Monday, April 19, 2021

Parallels to 1998

In the summer of 1998, I moved from the San Francisco Bay Area to southern Oregon. I would turn 13 that September, and begin my new life as an 8th grader at Talent Middle School. And while I’m turning 36 this year, and that middle school beginning was over two decades ago (!), I’m finding myself at a similar new beginning, with some strange parallels. 

I should state that I know that the pandemic is definitely not over. We’ve got variants popping up, and mask mandates and business restrictions ending way too soon, and in general our enthusiasm seems to be outpacing the decline of COVID. 

But there does seem to be a light at the end of the tunnel, and after receiving my 2nd vaccine shot, I find my heart readying itself to enter the world again, post-pandemic. 

First of all, just like in 1998, I spend a lot of time thinking about whether or not I should shave my legs. Ditto on wearing mascara. I can’t decide if I agree with society’s expectations enough to justify the time spent in meeting them. But I also want the social currency that comes with meeting society’s dumb expectations. Will people still be friends with me if I don’t shave my legs or wear mascara? Because I really want to have friends. 

And just like I did in 1998, I feel vaguely uncertain about my social skills. At age 13, I just didn’t have a ton of experience in making and maintaining friendships. At age 35, I’ve got the experience. It’s just that I’ve been hanging out with the same 2-4 people for more than a year and don’t entirely remember how to have conversations. Even social interactions with people I’ve known and loved for years are tinged with a slight uncertainty. There’s an 8th grader inside of me nervously whispering “Did you say the right thing? Should you say something else? What else can you talk about?” 

This also means that any successful (AKA not too awkward) human connection is cause for celebration. (A few weeks ago, I chatted with an entire group of people I didn’t know and I wasn’t very awkward and I rode the high of that for like four days.) 

And if I'm being completely honest, beyond social interactions, in the back of my mind, there’s the buzzing possibility of romantic interactions. In 8th grade, I didn’t have any plans to date until I was 16, and it would still be a full four years before my first kiss. And okay, maybe the possibility of romance was in the front of my mind in 8th grade. I couldn’t help it. I was a hopeless romantic and Ryan Gosling was stealing my heart as Young Hercules on Fox Kids, and the radio kept playing these sappy songs, and I could see my peers pairing off in halting, hand-holding couples. I kept wondering if it would happen for me. When? With whom? How? Would it be all starlight and dancing in gazebos and poetry, like I dreamed? 

I'm pleased to say that as of 2021, I've been able to experience my share of starlight and dancing in gazebos and poetry. But at this point, four years post-divorce and five months post-breakup, some of those questions are beginning to reach up to my heart and head again. Every single relationship I've ever had felt like a fluke. Not quite an accident, but like something I fell into without any planning or expertise on my part. Yes, I've had relationships before, but their initiations don't feel like anything I can replicate. (How does one actually start dating someone? Besides doing a theatre show with them, flirting throughout rehearsal, and then eventually making out?)

But logistics aside, there are more urgent questions. What if I ask someone out and they politely decline? Will I survive that? (Probably?) Or what if my year+ in relative isolation has completely eroded my ability to read any kind of social cues, and I don’t notice if someone is flirting? Or worse, I think they’re flirting when they’re not

8th grader thoughts. 

But there are also some positive parallels between 8th grade and now. I draw comfort from the same sources now that I did when I was younger—from books and movies and music and walks in nature. I feel uncertain of my exact future, but I know what I love and what I want to do, just like I did in 1998. Theatre and writing has been in my bones for as long as I can remember, and I knew even 23 year ago that I wanted to do both of those things. There are days as an adult when I can't get over the beauty of making my 8th grade dreams come true. 

1998 definitely had its rough moments. Moving to a completely new state and new school at age 13 is pretty challenging. But in the grand scheme, things turned out okay. 

And while I'm sure 2021 will have its rough moments, I think things will turn out okay this year too.

Monday, April 5, 2021

On mileposts and the question "What's the point?"

I’ve been thinking a lot about mileposts lately. 

It’s partly because I’ve got a bad case of “itchy feet” lately, which sounds clinical, but is just my phrase for “wanting to travel or explore new places or be someplace that isn’t here.” I’ve been daydreaming about a huge cross-country road trip to see everyone I know and love this summer. I’m planning a trip to Arizona to see some family in May. 

But I also know that I can’t drive for more than about five hours before I start to lose my mind. It’s just too exhausting, and I get tired of music and podcasts and singing and silence and sitting. So I’ve been finding mileposts. Places to stop and rest, to take a break and refill my strength before I keep going. 

If I had more time and hadn’t procrastinated this blog entry, I would have written much more poetic and symbolic drafts of this essay before posting the perfect and complete version of it. But I’ll have to tell instead of show this time. 

