Rena

(Here’s a short story I wrote a few years ago and have always been fond of. Hope you enjoy!)

Grayson Hightower did not understand what it meant to be happy.

He was not a superfluous man. He was a businessman. Forty-five, living in a posh penthouse overlooking the harbor—and he had yet to spot a grey hair. But after a slew of unsuccessful relationships, he couldn’t help feeling that millions of dollars and a huge building in the center of the city branded with his name were not the right ingredients for happiness.

She was a serious investment, but Grayson thought that Rena was worth it.

She fit all of Grayson’s requirements. Honey blonde hair, porcelain skin, wide, curious blue eyes. Her figure melted perfectly into every dress he bought for her. She laughed at all of his jokes, even if she didn’t understand them. Her features were so delicate she looked like she would break, but her smile was enough to enchant the darkest hearts.

He debuted her at a gala that was thrown in his honor—a celebration for his 25 years of service as CEO of Hightower Enterprises. His coworkers seethed with envy when they saw the gorgeous young blonde on his arm. “How’d you manage to wrangle a girl like that, Grayson?” Felix Fortescue—one of the older board members, and a friend of Grayson’s late father—asked with a wag of his bushy white brows.

Grayson smiled, looking over at Rena. She was sitting at their table, eagerly watching the couples on the dance floor, politely declining any offer to dance from other men.

“Just lucky, I suppose.”

He excused himself from the conversation and approached his date.

“Would you like to dance, Rena?” He offered his hand to her.

She grinned, and slipped her hand into his. “You’ll have to teach me. I’ve never danced before!”

Rena was a natural dancer. She moved mechanically, as though programmed to complement every move of Grayson’s. But after a few turns around the floor, Grayson’s knees grew tired and he allowed Rena to continue dancing with some of his colleagues while he stepped out on the balcony for some air. It was summer, but the night was cool, and the breeze felt nice on his flushed skin.

“You look happy, Grayson.”

He turned. Miriam Hayworth—head of the Product Development Department, and his former fiancé—had followed him onto the balcony. The ruby-red wine glass in her hand matched the fire of her hair and the bright color of her lips. He had not seen her since she broke off their engagement four years prior, though every work-related email she had sent since then had been very brusque.

“Miriam. It’s good to see you.”

The woman moved to stand beside him. As she came closer, Grayson could see that the makeup she wore had shaved a few years off of her face. From far away she could pass for thirty. “I see you’ve found yourself a new plaything,” she commented, taking a sip from her glass. “A bit young, isn’t she?”

“Jealous?” Grayson asked lightly.

Miriam snorted. “Hardly.”

Grayson peered inside. Through the glass balcony doors he could see Rena waltzing with an obviously tipsy and very ecstatic Felix. Rena was practically steering him around the floor, a vision of beauty in her dark blue gown.

“She’s the talk of the evening. You’ve impressed everyone.” Miriam remarked. Grayson noticed that she was sporting an impressive ring on her left ring finger. He had heard rumors that she had taken up with Mason Malbrook, head of Advertising. He must have been willing to give Miriam what Grayson hadn’t.

Grayson shrugged.

“Rena’s an impressive girl.”

“It’s a pretty drastic change, isn’t it?”

Startled, Grayson glanced over at her. She was avoiding his gaze – looking inside at the crowded ballroom, playing aloof. Miriam had always been overly-perceptive, something he had both admired and loathed about her. He cleared his throat.

“Maybe that’s what I needed. A drastic change.”

Rena certainly was a drastic change.

“Are you truly happy, Grayson?” Miriam asked quietly. Her green eyes observed him over the rim of her glass, as if searching for some cue in his eyes or on his face that would indicate that he was lying. Grayson sighed.

“Yes, I am. Very happy.”

“Grayson?”

Rena had crept out onto the balcony. Her eyes flitted between Miriam and Grayson, as though trying to process the situation. Miriam chuckled dryly. “I’ll leave you two alone,” she said, patting Grayson on the arm and heading for the door. She re-entered the party, her fire-red hair soon lost in the crowd. Rena walked up to Grayson, a broad smile on her face.

“I came out for some ‘fresh air’ too!” Rena informed him, looking up at the night sky. “It’s so beautiful—there are so many stars.”

Grayson looked up as well. Thousands of stars twinkling like jewels in the sky—and not a cloud in sight. He had no reason to doubt her, but he felt compelled to ask.

“Rena, are you happy?”

“Yes.”

“Honestly?”

Her eyes, almost perfectly round, were full of stars as she looked at him.

“If you are happy, I am happy.”

That was all he needed to hear.

♦          ♦          ♦

It took Grayson a while to get used to Rena’s warm smile welcoming him home every day.

He didn’t have to rely on take-out from the city’s finest restaurants or dinners from the company cafeteria anymore. He could smell her delicious home-cooked meals, the scent growing stronger as he rode the elevator to the 24th floor, guiding him.

“Welcome home, Grayson!”

Every evening she met him at the door with her illustrious smile and a kiss on the cheek. And every day he could see his own smiling face reflected in the depths of her bright blue eyes.

“I made your favorite today. I hope you like it!”

