Grad School: Part 7 – I’m Getting More Than a Degree

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The front of Oakland Center on a rainy day (picture taken from indoors), 10/11/2017.

I’ve used the words “crazy” and “busy” so much this semester that they have begun to lose all meaning.

Just to paint a picture: I have two classes (meaning that I’m attending grad school full-time), my part-time job, my work-out routine/karate training, my volunteer work with the American Association of University Women, my thesis, and this silly notion that I would like to have a social life.

Luckily, one of my professors gave me a wonderful piece of advice when the semester started: “Focus on the learning, not the performance.” Considering that I’m a perfectionist and over-achiever, that line has spared me several migraines and moments of self-loathing. As stressful as grad school can be, it is possible to achieve a sense of balance. If it hadn’t been for exercising, I probably would have spun off the reels a long time ago. It helps me fall asleep, and I feel physically stronger and more energized. I totally recommend finding a physical activity while you’re at school (or just in general, honestly), because it will make you feel better. Sometimes when I’m doing an exercise like weight lifting or push-ups, it feels like I’m literally purging poison out of my body.

So far, there has been only one time when grad school was zero fun: A few weeks ago, I was working on my research proposal on a library computer, and I thought I was saving all the changes onto my flash-drive. I left for lunch, feeling pretty good about my progress. When I returned and opened the file, it dawned on me that I had saved the new version of the proposal to the desktop. And I had re-started the computer when I left earlier. Two-plus hours down the drain. I almost started crying. I picked up my notes and slammed them against the desk, and threw my pen at the computer screen. Fortunately, my brother was there as I started to descend into madness and he patted me on the shoulder and said, “It’s going to be okay. Take a deep breath. You got this.”

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Notes and research material for the proposal.

In conclusion, shit happens. I was able to re-write everything, which didn’t take two whole hours, thank goodness. I also had another cup of coffee to make myself feel better.

Despite the challenges, I still consider going after my master’s one of the best decision I’ve ever made. I am gaining so much more than a degree.

I have made new friends.

Damn good night with cohorts and friends yesterday. #GradSchool

A post shared by Anna Palm (@authorajpalm) on

I have attended three different conferences, all of which offered their own unique experience: Michigan Academy of Science, Arts and Letters (MASAL) in Kalamazoo, MI; the National Conference for College Women Student Leaders in Washington, DC; and the AAUW-MI Fall Leadership Conference in Taylor, MI.

I have immersed myself in a passion that was actually always there, thanks to my professors, cohorts and friends: Feminist media studies. While I’m working on my research on superhero masculinities, I keep coming up with ideas for future projects. It’s something that’s going to keep me busy for years.

And I have discovered my sense of humor. It sounds weird saying something like that and my friends have told me that I’m funny, but I guess it wasn’t until recently I really believed it.

A good sense of humor will also help you get through a difficult journey like graduate school.

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Why We Need The Punisher

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nov 17

The header on Marvel’s The Punisher on Facebook.

There are people out there who don’t want a show about Frank Castle. They claim that it valorizes gun violence. They say it’s in poor taste. They make comparisons between the Punisher and mass shooters. Unfortunately, Marvel and Netflix validated some of those beliefs by postponing the release of Marvel’s The Punisher, which would have been dropped the weekend following the Las Vegas shooting (October 1, 2017).

Personally, I think postponing the release was the sensitive thing to do. What I take issue with is that they cancelled the Comicon panel. It would have been brave of them to get up on that stage and respond to the incident. I don’t care how, as long as they would have said something. As a communication scholar, I’m disturbed by their silence because it’s like they’re trying to distance themselves from a tragedy that doesn’t really have anything to do with the show. It hushes a much needed conversation about how to interpret shows like The Punisher and relate it to our world. If anything it also reflects on the fact that almost everyone in this country doesn’t want to talk about gun violence. Unless a tragedy occurs on a large scale, like Vegas, Sandy Hook, Orlando, Virginia Tech, Columbine, et cetera, we don’t want to think about it, like, ‘It’s somebody else’s problem.’

We can’t be afraid to have these uncomfortable conversations about things that matter. And wouldn’t it be better to have these conversations triggered by a television show, not an actual gun?

Instead of getting offended by the Punisher, people ought to be upset about these facts: Three weeks after 59 people were killed in Vegas, Columbia Journalism Review reported that the coverage of Las Vegas and gun violence in America “faded from the national conversation,” as did Congress’ interest to instill stricter gun-control laws. The Daily Beast reporter Sam Stein stated, “Congressional aides and issue advocates say they see no viable path for passing even the most promising bill: an effort to ban the manufacturing and sale of bump stocks, which were used by the Las Vegas shooter to essentially turn his semi-automatic weapons into fully automatics ones.” Additionally, The Trace reporters Jennifer Mascia and Alex Yablon wrote that 2,920 people had been shot – 906 of them fatally – in the 25 days after the Las Vegas mass shooting.

The reality that this hasn’t been discussed on a national level makes me wonder if we’ve become used to the violence. It might be why we don’t talk about it. Or perhaps we’ve come to believe that mass shootings are the only real bad consequences from not having gun-control. People need to realize that incidents of gun violence aren’t isolated events. As someone who lives 25 miles outside Detroit, I can tell you that the local news reports at least a handful of stories about gun-related violence on a daily basis.

Portraying a complicated character like Frank Castle on the screen offers the opportunity to bring back that conversation to the table. If you think I’m being silly for stating that a comic book character can incite a productive discussion, please consider that people love to talk about television shows. Just go on Google and search “Stranger Things,” and you’ll get 59.4 million hits. If you go Twitter, you’ll be scrolling through the feed till the end of time. And besides, comic book characters have been a reflection of real issues and controversial topics for a long time; one good example is when Stan Lee published The Amazing Spider-Man, issues 96-98 in 1971, which talked about drug addiction.

Furthermore I discuss the impact of superheroes in my thesis, which is (still in progress and) about the representations of masculinities on the Marvel shows on Netflix. Here is an excerpt from my literature review:

Each adaptation is created within a different set of cultural referents (i.e. Luke Cage and its ties to the Black Lives Matter movement), its own era of production, its own industry structures (i.e. Netflix), its own issues-based agenda (i.e. The Punisher and the commentary on gun violence and the U.S. military), and its own cluster of narratives. Liam Burke (2015) who discussed the nature of adaptation in the comic book genre by examining superhero movies ranging from 1978 to 2014, said that one thing that superhero movies bring are stories that address awkward, unresolved issues. As Douglas Wolk (2007) has previously stated, “Superhero comics are, by their nature, larger than life and what’s useful and interesting about their characters is that they provide bold metaphors for discussing ideas or reifying abstractions into narrative fiction” (p. 92). The representation of the superheroes goes beyond the good-guys-versus-bad-guys formula as they acknowledge the likelihood of civilian casualties, the complexities of morality and ethics, and various ideas that reflect worldly events and relevant discussions. Wolk (2007) said that in their own way, comic books serve as novel of ideas with characters that have allegorical values, and with grand metaphors and subjective interpretations of current issues (p. 92).

