Sunday, November 27, 2016

Fighting On With Mindfulness

“According to this screening from the health center,” I said to my roommate, “I am not only at risk of an eating disorder, but I show traits of depression, anxiety and suicide.” Even though USC health center’s online self-assessment screenings don't give actual diagnoses, I honestly wasn’t that surprised at my result. I’ve dealt with most of these issues since I was in middle school. My roommate’s reply, however, surprised me. “Well yeah, but everyone struggles with that these days.” It wasn’t that I was surprised that college students struggle with their mental health like I do. Earlier this year USA Today put together a brief look on college mental health, reporting that nearly half of college students have had feelings of hopelessness and cited an assessment from the American College Health Association that most students who struggle with mental health do not seek treatment. With more mental health articles and anecdotes circulating our feeds, as well as places like USC that provide resources, departments and even events centered on mental well-being, it seems that awareness of the issue is removing the stigma of struggling with mental health. But what surprised me that night was how my roommate’s bluntness. If I didn’t already know that my roommate genuinely cares about me, I would have said they were rudely dismissive. To that end, is it possible that in raising awareness of mental health on college campuses we are also normalizing it to the point where people will become dismissive on the issue? It seems counterproductive that for all the articles and Youtube videos that work to normalize mental illness among American adults, there is a possibility that this might backfire and make people have a “meh, what can you do?” approach to the issue. And to the mainstream’s credit, the only time I’ve ever felt this type of dismissiveness was with my roommate...and Internet commenters denying that mental illness in this country is even a real issue at all. With one in five American adults struggling with mental illness in a given year, we as a country can’t afford to be dismissive of those people if we genuinely care about the well-being of all who live here. That might be easy for me to say as a person who has spent much of her college career getting a handle on her mental health, but helping people with mental health issues and placing more research on this topic are worthy endeavors. The point isn’t to coddle, but rather to help people learn how to get through their day-to-day despite also handling life’s lowest moments. Normalizing mental health in to the point of dismissiveness would, in the end, just undermine the work of those trying to remove its stigma.

Bring Honor To Us All

With many of my Asian American friends excited over the live-action Mulan movie, I've thought lately of the risk Mulan took for the sake of her elderly father. While I didn't save China this semester, my family has taken up much of my time and energy this semester.

In general, I feel like all cultures place family love/loyalty pretty high in terms of values. From a rural Filipino perspective, I sometimes feel like it is all that consumes our culture. Even though my mom is a single parent and we are from a low socio-economic class, she fights for my grandmother to stay in States, where she can take care of her and get the medicine she needs. My mom will also do everything in her power to send clothes, food and money to our relatives in the Philippines.

“They are family,” she would lecture me growing up, “You have to take care of family.”

But for all the ways the value of family has been pounded into me, I already placed myself along with her perceptions of bratty American children in the sense that I was constantly talking back to her when I was younger. But as the years go by, one of my mom’s fears is that I would I would put her in a senior home, which she thinks is one of the worst things Americans can to do their relatives.

According to the Institute on Aging, the number of people aged 65+ will peak in 2030, by composing about 20% of the American population, and the older a person becomes in the United States, the more likely they will be to live alone. U.S. News' Rachel Koning Beals addressed in 2012 whether senior citizens should live with their families, the number of multigenerational homes (grandparents, parents, kids, some extended family), but as more Baby Boomers reach the age of retirement, the issue hasn't gone away over the past four years.

One of Beals' most interesting points is that no matter how welcoming younger generations might be to older generations, some homes are not equipped to deal with certain needs of elderly people. For instance, tiny details such as the height of a toilet or bathub or the amount of space can vastly effect how well an elderly person can live day to day. Also, even though this makes me feel guilty to mention, there's a financial burden on the "middle generation" who has to attend to the elderly as well as the younger generations who cannot support themselves financially.

I've kept some of these thoughts in mind when my grandmother’s health took to dangerous lows this semester. Part of me began to think that being in a senior home might be best for my grandmother. It's difficult for her to get into a car, so she doesn't always go with us to visit family friends. My mom and I are both busy with responsibilities and my grandmother is often alone during the day. This semester I took time from classes and even my internship to do my part in helping my family and helping my grandmother with her needs, but (I feel guilty for saying this) I’m not going to be able to do this forever.

And what happens when my mom is in this position when she's my grandmother's age? I'm not a superwoman like my mom; I doubt my abilities to balance being a parent, employee, community member and caregiver.

