I have one (1) issue with Loki

Loki is a 2021 Disney+ series starring the ever charming Tom Hiddleston as our favorite trickster and god of mischief, Loki Laufeyson. The series consists of six episodes and, as of writing this, five have aired and, although I can say that I’m liking the series overall, there is one issue that I have with it that won’t let me fully enjoy it.

*Spoilers for Loki and pretty much the entire MCU ahead.*

Because it’s never fun to start with the bad, let me list the things I like about it:

The characters are fun

Owen Wilson is very charming as Mobius and I’m invested in his character. Sophia Di Martino plays a wonderful Sylvie. I want to see more of her because she’s great. And I always, always love seeing Gugu Mbatha-Raw. Put her in every movie all the time, give her all the roles. I have loved her for years and I will love her forever. My favorite one, however, is Richard E. Grant as Classic Loki. I love him and I wish we’d had more time with his character.

The story is weird

It could be weirder, to be honest, but it’s weird enough to set it apart from other Marvel properties, and it has just enough wibbly wobbly timey wimey stuff to keep me coming back.

The music is amazing

Composed by Natalie Holt, the music score for Loki has been one of the highlights of the series. I love listening to the opening sequence, and how it compliments the series. I especially appreciated that Holt incorporated a theremin in some scenes and I thought that Classic Loki theme that incorporated Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries was fantastic.

Tom Hiddleston

Yeah, he’s been playing this character for so long that he can probably do it in his sleep now. His portrayal of Loki is fun, emotional and has a depth to it that always has me feeling all the feels.

In short. I am liking this show. Maybe not as much as WandaVision, but I am liking it.

And yet.

There is this one aspect that keeps nagging at the back of my head, and it’s that Loki is not behaving like the Loki he should be.

The series starts just after Loki from the Avengers (2012) takes the Tesseract and escapes and is taken in by the Time Variance Authority (TVA). He is captured and he’s led to a room where Mobius, a TVA Analyst, is determined to understand him and even “break him” a little in order to recruit him.

It is there that Loki (2012) sees his life on a screen: how he returns to Asgard as a prisoner and inadvertently sends a monster to kill his mother, how he and Thor avenge her and fight side by side against the Dark Elves, how he sacrifices himself for his brother, only to come back and betray his trust… again (Thor: The Dark World (2013)).

Loki also sees how Thor finds out and takes him to Earth to look for Odin. He watches Odin, their father, tell them both that he loves them, he hears his father call him son. He watches how he and Thor bicker and fight and betray each other, and finally learn to trust each other again, but only after Loki decides to do the honorable thing and return to Asgard to save his people (Thor: Ragnarok (2017)).

Lastly, Loki sees himself falling back into his old ways and being unable to resist the Tesseract, which leads Thanos’ ship to theirs. But this time, he is brave enough to make one last stand, his final sacrifice to save his brother, and he dies (Avengers: Infinity War (2018)).

The last thing that Loki (2012) sees on that screen is his brother crying over his dead body. And so, Loki (2012), after crying and lamenting how his life turns out, decides to cooperate with the TVA. But he has an ulterior motive: he wants to overthrow the Time-Keepers to… rule?

I’m not sure. He’s not sure, either, which seems to be a theme of the series: Loki doesn’t really know anymore what he wants or why he wants it.

Despite having betrayed Mobius, he does form a bond with him, but it is only when he meets Sylvie and hears her story that he truly lets his previous plans go and joins her cause. After a rough start, they learn to work together, to listen to each other, and become allies. Loki (2012) is so distressed when he thinks Sylvie is dead that even Mobius calls him out on it and says that Loki is falling for her. Even though Loki (2012) has little patience for Mobius’ mocking and games and torture, he is willing to show him the truth, fight with him, and call him a friend. When Mobius is pruned by the TVA, Loki (2012) is visibly upset. Once he sees him again in the Void, he embraces him and works with him.

You’ll notice that I have been writing “Loki (2012)” all the time, and that is because this show is expecting me to believe that this enormous transformation, this huge change in Loki’s perspective and attitude, is just from watching the movies and talking to this woman for a couple of hours. And I don’t buy it.

I understand that from a story-perspective, we need Loki to be where he was at the end of Ragnarok (2017)/the start of Infinity War (2018), because he’s a much richer, well-rounded character with complex emotions. He’s risen and fallen and risen and fallen, and he’s learned his lessons and has finally chosen to do the right thing. He’s not good, but he’s not bad either. He’s still flawed and can’t resist the power of the Tesseract, and that’s what kills him. If he hadn’t taken the Tesseract from the Asgardian vault, if he had let Surtur destroy it with the rest of the planet, Thanos wouldn’t have found him and killed the Asgardians and him. In his last moments, Loki (2018) chooses to fight and to deliver a hopeful message to his brother. Loki (2018) is amazing.

But that Loki is not the Loki we get at the beginning of this series. The one we have is the one who just invaded earth with the Chitauri army, the one who killed 80 people in two days. This Loki is the one who was compared to Hitler in that one cheesy scene where the old German man stands up to him in Munich. This is the Loki that we get at the beginning of the series, and the series expects me to accept that the same transformation that took him years of pain and loss can happen in a matter of hours, just because he watched the movies. And I can’t.

Whenever I see this Loki running around helping Sylvie or trying to save Mobius and having this big emotional journey where he’s basically always willing to take a hit for the team, I can’t help but think that this is the same Loki that stabbed Phil Coulson and took someone’s eye out at the opera the week before.

It doesn’t help that, in Episode 5, while talking to the other Lokis, he even mentions the short time that has passed since he left New York. I just don’t buy his transformation.

And that’s my big issue with Loki and the main reason why I cannot completely relax and enjoy the series. I do bump into other little issues here and there with some plot points and character motivations, but I don’t really mind those. They don’t bother me nearly as much as the fact that 2021 Loki is behaving like a 2018 Loki and seems to have made the same emotional journey (I’d argue that it’s an even bigger one) just because he watched the movies.

Having said all of that, I have been enjoying the series so far and I’m looking forward to seeing the final episode.

Before you go!

If you love all things Loki, head over to FilmBlog 1305, where my friend Kim is doing a weekly recap and commentary of each episode. Reading her recaps has become part of my weekly Loki experience, so head over there and check out her blog.

On the death of Prince Philip and how we don’t like to talk about the dead

It’s been two days since Prince Philip died and I’ve been observing how the media portrays him and his legacy, and I have thoughts concerning how we have this idea that we have to be respectful of the dead (especially if they were symbols) and so we can’t really talk about all the dark shit they did because we’re being “disrespectful”.

It’s like, because we have to be respectful, we put people in even higher pedestals after they die and create this idealized image of them, all the while glossing over and minimizing all the damaging things that they did and said. Since this is just a short entry, I just want to touch on two of them.

His “gaffes”

Something I’ve heard mainstream media do is say that Philip was appreciated in his country for his humorous –if sometimes insensitive– comments. And while I don’t doubt that, there should have been more emphasis on the fact that they were very racist and sexist.

You know, like saying during a visit to China that “If you stay here much longer you’ll all be slitty-eyed.” Or that “If it has four legs and is not a chair, has wings and is not an aeroplane, or swims and is not a submarine, the Cantonese will eat it.”

