Life, Uncategorized

romantic melancholy

and i do believe that it’s true
that there are roads left in both of our shoes
but if the silence takes you
then i hope i takes me too

[death cab for cutie]

Creative Writing, Writing Challenge

We only have today

Note: This is a work of Red Rising fan fiction and contains Morning Star spoilers. Be forewarned.

Broken, fragile ankles sway in the gentle breeze. It is her again. Her voice, as tiny as it is to my ears, reverberates my chest. Her head bows, unmoving; her tangled, red mess of hair falls forward, concealing the rope around her neck. I cannot tell where her voice comes from. Looking around her, I see Red people. Their mouths are wide open, as if in a choir, harmonizing the letter “A”.

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Bold, hairless apes and their plastic idols

“And I wonder, in my last moments, if the planet does not mind that we wound her surface or pillage her bounty, because she knows we silly warm things are not even a breath in her cosmic life. We have grown and spread, and will rage and die. And when all that remains of us is our steel monuments and plastic idols, her winds will whisper, her sands will shift, and she will spin on and on, forgetting about the bold, hairless apes who thought they deserved immortality.”

Pierce Brown, Morning Star


My 2015 bookshelf

Two years ago, I took my first conscious look at what kind of books I was filling my life with and who they were written by (I wrote about it here). Since then, I feel like I’ve become a more mindful reader by balancing out the types of books that I read and making time to prioritize authors that can offer a different narrative than what I’m accustomed to.

So when I reviewed the books that I read in 2015, I wanted to see how they measured up in the spectrum of diversity. What percentage of those books were written by women? Nonwhite authors? What about their characters? What genre triumphed and what genre had I not even touched? How many books were published before I was born or set in places I had never been to?

I figured I needed hard data based on the following:
• Fiction vs. Non-Fiction
• Genre
• Publishing Decade
• Book Setting
• Author Gender
• Protagonist Gender
• Author Race
• Protagonist Race
• Author Nationality

It’s not a perfect list, but it’s a start. I crunched the numbers and the results were a mixed bag.

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Films + Theater

Should sim-com be used in Spring Awakening?

Note for the unaware: sim-com means simultaneous communication, a method for communicating with deaf people by simultaneously signing and speaking. The use of sim-com in the revival of Spring Awakening has been criticized, but they pale in the face of the sea of positive reviews. In comparison, the use of sim-com hasn’t been discussed in-depth, which is why I focus on the topic here. More specifically, I focus on whether sim-com should be used in theater. 

All shall know the wonder of purple summer…” the cast sang as the show came to a dreamy close. At the charmingly-aged Brooks Atkinson Theater, I sat in the front row of the upper mezzanine, sipping the last of my red wine before joining the standing ovation along with the rest of the theater. I looked over at my husband, who was removing his hearing aids– as he always does the moment he no longer needs them for entertainment– and I felt a colossal sense of relief that we were encouraged to read the script beforehand by our friends who had seen Spring Awakening.

It was because of that very good advice that we were able to notice and appreciate what transpired on the stage before us in the past two hours– such as the background actors and other various elements– instead of straining for the entirety of the show to understand the sim-com. To get an idea of the average Deaf theater-goer’s experience at Spring Awakening, take a moment to watch the video below.

My experience was somewhere in between the first and second clips, having read the lyrics beforehand and being able to hear the music through my hearing aid. For those that don’t know American Sign Language (ASL), let me take a moment to outline the problem:

…of living / And living in your head / It’s the bitch of living / And sensing God is dead

Melchior’s ASL translation of the lyrics above goes something like this:

That’s life / Thinking obsess / Shit that’s life / God none 

Or it could be easily misunderstood as:

Stay life / Thinking obsess / Shit stay life / God teach 

Without knowing the English lyrics, it’s difficult to tell which version Melchior means, because the signs are so similar and his facial expressions and mouth movements do not match the signs. Now, watch a Deaf character, Moritz, do a different part of the same song completely in ASL with his voice shadow* standing from behind.

*More on voice shadows further down in this post.

The difference between ASL and sim-com is clear and undeniable. As Daniel Durant, playing Moritz, eloquently demonstrated, facial expression is part of ASL. It’s what helps make ASL more clear, especially when done onstage. Theatrical ASL is already tough to pull off, because sign language doesn’t travel the way sound does. If you’re watching the show from the upper mezzanine, like we were, the facial expressions and appropriate mouth movements are huge factors in ASL clarity. Let me emphasize this point: sign language involves more than just the hands.

