Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Unironic Enthusiasm, YouTube, and Fandom: Why Nerdfighteria is Important

I've been struggling to describe to people why Nerdcon: Nerdfighteria mattered to me. And it wasn't the conference in particular that matters, although my experiences at the conference echoed my feelings about the community as a whole, but the fact that Nerdfighteria (the name for the community created by the vlogbrothers on YouTube) has deeply affected my life so far.

First, some basic information: John and Hank Green started their channel, the vlogbrothers, in 2007, each making videos so that they could communicate with one another. People started watching these videos and other channels were started because of them. Over the course of the last ten years, Hank and John have started numerous channels including How to Adult, SciShow, Crash Course, and Sexplanations. A community has formed around these videos, and this past weekend, approximately 4000 people gathered in Boston to celebrate this community. 

Back to why it matters: One of my favorite John Green quotes is, " nerds like us are allowed to be unironically enthusiastic about stuff… Nerds are allowed to love stuff, like jump-up-and-down-in-the-chair-can’t-control-yourself love it. Hank, when people call people nerds, mostly what they’re saying is ‘you like stuff.’ Which is just not a good insult at all. Like, ‘you are too enthusiastic about the miracle of human consciousness." And this is why I am proud to be a nerd. Because this community woks the way it does, I am unafraid to love the things that I love and to talk excitedly about them to people who love them too, much to the mockery of the outside world. 

I was lonely in middle and high school, and as silly as it may sound to you, youtube gave me people to come home to. During the days of the Five Awesome Girls, Mondays were awesome because they meant a new video from Kristina Horner, who is actually the first YouTube creator that I started watching. For all of high school, I looked forward to Tuesdays and Fridays (or whatever days John and Hank were uploading at the time), and heck, I still do look forward to Tuesdays and Fridays. And when I am lonely, all of these people are right there inside of my computer to provide me with inspiration or comfort. 

There's too many little stories I could tell about why YouTube content and community matters to me. I could talk about how whenever I am feeling down about chronic pain, I rewatch John's video On Pain or that after the election, Rosianna's videos and Taylor's videos were what kept me going (everything will be hyperlinked so you can go check them out) or that the Project for Awesome is my favorite time of the year. I'm not just a fan. These things are deeply woven in with my identity (keep an eye out for a blog post about Harry Potter as a Sacred Text), and without them, I think I would be a boring person to be around. Hannah Hart's words at the Mental Health Panel this weekend made me feel like it was okay to not be okay. You may not understand, and most people probably won't, but that doesn't mean that this matters any less to me, and as much as we spent lots of time this weekend looking back at the past ten years, there is still so much more yet to come. 

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

You Are Not Alone: A Manifesto For Misfit Toys

On the way home for February Break, I found myself listening to soundtrack of Dear Evan Hansen for the first time, and as I listened to two songs in particular, Disappear and You Will Be Found, I finally was able to put into words how I have been feeling for the past couple of weeks.  There are two messages that I took away from these songs--"You are not alone" and "You will be found".

Many people come to me with their problems--I'm not complaining. Helping people is exactly what I do. But so many of those people are afraid that their problems make them seem crazy or that people will run away if they know the truth that is hidden under the mask. But none of us, as unique and scary as our problems are alone. There will always be a friend or someone to remind you that you matter as much as you feel like the darkness is descending upon you.

And so these things I promise to you, and I hope you will promise these thing to one another as well as we bring ourselves together on an island of misfit toys (in no particular order):

1. I promise to not run away if you tell me something. I know you won't believe me the first time I say this, but I will say it over and over for years and years until you begin to get it through your head, that you can't shake me. I will stay no matter how bad it is, even if I don't know how to support you. You can't scare me away.

2. I will answer my phone in the middle of the night because let's be honest, I'm probably not asleep either.

3. I will reassure you that you are not alone as many times that you need and at all hours of the day.

4. I will love you no matter what. We are all broken in different ways. This is not said to minimize your problems because each person's problems are real to them. This is said to remind you that you can't shake me.

5. I will cut you some slack on the bad days. I will tell you that it's okay if you ate two pints of ice cream or skipped class. I will let you use me as a punching bag if it is too much.

6. I will never tell you to calm down or that your feelings are not valid. Those things aren't helpful, and I know how difficult it is to hear them. Sometimes we just think the same things over and over again because our brains aren't rational.

7. I will do my best to make you laugh in the hard moments. After all, laughter is the best way to kill the boggart.

8. I will take care of you if you need me to. In any way. All you have to do is ask, and if I know that you are struggling I will send you a text to check in. I will help to support you or find someone to support you when you cannot stand on your own.

