In the News

It’s the end of senior year, so as befits my position as someone on their way out from… basically everything, really, it feels like I’ve been going through lasts at the speed of sound. Last marching season gave way to last semester of high school gave way to last jazz season gave way to last band concert and on and on and on ad nauseam. But I mean, it is my last year, so it makes sense that along with that would come a cornucopia of other lasts.

This week was yet another last for me: my last production week on the school’s newspaper, the Hilite. Like every other production week for me, it included coming in early to the newspaper room every morning to make changes to my spreads, copy-editing other spreads, and tweaking and re-tweaking every aspect of my pages until everything looked perfect for our Friday deadline. Unlike every other production week, however, I also was responsible for mentoring next year’s two new Perspectives editors as they learned the ropes and prepared for taking over my position next year.

Mentoring them reminded me of how I felt in their position next year, and it’s made me reflect on what this newspaper has been for me over the years. So because this blog has been an outlet for my nostalgia lately, I’m gonna talk about it.

Newspaper was the one thing I was sure I was going to be a part of, even before I started high school. Writing has always kind of been my thing, you know, and I thought newspaper would be the best way to put my skills into practice. Of course, like most things, I was horribly misinformed on what exactly being on staff of the Hilite would entail, but it didn’t matter at all my freshman year since I had no room in my schedule for the prerequisite class.

I was devastated by this, by the way. I was assured I would be able to take the prerequisite as a sophomore and join staff as a junior just fine, but I felt like that would paint a big fat target on my forehead that I didn’t really care about the newspaper or something. I think not joining staff my sophomore year like most people did did affect my time on the staff negatively in the beginning, but I also feel like my stress regarding this fact was increased a bit by the fact I was just overall stressed about my high school schedule.

Still, I eventually did take the prerequisite, and it was one of my favorite classes. Our advisor, Mr. Streisel, had a way of teaching that made me feel very capable of all of the aspects of media. The fact that I wasn’t great at the graphic or design portions of the class didn’t bother me at all. I knew for certain I was going to be a reporter and only a reporter once I joined staff, so there was no need for me to worry about photography or graphic design. I was a writer. It was what I was good at, and there was no need for me to diversify my talents.

And then I actually joined staff. And that idea very quickly vanished. My first few weeks on staff involved me sitting at a computer with the creeping feeling that I had no idea what I was doing and everyone else did. Everyone else seemed to have a purpose, a job, and I was just sitting there, twiddling my thumbs. My title was listed as “Feature reporter,” but I didn’t get a story assignment there for a few issues.

So, on a whim, I attended the planning meeting, known as a maestro, for Perspectives, the opinion section of the paper. I took with me two carefully researched column ideas and got to engage in several debates about the topics of all the columns going into that particular issue. In the frenzy, I received my very first Perspectives assignment, a column addressing the then-viral video “Dear Fat People,” where some JennaMarbles wannabe insulted fat people for eight minutes under the guise of “concern for their health.”

Getting my first assignment was one of the most beautiful things that had ever happened to me. Suddenly I had a purpose on staff, something to do while everyone else was working. I did exhaustive research and put a ton of time and effort into my very first column. And then, when it was published, I floated on air.

Since then, I’ve written a few regular articles but mostly my time on the Hilite has been spent dedicated to the opinion section of the newspaper. I found a lot of joy and purpose in taking part in these discussions. So, by the end of my first year on staff, I was encouraged by the current Perspectives editor to apply for her job. So… I did.

Being a Perspectives editor was great in a lot of ways, for sure. I loved being able to lead the discussions that I took such joy in taking part in as a reporter. I loved enabling others to speak out on their opinions. But, there were aspects of the job I didn’t quite love too.

See, I came on staff to write, but I quickly found out that being an editor meant not a lot of writing. More often it meant making graphics and designs, and for a while I felt like I’d made a mistake.

But then, partly spurred on by necessity (deadlines continued to loom no matter how confident I felt about them) I started to get used to the graphics and design aspect of my job. Towards the end I even started to enjoy it. (I’m not much of an artist, but tracing things in Adobe Illustrator is actually really calming).

And that’s really, in a nutshell, what Hilite was for me. Something unexpected, different than what I thought it was going to be. It always challenged me to try new things, and think of myself in ways I never could before. When I joined staff, I was intent on writing and only writing, staying quietly behind the lines and doing work every so often. When I left staff, I was an editor, mainly responsible for design, doing constant work every month.

Even more importantly, Hilite opened my eyes to the idea of journalism. I always sort of knew I wanted to write someday, and had considered journalism, but the idea had never been solid and real until I spent time on staff. It’s the reason I’m going to study journalism at IU next year. It opened the door for me to be an Ernie Pyle scholar… and sure, it was stressful and frustrating a lot of times. But I’m so thankful for it.

I’m going to miss it.

Gushing About Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-Kun

When I started this blog on January 1st of this year, I made a promise to myself that I would post something new to this blog every single Sunday. As of now, April 23rd, I have yet to break this promise to myself. I don’t plan on breaking this promise to myself, either.

Less ingrained into this goal, however, is that every Sunday post be well-thought-out and carefully written. Ideally, every week I would be churning out excellent new ideas or posts that took lots of time and energy to compile.

But listen, I’m gonna be honest here. This week and next week are gonna be… kind of crazy. I already have a pretty low-effort high-quality idea for next week, but as for this week I was kind of at a lost.

