Amala has always had a limited capacity to make her own choices. She was raised by conservative parents in Bangalore who made decisions for her well into her adult years. Her father, especially, dictated what degrees she got, what jobs she worked, and eventually who she married. She’s grateful that he wanted her to work and support herselfas none of her female cousins had the opportunityand possesses a strong work ethic that she’s passed onto her daughter. But her life is still lacking in autonomy  today, she says. Her marriage is as traditional as it gets; her husband makes the money and the choices, and she raises the children and follows where his job goes.

But it’s not as if she’s a completely passive figure. “If my mom really knew what a feminist was, she’d call herself one,” Divya says, laughing. Even as she’s followed her husband, Amala has always been the one responsible for creating lives for herself and her children.

“Her strength is rebuilding,” Divya says. “In every city we moved to, she had to seek out a new job and support system while still bearing the burden of raising us. And she was always able to do it.” Amala is more matter-of-fact about her role: “I’ve always had to make the most of my opportunities,” she says. “A mother’s job is sacrifice, and a little goes a long way.”

Divya, meanwhile, has always been determinedly autonomous. She remembers an incident in grade school where a teacher told Amala her daughter was “too ambitious.” Offended, Amala told the teacher she didn’t find anything wrong with that. “I’ve always appreciated her for sticking up for me,” Divya says. Having a daughter who was in charge of her own life was important to Amala, and she was proud of the fact that Divya was ambitious. She credits her daughter’s international upbringing as providing her with the confidence to make her own choices.

“Divya has never been an Indian girl,” Amala laughs. “Typical Indian girls are shy and they don’t speak out much and their parents make their decisions for them. But Divya makes her decisions on her own and then lets you know. I was proud of that, so I always let her be.”

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Both say trust is a large part of their relationship. They’ve never even experienced a rough patch; today, Amala says their only disagreements are over Divya’s messiness and her reluctance to go to church. Divya says she never had a rebellious phase because she never felt restricted by her mother. “My mom trusts meGod knows why,” she jokes. But, to her mother’s credit, Divya cites her inherited work ethic for keeping her focused throughout adolescence. No matter where she was in the world, she was always a committed student and put great stock in academic success.

“She’s always made me proud in parent teacher conferences,” Amala says. “One of her high school teachers even asked me if she could write a book on Divya because she was such a hardworking student! That was the greatest day for me.”

Now, as far apart as they are, they’re still very close. They talk every day and are very much involved in each other’s lives. It helps that they have similar personalities; they’re both worriers, but they’re always chatty and warm and caring in their interactions with one another. Both are also as blunt as they come; neither have any problem telling you exactly what they think. The biggest difference between them is their approach to life: Divya is lighthearted and cracks jokes whenever she can while Amala is straight-laced and serious.

“I’m amused by pretty much everything, but it’s hard for her to laugh at life,” Divya says. “Things weigh on her. She’s actually very sensitiveshe’s got a tough exterior but things hit her hard.”

Emotional support is another key component of their relationship. Divya rarely asks for advice, but she always turns to her mom to talk through her feelings. Amala turns to Divya when she needs someone to listen to her. Their relationship is very loving, even if they feel they don’t always show it. Amala thinks she could be more demonstrative as a mother, but Divya says she’s never doubted her mother’s love and support. “My brother and I are going to have good lives because of her,” she says. “She’s given us everything she had.”

One day, Divya hopes to repay her mother for everything she’s done. “I want to be so good to her because she was so good to me,” she says. “Who I am is thanks to her. She’s the one who raised me.” For her part, Amala just wishes Divya would call her more often: “I’d just like her to call me more than I call her! I don’t always want to be running, chasing after her,” she says. (“My mom is the queen of the guilt trip,” Divya says in response.)

Regardless, Amala is glad to call Divya hers. “Girls are yours forever. I’m so glad I have a daughter.”

 

Erin & Nancy

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Erin and her mom Nancy are the Rory and Lorelai of central Jersey. The two have leaned on each other ever since Nancy divorced Erin’s father when Erin was in grade school. Being an only child with a single mother meant the boundaries between them were always blurrier than those of other mother/daughter pairs: “Our relationship is more like a mentorship and a friendship,” Nancy says.

Now at 22 and 51, Erin calls Nancy her best friend. The two talk, text and SnapChat regularly (Nancy knows her way around a filter as well as any millennial) now that Erin lives in Boston. They’re alike in more ways than they’re different; they share the same loving personality and subtle Jersey accent (“marriage” and “horrible” are especially elongated) as well as a charmingly raucous laugh. The biggest difference between them is their hair colorthey have the same blue eyes and big smiles, but Erin inherited her father’s fair hair.

