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Surviving Graduate School & The Lessons I’ve Learned

WOOHOO. I did what I honestly wasn’t sure I’d be able to do and finished graduate school. I’m grateful for the opportunity to pursue a graduate degree at such a prestigious university, but ultimately I’m most thankful for how I’ve grown as a person over these past two years.

No matter what you’re studying, graduate school is extremely time-consuming, stressful, and often highly competitive. In my first semester we were required to take a professionalization course in which we learned about conferences, academia, and a lot of things that didn’t pertain to me since I was never interested in becoming a professor or pursuing a PhD. But one concept stuck with me, and that was the dreaded and all-consuming Imposter Syndrome.

My entire graduate school experience was shaped by this syndrome, which Wikipedia characterizes as “a concept describing high-achieving individuals who are marked by an inability to internalize their accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as a ‘fraud’.” (And yes, I wanted to use Wikipedia as a source since it’s such an academic no-no). I felt like an imposter the entire first year of my program, and continue to off-and-on to this day. But surviving graduate school required that I put the worries of Imposter Syndrome aside and find my inner strength.

As a student I’m more of the quiet type. I like to listen and absorb, and then present my ideas in a paper or presentation, rather than contributing extensively to class discussion. This is a bit of an issue, however, since graduate school is all about class discussions, and a bit of intellectual showing off. I spent so much time feeling stupid for not having the confidence to talk much during class, but then I realized that it wasn’t that I lacked confidence (since I felt comfortable teaching my own weekly class of undergraduates) it was that speaking up wasn’t necessarily my style of learning. I learn best by listening, not talking, but I’m thankful for those in my classes who did speak up often. My first lesson of graduate school is that in order to survive (happily at least) you must be true to yourself.

Graduate school was also the first time in my life I spent surrounded by scholarly folk, who pontificated using big words while referencing philosophers and fellow academics. But my approach to cinema and media studies has always been more accessible – somewhat pop culture driven – so at times I felt out-of-place. My way of thinking and writing was often more “approachable” than my peers, and it took me a long time to realize that my accessibility was my strength, not my weakness.

My second lesson of graduate school is trust in your ability and know your strengths.

I found myself constantly counting the ways in which my peers were better than me, rather than embracing my own strengths. Something finally clicked when I was entering my fourth semester and I suddenly realized, quite literally out of nowhere, that I was in my program for a reason. If I was qualified to get in, I was qualified to stay. While other people were having their work published in journals and presenting at conferences, I was doing other things. And that was okay.

The third and final lesson I learned in graduate school is that being able to think critically is a precious tool. Before entering my program I felt like I was fairly media-literate and questioned the status quo often, but now I engage with everything I come across on a much deeper level. I fine-tuned my critical thinking skills by learning from some of the greatest scholars in the world, but also from my peers outside of academia. My sister, for example, is naturally gifted when it comes to examining and engaging with ideas and images below the surface. Some of my most deeply held opinions come from ideas she’s discussed with me. So the addendum to my third lesson is also that education is everywhere. School is valuable, yet inaccessible (or not the right fit) for many. Whether you attend college or not, make the world your school. I learned so much in the two years I took off between college and graduate school, and those years shaped me almost as much as my time at USC did.

Final Thoughts Before the Return of “Twin Peaks”

Tonight’s the night! After re-watching Fire Walk With Me I have some final thoughts I wanted to put out there before the series premiere. *SPOILERS AHEAD*

ON NOSTALGIA

I’ve certainly been critical of “nostalgia-TV” in the past (see my post on Fuller House), and am particularly weary of 90’s specific reboots and revivals – but unlike other shows, the Twin Peaks return doesn’t bother me. Is my love for the show somewhat nostalgic? Yes, absolutely. Is its newfound popularity since it began streaming on Netflix at least slightly indebted to the grips of nostalgia? Surely. But more than that, Twin Peaks‘ adoration and acclaim should be credited to the fact that it was, and still is, an extremely well crafted, unique, intelligent, and inventive series that changed the televisual landscape forever.

Based on how the original series ended and what I’ve gleaned from interviews, I imagine that the revival will pick up with “good Cooper” still stuck in the Black Lodge 25+ years later, trying to get out. Simply seeing the characters/actors return 26 years after the final episode is a return to the same, but I imagine that unlike shows built around pure nostalgia for nostalgia’s sake (Fuller House being the clearest example), the “new” Twin Peaks (also known as Twin Peaks: The Return) will support the notion that so much has changed too.

