Music & Mindset

Music is an art, but it can also be a tool.

I never exercise without music. A good fast beat can energize me and get me pumped for my workout. I also enjoy calm music or scores when I have to focus on writing or reading.

Since I was a teenager, music has been a tool that I use to set my mood. If I’m feeling down, an upbeat song can make me happier. If I need to calm down for some reason, I always turn to my favorite indie band, Death Cab for Cutie, to make me feel relaxed and slow my breathing. I often listen to them on a plane when I trying to fall asleep and block out the noise.

I set the pace and intensity of a workout by the playlist I choose that day. A harder, rougher sound motivates me to push myself. A lighter tone can be good to get my heart rate up while I do cardio. I have a few playlists on my phone that I am always using, but occasionally I like to shake things up and use something created by Spotify. I can always change it during a rest while I’m working out if its not my jam.

Music can also motivate me when I’m not feeling up for a workout one day. I set the music to more upbeat pop or my favorite genre — emo/punk. By the end of the first song, my mood is usually elevated and I feel more confident about what’s to come.

Even as I write this entry, I’m listening to a selection of scores, mostly from shows and movies. I prefer shows lately, because movie soundtracks can be too iconic and well-known to blend into the background. At this moment, I picked scores from the shows Arrow and Supergirl. Arrow tends to be darker and grittier in its tone, while Supergirl is lighter and more hopeful. I don’t really notice when they are playing, but it helps me concentrate and get into the flow state while I write.

I mostly use speakers to play my music, both in my home gym and in my office. In my gym, I have a Google Home Max speaker that wirelessly plays Spotify off my phone. I can control it by voice, so I don’t have to fiddle with my phone if I’m in the middle of something. My office speaker is a Marshall bluetooth speaker that sits on my bookcases. I’m not a stickler for sound quality, so I can’t tell you which one is better. Both serve their function, which is what I care about most. If I’m out and about shopping or walking, I use either my Bose headphones or earbuds by Skullcandy. Again, I’m looking for features unrelated to sound quality. I use the Bose mostly on airplanes or if I’m in a coffee shop working. The earbuds are mostly used to listen to podcasts while I’m shopping.

I hope you consider your relationship to music while working out or going about your lives. It has been a major component of my life, and I wouldn’t be able to function without it.


Body Made Flesh

My hands are my favorite feature.  Long and slender, they spread between me and the world.  They have grown callus, touching and touched my hardship and resistance.  They are my lifeline to this world. 

My eyes have seen only a fraction.  Once twisted and warped by chemicals beyond my control, they were set right and aligned to view the world correctly again.  They still blur at the edges, creating clouds on sunny days, but I’ve learned to ignore the clouds and appreciate the sunshine.

My muscles have grown strong, pulled and pushed over a few years of hard work and sweat.  They scream at me from time to time but yield to my desires and become shaped to my goals.  They are a work in progress, in a process that will last the rest of my life.  I’m a clay yet to be sculpted. 

My skin hangs from my bones, yearning to be set free.  I wish to part with my flesh, change my body to fit myself. 

My feet are long and tired.  They make me an octopus when I walk, clinging to surfaces for better traction.  They have been broken and reset, made to hold me up, tall and proud.  They are my fractured foundation.

I am my body, at times.  Some days, I’m freer than my body.  Some days, I’m trapped in a flesh unwilling to adapt to my will.  I struggle to see the good in a body, the worth of flesh, the physical being contained in a cage of its own making.  I do not wish to rid myself of this cage but make it better with time and effort.  I am stronger than these irons bars that hold me.  I’ll reshape this cage into a being of my own making.  A self-made man.  I’ll create myself anew and walk among the world a new man.

I wrote this prose poetry piece the other day and I’d thought I’d share it here. I have an evolving relationship with my own body. I’m working out more and trying to shed pounds I gained in lockdown. I’m excited for this new chapter in my life.

Update (May 2021)

I’m still figuring out what I want this personal blog to be.  I’ve been focusing more on fitness and family issues, so I haven’t been writing enough—or at all—for both this blog and my own projects.  I’m struggling to write out a novel I’ve outlined, but it has difficult to sit down and write with everything going on.

I’m recently came out as trans to my family and friends.  I’m not sure if I want to include that part of my life on this blog—I’m not an expert on the topic by any means.  That said, I have been questioning whether I should use my voice to help the trans community, especially trans youth. Please vote No on any anti-trans bills and donate to charities that help trans youth and trans folks of color. 

