Sunday, August 20, 2017

ドラマ (Dorama) Time! 18

Summer is almost over, I've got my summer Jdrama selections lined up, but I'm just now finishing my shows from the spring. What else is new? The two shows I that watched from the spring 2017 broadcast season can be found with English subs here and here.

リバース (REVERSE) - TBS/2017

I picked this show simply because Che'Nelle sang its theme song, "Destiny". I'm more a fan of her journey as a non-Japanese entertainer in the Japanese music industry than a fan of her music, but she is one of the more gifted vocalists in that scene. But I digress.

At the center of 'REVERSE' is Fukase, a man who graduated from a prestigious university 10 years ago but doesn't lead a very prestigious life. His best and only friend during his college days was a guy named Hirosawa. During their senior year, Fukase, Hirosawa, and three of Hirosawa's friends went on a snowboarding trip that ended in Hirosawa's death. Though it's unclear who was directly responsible, the four remaining friends know that it wasn't a simple accident but don't discuss it for fear of incriminating themselves. All seems to be forgotten until ten years later (the present), when Fukase and the other three start receiving ominous letters and realize that their lives and reputations are being tampered with. Someone hasn't forgotten about Hirosawa, and they're determined to punish his friends until the truth comes out.

There's a coffee motif that seems innocuous; making coffee is Fukase's hobby, and numerous scenes take place at a cafe which he frequents and is also where he meets his girlfriend Mihoko. But coffee also ends up being integral to figuring out the whodunnit. For a stretch, the mystery of how Hirosawa died takes a slight backseat to the mystery of who's been stalking and threatening his friends, but the reveals for both are quite satisfying. I was shocked not once, but twice.

I enjoyed the show way more than I'd expected to, and I was especially impressed by Toda Erika's performance as Mihoko. I saw her in 'Taisetsu na Koto ga Subete Kimi wa Oshiete Kureta' (2011) a long time ago and apparently she was in 'Summer Nude' as well, but I wasn't aware of her as an actress then. Hers was the most multi-faceted character in the show. Also shoutout to actress YOU ('Going My Home', 'Mondai no Aru Restaurant') who plays the owner of Fukase's favorite cafe.

母になる (Haha ni Naru/Becoming a Mother/My Son) - NTV/2017

This show was a bit of a 'FIRST CLASS' reunion, which is why I watched it. Itaya Yuka and Sawajiri Erika go from mentor-mentee in the fashion world to best friends and professors' wives in 'Haha ni naru'.

Yui (Sawajiri Erika) and Yoichi live a normal and happy life with their 3-year-old son Kou, until the day that Kou is kidnapped by a disgruntled student of Yoichi's. They search doggedly for their son, but to no avail. The loss and public backlash that they face ruptures their lives and ends their marriage. Nine years later, a case worker at a boys' home realizes one of the residents is in fact Kou, now 12 years old. Kou was abandoned in a squalid apartment and found by the next door neighbor, Asako (Eiko Koike from 'STARMAN'). Starved for love and having been jilted by her lover, Asako raised Kou as her own rather than taking him to the police. One day she dropped Kou off at the boys' home without an explanation, and he'd already been living there for two years when the case worker reunites him with Yui. While Yui and Yoichi's family reunites around Kou, the show mostly focuses on Yui and Kou's relationship and how they both deal with Asako. Kou essentially has two moms, and the question of what makes someone a mother is brought up numerous times.

There's a segment in episode 10 that shows Asako going to therapy and acknowledging the events and psychological issues in her life that led her to do what she did. It's only about two and a half minutes long but I appreciated it, given that  mental illness is one of many taboos in Japan, and mental health services there leave a lot to be desired, from what I've read. 'Haha ni Naru' is like 'Hajimemashite, Aishitemasu' in that it explores alternative forms of parenthood with some depth and is willing to explore the ugly and uncomfortable.

Though I'm not familiar with much of her work, I have to say that I'm a little proud of Eiko Koike. I remember her playing the busty forever-single best friend in 'STARMAN' who was hardly more than comic relief, and here she is getting to flex her dramatic chops as a troubled yet pivotal character.

