Pride Playlist!

Happy Pride Month!!!! I was inspired by Spotify to make a playlist of all of my favorite queer and allied artists (but mostly queer). I also added some commentary for a few of my favorites. Check out the playlist below!

 

Gasoline – Troye Sivan

I remember Troye’s first EP being released not too long after he posted his coming out video on YouTube. Knowing that one of my favorite queer YouTubers was releasing music made me REALLY excited, especially when I heard this song. He was (and still is) a very young kid who has a major platform, so hearing him share a song with male pronouns made me feel like such a proud mom.

Hold Each Other – A Great Big World

Truly the first time I’ve ever heard both male and female pronouns sung by the same person in one song!

Born Naked – RuPaul

The quote “we’re all born naked and the rest is drag” is so revolutionary. This song encompasses Ru’s ability to challenge norms, break barriers, and serve as a prime example of living as your true self even when you’re told it’s wrong. If RuPaul is wrong, why would anyone want to be right?

Strangers – Halsey feat. Lauren Jauregui

MY 2 BISEXUAL QUEENS!!!! Seriously, I’ve been such a big fan of these ladies for a while, and not only is this song an absolute jam, but it’s so important that the bi community has a song from two strong women who can sing about dudes in one song and ladies in another.

Ease My Mind – Hayley Kiyoko

All the female pronouns!!!! Hayley is so unapologetically WLW in all of her songs and I love it.

Come To Mama – Lady Gaga

This song makes me feel like Gaga is my queer mom who will hug me for 20 minutes whenever I’m sad.

Can I (Call You Summer) – Tyler Conroy

I met Tyler when I was a baby gay freshman and he was the president of our school’s GSA! He has always been such an inspiration to me as someone who works incredibly hard to achieve their dreams, and does so while being fearlessly true to himself. Also, it’s the perfect summer jam.

Girls/Girls/Boys – Panic! At the Disco

My true bisexual anthem from the marvelous Brendon Urie (…naked)

The Thrill of First Love – Falsettos

I will never shut up about Falsettos!!! But honestly, this show is such an important snapshot of queer history. It shows how far we’ve gotten, how much further we still have to go, and it’s all told from the perspective of a seemingly normal family who are flawed, complex, and ultimately relatable.

Know Your Name – Mary Lambert

Not only does this song make you want to dance all around, but the music video is basically the fun, queer version of Taylor Swift’s “Bad Blood”. Instantly obsessed.

I Know A Place – MUNA

I love MUNA’s entire album, but this song stuck with me when I read an article about how it was written in the wake of the Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando last year. Listening to the song in that context gives it an even greater impact of love and amazingness. Plus, this performance had me crying like a baby.

GDMML GRLS – Tyler Glenn

This entire album is a testament to Tyler’s strength as he navigated his journey toward the queer community while being dismissed from another. For me, listening to this song gives me such a clear image of a young kid whose identity is being constantly questioned by those around him, even though he wants to explore the truth that he knows has always lived inside of him.

I wish everyone a Happy Pride! Let’s continue to support each other while we stay strong, keep learning, resist, and be proud ❤ Enjoy these jams!

Ending the Stigma on Mental Illness

Did you know that May is Mental Health Awareness Month? I’m particularly inclined to share about this for two reasons. One, mental health is one of those topics that has somehow become shameful and taboo – hence the need for a month dedicated to awareness. And two, like so many others, it’s something that I personally deal with every day of my life.

Not only has the stigma around mental illness made me hesitant to blog about it before, but there’s an entire other layer that feels odd to me. As I become more familiar with the conversation surrounding mental illness, I find that people tend to associate it with being weak, needy, and attention seeking. I think some of that comes from the blurry lines that exist between clinically diagnosed mental illnesses and very strong emotions. People get anxious and people get depressed, and these feelings are completely valid no matter where they fall in the scale of intensity.

So maybe people struggle with how to react with more serious cases because measuring one’s mental health is a very personal thing. It’s usually between you and a doctor, or therapist, or both. But these diagnosis are invisible to the human eye. And there are so many invisible illnesses that people are forced to personally validate everyday because of the assumed perceptions of what it means to be ill or differently abled. And that’s why having a month to shed light on mental illness is so important for us who struggle without outward signs of pain.

A lot of the time, we don’t see visible signs of mental illness the way we do with other health problems, but it took me a long time to realize that that doesn’t mean it don’t deserve the same amount of attention. In my personal experience, it took me a long time to accept that my anxiety and depression was indeed something to be diagnosed and treated. As anybody who has ever met me knows, I am an extremely passionate person. So when I started noticing particularly heightened feelings of anxiety, worry, sadness, and the like, I assumed it was all due to the fact that I very rarely experience “casual” emotions. I feel things very intensely, so I never assumed anything out of the ordinary when I would get chest pains during moments of uncertainty or lengthy periods of unhappiness after a bad day. Sure, these are symptoms that could happen to anybody – but when the triggers started becoming a little less predictable and a lot more frequent, I started wondering if there was anything I could do about it.

I am very open about my struggle with anxiety and depression, but for a while, it was hard for me to talk about. I live such a privileged life with amazing opportunities and am completely supported by incredible family and friends; for a while, all I could think about was how outsiders might not believe me when I said I had a mental illness. But then I thought about it this way: if I had a problem with my heart, or my leg, or my back, I would take medicine for it – so why wouldn’t I do the same thing for the chemical imbalances that were happening in my brain? Once that idea became clear, I decided to use it as an opportunity to speak out. I want people to know how comfortable I am with talking about my experiences with mental health because we all deserve to feel safe and comfortable about the things that make us who we are. I don’t think my mental illness defines me, but it’s definitely a big part of my life. You may not be able to see it, but plenty of people can certainly feel it, and that should be valid enough.

