Coming to a Close

© Kylee Parks 2016
© Kylee Parks 2016

Summer sauntered. Autumn arrived. Winter wept.

So…it’s been a while. While I want to write regularly, it’s difficult to find the motivation to shout into the void (particularly when I post on Twitter instead). But as the end of the year draws near, I think perhaps I’d like to document my midnight thoughts.

I finished my fall semester with an A in each of my classes and what I hope are interesting term papers. My doctoral applications have been submitted (save one) but I still need to work on my summer research application. I’m currently fielding conference invitations to share the research that I am neglecting in order to finish the chapter manuscript due at the end of this month. I have one semester left of my program before I am officially considered a “Master.” Hopefully I know where my future leads by the time I graduate.

Sewing is at a standstill. I have numerous unfinished costumes and yet I continue to come up with new ideas and projects. Sometimes I imagine that a dedicated craft space would result in more finished work but more likely it would mean an even larger fabric stash and more half-sewn garments.

At the beginning of the year, I gave myself a fairly modest Goodreads challenge and I’m happy to report that I read more than my anticipated goal of twenty books. As of right now, my count is 37 books (though three are textbooks I did not finish but of which I read a great deal). I read fifteen collections of poetry and am especially fond of the wise words in Lang Leav’s The Universe of Us. There are seven books in-progress, two of which were nearly finished for my medieval literature class. Currently stacked on my desk are seven books I hopeto finish before my next semester begins. They are as follows (in no particular order):

  • The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis (in progress)
  • Horse Latitudes by Paul Muldoon (in progress)
  • Fixing English by Anne Curzan (in progress)
  • How to Read a Poem (And Fall in Love with Poetry) by Edward Hirsch (in progress)
  • Four Romances of England edited by Herzman, Drake, and Salisbury (only dear Bevis left to be read)
  • Insular Romance by Susan Crane (briefly skimmed)
  • Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur (not yet started)

Of course, I’m also reading A Storm of Swords and I wholeheartedly blame my sudden interest in A Song of Ice and Fire on Game of Thrones Book Club with Practical Folks. If you haven’t yet seen any episodes, there’s a special guest on AGOT episodes eight and nine (hint: it’s me).

I travelled frequently this year, primarily to Seattle but I also explored Portland, Orlando, and more of my home: southern California. While in Florida, Kylee shot a fine art series titled “Whispering” which can be seen in full at Colfox Photography. The featured image at the top of this post is from that series and I am always blown away by Kylee’s work.

I hope to put together a chapbook of my own poetry next year, featuring what I consider my best works of recent years. I’m caught between spatial experimentation in my newer works and the emotional weight of my older ones. Hopefully working on a small collection will help me to bring that distance together. I’m slowly becoming more comfortable sharing my poems because, while sharing my poetry is hard, pretending I don’t want to is harder.

I have little else to say and I have started most of these sentences with “I” so, as it is now nearing the end of the midnight hour, good night.

On Becoming a Scholar-Fan

As my final for one of my M.A. classes, I opted to do a research project about cosplay. During my research project, I found Tanya Cochran’s dissertation “Toward a Rhetoric of Scholar-Fandom” and it spoke to me.

In her prologue, she shares her personal history and development as a fan and a scholar, which I found particularly helpful to better understand myself:

Can an academic feel “at home”? I mean, feel so at home that there is no distinction in her mind between public and private, no difference between what she does and who she is, even if what she does is write and teach in academia and who she is is a Christian, a woman, a scholar, a feminist, and a fan? (11)

I share all of Dr. Cochran’s labeled identities, though I would add medievalist and cosplayer to the mix. What does it mean to be all of these things and is there a way to synthesize these facets of myself in order to better understand myself as a whole, singular identity, rather than the sum of parts?

As I move forward as a cosplayer and an academic, I’m going to look for ways to meld the two since I am but one person with many varied interests. I want to feel at home as any of my identities in all of my interests. I hope to share my work as a scholar-fan, applying my academic skills to my fandom life.