My husband and I are both Deaf and ASL is our native language. We grew up watching people sign while often mouthing the matching word in English or making an ASL-appropriate mouth movement and always with facial expression. Our brains have been wired to take in both the hand movement and facial expression in order to understand ASL effectively, so when Austin McKenize, playing main character Melchior, or any other hearing actor, signed one thing while mouthing something else entirely, red flags shot up in confusion in our brains. We literally could not understand anything they said.

“Sign language involves more than just the hands.”

I asked ten people who identify themselves as Deaf and had gone to a Spring Awakening show to rate from 1 to 10– 1 being not at all and 10 being completely— their ability to understand the hearing actors that used sim-com and the Deaf actors that used full ASL. The average rate of their ability to understand the sim-com was 3.8. The average rate for ASL was 7.7.

To be clear, this is not a criticism of the hearing actors, but the decision to have them use sim-com. The only reason I was able to get the gist of what they were saying at any given time was because I had the read the script and was able to make connections from the Deaf actors’ responses to them. Again, this is not an example of their acting skills, but evidence that sim-com will never be able to do ASL justice.

The Deaf actors, by the way, had “voice shadows” (hearing actors who spoke their lines, often standing behind or beside them in creative ways) or subtitles displayed on a blackboard for their lines. Spring Awakening nailed some of these strategies with voice shadowing, especially with characters Wendla (played by Sandra Frank/voiced by Kate Boeck), Thea (Amelia Hensey/Lauren Luiz), and Moritz (Daniel Durant/Alex Boniello).

With Wendla’s character, I liked that Kate was subtly present, strutting away on her guitar, but never overshadowing Sandra. I felt that I could really keep my focus on Sandra while her voice shadow created an aural atmosphere around her.


Wendla, voiced by Kate Boeck (left) and played by Sandra Frank (right)

It was actually the opposite with Thea as Amelia and Lauren were consistently side-by-side. Lauren was also playing another character, Melitta, who appeared to be Thea’s twin sister or the ultimate BFF. Of course, when Lauren was sim-comming as Melitta, I could barely understand anything, but when she was voicing as Thea while Amelia signed, it worked beautifully, especially as Amelia and Lauren mirrored each other so seamlessly they seemed one at times.

My favorite example of voice shadowing was accomplished with Moritz’s character. Daniel had a way of dominating the stage with his strong facial expressions and signing, which was awesomely matched with the voice of Alex. The creative dynamic between Alex and Daniel was fun to watch. One particular scene stands out: Daniel and Austin (Melchior) sit across from each other having a tense discussion about sex while Alex stands behind the table in between them. Austin hands a cigarette to Daniel and he, after puffing on it, passes it to Alex– never breaking eye contact with Austin. At that moment, Daniel/Alex learn something shocking from Austin and Alex blows a cloud of smoke back in Austin’s face.


Daniel Durant (left) and Alex Boniello (center) as Moritz and Austin McKenize (right) as Melchior

This scene is an example of how voice shadows– when done cleverly and creatively– can really add to the story, so I don’t get why Melchior’s character couldn’t have had a voice shadow rather than have Austin carry the burden of sim-com throughout the show.

“Voice shadows– when done cleverly and creatively– can really add to the story.”

How, you may ask, would we make this show– or any other show for that matter– truly accessible for the Deaf community? Here are some suggestions:

  1. Assign a voice shadow for every character that signs, so the signing actor can articulately express their lines in ASL.
  2. Show subtitles whenever an actor speaks or signs.
  3. Display lyrics in English for every song.
  4. Reserve priority seating with the clearest view of the stage for Deaf people.
  5. Make the script readily available at the ticket purchasing webpage.
  6. Install ButtKicker speakers underneath the seats and/or provide Deaf people with the SubPac S2 audio vest. (Okay, I know this one is reaching, and super expensive, but this is the future of truly accessible music-listening experience for Deaf and hearing people alike.)

In conclusion, despite having read the script beforehand, the sim-com prevented my husband and me from enjoying Spring Awakening to the fullest. The other aspects of the show were amazing, however. Had the actors signed in full ASL with voice shadows and/or subtitles, it would have been a perfect show. I do think Spring Awakening helped put Deaf actors and ASL on the map for theater and other artistic mediums, which I very much appreciate. Watching Spring Awakening on Broadway was a memorable experience– one I am indeed glad I had.  It is my hope that we can agree that we are allowed to– and should– support something while also being able to critique it. The opposite of love isn’t hate, after all; it’s indifference.

