podcasts

The Unbearable Brightness of Seeing

When I was a kid, I remember my parents renting a mini-series called The Jewel in the Crown from our local video store. It was a prestige drama made in England, with fancy people in it like Geraldine James and Tim Piggott-Smith, and it had won loads of awards. The main reason they got it was because it was about colonial India and, although it was full of white people in almost every role, there were actually a few Indian actors. Actual Indian people who would play Indian people. Like, speaking roles and everything. The tv people were going to let some of us have screen time and say words, y’all. Stop the presses! It was a big deal. I remember feeling this sense of dread before we watched it, both for myself, and for my parents. We wanted those Indian roles to be good, those Indian actors to hit it out of the park, and for the script to not dehumanize them and therefore us. Please, let it not be terrible. It doesn’t even have to be great. Just let it not be terrible.

Recently, I heard the hosts on the NPR podcast Codeswitch use the term “rep sweats.” This term, as far as I can tell, was coined by writer Jenny Yang. In this article for Flavorwire about the show Fresh Off the Boat, she is quoted as saying “you get the ‘rep sweats’…[Asians] are so invisible, every time you have the opportunity to see yourself on TV, you hold your breath.” From that, co-host of Codeswitch Gene Demby adds his version of this feeling of POC-specific nervous anticipation: “I don’t know if I like this, but I need it to win.” This is what my parents and I were wobbling with as we popped that VHS in. I don’t know if I’ll like this, but I need it to win. Rep sweats. It is the perfect term for that feeling.

I know that I am becoming ever more ancient by the day, but let me remind you that this Jewel in the Crown viewing was not that long ago. It was in the late 80s. But this was a time when we never saw Indian people on tv, ever. I remember my mom calling me in my dorm room a few years later when I was in college just to tell me to turn on the tv because the barista on Frasier was Indian, and she got a line every once in a while. I would not be surprised if other Indian Americans my age remember the Frasier barista or had similar moments with their families. The character didn’t have a name, I don’t think, and she never had a story line, and she talked maybe a couple times per season, but she was there. I don’t know how to convey how much of a buzz we got from this. It was like seeing a shooting star. Did you see that? Just for a minute, it was there!

Although we are living in a time where we have a little bit more to go on than the barista at Cafe Nervosa, it is still a small handful, rare enough for the family alert system to go off for each and every one. In fact, I can probably name off every Indian person who has ever had a role in a major American tv show. Not probably. I could do it. And it would only take a few minutes. However, I think I may have, in 2017, for the very first time, had an experience that I need a term for, like rep sweats, but not.

Some months ago, I got a text from a family member saying: GIRL DID YOU HEAR MASTER OF NONE SEASON TWO IS COMING OUT?!?!?! The Indians-on-tv alert system occurs in all caps text format these days. In the weeks that followed, I started seeing publicity about it, and the descriptions alone sounded pretty great. Then it came out, and the alert system legit blew up. I got text after text over the next week or so. “OMG, have you seen it?” and “I cried, it was so great!” and “exceeded expectations, dude” and “it’s not just good, it’s maybe the best” and “maybe some of the best tv that’s ever happened?” and many more like it. My community had gone from I don’t know if I like this, but I need it to win to simply we need this to win, and it doesn’t just win. It fucking MURDERS.

I read a bunch of reviews, I listened to podcasts where people talked about it, I listened to interviews of the creators, writers, actors. I looked at all the plot summaries, and listened to my friends talk about their favorite parts. I didn’t care about spoilers. After a while, I knew all about every single episode of Master of None in detail, from beginning to end. But I hadn’t watched it.  I couldn’t watch it. Time went by, and more time. “Have you seen it YET?” my peeps kept asking. I kept putting it off because of this new feeling I was having. Not rep sweats. I wasn’t dreading feeling let down. I felt a giddy sort of heightened sensitivity. Like I had to prepare myself, emotionally, to see it. Like I was going to experience a way of feeling representational joy that I maybe had never had before. Having some part of my worldview portrayed on tv felt like being in the sun for the first time after a lifetime of being in a downpour. Exciting, lovely, beautiful, but one doesn’t just run out into the sun like that. I had to marinate in the idea of it before actually experiencing it. Does that sound dramatic? It was. Have you seen it yet?…Give me a minute, y’all. I need a minute.

