Top 10 Books and Films 2015 Edition!

This year, I kept a tally of how many books I read and how many films I saw in theaters, as I was curious to know what the totals would be. With a few days of 2015 left, my goal of reading 100 books has been completed and I have seen a total of 21 films in theaters… 22 if you count the second time I saw The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies. Though I would love to write in-depth reviews of each book/series I read and each film I saw, for time purposes, I thought that I would just list my top ten favorites and a few reasons in each category instead. Here we go! I’ll try and avoid spoilers!

Top 10 Books / Book Series (in no particular order)!

10.) The School for Good and Evil Series by Soman Chainani
A fun series that puts a new spin on fairy tales with familiar characters written in a new fashion and fresh characters with very distinct personalities. The books present unique ideas on love and friendship, interesting plot-lines, and a lot of wit.

9.) Grisha Series by Leigh Bardugo
The compelling world and intriguing characters introduced in the Grisha series kept me turning the pages. Magic, romance, and a grim, yet hopeful storyline. Definitely can’t decide which book of the three is my favorite, but they were all equally memorable, action-packed and unpredictable. Easily one of the best YA series I’ve ever read.

8.) Starcrossed Series by Josephine Angelini
I went into these books not knowing what to expect, and was really surprised – it’s a new spin on mythology (Helen of Troy, Paris, Trojan War stuff, Greek gods, etc), with sharp writing, excellent dialogue, and great characters. A new interpretation of old formulas, and a refreshing read.

7.) The Martian by Andy Weir
I read this book because I was compelled by the film trailer, and let me just say, it was really nice to read a novel about space travel and exploration that wasn’t totally grim and depressing. Really funny, great characters, and I read the last quarter of it in a straight shot because I could not wait to find out what was going to happen.

6.) For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund
A wonderful blend of sci-fi and classic, gothic-esque romantic literature. I really loved the style, the characters, and the plot, since it blended two genres that I am a huge fan of. It was a sit-down and read it all in one day kind of book. I got drawn in from the first page and was immersed all the way to the last.

5.) The Jewel and The White Rose by Amy Ewing
This was one of those “Hm, I think I’ll pick this up” deals on my Nook, and I am super glad I did. A semi-dystopian YA novel with an original premise (at least, one I’ve never seen before) about surrogacy, of all things, I was totally drawn in by the plot and when The White Rose came out this October, I sat down and read it all at once. Great read.

4.) Winter by Marissa Meyer
I read the first three novels in the Lunar Chronicles last year, but this is easily one of my favorite YA series of all time. Futuristic interpretations of fairy tales, with new ideas, a lot of action, memorable characters, and an engaging plot. Winter delivered as a fitting, and fulfilling finale to a marvelous series that I will certainly reread someday.

3.) Graceling by Kristin Cashore
This was one of those books that drew me in with the writing style, then kept me in with an intriguing plot. I loved the world-building, the descriptions of the characters, and the original, but easy-to-follow ideas presented in the novel. A great read, all in all.

2.) Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
Long story short, I am a fangirl. This book hit me on so, so many levels.

1.) An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir
Action packed, with equally interesting dual-protagonists, a lot of suspense, a terrifying, but exciting world, and  excellent writing. My jaw went slack several times while reading, and I definitely stayed on the treadmill several minutes longer while I was reading it at the gym. Definitely looking forward to whatever comes next for the characters and the world that Tahir has created.

Top 10 Movies (in order from least fave to most)!

10.) Ant-Man (honorable mention: Avengers: Age of Ultron)
Ant-Man was a surprising film for me. Typical Marvel action but with a different, more humor-based flair that makes it stand out from some of the grittier, darker titles in recent years. The IMAX 3D was pretty neat, and I still laugh out loud whenever I think of the huge Thomas the Tank Engine scene. (While I loved Age of Ultron, it didn’t quite live up to predecessors, nor the hype surrounding it…but these two were close.)

9.) The Martian
I saw the film about a week after I finished reading the book and was not disappointed in the least! Matt Damon captured the brilliant humor of Mark Watney, and though some elements were lost in the book-to-screen transition, the film certainly kept the hopeful spirit of the novel and all in all, served as a worthy adaptation in my opinion.

8.) Man From U.N.C.L.E.
My dad is a big fan of the show, and I probably wouldn’t have seen this movie if he hadn’t wanted to go. But I’m glad I did, because it didn’t disappoint. Lots of action, humor, and great characters who are definitely easy on the eyes. Plus, the sandwich eating / boat chase scene had me laughing for quite a while.

7.) Everest
Basically, don’t go into this movie expecting warm fuzzies and happy rainbows. I didn’t know anything about the 1996 Everest disaster going into it (at least, no specific details, like the death count and all that) so I left the theater a little red-eyed and sniffly. But seeing it in IMAX was quite the ride. It also convinced me to never, ever climb a mountain. Ever. I’m even leery of hills, now.

