A Song that Heals and Emboldens
I have spent much of my life hiding.
I wear lots of clothing to cover my body.
I do not often express my true feelings.
I acquiesce more than I care to admit.
For reasons too complicated to explain, I have become too good at the art of concealment.
This is largely why I wrote the song “Dragon,” which is featured in the short film in this week’s issue. Click above to watch. In keeping with tradition, this is also my First Friday Film for the month of December, and it is also featured on my YouTube channel. I shot the footage on a recent plane ride to Florida thinking that the view from my window would be the perfect accompaniment to this song. I am quite happy to have followed my instincts.
This song is as much a personal pep talk as it is a contemplative ballad about being one’s true self on the inside and outside. I feel as if my life has been a sequence of constantly peeling away layers that I grew as a shield of protection. Every trauma and aggression, micro and otherwise, perpetrated against me thickened this shield, and as a queer person of color and a Filipino immigrant living in America’s ultra-conservative South, I became steadfast in my vigilance.
At some point, however, these layers become too numerous to carry. The combined weight of shame and fear grow increasingly heavy to bear.
I wrote “Dragon” over a year’s time, through various stops and starts. The melody on the piano that I play in the choruses and instrumental parts was a little vignette that I held on to for a while and was not sure what to do with. I kept playing that melody over and over again, and it seemed to have a forlorn and nostalgic quality to it.
Eventually, there were two factors that were integral to the creation of this song.
First, according to the Chinese zodiac, I was born during the Year of the Dragon. Even though I am not Chinese, I actually love dragons. They are fearless, ferocious, and breathtakingly beautiful creatures, and strangely enough, the personalities and qualities that the Chinese zodiac ascribes to dragons also happen to describe me. I have always wanted to write a song that involved dragons in some meaningful way.
Second, I love to have strong opening lines in my songs, and when I came up with the words “I will fly to Barcelona. Do the things I never did.” the sentiment this conveyed felt so real, vulnerable, and full of longing. It pointed me straight toward the space this song needed to inhabit.
The rest of the lyrics unfolded slowly over several months. I did not want to force words to rhyme or drive the narrative too hard. I wanted to convey a feeling of longing and a growing sense of confidence and dignity. In the end, this is a song whose notions are simply and plainly stated, but it stretches mightily into a lofty, surreal, pure, and magical realm.
It is easily one of my favorite songs to perform live, and I have presented it to you in this issue as such. The version used above was recorded live in my home studio. I played the music while I sang into a mic.
Someday, I will formally release this song within the double album of music I have been writing for quite some time now. It will come with the vocal harmonies and the string arrangements that I hear in my head. Until then, I give it to you, dear readers, as the centerpiece of a short film/lyric video because I do not know when that “someday” will be.
I only know that right now, I am actively working to be my best, truest self. The art I create and share from now on and for the rest of my life must completely reflect this. This song represents so much of who I am and who I want to become.
In the song’s bridge, I sing the words “I will fly” because flying seems like a form of freedom—freedom from fear, shame, and self-imposed limitations.
It is exactly that kind of freedom I want to embody. I will step out into the world slowly, peeling away my armor as I go, to find my own place in the sun.
Read Previous Issues:
The Art I Made In November:
Art and Racial Segregation on the Florida Coast:
A Walk in the Woods:
Where Pianos Roam is my reader-supported labor of love. To receive new issues and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.