Musical Monday #5: My Shot

Happy Musical Monday! I had the pleasure of seeing Hamilton a few weeks ago, and I’m still, as the kids say, shook. So this week’s gonna be a little different…

I’ve been a semi-fan for a few years now, ever since the soundtrack started making waves across the internet. For the uninitiated, Hamilton: an American Musical is what sounds like a ridiculous premise: a rap opera about the life of the first Secretary of the Treasury of the United States of America, the titular Alexander Hamilton. If that doesn’t sound like a failed 90s-era attempt to relate to the happenin’ youth of today, I don’t know what does, but the reality is so much better than you can even imagine.

Hamilton is especially accessible because, like operas of yore, pretty much the entire story is relayed through the musical numbers, so the soundtrack is the story. It’s practically an audio book, but with much less verbal stage direction, so the listener has to fill in some of the gaps themselves. But by listening a few times, you can pretty much follow the entirety of the plot. (side-note: I actually did basically this with my parents recently, where we each had the lyrics open while we listened to the soundtrack, and it required very minimal explanation….and you can listen to the full soundtrack on YouTube)

I was worried my near-memorization of the soundtrack would take something away from my actual experience seeing Hamilton on stage. But if anything, it enhanced it. Since I already knew the story, already had the dialogue in my head, I was left to focus on the differences of inflection or mood between the recording and the live performance I saw; and focus on the visuals.

And man, the visuals.

Having fallen in love with this musical entirely through the soundtrack (I actually avoided most images, aside from looking up the basic look of the characters), I didn’t expect it to be such a visual treat. But the stage was stunning, the choreography blew me away, and the subtle depth of the acting—from emotional moments between major characters to the small peppering of extras in the background—had me crying from the first song through to the last. I’ve seen a number of Broadway shows as they come through Portland, and this one blew them all away.


“Alexander Hamilton” by Lin-Manuel Miranda

LyricsiTunes

Perhaps unsurprisingly, it’s very hard to find actual footage of Hamilton performances, but I really wanted a visual for this. This is a version done at an awards ceremony, so it lacks the normal set, but it gets pretty close. Of course, it’s impossible to convey the grandeur of a stage performance in a recording, but you can use your imagination.

Although above is the opening number, my favorite song is actually “My Shot.” It’s the third song on the soundtrack, and the first time I heard it, I knew I was hooked. It’s so fast and so damn witty, with a great mix of longing and determination.

“My Shot” by Lin-Manuel Miranda

LyricsiTunes

I have always been pretty abysmal at history. In fact, I generally suck at anything that involves memorization. I can follow logic, and I can understand a narrative, but I can’t memorize names and dates to save my life. The few times history really resonated in school was when the books we were reading in English happened to align with what we were learning about in History. If I’d had Hamilton as a teenager, I think my relationship with history would have been very different.

“I am not throwing away my shot
I am not throwing away my shot
Hey yo, I’m just like my country
I’m young, scrappy, and hungry
And I’m not throwing away my shot…”

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Queer Characters in YA Dystopians

I like to joke about queering straight characters through fanfiction, headcanons, and the like, but I do seriously believe that a fictional world that doesn’t include LGBTQIA+ characters is a poorly constructed world.

This particularly drives me crazy with YA Dystopian Science Fiction, and is one of the reasons I’ve stopped reading it over the last few years. I can accept a story that follows a character who’s a member of the privileged middle class; a story that’s about someone living comfortably in a society, and then slowly realizing how corrupt and horrible it really is. And I can accept that a straight character is a good vehicle for this story, especially if the government has any control over reproduction and marriage. The fall down is longer when you fall from the most privileged place. However, for that character to never even meet someone gay as she realizes how corrupt her government is, to never even learn about this massive part of her society which has been completely erased, or to never even encounter hints of the suppression of queer individuals (even hints she misses) just rings false to me.