But remember, being comfortable with opening up takes time. If you’re struggling with figuring out your journey and aren’t sure where to go from here, hopefully one of these resources can point you on the right path ❤

Resources:

7 Cups of Tea – A website that allows you to speak anonymously with a trained active listener.

American Psychological Association – A resource for finding mental health care in your area.

Katie Morton – A licensed therapist YouTuber dedicated to discussing mental health and erasing stigma.

National Alliance on Mental Health – A resource guide for when you need help paying for medication

Review: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

I feel like I’ve been anticipating The Hate U Give‘s release for SO LONG, friends. I don’t remember how exactly I first heard of it, but y’all know I live almost exclusively in the world of YA fiction, so this has obviously been on my list from the moment I heard about it. In short, this book is inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, following 16 year old Starr and the aftermath of her being a witness to her friend being murdered by a white police officer. It’s obviously poignant, and it’s incredibly well done. I wanted to start writing a review the second I finished the book, but I wanted to make sure I gave myself enough time to process all of my feelings in order to write something that does the book justice. Here’s hoping!

It’s no secret that I am extremely passionate about civil rights and activism, but because I’m white, there are so many things I feel like I do not have the authority to speak on, especially related to injustices for people of color. I’ve had so many privileges in my life that have sheltered me from the realities of the communities that Angie Thomas depicts in her novel. So I knew that it was important for me to read this book in order to explore important perspectives and learn more about those who don’t have the same privileges I do. I won’t say this book gave me a better understanding of the issues surrounding race and police brutality, simply because I don’t believe I can ever truly understand something I’ve never experienced. But I want to do what I can to amplify the voices who are being affected in order to get these stories heard and hopefully create more space for change.

Quite honestly, this book could be the basis of an entire dissertation. So instead of getting into super gritty details (which I would love to do, but unfortunately, ya girl doesn’t have the time), I’ve decided to focus on one of the most moving moments in the book for me. When I read something moving, I’m often inclined to pick up a pen, underline, and let the author’s words truly sink in. In this particular case, the moment hit me like a ton of bricks.

One of the main conflicts in this novel is Starr’s uncertainty about speaking out and uncovering herself as the main witness to her friend Khalil’s murder. She goes back and forth about what her responsibilities are not only as a witness, but as a member of the black community – more specifically, in a community most commonly know for drug dealers and gangs – and as a friend of someone who was killed. It’s obviously not an easy decision for a 16 year old to make, especially considering the intricate details of her life. For example, Starr’s parents send her to a predominantly white private school, causing Starr to deliver some serious Jerrica Benton/Jem realness with two different personalities. Starr keeps up appearances at school that are different than who she is at home because, just like any other teenager, she wants to have friends and a boyfriend and make it through high school with as few hiccups as possible. So on top of all of these intricacies of her double life, Starr is then confronted with a difficult decision: does she hide herself from the details of Khalil’s case in order to try continuing to live a semi-normal life that is safe, or does she have an obligation to speak out? That’s what leads to the conversation that I feel is the very root of the novel…which happens to be the title itself. PS. I’m ANGRY as I sit here writing this because the book’s title is so perfect and amazing and I am so horrible at titles. This is a formal invitation for Angie Thomas to title my novel. I’ll send you my manuscript. Please and thank you!)

The novel’s title, The Hate U Give, is discussed very early on in the story. According to Tupac, THUG LIFE stands for “The Hate U Give Little Infants Fucks Everybody.” Starr spends a lot of the novel dissecting this complex statement, eventually discussing it with her dad to uncover how it applies to not only her current situation, but the world she has grown up in.

(Side note: this conversation happens directly after her dad shares his theories about Harry Potter and how all the Hogwarts houses are gangs, as well as the Death Eaters. It’s compelling.)

Starr eventually comes to the conclusion that it’s not only “infants” that are being fed the hate of racism, but it’s all of society. The system of racism is so deeply ingrained in our society that most white people can’t even recognize it anymore. The violent and devastating actions, the everyday microaggressions, the lives being lost – white people don’t want to admit it’s because there is systematic racism polluting our society at all times. And until we start talking about it, bringing attention to it, and condemning it, it won’t change. And that’s exactly what this book does. Along with Starr, the reader learns how powerful your voice can be in a time of crisis, no matter how often we get shut down. It’s hard work, but it’s necessary work.

“The system is still giving hate, and everybody’s still getting fucked.”

“That’s why people are speaking out, huh? Because it won’t change if we don’t say something.”

“Exactly, we can’t be silent.”

The rest of the book is for you to explore. But I know for me, the power of one’s voice has never felt more important.

Revival

I can’t believe I’ve had this blog for over a year! Let’s chat about then vs. now.

There were a lot of reasons I finally decided to take the plunge and publish that first post January of 2016, but in all honesty, I had no idea what this blog was going to become over time. My only thoughts were I like to write, I like to share my opinions, and I liked participating in bigger conversations. And this has definitely been the perfect outlet for me to do all three of those things. I’ve written posts about my favorite pop culture topics, commentary on social discourse, given dubious advice, and shared genuine reflections on my life as a young adult. In trying to brainstorm some new ideas for a blog post – considering it’s been well over two months since my last post, yay for consistency! – I figured it might be worth it to take a step back and reevaluate my purpose for this platform. Am I still posting for the same reasons? If not, what are my new motivations and challenges? Is anyone really reading this stuff? Will I ever write that post about why Ben & Leslie are the greatest TV couple to ever exist in the history of network television?

