This is the last one

Blogging when you’re bored can be dangerous. The tendency, at least for me, is to write about whatever comes to mind – very stream of consciousness. And in my mind, reminds me of some works of Russian literature, except I’m no Gogol so no need to worry about any delusions of grandeur (although that would be kind of fitting). I’m hoping this will be one of my last posts of this nature – the kind where I write about personal stuff rather than things that are actually interesting – not for whoever actually reads this but for myself. I certainly intend to do my best to not write another one of these but sometimes you just gotta get stuff off your chest and out in the open.

I am terrible when it comes to talking to people and not letting things bother me. I can talk nonsensically, I can engage in idle chit-chat even though it bores the pants off me and I dwell, a lot. I can spend hours reliving and dissecting an interaction I’ve had with someone to see if I could have done things differently or if I should have, if I did anything wrong, etc..etc.. Basically I try to psychoanalyze myself and my conclusion is that I have no conclusion. It doesn’t work.

The past few months I’ve been in a funk and it’s been frustrating both for myself and the people around me. I am a firm believer that to say something or to write it down makes it real – essentially making something internal, a thought, into something real. So in order to move on, I need to make an account of things and since I am so bad with people, here I am. The first half of my first year in the MA program was great. I felt like I was in a really great groove, good grades, good discussions, etc. Then the second semester started and things didn’t necessarily go downhill but stuff happened that has really undermined my confidence and abilities. Several times over this past school year one of my professors would make remarks and comments about my abilities, or lack thereof, as a student in the program. When I was applying for scholarships for my second year, they came up to me twice to tell me that my application likely wouldn’t go through. When I was preparing for a presentation in this professors class and wanted some feedback/advice on which approach to take, the comment they made was that I need to improve on my writing because it was dismal and embarrassing at the MA level. Whenever I would make a comment in class during group discussions, I was continually shot down with phrases like “you need to look at this a little more critically than what you’re talking about.” My favourite was when a classmate made a vague comment about something that was met with sympathetic understanding at his confusion about the topic, so I waited an hour and then made a very similar comment to his and was told “You have to think about this more critically than you are doing right now. Have you done the reading? If so you would see that…” That happened in various ways on a weekly basis from January to April. In my last meeting with this professor, they told me that my writing was a reflection of my intelligence and that that was not leaving a good impression. A few weeks later, they sent me an email telling me to look into a new course being offered and to get back to them, so I did, they emailed back the next day saying that I probably shouldn’t apply because I may not be up for it. Finally, talking with some of my classmates the other night and listening to the jobs they had over the summer, or scholarships and conference invites they’ve received was almost the last straw. It’s not a jealousy thing that is the reason for my funk, I’m genuinely happy for these people, they deserve it, they worked hard. I just thought I had as well but evidently not. So maybe this professor is right. I’m not capable of doing this, of completing my MA. It’s not that I’m trying to be down on myself by saying this but maybe this should be a realization, the reality that I should be facing. More bluntly, I’m not smart enough, I don’t have what it takes to go further with my studies.

So maybe I was going through some delusions of grandeur after all. I got a little cocky with my ambition.

The inadequacy is compounded by the fact that my brother was in hospital for his appendix a few weeks ago, apparently there were complications with his liver as well because of his drinking but he just checked himself out after getting his appendix out and didn’t tell my parents anything. He did however write a wonderful email telling me that I was the reason he drank so much and wound up sick and that I make no useful contribution to anyone. It’s not that I believe him per se, but it comes in the wake of everything else that happened during the school year because the work I’ve been doing hasn’t been enough.

At first I felt sorry for myself and I’ll be honest, I kind of still do. But now I’m asking myself if doing this, my MA, is what I really want to do or is the universe trying to tell me something about myself. You know when the skeezy guy in a bar hits on you and he doesn’t clue that you’re rejecting him? I think I’m the skeez but of the academic world and I’m not getting the hint.

