Editor's Picks

Our 21 favorite articles of 2021 from The Tempest fam

In recognition of the hard work our writers and editors have done this year, we wanted to highlight some of our favorite articles. These are the stories that resonated with our audience, fellows, and more importantly with each other. 2021 has been a rough year, but we can still find a silver lining within these cloudy skies.

1. Naomi Osaka makes a case for athlete activism

Naomi Osaka wearing a 'Breonna Taylor' mask while playing
[Naomi Osaka wearing a ‘Breonna Taylor’ mask while playing], via ABC Frank Franklin
This article proves that people are more than the basic stereotypes society expects them to live up to. Being an athlete is more than playing a sport. It can also mean utilizing your platform to speak about injustices that affect you to a wider audience. 

2. White supremacy is on display in the US Capitol

[Image Description: Rioters entering the US Capitol with Trump flags. The buildings is surrounded by a fog of tear gas.] Via Reuters.
[Image Description: Rioters entering the US Capitol with Trump flags. The buildings are surrounded by a fog of tear gas.] Via Reuters.
This admittedly embarrassing time for the United States, also reveals an ugly truth hiding in plain sight. White supremacists, in a state of insecurity of losing their privilege, are fighting for their voice to be heard in a society that is already made in their favor.

3. Bridgerton’s new leading lady Kate Sharma is here – and she’s South Asian

[Image description: Simone Ashley playing Olivia in 'Sex Education' looking to the side and wearing a red jacket. ] Via Netflix
[Image description: Simone Ashley playing Olivia in ‘Sex Education’ looking to the side and wearing a red jacket. ] Via Netflix
One of the most-viewed Netflix shows of all time, featuring a dark-skinned Woman of Color in the main character role? And it looks like it isn’t a pandering move for performative representation? Yeah, you know we have to talk about this.

4. Monique Coleman’s HSM story reveals a larger pattern of hair discrimination in the workplace

[Image description: A collage of Monique Coleman as Taylor Mckessie from Highschool Musical and Vanessa Morgan as Toni Topaz from Riverdale.] Via and
[Image description: A collage of Monique Coleman as Taylor Mckessie from Highschool Musical and Vanessa Morgan as Toni Topaz from Riverdale.] Via and
In a white-dominated society, it is easy to overlook something like hair. However, in the black community, hair has so much meaning and reveals a deeper story about identity. Having that not be taken seriously or being looked down on is something that needs to be corrected.

5. All the words I wish I could have told you

An image of a man and woman lying down in a field, her head is in his lap.
[Image Description: An image of a man and woman lying down in a field, her head is in his lap.] Via Unsplash
A very raw self-reflection of a failed relationship. It’ll pull on your heartstrings and will make you realize the impact people do have on our lives. No one is ever really gone even after they left.

6. Meghan Markle’s interview with Oprah reminds us not to romanticize the British Monarch

[Image description: photo captured from Oprah Winfrey interview with Meghan Markle.] Via
[Image description: photo captured from Oprah Winfrey interview with Meghan Markle.] Via
This is a commentary from our editors on the ground-breaking Oprah interview on what happened behind closed doors. Meghan proves how much mainstream media puts the British Monarchy in a lighthearted way, they are still a reminder of a colonial past living on present-day in a new outlook.

7. Corsets are finally back in style – here’s what you need to know

[Image description: a long-haired woman wearing a white corset]
[Image description: a long-haired woman wearing a white corset] Via Unsplash
One of the biggest fashion trends in 2021. Would you think twice about a garment that is a symbol of societal expectations of what a woman’s body should naturally look like just because you saw a celebrity you like wear it?

8. The jury finds Derek Chauvin guilty on all counts of murdering George Floyd

[Image Description: A protestor holding a sign that says I Can't Breathe] Via Unsplash
[Image Description: A protestor holding a sign that says I Can’t Breathe] Via Unsplash
A landmark decision that made everyone hold their breath. An event that sparked #BlackLivesMatter marches worldwide. This is only the beginning.

9. Celebrities are not activists, but they play a role in the public perception of Palestine

Group of persons gathered for a protest in a city with Palestinian flags
Group of persons gathered for a protest in a city with Palestinian flags

You should not take a celebrity’s opinion as law, but they sure as hell have the influence to turn their followers on to a certain issue. Society gives a lot of spotlight to A-listers so when they start talking, it will bring a lot of attention to an issue. However, their silence can speak volumes as well.

10. Let me tell you about Wu Zetian, China’s only empress and most hated woman

An image of Wu Zetian from "An 18th century album of portraits of 86 emperors of China, with Chinese historical notes".
[Image description: An image of Wu Zetian from “An 18th-century album of portraits of 86 emperors of China, with Chinese historical notes”.] Via Encyclopædia Britannica
Wu Zetian may appear controversial in some circles, but her placement in history should be recognized. She made great advancements despite the drama that riddled throughout her reign. But in the end, she is still human and a damn great ruler.

11. The problem with ‘nude’ in the fashion and beauty industries

Seven body luminizing tint tubes in various shades
[Image Description: Seven body luminizing tint tubes in various shades] Via Fenty Beauty on Instagram
The fashion and beauty industries still have a long way to go to become inclusive to their audience. “Nude” was always catered toward white people, not POCs. Here we call out this problem and suggest some great business to look at who reclaims what nude means.

12. Compulsory heterosexuality is yet another thing I had to unlearn from my youth

[Image description: Happy couple relaxing on bed together.] Via Pexels
[Image description: Happy couple relaxing on a bed together.] Via Pexels
Breaking free of what you have been taught is not an easy task. It takes a lot of questioning and recognizing those ideas you grew up with can be wrong and in turn hurting your development. This article will leave you questioning influence other things that were considered normal, and that’s a good thing.

13. Here’s everything you need to know about the controversy around NFTs and artists

A still from the Nyan Cat YouTube video
[Image description: A still from the Nyan Cat YouTube video] Via YouTube
One of the biggest things to come out in 2021 was the rise of NFTs. We lay down what they are and their place in the artist community in an easy-to-understand read.

14. My female friends are the reason why I know true love

[Image description: Photo of women laughing.] Via Pexels
[Image description: Photo of women laughing.] Via Pexels
Platonic love gets overlooked, but it is truly one of the best relationships a person can have. Remember, you can find love in other people – and it doesn’t need to be romantic.

15. Canada continues to violate the rights of Indigenous people

[ Image description: A white teepee.] via Erikawittlieb on Pixabay
A heartbreaking revelation of Indigenous people being wrongfully treated and a worthwhile read. Talking about these atrocities is important and we can no longer allow Indigenous people to have their rights be ignored.

16. Fashion can thank feminism for its leading magazine

[Image description: Hélène Gordon-Lazareff, an early cover of Elle, and a contemporary issue of Elle with bottles of nail polish.] Via,, and Unsplash
[Image description: Hélène Gordon-Lazareff, an early cover of Elle, and a contemporary issue of Elle with bottles of nail polish.] Via,, and Unsplash
The core progressive principles of Gordon-Lazareff live on in Elle Magazine. It’s more than a fashion magazine, it is a symbol of women’s empowerment.

17. How I video-gamed my lockdown away 

A screenshot from Animal Crossing New Horizons, with the main character smiling in front of her house.
A screenshot from Animal Crossing New Horizons, with the main character smiling in front of her house.

If you weren’t the group of people who decided to take up a side hustle during the lockdown, did you end up playing video games instead? Sometimes you don’t need to make money to feel like you need to accomplish something. Sometimes you just need to go fishing on your animated island with all of your animal villagers and smile.