I have a strong feeling that the last one is a solid yes.

One of my biggest hesitations to start my blog was the fact that I never wanted to restrict myself to a schedule. Writing posts was (and still is) the most enjoyable for me when the inspiration was fresh and I felt passionate enough to share my thoughts. Unfortunately, I don’t have very much control over when these moments of inspiration happen – as I’m sure most writers can attest to, harnessing this motivation and discipline to write is one of the most difficult parts of putting words on paper. And while I was able to maintain a semi-regular schedule of posts for a while, these last few months had me getting a little worried. Was it worth it to write something half-assed for the sake of adding content? Or should I wait even longer for the new idea to strike, even if it meant my blog would remain silent for a number of months? I couldn’t really decide, but I always leaned toward the latter. That’s just how I tended to operate. Either I was passionate about doing something or I had very little interest to do it at all.

If you look back to the last post that was published on my blog, you will see another aspect of why I’ve been silent on this platform. The frustrations of the world around me have taken a pretty big toll on my mental health, and over the past few months, I’ve been dealing with a nasty bout of depression. This doesn’t quite mean I’ve been having trouble getting out of bed or that I hate the world around me; mental illness is a lot more complex than that. With everything that has been going on with society as a whole, plus my own personal obstacles I was working through, I found very little interest in a lot of stuff that I would often rely on for support. Any time I had the tiniest speck of an idea for a blog post, the drive to run to my computer and open a new document quickly dissolved, leaving me with tons of unfinished ideas and half-hearted brainstorm sessions.

And while it might have been that nobody gave a shit that I hadn’t posted anything in a while, I gave a shit. And I still do.

So maybe my blog will continue to be a place for me to share stories and ideas with you all, and maybe I won’t post as frequently as I’d like. Or maybe this post will spark a resurgence in my passion for blogging and I’ll pump out a bunch of different posts in the next few weeks. I’ve decided that I’m up for any outcome. Like all of my social media platforms, I like to think of this blog as a more polished representation of me; these posts are the thoughts and ideas and feelings and other things I want to share but may not be able to put into words face-to-face. Instead, I take the time to type them out and organize them and put in some silly jokes or fancy words to get my point across. But that’s also the nature of who I am – I’m a planner, I’m a thinker, and sometimes, I can be a bit of an overachiever. And for now, that seems to be working out just fine, so I think I’ll keep it up. Until it’s time for a nap.

Back On Top

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@weezyvc

Dear Reader,

This post, like everything I write, comes from a place of explicit sincerity. For some reason, it felt important to remind y’all of that before I get started. Here we go.

Needless to say, this election was a fucking nightmare. When I think back to that dreaded week in November when it all came to a head, I still feel its horrible remnants. The hope I had built up from my peers and my supportive community came crashing down in a matter of hours. Some people were able to put their anger directly into action, while others had a more difficult time getting back on their feet. For three days following the election, I physically struggled to get out of bed. I had no fight in me whatsoever – which was extremely difficult for someone as passionate as I am about actively participating in working toward change. I had experienced depression before, but this was the first time I had ever felt depressed to the point of not knowing any way to end the suffering. All around me, my peers were encouraging the importance of fighting back. But I didn’t know how. I couldn’t find it in me.

And if you’re reading this and rolling your eyes, saying to yourself “Stop being so dramatic” or “Get over it”…congratulations, you’re privileged. Take a second to meditate on that. It’s hard to accept and acknowledge your privilege, but it’s too necessary to ignore. Because believe it or not, we are not acting spoiled or overdramatic about this. We are trying to swallow the fact that there are people in our country – peers, friends, relatives, etc. – who do not understand the extent of our adverse circumstances. We are struggling to understand how people we love and care about can actively (or sometimes passively) support the deterioration of our civil rights. And if you don’t think the circumstances are that drastic, you’re woefully ignorant. And that’s not me being an entitled millennial or whiny feminist – it’s a fact. Educate yourself.

Here’s the deal: the new administration is dangerous. Because of these people in power, basic human rights continue to be denied to marginalized communities, including women (and basically all genders that are not cisgender men), LGBTQ+ people, people of color, immigrants, low-income citizens, people with disability, the homeless, incarcerated, and so many more varying intersections of people in the United States. And while I could go into detail about how there is actual proof to back up these claims, I truthfully don’t feel qualified enough. Instead, here are some sources:

My main intention for this post is to share how we can continue to take care of ourselves in such a heightened moment of need. While I have spent as much time as possible taking care of myself in this post-election dumpster fire, there is still a fear that the reality of Friday’s inauguration will hit me harder than I’m ready for. For any of y’all who are feeling similarly afraid, I wanted to share some self-care techniques that might help you get through the weekend. Because I am unable to participate in any of the women’s marches happening this weekend (if you are looking for somewhere to march, take a look here!), I figured sharing some of these techniques would be a good idea for anyone else who wants to feel productive, supportive, or just plain distracted.

1. Surround yourself with like-minded people

For some people, having time to themselves is a crucial part of their self-care routine. However, if you do better during difficult times when there are people around you, it could be particularly important this weekend to make sure they are like-minded friends, peers, etc. For example, while spending time with family might be a go-to method for you to unwind, make sure you’re not putting yourself in a potentially toxic environment. This could also be the case with friends or others in your immediate circle. Make plans now with people you trust will understand your needs. At least for these few days, try to take politics off the table by asking those around you to respect your wishes and wait to have those conversations at another time. 

2. Make your voice heard

Personally, this is my favorite way to combat any feelings of defeat or lack of purpose. We all have the power to take action and participate in making positive changes in our society. I find that by actively voicing my opinions against our system’s injustices, I can stand a little taller with the satisfaction of making even the smallest dent.

