Epiphany: a myth/origin story.

A/N: I found this in my Apple notes and decided to put it up so my blog wouldn’t be fully of “neggy vibes.” If you’re a fan of Kim Seokjin of BTS, enjoy. If not…I promise more content soon?

~*~

Kim Seokjin-oppa.

When you started this journey, a Konkuk University student (rumored 200:1 acceptance ratio for your course; that still means something) at barely-twenty, you had looks. You were the “Legend of Street Casting,” hunted down first by SM Entertainment and later by BigHit. You had money, too: rumored son of a CEO, a golden-spoon idol if there ever was one. And you had luck: there in the right place, at the right time. If you hadn’t taken that bus. If you hadn’t got off at that stop. Who knows? Who cares? What matters is the circumstances conspired to put you in the eye of someone with important eyes, and soon you were whisked away on a journey you never imagined for yourself. The boy who wanted to be a businessman, then later an actor, was going to become something else entirely: an idol.

So you had looks. And you had money. And you had luck. But, apparently, not enough, because in the eyes of the world, you didn’t luck out on enough “talent.” You weren’t talented, not to them. Just the visual. Someone to fill the ranks. A pretty face to put in front of the cameras, if the cameras ever made it his way. Invisible, because all you were meant for–at first, at least–was to be seen.

Here is what did not get seen: more than looks, more than money, more than luck, you had hunger. For actual food, of course–your appetite is legendary–but not just that. You had looks and money and luck and for other people that would be enough to coast on life but you didn’t. You could have been “just the visual”–many idols, after all, have gotten by on their stunning good looks–but that wasn’t enough for you.

You had to be good too.

And so you practiced singing, even in your sleep.You worked out to get better at dancing. You made instrumentals at 3AM for your voice coach, recorded yourself over them to show her look, see, I can do this now! Have I improved? What can I do better? You begged your producers for singing parts, bit down on every line they gave you even when–let’s all admit–the raspy, throaty growl they tried you out with was probably not the best initial choice. But you ran with it. You ran with it all. You ran full-tilt into this dream that wasn’t yours to begin with, but it had fallen into your lap and you were determined to chase it with all of who you were.

You balanced studies and the spotlight and never let anyone see you falter, not after that first show that caught you with your pants down.

And yet…the world kept saying that wasn’t enough. The world told you that you weren’t good enough. That you didn’t deserve to be where you were.

The world told you to hate yourself.

You could have, you know? You had looks and you had money and you had enough privilege that you could drop out and build a new dream elsewhere, if you wanted. But you didn’t. Instead–so you’ve told us–you stared at the mirror and decided loving yourself would be the thing you worked on next.

So you learned to call yourself handsome. You learned to blow kisses. You learned to pose for the cameras, learned to tell ridiculous jokes without flinching, learned to lie between your teeth that you thought you were the most beautiful man in the world, until if not for your red ears or embarrassed laughter, you could fool everyone, even yourself. You embraced your visual status, owned it, said yes, I may be a face, but what a face that is. Said you were acting young to look young. Said you were determined to live brightly.

Because that is what all of this was: determination.

And, underneath all that, you buried the pain, the long nights trapped in studios and practice rooms. The days-months-years of learning skills you—honestly—sucked at. The failures. The people who laughed at you, called you pig, were determined to erase you. That first television shoot–the first and only time the world would catch you with your pants down.

Then, finally, when you were given a shot, when the time was right, you dug that pain out with your two hands. You wrote it into a song, watched that song get shot down twenty times but you did. Not. Stop. Refused to stop. Demanded they give you one more shot, just one more shot.

Awake was born.

(Months later, across an ocean, a girl you will never meet heard it and read the lyrics and maybe, maybe it kept her alive long enough for her to save herself.)

After that, you kept going. You demanded the world take notice. You spoke up more. You got more lines. Your voice soared ever higher, the veins popping in your neck from the strain but you were determined. Little by little, people started to notice you more and more and had better things to say. You went from “the one who is only good for taking care of the others,” to “Worldwide Handsome.” To “heart man.” And maybe those are all gimmicks, but suddenly the world started watching, and when you knew they finally saw you, you showed them what you could do.

Triple high-notes. Harmonies. Put-your-lighters-up classic rock covers.

And so they let you kickstart this comeback. They let you take this intro, because it was rightfully your time and because, to be honest, you’ve earned it? And maybe you didn’t write the lyrics, but there’s something to be said for your company’s founder and its lead lyricist giving you these words:

I’m shaking and afraid but I keep going forward
I’m meeting the real you, hidden in the storm…

…I may be a bit blunt, I may lack some things
I may not have that shy glow around me
But this is me
My arms, my legs, my heart, my soul…

not so perfect, but so very beautiful.