Among the people who argue that Netflix shouldn’t release The Punisher at all is io9 staff writer Charles Pulliam-Moore. While his article is well-written and contains good arguments, he made some superficial statements, one of which I will address here:

Though Netflix’s superhero shows are some of the most interesting additions to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, they all follow the pattern of propping up their central characters as damaged, yet still sympathetic, admirable people. By the end of Jessica Jones or Daredevil, we’re made to understand that those characters have all made questionable decisions with their lives, but we’re also meant to see them as people who are doing the Right Thing™. That sort of framing works for characters who are, in the truest sense, heroic people with abilities that real people don’t have. But with someone like the Punisher, that kind of story ultimately ends up casting a man who is more or less a mass shooter in a positive light.

The first bold line is correct to an extent; ’empathetic’ is more accurate, not sympathetic. However, the final sentence here shows that Pulliam-Moore hasn’t done his research. The heroes in MCU have committed various acts that can be interpreted as good, bad or somewhere within the gray area. However, the writers leave it to the audience to decide those things; they aren’t preaching anything to them. As far as the Marvel shows on Netflix go, it’s never explicitly said that one should strive to be like Daredevil or Luke Cage, or that in the end, they made the right choices. Like Father Lantom once said to Matt Murdock, “Few things are absolute” (Daredevil, s1/e9, 2015).

Frank Castle questions himself from time to time, which is shown throughout the second season of Daredevil. In an interview with EW, Jon Bernthal said about his role: “There are things you can identify with and get behind, and there are things when the character pushes it and you can’t get behind him anymore. And that’s what I want. I think that’s the nature of the character. This is a guy who pushes the envelope. He’s brutal, but he’s coming from a place of unbelievable hurt. And the best thing about the character is he just doesn’t care. It’s a highly personal mission he’s on and if he offends you, it’s completely unimportant to him.”

In addition, the approach towards the character hasn’t changed for the self-titled show. During an interview with Total Film, co-star Deborah Ann Woll, who plays The New York Bulletin reporter Karen Page, stated: “Karen is always going to be there as a conscience for Frank. She’s also one of his only allies, one of the only people he can come to. […] There’s no conflict about his methods, they’re wrong. The conflict is, ‘Does that make him a monster, make him someone we shouldn’t empathize with?’. That’s the view I’ve latched onto. Not so much, ‘It’s good that he’s killing people’, more, ‘It doesn’t necessarily make him someone we shouldn’t care for or believe in’.”

Besides, you can’t compare Frank to mass shooters. Other than that they both use guns, their goals and ideologies differ: Mass shooters kill innocent people randomly and in great numbers. Frank kills criminals (specific targets), which I don’t encourage, of course, not at all, but that’s an important difference.

One fan stated in a comment on The Punisher‘s official Facebook page: “I know they have pushed back the premier because of Vegas. But there has to come a realization that what happened in Vegas, is similar to what happened to Frank’s family. With all of these mass shootings, it’s hard not to feel like Frank, to feel a connection to a man who wants to stop these shootings before they start. To dole out some punishment to those that seek to sow terror and fear. Yeah, I empathize with Frank Castle the character. I want to give that terror and fear into people who would seek to kill dozens. Not sitting in a jail, or going through years of trials and appeals. Permanent and swift vengeance. But I won’t. Because I live in the real world. When I get to see a fictional character like Frank who doesn’t have to be constrained, who can dish out punishment. Yeah, that is what I would like to see.”

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October 14, 2017.

That’s something I would like to see, too. Plus, you can add as a comment that the murder of Frank’s family being covered up and ignored is possibly an allegory for our silence towards gun violence. When Karen is investigating Frank’s past, she is told by her editor Mitchell Ellison, “Well, you know, people are shot every day. It doesn’t always make the paper” (Daredevil, s2/e5, 2016). That hit home with me, again because I live so close to Detroit.

Pulliam-Moore asked, “When can they release their show about a superhero who shoots people?”

I tell you, sir, the perfect time is NOW. And you and many others aren’t asking the right questions. Instead you should wonder: Why does real tragedy have to happen before we acknowledge a problem?

 

 

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References from Lit Review Excerpt

Burke, L. (2015). The Comic Book Film Adaptation. Jackson, MS: The University Press of Mississippi.

Wolk, D. (2007). Reading Comics: How Graphic Novels Work & What They Mean. Philadelphia, PA: Da Capo Press.

 

 

Grad School: Part 6 – “Sucker-Punching the Last Year” (+thesis proposal intro)

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Usually when I write these grad school entries, I bring a load of advice and try to take the therapeutic self-help approach. This time, though, I just wanted to share some exciting things about my thesis with you. Take what you will from it.

THESIS TITLE: “The Boy Behind the Mask” 

Research is a love-hate relationship. Not unlike weight-lifting. There’s lots of pain and slow but gradual gratification. I know it will be worth all that hard work, though, because at the end of my grad school career, I’ll have my very own book at Kresge Library.

For those who haven’t read the previous post, my thesis is going to be on the representations of masculinity in male-centered superhero shows, particularly the Marvel Netflix series Daredevil, Luke Cage, Iron Fist and The Punisher. Yes, the latter isn’t out yet so considering how I’ve planned my themes according the first three, Frank Castle might introduce some fun challenges.

Those themes are going to be identity, family, embodiment (the male body), women’s roles and power… power in a Foucaultian sense; a blend of feminism and post-structuralism.

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Found on tumblr (user: punishermygunmyhardandme).

Writing a thesis is no piece of cake: First you have to come up with a topic and/or research question or a number of questions. In my case, both happened at the same time after reading the introduction of Cable Guys: Television and Masculinities in the 21st Century by Amanda D. Lotz (really awesome book, totally recommend it!).

Then you have to write a research proposal, where you need to show what you’re studying and why you’re studying it, how you’re going to do it and most important of all, which literature you’re going to rely on throughout the process (or analysis for me). The beautiful thing about the literature review is that it’s going to be part of the thesis itself.

So far, knock on wood, the research is going well. The lit review is kicking my ass, but I’m making progress on the four topics I have to cover before I can start my analysis: Definitions and key terms of masculinity, Netflix and the changing television industry, comic book adaptations, and feminist scholarship.

Once the proposal has been approved, I can start analyzing the text, AKA the four shows, which really is five whole seasons since Daredevil has two. Good thing I’ve already seen most of the material and got several ideas to work with.

