LumiScope: Alan Z

Asian artists are surely taking the world by storm. Most recently, South Korean boy group BTS made a breakthrough to mainstream listeners above the massive fanbase they already held in a less known scene. While the world of KPOP is considered highkey to those already part of this domain, American audiences are still unaware of the impact Asians and Asian Americans are having on the music industry.

Among the US streets of Atlanta, Georgia, another artist has garnered his own fanbase with fans traveling to see his shows, purchase his albums, and support him in any way they can. I first came across Alan Z when he attended a smaller function in Virginia. He held a strong presence without as many words needed compared to others, and it was more than obvious that he was an artist, ready to stand out and stand up for the Asian American music scene with his original productions and hardworking image.

Alan recently released a new music video for his song “Touch and Go” – a trendy, modern tune that he produced and a video he co-directed. We were lucky to be able to catch an interview with him!

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Has your original image/vision for your music changed since you started?

Alan Z: My vision for striving to be a household name and pop sensation never changed, but my image definitely changed throughout the times. When I was younger, I had different management teams, and they pushed me towards either the “grown and sexy” suited-up look, or the preppy, teenage Justin Bieber look. I hated both of those looks for me. Then I started wearing hats and baggy pants, but unfortunately, the classic hip-hop style was out. Fast-forward to now, I got my signature wavy hair and fitted jeans. I miss the old hip-hop fashion, but unfortunately, it’s a new world we live in.

You co-directed the music video for Touch And Go; did you ever imagine you’d be covering all areas of production when you first started making music?

Alan Z: I knew I was going to be hands-on with everything, which I believe is the result of being a perfectionist. Well, that and also because I learned that you can’t depend on people for anything. The video concept for “Touch And Go” has been like three years in the making. My best friend Taaj and I first brainstormed about it in 2014 when I first recorded the song, and I finally decided to finish writing the video treatment and putting together the cast and crew this past summer. It features three love interests and our storylines are intertwined within the main narrative. Whoever is reading this that hasn’t seen “Touch And Go” yet, watch it now on YouTube so you can say that you saw it before I become too mainstream and bandwagon fans discover me way later.

Of your songs, I imagine there are some selections that you hold near and dear to you. At the moment, are there any of your songs that are more relevant than others to your life?

Alan Z: I have a song called “Discriminated” on my new EP “First Time’s The Charm”, where I open up about the discrimination I faced throughout my childhood and how it followed me into my music career, which has been an uphill battle due to racism. But in the song, I’m not just complaining; I’m fighting back against anyone that has got a problem with me. I interpolated the Eminem line “have you ever been hated or discriminated against” in the song for obvious reasons. There’s also my EP intro track “No Handouts”, which was my F-U to everyone in a higher-up position or had the funds to help me but flaked on doing anything for me. So the idea is that I will make it with or without them. No favors, no helping hand, no handouts.

When you first started making music, what did you think it was going to be like for you? Did you imagine it would be like how it is for you now?

Alan Z: When I started rapping at 12 years old, I thought all I had to do was be good and I’d get signed, and then I wouldn’t have to finish high school. I was wrong obviously. I grew up to learn this business was 90% business, 10% music. Especially nowadays talent is not enough without popularity, so I work effortlessly to build my buzz and keep my momentum going. Alan Z is going to be a household name regardless.

The term “selling out” often comes to mind as the popularity of underground artists hit mainstream media. What do you think of artists who do sell out, and do you think selling out is inevitable or it can be prevented?

Alan Z: I think selling out is subjective. For example, me making pop music isn’t selling out in my case because I have an ear for making catchy songs and I have the Midas touch with any record I’m on, meaning I can put a fire hook on a beat and turn it into a potential radio smash. My definition of selling out is doing something that you personally don’t agree with, for the sake of fame or money. I’m down with making power moves, getting endorsement deals, acting in film and commercials, and making radio songs; all of which may be considered “selling out” to some people. However, what I will NOT do is portray Asians in a negative light or drop one of my talents to be more easily pigeonholed, whether it be singing or rapping. I don’t need to sell out now for me to pack stadiums soon and sell out crowds (bars).  

Was there ever a time during your career that you considered giving up?

Alan Z: Oh of course. That thought has come to my mind, but no matter how close I come to saying “f— it”, I bounce back and go harder. I’m well-aware that many artists that could be lending a helping hand see me as a threat and just watch me from a distance, and my patience has been wearing thinner by the day by false promises and industry snakes. But my love for music, my never-ending lust for success, and passion for impacting others keep me going. No matter how crazy it may sound to some now, I’m say it here: Alan Z will be a global phenomenon.

Passion in music surpasses any other kind of determination when you start off raw, and Alan Z is a prime example of what hard work can do. Beating the odds and showing his audience that he is capable of doing what he sets out to do, he is definitely one to keep on your radar.

Support Alan Z by following him on social media and by watching his new MV for “Touch and Go”!