They sat together at the dining room table and she eagerly watched him eat. “It’s wonderful, Rena,” He praised her, after several savory bites. “You really are a wonderful cook.”

Rena beamed. His compliment had practically made her glow.

“I guess watching all of those cooking shows during the day paid off.”

Grayson sometimes wondered what Rena did while he was at work – he supposed she watched television, tidied up the apartment, or just sat and waited for him to return. Several of his past relationships had met their end due to the issue of his ‘spending too much time at the office.’ To Grayson, there was no such thing. The CEO had to dedicate himself entirely to his work.

Rena never once complained about being left alone all day while he was working. She fit her role seamlessly. That was all Grayson had ever really asked for.

♦          ♦          ♦

Three months into their relationship, familiar storm clouds formed.

Rena enjoyed going for walks. She didn’t get tired of walking. Some nights she would ask Grayson to take her clear across the city, every step of her feet as lively as the last. Grayson complied with her requests, despite a few aching joints. Rena could chatter on and on about everything she saw. A bluebird in a tree. A neon-accented billboard. Even a pile of month-old garbage held wonder for her.

One night, during a walk, Rena stopped suddenly. She was staring at a playground. Dusk was fast approaching, but children were still playing under the watchful gazes of nearby parents. Their peals of laughter rang out in the late-summer evening.

“Are you alright, Rena?” Grayson asked.

Her eyes were transfixed on the children.

“They’re so… small.”

Grayson had never been fond of children. They were loud and fussy and not worth the trouble. Miriam had loved children.

Grayson sighed. “They won’t always be that small. They grow up. Everyone does.”

Rena’s hold on his arm tightened.

“Was I ever that small?”

Grayson glanced down at her. In the dim light, he couldn’t read her expression.

“I don’t know, Rena.”

She stared at the children with clouded blue eyes until Grayson gently steered her away. He wondered what Rena was thinking. She wasn’t meant to wonder these things—wasn’t meant to question quite so much. He had thought Rena would be different from the others.

They walked home in silence. Something cold and familiar began to form in Grayson’s heart. It made him feel like he was on a bicycle traveling too fast downhill.

He wondered if Rena felt it too. She had to. If he did, then she did.

♦          ♦          ♦

Grayson started staying late at the office as the summer came to a close. Hightower Enterprises was entering its busiest time, and it was necessary to put in long hours, ensuring that every aspect of his business was moving smoothly.

Some nights he wouldn’t even return home. He usually informed Rena when these nights were—either by calling or telling her before he left in the morning. He assumed she would be fine since she never complained about his absence. So the one night he forgot to call, he thought everything would be fine.

He wearily entered his penthouse after midnight, and was surprised to see the light on in the dining room. Rena was there, sitting at the table in her floral-print apron. At Grayson’s place there was a plate of food that had long since grown cold.

Rena offered him a weak smile.

“Welcome home, Grayson. I made your favorite today. I hope you like it.”

Grayson didn’t understand. Had she waited all that time, watching the hours pass by, for him to come home? His hands clenched into fists at his side, and he quickly turned from the scene. Without a word to her, he stormed into his room, dressed for bed, and crawled under the sheets.

He had begun drifting off when he heard his door open. Hesitant footsteps entered the room.

“Grayson?”

Her voice sounded different. Tired, almost—which Grayson dismissed as a trick of his over-exerted brain. He did not open his eyes to look at her. He didn’t want to see her—still in her apron, looking at him with that childlike innocence.

“It’s late, Rena.”

He heard her move, and was startled when she reached for his hand. Her skin was ice cold. He struggled to keep his eyes shut.

“Are you happy, Grayson?”

She whispered it, as if it were a secret for only them to share.

It took Grayson a moment to respond—to untangle his conflicted emotions, and settle on an answer.  He gave her hand a reassuring squeeze, but the effort produced no warmth from her glacial skin.

“…Of course, Rena. Are you happy?”

Rena sighed and withdrew her hand.

“If you are happy, I am happy.”

He heard her leave the room, closing the door behind her with a faint ‘click.’ His hand—the one she had held —felt so cold, Grayson had to tuck it under his pillow to warm it up.

♦          ♦          ♦

Grayson was not on good terms with any of his exes, so his options for consulting advice were limited. On his lunch hour one afternoon, he picked up the office phone and dialed down to the Product Development Department.

She answered the call with a dry chuckle.

“Well, this is certainly a surprise. To what do I owe the pleasure, Mr. Hightower?”

He got straight to the point. “Miriam…why did we break up?”

There was a pause on the other end.

“…Let me guess. Problems with your new toy?”

Grayson rolled his eyes. “Just tell me, Miriam. Why did you end it?”

She sighed into the receiver. He could picture her expression—it was most likely one of exasperation. That face had made many appearances toward the end of their relationship, when the age had begun to show in Miriam’s eyes, and on her face, and in her voice.

“Simple, Grayson. You ask for too much and you don’t give enough.”

Her tone was sharp. Grayson felt it pierce his chest like an arrow.

“You’ve always sought the same thing from relationships, but they always end the same way. You’ve been chasing after something that doesn’t exist.”

Grayson gripped the phone tightly. He wanted to reply, but the words were jumbled in his throat.