And yet, as Judith Graham wrote for the New York Times, loneliness comes with age. It seems to me that in this country at least, we easily write off the elderly like Carl Fredricksen from Pixar's "Up." Seeing how much family is ingrained in Filipino culture, the idea of my grandmother and my mother developing a sense of anti-socialness and disconnect in this country makes me really sad.

In the end for me, repeated messages are too strong. My grandmother and my mother have sacrificed much in their lives, and they deserve to feel loved in their final years. I have faith that I'm at least smart enough to figure out the balancing thing when I'm older. I am far from being the ideal Filipino child, but in honoring the lives of two women who have made me who I am, I know my choice.

Family first.

No Safe Spaces For Echo Chambers

“So the election,” my openly conservative professor remarked during class, “Did all of your friends go to their safe spaces and participate in their protests? They’re totally wasting their time, by the way. Thank God USC isn’t like one of those schools, I can’t stand it.”
I had to take a few deep breaths.
My community involvement often places me in touch with ethnic and activist communities,  and so I hear the word “safe space” get thrown around a lot, usually when addressing topics that could be “triggering” to certain people. The base idea of having a safe space is for someone to be able to voice their opinions, find comfort and support and rest from triggering environments that could take a toll on a person’s mental health.
As a women of color who is a friend to members of various marginalized groups, I absolutely believe that safe spaces ought to exist. They are places where people find support they wouldn’t find anywhere else, support might be vital to a person’s well-being. At the same time, my views on safe spaces come with an asterisk.
And that asterisk is that for the sake of having open discussions across the political spectrum, the protection of safe spaces cannot be taken too far. Last year student reporter Tim Tai at the University of Missouri was harrassed by protesters who were calling for the resignation of now former President Timothy M. Wolfe. To them, having a member of the press record photographs of where they set their base camps was a violation of their safe space, since to them “it’s typically white media who don’t understand the importance of respecting black spaces." 

But the fact that the reporter was also a person of color didn't matter as activists yelled and physically pushed him in his attempt to do his job.

Just a few months before the incident, President Obama already put his two cents on college safe spaces:

I don’t agree that you, when you become students at colleges, have to be coddled and protected from different points of view. I think you should be able to — anybody who comes to speak to you and you disagree with, you should have an argument with ‘em. But you shouldn’t silence them by saying, "You can’t come because I'm too sensitive to hear what you have to say." That’s not the way we learn either.
I'm inclined to disagree that the true point of safe spaces is to coddle people, but I do agree with Obama in the sense that people need to learn from each other through debate and open conversation. But perhaps that one extreme incident at Mizzou was a taste of the political polizarization and close-mindedness often seen in this election. Zealous people who take safe spaces to the extreme are dangerous because they encourage an environment that causes people to be rooted in their opinions. In the end, they will not bother to listen to differing opinions.

As author and Youtuber John Green said in a video after the election results, "I'm sorry that we've let our echo chambers become so sealed off that it is as unfathomable to me why someone would support Donald Trump for president as it is for many Trump supporters why I would support Hillary Clinton."

As members of marginalized groups reach out to their safe spaces in light of Trump’s presidency to mourn and to figure out how to cope with the future it is important that people don’t get too preoccupied with only people who reaffirm their viewpoints.
In order to prevent Trump’s administration and the upcoming Congress from setting the country back 50 years, people NEED to be able to talk to people with other viewpoints and be willing to acknowledge one’s biases and even flaws in their own arguments. As I scrolled through my feeds post-election, my heart hurt for people whom I felt have more to fear from a Trump presidency than I do right now. At the same time, I also felt fear reading posts from friends who refuse to have any association with a Trump supporter “because you clearly have no regard for my well-being and for the issues I stand for.”

There is a time and place for support, but it’s important to remember that echo chambers go both ways. The election reavealed that the country is politically polarized enough. Safe spaces should not be a safe space for close-mindedness.

On Being A Health Nut

One of my newest toys is a $140 Fitbit. As an active person, I’m pretty in love with the fact that I can use my fitbit to help me keep accountable for my workouts, since I usually get a little lazy towards the end. Yet the cheapskate in me is still asking, “You already walk 10,000 steps a day AND you workout six days a week. Did you really have to buy this?”

My parents voiced aloud something similar: “You’re already thin. Why do you want to lose weight?”

But me buying the Fitbit wasn't about losing pounds. It was part of me trying to be healthy in a healthy way.

Over on the Lil Policy Bunny Blog, she made herself open as she addressed her past eating disorder as part of a larger conversation about how easy it can be for body parts-such as cleavage-can be desirable and not desirable like fashion trends. I mentioned on her post that while I never had an eating disorder, I was dangerously close to having one.

