Why I Dropped Everything And Started Teaching Kendrick Lamar’s New Album

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“Butterflies are beautiful, too – and they are full of color. Butterflies are so beautiful, they can’t be made any more so. They can’t be manipulated, exploited, controlled, or confined. So why does America keep trying to do these same things to people of color?”

Beautiful words in light of everything that’s happened recently.

Brian Mooney

When Kendrick Lamar released his sophomore album, To Pimp A Butterfly (2015), I was in the middle of teaching a unit on Toni Morrison’s novel, The Bluest Eye (1970). My freshmen students were grappling with some big ideas and some really complex language. Framing the unit as an “Anti-Oppression” study, we took special efforts to define and explore the kinds of institutional and internalized racism that manifest in the lives of Morrison’s African-American characters, particularly the 11-year-old Pecola Breedlove and her mother, Pauline. We posed questions about oppression and the media – and after looking at the Dick & Jane primers that serve as precursors to each chapter, considered the influence of a “master narrative” that always privileges whiteness.

Set in the 1940s, the Breedlove family lives in poverty. Their only escape is the silver screen, a place where they idolize the glamorous stars of the film industry. Given the historical context…

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Worlds Apart

Musings/Rants, Writing

My titles have gotten progressively dumber over time. I apologize for that. If I ever write a book I’ll probably have to improve on that. Oh well, don’t judge a book by its cover, amiright?

Anyway, I briefly mentioned in my last post my discomfort with showing my blog to people I know, and I’d just like to explain that a bit more. It has nothing to do with the possible backlash or indifference. I’m used to both of that, especially from friends. If indifference is what I will receive then I’d be more than willing to share this blog on Facebook. A reaction is what I’m nervous about.

Imagine wearing a skanky dress to a club in, say, Ecuador or somewhere far and exotic. It’s miles removed from all the judgmental assholes back home. You feel free and loose for the first time in years. You flirt with everyone and drink everything that smells like it can fuck you over. You’re happier than perhaps you’ve ever been. And you just don’t give a shit because you know no one’s gonna treat you any differently after tonight.

What an awful analogy, but that’s exactly how I feel with about blogging. It’s like wearing a thong in a club and knowing that no matter how many lap dances I give my life in the real world is still going to be the same. You know, holding a secret identity with no strings attached.

Why do I care so much? Don’t I trust my friends or family? Honestly, I’m not sure. Some of them, some of the time, absolutely. But once I show them my blog – all these darkest, truest thoughts I’ve ever had – I’m not gonna be same. I’m not going to write without reservations. I’m going to be haunted by dumbass questions that I just don’t want to care about. What will they think if I say this? Will they be okay if I say I’ve never agreed with them on this thing? What if she thinks I’m attacking her? These are bullshit problems I have to deal with in real life. And the blogosphere is a much simpler, quieter, happier world. It’s a place where I can just write in peace and discover the person I want to be.

I don’t want to censor myself for other people’s sake. That’s not what good writers do. They may be sensitive to public response but they know it’s less valuable than being true to their visions. I’m not there yet. Maybe when I get there I’ll be able to fuse these two worlds and reveal my most private thoughts to the people I consider most important to me.

Freshly Pressed??

Writing

So I logged onto WordPress yesterday afternoon to check on my new post and almost got a heart attack. My stats exploded. My notification feed was bombarded by dozens of likes, comments, follows all directed at my Dream post.

I freaked out. My stats have been pretty consistent – a couple of follows every couple of days, a handful of comments on more interesting posts, a few pity likes on the boring ones. Spikes have happened numerous times before, but never this drastically. I thought a friend must have found out about my blog and shared it with everyone on Facebook. But that doesn’t make sense because all the traffic was directed at one post, and I don’t have that many virtual friends, and even fewer actual friends who would care enough to check out my blog. Besides, I’m still real paranoid about showing my blog to people I know. The social sphere and the blogosphere are two entities that I’d like to keep separate. Anyhow, I browsed the WordPress homepage and stumbled on the Freshly Pressed feed and right there, smack in the middle of the top row, is my post with its long ass title. Then it all clicked, and I was at a loss for words.