“We’re basically the same person,” Erin says. “We’re both self-starters and have the same exact sense of humor.” And, most importantly, “we’ve both always been able to listen to ourselves.”

Both are also artistic types. They each say they need some sort of creative outlet in their lives; for Nancy, it’s painting and drawing, while for Erin, it’s writing. Their need to create is reflected in their shared career choice. Nancy went to art school and became a creative director at a pharmaceutical advertising firm while Erin is graduating with a degree in Advertising and hopes to be a copywriter. Both find it amusing that Erin wants to follow in her mom’s footsteps.

“It’s funny; growing up, I always said that I didn’t want to go into advertising like my mom. I wanted to be a meteorologist!” Erin says with a laugh. “Then I wanted to be a psychologist and eventually a writer. I never really wanted to write a book and I did like journalism, but writing for advertising just seemed more fun.”

Nancy recalls being blown away by her daughter’s writing abilities from a young age. “She would read me things that she’d writtenpapers for school and stuffand it would send chills up my spine. I would say, ‘Er, you’re really, really good at this!’ And she liked to write. So it ended up making sense for her to go into copywriting.”

But raising Erin was harder than Nancy expected. She tried co-parenting with her ex-husband after their divorce, but eventually ended up raising Erin alone. Being a single mom who worked full time was stressful for both of them. Conflict was harder felt because of their closeness. It also didn’t help that Erin was a strong-willed child (“That definitely comes from me,” Nancy says) and felt isolated from an early age. She struggled to articulate her feelings of frustration and anger and was diagnosed with depression in the 7th grade. She ended up in therapy until she was 17 and had a strained relationship with her mom throughout.

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The more Nancy tried to talk to her daughter in her depression, the more Erin pushed her away. “I would take her trying to help as an attack, but it wasn’t. She was sincerely worried about my well-being,” Erin says. “As a mother, that must have been really hard. Who wants to see their daughter hurt that much?”

Improvement came only with treatment and time. Therapy and journaling helped Erin learn how to communicate and Nancy found her current husband, Alex, whose outside perspective helped mediate their relationship. Nancy still remembers the day their dynamic changed: “Erin called me this one day when she was still in county college, and I was like, ‘Why are you calling me? You can’t stand me!’ And she said, ‘You know what, Mom? I really don’t,’ and it was like a switch flipped from there on out. She said she hated everyone except me!”

Now communication is second nature to Erin and Nancy. Being at odds for so long only made them appreciate their bond more. “Looking at how much she’s blossomed and how close we are now, I wouldn’t trade those years for the world,” Nancy says. They say their relationship is one of total honesty and respect; both mother and daughter are proud of how capable the other is. “I love that my mom can just do anything,” Erin says.

Independence was a value Nancy made sure to pass on to her daughter. “My own mom always said to me, ‘Never rely on a man to take care of you.’ And those words stuck in my head,” she says.I always wanted that same thing for my daughter, for her to always take care of herself and be self-sufficient.”

That lesson resonated with Erin. She says she’ll never forget when her mom passed on those words: She was 15 and newly heartbrokenher boyfriend had cheated on her, and she was crying to her mom in the bath. “I remember saying, ‘Mom, he was supposed to make me happy.’ And she just looked at me and said, ‘Erin, never rely on a man for anything. You have to do what is best for you at all times.’ And I just remember thinking, damn.

Now that Erin is taking on new challenges, her mother’s role in her life is especially vital. Nancy is more and more a career counselor and spiritual guide as well as a partner-in-crime. Erin says she’ll always look to her for inspiration. Of course, Nancy says the same thing of her daughter. “Erin has taught me a lot,” she says. “But the biggest thing is that she’s taught me how to slow down. I tend to go a million miles an hour and she’s taught me how to take a step back and just be here now.”

As they get older, both say they hope to continue growing, loving and learning with each other. “There are so many great things for us to look forward to together,” Nancy says. “Overall,” says Erin, “I just want us to kill it.”

 

Allie & Kathy

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My mom is my hero. I’ve always said I’m more like my father, but the older I get, the more I see my her role in my personality. I mirror her in everything from the sound of my voice to my inability to take a compliment. We have the same pragmatism and self-deprecating humor that comes from being the caretakers of our scattered family unit. She taught me to love Janis Joplin and The Beatles and to sing show tunes when I do the dishes. We’re both driven but tend to put others’ needs before our own because we know we can survive without.

Technically, my mom could be my grandmother. She was born in 1947 and had me and my twin brother at 47. Being an older mom was harder for her than it was for us; I know she feels like she couldn’t be the young, active mom that we deserved, but we never felt shortchanged. All of my childhood memories are happy: we went camping, took road trips, sang songs, and had fun birthday parties that she went out of her way to plan.

