Tag Archives: writing

A Modern-Day Mecca

I submitted the following for my nonfiction assignment of the week, but I think it’s a nice contrast to me going on about more serious (to me) subjects.  At the very least, I needed the change of pace…

My sister wants to go to Comic-Con. The one who couldn’t sit through a single episode of Firefly, complained through all of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, and doesn’t know the difference between Marvel and DC. But she wants to go to Comic-Con.

“Can you even name the Star Wars movies—in order?” I asked her between fits of laughter. What you’re about to hear may be extremely disturbing.

She stuttered and fumbled for a moment, then began, “The first one…the second one…Return of the Jedi—uh, something, the one with the Ewoks—um, Revenge of the Jedi. I don’t know. Like I’m supposed to know any of that!”

Now I’m obligated through family to love her and ignore the fact that my soul is bleeding through any of the offensive wounds above, but what really makes me facepalm is I can’t talk her out of this. I’ve tried. I’ve explained what to expect, and the kind of people who go to cons—even the really scary nerd stereotypes that you think you won’t see until you do and then you will never unsee, or unsmell. People with her interests go to California for places such as Beverly Hills. People like me go to California for Comic-Con.

In August of 2008, I almost didn’t go to Otakon. There was the question of travel—not only between Virginia and Maryland, but into Baltimore as well—and at the whopping age of 19 the most I could get out of my parents were the rights of someone 13—God forbid after having been away at college for an entire year I go somewhere where I might stay out past sunset. However, after having spent the summer not-finding a job in an economy making a turn for the worse and sitting around with nothing better to do, I managed to convince my parents to grant me some manner of fun.

But there I stood in the lesser heat of Maryland’s August. Facing the direct shade-less, concrete walls of the Baltimore Convention Center, I knew I’d been led into the Promised Land. Before, I was thrilled to learn there were even five people like me. By the end of a weekend I mingled with over 26,000.

Previously, conventions were something I’d only heard about on TV. It seemed to only be a trait of the West Coast far, far away. When I learned there was not only a convention on the East Coast, but it was also the largest anime convention on the East Coast—and relatively close to me—I didn’t want to not-go. I didn’t want the rooms big enough to land jumbo jets, the thousands of thousands of people, the merchandise, the games, the panels, and more to exist only in someone else’s description.

According to the Baltimore Business Journal, “In 2009, [Otakon] brought in $12.5 million in direct spending and drew 26,600 attendees, according to the city’s tourism office.” In 2010, Otakon raked in $15.3 million. The last three years have seen over 26,000 attendees, making it the largest anime convention on the East Coast, second largest anime convention overall, and the third largest convention in the United States behind Anime Expo and Comic-Con. Since moving to the Baltimore Convention Center 1999, it has been the city’s largest hosted convention.[i]

From 2007-2009, it was the single greatest source of revenue for the City of Baltimore—including the Ravens and Orioles.[ii] In the interests of professionalism I will not take time to be my usual self and say, “Suck it, sports fans.”

However, in 2008 all I saw was the line of people wrapping around the entire convention center—people outside much longer than my late-coming self. In 2009, I stood in that line before eight in the morning as it wrapped around the entire Convention Center twice (I stood in a not-as-climactic wiggle for 2010 while everyone who didn’t get their badges the night before wrapped around the Convention Center). I stood amongst the cosplay and even recognized some of the characters portrayed. People dressed as Ash and Misty still today? As I discovered, a few staples of the geek world are always required, including your Mario Parties.

That first year, the moment when I discovered the fabled Dealer’s Room, the one large enough to hold a jumbo jet, and saw the wall-to-wall rows of tables and tables of stuff, was the first moment in my life that I truly loved shopping in the same manner as every other girl. The next year, I played it smarter and made a list.

Maybe Otakon is the Promised Land, but every good geek knows Comic-Con is something greater. If not Heaven on Earth, then at least the Mecca, Canterbury, Jerusalem, and the final resting place of a very large Holy Grail. For someone like me to travel to Comic-Con must be akin to a mountaineer scaling Everest—compare the brutality of climbing Everest to the financial costs of investing in a trip to Comic-Con. I could go to Vegas and spend less, let’s put it that way.

