Posted in Writing, Life

New Blogging Schedule and Direction

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My (rather fitting) view walking home along the edge of campus today

In the past few weeks I’ve moved into a new state, started a semester of college, changed my major, started a new job, and completely overhauled my usual daily routine.  I’m meeting so many people and being introduced to new ideas and perspectives constantly.  Naturally, my writing muse has taken a corresponding shift.  I don’t have nearly as much time to write, but I find myself having much more to say.

Moving forward, I want to create a system that gives me freedom to explore various topics, works with my schedule, and keeps me accountable while also not stressing me out too much.  True to my title, I’m going to stay with my main topics of education, art, and writing, but also give myself space to discuss other topics that spark my interest and are relevant to my overall theme (“walking the line between creativity and practicality”).

 

I plan to stick to a schedule of posting twice a week, thus:

Tuesday:  Longer and more in-depth posts, covering one of my main topics

Thursday:  Shorter and more light-hearted post, covering whatever strikes my fancy

Thank you so much to everyone who has been reading my posts and helped me start this blogging journey!  You all inspire me to grow.  Special shoutout to  Kayla Ann Author,  Baroque Myriam, and Now I Have a Baby 🙂

 

If you can’t fly, then run.  If you can’t run, then walk.  If you can’t walk, then crawl, but by all means, keep moving.

–Martin Luther King Jr.

 

 

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Posted in Writing

Cliches: The Best Advice I’ve Ever Heard

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As a writer, I run into these articles all the time: How to Avoid Cliches in Business Writing, Top Ten Most Common Cliches in Fantasy, Cliche Examples and How to Avoid Them, 681 Cliches to Avoid in Your Creative Writing.

There are so many of these articles on the internet, and while several are insightful and helpful, several have become just as cliched and predictable as the tropes they tell us to avoid.  In writing this post today, I didn’t want to be just one more post telling you the same thing (saying a cliche is an overused phrase or theme, listing basic archetypes, etc.).  Instead this post is a conglomerate of the best quotes and advice I’ve heard on cliches in writing, hopefully with some ideas and perspectives you haven’t encountered before.

Enjoy!

 

As the moth is attracted to flame, less-than-vigilant writers are attracted to the bright light of intrinsically dramatic situations, where the drama is preassembled, ready to use—convenient. We’re drawn to clichés because they’re convenient. And convenience for writers—convenient plots, convenient characters, convenient coincidences, convenient settings or situations or strings of words—almost always spells doom.

–Peter Selgin, Writers Digest

 

Clichés once painted vivid pictures, but they’ve been so overused that their imagery has faded. For instance, the first time someone used the phrase out of the box it was a vivid metaphor to explain the idea of creative thinking. While being stuck in a box, we can’t come up with wild and crazy ideas. To be creative, we need to crawl out of that box. But now, the phrase out of the box is so tired, that nobody visualizes a box anymore. The imagery has completely faded, and that’s why it has become a cliché.

–Enchanting Marketing

 

It’s a bit cliche, but you can’t go wrong by writing what you know.  Even if you’re a horrible writer, your own knowledge and experience is unrivaled.  Nobody knows what you know like you know what you know.  The way you see things is pretty unique.

–Issa Rae

 

When writing, question any comparison or image you are about to use.  Cliches often sneak in the barn door (that’s a cliche by the way) when we are trying to be descriptive.  Is the phrase you’re about to use one that you’ve heard frequently in casual conversation, newscasts, and advertising?  If so, it is probably a cliche or on it’s way there.  Instead of using stock phrases and images, be creative.

–University of Richmond Writing Center

 

While you may be able to get away with tired tropes in certain circumstances, the fact of the matter is that fantasy readers are a die-hard, dedicated, well-read bunch. The majority of fantasy fans have read widely within the genre, meaning that they’ve practically seen it all when it comes to typical fantasy standbys.