18. Is freelancing a risky or necessary career move?

[Image description: Person sitting at a computer.] Via Pexels
[Image description: Person sitting at a computer.] Via Pexels
This isn’t a simple yes or no question and it wasn’t designed to be. Capitalism robs us of feeling like our artistic passions are only meant for a paycheck and not as the form of expression it was meant to be.

19. Chloé Zhao admitting she still writes fanfiction made my 2021

Chloe Zhao sits in front of a yellow background
[Image description: Chloe Zhao sits in front of a yellow background] Via Oscars
Doesn’t get as relatable as this. All those nights reading amazing fanfiction to only realize one of them was made by an Oscar-winning director? Isn’t it great to imagine you got a glimpse of success so early before their breakout moment?

20. The good fortune of being a nobody

A woman stands in front of a camera. Via Unsplash
[Image Description: A woman stands in front of a camera. Via Unsplash]
Life leads us to the path we were meant to be on. This is a scary moment of how a brush of success can be a major turning point as to where your life can lead.

21. When you need a break from the news, it’s okay

A group of people protesting.
[Image Description: A group of people protesting.] Via Unsplash
It is important to stay informed at to be on top of news as it happens, but it is equally important to check in with yourself. When the news gets too much, you need to know when to step back. This article is a great way to remind yourself to do so.

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Did you like what we picked? Which was the article that spoke to you the most?

We want to thank you all for a wonderous 2021. It’s been a wild year, to say the least. Thanks for making us part of your corner of the internet. Here’s to another year of great content to consume. Much love from The Tempest Fam!

Book Reviews Books

“My Beautiful Black Hair” chronicles the significance of Black women’s natural hair journeys

St. Clair Detrick-Jules is a recent Brown University graduate who seeks to merge Academia and activism in her work that centers on immigration justice, women’s rights, and Black liberation. 

An award-winning filmmaker, photographer, and now published author, in her newest book titled My Beautiful Black Hair: 101 Natural Hair Stories from the Sisterhood, the D.C. native illustrates an important piece of Blackness, of Black womanhood through a multi-generational, even historic lens.

In the Foreword, St. Clair writes of how her natural hair journey started when she was twenty years old. She details how going and staying natural re-connected her with the hair rituals she and her grandmother would do together when St. Clair was a child. Though in adulthood, St. Clair had to take her hair matters into her own hands. 

Like many Black girls who have been conditioned to view their natural hair as unkept and undesirable, St. Clair had to unlearn the negativity associated with our hair texture over time. And (re)learn of all the value that can come from returning our pressed and silked hair to its natural state. 

Ultimately, the result of St. Clair’s accomplishment in educating herself on how to care for her hair and embrace her natural hair texture is My Beautiful Black Hair. When St. Clair and I spoke, she noted her little sister Khloe—who also has a page dedicated to her—was a big inspiration in publishing her book. In our conversation, St. Clair describes how Khloe was self-conscious about her afro at only 4-years-old. To rectify her sister’s growing insecurity, St. Clair sought to remind her of her beauty through words of affirmation.

Although as many Black girls and women alike know, it unfortunately takes more than encouraging words from family members to reverse internalized misogynoir. Thus, St. Clair wanted her book to be a reminder to her sister and Black women from any walk of life that you’re hair—however you choose to style it— is inherently worthy. 

This last point is why I felt drawn to My Beautiful Black Hair. Like the Black women who are illustrated throughout the book and like the Black women who are not, I have my own natural hair journey and it wasn’t easy. Growing up in a predominantly white/non-Black city and going to predominantly white/non-Black schools also caused me to be insecure in my 4c curl pattern.

So I began relaxing my hair at the early age of eight and didn’t stop until I was in college when I attended an HBCU for the first time. 

There, I saw others who looked like me and was then able to appreciate the beauty in my hair as well as the roots that connect all Black people to our hair, our lineage, and our history. I’ve been natural for four years now. And outside of the bubble I grew up in and with more self and social awareness, it’s hard now to see why I hadn’t gone natural sooner.

The awakening I had while attending my HBCU will hopefully be the same experience for Black female readers while digesting My Beautiful Black Hair. Alongside every anecdote, is a photograph of the writer featured in this project, rocking different lengths and textures of their beautiful natural hairstyles.

In their notes, these women describe finding their confidence and their personhood. They describe the process of decentering eurocentric beauty standards and loving their Blackness more intimately. But ultimately they sought to give themselves a chance. All of which will undoubtedly help readers see the potential and significance of unconditionally loving your Black hair.

Admittedly, taking the natural hair plunge after years of white society telling you to tame it isn’t easy. But learning to love yourself and your natural kinks in the process of going natural makes the journey well worth it.

Support local bookstores and order My Beautiful Black Hair on Bookshop.

Book Reviews Books

“No Thanks” by Keturah Kendrick is an honest exploration of Black womanhood

“I wrote this book because twenty years ago, I needed to read it.” Keturah Kendrick, writer, teacher, and speaker opens in the preface of her award-winning 2019 memoir No Thanks: Black, Female, and Living in the Martyr-Free Zone.

In her debut novel, composed of a collection of personal essays, Kendrick gets candid about the complex reality of navigating Black womanhood. 

From exploring religion and spirituality on her own terms to subverting the expectation that all (Black) women aspire to motherhood, Kendrick writes for every Black girl or woman who has felt the exhaustion of carrying the world’s expectations on her back.

In many of Kendrick’s anecdotes, you will see yourself. Like when the New Orleans-born writer discusses the occurrence of being labeled “one of those Black women” (i.e.: one who doesn’t accept the status quo of her community simply because it’s familiar). Or when she highlights that starting anew in a big city isn’t just for “the twenty-something backpacker.”

But, if you don’t exactly see yourself in Kendrick’s story, you may find commonality in other Black women’s stories whose quotes are woven throughout each essay. And who’s contribution to the novel is equally as vital.

For example, alongside Kendrick, Sabrina — a divorced mother in her forties —  also talks of challenging herself to pick up and move to a new location. Grace wants to be free from the expectation that her life is solely devoted to others to the expense of her own autonomy. Natasha thinks we should show compassion and empathy to mothers who don’t fit society’s burdening stereotype of “the perfect mom.”

What makes this particular book special is that there’s a sense of community in this memoir, which accurately reflects the nature of Black womanhood. As is noted in the novel, Black women are substantially shaped by our ancestry, community, family, and friends. We are so often the backbone of the communal relationships in our lives.

Although, because of this last point, No Thanks encourages Black women to reconsider what it means to be selfish.

The second chapter of the book titled “The S Word” explores this topic more deeply. This section touches on how the idea of selfishness is weaponized against (Black) women; especially looking at how internalized misogyny and misogynoir often lead to those critiques against other women.

“When someone is called selfish, it suggests there should be some corrective behavior. There is also an implication that thinking only of self is a direct correlation to someone else being placed in a less-than-satisfactory position,” Kendrick explains in this chapter. But what is selfish about choosing one’s own path? Or rather, what is inherently wrong with selfishly making the right decisions for you?

Typically, Black women are expected to yield to the wants and whims of everyone else, while neglecting our own desires for peace, independence, or better yet support. Kendrick refuses to be a labor mule or a martyr and instead chooses to live unapologetically and wills other Black women to do the same.

No Thanks will make you laugh, it’ll make you think, and if you’re a Black woman it’ll help you feel seen. Some of Kendrick’s tales may even make you reconsider that what other people have told you is what’s best for you. And hopefully, like Kendrick, you’ll find the courage to explore your desires and ambitions on your own terms.

