Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?

Carol Oates is a critically acclaimed, award-winning author with over seventy books published and decades of experience under her belt, and many of her literary works are considered modern cultural staples. However, one of her most poignant pieces is arguably a short story published in 1974 and titled “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” It is a classic retelling of the tragic loss of innocence to the societal evils of temptation, vanity, and reckless behavior. Oates establishes the theme of stolen youth through her characterization of the ensemble of compelling subjects, modern setting, and eerie images used to foreshadow the terrifying plot that is soon to unfold.


The fiction opens in a 1950s suburbia in an unidentifiable part of the United States. This setting is significant to the story because it represents a continuously-evolving culture that determines the value of young girls based on their physical beauty and perceived promiscuity. Immediately, the audience is introduced to the protagonist Connie, a fifteen year old who is obsessed with her appearance and feels disconnected from her family due to her mother’s constant complaints about her vanity, the emotional absence of her father, and constant comparisons to her older sister, June. Oates writes, “…she had a quick, nervous giggling habit of craning her neck to glance into mirrors or checking other people’s faces to make sure her own was all right….June did this, June did that…and Connie couldn’t do a thing, her mind was all filled with trashy daydreams.” The use of third person point of view allows for an objective commentary on the type of person Connie is, and it places the reader in the complex position of recognizing more about the protagonist than she recognizes about herself; because they have a clearer understanding of the dangers of this kind of behavior, the foreshadowing brings them a more intense sense of dread, and the tension thickens as the plot moves closer and closer to the climax.


After a day out with her friend and a boy, a man in a bright, golden car approaches Connie at her home while her family is out, determined to make a perverted claim on her. The color of the car is a symbol of the gilded promises of fulfillment that girls receive from men seeking to prey upon their innocence. As stated by the narrator, “It was a car she didn’t know. It was an open jalopy, painted a bright gold that caught the sunlight opaquely. Her heart began to pound and her fingers snatched at her hair, checking it, and she whispered, ‘Christ. Christ,’ wondering how bad she looked.” Although Connie is made anxious by the situation, she is most concerned about whether or not her appearance will meet the expectations of this vulturous man; the difference between her internal feelings and her actions is an example of irony. It also further characterizes Connie as a person who places immense value on the way men perceive her and her ability to appease them with her beauty. Another example of characterization comes on page seven: “…and even that slippery friendly smile of his, that sleepy dreamy smile that all the boys used to get across ideas they didn’t want to put into words.” It further illustrates the intentions of this man, and gives insight into the fact that Connie is at least somewhat familiar with the entitled attitude of men who are attracted to her.


Overall, the story has an anxious, foreboding tone that puts readers on edge with its sober word choice and images. Although the author has been criticized for making statements that allow space for victim-blaming, the weight of her words is still immense in the hands of a generation where young people are encouraged to act matured and sacrifice their youth to the sexual explotation of predators, such as the antagonist in this story. Oates uses the story of fifteen year old Connie to warn other teenagers of the abusive circumstances that they might end up in if they are not aware of the dangers of being dependent on validation from others to feel whole. Connie’s safety and innocence, represented by her family home, is mercilessly violated, because instead of being protected by her family, she is shamed by them and acts in retaliation to their actions.

The Chaos Chapter: Freeze (Part One)

Introduction

Ahh, welcome back to the second installment of the Tomorrow X Together review series! In this blog, I’ll be reviewing four songs from their second studio album The Chaos Chapter: Freeze. I’m working my way back in their discography, so in the next post about them, I’ll discuss the other four songs, then we’ll move on to min1sode: Blue Hour. Freeze was their most recent release when I discovered the group, so I hold it near and dear to my heart—-and that means you have to like it too! If you want to listen to the album yourself, you can do so here: https://open.spotify.com/album/5Zdr9vactwnJH4Vpe9Mid9?si=LsDSOcS_Rd6GWvHBgbvRmQ

OR

…you could…

…you know…

…take a few minutes to stream the “Frost” Music Video that dropped Wednesday…

Just an idea.

 

 Before We Get Into It   Because this is a blog mostly viewed by my peers, I make the choice to use the simple English translations from the reliable sources available to me and discuss those versions of the writing. They are not perfect reflections of the original writing, and unfortunately, they cannot capture the nuance of the writers’ words. If you enjoy music in languages that you yourself are not fluent in, I strongly encourage you to seek commentary on your favorite tracks from native speakers!! I find it really fun/interesting to research elements of music that cannot be conveyed through translation software, regardless of how advanced it might be, and it can be super helpful in getting you the full picture of what the artist(s) intended to capture and/or accomplish with their work.

Anti-Romantic

In this track, the writers tell the story of a person developing intense romantic feelings for a person, despite having sworn off love.  It is a catchy pop ballad infused with R&B that is representative of the conflicting feelings of wanting to be in a relationship but being petrified by the consequences of such vulnerability. Of course, there is the initial irony of a narrator describing how uninterested the are in romantic activities and emotions in a poetic love song; the mere existence of the song is a testament to the power of the narrator’s feelings, and makes the experience that much more intense for listeners. There are many references to romantic tropes shown in contemporary media, such as buying a person chocolates and watching Rom-Com films. These ideas are starkly contrasted with metaphor of the speaker’s heart both burning like and being burnt by a fire: “My heart is already chasing after you / And burning with small embers…/ As my entire heart burns / I’m afraid that only black ashes will remain…” Despite being a story of realizing that one has begun to fall in love, the tone is generally pessimistic, and this helps the audience to feel the turmoil of the speaker and sympathize with their fear of opening up to a person, only for them to end up a stranger again. “Anti-Romantic” has a compelling message, and the beautiful writing amplifies that, making it one of the group’s most popular songs. 