One cannot live in Los Angeles and be active on social media channels without getting at least a little caught up in the ideal of a healthy lifestyle. There are god knows how many diets out there and god knows how many fitness articles/blogs/gurus that give conflicting advice. And it really doesn’t help when I feel like most of my classmates can just pay their student debt with part-time modeling gigs.

These tiny aspects of my surroundings were built into my subconscious on the day I couldn’t get through a high-intensity Zumba class despite the fact that my 60-year-old mother didn’t even need a break. After that day I obsessed over my diet, exercised to the point where I was doing damage to my body, and had a strong sense of failure if my weight wasn’t going down a few ounces every day.

My goal was to be healthy and to be as physically fit as possible...but I mistook that in order to reach my healthiest state of being, I needed to be thin.

But healthy is actually NOT always the equivalent of thin. Time addressed this about two years ago and used an example of a 19-year-old woman who was 5’3 and 117 pounds. While this kind of physique would be viewed as healthy by many people, the woman was actually diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes when she was 16. And, as the article went on to discuss, people who are naturally thin can still be obese.

People like this have what Italian researchers from the University of Tor Vergata termed Normal Weight Obesity Syndrome. While BMI is the most-used indicator of health, it does not indicate how much lean muscle mass a person has; much like a person’s weight, BMI doesn’t tell the whole story.

I know I’ve leaned on Youtube way too much for my blogs, but I can’t resist slipping this video in where Buzzfeed staff learned something interesting about how different BMI can look:

So just like how media’s portrayal of beauty needs to stop valuing skinniness, media’s portrayal of healthiness needs to send a message, especially to women, that being skinny is NOT the same as being healthy.

As more conversations on body positivity and anecdotes of survivors of eating disorders become even more accessible via workshops and the Internet, hopefully future generations will be able to subscribe to better views on physical health. I’m just happy that as I use my Fitbit for my workouts, I’m finally focusing on my physical abilities as my main indicator of my health rather than a number on a scale.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Eulogy For The 2016 Election Coverage

As the country erupts in Internet flame wars (and sometimes actual flames on a pinata), people wait in dread as the day to Donald Trump’s inauguration counts down. But as mainstream news organizations use new storytelling techniques to cover the aftermath of the election--such as using Facebook Live to stream protest rallies and marches--this writer cannot help but mourn the election results for another reason.

Trump’s election indicates that the mainstream media lost much of its sway over the public.

Many of the major outlets endorsed Clinton which may have been proof to Trump supporters that the mainstream was inherently against their candidate, which doesn’t help when nearly every other headline mentions something about Trump and his supporters to the point where the public is desensitized. In this regard, the best aspect of the Internet is also its most crippling fault, that thing being the wealth of information available. 

It’s in a society’s best interest, after all, to have a marketplace of ideas. By encouraging a mass exchange of different information, opinion and arguments, the best ideas can shine through to guide decision-making that ranges from whom to put on the school board to whether the country should take military action. 

But as the country becomes more politically polarized, yet politically desensitized, the media and commentators struggled between objectively informing the country as per journalistic duty but also emphasizing the dangers of a Trump administration. Seeing how much effort the media put towards running negative headlines about Trump from the mid-primaries onward, it’s frightening how little impact it now seems to have had over those who voted for Trump.

At the same time, it can be difficult to persuade a person to overcome certain judgments and fears, to the point where one’s logic and reasoning is more often used to confirm biases rather than actively looking for evidence contradicting a person’s initial beliefs. A person, therefore, can claim to have spent hours researching and reading information on the Internet, but it’s not any good if the person is only receiving information from one source, or from a few sources that politically lean a certain way.
The danger of the Internet is that in the modern marketplace of ideas, social media feeds and selective Google searches make it easier for a person to receive information that leans one way or another. We are living in an era where a person’s media literacy is great if they receive news from a liberal outlet and a conservative outlet, let alone actively trying to critically and objectively analyze the messages of either one. This era of weakened trust in mainstream outlets and in poor media literacy is troubling considering that Balkan teenagers can run pro-Trump websites full of inaccurate or misleading information that nevertheless generates hundreds of thousands of engagements on social media.
As the country protests and braces itself for a Trump presidency, so too should mainstream media. Not only has the election highlighted the people’s distrust, but also shown that a polarized electorate is steadfast to sources that align with their own biases, regardless of reliability. The fourth estate is meant to be an institution that stands between politicians and the greater interest of the public. But as we watch live-streams of protests around the country, however, we witness what happens when the fourth estate fails to engage the majority of the electorate.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Less Than One: Quick Thoughts on Finding Love in L.A.

