More Attempts to Solve The Problem

There’s a word in Danish, hygge, that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. Hygge is one of those cool words that doesn’t actually have a direct English translation, but instead, describes some abstract and complex emotion or phenomenon. The closest translation of hygge that we can come up with is the feeling of coziness and warmth, usually with food and/or good friends. If I were a linguist, I might even venture as far as to say that the fact that the Danes have a word dedicated to this feeling is indicative of the value that they put on the so-called “Good Life.”

Linguistics aside, though, I am a big fan of this hygge thing. I think of drinking hot chocolate while reading a book in bed, or playing a board game with friends on a rainy day. In high school, I reflected often on the power of contentment and taking pleasure in simplicity. My senior year, I delivered an entire monologue to my English class about how my dreams hinged more on aesthetics than success. A New York City coffee shop, I claimed, would make me far happier than achievement and recognition.

In the year that followed, I graduated from high school, got straight As at Vanderbilt, joined as many student organizations as my schedule would allow, and hunted leadership positions like they were Pokemon and I had to catch ‘em all. Letting go of ambition, I found, was not as easy a task as it seemed.

It was a lesson that Alexander Hamilton apparently learned hundreds of years ago. After becoming a Revolutionary War hero, Hamilton went back to his wife, Eliza, and his firstborn son, Philip. In a letter to a friend, he wrote, “I lose all taste for the pursuits of ambition. I sigh for nothing but the company of my wife and my baby.” Cue the collective swoon of American women in the 1780’s.

Hamilton’s biographer, Chernow, on the other hand, was quick to dismiss this as “poppycock,” as “his career would move forward with its own furious inner propulsion.”

Sometimes, I wonder if my high school classmates saw my plea for hygge as a similar breed of poppycock, like the athlete who says he’s retiring, but then can’t stay away from the game.

Objectively, I have to admit that for both Hamilton and myself, it was a bit over-the-top to suggest that we would give up our accomplishments in favor of hygge (not that my accomplishments are anywhere near the caliber of Hamilton’s). But I also think that it might be unfair and simplistic for history to reflect that ambitious people value success over the mythical Important Things.

In a lot of ways, it reminds me of The Great Problem of the Modern Woman, the tug-of-war between career and family that we keep trying to solve even though LITERALLY NO ONE EVER WINS. And when I think about the fact that Hamilton encountered this dilemma of balance, it makes me resentful that career vs. family is a feminist issue and not an everyone-in-all-of history-ever-needs-to-figure-out-a-balance-of-what’s-important-in-life problem. But that wasn’t even the point I was trying to make.

I think maybe what we could all consider is that hygge is not a lifestyle but a moment, and that the desire for success does not impair our ability to appreciate these moments. Spending every hour of every day in a coffee shop is incompatible with ambition, but spending a few hours there a week is not. If ambition and hygge share a common thread, it is that both fight complacency: they both urge us to not throw away our shot, whether it is our shot at success or our shot at contentment. Maybe together, they could be enough.

I Don’t Even Like Running Though

Alright I pulled myself together and am actually going to write this now.

Every so often, I think about that paradox where if you move half of the distance between your location and your destination an infinite number of times, you’ll technically never make it to your destination. According to Google, it’s called “Zeno’s Paradox,” and it was created by some dude named Zeno who wanted to prove that motion is a complete and utter sham.

At first, it kind of trips you out because it makes sense, almost. But the truth of the matter is that when you test it out in real life, and you really put your mind to it, or even if you don’t, you can probably overcome the paradox and get to the other side of the room.

I refuse to diss math, so I’ve gotta tell you the truth first. The truth is that all infinite converging series eventually sum to a finite number; that is, ½ + ¼ +1/8 + 1/16 … = 1. For some people, that is enough. The jury is still out on whether or not it’s enough for me, but that may just be because it’s been over two years since I’ve touched a series.

Math never hurts, but for me, Zeno’s paradox will always be disproven by a simple act of magic – The Final Step.