You remember at the gala a few months ago? You said you thought you needed a drastic change. I agree, Grayson. But I don’t think you’re willing to change what actually needs to be changed.”

Grayson didn’t want to hear anymore. Miriam didn’t understand how it was supposed to work—didn’t understand the recipe for happiness he had invested so much time and effort and money into. He slammed the receiver down and returned to his paperwork.

♦          ♦          ♦

The weather report hadn’t called for rain.

Grayson stood at the window, watching the droplets race one another, sometimes joining as they streaked down the glass pane. The harbor looked dismal, boats bobbing woefully in the gloom. He had promised to take Rena out on his boat before the weather got too cold to do so.

Rena had said that she wanted to experience the sea, and feel the motion of the waves beneath her feet. He could give her that, at least—he wanted to give her that. But nature disagreed.

“We can go out on the boat some other time, Rena.”

His comment was met with an unusual silence.

“…Rena?”

He turned from the window. Rena was slumped over at the kitchen table, her hair covering her face. Her white arms dangled at her sides, fingers slightly curled – reaching for something that was not there.

He walked to her, and gently brushed the limp blonde tendrils away from her face. The blue eyes were wide and empty, drained of all the former wonder. Her skin was cold, the cherry-red lips parted slightly, a thousand questions frozen perpetually on her tongue.

Grayson tried to close her blank eyes, but they wouldn’t budge. He swept her hair back over her face to hide them. He didn’t want her to stare at him like that.

He wondered if she had suffered. If she had known that things had changed.

She probably had. If he did, she did.

After a moment, Grayson walked into his bedroom. He opened the drawer of his nightstand, rifling through it until he found what he was looking for. He had discarded it months ago, not thinking it had any importance.

He opened the thick booklet to page one.

Hello, and congratulations!
LikeReal Industries is proud to present you
with the latest in emotion-sensitive
Android Technology.

REMEMBER: As long as you’re happy, she’s happy.

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The Things We Connect With

When you read a book, what are the things you connect with? Are there certain factors that stand out to you more than others?

I read mostly YA, but I don’t shy away from any particular genre, and do stray into adult literature on occasion. For me, there are a couple of elements that leap off the page, and make it easier for me to connect with the story and characters. In regards to the latter, give me a good sarcastic sidekick any day. One who has more purpose than to crack jokes, but still excels at being a master of wit with a cutting edge. I like a best friend or ally who is not afraid to call the hero out on their problematic behavior, and has a whole, well-developed personality all on their own aside from being a sidekick. I especially love strong friendships in YA of any genre. I don’t want a romance story where a relationship becomes the protagonists’ sole focus/purpose, so friendships with a solid foundation are often a favorable complement to that.

When it comes to protagonists, I connect with their flaws. Give me a hero or heroine who is not always likeable, who makes questionable calls, or who makes mistakes that possibly inspire various degrees of calamity. When they have distinct, relatable, or plot-affecting flaws, I am more likely to connect with them. I don’t want to see a female protagonist whose only flaw is that she’s a bit clumsy, or is “too nice,” or some cop-out like that. Give me drama. Give me reasonable self-doubt.  I like it because it gives them more room for growth, as well. I especially like it when a hero/heroine has to fix a major problem that they cause, whether by accident or on purpose. Don’t get me wrong, I like heroines who kick ass and are amazing with a sword… but because I don’t kick ass, I find it harder to personally connect to them.

Villain-wise, I need an antagonist who is more than just their bad deeds. Someone who actually has a point, but is going about it the wrong way. I mean, some villains are just evil to be evil, and that’s fine – but I prefer it when there’s a reason, and the reason has a solid explanation behind it. Or, sometimes I don’t even want a villain – it all depends on the story. Don’t give me an antagonist for the sake of it.

For example, some of my favorite series are The Princess Diaries series by Meg Cabot, The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer, and The Charmed Life series by Jenny B. Jones. They contain some of my favorite characters, and ones I have connected with the most. As much as I love a good serious drama/fantasy, it’s stories with humor that I am drawn into the most – hence Meg Cabot being my favorite YA author.

It’s a similar experience with films, though the things I connect with tends to differ. I’m drawn in by the typical things, like basic plot, genre, and acting prowess. But when I’m actually in the theater, it’s different things that snare my attention. Don’t get me wrong, I still like snarky sidekick characters, occasionally-unlikeable protagonists, and conflicted antagonists. However, the things I connect with the most are more on a visual and auditory level.

I am compelled by strong cinematography/set design/production design. If a film is aesthetically pleasing to me, it has a higher change of connecting. Recent visually-inspiring films on my list include First Man, Darkest Hour, The Shape of Water, and The Favourite. It’s also part of the reason why I will see any film directed by Guillermo del Toro, Joseph Kosinski, and Zack Snyder. All-time favorites in the visual department include Tron: Legacy, Man of Steel, Crimson Peak, and Oblivion.

Another thing I connect with the most is the music. I need a soundtrack that is part of the film, not just the background. Composers who excel at this are Alexandre Desplat, Ennio Morricone, Father and Son Gregson-Williams, and Ramin Djawadi. Also, who can forget John Williams? He’s the perfect example. You know the themes to Jaws, Star Wars, and Jurassic Park because they are so interwoven with and indicative of the film itself. When the score really suits the film, I am more likely to connect with it.

