Things I’ve Learned This Year: Mid-Year Edition (2019)

So I usually do these posts at the end of each year, but 2019 has been interesting so far, and I’ve already learned a lot. You can check out Things I’ve Learned 2017 and Things I’ve Learned 2018. Here’s the mid-year edition of Things I’ve Learned 2019. 

  1. Blood isn’t necessarily thicker than water. Just because they’re family, doesn’t mean you have to tolerate them if they’re toxic. Sometimes, your real family—the family that truly supports you and understands you—is your chosen family. They were chosen for a reason. 
  2. Don’t be afraid to set boundaries, with anyone. You can set boundaries with family. You can set boundaries with friends. You can set boundaries with yourself. Respect goes both ways, so if you are respecting somebody and respecting their boundaries, you should get that same respect in return. 
  3. It’s ok to have expectations. I hate that quote that says “if you want to be happy, then don’t have expectations, and you’ll never be disappointed.” No, fuck that. Have expectations. Expect adults to act like adults. Expect a man to treat you well. Expect to get compensated fairly for your work. If you don’t have expectations, three things happen: 1) you settle, 2) you get played/short-changed, and 3) you don’t hold anyone accountable for their actions. And that’s just bullshit. We are all responsible for our actions, and we all need to be held accountable. Society isn’t a free-for-all. 
  4. When in doubt, delete his number. And if you think you can’t, tell yourself that you can, and you will. And then just fucking do it. If you’re sad about it, don’t worry—you’ll live. And anyway, even if you didn’t have his number, if he was worth your time, his number would be near the top of your text messages or recent calls list. If his number isn’t near the top, then is he really worth it? Cut your losses and move on. There are better, bigger, more courageous fish in the sea. 
  5. Let them work for it. You are not free salsa. You are guac (or queso) for which you have to pay extra. Do not ever question whether you are too difficult, or too hard to read, or your standards are too high. No. You are worth the high standards. You are worth the extra effort. Weed out the weak ones now, so you can make room for the ones who don’t scare easily and who know your worth. 
  6. You are not responsible for other people’s emotions. Someone said you intimidate them? You’re not intimidating; they are intimidated. (There’s a difference.) And that’s not your problem. Don’t change yourself just to make someone more comfortable. Their comfort isn’t your problem. You can’t be expected to contort yourself just to fit into someone else’s idea of approachable, or friendly, or whatever. Be yourself, and own your untouchable-ness. 
  7. Ignore the positives; believe the negatives. So he opens doors for you? He shows up on time? Yeah, I do the same thing for my coworkers when we have a meeting. It ain’t that special. Know the difference between actions that are just basic human decency, and actions that are actually special. And if you spot a red flag, run. No matter how many doors he opens, no matter how much he texts you back, no matter if he’s paid for dinner—those are things that are standard, not special. And one red flag should outweigh all of that. 
  8. Your standards are not too high (and even if they are, who cares?). What do most of us really expect from a potential partner? That they take the initiative to show interest in spending time, to get to know us. That they actually take the time to get to know us. That they treat us with respect. That they learn to get along with our friends. That they remember important dates. (I mean if they can remember their own fucking birthday, or the date that a movie comes out, they can remember our birthdays, or anniversaries.) I mean—none of those things are actually that difficult. Most of those things are just basic human courtesy, and any polite, rational, decent human being would be more than capable of doing that. Anyone who says that those standards are “too high” has some serious issues, and you should just drop them like they’re hot. Except they’re not hot, so just drop them like they’re room temp. 
  9. One chance is plenty, and second chances are way too generous. It’s not that difficult to not fuck up, so one chance is really all anyone needs. It’s fine if someone apologizes and you give them another chance, but it’s better if they don’t fuck up to begin with. Apologizing isn’t the same as fixing. And if someone apologizes, and learns, and fixes on the second chance—great. But you still got hurt. In the end, you’re the one that gets hurt but forgives, and they’re the ones that screw up and get another shot. It’s not fair. Be fair to yourself. 
  10. It’s ok to be a little jaded. That’s called instinct, and it’s usually right. And being “jaded” is just another way of saying that you’re being realistic. If you don’t have much faith in people, it’s probably because people never gave you much reason to have faith in them to begin with. So why put faith in something that doesn’t deserve it? Your trust needs to be earned. 
  11. Be proud of your scars. Whether visible or not. Scars just show that you’re brave. And that you survived whatever hellfire you were put through. Be proud of the battle scars. Be proud of the armor that you’ve built up. Be proud of how much you’ve hardened. 
  12. I don’t have faith in much, but I have faith in one thing—and that’s faith in God. And the thing is, it doesn’t need to be proven to me that He exists. There’s evidence everywhere, if you just pay attention. So if you’re going have total, unconditional faith in one thing, have faith in God. God is the one constant, the one that will never fail you, the one that truly will love you unconditionally. He is the only One that you can, and should, trust unconditionally, even when you feel like everything is going to shit. Trust that you will get through it, and that there is a reason. Because you always do, and there always is. Because He never gives you more than you can handle. If life is throwing so much at you, it is because you are strong enough to handle it. Think of how badass you are with all those battle scars. God didn’t create a quitter. He created a warrior. 

