Month: November 2018
How Rebecca Sugar Uses Music
I don’t have many nice things to say about Rebecca Sugar. I couldn’t tell you why I bristle at her mere mention but I simply don’t have many kind words to say to her. I do like many of her works, I think she was one of the best parts of Adventure Time and her writing made the show better and Steven Universe…well, that could be an entire other post. But I have to give credit where credit is due: Sugar is a fantastic songstress. And for that very reason, I want to give a little time to talk about how Sugar uses sound, lyric and score and to praise her, even briefly because game does recognize game.
If you listen to me gush about Adventure Time many times the moments that are most powerful to me are the ones that involve songs. I’m a musical person, I relate easily to music. But before we jump headfirst into a list of songs that probably made me cry, let’s start with some history. Rebecca Sugar is cut from a cloth that I got to also be cut from: fangirl on the internet. She’s most notable for me for his fanfiction and fan art. She is an animator, artist, musician and more and we grew up with similar fandoms and shows even though we do not in any way know each other. She worked on the staff of Adventure Time under Pendleton Ward during what may be the best run of the series but she’s most famous for breaking away and doing her own show: Steven Universe.
Sugar is a songstress in so many ways. She writes lyrics, she sings, she plays instruments and she is incredibly tactful with how she employs song.
I want to go over a few in depth because I think they merit analysis.
Let’s start with Remember You, employed in Adventure Time between Marceline and the Ice King. This song is gone into more depth in another post but I want to talk about the use of lyrics are plot device here. Sugar is able to blend plot, character and more using a song to bridge the gap built by these two characters and thus fill us the audience in on a secret hundreds of years in the making. It’s a heartbreaking moment that I won’t forget and is responsible for making me cry alone in my car at least once.
Next up is Stronger Than You, sung by Estelle in Steven Universe. How SU uses gender and sexuality could be its own blog post if I cared more to write about it but with Garnet I am particularly invested. As a person who doesn’t follow the gender binary, a duet with the self is incredibly powerful. Both parts of me are fantastic and make me the whole as both parts of Garnet, Ruby and Sapphire are fantastic. The triumphant tone of the song was such a power anthem for me for so long and was a great way to help me analogize my gender identity to questioning Muggles.
We’ll take another dive into SU with It’s Over, Isn’t It sung by Pearl in an episode that was entirely musical. But this song was clearly meant to be the showstopper. It’s a deeply emotional ballad where Pearl discusses her love for the fallen Rose Quartz and the bitterness and jealousy that can come from loving a woman who doesn’t choose you. Pearl has had to cast aside every negative feeling she’s had to raise Steven and she’s clearly still quite raw about the whole thing. This song was so vulnerable and emotional and very resonate for many women (especially ones like me) who have longed for another woman only to see them leave and have to maintain the facsimile of a friendship with them and do your best through gritted teeth respect the man they chose over you. Not to say this is healthy or perfect. The one-sidedness of this song does highlight the fact that Pearl’s feelings, while valid, are still unhealthy and her damn near predatory romance when it comes to Rose and her deep resentment towards Steven and Greg Universe continue to be antagonizing forces in the narrative of the show.
Which brings us to the most recent song that made me cry: Time Adventure. This song was used in the final episode of Adventure Time and while the finale to me was mostly blah this song was so heartfelt and emotional that as soon as I heard Sugar sing it during the final cast panel at NYCC, I cried. It’s a song about friendship, how time is a trick and it doesn’t matter who you are at your worst or who you may be, what matters is the bond formed because that is in fact timeless. The way she uses language in the lyrics is actually quite brilliant:
Will happen, happening, happen
It’s all a funny trick of tense that carries you melodically but also logically. And it’s simple rhyme scheme and lyrics make it easy to remember. This is one of the rare instances where I do think a cover is better. In the finale (SPOILER) Bee-mo is the one to sing this song and in Bee-mo’s auto-tuned voice, it rings a little hollow and hard to understand. But Sugar singing this carefully, softly, clearly and over the ukulele (because of course she did) made the song sound so intimate and personal: like you were the only person in the room hearing her play even though it was in fact, a packed convention hall that got to share in such a precious moment. Time Adventure is a gut punch of a song that I found myself singing by myself in moments of quiet when my inner demons got a little too loud. Like a little lullaby I could sing to myself to soothe my insecurities about myself and those I have surrounded myself with.