 

0X1=LOVESONG (I Know I Love You) ft. Seori 

“0X1=LOVESONG (I Know I Love You)” is the title track of Freeze, and it is the predecessor to the “emocore” version that was released in the repackaged version of the album. The name of the song is a call toward the lyrics “In this world of zero / I know you’re my one and only” that refer to the subject of the song being the speaker’s only salvation from a harsh world. It is about choosing to believe in love despite the depravity of the world around the speaker, and it is an incredibly emotional piece. Repeating the lines: “Say you love me, say you love me / Till the end of the world (I love you) / All or nothing, I want all of you / I know I love you (You)” speaks to the narrator’s desperation to sacrifice themselves to this relationship. The manner in which the speaker tells about their experience is abrasive and intense, reflecting how consuming their emotions are. Many lines reference ice and being frozen, all of which tie back into the “Freeze” concept. On a less academic note, this song severely hurt my feelings. “I’m full of problems, love sick / No way to go / I was fine to die / I’m a loser in this game / The only (one) rule of this world / Save me / Take my hand / Please use me like a drug (I know I love you)” had me distraught on the bathroom floor, please—-the sensations described are so raw and painful and so accurate to the pains of a longing heart. I personally think it was a perfect choice for a title track; it set the tone for the release of the full album, and it showed Tomorrow X Together’s versatility when it comes to genre and subject matter. It is 100% near the top of the list of my favorite songs from this album!

 

Magic

Magic, my beloved! As one can tell from even the first few seconds, it is more bright and cheerful than the previous tracks, which makes for a refreshing listening experience. Like all the songs on the album, there are allusions to the Freeze concept with lines such as “Stuck in one place so cold / Feeling like my heart just froze”. The band themselves have interpreted the song and its accompanying music video as amplifying the message that “human emotions are the real magic rather than a magical future,” and during an interview with Good Morning America, member Yeonjun said, “‘Magic’ is about your magical ability to melt me.” I really appreciate how the writers use repetition without making the song feel monotonous. The bridge of “Everybody clap your hands / If you’ve got a broken heart just take a chance (Chance) / I say everybody clap your hands” adds a unique element to the song of the speaker being so enthralled in this connection that they feel compelled to share it with the rest of the world so they can feel the same joy. It’s just a fun, catchy, disco-pop song with the uplifting message that a person can find genuine happiness in their romantic relationships, which, as implied in “Anti-Romantic”, is a reality that was once perceived as being unfeasible. I tend to gravitate to more melancholy music, but this song reeled me in the moment I pressed play, and I’ve been addicted ever since.

Ice Cream

I have to give “Ice Cream” the title of most underrated song from this album, and maybe even from Tomorrow X Together’s entire discography. It just screams dystopia, from the upbeat tone veiling the dark lyrics to the awareness of inescapable surroundings that the speaker can (seemingly) do nothing to combat. In the song, ice cream is a metaphor for happiness, and knowing the meaning behind the song gives it an eerie feel when listening to what, on the surface, sounds like another summer bop from the group. The speaker makes a wish that everyone in the world will feel the same negative emotions that they do, and now they all are screaming desperately for an ounce of hope and joy. Many people make the assumption that all of the group’s songs are upbeat with messages of pleasantries and gladness because they do not take the time to research translations of the lyrics, and they dismiss “Ice Cream” as being a filler track; it pays homage to the human frustration of not wanting to be positive all the time, and the idea that bad times can simply be bad without covering them in a layer of inauthentic, sugary meaning. Being a bit spiteful and wishing for others to feel the same negative emotions, is an incredibly human thing to feel, and not many people are willing to acknowledge that piece of themselves, especially popular artists.

The Holy Trinity: Alice in Borderland

I have, once again, decided to hurt my own feelings. In four days, I watched three of the most popular dramas on Netflix: Alice in Borderland, Sweet Home, and Squid Game. These shows have reignited my love for screenwriting, and each time I finish one of them, I find myself in awe of the creators and their skillful writing. I want to review the techniques that made these shows so memorable for me, starting with the one that has been out the longest: Alice in Borderland (2020). There won’t be any spoilers in this review, but if you want to go in blind, this is the place to stop.

To make something great, a writer needs a genuinely interesting premise, and the creator of the manga, Haro Aso, had just that. An obsessive, apathetic gamer and his two friends unexpectedly find themselves stuck in a barren version of Tokyo, and they are forced to compete in a series of deadly games in order to extend their visas, which are the only things sparing them from execution. It speaks directly to a generation of video-game enthusiasts who are constantly searching for ways to immerse themselves.

Yoshiki Watabe and Yasuko Kuramitsu created the actual Netflix series. They have a distinct way of making the audience care about the characters, despite their flaws and the limited amount of time we got to know them. While the main character, Arisu, wants an escape from his life, he does not choose to enter this post-apocalyptic city; neither does anyone else who is forced to join it. This makes us automatically sympathetic to most of the people we are introduced to, as they are all frightened and confused by the circumstances they find themselves in. Because this is a survival drama, we go in knowing that not all of the characters we have grown attached to will make it to the final episode. However, the character writing is so compelling that we allow ourselves to care anyway, which amplifies the intensity of the emotions we feel when they inevitably lose their lives to the game. It also fuels our hatred for the antagonist, the gamemaster, and the fact that we share this feeling of anger with the protagonist emphasizes our connection to him. We, the audience, have the same desire as he does: for him and his comrades to survive.

In my opinion, one of the most interesting literary devices used in the story’s creation is the use of foreshadowing with the playing cards. After a player has registered for a game, they are shown a digital version of the playing card they are competing for; the type of card indicates what the player will be tested on, and the number determines the difficulty level of the game. Spades are a challenge of physicality, clubs of teamwork, diamonds of wits, and hearts of betrayal and heartbreak. Depending on which character you have come to favor, seeing the cards will either excite relief or dread in you, as each person has their own weakness, whether it be a lack of physical strength or a hothead that prevents them from thinking clearly in stressful situations. It builds anticipation, leaving the audience on the edge of their seats. The heart cards in particular strike with dread because without a doubt, it will result in tragedy.

With a script full of compelling dialogue, situational irony, and enticing flashbacks, Alice in Borderland is the perfect binge watch. After I pressed play, I lost the will to tear myself from a screen, whether it be my phone or laptop, or television in the common area. I slammed through the series in a matter of hours, refusing to acknowledge the world around me. As the creators intended, I ended the show in a similar fashion to how Arisu started it: completely immersed and undoubtedly addicted to my preferred choice of entertainment.

The Chaos Chapter: Fight or Escape

Introduction to TXT

On August 17th, 2021, Tomorrow X Together released their first repackaged album, The Chaos Chapter: Fight or Escape…and it was an experience, let me tell you.

