Optimism, Pessimism, and Zac Efron: Pen Pal Letter #8

We all end up the same way.

To Whom It May Concern:

My writing always has to have a message. That message most often is “Life is terrible. Be optimistic about it.”

Honestly, that tracks with my personal life. I’ve been described as an “optimistic pessimist” before and when asked for clarification that person said “You’re a pessimist but you’re really happy about it.”

That kind of makes me sound like I’m happy that bad things happen. That is not the case (or is at least a very limited way of understanding my feelings on the matter).

A few months ago, I watched the show Down to Earth with Zac Efron. It’s not good. Not only do the dynamics between Efron and his cohost, Darin Olien, appear a little icy, but there are a ton of inaccurate or unproven claims made about health and wellness. Not only that, but the show presents itself as an optimistic and helpful piece of media, but is truly a depiction of nihilism. There are many times when the show highlights social issues like food insecurity and then just moves on without making a thesis statement about them, leaving the audience with an idea of the problem without any ideas of how to solve it.

I loved every second of watching it.

Obviously, it has some redeeming qualities. Efron is fun and funny and energetic. Some of the guests are quite charming. Still, I would say that the bad in the show far outweighed the good. That said, I didn’t hate-watch it with derision. I did so with a lot of happiness.

The first YouTube video I ever saw from Jenny Nicholson was her review of the movie Beastly. I’m not sure what compelled me to click it at the time. I’ve never seen Beastly nor have I ever felt any desire to see it. Nonetheless, when it popped up as a suggested video, I moved my little curser over the thumbnail for the video, and I clicked.

The thing that I loved so much for that video was Nicholson’s enthusiasm as she described the terrible qualities of the film. I had seen other video essays about and film critiques of objectively bad movies, but they either had a tone of irritation toward the film and its creators or they had an echo of nostalgia like “look at this bad film I used to like before I had taste”. Her video had neither. It was just pure joy at watching and enjoying something not in spite of its flaws but because of them. There is good in the bad. It all just depends on perspective.

I don’t make value judgments on the optimist, pessimist or realist outlooks. No matter how we see the world, we all end up the same way. What I mean by that is that we all will fantasize about Zac Efron at some point in time.

When I feel like I am just writing the same thing over and over again, I try to remember that the thing I keep reiterating is the framework through which I view the world. I don’t know why I hold this point of view, nor do I think it’s good or bad. It is just what I have arrived at after my years of living so far. It’s something that is bound to come up over and over as I look at everything that did happen, everything that is happening, and everything that could happen. I’m still trying to figure out myself and to figure out the world. I am a poet after all. And those current thoughts and that struggle are worth telling y’all about.

Wishing you all the best.

Sincerely,

Joy


Photo by Artem Beliaikin from Pexels

How to Clickbait: Pen Pal Letter #6

Going to TACKLE a new subject.

To Whom It May Concern:

How to clickbait? For one, use this title.

As a longtime purveyor of the internet, I have spent quite a lot of time thinking about clickbait as a concept. Up until recently, I approached the topic mostly as a consumer, but over the past few years, I have had to reckon with it as a creator.

I was born at the tail end of the millennial generation, which means I had a childhood before social media was such a large part of life, but my teenage and adult years have been defined by its presence. Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter became widely used in the general population while I was in middle school. Instagram and Snapchat took off while I was in high school. There were so many things to consume online and my peers were creators.

I said my peers there because I didn’t have any social media accounts until I graduated high school. I don’t know if that’s a good or bad thing overall. I do know that some of the less-informed beliefs that I held as a teenager were never documented anywhere online, but my consumption of online media was still rather high.

I watched a ton of YouTube, for instance. And I watched YouTube at a time before the site cracked down on clickbait-y titles and thumbnails. It was not only common for video titles not to match their content, it was borderline expected. Honestly, that era of YouTube probably did more than anything else to desensitize me to clickbait. Once again, I am unsure whether I can make a judgement call on if that is a good or a bad thing. All I know is that I have a lot of skepticism when approaching content online, and that I still do sometimes click on things that draw me in with fascinating titles and images as if I am compelled to do so, though I know that I am being clickbaited while I’m doing it.

When it comes to producing content on the internet, each platform has its own method of getting discovered. With Twitter, it is hashtags and participating in prompts and trends. With Instagram, it is hashtags once again and vying to get featured, whether on an account that reposts content or on Instagram’s own Explore Page. With a blog or other type of website, it is SEO.