Zeno’s paradox is visualized in many different ways, including the original Zeno’s impossible tortoise race, Daniel Tammet’s lamp posts, and Hazel Grace Lancaster’s some-infinities-are-bigger-that-other-infinities. Personally, I’ve always imagined a race – specifically, one of those big-league races where the winner gets to break the ribbon at the end. The runner gets closer and closer and closer to the finish line until suddenly, the ribbon is broken and he’s won the race. And before math and the Internet explained to me why this worked, I justified this convergence through the magic of The Final Step

It is an explanation full of logical fallacies, but I think I’m okay with it. The way I imagine it, the runner can get fractions of millimeters away from the finish line through pure physics, and he makes up the rest of the distance through some combination of determination, grit, and agency that allows him to break through that threshold. Imagine a literal breakthrough, complete with shattering glass.

I’m well aware that this explanation makes even less sense than this blog has so far, but the reason I’m telling you this is that The Final Step is a purely human contribution of agency. If distance between A and B were a variable, and I programmed a robot with an infinite loop to move according to Zeno’s paradox, it would just get closer and closer and closer until the software crashed, as is typical of programs written with poor programming style. And the reason this would happen is that the robot doesn’t know how to decide for itself when to take The Final Step and reach the destination.

As a human, on the other hand, I can choose to take The Final Step when I’m 1/32 away, or 1/164 away, or 1/656 away, or… The number is arbitrary, and it makes virtually no difference on my finishing time because it takes fractions of seconds to travel those distances, but I have to choose one of them. Only then do I break the glass, and only then do I win the race.

But the funny thing is, it’s not that decision that allows me to beat all of the other runners. The outcome of that was decided long ago, and it was based upon an entirely different variable – how long it takes me to move a certain amount of distance.

It’s a sad thing to think about, to have beat all of the other runners, and yet still be stuck in the limbo of infinity.

Death of the Love Letter

As a teacher-in-training, and a product of the public school system myself, I know that one of the questions that teachers must be most prepared to answer is this: “How is this relevant to me?”

The question takes several forms, including the classic, “When am I going to use this in real life?”, and my personal favorite, “Is this going to be on the test?” These are reasonable questions, and like the true teacher that I am, I have spent significant time crafting my answers. In math, problem solving skills and productive struggle train your brain, just like sit ups train your core. In science, organized inquiry is the key to answering both the greatest and the most minuscule questions of the universe.

History, though, has always eluded me.  Either by circumstance or by nature, history as a subject has always been at or near the bottom of my list. And yet thanks to the genius of Lin-Manuel Miranda, the first thing I do when I get home from work these days is pick up an 800+ page biography on treasury secretary Alexander Hamilton.

I realize that this is not a revolutionary (ha ha) thing, being inspired to learn about history because of the Broadway phenomenon that is Hamilton. Countless people have beat me to reflecting on its brilliance as both an educational tool and an unparalleled cultural experience. Having made it through about 20% of the Hamilton biography and listened to the cast album upwards of 50 times, I have learned infinitely more about the first three decades of our nation’s history in the past three weeks than I expected to for the rest of my life when I left my final US History class in the 11th grade.

The most interesting part of my foray into history, however, has not been the lyrics I’ve memorized about the pros and cons of establishing a national bank, nor has it been the amount of the amount of kinship I feel with Hamilton when he refuses to throw away his shot.

Rather, I have been utterly baffled by the way that everyone, not just Hamilton, wrote like they were running out of time. In Miranda’s song, of course, it’s referring to the fact that Hamilton literally wrote 51 essays in 6 months, but as I read deeper into Hamilton’s biography, I am continually stunned by what friends, family, and lovers are willing to lay out on the line for each other in their letters.

At one point, Hamilton wrote a letter to his friend John Laurens that said, “I have written you five or six letters since you left Philadelphia and I should have written you more had you made proper return. But, like a jealous lover, when I thought you slighted my caresses, my affection was alarmed and my vanity piqued.” Basically, this is the late 1700s equivalent of “Why didn’t you text me back?”

