There’s a little known coffee shop down the street, hidden within a busy plaza. He’s there just about every day with his laptop pulled close, sitting quietly by the window. He minds his own business, giving a smile here and there as people walk by his table. If you’re lucky you’ll catch a glimpse of his warm brown eyes, fixating on something outside.
The Barista brings over his coffee–which some would say is just milk and sugar–and a freshly baked slice of carrot cake. “There yah go Owen. Let me know when you need a refill.” She cocks her head, scrunching up her face as he lets one of his earbuds dangle down onto his neck.
“Your coffee,” she says, turning from him. She glances back briefly to find him sitting cross legged on the chair, the coffee cup nestled gently between his fingers. A little grin crawls between her lips as she goes back behind the counter.
“You ever wonder what he’s working on?” Ike asks, popping up beside her. He hands her a slip of paper with the next order.
“I bet its a novel. He looks like the type. He could be writing the next big series or something.”
Naaz looking over at Owen, furrows her brow. “Maybe he’s a genius hacker?”
“Judging by his orders, I’d match him up with Keisha. You know, soft spoken, colourful braids, wears Billy Talent t-shirts?”
“For the last time, Mimi said no more match making!” Naaz clears her throat. Customers direct their attention to her. She ducks down, her brown cheeks burning as she pulls her large bun over her face. “Don’t you remember what happened last time with that married woman?”
Ike looked down at her. “Gladys or Rhonda?”
“Gladys left her husband and ran off with that Librarian!”
“Then what happened to Rhonda?”
“How should I know?” Naaz peers over the counter at Owen. “Look, it was all fun and games before but I think these magic beans are going to your head.”
Ike pulls her up by her shoulders and smiles. “What’s the fun of working in a magic coffee shop if we can’t use a little magic?”
“We’re not supposed to know Mimi has–”
Naaz and Ike turn their heads as Owen approaches the counter.
“Did you want a refill?” Naaz asks quickly.
Owen grips his throat. “N-no actually…I forgot my phone charger and–” His face slams down onto the counter.
The customers rise from their seats, gazing over.
“Owen?” Ike pokes him in the middle of his head. He turns to Naaz. “I think I gave him the wrong beans.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“It means he’s dead.” Mimi sigh, waltzing in from the back room. “Sleep!” She shouts, snapping he fingers.
The customer shut their eyes and lay their heads on the tables.
Naaz’s eyes widen. “Dead?”
“I swapped his drink when you weren’t looking.” Mimi tells them, running a hand through Owen’s hair.
“He knew too much.” Mimi turns his head and squishes his cheeks between her fingers. “Don’t worry detective, your life source should return in a couple of hours. Now, the question is what to do with you two.”
“Please don’t kill me, I was just trying to create the perfect ships and make the world a better place I swear!” Ike cries, hiding behind Naaz.
Mimi gives each of them a smile. “I’m aware of your curiousity human. Though I do wonder, how curious are you truly?”
Naaz and Ike glance at one another.
“If you dispose of the detective, I’ll tell you anything you want to know.”
Naaz inches toward her. “Wait…like actually kill him or?”
“Oh no, just dump him off someplace. I don’t want him waking up here.” She reaches into her apron. “Here I’ll give you each five beans. Take my car and deliver him to Bianca’s. She’ll know what to do with him.”
“Wait, who’s Bianca?” Naaz asks.
Ike goes around the counter and yanks Owen off. “And to think I was gonna pair you up with Keisha.”
“Funny you should say that,” Mimi says, handing Naaz her keys. “Bianca is Keisha’s older sister. They live just a couple blocks from here by the convenience store on Orchard Street.”
“Small world.” Naaz whispers.
“Small indeed. Now get that corpse outta my shop.”
About the Story
This is just a little freestyle piece I decided to write…for absolutely no reason other than to entertain myself. I hope you enjoyed reading it though.
I also tried writing in a tense I never use just to switch things up and challenge myself a little.
Vera Lynn’s death is very sad to me…because her songs meant a lot to my Granddad when he was growing up. He requested to have it played at his funeral.
Honestly, I couldn’t listen to We’ll Meet Again for two years afterwards. Every time I heard it, it put me back into this place of deep sadness, where my father, uncle and brother carried my Granddad’s casket out.
I didn’t allow myself to cry until the funeral…and to this day, I keep telling myself that my Granddad passing when he did was for the best. I didn’t like watching him suffer. He was in a lot of pain during his last few months. That made me cry more.
