Things, Vol. 1: Fall & Feelings

Welcome to volume 1 of Things! Aka, things that I’ve encountered/experienced that I feel describe my current state of being. 🙂 Actually, this title brings up some interesting philosophical questions about who we actually are – am I just a union of my experiences and senses? That’s a subject for another day…

CURRENT OBSESSION: STEVEN UNIVERSE

MUSIC:

LIFE:

  • Wearing scarves
  • Mobility in my cervical & thoracic spine + scapulae – it feels loooovely and I recommend it.
  • Drinking tea instead of coffee – what a difference. Tea feels so much gentler on my body.
  • I am STUDYING what I LOVE and it feels SO fulfilling. #findyoself #followyodreams #butconsiderrealityaswell #whatdidieverseeinstem #itsachitariverareference but actually though if you’re stuck in a rut in terms of your major or career direction I think you should start with something you love or are passionate/excited about and study it broadly. Explore things related to it, look at what people are doing related to it, take classes related to it. And keep an open mind and pay attention to the things that make your heart go loopy and reflect on why they do. I will probably write more on this later…

THINGS TO WORK ON:

  • Being okay with being seen
  • Putting myself out there and being okay with being vulnerable and embarrassed
  • Just talk to people…
  • Allowing myself to do what makes me happy
  • Taking care of myself (aka not running my body into the ground (aka actually going to sleep at a reasonable hour))

WHAT’S BOTHERING ME:

  • Digestive issues. WTF, dairy?!?
  • My own scrutiny of my own inauthenticity
  • The fact that the approaching winter means I can no longer wear my Chacos
  • Sadness

NEXT STEPS:

  • Give and request more hugs from people. Human touch is lovely.
  • Make EYE CONTACT and DON’T LOOK AWAY! Own that eye contact. Own your space.
  • Actually talk to people and hang out and make friends.
  • Go to sleep at a healthy time, and maybe eat breakfast in the morning.
  • Expect dissonance, expect to be nervous, learn to work with it.
  • Practice grand jetes with attitude back en tournant, and figure out how to not bruise my knee all the time.
  • Make more art.
  • Buy some winter shoes.
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a pretentious selfie to capture the physicality of my current state of being
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An Obsession

I’m going to tell you about something that is a bit silly and a bit embarrassing, but also an undeniable part of who I am.

I attach meaning to things in an incredibly subjective and almost arbitrary way. I ruminate on those meanings, and ruminate, and ruminate, and ruminate, and ruminate, and ruminate until I am able to articulate those meanings and they suddenly become less significant than they were before.

I live on excitement. When it’s 1:00 am and I am dead tired and I have work to do and I would really rather just disappear into the void, I watch videos of Broadway divas slaying the stage until excitement bubbles up inside of me so excessively and uncontrollably that it crowds out any of the lackluster fatigue and nothingness that actually dwells there. It’s a choking feeling that comes from the inside that sends me into convulsions of excitement.

I am obsessive. I live for things and they rule my mind and I let them. I listen to the same album for weeks on repeat without listening to any other music. Those lyrics loop through my head and rule my thoughts the instant I wake up and while I walk to class, shower, brush my teeth, do homework – I become the obsession and it becomes me and I become unsure of who or what I am. Am I an idea? a thought? an action? Am I whatever I believe or want myself to be? Am I the thoughts that run through my mind? Or am I nothing at all, and do these things that I give meaning to comprise who I am? Is it the meaning that creates my identity?

Collegiate existential crises are so cliche but honestly, at this point, they aren’t even crises anymore. I am just a big ball of existential questions and I’m learning to be okay with not knowing the answers. This goes for my future as well. It would be no fun at all to know exactly where I’ll end up in 10 years, so I’m just taking it one day at a time. Even if the days lead me to a cardboard box under a bridge, or the dreaded office job that so many creatives shun.