I finished 'REVERSE' weeks ago and finished 'Haha ni Naru' literally just before I started writing this post. My memory of the former is a little foggier but it left a stronger impression on me, so I pick 'REVERSE' as my favorite of the two.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Little Elephant

A little over a month ago, literally right before we hit the road for Michigan after our family reunion weekend, on the day that also happened to be my natural hair anniversary... I got my first tattoo.

It's something I'd half-heartedly considered ever since I was old enough to legally get one, but I never had an idea that I'd be willing to commit to for the rest of my life. Until this summer. I was in Louisville for Father's Day weekend and was chatting with my cousin, admiring her tattoos. She said I should get one and I balked at first. Not cool or daring enough for that. But then I changed my mind.

I was just coming off of a major personal disappointment, having accepted that despite my diligent and occasionally frantic efforts, my one big life-changing goal for the year was not going to come to fruition; time had run out. I was feeling more and more despondent about myself (self-loathing is a heckuva drug), my life (not moving forward) and my current job (dead from the moment I started there, nowhere to move in that place but in circles). I was just over everything. I've lost, and if these two post-college years are any indication, I'm liable to keep losing, and if I'm going to lose at life anyway, what does it matter? So I get a tattoo, so what? Might as well. Why the heck not? 

So my cousin and I agreed that when I came back to Louisville three weeks later for the family reunion, we'd get tattooed together. An initiation for me, a seventh (eighth? ninth?) go-round for her, and a bonding experience for us both. She'd arrange everything. In the meantime, I turned to my college friend Irene Li to draw a design for me. I had an idea for the tattoo and knew where I wanted it to be, but didn't have the skills to actually put it together. Irene's in the Bay and I'm in Michigan, so we went back and forth for a week through FB messenger, going over ideas and reviewing sketches that she came up with. And in the end she came up with something perfect!

 Cut to Monday morning after family reunion weekend when my cousin, my mom, and I went to Committed Ink Studios to do the deed. My cousin had already decided not to get another tattoo after all, but I was so committed (teehee, puns) to the design now that I was determined to go through with it. Lou, the owner of the shop, was focused, quick, and extremely affordable. A talented man and a true artist! Ma and my cousin watched. It hurt, my palms got sweaty, but I only winced inwardly and I didn't cry. And again, the result was perfect!

I'd done something that I couldn't take back, and I hit the road for home feeling more grateful and satisfied than I had in a long time. Even now I still stare at my arm in wonder multiple times a day. At first I was awed by the fact that this part of my skin is forever changed, like Wow, did I really do this? But after that wore off, a different feeling began to surface. Pride. I'm proud of my tattoo. Nearly my whole life I've gotten through the day by dissociating myself from my body as much as possible. This isn't the real me. This is how my body happens to look now, but once I finally manage to look different, then I'll really be my true self. The self I was meant to be all along. I've realized that getting this tattoo was an act of acknowledging and claiming ownership of my body in a way that I've never done before. This isn't a provisional me. I am what I am at this moment. And this image carved into my skin is forever. (Shoutout to my friend Dany at The Dear Body Project for inspiring me to reflect on myself this way). To be honest, the enthusiasm doesn't really extend past my left wrist, but it's a start. And now I have a personal, custom-designed, permanent reminder.

Oh, and what does the tattoo mean, you ask? Well. I've loved elephants since I was little. It's holding a quill, which is a reminder to me to keep creating things, even if I don't have the courage to share my stuff. The feather is red to represent the city of Louisville where my mom and her family are from. Coincidentally (totally unplanned!) the shape and lines are reminiscent of Rafiki's painting of baby Simba, and The Lion King is my favorite movie of all time.

Thank you Kayla, Irene, Lou, Ma, and Dany.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

BOOKS! (The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao + Not Too Far from China)

Today I've got a Pulitzer-winning novel that I eyed many times back when I worked at a bookstore, but only decided to buy a few months ago. I've also got the second poetry collection from an artist I met at the inaugural Detroit Festival of Books (Detroit Bookfest).

