Monday, 19 January 2015

The Power of Fiction

Fiction is one of the greatest weapons ever known to civilization. It’s like a hideout spot, a cozy, warmly lit little nook for when the harsh fluorescent lighting of reality gets to be too much. It’s where our dreams take shape, where we meet characters we can relate with and people we admire, where we embark on adventures, and where we gather memories we’ll relish for a lifetime.

Fiction is a recluse. It’s unrealistic and unpredictable - like going on a roller coaster, backwards, with a blindfold on. Unless you’re the author, you never know what’s going to happen next. As the readers, we have no control over what happens in the next few pages. We must bestow all our trust in the writer and wildly hope no accidents happen while we’re along for the ride.

As a perfectionist and self-confessed control freak, that terrifies me. Yet, I find myself willingly letting go of my power when I enter the world of books. The question is - how? And why?

As the old cliché goes, we’re all caught up in our own tangled webs. We lead frantic and fast paced lives. We have control over everything that can or will happen. But with great power comes great responsibility, and the stress that builds up from managing all this power starts to pile up. That’s where fiction comes in - it’s a chance to sit back and relax while someone else decides what happens next and why.

To shine some light on this issue (no pun intended), we could compare fiction to the sun. It provides light when we’re in the dark. A little ray of sunlight never hurt anyone - in fact, it can lighten up (no pun intended) people’s moods. However, overexposure can lead to problems in the future. In this case, it’s not sunburn or skin cancer. It’s disillusionment with reality - dissatisfaction with the real world.

One of the problems with fiction is that it can be a little too perfect. By the time we turn over the last page, everything is wrapped up neatly (or sorted out to prepare for a sequel). This isn’t a problem, but things start to happen when we compare our lives to those of fictional characters. They’re just so perfect - a fully functional (or perfectly dysfunctional) family, the perfect and absolutely amazing love interest we all want, a set of friends who are so strangely supportive and witty, and a lifestyle that definitely does not involve binge watching TV shows on Netflix and gorging on pizza (or maybe it does, but the love interest swoops in to save the day). None of that is ever going to happen all at once.

Although life doesn’t work like that, we can always pretend like it does. We can cover up our messy footprints, hide undesirable elements of our existence, model our lives as closely as we can after our fictional counterparts, wear masks. But eventually the façade is going to crack and everything comes falling down. Bit by bit, the fresh paint coating our little shells will peel off, exposing our frail bodies, weakened by overexposure.

To make matters worse, there’s YA dystopian fiction. With this genre of books, we can experience (through the protagonist’s point of view) a world where everything that happens in a person’s life is planned out - family, social circle, education, career, potential life partner, etc. And what happens is, somewhere around halfway through the book, we find out that the protagonist has some sort of higher purpose and is meant to determine the fate of the human race.

...Seriously...

Although I’m just as normal as any other person, I like to imagine that I too have some sort of higher purpose. Maybe I’m meant to liberate mankind from the great lie of freedom. Perhaps I’m meant to unveil just how cruel and manipulative the authority figures in our lives are. But at the end of the day, I’m just regular old me. Plain, uninteresting, average, normal.

And that frustrates me. Wouldn’t life be so much easier if I knew what my goal in life was? Why can’t some supernatural force (or maybe just the government) prescribe a formula I have to follow, so that I can make the most out of my time on earth? It feels like I’m dwindling my existence away, and I haven’t achieved anything meaningful. Who’s going to remember my rambling blog posts, my procrastination skills, my shortsightedness, my thirst for knowledge, 50 years from now? I want to leave something tangible on the planet. Something that says “I was here. And you better remember me.”

There’s nothing I can do to protect myself or the people around me from the rays of fiction. It’s all right to soak up a spot of sunshine from time to time. We can’t discount the benefits of reading - imagination, open-mindedness, and a little escape from reality. Although it’s nice to imagine ourselves in a different place every once in a while, we must realise that it’s just not going to happen.

