Talking to Strangers (or, a blog post in which I unpack my vehement moral opposition to the selfie stick)

If you and I are connected in any way, shape, or form on social media, and you have posted a photo where you are non-ironically using a selfie stick, I have judged you.

UGH.

And I am utterly unrepentant about this fact.

Don’t get me wrong, I love a good selfie from time to time. Are you feeling your look? Post that mirror pic, girl. Have you been quietly going through a radical fitness transformation and you finally want the world to see? Please, let those abs loose! Goodness knows I need motivation to start doing planks on my own! I’m guilty of posting a selfie on a particularly good hair day, and I’ll be the first to admit that I love the vanity high that comes with seeing people like your photo. But, I do draw the line somewhere, and that somewhere is when you need to attach your phone to a three-foot projectile to take a picture.

Here are some occasions where selfie sticks are acceptable:

  • You are alone in the glacial tundra and you happen upon a friendly photogenic seal. Yay seals!
  • You are using your selfie stick for buoyancy to escape quicksand (that you presumably fell into while texting).
  • You are the sole surviving member of the human race and you wish to document the post-apocalyptic landscape for posterity.

If none of these situations apply to you, throw that thing in the trash and start talking to strangers.

Talking to strangers is one of my favorite activities. While our parents strongly advised against this practice in our youth, striking up a meaningful conversation with a random individual is one of the best skills we can have at this point in our lives. It’s more than just a great way to make new connections. It’s becoming a lost art.

A while ago, I asked a non-ironic selfie stick owner why they purchased what I can only view as a fishing pole for sad photographs, and they replied it’s easier to take a picture on their own rather than ask someone to do it. However, is it really that much easier? Language barriers aren’t an excuse – hand gestures tend to serve just fine. Most people aren’t bothered by taking thirty seconds to take a picture. At the end of the day, it has to do with the fact that we’ve gotten so comfortable with being inside our own spheres, and we’ve forgotten how to go outside of them.

When you are using a selfie stick, you’re literally putting a gap between yourself and the world around you. A 3-foot gap in the shape of a metal pole with your phone attached, to be precise. Holding up the selfie stick closes your universe – you’re flat-out refusing to acknowledge the other individuals who are in the moment with you, whether you know them or not. Although it’s easy to create your own personal bubble in a world teeming with other life, it’s really, really isolating.

Personally, I think we’d all be better people if we released our fears of interaction with the unknown and asked someone to take a photo for us. I’m of the belief that people are inherently good – and we’re depriving ourselves of understanding a vital element of humanity if we don’t seek to expand our boundaries. Let’s do better to push those parameters. Burst your comfort bubble. And please, put down the f#%&ing selfie stick.

Things I Learned From Writing About Porn and Not Having Facebook

Hey guys! How’ve you all been the past 2.5 months? I’ve been fabulous – just getting myself back into the swing of school, making friends, kicking ass, taking names, writing about porn.

Wait, what?

Yep, I’ve spent the semester (and past 9 months, really) writing about porn – but in the least sexy way possible. My law journal note is on steps that can be taken to amend the federal cyberstalking statute to encompass behavior typical of those who disseminate nonconsensual pornography…also known as revenge porn. It’s been a crazy process of writing and researching, but I finally finished it. As a result, I allowed myself to get back on Facebook. I honestly never thought either of those two things would actually happen, but lo and behold, here we are today.

Here’s what I learned in my two months of accumulating the most questionable browser history in Central New York and living the life of a social media hermit.