Part of what was happening in my mind was that this was more than just seeing another Indian person star in a tv show. We have a couple of those out there already, doing amazing work that I love. But this time the representation was about a specificity regarding Indian-American-ness, about a sensibility, an entire lens and way of being in the world. This is what felt new.  I am not trying to say that Master of None precisely represents me or my family. The lists of ways we are totally different is long. But the pieces that feel familiar make up more familiarity than I have ever gotten from American pop culture in my whole life. Consuming pop culture for me is always an act of building a bridge in order to connect, and all I am saying is, this time I still had to build a bridge, but the bridge was shorter. It was the shortest one I have built yet.

So, I don’t know what you call this feeling I was having, but I do know that as delicious as it was, I wait for the day that I won’t feel this anymore.  Some point when there are all sorts of representations out there and it will be an everyday feeling to see them. When the brown peeps alert system is no longer in use. When seeing a really great rep doesn’t feel like squinting at the sun. Now that I’m seeing some sunshine, I feel like the rain could actually clear up. I needed a minute to prepare, but now that I’ve seen this, I’m ready.

 

 

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Not Dead Yet

Before we do this, let’s listen to this. TRIBE 4EVAH y’all.

Ok. So I made a list of 50 pop cultures that I loved in 2016, but before I tell you about them, let’s close out this ball-kicker of a year right quick.

There was this one time, when my dad was still alive but very sick, where I talked to him on the phone and I said, with concern: how are you? And he said, in an unexpected sort of joke: NOT DEAD YET! And we laughed hard, kind of surprised. It was so not funny, but yet, jeez louise, it was. It may have been the last truly hearty laugh we shared, pops to kiddo, kiddo to pops.

In the time since he’s been gone, there are a few things that have changed about me. For one, my sense of urgency has gone way, way up. I want my days to be as full, my eyes as open, my mind as awake as can be (insert Morgan Freeman voice get-busy-livin quote here). Life is so, so short, y’all. Time is ticking and we are in a sprint. No dicking around! And now, with the world all fucked up and on fire like it is, my shit is even more ramped up in the urgency department. So, now is the time to say the things I want to say, hear the things I need to hear, do the things that are right to do, find the joy, see the art, create, be a good friend, face the painful stuff, listen, make justice happen, organize, and love: truly and deeply and persistently.

My sweetheart and I will sometimes clink glasses and say to each other, as my dad said to me: “NOT DEAD YET!” like, instead of “cheers.” It’s still funny. And not. I look at that beautiful, kind, steadfast partner of mine and feel deep down in my gut how many years we have been together (it’s a lot of years), how fucking great he is, how short it all seems already, how much I want time to stop for us, and how much it can’t. We have things to do, all the things. So let’s get doing.


50 Pieces of Art That Gave Me Joy in 2016

Lizzo Coconut Oil EP is perfect.

And speaking of perfect: Moonlight.

Atlanta! Donald Glover is the only Donald I want to deal with, honestly. See also: Have Some Love, Childish Gambino.

Blk Girl Soldier by Jamila Woods is the kind of song that makes me feel better about the world, which maybe you need right now too, just guessing?

Insecure. Watch the first season and then let’s fight about how we thought things should have turned out.

Your Best American Girl, Mitski. “Your mother wouldn’t approve of how my mother raised me, but I do, I finally do.”

Queen Sugar is beautiful on so many levels but I will just say this: is there a finer man than Ralph-Angel? Good god. FOINE.

Kiss the Sky by Jason Derulo is like, primo wedding reception dancing music. Your kid brother and your grandma will love it.

The night I went from big fan to rabid Beyhive was during the Formation concert tour.

Nadiyah Hussein from Great British Baking Show, I JUST LOVE HER, thas all.

Cranes in the Sky: is there a Solangehive because I would like to join that also.