Here are a few:

Looking to the future, I want to focus on various topics, including but not limited to:


Pop culture

Writing—academic, nonfiction, and fiction

Overall, I want this blog to be fun and creative for myself and my readers.  I’ve noticed a ton of traffic to my academic writing, so if you find those projects useful be sure to cite your sources.  I list my sources below the piece for people to go to the original whenever possible.  Check out my Twitter feed, although I rarely post.  It’s the easiest way to get hold of me.

Please stay tuned and be safe.

FOMO Media

When it comes to media, I have a fear of missing out.  I started to notice it when the MCU became more of a “thing.”  If I missed a Marvel movie, I felt left out and unable to understand a meme or joke online.  (Insert Captain America’s I understand that reference meme.) 

This FOMO became more apparent during the pandemic. Marvel released WandaVision and everyone was talking about it.  I deeply enjoyed the multilayered show, so I was eager to watch and see it unfold.  But I’ve watched too many things just because I didn’t want to miss out on what everyone was talking about.  That didn’t mean this media was good; often it was the opposite.  For example, I watched Falcon and the Winter Soldier not because I liked it.  I knew everyone online would be talking about it and I didn’t want to be out of the loop.  I was slow to watch it, but I still did.

I think Marvel in particular plays on this FOMO.  You can’t miss one part of the story unfolding over years’ worth of media, or you’ll miss a quick reference or character in another piece of media.  I haven’t felt the same push from DC.  I didn’t watch Joker or either cut of Justice League.  I watched Wonder Woman 1984, mostly because it was the pandemic, and I was starved for entertainment.  I felt no pull to see Joker and I don’t feel I missed out.  After watching a few reviews, I gleaned enough to know I didn’t need to see it.  There was no way I was sitting down for Snyder’s Justice League when I haven’t even seen Batman v. Superman.  No thank you.

On the opposite side of this coin, I find myself watching shows and films that don’t get spotlighted enough.  Legends of Tomorrow continues to entertain and delight and I look forward to the upcoming season.  I like the Umbrella Academy and plan to continue with it.  There is simply too much media to consume.  In fact, media shouldn’t be consumed.  It should be savored.  I imagine I’ll revisit both Legends and Umbrella Academy, but I doubt I’ll revisit any of the Marvel shows.

With the oversaturation of comic book heroes, burnout is bound to happen.  Marvel will probably be pumping out movies—and now shows—until the sun explodes.  I’ll check out Loki and Thor 4.  But I feel tired. 

I want new stories with new characters.  I want new voices.  As much as I like Marvel, I see the flaws.  There is too much queer-baiting and no substantive representation.  There needs to be more voices at the table.  The studio continues to be average when it could push itself to be more.

In the end, I don’t want more media.  I want better media worth talking about.

Odd Vampire Out

NOTE: This is a writing exercise I did that I found way too funny, so I decided to share it. Enjoy.

Prompt: Think of an alternative vampire that survives on something other than blood. Write a story or scene based on this character.

Gustav was in heaven.  He had always been shunned by other vampires for being a glutton.  Unlike his kin, he did not survive off blood.  His lifeblood was butter.  A cruel curse from a traveling band of witches.  Standing in the entrance to the Iowa State Fair, he felt elation.

Famed across the world for its butter displays, Gustav considered the Fair his Mecca.  He’d dreamed of his pilgrimage from Europe to the distant land of Iowa for years since he’d been turned.  He’d been cursed for so long, left to live off discarded diary waste in his homeland.  In Iowa, butter was scared.

Traveling by night, the journey had been long and tedious, but he had finally arrived.  Covered head to toe in dark fabrics, he fought to avoid the August sun.  He came at first light, but the Fair didn’t open until 9.  He couldn’t enter without an invitation, although he believed a ticket counted.

He walked to the building housing his scared butter.  It was sealed and refrigerated to keep the product cool and firm in the summer heat.  Behind panes of glass, he beheld his life’s dream.

A life-size cow made of butter.  A bust of Mona Lisa made of butter.  A tiny village made of butter.  Butter as far as the eye could see.

An urge rushed through him and he used all this vampire strength to bust the glass, sending shards flying.  He jumped into the room, scaring the guests around him.

