Thursday, April 30, 2015

Sessions with Sue 38

Since the last session I decided to ease up on myself a little, and it's helped me to start feeling somewhat stable again. Today's was a much lighter conversation:
  • Decided to stop trying to lose weight for the time being until you get settled back home after graduation; still disappointed in how you look, but it's taken the edge off
  • Already not feeling like hanging out with anybody back home; don't want to have to face them and tell them what you're not doing
  • Mental health care back home; you have options! Could be a licensced therapist or psychologist/psychiatrist, but it doesn't have to be; could even consider a life coach
  • Still don't like the idea of taking any sort of medication, but will keep it on the table as an option if need be in the future
  • It would be too easy for you to just stay in the house with the dog after you get home; going out, doing things, and spending time with people are what'll really make the difference this summer, and that's up to you

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Outings: President's Reception

President's Reception for Graduates - Cowles House (29 April)

This evening I spent an hour and some change hobnobbing at Cowles House, a secret house and garden on my campus. It's not actually secret─students pass by it all the time, everyday─but hardly anyone enters it unless invited. And a bunch of us soon-to-be graduates had been invited there today for the annual President's Reception for Graduates.

First we registered and got name tags that had ribbons attached to them according to whichever college(s) we were graduating from. I was a so-called "ribbon collector", with three. Then, before entering the house we all waited in line for our turn to take a photo with President Lou Anna K. Simon, brandishing said ribbons.

Then it was just free-food, ooh-ing and ahh-ing at the house's distinguished interior (I mean really, a freaking tree growing out of the sitting room??!), chilling in the backyard, sitting through a couple speeches and MSU hoo-rahs, walking around, and taking pictures with people we happened to know there. Speaking of which, I was so excited and relieved when my friends Jo, Christen, Jessica and Josh showed up. 'Twas gossip, laughs, graduation talk, future plans, and photo ops galore. Everybody received a goodie bag on the way out, which included a free alumni license plate. Now that I think about it, it all went by pretty quickly, which is more than fine with me because I'd been hesitant about attending this event.

While hobnobbing is still an awkward thing for me, I was glad to have had this time set aside to chat leisurely with a few of my friends. And to contemplate how many dynamic, beautiful, brilliant, just plain awesome people with whom I've become acquainted over the past four years. They're like shooting stars, with each one going their separate way after next week. For me, it's an honor to have been in the company of such wonders as these young individuals. Oh lord, here I am already waxing nostalgic. It's going to be a looong week and a half, I tell you.

Graduation season events and ceremonies: 2 down, 6 to go...

Things People Give Me #20

top to bottom: Lemon, Strawberry, Nougat, Cola, and O.G. Caramel
Carambar. Portmanteau of "caramel" and "bar". Akin to a French version of Tootsie Rolls or Laffy Taffy, "except wayyy better", explained my friend Nyasha.

Today was the last day of  my French Linguistics class, and our professor ended the turmoil with a game, followed by Carambars for everyone. According to her, they're the best French candy ever.

To be honest I don't even eat candy. Apparently I care so little for it that I hadn't seen nor heard anything about Carambars during all of my two and a half months in Paris last year. Seems it flew right under my radar, as I'm sure many things did. But today I took one of each flavor that was available so I could try them all. Which one did I like best? It's a tie between "Caranougouat" (middle, with a tiny nougat filling) and "l'originel Caramel" (bottom). 

Merci Professuer Violin-Wigent pour les bonbons! J'ai beacoup appris dans votre cours, meme si je trouve toujours que la linguistique est très difficle!

Thanks for the candy, Prof Violin-Wigent! I learned a lot in your class, even though I still think linguistics is really hard!

Monday, April 27, 2015

Red Week and Me

A little TMI about me and my Red Week. Normally I don't like talking about these things, but I started today so it's on my mind.

For starters, I'm super regular. Four weeks almost to the exact day. Occasionally a day or two early/late, but always within the expected ballpark. Hardly any surprises. I'm also only a five or six day girl.

I didn't realize until coming to college how lucky I am to not have to suffer from cramps too much. Some girls have it so bad that they're out of commission for days at a time. For me, after the first day, my cramps are basically non-existent. And if I take Midol Complete the moment that the creek starts trickling (hugs, oranges, and the Lord's eternal favor be to whichever benevolent souls came up with this miracle pill!), I hardly feel anything at all from the beginning. Then it's pretty much smooth sailing from the second day on. A little pressure here and there, maybe some nausea, but hardly any pain.

And about PMS. I don't pay too much attention,  so I don't know where I'd fit in the spectrum. I guess it's fair to estimate that when that time is approaching, my daily migraines get worse and I'm slightly more depressed than usual. But I never become that raving, irrational, insufferable wreck of a woman who's biting everyone's head off and can't stop eating everything in sight. (Really,  how shameful it is that our society commits to this running joke about women that is so dismissive and void of understanding. We are the sources of life, but the natural regulatory processes that sustain that ability of ours only grant us stereotype and ridicule. We are to be honored!  Our "stuff" is to be honored!)