And so, I decided that for today I am going to kick back, relax, and talk about something I really love. And I figured, why not make this a thing? I think the idea of having a series of posts that involve me just talking about something I really love might be a good thing. This won’t be a review, especially since I haven’t really watched this anime in a while. I’m not gonna go too horribly deep into analysis, and there certainly isn’t going to be much constructive criticism. No deep life meaning will be drawn. You and I are just going to get excited about this anime together.

Thus, for weeks like these when I don’t have much time to get too critical, I’ll post one of these “Gushing About…” posts. Maybe it’ll be an anime, like today, or a band or artist, or a TV show or book or movie or… gosh, anything really.

I should say firsthand that I’m probably going to be too worried about spoiling anything – although, honestly, in this anime there’s not much to spoil.

“Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-Kun”, known in English as “Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-Kun”, and hereafter referred to as GSNK to save my fingers, is a shoujo slice-of-life anime centering on the life of a high school student named Sakura Chiyo. At the beginning of the series, Sakura has just made up her mind to confess her love for her fellow classmate Nozaki Umetarou. In true shoujo style, she looks into the mirror, fluffs her cute red ribbons, pats down her uniform skirt, and marches into the classroom.  Nozaki stands alone there, lit only by the fading orange sunset outside. Sakura steps over to him, takes a deep breath and stammers out her confession, cheeks red and blushing. Then, silence. She waits for Nozaki to speak, everything hinging on his reply…

…And Nozaki hands her his autograph.

While, yes, GSNK is a shoujo anime, and unapologetically so, from the very first scene you get the feeling it’s self aware. The humor is all exactly like this. It sets up like a stereotypical high school romance would, but the charm of the series is how it breaks these stereotypes in absurd ways.

If you’re wondering, the reason Nozaki gives Sakura his autograph is very simple! While he seems like a regular high school student, he’s actually incredibly popular shoujo manga artist Yumeno Sakiko, an artist praised for “her” incredible knowledge of the hearts of high school girls. In reality, though, Nozaki wouldn’t know love if it kicked him in the face. He’s far more interested in creating shoujo manga as an art, and he devotes much of his life to people-watching and observing the world around him as inspiration for the next installment of his popular manga series.

Nozaki, still under the impression that Sakura is a big fan of his manga, invites her over to his apartment and has her help him ink his art, and thus, the over-arching motif of the series begins. Nozaki has a habit of employing his friends into helping him meet his deadlines for his manga, and as the series progresses, the cast of characters who find themselves at Nozaki’s, helping him put in backgrounds or do screentones or draw effects grows steadily. At the same time, the series focuses on the lives of these high schoolers, and their relationships with one another.

I think the best part of GSNK is the strength of these characters. As I mentioned before, the series is well aware of the trappings of its genre, and plays with the stereotypes in a way that makes it both familiar and entirely unique.

nozakura

Sakura fits the bill as a shoujo heroine to a T – she’s cute and tiny, she has her signature polka-dot bows, and she’s motivated by, among other things, an unabiding passionate crush on her fellow classmate. But at the same time, Sakura often plays the straight man in much of the humor. And while, yes, her love of Nozaki is often played for laughs, it’s pretty clear that she’s well aware of his shortcomings. She’s often the first one to groan at his naivete, or crack sarcastic jokes about his obsessive tendencies.

And on top of that, Nozaki is far from your typical shoujo romantic interest. He is decidedly masculine-looking, but he’s not even remotely charming. He’s obsessively focused on his work. (In fact, his relationship with his characters in his manga is perhaps one of the most relatable things I’ve ever seen in any show ever. You truly do become both malevolent god and doting parent to your characters…) He’s deadpan and rather stupid, and yet… Sakura loves him anyway. And for his part, while he obviously doesn’t understand her, he definitely respects her and relies on her.

While Sakura does do some pining, the two of them actually spend a lot of time together, and seem to be pretty close. Most of the time, Sakura and Nozaki make a pretty good team, and many of their scenes together don’t have to rely on the romantic tension to be funny. (Consider the iconic scene, pictured above, where they both forget their umbrellas and have to make a mad dash home – shielded by Nozaki’s school jacket. It’s definitely not played up romantically, but it is hilarious.)

wakaseo

The supporting cast of this anime also shines, although my favorite duo is absolutely Seo Yuzuki and Wakamatsu Hirotaka. Seo is Sakura’s best friend, and simultaneously the tough girl delinquent and a musical genius with a voice like an angel. What more can be said about her other than that she’s hilarious and the queen of my heart? Not much… well, except for her adorably hilarious relationship with her underclassman, Waka.

The dynamic between the two of them is sadly ironic – see, Wakamatsu is a first year basketball player who is constantly tormented by Seo, who often stands in and helps with the boys’ basketball rehearsals. His anxiety over these encounters leads to insomnia, to the point where there is only one thing that can lull him to sleep… a recording of Seo’s beautiful singing.

Of course, he doesn’t know the recording (which he got from Nozaki), is Seo. And Seo doesn’t know the effect her voice has on him. And so these two dance around each other, constantly coming close but never quite figuring out how intertwined their lives are. It’s frustrating but it’s also hilarious and is probably my favorite part of the whole series.

kashihori

Not to be outdone, the princely Kashima Yuu and her harem of devoted fangirls is constantly amusing, topped only by her relationship with the tragically short Hori Masayuki. They’re both excellent actors who love and respect each others’ craft, but they can never quite see eye to eye (both literally and figuratively). The audience is left somewhat to wonder whether what these two have is romance… or a rivalry… or just a really weird friendship? Who knows? Probably not even them.

mikorin

And of course I can’t forget Mikoshiba Mikoto, or “Mikorin” to his friends. He just doesn’t fit as well into a pairing as the other characters, but that’s a point I’ll get back to in a second.