6.) The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies
Flawed though it may be, it was a fitting conclusion to Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit series and a last goodbye to Middle Earth in cinema. Also, a really stunning IMAX experience. Excellent performances by the cast and a real treat for the non-purist Tolkien fans like myself who don’t mind a few changes here and there. Fili and Kili are still my lock-screen wallpaper.

5.) Crimson Peak
Stylistically and visually, Crimson Peak was absolutely stunning. The costumes, the sets, the music, the dialogue… everything set the mood of the film. The plot was a bit predictable, and it’s more of a gothic romance than a “horror” film, so if you go into it expecting cheap scares and gore, you will be disappointed. But the ghosts are still super freaky, the suspense is well done, and it was a really great cinematic experience. Also, I just really enjoyed it. And Jessica Chastain is terrifying.

4.) Jurassic World
Dinosaurs. Chris Pratt. Enough said.

3.) Cinderella
I have a soft spot for fairy tales and princess stories, and I thought this reinvention of Cinderella did a great job paying tribute to the source material, while adding plenty of new material and magic. I loved the music, the acting, the sets and costumes, and even though it’s telling an old story that we’ve heard a thousand times, it does it in a new, fresh way, with plenty of classic charm.

2.) The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2
I went in expecting a dark, grim, depressing film that remains true to the source material and invokes the circumstances of war, and that is exactly what I experienced. Pretty impactful for fans of  both the films and the novels, who now get to see their favorite characters die and suffer  onscreen (Yay…*sob*), and all in all, a fitting conclusion to the series.

1.) Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens 
I teared up the instant the famous theme started playing and “Star Wars” appeared on the screen. I wasn’t alive when Star Wars / A New Hope was released, but have grown to love (most of) the films over the years. The newest Star Wars installment is hands-down my favorite film of the year. A fitting tribute to the original films, with familiar faces, music, sounds, and props, coupled with plenty of new, compelling characters, places, and material, the film is a true continuation, not a total overhaul, to satisfy fans new and old. It doesn’t stomp on the source material, it celebrates it, and pays homage – all the way back to the title sequence and the old-school transitions. There was laughter, tears, more laughter, MORE TEARS, and so much action packed into the film that I know I need to see it again just to make sure I didn’t miss anything, and I can’t wait for the series to continue with Episode VIII.
Also, I may have cried at the end when a certain character appeared. No spoilers, but DAMN. The feels were real.

Advertisements

My Precious

I’ve been a devoted e-book reader since 2013.

Prior to this, I was a devout anti-e-book-reader and pro-regular book reader. I thought that e-books were an abomination, defiling the sanctity and purity of traditional paper books. I just didn’t understand the reasoning behind e-readers and e-books. How can anybody read a book that doesn’t have that wonderful new book smell when you crack open the pages?

My stubborn-ness faded after a while, in large part due to my extensive book list for my last year of college work (mostly high-level English classes with several novels assigned to each) which would have resulted in severe back issues if I’d had to tote all those books around. So, I surrendered and bought a Nook from my local Barnes&Noble with the generous amount of gift cards I receive every year at Christmas. My back and spindly arms thanked me for the decision, as I was able to buy a good number of my textbooks in e-book format. Really, an e-reader saved my life during my last year of college, and though my classes are now long over, I still love my Nook. I recently upgraded to a newer version, and I love my new one even more. It’s my precioussssss. I feel like each time I hold it, I have a world of endless literary possibilities in my hand.

11263112_10205172359087671_2017424198446792718_n
My precious Nook.

Since I purchased my Nook, I have developed a mentality of “Why not both?” One can love traditional paper books, while still appreciating the ease and simplicity of an e-reader. I’m a bit of a technophile; I don’t always understand new technology, but I sure do love it and appreciate it. If it’s shiny and it beeps, I’m a fan. As long as the plot of George Orwell’s 1984 doesn’t start to take place in reality, then I’ll remain a staunch supporter of technology, so really, my eventual conversion to E-readers is not much of a surprise.

So, if you are a book purist like pre-2013 me, and cannot fathom replacing lovely, traditional paper books, with their smell and their unique feel, just know…. there is a balance to be had. There are some books I prefer in their paper form, like comic books and graphic novels. But the convenience of an E-reader certainly worked wonders for me, and books don’t lose their magic just because they’re being read in a different form. I have read 98 books so far this year, since it’s much easier to carry my E-reader around and read at the gym without having to keep pages open while trying to work out on the treadmill or elliptical. And it has the internet. I love the internet.

The age of paper books is still ongoing, but e-books are coming on strong, and giving in to them is not like losing a battle. It’s more like forming a peace treaty, between two valid forms of what is essentially the same media. Do not sneer at e-books, just because they are the new kids on the block and different from what you know. Instead, welcome them with open arms, because it’s certainly possible for all books to co-exist in harmony, especially if it helps to expand literature and gives greater access to books for readers of all kinds.

Tale As Old As Time

Some stories contain a message so pure – so resoundingly true, and profound, even in their simplicity – that the words withstand the trials of time, and echo in the hearts and minds of dreamers and believers of all ages.