I started listening to TXT this summer around July 10th (according to a message I sent my friend–happy one month, besties <3), and to say I became an instant fan is an understatement. The connection I felt to their songs reignited my love for music in general, and I think that speaks volumes about their influence and skill as artists. If you’ve been in my dorm–which you haven’t because we don’t break Covid protocol in this house–you’ll see that I’m very…open about my support for them: a proud MOA. So, every other month, I’ll be posting a lyrical review of each of their albums, starting with their most recent (as of August 2021) and working my way back to their debut album, The Dream Chapter: Star.

But before I get into the actual analysis, I’ll give a bit of background on the group and a guide to the members/the roles they have in the band, though there are no fixed positions in terms of their talents–they’re all considered visuals, rappers, singers, and dancers.

They were formed under BigHit Entertainment in South Korea, and they debuted on March 4th, 2019. However, they were trainees at the company for many years before this, with the first member, Yeonjun, joining in 2014. Speaking of our 4th Generation It Boy….

Who’s Who?

First up is Choi Yeonjun, the oldest member of the group!

He recently was honored as July “Artist of the Month” by Studio Choom, and a few weeks ago, the showcase he prepared for the studio was released. He also film a video diary of his experience of preparing for AOTM, and the hard work he put in paid off in this powerful performance!

 

Then, there’s Choi Soobin, the second oldest; as the leader of the group, he is the only one with a set position. 


He’s currently an MC of the show Music Bank, where artists come on to be interviewed by Soobin and co-host Arin and to perform their most recent releases!

 

This is everyone’s favorite middle child, Choi Beomgyu.

There’s a mutual agreement between TXT and MOA that in addition to his many musical skills, Beomgyu is the funniest member in the group…until you admit that you like mint chocolate. That’s when things get real.

 

The second youngest member is Kang Taehyun.

He has the kind of emotional vocals that make you feel like you’re listening to him go through his third divorce. He has several covers out that are just *chef’s kiss* beautiful. This is his most recent one!

 

And finally, we have our diamond maknae, Huening Kai.

Hyuka is the s̶e̶l̶f̶-̶p̶r̶o̶c̶l̶a̶i̶m̶e̶d̶ “cutie of the group.” Thank you, Kamal, for giving yourself this title so I could type it out for my teacher to see. His version of “Youngblood” by 5 Seconds of Summer is one of my favorite covers of all time! 

 

With introductions out of the way, let’s get into the part that I actually assigned to do! T_T 

Note: I will be using the English translations of the songs when unpacking the writing, to make it easier for my audience to understand the points I make without having to translate the lyrics themselves. This means my quotes may not be perfect translations, but I’m using the most reliable sources I have access to at this time!

If you’re unsure about what a repackaged album is, it is essentially the re-release of a previous album with the inclusion of a few more songs and/or a new concept behind it. The first version of this album The Chaos Chapter: Freeze will be up for review in the next edition of this series. For now, I’m going to analyze the three new additions: “LO$ER=LOER”, “MOA Diary (Dubaddu Wari Wari)”, and “0X1=LOVESONG (I Know I Love You) feat. Seori (Emocore Mix)”.

The Chaos Chapter: Fight or Escape

“LO$ER=LO♡ER”

This song is about a narrator who considers himself a loser and his desire to be a sufficient lover to his partner. He feels that he has failed his partner by being a loser in the eyes of the world, and he wishes to let go of the pain that only his love provides sanctuary from. The chorus says, “Lover with a dollar sign / Is a loser.I interpret this line, and in turn the title, as a commentary on the commendation of love. The narrator fears this relationship he values so deeply will become materialistic, and that instead of staying together because they truly care about each other, the strength of their love will be determined by how much extrinsic value they place on each other.

At the suggestion of Bang PD, Choi Yeonjun wrote the rap verse of this song. In an interview, Yeonjun explained, “I gained inspiration for it through Netflix’s The End of the F****** World…I tried to express “LO$ER=LOER” in a more sorrowful way.” I feel like he captured the essence of TEOTFW perfectly: a love affair between two young people who’ve been hurt through the world’s rejection of their personalities. The lines “Wings spread and broken (Wings) / Flyin’ to eternity / But I can’t help falling / Even with you (Even with you) / Falling is beautiful” draw parallels to the scene where Alyssa and James, the protagonists, reunite after individually coming to the conclusion that they feel more safe and more like themselves when they’re together than they do when they’re apart. It has these conflicting themes of apathy and intense adoration, defeated by the world but victorious in each other.

The concept of choosing to brand yourself a love when the world has declared you a loser is inspired by Steven King’s hit film franchise It; in the first movie, a bully writes “LOSER” on the cast of a character’s broken arm, and his friends help him take back his power by writing a ‘v’ over the ‘s’, branding him a “LOVER.” Overall, it’s an excellent song with tragically beautiful and captivating lyrics. TXT has not a single skip in their discography, but within the first twenty seconds of listening to this song, I knew it would soon become one of my favorites. In addition to the stunning vocals and hypnotic raps, the song also has a great flow to it, which can be attributed to the diligent team of writers who contributed to the creation of this piece. If there’s one song that’ll get you into Tomorrow X Together, I think it’s this one.

LO$ER=L♡VER – song by TOMORROW X TOGETHER | Spotify 

“MOA Diary (Dubaddu Wari Wari)”

The eighth track in this album is dedicated to MOA (Moments of Alwaysness), which is the cherished collective name for their fans. The placement of this song is thought to be intentional, with the ‘8’ doubling as an infinity sign–solidifying TXT’s promise to be with MOA forever. Since late July, the community has been celebrating our August 22nd birthday with the hashtag “LOOKBACK_MOA”, where both fans and the artists have been sharing their favorite memories of their time together. The slogan makes an appearance in the chorus: “Look back / The time of you and I that feels like a dream / Forever MOA / Until we’re shining again…” This and lines such as “Even these ordinary days/  These days when we lost the summer / Record it in our diary tonight / It’ll be our consolation, our summer night…” encourage their fans to remain hopeful throughout the ongoing pandemic, which has separated the members and MOA from interacting in-person for well over a year. “We Lost the Summer” is also the name of a song from their latest EP,  min1sode: Blue Hour which further explores the ways in which the global crisis of Covid has affected the way performers interact with their audiences. In a recent interview with Jessi, Soobin specified that the song is written as though MOA is reading the group’s diary, hence the alternate title.