But our generational gap did lead to misunderstandings. We come from two different worlds; she grew up Mormon on a farm in rural Idaho while I grew up in the suburbs of liberal Seattle. Her upbringing was one of church dances and good clean fun while mine was one of outdoor adventures and house parties. Our lack of common ground was only exacerbated by my stubbornness; I was never interested in being told what to do and always pushed back when I felt my independence being restricted.

That need to live on my own terms could be charming when I was younger. “My favorite memory of you is sitting in the house in your red corduroy jumper trying to put your boots on,” my mom says. “You couldn’t have been much past two and you were determined you were going to do it by yourself. Your strength and determination were telling in that moment.” (Other moments were less endearing, like the time I convinced my brother Mom said we could play kickball in the house and broke her heirloom vase.)

But childhood time outs turned into all-out wars as I entered my teenage years. I was a typical rebellious and ungrateful teen; I was determined to be self-sufficient and resented my mother’s attempts to parent me. We fought over friends, hemlines, missed curfews and taking the car, and I spent many weekends grounded. The phrase “if I give an inch, you take a mile” was often directed at me in our arguments. Those years were painful for both of us; we felt equally unappreciated but didn’t know how to communicate that to one another.

“I just didn’t know how to navigate that water,” my mom says. “It was scary to realize you were so headstrong. You were going full steam ahead into areas that I wanted you to be slower with, and I worried because you were gone and I didn’t know you were always safe.”

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Of course, we weren’t always at each other’s throats. She always was and still is my closest confidante. We had nightly gossip sessions where we’d curl up in her bed and walk each other through our days after work. We’d watch House Hunters together and swap books and spend hours planting the garden each spring. She came to all my swim meets, held me while I cried over breakups, and did my hair for prom. She taught me how to drive and even took the blame when I backed into a fence and shattered the back window of her car (oops). We didn’t always see eye to eye, but I never doubted that I was loved and supported.

And luckily, a little distance and perspective brought us back to each other with open arms. Today our relationship is stronger than ever. As I begin to navigate the world, I respect my mom more and more as a woman. I’ve watched her stand up for her convictions and overcome a yearlong battle with breast cancer. She worked my whole life but always had time to volunteer at schools and sports events. She was also driven in an era when women weren’t encouraged to be; she eschewed the traditional roles of the early 1960s and went to college to get a degree in nursing, eventually earning her Master’s in Nursing Administration. Before meeting my dad, she spent years as an independent career woman and traveled the world in her spare time (which eventually brought her to Tashkent, Uzbekistan, and to a certain goofball with a mullet and a jean jacket). When she was my age she was already working full-time and paying her own bills, while still making time for Tuesday night pints.

My own entrance into the adult world is much less “adult.” At 21 I am graduating with a B.S. in Journalism and an approximate shitload of debt. I’m taking an unpaid summer internship and am crashing on a friend’s futon all summer to avoid paying rent. I constantly worry about my impending student loan payments and whether I’ll ever be paid to write articles. But whatever happens, I know I have the full support of my mom. I can solve most of my problems on my own now, but it’s nice to know she’s just a phone call away.

Even though we’re on different coasts, she’ll always be the first person I go to for advice and emotional support. And as we age, I look forward to our relationship becoming more and more of a friendship. Getting older has allowed us to develop a more reciprocal relationship; I worry about her well-being as much as she worries about mine. I worry about how hard she works and how critical she is of herselfand I know she would say the same about me.

Of course, her hopes for us are more practical than mine. “As we get older, I hope for stability and happiness,” she says. “And no debt!”

Column: 4/20: Blaze it?

Oh my god, marijuanas!! | Photo by Flickr user duncan c

Oh my god, marijuanas!! | Photo by Flickr user duncan c

This one’s a little late in the game, but here’s my take on everyone’s favorite holiday, 4/20.

4/20 is as 4/20 does.

Yeah, sure, you could do bong rips by the river and watch the boats go by or treat yourself to a dank brunch from the café next door, but you could also just stay in bed and watch Archer. You could even do nothing at all and that would be perfectly fine. 4/20 just isn’t momentous like it used to be.

April 20th (AKA 4/20), a “holiday” of stoner culture, is about nothing but getting really high. Everyone knows that. But like why white lighters are bad luck, no one really knows why the date is significant. There are a billion theories about the date’s backstory; some say it was police code for active pot smoking while others claim it had something to do with the Dead. But the most prevalent explanation traces back to San Rafael, California in the late 1970s. A group of friends would meet to smoke joints at 4:20 p.m. every day and “420” soon became code for going to get high. April 20th thus became a day to commemorate blazing up by you guessed it, blazing up.

