Junk TV

For me, falling out of love was a slow, tumultuous descent. It was plummeting, crashing down an increasingly rocky slope, looking for anything to grab onto to slow myself down. When I did get some respite, it was always slight and temporary. And then, when you finally stop falling, you look up at the sky and wonder how you can ascend to such heights again. I am talking, of course, of my once love, Riverdale.

Recently, I re-watched the pilot episode with a group of friends in hopes of rekindling the flames that had burned so brightly before. And perhaps, it was little bit too much pressure, for the episode seemed drab, underlit, and frankly, uninspiring. In each frame, I kept searching for that spark of passion that had kept me coming back week after week since freshman year. There had been something there, hadn’t there? Yet, with each passing overwrought scene, there was nothing to be found. Worse, I could remember the moments that had been seemingly transcendent on the first watch. Riverdale, after all, is a show made up of moments splashing in the shallow end of the pool. It was a show made for social media OMGs and trending hashtag shipping. It was a show that felt like a rapidly rising tide, going up and up and up. It was everything until it became nothing.

Once, I thought I found my soulmate in this wayward show. I thought I could spend the rest of my life with it, or at least the next five seasons. Or maybe it was simply the right show at the right time. Not a deep-rooted affection, but one of those passions precisely because they are fleeting. For Riverdale was the perfect show for my freshman year. After a day of sixteen credits and more club commitments than I could handle, I would return to my dorm room. And instead of facing my ever-growing pile of homework, on Wednesdays, I would turn to the CW. Sure, Betty, Jughead, Veronica, and Archie had to deal with small town gossip and a murder, but at least they didn’t have to handle the stress or loneliness of studying at 2:30 in the morning. Their stresses were so dramatic, so exaggerated that I could sit back and enjoy their reactions to the latest arrest/football game/love triangle. At the very height of my love, I watched episodes, again and again. I lurked in the comment sections of recaps. I listened to hours of podcasts devoted to the show. I devoted so much time to this show and now, I don’t know when to break off the relationship.

If the first season was an explosion, the second was an implosion. Critics and my friends agreed, the show overall was worse. But still, I wanted to hold on. I wanted to hold on, not because it was a huge part of my life or even all that important. It was, after all, just Riverdale, a ridiculous, barely-meaningful show that happened to come on every Wednesday. One of dozens, really. I hold on because it is harder to let go. Harder to find another ridiculous, barely-meaningful relationship. I hold on because I have convinced myself that I’m still in love. Or at least, I wish I was.

Riverdale airs at 8 pm on Wednesday on the CW.

To Read

Oh, if only I could read a person as easily as a book. If only their personalities were as solid as black typed letters and their intentions as clear as a blank white sheet. If only they didn’t shift so, back and forth, until you wonder if you are the one whipping back and forth. If only you could re-read a situation until you found its secret meanings, instead of having to endure endless fleeting conversations that never quite satisfy. Interactions with people, real people, always feel as if they are moving a few seconds too fast. It is a lot to process sometimes, when a friend is chattering away. What is she saying with that tone? Why did she use this word instead of that? Can I ask for a few moments of silence while I am analyzing, endlessly analyzing? The difference between a person and a book is that a book will always give you time. It will move at your pace, straight forward always. A book only has one ending in mind, while a person is an endlessly splitting path. All I am asking for is some consistency. All I am asking for is some patience. Just give me some time. Enough to figure out what you mean, enough to let me gather my sprawling thoughts into a sentence, so we can talk like human beings.

 It is not as if I wouldn’t be fair. I would let people read me too. I would allow them to peruse freely through my past, flipping through the chapters of youth and adolescence and adulthood. If I could, I would spill myself like a glass of milk so I could avoid the awkwardness of trying to explain myself one awkward word at a time. There would be no need to explain the insecurities that come out as barbed sarcasm, no need to apologize for the absent-minded gap in the conversation when I got distracted by another passing thought. But there is always something that stops me too. I hesitate because I, too, cannot express who I am. So, I understand. I understand that there will never be a way to guide someone else into the maze of my own head. I sit in the classroom every day, next to so many minds, twisting and winding like so many strings. And all I can see, all I can read is the barest exterior. An intense stare here, a nodding head there. Oh, if only, like a book, we could understand and be understood.

