Best of 2016…

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2016 was certainly a year of the lowest lows. What a lousy year for the entertainment and arts industries, as we lost Alan Rickman, David Bowie, Harper Lee, Carrie Fisher, Prince, Gene Wilder…I could go on. Rest in peace. And what a shit show in politics, with attacks that extended far beyond implementation of policies or taxes, that aimed bullets at Native Americans, blacks, Hispanics, women, illegal immigrants, prisoners of war, Muslims, the LGBT community, and practically everyone non-white, non-male, and non-Christian. The rhetoric of the 2016 US presidential election was polarizing, damaging, and quite frankly, terrifying. In its wake, we have a country that has set back humanitarian and social justice efforts for years while simultaneously leaving Americans feeling uncertain and questioning the entire system of US government. What a sad tale to tell future generations as we move forward.

But we will move forward. Growth does not occur without crisis. 2016 was a year of revelations and a year of growth as much as it was a year of chaos. Incredible music came out, inspiring books were written, knowledge was gleaned, and life continued to grant us small blessings in its own way. Here are my personal highlights from this whirlwind of a year:

Best Album of 2016: i like it when you sleep for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it // the 1975

I like to think these songs were made for a lonely heart, a heart in transition. A heart that hasn’t quite figured out what love is, but knows that it isn’t this. That’s the attitude of this album: romantic cynicism. I like to think that 2016 was this kind of year for me. It was a transition year, a growth year, a year that I became a little less naive about love while realizing how damn naive I am about it still. Whenever I felt emotionally dead, lying on my back on the bedroom floor, this was the album on repeat.

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Best Song of 2016: “Up & Up” by Coldplay

The song technically came out in 2015, but I heard it first in 2016, and it’s become a personal favorite. Coldplay songs are always full of this chill/laid-back tone mixed with an underlying emotional depth, and “Up & Up” delivered this feeling perfectly. Especially in 2016 with so much trauma, chaos, and uncertainty, the lyrics really speak to a sense of hope despite the suffering and the pain. Even the music video is magical and surreal, conveying an essence of wonder within the absurdity of life. For me at least, this really was the song of 2016.

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Best Music Video of 2016: “Blood, Sweat, & Tears” by BTS

I could go on and on about K-pop music videos and how aesthetic they are. (In fact, I might do a most aesthetic K-pop videos blog post, because there’s too many, and they keep getting better.) This hit by the mega-popular Bangtan Boys has a flair for the dramatic, with religious allusions and neoclassical statuettes. It plays with light and color, and the mesmerizing scenes and dancing will keep your jaw dropped the entire time you’re watching. The Latin-esque beats of the song and jammy tune will also keep you fangirling for days.

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Best Music Group of 2016: Seventeen

Honestly the best thing that happened to me this year was slipping into the diamond life. I’ve fallen in love with each of these thirteen boys’ charms to an extent that I haven’t felt since my Directioner days. Seriously though, these boys provide an endless stream of energy, cute, and killer visuals – not to mention incredibly young talent. They’re self-producing idols, which means that they basically choreograph, write, sing, rap, and produce their songs by themselves. They’ve come out with some of my favorite songs of the year, including the wonderfully jammy “Mansae” and super-duper catchy-cute “Pretty U.” The love they have for each other as a team and as a family is also endearing in itself.  Carats & Seventeen – fighting!

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Best Book of 2016: milk and honey // rupi kaur

I know this book came out in 2014, but I feel like it’s grown even more popular this year, as Kaur’s poems are plastered all throughout my Tumblr and Pinterest feeds. I finally had the opportunity to sit down and read the book this summer, and I automatically fell in love with it. Since the poems are short, I literally finished it in one or two sittings, and was immediately inspired to start writing my own poetry memoir book in the style of Rupi Kaur. The book was a lot simpler than I expected, but I believe the simplicity is part of its charm:  She takes life’s most turbulent and tumultuous events and transforms them into a few lines of poetry.

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Best Movie of 2016: Zootopia

I know this movie garnered mixed feelings, and it certainly wasn’t the most artistically stunning or well-written movie ever. However, I thought it did a good job of doing what it was supposed to – entertaining its audience in a cute and unique way. Perhaps the animal characters were a bit cliche, but I liked the vibrancy of the animal city. The two main characters were lovable and adorable, especially as partners-in-law. The plot and the twist at the end seemed relatively original, and kept me engaged the entire time. Overall, it was an enjoyable experience: 10/10 would recommend.

