A few years after enjoying the edgiest, most memorable high school Intro to Psychology course in the state of Oregon, I experienced International Baccalaureate Psychology, a class so dull it warrants no description beyond the obligatory kudos to Jesus for equipping me with the company of my friends Nyssa and Michael for vital commiseration. The entertaining pre-IB course was taught by the iconic Cliff Shaw, a man who sported a bald head, red goatee, gauges, and square glasses long before pop culture revived them, who figured effective curriculum entailed reenacting Milgram’s obedience and authority experiment with two voluntary students (to serve as “teacher” and “learner”) and a “shock machine.” While the whole thing turned out to be a ruse that only Shaw and the “learner” were in on, the shocked student’s acting was so Oscar-worthy we thought we were witnessing a lawsuit in the making, and ultimately proved as an entire class that authority overrules morality… or that everyone just wanted to see the class clown get shocked some more. With such a hard act to follow, it’d be a chore for any successive psychology course to garner favor, but IB didn’t even try. Taught by a recent college graduate who seemed to have no interest in either teaching or psychology, IB Psych was an experience that makes it difficult to decide whether my college psychology course, in which I learned nothing new beyond the rate at which your social life declines when assigned two quick-turn-around essays every week for three months, was really all that bad.
One interesting takeaway I can attribute to IB, however, occurred when a classmate discussed treatment of her obsessive-compulsive disorder which, if my memory serves me correctly, involved some sort of stick with multicolored stripes that she was instructed to methodically match with her hands. This oration hearkened back to the Intro course, in which a girl discussed her fixation with touching a certain spot on the wall prior to leaving her room each day, flipping light switches twice, and making sure her shoe laces maintained equal lengths on each side. If these things, among others, weren’t tended to on a regular basis, she would fall prey to panic.
Personally, I have never been formally tested for obsessive-compulsive disorder. My family is averse to doctors and abides by the “wait it out until it becomes dire” creed, demonstrated clearly the time I had pneumonia and desperately needed a prescription for an inhaler three months earlier. Despite the fact that I don’t have a distinctive chicken-scratch signature to officiate it, obsessive-compulsive disorder drives me with the same obviousness that plastic surgery drives Jocelyn “Cat Woman” Wildenstein.
Although Cat Woman’s obsessions clearly trump my own and she may be in dire need of a striped stick, listening to my psychology peers divulge their diagnosed OCD ticks provided an interesting comparison to my own symptoms, which were recurrent, daily necessities even without the professional signature of validity. For example, while living in the animal menagerie that comprised my mom’s old house, my nerves required that I check every single plate, bowl, cup, and utensil for pet hair before eating from it, and if someone served me up a dish without the mandatory inspection, I would literally become sick to my stomach and stare at the meal dismally, wondering how on earth I’d go about eating it without gagging on my neurotic suppositions. When I would write (which was constant habit both pre-IB Essay Onslaught and post), I would be impelled by some force of necessity to scratch things regardless of a nonexistent itch, resulting in scarification that made makeup application an exciting challenge. The contents of my room had to stay immaculately clean, everything had to occupy a permanent spot that it was always returned to, I always needed to push back my cuticles when I was nervous, and work always needed to be completed before I partook in anything else, including eating. If I didn’t perform these and numerous other compulsions with immediacy, they gnawed at my mind until I finally amended the hitch.
My symptoms have actually dissipated quite a bit with age, in part to a personal campaign I enacted a couple years ago, working to relieve myself of the more inhibitory compulsions and miraculously pulling it off. While time and sheer determination have worked wonders, there are some routines I still can’t shake. Everything in my life has to maintain a specific order, and while I no longer color-code my closet, making sure every garment faces the same direction, I still abide by a figurative grid. All my belongings have to be consistently organized in a relative pattern to one another, and if something becomes askew, it has to be fixed. Ovens and stove tops have to be checked twice before leaving the house, I have to sit in the exact same, silent spot to complete any written material, dishes have to be washed immediately after cooking and right before eating, and work has to be completed prior to leisure and meals, unless my willpower can sneak a banana past the obsessive-compulsive beast.
