Monday, June 19, 2017

I learned English from watching Clueless

On January 11, 1996 my mother, my sister and I landed on the icy runways of Buffalo Niagara International Airport. We had taken a plane there from the tropical island of Puerto Rico. In a matter of six hours, we went from the humid heat of my beloved homeland to the arctic freeze of a Western New York winter.

I remember plunging my bare hand into a pile of snow and screaming in anguish at the freezing temperature. Snow is really just ice, you guys… did you know that?! Movies don’t tell you that. In the movies people are always comfortable wearing light jackets in the snow. They walk around with bits of white foam in their hair, which never melts into a wet mess. The streets never turn brown with slush. To me, much like all other aspects of American life, snow was pristine and pure and very much not real. That is, until I moved here.

I was eleven. The only exposure I’d had to American culture was the occasional trip to McDonald’s (which I loved) and the constant stream of movies and TV shows captured by the gigantic satellite dish in my backyard. I would sit for hours in front of the TV, watching, learning. I was fascinated by Americans. How interesting they were, how they spoke. It’s like they had a balloon in their mouths, all Os and Rs. “Rahrohs, shirations wahssaracha”, That’s what I heard. I remember actually writing down what I thought Catwoman was saying in Batman Returns and memorizing it, trying to sound just like her. To this day I can recite the entirety of The Little Mermaid, Casper (the one with Christina Ricci), Romeo and Juliet (the one with Leo, of course) and pretty much every other 90s movie to ever be shown on HBO. Little did I know that I was getting my mouth ready to learn actual English, that all that practice really paid off when I had to speak for my mother at a restaurant, or on the phone to the electric company, or yeah... even writing this very article.

The trouble was, I was assimilating to the reality of movies, not of actual America. The movie Clueless became a sort of gospel for 11 year-old me. I was a semi-fluent 10 year old when I saw it, and could understand enough to use it to my advantage. I would watch it in a loop, trying to catch all the nuances in pronunciation, Alicia Silverstone’s speech pattern, how she would go down and trail off at the end of a sentence… I thought, “this how Americans really talk. I’m gonna be so ready when I go to school there!”

This could’ve been the case had I ended up attending an upper-middle class public school in a TV show, which obviously wasn’t the case. No. After several language tests, I was enrolled in a regular, inner-city school where I was the only Latina. The ONLY Latina. Apparently I passed said language tests with flying colors, and was fluent enough to join a regular all-English speaking school. Yeah. Right.  I couldn’t understand a word anyone was saying. Not the teacher, not the students, not even the Spanish teacher (who incidentally spoke NO Spanish!).

You can imagine my shock and humiliation when I responded “As if!” to a comment someone made and said things like sporadically, crimson wave and “I’m totally buggin’!”...Yeah, they instantly hated me.

The first couple of years were complete hell. I eventually learned the real slang of my town, I copied their speech rhythms, how they pronounce As in Buffalo (it sounds like a nasal “eeeh”), I became an expert mimic and it saved my ass more times than I can count.

I wonder if actors realize that people like me learn English from watching them. Did Alicia Silverstone know all the people who would mimic her in an attempt to fit in at their new school? I’m pretty sure she was just trying to make a good movie. Do I recommend learning English from 90s teen comedies? Absolutely. Though I was wrong to think they give accurate portrayals of kids in the U.S., they’re interesting enough and close enough to the real thing to have given me some indispensable tools. I’m certain I would’ve had a much harder time learning English without the help of Cher, Dionne and Tai.

I do have to say though, watching these movies as a completely fluent adult is a vastly different experience. I’m mostly surprised at the crazy amount of penis jokes and sexual innuendo that permeates kid-friendly movies. Seriously, you guys. I had no idea. Case in point:

“As long as his you-know-what isn’t crooked. I really hate that…”


Gender Roles, Shlender roles!

