Poetry Class at Westpoint

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CADET 1 and 2 stand in the center of the room.

 

SERGEANT

Atten-shun!

 

CADET 1 and 2 stand at attention. SERGEANT enters room.

 

SERGEANT

I am Gunnery Sergeant Hartman, your senior drill instructor. This is your poetry class. You will speak only when spoken to. The first words out of your filthy mouths will be “O Captain,” and the last words will be “My Captain.” Do you maggots understand?

 

CADET 1 and 2

O Captain yes My Captain!

 

SERGEANT

Bullshit! Sound off like you got a pair!

 

CADET 1 and 2

O Captain yes My Captain!!

 

SERGEANT

If you survive my class, you are expert poets. Until then, you are pukes! You are like the ruins of Ozymandias’ great work after someone pisses on it! You will hate me, because I am hard. But in time, you will find that I am hard, but fair. I do not discriminate, because you are all equally worthless! You all put the ‘ass’ in ‘assonance,’ and all awful alliterators will get a pentameter up theirs if they ever cross me! Is that understood?!

 

CADET 1 and 2

O Captain yes My Captain!

 

SERGEANT

Sound off like you’re raging against the dying of the light!

 

CADET 1 and 2

O Captain yes My Captain!!!

 

SERGEANT

(to CADET 1)

You! You don’t look like you could tell the difference between a tree branch and a subway train! Tell me the difference between a metaphor and a simile!

 

CADET 1

O Captain a metaphor is like a transformation—

 

SERGEANT

Bullshit! You’re using a simile! Tell me what a metaphor is using a metaphor!

 

CADET 1

O Captain a metaphor is… ahhh… a duck! My Captain!

 

SERGEANT

A duck?! What the hell are you trying to pull, cadet?

 

CADET 1

O Captain I tried to go for an intuitive and emotional answer—

 

SERGEANT

What the fuck do those words have to do with poetry? I’ll tell you what— everything! Emotion is the stovetop with which you boil the perfect chemical we call water, and boiling water is like saying hello, because it’s the first step to feeding a starving woman! That’s how you do a metaphor and a simile! What do you think of that, cadet?

 

CADET 1

O Captain I think that’s beautiful, My Captain!

 

SERGEANT

It was written by Silvia Plath, what do you think of that?

 

CADET 1

O Captain, I think that she—

 

SERGEANT

No it’s not, you retarded duckling! I wrote that! For as long as you are under my heel, I am Sylvia Plath, God, and your hot cousin all at once! You will not laugh! You will not cry! You will only nod thoughtfully when you hear something you think is insightful!

 

CADET 2

O Captain, I don’t think you should use that word, My Captain!

 

SERGEANT

Who said that? Who the fuck said that?

 

CADET 2

O Captain I’m the only other person in the room My Captain!

 

SERGEANT

Oh. Right. Now tell me, Cadet, what do you have against the word “insightful”?

 

CADET 2

O Captain, I was referring to the r-word, My Captain?

 

SERGEANT

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? You’re a muggy, overbearing dimwit that’s only good for making ice cream disappear! So I can’t say ‘retard’ in my poems, can I? Well maybe you can’t say in your poetry, “Fuck me gently, papa.” Let’s see you write autobiographical poetry without that phrase, papafucker! Now drop down and give me 20 rhymes for retard.

 

CADET 2 does 20 pushups, and does one of these rhymes for each one: “backyard, barnyard, charge card, discard, dockyard, flash card, on guard, regard, safeguard, stockyard, avant-garde, disregard, lumberyard, saint Bernard, national guard, buzzard, cigar, sash cord, streetcar, unheard”

 

SERGEANT

(to CADET 1)

As for you, Donald Duck, I want to see your war feet!

 

CADET 1

…my what-

 

SERGEANT slaps CADET 1

 

CADET 1

O Captain I am unfamiliar with war feet My Captain!

 

SERGEANT

Anapest! Dimeter! Trochee! Use your goddamn mind, Cadet! Two roads diverged in a wood, and I, I took the one less traveled by and stuck it up your mom’s pussy! Now let me see your war feet!

 

CADET 1

O Captain, iambic pentameter, my Captain!

 

SERGEANT

Bullshit! You are not Shakespearian sloppy seconds, cadet! Now do you know onomatopoeia, or do you think it’s a rare species of duck?

 

CADET 1

O Captain I am aware of onomatopoeia My Captain!

 

SERGEANT

Cadet, I want you to give the onomatopoeia of a duck getting fucked in the ass by T. S. Eliot.

(beat)

Now, Cadet!

 

CADET 1

Quaaaggghhhh!

 

SERGEANT

Spell it out!

 

CADET 1

O Captain q-u-a-a-a-g-g-g-h-h-h-h My Captain!

 

SERGEANT

Cadet, give me a dactyl tetrameter poem about war using that onomatopoeia, starting now!

 

CADET 1

“Quaaaggghhhh!” I cry, and I will seek hell’s

gate once Jack dies, but until he

rips out the terror’s parallels

located in rib cage, no plea

for a devil’s thanks given up.

Sound off, and take arms, Jack, don’t give

up, hearts beat parallel, setup

knife to one heart, or two hearts, live

to fight parallel, out of sync,

become the beats of war. One splits

in two. For now we’ll never blink

‘til I must carry back your bits.

 

A beat. SERGEANT is tearing up.

 

SERGEANT

(moved)

Cadet, that was… oh my… I’m feeling really sensitive right now. There’s a few things I have to write down.

 

SERGEANT goes over to table to write down a poem.

 

SERGEANT

(writing this down)

I hate war, war is bad.

It is making me sad.

I want to eat filet mignon

and stay inside to read Walt Whitman.

But I am not a free bard…

 

Beat. SERGEANT continues sobbing.

 

CADET 2

O Captain is there something wrong My Captain?

 

SERGEANT

I don’t know how to finish poems!

 

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Glimmer Train Fall 2014: “Walang Hiya, Brother,” by Melissa R. Sipin

Hey, I finally posted something that doesn’t take a billion years to read! How about that.

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“Walang hiya” means “(you have) no shame,” in the Tagalog language. You can probably guess that translation when reading this story, since this is a story about Filipino-Americans trying to fit in with America while maintaining their culture and honor. What surprised me was finding out that “walang hiya” is one of the worst insults of that language. It’s said between family memebers almost casually within these pages. Then again, I suppose “motherfucker” would be one of the worst English language insults, and that’s not such a big deal in some circles.

Our story is told by Patricia, a college-grad turned photographer. Her brother considers her a large question mark “You’re nothing but a question to me,” (Sipin, 40) says her brother Ben, who got a tattoo of a question mark for that reason. Ben, under pressure from his immigrant family, is marrying for money. He actually plans to divorce his bride years down the line and run off with what he can. “Walang Hiya, Brother” takes place before and during the wedding, with a quick epilogue after all the twists and turns of the story play out.