So, I have to ask – what are the things you connect with, whether it be in books or film?

Just in Case

I don’t know if there is an official name for something like this, but I have come to realize that I suffer from a syndrome that I refer to as “Just in Case-itis.” This affliction often goes hand-in-hand with a plague of “What if?”s.

I am incapable of packing for anything – be it a weekend trip, an overnight, or a week-long vacation somewhere – without packing several miscellaneous items that I might end up needing. And about 85% of the time, I don’t need them, but I am comforted by the idea that I do have those things if needed.

For example, I always carry a spare pair of socks in my bag. Because you never know when it could rain. This has actually come in handy more than once, and I actually lost a few pairs due to lending them out to my peers who forgot to bring socks for gym class in high school. I also have about 17 hair ties, band-aids, a book, 6 pens, a journal, an emergency granola bar for sudden bouts of hunger, and 2-3 chargers for various devices in my bag at any given time.

As a rule, I keep a spare change of clothes in the trunk of my car, and an “emergency kit” complete with spare toothbrush, toothpaste, comb, soap, and other hygienic necessities, because you never know when you’re going to get stranded somewhere. I also have a blanket, a car emergency kit, an umbrella, two ice scrapers, winter boots, and a spare winter jacket. You will never catch me unprepared for an unexpected weather disaster.

Whenever I travel somewhere, I bring at least 3 extra full outfits. So, if I’m going away for two days, I pack five outfits. If I go away for longer than a week, I more or less bring my entire wardrobe. This has also saved my life on more than one occasion, as the last time I traveled, I spilled coffee all over one of my outfits, and thus needed at least one extra outfit. I also tend to prepare outfits for unexpected scenarios – like, I’ll bring a formal outfit, just in case a surprise fancy dinner ends up in my schedule. This has never happened, but I like to be prepared. You’ll never catch me unawares!

I like to think my preparedness could rival the boy scouts, but most of my preparedness is for events that are unlikely to happen, simply because I can’t shrug off the “what if?s.” What if it snows? What if I get invited to a premiere? What if I accidentally fall in the ocean? What if someone is wearing the same shirt as me and I’m forced to change in order to avoid an accidental twinning moment? If there is a potential emergency brewing on the horizon, I want to be prepared for it.

Does anyone else suffer from “Just in Case-itis” or something similar? Do you also over-prepare for unlikely scenarios and have a full, bloated suitcase for a 1-2 day trip? Vacationing in the sun and heat, and yet, you feel compelled to bring a heavy sweatshirt along in your bag? I’d like to know!

Five Life-Changing Reads

Every avid reader has a favorite book or two… or seventy-six. But some of those notable or obscure titles can be life-changing. So, here’s a list of some of the books that have changed my life – not only as a reader, but as a person!

1.) Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie – Most folks probably think of the classic Disney movie when they hear the name ‘Peter Pan,’  but my first thought is always the book. This book was my first foray into a magical, multi-faceted fantasy world that explores joy and sorrow, light and shadow, happiness and fear. It captures both the wonder – and terror – of eternal childhood, of being terrified of losing something, and the bittersweet nature of fleeting youth against the inevitability of growing up. I realized, the first time reading this book, that the “never” in “Neverland” can be interpreted either as wondrous and whimsical, or grim and dour – or maybe a mix of both. I love a fairytale-esque story with a twist of something dark, and Peter Pan was the gateway book for me. The dual-nature of this book is encompassed in one of its most iconic lines, as said by the titular character himself: “To die would be an awfully big adventure.”

20190121_104043.jpg2.) Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman – I’ve never been a poetry person… rather, I wasn’t until I took a Major Authors course on Walt Whitman my second year of college. I immediately connected with his poems, especially the titular “Leaves of Grass,” “O Captain! My Captain!,” and “Great are the Myths.” Whitman’s poetry, though written in the mid-late 1800’s, has a universality to it, a timeless quality that can be applied to scenarios and events throughout history and around the world, not only those that occurred in his lifetime.. His poems and the themes he presents are personal and profound, passionate and playful, perceptive and piercing. His poems make me think and feel, to apply his words to my own experiences, and I could pore over this book for hours pondering the meanings of his poems and imagining what his life was like. I recently bought a beautiful copy of this collection (pictured) and it’s got a place of honor on my shelf.

3.) The Jungle by Upton Sinclair – I’ve mentioned this one before, but I’m going more in-depth this time around. This is the first book I ever read (followed a few years later by Native Son by Richard Wright) that made me realize why people were drawn to communism/socialism/unions during the Industrial Revolution in America. It was jarring to read about what conditions were like for workers, especially immigrant workers, in the meatpacking industry in the early 20th century, as researched by muckraker author Sinclair. If you have a rosy view of what America was like during that time, building itself up from fields to cities and growing into the capital giant we are today, prepare to have your image shattered by The Jungle. I was assigned to read it for a class and put it off until the last minute, then plowed through the whole thing in one sitting because I was so engrossed. This was my first real wake-up call that American History wasn’t always blue skies and valiant victories… there are plenty of dark clouds and shameful secrets that, though hard to acknowledge, are important to our nation’s identity.