I’m still working my way through her dissertation because, as a burgeoning scholar-fan, I want to read the whole thing. I’m still thinking about the ways that I can speak authoritatively as a negotiator between was Jacqueline Jones Royster calls “contact zones.” And, perhaps most excitingly, I’m looking forward to the ways I will participate in fandom as an academic and in academia as a fan.

Works Cited
Cochran, Tanya R., “Toward a Rhetoric of Scholar-Fandom.” Dissertation, Georgia State University, 2009.
Royster, Jacqueline Jones. “When the First Voice You Hear Is Not Your Own.” The Norton Book of Composition Studies. Ed. Susan Miller. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2009. 1117-1127. Print.

An Open Challenge to Cosplay Audiences

I’ve seen a few people talking about their discontent with cosplayers who do choose to put their bodies on display. While I’m sympathetic to the frustration of talented seamstresses being overlooked in order to favor “sexy cosplay,” I’m not comfortable placing any blame on the cosplayers themselves. Sex sells – unfortunately. Instead of pointing fingers at cosplayers who are comfortable with showing off their bodies and/or may not care about more elaborate costumes, we should consider our audiences and the consumers who lavish attention on the “sexy stuff.” The impetus is not on the cosplayer to change or censor themselves. While I have personal reasons for choosing to not do “sexy cosplay” and I like to see elaborate craftsmanship rather than lingerie shoots, I will no longer fault cosplayers who choose to do “sexy cosplay.”

If you are frustrated with the proliferation of “sexy cosplay” and would like to see more craftsmanship, I encourage you to feature cosplayers you admire. Kylee of Colfox Cosplay & Photography suggested this to me last week and I think it’s a magnificent idea. For the record, this is something that @PrincessBilbo on Instagram has been doing regularly and I perk up every time I see her feature posts! Sam Skyler will be starting a new cosplay positivity art series this week and I can’t wait to see what she does. You can also read through Ginny Di’s post about new cosplay blood and check out the new feature page, Up & Coming Cosplay.

Now, for my own part in promoting amazing cosplay craftsmanship, here are three cosplayers whose skills I greatly admire (in alphabetical order). Share a cosplayer whose work you admire in the comments so I can check them out!

I’ve been following Ginny Di since she did the Doctor Who Regeneration Carol with Matt Eleven. Her Arya Stark costume is impeccable and her One-a-Day-Cosplay week was so fun to watch! Find her on Twitter and Instagram @itsginnydi and see her perform with Geekiarchy.

ginny
Ginny’s 2015 cosplays, shared on Facebook.

I recently found Major Sam on Instagram, but she’s also on Facebook (which I just found out). I love her progress documentation and she makes hats! She makes hats!! Her detail work inspires the hell out of me and I really really want to see her costumes in person one day.

sam
Three of Sam’s works, shared on Facebook.

Jennifer of Tangled Threads Designs primarily does commissions but she has a closet full of phenomenal Disney princess dresses! I’ve known Jen for over 10 years and it has been an honor to watch her skills develop since then. Find her on Instagram @aurorahermione.

jen
Commissions Jen made in 2015, shared on Facebook and Instagram.

One Month Left

There are only four weeks left in the semester and I’m starting to feel the crunch. I’ve yet to begin the final project for my Linguistics course. There’s a rather large pile of articles and books for me to read, which will support the yet-to-be-started final project for my Rhetoric and Composition course. Next week, I’ll receive the prompts for the final essays in my Critical Theory course. Meanwhile, I haven’t worked on my AEME assignments since January and I’ve done very little sewing aside from a half-finished corset and 15 hours of hand beading trim for a dress.

My midterm essays for my critical theory class were returned this week. I wrote about reader-response theory for one and Leo Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Ilych for the other. They received an A and A-, respectively. While I’m more than content with my grades, I do wonder about the purpose of an A-. What does that minus sign signify?

Over the past two weeks, I also presented at two academic conferences. I took a shortened version of my analysis of the Pardoner from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales to CSU Long Beach. The next week, I cut down my paper on Virginia Woolf’s Jacob’s Room for presentation at CSU Northridge, my home school. Both conferences were vastly enjoyable for me and I look forward to future conference presentations.

