Author Archives: Olivia

Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling

This book’s title gives a nod to female confidence, and is the subject of its penultimate chapter. Kaling’s insights on the complications of being a confident woman come from lived experience; she routinely has to answer men when they ask her where she gets her confidence, as if she doesn’t look like someone who should possess confidence and therefore has to explain herself. However, Kaling relays the story of being asked where she gets her confidence by a young Indian girl, who, with candor, foregrounded her own struggle with insecurity. This last chapter is an essay replying to that question, an answer she wishes she could have given at the time. “Confidence is just entitlement… and entitlement is simply the belief that you deserve something”, she writes (452). Hard work certainly contributes to that belief, as well as courage. But, Kaling calls attention to the ways in which this severe emphasis on the confidence of young girls likely complicates their accessibility to confidence.

I remember as a teenager trying to convince my mom that she should give me money for good grades, because all of my friends got money from their parents for getting A’s. She laughed in my face. “Why would I give you money for something that you are capable of doing? That would just mean that I don’t believe you can do it without some sort of reward”. At least it was something along those lines; it was a long time ago. Kaling closes with this:

“So, if that girl from the panel is reading this, I would like to say to her: Hi, it’s Mindy Kaling. I’m sorry I let you down. The thing is, I’m in my mid-thirties and I was wearing my Spanx for fourteen hours straight. You’ll understand when you’re older. Here’s how I think you can get your confidence back, kid: Work hard, know your shit, show your shit, and then feel entitled. Listen to no one except the two smartest and kindest adults you know, and that doesn’t always mean your parents. If you do that, you will be fine. Now, excuse me, I need to lie down and watch Sheldon” (464).

I should have warned against spoilers. I just gave the whole book away.

Like I said in my last review, Kaling’s life experiences are couched in friendships that bring meaning to these experiences: female friendships, colleague friendships, and relationships that are not easily defined and present more like a best friend-life mate hybrid like the one she shares with B.J. Novak. Consequently, reading Kaling – forgive me for being cliche – is a lot like listening to your funniest friend talk about quintessential LA life, including the time she offended an entire room of white anti-vaxxer moms. Kaling calls attention to the ways in which friendships are more similar to romantic relationships than we think. We have flings, we feel the spark of connection. She has a language for something that remains largely language-less: friendship breakups. Maybe this can be attributed to a societal framework that reveres romantic relationships as the most important relationships one can have. The passion, fizzling out or explosive end of a friendship goes largely unprocessed in our romance obsessed culture.

While most of Kaling’s material is light-hearted and witty, her essays have a strong politicized thread running through them. She discusses the ways in which the media treat her body like a public text that can be read and written about – what it’s like to be a woman in the public eye. She speaks candidly and honestly about the marginalization she experiences however much she might love her life.

Work hard, know your shit, show your shit, and then feel entitled.

My Process of Creating a Space for Ethical Reading and Reflection

Before I created my site for PUB 101, I knew I wanted to write. I considered writing about podcasts, records and live music. I then thought about a common class assignment: reading responses – using another text as a mirror to inform self study and thus, my own writing. A concept that kept surfacing for me elsewhere in my life was the importance academically and personally to turn inward and examine my own thought patterns, proneness and ultimately, social position. This emphasis for me was largely motivated by Professor Tasha Hubbard’s discussion during “The Secret Path” panel; “The Secret Path” is a short film created by Gord Downie that tells the story of Chanie Wenjack, a child who died while trying to escape residential school. In the case of First Nations studies, she says that Indigenous people are so often the object of a gaze, and students have the responsibility to turn that gaze back onto themselves. In essence, my personal project within my overarching academic one of creating this site, was to engage with this idea of practicing ethical reading. That is, “read things that do not give [me] the immediate thrill of recognition” as well as reading material that makes me feel seen and heard (McGregor). As far as I can tell, my audience is full of readers, and my editorial, design and content reflect that. My writing reads much like the genre that I am engaging with – I incorporate scholarly findings as well as personal reflection and connection with the text. My posts are text-based and include only pictures of the book cover and the author. I was quite cognizant of the need to make the material palatable while still maintaining integrity with the information I wanted to convey. In that sense, my content is not for everyone; it is for those who like to read and for those who like to engage reflectively with material that can be tough to do so with.