4.) Annie John by Jamaica Kincaid – I read this book for my senior seminar class in college, which focused on Caribbean literature. The entire class was an eye-opening experience, but I had to do a presentation on this novel, so I got to dive a bit deeper into it than the others we read. This book was my first time reading a coming-of-age novel about a girl from a background/life/place so completely different from my own. Growing up on Antigua is nothing like growing up in a rural town in Pennsylvania. And yet, it’s still possible to find universal threads woven into the unique, deftly-told narrative. At times, my heart swelled for Annie – and, at times, my heart shattered for her. Themes of depression, separation, mother/daughter relationships, growing up, and colonization are all expressed in a timeless and powerful fashion, centered around Annie, a complex and beautiful character. If you’ve never read a book like this, I HIGHLY recommend it.

5.) The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien – I mean… this book/series has probably changed every fantasy writer’s life, right? It’s THE pinnacle of high fantasy, and will never be topped. It’s just so, so… brilliant. Sure, the language and descriptions can be burdensome, at times… but it’s worth the journey, all the way from Bilbo’s first fateful meeting with Gollum in the bowels of the Misty Mountain to Galdalf’s epic “You cannot pass,” to Sam’s final line of “Well, I’m back,” as he greets his daughter and wife. LotR is the reason I want to write fantasy, and so, it has changed my life for the better.

Writing Techniques: Self-editing and revising!

Now, the following post is based solely on MY methods. This is what works for me, but might not work for all writers. We are all wired differently, and there is no universal “right” way to do things. Now, with that disclaimer out of the way, I am going to share my personal methods for self-editing and revising.

1.) READING OUT LOUD
Reading your work out loud to yourself may be a little embarrassing at first, and, if you’re like me, you wait until there is no one else around in order to do it, but I have found it to be incredibly helpful. Not only does it enable me to catch pesky grammar errors, such as misplaced commas or accidental double spaces, but it helps pinpoint awkward wording, and gives an audible example of how long it takes between scenes/chapters. This way, it’s easier to peg where the story drags, of if the pacing is off.

2.) DON’T FEAR THE ‘DELETE’
Writers are attached to their work. We create from our hearts, and sometimes, a scene or character might not fit into a story as seamlessly as we imagine, even if we love them. I chopped off an entire chapter of my latest MS, even though I liked it a lot, because I realized the ending worked better without it. I also slimmed down the role of and changed the personality of a character, because he didn’t fit in well with the way the story was headed. I wish I had cut out the epilogue of I’m With You, and thus left the end to the reader’s imagination – and I hope to never make such a mistake again. I also once received professional feedback on a first draft and was told that a character/scene seemed out of place, and it was suggested that I remove it. I knew I didn’t want to do that, though I recognized that, if I wasn’t cutting it out entirely, I needed to make changes in order to make those parts weave into the narrative more effectively. So, instead, I edited those portions of the story and was able to implement changes to make the elements work better. It’s hard to delete work you’re proud of, whether it be a full chapter, or a character, or even a whole plot point, buy sacrifices are sometimes necessary, so it’s important not to fear the backspace or delete buttons.

3.) INTERPRET FEEDBACK
I have gotten incredibly helpful and important feedback on my work from a variety of sources, both professional and personal. But just because someone tells you their opinion on a facet of your work doesn’t mean you have to do what they suggest, though you should hear them out. If I don’t agree with something that is pointed out to me, I try to pinpoint why they felt that way, and then reassess my options. As I mentioned before, I had someone tell me that I might be better deleting an element of a story, but instead, I edited it to suit the narrative in a more effective manner. So feedback, whether it be positive or negative, can be the gateway to more options for self-improvement and self-editing.

4.) KNOW YOUR WEAKNESSES
I know my writing-related weaknesses very well, but, despite being aware of them, I am known to slip up. It happens for all of us, I’m sure. So, when I’m poring over my latest project, those errors are the first thing that I look for, both grammatical and content-wise. For example, I recently noticed that I used the word ‘accentuate’ twice within four paragraphs. Like.. why.

5.) TAKE YOUR TIME
This might not be the most fun phase of the writing process… and trust me, I agree that it absolutely is not. But it is arguably one of the most vital, so rushing it is a big no-no. It is important to take a focused, objective look at your work – ideally, more than once, and even more than twice – in order to polish it as much as possible, especially if you are seeking publication. You want to be your best, and show your best work. So take your time, and don’t rush it.

In Between

Millennials get a lot of crap, these days. But I think  folks forget that the age range of millennials covers a lot of ground. A quick google search told me that millennials include everyone born between 1982 and 2004. That’s people currently aged 14 to age 36. So criticism of millennials comes across as skewed, if you ask me. And I’m here to set the record straight – not all of us are worthy of revulsion. Some, sure. But not all.

I’ve personally been criticized for being “overly-reliant on technology” or having my “face in a screen all the time” or having “no respect” for the older generation” or having no idea “what it was like to play outside as a kid.” And I’m 26 now, for reference.

