Because of P’ansori: Thoughts from Places

So because I don’t really know how to introduce this blog post, I’m just going to launch into my story..

If you’re like me, you didn’t even know p’ansori existed until last semester, and you definitely couldn’t say what it was if someone asked you. But because I saw it in a movie a couple of months ago, I kind of knew what p’ansori is. It’s a traditional folk music style originating in Korea, and it’s definitely performance art – the performance is everything in p’ansori. Typically, there’s one drummer with his drum, and one performer, either a man or a woman, singing a song that tells a story. Easily the most famous p’ansori song is the story of Chunhyang, and there is an excellent film made by Im Kwon Taek based on this p’ansori, available to watch for free on YouTube if you’re interested.

But until this semester, when I signed up for P’ansori: Text and Performance, I don’t think I really knew what p’ansori really is. I definitely didn’t know what I was in for, thinking that the class would cover the historical and cultural background of p’ansori and that we’d watch a couple of movies and filmed versions of performances. No, I knew I was wrong when on the first day of class Professor Park pulled out her own drum and started teaching us the first sori (song), Era Mansu.

But right now I’m sitting in a hotel bed in Columbus, Ohio, and I can tell you that I would have never guessed I’d be sitting here writing a blog post about a class I took to finish my Asian Studies minor. And I can tell you that I love p’ansori.

Or maybe it isn’t the p’ansori that I love. True, I didn’t love it at first, when I watched Im Kwon Taek’s other movie, Seopyeonje. I thought it sounded scratchy and harsh, not at all like I expected it to be. But taking this class has made me realize how much I enjoy and appreciate Korean culture. All of it. Not just the food, not just the K-pop idols, not just the nice people I meet. I love everything about it. And I love the people I met because of it.

So the reason why I’m in a hotel room in Columbus, Ohio is because our class, typically taught at Ohio State by Professor Park and taken in Michigan via webcam, was able to travel to OSU in order to participate in the 2016 Wind & Stream performance, a combination of a few different types of traditional Korean arts.

Yes, yes, I know – we crossed over into enemy territory. And I was hesitant at first. Sure, it was nice to get a day off of classes and work to go somewhere new, but there was three of us (four including our procter/friend Megan), and a lot more of them. And they were Ohio State. Surely they would hate us, or maybe just ignore us.

That wasn’t the case at all. Not only were all the students and faculty and special guests friendly, they went out of their way to make sure we were welcome. More than once one of the students would tell us that they were so happy that we were able to come, that they couldn’t believe we drove all the way there just for the performance. Over and over they told us “good job” or something like that, during rehearsals and after they show. They gave us the most amazing food for free, and even the other faculty, the seongsaengnim that came to support their students, encouraged us too and even told us to come get even more amazing food after the show (they provided kimbap and tteok, the most delicious thing you will ever eat).

So maybe it wasn’t necessarily the p’ansori that I loved so much. Maybe it was the fact that when I told my professor I’m trying even harder to learn Korean, she just smiled and said “of course you’ll learn it, just like that!” Or when I asked for a picture with one of the guest artists, Kim Eun Su, she took the hand at my side and held it close, like we were friends. Or when leaving the performance area we’d been cooped up in for seven hours straight, I wasn’t happy. Or maybe the fact that I feel like I just made 10 new friends and I already have to leave them.

No, maybe it wasn’t the p’ansori, but it was because of p’ansori that we were able to come together and make an amazing performance, and a precious memory that will last me a lifetime.

The Way I See It: Thoughts on Albums Part 1

It seems fair, to me, that the same week as the Grammy’s I should be talking about music. Even though I haven’t quite yet gotten to watch the Grammy’s (it’s on my DVR I promise I’ll watch it soon), I’ve seen words flying around my news feed throughout the past week, artists like Kendrick Lamar and Taylor Swift at odds with each other.

Bu that’s not what I want to talk about this week. We all know that the Grammy’s aren’t necessarily the be-all-end-all, and oftentimes don’t represent the music community as a whole. So instead, I want to talk about something a little bit more personal.

If you run in any type of circle that cares a lot about music, especially alternative/indie/rock music, there’s a conversation that is bound to happen. What is the best album of all time?

That’s quite a heavy burden for someone to bear, to pick the best album of all time. This is more than just a hi, nice to meet you, what’s your favorite song? kind of question. This becomes especially difficult, too, since people who claim to like “good music” often bow down to the rock classics, to The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Nirvana, U2, etc. And a lot of times these albums are picked as the best of the best of the best.

