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Good Brother, Bad Brother

I have a confession to make: I am an EXTREME fan of the CW’s “The Vampire Diaries.”  I discovered it on Netflix the summer after my college graduation when I was trying (and failing) to figure out what I want to do with the rest of my life, and I watched the first 2 seasons in a month.  This may not sound like an extreme Netflix binge, but for someone who rarely watches television, that is a lot of TV consumption! I’m now up to the latest season, and the celebrated 100th episode in which the infamous Katherine Pierce is dying.  And it was in this episode that I really ask myself what makes a person good or bad?  The major love triangle of the show is between the heroine Elena Gilbert (a human at the beginning of the series) and the two Salvatore brothers, Stefan and Damon.  Putting aside all the “fated doppelgänger” rhetoric and which “team” I’m a member of, what I find really interesting about this series is the characterization of the Salvatore Brothers.

Angry Damon

From the beginning Stefan is considered the “good brother,” he doesn’t drink human blood (at least not from the vein), he wants to protect Elena from the dangers of Mystic Falls, and he fills the classic “knight-in-shining-armor” coming-to-the-rescue male role.  His older brother, Damon, on the other hand, is the “bad brother” from his very first scene in which is heartlessly murders a young couple on a rural road.  This dynamic of “good versus bad” continues throughout the series.  Both brothers love Elena but they enact their love in different ways. Stefan always considers what will make Elena happy while Damon will do anything to keep Elena alive.  This means that Damon commits many more acts of murder, torture, and angry destruction for the sake of Elena’s safety than does Stefan.  But does this make Damon the “evil” brother?

Stefan The Ripper

As the series progresses we learn that Stefan has, in fact, murdered far more innocent humans in cold blood than even Damon because of his past as “The Ripper.”  When Stefan turns off his humanity, all he wants is blood.  This is his vampiric metaphor for having an acute addiction.  Addictions are diseases that you carry with you your whole life. Being an alcoholic or a Ripper can’t just be “cured,” you can never have a beer again if you want to stay sober nor can Stefan drink from the vein if he wants to keep his humanity.  Once this new dimension of Stefan is established, the two brothers are on a more equal playing field, and their characterization in the show begs the question: “which evil is worse?” A barely controllable addiction or a compulsive need to have control even if it means pain and murder?

Damon consistently labels himself as the bad brother, while Stefan bounces back and forth between caring boyfriend and cold-blooded killer.  I would suggest that we can learn something from these two brothers.  Neither one is fully good nor totally evil.  When they accept their faults and strive for a better future, they are more “human.”  When they accept defeat and “turn off” their humanity, they fail to be the best versions of themselves.  Life isn’t about a righteous journey in which you never make mistakes.  It’s about failing and getting back up.  Only when one of the Salvatore brothers gives up by turning off his humanity does he become the “bad brother,” and as such, we are not truly “bad people” unless we completely give up on ourselves.  No matter our faults, no matter our mistakes, no matter how horrifying our sins, as long as we believe and strive for betterment in ourselves, we will always find a way to be human. Not good. Not evil. But the glorious amalgam of the two that is humanity as we learn more about who we are every day.

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Why Women Love to Be In Controlling Relationships

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There seems to be a fad of sexual domination in literature today, at least that’s what the media leads us to believe after the wild popularity of the “50 Shades of Grey” series in all it’s punishing glory.  However, I’d like to believe that this isn’t a new trend but has been in our literature for centuries, especially considering men were the first novel writers, even if their protagonists were female.  But what I find disturbing today is how acceptable it has become for novel women, and by association, all women, to enjoy this degrading domination.  I’m not downplaying people’s sexual fantasies here, that’s all well and good for those who chose BDSM in the bedroom; rather, I’m distressed by reading novels that focus on female characters who struggle so intensely with desires to be both controlled and free from male domination.