12065860_10156247226845445_4298476504253258090_n
Front balcony seats ftw!

I was never much of a “girly-girl” growing up. My older sister played with Barbie dolls, while my favorite was Scuba-Diving Ken. He lost his head in a tragic snorkeling accident and I didn’t much bother with dolls after that. But a part of me has always had a soft spot for fairy-tales, particularly those re-imagined by Disney.  And Disney’s 1991’s animated masterpiece is one of my favorite films of all time, a timeless tale of love and redemption – so when I had an opportunity to get tickets for the stage show, I dove on it.

Last night, my mom, sister, and I went to see the touring production of Beauty & the Beast while it was in York, PA, at the Strand Capitol Performing Arts Center. As a fan of both Disney and Broadway musicals, I was extremely excited to see one of my favorite stories brought to life onstage. I’d seen the touring production when it came to Baltimore over a decade ago, but the only thing I remember about that is getting lost on my way back from the bathroom and missing several minutes of the show. Then again, I was seven. I still have my souvenir rose from that production.

Now, I’m twenty-three. I don’t believe in fairy-tales, and don’t particularly want to be a princess. But there’s something inherently magical about a story like Beauty & The Beast that attracts a variety of different people. While I’m not a fan of children, it was pretty cute to see all the little kids there, excited for the show – and there were lots of little girls in Belle / princess costumes. There were a loads of twenty-somethings, older couples, groups of friends, theater kids, and families.

The theater itself is beautiful, with decent acoustics, and we were lucky to get tickets on the front balcony, so I (a dwarfish 5’3″) would not have to crane my neck to see the performance. By the time the lights went out and first notes of the Overture began, I knew I was in for something special.

During the show, my expectations were met, then exceeded. The musical remains true to the heart of the Disney film, retaining many of the songs, lines, and dialogue, while adding several new elements and expanding on certain aspects that were not a major factor in the film version. There are new songs that help convey the emotions of the characters, and expand upon the humorous, egotistical attitude of Gaston (‘Me‘,) the plight of the cursed objects (‘Human Again,’ originally intended for the film,) the turmoil of the Beast (‘If I Can’t Love Her‘ and ‘How Long Must This Go On?‘,) and an altered version of ‘Something There‘ that expands the romantic development between Belle and Beast.

Each actor/actress suited their role, remaining true to the original characterization while adding their own spirit to the already-familiar quirks of each character. For me, the highlights were Belle (Brooke Quintana), who nailed the ‘Belle – Reprise’ and gave me chills during ‘Home‘, Beast (Sam Hartley) who performed a moving rendition of ‘If I Can’t Love Her,’ my favorite song in the show, Gaston (Christiaan Smith-Kotlarek) who balanced humor, narcissism, and villainy while delivering some of the funniest moments (“I’m especially good at expectorating” is my favorite line, not sure why…), Lumiere (Ryan N. Phillips,), Cogsworth (Sam Shurtleff,) Mrs. Potts (Stephanie Gray,) Babette (Melissa Jones) and Madame de la Grand Bouche (Stephanie Harter Gilmore) as the Beast’s often-hilarious “family” and support system as he tries to become a real “gentleman” and prove himself as a worthy match to Belle. The entire cast, every singing plate, dancing carpet, townsperson, and living statue, enhanced the experience and helped bring the magic of the story alive onstage.

The familiar songs were wonderful, especially ‘Gaston’ with a pretty amazing synchronized cup-clinking interlude, and ‘Be Our Guest‘ which ended in an explosion of streamers. Quite the nostalgia trip. We saw what I believe to be a more ‘streamlined’ version of the musical, as ‘No Matter What‘ and ‘Maison Des Lunes‘ were cut, but that didn’t detract from the production, as there were plenty of songs, both new and old, to enjoy. The orchestra was brilliant, the overall set design was impressive, especially the puppets for the wolves/Enchantress and all of the elaborate moving set-pieces, and the costumes (in particular, for the enchanted objects) were incredible. Even with the changes, the message of the story itself, that beauty comes from within, remains at the core – and shines through each aspect of the show. Also, the dancing rug was a major highlight. Could not stop laughing for a solid minute after he came onstage.

Shout-out to the very nice usher who took at least 6 photos of us until my sister was satisfied.
Shout-out to the very nice usher who took at least 6 photos of us until my sister was satisfied.

My sister isn’t as much of a musical buff as me or my mom (though she does like them), but Beauty & the Beast is her favorite Disney film. I looked over at her as the last notes of the finale rang out in the theater. I was a little teary-eyed, as I am during the finale of almost every musical, but that was nothing compared to my sister. She turns to me, tears coursing down her face, and says, “I’M *EXPLETIVE*-ING SOBBING.” I laughed. Heavily. Which helped prevent me from dissolving into a tearful mess myself. Even my mom got a little teary, which just goes to show the power that a story can have.