Follow L.A. on Instagram: http://instagram.com/ai.lumi
Is there another Asian American artist you think LumiScript should look into? Let us know by emailing LumiScriptOfficial@gmail.com!
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LumiScope: @kodaslife_

With the number of fashion icons and bloggers growing with the help of social media, underdog users are taking us by surprise with new content for their followers to enjoy. In the west coast scene, where fashion and Instagram go hand in hand, Koda (@kodaslife_) has his image steadily landing in the spotlight with the help of his style and his music. LumiScript caught a glimpse of this young icon through KoreLimited LA’s Instagram, sporting their apparel. From there, we had the pleasure of interviewing, so that his followers – current and future – might have a new insight past Instagram.

There are a lot of fashion bloggers nowadays. What do you think is the biggest challenge in terms of boosting your audience when there’s a lot of rising competition?

I would have to say the hardest part or the biggest challenge when boosting your audience is the boosting part you have maintain a certain thing people like to keep your audience attention so they can show their friends about you.

Do you have a fashion icon celebrity and/or on Instagram?

Fashion icons: Victoria Loi (@victorialoi), @emilytheghoul, @ellenvlora, @flamcis, @marycake, @zachchoi, @kidkoji, @iamkareno, Jenn Im (@imjennim), Sophia Chang (@sophiachang)

Through your experience so far, what have been the most rewarding experiences you’ve had?

Through my experience being a fashion blogger, my biggest achievement is my supporters. I love them so much, and each and every little comment makes me happy. I’m very thankful for them (and also the free clothing, at times).

 

You’re also a musician. Is there a particular subject you find yourself writing about?

With music, I’ve always been into it since I was little, and I started writing songs since I was 13. I’m 19 now; a style that really fits me well is deep or about love because I feel I can put my passion and feelings into music.

Do you think that sound and image change with popularity over time?

Yes and no. I believe it changes because your audience changes, and most people are heavily influenced by the things that they hear or see and want to be like the next person because that’s what’s hot at the moment. I’ve changed my style many times.

For your music, who do you want your audience to be?

I would love to work towards a positive environment and just good vibes – mainly 16 and up.

 

 

What is your long term goal fashion and music wise?

My long term fashion goal is to just dress nice all the time and turn heads while walking down the street. I love compliments ❤

 

What do you think is the biggest misconception with online fashion icons?

I feel there is a lot of ego and arrogance in the fashion industry.

 

Is there a motto you live by?

My motto is pretty simple; it’s just to be yourself. That’s all you have in the end.

What is something you want your audience to know about you?

I want my audience to know they are very special to me, and I love them with all of my heart. #kobruhs look out for new music soon and follow my ig kodaslife_.

Please support Koda through his journey!

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@kodaslife_

 

LumiLens: Netflix’s Death Note

Time to place this all out into words while it’s still in my head and before I try to completely distract myself with Longguo and Shihyun.

Death Note was one of the first lengthy animes I ever watched. Having been lightly exposed to darker forms of media like Law and Order or Sleepy Hollow as a child, I grew to truly enjoy any kind of entertainment that stimulated my thoughts and made me question, “What would I do in this situation?” Death Note was one of those series. I could rewatch it countless times and never grow tired of the plot, and, to this day, it remains my favorite series. The complexities behind it are what really make this anime famous.

So let’s strip away the complexities and lay out the Netflix rendition of Death Note – because that’s what it is – a rendition.

I was, of course, part of the angered crowd that was frustrated at the thought of there being no Asian American actors in this film. The news became a huge topic in the Asian community, although, if you have seen interviews of the Japanese community in Asia commenting on American casting, they actually have no problem with it. To them, the casting of an American actor with more European features is more accurate to the animation than casting an Asian actor. Keeping this in mind, I pushed aside my prejudice and kept an open mind until I heard more about the Netflix movie.

When the move revealing trailer was released, it suddenly became obvious that this was not the Death Note I had binge watched in the past. This was an American rendition of the concept of Death Note, applied to an American setting. This being said, there was no real reason to keep the same character name “Light” if this was a typical American boy.

**SPOILERS AHEAD**

In comparison to the cookie cutter life that Light Yagami had in the original series, Light Turner comes from a broken family; his mother was killed and the perpetrator bought his way out of the indictment. Light Turner holds a heavy amount of anger towards the world, and, frankly, he has an obnoxious sense of justice that earns him a beating within the first five minutes of the movie. In no way is this character supposed to be Light Yagami who is a model student, a good role model to his little sister, and a boy highly sought after by the other girls his age and older.

From the first scenes, Light Turner already displays aggression towards his father, and exemplifies himself as an outcast who has a crush on a girl who’s popular with the athletes in the school. So why does she suddenly find him so attractive at the thought of the Death Note? The next half hour of the movie made me uncomfortable, to be honest. There were a lot of scenes of the two sexually bonding while finding names to write in the Death Note which is… disturbing on so many levels. They bonded over their mutual sense of justice – if you could call it that. It also became obvious that Light’s sense of guilt was higher than Mia’s, and also, what happened to the football player who put his arm around her in the first ten minutes of the movie? She abandoned her former clique for a recluse who just admitted he killed a man on live television?