Unfortunately, anyone who could confirm that origin has likely smoked their long-term memory out of existence. Now when you see “420 friendly” listed on a hipster Tinder profile you know it just means they like to smoke weed. It’s a phrase that has no real meaning but is thrown around as stoner culture by the media and midnight tokers alike.

But getting high these days isn’t as counter-culture as it used to be. Gone are the days of blazing up and sticking it to The Man; The Man is now the one in charge of the cannabis industry (greetings, government regulation!). Recreational cannabis use is legal in four states (not including Washington D.C.) and medical use is legal in 19. At least four more states are expected to legalize recreational use this election cycle.

With barriers to marijuana disappearing, 4/20 – and smoking in general – isn’t as esoteric as in days gone by. Anyone over 21 living in Alaska, Colorado, D.C., Oregon or Washington can legally buy that OG Kush and partake. 4/20 has become a holiday of all of the people: now soccer moms, principals, tax attorneys and the other old fogey masses can hotbox their bathrooms if they so choose. Tom Petty and his fellow hippies aren’t the only ones singing about Mary Jane these days; even angst-y prepsters like The 1975 have a hit song about “chocolate”.

Reefer madness has been replaced by reefer curiosity. Every day is 4/20 as potential new smokers explore legal weed. Even my mother’s anti-pot friend admitted to stopping by the rec dispensary because she was curious. She came bearing reports not of Marley heads bumping “Buffalo Solider” but of clean spaces, friendly staff and wide selection.

As recreational shops open their doors around the country, experiences like this are bound to become common place. People of all backgrounds are going to experiment with cannabis products. This new territory will obviously have kinks to iron out, like the VICE reporter who drank a bottle of weed lube and was high for three days. But once The Man finishes distributing dosing and packaging regulations, weed will surely be as accepted as alcohol, tobacco or caffeine.

The question is, what will this nation look like under 4/20 friendliness? Will Crate & Barrel start stocking prints of Jerry Garcia and The Chronic? Will lava lamps finally have a re-comeuppance? Anti-pot lobbyists paint apocalypse landscapes of free-roaming Rastafarians and eight-year-old stoners, but I think the effects will be less cataclysmic. I look forward to outdated myths vanishing; not all users are degenerates and pot is no more a gateway drug than alcohol or caffeine.

Weed also holds potential outside of dabbing and watching Adventure Time. Just as micro-doses of LSD are helping Silicon Valley workers think creatively, weed can be used in pioneering ways. The DEA just approved a study on the effects of cannabis on veterans with PTSD. Medical marijuana patients already use their green cards to treat anxiety; marijuana could become a viable alternative to highly-addictive drugs like Xanax or Klonopin.

And let’s not forget about the fiscal benefits here. Let’s stop spending tax dollars on incarcerating marijuana distributors and instead earn them by (marginally) taxing the sale of marijuana. Pot pays, man; just ask Colorado. The state almost had to pay back its residents for all the weed purchased the first year of legalization. The whopping $50 million collected in taxes so overshot the expected revenue that by law, the surplus had to be refunded to taxpayers. If residents had voted for the refund every taxpayer would have received between $6 and $32. Instead, they voted for the state to keep the money and use it to build schools. How degenerative is that?

So why spend time worrying about how to spend your 4/20? It’s a relic of the past. You could toke up in the woods of San Rafael or make an apple pipe for old times’ sake, but why would you? There are bigger and better things coming for pot users (hello über-potent new strains), so you might as well wait for them. Or vape like the grownup you are.

Column: #ManInTree

Upon arrest, Miller apparently told police his name was Edward Cullen | Photo by Steve Bartlett Photography/Videography

Upon arrest, Miller apparently told police his name was Edward Cullen | Photo by Steve Bartlett Photography/Videography

Wow, I miss Seattle. Here’s my take on #ManInTree. May he continue to live in infamy. 

Nothing says “Seattle” quite like the Man in Tree incident of March 22, 2016.

On that day, for reasons yet to be explained, 28-year-old Cody Lee Miller climbed all 80 feet of the Macy’s Christmas tree on 3rd Avenue. He would proceed to spend the next 25 hours in the sky-high Sequoia leading us all through a saga of beards, beanies and branches (all documented by the hashtag #ManInTree, of course).

With a flowing beard and patchwork hoodie, Miller looked for all the world like a granola Gandalf. Press outlets ran stories like “Seattle Man Who’s Living in a Tree Can Provide Valuable Beard Lessons” and “Man in Tree Still Chill as Fuck While Reporters Lose Their Minds.” And chill as fuck he was – at one point in the standoff, Miller built himself a bed of branches so he could spend the night in comfort. “Yeah, he made a full-on fort…like, Bear Grylls style,” remarked one KOMO Four cameraman.