Keturah Kendrick discusses all of the aforementioned themes and subjects in her podcast, Unchained. Unbothered.

Support local bookstores and pre-order No Thanks on Bookshop or on Indiebound.

Want more book content? Follow our Bookstagram for international giveaways, exclusive excerpts, and author interviews!

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Book Reviews Books

Miranda Kenneally’s “The Pick-Up” redefines the ‘meet-cute’ for the digital age

Miranda Kenneally is no stranger to writing an endearing and easily digestible teen romance novel. With a whopping ten young adult novels in her catalog, Kenneally delivers another one with The Pick-Up; this time illustrating a familiar story of love-at-first-sight but with a spin.

Who knew a rideshare could lead to the perfect meet-cute

17-year-old Mari is on her way to Lallapalooza with her stepsister Sierra, who she’s visiting for the weekend, and unexpectedly meets what seems like the perfect boy, T.J., in their shared Uber. Mari and T.J. have an undeniable chemistry that’s felt through simple shoulder touches and shy glances from sharing the backseat. So the two decide to spend their time at the Chicago music festival together and then make plans for the rest of the weekend.

But what starts off as a quick and seemingly harmless fling instantly grows to be something more. T.J. wants to explore their relationship beyond just three days of hanging out, but Mari is fearful of commitment. A simple request from T.J. that Mari seems unwilling to oblige to takes the pair on an unexpected but much-needed journey of introspection and courage that involves standing up for oneself, chasing your dreams despite what others think, and letting your guards come down for those you care for.

The Pick-Up is described for readers aged 14 and up; though, the book seems most suitable for those ranging between the ages of 14 and 19. Mostly because the story moves rather quickly and in doing so, Mari and T.J. fall for each other perhaps unrealistically quick. Also, at times, the story and dialogue as well as the romance between Mari and T.J. can feel a bit juvenile and cliché, so the book may resonate the best with a teen audience.

That being said, I appreciate the themes demonstrated throughout the book of feeling second best or not feeling good enough, child-parent conflict, burdening expectations, and more. All of which are things many if not most adolescents can attest to navigating in their own lives.

Correspondingly, Mari and T.J. both have notable and heart-warming moments of growth — as they break through the aforementioned conflicts — both as separate characters and as a couple. Mari learns to stand up for herself and reclaim her autonomy in front of her parents, which helps her subsequently conquer her fear of trusting someone enough to (romantically) fall for them. 

T.J. learns how to be his own person, who loves hard and has passions that don’t align with his family’s expectations, without shame or guilt.

Some more complicated themes are explored in the book as well. For example, Mari’s home life looks like divorced parents and a mother who miscarried so is therefore suffering from severe mental health problems. Kenneally handles these more sensitive subjects with the care they deserve, especially emphasizing the importance for minors to be truly heard when voicing their hardships to other adults, caretakers, or parental figures.

Moreover, I felt other aspects of this coming-of-age story were also done well, such as Mari and T.J.’s shared series of firsts together: first loves, first time opening up to someone about personal insecurities and tribulations, and the first time being sexually intimate with another person.

The smut in this book is there, but it’s very minimal and still teen-appropriate. The scenes wherein Mari and T.J. are intimate with each other are sweet and highlight the importance of both physical and verbal consent, which I appreciated given the young age of our two central characters. 

Overall, I feel The Pick-Up is a satisfying summer read that explores coming-of-age, falling in love, and the importance of staying true to yourself within an easy-to-follow-along story. And despite, the shortness regarding the length of the book, Kenneally is still able to take her story and characters to surprising depth, nuance, and care.

Most notably, The Pick-Up redefines the ‘meet-cute’ for the digital age. With so many YA, rom-coms, and teen romances currently sitting on bookshelves, a modern spin on such a popular trope helps this book stand out from its peers and attract the intended youthful audience who are well versed in navigating the intersections of social media, phone apps, and romance.

So if you’re looking to indulge in a quick summer romance, The Pick-Up will do the trick. The storylines wrap up nicely and neatly. And by the end of the novel, you’ll be more than rooting for the success of Mari and T.J. as you close the book with a lingering smile on your face.

The Pick-Up comes out on September 7. Support local bookstores and pre-order it on Bookshop or on Indiebound.

Want more book content? Follow our Bookstagram for international giveaways, exclusive excerpts, and author interviews!

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College 101 Life

10 things I wish I knew before my freshman year of college

Adjusting to the college environment during my freshman year of undergrad was difficult, to say the least. Namely, I began to struggle in the worst ways with undiagnosed depression and anxiety among other things. What’s more, there were many times I thought I wasn’t going to finish my degree because the pressures of adulthood became too overwhelming. 

However, throughout college, I clumsily learned many important lessons regarding how to effectively manage my mental health, how to navigate friendships, course work, and deadlines as well as why it’s important to trust your intuition during such a critical time in your early adulthood.

The lessons I learned throughout my college career helped shape me into the person I am now. So, here are the 10 things I wish I could’ve known before my freshman year of college:

1. Prioritize your mental health 

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), over 40% of college students stated anxiety as their biggest concern. In addition, 75% of adults with anxiety disorder started showing symptoms by the age of 22.

With such high statistics of anxiety amongst college students, it’s important to regularly check in on yourself to make sure you’re okay. Making your mental health a top priority will also aid in ensuring other college duties can be properly taken care of.

[Image description: A cartoon brain holds up a sign that says, "Your mind matters."] Via GIPHY
[Image description: A cartoon brain holds up a sign that says, “Your mind matters.”] Via GIPHY

2. You don’t have to have all the answers right away

It’s perfectly okay to not know what to do with your degree after graduation, when you will graduate, or what you want to major in. Instead, appreciate the process of learning from others, learning about yourself, and learning about what you desire to take away from your college experience.

[Image description: A man from the show Schitts Creek saying, "you know what? I don't have all the answers.] Via GIHPY
[Image description: A man from the show Schitt’s Creek saying, “you know what? I don’t have all the answers.] Via GIHPY

3. It’s never too late to explore your options

Don’t let the pressure of having an unwavering plan stop you from pursuing another avenue later in your college journey. Understand, so much can change within 4+ years.

As a college freshman, keep an open mind to the possibilities that will come from the experience of navigating higher education all while coming of age. Don’t shut yourself off from any opportunities that may arise in your later college years, for it’s never too late to act on a different plan. 

[Image description: Beth, Jerry, and Summer from Rick and Morty standing around a table staring at a cube.] Via GIPHY
[Image description: Beth, Jerry, and Summer from Rick and Morty standing around a table staring at a cube.] Via GIPHY

4. Explore outside of your comfort zone

This step is admittedly difficult. I know because I’m an anxious, introverted person who has had a hard time even leaving my house or my dorm room at times. But as we all know, “you don’t grow in your comfort zone.”

Sometimes, new experiences take some courage. However, taking the occasional dip outside of your comfort zone will help you learn so many important lessons surrounding incredible things you didn’t know you were capable of.

[Image description: A man from Schitts Creek talking about growth outside of comfort zones.] Via GIPHY
[Image description: A man from Schitt’s Creek talking about growth outside of comfort zones.] Via GIPHY

5. Don’t compare yourself to others

To put it simply, your college journey is your own. At times it may seem other students are having an easier, more fun, and exciting college experience than you are. However, it’s likely you’re not directly seeing the possible stress, emotional breakdowns, and mental health struggles others are experiencing. Just focus on your journey and your health because that’s ultimately what matters the most.