Recently, while enduring an internet crisis over the past couple days, something happened that almost deemed my Beat the Urge campaign moot. My boyfriend introduced me to a compulsion that’s entirely new to me: the drive to beat a game. While this unexpected competitive spirit would generally be ascribed to a spike in testosterone, I fear my fervor may be morphing into fixation before my LED-illuminated eyes. And the game of all things? Candy Crush, an iPhone app I had to commandeer my boyfriend’s iPad to play, and play I have been.
I was never one for dwindling away the hours in front of a game console or plodding away on a cell phone to navigate a centipede through a labyrinth. My dad bought us an X-Box back in middle school and we played Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets and Jet Set Radio for a couple months before basilisks and gun-wielding cops on the hunt for pesky rollerskating taggers gave me too many heart palpitations and retired the X-Box to DVD duty. Video games further deterred me upon returning home from my first quarter of college to discover my current boyfriend had been inducted into the Call of Duty fetish, morphing him from a peaceful musician into a Gollum-eyed drone, controller permanently at hand to shoot the enemy and attention fixated on the screen no matter how many times you walked naked in front of it.
But that was before the Candy Crush craze. Presented in the whimsical colors of a four-year-old’s wardrobe, Candy Crush is a sugary sweet game with aesthetics not unlike Sugar Rush of Wreck It Ralph fame–sans any large-headed, speed-demon children. In a vein akin to Tetris, Candy Crush is all about aligning like candies in groups of three to complete various tasks, such as clearing away a horde of whipped cream-cover jellies and earning yourself 40,000 points in 60 seconds to save Lemonade Lake from drying up. With so many challenging puzzles and the allure of 440 levels featuring hotspots like the aforementioned yellow puddle, it’s no wonder the game is addictive. Between sketching featured images for the blog and completing a retouching project on my end and covering a script on his, my boyfriend and I spent almost 24 hours a piece trying to beat the onerous level 23, and when I finally did I almost shrieked as loud as thirteen-year-old Emily when she received the movie Holes for her birthday.
Where Candy Crush gets vicious, however, is in it’s ability to lure you in with a guise of varicolored innocence and then capitalize off your obsessive-compulsiveness by making the latter levels all about sheer luck. I felt sure I’d finally weened myself off of it when level 33 produced the revelation that a game was causing me frustration rather than quintessential enjoyment, but the next morning I found my fingers seeking out the iPad they’d previously tossed aside as if acting on their own volition. Perhaps I’ll get lucky, compulsiveness tells me, but logic asserts that it’s time to reenact Operation Quell the Hankering and crush this competitive aggression (that my racquetball coaches always wished I’d display) into a million candy-coated shards.
When I was a freshman in college, back when dubstep was becoming more vogue with each new Mt. Eden and Skrillex single, and I was finding my social footing with a scurrilous group of guys that went by the sobriquet The Basement Boys (more details on which would require a separate blog post), the internet sensation StumbleUpon was taking a viral hold on college undergrads worldwide.
Having received my first iPod at the late age of 15 and with no desire to invest my time in a Twitter account or jump on the iPhone bandwagon, it’s clear that I’ve never been one to heed viral trends, and StumbleUpon was no different. So while my friends utilized this tool to accelerate their freshman ADD, I spent my computer time corroding my eyesight away on Photoshop files, all-nighter after all-nighter.
But now that school is perturbingly a thing of the past and my workaholic nature has little to consume beyond a part-time internship, blogging, and the daily job hunt, I find myself increasingly turning to the internet for creative stimulation. And that’s how StumbleUpon made a reappearance in my life, almost five years later.