All this to say, I am thoroughly obsessed with Steven Universe – yes, the children’s cartoon show on Cartoon Network. I would explain to you why I’m so obsessed with it but then my obsession would be logical and reason-based and it would no longer be an obsession. I would be a third-party viewer of the obsession, and I am currently enjoying being wholly submerged in it. I have no desire to lift my head above the water to reason with myself about it. Besides – explaining an obsession generally entails explaining the arbitrary meaning I attach to that thing, and I feel these meanings too deeply to be comfortable wrapping them up in boxes with neat little bows of explanations.

Here’s a list of Steven Universe things that make my heart swell up with bubbly obsession:

  • Filipina actors
  • Deedee Magno Hall’s voice
  • Rebecca Sugar’s voice
  • “Love Like You”
  • “What’s the Use in Feeling Blue”
  • Patti LuPone as a guest star
  • Susan Egan’s voice and she is a real life goddess
  • I love Pearl more than anything
  • “Peace and Love on the Planet Earth”
  • Peridot’s character arc
  • Just everything about Garnet
  • Garnet’s songs
  • Pink and blue color schemes
  • Star eyes
  • Lion
  • The entire “Mr. Greg” episode
  • Honestly just every single scene or song with Pearl in it
  • Relationships
  • Communication
  • Authenticity
  • Simplicity
  • Love
  • Rebecca Sugar is from the same area I’m from, so there are a lot of subconscious elements in the show that just feel like home to me
  • Handling complex themes in a kids’ show that is really helpful to me as a college student
  • The art is so so so beautiful
  • Badass and complex female characters

Well, I wrote about why I didn’t want to explain my obsession or quantify it into words but I did it anyway. Hmm. This list is infinitely incomplete and forever expanding – so it is just a list of a few things that are in my head right now. No explanations on what those things are or what they mean to me.

“Life and death and love and birth and peace and war on the planet Earth. Is there anything that’s worth more than peace and love on the planet Earth?”

Unedited pretentious ramblings about the struggles of making art

I really just want to watch Steven Universe and I’m so confused about so many things and I’m scared and embarrassed and lonely and insecure. I don’t know who I am, who I am supposed to be, who I am to the people around me that I care so much about yet cannot express to them. I do not know how to kick my ass into gear and actually get some stuff done instead of just sitting and thinking about how I have to do it and the best way to do it. The Elizabethan Hamlet-esque conflict of action vs. inaction, cerebral vs. instinctive, spiritual vs. intellectual is too relatable in the life of a 21st century millennial Asian girl college student.

I long so desperately to create something meaningful, impactful, but most of all true. I long so deeply within me to evoke emotions and ideas and experiences in the humans around me who see my work. I long so desperately to look back on my life and see that I have created beautiful art that means something, impacts people in some way. Yet I do not know where to start. Grand images and scenes and stages play out in my mind in a way that is extremely clear to me, but I do not know how to translate it from my mind to physical space.

I know beauty, I know suffering, I know pain, I know curiosity, I know excitement, I know passion, I know obsession. But I do not know how to express it through words or music or dance or painting or space or structures or lighting, in a way that does it justice. 

I long so desperately to make beautiful and important art. But I am so afraid of being bad at making art that I do not even try to make anything.

I think the answer is making ugly art. I need to make as much ugly art as possible and let that teach me how to make beautiful art. For there is beauty in ugliness and quality in quantity and one only refines one’s skills through practice. I must strive to make beautiful art but accept the ugliness that I will make, and trust that hopefully I will someday be able to make beautiful and true art.

As you have probably inferred, I am a fan of polysyndeton – and Ira Glass.

The Soundtrack to my Freshman Year of College

Note: this was written in July 2017. I never finished it and decided to leave it that way – thus, some of the albums have descriptions, some do not.

I finished my first year of college! To be honest, it was one of the hardest years of my life. I struggled a lot, though I also made some of the greatest friends and had some of the most exciting experiences. It all makes for a very interesting year, and today I want to share the music that got me through it all. I’m not sure I would have survived this year without some of these tunes.