[Image description: Naomi Campbell saying, "don't compare yourself to me ever."] Via GIPHY
[Image description: Naomi Campbell said, “don’t compare yourself to me ever.”] Via GIPHY

6. Build relationships outside of making job connections

Human beings contain more value than just being beneficial for monetary gain. Build relationships with like-minded people simply for the sake of having friends in your corner when you’re having a bad day and need a reliable shoulder to cry on. Or maybe you meet people and start a book club or activist group to spread positive messages of equality, kindness, empathy, and action.

Whatever the case, don’t let all your connections with people in college simply be for job or networking purposes. It will quickly come across as disingenuous and won’t benefit you as much as you might think in the long run.

[Image description: The Spice Girls dancing and singing, "friendship never ends."] Via GIPHY
[Image description: The Spice Girls dancing and singing, “friendship never ends.”] Via GIPHY

7. Find a mentor

Whether a professor, counselor, or fellow peer, mentors make adjusting to college much easier. Mentors will act as a guide through a difficult transition and offer necessary life and career advice that you’ll be able to utilize years after you’ve graduated.

[Image description: Greg Popovich coaching Derrick White.] Via GIPHY
[Image description: Greg Popovich coaching Derrick White.] Via GIPHY

8. Take mistakes on the chin

Trust me, mistakes are an inherent part of the college experience, especially your freshman year. Again, this is easier said than done, but simply take those mistakes on the chin. You’re human. Stuff happens. Take it easy on yourself, learn from mistakes as they come, and swiftly move on.

[Image description: Hasan Minhaj saying, "It is what it is.] Via GIPHY
[Image description: Hasan Minhaj saying, “It is what it is.] Via GIPHY

9. Seek help when needed

As previously mentioned, it’s imperative to put your mental health first. A necessary step in ensuring your mental health is taken care of, is seeking help when you need it. At the first sign of a decline in your mental health, don’t be ashamed to reach out to a counselor or trusted individual for assistance. Remember: you matter more than any assignment(s), exam(s), and deadline(s).

[Image description: Image that says, "It is ok to ask for help." Via
[Image description: Image that says, “It is ok to ask for help.” Via

10. Trust your intuition

Initially going into college, you may feel you don’t know much. In reality, you know way more than you think. College is a great opportunity to discover important revelations about yourself. However, it’s easy to get caught up in the advice from outside sources: mentors, parents, professors, etc. Do consider advice from others but also remember to trust that you know what’s best for yourself. Balance is key here!

[Image description: People at a basketball game holding up a sign that says, "Trust the process."] Via GIPHY
[Image description: People at a basketball game holding up a sign that says, “Trust the process.”] Via GIPHY
Adjusting to college is difficult. I know from experience. Always remember: take each day, each lesson, and each opportunity as it comes. Always prioritize your mental health, and trust yourself above all else. You got this!

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TV Shows Pop Culture

“Loki” is an existential time adventure that seeks to redeem the God of Mischief

Following the theatre release of Black Widow, Disney plus’ latest Marvel series Loki premiered its finale last Wednesday — and there’s much to discuss. 

Loki follows the same six-episode format of Falcon and The Winter Soldier: each episode is approximately 45 minutes long with some post-credit scenes sprinkled between a couple of episodes.

Although, the sequence of events in the newest Marvel series is more akin to WandaVision; in other words, it can get a little confusing. So listen closely. Loki takes audiences back to 2012 during the aftermath of the Avengers’ defeat of Loki (Tom Hiddleston), otherwise known as The God of Mischief, in their first collaborative film. 

However, because of the mishaps from their “time-heist” in Avengers: End Game, Loki slipped away with the tesseract  — a cosmic cube and vessel for the space stone that grants immense power to the holder, enabling them to travel through infinite time and space — but was apprehended by the Time Variance Authority (TVA), which exists outside of any timeline.

According to Mobius M. Mobius (Owen Wilson), an agent responsible for tracking down ‘variants’ from errant timelines, “Time passes differently in the TVA”; namely, it doesn’t exist at all and is more of an illusion than a definitive measure. 

To redeem Loki for his outstanding crimes against time and humanity, with the additional gift of a second chance at life after his death in End Game, Mobius recruits Loki to help the TVA catch a variant of himself that’s creating errors in the universe’s timeline. Thereafter, leading Loki, his variant, and Mobius to perform an unexpected takedown mission.

Firstly, Loki left me in a state of existential thought as it explored common MCU themes such as power, time, space, and free will from a newer, more creative lens. That being, the concept of those things do and do not exist and they do and do not matter. If the show’s timeline didn’t make my head spin, these examinations surrounding the true nature of our existence definitely did.

For instance, as previously mentioned, time doesn’t exist in the TVA, it’s merely a fabrication. Superpowers don’t work either, as we saw Loki unable to use his while there, meaning in the grand scheme of being, even power is a nonfactor. 

Additionally, the TVA has perhaps an infinite amount of Infinity Stones and tesseracts, which normally are objects that grant mortal beings unimaginable power. But at the TVA, they’re so insignificant, the stones are often used as paperweights.

We also get thought-provoking lines about other social constructs that Marvel has typically portrayed as black or white such as morality and the lines between good and evil. According to this show, all of that is also a ruse. In truth, “No one bad is ever truly bad and no one good is ever truly good,” Loki explains to Mobius.

It’s a sentiment that left me pleasantly surprised and even more excited for Marvel’s continuation of complex themes and conversations that grapple with the realities of what it really means to have power — given that we’re all watching a bunch of superheroes wield variations of their own.

What’s more, Loki has given the ol’ God of Mischief the most character depth we’ve ever seen him have. Loki has some much-needed, candid reflections on who he is, what he stands for, and why he continuously seeks to hurt others. 

[Image description: Photo from the Marvel series "Loki."] Via Variety
[Image description: Photo from the Marvel series “Loki.”] Via Variety
After learning of his adoptive status in Thor (2011), Loki has kept his cards pretty close to his chest regarding what his insecurities are and what drives him to enact “chaos” or “mischief.” In the past, audiences may have come to the false conclusion that Loki’s violence is his way of getting revenge on his father for lying to him about his identity. Or maybe Loki just embraced his truest nature: mischief.

But in the show, he humbly admits his crave for attention, his narcissism, and his ultimate fear of being alone are his reasons for enacting such destruction all of the time. These admissions represent a big step forward regarding his character arc, which has felt stagnant at times.

I also weirdly welcomed Loki’s budding romance with Sylvie (Sophia Di Martino) in the show, and I say “weirdly” because Sylvie is another version of himself (the show gets very meta as the episodes go on). Just because seeing Loki let his guard down with someone and open up about himself demonstrated a softness in him that made me want to root for Loki that much more.

But of course, the first time we see Loki fall in love and be vulnerable, it’s really just with himself. That’s the Loki we all know and love.

Now, in regards to the production of LokiMarvel delivers yet again. This time, they really went all out by showcasing the full extent of the “otherworldly” magic within the MCU. Loki is a super-fantastical, sci-fi, meta, existential time adventure that effectively progresses Marvel’s fantasy branch (which contains the likes of Dr. Strange, Guardians of the Galaxy, and The Scarlet Witch).

At the same time, “Loki, in its exploration of its title character’s identity, managed to carve out its own unique personality not just in the MCU, but also in the grander landscape of sci-fi storytelling,” as stated by Adam B. Vary in his review for Variety.