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz

Junot Díaz managed to educate me about Dominican history and culture AND tell me about myself in the same novel, so it took me longer to get through it than I otherwise would. The similarities between me and Oscar kept piling up, and things just got too real for me to simply take a leisurely stroll through this book.The son of a single mom who emigrated from the Dominican Republic at the end of the Trujillo era, Oscar spends most of his life as an outcast in his hometown of Paterson, New Jersey. Be it for his obscure references, lofty way of speaking or his dearth of "normal" Dominican male characteristics, he is ridiculed by most people he interacts with. Oscar is a fat nerd, a gifted writer, and an awkward hopeless romantic who is oft-rejected and prone to depressive episodes.

Most of the novel is narrated by Yunior, a fellow Dominican-American guy who used to be Oscar's roommate at Rutgers and also dated Oscar's sister Lola for years. Yunior and his friends called him "Oscar Wao" in college after making a correlation between his chubbiness and that of the prolific writer, Oscar Wilde. Hence, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. After a tumultuous undergraduate career at Rutgers which included two suicide attempts, Oscar graduates and works as a teacher at his old high school, re-entering the hell that is daily teenage cruelty. Feeling like his life is going nowhere, he uncharacteristically joins his mom and sister on a summer stay in the DR, visiting relatives. During this time he falls in love with a prostitute who is also his family's neighbor, and having finally tasted love, he's willing to die pursuing it. Literally, die.

If nothing else, Yunior (and by Yunior I really mean Junot Díaz) is exceptionally thorough. I thought I was cracking open a simple story about an anguished Afro-Latino youth, and ended up diving headfirst into a family history, footnotes included! You can't tell Oscar's story without also telling his sister's (his only tried and true friend). Can't tell either of their stories without telling how their mother ended up leaving the DR, and for that you have to start all the way back from her childhood. Can't mention Beli's childhood without telling how she became an orphan. Can't tell that story without telling how her immediate family was destroyed by the dictatorial Trujillo regime, seemingly cursing the family forever. And you can't tell that story without explaining who Trujillo was, and how he ruled selfishly and brutally over the DR for 30 years, seemingly cursing the island forever. In Oscar's family alone there are experiences shared between generations, such as betrayal by authorities, visions of men without faces, beatdowns in cane fields, being led back to life by mongooses, and devotion to lovers or would-be lovers who never truly love you back.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is, in a word, magnificent. It taught me so much about the Caribbean and reminded of some personal "stuff" that I've persisted in not dealing with sufficiently. Even now, I am left with a sense of awe and gratitude. Read it, y'all! Just read it!

Favorite quotes:
"The next day he woke up feeling like he'd been unshackled from his fat, like he'd been washed clean of his misery, and for a long time he couldn't remember why he felt this way, and then he said her name" (40).

"Beli, who'd been waiting for something exactly like her body her whole life, was sent over the moon by what she now knew. By the undeniable concreteness of her desirability which was, in its own way, Power... Telling Beli not to flaunt those curves would have been like asking the persecuted fat kid not to use his recently discovered mutant abilities. With great power comes great responsibility... bullshit. Our girl ran into the future that her new body represented and never ever looked back" (94).
"Nothing else has any efficacy, I might as well be myself.
 But yourself sucks!
 It is, lamentably, all I have" (174).

Not Too Far from China: A Poetic Escape by Zuri McWhorter

Full disclosure, the Detroit Bookfest was and is a great idea, but everyone severely underestimated what the turnout would be. Rather than hundreds, there were likely thousands of people who floated through the event that day. So it was more of a hustle to find good reads while staying out of people's way, rather than the casual book-perusing experience that I'd expected. But anywhooo.

I chanced upon a novel called Beijing Doll at the table of Zuri McWhorter, and on that same table she had stacks of her own work which included Not Too Far from China. I was too shy to chat with her, but she seemed like a dope person, her poetry collection seemed interesting, and her typewriter logo and stickers looked cool, so I bought both books.

