The REAL Queerbaiting

Something that every queer person, and most other people who are on twitter, has heard about is the concept of ‘queerbaiting’. There’s a lot of debate about the term and what it means, but for the most part, it ends up meaning media (film, tv, books, ect) that tries to entice the queer viewers by hinting at a queer relationship but never carrying through.

For the most part, I as an avid lover of film and TV ignore this entire concept. Most of the things I see labeled ‘queerbaiting’ are just fan interpretation and the cast embracing fans having fun. Often things that are labeled as being ‘queerbaiting’ are either things where we just perceive something platonic as romantic or something that IS romantic is perceived to be slighted up against the heterosexual romantic couples. (I’m not saying this never happens, but I am saying it happens far less than people claim it does.)

I generally feel that you can’t decide something is queerbaiting when it’s viewers/readers who are making that decision based on their own expectations, not the intentions of the creators (there are exceptions, but very few). However, there is a form of queerbaiting that I think most people don’t identify as such that is the real problem, and that is when people identify something as positive queer representation when it isn’t.

Whether it’s people who work for the marketing team of a thing or just people who are writing about a thing for their own publications, there are so many cases in which people really do make queerbaiting an issue when it really wasn’t by the way they advertise or talk about something.

A good example recently would be how everybody started talking about how the new Power Rangers movie had a queer character just because someone asks a girl if she has boy problems and when she doesn’t reply, they change it to ‘girl problems?’ in a scene where that wasn’t even relevant. That entire movie was narrowed down to the discussion of the queer girl representation when honestly it wasn’t even a thing. Hell, that movie had far more diversity in race representation than most movies that come out these days, but nobody talked about it because all they cared about was the SLIGHT mention of potential queerness. And then, when the movie came out and there was no queer content, people were angry because they were promised something by the people talking about it before it was released.

The same happened with Beauty and the Beast, with Le Fou dancing with a guy at the end. That film got boycotted because of a slight hint that Le Fou and Happy In A Dress guy might have a thing for one another. (In a movie where a human girl falls in love with a monster dude. Seriously.) The point is, people try their best to go, “OH LOOK! WE HAVE QUEER PEOPLE!” to draw in viewers, or if it’s said by those not related to the marking team, then it’s done by writers who want hits on their website.

This is what to me the vast majority of queerbaiting actually is.

If not that, then it’s some bullshit where they claim something is positive queer representation when it’s really something very, very negative. A good example of this would be one of my favorite TV shows in the history of TV, a GREAT show, with a shitty promotions department. Yes, my friends, we’re talking about Kingdom.

Since it’s not the most well known show (it’s on a DirecTV only channel), I’ll give you the basics that are important for this discussion: The show is about a father and his sons who are MMA fighters and the youngest son we find out is a deeply closeted gay man to the point of driving him to breakdown. In the lead up to season two, Kingdom was promoted by talking about how Nate’s sexuality was going to be explored further and was going to become a bigger part of the story. They talked a LOT about how he was even going to have a sex scene in season 2. The actor, when interviewed, talked about how he filmed a sex scene where, “It’s really my body, it wasn’t a double in the sex scene.” The key words here are that it was marketed all season with those words: sex scene.

It was a rape scene. He was raped. Nate was drugged by a client he was a personal trainer for at a party and a man and woman had sex with him while his client sat in the corner and watched the ‘show’. The problem isn’t that there was a rape scene. It was horrific but tied into the plot really well. I generally DO NOT watch stuff with rape scenes, but this was very relevant to the plot, and the fact that Nate got raped was fine. Th problem is that they marketed it as “Nate’s going to have sex with a guy”, like it was a pro-queer moment in the season that was coming. It was made out to be something positive in the way of queer representation, when it was a rape scene. Nate didn’t have sex with a man, Nate was raped.

That is also REAL queerbaiting.

Marketing something as a queer sex scene and it ending up being someone being drugged and raped is absolutely queerbaiting. Marketing something as queer representation when it’s a slight moment of ambiguity is queerbaiting. Making a single line consisting of two words in the dialogue into something to be touted as queer representation is queerbaiting.

All of these things are for bigger deals than ‘these two characters flirted that one time so if they don’t end up together it’s queerbaiting’ or ‘the straight people kissed 4 times but the queer couple only kissed 2, this is queerbaiting!’ and all of these are a serious problem we really need to end when it comes to promoting movies and TV. Stop claiming there is queer representation where it isn’t. If you want to attract queer audiences then put actual queer content in your product, don’t claim it’s there when it isn’t.

