Broadcast TV, and ‘Feel Good’ as TV Genre

For about the last year, I have been on a mission to watch (or catch up on) as many TV shows as I can fit into my schedule before I return to the 9-to-5 grind. As much as I love TV, it was impossible to keep up with any shows while I was in grad school. While it may sound silly, TV has always been an immensely important part of my life. It’s acted as my babysitter, teacher, friend, parent, and bad influence throughout my formative years. After two years of being almost completely separated from it, I’ve returned to it feeling overwhelmed and decidedly out of the loop.

Knowing that I couldn’t possibly watch all the shows I was being recommended or that I had missed out on, I dipped back into the TV universe by watching the shows that I knew would give me comfort. After two years of stress, anxiety, intense learning, and grading papers submitted by cranky 19-year-olds, I knew that the most intense interrogation room scene that I could handle would be on Brooklyn Nine-Nine. And that’s exactly where I went: the Mike Schur TV empire of Feel Good TV.

If you’re unfamiliar with Schur, he’s the writer, producer, and creator of some of the best, most heartwarming, and innovative sitcoms in the last decade, including The Office (US version), Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Parks and Recreation, and The Good Place. The guy is a machine. He pumps out gem after gem without missing a beat. What he’s done, in my opinion, is give broadcast television a fighting chance for becoming the home of the Feel Good TV genre.

There’s no doubt that broadcast TV cannot compete with streaming services and specialty channels to create cream-of-the-crop series. It just can’t. The constraints on broadcast channels in the US are simply far too tight. From having to deal with the FCC, to the demands of advertisers still relying on (woefully inaccurate) Nielsen ratings to decide which show is a success, to the preference of the majority of viewers for formulaic shows, broadcast TV series simply cannot air a Breaking Bad or a Game of Thrones or a Handmaid’s Tale. And it shouldn’t keep trying to fight a war it cannot win.

I think its future is in accepting the things it’s good at, which Mike Schur does so, so well. Why did people watch broadcast television at its height? Probably because it was like another family member or a welcome guest: always there with something to say, but never making too much of a ruckus. It brought comfort in the form of series where everything ultimately turns out okay, where the good guys always win, where laughs are shared, and where a strict schedule and episode formulas provide predictability that the real world rarely offers us. And that’s what Mike Schur’s shows do. They’re warm, optimistic, and comforting, while operating within the familiar sitcom formula and genre. His shows hug you like a new, yet cozy blanket. And to me, that’s broadcast television at its very finest.

Audiences never really tire of Feel Good TV,  as it’s remained popular despite the same formula being used. After all, how many shows can one name where we meet a lovable group of oddballs who get into squabbles or high jinks and by the end of the 30 minutes, we (and they) learn that they all love each other and everything will be okay? Be they families (Leave it to Beaver, Everybody Loves Raymond), or friends (Seinfeld, Friends, Will & Grace), or co-workers (The Office, 30 Rock, The Mary Tyler Moore Show), the premise is always the same. We know the drill. The stories are new, but not that new. And we like it that way.

Undoubtedly, the formula works. While HBO and Netflix and the like play around with new concepts and ideas about what a TV series can look like or how they can tell new stories in new ways, broadcast TV continues to give us the stuff that we know—beyond a shadow of a doubt—we will never tire of. It’s the difference between trying the cool new restaurant and coming home to eat your mother’s home cooking. One may be the best meal of your life, but the latter will always be something comforting that you know and love and want to come back to.

There is nothing wrong, necessarily, with playing it safe. And by that I don’t mean having the same group of white people complain about their middle class problems. I mean with accepting that certain TV series templates and formulas and story arcs—the kinds that broadcast TV has done a million times over—will remain popular because they provide nostalgic, predictable comfort in 21 or 43 minutes, with pre-designated breaks and always-welcome story resolutions . That’s broadcast TV at its best.

I’m not a person who believes that broadcast television will disappear because Millennials and Gen Z’ers don’t own TVs. The problem isn’t us not owning TVs (although cable prices are another topic altogether); the problem is broadcast networks failing to tap into that thing that makes their shows magical, which would motivate us to keep those TVs. In attempting to emulate specialty channels and streaming services within broadcast TV confines, networks play a losing game of giving us the lite version of the best TV shows out there.