The tale of Beauty & the Beast is a simple one. That love can conquer seemingly unbeatable odds, beauty truly comes from within, and that it is never to late to change for the better. Sometimes, the simplest stories are the most memorable ones – the ones that echo in our hearts for years, like a well-loved song. And that is the reason why Beauty & the Beast, in all its forms, truly is a tale as old as time, and always will be.

Etiquette

Now, I will freely admit that I am not a people person. I dislike most activities that involve interacting with large groups of people. I do not talk to strangers, both for safety reasons, and an inherent distaste for making small-talk.

However, I feel there are certain rules that should be followed when in public places. Some of these unspoken guidelines are obvious; like, don’t be a jerk, treat people the way you want to be treated, look both ways before crossing the street, hold the door for your elderly neighbors, etc, etc.

But I cannot help noticing that certain “rules” are often ignored, and the rule-breakers either have no idea that they are being a complete butt-head, or they simply do not know the basics of etiquette.

Now, I am not an etiquette master by any means. I don’t do fancy forks and all that nonsense, and would be a menace at a cotillion. And yet, while I have the disposition of a hungry bear that is waking from a three-month hibernation, I do my best to be polite when interacting with others. I turn my inner grizzly into a teddy-bear. Because I’m polite, dammit.

There are three places in particular where I notice a blatant disregard for proper etiquette the most, and those places are the gym, the movies, and the grocery store.

Let’s start with the gym.

Now, I go to a really laid-back gym. I like going there, have been a member for six years, and go 5-6 days a week, most weeks. It’s pretty small, and other gyms probably have a wider variety of clientele. At my gym, if you go between the hours of 8-10AM, the place is full of the elderly and/or rehabilitation folks. They are some of the nicest gym-goers I’ve ever encountered, though, occasionally, they will sit on the machines and chat with one another for a little too long, but that isn’t intentionally harmful.

It’s in the late afternoon/evening where the jerks come to play.

First of all, is it that hard to wipe down the machines after you use them? No, it isn’t. And yet, some people don’t seem to realize that other people do not want to use a machine that is soiled with stranger-sweat. It’s not just disrespectful, it’s gross. No one likes stranger-sweat. I don’t even like my own sweat.

Also, if you fill the entire gym with your dying-seal groans, that can infiltrate relatively soundproof ear-buds, then you are probably lifting too much weight and need to scale it back a little.

Then we have those select few who think it is appropriate to blatantly stare at other gym-goers. If you are one of these people, and you think that you are being subtle about it, I have news for you – you aren’t. It’s common enough at my gym that there is a rule about it on the rule-board. And yet, there is a guy at my gym – who I call Cargo-Shorts Guy, because he wears cargo shorts to work out – who I swear only goes to the gym to stare creepily at girls. Don’t be Cargo Shorts Guy.

At my gym, there are time limits for certain machines, because they are in high demand at “peak” hours, which is typically when I’m there. I witness people break this rule on a daily basis. Some nights, I can’t finish my routine because someone is hogging the elliptical. It’s not like they don’t see the time limit – it’s taped onto every machine. Maybe someone else would like to use the treadmill today, yeah?

Most days, I get through my workout without incident, but I am still appalled at some of the behaviors I see there. But that’s nothing compared to the monsters you find at the grocery store.

My grocery shopping routine is simple. Go in, get stuff, pay, leave. The less time I spend in there, the better.

But that does not mean I escape unscathed.

Last week, I needed to pick up dinner before heading off to work a late shift, so I stopped by the grocery store, thinking that I would just pick up a box of Lean Pockets and be out in two minutes. Alas, this was not the case.

I always use the self check-out. Typically, this is because I only ever buy 5 or six items at a time. And I am lightning-fast at scanning. However, on this particular day, luck was not on my side. And this is because there were numerous people going through the self check-out with FULL CARTS OF FOOD. I am talking carts overflowing with cereal boxes, lunchables, and bags of chips. I mean REALLY. One woman had to keep bugging the poor attendant because she didn’t know any of the codes for her produce, and her cart was comprised ENTIRELY of produce.

If you are one of these people, I ask you: WHY? WHYYYYY?

The convenience of self check-out is a marvelous thing, I know, but if you are buying enough food to feed a small army, then for the love of quick shopping trips, go through the regular line. You might think it’s convenient for you, but you are inconveniencing literally everyone else just because you don’t want to go through the regular line. The woman in front of me was buying diapers. Just diapers. And we had to wait in line for fifteen minutes because every bay was taken by someone with at least one full cart of product – some even had two.

I understand that some people don’t like it when other people bag their items for them (I mean, what if they put the Easy-Mac with my grapes? Perish the thought…) but there is a simple solution for that: BAG YOUR OWN STUFF. If, by chance, I happen to be making a big trip, I go through the regular line and I bag my own items. Simple as pie.

Then there’s the people who don’t follow lane procedures. These folks stand in the middle of the aisle, comparing the prices of peanut butter or applesauce or what have you, forcing others to perform acrobatic moves of incredible flexibility to even get past them. I once said “excuse me” to a woman who was blocking the middle of the aisle, and she told me to go and do something anatomically impossible and refused to move.

