Tag Archives: blogging

“objects have lives. they are witness to things.”

There’s an episode of This American Life that I’ve listened to three times now. It originally aired in 2001, but the first time I heard it was as I was driving to meet friends for dinner, probably in 2012. I was so engrossed by the story that I sat in my car in the restaurant’s parking lot to finish listening. I was 20 minutes late to dinner.

The episode is called “The House on Loon Lake,” narrated and reported by Adam Beckman. When Adam was a kid, he broke into an abandoned house in the small town of Freedom, New Hampshire. The house was filled with things, objects, treasures. Somebody had left all of this behind. In the story, Adam returns to Freedom as an adult to find out what happened to the family.

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Photo from This American Life

The story kept me glued for several reasons. I love a good mystery story, for one. I could also relate to Adam’s mischief. When I was a kid, maybe ten years old, I also broke into an abandoned house with a friend at the end of our street. We called it a mansion — it really wasn’t a mansion, but for the town of Mountain Grove, it sure seemed like one. (The median income for a household is $21,131, and 28.2 percent of Mountain Grovians live under the poverty line, which is twice the national average.)

Given its stature — why would the richest family in the town abandon their house like that? — the house was ripe for mystery and rumor, especially for a fourth-grade girl with a wild imagination. There wasn’t much inside the house, except a grand piano. The pool had been emptied of chlorinated water, but standing water from rain had reached maybe a foot. Leaves floated in the water. It was, for lack of a better word, gross.

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Photo from This American Life

But I digress. There’s one passage that causes me to pause the episode so that I can sit in silence and mull over its meaning. I’ll leave you with it, an exchange between Adam and his mother.

Adam Beckman: When my great grandparents fled their home in Czechoslovakia, they’d left furniture, paintings, letters, all very suddenly and never returned. My mother tells me that all those things probably still exist somewhere. With that in mind, she couldn’t bear to see the Nason things rotting away like they had.

Adam’s Mother: And here’s a spoon. It’s all very melancholy, all these little remnants.

Adam Beckman: Why is it melancholy?

Adam’s Mother: The abandonment. The abandonment is melancholy. In a way, it’s worse than throwing away, much worse. I can understand one family being obliged to flee or run or abandon, but that nobody else cared. That it was so overwhelmingly abandoned by everybody, that nobody had cared to solve something, to resolve something. That was very offensive to me. It was like leaving a corpse. You don’t leave a corpse. And that’s a little bit the feeling that I had. That here was a carcass, the carcass of a house, of a life, of a private, and nobody cared to pick it up and give it a proper burial.

I thought that it was important that somebody should care. That somehow, somebody was leaning over these words, reading them, unfolding these letters that somebody had bothered to write. It really didn’t matter that it was an eleven-year-old boy who cared. Objects have lives. They are witness to things. And these objects were like that. So I was, in a way, glad that you were listening.

 

Objects have lives. They are witness to things.

 

jazz age january: hello dolls

Remember those high hopes we had for Baz Luhrmann’s cinematic version of The Great Gatsby? Leonardo DiCaprio and Carey Mulligan were cast as Gatsby and Daisy, Jay-Z’s soundtrack was brilliant, and the trailer was absolutely glittering.

As it happens, the film wasn’t half as good as the two-minute trailer. So it goes.

Either way, my friends and I were excited by the pre-Gatsby buildup, and we planned a Jazz Age party for the movie release. Please don’t give me that “you’re-totally-missing-the-point-of-the-book”; the author is dead, darlings, and even if the parties drowning in gold, jazz, and flappers were extravagant shows of the emptiness of life,  I was more interested in the aesthetic of the 1920s than the moralism of The Great Gatsby anyway.

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Austin and Tara at the party in May, featuring gin and tonic. Photo by Cassie (click on the photo, visit her twitter)

The truth is, I’m fascinated by the Jazz Age. I’m a materialist in every sense of the word: I’m aware of the economic and material transformation of the 1920s, and I’m especially interested in the changes occurring within social classes. I seem to have been born with a mission to overthrow (read: resent) Old Money. But I’m also consumed with materialism–I love the idea of more, proliferation, larger than life, not gilded but gold, things. It’s contradictory, I know. But I am large. I contain multitudes. I am Walt Whitman.

Either way, it’s a paradox that fits quite well in the ethos of the 1920s, so I plan to participate in the Jazz Age January challenge, in which I’ll be blogging about different literary works from the Roarin’ 20s.

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Jillian, me, and Elliott. The good old days, when I was a blonde. Why does it look so different from the photo above? Because it was taken with my old painfully cheap camera and I had to put another VSCOcam filter on it for necessity’s sake.

I only learned about the Jazz Age January Challenge today, but I’m determined to make it great. In honor of Zora Neale Hurston’s birthday, I’ll begin with her works this week, and we’ll see about the rest of the month. You think F. Scott Fitzgerald kept an itinerary? Ha! (Actually, I have no idea.)