Perhaps the most important lesson that we can take away from fiction is to find a balance. Having too much of a good thing can make the scale teeter a little too far, and upsets the natural way the world works.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

How much does gender stereotyping affect our lives? (Investigative Journalism - bend 3 publishing)

Recently in English we've been working on investigative journalism. I decided to write about gender stereotyping, and since I haven't created any new material to post on this blog, I'm posting it here.

Feedback welcomed in the comments below ^_^

How much does gender stereotyping affect our lives?
By Florence
In a rowdy hall a pair of fighters - a boy and a girl - exchange blows while people below cheer on their favourites. Suddenly, the fight is over - the girl has won. People swarm around her like little worker bees desperately trying to please their queen. Words of congratulations are thrown towards her, but a few seem to stand out like daggers coated with honey.

“Wow! That was great. Coming from a girl, I mean.”
“That was some great technique up there. How did you manage to beat him? You are a girl, after all.”

She doesn’t think much of these comments, taking them in her stride as she soaks in the glory of the win. What she doesn’t notice is what happened before the match - giggles. Gasps. People shaking their heads, as if to say: “Is it really possible for that girl to beat a boy like him?”

Stereotyping is a problem that affects all our lives - in fact, everybody has grown up surrounded by stereotypes, or media that advocates these stereotypes. From when we’re little, we’re loaded up with ideas on how to think, what to do. We’re taught that pink is for girls and blue is for boys. That girls should play fairy princess, while the boys play football. That girls should wear makeup to cover any “imperfections”, that they should look perfect all the time, that boys should be muscular and should look “manly”. That girls should grow up to become mothers, housewives, nurses, dancers - and that boys should grow up to become doctors, bankers, sports stars, engineers.

The Oxford dictionary defines a stereotype as “a widely held but fixed and oversimplified image or idea of a particular type of person or thing”. They can be positive or negative, but are rarely true. Instead of helping us find our way in life, they limit creativity and suppress our abilities to express ourselves freely, instead confining individuals in boxes based on what they “should” or “shouldn’t” be doing.

The biggest problem we face when fighting against gender stereotyping is the fact that it touches almost every aspect of our lives. In movies, women are often portrayed as extremely “sexy”. Their roles often make no difference to the plot, simply serving as eye-candy for viewers, and are stripped of many qualities that would make them interesting characters. Alternatively they are placed into the nursing, caring archetype - taking care of the house, cleaning up, looking after others. Meanwhile, men are taught that in order to fit in, they should be muscular, financially independent, emotionally detached, strong, intelligent and charismatic - all at the same time.

Media producers can find it difficult to come up with a wide range of characters and their individual personality profiles. The easy way out is to come up with a few main archetypes and slot characters into different categories to create a sense of diversity and make it easier for consumers to identify protagonists from antagonists. However, this tactic bends consumers’ views of the world, giving them an ultra-comprehensive but also extra-rigid set of rules to follow.

To find out more about this issue, I interviewed Trisha, aged 13. She shared a story about her tennis class: “We were running laps, and some of the girls were running faster than the boys. The coach shouted at the boys, saying they were too slow and that they should be doing better than us. I felt angry at him, especially since it seemed like he expected us to do worse just because we were girls.” Anvita, also 13, added: “I think the media gives us an unrealistic expectation of what to be. And both men and women have to live up to what the media pushes on us. When we don’t conform to what we’re told to do, people get upset.”

Gender stereotyping is something we still have to deal with for the time being. Women will always be mothers, and men will always go to work. According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR), women only made 78 cents for every dollar made by a man, leaving a 22% wage gap. And UK Feminista states that only 24% of news subjects in global channels are female, and only 6% of news stories are about gender inequality. It will take a lot of work, from men and from women, to make a difference and even things out.

Change is on its way.

