Are you a Hot Topic, an American Apparel, Or just an American?

My friend Lauren, on her blog, was basically asked what she thought pretentiousness was. For her answer, you can find it here: http://ljavaly.tumblr.com/ ( it’s really funny)

I am going to respond to her answer, because I thought it would be interesting. (I know it’s pretentious to talk about what defines being pretentious, but thats the catch 22 of life, so just go with it.)

Personally, I think being pretentious is the act of planning to mold into the ‘unexpected’ when in reality, that is the expected reality. I just feel that pretentiousness is the ultimate non- cliche cliche. It would not exist if it weren’t for the obsession with the niche. But whatever. It’s just another form of control that society tricks us with (not to be angsty, or anything.) “Oh lordy, that person might be a little different and may have different feelings and talents, and shit that might not go over well in corporate America. I know! lets get groups of them together so instead of dealing with these non- profitable youths, we can direct them as a group! We can even let them have different clothing styles and haircuts! What was once a person who liked things to be a little different is now just a hipster. Or an emo. Or a goth. Whatever, the list goes on and on and on and on. There. Labeled. Done. Get them down to shipping and we can make a nice profit.”
How can we all be different if we are all different together and in the same way? How can we deal with the fact that we have been transformed from human beings in walking dollar signs? And not that I hate shopping or anything, but in a way our ‘social systems’ are scooping up budding, promising, soulful intellectuals and spewing out fashion statements. We can be different, but only collaboratively. If everybody was different on their own, it would be an impossible society to mass produce for and sell things too.
How can we blame ourselves and others for being pretentious if it’s basically the only other choice? If un-pretentious is defined as quiet and competitive yet non-threatening to only the ‘right’ people, that doesn’t look so good either.
If we stop putting people into these stupid ‘types’ (an age old complaint, I know) and maybe just started trying to live a little, we all wouldn’t bee so miserable. Or at least as miserable. You do the best you can.

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A Poem In the Hand…

The Lies on white paper
can’t tell the truth.
the truth never asked.
The sun beams through the window
thick, unfiltered
erasing,
as the stomach fills with air
and the knees crack.
grasping at porcelain walls
we sink into gray
and we lay down.

–Alexandra Kessler

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Nuance

(My entry on the Young Peoples Chorus of NYC blog/general musings about performing in Japan)

Japan is a country of detail. From the ancient conventions of the tea ceremonies to the intricate designs in the hotel elevators, everything in the country has, as my roommate said, “so much thought put into it. Everything has meaning.” This attention to detail and meaning is something we are striving for in our music.

Nuance is the difference between a pretty concert and a beautiful concert. When we perform with meaning and detail, it inspires the audience as well as just entertaining. Our latest concert was beautiful because there was thought behind every note and step, and power behind those thoughts.

Japan’s details are what make it beautiful. During our Kanji lesson, we saw how significant each stroke of the pen was, and when my friends were trying on kimonos, I saw how much effort was put into every fold and clip and bow. There is so much effort put into every small detail of everything, and although the details might seem singularly irrelevant, when they are all put together, the outcome is miraculous.

In America, there is a lot of effort put into quantity. Americans eat more, spend more, waste more. There is so much stress on the big picture that details are often missed. It is so inspiring to witness a culture where a small amount of something so meticulously cared for is held so sacred.

Our music is filled with detail and thought. It is beautiful to treat each song like a tea ceremony, each chord like a kimono bow. There are more similarities then we notice between the music we sing and the culture we are surrounded by.

– Allie

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Karma Chameleon

Karma. We don’t always think about it’s true implications. In the Buddhist philosophy, karma is the idea that good deeds done during the present lifetime will manifest into good fortune for the next. It is the great motivator, but is it genuine? is doing a good deed only in the hope that it will better your own life somewhere down the road really,by fundamental definition, a good deed? and does karma in actuality even exist? Maybe we are all better off never grudgingly doing anything nice for anybody, because truthfully, phoniness is even more gag-inducing that blatant apathy. We have all had our various encounters with karma, (or the lack thereof). Mine, for example, happened a few weeks ago.