Past Light, the other key character in the Death Note series is L – the prodigy detective who works privately with agencies all over the world. L is calm and seems to have a robotic-like mind that lacks empathy and sympathy which allows him to take on cases objectively. With L, his assistant and caretaker Watari stays by his side and is the “face” of L in his absence. L also uses a voice modulator to mask his voice – anything to keep his identity a secret.

Netflix’s L was on the same level of emotion as Light Turner. Initially, he acts the same way as anime L, the craving of sweets, the childish behavior, and he even displays an exceptional use of Japanese when speaking to Watari. Upon meeting Light Turner, L is automatically suspicious and aggressively so. This seems to be a pattern with these character renditions – they’re all significantly more emotional than the anime. The stoic persona of the characters in the anime is what added to the ominous air of Death Note. It made one character seem perfectly normal and rational and the other seem odd but very objective and “big picture.” These two were the perfect rivals because as you begin to think one has prevailed – the other makes you question the outcome.

Netflix L does not use a voice modulator, and in fact, he shows himself to Light – face and all – and openly accuses Light of being guilty in front of his father. The only thing missing was his name. After having a public spat with L, Light even uses the Death Note to find L’s true identity through Watari.

THIS WAS MY BIGGEST PROBLEM WITH THE MOVIE.

For those of you who are unaware, L is not a single name – it is passed down as each L dies. Each new L goes through extensive training to be as good if not better than the last. The same concept goes for Watari – this is not his real name. Watari’s real name in the anime is Quillish Wammy and is in fact the founder of the school for gifted children that trained L. So why was Light Turner able to use the mononym “Watari” to find L’s true identity? And if the L legacy is supposed to be passed down with time, why was the orphanage that Watari went to in search of L’s name run down and abandoned? Netflix L’s heavily emotional approach to this case especially after Watari’s death was a clear-cut example of why Mello from the Death Note anime was not chosen as the new L, Near taking his place instead.

In addition to these drastic changes in character personas, there was the addition of a new character – Mia, Light’s girlfriend who joined him after learning of the Death Note. Mia’s deceptive nature, to me, was not as obvious as it should have been. After declaring her love for Light, she puts his name in the Death Note which she will burn to save him only if he passes over the Death Note to her. To counteract this, Light puts a condition in the notebook that if he can convince her not to take the book from him, she will not die. Which… doesn’t make sense to me at all. Putting someone’s name in the Death Note doesn’t come under conditions – if the name is there, it’s there. There is no boolean statement in a Death Note. Again, I’m confused.

L using the Death Note to kill Light at the very end of the movie as well as his emotional display in front of the other officers was so out of character for how L should have been.

At this point, it has NOTHING to do with casting; this was all about plot structure and keeping to the concept of Death Note. This was clearly an adaptation as the story line was barely similar to the anime, but having said that, the names should have been different with the exception of L because he is an international detective. But, again, because of that, his persona should not have changed.

All in all, A for effort, Netflix, but even someone who knows nothing about Death Note would not be impressed by this movie. To me, it looked like two children going head to head in a game of wits without actually knowing what the definition of “wit” is.

1.5/5 stars from LumiScript. Would not recommend.

To Explore is to Experience

Every time I leave a place, old or new, the part of me that I leave behind gets bigger and bigger until I find myself scattered across the world, trying to get back until I’m satisfied with what I’ve seen. That’s the thing with vacations – they will forever be a moment that passes, a temporary hiccup in your life when a blank slate is placed in front of you and you’re free to paint whatever you want. When I was in Korea, that part of me stayed at our small Airbnb in Hongdae, ready to run downstairs to the 7eleven for a midnight snack and banana milk.

Los Angeles is not what you expect. Coming from the east coast where monotony is either the norm or an anomaly, the only thing I had to compare was what I had seen in movies, pictures, or just by word of mouth. Buildings are spaced further apart than what I was used to, and I found myself using public transportation for nearly any place I needed to go to. People stare and speak as you walk by without a second thought, and it’s almost as if tourists are so expected that it’s just become part of the norm. There were too many things that I needed to try that I felt I needed to be there at least a month before I could truly experience everything I needed to.

I never considered Los Angeles a place that I wanted to stay. The traffic is terrible, and I always seem to lose my sense of direction. The streets are dirty, and it just doesn’t feel like a place I could call home.

So what made this time around so different than the last?

The people – the ones I’d come across by chance and found myself trusting after only moments.

The experience – the nights I’d spent thinking that another day had gone by yet there was nothing for me to worry about.

The way that I felt like – for the first time – that I belonged here. It felt like I was breathing familiar air. I had just been placed into a space that welcomed me, and I was ready to take on whatever came first.

Third time’s the charm, they say, and that may be the case – because here’s that feeling again. The feeling that I’m just in a period of wandering, waiting until I can stay and never grow tired of the things I see outside my window.

I was told once that, while soulmates exist, so do soul cities. Your soul city is where your soulmate is, but the fact that a soulmate isn’t always a lover seems to pass people by. Your soulmates are the ones who you are meant to come across, those who enter your life and change it for the better. I came across more members of my soul group during this trip, and that made my time there so much more rewarding.