Mikorin looks to be your stereotypical pretty boy cool guy “every girl loves him” type. Which is… true. Except Mikorin is also incredibly socially anxious, and often deeply embarrasses himself with the flirty things he tells girls. He’s far more comfortable playing otome games, and yet, regardless, he gets roped into spending time with his adoring fangirls anyway. There’s something very relatable in his endless cycle of shallow confidence and self-loathing, and he’s a loveable character for sure. (Plus, he’s excellent at drawing flowers for Nozaki’s manga and I’m SO JEALOUS ABOUT THAT MIKORIN TEACH ME HOW!!!)

But this brings me back to my last point in this (unintentionally very long) tirade. Yes, Mikorin doesn’t fit into a pairing quite as easily as the other characters do and yet… it doesn’t matter? One of the things I really appreciate about GSNK is the amount of time it spends developing not just the main pairings. It’s easy to throw together Nozaki and Sakura, Seo and Wakamatsu, and Hori and Kashima because their relationships are, well, ships. But there’s also great stuff between Seo and Sakura, whose yin and yang friendship is too precious. Wakamatsu looks up to Nozaki as a senpai, and often goes to him for advice. Kashima and Mikorin are rivals turned best friends! Sakura and Seo try to teach Kashima how to sing! Nozaki writes scripts for Hori!

While, yes, GSNK is a silly anime, it’s a silly anime with a lot of heart. It cares about its characters, and it expects the audience to as well. It’s legitimately funny, and smart, and basically the only anime that’s had me hurting from laughing so hard. Do yourself a favor and watch it. (And campaign with me for a season 2 because the manga has SO MUCH MORE CONTENT that would be INCREDIBLE animated so COME ON!!)

Anyway, thank you for indulging me in this… oh god, nearly 1,700 word rant about this anime. We’ll be back to our regularly scheduled quality content next week, I promise.

Let Them Have Rainbows

I recently stumbled upon a YouTube series that, I’m gonna be honest, kind of made me upset. I’m not gonna name any names or talk about any specifics because I don’t really want this to sound like I want people to go and send this guy hate, but I’m sure you could probably find him just based on what I talk about here. Just don’t be dumb, I guess is all I’m saying.

But anyway, the series involves this guy browsing Deviantart and “critiquing” the fanart and Original Character (OC) art he finds there. He presents it as a service, a “what not to do” of sorts for creating art and OCs.

The points he makes are legitimate, I guess, but the biggest problem I have with it is it all seems way too obvious. It seems like he picks the art that is absolutely bottom-of-the-barrel rainbow pastel Sonic OCs done by young people. The critique he gives is repetitive and completely useless and unhelpful for anyone old enough to be watching his channel. Plus, even if the person watching was young enough to not be able to guess the obvious flaws he finds, he offers no real alternatives or suggestions to improve.

Lemme give you an example.

rainbows

Here’s a screenshot of one of the pieces this guy critiques (with all identifying names blocked out, of course). To you and to me, this character is obviously not a very well designed character. The colors are vibrant and clashing, the body parts are a mishmash of different ideas with no real purpose, and overall too much is going on to get any sort of clear image of what this character is meant to be. Tack on the obvious use of MS Paint and the subject matter of a Sonic OC and you’ve got yourself the most textbook “twelve-year-old who has just figured out how the internet works tries to create their own **super cool** character and falls flat” ever.

It’s so easy to criticize this piece of art because everything wrong with it is glaringly obvious. Even someone not familiar with internet culture, specifically Deviantart culture, would probably be able to tell that this is not a picture of a “good”, fully realized character.

But you know what? That doesn’t matter. At all.

I speak as someone who was that twelve-year-old when I say this, while kind of embarrassing and definitely not too fun to look at, this kind of terrible art is ultimately a good thing. So this kind of critique is not only so obvious that it’s completely useless, it is harmful and impedes a very natural creative process. 

I guarantee you, nobody in the history of the universe sat down to create their very first character, their very first story, their very first piece of art, and made a masterpiece. There’s this myth that pervades in a lot of creative circles that artists and writers and musicians and the like are what they are because of some natural talent or affinity for their craft. That’s… just not true.

Sure, there are people out there who are naturally gifted, but natural talent alone can’t carry anyone to success. There’s a correlation between natural talent and success (probably because having an affinity for something makes it more fun and therefore a motivator to practice that something more), but it doesn’t directly cause it.

For my own personal example, I am a writer. But that’s not really because I was born with a pen in my hand (or keyboard, preferably), it’s because I write… a lot. Every day, really. This blog, poetry, prose… I write constantly.

And the reason why I write so much is because when I was young I idolized authors and I wanted to be one, so I sat down and I wrote. I wrote garbage.

The very first novel I ever wrote was plotless hogwash, a fanfiction of a show I was really into at the time with the names changed. The characters were flat and uninteresting and the story did nothing and went nowhere. And yet, I wouldn’t change a single bit of it if I had to go back.

