Two Loves and Two New Classes (BOO! October 31, 2022)
Academia, in my life’s script, plays a role that feels like a man who proposed to me, and to whom I’d once said yes. Our relationship was long — seven years in the PhD, and four years before then leading up to the commitment — and for a while, I thought I’d found THE ONE. Academia was what I knew, in my bones, that I wanted for entirety of my twenties. But doing fieldwork in Japan with my Fulbright-mtvU scholarship introduced a new suitor… one who reminded me that I had to create, that I didn’t need to fit some pre-made mold… a force that whispered to my soul that I COULD go for what I always wanted…
After meeting Bohemia, things with Academia were never the same. How could they be, following a year and a half of DJ-ing, Buddhist dancing, riding a bike all around the back streets of Osaka, living without internet or a phone but getting invited to parties three nights a week? Upon returning to Cornell, I was angry. I lashed out, I cried, I tried to articulate as clearly as possible what I needed, but Academia wasn’t going to change. So in 2018 I officially broke off our engagement when I drove a U-Haul to Brooklyn, excited to start over with Bohemia, jumping into my new relationship with two feet, laughing at the Academia I’d left behind.
Now I’m a little more humble about my time with Academia. It was real and meaningful in its way. The love was there; it just wasn’t meant to be.
For starters, we had different values. I wanted to write unfettered by citations and having to double check that any idea I came up with wasn’t already “discovered” by some old French dude who couldn’t write for beans (yes, I’m talking about Foucault, Derrida, and Baudrillard, and no, you can’t tell me that four-page long, redundant paragraphs about semantic theory constitute good written craftsmanship), but that’s what Academia wanted– nay, needed from me in order to make it work. Which is fine, I suppose, but simply not something I could give.
It also felt like Academia baited-and-switched me. It presented itself as progressive a site of free-thinking, but increasingly proved itself to be something quite different with its “hush hush, you have to think XYZ or else you’re a colonialist”-agenda that didn’t even walk its own talk. About the time a (male) professor who once told me that, “[a]s a young woman in the Department, I should be aware of the way I dress,” served on a Feminism + Diversity Committee, I knew it was over. And all those colloquia about how capitalism and classism are so evil while professors and graduate students swirled local resiling in their glasses and complained about the cheese spread? And when the grad students unionized to fight for “fair wages”?
For the record, I GET it– grad students do a lot of the teaching on college campuses (and adjuncts, but that’s a separate discussion I’d love to have at a different time), blah blah blah. But lemme tell you: from out here in the Real World, getting paid over $30k a year to sit around and think is a pretty sweet gig.
Because really, Academia offered me stability. I wouldn’t have stayed for as long as I did if it was all bad. The schedule can’t be beat: summers off, long winter breaks for the holidays, weeks off in spring in fall, all with free money in the form of grants and stipends fluttering about the ivied hallways. Seriously, I once got $500 to go to a rave in Japan for “fieldwork purposes” (and yes, I write about this in JAPANTHEM). More than all this, Academia allowed me to teach more or less whatever I wanted. And that, friends, was oh so sweet. All of this has caused me at various points to look back and wonder:
Wow… did I throw away the best thing I ever had?
But like anything, retrospect is both a clear AND rosy 20/20. There were good times, sure, but all I have to do is recall how strung out I was while crawling over the finish line for my doctorate — 128 pounds, covered in acne, low-key crazed — before smiling in relief that I’d had the courage to recognize that enough was enough.
I had to leave.
Plus, unlike Academia, Bohemia has been supportive of my dreams not only of writing (and playing music), but also of teaching whatever I want since Day 1 of our relationship. While things aren’t perfect — no relationship is — Bohemia has also grown with me after we took that leap four years ago, when we moved to New York together with literally no money, and with nothing but a PhD and some far-out dreams. I don’t know about you, but to me, your partner should support your life choices instead of forcing you to fit into a box that makes you miserable. So instead of looking back and romanticizing my past with Academia, I try to integrate what I liked about my life then into my life now. Plus, now that I have almost no rules about content or scheduling when it comes to my courses, I’m able to be more experimental with the material I present while still retaining that academic rigor that I loved then and now.
I’ve got two fantastic classes lined up for the fall. The first is on Divination (philosophy, theory, and practice) — Western + Eastern astrology, Nordic runes, Tarot, the I-Ching, dream interpretation, and “new age” spiritual concepts that we discuss with unique formality — and the second a Jazz Deep Dive that examines the genre through instruments and their most innovative players: musically, musicologically, and in their own words. Seriously, folks: nothing beats a memoir by a dope musician… and is anyone cooler than Miles Davis?
Both classes leave you with appreciation, knowledge, and practical skills.