You took your struggle and turned it into a voice. You took the hate from the world and turned it into self-love. You took your weakness and you turned it into a story. And so maybe you don’t have “natural talent,” but talent can be learned. Skill acquired. But character cannot be trained, only built, brick by brick, with long nights and bulletproof skin and a relentless desire to run, just a little bit longer. You can fake it till you make it with talent, but you can’t do that with heart.

You have looks. You have money. You have luck. And—after years of training and fighting—you have skill. But, on top of that, now you have something that is, perhaps, more valuable: you have a journey. And that journey will inspire long after the songs have ended and the stage lights are off and the crowds go home for the last time.

I know, because you kept–you keep–inspiring me.

~*~

Disclaimer: Obviously, while some of what I’ve mentioned are facts, this is a creative writing exercise, so a lot of it is emotional speculation, hence “origin story” or “myth.” Take it for what it is: not an authorized biography, but a reflection on what fans project onto their idols, and what those fans take away from that projection.

 

What’s Next?

I’ve been telling my friends that I plan to quit music school soon.

To be honest, I always knew I was going to drop out. A degree was never the objective. Instead, I enrolled because I wanted to learn…or at least, that’s the press release. The real answer needs deep introspection, and introspection needs time that’s probably better spent studying for Solfeggio or practicing Czerny.

Time. That’s probably one of the biggest reasons I’m planning to leave UST: music school takes up so much time. And I knew this, my piano teacher repeats to me when I show up to her studio looking run down the nth week in a row. And I did know this. I knew that school would take up time, effort, that I would lose Saturdays and sleep and a whole host of other things.

I also know what a parametric EQ does and how it works. But I still struggle to use it on Garageband.

There’s a lot of difference between knowing and knowing. The latter, I guess, you can only gain through experience. I’ve been in UST for nearly two full school years. If I stick to my plan—and I don’t know if I will—then I won’t last a third. I haven’t made up my mind to quit, but I’m nearly there. The only thing holding me back from definitively making that decision is that I am just as uncertain about why I should leave as I am about why I started in the first place.

I know why I should go. I should go because I keep turning down gigs for this. I should go because I don’t get to sleep much. I should go because there are ministry opportunities that I miss out on because I’m in school on Saturdays (and what nobler thing is there to leave the conservatory for than church?). I should go because, ironically, music is taking time away from music.

But is it really?

Someone asked me—I forget who; maybe it was a lot of someones—what I planned to do after I quit UST. I think the exact phrasing was, “What’s next?” At first, I found the question odd, but then I realise that I have always had something going on. I can’t remember the last time I had Saturdays free; probably back in university, but even then I’m convinced I was probably doing something. For an introvert homebody, I don’t like staying home: I always need to be doing. And, for at least six years and maybe more, that doing has had to do with music.

Back to the question of why I enrolled in music school to begin with. The easiest answer would be that I simply traded ST for UST. The band broke up the year I got in, and school conveniently took up all the hours I would spend rehearsing in Marikina, week after week. If I’m less kind to myself, maybe I’ll even admit that getting into the conservatory was me trying to prove a point: I got in on the strength of two songs I wrote and produced all on my own, no bandmates or audio engineers or “hitmakers.” In that last, horrible year, I remember constantly feeling like I had to prove I was worth the band staying together.

My ahia would say this sounds about right, but they don’t to me. I know they’re correct, somewhere, but like I said before there’s a difference between knowing and knowing. I know what I know isn’t quite it.
I plan to at least finish my four freshman AppMaj requirements (Solo, Duo, Trio, Quartet) and my piano minor before I go. If I go. When I go. To be honest, even now, with Saturday in just a few hours and my dread of it growing, I’m still not 100% sure if I should leave or if I should stay. My old university professor—also a musician, also a current music student—shared a post that went, “When you feel like stopping, think about why you started.”

But what if I don’t remember why I started? Or else, what if there’s nothing to remember? What if I never really had a reason, a real reason; I did this because it was a convenient “next,” because it felt like the logical thing to do, considering my “dreams.” I don’t even know what my dreams are anymore, but that’s something for another time. Or maybe it isn’t, because that’s why I’m writing this to begin with. Because I feel like I’ve lost my way, and now I don’t know where to go or what to do or why I’m even here.

Maybe the harshest truth is this: I knew what I was getting into, what I was going to give up. What I didn’t know then, that I might know now, is that maybe I wasn’t so willing to count that cost. The “self-care” and “self-love” posts on Facebook say that it’s okay to take time out for “mental health,” and I think they’re right, but when is it self-care and when is it just laziness? When is it me being soft on myself?

When do I face myself, look in the mirror and admit that maybe I just don’t have it in me?