MOA Diary (Dubaddu Wari Wari) – song by TOMORROW X TOGETHER | Spotify

“0X1=LOVESONG (I Know I Love You) feat. Seori (Emocore Mix)”

Ah, the song that is sending TikTok MOAs back into their emo phase–please remove all of the “How to Cut Your Bangs at Home” videos from YouTube before we all start to look like Coconut Head from Ned’s Declassified with a bad dye job. Like the title implies, this is a rock remix reminiscent of the alternative pop music that peaked in popularity between 2015-2017;  “0X1=LOVESONG” was originally song originally released on The Chaos Chapter: Freeze back in May of this year. In an article by TeenVogue, Yeonjun comments on how the stylization has brought a new meaning to the remixed version: “…this song captures the passion to fight for the one they love, or to run away with them. So I think the difference between the two songs is, someone who was frozen, and someone who is now actively pursuing and fighting for their love.” This commentary prompts listeners to completely reimagine the song they have been looping for the past two months. Lines such as “In this world of ice / You’re the only shining glow / Now I can’t stop thinking ‘bout you / When I’m sinking alone” no longer express the narrator’s desperation; instead, it is fuel for him to take an active role in his pursuit of forever with his partner. The narrator is more resolute when discussing the stake he has in this relationship with phrases like “Till the end of the world (I love you) / All or nothing, I want all of you / I know I love you (you).” The selection of intense words and phrases reinforces that this is the narrator’s ultimate connection, and therefore leaves a heavier impact on the listener.

0X1=LOVESONG (I Know I Love You) feat. Seori (Emocore Mix)

Overall

These are amazing, impactful additions to the already-impressive setlist of the original album. 100% worth waking up three hours early to catch the premiere of the “LO$ER=LOER” music video–I have no regrets. This is a link to the entire album on Spotify, so you can listen for yourself! 

The Chaos Chapter: FIGHT OR ESCAPE – Album by TOMORROW X TOGETHER | Spotify  

Farewell

It’s Tuesday night. 11:01pm. I’m staring at a mostly blank Google Doc on my phone because writing this on my laptop feels formal. I’ve procrastinated writing this blog all week, and I think it stems from my tendency to avoid acknowledging the harsh realities of human existence. How can I put into words the sorrow I feel when considering that this time next year, my senior friends will have been away longer than I had them? How can I tell them how proud I am of them when my heart is bursting out my chest with admiration and joy? How can I describe the growth and evolution I’ve experienced at MSA in only 400–600 words? It seems like a daunting task, but what authority do I have to call myself a writer if I don’t even try?

I came into this school petrified and insecure; I felt out of place and undeserving. I hesitated with each step forward and sank into myself, trying to cling to the painful comfortability of my old life. My roommate and suitemates pulled me out of that fairly quickly, and though we no longer live together, 406 is where a piece of my heart will always reside. Their acceptance and guidance made me the person and writer I am today, and I know that we were meant to find each other at the point in time which we did. They mean everything to me, and I trust that they will put as much love and hope into the world as they did into the timid, invisible person I used to be.

I’ve always found it difficult to make friends in new environments, but with one person, it seemed to click instantly. We sat together at our introductory meal, and I distinctly remember thinking to myself: “We’re going to be friends.” I was right, and in the gloomy hours of quarantine and virtual learning, he lit the way for me with reassurance and uplifting humor. My saving grace in times of sadness and disorientation.

My senior and I found one another later than most will expect, but I would not trade our relationship for anything. She is the brightest shade of yellow I have ever seen, and though I will miss our runs to DG and Dirt Cheap, long nights working in the library, and moments of loving silence, I find comfort in knowing that she is going to shake the world in the best way. Everything she touches will turn to gold, and she will mark the way for the generations that come after her.

On Thursday, the first senior literary student will leave, and our space will gain a fulfilling emptiness to it, one with senses of both sadness and completion. By Wednesday we will all be gone, ready to start the next chapters of our lives, whether it be college or senior year. Practicum to Literary Arts, with all 17 of us, will be nothing more than a distant memory, something to reminisce on in our later years. We’ll forget the way the chairs squeak against the wooden floorboards and the knowing smiles we shared when somebody’s headphones betrayed them and shared their hype music with the entire classroom. We will, however, remember each other, and we will remember the way our souls shined as we cheered each other on through our successes and failures. We will remember Mrs. Sibley’s guiding hand, and her many lessons and words of wisdom and encouragement will never leave us.

I’ve written extensively to the seniors about my care for each of  them, so I feel content not expounding upon it too much. What I will say to them is this: you are not only capable of great things, but you are destined to achieve them; there’s too much talent, creativity, passion, and drive running through your veins for anything else to be true. Don’t put pressure on yourself to become the perfect writer over the summer, or even in college. You have the rest of your life to stumble through things, and you have the rest of your life to grow. I’m proud of you, and I love you.

To spare myself from the waterworks, I’ll end this here. My fellow juniors and rising seniors, I’m ecstatic to see where this new school year will take us. I’m forever grateful to be surrounded by such talented, kind people. It’s only up from here, and together, we’ll take on the challenges of senior year, one step at a time. 

See you in August,

Sydney

 

P.S. I couldn’t end this without sharing a few of my favorite memories! Enjoy :’) Here’s a song to be emotional to while you scroll through them:

 

 

Advice for Upcoming Juniors: The Survival Guide

Greetings

After navigating the 2020-2021 school year with grace, we have finally reached the end of our road as juniors. Only two weeks are left for us here, and even less for our seniors. This is my second to last blog post in this style; next year, we will move on to monthly literary reviews, and a whole new group of talented writers will elevate the blogspace each week. In spite of the sorrow I feel at the prospect of not seeing the literary seniors’ faces around campus, my heart swells when I remember that an entire class of gifted artists will fill the empty seats around me. I wanted to start an advice series for upcoming juniors, but, as you can tell, I only got one post in, two if you count the one I originally wrote about applications/auditions. I am likely to continue this series on Rise, our digital school newspaper; however, I want to make a comprehensive list of my personal must-knows for incoming juniors anyway. A handful of these may only be applicable to literary students, but most of them can be universal to all students enrolling in MSA. If anything here does not feel like it does not serve you or your journey, I invite you to ignore me completely, as long as you consider my words.