Clearly, Miller was in it for the long haul. Seattle PD’s attempts at negotiation proved futile as Miller refused to come down and asked only for Camel Crush cigarettes. He threw orange peels and pinecones at emergency personnel and was observed flipping the bird to spectators taking pictures. “How much taxpayer money are you wasting? It’s not an emergency!” he yelled to concerned police and fire crews below.

Oh, Seattle. Where else could you hold a tree hostage for a pack of menthols? (Portland, maybe, but we don’t talk about them). In a city with a transit system called the S.L.U.T. (South Lake Union Transit if you’re wondering), Miller’s tree antics are right at home. Quirky stuff is part of Seattle’s DNA. To residents, #ManInTree was just another day in the Emerald City. One tie dye-clad local even brought his pet goat to observe the standoff. When interviewed, both goat and owner believed “people have the right to climb trees if they want to.”

The question is, what drove Miller to take to the trees? All we can do is speculate. Maybe he was frustrated by the lack of parking spaces downtown. Or perhaps he was irked the dispensary ran out of his favorite sativa-dominant hybrid. Or maybe Donald Trump winning another primary was so distressing that Miller tried to physically remove himself from the sphere of American politics. Whatever the reason, an 80-foot Sequoia seems a strange place to work out your problems – but who are we to judge?

With leafy nest complete, Miller’s standoff continued through the night. Seattle PD’s repeated attempts to coax him down only agitated him further. Local superhero Phoenix Jones arrived on the scene claiming Miller would come down for a beer and cigarettes, but Seattle PD declined his assistance, saying they intended to wait Miller out. So the #ManInTree stayed en-branched, rousing occasionally to yell profanities at those assembled below.

Miller finally descended at noon the next day. Once on solid ground he sat down and ate a piece of fruit before being arrested for malicious mischief. Barefoot in court he told prosecutors, “Seattle police sent me to hell for climbing a tree,” before being escorted to King County Jail. His bail is set at $50,000. If he makes bail he is ordered to have no further contact with the Sequoia.

Though #ManInTree may have ended, Miller’s behavior will surely have repercussions. What kind of precedent does this set for coping mechanisms? Are we all allowed to take our temper tantrums into the trees from now on? Perhaps group therapy will be exchanged for field trips to the forest to work out anxieties. But this only raises questions about sustainability. The Sequoia sustained nearly $8,000 worth of damage during #ManInTree. With deforestation so rampant, can we as a race afford to further abuse our trees? And more importantly, do the trees deserve our burdens? It’s not as if they produce the oxygen we breathe or anything. Our trees are all worthy of love and respect, no matter how alarming this presidential election may be.

Miller, while we may not yet understand you, we can all admire your dedication (even if you are from Portland). #ManInTree was the biggest Christmas tree scandal since Buddy the Elf cut down an Central Park evergreen, and I speak for us all when I say the distraction was thoroughly appreciated. Thanks for reminding us all how weird and wonderful Seattle can be.

But seriously, stay the hell away from that Sequoia.

Book Review: Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven

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From the cover of Station Eleven | Image courtesy of Spinoff

My recent read Station Eleven wasn’t quite what I was expecting it to be. Here’s my take on it for my Arts Criticism course. 

Upon its release in 2014, Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven received one accolade after the next. It was shortlisted as a National Book Award finalist and drew praise from authors ranging from Ann Patchett to Erin Morgenstern. And certainly, this post-apocalyptic novel is something to admire. It’s equal parts haunting and harrowing and filled with imagery from page one. Mandel’s characters have depth and their yearnings will stay with you long after the story has ended. But still, there’s something about the book that seems to be missing. Much like Mandel’s imagined flu pandemic, the overreaching plot of Station Eleven leaves emptiness and dissatisfaction in its wake.

The concept itself is promising. The world is the 21st century as we know it – just without the 90% of the population wiped out by the Georgia Flu. Survivors are forced to settle into provincial communities or take to the roads, which is a dangerous proposition in this era of martial law. The meat of Mandel’s story takes place two decades after the onset of the Flu. The world is now one of relative peace but lacking in the things that make a modern civilization: technology, fuel, medicine and intercontinental travel. From this emerges the Traveling Symphony.

With the Symphony, Mandel brings an atypical element to post-apocalyptic fiction. The Symphony is a nomadic troupe of actors and musicians dedicated to keeping the arts alive. Championing a motto borrowed from Star Trek, “survival is insufficient,” they trek up and down the region that was the Great Lakes ensuring the beautiful things of the past aren’t forgotten. In a genre where characters are usually concerned with zombie attacks or radioactive poisoning, Mandel’s are instead preoccupied with bringing Shakespeare and Beethoven to the clusters of survivors. And they do so with relative success; by Year 20 the Symphony’s presence is welcomed throughout the region until an encounter with a violent prophet threatens their existence.