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Best TV Episode of 2016: Sherlock’s “The Abominable Bride”

To be fair, I’m a biased critic. Sherlock is and will likely forever be my favorite TV show ever produced. However, this episode really lived up to audience’s high expectations. Each episode has always been good, so it’d be preposterous to think this one would be otherwise. With twists and turns, forays into Sherlock’s mind palace, good British humor, and feminist undertones, the Sherlock cast and crew deliver yet another edge-of-your-seat mystery. This just made me waaaayy more impatient for Series 4 to come out.

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Best Place To Visit in 2016: Kyoto, Japan

I could rave and rave about this place and it still wouldn’t do it justice. The aesthetics are unreal. Every picture, every scene – whether you’re at a temple, in the city, or simply in transit on the subway – it’s all breathtaking. Not only is Kyoto peaceful, clean, safe, and friendly, it emits this lovely Japanese poetry – delicate and savory – from the paper thin auburn maple leaves to the last slurp of ramen noodle soup at a busy uptown restaurant. When I say I’ve never been to a more artistically pleasing place, it’s no joke.

The colors of sunset burst behind the pagoda of Yasaka Shrine in Kyoto, Japan

There were truly some highest of highs in 2016, despite the lows. I auditioned for a watersleeves dance at my university (and made it!! what!!), stood second row at a free BORNS concert, danced to “AJU Nice” by my favorite K-idols, worked hard in school with satisfying payoff, partied with new friends, bonded with old friends, spent some quality time with my Tumblr feed, ate amazing food, listened to incredible music, and read inspiring words. I’m one to be skeptical of the whole “new year, new me” and soon-to-be-broken new year’s resolutions tradition, but I do believe each year keeps getting better. Each year is not guaranteed to have more highs than the last, but each year is designed to make you grow and to make you learn a bit more about yourself. Here’s to 2017, whatever trials and tribulations it may hold – I know I will make beautiful memories and come out a stronger and wiser person on the other side.

Tumblr Time: Askthetic

Because half my creative energy (read: creative plagiarism) comes from Tumblr, so why not? Here’s one of those questionnaire thingies that gets reposted a bunch and all my compelling answers.

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1: what color do you talk in?

lavender gray

2: what songs do you think people remember you by?

“because of you” by kelly clarkson – one of my favorite solos

3: if you could take claim for any invention, which would it be?

toaster strudel

4: radio or mp3?

lol @ mp3. but if it means radio or downloaded music, i would prefer my own downloaded music.

5: what movie character would you choose to be your parent and why?

carl & ellie from up because goals.

6: if people floated instead of walking, how far off the ground would you be?

1 foot would be ideal

7: choose a song to live off of.

my silver lining by first aid kit

8: would you rather have clouds for feet or suns for hands?

clouds for feet

9: is your phone charged enough?

right now? not really. it’s at 48%.

10: if you could choose one person to protect with your life, who would it be?

my little brother

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11: if you had to choose one person to be protected by, who would they be?

sam & dean winchester

12: what book do you need to read?

station eleven by emily mandel

13: who saved your life?

my parents and my soulmate best friends

14: CDs or vinyl?

vinyl

15: if you could only repeat words said by one person, who would you want to be echoing?

stephen colbert

16: do you like feeling tall?

of course

17: do you like wearing other people’s shirts?

i don’t particularly like or dislike it. i borrow people’s clothing for practical reasons more than for aesthetic reasons. i guess i prefer wearing my own clothes for the most part.

18: if you could breathe music, which artist would you choose to inhale and which would you choose to exhale?

inhale the bleachers, exhale the 1975

19: would you rather have hair that changes color with emotion or get injured each time you’re touched by the person you love?

hair that changes color with emotion – sounds rad.

20: what are the promises you’ve made to yourself?

not to compromise my dreams/my life for money, not to romanticize boys too much, and to remember to repay my parents for all they’ve done

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21: if your family died, whose house would you go to for safety and reassurance?

one of my best friend’s houses whose family i know

22: what wouldn’t you do to help a friend?

depending on the situation, almost nothing. like if it comes down to it after weighing all the options, i’m willing to break the law.