I had gotten off the train and was on my way to chorus rehearsal which started at 4:30. The time was exactly 4:30, and I was exactly 10 minutes away. I walked down Madison Avenue, which was empty except for one woman, older but not quite elderly, standing in the middle of the street with a cane. She was looking right at me. I quickened my pace, and as I approached her, I repeated the mantra of every New Yorker in my head: “please don’t talk to me, please don’t talk to me…” but, lo and behold, she spoke.

Her: “Hi there”
Me: “hi”
Her: ” I just had a CAT scan and surgery and I am partially blind. Can you help me find the subway?”
Me: “umm…sure?”

Could I really have said no? I really wanted to, but I didn’t. We walked all the way back to the train station, making small talk about her cats and various surgeries. The whole time she kept saying how she really hoped I didn’t have somewhere to be that she was keeping me from. I reassured her many times that I really,no really, had nothing to do. We finally got to the subway, and we went inside.

“I need to borrow your metro card” she says.
“Sure.” I dig my metro card out of my bag and hand it to her. She swipes it. There are no fares left.
I start to panic. My perfect act of selflessness is being spoiled by a less than perfect ending. I start talking and I don’t stop. I tell her how I’m so sorry, I thought there were more fares on it then there actually were and how she should talk to the guy in the station booth and ask him to let her in. I go up to a group of German tourists and ask if one of them can swipe her in, but they don’t understand and run away from me. I turn to her, defeated.
“I’m so sorry” I say, “there’s nothing I can do.”
She looks at me with her partially blind eyes and gives me a glare so cold, my future grandchildren shivered.
“You can go now.” she says, then walks away.

I was very confused. The entire twenty minutes of good deed was destroyed, worse then if I had just said no in the first place. And why was I apologizing so much? Was it my fault I didn’t plan on having to escort a freshly operated-upon, cane-wielding middle aged woman with a fondness for cats? And what was my Karmic reward? The looks of pity I received from nearby German tourists?

Karma can never be proven. Giving the homeless guy on the corner five bucks isn’t going to stop you from walking in front of that bus one second too soon. What happens to us is in our lives is based primarily on our decisions and talents, and where you happen to be located on the statistical bell curve of luck. Genuine kindness,however, will only improve our lives, even if we aren’t rewarded directly . Sometimes you’ll mess it all up and get ditched in a crowded subway station. At least have a good story.

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The Modern Age

What does age really mean? According to the beloved dictionary.com :

age noun, verb,aged, ag·ing or age·ing.
–noun
1.
the length of time during which a being or thing has existed; length of life or existence to the time spoken of or referred to: trees of unknown age; His age is 20 years.
2.
a period of human life, measured by years from birth, usually marked by a certain stage or degree of mental or physical development and involving legal responsibility and capacity: the age of discretion; the age of consent; The state raised the drinking age from 18 to 21 years.

America seems to have some notably convoluted opinions on the capabilities of certain ages: 16-year-olds can drive a car, but they cannot vote. 18-year-olds can vote, but they can’t buy beer. In a nutshell, Beer>Driving and Voting. Okay…what?

Isn’t intellectual capability sometimes transcendent of age? Absolutely. Take for instance a 14-year-old New Yorker who’s navigated the subway and city streets since he was 11. He spends every day surrounded by millions of people, and hasn’t batted an eye at the demented behavior of strangers since he was 5. No, he mostly likely doesn’t really understand the ins-and-outs of investment banking or the laws of calculus, and he’s most likely never really been in love or has even had a defining life experience. But, this 14-year-old child can successfully navigate himself to wherever he wishes to go and is not overwhelmed when dealing with people he doesn’t know. He has accomplished things that most 30-year-olds still can’t do.

Maybe we are all outcomes of our environment, and our capabilities have nothing to do with age at all. At no point do we wake up on a birthday and discover we are now that magical number, that we have crossed into Brigadoon from a world of greasy hair and skateboards and grades and sneakers and secrets, and into one of taxes and divorces, stale coffee and office gossip.