Like asking a student who returned from Papua New Guinea if he “managed not to get eaten, then?” Or asking Australian Aborigines if they “still throw spears at each other?” — That one is from 2002, by the way.

Saying that they were “insensitive” and “politically incorrect” simply isn’t enough because they aren’t just offensive. They are damaging. I mean, we all know how the “quip” about Cantonese (and Chinese) people eating whatever has been brought up again and again during the ongoing pandemic, and used as a justification to be racist and violent towards Asian people.

Sure, we can stand there and say he was a “man of his time” but, to be honest, I’ve never been on board with that argument because there are enough texts and testimonies from people from “that time” mentioning how dehumanizing those attitudes were. The China comments? They were a scandal back then.

Simply put, many of his famous “gaffes” were damaging. And while some articles have discussed them in more detail, (like this CNN article or this abc article or this Guardian article), the coverage has been rather soft, in my opinion. There’s always someone saying that he was “a Victorian man in the 21st century” (which is really just a very overt racist) or that his gaffes were “disarmingly funny”.

His almost-feminism (yes, apparently it’s a thing)

Then there’s the white feminist approach. The Guardian published this opinion piece on how Philip “defined a different kind of masculine ideal” by “allowing” the Queen to have the spotlight.

You know, the Queen of England.

Every time I read that, I get so uncomfortable with that assertion because he literally had no other choice. She’s the Queen. In that royalist mindset that so many people love, no person can be above her. How many times have we seen that, if a member of the royal family doesn’t fall in line, they get kicked out?

But these commentaries and opinion pieces are making it seem like he was some kind of “almost feminist” because he didn’t take the spotlight from the head of state. Why? Why are some people desperate to label everyone who is not violent towards his wife a feminist?

Screenshot from The Guardian

Philip was not any kind of masculine ideal in his relationship with his wife because, more than just a person, his wife is an institution and he married into that institution. He had to stick to the rules. In fact, he was so far away from said masculine ideal that there are enough comments and situations where it is clear how he viewed women.

Like, when he was comparing participation in blood sports to selling slaughtered meat, he said that he didn’t think “[killing animals] for money makes it any more moral. I don’t think a prostitute is more moral than a wife, but they are doing the same thing.”

Or saying that, “[when] a man opens the car door for his wife, it’s either a new car or a new wife.”

So, while the columnist who wrote that Guardian piece thinks that “It’s a stretch to call him a feminist icon”, I think that we should not even put him close to the discussion of feminism, except as an example of how to spot a sexist.

I do agree that it is sad for Elizabeth that her companion of 70+ years died and it is sad for the royal family that they lost a father and a grandfather, and I suppose it is sad for all the monarchists and royalists running around England who lost… a prince, I guess. But let’s stop falling into that trap of making people seem better than they were once they die because that is not good for anyone.

Let’s stop that thing that we do, where we “don’t want to speak ill of the dead” and so end up pretending like they were always good and nice, when they really weren’t. I know it’s somewhat against the idea of royalty, because their mere existence implies that some people believe themselves (or others) to be inherently better and more deserving than other people. But let’s just stop. Let’s be frank and open when we talk about the dead, instead.

2020: To Grow as I go

I love the Christmas break.

It is the time I get to truly relax, reflect on my year, and think about how I want to move forward. It is usually a quiet time when I start to close some cycles and open new ones. It is also the time when I choose the word that will serve as a guide for the new year.

Last year I chose “balance”. What really happened is that I learned that balance is one of the hardest things to achieve, especially in the face of change and making important choices. 2019 was a particularly difficult year, but I learned a lot about myself and what I want and where I want my life to go.

Balance.
Balance is the ability to keep steady. In 2019, I learned to keep steady.

2019 was a good year, too. I finished all my master courses, I got better at my job, I visited my family, I made new friends, and I got engaged. I am particularly excited and grateful for that last one.

2020 will be a year of many changes and exciting new things. There are many plans and projects ahead, many big steps to take and I am very looking forward to taking each one of them. So, the word I have chosen for 2020 is Grow.

Grow.
Verb. To develop as a person, to increase, to improve.

Grow. What an ambiguous, non-defining word. While I was reflecting on it, I kept asking myself the same questions over and over: What does it mean for my life? What are its implications? Ambiguity can be intimidating. It can be scary not knowing the scope or the reach of what is being said. Where does it start? Where does it end? But there’s certain freedom to it, too.

What is it to grow? Who will be growing? Is it me? In what ways? Is it my projects? My skills? My goals? It could mean anything. Here’s a thing that’s growing in 2020: My life. I’m no longer going to be one; there’s going to be two of us now. What else can grow? My writing, my list of books, my plans, my character, my confidence, my hair, the plants on my window.

Unlike other years, where I chose nouns such as balance, purpose or discipline, this time I chose a verb to emphasize the process of it all, the state of constant change. The growing is happening as I go, as I move from one place to another, as I learn new things and live through new moments.

So, with all that said, this year I hope to grow. And I hope you do so, too. I look forward to seeing you here again very soon. Have a blessed and happy new year.

Paola.

We need to talk about Kylo Ren’s character arc in The Rise of Skywalker

Star Wars is one of those things I grew up loving. I love the original trilogy, I sort of enjoy the prequels (despite them being objectively bad), I have sort of enjoyed the spin-offs, I’ve watched some of the series, and I liked the more recent films in the saga. Yes, I had a lot of fun with The Force Awakens and I thought The Last Jedi was good, even though I did not like everything about it.


Spoilers for The Rise of Skywalker ahead.


Irrefutable proof that I like Star Wars, lol

But The Discourse™ surrounding Star Wars, the extreme reactions from some of the fans, including the harassment and blatant racism/misogyny that the cast has endured, have soured the Star Wars experience for many people, including me. So, I have kept my distance in recent years. I still watch the movies and the videos surrounding them, but I never go into open discussions or “debates” because I just don’t think they’re worth the energy.

So, when I went into the cinema to watch The Rise of Skywalker, I went expecting an entertaining movie. Nothing more, nothing less. I was not going to get angry, I was not going to get hyped about it, I was not going to discuss it with anyone, and I surely was not going to write about it. I guessed there would be enough online outrage.

And then I saw this long YouTube video where three men discussed and talked about what they did and didn’t like about the movie. I didn’t watch the entire video because I was not emotionally invested, but one thing that caught my attention was that they listed Kylo Ren’s redemption as one of the things they liked. And after hearing those words, I could not stop thinking about them because… well… it’s not good.

When I say that Kylo Ren’s arc is not good, I’m talking specifically about his redemption arc as depicted in The Rise of Skywalker. So, today I would like to break down and explore not only why it’s a bad redemption arc, but also why it might be that some people perceived it as good, or at least, good enough.

1. There is no realization that any of Kylo Ren’s previous actions (except killing his father) were wrong

Killing Han Solo, his own father, was something bad that Kylo Ren did. It was wrong of him. We know that, Kylo knows that, everybody knows that. In fact, Kylo is so aware of its wrongness, that it weighs on him for the entirety of the trilogy. It is a point that has been clearly established and constantly repeated both by characters in the movie and by the people working on the movie. What he did was wrong and he felt bad about it since the moment that it happened, when he was in evil-mode.