Ciao, all.

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wow internet, very critical thinking

In November, I wrote a post about Lily Allen’s controversial song and video “Hard Out Here.” Although I tried to participate in the Internet’s discussion on whether or not the video displayed racism and internalized misogyny, I became frustrated by the arguments on both sides. So, as I always do in my angrier moments, I took to my Tumblr to vent. My venting actually became one of my most well-received posts on Tumblr, which actually restored my faith in the Internet a little, tiny, speck of a bit. It’s also shorter than my original post on this website, and since people seem to respond to closer-to-bite-sized pieces on the Internet, I thought I’d publish it here too:

I’ve always thought that the Internet is an opportunity to democratize critical thought and theory rather than confine it to higher education.

But more often than not, the discussion that I find on the Internet is more discouraging than inspiring. People talk about issues such as race and sexism, but it’s in such generally in such a shallow, self-righteous way, and I have such trouble finding any serious analysis.

Take Lily Allen’s new video for “Hard Out Here.” Depending on who you talk to, it’s either a feminist anthem, or Lily’s a racist pig who’s using black women as props in her attempt to satirize other pop stars using racist women as props. The responses I see bouncing back and forth are “it’s perpetuating racism” or “it’s satire so the racism doesn’t count!”

In reality, what Lily is doing is much more complex either of these accounts. By showing the elderly white producer instruct the women how to twerk (which is such an absurd image based on what we are conditioned to expect), Lily illustrates that this representation of women’s bodies in popular culture is a conscious manipulation created by people in corporations who know that these images will produce a certain kind of impact. It’s intentional. And it’s systemic. (I broke it down in a lot greater detail here.) On the Internet, I rarely see any real attempts at transforming the system, though, as everyone is too caught up in regurgitating the same old words without any substance behind them.

Cultural appropriation is undeniably an important issue that needs to be discussed—and changed. This is why it’s disappointing to see people take it in such a one-dimensional fashion. I see people dismiss Lily’s video with a holier-than-thou complex and mimicking the words “cultural appropriation” on such a hollow level. “Her satire is perpetuating the same thing she’s attempting to criticize.” Please, take a look at the mechanics of her satire before you parrot a tired, stereotypical argument. Then we can discuss whether or not she is successful in her satire.

Plus, a whole lot of these people who are talking about cultural appropriation seem to share a suspiciously similar rhetoric with the vocabulary of White Savior syndrome.

Racism exists as a finite, economic structure in our society. Stop squabbling over the same, worn arguments and calling each other names, because this ultimately distracts from a system that needs to be changed materially (not through ThoughtCatalog).

on beauty (and fashion)

Hello October 21, Hello Blog, Hello Readers. It’s been far too long since I have written for you, I know, but you’ll just have to forgive me. The process of applying to grad schools means quarantining myself off from humanity to study for the GRE and write application essays. You understand. I hope I didn’t miss anything important. Like, say, a government shutdown.

As it happens, during my time off I did do some writing other than “This is Why You Should Admit Me to Your School.” Never one to dismiss a writing trend, I wrote an open letter to a celebrity on my Tumblr. It’s not addressed to Miley Cyrus; I’m sure Sinead O’Conner, Amanda Palmer, and everyone with a Twitter account have that covered. Actually, the letter to Miley Cyrus that grabbed my attention was written by musician Sufjan Stevens and posted on his Ghetto Blog.

You can read the whole thing here (after you finish my blog post, obviously), but here’s the last bit, which refers to the Present Perfect Continuous tense.

It’s a weird, equivocal, almost purgatorial tense, not quite present, not quite past, not quite here, not quite there. Somewhere in between. I feel that way all the time. It kind of sucks. But I have a feeling your “present perfect continuous” involves a lot more excitement than mine. Anyway, doesn’t that also sum up your career right now? Present. Perfect. Continuous. And Tense. Intense? Girl, you work it like Mike Tyson. Miley, I love you because you’re the Queen, grammatically and anatomically speaking. And you’re the hottest cake in the pan. Don’t ever grow old. Live brightly before your fire fades into total darkness. XXOO Sufjan

That’s right. Sufjan’s letter to Miley was about grammar. And hot cakes and Mike Tyson, apparently. Talk about Continually being Present and Perfect, eh?

This is probably not the most accurate image to faithfully represent Sufjan's music, but he's the one who posted it in the first place. That's the danger you get for being ironic, kids.

This is probably not the most accurate image to faithfully represent Sufjan’s music, but he’s the one who posted it in the first place. The danger of irony, kids.

After I read Sufjan’s letter, I inadvertently spent the next few hours (days) on his blog, and I came across this post:

Emily Post. Etiquette. 1922.