Because the last year or so has been the longest metaphorical road trip of my life. It has been for all of us. Pandemic aside, mine has included everything from the sudden and unexpected death of a dear friend to childhood cancer in the family to rejection from dream jobs to the break up of a serious relationship. And I’m tired. Tired enough that my brain started asking, “What’s the point?” 

In the last two months or so, so many small to medium-sized hardships just kept happening. It began to feel relentless. None of them were anyone’s fault, necessarily, and most were just perfectly reasonable and un-preventable circumstances, that also happened to make me miserable. 

My brain was asking “What’s the point?” often enough that at the suggestion of my therapist and doctor, I finally raised my dose of antidepressants, and after a week or so of adjusting, it’s made a wonderful difference. 

But the other thing that’s helped me is these sort of metaphorical mileposts. Moments when I could rest and refill before I carry on. Some have been planned—a massage, a haircut, a weekend getaway. Some were tiny things I chose in the moment. Looking up at the stars before I go inside, after coming home from Door Dashing. Opening a window to listen to birdsong or rainfall. Letting my body sleep when it needs to sleep. 

But some of the most beautiful mileposts were ones that were unexpected gifts. A late night text conversation about travel and magic and tarot readings. A friend stopping by unexpectedly—sitting in the sun and talking for an hour about art and how our bodies hold stories. A book that unexpectedly captured my heart (I see you, “The Kiss Quotient” by Helen Hoang). A rehearsal where the actors are making beautiful discoveries and creating stunning moments. Moments of magic. The other day, I was waiting to pick up a Door Dash order in a Five Guys, and noticed a Pearl Jam song playing over the speakers. As I got back into my car, my iTunes on shuffle, I thought “I wish my iTunes would shuffle to a Pearl Jam song” and immediately, my iTunes began playing “Wishlist” by Pearl Jam. 

There are times when the road trip we’re metaphorically on is so enjoyable that we don’t even notice how long we’ve been in the car, or that we’re in a car at all. And other times when it begins to feel relentless. When we start to wonder “What’s the point?” So on the long drive from Salt Lake City to Tucson, Arizona, I’m stopping at both Zion National Park and the Grand Canyon. I’m giving myself mileposts where I can rest and breathe and refill before I keep going. And the trip itself is a metaphorical milepost in the longer journey of this spring and summer, one with so many unknowns and a few quiet longings. 

I don’t think there’s one “right” way to go through difficult times. But I’ve discovered that for me, having mileposts helps to answer the question “What’s the point?” The point is a visit to see my mom and sister in Arizona in May. The point is that talk with T on the front patio. The point is theatre. The point is magic and starlight and the universe answering prayers in the form of songs shuffled on iTunes and good books. 

Some mileposts are solid and scheduled, like a second COVID vaccine dose or a roadtrip. But the more I look for them, the more I see mileposts to give me strength day to day. And even though it’s cheesy, I thank the universe for them. 

Monday, March 22, 2021


Welcome to Door Dash! We’re pleased you’ve decided to become a “Dasher.” You probably started doing this as a “temporary gig,” but you may find that it becomes one of the best jobs you’ve ever had, if you’re a slightly rebellious type who doesn’t like being told what to do. There’s almost complete freedom, you can consistently make around $20 per hour, and it’s mostly driving around while listening to music or podcasts. You don’t even really have to schedule yourself. Just dash when you feel like it. 

But as a new dasher, there are a few things you should know. 

People will not always leave their porch lights on, have a clearly visible address on their house, nor leave detailed instructions on how to reach their apartment number within a sprawling labyrinth of a complex. You may occasionally find yourself wandering around with a full meal from Popeye’s for ten minutes before finding your destination. You may consider writing a strongly worded letter to the universe in general, requesting that your destinations always be well-lit and easy to find. 

While the Dasher app has the ability to connect to your phone’s GPS system, this is not always reliable. You could discover that in your attempt to deliver McDonald’s to a family in Magna, your phone has guided you to the abandoned Saltair Pavilion, a dilapidated venue on the edge of the Great Salt Lake. These kinds of misadventures can be avoided by making sure the location in the Dasher app and the location in the Maps app are the same. 

Some people will be assholes. They will come out of their houses without masks and expect you to hand them their food, which you will either reluctantly do, or more often, you’ll set their food down on the ground and walk away because there’s a pandemic still happening. Some people will also be assholes by not tipping. You don’t have to take those orders. You can ignore them. 

If you’ve struggled in the past with the difference between left and right, in part due to years of being both an actor/dancer and a director/choreographer, where stage left and stage right are opposite of your left and right when looking at the stage, you may find that following GPS instructions regularly will help improve your ability to tell the difference. Spending hours each day being told to turn either left or right with pictures and arrows to guide you will kind of start to embed the difference more solidly in your brain.  