The same can be said for diversity in general. You tend to see essentially the same white girl in a lot of Dystopian literature, and while she usually has slightly different motivations and background in each iteration, it starts to feel like reading the same story over and over again.

A great example of a Dystpian Sci Fi that did work for me is Delirium, by Lauren Oliver. Her main character starts out content in her society; a society which has deemed love a disease, and enacted a lobotomizing “cure” to rid humanity of it. In the first book there are no actively gay characters, but there is an aside to the fact that such people used to exist, and were also impacted by the government’s efforts to stamp out the Delirium. In the context of the story, where people marry for reproduction and adults can get carted away for showing signs of any form of love, it not only makes sense that LGBTQIA+ characters would be few and far between, but it actually adds to the weirdness of the world. In the later books, we even get to meet real, live queer people.

My main beef with the lack of queer characters in YA Science Fiction is this: it shows a clear and puzzling naivety of our current world. We are in the midst of a revolution. Like the Civil Rights Movement and the Women’s Rights Movement, both of which still rage in our culture to this day, LGBTQIA+ people across America (and beyond, obviously) are fighting for equal rights and equal representation. Already, gay, lesbian, and trans people are appearing in pop culture in increasingly less-stereotypical roles. Same-sex marriage has been legalized, and in many places in America no one bats an eye when they see two guys holding hands on the bus. Queer people can and do actively and openly hold positions of power, both in entertainment and in more “substantial” areas like government and business. This is real, and this is happening, and it’s clear that the changes beginning now will drastically affect the way our world looks in the future. Even if we fall into the pits of a dystopian future, that won’t change the reality of now; and failing to acknowledge the echos of that is, frankly, pretty similar to the re-programming done by a controlling futuristic dictatorship. You know, the bad guys.

I’m not saying all Dystopians have to address this, because I can buy that in some, the corrupt controlling government has probably stamped out open sexual and gender minorities along with all the other people who don’t fit into their version of utopia, and altered the record of history so vastly that barely any hints have survived. Every story is different. But what I don’t buy is that virtually no YA Dystopians deal with this. It’s especially ridiculous when you think that these books are aimed at teenagers. These issues are especially relevant to teenagers, who are just starting to explore their own sexuality. Even the straightest teens will have friends and classmates who aren’t, and it’s important that this reality is acknowledged in their fiction as well. It also misses out on a very interesting lens by which to view the corrupt world; as someone who isn’t even supposed to exist.

Or, a revolutionary idea: how about a world where queerness is seamlessly a part of society; an invisible, unremarkable part of who some people are. And then there’s a completely unrelated dystopian hellscape, without queerness being dragged in for added angst and drama. Wouldn’t that be something?

I think this also speaks to a larger problem in literature, especially YA literature. In the last ten years there has definitely been an influx of books that do have queer characters, but often these are “issue” books; books generally of a contemporary-fiction bent, which focus on the problems of being different. These books are great, of course, and necessary. They let people recognize the problems they’re facing, or help them understand the problems of others. But it can’t end there. If the only queer characters we ever see are in books specifically about being queer, it feels like a finite existence, not a universal one. And that’s simply inaccurate.

I’ve been a little spoiled by shows like Steven Universe and Welcome to Night Vale, where characters are unabashedly queer, but their queerness doesn’t impact the plot other than just being part of who they are. I really don’t have time for books that are about different versions of essentially the same straight cis white girl. She’s fine, but I’ve read her story before; give me something more!


It’s been a few years since I wrote the first version of this post, so when I found it sitting in my drafts, I reached out to my friend Mel, who works for a bookstore in Seattle, and is much more attuned to the current YA world than me. I was hoping that in the five years since I first drafted this post, something had changed. Sadly, it seems like not much has.

I was able to come up with a small list of recommended reading, but it doesn’t look like any of the big-hitting franchises have changed their tone much. The style of YA that I fell in love with around 2010 has always had the potential to tackle these topics in ways other forms of literature can’t, and I’m sad that it seems the big publishers are still shying away from giving Hunger Games– and Divergent-level marketing to stories with prominent (or any) queer characters.