A lot of this newfangled free time is spent maintaining a marketing campaign to perpetuate my artistic portfolio in the hopes of procuring work, and while adhering to this daily endeavor, I read somewhere that StumbleUpon was another resource for uploading your website and increasing its accessibility–even if the odds of someone stumbling on your page amidst the millions of websites already circulating the service are mighty slim. So I created a Stumble account, informed the Interests Guru that I dig art, dancing, interior design, literature, comedy, mythology, and cocktails, and got to uploading my portfolio for some college undergrad to stumble past as they avoided work for this algorithmic Russian roulette. In the meantime, I started stumbling just to see if it would retrieve webpages that actually catered to my palate. Turns out, palates are exactly what they had in mind when they decided, “this girl probably hails from the obsessive foodie region of the Northwest and likes to ogle sumptuous cookbook photography and recipes that she won’t have the time or the funds to concoct.”
Well, they were right.
If food photography didn’t utilize so little brain power and conceptual design, I would drop my affinity for narrative portraiture and start shooting Elmer’s glue to look like superlative milk in a heartbeat. If you’ve got a great stylist, food photography is a peaceful endeavor where the model is incredibly reliable until it starts spoiling. And if you’ve got internet access or a bus ticket to the nearest Barnes & Noble, food photography and the accompanying recipes are even more relaxing to simply gaze at.
I don’t know how StumbleUpon knew it, but ever since the 19th when I joined the discovery engine that hasn’t gone out of style since 2002, I’ve received webpage after webpage of the best brunches in Los Angeles, grilled-cheese for adults with spinach and pesto, brown sugar chili-rubbed salmon with avocado crema, and even a seed cake inspired by The Hobbit–all topped off with delectably mouthwatering images whose soft lighting beckons you in while the low aperture composes a visual feast.
Of course I’ve received a couple other web sources here and there: a Nikon app that tells you exactly what happened on this day in history, do-it-yourself inductions into hipsterhood with self-made galaxy jeans, a website that recommends beverages based on the song you’re currently listening to, instructions on how to make a coffee table out of a recycled window, and images of postmodern staircases designed to mimic Escher prints, roller coasters, and spinal columns.
One of the most ridiculous pages I’ve received (besides an homage to the mantis shrimp), combined my love for yuppie recipes and food imagery with unfiltered honesty, resulting in the vegan-gangster haven that is Thug Kitchen. Hilariously brash, relentlessly appetizing, and chartering a 35.2K fan base under the crass motto, “Eat Like You Give a Fuck,” the creator (or creators, considering the blog originates from LA anonymity) of Thug Kitchen is the character True Blood thought they were manifesting when they colored their dialogue, but fell short of when they forgot to include the necessary pinch of Tony Soprano verisimilitude.
The language employed to divulge their recipes is probably too vulgar to share with your mother (my mom gasped in horror at my language when I yelled, “SHIT!” while stalling her manual-shift sedan on one of the Siskyous’ many vertical inclines), but the healthy concoctions that result from the irrepressible cursing cater to everyone’s appetite (including my vegetarian mother’s!). While Thug Kitchen’s linguistic intent is to reduce the aura of expensive elitism that pervades healthy eating, I don’t have the funds to afford the ingredients for peanut tempeh summer rolls or smokey bean and spinach sliders, whether you attach the f-word to them or not. But on that fateful day when I finally win the food lottery and edible ingredients keep rolling in, I’ll be sure to review every last recipe in the blog’s archives and report my findings with gusto.
For the time being, I’ll simply continue growing increasingly addicted to the digital inspiration StumbleUpon delivers–giving the internet a leg up on the prolonged attempt to envelop Emily Moon into pop culture erudition.
This morning, I woke up naturally at 7:30, blindly snagged myself on my boyfriend’s fan, woke the entire apartment complex when it came crashing down, and got to thinking about decades.