Most of the time, if a fantasy reader picks up a novel that adds nothing new to the already well-established genre, they’ll do one of three things: drop it immediately, forget about it entirely, or review it poorly – none of which are good outcomes for authors trying to find an audience.

–Claire Bradshaw, B.A.

 

A newly invented metaphor assists thought by evoking a visual image, while on the other hand a metaphor which is technically ‘dead’; (e.g. iron resolution) has in effect reverted to being an ordinary word … But in between those two classes there is a huge dump of worn-out metaphors which have lost all evocative power and are merely used because they save people the trouble of inventing phrases for themselves.

–George Orwell

 

Every oak tree is gnarled.

Sometimes, so are the faces and hands of old, white men.

Every gentle wave is lapping upon the shore. Every mountain town is nestled in a valley, every chimney produces curled rings of smoke.

Every politician is slick, every banker is soulless. Journalists are moral and hardworking. Teachers are worn out. Every woman is unsatisfied, every man is flippant. Mothers are worn out too, but fathers are emotionless. Every woman has jet-black tresses, and every day starts with bitter coffee (which might also be scorching) and ends with whiskey. Who drinks whiskey? That old, white man with ice that clinks.

Clinks? Chinks? Tinkles?

In the city, there are cars honking, lights blinking, and many things are incessant—noise, screams, cries. Oh, and blaring lights. Lots of blaring lights that sometimes flicker.

The country has chirping crickets and waving grass. Parched earth abounds, there is lots and lots and lots of dust. The moon is always bathing fountains, statues and white shoulders lucky enough to be right under it. Fog is thick or dense, sometimes both. Thunderstorms rage while thunder cracks. Lightning illuminates—what, I don’t know. The sun shines down, as opposed to up, and clouds really don’t do anything except float by. And occasionally they don’t exist at all.

Waves crash. Cars don’t, unless brakes are slammed or heard to screech first.

Tears roll down cheeks, and faces break into smiles while the eyes always crinkle when they aren’t sparkling or flashing. Hair shines or curls, always curls. People are clad in clothing, never just clothed in it. Necklaces dangle, and bracelets chink. Arms are thick and strong, and eyes meet more than people.

Thoughts race or sometimes pervade while anger boils. Chills run up or down spines, depending on where you live, and ideas aren’t just clear, they are crystal clear.

What is crystal? It’s what you drink your whiskey in. With the ice that clinks.

Things are notably pale, thick, greasy, cold, strong and dry, which they don’t need to be. If it’s a pillow, we know it’s soft. Ditto Coke and cold. Words like eat and run and speak are passed over for gobbled and raced and exclaimed. People can’t just hold, they have to clasp. They can’t cry, they have to sob, and they can’t stop, they have to come to a halt.

I’m not tired, I’m fatigued. I’m not messy, I’m disheveled. I’m not sad, I’m despondent.

Ah, whatever. At least I’m not gasping for breath or not sleeping a wink over the use of clichésEvery writer falls for them, at some time or another.

Every oak tree is gnarled. Especially this one.

–Ellen Vrana, Quora

Posted in education, Life

The Fixed Mindset

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Today I’m going to talk about possibly the most important thing I’ve ever learned, the thing that has helped me more as a student, writer, artist, and employee than any other motivational speaker or self-help book has ever managed: mindset theory.

Mindset theory is very simple at it’s core.  There are two main types of mindsets: the fixed mindset, and the growth mindset.  The fixed mindset operates on the premise that our abilities are fixed, while the growth mindset believes that we can grow and improve.

Now I know what you’re thinking.  Obviously the fixed mindset is wrong and we’re all supposed to have a growth mindset, right?  Of course people can change!  I thought the same thing when I first encountered this theory.  But the more I read the research and explored the deeper meanings, the more I realized just how fixed my mindset was.

The growth mindset thrives on challenge.  Someone with this mindset doesn’t see failure as a sign that they themselves are a failure, but instead see it as a new chance to grow.  They believe that even the most basic abilities and talents can be improved.