I can honestly say that I spent a proportionate amount of time on design and content, respectively, which I wasn’t expecting at the beginning of this project. I was expecting to choose a simple – possibly boring – theme that was capable of facilitating my writing and not spend too much time fussing over customization. I was really mistaken about that. A course reading by Travis Gertz made it functionally impossible for me to ignore design; he makes a robust case for design and content being representative of one another. In short, a successful and engaging website has content that doesn’t outshine the design and vice versa. I spent a lot of time fooling around on my CSS hoping to make things work and – for the most part – I did!

Debbie Chachra’s article Why I Am Not a Maker calls attention to forms of valuable work that are often gendered and rarely recognized, which helps me to explain the value I am adding to the online community. While ‘making’ things is often masculinized work, other work that involves creativity – creation of spaces for learning, nurturing, critique – is often feminized and is therefore seen as markedly less valuable. This work – sometimes referred to as invisible – is what excites me. Chachra writes: “as an educator… all of the actual change, the actual effects, are at the interface between me as an educator, my students, and the learning experiences I design for them”. I see my academic and personal writing providing similar value to the online community: creating a space between texts in which reflection and reconsideration is encouraged and held up as necessary work. This work is necessary for students engaging in scholarly practices as well as anyone who is involved in a society that requires the dismantling of oppressive structures.

Looking forward, I do want to continue blogging. I have really enjoyed having a writing schedule and having friends and peers comment. I often suffer from imposter syndrome – feeling like I’m actually just not that good at writing and I should just leave it to the real writers. However, this project has really boosted my confidence with respect to sharing my work. I’ve had a few people comment and say that they were unaware that writing was something that I even did and that they’re glad that I’ve made some work public. I have a goal to post at least once a month and to elaborate my online presence by sharing some of my own personal essays. Jesse Thorn gives an inspiring outline of principles to be considered for those interested in creating successful publications. The principle I want focus on specifically is “Keep [my] legs moving”. The most valuable part of this project for me has been writing almost constantly and finding a voice through that process.

I am grateful for this experience and hope to continue to provide a space where readers increasingly feel free to share, challenge and critique.

SITE COMMUNITY GUIDELINES – Process Post #12

My penultimate Process Post will be what I formulated for my site’s community guidelines. Ryan Holmes calls attention to the pervasiveness of isolation in the technological age and the ways online community discourses and thus, people, are affected by this in this article. We are isolated enough to not have to see the ways we can harm other Internet users and connected enough to be able to enact harm like rapid fire. Interestingly, Maria Konnikova identifies anonymity as having attributes that seem at odds; though Internet users are more likely to speak violently without thinking of the consequences of their behaviour, anonymity is also acknowledged as a helpful tool with respect to “participation”, “creative thinking” and “risk taking”. Mark Shrayber points to the real distinction that we must make in these times: the difference between ‘trolling’ and a hate crime.

Online interactions are a new form of discourse and because human beings are the ones behind them, they must be moderated. Here are the community guidelines for Memoir is a Mirror.

I moderate all comments and will consult the following guidelines when doing so.

While I welcome critique and challenge of my writing, I will not tolerate hateful, threatening or violent language towards me or any other users.

I will not tolerate racism, sexism, homophobia or other forms of hate-speech, or contributions that could be interpreted as such.*

I will remove any posts that contain spam-like content.

In short, be pleasant and caring to the fellow readers of this site.

*I appropriated this guideline from The Guardian.

I’ve added this list to my “Hello” page under the Instagram feed so that users can read the guidelines when they are familiarizing themselves with my site.

MORE CHANGES AND CALL OUT CULTURE – Process Post #11

A big focus for me this week was to bring together a few missing pieces of my site in time for the end of the term. I needed to: finally decide on fonts for my site title and tagline; make email subscription possible; respond to feedback from my last peer review by making a few changes; and review course readings and incorporate them into my process posts retroactively. I am also trying to read more extensively what makes a book review or reading response successful and incorporate that into my material.