Most of the poems are about the unspoken subtleties of relationships, self awareness and self doubt, the sensations of being alive. A young black creative soul wandering through life. This entire "poetic escape" is remarkably observant and sincere. Support this independent, native Detroiter, WOC artist and order this poetry collection!

Favorite quotes:

"I'm ready to forgive 
My heart and hands 
For holding on too tight

To draw a straight line 
From a thought 
To an action" (from "Out of Pocket") 

I may deteriorate 
in peace;

tear down these haunted hallways
let the library get some sun

breathe in dusty thoughts,
interrogate the chipping walls

I may redecorate;
hopefully, still at peace" (from "Deteriorate")

"in coils, her 
voice bounced
in the air and hung

rows of weeping 
willows overflowed
with joy and encouraged 
the earth
to do the same" (from "Cornwall")

Thursday, August 3, 2017


This is what I'd do,

I'd stay at home (stay at home)
Locked up in my room
With all the windows and doors shut tight

But now I'm free (now I'm free)
I can go where I want to be
And know that everything's alright

The Winans, "Goodness Mercy and Grace" 

Sunday, July 30, 2017

BOOKS! (Woman at Point Zero + Everyone's a Aliebn When Ur a Aliebn Too)

Both of these books were endorsed by media personalities that I follow either sporadically or actively. The first is a novel (or "creative nonfiction") which supposedly served as the inspiration for Ariana Grande's Dangerous Woman album and her single of the same name. The second is a storybook for adults that came highly recommended by Tracy from the Another Round podcast.

 Woman at Point Zero by Nawal El Saadawi

The most famous work of Egyptian feminist, activist, doctor, and literary giant Nawal El Saadawi, Woman at Point Zero is a fictionalized account of conversations she had with a female prisoner in 1974, days before the woman was executed for murder. El Saadawi visited the woman as part of her psychiatric research on Egyptian women, and was so profoundly affected by the woman's story that she wrote a book to memorialize her and the plight of women in the Arab world.The book is narrated mostly by the first-person voice of Firdaus, whose interactions with men over the course of her life take her through female circumcision, repeated sexual assault from a relative, abusive relationships, rape, prostitution, and finally, murder.

What I appreciate most about this book is how it explores sex work as both exploitative but also a source of autonomy. Though Firdaus is initially lured into selling her body, eventually she becomes her own boss, running her own life without anyone intercepting the money or telling her what to do. For a short while she attempts to be "respectable" and get an office job, but then witnesses how regular women toil with little in return, and after getting her heart broken she goes back into business for herself. And you know how she becomes most successful? By saying "no" to men. It's genius. It drives them wild because they can't stand to be rejected, and so she keeps naming her price higher and higher. Until one day a man, with better connections in higher places than her, shows up and demands to be her pimp simply because he can.

Certain lines are frequently repeated in the novel to emphasize the cyclical nature of events or feelings that occur in Firdaus life. Searching people's eyes, waiting on first and second loves to reappear one last time, muted sensations of pleasure, abandoning her body and withdrawing within herself every time she's with a john. Firdaus goes out a criminal and is treated by male authorities like a deranged threat to society that must be disposed of, but she is free. Even if only in her mind, she has escaped the matrix of male-centered appeasement, degradation and servitude, and she is free.

Favorite quotes:
"Who says murder does not require that a person be gentle?" (4).

"It was as though money was a shameful thing, made to be hidden, an object of sin which was forbidden to me and yet permissible for others, as though it had been made legitimate only for them" (91).

"That I knew nothing about patriotism, that my country had not only given me nothing, but had also taken away anything I might have had, including my honour and my dignity... the man from the police looked as though his moral pride was greatly shaken by what I had said. How could anyone be devoid of patriotic feeling? I felt like exploding with laughter at the ridiculous stance he was taking, the paradox he personified, his double moral standards. He wanted to take a prostitute to this important personality's bed, like any common pimp would do, and yet talk in dignified tones of patriotism and moral principals" (122-23). 