The fixed mindset balks at challenge.  Someone with this mindset sees failure as a direct reflection of their abilities; if they failed, they weren’t good enough, and there isn’t any point to continuing because they never will be.

People with the fixed mindset expect ability to show up on its own, before any learning takes place.  After all, if you have it you have it, and if you don’t you don’t.  I see this all the time.  –Dr. Carol Dweck

When I phrase it that directly, it’s pretty clear that this is unhealthy.  But the fixed mindset can sneak into our heads very subtly, in ways we don’t often recognize.

In school, fixed mindsetters can be seen slouching in the back row or trying to disappear whenever the teacher poses a question.  They don’t want to be called on–what if they mess up?  They might obsess over grades and lose sleep trying to pull perfect straight A’s and prove how smart they are, or they might take the alternative path of pretending they don’t care.  They’ll avoid classes they think they’ll struggle in, and can come up with anything to justify their behavior.

“Science just isn’t my subject.” 

“I’ve never been any good at trigonometry.” 

“This teacher is  setting me up to fail.”

In the workplace, fixed mindsetters can be found stressing out over performance reviews, afraid they might be falling behind expectations.  They’ll be at least a little upset that they weren’t named employee of the month or when promotions pass them up.  When something goes wrong, they’ll try to blame anything other than themselves.

“I totally deserved that promotion.” 

“I wish I could work up the courage to talk to my coworker.” 

“I’m so nervous for this meeting with the supervisor, what if I’m fired?

In all of life,  fixed mindsetters can be found robbing themselves of opportunities.  They use “I could have”s as badges of honor, reaffirming their skills without running the risk of trying and failing.  They think of themselves as having a certain amount of “talent” in any given area, some quantity they inherited but has maxed out now that they left early childhood or graduated, some inborn trait that they have to continually prove rather than improve.  They rely on test scores and awards that tell them how good they are.  When they see the success of others, they feel a little threatened.  When they mess up, they’re quick to be down on themselves.  When people suggest that they could get better, they feel their very identity is being threatened.

“Am I not good enough the way I am?”

“I’m just not smart enough for college.” 

“I could’ve gotten that award if I’d tried to.” 

“I could’ve been a professional athlete if my parents had started me young.” 

“Why didn’t I think of that?” 

“My essay’s not nearly as good as his, I bet he cheats.” 

“I’m not a talented enough writer to get published.” 

“Don’t judge me, this is just they way I am.” 

The problem with the fixed mindset is that, whether we have a fatal case or a small infection, it causes us to limit our own growth.  We don’t believe that we can fundamentally improve, and when we don’t consciously believe that, we do all sorts of damaging things.  We let opportunities pass us by.  We judge ourselves harshly without taking our potential into account.

Today, I challenge you to look for ways you have fallen into a fixed mindset.

Keep your eyes open in the next few weeks for part two, The Growth Mindset.

Did you see yourself in any of the above statements?

How has a fixed mindset held you back?

If parents want to give their children a gift, the best thing they can do is to teach their children to love challenges, be intrigued by mistakes, enjoy effort, and keep on learning.  That way, their children don’t have to be slaves of praise.  They will have a lifelong way to build and repair their own confidence.  –Dr. Carol Dweck

(The terms “fixed mindset” and “growth mindset” were coined by researcher Dr. Carol Dweck–click here to watch Dr. Dweck’s TED Talk summarizing her research and here for her website.)

 

Posted in Life

8 Things Every College Freshman Should Know But No One Talks About

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Happy Labor Day everyone!

I’m a college student in the middle of my degree, and I’ve read all the advice.  Some of it is helpful, some of it is a no-brainer, and some of it is just terrible.

For all my fellow students who are starting a new semester, especially freshmen, I’ve made a list of the most useful college advice I’ve found that no one really talks about.  All of this has been extremely helpful for me and made my experience more productive and positive.