If anything, my most sustained mood change is the exact opposite. Once my cycle starts, I'm overcome with an odd sense of euphoria. Nothing phases me. I feel centered, rooted, nonplussed. Whatever will be will be. The more the river flows, the more I feel at peace.  I also notice a rise in my maternal feelings. My mind wanders quite often throughout the day anyway, but when it's red week those daydreams and fantasies include more and more musings about what kind of mom I'd like to become and what kind of children my kids might be.

There you have it, that's what my red week is like. In case anyone wanted to know. Which I know you probably didn't, but I felt like sharing anyway. You're welcome.

For any of my ladies our there reading this, what's your red week like?

Friday, April 24, 2015

Sessions with Sue 37

It's funny that Sue warned me about withdrawing last Friday, because by Sunday I'd succumbed to one of my triggers, and all this week I've been withdrawing like nobody's business. Meanwhile feeling so tired, unmotivated, depressed, alone, scared, ashamed, sorry, unable to concentrate. And disappointed in myself for falling back. But today's session was wonderful because as downtrodden as I was, I made the decision to voice my feelings honestly. I wouldn't say that I usually keep too much from Sue, but often I'll lightly touch on or just hint at what I'm feeling about something, rather than actually digging deeply into it. But today, even though I dreaded her being disappointed in me for detouring from the high road (which is stupid, because she never reacts that way) I spoke from the heart about all the darkness that's been going on in my head this week. Here goes:
  •  Been withdrawing all week; depressed for the usual reasons; not feeling like doing anything, not wanting to be around anyone; staying in your room except for when you have to go to class
  • This is concerning because usually when you withdraw, you get more depressed; seems safer, easier, and less trouble, but it actually hurts more than it helps; sometimes good things can come from you going out and doing something even though you don't feel like it. 
  • Try to think positively, distract yourself, pull yourself up, but it doesn't work; feels like a film is over your eyes or a cloud is over your head, and since you can't make it go away you just wait for it to pass; could take a couple hours, could take a few weeks
    • That's clinical depression;  it's your brain chemistry, and often no amount of willpower is a match for it
  • Sue thinks it's time to seriously consider medication; find a psychiatrist back home to walk you through it. When she first suggested it back when you started meeting, you were totally against it. But even though you're not the same person as back then and you've been trying really hard for the past year and a half, emotionally you keep returning to the same low place. Sue only has a couple more times with you and wants to make sure that you'll be taking care of yourself after you leave
  • Sue shares her own story of being on an anti-depressant for the past 20 years because of her own experiences and family history;  put it in a different perspective to show that medication is not for "crazy people"; there are plenty of smart, capable people out there, even therapists, who still need help to feel their best selves and stay at a stable level
    • Maybe you could just try it for a little while and see how it works
  • Always feel like you can't have the things you want, like you have to just settle for what you can get because your dreams and passions are off limits to you; feel like you're outside the world and not like other people who can make things happen for themselves; feel powerless and like there's no place for you, and that the world is leaving you behind
  • But there is a place for you, and you have so much to offer the world;  you just haven't found that place yet
  • Your depression/anxiety are intensified by the transitional and uncertain period that you're nearing; you'd figured that this time would be scary or difficult but hadn't expected yourself to react the way you have
  • Can't just be open to what life brings and wait for whatever comes like others can, because being open to the elements like that is terrifying for you; fear has paralyzed and crushed you, and you feel disappointed in yourself for reacting in this way; but you're still doing your best and still doing some good things to cope
  • Thinking about this time 4 years ago, graduating from high school, bummed about not being able to get away to some prestigious school in.a big city; like now, you also felt bitter and directionless, like your life was over before it started. But you made it work at MSU, and if you were able to do that, you can find a way to make the next thing work
  • Balance (tug of war?) between wanting to be different from other people but still wanting to be liked by them (to feel accepted/welcomed,  to feel like you're likeable and are worth being around)
  • Music; a passion that you kinda dipped your toe into at school; but maybe coming home you could get more involved with it, and that'll help turn things around for you

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Things People Give Me #19

While I was in class this afternoon, I received an email from my dorm about picking up a package. Color me slightly confused. Huh? I didn't order anything... Reading through the email, I noticed a line at the end indicating that this package contained a "perishable item", and that I should come get it as soon as possible. Color me very confused. Perishable item... like food? Somebody sent me food? Ma sent me a care package for finals week that one time back in freshman year, but... nah, I don't think she's doing that again. But seriously, who would send me food? Watch it be something I don't like so I won't even be able to enjoy it. Pssh, I might not be able to eat it anyway because a stranger sent it! What if it has poison in it? How would said stranger mysteriously get my address anyway? And why send poisoned food to me of all people? 