First of all, I played outside all the time as a kid. Not only that, but I played in the woods. I played in VACANT LOTS. I got ticks in my hair more than once from playing near cornfields or in tall grass. My friends and I also biked everywhere and walked a ton – my sister and I even walked all the way to the local pool a couple of times, and we went to a day camp where we participated – with enthusiasm – in nature-based activities. We would go home at the end of the day sweaty and covered in dirt.

My childhood best friend and I used to run through a neighbor’s yard to one another’s houses and leave letters to each other in our respective mail boxes. Hand-written letters. Why? Because we didn’t have cell phones. I didn’t get a cell phone until my sophomore year of high school, and it was a flip-phone.

I used to fall asleep at night to the sounds of peaceful music, or well-loved stories… not on iTunes, though. No, I’m talking about cassette tapes. I still have a ton of them.

I went to a tech camp once, the year before I started middle school, and learned how to make a website with basic html and all that. And guess what it was saved on? A FLOPPY DISK. To that end, I also fully remember what dial-up internet was like, and the insurmountable frustration of being unable to use the phone while someone was on the computer. I also used to perform basic photo manipulations via MS Paint, not Photoshop.

My parents taught me manners, and I do my best to honor that. I will, unless provoked, be polite to everyone, regardless of age/gender/whatever. I say please and thank you. I hold doors open for people. I respect all generations, unless I am shown disrespect. I am grateful for everything I have, and, though I love technology, I don’t have my face in a screen all the time.

I could go on, but the point is… I think “generalizations” are often ill-used. Lumping all millennials together is erroneous, just as it is when any group of people are lumped together based on skewed information, bigotry, or preconceived notions. Most people – like me – are wandering somewhere in-between. And sometimes, that’s the best place to be. Seeing the world from somewhere in-between, somewhere gray and less defined, somewhere there is room for interpretation, makes it easier to face each day as they come.

 

 

Favorite Books and Films 2018 Edition!

Favorite books (in no particular order!)

1.) Nine Coaches WaitingMary Stewart
I cannot believe I knew nothing about Mary Stewart until this year. Set in the late 1950’s, this particular tale is about a sharp young governess named Linda who must protect the life of her charge Philippe, and how she becomes entangled in the dark secrets of an affluent family. Stewart is the master of the romantic mystery and this story is packed with suspense that kept the pages turning. I was engrossed in The Moon Spinners and The Ivy Tree, also.

2.) My Best Friend’s ExorcismGrady Hendrix
I… honestly, don’t even know how to describe this book except that it’s NUTS in the best way possible, so you should absolutely read it. Need something totally off the wall? Read it. Horror touched with drama touched with comedy? Read it. Frequent 80’s references? Read it. Just read it, okay?

3.) EligibleCurtis Sittenfeld
Of all the Pride and Prejudice re-tellings I’ve read – and there are many – this is my favorite. It gives the timelessness of the Darcy/Elizabeth relationship a unique, modern twist, though the development of their feelings for one other feels just like it does in the original, which is why it held such charm for me. It captures the same feel and hits the same important beats, just in a different setting and time period.

4.) The Black WitchLaurie Forest
I’m a sucker for a unique, fleshed-out fantasy world with believable characters and fresh ideas. And this series has all of that, plus some cool ideas about religion, faith, and race relations. You get fantasy, prophecies, and mystical beasts with a side of realistic, timely issues. What more could a reader want?

5.) NoteworthyRiley Redgate
This books is about a girl who masquerades as a boy in order to infiltrate an all-male acapella group at her boarding school. And it is fantastic. Unique characters with strong personalities, friendships and relationships you want to root for, an awesome and totally likable protagonist… this book is a whole lot of fun, and it explores interesting questions about gender and sexuality in a way I’ve not read before.

6.) The Midnight DanceNikki Katz
This book – about dancers caught in a wicked web, and a brave girl who wants to free herself from it – feels like a fairy-tale. It’s equal parts creepy, charming, compelling, and harrowing, and the protagonist, Penny, overcomes a lot of doubt and fear to uncover the mystery behind the boarding school she attends. I got sucked into this story quickly, and almost couldn’t put it down.

7.) The Walls Around UsNova Ren Suma
Another book that grabbed my attention and wouldn’t let it go. Ghosts, delinquents, ballerinas, murder, psychedelic plants… and a twist ending that I did not see coming. If you need the taste of a little something different, I highly recommend this book. The writing is gorgeous and I read the last half of it in a straight-shot, I was so involved.

8.) Mortal EnginesPhilip Reeve
So… obviously, I was late to this party. But this story – about a futuristic world where cities move and devour one another – was a fantastic read. The characters are a high point, as they are well-developed in both their flaws and their strengths, and the adventure is exciting and unique. I live for a nice steampunk-esque tale with high stakes, high drama, and robotic bounty hunters.

9.) Radio SilenceAlice Oseman
A quirky contemporary YA tale that explores sexuality, friendships, loss, doubt, and the various trials of teen angst… all centered around a podcast. I hardly ever listen to podcasts, and yet, I was utterly charmed by this novel. Nuanced characters, clever dialogue, and timely messages.