Ravenously, he grabbed handfuls of butter and stuffed them into his mouth, his fangs erect in excitement.  He slaughtered the butter cow and crushed the butter village.  He murdered butter Mona Lisa.  He was a wild beast, tearing through every display he could get his buttery hands on.

A shot rang out and Gustav fell to the ground.  From the crowd emerged a dark figured cloaked in unusual garments.

“My revenge is complete!” shouted the figure as he staked a piece of wood covered in butter through Gustav’s heart.  “For my beloved Bessie!”

Gustav burst into flames, melting the remaining butter around his corpse.  A cascade of melted liquid made the floors an oily mess.

Wilhelm von Glick III had finally slain the beast that had killed his beloved cow so many years ago.  His life’s mission complete, he collapsed on the spot and died from shear exhaustion.

Coming Out

I first needed the words.  I’d always known something was different for me.  I never fit in my own body.  I never wanted the role assigned to me.  I didn’t have the words to understand these feelings until grad school.  By then it felt too late.  I felt like I’d wasted my twenties being someone I wasn’t.  I danced around the topic and took a ridiculous amount of time to discover the ideas I was pursuing were about me.  Gender, embodiment, feminist, masculinity.  I read Judith Butler and Jack Halberstam and applied it to texts, but it took longer to apply it to myself.

Many argue that the humanities serve no function.  I deeply disagree.  Studying all these topics gave me words to describe myself and come to terms with my identity.  For instance, I knew trans women existed through media, but I didn’t know about trans men until I happened to attend a talk by a trans man at a gender conference at my university.  It changed my life.  I had all these words floating in my head, but until that moment, I didn’t embrace them.  Sitting, listening to him talk about bathroom bills and the murders of trans women of color, I couldn’t help but think, Am I trans?  His descriptions matched my experience.  I’d never considered it before.  I grew up around the LGBT movement, but I never felt I was a part of it.  I didn’t date.  I didn’t talk about my attractions.  I felt I couldn’t express myself in that way.  I bottled it up and locked that bottle away.

The idea took time to percolate.  I talked to a dear friend about it and tried to understand all my thoughts and emotions.  I talked to a close cousin who had always been out and proud when I was growing up.  I didn’t follow up for two more years.

It wasn’t until I started getting fit that I saw how my body could change.  I’d always felt trapped in it, weighed down by it.  I didn’t exercise after puberty and I ate very badly.  It took a toll.  When I moved after grad school, I set a goal to talk to a personal trainer and sign up.  I couldn’t go on in this body, in this way, and not hate myself.

I worked hard.  I started lifting weights and my diet became so much better.  I felt amazing in my smaller, fitter body.  Then it dawned on me.  I don’t have to consider this body a trap.  I can change it, through hard work, and through medical surgery.  I felt inspired to come out and come clean about my whole being.  I told everyone.  Sometimes it was very awkward, but I didn’t hide myself.  I announced it on social media and felt a weight lift.  I told my longtime therapist and she felt so happy for me that I was living as my true self.

Shortly after I posted, Elliot Page came out as trans.  My heart soared.  Here was a successful trans masculine person coming out at 35.  We had both lived our 20s not fully being ourselves and here was our chance to change things. 

To backtrack, I took me months to pluck up the courage to talk to my doctor about HRT.  Then it took longer to follow up on it.  I finally started testosterone on June 1, 2020.  At first, I couldn’t give myself the shots, but I eventually did it and it wasn’t too bad.  I started growing hair and experienced second puberty.  I’m still in the middle of it, discovering a whole new world.  Binders don’t really work for me, so I can’t wait for my top surgery.  I’m eager to be myself now.  I have been very lucky with coming out to my friends and family, who have all been so loving and adapted quickly.

I don’t plan to change my name, but I will go by a different name online, to avoid gender confusion.  I really love my name because it comes from a mix of a few family members.  To honor another family member, I’m going by Jack on the web.  I will use male pronouns, but I’ll be forgiving for a while.  I expect people to be confused or not know how to respond.  We can all learn and grow together.  I will not accept hate; you don’t need to stick around if that’s how you feel.  Hopefully soon you will see me out and about town, expressing my true self. 