My only regret was not knowing what to say to him when I had the chance. I just kind of sat there, speechless. I kept thinking something was wrong with me…but he stopped looking like himself. He was so frail and when I went to hug him, I was scolded by everyone because I didn’t think about how much pain his body was in. I beat myself up for not saying anything…for a very long time. I still do every now and thing, although its been a long time since he left us. Well…I guess it hasn’t been that long. It’s really only been a few years. Still…I do miss him, and I think missing people you love is normal. It’s better to miss someone, than to pretend they never existed at all. I find myself talking about him like he’s still here at times, but I don’t bother correcting myself anymore, especially when I’m remembering happy memories, like when I pointed out the bald spot on his head. I always thought it looked like a donut.
I’m sad that Vera Lynn is gone, but her music brought hope to so many people.
My Grandparents always sang together, especially when they washed the dishes. They also used to sing me to sleep when they’d tuck me in. I liked when they sang together.
My sister and I sing together when we do the dishes…in the goofiest voices we can think of. When my niece was a baby, and I’d babysit for my brother, I’d sing her to sleep at her nap and bedtime. The same song my Nana and Granddad would always sing.
Songs really do…hold so much meaning behind them…not just for those who write them, but for the people who sing them and share them. A song that brought so much hope and joy to my Granddad, and many others, still brings tears to my eyes. However, I like it, because its a song he shared with me.
I’ll be honest, I haven’t done any writing today. I forced myself yesterday, with everything that was going on…and it stressed me out.
I still want to write today, and I do plan on it, but for today’s blog, which I am posting very late in the day, I thought it might be better to share some videos that I feel are important.
These videos highlight why I feel it is important to have diversity in art and the media.
I want to show perspectives from all sides, not just my own. Things that affect my friends, family and my community…and how harmful the lack of diversity in the media truly is, and why as artists we need to take this into consideration.
This first video talks about beauty standards in the Philippine’s, specifically looking at skin lightening and the impact it has on women. Clariz talks about how the media tries to make it look as though there are only “light-skinned” Filipino’s through their casting, advertisements etc…when 90% of the population has dark skin. Many of their stars and celebrities are mixed race (with white) or foreigners, and therefore have lighter complexions. The lighter skinned characters in their films and shows are portrayed as the leads, and depicted as having glamorous lives while the darker skinned cast members are often depicted as lower class.
This is extremely similar to how in North American media, mixed people and light-skinned people, are often cast to represent and portray POC (this includes Asian, Indian, Indigenous) on television…and how the lighter skin characters tend to have better narratives, whereas the darker character’s are portrayed as less than or negatively stereotyped.
This is a problem, and it really needs to stop. I hate seeing shows where the darkest female character is “rude, arrogant and bossy” and the writers pretend that she’s just “confident.” Those are negative stereotypes attributed to the colour of a character’s skin.
The art community needs to do better.
As Clariz said in her video, “The problem they have right now is that they just don’t have enough representation where people can actually see themselves on T.V.”
Something that resonates with what I discussed in my blog post on Writing Diverse Character’s. We writers are just as responsible as visual mediums are, for creating proper representation.
Something that myself, and my parents loved about Bratz dolls when I was a little girl, was that there was actual representation.
Now, although I love my Sasha dolls, when rewatching a Bratz Kidz film with my 8 year old niece, my niece pointed out that Sasha was very rude and mean towards her friends. Sasha’s character, was always bossy. This is a negative stereotype, that was used in a children’s television series, with toys (that I loved), that portrayed Cloe as this sweet, overly anxious blonde, in contrast to Sasha, who was much of the time a bully.
Sasha was also known for having great taste in music, and for being an amazing dancer. Also stereotypes. She could have been an animal lover, like Yasmin, or been into design like Jade, or dealt with severe anxiety like Cloe…but no. She was written as a bossy black girl, who has good rhythm.
If an 8 year old little girl can see it, how many other little girls do you think resonated with the animations version of Sasha?
Yes, I loved my dolls, they had the same skin tone as my mom and my aunts and cousins. When I played with them, they weren’t stereotyped like this. Since I had so many Sasha dolls (because it wasn’t easy to get dark skinned/tan Barbie’s at the time), I made them one big family of sister’s. The oldest sister, named Big Sasha always looked out for her younger sister’s. She helped them with their homework, loved their pets and she always bought them ice cream.
Like…they could have written her like that, but they didn’t.
I still love the brand, and the dolls because I loved having dolls that looked like my friends (one in every colour), but from 2020 onward, I don’t want to see these racial stereotypes in children’s entertainment.
Sasha deserved better.