Thanks to new-generation “post-feminists”, people are changing what they think about feminism. Instead of a word once synonymous with bra-burning and man-hating, we now have a word that calls for equality. From the perspective of Mr. Raisdana, feminism means “treating people equally regardless of their gender... Feminism means allowing men to feel vulnerable and sensitive and not perpetuating some outdated notions of toughness and masculinity.”

On the 20th of September, UN Women Goodwill Ambassador Emma Watson launched a new project called He for She. In her speech, Watson said: “We don't often talk about men being imprisoned by gender stereotypes but I can see that they are and that when they are free, things will change for women as a natural consequence. If men don't have to be aggressive in order to be accepted, women won't feel compelled to be submissive. If men don't have to control, women won't have to be controlled. Both men and women should feel free to be sensitive. Both men and women should feel free to be strong.” The movement aims to unite both genders in the fight for equality instead of dividing them into “boys vs girls”-type groups.

And media producers do take into account what their viewers say. More and more producers are featuring a wider range of characters in their work, instead of just working with a few basic outlines. The line between “male” and “female” gender attributes is blurring with the rise of androgyny - the act of having both male and female characteristics or qualities. Just as we can learn to follow along with the portrayal of both genders in the media, we can also learn to find balance and reach harmony.

Nathaniel Branden once said: “The first step toward change is awareness. The second step is acceptance.” In order to truly change how the world portrays people in the media, we have to talk about these issues. Have these conversations with our friends, tell them about what’s going wrong. We have to think before we speak, look into the deeper meaning of our words - what are we implying? Why do we phrase things the way we do?

Instead of thinking: “Wow - that was some good fighting for a girl. I wonder how she beat that guy, he looks much tougher than her,” we need to think: “Wow - she’s an excellent fighter. I could learn a thing or two from her.” Without an attitude change, no change is possible. Gender equality can only be reached if we value the strengths of each other.

In the wise words of Gloria Steinem: “We’ve begun to raise daughters more like sons... but few have the courage to raise our sons more like daughters.”

Sources:
Augarde, A. J. "Stereotype." The Oxford Dictionary. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1981. N. pag. Print.
"Emma Watson: Gender Equality Is Your Issue Too." UN Women. UN Women, 20 Sept. 2014. Web. 02 Nov. 2014.
"Pay Equity & Discrimination." IWPR. Institute for Women's Policy Research, n.d. Web. 02 Nov. 2014.
"Facts and Statistics on Gender Inequality." UK Feminista. UK Feminista, n.d. Web. 02 Nov. 2014.

Monday, 4 August 2014

I'm in love (Tonari no kaibutsu-kun)

...With an anime character, natch.

Just kidding! But I have recently gotten myself into a bit of trouble, as I am now addicted to an anime (and quite possibly the manga it's based off of). Ahem.

I'm actually pretty late to all this raving about Japanese and Korean pop culture, but recently while I was on holiday I got bored and decided to watch television (unfortunately since I was in Ulaanbaatar all the channels were in Mongolian except for Animax). And thus I found myself rolling on the bed in peals of laughter and wondering what on earth had gotten into me.

Tonari no kaibutsu-kun (literally translated as The Monster Sitting Beside Me) - or My Little Monster - is a 13-episode anime about Shizuku Mizutani, a girl who has no interests other than her grades and her future, and Haru Yoshida, a delinquent regarded by everyone as a monster but who is simply misunderstood. Put like this, it sounds like a sort of messed up, "boy-meets-girl" romantic comedy. Which it is.

If you don't want to read my crazy fangirl ranting, then I suggest you stop reading this post now.
Don't say I didn't warn you.

But at the same time, it's so much more. It's a story about [domestic] violence, sexism, standing up for yourself, and understanding the sometimes confusing conflict between our heads and our hearts. It's about growing up, falling in love (*ehem*) and dealing with rejection. Basically, apart from the fact that it's an anime, it's perfect for English class discussion. Not that I'm suggesting that our school starts teaching us with manga books. That would not lie well with the parents.