There’s a general sense of inevitability throughout “Walang Hiya, Brother” as Ben’s big day approaches, and I’m not sure if that works in the story’s favor. As enjoyable as Patricia is as a protagonist (she’s insightful, perceptive, and just plain likeable), there’s no getting around the fact that this is not her story. The fact that Ben’s marriage will be temporary lowers the stakes— his plan is to marry and divorce and reap in the money. True, this plan is against Ben’s wishes, but he’s not exactly throwing his entire life away. When the reader only has Patricia’s perspective to go on, then there’s even less reason to care. Then again, that may be part of the point Sipin was going for: conflict arises from Patricia trying to hold onto innocence in the midst of a cynical gambit. All the family members are feeling shame for different reasons. The wedding itself is not as important as the characters trying to live through it.

There’s not much to say on this one— it’s all right, wouldn’t be a waste of time to check out.

Interested in this story? Buy it and many others here!

Check out Sipin’s website here!

 

 

You Can Never Hold Back Spring

I have a small story to tell.

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It’s one I’ve been meaning to tell for a little while now. Life, and other writing projects, got in the way. And, to be honest, I’m mostly telling this story because the main character in it instructed me to do so when we met. I’ve grappled with this event for over a month now, trying to tie it into everything I do on this blog. If there’s a lesson I’d want to import with this post, it’s this: write things for other people. Storytelling is as much about reaching out to others as it is about your own creative fulfillment. This blog shouldn’t always be about me.

The small story took place in last February, on the first warm day of both that month and of this year. I was just getting out of one of that month’s many depressive episodes. I had finally broken out of my lonely, messy room— or at least dragged myself away from the Internet, and I had found peace in my own thoughts again. On moments like this, post-depressive episode, I’m usually high with energy, invincible, certain that I’ll never feel depressed again. Last February is when I stopped crawling out of depression oceans triumphant, instead reaching solid ground water-logged. It’s better now, sure, I thought, but these moments will be back. There’s no point denying that anymore. There’s no more energy to feeling good again, just a calmness. That’s the best thing I could say about my mind at the time.

I stepped outside my apartment that night and stretched my arms, running my fingers through recently-showered hair. The sun was setting. I tend to forget (or not have the energy to) eat while in depressive states, so I decided tonight was good enough of a night to go out on the town. I brought “The College Station All-Male Feminist Union,” my short story, with me to edit.

A lot of people were out that night— wearing shorts, talking loudly, living well. I’m listening to “You Can Never Hold Back Spring,” by Tom Waits, so I’m not interacting with Iowa City residents that night. It’s dusk out, but the stores and restaurants are so well-lit that few would be able to tell. Again, I’m not one to pay attention to details, especially in a town I’ve lived in for five years. One detail about tonight does worm its way into the forefront of my mind: I’m supposed to skype my parents right now. We scheduled this yesterday. They’re likely texting me about this at this moment. But at this point of the night, I’m hungry and still tired, so I ignore my phone and walk into Forbidden Planet.

Forbidden Planet serves gluten-free pizza. They’re also a quaint arcade throwback place, with old sci-fi posters on the walls, but I’m not paying attention to that. It’s crowded today, a Saturday. People are sitting at bright primary-colored tables, chatting away. No server arrives to seat me (was I supposed to seat myself? Can’t remember. All the tables were taken anyways). So I go to the bar, passing a hurried kid on my way to sit down there. I order an Arnold Palmer and ask for a menu. While I’m waiting, I write down editing notes on the copy of my short story on feminist allies. I do this for a few minutes until…

“What are you, some kind of food critic?”

The fat, sweaty guy in a white shirt a barstool over says those words to me. I chuckle, defensively, and explain that I’m working on a short story of mine. He seems satisfied by this answer. He would not take criticism of this restaurant lightly, I would later find. He’s got a wide mouth, and he opens it to keep talking to me. Introverts like myself know how to deal with moments like this: talk along with your new friend, be polite, ask questions about their story, wait for a long pause before giving your excuse to leave.

I listen to him and talk with him longer than I thought I would. His name was also Nick. He talked like an old man, nostalgic and prone to repeat himself, in the voice of a college freshman. He was drunk. Being drunk is an aura that exists beyond a sweaty face and friendly demeanor, so even someone with few drinking experiences like me can single out that inebriated presence.

Nick lost his father nine months ago. I inquire further, and find out that Nick helped work for his father’s business when he was young. That’s why he likes being here: Forbidden Planet is a family business. “It’s all about family,” he says. “These kids, serving drinks, cleaning glasses, they just want to have fun. They just want to help out.”

He repeats these facts about five times during our conversation.

About the fifth time he talks about the kids helping their dad’s business for the love of it, I joke and say that the kids probably want to be anywhere else on a Saturday night. At least, according to my memories of growing up. Nick denies this. He’s loud about it. He taps one of the server kids on the shoulder and asks him, “Hey, why are you doing this? Why are you working?”

The kid replies, “I just want to help my dad.”

I admit to Nick that I lost our little bet. I’m also touched. Nick nods, then goes back to watching the kids help their dad. There’s a long pause. It’s here that I decide that I should skype my parents today. Today more than ever. I thank Nick for his company, and go off to get an actual bite to eat— my menu never came.

Don’t worry, I did actually talk to my folks that night. And yes, I told them that I loved them very much.

It was during my conversation with Nick that Nick made me promise to write about our conversation in that blog I mentioned. I promised to talk about our heart-to-heart (or rather, his heart to my ear). I resisted doing so for a long time. It’s a small story, a trite one, and it reveals that as much as I claim to love people spilling out their guts to me, I’m never sure what to do when I meet one of them. But this story is not about me. Nick gave very clear signs that he was a lonely individual looking to be heard, even if he wasn’t good at articulating that. He deserves to have his story, even a small segment of it, be told. I’m glad I listened for as long as I did (Hey, I had to eat sometime. And I had to connect with my own folks sometime too). I’m glad I could put aside my work and listen that night. Nick gave me insight into what loneliness sounds like. I came out of a depressive episode just in time to help someone in a depressed mode with his problems. One of the thing I’m finding out now is that I can get myself to class and therapist appointments, when I’m not feeling well, if I can make someone happy, usually by promising to tell them a joke. And I did make Nick laugh a few times. Both of them.

If there’s anything else I want to say, it’s this: it does get better. Even if you don’t know how it will yet. It’s true: you can never hold back spring. It’s a small message, but sometimes authors just need to tell small stories.

Interview: Chitoka Webb, author of ‘Something Inside Of Me’

Chitoka Webb is the owner of several businesses and the writer of the memoir Something Inside of Me: How To Hang On To Heaven When You’re Going Through Hell. She’s also my classmate this semester at the University of Iowa. Something Inside of Me details her journey through life; from growing up in poverty to enduring a horrible eye disease; and all the wisdom that she gained from it.

Most interviews will tell you those facts. My interview with her focuses on her writing craft, her future plans, and some of the things you’ll miss if you only read her memoir. Below is a conversation we had a week ago…

 

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That’s her!