Be Certain to Bring…

Before we dive into the heavier stuff, I want to leave you with a list of items I recommend bringing. If you missed it, I posted a blog specifically about what you need/might want for your dorm and bathroom. Here’s a link to it! https://blog.msabrookhaven.org/literary/2021/03/24/advice-for-rising-juniors-invest-in-your-space/ 

  • An umbrella, and a raincoat! You would be surprised by how many students here don’t own either of those things and are forced to walk through a downpour. Check the weather app before you leave your dorm for class, and for safe measure, keep your umbrella in an accessible section of your backpack.
  • Band-Aids and over-the-counter medications approved by the school. You’re allowed to have things like Benadryl and ibuprofen in your dorm, though these are usually available at the nurse’s station. It’s great for when you wake up with a headache in the middle of the night studying, and when you finally return from walking around the pollen-covered campus in spring.
  • Snacks! It’s always fun to grab a bite to eat with friends, but try not to spend all of your money going out. At the beginning of each week, run by Dollar General and Walmart, and stock up on your favorites. You’ll be glad to have them when curfew hits, and you can’t leave your suite.

Experience this for yourself

I am going to confidently take a chance by saying that at least one current or former student has taken time out of both of your days to air their grievances about the school.  I cannot stress this enough: those dramatized stories are a miniscule perspective compared to the thousands of students who have come through this school and adored their experiences here. MSA is a unique, special place where you have freedoms and opportunities that you will not have at any other high school in the state. You will not have the privilege of exploring your artistic abilities under dedicated mentors alongside equally talented and invested students if you let this talk steal your opportunity of attending here. I promise you, if MSA was anything less than an excellent place for cultivating knowledge and creativity, the people telling you these things would have chosen to leave by now. 

With the sheer volume of students who have entered the front door of the SLC as a junior and walked across the stage at graduation, there are bound to be a multitude of varying perspectives. You have the right to find your own truth about MSA and experience it for yourself, not through the eyes of others. Come with an open mind, and don’t waste your energy seeking out negative things that you yourself have yet to encounter. Let the excitement you felt when you opened your acceptance letter and the elation of meeting your future peers during new student day overturn any low whispers that have instilled doubt in you. I promise, you’ll be better for it.

Expect Change

Mississippi School of the Arts is an ideal environment for growth and self-discovery. As you’ll hear many people say, you will not walk out of this place the same you entered it, and we mean this as a positive thing. When you’re in an environment like this, where nobody is watching over your shoulder to make sure you fulfill your obligations and responsibilities, you gain a new sense of self through the independence you are granted. You’re free to experiment with your style and explore who you really are, not just the watered down version of yourself you had to present to survive socially at your old school.

If you’re like me, bearing witness to constant evolution may make you feel obligated to change yourself to fit in with what other people are trying out. It’s quite ironic, isn’t it? Remember that you don’t have to change who you are to grow into the best version of yourself. Don’t feel like you owe anybody a drastic shift in attitude or appearance just because you’re attending a fine arts school, but don’t be afraid to open yourself up to the possibility of change. You’re still a teenager, and you have the rest of your life to figure out who you are and what you wish to pursue in life, so don’t feel like you have to rush change or like you need to maintain a façade of who you are for the rest of high school.

Embrace the Workload

Yes, you will have an array of freedoms here that you do not have in a typical high school, but it’s still a school. If you are under the impression that this is simply a getaway from your parents’ house, you are mistaken. Each student who has come here under the guise that they will not have to work as hard has left disappointed. You still need to graduate and pass your core academic classes, in addition to your arts discipline ones. The same standards of typical secondary schools are implemented here, and you are expected to complete your work in a timely manner. There are consequences for slacking off, in the form of study hour and disciplinary action, and expecting to be exempt from these repercussions would be ignorant.

Now, let’s talk about discipline classes. If you are a perfect artist, you don’t need to be at MSA. This is a place for creatives to grow into themselves and fulfill their potential. You have to be willing to dedicate yourself to the development of your work, which means stepping outside of your comfort zone, accepting constructive criticism from your educators and peers, and not quitting when you are faced with challenges in your course. I was incredibly insecure about my writing before I came here; I did not want to share it with people, and the idea of workshopping it terrified me. I chose to trust my mentor and the process despite my worries, and now, six months later, I find myself thrilled to sit at the conference table with my fellow writers and receive their feedback. 

Take Advantage of Opportunities

On the note of embracing your department’s curriculum, I have to say this: eagerly take advantage of all the opportunities MSA presents you with. If you take shortcuts on your assignments or bring forth work that you want praise for rather than work that could be aided from the feedback you receive, you are cheating yourself out of growth. Every prompt given to you is crafted with intention and teaches you distinct lessons about the writing process. Honoring the assignment will only make you a better writer, even if you are not interested in the mentor text or the content of the prompt. 

As a junior literary student, you are given the privilege of having your own weekly blog. At times, you won’t feel motivated to write something new, or you will have trouble finding a compelling story to pursue, but I promise, it’s always worth it to honor your blog deadlines. My favorite journalism/nonfiction pieces have come from blogs I hurriedly wrote on Tuesday night; several months after I posted my second blog, where I describe colors using senses other than sight, I randomly decided to develop it into a flash fiction piece. Personally, I consider it one of my better short fiction works. You never know what will come of these 400–600 word posts. Plus, a few years down the road, you’ll look at them fondly, as they capture the essence of the writer you were in the early stages of your journey.

Explore 

The first few weeks after your initial arrival are some of the hardest, in my opinion. If you’re like me and did not attend any of the camps, chances are you have yet to form any genuine connections yet. I got in the habit of going straight to my room after class and skipping the awkwardness of deciding who to sit with at dinner, trading a hot meal for a bowl of ramen. It may seem inevitable for those who are too introverted to initiate conversation, but you’ve got to do your best to avoid this. I came out of it once I stopped limiting my friendship to those residing in my hometown, and after that, everything seemed to fall into place. Sure, my conversations with students here did not flow the smoothest, but honestly, when do they ever? You have to push past your discomfort so you and the people who will eventually become your best friends won’t be (figuratively) stuck laying alone in your dorm.