But it’s always seemed to me that this question is a thinly veiled disguise aimed at probing if you are “worthy enough” to be considered a true music fan. To navigate this exchange, you have to simultaneously pick something old, perhaps pretentious, highly acclaimed but perhaps not widely known by a general music fan, someone who listens to the radio (because who does that…besides most of the US population).

That’s not how I see this question, though. No, this may not be a first date, could-I-actually-like-you, I’m curious tell me kind of question, but I think asking about someone’s favorite album can be a lot more telling. Something they can listen to over and over again. Something that fits every mood, every whether. Their go-to for when their music runs dry. Not necessarily an album that they listen to constantly, but, even after a year, two, or three of not hearing one song on that album, they can go back to it.

To me, that kind of answer speaks volumes more about who a person is rather than asking them to nominate only one album as the greatest of all time. I think this week’s Grammy’s showed us that there can be vastly different opinions on how to choose an album of the year, much less of all time.

So that’s my version of that question. Simply modified, perhaps not easily answered (can you pick just one?). But I wonder: what’s your favorite album of all time?

Romance, Here I Come

So I know I talked about Jane the Virgin a couple of weeks ago, but there was an important fact about the show that I forgot to mention.

Besides the million other things that I love about the show, one fact that I’ve always found comforting is that Jane aspires to be a writer. Though she has a degree in teaching, English specifically, her dream is to be a writer. And she actively pursues that dream, oftentimes over her romantic interests – right now, she’s in a creative writing cohort in graduate school.

But this wasn’t all that impressed me about her. To be honest, stories about writers are dime a dozen. For some reason, writers love to write about writers. Call it vanity, but it’s true. No, it wasn’t the fact that Jane was an inspiring writer. It was the fact that she’s an aspiring romance writer.

And guess what? No one says anything about it. Nothing. Her advisor doesn’t call her writing silly. Her mom doesn’t wonder why she doesn’t write a different genre. None of her romantic interests has ever questioned that maybe romance writing is not actually writing, that it’s not serious writing.

Nope. Nada. Nein. Jane is, and always will be, an unapologetic romance writer. And that shouldn’t actually be surprising. But it totally is.

Although I won’t name names, I will say that one time, I got an interesting critique back on a short story. It was, in a way, a romance, but a fabricated one. It wasn’t about love, it was about obsession, and it was meant as a thoughtful questioning of what is the difference between those two. But, in short, yes, it was about a relationship, this one between a man and a woman. But the critique? I remember words like “not feeling it” and “the vibe is wrong,” though this is probably also partially from my poor memory. But one that I do remember? “I don’t think I’m your intended audience.”  

Intended audience or not, does it really matter? Does it matter that my writing was borderline romance? Does it matter if I talked about love? Does it matter if the center of the story was a relationship?

I remember, even though that story was definitely a tough critique, one of my harder ones, that’s what hurt me the most. This person, whatever gender, didn’t take my story seriously enough because automatically it was categorized as romance. And because of it, I couldn’t get a serious critique about it, and it was harder to see what I could change to make the story better without thinking about the “intended audience” and whether I was pleasing that audience.

I was thinking about this in part because it’s Valentine’s Day this weekend, partially because Jane the Virgin was about her romance this week, and partially because I’ve been bingeing a very explicitly romance series.

But you know what? Despite the fact that it’s Valentine’s Day and I’m technically alone, instead of being lame, I’m going to the poetry reading at Literati on Saturday by Amber Tamblyn and then I’m going to do yoga with my best friends. You know what else I’m gonna do? I’m going to watch my romance movies, my romance TV shows, my romance everything. And I’m going to love it and not be ashamed.

Oh, and you know what else? I’m going to write romance. Unapologetic, unabashed, fantastic, life-changing romance. And you’re going to like it.

Why Do You Color?

Yeah I did it. I caved. I got an adult coloring book.

I mean, it’s not like I didn’t want one. My roommate has 6 and counting, and loves to take it out whenever possible. It’s her go-to stress reliever….and I’m often jealous.

But then I’d remind myself that it costs money, that I’d have to buy colored pencils, that I won’t have time and it’ll be a waste of money. And then last weekend, those excuses disappeared as I stood in front of the table at Literati.