ON RAPE, MURDER, LELAND, & BOB

One requirement for studying media is being critical of that which you love most. I love Twin Peaks like nothing I’ve ever seen on-screen before, but that doesn’t mean I can’t be critical of the series. It is exceedingly difficult for me to accept that Leland Palmer’s rape and murder of his own daughter is obfuscated by the fact that he was inhabited by the evil spirit of BOB. Leland himself is seen as a victim, who just before his death, after BOB leaves his body, confesses and pleads for forgiveness, passing on quietly in Agent Cooper’s arms. At his funeral no one seems upset by the fact that Leland raped and killed his own daughter. Maybe very few realized it at the time that he was the murderer, but that isn’t made clear in the episode.

On the one hand the rape and murder of Laura Palmer by Leland/BOB bothers me, but I also see the value in using such a character to illuminate the realities of violence against women. ABC would never have aired a series about incest and familial murder, so instead David Lynch and Mark Frost sugar-coated darker truths using genre and character. As Agent Cooper says to BOB-skeptic Sheriff Truman, “Harry, is it easier to believe a man would rape and murder his own daughter? Any more comforting?”

In an interview with Esquire Magazine, Frost was asked about the show’s ambiguity towards the BOB/Leland dynamic, and how viewers have interpreted the character. He responds:

“What we were really talking about in the old show was a horrific crime that took place within a very damaged family, and we did it in a way that had elements of dark poetry and metaphor and mythology. The Greeks were obsessed with themes like this, and they did it through invoking gods and taking you to other realms, and even when you think about the real nature of fairy tales, this has been done through the ages of storytelling. By not making it simply a documentary of a wretched series of events inside a tormented family, you’re able to talk about themes that certainly for network television might have seemed far too dangerous.

We also have never really wanted to narrow down viewers’ choices of interpretation. People can see BOB however they want, and one of the things we explicitly stated at one point in the old show was that maybe it was just a way of putting a terrible story into a form that we could cope with, or maybe it was something real. We’ve always decided it’s best to let viewers make up their own minds about that stuff, and that’s very much the case moving forward as well.”

 FIRE WALK WITH ME & THE LIVING LAURA PALMER

When I first watched Fire Walk With Me (David Lynch, 1992), it didn’t have the same impact as my most recent viewing. While the sexual violence depicted in the film is certainly grotesque and exploitative, there are numerous aspects of the film that I appreciate. Throughout the entire series, Laura Palmer is seen as a beautiful corpse wrapped in plastic or a photogenic homecoming queen. She’s the young woman who the men in Twin Peaks gravitated towards and took advantage of. She was greatly involved in her community, loved by many, but also seriously troubled. It wasn’t a secret that she had problems, and ultimately, all of Twin Peaks was complicit in her death.

Fire Walk With Me, which details the days leading up to her death, allowed Laura Palmer to be a living, breathing, caring, flawed, and complicated character. She is the victim, not her father. Sheryl Lee’ gives a haunting performance as Laura – thrashing between moments of anger, lust, fear, and love with ease and vulnerability. I also appreciate the truly loving relationship between Laura and Donna. Donna tries to support and understand her friend, but Laura fights to protect her (pleading, you don’t want to be like me). Fire Walk With Me may end with Laura’s death, but the film grants her the life the series didn’t.

OKAY, IT’S ALMOST HERE

Tonight’s premiere of the Twin Peaks revival will be a part of television history and I’m so excited to experience it. I’m even baking a Twin Peaks cake! What’s wrong with me? Like everyone else tuning in, I have no idea what’s coming and the anticipation is killing me. But regardless of whether I like the new series or not, I’m sure it will be both wonderful and strange. 

Summer Mood

Although it’s not technically summer yet, it sure feels like it to me. Last fall I posted a “mood board” here on Catch-all, which visually encapsulated my feelings during that time of year. I forgot to share something for winter and spring, but I’m so excited about this summer (woohoo, school’s out!) that I decided to come back with a summer post.

I’m always inspired by the beach and the desert, but this summer I’m also enjoying bright, playful patterns, oranges and pinks, vintage Emilio Pucci, all things Lupita Nyong’o, Twin Peaks (It Is Happening Again), Wet Hot American Summer, fruity cocktails, greasy diner potatoes, purple flowers, and donuts and pies.