A Theatre Geek’s Lament

I was recently watching a video that featured a clip from the new musical Hadestown.  I had tickets to see this show in New York City this month, before the world changed.  I was excited to return to Broadway and enjoy some new shows.  But that’s not happening now or any time soon.

I don’t listen to a musical’s soundtrack until after I see the show.  It may mean I’m a bit lost, but I prefer watching the story unfold for the first time without any lyrics spoiling something.  Then I tend to listen to it on repeat (obsessively) once I’ve seen the show.  It is a way I can relive the theatre experience at any moment, playing it out in my head while the songs play.

I’m a theatre geek and I love to sing, although others feel differently.  I miss the world of my undergrad theatre and working to create a show.  I helped every semester with building sets—it was a requirement for my minor—and I was part of the crew a few times.  I helped dress actors in 12th Night—I was the only one after the other student quit suddenly.  I was in charge of laundry, costumes, and helping the actors dress if they needed it.  I operated a spotlight for Sweeny Todd and had to rush from the perch to the bathroom every show during intermission.  I hid onstage to operate a pneumatic door for Medea; it required paying close attention and timing cues perfectly with the actors’ movement.  These are all college experiences; I was active in theatre at my high school while I was a student and a few years after to help.

Theatre is a collaborative form of magic.  When I watched Hamilton on Disney+, I realized how the screen flattened the experience of live theatre.  A well-made musical movie can usually overcome this barrier.  I didn’t dislike Hamilton, but it didn’t bring me the same thrill I felt seeing live shows.  Being in the same space as the actors as they perform with passion and heart is my favorite drug.  It can be fun and light, as with a show like Book of Mormon.  Or it can be intense and heartbreaking like my favorite musicals Spring Awakening and Next to Normal.  It is truly an experience when you feel raw and fulfilled after an amazing show.  It is cathartic.  Being in the same space, experiencing a show creates a charged environment that cannot be captured on film.  Sitting in my living room, watching an edited version of Hamilton will never live up to seeing the same show live.

I don’t know when Broadway will return.  It will never be the same as before; the world has changed so many parts of life.  I can belt out soundtracks in my house (alone), but it will never thrill and move me in the same way.  I hope I will see Hadestown one day; I’ve heard great things and I dig the slips I’ve seen online.  It is the Orpheus story by way of New Orleans in terms of music and style.  I’ll likely listen to the soundtrack one days, even if I never see the show.  I’m excited for shows that aren’t based on previous intellectual property.  New ideas are good, you guys.  I love classis Broadway shows, mostly from watching musical movies growing up.  But I love seeing new blood injected into such a classic artform. 

Theatre will endure.  It will outlast us all.  But it will never be the same.

Academics and Fandoms: You Can be a Scholar and a Fan

Academics are nerds.  I say that as an academic.  Generally speaking, we love media.  We love to analyze media because we love it.  I hear people question the idea that academics are fans of the media they analyze, as if loving something can’t co-exist with being an academic.  My favorite fandom is the Whedonverse.  I love to dig in and look at various characters and themes and pull them apart to examine every facet.  But I can also turn off my academic brain and enjoy the shows as entertainment.

I’m a casual observer of Star Wars and I see attacks hurled at academics who dare to examine their sacred texts.  I’ve known professors who love movies and see them as a reflection of the Arthurian myths; Luke is Arthur, Han is Lancelot, Leia is Gwen.  Of course, it only works for the first film, before the audience knows that Luke and Leia are siblings.  I can see people—fans—dogpiling this professor if he dismantled these characters on Twitter or YouTube.

I never watched Game of Thrones, but I enjoy listening to arguments as to why the show took a nose-dive in the latter seasons.  I recognize how passionate these scholars are about this show, only to be let down by the showrunners.  Even if I don’t know the content, I understand the excitement of dissecting a piece of media.

The only media I would consider examining lately would be DC’s Legends of Tomorrow.  I don’t know what I would say about it, but it would be fun.  I’d say go watch this awesome crazy show.  I could talk about various characters’ masculinity, and how the show presents a spectrum.  I could talk about queer representation.  Or character development or superpowers or magic or my love for Gary as a great wacky character.  I could gush about this show, but I don’t feel like doing the work, honestly.  I’d rather, in this time of Rona, re-watch the latest season, turn off my brain, and laugh.