Allow me to reassure you that your fellow upcoming juniors are just as unsure and nervous as you are; some are just better at hiding than others. You’re all overly concerned with how people are perceiving you and walking on unsteady feet, but it is in that feeling that you will connect with one another. People want to find friends just as much as you do, and I swear, they’ll be so appreciative of you for joining them at lunch or sitting in the empty seat beside them in class. 

If some time has passed, you’ve made a few friends, and you’re battling with the urge to lock yourself away from the world, I recommend going for a walk, whether it be around campus or to one of the many stores in downtown Brookhaven. There are a multitude of thrift stores, wonderful restaurants, shops to indulge your sweet tooth, and some beautiful places to pause and catch your breath after the whirlwind that is moving to a new place. Appreciate the scenery of the campus while you can; when you stop to take it all in, you’ll be amazed at how much you miss while running from class to class or burying your head in your phone to avoid making eye contact with the person strolling beside you on the sidewalk.

Farewell

Well, friends, I believe this is all I have for you. This will be the last time I speak directly to you, and I hope from reading my blog, you have gained something valuable. I’m thankful to have had the opportunity to share my voice with you, and juniors, I’m excited to see where your blogs take you. I will be tuning in every Wednesday that aligns with your posting schedule! MSA is what you make of it, and I trust you all to attentively nurture beauty during your time here.

Until we meet again,

Sydney.

The Value of Staying with a Story

Currently, my classmates and I are taking Intermediate Fiction. We have been assigned three short stories, each based on an individual mentor text, which is the short story we study and use as a model for our own work. I am a bit biased towards not-so-short fiction, since it is the genre I divulged in most before coming to MSA, but this has definitely been my favorite literary arts class, though Playwriting is not too far behind in second place. I adore narrative prose and the process of unfolding a story that readers will marvel at, but as all fiction writers know, it is the one of the most difficult aspects of literature to master. We have all these brilliant ideas swarming around, yet we find them strenuous to capture them and plant on the page.

Over a month ago in U.S. History, my teacher went over a lengthy unit about WWII; before taking this class (shout out to Mrs. Malone, she’s an excellent educator!), I stuck to contemporary literature because it seemed easier to write about something I could experience in the present moment. Something about this lesson just immersed me in the culture in America at this time, and I knew I had to write something about it. I spent many days mulling over what an interesting story might be, and I landed in an unexpected place: the story of a soldier returning home to his wife and children, but his son battles with the unresolved emotions that come with a parent leaving for a violent war. I also incorporated a positive religious theme, which is unusual for me, but it felt right for the story, so I ran with it.

I was ecstatic about the idea of writing this, and I anxiously awaited an assignment in short fiction that implored me to explore this concept further. For the first assignment, I felt called to something else; for the second, I had a twinge of inspiration, but when I wrote an exposition of about 300 words, I realized it was not the best fit and moved on to something else for that prompt. Then came the third prompt.

It was perfect, the exact tool I required to develop this tale. I excitedly began my work, but…I couldn’t get into a flow with it. I would write half a page, decide it was bad, delete it, try again, and repeat that cycle. I did this for a few days and found myself at a loss. I considered scrapping it and trying something new, but I could not shake the obligation I had to tell these characters’ story; I had no right to leave them hanging in the air, uncertain about their fate. I needed to start this story somewhere else, so I opted for the middle.

This piece is divided into three sections, where I drop the reader into the formative moments in the protagonist’s journey of recognizing and understanding his feelings of anger towards his father. The first opened with them driving to the train station to bring the father home, the second with the boy observing his parents from afar, and the third with them heading to church after an argument. The second section weighed heaviest on my mind, so I started with it. I closed my eyes, imagined the scene, and allowed it to possess my hands. The words came to me with ease, and finally, I felt the relief of emerging myself in a story that had been confined to the walls of my imagination for so long.

Sticking with a story that feels like it’s not working is incredibly draining, but it’s necessary. If I had abandoned this idea, then I may have never written it, and it would have been another unfulfilled desire that scorned my spirit as an author. If you have a story, stand by it, even when it feels impossible. Don’t be afraid to hit Ctrl+A and backspace when it’s not working, regardless of how much you’ve written. Your writing process does not have to be linear; you can start in the middle, or with that line of dialogue that’s been running through your head. Once you complete the work, you’ll thank yourself for persevering, just as I did.

The Things You’ll Miss

I hope this blog finds you well, and if it does not, that the next one will find you better. Recently, I wrote and gave a TedTalk for my class, Practicum in Literary Arts;  a few of my peers expressed that they were moved by it, so I wanted to share it here, just incase somebody out in the world needs to hear it.

Trigger Warning: Discussion of depression, suicidal ideation, and suicide.

Before we start, I would like you to watch the first two and a half minutes of a TedTalk, actually. If you have time afterwards, or even now, I would highly recommend watching the entire thing; it’s really powerful stuff.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D1QoyTmeAYw

The speaker is named Mark Henick, and I stumbled across him at the age of thirteen, when I reached my first of many valleys caused by my depression. I wouldn’t be diagnosed until the week after my seventeenth birthday, but even then, I had the distinct feeling that something was wrong with me, that I didn’t navigate the world like other people did. Though it took me years to process how this discussion affected me, I found myself crying into my unwashed pillows for what felt like the dozenth time that week.

I lost a large part of my life to convincing myself that there was something irrevocably wrong with me, that I had to be a blip in the world because there was no way that people were expected to live like this. I made a habit of observing everyone around me, and each time I noticed a genuine laugh, or that flicker in someone’s eye when they are taking a moment to appreciate where they are, it felt like a slap in the face. I crawled into myself, the person I despised the most, and bitterly questioned why I couldn’t just be happy and normal, why I couldn’t just want to live. Having someone verbalize a feeling as overwhelming as suicidal ideation provided me with a sense of relief, but it also infected my mind with a new anxiety.

Nobody suspected me, and for a while, I didn’t know to suspect other people of feeling the same way I did. All across America, millions of people were in the dark, isolating trenches of this mental illness with me, and here I was, naively telling myself that I was the exception, that I was broken far beyond repair, that my illness made me a burden.

