keep calm and carry on spinning

There’s a scene in The Secret History between Henry, Francis and, the literary world’s most repressed narrator since Nick Carraway, Sir Richard Papen. It’s pretty lowkey as far as you’d expect from the part of any novel where the circumstances of a murder are described: all of them drinking and sitting in what I think was a living room while Henry tells Richard about the aftermath of the gang’s attempt at a bacchanalia. (Or whatever else it was they took too literally out of The Bacchae.) My memory of the specifics is hazy, but Henry says something about Camila losing her voice — or maybe it was her ability to speak altogether — and something about her elementary French returning to her before her English did. A slow, unpredictable process, so affected was she by their Maenad roleplay, and at some point Richard remembers with a chill that she once came to class with her neck wrapped. They all told Richard it was meningitis. Maybe laryngitis. Richard bought it, because Richard bought everything.

I’m going off on a tangent here, I know. That tells you all you need to know about what this post is going to be like. Over-emotional, with too many details for someone like me who’s so particular about divulging private information that I really shouldn’t be oversharing as much as I consistently do in these blog posts. Quite fake deep, too, but I’m fake deep a lot in these posts. I’m sure no one actually reads them but it’s a very cathartic outlet for me. 

Plus, this will be filed under pop culture melodrama all too accurately. I just know three paragraphs in that it will be my most melodramatic one yet. 

That said — I’m not kidding when I say that TSH scene is the closest representation in my arsenal of how I feel right now, a day after my GOT7 concert. My throat is scratchy, my body keeps cramping up in random places, my heart is aching, I’m day-drinking like a Desperate Housewife of the Greater Toronto Area and I feel a chill each time a relevant memory returns to me from last night. All I need is a thyrsus in place of an ahgabong and the analogy is near perfect, honestly. 

Okay, no, it isn’t. But when I say that GOT7 concerts are the closest I come to Dionysiac ecstasy, I mean it. It was already bad the last time they were here, and that was nearly a year since I swore off k-pop forever. Sure, I was prepared for the same manic joy this time around, maybe tripled since I’ve actually been keeping up with them these past few months — but I wasn’t prepared to rely on Euripidesian comparisons to properly convey how I felt and how I still feel. There’s a sense of heresy here, but since I’ve taken too many pain relievers in the past twelve hours, I think I can be forgiven here for a little bit of hysteria. 

The thing is: I don’t want to be this attached to GOT7. Theirs is an area of the k-pop world that is and always will be a pain to belong to; too many controversies, too much honesty, guaranteed secondhand embarrassment, a serious reconsideration of how much you’re willing to use your critical lens and how much you’d rather prioritize your dopamine levels. It’s all by accident that I’m even here: I came home from the SHINee concert last March 2017 and decided it would be fun to check out GOT7’s cake decoration video, then I blinked and somehow I was in Section 108 of Scotiabank Arena last night, occupying a seat that isn’t my own and screaming fanchants I didn’t even realize I knew. I’m a reluctant fan, not least because, for all that I’ve had so many hyperfixations, I’m a person of many inhibitions. Emotions don’t often externally manifest in degrees accurate to how they do internally, and I like it that way. I take pride in it, sometimes. You’ll never find me screaming manically in a concert — until you do, because my affection for GOT7 is real and undeniable, and the crescendo it reached last night was even realer. 

Objectively speaking, there are plenty of rational factors that led to last night. The fact that 2017, even if I didn’t know it for certain then, was already shaping up to be one of the worst years of my life by the time I got into GOT7. They were the closest I had to SHINee when I really needed something new to be what SHINee was to me in Grade 9. I already knew two of its members — known in my mid-teens as JJ Project — from Dream High 2 and their absolute legend of a debut song. I knew two others from their SBS Roommate appearances. One funny baking-oriented video and a quick peek at their impeccable dance practices and I was sold. I needed to be sold. So I was, and it hadn’t required effort at all. 

My relationship with one of the JJ Project boys — and coincidentally the leader of the group — was especially complicated in 2017, so I was only half-serious when I joked about needing a new JJ Project album so many years since their last and only EP. I was as horrified as I was pleased when it ended up happening the summer of that year. Bu jeez, did they deliver. Verse 2 is and easily always will be my favourite album of all time, k-pop or otherwise. It hit all the right notes with me: sound-wise, aesthetic-wise, lyrics-wise. 

Most crucially, it also came at the perfect time.

The day my father [redacted, because I’m sparing anyone actually reading this from the excessive emo details, and because I’m cringing badly enough after my Adam Parrish story], this JJ Project stage dropped. I know, because that memory is very, very clear, and sometimes, when I listen to this song by itself, it comes back without me wanting it to. Like my sports anime problem, “Tomorrow, Today” by JJ Project has become a permanent vehicle for the time period it belongs to in my life. 

Play this music video for me and this is what my head will conjure in turn: going to Montreal with a friend that summer; the small Kanken bag and the fidget spinner and the vegetable chips she carried around in our 8-hour bus ride; our dream apartment of an AirBnB; the weight of my Minolta in my small hands; the dilemma of whether I’m supposed to ask for a pain au chocolat or a chocolatine; the joy of finding so many Anne Carson books available at Drawn & Quarterly; being too anxious to tell the salespeople at Sarah & Tom’s that I’m looking for a physical copy of Verse 2, only to fumble when one of them asks me, que cherchez-vous; watching The Talented Mr. Tom Ripley; our paranoia that night when a man seemingly follows us while we’re out for dinner; ordering in Foodora instead. 

All of that, concentrated in just the first several beats of one song. All of that, and these as well: joking with my father about bumping into Milos Raonic at Montreal; my father dropping me off at the bus station; my friend and I swinging by Starbucks before our bus leaves and me telling someone out loud for the first time that my father was leaving soon; the way my heart caved in and my stomach sunk when I realized the truth of what I said; me texting my father about our close call with that man; the fact that the last real message I will ever receive from him before he left Canada is him asking me what time I was coming back to Hamilton from Montreal. 

“Tomorrow, Today” is a song about young adult woes. About the future, mostly, which at age 20 was all the more relevant to me. I love it for that. I love the entire album for feeling like a creative representation of everything I am and everything I felt and feel and everything I need myself and my work to be. In that, it contains enough warmth to dull the anger I should have felt back then and to replace it with sadness that has stayed with me since the last time I will likely ever see my father. So if you ask me what the real glue is when it comes to my deep-rooted connection to GOT7 — it’s JJ Project, and it’s Verse 2. 

It didn’t save my mental health, though. Of course not. Not with that amount of unreleased baggage, not with my stubbornness about pretending it will go away with time somehow as if it’s grief and not lasting trauma that should be dealt with accordingly. With school around to distract me, I loosened my grip on GOT7 come September. Not enough time all of a sudden, not enough space past the anxiety of being in a Latin seminar with Ph.D students. Not as much a need, because those days were the most vulnerable I’ve been with the people I see everyday, the most upfront I’ve been about what I was going through, and therefore the least I’ve needed escapism and denial. It embarrasses me now, but hey, maybe it shouldn’t. 

I let go completely when Jonghyun from SHINee did what he did. But that’s not on GOT7, nor the k-pop world. I let go for me, mostly.

That was December 2017. I was briefly hospitalized in the aftermath of that. Then I was shuttled off to DBT for my less than ideal ideations and then to non-specialized therapy. There was a brief stint with a group that wasn’t GOT7 (and who must now not be named) but this hadn’t needed to be as intense, with a therapist there instead each week to cushion what’s left. 

When I was unable to keep seeing my therapist, I picked up GOT7 once more. 

The pattern there isn’t elusive at all. 

It was during this period of return to GOT7 that I attended their 2018 concert. I figured I would attend for the sake of my attachment from the year before — but I surprised myself with an amount of investment previously unseen in any concert prior. I came home from that concert with an unexpected amount of post-concert depression, and with the grudging realization that alright, okay, maybe nothing will ever hit me quite like GOT7 does. 

Still, that wasn’t enough to stop me from falling away from GOT7 once more when I started another round of CBT come September 2018. When I tuned back in during the promotions for their new album that fall, it was without hysterical attachment; I was having fun, and it was this casual fondness for the group that I took with me as I said goodbye to 2018 and hello to 2019. 

It was GOT7 I held onto as well, during the first anniversary of Jonghyun’s death. 

By February 2019, when I realized I missed GOT7 without it having anything to do with a bad period of my life, I resigned myself to the fact that this is a thing now. I imprinted on those motherfuckers in some irreversible way. It was easier once I’ve accepted that: like, yeah, it’s kind of childish and stupid, but they’re just so fucking singular in the collection of people they have and somehow they’re my only consistent, reliable source of harmless happiness.

Sue me

My point with all this chronicling is that — if you boiled my attachment to GOT7 down into its bare foundations, it’s really just a series of coincidences. Opportunities for a hyperfixation that happened to be a little bit too on the nose: JJ Project was there for my existentialism, the rest of the group as a whole was there to cheer me up because the same things that make them such a headache to follow closely are the things that make them so, so, so hilarious.

So in retrospect, maybe I shouldn’t be surprised at all this time by how bad my PCD is, Euripidean metaphors and all. I wasn’t surprised last night, certainly, to be shrieking fanchants. This band unlocks something feral in me, my guy. It was worth every nickel I paid to be so close to the stage, and it’s definitely worth the scratch in my throat and this looming fever. They make me so happy. It’s mind-blowing. Not in a hyperfixating way, not in a fangirlish way, but in a weirdly innocent way. The kind of bittersweet happiness you don’t have to understand — like coming down from a rare good day, or bonding with someone new for the first time and making them laugh, or closing all the tabs after writing an essay that barely made it before 11:59. Catharsis that leaves you feeling triumphant for some reason. Fulfilled. As close to contentment as you possibly can be. The knowledge that you’ll never be able to relive that night settling in a bit sourly, sure, but not enough to distract from the fact that you had such a night at all.

A different of visceral memories now, then, when “Eclipse” — their most recent title song and the first one they did last night — comes on: the burst of lights when they enter the stage; the ear-piercing screaming around me; the tears; the heat behind my own eyes halfway through the show; the need to bottle what it’s like to hear them talking to us live and in person; the gorgeous set design; the way the lyrics flashed in both Korean and English in the wide screens behind them. The rush the night before to sell my old ticket after I got a floor seat. The kindness of that one security lady who noticed I was too short to see properly and brought me to an emptier section so I had a better view of the stage. The odd validation in seeing other people’s tweets and knowing I was there with them. Sweat cooling; phone overheating; appetite missing from last night to now in all the excitement.  

Fully intending to be cheesy, it was my relationship with security and lack thereof that brought GOT7 to the place it now occupies in my life, if a lot more innocently than it once did. It was also JJ Project’s slight nudge to keep going at life regardless of it all — even if I don’t really trust in that sentiment — that helped me reach 2018 at all. It is maybe fitting, then, that this latest album is titled Spinning Top: Between Security and Insecurity. Even more so that the corresponding concert tour is called Keep Spinning

I can now think fuck yeah, I’ll keep spinning and mean it on my better days. Not quite a spinning top between security and insecurity anymore, either. Still in desperate pursuit of security, yes, but not quite as easily helpless as before. As I pump more medications into my body and attend more and more therapy sessions, I’m starting to appreciate the happiness I’m capable of that doesn’t have to be defined by the trauma it stands adjacent to. Which doesn’t quite land well here, seeing as it was rocky mental health that chained me to GOT7 — but it wasn’t the dissonance between trauma and genuine, unadulterated joy that defined my experience last night. That’s too easy an explanation, and too predictable of me. There’s no explanation at all, really, no comprehending whatever primal ancestral instincts the concert unlocked in me last night. No need to explain or comprehend, at least. All I know is that I wanted it to last forever. No other social event in my life has that distinction.

And despite what got me here and the hesitance that still defines this whole situation, I don’t mind one bit that they have this particular honour. If it had to be anyone, I’m glad it’s the group that can make me laugh within half a second of watching them in anything. 

But I might need a week before I can watch my concert videos without tearing up. 

we the north

Today marks a full week since the Toronto Raptors won their first NBA rings.

Man, there is so much to unpack in that one sentence.

Living in Canada this past week has felt like a fever dream, or one of those victory montages that they tack on to the end of the sports movies because there’s really nothing left of the story to unfold but they still have to hammer in that teamwork indeed made the dream work. A token heterosexual main couple kissing, someone waving to their kids, someone lifted up on another player’s shoulders, someone holding the trophy up in the air in a soundless whoop since by then the chosen Sports Movie Finale Song™ would be swelling. Complete and utter chaos, in retrospect — but a beautiful one at that, nothing but adrenaline-fueled euphoria in a sea of equally euphoric people.

Much has been written across international news outlets about the way that Toronto erupted when the Raptors were officially declared champions last Thursday, but blogTO captures it best because blogTO always delivers with that pure Torontonian spirit. They did a good job with it the night of the last Bucks win as well. All of it makes me so giddy, god. 

Still, it’s worth giving a shoutout to the video coverage from both BBC and Citynews, and to toast to this gem from CBC’s write-up: 

At the downtown Toronto intersection of Front Street and University Avenue, a young man named Ali joined a handful of fans celebrating the Toronto Raptors NBA championship victory over the Golden State Warriors by climbing one of the traffic light poles.

Asked why he was up there, he simply replied, "We're the six!'

That pretty much sums up the state Toronto is currently in. The state that it has been in since last Thursday, a frenzy that reached a peak this last Monday for the Raptors parade but did not break. Practically all of Canada has been Jurassic Park; the whole country has been celebrating this win loudly and proudly, and — caught in the middle of it all, and as a life-long basketball fan raised by life-long basketball fans — I am on cloud nine.

There’s really not much of a point to this post other than to emphasize how thrilling it is to be part of history as it’s happening. Last Thursday was one of those nights I know people will ask about someday, a where were you when… kind of query that I’ll be more than happy to answer because I was, in fact, watching the game, screaming all by myself at the screen, and I was happy doing it, thank you very much. 

It’s both wonderful and frustrating that there’s no concrete way to articulate how this feels to someone who lives outside Canada. It’s one thing to see it on the news, but to actually feel it — to see so many people wearing Raptors gear on the street, to see so many new fans commenting on Serge’s YouTube show or Danny’s podcast, to see video after video of Toronto coming so, so alive at the championship news — is a different kind of exhilarating altogether. A different kind of adrenaline, a different kind of livewire. That quote from The Raven Cycle that goes somewhere along the lines of ‘they were loud and triumphant and kings of Henrietta’? That was me. That was 90% of Toronto. 