Why? Well, because, at the time, that awful, horrible novel was something I was really proud of. It was an accomplishment. It was written in a month for NaNoWriMo, it was 50,000 words long, and I really poured my heart and soul into it. I loved those flat characters. I desperately wanted to tell that uninteresting story. It was my first foray into writing for the fun of it, writing because I loved it, writing not because I thought I was great at it, but because it was something that spoke to me.

It was bad, but it inspired me to keep going, to keep improving. It showed me that I was capable of making myself into one of those authors I looked up to. It’s a big reason of why I’m here today, writing this blog, writing every day. It’s the reason I’m… admittedly, pretty good at this whole writing thing.

So that’s why when I see people try and put down these young creators for making less-than-perfect art, it makes me really sad. I was really lucky to be surrounded by an accepting, loving community of people both online and offline who celebrated the art I created, even when it was bad. Now that I’m older I understand what made those early writings so terrible, and I’m mature enough (mostly) to take critique and use it to improve. But when I was younger and filled with idealism and passion, hearing the kind of snide remarks this youtuber makes would have destroyed me. I was just figuring out that creativity was possible for me, so I was miles away from understanding that I could also work to improve the things I made.  I would have taken these condescending statements as unchangeable fact, and I would have given up.

So, let young creators make these mistakes. Let them create flat, pastel rainbow vomit characters and MS Paint Sonic OCs. Let them create two-dimensional worlds that exist only in the space of one month and 50,000 words. Because someday those creators will grow up, and they’ll understand just fine that they weren’t born gifted. But with the proper support and encouragement, they’ll become so.

 

A Spring Break in Songs

For the last week, I, like the rest of the population of Carmel, Indiana, spent my Spring Break in sunny Florida. As with every year, it was a week of good food, relaxation, shopping, and music. And it is with that last aspect that I come to you to today. Here’s a quick little review of my Spring Break in the songs I listened to.

Green Light – Lorde

It’s a Spring Break tradition for all of the members of my family to choose songs and compete to see whose song shows up the most on the radio on our drive down to Florida. My pick this year was Lorde’s newest track, the dynamic and beautiful “Green Light”. I actually talked about it a bit in my Women in Music post, but it’s so good it deserves me discussing it again. I’ve been a fan of Lorde since she first popped into the scene in 2013 and her sound has only gotten better since then – more mature and emotional without losing that simultaneously real and artsy view on the world.

It didn’t really… win our annual competition, but I contend it won a moral victory, since I picked it out of pure love. (And the winner was my Mom, who picked some awful ZAYN/Taylor Swift song she didn’t even like…)

That’s What I Like – Bruno Mars

Dad didn’t win the competition with this pick either, by the way. But still, whenever it came on, despite the anger at seeing my dad get a point, it was immediately mollified because gosh do I ever love this song. Listen, I know I’m a hipster, and this isn’t the sort of music you’d expect me to love, but listen to me… Bruno Mars transcends genre with his charm. He’s just such a good dancer, and his voice is beautiful, and his songs are always so fun and danceable… and yeah, this music video makes me grin like an idiot whenever I watch it, what of it? I know all the lyrics to this song and belt it whenever it comes on, so? I guarentee there’s not a sane person in this world who would disagree with me.

Don’t Take the Money – Bleachers

Still, even as we’re competing for glory with our own picks, we always discover a few new favorites on the road trip down to Florida, and here’s the first of the few I’ll mention here.

It’s always nice to hear new songs from old favorite bands, and Bleachers didn’t disappoint with this summery track. I can practically picture a scene from a saturated teen romance movie set to this song. Not to cheapen the impact of the emotional strength of this song, of course, but it’s a good time.

We Got the Power – Gorillaz

And speaking of old favorite bands, there is no older favoriter band out there than Gorillaz for me. Gorillaz is basically the reason I have the music taste I do today (long story short, I thought the idea of a band of cartoon characters was the coolest thing ever when I was in middle school, which led to me becoming obsessed with their, erm, eclectic discography).

The car ride to Florida was not the first time I’ve heard this track off of their upcoming album, “Humanz”, but it was when this song really started to gel with me. I’ve never really thought of Gorillaz as the sort of band that makes perfect sense on the very first listen, but rather takes a few listens to fully grasp the concept of this song, and this one is no different. It’s definitely very bubblegum in its optimism, but that’s honestly one of its best features. It’s happy and hopeful and unashamed of neither of these facts, and that’s refreshing in a world of cynicism and criticism. The only issue with this song is its criminally short. Just a bit over two minutes…. give me more!

Watershed – Vienna Teng

Now, I have a confession to make. It’s a personal tradition that every spring break, I pick an artist I like and familiarize myself with their entire discography over the course of the week. In years past, this has been very successful (three years ago, it was Arctic Monkeys, two years ago it was Walk the Moon, and last year it was Saint Motel, all incredible bands I love). And I have loved everything I’ve heard from Vienna, (I talked about her in my Women in Music post as well, actually), but I unfortunately only had time this break to listen to one of her albums all the way through.

I absolutely intend to listen to everything of hers, and I’ll do a post on my favorite tracks of hers once I do, but as a nice little sneak preview, I want to share this incredibly haunting track off of “Inland Territory”, the album I listened to. This song is very different from the rest of the songs on this list, because it’s quiet and pensive and honestly… kind of creepy. But this is what I love about Vienna – she’s a storyteller. This song tells the story of mankind’s folly in the eyes of some sort of ancient power – a Gaia or a Cthulhu or something of the like. The quiet, withheld power of this song illustrates the dormant power of the narrator perfectly to a listener, and the lyrics are beautifully and terrifyingly written. I’m a huge fan.