Then, all I could think was which one should I get? So I did it. I caved. I had some gift money left over from a return purchase, and I had an Amazon gift card. So I did it. I got an adult coloring book.

The whole idea of adult coloring books intrigues me a lot though. When I was little, I wasn’t a huge fan of coloring. I liked doing crafts more, something where I could be a little freer. And I think, truthfully, I didn’t have the patience for coloring. Even though you can’t really be bad at coloring (and anyone who says otherwise is lying), I wasn’t ever any good at art.

I don’t talk much about art, as in painting, drawing, sketching, molding – anything in that realm, because I’m not good at it. It’s hard to enjoy something when you’re so frustrated with yourself. I’m a dreamer. I imagine things. And when the imagination doesn’t match up with reality, I’m upset. Why am I not good enough?

That doesn’t stop me from roaming around museums and letting my mind wander. Trust me, I do love art. I had to pry myself away from the Louvre this summer, and I had really only seen barely half of it.

Even so, this side of me, the artistic one, doesn’t really come out very often. I do love art, and I certainly respect and appreciate it, but I don’t do it, so I don’t talk about it very much.

But then these coloring books. Studies show that coloring is a good stress reliever. You put any adult in a classroom full of kids, and put in one coloring station and you’ll see the results of that. When working in childcare I honestly loved to color with the kids. In large classrooms, it can be hard to interact with children playing blocks, making their own towers, or zooming around with a little firetruck clutched in their fists. They’re often in their own world, or in the worlds of their peers, and as an adult it can be challenging to enter that world, even as their teacher. But coloring is a way to connect. You can ask the kids what their favorite color is, how their week at school was, what they like to do for fun at home. All the while, you’re sitting (or squatting, if you aren’t four years old) at a desk, with a pretty picture to take home.

I find adult coloring books interesting because of these two things: the connection with art, and the connection with childhood. Maybe it’s a bit strange to have an adult color, or maybe it’s the most obvious thing in the world. Maybe it’s good to have an artistic outlet, or maybe it’s nice just to relax.

Whatever the reason you color (if you do), keep coloring.

Why I Absolutely Adore Jane the Virgin

This week, something extremely important happened in my life. What was it, you may ask?

Jane the Virgin returned after its mid-season break this Monday night.

*screams very loudly*

I love Jane the Virgin. I don’t know how many times I can say it in a week – I said it on Monday when the show came on, I said it on Tuesday night to my friends, I said it Wednesday to a girl I had just met. I love this show.

So here’s the story. Last semester, I was scrolling through Netflix to see what they had added recently, and I saw Jane the Virgin on there. I was instantly excited. I had heard really good things about the show, even if I didn’t know anything about it. However, this meant absolutely nothing. There are about 100 things on my Netflix queue that I was “really excited about” 3, 4, 5 months ago.

So when I was having a particularly bad day, and I didn’t feel like doing any homework (although, to be honest, when do I feel like doing my homework), I laid on the couch in my apartment with the lights off and looked on Netflix for something to make me feel better. Surprisingly, I clicked on Jane and started episode 1.

Eventually, one of my roommates migrated into the living room around episode 2 or 3, and we ended up watching either 7 or 8 episodes together. And after that I was hooked. The show was funny, dramatic, serious, clever, intuitive – everything I never knew I could have in a TV show but now needed.

I began telling everyone I knew about this show. I ended up convincing my other roommate to start it, and with one roommate already done, and three currently watching it, Jane the Virgin kind of became the apartment show.

However, all good things must come to an end, and by the time winter break rolled around, we were all done with season one and had to catch up on season two, so that this week we could all watch it together. And of course, we did, and it was fantastic.

Now that we’re all caught up to the present, I should maybe talk about the actual show. There are so many good things I could say about the show, I don’t even know where to begin. As someone who truly cares about diversity (#OscarsSoWhite y’all), I tend to get excited about things that feature a diverse cast. Last semester, I was all about Quantico. Though they could do a bit better, especially in the male cast, I am in love with Priyanka Chopra and Aunjanue Ellis is queen. Last year, I was all about Fresh Off The Boat, featuring the first Asian-American cast on primetime television in 10 years, even if its been surrounded in some much-needed controversy about representation of minorities on television.