The next video is by 16 year old Nana, who talks about what it is like being a dark-skinned black woman during black history month. She starts off by highlighting colourism, which was addressed in Clariz’s video on Filipina beauty standards (posted above), and explains how there are different privileges and stereotypes for people based on their complexion. As she says early in the video, “It took me a while to learn to love my skin,” which Clariz also said in hers when talking about how at age 11 she was bleaching her skin.
These are young girls, and Nana states this. I love when she points out how problematic this is:
“Why should I as a 16 year old girl in this ever changing society, have to learn to love their skin? That’s how you know how much colourism has impacted me, or has always been in the back of my head.”
This really hurts my heart.
I don’t think people understand that, for POC, these conversations, thoughts etc. are apart of their every day. It isn’t a trendy topic that just pops up on Twitter or on your favourite morning gossip show once every few months. These are ongoing issues.
Nana talks about how in her sixteen years, she has always know that lighter-skinned black girls are viewed in one way, and darker-skinned black girls in another. One being considered “better” than the other, and one only being celebrated because it is currently “trendy” in the media (this video being made around Black Panther’s release). She also points out how when you type #naturalhair on Instagram, you will get light-skinned girls with bouncy curly hair.
I know this to be true…and those girls are more often than not mixed race. I know this, because I myself am a mixed race girl, with this hair texture.
Girls with tighter curls and different textures are under represented on social media. Since 2018, this has at least improved a little on Google Search (Instagram unfortunately is still the same). You will however notice in this collage that I made of the first images I got that 2 of these women are mixed race.
You might also notice that each of these women have different hair textures! Which in my personal opinion, is a good thing, because it does show diversity, and what is natural hair for EACH of these women, and women who are like them. It allows for people to see themselves. Something that Clariz felt was missing in the media representation of Filipina’s.
I love how Nana throughout her video breaks things down from stereotypes and slight-derogatory compliments (i.e. “you’re pretty for a black girl”), and how harmful they are. Her video highlights why it is so important to listen to peoples voices both within and outside of your community.
This next video is by Sherliza Moé, where she talks about Colourism in Asia.
By this point, I’m sure you are seeing a pattern here. Sherliza however, speaks about how there is a misconception that Asian people who want to lighten their skin are trying to “look European/white” but in reality, this desire had been around long before they had been influenced by European and American media and beauty standards. Much like the European hierarchy, if you were rich, you were indoors and therefore less likely to have a darker complexion compared to someone who was working outdoors. Having a lighter complexion was associated with wealth, and having a darker complexion was associated with poverty.
“This is so ingrained in Asian people that we still carry these colouristic views today, but of course history is not the only thing to be blamed for colourism, but media is to blame too,” she says, before heading into her rant about Asian media.
I like that in this video she includes advertisements from of Asian and Indian actors and actresses, clearly stating how having a lighter complexion will help them win in life.
This is so harmful and damaging. In the one, women continue to mistake a man for being a servant because he’s a darker shade of brown. In another a woman who apparently used to be “African” (yep they did black face) completely changed races and became Asian by drinking some type of liquid.
Yah…I know. She was also talking to a grizzly bear, who wanted to be white like a polar bear. Yep. It was pretty messed up.
Her video highlights how this both effects men and women in these communities, as the ads constantly tell men that unless they are pale, women won’t find them attractive. For the women they take this one step further and say, if you’re not pale, you’ll never get married.
This is why proper representation is so important, and why Miwa Ueda’s, Peach Girl made me so happy when I was younger, because like…there was a girl with my complexion in a manga/anime, who had to learn to love herself because people constantly ridiculed her for having darker skin as an Asian woman!
Lack of representation allows for harmful stereotypes to continue to exist. I loved how in a lot of works by Miwa Ueda that she had character’s who were not “conventional” beauties according to Japanese beauty standards. These character’s often learned to love and accept themselves for who they were, and fought against negative stereotypes like, “girls with dark skin are easy” or “girls with dark skin don’t take care of themselves.”
I know it sounds ridiculous, but these are stereotypes that have been ingrained in peoples minds from the time they were children, along with this idea that if you are darker, you are undesirable, and that is wrong.
Sherliza discusses this in great detail when she breaks down Edward Avila’s video, and why she disagrees with him in his statements on why Korean people want lighter skin. She points out how he completely dismisses colourism, and instead tries to say that having light skin is a “personal preference.” Sherliza’s response to that was, “But why is it the personal preference?” and goes on to talk about how the media heavily enforces the idea that having lighter skin will make you more attractive, and will somehow make you happier. She even shows images that people made of celebrities, like Rihanna who were photoshopped to appear white, with comments on them like, “Rihanna would look so much prettier if she was white.”
