“Is it anything and everything you hoped for?” Black Panther, PyeongChang, and me.

Last week, Thursday was a major holiday in my world. The atmosphere was already high from the Olympics running in PyeongChang. And it was the Lunar New Year (i.e., “Chinese” New Year, which is a fine name for it if you’re actually Chinese, but pro-tip: maybe don’t repeatedly ask an Asian what they’re doing for Chinese New Year if they’re not, you know, Chinese). And on top of that, it was opening night for Black Panther. (Thank you to the marketing folks who realized that old people with early bedtimes get very excited about movies, too.) And not only was Black Panther just, you know, Black fucking Panther, but two schoolmates from graduate school had major roles in it, one of which was their first movie role ever.

Basically, Thursday night was the night of Turn The Fuck Up.

As you might have heard by now, this was a movie event where the hype did not match the reality – because what was expected was a movie that brought a black heroic narrative into the mainstream and didn’t fuck it up, and what was delivered was many steps above that.

(And here’s where I say: if you haven’t seen Black Panther, stop reading this and go see Black Panther because spoilers and also treat yourself.)

There are plenty of people with insights and opinions about Black Panther who know a lot more about the subject matter and/or film in general than I do. Here are a few of them:

My thoughts about Black Panther don’t really matter, to be honest. But what Black Panther means to me does matter, if only to provide just one more example to illustrate how wide-reaching the effect of this movie is.

I’m not sure how many other people who were little non-black POC girls in the early 1990s had this experience, but I remember poring over the American Girl catalog and trying to decide between Revolutionary War era Felicity, the settler immigrant Kirstin, bougie Victorian Samantha, and spunky WWII Molly. The Revolutionary War was already my jam, but immigrant stories touched me in a certain way and also Samantha had the best clothes. So I hemmed and hawed as I tried to decide which American Girl would be the one that went in my letter to Santa.

Then, Addy was released. And I went full Issa Rae:

black

I did, indeed, become an Addy girl and proceeded to be a Civil War history nerd for a good five years or so, which is a lot of time when you’re in elementary school. And not just within the American Girl oeuvre, either – I’m talking As Seen On TV boxes of historical flashcards, family trips to Gettysburg, hats. I eventually shifted over to the French Revolution, but for me, growing up in a white family in an overwhelmingly white community, Addy had started my connection to Black history. This didn’t make me woke by any means but, in hindsight, it raised my awareness and investment above the sadly low mainstream level.

Now, let me pause right here and emphasize that I have no claim to either the historical trauma of Black people in the United States of America or the present-day injustices still endured. I may feel drawn to increase my awareness and knowledge not just because I believe being an educated citizen is a moral duty but also due to finding a personal resonance, but it’s just that: resonance, not identification. Is there a Black culture equivalent of “weeaboo” that’s public-use-acceptable by non-Black people? I just barely dodged the former during the anime phase my adolescence, so I hope to hell that I would not be foolish enough to pull those tricks as an adult.

The relationship between Black American culture and Asian culture, both American and abroad, has long been interesting to me. While Asian-held anti-Black sentiments are far too common and I can guarantee that you’ll pretty much always peep one East Asian motherfucker at any given white supremacist rally, Eddie Huang (of restaurant and Fresh Off the Boat fame) is a current publicly-identifiable face of a notable affinity and exchange that has been going strong for decades. Korean hip-hop artists are coming to more prominence now (the artistic and moral integrity of the commercial music industry is another topic) and, well, the Wu-Tang Clan exists. Samurai Champloo. Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai.

But curious to me in my specific experience, I think back to lunchtime during my freshman year of high school. My elementary school was so overwhelmingly white (at its most diverse point, the 500-student population had six non-white kids, myself included) that there really was no choice when it came to demographics, and my middle school was so small that my entire class fit at only two lunch tables (boys and girls, which I still regret in hindsight). But looking back at the start of my high school career, when I came in not knowing anyone to a class of 70-odd young women who mostly also didn’t know each other, I can’t help but wonder what led me to end up at, to put it bluntly, the Black lunch table.

It certainly wasn’t a conscious decision. But when you’re the odd one out, you often gravitate toward other odd ones out. And in many parts of the U.S., there is that little voice inside of you screaming to get out of that sea of whiteness.

(Jordan Peele was, in fact, correct about Get Out being a documentary.)

There was a lot that was conscious decisions and deliberate awareness in my anticipatory lead-up to Black Panther. It was a fact that the team was good and could be counted on to do good work. It was the fact that this movie was placing Black culture to the forefront in an unprecedented way. It was a fact that the teaser trailer had more women in it than the whole of the MCU. It was the fact that I had gone to graduate school with two members of the principal cast, one of whom was actually a year-mate with whom I’d worked on a number of shows. All of this meant that I signed up for ticket sales alerts months ahead of time and bought my opening night tickets for my second-choice showing as soon as I got home from work on the ticket release day in January because my first-choice showing was effectively sold-out after only four hours. I wanted to see a good movie, and I wanted to give my financial support to it.