To learn more about and sign up for Jazz, click here:
And for Divination, click here:
Hope to see you there…
On Going For Your Dreams (August 21, 2022)
Remember when Kylie Jenner was voted the youngest “self-made” billionaire? Or when Kendall Jenner complained that she worked hard for her modeling career— that she “earned” it, and people should leave her alone?
Not to pick on the KarJenner clan here in particular (I’ve had vivid, recurring dreams about being close friends with Kim K for years, which I’ll save for another writing), but these claims really irked me. Sure, I have no doubt that they work hard in their careers. But any artist will tell you that the work isn’t the work itself— it’s getting to the point where you can do your work.
Last year I decided to take the full leap into “not having a job so I can focus on making my dreams come true”-land. Let me tell you: it hasn’t been linear, nor has it been easy. There have been lots of ups and downs. In the beginning, I was happy not to dip into my savings too much as I built up my teaching business (my beloved bread ‘n’ butter at this point in time); then it was feeling happy that I could break even. And while I’m incredibly grateful that I can stay afloat — in New York City, no less — just by being me, now I want to live WELL through my creative output.
What does that mean?
For me, that means going to the grocery store and getting what I’d like to eat instead of heading over to the corner where the manager’s specials are. It means being able to focus on my book projects instead of fretting over the materials required to find a literary agent— which, by the way, has taken half as long as it took me to write the book I’m looking to get published. It means retiring social media altogether, which I’m basically against, instead of trying to build up my Twitter following. It means adding to my savings in my mid-thirties and building a secure future (and present) for myself. It means that I can focus on my work, using the significant portion of my energy I currently allot to jumping up and down, shouting out into the universe: “Look at my work! Please! I promise it’s good!”
The creative life is a gamble, and a continual process. Yes, it’s an absolute blessing to be your own boss, but you’re also 100% accountable for your life (which I suppose we all are anyway, but you get what I mean). In the 10 months since I took the leap to really, honest-to-God go for it, it’s felt like this: self-doubt, climb climb climb, small success, celebration and brief rest, and then… self-doubt, climb climb climb, another small success, celebration and brief rest… and then…
It’s not that I doubt myself. I believe in my work, and I believe in myself. I believe in the power of persistence. The self-doubt I’m talking about here is that feeling you get when you look at the odds… when you realize that every agent wants something slightly different and you have to edit your query letter accordingly (and/or that blasted book proposal…), when you realize that you need a few more students so you can actually afford to go out for dinner with friends… when you feel so tired and weary, knowing that you walked out on a tightrope to realize your dreams of making it big as a creative, but that you’re just as far away from where you started and where you’re going, so you might as well keep trudging along.
Then why do this?
We’re creatives because we have to be; there is no other option, and trust me, I’ve tried. I lasted two days at an office job — the full story of which is in my yet-to-be-published second book. We need to create, even at the expense of stability, comradery, and true time off. And these are the sacrifices that Kendall and Kylie never had to contemplate, which is why I don’t find their output particularly compelling. That’s the value of the struggle: feeling that leads to truly breathtaking content.
… here’s hoping, anyway.
Artistries (July 28, 2022)
Greetings to my illustrious followers (3 people)!
A few creative updates for you all. First, I’m REALLY excited for my second book — PhD Waitress: New York Dreams at a Brooklyn Italian Joint — to come out into the world. Any and all vibes as I slog through this tedious process of agent-hunting are much obliged…
Next: I have been really into painting lately, particularly water color and acrylic. I’ve been making collages on and off since I was in middle school, assembling the Green Day poster of my dreams with pictures I would print off of http://www.greenday.net of Billie Joe Armstrong and Trey Cool (no Mike Dirnt unless necessary— he wasn’t as cute). And while I am still interested in collages, painting (as well as painting + collage!) has been my main visually artistic focus of late. I’ll be updating the Art section of this website soon to reflect that.
PS: acrylic mediums (like the stuff you stir into the paint to give it three-dimensional texture) are RAD. As are sparkles.
I’m also playing a fair bit of music these days. The dream, of course, is to make music and paint while writing when I must (which is often, because if I DON’T write, my mind gets constipated)… and, of course, teaching my passion project courses (SHOOT ME A MESSAGE TO SIGN UP FOR MY JAZZ DEEP-DIVE IN 6 WEEKS!). So in the coming months, I’m going to be working hard to manifest that.
To that end, I’m also going to be updating my SoundCloud, which I don’t really like but I guess it’s good to put your stuff out there for free, no? Sigh… Anyway, I’ve been playing and dreaming and creating at both the piano and the trumpet, and because my super duper awesome boyfriend is really good at track production/electronica (and is a classically trained violinist + pianist to boot!), I’m hoping we can collaborate and put some of our joint stuff out into the world as well.