Two Dope Queens. Your dream BFFs. Or mine, anyway.

I am so Sorry the Beebs makes bangers but we have to stop fronting like he don’t.

Sooo Many White Guys podcast. I may have a medium-to-heavy obsession with Phoebe Robinson.

All We Got, Chance the Rapper. Actually the whole dang album, front to back. Hiphop artists are really bringing the concept of a cohesive album back.

There are so many ways our shit is broken and most of them intersect in OJ: Made in America.

Too Good, Drake ft Rihanna. Work-chair head-bob dancing, wut wut.

I saw Ghostbusters in a movie theater full of 13 year olds, which was kind of the best way to see it.

My parents came from tiny places and did things outside of power structure expectations. Queen of Katwe made me think about that.

Lie 2 My Face. Kari Faux takes me to a very JJ Fadd place, and I love that place. I could live in that place.

Mainstream American Comic, Hari Kondabolu. “Some people ask me why, when I do impressions of my parents, I don’t do their accents, and the answer of course, is ‘fuck you, that’s why.'”

If you said goodbye to some people in your life this year, like I did, Alaska by Maggie Rogers fits the bill.

SJP is so great at being horrible in Divorce. Actually everyone in this show: GARBAGE. Plus the 70s soundtrack is to die.

All Night, SG Lewis. On repeat.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople. THIS KID.

Who’s a muhfucking Starboy? Me.

Loving. This basically happened five minutes ago, history-wise, and we better not forget it.

Spotify science tells me that I listened to Into You by Ariana Grande a lot, and I can’t argue with that. I apologize in advance to those who go to karaoke with me in the future.

Don’t Think Twice. Or as I like to think of it: “I regret everything, party of one.”

Hotline Bling, covered by Ceresia. This was my walk-into-work-from-busstop-song for a few solid months.

Sister Wives. I CAN GIVE YOU A CLASS ON WHY THIS IS A GREAT SHOW BUT YOU WON’T BELIEVE ME SO JUST FORGET IT.

What am I doing Here is a universal feeling sometimes, amiright.

Weiner. Ugh, this guy. But also, ugh, this system. And also, ugh, us, all of us.

Southside with You. People of color don’t get a lot of movies that just show us just dating, romancing, or talking about things as the main plot points.

Death, Sex, and Money are things we should talk about more.

There are lots of things to criticize the Kardashians about, but most people focus on the wrong ones entirely. I hold all the knowledge on this, trust me.

This is cheating because although I Am Not Your Negro was in limited release in 2016 I will not see it until its wider release in 2017 but I CANNOT WAIT.

13th. As an American, this is devastating, required watching.

Kendrick Lamar and Beyonce on BET awards. HOOOOO LORDY

Luke Cage. Bulletproof hoodie-wearing black man superhero? HECK YES.

Get all your cathartic rant needs met via Full Frontal w Samantha Bee and Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.

Please watch The Fits so I have someone to talk about it with.

Judge John Hodgman is usually right about everything, is the thing, and while always funny, is also often moving in his wisdom.

I Can’t Give Everything Away, David Bowie. *sob*

And this wasn’t released in 2016 but Sometimes It Snows In April. *double sob*

Two days after the election my friends and I had a religious experience dancing to Freedom 90 where George Michael convinced us for a few minutes that we would maybe be ok. *triple sob STOP DYING, CHILDHOOD*

Another Round podcast. If you haven’t listened to these, I am jealous that you get to start.

Lion ALL OF THE TISSUES IN THE WORLD HAVE BEEN USED BY ME BECAUSE OF THIS MOVIE AND MY FACE HAS LEAKED OFF COMPLETELY

Would you like some joy? Here’s some joy. Down by the Singing Sea video by Walter Martin.

Hey, everyone, I guess this is in question these days but SCIENCE IS A THING, LIKE A REAL THING. Listen to Story Collider for stories about it.

2016 out, 2017 in.

