Have Courage and Be Kind

T/W: Mentions of suicide in the content.

Last night my mom, my sister and I sat down, two bottles of wine at the ready, giant popcorn bowl, homemade bibimbap in our laps and Netflix on queue for a marathon of their reality TV show Love is Blind. Neither one of us is a Reality TV watcher, but since we personally know one of the ladies, we figured we MUST watch.

We were ready to laugh and make fun (and we did), to rail at the ridiculousness (did that also) and to roll our eyes at the facility with which these strangers “fell in love” and shared “I love you’ s” (we did a lot of that too). What we didn’t expect was to find ourselves reflecting on how society has made loners of us all.

It was a little heartbreaking listening to their stories repeat, how hungry for contact, love and acceptance they were. Are they all given the same script? Or as a society, are we really that lonely? We watch one participant after another ‘fall in love’ over the most tenuous of connections, a favorite childhood book, the love of a sport’s team, their agreement on a simple stance was enough to have their souls reach out for each other as if they had been looking for a connection for always. The superlatives flew right and left “Never felt so understood in my entire life”. “I’ve never felt so seen” “The most profound conversation of my life” “The happiest I’ve ever been” It made us wonder how the people in their life feel about those type of comments. Do they feel betrayed by how easily everything that was meaningfully exchanged after years of friendship and relationship could be surpassed by a five-day connection with a stranger?

Are the participants truly that lonely?  Do they really have no one to share thoughts and feelings with? Kenny and Kelly shared such a moment. With Kenny saying he went through something really hard (without telling the viewer what) and Kelly saying she understood and through the glass partition (they can’t see each other and are in different rooms) they had a meeting of souls, like a visible meeting of souls and they both start crying, at how lonely they have felt for so long with no one to talk to and share their fears. No one. Not a single person they felt they could talk to. The cynic in my wanted to roll my eyes, but my heart was raisin sized and I ached in sympathy for them, how sad, how unbearably sad to cry for sheer loneliness.  All the lonely people… where do they all come from? Tale as old as time.

I sat there with my mom and my sister, my husband in the other room with the door closed to drown out our screams, laughter, arguing and giggles and it made me realize how damn lucky I am. Even when I was turning into a different person in 2016 and anxiety took over my life and depression loomed over my head and I fought it, I felt I could talk to my sister and my best friend and my husband.  And after I leaned into my love of BTS more than ever I got a new pool of people I could count on in my fellow ARMY, who I KNOW would answer my phone call to listen to me cry, if I had to. And while my immediately family doesn’t understand my feelings for BTS I never for a moment felt like I couldn’t go to them.

A few weeks ago, a German journalist was interviewing the amazing Stephanie Rosenthal who in collaboration with BTS and Noemi Solomon curated the Connect BTS exhibit at the Martin-Gropius-Bau, a modern art museum in the German Capital of Berlin. The journalist attempted to scoff and put down the exhibit because her opinion was that the entire message behind BTS’ career (that of healing through music, loving yourself, accepting others, be the change, etc.) was naïve and simplistic. She posited that the average Berliner was too savvy, too cosmopolitan, too old, too smart, to enjoy an exhibit called “Rituals of Care” and that a music band from Korea knew nothing about art in order to get involved in art making and they were using the museum as some sort of publicity stunt. As if BTS the most famous musical act in the world right now needs to resort to stunts for publicity.  Thankfully Ms. Rosenthal handled the interview with aplomb and annoyance.

The Festspiele published in their page about the exhibit:

“The performance program spans experimental choreography, healing practices, sonic installations and collective gatherings. These interdisciplinary works and practices explore the necessary conditions for coming together and tending to environments, to physical and spiritual worlds and to other beings. Through a range of somatic techniques, queer re-imaginings and indigenous perspectives, these performances offer radical acts of care and repair”

With the passing by suicide of Caroline Flack, a former Love Island UK tv host, I feel like the message BTS puts out is more important and relevant than ever.  Naïve it is not. Caroline herself once said, “in a world where you can be anything, be kind”. I wonder if that German journalist would consider Caroline’s word naïve and simple as well.

Why do we feel the need to be cynical about everything? Why call the idea of mental healing through music and caring acts for others naïve? What could be more mature and elevated than kindness?  It made me wonder if striving for empathy is a lost cause with half the world doing battle against it.  Are we doomed to hurt each other and scoff at positive messages and roll our eyes at the naivete or people who hope to change? Are we supposed to be like SouthPark’s Cartman and revel in our indifference of society what happens to our fellow man and laugh at those who still care?

Not only that but the idea that being kind means being a Pollyanna it’s perpetually put out there. As if being kind and thoughtful means accepting abuse and being walked on by others. If she, as a journalist, had done a little bit of homework before dismissing BTS’ message she could’ve learned in their discography that they are not beyond fighting back. Just take a gander at their Ddaeng, or Cypher series 1 through 4, or Idol, or even Mic Drop. Where they don’t take abuse and refuse to turn the other cheek.

While watching the Disney live action of Cinderella I remember clearly her mother telling Cinderella the most important lesson she could leave her with before passing, “have courage and be kind”, how kindness was a type of magic that some people didn’t understand and how she had it in spades, more in the little tip of her finger than others in their entire bodies. We see Cinderella take abuse after abuse after abuse, trying to live up to the advice given by her mother until she is ready to break down and can’t take it anymore. And her kindness in a moment of despair when she was done with the world, gave her fairy godmother the opportunity to send her to the fated ball.

Life is not a Disney fairy tale, but I think we can all agree we need less not more cynicism. More, not less caring. More and more kindness. I feel sometimes like the entire world It’s screaming it, shouting in pain from the rooftops, in workplaces, in our own homes in our small circles and our varied communities. And we turn a blind eye and cover our ears because it can be so taxing to care.  It is so much easier, so much faster to turn back, and be cynical, to laugh at the person on TV falling in love with a stranger and saying I love you and desperately seeking to be understood.

Caroline Flack seemed to have it all. She was high in the normative beauty spectrum, thin, white, abled, successful, presumably wealthy,  and still she lost that battle, her family loved her, her coworkers, the people she worked on a daily basis spoke wonderful things about her and still she felt so alone and so broken that suicide was the only option in her mind.  It’s kindness and care for others really a naïve goal, then?

I want more than ever to practice the message that BTS is constantly reminding us of. I don’t want to put any more meanness in the ether. Instead of cussing out my new coworker who seems to hate me without reason I am going to be kind to her, and maybe make her think twice about being mean to me and others because she is receiving so much good from the universe. Maybe she is insecure and unhappy, maybe she needs a hug. Maybe she is just lonely. Maybe she has no one to talk to, no one to turn to. I would be a raging bitch too if that was my life.  I am so very wealthy in love and family, in friends and people who care for me. I can afford to be kind to her, whose circumstances might be difficult without me not knowing.  

So, call me naïve, call me silly. I will practice what BTS preaches, what Cinderella’s mom advised. I’ll be courageous and I’ll be kind. Because, FUCK!! there’s so many sad lonely people, who live inner turmoil and hardships we know nothing about, and I don’t want to be another grain of sand in that mean ocean. I don’t want to be another reason someone feels badly. I don’t want to scoff at people asking, begging for kindness.

And don’t take me wrong, I will continue to watch the show with a healthy dose of cynicism and a side eye for the rapid I love you, but I won’t laugh when they cry, because they may be faking but they may not they may truly be that lonely and even if they faking. I am a sucker for criers. My heart immediately turns into a raisin. This is not my natural disposition, I tend towards cynical and sarcastic myself so it will be hard, but I am going to do it. I challenge you to try the same.