NICK EDINGER (NE): Welcome to the first interview feature of Word Salad Spinner! I am pleased to announce that my guest is Chitoka Webb. I knew her first as a thoughtful and energetic classmate at the University of Iowa, but then found out that she had quite an amazing backstory. But not everyone reading this would know about that. To start this interview off, Chitoka, I’ll ask that you distill for the reader who you are, what you do, your general philosophy, and why someone who knows nothing about you should read this interview.

CHITOKA WEBB (CW): Oh, excellent. Well, first of all, thank you for having me, thank you for this opportunity. Who I am… I am a writer and an entrepreneur, and my philosophy on life is to treat people the way that you want to be treated. And for the readers who have not read the book, basically, the book is about, really, in a general sense, how to get through tough times, and my philosophy on that is to think about, you know, when the times were better, and basically just using the resources that you have, whether they be internal or external. To help you move forward past whatever particular situation it is you are currently facing.

NE: As the owner of several businesses, what are your never-fail rules for getting the word out and attracting customers?

CW: The number one thing is to treat people the way that you want to be treated. Advertising, I’ve done that before, billboards, commercials… worked with several different marketing companies and so forth, but at the end of the day, it’s really all about how you treat your customer, and I believe that you treat your customer the same way you would treat a family member or a friend. And basically you just treat them the way that you want to be treated. So that is my motto, that is my number 1 rule I always try to follow, is to treat people the way they want to be treated.

NE: What brings you to the University of Iowa at this point of your life?

CW: The University of Iowa’s Writer’s Workshop is the reason I am here. I came here in 2012 after finishing a very successful book tour—I went to 47 states… Barnes and Noble, Books-A-Million, ummm… is it Borders? I think it was…

NE: Yeah, Borders. They went out of business a while ago.

CW: Yeah, yeah…

NE: My village was very disappointed because that used to be a local hangout for a lot of us.

CW: So I came here to the University of Iowa after I finished the book tour for the Writer’s Workshop, and before I came, I was under the impression (after doing my research) that you did not have to have a college degree, that it was basically based on your writing abilities. And so I came here, but once I got here, I realized that even though it says [you don’t need a college degree] on the website… that it’s not most suitable (laughs). So that’s when I enrolled at the University of Iowa, to get an undergraduate degree in English.

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NE: Do you have any other writing projects in the works, or any future plans to publish something?

CW: Oh, absolutely. Last year, I went on a 40-day silence fest, so I went to class every day, went to church… on Tuesdays, I go by Mercy Hospital to check on individuals who are there who are part of our church, which is First Presbyterian Church on Rochester Ave. You know, I’ve done my walking, I— you know, everything that I’d normally do on a day-to-day basis, I did. So that is what I’m currently writing a book about now. About being silent. Once before, I’ve done a 40-day fast without food. But I’d certainly have to say that doing a 40-day fast of silence and still living like a normal person; like class, work, school, business, church, you know, family life; it is the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. So I’m writing a book about that now.

NE: I remember doing a 1-day-of-silence thing back in high school, and I couldn’t make it through a day without scribbling things on pieces of paper and showing it to people…

CW: (laughs) Yeah! So I had lots of sticky notes and just a lot of paper.

NE: Were there any memoirs that inspired certain aspects of telling your own story? What is your favorite memoir of all time?

CW: Oh geez, that’s a tough one, especially as a writer. I would have to say… (thinks about it for a bit) Well, I’ll just go with this one. It’s by Iyanla Vanzant, and the name of the book is One Day My Soul Just Opened Up. That one was really good. Often times the seasoned writers, like Maya Angelou, Joan Didion, they have like several, they don’t have just one memoir. Joan Didion has one, and I think it’s called Where I Was From, I think that’s what it’s called. She has that one, and then she has another one, I can’t think of the name of it, but it’s about when her husband died. Well, her daughter died first, and then her husband died. So that one was really good— I apologize, I can’t think of the name of it right off the bat.

NE: It’s ok.

CW: But I would definitely say… speaking of authors who’ve written memoirs, Iyanla Vanzant, Joan Didion, and Maya Angelou.

NE: Other interviews have pointed out how strange it is to see someone publish a memoir at 30. Aspiring writers like myself find it inspiring just to have a book out there. What was the process like, in detail, for getting a memoir from your notebook into store shelves?

CW: It was painful (laughs). Writing a book is… I’ve never had a child, but I have been in pain before because I have this rare autoimmune disease. So writing a book is similar to giving birth. You know, I’ve never thought about suicide or anything like that, but I can certainly see how some authors can succumb to that. Because you have, you know, Sylvia Plath, which was the writer who committed suicide by getting in the oven; you have David Foster Wallace, who hung himself; and then you have, you know, Virginia Woolf, who put the stones in her pocket and walked off into the ocean and drowned herself. But it’s a very… it’s a very grueling process to write a book. You know, because with each word, in a sense, you’re giving up something. You’re like… it’s like sharing a personal fault. So I would say for aspiring writers: you just have to make the conscious decision to, you know, decide whether you want to do it or not and just kind of let it go, because it can certainly… it’s going to take a lot out of you, I’m not going to say that it can, it will take a lot out of you, and you have to have a lot to give, so to speak. And if I’m not mistaken, I believe Ernest Hemmingway committed suicide

NE: Ahh, yes. Him, Hunter S. Thompson, the list really goes on. And probably also a bunch of authors you’ve never heard about too, those are the more tragic ones I find.

CW: Yeah. So the list goes on and on and on… like I said, I’ve never thought of anything like that, but I can see how some authors succumb to that, because it is a very very grueling process. So I would say for aspiring writers: the goal is, you know, first make the decision, this is something that I want to do. And you have to be disciplined enough to put it down, go back to it, put it down, go back to it… and then, once you finish, you know, you have to let it go. Because once you get a book deal, you basically get a project deal from the publisher. So it’s usually 12 months. It’s the same way if you’re gonna do a movie, you know, if you get a movie deal. So the first month you do this, the second two months you may to this, and so forth and so forth and so forth, until the final project is done. And there was one instance where I had to go back… I was working with a copy editor at this particular point on the project. And I had to go back and rewrite Chapter 4 and Chapter 6. So of course, if you have to rewrite Chapter 4, you have to rewrite Chapter 3, and then you have to rewrite Chapter 5, and you have to rewrite 6, you have to rewrite 7.

NE: Yeah, I feel like a lot of people who give constructive criticism, as well-meaning as they can be, often don’t realize how much, like, removing a piece or adding another piece can cause the whole structure to fall apart sometimes.

CW: Yeah. So you have to… as the publisher, you know, they’re into selling books, so you just have to be prepared for that once you get a deal, but I had to do all that in about two weeks. And literally, I did not, I’ve never been the kind of person that stayed in the house, but literally for two weeks straight I did not come out of the house, because I had to rewrite all that. So you just have to be willing to make some sacrifices.