What visuals (and tastes, smells, and sounds) are stimulating you this summer?

It Is Happening Again: “Twin Peaks” is Almost Back

After over 25 years, Twin Peaks is returning to television on Sunday, May 21st and I am so, so excited!

Incase you don’t follow me on Twitter and see my annoyingly obsessive tweets, Twin Peaks is pretty much my favorite show of all time. I’m not an OG fan because I wasn’t even born until 1991, so I couldn’t watch it in its first run, but thanks to Netflix I discovered the series shortly after graduating from film school. As an undergraduate I took a television class in which my teacher lectured passionately about how important and revolutionary Twin Peaks was for TV, and it stuck with me. So once I realized it was on Netflix, I decided to give the series a shot and was absolutely floored by the first episode; immediately captured by its unique atmosphere. Twin Peaks is campy fun, but also terrifying. It’s surreal, yet frighteningly close to reality. It’s sometimes lighthearted, though often horrific and dark. Each episode catapulted me through a series of emotions from start to finish. It captured my attention in a way that no other show has, or I presume ever will. I wouldn’t describe myself as a part of “fandom culture” since I’ve never thought of myself as a “super fan” of anything, but I’m sure that my adoration for Twin Peaks is as close as I’ll ever get to loving a show this much.

I finished the series in October of 2014, and I can still recall the frustration I felt when the final episode ended on such a cliff hanger (multiple cliffs actually) and I knew there was no more Twin Peaks to consume. Oddly enough, the very next day it was announced that the series was coming back (a la “see you in 25 years”) and I couldn’t believe that of all of the days for David Lynch to announce that Twin Peaks was returning, it was the morning after I finished the series. It was a bizarre twist in the same vein as the show’s own strange wonderfulness, and I felt somewhat honored that the two events coincided (here’s the post I wrote when I learned of the show’s return).

So for any Twin Peaks fans out there, how are you feeling about the new series? Are you excited, apprehensive, or a combination of both? Are you planning on watching the series as it airs, or catching up later if it’s well received? Or are you a purist who refuses to indulge in a revival? Let me know in the comment section below! Oh, and if you’re interested check out “Exploring ‘Twin Peaks,'” which I made for a graduate television theory course at USC.

26 Goals for My 26th Year

For the past couple of years I’ve done a post on my birthday (last year’s was 25 of my favorite things/feelings, and the year before was 24 lessons I’ve learned in 24 years). Although I’m not the type of person who cares too much about birthdays, I’ve enjoyed doing these posts because they provide me with the opportunity to reflect on my life thus far and give some thought to the future. It feels like just yesterday that I wrote that post for my 24th birthday, but it’s been two years! Does anyone else feel like time seems to move faster the older you get? Anyways, this year I decided my birthday list would be 26 things I’d like to do/accomplish in my 26th year.

Let me know in the comment section below what some of your hopes for this year are!

1. Run a 5k without stopping (graduate school has made me out-of-shape and lazy)

2. See New York City for the first time

3. Have one of my essays published on an online publication

4. Have one of my essays published in a magazine

5. Try a class at SoulCycle (I’m so curious!)

6. Start rollerblading on the Venice boardwalk

7. Try vegan baking

8. Spend a day on Catalina Island

9. Visit more animal sanctuaries

10. Take a road trip and drive along the Pacific Coast Highway

11. Attend a film festival just for fun (rather than volunteering or interning)

12. Learn how to budget and keep track of my expenses better

13. Check out more iconic LA bars (I’ve only been to 7 out of 43 on this Thrillist list!)

14. Take surfing lessons

15. Make a short film

16. Go to a show at the Hollywood Bowl

17. Make yoga and meditation a part of my daily routine

18. Hike to the Hollywood sign

19. See more improv and standup

20. Take a self-defense class

21. Write a TV pilot

22. Write a screenplay

23. Catch up on classic film, TV, and literature

24. Finally download the Duolingo app and start re-learning the basics of Spanish

25. Work on a set in some capacity (sets scare me but I have to get over that fear!)

26. Attend a live taping of a TV show

Reflections on “Emerson”

It’s my last week of classes at USC before I graduate, which basically means it’s my final week of school ever since I definitely don’t plan on getting my PhD! WOOT. I’m feeling a mix of emotions, but I’m mainly excited. Graduate school has made me a better, smarter person, but I’m certainly ready for the next, non-academic chapter in my life.