I don’t know. All I know is that there are open mics I want to play, dance classes I want to join, ministry opportunities I want to take, and goals I still keep in view, even as I wonder if I’m ever going to hustle hard enough to reach them. There is a Google Keep account with an album’s worth of songs, and a constantly moving target for when I want to release them. There is a sound I keep chasing that I don’t ever know if I’ll be good enough to make.

There’s a weight in my chest I can’t shake, that keeps me awake even after my homework is done.

There’s a wish, faint but if I’m honest getting stronger by the day, to close my eyes and maybe never open them again.

There’s a difference between knowing and knowing. Perhaps that’s why I stay. Because for all of these things I know, I don’t know the answer what’s next.

And I don’t know if I ever will.

Singer

Strange little girl,
sung from her first exhale.

The world, it doesn’t make sense,
but the notes on a scale–

–well, they run up and down,
in predictable lines.

So long as she can sing them,
she’ll be fine.


Tonight, we went to the birthday party of my mum’s cousin.

As a kid, before I started in the “band scene,” I used to jump at any opportunity to sing in front of an audience. Often, this meant rockaoke at parties, or else hijacking the microphone from friendly live bands in cafés and bars. Barring that, I would sing everywhere: in the shower, in the hallways at school, in the car, in the street. Literally everywhere.

I had a love-hate relationship with my voice. On the one hand, I liked hearing it (obviously). On the other hand, I never felt it was good enough. My earliest performances were often ruined by my nerves, which robbed me of air and strangled my notes in my throat. It was like this up until college: I simultaneously craved live gigs and feared them as opportunities to fall short.

I nearly lost my voice when I was twenty. For one reason or another, I got vocal nodules, and had to go on two weeks of vocal rest, followed by three months of therapy. There was no guarantee, throughout the whole process, that I would ever get my voice back, but thanks to Ms. Kitchy Molina, I not only got it back, but returned with a healthy three-octave range and the ability to sometimes belt. I could finally sing Elphaba’s parts in Wicked.

Instead, I joined a rock band.

“Who can say if I’ve been changed for the better? Because I knew you, I have been changed for good.” That’s how the song For Good goes. It fits what rock and roll life was like for me. For better or worse, I was changed. My first gig was horrible: I barely had any stamina to make it through a three-song set. But through years and gigs and rehearsals and setlists that stretched my range, I learned. On our EP Launch Concert, I scream-belted my way through six high-octane songs and still had a voice to speak the next day. Being in a rock band made me a better singer…but it also made me think that, as just a singer, I wasn’t worth much.

Even before the band “officially-unofficially” broke up, I guess I had a feeling it was headed for the end. Why else did I try the open mic circuit? Armed with only my guitar and rudimentary playing skills (which, over the years, have scarcely gotten better), I had no one to hide behind. Open mics and solo shows wore away the last of my stage fright. I got used to screwing up, that I don’t even feel that much relief when I don’t.

Nowadays, I don’t even bother looking shy when asked to sing. I go up, pick a song, and perform it. But, unless I’m invited to a gig, I don’t sing much anymore.

I had an officemate who would plug in her headphones and loudly sing along to her playlist while working. Other people might find it annoying, but I didn’t. I envied her, because it’s been a long time since I’ve sung that way. A long time since I simply enjoyed my voice, the wonder of losing yourself to a melody, the three minutes where the world falls away. I listen to a lot of music. I dance. Sometimes I lipsynch.

But, outside of gigs, I don’t sing much.

I didn’t know that my mum’s family was very musical. My dad’s family kind of is, but when I perform at parties (I rarely perform at their parties) it always feels like they’re humoring me: they text or chat to their seatmates and only perfunctorily clap when I’m done. At my mum’s cousin’s party, the grandkids all came up to sing and everyone was so engaged: taking videos, cheering, singing along. It was lovely.

There was a rockaoke band they hired for the night, to serenade them for dancing. I was actually on my way out when the lead singer/host, Mike O’Brien (O’Bryan?), asked if anyone wanted to sing. My mum pushed me forward.

I sang “Grow Old With You” from The Wedding Singer. I remember it was one of the last songs an old college crush taught me before he got bored of teaching me guitar. It’s a really easy song, but after I was done these distant relatives who I rarely saw–but genuinely enjoyed being around!–started coming up to me and telling me I should pursue singing.

I’ve been trying to be a musician for the better part of six years, but for most of those years, I’ve focused on being something other than a singer. Songwriter. Arranger. Student. I’ve always fallen short, never been as good as I was when I had a band behind me and could just focus on lyrics and melody and getting the notes to come out of my body until I became the music. To be honest, I haven’t thought much about singing in these past few years.

But tonight, I realized I miss it. Just singing. Just disappearing into the music.

I miss it so much.