You’ll also grow more deeply familiar with the area in which you live in general. You’ll start to patch together neighborhoods and highways and areas into a more comprehensive mental map. It will be deeply satisfying. 

You’ll also grow familiar with restaurants in your area, and learn their quirks and what to expect. An order from that Boba place will usually take 10 minutes longer than stated, but you’ll get to watch KPOP videos on the large TV in the lobby while you wait. One restaurant chain will not serve Dashers through the drive-thru, but this other one prefers it. That cookie place always pays well, and the customers tip like gangbusters. Never take a grocery delivery from Walmart unless you know how big it is. 

Note that there are a dozen hotels near the airport and that the drive is a bit of a pain, but the tips are usually worth it. Also not that the FBI has a large, nondescript office building in the same area. You’ll discover this because one day you’ll deliver Panda Express to a friendly employee there. 

You may, on some nights, find yourself wishing that no one else would be on the roads while you are driving, ever. You may long to cruise through town, unhindered by other drivers, not needing to deal with long lines, lights that are slow to change, or people who don’t understand speed limits and/or turn signals. This is normal. Take a few deep breaths. 

If at all possible, drive a car that has infinite cupholders. You will need to be able to transport your water bottle, a separate drink for yourself if you’re fancy, customer drinks, and your phone. A 2012 Compact Toyota Prius will have excellent gas mileage, but not enough cupholders. 

Keep your eyes open. Not just for safety, but for wonder. There will be evenings when the sunset sky looks so spectacular it will seem like a painting. You may see a white rabbit nibbling in the grass of someone’s front yard. You’ll get two orders in a row for two different people named “Gray.” Look for magic. There are little altars everywhere.

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Mental Health Life Buoy/Cheat Sheet

Okay, so this blog entry has been in my drafts for…months? Years? Honestly, it would have been more helpful to post this last spring, when we were all reeling from the new pandemic-y world we were living in, but I was also reeling so it’s getting posted now. 

VERY IMPORTANT DISCLOSURE: I AM NOT A THERAPIST. I am not an expert in mental health. I’m sharing the things I’ve learned from years of being IN therapy and living with Major Depressive Disorder, studying brain/nervous system function because I’m a nerd, reading books, and following a bunch of Instagram accounts about mental health. None of this should be considered professional advice. I’m only sharing what is helpful for me, and the reasons behind those things. If you can afford it, I highly recommend speaking with a professional.

I also have to recognize the irony of me posting this at a moment when my own mental health is not great, but whatever. 

Okay. So here’s one of the most helpful things I’ve ever done for my mental health: have a cheat sheet. I’ll share mine, and also a “blank” one for your own use, and you’re welcome to adapt it in any way you see fit! Here are the details on mine, and the reasons behind making it. 

When we’re in crisis, big or small, it’s really hard to think clearly. Our brains are too busy trying to keep us safe/alive to be able to do some higher executive function task like make a list of what we need and then figure out what to do to meet those needs. So in moments of non-crisis, you can pre-make that list and keep it handy for when the crisis moments hit.

I’ve organized mine into linear steps, because most of the time, this “order of operations” works really well for me. Here's my "life buoy"/mental health cheat sheet:

Step One: Breathe. Breathing intentionally and deeply helps calm your nervous system down when you’re feeling anxious or stressed, and definitely won’t hurt if you’re feeling depressed. For me, breathing is a good way to sort of tune back in to the present moment, and primes my brain for whatever else I need to do. 

Step Two: Check in on the basic needs. Have you eaten, slept, and/or moved your body recently? I can’t tell you how many deep emotional crises I’ve had that were solved with a snack and a nap. BECAUSE WE ARE ALL TODDLERS. At least I am. And even when the crisis wasn’t SOLVED with a snack and a nap, those things always help shrink the crisis down to a more manageable size. Our brain function is impaired when we don’t eat or sleep, so providing it with those things helps us get the right neurons firing again. As far as moving your body, a 20-minute walk or 10-minute yoga session can also help calm your nervous system. There’s this crazy cool thing where bilateral stimulation (left-right movement) calms the vagus nerve, which sounds woo-woo but is actually true(-woo). If you’re not able to meet those needs for food, sleep, and movement right away, then remind yourself that these things are probably exacerbating whatever crisis is happening.

Step Three: If breathing, snacking, sleeping, and moving aren’t helping quite enough, move on to the more specific needs. Some of the questions and answers on this list are pretty specific to me, but some are more universal. Sometimes waiting a few days is the best thing to do. And while my reminder about hormones is specific to menstruation, most humans experience hormone fluctuations regardless of gender or sex. If you’ve recently made a change to your meds, that may also affect your mood. 