23: if you had to choose one music artist, actor, or author to become your mentor, who would it be?

julie andrews ❤

24: who do you admire most in the world? why?

brandon stanton of HONY. because he humanizes his subjects; he shows how the entire world is admirable in some way.

25: what are songs that make you want to become the sky?

“american” by lana del rey, “hands on me” by vanessa carlton, “it’s a memory” by fred falke

26: would you rather be the night sky or the day sky?

night sky

26: would you rather be the sky or the earth?

sky

27: would you rather be the earth or the moon?

earth

28: would you rather be the moon or the sun?

moon

29: if you had to change your name to something else, what would you change it to? why?

i’ve always like the name rowan. idk why, it’s just pretty to me, and gender neutral – it might be my future child’s name.

30: are your hands cold?

my right hand is a bit colder than my left hand, but they’re mostly room temperature.

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31: if you had to choose three articles of clothing to keep for the next three years of your life, what would they be?

my “feminism is the radical notion that women are people” sweatshirt, a really pretty beige-ish/blue-ish jacket i stole from my mom’s closet, my ugly washu christmas shirt

32: monet or da vinci?

da vinci

33: van gogh or michelangelo?

van gogh

34: if you were a teacher, what would you assign to your class as their first project?

lol idk. maybe i would make them fill out a tumblr questionnaire.

35: how do you pronounce ‘crayon’?

……like it’s spelled? the “cra” in “crazy” and “on” as in “on and off”

36: have you ever wanted to be invisible?

yup. it’d be a cool superpower.

37: have you ever wanted to be everywhere?

i don’t think so. i want to go everywhere, but not be everywhere at once – not even abstractly. that sounds like too much.

38: if you could change any one thing about your current surroundings, what would it be?

more space & larger windows. more plants.

39: do you hear things in layers or all at once?

layers

40: neon light or natural light?

i love neon light aesthetics. but as a personal preference, i’m gonna have to go with natural light.

41: if you could choose one instrument to master overnight, which would it be?

cello or acoustic guitar

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10 Things I’ve Learned from 13 Years of Journaling

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It all started May 25, 2003. My first diary entry ever:

“My favret thing is when we go to libery. My ather faveret thing was to wach mother-goose.”

This profound statement is followed by a stick figure drawing of what appears to be a little girl watching TV.

While I have come a (sorta) long way from preschool, I still keep that drive to write just a little every day. No doubt I have taken breaks in between. Sometimes three-year long hiatuses. But through it all, I eventually kept going, and I have now filled seven journals full of memories throughout elementary, middle, and high school. And it’s something that’s irreplaceable.

Everyone should journal, and since blogging is a lot like journaling, I thought it would be pertinent to share ten things I’ve learned from my 13-year experience in writing down all the trivial details of my life.

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1. Don’t apologize for taking hiatuses in between journal entries. You deserve a break and you can’t write gold if your heart’s not in it.

2. That said, you do need to motivate yourself sometimes. Look for prompts. Introspect. Relive your day in your mind and write down those reflections. Anything.

3. Don’t worry too much about grammar/sentence structure/any part of the snobby writing process. This is a free-write. No rules attached.

4. Write when you’re the most emotional. What I’ve discovered? Pain creates art.

5. Don’t be afraid to experiment. Experiment with letter-writing, lists, different voices, different styles, different subjects. Write entire page-long paragraphs or choppy sentences. Write poetry or prose. Doodle. Be inconsistent. It may seem like a mess, but there’s a method in the madness – it’ll keep journaling fun and interesting; it’ll keep your creativity on its toes.

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6. Buy beautiful notebooks and journals and sketchbooks and notepads. You won’t be able to resist filling them up.

7. There’s always something to write about. Even if you feel like nothing happened to you today. Surely, you did things. And those things happened in a way that won’t repeat itself exactly ever again. That’s got to be something. Or who says you even have to write about your day or yourself? Just pull up a chair, break out your favorite pen, grab one of those cute journals I told you to splurge on, and get movin’ (your hand)! Once you get started, the rest will come easy.

8. If you’re really out of things to say, plagiarize. Assemble lists of favorite quotes, favorite lyrics. Make specific themes – famous last lines or best girl power lyrics. Hopefully, these will inspire you down another writer’s path.

9. Try writing at different times of the day. You’ll get different results. The 9AM you is different from the 6PM you, which is different from the 3AM you.