NOBODY DOES IT BETTER

What a year that 2019. I have traveled to beautiful mountains, snow-capped peaks with blankets of blue lakes at their laps, views that soothed my mind, soul and fed my bottomless hunger for nature and exploring. I experienced a BTS concert firsthand and developed a friendship with so many different women, who daily remind me to laugh, sometimes make me cry, remind me to love and respect myself and others and share with me a passion for justice, equality, respect, freedom and BTS.  I lost the last of my grandparents, and whatever chance there was to ask those questions I should’ve asked and never did, said goodbye to that part of my ancestry and closed the door on a chapter full of unanswered questions, unspoken words and undone deeds. I lost the job I held for more than a decade and with it, the comfort and familiarity of routine, coworkers that became friends and a salary that allowed me a lot of luxuries (and BTS merch). I also held in my hand the fruits of the heart-wrenching labor that writing can be, in the form of a book that holds stories of women like me who left their home and country to emigrate, I was humbled and proud to have my story printed alongside theirs.  What a year 2019 was indeed.

As I sat writing the first post on the first day of the new year, sipping coffee and nursing a prosecco hangover I wondered about the lessons 2019 imparted. Today, fourteen days into 2020, I’ve learned mostly that even something as simple as posting a new entry on my blog for the new year seems like a herculean task when you don’t have drive. The first half of this post has been sitting in my computer for two weeks. Even while speaking about a topic I am passionate about, it takes an effort to sit down, put thoughts into mildly coherent sentences that make a tiny bit of justice to the subject matter.

It makes one wonder, how does BTS do it? Do they have a DeLorean secretly stashed in an underground garage in the bowels of Seoul? Are they in possession of a Tardis? Have they discovered the way to bend the space time continuum daily in order to achieve all they achieve?

2020 brought a new BTS album announcement, rocking the world and dashing theories all over the Twitter ether, and today brought the news that BTS will be funding art installations in five different cities around the world (London, Buenos Aires, Berlin, New York and Seoul) in an initiative called “Connect BTS”

HOW?! I mean, honestly. I can’t even write a post without getting distracted by books, work, k-dramas, hunger, bad moods, sleepiness, you name it.

Their discipline truly it’s unparalleled. You must be disciplined in order to spearhead such an ambitious project, one that surprises no ARMY since we know full well the extent of BTS’ passion for art. Not only are their performances; from sets, costume design, lighting, choreography, a pleasurable artistic feast for all the senses, but art itself has been incredibly important to its members. From the escapist and healing properties of a quiet museum for Namjoon to art piece collecting, photography, drawing and film-making, of all the other members.

Now we see them reaching out beyond the enjoyment of consuming art, beyond the painful pleasure of making art to the very lofty goal of sharing, spreading, and becoming patrons of the arts.

In collaboration with curators BTS is, as always, not dipping their toes but diving head-first into this new world of patronage. And becase we know they do NOTHING in half measures, I am sure it’s an honor for all involved to be a part of this project. Since they are such art lovers, I can envision all the BTS member bowing respectfully and fanboying over artists and their installations, as if they themselves weren’t worthy or fawning and praising. And being as they are BTS I have no doubt all artists and curators are over the moon at having the opportunity to collaborate with the most successful musical artist (of the planet). Oh, to be a fly in the wall when all this mutual adoration it’s taking place!

Being the humble dears they are, BTS would say it is because of us, because of ARMY, because we inspire them. They will probably also give all props and due credit to their incredibly hardworking staff. Even so, ARMY inspiration aside, dedicated staff notwithstanding, it boggles the mind to think the amount of pots BTS have their fingers in. How much they always search and reach for more. It’s a level of ambition I can’t comprehend because I am so dammed lazy. It is, however, a type ambition I can respect. It is not pursuit for the sake of pursuit. It is not blind, greedy search for money. It’s a hunger that gets fed and feeds not only them but others. Millions of others. It’s a search for more art, more vision, more spaces that encourage both. More inspiration, more connectivity, more doors and windows open, more inclusivity, more chances for creative juices to flow, grow, to spark into existence, to develop and affect change in others.

One feels positively self-righteous when fangirling over BTS. They give me daily joy, in small, sometimes invisible ways that I feel when I smile like a loon by myself, remembering something or listening to their music. But also, in monumental ways, like this project and many others they have participated in, that will leave a mark in the firmament of art as sure as Philoctetes got his constellation at the end of Hercules. Seven stars were born!

For more information on the project please visit the Bangtan As Art twitter page @artansonyendan for, not only, a better explanation of this amazing project but also, incredibly thought-provoking, beautiful threads about BTS as Art by the super smart Meg who is an Art History Major and it’s having the best day of her life today!

THE GIFT OF ARMY

At Soldier Field
Love Yourself – Speak Yourself Concert Day 1

I am thankful for BTS every single day. Every single day? Really Blog lady? Every and each day? Yes, I said what I said! Each day. Every day.  Now more than ever with the world we live, with the daily horrors visited upon us, small and big, monumental and micro aggression, it is a difficult world to live in. If you don’t realize it, you’re either on heavy recreational drugs, a nihilist, willfully ignorant, evil or part of the problem. Don’t at me. Those are the only choices.

So, I am thankful for their music, their words, their deeds, the laughter they have provided, the escape room in my brain they’ve built. Or maybe that I built with the tool they provided.

Amazingly, more than anything I am thankful for ARMY. Now, you won’t believe this because you don’t know me. But I am not a joiner. I have quietly belonged to fandoms my entire life. I’ve been a gamer since the day I failed my first elementary math test for playing Duck Hunt when I should’ve been studying. I’ve been a Potterhead since I read the Philosopher’s Stone in Spanish back when I was sixteen in my home country. I have watched the Lord of the Ring trilogy so often I get teary eyed when I’m listening to the OST because I know exactly when Boromir is dying and when he’ll say “I would have followed you my brother…my captain…my king” (insert crying emoji)  Or when Smeagol is about to be ‘betrayed’ by Frodo (don’t get me started! *sob*). I have watched all the live versions available of my favorite anime and manga in Korean, Japanese or however they may come. I am a hardcore Disney fan who can sing every song in English and/or Spanish. I am a cult member of the Murderino fan club for the My Favorite Murder Podcast.

Being a fangirl isn’t new to me. What IS new to me is talking and interacting with people who belong to the same fandom that I … introverted little old me don’t know in person!

See… My brother is my fellow gamer, him and all my friends from childhood still talk on WhatsApp and we wax poetic about the days of yore when we were young and played video games for hours and hours on end. When I got the Switch and played Breath of the Wild every free time for three months straight every day my husband would ask my brother… who is this?! This was me, gamer unleashed, like he hadn’t seen me ever before. My sister and my best friend are the fellow Potterheads. My best friend and sister in law my fellow Murderinos. My two cousins the ones who will quote LOTR back at me, my other cousins the one who introduced me to Knights of the Zodiac and Sailor Moon to get me started into Anime craze.

What I am trying to say is that fandom to me has always been a team sport.

When I became a fan of BTS is happened so…suddenly. One day I am listening to their music, the next I found myself awake at 3 am watching shipping videos and bootlegged clips of their Summer Package in Dubai. And it was lone sport. I wasn’t lonely…. well maybe a little, but I was having way too much fun to realize I was lonely. And maybe I was trying to recruit people and explain what cannot be explained. Because hardly ever can you talk someone into a fandom. Hardly ever can you push someone into liking what you like. You can only suggest, and they will either give it a try and it will stick, or it won’t.

For everyone I shared a common interest with, it didn’t. My sister, my best friend, my cousins, my brother… all those who had shared with me the passionate love that fandom can give you they all were like…meh. It’s not like fangirling was new to them but they didn’t get why BTS.

Some people like BTS as soon as they hear their first song or watch their first video. Mine was a love built through years and years of watching K-dramas and listening sparingly to K-Pop. I don’t think I would’ve been open to Korean music if their TV hadn’t caught me before. K-drama was my gateway drug to BTS. I had watched countless videos of BigBang, Super Junior, Exo, Shinee, F(x), Twice, Girls Generation, you name it I had seen it and yet while I liked it, it didn’t absorb me.