Feel It Still – Portugal. The Man

But hey, it wasn’t just old favorite artists and bands returning for a glory lap this Spring Break, there were some new favorites too! My dad and I had a field day with the band name of this artist (Why the random period? What does it mean?), but neither of us could deny how gosh darn catchy this song is. It’s bouncy and driving and gets lodged in your head and tortures you for weeks at a time. It’s driven by a simple beat, and that’s all it needs to get rolling and never stop. I’m obsessed. Give it a listen.

Mexican Jackpot – Flagship

A song that got a surprising amount of airtime this break despite being by a band I’ve never heard of before, I nonetheless came to really enjoy this song. It’s calm and atmospheric, and undoubtedly pleasant. I can’t say I see much in the future for this band, since they sound exactly like about fifteen other alt bands, but that doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy this pretty track.

Pork Soda – Glass Animals

And we return to an old favorite band. Oh Glass Animals, how you continue to amaze me with the weird stuff you can pull in your songs and totally get away with it. And yeah, this song is weird, from title to sound effects to lyrics, but there’s a strange sort of method to the madness. If you look into the lyrics (beyond the obvious nonsense lyrics), you’ll find a surprisingly tragic and poignant look into the decay of a once loving relationship. Perhaps the odd and nonsensical nature of this song plays to the idea that when relationships decay, it can seem chaotic and may make no sense? Or maybe I’m being too analytical about this fun song. Ah well.

Along Came Jones – The Coasters

One of these things is not like the others~ yeah, okay, I couldn’t talk about my spring break without mentioning the solid amount of 50s hits I listened to in my Grandma’s car. She always cracked jokes and apologized about forcing me to listen to her music, but hey, it’s kind of fun. I am a fan of all things vintage, even if that’s not necessarily the music. But it’s hard not to remember super, uh, unique songs like this one, and it sparked some interesting conversation with my Grandma about the nature of music throughout generations as we looked for thread to match my prom dress at the craft store. She and I might not see eye to eye regarding music, but no genre or generation of music will ever be perfect – all have their duds along with their masterpieces. So it’s pointless to be an elitist to someone else for liking a different type of music than you.

(Also, I think this song is funny, and it’s the only one I remembered the title of, to be honest.)

So there you go, a little auditory taste of my spring break. I hope everyone is returning from their breaks relaxed and rejuvenated, and even if that’s not the case, I hope some of these songs can help do the trick.

Taking the Poetry Plunge

When I started first semester of this year, I did so with an incredible excitement for one particular class. I had saved my Creative Writing class for this year, my senior year, a reward for having accomplished four years of hard work.

I looked avidly forward to talking about my most favorite thing in the world on an every-other-day basis. I know it sounds like the most stereotypically nerdy thing in the world, but the idea of getting graded on creative writing, my special talent, was incredibly appealing. I’d get to spend an hour and a half of every other school day doing the thing I love most in the world! What could be better than that?

Well… actually, there was just one tiny thing.

See, the course description talked about how I would be writing short stories (great), memoirs (great), and scripts (interesting and new), but I always froze around the last topic.

Poetry.

Like all young writers, I had tried my hand at poetry in the past, but it always felt clunky. Wrong. I could never express what I thought in the rigid meter and rhyme I associated with poetry. I dreaded having to bend my ideas around what words I could force to rhyme with each other. And while I was aware that non-rhyming poetry existed, I could never figure out the difference between that and excessively flowery prose. And anyway, prose has always just flowed more easily from me, more naturally.

And yet, and yet… when the poetry unit of class started, I found a surprising amount of freedom. Yes, there is structure and definite patterns to rhythm and rhyme, but there’s a method to the madness, to use a cliche. Even for the most strict forms of poetry, like sonnets, the structure made sense as I worked with it.

Well into my second semester I find myself returning to poetry often. I write poems almost daily. I have an entire full memo of poetry on my phone, and I recently had to start up a second, plus a smattering of word documents on my laptop filled with my musings. The class was only for one semester, yet the unit we spent on poetry has stuck with me for months afterward. Where I once hated writing poetry with a firey passion, I now consider it another method of relaxation.

Where did that change of heart come from?

Well, honestly, an epiphany.

See, for our final project in the poetry unit, we were tasked to create a book of poetry unified by one theme. Looking at all the poetry I had written over the course of our lessons, I realized very quickly that all of my favorite poems had been written for people. Not always the sort of things I would want to proudly present to them, but nonetheless written with specific people in mind. Thoughts for them that were hard to express, or ugly, or embarrassing, or conflicted.

When something was on my mind about anything, it was easy to sit down and pen a poem about it. It not only helped to clarify my thoughts and, later, talk honestly with the people the poetry concerned, it ultimately became a pretty good topic for my poetry book. Titled “Me and Everyone I Know” and filled with crude Adobe Illustrator drawings (I was still learning at the time), it became one of my most favorite projects in what became one of my most favorite units.

I often like to joke and say all of my poems are flowery subtweets, but honestly they really are. Poetry is a weirdly satisfying form of venting, of getting out the sometimes complicated thoughts in my mind. It’s a way of taking things that might be difficult to think about and lays them out in black and white. It allows me to focus on difficult things without obsessing, because I can always worry instead about the language choices and metaphors instead of the real life problems And, I don’t know, there’s something awfully romantic about feverishly scribbling a poem down based on what’s on your mind (even if it’s in the memos of my cellphone instead of, say, a worn leather notebook or something like that.)