As some of you may know, I am a volunteer at the Harry Potter Alliance. We are currently running a campaign called Neville Fights Back to encourage everyone to take action in our political system. The HPA offers links to help find your representatives and their contact information so you can easily make your voice heard – literally, you can call them and share your message. I also like this infographic called How to call your reps when you have social anxiety. Personally, I hate speaking to other humans on the phone, so I found this resource super helpful.

Additionally, I stumbled across this handy dandy Google Doc called the “We’re His Problem Now” Calling Sheet. Basically, this is your one stop shop for who you can call, scripts for exactly what to say, and additional tips for how this actually works and why it’s important. Share it like crazy and give Kara all the credit for being an activist superhero.

3. Unplug

It might be a good idea to stay away from social media as much as possible. While this can often be an outlet for us when we want to feel connected to a greater cause, it could be draining to continue refreshing your pages only to find repeated coverage of the same event. Trust me, if anything extraordinary happens, you can read about it on Monday.

4. Donate

When it comes to donating, most people immediately think of money. While that’s definitely a wonderful option if you have the means – FYI, I’m personally a big fan of the movement to Donate $20 to Planned Parenthood on 1/20/17 – money isn’t the only way you can contribute to the causes you care about. We all have our own unique passions and skills, and this is your opportunity to share them in a way that can be both selfless and selfish. Write, create art, share your voice and share it out loud.

5. Don’t forget the basics

If you feel like you need to stay in bed all weekend, don’t get discouraged. Just make sure that at the very least, you’re taking care of yourself on a very basic level. Eat breakfast, drink plenty of water, take your medication, change your clothes. Take a short walk around the block for some fresh air. Text your best friend. Rely on your favorite self-care techniques, whatever they may be.

Let me know what your plans are for this weekend. Are you going to a march? Spending time with your pup? Having a Harry Potter movie marathon? ALL THREE? The possibilities are endless! Stay strong. Remember that you’re not alone and we are all in this fight together. I love you.

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My 2016 Book Survey

I found this End of Year Book Survey from Jamie of Perpetual Page Turner and thought it was the perfect way to round up my 50 book challenge from this year! LET’S DO IT.

Check out my year in books on Goodreads!

 

READING STATS:

Number of books you read52

Number of re-reads1

Genre you read the most from: YA (obvs)

 

BEST IN BOOKS:

1. Best book you read?

The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

2. Book you were excited about & thought you were going to love more but didn’t?

The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

I had been hearing a lot about this book, both from friends and online, and I was intrigued enough to give it a go despite the fact I don’t love the fantasy genre. While there were elements of this book I enjoyed, like Blue’s character and the backstories of the boys she becomes friends with, I tend to get lost in the details of fantasy stories. There is a lot of history to remember throughout the plot, and often times there are elements of mystery, which is difficult for me to process.

3. Most surprising (in a good way or bad way) book you read?

How To Build a Girl by Caitlin Moran

Seeing as this novel was on a number of feminist book lists, it had been on my radar for a while. It seemed like a decent plot – a girl who acts on her own agency to change the unfortunate lot she’d been handed in life – but I quickly realized that was a very loose summary. The failed construction of the main character is definitely intentional, but I was surprised by quickly the message of the book got lost in the plot.

4. Book you “pushed” the most people to read?

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Not only did this book inspire me to pay more attention to the world around me and continue learning, but I wanted nothing more than to share this education with others. Anytime I find someone who is interested in identity politics, intersectionality, and other topics Gender Studies nerds love to geek out about, I tossed this book in their direction. Thankfully, I found that it was met with eager and open arms.

5. Best series you started?

Not Your Sidekick by C.B. Lee

I’m not a big of series because I have a problem with commitment, but to my benefit, I didn’t know this novel was set as the first in a series. But when I read the summary about a girl in high school who identifies as bisexual and gets an internship with her favorite superhero…how could I not read it?

6. Favorite new author you discovered?

Michael Barakiva

One Man Guy has been on my list for a while and I’m so happy I finally picked it up. Barakiva perfectly executes the Armenian culture, the vulnerability of first relationships, and duh, it’s LGBTQ. Can’t wait to read more from him 🙂

7. Best book from a genre you don’t typically read/was out of your comfort zone?

The Opposite of Loneliness by Marina Keegan

This was one of the first books I read that got me interested in essay compilations. I liked the freedom of bouncing from one story to the next and learning about the author in the process.

8. Most action-packed/thrilling/unputdownable book of the year?

Beauty Queens by Libba Bray

I think I tore through this book in 2 days.

9. Book you read that you are most likely to re-read next year?

Gena/Finn by Hannah Moskowitz and Kat Helgeson

10. Favorite cover of a book you read?

Everything Everything by Nicola Yoon

I’m going to be real with you – I always judge books by their covers. Listen, I read a lot on the subway, and I don’t want people looking at an ugly book and thinking I have poor taste. So when I first started seeing buzz for Nicola Yoon’s debut novel, I was in love. It’s so beautiful. It might be my favorite book cover of all time.

11. Most memorable character?

Sebby (Fans of the Impossible Life by Kate Scelsa)

Sebby! My beautifully sad and troubled baby! I was instantly drawn to Mira and Sebby’s relationship, and once I hit that first chapter from Sebby’s perspective, I was blown away. I wanted to know everything about him. I still do. Please, Kate Scelsa, can I have a book all about Sebby???