So. What to do? Rationally I know that the only thing to do is to just keep going. I can do that. But quite frankly, what’s the point? It doesn’t really matter because I’ve not got what it takes to get by. Not that a master’s thesis will change the face of film studies or anything. It’s basically just a giant essay. But I can’t help but continually ask myself “what’s the point?” Shouldn’t I be able to answer that? It’s not even that I’m down on myself as some of my friends have told me that that’s how I’ve been. Especially lately. It’s more like people say that to me because, like I said, I’m a bad communicator and they don’t know everything I haven’t said. It’s not that I want sympathy or anyone to feel sorry for me and I even appreciate the advice that some have given me. But while people know bits and pieces of what’s been happening, I haven’t actually told anyone how it’s made me feel. And that’s what I was getting at earlier when I said that I’m bad at talking to people. I can recount events but I’m very bad at saying how I feel they impact me which in turn impacts how I interact with those around me. I’ve done it so many times, it’s affected friendships and relationships. It’s quite the vicious and irrational cycle.

If I can’t do this, I should try something else. But what else is there to try? It’s not that I don’t have options, I just don’t know what those options are. It’s ironic that the source of my problems at school has to do with my writing, meanwhile the method I’ve chosen to slough off all these thoughts so I can move forward is by writing them out. But at least now they’re out of my head and I’m telling myself that now they’re out I can pick myself up and work towards getting what I want.

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All these things that I’ve done

One’s expectations under assumptions cannot be counted on and can be very dangerous when those assumptions are grounded in feelings and hunches – equally unreliable affectations. That’s my attempt at sounding cheekily philosophical about something that happens on a daily basis. People make a few assumptions about me such as that I’m too nice, lack confidence, that I apologize too much or that I’m too innocent or sheltered. Granted, some of these are facts but people assume further things about me based on those facts. I try to not make too many assumptions about things or people but ultimately I fail in that. I make snap judgements on certain films because I assume them to be of a particular (usually, annoying) genre or if they have performances by certain actors. Then there are the times I am pleasantly surprised and proven wrong.

I had to watch Apocalypse Now (redux) a few years ago for a class and assumed/told myself that it was going to be the most boring screening in the world because I had disliked it when I first saw it in my grade 12 English class. When I randomly rented Pieces of April I had only done so because the blurb on the back made it sound interesting. I had no knowledge of Katie Holmes as an actress capable of going beyond Dawson’s Creek and was pulled into the film because of the cross-related relationships and their varying levels of intensity. More generally still, I assume all “chick flicks” are vapid, hyper-sensitized and lacking both a sense of relateable realism or fantasy that people (me, mainly, I guess) have no connection with.

My Big Fat Greek Wedding was on tv the other night, along with other offerings such as Jezebel, The Godfather, and a string of Charles Laughton movies. The assumption that I know some people would make of me would be that I would watch the Laughton movies, or The Godfather, or just anything else. Just because I’m in Film Studies I must be a film snob and only watch old movies, or classics, or whatever. But here’s the thing, as vacuous as Greek appears to be to some, it’s quite spot on with regards to some attitudes in non-Anglo cultures. My point being, obviously, that it’s unfair to make assumptions until you see or do something for yourself. Simple enough with simple examples. Yet, apparently not.

I could list some of the things I’ve done, which may or may not be surprising – frankly that isn’t my aim. I’ve been bandying the world about but I think it’s difficult for people to feel open-minded enough to not make assumptions. Do, watch, try or even ask – just once, and then see what happens. If you don’t, you’ll never really know and where’s the fun in a sure thing? All the things I did or still do, the good/bad, legal/illegal, don’t actually matter because they’re not me. Don’t assume you know a thing until you learn how to learn about it.

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The globalizing effect (?)

I was born in Canada but only because my father convinced a doctor to sign off on allowing my mother to fly while she was quite pregnant with me. He was being assigned a new contract and the doctor gave in because she would only be traveling from New York to Canada. One of the results of my father’s job as a Project Manager Engineer was that a great part of my childhood was spent moving from one country to another, depending on whatever contract he was put in charge of. Give or take a few months, I would have either been born an American or Taiwanese citizen. A few months here or there, Toronto, Moosejaw, New York, India (I was 2 at the time), Tokyo – rarely the same place twice.

I’m Indian, my parents are from India. I always feel like I have to offer that distinction that though I’m Indian, it is my parents that are from there, as if that makes them *real* Indians and I’m just masquerading as one.