But what about the other things he did? He killed countless resistance fighters, he burned down villages, he murdered Max von Sydow, he was the Supreme Leader of an institution that kidnapped children to make them into Stormtroopers, the list goes on. So, when during The Rise of Skywalker does he realize that all of these actions were wrong? How does he realize this? What leads him to this conclusion? What indication is there that he regrets having done any of that?

There isn’t. Which brings us to the next point.

2. Kylo Ren doesn’t make reparation to those he hurt

Part of what makes a good redemption arc work is that, once the character in question realizes that what they’ve done is bad, they feel terrible about it and they try to make up for it. Keyword: Reparation, “the act of giving something to somebody or doing something for them in order to show that you are sorry for suffering that you have caused.” (Oxford Dictionary)

One of the best examples of all time is the character of Prince Zuko in Avatar: The Last Airbender, who after renouncing the Fire Nation, goes to the Avatar team, says he’s sorry, gives every team member something in return (he teaches Aang to firebend, he helps Katara find closure, etc.), and he personally helps in the defeat of the Fire Nation.

In the Marvel Universe, the character of Black Widow states in the first Avengers film that she has “red on her ledges and would like to wipe it off”, making it crystal clear that her avenging and crime-fighting are her way to atone for what she did in the past.

But since Kylo Ren has shown no remorse for what he did to countless people, there’s never a way for him to address his past actions. He doesn’t ask for forgiveness, he doesn’t join the resistance, nothing he does after his “turning point” makes it better for anyone. Not that the film would have let him. It promptly rewards him with a kiss and kills him off, so he can die a martyr. But his actions as Ben Solo are not deserving of reward, and letting him off the hook with a supposedly heroic death is not the same as fixing what he broke. And yes, this includes his helping Rey defeat Palpatine.

3. It doesn’t matter whether it was Ben or Kylo who helped Rey defeat Palpatine

The motivations and goals of Kylo Ren are never made completely clear in the trilogy. We don’t really know what he wants or why he wants it. He wants to destroy the resistance, he then wants to kill the past and rule with Rey, he then wants to be Supreme Leader, but we never know why.

At the beginning of The Rise of Skywalker, it is made clear that Kylo Ren wants to kill Palpatine so there’s nobody more powerful than him. He goes to Rey to tell her that Palpatine wants to kill her and tries to convince her that they should go kill him together instead. Once he turns good and becomes Ben Solo again, he goes to help Rey do that.

The thing is, whether Kylo Ren is good or bad makes no difference in the outcome of this final battle and thus, his sacrifice has no real impact on his redemption as a whole. Kylo/Ben helping Rey is not an indicator of his goodness. We saw him do exactly that in The Last Jedi and that did not redeem him. She was being tortured by Supreme Leader Snoke, Kylo helped her, they fought Snoke’s goons together, and then they bumped heads because she wanted him to be good and he wanted to be bad.

In The Rise of Skywalker, Palpatine is emotionally torturing Rey, so Ben helps her, they fight together and she kills Palpatine and dies. We could argue that only a light force user could have brought her back to life, so it was necessary for him to be good, but we just saw Palpatine get a whole beauty makeover using the dark side, plus there was a lot of life-giving and Snoke-creating equipment lying around. Maybe Kylo could have used that instead. Maybe seeing her sacrifice could have made him see the error of his ways and that could have been his turning point towards the light (although this idea would also have been very problematic).

My point is, the Emperor died regardless of whether Kylo was good or bad. The plot probably needed Ben to bring back Rey and make this big sacrifice, but when the sacrifice comes, we are left with this strange feeling that something is missing. Something is not right. And that something boils down to one thing and one thing only…

4. Kylo Ren’s turning point is not convincing

Kylo Ren was absolutely miserable since he killed his father in The Force Awakens, but this didn’t stop him from doing anything else he did afterward, except killing his mom in The Last Jedi. He still killed Snoke and took over his job, destroyed the resistance, bullied his coworkers, yelled at Luke Skywalker, negged Rey (negging: low-grade insults meant to undermine the self-confidence of a woman so she might be more vulnerable to your advances), and tried to be the biggest baddy in the galaxy.

So, when he’s fighting Rey on the wreckage of the Death Star and she stabs him, when he feels Leia’s death, he has a change of heart and dramatically throws away his lightsaber into the ocean. But again, the movie never tells us why. Why would he suddenly quit the dark side? What prompted him to do it? Was it getting stabbed? Was it his mother dying?

It has been argued that “Leia snapped Kylo Ren back to Ben Solo as her final act before death“, but that doesn’t work on different levels. Not only is it bad for the character of Kylo because it takes away all his agency (since all of his life-changing decisions have been influenced by someone else, be it for good or for evil), it also doesn’t explain why or how this would suddenly work. In previous movies, Leia clearly said that she hadn’t been able to reach him, that she had lost him. Han tried to and died, Luke tried to and failed, as did Rey. So… what changed? Why now?

There was no build-up to his redemption, there was never a point where he looked back on what he did and the damage he caused and said “oh… this was bad”, there was no indication of him changing his mind about the First Order. He simply decided to not be evil anymore. My point is: his redemption arc is bad because he didn’t really have one. The movie just jumped from one thing to another without putting in the effort.

This brings us back to the original issue. Why would we think that his redemption arc is good? Why would we think his ending is deserved? The three men that I watched on YouTube aren’t the only ones who have said so. There are several posts on Social Media where people agree that it was good and deserved and “much needed!”

There’s this thing that people do, especially people in positions of privilege or power, where they do something that hurts a person or a group, and then, upon being pressured, issue an apology. Sometimes the apology is a non-apology, the classic “I’m sorry if I offended you”, “I’m sorry you felt like that”, or in true Joe Biden fashion “the standards are different now”/”social norms are different”, but mostly people just say sorry and move on with their lives.


Here’s a story: After the Harvey Weinstein scandal broke, many people, most of them men (like Matt Damon, George Clooney and Ben Affleck), but also some women (like Lindsay Lohan) started distancing themselves from him, claiming that “they didn’t know him that way”. They had a vague idea that he was “a bully”, but they didn’t know. Obviously they thought what he did was wrong, but they never saw him do any of it!

And then there was director Kevin Smith. Like the others, he said he didn’t know. Harvey Weinstein had helped him boost his career and had been almost his mentor, but he didn’t know that part of him. But here’s where he went a different route than the others: he said that, despite not knowing about it, he had been part of the problem because he had sent many women in filmmaking towards Harvey Weinstein, thinking that he would help them the way he’d helped him. That’s realization. He was ashamed of it and he then vowed to give all future residuals from the films he made with Weinstein to the non-profit organization Women in Film. Expecting The Weinstein Company to suffer some economic losses due to the scandal, he pledged to also give $2000 every month for the rest of his life. He didn’t actively and purposefully hurt women, but his actions probably led to some women getting very hurt, so he was going to make up for it. That’s reparation.


But more often than not, the very people who committed the offense go on as if nothing had happened. They don’t necessarily try to understand how it was wrong and where it came from, they don’t examine their lives and put in the work to become better people, they don’t try to actively make up for what they did, they just are more careful about what they say (if at all). The reason why I’m talking mostly about powerful or privileged people because their unique positions allow them to do that without big repercussions.

And I think that, at least to a certain extent, Kylo Ren’s redemption is a bit like that.

