Strong in the Real Way…

I spent much of the past week revisiting my alma mater, Spalding University’s Brief-Residency MFA in Writing, for homecoming. There were workshops, panels, and lectures, and I started some new essays. It was a fruitful time for me as a writer, but even more important for me as a person.

My favorite part of homecoming had nothing to do with anything scheduled. It was a conversation held in the lobby of the historic Brown Hotel (which the MFA program uses as a “dorm” for residencies) with some dear friends discussing Steven Universe. We debated theories about Steven, Lars, and the gems for a solid hour (which I’m not sharing here to avoid spoilers), and could have gone a lot longer had other responsibilities gotten in the way.

Long after the conversation ended, I found myself still thinking of it. I still am, two days later. What is it about a cartoon with a seemingly silly premise–alien gems and a half human, half gem boy defending Earth from other gems–that has sucked so many of us in? I can’t speak for everyone, of course, but I can speak for me, and for my two favorite characters, Rose and Pearl.

  • ROSE AND SEXUALITY: While Rose Quartz, Steven’s mother, is long dead by the time the show premiers, her flashback scenes are everything. I remember being younger, not sure what to do with complex feelings of attraction and sexuality, and even less sure where to find answers. All the models for relationships I saw, whether in real life or on television, were either heterosexual or, rarely, stereotypically (male) homosexual. I had no clue what it meant to be attracted to men and women, and it made me feel like an outcast, a freak. I was almost out of high school before I heard the word “bisexual” and it was the most beautiful and scary word. When I was introduced to Steven Universe, it was the “Mr. Greg” episode where Pearl and Greg finally work out their issues over their shared love of Rose. I wept. I can count on one hand how many bisexual characters I’ve seen on television, and can’t name another cartoon character. I wept for me, for the affirmation of seeing a woman attracted to men and women on screen. And I wept for the kids growing up in a world where they can see themselves on television. I wish them much less sorrow and self-hatred than I had

 

  • PEARL AND GROWTH: I love me some Pearl. Hands down, she is my favorite character. She is the perfect representation of how it feels to be different, someone struggling to find love and acceptance and home after what she thought of as home (at Rose’s side) proves to be temporary. Her need to make things appear perfect, to never be satisfied with how anything is going, to beat herself up when things don’t go according to plan, her difficulty in letting go and having fun, her almost pathological need to care for Steven and keep him safe and to be loved by him in return, and her loneliness and grief for Rose–it’s all so perfectly done. Even her appearance, sharp edges where the other gems are more rounded and soft, shows how tense she is. Pearl makes me cry more than any other gem. Her maternal love for Steven is so pure and so good, and her grief, which she tries to hide, is so obvious. There are two episodes where Pearl especially shines for me. The first is “Coach Steven” where she battles jealousy over Steven idolizing Sugilite (the fusion of Amethyst and Garnet) and sings “Strong in the Real Way.”  “And can’t you see that she’s out of control/ And overzealous?/ I’m telling you for your own good,/ And not because I’m-/ I can show you how to be strong…/ In the real way…./And I want to inspire you/ I want to be your rock/ And when I talk/ It lights a fire in you.” It’s the first time Pearl admits to herself feelings of jealousy–even though she doesn’t say the word jealous–and a chink in the armor of her perfection appears. I have a hard time making friends a lot of the time, and I struggle with feelings of inadequacy and awkwardness. I want so badly to be accepted, but I have no idea how to be most of the time. A lifetime of hiding ones true self will do that. In “Coach Steven,” Pearl is me. Or I am Pearl. The second episode, “Last Stop Out of Beach City,” shows Pearl finally letting down her guard, speeding without a license to go to a rock concert with Steven, and daring to talk to a human woman who looks something like Rose. In letting go of her need for perfection, in daring to have fun and relax, she stumbles across the realization that she can perhaps find love again. (And can we talk about how amazing it is to see a blatant same-sex pickup attempt on a cartoon? I had chills!) And she has fun. It took me a long time to be okay with myself. I still struggle with it a lot. But there are times, like long conversations with my husband, or in conversations with friends about Steven Universe, where my guard slips, and I can laugh and forget about feeling inadequate.