Strangely enough, I barely listened to anything besides showtunes and cast albums this year. I’ll run through the albums/phases I went through this school year and the musicals I saw. At the end of this post I have a specially curated playlist of songs. Enjoy!

I generally listened to these albums in this order because the way I listen to music is strange (I listen to albums I like until I “wear them out” by knowing them too well, then I move on to another album).

  1. Anything Goes. Sutton Foster and Patti LuPone are both fabulous and I want to be them. I remember unpacking to this album. I was such a frightened child then. (What has changed, really?)
  2. Sunset Boulevard. I was super into the music last fall. I watched the movie this spring and I am no longer super into the musical. I still love the music for Patti LuPone though.
  3. In the Heights. Wepa! It’s such a mood booster, I swear the sheer energy of it got me through so many tough days. Lyrical genius + superhuman energy + warm Latino culture = perfect recipe for a pick-me-up. Also, lots of ear-bugs.
  4. Rent. I guess it has to be said. The most influential songs for me were Rent, One Song Glory, Today 4 U, Out Tonight, Another Day, Santa Fe, La Vie Boheme.
  5. Thoroughly Modern Millie. The musical is racist af, but hey, I liked some of the songs. They were also mood boosters (Not for the Life of Me, Thoroughly Modern Millie, The Speed Test, Forget About the Boy). Love the lyrics. Barney Schreiber CPA forever.
  6. Waitress. Such a beautiful, beautiful, beautiful album. I remember listening to this while coding and having to stop working because I was so emotional. I also fell in love with Jessie Mueller. Love this show.
  7. Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812. No words can describe it. I used to listen to the first act on repeat all day long. ‘Twas a perfect companion for coding and it’s honestly such a gem of an album. I wish I could say more about it but there’s nothing I could say that could measure up to what this album/show is. Please, just go listen to it.
  8. Cinderella. I don’t know how but when you listen to this album, the magic becomes real before your ears. It made me believe in love and magic (lol). Also, Laura Osnes and Santino Fontana.
  9. A Chorus Line. Not much to say, it’s a classic and deserves to be so. It touches on some really relatable motifs for me as well.
  10. Beautiful: The Carole King Musical. Jessie Mueller! Also, I love old 60s/70s music. It just has so much heart.
  11. Moana OST. I’m not embarrassed to admit that this was a very formative album (and movie) for me. I love this movie and I think its message is so important!
  12. Ghost Quartet. Like the Great Comet, Ghost Quartet transcends any description I could give it. Listening to this is truly an experience and I love this album and everything it explores about life so much. I love Dave Malloy.
  13. La La Land OST.
  14. The Wild Party (Lippa).
  15. Assassins. My favorite song is definitely How I Saved Roosevelt. I remember listening to this while walking from engineering to dance. (Pro tip: do NOT play Ballad of Booth in public, lest you forget to mute it before the n-slur!!! Actually, maybe just don’t play any of this in public.)
  16. Avenue Q. I listened to Avenue Q a lot walking around to classes. I love how catchy it is. Also, Trekkie Monster’s character arc gives me faith in humanity. And he isn’t even human.
  17. The Music Man.
  18. Little Shop of Horrors.
  19. Company.
  20. Sweeney Todd.
  21. Book of Mormon.
  22. Into the Woods.
  23. Sunday in the Park with George.

 

Favorites

  1. Waitress
  2. Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812
  3. Ghost Quartet
  4. La La Land OST
  5. The Wild Party
  6. The Music Man
  7. Little Shop of Horrors
  8. Company
  9. Sweeney Todd
  10. Sunday in the Park with George

 

Thanks for reading! If you’d like to stay updated on the music I listen to, check out my music Instagram: @whatshanalisteningtorightnow

August 14

Truth be told, I do not know what to write. All I know is that I am writing, and that I must write. It is not that I should write, it is that I must write, for there is something within me – or perhaps infinitely external – that compels me to write. Not for the love of writing, but for the innate gnawing instinct that life must be more than consumption and reactions and that writing is the basis of proactive thought, action, and creation. Let my life be more than I fear it will be.