Like anyone protective of their holy relics, my sister’s unconventional declaration raised as much shock as it did outright cackles of ridiculousness. Geeks have but so few places to go safe from the forced swirlies and locker-stuffings of the rest of the world. I mean, I’d heard rising complaints through the internet that Comic-Con was bringing in more and more Others—but if the people that snub and dismiss you the other 360-something days of the year suddenly want to hang out in the same place, would you be all “with arms wide open?” I bet you’d be thinking, “It’s a trap!” too. Sure, the 2000s have been the Decade of the Geek with the advent of mainstream hits such as Lord of the Rings, Batman Begins, the Dark Knight, Iron Man/2, and plenty of things in-between and after previously associated with us, and considered only appropriate for us. Hollywood discovered the bank mu-lah to be made if you produce the material right—instead of textual complexity, make it visually engaging, or summarize decades of dense continuity with singular Box Office home runs—and the walls have been chipped at ever since.

I can only imagine the occurring shitstorm over the year Comic-Con first hosted Twilight stuff. Think about it, the entire science-fiction/fantasy genre is forced to wear that scarlet letter—but I’m sure fiction’s got plenty of equally unglamorous, fiber-less, dinosaur craps it doesn’t have to account for.

Thankfully, that’s not why my sister’s interested. While Comic-Con’s known for hosting guests and panels related to popular TV shows, Big Bang Theory is almost a complete crossover between the geek world and the rest of the world. If anything, it’s re-popularized how okay it is to laugh at the pale, socially awkward, nerd stereotype making up a very, very, very large percent of any convention’s population. As much as I want to go to Comic-Con, I do not want to babysit my sister in my idea of paradise when she (1) realizes that “Sheldon Cooper” isn’t going to whisk her off into the sunset, and (2) discovers she’s an attractive young woman in a convention center full of thousands of “Sheldon and the gang” equivalents, and (by the time Comic-Con comes around) she’ll longer have protection afforded by the term “jailbait.”

While the above begins to resemble a sitcom episode, the big reason is this: Comic-Con is five times the size of Otakon. From 2006 on the San Diego Convention Center has been privy to crowding issues, and seen years where it’s been completely sold out—complete with scalping. Over 130,000 people attended in 2010. According to the North County Times in San Diego, Comic-Con 2011’s Wednesday Night Preview sold out of its 15,000 passes two hours before the 2010 convention ended. Overshadowing Otakon’s $15.3 million revenue in 2010, Comic-Con contributed $163 million to San Diego.[iii] What began as a small expo where a few hundred comic fans showed off their collections in the 70s has grown to be the—and the largest—convention in the United States.[iv] So yeah, as the mature sibling I’m a little concerned about sending my sister across the country to something she might or might not (coughmostlikelycough) be able to enjoy

During one episode of Big Bang Theory, after spending an entire summer in the North Pole on a special, highly classified government-assigned physics study Sheldon laments, “And I missed Comic-Con.”

[i] Bernstein, Rachel. “Otakon and soccer mean big business for Baltimore Read more: Otakon and soccer mean big business for Baltimore | Baltimore Business Journal .” Baltimore Business Journal 30 July 2010: n. pag. Web. 9 Mar 2011. <http://www.bizjournals.com/baltimore/stories/2010/07/26/daily43.html?page=1&gt;.

Proctor, Carolyn M. “Room to Grow.” Baltimore Business Journal 10 Dec. 2010: n. pag. Web. 9 Mar 2011. <http://www.bizjournals.com/baltimore/print-edition/2010/12/10/room-to-grow.html&gt;.

[ii] Same as “i”

[iii] Wolff, Eric. “REGION: Comic-Con sells out 2011 Preview Night before Con ends.” North County Times 26 July 2010: n. pag. Web. 9 Mar 2011. <http://www.nctimes.com/business/article_0dd24a8a-a75d-53ae-a16e-3c0c244d5e0c.html&gt;.

[iv] Rowe, Peter. “Invasion of the Comic Fanatics.” San Diego Union-Tribune 16 July 2006: n. pag. Web. 9 Mar 2011. <http://www.signonsandiego.com/uniontrib/20060716/news_1n16comicon.html&gt;.