Take for example the novel I read recently “If I Were You” by Lisa Renee Jones.  I found it for $1.99 on Barnes and Noble’s “Nook Books Under $5” and it sounded like an interesting mystery with more adult themes. (I have to make a note here, that I primarily read young adult fiction because that’s what I’ve always wanted to write, but every once in a while, I get a hankering for something a little more adult and therefore make some bad literature choices. This is the perfect example.)  I flew through the first 100 pages—Sara McMillian, a shy and plain schoolteacher, happens upon a friend’s journal filled with tales of naughty sexual escapades that she could never dream of, but soon she learns that this journal actually belongs to a woman named Rebecca who has left all her possessions in a storage unit sold at auction in order to go on an “extended vacation” with the dangerous-sounding mystery man from her journals.  Sara feels like a 3 month vacation from her high profile job as the marketing director of a top San Francisco art gallery seems fishy so she decides to become an amateur detective by visiting the art gallery to track her down.  Once Sara enters the world of the art gallery, the book takes a dramatic shift.  Suddenly this witty schoolteacher becomes a blushing and bumbling schoolgirl as both the director of the art gallery and a high profile artist (ironically, her FAVORITE local artist) start vying for her attention, though in entirely different ways.  Sara spends the next 150 pages whining over her past experiences with dominating men who made her feel worthless and how she doesn’t want either the art gallery director, Mark, or the dashing artist, Chris, to control her or her feelings, but she feels used in what she rather blatantly calls their personal “cock fight.”  The last third of the book is primarily spent with Chris as they tumble into a whirlwind, weekend romance where Sara tells herself over and over that it’s just a physical relationship even though Chris makes it clear that he cares about her. In a “Twilight” manner, he declares that he is “not good for her” and in fact “worse” for her than even the manipulative Mark.  Finally, in the last 15 pages, Sara decides to plow headfirst back into the Rebecca mystery, after effectively living Rebecca’s life as she very obviously points out, only to be cut short by the end of the book! Buy part 2 for $8 and you can maybe get 50 more pages of actual content.

To say I am frustrated is an understatement, but it’s not the lack of discernable plot that bothers me the most.  It’s Sara’s character.  At first she seems like a  level-headed, intelligent, and smart individual.  While she has the guilty pleasure of reading about another woman’s sexual experiences, she is also skeptical of her best friend’s flighty behavior (jet setting off to Paris with a man she barely knows to elope) and finds concern in Rebecca’s disappearance.  But the moment a sexy man walks into the room, she’s melted butter on the floor, and readers are slip-sliding all over the place.

I’ve struggled with controlling relationships personally—one’s where I was emotionally abused and ones where I was the controller.  I’ve grown up with a father, who, despite his best intentions at loving and cherishing me, has inadvertently placed many expectations on me that still haunt my friendships and relationships today.  But I do not spend all day mentally battling over whether or not I want a man to tell me what to do and what to wear and how to speak and what to be interested in.  That’s the type of “control” that Sara struggles with, and it’s mind-boggling to me that any woman in modern-day America or even any first-world country would have such a struggle. Considering the books topic and themes, it would make sense for this “control struggle” to have been from a sexual/physical perspective.  But that is NOT what came across at all. Instead, the heroine appeared weak, melancholy, and man-obsessed by the end of the novel.

It is disappointing to me that novels can’t be written about women’s sexual freedom.  That instead, it has to be masked underneath the sexual taboo and the emotional baggage of controlling relationships where women are just pawns in the man’s larger game.  How then can a novel ever truly have a female protagonist?

My hope is that those of you reading this have many examples of novels or other forms of narrative media in which my rather unfortunate hypothesis does not hold true. Let me know in the comments where you find fault or triumph in female characters of today and how they relate to their male counterparts.

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The Creativity of Goal-Setting

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January means the inundation of “New Year, New You!” and “Fresh Start!” advertisements everywhere. Join the gym! Sign up with Weight Watchers! Start a new hobby! Find your perfect match!  It’s so overwhelming that I think society has become somewhat numb to the idea of change.  “New Year’s Resolutions” now seem just like a hoax to make you feel bad about yourself and buy diet products.  If you’ve seen my YouTube video (“How to Make a New Year’s Resolution”), then you know I generally take New Year’s Resolutions with a grain of salt.  But this year I have been thinking about New Years Resolutions in a different, more positive light because I’m reframing my view of them as “goals” rather than “resolutions.”  Resolutions denote that something in your life is wrong and therefore needs to be resolved to something better and more fulfilling.  In contrast, goals open up a whole avenue of creativity.  Making a goal isn’t about resolving an issue; rather it’s about imagining what you are capable of in life.  Goals create a way for you to constantly push forward, test yourself, and learn about your abilities.

