Why I Owe My Father

Why I Owe My Father

For when I was four years old and had more questions than I had answers, stuck in this tornado of not understanding, but never frustrated when the explanation wasn’t clear. He would tell me where the sink water goes, why we washed our fruits before we ate them, how we had to keep the cake a secret because it was a surprise for Mom’s birthday. He taught and he taught and even when I didn’t think I was learning, he would find ways to teach me.

For when I was six and wanted a birthday party with pizza and arcade games and as I giggled with friends and swung my legs back and forth in my plastic chair, he and Mom took photos. Lit candles. Stuffed ripped-apart wrapping paper into a big trash bag. I don’t remember giving them a second thought, was too caught up in pizza crusts and Whack-A-Mole to notice them.

For when he built the play structure in our backyard, stood in the grass surrounded by heavy lumber and tri-colored tarp with the instructions manual in hand. It was hot out but he stayed out there for three hours until he had managed to assemble the whole thing. Meanwhile, I stayed inside and ate cold watermelon while watching Arthur on TV.

For when I was old enough to sit in the passenger seat, and family road trips heavy with the weight of long hours and drive-thru meals would dwindle with the sunset. Mom would sleep with her head pressed against the cold windows in the back seat and my brother’s head would bob with slumber to the beat of the tires on highway asphalt. I drank in these moments like a fizzy soft drink, bubbles bouncing in my throat as he and I traded stories. He would unwrap opinions from the back corners of his mind and I would keep my feet planted on the dashboard as I thought long and hard about the things he’d have to say.

For when he spent hours teaching me multivariable calculus because math in three dimensions is hard and I felt ashamed for needing homework help after years of fending for myself. He would write his integrals carefully and when he explained his derivations, I would be floored with the “Why didn’t I understand this before?” feeling that pulsed beneath my temples. He would always ask if I was sure I got it after and I would nod impatiently, but he would summarize it all again anyway. And I would sit in the exam room, eyes scrambling across the test questions, and those summaries would sing in my head and I’d fight a tiny smile.

For when my future would always seem gray and unsure, and I would skirt around bringing the topic up, afraid of what he would think, afraid that I would disappoint him- but he would give me a sentence that meant more to me than any career adviser or professor could ever say:

“Whatever you end up doing… I will support you.”

For being honorable and honest, for laughing with no inhibitions, for always having the answer- even if the answer was “work for the solution”- for being a source of inspiration with every passing day, for teaching me about taxes and social security and centrifugal forces…

And the irony of all this? He doesn’t believe I owe him a single thing. And for that, I am grateful and truly blessed.

Can Education Be Both A Right And A Privilege?

Can Education Be Both A Right And A Privilege?

I grew up in a very education-positive, innovative-thinking town that generally speaking, really strove to foster an environment best fit for learning. I was blessed with parents, teachers, and peers who encouraged forward thinking and good work ethic. I myself grew to find the value in determinedly working toward goals that I could form for myself. For my education. For my future career. I like to think it was a combination of these things that brought to me where I am today. It was all of these things that make me want to think critically about what education can mean for someone. I was- and am- extremely lucky in that sense.

If you haven’t heard about Malala Yousafzai, she is a fifteen year old Pakistani who is known for her fight for both women’s and educational rights in the Swat Valley. There, girls are frequently banned from attending school and receiving an education. She went to school despite the constant fear that accompanied this ban, and she was well recognized for the courage she showed in her determination to learn. On October 9th, 2012, she was shot by Taliban men while riding the school bus home. She survived.

From then on, her story fell into the spotlight of press, media, and people across the globe. She continued to express her adamant belief that education is a basic right, that no one can stop her from learning.

In today’s fast-paced news cycle, it might seem a little “outdated” to talk about Malala Yousafzai. We are entrenched in an onslaught of news that takes us by storm for a day or two, then leaves without explanation- almost like the way it arrived. But I, like many others, found her story inspiring. After all, she was (and is) fighting for something she truly believes in. Something that many people already have but quite often forget. Something that as a kid, I believed was ubiquitous all across the world.