I’ve gotten choked up over every Raptors-related thing these past few days, I admit. But when plenty of other people are doing the exact same, I don’t really want to mock myself for how easily overwhelmed I get when faced with mass over-emotion. It’s fine. I deserve to cry watching full train cars of people singing “O Canada.” I deserve to cry hearing Lowry say, Toronto, this is for you, and for that to be followed by an aerial shot of a packed, cheering Jurassic Park. I deserve to feel as close to patriotic as I’ve ever come. Canada has housed me for nine years now, but last Thursday was the first night I truly, truly, truly felt like there was no other country I would rather call home. Purely because this Raptors win came with a sense of unity that no other Canadian event has, and purely because there’s something magical about seeing such a diverse, multi-faceted country come together to cheer for a sport that not many would even consider Canadian. 

It’s a loyalty thing, I suppose. I’ll confess that before this season I was a dedicated Spurs follower, and it was only because of Kawhi and Danny (and Tony Parker’s impending retirement) that I moved over to the Raptors. Not out of any real sense of city or country pride, but because on a personal, perhaps superficial level, I trusted these players. Serge, Marc, Pascal, Freddy, even as I mourn the loss of JV, Jakob and DeRozan. It’s rare to find a team with the kind of synergy that makes me yearn to see them triumph; the Raptors have given me that this season and more. Supporting them for the past several months has been nothing short of an honour, and for all of that to reach a climax with an actual historic first win — I’ll remember this night for the rest of my life, as I’m sure millions of other people will as well. 

I keep using magical to describe last week, but that’s honestly the only word I can use. The Raptors win unlocked all our collective Jungian animi and unleashed the proud Canadian in each of us, no matter where you stood on the country itself. It’s great. Seeing the people propped on lamp posts, the people chanting Let’s Go Raptors in the streets hours after the game was done — really, it’s magic. 

My decision not to attend the Raptors parade last Monday was a wise one (see: TSN’s coverage), considering the mess and the shooting and the stabbing, but a large part of me still wishes I was there. You only get to breathe in this level of history once in your life. There’s a reason Matt Damon’s character was so aghast in Good Will Hunting when he found out Robin Williams’ character gave up a ticket to a historic baseball game. You don’t just give that up, no matter what. I wouldn’t trade last Thursday for anything. 

I realize I sound like a jock in all of this. Or some dude-bro policing who gets to call their self a Raptors fan. But if we’re being honest, much of this phenomenon is not really about the sports thing. It was in the beginning, for those of us who have been hesitant to believe in the Raptors after all the polarizing views on the recent trade, but by the series against the Bucks, it might as well have been an Olympic event. A whole country waiting with bated breath, watching a sport that a lot of them are only touching this once. 

(Like snowboarding in the Pyeongchang Olympics. Everyone was suddenly a snowboarding expert after watching Chloe Kim eat churros once. By everyone, I mean myself. Plus, as far as sports go, basketball is on the low-maintenance side in terms of knowing how it works. You can’t go wrong with basketball. When basketball works, you know it works, and not just because a whole nation explodes with manic pride around you.) 

The kind of happiness that thrummed through the GTA — and, I would assume, many other parts of Canada — is one I wish I can bottle up and relive whenever I need it. Maybe sneak a drop of it into a drink, have some Essence of Raptors Euphoria when the mental health situation is dire. Sports movies might be onto something with those emotional final scenes and post-credits. It’s kind of addicting, in that you know you’ll only feel this way once in your life because this kind of situation is once-in-a-lifetime.

This past season has fried my nerves and tested the strength of my heart more than anything ever has. No jumpscare and no amount of stage fright will come close from here on out. (Don’t quote me on that.) But while I’m relieved all that stressful overexcitement is over, there’s still the matter of whether Kawhi and Danny will stay — and whether Pascal will win Most Improved Player because I swear to God if he doesn’t, I will lose it. I now know I have it in me to tap into my animus and lose it. 

I will lose it if Siakam doesn’t get MIP. So give him the award. 

In any case, all of this has been extra fun a couple of weeks before Canada Day. No one has ever celebrated Canada Day like we all celebrated the Raptors win, and the amount of hilarity I find in that is probably a little offensive. Then again, all of this has been really fun, even — maybe especially — with my vocal cords permanently damaged from screaming FREDDY and NO and WHY WOULD YOU GIVE THAT TO KLOW and FUCK THIS REF

Fred VanVleet sacrificed a tooth for this. I’ll enjoy it as much as I can. It’s worth it for the chance to live in this timeline, doomed as it is, and worth it for edits as legendary as this

adam parrish, army of one

⚠️ This contains implicit references to child abuse and potential spoilers for The Raven Cycle and Call Down The Hawk.

A week ago, Scholastic dropped the first eight chapters of Call Down The Hawk

I read it on the way to my brother’s graduation. 

I’ve been a human bleeding heart since. 

Reading The Raven Cycle in high school was one of those guilty pleasure things that wasn’t guilty at all, just pleasure so overwhelming it felt more like sadness than happiness in those teenage days my emotional range was limited to nostalgia and melancholy. With this, TRC has the distinction of being the one phase that transcended my senior year of high school and extended late into my freshman year of university. Not quite bridging the gap between the two, because I was determined for there to be no bridging whatsoever, but I’ll get to that later. 

As with HQ, personal memories attached to this book series have miraculously survived the effects of time and too many vocab words crammed into my head overnight. As inconsequential as everything attached to my memories of sports anime, but this time all weirdly specific and intimate. Where the feelings attached to sports anime, for all their intensity, were vague and unnameable, the tiny bits of memories that return to me at the mention of TRC are pinpoint in what they bring back. 

March Break 2015: urged by impulse to run to the library across the street and borrow Raven Boys and The Dream Thieves after one too many posts about it on my Tumblr dashboard. Impulse, or perhaps just eagerness to not be at home with my father without school as an easy reason. Ironic, because Adam Parrish would have a similar problem in the first book, but I didn’t know what I’d signed up for back then. 

Winter 2015: spending my spare period alone with my outdated Kindle, cross-legged on the floor outside the school chapel, my back to the tiny square of land that passed for our Peace Garden. Shivering, because I was stubborn about reading with an uncomfortable coat on, and having to swallow around repeated lumps in my throat as I read Blue Lily, Lily Blue. It’s my favourite of the entire series, easily, undeniably. I try not to think too much about why. 

Spring 2015: hopping onto the escalator at Main Street Station with a friend, fresh from our impromptu trip to my favourite public library branch and nursing the embarrassment of not being able to afford even the softcover TRC books from the indie bookstore down the street. The last book had been due to come out in September back then, a release date that had felt far away when I still had a month before I graduated high school. When we got to talking about another friend’s October birthday, I remarked, “By the time her birthday comes around, the Raven King would be out. That’s so far from now.” 

Then, Spring 2016: pushing off studying for my Philosophy exam to read The Raven King, determined to finish in one sitting after the release date had been pushed back from September to April. 

I hadn’t touched the series since, though a part of me had been meaning to do a reread since the TV show announcement dropped, purely because the sudden way the news exploded over Tumblr reminded me how much I treasured the series at seventeen. (And how obsessively, by extension, I listened to “Youth” by Daughter.) I knew reading TRC had been escapism in every sense of the word; even now, I don’t think I’ve felt quite as lost in a world, quite as willing to be lost, quite as desperate to be lost, as I did reading this series and throwing myself into the lives of its main circle of protagonists. 

But last weekend, unable to shake off the Call Down The Hawk excerpts, I sat down and dug out my copies. The deja vu of laying them all out on my bedroom floor pulled a memory back to the surface: that Winter term, I had forgone one textbook so I could save my financial aid money to finally buy the first three in hardcover. I could have saved a lot more buying them in softcover, but, as much as I’d like to say I did it on behalf of my past self, I’d really just been concerned that the last book would be aesthetically out of place in the complete set when I bought it on its release day. 

Three chapters into a reread of the first book, I learned that I don’t remember the series quite as well as I do buying them. But that’s alright. I hadn’t expected myself to. 

I did expect that a lot of what’s left won’t be pleasant. Half-scenes — ARE YOU LISTENING, GLENDOWER? I AM COMING TO FIND YOU! — that stuck with me because they made me choke up once and still does. Isolated quotes I still knew by heart, provoking the same irrational longing I once articulated in a journal entry in high school. Character introspection that rang true when I was eighteen, desperate to leave Scarborough and start anew in Hamilton, and even truer now.

And then, both best and worst of all, details that reverberated more than I wanted them to because you can never not notice a fellow [redacted] survivor when you’re one yourself. Especially when that survivor is the first character to make you accept entirely that you are also one, and the first to make such an impact because, before Adam Parrish, I didn’t realize I hadn’t wanted comfort over my home life so much as I wanted someone to validate it all for me and point out what had not been normal about my life. My habits, my ways of thinking, my days missing school, my stubbornness about money that my friends in high school did not often understand and likely made me seem ungrateful where I still feel nothing but indebted to them even now.  

Back to the Call Down The Hawk chapters. Or — to be particular about why I’m writing this post at all instead of ranting on a private Twitter account like I always do — Chapter Five. Setting: Cambridge, Massachusetts. Character in question: Adam Parrish, no longer in a threadbare sweater, no longer living in a church attic. The mechanic chic replaced by a dark academia bisexual #ootd, St. Agnes replaced by a Harvard dorm room. 

Add to that my love for him, no less potent than it had always been, no less devastating, no less rooted in a personal history too deep into childhood and too ignored in teenhood that to see Adam live almost the same life is as much catharsis as it is a recipe for lowkey anxiety episodes. 

I’ve had plenty of hyperfixations. I’ve had characters that came with those, a temporary object of my fixation coming alongside the thing I was binging. Bonus points if they have insecurities. Lance McClain is probably the most recent one to be so intense, but we don’t talk about that series anymore. This is a safe space. 

To say that Adam falls within the same category is to do him and myself a disservice. It’s not a girlish obsession. It doesn’t quite fall in the realm of fan fondness. I know. I’ve felt both with ridiculous potency. With Adam, it’s a more personal attachment. Like living by proxy — even if it wasn’t a trailer park I had to move out of, even if I’ll never sacrifice myself to an ancient magical forest, even if I’ll never be in a relationship with a Greywaren and grow up with him as we enter a relationship when we don’t even trust ourselves to be enough and to not hurt the other person. 

All the more hard-hitting, then, to see a tender, adjusted Adam in CDTH. It’s the kind of happiness that feels like it’s breaking my heart instead: to see him asking for help with more ease than before, the transition from calling his boyfriend by last name with friends and by first name in his dorm room. With his group of LGBTQ+ friends, with a significant other he associates with home, with this freedom to admit he wants something even if he hasn’t quite mastered the reflex to stop himself from possibly wanting too much in fear of disappointment. 

An Adam Parrish who is loved, who is thriving, who is recovering. 

CDTH Adam Parrish is an Adam farther down the road to recovery than the version of him in the epilogue of TRK — one of the only scenes I will always be able to quote in full from the series. It’s come back to me multiple times over the years, a random your boyfriend’s beemer slipping in alongside a you made it difficult whenever my thoughts drift towards that direction. I tell my mother nowadays, a joke that holds some wistful truth, that I refuse to see and talk to my father again until I had the safety net of the absolute flex that is a BMW, a prestigious diploma and the civility I never would have associated with the family I — and Adam — left behind. I’m still working on making this a reality. But Maggie Stiefvater wrote this great answer to a question about Adam, and I’ve held it close to my heart since. 

With all this said, the title is also a little misleading, perhaps, because this isn’t just about Adam. I swear. This is about Ronan, too, and my obsession with stories exploring LDRs, even more when the two people in that relationship both have trauma and familial baggage to navigate on top of their own emotions, on top of real estate, and on top of the literal distance. 

I loved Ronan as much as I loved the others, but he, I had the least in common with. Most of me was undeniably Gansey, insomnia and demeanour and hyperfixation and all. The parts that this left behind was all Adam — and Blue’s, too, by extension. Even Noah and Henry, I connected to in some small way. Ronan felt like someone I can never be. Not because I disapprove; I just don’t have it in me to project outwards like he does. 

But talking about the CDTH chapters demands a special shoutout for Ronan. For how deeply he loves Adam, for how much he’s willing to give and sacrifice, for how much more prepared he is to compromise than he was in the original series. 

Since reading the excerpt, I’ve also thought often about Adam and Ronan’s conversation about Adam’s father. I totally agree with Ronan’s disapproval of Adam lying about his family and his background. But have I done mostly the same thing as Adam there? Yes. Not quite as overt, but no more honourable. Two years away from my father now and I’m able to see it with semi-fresh eyes. Do I regret it? Yes. Could I have still done it differently back then, knowing what I do now? No. I don’t think so. I won’t expect it of Adam, either. 

Beyond that, what struck me there was the gentle way their argument reaches a peak and then crashes, so palpably one they’ve had multiple times before, quieting after a decision on both sides that I wouldn’t have expected from their BLLB selves. The simplicity of them seeking comfort through touch after being so touch-starved for so long. The simplicity of Adam falling asleep between Ronan and the wall (a position that, if I was cornered into it while sleeping over at a friend’s or at an AirBNB, always ensured I won’t be able to relax enough to get any sleep.) The simplicity of Adam being proud of Ronan around his friends. The simplicity of his you smell like home, when no other TRC character had been as desperate as Adam was to leave and redefine home.  

That Adam even has a place to call home, and that it isn’t a cupboard of a bedroom in a trailer or a small apartment above a church, neither of which he could populate until it feels like it’s his — I’m tearing up again, wow. 

I almost got a tattoo the day the sampler dropped, straight out of impulse to get something representative of Adam. I reined it in, but best believe I will get that tattoo someday, when I’m more rational and not loopy with the Adam Parrish I’d been given in those excerpts.

Okay, yeah, alright, maybe this is mostly about Adam. At its core, this post is a love letter to Adam Parrish, both as he was in the original series, and how he is in the new one. A love letter to myself, then, too. As I was in high school, in all the ways I felt reflected in Adam. As who I’ve been in the past three years, trying to collect enough money to sustain a life outside of my family home and failing. As I am now, far from being in Harvard but nonetheless in a university that had been my third choice but that I love deeply now. With more LGBTQ+ friends than I could have predicted myself having in high school, to boot. 

Adam Parrish is who I wish I was, who I almost am, and hopefully, if his recovery continues as it is, I’ll end up the same person he will also become by the end of this new trilogy. I trust Maggie Stiefvater. With Adam — with Blue, too, when it comes to writing about living in poverty — I’ve always trusted and will always trust Maggie Stiefvater. 