Step Four: If it turns out that there isn’t anything specific going on, or if you’re not able to fix the circumstances making you unhappy (*cough* pandemic *cough*), or your brain just isn’t making the helpful chemicals, then move on to the go-to self-care activities. Feel free to take suggestions from my list, and add your own! 

Step Five: Get some professional help. If you’re consistently in “crisis,” or if the crisis is deep enough that none of the other things are helping, turn yourself over to the experts. As a reminder, crisis hotlines aren’t just for those who are contemplating self-harm in the moment—it’s for those who just need some help through whatever’s going on. And sometimes the hospital is the best choice to help get you on your feet again. I stayed in a psychiatric hospital for a few days back in 2017, and it was challenging but truly one of the best things I’ve ever done. It saved my life. Having info on your local psychiatric unit on hand is helpful because if you’re in crisis, you may not be able to think clearly enough to look it all up. 

Thought that’s not included on the mental health cheat sheet, but that I think is really important: There’s a difference between distraction and processing. Both have their place, but it’s really helpful to note which you’re doing, when, and why. Distraction is doing something in your mind/body that helps regulate your nervous system and bring you down to a kind of “stasis.” Sometimes it’s intentionally moving away from whatever the issue is, but for me it’s helpful to think of it as calming yourself enough to process later. Processing is doing something in your mind/body that allows you to work through an issue. (I’m learning, much to my dismay, that if something needs to be processed, I can do it now or I can do it later, but it’ll need to be done at some point, and if I don’t do it now, it might affect my relationships and self-worth in the long run, so if I can, I might as well do it now. Even then, I still sometimes need some time to calm down with distraction.)

Please feel free to take what works for you from this, and disregard the rest! (And also, please please please remember that I’m not a therapist! I’m only sharing what has been helpful for me. I cannot speak for others, and I definitely cannot speak for the psychological community.) 

Here are a few other resources that have been helpful for me! 

BOOK: “Burnout” by Emily and Amelia Nagosky

BOOK: “The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook” by Edmund Bourne

BOOK: “The Body Keeps the Score” by Bessel van der Kolk

INSTAGRAM: @findmywellbeing

INSTAGRAM: @the.holistic.psychologist

APP: Headspace

APP: Calm Harm

APP: Yoga Studio (by Gaiam)

IDEA: Attachment Theory

And here's a blank version of my print out! It's 11 x 17 inches, because that was a standard printing size that was also big enough to write things clearly and largely enough. 

Now go be well! 

Photo credit Christopher Martin

Monday, February 22, 2021

Flash Fiction: "Self Help"

 A "dive" into some fiction today, which I don't spend enough time writing. I found and polished up this old story from one of my MFA classes. At the time, I was interested in the idea of self-help gone awry, and the prompt I was given for class was "swimming pool." 

"Self Help"

Laura Lundquist did not have a swimming pool. 

She lived alone in a one-bedroom apartment, ten minutes away from the marketing firm where she worked. She had no dog, no cat, and no houseplants. She spent her evenings watching documentaries and foreign films, and trying new recipes, the results of which often languished in her fridge for weeks before she threw them out.

Walking into her apartment after work, the July heat radiating on her skin and hair, Laura imagined slipping out of her clothes and into the cool chlorine of Noah’s pool. She’d dangled her feet in it at last year’s work party, and he had smiled at her briefly, as she sat alone. She spent that afternoon watching him, and trying to hide the fact that she was watching him, and trying to figure out whether or not he was watching her. The hairs on the back of her arms stood up whenever he walked close by. 

Perhaps his invitation hadn’t been personal. Laura was a part of the head count. Noah just happened to be hosting that year’s work BBQ, and they happened to work together. Still. She felt hypnotized by the way the sunlight glistened on his warm arms, or how the water gathered on the hairs near his ankles. When he laughed, it was like firecrackers in her lungs…joyful and suffocating all at once. 

When it all became too blinding, she’d stood up from the side of the pool and quietly walked into the house. In the bathroom, she had pulled open drawers, peeked into the cabinets. She had categorized the inventory of his private life. Old Spice High Endurance Pure Sport Deodorant. Colgate whitening toothpaste. A razor that needed cleaning. All of these intimate things. Answers to questions she didn’t know how to ask. 

With music playing distantly outside, and the chatter of co-workers on the back porch, she had quietly opened doors until she found his bedroom. She’d run her hands along the row of clean shirts in his closet, and sat gingerly on his bed. For a few brief moments, she laid back with her legs dangling over the edge, his comforter had been cool beneath her as she’d stared at the ceiling of his bedroom, her arms stretched out to either side.

