Welcome to arts, ink.

Welcome to arts, ink., where our student columnists are given a forum to write about the arts and cultural thoughts that are on their minds. If you’re a U-M student interested in becoming a regular blogger, there may be a position available to get paid for your blogs. We review applications and hire new bloggers twice a year, in September and January. Read more about Blogging Opportunities here!
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To Read

Oh, if only I could read a person as easily as a book. If only their personalities were as solid as black typed letters and their intentions as clear as a blank white sheet. If only they didn’t shift so, back and forth, until you wonder if you are the one whipping back and forth. If only you could re-read a situation until you found its secret meanings, instead of having to endure endless fleeting conversations that never quite satisfy. It is not as if I wouldn’t be fair. I would let people read me too. I would allow peruse freely through my past, flipping through the chapters of youth and adolescence and adulthood. There would no need to explain the insecurities that come out as barbed sarcasm, no need to apologize for the absent-minded gap in the conversation when I got distracted by another passing thought. Oh, if only, like a book, we could understand and be understood.

I’m Growing Skeptical of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel…

[Warning: Spoilers ahead. Please read only if you’re familiar with the show– I don’t want to ruin it for anyone!]

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From the very first episode of Amazon’s The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel starring Rachel Brosnahan, I was utterly, breathlessly hooked. From the cinematography to the flouncy ‘50s costume design to the vibrant pastels to the gorgeous New York landscapes– from the premise of a high-spirited, hilarious young mom who finds herself suddenly divorced by her flighty jerk of a husband, to her assent into New York’s comedy scene as a woman– from her caustically funny manager to her down-to-earth father and her new season 2 boyfriend– the jokes, the conversation, the writing– everything about this TV show, at first glance, is extremely well done. I loved it, and still do. But Season 2 made me suddenly weary of all its flaws. I found out, moreover, that the show is written by Amy Sherman-Palladino, of Gilmore Girls fame. From where Season 2 of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel ended, knowing the poor large-scale writing for Gilmore Girls, and after deconstructing the subtly problematic premises of Midge’s character, I’ve come to seriously fear for the fate of the rest of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.

The last episode of Season 2 ended with Midge getting a call from a famous singer asking her to tour with him in Europe for six months. This is big break she’s been waiting for a year now since she’d seriously started doing comedy. However, by the end of the episode and season, she realizes that her focus on her career necessarily means she’ll lose her domestic family life. The last minute of the series shows Midge going back to her ex-husband to spend only one night with someone who she knows loves her. Theoretically, a woman being torn between domestic, conventional life and pursuing a career in comedy in the fifties could be a very compelling and believable conflict, especially in the midst of a divorce– but this really isn’t the case for Midge. If there’s anything that Susie Meyerson reminds us of over and over again, it’s that Midge is extremely well off and has multiple support systems. She doesn’t really need to choose between her career and her family– she has parents and a maid at home who basically provide totally free child care and housing, she has an ex-husband who is still gaga over her and willing to beat up any blundering male comic who gets in her way, a boyfriend who– on top of being an accomplished surgeon and owning a mansion of a New York apartment– is head over heels for Midge and wants her to live out her dreams of being a comedian, she has a manager who works tirelessly to book her in the best gigs in and out of New York– and yet– you really expect me, an intelligent audience member, to believe that Midge has to choose between her career and the rest of her life? It’s bullshit.

And… this is where I remember that the show was written by Amy Sherman-Palladino. She’s a fantastic writer and director, always seamlessly building engaging and funny dialogue, directing gorgeous scenes and settings. It’s all fun to watch episode to episode. But her work breaks down upon closer inspection, and, if there’s anything I know from watching Gilmore Girls, Palladino’s writing meanders and gets lost somewhere in the middle of the series, and I’m worried this will also be the fate of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. Both series center around a powerful female character archetype– like smart, good-natured, and hard-working Rory Gilmore and lively, stunning, hilarious Miriam Maisel– who have huge networks of support, wealth, and privilege, and whose only downfall, apparently, is being a woman. These characters don’t seem to have a lot of flaws, they’re perfectly poised. In short, it’s just a fantasy that it becomes a little hard to believe at some point. Emily Nussbaum in an article called “Hello, Gorgeous!” for The New Yorker sums it up perfectly: “The verbal anachronisms (“totally”), the sitcom clams (“Good talk!”), the cloying Disneyfication of Midge’s Jewish family…. Her marvellousness comes from the fact that she’s immune, a self-adoring alpha whose routines feel like feminist TED talks, with some “fucks” thrown in.”