"I want nothing. I hope for nothing. I fear nothing. Therefore I am free. For during life it is our wants, our hopes, our fears that enslave us" (137).

 Everyone's a Aliebn When Ur a Aliebn Too: A Book by Jomny Sun

Jonathan "Jomny" Sun, a Canadian man who does everything (theater, architecture, design, engineering, comedy, everything!), wrote and illustrated this story about an alien sent to Earth to study humans and report his findings back to his fellow aliens. This alien's name is also Jomny, presumably pronounced "Johnny". On Earth he only meets animals, and assumes them to be humans.

There's a lonely tree. A workaholic beaver. A hedgehog striving to find himself as an artist. A love-starved bear. A sophisticated otter. An egg anxious about what it will be once it hatches. A flock of birds who worship the sun. A bunch of bees, one of which spells what he wants to say, instead of speaking in full sentences (a spelling bee, get it?). And nothing is a character. Literally nothing. Though we would otherwise consider it a void, a dauntingly bottomless concept, or empty space, nothingness is a character too.  

And these animals (plus a couple inanimate/intangible objects) teach Jomny everything about humanity that he needs to know. Love, sadness. The uncertainty of pursuing goals or becoming something. That fact that mortality sucks because it's scary and unavoidable, but it's okay because everyone and everything dies, and in that sense none of us are alone. The idea that you should enjoy your sadness, because it's okay to feel sad and it won't last forever. Plus, being sad often means you've been lucky to have someone or something in your life worth missing. Aliebn is creative, it's funny, it's cute, the dialogue is simple but also sarcastic and deeply probing. Take an hour to read this book cover to cover, and then keep it close so you can read it again whenever you need a reminder that life may be a struggle, but that struggle is common.

Favorite quotes:
"everybody tells me i am too small and too slow to make a diference in this world but i am making a diference in my own world and i hope that is enough"

"i've been wonderimg why the lonely ones make the most beautifubl music and i thimk its because theyre he ones most invested in filling the silence"

"i was so woried about wat i woud become in the future that i didnt realize i can be anything i want to be right now"

"look. life is bad. everyones sad. we're all gona die. but i alredy bought this inflatable boumcy castle so are u gona take ur shoes off or wat"

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Memories, Movement

(Or, "More Unnecessary Things That I Remember While Driving, Walking, or Trying to Fall Asleep")

That one time in college when I was chatting with my friend Esse, and she stated that twerking was an art form, and I guffawed. Like, almost indignantly. Since then I've seen how the girls do it in Atlanta, I've taken twerk and pole dance classes from a Detroit native who used to be a stripper. Twerking is indeed an art form.

That one time during gym class in kindergarten (first grade?) when one of my white classmates and I were staring at each other's hands, and she came to the conclusion that we're probably all white at our core, since all of our palms are white. That classmate is a left-leaning anthropologist now and would be mortified by such a racially-biased suggestion, but at the time her kindergarten self really thought she'd hit on something.

That one time I sang a couple songs at a jazz jam session in Detroit and a stud bought me a drink to express her appreciation for my performance. Conveniently it was a glass of white wine, one of  the few alcoholic beverages I do drink. 

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

BOOKS! (Homegoing)

Here goes another book recommendation from a podcast, this time from the hosts of Mostly Lit. After the film adaptation of Twelve Years a Slave made its rounds four years ago, I resolved for my own sanity to not watch another slave movie. I've been hearing and learning about the trials of our ancestors constantly since I was a child, and I just couldn't stomach another movie that would tear my heart to shreds while still allowing white people to feel better about themselves and ultimately learn nothing ("Isn't it so good that the times aren't like that anymore," blahdeblah, etc). Thankfully, I haven't sworn off books about slavery at all. Homegoing is one of my favorites that I've read this year, but I needed some time to sit with me before writing about it.

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

Loss and fire and motherhood and sisterhood and womanhood and bonds and blackness and blood.