Oh, and when you’ve done the actual thesis and gotten it reviewed by your adviser and a committee, it will be a bound book at the university library. I can even get it published if I pursue it! My own book in the stores, can you imagine.

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Karen Page (pre-journalism days) hard at work, Daredevil, s2/e5.

I will probably post the research proposal on my blog when it’s been OK’d. For now, I’m happy to share the introduction. It might get cut down a bit, so consider this a draft:

— Introduction 

It wasn’t the first time the blind, red-suited vigilante had entered the screen when Netflix released their own television series Marvel’s Daredevil, or simply Daredevil, in April 2015. The self-titled movie from 2003 had left a less than impressionable resonance with the mainstream audience. This time, however, something worked. As part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the online streaming service produced a show with 13 hour-long episodes that provided a gritty, realistic portrayal of a heroic figure that is well-established in the comic book genre. The story of Matt Murdock takes place shortly after the events in the blockbuster movie The Avengers, following the (superhero) tradition of independent characters sharing time and space in the same world. Through experimental, relation-oriented storytelling and a daring approach towards characters that have normally been ignored or neglected (female characters in particular), Daredevil became the prime example of what a superhero series should be. What has followed since then is a line of Marvel superhero shows on Netflix—Jessica Jones (November 2015), Luke Cage (September 2016), Iron Fist (March 2017), the team-up of the four heroes in The Defenders (August 2017), and The Punisher (which will be released this fall)—all of which bring their own host of relationships, values, themes and ideas.

One common thread between them is the new representation of men and masculinity, which within the Marvel Universe has created a shift in attitudes towards manhood, gender relations, and women’s roles. It is my intention with this research paper to explore and analyze the men’s portrayal—and consequently the women’s as well—in the male-centered shows: Daredevil, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, and The Punisher. The focus will be on the protagonists Matt, Luke Cage, Danny Rand and Frank Castle since the main plot revolves around their relationships, problems and goals. The reason why the analysis goes beyond them is because the showrunners display both the friends and villains connected to the hero’s journey in the same nature of empathy, care and attention to detail. There is a definite conflict between the protagonist and various antagonists and a lot of action, yet the story in all these Netflix dramas have a stronger emphasis on relationships. While characters are trading hands on a rooftop, the audience is aware of the people’s motives and what led up to that fight; perhaps it’s even uncertain whom the audience should root for. It’s like the New York Bulletin reporter Ben Urich once said, “My experience, there are no heroes, no villains. Just people with different agendas” (Daredevil, s1/e7, 2015). The difference between the good guys and the bad guys isn’t a sharp line in the sand, just like the nature of the gender roles. The female characters aren’t naturally love interests and/or victims. Instead the women are active participants in the story, with their own stakes, desires and fears. The fact that women such as Karen Page and Colleen Wing have their own hero’s journey to travel doesn’t emasculate the heroes, nor are their struggles and hopes displayed as less important than the one of the protagonists’.

In my literature review, I will explain how I plan to answer questions regarding the definition of masculinity, the background and understanding of comic book adaptations, Netflix and the changing television industry, and to some extent, how my findings contribute to feminist scholarship. (While the audience and fan engagement is a vital part to the comic book industry, for the sake of time, I’ve decided to leave it as a project for another day.) The most important questions to keep in mind are: How has superhero masculinity typically been constructed in other forms? How is comic book masculinity changing in relation to post-millennial masculinity? How is masculinity shaped by seriality, trans mediation and television seriality, and furthermore, what are the industrial and textual contexts that might help account for this shift? And how does this shift compare to the various reboots that characterize Marvel comic book culture? As for adaptation, I will go over how serialization has played into moving the comic book to the real-life screen, and whether there’s been a history of character development or character reboots. I won’t go into elaborate details on feminist scholarship, but I will consider the role of media in constructing ideas of gender. Regarding gender relations, I will define key terms in the study of media and masculinity, and identify the debates over the usefulness of the concept of hegemonic masculinity. These questions about masculinity and femininity will likely fall into all five themes during my analysis: How has the portrayal of the male superhero changed? How do the men in these shows display patriarchal and/or feminist masculinity? How do the showrunners use narrative elements to present the men, particularly the heroes we’re supposed to empathize with? How are the women portrayed? What are their relationship to the hero? How do they contribute or take away from the story? After my lit review, I will explain how certain themes fit into my broader theoretical and methodological issues. In conclusion, I will lay out the specific methods I plan to use in my textual analysis.

Within a critical and intersectional feminist framework, I’m going to examine the following five themes that can be found in the shows: Identity, family, embodiment, women’s roles and (as in a Foucaultian sense) power. My chapters will in fact be split into the themes as I perform a textual analysis with a focus on the narrative elements, and attempt to answer my questions. By intersectional feminism I am referring to the idea that feminism is concerned about gender beyond the limits of biological differences. Other social, economic, cultural and political factors contribute to different ideals about masculinity, all of which I will consider throughout the research. Michael Kimmel (2006) stated that before gender was visible to men—before masculinity became thought of as a gender and while it was still considered as the normal human experience—manhood was believed to be something innate in every male body, or a transcendent tangible property that each man manifests in the world. With the recognition that the manhood ideal isn’t a consciousness from men’s biological constitutions, but a cultural creation, it became apparent that masculinity means something different for every social group, every generation, meaning that there are several hegemonic masculinities. Some cultures may value manly stoicism or sexual prowess while others see the more emotional, familial man as an aspiring figure. Kimmel (2006) said, “Manhood means different things at different times to different people. […] What it means to be a man in America depends heavily on one’s class, race, ethnicity, age, sexuality, region of the country” (p. 3-4). I will examine how such traits in the characters intersect in their lives, their idea of masculinity and how it shapes their behavior and attitudes. The idea of masculinity won’t be the same for African-American, ex-con yet well-read Luke Cage as it is for the younger, white American Danny Rand who was born into a rich family. However, even Danny, who was raised in a community immersed in Chinese culture starting at the age of ten, he will have different ideas of masculinity than Catholic, pro-bono lawyer Matt Murdock who has never been outside his hometown New York City, or middle class, U.S. Marine veteran Frank Castle who served several tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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Grad School: Part 5 – “What Summer Break?”

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At an outlook with friends by Westport, Ontario, Canada on August 4, 2017. From left to right: James, Kelly, Chris, my brother Simon, Lilje and I.

One thing I’ve heard a lot lately is, “This summer went by so fast.” It’s something people tend to say annually, but this time I can honestly agree with them.

For giggles, I wanted to pose this question to my fellow classmates: What did you do this summer?

And secondly, how did you prepare yourself for the fall semester?

In regards to getting ready for school, I got some advice in case you feel caught off guard or lack of motivation.