Book Paralysis

Once, I was the kid with the book. In high school, everyone needs a label whether it be preppy cheerleader, overly-enthusiastic MUN club member, or seasonal athlete. Unable yet to define our true selves, we embraced stand-in, simplified personalities. And with these personalities came easy communities, defined along cafeteria-table lines. I always sat with my friend, Periodic Table kid, and her friends, the Anime fanatics. Sometimes before lunch, I would set my book down, carefully avoiding any apple sauce stains, and work my way towards the serving station. Mostly though, the book would follow me and sustain me as I waited in line. Staring down, barely paying attention to the shuffling feet, my only contribution to the chatter was a few rustling pages. But no, this is not the triumphant story of how a shy, woebegone nerd became the cool, charming center-of-attention. In fact, I was pretty proud of being the nerd. And I am pretty ashamed that I have abandoned that persona, ever since high school.

The problem seemed to be that in college, everyone wanted to do anything, but read. People spent so much time in their various lecture halls scribbling, that they had to conserve any remaining energy for a desperate attempt to translate that scribbling into homework. And no matter how much I ached to pick up a book again, I was just like everyone else. Well, most everyone else. There are still those that add a little extra weight to their backpacks, those that stick a novel between the laptop and all those notebooks. They finish pages during passing periods and chapters before bed. I just go to sleep.

I have often reflected on why I stopped reading. Why does it feel like such an overwhelming burden to start a book when it takes an equal amount of time to watch an episode of television? Even during winter break, I was much more inclined to start an entirely new show than to pick up one of the multitude of books that lay around the house. Perhaps keeping up with reading is simply a more difficult task than other forms of media. For often, when I come back to a book after even a week, I have forgotten the tone, the scattered symbolisms, the motifs. Books, after all, do not come with easy recaps at the beginning of every episode. A book is an old format and thus, does not submit easily to the frenetic pace of modern life. Reading is a consistent exercise and must be sustained, like any good exercise, over some period before it once again becomes an easy habit again.
Right now, a library book languishes on the highest shelf of my room, far harder to access to than my cellphone with all its easy distractions. Still, I sense its pull, its call to adventure.

Reading is an intimate experience at its heart. Phrases that speak only to you, pages that envelope you from the rest of the world. Like any relationship, its hard to commit at first. But slowly, surely, you’re in love.

Strong and Sweet

It was a day. It was one of those days that make you want to curl up on the sidewalk, even when you only a few steps from your home. One of those days where the sky feels intentionally cloudy and time moves especially slow. On one of those days when the whole universe is giving you the middle finger, there is only one remedy that I would suggest: Ariana Grande’s Sweetener.

Like its title, the album instantly serves to make any situation a little more palatable. Each song dissolves softly, flowing so easily into each other, flowing so easily into your heart. Each song swirls around you in a glorious cloud of harmonious beats. It is so easy to become absorbed in the album. It is as if Ariana has condensed a little bit of her own happiness into every note. Yet, instead of feeling envious, you welcome the joyous wonder in her voice. After a year of overwhelming cynicism, it is refreshing to have a piece of art that is so distinct from the rest of the climate. The album is hopeful, reveling in the present and anticipatory of a better future.

Even a song that lingers on a failed relationship like better off, acknowledges the mistake as necessity instead of a regret. “I’m better off without him. I’m better off being a wild one”, she sings softly as if to herself. She isn’t accusatory or harsh like many other contemporary break-up songs. No, this is a woman who has come out of a relationship having learned something. There is no anger and the song is more powerful for it. When I listen to the album, I am impressed by the maturity that suffuses it. Yet, unlike her previous album, Dangerous Woman, she doesn’t have to resort to leather or sexual innuendos to express this newfound womanhood. Becoming an adult is not just sex, it is the comfort with oneself, comfort with who they’ve become. While her last attempt had a touch of desperation, this time no one doubts her seriousness. Somehow, Ariana has achieved the ultimate contradiction. She has spun happiness into power, she has transformed sugar into medicine for the soul.

The ultimate testament to Ariana’s new-found tenacity is in her last song, get well soon. It concerns the anxiety and depersonalization she felt after the terrorist attack following her 2017 concert in Manchester. Over and over, she pleads with herself, “Girl, what’s wrong with you? Come back down”. Over and over, it breaks my heart, even as I am drawn to the song again and again. But Ariana is not alone, and she reassures that we aren’t either. She draws her strength from her community, never letting tragedy destroy who she is.

So, even though it has been four months since its official release, even though she has already released another smash hit (which she predicted!), listen to Sweetener. Listen to Ariana, as she stretches for a higher note than you thought was possible. Listen to Ariana and be inspired to do the impossible.