The mind and the experience of life cannot be valued with a number. A 100-year-old tree in a forrest somewhere might be revered and safeguarded by a benevolent national park, but it cannot be said that a diminutive pansy growing out of a crack in the sidewalk is not equally majestic.

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The Future and the Now and….I Really Don’t Know

What is the future? Is it simply time that hasn’t passed yet, or is it a state of mind we haven’t entered yet? I think, for most of us, the future holds the promise that we will become the perfect versions of ourselves that we always imagined. Wether you imagine yourself living in an affluent suburb with a two car garage and a swimming pool, or as a Williamsburg, Brooklyn based graphic designer/indie band rocker/Urban Outfitters enthusiast, there is only one thing that can be promised if we leave everything up to time and fate: repressed (or not so repressed) anger. And a lot of it.

I am extremely guilty of future-longing, even though I see it’s detriments. But the fact of the matter is, the present moment is unsatisfying. High school can feel like long walk in a carnival funhouse. Every image of yourself is distorted and awkward, but yet you figure thats just who you are, because you have never seen a regular mirror. Every day gets more disorienting.

A couple of weeks ago, I ran into one of my mother’s friends in a sandwich shop. We proceeded to go through the motions of the compulsory yet excruciating ‘stop-and-chat’ (small talk is rarely enjoyable for either party, let’s face it.) We talked for about a minute, and she told me to make sure I ‘enjoyed high school’ because it was ‘the best years of my life.’

I was very confused.

I’m not saying I dislike my life at the present moment, although it is virtually impossible for an individual to judge the success of his/her life objectively. But the life of the high schooler is one of rigid routine. We go from class to class to whatever our cute extra curriculars are to home to more of the same. Maybe my Mom’s friend misses the security of routine. Or maybe this really is as good as it gets. Who knows.

Adults will say “don’t wish your life away, enjoy being a kid, ect.” First of all, looking towards the future is barely wishing life away, it is the desire to have life begin. And as for enjoying being a ‘kid,’ well, there is simply too much sisyphean busywork that just MUST be done for there to be time to play a rousing game of backyard football with Greg Peter and Bobby.

The present is the first step in intellectual awakening, certainly not the last and hopefully not the best. Rejecting the present is useless,though, because the future will become the present, and then it will be ignored. To be constantly looking forward is a detriment, but to be looking nowhere is worse. It’s probably best to not think about it at all, and in the words of Matthew McConaughey, just keep l-i-v-i-n.

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The Meaning of Life…if there is any meaning to it at all…

So today I was feeling particularly confused about the world (although I can’t say that this is surprising), so I decided to google “what is the meaning of life.” Athough this was an act carried out (partially) in jest, I actually found some pretty intersting stuff. My virtual journey brought me to Wikipedia ( I know, original) and I proceeded to read through a list of different life philosophies. One of them stood out to me in particular, not because I had found an echo of my own beliefs, but because it was the simplest and also the most interesting.

“Existential nihilism is the belief that life has no intrinsic meaning or value. It can stem from scientific analysis showing that only the physical laws contributed to our existence. With respect to the universe, a single human or even the entire human species is insignificant, without purpose and is not likely to change in the totality of existence. Quite simply, nihilists in this respect believe that the only purpose in life is to live it.”
—Wikipedia

Now im not saying I completely agree with all of this, as it is a pretty hearty undertaking to commit oneself completly to a singular theory on a topic as colossal as the meaning of life. But, this particular theory did resonate with me on a deeper level then the others I read about. Consider the perspective of a existential nihilist for one second: life is devoid of intristic value. If life has no value, then morality, which determines life’s values, can no longer exist. If pure morals do not exist, then all societal moral values are just contrived efforts of humanity, and “good” “bad” “right” and “wrong” have no definition. There aren’t any good or bad things, things just are.