We pay our taxes. A great majority of us attend public schools. Some pay and go to private schools. We wind up in hubs of active education, and even though some institutions might be “better off”- financially, instructionally, or even geographically speaking- one thing is constant.

There is a gradation of commitment to education. There are people who work hard from day one all the way until they receive their diploma or even when they head off to college. There are people who actively search for their calling or their passion or their future line of work, whether that require a college degree or not. There are people who put forth lukewarm efforts and glide by doing the bare minimum. There are people who cannot see themselves between the walls of their school and simply don’t do the work.

Among these people, there are these two factors that play a massive role:
1. The source of education. And unfortunately, it is clear that not everyone is provided with this. But those who are, are often subject to a second factor:
2. The degree to which they accept and act upon the opportunity to learn.

Because that’s what education is, after all. An opportunity. And it’s up to the student, the teacher, the principal, the parents, the peers- all of them- to make sure the opportunity becomes something more. That’s not to say that everyone must approach this process in the same way. Where some might be happy to pursue an undergraduate degree, while others might go onto graduate school, still others might not choose to study past high school at all. The level of education isn’t what’s important. It’s the application. The commitment.

And often times in North America, we talk emphatically about how education is a right. How being denied education is unconstitutional or against our human rights. Still others will insist that education is a privilege. That it is a luxury of the rich and wealthy, and that being denied education given the circumstances is not an inherent broach on our rights.

Isn’t it possible that it can end up being both? That denying another human being the chance to pursue an education is a denial of a basic human right? But that later on down the road, we must recognize that once given the right to an education, it becomes something almost like a privilege? Except instead of having the potential to be revoked by the government or some sort of higher authority, it can be revoked by our very own actions.

Because our other basic human rights- ones that we know and value like the right to life, privacy, free speech- are ones that we are fortunate enough to exercise nearly every day. But when presented with the right to an education, what happens if we neglect it? What happens when we choose not to dedicate our efforts to it? It’s almost as though we were given something immeasurably valuable, and we found our own way to get it revoked. Almost as though we’ve found a way to turn it into a privilege- one that we might end up taking for granted.

Someone Called Me A Prostitute Yesterday

Someone Called Me A Prostitute Yesterday

It’s 10:20PM and I am sitting outside an apartment building, waiting to help Ben and his friends move into their new place. I have a case of beer at my feet, as it seemed logical to bring a housewarming gift of some kind, and after the long day of packing, moving, and traffic, I figured they could do with a beer or two to help them unwind.

It’s balmy out. A nice change, seeing as how the winter seemed to have stretched past its welcome this year and we had been wearing our snow boots well into March and even toward the beginning of April. But there’s a gentle breeze that picks up every once in a while, so I button up my cardigan to keep the wind out. I rub my shoulders absently, as they still ache from lugging my backpack around campus all day.

When the woman walks by, I don’t think much of it at first. She’s slightly hunched over and dressed in dark clothes, and the way she shuffles forward makes her look as though she’s limping a little. I give her a friendly smile when she turns back to look at me, and that’s when I feel as though someone had punctured both my lungs.

What are you smiling at? Dirty Chinese prostitute. Whatchyou smiling for? Disgusting. Just sitting there… disgusting prostitute.”

My eyes glaze over. My mouth dries up. My palms even start to sweat a little. I feel like I’ve been attacked. She continues to walk down the street, casting a few acrid glares back at me before disappearing out of sight.

Obviously, I’m not a prostitute. I’m a college student with an unreasonably heavy backpack on my shoulders, an old pair of Forever 21 jeans on my legs, and a case of beer at my feet. I am not sitting at this street corner selling my body. And just because this woman accused me of being one doesn’t mean I should take it personally.

But it struck me as rather horrifying just how much her words had hurt me. There is a certain acidity to the word “prostitute” that stings when it’s used as an insult, and not just a description of an illegal occupation. I have no idea if this woman thought I was an actual prostitute or if she was just insulting me. Either way, I could feel my cheeks flushing and my heart pounding.