Being Adam Parrish was a complicated thing, goes a quote in the first book of the original series, a wonder of muscles and organs, synapses and nerves. He was a miracle of moving parts, a study in survival. The most important thing to Adam Parrish, though, had always been free will, the ability to be his own master.

This was the important thing. 

It had always been the important thing. 

This was what it was to be Adam.

This was also what it was to be me. This is what it is to be me. And so this was the moment I latched onto Adam like I’ll never latch onto any other character after him. 

Muscles, organs, I used to think over and over in my Grade 12 English class once I got tired of my pretentious Byron bullshit. Synapses, nerves. I was much more stubborn about free will back then than I am now. Much sadder then, too, much more trapped, much more hopeless and much more pained. Adam has come a long way from who he was in TRB. I like to think I’ve done the same since I was seventeen. 

 A miracle of moving parts, I once wrote in lead pencil on my desk. 

A study in survival. 

may in review, 2019

There are two theories for why May is called May. 

One, that it’s distantly named after the goddess Maia, whose name I admit I first reacted to with: who? Then the Classics student shame caught up and my brain had to whir and realize this was Hermes’ mother and one of the Pleiades. 

The second option, courtesy of Ovid because of course it is, offers the possibility that May comes from maiores (ancestors, but let’s go with ‘old people’ here as a translation) as opposed to iuniores (lit. the young ones) being the stem for June. I like this theory a lot more — not because it’s Ovid’s, nor because I’ve always liked that the English words ‘major’ and ‘junior’ come from such obvious cognates, but because I sure as hell feel like I aged enough to approach senility this month. 

I was hoping it would all end with April. It didn’t. I feel three times older than I actually am, with the back pain and struggling mental faculties to back it up. 

Most of the pros this month are also cons, so let me work my way up from there to the only four things that made me happy this month. Excuse me as I grant myself the luxury of whining when I’ve been hanging on for dear life for three months in a row now, though I seem to do that every month nonetheless.

Con: Being 21. That’s it. You know how I asked 21 to be kind to me? It wasn’t. Part of the reason behind all the chaos might be the universe exacting revenge for me telling my high school psychology teacher I’d want to be 21 forever. I don’t anymore. I don’t want to talk about it, think about it, relive it. So, universe — point made. 

That said, this renders it a pro that I am not 21 anymore. I turned 22 last May 8th, and let me say that I have never been happier to turn a year older. The past couple of months have been much nicer than the ones that came before it, but 21 as an age, and 2018 as a year, was straight up traumatizing. If I was drafting my character arc, this past year would be the lowest of the low. Saitama in the beginning of One Punch Man. Kakeru from Run With The Wind, stealing bread because that’s the bottom he’s reached. 

Another pro-con: I am taking my first ever writing class this spring term! A short-story course, because if I had to rank my writing genres and how confident I was in them, short stories would be down there with verse poetry. Possibly lower. Definitely lower. 

Don’t get me wrong: I’ve had fun in the class so far, and my workshop-mates are all lovely people who weather my love for the Before trilogy well. But it also happens to be a con because it forces me to come to terms with how much my relationship with fiction writing has changed since the last time I did it. Which was yesterday, but still. I used to think fiction was my deepest love. After a year of critical essays and investigative pieces, I don’t know anymore.

The last and most important pro-con: the Nuance end of the year event. One of the best nights of my life, yet also a reminder that my time with the team is officially, contractually over. If you told me last September that I would feel this way considering how anxious I was after our first meeting, I would have rejected the entire notion. But leaving Nuance, even with two pieces still left to write, feels like losing a substantial part of who I am now, of who I’ve become since I joined. Possibly because my Nuance experience is behind so much of the identity adjustment I’ve experienced over the last year; it changed my world, changed how I view the world. In terms of reaching deep inside me for my own personal experiences and realizing there’s worth in talking about them. In discussions about sex positivity, gender and sexuality — and religion, which I didn’t anticipate would become such a large factor in my worldview as I transition from 21 to 22. 

Nuance changed how I view activism / artivism, how I think of grassroots organizations, how I estimate the value of my own contribution to both. Being part of this publication has been one of the most eye-opening things in my life; not because it changed my perception of the world altogether, but because it widened my worldview where I didn’t realize it could go any farther than the keyhole I was viewing the LGBTQ+ community through as a helpless Gen Z. I feel empowered, a word I’d never used before in reference to my various identities — empowered to write about who I am, empowered to realize that my thoughts are opinions worth arguing and exploring. I’ve always been open to discussion, to being proven wrong, but it’s never occurred to me that I can do the same with someone, that I can prove someone wrong as well, that there’s authority in my experiences simply because it’s mine. 

So thank you, to all the Nuance team members, to my editors, to our founders: I don’t know who I would be right now if not for the last year I’ve spent writing for and with all of you.

With that said, here are the pop culture things I enjoyed this month, despite all the existentialism I’ve been nursing: 

  • Robert Pattinson as the new Batman. That’s it. 

  • Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me, written by the ever brilliant Mariko Tamaki and beautifully illustrated by Rosemary Valero-O’Connell, was a pleasant surprise. Not because I doubted this pair-up in any capacity, but because I hadn’t expected the story to hit home as much as it did, and to reach such depths in its discussion of toxic relationships. I’m of the opinion that there should be more LGBTQ+ stories centred around unhealthy relationships in teenhood, whether deliberate or not; this isn’t to paint us in any unpleasant light, but because there is so much to explore there, and because support systems and relationship norms aren’t often debated in this context. Laura Dean delivered, and I can honestly say this is going on my list of favourite graphic novels of all time. 

  • The Goldfinch Trailer was finally released and god, someone needs to stop me from rewatching because the amount of times I’ve done so in the past week is reaching unhealthy levels. I do have my reservations about how the movie looks like a child of a Joe Wright and a Joel Edgerton trailer — but you know what? Have you seen a more beautiful trailer? I haven’t. The song, the Roger Deakins cinammon tography, the faithfulness to the book if those brief shots from New York and Las Vegas and Amsterdam were anything to go by. From Pippa to Hobie to the Barbours to Boris. God, the sound I made when Aneurin Barnard first showed up in it was inhuman. September is too far from now. I know it will be here before I know it, but September is too far from now. 

  • The Toronto Raptors got to the playoffs, won, and holy shit, we are in the NBA Finals. For the first time in history. This Raptors season has been the most patriotic I’ve felt since Scott Moir and Tessa Virtue’s gold-winning Moulin Rouge program at Pyeongchang, and the tears I shed for that is nowhere close to the way my heart keeps contracting and expanding every time I remember that we are in the Finals. Against GS! Of all teams! And with two of my favourite ex-Spurs on the team! I am ecstatic! And anxious! At the time of writing, the series is tied 1-1 between the two teams, and both games have been the most nerve-wracking 48 minutes of my life. It’s bound to only get worse from here. 

I expect plenty of more Raptors gushing in the post for next month. Let’s hope it will be good, relieved, teary-happy gushing. Please, have mercy on us poor Canadians and give the Raptors their first win because they — and we — sure as hell deserve it.

april in review, 2019

Another busy month, preceded by a busy one and sure to be followed by yet another. I am a shell of who I once was. I am nothing but a work machine. My back and wrist will never recover. My exams have permanently destroyed my already shot carpal tunnel.

An extremely bittersweet month as well. I carry a lot of sadness with me as April ends, and as much as it has thrown me into the grinder, I can say this is doubtlessly one of the best months I’ve ever had. Fitting, as an end to one of the best semesters I’ve experienced in all my years in school.

So, in honour of that, I will start this post with the con, because there’s really only one, and this term ending is it. So, so, so awful a feeling it will forever define how I remember this month.

I complain (and will keep complaining) about how hectic it has been—and that remains valid—but this is also the closest I’ve felt to being my ideal self. Prolific, sleeping and eating semi-regularly if as little as ever, content with small bursts of genuine socialization while still having lots of time to myself to breathe and recharge until the next thing drains me. And then repeat. I’ve been blessed with so many lovely friends this term, new and old, and while I was content with my vast social world in university before this—people I met in first year from across different faculties, former co-workers from the school newspaper, all the other extracurriculars I took in between everything else—there is also something special about forming quieter relationships without expecting them, much less seeking them out.

Making friends with people in classes without being thrown into group projects with them, or being thrown into group projects without the anxiety of wondering if someone will want to be in a group with you—both of these have just been so, so appreciated, as simple as they are. I have not once dreaded going to school this term, which probably explains why this is the best my attendance record has ever been, my elementary and high school years included.

I was so busy in the last weeks of school that I don’t think I was as present as I should have been. I regret that so much now; my sentimental bone hurts every time I think about it. I was aching so much when I left my last class of this term, it’s not even funny. I haven’t felt like that since my last exam of high school, and even that had been nothing like how I felt last April 9th.

But beyond it all, I’m thankful. I’m so, so thankful, for all the people and things that have made me happy this term, profs and classmates and co-workers and friends and acquaintances. This semester will not be what it is if not for all these different facets coming together. It doesn’t remove the sadness left behind by all the brilliant people and friends I’ll be saying goodbye to after this school year, but I’m grateful I got to experience one last fruitful semester content and more productive than I’ve ever been.

That said, I only have two things great enough to be worth noting above the blur that this month has otherwise been:

  • Run With The Wind, a sports anime that probably shouldn’t even be called that because there’s so much about it that doesn’t fall in line with all the others ones I watched. I just want to talk to whoever decided the second ending song will play after Haiji doing The Thing in the last episode. They timed the beginning of the vocals perfectly and I hate them for it. I can’t listen to this song without going through fifty emotions, which is really tragic because Mukai Taichi has some bops. (This song probably deserves its own spot as a favourite, as well as the first ending.) Please license the source novel for translation.

  • no name Crispy Rice, which is really just No Frills’ Rice Krispies. My Broadway prof gave these out on my last exam and god, they were eye opening. The rice crispy hype was one of those things I never understood when I first came to Canada, but I get it now. I really, really do. I apologize to all the white teens I doubted.

Anyway. I am exhausted. I’ll be turning a year older next month with half of my soul intact. Welcome to adulthood, I guess. Less and less of you every year. At least I have bootleg Rice Krispies.

march in review, 2019

I predicted last month that March would be hell on Earth — and boy, was I even more accurate than I could have anticipated. This is easily the most hectic month I’ve experienced, and, with that, the most stressed, sleep-deprived, under-nourished and depressed I’ve been in a long, long time, if not ever. That’s saying a lot, I gotta say.

But, as I also said last month, all of this is by my own doing. I chose to take on all the things that ran my ass my ground. That are still running my ass to the ground. My mistake as well, probably, to believe that I will get them all done and will have nothing to worry about by the end of this month. This is not true at all, ha ha ha ha. I’ll be feeling this way until May, and that’s only if I’m lucky. But life, am I right.

I am happy to report, at least, that I still have a substantial list of things I enjoyed this month:

  • Company: This is the first year I’ve been able to take an elective, and with some nudging from a friend (thanks ERB) and some interesting entries on the syllabus, I chose a second year Broadway course. Company (1970) happens to make up a chunk of the course: our final mark relies on an analysis of one song from it + a critique of the school production, and historical details were a significant part of the second midterm. I expected myself to be weary of it by the end of all this, but I did quite enjoy all my repeated viewing and listening. A particular favourite, as I’m sure it is for many other people, is “Being Alive” — which has one of my favourite lyric changes in the switch to the imperative at the end of the song. Plus the recent West End production, with its little subversions and with Patti LuPone as Joanne, was a fun one to put on loop as I was writing my paper.

  • Haikyuu!! is going to get its own blog post, but it’s imperative I give it a shoutout here because my emotional and mental state would have crashed and burned a lot more if not for the little doses of rewatching I’ve been doing in between papers and deadlines and club responsibilities. The last time I touched this anime was in high school, and returning to it has been a mish-mash of harmless fun and nostalgia that had somehow resulted in a weird Pomodoro effect as I sneak in an episode or two in between hours of work.

  • Yuri!!! on CONCERT also deserves a spot here, while we’re talking about sports anime nostalgia. I remember bypassing it when it was briefly a trending topic on Tumblr, not knowing any other details about it, but I recently listened to the recordings on Spotify and those hit different. Which is just another way of saying I was reminded of how much warmth this show — and all its original songs from the tears magnet that is “Tales of a Sleeping Prince” to karaoke jams like “Theme of King JJ” — had brought me in 2016. YOI is another anime that got me through a rough time, though it sucks that I’ll always have to associate it with everything I felt the morning after the 2016 U.S Presidential Election.

  • Thucydides, I realize, is an odd entry on a favourites list, but I have been reading nothing but the Peloponnesian War this past month and it’s taken over every waking hour. Classics as a whole is stuffed full with half-horrifying, half-fascinating moments of history repeating itself, but none has landed quite like Thucydides declaring his work as a κτῆμα εἰς ἀεί (with its ridiculously pretty translation as “a possession for all time”) and being dead-right about it. It’s pretentious — trust me, I feel nasty about it — but I’ve never felt the need to proclaim something as a must-read until I read this thing. It really is, in all of its surprisingly accurate insight so early in the history of, well, history. If not that, then it’s just such a curious thing to see how much of human nature has remained unchanged, and, really, how human any human from any time can be. Not to sound like a PoliSci bro. It’s unfortunate how much his work has been appropriated by sides that don’t necessarily interpret them as widely as it should be, but that shouldn’t be a surprise when working with text from Antiquity.

On that note, I also wrote papers on some interesting topics this term. It soothes the sting of having so many to bang out, I have to say, when I at least love writing them. A particular honourable mention is the paper on the Pythia’s role in the Greek colonial movement during the Archaic Period. (Bonus points because this gave me my first time encountering Anne Carson’s academic work on JSTOR and being able to use her paper on Pindar, even if it was only for, like, one footnote.)

My paper last year on Christianity’s role in reinforcing Roman slavery as a social institution still remains at the top in terms of the amount of enjoyment I took in writing it, but the Delphi paper came close. The Thucydides one I’m writing early next month will likely come closer.

Speaking of which, as much as I loved studying Thucydides, for better or for worse, his name alone has planted in me an amount of anxiety that I’ll carry for the rest of my life. Dramatics intended. This is high-high on my list of list of cons this month.