So when I started watching Jane the Virgin, I was already pleased at how well the cast was organized. Jane has very strong latina roots, and they come across loud and clear on the show, and yet because of her sunny disposition and ability to befriend anyone, the cast opens up so that it isn’t just a latin@ show, and it doesn’t claim to be one. It doesn’t stigmatize or stereotype the lives of the women on the show, and yet they clearly aren’t there for diversity’s sake. They have complex, emotional lives, and are highly relatable characters.

And not only is the show centered on the lives of latin@s, it also focuses on female relationships and even, at times, prioritizes them over male relationships. For Jane, family is everything, and all of her decisions, her thoughts, feelings, dreams – they are all closely tied to her family. And for a very, very long time, her family has been three women. Three strong, independent, resilient, vulnerable, caring women. Even when portraying Jane as the “good girl” who took care of her teenage mom at times, Xiomara herself isn’t portrayed as helpless. I mean she raised Jane for crying out loud, so that’s saying something. And while Alba may be the grandmother, and therefore the oldest out of the three, she isn’t portrayed as “outdated” or “old-fashioned” in any way. She’s portrayed as strong and caring as well, clearly showing how her traits have been passed down all the way to Jane.

I could keep going, but I think my point is clear. Both comedic and dramatic, both sad and hilarious, both fresh and funny, Jane the Virgin is dazzling. It’s complex, it’s diverse, it resists and even challenges stereotypes, and seriously, when’s the last time you saw the main character of a TV show pregnant for the majority of it? And as evidenced by my apartment, it brings people together.

So your homework this weekend, then, is to sit down and marathon Jane the Virgin. You won’t regret it.

Star Wars, Nostalgia, and Creativity

So, okay, let’s be real for a hot second: I loved the new Star Wars movie. Even though I will forever be mad that I didn’t see it at midnight, I loved this movie with a passion. I can prove it to you too. I saw it the weekend it came out with some friends while I was still in Ann Arbor…then I saw it a week and a half later, with my best friend back in Houston. And then when my mom wanted to go see it, I told her we should go again. I saw this movie three times. And if you asked me to go this weekend I’d just ask what time?

I know this isn’t a minority opinion. I was honestly glad that I saw it opening weekend because that meant that I didn’t have to wait until Monday, when I was back in Houston, to read/watch/listen to/breathe any spoilers. I didn’t even rewatch the trailer before going to see it – the last time I’d seen the trailer was back in November, when it first came out, and a lot of finals had happened between then and the time I’d seen it. I wanted to come in with a fresh experience.

But even though I loved it, I’m not sure if that’s what I got. When we walked out of the theatre my friend pointed out how the plot was the same as the plot for A New Hope: they blew up a big gun. This sentiment was echoed in other posts I read, including a podcast (with major spoilers) by some of my favorite YouTubers, Funhaus, where James said he was reserving judgement on the new franchise as a whole for that very reason.

Nostalgia, ironically, isn’t an abstract concept anymore, but a business, and a booming one at that. People are shelling out money for reboots and sequels of their favorite shows and movies. And they do well, too, and the public goes crazy for them. One recent example that’s been all over the entertainment news sphere is the new Full House reboot on Netflix, duly named Fuller House.

In a blog post a couple of years ago, I wrote an open letter to Pixar about how excited I was for the second The Incredibles movie because, of course, I freaking love that movie, but also a wariness – Pixar has been devoting a lot of its time and resources to sequels that I don’t think merit the work put in. I was pleasantly surprised and delighted with this summer’s Inside Out, but they still have sequels slated for release in the coming years (Finding Dory, Toy Story 4, The Incredibles 2). Let’s just hope Inside Out doesn’t turn into Inside Out 2  in 2018.

I definitely think that J.J. Abrams made the right decision when it came to the plot. The original trilogy, as well as parts of the newer trilogy, are about archetypes, time, and the endless circle. It is, of course, a family story, and Abrams kept it that way, if only because he borrowed a lot from the original trilogy. I’m so excited to see where our new characters go – especially Finn and Rey – and I think the first movie did its job in setting them up for the next two movies.

But as a writer, and one that values creativity over her own fangirl instincts, I have to ask at what cost did he do it?

Don’t take this the wrong way – I saw the movie three times for crying out loud – and every time I love discovering something new that I didn’t notice before. But I also want to be openly, honestly critical of an already fantastic movie so that it can become an even better one that will go down forever in the pages of film history.

So while we not-so-patiently wait for the next movie, may the force be with you (or does the force not really work that way?).