From this I learned to make friends wherever you go.

Those who are the most unassuming can be the people who add a little piece of ink to the tattoo underneath your memories, spaces in your being that are reserved for certain people that will never fade.

I was all too lucky to come across the people who I’d love to keep with me until I get where I’m supposed to – no matter where that may be. The soundtrack of my life journey picked up in tempo until the background noise became a symphony, and it was an orchestra they made up around me. The laughter and the stories were the only evidence I needed of their existence, and the pictures were simply surplus.

You never truly intend to make friends, but when you do, you find it difficult to imagine how you used to live prior to their arrival. Making friends, while it is something you’re supposed to have picked up in elementary school becomes increasingly difficult as you get older. After friends coming and going, the amount of trust you can hand out dwindles. Stumbling upon others who don’t make you sacrifice any of your pride for the sake of creating trust are the ones who should say – and they are the ones who will stay.

I left LA knowing I’d be back.

From the east coast to the west with love.

The End.

I had a dream last night – it wasn’t a happy one. I was walking down an empty street, not a very affluent one. The mailman met me by the gate to my house and handed me two bundles of letters. He said they’d gotten lost in the mail, and they were only found now.

I opened each one with sadness slowly growing in my dream self as each one was counting down and read “Liberation.”

The saddest part was that I had sent them to myself.

I didn’t know what it meant, and I cried in my dream. I woke up somewhat worried. I’m the kind of person who thinks that, while there are chaotic dreams that mean absolutely nothing, there are dreams – like this one – that are meant to prepare me for something.

6:34pm I received a call from my manager; all Teavana locations will be closing by Spring.

Now, I have complained. I’ve complained enough. I’ve ranted and stressed and let myself be eaten away by anxiety because of things that have happened at this store, but I never once thought that this would happen – at least not while I was still here.

I had a plan once to make a website where I would post custom tea recipes using our teas. One of my blends even made it so big that it was featured on my region’s store menu. It was one of my most prideful days knowing that I had made an impact on this store even if in the smallest way. I grew from a team member, working from 6 – 9:30 to a manager who is trusted with the keys to the store.

“Who’s store is this?”

“It’s yours.”

“No. When you become a manager, it’s your store. So who’s store is this?”

“Mine.”

The woman who trained me talked me through this, and it became my statement.

This is my store. I represent my store. I represent this store that helps guide people through chemotherapy, through health struggles, through family bonding, and through this culture that I’ve loved since I was little.

Tea culture is part of my heritage, and I display it proudly. I was happy to know the benefits of these ingredients, to inform my customers how it can help you just as it has helped me.

I’ve seen my store go through one terrible manager and more than enough employees who didn’t see the job’s worth as much as some of us did. I’ve seen more than enough, and it all contributed to my growth as a salesperson and as an individual.

All in all, seeing this company dissolve right before my eyes after growing up with it is heartbreaking and shocking to say the least.

Outside of the sentimental side of this post, here is why I think Teavana is being shutdown.

When I first saw a Teavana, I was pulled in by the traditional tea culture that was being celebrated in such a modern setting. Yixing teapots with delicate designs and the highest quality teas that up until the turn of the century was only served to emperors. We even had the tea that was served to President Obama. Cool, right?

Our teas were organized by tea category:  white, green, oolong, and black. Customers came in asking for teas to help with blood pressure, headaches, cramps, and acne. We showed everyone how to make their teas in the highest quality Japanese hand-crafted cast iron tea pots and showed them the wonders of creating their own sets to share with their family. This was the world I joined.

Fast forward to Starbucks purchasing Teavana – by the time I had joined, we were already acquired by Starbucks, but the obvious changes were not showing. All the changes were benefits given to employees as we were adopted into the Starbucks partner system. This is the system that paid for my college degree as well as my Starbucks stock.

Until now, that was the big change.

As more and more Starbucks customers grew curious of tea culture, they would slip into the store, not knowing why they had to pay $4.99 for a cup of tea to go without bothering to learn that we were using at the most $30 worth of tea leaves for a cup that they would finish within five minutes. Teavana did not settle for low grade teas, and if one was discovered among our stock, it was quickly discarded and never heard from again.

Tea drinkers came out from under the covers and declared their love for the tea, but as Starbucks took more hold on us, our teas took a different direction. Less samples, less creativity, and no traditional teas available for customers to try. I distinctly remember a woman approaching me and trying to learn about matcha only for her to ask:

“So if I mix this with water, this will taste like a green tea latte?”

Being integrated into the Starbucks system not only changed how we operated and what we sold, it changed our clientele. People came in looking for Starbucks drinks and shrugging us off because they were coffee drinkers, not tea drinkers. I’ve even had someone complain with a simple reason being:

“It’s like you guys aren’t actually Starbucks.”

Let me say this once, and everyone better hear me.

We are not Starbucks. We were never Starbucks. Even after acquiring us, we never became Starbucks. As Teavana employees, we sold tea – not coffee. We were not there to cater to coffee drinkers’ complaints over why this cost more than a bag of coffee because – again – this is not coffee.

This is tea.