Thus far, I’ve only lived through two full decades, but in that short twenty-year span it’s insane how many things have evolved (and not just the things attributed to Steve Jobs’ tyrannical ingenuity). Since the 90s, cell phones have diminished in size from the hulking Monarch brick Agent Dana Scully had to pull a 3-mile antennae from before she could address her urgent callers, to the boxy Nokia that went off in my fifth grade class with no penalty (because my sister and I were the only children in the country who had cell phones in 2001), and finally to the streamlined smartphone in every modern four-year-old’s Gymboree shorts (although, if the increasing size of the iPhone is any indication, looks like we’ll be right back there with 90s FBI setbacks in a fortnight). CDs swept in to antiquate cassette technology and just as quickly yielded their lionization to MP3s. Pig tails, butterfly clips, and crimpers dissipated with the stardom of Sarah Michelle Gellar and Melissa Joan Hart. Britney Spears riled up mothers about teen inappropriateness, shaved her head, and sought out Autotune to salvage her career, and the formerly hirsute Hanson became a symbol of ignominy that those of us over twenty continue to joke about in embarrassment. Pop culture drama morphed from Corey and Topanga’s relationship to Camille Grammer’s Real Housewives divorce, and lovable little Nano Pets segued into some really angry birds.
So many definitive constituents seem to be jilted with each passing decade that one can only wonder what will characterize our current decade for future generations. Will the ever-increasing speed of technological advancement continue to make things passé so quickly that we’ll hardly retain anything to attribute to this decade? And what will people even call this time period? The teens? We certainly haven’t made things easy for ourselves, a fact that might explain why contemporary pop culture seems so keen on reincarnating the past. We move with such rapidity toward an indiscernible future that we practically necessitate the familiarity gleaned from Kanye West’s 80s riffs, period pieces like Madmen and Downton Abbey, and the Cary Grant chic channelled by Justin Timberlake and pre-Don Jon Joseph Gordon-Levitt. With all our forward progression, it seems we just can’t resist the urge to look backwards.
Personally, despite the groans of protest from both my boyfriend and my mom, I would have loved to have lived in the 80s. In lieu of the spiraling 90s, the 80s were a time period that granted you the freedom to wear your hair as big and as teased as you wanted without being compared to Snooki, a larger Bono and B52s fan base to network with and firsthand access to Peter Gabriel’s “Sledgehammer” music video, and the ability to attend beach pier parties featuring shirtless, long-haired saxophonists akin to Timmy Cappello in The Lost Boys. I would have danced my way down city avenues Cyndi Lauper-style, River Phoenix’s portrayal of Chris Chambers would have stolen my heart (as if it didn’t in this day and age), and I’d never leave the house without a pair of tri-colored legwarmers to accompany my white Nikes. I would have been as excited about Tears for Fears’ upcoming album, trippy surrealist films (The Heathers, anyone?), and the Rubik’s Cube craze as all those arcade mongers who got to experience the Pacman beta.
But for all the griping I do about my actual childhood era, I can’t deprive the 90s of all merit. Yes, the platform tennis shoes, leopard-print pantsuits, and hair wrapped to look like horns on a Visigoth helmet resulted in one of the most vomitrocious band wardrobes ever assembled, but I certainly wouldn’t be the harmonic woman I am today without the guidance of the Spice Girls. And once you get past the teen blarney of Saved By the Bell and the childhood trauma instilled by X-Files episodes your parents shouldn’t have let you watch, you realize the 90s hosted some TV gems: the enduring hilarity of Seinfeld, The Simpsons in their season 7 heyday, Mr. Not-Yet-Big grilling suspects in the original Law and Order, Patrick Stewart charting our course in Star Trek: Next Generation, all the donut-fueled madness of Twin Peaks, and, of course my new obsession, The X-Files, from which “Bad Blood” and “Humbug” are writing genius.
In summation, I rescind my previous sentiments. I suppose without any personal 80s anecdotes to regale my peers with, the 90s aren’t such a bad time period to look back on in this present, indeterminate decade.
Besides, we all know the 1940s Sam Spade era is really where it’s at.