It made my mind spin with all the possible explanations as to why she was calling me a prostitute. Was it the way I was just sitting outside the apartment building near the street corner? Was it the way I was dressed? Was it the look on my face? Was it the way I held myself? Was there something about me that implied prostitution?

Earlier that night, I had been walking from the convenience store and a man had leered at me for a painfully long time. My brain flashed back to that moment, as if it was somehow related to the woman and her demeaning words. My eyes jumped to my outfit. I was wearing a cardigan and jeans.

I couldn’t stop thinking about that woman and her words for the rest of the night. I couldn’t stop thinking about how I immediately assumed that it might have had something to do with the clothes I wore or the vibe I was giving off. It scares me how much that moment had messed with my head. It makes me wonder about societal views on what women should or shouldn’t wear in public, on how people view others just in passing, on how it’s hard to feel safe from words like “prostitute”, “slut”, and “whore” that people throw around so often.

Someone called me a prostitute yesterday. And even though I am 100% not a prostitute, I can’t help but feel a little broken.

Do We Rely On The Internet To Fight Our Battles?

Do We Rely On The Internet To Fight Our Battles?

Recently, a whole slew of my Facebook friends have been sharing Dove’s “Real Beauty Sketches” video, which was created by Dove as a part of their marketing plan to encourage women to embrace themselves by “building positive self-esteem and inspiring all women and girls to reach their full potential” (as written on Dove’s site). Many of those who are sharing the video have been captioning it with “:’)”, “Love this”, or “Something to keep in mind…” And maybe in that sense, Dove’s video is working; it’s reminding women to reassess the way they view themselves (Not only that, it’s also getting Dove a ton of publicity).

But in an almost more uproarious response, still more of my Facebook friends have been sharing a different link, one that criticizes the way that Dove is approaching its target audience. Now, I think the arguments raised in this post are extremely well thought out and articulated, pointing out that Dove is only reaffirming a social stigma that the only value a woman can have is her beauty as opposed to her intelligence, courage, or strength.

I wouldn’t really have so much of a problem with any of this, to be honest. I think it’s healthy to consume media with a critical eye, so as not to become a pawn of the corporate giants that rule the market. But what I do have an issue with is how so many of my friends have been using these links- and only these links- as conversations.

Let me clarify. One person will share the Real Beauty Sketches video. Several people will “like” it. Then, someone else will post the response written by Tumblr user Jazz as a form of rebuttal with a small side note like “Before you start jumping on the bandwagon” or “Consider this”. More people will “like” that. And that’s the end of that.

This isn’t the only time I’ve seen people use links to videos, articles, or online posts as arguments. I find it extremely common to find people using these links instead of providing their own insights. With so many of my Facebook friends insisting how unjust it is for Dove to post a video like this, I would be so interested in reading about their opinions. But instead, they simply post a link to someone else‘s opinion and people are quick to agree.

I don’t want to discount Jazz’s response to the video at all. I think it’s admirable to be able to watch something presented by the media, digest it, and put together a response that can be both lauding and critical so as not to provide a one-sided argument. But why have we all stopped doing that? Just the other day, in a conversation with a couple of friends, I witnessed one girl mentioning the video and suggesting that we all watch it. And then another girl promptly responded with “Yeah, but did you see that post saying how the video was actually, y’know, bad? Because all it cares about is beauty?” And that was the end of that conversation.

I would have loved to discuss the video more with everyone, especially having each individual bringing up his or her own opinion and then arguing the merits and pitfalls of Dove’s campaign. But no, the conversation started with the sharing of an online link and ended with the sharing of another. What does that lead to? A culmination of a small handful of homogenized opinions shared throughout social media, instead of each person exercising his or her ability to form an individualistic opinion? And that, I think, has become all too common- naturally, I suppose, with the rise of the Internet.