The transition into Starbucks took away the traditional tea culture that the old Teavana employees loved and celebrated. We saw the worth in our products, and we tried to do our best to show you the same.

Though, we are not entirely innocent. The original sales process was crude and did not cater to a customer’s needs, but money. By the time I was hired, we aimed to fix that. I wanted you to leave satisfied with your purchase. I don’t care how much you spend; I’m selling something to help your health, that was all that mattered.

Steering back, we slowly turned into what most would say “the Starbucks of tea.” Although, that could not be more accurate. Drinks are not our business; it’s tea leaves. I’m not here to be your barista; I’m here to help you find something to make your life better. I am not a Starbucks barista, ready to give you your venti cup of blond roast in the morning. I’m here to give you information to better your life.

Our tea wall changed, organized by flavor because “customers don’t care about how much caffeine or how many antioxidants this kind of tea has.” They said it would only confuse people. The Yixing pots disappeared, and slowly but surely, we knew the cast iron would, too. Right before my eyes, the world I had entered was slowly being catered to Starbucks customers who wanted a quick fix and something that tasted like juice – only this wasn’t juice so there was a false sense of security that this was so much better. We did not receive any new pure teas without fruits or herbs; we got cocktail-inspired teas for customers to mix with alcohol.

The vision had disappeared.

The culture had disappeared.

The roots of what Teavana had grown from – all gone.

The disappearance of the Buddha logo was just the cherry on top. This was the new Teavana.

Starbucks’s Teavana.

This is not the Teavana I wanted to work for – that Teavana died a long time ago, the shadow of its former self stood in its place, paraded with sugar and pastel colors.

And the sun just decided that this shadow isn’t worth saving.

Step 1: Honesty

Honesty is the best policy.

Or is it?

When I was in middle school, making friends depended on how I spoke and what I spoke about. I talked about things that I thought people liked, and I crumbled even if I didn’t think it was right. In other words, I had two personas – public and private. My public side was very into the current trends, things that the people around me liked. Public Me wanted to make friends everywhere even if that person’s ideas didn’t match my own. Public Me was loud – she wanted to be heard in anyway she could.

Private Me had all the thoughts, the ideas, and the potential but kept it stored away out of fear.

After my first friend purge, my first genuine best friend got me to stand up for myself – something I never actually considered doing. I was okay letting my friends walk all over me if it meant keeping them. Once I stood up for myself the first time, I couldn’t go back.

Why do we assume that people will only like one side of us?

Private Me was a different kind of loud – she was assertive, and she had all the thoughts that needed to be heard. But she saved those thoughts for the Internet or whatever other media outlet she could find. The private side of me stayed hidden within the confines of my computer screen. Then I suddenly had an epiphany –

How could I ever expect to make friends who I’d be willing to have for the rest of my life if I only ever show them one side? And what was the purpose of having both sides? Was I protecting myself? Who was I saving?

I wasn’t saving anyone. I was hurting myself. I kept these thoughts tucked away for the sake of having people around me.

So – honesty first.

Friends second.

It’s easy to talk to people, but what are you supposed to talk about? Do I talk about something I think you’ll like or do I talk about what’s on my mind? To whom do I cater this conversation to? And that’s where my lesson had finally been realized.

I needed to close the gap between Private and Public Me. As time went on, I made the decision to combine the two. The public persona brought the private to light, and the private kept the public from only focusing on what other people liked. There was definitely a result.

People started to tell me I was “real.” What does that mean? I’m being honest, how is that real? Is there such a shortage of honesty in the world that it has become an anomaly? Friends, friends, friends – they all said the same things, and I just let myself continue to be honest.

Honesty, however, does not always guarantee a common thought. I stayed honest, but when my words contradict your own thoughts, I became something else. I was no longer “real,” I was judgmental – I was insensitive, I was inconsiderate. All these things made me think I needed to change again.

But did I really? It wasn’t that I changed over time, but my thoughts no longer consistently aligned with the people around me. Suddenly I became the bad guy. I was no longer “real,” and there became a floating assumption that I’m hiding a part of myself from the world.

Trust me – I’m not.

If I’m hiding anything, it’s something I, myself, have not even discovered. There are no surplus thoughts underneath this image I’ve created for myself. I worked hard to make sure my visage matched my thoughts.

Believe it or not – I’m honest from day one. Until I find a legitimate reason to lie to you, I will not because there would be no purpose. I would be lying for the sake of lying.

Step 2:  Friends, but Step 3:  Consistency.

There’s a reason for this long explanation into why I act the way I do, and here it is.

If honesty comes first, what reason do I have to lie to get people to like me? And hand-in-hand with that, why should I have to fight when someone says otherwise?

Truthfully, there is no reason. If you’re my friend, you’re my friend. I learned just yesterday that the ones who cherish their friends are the ones who stick to their convictions. Childish rumors and hasty actions will not change that. Anyone who has anything to say about the way I act can only know that speaking badly of me will only make the reaction to seeing the truth that much more satisfying for me. Say what you want – you’re still speaking of me.