12. Most beautifully written book read?

The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

Let’s just say, if you think the covers of Nicola Yoon’s books are beautiful, wait until you read what’s inside. She is pure YA magic. I can’t tell you the amount of wrong trains I got on because I was too engrossed in the beauty of this book. Holy crap.

13. Most thought-provoking/ life-changing book?

Buffering by Hannah Hart

Phew. Okay. This book was way more intense than I had expected. There were hints of Hannah’s difficult past in her videos and other content, but this book dives way deeper. Hannah is so brave in her storytelling and my heart ached for her as I read it, but I finished the book feeling more motivated than ever. I don’t know Hannah personally, but the energy and positivity she puts out into the world is so inspiring, and even more so knowing what she went through to get there.

14. Book you can’t believe you waited UNTIL 2016 to finally read?

Not Otherwise Specified by Hannah Moskowitz

I actually can believe I waited until 2016 to read this book…because…remember what I said about judging books by their covers? That’s the main reason I held back from reading this book. But I finally got over it and bought a copy, and because it was so great, it made me loosen up just a little bit on prioritizing a book’s presentation.

15. Favorite passage/quote from a book you read?

“I made the choice to never again be quiet, to never again suck it up. I challenged him. And I will do it again. If that makes me uppity, so be it. At least people know I’m no longer a vessel that they can use to act out their racist feelings. They will know that I think I’m worth fighting for. They will know I have a fire burning inside me. They will know that I’m alive.” – Phoebe Robinson, You Can’t Touch My Hair

16.Shortest book you read? Longest book you read?

ShortestDear Diego by Elena Poniatowska

LongestLies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley

17. Book that shocked you the most

Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon

This is my millionth Nicole Yoon reference and I don’t even care. There’s a major plot twist in this book and I think my jaw is still hanging on the floor somewhere…

18. OTP of the year

Nate/ET the Musical (Better Nate Than Ever by Tim Federle)

19. Favorite non-romantic relationship of the year

Kate and Mark (You Know Me Well by Nina LaCour & David Levithan)

What I love most about this book is the fact that the two main characters never fall in love. Kate is a lesbian and Mark is gay and they become best friends and each help the other with their respective crushes. Isn’t that the cutest thing you’ve ever heard?

20. Favorite book you read from an author you’ve read previously

You Know Me Well by Nina LaCour & David Levithan

Yall, I’m tellin ya, these two authors are perfect angels. Because of their abilities to do so in the past, I knew these two special cupcakes would give me the LGBTQ storyline I love the most – one that isn’t about coming out or the hardships of not being accepted. SWOON.

21. Best book you read that you read based SOLELY on a recommendation from somebody else/peer pressure:

Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes

22. Newest fictional crush from a book you read?

Sarah (Not If I See You First by Eric Lindstrom)

The main character’s best friend in this story is so sweet and caring. But she also calls people out on their bullshit. Definitely my kinda gal.

23. Best 2016 debut you read?

Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon

I LOVE HER A LOT, OKAY?

24. Best world-building/most vivid setting you read this year?

Beauty Queens by Libba Bray

You wouldn’t think a book on a deserted island would have much to explore in terms of world-building and vivid scenes, but that’s the magic of Libba Bray.

25. Book that put a smile on your face/was the most FUN to read?

Hamilton: The Revolution by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter

26. Book that made you cry?

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

Well, I cry with almost every book I read. But this one stands out to me specifically because I remember having 5 pages left while I was riding home on the train and I needed to sit in the subway station and finish reading and finish crying before I could go home.

27. Hidden gem of the year?

Written in the Stars by Aisha Saeed

This was my 49th book of the year and I was so focused on finishing my challenge that I simply picked it because it seemed quick and easy to read. Little did I know the heartbreaking story that was about to unfold. I don’t even remember how I was introduced to this book, but I’m so glad I picked it up.

28. Book that crushed your soul?

It Looks Like This by Rafi Mittlefehldt

While this debut was incredibly written, I remember closing this book and feeling angry and confused about why I’m still reading so many sad coming out stories. I know they are very real, but that’s what made this book so difficult to get through. I often look toward books for an escape, and considering I see/hear about this story enough in real life, Mike and Sean’s story was very difficult to get through for me.

29. Most unique book you read?

Gena/Finn by Hannah Moskowitz and Kat Helgeson

I love books about fandom life, and this is the first I’ve ever read that gives such a real look into how online friendships and relationships get built. These authors took the familiar format of online fandom communication and executed an incredibly genuine and provoking novel that I read in about 24 hours. As I already noted, I will definitely be re-reading it ASAP.

30. Book that made you the most mad (doesn’t necessarily mean you didn’t like it)?

The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness

Mostly this book makes me mad because it is so brilliant and I’m angry I didn’t write it.

YOUR BLOGGING LIFE:

1. New favorite book blog you discovered?

LGBTQ Reads!

2. Favorite review that you wrote?

Beauty Queens by Libba Bray

3. Best discussion/non-review post you had on your blog?

My NaNoWriMo experience

4. Best event that you participated in (author signings, festivals, virtual events, memes, etc.)?

Seeing Phoebe Robinson and Ilana Glazer at Housing Works the day You Can’t Touch My Hair was released

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5. Best moment of bookish/blogging life?

When Libba Bray responded to my blog post:

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6. Most popular post this year on your blog (whether it be by comments or views)?

Brand New Eyes

7. Post you wished got a little more love?

Rory’s Boyfriends (Are All Dumb) because let’s face it THEY ARE!!

8. Best bookish discovery (book related sites, book stores, etc.)?

Bluestockings bookstore 🙂

9.  Did you complete any reading challenges or goals that you had set for yourself at the beginning of this year?

I completed my goal of reading at least 50 books this year!