I’ve read a lot of articles about SEO, but I am far from an expert. Because most of the content I put online is creative writing, I pay little mind to what I have learned from those articles. In a lot of ways, it feels like those articles are suggesting clickbait in order to grow your blog, though I will admit that this is a gut reaction based on a huge oversimplification of what SEO is. Nevertheless, while I would love for as many people as possible to read and enjoy and engage with the things I write, the prospect of writing things in such a way to encourage that feels wrong.

Artistic integrity is a weird concept that I don’t have any stable views about. Each time I think that I have made up my mind about it, something happens or I am presented with new information that causes a shift in the way I think about it.

I have more information and thoughts on all of this than what I am choosing to say here, but I can’t give it all away in a single blog post! I have to milk this type of content for all that it’s worth to keep you coming back for more, right? And that’s neither clickbait or SEO, it’s an entirely different ploy to gain success in online writing. Like a cliffhanger, but with a capitalist intention. So that’s all I’ll say about any of this for now.

Wishing you all the best. I hope the title of this and the last paragraph don’t lead you to doubt my sincerity in that wish.

Sincerely,

Joy


Photo by Karolina Grabowska from Pexels

Reverse Planning New Years Resolutions: Pen Pal Letter #5

new years and resolutions

To Whom It May Concern:

I think the “New year, new me” mindset is rather silly, given the slim chances of sticking with any resolutions longer than just a few weeks. I say it about myself every year regardless.

In fact, I will take any chance I get to have a fresh start. It might be why I like mornings and sunrises so much. Every dawn washes away the dark from the night before and gives light in an unprecedented way. And with that light, we have a chance to right wrongs of the past, look to the future, but most importantly find elation in the moments of that day.

My resolution for 2022 is to document my life, which is just a slightly more complex version of what I already do. I already write in a journal semi-regularly. These “pen pal letters” already kind of read like diary entries. I do take pictures and videos, just not very often. And I save just about every paper scrap that contains evidence of activities, whether that is a map of a museum or a movie ticket or a wristband for a concert.

Specifically, I am going to be documenting my life in a memory keeping “planner” (which is to say that I will be using a planner for more or less the opposite of what its name implies). Each day, I can add any of those pieces of paper that I already keep. I can write. I can print out and glue down pictures to make it like a scrapbook. I don’t care if I make a mess and it looks entirely random by the end, provided that I document at least one thing from each day in there.

I really have to resist the urge to put additional resolutions on my list. I would like to be more active. I want to keep in better contact with family and friends. I have specific goals about writing that I would like to achieve. In a way, though, I think it is dramatically better to just have the one. For one thing, it gives me only one goal to focus on. For another, it will likely be attainable because, as I said, it is just an extension of things I already do. And lastly, I can still incorporate these other ideas into it. If I go on a hike or try a yoga class or something, I can make a note of it in the “planner”. If I have a nice phone call with a friend, I can write about it. If I hit a milestone in my writing, I can show it on the page. And if I don’t do these things as often as I would like, it doesn’t matter. I don’t have keep up any sort of streak. I just have to show pride in the days that I do complete them.

I doubt that I will show the pages of this “planner” anywhere online. With any luck, the contents of it will show a year of intensely personal memories that I want to reflect on with a select few people.

Regardless, this pen pal series is one that I plan to keep up. It’s my way as an intensely private person to show a little bit more of myself to you, and I have a lot of fun doing it.

I truly hope that this new year is treating you well. Wishing you resilience and peace.

Sincerely,

Joy


Photo by freestocks.org from Pexels

Image to Imagination: Pen Pal Letter #4

seeing things for what they are

To Whom It May Concern:

A picture is worth a thousand words, and I usually record a few hundred of them.

I am never more inspired to write than when I’m looking at things. And by that, I mean really seeing things for what they are. Seeing the longing on the faces of those strangers whose paths I cross on the sidewalk. Seeing the rain speckling my window and the way the blinds divide up that view. Seeing the stardust cascading to the ground as a meteor shoots overhead.

Okay, not all of those sights are true.

I would not claim to be a visual person. Sounds are far more likely to catch my attention than sights, but they don’t inspire me to write the way that images do. So much so that two pen pal letters in a row are all about pictures.