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, is, like Gilmore Girls, a sweeping, glittering fantasy of a powerful and ambitious young woman storming the world that Americans, and especially American women, seem to want to right now. It’s not a bad fantasy– in fact, it’s quite good and engaging and hilarious, a distraction from exhausting dystopias like The Handmaid’s Tale. But like all fantasies, it’s not an accurate reflection of sexism or the stakes of chasing a reckless dream. I’ll definitely keep watching the show– but not without a grain of salt.

The Myth of the Model Minority

Recently I have embarked on a new art project on how my identity has been shaped and how I am seen by others. As an Asian American, I sometimes feel out of place–I was born in the United States and can barely speak my native language, so does that really make me Asian? On the other hand, my racial identity is something impervious to social forces–I am and will always be Asian American. Specifically, to inform my project, I recall things people have said to me or even things that my parents have said to me.

One common stereotype is the myth of the model minority. Asians are often portrayed as nerdy, awkward, and high-achieving; as an extreme example, they might spend all their free time when not studying to be a doctor playing the piano or the violin. Seemingly, they are an example to others of how the American Dream can be attained through hard work. While some people, Asian or not, are able to attain success and wealth by diligent work, which is impressive and quite amazing, the model minority stereotype is problematic and dangerous.

Stereotypes are considered harmful, even if they seem to depict a certain group in a favorable light. Yet the model minority myth popularized in media categorizes an entire racial group into one box. Despite the many different identities people carry, being Asian immediately labels you. It erases other significant facets of one’s identity. This is especially deleterious to mental health. When a person of a specific group is expected to perform to a certain level, it puts a great amount of pressure on them, as if they are representing the entire group despite being just one person with intersectional identities. That stress can heavily contribute to anxiety and depression among a host of other mental illnesses, and is considered burdensome for a race that is always portrayed as quiet and never needing to speak up. Beyond surface level, the stereotype of the model minority can be very damaging in the long run.

The bottom line is, not all Asian Americans fit into this tiny constructed mold. Some do, and that’s okay. It’s important to consider the big picture and remember that everyone is unique.

Indoor Home Garden

Winter in the midwest is the time for everyone to stay inside and wait until April before venturing outside, it’s too cold to go outside and play.  In the southern hemisphere winter is the time for people to be outside and enjoy the nice weather. Over winter break I was lucky enough to take a 10 day trip to Ecuador and learn all about food sustainability.  The winter season for them is when they start to plant their crops so that they will grow nice and large for picking season in the late summer.

This got me thinking about planting in the midwest in the winter.  It is too cold to go outside and enjoy gardening, but it is the perfect time to start a small indoor garden of your own.  Some very good indoor plants that are hard to kill are string of pearls, succulents, and prayer plant. Succulents are already very popular and famous for not needing much attention, but these other plants are also easy to keep alive and they will add some color to your room/house.

Other plants are nice to have in your home because they have a purpose.  Some purify the air, some can calm you down. The Peace Lily and Snake plant are great for purifying the air, and they  only need minimum light to keep alive, which is great for winter months when there isn’t much sunlight. Other plants like aloe and lavender are great to have to calm down and help you sleep.

The last type of plants that are great to have indoors all year round are edible plants.  Some herbs that are easy to grow, and can be useful very often are basil, thyme, and parsley.  These plants are easy to grow, and will be very useful when cooking. Another good plant to grow is mint, but that is a little harder to grow inside.

While winter is a time to stay inside, it doesn’t have to be the time to stop gardening.  These are just some of the easiest indoor plants to grow, but there are almost unlimited options to start growing an indoor home garden.

Dark Days in the Music School

*Content Warning: Sexual assault, abuse by an authority figure*

On December 10th, 2018, the Michigan Daily published an article about a violin professor at U-M who had been accused of sexual abuse and misconduct by many of his former violin students. Stephen Shipps had been employed by the University of Michigan since 1989, served as the dean for academic affairs from 2002-2007, and was the chair of the string department at until December 7th, 2018. I won’t go into the details of the abuse allegations– you can read everything in the Daily article here. What I want to talk about today is the effect of this situation on current students at SMTD, as well as the state of sexual abuse in the world of classical music.

