Before They Were Cool

Most of you have probably heard the term, “I liked ______ before he/she/it/they were cool,” at least once. It becomes a point of pride for some folks, when something underrated suddenly explodes in popularity, and they can claim that they have been a fan since the start, or nearly the start. Or, they can lord it over everyone else’s heads in order to feel superior, but let’s hope most prefer the former course of action.

For example, people who read A Game of Thrones back when the first book was released can make this statement, as opposed to those of us who jumped on that bandwagon thanks to the HBO show. That’s a claim I certainly can’t make… mostly because I was 4 years old when the first book came out, but also because I only read them because I wanted to watch the show.

I actually only have one claim like this – that I can think of at the moment, anyway. I was a fan of the band fun. before they really hit it big in the mainstream with “Some Nights,” back when they released songs like, “Be Calm,” and “Light a Roman Candle With Me,” the latter of which is still one of my favorite tracks. When folks were just discovering them thanks to “We Are Young,” I could proudly (and obnoxiously) say that I knew them before they were cool. Though I suppose anyone who listened to The Format can probably claim the same. It remains a small point of pride for me whenever one of their songs come on the radio.

So… does anyone else have something, or someone, that they liked “before it was cool”? Because if so, I would LOVE to hear it!!!

 

Graduation

Graduation season is upon us once again. Caps flying through the air, tassels waving to and fro, and young minds full of dreams ready to take on the world.

I faced both graduations – high school and college – with a measured mix of trepidation and excitement. Eagerness for the next chapter, and fear for what lies in store… yet somewhere in the midst of it, hope to find the courage to endure it all.

Yesterday, I had a different sort of mini graduation – but it carried the same emotional weight as a graduation from a big university.

I completed an eight month run of behavior-focused therapy. That’s not to say that I’m done with it forever, but I have put forth my most life-complicating issues, and was aided by a professional in finding the skills and tools needed to handle those issues effectively and productively.

I was advised to take the route by my doctor, who was hesitant to give me a particular prescription without me showing a willingness to put forth the effort to make improvements on my own. Kudos to him, really. Because prescriptions may help, but not if people use them as a solution instead of an aid. But anyway…

It’s hard to admit that you need help. It can feel like failure, at times. But I am happy that I did so.

What I’ve gleaned from these sessions is that sometimes, it seems impossible to tackle roadblocks on your own, but with outside perspective and some useful skills, they can be toppled. And learning to cope makes it easier to move forward.

I’m not going to give a laundry list of the issues I needed to address, but one of them was that I had developed some obsessive checking behaviors (triple checking things were unplugged before leaving the house, triple checking that I had put down the garage door, etc.) which were occasionally causing blows to my punctuality, and being able to discuss that with my behaviorist has been an incredible help.

We dove into the “why” part of the issue, figured out what those behaviors stem from, and she asked me to come up with a plan for limiting, if not eradicating those behaviors. And now, after a few months, I only check everything once and can leave the house confidently.

Of course, that’s only one thing we worked on. I was fearful going into it, and it was hard to admit to needing help, but I appreciated having someone take a look at my damaging behaviors and not only not judge me for them, but encourage me to find the root of the issue and assist in planning out a course of action. I now feel equipped to handle new issues as they arise, and not let fear inhibit me from chasing success.

I had my last session yesterday, and left the office feeling like I had graduated. No cap, no gown. I’m not “fixed” or “cured” but I feel better. Lighter. More confident. I needed help, and I got it, but also was encouraged to find ways to help myself. And if I need help again, I no longer dread seeking it.

Film Review: Detective Pikachu (2019)

Dir: Rob Letterman
Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Justice Smith, Kathryn Newton, Ken Watanabe, Bill Nighy, and more.
Runtime: 1hr 44min
Spoiler Level: Light!

As someone who was around back in the late nineties, when the Pokemon sensation swept the globe, I remember the craze when it was at full glory. Not only that, but I actively participated in it. I had a poster of the original 151 Pokemon over my bed, so I could look at them all every night before I went to sleep. I wore my favorite shirt, emblazoned with a Pikachu, until it was too ratty to wear. I’ve played every game since the Blue and Red era, and I forced my poor mother (love you, Mom!) to take me to see Pokemon: Mewtwo Strikes Back! back in 1999. Needless to say, she did not take me to see Pokemon The Movie 2000 – which I still contend is a great movie, but that’s beside the point…

Pokémon_Detective_Pikachu_teaser_poster.jpgDetective Pikachu follows 21-year-old Tim Goodman (Smith) as he attempts to solve the circumstances behind his father’s disappearance with assistance from a caffeine-addicted, wisecracking, deerstalker-hat-wearing Pikachu. But the search for clues leads the unlikely duo into a mystery more intricate than either could have anticipated, and finding answers could save or condemn all of Ryme City.