Loki is its own creation, or at least it can be. Viewers can watch the show as a stand-alone series or as a part of Marvel’s ever-growing, larger plotline. And both viewing options work perfectly fine.

[Image description: Photo from the Marvel television show "Loki."] Via Variety

All that being said, Loki was refreshing in more ways than one. It gave Loki a chance at redemption, explored complex themes with the nuance they’ve always deserved from the MCU, and gave fans some kick-ass sci-fi action to top it all off.

Hiddleston continues to outstand while playing our favorite trickster and I can’t wait to see the British actor take this character to newer heights. Loki will be back for a second season. And given the state of the universal timeline by the end of the series, Loki may even cross pathways with Dr. Strange to fix this multiverse of madness once and for all.

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Work Now + Beyond

Workplace professionalism is a construct rooted in white supremacy

There has been a recent push across the U.S. made by several employers, advocating for the return to in-person workspaces after a year 42% of American workers (successfully) worked from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Many people, Black people, in particular, have been opposing this return to normalcy because white-collar workplaces have always been a source of oppression for us in a number of different ways; all equally as harmful as the next. 

In fact, only a mere 3% of Black professionals want to go back to work full-time in the office. Therefore, white professionals must reckon with what that statistic illustrates about the type of environments that workplaces have created to the detriment of their Black employees.

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In the context of white-collar work settings, workplace professionalism is “working and behaving in such a way that others think as competent, reliable and respectful,” according to the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants. The concept of professionalism also emphasizes how people physically present themselves at work or as an extension or representation of their employer even while away from the office. 

Unfortunately, though, as a result of having to learn to adapt within white workspaces, Black people have had to learn to code switch—a term coined by Einar Haugen in 1954 to describe language alternation, or the mixing of two or more languages, or dialects—manipulate our natural hair texture, or overall abandon our culture as a means for survival in the workplace. And if we fail to successfully integrate or become what white employers deem as “professional,” we risk facing punishment.

In truth, this conversation is long overdue. “Professionalism is just a synonym for obedience,” Chika Ekemezie says in an article for Zora. And she’s right. “The less social capital you have, the more you are tethered to professionalism”: meaning, performing professionalism becomes even more essential the more financially insecure a person is, which puts a lot of pressure on working-class Black Americans to conform to a status quo that centers whiteness or we risk being barred from economic and job opportunities.

Consequently, “these expectations of professionalism are so common to us — from our outer appearance to the way we behave — we begin to create different versions of ourselves, doppelgängers to help us get through the day,” Chika explains. However, having to be what is essentially “reformed” versions of ourselves for long hours of the day, five days a week, can have negative consequences on our mental health and job performance.

According to a Harvard Business Review article titled “The Cost of Codeswitching,” the authors assert: “Seeking to avoid stereotypes can deplete cognitive resources and hinder performance. [In addition] feigning commonality with [white] coworkers also reduces authentic self-expression and contributes to burnout.”

Ultimately and unsurprisingly, workplace professionalism in the U.S. wasn’t designed with Black people and Black culture in mind. And especially in a white-dominated society, Blackness is seen as inherently unkept, unrefined, and undignified. 

The idea that we can successfully keep up this illusion of professionalism to remain physically integrated with white people is ridiculous. Because the culture surrounding what constitutes professionalism has forced Black people to adhere to whiteness in a way that’s simply unnatural and unsustainable. 

Even still, Black people have continued to fight a losing battle of performing respectability in the workplace that will never be good enough because the goal post for what professionalism means and who it truly applies to is always moving.

So, if there was ever a time to re-examine toxic workplace culture, it’s now. In the past year, Black communities across America have been hit hard by a global pandemic and have watched as the policing and justice system continues to have a flagrant disregard for our livelihood. And despite all of the racial injustice that was highlighted in both 2020 and 2021, the support for Black lives is at an all-time low.  

Coming back to the office would only serve as an added burden on Black American’s mental and emotional well-being. Working from home, on the other hand, has finally allowed Black professionals the freedom of self-expression without having to endure the inherent racism that comes from being amongst predominantly white work environments.

Understandably, though, adjusting to telework has been difficult for many and ultimately isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution to rectifying, improving, or rebuilding racist workplaces. 

But whatever the case, in whatever a post-pandemic society looks like, we can’t resort back to western, white supremacist work culture just because it’s comfortable for some while disadvantageous for others. And to put it plainly, professionalism has long been about control just to remind racially marginalized communities white people hold the power and can wield it against us whenever and however they like.

In turn, there needs to be a continuous conversation for how we can accommodate Black, Indigenous, and other POC communities into the workplace all while dismantling the oppressive idea of professionalism. Because wearing a bonnet, a durag, braids, dread locs, natural hair, or just overall being unapologetically and authentically Black while working never hurt anyone.

And if we’re all working to build a more equitable society, traditional ideas of professionalism would have no place there anyway.

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Movie Reviews Pop Culture

“Black Widow” is the spy movie we’ve waited far too long for

Natasha Romanoff, illustrated onscreen for the past decade by Scarlett Johansson, is back on our screens one last time. This time in her very own Marvel film titled Black Widow, available to watch in theatres or with premiere access on Disney plus. 

This is a moment fans have long-awaited as the movie was set to release in May of 2020; however, the film’s screening was delayed three times due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Though, in addition to COVID setbacks, both fans and critics agree Black Widow is late in more ways than one. In truth, the former Russian spy should have gotten her own film years ago; and to go even further, I reckon she should have had a couple by now. 

It’s no secret Marvel had a diversity issue in the first three to four phases of the MCU; namely, no Black, queer, or female superheroes existed in the Marvel Cinematic Universe or within the Avengers for almost a decade. Except for Black Widow. (And technically Loki, but we wouldn’t know he was bisexual for another nine years. You can decide how you feel about that fact never being canon until now).

Natasha was the sole female superhero in the Avengers for years and despite being one of the most complex characters amongst the predominantly male group, Black Widow had very little character development or depth to show for it.

Not to mention, the not-so-subtle sexism regarding the way her character was often portrayed next to her male peers. I could go on about how Natasha’s initial depiction in Iron Man 2 was male gaze-y or how her “soft femininity” was conveniently the only way to ground Mark Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner after he’d turn into The Hulk. (Get it? It’s like the tale of Beauty and the Beast). But we’d be here a little too long.

That being said, did her highly anticipated solo film deliver in the way fans hoped it would?

Chronologically, Black Widow is set directly after Captain America: Civil War. The Avengers have broken up (seemingly for good). Hawkeye, Ant-Man, and The Falcon are imprisoned, The Winter Soldier was sent off to Wakanda, and Captain America and Black Widow are rogue soldiers on the run from the American government for committing several illegal offenses. 

Now, with nowhere to go and few people she can trust, Natasha must live a new life of anonymity and seclusion. That is until the Taskmaster (Olga Kurylenko), one of the movie’s antagonists, blows her cover. And she must find out why. Natasha’s search for answers reconnects her with the closest thing she’s had to a family: Her equally badass and capable “sister” Yelena Belova (Florence Pugh)—now all grown up; her brash “father” Alexi Shostakov (David Harbour) — also known as Red Guardian; and her “mother” Melina Vostokoff (Rachel Weisz).

Together they set out to dismantle The Red Room—a Soviet organization led by a man named Dreykov —that cruelly and forcibly trains young girls with no friends or family into equally ruthless spies and assassins, otherwise known as widows, once and for all.