Things I’ve learned this year… (2018 edition)

Man, 2018. This year was exactly what I needed. This year was full of growth, learning, love, and strength. This year had its ups, and it had its downs. Some of those ups were just ok; some of those ups were amazing. Some of those downs were just a little down, and some of those downs were downright heartbreaking. But in the end, this year left me better than I was before. And if there’s one, steadfast rule when it comes to anything, ever, it’s this: whatever you go through, whatever you do, whatever happens–it should leave you better than you were before.

Here are some things I learned this year (And here are the things I learned last year, in 2017):

  • Trust yourself.
  • Don’t feel bad about putting yourself first. If you won’t do it, who will?
  •  Give exactly zero fucks about what people think of you. They’ll think it whether you care or not. What they think says more about them than it does about you. And you don’t need their approval.  
  • It’s ok to trust someone, just not with everything.
  • You are your own best friend.
  • Learn to like being alone. It’s liberating.
  • “Talent” is just another way of saying “hard work.” “Opportunity” is also just another way of saying “hard work.”
  • You don’t need to be born with anything. What does “born with it” even mean? If you want to do something, you can do it. Anything can be learned and mastered if you put in the time and effort.
  • Hard work is better than natural talent.
  • In a world that caters to people who are ordinary, be extraordinary.
  • Go against the grain and dare to stay true to yourself and your dreams.
  • Just because something is hard, doesn’t mean it’s impossible. And you don’t need easy; you just need possible.
  • Nothing worth having ever comes easy.
  • Be prepared and willing to make sacrifices in order to have the life you truly want. Sacrifices are part of the deal, but it is always worth it in the end.
  • Do whatever it takes. You will get there.
  • Know what you want.
  • Always have the big picture in mind. Use that to guide your decisions.
  • Don’t ever give up your dreams for anyone. It’s not worth it.
  • The right people won’t make you choose between them and your dreams. The right people won’t make your life more difficult, sad, or lonely.
  • The right people also won’t make you wonder if they really care about you. Because you’ll know.
  • When in doubt, choose dignity. If someone cares, they’ll reach out without you having to ask.
  • You don’t owe anybody a second chance. Or a third chance.
  • Be picky. Surround yourself with people that already know how to be good friends, text back, and be decent human beings. You don’t have time to teach someone how to act. And it’s not your problem if they don’t know how.
  • Being “intimidated by you” is a shitty excuse for inaction. It’s a shitty excuse for not putting oneself out there. It’s a shitty excuse disguised as a compliment, designed to deflect from said person’s own shittiness. If someone says they’re intimidated by you, and that’s why they never said anything to you, or never tried to get to know you, or never tried to make the next move—how do you expect this person to respond when faced with any kind of difficult situation? Being intimidated doesn’t change anything and it sure as hell doesn’t excuse anything. You want to surround yourself with people who have courage, who can take action in spite of their fears. Thank you, next.
  • There are worse things to be than a “bitch.” And usually being labeled a bitch is just a reflection on the person who says you are one. Just do you, and don’t apologize for it.
  • The small things add up.
  • Anything is possible. Only you can write your story. And you can write whatever you want.
  • Above all else, love yourself unconditionally.