As we know, TV is a mixture of business and art. The streaming service/specialty channel business models of delivering their services have allowed for the creation of shows that are—absolutely—art. Yes, the best TV shows are art and we appreciate them being so.  But art doesn’t necessarily make us feel good; it has a different purpose. Broadcast television is a business first, art second. Which means that it needs to be predictable, accessible, and to make its audiences feel good, so they return to watch next week. No, it’s not art, but making people feel good is also important.

It’s the difference between Veep and Parks and Recreation. Veep satirizes the personalities that are drawn to and engage in politics. It shows fumbling, bumbling, narcissistic, ambition-and-glory-driven public servants whose absolute last thought is the best interests of the people they serve. Veep doesn’t comfort us—it makes us laugh despite our discomfort. Parks and Recreation, although having a broadly similar premise and setup, accomplishes the opposite. It comforts us, it puts our faith back into a our public servants (because maybe, maybe our leader is a Knope rather than a Meyer), it spreads optimism for our collective (and governmental) future. I watch and love both for—clearly—different reasons. But both need to exist. And the latter could not exist without the unique affordances and constraints of broadcast television.

Until now, Feel Good TV has been exclusively the territory of broadcast networks. This may not remain true for long, however. Netflix has already come close with Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt by essentially copying (or staying true to) the broadcast TV formula. And Netflix did it not only really well, but also recognized people’s demand for the genre. Netflix has extensively promoted the show, making sure that audiences and critics alike would not miss it. Why broadcast networks don’t give their own Feel Good TV gems (like Brooklyn Nine-Nine, The Good Place, Superstore, and the like) the same kind of attention, promotion, and dedication can only be explained by broadcast network execs not recognizing that what they have are gems. And this failure to recognize what you have, is what may very well soon bite the broadcasters. Because while they may be the “home” of Feel Good TV now, there is little stopping television creators from finding greener pastures.


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What Your Favourite TV Show Says About You is a Lie

Today is back to school time, which for many will mean answering everyone’s favourite get-to-know-you questions that usually start with “What’s your favourite _______” I can still hear the sad sighs escape my fellow students’ mouths when the teacher began the first class of the semester this way.

As a student I always dreaded being asked my name, a fun fact about me, and what my favourite book/movie/TV show is. Here’s the thing: I’m a student, there are no fun facts about me. And how dare you make me scavenge through the whole of my short life in 30 seconds, only to face the fact that nothing of note comes to mind?

If the fun facts question brings on existential despair, the “What’s your favourite _____” question rocks your very identity. Here you are in a room full of strangers who are silently judging you and you have to pick out one item of popular media that you not only truly like but that also best reflects your personality, isn’t in any way embarrassing, can safely put you into a clique of like-minded people who may or may not become your lifelong friends, and will not raise any follow-up questions. The last element is especially important because you may be quick enough to come up with an answer to what your favourite “thing” is, but I’ve yet to hear anyone successfully answer what the plot is of that movie/book/TV show on the spot. After all, that kind of pressure wipes our brains clean and a fumbling, bumbling, stammering explanation of the plot of Community is about as good for your rep as saying Jersey Shore.

When people ask why book X is your favourite, they’re usually waiting for you to explain its crazy awesome plot or super fantastic characters. For me though, neither of these things are what will necessarily make book or show X my favourite. I’m a voracious reader and TV watcher. I consume dozens upon dozens of stories every year. Even repeated viewings or readings make it hard to remember plot or character details. And that has never particularly been why I enjoy stories, whatever medium they come in. For me, the plot, the characters, the style of execution are important in the moment, to facilitate enjoyment. But they are not what leaves a lasting impression on me, nor are they the elements that can secure the book/movie/show a spot on my favourites list.

There are so many more elements to the experience of reading a book or watching a movie, aren’t there? There’s a reason why we endlessly search for the perfect nook when a book can be read literally anywhere and why we still go to a movie theatre with our date when we could watch a movie in the comfort of our homes. We attach meaning to the experience of consuming a story and oftentimes it is just as important as the actual story. It is that experience, the significance that I attach to that story, that ultimately helps me with that favourites list.