And here I am. Years after, listening to BTS nonstop. SO very much that my husband can sing the chorus of pretty much every song despite himself because I play their music constantly. We would be driving and my husband would say “I am not in the mood for K-Pop” asking to change the song and I would be like “First of all, it’s BTS, second of all you’re not in the mood for some spitfire rapid rap? What’s wrong with you” or “you don’t want to listen soulful deep R&B drop your underwear baritone?” or “so, you tellin’ me you not in the mood for party anthem that lifts your soul and makes you want to rock your body” I mean… Why I am such an antagonistic recruiter?

And then it happened. I, against all odds (really the odds sucked ass) got tickets for the Soldier Field Day 1 in Chicago. I was heartbroken the year before because when BTS was in the US I was traveling in Switzerland and I wanted to complain. Truly I wanted to whine, but I’ve reached an age when whining is just plain unbecoming.  And I was in the mother fucking swiss alps! It was magical and complaining about the timing of a concert when I was in the hands down most beautiful place I had ever been, seemed petty, ridiculous, myopic, self-centered, snobbish… insert the entitled adjective here. So, I enjoyed my trip (truly I did) and I abused the Wi-Fi at every single Airbnb by streaming the concerts and watching their UN speech like a proud mama.

The day of the ticket going on sale all my coworkers had the website open with notes of the sections I wanted to sit in and rows I preferred. If I failed to buy the ticket, one of them maybe would be lucky. It was a team effort. Neither them nor I could access the website. The ‘running man’ from the site did not run at all and just sat there with 2,000+ people in front of me trying to buy. I ran to twitter in a panic. Some gentle soul recommended I call the site…and that’s what I did. I called and purchased my tickets the old school way. Through the phone. When the system said through the speaker of my cellphone “your purchase has been completed” my entire office cheered and yelled and hugged me as if I had passed the bar or something. They were so happy for me. Hell, I was so happy for me! A few days after I saw a twitter message, a lady was starting a chat group on twitter for anyone going to Soldier Field day 1 and 2. I hesitated. I have a healthy (or unhealthy depends on how you view it) apprehension of strangers and yet something compelled me to message her and allow her to add me to the chat.

I haven’t regretted that decision for a moment. Because you see… I am not a joiner, but I love a fandom and the ARMY it’s something else… something more. I got to meet the ladies on chats before the concert. We talked about our jobs, our lives, our families, our woes and problems.  And then the day of the concert finally came, and we met. My husband, my sister everyone who knew me was shocked I was willingly putting myself out there to meet strangers and all I could say was “they are not strangers anymore”. We had spent hours talking to each other and when we met… it was like magic. We clicked we laughed we teased each other. It has been months since that concert and we still talk to each other daily. About trials and tribulations, about our empty nest and marital problems, about our jobs and our frustrations, about sex, and movies, about books and our love of BTS. We are diverse, smart, fierce, funny, sweet, kind, talented, creative…really there are not enough adjectives to describe the women in the group. We have shared traumas and fears, dislikes and unhappy stories, it’s a safe space like no other and I am every day thankful, every day happy that I found them.

You see, the ARMY is not just for the boys, it doesn’t belong to Kim Nanjoon, Kim SeokJin, Min Yoongi, Jung Hoseok, Park Jimin, Kim Taehyung and Jeon Jungkook. It’s a thing that escaped their sphere… or maybe expanded from their sphere and became something for all of us.

Did they imagine it would become what it is? I don’t know. I don’t think JK Rowling imagined her world of Harry Potter touching the lives of many every single day all over the world in the way it does. I don’t think the ladies from My favorite Murder expected to start a wave of self-acceptance and search for mental health as they did. I don’t think Tolkien thought his books would be made into movies that would span over a decade. I think Nintendo and Disney knew what they were doing though. But ARMY was conceived the same way literary magic happens, with a hope, a spark, a feel, a story and then it explodes and expands and it no longer belongs to the creator and has a life of its own and can be an unstoppable force for good… or evil.

While ARMY can and has been problematic that doesn’t stop me from liking them. We are a huge group of people from different age brackets, genders, races, cultures. If there weren’t problems and differences, we would be robots! And yet I find the vast majority took BTS message to heart, be the change, prove them wrong with actions, improve yourself. Love yourself. Such important messages. When there’s people you admire acknowledging your same fears it can be so… cathartic. It’s not a ha! they are broken just like me! but more huh…they are broken just like me…and they function and love, and move and struggle and fight every day to better not only themselves but the world and the people around them because they have shown so clearly what a joy it is when you do things for others even if not for yourself.

I am thankful for ARMY every single day. Sometimes no matter how hard we try we are not in the mood of being elevated, woke individuals. Sometimes there is nothing else to feel but like a whiny wallowing brat. And they offer support and understanding to both versions me. They accept me when I’m insufferable, talk me off the ledge of anxiety and remind me what else is there to do after that. It’s like I have thousand different versions of my sister. And if you had my sister, you would know that is awesome.  It’s amazing to have not just one but hundreds of people lifting you up when you’re feeling down and reminding you there’s music to dance to, books to read, people to love, food to eat. It’s so easy to forget, in the everyday toiling its easy. In the sea of bad political news is easy, in the rampant racism the world is showing it is easy.

When I was younger, I thought I only needed myself, my guts, my ambitions, my grit and brains to go unscathed through the world. The older I get the more I realize we all need each other, as an isolator, it isn’t an easy conclusion to come to. So, yeah, I am thankful to BTS for giving me ARMY and all the fruits the fandom brings with it. And when there is no BTS to remind me because I have watched all their content and listened to their music and they are on vacation, there is ARMY a fandom like no other, and I swear, it’s priceless.

Once you Jimin, you can’t Jimout

Park Jimin at Love Yourself – Speak Yourself Concert
Soldier Field Day 1 – Chicago

Just in time to get around to write about my ultimate BTS bias (Park Jimin) life struck me with its never ending twist, turns and sneak attacks.

The job I’ve held for over 11 years is coming to a close and I am going to find myself venturing into the job market after working with the same people and entrenched in work habits (good and bad) for the first time in eleven years.

On top of that my resilient, apparently indestructible, unsinkable, strong, ninety-three year old grandmother unexpectedly departed this world, leaving behind a wake of bewildered grief and devastation in my family. I know she was 93, a long fruitful life and all, but since she was still as witty, smart, healthy, aware, and present as ever her loss felt horrifyingly abrupt.

During the time of my grandma’s passing at the end of August every time I reached for my phone to make funeral arrangements, call the cemetery, talk to cousins, coordinate with my sister, explain things to aunts, call Kinko’s to make sure her poster picture was ready for her funeral, I would see the screen saver of Jimin’s face and it always made me smile a little bit. A respite among the chaos and numbing, fuzzy headed kind of grief I was (and still am) experiencing. 
It’s been a little bit over a month since her parting. I have been trying to write this post, unsuccessfully, for the past three weeks and I am still unsure as to how to explain the feeling. Am I feeling adrift? Yes, actually, a little.  Am I feeling both excited yet terrified by the job change? Definitely. Am I also feeling like a monster because I have been unable to cry like I feel I’m meant to and supposed to after the loss of the matriarch of my dad’s side of the family?  A thousand times yes.

My predilection for Jimin is unshakable, I love the other six members of the band but Jimin holds a special place in my heart. I was having a hard time figuring out why and after thinking it through I had an epiphany and realized the reason behind it is that I admire everything in Jimin that I don’t posses.