The whole truth, and nothing but the truth

A few people know this, but for the past few years up until January 12, 2018, I was in a really awful place. I was in a relationship that was destructive and toxic and emotionally draining, with a person who was verbally and emotionally abusive, who chipped away at my self-worth until there was very little of it left, until I was so used to feeling on edge and anxious and depressed all at once that I didn’t remember any other way to feel and I didn’t think there were any other ways to feel. That feeling—that I just had to live with those feelings of anxiety and depression—that was my normal. That was my everyday. I became used to feeling on edge; I became used to feeling like it was just any other day having to tiptoe around my ex-boyfriend’s feelings. That became habit. It became so ingrained my daily life—it was like brushing my teeth. It was just something I did every day. It didn’t feel good, but it was something that I just had to do. Because the alternative was much, much worse.

What I think people don’t necessarily realize about emotionally abusive relationships is how complicated they are—and that’s why they’re so difficult to leave. There were a lot times I felt like I was going mad. Like I was doing everything I could but somehow it wasn’t enough, and why couldn’t I just have what my other friends in relationships had, and why couldn’t I handle it when my boyfriend got angry with me, and why was I so needy and why couldn’t I care less and what was wrong with me and why was I so damn emotional? I felt exhausted all the time. I felt confused a lot of the time. I felt sad, and worthless, and alone, and hopeless, a lot of the time. But then, there were also times—lots of times—when things were great. Really, really great. When my ex-boyfriend was thoughtful, and kind, and affectionate, and, well, a normal boyfriend. And we laughed together and went on fun dates and had great conversations. But then, inevitably, something would set him off—something I said or did, and maybe it was just wired in his personality—and then he would get angry. And it would be my fault. And we would fight because how can something so small or something so random feel like it’s tearing our whole relationship apart, and why did I have to fuck up in the first place but it didn’t feel like I actually did anything wrong but you know what, maybe I did, and now that he’s explaining his side and how it made him feel, I see that I really did screw up, so if I just fix that thing then everything will go back to the way it was and we’ll be even stronger because we worked through it, and I just have to work on those things.

He made me responsible for things that I did not need to be responsible for.

It was not my job to tiptoe around his emotions because he could not control them himself and express them in a healthy way himself. It was not my job to curb and adjust every aspect of my life—from who I hung out with and when I hung out with them—because it threatened his feeling of control over me and caused him to take his anger out on me. It was not my job to be his verbal punching bag, and “just take it” until he cooled off and came back to apologize.

But at the time, I didn’t think of it that way. I thought of this person within the parameters of a normal relationship with a person who was not abusive, who was not manipulative, who was not toxic. In a healthy relationship, with an emotionally mature and healthy partner, when you have arguments, you do work through them, and you do come out stronger. You learn, and you compromise. Emotionally abusive relationships are a perversion of this concept. Because you do argue, but those conflicts only get resolved when you submit to the abusive partner and you concede in the exact way your partner wants you to concede. And that way usually involves you taking all the blame, and your partner being absolved of any responsibility. (Or, your partner taking the blame for something so minute that it hardly requires much compromise on his part.) And then, going forward, as you “work through it together,” it’s really just you working to not upset your partner and you working on a bunch of stuff because you’re made to believe that you are terribly, terribly flawed. The onus falls on you to make the relationship work, and your partner has no responsibility and nothing to compromise on, while you have to compromise so much on almost everything.

