Sunday, March 8, 2015


In honor of International Women's Day, I decided to write a letter to my younger self inspired by the #DearMe initiative on YouTube. Of course, it ended up a lot longer than I expected, but thanks for reading. Happy International Women's Day!

Dear Teenage Amanda,

I want you to know something: life isn't perfect.

You haven’t moved to New York (I know you’ve been wanting that for a long time). You don’t work in publishing. You still don’t understand how to relationship. Your parents end up getting divorced (you actually handled this pretty well, all things considered). You’ve lost a lot of things: from trivial things, like bobby pins and pens (so many pens), to more substantial ones, like best friends and relatives.

But here’s the thing: you’re in a good place right now.

I don’t necessarily mean that physically — you still spend a lot of time dreaming about New York life and you’re hoping to start moving towards that dream soon — but mentally. You’ll still have stumbling points; your base level of anxiety never seems to leave you, and you’ve perfected your self-depreciating sense of humor, but you have a pretty okay handle on things. You’re pretty okay.

You'll go off to college thinking that you’ll meet new people who’ll replace your high school friends (the ones you, I’m very ashamed to say, sort of abandoned your senior year in order to hang out with another group, who only accepted you on the surface). But while you’ll meet some pretty awesome people (who you still keep in touch with), you’ll come to realize how special your home friend group is during breaks from school and especially after you graduate from college. They sort of become your cornerstone; you don’t have to pretend to be something that you aren’t with them. They'll accept that you’re still changing and will continue to change. They accept you. It's pretty cool.

Speaking of friends, you’ll also get caught up in this crazy thing called fandom. While it’s kind of exhausting at times (and you’ll encounter jerks who want to put a damper on your excitement just because you’re a girl), you’ll also end up with some pretty awesome friends from all over. Embrace them — they’re good people.

You end up changing a lot in college. You prefer skirts and dresses and tights and cardigans now (even though you still nerd it up with a fandom tee). You paint your nails and wear makeup. You have a slightly worrying obsession with red lipsticks. You like wearing shoes with high heels. You took the plunge and got bangs (it was a good look for you!), but you’ll come to realize you like a short, above your shoulders style best (this is a recent development, who knows what your next style will be). You’re still toying with the idea of getting a tattoo.

You’ll change a lot on the inside, too. You still love reading, but you’ll come to prefer comics more (you’ll also develop an insane affinity for Captain America). You mainly read books digitally — it’s totally all right. Social media will become very important to you. Your love for bands like Arctic Monkeys and The Killers stays as strong as ever,  but you’ll also grow to be more accepting in your musical tastes and end up loving Taylor Swift and Beyoncé too. I know it’s kind of crazy to think about now, but your love for Doctor Who and Joss Whedon will end up waning, but don’t worry, you’ll find new things to grow to love, and you’ll always have Gilmore Girls. You’ll also finally learn how to crochet and knit and sew (and you’ll stockpile patterns and fabric and yarn like crazy and you have a little side business making cute things for people). You drink your coffee black with sugar but take your tea with sugar and soy milk. You’ve discovered tons of new and tasty foods. You enjoy baking (cookies, mostly), and you’re really into soccer. Your favorite painting is Edvard Munch's The Scream.

You still cry at books and movies and holiday-themed commercials. You’re still absolutely confounded by guys and flirting. You still stay up way too late sometimes, just for the hell of it. Your sweet tooth never lessens. You have your good days and your off days. You’ve come to accept that there is no such thing as a perfect person.

This realization isn’t as depressing as you think it’ll be. There’s not a pinnacle point of perfection, so you can always aim to become better. You’ll find this intangibility comforting. You’re a constant work-in-progress. You’re still working out how to be a better friend, daughter, sister — a better person. You’ll still make mistakes, and that's okay — own up to them, and accept the fact that, sometimes, the blame really does lie on you. Apologizing isn’t the same as backing down — it doesn’t mean you’re being walked over — it doesn’t mean you’re weak. There so many interpretations, and you’ll learn how to piece them together to help you gain a larger perspective about the the world.

Despite your insistence that you won’t ever take theory-heavy English classes, you’ll end up taking two near the relative end of your time at university (by the way, you graduate a semester late — it’s fine; don’t worry about it). These classes end up being two of your favorites. The first one will expand your thoughts about literature in so many mind-bendingly cool ways, and the second one will open your eyes in so many other important ways. It’ll introduce you to deconstructionist theory and feminist theory and LGBTQ theory and intersectionality, and I can’t stress to you how important you will find all these things to be.