 

LOOKING AHEAD:

1. One book you didn’t get to read in 2016 but will be your number 1 priority in 2017?

I’m equally excited to read Jess, Chunk, and the Road Trip to Infinity by Kristin Elizabeth Clark and Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly

2. Book you are most anticipating for 2017 (non-debut)?

Adam Silvera’s History Is All You Left Me!!!!!!!

3. 2017 debut you are most anticipating?

Meg & Linus by Hannah Nowinski because fandom, drama club, and two nerdy queer high schoolers. Obviously.

4. Series ending/a sequel you are most anticipating in 2017?

I’m really looking forward to continuing with Jess and Abby’s story in Not Your Sidekick #2

5. One thing you hope to accomplish or do in your reading/blogging life in 2017?

Work toward another 50 books and possibly get a blog post published on a website.

I did it, y’all!

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The summer before I started college, I started writing a silly little story, simply motivated by the need for more diversity in the books I loved to read. I’ve lived with this story for more than 4 years now. I wrote on trains, in the middle of the night, in class. I wrote when I was sad and I wanted to live in another world. The story changed while I did, but through it all, it was something I could rely on. Every time I read a new book, I felt empowered to work toward my goal. “I can do that,” I would always think. And now, after the most difficult journey of my life, I did. I did it. I wrote a book.

“Suddenly I’m…”

I wrote this little ditty for my Feminist Literature class in college (because DUH) and I’ve been wanting to share it so here we go! Contains spoilers.

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The musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch, written by John Cameron Mitchell and Stephen Trask, explores the themes of sexuality, gender, and the body in a way that is very rarely seen in media. The story is told in monologue form, focusing entirely on the life of German rock star Hedwig and her band “The Angry Inch”. Hedwig offers a perfect example of a queer character that challenges the definitions of supposedly understood concepts, such as sex and gender. The way Mitchell presents the complex character of Hedwig invites discussions and conversations about how we perceive what society deems normal about identity politics. Hedwig and the Angry Inch offers a brand new dynamic of exploring sex, gender, and the body by encouraging ideas of multiplicity and how we construct identity.

Multiplicity and the Rejection of the Norm

After escaping communist East Berlin by getting a sex change operation and marrying a United States lieutenant, Hedwig is forced to navigate her life in a new body, a new country, and with a completely new identity. Hedwig uses she/her pronouns throughout the play, but also describes herself as a “girlyboy from communist East Berlin” so there is a question of how exactly she identifies in terms of gender. Her sex change was motivated by her desire to leave Berlin, so she did not actively set out to transition based on her identity. However, with wigs, makeup, and clothing, she presents extremely female and takes ownership of her femininity through her overall appearance. With Hedwig comes multiplicity; while some may label her as trans or genderfluid, it seems that Hedwig doesn’t feel the need to associate herself with a label at all.

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There is an excerpt from the song “Tear Me Down” that discusses this tension that exists within Hedwig. Her husband sings the words that compare her to the Berlin wall, claiming that Hedwig lives “in the divide between East and West, slavery and freedom, man and woman…” This struggle to classify Hedwig’s identity is discussed multiple times throughout the play. There are many parallels found between physical borders – like her inability to leave Berlin – and borders of sex and gender that exist in terms of her identity. Rather than conforming to one particular label, Hedwig explores herself through the creation of her own unique identity. She does not decide between being a man or a woman, and she does not explicitly identify with either her German or American identity. Instead, she rejects the idea that she needs to fit into these predetermined boxes, and decides she would rather live as someone completely new.

In a song about Hedwig, her former boyfriend Tommy sings “you were so much more than any God could ever plan, more than a woman or a man”, exploring the ways in which she introduced him to a new way of thinking about identity. Tommy is described as a “Jesus freak”, and he had been taught since he was little that the most valued qualities of identity could be found in the Bible. But after meeting Hedwig, this concrete, binary-driven ideology that Tommy learned from Catholicism is suddenly destroyed. He realizes, unlike his parents, that he can choose how to construct his own identity without any guidance from the Bible. Hedwig helps Tommy to create his stage persona of Tommy Gnosis, who unlike Tommy Speck, does not care about authority or rules, and rather focuses on the intrigue of uncertainty. But with this resistance against the norm comes tension, which can be seen through Hedwig’s relationship with Tommy.

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At Tommy’s hesitance to take their relationship to the next level, Hedwig asks him “What are you afraid of?” Without a clear answer, it is obvious that Tommy is not ready to understand the ways in which Hedwig challenges the norms of sex and gender. Even with his own experience of rebellion against his parents, Hedwig’s rejection of what people expect from her instills a sense of fear. There is an essential fear of the unknown that people must confront when they are introduced to Hedwig. Therefore, Hedwig is forced to come to terms with continuing to face this struggle unless she fully embraces the multiplicity of her identity. She must further construct what it means to be Hedwig, her individual self, rather than what it means to be a man or a woman or any other label that may be assumed about her. By creating an identity surrounded by ambiguity and queerness, Hedwig works to make this new space and ultimately find acceptance within herself.

Not only does Hedwig refuse to follow any of society’s expectations about what it means to be a woman, or genderqueer, or any other label, but she also does so loudly. With her exaggerated use of feminine and glamorous aesthetics, as well as the conservation of a strong and dominating attitude, Hedwig lives honestly and without gender boundaries. She forces herself into the spotlight. She wants people to know who she is, ambiguity and all.

