An Ode to October

I maniacally hammered this out with my thumbs while waiting for class to start on October 31, 2017. I decided that now (as November draws to a close) would be a good time to post it on this blog.

Today is Halloween. I’m sad to see October go; she has always been good to me. I firmly believe with all of my heart that October is the best month of the year for many reasons, most of them baseless.

I was born in October and I remember having birthday parties when the weather outside was crisp and cool in a tender way. I remember sitting in our old rusty screened porch, now replaced by a streamlined, white sunroom. I remember inviting childhood classmates to my party simply because I liked them and wanted to be friends with them without doubting or second-guessing myself. It used to always rain on my birthday, but not in a depressing way. It was a gentle rain that stopped by to celebrate my completion of another year.

October is the month of change. The fall season itself is representative of change as leaves turn orange and the air turns chilly, but October is the month that truly ushers in these changes. Here in College Park we have a beautiful blue sky that somehow turns deeper blue and deeper orange with the turn of fall, providing a beautiful backdrop for red orange leaves rustling in the wind. I go outside and breathe deeply and the air is distinctively October air. This air will continue to evolve into November air and December air and pick up the scents of muddy ice on asphalt and cinnamon notes and gingerbread spice and dusty Christmas decorations that get taken out of their boxes every year when the days become shorter and darker.

October is the month of creativity. Perhaps you would say that March is the month of creativity when the sun comes out and plant life makes a reappearance. But October is the month when people carve playful yet elegant designs into gourds. They look around their rooms with intelligent eyes and see endless potential in old t-shirts or ordinary scarves and create costumes. October is the month when people remember how to wear sweaters and scarves and zip up their jackets while holding a cup of hot coffee. College students decorate the doors to their dorm rooms and get excited over free pumpkins.

October is the month of making art. Consider Inktober, or consider the coziness of snuggling up with cat butt socks and a mug of Trader Joe’s autumnal spice tea and a notepad where the world is your oyster to create, create, create. Consider the shows that open in October as the performance season begins.

In October, anything is possible.

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October sun on October flowers on an October afternoon.
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“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?