8 Things Every College Freshman Should Know

  1. You need to be able to self-motivate, especially academically.  This one is a little obvious, but it’s so important that I had to include it on this list.  At college, there is no one chasing you to make sure you got your homework done, no helicopter teacher to remind you about every assignment and accept everything late, no mom to bail you out when you fall behind.  It comes down to this: if you don’t make yourself get things done, they won’t get done, and your grades will stink.  Figure out how to motivate yourself and not need a parent.
  2. Be competent at basic household tasks.  The number of girls I had to teach how to do laundry during my freshmen year was slightly alarming.  For most people, starting college means moving out; this means you have to know how to take care of your basic needs.  Learn how to do laundry, how to deep clean, how to work public transportation, how to make important phone calls, how to unclog a toilet, how to make some basic meals, how to tell when your food has gone bad, all those simple household needs, so you won’t need to be the freshman that’s constantly calling mom for help.
  3. There are people who want to help you, but no one wants you as their leech.  Both parts of that statement are equally true.  You don’t have to go at college completely alone.  You can go to your professors’ office hours, form study groups, ask upperclassmen for directions, all sorts of things, and most people you find will be willing to help.  We’ve all been there.  But at the same time, all those helpful people have their own problems to worry about, and the last thing they want is a clingy newbie taking over their time and resources.  A roommate will probably let you borrow a calculator, but will be irritated if you constantly use theirs and never put any effort toward getting your own.  Don’t hesitate to ask for help, but be sure to keep trying and not be too much of a drain.
  4. You don’t need to be 100% decided on your major.  These days students are pushed to choose their whole career path as high school freshmen, which is honestly ridiculous.  The majority of college students change their major at least once, and you won’t really know what you want until you’ve started doing it.  You definitely want to have some solid idea of what you’re interested in, but don’t stress it too much.  Once you get going, you’ll figure out where you shine.
  5. Be nice to people in lower positions, especially secretaries.  Seriously, secretaries are usually the most powerful people on campus.  Don’t think of librarians, custodians, or teaching assistants as somehow lower class citizens.  These people keep the school running, and they usually have a great deal of power to make your life easier or much much harder.  Try to be friends with them, or at least show them that you’re a pleasant person.  They usually have the funnest stories, best insights, and advice you’d never find anywhere else.
  6. Branch out and make friends with people outside your immediate demographic.  Often freshmen, especially freshmen girls, will find a small squad of “friends” within the first week and stick themselves to that giggle squad for the remainder of the semester, if not the whole year.  I see this way too often and it makes me sad.  Of course there’s nothing wrong with having some close loyal friends, if that’s really the reason you hang out with them; but be careful not to shut yourself off.  Try to make friends with professors, older students, students from other countries, students from other majors, people who are completely different from you.  You’ll find some incredible people, and your mind will be opened to new ideas and perspectives.  After all, college isn’t just about learning your major; it’s about growing your mind.
  7. You will have to constantly struggle for balance.  I heard a friend say that college is a constant juggling act between school, sleep, and social life, and you can never have all three to their fullest.  He’s right.  You’ll probably find yourself having more things to do than there is time for in a day, and you’ll have to decide what is most important and what you can rearrange.  Do you finish an essay or fold your laundry?  Do you pick up more hours at work, or do you take a trip home for the weekend?  Do you pull an all-nighter to study for that test you aren’t ready for, or do you sleep so your brain will be rested?  Be prepared to answer these questions.
  8. People will like you much more for being good than for being smart.  A lot of freshmen, me included, try to put up this front and project themselves as a serious intellectual or a savvy entrepreneur right from the get go.  After all, we’re insecure and want people to think we’re awesome, so we have to play the part, right?  Wrong.  At the end of the day, people just want to be cared about.  I’d much rather be friends with someone genuinely kind than someone who’s indifferent to me, regardless of how smart or successful either of them are.  Just be careful not to get so caught up in your future that you forget to be a good person.

Every year, many, many stupid people graduate from college.  And if they can do it, so can you.  –John Green

Are you a college student or former student? 