FASHION HAS LITTLE IN COMMON WITH BEAUTY

Fashion ought to be likened to a tide or epidemic; sometimes one might define it as a sort of hypnotism, seemingly exerted by the gods as a joke. Fashion has the power to appear temporarily in the guise of beauty, though it is the antithesis of beauty nearly always. If you doubt it, look at old fashion plates. Even the woman of beautiful taste succumbs occasionally to the epidemics of fashion, but she is more immune than most. All women who have any clothes sense whatever know more or less the type of things that are their style—unless they have such an attack of fashionitis as to be irresponsibly delirious.

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The post was preceded by this collage, and I’m not entirely sure why. I can only assume it has something to do with that gorgeous striped top from 2002. Or the fact that Skyler White has a megawatt grin in hopes of a great life after her engagement to Walter White, probably.

In return, I decided to join the conversation. This is the part where I wrote an Open Letter to Sufjan about fashion theory. Enjoy:

Dear Sufjan, I’m a 22-year-old teacher and I haven’t stopped listening to your music since junior high. “Casimir Pulaski Day” is the sixth best song that I’ve ever heard, even though you (and technically all of Illinois) spelled Pulaski’s name incorrectly—splendid music, poignant lyrics, powerful storytelling. Plus you’ve got a great face. You’re amazing. But I haven’t even begun to touch the purpose of this message, and somehow I already digress.

I’m not sure if you posted this excerpt from Emily Post’s Etiquette because you agree with it, but I find it to be pretty problematic. So regardless of whether or not you share Ms. Post’s sentiments, I’d love to discuss it with you.

First of all, the entire construct of etiquette is a classist method of identifying which allows one to identify which people belong in his or her socioeconomic circles so that he or she rarely must leave these circles. Etiquette does not simply equal manners. I can’t help but be skeptical from the get go, you see.

But Sufjan, the point that I pick with this argument concerns BEAUTY. The assumptions Ms. Post rely on are these: beauty is objective, and this objective force of beauty can be known if one has good taste. It all seems very Kantian in its disinterested understanding of the judgment of aesthetics. I can’t help but wonder who benefits and what they gain from setting the ideal standard of beauty. I’m not sure that Post’s and Kant’s ideas are true, although if they are, I’m completely aware that you would be the one to possess good judgment. Your music is beautiful. I think. (I’m not sure that I share your good taste.)

Even more than that (and still on the topic of beauty), here’s what irks me: the implicit idea that this objective form of beauty is that which we must strive to achieve. Fashion is not synonymous with beauty, true. In fact, fashion can be intentionally non-beautiful, or gaudy, or scary, or intimidating, or bright, or muted, or self-expressionistic, or even ugly. With reference to my previous paragraph, if someone benefits from deciding what “beauty” is, then fashion can, ideally, subvert these expectations of beauty.

Of course, fashion isn’t a one-way street to overthrow patriarchal norms that keep women grooming themselves to reach a standard of beautiful that doesn’t exist. Not everyone is as boldly repellent as the Man Repeller. In many ways, fashion can work as a force to keep people unaware and submissive to exploitative capitalistic constructs when they throw away their money on a hi-lo skirt that will be dated next season because Seventeen told them to. But I think the tension between the subversive and subservient forces created by fashion is worth exploring, rather than writing off everyone interested in fashion as hypnotized by an epidemic, don’t you?

Sufjan, you’re the greatest. A conversation with you would turn me giddy with curiosity. I adore you, even though I’m terrified of the prospect that your winged costuming is cultural appropriation. Please keep making music, because few things make me happier.

xoxo Kasia

p.s. (to my readers, not to Sufjan) Remember how I said that it’s worth exploring the tension between the subversive and subservient forces created by fashion? You can expect a lot more of that on this blog in the future. I checked out Roland Barthes’ “The Fashion System” this evening and I am already taking notes.

constructing a narrative of self on the internet

The generally accepted theory goes like this: the Internet allows people to construct and mold their own story, their own narrative; further, the Internet is a space of creation in which people are not hindered by the restrictions of regular life, such as polite society, government, our jobs, or big business.

My Twitter and my blog serve a purpose beyond social media in the sense of communication with friends; what I choose to write is intentional. I share stories and write about topics about that legitimately interest me, of course, but I also mean to write in a way that opens conversation and perhaps even incites people to reconsider how they perceive a given issue. Ultimately, I am aware of what I post and completely conscious that I am trying to create a brand for myself–create a persona for Kasia Kovacs, writer. 