In this day and age, young adults have all become truth-seekers. In the presence of malice, they pursue the side that makes the most sense, and the side that doesn’t is the one spattered with red in the end.

True or false:  the truth finds you.

False.

You need to find the truth on your own.

Working in Retail Fixed Me

There are certain aspects of one’s personality that need to be adjusted but go by unnoticed.

Today at work, I was asked to watch a video by a motivational speaker who told of his experience with one Starbucks partner at a Minnesota airport terminal. He said he’d never forget this encounter due to that partner’s genuine interest in her customers’ lives.

“I don’t want them to come back to Starbucks; I want them to come back to me.”

Such a recollection like this brought me back to one customer interaction I had over a year ago. Actually, I don’t really remember the first time I met this customer. It was during a holiday season, and, for retailers, you know that the holidays are when you meet and interact with the most people in one day.

It’s difficult to maintain a perfect customer experience when you need to balance these two concepts:

  1. Show a sense of urgency.
  2. (but) Be patient with your customer.

In other words, I need to help you in a reasonable amount of time without making you feel like I’m pressuring you because there are other people in the store. And in balancing these two principles, occasionally, that customer service ability might dwindle down as you go through your day.

Again, I don’t actually remember the first time I spoke to this customer.

However, she definitely remembered me.

The next time I heard of this particular woman, it was actually through her friend who wasn’t even my customer. As this woman was being helped by someone else, I threw in my two cents about a product, and she smiled.

“You helped my friend the first time she came here. She told me about you.”

This was the first time I’d heard this in my few years working at the same location. She then went into detail saying that her friend is now an avid shopper at the location by where she lived. She only visited them once a year, and it was always just after the Christmas rush. I was honest with her and said I couldn’t really remember, but I couldn’t hide the joy in my face at the thought that this one customer enjoyed her experience at the store to the point where she’d tell her friends and family.

Some weeks later, the same woman came back to the store – this time with the friend I had helped.

While I vaguely remembered her at first, the interaction came back to me. She spoke to me with such enthusiasm about how I showed her everything she needed to know and that she had to come back to see me. She was frank; she didn’t need to buy anything that day. She just wanted to see how I had been.

We then delved into how I got into this job, why I was still there, and why I enjoyed it so much.

I think every young adult who works retail says this at least once with a tired spirit –

“I hate this job.”

Sometimes you do; sometimes you don’t.

I’ve definitely said this before, more than once, in fact. At the end of the day though, I really don’t hate it. Granted, once I’ve finished this chapter of my life, I don’t think I’ll ever return to the world of retail, but I can genuinely say that without this job, my view on how people should treat one another as a whole has changed.

So what makes working at Teavana so rewarding and life-changing?

I’m not just selling a product that, at first glance, seems overpriced. I’m not here to take your money for my benefit, to have my name on a sheet of paper that says I’ve sold this much to you.

I’m here to help you improve your life in whatever way I can.

Tea helps people. It’s helped me, so I believe that it can help someone else, too. I will in no way whatsoever sell you bullshit – as some might say. If I don’t believe this product can help you, I’ll tell you. I want you to leave my store knowing that I’ve helped you take the first step to achieving a goal – the task you’ve shared with me. Think back to that scene in Miracle on 34th Street when Santa pointed a customer in the direction of another store, and suddenly it was seen as a revolutionary thing – putting the customer’s needs first.

I’ve had people tell me that I helped them cut sugar out of their diet which led to a healthier lifestyle. I’ve helped customers going through chemotherapy by showing them things that will keep them comfortable. I’ve shown parents ways they can bring the family together.

Mostly, I hope that I’ve shown my customers that I genuinely care. From the woman who’s allergic to apples to the man who knows that he’ll enjoy whatever drink I make for him – I care about them all. I want them all to know that I pay attention, and I will continue to do so until I’m done with this job.

My job does not stop when I clock out; it will stop when I no longer work here. And even then, the world of retail surpasses the job itself.

You learn other basic things that aren’t really seen as common sense nowadays. I’ve moved up in this job from a part-time salesperson to one of the managers, and while it put more pressure on me, I certainly learned a thing or two.

Taking constructive criticism is the number one thing – not from your peers, but from your customers. There are rude ones and there are polite ones, and generally, the polite ones are the people who want to see you succeed. It isn’t a hit to my pride to get feedback. Receiving this feedback also helped me gear it towards other customer service workers who aren’t displaying the kind of service I’d show to my customers.

Regardless of your position in this world, customer service can be interchangeable with simply being a good person. Do not be selfish, keep in mind the person’s background, and don’t let your bad day turn someone else’s day sour.

Another short story – something that was a sign to me that I had grown as an individual in a world of adults who still don’t know how to treat people.

It was on a ride, some ride – no need to go into specifics – and my mother began to exhibit signs of claustrophobia. Anyone with a phobia knows that you should treat the situation seriously and with consideration to the individual.

“Ma’am, if we let you off the ride it will take half an hour, we need to shut off the ride, take everyone out of the cart, and call an operator to do this. The ride is one minute, would you rather I inconvenience everyone to get you out?”

No need to fast forward – I was livid.