I am obviously not alone in my Steven Universe obsession, and there are so many other things I could write about why I love it. And I may write about more soon. But the companionship I felt at Spalding, at a place where I nearly always feel safe to be myself, and the excitement at sharing my S.U. enthusiasm with fellow MFAers, was beautiful. Steven Universe, and my Spalding family–they help me to accept myself. They help me to speak my truth. And, most importantly, they help me to be strong–in the real way.

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F**k Yeah, Supergirl

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Photo credit: http://metro.co.uk/2016/10/07/supergirl-season-2-spoilers-heres-what-you-can-expect-as-the-show-returns-6177535/

After reading complaints about last night’s Supergirl season finale, “Nevertheless, She Persisted,” I find myself inspired to throw in my own two cents. So yeah, spoiler warning, and feminism warning, and such.

 

 

 

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But, Supergirl would NEVER beat Superman, A.K.A. “Masculinity so fragile you can’t handle Supergirl winning on HER OWN SHOW.” Geez. Anyway, yes, the episode opens with Supergirl defeating Superman in a brawl. I have zero problem with this, despite Superman having had more time to absorb yellow sun power, for two reasons. 1. The show spent its first two seasons never showcasing the full extent of Supergirl’s powers. I don’t know if it is from limited CGI budget (because let’s face it, The Flash is totally taking all of CW’s CGI budget this season), or because they want other enemies to appear to be a threat, but Kara Zor-El always felt a bit weaker than she should be. So I took her defeating Superman as finally starting to realize how strong she is. And 2. Later in the episode, Supes tells Kara he could have never committed the sacrifice she did (i.e., he could have never chosen saving the planet over saving Lois, as Kara did when she sacrificed her relationship with Mon-El). So while Superman may technically be physically stronger, he fights from passion, not logic and pure morality, as Kara does, and passion fades every time. Remember, he thought he was fighting Zod, not Kara, and was therefore fighting from anger. It is so refreshing to see a female character written as logical, moral, and strong, when so often women are considered weaker, more emotional, and irrational.

But, but POLITICS. A.K.A. I only want to be entertained, not informed. I’m not going to pretend Kara didn’t go all social justice this season. Honestly, that’s one of the things I love best about this season. Kara is an alien female living in a world that doesn’t seem to like either of these things. Her sister is a lesbian. Her friends are also aliens. Of course politics become involved. In this case, aliens stand in for immigrants, and we all know how unkindly our country is treating immigrants right now. Is it so hard to believe that, in the DC world, aliens would be treated any better? We hate from fear, and what is scarier than strange beings with strange powers? And let’s look at the rise in anti-LGBT sentiment and legislation. Now imagine you’re a government official, living in the shadow of your more famous, powerful sister, struggling to come to terms with your sexuality. For these reasons, I find Alex, Kara’s adoptive sister, so heartwarming and empowering. There is a distinct lack of positive LGBT characters right now (Steven Universe not withstanding!), and a distinct need for those characters. And Alex coming to accept her sexuality, then finally embracing it, and proposing to her girlfriend, mirrors Kara’s journey of coming to accept her powers, then embracing the chance to be a hero, then finally discovering the extent of her strength. They are the perfect sibling pair. Lastly, the last two episodes have heavily featured Cat Grant’s character, a strong media mogul, so it makes perfect sense that politics would come to play. Cat’s character has ALWAYS been girl power RAWR. The last two episodes, “Resist” and “Nevertheless, She Persisted,” use her character as a media voice to speak out against tyranny. Of course politics come into play. And, all this aside, the best art always reflects the time in which it was created. Supergirl is a product of its time, a very necessary part.