Honestly, the biggest surprise in this film is that it’s good. And I don’t mean that it’s just a good Pokemon movie – it is a legitimately good movie overall. It works on a level that many other video-game or anime or cartoon adaptations have failed to achieve… because it doesn’t rely solely on nostalgia or fan-service to make a quick buck, nor does it neglect the source material so not to alienate new viewers. Instead, Detective Pikachu balances well-placed nods to the fans (both old and new) while presenting a film with believable characters and motivations, a story that is intriguing to follow, and it takes great care in bringing everyone’s favorite pocket monsters to life onscreen in a way that fans have been yearning for since 1999, or even earlier.

Despite the fact that Pikachu himself is CGI, the chemistry between the leads is superb, especially their banter and the evolution of their relationship as the story develops. Justice Smith is easy to root for, Pikachu/Reynolds offers steady doses of both heart and humor, Kathryn Newton (and her Psyduck) is a charming reporter eager for the truth, and both Ken Watanabe and Bill Nighy, known for their decidedly more “serious” work, give solid performances.

I haven’t played the Detective Pikachu game – I’ve stuck to the main games – so I knew basically nothing about the plot going into the film. The story flows well, and there are parts of it that are predictable and familiar – it is a “kids” movie, after all – but I was genuinely surprised and impressed by a couple of twists. As in, my jaw dropped and I said, “Oh my GOD” to my friend at one point. It’s not Sherlockian-level sleuthing taking place, but it’s also not Blue’s Clues level, if you catch my drift. The dialogue isn’t dumbed down, it’s sharp and won’t give adults a headache. And it feels like the people who made this film actually know Pokemon. As a longtime fan, it is awesome to see Charizard’s flamethrower come to life, Pidgeotto soaring in the air, Loudred beat-boxing in a club, and Magikarp flapping uselessly on the ground. The Pokemon aren’t crammed into the film to try and appease fans, thrown in wherever for throwback or nostalgia reasons; they have purpose, are immersed in the world, the effects are impressive, and their design does true justice to the originals. No, that’s not a dig at Sonic… or maybe it is

Now, does this mean this film will be able to lure non-Pokemon fans into seats? Maybe not – though a few might make the venture based on the adorable titular character, voiced expertly and hilariously by Reynolds. However, it’s definitely the sort of film that won’t bore parents being dragged to the theater by their Poke-crazed kids. If this had come out when I was ten, my mom would have taken me to see the sequel. It has a cohesive narrative, a snappy script, and doesn’t delve so deeply into fan-service that the uninitiated can’t follow what’s going on. It’s one of the first films of this nature that feels like it can make the cross-medium jump without crashing and burning. It’s a solid mystery film for Pokefans young, old, and new, and though it hits familiar beats, it doesn’t feel tired or overdone, and might even generate interest for a new era of fans. 

Sure, non-fans might not be able to pick out their favorite Pokemon puttering about in the background – I got treated to Gengar and Blastoise, two of my favorites, though I missed my beloved Alakazam – but that doesn’t diminish the quality of the film. References may fly over the heads of Poke-novices, but will warm the hearts of wannabe champions from Kanto to Unova. Let’s face it folks – we all live in a Pokemon world. And it terms of video-game film adaptations, Detective Pikachu might just be the greatest master of them all.

Overall rating: 8/10

Reader’s Delight

As a birthday treat to myself, I bought a grab bag from Out of Print. I had previously bought a sweatshirt and some socks from them over Christmas and was super impressed with the quality, so when the grab bags came back in stock I jumped on the opportunity to buy one. And I thought I’d share the results with you guys!

20190413_112258.jpgBasically, with their t-shirt grab bags, you get 4 shirts for $40 (+shipping), but it’s a blind selection and all sales are final. To be on the safe size with the sizing, I picked a unisex medium bag. I’m usually a women’s medium, but I really didn’t want to run the risk of them being too small. The unisex medium is a bit big on me, but not unbearable. The unisex small might have been too snug in the shoulders, so I think I picked well. But they have a lot of cool stuff on their site aside from grab bags, so I highly suggest you check them out if you love books as much as I do!