  • Try making a list of your goals for this semester.
  • Think about your priorities.
  • Think about people and events (i.e. workshops, student orientation, etc.) that can help you achieve your goals.
  • Also, look ahead of time to see if there’s anything fun going on. It’s easy to get caught up with school and work, but don’t let it stop you from having a good time.
  • In the same line… think of things to look forward to.
  • Find a physical activity – whatever it is – that will keep you moving. Exercising is so good for you! I can’t empathize it enough. Believe me, it will actually give you more energy to deal with whatever challenges are ahead.
  • Catch up with your classmates. Think of them as members of the same team as you. No matter how tough a class may get, you can get through it together.

 

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“Wait, where are we? We’re pointing at two different spots!” Just kidding, we’re in Charlevoix, MI; May 2, 2017. I visited my friends Shayla (in picture) and Aaron.

As for my summer, I’ve done a lot travel: One four-hour-long road trip north to Charlevoix, MI, despite the lingering chill back in May. One life-changing conference in Washington, D.C. in early June. And last month, a 10-day long trip to an island in Ontario, Canada with some old friends from high school. In addition to that, I’ve been reading, writing and working. I’ve finally found a nice job and I earned my green belt back in July. Not to mention that I had a kick-ass summer class throughout May and June. It was about gender and sexuality in the media, largely regarding television and online-streams. By kick-ass, I mean that it was a ton of fun and it also kicked my ass. It’s amazing that I managed to ace it with all the reading the professor threw at us. The final was brutal: An in-class essay exam and a paper due a few days later.

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One of my favorites so far. Daredevil, Issue 181 by Frank Miller (1982).

I made it even harder on myself by choosing to write a research proposal, which until then, I’ve never done. It turned out to be “a good start” to the actual proposal that I have to turn in soon. Unlike most of my classmates, who are picking “comps” (the in-class essay exam) as their exit option, I’ve decided to do a thesis. One, I love research, and two, I am a terrible test-taker. I’ve started my research already, even though it hasn’t gotten officially approved, but every professor I’ve talked to thinks I’ve picked an interesting topic. I’m looking at the changing portrayal of the male superhero onscreen and their depiction of masculinity by studying the Marvel Netflix shows. My focus characters are Daredevil, Luke Cage, Iron Fist and the Punisher. In the past few days, I’ve read 49 comic books issues and still got a few dozen to go. Before then I rummaged through websites talking about the characters’ origins and checked out what fans are saying on social media. I’m reading a few books about television in general, too, by scholars such as John Fiske and Amanda D. Lotz. It was actually Lotz’s book that we read for class that inspired me; Cable Guys: Television and Masculinities in the 21st Century. It feels right to take in some of her observations and bring the research to the Marvel universe, considering how big superheroes have become in the mainstream media in the past decade. I will talk about the whole thesis process another time, but if you want to follow my exciting journey more closely, feel free to check out my Tumblr blog, Marvel Scholar Palm. I use the site as a source of ideas and inspiration… and let’s be honest, a platform for some bursts of opinions. I am a superhero fan after all.

So what have you done this summer? If it feels like your memories have become jumbled in the haste of buying textbooks and all that, I got a fun tip for you. I sat down and wrote a list of all the events that took place in the past three-four months; things I’ve accomplished, tried and failed, and even the movies I’ve seen in theater. It really gave me an opportunity to appreciate everything I’ve experienced and allows me to write an end to that chapter. Back to the grind, right?

 

After DC: Detroit Convention & Other

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The title does say “after DC,” which refers to the conference at the beginning of June this year. However, this entry is about more than the aftermath of NCCWSL (National Conference for College Women Student Leaders). I ran across an upcoming event for women and anyone else passionate about women’s issues. Before I get into that, let me share something interesting.

The people running NCCWSL emailed a survey not too long ago wondering how the attendants liked the experience. Two questions they asked were whether they should change the 30-something-old name, and whether they should hold the conference in a different city. The only contingency was that the city had to be near an airport. I gladly suggested Detroit! The city needs more love! As for the name, I thought it was a little humorous since NCCWSL is pronounced “Nick Whistle” and I’ve told how many people seem to think it’s stupid. I brainstormed for a few hours and emailed the organization later with the suggestion: WALC – Women’s American Leadership Conference (pronounced “walk”).

I don’t know how far they are in planning for next year’s conference, but I hope they’ll bring it to Detroit.

Speaking of which, Women’s March are holding a convention at the Cobo Center in Downtown Detroit on October 27th through the 29th. According to the event page on Facebook, the convention will include “workshops, strategy sessions, inspiring forums and intersectional movement building.” Furthermore, it states: Participants will leave inspired and motivated, with new connections, skills and strategies for working towards collective liberation for women of all races, ethnicities, ages, disabilities, sexual identities, gender expressions, immigration statuses, religious faiths, and economic statuses.

Since you’re probably wondering about the cost, here is what they’re asking:

General admission is $295 per person—an amount necessary to help us cover the expense of holding a conference. Youth and student registration is $125 per person. If your employer is paying your registration, please register at the institutional level, $365 per person.

FYI, you can apply for a scholarship fund. The deadline is September 12, 2017.

I encourage anyone interested in the convention to attend. It sounds like it’s going to be an awesome event! I don’t know yet if I’m going myself because with school starting soon, I’m still lining up my ducks. I really want to, though, especially since a friend of mine is attending.

Please check out Women’s March website for more information; the registration is now open. 🙂

NCCWSL ’17 – Workshops and panels

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#ShinyCampus: How Empowered Women Can Empower Women. 

The schedule at the National Conference for College Women Student Leaders was wild. Not a second was wasted. In addition to inspirational speeches and mingling (which I’ve talked about in this entry), there were several workshops and panels to attend.

Before my group and I went to DC, one of the women organizing our travel details advised us to read about the workshops ahead of time and pick a priority and second-choice. Some workshops tend to fill up quickly and considering how big University of Maryland is, you want to know where you’re going. The subjects that these workshops focused on were leadership development, professional development, activism, women’s issues, or identity and diversity.

I’m happy to share my notes from the workshops and panels I attended, because I learned so much within such a short period of time. It was pretty intense and exciting talking about topics such as shine theory and time management with other women and actively listening, and then moving on from one event to the next. Hopefully you’ll find a few good tips that will help you in your day-to-day. If you got any questions, please email me! (blueannajo@aol.com)

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#ShinyCampus: How Empowered Women Can Empower Women

Presenters: Erica Wallace, Coordinator for Peer Mentoring and Engagement at University of North Carolina, and Rachel Kline, Residence Director at Syracuse University

Shine Theory – term by Ann Friedman: “When you meet a woman who is intimidatingly witty, stylish, beautiful, and professionally accomplished, befriend her. Surrounding yourself with the best people doesn’t make you look worse by comparison, it makes you look better.”