Like many people pressured into saying sorry by something they’re not sorry about, Kylo’s change was completely superficial. Literally. He threw away his lightsaber, he changed his clothes, and he went to kill some more people, only this time bad people with no names and no faces. We’ve seen that nothing he did after becoming Ben was totally different from what he could have done as Kylo, and we probably agree that he didn’t really have time to prove me wrong because he died. We could sit here and argue that, if the trilogy had been planned out from the start, that would have allowed the writers and the director to clearly define what they wanted to do with him and his redemption could have been more developed, but that’s not what happened. The fact remains that the movie completely left out key aspects that make a redemption convincing, which makes me think that maybe the writers didn’t think of them at all.

I’m not saying that this was done on purpose, nor am I saying that the writers, the director or the people who think that Kylo’s redemption was good are mean people who don’t know how to apologize or how redemption works. What I’m trying to say is that, maybe this is an example of how, due to our position, we might still have some blind-spots, when it comes to being sorry. It’s not enough to say sorry, it’s not enough to broodily throw our swords into the ocean, it’s not enough to run to the girl we like to help her against a bigger bully and ignore everyone else. We need to clearly see what we did, why we did it, renounce it, and do something about it. True redemption involves introspection, realization, and reparation.

Favorites of the Year 2019

Here we are again, at the end of 2019.

Oh, 2019! It was a long year, a complicated year, a year full of change and new experiences. But of all that we can talk in another post. Today I want to share with you some of my favorite things this year, some for productivity, some for entertainment, but all things I really enjoyed.

Note: nothing in this post is sponsored. These are just things I like and want to share.

Apps

In 2017, I moved to Germany to study an M.A. in Political Science. Since then, I’ve written many papers, sat exams, and done presentations. So, here are three apps that helped me do that.

Forest

This is a concentration app for your phone and a Google Chrome extension. The way it works is: You set a timer to stay focused and plant a virtual tree that grows during that time. You then set your phone aside and work. If you leave the app, the tree dies. Once the tree grows, you to get coins that you can use to unblock new ones and you can use that to grow a forest.

The best part about this app is that, once you have enough coins, you can donate them to plant a real tree.

Notion

Notion is a “workspace” for basically everything you have. On each new page that you open, you can do pretty much anything: write a text, make a list, add a table, a task board, set up notifications, and connect them to other pages both on Notion and on the web. A personal workspace is just for you, a group workspace allows you to work on the same space with every person who is part of your project.

There’s a free version, which allows you to have up to 1000 pages. The different plans range from $4.00 (personal) to $20.00 (enterprise) a month, and you can choose whichever suits your needs best. It’s also free for students.

Scrivener

Scrivener is a writing app. I purchased it years ago while I was studying my B.A. and wrote every paper on it, including my Bachelor Thesis. I recently purchased the third edition and I am loving it.

Here, you can organize your notes, color code, summarize, save PDFs so you don’t have to switch between programs, and export your texts ready for publication.


The next two apps, I use for my everyday life.

Audible

Audible is Amazon’s audio book store. Ever since I started my M.A. and my part-time job, I haven’t had nearly enough time to read. Last year, I read six books in total. Six! I feel bad every time I look at that list. So I decided to join Audible and start listening to books on my commute to university and to work, and I discovered the true joy of listening to books.

Yes, it costs $15.00 a month and that can seem like a lot, but it is so worth it.

SpotOn

This is not just a period tracker. This is the best period tracker. Developed by Planned Parenthood, this app helps you not only track your period, but also everything related to it. With its mood, body, action and period trackers, you can see exactly how you feel and how often you feel like it. You can also track your birth control method, be it pill, patch, implant, shot, IUD, or whatever.

There’s also a “Resources” section for frequently asked questions related to periods, birth control, sex, and even a glossary. You can set up push-notifications to remind you that your period is coming, or to take your birth control, or when you have your next appointment at the gynecologist. In short, if you have a period, you should have this on your phone.

Books

These books are in no particular order. They’re books I thoroughly enjoyed and would probably read again.

A Room of One’s Own, by Virginia Woolf

Of this book I wrote back in June, but suffice it to say that this extended essay, which is based on a series of lectures that Virginia Woolf gave at Newham College and Girton College, is a must for all readers, writers, content creators, and general audiences.

The Odyssey, translated by Emily Wilson

This is the perfect translation for our time. In her translation, Emily Wilson takes a care rarely seen in other versions of the Odyssey, respecting key features of the original text, such as length, rhythm, and tone, all while making it accessible for a modern reader. The result is a beautiful, easy to read, epic poem.

Bad Feminist: Essays, by Roxane Gay

Bad Feminist is a collection of personal essays by author, university professor and competitive Scrabble player, Roxane Gay. These essays range from politics, to race, to personal experiences, to pop culture, and they are written with such warmth and honesty, that they give this book that conversational feel that only some books of memoirs have.

Delusions of Gender: How Our Minds, Society, and Neurosexism Create Difference, by Cordelia Fine

“Women are from Venus, men are from Mars”, “there is a male and there is a female brain”, “women and men are naturally better at different things”. These are just some of the sayings that we often hear in our everyday life. We read about them in books and magazines, we see them displayed on our screens, and we hear them at home and at school.

In this book, Cordelia Fine goes on a journey of discovery, swimming through the vast sea of research and studies from the fields of psychology and neuroscience, and takes along with her on her search for the truth behind these myths, and shows us how, from the very moment that we are born (even before that), we are constantly influenced and limited by cultural assumptions about gender.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane, by Neil Gaiman

This is a short but amazing book by Neil Gaiman that tells the story of a man who goes back to his childhood home for a funeral. While he is there, he goes back to the farm at the end of the road. He hasn’t been there in so long, he doesn’t even remember what happened there. He just remembers that, as a boy, he met and befriended a girl, Lettie Hempstock. What happened to him as a boy slowly comes back to him, and he suddenly starts to remember the time when he saw and lived through strange and dark things. Things that started with a dead man in a car, and ended with an ocean.

Other links

The Woman Dies

Written by Aoko Matsuda, translated from the Japanese by Polly Barton. This is a short story from her collection The Year of No Wild Flowers and published on GRANTA online. The Woman Dies is about the treatment of women in stories, and it is amazing.

Medium

This is an online publishing platform that is home to professional and amateur writers, journalists, and bloggers. I’ve been a member for a while now and I absolutely love it. More recently, I decided to open my own Medium account, where I publish now and then.

Joshua Weissman

This is a guy who worked at a restaurant and now does relatively short, but really good YouTube cooking videos. I love his videos and his recipes, and I follow him on YouTube and Instagram.

And that’s all of it. Thank you so much for reading The Notebook in My Pocket this year. I hope you have a blessed and wonderful time, and I will see you again in January to talk about my Word for the Year and the plans for 2020.

Paola.

Of Men and Nice Guys in “Juliet, Naked”

Juliet, Naked is a 2018 film directed by Jesse Peretz, written by Evgenia Peretz, Jim Taylor, Tamara Jenkins and Phil Alden Robinson, and it is based on the novel of the same name by Nick Hornby. It stars Rose Byrne, Ethan Hawke and Chris O’Dowd.