10. Say everything you would normally never say out loud. It’s not just therapeutic; you’re creating a snapshot, a self-portrait to look back on over the years. You’re writing for you – a worthy audience and one you can trust.

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What’re you waiting for? Break out the pens, paper, and creative mindsets. Hope this helped! xx

P.S. Additional Tip: Try to have better handwriting than me XD

 

10 Books Every Introvert Should Read

Here’s to the quite heroines. The ones that think in their heads. The ones with the hidden talents. The ones that bottle up their emotions and age them like fine wine. Here’s to the underdog heroes. The ones that suffer from social anxiety. The ones that would rather read about humans than interact with humans. The ones that we can relate to.

I’m an INFJ myself, and I think the extra N, F, and J play a part in my book selections as well. I’m especially human-centered and emotion-focused. If this sounds anything like you, read on. This is my way of declaring, “Introverts Unite! (…Separately)” and I hope you enjoy these quiet masterpieces as much as I did. (I also included commentary that very rarely actually introduces the books properly and are mainly just tangents that I went off on, because blurbs are overrated.)

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  1. Let The Great World Spin by Colum McCann

One thing that I find fascinating as an introvert is analyzing other human beings. It’s the eternal paradox that I spend my life both avoiding and studying people. I think the dichotomy comes from trying to uncover the poetry, the quirks, the memories, the tears, the laughter, and the aesthetic that makes up a person while still attempting to seem like a normal, socially acceptable human being. I wish it were ok to walk up to a stranger and ask “Hey which movies make you cry?” or “What keeps you up until 3 AM?”

OK, I’ve said nothing about this book up to this point, but essentially, it’s a novel that captures the human essence. It follows several characters whose paths crisscross in the amazing setting of 1970s New York. It introduces prostitutes, photographers, Irishmen, a judge, a stuntsman, nursing home residents, Park Avenue residents, mothers whose sons have passed away, and it introduces them all passionately and vulnerably. I guarantee that every sentence is poetry.

  1. Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

I don’t think I’ve ever read a book with such a relatable heroine. She refuses to eat at her college cafeteria for fear of human interaction, she holes up in her room to write fan fiction, and she cares more about her relationships with the people she loves more than anything else. While I’m not in love with the plot, which I found to be a little on the cliché side, I loved the portrait Rowell painted of freshman year at college and suffering through it all as a socially awkward introvert.

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  1. The Tunnel by Ernesto Sabato

This tale told from the POV of a psychopathic murderer actually freaked me out, because I found that I could relate to the main character more than I cared to admit. Juan Pablo Castel, the murderer, overanalyzes everything to great lengths and falls in obsessive love with a woman. It’s thrilling and chilling – a great Halloween read, I suppose. Even cooler? You’ll be able to tell your friends you read Argentinian existentialist literature.

  1. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

I’ll be honest, I haven’t read this novel beyond the high school yearbook-esque quotes (i.e. “And in that moment, I swear we were infinite.”) But the idea of “wallflower” fits right along with “introversion.” Too often introverts are the ones that are pushed aside, overlooked, marginalized. And the themes of introspection and trying to figure out life while also trying to grow up are the sorts of things any teenager connect to.

  1. The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart

While this children’s series may be a little below your reading level, hear me out. As introverts, we often see ourselves as special, as different from everyone else. This book completely focuses on four orphaned children whose unique talents get them placed together on a team to complete a mission to save the world. It’s a story that’s both simple and witty, a story replete with loveable characters and quirky logic puzzles. Growing up, I loved stories about gifted children (Matilda, Harry Potter, The Series of Unfortunate Events), because I saw a little bit of myself in them – the kids who like to read, the kids who look out for each other, the kids who think differently.

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  1. Life of Pi by Yann Martel

For an introvert, the idea of being stuck in a boat away from civilization for a while sounds kind of appealing. Plenty of introspection ensues throughout the book, and while I’m not big on man vs. nature survivor stories, this one is different. It’s unique, multicultural, and rooted in a deeper exploration of religion.

  1. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

If you feel like you’re always third wheeling, this one’s for you. Written in the Fitzgerald’s signature enchanting prose, this book is his most famous piece of writing for a reason. It’s a classic 1920s New York story rich with themes of love and morality and social class and how the three don’t mix so easily. Not only that, but the entire book is basically an observation, what Nick Carraway sees and how he tells it. As an introvert, I can relate to Carraway’s affinity for listening instead of speaking, for analyzing the people around him.