Imaginative guessing aside, between classes I made my way back to my dorm to see about this mystery at the front desk. I hand the girl my student ID, she looks my package up on her computer, she goes to the back to get it. And then comes back around carrying a big ol' bouquet of purple flowers, in a real glass vase, with a purple ribbon on it! Now color me all kinds of confused! Exceedingly and abundantly confused! In my head, my immediate response was, Whose is this?? She needs to go put that back, 'cause I know that's not for me. The girl saw my face and chuckled, "You weren't expecting this, were you?" Not at all, not at all.

Usually when I retrieve a package I turn around and leave as soon as they hand it to me, but since I was so sure that this bouquet wasn't mine─and since I noticed there was a card stuck in it─I stayed put. I  opened the card in front of her just so that when I told her that she was mistaken, she would be right there and ready to take the flowers back. The card read:
Danielle, congratulations on your graduation! Sorry I can't be there but know that I am so very proud of you! You have a very bright future ahead of you so "walk" with pride! Take care!
Yvette Stephenson
Ah, so they were for me. Ms. Yvette sent them!

She already told me a few days ago that she can't make either of my commencement ceremonies because she'll be away on vacation, and I told her it was cool, no worries. I thought that was the end of it. But I guess she still wanted to do something nice for me, so she sent me this early token of congratulations. No one's ever sent me a bouquet of this size before! How beautiful, and thoughtful, and timely! Right after my carnations from the Parade of Honors died (see bottom right of the top photo), the magnolias on the tree behind my building bloomed, and I was thinking how nice it'd be to have live flowers in my room again. And bam, my mom's friend/my "aunt" surprises me with these. Now my room smells like a garden. I'm so happy! I'm really starting to have a thing for flowers these days, and this is just helping me get more and more into them. Thanks, Ms. Yvette! And thanks Hyacinth House for the lovely arrangement!

Sunday, April 19, 2015

OddDreams: Wedding Day?

Last night I had another one of those dreaded wedding dreams.

I dreamt that I woke up late on the day of my wedding, and I was alone in the house with my dog. Not my  basset hound Madison, mind you, but some random dog that I unquestioningly recognized as being mine.

Everyone was already there at the church waiting; it was as if the wedding was going on without me and I was the only piece missing. And while I was rushing around trying to get myself together, looking at myself from the outside I frantically wondered, Why am I alone? Why is no one here with me? Why did no one wake me up? Why has no one stayed with me to support me and help get me ready? Isn't that the point of having bridesmaids? Not even my mom is here. Where's Ma?

And instead of coming back to the house to check on me or to help me get to the church, people just kept sending me messages through my phone. Texts, Facebook messages, voicemail messages, emails. "Where are you?" "What's the hold up?" "Did you get cold feet?" A variety messages, ranging from lovingly concerned to peeved to disgruntled, but not one friendly face showed up in person to see about me.

Then I couldn't think straight, so I wasted even more time by just sitting next to this new dog of mine, trying to make sense of it all. I'm supposed to get married today? But why? Since when am I getting married? Who am I even marrying? Everybody's waiting on me, but I don't even want to do this. But I don't want to let anyone down. Seriously who arranged all this and who the heck am I supposed to be marrying? I felt like everybody was cognizant of the situation but me. Like I'd been in a coma all the way up to this moment, and first thing upon waking up I had this huge expectation hanging over my head. Time was running out, while people were waiting on me to come through and fulfill some obligation that I'd known nothing about.

So then I called Ma (I guess she was at the church waiting with everyone else) and explained how I didn't think I could go through with it. I tried to make her understand that my reason was, "I'm scared and want out because I don't know what's going on!" But she just took what I said as, "oh, she's scared and wants out because she got cold feet." Even Ma didn't get where I was coming from. Fortunately for me though, she was understanding just like her real-life counterpart, uttering her tried-and-true, "Alright. Well just do what you think is best." So the wedding was cancelled.

Next, to apologize to all the guests who had set aside time and money to be there, I wrote a long Facebook post (seriously? Facebook? I couldn't have even written a letter?) to everybody. In it I expressed something or other about how it wasn't the right time for me, none of it felt right to me, and that one day I most definitely wanted to be a wife and mom who was happily invested and engaged in her family. BUT! I didn't want to live a passionless life (I distinctly remember this word! "passionless"!) doing something that wasn't right for me to do, just because others thought it was "a good fit" or "about time". I threw in some half-hearted words of consolation to the groom but that was just for appearance's sake because, again, I had no idea whotheheck the groom was!

If anything else followed, it must've been of little consequence because all I remember after that is me waking up this morning.

Lord Jesus please, pretty please, can I just get one good dream? Just one simple, uncomplicated, drama-free, good dream? That's all I ask. 'Cause these soap operas and primetime thrillers playing in my head at night are wearing me out!

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Searching ourselves.