Unfortunately, the dramatic potential of Station Eleven is wasted in backstory. Mandel takes a then-and-now approach to drawing her protagonists, contrasting their pre-Flu decades in Toronto and Los Angeles with the years of the pandemic. We ever-so-slowly learn that the characters are all connected – Hollywood actor Arthur and his comic book-drawing first wife Miranda, child actor Kirsten and paparazzo-turned-EMS-responder Jeevan – their lives all overlapping amid ripples of events. But the novel is a classic case of too many cooks in the kitchen. It’s hard to tell who’s meant to be a main character and who’s supposed to be on the sidelines. Miranda is clearly an important figure, but her storyline ends abruptly in favor of an airport full of survivors. The opposite occurs as well: Arthur’s childhood friend, the biography author “V,” is much-alluded to but never brought into the story. The humanizing of these characters is beautifully-done, of course; never will you feel so moved by the absence of long-distance calling. But description alone does not a story make, which is where Station Eleven falls flat.

Frankly, the novel isn’t exciting. In a time of The Hunger Games and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Mandel’s novel fails to thrill like its sci-fi peers. Here, action is sacrificed again and again in favor of storyline. The “unspeakable years” from which the savage-but-sweet Kirsten earned her scars are never described, their potential juice ignored to further a dead-brother plot device. Jeevan’s trek from a Toronto penthouse to a riverside settlement is glossed over, his peaceful new life and family appearing without explanation. The action that does remain feels like a last-minute addition. The Symphony’s final showdown with the prophet is rushed and the fateful link that binds the protagonists feels empty upon its reveal.

It could be argued that the lack of action is what makes Mandel’s novel a standout from its peers. Instead of relying on shock-jock tactic to entertain the novel is poignant in its reflection of what makes a civilization. What do you turn to when the world doesn’t make sense anymore? In this post-apocalyptic era, morality takes a backseat to survival. Killing is no longer evil – it’s a sometimes-necessary act commemorated by tattoos inked on wrists and forearms. Two knives, two kills: these are the procedures that underlie our once-connected planet. And Mandel is an undeniably skilled writer. Her characters are all vivid and raw; it’s easy to recognize yourself in the dilemmas of both their pre and post-pandemic lives. “Hell is the absence of the people you long for,” she writes, borrowing from Sartre as the double-inked Kirsten Raymonde.

But as far as entertainment value goes, Station Eleven just doesn’t stand up. It has all the facets of a captivating sci-fi story but does not satisfy in it execution. True, Mandel’s prose earned her praise and acclaim from even George R.R. Martin. But sci-fi needs more than just pretty words to succeed; it requires daring and adventure that you don’t find in more straightforward genres. Yes, survival may be insufficient, but so is Station Eleven.

Arnold B. Jenkins Scholarship Essay

Books! | Image courtesy of Flickr user Brittany Stevens

My favorite: books! | Image courtesy of Flickr user Brittany Stevens

I just found out on Friday that I won the Arnold B. Jenkins Scholarship from the Bookbuilders of Boston!! The scholarship is given to journo students who can demonstrate their passion for books and journalism in a 1-2 page essay. I was one of two BU students to win the 2016 endowment.

Given that I am both a literature fangirl and aspiring journalist, I am absolutely over the moon that I won this scholarship. Below is my winning essay describing how my love of books led me to choose my journo major.

Thanks so much, BU and Bookbuilders of Boston!

Arnold B. Jenkins Scholarship Essay

You can’t love to write without loving to read. Not that I’m trying to make generalizations here, but the two just go hand-in-hand. For as long as I can remember, books have been as much a part of my life as friends or family. I was always known as “The Reader” in elementary school and was on friendly terms with all the school librarians. As soon as I learned to read on my own there was no stopping me; I devoured every book I could find regardless of subject matter or age-appropriateness. Snogging-fueled British school girl melodramas? You bet ten-year-old me was fully invested in whether Georgia would choose Rob the Sex God or Dave the Laugh. Dystopian fantasy novels featuring fetish clubs, coups and smashing the patriarchy? Seventh-grade Allie thought Wicked was the coolest fairy tale ever.

Writing, then, was a natural byproduct of my love for books. I was so constantly surrounded by words that I soon began using them to express myself. I wrote anything and everything as a kid: poems, short stories, newspaper articles, grocery lists…it didn’t matter what it was, as long as I could put words down on paper. I once turned in a 24-page rough draft of an ambitious Peter Pan-meets-The Wizard of Oz time travel story to a very unprepared second grade teacher. As I continued on in school my writing became less fictional but also more my own. I developed a voice studded with vocabulary gleaned from novels that grew clearer with each assignment. Even better? I found supporters in teachers who believed in my voice and encouraged me to continue writing (including that second grade teacher, thanks Mrs. Pellett!).