Also, I’m not sure what significance it has, but the ones I could find seemed to be mostly about boys, even though the main trend of YA Dystopian in a post-Hunger Games world has been for female protagonists.

But, here’s a reading list you (and I) can dig in to the next time the itch for Dystopian YA hits:

Runebinder, by Alex R. Kayler
(though I think this is more Fantasy than Sci Fi)

Proxy, by Alex London

The Culling, by Steven Dos Santos

And for further reading, here are some super helpful lists of queer YA books:

100 Must-Read LGBTQIA YA Books

Most Anticipated Queer YA Books of 2018: Hypable’s Top Picks

Please, if you know some good YA Dystopians that actually feature LGBTQIA+ people (especially as more than just background), let me know!

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Musical Monday #4: Tik Tok

Ok, so it’s not Monday, but I missed the last two weeks…and I’m in a musical mood.

If you’re just joining us, you can read here why I, someone who doesn’t know much about music, is talking about it so much .

Portland’s been doing that early-spring thing where it alternates between sunny and chilly (often in the same day), and right now it’s super warm and sunny. This season always makes me crave dancy pop music, so here we go!


“Tik Tok” by Ke$ha

LyricsiTunes

So, I kind of love Kesha. I mean, I especially like her new album, but that’s a topic for another week, because right now what I’m feeling is her old stuff. The stuff that’s all beat and auto-tune and ridiculousness.

I’m not what anyone would consider a partier (I actually first discovered this song via this bookish parody by YA author Jackson Pearce), but Kesha’s stuff is always great to dance to. And there’s just something about the rhythm and catchy repetition that makes my brain happy.

If there’s any type of music I’m most self-conscious about liking, it’s probably pop music. I’ve always been self-conscious about it. As I’ve said before, it never seemed like I liked the right stuff at the right time. When my friends were into pop, I was still listening to oldies. By the time I’d caught up to pop, everyone had gone alternative. By the time I was figuring out what that even meant, indie music was all the rage, and I basically gave up ever understanding what constituted “cool” music. “Pop” music doesn’t feel intellectual, and at some point, that seemed to matter.

But adulthood has made me care less and less, and well, here we are.

Pop music is catchy. That’s what makes it fun. It’s repetitive and, usually, pretty simplistic. Dance. Drive around. Drink. Fall in love. It may be playing in to surface-level emotions, but sometimes you just want to drive around with your windows rolled down, singing along to the radio, and absolutely not caring what anyone thinks. And when you do, I recommend Kesha.

“Don’t stop, make it pop
DJ, blow my speakers up

Tonight, I’ma fight
Till we see the sunlight
Tick tock on the clock
But the party don’t stop, no…”

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Musical Monday #3: Fast Car

Welcome to the short, mostly-weekly series where I talk about the music I like…mainly because I can, but also because it makes me uncomfortable, and I think the things that make you uncomfortable are often the things you can learn the most from. You can read more ramblings about that in the first post, or just read on for this week’s batch!

“Fast Car” by Tracy Chapman

Lyrics — iTunes

Man, this song. I first heard it on the radio back in high school, and it hit me hard. I don’t even know how I got a copy of it, since I know I never owned the full CD. How did we even get music back in 2002? (actually, I just went and purchased the full album on iTunes, because I’m pretty sure however I got single tracks of songs back in the early Aughts was not super legal)

Anyway, this song is such a story. I didn’t even realize how sad it was until I looked up the lyrics for karaoke a year or so ago, because it’s one of those songs that kind of lulls you into a setting, and then hits you at the end with some heavy feelings. I’m noticing a lot of these songs I love are about the bittersweet process of growing up, which apparently I was already keen on at 15. It’s a pretty universal thing though, am I right? How sometimes you go hard trying to get away from something, only to end up in the exact same place.