"The truth about you, is that you're not really you yet. The truth about you is that God only knows what the true you really looks like."Alan Cullen, Trinity Church pastor of worship & teaching

Been listening to Trinity Church's sermons ("messages") on Vimeo since last Saturday, and while I was up not doing schoolwork last night, this one in particular really spoke to me. "REBUILD: Investigate Me" by worship and teaching pastor Alan Cullen. In it he talks about everyone having a "spiritual blindspot", and how we all need help to become aware of and accept our true selves. We can search our own hearts, but we can only do so much without God's guidance and open, unpretentious fellowship with others. All the while, it's also important to remember that we don't have to be perfect to be loved; there's no need to be scared or hide. Give it a listen!

Friday, April 17, 2015

Sessions with Sue 36

Another week has passed, and I'm still feeling pretty stable. For now I'm just trying to be "okay" and keep it that way until I can progress to "good". Here are my notes from today's session:

  • Having to go back to what you thought you should have been leaving behind (home); you're making peace with it but it still needles you a bit; still feel somewhat disappointed and insecure
  • Maybe go on a trip/road trip somewhere during your time off?
  • Taking advantage of the opportunity to sort through all your options; people have told you for the longest that "you're going places" and "you'll be able to write your own ticket"; now you just have to figure out which ticket you want to write 
  • Just because you're going back to your mom's house doesn't mean you have to go back to being a little girl; don't have to do everything together or do things the same way she does like before
  • Be careful of when you feel the urge to withdraw, because when you start withdrawing, you start sinking lower and lower

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Second take + Writing on the wall

Last night Hilena and I recorded "Please Keep Me Company" a second time because we really wanted folks to hear and understand the lyrics. We had a great time at the open mic last week but the sound was a little wonky, so we decided to give it another go-round in a practice room. Enjoy!

Speaking of practice room, on the wall adjacent to Hilena there's a space where some paint has peeled (or been scratched) away. In the empty space someone wrote a message in pencil that I wanted to share. Music students are known for holing up in these rooms for hours or even days at a time preparing for examinations, juries, concerts, recitals, auditions, and the like. So while it was disconcerting at first to see "HELP ME" carved into another wall up near the ceiling when I first walked into the room, the words left behind by this well-wisher helped balance things out:

"You'll only make it if you keep working"

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Sessions with Sue 35

Perhaps it's safe to say I'm on the mend? I guess it's more apt to say I'm on an upswing lately, as life is all about ebbs and flows. But yeah, I'm feeling better. Just trying to stay solid with being "alright" for now. Here are my notes from last Friday's session:
  • "I'm going home to decompress for a while and then I'll figure something out from there". Lately you've been saying that to people just to deflect from how bad you feel about not having any plans.  But it actually sounds a lot better than, "I'm just going home." Puts it in much better perspective for you.
  • Convo with Tiffany Toriumi gave you hope that singing in Japan is possible for you; helped you have the courage to pursue things after school ends that you've been hesitant about during school (vocal lessons, music workshops,  choirs, etc.)
    • working on maturing musically, working at losing weight and feeling good about your body; those actually sound really productive as summer projects/goals
  • After having two shows booked to zero shows booked; having the open mic night go well was very validating for you as a performer
    • plus having friends come out to support even though you hadn't asked them to, and even weren't sure if y'all were really friends anymore (thought they'd forgotten about you)
  • Notion of not getting into something right away as being akin to "drifting off into nothingness," as that former classmate of yours put it... Hearing that got to you a little bit. But that's not necessarily where you're headed. 
    • Sure, maybe you don't have a clear direction and can't give answers to that same set of questions people keep asking you right now. But just because you don't have something now doesn't mean you won't have something later. You not having a future isn't a forgone conclusion

Monday, April 13, 2015


Magnolia. Spring returns and life begins anew. A little reminder from the tree behind my building that there is always something more in store.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Back to Church + "Better Story"

This evening (Saturday), I went to church for the first time in 3 months. If I recall, that's the longest I've ever gone without going church. When I'd made a commitment to practicing gratitude and learning to treat myself kindly at the beginning of this year, going to church regularly was supposed to be part of that. But I let life get in the way.

Part of it was my usual excuse of having too much to do. (Sunday! must get to library when it opens! must claim my spot! must work for 5-7 hours straight! must be productive, because another Monday is creeping upon us!) Part of it was me being really bitter and depressed about neither losing weight nor graduating with prospects, and thus not wanting to do anything or go anywhere, especially if I'd have to be around too many people for too long.

But God always has a plan.

This afternoon I was at the laundromat when I ran into Jessica, a girl I'd gotten to know through an on-campus Asian Christian fellowship (ACIV) that I'd joined back in 2013. Neither of us had been attending meetings recently though, so today was our first time seeing each other in quite a few months. We chatted,  she mentioned she was going to church this evening, she invited me to come, and I accepted her invitation without "needing to think about it" like I usually do. I figured, It's been a while, I've been feeling really disconnected from God lately, I don't have anything else to do today, so why not?