 

My Queer Experience: A Look Into Growing Up Queer And Why Queer Representation In Media Matters

This was my final, personal essay for a creative non-fiction writing class I had in 2016. I have never published it anywhere since it was just an assignment, but since it’s Pride month, I decided that I may as well share it with everyone. I am not the best non-fiction writer, and first-person is hard for me, but this essay is about my experience growing up in the rural south, my experience coming to understand who I am, and how important representation in media is to queer people everywhere.


Everyone is aware that society’s views of queer people has shifted greatly in the past twenty years. When I was a kid, I had no example for gay people, nonetheless any other thing that falls under the purview of queer. I had really no concept of what any of these people were other than the fact that every once in a while, I would hear an adult say they were bad people. The first time there was ever any real discourse that I observed about queer people was around the turn of the century. I remember, with the 2000 election happening, I would occasionally hear things on the news about ‘the gays’, and it was never anything good. My family members never said anything positive or negative, so other than what other people said, I had no context for queer people.

Another election along, I got my first real look at the concept of gay people because around 2004 was when Georgia had the vote for defining marriage as between one man and one woman and, with the upcoming election, that became something of a hot-button issue. When I was in middle school, teachers asked us about it. I remember having class where the teacher asked about the idea of marriage being between one man and one woman. Her name was Mrs. Davis, and she was the gifted class teacher. Since second grade, I was one of those kids who had special advanced classes, and because of that, it was a small class with more connection between each teacher and student. In my English class, which was the course in middle school determined to be for the gifted students that was different for the others, Mrs. Davis would often make us read newspapers and learn about more than just normal English work. We focused a lot on the world around us. Obviously, having the issue of defining marriage be a main political point in the state of Georgia at the time, that came up quite often.

The day Mrs. Davis asked us what we thought about the idea of marriage only being between a man and a woman, of course, being the rural south, everybody thought it was a great idea to make sure that gay people couldn’t get married. What I remember more than her words was the way she said it. She made this ‘gross’ face as if she were about to ask us about cleaning a public restroom or jumping into a dumpster. Her entire demeanor was like that of someone approaching a topic that was so obviously disgusting there was no way someone else could ever disagree. I then remember the other students all jumping on board. There were twelve of us, and all of the rest of them were clearly church-going children, because they all had things to say relating to Sin and the whole ‘Abomination’ thing, and being a kid with no exposure to gay people other than what I heard others think, I only could assume they were correct. Because the vitriolic discourse I was exposed to was the only thing I knew, my little thirteen-year-old self became a complete and utter homophobe.

Little did I know, that in the future I would actually discover I was one of ‘those people’. I began to have shifting views and stopped being a homophobe in high school because my best friend was gay. These days, my high school best friend is a dancer who recently moved to New York City and is living his dream, but as a teenager, life was never easy for him. He was an effeminate person in general ever since elementary school. We became friends at ten and eleven years old, and even then, long before he even knew he was gay, he had ‘girly’ handwriting, and he loved to draw mermaids and princesses, and he enjoyed playing with dolls. Obviously, you can guess how his cop step-father felt about that. At school, it was just as bad, even though there was never a lot of bullying at our school. It’s amazing how, living in a rural area in Georgia, you would expect a lot of bullying due to the conservative, closed-minded people, but in general, people didn’t bully each other. However, they did judge people quite harshly, and being an effeminate boy who did ballet as a teenager and basically only had friends who were girls, life wasn’t easy for him.

He never came out while we were in high school, but I knew. I watched how people talked about him when he wasn’t around. I knew what people thought of him, even if they never bothered him about it. It was hard for me to relate to the fact that in middle school I had actually told a girl I could never be friends with a lesbian when she asked about it, and yet my best friend was very obviously gay. Up to that point, I had never had any other exposure than ‘gay is bad’ and yet, here was my best friend in the whole world, one of the best people I had ever known, and he was gay. It didn’t make sense with what I had only ever known. Because of that, I faced the whole, “How can gays be bad if he is gay?” dilemma. Thankfully, because I didn’t have deeply ingrained homophobia, since nobody I cared about deeply (like parents or other family) had ever actually expressed an opinion either way, I was able to actually think about it for the first time. I stopped and actually thought about why being gay would make someone a bad person. I had to ask myself what was so bad about liking someone of the same gender. I quickly came to the realization that there was no logic behind homophobia at all, and I was able to completely stop thinking that way. It’s good I did, too, since I’m not actually as straight as I had thought.