9. I will hold you when you are scared of uncertainty or just to be alive. You can always count on me for a hug even if you don't want to tell me what is going on.

10. I promise that you are safe here. Your vulnerability will not be taken advantage of. I will sit with you through panic attacks or anything else that you are struggling with. I will hold your hand at the doctor's office. I will proofread your emails to your professors.I know the world is a scary place, full of judgement and triggers, but here, on our metaphorical island, you are safe with me and with all of our misfit toys.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Small Victories and Freedoms: Parshat BeShallach

This parsha is a famous one. We cross the Red Sea and rejoice that God has brought us out of Egypt and drowned the Egyptians with their horses who were pursuing us. But I want to pull three things out of this very famous portion that is only really known in broad strokes around Passover: carrying those who have passed away with us, God's guidance, and joy.

At the beginning of the portion, when the Israelites are preparing to leave Egypt, Moses takes Joseph's bones out of the ground so that Joseph can leave Egypt with his people as it was meant to be from the oath that he swore. And we can take our ancestors and those we have lost with us as well. There's a quote, from Harry Potter, of course, that says that the "ones who love us never really leave us, you can always find them," so whether you believe that those we have loved and lost are looking down on us from some sort of afterlife or if they are held in our hearts and in our actions and in the love that we give others, as Moses took Joseph's bones, the core essence of him, with the Israelites as they left slavery, we can take those people with us as we march, as we love, and as we live our every day lives.

Second, in a world that seems a little bit messy (okay, maybe a little is a tad bit of an understatement),  it's hard to think about God guiding us in a simple way as God does in this parsha. God "goes before" them as a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night, so that the Israelites never lose their way in the wilderness. There doesn't seem to be so much of a guiding cloud or light at this moment, so I think we have to find that guidance in ourselves, in our prayers, in our friends, our mentors. I know that for me, many of the people I look up to have been my guiding pillars: they have shown me that it is possible to go the way that I want to go coming from the place I was afraid would close that door. So maybe God is showing Godself by guiding us, we just aren't looking for it in the right place. In my opinion, we should be looking for God in each other because after all, aren't we all made in the image of God?

A few weeks ago, a few days before the inauguration of our 45th president, I watched a video that was entitled Joy is a form of Protest, made by a lovely Youtuber who was struggling, as many of us are, to figure out how to take care of ourselves in this new world, and this parsha, especially the Song of the Sea, Shirat HaYam, reminded me of this idea of joy. Joy seems pretty hard to find these days. Turn on any news network, open any social media feed, it's all bad news, but I think we need to start looking for the joy, looking for the small Yitziot Mitzrayim, exoduses from Egypt. Celebrating the small victories like finishing a paper or helping a friend with a problem or getting to spend Shabbat free of all the bad news and just celebrating with those around us. I don't know if we are going to get an Exodus on the scale of the Torah anytime soon, all I know is that we have to try to find some joy while we fight for freedom.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Yad Vashem, Har Herzl, and How We Think About Memory

Human memories are not always the most accurate. We idealize the past often, but we also sometimes tend to horrorize it, especially those times that are times of tragedy. On one of our last days in Israel, we went to Yad Vashem, the Israeli Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem which triggered a longer train of thought for me: How do we remember the Holocaust (or other deaths or tragedies for that matter) without forgetting to celebrate life? One of the things that I like about The Kaddish Yatom, the Mourner's Kaddish, is that it does not mention death. Instead, it is all about celebrating life and praising God for life.

And that's what I learned in the first room of Yad Vashem. We need to remember that the people who were killed in this horrific tragedy were people just like you and me. They had their own cultures, music, food, tradition, and relationships. They are not the bodies found at Auschwitz or the emaciated  people in the camps. We collectively decide what we want to remember about these people. Most Holocaust museums show more of the death and less of the life, and I don't know how I feel about that.

Later that same afternoon, we visited Har Herzl, Israel's military cemetery which, at the top of the hill, the Har, has the grave of Theodore Herzl, a man who was incredibly significant in the imagining of the state of Israel. But as one walks down the hill, passing the graves of past prime ministers, one comes to the graves of the ordinary people who were killed in battle, and there are a lot of them, and more and more are added. Sometimes, when we are not confronted with these kind of things, instead of with just the numbers on a page. Only we forget about the complexity of the lives of every single person. I just think we should think long and hard about who and what we remember and why. And we must not forget to remember not only those in our own lives, but those who are in danger of being forgotten.