This seriously emphasizes the importance of having more proper, diverse representation.
Edward makes the statement in his video, “Why do you have to be validated by the media or something we see on the internet?” He thinks that if it is bothering people to see a lack of representation they should just, not engage with it and get off the internet.
Sherliza responds infuriated and sarcastically, “If you are a tan girl constantly surrounded by pale ass people (you can go to 21:06 in the video), so you feel pressured, ugly, and depressed by that, then just go live in a cave. Disconnect your internet. If you don’t see caramel skin being promoted in your area then just don’t look at the media at all!”
She then points out that Edward himself, is Filipino, and decides to go on to talk about colourism in the Philippines like Clariz did in the first video I discussed.
She finishes off by deciding to expose herself, and talk about back when she was 13 and into cosplay and anime. She talks about how it was annoying to cosplay the characters “accurately” because many of the characters were (are) pale. “My skin tone wasn’t nearly as light as these characters and I used to dislike my brownish skin colour so much in the past. I remember even asking a friend to photoshop my skin lighter, so it looks better like…it’s so cringe worthy to think about the past. But yah, there was a lot of this going on when I was 13 to 14,” she says in her video.
She goes on to say how at age 16 she believed that makeup looked so much better and vibrant on people with lighter skin, and would secretly wish to be a few tones lighter. She mentions how during this time the only Asian makeup artists that she would see had light skin. It made her think she wasn’t able to wear certain colours or types of makeup. She said that when she stopped worrying about the colours not looking “right,” and found what worked for her, that she stopped obsessing about having a lighter skin tone.
She finished the video, by putting emphasis on having more diversity in the media. She says, “Hire people who are qualified for the job but give the brown skinned people, the caramel skinned people, a chance!”
To go off her last statement, I want to add that it is important to not only give them a chance at actually being present in the media, but that when they are shown, their characters aren’t written as negative stereotypes that are often attributed to people of their race or complexion.
I want artists, writers and film makers to be mindful when they are creating. How are they portraying the world around them? Are we having more repeats of Sasha from Bratz, a harmful stereotype which enforces the whole, “rude black girl” trope, or are our character’s more complex, and multilayered?
Are we writing Asian men with darker skin who are considered very handsome and attractive, versus poor, geeky or “ratchet”?
Do we show diversity not only by including other races of lighter skin tones or mixed race people in multicultural countries like Canada, England, and the US but those of darker complexions as well? Is there proper and mindful representation being done for people within those communities, or is the representation dangerous and enforcing negative stereotypes?
Each of these girls spoke about how from young children, we are conditioned to think this way by society, and how they had to learn to love themselves. This is not right, and definitely needs to change as we move forward.
I believe with proper representation, people within these communities will love themselves from day one, and people outside of these communities will no longer be fed and enforce these stereotypes subconsciously (or consciously in some cases).
I know that this post was a lot longer than my other ones, but I do hope that it helps you to better understand why it is so important for us as creators to make content where our audiences can see themselves represented.
Writing love isn’t easy for me…and it is possibly one of the hardest things to describe.
What does it mean to love someone?
Why and how does love change over time? Why are some of those changes painful?
It’s really something that I pounder…because I write about it often and yet, I feel as though I barely understand it.
I understand intense crushes and having ridiculous fantasies about being in love with somebody else, but that isn’t the same as being in love. A person can only imagine so much and personally I wouldn’t call any of my past experiences, “love” I’d call that infatuation.
What emotions does love stir in us that makes us crave it so much?
When I first began writing seriously at thirteen, I thought that I had a good idea of relationships and how they worked — obviously I was wrong because a few years later, I couldn’t stop cringing at the scenarios my characters were put through…a lot of which were clearly recreations of teen romance in the media, which let’s face it, is mostly inaccurate. After this, I stopped trying to write romantic relationships, and instead went on to write what I actually knew: crushes.
As someone who has had crushes since kindergarten, and had been documenting them since the first grade in her diary, I definitely found that writing about them was a lot easier than trying to create this fictionalized fantasy relationship between two people, when I’d never even been in one myself.
In my debut novel, the would be high school sweethearts are separated from the very beginning. This wasn’t something I had planned on doing, but did subconsciously because I didn’t want to try and write them in this relationship when I had no idea of what that was like. Instead I chose to write about what the two of them initially felt for one another and compare it to how they felt now, and the result of that was much better received by my early readers versus what I had done in the past.