There’s no denying that the film’s cinematography, stunt sequences, special effects, and fight coordinations were epic. I would go so far as to say the fight actions and choreography are the best we’ve seen since Captain America: The Winter Soldier; in fact, they might be better. 

However, “from a character perspective, all Black Widow really accomplishes is to define Natasha by a different set of relationships — from quasi-romantic to quasi-familial,” as rightly summed up in an NPR movie review.

As a grandiose spy film, Black Widow more than delivers. As the catalyst for the only proper backstory and character development Natasha’s ever going to get, the film disappoints by default of having waited too long.

[Image description: Photo from Black Widow movie.] Via Den of Geek
[Image description: Photo from Black Widow movie.] Via Den of Geek
In past years, there were debates on whether a woman could lead a superhero film. The success of Captain Marvel and Wonder Woman proved those theories wrong. Not to mention, according to Forbes, Black Widow has matched the success of those films and then some, with a weekend opening of $218M: a pandemic best.

Needless to say, a stand-alone Black Widow film could’ve been successful all along and when Natasha was alive. Anything after a character’s death is going to feel unfulfilled because that character is literally, canonically no longer in existence. So what good does it do?

Despite this, Black Widow tried. However, Natasha’s history is still largely ambiguous (maybe that’s intentional because she was a former spy, but I doubt it). And the payoff for Dreykov’s (Ray Winstone) death would’ve been more satisfactory had we directly seen the lengths of his cruelty and the way his leadership affected Natasha while she was carrying out violence on his behalf. Especially because Natasha’s been in constant conflict with her red ledger (i.e.: her death count while a widow) throughout the previous Marvel movies. 

Additionally, it’s been noted by one film critic that some of the discussions in Black Widow feel like a cop-out. Namely, how the discussions of the forced sterilizations the widows endured were ‘okay’ to talk about, now that it’s more acceptable to examine the harm women face at the hands of powerful men in a post-MeToo society. 

Honestly, I have to agree. It was a detail only mentioned in such a transparently gruesome way because the social progressions of time were on their side here.

Still, Marvel writers have mishandled discussions of Natasha’s brutalization at the hands of her oppressors in the past, like in Avengers: Age of Ultron. (Does anyone remember when she called herself a monster for not being able to have children? Apparently, she and The Hulk have more in common than we thought!)

“I’m not the killer that little girls call their hero,” Yelena tells Natasha at one point in the movie. The irony of this line is Marvel has failed to do Black Widow’s complex backstory and character conflicts and ambitions any justice. Even the nature of her death in Avengers: End Game was her feeling as though she must sacrifice herself in lieu of Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) for having no “real” family unlike him. Therefore, he deserved to live and she didn’t. Not even in death, can her heroism be unclouded from misogyny and the shadow of her male counterparts.

But, it’s clear Marvel is attempting to rectify both their lack of diversity from the OG MCU and the lackluster representation from what was their few diverse characters. 

In this next phase, there are both more complex women heroes, villains, and anti-heroes. From the introduction of Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris) in WandaVision to the hint of Sharon Carter’s (Emily VanCamp) turn to villainy in Falcon and The Winter Soldier.

Ultimately, it shouldn’t have taken this long for Marvel to trust their female characters to carry their own stories, free from the interference of men. But hopefully, the added diversity in phase 4 and beyond signifies the days wherein there was ever a question that marginalized MCU heroes could be film-leads are gone for good.

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Music Pop Culture

“Planet Her” secures Doja Cat’s place in pop superstardom

Welcome to Planet Her. Right now, it’s Doja’s world and we’re just happy to share it with her. On Friday, the California rapper and singer released her highly anticipated, third studio album titled Planet Her— a conceptual project that lures audiences and listeners into a Doja-dominated orbit.

But if you’ve been following Doja’s career since (at least) 2019 after her second studio album Hot Pink dropped, you’ve been here a while. In the past year and a half, Doja has been launched into virality on TikTok several times over, been nominated for three Grammy awards, and consistently stunned social media with her grandiose, high production performances.

Notably, on the concept and inspiration behind her new album, Doja Cat tells Youtube’s RELEASED, “I feel like for the most part, I do this whole space vibe, this whole futuristic thing just to have an excuse to [put] insane looking makeup on.” And speaking of insane makeup looks, the rollout for Planet Her has been nothing short of perfection. 

The aesthetics surrounding her makeup, award show outfits, performances, and music videos have been entirely cohesive with the space theme of the album and have successfully enticed people into awaiting not only the album’s drop but what Doja is going to do next.

However, the pendulum of fame and high visibility has also often swung against Doja’s favor. In her short time at the forefront of the public eye, the 25-year-old has found herself in a slew of almost-image-altering controversies. 

Around this time last year, Doja was accused of being in racist chat rooms that she denied having involvement in. But she did, however, have to apologize for an old song she recorded and released in 2015 called “Dindu Nuffin”: The song gets its name from a phrase, or slur, that makes a mockery of AAVE as well as Black people’s claim of innocence when enduring instances of police brutality.

Doja has also had to apologize for using homophobic slurs and faced criticism for working with producer Dr. Luke, since the beginning of her career, who was accused of sexual misconduct; most notably by Kesha— whose legal battle with the disgraced producer is still an ongoing case. 

All things considered, Doja’s quick rise to fame may have seen some road bumps but her success hasn’t been stopped yet. Amidst all the aforementioned controversy, she’s still achieved a number one single, collabed with the likes of Nicki Minaj, Ariana Grande, Chloe x Halle, and Saweetie, and won numerous critically acclaimed awards, including New Artist of the Year at last year’s American Music Awards.

And Doja herself had something to say about it all on the opening track of the album titled “Woman.” “I’m a motherfucker but they got a problem… gotta prove it to myself that I’m on top of shit,” she says. The song’s sound honestly came as a surprise for me. Nevertheless, it sets a pleasant tone to Planet Her with an ethereal-sounding production accompanied by African-inspired beats. 

Once you think you’ve pinner her down, Doja keeps subverting expectations. On the fourth track titled “Get Into It (Yuh),” Doja plays around with a rap style reminiscent of Coi Leray’s and also pays slight homage to Nicki Minaj’s older rap flow. She even goes so far as to give Nicki her flowers as the second verse of the song sounds similar to Minaj’s song “Massive Attack”; which Doja acknowledges and references at the end of the track. “Thank you Nicki, I love you. Got that big rocket launcher,” she says.

There were times throughout the album I was waiting for Doja to explore subjects a bit more personal or at least offer listeners some insight into who Doja is as a person or artist rather than a persona. However, I also think personability wasn’t really the point of this project. Planet Her is meant to feel other-worldly, fantastical, and dripped in female sensuality. Those themes, at least, remain consistent from the album’s start to its finish. 

The only exception is the song “Alone,” produced by Linden Jay and Yeti Beats, which seems to illustrate a breakup and how Doja is learning to be comfortable being alone. “Maybe you don’t want what you need the most. Is it crazy I’m not scared to be alone?” Doja says in the chorus. A hint of vulnerability I welcome.

Overall, the tracks that stood out the most for me were two of the album singles “Need to Know” and “Kiss Me More (feat. SZA)” as well as “Ain’t Shit” and “I Don’t Do Drugs (feat. Ariana Grande).” And I’m not just saying that because I’m an Ari stan.

Doja also dropped a music video for her third single “You Right” that features The Weekend on Thursday night right before the album was released. The video, directed by Quentin Deronzier, mixes the aesthetic of Greecian Gods with futuristic visuals as Doja pines for the attention of another romantic partner. 