12930984_222237874808214_804646058_n 12940189_1703990286550177_586927600_n

I’ll be presenting an original research project (the aforementioned rhet/comp final project) this summer at Anime Expo‘s Anime and Manga Studies Symposium. I have my primary argument and a stockpile of articles, books, and dissertations to read. I just need to find the time to read them, write my analysis, and prepare the web portion before it’s due in May. Oh, and prepare the AX presentation component (but I’m going to worry about that part after the semester ends).

There are four weeks left in the semester. Wish me luck.

Thinking Through Cos-Politics

Photo credit (left to right): Ed Litfin / Zipdodah, KNP Photo / Colfox Cosplay & Photography, Craig's Cosplay Corral, KNP Photo / Colfox Cosplay & Photography.
Photo credit (left to right): Zipdodah, Colfox Cosplay & Photography, Craig’s Cosplay Corral, Colfox Cosplay & Photography.

I’ve been cosplaying and attending conventions for over ten years. Sewing is a way for me to release stress and I’ve been able to meet some absolutely wonderful people through this hobby. But it isn’t always pretty and it isn’t always fun.

To be blunt, the cosplay community (at least in southern California, where I’m from) can be vitriolic, spiteful, and filled with people who thrive on putting others down. I’ve experienced both sides: being hated and being hateful. Neither is healthy and it’s important that cosplayers (especially those who have amassed any kind of following) participate in the conversation so these behaviors can change. In the past few years, the community has shifted from a place where you can meet like-minded people and build friendships to a competition where too many people hope to attain “cosfame” to the detriment of others.

There has been a growth of conversation around cos-positivity and cosplay bullying – rightfully so. But I’ve also noticed that some of the people promoting cos-positivity are precisely those who also perpetuate cosplay bullying, shaming culture, and a hostile environment for both fans and creators.

Anastasia cosplay by Caitlin. Photo by Geri Kramer
Photo credit: Geri Kramer

This is not endemic of cosplayers but rather of the systemic competition, gender politics, and overall power inequalities in modern society. When we think about the classroom, the workplace, and even some family dynamics, there is always-already a culture of competition even among ‘equals.’ From my personal experiences, there’s little room for actual collaboration that does not result in something that benefits one party over the other(s).

In the cosplay community, it seems to me that collaboration doesn’t occur among friends. Instead group cosplays or collaborative projects become more of a business transaction: if you do this with me, it will help grow your brand. Now, there’s nothing wrong with that kind of interaction, as long as everyone involved knows. People want the ‘A,’ the promotion, the parent’s favoritism, but no one wants to admit when it causes them to belittle and degrade their peers, colleagues, or siblings. And, within the cosplay community, many who want prestige and fame have a tendency to seek it out to the denigration of others.

This happens all over the place. I didn’t watch Heroes of Cosplay but I’ve heard that the SyFy cosplay reality series focused on the competitive aspect of the craft. And, as a reality series, the show likely manufactured drama among cosplayers, highlighting animosity among the community (an animosity that seems to be running rampant now). Similarly, costume competitions are gaining attention at conventions. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to showcase your craft but that isn’t the only reason to attend a convention. When I started attending cons, they were more like a geeky meet and greet than a catwalk. Exhibit hall, artist alley, various panels, game rooms, etc. are all part of con life. Making cons only about showing off your cosplay means that you miss out on so much. More and more cosplayers want to be guests of honor and cosplay competition judges without recognizing how detrimental that can be to the community. The connotations behind the word “judge” are enough to wreak havoc.

Additionally, too often we start to think “Well, mine will be better” or “So-and-so did it better so why should I even bother?” Of course we should bother because it’s not about being the best – it’s about doing something you love.

I’ve been on both sides of this equation. I’ve been part of an “in group” that criticizes other cosplayers out of jealousy and anger. I regret the ways I engaged in privately criticizing other cosplayers because it seemed like it was the thing to do. I regret the ways that I allowed myself to be pressured into contributing to this negative environment. It isn’t healthy and it doesn’t belong in this community.

mer
Photo credit: Estrada.