Like, I honestly don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say I’ve developed a genuine phobia of my Greek Historians seminar and, as brilliant as he is and regardless of how much I admire him, the prof that teaches it. He’s amazing, no doubt about it, and I imagine this is what the main Secret History coterie felt about Julian Morrow — but I’m getting anxious just writing this. It’s a shame, because that seminar gave me some of the best of my new friends this term; the amount of socialization I took from that class is surreal. And yet I spoke, like, five times despite having so much to say, purely because I was so afraid for reasons I can’t even pinpoint. So that’s always fun. But I knew that, going in. My CBT last year hadn’t been enough to teach me how to cope with the anxiety I feel around this prof, and there was no reason to expect it to go away this term. I just wasn’t expecting it to get so much worse over the course of twelve weeks.

As for Agnès Varda, I have no words that will accurately capture how devastated I am. What horrible news to end March on.

I’m going into April with the first missed deadlines and deadline extension requests of my life, and alongside that, some more intensified anxiety and feelings of incompetence that are truly, truly, truly not cute.

It will be over at some point. I think. I hope. I pray.

the concrete i sprouted from

The main Haikyuu theme starts with squeaking — shoes sliding against the gym floor, a noise so specific to its source that it was never a problem hearing it and being thrown back to gym class. I know, after a few seconds of just this, that it will be joined by the sound of dribbled volleyballs. Then, if you strain to listen, a little bit of chatter. I know where the song starts to pick up, where the strings come in, where everything else is silenced to let those strings take centre stage. 

I discovered last week that I know all of this intrinsically. It’s in my bones. 

Apparently.

Yes, this is another post where I rant for a solid couple thousand words about some animated thing that I should not feel so much for, considering I am a university student barely hanging on amidst this horribly busy month.

But anyway. 

If you ask me what I remember from high school, sports anime is probably the only answer I can offer with full confidence. Even that, I don’t remember with any precision, but the underlying emotions of the idea remains, like an early childhood memory that I pieced together from someone else’s account of what happened, leaving it unclear how much I actually have retained and how much I am instead filling in based on what I think, now, that I must have felt. 

I spent at least two years of my life deep inside the world of sports anime. It started with Kuroko no Basuke, a last attempt to find bonding space with a father I also only vaguely remember now, then Free, a first attempt to find bonding space with other weebs sports anime enthusiasts my age. Somewhere after these two, there was a brief fling with Yowamushi no Pedal, though the series didn’t stick so much as the opening themes, easily falling away as Diamond no Ace came into the picture. 

My depression also peaked around this time. Where before I could function around it and act grateful that hey, at least I was not as bad as I could be, I buckled under the weight of my deteriorating mental health — for just about a week, really, but for someone like me, usually so functional no matter how I’m feeling, that was a lot. I skipped school for four days straight. I skip a hell lot more classes now, but this still makes me shudder. 

My memory is also worse now; I’ve forgotten names and voices of people I used to see everyday. So it’s those last two years chock full of sports anime that interest — even baffle — me, because though my last two years of high school are the faintest, lost to too many depression naps, the feelings that are elicited in returning to sports anime are so clear. Heavy with the weight of nostalgia, sure, but that’s me with everything. That I’m nostalgic for memories I don’t even have anymore is the thing that weirds me out here.

I promise I’m not waxing poetic so much as just trying to articulate my frustration. Or, really, just lowkey berating myself for feeling more about this hyperfixation I had as a teenager than I do for most other things in my life at the moment. 

It’s difficult not to be when I remember being catatonic in bed and somehow, ridiculously, dissonantly, watching Free. It’s a funny picture to me now. It’s really not that deep, either. Sports anime didn’t particularly help me, save me, nor even cheer me up most days. They didn’t affect my depression, not in a way later hyperfixations would help alter my mood for better or for worse. I don’t feel like I owe them anything, or like I have anything to thank them for — at least not in comparison to all the other things I could actually credit with helping me during the worse periods of life. It’s just a little hilarious, in retrospect, that my few vivid memories of those awful years of my life are primarily linked to — of all things — anime. It isn’t the increased intake of both caffeine and sleeping pills that return to my mind first, nor the skipping for days or weeks at a time. Just that one incongruent scene of a memory, Free’s disconcertingly metal opening song playing in my dark, quiet bedroom. It makes me laugh nowadays, genuinely. 

It was just so harmless, at the time. I can’t say that for many things that happened in the five years I spent in the Canadian school system before post-secondary.

Sprinkled in varying doses across the entire period — the only one for which I read the manga before the anime aired, the only one where I can say I’m attached to the characters for other reasons beyond forced interest, the only one that came early enough before my memory starts getting hazy as to not be part of all the batches of my life from back then that I’ve forgotten — was Haikyuu.

At a whim, I decided to watch its third season over a reading week weekend. 

Rationally speaking, this is more likely because my binge-watching coincided with a new NDRI dose — but good god, those two days were horrific. I felt emptied in the worst, most terrifying way I possibly could, and listening to the Haikyuu theme had been enough to elicit what would have been a panic attack if I hadn’t caught myself and went, jesus, Trisha, are you seriously feeling like this over a sports anime? 

It wasn’t overwhelming the way my mental health reacted so badly to Voltron, nor even overwhelming in the way that thinking too much about older memories make me deeply sad with nostalgia. It was more like an uncaving, like a spoon scraping leftovers off the skin of a mango cheek.

When I stopped reading Haikyuu, the match that the third season covers was still ongoing. It’s been that long. I’ve aged that much in the years since. I’ve dropped friends and made new friends and rejected and accepted new things about myself. It’s a time marker for all these things, a time capsule of memories, good and bad. It’s a weird ache, not so much for the series as for the years I associate with it. My last two years of high school were just so much, and for better or for worse the things I consumed during that period will always be keepers of the same emotional weight, the same sentiments, that I was feeling then.

It definitely wasn’t Haikyuu!! — or, by extension, Diamond no Ace, which returned with a new season shortly after this whole fiasco — making me sad. It’s the fact that I don’t remember high school much, nowadays, and all I have are little unattached pieces of emotion I could still somehow feel when I watch a specific scene, listen to a specific song in a soundtrack, encounter a specific character, and, for a moment, I am plunged back to my high school self, so distant and inaccessible to me otherwise.

Then again, you can say this about everything I touched in high school. One of my oldest friends and I used to revel in “I Lived” when thinking about the Karasuno third years; that association remains, well-conditioned to be a reflex. When “Heaven” by Troye Sivan plays, I am suddenly back inside the Rebel nightclub, close to tears the night of the 2016 Election. Twilight, too, had a renaissance recently, and of course I also felt impaled by the special credits in Breaking Dawn Part 2, set to “A Thousand Years” and thrusting an ice pick into my heart with each of the piano notes which that song begins with.

So, really, it’s not Haikyuu or Twilight or Troye Sivan or One Republic. It’s me. 

In any case, though, Haikyuu is still brilliant. My 16 to 17 year old self did not appreciate this series as much as they should have. More than that, it’s so feel-good, and peppering in rewatch marathons between bursts of work during this busy month is turning out to actually be self-care.

There’s some comforting inspiration there, too, that I can appreciate now that I’m older, more clear-minded than I was back then. On my better days, I can let myself be motivated by them. Those bright-haired sports anime kids work so hard, and it’s difficult not to find that motivating even when I don’t have motivation to spare.

For example: my brother, the other day, had to be taken away by ambulance. I remember, hysterically, ridiculously, running to catch a bus, “What would Hinata Shouyou do?”

Puke from anxiety, probably — and then steel himself right after.

And in all honesty, this is the answer to any situation you apply this question to. A test, a game, a difficult conversation, a fight with the first friend you’re able to call a partner — Hinata would approach each and every one of this the same way. That is: allow that anxiety reach a crest until you can’t take it anymore, only to realize you do have it in yourself because you know how hard you work and how much you can love what you do.

So, sometimes, when you’re drowning in responsibilities and stressors, you have to take a moment, inhale, listen to soundtrack pieces you associate with a past life, exhale. Then, when you can breathe and think clearly again, ask yourself: What would Hinata Shouyou from the concrete do? 

Not give up, that’s what. 

february in review, 2019

A short post for a short month, with brief moments of both the highs of wistful happiness and the lows of apoplectic rage.

I had a week-long break from school this month—nine days where, ostensibly, I didn’t have to worry about anything. I did anyway. My sleep schedule has been unfairly screwed over, as par for the course whenever I’m on break, and by either association or extension, my mental health has also not been at its greatest this month. But more on the latter later.

Snow days were abound this month as well, the weather stubborn and unforgiving. I never thought I’d wish for there to not be a snow day, but by the third or fourth time my classes have been cancelled and therefore had to have its entire syllabus rerouted, I was sick of constantly pushing things off from where my anxiety expected them to be.

Despite all that mess, though, I enjoyed quite a few of the small things in life:

  • Rent: Live’s rendition of “Will I”: I’ve never been all that fond of Rent, mostly because I’m still not set on how to feel about it considering the mixed responses of the LGBTQ+ community to it. For most of my teenhood, the only songs I knew were staples like “One Song Glory” and “La Vie Boheme” — though my vague memory of the movie is solid enough to remember that the original “Will I” took place in a support group. And, while otherwise a disaster, I thought Rent: Live did really well in moving this song to the streets of New York, with Mark filming as people sang from street corners and park benches. It was heartbreakingly effective in hammering some things home, if only as someone who was born the year HAART became the standard for HIV treatment and who always feels like I don’t have an appropriate grasp on how devastating and horrible the AIDS crisis truly was. And I don’t. It’s a part of history I never forget, but that doesn’t even come close to the devastation that the older generation had to experience and confront. It wouldn’t ever be enough to read about it, everything always information that I am privileged enough to say is secondhand, but there’s something simple and straightforward at the core of this scene that stayed with me a long while.

  • UNIQLO HEATTECH: I had the misfortune last February 12th of queueing for a concert in the middle of a snowstorm, bad enough that my classes were cancelled though the show was not. In preparation, I bought HEATTECH leggings from UNIQLO — and, truly, truly, truly, I had never bought a wintertime anything more worth it than the $20 I dropped on these thermal wear. Between this and the coats I invested in, this winter has been a lot more bearable for me than it has been for other people.

  • If Beale Street Could Talk and Can You Ever Forgive Me? are different enough, if both brilliant in their own ways, that they each deserve an entry separate from each other. Only I saw them both on the same day, an hour apart from each other, and as such, they are interlinked in my head as one blanket feeling of overwhelmed… something. Beale Street, in particular, defies description, but that’s expected of someone as endlessly wonderful as Barry Jenkins. Both films deserved more Oscar nominations than they got, and I don’t regret blocking off a whole day from my break to strike them off my list before the weekend of the ceremony.

  • Westdale Theatre, too, deserves a shout-out for housing those two movies and for finally eliminating my need to trek to Toronto just to see independent films. I was a freshman when this place closed, and to see it reopen, shiny and renovated and offering films I am more than excited to watch, has me falling for this city a lot more than I already have.  

  • That said, Hamilton’s cameo in The Umbrella Academy also deserves to be its own entry, if only because, for all that this city is consistently a filming location, it never seems to look like itself in the shows and movies they’re in. Or always lumped in with a thank you for Toronto, as with Shape of Water. But I didn’t have a problem with that in The Umbrella Academy, which had an unmistakable shot of Redchurch, one of my favourite cafes in the city, in that iconic “Run, Boy, Run” scene.

  • Nathan Pyle is an artist whose work I first encountered on Tumblr — only to find that he has a great Instagram account that is now the sole reason I ever go on Instagram at all (until I’m hounded to update it by people I will not name because I know she sees this).

  • Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse winning Best Animated Feature. Oh, thank god.

With those out of the way, I want to spare a few moments on two things that gave me grief this February:

  • My new medication has been rough-going, my body unused to all these side effects I didn’t have to worry about before. I know it takes a while, and I’m prepared for that, but the first weekend following my first couple of doses were just so horrible that I’m now wary to change my dosage. I do think it has improved my cognitive situation, though, if not my emotional one, and for better memory and a little more energy, a little hand tremor and loss of appetite seem like a good price to pay.

  • The winner for this year’s Best Picture. Absolute bullshit.

March is bound to be an awful month, the way November is always unbearable because it’s so busy in the term. But a lot of the problems on my plate right now are responsibilities I took on myself — a full courseload, two jobs and an extracurricular activity I’m sure I was peer pressured into — so in the end, there is very little to self-righteously complain about.

I’ll have to take it step by step and hopefully make it to April by the skin of my teeth, but I think it will be fine.

I hope.

I also hope I didn’t just jinx it.

january in review, 2019

I’ve always been a believer in impermanence, to which anyone who has been treated to my cynicism about change and life constants can attest. I’m always in a hurry to record, a fact that might come as a surprise to anyone who has attended an event with me and never seen me pull my phone out once, a mistake that I more often than not regret as soon as I get home. I’m also always sure that time erodes everything into essential non-existence, but this, I think, is simply the angst-dictated instinct of people my age, stuck in this liminal existence waiting for things in our past to properly die while also waiting for the things in our potential future to crystallize.

The point is that I know how my mind works and I know how life works and I know that neither one retains anything infinitely. A thought will automatically go to my Google Keep before it has the chance to disappear, and a memory will be immortalized in written or photo form when I feel the slightest hint of an emotion that my body doesn’t usually allow me to have. My wistful sadness over graduating high school and leaving my Canadian hometown surprised me, for example, and as a result it is so well-preserved in a diary entry that it’s easy to rehash that melancholy. My suffocating homesickness during my time in Italy is a visceral feeling that consumes me when I allow it, and that, at least, I don’t have to write down; looking at pictures from Rieti alone calls it forward anew. My disappointment over Voltron was unprecedented and ridiculous, yet so great that it is forever articulated in two very, very angry blog posts.

There’s a recurring pattern here, though. I only ever do it for extreme negative emotions, because I am emotionally repressed even on my best days and unable to talk to my loved ones about such things unless I write them in journal entry form first. I’m sure I’ve written positive ones as well in high school, on days so good I was stumped how they could possibly be good, but the fact remains that it’s always on either end of the spectrum. Never just because sometimes it’s nice to keep track of how life is going, in all its goodness and badness, in all its ebbs and flows.

This is, thankfully, something my brain has adjusted to processing, with help from my fellowship at Nuance. We always check in with this Rose, Bud, Thorn system — a curation of things currently making us happy, things we’re excited for, things making us unhappy and unexcited, respectively. It’s helpful, I think, to lay out my thoughts in this way, because I keep so many things crammed into all of my days without ever asking myself how I feel about any of them, much less isolating them into these categories that allow me to process them one by one.

So, for 2019, I want to start with this on a monthly basis, with perhaps bit of tweaking, because I always have too much to say and too much to think about once I get going.