For the first time, I am using this worldview to approach the new year. Instead of making “New Year’s Resolutions,” I am making several goals for the year.  I am making them because I want to be a better version of myself, and it excites me to imagine how different and more enjoyable my life could be if I just make small changes with determined foresight. Hopefully, to inspire you and keep me accountable, here is a list of my goals for 2014:

  1.  Start a blog and post weekly so as to hone my writing skills and experiment with storytelling mediums beside video. (Yay!)
  2. Keep track of all the books I’ve read, movies I’ve watched, and places I have been so as to have a more accurate sense of my growth and experiences throughout the year.
  3. Try Arbonne products and do more physical activity (yoga and water fitness)—this comes out of a larger goal to generally start treating my body like the special and irreplaceable vessel that it is.  I don’t want to lose weight, I just want to be healthy, and post-college I have not been making the best choices to ensure my health.
  4. Take swimming lessons—I have been an avid swimmer all my life, but because of inner ear problems as a child and debilitating ear infections, I never learned how to dive or properly swim and breathe.  I realized that being able to do these things would make me feel so much more confident and in control when doing one of my favorite activities.
  5. Write one chapter of a novel a month—I have had one idea for a novel series since I was 13 years old, and it has grown with me over the years.  Recently, I realized that the only way I would ever write this novel is if I just start.  So I decided to start small—only a chapter a month which is not much when you think about it—but by the end of the year I will have 12 more chapters in the novel than I did at the end of 2013.
  6. Pursue the next step in my career and life—In the year and half since college graduation, I have tried a lot of things and learned a lot, but all from the safety of home.  I moved back to my small rural town at the encouragement of my parents and a lack of general future direction, but I’m not made for this place.  Nor is my chosen field of study.  I don’t know exactly where I would like to go or what exactly I will do, but I know that now is the time to start looking for opportunities outside my comfort zone of Virginia and the standard nine-to-five.

As I work on each of these goals, you can expect updates on my trials and errors.  I hope that you are using this new year to imagine a better you and create new goals.  Let me know in the comments about any self-inspiring goals you’ve created for 2014!

Goalsetting

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Imagining Happenings: An Introduction

Welcome to Kaitlyn’s brain! Grab some pop, sit back, and enjoy the show!

I have loved the idea of imagination for as long as I can remember. How the human mind can dream up the most fantastical things in just a few moments. And although I’ve grown older and witnessed the withering of imagination from childhood to adulthood in those around me and, unfortunately, even in myself, my deepest held belief is that imagination can solve any problem. The world tells us over and over again that we need to be rational and practical and to “get our heads out of the clouds,” but that’s not how I define imagination. It isn’t being fanciful and unrealistic or legitimately believing that the owl just got lost delivering your Hogwarts acceptance letter. Imagination is much more than that—it’s hope that the world is more than a grey, fog-filled abyss with dead-eyed zombies.
For people like me, people who have struggled with depression and anxiety, OCD and perfectionism, that HOPE is what keeps us waking up every morning. I live in the real world. I play by the rules of society and go to work and pay my taxes and work hard in school, but I don’t “LIVE” in the real world. I live in a world of hope and happiness and determination—that is my imagination. I don’t need anyone to validate the person I am inside my head. Rather I constantly push myself to let that person out into the real world. To blend the imaginative and the concrete so that I can truly enjoy living.
My goal in life (and this blog) is to enjoy living more through my imagination. I have so many passions, but I let so few of them show for fear of not being “good enough” or criticized by the “real” experts. But that’s why creativity and imagination is so important for people to harness. We are more than our nine-to-five job or our latest boyfriend/girlfriend or how many parties we were invited to last weekend. We are funny and ecstatic and crazy and stupid and wild. We are human, and being human means we can’t deny one of our greatest gifts—our minds.

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