I think that there are things that goes further back and deeper down for me, though. Continue reading ““Is it anything and everything you hoped for?” Black Panther, PyeongChang, and me.”

So run and tell that

One of the oldest memories that I have – maybe within the earliest ten – is of watching Hwang Young-cho win the men’s marathon in the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona.

I generally don’t remember that his name was Hwang Young-cho. I can’t guarantee that I knew what his name was then. But I remember seeing Korea win, seeing that man’s face as he crossed the finish line, triumphant and exhausted. And I remember being careful to justify it to myself that Korea was only my back-up team – my real team was the U.S.A.. I was fully prepared to defend myself should anyone question my loyalties. I’m pretty sure that I still expected to be President of the United States someday at that point (no one had told me about the natural born citizenship requirement yet), so it seemed like a very legitimate concern.

It’s a little funny to me that that memory is so vivid. I guess it was the combination of my first real introspection regarding national identity and seeing somebody Asian on television who wasn’t Connie Chung.

(The 1992 Winter Olympics had been full of Asians in Ladies Figure Skating, but Kristie Yamaguchi was safely American, so I hadn’t experienced any crises of loyalty. Additionally, those Olympics were more notable to me for how they led to me getting glasses at the tender age of seven: “Don’t sit so close to the television, Alyssa.” “But I want to see the scores!” “…this may be a problem.”)

One thing I never would have expected is that decades down the line, I’d be something approaching “a runner.” As a child, I was full of energy and enthusiasm, but my spirit was more willing than my body. I’d push myself to the point of nearly throwing up in gym class, because I was so competitive that I’d run to dodge or block or what have you, but my body wasn’t having it. I’ve never had recurring dreams, but my dreams have had recurring themes, and it was never too difficult to decipher the ones where I’d try to run and it would be like trying to move through cold molasses. What could that possibly mean, I wonder!

In fact, I can actually say that I’m allergic to running. I developed exercise-induced asthma in elementary school, where running would cause my respiratory system to close up (and then I’d start turning blue). And running, particularly in cold weather, causes me to break out in hives.

(As a side note, please believe a child when they say that they can’t breathe. In middle school, we did a Nature’s Classroom overnight camping program, which involved a good amount of very vigorous hiking and running through the woods. To this day, I remember a counselor’s reaction to my telling him that I couldn’t breathe being that I just needed to exercise more and “get past it,” so I should keep running. In hindsight, the whole business seems pretty ill-advised.)

Luckily, daily OTC allergy medication prevents the hives, and my body has gotten bigger, so while my airways still constrict, they’re large enough now that there’s still enough room for air to get in. Air is great!

More of an obstacle, for those who are newer to my life, are the Vague Muscular-Skeletal Issues that I’ve dealt with for decades. It’s always been weather-sensitive, and for a few years, it was just my constant, default state of being. Fortunately, it turned out to be largely controllable via lifestyle, but combined factors and extremes can still get to me. Today, for instance, with the sudden summer-like heat and oncoming weather change, I’ve felt like my muscles are made out of wet noodles that are licking batteries with their noodly, noodly tongues.

All of this is to say that I’m not exactly the picture of a natural athlete. But I decided that I would run. And today, I run.

Well, not literally today. Today, I’m an electrocuted wet noodle who has spent hours literally lying on the floor.

On many days nowadays, however, I run.

I have a few friends who are just starting to run, and so I’ve been brainstorming what helped me. Because given all of the above, I feel like if I, the person who is literally allergic to running, can do it, then many people can, even if they don’t’ seem to be naturally inclined. Of course, I must disclaim that I’m not a doctor or trainer of any sort, so I’m simply relating my own experience.

So now, the most exciting thing in the world: a person talking about their own exercise practices!

The golden rule: listen to your body.

With that in mind, the first step is the shoes. In fact, just this week… I got a new pair of shoes!

shoes

I mean, I really got them a long time ago, but I just started wearing them this week, but “I just started wearing these shoes this week after getting them on sale at DSW last year” doesn’t play off of a catchy song lyric. I buy running shoes regularly, though, because I know that I’ll need them. The appropriate shoes are paramount, and they wear out with use, so whenever I’m in a shoe store, I’ll see if they have a good deal on something that works for me.

Everything else you wear when you run may make you more comfortable, but the shoes are what can contribute to or help to prevent injury. And trying them on before being stuck with them is important, since so much depends on your individual needs. For me, I need to find shoes that support my slightly low arch, help to balance the fact that I tend to land on the outside edge of my foot, have enough cushioning to absorb my relatively heavy footfall, and are suitable for slightly rough outdoor road running. I’ve been able to get Nike, New Balance, and Asics shoes in the $65-$85 range that work for me well enough that they make me turn a blind eye to the unethical labor practices of multinational corporations. The only pair of shoes I had that didn’t work out well for me were Brooks – I was convinced by the fact that they were on sale for a good price, and my body regretted it.