I’ve likewise been the object of antagonism, accused of using my friends for whatever they can give me in some desperate attempt to amass fame. I’ve been cosplaying for over ten years and, at this point in my life, I don’t care about having a following. That’s not why I cosplay. If you like my work, great. If you don’t, that’s great too.

You may be thinking “Okay Caitlin, so what do we do?” That’s a great question. How can we change behavior within the cosplay community? We start by changing our own behaviors – both within cosplay and within other social groups. We have to point out when our friends and acquaintances are perpetuating a cycle of toxic attitudes. We have to be willing to say “this isn’t okay” right next to “here’s how we change it.”

I’m ready to see something shift. I’m ready to promote cos-positivity while acknowledging the fact that I used to participate in the negative snickering about people my friends didn’t like. I don’t want this community to be a place of hostility, antagonism, and competition anymore. Do you?

ss
Photo credit: Colfox Cosplay & Photography

No Apologies Tonight

knp8
Taken by KNP Photography, February 2016.

I know it’s been quiet here. I don’t have much to say right now. I have a lot of ideas and partially written posts but I just don’t feel the energy to do anything. I haven’t worked on my midterm papers for my classes. I haven’t contributed to the research project I’m working on with my professor. I haven’t prepped either of the conference presentations coming up in a few weeks.

This week was my spring break – a much needed pause from the hectic whirlwind of my graduate life. I should have used that time to complete my rather long list of course-related projects as well as a variety of personal projects. But I didn’t. I just didn’t.

And I don’t feel bad about it. Well, I don’t feel bad about it today. I probably will tomorrow. And the day after that. And the day after that too. I imagine that my own procrastination will loom over me until the end of the semester.

But today, I don’t feel bad. I needed the rest. I needed to be able to mentally check out and let myself be carried through the week without worrying about due dates.

I’m worn out. I’m exhausted and beaten down and worn out. For once, I don’t want to apologize for it. Tomorrow I probably will but not tonight.


Currently listening to Devin Sinha’s album, Our Past and Present Futures.

Super Tuesday

super Tuesday

super NƎʬŚ day

predictions of what’s yet to come

the number of delegates won

a terrifying reminder of this country’s unkinder

P̸ₒlitiᵓianṨ̸

P̸ₒlitiᵓianṨ̸                                                                                             shuns wons guns

shuddering                                            I’m shuddering

as the delegates climb,

I’m watching my civil liberties d̸iꭍap͜pεaꝶ

—D—I—S—A—P—P—E—A—R—

please ᴰɨᶳάᴘᴾƐᵃɌ

‖ the election is coming and I want to disappear ‖

 

written on March 9, 2016 in response to the Super Tuesday results

Getting Grammatical

If I haven’t already mentioned it, I’m taking a class on Rhetoric and Composition Theory for my Masters. We’re looking at the conversation between historical rhetorical studies and composition studies, which are both entirely out of my comfort zone. My emphasis is literature (specifically, medieval) so forging my way through rhetoric and composition isn’t exactly easy. To be honest, reading composition theory can sometimes more challenging than reading literary theory (but only sometimes).

This week, my professor paired Patrick Hartwell’s 1985 “Grammar, Grammars, and the Teaching of Grammar” with our readings on Renaissance rhetoric. While I haven’t yet drawn the connection between the two, I was intrigued by Hartwell’s article (and way more than Peter Ramus and Francis Bacon combined).

Since I’m also taking a course on linguistics right now, this article spoke to the ideas of that course, not only in the “Grammar 1” and “Grammar 2” sections, but also in the general idea that formal grammar education is less helpful than we think it. I loved Hartwell’s point about “redefining error,” since I think that’s indicative of most grammatical issues. Most of the time, I can’t recite specific grammar rules because I never really learned them explicitly. I learned through acquisition and internalization. Besides, my linguistics professor says that prescriptive rules aren’t really worth their weight and I’m inclined to agree.