10.) The Princess Diaries SeriesMeg Cabot
Again… late to the party. Especially considering Meg Cabot is one of my all-time favorites! I can’t believe I waited so long to read this series, because it is so, so good. Reading Mia’s story from beginning to end, all her angst, her triumphs, her spectacular wins and crushing failures, was the most rewarding reading experience of the year, for sure. Cabot’s writing is sharp, witty, evocative, and charming, as usual. I was genuinely emotional when I finished the last book; sad the story was over, but thrilled that I finally read it.

Favorite films (in order from least to greatest!)

*I am not including the first 6 films I saw, because one was included on my 2017 list (I saw TLJ twice) and the last five were all Oscar films that I saw too early into 2018. However, if they were included, Call Me By Your Name would still be the top!*

Honorable mentions: Eighth Grade, A Quiet Place, Christopher Robin, Annihilation, and Love, Simon.

10.) Hereditary
THIS IS HORROR DONE RIGHT, PEOPLE. I went into this film expecting it to be centered around symbolic, more realism-based horror, but… well… I don’t want to spoil it, but the premise blew my expectations out of the water, then beat them with a baseball bat, then set them on fire. This film subverts genre expectations and kept me on the edge of my seat. Toni Collette’s performance as a struggling matriarch is absolutely brilliant and I am really pulling for a Best Actress nom come Oscar season.

9.) A Star is Born
I went into this drama flick with fresh eyes, because I haven’t seen any of the previous incarnations. And I came out of it with teary eyes. Gaga and Bradley Cooper turn in stellar performances and manage to make a tired and overdone plot seem bright and new and full of emotion. And the new songs are fantastic – the reason I had misty eyes at the end is because of Gaga’s final song.

8.) Black Panther
Black Panther flipped the script on many a superhero trope and breathed new life and energy into Marvel this past year, and added major hype to Infinity War, which came out soon after. This film gave us Shuri, Nakia, and Okoye, three of the most badass Marvel women. Plus, it delivered the most impressive MCU villain to date in Killmonger, with the possible exception of Thanos himself. Wakanda Forever!

7.) BlackKklansman
I’ve been a fan of Spike Lee since Do The Right Thing, so I wasn’t about to miss this film when it was released this summer. This film is not only a stylistic triumph with an incredible soundtrack and brilliant performances, it is also able to blend the true story of Ron Stallworth – a black police officer who infiltrated the KKK in the early 1970’s – with themes that still exist in the world today. Lee is not afraid to make a point, and this film certainly proves that.

6.) First Man
I always appreciate a good biopic that doesn’t rely on sugarcoating and looks at all the tough parts of a person’s life instead of just the triumphs. First Man is a look into all the factors that made Neil Armstrong’s first miraculous step onto the moon possible, and an exploration of his occasionally turbulent personal life as he sought to touch the stars. The cinematography is striking – especially near the end of the film – and the performances are powerful.

5.) Ant-Man and the Wasp
I JUST REALLY LOVE ANT-MAN, OKAY? These are, without a doubt, the most underrated films in the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe. And now I love Wasp, too – she is so, so cool and I want to see her more in future films. This film harnesses the ridiculous, over-the-top fun of comics with the dramatic high-stakes that has come to define the MCU. And the giant Hello Kitty pez dispenser will never not be funny to me.

4.) Green Book
Based on the true story of an unlikely friendship, Green Book is an emotional, though at times humorous and heartwarming, exploration of race relations in the 1960’s. Though some might contend that the levity in this film is ill-placed when discussing such a serious topic and part of history, but there’s plenty of drama to balance it out, and an honesty to the film that keeps it from teetering too far in either direction. It helps that the two lead actors – Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali – have a fantastic chemistry when onscreen together. I could watch Viggo eat friend chicken and spew obscenities all day long.

3.) Isle of Dogs
Wes Anderson’s style isn’t for everyone, but it sure works for me! A creative look at a future where dogs are exiled to an island of a trash, and the story of a young boy who wants to find his beloved friend, stop-motion adventure Isle of Dogs shouldn’t be flying under anyone’s radar. It’s funny, original, and gorgeous to look at. Though, if you aren’t a fan of quirky films, you might want to skip it.

2.) Aquaman
I am a big sucker for fantastic visuals… and damn, this film was gorgeous to look at, especially in IMAX 3D. Overall, this film was a cross between Tron: Legacy, Indiana Jones, Jurassic Park, The Little Mermaid, and Pacific Rim. Black Manta is so cool and I now want a Mera/Diana team up movie to happen. Though some of the plot gets muddled by too-lofty ambitions and the humor is hit or miss (bro humor and one-liners fall flat, at times) Aquaman is a wild ride and will hopefully play a key role in steering the DC universe back on track. And, no spoilers, but the final showdown is phenomenal! And if anyone was going to make Aquaman cool again, it was definitely Jason Momoa.

1.) Avengers: Infinity War
I mean…obviously.

Bizarre School Memories

1.) Bag milk. Until second or third grade, my elementary school served individual milk bags during lunch. Which was fine, unless you stabbed them the wrong way. Then they exploded. We definitely had cartons by third grade, though, because I remember spilling one all over myself. I’ve heard that bagged milk is common in other parts of the world, though.