Take care

It has been a hard, raw week in our world, my darlings. How are you all doing? I hope you’re taking care, and that goes double for my POC brothers and sisters. It’s a traumatizing time and the shit just keeps coming, and for those who see times like these and galvanize, organize, and push even harder for positive change, please take some time to decompress, take care of yourself, lean on your loved ones, clear your head as much as you can.

It can be a fraught thing to have a little project like this here blog, whose reason for existing is pure silliness, during times when nothing feels worthy of lightness. I kept thinking about writing, but I didn’t want to because of the heaviness in my own heart, so this week just went by without any drafts being started. It’s been a busy week anyway- my niece came to visit from the east coast, plus I had a nasty cold all week at the same time, and interwoven into that was what felt like a frenzied loop of checking twitter and other sources for news, reading, checking in with friends, writing legislators, making calls- all the things we do to try to push back against the wave of despair and worry that are so much larger than any one of us at times like this. Why would I take any time out of my week to write you some ha has about Veep, or whatever? It seems absurd.

Today was a day that I took some time for myself to try and stop the cycle of reading, checking, doing, and acting and remember that it’s ok, and healthy, to try to think about something else. Unplug from the news. Take a walk. See a movie. Hug and kiss someone. Watch lots of car karaoke on youtube, if you must know. We need that.

So, in that spirit, I’m posting some things that I took in today, and yes, my goofball tone will stay in tact. I flatter myself I am sure, but I’d like to think that checking in with this corner of the internets could function as a sliver of that self-care space that you might need. We’ve got a lot of work out there in the world to keep ourselves informed and moving forward, but in between, I am here for a few seconds of dippy joy.

Love and Basketball: I love this movie so much that I don’t even care that it has sportage bouncey ball at the center of it. Monica is a basketball star who falls in love with her childhood neighbor Quincy, a basketball hotshot in his own right. I think what is missing for me in most romantic movies is the sense that the couple are truly friends, equals, and partners in their relationship and this one has this in piles without losing any sexiness. Plus! Sweet 80s and 90s hip hop and r&b soundtrack is just TO DIE FOR. Watch it and feel better about things.

Love, Loss, and What We Ate: This memoir by Padma whats-her-face from Top Chef gave me the rep sweats (THANK YOU NPR’S CODESWITCH FOR GIVING ME THIS PERFECT TERM. Rep sweats = that anxiety you get as a person from an underrepresented group who sees someone on tv or movies that is from your group and you want them to be great SO BADLY). I could have gotten past a lot of things for Padma, but you guys she went and insulted Fiji, where my folks are from. An Indian-American lady (yay, I identify with that!) takes time out of her life to make a very specific reference to Indians from Fiji (gasp! a level of specificity that never happens! REP SWEATS ENGAGE, WHAT WILL SHE SAY), and then all she does is talk about how people from Fiji are coarse, speak terribly, are embarrassingly backward, hate women (WHAT) and beat their children (DOUBLE WHAT). EXSQUEEZE ME PADMA BUT YOU NEED TO SHUT UPPPPPPPPPP. Ignorantly shit-talking an entire culture is the sign of a horrible person, so Padma, my rep sweats were warranted. You are an epic, epic fail.

Clue: Tim Curry as the butler, Michael McKean as the nerdy scientist, Leslie Ann Warren as a Susan Sarandon doppleganger, ALL GREAT. If for nothing else, watch this just for the line where Madeline Kahn talks about how mad she is.

2 Dope Queens podcast: I could not love it more and am now just mad that I listened to them all too fast and I have no more to hear. SAVOR THEM.

Hip Hop Family Tree comics series: Chock full of hip hop artists from mega stars to deeper cuts, this will make you want to make playlist after playlist.

Mr. Robot: Despite the feeling that comes over me when I am watching this that it could’ve been written by a really smart but overly serious ex-boyfriend of mine in college (IT’S ALL CORPORATE CONSUMERISM, MAN, WE ARE ALL PAWNS, NO LISTEN) this enjoyably conspiracy-ish world of smart weirdos who are all half terrible but not wrong about things (oh hey, like that ex-bf was) is fun to binge, just in time for the next season to come out later this month.