In danger of sounding like a YouTuber in a Monthly Favourites video, then, these are the things that made me happy this month:

  • The Lightning Thief musical, which I am seeing in March and for which I, in preparation for that, have finally listened to the whole thing. Back in the days when the cast recording hadn’t been on Spotify, I had to settle for Youtube looping Chris McCarrell’s “Good Kid” recording video. Fingers tightly crossed that I can see him play Percy when I go to the Friday night show.

  • Stray Kids: I’m extremely iffy about wandering into the territory of (what I delineate to be) fourth generation k-groups because chances are always that the members are my age and/or younger and that… brings a discomfort I can’t work around. But this Stray Kids phase took me by surprise with how passionate it has been — in particular, my feelings towards its leader Bang Chan, who has all the sleep deprivation and workaholism and desire to write for our generation that I can ever ask for in someone my age. I am enamoured, to say the least, though my affection is backed by a genuine awe, if only because the fact that we are the same age and have almost the same habits encourage me all the more to empathize with him. To put myself in his shoes much more easily than I can with most idols, including other 1997-born ones. Between their multitude of bops and clean choreographies and 3RACHA’s tendency to be existential, my time following him and SKZ have brought me a lot of encouragement and inspiration. It’s a fun time.

  • Frank And Oak Winter Puffer Jacket. My navy Everland puffer has seen me through a couple of rough winters now, and I love it very much, but it’s also beginning to show the effects of those two icy seasons. This year, I decided to invest in a new coat, this time from a specifically Canadian brand. It has not disappointed in protecting me during these -42° temperatures, though I am having a tricky time adjusting to wearing something so conspicuously red.

  • Phum Viphurit. I can’t recall how I ended up watching the music video for his song “Lover Boy” but I do know that something about this man and his music and his Instagram just warms my heart every time.

  • Vivian Maier. A friend was down from Toronto for Christmas and, impulsively, we went to see the Vivian Maier exhibit at the local art gallery. To say the least, I am in love, as well as upset that medium format cameras are not at all easy to procure.

  • Kramer vs. Kramer. My mother and I rang in the new year with this movie, because nothing says new year quite like being sobbing messes at 3 A.M. Good god, Meryl Streep is so beautiful. And this movie broke my heart, so thank you for that.

  • Roma, and all the Oscar nominations it got. I wrote a post some time back on how I felt about Pan’s Labyrinth, and it was all that nostalgia and ache and so much more. Such a wondrous revelation of a film, to deliberately mock-quote film reviewers. I had to post about it on Instagram, too, quoting a sentiment that I think Alfonso Cuarón best put into words with respect to my connection to the film.

And, on the other end of the seesaw, the not-so-good things:

  • The rest of the Oscar Nominations. There are, admittedly, many other good ones beyond Roma, or at least enough that I can’t name them all here. But I’ll just be tuning in to make sure that Into the Spider-verse wins Best Animation, and the rest, I’ll have to read up on the morning after because I have little affection for this year’s Academy Awards.

  • Feelings of inadequacy — which, really, is nothing new with me, but it’s new to feel so burdened by my age on top of my understanding of my own incompetence. I’ll (maybe) expand on this in a later post, but it’s been especially tough, lately, to be around so many knowledgeable people in my workplace(s) and at school, and to feel limited by things beyond my own control. I know that some facets of knowledge only come with time, with accumulated experience, but I am an impatient creature by nature, and it’s upsetting to feel stuck, with no way of catching up except staying true to the slow, steady process of learning and unlearning in small steps.

That said, I do have things to look forward to, though it may not feel that way in my low moments. I’m not much of a resolution guy, but last year was so horrible that I felt it can’t hurt to try this year. These, then, are mine:

  • Wear more colour this winter: Winter is dreary enough as it is, and my constant navys and beiges and blacks likely do not help my mood. There is a little bit of image reconstruction at work here as well, one that I don’t think has been very successful because I just don’t feel like myself wearing my bright red Frank And Oak puffer and Christmas-y sweaters, but we’ll see. I want to dress like how everyone in Sex Education dresses. That is the goal.

  • Put work into reshaping my relationship with religion: Fuck Catholicism as an institution, still, always, and fuck all the harmful things a childhood full of it had instilled in me, but writing my first piece for Nuance has really allowed me to reevaluate the amount of agency I have in viewing religion as a whole. So I want to take ownership, especially when I’ve rediscovered that nothing calms me down from my late night anxiety and depressive episodes quite like the same prayers I did growing up.

  • Work out — dance and swimming! My self-esteem re: what I look like has never been lower than it currently is, so I don’t know if the motivation behind this is particularly a good one, if I’m being honest. But beyond that, dance and swimming are things I grew up doing and loving, and one can also make the counterargument that in taking them up again, I am resisting the very insecurities that, in my teenage years, scared me away from continuing to do them in the first place.

  • Give social media a chance: One thing I realized from my CBT anxiety group is that my aversion to social media isn’t simply an enneagram Type Five quirk — there’s a lot of genuine fear rooted there, especially with the performance I perceive to be inevitably attached to it. But if writing CARR has taught me anything, it’s that there is a possible middle ground there, a way to feel connected to the world without necessarily sacrificing something in turn.

  • Actually work on healing: This is difficult. I’m not too optimistic about how well I’ll do. But it’s exhausting, isn’t it, to be self-deprecating and dark-humoured and cynical all the time. I know it isn’t directly my fault that my first instinct is to be this way, but there’s a lot to unlearn here. Healing doesn’t happen overnight, as well, especially when there’s so, so much to heal from, but if I can move my writing away from the angst and trauma blatantly there when I was writing in my teens, I can also move my worldview. To forge a new path in the forest that is my brain until the old path has grown over and my reflex is no longer to think like I used to, as my CBT therapists taught me. I don’t have to believe positive, non-cynical thoughts, and I know I won’t, but it’s the same principle as countering thoughts, I think. I just have to keep thinking good thoughts, again and again, and hopefully bring myself closer to a better place than where I am right now, and where I have been for so long. Healing demands a lot of self-work and self-initiative, things I don’t pride myself in having when it comes to my mental health, but it, like so many other things in this list of resolutions, is nonetheless worth a shot.

On that note, I want to record two mantras my CBT groupmates came up with for me:

  • Growing pains are expected. This is difficult to stomach when I have this intrinsic expectation of myself to do well right off the bat — with meeting new people, with a new job, a new class, a new writing project, a new hobby, even. But growing pains are expected, and I won’t get any better if I don’t allow myself to even try to move past the growing stage.

  • 50% is the most responsibility I’m ever going to have in an average human interaction. This was mostly for my paralyzing fear of having conversations with strangers and authority figures, as well as my tendency to overthink them until they become the worst case scenario in my head, but it’s applicable as well, I think, in matters beyond conversations. There’s a lot of responsibility I take on in my relationships, none of which ever has room for mistakes, especially with family, where I’ve known nothing but a role of responsibility. That… probably needs to change this year.

A lot, probably, needs to change this year, as far as my mentality goes. A lot, as I already said, to learn and unlearn. As there always is. As there always should be. At my best, I believe that I am a person hungry for knowledge, a person with a bottomless appetite for the chance to create. Only I haven’t been my best in a long, long time. I’ve been that hungry person, though a distorted version of it — overworking, over-agreeing, wanting to fill my life with work instead of enjoying the things I create, just banging them out one after the other because my own emotions scare me and, if I funnel them through abstract things, they are no longer mine. I’ve been that hungry person, but that hunger had always been eclipsed by my certainty of my own incompetence just by existing, just by being being born myself. I don’t know enough. I will never know enough. Not for any particular reason. It’s simply fact. That’s just how the world works. You can’t know everything.

That shouldn’t be a bad thing. It’s good, in retrospect, that there is so much out there in the world to discover, so many mediums to expand to, so many outlets to try. There is no such thing as perfection in a world constantly changing and shifting, and I should be — and am — comforted by this. Yet it is bad, because I want so badly to be good enough at what makes me happy. And this hunger — for creating, for learning — is what makes me happy.

I need to reconcile those, too, I guess. I want a slower, softer hunger this year. Something that will allow me to savour the better things in life a little more.

I don’t need you to be perfect, 2019, but please be kind.

voltron: legendary disappointment

⚠️ This contains spoilers for Season 7 of Voltron: Legendary Defender.

I have, in the course of this entire summer, probably written and spoken more about Voltron than I have any other show I’ve fallen into—barring, that is, Avatar: The Last Airbender, which thankfully sits on the complete other end of the spectrum in terms of my feelings about either show. Where A:TLA to this day remains one of my most beloved examples of storytelling in any medium, placed on a pedestal so high and so untouchable that I do often wonder if this blinds me from its possible flaws, Voltron is as low as anything I’ve ever been interested in can get. I’d say it’s on the bottom rung of a proverbial ladder as far as the hierarchy goes, but I went into Season 7 with my expectations on the very ground and this show still managed to burrow through the earth and find a path underground. For that, it deserves recognition. Voltron will go down in the history of my life as the greatest example of anger, sadness and disappointment that I ever had the bad luck of being faced with in my innocent search for escapist distraction and happiness.

I’ve spent a lot of energy this past weekend ripping the new season apart to anyone who will listen. Or perhaps it’s more apt to say that I’ve spent a lot of energy this past weekend just feeling about the new season. To say I ripped it apart would suggest my criticisms come from an objective place, but though I am definitely on my way there, halfway to the sweet bliss of abandoning my reliance on Voltron to regulate my thoughts and emotions for me, the three days it has been since Season 7 dropped on August 10th has been unbearably heartbreaking purely because I took this hit so personally. There’s a lot I could attack here: the absolute shitshow that was the LGBT+ rep touted and promised, the insidious queerbaiting for a pairing they could easily have shut down or at least not encouraged shamelessly, the continued mistreatment of characters of colour, the entire team’s stubborn defensiveness regarding all of this. But these are things I’ve spent the entire weekend throwing myself into, things that people more eloquent than myself have spoken about in open letters, in articles, in Tumblr posts and Tweets. I’ve read as much of these as I can, have written my own article pitches two hours after the season dropped, both for my own peace of mind as well as to get this bottomless heartache to a place where I can feed it and control it as I wish, needing to be secure in the knowledge that this was just another story I can criticize and call out for its harmful negligence and know for a fact there’s so many lessons to be learned from it.

This anger and frustration has been useful in criticism for the show, in knowing that no matter how much the showrunners want to play hot potato with the blame and the necessary apologies, it all comes down to their thoughtlessness. But no matter how much I am beginning to be able to get the anger out of me—no matter how successfully I’ve been able to articulate my reasons for that anger and turn them into something more productive, a more useful conversation mirrored in fair-minded delineations of everything Voltron did wrong—the sadness, the heartbreak, this constant cycle of nauseous hurt nauseous hurt nauseous hurt remains deeply burrowed.

When I wrote about Season 6 last June, I called myself out for dramatics; I won’t do that this time. Right now, I want to let myself sink into the sadness that has been there since Friday and has stayed where it is, available to be revisited every time I wake up and remember the reality of this mess all over again. The same sadness as when you watch or read something depressing, that remnant ache you want to rub out, except there’s a level of extra sobering weight when it’s put in context: that in the same span of time that Steven Universe and Shiro’s SDCC reveal has made me happy, hopeful, celebratory, this is also still the sort of shit that showrunners knowingly pull. The sort of shit that has been done to me and to many other queer youth, because for all that Voltron is a kids’ show, it has somehow become something intensely personal to so many of us. It means so terribly much. I wish it didn’t. But we all found something in Voltron’s premise—both in its space setting and its diverse, robot-piloting characters, all seemingly likeable from the outset—that spoke to us, a source of comfort waiting to be sought and anticipated. It is all the more saddening that the elements to make so many people that level of hopeful and happy were there, yet they were put in the hands of people more eager to crush them in the name of shock value and more eager to stand by the refusal to accept that they have things to learn and unlearn. Unfortunate, too, that the truth of the situation is that majority of its audience fell for an assumed idea of what Voltron could and should have been, and ultimately didn’t end up being one bit.

Voltron proves a lot of things about the fight still left to carry out. This isn’t news. It might have been stupidly idealistic to expect otherwise, especially of showrunners that have not once exhibited empathy for the audience that I want to say are responsible for the show skyrocketing to mainstream popularity the way it did. And for that, for this sadness I’m feeling that I can only assume are doubled for them, I also grieve for the younger groups of Voltron viewers that should not have had to experience this. This show is a step backward for the communities it claims to support, and that’s not anything new this side of town, probably, but that only makes it all the worse knowing that they had the chance not to adhere to that norm, that the showrunners could have given hope instead of misery to so many LGBT+ youth they knew were watching them and cherishing the show so close to heart, and yet didn’t.

At seventeen, I had to step back from the terrible trend in fanfiction of going straight for the angst tropes (character death, terminal illness, hanahaki disease, it’s an endless list) and the fandom gobbling it up despite the fact that it’s a practice inherently manipulative. Angst isn’t the thing that’s bad, nor is conflict—God knows it would make me hypocritical to even suggest that they are—but when you start prioritizing shock value and the perpetuation of misery through death because that’s the only way you know to generate emotion in your audience, then I have to say that’s both straight up lazy writing and a gross misuse of your ability to create something good with the power you’re given in telling a story. Especially when that story includes diverse characters that certainly do not need to be given more misery when the world hands them enough each day. There’s a specific, important distinction there, one that a creator cannot be negligent about. As someone whose history writing emotion began and grew up from those fanfiction angst tropes, who has written my fair share of what I believe is disingenuous angst, and who now firmly tries to reject it, I’m for once confident enough in something to be staunch about this. The fact, then, that the Voltron showrunners, presumably middle-aged as they are (I refuse to look up their ages), not only are still yet to learn this same distinction but even take pride in the darkness and the terrible narrative choices of a show they constantly remind everyone are targeted towards children—I have no words for that but ones of complete disgust.

Speaking of the showrunners: previous work on the Avatar series is a neat, eye-catching thing to slap on a resume when venturing out to works of your own—the same goes for the current press for The Dragon Prince—and in this particular case it’s understandable where the expectations came from when you’re riding on the coattails of a show you can’t even dream of coming close to replicating. There is some miniscule amount of fault to be found there, maybe, for why people went in expecting good characters, good writing and good representation to the precise degree that they did. We trusted blindly. I accept that, sure. People kept trusting blindly, time and time again, even when people should have ran with their doubts a long time ago, all of it just because the Voltron producers relentlessly advertised and promised a once-in-a-lifetime well-written show no one ever did end up seeing. A shame it took most of us seven seasons to be sure of it.