But here’s the thing: if someone didn’t text me back after I sent them five or six texts, I would certainly not write, “Hey, I like you a lot and I wish you would text me back, because your lack of response makes it seem like you don’t care about me. That makes me feel really sad and insecure.” I will be the first to admit that the reason I have never sent that text is not a lack of truth, nor one of circumstance. It is something more akin to a lack of courage, or, more broadly, a lack of social acceptability.

Love letters have undergone a similar stigmatization. In Hamilton’s time, lovers wrote each other letters daily. Even Aaron Burr got a letter every damn day from Theodosia. And although Eliza unfortunately burned most of Alexander’s love letters in the process of writing herself out of the narrative (a shame, because love letters penned by arguably one of the best nonfiction writers in American history? Mmmmmmmmmm), we can allow ourselves to imagine that he poured his heart out to her in each. We get small glimpses of what these letters may have looked like when we read a letter to Eliza’s sister, Peggy, in which Alexander writes, “your sister has found out the secret of interesting me in everything that concerns her…She is most unmercifully handsome and so perverse that she has none of those pretty affectations which are the prerogatives of beauty.”

When I was in 4th grade in the early 2000s, however, things were different. When my friend and I were caught passing notes to each other in class, our punishment was for our teacher to ask us in front of the entire class, “Are you passing love letters?”, as if the sheer embarrassment of the notion were enough to deter us from engaging in this behavior in the future. The notes, by the way, were likely a riveting discussion about Green Day or Pokemon or some other romantic subject.

Maybe that wasn’t a perfect example, because anything regarding romance is inherently uncomfortable for an everyday 4th grader. But I also don’t think it’s too far a stretch to claim that if I were to write a love letter to a boy right now, it wouldn’t be as easily swallowed as it was in Hamilton’s time.

There are a couple of reasons why this might be the case. If we were to give our present selves the benefit of the doubt, we might say that perhaps the very form of writing letters with real pens and real paper is inherently more romantic, and thus drives us to express our truest emotions. I will admit that this has a sliver of validity – the few times I do write letters, I do feel more inclined to be a bit more sentimental than I am over text or email. But then again, maybe that’s just because it’s costing me almost 50 cents to send this note which is less efficient in both effort and time than a digital message. #technology

Or perhaps in an older age, especially in a time of war, people were more aware that this could very well be the last correspondence they would ever have with each other, and felt the need to live like they were dying. You know, like the Nickelback song. Or the Kris Allen song. Or the Ben Rector song. There are so many damn songs about this that you’d think that we’d get the message, but that doesn’t seem to be the case.

Maybe what we need to admit here is that we as a culture have become utterly terrified of letting each other know how we really feel. It reminds me of this article, Little House and the Art of Hiding Your Feelings, which basically says that Little House on the Prairie encourages kids to avoid expressing their emotions at all costs. I’ve been avoiding that entire book series ever since my mom tried to get me to read them in my elementary school days, so I don’t have much of a response to that claim, but of greater interest to me is a small section in the middle of the article, which remarks on the uncanny ability of contestants on The Bachelorette to turn on The Feelings whenever they are called upon to “be vulnerable” by a potential romantic partner.

I’m on my second season in Bachelor Nation, and I’ve gotta say that truer words have never been spoken. Every possible insecurity or neglect of feelings is confronted, and contestants who are unwilling to “open up” are given the boot. Words of affirmation are doled out like free Frisbees at promotional booths during a street fair. That’s not what real relationships are like, but maybe they’d be a little healthier if it were.

Now, let it be known that I do not, by any stretch of the imagination, believe that relationships on the Bachelorette are healthy. They are laughable, to the point where at least once an episode, I want to shake a few of them by the shoulders and send them to an isolated island to reflect on their life choices. The drama is staged, the romance is fleeting, and the fact that people are competing with each other for a relationship is deeply dysfunctional.

