Friday, July 31, 2015

Feature Friday: The Bletchley Circle

Hello everyone and welcome back to Feature Friday! I do want to announce that I have decided to make this a bi-weekly feature, rather than a weekly one. I want to make sure the recommendations I am making are things that I genuinely love and find worthy of featuring, rather than something I write about just to make a deadline. Cool? Cool. Moving on.


London, 1952. Susan is living a quiet life with her husband and two children. But she has a secret she is legally bound to keep from even her husband: during WWII she worked as a code breaker at Bletchley Park, the institution whose soul purpose was breaking the German Enigma Code. You can bind a woman to secrecy, but you can't take the code breaker out of her, so when a string of murders start occurring in London Anna cannot help but attempt to solve the puzzle. When it becomes clear that the police are not going to catch the culprit and that she cannot solve the crime on her own, she calls fellow former Bletchley code breakers Millie, Jean, and Lucy to help her catch the killer before another girl is taken.

Look me in the virtual eyes and tell me that is not the greatest premise for a detective show you have ever heard in your entire freaking life.

Aside from that absolutely flawless premise, the feminist history nerd inside me loves this show for highlighting an aspect of WWII that is often unknown and even intentionally erased: the role women played during the war. And I'm not talking about Rose the Riveter and all the woman who took up work in the factories; I'm talking about the women who were directly involved in the war in institutions such as Bletchley Park, scientists and mathematicians working in an effort to end the war. It is a common misconception that women were involved only as secretaries, which was admittedly the official report for decades after the war. Men and women alike were forced to sign contracts binding them to secrecy about their jobs during the war, and as a result many of the women involved insisted they had done mere clerical work. However, when the files were finally declassified and the truth about such projects became known the role women played went largely unannounced and unnoticed, so while the men of the time received their rightful praise, the women, save a few notable exceptions, continued to be excluded from the narrative or included only as extras, as secretaries in the background. As fantastic of a movie as The Imitation Game is, and it really is, it did further perpetuate the idea that aside from a few particularly exceptional women, the intellectual side of WWII was dominated men. The Bletchley Circle is finally, finally bringing attention to the fact that that is simply not true.


You were right. They're never going to find him.

The show is also really interesting simply because of the strategy the women use to solve the crimes. They are not your typical Sherlock Holmes characters who pick up on the tiniest of details and magically put everything together in a way no normal person would ever be capable of doing. Instead, these detectives use the same systematic analysis as they used during the war to identify patterns and connections between the murders that the police have failed to recognize. I really feel like it sets this show apart from other detective stories and makes it one worth watch amidst the ocean of other choices.

I have so far only watched the first season, but I cannot wait to sit down and binge my way through the second one on my next Netflix night, and I am hopeful that maybe just maybe there will be a third. Fair warning: the first season has only three, one hour long episodes, so it is nothing huge, but I think the pacing worked well and I don't think the brevity of the first story hinders it at all.

What do you all think? Seen it? Want to see it? No interest? Chat in the comments!

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Monthly Faves: July 2015


*Nonchalantly returns to monthly post I've forgotten about like 3 months in a row*

*Acts as if I've been completely consistent*


Seriously though I am so on top of it this month. I had a page in my blogging journal specifically dedicated to noting cool things I found during the month that I wanted to share with you. Aren't you proud of me? 

Well I'm proud of me. Anywho, without further ado here are my faves from this past month!

Blogs


1. JoieFatale

JoieFatale is a beautiful mix of fangirl and fitness inspiration, and turned out to be exactly what I needed this month to get my ass in gear. While all her posts are nerdy and wonderful, what really sets her blog apart are her workout cosplays. She has put together workout outfits based on a variety of characters, ranging from Garnet from Steven Universe, to Ana and Elsa from Frozen, to the Colossal Titan from Attack on Titan. Any fangirl looking for a way to represent some fandom pride at the gym is sure to find something on her blog. When I asked where she got the idea for her workout cosplays this is what she told me:
"...I wanted to feel empowered with me working out. Since cosplay is one of my goals on losing [weight]...I figured making cosplay a part of the workout progress was ideal for me."
Go get empowered with her. You're sure to find something that will encourage you to get back on track with whatever your fitness/health goals might be, and probably another show or 20 that you need to add to your Netflix queue. And stay tuned for a really cool collaboration we're planning together!