Also helpful is writing the date of their first use on the inside of the tongue. Not only will they never get mad at you for forgetting your anniversary, but you’ll be able to keep track of how long you’ve been using them and be able to make a rough estimate for how many miles they’ve logged. The general recommendation seems to be 400-500 miles but the golden rule applies: listen to your body. I was starting to feel shin stress with my previous pair, so I knew that it was time.

When I’m actually heading out to run, starting with a warm-up is important. The goal of this is literally to warm up my body, so I don’t do cold static stretches. I cobbled together some dynamic stretches from various workout vids into a five-minute circuit, and then I power walk for about five minutes to get into the swing of things.

I’ve never used any sort of running app, like Zombies Run. This is probably largely due to the fact that I did not have a smartphone when I started running. But also, I do genuinely like to keep my senses and motion as free as possible, that largely due to the fact that I’m a paranoid motherfucker.

I’m also aware of the fact that “something is better than nothing” does not come naturally to me, so gameification often backfires for me – if I miss, it’s like when you don’t e-mail someone back for a while, and so then you never e-mail them again because it’s just too embarrassing. The app that I do use if the ResQWalk app, which allows you to allocate funds from a pot toward an animal shelter of your choosing by the power of your miles walked/run.

I have a regular route, and I’ve found that I do naturally “gameify” my environment. I run a timer while I run, and I develop “checkpoints,” where I can tell if I’m behind or ahead of pace. I’ll have spontaneous “mini-games” of pacing myself against another running that I’ve encounter or seeing how quickly I can catch up to a battalion of baby strollers ahead.

There is actually one other app that I’ve started to use: a simple interval timer app. Rather than running straight through the entire time, I alternate between running and fast walking. This allows me to be faster and more efficient overall, as my heart rate is still elevated during my walking breaks and my legs get a short refresh that lets me continue to run at a faster pace when I resume. I think that I had started out with something like 3:00 of running and 2:00 of walking; now, I do 5:10 of running and 0:55 of walking. I also adjust however I see fit, usually running an extra 30-ish seconds in my penultimate interval (and then having a shortened walking interval afterward).

Form is something to keep in mind. This was driven home to me by a friend’s WiiFit, the bastard. In my mid-twenties, I’d been having severe foot pain for a while. I bought more expensive sneakers, got supportive inserts for my other shoes, but I was still limping. And then the doggone WiiFit revealed that, while I stood quite straight from top to bottom, my left-to-right posture was terrible, with me heavily favoring one side. I felt so ashamed that I started a conscious effort to improve that… and lo and behold, that fixed what was, in reality, a back problem, and my foot problem disappeared.

So if you have a friend who has a WiiFit, I would actually recommend letting it yell at you for a while.

Another lesson of listening to my body came to me regarding my foot strike. I walk very heavily on my heel, to the point where I am a god of destruction when it comes to my regular shoes. I was finding that I was experiencing some shin stress from running, though, so I consciously adjusted my form so that I ran with a midfoot strike – rather than landing heavily on my heel, I hit, you guess it, on the midfoot.

I don’t have shin stress problems anymore.

I also try to reduce knee and shin stress by never running down hills that are more than a gentle slope. All of those buggers get powerwalked like a mofo.

And the strangest form issue that I’ve never been able to forget is that I once read someone that you shouldn’t clench your hands into tight fists, with the ideal hand form being like you’re holding single-serving bags of potato chips – a loose grip that won’t crush the chips. I cannot remember where I read this. I cannot remember what this is supposed to do. But to this day, I will be out running and my brain will suddenly shout as me “DON’T CRUSH THE POTATO CHIPS,” and I’ll loosen up my hands.

My cool down is much more extensive than my warm-up, because this is when I do my stretching. If I have the time, a full cool down session for me will run around 20 minutes.

I tend to plan the length of my runs mostly based on time. I aim to do 45-minute cardio sessions, so I’ll base my initial route off of that. From there, I’ll make adjustments as I get faster. I try to run three or four times per week, giving myself recovery time in between but keeping regular enough to make improvements. Again, listen to your body – if it doesn’t like high impact activities, don’t push it.

Drink water!

Eat food!

And again, listen to your body.

Sometimes it tells you that it’s an electrified wet noodle. And besides that being not terribly comfortable, it can be awfully frustrating. But if you’re pushing yourself to just do what you can… it’s often still frustrating. There’s no way out of that.

But a decade ago, I could barely jog two miles on a treadmill. These days, I run over four miles of hills on the regular. A decade ago, lying on the floor for hours was just another day. These days, it’s “an off day.”