I didn’t actually realize that it wasn’t normal for straight girls to find other girls attractive until I was in college. I was nineteen or twenty when I finally realized that I didn’t have ‘girl exceptions’, but that I was just bisexual. I don’t remember any specific moment or reason that I suddenly realized I was bisexual. I think it was a process. I remember I used to say I was straight because I genuinely thought I was. Friends of mine would joke about my ‘girl exceptions’ because there were some celebrities that I said I would ‘go gay’ for. It seemed normal for everybody to have ‘celebrity exceptions’ or ‘girl exceptions’, because it was joked about all the time. I remember jokingly referring to myself as “75% Straight” with a friend because we were talking about how beautiful Natalie Portman is to me. One time, I remember saying, “I like people, not what’s in their pants” as my way of viewing my own sexuality, as if it didn’t mean I was necessarily not straight, but more that I wasn’t judgmental. Somewhere along the way, I just began to accept that I was bisexual.

The first time I ever said the words out loud was actually in a discussion in a literature class when I was twenty-one years old. I was taking a special topics course about American Gothic Literature, and one of the books we read was Interview With The Vampire. Dr. O’Leary-Davidson had touched on the sexual themes of the book while discussing it in class, and I can’t expressly remember how we got on the subject, but I remember someone in the class had an ‘ew’ reaction to the idea of the two male vampires in the story being sexually interested in each other, and it really made me angry. I asked the guy to stop saying things like that because it was rude, especially to me, since I’m bisexual. That was the first time I ever said those words. I am bisexual. I remember after class he stayed behind while I was talking to Dr. O’Leary-Davidson and apologized for saying thoughtlessly rude things and hurting me, because I was a nice person and he felt bad about making me upset, and it struck me that it could honestly be that easy.

This guy was probably just like I was. He had never probably even been exposed to the idea of someone that isn’t straight being just a normal person. In this neck of the woods, even in 2012, that was still something most people probably weren’t exposed to. This guy had gone from saying senselessly homophobic things to realizing that one of his classmates was bisexual and not, in fact, a perverted monster. Most likely, the same things that made me not even realize I was bisexual probably had a lot to do with why this person didn’t even realize I could be bisexual when I was this nice girl in his class. The main reason for both my lack of understanding of what I was and both his and my former blind homophobia can be narrowed down to the exact same cause: We were never exposed to queer representation growing up in any form.

These days, it’s fairly common to see gay, lesbian, bisexual, and even transgender and asexual people on television, in movies, in books, and especially on the news. The term most often used it LGBTQA+, but a lot of us younger queer people have gotten tired of the alphabet soup. People can be any number of combinations of letters. There are such things as heterosexual people who are bi-romantic, asexual people who are heteroromantic, genderqueer people who are pansexual and aromantic. There are just too many letters and combinations, so we like the word Queer. When I was younger, that was an insult flung at people, but these days it’s just the word we use for anyone that is not a cisgender heterosexual person, since that is what most people are and we therefore consider it the default. I knew none of these things. I didn’t even have an understanding of what ‘bisexual’ meant, and I am one. If I had seen the things we have in television and film these days as a kid, I would likely have never become homophobic and would have known at a younger age that just because girls aren’t as afraid of seeming gay, that doesn’t mean “Your dress is cute!” was the same thing as my, “You look really good in that dress”.

By the time I discovered my own sexuality, I wasn’t afraid of my parents’ reactions because, though my parents had grown up in the Christian South and were raised with the whole ‘abomination’ thing, my road to self-discovery came after Modern Family. While that might sound absolutely nuts to most people, that’s actually all it took for my parents to not be homophobic. Like me, their homophobia wasn’t deeply ingrained, it was just observational. It was the product of growing up in the South where people don’t question how things always have been, and just like me, they had no other idea besides ‘abomination’ and had never had to think about it otherwise. However, in 2009, Modern Family went on air and, though it isn’t a perfect representation of a queer couple, the gay couple on that show being depicted as just a normal couple with a normal family and normal lives within about a year took my parents from, “Gays are abominations!” to “Oh wait, no, they’re just normal people like everybody else.” Forty years of just accepting one belief about an entire group of people was entirely corrected just by a positive representation of queer people in fiction.