This idea to me, personally, is comforting. Too many times in my life (every day, actually) I see people, brilliant, strong, profound people turn themselves inside out, crumple themselves into little balls and rip themselves to shreads. And for what? Because contrived societal morals tell us that we must define ourselves in terms of an arbitrary dichotomy? I have seen people who fall apart over something as infinitesimal as a grade on a test. To let one’s life be dictated by a number on a piece of paper is just not okay.

I understand that nihilism might not be the average, morally-minded person’s cup of tea, but isn’t it possible that a society in which every single minute detail has a consequence even worse then one in which nothing that exists has value?

There is also something to be said about ‘enlightenment’. Lets say that Mr. and Mrs. Average American are worried about their son, the angsty and apathetic Average Joe Teenager. They feel he is suffering from a lack of motivation and enthusiasm, and they view this as a problem. But wouldn’t Average Joe Teeneger, who is aparently unknowingly suffering some sort of personality crisis, be the enlightened soul in the situation? Aren’t his well-meaning yet albiet confused parents trying to enforce onto their child moral standars that don’t inherently exist?

Personally I feel that many aspects of nihilism are flawed, but many also resonate with me strongly. Like I said before, I am in no way prepared to choose a life philosophy, and most likely never will be. I do believe, however, that the goal of life is simply just to live it. When it comes down to it, when all the eccess has evaporated away and we are left with pure condensation, life is a collection of random, perplexing, and absurd experiences. I believe that instead of holding no value, these experiences hold profundity of exponential proportion too grand to ever be fully comprehended.

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Dante Finds a Kindred Spirit?

I get up before the sun. It rises as I am walking to the M79 stop. As the bus pulls away I see it waking up, stretching it’s arms and sitting upright in it’s East River bed. It laughs at me.
I look around. Across the isle there is a boy with dirty black hair who has his head against the window with his eyes closed. His rumpled appearance stands in stark contrast with the hard, smooth glass.
The lady in front of me smells like coconuts and gasoline. There’s an old man behind me who is wearing a suit and coughing vehemently into a napkin. I try not to let it disgust me but it does. We inch through the park, my ill, exhausted, and foul smelling fellow soldiers and I stumbling with every lurch of the bus, grasping onto air to remain standing. Then I proceed to the train, which is more of the same except colder and louder. Humanity has come so far.
I brave this perilous and squalid journey every morning in order to attend my own personal inferno. Zero period gym class, or, more appropriately titled, the tenth circle of hell. At seven thirty in the morning, five days a week, it is required that I haul my miserable self into the fluorescent-lighted Azkaban, change my clothes, and stumble though a game of kickball or soccer only minimally conscious, without so much as an epic poet to guide me.
One might deduct that I am being overly dramatic. I accept this argument as valid, seeing as my own self-analyzation of my personality over the past 16 years has taught me what reactions to expect from myself. But this is just one of those random things, one of those simple realities that teeter on the periphery of a life experience that disturbs me greatly. There is no explanation, neither psychological or scientific, that can help me understand why I simply cannot deal with having to get out of bed and go to gym. My current 15 ‘tardies’ (which might be the stupidest word in existence, right after ‘fuddy-duddy’) and 5 absences prove that I have a serious problem.
I find it pitiful that this is such a prevalent problem in my life, and even more pitiful that I am talking about it right now. But what can I do, really, other then suffer through it and come out the other end (hopefully, if I don’t fail). People say suffering is character building, but honestly, I have enough character then I know what to do with, so I say suffering just fucking sucks.
Every morning, I make a most valiant effort to be on time to gym. But it never works. I try to tell myself: “OK Allie, today’s going to be different, your going to be on time and try to be pleasant in gym class. Well, maybe you’ll just be on time.” But as the doors to the bus/infirmary slowly creak open, only one phrase goes through my mind:

“Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.”