While I’m sure that I did receive formal training, I never did sentence diagramming or the likes. Sure, maybe my writing is weaker because of it but I don’t feel that I’m a poorer writer as a result of never diagramming. Maybe I can’t toss out the terminology but I can pretty much work out how a sentence works without having that terminology. And is that a bad thing, really?

Ideally, I would hope that my students can likewise internalize grammar rather than recite by rote. As my I prepare lesson plans for a beginning composition class full of non-native English speakers, I’m hesitant to use rigid rules or complex worksheets. If I can’t explain it in my own terminology and have to rely entirely on unfamiliar words, I can’t help them learn. And I want to help them learn. I don’t really have a good idea for how to do just that, so I’m definitely welcoming suggestions.

On Being “Smart Enough”

I’m a graduate student and usually that just means I’m pursuing an additional degree specialization beyond a standard B.A. But some days it means that I’m reanalyzing my view of myself and adjusting my expectations of my intelligence in accordance with my peers.

I’m in my second of four semesters pursuing a Masters of English Literature at a local state university. With three grad level courses per semester, my academic muscles get the practice they’ve been sorely lacking since I finished undergrad. I’m pursuing research opportunities, teaching supplemental composition classes, and reading an endless list of CFPs.

But more than that, I’m dismantling the idea that I am “not-(       )-enough.” A few weeks ago, I submitted an abstract to a nearby academic conference. The paper I proposed is one that I wrote three years ago and, more likely than not, need to rewrite in the time preceding the conference. I received an invitation to present at this conference yesterday morning and I was floored. It’s not that I expected to be accepted, but that I expected to not be accepted. I was viewing myself as clearly not-(articulate, intelligent, accomplished, etc.)-enough to be accepted to an academic conference. Except that I am.

I’m just beginning to come to terms with what graduate school means about my identity. I’m still navigating the reality of the fact that, not only did I get into a graduate program (technically two, if you count the acceptance to Claremont Graduate University that I turned down two years ago), but I am capable of living a life of academic rigor. And not every day is an easy day. But today, with my first invitation to present at an academic conference, I feel like I am meant for this.

Some days are better than others and I know that there will be days where I feel overwhelmed, unimportant, and unworthy. On those days where I begin to think that I am not-enough, I hope that I can also remember the ways in which I am.

 

(re)Discovering a Penchant for Poetry

I don’t think of myself as a creative writer. Every so often, I take out my leather bound journal (a gift from my mentor) and scrawl out whatever seems to fit the occasion. My poetry is rarely shared, predominantly because I don’t feel that it’s very good. And I’m right because most of it is garbage.

In 2014, my friend Grace and I were discussing poetry (and specifically my poetic voice):

C: I’m jumbled words and half-formed thoughts that resist form and convention.
G: You have a voice and it’s yours and no one else can tell you what it is or whose rules to follow in speaking it (or writing it).

Still, two years later, I don’t often share much of what I’ve written. While I know that Grace is right to say no one but me gets to decide my own voice, I feel compelled to fit my works into the grander tradition of “good poetry.” In comparison, my words are juvenile, poorly written, and, above all else, extremely personal. I’m not comfortable unveiling the vulnerable words inspired by my emotions.

But I started writing poetry again. What I didn’t realize is how my newer poetry is far more representative of what I told Grace two years ago than my older works. This poetry absolutely resists form and convention. Experimental. Frenetic. Volatile. When I’ve shared these works, people are interested even when they don’t understand.

For the first time, I don’t feel like I’m competing with other poets, both living and dead. I don’t feel like I’m trying to make my words fit into some idea of what poetry ought to be. I’m just writing what I want to write and I like it.

Even though it’s still my words and my feelings, the experimental style feels more detached. I’m not afraid of sounding foolish or childish anymore, just in sharing something interesting. Of course, trying to explain exactly what makes these poems more interesting to me is incredibly difficult to do without actually sharing said poems, but they’re still in the editing process.

For now, I’ll share with you a favorite line from a poem I’m working on, so you can get a sense of why feels so weird to me:

˜̴̴s̸ta˛̸ti̅Ci̸ty˘