And, you willingly take up that mantle. Because you love your partner. You want him to be happy, and you want to be the one to make him happy. So you take on the difficulties of being with him, being in a relationship where the deck is stacked against you before you even start to play, being with a person who will always find fault and flaw and always find a way to remind you that you are not worthy of his love but you can be if you just do X, Y, and Z. And at first you think you can do it; you’re a strong woman and you can get through this and come out on the other side victorious and you can earn his love and once you do, it will be perfect. But then, it starts to eat away at you. Your self-esteem starts to wither and slowly die. You become tired of carrying that burden, that big load of responsibilities, of tiptoeing around his feelings and making sure everything is absolutely perfect because if it’s not, he could be anything from mildly annoyed to incredibly, royally pissed off. But if things are perfect, he could be anything from indifferent to incredibly happy and grateful and thoughtful and kind. On braver days, you gamble with those odds, and at first, you have more braver days. But then the braver days start to come fewer and farther in between. And most of your days are just sad and empty and lonely, though you’d never let it show. You feel like an outsider while you see your friends living their lives. And when you see your friends in relationships (healthy ones), you wonder what’s wrong with you. You wonder what’s wrong with you. Not what’s wrong with your partner, or why he treats you like that. You don’t question why he treats you like that—most of the time, at least. You question why you can’t handle why he treats you like that. Because you’ve convinced yourself that you are in the wrong. And when he explains to you why you are in the wrong and why he is not wrong and why he does more than you think he does, it makes sense. The explanation may not always be accurate, but he twists his words and your words to form an alternate truth and you convince yourself that it is the truth. And even if you don’t totally buy it, you swallow it anyway because you love him and you want him to be happy and you want to be the one to make him happy. And if that means sacrificing your happiness and your sanity and your energy, then so be it. Because that’s what it means to love someone so earnestly and selflessly, to love someone who simply keeps taking and taking and who likely doesn’t know what love really is.

But that isn’t to say that he doesn’t love you. He does—insofar as he knows how to. In his own, twisted way, he does love you. It’s not a healthy love, by any means, and it isn’t actual love—because actual love is selfless and understanding and kind and patient and forgiving—but it is a kind of affection that he is capable of. And this is where it gets so confusing and complicated. Because there are good times, and there are bad times, and every time things go bad you wonder if you have anything left in you to keep going, to keep pushing through until the good times become more frequent and the bad times are far and few. Because you know that there is something there, something that might be a little like love, if not love or something close to it. And you so want love, and you so want that love to come from this person. And it is so frustrating and confusing and maddening to wholly, unconditionally love a person who is responsible both for making you happiest, but also breaking your heart and shattering your self-worth to its core. Love always wins—and usually, your love for this person overcomes everything else. And that’s why it’s so hard to leave.

What makes emotionally abusive relationships so insidious is that you hardly know the damage is happening, but it is. It’s a silent attacker. All those signs that things might be wrong—in the beginning, it’s so easy to look past them and conflate them with less harmful signs. You simply accept what’s happening and do the best you can, but as you continue contorting yourself to fit your partner’s every minute demand, you slowly start to lose yourself. And even worse, the cause of all that destruction is someone you love and can’t let go of. Simply recognizing that the relationship is emotionally abusive is difficult, and once you do recognize it, it takes even more time and effort to be able to readily admit that to yourself, and to others, and then on top of that, even more time and effort to muster up the courage to leave and not look back. And then, once you do leave, the real work begins—the real work of picking yourself up and putting yourself back together.

Finding the courage to leave is the hardest part, in my opinion. It’s the part that rocks you the most; it’s the part that feels most uncertain and most scary and most alone. It’s the absolute darkest before the dawn. I can’t speak for other people who were in emotionally abusive relationships, but for me, it took a series of events that were so awful and so obviously wrong for me to finally tell myself that enough was enough and even if it hurt, staying would hurt too, and staying would hurt more, and staying had been hurting more, but I had just been denying it.

I can’t say how things would be now if I had done things differently, but during that time, I reached out to a few people I trusted to talk this whole thing over and work through my emotions and figure out how to get through this. And they really were there for me, and supported me, all in different ways. And I am forever grateful to those people for being there for me during a time where I did not think I was worthy of any kind of affection or help or love or support.

Thank you for reaching out to me, and for talking through every single thought I had about my relationship, and for telling me that you would support me no matter what and that my safety was the most important thing and to make sure to put my own safety first.

Thank you for always being there to listen and talk, and for encouraging me to seek help to work through all the pain that this relationship had caused me.

Thank you for staying on the phone with me until 4am the night that it ended, just to talk me through and be there for me and help me process everything and keep me company and remind me that you are there for me. I was panicky and frantic and confused and guilt-ridden and sad and heartbroken and scared all at once. And even though you were miles away in another state, you were there for me and you reassured me that things would be ok and that I had people who cared about me. And you must have been exhausted but you stayed on the phone until I felt safe enough to hang up. And then the next day, when I had all those feelings again and I had to deal with the emotional fallout of the previous night’s events as well as logistical things that day, you stayed on the phone with me and let me talk and you listened and you again reminded me that you were there for me and I had people who cared about me and that things would be ok.