2. Tea Time Tails

Amanda and I decided shortly after discovering each other that we were pretty much blogger twins. We just share a certain nerd frequency, you know? I initially fell in love with her blog because I was just so excited to have found another gamer in the blogging world, but it was realness and honesty of her posts that kept me around. When I was trying to fit the "blogger image"- whatever that even means- Amanda was unapologetically sharing her inner nerd, struggles she was facing at a given time, and whatever else she damn well pleased. And I love her for that. Reading her blog is a big part of how I realized just how much of me was absent from my blog, and that I was allowed to change that. Definitely pop over and check her out; she'll make a fabulous addition to your bloglovin feed.


Podcasts


I got super into podcasts this month. I never used to listen to them, because I had a hard time paying attention to them. I'm a very visual person and without anything for my eyes to do I wound up getting distracted and forgetting I was supposed to be listening, but after starting my own podcast, I figured I should probably start listening to others'. To solve this problem I started listening when I was doing the dishes or taking a shower, stuff that lent itself to focusing on something else at the same time. And now I'm addicted. Here are the best ones I found this month!



And now the weather.

Okay so I don't live under a rock and Nightvale was on my radar long before this month. I actually tried listening to it a few years ago when it got really popular, and when I decided I was determined to start listening to podcasts, this is the first one I went to. For those of you who don't know, Welcome to Nightvale is a story based podcast told in the form of a radio show for the secluded desert town of Nightvale. The strangeness of the town is made immediately obvious and is really the driving force behind the podcast. It is weird and slightly creepy and just so, so good. It is also really great if, like me, you like things that take not-so-subtle digs at problematic political and social institutions (racism, xenophobia, etc), sort of like The Onion does with its headlines. Oh, and the character cast of this podcast is more diverse than pretty much anything coming out of mainstream storytelling at the moment. As a whole it is a bit hard to explain, but I would highly recommend checking it out.


2. Nerdette 

Because everyone is a little nerdy about something.

I am seriously in love with this podcast. Nerdette is a podcast hosted by Greta Johnsen and Tricia Bobeda that is meant to be a fun safe space for nerds of all passions to share what they love. Every episode features a different guest who shares what their particular passion is. The great thing about this podcast is that you can find something for you no matter what it is you're nerdy about. History? Here's an interview with narrative non-fiction writer Erik Larson. Science? How about this episode with nuclear engineer (and former Survivor contestant) J'Tia Taylor. There is even an episode where they spoke with the creators of Weclome to Nightvale, which is a great one to listen to if you want a better explanation of it than what I just gave, though it contains some brief spoilers. I really love this podcast because it introduces you to little pieces of things that other people are really passionate about that you might not otherwise be exposed to or spend time thinking about. I'm not a science person at all, but I really love listening to the episodes with science-y people because it makes it accessible to me. There is just nothing better than listening to someone talk about what they're super passionate about, no matter what it is.

Songs


I seriously belt out this song in the car. I get very emotional when it comes on. I feel you Rachel.

And honestly everything else by Fifth Harmony as well because lets be honest.

3. Uma Thurman by Fall Out Boy
If there were ever lyrics that demanded to be shouted from the rooftops "I CAN MOVE MOUNTAINS I CAN WORK A MIRACLE, WORK A MIRACLE" would be them.


That about wraps out this months favorites. I am hopeful that next month I'll also be able to include books and/or t.v. shows, etc, but July was just kind of crazy and I did not do a whole lot of reading or watching anything. Hopefully I can get my shit together for August, but who knows.

Also I felt like my blog was distinctly lacking in GIFs. I just really feel like that was a thing this site needed. How do you all feel about that?

What have been your faves for the month?

Monday, July 27, 2015

Currently Reading: All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr



I borrowed this book from the Barnes and Noble I work at, because saving money and all that, and then half way through the book I decided just to buy it because I could just tell this one is going to give me feelings and I'm just going to want to be able to take it off my shelf and hold it sometimes. You know?

All The Light We Cannot See tells the story of  Marie-Laure, a blind French girl living in Paris, and Werner Pfennig, an orphaned German boy with a curious mind and a knack for fixing radios, whose lives were swept up in the chaos of World War II. The book tells their stories in alternating chapters, following Marie-Laure as she and her father are forced to flee Paris for Saint-Malo during the German invasion, and Werner as he escapes his fate working in the mines only to find himself forced into a much more unnerving world at one of the country's top military schools.