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If she got to stay inside with these dogs, then it might not have been all bad…

NE: All writers harbor fantasies of writing memoirs someday. I’m no different. If you knew when you were young that you were going to write a memoir thirty years down the line, what would you have done to prepare for the moment you set pen to paper?

CW: You know, to be honest, I don’t know. Because I don’t live a life of regrets, and I had no idea that, when I wrote the memoir that I would write a memoir (laughs). So I can’t necessarily say that I would’ve done anything different, or I would do something different… because I think that’s what makes us all so unique, is like what happens or what you encounter along the way. And I think that is a good thing that, you know, life is not a foreshadowed piece. So, like, when you finish this interview, you don’t know if you’re gonna trip and fall, or run into a long lost love, or whatever. So I don’t know the answer to that question.

NE: That’s ok. The reason that I brought that up is that I’m working with a theater group called No Shame Theatre. And I find that my struggles and my joys from that— my work as both an entertainer and somewhat of an entrepreneur for it— I’ve started thinking, you know, this might make a good memoir someday, not my entire life but just this one particular section. Some of the things I’m doing to prepare for that include, after each show, I write down some of the more memorable things that happened. So that years down the line, when I look back at it, I’ll be like “Ok, I want to write about this and this and this.”

CW: Ok. And then too, I think the other thing that is important to know is that the same way that cars are not the way that they used to be, like how a car in 2016 is not the same as a car in, like, 1970. So it’s the same with memoir. Like, way back when, a memoir was just one book you wrote when you were 80 years old. Well, at this day and time, a memoir can be a fragmented piece, or it can be… I think it was Maya Angelou who wrote her memoir… I forgot what the name of it is, it’ll come to me, but she wrote one in 1970, then she wrote more of a lither piece of her first memoir in ’80, then she wrote another one in 1990 and so forth. So you don’t have to… it’s not a one-trip deal, so to speak. So if you write something now at 25, you can go back at 45 and write something else in addition to that. So a memoir today is not what a memoir was 30-40 years ago.

NE: It’s clear to anyone who reads “Something Inside Of Me” that you cherish wise sayings, especially ones that you associate with your elders. What is your favorite maxim of all time, and what is your least favorite?

CW: Well my number 1 is to treat people the way that you want to be treated. That’s number 1. That’s the motto that I live by.

I don’t have a least favorite one, but I do have… there are several that, two of that I can think of immediately, that I don’t agree with. I wouldn’t say they’re my least favorite, but one, like, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” I don’t agree with that (laughs). Because words, they do hurt, and they last… you know, the mean things that people say to you, or things that, you know, you can easily, or you will remember 20-30 years down the road. The other one is “Blood is thicker than water.” I don’t agree with that either. Because some of the nicest people, who have been the kindest to me, has not always been my family members. Some of them have been strangers. Some of them have been people that I went to school with, people that I’ve worked with. So those are certainly two. I wouldn’t say they’re my least favorite, but they are two I don’t necessarily agree with.

NE: You know, I remember reading an interesting bit of trivia a while ago that the origin of “blood is thicker than water” comes from the bible. Where the full saying is “the blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb.” So it’s interesting how we’ve taken the original saying and turned it on its head. Where the original one is saying, “Family is not as important as bonds you make through religion or otherwise.”

CW: (laughs) Yeah.

NE: I’ll ask the same question, but for writing: of all the advice you’ve been given, which is your favorite writing maxim, and which is your least favorite writing maxim?

CW: Well my favorite, or rule of thumb that I stick by, is “In order to write well, you’re going to have to read well.” So, you know, if you want to be a conscious and effective writer, you’re gonna have to read. The one thing… again, I don’t necessarily consider it my least or my worst piece of advice as it pertains to writing, but the whole… how most writers… the advice that they are given is very structured. You know, you wake up at 7 o’clock, you write something every day, you put it down, you go back at night, and you have to do this every day. And that is not true. That, I have found, is not true amongst most successful writers. And… because writing is really not something you do. It’s really something that happens to you along the way. Often times something will strike me at 2 o’clock in the morning, and I’ll get up and write about it. Writers of that sort don’t battle or deal with writer’s block. Like, writer’s block, that I’ve found, it happens when you are forcing yourself to write something at 7 o’clock in the morning when really you’re thinking, “Ok, I have to be at class at 8…” you know, you have other things that you’re thinking about. But… I don’t know whether to say real writers? Most successful writers write when it’s time to write. So they’ll have a notebook in their car, sticky notes on the side of the bed, so when a thought comes to your mind, you write it down. And as a writer, that can happen at any time at any moment, you just have to be prepared to write it down. So certainly my least favorite advice would be how the advice is always given, you know, to be structured, to get up at this time, and do this, write this every day… it doesn’t work.

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NE: “Something Inside of Me” was published almost five years ago. That’s a lot of time to learn more about your craft. If you had a chance to rewrite the book, would you approach things differently? That is, would you write in a different style, or put more focus on different events, or rearrange the order in which events are told? Regrets don’t seem to be a part of your life philosophy, but I imagine there are lessons here you can take forward in your writing.

CW: Sure. No, I would not do anything different. Some of the lessons that I’ve learned… the one thing that I learned after writing the book… like if you go online and go to Amazon, most of the reviews are four stars, five stars. But there were some negative reviews. They’re not on Amazon, they’re just critical reviews people wrote in form of an essay, so to speak. But the one thing that I learned with my first book that I would do differently as I write the second book is… you can’t expect everyone to understand what it is that you’re talking about. I had this one lady… she wrote a review… oh it was, it was painful, it was painful to read because her interpretation of the book was absolutely wrong. And you cannot, as a professional artist, you do not respond to reviews. You don’t do that. So you have to suck it up and just move forward. But her interpretation… she called me a fake… she said that you cannot be a person who has faith and have doubt, you cannot be someone who is optimistic but then you have these areas in your life where things are dark and you don’t understand where things are going… and I don’t think that can be further from the truth. Because, to me, that’s called being human. So I would say that’s the one lesson that I’ve learned, is that you cannot expect everyone to understand what it is that you’re writing about.

NE: Thank you for mentioning that, ‘cause that’s really important to me, because one of the things I struggle with as a writer is clarity, and a lot of my revisions come from trying to make things understandable to a lot of people. So that’s good to hear, that although that’s a good goal to reach for, at some point you just gotta be like, “the problem is no longer with me with this stuff.”

What event or insight did not make it into “Something Inside of Me,” that you think is worth mentioning now?

CW: That’s a great question. One of the things that I though about… well, of course, it was three or four years later (laughs)… but the things that I experienced that like, literally almost took my life… you know, as I thought about it, I couldn’t even remember why it is I didn’t put that in there. And I think that when you’re writing a memoir about your life, it just contains so much, you know. But when I was six months old, I lived in an apartment complex. We lived on the third floor, and my cousin, who was probably about 5 at the time, she set me on the ledge of the patio, and I fell off. So I went down three flights, three floors. And I remember my mother telling me this story once I got older and she says that “I was running down the stairs,” she says, “I just knew you were dead,” because I lay there on the concrete. But when she got there, you know, I was laughing. So of course she said she called the ambulance and all that. So I made it through that.