Jimin is so comfortable with vulnerability that sometimes he makes me, a hardcore fan, uncomfortable. He will cry unabashedly when he feels like it. He will confess his loneliness and ask for company. He will admit to hurt feelings without the need to save face. He will admit to anger instead of playing it cool in an odd posturing to show he is above intense emotions. And this dude is not only comfortable with his own emotions but he is comfortable dwelling on everyone else’s as well! There is so many videos not only done by their production company but fan cams where he shows just how much he cares about his friends, his family, his craft, the staff, the animals in the cities he visits…. literally everything and everyone falls under the purview of Jimin’s kindness. And part of me, the biggest part, admires that… the other envies him that ability.

I found myself wanting to cry so often during the week of my abuelita’s death and my family can be a pain in the ass and overwhelming, in numbers alone, but they were such a comfort. Every time I would give into the pressing need to cry there was a family member ready to offer a shoulder for me to cry on, a hand to hold, a hug to embrace me in. But as soon as I hugged them they would break down in tears and right away my own tears would dry up so fast. It’s not like it was their fault! When you’re on the verge of tears there is no surer way to break the dam than to receive comfort. And yet the opposite was true for me, the feeling in my chest wouldn’t go away but the tears would be gone again and again until I found myself dry eyed and sad but in control.  I didn’t want to not cry. I was softly crying at all moments for days and days. But I truly wanted to let go the same way they were. I wanted my tears soaking someone’s shirt and snot coming out of my nose because that’s how I felt inside. And while I cried and plenty a tissue was soaked, I never did get that cathartic sobbing I so desperately needed. I told my sister a week ago I was going to watch Coco as a form of emotional laxative, because if there is a sure way to cry about the fact I don’t have any grandparents left, it’s Coco..but she adviced against it.

I am 36 year old who can’t cry so how can someone so young, who grew up in a bubble of sorts, having his life managed because of his chosen profession, his days structured rigorously, his every move recorded for future movies and plans, how can he be more in touch with his emotions than me? How can he cry so comfortably? How, when someone else cries, does he manage to say the right things, or no say anything at all and sit there, bearing witness to that person’s pain and cry with them when necessary, dry their tears, console, hug… for real, how does he do it?!
When someone gets emotional around me (and it happens a lot because SOMEHOW I am utterly surrounded by criers and overly emotional people) I get kinda angry. There must be something seriously wrong with me because I want to tell the person hurting to keep it together. Keep your chin up. Do.Not.Fall.Apart. Ain’t nobody got time for that! And I think it’s partly because the role as problem solver in my family has made me feel like there is no time for me to cry and dwell, it’s time to act and solve and get to the next step and then and only then can we give crying a go….at that point the urge to cry has vanished.

Yet Jimin, in his infinity wisdom holds the best of both worlds, he is in my opinion the most ambitious, dedicated, hard on himself, structured, indefatigable, and regimented member of the group (and that’s saying something in a group of seven overachieving maniacs) and he does it all without compromising and giving up his emotions, his empathy, his ability to cry and hold in his arms someone who is crying who is hurting. He is so unafraid of it that I literally cannot fathom how he does it. How come he isn’t a giant bruise of hurt emotions if all his walls are down and he embraces, so fully, all those feelings? How does he function? I’m afraid I’d spiral into the universe, turning myself into stardust if I were to give in every single time into the emotions that overwhelm me.

I couldn’t the find the words before, the words to explain why I like him the most. It’s because he is both strong and weak, hard and strong, tough and kind, confident yet inexplicable hesitant about his level of talent, sexy and cute, sweet and snarky. And I love him for it, for being an example of what dealing healthily with emotions should look like. For showing me what it looks like when you let your heart lead, and your brain be second in command, have a say, but not rule. But I am such a Capricorn I guess I am dealing the cards the stars dealt me the best way I can.

I think my abuelita deserves a good cry, devastation and good old fashion epic grief. The kind that makes you throw up with crying. I have yet to give her that. I hope I can channel my inner Jimin and let go in a storm of weeping grief like no other and if not I hope I can be like Jimin anyway, and forgive myself for it.

Jungkookie wrecks us all

For those of you who don’t know, in K-pop there’s a thing called a bias and a bias wrecker. The same way the world of sports, gaming, dancing, IT, medicine, has its own language, K-poping does the same. Bias is your favorite individual in a group. Not to be confused with being a solo stan which means being a fan of only one member of a group and disliking the rest, something that is frowned upon in the world of ARMY (the passionate fans of BTS). To call yourself an ARMY you MUST love all seven members of the group or in its own language be an OT7 – borrowed from the expression OTP (one true pair) – and meaning One True 7 for all seven members of BTS.

Bear with me, I beg you, I know it sounds crazy. As an older member of the army and not really familiar with slang and the ever changing words crazy kids use now a days (ship, tea, fleek, bye Felicia, we be known, etc.) it took a bit of time to adjust and be able to understand all the language intricacies of this fandom.

Anyway, we have established a bias is your favorite member of the group. The one you adore above the love for the rest. Bias wrecker is the one other member who is constantly vying for bias position, seeking to dethrone the other member and become your #1.

My recently dethroned Bias Wrecker was Yoongi, who was dethroned by Jin for his adorable song Tonight which is about his dead pet sugar glider who he misses so much (as an animal lover this song destroyed me). Jin was then dethroned by Jeon Jung-kook.

Usually people that are good at everything annoy me. One of the few exceptions is my cousin who is smart, hilarious, a great dancer, kind, a bloody brilliant doctor, plays the piano, paints, sculpts, is a great mother, wife, daughter and sister and can talk to you about the hidden pain and depth of Honey BooBoo. She doesn’t annoy me because she isn’t cocky in her amazingness. Unlike Gwyneth Paltrow for example who is an accomplished woman that irritates the fuck out of me in her smarminess and idiotic conscious uncoupling. Anyway this is not about hating on Gwyneth but she irks me so I stand by that statement.

In theory and applying all the rules of past engagement I should be irritated by Jungkook (Kookie to us adoring fans). In the world of K-pop, the youngest member of a group is called Maknae… Jungkook at 21 is the youngest member of BTS and therefore their Maknae. But since Jungkook is like my cousin and good at every damn thing he has been dubbed by the entire K-pop community as the Golden Maknae.

You name it, he can do it. For real, I kid you not. Dance, sing, rap, sports, art, photography, film-making (check his Golden Closet Film inventory on Youtube!), archery, running, weightlifting, wrestling, (I could keep just naming things) anything that young man sets his mind to, he will not only accomplish but excel at. It should be annoying.  Recently he decided to learn English because he felt badly that Namjoon, their leader, was often burdened with the role of spokesperson because the rest don’t speak fluent English. In a few months the progress was nothing short of jaw dropping. As someone who speaks English as a second language, I can’t help but be in awe of how quickly he picked it up and how well he pronounces the words that come so difficult to a tongue used to speaking Korean.  It also made me wonder when exactly he had the time to get better at English with the calendar of frenzied activities they keep. It boggles the mind.

It is kind of a shock to see that level of dedication and ambition in someone as young as Jungkook. It seems the kind of single-minded focus reserved for Olympians, who wake up at 2 a.m. for decades to be on the ice/track/pool/gym by 3 a.m. and get four hours of training before going to school. They forego parties and friendships and a normal childhood to feed that hunger.  I have wondered sometimes whether Jungkook regrets spending so many years away from his family and working so hard on his career, but one only has to see him fairly explode on a stage, filled with a level of energy and a manic type of joy mere mortals can’t comprehend, to understand he would’ve been wasted living a different type of life. This is more than a career to him, it’s obvious to anyone with eyes. It’s a passion, a calling, his craft. I don’t understand that at all, I have no passions to speak of, at least not that level of passion he demonstrates and I can’t help but admire it. That level of passion that drives you to make sacrifices that aren’t even seen as sacrifices. I admire the same in my cousin, who would bring her textbooks on vacation and instead of frolicking in the beach with the rest of us she would study.