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The many reasons WHY my junior inquiry paper will feature the fantabulous Helen of Troy

Helen Of Troy is a person that could have very well not have existed at all. Even if she did, what connection do I possibly have with her? We obviously grew up in drastically different time periods and environments. She is a princess, the most beautiful princess in the world, and an epic war was fought over her. Safe to say, my life is being lived on an exponentially smaller scale.  But even though we have nothing in common, major aspects of her story that compell me . Her constant state of melancholy, her emptiness, and her overall lack of enthusiasm for life confuse me greatly, as she herself represents beauty. Since physical beauty seems to influence quality of life a great deal, and she is the most beautiful girl in the world, her quality of life should have skyrocketed, non? Also, everybody is quick to say she was the most beautiful girl that ever existed, but nobody knows what she looked like. I feel like this fact in of itself is some sort of weird metaphor. Though many artists have painted images of what they think she looked like, not one of those images is similar. Helen shows us that beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder. When we are asked to picture the most beautiful woman ever in history, everybody will have a different image. Helen’s beauty must have been incredibly universal. The name “Helen” means “guiding light,” but Helen was one of the most conflicted people in history. It is fascinating that people consider her a God, when her life was actually quite tragic and filled with mistakes, rebellion and selfishness. 
Multitudes of people are willing to serve her, and yet her life is one of great adversity. The story of her life rebukes all of the major beliefs of our society today, (beauty=happiness, ect.) Her story is also one that has many different interpretations. My main focus will be, however, why there continues to be so much fascination with a person who could very well not have existed at all. Centuries from now, will people still be talking about Megan Fox? Definitely not. Helen of Troy did not fade away into oblivion like most celebrities inevitably do. She is as compelling as she is ambiguous, and didn’t require rhinoplasty to hold the public’s attention.

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and thus, the world gets another coming-of age story

This is one of my short stories from a while ago. I thought it would be fun to revise it and bring it back into the world.

POCKETS

Early that afternoon the weather had gone from sunny with a cool breeze to completely unbearable. At around noon it seemed every whisper of cool air that had previously blown through the trees had completely vanished, leaving in its place a dreadful stagnant clamminess that clung to clothing and made lungs ache. That morning, Emma had overheard two of the counselors talking about how a massive heat wave had hit the east coast. One of them said it was heat that could put people out of their right mind. All the land sports scheduled for that afternoon had been cancelled, and every camper in camp Tsylatac was being forced to do mandatory half hour long swimming rotations in the lake.
Emma was assigned to be swimming buddies with Jane, which she was sort of happy about, even though she didn’t like Jane. She was weird and unpopular but it was better then having to impress anybody. They were assigned to rotation three, and rotation two still had ten minutes left in the water. They filled up their water bottles from the pipe behind the sailing shed, the one everyone knew was the coldest, and found a long triangle of shade behind a rigged sailboat that had been pulled up onto the beach and abandoned, still tied to the dolly. Emma wondered who would even bother rigging a sailboat on a flat, windless day like this.
Jane talked on and on about camp, and her unwavering love for it. She wanted to go since the first grade, and had been promised every summer since then that she would be able to. Now it was the summer before fifth grade and that promise had finally been recognized. She complained to Emma about her small town that bored her, her strict catholic school where she had to walk down the hallway in a prissy, silent line and wear stockings that itched, even in the summer months. Her biggest complaints, however, were about her three older brothers, who she said treated her like a girl and not a person. Emma found Jane extremely annoying. Emma loved her small town. She loved her public neighborhood school where she could wear whatever she wanted. She loved that her three best friends lived right on her road. She also thought about how much she would have loved to have three older brothers, because she only had a younger sister, Lauren, who was two and no fun at all. And Emma detested camp. She had been looking foreword to another summer of sleeping late, watching television and going to the pool club with her neighbors. When her mother announced she would be going to camp, her meticulously crafted routine crumbled around her. Her mother argued that it would help her “build character,” and meet new friends besides just the neighborhood kids. “You need perspective” her mother had said. “You need some independence.” Her mother had driven her to the mall to get a trunk and clothes for camp. At the trunk store, her mother traced her fingertips along the top of a navy blue one with brass buckles and murmured something about it looking just like the one she had when she was Emma’s age. That night, Emma watched Barbie’s Princess Adventure in the downstairs den with Lauren while her mother was up in the girl’s bedroom, packing Emma’s trunk alone.