And then when I was… (thinks for a moment) I wanna say… somewhere between 8, 9, and 10, I can’t remember. But we used to have this two-door Monte Carlo. And my sisters and I used to play this bingo game to determine who would sit in front, everyone always wanted to sit in front because it was a 2-door car. Well that day I lost, so I had to sit in back. And any time I had to sit in the back of the car, I would always sit behind my mother on the driver’s side, and just like, lean over and hug her and talk to her in her ear, you know, as she was driving or whatever. So we were going up a hill and I was leaning on the backseat, saying something to my mother in her ear, and then I leaned on the door and I fell out of the car—

NE: (sharp intake of breath)

CW: And because we were going at a certain speed, my mother ran over me. And, so I rolled, you know, back down the hill. And so my mother got out of the car, and she was telling me these stories way back and she said again, “I thought you were dead!” And she said, “When I got to you, you know, as I was running towards you, you were not moving. And then when I got to you, you just shook your head and opened your eyes, so I went to the hospital again…” So I would just say it was those moments, those childhood moments where I could’ve easily died. So those were things I did not write about.

NE: Yeah, yeah. Quite harrowing, I must say.

CW: (laughs)

NE: Some writers are the type to keep a strict schedule when it comes to their craft. Others write when the muse commands them to. You’ve already answered this question in a sense…

CW: (laughs)

NE: But on the scale between “completely strict writing schedule” and “completely loose writing schedule,” where do you stand, and do you have any advice for people at the other end of the spectrum?

CW: Well I would be at a 10. So I write when I feel like writing. And for the people, I guess, at the other end of the spectrum, with the people who have the more rigid schedule, more structured schedule… I mean the only advice I can give is, “If that works for you do that. Do what works best for you.”

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The Monte Carlo that may or may not have prevented this interview.

NE: Which part of “Something Inside of Me” was the easiest to write? Why?

CW: I would say Chapter 12, which is, the title of Chapter 12 is “We Have All Benefited From Someone Else’s Labor.” So I talk about Princess Diana and Martin Luther King Jr., myself, my mother, my friends… to me, that was the easiest chapter to write because it’s not hard to figure out. I mean, the shirt you have on you didn’t make it, the pants you have on you didn’t make it, the socks you have on you didn’t make it—

NE: I did, actually.

CW: You made the socks?

NE: I’m kidding, I’m kidding! I’m just wondering how many people will respond to that.

CW: (laughs)

NE: It’s like “My father worked in a sock factory, I’ll have you know!”

CW: (laughs) So, you know, we all have benefited from someone else’s labor, toil, someone else’s kindness. So I would certainly say that was the easiest chapter to write, the last one.

NE: Which part of “Something Inside of Me” was the most difficult to write? Why?

CW: The most difficult part was writing about my eye disease.

NE: And for the benefit of the reader, could you mention, exactly, the name of it and some of the characteristics?

CW: Yeah, sure. I have a rare autoimmune disease called Behcet’s Disease, which is (spells out “Behcet’s), which is extremely rare in the United States. It’s so rare that it’s not even in our medical coding system. So when I go to the doctor I have to, I have to take medications that a cancer patient would take or someone or someone who has arthritis, because that is in our medical coding system. So Behcet’s disease is an autoimmune disease, it’s when your body attacks itself. So for whatever reason, my autoimmune disease, it attacks my eyes. So I have an eye disease called panuveitis… uveitis is when the outside of your eye is the disease, and panuveitis is when the outside and the inside of your eye is diseased. So that’s how I ended up losing my vision. And some of the characteristics of panuveitis, #1 is pain, inflammation, blindness, your eyes swell, any or everything that can happen to your eyes… you can, you will certainly experience that with panuveitis. That was the most difficult part to write… because the things that happened as a child, the different life experiences that I had along the way, you know, those things come and they go. But when you have an illness, it’s something you have to learn to live with for the rest of your life. And that’s what makes it difficult, because it’s almost like having something else with you that you did not know was going to be with you (laughs). So you have to make room in your life for it, because you never know when it’s going to show up, and then when it does happen, you never know to what extent it’s going to happen, you don’t know how long it’s gonna last, you don’t know how… you know, you just don’t know. And then it was, having to go and see so many doctors and… it’s just a different lifestyle when you have an illness. So I would say that was the most difficult part.

NE: With your question over there, did you mean mostly about “it was most difficult living through that illness” or transcribing what that illness feels like to you down on paper? Because one of the reasons I’ve talked about my own interest in writing memoir someday, and I remember the advice of Chuck Palahniuk where he says, “You need to make sure you’re, like, super good at writing when you do that because you don’t want anyone to laugh at your pain (paraphrased of course).” Which is very real, but if you’re an amateur writer trying to write your memoirs, you’re probably not going to be as skilled expressing it. In your book, I found you were skilled at expressing it, what it felt like, how your life changed and stuff like that. Would you say that was harder than living through it, in a sense, trying to articulate it?

CW: I don’t necessarily believe that one is harder than the other. They’re both hard, but it’s a different kind of hard. It’s equivalent to… falling down on the ground and busting your knee versus someone punching you in the face. Both of those things are painful, it’s just that the different kind of pain, so to speak. Ummm, yeah, they are both very painful, because they’re both still with me, but it’s a different kind of pain and you have to learn… like some things… what’s a good way to put it… as you get older, some things you are not going to be able to get rid of, so therefore there are some things you have to learn how to live with it. It’s not going away. You know, like, when you’re a kid, if someone at school is bullying you around, I mean eventually you grow up, that person moves away, you move away— you know, it’s over. But if you have a crappy car, eventually you’ll go, you’ll get another car. But as you get older, you can’t get rid of some things. Some things, you have to learn how to live with it. And there’s just no way around it. So I would say having an illness, especially one that is visible, I’ll always think about Patrick Swayze, in a sense. I remember when he was diagnosed with, it was cancer, right?

NE: I don’t recall.

CW: Yeah, I think it was cancer. And I remember him and his wife were, about a year after he was diagnosed, him and his wife was at, I think it was a Lakers, it was a NBA, a basketball game. And his face, I mean literally, you could see every bone in his face and his neck. And, you know, I remember thinking that how courageous a person has to be in order to be seen in public, with everyone knowing that you have this illness, and I think he actually died a couple months after that, not too long after that. So when I have a flare-up in my eyes, I have an eye patch, I have sunglasses, everything and anything you can think of to have done to your eyes… I mean, I’ve had my eyes dyed so they could take eye exams, I’ve had needles in my eyes, eye injections, I’ve had eye surgery… like where they do ultrasound on a woman’s belly when she’s pregnant, they put the hot gel on your belly, well they put that in my eye and took the ball and rolled, you know, like anything you could have done to your body, I’ve had done to my eyes. And… it’s, ummm… it just takes a courageous person to talk about something that is wrong with you that you didn’t ask to be wrong with you. Like, you didn’t… it just happened to you.