It tells the story of Annie (Byrne), a woman bored and unhappy with her life, who is -and has been for the past 15 years- in an unfulfilling, dull, long-term relationship with Duncan (O’Dowd). Duncan is obsessed with obscure singer-songwriter Tucker Crowe (Hawke), who 25 years ago wrote and recorded an album called Juliet, and disappeared from public life. A newly discovered demo record from Crowe’s album arrives at Annie’s and Duncan’s door. Duncan, who runs a blog dedicated to Crowe’s music and theories about his life, promptly posts about it online. Annie, who is tired of having to listen to Tucker Crowe, writes a negative review and is contacted by the artist himself. Tucker agrees with her, and so starts an online friendship that could turn into something more.

Let’s get one thing out of the way: we all know where the movie is going as soon as Ethan Hawke (whom I love almost as much as I love Rose Byrne) shows his bearded face. We know how this movie will end, but that is not the point. The point is the story, and -to me, at least- it is a good story. Now that we’ve cleared that up, let’s talk about the men.

Spoiler warning: If you haven’t seen the movie and don’t want absolutely anything spoiled, go and watch it and then come back

Duncan, the nice guy

Annie is in a relationship with, what we nowadays call, a Nice Guy. In case you don’t know, a Nice Guy (sometimes also stylized as Nice Guy™) is a man who does not behave in an overtly aggressive or “bad” way, but who expects something in return for his being nice. He thinks the world, or society, or women “owe him” for being such a nice guy. We’ve all seen men like that: they complain about being in the “friendzone”, they are always right, they just know better, and they are so nice that people -especially women- should reward them for their actions. A Nice Guy would never hit you or explicitly insult you, he is nice. See? Now you have to love him, because he’s nice!

And that is exactly what Duncan is. He is not conventionally attractive, but he’s not unattractive either. He is reasonably smart, he teaches at a university and gets along well with his students and colleagues, he has hobbies and pays attention to details, and he usually lets Annie be. Whenever he gets angry and yells at Annie, he apologizes. It also seems like it doesn’t happen very often, unless it is related to his devotion to Tucker Crowe.

At the beginning of the film, he gets very angry when Annie listens to Tucker Crowe’s demo before him. Boy, he does not like it, at all! He feels betrayed and angry that she would dare to listen to it before him, when she knows, she knows how much Tucker Crowe means to him. But what I find more interesting is what happens right before the argument: Duncan comes home and notices that Annie is listening to something new. She repeatedly tries to explain to him the situation, possibly knowing what his reaction will be. Duncan is in a good mood, so he simply ignores her and tries to guess what she’s listening to. She asks him over and over again to let her explain, but he keeps walking and talking over her, at some point he shushes her and tells her to “shut up quick, [he] wants to guess”. When he can’t, he asks her what it is, and she finally tells him. He gets angry and yells and ends up leaving the house to listen to the demo alone, in peace. It is only hours later that he comes back and apologizes to her for acting stupid.

This situation of Duncan talking over Annie and blatantly ignoring her happens several times throughout the movie, although it doesn’t always end in an argument because usually Annie stops trying and simply lets him have it his way. This includes one key difference in their lives: she wants to have children, and he doesn’t. She didn’t want to when they started dating, but now she does, and he dismisses her wishes completely.

I enjoyed Duncan’s character a lot, and Chris O’Dowd plays him wonderfully. It is not often that I see such a self-centred, entitled, obnoxious man who is not rewarded by the movie for being like that. He sounds awful -and he is- but he is not too different from other beloved and admired fictional characters. Lots of stories have this kind of character. The difference is that the narrative frames them as heroes. Here are some examples:

  1. Twilight’s Edward Cullen. He is selfish, possessive, controlling, pretentious and constantly manipulates Bella into doing what he wants, but, in the story, he is an object of desire. Bella forgives him because everything he does, he does it out of love!
  2. Guardians of the Galaxy’s Peter Quill is another good example. This one is a little different because, although he is the hero of the story and his childishness and selfishness are portrayed as lovable flaws, he learns -albeit very slowly- to be a better person, and he doesn’t get the girl explicitly because of his immaturity. (Note: this post was written before Avengers: Infinity War)
  3. La La Land’s Sebastian. This is a truly awful character, but we still are expected to love him because he is played by Ryan Gosling and because he is a free spirit, a true artist. The truth is, he is a horrible human being. He mistreats anyone who doesn’t share his interests or his views, and he looks down on anyone who doesn’t conform to his idea of what “true” jazz is, which is pretty much everyone. He is an entitled, self-absorbed, obnoxious character, but he is rewarded by the plot anyway.
    No, he doesn’t get the girl either, but he didn’t really, really want her in the first place (nor she him). His dream was to have a jazz bar of his own, and he gets just that (just like her dream was to be a big actress, which she becomes). He didn’t really put in the work, he complained every step of the way, he alienated everyone willing to put up with him, and he still achieved his dream.

Duncan is exactly like that, but he is not framed as a hero, nor portrayed as an object of desire. He is shown exactly the way he is, and he is terrible.

There’s one thing that happens in the movie that I understand, but kinda wish hadn’t happened. Since Duncan’s awfulness might go over some heads and because we need a reason for the usually conforming Annie to leave him, he cheats on her. I understand why the movie needs him to cheat, but I kinda wish that he hadn’t. I kinda wish the movie had let him just be awful in his own way and that Annie had made the decision to leave him on her own, because she finally accepted that they weren’t happy. Nevertheless, the cheating is the big push that Annie needs and if there’s one amazing thing to come out of it is how he confesses and his reason for confessing. The confession is peak Nice Guy: He comes clean, not because he wants her to know the truth, not because she deserves basic respect, but just so he can feel better about himself.

Tucker, the Broken Man

On the other side, we have Tucker Crowe, the artist who got his heart broken 25 years ago and wrote an entire album about it, inspiring hundreds of brokenhearted men who saw themselves in his music.

We find Tucker living in the garage of his ex-wife’s house, taking care of his youngest child and waiting for the arrival of one daughter, who is coming from London. He has a bunch of children that he never sees, and they all have a different mother. Tucker is a recovering alcoholic, and he is utterly disappointed with his life. However, he takes care of his young son with love and devotion, they spend a lot of time together, and he tries to answer to every single question that the boy asks. Tucker is open about his dislike for his music, although he refuses to say why, he doesn’t shy away from telling people that he is screwed up, and he is, by all means, a loser.
But here’s the important thing about Tucker: he is a loser trying to be better.

Tucker is the opposite of Duncan. He is not successful or popular, he is just broken. He is conscious of his mistakes and his sins, and he carries them with him wherever he goes. But he tries. He tries to be a good father to his little boy, he is no longer drinking, when he starts exchanging emails with Annie, he listens to her and is honest about not being able to give her any advice because he has a history of making the worst decisions, and once he meets Annie in person when he goes to England, he is inspired to be better. She’s not the one to change him though, he does it all on his own.

Spoiler warning: From here on, we will talk about the very end of the movie.

Tucker and Annie have feelings for each other and even share a kiss, but they don’t get together and Tucker goes back to the United States. A year goes by before they see each other again. When they finally meet, we see Tucker waiting for Annie at a café. This time, he looks a lot better. His hair is combed, his beard is tidy, and he looks happier. We as an audience know that he went and took care of himself first and only then came back to Annie. In the year of our Lord 2019, when we still get movies about how “the right girl will fix him”, it’s refreshing to see a movie where the guy fixes himself before going to see about a girl.