Plus, poetry is, as a rule, kind of secretive. Sometimes there’s just stuff you want to be able to talk about, to be able to yell about, but that stuff isn’t the sort of stuff that can be said aloud. Poetry is great for that. It lends itself to vagueness, to deep symbols and metaphors and trying to find the most roundabout way of presenting an idea possible.

So I guess what I’m saying is, give things a try. They can surprise you. Even rigid rhythm and rhyme can be freeing for you if you give it the chance to be. I mean, I’m a great example of how a point of view can be changed once you give something a go. A few months ago I hated poetry, and now I’ve taken on a personal challenge to write one new poem every day for the month of April… and who knows, after I finish, I might post all 30 here!

…maybe.

 All Our “Secrets”

Whenever we have an English class on a Friday, my teacher, Mrs. Jansen, does what we like to call “secrets”. Every student gets a chance to write down an anonymous secret onto a slip of paper, which goes into a large tub. Afterwards, everyone who contributed a secret draws one out of the container and reads it aloud to the class. These secrets can be funny or serious. Sometimes they’re about the class itself, or about school, or about life.

While a small handful of people opt not to participate in this biweekly activity, most of us do. I mean, what’s the harm? After all, we’re all protected by a sort of unspoken moral code. To belittle or criticize the person who put in the secret would be immediately condemned by the rest of the class. To confess who actually put in the secret is besides the point of the activity, regardless of how innocuous that secret might be. The anonymity of the whole affair is a huge part of the fun of it. The feeling of hearing a juicy secret and realizing that anyone around you could have put it in is what makes it all exciting.

But the shallow excitement of gossip is nothing compared to the almost therapeutic effect it has on me (and I assume) all of our class. As we go through each secret, we turn the secrets into discussions. We voice our support, our concerns, our advice, for each person who confesses something on a slip of paper.

To unrequited lovers hoping to work up the courage to confess, we offer encouragement. To those stressed, we offer our own tips and stories about our own stressors. To those left heartbroken by rejection, we offer sympathy. To the confused, guidance. To the funny stories, laughter. And even to those with problems too difficult to address, too outside of our realms of experience to advise, we snap our fingers and let them know that they are heard.

I’ve put in all manner of secrets, both silly and not-so-silly. I am, not really on purpose, kind of a wealth of closely kept thoughts and worries. As much as I know I have a strong support system of people who care about me and want to help me… they shouldn’t have to always hear the things I worry about. Sometimes there’s nothing they can do. Sometimes those worries are about them. Sometimes they’re too hard to say aloud.

But for those sorts of things, there’s a white slip of paper on my desk at the end of Friday IB English class. There’s a classroom of people who don’t know who I am but still care about what I’m going through.

These aren’t really scary or dangerous secrets, don’t worry. But they’re embarrassing sometimes, or hard to explain, or don’t align with the way I want to present myself. Sometimes they’re things I’ve told close friends already, but never aloud. There’s a real benefit to hearing your own thoughts echoed aloud, and having others acknowledge and comment on them.

I, for very obvious reasons, don’t want to get too specific about any of the secrets I’ve confessed in this activity, but I will say that one of my more recent ones garnered maybe one of the most positive responses I have ever received. To be vague, it was the story of the disappointing result of a very uncharacteristically huge social risk I took.  I was expecting a few finger snaps of sympathy, but instead Mrs. Jansen told us she was proud of the writer of the secret for being mature about their disappointment, and lots of other classmates agreed that it was an admirable response to a difficult situation.

And I… almost seriously burst into tears. I didn’t, thankfully, but it was incredible to hear a classroom of completely unbiased people validate the, for lack of a better term, sucky situation I had found myself in.

No one solved my problems, of course. They didn’t have to. But what they did was provide me feedback to a difficult decision I had made without being influenced by their knowledge of me or of my situation. And that, I think, is the beauty of the “secrets” activity.

(And just as a small note, the situation I’m talking about has since more or less resolved itself into a far more positive thing, lest you all begin worrying about me.)

I don’t think I’m alone in saying that trusting the feedback of others is difficult. Contrary to what a lot of millennial thinkpieces like to claim, having a childhood of “everyone’s a winner” is not only not really the truth, it also doesn’t really make you feel entitled, it makes you skeptical of every piece of praise you receive. I’ve been told I’m smart and skilled and in the right and just overall good so many times that it’s hard to believe any of those things. I mean, all throughout elementary school I was in a class of kids who were smart and skilled and in the right and just overall good.

Taking a compliment from someone at face-value is pretty rare. Most of the time I brush them off as a result of having friends and family who love me and want to make me happy, or as a result of somebody mistakenly thinking I’m more put-together than I am.

But with the secrets… I get guidance and suggestion without the fear of having things sugarcoated.

Plus, and this is kind of an important thing too, it’s nice to know you’re not alone in even the most embarrassing of things. The negative things in my life are not the sort of thing I want to wear on my chest like Superman’s S, but being able to quietly let them out and see people in the same situation is really helpful.

And that, I think, is the beauty of “secrets”. The anonymity that comes with it is a safety blanket, a place to confess hard truths without fear of getting hurt. There’s a lot of value in that.

 

And I’m Part of the Problem Too – Concerning Women in Music

I’ve been spending an embarrassing amount of time watching Top Ten videos on Youtube lately. I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s my obsessive love of lists and analysis. They just hit a certain place in my soul that’s very satisfying.