  1. Wild by Cheryl Strayed

Remember that movie a while ago starring Reese Witherspoon that got Oscar buzz? This was the memoir that inspired it all. It’s another one of those on my must-read-sometime list rather than on my have-read list, but I did read a piece by Cheryl Strayed and adored it. Her writing style is both down-to-earth and infinitely poignant, a refreshing mix of the realistic and the emotional. Another one of those deeply introspective authors, most of her writings focus on her trek on the Pacific Crest Trail – how she did it and what she found out about herself.

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  1. The Sorrow of War by Bao Ninh

This book gives me shivers. This dark, emotional tale follows the tale of a North Vietnamese soldier and his experiences during the Vietnam War. Written by an actual North Vietnamese Vietnam War veteran, the scenes and little stories are so realistic that they draw you in and tear your heart out. What makes it different from the usual war story? There’s a deep sadness strung artfully throughout the book, a sadness that moves beyond violence, that leaves traces of sorrow in moments of peace and love as well as moments of loss and death. Any introvert who bottles up his emotions and expresses them through writing and art should be able to relate to the protagonist’s struggles.

  1. A Tree Grows In Brooklyn by Betty Smith

I’ve mentioned this book before in a post titled “College Interview Questions” and I’m mentioning it again because it’s literally my favorite book of all time. It’s kind of an unassuming classic. It’s a book that you might have heard of before but didn’t think much of it. It’s not a book that’s on your typical English class reading list, and it’s a book where nothing much happens at all. But to me, it’s a book about life. Readers follow the life of a girl as she grows into a young lady, a girl who is a classic introvert. She hides away to read, she observes the world quietly, and she works hard to make it on her own. But more than that, she is a girl that is made of poetry but doesn’t know it yet. Honestly, I loved the heroine so much, I became her. Well, I borrowed her. Her name is my pseudonym for this blog – Francie Nolan.

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I find that books with relatable introverted characters tend to be my favorites. To the true introvert though, every good book is a friend. The written word is the home in which the introvert thrives. I hope you’ll find homes in the books listed above.

While you get busy reading, I’ll be putting together a Ten Movies Every Introvert Should Watch list and a playlist for introverts, so look out for that! xx

5 Things That Surprised Me on My Trip to Japan

At the beginning of this summer, I had the immense privilege of visiting lovely Nippon, a dichotomy of a country. It’s where nature meets high tech, East meets West, and my awkward lumpy body meets the delicacy of a kimono. While I only saw a snippet of what this string of islands has to offer, as I only stayed a week in Kyoto and Osaka, I’ve already fallen in love.

I was walking back to the hotel room one night after a day of successfully navigating the subway rails when I looked around at the businesspeople, the schoolchildren, the rectangle apartments and glowing storefronts and said to myself, I can see it. I can totally see myself living here.

As always whenever I visit new places, I hope to return someday. Japan truly was a treat, a land of amazing photo opportunities and even better food. Despite the familiarity and the immediate feeling of home, there were still culture shocks along the way. It’s so strange that no matter how much you prepare yourself for being a foreigner, how much you tell yourself that your normal may not be everyone else’s normal, you always find that you were a little more close-minded than you thought you were. As much as I’d love to believe that I am a global citizen, I always end up feeling like such an American tourist. Here are 10 instances of the unexpected whilst in Japan.

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  1. It hit 90 degree Fahrenheit temperature and adults and children alike were wearing coats and sweaters out and about.

As a kid who was raised in Texas, this was incomprehensible to me. In the summer, Texans don’t have conversations that don’t start with complaints about the heat. Everyone is out in tank tops, short shorts, flip flops, bikinis, sunglasses…basically as little clothing as possible. Amazingly, everyone in Japan adheres to dress code even in sweltering heat. Everyone wore long pants or skirts. Everyone wore long sleeves. School uniforms were strictly in place – long dress socks, ties, sweater vests, button-down shirts, and all. I felt out of place in my T-shirts and jean shorts whenever I stepped out into the street.