It's Halloween and almost everyone and their mother are carving pumpkins, creating last-minute costumes and, for college students, finding one way or another to get drunk at a bar or a house party. Let's be real; at this point of the election season, there isn't much left to shock or scare many people anymore, save for the results of election day. But there's been something that's been on my mind lately and I think I'm ready to talk about it: Love. Specifically, romantic love.

Normal people might say this post would be more suited for Valentine's Day, but this is actually a fitting time for me. The world of dating and relationships is one of the things I fear the most. 

There are many personal reasons why it's difficult for me to commit I've been having self-reflections for a number of personal reasons, but the most interesting one was an email. I was part of a group that sat in on a TV screening as part of a fundraiser, and that same company took my information and sent a casting call for singles in Los Angeles:
"Are you single and over the dating scene in Los Angeles? Are you tired of spending all of your time messaging on dating apps when you could be meeting someone face to face? 
Do you sometimes wish you could find out right away if you and another person have true physical chemistry?
Step outside of the box and be a part of an exhilarating dating experience!"

Let the record show that I'm so terrible at dating that I actually considered applying. And that's the thing: why did I consider applying? I don't need to date a person. I can barely cook chicken without drying it out, I'm currently searching for job options after I graduate from USC and I already have more than enough family and chosen family who love me despite my issues.

But it seems to me the part of the reason why I considered it is the same reason why millions watch episodes of inebriated young adults on Bachelor or why anyone gets a Tinder or shares articles from The New York Times' "Modern Love" series.

We are all in the pursuit of love. And unless we're in satisfying relationships already, we're all on the struggle bus.

I'm not saying that trying to find a partner is all that consumes my life, or that singles who are perfectly fine with being single are actually lonely. But we've all been at the point where we realized that love is more complicated than finding mutual attraction (and even then, getting to that point can be complicated, too.)

There are all sorts of reasons listed on the Internet as to why dating among people in my generation sucks. New means of communication--dating apps, social media platforms and instant messaging included--is usually listed as a big reason. This topic was even explored in a Buzzfeed video:

Everyone has read some form or another of why dating sucks for people of my generation, but it turns out that but turns out that dating in Los Angeles in general can actually suck, too. L.A. dating coach Damona Hoffman attributes part of it to the personality of people who live in the city, where "it’s nearly impossible to determine if someone likes you or if they are more into your money and connections." (A quote that, incidentally, reminded me of a friend whose Tinder date turned into a mentoring session in the accounting field.)

I suppose this makes sense in some part. Los Angeles is a place where people come to live out their dreams, and trying to make your dreams a reality in a city with a high cost of living is a lot of work without throwing hookup and dating culture into the mix. Add that with modern fear of looking too desperate, clingy or "creepy," and I'm personally on the verge of giving up hope.

According to this website, there are about 4,435 people who are "perfect" for me in Los Angeles. And in Pasadena, which is closer to my hometown, there are 175 people. The website doesn't exactly account for things such as whether those people are gay or if they prefer to date people who graduated from Ivy Leagues, but it's still interesting to think about; there's no such thing as a real soul mate because there are multiple people out there who would be "perfect."

Except, in actual relationships nothing is perfect. The kind of marriages that last 60 years and get talked about in the news all give advice along the lines of how having a great relationship is about being able to constantly work at it. Relationships must grow along with the people in them, or so I've heard, and people must work around or through each other's differences. I guess my issue and the issue with all of my friends is that we're too individualistic and conflicting in terms of our deal breakers. Can't be a Trump Republican, can't have too much control over the relationship but has to plan all the dates, can't be too nice but also can't be an asshole...

Perhaps this is just a Twenties thing and I'll feel differently about dating when I'm older. But, for now, where I am in my life, it's just one complicated thing that I really would rather not deal with.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

The John Oliver Effect

(Democracy Chronicals/Creative Commons)
One of my guilty pleasures is curling up with my laptop or phone and binge watching episodes of Last Week Tonight With John Oliver. There is something about him that I instantly like; maybe it's the British accent or his glasses. It looks like I'm not alone in liking him, either. Even though the show is only two years old, 4.6 million people tuned in to watch his show every week in 2015, according to an HBO press release. The show's Youtube channel alone has 4,185,191 subscribers with 902,822,519 million views.