Two women in the Gold Coast (present-day Ghana) are both victims of British colonialism and the slave trade. Born of the same mother, they are half-sisters but never meet each other or even learn each other's names. From their adolescent years both of their lives are framed by the whims of white men, in a comparable though not equivalent dynamic to house slave and field slave.

Effia, the elder sister born in a Fante family, is married off to the British governor of Cape Castle, becoming the "wench" of the man who controls the export of slaves from Ghana. She can move around without restriction and is even able to visit her home village, though she is no longer welcome there. Effia lives a life of luxury in the castle, underneath which sits the dungeon where hundreds of slaves are crammed, awaiting shipment. Unbeknownst to her, her sister is one such slave. Esi, the younger sister born in an Asante family, is captured as a slave and traded to the British after her father's tribal war exploits backfire on him. She lives in the slave dungeon underneath Cape Castle with no space, no end of tears, and no sunlight. She is scarcely fed, and is brutalized by soldiers who guard the dungeon. She's even molested by Effia's husband before being packed onto a ship bound for the American South.

The rest of the book traces each of these two women's branches of their family tree, down to their respective 4th-great grandchildren in current times. Each chapter focuses on a specific descendant during a specific period of Ghanaian colonial/post-colonial history (Effia's descendants) or Black American history (Esi's descendants). Even after having finished this novel weeks ago, the chapter that sticks with me most is that of Willie, Esi's great-great granddaughter. Willie moves with her mixed husband and their son from Alabama to Harlem during the Great Migration. Due to racism (yes, even in The Big Apple!) and insecurities about his manhood, her husband is so focused on passing for white so that he can earn a better living for them, that he passes right out of Willie's life. Out of their home and out of Harlem, letting his white employers make a sexual spectacle out of Willie before leaving her and eventually starting a new family with a white woman. I don't know why this story bothers me so, but it does. Infuriating and tragic. I knew passing was (still is!) real, but I hadn't imagined that it was THAT real, and especially in New York City of all places.

Props are due to Yaa Gyasi for acknowledging Africans' culpability in the slave trade while also not shifting the onus away from the white people to whom the trade catered. Notions of the diaspora or Pan-Africanism hardly existed at that time, and so local warriors and slave traders saw capturing and selling other Africans as a way to get rich while subjugating rival tribes (Asante vs. Fante, for example), rather than as a means to send their own off to indescribable hell as non-human property in the New World. Furthermore, chattel slavery was a practice particular to the Americas that didn't have a cut-and-dry equivalent in Africa (at the very least, slaves in African hands were still considered human beings). This is all a lengthy discussion for another day, but Gyasi thankfully doesn't shy away from it.

To be completely honest, once I read the last line and closed the book, I came this close to crying. Thiiiis close. I've written before about how like most descendants of enslaved people in this country, I'm disconnected from my exact roots and don't know who my ancestors were or where they came from past a certain point. Not to project my experience onto Yaa Gyasi's, but in reading Homegoing I felt like I was also able to pay tribute to my own ancestors. To feel for them, mourn for them, take pride in them in a way that I hadn't before. The novel left me with a sense of despair, but also immense gratitude toward the people who survived and made my existence possible.

Favorite quotes:
"'You cannot stick a knife in a goat and then say, Now I will remove my knife slowly, so let things be easy and clean, let there be no mess. There will always be blood'... They would just trade one type of shackles for another, trade physical ones that wrapped around wrists and ankles for the invisible ones that wrapped around the mind... The British had no intention of leaving Africa, even once the slave trade ended. They owned the Castle, and, though they had yet to speak it aloud, they intended to own the land as well" (93).
"There is evil in our lineage. There are people who have done wrong because they could not see the result of the wrong. They did not have these burned hands as a warning... it is like a fisherman casting a net into the water. He keeps only the one or two fish that he needs to feed himself and puts the rest in the water, thinking that their lives will go back to normal. No one forgets that they were once captive, even if they are now free" (242).