Examples: Call Your Girlfriend, Women of the Obama Administration, The Final Five, Hidden Figures, etc.

Competition and your circle of friends: “If you find that you are feeling… toxic or competitive toward the women who are supposed to be your closest friends, look at the why and figure out how to fix it.”

Unpack the WHY: The perceived limited resource and why?// Your shine// Their shine// How can you learn from them or use their shine?

Amplification – repeat another woman’s idea (give her credit)

Simone Biles – Aly/silver: Media pitting women against each other

  • “we’re proud of each other”
  • “Her accomplishments don’t diminish mine”

Power in sticking together

  • “Hidden Figures”
    • Recommend a friend

Competition

  • Hard-wired to protect their own bodies (passive-aggressive)
  • Social exclusion: remove oneself from other women; make themselves look better (to men)
    • Noam Shpancer (internalized male gaze)
  • Karl Marx – internal self-conscious/perspective
    • The patriarchy/male-dominated society (enemy)
  • Roxane Gay – female friendships – designed to slow us down

Push women to do better and be better

  • Don’t compares their shine to your shine
  • Don’t tear women down
  • Criticism versus hate
    • Nepotism
    • Merge pockets of activism

So Let’s Glow: “Want nothing but the best for your friends because when your friends are happy and successful, it’s probably going to be easier for you to be happy. If you and your friend(s) are in the same field and you can collaborate or help each other, do this without shame. It’s not your fault your friends are awesome. Men invented nepotism and practically live by it. It’s okay for women to do the same.” – Roxane Gay

*

Dream Big: Moving from Idea to Execution 

Presenter: Andrena Sawyer, Founder/CEO of P.E.R.K. Consulting, LLC

Perkconsulting.net

info@perkconsulting.net

@Perk_Consulting

3-4% CEOs are women (biz insider)

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  • Work twice as hard
  • Look good
  • Be extra nice
  • Prove yourself
  • Prove intellect
    • Women work more on this!

Your story, your challenges, your idea

Know how an execution (there’s a gap)

  1. Vision casting
  2. Goal setting
  3. Starting off the right way
  • Share your ideas with other people who will help you make it a reality
    • Clearly communicate the idea
    • Communicate often
    • Cascading goals
    • Be open to suggestions
  • Register business (legal)
  • Mentor, accountability, partner
    • Boys’ club – decisions on the golf course or at the bar, not the board room
    • Be vulnerable and transparents

A goal is not an idea

Set the Goal

Assessment

Stepping stones

Assessment and evaluation

Don’t wait till the end

Assessment

Reach the Goal!

Plan!!

  • Strategic plan
    • Product or goal
    • Higher ROI
    • Simplify decision making
    • Drive alignment
    • Communicate message
    • Create SMART goals
      • Specific
      • Measurable
      • Attainable
      • Realistic
      • Timely

Goal!!

  • Figure out time
  • Calculate investment
  • Where do I start?
  • What is my mission statement?
    • Why do we exist?

SWOT Analysis (Strength, weaknesses, opportunities and threats)

  • Where are we now?
  • Long-term strategic objectives
  • Short-term goals
    • Smart
    • Action plan
  • Vision statement

ABCs/Strategic Plan

  • Assessment
  • Baseline
  • Components
  • Down to specifics
  • Evaluate

Meet the needs as a leader:

Internal Environmental Assessment

  • Organize assets and resources
  • Culture
  • Partnerships
  • Supplies

External Environment Assessment

  • Marketplace
  • Competitors
  • Social trends
  • Regulatory environment

Don’t go power mad or idea crazy

Resistant to change? No structure?

“temperature of the place” (vibe)

Informed decisions:

  • Outside factors
  • Know what you’re talking about
  • Trust

Mission statement: expression of purpose and action

Vision statement: statement of organization’s future

  • How, what and why?

Value statement/guiding principles: core values and beliefs

KPI – performance measures

  • Objective, quantifiable methods for measuring success
    • Performance measurement
    • Initiatives
    • Projects
    • Action plans
  • Financing, operations, capacity, customer

Keep your eye on the vision

*

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Time Management, Time Out

Time Management, Time Out

Presenters: Libby Thorson, Coordinator in the Violence Prevention and Healthy Masculinity Programs at West Chester University, and Jackie Aliotta, Assistant Director of Student Leadership and Involvement at West Chester University

Split up your time into three categories: Self, Obligations and Relationships

Intentional time-out (effort) (self-care)

Most people try to accomplish everything at once!

the 80-20 rule (number of things needed to be done):

  • 20% you have to do
  • 3 goals for the day (or just one!)
  • It’s OK if you don’t finish everything

Time management:

People think of…

  • Stress
  • To-do list
  • Structure
  • Planner/tools/chart
  • Organization
  • Procrastinating
  • Never enough
  • 80-20 rule
  • Incentives
  • Realistic
  • Me time
  • Info overload
  • Deadlines
  • Social media
  • Guilt
  • Brainstorming
  • Balance

Who teaches us time management?

  • Parents
  • College (self)
  • Trial and error
  • Mentor
  • Work
  • Friends
  • Internet
  • Books
  • Successful folks

Thoughts on time management:

  • To-do lists can be fun
  • Prioritize – focus
  • You can’t do everything
  • Be prepared

Motto to live by:

Early is on time. One time is late. Late is unacceptable.

Time management includes:

  • Planning
  • Sleep
  • No stress
  • Present in the moment (future planned)
  • Think of your time and your resources
  • Things hard to remember
  • Frustration

Time is the only thing we got to give.

Obligations and self?

  • Prep ahead mentally
  • Find time afterwards
  • Do something for yourself
  • Recognize your accomplishments
  • SELF-CARE IS VITAL

Obligations differ according to…

  • Gender?
  • Generation (yes)
  • First time college students (yes)

Ask yourself…

  • Where are your obligations?
  • What do you want to spend more time on?
  • What prohibits you?

Finance: start saving early

  • Take investments into your own hands
  • Roth IRA

How do we use time to be successful?

Invest in yourself

*

(Panel) Self-Care to Recharge Your Leadership

Presenters: Jackie Pearce Garrett, Founding Partner of HGVenture LLP, and Tricia Homer, Executive Communication Coach

Questions they asked; options were “I agree” and “I disagree”

  • Self-care is important
  • I know my strategies
  • I spend enough time on self-care

Self-care isn’t luxury… it’s something different for everyone

Redefine self-care

  • You don’t have to spend money to do it

When looking out for others, ask a question to get people to open up

  • Dialogical approach
  • “How are you doing? Are you getting enough sleep?” (etc.)