And since I’m sitting here emphasizing how important it is to share our own opinions, here are some of mine. I think both “sides” are valid. I do not believe that Dove is looking to eliminate diversity, as mentioned by the dissenting article. Dove has had a history of beauty and diversity campaigns (which is not to say it gives Dove the liberty to no longer consider diversity in the rest of its marketing), and I don’t believe that this Real Beauty Sketches video is trying to oppress non-Caucasian races. And yes, we can remain critical of the way companies create ad campaigns, because the United States is diverse and people should not be content with being poorly represented. However, this video is one fraction of Dove’s campaign initiatives, right? Before we get too quick to criticize a company’s negligence to encompass every possible race, gender, culture, or identity, I think it is important to consider just how possible (or impossible) it is to do so. When have we ever received a media campaign that is 100% politically correct, 100% diverse, 100% unworthy of criticisms? Does that make it okay to only represent 1 racial group and claim to be representing “real beauty” uniformly? I personally don’t think so. But I also think we have to consider racial representation on a larger scale as well, beyond just one video.

And yes, I agree that we need to remain wary of the way the media (as well as society) portrays women, especially because it is so common to see people demean women as nothing more than a figure of beauty or attraction. But before we start insisting that Dove is denying a woman’s value beyond her appearance, I think we have to remember that Dove, at the end of the day, is a beauty product company. This is a marketing tactic for the company, and while that might sound like an evil thing, I would hardly call the Real Beauty Sketches video “evil”. The intent of the video, it would seem, is to remind people that, as Jazz points out, “most of us are our own harshest critics”. Sure, it would be nice to see a video reminding women (and non-women alike) that women are worth more than just physical appearances, but would that really lie within the realm of Dove’s objectives? Personally, I don’t think so. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing either. We can be critical about companies and how single-minded and greedy they can be with their marketing campaigns, but we can’t expect companies to pump out PSAs unrelated to their products or services all the time. Ultimately, we should be taking marketing strategies like this video by Dove with a grain of salt. What is it trying to achieve? Is it offending anyone? Oppressing anyone? Misrepresenting anyone?

There’s a lot to be said about media, propaganda, sexism, racism, and other social issues that remain so prevalent in our society today. It is therefore important to remain critical about the media we take in, and to remember to take everything we see online or otherwise with a grain of salt. But in my opinion, it is equally important not to jump so quickly onto other people’s rebuttals. We can’t simply piggyback onto someone else’s opinion and brandish it before our friends in an attempt to be the unique, dissenting perspective. Of course, it would be unreasonable to insist that everyone must provide a complete dissertation on every single remotely controversial topic. But the best way to stay critical is to cultivate our own opinions whenever possible, to share them and discuss them with others, and to be okay, throughout all of that, with keeping an open mind.

Lessons from Intro to Computer Programming

Lessons from Intro to Computer Programming

I am absolutely not a computer science student. I spend my time memorizing biological pathways and essential metabolic enzymes, but I thought it would be incredibly useful to take on an intro to programming class, especially with how prevalent the web industry is nowadays. So I enrolled in a beginner’s Java class this semester, and so far, it’s been equal parts maddeningly frustrating and oddly satisfying. This mostly arises from the fact that even the smallest syntax error can send your program toward total destruction. But after hours of fixing methods and constructors, when your code finally (hopefully) works, it’s the most gratifying feeling ever.

If there’s anything I’ve taken away from this class besides learning the basics of Java, it’s that as humans, we rely heavily on implications and assumptions. In Java, you literally have to tell the computer everything you want it to do. If you leave even the tiniest detail out, one of two things can happen: 1) You get lucky and it is capable of reading and performing the code anyway or 2) It throws an error and all that time you spent writing your code has been rendered null (see what I did there?) because you neglected to declare a variable or pass a reference or something. It’s tedious, sure, to go point-by-point in attempt to type out every single instruction you want to give your code, but it guarantees that there is no misunderstanding between you and the computer.

And this just seems like such a polar opposite from what we experience on a daily basis with other people. Imagine if we went through the trouble to explain our sentiments exactly as we felt them to every person we ever interacted with. While going out on your first date with someone, you’d go out of your way to say if you were enjoying yourself (and completely honestly, too) and explain whether or not you were interested in a second date. Sure, the mystery of “does she like me??” and “should I call him??” would be gone, and that might be relieving, but are people programmed (okay the puns will stop after this one, I promise) to handle truths in excruciating detail?