I can pick up any book on my shelf and remember how and when I got it (or who got it for me), why I chose to read it, the emotions it inspired while reading it, which season it was and where I sat, whether I read it quickly or slowly savoured every page… I only remember bits and pieces of Nabokov’s Lolita, but I remember my high school friends giving it to me for my birthday when I thought everyone had forgotten. It makes me think of summer heatwaves and melancholy and a genuinely surprising and hearwarming moment that my friends had gifted me. I read The Bell Jar when I was feeling really low and needed to feel a soul connection with a semi-fictional character whose pain exceeded my own, but who reminded me that the jar can lift and reveal a world and beauty beyond it. I read Love in the Time of the Cholera on the subway; it was the last book I read before I quit my first grown-up job. It is the only book that made me tear up in public, during rush hour no less, and I’m still not sure if it was because of Marquez’s heartbreaking, sensual writing or because finishing that book also signaled the end of a major period in my life. I know I loved the book. I cannot remember its plot.

I also cannot remember the plot line of every episode of Gilmore Girls, but the show always makes me feel cozy and nostalgic and ready for fall. And when I play Arrested Development, I enjoy the jokes but also remembering introducing my partner to the show when we first started dating. Breaking Bad may be considered one of the greatest TV shows in history, and while I could see that just about every element of the show is technically perfect, I didn’t enjoy it. It didn’t make me feel something beyond it, regardless of how good it objectively is.

Ultimately I don’t think any of us really choose our favourite anything because it’s objectively the best, most perfect piece of something. We are drawn to certain books and movies and music and foods and places (and on and on) because they capture a feeling that we long to recreate over and over. That feeling may truly be triggered by the plot of a book. Or it may be triggered by a character(ization) or relationship in a TV show. Or the unmistakable voice of the author, colour palette chosen by the cinematographer, chord progression played by a musician, a scene (described through whichever sensory tool) that you recognize having experienced in this life or another… Or it may be that this thing you watch/read/listen/taste over and over simply reminds you of a moment when you knew that this is what life is all about. An aha moment of experiencing a universal Truth that only this thing you love can sire. The moment of eating a medeleine dipped in tea, if we’re going to get poetic.

I don’t know if our reasons necessarily have to be shared on your first day of class or first date or ever, if you don’t want to. But those reasons why we love X/Y/Z reveal who we are so much better than the answer itself. And unfortunately it’s usually the answer, not the reasons, that make the lasting impression. It is for this reason that I think deep down we all know that that dumb “what’s your favourite _____” get-to-know-you question is not a get-to-know-you question at all, and why we all quietly groan when we hear it.


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Netflix Canada raising prices, to serve you kinda the same

A couple days ago Netflix announced that it would be raising its subscription prices in Canada, causing a collective groan in my native land. The company’s reasoning was, the usual “to serve you better” spiel you get when you’re about to pay more for the same services. Because, really, has Canada ever received anything but the short end of the stick when it comes to access to media content?

Netflix gave two vague justifications for the move, neither which is a particularly strong. The first reason noted was that the service is currently aggressively investing in original programming, so if you want the really good stuff you’re gonna have to pony up the cash to get it. At face value, it makes sense. In the last few years, Netflix has helped produce some incredible original movies, shows, and miniseries. I’d pay twice the Netflix subscription price to watch The Master of None alone.*


But think about it for a second. One of the biggest complaints that Canadians have with Netflix Canada is that we get only a fraction of the content that Americans do for the same price. Actually, given the different dollar rate, we’re technically paying more for less content. As Canadians we know why that is because media companies having been telling us their reasons enthusiastically and for a very long time. We’re a relatively small market with fairly tough regulations on foreign content yada yada yada. This translates to the fact that generally speaking, it’s too much of a headache and too expensive for a media company like Netflix to provide Canadians with a comparable amount of content. We’ve learned to live with it.**

The same reasoning though should then be used by Netflix not to raise our subscription prices, no? We are, after all, a small market. How big of a dent can we put into the production of another Netflix show, let alone support Netflix’s ambitious original programming route? If we begin paying more for slightly more content (although, at this point we haven’t been promised to receive more content but to contribute to the financing of the production of more content), but still receive significantly less content than our American neighbours, what about this arrangement is fair to Canadians? Netflix is simultaneously treating Canadians as both a significant market (we’re soooo important to help support content production) but also an insignificant one (we’re not important enough to receive the same value for the prices we’re asked to pay). I think Canadians will agree with me that we’ll accept it if Netflix treats us either way, but Netflix has to pick a way because we’re nice, not stupid.