In the office, he never looked up from his desk when she walked past. But she had seen him, four desks down, slip his shoes off as he worked. She watched him twirl a pen between his fingers as he bent down over his sketchpad. She’d seen his lunch in the office fridge. 

It was late July now, weeks since that party at Noah’s house. Laura closed the apartment door behind her and pulled her dress over her head. She kicked her shoes off as she walked to the bedroom. Her sheets were cool on her back as she stared at the ceiling. She ran her hand along her neck. 

What she wanted was to swim in Noah’s pool. She wanted to come home to that backyard. She imagined him sitting with his feet dangling in the water, smiling at her as the water cooled her limbs. She imagined that he would ask her about the book she was reading, and if Marie from accounting was still ignoring her emails. And all of the thoughts that Laura had tumbling through her head would have a second home in Noah, and she would be able to breathe again. She would drown, smiling, in his love. 

Laura’s mother thought that Laura was depressed, because “she never went out and didn’t have any friends.” Laura replied that she liked being home and had friends at work. Laura arrived home one day to a package from her mother, containing four different types of vitamins, two DVDs of “guided positive affirmations,” and a book called “Taking Charge of Your Life: Going For (And Getting) What You Want.” 

In late August, Laura made her decision.

His back gate was unlocked. Laura stepped into the back yard and walked to the edge of the pool. She stepped out of her shoes and pulled her shirt over her head. She unzipped her skirt and let it fall, unhooked her bra, and stepped out of her underwear. 

She took a deep breath, and jumped into the blue-green, undulating water. Laura floated there, her face tilted to the sky, her arms making lazy circles. 

She didn’t hear the gate unlatch. So she was startled when she heard the voice she had been imagining. 

“Who the hell are you?” 

photo credit: Charlotte Astrid

Monday, February 8, 2021

“I am to wait, though waiting so be hell." --William Shakespeare, Sonnet 58

“I have of late—but wherefore I know not—lost all my mirth, forgone all custom of exercises.” 

--Hamlet, Act II, Scene 2

I know we’re all sick of the pandemic, but I don’t know what else to write about. It touches almost every aspect of my life right now. I feel myself in a sort of uncomfortable limbo…I’m living in suspended animation and I do not like it. I have all of these goals, for my career, for my finances, for my art, for my LIFE, and all of them are temporarily on hold because of this goddamn virus. 

I’ve applied to one particular job that would start in the fall, and it would literally be a dream come true to get it. But they haven’t begun interviews for it yet (that I know of), and I know they’re busy managing pandemic-related challenges at the moment, and so I wait, though waiting so be hell. 

I also applied to different temp job, assisting with vaccine site coordination, and it pays literally 4x what my current job pays, and it would be doing something to help end the pandemic. When I spoke to them last week, they said they were 95% sure I was going to be selected for the next group, but I haven’t heard from them yet. And so I wait, though waiting so be hell. 

I have my fingers crossed for travel to see family, hopefully this fall. But it’s all dependent on the pandemic and whether or not we’re all vaccinated and how safe travel is in general. And we won’t really know the answers to those things until later this summer, or maybe fall. And so I wait, though waiting so be hell. 

I also find myself longing to spend time with friends. I’m generally pretty introverted, but all I want is to get together with a bunch of people and go out dancing, or have a party, or do karaoke, or sit around a bonfire and talk, or have a movie night. I want to hold and be held, and to sit in company of others I love. I did luck out in the people I’m sheltered at home with—A and K are magnificent humans. It’s just that I long for others, too. But the general public probably won’t get vaccinated for another several months, and it’s not safe to gather until then. And so I wait, though waiting so be hell. 

And oh, how I miss live theatre! I miss rehearsals, and blocking, and greenroom laughter, and dressing room talks, and making discoveries in a scene, and the energy that crackles between the audience and performers. I’ve found myself longing for my old Playmill summer-stock days lately. What a dream to sing and dance and act, 13 times a week, for months on end, in such a beautiful place. If someone offered me the chance to safely do “Seven Brides” or “Joseph” at the Playmill again, I would do it in a heartbeat. But doing live theatre, without masks or distancing, simply isn’t safe right now. We need to wait on vaccination. And so I wait, though waiting so be hell. 

There are a few other tangible things I can’t do anything but wait for. My tax refund. Another possible stimulus payment (we’re waiting, Congress!). I’m waiting for spring, when we can plant things and continue our yardwork projects. We’re doing some re-organizing at AOTC and I want it to be finalized so I can get going on whatever my job ends up being. 