Queer Performance

Drag culture is another tool the show uses to discuss identity. Once Hedwig starts her new life in the United States, she must make the abrupt transition from Hansel Schmidt to Hedwig Robinson, and she turns her persona into a performance. She uses makeup and a variety of wigs to create different versions of herself, until she settles on the “punk rock star of stage and screen”. While this is perceived to be a very feminine way of presenting, the fact that Hedwig draws from over exaggerated drag and glam-punk styles of expression suggests that there is still no clear assumption one can make about her identity.

Hedwig & the Angry Inch Belasco Theatre

Once Hedwig meets her husband Yitzhak – who also has a passion for drag culture – her constructed identity becomes threatened. Because of their similar styles, Hedwig feels like the space she has created for her own personal identity is being replicated, therefore it may no longer be unique. Yitzhak’s stage identity, Crystal, is something he considers to be an important part of his identity. There is a part of him that connects closely to it, as shown through his jealousy of Hedwig’s role of lead vocalist in the Angry Inch. But while Yitzhak longs to explore this part of his identity, Hedwig prohibits it in order to maintain her own spotlight and validation. If Yitzhak were to play around with gender in the ways Hedwig does, would his uniqueness undermine Hedwig’s, therefore making it less special? Rather than risk this, Hedwig forbids him from performing in drag. She forces him to give up a part of his identity in order to maintain her own unique ambiguity.

The dynamics of Hedwig’s marriage also demonstrate how she and her husband do not prescribe to the assumed gender norms created by society. In traditional straight marriages, the man is the dominant one, often times dismissing the woman in the relationship in order to maintain power. But it quickly becomes clear that Hedwig and Yitzhak complicate these roles. For example, Hedwig controls Yitzhak’s every move and every decision. She dictates the role he plays in the band, and he very often is shown taking care of Hedwig – brushing her wigs, getting her drinks, and constantly waiting on her hand and foot. He has no power in the relationship. Hedwig created these skewed power dynamics between the two of them by erasing the expectations that the wife had to be submissive and passive; though Yitzhak would label her as his wife, this term could be used loosely, as it is identifying Hedwig ultimately as female.

Sexuality and the Body

Throughout the play, there are a lot of references to Hedwig’s biology rather than how exactly she identifies in terms of gender. There is an entire song called “Angry Inch” that discusses the messy results of her “sex change operation” (Side note: this term is no longer acceptable and has been replaced with the more accurate “gender affirming surgery”). Along with her ambiguous gender identity, her perceived sex is also impossible to define, as she uses the words “where my penis used to be, where my vagina never was” to describe what is now an “angry inch”.

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The theme of the body in Hedwig ultimately works to deconstruct the binary. For example, along with her gender presentation, Hedwig refuses to prescribe to any certain expectation about her sexuality. On her journey to constructing her unique identity, Hedwig struggles to navigate how her own life story will compare to the story of Plato’s Symposium. This famous work, which is heavily discussed in the play, explores the story of the children of the sun, the Earth, and the moon – humans who were once combined respectively as two men, two women, and a man and a woman. When Hedwig’s mother tells her this story, she seeks its truth in her own life. She spends the majority of the play longing for her other half. While contemplating whether or not two people are actually meant to become one again – which Plato’s work suggests is the ultimate paradise – she wonders “is [my other half] a he or a she?” Along with these thoughts Hedwig also considers if sex is the physical way people themselves back together after being separated by the Gods.

But by the end of the show, Hedwig realizes that this duplicity can come from within. Once again, Hedwig must come to terms with the fact that rather than picking a side or finding the person who physically completes her and signifies the binary of her identity, she can continue to allow the multiplicity that exists within her to grow and develop. In doing so, she allows her body and her identity to live in a state of ambiguity – she is neither man nor woman, and she is not one half of a person looking for another to complete her. She is whole.

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There are many tools Mitchell uses throughout the play to offer new ideas about sex, gender, and the body, such as deconstructed notions of the body, drag culture, multiplicity, and rejections of the binary. Hedwig’s character is essentially queer in the ways she refuses to prescribe to society’s expectations of what it means to be a woman, or any gender at all. Hedwig struggles with the conflicts that are born from her preferred ambiguity, but she ultimately comes to terms with the fact that it is her difference that defines her honest identity. Hedwig learns how to construct her own unique identity both through her appearance and her behaviors, all which are applicable to the notion of identity as a construction and performance. Hedwig explores the ways in which sex, gender, and the body can be used as tools for people to construct their own brand of identity and express themselves through genuine authenticity, despite what society may deem “normal”.

My First NaNoWriMo!

The concept of National Novel Writing Month – or NaNoWriMo – has also terrified me. Every November, writers embark on the task of writing a 50,000 novel in the span of 30 days…like I said, terrifying. But over the years, as I watched others take on this incredible project, I realized the true goal of NaNoWriMo was never to finish writing a book in a month and then immediately submit it to get published. Because that is quite impossible. However, there are a lot of great skills writers work on during NaNoWriMo, one of the main practices being discipline. That’s what I decided to focus on.

Some of you may not know this, but I have been working on a novel for a few years now. Between being a busy college student and not having any sort of deadline, it has been difficult to find the time and motivation to finish. However, after graduating and developing a more reliable schedule, I wanted to making writing a priority again; specifically, getting this novel done.

At the end of October, my friend Katieprofessional journalist, nbd – asked if I would join her in doing NaNoWriMo this year. I was hesitant at first for a lot of reasons, but mainly I was worried about failing. I didn’t know if this goal was something that I was ready for, mentally and practically. My worried thoughts included What if I miss a day and fall behind? and I’ll be so disappointed in myself if I don’t finish. So rather than completely dismissing the opportunity because of the fear of failure, I decided I’d make NaNoWriMo my own. I told myself that, if nothing else, I would use the month of November to focus on getting back into the habit of writing. This meant writing every single day, setting a timer or word count, and keeping myself on track to figuring out an ending for this story I’d been working on for so long. I knew I didn’t need to “win”, I just needed to try.