The second argument they gave doesn’t hold much water either. After years of being met with one of those “This content is not available in your region” errors every time I want to view a show or even a clip of one, more streaming services (CBS All Access is one) are finally entering the Canadian market. And in the true spirit of capitalist competition, they’re driving prices down. No. That’s a lie. According to Netflix, competition is actually driving prices up.*** Apparently, as more competitors enter the Canadian market, they are fighting more over content and driving prices up on it. And users are the lucky ducks that get to foot the bill. At least, that’s what Netflix is saying.


Photo by Christopher Katsarov

To buy this argument we’d have to completely overlook a number of issues. One is that in the U.S., there are already a number of streaming services that are competing for content, which has not resulted in significant price hikes for subscribers. So what makes Canada so special?

Second is the fact that we’re living in an era of Peak TV. The amount of content — good content — has grown exponentially in the last decade.**** We’ve never had as much content now as we do today and the number of TV shows being produced is growing each year. To believe the argument that Neflix puts forth we’d have to assume that there’s a very small pool of good content that people would pay a streaming service to watch….and that is not even remotely true.

We would also have to overlook the fact that the number of media conglomerates that produce the vast majority of content can be counted on your hands (your one hand, to be precise). I can’t even think of a TV show that has been produced without full or partial backing of a media conglomerate. Better yet, many shows are produced with the backing of several conglomerates.***** That means that while a level of competition does exist, we cannot underestimate the extent to which media producers can and do collaborate with each other.****** So when anyone (i.e., Netflix) tries to convince the public that media producers are in a to-the-death battle over content, rest assured it’s sophistry.

At the end of the day, most Canadians probably won’t grumble too much over the hike in prices. I’m not particularly upset either. Even the Canadian version of Netflix at its new prices is well worth the money. What bothers me is that Canada is so often used by media companies as a testing ground to see how much b.s. users are willing to take before they push back or quit. Media companies should understand that insulting the intelligence of its users and testing our loyalty is a dangerous game because, while they may create the content, there are far too many options out there now to access it. Honesty with users is imperative if loyalty and respect on both sides is the goal. Netflix’s latest P.R. rhetoric did nothing of the sort.



*lol just kidding, I’m a millennial, I can find any and all media content for free

**nah, we complain all the time

***I bought The Wealth of Nations just to spit on Adam Smith’s face every day

****There’s an episode of The Vulture TV Podcast that covers the topic of Peak TV extensively…..go there for more info on this

*****yay, ultra-rich team work!

******Why TV is not Our Fault by Eileen R. Meehan is a little dated, but scary. It’s also an important read on this fun tidbit. And believe me, the dated part makes the media industry seem less scary than it currently is.



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Who is Rory Gilmore, Really?

It’s been a hot minute since the Gilmore Girls revival premiered on Netflix, but like many, I am still not quite sure what to make of it. My biggest challenge has been in trying to wrap my head around what exactly happened to Rory Gilmore: how did a character with whom I identified so strongly ultimately become a stranger?

When people talk about Gilmore Girls, the focus of the conversation often turns to the youngest of the Gilmore women, her boyfriends, her career aspirations, or even if Rory is a good or bad person/friend/daughter/girlfriend. While these debates made a lot of sense when the original series was on the air and Rory was a teen, they should make little sense today now that she’s a bona fide adult, yet here were are…

When we first met Rory, she was only turning 16. I think part of the show’s appeal was that Rory was an instantly relatable female teen character. Although she was exceptionally intelligent and had a frighteningly strong tolerance for caffeine, Rory was written as an average, realistic teenager. She was bookish and introverted, but not shy. She liked books and music and eating pizza on movie nights with her mom. She did not wear designer clothes or solve murders or lead a glamorous upper-crust lifestyle. Her biggest conflicts revolved around her school work and classmates, crushes, and friendships. Rory was exceptional in that she was so incredibly normal. That’s probably why I saw myself in Rory and so did many other young women growing up with this show.