But maybe they’re on to something with this whole “if something bothers you, bring it up” and “if you like someone, tell them, because if you don’t someone else will LITERALLY swoop in within the next minute or two and you’ll be going home without a rose.” In a cutthroat world like that of the Bachelorette, there’s no time to hold your feelings in. The stakes are high, because if you lose her, you’re gone.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the show, the Bachelorette herself never has to open up or prove herself to anyone, because if she loses one of them, well, there are three more who literally have the exact same hair pouf and dreamy blue eyes. (No kidding they all look the same to me this season who did this casting.) It’s something similar to the way that online dating, especially apps like Tinder, takes away all of the stakes. If one person doesn’t like my pick up line, someone else will. Why put effort into a love letter if you have a solid 25% success rate with “Hey what’s up?” Statistically, someone’s willing to bite. Not only has it become enough to stand with one foot out the door, it has become strange and uncomfortable and scary to step all the way in. And as with any good uncomfortable social situation, the more we neglect to approach it, the more awkward it gets.

All this to say, it’s not necessarily easy or fun to talk about how we feel, especially when your ego is on the line. I of all people I hate confrontation, whether positive or negative, and require far too much build-up time to admit how I really feel. But Hamilton did it because he had to. We don’t have to, but maybe we should anyway.

Because We Haven’t Written a Feminist Post in a While

“Who’s watching the World Cup today?” asked one of the other coaches at summer league this morning. It was an innocent question; it really was. It’s the kind of question you can ask a group of seven- or eight-year-old girls just to get them excited, not because you actually want to know the answer. There was the usual mixed bag of responses:

“I am!”

“My family is rooting for Brazil!”

“What’s the World Cup?” (No, that actually wasn’t me.)

Then the girl next to me, Olivia with her dusty black cap and her short brunette pigtails, turns to me and says, “I’m waiting for the women’s World Cup.”

I smiled at her, and she continued.

“It’s always men’s everything. Men’s basketball, men’s baseball.”

“Men’s football,” I added.

“Yeah! And firemen.”

“And policemen.”

“One day,” she said very seriously. “There should be a women’s New York Yankees.”

She’s right. There really should be. Not a woman who fights her way up and plays for the regular New York Yankees. Not a feminist protest against the New York Yankees for discriminating against women. Simply a women’s New York Yankees.

It’s not that I’m against those other things at all. Far from it, really. But to me, feminism isn’t about all being extraordinary.

I spend a higher-than-average amount of my time reading feminist articles on the Internet, and, while obviously there are exceptions, many of them tell girls to fight for their rights and defy gender roles. There are stories about that one woman who was a rare success in the male-dominated world of business because she was a straight up badass and bitch-glared men into respecting her. The moral of the story is be assertive, even though you are a woman, which does not naturally lend itself to assertiveness.

In many ways, this is an empowering story, because hey look, a woman in power. We’d be stupid not to call that a victory. Unfortunately, though, not all women are natural-born, ENTJ business leaders. You know, the same way that not all men are meant to be leaders, either.

The struggle of a group with little power is that we see an extraordinary woman and we say all little girl should aspire to be her. Feminist articles often come with an implicit do and don’t list. Study this, say this, don’t say that, don’t act this way. Follow these simple steps and you can call yourself a feminist.

I’ve found, however, that being extraordinary is a lot harder than it looks. And so, a quiet woman is submissive while a quiet man is, well, quiet. And a woman who is not in-your-face-assertive simply cannot be a feminist role model. I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again: we attempt to shift away from gender roles by reaching for the other extreme.

Feminism does not mean destroy all men, and sometimes, it doesn’t even mean play with the boys. Feminism means that women are pretty cool. We can do cool stuff. That’s it. Running over the boys while you’re at it is fun, but optional. You don’t have to be extraordinary to simply do cool things. You don’t have to fit some mold of a feminist. Just do you, and do something cool.

I Dare You to Upset This Balance

My mom loves to watch romantic comedies because, according to her, they lack serious problems and always have a happy ending. She is so opposed to conflict, in fact, that she has literally stopped reading several novels because she knew “it was going to be all bad.” Actual quote.

We make fun of her all the time, but I’m sure that if we were to take a survey of random people on the street, most people would jump at the chance to live in a world sans conflict. I am no minority in this regard. When I was little, I used to make up utopias in my head as I fell asleep in the hopes that my dreams would fall into these perfect worlds of my own creation, therefore bypassing the nightmare worlds.