I'm currently about half way through the book and so far I absolutely adore it. I just want to wrap up Marie-Laure and Werner and hide them away in a safe place where none of the terror or grief of the war can ever find them.


So far I personally am more interested in Werner's story. Marie-Laure is a beautiful character and I am very emotionally invested in her well being, but at the same time I feel like the most interesting aspects of the narrative are in Werner's chapters. He is a young boy who initially understood very little about the war or the school he was being sent to; he was just happy to have escaped his father's fate working, and likely dying, in the mines. But the longer he is at the school the more uncomfortable he becomes and he really begins to question the nature and morals of the system he has become a part of. I feel like I'm getting close to a turning point in his narrative, but I'm not sure what exactly that turning point will be or what it will mean for him.

I am really looking forward to finishing this book and finding out where they both end up at the end of the war, but at the same time I don't want it to end because then I will inevitably have to move on from it. I think that, like The Book Thief, this book is going to be difficult to follow, because I'm not going to want to let go of this story in order to enter another.

If you've read or are reading All The Light We Cannot See tell me what you think of it. If not, I highly recommend looking into it!

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Musical Confessions: Come to the Dark Side; We Have Fiddles

Do any of you have a musical genre that you love that simply does not exist on the radio? A genre that requires you look up songs on Youtube or put together your own Pandora playlist in order to listen to them or find new music, because lord knows WCSX or whatever is never going to play it on your morning commute.



Here's the thing: I love folk music. Mainly Celtic, but folk music in general really. I just absolutely freaking love it. And let me tell you, that is not a discovery you make without some effort. I honestly don't even remember how exactly I stumbled upon it. I believe it entered my life via a movie soundtrack playlist I had put together on Pandora for when I was writing or doing homework. You know how Pandora is; no matter what you intend a station to be it always throws in something unexpected from time to time. And for me that something was Siuil a Run by Celtic Woman.

It was just down the rabbit hole after that.

And now I just sit at my computer listening to Pandora wondering how on earth anyone is not obsessed with this music. Songs range from hauntingly beautiful to the type of bubbly upbeat music that you simply can't not dance to. And there are fiddles. Like, the fiddles alone are reason enough to lock yourself in a room with a pair of headphones and a Celtic Woman cd, let's be real. The music is just so pretty and so much fun. I cannot think of a single reason not to love it. Plus when you sing along you get to pretend you can speak Gaelic for the bits not in English. I can't be the only one who loves to sing along to songs in other languages. As long as it sounds similar it's all good, right?

Basically, what I'm trying to say is if you love yourself you will head straight over to Pandora and create a folk music playlist for yourself. On top of being amazing and beautiful and everything else, it is also, I think, really great productivity music. My Blackmore's Night playlist is my writing music and it has seen me through many a college essay.

Here are some of my absolute favorites to help start you off on your new musical journey.

Teir Abhaile Riu by Celtic Woman
Ready for the Storm by Deanta
A Spaceman Came Traveling by Celtic Woman
John Riley by Grada
The Voice by Celtic Woman
A Mhuirnin O by Clannad
Nil Se'n La by Celtic Woman
Fires at Midnight by Blackmore's Night
At The Ceili by Celtic Woman

Do you have a favorite music genre people might not expect? Or any musical loves you simply will not find on the radio?

Monday, July 20, 2015

Book Cover Makeup Inspiration: A Thousand Pieces of You



I am a nerd of many passions, and if you've been hanging out on this blog for longer than 30 seconds you know that two of those passions are books and makeup. And awhile ago I was thinking, wow I would really love to find someone who does makeup looks based on book covers, like how freaking cool would that be?

But I couldn't find anyone. So I decided to try it out for myself, because amateur book cover makeup look is better than no book cover makeup looks, right?

I knew right away that the first cover I would try would be A Thousand Pieces of You by Claudia Gray, because it is just such a gorgeous cover. If you have not read this book yet I highly recommend to add it to your TBR list; I cannot wait for the second one! You can find my review of the book here!