During the show’s run though, we saw Rory grow and change, and develop different facets of her personality. In some ways this helped the show. As we learned more about Rory, there were more opportunities for viewers to further identify with her (or, at least identify with facets of her personality). It was interesting to watch Rory becoming a flawed, complex woman with a variety of character traits, interests, and aspirations. However, precisely this growth and change is where the BIG question as to who Rory really is arises and maybe why Rory having been initially written as an uber-relatable 16-year-old became (I assume) the bane of Amy Sherman-Palladino’s existence.

I don’t think Sherman-Palladino really knew who Rory is when writing her, because as the series (and now the revival) progressed, who Rory is at her core became less clear. Rather than develop a complex, multidimensional personality for Rory, Sherman-Palladino gave Rory traits that appeared increasingly inconsistent, unexplainable, and contradictory. In fact, for just about every trait that Rory had been written as having, an opposite trait was woven into her character. Rory is introverted and maintains few (but very close) friendships, yet she enjoys parties with the Life and Death Brigade and Daughters of the American Revolution functions. She’s bookish and quiet and does not enjoy attention, yet she aspires to become a foreign correspondent. She’s loyal to her friends, yet she emotionally or physically cheated on just about every one of her boyfriends. She plans everything down to the smallest detail and is always dependable, except when she’s spontaneously running off to New York or stealing a boat. And I could go on for a while.

The enigma that is Rory’s personality is probably why her decisions have been so strongly debated. One could only guess whether Rory’s latest action is in character, a phase, a mistake, or growth. Better yet, you could pick and choose from any number of her traits to construct the “Rory” you want. This worked in the original series because it allowed more viewers to see themselves in Rory, or see someone they’d want to become. More importantly, it worked because any inconsistency could be explained away by the idea that Rory was growing and becoming more complex. For the creators of the show this also meant that they had the freedom to mould Rory’s personality at will to drive any particular story line without without thinking too hard about whether Rory would really do that, or how would Rory really react in that situation.

Unfortunately for Amy Sherman-Palladino (and fans of Gilmore Girls), these inconsistencies necessarily could not continue in the show’s revival. For almost a decade after the show went off the air, fans wondered who Rory became. Yet when we saw Rory again as an adult, we did not get an answer. In fact, what’s clear in the revival is that no one knows who Rory is, including herself. This was realistic when she was 19; it is confusing and frustrating when she’s 32. Even more frustrating is that Sherman-Palladino does not seem to know either, and consequently avoids giving Rory any kind of solid life, love, or career direction. The freedom (and strength) that Sherman-Palladino had with Rory in the original series became a glaring weakness. Rory did not turn out to have a rich, complex, multi-faceted personality, but a haphazardly written one.

Throughout the revival, things seem to simply happen to Rory. Her career has stalled and Rory’s attempts to change this are almost non-existent until an ex-boyfriend tells her to write a book. Is she smart, ambitious, and strong, or is she lazy, entitled, and lost? She’s dating one man, seems to forget this, and cheats on him with another ex-boyfriend. Is she a selfish, thoughtless coward, or is she in love, in denial, and afraid of commitment? Does she have what it takes to be a successful journalist? Is she in love with Logan? Will she keep her baby? Will she tell the father? Most importantly, how the hell did she get to where she is in her life, which is nowhere, and what tools does she have to change this?

In the revival, Rory is floating (or drowning?) because she doesn’t know what exactly she wants, which seems to stem from not knowing who she is. Sherman-Palladino’s failure to answer any questions about Rory or firmly cement even one or two of Rory’s core traits suggests that she may not know either. That leaves us, the fans, to continue to try and make sense of who Rory is, both as a child and an adult. Your guess is as good as mine. But now there’s little fun in figuring out who Rory will become if she’s made no progress in ten years. It’s a painfully unsatisfying, if not tragic, ending to a story and a character that so many young women grew up identifying with or aspiring to become. Rory is a big sister who became (at best) a stranger or (at worst) a phantom. Now that the revival is over, perhaps it is time to mourn the loss of whoever it is that we saw in her and finally let go.


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Does impostor syndrome ever go away?