But as my favorite pop culture analyst likes to remind us when the Glee fandom falls to pieces over a breakup spoiler, conflict drives plot.

That’s the reason why monsters exist, even in fairy tales, and the reason why utopias inevitably become dystopias in every new young adult science fiction series. The moral of the story, I guess, is that we are constantly in pursuit of perfection, but at the same time, if we were ever to truly achieve it, I’m not sure we would even know what to do with ourselves.

I remember learning in AP Bio about a million years ago that life constantly moves toward equilibrium, but is very rarely able to sustain this state for any period of time. Even if the concentrations of solutions on either side of a membrane are more or less even, the particles don’t stop flowing. They continue moving back and forth, passively and mindlessly inching toward balance in a pursuit they will never lay to rest. I would give you some more specific examples, but my memory of biology at this point in my life is severely lacking. You get the idea. Equilibrium exists as a goal, not a state.

In some ways, I can see how that might be discouraging, like the fate of Sisyphus, also known as that Greek dude who is condemned to roll a boulder up a mountain, only to find that every time he reaches the top, the boulder simply rolls back down and he has to start over. Because damn, that would suck. At lot. But if our quest toward perfection is truly a Sisyphean task, then we have two options. The first would be to let the boulder stay at the bottom of the hill, the way that the Greek gods intended it to be forever. If we were good enough at pretending, we could even treat the bottom of the hill as if it were the top, accepting the will of the gods in exchange for comfort.

The second would be to defy the gods, Kafka-and-Camus-Existentialist-style, roll the boulder up the hill, make some friends along the way, and get some pretty sweet muscles while you’re at it. You can probably see which option I’m rooting for.

It’s harder to see when we’re talking about a metaphorical boulder, but this is the choice I find myself faced with every day. My life is a series of conflicts, and to be honest, I often wish it were otherwise. Let loose a little, but not too much or else you’ll get in trouble. Be kind, but not too much or else people will walk all over you. Be confident and stand up for yourself, but not too much or else people will be scared of you. It’s like my quest to jump from cliff to cliff, except times a million. Don’t listen to gender roles, because that’s like Feminism 101, but sometimes I don’t want to be in the driver’s seat, and I mean that figuratively, but mostly I mean that literally.

I wish that there were some kind of compromise, and I’d like very much to believe that there is, somewhere, and that it has simply evaded me. But maybe the truth is that there isn’t one, just like there is no true equilibrium. Maybe the world is full of perpetual imbalances, so that no matter how hard we try, we will never be able to rest.

Some might be frustrated by this Sisyphean task, but I will try to see it as a law of biology, created to ensure that we are never complacent in the way things are. Conflict drives plot, and if the alternative means a lack of plot, I’ll fight every battle.

Circumstance and the Pursuit of Greatness

I am Belle, without the Beast’s captivity to make me great.

That was what I realized on my trip down Solano Ave on my way to the post office. Moms crossed streets with a stroller and a toddler in tow; gaggles of campers in matching fluorescent shirts tricked down the sloping sidewalk like a dropped ice cream cone would on a rare sunny day. I smiled at people I knew tangentially, and waved at the ones I knew would wave back. I swear to you, I could hear it in my head: “Bonjour, good day, how is your family? Bonjour, good day, how is your wife?”

There must be more than this provincial life.

The way that the fairy tale sets up Belle makes you believe that she is destined for greatness. She is the girl who doesn’t fit in, only in a good way, and therefore it is inevitable. But it is not her beauty that makes her great. It is not the love of Gaston that makes her great. It is not even her capability to stray from normal that makes her great. At the end of the day, it is her circumstance that makes her great.

This, of course, is not to say that any girl could achieve greatness if she were only to be held captive in the grandiose castle of the Beast. In fact, most girls would not. What I’m saying is that Belle only becomes great in the eyes of the world when she is thrown into unfavorable circumstances. And if the movie ends before she is captured, she is not the girl who saw beauty in the Beast, or the girl who loved her father unconditionally. She is only the girl with the capability to do so. And to the townspeople, she is the girl who is a bit peculiar, with her nose stuck in a book.