A few hours later I met Jessica at her church, Trinity Church, for their weekly 6pm Saturday service (or "gathering", as they call it).  According to the info card for first-time visitors, this casual and non-denominational church's mission is based on the idea that everyone has a story and that each person's story connects in its own way to God's big story. Trinity's aim is therefore to be a safe place for all who come to "explore your place in His story" as followers of Christ. Going along with this, on Easter last week Pastor Marvin Williams started his "A Better Story" series about how Jesus has the power to rewrite our stories and make them awesome, no matter how many plot twists life throws at us (see video below). Today's message was on freedom, and Pastor Marvin preached on how to identify and fight against unhealthy thinking that keeps us from living free and unburdened the way God intended.

After the service Jessica revealed to me that she too hadn't been to church in a while. She's been incredibly busy with work/graduate studies, and also not having friends to go with her like she used to. But she made a decision to commit to going to church today even if she had to go by herself, and then she ran into me. "It was God's plan" she concluded. And I agree. I only have exactly one month left before I graduate and leave Lansing, but I'm believing that a lot of good change can happen in a month. So we'll be going to church together for the remaining Saturdays I have left, helping each other commit to consistently attending the Lord's house.

It's funny because if I go wayyy back... in summer 2013 I studied abroad in Japan, where I met a fellow MSU student named James. James convinced me to check out the aforementioned ACIV once we returned stateside and school started again. Through the course of joining and attending meetings, I became acquainted with Jessica. Fast forward through a few rough periods and neglecting both ACIV and church in the process. Then fast forward to me just about giving up on myself and on life this semester. And then today, during my routine Saturday trip to the laundromat, Jessica re-enters my life, just when I needed the little push and friendly encouragement to return to church. God's plan indeed.

Thanks for inviting me Jessica, and see you next Saturday!

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Meeting Tiffany Toriumi.

Last Friday I had the most amazing conversation (I guess career advisers would call them "informational interviews"?) with a woman named Tiffany Toriumi. She is a black woman like myself, and for 7 years she lived in Japan working as a jazz singer.

While I was in New Orleans my friend Nyasha asked me what I would be doing if I could do anything in the world, and I responded that I would be living in Japan, working as the lead vocalist for a band. Maybe even be a songwriter. Then to my surprise, she responded, "Oh! I know a woman who did something like that. Would you be interested in talking to her? Let me give you her contact info." ...Like what?! Seriously?! This thing that I figured was just a figment of my imagination, someone has actually achieved? And you randomly happen to know said person?

Cut to last week, when I went to meet Tiffany in her office. She was extremely warm and open, and was eager to tell me anything that I wanted to know. She didn't study jazz at MSU officially, but while she was a student here she linked up with people in the jazz studies department, found herself a mentor, sat in on classes, performed, and did all she could to learn how to sing jazz and practice her craft. After graduating, she spent some time performing regularly in Lansing and Detroit. But while she was getting a consistent amount of gigs night after night, she was disheartened at the fact that her funds didn't match how hard she was working.

So, on the advice of her mother to "move somewhere where you can make something happen", Tiffany took a chance and moved to Tokyo. For the first two years teaching English was her day job (as is common for most native English-speaking newcomers to Japan), while she pursued her passion at night. She went to jam sessions, jazz clubs and open mics, just singing and connecting and collaborating. She met her Japanese husband, who was a drummer, through these activities. You know who else she met through this route? The VP of Sony. Yes ma'am. The vice. president. of. Sony. Music. Japan. Long story short, she was signed to a label, put out 5 albums, and traveled throughout Japan performing jazz for the next five years. She also performed at Club EVANS in Korea:

And she even made a cameo in the 2008 Japanese drama 'Ashita no Kita Yoshio'. She can be seen and heard in episode 1, singing a jazzed-up version of Gilbert O'Sullivan's "Alone Again (Naturally)" from 38:13-43:20.

However, despite having what many would deem a "dream job", she came to feel so stifled and frustrated by the business side of the entertainment industry (and she probably missed home too) that she got out of her contract, moved back to the States with her husband, and eventually found a job at her alma mater coordinating diversity programming. She sings in a band now, but not at the same scale as she did before.

I was sitting there listening to all her anecdotes and her advice and her answers to my questions, and all I could think was, Wow. What a unique and awesome story this woman has. And what luck, what a blessing that I have the opportunity to speak with this woman who has already been where I want to go, and done what I want to do. Truly, I was blown away.

Toward the end of our meeting I let her hear a clip of me singing "Ue o Muite Arukou" and she told me that I have a beautiful voice. (Hey! A professional singer affirmed that I don't suck! That's gotta be a good indication, right?) "You have to do this," she said. "You want to, right? And you can speak Japanese. So you have to do this, you have to go for it! You'll do great!" Tiffany helped me see that like her, there are tons of foreigners in Japan who are working as artists (both signed and independent), making music, and doing extremely well for themselves! She even offered to put me in contact other people she knows in the Tokyo jazz scene. It was like I was hearing about a whole other world for the first time, a whole other life that's out there waiting for me to live it. This wistful fantasy I've had of being an artist in Japan can become a reality, because people are already over there doing it! It's possible!