After the movie ends, we get a credits-scene where Duncan is seen complaining on his blog about Tucker’s new album. He is visibly disappointed and lists some of the reasons why this is: “We have a song about reading in the afternoon, we have a song about home-grown green beans, there’s a little [commentary] expanding on the joys of being a step-father! I mean, in short, we have a tragedy!”

He goes on to complain about other things and you get the impression that he also resents Tucker for getting together with Annie, but I think this first list says a lot about both characters. Duncan’s obsession with Tucker comes from listening to music that was written by a young man who got dumped and who wrote “insipid, self-pitying songs about Julie [the actual name of the woman] breaking [his] heart” (as Tucker himself puts it). The songs are about him and his suffering, regardless of what Julie thought or did or why she broke up with him.

Tucker Crowe grew out of his self-centred self, he stopped making himself out to be the victim, he evolved. And it’s interesting to see how the music that he produces once he’s made peace with his past, once he’s actively trying to be a good father to all of his children and a good man for Annie, the music that he creates out of an emotionally stable life is rejected by Duncan.

The contrast between Duncan and Tucker is clear, but it is never mentioned explicitly. This film chose to show the supposedly Nice Guy honestly without making him into a complete caricature. Duncan is a guy that we might know. If we’re honest, he is a guy we probably know. On the other side of the coin, it gives us Tucker, who is flawed but an actual good guy. He is relatable because he is not portrayed as this misunderstood, brooding guy. He is thoughtful and somewhat goofy and full of regret. He knows who he is and who he wants to be, and he is actively working to be that person, even if it doesn’t always work out the way he wants it to.

Disney, little mermaids, and fish that don’t know racism

Boy, was it a scandal when Disney announced that the new Ariel for the remake of the Disney classic The Little Mermaid would be singer and actor Halle Bailey. Because we have a little time on our hands, just a little, let’s talk about the new hot topic. So go get a coffee, a tea, a lemonade or whatever beverage you like, sit on a comfortable chair and, keeping it cool, keeping it nice, let’s talk about the problem with the new little mermaid.

(Spoiler: the problem is not the little mermaid).

From what I’ve seen on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Instagram, people’s complaints about the casting boil down to four points that come up over and over again.

#1 The Little Mermaid is Danish

The Little Mermaid, or in the original Danish, Den lille Havfrue, is a fairy tale written by Hans Christian Andersen and published in 1837 in Copenhagen. Andersen was Danish, he was born in Odensen, and he died in Copenhagen.

The titular character, the little mermaid, on the other hand, was not born in Denmark. Sadly, we don’t have the exact date or place of birth, but our most reliable sources tell us that she was born “far out at sea” where “the water is as blue as the petals of the loveliest cornflower and as clear as the purest glass, but it is very deep, deeper than any anchor cable can reach, many church towers would have to be placed on top of each other to stretch from the sea-bed to the surface.” This would correspond to what we humans call “international waters.”

Disney Studios were not concerned with the question of the mermaid’s birthplace, back in 1989, when they made the movie. In fact, the movie doesn’t even name the underwater kingdom, though some later books, video games, and the animated series did call it Atlantica. The mermaid was also named Ariel by Disney. But Disney forgot to mention where exactly Atlantica is. After all, the ocean is a big place, and the linguistic variations of the characters do not help us at all: Ariel has an American accent, while Sebastian the crab has a Jamaican one (Cuban, if you watch the Latin American version!). Another possible clue is that all fish seem to enjoy calypso music, which is very popular in the Caribbean.

But none of this matters, since we humans have no way of knowing the political and cultural divisions of the underwater world. As far as we know, mermaids don’t exist and fish don’t understand the concept of nationality.

And what does her possible nationality have to do with her skin color? Nothing, really. Whenever we think about Europe, we think of a bunch of white people and, while it’s true that the majority does count as white, it’s simply wrong to assume that there were no people of color in Europe before the 20th century. Cultural and ethnic diversity in Europe go back as far as the Roman Empire.

#2 It’s as if they made a white Pocahontas or a white Mulan

So this point shouldn’t even exist, but I’ve seen so many comments and memes about it, that I’m just gonna go ahead and state the obvious:

Fun fact: in 1616, Smith wrote a letter to Queen Anne of Denmark to tell her about Pocahontas

Pocahontas, also called Matoaka, was probably born in 1595 and definitely died in 1617. She’s best known for her important role during the first permanent English settlement at Jamestown, Virginia, and she’s commonly associated with John Smith, one of the first colonizers in the area.

Pocahontas, a real historical figure, was a member of the Powathan tribe, which in turn was part of the Algonquin peoples. Her position as daughter of the Powathan chief, her relationship with John Smith, and her marriage to John Rolfe were key in the relation between the Powathan and the English, particularly during the Anglo-Powathan wars.

Hua Mulan is the protagonist of the poem Ballad of Mulan, composed in China in the 6th century. In the poem, Mulan dresses up as a soldier and goes to war in place of her father. She returns home 12 years later and only then reveals herself as a woman to her fellow soldiers.

We don’t know whether Mulan was a real person or not, but she’s one of the most important figures in Chinese folklore.

 Mulan, from  Gathering Gems of Beauty  (畫麗珠萃秀), located in Taipei
Mulan, from Gathering Gems of Beauty (畫麗珠萃秀), located in Taipei

Just to make this absolutely clear: their ethnicity is crucial to their stories.

And how we’d love to say that Ariel’s story has been a source of inspiration to all young Atlantean out there! But we can’t. We can’t for two simple reasons: as far as we know, mermaids don’t exist and fish can’t read.

#3 This is forced Diversity and was only done to pander to the Social Justice Warriors

We’ll get to this forced diversity issue in a second. But first, let’s talk about fairy tales.

What is a fairy tale?

Simply put, a fairy tale is a short story with fantastic elements such as gnomes, fairies, goblins, trolls, witches, and talking animals. Whenever we think about fairy tales, we think about the Grimm brothers: Snow White, Rapunzel, Hansel and Gretel; we think about Hans Christian Andersen: The Little Mermaid, Cinderella, The Ugly Duckling; maybe we think about Charles Dickens or maybe we think about One Thousand and One Nights.

They’re stories that we know, that we love, that we associate with clear images. For those of us who grew up watching Disney movies, the images are the same: Belle has a yellow dress and brown hair, Aurora wears a dress that switches from pink to blue (depending on which fairy is around), and the Little Mermaid is a redhead. They’re all white, thin, blue-eyed, they have a sweet voice and a lovely personality, though some of them are more proactive than others. What do they all have in common? They all reflect the image of the culture in which they were created. The culture that did not think about minorities that much. (Enough to make a movie about Pocahontas, but not enough to not sexualize her and turn her into this “exotic princess”.)

Written fairy tales have just been around for a couple of centuries. Before that, they were transmitted orally. They were stories that were passed down from generation to generation, and each generation added or omitted details. The Beauty and the Beast, for example, has been around for at least four thousand years.

A reason why fairy tales are still around is their capacity to change. A good story doesn’t remain intact; it evolves, it changes, and it takes the form of the culture in which it’s being told. You can see it just by comparing Disney princesses. Take Snow White, Belle and Moana: they all have completely different personalities and their stories have a totally different focus.