The potential for greatness is often not good enough for the rest of the world, and unless you are one of the mythical people who does not care what the rest of the world thinks, it is not good enough for one’s self, either. Because without the right circumstances, the capability for greatness is simply loneliness. In East of Eden, Samuel Hamilton says it best: “One one side you have warmth and companionship and sweet understanding, and on the other-cold, lonely greatness.”

I’m not wishing for horrible circumstances to prove my greatness, or even laying claim to the potential to do so. But I do know that my desire for greatness breeds endless attempts at it, and it sure would be nice to know at the end of my life if I was truly not great, or simply lacking a circumstance.

It would be nice to know if I did not learn enough calculus, or if the opportunity to use it simply never presented itself. It would be nice to know if I did not do enough to help people, or if time and space simply prevented a traditional rise to greatness. I’m not looking for world recognition. It often seems that greatness, even in the eyes of one person, is impossible to achieve without a launch pad. The Beast is no more a lover than a means of unveiling Belle’s greatness.

It’s not an unfamiliar tune: it seems more often than not, the greatest writers were troubled, the greatest actors were bullied, and the greatest heroes came from a place of misfortune and oppression.

This isn’t an excuse for a lack of greatness: I truly want to believe the idea that a person creates their own greatness. I just wish that a Disney movie would show me how.

I wish that it would show me how to love unconditionally without a sister with magic ice powers, and how to find adventure even if I wasn’t stuck in a tower for the first sixteen years of my life. I wish it would show me how to transcend stereotypes, even if my classmates aren’t singing the praises (literally) of sticking to the status quo, and how to find happiness, even if I don’t have an evil stepmother. I know it seems paradoxical, but sometimes it seems like greatness if harder to achieve without obstacles to overcome.

Maybe I’m just being whiny and spoiled, but I’m begging you, Disney, someone: show me how.

Wait I don’t even remember how to get on WordPress

I have always had a highly obsessive personality. Like, not obsessive compulsive. Just straight up obsessive. I find things and I fall in love with them and I don’t let them go.

It started in third grade with the monkeys. There were monkey toys that wound up and clashed cymbals together, monkey birthday cakes because my dad said that he would draw anything I wanted on it with cream cheese frosting, monkey desktop backgrounds that I learned how to download on the dial up internet, monkey comic books written and illustrated by me and my brother and his friends.

I know every kid grows up with at least one weird obsession, but I grew up with a different one every year. There was fourth grade, the year I was obsessed with Green Day, and fifth grade, the year I was obsessed with Neopets, and sixth grade, the year I was obsessed with The Clique series by Lisi Harrison.

The other thing that happens to most kids that never happened to me is that they grow out of obsessions and learn to appreciate the things that they like in a more healthy way. The only difference with me now is that my obsessions last a little bit longer. Like, remember when I was obsessed with Glee for a good three-and-a-half years of my life? And also Darren Criss? Oh wait that’s now.

If you are not an obsessive person yourself, you wouldn’t understand how much these things take over your life. I spent hours memorizing the lyrics to every Green Day song, reading trivial facts from questionable sources so that one day I could impress someone with the very important fact that Billie Joe Armstrong’s cat was once killed in a washing machine which inspired one of the lines from the song Deadbeat Holiday on the album Warning, released in the year 2000. If you name a song that was on Glee seasons 1-3, I will not only tell you who sang it, why they sang it, and in what episode they sang it, but also what was happening in my life during the time that the episode aired.

If you look on Tumblr and are scared by the level of fangirl, I warn you never to look inside my head. I am a closet fangirl, my internal screaming only amplified by the walls I put up to present myself as partially sane.

But the thing is, fangirling is only fangirling when it exists in a world of pseudo-reality. Movies and TV shows and books are only as real as their fangirls believe them to be, and celebrities are only as real as the media romanticizes them to be. When we keep our obsessions in the fantasy world, they are like Play Doh in our hands, and we can shape them in whatever way strikes our fancy, only we don’t realize it. Fangirling is like idolizing the world as it moves past your car when really, the world is static and you’re the one driving.