So for the month of November, I wrote a lot. I wrote stuff that was completely irrelevant to my story and I wrote horrible scenes and basically typed out any nonsense floating around in my mind, hoping that somewhere in the mess I would find some progress. Thankfully, I did.

I didn’t track my daily word count to reach 50,000, as most NaNoWriMo participants do. I simply promised myself that I would write for at least one hour every day. While some days were more and some days were less, I finished up the month much closer to finishing than I had ever been before. I fixed a lot of errors I’d been frustrated about and I cleared up some questions and I was finally able to conceptualize an ending.

So even though my NaNoWriMo experience wasn’t as traditional as most, I’m so happy I did it. Maybe one year I’ll attempt the word count and start from scratch, but this experience was exactly what I needed as a final push toward the finish line. I have had the same New Year’s resolution for almost two years now: to finish this book. And while I didn’t finish within the month of November, there’s still a few weeks left of 2016. And I gotta say, I’m feeling pretty good about it…

DNCE, Tyler Glenn, and Jane the Virgin

Happy Wednesday! Here’s a little roundup of what I’ve been loving lately 🙂

DNCE

BE STILL MY JONAS BROTHERS HEART!!!! I thought I was completely satisfied with the Jonas brilliance when Nick released Last Year Was Complicated…but DNCE took it to an entirely new level for me. Basically, this group lives up to their name. I dare you to listen to this debut album without immediately feeling the need to dance around. I joked with a lot of my friends that every song on this album passes Tom Haverford’s “is it a banger” test, and while that’s totally accurate, the best part about this album is how unique it is. When DNCE came out with their first song “Cake by the Ocean”, I was instantly intrigued. Their sound, their look, their entire vibe was something new to the pop scene. Of course, as comes with the pop territory, DNCE’s songs venture into the repetitive constructs of radio tunes we love to sing along to, but I think their approach and the group’s overall style is a way for them to combat the predictability a lot of pop artists face today. This album achieves cohesion while also giving you a taste of everything from dancey, upbeat tunes to slower jams with thoughtful lyrics. They have a funky sound that weaves its way through the entire tracklist, thanks to the work of notable songwriters like Justin Tranter and Mattman & Robin. Basically, these dudes are geniuses and their work definitely shines through with DNCE.

Also, I would give anything to be their bass player. JinJoo can hit me up anytime.

Excommunication

Some of yall may be familiar with Tyler Glenn from the group Neon Trees (“Animal”, “Everybody Talks”). Excommunication – largely written by Tyler Glenn himself along with Tim Pagnotta – is his first solo album, and let’s just say, if you didn’t know who he was before listening to it, you’re about to find out some really deep stuff. I vaguely remember the media circulating around him when he came out a few years ago, but other than that, I went into listening to this album with the sole thought of really digging Neon Trees and interested to hear what Tyler’s own sound would be like. As I listened to the tracks, the theme of religion was hard to miss. The titles of the songs like “G.D.M.M.L. GRLS” (God Didn’t Make Me Like Girls), “Gods + Monsters”, “First Vision”, and finally, “Devil” set you up for very profound stories, and I was intrigued to dig deeper into the album. A simple Google search helped me connect all of the dots: the album’s title is a nod to Tyler’s Mormon family and the anti-gay policies of the religion.

Radio.com’s piece about Excommunication set a completely new tone for the album as I gave it another listen. I paid special attention to the order of the track list and was completely taken by both the profound stories from Tyler’s personal journey and the well-matched sounds mixed on each song. When you listen, you can physically feel how much of himself is poured into this album. The style is still very much his own, with electro-pop, rock vibes, but adding in lyrics like “I found myself when I lost my faith” and the exploration of truly understanding what you believe in really drives home this compilation of songs. I haven’t experienced many albums recently that are theme-driven and specifically focused on the different phases of an ongoing story, so listening to Excommunication felt like something totally brand new in the modern pop-rock genre. I really can’t stop listening to it.

Jane the Virgin

I know, I know, this review is WAY overdue. It’s widely known that getting me to start a new television show is nearly impossible, so the fact that I not only caught up with Jane but also continued watching it is a very big deal.

Not surprisingly, the ability for TV shows to skillfully feature what are considered difficult issues is always impressive to me. Jane has been achieving this from the beginning of the first season, tactfully and efficiently discussing the topics of religion, abortion, and immigration. The show is structured from telenovela storytelling, which is known to be overly saturated with drama, romance, and suspense – all of the qualities people tend to love most about current TV dramas. But Jane offers so much more. There are three generations of women of color as the main characters, one of which is an immigrant who solely speaks Spanish, and they are suddenly surrounded by scandal. The writers of this show make very thoughtful decisions about how these women navigate the obstacles they face. Their decisions are very much based around family values and relationships, rather than being dictated by the guys they are dating. The writers craft a plot in which the characters are fully immersed in real life struggles – grad school, conflicting feelings about significant others, and early parenting – while still maintaining the thrill of cleverly planned unsolved mysteries. Not to mention, the fact that it’s narrated like a classic telenovela gives just the right amount of structure and humor. Each season, the writers unfold more and more about the lives of these characters, leaving the audience constantly engrossed in their stories. Now on its third season, Jane somehow manages to be a totally unpredictable show with a completely predictable structure. So long as the writers continue to stir up this seemly perfect magic formula for storytelling, I’ll keep watching.

 

What music/show/entertainment has you hooked right now? I’d love to hear!