Thank you for being on the phone with me the morning after it ended, to listen and comfort me and reassure me that I did nothing wrong and I made the right decision and that it was ok and that I deserved better.

Thank you for getting coffee with me and talking it through and supporting me and checking in with me to make sure I was doing ok and letting me know that you were there to help if I needed anything. That entire weekend, I felt so strange and scared and numb and despondent all at once, and seeing the messages you sent just to check in with me and remind me that you were there if I needed anything was like an anchor that I held on to just to feel stable and safe and sane while all this was happening.

Thank you for driving to my apartment to keep me company, even though it was late, and you were out doing your own thing downtown, enjoying your Friday night. You told me to hang tight and you’d get there as soon as you could, and a truck even scratched up your car on the way to me and you still came by anyway, and it was 4am by the time you came by and you stayed and kept me company and that meant so much.

Thank you for offering to crash on my couch over night, a few days after it ended, just to keep me company and make sure I was safe, since all this was still pretty fresh. That week, I was such a mess and just not myself, and you helped me feel safe. It was the first night in years that we had met up, and I had just told you about everything that had happened. It meant a lot that you offered to do that and that you wanted to make sure I was safe. And thank you for letting me stay at your place the following night. I never told you this, but that night was the first night I felt safe since the night that it happened. The change of scenery, being away from my place and with someone who cared, was just what I needed. You knew I wasn’t eating well because my stomach was always in knots, and the first thing you did when I came over was ask me if I had eaten and offer me soup. I hadn’t eaten, and I honestly was thinking I’d just not eat because I couldn’t. I had barely eaten that day anyway. But you heated up soup for me, and I had dinner with you and your roommate, and for the first time since the thing happened, I felt like I could relax and not worry and not check the doors and the cabinets and the closets. I felt like I wasn’t on edge for the first time since the night it happened, and it was such a good feeling. So thank you.

Thank you for our phone conversations. Even though you’ve since moved cities—thank you for always being there for me, and for praying for me, and for being one of the best friends I’ve ever had.

Thank you for letting me call you every time I walked to or from my car, just so I wasn’t alone and could feel somewhat safer. And you stayed on the phone with me as I checked the cabinets and closets and all the rooms once I got home, to make sure no one was there, and you stayed on the phone with me until I had made sure everything was clear and I felt safe.

Thank you so much for helping me even though you were thousands of miles away on vacation. I don’t remember why I thought of you when I needed help, but I just did, and I’m so glad I did. That night, I needed someone to talk to and I needed someone I felt like I could trust, so I reached out to you and told you to call my new number which I had given you a few days prior. You called, right away, and I told you what happened. I was trying my best to sound calm and not frantic but I think I sounded like I was freaking out anyway, ’cause I was. I asked you if I screwed up by calling the cops and you answered with a resounding no, and assured me that I did the right thing. You comforted me and said you’d be home in a few days and we’d hang out so I wasn’t alone. And then after we hung up, a few minutes later you messaged me saying you had just spoken to your neighbor who had a spare key, and he’d give me the key so I could stay at your place if I needed to. That night was one of the worst, if not the worst, nights of my life. I was already in a low place, and that night just exacerbated everything I was feeling already. But when you called, and we talked, and you told me that I had a place to stay if I needed…for someone to do something like that when for the longest time I had felt like I was so unworthy of anything good…that just gave me hope and made me feel better, on a night when everything was so scary and surreal and awful. I’ll never forget that. It might not have been a huge deal for you to help me, but for me, it made a world of difference and meant so much.

And to the cop who came when I called 911…I remember telling you that I didn’t want to seem like I was overreacting, and you asked me, when would it not be overreacting?. You knew, more than I did at the time, that these situations can escalate, and it was better to be safe than sorry. You were on my side, and I am so lucky that it was you who came to my door. It’s not always the case that cops take a woman at her word and make sure she is safe. You listened to me, and you believed me, and you looked out for me. And you called me later that night, after you had spoken to him, and you told me that while it may not feel like it at the time, I was a victim, and I did the right thing. You wished me all the best in the future. At the time I was too distraught and upset and afraid to feel anything else, but when I look back on that night, I am so grateful for you because that night, you were my hero.