Know yourself:

  • Self-awareness and reflection
    • Physical
    • Emotional
    • Intellectual
    • Social
    • Spiritual

Experiment:

  • Figure out what works for you
  • Nourishment
  • Vibe, energy
  • Resources

Support and sustain:

  • Building resilience, community

Women are trained to put themselves last

Self-care is an act of resistance

Set boundaries for yourself

Say no

Brush it off if people call you “lazy” for taking a break

About self-care…

Generation, culture change

“we worked hard, so can you!”

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What can you change in the next three days? What do you want to do?

In the next three weeks?

In the next three months?

Website: bit.ly/HGVselfcare

*

(Panel) Diversity and Inclusion: It’s What YOU Make It!

Presented by the United States Air Force: Lieutenant Colonel Angela Cummins, USAFR; Chief Master Sergeant Janna Dorvil, USAF; and Enjoli Ramsey, USAF.

Your own definition of success is continual

Don’t alter yourself

  • Acceptance
  • Conversation with yourself
  • Relationship with yourself
  • Check yourself
    • Thoughts

Don’t get caught up with petty stuff

  • Relationships are vital

Be adventurous!

Don’t burn bridges

  • Network
  • Be civil

I won’t dare telling you how to love. Find your own definition of love. – Dorvil

Be curious about each other

Be open and open-minded

There’s so much to learn from each other

Your job can have an effect on people:

Not every job is going to be on top of the spear. If you’re given the opportunity to sweep the floor, make it the best swept floor you’ve ever done. – Robinson

  • find Dream #2

You have to be comfortable with yourself, and know what your purpose is

People will put adjectives on you based on their bias. – Dorvil

[Note added after the fact: QUOTE from Jessica Jones: “When you burn a bridge, you have to learn how to swim. Or fly!”]

 

#NCCWSL17 – Mutual Admiration Society

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June 2, 2017: Destinee, Kristin, Hannah and I in front of the Lincoln Memorial.

“Listen with your eyes and your heart.” – Wisdom from a second-grader

“I’m betting on millennials to change the status quo.” – Rosie Rios

“A woman who speaks with conviction should be scary.” – Crystal Valentine

“Giving of your time is investing in yourself.” – Cleopatra Campbell

“The nation needs women’s paid and unpaid labor.” – Melissa Harris-Perry

“He said ‘You got into Harvard only because you’re a girl.’ Damn straight I got into Harvard because I’m a girl. Among the vast number of upper-class, white, straight males, I stood out.” – Danielle Feinberg [Slightly paraphrased.]

“No one is powerless when we come together. You can absolutely do whatever it is that you want to do.” – Amanda Nguyen

“Let’s create a world we want to live in.” – Melissa Gruver

Every summer since 1983, there is a conference for women at University of Maryland in Washington, D.C. that spans over the course of three days. Men are welcome, of course, but it’s mainly a celebration for us ladies, a place for professionals and students to make connections, and where successful folks like Melissa Harris-Perry, Amanda Nguyen, Cleopatra Campbell and Danielle Feinberg talk to us and listen to us. It’s called the National Conference for College Women Student Leaders, or NCCWSL, pronounced as “nick whistle.” I think there’s a debate going on about whether it’s a dumb nickname. Funny enough, there’s a similar one for how to pronounce AAUW (American Association of University Women). Some people go “Aw” while my brother loves saying “Aoooohhh!” like a wolf (which I personally prefer).

Silliness aside, attending NCCWSL is nothing like I’ve never experienced. It’s a rare place where crowds will erupt into applause for other women’s achievements.

During a conversation exercise at the welcome session, for instance, when people introduced themselves and talked about what they do and what they’ve done, the audience would interrupt them briefly to clap their hands. If people in the crowd agreed with what the person was saying, they would snap their fingers and you could hear snippets such as “mhmm” and “that’s right” around you. It was truly a safe place for all of us to express ourselves; our concerns, our opinions, our aspirations, whatever was on our minds. Several women cried that morning, including myself, because there was so much love, compassion and positivity in that ballroom. I felt a connection with all the women, even though I hardly knew them. Yet I knew the emotions behind their words: Passion, frustration, loneliness, the special rage that only unfairness and dismissal can cause, that burning WANT to do more and to be more.

If you think I’m exaggerating, get this: The next day, I was at a workshop on self-care when a woman talked about being a single mother and not receiving any support from her family. She teared up and said that this was the first time other people have showed that they care.

One of the questions that we tackled in that exercise was: “Has college built your confidence?” As the mic was passed around, there was a mix of responses. Yes, because she knew that she had earned her place at her school. No, not really… it’s been a uphill journey because she had to prove herself to naysayers. I’m glad that someone in the crowd mentioned “imposter syndrome,” which is when a person doesn’t acknowledge their achievements as theirs and sometimes even gives the credit to other people. Too often women don’t let themselves feel proud. Women in America are generally taught to be humble, to be a background character in their own life when they really are the superhero.

One great moment at the conference for me was listening to Amanda Nguyen speak and later meeting her, even though it was less than a minute (a handshake, a “thank you, Amanda” and a hug). She is the mind and soul behind the Bill of Rights for Sexual Assault Survivors (2016). I decided to record her speech on my phone, which you can watch here. What a wonderful person!!

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Another thing that made this trip to DC such an awesome experience was, of course, the friends I made. From the moment our bus left Dearborn, Michigan on Wednesday morning to when we returned Saturday night, I was surrounded by many fun, interesting, smart chicks. The conversations we had, the meals we shared, I will never forget that, and I’m so glad that we’ve stayed in touch since.

This is something I posted publicly on Facebook on the day we were boarding the bus home (June 3, 2017):

I’m going to talk more about #NCCWSL17 later, but I want to say something for now: One big thing I’ve learned from this amazing conference is that I can truly pursue and achieve the goals I’ve set for myself and it does NOT have to be overwhelming. Hell, it can be fun! I just gotta remember to take better care of myself; that way I’ll have the energy and motivation to keep going. Even Wonder Woman needs a break once in a while. I already started this week by taking 30-45 minutes a day practicing karate outside. I finally don’t care about people watching! And I feel so great!

In a future entry, I will talk about the handy information I learned at the workshops and lectures.

*

Below is a series of photos I posted on Instagram during the trip! Not all, but most of them.

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Day 1 at NCCWSL (June 1, 2017).

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The courtyard outside the Ellicott cafeteria.

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The welcome session.

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Me, Kristin, Destinee and Hannah.

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Skyy, me, Hannah and Kristin at the Women of Distinction Award Ceremony.

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Cleopatra Campbell, retired defense attorney and long-time AAUW member.

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Danielle Feinberg, who has worked on Pixar movies such as “Finding Nemo” & “Brave,” spoke to us about doing what we’re interested in and passionate about. Don’t do what everyone else is doing just because you’re scared. Even when you’re the only woman in the room, like Feinberg was, don’t let it stop you.