Jungkook was only 15 when he joined the group and has been working nonstop since then.  Two weeks ago he and the rest of the band left on their first vacation in almost seven years. SEVEN YEARS! I can’t fathom that level of commitment. How do people go though life with that level of passion? Since it’s something I lack I find it fascinating, spellbinding.  Doesn’t it exhaust him? Or does it do the opposite and energizes and exhilarates him?  It makes me wonder how it must feel to excel at something, to KNOW you’re talented to feel that knowledge in your brain, in your vocal cords when you sing, in your muscles when you bend in a fluid and strong move, like water.  

Surrounded by the other members who love him, praise him and admire him, winning awards, selling out stadiums, making millions and breaking records, how does a twenty-one-year-old guy manage to remain bashful and humble? I don’t think humility is something easy to fake.  And he is humble, thankful and sometimes bashful. He is cocky and confident with the other members in the way a sibling rubs it in your face when they do something you can’t. But he is also so very loving and thoughtful.  In a way we in the Western world are not used to seeing men treat each other. He can roast the others hardcore, in that almost cruel way men tease each other. But he also shows sweetness, care, tenderness. A puppy-baby brother love that is so nice to witness. I believe being that close to those tender emotions, being in touch with the feminine side of love is what allows him to remain humble. The estrogen winning the war over testosterone. That’s my theory.

Whatever the reason for his humility is, the fact remains he is humbled by his blessings and it shows in the efforts he makes to improve, grow and learn. It shows in every time he pushes too hard and injures himself, it shows in the way he sobs at the end of a concert, overwhelmed and touched beyond control by the love of his fans. Maybe because he has lived such a peculiar life, surrounded by men and women older than him and with a burden of responsibility most men his age don’t have to deal that early, he shows a work ethic and love for his craft beyond his years. And yet can laugh like a loon, tease his brothers, be insanely competitive and adorably cute when interacting with his fans. The most endearing aspect of that is his insistence that he is no longer a boy, a reluctance to be treated like a baby and a stubborn need to be the “sexy” one in the group. Something that sends fans young and old in a frenzy of risen blood pressure. It’s fun to see him on his Vlive broadcasts, drinking wine, making moments ripe for meme harvesting, getting tipsy, flirting with the fans via the camera, talking about his plans, his studies, wishes for a bigger brain, his struggles, all in a stream of consciousness that manages, somehow to be both wise and sweetly naive.

So, we come full circle, all these reasons are why Jungkook is my bias wrecker. Because at twenty-one he is one of the few men in the world I admire. Because at mere twenty-one he shows more integrity, passion, talent, kindness and commitment than men all over the world who are twice, thrice, five times his age. Because I am a thirty-six-year-old woman disappointed, disenchanted with the world and humanity and when I look at Kookie and all he has accomplished and watch him speak and laugh and dance, all I see it’s…possibilities. Not only what he can become in the future but the magic of possibilities for everyone else That twenty-one-year-old makes me believe in the magic of perseverance, hard-work and unrelenting faith that all we want is waiting around the corner. If there’s a twenty-one-year-old who is good at everything then we all can be good at something, we can all grow, and work hard, learn, evolve and be passionate, be the better versions of ourselves…and just think, just imagine what we can all accomplish, if we were all a bit more like Jungkook.

Here comes the sun

Art by @BalladOfSnows

It is no lie that BTS cheers me up. It is no lie that they lift my mood and take me outside my own head, where for the past three year it’s all been gloom and doom most of the time whether I want it or not.  They can make me happy, sometimes superficially happy and sometimes a happiness that is deep seethed and soul deep. 

For a long time, longer than usual to my normal self I forgot how it felt to laugh. That kind of laughing that makes your cheeks hurt and your belly ache and you can’t breathe and your gums are showing and you want to explain why you’re laughing but you can’t because your brain’s synapses are snapping and collapsing. I missed that laughter in a vague way but I had gotten used to not laughing that way because, honestly, there was nothing to laugh about. Shit was dark. 

And then I really started paying attention at Jung Ho-seok (stage name J-Hope) and found my missing laughter. He is not standup comedian. Hobi is the main dancer and one of the rapper of BTS. He has and older sister and mother he adores and I think I can see the positive feminine influences in his life. He is straight forward, unafraid of hard work, patient, kind a cuddle bunny, a scaredy cat and fucking hilarious. Sometimes (the majority of the time?) he is not even trying to be funny but the fates know I have laughed until I cried watching his antics with the other members of the band during the episodes of Run, BTS! Be it getting sprayed with a water gun for saying a crutch word he used all the time without him knowing what the word is (again and again), or bungee jumping, asking Jimin for the thousand time where his wallet is, or doing anything really, there is something contagiously funny about Hobi’s approach to life.  

I’m sorry if all the name changes are confusing.  At this point I should warn you that all the members of BTS have names, stage names (which in some cases are just their names) and they have nicknames….sooooooo many nicknames. Nicknames related to their names, nicknames related to their stage names, nicknames related to their line of BT21 members animated characters, they have nicknames given by their fans, based on their personal characteristics, on their hobbies..the list is never ending, but I digress. 

Watching him dance, laugh, interact with the other guys, or do anything is like having Vicks vapor rub on your chest as a kid. Your mom came in the middle of the night and you couldn’t breathe before but all of the sudden your chest is on fire and it’s all menthol-ly and warm and you can feel your lungs expanding and your nose clearing and your eyes watering. 

Hobi is medicine, a medicine I need an overdose of this week. I never imagined I would have to be afraid to walk outside my house because of my skin color, which goes to show the level of blind privilege I had and didn’t know I enjoyed. While mass shootings are a danger every American faces on a daily basis, now the racial implications of the latest one cannot be denied.  I don’t need new worries, fears, anxieties, horrors to think about. Yet now, all I can think about it’s having someone kill me at a gas station stop, the library, the supermarket, anywhere…just because I am Latina.  I would be so pissed. 

What would Hobi do? I think he is scared of heights, amusement park rides, speed, the dark, zombies, scary movies and (many) other things but he is brave when it counts, when it matters the most. He shows his bravery when it means one more try, giving one more chance, dusting yourself off once more and going at it (whatever IT may be) with double the effort.  He would be afraid….but he wouldn’t let that stop him. 

I think it was Namjoon who said that Hobi mentioned once to him the only place he is never afraid is when he is dancing.  

I wish I had something like Hobi’s dancing. A refuge where I am always confident, always in control never doubtful and always hopeful. Where the only rules that apply are gravity and my talent for bending said rule. Books used to be that for me, writing also used to be a safe heaven. But more and more the world and its sheer ugliness creeps in to deal a dose of nasty reality that poisons everything.  Not even baby elephant videos are doing the trick. 

Hobi chose his stage name as J-Hope because he wanted to be a beacon of hope to his fans and considers his fans hope for him also. Which is why when he introduces himself he ALWAYS says: “I’m your Hope, you’re my Hope, I’m J-Hope”  Yes, he is that goddamned precious, he is that much of a ray of sunshine. 

And when I am afraid to go outside and I am just so full of fear and so damned angry at what is happening and everyone acting like it’s all in our heads, it makes me want to run to Hobi the most. Because I don’t think he is blindly hopeful. I don’t think he is some Pollyanna. I think Hobi knows perfectly well that the world is ugly, and shit is bleak. He knows how encroaching the darkness can be, how it sometimes feels easier to let it take over because fighting it all the time is so damned exhausting. And everyday he makes the decision to face the world that can be ugly but it doesn’t mean that it has to remain so. He makes the decision to shoot for pretty, shoot for gorgeous, shoot for better than the poison that is corroding everything. Sometimes the arrow may hit the bullseye and sometime it won’t and that’s okay. But he shows me that I can’t stop trying. I can’t give in because then it gets harder and harder to reach for the light, step outside the cave. 