Basically, this show threatens to be the very sweet, very cliche, "girl-reforms-psychopath-and-falls-in-love-with-him-in-the-process" story that shoujo manga is often put as. Two characters meet, one confesses their love to the other, things get awkward then mellow out, the other confesses their love and the awkwardness resumes, followed by some figuring things out and then it's a happy ending.

Obviously, this scene doesn't help the show's set-up.
Don't know if this helps, but he doesn't actually rape her. Just so you know.
Thankfully, Shizuku is not your typical shoujo-heroine. She does not let Haru's romantic intentions get in the way of her studying and hates being told what to do. She also fails to sigh about, pining for her love interest simply to drive the plot along. Which is refreshing, for a change.

This is probably the standard opening scene for most shoujo stuff.
All romantic-ness aside, what makes the show truly worth watching is the fact that it's packed full of scenes that made me smile (which is not easy to do, in case you're wondering). My sister fails to find it laugh-out-loud funny, but she does say that she always wants more. She's 10, so she's quite honest. Bonus points for Nagoya the chicken, too. There aren't many chickens in anime.

This is Nagoya. He's named after Nagoya Cochin chickens.
Character design is decent too, and the use of chibi(s? I never know how to plural this word) was just enough to make it cute, but not so much as to make you think that the art budget was probably being stretched. And the music was great (possibly my favourite part of this anime). The range of sound was amazing - loud and brash for fight scenes, but also soft and quiet for the romantic scenes. 

Chibi!!
This is one of the few anime that I would highly recommend to girls. But guys are free to watch too, I won't judge if you're into this stuff. It's adorable and addictive, but I feel like the manga probably would be better since the ending of the anime is pretty frustrating.

- end of crazy anime ranting -

Monday, 30 June 2014

Summer reading - part one

I feel like my blog posts are getting pretty inconsistent and I've decided to do something about it. The last time I blogged, it was about the end of school. Since then, I've been on a trip to Malaysia, started three books and finished two of them. So I figured that I better blog about what I've been reading, especially since I've been reading so much recently. By the way, I'm on Goodreads now, so click here to stalk me and my books.

Finished books
An Abundance of Katherines, by John Green
4 stars. The plot was predictable, but I did like the character development a lot. I read this book on the first day of summer in one sitting, because it was just that good. I think I may be biased though, because I pretty much like anything written by John Green. Hassan was great for when the plot got boring and I think I have a - and I hate to use this word - "girl-crush" (shudder) on Lindsey. All in all, a pretty good book. More John Green for me, please.

The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger
5 stars! I loved this book. I loved Holden especially, even though his habit of calling people "phonies" got annoying to the end. I wish Allie appeared more through the book though. And Phoebe - she was adorable. So much love for this book. The plot wasn't a lot (basically Holden getting drunk, hiring a prostitute, crying, sobering up, visiting Phoebe, being depressed, and getting drunk again) but Holden was so witty. Something interesting I found out about his name: a "caul" is the membrane covering the head of a fetus during birth. So Holden's last name is a metaphor for his inability to see just how complicated the adult world is.

13 Reasons Why, by Jay Asher
3 stars. The plot was amazing, eerie and left me hanging on the edge of my seat. The characters were not-so-amazing. For the full rant, check out my Goodreads page (hint hint)! In short, I felt that the characters were kind of "flat" and two-dimensional. They were way too similar to the characters in fairytales, where everything is black and white - Clay was automatically good and pure, whereas Justin was immediately shown as an antagonist. This is something I would recommend if you are looking for something light, fast and extremely plot-based to read over the summer. Not something for people who are really into character development and slow pick-ups. Also, am I the only one who found the dual-narration quite tricky to understand?