And there are other, more intangible things that only time will give me. Healing from recent heartbreaks. Processing old traumas. Breaking old patterns and building new ones. I feel like those are in progress, which helps lift some of my anxiety about this time of waiting, but because that progress isn’t quite tangible, it can be hard to notice. 

On Sunday night, I drove around West Valley and Taylorsville and sang the entire soundtrack to “Reefer Madness” because I felt like I was going to lose my mind if I was in my house for one more minute. It did help…I may have to do it dozens more times with other soundtracks until something in my life is certain again. 

But in the mean time, I wait, though waiting so be hell.

Monday, January 25, 2021

"You are the cause of my euphoria": A BTS Love Letter

This is the part in the romantic comedy when I realize I’ve been wrong about them the whole time. 

They were right there, for so long, and I just didn’t see it. I was foolish and I was prideful and I locked my heart away in the name of artistic integrity and I was wrong about all of it. 

And now I’m just a girl, standing in front of a KPop group, asking them to keep making music and videos and art and concerts.

There are people in my life who love fiercely and bravely, without shame or pretense. I want to love like that. So this is my love letter to BTS. 

They've been around since 2013, but didn't come into my life until the end of last year, when my roommate Ali showed us their Tiny Desk concert, shortly after her own love began to develop. For weeks (months?), she sent me and K memes and clips, showed us episodes of Run BTS. And I was definitely charmed. Of course each member is gorgeous and talented, and the few songs I heard were catchy. But in my hipster head, it was K-Pop. I was raised on Queen and Mozart and the Beatles. My iTunes is full of Tom Waits and Spoon and Fiona Apple. “Real” music. I thought of K-Pop as pastel bubble gum corporate nonsense, with a fandom of screaming teenage girls, in a world I had no connection to. 

This is the part of the story where I admit that I was a fool.

I don't know how or when the switch happened. I can't point to the exact moment when I fell in love. But somehow the memes Ali was sending me started to get under my skin, and I thought, "Well, I just want to learn their names." 

Famous last words. (This is literally a joke in the fandom. We all start by just wanting to know their names.) And then I fell hard and fast. 

First of all, before I get any further into it, anything I have to say, this Esquire article says better, so feel free to just read that. Or this older article from Entertainment Weekly. But for my own personal thoughts, read on.

KPop is an intense industry in Korea—there are trainee programs that churn out pop groups every few years and promote them while training the next ones. The idols and groups that populate the stages of Korea are marketed products. And part of the reason I love BTS so much is because while they occupy that space of being products, they also seem to subvert and defy the industry in many ways, just by being so deeply and genuinely THEMSELVES. 


Lemme introduce you to the boys. 

From left to right: 

Suga (Min Yoongi, Yoongi, solo work under Agust-D). Rap line. Probably one of the best rappers of our generation? Dry humor exterior, deeply caring interior. (Check out the music video for his solo track Daechwita, with cameos by fellow BTS members Jin and Jungkook.)

J-Hope (Jung Hoseok, Hoseok, Hobi). Dancer, rap line. Human sunshine. Everyone, including me, saw him during Carpool Karaoke and asked “Who’s the guy in the middle?” 

Jin (Kim Seokjin, Seokjinnie, Jinnie, “World Wide Handsome”). Vocals, visual. Oldest of the group. Caring older brother, king of dad jokes. 

Jungkook (Jeon Jungkook, Kookie, JK, “Golden Maknae”). Vocals, dancer, visual. The youngest of the group, or the “maknae.” Good at almost everything he tries. 

RM (Kim Namjoon, Namjoon, Rap Monster, “God of Destruction”). Rap line, incredible lyricist. Leader of the group. (Also spokesperson and translator, since he’s the most fluent in English.) 

Jimin (Park Jimin, Jiminie). Dancer, vocals, visual. Astonishingly talented dancer. Besties with V. 

V (Kim Taehyung, Taehyung, Tae). Vocals, dancer, visual. Breathy and ethereal vocals, incredible fashion sense. Besties with Jimin.

The seven boys have practically grown up together—they each joined the trainee program as teenagers, and Jungkook was only 14 when he started. When they debuted in 2013, their ages ranged from 16 to 21. And after all those years together, their friendship is so deeply evident in all of the HOURS of content available to watch (concert footage, Run BTS, Bon Voyage, In the Soop, V-Lives, fancams, BTS bombs, and memes and clips from all of the above). They care so much about each other and it’s my favorite thing. (Leader RM has said that the members think of each other as something between friends and family, and the editor of the Japanese magazine CREA once said "BTS love each other so much they don't know what to do.")

And the music. Oh dear readers, the music. I came to BTS in a weird sort of backwards way—I became a fan just from watching other content, and listened to hardly any of their music for weeks. And then I listened to “Love Yourself: Tear” front to back and it was over.