While perusing a popular women’s magazine the other day, I came upon an article exploring the role of women today and society’s expectations of us, if any. The author recounted a conversation she’d had with a friend over tacos. Apparently, after she’d finished eating her admittedly oversized burrito, her companion said something like, “Wow, I’ve never seen a girl finish off an entire one of those before.”
This comment threw the female writer into a downward spiral of indignity. In her article, she posed questions regarding women’s perceived expectations, the typical “bad if you do, bad if you don’t” scenario. She spoke of heels vs. flats, short skirts, too heavy vs. too thin, and how women are basically shamed no matter what they choose to do. If you want to be a housewife, you’re shamed for not wanting a career. If you want to forego marriage in favor of a career, you’re shamed for not wanting to settle down.
While reading this article a surge of anger flowed through me, not at the implied injustice of society’s expectations, but at the fact that an innocent comment by a friend could trigger such an impassioned and deep-seated sense of powerlessness within a human being.
Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, it’s what makes our country so great. Maybe instead of obsessing over people’s mindless comments on our behavior, we should focus on living our lives according to our own set of values. I’m not saying this is by any means an easy task, but it’s the only way to find true happiness.
I offer all young adult women (including myself) the following advice:
1) You’re a woman, and being a woman is great! Why would you ever want to hide that? Just to disprove other people’s preconceived notions? You’re not responsible for the entire world’s view of femininity. That’s too heavy a load for any of us to carry. 
2) Everyone has an opinion about everything, including you and me. While we should respect everyone’s right to their own opinion, living your life and making choices based on what they may or may not think of you is a true waste of a life. People will think what they think, and there’s truly nothing you can do about it. So wear those heels or wear flats… as long as it’s what you want, not what you think other people expect.
3) Maybe when someone comments on your eating prowess, or the height of your heels, or the length of your hair, they’re simply making a comment. Most people never mean to hurt someone’s feelings, or belittle them. They were just making an observation. On the rare instance in which someone is actually trying to push your buttons, it reflects negatively on them, not you. If someone is so miserable that they need to point out something in a derogatory manner in order to shame you, then maybe that person isn’t worth your time.
The bottom line is, we all need stop trying to control people’s perceptions and just live. We should live the exact way we want to live. Whether that means fitting into traditional gender roles or not. 
Just do what you want! Be brave, be you. Bake a pie, wear a fluffy skirt, join the military, stop wearing make-up, get some thigh-high boots, build a bookcase… None of these choices make you more or less of a woman. They make you uniquely you. (mic drop)

Friday, May 19, 2017

Destiny 2 is a Huge Disappointment... and I'll tell you why.

I'm going to do something I never do. I'm going to rant negatively about a video game...

I normally keep my commentary positive, as I'm not a fan of feeding the negativity internet monster, but this needs to be said.

Everyone is so super hyped for Destiny 2. Every Youtuber, every Tweeter (?), basically everything I've seen is like "This is amazing, I can't wait!". When in reality, I'm watching this mess in complete disbelief!

Destiny 2 just looks like a fancy Destiny DLC.

It's just more of the same! They start off by telling you the Traveler has been captured, causing all guardians to lose their powers. But don't worry, you magically still have yours... and your ghost (which is powered by the Traveler, or so we were told) is still with you... so really nothing has changed. Same old Destiny here!

And guess who the main enemy is? Is it a brand new species of alien from an unknown galaxy, more powerful than anything you've encountered before? Nah, it's just some Cabal dude. Don't worry, everything's the same. Change bad, same good!

Brand new guns? No, not really. We're just calling the classes something different, and added SMGs. Yay!

And what about our Supers? Oh yeah, totally different Supers... except wait, not really... they're just different iterations of the same powers. Don't want to risk creating something new and pissing off our fanbase... 

Hey, check out our new Strike! Isn't it awesome?! It looks exactly the same as the old Strikes, except the flowers on the floor are red now! Now with twice the jump portals! 

- Oh look, it's the Vex.. again.. still trying to kill you...

- Didn't I destroy their warmind or whatever in the first game? I mean, wasn't that like a big deal?

- Nah, they're still around! Shoot them with your slightly different looking gun!

I keep hearing "Story takes center stage in Destiny 2". Does it? Because from what I've seen, it's just a thin veneer of change, masking the fact that they're just trying to feed us more of the same. Same baked potato, different topping...? Bad metaphor, but you get it. 

I'm so very deeply disappointed in this reveal. I loved Destiny. I played it nearly every day for almost 2 years, then on and off for the third. It is one of the most solid gameplay experiences out there today. 