Writing about a first “love” or crush came more naturally. I’ve had crushes that lasted years, on boys I never talked to. I’ve also had crushes on friends, that I never followed through with, even to this day because I didn’t want things to become awkward and still ended up with a broken heart.
My other main characters, are early teenagers and are going through their first real crushes. There is a gentle awkwardness there, especially with my female protagonist, who when kissed on the cheek describes it as ants crawling on her face and grows uncomfortable when the boy who likes her holds her hand. These experiences of hers are ones I felt at the same age, and it was often with people who I wasn’t sure of.
It can be confusing trying to figure out your own feelings, while someone else is putting in so much effort to try and get you to like them back. I often felt like my own feelings weren’t being taken into consideration during that time in my life, and on top of that I didn’t know how to express them. How do you politely tell a friend, that you’re not interested in them that way, without hurting their feelings? Nowadays people ghost each other when they lose interest which is a childish approach, that doesn’t allow anyone closure, but at the same time its easier than ripping off the band-aid.
I enjoy writing the contrast between past and present feelings in this series, because it shows how even my characters who put on a brave face and are viewed as strong by others, are capable of feeling vulnerable. There is still this lingering feeling of love between the older pairing, hidden within the snarky remarks, arguments and awkward silences. They tell everyone around them that there’s nothing there, and that they hate one another, when in reality the still care…and more importantly want some sort of closure.
I do believe in cases like this, that it is important to write what you know. You can only take so much from observation and make it authentic, so it is important to use what knowledge and experience you do have and use that as your strength. Listen to real people talk about their relationships, pay attention to how the describe past and present events. Explore your own feelings and emotions. What aspects of relationship make you feel like you’re floating, or like ants are crawling on your skin? What does it feel like to be in love or infatuated with someone, and why do some relationships work out while others don’t?
Initially this character was going to be my antagonist…and in a way he still is, but I decided when I wrote my first draft to approach his character a little differently than I had originally planned. What happened was that after writing out a scene with him and one of my MC’s I realized that he was actually a pretty nice guy.
His collage is on the sadder side because his feelings for my MC are genuine and despite how careful he is with their relationship, he knows that because of their current circumstances, it’s doomed.
Unrequited love can be frustrating, especially when the person you are in love with is a close friend. I think that’s why I decided not to make him an arrogant jerk. He still gets jealous at times, but he’s aware of it and questions those feelings when they arise.
Little Red Riding Hood is his cheer up song, and I like that it shows a softer side of him. Sadly, the majority of the songs on his playlist are about unrequited love and heartache. This song really shows how protective he is of his friend, and how he holds back when it comes to her because he doesn’t want to scare her away.
Relationships do play a big role in my debut novel. I’m a big fan of Io Sakisaka not only for her gorgeous artwork, but how she continues to explore the different aspects of love and relationships in her stories.
In one of her series she perfectly illustrations how our feelings and thoughts about relationships change as we grow. When writing my series I wanted to capture those moments of surprise and revelation, that she does so well in her work. Two of my main characters are introduced years after their relationship came to an end. Now and then one of them will recall how they grew together, and went from friends to lovers to not being able to stand one another. The emotions that come while they are in these moments of recollection are some that I feel really resonate throughout. A lot of the time the question in their mind is, “Why?” or “What if?” but neither of them has the courage to try and answer that question for themselves. Growing up, you go through so many different experiences and emotions and a lot of them you face with your friends and family. So many hours of the day is spent (in normal circumstances of course…and not during a pandemic) in school, and many people attend school with the same group of people most of their academic lives.
I often think about the wonderful friendship my parents have had since their days in elementary school. I’m a little envious, because I switched schools a few times when we moved but I thankfully have managed to keep in contact with people from my elementary and high school days. Still, I often ask myself the same question my characters ask themselves throughout the series, “Why did this happen?” or “What if I did this differently” when recalling certain situations or feelings from those days. I’m not very old, but I think every year you wonder about more and more…and you realize that you know less and less.
Our relationships really do shape us, and even if they are for a season, teach us not only about others but about ourselves. How to we react in certain situations, how to we cooperate and interact with other people? Are we capable of jealously? Are we capable of compassion? These are all things that we encounter as we grow, and things that I admire about Io’s work that I want to present in my own. I find that characters who think and feel so fully…are characters that we are drawn to. You don’t even have to like them. The character could be an awful person, but if they are fleshed out well, that really resonates throughout the work.
I hope to get to a point where my characters thoughts, reactions and emotions come to me so naturally, that it is like they’re an old friend. I love watching them take shape, and discover things about themselves as I write. It’s a unique experience…and it really does resemble growing up.