In my first semester of grad school, I had a professor who talked extensively about impostor syndrome. He noted that grad students very often fall prey to it, and indeed during our seminar discussion just about every person in the room, including myself, admitted to feeling it.

If you’re unfamiliar with the term, impostor syndrome is the feeling that when you are surrounded by fellow high-achieving persons, you believe yourself to be a fraud, or impostor, who may at any moment be “outed” as one. That is, even if you are yourself an accomplished individual with accolades and venerable proof of your intelligence and/or skills, you may still feel that you did not deserve those accolades or believe in your successes as confirmation of your “right” to be in that room with other high achievers, and that at any moment something will happen that will confirm that you do not belong in that room.

I’d felt this before grad school, when I began my first job after finishing my undergrad. I remember wearing my new office clothes, walking into my first office job, and suddenly being surrounded by people with more years of experience than my years of existence. For weeks I came home more emotionally than physically drained, because despite getting the job, passing four job interviews, finishing school at the top of my class, and rationally having the skills and knowledge to do the job, I remained convinced that at some point someone would figure out that I’m not fit for the job—that I’m an impostor.

When I was teaching first year undergrad students, I asked them if they felt this as well. I remember watching a number of them visibly relax after I explained to them impostor syndrome. Apparently I’d given a name to the feeling that many of them were feeling in their first months of their university career. Some of the responses I got was that they too felt anxiety that they don’t really belong in that class, that their acceptance into university was a fluke, and that once they hand in an assignment I will fail them and finally confirm to them—and everyone– that they are impostors in a room full of deserving students.

My older brother and even my mother have also both admitted to feeling completely unconvinced of their skills and knowledge before starting new jobs. Despite both having high levels of education, many years of experience in their respective careers, and countless accolades for their work, they have still found themselves feeling as “frauds” when thrust into new situations. They did not begin their new jobs intent to prove to others that they belong in that new position and have the skills to fulfill new duties, but to themselves.

This has made me wonder: do those of us who suffer from impostor syndrome ever really overcome it? As I begin my post-grad job search, I find that I’m questioning myself as to whether I can do the jobs that I’m rationally qualified to do, and whether I really have enough knowledge in the field that I’ve studied for six years. I fear that not only now, but any time that I begin a new endeavour, I’ll be haunted by impostor syndrome in the same way that my mom and brother have, and in the way that I myself have in the past and do today. I wonder: how does one overcome it? If education doesn’t do it (and may even make the feeling stronger), nor years of experience, nor accolades….what makes someone feel like they truly belong in a room?

In general, impostor syndrome tends to affect women and minorities more. This suggests that impostor syndrome is not a completely individual, psychological issue, but one that has (at least partially) societal, class, and privilege roots. Solutions to the problem, then, cannot be left only to the individual to seek out and work out. That is, if a woman and/or person of colour, for example, finds themselves battling impostor syndrome as a consequence of a lifetime of systemic inequality and constant reminders that who they are automatically marks them an impostor, then I think it is clear what we must do as a society to erase this.

However, my question for today is far more humble. My question is about the individual scale. What tricks are there to convince a high achieving person that their accomplishments, intellect, and the like, are real? How does one learn to believe that they have legitimately earned a place in that room? As I’ve mentioned, I’ve struggled with this myself and I’ve struggled with supporting my loved ones and my students in overcoming this—in rewiring one’s brain to not underestimate yourself and/or overestimate others. Because I think that’s what’s ultimately the root cause of impostor syndrome for those of us afflicted with it: we always assume that whatever we know cannot possibly be something that others don’t (or know it to the same depth), especially when surrounded by people of similar education and backgrounds. So whatever we know, we discount as unimportant or already known.

I have found myself in awkward social situations where, as impostor syndrome strikes, I either don’t speak up on an issue altogether (why waste everyone’s time and embarrass myself by showing how shallow my knowledge on subject X is) or when I do speak up I make sure to use my best matter-of-fact voice (and risk sounding condescending to the very people I’m trying to impress). I can assure you that neither silence nor condescension is particularly charming.

So, again, I ask: is impostor syndrome one can ever grow out of or overcome? Are there coping strategies to avoiding self-sabotage of bright minds? Because solutions to this problem, both on an individual and societal level, could truly have an immeasurable positive impact on those who suffer from it and on the communities to which these brights minds could contribute.