What turned me off in the end was that every new DLC offered me more of the same... the story never really progressed, same formulaic structure, it just got boring. None of the questions the story set up were ever answered. Who was the Stranger? Remember her? The robot lady who followed you around at the beginning of the first game? Who was she talking to? Where did the Traveler come from? What is "light"? The list goes on and on! 

My only hope was that Destiny 2 would answer these questions, and that new and exciting things would happen! When I heard that the Tower would be destroyed, and the Traveler captured, I was ecstatic. 

Too bad this reveal killed my enthusiasm... It just murdered it, and now it's dead.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Dark Souls II is the best Souls game ever made, and I'll tell you why.

Dark Souls II has for years been criticized as the worst of the Souls games. It's been described by disappointed game critics (reliable ones at that) as the worst Souls game, but still better than most other games.. What does that mean?

For this reason, and after watching some of its gameplay, I refrained from buying it for years. Even after playing Demon Souls, Dark Souls and Dark Souls III, I still had reservations about it. I was aching for more Souls, but I couldn't get past all the bad reviews. What if it was so bad it just ruined my entire image of the Souls franchise?? Even after the PS4 remaster came out, I was still a bit weary.

That was until a few weeks ago. I was in a real game drought - Destiny was basically recycling its old content (again!), Overwatch had become a bit stale after the Year of the Rooster event, and I was just sitting around, meandering in the world of Lumo, mildly amused.

Then I saw that the remastered Dark Souls II version was on sale at the PlayStation Store for like $12 (don't quote me on that, I just know it was real cheap!). So I took a cautious plunge, and bought it.

I was instantly enchanted by it. It retains the soul (pun!) of a Souls game, while cultivating its own style, tone, and sense of humor. It doesn't take itself as seriously as other Souls games, which I really appreciated! I particularly liked the randomly hilarious NPCs you sometimes encounter, like the running guy in Huntsman's Copse (watch out for him! He'll just run in circles around the map for no reason), or the Undead that laugh at you, and continuously rub the ground as you walk by:

Watchadoin, buddy?

I also really enjoyed the sex-change box at the beginning of the game. When I got a pretty dress, I could just switch Bob to Boberina and play as her for a while. I wish they'd kept this mechanic in Dark Souls III... it really injected some fun into the gameplay. 

I never got bored. The enemies were varied and original, from that Jabba-the-Hutt boss who gobbles you up and eats all of your equipment in Earthen Peak (my favorite board! Don't worry, it will be in your inventory after the fight. I know, I freaked out too), to the evil Queen at the very end.

I never felt overpowered by enemies. I've heard this was mostly fixed in the remaster. Enemies are tough, don't get me wrong, but unlike with other Souls games (I'm looking at you, Bloodborne!), I never felt like I didn't stand a chance. I think lifegems had a lot to do with this. 

Up until the very last minute, I was engaged, excited, terrified and thoroughly entertained. This can be said about all Souls games, of course. But I feel like Dark Souls II has its own unique way of achieving this. It's the weird cousin of the Souls games... he's always wearing strange outfits and telling weird jokes at family parties, and he's my favorite. 

But don't listen to me.. listen to this very eloquent and well researched video. Hbomberguy says everything I wanted to say, but in a very smart and accessible way: 

-The official name of the remastered version is Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin. I very very highly recommend it. Forget everything you know about Dark Souls, and jump in!

Friday, March 17, 2017

Waiting on 30... Or: Why My 20s Sucked

As I sit on the latter end of 29, I’m forced to reflect on this past decade. Here’s the truth: My 20s stunk and I am damn glad to be turning 30. Glad glad glad! We are always told that our 20s are awesome and “the best time of our lives.” Let me tell you, that is complete nonsense. Anybody in their 20s can attest to that. I will now share with you the worst moments of my 20s in chronological order. These are the reasons why I simply cannot wait to finally be done with this God forsaken decade.

 1) Age 20: Dumped Like A Bag Of Trash On Valentine’s Day.

Yes, this happened. It is emblazoned in my memory like a bad burn scar. I had been shopping the day before for a school girl outfit with which to surprise my then boyfriend. It was going to be a playfully romantic night of role play. That is, until he walked with me to our college library and proceeded to break my heart into 1,000 individual pieces.
I remember it rained as I sobbed walking to my car. I was wet and freezing and more miserable than I’d ever been.
I kid you not, I saw a pink heart-shaped mylar balloon floating away in the sky and thought about who else might have had their heart broken that day. I continued to ugly cry all the way to the parking lot.