Next season promises to be just as good, with the probable introduction of Reign as the big bad. And I’m sure there will be plenty of political inspiration as well. But regardless, Kara is simply delightful, and I can’t wait to see more of her antics.

Always Keep Fighting, But Also, Love Yourself First

I know it’s been awhile since my last post–I was taking some time to finish my memoir, which is being sent out to publishers as I write (ack!), gearing up to graduate in June (ack again!), and planning my upcoming July wedding (double ack!), so time has been limited.

But, being busy isn’t the only reason. I’ve also been struggling, a lot, with my own issues. I have a slew of alphabetic diagnoses (PTSD, ADD, and GAD–Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder from domestic abuse, Attention Deficit Disorder from birth, I guess!, and Generalized Anxiety Disorder), and sometimes keeping up with everything, or anything, is hard. I hit some snafus with my health insurance, so I was off my ADD medication for a couple months, so even getting through a day without falling apart was hard. I think sometimes people assume ADD means just being flighty, but that isn’t the case. It means that everything is a distraction, a roadblock to completing a goal, whether that goal is writing a blog post, editing an essay, or just washing some dishes. It means day-to-day life is exhausting, because willing my brain to focus on anything other than a video game or a chapter in a YA novel (thank goodness for YA on my ADD days!) wears me out. And then you add anxiety, which means that any failure to focus is magnified a thousandfold, and my PTSD, which means that I assume that messing up will result in my fiancee hating me (thank goodness he is a good, patient man, or I would not be getting married), and it gets hard.

I’m not writing this for pity, or for attention, though. Well, not for attention for me. I am adding a new section to my blog called “Pop Culture Matters,” and this is the first post there. I started watching Supernatural a few months back, after the urging of my fiancee and my dear friend Shannon, and fell in love with the storylines, even the more outlandish ones, and the characters. I mean, Charlie (played by Felicia Day) is everything I want to be! But, more importantly, I fell in love with the actors. Not romantic love, of course–sadly, haha!–but the kind of love you find when a group of celebrities uses their fame for good.

That brings me to Jared Padalecki, who plays Sam Winchester and who I first discovered as my least favorite Rory guy on the Gilmore Girls. Anyway, I have been following one of his campaigns, #AlwaysKeepFighting, even before I started watching Supernatural. When you are diagnosed with mental illness, sometimes every day feels like a losing battle. I’ve lost some dear friends to their own battles, and I miss them every day. Padalecki’s message of always keep fighting, to not give in to even the worst pain, has been a life saver. We expect celebrities to be perfect. We put them on a pedestal and make them our idols. But by admitting his own struggles with mental illness, he has provided a guidepost to fans who may otherwise feel alone. (And two other actors, Jensen Ackles and Mischa Collins, just rolled out the #youarenotalone campaign, which I will discuss in a later post).

Yesterday, on the one year anniversary of #AlwaysKeepFighting, Padalecki rolled out a new campaign in a live chat on his facebook page:#LoveYourselfFirst Video. I missed the live chat, but watched the video a few minutes ago, and had a long, necessary cry. When living with mental illness, especially on bad days where all you can do is keep fighting to not give in, it is easy to hate yourself, to think you are defective or wrong or damaged. What is so hard, and what we need to be reminded of, is that even in our worst days, we are worthy of love. Even when we feel our most alone, we must remember to love ourselves first.

I struggle with this. I hate my ADD a lot. I hate that I can’t focus, and that when I’m not on my meds, small tasks feel impossible. I hate the anxiety that makes me feel like a failure, the inner voice that says “this is not good enough.” I hate the PTSD that makes me feel damaged, dirty, and unworthy of love. But those, while a part of me, are not ME. I also work in mental health, and know that when our lives are centered around helping and protecting others, it is easy to neglect our own self-care.

I needed to see the video above. I needed the reminder to care for myself. To love myself, or at least try to, before trying to love others. Self-care is important.

And, to any of you out there fighting, I love you as well.