When you have clinical depression, it feels like a second nature to tell yourself that while other people in the same situation deserve to live, but you don’t. That they will recover, but you won’t ever be able to. That they deserve health and happiness, but you don’t. Perhaps it comes from the subtle narcissism that we all possess, or our inability to see the world outside our dark, tightly closed bubbles of perception, but this attitude of being the exception in circumstances like these can be deadly. After hearing Henick’s talk, I spent entire nights falling down the rabbit hole of suicide survivor stories, obsessively listening to them recount their experiences and how they came out from it. I felt proud of them, like a teammate on the sidelines watching their friend score the winning point, but one thought ran incessantly through my mind: “That’ll never be me.”

Because I know my story may not be enough to inspire you into believing that you’ve got a chance, I won’t talk about myself anymore. I’m going to talk about you.

I don’t think I need to give you the spill about your loved ones missing you, we all know that part of it, but I do want to emphasize something to you. With the way film and media has portrayed, we as a generation have the subconscious notion that we will bear witness to the aftermath of our own self destruction. Countless series depict victims of suicide as spirits or hallucinations who return to their communities to guide their loved ones as they grieve. I don’t know you, or what you believe in, so it’s unfair of me to say what will or will not happen to you after you pass. However, I will be bold enough to give this general statement: you will not come back as yourself. This is not some corny Netflix drama. You will not roam the halls of your high school, talking to your peers who miss you, or offering advice to your friends when they deal with the complications of your suicide. You will not observe people’s reactions to your death, then decide whether or not you want to ‘follow the light’ or undo your decision. You will be eternally separated from this plane of existence and from everyone and everything who adores and needs you.

Your friends and family will not be the only people mourning you. It’ll be the college roommate who your friend sobs in agony to after they accidentally played your favorite song. It’ll be the friend of a friend who puts his hand over his heart when he sees the empty chair left for you at graduation. It’ll be a coworker asking around the office why your father looks so distraught every time he glances at the framed photograph of you on his desk. It’ll be your first love’s fiancée finally hearing the real reason they don’t like talking about those who came before her. It’ll be the junior who asks the class who’s mug has been sitting untouched since the beginning of the year. It’ll be the parents trying to coax their child out of bed after she spent the past week crying into the hoodie you loaned her on a rainy day, and it’ll be her unknowing brother asking why he hasn’t seen you around the house lately. It’ll be the new neighbor who notices your pets lying in the living room, patiently waiting to hear the sound of you tossing your shoes into the corner of the hallway. It’ll be anyone and everyone who interacts with the people you care about after you’re gone. You’ll be cheating them out of the privilege to know you as the radiant person you are instead of the occasional reminder of a dreary statistic.

But, it’s not just about them. It’s about you, and it’s about how you will rob yourself of all of the pockets of joy in your life. You’ll never watch your favorite shows in search of nostalgia, nor will you see the glow on your parents’ face when you agree to start watching that new series with them. These complex, important characters you dreamed up will never have their stories told, and you won’t feel the satisfaction of completely submerging yourself in a story. Your usual spot at the treasured, local restaurant will sit empty and cold, and never again will you feel the strain of suppressing the smile that forms on your face when the pretty waitress remembers your order. You will not be able to gaze at the face of your soulmate and wonder how someone could be so beautiful. You won’t laugh until your sides ache and your lungs are left empty. You won’t feel warm sunlight grazing your skin on chilly mornings, nor will you rest in the shadow of a large, seemingly endless tree. You won’t watch your siblings nor your children experience those big life moments, and you won’t be able to congratulate your loved ones when they accomplish the things they never thought they could do.

There will be no more long car rides with your best friend, nor will the two of you ever sing karaoke together again. No more smile lines and flushed cheeks. No more of the adrenaline that pumps through your veins when your favorite artist is about to come on stage at a concert. No more peeking around your classmate’s heads in the lunch line to see what food the cafeteria workers are serving. No more intertwined fingers and stolen glances. No more of your roommate waking you up to watch the sunrise, nor the sunset. No more music, and no more dancing alone in the bathroom to your favorite songs. No more you.

If I can say anything to you, it’s that you are worthy of these things and everything else that brings you joy. You deserve every ounce of happiness that you have and will attract in your existence. You are not baggage, nor are you simply the extra weight on someone else’s shoulders You are not a stain on the lives of others, and you are not hampering anyone by existing in shared spaces with them. The people in your life care for you deeply, even and especially, when what you’re dealing with is straining your relationships with them. They want you here with them, and they’ve never thought of you as a mistake, or a burden. I want you here, and so does everybody else reading this post.

I know how difficult it is for you to believe these things, and that’s okay. I’m not asking you to change your entire perception after a five minute conversation, but I am asking you to take the small step of reminding yourself that you do hold value in the world, and that you will miss so, so many things if you chose to end your life here. It feels impossible, I’m sure, but if you just keep going, one day, I promise, you’re going to reflect on where you are in life and say to yourself, “I didn’t know I could be this happy.” And trust that you will feel happy again. You will find yourself and set a path for yourself in the world. Your life will be fulfilling, and you will do meaningful things in your lifetime. You will evolve far beyond from the person you are in this valley, and your circumstances will change for the better. Slowly, you’ll begin to recover, and life won’t seem inescapable anymore. Seek professional help, if that’s an option for you, and if it isn’t, just talk to somebody, anyone who can provide you with compassion and support. The world is rooting for you to live the long, beautiful life you were meant to have, so while you’re in the valley, or in the darkest of perception bubbles, remind yourself what you’d be sacrificing and of the things you’ll miss.

Sunday’s Return

As an MSA student, I can firmly say that my Sundays, without fail, are exactly the same. I wake up around 11:00pm after getting a solid night’s sleep for the first time in two weeks; I sleepily trudge downstairs with an objective: move my clothes from the washing machine to the dryer. I am greeted by my dog, excitedly shaking the rubber bone he carries in his mouth. I make the same two grilled ham and cheese sandwiches that I always do and pour out the crushed remains of the same lightly seasoned tortilla chips my parents started buying a few months ago. I eat, go back upstairs, and begin to back my things. It doesn’t take as long as it used to because I’ve finally learned how to appropriately pack for a weekend.