To these people—thank you. You saved my life. I know it sounds cheesy and dramatic, but you really did. Because if I didn’t have you to talk to and help me work through this, if I didn’t have you to tell me that this kind of treatment from my ex-boyfriend was not normal and not something I deserved and not something anyone deserved, if I didn’t have you to do things to make me feel safe and supported and loved and cared for during that incredibly difficult time, if I didn’t have you to support me and continually support me as I worked through those feelings and realizations and then gathered the courage to leave and start over…I don’t know how things would have gone. I don’t know if I would have had the courage to definitively turn my back on this ugly chapter of my life at the point that I did. I don’t know if things would have gotten worse, or escalated, or led to other types of abuse. I don’t know what my life would have looked like. I don’t know where I’d be right now, today. I am here, right now, exactly nine months later, because of what you all have done and because of all the support I got from you. I would not have been able to do that, to leave and not look back and to pick up the pieces and start over and rebuild myself, without you and your support. You each have, in your own way, helped me find the strength to leave a relationship that was destroying me from the inside, and helped me find the strength to realize that I am enough, and I am ok, and I can do this, and there is more out there.

Because of you, I look back on one of the hardest times in my life as a time that also paved the way for hope and growth and renewal. After I left my relationship, and I was starting over, putting myself back together, trying to find happiness again—I found it because I surrounded myself with people who have shown me support and care and friendship—I spent time with you, and it helped me heal. I am where I am right now because of you. So thank you, thank you so much. You have no idea how much your support has meant to me and how much it has helped me and been a rock for me to lean on during times of doubt or difficulty. I am so, so lucky. This whole thing—this relationship, me leaving it, and the period after leaving—all of it could have gone differently, but instead…I am no longer in that relationship, and instead, I have beautiful friendships and a renewed, stronger sense of self-worth—one that is hard-won and resilient. Instead, I am happier. Instead, I am safe, and I am alive, and I am healing. Thank you for helping me get here. Thank you for saving my life.

Film Review: Black Panther

This post is super late, sorry!! I started writing this like, right after I saw Black Panther and then life happened and this completely fell off my radar. But here it is now!

Holy shit, I am like, legitimately shooketh. I watched Black Panther (I actually watched it twice, two days in a row—it was that good), and I loved it. It is too good for this world. Visually, it was beautiful, the characters were compelling and well-developed, the story was tight and paced well, and the story arc was both really captivating and relevant. There were so many things I loved about it, and it’s honestly a little difficult for me to find things I didn’t love. Maybe watching it a third time is in order?

If you haven’t seen Black Panther yet, GO SEE IT. Go see it twice. Or more than that, whatever. It is so worth it. And then come back and read my review of it. Spoilers ahead!

What I loved…

Erik Killmonger: Ok, so I didn’t love Killmonger in the sense of like, YES GO REPLACE T’CHALLA AND DEFEAT THE WHOLE WORLD, YOU HAVE MY FULL SUPPORT. No, he’s still an ass, and still totally in the wrong when it comes to his “an eye-for-an-eye” revenge-y mentality. But as a villain, he was so, so intriguing. I love villains who are complex—villains who aren’t just a Bad Guy Because The Film Needs A Villain. A really compelling villain has become the way he/she is because of his/her backstory and because of the things he/she has gone through. I love when a villain has real reasons for feeling a great deal of anger and hatred towards the protagonist and what the protagonist stands for. And I especially love when there are moments where you can empathize with, or at least feel for, the villain, and moments where the protagonist doesn’t seem all that golden either. As a villain, Killmonger checks all these boxes. His backstory is just heartbreaking. As a child, he went through way more pain and loss than most adults ever do, and more than the protagonists did. When we find out the truth of what happened to N’Jobu, it feels much more natural to sympathize with Killmonger rather than understand T’Chaka’s reasons for his choices and actions. We side with N’Jobu and Killmonger in this instance; not T’Chaka. The scene where Killmonger takes the vibranium herb and is transported to the ancestral plane is one of the most gut-wrenching scenes in the film. It really serves to humanize Killmonger. For the first time, we see the bond Killmonger has with his father, and we see the pain that both of them have had to deal with. It’s such a stark difference from T’Challa’s first time taking the herb and seeing his father—both T’Challa and Killmonger have their own share of challenges, but the challenges they each face are so different. I love how Killmonger was developed as a foil to T’Challa. Where T’Challa felt a sense of duty and belonging, Killmonger had no home, no family, and no legacy to uphold. He didn’t have a royal upbringing like T’Challa did, and he wasn’t sheltered from racism and bigotry. His anger at Wakanda, and their isolationism and unwillingness to get involved, is not unwarranted. He is angry at Wakanda’s inaction—and rightfully so. There’s a moment when Killmonger first arrives in Wakanda and faces the Wakandan leaders, including T’Challa, and he asks, “Where was Wakanda when our people were suffering?” (or something to that effect; can’t recall the exact quote). And he’s absolutely right. Killmonger isn’t angry for nothing. He has seen and experienced oppression, and he lost his father due to a choice T’Chaka made—T’Chaka chose Wakanda over his father and over him. Killmonger’s character was, in part, molded by the actions of the protagonists.