NE: One of the pillars of your philosophy is to treat others the way you want to be treated. Can you think of a moment when this adage was most challenged, and did you stick to your wisdom in that moment?

CW: When it was most challenged… I can’t think of a particular incident when it was most challenged, but I can say that it is most challenging when you, like when you’re nice to someone, or you give someone a helping hand, or you go the extra mile for someone, and they are the ones who betray you, or they are the ones who cause you harm. I would say that is probably when that philosophy or that philosophical thought is most difficult to adhere to. But that’s the purpose of it, I mean, that is what makes you wiser, when you do what it is that is not easy. That’s how you get ahead. That’s how you get ahead in your thinking. That’s how you get ahead in your life. That’s how you get ahead in your mind. So yeah, I would say that is when it’s the most difficult, when people betray you who you know, or who you would’ve never thought would ever have betrayed you.

NE: And, to end this interview, a fun question. Who would you like to play you in the movie version of “Something Inside of Me”?

CW: Well thank you for a fun question (laughs).

NE: (laughs) Yeah… I really wanted to get at the soul of who you really are, but…

CW: Yeah… let’s see… this is going… no no no. Oh, what is her name… she played the maid in The Help, and it’s Olivia something, I can’t think of her, I’m terrible with names.

NE: I know, I thinking of… for some reason, I want to say “Butler,” but I think I’m confusing her with the author (Octavia Butler) in that case.

CW: Yes. But she played… I can get back to you—

NE: I can get look this up when I’m—

CW: Yeah, but she’s a very very very popular African-American actress, she’s #1 hands down.

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It was Octavia Spenser! We were both wrong!

NE: All right. Thank you very much for your time.

CW: You’re welcome. Thank you for having me.

 

Be sure to purchase Chitoka’s book here!

The Top 15 Songs From ‘Undertale’

One of my favorite review introductions comes from Todd in the Shadows. Todd is a music reviewer on YouTube that delivers critical, insightful, and hilarious videos about pop songs… at least, about pop songs he thinks are worth talking about. Sometimes the charts let him down on that front. At the beginning of this particular video, he laments his writer’s block to a friend. The friend (Kyle Kallgren, another reviewer whose videos you should watch) speaks to Todd about letting creativity come through the heart and trusting his instincts. Renewed with inspiration, Todd proudly declares, with the passion of a man declaring his purpose to the world, his latest video subject: The Top Ten Groin Shots in Movies.

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Cue dramatic chord…

That’s kind of where I’m at right now. Yeah, I’m a writing blog, but sometimes you gotta break the formula, you know? Plus, I think the reason I’ve spent so much time thinking about the writing in Undertale is because I want to listen to the soundtrack again and again. For those uninformed, Undertale is a good video game created and soundtracked by Toby Fox that got kickstarted on the premise that no one has to die during the game and it justifies video games as an art form and can be played by almost anyone and reads like an 80s fantasy movie and oh god I’m going to spoil it all. I implore you: this is a game best experienced blind if you can. This is your last warning.

Undertale runs through a huge gauntlet of emotions and scope, and its soundtrack really captures that variety. I waned to make a list so I can express 1) how much I love Toby Fox’s compositions, 2) how much I need to get these songs out of my head, and 3) that “MEGALOVANIA” deserves to be knocked down a peg. You heard right: it’s not making the list. Oh, it made honorable mentions, because it’s still kickass, but you might as well call this list “Top 15 Undertale Themes That Are Better Than “MEGALOVANIA” Get Over It.” They say talking about music is like dancing about architecture. And I might as well be doing that, since I know nothing about musical theory and have no musical talent. I just know what’s good. I suppose that’s a decent writing goal for me: to explain how these 15 dances are better than “MEGALOVANIA”’s Hagia Sophia. I think that’s how metaphors work. Anyways, without further ado…

THE TOP 15 SONGS FROM THE UNDERTALE SOUNDTRACK

#15:

Spider Dance

I put this one low on the list because there is a bit of a buildup you have to sit through. The chiptune sounds blend a bit, and the first 15 seconds basically repeat themselves. But when it hits its stride? Oh man… there’s a reason all the spiders are clapping to the music during this boss fight. For such a pointless moment in a story built on tight character interactions, “Spider Dance” makes the Miss Muffet fight memorable. It manages to be sinister and dangerous while also being fun and catchy. One of the many cases in Undertale where the soundtrack does the heavy lifting.

#14

“Spider Dance” isn’t the only song that captures a contradiction well. On the surface, “An Ending” is just that: the piano piece that plays during one of the game’s many neutral endings. But here’s the thing: none of those endings are actual endings. They represent a point of great uneasiness in the Underground, a time where no one’s better off and few can change that state. The only reason these moments are considered endings is because you’ve been removed from the story. And even that’s not true: you can reset the game and go back to ensure everyone’s happiness. This reset is more of a continuation of your story instead of a true undoing of progress. “An Ending” reflects that ambiguity. “An Ending” is an uneasy, somber, poignant, yearning, quiet finale of a piece: I’m hard pressed to think of anything better suited for one of the neutral endings.

#13:

The Fallen Child

This song’s not on the soundtrack. I have no idea why, it’s easily the scariest piece of music in the game. Undertale has some frightening moments in it, but even if you take the Genocide route and become the scariest living thing in the Underground, this terror track plays and reminds you who the scariest thing in the game is. And the music here’s so simple! It’s just high-pitched strings and two timpani beats. And yet, if I gave you this 15-minute version to listen to, you’ll find yourself nervous about pushing that pause button, even though 15 minutes of this would be all buildup and no payoff. But that’s what horror’s all about: the buildup. Seriously, Toby, you couldn’t put this in? You just had to make room for “Dogbass,” didn’t you? This is one of the many examples of Toby Fox accomplishing a whole lot with the bare minimum needed to make a song— I’d say it’s his best example too.

#12:

Snowy

Man, what a contrast to the last song, huh? We’ve gone from a world-destroying, possessive manifestation of your dark soul, to watching the snow fall outside your window. But as much as I like “The Fallen Child”… I admit it, it’s not really what you’d call a song. But as for “Snowy”? Any pianist and violinists out there, play this for your family at Christmas, and you’ll have an instant holiday memory. This is the music for the next area after one of the more traumatic moments in the game (how traumatic it is is up to you), and also right after some of the game’s silliest moments. It instantly sooths the soul and reestablishes atmosphere. Worried about a stalker? Accidently killed your adopted mother? No worries— “Snowy”’ll set you straight. Video game soundtracks accomplish a lot of things: a relaxing mood usually isn’t one of them. And even in that small number, none of those songs are as comforting as this.