Why do academics love looking at and talking about media?  It is a common language.  Few people have read novels like Mary Barton or Passing (humble brag).  But people have seen Wonder Woman or Star Wars.  Citing media to speak about queer theory, colonialism, feminism, and more helps people not only understand the theories, but also the very media they consume.  I, for one, expanded my understanding of feminism and language by reading books by scholars looking at Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  One of my favorite papers, which I hope to revise and expand, is about Firefly, River Tam, and the weaponized female body.  I need to do more reading to expand it, but the topic makes me excited to do so.  That’s the best feeling a scholar can have, that carries us through long nights and tough times.  We study media because we care.  Instead of mindlessly consuming media, we also want you to think critically about it, to expand your knowledge base and learn new ideas.  The goal of academics is to educate.  If we can bridge our ivory towers by talking about Game of Thrones or Star Wars, then so be it.

What Makes One an Athlete?

My favorite comedian, Mitch Hedberg, once joked that if he discovered he had athlete’s foot, he’d say, “That’s not my f***ing foot!”  I never considered myself an athlete as a kid.  I didn’t fit with that group of kids in school, despite playing some softball in middle school.  I am a bad team player and I much preferred doing Tae Kwon Do to playing a team sport.  As an only child, I learned early to rely on myself and I am too stuck in my own ways to work well with others.  I hated group projects in school.  I’m off-track, but, to my point, I was not an athlete before in my life.

Last month, I bought a Whoop fitness tracker.  The initial set up asked what kind of athlete I am for my profile.  I was annoyed that there was no option below casual athlete.  I marked this box, but it made me wonder.  Am I an athlete now?

I’ve been actively working out for over a year now, since February 2019.  I have lost over 60 pounds and gained muscles I didn’t know existed.  I can deadlift 200 pounds and run and do things I’d never dreamed were possible a few years ago.  I recently bought two knee sleeves for hyper extension issues and these are a game-changer.  I find myself pushing harder and longer.  After months of stagnation, my workouts have increased in intensity and frequency.  I find solace in my local gym, something that continues to baffle me.  I’ve made workouts routine.  But does all of this make me an athlete?

I’ve dwelled on this question and I’ve found an answer.  Although it may sound cliché, one is only an athlete if one has an athlete’s mindset.  I am still learning the limits of my body, but I have drive and commitment to be better every time I set in the gym.  I often think back to an embarrassing moment during my first day when my trainer was assessing my skills, or lack thereof.  I became stuck in an awkward position while attempting a bodyweight squat and had to fall over to get myself out of it.  I was deeply annoyed with my body and frustrated, but now I am not ashamed of that moment.  It was the start of my journey and now I can not only squat easily, I can deep squat with weight.  I’m learning so much about what my body can do.  I’m only limited by my mindset.  But with an athlete’s mindset, there are no limits.

Wanderlust in the Time of Quarantine

“Once a year, go someplace you’ve never been before,” Dalai Lama.

I’ve never wanted to travel so much in my life now that I can’t go anywhere.  I keep thinking of the amazing places I could visit, but I can’t even begin to make plans.  No one knows what the future holds—I’m staying put for the foreseen future.

If someone has never felt wanderlust, I would struggle to explain it.  Germans use the word “fernweh” meaning “farsickness” to describe the sensation of being nostalgic for a place you’ve never been before. And now that travel isn’t possible, this urge is incredibly frustrating.

I want the joy of creating a fresh packing list (yes, I’m a nerd about such things).  The fun of exploring a place, a town or city, with no map and the hope that I can navigate back to my hotel with only my phone or even just a paper map.  The excitement of discovering new—to me—foods, cultures, music, etc.  I love my state but there is so much more beyond this place and even this continent.  I’m always amazed by the age of culture in a different country.  In England or Germany, there are just castles and old ruins everywhere, to the point that it becomes boring to the locals.  Imagine thinking an ancient stone castle is dull!  Here in the Midwest, we only have the Corn Palace in Mitchell, SD.  It does not compare.

The world is so big and diverse and why would I not want to explore such a spectacular array of experiences.  My favorite memories are usually from traveling with someone.  Travel is best experienced with someone else.  You can travel alone, but I never have done it because I couldn’t share those memories with another person.

I will not travel until the world is safe again.  I’m not an idiot willing to risk my life or the lives of others.  When the time is right, I will joyfully book my tickets or jump into my car and go on an adventure.  In the meantime, stay safe and dream of distant lands.