I love pretty much everything about this song. I love how visceral it is; how I can just feel myself cruising around in that car, desperate for some way to outrun life’s momentum. I love how deep her voice is. I love that she was once in a relationship with Alice Walker, one of my favorite authors. I love that I fell in love with this song when I was 15, and it still feels just as raw at 30.

“You’ve got a fast car
Is it fast enough so we can fly away?
We’ve gotta make a decision
Leave tonight or live and die this way…”

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Musical Monday #2: Makin’s of a Song

Happy Musical Monday! This is a totally small series I’m doing where I lean into the discomfort I have around talking about what music I like. Read my first post here, and buckle up for an odd combination of music and introspection.


“Makin’s of a Song” by Waylon Jennings & Willie Nelson

Lyrics — iTunes

I’m not at all what you’d call a Country Music fan, but both my parents are from Montana, and we’d drive back every summer to visit family for a few weeks, so I guess you could say I built up an immunity. Most country is a little bit too melodramatic and twangy for my taste, and it tends to get associated with a ignorant and hateful mindset, which I’m definitely not about. But there’s something calming about country music.

Ironically, this song didn’t come to me during those summers as a child. My dad didn’t start really listening to Willie Nelson until I was in college, but he eventually stumbled upon the album Clean Shirt by Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson, and although we were taking far fewer road trips at that point, it quickly became the soundtrack to family adventure. This album may not be one I’m drawn to on the daily (I don’t even own a copy of it), but I’m happy to leave the cd playing whenever I borrow my parents’ car, and the songs have stayed with me.

The album is basically about growing up. Being older and wiser than you used to be, but maybe no less willing to have an adventure. And this song in particular reminds me of how I view experiences. Sometimes things can be horrible, but at least it gives you something to write about later.

“Always send a big guy for the money
Don’t give ’em no excuse to do you wrong
Even when you lose you’re still the winner
At least you’ve got the making’s of a song..”

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Musical Monday #1: Marilyn Hanson

I’ve always felt uncomfortable talking about music. It’s one of those “get to know you” questions a lot of people break out during awkward silences: “what kind of music do you listen to?” I hate that question, because it always seems like my answer is wrong. Too much oldies, too much pop; not enough passion, not enough opinions. But I do love music, I’m just very bad at keeping track of big groups. I know more about 90s pop now then I did when I was at prime listening age back in the 90s, but that’s still not a heck of a lot. And after writing, singing is one of the things I enjoy most.

But I’m not musical. I took a few years of guitar in high school, and before that a smattering of piano/violin/clarinet as my parents and the public school system tried to instill in me musical skills (and the responsibility of practicing regularly). I was in the nerdiest celtic band ever (we specialized in covers of video game music) in high school. I was in choir on and off, but never had any real, proper training, and always froze when auditioning for solos. My music-major roommate has desperately tried to explain music theory to me a number of times, and it just doesn’t sink in.

That is to say, I’m not terribly qualified to talk about music. But I’m going to anyway. I’m going to lean into this discomfort and try to just enjoy talking about the songs I love, so I don’t have to flinch away from that question every time. What kind of music do I listen to? Well, lets find out.


“Marilyn Hanson” by Hank Green & the Perfect Strangers

LyricsiTunes

I’ve liked Hank Green’s music for a long time now. You may recognize him as half of the brother duo that comprises the Vlogbrothers (the other half of which is John Green, of The Fault in Our Stars fame). He does about a million things (including writing a book), but one of them is making and performing music. His song “Accio Deathly Hallows” is one of the early reasons he and his brother gained so much Youtube fame, and he specializes in what I guess I’d call nerdy indy rock? He does some wrock and some punk and a mix of other stuff. Incongruent is his fourth album, and I’d argue his best. It’s certainly my favorite. His solo stuff is charming, but the overall production quality seems so much higher on Incongruent, and he really flourishes with accompaniment. But, what do I know?