Human nature seems to rely on the fact that a lot of things don’t need to be said, and we are often willing to sacrifice certainty in exchange for avoiding the confrontational truths that we so often exclude from our conversations. We’d rather stay up all night worrying what people really think about us than lay it all out in front of us, opening up the possibility for hurt feelings and awkward relationships.

So yes, I’ve learned how difficult can be to tell your computer to do something as simple as a mathematical operation that we do in a matter of seconds because of all the steps we’re allowed to skip in reality. And that sometimes, it’s nice to see every last step written out on your computer so that you can truly understand the process that goes behind a program. But if anything, it’s made me realize the comfort we take in the hidden implications in life.

Growing Pains

Growing Pains

In a little over two months, I’m going to be turning twenty. Twenty. The thought of being in my 20s has always been distant. Unreachable. Something I wouldn’t have to deal with for a long, long time.

10 year old me: “When I’m in my 20s, I’ll be able to do whatever I want.”
15 year old me: “Oh god, I’m going to have so many responsibilities when I’m in my 20s.”
18 year old me: “… Maybe I should figure out how to file taxes and get health insurance and create a retirement fund when I’m in my 20s.”

The “20s” just always seemed to be home to an expansive list of things I didn’t have to deal with just yet.

And I suffer from this condition where every year, I think I’ve finally got things figured out, finally managed to understand myself and the world around me – only to find the year after that I couldn’t have been more wrong. I think some people call that condition life, to be honest, but it both scares me and fascinates me to know that no matter how old I am, no matter how much I’ve learned thus far, there is still so much to be understood.

When I was thirteen and rapidly becoming a victim of a long overdue growth spurt, I would wake up in the middle of the night and feel sore all over. I used to think that I was just dismally out of shape (which might have been true to some extent), but my mom explained to me that there was this phenomenon called “growing pains” that teenagers will often feel because of the fact that they were in the midst of an ongoing growth spurt.

I was mystified. Why was my body reacting this way to growth? Shouldn’t my body expect growth? Turns out, scientists aren’t even sure why people might feel this soreness as they grow, but some hypothesize that it’s due to a lower pain threshold exacerbated by the daily use of the musculoskeletal system.

The idea that the body opens itself to pain at such a critical time in development completely knocks the wind out of me every time I think about it. In order to mature, in order to blossom, in order to grow as a person, you have to be okay with being a little more vulnerable. You have to be okay with the bruises that might form on your knees, across your back, against the curve of your jawline. In order to move forward, you have to be okay with getting hurt.

And maybe you wake up each morning and frown because you’ve still five foot four, even though you were five foot four yesterday, and the day before that, and the day before that… And maybe it’s frustrating feeling the world take its toll on your body as you lay there and let it, but you can’t skip school because of growing pains. You can’t excuse yourself from gym class because of growing pains.

Ultimately, turning 20 isn’t what will cause my knees to buckle and my joints to ache. Learning to do taxes might. Learning to turn my college degree into something worthwhile might. Learning to love someone might. Learning to pick up the pieces of a shattered heart might. Because opening myself to the possibility of getting hurt could pave the road to a new kind of maturity. And I will ache from the tips of my fingers to the core of my body, but I will have become living proof that these growing pains are more than worth it.

I’m Scared To Like Baking

In the past few weeks, I’ve been nonstop experimenting with cooking and baking, scouring the internet for interesting recipes and itching to try making dishes I’ve always dreamed of creating but never had the initiative to attempt. But each time I open allrecipes.com or put a baking tray in the oven, despite how much I’m enjoying myself, I can’t help but feel a lump forming at the back of my throat.

As someone who consciously tries to shed gender roles and sexist mindsets from everyday behavior, mindsets, and conversations, I have never been more cautious about expressing a hobby like this before. I think there is an enormous amount of importance in our individual efforts to peel away the weathered, outdated stereotypes we give to certain genders, and allow people to make their decisions and life choices independent of society’s expectations for them. People have told me in the past that this is “too much”- that I’m trying to hard to make something like gender-neutralized interests and hobbies become predominant in our present day lives, when really we should just be letting it “take its natural course”.