Of course, there is the problem of living. I’d love to monetize my online presence, not because I’m looking for riches, but because I prefer eating and sleeping in a relatively safe area under a relatively stable roof. This is easy for some people. They have trust funds or parents with money or whatever (at this point, I’m tired of being jealous). But at the same time that I spend hours every day attempting to build up a writer’s persona and spreading my work online, I also need to work from 8 to 5 to skate by with rent and bills. This ain’t Girls, Lena Dunham. And then there’s the tricky business of writing a version of myself which feels honest, while trying to follow my company’s policy of not posting anything “inappropriate,” insensitive,” or “offensive” online. These words seem incredibly subjective to me; does “inappropriate” include sex or gender fluidity or twerking or satirizing someone who has a love affair with cursing? Who decides? I’m not sure, but I know that today I had to further reconsider what I blog and tweet, and I decided to censor myself in order to not run the risk of getting fired.

I get it now. The notion of being able to assert control over one’s own narrative on the Internet is more complex than this assumption that Wild West of the cyberspace refuses to bend to traditional powers of capitalism and big media. Even online, money talks so others will keep quiet.

good riddance, doma; and, how to have a conversation

My lunch break, thanks to the glorious combination of food and wifi, is my favorite time of day. As self-declared news junkie, I logged onto Twitter yesterday in anticipation of the Supreme Court’s decisions regarding DOMA (the Defense of Marriage Act, establishing that the legal benefits of marriage were limited to heterosexual couples) and California’s Proposition 8 fiasco (whether to allow gay marriage to be legal in the Golden State). This was the first tweet that I saw:

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Okay, not so informative. And then I scrolled down to this one.

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I prefer to have my news broken by comedians.

“Wow, crazy news week!” I said to a coworker whom I’ve considered a somewhat-acquaintance for about a month now.

“What? I don’t really follow the news,” responded Somewhat-Acquaintance.

“Oh, you know. On Monday, there was that total non-decision ruling on Affirmative Action, yesterday Wendy Davis filibustered eleven whole hours to stop a bill from effectively shutting down all by five abortion clinics in Texas, and today the Supreme Court overturned DOMA, plus gay marriage is pretty much assured to be legal in California!” I announced, which was promptly followed by an uncomfortable silence on the part of everyone in the room.

Oh, that’s right. Politics is a no-no topic of conversation in the workplace.

Instead, I attempted to share my political thoughts on Twitter, something that I rarely do. A friend once said that the purpose of Twitter is to make fun of Lena Dunham, not to discuss life accomplishments (not that I really have too many) nor serious contentious topics such as religion or politics.

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I do believe that overturning DOMA is incredibly important. It’s ridiculous that we even have disagreements about equal benefits regarding any type of couple. But the fact of the matter is, that DOMA was just a symptom of an invasive and crippling psyche which considers any non-heterosexual behavior to be immoral–and this psyche has very real and very violent consequences. While people are celebrating the institution of marriage in D.C., our nation’s capitol recently cut funding for homeless youth shelters by $700,000 and overall homeless services by $7 million. Why is this important in the LGBT community? Twenty percent of homeless youth are LGBT, 58.7 percent of homeless youth have been sexually victimized, and LGBT homeless youth commit suicide at higher rates (62 percent) than heterosexual homeless youth (29 percent).

Once again, though, homelessness is not the only LGBT issue with which we, as a society, should be concerned. I spent eight years growing up in a small Ozarks town where a quarter of families live below the poverty line. In a poor, Christian town, to be gay was to guarantee a life spent being bullied or kicked out of your home–to be transgender was unheard of. This cultural mindset has a tremendous role in determining elected politicians and, consequently, the political decisions being made. We need to talk about LGBT rights in terms of culture, race, and economics instead of focusing on gay marriage.

Granted, this was all too much to tweet, and most of what I saw on Twitter were jokes by comedians (…and wanna-be-comedians), links to articles, and suburban white teenagers tweeting #equality who still enjoy throwing out the n-word on the Internet every so often for good measure. Twitter has the potential to be used as a forum for discussion, but I wasn’t seeing much rational discussion happen at all.

I couldn’t talk about the Supreme Court decision at work, and my attempt at doing so on Twitter was ignored in favor of retweeting shouts of celebration. Where could I have a critical conversation about these pressing news topics, beyond my friend group who generally agrees on everything political? I missed class discussions at my liberal arts college and during my time at Cambridge, but the thought that these subjects are limited to places of higher education is incredibly disheartening and elitist, as if students and professors want to shield their precious knowledge and critical thought from the plebeians who chose not to pursue a bachelor’s degree. My degree was called “literature and theory,” and I essentially ignored the question asked in my final comprehensive exam and instead argued that theory is useless when suspended in the realm of ideas and prevented from material application.

And then I had a thought.

That’s what the Internet and blogging is for, right? Participate in a forum with the entire world! Cast aside the trolls, and share and debate ideas with everyone!*

The point is this: I wanted to begin this blog as an exercise in storytelling. But I miss college and substantive discussion where people are free to throw out and examine difficult ideas on weighty topics. Well, it’s my blog, and I’ll write whatever I damn well please. Welcome.

*If you can afford access to the Internet, that is. The world isn’t flat.