STAY ON ONE SIDE OF THE AISLE, PEOPLE. It isn’t hard.

Also, as a side note: Don’t let your children steer the cart if they are not tall enough to see over the handlebar. Just a couple of days ago, I was perusing the frozen pizzas and was struck by a cart full of cookies, Boo Berry, and Juicy Juice. The child-driver laughed at me as I stumbled into a display of playground balls, while his mother scolded him, the voice of utter defeat, “Sweetie, don’t run, you’ll hurt someone.” The child then sped away down the frozen foods aisle, laughing all the while.

Yeah… too late, lady.

After a stressful day of grocery shopping, one might find solace in taking in a movie. I go to the movies frequently, about two or three times a month, or more, depending on what’s out. I love movies. And it might just be me, because I am very particular about my movie-viewing experiences, but I feel as though there is a proper way to behave when you are in a movie theater, around other movie-goers.

Only three times in my life have I ever been in a theater that was empty save for my friends/family and I. My mom and I saw Cinderella this year, and, because it was a matinee on a school day, we were alone on the theater, so when I felt like making a comment about how cute Richard Madden looked, I didn’t have to whisper. Also, my best friend and I saw Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Sea of Monsters and Jupiter Ascending, and we were the only people in the theater. So we were as loud as we wanted to be because there was no one there to bother.

However, some people are as loud as they want to be even when there ARE people there to bother.

Last Friday, I took my parents to see The Martian. There were a group of kids in the theater who kept JUMPING up and down the stairs. Physically LEAPING. I am not sure what purpose this served, except for making the ground shake. By “kids,” I mean they were 15. And one of them was wearing a denim vest, which is an atrocity in itself. Eventually, someone asked them to stop, so they left the theater. They essentially paid $10 to jump up and down some stairs and not even finish the movie. WHY? WHYYYYY????

Also, the people behind me talked for the entire movie. Why do people pay money to go an talk the entire way through a movie? GO TO STARBUCKS, GET A LATTE, SIT DOWN AND CATCH UP. Don’t have your all-important life chats when everyone else in the theater is trying to watch Matt Damon eat potatoes grown in his own shit.

I was once in a screening of Iron Man 2, and in the first two rows (the ones where no one sits because you have to crane your neck to see the screen) were about ten teenagers, who decided that the rest of the theater needed to hear their commentary, and all of them had their phones out. Needless to say, when they were kicked out by theater staff less than halfway through the film, everyone else applauded, and the kids gave us the bird. Yeah… if you are a teenager like that, you should feel bad. And you’re not cool. If you were a teenager like that, then I hope you look back on yourself with the utmost amount of shame.

And people who text during a movie… just stop. Put your phone down for two hours. If you can’t, wait two years until the movie is on TV. I don’t need your phone screen flashing on my periphery when I’m trying to enjoy the movie.

AND FOR THE LOVE OF CASABLANCA, SHOW UP ON TIME. People who walk into a theater ten minutes into the movie – not the previews, the actual motion picture – with their arms laden with nachos and popcorn, and they can’t find the seat printed on their ticket, so they wait for an usher to escort them, disrupting everyone else… no. Just… no.

Now, I could go on. I won’t, because I’ve gone on long enough, but honestly, maintaining proper etiquette when in public isn’t difficult. It isn’t. If I, a girl with the mentality of a perpetually hungry zombie, can be sweet as a flower-covered pixie when interacting with the public, then so can the rest of the world. Common courtesy takes zero effort…. and it’s even rewarding, at times. Because most of the time, when you show people respect, they’re going to respect you in return.

Follow the golden rule: Don’t be a jerk.

That Time I Ripped My Pants in the Airport

Here’s a little story for Throwback Thursday – a story of love, loss, betrayal, and ripped pants.

I went to college in New England, but my home state is Pennsylvania. Specifically, I hail from a region of Pennsylvania known as “Pennsyltuckey.” Because, unfortunately, many folks in the area do not realize/accept PA was a Union State, and “Drive your Tractor to School Day” was a thing at my high school. That alone sums up my hometown pretty well.

Anywho, back to the story. While I was going to school, I would fly home during breaks to see my family. It was just easier to take the hour flight than to make the 6 hour drive. And I hate driving.

But if there’s anything I hate more than driving, it’s clothes shopping. My style is very simple. I wear plain shirts and dress pants to work, plain shirts and jeans the rest of the time. If I don’t have to leave my house, I wear a t-shirt and pajama bottoms. I probably own more pajama bottoms than the average human.

However, because I am short, I have difficulty finding pants in the right length. I either have to suck it up and buy regular length pants and have them altered, or I have to order short-length pants online. But whenever I can find a good, decent pair of pants that fit me and are in the proper length, I am pretty quick to buy them – especially if they are on sale.

That is how I came to possess the jeans.