How could anyone think that was the proper way to treat this conversation? We were customers just like anyone else. God forbid, the claustrophobia was worse than it actually was. Needless to say, I kept a straight face; I did not argue, but I began to form a conversation in my head.

The moment we were off, I ushered my parents to the waiting area and walked up to the beginning of the line to the ride once more. I asked for the manager on duty which surprised the worker. She radioed the man in charge, and he met up with me in no time.

I spoke calmly and professionally. I look young, but I will not act adolescent. This is an adult conversation, and I will treat it as such.

“I just wanted to point out something, but first, I just want you to know I am not here to argue or put you or the rest of your staff in a position that would make things tense. I work in customer service, so I need to point out something that happened in case it happens in the future.”

He responded to my demeanor, did not argue, and acted with respect because I treated him with respect. I’ve handled customers in the past who have argued with me, but I still responded in accordance to how I should have. You can argue with me, but I will not argue with you. As long as you are my customer, I will treat you as such.

Lessons learned from retail surpass your own job; they help you in the real world when others might not even recognize your actions. People are people, and this job helped me learn how people need to be treated.

Take on a retail job once in your life. Trust me – it helps.

“The Perfect Gift”

As you get older, you begin to realize that finding the “perfect gift” is near to impossible. It’s not because you don’t know what someone likes or what would make someone happy, but with age, you start to settle your mental list of likes and dislikes. In contrast to how each birthday you never really know what you want when someone asks you, when you’re young, every year there’s something new that you’re into. One year it’s boy bands, the next it’s guitar, the year after that is a phone – etc. etc.

Mom, I regret not knowing even now what to get you for Mother’s Day. In the past, it was always, “Sweetie, this gift will be from the both of us” because as a child, you look at your parents as people who have everything they need because you never stop to consider what they want.

So this post is not just an open letter to my dad for Father’s Day – but a thorough look into why I love my parents and why they helped shape me into the person I am today with what seemed like little to no effort. This is for both of you, Mom and Dad. This is for all the parents in my family. This is for all of you.

As children, you never really think about how hard your parents try. They come home from work, they kiss you goodnight, they make dinner seem like it’s just always meant to be there – that’s what life was. Mom and Dad have everything you need and they hand it to you because that’s the life they’re giving you – that’s the life they believe you deserve. When you get older and you live on your own, those meals start disappearing, replaced by last minute studying and hurried meals “because I just need to eat something.”

I will admit this post will not be entirely relate-able for some of my readers. At a young age, I realized that I had an abnormal relationship with my parents, but I didn’t realize exactly how different until people started pointing it out to me.

I text my parents “goodnight” everyday (almost, sorry, Mom). I eat with them at the dinner table. I tell them about my friends, and I tell them when I have a crush on someone at school. I go to them for advice and even go as far as to delegate my friends to them for advice as well.

Is that not normal?

Dad, you proposed to Mom after two weeks, and you’re still together.

Here I am, still meeting people who’ve been together for years and got divorced months later. You set the standard that marriage is a life-long thing.

“I can look, but I go home to Mom everyday.”

That’s marriage. You’re not limiting each other to the walls of the house you share because you aren’t sharing it. It’s not yours and hers – it’s yours. This home belongs to both of you; it isn’t shared. You don’t share your life with Mom; it’s your life.

And maybe you two are the reason why I have such high standards for friends – you two do as well.

For children with wonderful parents, have you ever stopped to figure out that your parents are the first best friends you made in your life? They are the only first best friends. And they are the best.

Yes, I know, again, this won’t apply to everyone but it certainly applies to me and a handful of people I can think of.

Yeah, sometimes I don’t understand you, and other times you don’t understand me. But as a family, even though you don’t understand, you still go to the dinner table – me in my spot and you both in yours – and eat, talk about the day, and enjoy each others’ company. Growing up, I never considered it as enjoying each others’ company, I just thought of it as dinner because that’s how you raised me. It was never an anomaly that “families who eat dinner together have a stronger bond” because that’s how it always was. We ate together, we did our separate activities in the living room together, and overall, at the end of the day, things were discussed together.

When I tell my friends I’m going on vacation with my parents, they say “aww” and for a few seconds I really wonder why. Is that not the norm?

The norm for me is telling my dad about my day. It’s feeling comfortable enough to talk about what frustrates me to a friend in front of my parents because I’m not afraid to let them hear what I have to say.

I remember some bits of advice every now and then.

“At this age, you’re trying to figure out what you want. And even if you can’t, you’re figuring out things that you don’t want.”

I never stopped to thank you for the childhood you gave me because it took me so long to see that this was not normal. Not all families have that transparency. Not all families go to Harry Potter World every year because it makes us laugh and feel happy. Not all families hug each other… just because. That’s not normal.

But that’s us.

So – thank you, Mom. Thank you, Dad. Thank you for setting this standard of life for me because without you I wouldn’t be aiming as high as I do. When it comes to guys, I think of you two first. Would you be proud of me for liking him? Would you speak of my relationship to the rest of our family with pride? And if the answer is no, then goodbye to that idea.