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The line between self care and indulgence

It has been two months since I submitted the last work of my grad student life. Frankly, I hadn’t expected this degree to be as difficult as it was to finish, nor for the process of bouncing back from the mental, emotional, and physical strain of grad school to be as long as it is turning out to be. But now that I’ve lounged around my home for two months and still don’t exactly feel ready to get back into the workforce and restart my adult life, my guilt over my current lifestyle is making me really question if I’m truly recharging my strengths through self care or just indulging in sweet, sweet lazy days of childhoods past.

I’ve never been a particularly high energy person. I’m an introvert. Plus I suffer from anxiety. Suffice it to say, big life changes that are the norm in your 20s have been draining rather than exciting for me. I’ve always known that I need a lot of time to myself to recharge, but I never expected to feel ~this~ tired. When I finished grad school I was completely spent. Although school itself was never the difficult part, the stress of living in a new city and away from my family, the uncertainty in my career path, the job of dealing with students as a T.A., etc., etc., etc., threw me into a hole I’d never quite experienced before. I did not finish school feeling ready to take on the world; I finished it wanting to drive to a corner of the world where no one could find me.

Thankfully, when I finished I had the resources and a safety net to allow me to take time off to regroup. I don’t regret the decision to give myself some time to relax and I’m endlessly grateful to my family, especially my poor mother, who has never once questioned my time off and given me everything I need during it. During this time I’ve begun to work out again, I’ve read a few books, I’ve taken long walks and long baths, I’ve gotten to sit and listen to the sound of nature. Without a doubt, self care has helped me to return to my old self.

However, when I finished school, I gave myself a month to do this sort of break from the world. I had planned to start looking for work and return to my adult responsibilities once this month was up. But then the month passed and I knew that I still wasn’t ready. Now two months have passed and, while I submitted my first job application last week, I can’t honestly say that I’d be overjoyed if they called me. In fact, as soon as I pressed ‘send’, I regretted it. I liked the position, but that state that I was in when I just began my break smacked me in the face. I wanted to cry and hide and disappear again. The difference this time was that guilt was weighing on me as well.

I understand that my current lifestyle isn’t sustainable. And as time passes, it is harder and harder to justify it. After all, I’m not exactly suffering from any ailment. Does “tired” count as an ailment? Not unless it’s a symptom of something more serious. Without a clear reason for my prolonged break, I’m beginning to berate myself for my own sloth, even while a part of me understands why I’ve needed it. I’m now internally battling over why I’m failing to launch. The battle makes me anxious, then frustrated, then tired. And therein lies the vicious circle I’ve made for myself.

Regardless of whether or not I feel “ready” for anything, rationally I know that I need to move on and push through the anxiety. I just don’t know when the “push” must happen. If I do it earlier rather than later, am I hurting myself in some way? Is my admonition of myself baseless and I should take advantage of the break that I can afford for myself? Is the idea that we must always toil a logic of an unforgiving capitalist society that cares little for one’s health and happiness, and one that I should be wary of? Or am I just afraid of the next step and hiding behind a wall of excuses? Has my recovery truly crossed into idleness that I just need to snap myself out of?

I’ve no idea how to answer any of these questions. So far, my only solution has been to take minuscule baby steps. As I’d mentioned, I applied for a job I don’t necessarily want. I ordered a pair of “interview” shoes. My portfolio is a mess, but my resume is all right… I don’t love taking these steps and I’d still rather run in the other direction that leads to under my duvet. Every step flares up my anxiety and makes me question my life choices a little more, reminding me that I’ve no idea what I’m doing or why. With every argument in either direction, I can make an equally valid counterargument, leaving me more confused. While I’m fully aware that I’m dealing with maddeningly privileged problems, I’m still searching for some sign, or clue, or answer to help me, in the words of Don Draper, find reassurance that whatever I’m doing is OK, I’m OK.


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Handshaking a.k.a. please don’t make me

Image result for trump and trudeau handshake

If I see another journo/blog/social media in-depth analysis of Trump’s latest handshake gaffe, I probably won’t do much but I definitely won’t be impressed. It’s not that it’s a tired topic (which it is), it’s the actual act of handshaking that I, a painfully under-socialized person, don’t exactly support.