I could spend a bunch of time listing all of their record-shattering stats on Billboard and album sales. I could go into detail about KPop trainee programs and their vigorous schedules and how hard these boys have worked to get where they are. I could tell you how quickly they sell out stadiums. I could tell you about all the social media records they've shattered, and then shattered again. But you can Google all that. 

Instead I’ll just extol the hard-hitting synchronization of the dance rehearsal for No More Dream. (This video is from the year they debuted, so Jungkook is only 15 here.) Or the enthusiasm and passion in the dance rehearsal for On. The stunning vocals and desperation of the track House of Cards. The lyrical sensuality of the choreo in Blood, Sweat, and Tears. The classical beauty of the music video for Black Swan. The dark sexiness of Jimin performing Filter live. The playfulness of the dance rehearsal for Baepsae. And good night, the enormous, over-the-top intensity of Dionysus at the 2019 MMA awards. (The entire performance is like 40 minutes long—start at 29:14 to see Dionysus; FLASH/STROBE WARNING from 34:16 - 36:05.) 

The boys in BTS are also big ole goofballs, which is effing delightful. But even more beautiful to me is the genuine love the members BTS have for not only each other, but for their fans. It’s evident in their TinyTan videos like this one for Dream On. In the way they always thank ARMY (what BTS fans call themselves) in every album and every concert and every interview. And words fall short for the hope and beauty I feel watching the music video for Life Goes On. It feels like a such a gift. It’s this lovely poignant look at this pandemic-driven moment in history. Watching it, I felt so deeply that we belong to each other, we human beings, and that the future holds beauty for us all. (Also, the music video was directed by BTS’ own golden maknae, Jungkook, because he’s wondrous.) 

I think part of the reason I love BTS is because watching them reminds me of what it’s like to be with a bunch of theatre kids. It makes me feel the same way I did hanging out with cast-mates in Yellowstone during Playmill summers, or talking in the parking lot after a show at a theatre somewhere, or sitting at a cast party and laughing about everything that went wrong during the run of a show, or messing around in the greenroom before curtain or backstage. Watching BTS perform feels familiar too—sharing the stage with people you care about, doing what you love together, hyping each other up and celebrating each other's success, and having moments to shine yourself, and having SO MUCH FUN while doing it. 

I also love that they’re challenging some toxic masculinity in the rest of the world just by being themselves. In Korea, men and boys are much more physically affectionate with one another—arms around shoulders, hugs, shoulder rubs, sitting on each other’s laps, etc. There’s even a name for this kind of affection…“skinship.” A lot of this kind of behavior is coded as “homosexual” or “girly” or “weak” in America, and therefore unacceptable for many straight men. (One time in college, two guys I knew accidentally brushed hands while passing food to one another and one of them recoiled and said emphatically “No contacting man-flesh!”) By comparison, members of BTS share beds when they travel and cuddle up on couches together and slap butts regularly. A lot of Americans/non-Koreans see this and make assumptions about sexual orientation, but these KPop boys are literally just being their affectionate selves. 

And while we’re on the subject of breaking gender norms, GIVE ME BOYS IN MAKEUP ALWAYS. Have you seen these boys rocking lipstick and eye shadow?! Life-changing. For concerts and photo-shoots and occasionally everyday life, the boys don lace and chokers and bracelets and earrings and eyeliner and I am here for all of it. 

The K-Pop industry isn’t without its issues. Despite all of the makeup and same-sex touching, Korea is still homophobic. There’s an obsession with personal appearance that pushes folks into disordered eating. The trainee programs for idols can be grueling and overly controlling and downright abusive. The music industry in Korea can be exploitative (see "fan service"). There are legitimate reasons to criticize Kpop as an industry. But sometimes our reasons for dismissing KPop (and BTS) have more to do with internalized bullshit that doesn't hold up to any real scrutiny. That Esquire article I linked above really said it best: 

I originally intended to convert you all with this blog. But you're under no obligation to love or even be interested in BTS. Like Ali said to me once, people come to the boys if and when they’re ready. It took me a while to come to them. There’s a whole wealth of knowledge, an entire vocabulary, a slew of inside jokes that you learn as you become an ARMY. You may make a few incorrect assumptions because of your American perspective at first, like I did. (This article is a helpful guide in giving context to Korean media.) If you do come to the boys, be forewarned that they will probably come for you, one after another. You’ll cycle through a specific phase of love for each of them. 

One of my other original intentions in writing this blog was to defend myself and my love for the boys, to get ahead of the shaming or teasing I anticipate (perhaps falsely). But I don’t want to do that either. I just want to love them. Fiercely and bravely. 