  1. The streets of Japan are extremely safe.

Of course, I didn’t expect Kyoto or Osaka to be the favelas of Rio or the back streets of Detroit, but I did expect maybe the occasional pickpocket or even drunk person singing in a back alleyway. Never once did we experience that. We got lost maybe three or four times coming back to our hotel in Osaka, but even in the dimly lit business district where we were staying, we always felt relatively secure. Teenagers biked up and down the streets. One sweet lady even stopped to help direct us back to our elusive hotel.

  1. I didn’t hear as much K-pop as expected. Actually, I didn’t hear K-pop at all.

After reading Euny Hong’s The Birth of Korean Cool as well as experience the Hallyu wave in America myself, I expected a cacophony of K-pop to greet me in every store, restaurant, and mall. Not the case at all. To be fair, I was in quiet places the majority of the time – temples, shrines, nature walks, the Osaka aquarium – the kinds of places where pop music would be out of place. However, I didn’t hear any K-pop at all. I heard snatches of J-pop here and there. But never K-pop. I understand that the two countries have had a long-standing political rivalry, but I assumed that Japan would be willing to embrace the Korean pop culture boom heard round the world, especially the East Asian world. I guess not.

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  1. The food courts in large malls are FABULOUS.

It’s almost as nice as walking into Hogsmeade. Bento boxes, every flavor of ice cream, cute Italian restaurants, cafes upon cafes, sushi, seafood, ramen, ramen, and more ramen. It’s all pretty reasonably priced (although fancier places may be on the expensive side), and it’s all yummy. *Although one side food surprise: I expected there to be more bubble tea places! Maybe it’s because I’m used to drink shops every five feet in my homeland of Taiwan or maybe they’re just all in Tokyo, but I definitely expected to see many more cups of the Taiwanese  tapioca milk tea delight. My guess is that Japan wants to preserve its own unique culinary culture without too many foreign influences everywhere. Of course, there’s enough matcha lattes to simultaneously quench my thirst and sweet tooth.

  1. Everything is aesthetic.

The uniformed people. The delicate maple leaves. The pink and white pastel buildings. The draping subway lines. The fluid, singsong language. The food positioned just so as it’s brought before you. Beauty in Japan is on a whole other level. Everywhere I was surrounded by pale, flawless skin and slim, petite bodies – what seemed like the ideal of beauty for both men and women. What surprised me wasn’t this ideal, it was the incredible consistency. Everyone aimed for the same look, and very nearly, everyone achieved it. It seemed like such a stark contrast to American individualism.  There seemed to be some unspoken rule about makeup as well. Schoolgirls never wore it, but it seemed like after high school, you were required to don the foundation-blush-eyeliner-lipstick combo that every working class lady wore. Bright colors were a no go. Everyone matched in the same dark, cool colors normally reserved for wintertime back in the States – black, white, beige, navy, gray. It was interesting seeing Japanese collectivism and conformity manifest itself this way. I don’t think it’s my place to condone or object to this kind of behavior – it’s an entire culture after all – and I’ve always had my own inner conflict of individualism vs. collectivism that I haven’t quite resolved. But to me, this uniformity in aesthetics proved both strange and absolutely beautiful.

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So that’s my two yen on Japan. I think it’s safe to say it’s literally my favorite travel destination ever, 10/10 would recommend. Have any of you been to Japan? Are you considering it? Leave me a thought below. xx

A Letter To My Future Daughter (and Young Girls Everywhere)

Dear Princess Warrior,

Life is hard for a human being. Life for a female human being can be even harder. There are 15 things that I wish I had learned earlier that will make your life that much easier. I hope these will come in handy.

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1. There will come a time in your life when you will want to create change on a macro scale. You will wish you had the power to feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, educate the illiterate, empower the oppressed. These big ideas are so so important, but it’s also important to keep in mind that you need to live a good life on a micro scale as well. Be kind to the outcasts at school. Empathize with strangers. Respect your friends and family. So often, I see groups of friends decide to hate or judge a particular person for some small reason, and those kinds of things can send people into depression. It’s a type of bullying. Remember that good people can be bullies without meaning to; bullies can be your friends. It’s up to you to decide what’s right and what’s wrong. Sometimes it’s up to you to make the difficult decision of standing up to your friends.

2. If he isn’t texting you back, if he isn’t making an effort to be with you, forget him. No matter how strong the jawline, no matter how long the lashes, there lies another boy out there who can top him. I promise. Never chase after a boy, because like buses and trains, when one leaves, another will come along to take its place.