Having just completed my master’s degree, I am once again re-entering the job application game and finding myself reading articles and watching how-to videos on the art of shaking hands. We’ve been conditioned to think that shaking hands is a necessary step in introductions and making a good first impression. Handshaking, we are told, demonstrates friendliness, goodwill, et cetera. But it really, really doesn’t.

The handshake, as noted by the endless think pieces on politicians’ greetings, is rife with meaning, power relations, and copious germ exchange. We know that. We shake hands to judge the character of this person we just met, to establish dominance, to communicate who we are. Yet despite being a communications specialist who should presumably be fascinated in the ritual, I hate it. Is hate a strong word? Good. I’ll repeat: I hate it.

It’s not just the germ issue. Although it is an issue. I don’t think you need to be a germophobe to rationally understand that handshaking is disgusting. Even the cheek kiss is less objectionable. Think about it. How many surfaces have someone’s lips touched during an average work day? A coffee cup, maybe someone else’s lips or cheeks, some leftover rice pilaf if it’s after lunch. The hands though…that would be a list that would make for one long paragraph I’ve no intent to write. There is nothing irrational about not wishing to touch a stranger’s hand.

Beyond that though is the actual psycho-social exchange that really grinds me. As I’ve noted, we’re not really exchanging greetings or goodwill when we shake hands. We’re sizing each other up and making conclusions that are teeming with outdated hegemonic values. After all, what makes a good handshake, at least here in the West? Firmness. We put so much undue value on the firmness of a handshake and faith in the person who has one. A firm handshake signifies strength (of any kind), confidence, and an overall good impression of character. It can also determine one’s power over another person. That’s a lot of traditionally masculine traits and it seems to me that the handshakes that we deem “good” perpetuate societal values that put masculinity on top.

I’ve never had a very good handshake and my physical appearance gives it away quite quickly. People really like to—and feel comfortable—commenting on my body. I’m not sure if that’s every woman’s experience, but everyone from relatives to complete strangers has felt comfortable commenting on it. I have what you may call a very “feminine” frame and I consistently receive compliments, backhanded compliments, and condescending remarks on it. I’ve never appreciated them in any form. But I could always tell the judgement of my character being formed on people’s faces as they made the comment. It’s the same judgement that’s formed when I shake people’s hands. Part of my feminine body are my feminine hands, which give feminine handshakes. Unless I make a concerted effort to hurt you (and myself), that handshake won’t be firm. In fact, my instinctive reaction to someone extending their hand is to extend them mine as if to kiss. It’s made things awkward on more than one occasion.

I don’t know how well my shitty handshake reflects on my personality. Depending on the situation and/or how I feel on any given day, I can be passive or assertive, extroverted or introverted, confident or anxious. Some days I feel more masculine or feminine. I’m quite proud that every day I discover a new facet of my personality and abilities. To boil it all down to the impression one makes during a sweaty hand tug of war seems ridiculous. To assume that anyone’s handshake reflects fully their personality and worth to others is equally ludicrous.

My ultimate frustration though is the values and traits we continue to deem preferable, and attaching them to a style and strength of a handshake. It seems that in order to win the handshake game and consequently succeed in public life, we have to adopt certain traits and adapt to certain expectations. But where’s the evidence that only one type of personality can reach or contribute to success? Why do we continue to perceive extroversion, confidence, competitiveness, and strength as the only desirable personality markers? Has not enough happened, even in the last year, to once and for all confirm that these markers do not (necessarily) equal good leadership, sound decision making skills, sportsmanship, or innovative ideas? If we return to the handshake analyses, can we not confirm that a handshake is ultimately an atrocious, ineffective, hopelessly unreliable way of determining anything of substance about a person?

For my part I’ve no desire to adapt my character, my body, or my hand strength to antiquated patriarchal notions of what makes a person good for business, partnerships, and the like. Nor do I wish to perpetuate the idea that only traditionally masculine traits are desirable in public life. I avoid handshakes like a champ, but as I press ‘send’ on job applications and await job interviews, I unfortunately know that the day is near when avoidance may not be possible. I just hope, at the very least, that plenty of hand sanitizer and bell hooks’s books will be passed around to compensate.


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