  1. NEVER SEND NUDE PICTURES. EVER. Seriously, nothing on the Internet is sacred and you don’t know who’s looking at your stuff and PEOPLE HACK PRIVATE PHOTO ALBUMS TO PUT THEM ON WEBSITES and oh my god I’m stopping this fear-mongering now because I know I’m going to get a ton of negative backlash about it. Basically though, keep your nudie pics to yourselves. It’s not that hard, kids.
  2. Not having Facebook makes some people look at you differently. One of the weird things about distancing yourself from one of the most ubiquitous social networks is that when a small segment of the population finds out you don’t have one, they immediately assume it’s because you think you’re better than them. Clearly, this isn’t the case, given that I have come crawling back to the Internet after less than a quarter of a year. Sorry that I’m weak.
  3. Eliminating Facebook means that you need to talk to people IN REAL LIFE! PEOPLE IN REAL LIFE ARE AWESOME, GUYS. Actually needing to text my friends to hang out means that the onus of making plans is on me, and then the plans actually happen. Whoa! Not being able to simply creep on someone’s profile page means that I need to pick up the phone and call them to hear about their life. It RULES!
  4. Deactivating my Facebook account did not make me more productive. I did not save the world during my Internet vacation. If nothing else, I simply found more ways to distract myself. Instead of reading whatever articles popped up on my Newsfeed, I spent time trolling RSS feeds, Pinterest, and Buzzfeed to get my fix. I also now have the most wonderful accumulation of items that I will never purchase in an Anthropologie online shopping basket. Procrastination can, and always will, find ways to manifest itself – even without Facebook.
  5. JSwipe requires that you have a Facebook profile. My mom tried to download this for me over break. Sorry, mom. I’m still not downloading it now that I have Facebook back though, nyah nyah.
  6. You don’t feel distant from your social circles. Maybe it’s because I had a couple of other things going on in my life when I deactivated, but I found myself being more outgoing and social once I got off the ‘Book. By not being constantly tethered to peoples’ status updates and posts, I was able to focus on my own immediate circle of friends, and I appreciated my interactions with them much more, and at a much deeper level.
  7. Only sixteen states have statutes that protect victims from revenge pornography. New York isn’t one of them, and the case law on the books doesn’t favor victims. THIS STUFF IS SCARY, PLEASE BE CAREFUL MY FRIENDS.

So, what did I learn from all this? That less is more, especially with digital profiles. If nothing else, I highly recommend deleting your Facebook for a month simply to get back in the habit of real-life conversations with old friends. It’s fantastic, and it gives you a deep intrinsic satisfaction that simply playing catch-up via chat can’t satisfy.

Also, for the love of god, don’t photograph your junk.

Hello, 2015.

Hello friends, hello internet, and hello 2015!

I fully own up to the fact that I fell off the grid during the second half of 2014. There were a great number of reasons for my lapse in blogging activity over the past few months (hello, most insane schedule of my life), but I’ve finally begun to re-ground and re-establish myself within my little corner of the universe. Life has a way of throwing everything and nothing at you all at once, and there’s something to be said of the beauty, chaos, and self-discovery that results from the calamity of everyday life.

With that said, though, I’ve resolved to reclaim my existence. And the first thing I’m doing is de-cluttering.

2014 was a year of accumulation. I met a bevy of new people, gained a great deal of experience in my professional fields of choice, and decided to tack on a second degree to my existing graduate program. However, with all of these wonderful, beneficial additions to my everyday life, I acquired other things that have proven to be less-than-necessary. More social media. More negative self-talk. More unrealistic expectations. And much, MUCH more …stuff.

My days of living out of a backpack while traveling during my semester abroad in 2012, in addition to being the most fun string of city-hopping that I’ve ever done, taught me the joy of living with less. There’s undoubtedly something to be said about the paradox of choice, and I’ve found that a life with less superfluous stimuli and distraction is a way to provide an environment in which I thrive creatively, socially, and psychologically. I’m not talking about self-induced poverty or giving away all my worldly possessions – in fact, I’m discussing quite the opposite. Instead of focusing on quantity, I am choosing this year to focus on quality.

Basically, this year, I want to cut all the extraneous shit out of my life and focus on things that are necessary, things that I love, and cultivation of the things that fall into both of those categories. However, I’ve got to start somewhere, and that somewhere is here: the internet.

Starting on Monday, I’m going to deactivate my Facebook account. Facebook has become more burdensome than beneficial – it has allowed me to stalk the lives of people that I haven’t spoken to in 6+ years while simultaneously becoming more distant from those with whom I interact on a daily basis. My intention with deleting Facebook is to allow myself to have more communication and less observation, and hopefully be more mindful with my interactions with others. I’ll still be active on here, Twitter, and Instagram, though – I haven’t sworn off social media entirely!

This is going to be an interesting experiment, to say the least. We’ll see how this goes, but if nothing else, it’s worth a shot. Here’s to a new year with a lot less (while gaining a lot more).