Being featured for a days and a half has already doubled my following. It’s brought me more traffic in 24 hours than I’ve gotten in the last 2, 3 months. And the support has been overwhelming. I haven’t had the time to reply to all the comments, but I’ve read every single one. It’s an honor to know that my writing has touched many of you in different ways. I connect with you guys precisely because we know nothing about each other in the real world. We’re strangers but we’re all passionate about human stories. I hope a snippet of my life has left an impression on you, just as your blog posts leave impressions on me all the time.

Thank you WordPress team for sharing a piece of heart, and thank you everyone for all the love. I’ll keep writing and keep believing, so stay tuned.

Up in the Air

My Awesome Life

I’m on the plane right now, leaving a place that I’ve come to regard as a home like no other. Funny thing is, I’ve probably had this same feeling about every place I’ve lived in so far. Places that hold a special place in your heart not only look spectacular but also produce the kind of memories that evoke neither bitterness nor ecstasy–just a dizzying fondness.

Home is running barefoot all year round, across scorching sand and frozen grass. Home is circling around the same blocks searching for cheap eats at 2am. Home is driving with mom at dusk, dozing off to shitty radio hits and craving cheeseburgers. Home is the bookstore with the greatest flat white in the entire world.

And home is where friends are–real friends who talk to you because they care about your opinions, not because they just want to brag about parties and sex. Home is where you can nap on a cliff and know that someone’s always there to catch you. It’s where a genuine conversation is not some shallow one-way traffic that leaves you feeling like you’ve just wasted hours of your life.

Home has nothing to do with time. You can fall in love with anywhere instantaneously or gradually. It’s never isolated. Maybe I can’t hate New Zealand because the memories there are so pure and the scenery is so beautiful. Maybe I can’t love California because I’m not going back to the same people I met and cared about 2 years ago, or the same family that I moved there with before high school started.

Maybe home is just a mirror of our consciousness. It’s supposed to change with time, with us. We can’t love something with the same intensity forever. I want to go back to New York. The place that I’m in love with at this moment.

Dream as if you’ll live forever, Live as if you’ll die today

My Awesome Life

We’re responsive creatures, always yearning for some kind of carnal or spiritual fulfillment. So many of our conversations are dedicated to that one question: What makes us feel alive? For me it’s neither people nor adventures. It’s the shapes and colors that make up a city I love.

When I took a semester off in Cali, all I could think about was how much I missed NYC and how exciting it would be to blog about college life there. But four months after I returned to NYU I’ve only written four posts on my adventures here in the Big Apple. Ostensibly it’s because I just haven’t had the time. In reality it’s because I’ve kind of lost confidence in my writing. I don’t think I’ll ever be as good a writer as I would like to be, and I certainly don’t think I’m good enough to capture the sense of wonder I feel every time I step out onto the streets.

I’ve experienced no shortage of epiphanies walking on the same blocks, seeing the same things in different ways. Paradoxes run riot: tattoo parlors next to corporate banks, museums sandwiched by takeouts, apartments stacked atop liquor stores, and chains of buildings in alternating colors – black, tan, maroon – adorned by staircases twisting like rusty vines. It’s homogeneous yet dynamic, indifferent yet inviting. None of it makes any sense yet it all feels so right.

It’s a convoluted maze with a constellation of neon lights and no exit. Horizontal and vertical lines converge to make intersections that look exactly the same whether you’re in FiDi or Dumbo. You’re lost every time you’re out, but you never feel more at home. Last night I was strolling through Washington Square Park in the nicest weather in a long, long time, and I see the arch–silver silhouette inked against the black sky–illuminating the fountain and everyone around it. It was just so liberating. In that moment I actually felt so blessed to be alive. And I just couldn’t help wondering: Why then? I’ve seen that sight countless times in the past year and a half, and I’ve walked through the park in every weather, every hour. But that moment last night was the only time I’ve felt that kind of relief, the only time that those random bursts of sadness and rage I experience everyday felt so far away.

Despite the incurable bleakness of life and the shittiness of human nature, the world itself is still as sublime a vision as you will ever imagine. That vision alone is worth the effort of waking up every morning with a smile. It’s far more beautiful than life is ugly. It’s far more sincere than people are fake. Loving a place is far more satisfying than hating everything else.

Live with hope and live with love, if only for your surroundings. Find somewhere you love. See as much as you can before it’s too late.