I opted to stick to color inspiration, mainly because that is about as far as my current talent will allow. I'm neither a huge fan of nor am I particularly good at really bold eye makeup. I tend to stick to the type of makeup I would be willing to wear out in public, so it is nothing crazy, but I hope these end up being something fun anyway. And who knows, maybe as I keep going I'll branch out a little bit.

For this look I used:



What are your thoughts on both this look and this project in general? Would there be any interest in me trying out other book covers as well? And if so which ones? Let me know!

Friday, July 17, 2015

Feature Friday: Death Parade

I had a weekly series called Feature Friday on this blog when I first started, but it fell through the cracks when I was trying to decide what exactly this blog was going to be. I recently decided to bring it back, so from now on every Friday I will be featuring some bit of pop culture that I really enjoy and think is worth sharing. Unless, you know, I forget. It happens.

This week I submit for your consideration, Death Parade, an anime written by Yuzuru Tachikawa that aired earlier this year.



I want to include the opening just because it cracks me up. The music is so upbeat and the animation is so goofy, and it makes it seem like you're getting ready to start a silly, lighthearted anime. And then the first episode happens and you just sit there feeling confused and betrayed. By the end of show I had actually decided it really fit the feel and message behind the show quite well, but that was definitely not my first impression. So if you want a giggle, watch this first, and then read the premise of the show.



The premise of Death Parade alone should, I think, be enough to convince you to add to your Netflix queue. When two people die at the same time, they are sent to an arbiter to be judged. The individuals do not know they are dead, and the arbiter uses this fact to convince them to play a game, with the implication that they are playing for their survival. In reality, the games are meant to bring out the darkness of each person’s soul, so the arbiter can determine whether that soul should be reincarnated or sent into the void. The games themselves are variations of the usual classics, bowling, darts, air hockey, but all with a twist intended to increase the players stress levels. The main character of the show is Decim, the new head arbiter of the bar QuinDecim, and each episode showcases one pair of humans sent to him for judging.

Didn't see that coming based on the opening, didja?

Death Parade is fascinating because it is far more focused on character development and psychology than on an evolving plot. The primary question of the anime is, or at least was to me, pretty clear from the first episode: is it truly fair to judge humans and determine the fate of their souls based solely upon their actions in extreme situations? The show actively questions the very structure of the rules of its own world, and it heavily emphasizes the impact and consequences that question has on and for the characters, both the arbiters and the humans they are judging. What happens when a system with so much at stake is fundamentally flawed?

I found the psychological aspect of the show endlessly fascinating. It essentially raises the question of what it means to be a good or bad person. Many of the humans sent to be judged crack under the intense pressure of believing their lives are staked on the games, but does that make them an inherently bad person? During the judging you are also given flashes of the humans’ memories leading up to their death and, at least for me, these memories often offered explanations for the way the people reacted to the games. I found myself disagreeing with many of Decim’s decisions, because to what extent can you judge a person’s actions and responses to stress without putting those actions in context with their individual life experiences? What I really loved about the show is that Decim himself is not stagnant in this regard. He regularly questions both his judgments and the very system of judging he represents. And that, I think, is the best part of the show. It establishes a flawed system and, rather than suggesting nothing can be done to change established institutions, it forces us to ask what could be done differently, better.

I’m really struggling to explain how fantastic this show is without giving spoilers, and I’m not sure that what I’ve written will make sense to someone who hasn’t seen it. If that is the case you’re just going to have to trust me and queue it up because even if I failed at explaining it, Death Parade is such an amazing show and I would highly recommend it to anyone that is even slightly interested in the premise: it will not disappoint. As an added incentive, the show is only one season long, so there is not a huge time commitment to watching it like there are with many other anime (*cough* One Piece *cough* Naruto *cough cough*). I flew through it in two nights of watching. I am normally skeptical of single season anime because they always feel unfinished or rushed to me, but even in this respect I think Death Parade is pretty much flawless. The pacing is great and the ending is satisfying; it leaves it open to potentially being continued in an OVA or second season, but it does not need one, and I highly doubt it will get one. Even if I do desperately just want more Decim in my life (and oh my gosh I freaking do; I have so many Decim feelings you don't even know) I can honestly say I was happy and satisfied with the way it ended.

Have any of you watched Death Parade already? What did you think of it? And if you have not seen it, would you consider it? Let me know! And if there is something you love that you think I should check out and potentially feature in the future, tell me about it below!