Needless to say, every aspect of marketing and world-building for Planet Her, including the quality of the album itself, has been stellar (pun intended). For better or for worse, whether people like it or not, Doja Cat is clearly here to stay. With each album release, Doja’s sound, production, and collaborations show significant improvement. 

She never stays in one lane too long. At the same time, she gives her albums maximum effort and time to breathe before moving on to the next project. Doja is also bringing back album concepts á la Lady Gaga’s Born this Way or Katy Perry’s Teenage Dream in a way that’s simply captivating without being gimmicky. 

In truth, Planet Her might’ve just secured Doja Cat’s place in pop superstardom. With an album this well pulled off, after following the success of Hot Pink, Doja’s future in the music industry looks very bright. And frankly, we can’t wait to see what she pulls off next.

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Book Reviews Books

“Jay’s Gay Agenda” explores coming of age in a sex positive, queer context

From debut novelist Jason June (he/him/she/her) comes the coming-of-age, sex-positive, LGBTQA+ Young Adult novel titled Jay’s Gay Agenda. Jason June, who is previously known for writing books for children and teens, matures his storytelling abilities, utilizing the YA genre to illustrate the complexities of growing up at the intersections between queerness, adulthood, and adolescence. 

The novel follows Jay Collier, an 18-year-old high school senior whose life is guided by his lists, otherwise known as his “Gay Agenda.” Jay is originally from a small town in rural Washington where there aren’t any openly queer students, which leaves Jay feeling alone as he watches the rest of his peers experience their “firsts” surrounding sex and relationships

However, the future for Jay suddenly becomes brighter when his mom gets a work promotion, resulting in Jay and his family moving from their rural town to metropolitan city Seattle. There, Jay will be able to meet other LGBTQA+ kids, be immersed in an accepting queer community, and (hopefully) meet a boy he can romantically connect with.

Once in Seattle, Jay is finally able to have friends who understand him and his identity on a deeper level. He’s also able to date a boy now that he’s not the only openly gay kid in his school anymore. However, his move to Seattle doesn’t come without difficulties. Over the course of the book, Jay must learn to balance old and new friendships, romantic prospects, and who he once was versus who he is becoming.

Jay’s Gay Agenda definitely explores coming of age using a queer lens; however, the novel still demonstrates the awkwardness of approaching adulthood that most teenagers experience. For instance, readers follow Jay as he navigates his first time dating other boys, his first time seeing a drag show, and his first time being able to cross items off his “Gay Agenda.” Though, Jay stumbles through all of these “firsts” as most teenagers do— clumsily. 

And as briefly mentioned, the novel is also very sex-positive, which I appreciate, often getting candid about Jay’s budding sexual desires. Notably, because 1) he’s a teenager going through puberty and 2) he’s finally open with his sexuality and is likely experiencing a second or even new phase of adolescence now that he’s able to present to the world as his authentic self. 

Jay’s “Gay Agenda” provides readers direct insight into our protagonist’s desires such as wanting to lose his virginity and having his first kiss. I value the openness in this book regarding the talks of sex as well as topics and feelings related to sex because it normalizes such conversations amongst adolescents; something that was consequently treated as a taboo when I was in high school.

At the same time, Jay’s lists reveal things much deeper such as his inner conflicts and ways he’s trying to come up with solutions to solve life’s mess. For example, how to come out to his friends and family or how to break some bad news to an old friend. 

Correspondingly, one thing I noticed is the novel is candid about how romanticizing versions of your life without conflict are mere fantasies. Jay still has his struggles after moving to Seattle because hardships don’t simply disappear when you move away and try to become someone different. In some instances, new problems may even arise. 

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This conveys to young readers who (for whatever reason) may be experiencing the same longing Jay felt to leave home in hopes of suddenly having a better life that doing so won’t magically eradicate your struggles; again, a lesson that’s specifically important to highlight for teenagers. 

Ultimately, the takeaways from this book are ones any reader, of any age, can relate to. At the same time, however, certain aspects of the story feel like an ode to the queer community. Namely, scenes like Jay’s time spent in a drag bar while a drag queen belts Tina Turner’s (iconic) song “Proud Mary.” The overt queerness of the story keeps the novel grounded and connected to what is likely the original purpose of the book’s existence.

In her reader’s note at the beginning of the novel, Jason June states, “I never thought I’d see a day where queer love and expression could be so openly celebrated.” And I have to say, I’m also more than glad to see it and definitely excited for what other quirky and fun YA stories Jason June has in store for us.

All in all, Jason June wonderfully adds to the loveable, list-obsessed, rom-com protagonist with Jay’s Gay Agenda. See: Jenny Han’s To all the Boys book series, Talia Hibbert’s Get a life, Chloe Brown, and Joya Goffney’s Excuse me while I ugly cry. The book also makes sure to add some unapologetic queerness, not just to the aforementioned rom-com niche, but to the YA genre entirely. And we’re here for it!

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Mind Mental Health Health Coronavirus Wellness

How I learned to heal when I lost my friend during COVID-19

Trigger warning: Trauma, anxiety, and suicidal ideation

Last March, just before my city was forced to go on lockdown due to COVID-19, I had a major falling out with a close childhood friend.

We had known each other since we were in middle school. But the two of us had grown especially close in our college years because we were experiencing similar hardships that allowed us to form a bond on a more personal level.

As a result of our new, budding companionship, we had spent the past three years building a more mature friendship, talking almost daily, hanging out often, and leaning on each other for advice or guidance through the difficult transitions of young adulthood.

Then, suddenly, at the beginning of the pandemic, our friendship just about abruptly ended, leaving me confused and hurt.

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In hindsight, our falling out was over something rather petty and could have been avoided or solved with better communication. Even so, losing a friend during an unprecedented pandemic as well as simultaneously losing my sense of normalcy caused underlying and undiagnosed mental health issues to arise, which left me feeling alone in ways I had never felt before.

In the initial stages of our falling out, coupled with the stress from the pandemic as well as uprisings and racial reckonings across the United States, I found myself crying frequently, battling suicidal ideation, going to sleep, and waking up feeling anxious.

However, despite the emotional burdens I was feeling at the time, losing my friend also forced me to address unhealthy patterns of my own behavior.

With time, I began to slowly realize some important revelations about myself.

Patterns that had long prevented me from confronting the trauma I buried under the guise of happiness.

And the isolation of the pandemic forced me to reflect on why the end of this friendship was affecting me so intensely and what could be done to improve the state of my mental health, in a substantial way, going forward.

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In turn, my process towards letting go of a friendship, of normalcy, of control, and the illusion of good mental health, required months of self-reflection. With time, I began to slowly realize some important revelations about myself.

Things like how I never truly learned how to forgive people close to me when they caused me harm, which explained why I could be quick to anger or defensiveness over a minor conflict, as I anticipated receiving the worst treatment from people.

I also realized I never learned how to move on from things that hurt me, and I never made my mental health a priority. Perhaps, even, I have never been truly mentally or emotionally healthy; rather, I was just surrounded by people who distracted me from myself.

Perhaps my former friend and I distracted each other from our own problems.

After all, part of our bond was built on our commonality of having a history of toxic, draining, or one-sided friendships with other people.

Ultimately, my healing process through coping with this loss is requiring me to acknowledge my own shortcomings and aspects of my health I should have taken care of sooner; trauma I should have allotted time to heal from a long time ago. However, I also came to realize, it’s okay to find you’re not really okay because it’s never too late to prioritize whatever you need in order to heal.