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3. The healthier you are, the prettier you will be. Notice that I said “healthier” not “skinnier.” And the most important kind of health for beauty? Take extra good care of your skin, which means water, facial cleanser, toner, moisturizer, acne cream. All water based and oil free. Twice a day. Every day. Don’t forget some water-based sunscreen.

4. Don’t date in middle school. You’ll only regret it. (Dating in high school can be quite a waste of time as well.)

5. Don’t do things just to try to fit in. It will be tempting. Don’t do it. No ad can tell you what to wear, no celebrity can tell you how to do your makeup, no cool crowd at school can tell you how to act, no cute boy can tell you what kind of jokes to make. You decide. And I could tell you to be yourself, but it’s not really that simple, because I doubt at age 11, you know who you are. I’m writing this to you at age 19 and I am far from knowing who I am. But I am closer to figuring that out than I was at 11, that’s for sure. Just don’t do things because of other people; do things for yourself.

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5. Blow dry your hair downwards. It’ll prevent frizz.

6. Do a sport and stick with it. Even if you think you aren’t athletic or even if you think you suck. This is something you won’t regret, especially if you choose the sport yourself.

7. Do one thing that makes you happy or inspires you every day.

8. Here are the ingredients to a good handwritten letter: an inside joke, a unique compliment, something that you’re both looking forward to, a genuine promise, and something vulnerable that you might not say to them in person.

9. Blend your makeup and use primer. More importantly – go easy on the eye makeup as a beginner.

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10. The first time you’re ever cat-called will likely be terrifying. I want you to breathe, stay safe, walk away, and process it for a second. Realize that you live in a patriarchal society where some men feel entitled to your body and your attention. Pity them. Pity them for listening to society’s screwed-up messages rather than the strong women in their lives. And empower yourself by knowing that you are, in fact, an underdog woman warrior who is fighting against this enemy of misogyny and patriarchy.

11. Keep a journal. It doesn’t have to be a diary – I’m sure you can come up with something more creative than that.

12. If a boy ever tells you you “run like a girl” or “fight like a girl,” tell him “good.”

13. There are unspeakable, horrible evils in the world. But hate cannot be fought with hate, and violence cannot be fought with violence. You can’t hurt people and expect to right their wrongs. You can only fight brutality with compassion and love; you can only drive away darkness by turning on the light.

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14. If you ever feel stressed or depressed, talk to someone. Know that insecurity and anxiety is normal.

15. Read. Read everything and anything until you find what you’re passionate about – picture books, Popular Science, fashion magazines, comic books, the daily news, 20th century literature, Shakespeare, literally anything. Then, read some more.

16. Don’t judge other people by what they wear, how they present themselves outwardly, what they listen to, what they eat, what they believe in, what they were born with. This includes that one chick who wears high heels to school every day or that guy who’s autistic. Judge others purely by their morals and values.

17. You’re beautiful and unique. We’re all beautiful and unique. There’s so many beautiful and unique people out there in the world, and you only have a limited time on earth to get to know them.

18. Keep pads/tampons, a hair tie, a pen, and kickass lipstick in your purse at all times.

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19. Even the worst human being is still human. Psychopaths, sociopaths, and criminals didn’t make themselves – society, propaganda, cultural systems, politics, brainwashing, family, the environment, genetics, and so many things that they can’t control made them. That’s why we have to be kind to every human being, and that’s why every human being deserves a second chance. Maybe it’s a naive notion to think that people are good, but I don’t think it’s naive to be good yourself – to practice a bit of empathy. You don’t have to like every individual to understand a little bit of where they’re coming from.

20. Like I said before, I want you to be yourself. If this means disregarding all of the above, then so be it. I don’t care if you’re not the girl who actually carries around a purse or who wears makeup or gives a shit about hair frizz. I don’t care if you’re a girl who does care about all those things, and is actually very passionate about beauty and fashion. I don’t care if you don’t identify as a girl at all. So there, be yourself, unashamedly, unabashedly. And I will always love and support that.

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Sincerely,

Francie xx

A Quick Lesson (and Rant) on Love

My senior year English teacher once stopped class to give a bunch of hopeless teenagers a lesson on love.