I thought they were perfect. I spotted them on a clearance rack at a department store, in my size, and in the right length. A true rarity, like seeing a unicorn. I tried them on and they fit me almost perfectly. “Almost” being the key word, here. They were just a little tight, but they weren’t uncomfortable, and for $3.40, I could not pass them up. I bought them, and very quickly, they became my favorite pair of jeans. I don’t think I’ve ever loved an article of clothing more than I loved those jeans.

Alas, it was an ill-fated love affair.

After my very last spring break, I arrived at BWI on a pleasant March evening for my flight back to New England, where my final few weeks of college prior to graduation were to commence. Everything seemed to be going just fine. I got through security no problem, and the TSA agent praised my choice of mismatched socks (one argyle, one Welsh Corgi patterned) as per usual. The only difference between this trip and my previous trips is that I was not wearing a Batman shirt. It’s a custom for me to wear a Batman shirt on every flight I take, as a kind of good luck ritual. Instead, I was wearing a panda shirt, and my favorite pair of $3.40 jeans.

Perhaps that decision – to cast aside my lucky Batman shirt in favor of one featuring an adorable, black and white, bamboo-loving bear – set some bad mojo in motion. Because after I slipped my shoes back on, put my computer back in my backpack, and started off toward my gate, my homeward journey began to go a bit downhill.

I had only owned these jeans for about a year. Not long enough for them to show any visible signs of wear and tear. I thought they were fine; the stitching was sturdy, and they fit snug, but they were comfortable. I was unaware, as I strolled down the linoleum walkway toward the overpriced kiosks and shops, that it was the beginning of the end.

At one point, I bent down to put something in my backpack, and that’s when it happened. I felt a sort of tugging sensation near my back pocket, and the faint, almost indiscernible sound of something tearing. Rrrrrrriiiiiiipppp. 

I froze, and my blood turned cold in my veins. Please, I thought. Please don’t let that be what I think it is.

I didn’t want to get caught checking out my own bum in a very public airport, so I snatched up my backpack and hastened to a nearby women’s restroom. I turned around to look at my backside in the mirror, praying that the damage was minimal… that the tear could be hidden, and no one would notice…

My prayers were futile.

When I saw the damage, my jaw dropped. I had a massive, 100% noticeable, Great Canyon of rips right under my back pocket, about four or so inches long. As in, part of my underwear was in full view, and, as luck would have it, the pair I’d chosen for the day was an exceptionally bright color. Fate really is a cruel mistress.

As I stared, gaping, at the monstrous split in my pants, a woman emerged from one of the stalls, stepped up to the sinks, and started washing her hands. After a moment, she finally noticed me, and was able to grasp my situation pretty quickly, because I was still staring in horror at my reflection, and it was literally impossible not to notice what was going on. She stared for a moment, and then burst out laughing. “Good luck with that, honey!” she called to me as she tossed her paper towel in the trash can and walked out.

Slowly, the gravity of the situation started to sink in. I’d been betrayed by the pair of jeans that I’d selflessly given my heart to. All of my spare clothes were in my checked bag, now out of reach. I didn’t even have a sweatshirt or anything to tie around my waist and hide the damage. I had my backpack, my panda shirt, and a pair of ruined jeans. I could have bought a souvenir sweatshirt or something from one of the giftshops, but, since I was in Baltimore, it would have had a crab or the Ravens on it. And it would have cost $50. Not worth it.

But, I couldn’t hide in the bathroom forever. I had to get to my gate – so I could sit down and hide my shame.

I gathered my courage, tugged my T-shirt down as low as I possibly could, and hoped that my backpack might be able to hide most of the tear, and no one would notice the damage. I strolled out of the bathroom, my head held high. The breeze I could feel as I walked was highly unsettling, but I marched onward. I feigned nonchalance, though inside, my heart was hammering a nervous beat against my ribs. I imagined every eye in the airport was on me, even though I’m sure they had more important things to focus on, like making their connecting flights on time, getting their shoes shined, or buying an overpriced latte from Dunkin Donuts.

I was almost to my gate when it happened.

I was walking past a news-stand when some random man stopped me. He was the type of guy that, when you see him, you instantly want to punch him in the face – like a guy who tries too hard in gym class, flies the battle flag from the back of his muddy pickup truck, or always has to have the last laugh in an argument, even when he’s wrong. I remember that he was wearing a shirt with some kind of “hashtag” on it, and had too-large and too-expensive headphones around his neck, thus instantly earning my hatred. He stood in front of me, looking at me with callous amusement, and said, chuckling, “I don’t know if you’re aware of this, sweetheart, but you’ve got a giant hole-”

“In the butt of my jeans?” I asked. “Yeah, I know. What about it?”

He stared at me and blinked, smile faltering. He didn’t seem to possess the mental capabilities to produce a response to that, as he’d probably expected me to have a melt-down of some kind. So I gave an indignant sniff, and kept right on walking. Dudebro didn’t follow. I had surprised myself, during that exchange. Usually, I’m the type to crumble under confrontation, or any type of pressure – but even in the face of humiliation, I’d actually managed to stand my ground.