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I confess: I possessed Two Reasons for watching the Super Bowl.  I don’t even like football–never really understood the appeal, particularly this year when two such generic, well-known teams with consistently champion-ish records are competing for a title I feel we’ve all seem them go at again, and again, and again.  Give someone else a chance much?

So I sat it out and waited patiently for every commercial cut hoping to glimpse two teaser-trailers continuing the decade-strong film tradition of Revenge of the Nerds.  It’s iconic stuff for us.

It's even in their tagline: "When the heroes are in trouble..."

But I can’t help but look at this lineup and sigh…Girls Need Role Models Too.  In my geek of geeks heart, sooner or later someone (as in someone with some kind of magical Hollywood influence) really needs to make something that bleaches Twilight from our minds.  I understand that the shadowy men in charge are kinda aged, kinda old-school, and kinda have this idea of exactly what women want in a movie (which might or might not be off), but every once in a while please give the female species something that passes The Bechdel Test.

Before we all dive to conclusions, I don’t consider myself a feminist.  The feminists I’ve encountered in my time like to spout “men oppressed us this,” and “men ignore us that,” and “men don’t take us seriously,” and I believe that way back in the 20th century that kind of outcry possessed a greater validity.  But growing up at the turn of the century, I haven’t seen that as much.  I see it used as propaganda, but other than the tweens on Xbox Live the guys I know my age don’t really care what women do with their lives, so long as they get laid on occasion.

No, I’ve had problems with other women–girls, specifically.

I ended my errand run in the toy section again the other day, which is usually what happens when I go shopping at Target.  Now this sounds strange coming from a girl–unless the girl collects Barbie dolls or something–but I wasn’t in the Barbie aisle (And I don’t have kids).  No, I was looking at DC Universe toys–collectables.

I ultimately found a figurine of Black Canary so it wasn’t all bad.  There’s a point to this.  I tend to be formulaic about the toys I ogle: DC Universe, LEGOs, and Nerf in varying order.  And I’ve never strayed over to aisles decorated in that bright shade of bubblegum pink, the land of Barbie, and My Little Pony, and other things, except once when I showed a friend the point I’m about to elaborate on.

I see it in commercials, especially around the holiday season.  I see it when I am errand-running in Target, or at a mall.  I see it in the coupons crammed into my mailbox with all the deals and potential savings on things I don’t need.  But I wonder…have you ever noticed how the girls’ side of the toy aisle often resembles the parents-to-be aisle?  There are toys that burp, and cry, and need someone to feed them!  Even potty-training toy dolls (creepiest thing I’ve ever seen).  There are miniature baby carriages, and small houses with kitchen sets.

Looking at this from the perspective of an adult, is this really supply of toys aimed at young girls? The tie to parenthood and/or domestic life, fashion and makeup, etc, appears to be a (very, very, very, very, very scary) common trend. Do all girls want nothing more in life than to be well-dressed mothers?  Growing up, I sure didn’t, but according to commercials, and looking at the actual toy aisles…yes.  And if the toy aisle isn’t enough, there’s always the ever-looming head of Disney.

But girls get the better show, am I right?

Meanwhile, toys for young boys feature Star Wars, or Hot Wheels, electronics, LEGOs, GI Joe, Batman, Halo, Iron Man, Tron and more.  I read somewhere, “You don’t see boys’ toys featuring suits and powerpoint slides.”  Boys can build things, drive cool cars/spaceships, fight alien races, become superheroes–you know: law enforcement, astronaut, architect, and so on.

(If you follow the commentary of this article…) Some have already commented that girls outgrow their childhood toys after a certain age.  But what about the amount of pressure on a girl to encourage, if not force, this process.  For example, not long after my eleventh birthday I remember being told by my parents to give up everything Pokémon—toys, games, TV show, etc—because I was “too old,” end of story.

Enter middle school and girls suddenly experiment with makeup and become picky about appearances.  The differentiation over the next few years is quick, brutal, and based on an unwritten set of standards for female appearances and behavior.  This unwritten code is then enforced—not so much by men as one may initially think—but by other women: on TV, in the movies, friends at school, older girls seen around school, characters in books.  Everywhere.  Reinforcement bombards across these different mediums.

Careful, that is but her dagger.