 2) Age 21: The Saddest Birthday.

Your 21st birthday marks the first time you can legally walk up to a bartender and order a drink. It is a time for celebration and wildness. A time for going a little nuts and doing something you might regret. None of these things happened to me.
I was a pathetic, still heart-broken lady who wore her new moosehide boots to the same bar she’d been attending for over a year. No party, no club, no sexy time. Just me, my screwdriver and my gorgeous new boots. I did love those boots, though.

 3) Age 22: Ill-Advised And Impulsive Move To Chicago.

After college graduation, I was filled with an overwhelming fear of the future. What the hell was I going to do now? I spent my entire life in school. All I knew how to do was study and take tests. I was an expert memorizer. That’s a crucial life skill, right? No. No, it isn’t.
So what does one do when one is lost and qualified for nothing? One moves to a strange city where one knows no one and has no prospects for employment. The perfect plan.
I spent two years wandering around Chicago doing everything from walking dogs to unsuccessfully asking people to stop taking flash photographs of the fish at Shedd Aquarium. By the way, please don’t do that. It freaks out the fish.

 4) Age 24: Back Home And Penniless.

I came home from Chicago thousands of dollars in debt and with not a cent to my name. What followed were several failed attempts at finding gainful employment. I ended up walking dogs again and flirting with the very real possibility of a nervous breakdown.

5) Age 25: How I Accidentally Ended Up In A Psych Ward.

The pressures of adulthood are enough to drive anyone crazy. That, coupled with the fact that I was seeing a therapist who was 10 times crazier than me, landed me in a psych ward on suicide watch. I was not suicidal, you guys! Sad? Yes. Confused? Yes. So I went to see this therapist whom I thought might help me improve my outlook on life. As it turns out, it was a terrible idea.
He was old. Senile old. And he got this terrified look on his face when I told him what I was feeling. He said nothing, and told me to go to the hospital to talk to a doctor there.
What followed were the worst 24 hours of my life. I was put in a room with a lady who kept agreeing with anything I said (“You’re from where? Me too!”) and was convinced someone was stealing blood from her in her sleep.
By the time I got a hold of a real doctor, it only took about ten minutes to get me discharged and out of there. The lesson? Don’t go to crazy old psychiatrists. If they look at all like Doc Brown from Back to the Future, run out of there as fast as you can!

6) Age 27: Quarter-Life Crisis.

The day I turned 27 I FREAKED OUT. I was now in my late 20s and had accomplished none of the imaginary milestones of adulthood. You know, those things you’re told will make you a worthy human adult. Things like marriage, kids, a respectable career? I had none of those. I was 27. That’s practically 30. I totally sucked at this grown-up thing.
It took me that entire year to figure out that all these traditions are absolutely not necessary to be happy. In fact, they’re a recipe for disaster if you do them for the wrong reasons.
The worst thing you can do is get married and have kids just because you think you’re supposed to. That’s going to end up in divorce. I promise you.
The freedom to do what you want to do. It’s just about the only good thing about being a grown up. Don’t squander that just to alleviate societal pressure. You don’t need to be married, and you certainly don’t need to have kids. Do these things only if you really want to.

 7) Ages 20-28: Not Knowing Who the Hell You Are.

In reality, the bulk of my 20s were filled with crippling insecurity. I didn’t know who I was or what I wanted. I walked around in a near constant state of panic. This panic was only made worse by the pressure to seem like I knew what the hell I was doing. I was an adult now, after all.
The truth is, when you’re a 20-something, you’re nothing more than an overgrown kid.
You spend your teenage years being told what to do, being controlled and stopped at every turn whenever you try to make a choice, and then you turn 20 and suddenly you’re supposed to be an expert at life? Who is the sick bastard who thought of that?
I’m 29, and just now am I starting to get the hang of this whole life thing. So don’t worry 20-somethings, you’re not alone. None of us know what’s up in our 20s, even if we act like we do.
Just have fun when you can, try to breathe and get through it. Your 30s will come soon.