In Defense of the “Party School”

On Monday, Princeton Review published the only thing that reminds us of their cultural relevance year after year – a series of lists that detail the rankings for colleges and universities in the United States. Each year, these lists purportedly proffer insight into the wide world of higher education institutions, and while doing so, set the media ablaze with changes in rankings and titles.

This year was no exception.

Syracuse University, the institution I’ve called home for the past year, was ranked as the nation’s foremost “party school.” My alma mater, The University of Delaware, rounded out the bottom of the list at #20.

I’m not going to lie, my first impulse was to be oddly proud of this ranking. I posted a status on Facebook that linked to Drake’s “Started From the Bottom,” and let the “likes” roll in. However, after it was pointed out to me that this ranking could potentially have severe reputational consequences, I took a step back and reconsidered whether or not I was still happy to have two prominent party schools on my resume.

After mulling it over for a day, I’ve decided that I’m proud to be attending law school and getting my master’s at the the best party school in America, and I’m ecstatic to have graduated from the 20th best place to rage.

Rather than curse the merry-makers and throw scornful glances upon the undergraduates who were surveyed in 2012 that created this newly minted rank of party-readiness, I’d like to consider that these institutions go by the motto of “work hard, play hard.” From my own personal experience, many individuals I met in college, including some of the smartest people I’ve ever encountered, were known to put on their party hats and let loose several days a week. For them, partying was a reward – their unwavering hard work and consequent academic success meant that they could take time for themselves by going out to the bar on a Wednesday, especially when they knew that they didn’t have to be in class until 2 p.m. the following day.

These individuals are, to this day, some of the most successful people I know. My friend who wouldn’t miss Tuesday night karaoke is in a prestigious rotation program at a financial institution. A former sorority president is working in D.C., and will probably end up being president of the country one day. One of my closest friends could give any party promoter a run for his money, and he just got a job in his dream field and is moving into NYC.

Just because you know how to have a good time does not mean that you don’t know how to hit the books. One’s ability to be a fun person is not in the least bit correlated with one’s ability to be an intellectual, educated, high-achieving member of society.

Furthermore, being a party school and being a highly-ranked academic institution are not mutually exclusive.

Syracuse University is widely regarded in the public opinion as a top school, and also snagged Princeton Review rankings this year for #4 best entrepreneurial program nationally and #2 best college newspaper. The University of Delaware was considered by Princeton Review as one of the best public value universities, one of the best schools in the Northeast, and as having the 12th most popular study abroad program in the nation.

Do those numbers sound like a bunch of slackers to you? Didn’t think so.

Additionally, let’s look at the (incredibly flawed) terminology and methods used in Princeton Review’s methods of social categorization.

Princeton Review labels schools as “jock schools” and “party schools,” a dichotomy with which I have a fundamental issue. Breaking that down further, Princeton Review uses the following categories:

  • Party Schools
  • Stone-Cold-Sober Schools
  • Birkenstock-Wearing, Tree-Hugging, Clove-Smoking Vegetarians
  • Future Rotarians and Daughters of the American Revolution
  • Jock Schools

These categorizations are marginalizing, stereotyped, and most importantly, not accurate. When you have a school with a population of more than 15,000 multifaceted and diverse individuals, not everyone is going to raise their “party school” flag as high as they can. Not everyone will aspire to be a “future Rotarian.”  Not everyone is going to be all-in when it comes to sports.

There’s really no true, accurate way to get a feel for a university through a ranking, especially when that ranking is based on the opinion of less than 150 students.

So, at the end of the day, I’ll proudly wear my Delaware blue and gold while holding onto my bundle of honors certificates. I’ll cheer for the Orange during basketball games with a beer in one hand and my legal practice manual in the other.

My schools are more than what we do on the weekends, and because of that, I’m not sorry for partying.  Given that the rankings are the epitome of arbitrary and sensationalized nonsense, nobody should be sorry, either.

 

Everything I’ve needed to know as a 20-something, I’ve learned from the Spice Girls

The Spice Girls’ first album, Spice, was a life-affirming, soul-pumping, beat-pounding thing of beauty. I memorized every lyric and every dance move to all 10 songs on that cassette. It was the soundtrack to my prepubescent days of feather boas and sparkly sunglasses, and remains one of my favorite albums to put on if I’m feeling like I need a throwback.