Linear progress is not a guarantee. At any point, things could go back to how they were. Or go in some new, horrible direction. But it’s a marathon that I’ve got going here, and one where I feel like I automatically win by keeping myself open to all of the things that I pass by and through on the journey.

And that is the state of the arts–

Full confession: I got awfully verklempt this morning when I read about Gabby Douglas’ Olympic gold medal in the women’s gymnastics all-around. I don’t have television in my apartment (I do have a television, but it serves solely as a video game monitor), so the last thing that I’d heard about Douglas before the headline of her victory was how people have apparently been being haters about her hair. And then, not gonna lie, when I watched the video recap of her showing in the all-around competition, much to my surprise, a single tear might have threatened to fall from my eye.

I am a huge Olympics fan. Yes, yes, there’s corruption and corporate meddling and a shit-load of jingo-ism — and sometimes, let it never be forgotten, horrific, shameful tragedies — but the thing that the Olympics are never lacking is great stories. And my stars, but do I love a great story. And I’m really fucking weak for Inspirational Sports Movies and Burning Shounen Spirit, and the Olympics basically provide a 24-hour, real-life Inspirational Sports Movie for over two weeks with a shit-ton of Montages Set To Rousing Music, which are another extreme weakness of mine.

Getting into the spirit of things, when I was restarting Firefox because it had become a memory black hole, I noticed that there were various Olympic browser themes available and decided to change things up a bit in the spirit of the Games. The obvious choice seemed to be the United States theme, but there was also a South Korean theme available. Dilemma!

Now, in my younger days — i.e., before I was on the internet — I would have jumped at the chance to be decorated in something Korean because you didn’t find much Korean shit where I was from so you scooped that shit up when you had the chance. In the years after that, it would have been American, no question. And I mean, no question. You aren’t questioning me, right? Because I am so totally American. I’m here courtesy of the red, white and blue! U.S.A., ALL THE WAY!!

I’ve calmed down a little since then. Amazing how being more secure about an aspect of yourself — such as my American-ness — results in you being a lot less rabidly defensive about it.

Racial politics and national identity are a whole other can of worms into which I intend to dive headlong at some point — just imagine that delicious squishing noise in your head now — but today is not that day. That requires way too much work and it’s hot and I have a fucking headache and I have some serious online gaming to do later tonight. But it does bring me to the doorstep of something that I’ve had on my mind for the past month or so.

In early July, I heard about a production of a new musical called The Nightingale at La Jolla Playhouse. The show was based on the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale The Emperor and the Nightingale, which amused me greatly, as the first production in which I participated following my undergrad graduation was a different new musical based on the same story.

More disappointingly, the way that I heard about this production was through the blog post Moises Kaufman Can Kiss My Ass & Here’s Why, where the writer points out a very glaring, facepalming-ly idiotic thing about the show: in a story explicitly set in feudal China, out of the eleven people in the cast, only one was Asian.

Since then, the outcry about the casting has been addressed by the creators — which, to their credit, is more than can be said of many others guilty of the same artistic gaffes — and in late July, as noted in an update to the original blog post, “La Jolla Playhouse decided to have a talk back to discuss the casting. [. . .] I would hope that the people who wrote anonymously and bitterly of the notion that Asian Americans would and should speak up, would pay particular attention to the fact that both the Artistic Director of La Jolla Playhouse and the Director of the play itself, Moises Kaufman, apologized.”

There are a number of articles linked in the edit to the post, as well as links to video of the casting talk with the creators.

Kaufman’s apology is in the second video (above), and while it’s great to really get a thoughtful, articulate and sincere apology, he follows it up with an explanation of the thought process that’s pretty bewildering to me, such as how in order to make the story mythical, they decided that they needed to make the cast “multicultural” (i.e., have a lot of white and otherwise non-Asian actors playing Asian characters).

This YouTube comment gets it: “How do we create a mythical land? How do we create the suspension of disbelief that will allow you to believe that a bird is real?” They have already done so by making this a musical theater piece and casting a human as a bird. They don’t need to do much else to convey fantasy. This should be a given.

It was around the time that I first saw the Nightingale post that I followed the link on a friend’s blog to another essay: Frustrations of an Asian American Whedonite.

Shouldn’t it be a priority, if you’re trying to tell a believable story about a Sino-American future, to include Asian characters? Isn’t it marginalizing to fantasize about a “mixed Asian” world completely absent of Asian people, especially when you live and work in a city that’s almost 1/8th Asian? [. . .] The issue isn’t Joss Whedon. It’s the blinders. All the blindspots that make it tough to understand problems that you’ve never or rarely ever had to personally deal with. The blindspots that make it tough to understand why, sometimes, race should influence casting decisions. That sometimes it should be a mission statement–or, at the very least, a priority.

But let’s back up a bit.

Continue reading “And that is the state of the arts–”