Maybe for people with less experience with seeing actual wonderful stories and even lesser experience needing to see themselves treated well on screen, Voltron is this amazing, groundbreaking show. But even if I may be conceited in thinking so, I am not one of those people. To some degree I wish I am. Maybe then my experience would have been a lot better, less a hit to my psyche. That would mean, however, that I wouldn’t also have this desperate motivation coming hand-in-hand with my sadness; Voltron reminded me that I may have gotten complacent, not realistic enough, about what I expect from the media I consume. The reality is still so much worse than what I’ve allowed myself to be hopeful about, a fact in itself depressing and frustrating, and the biggest pity here is that it took me wasted expectations of this show to really come to terms with this thing I’ve always known.

If nothing else, I am at least confident that this shared experience of the heartbreaking disappointment that was Voltron has spurred on a generation of queer and POC creators eager to make up what this show had failed to give them. And I can only pray that by then, by the time people my age and younger have reached a point where we are able to create work we would have benefited from earlier in life, the heartbreak that Voltron has perpetuated—in all the ways it went wrong, not just in queer representation—would be out of the question.

That in itself is idealism, maybe, but I want to believe it nonetheless. I wouldn’t know what to do otherwise. I want to believe this won’t happen again. I want to believe in my generation turning this hurt into hope for other people. I want to believe we won’t make these mistakes. We owe it to each other, and to the younger groups that will be all the better from it. Our stories deserve to be told. We’re just going to have to be the ones to tell them.

on futile immortality projects

As a child, I didn’t understand what all the rejection of a typical life was all about. Raised in an isolated household where my childhood worldview was shaped by an active Reader’s Digest subscription and a well-stocked library, I was exposed from an early age to the belief that getting a job out of college and staying static until you retire at 60 was the worst that could happen—that the last thing you want is to wake up an elderly person and realize you did nothing with your life. That, however, I never comprehended to the degree I should have. Surely, after all, there are more people who never do anything revolutionary with their lives than those who do. We can’t all be pioneers. We can’t all make a difference. We can’t all live fulfilling lives by the end of which we won’t regret a thing. That’s impossible.

The reassuring part is that it’s impossible for majority of the population.

There was never a time I wasn’t aware of my insignificance. I didn’t acknowledge this with any particular bitterness, nor any desire to change it. I used to feel comforted by that insignificance, even—by sixteen years old, on the verge of realizations I would take another four to five years to accept, it was comforting on a subconscious level that despite all the things that marginalizes me from the rest of society, I am like them and they are like me in how none of us matter, really, in the grand scheme of things. My certainty in that kind of thinking has probably not helped my already debilitated sense of self-value, but it has also allowed me to be content with the little things in life. Knowing that it’s unlikely I’ll ever amount to the kind of stuff legends are made of has allowed me to cope with what I believe are my great failures; somehow, these same failures are seen as above average when placed relative to the path most other people follow. I wasn’t great, not really, but as long as I kept my life on track and hovered just the tiniest bit above mediocre, I was good enough. Passable by standards that exclude the gifted and the lucky and the born privileged. And in a life where anything more than this will always be beyond reach, it’s all I can ask for. All I can ever find it in me to work for. Like a Ghibli movie, placing such importance on small chores and baby steps, except without the rose-coloured lens and the idealistic ambition.

Life is innately designed to suck for most people. This is a fact. But when you remove the pressure of doing more than the day-to-day work of living, which is in itself too much for me most of the time, it’s less necessary to zero in on what I’m not doing compared to my peers, on the things I’m not successful at and probably won’t ever be. Small comforts, if you will, acting as a balm to small sufferings. A cycle of constant trade upon which my worldview rests.

I don’t think my life is worth much, either. This is another bare fact. I’d always been sure that I would sacrifice my life for someone else’s when given the choice; not particularly out of any sort of extreme selflessness, but that it honestly does not matter. I’m here because I’m here. If something happens and I no longer needed to be here, even without active effort on my part, I would take that chance in a heartbeat—especially if it means someone else gets to live more and go about living their best life like they do on those Reader’s Digest issues. Life is like a prison sentence, only I committed no crime except being born, which is infinitely sadder when I think about how little of a say I got in that part. I’m here to live out my life sentence, and if it happens to be cut shorter, then I’ll take it. It’s a bleak, empty life full of the same ins-and-outs anyway, such is the truth of the matter, and to want any more than that, I always believed, is to set myself up for disappointment. That’s one thing I can trust myself to do: anticipate letdowns.

Now, however, the idea of dying without leaving a mark on anyone that really, truly cares—and the very inevitability of this—keeps me up at night.

It’s the comments on my writing. I blame them wholeheartedly. They’ve deluded me into thinking my stories could be worth more, could be worth anything but the brief enjoyment that my fanfiction brings to its niche readers. I get comments—long ones, sweet ones, heartbreaking ones in that they’re so earnest, so poignant, so personal—talking about how I’ve improved someone’s day, about how I’ve made someone reevaluate an aspect of their life may that be love or friendship or family, about how I gave a voice to a problem someone is going through. And on those moments, no matter how I feel about the work in question, I think to myself: did my writing really do that?

At sixteen, I finished my first full story. I deleted it two years later, because it was written with values I no longer felt were representative of who I am, only to be met with e-mails and countless Tumblr messages citing how much the work meant to them, how much it helped them through their own battles with mental health, how much it allowed them to look at life through a different lens. I eventually republished it on a different platform, and received a fresh new batch of the same sort of responses. As much as I still reject the teen autobiographical angst given life in that story, it's overwhelmingly moving that a story like that can be important to actual human beings with their own lives.

In times like that, in all the times it still keeps happening, it becomes impossible instead to think of any of it as insignificant. It feels incredibly significant to be able to do that for someone. It makes my writing feel significant. It makes me feel significant. And then it’s like; “Oh. Oh, oh, oh, so this is the meaning those Reader’s Digest people spend their whole lives chasing.”

It’s difficult, too, to not be swept away in that rush when I’m exposed to so many historymakers constantly. An example, for one, is Voltron’s Shiro being confirmed queer at the Season 7 Premiere two days ago. While there are details to nitpick about how this representation ultimately came to be if one really wanted to (I don’t, not quite yet, not for something as epoch-making as this), and while I acknowledge that Shiro is not reflective of my experience the way it is more so for many others (as in this beautiful article), it’s another win for the gays I’m more than happy to celebrate with warmth and maybe a little bit of dazed disbelief. Coupled with shows like She-Ra and The Dragon Prince revealing they have queer representation before they are even released, it feels like I’m witnessing a zeitgeist in its early stages.

Another example, one much closer to myself, is Rebecca Sugar coming out as non-binary. I’m as late to Steven Universe as I was to Voltron, only previously gravitating in moments where my brother brings certain songs to me, or in revolutionary scenes as in the Ruby/Sapphire proposal and wedding earlier this month, but when my article recommendations brought this headline to me, I was—for several long minutes—shaken. It took me hours to go through all the different variations on the same report without feeling peeled to skin and bones, and even longer to read they appear to be female, but they’re a little more representative of nonbinary women without feeling laid bare in the best way possible. That shit resonated like nothing else has ever resonated before. An unbelievable luxury, when since I was seventeen I hadn’t much allowed myself to think of “non-binary” as a label I can claim past confiding in a couple of friends that I was more comfortable with they/them pronouns. It was a word for androgynous white people with short haircuts and thrifted clothes and Kankens. It wasn’t for me, chubby and brown and occasionally okay with wearing obviously feminine clothes despite not always being comfortable with hearing she/her pronouns.

My previous entry on seeing myself represented onscreen already took apart my resignation about it—but hearing Rebecca Sugar articulate being non-binary, for their own self, but definitely, definitely, definitely for me, too, is the closest I’ve come to really seeing myself. Not the helplessness I felt watching Rosa Diaz’s coming-out arc knowing I’ll never have the courage to say Jake’s speech, not the desperation I feel for a potential bisexual Lance on Voltron even now, even with the likelihood of that lessened to impossibility, nor the sincere but fleeting moment of recognition when David Alleyne said; “I’m bi. Never said that out loud.” Rebecca Sugar’s statement was the first time I felt that something can be mine. And god, is this how non-minorities feel all the time?

I am so grateful to be this old at this time, despite all the crap going on in the world, witnessing history be changed in a way that would have a direct positive effect on the following generations. Grateful—but wistful as well. There is a part near the end of John Boyne’s The Heart’s Invisible Furies where its narrator, a gay man born in Ireland of the 50s, spends some rueful introspection ruminating on the fact that he was not born decades later—that he is not able to grow up in an Ireland of the 21st century, in an Ireland that has legalized same-sex marriage, that he had to grapple with parts of his identity purely because he was born in the time that he was, unmoored with nothing to guide him through understanding himself. I feel that way, just a little bit, about all the LGBTQ representation coming in now; wistful, because there are many things you can’t undo about the years I spent as unmoored about my identity as the narrator of Heart’s Invisible Furies was, yet grateful that there are generations of children that might just grow up never having to yearn for pieces of themselves in media the way my peers and I have and still do.

But more than either of these feelings, I want to bottle up the precious emotion Rebecca Sugar allowed me to feel and be able to turn it into something I can give someone. Many other someones. It’s reminiscent of how I feel about characters I think are representative of myself; comfort characters, I believe, is what kids nowadays call them. To be able to deliver that comfort, to be a source of good for someone else the way nothing quite was for me until this moment—I want that. I really, really want that. I want to keep creating work that means something. Something hopeful. Something that would encourage people to think that the world might not be entirely bad, that there are happy endings and visibility for us, even if the fight there is taking a while. Even if it is a fight. It’s a fight I want to be part of, a fight I want to dedicate my life and my work to. I’ll do whatever it takes / I’ll make a million mistakes / I’ll make the world safe and sound for you, as Dear Theodosia would put it.

Yet with that comes the fear of believing I might never get to the same point Rebecca Sugar and Noelle Stevenson have gotten to. I’m so, so afraid I’ll never be good enough to get there. Even more terrifying is that this is the first time I’ve felt my life have purpose—that is the first time I wanted my life to have significance, if only for the sake of giving someone else hope. To keep doing the kind of work that elicits those comments people leave on my fics? To live the rest of my life knowing that I made some people happy, that I helped, if even a little, to make the world safe and sound? I want that. I want to be good enough for that. I want to be significant, make something significant, to get to that point.

But was I not for all my life aware that this is a rarity? That most people spend their lives not being significant? That this is a fact? That to hope to be more is to set myself up for disappointment? That most people wait until their 30s for results, and to ask for anything at 21 is an impossibility I don’t have enough privilege nor talent to entertain?

That, truly, is what’s keeping me up at night: that I suddenly have all this want to be more in me, more than what I know to do with, but would never be able to shed the mediocrity of my life and my self. Though I have taken steps upon steps to act on being more, I might still be rejected, that all the manuscripts I put myself into may amount to nothing, that my failures will all just be reaffirmed. A scenario many others go through, a system I shouldn’t expect to be an exception to, but a reality that hits me nonetheless with quadruple the force when it’s dark and the demons are prowling around in my head.

Whenever I allow myself to dwell on the worst case scenarios, my ego and sense of joie de vivre as frustratingly fragile as they are, I often think I’d rather have stayed content being insignificant, stayed living on the fringes of my own life. I’m not a strong, gifted person. I’m only acceptably above average as a student. That’s all I know to do. My love for writing and the things I can do with it are the only exceptions. I don’t know what I’d do when even that ends up being fruitless and mediocre. Getting to 21-years-old already feels like it’s been such a journey. I don’t know what I’ll have left, without writing and with all the rest of my 20s floating on with the same lack of meaning that my teenage years passed by with instead.

I’m scared of wanting to be significant when all I know to trust is my own insignificance, is the point I’m trying to make with all this. It’s frightening.

on composite selves & representation

In an episode of Another Round, Lin Manuel-Miranda discusses the first time he saw himself represented in any form of media. At the time, I was passively listening, part of my attention on my numismatics research, but the same question kept returning to me in the two years it’s been since, catching me off-guard in increasingly frequent moments where, for once, I find myself desperate for Filipino representation in mainstream media as I’ve never allowed myself to be before.

Yesterday was one of those moments, the ache of familiarity as a friend and I watched a screening of Pan’s Labyrinth at TIFF so startling I couldn’t look away from even its most violent scenes. The question returned to me every time I heard Capitán and thought of Crispin and Basilio and my visit to Corregidor at ten-years-old—got me thinking, wondering, searching myself for an answer that only bothered me when I realized I don’t have one. Not really. I don’t think I’ve ever seen myself onscreen. I don’t think I believed at any point that I ever will. Pan’s Labyrinth planted a stronger sense of dismay at this than usual, watered by a second run of the consuming familiarity I felt watching Coco a month ago, except this time the sadness left behind is more frustrating than depressing. 

I spent the first half of my life growing up in Metro Manila, Philippines, raised partly by Benedictine nuns and partly by patriotic, conservative grandparents born in the tail-end of the Japanese occupation. My paternal grandfather, in particular, came of age in a military household, and made certain I did as well, divulging to my eight-year-old self his vivid memories of the turmoil that still plagued the country well up until he came of age. There was never a time I wasn’t aware of the hybrid this made me, technically, a product of more years of colonization than freedom. Filipino identity is a mish-mash of things, both physically and culturally, and though sometimes that’s a benefit for a small country tucked away in the Pacific, nowhere near as major as most other countries in Asia, it also makes it difficult to lock on an identity that doesn’t feel like it stems from someone else’s. The Philippines, after all, had been passed between many different cultures and rebirthed multiple times as a consequence—so many times that it’s difficult not to feel wistful of the kind of Philippines I might have grown up in if Ruy López de Villalobos had not found the archipelago in 1521. It wouldn’t even be called the Philippines. I wouldn’t even have two Spanish surnames from both parents. It wouldn’t be a country shaped by cultures that didn’t always start out our own but had come to replace and intermingle with everything that came before it. It wouldn’t be a country so entrenched in colonial mentality that even Filipinos have a hard time figuring out where our identities and values start becoming distinguishable from that of our colonizers or other societies that have experienced the same colonization. There’s no undoing that many years of influence, and no undoing my certainty that I’ll have to be content looking for representation in those small bits of similarity between my identity and other people’s that I’m lucky to even have. 