Currently reading
Great Expectations, by Charles Dickens
Yes, I am still reading this. I had to give my brain a break after one month of this book (I spent the first day of summer reading John Green - see above). I picked it up again a few days ago, and I have to say: I'm glad I didn't abandon this book. I'm still not done with it, but the last few plot twists have really made this book a worthy investment of my time. Looking forward to finishing it up. If it were possible to give half-stars, I think I would give it a 3.5 - probably something I should reread at a later date. And I'd really love if they made a movie remake starring Tom Hiddleston, Orlando Bloom or Benedict Cumberbatch as Pip. Just saying. I'm totally not obsessed.

Fangirl, by Rainbow Rowell
So far, I think I'll be giving this book 4 stars. I love Cath so much, and to me it seems like Rainbow Rowell (I still can't believe that's her real name - but I'm not judging) took a little piece of me and wove it into the story. By the way, that's not gross at all. So far it seems like Nick is meant to be Cath's love interest but I'm not sure I like him, and I'm secretly hoping Reagan and Levi aren't actually dating (maybe Levi and Cath will get together??). The little FanFixx inserts are nice for between chapters, and the fact that Simon Snow is basically Harry Potter makes me love the book even more. If this was made into a movie, I'd hope that Emma Watson plays Cath. Just think of the fandom-ception! 
Also, this book was much better than Attachments, which I also read recently although I'm too lazy to post a review of it. Just check my Goodreads (I'm so good at self promotion now, aren't I?).

So that brings me to the end of this post. Leave book suggestions or any other comments below! 

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

The end of life as I know it.

So, this is it - the end of seventh grade. I can't say I didn't see it coming, but I certainly wasn't expecting it to come so soon.

The past few weeks have mostly been uneventful. Class has been spent wrapping things up, returning textbooks and/or library books, watching movies, playing games, and having the occasional crisp. Om nom nom.

This year has been one long journey for me. From getting closer to my class in Sibu to hurling accusations at other people during mafia, I really have started to feel secure next to the people around me (and I'm not just saying that). It's almost (*almost*) a shame to have to move on now, especially since it's going to take me another 12 months to feel a connection with my mentor group next year.

Before the school year truly ends, I'd like to thank the following people (even those who probably don't read my blog):
- All my teachers, for the knowledge I now hold inside my poor, tired brain.
- All my friends, for putting up with my stupid questions, bad jokes and awkwardness.
- Everybody in my mentor group, for making me feel like I belong.
- Anybody who has ever heard me tell a joke or sing, for putting up with the pain.

During the summer, I plan to read, write, blog, sleep, and eat 10x my body weight in food. And watch television (I may or may not be planning to re-watch Sherlock for the 4th time).

With this post, my year in grade seven comes to an end. Here's to many happy memories next year.

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Book talk.

For as long as I can remember, books have played a huge part in my life. I think I read my first chapter book at around age five, and I've never looked back since then.
However, I usually don't like nonfiction. I'm a very plot and language-driven reader.

When I finished reading the Harry Potter series, I didn't really know what to do with my life anymore.
Basically, I slid down the wall and lay on the floor for a few minutes pondering what to do next.

Sort of like this.
Image credit: http://25andfly.files.wordpress.com/2013/02/wallslide-cartoon.gif
Before we continue, let me just emphasize how much Harry Potter meant to me.
  • I basically grew up with the trio. The first time I read the books, I was only in second grade. But at that point in time, I realized that from that moment onwards I would be a crazy potterhead. 
  • In grades 4, 5 and 6, I dressed as Cho Chang for book character dress up day. I substituted a chopstick for a wand (because I'm just that awesome). 
  • One time, I made a Hermione doll out of a water bottle. The results were terrifying, but I was still so proud of myself. 
  • People who haven't read/hate Harry Potter confuse and frustrate me. 
  • Likewise, people who prefer LoTR over Harry Potter confuse and frustrate me. 
  • I have taken a countless amount of sorting hat quizzes, even though I know I'm probably a Ravenclaw. Although once, I was put into Gryffindor. 
  • When Cedric died, I cried.
  • When Sirius died, I cried. 
  • When Dumbledore died, I was shocked. 
  • When Dobby died, I cried. 
  • When Fred died, I cried buckets. 
  • When Lupin and Tonks died, I sat there speechless. 
  • Usually, Buzzfeed lists like this one and this one make me cry even more. 
  • Et cetera, et cetera. 
Eventually I moved on (gasp!) and I read other series. I read the Hunger Games series and also Divergent. They were okay, but I still prefer Harry Potter (gasp again!). 