Change is difficult. It’s flighty and slippery and we can’t expect for it to fall into place for us. When I choose my words carefully so as not to reinforce crippling gender expectations, I am not looking for a global-scale revolution. But I do think that if we all make our own individual efforts because we want to see change, that in itself will be a small revolution. History has dictated in the past that breaking down the foundations of the current norm and replacing it with something new takes more than just time.

One of the biggest gender-based social constructs that stands at the forefront of our society today is the idea of “woman-in-the-kitchen”. Now, obviously there has been a shift from the mid 1900s, when women were often actually forced to stay at home and prevented from entering the workplace, or expected to cook no matter how much they hated it. And I’d like to think that as a society, we’ve made a lot of progress since then. Granted, there is still a lot to be done when it comes to equalizing the workforce, but there has been definite change.

But what’s concerning to me is that there is still a very strong, almost direct, correlation between women and cooking or baking. Cookware and baking tools still carry a very feminine aura about them, and people I know (myself included, by instinct) still attribute things like cupcakes and macarons and icing to women. 

I think that’s why I’m so nervous to admit to liking baking and cooking. The voices in my head are reflexively screaming in protest- why continue to affirm these gender expectations when it’s really high time to take them away? Why convince people that these stereotypes “exist for a reason” (words often used by someone I know)?

It got me thinking. Are there biological, scientific reasons for an inclination toward cooking? Not necessarily gender-based, but perhaps a predisposition based on personality? In an attempt to take advantage of the wealth of information on the internet (and to weed out all the fluff articles with no scientific backing whatsoever), I failed to find what I was looking for. But I did, however, come across two articles that caught my eye.

In the first, Viv Groskop of The Guardian talks about the distension between feminists and baking. She acknowledges three intervals in history of gender dynamic – a time in the early 50s when women were expected to be in the kitchen, a time in the 70s when women fought this image off, and now – a time that she claims is riddled with women who are intrinsically interested in things like sewing, baking, and cooking – and how there is a stigma of social embarrassment toward embracing these “feminine” interests when we’ve worked so hard to break that stereotype.

I feel as though this is a common trend in history: an overcompensation in the opposite direction in order to right a wrong. And although I don’t agree with Ms. Groskop on some accounts (for example, when she argues that “it is this frisson of the taboo that appeals to a new generation of young women, who seem to love the novelty of baking and dressing up in aprons” – I am more inclined to believe that people like doing certain things simply because they’re interested in them), I do think she makes an interesting point – that we might be fighting for equal rights and equal social standing by ostracizing the “too feminine” instead of embracing everyone- men and women, no matter their interests.

In the second article, Lagusta Yearwood argues that “the great gift feminism can give to the mainstream world is precisely this: that the qualities we associate almost exclusively with women will, if allowed to flourish and given adequate respect, vastly improve society across all levels.”

And I think that could be the stepping stone to a very key redirection toward breaking down gender roles and further equalizing the society we live in – that we should continue to focus on eschewing gender-based expectations, but avoid condemning those who enjoy activities we’ve always attributed to “traditional gender roles”. By no means do I wish to see an end to our battle toward equality. But ultimately, everyone should have the freedom to enjoy whatever they want without tagging every single one of their choices with a gender.

Now let me bake in peace, please.

“You’re Cynical, So You MUST Hate Valentine’s Day”

Okay, let’s just say that I’ve garnered somewhat of a reputation for being extensively critical and cynical – at least, especially in comparison to the people around me. Now, I neither embrace nor reject that characterization, but when people misinterpret it as being bitter, resentful, or hateful, then… well, then we need to have a talk.

I’ve been told that it’s overwhelmingly unsurprising that I am not Valentine’s Day’s biggest devotee.

Friend: “Hahaha I bet you HATE Valentine’s Day!

Whoa, whoa, whoa, hold up! When did I ever say I hated Valentine’s Day? Sure, I’m not much of a chocolate-and-roses type of person, but I happen to have an appreciation for what Valentine’s Day is capable of bringing to the table.