I am not going to lie. I look at the news, even when I try not to and my jaw sets until my teeth hurt and my hands clenches until my knuckles are white and my nails are digging half-moons on my palms.  I want to rail at everyone. The ones not paying attention, the ones denying that is happening, the ones burying the head in the sand, the ones that have other things to worry about, the ones who don’t give a fuck because the status quo actively benefits them or doesn’t negatively impacts them. I am so angry at every-goddamned-body I feel like screaming and crying and just drinking my weight in wine. 

But I don’t and I haven’t and I hope I won’t. So I look at videos of J-Hope, new ones, old ones and remind myself of what he has taught me all these years as his fan. There’s always hope. In the bottom of Pandora’s box left behind to be forgotten there was hope. Myth or truth hope has sustained us through worst.  It ain’t easy to hope, but I am going to work at it every day and do like J-Hope and just dance.

How the God of Destruction fixed me

At the lowest points of my life I was saved from the bottom of the well by BTS. It may sound silly or dramatic, and while I do have a flair for it, in this case I swear I am not exaggerating. It makes me feel a bit guilty thinking of my family and friends reading this, they might feel a bit betrayed and left out. I am not accusing them of abandoning me and leaving me to flounder in my new reality of anxiety, despair and catastrophizing. But in the same way the usual coping methods were not working, the people around me weren’t working either. Their attempts at making me laugh, their usual banter, their love and care didn’t reach me. It wasn’t them, it was me. I couldn’t be reached, suffocating as I was under the blanket of negative emotions, as much as they tried to pull them off me to set me free and help me breathe, that damn blanket wouldn’t budge. And in some cases I was holding tightly to it and my fingers wouldn’t release their death grip on it.   It wasn’t that I didn’t want to go back to ‘normal’, or that I wanted to wallow in the emotions, it was as if I didn’t feel like I belonged out there anymore with the regular people who didn’t feel like me, and until I found a way to be around them without feeling like a weirdo, I preferred to stay cocooned in the dark. 

When the world looks like shit, the whales you love are either trapped in a tank or dying, the people that look like you are being put in detention camps for the sin of asking for aid, hundreds are getting murdered at movie theaters, schools, clubs, synagogues and concerts, when women all around the world are not being heard and their rapists and molesters are given more and more power over more and more possible victims what is there to do but scream until you pop a vein? You don’t though, not out loud. You swallow it all, the sympathy pains, the impotent rage and sadness until your entire body is shaking with the vibration of that angry soundless scream.   Everywhere I looked were new and fresh horrors and when people around me seemed so indifferent to it all it made me want to rage. How can you be happy? How can you feel normal? How are you not in a corner rocking yourself? Maybe they were, and they were just better than me at hiding their pain and anxiety.

Falling down the rabbit hole of the BTS worlds means you’ll inevitably learn about their journey towards growth, as individuals and as a group. When I had lost my faith in men in particular and humanity in general BTS was there to remind me of the opposite. Don’t get me wrong, they are not perfect, they are young people struggling, in pain, working hard, sweating, fighting, crying over dead loved ones, despairing over when they’ll accomplish their goals, having disagreements and sometimes just tired and fed up of each other’s bullshit… and yet they practice conscious kindness towards each other. They discuss as a group where there is room for improvement, they try and fail and try again different methods for conflict resolution and more importantly they try to improve on their own versions of themselves, looking at the past and refusing to commit the same errors. 

More than anyone in BTS, Kim Namjoon exemplifies that never-ending quest of betterment of self for the benefit of himself and the world.  His brain pattern can be sometimes exhausting to us mere mortals, he seems to be a hundred layers deep in philosophical curiosity about the smallest of things.

Called a philosopher who raps by Top Class, a Korean Magazine, “Joon” (to us ARMY) can be intimidatingly smart, verbose and downright intense, something that can be adorably in contrast with how damn clumsy and spastic he is (breaking everything he touches and earning the nickname of God of Destruction, eating a fortune cookie TWICE with the fortune still inside and missing 99% of handshakes he offers). 

I swear I could (and have) listened to him talk for hours about the importance of art interpretation and the peace of mind to be found in a museum in a very informal and nonetheless pedagogical conversation on V-Live (a live streaming service used by BTS to connect with their fans on real time) and felt smarter and soul richer for it. AND at the same time after feeling justified on my love for him because he is so incredibly smart and admirable I can also find myself giggling five seconds after because there is something fascinating and endearing about the duality of Joon’s intense brain and his adorable dimples.

What I love the most about Joon in particular and BTS in general is that they show me in everything they do that we, as human beings, can do better. It’s something that comes naturally to some and not to others and BTS seems to be always aware that we can strive for the best, that ambition is more than the pursuit of fame and riches but you can ambitiously pursue a better version of yourself, a better version of the world. They have shown me it’s like a muscle that you can exercise and grow and train until it comes natural, like breathing. Fame and success have not jaded the men of BTS. They are constantly in conversation with each other, their music and the relationship that their words have with their fans and the world. They are aware of their power and are humbled by it and instead of seeing themselves as being above certain things because they have paid their dues, they act in every small way the complete opposite. Noblesse oblige, with power comes great responsibility and the more power they get the more they check themselves.

It is not the behavior of regular people; it is not the behavior of those who usually get power and almost always are corrupted by it. They are instead humbled by the love they receive and thankful for the doors their accomplishments have opened, always thanking someone else as if their hard work and blood, sweat and tears were not even a small fraction of the reason behind their success. I think that core humility makes them hyper aware of others. 

Fake Love, one of the most popular (in the West) songs the group performs has a word that means “I” in Korean and sounds like a racist slur in English. The group made the decision to change the word when they are in concerts in America because they know how loaded the term is and they aren’t willing to even entertain the possibility of making someone uncomfortable about it. 

Fans everywhere were mad, how close minded are Americans that BTS had to change their own language on their own song just to avoid insulting a bunch of ‘snowflakes’?

I could see their kindness stamped all over this simple decision. Why shouldn’t we take steps every single day to make the oppressed feel less so? It only takes smell steps, small acts of kindness that we are not obligated to do, but that enrich the world and will enrich our soul. We NEVER lose when we err on the side of kindness. If someone tells you I don’t like this term, please don’t use it around me, then don’t use it, train yourself to stop saying ‘retard’, using gay as a term for stupid, stop using gender specific terms as an insult, while you’re at it, stop insulting other people! Use the correct pronouns for individuals. Practice will make it easier.

BTS, Joon and his adorable dimples go through life constantly making decisions of radical kindness, from moment to moment. It touches me every time because I know how hard it is to be kind in the face of xenophobia and prejudice, it’s hard to stay quiet when you want to tell someone to fuck off, it’s extremely hard not to engage. I am older than all of them and have not mastered this practice AT ALL, so seeing them maneuver around it so adroitly fills me with admiration. It also fills me with hope. Because if they can we can! We can all go around practicing this, trying day by day to make the world a better place for ourselves and those around us. And yes, even for those who we might feel don’t deserve the grace of a better place. It gives me hope for humanity, it makes me want to believe in my fellow earthlings when I need that faith more than ever. It makes me want to take down the blanket and take a peak outside.

More than a spoonful of SUGA

When I was thinking about the name for this blog, it took my about two minutes to think of RX: More BTS because the battle with anxiety and despair feels like a never ending one, so the self-prescribed medicine that is BTS for me, is in constant need of refilling.

We all know the state of our current country and if you are on the wrong side of history this feels like the golden years for you. This feels like the best dreams come to fruition, this is an America to be proud of.  If you are like me, every day is some new fresh hell you think cannot possibly be happening and wondering how to get the fuck off this ride.

If there was ever a time for me to be thankful to BTS it is today, today when I feel trapped in fear of my family who is applying for asylum and as far as I know can be taken in an ICE raid at any moment. I feel trapped by a fear of my neighbors and strangers in the street and wondering if the by-rote hello and goodbye waves and pleasant smiles hide a hatred of my skin color and perceived nationality.  Trapped by a slow burning terror that I won’t see my new nephew grow up next to me because he is an American, but his parents aren’t. It makes me feel worse than my flying phobia, which is volatile and aggressive. This fear, this feeling, is debilitating and corrosive, always in a simmer in the pit of my stomach.