And maybe that’s why finding gifts is so difficult for me! I appreciate both of you everyday. I tell you I love you everyday. I spend everyday thinking of you two at least once, so what is one day out of the year to celebrate your existence supposed to mean to me? Really it means nothing. I appreciate that you are my parents everyday, and I’ll probably continue to do so for the rest of my life.

I get my quirks from you, I get my standards for life and love, I get my expectations – I get basically every aspect of my life as an adult from you. Will I ever forget that? No. I don’t think I ever will.

I know I’ve frustrated you in the past, and I know I’ve made you cry. I know I can achieve more and you believe I can as well, so I’ll continue to try and aim as high as you expect of me. I know I could have done more; I know I could have done this and that better. But I take pride in the fact that out of the millions of children who have said it in their adolescence, I have never once said I hate you. I don’t ever complain about you because – really – what is there to complain about? I learn from you because you were my first teachers. You were my first supporters, and my first friends. I never once regretted the life I had (or have) as an only child, and I know you’ve felt bad because I had no company growing up but did I really need it? No. I didn’t need it because you two did your best to give me that company that was essential to my development. I’m proud to be your child. I’m proud that you can go to your friends and say “my daughter did this” with pride because no one else raised me – it was all you two. The fact that I can be enough for you to speak of me with pride is all I could ever need to accomplish.

And perhaps, you both knew all of these things already, but in case you didn’t – here it is for you in writing.

Thank you for making my life what it is.

I love you both – I really do.

Happy Father’s Day.

“I Am No Stranger to Strangers.”

(Old image featured – 2015)

I am no stranger to strangers.

Every time something shifts in my life, I momentarily forget past occurrences and only look forward. My memory gets foggy, and the concept that “this seems familiar” disappears for half a second.

Thinking back, this is not the first time I’ve heard these words, sunk into these feelings, or received these blows. However, I do know one thing for sure – I’ve finally learned to handle it the way I should.

When it comes to red flags, it may or may not be obvious. For some people I meet, I get this anxious feeling. This particular knot that says,

Be friendly, but do not trust.

And when I feel this, I am sure to be on my guard. Do not get too close, do not reveal too much, and do not let them in.

The second kind of red flag comes in stages. There is a series of yellow flags before the red, and only when the red appears is it too late. When I was younger, I disregarded yellow flags for the sake of giving the benefit of the doubt – something I realized I am more than notorious for giving blindly.

I can recall a memory from when I was 14.

I was visiting a church with a friend who I now call stranger. I sat, feeling out of place when a girl walks in. She walked with confidence, and she had a presence that I admired. She was much older, much more mature than us.

I don’t like her. She’s full of herself. The underside of her hair is blue, and it’s tacky. No one likes her.

As my friend said this, I took her words and applied it over the girl’s image. Yet even as I did, the other young girls my age flocked her and showered her with compliments. In the midst of her mini gathering of fans, she turned to me.

Oh, you’re new! What’s your name? Are you coming here regularly now? I haven’t been here in a while, so I’m sorry if I didn’t recognize you.

I wanted to think she had on a facade for the sake of making a good first impression, but to this day, I really don’t think she was. We talked about her hair, and later she introduced me to her friend with whom I kept in contact with for some time.

From that small experience, I should have known better that your friends’ impressions of people become your own impressions. But what if that wasn’t a real friend? Would that make their impressions invalid?

I am no stranger to strangers.

Once at 10, once at 14, and again once more at 22.

There is no age limit for lessons to be learned. Fate will make you experience the same situations over and over again – same circumstances, different people – same feeling, different words said – until you finally learn which way is the right way.

So what have I learned?

Those who have high standards for whom they trust but who are not trustworthy are not to be regarded, and their impressions of me will not change my impression of myself.

Memories, once invalid, lose all sentimental value. When you originate the initial problem to its start date, all fond and happy moments lose meaning. Now, they are merely occurrences experienced with a stranger. Do not give them weight.

The friend who is meant to stay in your life will never leave. True friends have a purpose in your life, and regardless of the amount of time spent, there is more to be done. They are the non-romantic soulmates who will keep aiding along your spiritual growth. You may not always agree with each other, but you always find your way back. Being annoyed with each other is a natural thing, but if you let that annoyance tear you two apart, then it’s time to say goodbye.

I will not try to save a sinking ship that keeps sabotaging itself whether its intentional or not. The life savers on that ship have been thrown to me, but I will not bend. A sabotaged ship can save no one.

There is a reason why I say I trust my friends blindly.

Do what you want, I am not your keeper.

Make your mistakes because it is your life to live.

I will turn a blind eye to the malice others see because I befriend your character – your being – not your actions.

I trust you with my eyes shut because the moment a line is crossed, I can open my eyes, see you for the person I let you be, and turn away. That blind trust is gone, and you are a stranger once more.

There is no magical place where all lost friendships go. They dissipate into thin air, and life goes on. I let it go, and I won’t hold on.

It isn’t worth saving.

Temporary friends add filter to your vision that you must remove once they depart.

The genuine friends are the ones who keep your sight clear.

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