I wish I had kinder things to say about Rebecca Sugar. I wish my feelings weren’t so muddled in not liking the fandom she helped create and the person who is simply a creator. I wish I could go home again with many of these shows. But despite my cynicism and disenchantment, I have to give her credit: she sure can sing.
Unfortunately, Required Reading Episode 2: The Not-So-Great Gatsby
Episode 2 is live in which we discuss The Great Gatsby and get champagne drunk in the middle of the day.
When I Don’t Remember You
2018 has been a pretty heavy blog year, hasn’t it? I’ll blame Mercury’s Retrograde or something. But I wanted to tell a personal story and it all relates to Adventure Time and the struggle it is to grapple with the legacy of someone who is no longer with us.
For the record, I love Adventure Time. It was one of the first cartoons I started watching after college and it hit me at a perfect time and place in my life. I was emotionally vulnerable, had far too much time on my hands and was easily swept into a light-hearted yet incredibly emotional adventure with a boy and his dog. I had no idea that this show would emotionally gut me over and over again. Famously, there was one night after the episode Simon and Marcy aired that I remember messaging Carlos and telling him “Be prepared to hate the theme song from Cheers.” to which then an hour or so later I got another message from him saying that he hated me, hated the song and that he was mad a show for kids made him emotional at all.
Truthfully, it wasn’t even when this particular episode aired that it made me emotional, though I did cry a little as I learned the lyrics to the song. I was because the narrative demanded I be so but it was more recent that it brought a more thoughtful tear to my eye in an entirely different context. It was after re-adding a few of the songs I lost after the tragic death of my Zune to my current musical cloud and I found a song that I had downloaded years ago from Adventure Time. It was I Remember You, sung by Marceline and the Ice King. Narratively, it’s about a lost relationship due to the crippling loss of one’s mind and a preemptive apology for all the things one does as they lose their mind.
You may know where I’m going with this.
My grandma passed away a few years ago. She was diagnosed with dementia when I was in the first half of my college career. Grandma was always sort of flighty and scatterbrained; her chronic forgetfulness was easy to write off. But medicine proved that she was losing her memory and we had little precious time with her as we knew her. I was fortunate that she was very aware for a majority of her later years in life. I didn’t notice a serious decline until after I graduated from college. Hell, we even casually joked that once she didn’t remember who I was that it was done. That would be the end of our relationship as granddaughter and grandmother. Though it was a joke, it was also a clear line in the sand for my sanity and for hers. It didn’t mean I’d ever stop loving and respecting her but I had to set that hard and fast line. Because the spiral of losing her was something that I would not wish on anyone.
My grandma said some nasty things as she began to lose herself. She was usually sweet but when she was combative it was scary. It was difficult watching the woman who helped raise me during my early years decline in such a way. I never thought she meant the mean things she said but it was always difficult to deal with when my grandmother berated me for denying her iced tea at lunch (she had a heart condition that forced us to seriously limit her caffeine intake).. It wasn’t always bad. The bad times came in bursts. Most days were quiet but the beast did creep up in moments. Grandma would get paranoid after watching hours of crime procedurals. She’d ask about her husband who had passed away over a decade ago. She’d ask about plenty of people who were no longer with us. It is disingenuous to make it sound like it was all violent outbursts; it was in fact their scarcity that made them so powerful. And in her moments of lucidity, it was like you could see the flashes of the person my grandmother used to be. After saying something horrible, she’d apologize a day or two later or she’d just simply forget: it’s hard to hold a grudge against someone who doesn’t remember the argument.