My best friend from high school came out in 2010 and was kicked out of his house. His parents threw him out because he was gay and had a boyfriend. He went to live with his boyfriend and we lost touch because they moved to Atlanta, where people are far more accepting. When his family threw him out, my daddy, who knows his family well, was so confused. He couldn’t grasp the idea of kicking your child out of your home because he’s gay. Daddy is not at all a progressive person. My father is one of those people who thinks, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, and that extends to the idea of things staying the same. He isn’t one to progress with the times, so to speak. I never heard him saying homophobic things when I was growing up, but I know that he had believed that ‘Gays are going to hell’ stuff. He was never comfortable with seeing anything related to gay people in public, I do know that. However, after just a few months of watching a TV show with a fictional gay couple that were just normal people living a normal life, when these neighbors of ours kicked their son out for being gay, he was absolutely shocked and disturbed by this. He and my mother, who had strict religious upbringings, both couldn’t understand how my friend, who they both thought was a good kid, having a boyfriend could possibly make his parents kick him out.

Now, six years later, I still count myself lucky to have parents who were able to accept change so readily when it came to queer people, because my best friend’s parents seemed like they had. They accepted him back home after he and his boyfriend broke up, but as soon as he moved to New York, his step-dad started telling people that they were, “Rid of one of those fags,” and that he was, “Gonna get rid of the other one, too,” meaning the younger brother that also has a boyfriend and is bisexual. As of a few months ago, the younger brother is living with his boyfriend down the road because of how bad his step-dad hates him, and my parents both absolutely cannot stomach the step-dad anymore, in spite of once being friends, and they can’t stand the mother either, because she let her husband drive her children away. I’m lucky that my parents are the way they are, and I honestly don’t know how bad I would have thought about myself if I had realized I was bisexual before I knew my parents wouldn’t hate me for it. Instead, a television show made them think logically about homophobia and see there was no logic to it, and they both are entirely accepting now.

These days, I hear the opposite from when I was younger, because people – mainly those who are still homophobes – will not shut up about how, “Why has there got to be gay people in everything now?” In reality, there are not gay people in everything on TV or other entertainment, it’s just that they actually are some now. Gone are the days where the only gay people on TV are stereotypes. We have so much diversity in characters now, and not just in gay men, but in all different sorts of queer representation. It still isn’t enough, but it’s better. Even in the 1990s, advertisers would threaten to pull their support for TV shows that had gay content. The first time there was an on-air same-sex kiss on American TV was in the year 2000 on the show Dawson’s Creek. Now, only sixteen years later, there are so many TV shows with gay characters in many diverse roles beyond the classic stereotypes. Beyond gay male characters, there are so many other types of queer representation. For a few seasons, there was a show on USA called Sirens that had an asexual woman on the show, and her asexuality was addressed and the word actually said by the guy who was dating her. Just in the TV shows that I watch, there are such a variety of queer characters in shows where that isn’t a plot point. Captain Flint, the feared pirate on Black Sails became a pirate after his male lover was killed but that was just one part of his backstory. The rest of the show never makes a big deal out of the fact he is gay. On the TV show Hannibal, there was a lesbian character who ended up marrying and having a baby with a woman who previously on the show only showed interest in men, making her one of the most honest depictions of bisexuality I have seen on American TV. There was no ‘going gay’ for her, she was just always bisexual even when she dated men.

That is one of the areas where TV still fails us, which is one of the reasons that I, as a bisexual woman, always find a struggle to face. Bisexuality is still depicted rather poorly in entertainment, and that poor representation is reflected in society. It is common for both straight and gay people to dismiss bisexuality as a real thing. It is the experience of almost all bisexual people that you are either really just ‘attention seeking’ or ‘too afraid to admit you’re fully gay’. There is also this stigma that, if you are bisexual, you can’t be trusted to not be a sex-crazed lunatic who will cheat on your partners. The ‘promiscuous bisexual’ is a very common trope in TV representation. One example I can think of is The White Canary on Legends of Tomorrow. Not only has she only shown interest in women in the entire series, even though she was established as bisexual previously on the show Arrow, and she is the one of the group who constantly seduces women on their adventures. In the first episode of the second season alone, she seduced several women while nobody else on the show seduced anyone. As with Sara suddenly being a lesbian, she also, as I mentioned, never said the word ‘bisexual’ when she obviously was previously.

That is a common problem when dealing with bisexual representation that I have recently heard about from the TV show How To Get Away With Murder. I don’t watch the show, but my bisexual woman friend’s all bemoaned the fact that the woman who previously had a husband and is now dating a woman describes herself as ‘it’s complicated’ rather than actually saying ‘bisexual’. Even when you have a character who says verbally, “I like men and women”, they rarely actually say the word ‘bisexual’. So while queer representation has certainly gotten far more widespread and positive, there are still areas that aren’t addressed well enough. I would argue that there is even better and more human representation of transgender individuals than there is of bisexual characters, and it’s making life harder for bisexual people in society.

