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

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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?

Reasons to be Thankful for College

As much as I like to complain about school, now that I’m on winter break and living at my parents’ house again, I thought I would make a list of reasons to be thankful for school, or college more specifically. (Future self, take note of this and please refer back to it when you feel like complaining about school.)

1. Independence
In college, you get to choose exactly what you want to do each day. You don’t have to feel guilty for not doing the dishes or deciding to eat a sleeve of Oreos for dinner. Also, in my case, you feel much more freedom to be yourself because you barely interact with adults (read: closed-minded parents) who don’t understand American/young adults/millennials culture. The ability to control every aspect of your life on a daily basis feels amazing (most of the time) and is really productive to helping you grow as a person, learn more about yourself, build good habits, set goals, and figure out what you want in life.

2. Structure
As much as I love lounging around and browsing YouTube all day, too much of it can make me feel sluggish, unproductive, and generally useless. Although college is often really busy and stressful, going to class and doing assignments means you are still making progress (however small) in some way. This helps you to feel like you’re accomplishing something (no matter how mediocre it is) and gives you momentum and encouragement. We can all use that spark of positivity sometimes, right?

3. Distance from family problems
This last one is difficult to talk about, but I feel that it should be acknowledged because I think many of us deal with this though we don’t often like to admit it. Of course, if there are familial issues, in general we shouldn’t run away from these problems and hope that ignoring them will make them go away. However, sometimes these problems in our families have persisted for a very long time, and very little progress has been made due to certain family members’ stubbornness or other reasons. I believe that in these cases, it can be beneficial to just get away from the family home, which becomes a very stressful and tense environment. Personally, going to college and distancing myself from drawn-out family issues has helped me to focus on loving myself and taking care of myself instead of stressing about problems I can’t solve. Who knows – perhaps that time away from home with the burden lifted is just what one needs to have an epiphany of a great solution to the problem.

Hopefully this helped you feel a little more positive and/or encouraged about going back to school (if you are still in school)! Let me know your thoughts – do you enjoy school, suffer through it, or try to find reasons to be thankful for it so you don’t go insane?

living a meaningful life

i have decided that i must spend more time with myself, thinking things through by myself for myself. i need to make decisions about who i am and what i want and what i’m going to do.

for the past month or so i’ve been mulling over the concept of passion vs. responsibility, or personal achievements & dreams vs. responsibility & helping others. certainly responsibility & helping others is the more selfless, giving, and loving option. as a christian, i definitely have to take that into play. Jesus was definitely extremely generous, giving, and self-sacrificial. so is it self-sacrificial for me to give up on my dreams and settle for a future that will simply help me to be a good citizen and benefit society and hopefully the world in a small way that probably won’t be remembered and won’t leave much of a legacy?

i watched a hank green video the other day about how we all want to matter and be happy and be of significance to the world. he had an extremely interesting opinion that people who change the world never really single-handedly change the world. every single person makes little contributions that all add up to benefit the whole world. so for example we don’t have thomas edison to thank for the light bulb, we have everyone before him who did little things to help change the world to thank for the light bulb as well. i think essentially the point was don’t worry too much about if what you do ends up mattering because our cultural conception of one man’s actions being able to change the world is basically an oversimplification and not accurate.

i found hank green’s view extremely interesting but i’m not sure if i agree with him. i think i need some more time to think this through. i love thinking about the concept of legacy. i’ve become a bit obsessed with what mine will be lately, and listening to hamilton and the story of how alexander hamilton worked and worked and worked for his legacy is most intriguing as well.

the thing is, i know that i can accomplish anything i put my mind to. i just have to decide what it is that i will accomplish. do i try to have fame and fortune or a lasting legacy, or solve world hunger, or raise a family of inspired children who will be able to have infinite opportunities for their own futures?

i want to explore and find meaning for myself, and live an examined life. i want to do what brings me significance and fulfillment, regardless of what society deems as necessary or standard or worthy of praise. this life is mine; i’m going to live it for me. and that perhaps seems selfish but if i personally value being selfless, i’m going to figure out how living to stay true to myself intertwines with the concept of giving and doing things for others and not becoming self-absorbed and lost in my own head.

 

Musical Musings

one of the saddest feelings is knowing that you’ve worn out an album and listening to it will never again bring that feeling of novelty and excitement. this has been on my mind a bit lately because of my (flagrant) musical theatre phase. i wore out phantom, though it has so much ingenuity and complexity that i think i’ll still be able to listen to it sometimes, and i most certainly wore out wicked, love never dies, and hamilton. my “latest flame” (bonus points if you get the reference) is evita, and i am afraid that i have pretty much worn that out too (and only after a few days!). acknowledging that i’ve worn out an album is actually really really really sad for me, because listening to an album is just such an adventure to me. i don’t really know how to describe it but it’s like taking your mind and spirit to a new place and seeing and experiencing all these new things that only appear in dreams and fantasies. it’s amazing and it’s a language that’s so native to me that it feels like home and i don’t really know what else to make of it.

as i was attempting to organize my itunes library today, it really hit me that i find it incredibly difficult to revisit albums & songs – so much of the music that i’ve downloaded gets neglected over time. i find that i listen to songs/albums incessantly for weeks at a time, and then as i wear them out, gradually just stop listening to them. and trying to listen to them again after their initial excitement has worn off just isn’t the same – my brain knows the song too well and is able to predict every note and rhythm and the song becomes boring.

i suppose it’s really, really sad to me because it’s almost like the loss of an old friend, an old friend who shared secrets with you and introduced you to new concepts and had dance parties with you and sat with you on the bus ride home and was there for you when you couldn’t fall asleep at night. an old friend who led you by the hand to a faraway place so amazing and sparkling and bright and unbelievable to you, a mere human, confined by your physicality and gravity.

music has that ability to take you far away while somehow keeping you grounded and i love it so much i love you music don’t ever leave.