Monday, July 13, 2015

The Problem with the "Strong" Female Character

*EDIT: THIS POST HAS BEEN EDITED SLIGHTLY AND RE-POSTED TO MY CURRENT BLOG AT KATSYXO.COM WHERE THE CONVERSATION HAS CONTINUED. I WOULD LOVE TO HEAR YOUR THOUGHTS, SO PLEASE SHARE THEM THERE!*

In recent years the feminist community has been calling for an increase of “strong female characters” in popular media, be it books, movies, video games, or any other form of storytelling. And I think that was probably a mistake.


Don’t get me wrong; the intentions were good. Of course we need better representation of women in pop culture. The mistake, I think, was in the word choice of our war cry. We demanded strong female characters, when we should have demanded complex female characters. Of course we want to see more “strong” women in popular media. Of course we have grown tired of being the damsels in distress, the passive princesses waiting in the tower to be rescued. But I am also tired of being the two-dimensional love interests, the tragic death that inspires that male hero, the busty background decoration, the sexy but silent prize to be won.


As a result of this linguistic misstep, the layer of grimy misogynistic film that currently covers popular media was given a crack to seep through. “Look,” the writers said. “We gave this one a gun. She even knows how to use it. Now sit down, shut up, and leave us alone” Our desire for more balanced and more progressive representation was met with faux-feminist films like “Sucker Punch” and are you happy now nudges in the form of characters like Doctor Who’s River Song and Shelock’s Irene Adler. (Okay, so maybe I specifically have some Steven Moffat issues, but the point stands). On the surface it certainly seemed like progress, but if we measure progress on a scale of Princess Peach (constantly kidnapped and 100% useless) to Princess Zelda (constantly kidnapped, but plays mild roles in the plot and sometimes shoots a bow in the final battle), we are setting ourselves up for a low scoring game. What the early crusaders of this battle failed to recognize, or at least failed to articulate at the time, is that a character can be strong and still be two-dimensional, male fantasy fulfillers, or exist for no reason than to complicate or further a male character’s story. 


Let's take River Song, for example. I do not believe anyone would accuse her of being weak; she knew how to take care of herself, was extraordinarily headstrong, and certainly never let anyone boss her around. On the surface she seems like exactly the kind of character we have always wanted. But the more you consider her role in the story, the more apparent it becomes that she was more of a plot device than anything. She was a mystery, a point of confusion, someone neither the viewers nor the Doctor could make sense of (which, as it turned out, are the only kinds of female characters Moffat is capable of writing; oops, am I ranting again?). She is a recurring and prominent character for three seasons, but as soon as the truth about her past and her identity was revealed she was phased out of the story, a convenient and timely removal that Moffat had built into her character from the very first episode she is featured in, “Silence in the Library.” On top of that, her entire life revolves solely around the Doctor. She is kidnapped as an infant with the intention of training her to kill him; when she finally meets him she falls in love with him instead and spends the rest of her life chasing him throughout time and space, until at last her story ends (begins?) with her sacrificing herself for him in “Forest of the Dead.” In short, River Song did not exist independently of her relationship to the Doctor, and as soon as her role as the mystery in the plot came to a close her character was removed entirely. Not exactly my idea of brilliant representation.


Compare River Song with Sansa Stark. She is far from being physically strong and she is certainly not a fighter, as is emphasized by the repeated juxtaposition of her and her younger sister, Arya. Sansa is abused both physically and psychologically, and while her sister would likely have lashed back with fists and steel, Sansa never once attempts to fight her way out of King’s Landing. She is, perhaps, one of the more universally hated upon characters in the series, with many a feminist decrying her for being so “weak” a female character, which just seems unfair to me. First of all, she is 13 years old. Second of all, what would you have done?