Yay May

Musings/Rants

Hi. I’m going to crash in about 29 seconds so this will be a quick post. May is always the last month of the school year, so in about two weeks I’ll be essentially a junior. Half of my college career has come and gone. I can’t even begin to describe the aching emptiness that realization stirs up in my heart. I’m more than happy with the strides I’ve made this semester, socially, emotionally, and professionally…but whenever I look back I just can’t stop wondering how much better my life would be right now had I made different decisions, had I been courageous enough to trust my gut. Regrets are such a bitch to deal with. Yes they help you reflect and mature, but honestly I’d go back to being that retarded immature kid if I could roll back the seconds and erase some booby tracks on my road map. I don’t care about lessons. I just want those years back.

You know how people always say mistakes and regrets teach you shit? That with them you’ll be a better, more complete person? So rather than loathing them you should appreciate them? But I just don’t, you know? Whenever I reminisce on my regrets (which I guarantee you is a lot of the fucking time), I don’t think about the lessons they’ve taught me. I think about the things I should have and could have done instead but will never be able to because time doesn’t rotate counterclockwise.

Yeah well I’m still crying over spilled milk. Can’t help it.

Disillusionment, Love Potions, and that Obsession with the Unattainable

Musings/Rants, Relationships and Shit

So I just read this from a NY Times article:

“A few months ago, I read several articles touting the health benefits of writing in a deeply personal way. Studies had shown that writing introspectively on a regular basis can lead to lowered blood pressure, improved liver function and even the accelerated healing of postoperative wounds. The study’s subjects had been told to write for short periods each day about turbulent emotional experiences.”

Interesting. I know from experience that writing in a personal, introspective way can exorcise the darkest of demons, but I didn’t know it has been confirmed by science. That’s encouraging, I guess, because part of me thinks it’s kind of toxic to ponder so deeply and frequently on all the bizarre and bleak truths of life. ANYWAY. That was a passage from the Times’ Modern Love section, which features some of the best essays I have ever read. 1500 words, packed with the optimism of finding love, the relief of losing it, the joys and misery of fighting through it. And those stories – bitter, furious, grateful, and so, so raw – just made me realize that I’d never been in love and never felt anything nearly as beautiful or devastating as they have.

Is that a terrible thing to say? I sure feel a bit guilty writing it down, considering that I’ve had memories and experiences that warranted those feelings. Deserved them. Demanded them, even. But everything is relative, and compared to people who wrote those stories, I really don’t know anything. I thought I did. I thought I knew what love is, how it feels like, and what it could do, but the problem is just you don’t see shit when you’re in the middle of it. It’s hard to know that you’re letting staccato bursts of joy overtake your ability to see how glaringly toxic your relationship really is. And maybe that’s a good thing, because I know that the best is still ahead of me.

Assuming that everyone has some epic love story written into their palm lines ofc. I’m not sure we all do. We speculate on the future with a dizzying mix of dread and excitement. They’re so closely interwoven that it’s hard to define one without mentioning the other. And with them there’s always uncertainty. Am I going to get into Yale? Am I going to make it into the music industry? Am I going to get knocked over by a scooter

Yet when it comes to love, questions don’t start with “am I going to.” Instead you get the 5Ws. What do you look for in a guy/girl? Where do you want to get married at? What kind of person do you see yourself with? Who can make you happy? 

They’re not bad questions, but what right do we have to feel so sure that love is meant for everyone? It’s not even about finding the Harry to your Sally. What if some of us never meet anyone, never fall in love, never know what it feels like to hate someone so fucking much that you’d shove a champagne bottle up your ass and fake your own murder just to ruin his life (yeah, my inner Amy Dunne’s back)? What if we really do die alone?

If that’s the case, do we only have ourselves to blame? Is it because we’re too shallow or too idealistic or too indifferent? It’d be easier if that’s the case because at least we have control over our flaws. I don’t believe it’s all about us. It takes a lot to foster connection and turn spark into fire. Circumstances have to work with you, chance has to work with you, people have to work with you. Not everyone can get all three on his/her side. I certainly can’t. Maybe that’s because I’m awkward as fuck and freak out every time I have to socialize with people.

I’m not saying I’ve given up on pursuing that intoxicating whirlwind romance that everyone should experience at least once per lifetime. I’m going to chase it, and I’m going to believe that it’s still in the cards for me because that’s pretty much all we have. Chasing is living. That briefest moment just before yearning becomes fulfillment is pure euphoria.

