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 kpop 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, borderline worshipful awe, if only because the fact that we are the same age and have almost the same habits allow me to empathize with him as well as 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.

  • My mother and I rang in the new year with Kramer vs. Kramer, because nothing says new year than 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

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

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.