I never really was a procrastinator before grad school, but these past two years I’ve spent plenty of late nights getting work done at the very last-minute. As someone with a fine arts degree, I think it’s because writing non-stop scholarly work is too strenuous for me. I need to take breaks and make stuff, beyond shaping flowery words into poignant statements on cinema, TV, and culture. I don’t consider myself an artist by any means, but I like working with my hands – putting pictures into thrifted frames, moving furniture, making photo collages – and research and academic writing, as much as I enjoy it, doesn’t satisfy those needs. But making short films does, and I think that’s why I never procrastinated as an undergrad.

This week’s no different from the many I’ve experienced as a graduate student – I’m even putting off important schoolwork as I write this blog post. Yesterday I had a ton of stuff to do but accomplished nothing, I mean nothing, and spent most of the day lying around cruising the internet. I feel guilty about it, but I can’t seem to get myself to work on anything until it’s absolutely necessary. Anyways, one of the things I did yesterday instead of writing that paper that’s due tomorrow was revisit a few of my undergraduate film projects. Which brings me to Emerson…

Emerson is a short film that I co-created with Jackie Hutchinson during our junior year of college at The University of Arizona. I hadn’t watched this short in years, and revisiting it brought on a wave of emotions. Undergrad was a far simpler time, but of course I didn’t realize it then. From the production design, to music and editing, this short was so unbelievably fun to work on. Watching it made me realize how much I miss making things, so my post-graduation resolution is to make a short film and have fun doing it.

I implore everyone to make a short film at least once. It can be shot on your cellphone with your closest friends as actors – just make something, anything. I’m convinced that creating is freedom, and for those who don’t have the freedom to create, it’s our responsibility to keep making things and putting our artistic energy into the world.

Business & Leisure in San Diego

This past weekend my sister accompanied me to San Diego, CA, where I presented a paper at the Popular Culture Association and American Culture Association’s national conference. My paper, titled “How YouTube and Instagram are Normalizing Veganism,” analyzes the ways in which vegan cooking and lifestyle content creators appropriate mainstream YouTube aesthetics, and examines the importance of a strong digital community for vegans.

While the purpose of my trip was to present at the conference, I spent the majority of my time hanging out with my sister in and around San Diego. On our way down from Los Angeles we stopped in San Juan Capistrano, Del Mar, La Jolla, and Coronado Island, and in San Diego we spent time at Balboa Park and around Old Town. We also drank great coffee from Heartwork Coffee Bar and Dark Horse Coffee Roasters, and stuffed ourselves with food from Kindred and Barra Barra. Presenting at PCA/ACA not only gave me the chance to work on my public speaking skills (I’m doing better but there’s so much room for improvement), but it also provided me with some much-needed time for having fun, which I’m extremely grateful for.

Migraine Madness

A few months ago I wrote a post on my horrifying experience while taking a migraine medication. Now, I’ve decided to write a brief, somewhat cathartic post on migraines in general.

I suffer from severe chronic migraines and have for most of my life. What’s extremely frustrating about being a migraine sufferer is the fact that “migraine” is a term in popular culture that’s synonymous with “headaches.” But migraines aren’t just headaches. My migraines have sent me to the hospital and multiple MRI scanners. I’ve had half of my body go numb, forgotten how to speak, and thrown up more times than I care to think about. Migraines can impair my vision and impede my ability to think clearly. Because of my migraines I’ve had a variety of neurologists throughout my life and each have provided me with medications and vitamin regimens, but nothing seems to do away with them entirely. My migraines hurt me more days than not. My chronic migraines are a disease, despite what society-at-large may think, and I’m tired of suffering.

While this blog oftentimes serves as a place for me to share information on media, pop culture, and politics, it’s also a therapeutic space. Oftentimes I’ll write about what I’ve been up to, my personal goals, and missing home. Today, I felt like sharing this brief blurb on the pain that my migraines cause me, and sufferers across the world. I got my first migraine at age 8, so I’ve been a sufferer for most of my life. And while my family sees firsthand how debilitating migraines can be, most people just don’t get it. If I miss school or work because of a migraine, I feel ashamed to say that’s why. There’s a general assumption that migraines are just headaches, but they’re much, much more. Migraines are mysterious, debilitating neurological disorders, and they should be treated as such.