I did some research on Youtube to make email subscription possible and I found this video helpful for that. Now, I have an option to subscribe in my bio at the bottom there:

I received feedback from a classmate that because of the nature of the material on my site, it isn’t necessarily easy to digest for an online passerby, and recommended to have some sort of visual aid for readers. To break up the large chunks of text, I decided to add a featured image to each post with a photo of the author of the work I was reviewing. Previously, I was dissatisfied with the way the “Recent Posts” presented on my page with grey squares in the place of pictures, so I thought this would be a good way to remedy the effect of think chunks of text as well as the emptiness on the sidebar. Now, I hope that my site will be visually easier to digest.

 

I also created genres of work in my “Reflective Review” menu, responding to another classmate’s feedback that my menu will likely become too long and overwhelming. Readers can search according to genre rather than be presented with a long list of authors whose genre isn’t immediately decipherable based on the name of the book.

I’m hoping this is the last time I change the appearance of my site title and tagline, but who I am kidding, maybe I will find my way back onto Google Fonts this week. I had a friend who is a coder help me, and now I know how to change it myself, which I’m very happy about. Here is what I have at this point, changed from the site default font:

If you were to tell me that I would be happy with my site at the beginning of the course, I don’t know if I would have believed you! I’m really enjoying having a writing schedule and reading so many good books.

I was so struck by Jon Ronson’s Ted Talk, in which he outlines compassionately the utter senselessness involved in the world of online public shaming. He clearly identifies something that we all know, but are unwilling to acknowledge when we are angry or participating in mob-mentality like behaviour: we cannot know what is going on inside of a person – the degree of remorse or repentance someone is feeling, or their intentions in the first place. He discusses the ways in which those who participate in public shaming – or, when callout culture goes too far – seek to dehumanize those who they are shaming. He says “it’s because we want to destroy people but not feel bad about it” (Ronson). While I tend to use the internet to weep while watching heartfelt videos of kids with colourblindness see the world in full colour for the first time, I couldn’t help but feel called out, if you will, by Ronson. It made me reflect on the ways I dehumanize people in my own head in order to treat them poorly or disregard them. The problem with what online anonymity affords us as a public is becoming a concept that increasingly worries me. This will be in the forefront of my thought process as I create my community guidelines and how I implement them.

 

 

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) by Mindy Kaling

I know its a faux pas in the practice of book reviewing to comment on the author rather than the book itself, but books reviews aren’t exactly what I do anyway. Now that I have that out of the way: I love Mindy Kaling. She writes playfully, imaginatively; there is something so exhilarating about the story of someone who is now successful relay the way they bumbled, stammered, groped blindly their way to a career they love. As I get older, the concept of success becomes more and more desirable, though it remains elusive and hard to reach; and while Kaling never promotes her life as a model of success, I am certainly spurred on by her honestly, openness to finding herself in possibly awkward situations and yes, failures.

Kaling is always foregrounding her love of comedy with the comradery and belonging she found in female friendships. In fact, her female friendships were the context in which she describes her first real success: Matt & Ben. 

“Brenda and I have always done ‘bits,’ even before we knew they were called ‘bits.’ Bits are essentially ‘nonsense time’ or, to describe it more pejoratively, ‘fucking around.’ We would take on characters, acting like them for a while on the way to the subway, or getting ready to go out. For whatever reason, around this time our favourite recurring bit was when Bren played Matt Damon and I was Ben Affleck” (86).

This ‘bit’ turned into a play that they then entered into the New York International Fringe Festival and eventually would be the vehicle that brought her to The Office. It might be slightly idealistic to chalk up success to the result of hanging around with women you love and making each other laugh, but it sure sounds like the utopia I’ve always hoped for.