Winter Indulgences

I think I may have a little bit of a problem. It is located somewhere between my canine and my incisor. I’m talking about my sweet tooth and I believe it may be destroying my life. As any University of Michigan student can attest, the end of the fall semester is a desperate time. Every walk takes a little longer and is a lot damper. Our winter coats weigh us down and make us sweat, even as they protect us from the bitter wind. So, is it any surprise when we are drawn to sweet food like ants to a picnic during these never-ending winter months? We are reaching out for a comfort that a simple calorie count cannot measure. I am not just consuming a piece of chocolate cake. I am floating on a sinful cloud of light frosting on a crumbly, airy structure. And there are more slices waiting for me, cooling under the delicate lights of the dining hall. It makes it so easy to say yes, again and again. It is so easy to allow myself just one more tempting bite. Before, you know it, you have consumed several cookies, many more glasses of hot chocolate, and a stray brownie that simply demanded to be eaten. After all, every bulging waistline can be hidden under another chunky sweater.

Indulging my worst desires is a pleasure in itself. The semester is an exercise in restraint. Can I go out with my friends tonight? No, there is an economics worksheet to be finished. Can I finally read even a page of that book taunting me from my bookshelves? No, I must start on an English paper before my procrastination results in all-night typing session. Every time, I hold myself back, force myself to take a more long-term view. But while a failed midterm can sink a GPA, a brownie is a relatively small failure of self-control.

The night is withering away. The minutes keep ticking towards midnight. The days keep ticking towards the end of the semester. I focus, instead, on something more solid, a small bar of dark chocolate. The only critical decision I have is whether to take small careful bites or feel the whole thing crunch in my mouth. The moment arrives, and I melt with the chocolate until there is nothing left.

To Grandmother’s House We Go

I remember baby blue stairs. It was a color that was simultaneously garish and soft. Garish because it clashed horribly with the moderate browns and conservative whites of my grandmother’s quiet neighborhood. Soft because it reminded me of the ascending sky on a summer’s day. I remember accompanying my parents to the store, their hands enveloping mine, hypnotized by paint swatches. I got lost in the swimming colors and possibilities while my mom and dad made their choice. I got lost in the swirling paint as they repeatedly dipped their paintbrushes. Stroke and stroke and stroke and dip. What was once natural became artificial as the wood was covered by coat after coat of blue. I remember stretching out under the shade as my parents labored under the hot sun to paint, not an artistic masterpiece, but to protect a set of stairs. Over the years, the various forces of nature would chip away at their hard work. The blue was marred and scraped and gashed, at the mercy of the driving rain or an equally temperamental set of children, my sister and me. Then, one day, I no longer lived in my grandmother’s house. The car pulled away from the pavement where my grandma stood waving and the stairs glowed under the moon’s light. The family who lived there next, impermanent renters, painted the stairs a dark maroon red, a supposedly stylish color that reminded me of blood. But I still remember the baby blue. Blue like a never-ending childhood.

My bed was not mine. Shared between my sister and I, she got the convenience of the bottom bunk while I got the light of the only window in the room. I woke up with the streaming sun across my blankets.  I woke up before everyone else except my grandmother. I saw her from my perch, quietly eating her bread and drinking her milk at the kitchen sink. Her hair was fine, white, and thin. Like feathers, they seemed to float in the light. Like a beacon, it drew my eye to her. She stood in the small enclave with her back toward me. I was never sure if she heard the rustle of the comforter as I shifted back and forth. We existed in the morning semi-silence together and alone. We never spoke, too afraid to wake the others. I hope she wasn’t lonely. I never was. I watched her careful movements and was lulled back, back into sleep.

The garage was a steady walk from the house. There, the ghosts of past endeavors lay on abandoned shelves. My dad’s fishing pole and plastic tackle box now rested far from the beach shores. My mother’s high school textbooks gathered dust in the shadow of a red gasoline container. She explained to me, as we cleared the boxes, that she had hoped to use those books again. She had photocopied every page. But my sister and I were in college now and she was a computer engineer, readying for retirement. So, the books joined the growing pile of recycling. I am not even sure what happened to the fishing pole. The garage was the last place to be emptied in what used to be my grandmother’s house. The bunk bed had already been disassembled. The sink had been cleaned and scrubbed. Only the stairs remained, as we backed out of the driveway, one last time.