So no, this is not forced diversity. This is just the reflection of the ongoing social changes. Maybe it’s a good idea to bring in more characters of color and not turn them into exotic objects, maybe there’s another layer of storytelling to be discovered. If some people feel it’s forced, it’s because “white” has always been the Hollywood norm, and art has paid a price for it. Besides, a money-making factory like Disney would never risk profits just to pander to a group of people.

This leads us directly to the last point.

#4 Ariel has always been white, and we’re used to her being white

Art is a result of the culture and society in which is created. This much is clear.

It’s not that there weren’t people of color in the 30s, 50s and 90s. It’s that the norm was “white is beautiful and the rest doesn’t really matter all that much.” In a society where only white women were considered beautiful, having only white princesses was the logical, albeit terrible, consequence. If we’re used to seeing only white people in media, it’s because it’s the only thing that has been presented to us.

And it has taken us a lot to shake off those colonial prejudices about “white is the only thing that matters”. One needs just one look at the social media reaction to the new casting to realize that we still have a long way to go. But we’re getting there, we’re changing as a society. And, as the old Rafiki says, change is good.

It would be incredibly naive of me to think that no one who has repeated the previous points has done it with malice and from a place of racism. The world is not like that and there are racists everywhere. But this post is not for those people.

Now it is the studio’s job to take that character and expand on it, make it come to life, make it new and exciting, make it a well-rounded character. You know, to avoid the fiasco that happened with the characters of color in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.

Have you ever noticed that every time someone from a marginalized group is chosen for an important and/or well-known position, people say things like “they should pick the best person for the job without looking at skin color or gender”? It happens every time! And it only happens if the person being chosen is not white! I wonder why that is…

Well, here you have it then. Halle Bailey auditioned like everybody else and Disney decided that she was the best one for the job. So now it’s up to us to check our prejudices and judge the movie like we would judge any other, but aware of the fact that this casting represents (or should represent) a change for the better.

And what do they think about all this, down there, under the sea? Nobody can say. As far as we know, mermaids don’t exist and fish don’t go to the movies.


Edited on 29th September 2020.

2019: A Balanced Year

Every year I like to look for a quote to write in my notebook. I usually stick to the same three, the first by Alfred Lord Tennyson, the second by T.S. Eliot, and the third, my favorite one, by Ray Bradbury:

“Next year’s going to be even bigger, days will be brighter, nights longer and darker, more people dying, more babies born, and me in the middle of it all.”

Every year I also choose a word.  

2016 it was organization (even though I didn’t consciously choose it), 2017 was discipline, 2018 was purpose.

Why did I choose purpose?

Because I wanted there to be purpose in everything I did. I wanted that, no matter how big or how small a thing was, it needed to matter either to me or to the person in question. It needed purpose.

2018: A Year of Purpose

2018 was a weird year. A good year, but a complicated year. The international scene is reason enough to say that it more or less sucked, but not all of it was bad. On the small universe that is my life, there were a lot of changes. I struggled with money but then I got a job as a language teacher, which I love, and that helped a lot, I moved on with my masters program, despite my own insecurities, and started looking at some future possibilities, I wrote a short story that was published in an independent literary magazine, I fell in love, and I joined an association of fellow political science students. And I feel that there was purpose in all I did and almost all I started. It sometimes feels like a lot and I sometimes struggle with anxiety, but it is good. God has been good.

So my life is busier now and it is a lot more interesting than it was a year ago, but it is, and has been for a while now, somewhat out of balance.

Here’s the thing: first I had no money but a lot of time to study. I finally got a job and that went well, but then I started working with the student association (all voluntary) and I got some translation jobs (all individual projects) and I started falling behind with my studies.
After a semester of trying to juggle it all, I went on a long vacation that was amazing, but when I returned, I had left some unfinished uni projects and had little time to finish them. I did finish them and got good grades, but during that time I did not sleep well and I did not eat healthy.

Then the new semester started and I finally found my rhythm on my job, voluntary work and studies, but I stopped reading and writing almost completely. I also had virtually no social life for most of the year, but two of my best friends moved closer, and we started meeting almost every weekend, which was a refreshing break from my usual study-work-study-routine.

With all this in mind, I have decided that my word for 2019 is going to be balance.

 2019: A Balanced Year

From my routine, to my eating habits, to my social relationships, to my reading and writing, this year I want to live balanced. So, here are some of my intentions for the year:

  1. Finish all my credits and start writing my masters thesis (Ok, that one is kind of inevitable);
  2. Make time several nights a week to read (both my Bible and other books);
  3. Wake up more or less at the same time every day;
  4. Have a date night once a week;
  5. Call my friends (especially the ones who live far away) more often;
  6. Make time several mornings a week to write.

Those are my general intentions. I also have a list of blog intentions, so here’s what you can expect to find on the blog this year:

  1. New book reviews;
  2. Into the Twilight Zone: A post series on the Twilight Series, over ten years later, with fresh eyes, and a hopefully better understanding of how we perceive media for teenage girls;
  3. The joy of listening to books;
  4. Mt. Fuji or the one time I decided not to train to climb a mountain;
  5. New travel posts.

So, let’s hope that it all works out more or less like it’s intended to. Here’s T.S. Eliot for you again and here’s to us having an interesting but balanced year.

“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language
And next year’s words await another voice.”

2018: A Year of Purpose

Happy New Year, dearest readers!

How are you today? How did you celebrate New Year’s Eve?

It’s time for our Word for the Year post. The post where we talk about goals, intentions, and plans for the new year. But first, here’s a quick recap of what happened in 2017.

On the blog, not in the big ol’ world out there.
We don’t talk about that.

2017: Disciplined Thinking

Back in January 2017, I told you the word that would serve as a thread for the whole year and I shared with you some of my intentions. We checked in on them back in September, so we don’t have to go over all of them again. I managed to achieve most of them but there were things where I really dropped the ball:

Read at least 25 books | Read the Bible every day | Participate in the four courses on my To Learn list

Yeah. They didn’t work out.

But there’s always time next year, right?

The three most-read posts

  1. What? You’re only Mexican?
  2. The Year of Disciplined Thinking
  3. Book Review: The Fellowship of the Ring

My Top Four Books

My goal this year was to read 25 books. Boy, did I fall short!

I read 11 books and left The Stand, by Stephen King, unfinished. I do intend to continue reading it, but because it is over 1400 pages long, I couldn’t bring it with me during the holidays. I still have 500 pages to go.

However, of the eleven books I did finish, here are the ones that I liked the most.

Born a Crime, Trevor Noah

In 2016, comedian and The Daily Show host Trevor Noah wrote an incredibly funny and incredibly poignant book about his childhood experiences and his coming of age as a biracial boy in a divided South Africa during and after Apartheid.

The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion

John Gregory Dunne died in December 2004 in front of his wife while his daughter was in a coma at the hospital. Joan Didion was left completely alone for the first time in many, many years. This is a beautifully sad book she wrote on life, loss and grief the year she wished her life were different.

Wishful Drinking, Carrie Fisher

On the same section of the shelf is Wishful Drinking, by Carrie Fisher. Carrie Fisher was a complicated, funny, brave woman, and her book definitely left a mark on my reading heart; even months after having read it, I still find myself thinking about it and quoting it.

Imagined Communities, Benedict Anderson

I finished this book last week and I haven’t posted my review yet, but I can tell you that it is one of the best academic reads I’ve had in quite a while. I will tell you more about it in a few weeks but suffice it to say that Anderson may just have helped me define my field of research.