I was scrolling through Pexels once again this morning, and poetic snippets kept coming to me one after another. These snippets have yet to be fleshed out into full poems and there is no guarantee that the final poems that build themselves around those words, phrases, and lines will have anything to do with the pictures that originally inspired them, but they have their roots in those images nonetheless.

I went to an art museum yesterday. I didn’t go there for the art, I went for an event that they were having, but I stayed to look at some of the art anyway. Just three rooms total. I definitely would have liked to see more, but I was so tired or under-caffeinated or both and I really could not see myself being able to give the art the attention that it deserved.

So I left. Got some food. Came home. Spent a tired evening on the couch. And I finally went to bed.

Today, I woke up and found myself inspired by images, but none of that inspiration can fully make up for what I missed out on yesterday. What I miss out on every day when I am too tired or inattentive to really see the world around me.

What I write will never be complete, but then again, neither will any photograph. I can’t see the eyes light up and soften. A video isn’t really complete either. I can’t touch or taste or smell. Nor is an in-person view. I can never know the whole story.

But that doesn’t mean that these things are not worth capturing and worth saving.

I am but a saver of sights. And words are my medium.

Wishing you all the best.

Sincerely,

-Joy


photo by me

Free to Use Images and Inspiration: Pen Pal Letter #3

on beauty and happiness

To Whom It May Concern:

I don’t know if I have something to say so much as I just wanted an excuse to show that featured image.

The website Pexels has become my favorite free-to-use image site, possibly because of its front page. (Side note: I also like Pixabay and Unsplash if I can’t find what I’m looking for on Pexels.).

On that front page of Pexels, some number of curators have selected several images that users have uploaded to the site and ordered those pictures so that the page appears to be like a color gradient. As I scroll through, I admire that pretty gradient, and I save any of the pictures that really speak to me by clicking on the little heart icons. Which is to say that I save most of the pictures I see there because I am truly in awe of the job that they do curating as well as the level of talent of people who upload images to the site.

When I write, I usually start with an idea, then write the poem or piece of prose, and then choose a featured image based on that writing, but sometimes I am in a writing mood but find myself fresh out of ideas. In cases like those, I scroll through my collection of likes on Pexels to see if anything triggers my creativity. It was on one of those occasions that I saw the picture you can see at the top of this post for the second time, and by saw, I mean really saw.

On my first glance when I liked and saved the picture, I admired the aesthetic of it: the hues of brown, the way the sunlight falls across the objects in slats. It fit into that gradient of curated images beautifully.

On my second glance, I realized what the objects were. What is an egg doing on top of a brush? And what’s with the other egg beside the brush? Why is there also a flower and a thistle? In what world would this pile of objects just naturally occur?

I love the image more and not less after this realization. It’s such an odd collection of things, but it is still incredibly aesthetically appealing.

I care about aesthetics. I care about the arrangement of things. I care about the colors. I even care about the visual textures that things have.

There is a certain stigma to aesthetic for aesthetic’s sake. Some parts of society will say that a pursuit of beauty is vapid and silly (even while other parts of society demand it).

I don’t buy that argument. There is something so natural in craving to surround oneself in visual beauty. There is no wonder that humans started plucking flowers and bringing them into our own homes to gradually wilt in vases of water however long ago that started happening. And while it’s true that time spent seeking out pretty things can be allocated to other tasks, it is difficult to rank these tasks on value, especially when considering the delight that visually appealing things bring. Going out of our way to do something that makes us happy is itself beautiful and human.

More than all of that, I just like aesthetic visuals, okay. I like pretty dresses, I like shiny jewelry, and I like that random collection of beige items that are shown in the image.

There is almost no way that I will just happen to write something where that image is the perfect fit, so yes, as I said at the beginning, I wrote this letter to no one in particular just to have a place to feature it. I hope no one in particular likes it as much as I do.

Wishing you all the best.

Sincerely,

Joy


Photo by Valera Evane from Pexels

How to Argue with a Cat: Pen Pal Letter #2

losing arguments

To Whom It May Concern:

I keep losing arguments with one of the cats.

We have a fundamental disagreement about where she should be allowed to go. I believe that the presence of 4 separate cat trees in the apartment (mind you, only 2 cats live here) should more than make up for the fact that she is not allowed to go certain places where she could be destructive or get hurt. She believes that she should be allowed to go everywhere. She’s very persuasive, but don’t you dare take her side.