The idea of transnationalism, or of being a part of different cultures was something discussed at length last year in one of my classes. I mentioned that my experiences growing up were shaped by a variety of cultures and traditions, most of them unrelated to that of my parents or “my own” culture. My professor asked, “Isn’t that a wonderful thing?” and I paused for a very long time before I answered, rather unconvincingly to some of my classmates, “Sure.” I only said that because I was giving a presentation and did not want to go into a personal discussion of my experiences living in-between cultures during my formative years.

The thing is, it was and wasn’t wonderful. It was great to have been exposed to such diverse cultures, many of which were interrelated in some ways and in others, vastly different. Taiwan, Philippines and Tokyo are all countries that share similarities whether in terms of their politics, society or even their customs – yet when you experience them as an outsider and as an outsider with ties to another Asian country, those nuances or similarities and dissimilarities become apparent in relation to your own culture and how you relate to your own culture.

Where do the borders then get drawn? And by borders, I don’t mean those physical ones that are guarded with arms and duty-free stores where you can buy comically large bottles of Jack Daniels or Amaretto. I mean those psychological borders that one envisions or imposes upon themselves. At what point does one say, definitively, that they are Canadian, American, Taiwanese, Japanese or even Philippino? How does one make the distinction between being born part of one culture but then being raised within several others?

When my professor asked me “Isn’t it wonderful?” at having been raised within such diversity, I said that it was and wasn’t wonderful. It was wonderful because of that diversity but not so wonderful because I haven’t been able to fully flesh out my own identity – specifically in determining where I belong, because I don’t feel like I actually belong anywhere. Now whether that’s a good or a bad thing is kind of besides the point. But the idea of feeling like you belong to a culture, or that it belongs to you is important. How does one actually belong to anything? I have a birth certificate that states I was born in Toronto, Canada and so therefore I am, by birth rights, a Canadian citizen. I have documentation of this fact, I have several pieces of government issued cards that back this up as proof of my Canadian citizenship. But my most vivid childhood memories occurred outside of my country of origin and even further still, outside the country of the culture of my parents, that I am a part of simply by having been born to two people that themselves were born in India.

In American Desi, Krishna/Kris, all but disregards his parents culture – his parents culture because he doesn’t feel like it is his own. In fact he wants no part of it and attempts to convince himself that he is an American and nothing more. It isn’t until he spends time with others connected to his Indian heritage, a Sikh, a Muslim and of course an Indian love interest that he begins to feel a connection. Krishna’s two worlds begin to merge and his psychological borders begin to break down as he begins to accept others from his own culture and finally himself, moving from being called the Americanized version of his name, Kris, to accepting his full name – Krishna. And if you want to get really deep and philosophical with it, you could say that he goes through a transcendence. He moves from being Kris, cutting off part of his heritage by cutting off part of his name until he finally sees himself differently and is able to accept and share his name with that of a deity, his mind transcends and ultimately accepts that he is also Krishna. If only it were that simple for all of us. Sometimes one’s sense of belonging, or not belonging, is the result of others’ expectations. You’re supposed to follow the ‘norms’ of the society you live in, or there are the expectations of the culture you were born into and then you may also have to incorporate what you learned from exposure to other cultures on top of that.

This type of cultural hybridity has been on the rise for some time and yet it seems like a lot of people simply agree that it exists but never really question its existence. We see it in films, we see it in other people but do we see it within ourselves? If cinema is a reflection of society or culture, whose society and culture are being reflected?

There are several films that cross the national and global borders. Look at any James Bond film and the amount of different countries that Bond travels can sometimes be counted on two hands. Not to mention that Bond has been played by a Scot, an Aussie and several British actors. Jason Bourne has travelled between France, Thailand and Russia. Hanna journeys across several European and Middle-Eastern countries. However one never truly gets a sense that any of these nomadic characters feel like they belong. Bond marries twice, there are two women in his life that he truly loved and didn’t have comical and innuendo-laden names like Pussy Galore or Honey Ryder. Both of his marriages occur and end well outside the British borders but end as the result of his association with his job, one that relies on a loyalty to his country. Jason Bourne doesn’t know where he belongs because his memory is impaired and as a result must keep moving, he knows several languages but he was so well trained that he’s not completely sure at times which is his own. Hanna was deliberately denied all information about her past, where she came from and whom she can associate with, so instead she floats between countries and cultures with the ease of belonging by virtue of the fact that she doesn’t, in fact, belong. Like Bourne and Bond before her, Hanna crosses borders with ease because she has learned and been trained to remove all psychological barriers and borders, thereby disassociating herself with one country/culture/society and know about others so that she may move with ease and go unnoticed as a complete outsider.

