Musical Monday #9: History Maker

Happy Musical Monday! I was feeling pulled in a lot of different directions this week, but finally decide to look at a song that’s been on my list for awhile.

This is one of those songs I love for a few different reasons. First off, it’s used as the opening to the anime Yuri!!! on Ice, which is fantastic in its own right. Secondly, as an opening, it’s accompanied by some truly stunning visuals that really set the tone for the series. And thirdly, it’s just such a catchy, up-beat song.

“History Maker” by Dean Fujioka

Lyrics | iTunes

(For the record, I really like the full version of the song also, and I think it’s worth downloading if the song catches your fancy.)

Yuri!!! on Ice is the story of the titular Yuri, a professional figure skater who, as the series starts, has failed pretty hard in a number of important competitions. The show follows his comeback, and the ups and downs of overcoming his own insecurities as he strives to open himself up to those that care for him. Yuri’s helped by his idol, champion-turned-coach Victor, and as the two begin a quiet romance, the show becomes as much about how you define yourself and your relationships as it is about the sport and any concept of winning or losing.

For a show that is all about chasing and overcoming dreams, this song couldn’t be more perfect. It’s a call to overcome darkness–those thoughts that creep in and try to bring you down, and are sometimes manifested in people around you. Yuri is a bundle of anxiety, and although Victor has the best of intentions, he has to learn how to help Yuri just as much as Yuri has to learn how to accept help. And at the same time, that help can’t just come from outside; both characters have to draw on their own strength as well.

The animated sequence that accompanies the song is truly lovely, and seems to so perfectly fit the song, the characters dancing fluidly across the screen as the music swells. I really appreciate that the animation is unique; often anime openings will just take animation from within the show, and re-cut it. I’m sure this partially comes down to budget constraints, but it’s a nice touch to not only use original animation, but also keep it so abstract. Yes, the story is about figure skaters, but most of the scenes in the opening are symbolic rather than literal; a lovely depiction of the thoughts and actions of the characters, if it were all rolled into one musical number.

It’s also just damn catchy.

“Can you hear my heartbeat?
Tired of feeling, never enough
I close my eyes and tell myself that my dreams will come true…”

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Writer’s Block

A beige brick wall. Overlay text reads "Writer's Block".

Some people don’t believe in writer’s block. I do think that blindly throwing up your hands and declaring that you just can’t write seems a little melodramatic and unproductive, but I think completely discounting creative blocks puts too much blame on the creator themselves. In fact, in general the term “writer’s block” feels weighted. Like it’s being thrown around as an excuse for lazy writers, or a mysterious blight only the truly creative can understand.

Of course, it’s somewhere in the middle. Creative blocks happen. But they’re not the end of the world, and they’re not all in your head; they’re your story trying to tell you something.

I think of creative blocks as the backlash of inspiration. For all those times that you fall headfirst into the story, when it feels like the story is writing you, there are going to be times where it feels like drugery. Where you’re just going through the motions. This is because writing is work, and work isn’t always fun or easy.

Creative blocks often mean that somewhere, you have taken a wrong turn. Maybe it was even in a burst of inspiration. Not all story threads are meant to be followed through to the end. Sometimes a day of inspired writing is just necessary world-building and character developing. Something you, the author, needed; but that the finished story doesn’t.

No writing is wasted writing. I once overcame a block by completely eliminating a perspective character, and cutting 30,000 words from my story. Were those words wasted? Certainly not! They informed my view of the story, and my understanding of all the characters, so that the story could continue on all the richer.

Creative blocks are your instincts saying “wait, something’s not right here.” But it can be incredibly hard to figure out what and where. We’re told that writer’s have to keep writing, push through the blocks, and sometimes this is true, but sometime’s it’s the pushing that creates the blocks. Sometimes you need to stop, go for a walk. Play a sport. Spend a week hanging out with your friends and re-fueling, or working on a different creative project.

A great writing teacher I had in college taught me that most of writing actually happens away from your computer. It happens when you can’t write anything down; happens in the quiet moments, when your brain is focusing on something else. I try to remind myself this when I’m facing a block, or when I’m procrastinating (because they are not the same, even though they can feel like it). Sometimes, the story just isn’t ready to be told. And that’s ok. That’s part of writing.

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Musical Monday #8: Never Been in Love

Musical Monday, y’all! You know the drill. I’m a day late, I don’t know much about music. Let’s do this thing!

This week is actually going to be a little different. Normally I’m delving up songs from my past—or at least, songs that have had a few years to resonate with me. But today, I felt like taking about a song that’s completely new to me. As in, I discovered it yesterday, new.

“Never Been in Love” by Will Jay


If you remember my post on Tik Tok, you’ll remember that I have a not-so-secret love of pop music. Especially auto-tuned synthy pop music. I know some people hate this kind of thing, but I kind of love how artificial it sounds. Like we’re already in the future, and everyone’s robots.

This song filtered to me through Tumblr, because Will Jay is (apparently) known for making songs that challenge the status quo. I don’t know much about his other work (come on, it’s been a day), but I like that this sythny pop song is about not being in love. And not about the sad, pining side of that, but just being content in singledom.