I hadn't thought about writing about this encounter until yesterday, and so now I'm kinda kicking myself for not getting a picture of us together as proof (darn the 21st century and its "pics or it didn't happen" pressure!). I feel like I've met one of my heroes, even though I hadn't known about her until now. While Tiffany didn't diminish any of the amazing things that she'd done, she talked about her singing career in Japan as if it was something she did in her younger days. A risk she's glad that she took, an experience she's glad she didn't miss out on, something that's the stuff of fond memories and tons of stories─but something that is nonetheless behind her. However, I don't care how humble or modest she may try to be; Tiffany Toriumi is a hero and a wonder to me. Thank you for taking the time to talk to and encourage a searching, curious student with dreams such as myself. You've given me so many good things to chew on, the most important of which being, hope.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Psalm 1:3

I heard a song that was based on this verse two years ago, and now that same verse has come back to me in the form of a HONY post. "Relevant" and "timely" are not even the words.... Praise be to God.

Outings: The Avenue

Open Mic Night - The Avenue Cafe (9 April)

After the Parade of Honors, I picked up Hilena and we made our way to open mic night at The Avenue, a bar that calls itself a cafe. We had our friend Marlee come along as camerawoman. So originally, it was only supposed to be the three of us, and we hadn't thought of inviting anybody to come support.

But then I mentioned it in passing to one friend, who apparently told another, who then told another. And all of them decided amongst themselves that they were coming! So even though we technically didn't invite anyone to come, we ended up with a crew of six altogether. Isn't it awesome when friends show up even when you haven't asked or expected them to?

The event started at 9. The first three of us got there around 10, and we signed up for the next available slot, #11, to give the rest of the crew time to get there. They arrived at about 11. Once everyone was there, we passed the time talking, joking, listening to and commenting on all the acts, and drinking just a lil bit. We also made a new friend in a local poet named Erin Gray. She was friendly but tipsy, and was a little too obvious when flirting with my friend Esse (far left in the group photo). The woman plopped herself next to Esse and actually wrote a poem about Esse's beauty on her phone unbeknownst to us, and then went up and performed it when it was her turn. While Esse cringed with embarrassment, the rest of us died laughing!

The only downside was that we didn't know we'd be there so long. Folks who were in with the host kept getting moved ahead of us on the list, and so we actually ended up being second-to-last of the night and didn't get on stage until 12:30am. But Hilena and I were glad just to have a chance to perform at a real live music venue for the first time, so we waited patiently. We performed two songs, the videos for which are below. I'll admit, it's a little hard to hear us (plug in your earphones!). A mixture of an inattentive crowd and us not projecting enough, I think. But we sounded great in person! I'm incredibly proud of us for trying something new and performing at a legit open mic for the first time. And our friends seemed to really enjoy it, so we were glad to have repaid them for their patience through song.

At one point Marlee turned to me and said, "Thanks for inviting me. I feel like a young person! You know, out here, doing what young people do." (She's younger than both Hilena and I, mind you.) But I understand what she means, as I normally don't have that much of a life either, haha. I'm glad that all of us were able to come together and have a good time. Thanks to Marlee for recording, and to Christen,  Jo, and Salem for coming to show support! We appreciate you with all of our hearts!

First song is "Spotless Mind" by Jhené Aiko. Enjoy!

Second song is an original by us (written by me, arranged by the both of us), entitled "Please Keep Me Company". Enjoy x2!

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Outings: JMC Parade of Honors

James Madison College Parade of Honors - Kellogg Center (9 April)

My college/department's annual awards ceremony. They gave you a carnation for each award you were recognized for. Mine?  Phi Beta Kappa and "Graduating with High Honors" (3.9 GPA or higher).

Was a nice ceremony, but a little too long. Kinda wished I'd invited Ma to come. Overall,  for an event I hadn't wanted to go to in the first place, it wasn't bad.

And of course, you know we JMC Brown Beauties had to get a photo together. There aren't many of us in Madison (and even fewer were in attendance at the ceremony), so we have to stick together and support each other! Need #BlackExcellence ? Look no further than us. Black people go to school too!

Ahhh... the deluge of year-end award ceremonies has begun. 1 down, 7 to go. Exactly one month left until graduation. Oh joy...

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Pressure, pressure, pressure...

It's been kinda rough for me lately dealing with my own personal demons and doubts, and so it felt like a godsend when I heard this song yesterday. Thank you Jonathan McReynolds for sharing your gifts and your words. May God bless you and continue to use your artistry to touch the hearts of many.

Monday, April 6, 2015


Back to that time we sang Adele's "Daydreamer" for an audition. Somehow forgot to post it here, but here it is! Enjoy!

Being in Public While Fat

Is it sad that I have moments like these too?