After that encounter, somehow, no one else in the airport noticed the epic tear in my pants – or if they did, they didn’t mention it. And as a result, it started to bother me a little less – though the draft was very unnerving. Perhaps my newfound confidence in the matter had something to do with it, though, more likely, it’s because people usually possess enough tact not to point these things out to someone who is obviously aware of their own unfortunate circumstances. I made it on and off my flight with little incident, got my bag from the baggage claim upon arriving at my destination, and grabbed a hoodie out of it and tied it around my waist. The worst was over, and I had survived.

When my roommate arrived to take me home, she asked, “So, how was the flight?”

And my response? “Fine. It was fine.”

So, what is the moral of the story? Never trust a pair of jeans. They might betray you. And if you ever feel like the butt of the joke, and that people are judging you for something you can’t change… don’t let it affect you. Just hold your head high, keep on walking, and leave that negativity behind you. Use it as a strength, not a weakness.

Here’s the tear, for reference…

The AFTERMATH.
The AFTERMATH.

Regret

During my years at college, I decided to grow my hair out.

It doesn’t seem like a monumental decision. However, it was a pretty big decision for me, as I had never permitted my hair to grow past my shoulders, because my hair is more or less a sentient being capable of complex thought; it’s kind of like having Super Saiyan hair without the otherworldly strength and crazy powers that come with it.

Every morning when I wake up and look in the mirror, I don’t know what to expect. Sometimes it’s semi-relaxed and I am able to style it into something moderately presentable for the day. Other times, it’s a frizzy, tangled mess that takes three hair ties and approximately 72 bobby-pins to contain. If I want to straighten it, I have to give myself at least an hour to do it and on humid days, it takes an hour and a half.

My hair is a force to be reckoned with. Whenever I think I’ve found a shampoo and conditioner combo that will tame the beast, it rebels against me. Products will work for a few uses, and then my hair will somehow evolve and develop a way to fight against it. Keratin? HAH. Don’t make me laugh. Argan oil? You must be joking. My hair is a supreme power, and nothing can prevent it from becoming the wild, tangled mess it’s destined to be.

Last summer, I’d had enough of the demon hair.

My hair was almost to my waist by then, after almost four years of growing it out. I hadn’t had a haircut in years, so I called up my stylist and scheduled an appointment. When I showed up at the salon, I don’t think anyone recognized me and I felt like a mountain man descending back to civilization after three years without encountering humanity… or a hairdresser. My hair was a disaster.

I asked my stylist to chop it all off. She asked if I was ABSOLUTELY sure, and I said yes. So she chopped off over twelve inches of the mane of doom, and I watched my crazy curls collect on the floor in a pile that soon resembled a brunette Cousin It from The Addams Family. With a few snips from her scissors, my rebellious hair was gone.

Before...
Before…
...After.
…After.

I was very happy with my new hairstyle at first. My hairdresser does excellent work. But shortening my hair doesn’t tame it much, and it does not last for long. It doesn’t change anything about it, except for the length. It’s still a complete pain to control, requires way too much time and effort to style, and can defeat even the strongest hair products with its tangle of curls and wild waves. I am the Master of Broken Combs and Severed Hair Ties, and that title remains, no matter how long my hair is. So, it wasn’t long before I regretted my decision to cut it off, and I began to process of growing it back out.

While I was growing it out the first time, my hair was a point of pride for me, but it got too difficult to maintain, and so I decided to just get rid of it all at once. Despite my choice, I felt better about myself when it was longer. I guess that’s silly, but after I cut it, I didn’t feel as confident as I used to… which is something I’ve always struggled with, regardless of the length of my hair. It didn’t take much time for me to realize that cutting my hair was a temporary fix to a minor annoyance, and it didn’t do anything to solve some of the deeper issues I was going through at the time. And I think that might have been the subconscious reason why I decided to cut it off. I was trying to exert control over something to make up for the things that were out of my control.

Regret is an interesting thing. I was so, so sure that I wanted to cut off my hair. Maybe I thought it would cure some of the other dissatisfaction I was experiencing at the time, but, obviously, it didn’t. Because it’s just hair. It’s trivial. And changing the external does not often lead to a change in the internal.

I have more regrets than a simple haircut, though I have found that it does no good to dwell on them for too long. Especially those events that might have happened years and years ago, but you suddenly recall them when you’re trying to fall asleep at night and cringe both internally and externally at the embarrassment and shame and agonize over and over, “Why did I do that?” I feel like everybody has moments like that. Those “Dear God, why did I do that?” moments that haunt us, from awkward adolescence to adulthood.

But I suppose that regret has some benefits, too. Because it’s possible to learn from your regrets and your mistakes. A rash decision can seem like a terrible choice at first, but the outcome might reveal itself to be a blessing in disguise. I mean… this probably isn’t the case for more questionable/unforgivable mistakes that lead to jail time and whatnot, but bear with me here.