Upon realizing there is work to be done towards getting better, it’s imperative to be patient with yourself and extend yourself some grace on days that seem difficult to get through. Personally, months into the pandemic, I started journaling, I wrote a ton, and I cried when I needed to (without shame or guilt).

Part of our bond was built on our commonality of having a history of toxic, draining, or one-sided friendships with other people.

And I confided in a loved one about the things I was and had been struggling with for a long time, relieving myself of the burden or illusion of having to be strong all by myself.

That also meant admitting to myself that surface-level forms of self-care, that I’ve always performed myself, weren’t enough to manage my mental health forever. I decided, at some point, I’d like to get some potential diagnoses regarding whatever mental illnesses I may have from my doctor. I also wanted to try finding a suitable therapist who can offer more effective coping mechanisms from a professional standpoint that I can utilize.

Additionally, it’s important to note: sometimes relationships end, and sometimes things happen in the world around you outside of your control. All of which you’re allowed to grieve within a healthy space. Fallouts with friends, especially close friends, don’t have to be catty or messy, but they are admittedly hard to endure.

It’s normal for uncomfortable life changes to make you feel bad, confused, or both.

We can and should end relationships with people that no longer serve a positive purpose in our lives (even if the person on the other end of someone else’s decision to do so is you). To cope with such losses, we must give ourselves the space to let that person go, check-in regularly with our mental health, and then eventually move on.

So, ultimately, what I’m learning about healing is I don’t have to be invincible to pain or the downsides of losing someone important to me. It’s normal for uncomfortable life changes to make you feel bad, confused, or both.

As morbid as it is, if you asked me whether the pandemic contributed anything positive in my life, it would be how the weird and strenuous circumstances of the last year helped me learn how to be consistently healthy enough to withstand the inevitable ebb and flow of life.


If you’re having trouble coping with your mental and emotional health, please reach out and make use of the resources below.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness is 1-888-950-6264 (NAMI) and provides information and referral services; is an association of mental health professionals from more than 25 countries who support efforts to reduce harm in therapy.
In case of escalation, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. Other international suicide helplines can be found at befrienders.orgThe Trevor Project provides help and suicide-prevention resources for LGBTQIA+ youth, and can be reached at 1-866-488-7386.
You can also text TALK to 741741 for free, anonymous 24/7 crisis support in the US and UK from the Crisis Text Line. 7 Cups and IMAlive are free, anonymous online text chat services with trained listeners, online therapists, and counselors.

If you or someone you know is struggling with substance abuse, you can call SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357) and find more resources here.
And finally, the National Eating Disorders Association helpline is 1-800-931-2237; for 24/7 crisis support, text “NEDA” to 741741.


Check out Mental Health Mondays, The Tempest original series featuring stories of those battling their mental health, in all of the ways. And follow @thetempesthealth on Instagram!

Music Pop Culture

Qveen Herby is no longer the underdog after the release of her debut album “A Woman”

Qveen Herby, real name Amy Noonan, formally known as half of the pop duo Karmin, began her music career making covers to popular, hit songs on YouTube alongside her now-husband Nick Noonan. In particular, their video covering Chris Brown’s “Look at me now” featuring Lil Wayne and Busta Rhymes went viral (as it currently sits at 111 million views) for effortlessly rapping Rhymes’ verse and doing so at an impressive speed. Notably, this fast-rap style would later become her signature flow. 

After gaining notoriety on YouTube, Karmin signed to the label Epic Records in 2012. In the following years, the duo produced hyper-pop singles such as “Brokenhearted,” which saw commercial success, peaking at number 16 on the Billboard Hot 100, and “Acapella.” However, in 2014, Karmin left their label and began making music independently. 

Three years after becoming independent artists, Amy and Nick would do a complete sound, aesthetic, and social media rebrand. Put Amy solely at the forefront, and re-introduced the Nebraska artist as Qveen Herby. 

Qveen’s transformation from bubblegum pop artist to R&B influenced rapper is less of an epic comeback for Karmin and more like a “metamorphosis” for Amy. Since revamping her brand, Qveen has released a whopping nine EPs, containing standout and infectious songs such as “Sade in the 90s,” “Vitamins,” “Sugar Daddy,” and “Farewell.” Namely “Sugar Daddy” has gone viral on Tik Tok, garnered over 33 million views on YouTube, and has over 19 million streams on Spotify. 

Fast forward to Friday, May 21st, Qveen’s metamorphosis was in full bloom after she released her debut album titled, A Woman.

The album kicks off with “Balenciaga Dreams,” a song dripping with luxury, yet illustrating Qveen’s steady motivation and the hard work that’s taken her this far. In the song Qveen raps, “Let me count my sheep, let me fill your cup with audacity… Love yourself enough to indulge your own sound.”

This line is heard after she features several sampled quotes of people discussing Spanish fashion brand Balenciaga’s impact and grandeur. “Balenciaga really is the marker,” one of the sampled individuals states. Well apparently so is Qveen. The next song “Faster” reveals Qveen’s desire to keep going hard as an artist upon starting this new chapter of her career.

The fifth, sixth, and seventh tracks on the album, which mark the halfway point for listeners, really encompass Qveen’s entire vibe and practice as an artist and individual. “Juice,” the fifth track, was also the first official single off the album; produced by her husband Nick as well as frequent collaborator Pompano Puff, resulting in an upbeat, braggadocious song that gives props to herself for being “a whole mood” and “fresher than you.”

The next song, “Black Sheep” then slows down the album’s pace and gets personal. Qveen discusses an apparent disconnect with her mother over aspects of her personhood that aren’t up for debate. At the same time, however, Qveen seeks her mother’s approval of her music career. “I may never come around til you come around,” Qveen sings in the opening of the song.

For me, the vulnerability within this song came as a welcome surprise while listening to the album. Because it’s these songs that Qveen provides her audience which allow us to get to know who she is as a person rather than a persona. And even gives fans a chance to connect or relate to whatever struggles Qveen is experiencing.

The seventh track titled, “Good Morning” moves listeners into meditation and manifestation. “Sit up. Take a deep breath of gold and light. And bless yourself with the vibration you need to meet this day,” Qveen instructs.

On her Instagram stories, Qveen Herby often checks in with her audience and encourages her followers to take steps towards relaxation and have self-check-ins. “Good Morning” seeks to do just that and is very on-brand for those who follow the Nebraska rapper on social media.

Getting into my favorite song on the entire project, Qveen concludes the album with “Underdog:” a song filled with powerful sentiments of determination and manifestations of a bright future ahead. In the final lines on the track, Qveen powerfully declares, “I’ll always be my number one. I’m proud of who I will become. I’ve never heard of giving up. If you still sleep then don’t wake up.” 

The song acts as a perfect and natural conclusion to Qveen Herby’s debut album while making it clear she has so much more in store for her music career and beyond.

Qveen Herby recently told Forbes, “I realized Qveen Herby is my higher self.” And I’m certain many of her listeners feel the same regarding her music. Personally, Qveen’s lyrics make me feel elevated like I can endure tough roadblocks and still reach my highest potential in whatever avenue I choose in life.

Overall, A Woman exudes luxury, self-love, self-care, indulgence, and confidence. Listening to this album made me feel enlightened and confident and sexy: an intersection of feelings Qveen regularly and effectively evokes in her music. Her past EPs have gotten me through difficult times in my life and I can always revisit them and take note of how far I’ve come. Now Qveen Herby and the rest of her listeners will be able to do the same with A Woman.

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