But I don’t expect it to happen. I just hope it does.

Hi.

My Awesome Life

Hi again. I’m back from the dead. Please believe me when I say I’ve literally had no time to blog. Without torturing you with insanely dull details, let’s just say I got kicked out of my dorm and pulled off 2 straight all nighters. Yeah, um, the building next to my dorm exploded. East Village explosion. You may have read it on the news. My parents certainly haven’t….either that or they just forgot my address. But uh, anyhow, I’ve ran the gauntlet of the most extreme emotional and physical torture and made it out alive. Barely, with a ton of bruises and scares that may never heal, but alive nonetheless. I’ve missed blogging. The whole time I was wandering around NYC at seven in the morning, sweaty and disgusting and homeless, I thought about blogging constantly. Blogging, writing, cussing, crying, anything that let’s me exorcise all the rage and hatred and sexual frustration burning inside my loins (lol). I actually had a nice long howl Saturday afternoon that left me relieved, exhausted, and extremely thirsty (lol).

And I had my second quarter-life existential crisis in two weeks. Who am I?? Am I making the right decisions? It’s so confusing because the various commitments I’ve taken up this semester require me to adopt several personas, all of which feel so foreign to me. And I’m cool with that; after all, you need to take risks and grow as a person. Yet sometimes I just feel like I’m pushing myself to become someone I’m not.

Fake it till you make it. That’s what everyone tells us. Especially us introverts who refuse to comply with the charismatic, articulate, extroverted personality standard that society lauds. The whole time I’m “faking it till I make it,” all I can think of is, “why do I have to fake it to make it??” Why do we live in a society where being introverted and quiet and perceptive is considered a weakness? I can’t remember how many times I’ve been told that if I don’t speak up I’ll never get anywhere. I just think that’s so fucked up, this idea that being a good talker is more valuable than being a good thinker or a good listener.

Since that’s the way society has become, I’m willing to change myself, to improve on my “weaknesses.” But at what point do I start to lose myself? At what point do I begin to see my “weaknesses” as real weaknesses? Knowing that I may really start hating my introverted traits scares the shit out of me. I have to remind myself constantly that it’s okay to be withdrawn, that it’s therapeutic to wander off into my little world and imagine weird, crazy things that’ll never happen, that it’s fine to leave the practical world behind for a little while. I do that because I truly believe that those so called weaknesses are the essence of my being. I do that because I’ve never considered my awkwardness or my inability to speak coherently a real weakness. Maybe that’s why I’m such a slow learner, but that’s also why I’ve never lost myself.

Truth is, I get attached easily but nothing sticks. I don’t have an addictive personality. Cigarette smoke invigorates me. If some guy walks by me with a cig dangling out of his mouth, I’d breathe in real deep and exhale real slow, bathing in that delirious blend of toxins. Sometimes I even get that irresistible urge to snatch it out of someone’s hands and take a drag myself. Goddamn. But if I don’t see it, I don’t think about it. Even when I’m smoking and loving the hell out of it, I know that it’s never gonna be a habit. That’s how it goes what everything I do. I’ll get involved and work hard but I know where my heart is. That’s the mindset I had going into this year, into some of the academic pursuits that I took on.

But I’m starting to think I’m losing my stand.

Moments.

My Awesome Life

If you’re one of those few awesome people who follow my blog regularly, you’d know that I’m obsessed with time. I used to write about it frequently until I realized that my obsession is so ironic because I’m always wasting time.

If I have a two hour gap between classes, I’d spend it stalking people on social media or playing that stupid new iPhone game instead of finishing those seven excruciatingly long pages in Symposium. That means those seven pages are reserved for midnight, after Netflix and dinner with friends and the internship columns and the ten other distractions that I can’t even remember right now. But at midnight I’ll remember that I haven’t showered in two and a half days and, being obsessed with time, I’ll feel obliged to change that. So instead of reading those pages and getting a good seven-hour sleep for the test tomorrow morning, I’ll hop in the shower and start thinking about the dumbest shit like the first time I’ve ever listened to Nirvana or that remarkably beautiful moment each fall when I realize that the leaves are no longer green.