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Rosie Rios, former US Treasurer. In this photo, she is smiling at her mother sitting in the front row.

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Amanda Nguyen, civil rights activist and aspiring astronaut.

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Crystal Valentine, slam poet.

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Melissa Harris-Perry had various informative slides during her speech (June 2, 2017).

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I explored the old campus with Elle and Courtney (they’re also from Oakland University).

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Night out in DC!

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Found the president!

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And then we found a bar called Recessions (it used to be a speakeasy).

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Melissa Gruver closed the conference with a uplifting message: Let’s create a world we want to live in. Be leaders TODAY. Look at yourself, accept yourself. Breathe. (June 3, 2017).

I Don’t Make Up the Characters

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A cool bookstore at the Commons in Traverse City, Michigan (April, 2017).

There’s no rhyme or reason to how my imagination works, at least as far as I can tell. I am not in control. That’s a sure thing.

The general misconception is that a writer is the god of their own world. Perhaps that’s true for some, but that’s something I’ve never experienced. George R.R. Martin once said, there are two types of writers: The architect and the gardener. The architect has a blueprint for the whole story. The gardener plants a seed and the way the story grows will depend on the weather, the soil and the time and effort one puts into caring for it.

A couple years ago I had an epiphany and stopped writing detailed outlines, because my characters always have other plans. I prepare to an extent since I have too many ideas to remember them all. Once I sit down to write, it’s mayhem. I can try writing down the directions and the stops we might make along the road, but then again, we can run into traffic, car trouble, rain and thunder, et cetera.

When I got a story to tell, it’s like having a movie play inside my head and there’s no pause button. It’s like being possessed. While this movie is playing, my body switches to autopilot and I hardly speak a word to anyone. Some scenes run on replay and sometimes when they replay, little details change, such as a line or a character’s movement. The perspective can linger in a single moment for hours, then it jumps forward five, ten, twenty years and runs through a sequence of events within minutes.

These scenes can be intense: Mentally I’m there with my characters, it doesn’t matter if I’m at work or in my bed, starting to snooze or trying to do homework. If they’re in a cold, abandoned shack, I know that the wood smells like dirt and rot and that the walls creak when a wind runs through. I can feel that the floor is uneven from the way people are standing. I make a note of how many rooms there are, the state of the furniture, what the characters are wearing, who clearly doesn’t want to be there and who came there with a purpose… I even feel the emotions my characters are experiencing. I’ve made myself cry or laugh or brood more than a few times.

I don’t make up the characters. They come to me and introduce themselves. Sometimes they make it difficult.

There is this one character who has been with me for over three years, Francesca Ivers. I must have gone through six to seven drafts without getting anywhere with her. My mother, friends, other writers, professors, they’ve read about her. The reason I haven’t been able to finish anything is because I couldn’t figure out what her story was. It wasn’t until last weekend when she returned out of the blue. The cool thing about her is that she herself hasn’t changed much over the years: She has always been a lover of music and a singer, a daredevil, affable, and way too curious for her own good.

For a week straight, I’ve been taking notes about the people in her life and the major events that are going to take place. (In Detroit to be specific; there aren’t enough Michigan stories out there.) Today I’m actually starting the first chapter, which is really exciting.

Honestly, I am glad I’m a gardener. The architect might finish the story faster, but I get to come along for an unpredictable joyride.

“Baby Driver” Review – Behind the Music

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*Spoilers ahead (including the ending).*

Before the movie begins, the writer and director Edgar Wright himself takes a moment to thank the audience for watching Baby Driver. I don’t know about you, but I think that’s a nice touch. You don’t see that much.

Another thing you don’t see much is when there’s next to no talking in the first ten minutes of a movie. Yet it’s intriguing because all the visuals and the music do the storytelling. The number one rule in writing is “show don’t tell” which Wright utilizes beautifully throughout the entire ride. Like I said in a recent post, I love it when writers use different techniques and/or take a new approach to a story that’s been told hundreds of times. For time’s sake, I’m going to focus on the music.

Usually no one gives a damn about the getaway driver, and usually the music is added during post-production. Wright wrote the script according to the list of songs he had on hand (as explained in this short video on Twitter)… kind of like a musical. Honestly it feels like one in the beginning: After the first heist, there’s a continuous shot of Baby going on a coffee run and jamming to “Harlem Shuffle” by Bob & Earl, having a jaunt in each step. The audience is completely immersed in his perspective, the music drowning out the sounds of the world to the point of them being faint background noise. The fact that he bumps into people and almost gets hit by a car doesn’t seem to faze him.

The cool thing is that not only does the music convey the mood and emotions of the scenes: You get a glimpse of Baby’s personality. He is the quiet protagonist who uses music as an escape from his tinnitus (“a hum on the drum,” according to the criminal mastermind Doc), as well as means of protection and isolation. He also uses sunglasses for that. Except for when he’s at home with his foster dad Joseph (and later with the waitress Deborah), he always wears shades and headphones as a shield against the criminal elements surrounding him.

Baby isn’t a bad person. He’s a kind, genuinely caring guy who got into trouble when he was younger. All he wants is to pay off the debt he owes Doc so that he can live an honest life. He actually seems untouched by his work in the sense that it hasn’t made him bitter, or molded him into a person like trigger-happy Bats who enjoys the thrill of robbing and killing people.

It might be on account of the bond he has with his foster dad – an elderly, deaf man in a wheelchair – who encourages Baby to do better. (Side note: It’s cool seeing that Baby learned American sign language and reading lips from Joe.) When he helps him get a job as a pizza delivery guy, Joe says to Baby, “You only have to wash your hands once after counting that money.”

Additionally, music is Baby’s direct connection with his mother who was a singer (and a waitress at the diner he frequents). Meanwhile, violence in itself is a reminder of his father who was abusive and controlling. The last memory of his parents is them arguing loudly in the car right before fatally crashing. Fortunately, Baby still has the tape with his mother singing. Until Deborah walks into his life, music is the only positive thing he has going on (their romance is really sweet BTW).

Interestingly, Baby won’t try to get Doc and the others arrested, even though he never wastes an opportunity to secretly record their conversations. Instead he uses the tapes to make remixes, like the one between Doc and Griff who thinks Baby is a weirdo: “What’s the deal with headphones over there? […] I mean, is he retarded?”

Nonetheless, that hobby mucks things up for him later…

The whole point of Griff was to work as a counterpart to Baby’s character, to show what Baby could become and to bring the warning or ‘prophetic message’ as we call it in creative writing. Griff seems to think that Baby doesn’t deserve the same cut as him since he didn’t even get out of the car. He (and later Bats too) is suspicious of his soft-looking, silent colleague and repeatedly tries to scare him. Eventually Griff tells Baby that one day he’ll get his hands bloody: “You can’t be in crime without being a little criminal.”