What is the best college advice you’ve heard?

Posted in Painting, Writing

The Value of Black and White

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Conception, my boy, fundamental brain work, is what makes all the difference in art.  –Dante Gabriel Rossetti

As someone who loves color, I was majorly disappointed when I walked into my first oil painting class and was told we would spend the first two weeks painting only in black and white.  I had just bought all these exciting new colors, actual artist quality colors, not just cheap grocery store paint.  Even their names were beautiful: viridian green, cadmium red light, phthalo blue, ultramarine blue, madder lake deep, quinacridone gold, dioxazine purple.  My inner painter loved the color and my geeky brain loved the chemistry, and I couldn’t wait to get started.

But not those first two weeks.  Those first two weeks, I was stuck with titanium white and mars black.

Of course, my professor knew exactly what he was doing.  By the end of those two weeks we all made leaps and bounds, we were much better prepared to enter the world of color, and I found I really loved painting in black and white.

 

This is what working in black and white does for you:

Screenshot 2018-08-31 at 9.03.12 AM.pngIt helps you see values as they actually are.  When you have a reference photo that’s in full color, it can be hard to tell which areas are lighter and which are darker.  We have natural biases about color value; we assume that cool colors are darker than warm colors, we assume that if colors are the same intensity they’ll be about the same value, we assume ares of the same color will have the same value, and so on.  Take this parrot for example.  Just looking at the colored image, I might assume that the entire red area was basically one value, or I might assume that the white eye area was lighter than the yellow feathers.  But looking at the black and white image, it becomes easy to see the shadows in the red feathers, and it’s clear that the eye area and the light feathers are in the same range.  Even if you intend to work in color, reverting an image to black and white helps you compare value easily.

It moves much faster.  Color is complicated.  You have to constantly mix up new colors, clean out your brushes, clean out your water cup, dig through your pile of colored pencils for the right one.  Working in gray-scale, you don’t have to deal with any of that, so you can bust out pieces in a third of the time.

Screenshot 2018-08-31 at 9.16.02 AMIt removes distractions so you can focus on form.  Remember these balls and cubes that we all had to draw at one point?  It shows how light and shadow form around objects, and it is very obvious in black and white images.  It’s just simpler: pure light is white, deepest shadow is black, things with light on them are lighter gray and things with less light are darker gray.  The end.  This helps you see the form of what you’re drawing, and also helps it read easier to others looking at your work.  Everyone wins!

It improves your ability to work with colors.  This seems backward, but it works.  You can see values better, work faster, learn how to show form and patterns of light, and master the basics without worrying.  One you have that down, adding color is much less daunting.  Even if you’re a skilled color artist, working in black and white helps you remember those fundamentals.

I recently rediscovered my enjoyment of working in only black and white, and plan to do it much more often, especially now that my life is getting busier.

Is there anything you initially hated about learning your craft, but now use regularly?  I’d love to hear your stories!

 

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Ten minute tree frog (charcoal).  I love drawing these odd little guys
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Current work in progress (oil and acrylic on canvas)
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Fun piece I challenged myself to finish before the end of a Food Network episode (oil on canvas)

 

Posted in Writing

The YA Bully, and Why I Hate Them

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I’m an avid devourer of young adult/teen fiction, partly because I recently exited that age demographic and mostly because that’s the target demographic for my work in progress.  I’ve read a bunch of these, from popular series to the obscure ones found only in the back of the library or on my parents’ bookshelf, and I’ve noticed a trend.

There is almost always a bully, and they are almost always completely terrible.

I don’t mean terrible person–I mean terrible character.  Unrealistic, oversimplified, predictable, and stupidly cliche.

You probably know what I’m talking about.  The protagonist is the unpopular loner kid, and the bully is nothing but a ball of cliches with the IQ of a seven-year-old.  They are rich, spoiled, entitled, and have brainless loyal cronies backing them up.  They chant, they sneer, they steal desserts, they stuff people in toilets and garbage cans.  This bully hates the protagonist, for reasons that are usually not even explained, and is fervently committed to to torturing them in particular.  The bystanders look on in fear, or better yet, snigger in appreciation.  This bully is the very epitome of basic and nasty, and there is really just no good explanation for why they are like this.