Sometimes I feel like nothing is going to make me feel better no matter how in desperate need I am for a break from it all, but something that always helps is feeling understood, feeling heard. When someone grabs your hand and tells you “Oh my God, me too!” it’s like a balm to an open wound. All of the sudden you are not all alone in the dark void of shitty things, you’re with someone who gets it.  Min Yoongi (Suga) of BTS is one of the three rappers on the seven men group. I am not in any way shape or form a rap connoisseur, but I do know his rapping style is my favorite among the three. His lyrics not only on the regular albums but during his solo projects constantly talk about his battle with depression, anxiety and struggles with his identity as an Idol, the shifting of his aspirations and dreams, the ever consuming greed for more he feels growing inside of him and the worries of losing himself amidst all the trappings of his success.

As someone who has for more than a decade followed the Hallyu industry I know how outside the norm it is for any of its cookie cutter, seemingly perfect members to talk about a culturally taboo subject like mental illness.

In December 2017, Kim Jong-hyun a beloved member of the Kpop band Shinee lost his battle with depression and died by suicide leaving a heartbreaking note for his family, requesting to say he “did well” despite everything. To say it rocked the world of everyone who knew of him is an understatement. Min Yoongi said he understood Jonghyun.

‘I really want to say that everyone in the world is lonely and everyone is sad, and if we know that everyone is suffering and lonely, I hope we can create an environment where we can ask for help, and say things are hard when they’re hard, and say that we miss someone when we miss them.’

He is a very outspoken advocate for therapy, and for asking for help, mental help, in a country and culture where mental illness, situational anxiety or depression is seen as a weakness and something to deal with by yourself. It is not unlike the mentality of people around the world that subscribe to the theory of pulling yourself by your own bootstraps. Sometimes you can’t, you know?  Sometimes you need someone to just put a hand inside, grab you by the wrist like in some Kdrama and drag you out of the hole and say “Oh my God, me too”

For the longest time I thought about Min Yoongi an introspective, smart, attractive, famous, uber talented, rapper, music producer who hopes can be a rock in his next life…full of social anxiety and depression, opening up to the world about his struggles and finding healing not only in therapy but in discussing and sharing and showing to all of us in the same boat that it is okay to need help.

Along with the lovely ladies of My Favorite Murder (A true-crime comedy podcast I follow religiously) I felt like the people I admired the most were telling me it was okay to feel shitty, it was okay to feel anxious and I wasn’t crazy because of it. Specially if you are the problem solver in the world you live in, it can feel particularly daunting to realize you don’t got your shit together and no I can’t solve this for you, no I cannot do this favor, no I cannot answer this question, because this tiny thing you are asking of me and that I used to be able to handle with my eyes closed, suddenly feels like climbing Everest…because I am both empty an too full.  Too full or worries and fears and filled to the brim with words and empty of give a fucks but full of too much giving of fucks about the world.

So, I am thankful to Min Yoongi of BTS and Georgia Hardstark and Karen Kilgariff of MFM for pushing me to go to therapy. I am thankful for Heather, my therapist who worries about me every time she sees some new political, social or environmental nightmare developing and wonders how I am handling it. I am eternally grateful because now more than ever I need that. Every morning when the president of this country gaslight us and rains a new horror on us I cling desperately to the happiness that BTS brings to my life. I run and hide in their comfortable embrace, their kind words, their hopeful message and their true words that we sometimes need outside help.

And thanks to Min Yoongi and BTS when their loveliness is not enough, I have Heather and she gives me the tools for when self-help and BTS alone cannot light the path out of darkness.

CONSTANT VIGILANCE

When you find yourself unrelentingly sad, it makes you think back to the days when you took happiness for granted. That first year after the election I found I had to reacquaint myself with the new person I had become. I had to reframe all the thoughts I used to have about things. 

I had assumed before, that happiness was to be found in safety (a roof over your head, meals, warmth, health), accomplishments (a degree, citizenship, promotion) material things (shoes and tons and tons of shoes, a cute car, pretty clothes, a nice house) privilege (money, not having to explain your gender identity, being able bodied, being attractive, etc). And yet having all those things, I was suddenly plagued with anxieties that laid dormant before, latent and drowned by my sense of comfort in my place in the world.  The moment I was this other version of me anxiety came out of the tiny box I hadn’t realized before I had shoved it in. Like Pandora’s box being opened, it burst out like goo, difficult to contain and pick-up without having it smear, stain and slime everything it touched.  

Kim Seokjin taught me that happiness requires CONSTANT VIGILANCE.  Pardon me while I mix my two most precious fandoms. Professor Moody (but really Barty Crouch Jr.) taught us in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, that we must always be alert, always be predisposed for horrible things to happen, expecting them, lying in wait for them so they are not laying in wait for us, always aware so we cannot be caught unawares.  As a woman I already live that way day to day. Never park your car in the dark spot of the lot, walk with your keys between your fingers, don’t walk with your headphones on so you can hear approach from behind, don’t leave your drink unattended, follow your gut instinct, never ever ever walk by a windowless van. You know, being a woman 101.   But Kim Seokjin “Jin” of BTS showed me that the same principle must be applied to happiness. We must avoid complacency. Happiness is something to work at, strive for, search for, MAKE HAPPEN. 

I know plenty of people go through life being happy in a careless manner because that was me. I was happy, even when I wasn’t happy I was happier than I am right now.  It was a steady kind of warm glow, it was hopeful and…naive.  To me it felt like that happy confidence we have in our parents when we are little, that they are the most beautiful, perfect, infallible beings on earth. And then you grow up and realize they are human and sometimes disappointing and make terrible mistakes and the blind magic is gone. If you allow yourself to wallow in disappointment about the perfect person you expected your parent (or anyone else) to be it can ruin what can be a perfectly awesome relationship with someone you can love and respect with all their virtues and flaws. 

It takes CONSTANT VIGILANCE to remind yourself to be happy. To find the beauty in things.  To consciously focus away from the darkness that is so pervasive in our world and try to find the ray of hope that lays forgotten in the bottom of that box. 

Jin inherited, by the cultural, societal and structural hierarchy that is used in Korea, the responsibility to take care of his hoobaes (people with less experience at work or school) along with the rigorous program of being an idol trainee in a start up entertainment company with very little money. If you go back and look at the videos of BTS starting you can tell how hard it all was. When Jin had everything, fame, talent, beauty, money… he still struggled with self acceptance in a group of seven with different personalities and mentalities with his responsibilities, with being away from family and friends the majority of the year and struggling with the expectations that come with being a role model for an ever expanding audience.

In a video of BTS, ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Y6c9vMVnpQ) where they get asked to make a chart of their mood levels for the past few years, Jin starts on the day of his birth, he gets teased for being happy for being born because he was born handsome. Everyone who knows BTS also knows that Jin is always talking about how handsome he is, worldwide handsome in fact.  But ARMY knows that Jin has said he talks about how handsome he is because he doesn’t think he is and he compliments himself as a reminder that he can be handsome and there is beauty to be found in his features and in every face. Some might dismiss that as bullshit but he isn’t the first and won’t be the last objectively handsome person to feel ugly. Beauty doesn’t save anyone from feeling insecurities.  The highlight I remember the most was a high peak in his happiness level when he won the 7th place of a Taekondo competition in school when he was younger, the other members ask him, “Seven out of how many?”, and he replies “ten”. The next is getting a four out of ten result in a science test. When questioned why he finds that a happy moment he says “I studied really hard and I tried”.  The last hidden highlight the rest of the members have to guess at ended up being getting 4th place in a track race on field day at school. They had tried to guess he had finally gotten first place at something and when they realize the highlight he chose to hide was just fourth place in a competition they all just die laughing. The edited words by the video staff across the screen on the video say “Live a simple life, like Jin”

Today there is such reverence for the person that makes it big, for the person that wins the lotto or even the Cinderella story of a little K-pop boyband from a small little known label who everyone dismissed to only watch them take over the world.  While I admire those stories, there is something that draws me so much to Jin’s quiet achievements, something beautiful about his quiet failures that he chose to turn into victories, into medals of honor for having done his best. 