Related: I had the distinct pleasure yesterday of appearing on Charlie Sandlan’s brilliant podcast, Creating Behavior. As per usual, we are discovering, our conversation was intense, enlightening, and could have gone on forever had there not been a limit (does anyone out there listen to 4 hour-long podcast episodes? Methinks not…).
The conversation was truly inspiring. Charlie is the head acting teacher and owner of the Maggie Flanigan Studio in New York, and is a master of what’s known as Meisner Technique. One thing we talked a lot about is artistic process, as well as artistry, and he asked what compels me to do music, write, and make visual art: why all three? The answer surprised us both, because I realized that each one does something different for me,and probably most of us multi-media creatives. In a nutshell:
– Painting (and collaging, but especially painting) gets me to be creatively free, spontaneous, spongey, inspired, + hopeful; it helps me feel new things
– Music allows me to process feelings, feel present, and is like medicine for my soul; it helps me feel anchored and tethered to who I am
– Writing organizes my experiences + memories, and also helps to process feelings; it mentally exhausts me (in a good way!) and wipes my mind nice and clean
In sum: all three do something magical, and working at them all simultaneously (as in having concurrent projects) makes me stronger at all three.
What about U?!?
I can’t wait for our episode to drop. I will post it here as soon as it does. SO, dear reader, stay tuned, and stay cool out there…
Big in Japan? (Yes, this is an oblique Tom Waits reference; July 6th, 2022)
Back in April, I was asked to come on to a podcast of a famous Japanese comedienne who is currently living in New York City to make it BIG by crossing over into the American market. Her name is Naomi Watanabe, and I remember the moment she was blowing up in Japan— I was living there, after all, concluding my fieldwork (re: going to parties) in Osaka for six glorious months before returning to Cornell to finish up my damn dissertation and graduate already. I took note of her because, as a bigger woman, she broke so many taboos and social constructs that define the oppressive pressures of femininity in Japanese society. Her confidence was other-worldly, her sense of humor striking that elusive balance between cutting and affability, and her fashion was so fun— so free! (Think Grace Jones x Iris Apfel).
Anyway, a student of mine who studies Japanese with me told me about this podcast and how she was dying to get on it (shoutout to Bora, aka デビーちゃん！). While I didn’t want to take away anything from this wonderful pupil + friend, something told me to “audition”: send in a 30 second clip telling a funny story about your life as an American as a kind of recommendation of what Naomi should do while she’s living here. Naturally, I suggested the good ol’ road trip out west — “I’m talkin’ Texas, I’m talkin’ Utah, I’m talkin’ New Mexico” — while telling the story about how my amazing sister Brooke and I did just that, sleeping in parking lots, not showering, and eating gas station food up until we splurged on chicken-fried pie in Memphis. We also attempted to eat out in the eerily posh Oxford, Mississippi… but were never seated because we looked and smelled so grubby.
The American South, by the way, reminds me a lot of Japan in terms of emphasizing indirect communication and politeness at all costs… which is to say, ghosting, ignoring, or telling white lies to keep the peace is considered a perfectly OK way to say “GET THE F*** OUT OF THIS ESTABLISHMENT, YOU HOBOS.”
So for all you curious peeps out there, here’s the link to the episode. PS: I forgot to mention the name of that book I wrote, so I’ll write it here a bunch of times to make up for it: JAPANTHEM! JAPANTHEM! JAPANTHEM! It’s a good book! You will laugh and learn and, I promise, it is different than any other book on Japan out there! Buy yourself a copy and then get copies for all your awesome friends and family!
By the way: どうもありがとう、デビーちゃん！<3
Radio Gaga! (June 10, 2022)
A super cool student from my recent Postwar Japanese Music course just so happens to co-run the NYC-based creative collective 8ball, which boasts their very own radio station (Voted #1 indy online radio station in North America by Mixcloud). Andddd, this same super cool student invited me to do an ongoing radio residency there, which I’ve been doing for a few weeks now!
So, dear readers, tune into my show MUSICOLOGY FUN HOUR on Mondays, 4-5pm, at <www.8ballradio.nyc>! It’s a mix of musicological analysis talk-radio with tunes from my vinyl collection, and I wouldn’t do it if it was boring.
And here are links to this season’s episodes. I wrapped up on the 28th of June, but will be back for my next season at the end of summer!
Drop(ped) It Like It’s Hot! (April 12th, 2022)
JAPANTHEM: Counter-Cultural Experiences, Cross-Cultural Remixes is now officially out with the illustrious Three Rooms Press! It’s available anywhere books are sold, but ordering direct from the publisher is the best for the author + publisher.
SOME OFFICIAL REVIEWS:
“I read the whole thing in one sitting”— six separate people, including a publisher that didn’t end up going with me (Thanks! Three Rooms Press is better for my purposes anyway) and my father
”I disagree with some of the choices you made, but I love you anyway” — my 94-year-old Great Aunt Skeet