I hate this trope because it just doesn’t happen like that in real life.  Not all rich kids are automatically rude jerks.  Most bullies don’t simply call someone stupid and steal their lunch, and most have complicated motivations and life stories.  Especially at high school age, most onlookers will be more indifferent than fearful, and I have never once heard any of them actually snigger.  (Seriously, no one sniggers.)

Yes, horrible nasty bullying does exist in the world, especially in schools–but not like this.  Real bullies usually aren’t so flat and cheap; there is a whole spectrum of attitudes and methods that teenagers employ to hurt each other.  There are the fake friends, the two-faced, the sarcastic, the ignorers, the false victims, the fierce competitors, the subtle excluders, the pranksters, the violent, the passive-aggressive … the list goes on, yet most of these novels use only the most basic and obvious and juvenile.  

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not just bashing on YA writers.  I read their work all the time, and I really do love these books.  That’s why these bully characters are so disappointing to me.  I’ll open a book with a fun premise, good protagonist, witty humor, great writing, and then bam–the stereotypical bully materializes.

And I get it.  As a writer you don’t want to spend tons of time creating a fantastic bully character.  They aren’t all that important and only exist to serve a few purposes: provide some minor initial conflict, make the protagonist more sympathetic, and be horrible enough that the protagonist seems better by contrast.  The tacky trope bully accomplishes these purposes, so what’s the issue?

Here are the issues.

 

  • It makes the story less believable.  I’m sorry, but as soon as a sixteen-year-old starts sniggering and calling someone a pathetic loser, it breaks the suspension of disbelief for me.  Real people don’t act like that.  They’ll be rude, but not stupid.  Even if some real people do act like that, it’s become so overused that it feels fake regardless.
  • It’s boring.  So many YA novels have this character that it’s not anywhere near original anymore.  You can see this bully coming from a chapter away and probably find their exact dialogue in the novel you wrote at age eleven.  “You’re an idiot!” (yawn) “You don’t have any friends!” (sigh)  We’ve all read that before, countless times.  Give us something new!  There are so many more creative ways to give your character some interpersonal conflict, even so many more interesting and meaningful ways to show bullying.
  • It’s not helpful for real kids who are being bullied.  This is perhaps the most important issue.  A lot of kids read these novels right at the age that is the peak of both bullying and insecurity.  And what do they see? They see bullying as a flat caricature, and the bully is usually defeated by being publicly humiliated or taken down by someone’s magical powers.  Neither of those are positive or realistic solutions.  

Really, it isn’t hard to get past these stereotypes.  Think back to your own teenage days.  You must have had a petty classmate, a friend who talked about you behind your back, a friend who didn’t realize how self-centered they were acting, a friend who expected too much of you.  Even look around you now for a coworker who won’t give you credit for your work or a passive-aggressive manager or anyone who makes your life harder than it has to be.  Real life is full of complex and diverse examples of interpersonal conflict, all of which can serve the purpose of the cliche bully without all the problems.

Be sure to taste your words before you spit them out.

 

Posted in Life

Cultural Appropriation vs. Cultural Appreciation

First, a story.

Around the time Moana first hit theaters, Disney released a costume so kids could dress up as the character Maui, a Polynesian demigod.  This costume was essentially a brown jumpsuit patterned like the character’s tattoos, and the internet exploded.  The costume was seen as cultural appropriation, insensitive, and disrespectful to Polynesians, and was quickly pulled.

 

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The original Maui costume

 

A few months later while I was living in Hawaii, my mom and I were helping manage and entertain a group of young children at a church function.  A native Hawaiian girl looked up with a huge grin and happily informed us she was going to be Elsa from Frozen for Halloween.  My mom thought this was adorable, and later told me she thinks a lot of “cultural appropriation” is just people overreacting.  There’s nothing harmful about a little girl dressing up as a princess, right?