Yes, BTS can be a distraction from the woes of our current timeline (pandemic, lack of COVID-safe theatre work, financial worries, recent breakup). But BTS is more than that. They offer hope and light and music and love in a world that’s uncertain, pandemic or not. I know it's cheesy, but I thank the universe that I'm alive on earth at the same time as BTS, and that Ali found the boys and then shared them with me. 

I love BTS because of their talent, their humor, their individual quirks, their attractiveness, their friendship. We stan a group that stans their fans and each other. When we see BTS performing on stage, or doing an episode of Run BTS, or traveling for Bon Voyage, we’re watching people spend their time with people they love and belong to, people who work hard at their jobs, and people who humbly show gratitude for the people who have given them what they have. 

I love BTS because they have what so many of us long for—to love our jobs and be good at them, a chosen family who can laugh and work together and encourage each other along the way. 

And by loving them, I find myself a part of a chosen family, too. One of millions of ARMYs who love these boys, fiercely and bravely, and are lucky enough to be loved back. 

Monday, January 11, 2021

Short Imagined Monologue: Open Mic Night

POV: You’re at an open mic night, where one average guy from your office is doing a stand up routine for maybe the fourth time in his life. 

(I’m aware that in this imagined mid-pandemic situation, no one should be at an open mic night or a bar, so please feel free to picture everyone as masked and distanced and also feel free to ignore the inconsistencies of jokes about a pandemic alongside jokes about working alongside each other in an office.)  

Hey guys, I’m ___. Shout out to my co-workers for supporting me here tonight. I put flyers up all over the office, and now that co-workers actually showed up, I’m wishing I’d prepared some jokes, ha ha. My boss is here. Hi, Sharon. I promise it wasn’t me who ate your leftovers in the breakroom, ha ha ha. Debbie, I’ll reply to your email in the morning, ha ha. 

The problem with having your co-workers come to see you at an open mic night is that you’ll have to see them again every day afterwards. And if you bomb, they’ll know. At least they’re a little drunk, so maybe it’ll be fine…Looking at you, Rob! Easy there, big fella.  

Let’s see…uh…2020, amiright? Thank god we made it through that year. And thank god it’s now 2021, and everything is totally different! Ha ha. 

That was supposed to be ironic. 

Anyways. Let’s see…um…

It has been a rough year. We’ve got the COVID thing going on. I swear if COVID was a font, it would be comic sans. No one really likes it, it’s really annoying, and we’ve all been told to avoid it, but it keeps showing up everywhere, amiright? And it seems to show up most often with old people, too. Both COVID and comic sans have that in common, ha ha ha. 

No offense, Julie—your company emails are great, and I don’t mind your font choices, ha ha. But may I suggest a simple Helvetica now and then? Maybe a solid Garamond? Mix a sans serif with a script font for that classy look, ha ha ha ha. 

A little typeface humor for you there. 

Okay, what else, what else…

So…okay…um…so the vaccine! They first gave the vaccine to an English guy named William Shakespeare. A couple hundred years too late, amiright?! * ba-dum-chhhhhh * But seriously, the guy’s name is William Shakespeare. He must get shit all the time. “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” “To be or not to be.” “I liked your early stuff better!” What a pain. 

Speaking of pain, I bumped into my coffee table the other day and got a big bruise, but the worst part about the whole thing is that after I bumped into it, I apologized to the coffee table. I’ve been stuck in my house so long that I’ve started to think of furniture as my roommates. That coffee table has just as much of a right to the living room as I do, ha ha. The coffee table doesn’t pay a dime of rent, but it’s usually pretty easy to get along with, ha ha ha ha.  

Okay, um…let me see…one minute left…one minute left…

It’s too bad I can’t be this good at keeping track of time at the office, amiright, guys? I am lucky I still have a job during these unprecedented times. At least I hope I still do, right, Sharon? Ha ha. I don’t think you can fire me for my stand up. I’ll have to talk to Tina in HR, ha ha ha. 

Um…lemme think…I recently got my stimulus check. It was nice to have a little extra money. I was able to use half of it to pay about a week’s worth of rent, and then I used the rest to pay off 0.3% of my student loans. I think it made a big difference. I really felt a financial burden lift. Maybe someday I’ll be able to afford healthcare. Thanks, Congress! Ha ha ha. 

Oh, man, Congress. So this attack on the Capitol, right? Pretty intense. I mean, these guys looked ridiculous back when they were carrying tiki torches, but this was next level. Most of the photos from that day look like bad publicity shots for a Village People album. Some of those guys did look pretty angry, though. They were maybe one pitchfork away from getting their asses kicked by a bunch of enchanted furniture. 

I tell ya. It’d all be so much funnier if it wasn’t real. 

Okay, that’s it for me. I’m ___, have a great night everyone!