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Days have been interesting. They melt together like the broken halves of butter sticks left at room temperature before baking, and I find myself covered in splotches of flour that I didn’t realize had billowed onto and coated my black leggings. If only I had worn an apron.

People say summer is a great time to rest and grow and recover. I’m starting to believe that they are right. And I look at myself, and I look at what’s left, and I wonder why I never heard the bells when they chimed in the morning along with the sweet singing of birds lost and found, searching and soaring. I wonder why the morning dew never seemed fresh and inviting, why it clung to my skin like the residue of grocery store labels on glass jars.

I try not to look at myself. I try not to see my gangrene toes. If I just ignore it, it will resolve itself, and we will all be better for it.

How does a kitten feel torn from its mother and sisters and brothers to be placed into the grabby hands of a maniacal animal lover desperate to save such a pitiful creature? Does it miss the familiarity of where it came from and the echo chamber of a genetic pool that can’t help but keep to itself, never daring to explore the outside world full of lunatics and monstrosities? Or does it embrace the new, foreign life that it has fallen into? Does it even comprehend the significance of environment and adaptation? Perhaps the kitten is happy to leave its childhood bubble of comfort in hopes of pursuing a more adventurous and independent life in which it may decide who it will be and why. But perhaps this new world is a world that is rainy and dangerous, not suitable for impressionable young kittens.

And yet, perhaps it is that very danger that allows a mewling kitten to become the majestic, roaring tiger it was born to be, that it once was, that lives in its very DNA which has become so complacent. May we all be tigers, and may tigers be all that we dream them to be.

“Rugs are Oriental; people aren’t.”

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Source of this article’s title. Found in this thread.

Disclaimer: I’m just an Asian American teenage girl who hasn’t studied anthropology or Asian American history or even Asian history. These are simply my thoughts and reflections on a personal experience that invoked questions about my Asian American identity.

Over the weekend, I attended a dance conference that was taking place at my old church. It was quite informal – most of the attendees were middle-aged or older and not trained dancers – so the classes were pretty much a breeze for me. But one thing that surprised me throughout the entire conference was the racial division that was occurring. The company that organized the conference and taught the dance classes was a dance studio from Oklahoma, while my church had a multicultural congregation with a primarily African American body. As a result, white teachers assisted by their white students from the Oklahoman studio taught classes chiefly comprised of black and latinx people. There were two Asian Americans in total at this conference: one middle-aged woman, and me.

I tried to ignore the fact that skinny white girls with identical, tightly-dutch-braided hair were present in every class, serving as the teachers’ demonstration models. To be fair, almost 75% of the population of Oklahoma is comprised of white people and clearly, this dance studio can’t be blamed for having mainly white students. I knew I was overreacting to race distinctions; this is a common tendency for me that I’m personally trying to work on.

By the time the penultimate class of the conference came about, I had managed to put all my anxieties to rest and simply live in the moment. We were learning a huge group dance that was supposed to channel the motif of unity and I was actually enjoying myself – only to be completely stunned when I heard my white, male teacher refer to the single other Asian American woman at this conference as “my Oriental friend”. My head started spinning, though I didn’t understand why – I had never thought of the term “Oriental” as racist or discriminatory before. My family often dined out at Chinese restaurants with titles containing the word and Oriental rice crackers were a favorite snack in our household. But in this specific context of white people teaching and being examples for black, latinx, and Asian people, that word felt like a smack in the face.

Why did it feel so wrong? I wondered this in the moment. No one else seemed miffed. I tried to make eye contact with the Asian woman the teacher had been referring to but she seemed unaware of the weight of what had been spoken. I told myself that it was totally fine, and my overly-sensitive ego was overreacting to an outdated term that must have a different meaning in the Midwest. But my mind couldn’t accept that as an answer. There had to be a reason for why I suddenly felt sick to my stomach with anonymity and worthlessness.