I had been planning to make a pancake breakfast and bake these thumbprint jam cookies for today for a while now, and the whole week I couldn’t help but feel this buzz of excitement and anticipation. And that’s exactly why I’m glad Valentine’s Day exists. For that thrill of being able to do something considerate for someone else, no matter how low-key it might be. For me, getting the chance to go out of my way and put in a little extra effort to show how much I care is something pretty special. We don’t often get the opportunity to go the extra mile on a more casual basis, so why hate Valentine’s Day if it lets us show that we care? Of course, ideally speaking, we could freely express our emotions whenever the hell we want, but we can’t get too consumed by romantic gestures and thoughtful gifts. We have lives to lead, just like the rest of the people on this planet. Why not take this special day to press pause on exam stress, on job stress, on life stress and remind ourselves about the people we care about?

Which is why I always wince a little when people gripe about Valentine’s Day being a holiday “solely created by the Hallmark industry in an attempt to commercialize love”. It’s not that the commercialization of Valentine’s Day doesn’t go overboard sometimes – it definitely does. But actually, the romantic aspect of February 14th dates back way before the Middle Ages. In fact, one of the oldest valentines we have in recorded history was from 1415, written by Charles, Duke of Orleans, who wrote to his wife while imprisoned. So yeah, Hallmark and advertising might have warped Valentine’s Day a little, but why is it so unbelievable that declarations of love exists because of human nature – or at least, because of the societal constructs we live among? Sometimes, we feel the need to let the world know we care. And maybe that’s okay.

At the end of the day, I think Valentine’s Day, like most things in life, should be whatever you want it to be. If you want to use it to treat your significant other to a candlelight dinner and a bed covered in rose petals, then by all means, go for it. If you want it to be a girls’ night out imbued with fruity alcohol and chocolate truffles, then good on you. If you want to kick back with friends and watch a Die Hard marathon, then do it. If you want it to be a time for you to self-reflect, to remind yourself that loving yourself is one of the most valuable things you can do for yourself, then kudos. If you want it to be just like any other day out of the 365 we have every year, then why the hell can’t it be?

Femme Fatales, Tomboys, and Other Female Archetypes: Why They Matter and Why They Don’t

One of the greatest parts about being in a creative writing group is that you get to engage in thought provoking conversations about just about anything with many like-minded individuals – but also with many people quite unlike yourself.

During today’s meeting, we spent nearly two hours talking about female archetypes in literature, delving into the nitty gritty details with questions like: “What makes a sloppily created female character?” and “What makes a likable female character?” and “What makes a believable female character?” These are all very separate, distinct questions and it was interesting to hear everyone’s input, with examples ranging from Scarlett O’Hara to Katniss Everdeen to Molly Weasley to Brienne of Tarth.

We did an activity where we wrote as many female archetypes as we could think of on the chalkboard, then brainstormed female characters in literature. We would then circle all the archetypes that character somewhat matched, no matter to what degree. All our favorite female characters ended up fitting up to three, four, even five different archetypes – and never quite perfectly.

Because, as we discussed, a realistic female character shouldn’t fit into just one category. She should be lopsided but believable, determinedly true to her personality and someone people might be able to relate to. We took note of how some authors might use an archetype as a lazier approach to outlining a character, in hopes of creating a well-defined cookie cutter for his or her character.

The thing is, even though characters and their personalities can prove to be elusive on paper, the core of the matter is that they must still be real. And whether that mean giving your character hints of tomboyish mannerisms with a dash of motherly qualities or twisting your “femme fatale” heroine by giving her free spirited characteristics, we must always remember that characters, like people, should never be grouped into just one category. In fact, one might even argue that characters (no matter what gender) should never be categorized. People are often too dynamic to be pigeon-holed like that.