You’ll learn the importance of female friendships. The importance of building other women up, instead of making everything into a weird sort of competition, where the only winner is a society that treats all women poorly. If there’s anything you could have learned earlier, I wish it were this. Value your female friends; value your femininity; value your voice and your agency as a female. Seek out good representations of women in the media. Don’t shame other women. You don't have to tear other women down in order to build yourself up. Don’t be afraid to stand your ground, especially with guys and especially with your guy friends. You’re always going to have to work on this, but please please please, don’t back down.

You still have a lot of things you would like to improve about yourself and about the world. That’s fine. Embrace change, but don’t get yourself down when things aren’t progressing as fast as you would like them to. Keep up with your friends. Don’t stress yourself out too much. Sometimes, all you’ll need to do is cool down for a bit and unwind with a cup of tea and a book or something to watch.

Most importantly: keep doing you. You've already been doing a pretty amazing job.

Best wishes,

Amanda, aged 23

Monday, January 12, 2015

Agent Carter: The Hero We Deserve

I’m not going to lie: I’ve been over the moon about Agent Carter since it was officially announced by Marvel. The Captain America films are my favorite MCU installments, so I was eager to see a continuation of the story with Peggy at the helm. The premise promised three things I love: the Captain America universe, early Cold War era spies, and a female narrative.

I was not let down at all. Not in the slightest.

There’s a lot that I loved about the first two episodes of Agent Carter, but one of my favorite things, by far, was the fact that it addressed the sexism of the 1940s without falling into the common trap of actually becoming sexist.

A lot of this is because we’re experiencing the story told through Peggy, which shifts the focus through a female-centered lens as opposed to the typical male-centric one. This shift allows Peggy to take control of her agency as a character. She’s not a perky sidekick to a male protagonist; she’s not a forlorn love interest; she’s not another in a long line of two-dimensional “strong female characters.”

From the beginning of the first episode, it’s clear that Peggy isn’t out to prove herself to her male coworkers (as as well intentioned Sousa is, she doesn’t need male coworkers championing her cause, which would undermine her further). She’s irked by their misogynistic comments (and has subtle digs on the tip of her tongue), but she’s fine letting her coworkers underestimate her and her femininity as long as that means she’s free to operate and complete missions on her own terms, away from an overbearing male presence.

Unlike other female narratives in man-dominated fields, Peggy doesn’t need sacrifice her femininity in order to succeed; instead, she embraces it as an asset, simply another tool in her spy arsenal. She seamlessly incorporates traditionally feminine items and situations into her spy work: she uses the excuse of making coffee to get herself into a meeting, disguises herself with a blonde wig and a low cut dress, knocks a guy out with her lipstick (while also making a premature ejaculation joke), pretends she’s looking at Steve’s old file for sentimental reasons while also grabbing another item to use out the box, uses an outfit from one of Howard Stark’s sex fantasies as another disguise, picks a lock with her brooch, uses her stove as an extra weapon in a fight, and (my favorite) diffuses a bomb with household cleaning supplies and a perfume bottle. Even better, she doesn’t back down from her femininity for the sake of making men comfortable (for instance, when she uses “ladies’ things” to be excused from work).

Underneath all of Peggy’s femininity, though, is a very finely concealed anger that is poised to break through at any instance (we see this in the first Captain America movie when Peggy decks Hodge and also when she fires a gun at Steve). Her fighting style isn’t the graceful and acrobatic agility of Natasha Romanoff or Melinda May, who both use the momentum of their opponents against them. Peggy is absolutely brutal in comparison. She bulldozes in, barreling into her opponent full-stop and using every and an item in her reach: guns, knives, stove burners, briefcases, staplers. She’s absolutely unapologetic, and it’s definitely a sight to behold, especially in her quieter moments of rage like threatening a guy in the diner with a fork because of his misogynistic behavior towards Angie.

Even though Peggy is one of few women who has a secure job in man-dominated field, she doesn’t lord her specific set of privileges above other women; she welcomes the companionship (even when her job forces her to push them away). Peggy and Colleen’s relationship echoes, in a way, Steve and Natasha’s friendship in the first part of The Winter Soldier — Colleen chiding Peggy about dating and Peggy giving orders. She and Rose, the telephone operator who is in direct contact with the SSR office, seem to be on a friendly basis with each other (I would actually love to see this explored more in a later episode). I really enjoyed the protectiveness and playfulness of Peggy’s friendship with Angie, and I can’t wait to see Peggy interact not only with her new neighbors, as well as her landlady, in the upcoming episodes.

The most notable relationship that Peggy develops throughout the course of the show is her working relationship turned friendship with Stark’s butler, Edwin Jarvis.