“My Oriental friend.” Why couldn’t she have been just his friend? Why couldn’t he have asked for her name? Why was the “Oriental” qualifier necessary? Why was there a need to distinguish that this “friend” was of Asian descent? I realized that this was why the word felt so putrid to me. It added an unnecessary distinction that this woman was Asian American, that she had black hair and brown eyes and yellowish-beige skin. It placed a wall between his culture and her culture, her culture that spans centuries and an immeasurable range of traditions, art, food, and aesthetics that are constantly growing and evolving, her glorious, radiant culture that this white man confined within the bounds of one distasteful word that reeks of Westernization, imperialism, and exoticism.

I tried to disallow this incident to get to me too much, but somehow, I found myself on the Internet later that night, Googling what people generally thought of the term “Oriental” and how acceptable it was, if it was acceptable at all. I read various forums and threads relating to the topic and found a wide variance in opinions. Some thought the word was totally harmless, just a bit old-fashioned. Some thought that the word was unacceptable due to its imperialistic connotations and its implications of exoticizing East Asian cultures and peoples. These opinions also varied among Asian persons who posted on these threads – some thought the word was fine, some thought it was offensive, some had no opinion and had never given much thought to the word as they hadn’t significantly encountered it.

It’s interesting to me how the discourse on this topic that I found seemed relatively chill, for the lack of a better word. I would guess that it’s because Asian Americans have pretty much grown resigned to letting American culture stomp all over them through racist caricatures and stereotypes. We’ve been the brunt of so many jokes from mispronounced names to being confused with other Asian Americans who look nothing like us to eye-pulling and “ching chang chong’s” to even Thoroughly Modern Millie and Anything Goes (which was revived on Broadway as recently as 2011!) that we’ve learned to laugh along, not because the poorly conceived jokes are funny, but because we’d rather keep our heads down and focus on our work, believing that it will eventually bring us stability, recognition, and/or success in our lives1. Perhaps this passive attitude towards racism that Asian Americans have had for the past few decades has organically resulted in a quiet but gradual decline of racism against Asians, though a few instances pop up every now and then2.

Perhaps the term “Oriental” as used to describe a person is one component of societal racism against Asian Americans that has gradually been phased out of American thought, quietly enough for many Asian Americans to not even be aware of it as a term to be vigilant about. Perhaps this word has just been slower to disappear from certain areas of the United States such as, say, Oklahoma.

To be clear, I do not think the word “Oriental” on its own is offensive. I wouldn’t mind calling myself Oriental if someone used the word while asking me about my ethnicity. I take issue with the use of the word when its usage invokes division and disparity between groups of people who don’t know each other, such as in a dance class full of strangers where one participant is singled out as different because of her race. We as human beings have a responsibility to actively call for and practice inclusivity and unity. Let’s break down walls and prevent more from being built, even if they’re small and invisible and hidden in a seemingly innocent word that starts with O.

Notes

1. This is a generalization. Obviously, not all Asian Americans are of this opinion.
2. “The Mikado” yellowface, Scarlett Johansson, yellowface in Hollywood

Top 10 Musicals that Everyone Should Know

First, a disclaimer: this is simply my personal list of musicals that I think everyone should know. Obviously everyone has different tastes and opinions! There are still many musicals that most people would consider essential that I have not yet seen, so I will probably do updated versions of this list in the future!

Let’s start with the basics:

1. Les Miserables
If you don’t know Les Mis… well, I’m sorry. It’s a pretty important cultural gem and you should watch it ASAP! It’s extremely iconic and important to musical theatre. Think French Revolution, poor people, Christian redemption, comedic innkeepers, love triangles, great songs, and death. Also Patti LuPone.

2. West Side Story
West Side Story is an old classic that everyone definitely needs to watch. With stunning and grand music by Bernstein and Sondheim, it paints a really beautiful picture of why love is always, always better than hate. It’s essentially Romeo & Juliet set in NYC with rival finger-snapping gangs (what’s not to love??).