And talking to my aunts about it seemed to do very little. I mostly dealt with it by simply shutting down and not dealing with it. All of us were processing this thing at the same time and that left very little room to help each other cope with the thought of losing our family’s matriarch. So for the longest time I mostly just internalized the pain of watching her slip away by ignoring it, keeping my head down and remembering the better times. I was working in a mall at a job I hated, I had a routine, an all be it terrible one, but it was a routine.. And my routine often revolved around my grandmother. I worked so that I could be with her in the morning and I seldom stayed out late with friends: someone had to be there with her. We did our best to work together as a family and I know my grandmother received the best care we could give her. But once I moved away, I finally had time to realize that I had kept those feelings of loss and longing bottled up. I did my best to call but the physical distance of moving away makes it difficult to maintain even the most important of relationships.
There was one day that I called and my aunt went to hand over the phone. My aunt said “It’s Amanda on the phone.” and I could hear my grandmother say “Who is that?” and my aunt had to remind her that I was her grandchild.
I don’t think I told anyone how much that bothered me. I don’t think I even told myself how much it really bothered me. And I stopped calling for a while. When I heard that she wasn’t doing well, I came back home to visit and she passed away while I was making my way home. I stayed the night and returned home long enough to pack and prepare for the funeral.
That was 2 years ago.
So when I was sitting in my car listening to the lyrics of I Remember You which says so clearly:
Please forgive me for whatever I do, when I don’t remember you.
I sat there for a moment or two and just sort of let it happen. It was far from a dramatic anime cry but one of those small tears you barely notice until the headache of emotional weakness kicks in.
I had always thought I had forgiven my grandmother for the things she said in anger. I realized then that not only had I not but I had barely reconciled the person who passed and the person I looked up to so much. I handled her passing about as well as I did my mother’s, in that I didn’t. I accepted it and moved on. I kept moving forward but it was while stopped at a stoplight and listening to my cursed musical cloud on shuffle that I had to pause and take stock in the feelings that I had buried for my own protection.
I’m working towards forgiving her for the things that she did I’m working on forgiving myself for not always being an enlightened saint during that time.
So thank you, Adventure Time for being one of many songs that can bring a tear to my eyes. Maybe, just maybe, catharsis isn’t so bad after all.
Unfortunately, Required Reading: Episode 1- Watership Man Down
Welcome to our first episode of my new podcast: Unfortunately, Required Reading!
This week we cover Watership Down, a book I hate and a language I was forced to learn and still remember.
Unfortunately, Required Reading-Podcast
I started a podcast with fellow writer, fellow English major and dear friend: Victoria. Unfortunately, Required Reading is a podcast about all the books you had to read in school that you look upon with distain now. Join us for candid conversations about booze, literature and plenty of snark.
You can follow us on all of these lovely places:
Today is November 5th. Well, not today. I schedule these posts well in advance. But as of this going live it is November 5th. And every year, for many years I’m watching a movie. This movie is V for Vendetta, adapted from the wildly popular Alan Moore comic. This movie centers around a vigilante, V, and his mission to overthrow the Parliament and Chancellor of a near-future dystopian England. V meets with Evey, a woman he ‘rescues’ this woman and uses her assistance to help in his plan that is to blow up a few powerful and important buildings on Guy Fawkes Day (November 5th). Guy Fawkes was, for those who do not know, an actual historical figure and central to the Gunpowder Plot: a plot to kill King James of Scotland using a crap ton of gunpowder because James was Protestant (and probably was gay) and was Fawkes and his other conspirators were Catholic. Fawkes was executed on November 5th via a very brutal hanging because King James was no wimp and had to make an example out of the Catholic almost-murderer. The day in the U.K. is known as Bonfire Night: a way to celebrate the occasion of ending your enemy and the Catholics, apparently.
Here is a good place to also mention that I’m less talking about the graphic novel and more about the movie which does make some changes that are almost necessary when it comes to adaptation. The movie came out in the 2000s when I was young, in high school and full of ennui. And I very distinctly remember the movie for its stylized violence, excellent casting and great cinematography. I also remember it hitting a little too close to home.
This movie came out in exactly 2005, which means that George W. Bush was president, 9/11 had already happened and liberties were squashed in the name of “freedom” and other lofty abstract concepts. I grew up in the shadow of a Post-9/11 World and paranoia, racism, terror and hyper-nationalism were already things I was tired of as of the release of this film. So when there was talk of curfews and surveillance and armed men that kept the streets safe and silenced dissidents, none of that felt like a far dystopian future. It felt like my current reality.