However, its meaning goes far beyond simple nostalgia and dance  parties.

JUST LOOK AT THOSE SHOES

After 12 years of public education, 4 years of higher education, and a year into law school, I have learned one thing and one thing only – the Spice Girls taught me everything that I’ve needed to know to survive my 20s thus far.

Here are the life lessons to be gained from each track:

 

1.  Wannabe

If you want my future,  forget my past 
If you wanna get with me, better make it fast

At some point in your semi-adult existence, you reach a point where your past becomes irrelevant and you get sick and tired of playing “the game.” You want a partner to take you as the fabulous creature you are, fully knowing that you come complete with a past and baggage, yet choosing to love you for those flaws regardless.

 

2.  Say You’ll Be There

Now you tell me that you’ve fallen in love,
Well I never ever thought that would be
This time you gotta take it easy throwing far too much emotion at me

Ah, the dreaded “friend-zone” – when one person in a friendship decides to take their feeling to another level, it can be an awkward situation for the one who doesn’t reciprocate. Tell ’em to take a few steps back and talk it out.

 
3.  2 Become 1

Be a little bit wiser baby, put it on, put it on, 
‘Cause tonight is the night when two become one

Wrap it up, kids. Baby Spice says it’s the smart thing to do, and the words of Baby Spice are the true gospel.

 
4. Love Thing

God help the mister, yeah God help the mister, 
That comes between me and my sisters

At this point in your life as a 20-something, you have at least one friend who is more family than some of your third-cousins-five-times-removed. They are your ride or die. They have been with you through every weird definitive moment that has rocked your world in recent history. They are superior over just about every other relationship that can be created. You don’t mess with them.

GIRL POWER, LOSERS.

 

5.  Last Time Lover

I wouldn’t tell just anybody about the fox that I’ve been chasing, 
He’s resistant not persistent, it didn’t stop me from homing in, 
‘Cause I’m choosy not a floozy, I get my hit and then I run with it 

Sometimes, it’s best to keep your mouth shut about your recent paramours and conquests, and it’s undoubtedly better to go for quality over quantity at this point in your life. At the very least, save the good stories for brunch.

 

 

6.  Mama

Mama I love you, Mama my friend, my friend 
I didn’t want to hear it then but I’m not ashamed to say it now, 
Every little thing you said and did was right for me

Every mother should get a paycheck bonus for successfully navigating their daughters through high school and college and turning them from hormonal messes into semi-functioning, mostly-competent adults. Your mom is your best friend and #1 champion, and as much as we hate to admit it, she’s always right. ALWAYS.

 

 

7.  Who Do You Think You Are?

You have got to reach on up, never lose your soul, 
You have got to reach on up, never lose control

First off, this song is totally underrated. Like, I want to hear this song on the dancefloor when I go out next weekend. Such quality.

Anyway, Mel C. is on point when she’s yelling at you to remain humble, even in the midst of massive success. You might be a superstar, but you’ve still got to prove your worth – even if doing so requires that you swing it and groove it.

 

8.  Something Kinda Funny

Happiness is just a state of your mind
Keep searching, who knows what you may find?
Rules are for fools, and fool’s paradise is hard to find

There’s no prescribed way to live your life, and finding your own happiness and bliss isn’t something that you can simply follow the rules to achieve. Strive for your own idea of well-being, and don’t allow negativity along the way keep you from establishing something legitimate and wonderful.
9.  Naked

Naked 
Nothing but a smile upon her face 
Naked

Being in various states of undress rules. I’m hesitant to reveal how much of my time at home is spent not wearing pants (it gives me a reason to invest in cute underwear, right?), but this song is about a girl owning up and finally being true to herself.

We should all do more of that, and by “that” I mean being honest with yourself and not wearing pants.
10.  If You Can’t Dance

If you can’t dance, if you can’t dance 
If you can’t dance, if you can’t dance 
If you can’t dance to this you can’t do nothing for me baby.

This might just be me, but I dance disco in my kitchen while making dinner every night. Dancing your way through life just makes everything a little better, and we should all aim to find someone whose two-step matches up with ours.

 

On punctuation and finishing the first year.