These archetypes are the byproduct of societal constructs and human perspective, and I’d say that we’ve come a long way since the early 1700s, 1800s, and even the 1900s. We design archetypes based on the types of people we see present in our everyday lives, and because of this, there is a definite evolution of women (and men!) in literature and media. I brought up Jane Eyre in today’s meeting, and how she can be seen in many different periodical contexts. Some people might see her as passive and obedient, mostly a wallflower among her surroundings. Other people of a different time period might argue differently- that she was damsel in distress who needed Rochester to save her. And still others see her as a symbol of emerging feminism- a character who showed a desire to develop a self-identity. It goes to show that archetypes, much like the majority of things in life, can morph with time. Another reason, perhaps, why we should tread carefully when dealing with these tropes.

Even though archetypes can be dangerous when it comes to creating characters, I would argue that they exist for a reason, much like stereotypes. Now, that’s not to say that stereotyping is a good thing; in fact, it can be threatening in that it often comes hand-in-hand with prejudiced judgment. However, archetypes are often reflections of real life characteristics we see in people all around us, and that’s why we have taken the liberty of defining them. We all know people with seductress-like tendencies or rebellious natures, or with a flawed hero complex and boss-like attitudes. We put together these outlines because they are what we see in the people we know. And that, to a certain extent, is okay.

But we also need to remember that people are complex, which means that they are usually a messy conglomeration of a whole palette of different qualities. And for that reason, we must construct our characters in a similar fashion. We must constantly remind ourselves that much of literature, especially archetypes, should be taken with a grain of salt. After all,  we view the world through our own set of personalized lenses, don’t we?

5 Things On My Mind This Chinese New Year

5. It has been 4 years since I’ve trekked my way back to China. 4 years since I’ve braved the 14+ hours on a plane. 4 years since I’ve submerged myself in a country that can somehow be both so distant and so close to me at once. 4 years since I’ve folded my limbs around my grandparents in a type of embrace that always speaks volumes of the missed moments we never get to share, of the miles that separate us on a daily basis. Every time I go back to visit my grandparents, my aunts and uncles, my cousins, I am blown away by the magnitude of each of their life stories, and by the way their lives are progressing. Two of my cousins are married with kids. One of my cousins is in that angsty pre-pubescent phase where he slams doors and gives out silent treatments like Christmas presents (according to my mother, anyway, who instant messages with her sister now. Can we just acknowledge the fact that my mother is instant messaging like she was born to do it nowadays?). And my fourth and final cousin is starting to loose her baby teeth. Their worlds are somersaulting forward and I haven’t been able to experience or witness any of it in the past 4 years.

4. I have 3 impending midterms, 2 assignments, and a depressing amount of lectures to catch up on. If time wasn’t such a constraint, I would bury my schoolwork in the darkest corners of my backpack and cook, cook, cook for the entire upcoming weekend. I want to make noodles, nian gao, dumplings, fish – everything. I want to spend hours in Chinatown picking out groceries and come home with the bags digging into my hands and I want to occupy all four burners of my stove with simmering pots. I want to flour my hands and pinch dumpling skins and fill my apartment with the smells of nostalgia.

3. I know how to make dumplings. And noodles. But I’ve never actually made nian gao by myself. I think I helped my mom once when I was fifteen but she eventually chased me out of the kitchen because I wasn’t helping as much as I was complicating things. I am 19 years old and I probably don’t know how to cook half the dishes my mom had perfected by the time she was 14. I feel like I am watching tradition – not just with food, but red envelopes and firecrackers and red and gold decorations – dilute and fade away before my very eyes. It’s terrifying.

2. One day, someday in the future, I will hopefully be surrounded by my own family. One that I will car for an unfathomable amount, one that I won’t be able to get enough of, one that I will clutch to the apex of my heart with love bubbling to the tips of my fingers and everywhere in between. I have a dream that we will celebrate Chinese New Year together every year. As a family.

1. Speaking of family, the biggest thing on my mind this CNY is my parents. After watching this video, my heart pretty much shattered into a million pieces. I’m going to be calling them this Sunday. I miss them. It’s hard not being around family for Chinese New Year, and it just makes me think about how much I owe my parents, how much they’ve done for me in the past, and how they continue to support and love me unconditionally with every passing day.

Happy Chinese New Year, everyone.