Killmonger’s role as a villain was also more significant; he served as a catalyst for change in Wakanda. T’Challa realized that sharing Wakanda’s resources was important, and that remaining isolated and not helping was wrong, because of what he learned about what happened to Killmonger and N’Jobu. I love when a villain has a really relevant place in the story; where the story progresses because of the role the villain played. After Killmonger was defeated, Wakanda didn’t just go back to the way it was. Wakanda changed; its future changed. Killmonger’s presence in Wakanda made an impact, and an ultimately positive one at that—which is what makes him such an interesting villain. Despite the fact that Killmonger was motivated by hatred, his defeat was what led to a change in how Wakanda interacts with the world and how it responds to the bigotry that’s present outside of its borders. Killmonger is such a nuanced, complicated, compelling character—and Michael B. Jordan absolutely did the character justice. (I mean seriously—THE MAN CAN ACT.)

Theme of community: The film really emphasized the importance of community, and I thought that was really cool. The community motif sort of underlies almost every scene, and it’s even used to distinguish the differences between T’Challa and Killmonger. When Killmonger defeats T’Challa and takes his place as king, the first thing Nakia does is to seek help from the Jabari tribe—who live in the mountains and who have rejected the Panther rule and the new technology. In the beginning of the film, we see this tribe as almost an enemy of the royal family. After all, M’Baku challenges T’Challa, and the tribe is essentially separated from the rest of the tribes under Panther rule. I love how what turns the tide in the final battle is the Jabari tribe coming to help fight and putting their differences aside for the good of Wakanda. Nakia’s mentality—and the mentality of most of the other characters in the film—is that they cannot win alone; they need each other and need to help each other. In the film, the characters find strength not from themselves, but from those they love and trust. In the final battle, when W’Kabi’s tribe is attacking T’Challa, T’Challa is having a hard time fighting back. What gives him the edge and helps him regain the advantage is when he sees his sister, Shuri, fighting with Killmonger. That’s what makes him realize he needs to win—because he needs to help her. Saving himself isn’t what gave T’Challa strength; instead, it was saving those he loved. Throughout the film, we see how the importance of community is emphasized, yet Wakanda continues to remain isolated from the rest of the world. At the end of the film, there’s no longer a disconnect between one of the central themes of the film and Wakanda.

Supporting character arcs: Almost every character in Black Panther was well-developed. M’Baku was only in a few scenes in the film, but he stole every scene he was in and really made the most of his screen time. His dialogue was on point, and I loved his sense of humor. He was a minor character, yet still had a character arc. Okoye was another supporting character that I loved—she wasn’t the main character, but her character still had a clear storyline, and she did grow throughout the film (learning that it’s not enough to just support the throne; but rather, who sits on it, what he stands for, and what’s best for Wakanda). Also, can I just say—Okoye is my fucking queen. Like, she is my soul sister. I want to be her. She was hands down the best female character in the film.