This long-overdue post began as a wide amalgamation of ideas pertaining to the end of my first year of law school. The growing number of discarded essays in my drafts folder is a testament to how scatterbrained I’ve been over these past few weeks with regard to the parts of my life that aren’t dedicated to deciphering the Constitution or the comprehension of future estates. However, after ten grueling months and several thousand cups of coffee, the first year of law school drew to a close two weeks ago.

There’s a lot of be said about finishing a year of an educational endeavor. In elementary school, the last days of class were periods at the ends of sentences, marking the finish line for small, important achievements. The last days in middle school were seen more as semicolons, linking several complete and brief clauses together, and the following September always seemed closer than it actually was. High school years were marked with exclamation points and the promise of a newfound freedom at the end of the paragraph. College years were marked with ellipses, allowing them to flow together into a train of thought that abruptly ended after four years.

Ending the first year of grad school, though, has been an entirely different experience. Ending the first year of grad school was a dash.

The New York Times states that the dash is a rare type of grammatical device that is hardly subject to the stringent rules that frustrate so many writers. The dash can be used as a pause, as a parenthetical, or to indicate a disjointed change in subject matter or tone. It provides a different type of feeling to a sentence and injects the words on a page with an urgency and life that a colon or set of parentheses simply can’t provide.

This past year has taken everything I’ve known to be true about myself – my future, my interests, my drive at its very core – and shaken those beliefs from their branches, simply to question them as to why they felt entitled to belong up there in the first place. It’s caused me to suddenly stop my normal flow, figure out my life in law school, and then resume my existence with newfound knowledge placed between two small horizontal lines.

The first year of law school was an abrupt and unexpected pause, parenthetical, and disjointed change in the previously seamless flow of my words on a page. It’s been one of the strangest, hardest experiences – but the one from which I’ve gained the most.

Not everything in life is going to be as predictable as a comma, as definite as a period, or as confusing as a semicolon. Not every ellipses leads to the completion of a thought. Sometimes, life throws you a curveball and puts a dash in your sentence – but, it’s there to clarify, elaborate, and change your direction for the better.

calm down, chicken little.

Everybody knows the story of Chicken Little. She goes around yelling that the sky is falling, gathers other people who believe her hearsay, and generally causes a ruckus. In actuality, an acorn fell on her head.

Chicken Little probably had a lot of issues and should have done some yoga or found a new shrink.

That aside, there’s something to be said for our frantic poultry friend. If you’ve spent any semblance of time on the internet over the past 3 years, you’ve undoubtedly encountered list-based articles or videos on websites such as Buzzfeed, Upworthy, and (to my marked dismay) Thought Catalog. Many of these “listicles” boast titles that are drenched in utter hyperbole, ranging from topics such as “15 best makeup tips” to “25 of the absolute greatest ways literally FREAKING EVER to spread peanut butter on toast.” Don’t get me wrong, they’re certainly entertaining, but sometimes the articles tend to take on a more bombastic and excessive tone.

If you find yourself taking it personally that you haven’t experienced “seven of the most epic ways that pizza has saved the world,” it might be time to pump the brakes.

Maintaining some semblance of rationality and perspective is often surprisingly difficult, and the feeling of minor life stressors encroaching upon your day-to-day existence can feel amplified if you lose sight of the bigger picture. When you have a lot going on, sometimes the added pressure of an unexpected small task – call it an acorn, if you will – can seem like an insurmountable obstacle. It’s easy to lose sight of the greater perspective, and the incessant bombardment of hyperbole on social media only increases the closed-universe feeling. Similar to how needlessly excessive some articles on Buzzfeed appear to be, our stress and difficulties lend themselves to unwarranted overstatement.

There’s a fine line between witty exaggeration and excessive use of hyperbole. While the first instance can be entertaining, the second instance creates a situation where everything is inflated – we’re placing too much credence in an acorn as a harbinger of imminent doom.

What we need to remember, though, is that the sky isn’t always falling.

Some things are truly worth creating a fuss about, but generally, you won’t be doing yourself any favors by amplifying the severity of a simple situation.  Take a step back and realize that everything is temporary.  Just like Chicken Little eventually realized she had gone a little too far by forecasting the end of days, sometimes you just need to pause for a moment and re-evaluate your situation.

Or, if that doesn’t work, you can always just waste some time on the internet instead.