Many compare Sansa to Arya to prove how weak she is for never fighting back against the Lannisters. But take some time to consider whether Arya would have survived King’s Landing, considering her quick temper and impulsive behavior. Sansa, I argue, and will argue to the end, is so much stronger than anyone has given her credit for, just not in the typical sense. She proves time and time again just how intelligent she is as she navigates the harsh world she has found herself in. She learns the game being played around her, and slowly but surely she learns to play it herself. When Stannis attacks King’s Landing Sansa attempts to convince Joffrey to lead the Vanguard in hopes that he will be killed, but does so in a way she cannot be punished for and that appears to be a sign of respect for Joffrey as the true king:
“So you'll be outside the gates fighting in the Vanguard?”
“A king doesn't discuss battle plans with stupid girls.”
“I'm sorry, Your Grace. You're right, I'm stupid. Of course you'll be in the Vanguard. They say my brother Robb always goes where the fighting is thickest. And he is only a pretender.”
How then, could Joffrey refuse to lead the Vanguard, being reminded that the false King of the North always leads his? Of course, Joffrey is a certified coward and runs from the fighting as soon as the opportunity arises, but Sansa’s clever comment should not be ignored. She knows she cannot fight with force; she must instead fight with wit and clever words. And she does so at every opportunity.


My point is Sansa is by no means a “strong” female character in the traditional sense, but that should not disqualify her from being considered an excellent character in terms of representation. She has strengths and weakness, fear, courage, hope. She cannot be reduced to her physical weakness anymore than a real person could.


If what we want is better representation of women in media, we need to be calling for female characters that are every bit as complex and diverse as real women are. I want every girl and woman to have characters they can relate to, and forcing pop culture from one extreme to the other is not going to achieve that. And beyond that, it encourages the continued creation of two-dimensional characters. Sansa has been derided as a terrible female character, where River Song has been acclaimed as a fantastic female character. But personally, I prefer a thoroughly developed female character doing the best with what she has to a female character whose exists solely to complicate a male character's story, but who happens to be an excellent shot with a pistol.


What about you?

*Disclaimer: In talking about Sansa I am speaking directly about her as a character in and of herself and not about the horrific way her character has been treated by the writers of the show. As a character, she is phenomenal. But the writers have shown her nothing but disrespect in recent seasons. These, for me, are both valid but different issues.*

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Cross Cultural Collab Part 2: What Life is Really Like in the US

A few weeks ago Apoorva from Girl in a Whimsical Land and I posted the first part of our two part cross cultural collab, where we both wrote a post detailing what we thought life was like in the other's country. You can read my post on life in India here, and her post on life in America here!

Today we are sharing part 2 of our collaboration by each posting what life is actually like in our respective countries!



So first of all explaining "life in the US" is really kind of weird and impossible, because this country is freaking huge. And there are huge disconnects between regions of it *cough cough* that make life in one state very, very different from life in another state. I have lived in the US my entire life and I have not even traveled half of it. I think I've maybe been to 12 of the 50 states, and that is only if you include driving through states, not actually visiting those states. In terms of states I've actually visited and done stuff in, I've only been to 7 or 8, depending on your definition of "visited."

As Apoorva suggested in her post, life in the US is absurdly convenient. It is kind of our thing in a way. I live 10 minutes away from a Meijer, where I can buy food, clothes, housewares, video games, movies, and health care products all in one trip. Most of this stuff is pretty expensive as a result of being so convenient, but what you gonna do? If I don't feel like cooking one night I can make a frozen pizza, order pizza, or drive 2.5 minutes from my house to any number of fast food restaurants. Healthy? No. Convenient? Yep. It is also pretty awesome to be able to consistently get food from all over the world. I know it is not super environmentally friendly, but I really, really love pomegranates and it is nice knowing that I'll usually be able to find them.

We live in a very face paced culture, which I think is probably why we've sought to make things as quick and convenient as possible. Everything is scheduled. We live our lives at the mercy of the clocks here, and any time lost is treated as time wasted. This is something I am personally very aware of and I really, really struggle with it. Like I am very aware of how much time out of my days and weeks I lose just driving to and from work. Or during the school year I am constantly aware of how much productive time I lose going to and from campus. It causes me quite a bit of anxiety to be honest. It really is not healthy I don't think, but I also don't really know how to escape it because it is what I've grown up with.

High school in the United States is, to be frank, kind of awful. The education system in general here is, in my opinion. I had fantastic teachers for the most part, don't get me wrong, but the system itself is highly flawed. The expectations are determined by people with no educational experience (i.e. the government) and the amount of pressure put on students is suffocating. Not to mention the fact that the emphasis in schools is not even on actual learning. Rarely do you really engage with any material or, heaven forbid, learn to think critically about anything. In the US schools teach to the test. They teach you to repeat information that the government decides you must be able to repeat, which is not the same thing as learning.