When you look at real life bisexuals, the way people react to them is appalling in a world where these people actually think they aren’t being offensive. Because of this, I am not exactly the most out and proud bisexual. There is nothing like people expecting that you have to be with another woman to be bisexual, or that if you are bisexual, you clearly can’t commit to one person. Even celebrities face these issues. I’m sure everyone remembers the time Larry King said to Anna Paquin, “So you’re a non-practicing bisexual”, because she’s married to a man, or saw all of the terrible things said about how Johnny Depp was justified in hitting his wife because Amber Heard is bisexual and, clearly, was cheating on him when she went out places with her female friends.  The same people who should have your back, like other queer people who are gay or lesbian, are the ones who dismiss your sexuality when you are bisexual. It’s hard to be an out and proud bisexual, because then you get hate from both sides. I’m not out to my family in my life, because I don’t know I can trust them to not dismiss my sexuality or think it makes me a ‘slut’ that I like both men and women. Most of my friends know, but that’s because I’m less afraid of how friends react. I can get new friends. I can’t get a new family.

However, while there are still leaps and bounds to be made in the realm of bisexuality, times have still changed and depiction of what people are unfamiliar with in the media has a lot to do with that. Most of society has become far more accepting. My family is far more accepting. The younger generation is extremely more accepting. Things have changed so very fast in recent years, because when I was in high school, nobody was out, and my brother and sister who are ten years younger than me are currently in high school, where quite a lot of kids are out and proud and nobody cares. My siblings and their friends never saw the attitudes I did where gay people were stereotypes on TV and advertisers threatened to pull their support from TV shows with gay content. My parents did suffer the prejudices of our culture for the longest time, and then everything changed because one TV show that they watch showed them that a gay couple were just like everybody else.

Though not every person’s experience will be that easy, or has been that easy, my parents are a prime example of how important it is that queer people be represented in entertainment in fair, honest ways so that people do come to view the people they may not be familiar with in a way that shows that they are just like everybody else. If I had been exposed to queer people the way we are now in media, I would have realized what ‘bisexual’ was and would have known who I am far earlier than I did. There is no negative outcome to representing queer people in media, because people everywhere need to be given a chance to view the diversity in our culture in every part of life, including both news media and entertainment media. Look at the guy in my class who seemed so genuinely ashamed of himself for laughing at homophobic things when he realized that people around him might actually be queer. No, accurate representation will not fix all of queer people’s problems, but just humanizing something unfamiliar does make a huge difference in how society views those of us who are considered different.

The Shifting Sands of Creative Writing: Authors Embracing Fan Fiction

Anybody that has ever studied in the field of media and culture studies has read the works of Henry Jenkins, most importantly, his works regarding participatory culture and convergence culture. One of the topics that Jenkins often touches on in his writing is the concept of consuming culture vs participating in culture vis-à-vis fan fiction.

Though I assume every single person reading this knows what fan fiction is, because it’s 2017 and we all have the internet, in case you stumbled upon this while time-traveling from the past, fan fiction is when the audience members of any type of media (usually books, television, or film) write their own stories based off of the characters from the work and share them with like-minded fans.

Though many of Jenkins’s most popular works among professors are a little outdated these days, he has mused at length on the legality of fan fiction and its cultural significance, value, or lack of either in his works for almost the duration of my entire life (Textual Poachers was published in 1992, I was born in 1991). The question of whether or not fan fiction falls under the protection of fair-use regarding copyright law is one that has plagued the world since the beginnings of fan fiction, and it is one that Jenkins has tried his best to reason through.

In 2006, Jenkins posted on his blog in response to a critique from a law professor about how he tried to derive a definition of fan fiction and participatory works as well as their place in the law. In “Fan Fiction as Critical Commentary” Jenkins approaches fan fiction as a method of critical commentary about a work just as relevant as a critical essay:

Just as a literary essay uses text to respond to text, fan fiction uses fiction to respond to fiction. That said, it is not hard to find all kinds of argumentation about interpretation woven through most fan produced stories. A good fan story references key events or bits of dialogue to support its particular interpretation of the character’s motives and actions. There are certainly bad stories that don’t dig particular deeply into the characters or which fall back on fairly banal interpretations, but the last time I looked, fair use gets defined in functional terms (what is the writer trying to do) and not aesthetic terms (what they produce is good or bad artistically). Fan fiction extrapolates more broadly beyond what is explicitly stated in the text than do most conventional critical essays and may include the active appropriation and transformation of the characters as presented but even here, I would argue that the point of situating the characters in a different historical context, say, or in another genre is to show what makes these characters tick and how they might well remain the same (or be radically different) if they operated in another time and place. Fan fiction is speculative but that does not mean that it is not at its core interpretative.