From personal experience, by high school anything Girls + Anything Geek has been slapped with the Big NO. First, because of the association with masculinity.  Second?  The above-mentioned list.  So is that it then?  Are girls only allowed to obsess over men?  Hormonally, socially, and culturally, life to a girl—according to this standard—is supposed to be about attracting men, loving men, and keeping a single man?

So…Do not enjoy male things.  Do not associate with other men beyond the realm of acquaintance.


In my case, resistance made the few girls I knew work to change me. To make me, “Better.”  “We’re just going to…edit…the things that aren’t right,” I was told.

I am not right, and I need to be made better.

Once, on a student trip between my junior and senior year, these same friends lectured me for wearing the Star Wars t-shirt I loved on my birthday as a personal celebration.  Later on the same trip I received a sterner reprimand for out-competing the other guys while a group of us goofed off on a playground.  I was pulled aside and everything, the words burned into memory “Boys don’t like it when girls perform better than them…it’s inappropriate to act so unladylike if you ever want to attract a man.”  All this coming from a girl a year older than me, and her tone suggested I committed the eighth deadly sin.

Though the unasked lessons never stuck,  the constant admonishment left me convinced I was forever unattractive to men, an image I still struggle with.

Add one to the list:  And do not—ever—compete with men at their level.

Is this where the Taylor Swifts and Twilight Sagas come into play.  As far as that material is concerned, your only focus (as a girl) and purpose in life is to remain the pure virgin until some man comes along.  No additional work required, if you’re beautiful enough, or angst from afar long enough, he’ll waltz over and sweep you away.

This year, we get The Green Hornet, Thor, Green Lantern, Captain America, and on the horizon are The Avengers, another Batman, Superman, and more.  Yeah, I know people aren’t entirely rejoicing over the new X-Men, or Spiderman, but if every superhero movie churned out pure diamond-studded gold, then there’d be no more jocks and cheerleaders terrorizing your high-school aged gender of choice.

But Girls Need Role Models Too.  They’re a little overdue.

It’s why I write.

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Hello World

“Who died, and made you king of anything?”

–Sara Bareilles

Here now, I formally introduce The Undaunted Pen: a commentary, and (hopefully decent) analysis on things related to my writing processes (thoughts, opinions, observations, etc).  I’m starving for a different kind of discussion, one with actual discussion taking place, and since I can’t seem to find it in class I turn to the internet.  You know, being constructive and all that good stuff.

I want to write.  You know, with keyboard and computer screen?  But over the last couple of years I’ve built up a lot of angst, anger, and frustration with regards to writing discussions and critique.  Honestly, I expected better from my educational system than what I’ve received, and not just because of the amount of money it takes to keep me here.  I expected to learn about writing from my writing classes, to learn about finding my voice, and to build my skills around a style that I would be allowed to call my own.

I believed that what I write, and my interests within writing, don’t matter so long as the effort was there.  Well, the effort was there, but the interest as far as teachers are concerned, was not.

Not to say that all of my teachers were bad–I’ve had some very good ones–but the ones running the writing workshop courses have left me routinely with rage.

I want a creative writing teacher (outside of nonfiction) who embraces the world’s variety.  I want the kind of teacher who looks at my work and says, “I see what you’re doing, and here’s what we can do to make that happen.”

Instead, I’m accustomed to, “I see what you’re doing, and here’s what you can do to make it better for me.”

I expected better.  Something that would hold in the face of logic.

I’ve never seen a class defeat destroy its purpose, lose completely misplace its cause, and beat that dead mixture with a stick more than creative writing aka “fiction workshop.”  I understand that at some fundamental level fiction/literature, and fantasy/science fiction/mystery/horror/romance/etc are viewed on separate and unequal platforms that may never, ever intersect–and I was aware of this going into English to begin with–but I never expected the amount of resistance towards any deviation from the norm.

So far the message I’ve gotten is, “We embrace your creativity, as long as it fits our standards.”

Maybe my approach is wrong.  Maybe those in a fiction workshop to begin with are writing to the kind of people they expect to still be in a fiction workshop course at the advanced level–people who share their interests alone.  They’re reaching out to their audience because these kinds of courses provide them a sample, a test run.  And that’s fine, my problem has never been with my classmates, just the people running the class.

Call it what you like, but I’m searching for another way.

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