She does like to give herself away. For example, she likes to jump on top of the counters (where she is not allowed to go) to yell at me in protest of not being allowed to go on top of the fridge (where she is doubly not allowed to go). “Baby girl,” I’ll reply, “there is absolutely no way that I am going to move stuff off the top of the fridge to give you a space to jump up there, considering that we don’t want you up there whatsoever. Because to get to the fridge, you have to jump on the counter and we don’t want your paws going where we have to do food prep. So get down now.”

She screams again, talking back. I spray her with some water, and she jumps down and runs away.

I don’t like spraying the water at the cats, but I’m 80% sure she understands what I just said to her and she is just being unreasonable and defiant. I’m also 80% sure that her brother does not understand any English beyond one of his nicknames, and I don’t think that should even really count because he doesn’t know his actual name. We’ve stopped using his actual name, in fact, because he has never responded to it. Not once. But he occasionally responds to the nickname. I’m getting distracted. What I meant is that he doesn’t understand any other method of communication than the spray bottle for bad behavior and pets for good behavior.

I’ve taken to making a batch of cold brew about once a week. I keep the coffee canister up on the fridge, since it’s the only thing that can block the space where the cabinets overhang the shelf, and the cats will notice the space and jump onto the counters to get to it if it is not blocked. I must have pushed the canister too far back this time when I put it away, because that argumentative cat did in fact jump up into that space. She screamed in victory, giving herself away. Then she screamed more because she wanted access to the top of the cabinets (where she is triply not allowed to go).

She got sprayed in response and the contents on the fridge got readjusted.

Maybe I ultimately won, but resorting to violence (at least that’s what she feels I did) shouldn’t really count as winning. So I’ll take the defeat. That one was a cat victory, one of many. And now I have to clean the counters.

Wishing you all the best.

Sincerely,

Joy


Photo by Charlotte May from Pexels

Impulse Purchases and Confusion: Pen Pal Letter #1

That’s not entirely true.

To Whom It May Concern:

So I impulse bought another plant. Two in fact.

That’s not entirely true. I bought grow kits for a thyme plant and a rosemary plant, so I essentially bought pre-plants. And dirt. Dirt that leaked out somehow and got on the jeans that I also impulse bought. What I’m trying to say is that I took a trip to Target.

I do kind of need the jeans, though. I promise that my impulse purchases are measured.

Well, most of them. I don’t need the pre-plants. I will use the pre-plants once they become plants, but I don’t need them. They are more to fulfill my dreams of homesteading, even while I live in this apartment, and also to fill in the gaps of my herb collection, which previously consisted only of basil and mint (if you don’t count the lavender that I killed through negligence before it even flowered). (I promise that I am not as terrible of a plant parent as that previous parenthetical might make it sound. Or maybe I am.)

The other day, I took a walk around my neighborhood. The times I had done it before, I stuck to my secluded little space, but this time I wanted to venture further. There is a crosswalk with traffic signals and everything out on the main road, so I had assumed this meant that there was plenty of sidewalk to be found beyond that point. This is not the case, not even close. It went on for maybe 30 feet and then ended. I walked those 30 feet because I knew that the other side was even worse. I found where the sidewalk ends. Maybe one day, I’ll write a poetry book about it, unless, of course, that has already been done.

After those 30 feet, I turned around. I had taken the dog with me on this little adventure, and he was very confused, as was I. Why put in those crosswalk signs before there is anywhere for them to take you? It would be one thing if they were clearly preparing for sidewalk construction, but that is clearly not true. Not knowing where else to go, I walked the dog through a bit more of the area on my side of the main road and then took him home.

Later, I took a drive down that part of the main road, the direction away from the highway, the direction that I almost never go in. I was looking for sidewalk, to see if it started again anywhere near that crosswalk. What I was really looking for was the hope that my sidewalk issue is a problem that the city would undertake in the near future. That there is just a gap that will be filled shortly.

The sidewalk didn’t start again for a long while. So long, in fact, that I had stopped looking and was surprised when I spotted it. I continued to drive not looking for anything at all, found nothing more, and returned home.

I’m not sure what I’m looking for in life in general; I’m not sure if I’ll ever know, but sometimes I do find it in caring for plants. Confusing dogs can also be fulfilling.

Anyway, wish you all the best!

Sincerly,

Joy


Photo by Blue Bird from Pexels