My nonfiction proclivities eventually turned into an interest in journalism. By my senior year of high school I was the editor and designer of the campus paper The Rebellion. Given that most of my staff believed deadlines were arbitrary, I ended up creating the majority of the content for each month’s paper. I, of course, took that creative outlet and ran with it: I published editorials about school spirit, offered advice on surviving family vacations and even penned a multi-stanza poem about spring fashion trends (much gratitude is owed to my faculty advisor for trusting my “editorial vision”). Having the freedom to write about whatever topic I wanted and a paper to print under was eye-opening. While my experiments in publishing were often silly and satirical, they introduced me to the lighter side of journalism that is Lifestyle and Culture. When it came time to apply to colleges I knew that I wanted a degree in magazine journalism and that Boston, where journalism has its roots, was where I wanted to get it.

Print journalism is very…particular. The pay is terrible, the hours are always and the work is consistently inconsistent. The only explanation for a sane person entering the field is because they love it. And love it I do; I feel the same way about journalism that I do about books. Of course I imagine myself the next Harper Lee when I’m assisting on an assignment and Jack Kerouac when I’m typing an article in a coffee shop. Everything about this field is exciting, from the creative freedom to the street-level involvement that gathering information necessitates. But my favorite aspect by far is the person-to-person engagement. Being a journalist requires you to go out into the world and interact with those who live in it. Whether I’m profiling a Seattle clothing designer or asking a musician in Dublin about his favorite city to vacation in, I’m constantly engaging with and learning about the world through the lens of the people I write about.

People are basically living, breathing books, are they not? Everyone you meet has a wildly different story and unique life experience to relate. Just like a novel, a person’s life story is full of emotional depth and intrigue. Being able to collect those stories and share them with readers is what enamors me to this field. I approach my articles with the same voracity with which I devoured books as a child. Every article brings a chance to unearth something new about the human experience, even if it’s something as simple as a favorite pit stop in Chicago (apparently the Irish have a soft spot for the Windy City). Even more enjoyable is when you discover a shared experience, like childhood day trips to the same Northwest beach. Just as you recognize parts of yourself in characters in a novel, you find as many commonalities in the people around you. As a Lifestyle and Culture journalist, my job is to write about those shared human elements. If someone feels even a fleeting bit of connection to his or her fellow (wo)man after reading one of my articles, I call that a job well done.

I’m going to stop myself before I make any more metaphors, but I think words are magical. I love how I can arrange them to say whatever I want while also enjoying the way someone else can style them. My affections for reading and writing are simply extensions of my love for words. I don’t for a second believe that I would have become a journalist if I didn’t first discover books. Everything I write today can be traced back to beloved childhood books like The Westing Game and To Kill a Mockingbird. Those books taught me that words have the power to make people feel, and that those who can capture what people feel have the power to bring this world together. We’re not so different, humans of this earth, and article by article I’m determined to prove that.

 

 

Column: Broke Senior Year Spring Break

SPRANG BRAKE FO'EVER | Photo courtesy of Flickr user Cat Branchman

SPRANG BRAKE FO’EVA | Photo courtesy of Flickr user Cat Branchman

Wonder what I was up to this spring break? Now you know.

Oh, spring break. It’s that hallowed week where college coeds book all-inclusive vacations to Cabo and Punta Cana to drink rum from fish bowls, down prescription pills and participate in a level of debauchery that would be frowned upon north of the border.

Unless, of course, you’re a college senior fresh from a semester abroad with a depleted bank account and a job to pin down. Add in an empty Boston apartment, the demanding job you already have and a whole week to do nothing but work and voila! There, before your eyes, is the Broke Senior Year Spring Break.

The Broke Senior Year Spring Break is the least fun of staycations. It’s characterized by boxes of Kraft mac n’ cheese and occasional meltdowns over what you’re going to do for the rest of your life. Bonus points if you throw in Wednesday margaritas and hate-stalking classmates’ vacation pictures while watching Cruel Intentions. Damn straight it’s a bittersweet symphony, this life.

The break isn’t all bad, though. The fact that everyone is busy Instagramming beach sunsets from the Bahamas means there’s always a table open at Starbucks to do work. And work you do; the quiet campus makes for a distraction-free environment in which to get shit done. In fact, the motto of the Broke Senior Year Spring Break is “GET SHIT DONE.” You do all your readings and polish your resume in between shifts at work. You send said resume to respectable companies and end each day satisfied with everything you’ve accomplished.