And before I know it it’s 12.40am, but for some reason I don’t start reading until 1.40am. By then I’ll feel so guilty for wasting so much time that I only read 3 pages for 20 mins and hop into bed at 2am. But ofc I don’t sleep till 2.30 because my perpetually nostalgic mind will wander down memory lane to a bunch of obscure memories from 6, 7, 8 years ago that I had long since forgotten.

I haven’t stopped feeling guilty about my inability to conserve time until yesterday morning at 5am, when I went to sleep. I got back from a friend’s friend’s birthday party (because I have no friends of my own) at 3am, slightly tipsy and quite lonely and very, very depressed because all my (very few) friends ever talk about is their significant other halves while I, talented kind and exceptionally beautiful, remain directionless in life and partnerless in love. Anyhow, right after I got back two of my friends wanted to Skype together. I obliged despite my exhaustion because in that frame of mind I would have slept next to the security guard just to be next to someone. And as we Skyped and bitched about people and life and love and school, my drunkenness and loneliness and self-loathing slipped away one by one, so subtly that I didn’t notice anything until happiness, the intoxicating happiness associated with familiarity and company, pretty much made my head explode. Life is better with company. I fucking hate that line because it’s so fucking true.

And that, finally, brings me to my grand epiphany. Maybe wasting time is how we’re supposed to college. Maybe not knowing how to focus on the important shit is the beauty of our 20s. Drinking past midnight. Talking till dawn. Procrastinating on absolutely everything. Sleeping so late every night that morning doesn’t begin until the clock hits double digits. Reminiscing on the not too distant past, speculating on the not too distant future: nostalgia and optimism so closely intertwined that they’re almost interchangeable. It’s toxic, I know. But it’s temporary. We can’t afford to waste time and abuse our bodies so carelessly in our thirties, or forties, or God forbid fifties. Maybe it’s okay to be that reckless, spoilt college kid once in a while.

Profound Bitchings Part 3: Fear of Commitment vs. Fear of Abandonment

Relationships and Shit

They’re the same thing, if you think it through. It’s a cause and effect relationship centered around this obnoxious, unnecessary, nonexistent phenomenon called love. Fear of Commitment (FoC) is just a fancy term for Fear of Abandonment (FoA). We may think FoC is caused by FoA, but they’re really more intertwined than sequential.

Okay, I’ll drop the big words and confusing syntax and give you an example:

Boy A is ratchet af. Frat parties are his nights, and hangovers are his mornings. He doesn’t do relationships cuz he thinks he’s some hot shit too busy to deal with drama. He doesn’t do love cuz he thinks he’s some tough shit too damaged to ever feel emotionally alive again.

Enter Girl A. (There is no Boy B or Girl B so I honestly don’t know why I’m labeling them that way). Christian. Prude. 40-year-old virgin. Everything he’s not, which obviously makes them soul mates. They meet on Okcupid and fall in love instantly cuz she’s a creepy ass cougar and he’s into creepy ass cougars.

The catch: He lives in Scotland and she lives in Ohio. At first they skype and send nudes to each other constantly, then FoC creeps in. Questions attacked them from every angle: Where is this going? How are we ever going to meet? Is there even a chance of me getting laid?

Skepticism piles in. Skype convo taper off into uncomfortable silences. Message threads condensed to one word responses with deminishing interest. But the feelings never faded. They just never got a chance to show their worth.

Keep in mind that I’m using the word “abandonment” in a very broad sense. It could be rejection, heartbreak, failure, not working out. Although long-distance and a lack of physical interaction is a legitimate reason to shun commitment, most of the time FoC comes from a pretty selfish place. It’s more an excuse to be a promiscuous asshole than a defensive mechanism. I’m pretty sure being kicked in the balls feels a bit more like death than some bitch calling out someone else’s name while you were giving it to her. Game of Thrones hurt me more times and more deeply than any man ever has (which, admittedly, is not many because no one can stand my awkward, self-pitying ass).

We can handle it. We’ll walk out of it  battered and bruised and really fucking pissed off, but we’ll recover just fine because we in our hearts we know that failed relationships were meant to fail for the right one to find us. We’re not really afraid to be hurt, but we are afraid to be too invested. Investment means work, and work’s not cool.

Nonchalance is. And that’s what FoC is all about – the fear of losing that nonchalance to love.

K gotta board my plane now. After a 3 hour delay. I’ll may come back and elaborate that ending, but probably not because I don’t even know what I’m talking about.