Recently, I read The Fault in Our Stars. Before reading it I was so confused as to why everybody worshipped him. But now I completely understand. 

John Green is love. John Green is life. 

TFIOS was amazing. I cried (by now, you probably know that I'm one of the most emotional people ever). Soon I'm going to try and hunt down Looking for Alaska and Paper Towns. My heart broke when I saw the prices in the book store, so either I'm going to wait for my birthday or for Christmas (they're not that expensive, but I can never bear to spend money on anything). 

Last night I started thinking about why I value books so much. And I guess it has something to do with my last-last post: themes. Reading is not only a fun way to kill time, but it's also a great opportunity to learn about the human mind. There's so much that can be learned through reading, and each writer has their own voice and view on things. The great thing about books is that usually you have a opinion on them - you agree or disagree with what the author says, which makes books good material for discussions.

tl;dr (because let's be honest, this post is longer than anything I've posted before): Reading has always played a huge part in my life, and through reading I've learnt about myself, the human mind, and society. 

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Writing Habits

One of the questions I get asked the most is: "why are you such a good writer?"
And it kind of bugs me because the person talking to me often accompanies it with a comment about how they will never be as good as me.
Of course it benefits my ego greatly, but I don't feel like that's a "good" way to compliment somebody.

And I wasn't gifted with magical writing powers, it's all from having writing habits.
So in an attempt to answer these questions, I'm writing a post about good writing habits.

No. 1: Keep a journal dedicated for any ideas you get, or even just to rant in
Not everything that you write will be ready for publishing immediately, and the journal is for making a collection. I'm kind of obsessed with collecting, which my dad says is bad for feng shui. But collecting is okay if it's organised, right?
Basically, don't have your writing floating around on loose sheets of paper because you will lose those papers.
And speaking of collecting, I like to collect notebooks. Writing in a pretty notebook really motivates me. Here's the one that I write in (by the way, I have an obsession with stationery from Typo. I WANT IT ALL):
Ironically, my grandfather studied rocket science in university.
From typo,  9.95 AUD
No. 2: Write in a diary
There are no rules for writing in a diary. I don't mind if you're a guy, I won't judge. Writing in a diary is perfectly fine anyway. 
Just make sure that if you're writing down all your secrets, nobody is able to find your diary. 

No. 3: Make a vocabulary list
#throwback to elementary school - am I the only one who genuinely enjoyed spelling? 
I am? 
Okay. 
(In all seriousness though, this does help. Do this for a couple of weeks and the next time you journal, throw in a few fancy words)

No. 4: When working on a longer story, always stop when you get to the good part
If you stop at a part where you get stuck you won't want to return. But if you get to a part you're excited about writing, you'll get back to your notebook pretty soon. 
Always press on if you get stuck. 

No. 5: Write for an audience
What is it that you're trying to tell the readers? It's great to write for pleasure but sometimes if you want a challenge, write in a different genre or target your writing towards a different age group. 
Authors note: this is good for if you want to make profit off of your writing

No. 6: Clear a "writing space"
I'll admit: I'm bad at this. I just write at my desk, but that works for me. But I get my ideas when I'm about to fall asleep, or when I'm lying on the sofa doing nothing. Which brings me to my next point:

No. 7: Ideas
The trick to writing is having something to write about. If I get an idea I usually write it down before I forget. Which is why sometimes I have drawings or writing on my hands. And no I am not at danger of getting ink poisoning. 

So hopefully that clears up any questions about writing. What helps you to write? Leave suggestions, ideas, habits, questions, et cetera down below.