I find Jenkins’s idea very interesting and something quite relevant to the modern author. I think it’s important for authors to notice what he is saying, even if they may not agree. Most of us are old enough to remember the days of Anne Rice’s crusade against fan fiction based on her works, and these days there are still some authors who are harshly against the idea of fan fiction, but for the most part, fan fiction is something that has become more accepted and normal by many authors.

Why am I even talking about all of this, you ask? I ask because many of you, my followers, are authors. Whether you are a published author or a prospective author like me without any published works, I would hazard a guess to say at least 75% of you are authors in some fashion. And because of that, I find myself curious!

What do you think about fan fiction in a legal sense or just in general? Would you be against people writing fan fiction about your works? Would you dislike it enough to seek legal action? Would you embrace it? Would you celebrate that as a measure of status (as in, “I’m so popular people write fan fiction about my work!”)?

I’m really curious to see how you guys feel about this, so let me know in the comments!

I’m Going To Finish My 2015 Romance Novel

I’ve decided to finish my 2015 Romance Novel, Grand Hotel Koe. This is a story that I thought about for a long time before I decided to join NaNoWriMo for the first time ever in 2015. I won NaNoWriMo that year, but because I had to stop writing to focus on college, I never finished it. I have a few chapters left to write, even though everything was already outlined, and I’ve tried to make myself finish it a few times, but I’ve decided after my horrible NaNo2016 story that I NEED to finish this one NOW!

So! In order to get myself back into the swing, I decided to post the first chapter here! Now, bear in mind, I haven’t so much as proofread this, so this is a crazy rough draft, haha. But I just wanted to put it somewhere that people can see it so that maybe that motivates me to get off my butt and FINISH IT!

Here’s a synopsis, and the actual chapter will be below a read-more for you guys. Hopefully it doesn’t entirely suck, but I haven’t read it since I wrote it over a year ago, so this will be a first read for me, too!

Grand Hotel Koe by J. Chelsea Williford

In 1912, Jonathan Carver, the son of wealthy hotel magnate and millionaire Lionel Carver, lives a happy life as the manager of Grand Hotel Koe, one of his father’s multiple hotels, on the shores of Lake Sonders at the base of Mount Koe in the Adirondack mountains, far away from the society of Manhattan. Every day, the highlight of Jonathan’s morning is the trip into the small town of Sondersville, where he and the head chef of the hotel pick up the day’s fresh produce. It is an excuse to escape the hotel business for a short while, but more importantly, the morning produce run is the only excuse Jonathan has to see the object of his affections, Amelia, the daughter of a poor farmer who has stolen Jonathan’s heart.

However, when his father dies suddenly, Mildred Carver, Jonathan’s mother, calls him away from his happy, peaceful life in the hills back to the hustle and bustle of Manhattan high society. Set to inherit his father’s entire estate, Jonathan is urged both by his mother and most of the socialites in the city to marry well and marry quickly to secure the future of the family wealth.

Will Jonathan choose to carry out his duty to his family, or will he follow his heart and return to the woman he loves and the life he enjoys at the Grand Hotel Koe?

Continue reading “I’m Going To Finish My 2015 Romance Novel”

Tourism Is Not A Dirty Word

When I was standing on the observation deck of the Empire State Building, looking out at tiny cars and minuscule people, one of the most incredible sights I had ever seen, and experiencing something that still moves me to remember even now, it struck me that I almost didn’t take the time to go there at all. I found myself wondering how on earth anyone could find fault in something as breathtakingly beautiful and moving as standing high above all of the life beneath you and looking down on everything around you. It was like stepping out a door and finding myself on top of the world, almost literally, and looking out at the horizon and knowing that millions of souls are within my eye line. Seeing thousands of cars, hundreds of thousands of lights, and more landmarks than can be counted in one glance is a humbling experience like no other. History, culture, life, and art all within one line of sight is an incredibly moving experience. It was an experience I will never forget, and one that I was warned by the travel blogs I looked at while I packed my bags not to bother with because it was just a “tourist trap”.