And of course, in line with my own sensibilities, a lot of these Top Tens have to do with music. Top Ten Stupidest Lyrics, Top Ten Saddest Songs, Top Ten Most Controversial Musicians, Top Ten Most Interesting Music Facts… name it and I’ve probably watched a video on it. Music is a vast ocean of interesting facts and I’ve learned a lot from these videos, but I’ve also noticed some… disturbing patterns.

It’s not as if I didn’t already know that women are vastly underrepresented in pretty much all genres of music. But these Top Tens all too often make this fact so obvious that it’s PAINFUL. All of the Top Ten bests seem filled to the brim with dudes, while all of the Top Ten worsts seem to feature every female pop star you could possibly fit. It happens over and over and over again, and I’m really sick of it.

Of course there are exceptions. There are always exceptions, but that’s all there is… exceptions.

And the more I think about it, the more upset I get, because I start to realize… I’m part of the problem too.

You see, my personal favorite genre, Alt Rock, is a genre of music I myself have praised as diverse and interesting. I’ve thought to myself often in a sort of giddy reverence that I’m just so pleased that I’ve found myself a fan of so many open and accepting bands, bands that address real-world issues and open their arms to fans of all types. I often shun other genres like rap and pop and country for being backward and misogynistic, or racist… but then… wait a minute…

How many popular diverse alt rock bands are there really? Okay, let’s quantify this by taking a look at my personal favorite radio station – Alt Nation – and its current Top 18 and its demographics.

  1. Silvertongue – Young the Giant 5m
  2. On Hold – The xx 2m 1f
  3. Down – Marian Hill 1m 1f
  4. Love is Mystical – Cold War Kids 5m
  5. Middle Fingers – Missio 2m
  6. Wish I Knew You – The Revivalists 7m
  7. Send them Off!  – Bastille 5m
  8. Cocoon – Milky Chance 3m
  9. Believer – Imagine Dragons 4m
  10. I Don’t Wanna Dance – COIN 4m
  11. Blood in the Cut – K Flay 1f
  12. Good Morning – Grouplove 4m 1f
  13. Radio – Sylvan Esso 1m 1f
  14. Pork Soda – Glass Animals 4m
  15. Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales – Car Seat Headrest 4m
  16. Born Again – Saint Motel 4m
  17. Heavydirtysoul – twenty one pilots 2m
  18. Rhythm & Blues – The Head and the Heart 5m 1f

And the results are… disappointing. Of the 68 total performers represented in that top 18, only six of them are female. That is not even ten percent of the total! I checked! I did math!

Yes, there’s a problem with misogyny in popular music but… that problem is everywhere, and is worse in places not under popular scrutiny. The genre of music I had always through was so open and diverse was really… not at all. Maybe in meaning, it was open and inclusive, but in practice, there is just as much of a lack of female presence as anywhere else. In fact, it’s probably worse.

But that’s not exactly my fault, is it? I mean, I’m just listening to music. I don’t actively seek out all male bands all the time to listen to, do I? It’s not like we’re actively discriminating against female artists, this is just what’s popular within one genre, right?

Well, yeah, I guess. But the problem with that mentality is that it leaves the question of why there is such an unbalance unanswered. Technically, there should be no reason why only ten percent of performers in Altnation’s top 18 is female. There is nothing about alternative rock that says it’s inherently more difficult for women to be successful at performing, except… it clearly is. If it wasn’t, why is there such an inequality?

This leads me to examining my own personal music tastes, where I think there’s a far more even split. Yeah, I listen to a lot of male singers (Walk the Moon, Arctic Monkeys, Saint Motel, etc…), but there’s also a ton of great female musicians I love! And I think the biggest problem with them is that I don’t talk about them enough.

So, why not? Here’s a list of my favorite female artists, along with a few of my favorite tracks of theirs. This women’s history month, let’s take a minute to celebrate them.

Marina and the Diamonds


When I set out to write this, Marina was absolutely the first artist who came to mind. And that’s what Marina is – an artist. All of her albums are statements, incredibly put-together with such a cohesive message and aesthetic that it’s almost magical.

I was introduced to Marina through her album, “Electra Heart,” and the thing about that album is, if you just listen to one or two tracks off of it, you might be fooled into thinking Marina’s aesthetic is just there for aesthetic’s sake. However, take a listen to the whole album and you’ll find it an incredibly insightful deconstruction of the various stereotypes placed on women. From the Homewrecker to the Heartbreaker to the Housewife, Marina shows an incredible insight into the downfalls and shortcomings of every false image she takes on.

Not to mention, looking past the social commentary and artistry of every song she’s ever created, Marina also has an incredibly powerful voice to back it up. I’ve yet to find a song of hers I don’t like – from the beginning of her career to now.

She’s a unique voice in music, and one I will continue to return to, time and time again.

Grimes

If ever there was a renaissance woman in music, look no further than Claire Boucher, otherwise known as Grimes. She’s not only the face of her musical act… she’s the writer, the producer, the performer. She directs all of her music videos, and illustrates all of the art that goes on her album and track covers. Basically anything you see or hear in any of these videos – yep, that’s Claire Boucher.

Sure, yeah, her particular style and aesthetic can be a little hard to swallow at first. Believe me – it took a bit of listening to get used to her slightly off-kilter approach to music.