I mean, it's pitiful, right? That people like me are inclined to feel so bad about how we look or about taking up too much space, that we're actually grateful for something as trivial as someone choosing to sit next to us? But it indeed happens. And I feel the exact same astonishment and relief as this person when it does.

Via PostSecret

Sessions with Sue 34

This past Thursday's session was pretty similar to the last, since just like last week I've been brooding about entering the abyss of graduating-with-no-prospects-and-moving-back-home-with-my-mom-with-nothing-to-look-forward-to-and-feeling-pretty-ashamed-about-it-all. Even the excitement and hope spurred by my Phi Beta Kappa invitation faded within a day, as a dear high school friend's grad school acceptance announcement (along with many other similar "Hey! Look! I have a future!" announcements made by people around me) reminded me that at present, I'm still going nowhere in life:
  •  Year-end academic award ceremonies; know you worked hard but don't feel like you deserve an award for it, given that you feel you're just going back to where you started at the end of the day. But that's your assessment of yourself, that's not how others see it; that's not how people who want to recognize you see it
  • Sure, a high GPA with honors, Phi Beta Kappa, even two degrees won't buy you the future you want. But it does say something about how you've spent these four years.
  • Not satisfied about what you haven't done, but maybe you can be someone who serves as an example and inspiration to others through what you have done academically
    •  Always thinking about having something to prove, but maybe people are already looking up to you, and maybe even more would be able to learn from you if they saw you and  knew your story
  • You have nothing to lose and everything to gain from asking for what you want
  • Pride real hurt right now; you can be sad/disappointed about the way things turned out yet still be proud of what you've achieved at the same time
  • Going home to spend time winding down and working on yourself probably makes the most sense considering the condition you're in right now; not ideal, but may actually be vital

Sunday, April 5, 2015

ドラマ (Dorama) Time! 8

Below are the two dramas of the 2015 winter season that I watched at the same time as they aired in Japan. Things got a little hectic for me so I wasn't able to finish both series until last week, but that's beside the point. Here goes:

 問題のあるレストラン (Mondai no Aru Restaurant/Restaurant with Many Problems) - Fuji TV/2015
This drama is near and dear to my heart for two reasons. First, it's the first drama I've ever watched without English subtitles! Woo, go me! With the exception of one episode, I watched the entire series with Japanese subtitles. It took me about twice as long than normal to get through each episode, but improving my listening and reading comprehension was so worth it! I was impressed with how much I was able to understand. Second, this show tackles a relevant but taboo problem in Japanese society, which is sexism. Particularly in the form of workplace discrimination and sexual harassment against women.

Tanaka Tamako leads a team of a women in opening a restaurant on a rooftop. Each woman has her own story. Tamako left her corporate food industry job after being betrayed by her chef boyfriend, mistreated at work, and learning of her childhood friend's public humiliation by the CEO and sustained sexual harassment from co-workers. Tamako decides to open the restaurant Bistro Fou (literally "Crazy Bistro") to avenge her friend and rival the upscale restaurant "Symphonic" that's run by her former company. Joining her is a cast of unlikely heroes: Haiji (a transgender? pastry chef who was shunned from jobs because of her lifestyle), Nanami (a longtime friend of Tamako's with whom she used to run a food truck), Kyoko (a soon-to-be divorced single mom who's regaining her confidence and independence after being dogged as a housewife), Yumi (a Tokyo University grad who used to be Tamako's coworker and is struggling to find her footing in the corporate world), and Chika (a loner otaku who's also a brilliant chef and holds a hateful grudge against her father, the lecherous above-mentioned CEO). Rounding out the female cast is Airi, the girl who stole Tamako's chef boyfriend, but she isn't as dumb, conniving, or docile as meets the eye.

I love this drama because it really delves into the daily struggles and pressures that women (especially working women) have to face. To this day I think this is the only drama that has ever made me cry. It hits that hard. But it's also incredibly heartwarming (and hilarious!) in the way it displays women working together and uplifting each other. Undoubtedly one of the best dramas I've ever watched. Also, props are due to Maki Yoko, who plays Tamako and brought me to this drama. I first saw her in 'Saikou no Rikon', and I know last year she starred in two successful seasons of the detective drama 'MOZU', so it's refreshing to see her in a more lighthearted role for a change.

Ghostwriter - Fuji TV/2015

Much like 'Hirugao', here we have another instance of a naive, idealistic young woman being corrupted when an older woman takes her under her wing. Their relationship evolves from teacher-student, to perpetrator-accomplice, to sworn enemies, and back again.