Anyone who knows me could probably tell you that I’m usually single. I’ve dated here and there over the years, but I’m not one who goes from one relationship to the next. In fact, the last thing I want to do when I get out of one relationship is deal with another one. There’s nothing wrong with doing that, but personally, I like my alone time, and it’s something I do miss when I’m dating someone. There really are only so many hours in the day, and as much as I like spending them with someone else, I also like having them just for me. It’s pretty rare to find a song that actually talks about that, let alone in such a catchy, pop-y beat.

I’m also really charmed by the video. The colors are adorable, and I love the sketchy animation. It probably helps that we’re in a very 90s throw-back time, style-wise, so this video feels very much like something I could have watched on tv as a kid. Are music videos still on tv? Do kids still watch actual tv? (I’m pretty sure everyone just watches YouTube, but that’s not the theme of this series!)

This song has instantly won me over. We’ll see if it has staying power, but for now, it’s definitely been added to all my go-to playlists.

“You can have your romance, go on a perfect date
But for me, there just ain’t enough hours in the day
And I, don’t mean to rain on your happiness
But I’m alone, with no loneliness…”

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Musical Monday #7: I Think I Need a New Heart

Wait, is it actually…Monday? On a Musical Monday? Well, let’s not ruin it; time to get to it!

If you’re just tuning in, Musical Monday is a “weekly” series I’m doing on songs that are important to me. It’s an attempt to get over my discomfort with talking about music, and maybe learn a little bit about myself along the way. You can learn more from my first post.

So far, I’ve learned that I’m really drawn to wistful songs. I like that bittersweet twist of longing for something lost, maybe something you never had…maybe I lean too hard into nostalgia, but what are you gonna do?

Anyway, without further ado, this week’s song!

“I Think I Need a New Heart” by the Magnetic Fields


Music can be a form of time travel. There are some songs that are so ingrained in a place in my past, it’s impossible to listen to them without being transported back there…mentally and emotionally, anyway. For me, the Magnetic Field’s album “69 Love Songs” is an instant transmission to my college days. It takes me back to sophomore and junior year, living on campus, and just starting to figure out who I was as an adult.

More than that, this album reminds me of the specific story I was working on at the time. It’s current working title is “False Starts”, but it’s had a lot of names over the years. Usually I don’t have strong musical associations for stories, but this is the exception. I was gearing up for NaNoWriMo, and every day on my way to work I’d listen to these albums and think: “What would Blake do next? Why is Logan the way he is?”

False Starts is the first novel-length story I ever finished. It’s the first time I “won” NaNoWriMo (met the 50,000 word goal within the month), and it’s a story that has grown with me. When I first wrote it, the characters were barely older than I was, and I had them dealing with a lot of crap that at the time felt adult and in retrospect was very melodramatic (there was even a fake pregnancy). A few years ago, for a different NaNoWriMo, I rewrote it; aged the characters up, toned down the melodrama, and threw in a few more years of my own wisdom and experience behind it. I reread that draft a year ago, and it’s actually pretty good (it’s main flaw is that it lacks a middle).

The whole album reminds me of that story, but this song, specifically, is special to me. It feels very appropriate for my two main characters; Stephin Merritt’s voice is how I imagine Logan sounding, but the words are all Blake.

False Starts is all about Blake and Logan falling in love in the messiest, silliest way possible. Both characters make a ton of mistakes, hurt each other and their friends, and generally make all the wrong choices. And I love them. There’s a lot of me in both characters. I’ve had a lot of writing projects over the years, but this one is really my baby.

“You’ve lied, too, but it’s a sin that I can’t tell the truth,
Cause it all comes out wrong unless I put it in a song, so the radio plays,
‘I Think I Need a New Heart’, just for you.
‘I Think I Need a New Heart’…”

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Musical Monday #6: Boogie Back

Happy Musical Monday! On Wednesday…eh, it’s not the first time, and it won’t be the last.

Dragon Ball Super ended about a month ago (you may remember I had feelings about this), and I’m definitely missing my weekly shot of DBS. So today I wanted to look at my favorite ending theme from the series.

“Boogie Back” by Miyu Innoue


While opinions about the series as a whole vary, I personally think that one thing consistently awesome about Super was its ending themes. It was interesting to adjust to the modern trend in anime where ending themes (and often opening themes) change every 13 to 26 episodes, instead of lasting 100+ episodes like in earlier decades. In the whole three-year run of Super, we got a total of 11 endings, and I enjoyed everyone one of them. But the eighth ending, “Boogie Back”, is by far my favorite.

Visually, all of the endings lean pretty hard on nostalgia, with an array of shots from beloved characters (even ones that barely feature in the actual show). “Boogie Back” is the one that reminds me most of the ending from the original Dragon Ball, probably because of the prominent shots of Bulma.

I also just freaking really love the song, even with only a tenuous grasp of the lyrics (it’s been a long time since college, ok?). It’s the only of the endings that I’ve actually sought out and purchased, because it’s the right type of pop song that really makes my brain happy. It just has this wistful feel to it (especially combined with the visuals) that I’m realizing really pulls me to songs.

“(Boogie Back) Kimi wo oikakete.
Mune no kodou hayaku naru.
(Boogie Back) Setsuna ni koishita.
Yume wo mou ichido…” 

“(Boogie Back) Chasing after you,

The beating in my chest gets faster.
(Boogie Back) I fell in love in a moment.
Give me that dream once more…”

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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


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


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

A person with long blond hair sitting, facing away from the camera, on a stone wall, with a blurred city in the background. Overlay text reads "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


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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