I’m mainly here for the lyrics, and although this song has a kind of humorous title, the tone is so…sad. Nostalgic, with that melancholy tug at the heart. I’ve found I really seek out this mood when I’m writing (and in my writing, I tend to pick at the idea of losing something ephemeral that was never really yours to begin with). This song embodies that; it’s all about looking back on a time you shared with someone, that maybe wasn’t perfect or significant, but that you can’t ever really shake the loss of.

When I thought of starting this blog series, this was one of the first songs that occurred to me. I hesitated, because most people won’t have heard of this song–but that’s one of the reasons I want to mention it. There are definitely other songs that embody this feeling, but I can’t stop listening to this one.

I’m not someone who can have music going when they write, but Incongruent is one of the albums that gets me in the right mood to dive into a story. It also picks me up when I need it, because although there’s this sadness to songs like “Marilyn Hanson,” there’s a sense of hope, too.

“Did you ever wanna go to back where we were before?
Smell that pot smoke wafting out from under your dad’s door
And the steak knives by the bedside
Jokes cracked in the black light
They were maybe not the best times but, well I’ve had worse
And I wouldn’t trade those memories for the whole fucking earth…”

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Dragon Ball Super is Ending, and I’m Not Ok

Alright, logically, I know everything will work out. But I’m still very much in my feels about this.

It’s been confirmed that as of episode 131 in March, Dragon Ball Super will be over…at least for the foreseeable future. Now what this means for the franchise is unclear, but it’s definitely not going away any time soon. There’s a movie slotted for December of this year, and I’m assuming they want all their energy focused on that. Once that’s done, my theory/hope is that they’ll be back with a new tv series, probably under a new name, which will jump past Super, landing on the other side of Z, after Goku’s gone off to train Uub. Super, which started during the ten year gap between the defeat of Buu and the end of Z, has always been working within a deadline.  They could only do so much, only get so far, because everyone has to turn up to see Pan (and yeah yeah, Uub) fight in that World Martial Arts Tournament. Granted, Dragon Ball has always been good at taking it’s time (I’m pretty sure the whole Buu saga pretty much takes place within a matter of weeks), but we’ve been feeling the drag on some characters, specifically the kids. This is a good opportunity to refresh the series, and get it moving forward and reaching new heights. (And finally de-canonizing GT once and for all)

But I really, really don’t want it to end.

Super has had it’s stumbling blocks, but overall, I feel like each arc has been better than the previous one (with the possible exception of the Golden Frieza saga). The Universe 6 saga opened up a lot of doors, probably the best being the introduction of an entirely new planet of Saiyans, and I enjoyed the Future Trunks saga a lot, even if it did stumble at the finish line. The Universe Survival saga has really blown me away–while it’s not been perfect, it’s surprised me at almost every turn, kept me engaged, and made the stakes feel realer than they have in a long, long time; and done this all without a true villain to speak of. I feel like Super has finally hit it’s stride. This is the show I’ve been wanting; in many ways, the show I’ve been chasing since I was a teenager.

And now, it’s ending.

We don’t know what will happen next. We don’t know that whatever magic is making this saga work will still be alive on the other side of the movie. We don’t know that we won’t lose other beloved talents, like we lost Bulma’s Japanese voice actress, Hiromu Tsuru, at the end of last year. Now, it could be for the best. It could be that if Super continued through the production of the new movie, that magic would be lost anyway, as attention and talent got split. But it feels risky to end it when it’s at such a high, and when it’s left so many possibilities still to explore, especially without a return planned. We’ve been promised a tour of Universe 6, and I want to see more of those Saiyans. I want to see more proud Grandpa Piccolo and protective Papa Vegeta. I want to, maybe, finally, see some character development forced out of Goku.

I guess for now, we’ll just have to hold our breath for the next Dragon Ball Z Abridged episode (and pick up a copy of Dragon Ball FighterZ).

I leave you with my favorite ending theme from Super (don’t worry, it’s not spoilery):

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