But then Obama was elected president and all was magic and there was much gaiety and many freedoms.
It was a simpler time.
Since it was a simpler time, let’s go over some of the places where this movie is…problematic because there aren’t enough hot takes on the internet about that. V is creepy. V is a monster. V stalks Evey and tortures her and brutalizes her and then claims that all of it is done to make her strong. Only after she is broken and beaten and unsure of what is real and false and I still struggle to choke down those scenes of abuse and mistreatment and gaslighting. But hey, it’s easy to skip over if it means I get to relish in all of the pay-off that is achieved during the film’s climax.
Now, the good times were not to last forever and Obama’s rule was not entirely perfect, the movie was easy to see as entertainment again. Nothing bad happened during the late 2000s to the 2010s. I continued the yearly tradition because it’s just a damn good movie.
And then 2016 happened.
I don’t like talking about politics online. Not because I do not have opinions, but because it’s hard to explain feelings and opinions well using only typed words and no hand gestures but I’ll say this: 2016 was a nightmare and it has only gotten worse since then.
I do not like the reality we are in and I will continue to express that displeasure until this nightmare ends.
And as I continued the ritual I did every year, on the heels of an election that was filled with racism, xenophobia, hatred and venom and suddenly…none of it seemed so dystopian.
Those feelings only got worse once Trump was actually elected.
I remember watching in 2017 after watching another dystopian film Watchmen and I was practically paralyzed. I no longer felt like I was watching a movie. Short of the weird masked alliterative ninja man all of those themes were back with a vengeance and my anxiety and mental health were having none of it.
There was still in our world police violence and racism and nationalism and the emergence of fascism and more just as there was in this horrid fake London.
It didn’t feel like I distant future, it felt like a probable reality.
For the sake of my mental health, I think I’ll skip my normally yearly ritual but I will not forget the message behind it. I won’t forget the spirit of tangible revolution: one of the best things about the film is action even if in no way I can say that the way V goes about things is right or valid. I can in no way affirm or say it’s good to be outwardly violent to those you disagree with but I can dissent and fight for my rights and the rights of others. I can vote, I can protest peacefully, I can use my voice and platform to express what I believe. And while it is seductive to want wanton destruction and the end of those who you do not agree with, it seldom does anything good. I think the film is stronger for admitting that yes, V did get to blow up the building but nothing will be changed aside from there being one less building. Sure, he took out a fascist, but there will always be other fascists. It is our job to simply make it more difficult to let those people rise to power.
Happy Guy Fawkes Day, readership. Splendid Bonfire Night. Happy Election Night Eve.
May you all never grow too weary to fight for what is right.
Taking Care of and Treating the Self
This has been a difficult small eternity, hasn’t it been? And I don’t say that to make light of the serious nonsense that’s been going on in the U.S. and abroad I say that to tell all of you that I am just as stressed out as many of you are.
But with that in mind, I wanted to talk about self-care and how I do my best to manage our current garbage fire of a world.
For those unaware: self-care is a series of actions, rituals and practices that help improve one’s own mental health. It’s become quite the buzzword recently and with the rise of “treat yo self” culture, it’s one of many things appropriated from those with chronic mental illness and conflated with simply being immature, irresponsible, selfish and reckless. True self-care shouldn’t be damaging, put you in a financial lurch or be entirely disastrous to one’s health or usual routine and it isn’t an excuse to be a jerk and shun personal responsibilities to oneself and to others.
I’m far from a paragon of mental health, longtime readers I’m sure are aware with my struggles with depression, anxiety and more. But I offer these tips as:
- An insight into my semi-chaotic mind and world.
- Genuine advice for those curious about the world of self-care.
Here are a few of the ways I take care of myself after a long day, week, month or year.