And it’s not like you don’t have any fun at all. Wednesday margaritas turn into Thursday margaritas that definitely turn into Friday margaritas because it’s the weekend and there’s no way you’re staying in on a Friday. While coworkers are sipping champagne at the club in Tijuana you’re dancing at the Irish bar and drinking whiskey with people with last names like O’Connell and O’Brien. The only real difference between you and the spring breakers is where you nurse your hangover the next morning; you wake up and suffer through work while they go to the resort casino to play slots while trying not to dry heave. Not so glamorous and exotic now, are we?

The final days of the Broke Senior Year Spring Break are marked by Netflix and staying in bed until early afternoon. A few attempts are made to check emails and update LinkedIn, but the majority of your hard work is behind you. You put in the effort and got that shit done, so you deserve a little rest. That, after all, is the point of spring break, whether you’re broke in Boston or popping bottles in Puerto Vallarta.  If you work hard, you get to play hard, right?

To quote a certain film: “Spring break fo’ever, y’all.”

Column: Serial Man Talkers

This column for JO506 was inspired by THE WORST DATE EVER. Enjoy.

The only remedy for a Serial Man Talker? Cocktails. Lots and lots of cocktials. | Image courtesy of Flickr user Southern Foodways Alliance

The only remedy for a Serial Man Talker? Cocktails. Lots and lots of cocktails. | Image courtesy of Flickr user Southern Foodways Alliance

Let me tell you, dating in Boston is hard.

As a hetero single girl, you’re faced with all types of unpleasant male tropes: Mama’s Boys, Men Who Can’t Take Hints and Pats Die-Hards Who Love Tom Brady More Than They’ll Ever Love You. But even with all the crazies already swimming around in the Back Bay dating pool, Serial Man Talkers are a painful standout.

You know who Serial Man Talkers are. They’re found in bars and bank queues the world over aggressively explaining their CrossFit routine to innocent passersby. They’re men who were never taught that a conversation requires the participation of more than one person. They have thoughts and opinions that are definitely more interesting than yours and will happily spend all day telling you about them. Have something insightful to say about this election? Too bad. The Serial Man Talker at the bar counter has some dissecting of the Bruins’ 2009 defense strategy to do.

Bars and bank queues excluded, nowhere is this educational oversight more obvious than in the dating scene. Serial Man Talkers are everywhere when you’re a single girl. Getting coffee with someone you met on Tinder? You bet he’ll spend the afternoon telling you about the awesome new app he’ll never develop. The dude your friend dragged you on a double date with? Obviously this is the perfect time for him to expound on the trials of community musical theater. But the second you try and talk about the internship you had last semester? Serial Man Talker’s glancing at his phone blatantly uninterested in the thoughts in your head.

Serial Man Talkers take note: monopolizing a conversation is far from the way to a girl’s heart. I don’t care how attractive you are, if I wanted to hear someone deliver a 20-minute monologue I’d find the nearest production of Hamlet. Stop using women as a dump for your own self-interests. Instead, treat a girl like a real person and engage with her. Ask a question or two and take a genuine interest in what she has to say; you could be pleasantly surprised by what you find.

Okay, obviously some men learned how to listen. And conversely, there are absolutely women who missed the two-to-tango lesson day in kindergarten. This is not meant to be a one-sided rant about “all men.” I’ve encountered plenty of men who are courteous in their manner and conversation. They know how to ask questions and they genuinely care about how your day went. But those dudes must all hang out in the Amazon in their free time because I meet far, far too many Serial Man Talkers.

The question is, what turns a regular man into a Serial Man Talker? My guess is intrinsic societal prejudice. It’s as if somewhere along the course of life, boys were encouraged to speak up and girls were encouraged to be, well, silent.But as adults, that excuse shouldn’t hold up. An individual’s inability to recognize others as thought-having people can’t be purely blamed on society. It’s a fault of the individual.

The bottom line is, Serial Man Talkers don’t see women on an equal level. They only view women as a canvas on which to splatter their definitely-more-important thoughts and opinions. Why else would they so one-sidedly communicate with the opposite sex? They simply don’t believe a woman could have anything valuable to say.

The only other explanation is insecurity. Are some men so threatened by women that they can’t bear to go toe-to-toe with one? Or are they so obsessed with proving themselves that they can’t give a girl some room to speak in a conversation? Heads up, boys: there’s nothing sexy about overcompensating. To quote a recent Boston Magazine article about being single in this city: “If I have to hear one more fucking story about a man’s gym routine I’m going to light my body on fire.”

Nothing kills romance like realizing your date would rather talk about data analysis than find out how you like to spend your free time. So bear in mind Serial Man Talkers, if you want to take things to the next level you’ve got to learn how to communicate with a girl. Step back and listen; it won’t kill you. A conversation, just like an actual relationship, takes the effort of two people to make it work.

But if you need that spelled out for you, you’re likely too busy talking to hear it anyway.