Last summer, I went to New York to visit my friend, Amber. Though she lives in Brooklyn, we decided to stay in a hotel in Midtown Manhattan so that we were within walking distance of most of the best tourist destinations. She has lived in the city her entire life, but she had never done most of the touristy things before that week. Our hotel was on 32nd street, only two blocks from the Empire State Building, and one of the things I wanted most was to go to the Empire State Building before I had to come home. I had read many travel blogs to get ideas of what to do on my visit, and many of them decried it as an over-rated tourist trap, “A waste of your money and time,” one particular blog stated, but I remember seeing the Empire State Building on TV and in movies all my life, and I knew that, if we did nothing else, I had to go up to the observation deck and see the view at night.

One thing I didn’t know was that, in summer, it rains almost every day in New York. Most nights, the view from our hotel was of the low clouds glowing eerily in whatever color the Empire State Building was lit up that evening. Finally, on the fourth night of our visit, the skies cleared after a summer shower so that we looked into the sky to see the white lights clearly. The Empire State Building allows trips to the top until 2 a.m. so we went around midnight. It was strange for me to see people filling the sidewalks after midnight, because coming from a small town, even on the weekends, everything is closed by ten. But this was New York City, and I was on my way to the experience of a lifetime.

When we arrived, we walked past the doormen and doorwomen in their historical attire, a costume of deep burgundy with gold accents, and entered a lobby that words simply cannot do justice. The ceiling was so high it felt like walking into a cathedral, and every surface was gilded. The floor was a marble waxed so thoroughly it was like walking on glass, and at the far end from the doors was a large, metal mural showing the building itself that gives any who enter the first, unavoidable taste of the art-deco decor that was to come further inside. After taking an escalator to the second floor, we entered a maze of velvet ropes, clearly laid out for the larger crowds of the daytime. The words “tourist trap” came to mine after all, but we were already there so there was no reason to not continue with our experience. After purchasing our tickets, the price of which also added to the idea of a “tourist trap” since it was an incredible thirty-seven dollars each, we joined with a small group and began our way to the museum-esque part of the trip. From the second floor we went through an exhibit about the sustainability of the building itself as well as the green movement in New York City, a clear ploy to advertise and appeal to the eco-friendly tourist. It was just another reminder of the dreaded words, “over-rated experience”.

The real magic began when we stepped up to the elevators and waited for our turn to be taken up to the observation deck. The elevator doors were decorated with a gold and silver relief much like the mural in the lobby, and beyond those doors we found the fastest elevator ride of our lives. It took us less than a minute to go hundreds of feet. I could feel my ears pop on the way up, it was such a fast elevator ride. When we exited, I was thrilled to discover that, in addition to the sustainability exhibit, prior to going to the observation deck there was an entire floor dedicated to an exhibit about the construction and the history of the Empire State Building. There were exhibits showing the purchase orders for the initial steel to begin construction, photos of the building in construction and the workers walking on the steel beams high in the sky, and even article clippings about the building being completed. A plaque near the end of the exhibit stated that the Empire State Building was built in exactly one year. I could hardly imagine such a feat.

After lingering as long as my friend would let me, we entered the final elevator to the top. I had butterflies I was so excited. I had dreamed of that moment for most of my life, and I was about to see the view from the top of the Empire State Building. When I exited the elevator, I was momentarily distracted by the beautiful artwork on the ceiling and floors from inside the observation deck. Like most of the art-deco styling of the building, there was this beautiful tile-work on the floor, and these metal sculptures that looked like clockwork gears hanging from the ceiling. It was hard to take our eyes off of those things since there was little to distract from them at that point. Through the windows, there wasn’t much to see, just blackness of the sky, and we had to try twice to find the door to the outside rather than the doors for those outside to come inside, a clear side effect of excitement. When we finally found the correct door, we walked out onto a ramp, and the first thing I could see was the spire atop the One World Trade Center building. When we approached the bars that separated viewers from a certain death fall, I started to feel a rush of energy, an overwhelming excitement at what I was about to see. I knew immediately that there was nothing over-rated about that moment, no matter how, apart from Amber, everyone else up there was a tourist to the city just like I was.

The quiet was what hit me first. I wasn’t overwhelmed with anything, because it was so very quiet up there. Instead, the moment I took a look out at the city, I was overcome with the strangest sense of calm. It was the most peaceful moment I had experienced since I got on the plane to head to New York. It was windy and cool and I honestly couldn’t imagine a more peaceful place in the entire world at that moment. Everyone was so quiet. Nobody up there spoke above a murmur. It was as if we could all sense that same odd, overwhelming peacefulness and felt that if anybody spoke too loud the spell might be broken. The view was magnificent, but the emotions are what I remember the most. I could see so much of the world from that spot, I knew intellectually that there were tens of millions of people within my sight line, and instead of feeling anxiety at how small I was in the great big world, I felt like I was a part of it.