His approach to life, to his relationship with the other guys, to fame, to hard-work, to music, to his struggles with choreography and dancing, all of it has shown me how we can make every day small decisions and reach for something better. 

For some of us happiness takes works, it takes vigilance, it takes grabbing a thing, a moment, a situation, a fight, a conversation, and turning it around and look for the side of it that might shine some light. I struggle every day to be more like Jin, more than I do any other member of BTS I want to emulate. It takes a special kind of person to choose happiness over and over again, to try so hard and so cheerily to make it a reality. To let go of pride or the expectation of what others think of what you did or did not do and smile and laugh and enjoy that fourth place. Because you know you did your best and you tried and because there is a lovely kind of hope in searching for happiness in unlikely places, and there’s power in following your own definition of happiness, and bravery in living like Jin. Happiness really can be found, even in the darkest of times – just like Professor Dumbledore said – if one only remembers to turn on the light.

All about V

I am not going to insult your intelligence by implying the road to healing after finding myself trapped in a never ending loop of sadness was a skip and a jump. One high note by Kim Taehyung, as hauntingly beautiful as his voice is, was not enough to get me out of the funk I was in. I hesitate to call it a funk, however.    A funk implies certain shallowness to the emotion, the words gives a certain transient flavor to the feeling. A rut? A layer of depression? Call it what you may.  I was able to function, go to work, laugh, eat, fuck, do everything I did before but with less…zest.  The things that made me happy no longer made me as happy. Happiness, actually, was for the first time in my life, a foreign emotion that I missed deeply.  I wasn’t on the verge of tears or anything all the time just deeply, deeply gray when my life before was full of rich technicolor. It was like living and seeing life through a blurry, grimy window.  I cannot tell when I noticed the healing influence BTS had on my moods. It’s not like I woke up one day and said oh, BTS is the remedy. I also cannot say the boys of BTS were the ONLY remedy in my life, but they were hands down the biggest.

What I discovered after my crying jag at the stop light was that I was sad and I needed to deal with it, accept it. It didn’t make the feeling go away or any easier but it was kind of like shaking hands with a new person in your circle. Even if you don’t like someone at work sometimes you share projects and you have to deal with them whether you like it or not. The sadness, this new roommate in my head and soul, was there for the time being and walking by it, pretending it wasn’t there on the way to the kitchen while it sat in my figurative couch eating popcorn wasn’t going to make it go away.  So I acquainted myself with it, once the feeling had been given a name and recognition it wasn’t quite as heavy, it wasn’t quite as daunting.

When V’s voice made me cry (listen to Stigma and tell me what you think!)  it made me curious about him.  Setting aside what his voice had unleashed, ignoring for a moment the freedom I felt finally accepting and acknowledging my negative emotions, taking away all the feelings and tears and focusing only on the art, there was no denying that objectively he had a beautiful voice. My moods have always been greatly influenced by music and I am not alone there. Most of us listen to relaxing music when we need to destress, or romantic music when we first fall in love, or heartbreaking songs when fighting with our special other. Is there anything better than wallowing in sad music when feeling sad? It’s as if we need somehow to delve in the darkness, roll down in the mud with it.

Gollum’s Song from the Lord of the Ring OST has always made me feel unbearably sad. And I listened to that shit on a loop in 2017. It’s a song about betrayal after making oneself vulnerable, about having your heart stepped on when you finally dared to reach out…and it’s a song about not taking that betrayal laying down, there’s revenge there, payback, a blistery, poisonous anger, a kind of madness. But I didn’t want to take Gollum’s route.  I went against my own nature there, away from anger and chose the harder way (I think), to remain open and vulnerable, I went the V route.

There is a fine line between self-care and procrastination. Self-care and escapism. I am not ashamed to say that I didn’t only cross that line, but I gleefully jumped it and left it behind, waving away as I ran while flipping that line the bird. I was not sorry and still am not to have chosen the escapist route when it came to healing. I’m sure there are plenty of other more productive ways to dig yourself out of an emotional hole, to me, there didn’t seem to be a better way than BTS YouTube videos.

You name it, I watched it. Shipping videos? Hello Taekookers, Viminers, MiniMoni, Sopers and Jikookers alike! Reaction videos, recap videos, award ceremony videos, dance practice videos. Some didn’t have captions; others had a video quality that reminded me of life before HD. It didn’t matter because if there was anything, they had in common was that they made me smile, they made me feel better. They were silly, sometimes serious, whimsical and unlike anything I had ever seen western men engage in, open and vulnerable. It’s as if they had decided to take every preconceived notion of masculinity and toss it out of the window. The rules of engagement had changed, and they weren’t trapped by those boundaries, they were not stuck in a box and it was refreshing, fascinating and fucking hilarious.

More than anyone to me, V embodied that otherness. He was at times delicate and sweet, sometimes in the old videos somewhat bratty, but always unfailingly kind. The way he was with the rest of the group or even interacting with interviewers and fans, all his behavior had a common denominator and it was kindness. He was thoughtful and respectful. What a joy he was to watch and what a high bar to aspire to. It was a weird dichotomy to see him display a fanciful wisdom beyond his years and then act completely foolishly and like a total clown.

Sometimes he got a brief laugh out of me, one of those that goes away and doesn’t linger. But others he could do stuff that would make me laugh hours later. Sometimes this little clip would play back in my head of V saying he wanted to be a Saxophone star and his mispronunciation in English made it sound like he said, “Sexy Porn Star”. I would find myself snort laughing about that for days. Years later it still makes me laugh. And it didn’t feel like a point and mock laughing but like we were all laughing with him. If there is anything BTS is good at (and the list is endless) it’s making the viewers and fans feel as if they are in on the joke. That we are all part of the group. Part of something bigger than a music band.  Even when they have inside jokes you don’t get at first they don’t make you feel left out, just curious to know more. When I was feeling more than ever like an outsider in my own country it felt great to have that feeling of inclusion.

Some may wonder, how included can you feel in a group of seven men who live across the world and have millions of fans just like you? I don’t have the answer to that. How genuine and lasting is that feeling? I am still here four years later, and I guess that’ll have to speak for itself.  Even if it’s fleeting and even if this place in time we are briefly inhabiting goes away, the fact remains that the laughter V gave me when I needed it the most won’t go away, won’t disappear. The healing that laughter brought happened, it did its thing and it cannot be erased, even if someday BTS is no more.  That laughter lift me up and slowly brought me back to myself. It didn’t make me a new person, it just helped me out of the bog. Like a little guiding light really (insert appropriate Army Bomb simile here!) all I needed was to find a way to myself and I needed a little outside help and V made it easy.

One time I watched him at a table with the other six members exchanging gifts for some reason and there was a mosquito or some bug flying around towards Jin’s head (all ARMY know bugs love Jin) and Jin swatted away and Taehyung jumped and blocked it , defended it, saved it, and pushed the bug gently off the table saying “Go, go and live”

Such a small move, a tiny moment in time immortalized in YouTube and I found it unbearably lovely. It showed everything I felt the world was lacking. Action to move and do something even if people think you’re crazy and an innocence-filled kind of compassion for something others might not believe worthy of the emotion. It made me adore him but more than that, it made me respect him.  

To speak the language of fans everywhere, V became Taehyung to me, or just Tae, like a close friend I could trust not to slap me away, and I finally had my bias.