Refill your souls, friends.

 

Consumables #139 Listening: Death, Sex, and Money

When I got to college, I was the most extroverted I have ever been before or since. I talked to everyone, and I mean everyone. I made friends with every person I met. I had no qualms about starting up conversations with people I didn’t know, and I felt absolutely no intimidation about chattering to anyone, anytime. I have no idea what THAT was all about, or where it went (actually I do know where it went, but that’s a story for another day), but I look upon that version of myself with a lot of fondness. Openhearted to a fault, that girl was, and it eventually got her into a world of heartache in some situations. Come to think of it, there is still a part of me to this day that struggles with the balance between openheartedness and the heartache that can bring (also a topic for another day). The quantity of my words and the aggressive friendliness that I had may be tempered a lot now that I am longer in the tooth, but the thing that I loved so much about who I was at that time was the unselfconscious need to connect with people. It was so naked, like, soul-wise. In talking to all of those people, I was merely wanting to really see them and for them to see me. It’s almost painfully uncynical, when I really think about it. What a little baby bird I was, flying around chirping to people, expecting them to chirp back.

This is the same year of my life that I decided, one night, to barge in to an acquaintance’s dorm room, where a girl that I thought was nice and funny and cool was sitting in her bed reading a book, and ask to sit down. She said yes, and I sat right on her bed with her and told her all the stuff I had been thinking about lately. It wasn’t dramatic stuff, but I just wasn’t hiding from her, which is what people do mostly, right? Chirp chirp! I was saying to her. This chitter chatter is actually my heart. This is me. Can you see me? This girl, who was quieter than me, listened to all of my thoughts, and to my surprise, stepped right up to that and told me all of hers. Here is a thing that has always been true for me: if you act unguarded and kind to me, I will fall in love with you straight away. This is a thing all of my loves have in common. I cannot resist it. If you are out there and you know I love you, friends, there are many reasons why, but unguarded and kind is the real, true reason at the heart of it all. I chirped, and you chirped back.

For the next few years of our lives, this girl (you all know her as Palindrome) and I talked. A lot. We talked and walked, we stayed up late talking, we could not shut up. Neither of us stayed at that college for long, and when we moved away from each other I remember talking on the phone for hours at a time. I remember us writing letters to each other, with stories and funny drawings. I still have them. I remember one time she came to visit me when I was at my parents’ house for the weekend and we talked in such a non-stop diaherria of the mouth sort of way from the beginning of the visit to the end, that after she left my mom just looked at me with a sort of awe and said “do you two EVER run out of things to say to each other?” And I had to be like: nope. Not really.

The thing about my friendship with Palindrome though, was not the quantity of words we said to each other. It was the quality. We were keeping it so real. Not that we were having heavy, deep talks all the time. But we were talking about shit that really mattered to us. It could be silly stuff, funny stuff, hard stuff. But it was unfiltered and we just trusted each other to hear it. Even now, years later, though Palindrome and I don’t talk as often, when we do talk, I still feel that bond between us. We listen to each other. It’s gold, you guys.

It is this quality of talking with people that I have been thinking about today. I still have that sort of thing in my life, thank goodness, because I am drawn to it like a heat seeking missile. If someone says something to me that feels lacking in artifice, trusting that I will listen to it, it’s like something within me lights up. Chirp, chirp. I see you. I cannot think of something that I love more than that.

I went on a short little trip on a ferry from Seattle into Puget Sound the other night with two of my pals. Between the car ride to where we were going and back plus the ferry ride itself, we had a few hours together with nothing to do but talk, and talk we did. It was a fun, airy sort of time, but I could have listened to those ladies talk all day long. Good conversation with sincere people. Best, best, best.

All of this is to tell you about a podcast called Death, Sex, and Money. It’s your basic NPR, Fresh Air style interview show, but the host has her guests talk about things that fall outside of polite conversation (hence the name of the podcast). People talk honestly about their relationships, their families, their joys, their fears. It’s like having a friendly acquaintance barge into your dorm room and tell you her business.

Chirp, chirp.