Cultural sensitivity has become a huge topic of discussion in the past decades, and usually comes up in occasions like the infamous Maui costume.  The internet will temporarily ignite with impassioned speeches bashing on the offender and annoyed retorts claiming it was harmless.  If you look past the surface of inflamed Twitter debates, there is a deeply interesting issue here, one that is definitely worth discussing.

Cambridge Dictionary defines cultural appropriation as “the act of of taking or using things from a culture that is not your own, especially without showing that you understand or respect this culture.”  It applies to everything from clothing, to hairstyles, to music, to symbols, and to patterns of speech, and refers to cultures that are geographical, political, racial, ethnic, social, or religious.  It’s easy to see why this can be offensive.  No one wants to see their identity turned into mass consumer products, Halloween costumes, Pinterest trends, or a standing joke.

As one tumblr user expressed, cultural appropriation is like working all semester on a project and getting an F, and then having someone copy you and get full credit.

On the other hand, there is certainly nothing wrong with appreciating, enjoying, and being exposed to other cultures.  Things like learning their languages, listening to their music, and trying their food aren’t inherently negative.  The Urban Dictionary defines cultural appropriation as “the idiotic conflation of culture with racism; essentially the absurd belief that the cultural exchange that has served to enrich humanity throughout all of human history is wrong because racists exist.”

As another tumblr user expressed, “I’m tired of people whining about cultural appropriation.  I’m flattered that you find something in my culture beautiful.”

So where is the disconnect?  You will find determined people on both sides of this debate, and they usually won’t listen to each other or even say their opponent has no right to even weigh in on the matter if they aren’t a minority.  

It all comes down to the last part of the Cambridge definition: showing that you understand and respect this culture.

There is a key difference between dressing up as Maui and dressing up as Elsa (and it’s not just that Elsa is white).  Frozen was never intended to represent a culture.  It seems to be inspired by Scandinavian countries, but not much more than Tangled is inspired by Germany.  It has all the look of a standard Disney princess movie, with simple outfits that could be easily made into costumes for additional profit.  Just look at it–it was clearly made to be marketable and sell millions of products (which it has).  We’ve all seen remakes of Elsa’s iconic dress.

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In the production of Moana, however, being historically accurate and culturally appropriate were a high priority.  The crew traveled to the Pacific Islands and did everything in their power to make the clothing, tattoos, structures, food, landscape, and dancing as accurate as possible.  Take Moana’s dress. It was created to look like it was made of tapa cloth and pandanus, nothing that couldn’t be found on the island.  Maui himself, while perhaps being the most visually iconic, is also the least able to be turned into cheap products.  He isn’t visually defined as just a dress that we can easily duplicate; his most defining characteristics (his hook and his tattoos) are also defining characteristics of Polynesian history.  His tattoos aren’t just aesthetic.  Polynesian tattoos are symbolic of family, history, societal rank, religion, and warfare: so someone from outside of the culture with no understanding of it covering themselves in fake Polynesian tattoos is at the very least a little bit weird, if not entirely offensive.

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A Hawaiian girl dressing up as Elsa is harmless, because Elsa was never meant to represent a culture.  A white boy dressing up in the aforementioned Maui costume is less harmless, because Maui was made to be a reflection of culture and his appearance contains several elements of cultural significance.  Dressing up as Maui is essentially dressing up as a culture–treating a culture as a costume.

I think the bottom line is respect.  Using pieces of a culture that isn’t your own isn’t inherently harmful; it becomes harmful when you treat it like a fad, claim it as yours, don’t give credit, and most importantly, don’t respect the culture it came from.

I’m certainly not an authority on this, and I’d love to have a productive conversation in the comments.  

Have you ever felt your culture was appropriated? 

Have you ever accidentally done it yourself?  

Where do you think the line should be drawn?