I’m tired of hurting quietly, and feeling hesitant to talk seriously about my condition. I couldn’t make it to work today because I had a migraine. And migraines impact my day, my week, my month, my year, my life. 

PLAYLIST: Current Mood

Listed below is a bit of what I’ve been listening to lately – what I’m calling my current mood playlist. Most of it’s old stuff, or songs I’ve been into for years, but some of it’s new to me. Getting a record player (check out Fun with Vinyl) has in many ways reinvigorated my love of music and made it a priority in my life again. In high school I was constantly listening to new bands and artists, going to concerts, and exchanging mix CD’s with my friends. Over the years I’ve lost a bit of that enthusiasm, but I’m trying to get it back. Music is a gift to indulge in and share, so let me know what you’re listening to. What’s on your current mood playlist?

The 7 Blogging Rules I’m Always Breaking

Lately I’ve been thinking about all of the sort of universal blogging and social media marketing rules that I should be following, but don’t. The truth is, I break most of these rules despite knowing that they would surely improve my blog. But is Catch-all successful already? Well that depends on how you define success…

In almost every way you look at it, my blog isn’t successful. I’ve been working on it for years and it hasn’t taken off yet and may never. But that’s okay, because I like writing and blogging and for that reason I consider it a triumph in my own terms. Catch-all is a place where I can share my writing, thoughts, and photos, and people will either read, look at it, and share it, or they won’t. And that’s okay.

Though I’m still trying to figure out what the identity of this blog truly is and how to best support it, I’m also just enjoying the journey and not giving it much thought. But after working on this list it became clear that if I do ever want Catch-all to be more than it is right now, I need to get to work…or, uh, maybe just keep doing what I’m already doing? Like I said, it’s a journey so we’ll see.

7 Blogging Rule I’m Always Breaking:

1. Have a clear focus! 

The tagline for Catch-all is “film, television, pop culture, & nearly everything in-between,” and I feel like that last part is a bit of a cop-out because “nearly everything in-between” isn’t specific at all…and that seems to be where most of my posts fit in. Recently I’ve written about tech-anxiety, my frightening experience with a medication’s side-effects, and why listening to records is fun. I’m definitely not focused.

2. Know your audience!

With a blog as all over the place as mine is, how can I know my audience? I mean, I literally have no idea what Catch-all readers have in common other than the fact that they’re down to read about a variety of topics?

3. Be consistent!

Obviously I’m not consistent thematically, but I’ve been doing better about posting regularly and have decided that Tuesdays are my posting sweet spot. I may even add Friday’s into the mix soon too. Of course adding Friday posts would be me not being consistent, but again, that’s the trend here…

4. Engage with other blogs and bloggers!

I am so bad with engaging with other blogs and bloggers. Sorry guys, don’t take it personally! It’s just that I barely have enough time to work on my own blog right now, but I do know that I need to make an effort to engage, read, and share more of other people’s work.

5. Post multiple times per week!

Yeah, I’m only posting once a week right now, so I’m definitely not following most blogging advice posts, which recommend posting at least three times a week and ideally every day. There’s no way I have time for that, and I don’t think I even have enough to write about…

6. Be sure that your social brand is the same across all platforms!

Now this one is really difficult for me because I find that each platform suits a different approach and a different aspect of my personality. I’m recently back on Instagram (yeah, I mean you should at least consider following me) which I like to think of as a sort of photo archive, so I plan and post with intention. Twitter, on the other-hand (ooh follow me there too), is a bit more goofy and loose, and I’m pretty political as well. Honestly, I don’t even have a consistent “social brand” across all of my posts on Catch-all, which range from super casual like this one, to more academic or creative.

7. Set goals for your blog!

A lot of blogging advice sites recommend setting weekly, monthly, yearly, and even long-term goals for your blog, but I’ve never set goals and probably never will. If I were blogging as part of a bigger business, I absolutely see the necessity of setting goals. But with a blog like Catch-all – where I’m posting basically whatever’s on my mind each week – I can’t imagine what short-term or long-term goals would even look like. Thoughts?

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If you’re a blogger at any stage in the process, do you follow most of the go-to blogging rules? And if not, have you found that breaking them has helped you grow your voice or audience?