Kawahara Yuki is a 20-something aspring novelist who's struggling to enter the publishing industry. By sheer luck, she ends up being hired as an assistant to Touna Risa, Japan's reigning literary queen. Her works have been consistent best-sellers for 10 years, with quite a few being produced as films. But somehow Risa has lost her thunder, and recently her work isn't garnering the same praise or sales that they used to. So, when she discovers Yuki's writing talent, her editor and lover gets her to persuade Yuki to be her ghostwriter. Yuki agrees, and these new novels by "Touna Risa" are a second wind for the washed-up novelist. Yuki is at first led to believe that this will be a partnership of sorts, and that Risa will help her to launch her own writing career. But she she realizes she's being used, she decides to fight back, and a bitter battle ensues between the two authoresses. I watched the drama largely for Mizukawa Asami, who gave a solid performance as second female lead in last winter's 'Shitsuren Chocolatier'. Also, as an avid reader who's not familiar with what ghostwriting entails, I was glad to get my first taste of a drama set in the book/publishing industry.

One aspect that I found quite intriguing about this drama is the theme of living a double life. Once the deal has been made, neither Yuki nor Risa can really do anything without each other. Yuki wants her work to finally be read, and Risa wants to keep her good name, and in order to do that they both have to lie to their readership, their loved ones, and even themselves to some extent. In this way the show reminds me of the film Big Eyes. A real artist has talent but doesn't have the connections or guts to be noticed on her own, so she's manipulated into producing masterpieces behind a facade, eventually becoming complicit in the scam.  But one could argue that both Risa and Yuki are being used in this way. Risa is pushed by her lover/publisher to commit deplorable acts to protect her legacy (read: make sure the publisher gets paid), and Yuki is used as the pawn to make sure this plan goes over without a hitch.

I doubt that it's possible to compare the two shows, seeing as how they're so different (apart from the fact that they're about women). I was surprised by how thoroughly I enjoyed both of these dramas. But if I had to choose the one I liked the most, I'd have to go with 'Mondai no Aru Restaurant'. It deals with a very controversial and complex topic in a mindful way, and for me it came with the added challenge/reward of watching without English subtitles. But again, as usual, I would highly recommend both!

Saturday, April 4, 2015

On Repeat: "carmen"

When I was in Paris last summer my host mom told me that Stromae is a genius, and this song and video are only further proof of this fact!

Whether we saw it coming or not, whether we like it or not, social media has become part of everyone's lives. This goes even for people who aren't on any social media sites, because many still spend time ridiculing people who are, and many find themselves having to explain or defend their choice not to get involved in this dizzying non-stop world of online vices and distraction.

And because this is now a part of everyone's lives, Stromae confronts us with his vision of possible consequences.

Now of course, we won't literally die from social media use. Our bodies won't shut down from, say, tweeting too much. But what does often happen is that people spend so much of their time scrolling, viewing, sharing, and amassing likes, friends, and followers that they no longer go out and have real experiences or form in-person relationships apart from all that. They let social media monopolize their attention and consume their every being. (Hence, the humongous man-eating Twitter bird and its minions delivering unsuspecting social media addicts as sacrifices.) In that sense, such people do stop living.

But what's Stromae without a little genius AND irony? Even with his criticism of consumerism and social media use, this video is reaching millions of eyes through what? YouTube. And he's also been promoting the single through illustrations posted on what? His new Instagram page, where his character in the music video continues to craft his make-believe life before our very eyes (meta, anyone?). And talk of this song, this video, and Stromae's message is going to blow up where? All over the Internet. I mean, just look at what I'm doing right now! I'm writing about this on my blog, and then I'll share this post on Facebook when I'm done... so along with all the other netizens around the world, I'm also proving his point!  And this doesn't get past Stromae either. He's well aware that this is the world we live in today; we can no longer escape technology, neither its good nor its bad. But to what extent do we allow it to alter how we live our lives? I've written about this question before, and it's almost frightening to be reminded that we don't know where this virtual reverie is taking us.

Having said all that, I encourage you to enjoy this work of art! But don't let the message go over your head (I don't see how it could, but still). This is a grand opportunity for all of us to reflect on our habits. Thank you and well done, Stromae!

Friday, April 3, 2015

Sharpei Sisters!

They had two Sharpei mixes at the shelter today! Big, brown, wrinkly, droopy-looking, squishable, beautiful ever-lovin' Sharpeis! Until today I'd never interacted with this breed before, so I could hardly contain my delight when I saw these lovelies!

This pair of two-year-old sisters are very much alike but their personalities differ slightly. Coco (pink collar) is very chill and sweet, while Brownie (brown harness) is more energetic and is a bit of an attention hog. In a mixture of excitement and probably stress, Brownie kept prancing around trying to nibble at my hands and my jacket, while Coco enjoyed being petted but was content just to nap in peace. That is, when Brownie wasn't challenging her to a duel of course. They were happy to have company in their kennel, but both of them were fighting sleep toward the end.

As a bonded pair, the shelter would love to see these girls adopted together (adopt one, get the other free!), but it's not a requirement. Anyone interested in Brownie, Coco, or both of these beauties can find their info through the links in their names.

**(UPDATE 4/7)** Both of these beauties got adopted yesterday! No word on if they went to the same home or not. Hopefully they got to stay together, but if not it's still great that they have new homes!