Is Everyone Hanging Out With Me? is largely narrative peppered with quippy chapters such as “Karaoke Etiquette” and “Types of Women in Romantic Comedies Who Are Not Real” with a segment on “The Ethereal Weirdo” which I especially appreciated an extended explanation and description of because I really resent being called a manic pixie dream girl just because I have long messy hair. “This ethereal weirdo abounds in movies, but nowhere else. If she were from real life, people would think she was a homeless woman and would cross the street to avoid her, but she is essential to the male fantasy that even if a guy is boring, he deserves a woman who will find him fascinating and pull him out of himself by forcing him to go skinny-dipping in a stranger’s pool” (101). I, for one, would never force anyone to go swimming naked. I rest my case.

I was surprised by how seamlessly Kaling weaved together her recollections of a myriad of failures – one of which she identifies as “contributing nothing to SNL” – and lists of people and things she delights in. Its not everyday that I read a text that shamelessly relishes the pleasures in life rather than calling attention to all the ways the world needs to change (as constructive as that work is). My favourite chapter is “My Favourite Eleven Moments in Comedy”; I love that Kaling has made a habit of delighting in comedic moments in history, and in turn, delighting in the people that make those moments happen. We need more of that – remembrance of the exquisiteness of this life.

You Can’t Touch My Hair and Other Things I Still Have to Explain by Phoebe Robinson

Phoebe Robinson’s You Can’t Touch My Hair and Other Things I Still Have to Explain is hilarious, well written and extremely apropos. Not only does she have the ability to encapsulate complex and complicated life experiences into a few concise paragraphs, Robinson has an apt simile or metaphor to go with every one. One of my favourites:

“… I can explain why sometimes a black lady may straighten her hair. If she is anything like me, her natural hair has special shape-shifting qualities of epic T-1000 proportions, which means it has a mind of its own. For instance, when I sport an Afro, I may want to relax by sitting on my bed and leading my head against the wall. When I get up from that spot, my hair has assumed the shape of said wall… Yep. What was once a light, airy and fluffy Afro has turned into a condensed mass of tightly coiled locks that resembles fiberglass insulation used on House Hunters Renovation. Forgive me for not having the exact wording down for this particular scientific phenomenon, but I believe it’s called: That’s Some Damn Bullshit… I reach the limit of my fierceness when, while relaxing in the comfort of my own home, my hair is twisting into itself until it’s knotted like a pile of tangled iPhone earphones.”

Jokes aside, Robinson goes on to illustrate so beautifully the often fraught relationship that black women have with their hair and the ways in which their “hair journeys” marked with frustration, patience and learning to love often mirrors their own journeys of self-love. Robinson identifies her “natural hair” as “the most controversial signifiers of [her] blackness” and thus summarizes the reason for this complicated relationship: a white supremacist society will react to signifiers of blackness (78). Robinson discusses, not only that she felt less beautiful because her hair did not fit into Eurocentric standards of beauty, but a common lived experience for people of colour is that in order to be eligible for a job, hairstyles that explicitly indicate blackness (natural hair or dreads, for example) are out of bounds.

If this text had a thesis it would be: representation matters. Robinson’s memoir is crowned with the penultimate chapter titled “Letters to Olivia”, in which she provides a list to her niece – who is biracial – of all of the powerful biracial people she admires. While Robinson makes a habit of calling out society’s oppressive structures, she also, with even more zeal, calls attention to the rich and exquisite identity women of colour continue to maintain. Not surprisingly, the comedy world is one in which Robinson routinely calls out for being explicitly sexist and, you know, sexist in that banal, everyday sort of way. Because she lives it, Robinson has a myriad of exemplar comments from male comedians at the ready: “Women need to be pretty when they perform” and “Why do some women wear makeup on stage? Comedy is not about looks” (512). Or, “This girl’s a prude because she doesn’t bang any of the comics” and “She has sex with all the comics” (513). While this constant reminder of how unwelcoming the entertainment industry is to funny women is tiresome, it also seems to at once light a fire under Robinson; she meets this resistance with the radical audacity to be herself. After all, if Louis CK can perform a five minute bit gyrating while talking about an experience he had masturbating once, she should be able to say the word vagina without the (male) audience having a fit. Robinson points again to representation as a powerful force that helps to form and reform sense of self: “So much of comedy is about us all realizing, Hey maybe I’m not such a weirdo after all/Oh my God! You do that thing, too?/ Holy crap you just said everything I ever wanted to say, but didn’t have the tools to do so. The joy of seeing yourself in another is pertinent not just to stand-up comedy but to being alive” (515-516). And this is why I read. And this is why I write.