My first brush with a Filipino in media I was consuming was in Dante Basco's voice acting roles. If I wasn't already a staunch fan of Zuko to begin with, I probably would have been when I found out. It’s a Filipino custom to take pride of one Filipino’s achievement like it was the whole country’s—Lea Salonga, Manny Pacquiao, Dave Bautista, even Bruno Mars—and as a child I was no exception. That was my first taste with seeing a reflection of my ethnicity in what I perceived to be an international platform. As I got older, however, it became more and more obvious how rare it is to see Filipino actors portraying Filipinos. Miss Saigon, of which my parents speak highly of as one of their only fond memories with each other and which I realized as a teen is not a romantic story at all, features Lea Salonga playing a Vietnamese bargirl. Vanessa Hudgens, who was proudly touted to my entire grade in elementary school to be half-Filipina, played a Latina character in the High School Musical movies. 

The same half-echoes of myself flares up beyond just Filipino actors. Lady Bird would have been a movie for me, because it contained much of my own life experiences, only it’s centred around a white girl in suburban America. Pan’s Labyrinth vividly held similarities to a history I was taught but had allowed to drift back to a distant corner in my mind—a reminder of history reenactments I watched as a child, of the horrors I was taught about in Araling Panlipunan. Not the same history at all, or the same narrative, even, but familiar enough that my subconscious supplied and relied on the similarities. The same in Coco, in the familiarity of dia de los Muertos and calling relatives Tía and Tío. The same in depictions of Voltron’s Lance, a Cuban character to whom I have less than ninety percent in common but whose presumed longing for Varadero Beach and his big family is something that resonates so much with me it aches when I let it. Even the idea of Lance recording messages for his family in Spanish in order not to forget the language is painfully relatable, almost a direct connection between him and my own fear I’ll forget Tagalog if I stop Skyping with my grandparents. 

But all of this is only that—just an almost. Sometimes that’s enough, but it’s becoming exhausting, recently, having to find representation in things that are inherently not made for me. Still, I know somewhere in the back of my mind that this is probably as much as I’ll ever get: the brief snatches of familiar words when characters are speaking Spanish, the overlap between Asian cultures when it comes to parental behaviour and unspoken customs. It isn't really me, exactly, nor is it my life, but it's close enough. For now, it’s all I can realistically ask for. 

The latter half of my life has been grounded in Canadian identity, in the permanent disconnect between my own personal history and that of my other Filipino friends—who, while raised by parents no different from my own, cannot feel more disparate, more alienating to what I am. There’s a clear divide between my life before Canada and after, and I feel that the longer the gap between the dividing line and my present becomes, the more I’ll also feel disconnected from a history that I’ve been exposed to much longer than I have even lived in Canada. I love this country, and consider myself very much Canadian, but there is a part of me that will always ache for the brief glimpses of something else I get when I watch movies like Pan’s Labyrinth. One that none of my Filipino friends here in Canada would ever feel, the same way Tagalog would always be a language I can only speak around family and thereby a self I can only be in rare, specific occasions. And if my own Filipino-Canadian friends feel distant to me in terms of identity, if my first impression of Filipino-Canadian teens were that they were mocking of a culture they hadn’t grown up with but that I had, I can only assume that whatever representation I might someday get will only be relatable by half, by the same bits I rely on in non-Filipino reflections of myself. 

Yet a tiny corner in my mind wants to remain optimistic despite that. I might not get representation for myself, but visibility for Filipinos is starting to gain more and more traction in the media I consume, may that be the Marvel Cinematic Universe or the many Filipino voice actresses on Steven Universe. It’s impossible not to be cheered by that fact. None of these characters are reflective of who I am, sure, but their very visibility at least allows me to imagine myself in fields I hadn’t always thought of myself as belonging to. 

It isn’t exactly representation, but on more optimistic days it motivates me a little bit more to aim to carve out a space in a field of my own and from there—maybe, maybe, maybe, when I let myself give in to fantasizing—take representation into my own hands. 

heartbreak over space lions

⚠️ This contains spoilers for Season 6 of Voltron: Legendary Defender.

Hyperfixation is a newly learned term. 

I dismissed my tendency to default to them as a character trait—that I happen to be flaky at best, or that I am easily bored and even more easily attached. All these points are true, to be fair, but while I’ve drawn the correlation between when these hyperfixations tend to arrive and how my mental health is doing at the time, I never bothered taking a moment to really dissect what exactly about them makes them so reliable as coping mechanisms. 

It doesn’t really need dissection; the distraction a hyperfixation provides goes without saying. But it’s the redistribution of energy, too, I guess, that makes a hyperfixation such a relief to have even when it’s taking up time and attention that could be going into more productive things. No matter how fervent the sudden love might be, hyperfixations are still low-maintenance—they demand energy on my part in a way that doesn’t have to have real-life consequences, because they’re really only there for endorphin secretion’s sake. It’s fun, it’s simple, and if I churn through a trilogy of books in one night instead of sleeping, or learn a whole K-Pop group’s roster, discography and variety show history instead of memorizing Ancient Greek vocab lists, it’s fine. Welcome, even. No one ordered me to do it. There are no preordained rules to abide by, no criteria like there is for important real-life responsibilities. There’s no wrong way to become an avid lover, overnight, of something that makes me irrationally happy. (Or—there is, technically, but I’ll play the fool for these particular purposes.) 

It surprises me every time how much emotional energy I’m capable of putting into new, sudden interests despite knowing for a fact I’ll have moved on in a couple months’ time. There’s no rhyme or rhythm to what I end up latching onto whenever I have the time to do so, and I’ve long stopped trying to find a pattern in it. French-dubbed kids cartoons? Sure. Attempting to learn the violin just so I can play the rendition of “Country Roads” from Whisper of the Heart? Why the hell not.

Hyperfixations have become a cycle I know how to work around, because regardless of how much I resent myself for it when it’s all out of my system, having a phase to pour blood, sweat, tears and sleepless nights into is still better than not having anything at all. I’m constantly aware it’s temporary, sure, but it doesn’t make me any less happy to have something more concrete so I can stop pawing listlessly at whatever Netflix is recommending or staring down a leaning pile of books that I genuinely want to read but don’t have the attention span for. 

My entire life history can probably be summarized in bullet points by my many, many hyperfixations, all of which haunt me to this day in some capacity, and all of which demanded an amount of attention and devotion from me that I struggle to understand now. I barely have the energy to go about everything I need to on an hour-to-hour, day-to-day basis; that I find it in me to pore through Wiki page after Wiki page and absorb information with hunger and attachment that I have to remind myself to feel around most other things in my life is a mystery I can’t figure out. Especially after, when I’ve moved on and can look back at the period of time I spent on that phase and wonder what on Earth I saw in it that made me feel so emotionally overwhelmed to the point of absolute dedication. 

Still, I am hard-pressed to find a former phase that’s as deeply mood-altering as Voltron: Legendary Defender has been in the two weeks I’ve spent at its mercy. 

This show now has the power to drag me from peak good mood to an actual depressive episode, a full spectrum of emotions much more than what I am usually capable of on a good day. That’s the great thing about hyperfixations: they make you feel. And usually it’s all fun and games—until suddenly someone pulls bullshit they really should know better than to do, or, in this particular case, a new season disappoints you so completely and so badly that you spend the whole weekend curled up in bed close to heartbroken tears. 

It’s one thing to drift naturally out of a hyperfixation and let it fall away as that thing I used to be ready to die for but I kinda got over it. It’s another when it grabs you by the hair and makes you wish you’d chosen anything—literally anything—else than this thing that is now giving you more grief than it is distraction. 

Hyperbole, maybe, but not really by that much. 

It’s been a bleak, bleak spring, and even worse if my mental health is used as a gauge. I never do well with breaks and vacations; I can’t function without work and stress and the routine that sort of thing provides, and I don’t know what to do with myself when I have free time. I don’t want it. I vehemently don’t want quality bonding time with my thoughts and emotions. But trying to churn through books that I can’t read past the first half is not doing wonders in terms of distraction, and really, it was inevitable that I would have fallen into something before the first day of summer even arrived. 

Voltron, though, I did not expect. I tried the first season back in 2016, jumping onto the pop culture train that occasionally passes you by when you have a Tumblr account, however passively you maintain it. I had no clear memories of its older iterations to compare it to, but I’m always game for people piloting giant robots. While I didn’t dislike it, though, it didn’t pull me in the way I wanted it to. There was vague affection for it, as well as hope that I would tune in again for the following seasons if only because it shared staff members with the Avatar series teams, but it wasn’t enough for me to be attached. Not even the unprecedented rise to fame of a potential pairing on the show appealed to me, and I was content to check the show off one of my catch-up lists, à la Captain America: Winter Soldier, and continue on to the next podcast that people told me I needed to enlighten myself about. 

Two years later and here I am, two months into my break from school, chin-deep in Voltron. There’s a way to track how I got here, I’m sure, but mostly I’m upset with myself for choosing this show, of all things, to imprint on. I spent the first week of June binge-watching Seasons 2 to 5, caught myself up with the general state of things in the fandom without interacting with it, and in the days leading up to the trailer drop, I had read countless prediction posts, churned through potential spoilers from the show’s voice actors, and even marathon-watched Fictional Crystals. My trust in these collective expectations, I blame most, because I’m certain that Voltron reeled me in through a violently intense attachment to Lance (the only character that left a mark on me from Season 1, and whom, after catching myself up, I now care about more than any other character, more than my own self, and possibly even more than the very show) and kept me hooked where I was with the promise of a character arc for him. Hell, one early review claimed Lance stans would cry from his arc this season. I believed it. Like the rookie dumbass that I am. 

By June 13, two days before the new season arrived, I was a bundle of stress and excitement and undying love for Lance, for once thankful for my insomnia if only since it meant that staying up until 3 A.M. EST would be no trouble. 

So I did. Parked myself in front of my TV and, to my great mistake, hoped for the best.

Any Voltron stan that has been here longer than me—that is to say, a good majority of its audience, who’s been chained to this show since 2016 sometimes against their own rational will—would say they’re not surprised. People were cynical, skeptical, and I should have taken that as my sign. But I’m new here, and the profound disappointment I felt about Voltron's Season 6 took me completely by surprise. I’m new to the anger and resentment that Voltron fans seem to take with resignation, having experienced it before and to a degree expected it again this time. I didn’t. I was so excited for the new season. Then it took my heart, sent it free-floating out of a spaceship, and watched on as it boiled and contracted and fizzled in the heat of the sun in space.

Yeah, it’s a goddamn show. I don’t really need to take it this personally if it's just hurting me to do so. I’m well aware. The intense betrayal surprised me precisely because of how intense it was. I didn’t even realize I was expecting so much from this show, relying on it so blindly to maybe improve my emotional state, until they didn’t pull through where I needed them to. 

I was so hurt. It’s so ridiculous it should be hilarious.

Let it be said that I have a lot of respect for the labour that goes into the show—the music is wonderful, the voice-acting even more musical, and the animation is heart-stoppingly stellar in Season 6, which deserves a rewatch when I am hopefully less bitter about where it went wrong. But whether or not I appreciate its writing is another story. It’s not airtight. It would be naive in itself to even expect the quality of writing that many Voltron fan analyses suppose the show will deliver on. It leaves multiple narratives hanging, goes about character arcs and plot direction like they’d been decided by a roulette wheel, and half the time the voice actors seem to know the characters better than the people writing them. It’s made me bitter on more than one occasion—mostly because the show that the Voltron staff thinks it’s making sounds so at odds with what the audience has been having to deal with for six seasons now that you have to wonder whether they even watch their own finished product. 

(I know I’m being uncharitable, and it’s conceited to even think I can do a better job in their shoes; however, it’s difficult to excuse this show for its mistakes when Avatar: The Last Airbender has succeeded on every single beat Voltron has failed on. It’s even more difficult to digest the producers claiming it’s hard to juggle an ensemble cast when that’s exactly what A:TLA did—seamlessly, too, from secondary and tertiary characters to both full-time and part-time villains. And it’s like salt to the already irritated wound when the same producers, while talking about Season 6’s villain in an interview, reference narrative arcs of two of my favourite characters from A:TLA. It had me in a laughing fit for two long, incredulous minutes. The thought of Lotor even being written in a way close to Zuko and Azula sounded like a poorly-worded punchline.) 

All this considered, I should have known better. Or at least I should have expected nothing. 

I should have, but things got rather personal this time around. 

When you’re a brown bisexual person primed to expect something good for the brown, potentially-bisexual-if-God-is-still-up-there character after whole seasons of unfair treatment, and then there’s no delivery on that promise—at that point, it kind of stops feeling like a side-hustle. 

At that point, it stops being exclusively about escapism. 

At that point, you do kind of have to take it straight to heart. 

The thing about high-profile fandoms like Voltron’s is that it’s so easy for outsiders to assume that all the attachment is fuelled by fangirling hysteria and not more personal motivations. I worry the producers and voice actors believe that the things fans demand of the show are motivated by superficial purpose—indiscriminate m/m shipping frenzy, fetishization, or whatever other thing that comes part and parcel with any mainstream fandom. It’s easy to assume that, in the same vein that fandom as a word comes with the connotation of shallow, girlish-the-way-misogynists-mean-it-when-they-say-girlish devotion, and because that side to fandom does exist more prominently. People don’t want to take it seriously because it’s easier to compact everything into the same easily dismissed, easily laughed-at scenarios, and because it’s very rare that someone who hasn’t been part of a fandom comprehends its nuances the way that anyone who has a dark fandom past can do intuitively. The bigger the fandom, as in Voltron’s case, the bigger the chances that it has its unfortunate moments spurred on by a quarter that doesn’t speak for the whole group, and the bigger the likelihood that it’s viewed through that unfortunate lens without regard for the fans that are attached for more critical reasons. 

I can’t speak for the entire Voltron community, but I’ve only been here for two weeks, sitting on the outskirts, and I already know that it would be doing its audience a great disservice to assume that its devotion is anything remotely shallow. 

I can speak for myself, however, and I know the bare truth is that I imprinted on Lance because he feels representative of who I am, if only by half, and sometimes you have to take the scraps you’re able to get. But that sort of desperation doesn’t mean it won’t sting, when you have to watch a character you’re cheering on for all these personal reasons be excessively used for comic relief to the point where it's no longer even half-funny and without the pay-off A:TLA at least gave with their own comic relief character—and then be sidelined into a confusing love triangle after seasons-long isolation. It’s hard not to take that whiplash personally, temporary phase or not, even more so when the previous seasons set him up for what would have been catharsis for an overdue character-driven arc, and only to strip him down into the version of Lance we see in Season 6. 