Once fangirling enters the real world and is applicable in real-life situations, it takes on names with positive connotations, like passion, and love. If you are really obsessed with plants and spend your days memorizing the scientific names of plants and how to recognize them in the wild, you are not a plant fangirl. You are simply a botanist. If you buy Justin Bieber a birthday present and send him love letters and support him in his chosen career path, we call you a belieber, but if you do the same for a boy you know, we say you are in love.

But the thing is, obsessing over real things is unequivocally not like having Play Doh in your hands. Real things move, and change, and ignore you, and disagree with you, and are irrational, and cease to be things that you want to obsess over, and after all that, if you are still obsessed with them, then that is a passion and that is love.

The rest are simply things that must be let go.

As you may be able to imagine, as an extremely obsessive person, this is where I struggle. Becoming obsessed with things in the real world is a dangerous game to play, because there is always a chance that they won’t pass the test and will need to be forgotten. As a long-time fangirl, letting go doesn’t come easily, because in pseudo-reality, nothing and no one can force you to do so. I am in the real world like I was as a child with monkeys and Green Day and Neopets: I find things and I fall in love with them and I don’t let them go. I will always want to continue obsessing, to continue wondering what could’ve been if I hadn’t let go.

What I need to continuously remind myself, then, is that fantasy-world obsessions stay intact as long as you’d like, until they slowly fade away and are replaced by something else. Real-world obsessions are not so easily disposable.

Perhaps most obsessions are best kept in the fantasy world, and in real life, we are meant to let go. We are meant to let go, of course, so that we can make room for our one true real-world obsession, previously known as our one true love. I’d like to think that that’s true.

In Defense of Teen Pop Stars

If Gatsby lived in our day, he would be a teen pop star. He’s cute, he’s popular, he’s rich, he has fancy parties, and he’s really, really, really good at pretending that he’s perfect. He has the kind of charisma that allows him to protect himself while still making you feel like you’re a part of his close circle of friends.

He also has his share of flaws, and yet I’m willing to look past them and only see who I want to believe exists, the same way that girls still idolize Justin Bieber. I love that Gatsby exists and stands outside Nick’s door in the rain and pretends that he hasn’t been waiting for Daisy for like an hour, but when things get real and serious and Gatsby’s flaws start to threaten his image, I run away and ignore it all to protect myself.

Perhaps I’m a bit more like Daisy Buchannan than I’d like to admit.

Perhaps neither of us really loves Gatsby; rather, we love the fact that someone like him exists. I close that book believing that one fine morning…and I ignore what The Great Gatsby is really about. I claim love for Gatsby, but I probably don’t really love him any more than the average 12-year-old girl loves Justin Bieber. I love him obsessively, and at the same time, not at all.

I say that I love Gatsby because he is the great romanticist, but he himself is greatly romanticized. Gatsby pretends in order to make his life more perfect, and I pretend to make Gatsby more perfect. But then again, so does everyone else in that book.

Everyone spends the first half of that book literally obsessed with Gatsby, going to his parties and making up absurd stories about his past. But then he dies, and no one shows up at his funeral. And after about a year, I’m willing to bet that Gatsby is a name that they only remember when someone says, “Hey, remember when Gatsby was popular?”, the same way that the Jonas Brothers faded slowly into oblivion after their five years of fame expired.

Even Nick, the only person who seems to really care about Gatsby as a person, is a romanticist at heart. If Nick were not a romanticist, Gatsby would not be great. It’s easy to see how Gatsby made himself great, but the truth is that his greatness was solidified into eternity by the people who believed that he was great, despite all that happened to him.

Everyone calls Gatsby the great romanticist because it is romantic to think of him as such, but in fact, everyone around him is a great romanticist themselves.

Gatsby’s questionable greatness, though, doesn’t make him any less important. Is One Direction truly great? Maybe. But no one can say that they weren’t an important part of this decade, at least for the average 12-year-old girl who goes to their concerts and hangs posters of them on her wall and watches their videos endlessly on YouTube. Saying that they weren’t important to her life is like saying that Darren Criss wasn’t important to mine.