This is unlike the literary character of Candide, who travels to various exotic locations and appears to trample over customs and traditions. The reader is entertained by the many, satirical, follies that Candide finds himself in. While there appear to be many blunders and though the border crossing that occurs in Voltaire’s story are not the main crux of the story, I can’t help but wonder if this story was in some way a precursor to the notion that adventure and finding like-minded people can only occur once you remove yourself from where you are to accept the larger world around you, as it exists rather than something parceled and divvied up by their differences.

But going back to my own experiences and the question my professor posited about how wonderful it is to have grown up being exposed to diverse cultures, I would have to say that the reality is far more complicated and well it should be. I’m not a secret agent or trained assassin and I certainly am not traveling to El Dorado with a valet named Cacambo. However my own sense of belonging is probably not too dissimilar from these fictional characters – and isn’t that the point of art, to find a connection between the audience and the art? I feel a disconnect between myself and the culture I was born into and cannot ignore, it’s right there on my skin and in my features. And I do believe, to a certain degree, that some of my culture is inherited or passed along through my DNA. Then there are the cultures that I have been immersed within. They shaped me in several ways as well, primarily in being witness to their contrasts and similarities. But do I belong to any of those? In some ways, yes, but in other ways I’m just an outsider wanting to belong by virtue of having been there and shared some spaces and experiences. I don’t think it’s wonderful to be confused about where one belongs in the world, too much of this, too little of that, not enough of something else. But in a way, it’s kind of wonderful to not belong either – I don’t fit any one mould or stereotype and that’s just fun to play with.

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“Your writing is a reflection of your intelligence”

A beginning has to begin somewhere doesn’t it? It doesn’t really matter when it happens, so long as it happens.

Right?

I’m putting together my thesis proposal for the second time. I’m not getting graded on it, it’s just to present my ideas to the grad committee because they, essentially, didn’t think I had my shit together the first time around. Fair enough. I was quite upset at first but the more I think about it, the more I (have resigned myself to the fact) think that maybe they’re right. Maybe I don’t have my shit together, maybe it’s not enough to want to write my thesis and finish my MA – maybe I’m not up to the task of doing anything beyond an undergrad. I can finish my thesis, I can get my MA, but it won’t do me any good because I may just not be good enough to go beyond that. No matter how much I want to.

It’s not a defeatist attitude I’m taking. No matter how “woe is me” that sounded. But at a certain point, shouldn’t you just stop trying something if you’re not getting the results you want or have hoped for? Especially if no one’s on your side.

I love what cinema does to the mind. I think it’s amazing that a group of strangers can sit in a dark room, watch the flashes of images and colours strung together by the combined work of editors, directors, actors, sound techs, etc, and experience something very unique from the person next to them. A tree isn’t just a tree when it’s up on a screen. The leaves aren’t really blowing in the wind and the sound the wind makes isn’t actually real. But not everyone perceives it as such. The cinematic experience is such an individual group experience that perception and interpretation have so many connotations that it seems unlikely to be able to talk about the affects of cinema on society and culture. But, it’s not that difficult at all. At a certain point, you break down the experience not by film, but by technique(s). Plot and story arches take on a different meaning when you begin to take into account camera angles, use of colour, or even use of sound. The leaves falling off a tree don’t necessarily mean the change of season, but become a metaphor for life – everything comes to an end. Or for new life, re-growth, or is simply something aesthetically pleasing to look at.

I certainly hadn’t intended to wax poetic. It’s one of the cheesier things that I do. Somehow I find that doing so puts me back in the headspace that two-thirds of the grad committee are wrong about me. I may not fit their mold of an academic, I’m not even really trying to *be* an “academic”. But isn’t it interesting that all over the world, films are being made, and each one is a tiny window into a culture, a society – a microcosm of our own individual and group-experienced world?

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