It might be for the sake of pathos; in that case, then, the Voltron team’s idea of well-written heartbreak and conflict isn’t necessarily something I agree with. It could also be that this is all a setup for a better future for Lance’s character, at which point I will happily eat shit as karma for not being patient. But I doubt it. There’s no completely salvaging characterization when it’s the way it is right now given the ratio of how many episodes have passed and how many are left. Sure, A:TLA’s Sokka didn’t get the chance to truly shine in a solo episode until the last season of the show, but Sokka also had his own fulfilled mini-arcs since Book 1 that paved the way for the Sokka we see in Book 3. I fail to see that same stable foundation with Lance from the past six seasons. Constant interaction with the rest of the cast and screen-time by virtue of that doesn't always mean that character is given personal characterization to work with. And every time you think roots have been planted, the subsequent season proves you wrong in that it forgets what it established in the previous episodes. (Case in point: Lance seemingly being instrumental to the fake Shiro storyline after Season 5, only for absolutely nothing to come out of it, and only for Voltron to commit what is, to me, an even bigger blunder in using that situation to get tears out of Lance in the Season 6 finale. At that point in the season, it just feels a little lackadaisical. Or like an unwanted kick in the balls after a season of nothing.) 

Voltron had the chance to subvert something with Lance. What’s most upsetting is that it seemed to take steps towards that, knowing full well what it was doing, and ultimately still didn’t take that chance. 

It’s unfair, probably, to expect so much from Voltron. And I know it’s not always the producers that’s behind every writing choice, nor that it’s done the way it is with deliberate negligence or malintent. But that’s the issue. These feelings are not exclusive to me. There are many more people out there who have done this routine a lot more times before—with Hunk, too, with Shiro, with Allura, with the possibility of Keith-and-Lance as endgame. If its audience’s attachment was superficial, Voltron’s fans wouldn’t be this critical, wouldn’t hold the show to the standards that it does. If it was, people wouldn’t still be here, six seasons in, swinging between optimism and pessimism, torn between dropping the show and still believing in it despite disappointment after disappointment. If people didn’t need to believe in Voltron, either, they wouldn’t keep expecting their happy ending from it, dissecting interviews and hunting design parallels and writing scene analysis posts just to keep fuelling their hope that maybe this show would still come through for them. 

And they should hold it to high standards, especially in this climate, especially when children’s shows no longer have excuses not to include LGBTQ representation, especially when the severity of queerbaiting as a crime has not aged well, and especially when characters like Lance, Hunk, Allura and Shiro, who all have one important, glaring thing in common, deserve to be treated with a lot more delicacy than what a contemporary show has bothered to give them. It’s either they’re thrown into the metaphorical grinder, narrative-wise, and then not given what they’re due after all that—or they're given the barest minimum in hopes that would be enough to appease the complaints. It frequently isn't. 

Sure, you can argue that these have nothing to do with them being non-white characters, that even a white character would have gone through the same narrative. To a degree, I can believe that. It’s just hard not to think this way when there are at least three other ways of going about the narratives that these characters received that don’t involve sacrificing their characterization. And sure, you can also argue that it’s a kids’ show. They don’t have to take it that seriously. Yet this is the same show that attempts to tackle themes involving poorly veiled race relations, a colonizing empire, and, in this last season, even genocide. I’m sure the children can handle actually well-written character narratives they can see themselves in. 

So let Shiro rest and recover from all that built-up PTSD. He’s been dead for several seasons, and had gone through worse before that. Give Hunk more than a brief chance at the spotlight. The Holts got multiple seasons. Take advantage of all the wonderful things Allura is instead of constantly taking things from her or forcing her into storylines that don’t do her individual characterization a favour. Even Keith would benefit from less screen-time if that means he'll stop having to go through plotlines that don't help someone with his character history. Further isolating the boy who lost a father and never knew his mother until Season 5—then having him fight his brother—is just a bit overkill when there are five other paladins. Not to mention forcing a leadership arc that has not and probably won't ever make sense with the abrupt execution it received and the degree of just-don't-question-it-and-move-on required. Angst and conflict for the sake of shock value rarely equals a good narrative, character-driven or not. There are probably more creative ways to move both plot and character arcs forward. And if you’re not going to give Lance a concrete arc focused around him, maybe stop acting you will and/or already have. Contrary to what you might believe, you’re dragging around more than just blind fangirling stans with nothing else to do—you’re baiting people who genuinely want to see a Cuban boy have a complete, fulfilling arc that treats his insecurities and strengths as a character with grace, maybe be confirmed bisexual somewhere along the way, and maybe, maybe, maybe, end the series in a loving, well-established relationship. 

Not that I know what I'm talking about, I guess. I'd say it's maybe not that deep, but it’s the very fact that it’s not that deep to some people that’s also part of the problem. The producers don’t get to say that Lance is Cuban and then make that part of his identity only relevant for a romance plotline. They don’t get to say that it’s not a relevant aspect of who Lance is, when for so many people, representation is necessary exactly because we want to see aspects of our identity reflected in characters we love. Yeah, Lance being Cuban isn’t all of him, but it is most definitely not an inessential part of his identity either. The same way that the identity traits that TV shows, novels and movies portray when representation is done right is not simple and inessential—well-done representation goes a long, long way, and much, much farther back down to the bottom when butchered. 

It stops being about the show and the escapism it provides as a hyperfixation when a show toys with things that shouldn’t be toyed with. It stops being the shallow thing people want to believe it is when it reaches this level of personal, this level of impactful. There’s a reason people were genuinely upset about Lance’s treatment in Season 6, and by extension, Allura’s. That’s not superficiality. That’s betrayal you can expect in the real world, but want to believe you don’t have to put up with from this thing you love and devote yourself to. 

As much as Voltron is capable of disappointing, people do need it. People need it to give them the happy ever after they expect. No one else is going to. Except at this point it might be too late.

Those that have come this far with the show and are just waiting for the inevitable final season to tell them whether or not the past two years have been worth all the stress and speculation and fear and anger—they probably don’t want to be here anymore, either. I’ve been here mere weeks and I don’t want to be in this uncertain, dread-filled limbo. Still, you want to believe in this show, against all rational thought. You want to believe this can at least give you what you’re looking for. You’d much rather be positive about #klance being canon king than negative, despite what evidence or lack thereof there might be. You want, more than anything, for this show to prove you wrong about Lance and LGBTQ rep and deliver something good with its last few seasons. You want it to be worth it, even when you don’t believe that it is. You’re stuck here, simultaneously loving and hating a show that’s the only thing standing between you and a hyperfixation-less, depression-filled existence.

Not to be dramatic.

I know that Voltron has saved my summer from being a void of meaningless routine. For that, I owe a lot to it. It’s odd to feel this intensely, even when I know my hyperfixations are always intense for the two months it’s around. Maybe I’m going to laugh at myself when I’ve moved on from Voltron and look back at this. Maybe I'll even look at this next week, once I'm past this hysterical haze of dramatic distress, and take it back. Maybe.

That still won't make my complaints any less bona fide, though, methinks. But god, no one wants me to be proven wrong about all of this more than I do. Please, Voltron. Make me eat shit.

somewhere in central italy, 2018

For all that I thought I was prepared for my trip to the Italian countryside, I did not expect the homesickness that hit me in the form of a panic attack at 2 A.M. Fatigued from a disaster of a first day in Italy—lost luggage, heat too many notches higher than the spring we left behind in Canada, barely coherent conversations in any languages, botched attempts at getting to where we were staying—somehow I still woke up with my heart racing and the aching need to go home nestled so deeply in me.

I am in many ways superstitious, and when bad omens like these present themselves, it is hard for me to shake them off. The panic may have been a delayed product of unreleased stress from the whole day, or may have been the result of exhaustion I can’t even sleep off because insomnia proved itself insurmountable even in the fight against jetlag. Either way, it was hard to contemplate it like that when it’s two in the morning and I’m lying on a top bunk in a dark room with seven other sleeping bodies, my heart racing and my only thought a red alert flashing over and over in my head.

But Italy so far has been so lovely. Beautiful architecture every which way you look, beautiful roads if alarming in the way of crossing them, beautiful skies. Not even looking so obviously like a tourist has dampened my enthusiasm just by breathing the Roman air. It’s unbelievable how these are places people live in and around, that these places I study and long for while learning about their histories and their structures are places that are just there for locals. The way that High Park is just there for me while in Toronto. A young woman was casually highlighting a textbook while sitting cross-legged at Terme di Diocleziano; I was seized with so much confusion and envy and awe all at once. What a life, woman, goddamn. I had to take every other second to calm myself while a friend tried to dissect the Latin on the grave markers lined up before us. (Apparently, the emperor Nero was very fond of his German bodyguards.)

Rieti is also lovely. I wish it hadn’t been such a journey to get from Fiumicino Airport to Castel Sant’Angelo, and I wish it hadn’t taken failures at renting a car, fearing for our lives as our bus driver drove in fourth gear in the dark, and far too many Euros that burned holes into my Canadian pocket, but the place where we are is truly, truly lovely. It fulfills the part of me that pretentiously longs for the pastoral—the part that highkey gets a boner for the idea of living in the countryside where it’s quiet and calm and nothing ever happens. À la Only Yesterday. Admittedly, this image has been tainted since seeing God’s Own Country, but it’s a possible future I still very much cherish.

Being here has made me second-guess it a little bit, though. I’m frustrated to realize how much of a stereotypical Gen Z kid I am—unable to live without wi-fi, apparently, yet still determined to stay on my phone and not socialize. Unable to live so far from anything remotely resembling a village. That might also be the social anxiety talking, but I have never been so content in a place yet so unhappy, never been so awed by a landscape yet so eager to be away from it. I’m being spoiled, I know, and it isn’t all that bad, but coupled with homesickness and sleep I still haven’t managed to win back, it’s a lot to process when all there is to stare at as I process are rollicking hills and rollicking hills and… rollicking hills. Sheep visited today, at least. And the locals come up to pick asparagus near the excavation site.

But oh, is the food wonderful. I had my first plate of risotto, and had my first meal stuffed full of glass of vino after glass of vino, and piece of homemade bread after piece of homemade bread. Unfortunately, I am yet to gather the courage to exercise my one school year and one Babbel subscription’s worth of Italian past a meek Grazie to the nice lady that ran the restaurant that fed us for dinner.

Still, it is its own thrill to be in such a new environment. Despite everything, I at least feel like I’ve taken the parts of Call Me By Your Name that I actually did like: the cinnamon tography of the beautiful landscape, the old cottage-like buildings, the bustle of the Italian locals, the small town life. Fitting, I think, because for all that my relationship with the film is complicated at best, it did successfully convince me to sign up for this trip just by mentioning Hadrian’s name once. I know it was just there for Maximum Gay, in the same way Matt Damon’s Tom Ripley used a Hadrian bust to murder someone because gay—but still. That’s how I’m trying to be. Though less grad student seduction and peach-fucking, more God’s Own Country.

Without the endless sheep births. Hopefully.

on turning twenty-one

“If you're going to be stuck in one age forever,” my Psychology teacher in high school asked my class back in senior year, “what age would you pick?”

I was sitting at the front of the class and was the first to be asked for my answer. Impulsively, I picked 21.

I turned 21 yesterday. Amidst so many other things I wanted and needed to do this week, I hadn’t expected it to be anything special. It wasn’t. But what I hadn’t expected was this sadness that had been building and building since blowing out the candles on the birthday cake—deep and inexplicable, heavy, the kind that gnaws.

When I was a senior in high school, I suppose, I thought I’d have a better idea of who and what I wanted to be by the time I was 21. I remember telling my teacher that I thought 21 was the age you got your first taste of freedom, and if not that, a semblance of independence that you yourself had built with experience, with some lesson learned from the mistakes that they tell you are no big deal when you’re teenagers. In some ways, university has filled out some of the criteria for me; I’m a very different person now than I was back then, and I like to think it’s a good kind of different. I’m more honest, more open than I was back then, more inclined to feel like this self is my self. University has done me good, I think, even when most of the time I don’t want to believe it for fear that I’ll ruin it.

Yet to reach 21 and still feel lost, to be so aware that most of the things people tell me I should be proud about still have so much potential to be the wrong choices, to become things I would regret farther down the line—it isn’t at all what I imagined three years ago.

I self-published a novel earlier this week. It’s a very terrifying thing, to send your work out there. Equal balance between being scared that no one would read it and hoping that indeed no one would. I’m trying not to think about it. But there’s a lot of processing required to come to terms with the sobering reality that you don’t just write and people would magically read it. That’s not how the publishing industry works. Writing fic has spoiled me on that regard, gave me the idea that people would find my work eventually, even when I can’t find the voice to market and advertise my own work with the initiative and confidence that other writers do. But I know I poured all I could into Carr—into his personality, into his dreams, his insecurities, into this boy so different yet so similar to me. And I published a novel at 20. It’s what I planned, what I wanted. Now I want to believe it’s enough.

Why, though? Why 20? I know logically that 21 isn’t old. I know I shouldn’t be in a hurry. But I am. So many of people rising to the forefront of their respective fields are around my age, some even younger, and though I never thought myself the type to be made insecure by things like this, it does get me wondering if I’d missed a shot I should have taken, if somewhere in the past few years, I’d made the wrong choice—if earlier this week, in publishing CARR, I made the wrong choice—and the next decade would pass without me ever getting the chance to get my life on track where I wouldn’t feel sadder and sadder each year, even more directionless than I was graduating at 18.

But I’m not very happy with my life. I’m not very happy with myself. Maybe age has nothing to do with it at all. Maybe it’s just the depression devils settling back since the school year ended and they finally have my head all to themselves. Or maybe it’s that I feel, more than a little, like I’m disappointing my high school senior year self. I was so confident of how I would be at 21, that by now, I would have better answers. And while I do, while so much has changed since, while I keep picking myself back up and going with the wave every time life tosses me somewhere I didn’t see coming, I don’t think these answers are any better than the questions I had at 18. I’m sorry, then, 18-year-old me, that I couldn’t be better for you. That I rang in another year so, so sad, so, so lost, so, so eager to be done with this life. I’m sorry I haven’t worked harder to bring you to the age you thought would find you happier, prouder, less lonely, less detached. I’m sorry that it probably seems I get worse every year. I’m sorry we keep getting older, and yet never any better.

Or maybe it’s because I watched Hunt for the Wilderpeople yesterday, and Ricky’s Birthday Song is both the sweetest and saddest thing I’ve ever had to listen to on a birthday.

Either way, 18-year-old me, I at least have one piece of good news: I’m headed to Italy in two days. Years and years of wishing and I still can’t believe it’s finally happening. Hopefully, this trip would be there to be cherished and remembered, if not much else in the past three years.