My dad arrives around 3:30pm. I’m already sitting in the living room with my mom; my luggage waits for me in the laundry room. I greet him and my stepmom, hug my mom goodbye, and bring my things to the car with help from all my parents. We chat about mundane things, but the conversation is still comfortable, even fun at times. My dad pulls into the drive through at a McDonald’s in Collins, just like we always do, and I hold onto my food as we cut the long, sharp turn that takes us back to Highway 84. I gaze out the window as I sip on my drink; the familiar taste of a strawberry-banana smoothie dances around my mouth.

As I stare at the greenery flying past, something dawns on me. I will only make this trip twice more before everything shifts. Realization sinks in. An entire year’s worth of trips from Soso to Brookhaven awaits me, but after May 16th, I will not drive here with the intention of greeting the same people, nor with the standards I have placed on myself as a junior literary student. While I make my first solo trip in my new car, the class of ‘21 will be spread out across the country, turning the page in the first chapter of their new lives, and the upcoming class of juniors will be anxiously fiddling in the backseat of their parents’ car as I did on move-in day. I will be faced with an abundance of new responsibilities and obligations, and I will not be the person I am in this moment.

The drive continues, despite the sinking pit in my stomach. The drive continues, despite how desperately I don’t want this chapter of my life to close. The drive continues, because it’s time to turn the page.

I glance back up at the trees on my right. It’s a straight shot from my house to MSA: ninety minutes of the same road and the same trees I’ve passed dozens of times before. A strange feeling rises in my chest, and I tell myself it is because everything around me looks different now, that I’m seeing things through a new perspective. But, that’s not true. This sensation only comes from my acknowledgement of the sameness. Instead of trying to find significance where there is none or searching for beauty where I know I don’t see it, I try to absorb my perception at this very moment. I intake the rattle of the car against the cracked streets and the way the bright sun makes my eyes squint. The sound of the seats rattling in the car, and the smudges on the window. The whirl of green that’s so intense it is nauseating at times. The static cutting through subpar music as we break past the limits of our local radio stations.

All students take a unique journey to MSA, in both a literal and figurative sense. No one will make a trip identical to yours; nobody else will pull out of your driveway and into the driveway of the school with the same perspective, the same emotions. Not a soul on this earth will get the gaze on the world around you with the same lenses that you hold presently, in this exact period of your life. On your next trip here, inhale the moment and let it fill your lungs before it becomes a fleeting memory that you only recognize when the shift happens. Cherish and document who you are now, because once you evolve into the more mature, sculpted version of yourself, it’ll be gone forever.

 

Overanalyzing “Your New Boyfriend” By Wilbur Soot

On December 11th, 2021, popular English content creator and songwriter Wilbur Soot released his sixth single, a fun, upbeat tune titled “Your New Boyfriend.” It is the third in a series that follows the protagonist, Lonely Boy’s, infatuation with an e-girl, the prototypical version of which is a young woman who spends an atypical amount of time online–whether it be gaming, posting, cosplaying–and whose style is inspired from both European alternative and Asian street fashions. On the surface, this song appears to be an amusing, lighthearted track, perfect to belt out the lyrics to on a road trip with friends and head bang to the beat on the way to an afternoon class. Behind the comedic lyrics and unforgettable melodies, there lies the disturbing yet common story of an outcast finding solace in his obsession and parasocial relationship with a Twitch streamer. Littered with metaphors and allusions, Wilbur Soot charmed this intense cautionary into the minds of over two million unsuspecting listeners.

Soot repeatedly references the age of Lonely Boy to characterize him as fixated and fanatic. In the first stanza, the narrator recalls, “When I was a kid on VoIP / I thought when I get older / I’d marry her, I told her / Now I’m 26 and I work in an office.” He alludes to VoIP, aka Voice over Internet Protocol, which is an older program used to make telephone calls from a computer. In the chorus, Lonely Boy says, “Oh, she’s living the dream / From back when we were 17.” These excerpts of the music tell the listener that his potent obsession has been brewing inside for nearly a decade and ultimately raises the stakes for the streamer’s safety. He sings about the beautiful love he believes is shared between them, but in reality, he is a stalker desperate to fulfill his fantasy of having the perfect relationship with this woman. This is known as a parasocial relationship, where one person extends emotional energy while the other is completely unaware of his or her existence. Lonely Boy vents, “You hit it off instantly / I know ‘cause you won’t stop telling me.” This relationship is entirely one-sided, so she’s not intentionally communicating anything to him; because the setting of this story is their shared online space, the listener can assume that she is posting on social media about her boyfriend. Lonely Boy feels that she is telling him personally about her new relationship.

Lonely Boy is convinced that he is the only person who could make her happy, and that despite all of his flaws, he would be the ideal partner and provider. He says, “I’ve got the key and he’s just a doormat / ‘Cause even though he’s got social skills / That doesn’t mean I can’t pay the bills.” The writer uses the metaphor of the current boyfriend being a doormat to further Lonely Boy’s perception that her relationship is a place for her to wipe her feet while traveling down the path of genuine connection, a path that leads to a door for which he exclusively holds the key.  Despite his irritation with the situation, the tone of the song stays joyful, showing that he does not hold her accountable for the perceived mistakes she makes. Soot further unravels the delusions of the protagonist by introducing the fact that he feels attraction to the woman’s partner. Towards the end of the song, Lonely Boy admits, “I think about him a lot as well (I think about him) / Maybe if he wasn’t fine as hell (he’s really fine as hell.)” He is so infatuated with this person that he favors all the things she does, including people, despite being neither romantically nor sexually attracted to men. 

From the cheerful tone to the playful, strategically-placed adlibs, this song is ultimately disarming. Being a twitch streamer himself, Wilbur Soot understands that this is a serious issue that plagues female streamers. He utilizes figurative language to weave this chilling story into a bright, colorful basket that his fans would find easier to digest. Presented with the archetype of the lonely man, the popular woman, and her seemingly perfect partner, the listeners are given circumstances that they would typically find themselves chuckling at. Not everyone who streams the track takes the time to unpack the complex story behind it, but Soot has planted a subconscious seed of familiarity that will sound off alarm bells for those witnessing or operating in a similar situation.