I Get Witchy
Many readers have noticed my predilection towards the supernatural. I can’t help it, I was born Roman Catholic. But I’ve always been vaguely magical. From ghosts to hauntings to ritual, I’ve been drawn to the world of magic and spirituality for years now. I found crystals recently and while I’m far from a basic witch who thinks crystals can cure cancer (they cannot, please see actual doctors) I do take some solace in my crystals. I know it’s psychosomatic, but so is aromatherapy so don’t come @ me. I’ve always enjoyed rituals so lighting some incense, wafting over my crystals and myself and doing a little tarot is a lovely way to unwind: I still walk into Catholic churches and still do at times take in the eucharist but I have never seen Catholicism as a religious entirely separate from paganism. My Catholicism is at home with tarot, incense, crystals.
I Get Beautiful
I have very low self-esteem despite being strangely vain and concerned about my looks. I have pores you could land a plane on. I have acne scars because of self-mutilation behaviors and eczema. I am chubby and short and I am unhappy with my body. But I am still incredibly vain. And in that displeasure with my cursed meat shell, I do what I can to make myself feel pretty. I love masks, I love serums, I love makeup. I love my fit and flare dresses and my dusty pink wardrobe. I do things that help me feel a little bit prettier.
I Enjoy Something Wholesome
Every Saturday morning for the past several months, I wake up early (well, I’m always up early) and I spend an hour in the morning before I get up and leave to start my day watching a magpie and her owner on Periscope. It’s wholesome, relaxing, funny and sweet. The bird is adorable, her owner is attentive and answers all the questions the folks in the livestream have about his beautiful bird and the weather in England and which biscuits are the best (we disagree on Oreos). The world for many of us is a hot garbage fire and social media is hard to do. The 24-hour news cycle is exhausting and it seems like everything is awful everywhere. But for an hour every Saturday, I get to watch things be okay for an hour. I have an entire list of videos and television shows I can watch to avoid feeling anything too much. I try to, during the darker times, to watch things that I know may trigger an emotional episode (something a few friends of mine have lovingly called “dead parent approved” or “not dead parent approved”). Wholesome things include, kittens, sloths, The Mameshiba theme song and the like. Not to say I don’t still watch things that challenge me (see my long post about watching BoJack Horseman despite it hurting me emotionally every single time I watch it) but if I’ve already had a rough week, there’s no point in making things worse needlessly by opting to watch something stressful.
I Do Something (Important)
The world is a hot dumpster fire in many places and that is overwhelming and exhausting, but it’s important to turn disillusion into action. I do what I can when I can. I educate those who wish to listen. I vote on matters that are pressing to me. I continue to express what I feel and educate myself when needed.
I Do Something (Frivolous)
There are plenty of instances where doing something big just isn’t appropriate or needed but that doesn’t mean I like to stay inactive. Especially considering how insidious the negative voices in your head can be, it’s important to seek out others. I sit on calls, I go out to the mall, I go for a walk in the park. I do my best to do something. Many will recall how I use Pokemon Go to sometimes help me get out of my apartment and get some air.
I Indulge (Unfortunately)
A friend remarked that my self-care began with cake and ended with frosting. She wasn’t entirely wrong with that assessment. Remember that remark I made earlier about self-care not being something that should totally derail you? Well, I occasionally lie. I bake, I love sweets and sometimes I buy dumb things on Amazon. It isn’t self-care but it does sometimes happen and sometimes I do feel better after making a meal of two cakes.
I’m far from a mental health expert. I’m fortunate to be surrounded by people who are genuinely invested in my mental health and a therapist who is loving, empathetic and understanding. These are simply a few of the ways I cope with a stressful world. That does not mean I am always successful in my attempts at taking care of myself. I still have bad days but they are likely reduced when I do what I can to take care of myself. Again, none of these things are a substitute for actual mental health care. That’s always been my ire with the modern use of the term “self-care”. I work hard to be the best version of me and spending hundreds of dollars in cakes and lipsticks are not ways to be my best self. It’s effort, it’s crying, it’s stressing out over panels and how to get paint out of things. It’s calling friends tirelessly and in tears and arranging to meet over late night coffees to rant about failed first dates. It’s lapsing and trying your very best to be better next time.
Be kind to yourself and others, dear readership.