2.) At my junior high, you could get rid of gym demerits by showering after gym class. Like, if you forgot your uniform or missed a class at some point you could improve your GRADE if you took a shower. I’m sure this was for hygienic purposes, because they didn’t want students to stew in their own filth after working out, but I was blessed by the schedule gods every year and had gym class at or near the end of the day, and thus, never had to shower at the school. Because those showers were gross, and I was not stripping in front of my classmates. Swimming class was bad enough.

3.) BIG pencils. Do they still make young kids use those huge black pencils while learning to write? The ones with no erasers? I absolutely hated using them – especially when we got to the cursive unit – and I irrationally blame them for my poor handwriting to this very day. Speaking of which, do they even teach cursive any more?

4.) Gymnastics in gym class. Not only did we have a gymnastics unit every year until high school, we were forced to do a synchronized gymnastics routine with a partner in eighth grade. Which is cruel, really. Fortunately, I used to be (USED TO BE) pretty good at gymnastics. I just thought it sucked for the kids who weren’t flexible or necessarily skilled at somersaults or handstands. It’s not what I’d call a morale-booster of a sport. Then again, we also played dodge-ball, so…

5.) Square dancing in gym class. I’m not sure how many schools offer dancing of any kind as a unit, but since I live in an area known as Pennsyltucky, square dancin’ and line-dancin’ were a popular choice. I opted for Tai Chi, instead. I still remember the move “Parting the Horse’s Mane.” It’s become my signature party move.

6.) Bowling in gym class. This is the LAST gym class-related one, I swear. But since my high school was down the street from a bowling alley, we could actually take bowling as a unit. HOWEVER, if you sucked at bowling, you wouldn’t get a good grade, since your grade was your score. I took bowling twice, but due to a knee injury, I almost got stuck with a 54 in sophomore year. Fortunately, an excellent essay on duck pin bowling saved me from failure.

7.) Trash lockers. The cafeteria at my high-school was being renovated for like, 2 years. So, for a significant portion of my high school experience, we ate lunch in various classrooms and in the hallways. If you had an empty locker in an area where lots of folks ate lunch, you could end up being the unfortunate owner of a “trash locker.” Lots of students didn’t use their lockers (opting, instead, to carry all of their books in their backpack and thus developing severe spine problems) so folks would toss their trash into empty lockers after lunch. And then, when locker-clean out happened at the end of the year… well… it wasn’t pretty.

 

Get To Know Me

I know, I know – we all detested those ice-breaking “get to know you” games teachers forced us to play at the start of every school year. But, in an effort to connect with fellow #amwriting folks and bloggers, and because I tread the line between crippling insecurity and suppressed egoism, I thought I’d let readers know a bit more about me. So here’s some “get to know me” facts as we hover on the cusp of a new year.

 

1.) I am a proud Hufflepuff. Upon first meeting me, though, you’d probably peg me as a Slytherin.

2.) I work in the glitzy, glamorous world of retail management. I can dress a man for a formal event from head to toe in under fifteen minutes.

3.) I have a mild phobia of jewelry and other small, metallic things, like paper clips. I can touch them, but it stresses me out and I need to wash my hands approximately 16 times afterward.

4.) I collect movie posters and ticket stubs.

5.) My favorite poet is Walt Whitman, closely followed by T.S. Eliot. My favorite authors are too many to list, but J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and Meg Cabot are permanently at the top.

6.) My first “writing” gig was a weekly comic I produced with two classmates in elementary school called “Barnacle Babies,” which re-imagined the characters of Spongebob Squarepants as babies. Sadly, no evidence of these comics remain.

7.) Similarly, I am a retired fanfiction author. I wrote the longest English-language fanfic for a particular anime fandom, and my stories remain online.

8.) I love all Studio Ghibli films, especially Whisper of the Heart and Howl’s Moving Castle.

9.) I used to write stories about a superhero hamster named “Hammer Hamster” and his sidekick, a gerbil named Fuzz. No evidence of this exists, which is probably for the better.

10.) I have read at least 100 books a year since 2015.

11.) I have a BA in English Literature and Film Studies from Western New England University. I graduated with the highest major-GPA in the English department. And yet, I thought the Underground Railroad was an actual train until 11th grade, so my intelligence level is debatable.

12.) I attempted to implement “Batman Shirt Tuesday” while at college, and failed.

13.) My real name is not Allie Frost, but my initials are the same.

14.) I would rather send 1000 emails than make one phone call.

15.) I once beat Final Fantasy X (on the PS2) with Wakka as my primary party member. He could kill almost anything with one hit. I don’t know how it happened, nor have I ever been able to replicate it.

16.) My favorite Pokemon is Alakazam, followed closely by Gengar.

17.) I used to be more of a Rochester girl, but now, a decade after reading both Jane Eyre and Pride and Prejudice, I would give it to Darcy every time, hands-down.

18.) If I could belong to any Game of Thrones House, I would pick the Mormonts. Second choice is Tyrells.

19.) My travel goal is to venture to New Zealand for obvious, Hobbit-related reasons. If I happen to meet a dashing sheep farmer while there, that would be a bonus.

20.) If I could choose to be any animal, I would want to be a bear. 🐻 However, if I were suddenly transformed into the animal that resembles me the most, it would probably be a frilled dragon. 🐉 Cold-blooded and temperamental! (Kidding… maybe.)

 

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