You can download a PDF copy of the Spring Awakening script here.

Full disclaimer: I have a bit of personal experience with Deaf West’s revival of Spring Awakening. During the summer of 2013, I was an actor in the Spring Awakening experimental workshop that Director Michael Arden hosted with Deaf West in Los Angeles. Those two weeks were one of the best times in my life and I hold the people behind this production in high esteem. I didn’t audition for the play when it went into production in 2014, however, having just moved to Austin, TX while working full-time at a job I loved. This review is based on my experience as a Deaf theater-goer, although I couldn’t be completely without bias. Still, I tried to make this review as honest and balanced as I could. 

Art + Photography, Life, Writing Challenge

Everybody’s looking for something


me : wall

I always wanted to make something that people would find a new thing about every time they looked at it, although it wasn’t the goal when I taped the first piece of magazine paper on this wall.  I don’t know what compelled me to start my wall project, only that I felt a pressing need to see inspiration around me.

I began with fashion and women’s magazines, but I quickly learned that of the 500-something pages, only five or so would actually be useful. Even in those pages, I could sense that the photographs were just trying to sell me something. Funny how that becomes more obvious when you look at it from a distance. I moved away from fashion magazines and looked for something more authentic.

Soon enough, I got my hands on art and photography magazines and what a difference it was. I discovered Juxtapoz, The Great Discontent, Womankind, and a bunch other fantastic magazines that some local, independent bookstores held (I’m looking at you, BookPeople). With these magazines, I’d cut out at least 20 pages from each issue. After going through several issues, I’d have myself a small, but lovely, pile of paper which gave me real playing room. It was then I started to make progress.

With no particular deadline in mind, this project took a little over a year to complete. This is a wall of trial and error. This wall is a tiny sampling of what Earthlings created in the year 2015. This wall is what I consumed when I was 25 years old. I never thought this wall would have stuff to teach me, but I learned some lessons along the way.


One: Meaningful connections are always better than random encounters. When I scattered the pages around at random or tried to mix up the visuals and color scheme, my wall ended up looking like a giant collage. When, instead, I tried to find some kind of connection between the pages,  a story was created. This reminded me that when we make deliberate choices, we can control the narratives of our lives.

Two: Find a connection between the pieces, but make the individual stand on its own. Early on, I tried to take shortcuts by taping a row of several pages together before sticking them to the wall, but that turned out to be a disaster. Either the weight would make them fall down together or I’d change my mind about a placement of a page and have to xacto-knife my way through two pieces. Taping each page by itself proved to be the most durable solution. I realized that connections should be fluid, not locked, and that we should always hold our own ground.

Three: When in doubt, stand back and look at the big picture. Whenever I’d spend too much time up close against my wall, I’d inevitably hit a roadblock. I’d feel unsure of what should go where. The only way to get over this obstacle was to take a step back and observe from a new angle. Some things only make sense when you look at them on the grand scale of life. Sometimes it’s the only thing that can get you through the little things.

Above all, this wall taught me that what you create is a mirror of yourself. This used to be a plain white wall. Now it’s a home to a cluster of galaxies and I live in each of them.


Writing prompt 13 of 30: Write about something you made. 

Creative Writing

How a writer writes

“I write best from a place of stillness and quiet. I also live in New York City, a place known for neither of those things. That means I tend do a lot of writing in the middle of the night. It’s the closest thing to silence I can find in the city. The rest of the time, I collect. I’m always taking notes. I pick up pieces from magazine articles, news stories, radio, television, movies, from conversations with strangers, from eavesdropping on the world. Then, in the quiet, I take stock. I pick out the most compelling pieces and wait for them to speak. I translate and rearrange. Sometimes, I’m out of ideas. I think I have something. Then I don’t. I take a break until it’s quiet again. I do this over and over until the idea takes shape, until I start to understand why these fragments called out to me, what the words mean. It takes a while. Sometimes I wish it didn’t. I get stuck, I get frustrated. But I’m learning, or trying to learn, to allow myself the time. The important thing for me is to keep my mind fed and alive, to always be open, always be listening, and to keep coming back and putting the words down, trying to make sense of what I hear.”
Camille Rankine