But really, all it took me was a few minutes to read the lyrics and meanings of all of the songs on “Artangels” (her newest and honestly most incredible album), to completely hop on board with every strange image she creates. Gorey or adorable or creepy or beautiful… I love it all.

Her lyrics are incredibly in-depth, her songs are unique and authentic… I couldn’t recommend the music of the one and only Grimes more highly.

Vienna Teng

I’m a casual fan of Broadway, but I usually find my specialties and tastes lie more in musicians rather than musicals… but Vienna Teng melds the positives of both styles. Each one of her songs tells a different story in such a meaningful way.

Vienna’s voice is warm and calming, but her lyrics are poetry – mixing gorgeous language with incredible storytelling. Plus, she tends to opt for classical instrumentation, clarinets and strings and sometimes just a simple piano.

It’s maybe contradictory to talk about Vienna’s Broadway appeal in the same breath as her subtlety, but trust me, just give it a listen. She doesn’t need big boisterous numbers to sell the drama of the stories she’s telling. All she needs is her incredible skill with the written (sung?) word.

This is possibly my nerdiest review of a musician yet, but come on. Vienna melds all the things I love together: stories, an attention to detail, and incredibly-written lyrics. Give her a listen, you won’t regret it.

Regina Spektor

I feel like I’ve loved Regina Spektor for as long as I’ve loved music. That’s maybe a bit of an exaggeration, but there’s just something about her that has appealed to me from a really young age all the way until now.

Certainly, she has a beautiful voice. But it’s what she does with it – the frank, earnest lyrics she performs and the sometimes goofy vocal effects she uses so often to make her point. Regina has the talent and the looks to stand and sing ballads all day long, but she doesn’t.

Instead, she brings a real energy to every song she performs – a dose of humor alongside her sometimes blunt portrayal of life. There’s a lot more to her than meets the eye – and she constantly proves it with each new song.

Regina Spektor has been one of my favorites for years, and I suspect she’ll remain there for a long time.

Haim

A relatively new favorite, Haim is that cool, super chill indie band made up of all sisters that you never knew you needed in your life.

With a really great sound with a foot in both rock and pop, the girls in Haim use their crisp, clear voices perfectly. Listen to those harmonies! Just beautiful.

Plus, and this is very important to me, a lot of their songs are awfully relatable – down-to-earth lyrics. These girls don’t sugarcoat anything, and their tongue-in-cheek views comes through in all of their songs.

And I mean, come on. Next time you need the name of a super cool indie band to drop to impress all your friends, why not try Haim?

Halsey

Halsey’s music just oozes style. Is her music a little angsty? Sure, but it’s in a way that makes me feel like I’m the coolest kid ever, even if I’m also apparently the saddest.

All jokes aside, though, Halsey’s lyrics are beautiful and the music in her songs is beautiful and her voice is beautiful and everything she does is beautiful. She’s got this unique style of singing that’s so hard to describe – but it’s warm and really pleasant to listen to.

Plus, every one of her songs is bursting with meaning and artistry. I’ve spent some time just parsing through her often deeply personal lyrics and they’re all so gorgeous.

So, embrace your deep inner angst and spend some time listening to Halsey. You won’t regret it.

Florence and the Machine

If you want to talk about powerful vocals, look no further than Florence Welch of Florence and the Machine because good GOD can she sing. Every note that comes out of her mouth is 100% pure and perfect and I can’t stress enough how amazing she is.

If her gorgeous voice wasn’t enough, though, she also creates such grand, sweeping tracks to back her vocals, and it’s an experience. Every single one of her songs is a journey, almost gospel-like in its grandeur.

And Florence herself is almost goddess-like. I mean, it’s no surprise, with vocals like that. But still, I have to love the ethereal image she evokes in all of her music videos – such an absolute joy to see.

Florence and the Machine is another one of my old favorites, and just sifting back through these songs has reminded me once again why I love her so much.

Lorde

Did you know Lorde was only sixteen when her big hit, “Royals”, hit the US Top 40s? Isn’t that 100% crazy? When I was sixteen I could barely stand up straight, much less write and perform hit songs…

Lorde has such a unique tone to her voice, and such a unique, relatable perspective in all of her songs. It’s hard not to pay attention when someone that young has such raw talent, and it’s amazing how she just keeps getting better and better.

(Also, I must confess, I’ve listened to her newest song, “Green Light”, so many times in the past 48 hours and oh my GOD is it ever the most beautiful thing and I suspect I’ll never grow tired of it…)

The hype is real, Lorde is amazing. I can’t wait to see where she goes with her career – I expect great things.

Sara Bareilles

I end my list with a feel-good favorite. I’ve been a casual fan of Sara Bareilles for years, and I always find her music bringing a smile to my face. Well, except for one song, “Gravity”, which brings a tear to my eye, but that’s a good thing.

When she’s not singing gorgeous yet tear-jerking ballads, though, Sara Bareilles has the kind of music that makes you want to hop up on your feet, grab someone you love, and dance for like three hours without a care in the world. She inspires such joy and fun.

There’s something so wholesome and good about her music, and it’s something I just love. Deep, tragic meanings are fun in music, but sometimes you just want a feel-good number, and Sara Bareilles delivers.

So, with that, my list of favorite musical ladies comes to an end. This list is by no means all-encompassing, of course. If I had to list every female musician I’ve ever liked, we’d be here all day. But I hope these few musicians will help you find a new favorite to add to your collection this Women’s History month.