As soon as I woke up on that Monday morning, I opened my phone up to Facebook and the first thing on my newsfeed was the article titled “Former students bring 40 years of misconduct allegations by SMTD professor.” I opened the article immediately, unsure of what to expect. As far as I knew, there were no rumors going around school about Shipps. I had no personal contact with him because I am a viola student, and he was a private violin teacher. I went to a summer camp two years ago and he was teaching there, so occasionally I would see him teach a master class or a quartet coaching, but we never spoke to eachother. After reading the article, I shared it on my own Facebook, and more people shared it from my post. Soon, it was all over my newsfeed, along with words of anger, sadness, and confusion from my fellow classmates at SMTD.

All day, thoughts of helplessness and anger swirled around in my head. In the past year, many famous male musicians have been fired from their jobs over sexual abuse allegations. If a person is talented, while their artistic achievements are celebrated, their personal actions are swept under the rug. There’s this idea that what they do in their personal life does not matter because what actually matters to the institutions which employ them is their musical ability. It’s their own artistic talent that allows abusers to disguise their actions with some higher artistic purpose. To some young music students or professionals, the extra “attention” they might be receiving from their private teacher makes them feel special or chosen. They might believe that by doing something inappropriate for their teacher, they could get ahead in the industry. Succeeding in music is devastatingly challenging. As a young person, you look to your private teacher for guidance on everything, from how to play the instrument to where to pursue a job. At the very least, you spend an hour alone with them once a week in a private lesson. It’s a vulnerable space where students must feel the freedom to both fail and succeed. For abusers, it is an ideal situation: alone time with an impressionable person behind a closed door.

The night after the article was published, I walked into my orchestra rehearsal and saw one of Shipps’ students sobbing into my conductor’s arms. I don’t know her story, but immediately I started to think about all of his students, my colleagues, seeing that article about their teacher on their Facebook feeds. This week at school, they will be walking into a new studio with a new violin teacher. I can’t even begin to understand the complexity of the situation for them. In the past year I have seen so many #MeToo stories online, as we all have, and my first instinct is always to support the survivor and condemn the abuser. It is still my first instinct. But when this happened in my own community, I could also see all the complicated dimensions to the story. While he deserves to be punished for his crimes, the public nature of the article and widespread sharing on social media hurts the people who cared for him. It hurts his students, my colleagues. But on the other hand, publicizing these tragic stories is necessary if we want to create a real change in the music industry. It doesn’t matter how talented someone is if they’re a creep. Abuse should not be tolerated under any circumstances. It seems that the only way to bust these men who benefit from the patriarchal, oppressive chaos of classical music is through good journalism and social media. Thank you, Michigan Daily, for telling us the truth. 

Click here if you want to read more about the #MeToo movement in classical music. 

Multitudes in Minutes

Have you ever listen to songs and think “this song has really great lyrics” or better yet, “this song contains multitudes in 3 minutes”. So much is meant within a matter of minutes. Every stanza, every phrase of it can be savored in moments you hear it. Literally music for your ears.

Yet songs too resemble poems, a little too much that it is unclear as to which came first and which copied from another.  Song lyrics are strikingly similar to poems because of the same structure they use. Take for example a chorus from the song Jupiter by Sleeping At Last:

Make my messes matter

Make this chaos count

Let every little fracture in me

Shatter out loud

The chorus conveys so much using very little.  The lyrics are presented in a similar way poems are.  Maybe lyrics are poems written down, woven into the fabrics of melody. I’m unsure if this revelation is new but this parallel between song lyrics and poems is a recent fresh realization for me.

Take another song, Clean by Taylor Swift:

Ten months sober, I must admit

Just because you’re clean don’t mean you don’t miss it

Ten months older I won’t give in

Now that I’m clean I’m never gonna risk it

Rain came pouring down when I was drowning

That’s when I could finally breathe

And by morning, gone was any trace of you, I think I am finally clean

This song holds a double meaning, one for her fans and one for Taylor Swift. Taylor writes this song in light of her journey to move on from her past relationship. She realizes that she has been in the same city as her former boyfriend and has not thought about him once. When she does think about him, she genuinely hopes he is doing okay, a sign that she has moved on to a certain extent. She also writes this song sort of about trying to move on from a struggle in life.

Meanwhile, some of her fans take this song as literally being ‘clean’ from mental illness, addiction and abuse. Although Taylor Swift did not intend the song to reflect that, she accepted the fandom-wide meaning once she heard about it.

So much is said within a song. So much can be said in so little. The cliché saying “less is more” rings true here. We don’t really need to convey a lot using more words, more pictures. More often that not, a simple representation, a simple symbol is enough, concise to say so much of what we mean.