And maybe that's the beauty of it. When it comes to late-night talk show hosts, interviews with celebrities, comedy bits and performances are just as important to the shows as the host's own commentary and content--both satirical and serious--on social issues and current events. News satire shows such as The Daily News Show with Jon Stewart  and The Colbert Report had already popularized the genre before HBO started airing Oliver’s show each Sunday, but Oliver--who was a writer and occaisional stand-in host for Stewart--has gained some celebrity in his own right based on the content of his shows.

“Comedians mock our cultural and political institutions on TV all the time.” Victor Luckerson wrote in an article for TIME, “But it’s not every day that a comic’s jokes crash a government website or directly inspire legislators to push for new laws.”

The typical Last Week Tonight episode goes as follows. Oliver recaps the week, laced with snarky jokes and humor (example). Then Oliver delves into the main part of the show that focuses on a particular issue such as the death penalty, the legitimacy of scientific studies and doping. Although the topics Oliver focuses on are sometimes grim and controversial, Oliver still manages to bring sketches, jokes and analogies that tastefully lighten the mood and dispels negative emotion through laughter.

One example of this was in Oliver’s opening moments of a segment on abortion, in which he addressed Americans who were against abortion under all circumstances, “Frankly, you are excused from watching the rest of this, but do rejoin us at 11:29 because once I’m done talking about this we’ll all be watching a video featuring a bucket of sloths and I promise you it is almost violently delightful.”

During the segment Oliver ran soundbites and referenced stories about the difficulties of state abortion laws, many of which were meant to invoke a sense of sadness or anger as a way to persuade viewers on paying attention to abortion policy issues going on in the country. Yet, not only did Oliver mock politicians for their policies, he delivered on his promise at the end of the show by showing the sloth video and showing a real sloth in the studio.

Humor has always been used to give social commentary (“Never speak disrespectfully of society, Algernon,” Lady Augusta Blackwell chided in Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, “Only people who cannot get into it do that”). The humorous appeals Oliver makes to offset the tension or heavy emotion in his segments might be a bit ridiculous, but that just makes Oliver seem that more appealing. He’s able to appear like he knows the issues and his sense of humor lightens the mood and makes audiences more open to what he has to say.

With that in mind, having such a command over his audience has led to what Luckerson called “The John Oliver Effect.” This effect was felt when the FCC website servers crashed after Oliver urged them to engage with the regulatory body regarding net neutrality. About two days after Oliver criticized Miss America Organization assertion that it is the largest provder of scholarships for women, one of the organizations John Oliver mentioned, the Society of Women Engineers, received $25,000 in donations. When Oliver established his own church to exploit how easy it is for televagelists to take money from people, he received $70,000 from “church-member” contributions that he ultimately donated to Doctors Without Borders. Luckerson also attributes Oliver’s segment on civil forefeiture as the reason why Attorney General Eric Holder would enact limitations on the law.

Even though Oliver’s show is news satire, the reach and impact of some of his shows--such as where he roasted Trump and “Donald Drumpf” became a popular search term--is the kind that many journalists aspire to have. Many of the segments on his show are well-researched, as well; according to NPR he has four researchers on his team with journalism backgrounds.

But as Oliver said himself in that same piece, he has a firm opinion on whether his work can actually be considered journalism:

No. There's a pretty simple answer to that. No, it is not. No, we are a comedy show so everything we do is in pursuit of comedy. ... It's confusing to me somehow the fact that this is often the line of questioning. ... It almost makes me feel like, when people say: "This is journalism," it almost makes me feel like: Am I a terrible comedian? ... Is it like looking at a sculptor and saying: "Well it's not art, so are you trying to build a wall? What exactly are you working on here?"

As a journalism major, I don’t consider his work as journalism in the traditional sense, where many of his presentations, it can be argued, are skewed with a liberal bias. I do, however, know that what journalism looks like changes all the time (in the old days, for instance, a journalist would write “this reporter” when referencing himself or herself, but today it’s acceptable to use “I” and “me”). Perhaps Oliver's brand of comedy will become an acceptable way of receiving the news, especially now that newspapers are undergoing massive changes...and much for the worse.

But while his work isn’t traditional journalism, it seems to me that Oliver’s show puts a slightly higher emphasis on “news” in “news satire” than some of his contemporaries. Instead of merely reacting to the week’s news cycle, Oliver delves into issues and hosts a show that gives at least the impression of being extremely well-researched. And regardless of Oliver’s intentions, the result of mixing an in-depth look at journalism with humor makes people more open to taking in the information and reacting to it--which they are, to the tune of millions each week.

Perhaps I should take a class on how to be a comedian. “The Carreon Effect” has a nice ring to it.