#11

“Snowy” takes a land with a bunch of snow and makes a beautiful moment out of it. When you actually have a beautiful moment on hand, you’ll have to up the heartwarming. “Reunited” is the only song that will play (save one room) in the Pacifist route post-game. That is, after you’ve saved the Underground and redeemed even the most damaged characters. There’s just the right diversity of instruments in “Reunited”: sometimes the blend of 16-bit notes and regular instruments doesn’t work in the Undertale soundtrack, but not here. And the song just keeps the mood going, like an actual reunion with everyone you’ve ever loved. Which is just as well, since the game hopes you’ll keep backtracking to see everyone’s happy face again. This is the game’s true finale, and the music lets us know that.

#10:

Finale

Ok, scratch what I said earlier: this is what a finale should sound like. This is probably the point of the game where I was the most involved and invested in what was going on: where you finally break free from the villain’s extradimensional clutches and start fighting back. The last fourth of Undertale is a buildup to a grand finale, and this song plays for the home stretch. It just becomes bigger and more epic sounding as it goes along… and then, during the fight at least, it loops and still keeps getting bigger and more epic. We may have found the key to infinite energy here. Maybe this song’s missing a little something in the soundtrack version without Flowey’s grunts of pain. But “Finale” sells what’s arguably an easy and repetitive final confrontation with such conviction and passion that it’s impossible to not press ‘z’ with greater force each time you press the ‘Fight’ button. I’m actually at kind of a lost for words, it is that good.

#9:

It’s Raining Somewhere Else

You Undertale fans out there have probably heard this a million times: “I don’t know if Toby Fox is really smart or really lazy.” If you’re wondering how that question came to be, here’s why: nearly every song in Undertale is a sped up, slowed down, re-orchestrated, or remixed version of another motif in the game. Everything. No, seriously. It’s a little disorienting. It makes creating a list like this a little difficult. Am I representing all the leitmotifs? Should I put two similar songs on the list close together? If I put two similar songs far apart on the list, what does that say about Toby? Or about me?

But if I’m going to represent the entire practice of Inceptioning your soundtrack, I’d say this is the best example of it: “It’s Raining Somewhere Else.” You heard this earlier in the game: it’s the same melody as “sans.” “sans.” is quirky and silly and uses funny instruments. But slow it down and put a jazz band behind it, and “sans.” becomes “It’s Raining Somewhere Else.” The songs are as different as 🙂 and :(. And that’s why it’s perfect. Sans the skeleton is also 🙂 and 😦 (a moment of silence for the English teachers I gave a heart attack to in this sentence). “sans.” represents Sans’ goofy, relaxed side, while “It’s Raining Somewhere Else” is his somber, melancholy side. And, between the two, “It’s Raining Somewhere Else” is the one I want to hear on repeat. Play this in a fancy restaurant, and no one will be able to tell it’s from a video game. If you go down the same rabbit hole I went down of spot-the-other-songs-in-Undertale-songs, this’ll be the one that blows your mind the most. The fact that this song is great is almost incidental to how cool its own existence is.

#8:

Hopes and Dreams

Undertale has a lot of unique moments in it, but none of them hold up to the final boss fight of the Pacifist run. It’s less of a fight and more of an intervention. You know there’s a good person inside of the villain, and you’re trying to save him. Expecting something hopeful here, like “Reunited,” or touching like “It’s Raining Somewhere Else”? Guess what? With “Hopes and Dreams,” you get something hopeful, touching, and kickass. We went metal, son. And why shouldn’t we? All your character’s good deeds and merciful actions have been building up to this moment. While the rough chords of “Hopes and Dreams,” capture the fight’s intensity, the simple and earnest melody (another one you’ve heard before) shows how innocent and trusting your character is at this point. It really is a true hero’s fight song (Sorry Undyne— yours is good too.)

#7:

Dogsong

I spent a lot of time building up how appropriate and meaningful the other songs are, but here… I got nothing. That sure is a dog’s song, all right. Undertale has a super silly sense of humor, and “Dogsong” is the theme for those moments. But talk about a perfect encapsulation of the friendly energy of a dog. It’s impossible not to smile at this one.

Ummmm… did you know that “Dogsong” was composed entirely in Mario Paint? Ok, I’m moving on before I further embarrass myself.

#6:

Another Medium

You know what’s another big emotion for Undertale? Wonder. For a game with retro graphics and not always the best art, there are times you just have to step back and appreciate the atmosphere. “Another Medium” does just that. Without words, it says, “Hey this little kid you’re playing as is seeing things that they never imagined they would see!” And in a soundtrack encompassing a buffet of standout tracks, I think this one might stand out the most.

It’s sort of the cousin of “Snowy.” Both songs reestablish atmosphere after silly moments, but “Another Medium” takes you to a new world unlike anything your character has seen, with its opera singer and constantly changing themes and tones. You’ve probably seen something like it before— video games, by law, need at least one lava level. If some Undertale tracks try to fit the moment, and other try to elevate the moment, “Another Medium” does both effortlessly.

#5:

Death by Glamour

Oh hell YEAH “Death by Glamour”! This is the music of the best boss fight of the game, and it’s the extra edge that makes the Mettaton battle the best boss fight in the game. This is what “Spider Dance” was trying to be: an instantly catchy, intense buildup to an unforgettable climax. “Spider Dance” makes the spiders dance, and “Death by Glamour” makes you dance. It takes three motifs you’ve heard before (“CORE,” “Metal Crusher,” “It’s Showtime!”) and puts them in an electronic mix so electrifying that you stop questioning the fact that your goal in the fight is to boost your opponent’s TV ratings. The dance beat grounds everything so that the showbiz-influenced parts of the song can go as crazy as they want and never make the song feel frantic or desperate. The saxophone solo… oh, what the hell am I doing? This song doesn’t need defending, just listen to it! Cherish it! Cherish harder!

#4:

Stronger Monsters

I didn’t think it was possible, but this song is actually more of a pump-up workout track than “Death by Glamour.” In a game where you’re not supposed to hurt anyone, “Stronger Monsters” sure makes you want to beat up some monsters. That’s probably why this song only shows up in Hard Mode instead of the game proper: it’s so good at boosting energy. I think this is one of the rare instances where a song is too good for this game. You heard right: “Stronger Monsters” is arguably too good for one of 2015’s most beloved games… and it only takes #4 on this list.

Where “Death by Glamour” is frenetic, “Stronger Monsters” is breathless. Where “Hopes and Dreams” is hopeful, “Stronger Monsters” is empowering. And just try to think of “Enemy Approaching” while beholding how awesome this song is. Work out, keep appointments, dumpster dive, whatever— put this song on, and you’re invincible.

#3:

Nyeh Heh Heh! /Bonetrousle

I gave these two the same slot for a number of reasons. One, they’re basically the same song (surprise!). Two, they’re the score for some of the game’s best moments.

Watching people react to Undertale on a Let’s Play is fun: it’s a game full of surprises. One of these great moments is when “Nyeh Heh Heh!” plays and Papyrus arrives to banter with Sans (Papyrus is my favorite character, by the way; a weaker-willed version of me might have put these songs at #1 just for that). “Nyeh Heh Heh!” captures the scheming and humorous nature of Papyrus so well that it makes other leitmotifs look like slackers. But let’s be honest… that’s not the star on the #3 spot.