GOOGLE ANALYTICS – Process Post #10

Acquisition

I am encouraged by the fact that 33.3% of visitors are returning readers. That makes me think that it is becoming routine for some readers. In the location section of Google Analytics, I was informed that most of my users are in the US and Canada, which is not surprising – save for one user in Malaysia, which could be a bot.

 

Behaviour

Something that has become quite clear to me in looking further into analytics is that I need to be posting something more than once a week to keep my views up. Or, as an alternative, do a midweek post on my Instagram to call attention to the reviews for people who have the intention of reading, but haven’t. I have had a few interactions recently in which I have a face to face conversation with someone about my site and they say something along the lines of: “Oh, I keep forgetting to look at your site! I’ve been meaning to read the reviews.” So, a reminder in some form would be helpful. At this point, there is a spike of views on the day that I post and then a steady decline throughout the week when I am less active on the site.

Last week, I posted my review on Men Explain Things to Me on the November 5th, and page views were double what they became five days later.

Conversion

Regarding conversion, because I don’t have a product that I’m selling, I need to think of ways to get readers involved without necessarily buying anything. I am thinking that an email sign-up option would be a good way to facilitate conversion on my site. It is possible also that users will be more likely to revisit site content if it is in their inboxes, rather than having to revisit the site altogether. This week I will be exploring ways to do that.

PEER REVIEW #3 – Street Stories

Mariah Craig’s website Street Stories: Perspectives of the Vulnerable is an online storytelling space that seeks to shed light on the beauty and pain present in a marginalized neighbourhood in Surrey. Currently, Mariah is in the process of completing a series of three interviews with those employed by Nightshift Ministries, the context of her work.

There seems to be a disconnect for me between the site’s goal to tell the stories of the marginalized and displaced in Surrey and what it is currently doing. The organization, Nightshift itself, appears to be the main focus of the website at this moment in time. I imagine that as Mariah becomes more familiar with those in the community that the focus will shift to the site’s intended focus: the stories of those who are served by the organization.

Further, I am not certain who Mariah’s intended audience is. Possible future volunteers or donors for the organization? Friends who want to stay updated on her new experiences as a volunteer? In any case, making the exploration possibilities more obvious for users would benefit Mariah’s site. Victor Kaptelinin discusses the importance of affordances in design, explaining their purpose: “to denote action possibilities provided to the actor by the environment”. I found myself wanting to organize the information that was coming at me at first glance of Mariah’s site. The posts on Mariah’s home page are an assortment of interviews with Nightshift workers, a post about her first volunteer experience with Nightshift, and an essay about Humans of New York, a storytelling project that her site is largely inspired by. The overload of information on the first page did not make the “possible uses [of the site] immediately obvious” (Kaptelinin). Mariah’s site would benefit from separate pages to aid in categorizing the assortment of material on Mariah’s site. For example, explicitly informational pages that seek to foreground Mariah herself and Nightshift Ministries could be separate pages instead of one among many posts.

Mariah’s site might also benefit from a social media platform that is directly linked to her work at Nightshift. At the moment, her personal Instagram account is linked to her site and has no direct intersection with the theme of her site.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading the interviews that Mariah conducted. I really got the sense that those being interviewed have a real heart for the people suffering from addiction and homelessness in Surrey. In this sense, Mariah is capturing moving stories for her readers. One thing I wondered about, however, is the format in which they are being represented. The typical interview style is not being deployed here, in which the interviewer asks a question and the reader is able to see verbatim the reply given by the person being interviewed. I find that approach much clearer and easier to follow. My recommendation would be to use that format as a foundation and then have Mariah write freely discussing the way that the interview affected her after the initial interview.