My Word for 2018

Unlike last year, I spent days thinking about my word for 2018. I considered many options and went over my list several times. What word could be broad enough to fit into all aspects of my life but specific enough to set the theme?

And then it hit me. Purpose. My word for 2018 will be Purpose.

“Purpose” is one of those words that we hear again and again. To make it my word for 2018 and announce it on the 1st day of January definitely makes it seem like a cliché. But having thoroughly thought it through, having looked at my life, story and longings, and after having read its many definitions, I have decided that it is the best fit for this year.

The Oxford Dictionaries define purpose as follows:

  1. The intention, aim or function of something; the thing that something is supposed to achieve
  2. What is needed in a particular situation
  3. Meaning that is important and valuable to you
  4. The ability to plan something and work successfully to achieve it

This year, I want every aspect of my life to have purpose. In the words of Donald Miller, I want a better story for my life. Wherever I go, whatever I do, it needs to have purpose. It doesn’t need to be big and epic; life is not in the big deeds, but in the details. May every detail be meaningful.

And so, dearest readers, here’s to the new year. May your 2018 be blessed and may it be meaningful. I will see you soon, with lots of plans, books, and literary routes.

Happy New Year!

Paola.

What? You’re only Mexican?

“Where are you from?”

This is usually the first question I’m asked when I’m introduced to someone. Not because people see me and instantly know I’m not German, but because Germany is full of people from everywhere. Particularly in German universities, not everybody is from the city where they study.

“Mexico,” I always answer.

From here, there are usually three ways the conversation goes:

  1. Oh, wow! And what’s your major? Why did you choose Germany?
  2. Oh, wow! And what’s your major? Is it true that Mexico is dangerous?
  3. Oh, wow! What part of Mexico? I’ve been to there and there. And what’s your major?

And then they ask me what I think of Donald Trump. You know, with the border wall and everything.

However, from time to time (although not very often), I find myself in a conversation that takes a different route. A route that is not surprising, yet entirely uncomfortable, not to mention somewhat disappointing.

The last conversation like that, I had with the man who was fixing my toilet. He asked me where I was from, what my field of studies was, what I thought of Donald Trump. He thinks Trump’s crazy and doesn’t know a thing about government. But then he said something else, something I wasn’t expecting to hear on a Tuesday morning while my toilet was being repaired: “But he has a point, you know? Like all of us, Germans, he’s afraid that too many foreigners will enter the country.”

It was an unfortunate generalization, as I know several Germans who would get very angry with those words, but I said nothing. What do I say, as a foreigner, to a man who’s telling me that he’s afraid that too many foreigners will come into the country? For a second there I thought about yelling something like, BOOH! Just to see if I could scare him, but I thought it probably wasn’t such a good idea.

“It’s like those Indians who come to us and don’t even want to learn German,” he went on. He gave me several examples and always made sure to say things like “I have nothing against Muslims, you know.” As if saying that made up for all the racism and absurdity of his examples. “When you’re in a public restroom and a Muslim woman comes in, you can’t be sure she’s a woman because you can’t see anything except her eyes.” Yeah…

“But you’re German,” he said.
“No, I’m Mexican,” I said for the second time.
“Yes, yes. But you hold dual citizenship. Turkish people can do that.”
“No, I’m Mexican.”
“What? You’re only Mexican? But why don’t you have an accent?”

I thought it funny how he kept using the German formal form of “you”, “Sie”. Nothing like keeping it formal when you’re telling the foreigner that you don’t want to believe that she’s foreigner because she doesn’t fit your distorted and prejudiced idea of what a foreigner should be like.

The man told me that he was interested in my opinion as a young person but as soon as he realized that my opinion was the opposite of his, he went back to fixing the toilet and didn’t speak to me again until he was done. He only spoke to me to explain to me how the new flushing system worked and to say goodbye.

He assumed that, since I’m “half-German” I don’t encounter a lot of racism here in Germany and, although he was wrong in thinking that I hold the German citizenship, he was right in one aspect: I don’t encounter a lot of racism here in Germany. Almost all of my friends are German, and they are open, kind, respectful, and they enjoy getting to know other cultures. Most importantly, my nationality, skin color or gender do not influence the way they treat me. The fees I pay for university are the same that my German fellow students pay. At church, I’m just one more churchgoer, and on the streets, nobody questions why I’m here.

But just because I don’t encounter racism every day doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. The plumber who fixed my toilet is not the only one afraid that an outrageous amount of foreigners will enter the country and what is good and German will be lost to the claws of this new, globalized, multicultural world. The popularity of the far-right German party and the seats it’s getting in Parliament as a result of the last elections prove it. Germany is not the only country with people who fear this either. Donald Trump’s presidency, Great Britain leaving the European Union, and Marine Le Pen’s popularity during the French elections are but a few examples of what this fear can do.


About a month ago I was about to go up the stairs of the train station carrying a suitcase when a man offered to help me. His skin was darker than mine, and he had a thick accent. He smiled, introduced himself, and then he said: “I’m from Syria, I’m an engineer.”

His comment made me smile, but it made me sad at the same time. I smiled because that’s the way my great-grandma used to introduce my dad: “this is my grandson, he has a masters degree.” What I found sad was that this man who comes from a country destroyed by war has to tell people that he’s an engineer so people see that he’s educated, as if trying to justify his presence.

I can think of two reasons why this man has to justify his presence and I don’t (besides the fact that a lot of people aren’t happy that almost a million Syrian refugees came to Germany in 2015):

  1. His skin is darker than mine. Like a lot of equality-related problems, this has to do with Imperialism. It doesn’t matter the country, it’s more likely that people with darker skin have more problems than people with lighter skin. My skin isn’t the lightest, but it’s light enough for me not to draw attention to myself when in a room full of white people. Sadly, we still live in a world where something as random as the level of melanin that we’re born with dictates how we’re perceived.
  2. His accent is thicker than mine. I generally speak German without a recognizable accent. I make grammar mistakes, but most of the time you can’t tell where I’m from just by listening to me speak. The plumber that wanted me to agree with his theories about how dangerous we foreigners can be, didn’t want to see me as a foreigner because of my accent. I remembered Trevor Noah’s book, Born a Crime, when he says that “language, even more than color, defines who you are to people.”

It also probably helps that I’m relatively short, which means that tall racists of the world can’t see me if they don’t look down.


Why there are still people afraid of foreigners influencing their culture, I don’t know. The only ones who can justifiably be afraid, in my opinion, are those whose cultures were partially or completely destroyed in the name of modernity and civilization. But in this century, in this globalized world, where we can communicate with people from other continents in a matter of seconds, one would think that sharing our culture with others represents an advantage, not a problem. After all, it is because of those influences that we are what we are, that we live like we live, and that we speak like we speak.

Before I go, I want to share with you a quote by the Spiegel Online (online version of the German magazine, Der Spiegel) editor-in-chief, Barbara Hans:

“Diversity is the opposite of assimilation. If I am like everyone else, then it doesn’t matter that I’m also sitting at the table.”*


* The translation is mine. The original quote is:

“Vielfalt ist das Gegenteil von Assimilation. Wenn ich so bin wie alle anderen, dann ist es egal, dass ich mit am Tisch sitze.”