Personally I think it was a shame that Griff didn’t last beyond that scene in the elevator. He displayed such exaggerated machismo and that stuff just makes me laugh. Bats replaced him in way; they were very much alike. Having two of them could have given Baby even more trouble, which makes for a good story.

As said, the music serves as a barrier between Baby and his less-than-friendly partners. He stays mentally focused on whatever song is playing, bouncing in the seat as though a fight for life-or-death isn’t happening a few yards away. He looks away when Griff fires his shotgun at the ceiling. During another heist, he blocks the audience’s view when Bats and the other two gunmen go after a guard by driving the car slightly forward. He bobs his head to “Neat Neat Neat” by The Damned while the commotion happens in the background. We get to see some of Baby’s horror when he catches sight of the guard, now dead and bleeding out on the pavement. I say ‘some’ because he’s wearing his dark shades.

We’re shown again and again that Baby isn’t a heartless criminal: He prevents Bats from killing someone, he goes out of his way to get Joe out of danger and – one of the two most important turning-points, if you ask me – he saves a woman he doesn’t know. During the third job in the movie (the first one since Baby finished paying his debt), he’s waiting outside a post office and notices the teller he spoke to only a few days ago, on her way to work. She recognizes him through the windshield and waves at him. In response, he shakes his head no; don’t go inside.

True to Griff’s warning, Baby gets blood on his hands. He’s forced to “face the music” (as Buddy grimly tells him) once it becomes clear that he can’t disappear quietly from his criminal life. He has to fight his way out of it. When he doesn’t immediately drive away from the crime scene, Bats hits Baby in the face with the barrel of his shotgun and knocks out one of the lenses on his shades. Finally we get to see the fear in Baby’s eyes, most likely the fear he’s felt for years since he became a getaway driver.

Despite that fear, he makes the decision to move forward. Literally forward into a truck, killing Bats, then fleeing on foot, both from the police and his former colleagues while the chaotic song “Focus” by Hocus Pocus blasts in his ears. From then on it’s a bumpy ride for Baby, with several twists and turns I didn’t expect, and an ending that felt real.

In the second important turning point, Baby chooses to stop running. How refreshing! I’m glad that instead of having Baby running from the law with his friend Deborah, he takes the keys out of the engine and says to her, “You don’t belong in this world.” He accepts the consequences of his actions – “faces the music” so to speak. More so, thanks to his better nature, people vouch for him during his trial.

After five years in prison, Baby… well, his real name is Miles… Miles is released on parole and meets Deborah outside the gates. She’s waiting for him by a car, ready to head west with music they love and a plan they don’t have.

*

If you want to listen to the songs from Baby Driver, I made a playlist.

Letter to My College Freshman Self

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Graduation Day (May 9, 2015).

You’re nineteen.

You have moved away from home. Sure, you live in a dorm so it’s not like you have to worry about “adult things” like utility bills. You jokingly consider yourself “an adult in-training” as you attend classes and try to do everything… and I do mean everything. Why not, right? You know pretty much everything by now. You just need to find ‘your’ group. And you’re tough, too, right? You don’t need anyone’s help and you can just ignore those horrible roommates the school stuck you with. No problem.

Problem!

First of all, if your living situation is less than acceptable, talk to your RA (residential assistant). Your home is your castle. You should feel at the most ease in your dorm room and if you can’t work things out with your roommates, don’t stick it out. Talk with you RA and/or the resident hall director. They can get a new room for you. It won’t be an issue. You won’t be the first who got the roommate from hell (or Sweet Christmas, three of those).

So listen, kid… getting that high school diploma didn’t give you superpowers. You’re still the shy, eager-to-please, gullible nerd you were before. Finding yourself and your path won’t happen overnight. Most of your classmates have no clue either. Really, they got no idea what they’re doing. Why do you think they’re partying so much? It’s not just for good fun. They’re killing time and avoiding the hard decisions they have to make.

You also shouldn’t feel like you need to re-enact everything you’ve seen in the movies. Hollywood exaggerates. The idea that every college student drinks, smokes weed and gets laid on a weekly basis isn’t true for everyone, and doing all those things (or attempting to do them) won’t make you cool. Doing them doesn’t make you uncool either. That is another thing someone should have told you: In real life, there is no cool table, just tables with various people.

Find people who you can truly call friends, people who embrace you for who you are, people who love you, people you can trust, people who will have your back through the good times and the bad ones. I can’t stress enough how important that is, especially if you moved someplace new. Once you’ve found those friends, hold on with both hands. Their friendship will mean the world to you after you go your separate ways and pursue different careers.

As cheesy as it sounds, stay true to who you are. College is the time to meet people, try new things and find what you care about. Nevertheless, don’t change for anyone. Don’t change to fit in. If it doesn’t feel right, maybe it’s not meant to be. Plus, it’s okay to feel scared while you explore; that comes with leaving your comfort zone. Whatever personal growth occurs, will happen naturally. That shyness and eager-to-please notion, for instance, they will melt away. Experience will replace gullibility with skepticism. One day you will feel great standing in the spotlight and you won’t care what other people think of you.

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Don’t over-schedule. Reserve some time for yourself.

That said, don’t stress about the milestones (declaring a major, internships, et cetera), or about finding the perfect college experience. Yes, there are deadlines for some things, but don’t panic. Run things according to your own clock.

Which brings me to my next point: Stop comparing yourself to everyone else. Some people know early on who they are and what they want to be. Some people know exactly where they belong. Some people get married early. Some have a path laid out for them, by fate or other factors. Some people discovered their passions before you and use their time at college to express them.

Whatever choices you make during your time at college, take responsibility for them.

It’s perfectly normal to feel homesick. No one will blame you for calling Mom once a day. No one will blame you for talking with a success coach or counselor. It can be difficult to acclimate to a new, exciting setting and there’s no shame in asking for help. Considering a college campus is essentially a hub of all walks of life, it can feel pretty chaotic, maybe even archaic.

This ties in with the likely academic troubles you might run into as well: Never turn down help. Talk with your professor or instructor. Don’t be afraid to get a tutor. Most colleges have a math center and a writing center, so utilize them when you can.

As for money, let me tell you this: Keep an eye on your green. Or you might have less than $200 by the end your freshman year from splurging on so much nonsense. You probably won’t even know where it all went. And for the love of god, get a job, I don’t care you’re a freshman. You’ll need the cash. Writing articles for the college paper doesn’t count.

If you want a job on campus, apply as soon as possible. They tend to be more forgiving towards your class schedule, but the positions are really competitive.

And try to have fun. Your kind of fun, not the Hollywood-type of fun if that isn’t you. You do you. Don’t make college more stressful than it needs to be.