For all my issues with the education system, there are a few things I am grateful for. In the US you are 100% able to choose what direction you would like to go in so far as your college major goes (barring any un-supportive family, personal issues, etc). There is no test that tells you which degrees you do and do not qualify for, which is something I know some countries, such as Turkey, do have in place. I cannot imagine desperately wanting to do one thing and being told that my test scores disqualified me from even trying. Of course some people do find that they are unable to pass the classes required for their desired careers, but you are at least given the chance to try.

I did laugh a bit at Apoorva's comment about cliques in American high schools. They do exist, but the lines are not so strict as Hollywood makes them appear; they do blur quite a bit. I will say that I was in marching band in high school and as a result 99% of my friends were band geeks. Because you simply did not have enough free time outside of band to even meet anyone else. And in my school band and choir were pretty much one entity; music kids stick together I suppose. But that was just my high school, so I can't really speak for anywhere else!

The other thing that really made me chuckle was the idea that it is accepted drop out of college and work in the service jobs that don't require an education. While the issues might be different between here and India, it is certainly not something that goes unnoticed in the US. We are currently having huge issues with our minimum wage because people honestly believe that if you work in those service positions (fast food, retail, etc) you do not deserve to be paid a living wage. People will flat out say that if you want a wage you can live off of and support a family off of you should have gone to college; which completely ignores the fact that many of the people working in those positions did in fact go to college, but were unable to find the better jobs that an education was supposed to offer them. Americans are kind of famous for having very strong opinions about things they don't actually know anything about.

Race and sex are still huge issues here, obviously. In the south people are currently fighting over whether or not southern states should still be allowed to fly the confederate flag. That's right, in 2015 we are fighting about whether or not the symbol of slavery and the white supremacy movement should still be allowed. That is a thing that is happening here. And in 2015 a woman deciding to go to college means she also increases her chances of being sexually assaulted, because 1 in 4 college women will be raped during their time at university. And most of the time absolutely nothing will be done about it. But we are at least allowed to go to college, so we are supposed to take that as a win and be quiet about the rest of it.

Okay so obviously I have some issues with my country. But there are many things that I am also grateful for, maybe the biggest being that I can post all of this about my country and my government and know that I won't get arrested or disappeared for it. There are many things that need to be addressed in this country, but step one to solving any problem is acknowledging that it exists, and while not everyone in the country will acknowledge these issues exist, those of us that recognize them are free to speak up about them and raise awareness, which makes working for change that much more productive. I know there are activists elsewhere in the world who put themselves and their families at risk for being willing to speak up, and I am fortunate that, for the most part, that is not something we are forced to deal with here, at least from the government.

I am also very very proud of my country (and that is something I never thought I'd be able to say) for finally legalizing same-sex marriage nationally. Of course there is still a long way to go on the path to equality, but this was a much needed and long-time coming step in the right direction. Seeing all of the supportive posts and comments since the the decision has been really refreshing and has really helped to restore some of my faith that the problems and inequalities facing my country can be solved.

I will also be forever grateful for the stability of the internet and internet connections in the US. We had a bit of a scare for a little while with Comcast trying to take over the world and all, but that is another thing the government surprisingly got right. And as a citizen of the internet, and someone who really appreciates the community and opportunity it offers, I am so, so happy and lucky to know that I will consistently have access to it. This is something that some countries around the world are still working to accomplish, so I consider myself very lucky to have grown up in a country where it was never an issue. That might sound like a weird thing to be grateful for, and I really wish I could properly explain why it is so important to me, but it just really is.

Holy crap this post got entirely too long. Sorry about that. And sorry if it was a bit pessimistic! I don't want to make it sound like I hate my country; it is the exact opposite to be honest. I am so very aware of how much potential this country has and how much better it could be. I am so, so very aware of how many people in this country desperately need many of these problems to be solved, because right now so much potential is going to waste because of the inequalities still plaguing this country. I do not want to sound pessimistic, because on the contrary I am very optimistic that these issues can be resolved and that this country could actually be as great as so many people like to say it is. But first we have to talk about it, you know? And as someone who is constantly so aware that these inequalities are operating around me, it really kind of defines my experience living here.

American friends please share your thoughts on life in this country! There are so many more things I would like to say, but this post is quickly turning into a small novel. Be sure to pop over to read Apoorva's post on life in India!

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