I think that’s what a lot of people don’t understand about teen pop stars. To me, Darren Criss is an image, but that doesn’t mean that his songs can’t make me smile when I’m sad, or that he can’t inspire me to run faster or spread my wings further.

And Gatsby is the same. Perhaps Gatsby was not truly great, but to his admirers, in all of their wealth and carelessness, he was important.

I like to pretend that I’m a better person than all the people who didn’t attend Gatsby’s funeral, but I forget about teen pop stars as they fade away into our culture of wealth and carelessness. Gatsby was the disposable sacrifice of a group of wealthy people, looking for an image to believe in, and in many ways, teen pop stars are not much different.

So I’ll be the first to admit it: I was in love with Joe Jonas in the 7th grade, I have two rolls of Justin Bieber wrapping paper in my closet, and I spent a good three hours of my life this week becoming a Directioner. The image that we place upon these people is perhaps a great societal flaw, but the least I can do is appreciate them for it before they suffer Gatsby’s inevitable fate.

Breakfast and its Role in Everyday Optimism

There are a lot of hippies out there who say that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. I think that’s super cheesy, but I also think that it’s true. I kind of wonder how much truth gets lost in the stigma of cheesy.

But that’s beside the point. I really just wanted to talk about breakfast.

I am one of those people who eats breakfast every morning. I admit that half of it is purely functional: even if I’m not hungry at all in the morning, there is a 300% guarantee that if I don’t eat breakfast, I will be starving the minute first period starts. Sometimes I eat breakfast and am hungry by the time first period starts anyway.

So I eat breakfast because it makes me not hungry, which is a pretty good reason to eat breakfast, but to me, breakfast is even more important than that. Sometimes, I don’t really want to get out of bed (read: all the time), but then I think about what I’m going to eat for breakfast and suddenly, getting up doesn’t seem all that bad. This is especially helpful on weekdays, but it works on weekends, too:  I can hear the crunch of a bag of bagels from a mile away and will literally come running down the stairs to eat bagels. If you like food – which seriously, who doesn’t, because I like food not even a quarter of as much as the average dude, and I still like food – breakfast is like the guaranteed first good thing about your day.

Maybe that’s a little bit absurd, but if you really think about it, there are not all that many guaranteed good things in a day. There are things that are likely, and there are things that happen unexpectedly (those are the best things), but because of the inherent mean-ness of reality, it’s hard to count on good things happening. If you’re really unlucky, you might not have any good things happen for who knows how long. But by eating breakfast, you are basically cashing in on a given. You know, like all those cheesy cereal commercials that tell you to start your day right. If you didn’t already notice, I am kind of obsessed with bagels so whenever I start my day with eating a bagel, I know I am starting my day right. Which is never a bad thing.

That’s a lot of optimism riding on a single little meal, but I feel like in a way, that’s the definition of optimism. Optimism isn’t being happy about the things in life that are actually awesome, because that’s not really a talent. Everyone is happy about awesome things. Optimism isn’t just making the best out of bad situations, either, though that is important. But everyday optimism isn’t about really good things or really bad things. Everyday optimism is about taking random little things that are neither good nor bad, and then making them into really good things. Everyday optimism is about making each random little thing in your life into a good thing, thus making your day a good day, in whole-greater-than-parts fashion. And breakfast is the first component of that equation.

I admit that I’m guilty of not really viewing breakfast is such high regards at 6:30 in the morning. Because that’s hard. But what I’ve noticed is that when I have one of my favorite breakfasts, like blueberry muffins or cinnamon bread or yes, bagels, and I really take time to think about how this is the best breakfast ever, it suddenly becomes even better. That’s the other thing about optimism: it’s totally psychological. Some people (cough, pessimists), might say that that’s the crucial flaw in optimism: it’s all in your head. But if you were an optimist, you might say that that’s the best thing about optimism: it’s all in YOUR head. It’s not up to anyone else, and thankfully, it’s not up to the world. You choose optimism, and you choose to give breakfast its value by regarding it as valuable.

In fact, you might say that everything in this world is only given power by ourselves. That’s a dangerous power, and also an amazing one if we choose to distribute our power wisely. I choose optimism, and I start by eating breakfast every morning.