A little over a year later, my hair is well on its way to being a mane that even Simba would be jealous of. It’s still a mess most of the time, and has defeated about three brushes in the last few months, but I’ve learned to accept it for what it is, and deal with it the best that I can. I regret my decision to cut my hair last year, but it was not a total loss, because I was able to learn from the experience. I know that changing my appearance does not fix the things that affect me on the inside, and that if I want to change certain aspects of my life, a haircut is probably not the way to go about it.

Things change, and life changes, and hair grows back. As much as you try to assert dominance and power over all aspects of your life, some things are out of control, like crazy hair, or unfortunate circumstances, or certain events that fill us with regret once they are over. And while regret can be a terrible thing, it doesn’t always have to be.

Because you can’t learn from mistakes if you never make any. All that matters is if you take something out of it, and do not let regret hold you back from making choices in the first place.

Favorite Anime Openings

Music is imperative when I’m working on a writing project. I’m one of those obnoxious people who crafts specific playlists for each story I’m writing, and I listen to them when working on said projects. But sometimes, my well of inspiration runs a bit dry, and I need a different kind of musical inspiration to get the creative waters flowing again.

There is one playlist in my collection that really gets me motivated, and that is a playlist full of anime opening (and some ending) theme songs. I’ve been an anime fan ever since Pokemon, Sailor Moon, Gundam Wing, Dragonball, and all those awesome classic 90’s series aired on Cartoon Network and were part of the Saturday Cartoon or Toonami lineups. And lets not forget classic Adult Swim. Those were the days, man.

So when I feel like saving the world, killing massive humanoid monsters, collecting all the shards of a dangerous jewel, becoming a mecha pilot with serious daddy and mommy issues, or learning the cruel lessons of equivalent exchange, I just put my Anime Openings playlist on to get myself pumped up. Sometimes, it makes writing just a bit easier and helps to blast through pesky bouts of writer’s block.

Is there anything more inspiring than a good anime theme song? I think not! So here’s a list of some of my all-time favorite anime themes, in no particular order.

Disclaimer: I do not own the anime or music listed below, nor are the embedded videos mine, they are just posted for reference.

1.) Ready Steady Go!Fullmetal Alchemist – L’arc En Ciel

I preferred FMA: Brotherhood to the original series (no hate, I did like both), but I will always consider the second opening to the first anime as one of the very best I’ve seen and heard. I often listen to this song on the treadmill and it gives me the boost I need to finish my workout.

2.) Zankoku na Tenshi no Thesis  – Neon Genesis Evangelion – Yoko Takahashi

Say what you want about the anime itself (it’s one of my favorites, but I understand people who dislike it, especially the last episode which really is a big WTF), this opening might be the greatest anime opening of all time. It makes me want to clap and congratulate somebody, for some reason…weird.

3.) My Soul, Your Beats! – Angel Beats – Lia

*bursts into tears*

4.) SignNaruto Shippuden – FLOW

I watched Naruto for a long time before I eventually got burnt out and gave up on it, and I never made it to Shippuden, but hope to pick it up again. I love FLOW and their songs are always definitive of what an anime intro should do: Get someone hyped to kick some ass. This one in particular makes me feel like going out and fighting ninjas, or rescuing my angsty traitor best friend from a freaky snake guy…

5.) Guren no YumiyaAttack on Titan – Linked Horizon

After disliking Death Note, Bleach, Black Butler, and many other anime that were far too over-hyped, Attack on Titan was the first anime I saw in a really long time that lived up to the buzz that surrounded it. This intro really gets the adrenaline pumping, and the second one, Jiyuu no Tsubasa, is just as awesome.

6.) Kimi ga Inai MiraiInuyasha: The Final Act – Do As Infinity

Inuyasha was one of my first “real” anime (that wasn’t Pokemon) and I actually bought the theme song CDs when I was in junior high. But as much as I love the original series (minus some of the filler, it did drag a bit), this theme might just be my favorite from both the original and the sequel.

7.) Tank! – Cowboy Bebop – Yoko Kanno ft. The Seatbelts

You can’t beat the classics.

8.) Crossing FieldSword Art Online – LiSA

I personally did not like SAO (don’t judge me, it was WAY over-hyped, though I understand why people loved it) but this opening song is pretty amazing.

9.) Cloud Age SymphonyLAST EXILE – Okino, Shuntaro

Last Exile was the first anime I owned myself (and it is the perfect length for an anime, in my opinion) and whenever I rewatch it, I never skip the intro. I like that it has a bit of a different sound, and the visuals are pretty great for an anime that came out in ’03. I have yet to watch the sequel, but I hope the music is just as good!

10.) Taiyou no Mannaka eEureka Seven – Bivattchee

Eureka Seven is one of my all-time favorite anime (great characters, concepts, story, mecha, etc) and I loved all the intros and outros, but this one just struck a chord for me. Though Days by FLOW, the first opening, is great too.

BONUS: Moonlight DensetsuSailor Moon – DALI / Moon Lips

BECAUSE SAILOR MOON IS GREAT, OKAY.