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“Get out a piece of paper,” she said sternly, her usual intricate gray bun sitting imperiously atop her head. Her hair – as she told us – reached below her knees when she loosened it out of its bun. She never cut her hair after high school, save for a few trims, as was the Native American tradition her Pawnee grandfather had taught her. Dr. Lara was by far one of the most interesting teachers I ever had in my educational career (which is saying something, since my 50-year-old communication applications teacher once had a screaming fight with her boyfriend in the middle class over the phone). (Also I had an English teacher claim that Julius Caesar was essentially Jesus Christ because they both had the initials “J.C.” But that’s beside the point.)

“Get out a piece of paper,” she commanded, “and write down three things you look for in a romantic partner.”

I blanked for a second. What do I even look for in a person? I realized I never looked for specific traits, I was either attracted to someone or not. I never really thought about why.

…Intelligence, I wrote down. Kindness. I couldn’t think of a third. I could think of a lot of qualities, but none that I considered an Ultimate Character Trait.

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“Next, write down three things that you would never want in a romantic partner. Three deal-breakers.”

Violent/brutal. I paused for a bit. Ignorant. Untrustworthy.

“Now, move your desks in a circle.” And then there was the usual cacophony of chairs scraping against carpet and backpacks shuffled about and pencils rolling off desks.

“Alright, Ms. Shankar,” (She never called us by our first names.) “Tell us what three things you look for in a romantic partner.”

Rayna (aka Ms. Shankar) smiled confidently – always the extrovert and always fiercely unembarrassed by any situation.

“I said, funny, smart, and fine af.”

There was a ripple of small smiles around the room.

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“Most young people – teens and preteens – look for physical beauty in a significant other,” Dr. Bissett spoke carefully, “but in doing so, you can be limiting yourself from several compatible romantic partners. Additionally, as you fall in love with someone, everything associated with them – their appearance, their personality, their passions – these all become beautiful to you. So I wouldn’t worry about physical attraction as a top priority in looking for a relationship.”

“However, I do agree with your first two criteria. It is easy to share your life with someone who won’t bore you, who has the mental capacity to understand your complexities. And it is even easier to share your life with someone who has your sense of humor, who can make you laugh.”

I looked down at my piece of paper. Of course. That would complete my trifecta of Mr. Perfect’s character traits. I wrote down “sense of humor” next to “intelligence” and “kindness.”

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It’s been about a year since that spring day when we were all just struggling through another class period, counting down the days until graduation. I didn’t realize then how keeping in mind a three-point criterion for a date would help my love life. But I think I get the purpose of it now. It’s helped me avoid chasing after the wrong guys or chasing after romantic notions of “this guy isn’t exactly Mr. Right, but I can change him!!” It’s helped me avoid wasting my time on kindling relationships that I know won’t work out. It’s put something concrete and objective to a very abstract, subjective thing – love. And at least for now, the organization helps. Because the rom coms, the chick flicks, and the Romeo/Juliets hardly prepared me for the reality of romance. This did.

I’ve modified my list a bit. It’s now “intelligence,” “humor,” and “compassion,” because not only do I want my S/O to be a nice person, I want him or her to be a person who cares deeply about humanity and the world.

And here’s my two cents of experience. I’ve found guys who are tear-inducingly hilarious. I’ve found guys who are arousingly smart. (Intelligence is the new sexy after all.) But I have yet to find someone truly and genuinely compassionate from the micro level of caring for a baby brother to the macro level of worldwide politics. At least, it doesn’t show itself often.

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So why is this? Why isn’t a passion for kindness something that we promote in our outer personalities, something that shines out of us radiantly? Boys will make stupid jokes to catch a girl’s attention (their version of humor). Boys will show off their sharp wit and acute cleverness by cracking more stupid jokes and occasionally answering a question correctly in class (their version of intelligence). But, from my experience, few boys will go out of their way to perform a random act of kindness or stand up for someone against their friends or rail against the evils of homophobia or even simply offer their jackets when it’s cold to impress a girl. What is it about fiercely, bravely, and confidently being nice that is so scary? What is it about compassion that is so damn hard?

But I suppose it’s unfair to blame it on the male population. Looking at it all on a grander scale, the world isn’t totally short of funny people or smart people. The rarest element of all is compassion. I know my special someone will be special, because he will be compassionate. And if it took one day in a 12th grade English class to learn that, then hey, maybe my entire grade school education wasn’t a waste.