First off, Jarvis himself is a wonderful character. He isn’t traditionally masculine, but he also isn’t coded as gay (his major concerns besides butting his way into aiding Peggy are making soufflés and washing the linens for his wife). He wants to help Peggy (and is very insistent in offering his help), but he doesn’t want her job or claim that he can do it better than she can. He’s there to challenge and support Peggy, not as a rival or a love interest, but as a friend (side note: I love how much of Peggy’s interaction with men isn’t laced with romantic undertones, with the possible exception of Sousa, who might develop into a love interest?).

This friendship, cemented in the scene at the end of episode two where Jarvis is giving Peggy a pep talk very similar to the one Peggy gave Steve before he decided to do something more with his Captain America persona, is such a positive one as we see Peggy begin to transform into her own version of the Captain America legend (albeit on a deeply personal, very private level). Jarvis gives Peggy a very safe outlet to discuss her private life that she can’t disclose with her coworkers or her other friends. From the earliest moments of the show, it’s clear that Peggy’s grief and her past relationships don't define her, but, in her moments with Jarvis, they don't become cast aside or minimized; they become shared.

Perhaps my favorite scene across both episodes was one of Peggy’s fight scenes which brilliantly paralleled a fictional fight during the Captain America Adventure Hour, the in-universe radio show. Bookended by her fictional counterpart’s entreaties of “If only Captain America were here to rescue me!” and “Captain America, what would I ever do without you?”, it really sunk in: Peggy Carter can do everything Captain America did, except backwards and in high heels.

Overall, the first two episodes of Agent Carter were everything that I could have hoped for and so much more! I feel neglectful in my analysis that I didn’t discuss the actors, but Hayley Atwell and James D'Arcy are wonderful and I can’t wait to see more of them as well as Enver Gjokaj and Lyndsy Fonseca in future episodes (also woah Chad Michael Murray). I also really appreciate that so many people who worked on the Captain America films are also writing/directing episodes. I really really loved the premiere, and I can’t wait to see how Peggy’s story unfolds!

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Then how should I begin

As I write these words, I'm perfectly aware of the cliché of the twenty-something blogger. And because I like to one-up clichés, I start my (new) blog New Year's Day. How delightful.

But if there's one thing I learned in the year I've graduated college (with an English degree, of course), it's that I really do miss the writing. I miss the discussion. I miss the unraveling, the decompacting of ideology. Sometimes, I even miss the almost ironic levels of pretension that echo through analysis and argument. Language as the cornerstone of performance. Performance as identity.

This past year, with a permanent break from school and no long-term obligations (and the echoing refrains of "What Do You Do with a B.A. in English?" in my head), was supposed to be a year for me to reflect and find my center. In actuality, it's felt more like a lost year. A year of knowing what I want to do, where I want to live, but not having the means to do that yet. A string of open-ended objectives with no set schedule, sitting stagnant as close friends pass GO and collect their $200 (and their associated benefits!), wondering when my time to cross, to begin, will finally come.

I've never been particularly good at starting things, or, rather, I've never been particularly good with dealing with the pomp and circumstance that surrounds something brand-new. Not when it's directed at myself. Not when it's something only for me. I like being behind-the-scenes, moving the pieces, involved but not in the spotlight. My second degree is in public relations, but while I have no problems developing and talking about the objectives and tactics of others, when it comes to my own, I stumble. I lose myself.

Myself. My identity.

I am an amalgamation of my family, my friends, the people I meet, the stories I consume. I am an amalgamation of ideology. I am problematic. I am working at becoming better.

My inner reality is in a constant state of flux.

I think about this a lot. The conflict between inner and outer realities. How we view ourselves versus how others perceive us. Variable versus static. The lenses never really match up. Intentions are missed and misconstrued. And so we cling to the traits that we feel define us in the eyes of others, perfectly aware that "In a minute there is time/
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse" (pretentious English major that I am, the words of Prufrock reverberate through me).

This has always been the crux of my hesitancy in starting and regularly updating a blog (it's the crux of my hesitancy to ever speak up about myself). With every word I type, every word I say, I begin to collapse the void between my inner and outer selves just a little bit more. My words spiral out, creating and compounding new meanings over which I have no control. Sharing my inner realities publicly (even through the faux safety of an impersonal digital screen) and having them conflict with the outer reality others have already constructed for me, terrifies me. I'm not as great as you think. I'm not as good. I'm not as smart, as clever, as whatever. I am entirely too pretentious.

I've probably gotten far too extisentially self-analytical for an introductory post on a blog that was mainly going to be about books, but, as I mentioned, the stories I consume are innately tied to my construction of myself, both internally and externally. I can't promise I'll wax philosophical in all of my posts (you'd probably prefer if I didn't), but, hey, thanks for reading the ramblings of yet another twenty-something. Welcome to my blog.