3. Phantom of the Opera
Phantom of the Opera is fiercely beloved by its far-reaching audience as the longest running musical on Broadway. Andrew Lloyd Webber’s orchestrations somehow manage to penetrate even the coldest, blackest hearts and give you ~feels~. The musical is heralded as “the greatest love story of all time” but honestly it has a lot of creepy and problematic parts; I prefer not to think of it as a love story. Regardless, I love how it manages to effortlessly pull the audience into its beautifully told and crafted story; one truly forgets the real world outside of the Opera Populaire after watching.

Next tier: older(ish) musicals that had a significant impact on the musical theatre scene*
*I say significant impact but I don’t really know that, these ones just feel important to understanding musicals (yay scientific proof!)

4. Into the Woods
An iconic Stephen Sondheim musical!! Get ready for your perceptions of Disney fairytales to be turned upside-down. A lot of theatre people really love this musical (and rightly so!). It gives you a lot to think about and a lot of nice music to fill your earholes with.

5. Evita
You may know Evita as the musical with the song “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina” and that dramatic balcony scene. I love Evita. It’s by Andrew Lloyd Webber, with super unique orchestrations and chords and weird stuff. It’s also A+ because Patti LuPone. You definitely need at least one album featuring Patti LuPone screaming in your face! Anyway, I love how this musical manages to paint Eva Peron as a very complex and multi-faceted person. I’m sure you’ll find at least one song you love on this recording!

6. A Chorus Line
The musical is the audition for the musical! I love the way A Chorus Line portrays the performing arts scene and that audition anxiety and pressure to perform and please in the dance studio. It’ll give you lots of feels and you’ll love it.

Final tier: new(ish) musicals

7. Rent
Rent is definitely one of the more mainstream musicals on this list. Feelings toward this musical are often very polarized; many love it and many hate it. Regardless, Rent is just one of those shows that everyone knows. It was based on the opera La Boheme so if you’re into opera, you’ll probably enjoy the parallels and references! Also, its original cast is stellar.

8. Cabaret
When I first saw Cabaret (with Alan Cumming), I was blown away by how powerfully it was able to convey a message (I’m intentionally being vague because I don’t want to spoil anything!). It’s pretty unique and risque, and you might feel uncomfortable watching it, but in my opinion, it’s definitely worth it in the end. Cabaret is able to smoothly intertwine lighthearted nightclub performances with darker and serious topics in a way that will leave you thinking about it for weeks.

9. Wicked
Another mainstream musical! Some say Wicked is overrated due to its appeal with teenage girls despite the many flaws with its book. Regardless, it is a very enjoyable musical to watch with many numbers that offer spectacular performances, both vocally and visually. Additionally, it’s such a popular (pun intended) musical that it has been parodied and referenced so many times in the musical theatre community – and you definitely want to be able to laugh along to those “Defying Gravity” riff memes. Furthermore, many members of its original cast are now very important and widely-recognized members of the musical theatre community: Idina Menzel, Kristin Chenoweth, Joel Grey, Norbert Leo Butz, and Christopher Fitzgerald. Plus there are flying monkeys!

10. Little Shop of Horrors
To be honest, I put Little Shop of Horrors last on this list because I don’t think it’s very commonly cited as one of the “bucket list” musicals you must see in your life. However, I can’t imagine not having seen Little Shop of Horrors. It was one of the first live musicals I ever saw and I absolutely loved it. The music is catchy and exciting, the characters are dorky yet adorable, and it gives you a lot to think about in the end. I don’t want to spoil anything else for you if you haven’t seen it yet! You’ll definitely have some laughs and some cries, and though the story is ridiculous, I love it so much.

That’s it for my list of the top 10 musicals you should know! Do you agree? Are there any that you would add or take away from the list? Which have you seen and which haven’t you seen?