* * *

Emma and Jane stood on the dock side by side, waiting to be let into the lake. Emma thought that if they did not blow the third rotation whistle soon, she would for sure pass out. Then they would have to send her home. She realized she was still wearing her shorts, which made her bad mood worse, because they were about to go swimming after this long wait, and the thought of running back to the cabin to put them away in this heat made her want to throw up. She stuck her hand in her pocket and ran her fingers over the ankle bracelet she had spent all week in macramé workshop making. The colors she used were supposed to symbolize courage to some sort of Native American tribe. Navajo, maybe, or Cheyenne. She couldn’t remember.
When the third rotation whistle finally blew, Emma and Jane walked to the end of the dock. A short girl with a blond ponytail and a red lifeguard tank top was holding a clipboard, taking down the names of all the buddy pairs. She had a silver whistle around her neck and looked no older than sixteen. She glared down at Emma and Jane.
“I’m Kayla.” she said, deadpan and miserable. “Stay near your buddy at all times and don’t get out of the water unless there’s and emergency.”
While swimming, Emma’s mood worsened. The sun was so hot it made the lake feel like bath water, making the long wait to swim disgustingly anticlimactic. She floated on her back in the warm murky water and tried to imagine she was home with her friends at the pool club.
“Emma!” Jane called, “Emma come here! I found a cold spot!” Emma swam to her slowly, thinking how stupid Jane had to be to think there could be “spots” of varying temperature in one small lake. But sure enough, the spot Jane had chosen was significantly cooler than where Emma had been.
“I love finding the cold spots” Jane said quietly to Emma. “In science class we were talking about how in oceans, there can be spots where the temperature of the water changes. My teacher was saying it could be a lot of different things. Like, maybe there’s a spot that’s shallower or deeper then anywhere else. Or maybe there’s a spot that doesn’t have as much sunlight hitting it, like it’s directly under a cloud or something. A tiny spot the sunlight can’t find. Pockets, I think they’re called. Temperature pockets. They are like little secrets hiding in the big ocean-“
“Yeah. Okay” Emma said. “Except this is not the ocean. And there’s not one cloud in the sky today, and this whole lake’s pretty deep, so I don’t think it is any of those things. It’s probably just a mirage. I heard someone today saying that the heat makes us all crazy.” Emma swam away. She wanted to be alone. Jane looked pained, and Emma knew she had been short with her, but it was Jane’s fault for being so annoying and not even realizing it.
Ten minutes later, Kayla blew the whistle for buddy check. Emma awakened from her daydream and looked for Jane. None of the smiling bobbing faces were hers. Maybe she just dunked under, Emma thought. So she waited for Jane to pop up. A minute went by. Nothing. Emma’s annoyance was quickly being replaced with consuming fear. In a minute she went from burning hot to freezing cold. The were goosebumps on her skin and she was sweating ice.
“Jane!” she yelled. Nobody turned around. “JANE!” Kayla was on her cell phone. Emma yelled once more but nobody was paying attention to her. She needed to get out of the lake and run. She hoisted herself onto the dock and tore off.
“Hey!” she heard Kayla yell after her. “ Your times not up yet! Where are you going! Where is your buddy? Oh my God. Where is she?” Emma heard someone scream something to Kayla, and as Emma put more distance between herself and the dock, the last thing she could hear was Kayla frantically ordering everyone out of the water. Quickly, Kayla was saying, move as quickly as you can, somebody’s missing.
Emma ran until she came upon the boathouse. The sailboat was still there, pulled up onto the beach. Emma crawled behind it and lay perfectly still within the triangle of shade the sail made on the sand. She heard the faint sound of ambulance sirens down the main camp road. She put her hand in her pocket. Her bracelet had fallen out. She squeezed her eyes shut and thought about how she wanted to stay in the little triangle of shade forever. She thought back to Jane’s story about the temperature pockets in the ocean, and wondered if there was something like that on land, too. A little spot in the world where not even the sun could find you, that swallows you up and makes you disappear forever.

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