The other great “I can’t wait to see their faces!” moment in Undertale comes from the Papyrus boss battle. You think he’s still a harmless, if amazingly lovable, fool at this point in the game. Then comes his fabled “blue” attack. And then his real blue attack. And then… “Bonetrousle.” Trust me on this. You should’ve seen your faces.

I recommend listening to “Nyeh Heh Heh!” once, followed by immediately listening to “Bonetrousle” for all eternity. Everything “Nyeh Heh Heh!” did right— its great theme, its disarming simplicity, and its fun-loving nature in the guise of a temporary villain theme— “Bonetrousle” somehow does 10 times better. “Nyeh Heh Heh!” sounds like it’s impossible for shit to go down with Papyrus. “Bonetrousle”… shit goes down.

You know how I know that “Bonetrousle” deserves to be up there with the all-time great examples of video game music? Nearly every single cover version of this song is a failure. The only good ones I’ve heard are this symphonic metal version, “Symphony of Bones,” and, of course, the kazoo version. The other remixes either amp up the stomp-stomp beat to unbearable loudness, or don’t give the melody the energy it deserves. They don’t get it. “Bonetrousle” is tight, man. It’s Goldilocks. You have to get the ingredients exactly right for it. And thank god that Toby Fox did so. This is by far the Undertale song I’ve listened to the most, and maybe I’m biased, but I don’t care. The scenes with Papyrus are the best parts of the game, and if “Stronger Monsters” is too good for fighting monsters, “Bonetrousle” may be better than even the game’s greatest creation.

#2

One of my pet peeves for Best Of lists concerns the creator saying something along the lines of “Remember, this is all my opinion, so please send your negative thoughts on my list elsewhere!” To which I often reply: no duh it’s all just your opinion. There are no mathematical equations that can compute what “right” answers for art are. What makes a good list is how well each entry is defended. I can see why people do this, though. Music is something a) very subjective, and b) something people are extremely passionate about concerning its highs and lows. If you pretend to host an “objective” ranking, not only will people disagree with you, but also it’ll be people who also fall for the fallacy of “objective criticism.” But yeah, if there’s anything that reveals how un-objective this whole enterprise is for me… there’s “CORE.

I had most of this list figured out a while ago, but postponed writing it (and postponed writing this section in particular) because I couldn’t wrap my head around just how much I like “CORE.” And yeah, this song reveals a lot about me as a music lover. You’ll notice that the last few songs were all exciting and catchy with a strong beat. Couldn’t I have been more varied in my favorite picks? Doesn’t the intro to “Death by Glamour” already sort of cover this one? Couldn’t I etch out a spot for “MEGALOVANIA” instead? No. I’m sorry. I can’t. “CORE” is just that good.

There are a lot of elements to “CORE” that make it the tension-building prelude to the finale it needed to be, and you’ll be able to appreciate every one of those in just one listen. Can you rally call Toby Fox lazy if he put so many great melodies in one song? With every new instrument introduced, you take in the excitement of the moment you’re playing. And like “Death by Glamour,” and “Finale,” this song gets even bigger and better on subsequent repeats. But it doesn’t have to try as hard to do so. I’ll put it like this: while listening to this, how many of you quit the game to do something else? There were points where you could. Do you think you could?

In the end, I couldn’t avoid putting this on the list: it was just too perfect. I can only think of one Undertale song that’s better. But before we do that…

HONORABLE MENTIONS

So, so many. “Your Best Nightmare,” “Ruins,” “Quiet Water,” “Determination,” “Bring It In, Guys!” “It’s Showtime!” “Run!” “Battle Against A True Hero”… I could make a top 30 and not get to everything I love about this soundtrack. A few mentions in particular stand out:

  • NGAAHH! /Spear of Justice: Consider this the unofficial #16. Undyne’s theme is just as heroic and bombastic as the head of the Royal Guard herself. Maybe I still should’ve put this in…
  • Metal Crusher: Sometimes I have to step back and think, “Wow, a TV show host who’s also a killer robot is actually a fantastic premise.” This theme does justice to the menacing, yet loopy and cheesy nature of all that.
  • MEGALOVANIA: No, I don’t hate “MEGALOVANIA.” It actually grew on me. I started out not really liking this and found out later that it’s exciting and does have a nightmarish quality of sorts. If I had to say why it’s not on the list, I’d say 1) It doesn’t really have a satisfying conclusion, and 2) It sounds like it could belong to just any old boss fight. “MEGALOVANIA,” was originally composed for an Earthbound mod. Other tracks here are also from other projects, but they fit better in the world of Undertale than “MEGALOVANIA.” Still, I’d prefer listening to this than “Song That Might Play When You Fight Sans.
  • CORE Approach/Small Shock/Oh My…: I refer to these three as “A Small Core…” since they’re all similar. Each one is only a few notes, and they all absolutely nail the vibe they’re going for. “CORE Approach” captures what it’s like to be on the edge of an exciting new world. “Small Shock” is pure and simple, the music for a small surprise. As for “Oh My…” how weird is it that we have 8 notes that signify “oh shit” and “this is actually kind of hot” simultaneously? I hope that track finds use somewhere else in your life, like maybe when you jokingly suggest to your friend’s mom a strip-off and she accepts. But enough stalling, it’s time for…

#1

It’s “Undertale.

Not the entire album itself, though I was tempted. I’m talking about “Undertale,” the song that plays when you’re at New Home and you’re learning the story of Asriel. I’ve used a lot of metrics to judge songs in this list; how well they fit their moment, how they make me feel, what kind of statements they make; but I’ve never called any of them beautiful. This one is beautiful. If you need to convince someone that video game soundtracks can compete with music in other fields, “Undertale” will do it.

From the instant the acoustic guitar starts up the song, my heart melts. Every time it cycles back to the start and builds on itself, “Undertale” just gets more hopeful and touching and strong. If you were to read the story presented during this song without the music, you’d notice that there were some confusing, unexplained parts in it. But while “Undertale”’s playing? It’s the most heartbreaking story in the world. Every time a new instrument comes in, you just get more contemplative and emotional. It really does capture the center of what this game is. Strip out the cosmic horror and the silliness, and Undertale is, well, “Undertale.” This moment is where, upon hearing the music, I decided that “Undertale” wasn’t a part of a great soundtrack; it was the crown of one of the best soundtracks of all time. I like listening to songs on repeat, but this is one of those rare cases where you should listen to it once and then think about it for a few moments.

Music can make you do a lot of things, and rarely does that list include, “make you want to tell everyone how much you love them.” That’s probably something Undertale was going for. And it’s something “Undertale” accomplishes just by existing. This song does make me want to say, sincerely, thank you all. It may have been said before, but you really do fill me with determination. Thank you for indulging in my little list, and do yourself a favor by checking this soundtrack out.