Who run the world? Girls: Speaking of female characters, I love how the film had so many empowered female characters. The female characters were central to the plot, and T’Challa genuinely needed them and relied on them. Shuri, Nakia, Okoye, Ramonda, the female soldiers led by Okoya—like, holy shit. I love how women had real, meaningful representation in this film. The female characters were strong, yet compassionate. They weren’t one-sided or stereotypes of a “strong female character” or “damsel in distress.” They were well-developed and had equal weight in carrying the story forward.

What I didn’t love…

Honestly, I am at a loss when I try to think of what I didn’t love. There are a few things I could nitpick at, like Agent Ross’s character (which was silly, but honestly I didn’t mind and he didn’t bother me), or using vibranium as a plot hole filler the way a lot of Hollywood movies use computer hacking (Ok, this is the Marvel Universe and of course it’s going to be a little bit ridiculous; I mean Peter Parker was bitten by a radioactive spider, FFS). But overall, I don’t really dislike these per se. I was really happy with the film, and it had way more positives than negatives for me.

Questions I still have

WHAT HAPPENED TO KILLMONGER’S MOTHER? I know that the interwebs has information on this, but I have not looked into this yet. Regardless, I think this would be something worth exploring in some way. Also, I have not seen Infinity Wars yet, so I know that there is a gap in my knowledge (I know, I know—don’t @ me, I haven’t had time! I’ll get to it when I get to it).

Final Thoughts

There is so much to love about this film. Even watching it twice in a row, then again a few weeks later on a plane ride to Asia—it was amazing each time. The cultural representation was so empowering—and having just seen Crazy Rich Asians and realizing how much Asian representation impacted me, I get how much representation matters. It sets a precedent for, and opens up conversations about, inclusion and diversity. And seeing oneself represented, whether in film or music or anything, is such an empowering feeling.

 

8 years later…

So singing is like, a thing I am constantly working at. It’s something I’ve always wanted to be good at, and something I never really felt like I was great at but always wanted to be better at. I don’t know if it’s because growing up Filipino, music, and singing in particular, were huge parts of the culture and were how family and friends spent time together, or because I grew up with people who naturally had amazing voices, or because I thought it was fascinating how your body could produce really beautiful music on its own…or all of the above. ANYWAY. For the past few years, I’ve been working with a vocal instructor, and I recently listened to myself singing in a video from 2010. I sounded so different. Like literally, listening to myself now, I sound like I went through puberty or something (ha!) because my voice was a lot higher and more nasal in 2010. My voice sounds a little deeper now, and hearing the difference is just interesting to me. So, through the grit of my teeth, I am posting the 2010 video (a Justin Bieber song, no less), and the most recent video of me singing so you can hear the difference.

Before…

 

And after….

 

Still working at getting better and improving. I recently sang my first long gig–1.5 hours–and holy shit it was tiring as hell. So next thing I’m working on is being able to make it through a long gig without feeling fatigued and improving my vocal stamina. I’ll post another before/after vid at some point in a few years. Or months. Haha.

 

Things I’ve learned this year…

2017 was an interesting year. I learned a lot. Here’s some of it:

  • Love is respect.
  • People are not made to be alone. We depend on each other. People who think it’s better to be alone because “people are dumb/ignorant/don’t get me” are unwise. People who think friendship and relationships are not a necessary part of life are naive. People who think they will never need other people are naive.
  • Emotions are just as important as logic. You need both to live a balanced life. You cannot have just one.
  • There is nothing wrong with being sensitive. There is strength in sensitivity.
  • Confidence and strength come in all forms and do not look like just one thing. Don’t underestimate someone’s confidence or strength just because they don’t look like your idea of confidence and strength. And don’t feel forced to change just because you don’t embody someone else’s idea of confidence and strength.
  • Reading, writing, music, and art fill the soul. They’re essential to human survival. Learn an art form, and make sure you’re always reading something.
  • Feminism and gender equality are the same thing.
  • Pick your battles.
  • Whenever possible, choose peace, compassion, and forgiveness.
  • Trust and respect must be earned.
  • Love is action. Love is a choice. Love is a habit. Love is not just a feeling.
  • Feelings are fickle. Don’t use them as your compass too much.
  • When things are right, your head and your heart will be in sync.
  • When your head and your heart are not in sync, follow your head.
  • True happiness takes strength and work to cultivate.
  • But love and respect should come naturally.
  • You have plenty of time, but use it wisely.