Looking out at the cars below us, so tiny that they looked like toys, and at the people on the sidewalks who looked like ants, I felt like in that moment we were so incredibly human. Amber and I were the most human we had ever been. Every person out there, all the millions of people in the thousands of buildings below us and across from us, even the ones in tourist traps, was a human being the same as the two of us. I felt connected with humanity and it was just such a beautiful feeling. We stayed and took photos until our phones died and when we reluctantly left that platform, I remarked to her that I really felt that, had we done nothing else besides make that single visit to that single landmark, I would have been entirely happy with my vacation.

It was almost a spiritual experience to see the world from that point of view and, it raises the question of whether or not “tourist spots” are really the great dark mark on travel that the travel writers describe them as. Thrillest’s travel section listed the Empire State Building on its list of “America’s 10 Worst Tourist Traps To Avoid”. The words they used to describe the same experience I had was, “you will literally spend hours of your life (that you will never, ever get back) slogging through a crowd of Europeans and honeymooners from Western Pennsylvania for a view of the city that you’ve seen a thousand times on TV.” As someone who did spend hours of my life there, but hours I will never forget, I find it incredibly misleading that some people will read that and decide to miss the experience that Amber and I had. It seems to me that people who write about travel often have this entire angle in which they really stress the good of “going off the beaten path” instead of tourist destinations in the places they visit, and yet I was in New York with a native to the city, and both of us had a better experience at a so-called “tourist trap” than any other destination we visited. Online there is even this bad view of sorts when it comes to going to popular tourist destinations. People brag about how they travel to places where “the people are” rather than go to the tourist spots. The problem, however, is that we didn’t want to meet “the people”. Amber lives there, she knows “the people”. We wanted an experience we could always remember.

In my experience, the tourist things are almost always the best part of any trip. There’s no shame in having fun doing the most stereotypical, touristy things when you travel anywhere. Yes, there are some tourist traps that are no fun, and yes I understand the people who live there are driven crazy by tourists getting in their way, but it strikes me as something incredible that the “tourism shaming”, for lack of better words, can reach the point to where travel blog writers praise going to eat at a deli that’s no different than a dozen others because it’s not the usual tourist thing when you could, instead, visit a museum, a historical landmark, an amusement park, or just an interesting tourist attraction. In New York, I visited neighborhood places off the beaten path, and yes, it was fun. It was great walking around with a New Yorker so it wasn’t obvious I was a tourist. We saw some things I would have never seen were it not for traveling around with a New Yorker to show me all her favorite places. However, they were all things that could be experienced almost anywhere. Every city has its local eating places. Everybody has a fun little coffee shop they love to frequent. Everybody has the pizza place they claim is “the best in the world” and some quirky local shop with a zany owner. It strikes me as odd that travel blogs expect you to travel places to experience the same things you have at home but in another city. I enjoy those things, yes, but I enjoyed the Empire State Building more than L&B’s pizza, that’s for sure. Even my New York Native best friend had the same oddly spiritual experience that I did visiting the Empire State Building, tourist trap or not.

The most fun we had was seeing the sights like stereotypical tourists, because though she had lived there here whole life, there was so much she had never done. We went to kitschy tourist stops, we spent far too much time taking selfies in Times Square, we even went on a sight-seeing boat ride with all the other camera-and-fanny-pack-laden tourists. Eating at her favorite pasta place near where she went to college was fun, as was visiting her favorite independent book store, but there was nothing disappointing about tourist traps, and most of all, there was absolutely nothing over-rated about the Empire State Building. So next time you travel, think twice about the warnings from travel blogs about avoiding tourist traps. You never know which one will end up being the best part of your trip.

NaNoWriMo Day 29: I Wrote A 5,200 Word Research Paper Today

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I sprinted for the last like 20 minutes of the day before midnight struck, and I’ve only got like 424 words to win, so by the time you read this, I’ll have won NaNoWriMo!

I had to write a minimum 15 page research paper for a class I hate today because I put it off until the day it was due, but you guys may follow me on twitter and already know this. If not, you should see my “Update:” tweets today. I actually used Emojis, which is different than my norm. But, as my ‘victory’ tweet said:

So, yeah. I’m gonna go polish off that last few hundred words and win NaNoWriMo, check back in a little while for a new post where I proclaim I am the master of writing fiction as well as academically!