 

20190413_112111.jpgAlice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll! A true classic, and a favorite story of mine. Though it’s been retold and reimagined in countless ways across all sorts of media, the original tale of Alice stumbling into the perilous beauty of Wonderland remains timeless. I love this print – the tea-party scene with the Mad Hatter, Dormouse, and March Hare – and it’s grey, so it will go with anything!

20190413_112200.jpgThe Raven by Edgar Allen Poe! This is my all-time FAVORITE piece from the king of the macabre, Edgar Allan Poe. I had to memorize it in eighth grade, and it inspired me to write this poem. I love his short stories too, but this poem – with it’s repetition, and rhyme pattern, and imagery – has stuck with me the most of all his writing through the years. And it’s grey, so it goes with anything!

20190413_112222.jpgHarry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling! Somehow, I managed to get a shirt of my favorite book in the Harry Potter series. GoF is the pivotal turning point in the series, where the plot thickens and the themes darken, and the Triwizard Tournament story is my favorite part of the whole saga. I love the drama, the action, the riddles – all of it. And it’s grey, so it goes with anything!

20190413_112142.jpgLe Petit Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry! It has been a long time since I read this story, so I’ll need a refresher sometime soon, but I remember that it’s beautiful, rife with symbolism, and it contains powerful themes transcendent for a novel often considered to be a children’s book. I look forward to rereading it soon and seeing how my views of it may have evolved since I was younger, and how it will touch my heart as an adult. And, it’s grey, so it goes with anything!

 

But that’s not all I got in my package – they threw in a tote bag, too! With a message I wholeheartedly agree with!

20190413_112037.jpg

So, I got super lucky with my grab bag because I got shirts featuring books/poems I’m familiar with. Others might not get quite so lucky, since it’s all left up to chance, but I’d say it’s worth checking out if you want some literary swag!

 

Not All Heroes Wear Capes (But Some Do)

I was looking for an old list of character names on an hard drive earlier this week, and I came across a folder I thought I’d lost forever when my old computer died. The following is my college admissions essay, which I wrote back in 2009 before I applied to various schools. This essay got me into all of the colleges I applied for, and rereading it was a fun ride down memory lane, so I thought I’d share, even if some of the sentences are a little cringe-worthy.

The prompt was: Personal essay option #4 of the Common Application: “Describe a character in fiction, a historical figure, or a creative work (as in art, music, science, etc.) that has had an influence on you, and explain that influence.”


 

I’m not ashamed to admit it. I watched Saturday morning cartoons for fourteen years. And, admittedly, I would still watch them if I didn’t have to get up for work at 6:30AM on Saturdays.

But I’m firmly convinced that cartoons do not rot your brain, nor is their aim to fill children’s minds with violence and fantasies of mutants and aliens coming to invade our planet. Cartoons, or, more specifically, cartoon characters, hold far more merit and importance than we normal, three-dimensional people give them credit for.  For fourteen years, I watched masked vigilantes, spandex-wearing champions, and super-powered idols light up cities with their strength and charisma, and then proceed to light up criminals and villains with their fists. I marveled as caped crusaders won the hearts of millions with their dedication to justice, honor, and protection from the forces of evil. Even when faced with the darkest, most frightful peril, those heroes stood their ground and the bad guys always wound up behind bars.

But that’s easy when you have lasers built into your eyes, bullet-proof skin, and you can fly.

Watching heroes like Superman fly off into the sunset, or The Flash sprint around a city so fast that little tornadoes kick up from his heels, always provided me with a sense of wonder and amazement. But there was one hero that always stood out from the others; one lone, cowl-wearing , growling hero who would sooner be called a menace than a star. Because he couldn’t fly without help from a grappling-hook, he couldn’t shoot beams from his eyes, and he most definitely couldn’t turn invisible…though he did blend in with the shadows quite nicely when prowling the streets for mongrels and dastardly deviants. I admired him because he wasn’t a superhero.

Batman has influenced me life because of his lack of super.

I’m not, and can never be, a superhero. I’m about as average as a teenage girl gets, and, in a few years, I’ll probably be an average adult. I’ve had a very cynical view of my abilities in the past, thinking that I’ll probably amount to nothing because there’s nothing particularly special or remarkable about me. But just because I can’t fly, can’t shoot heat rays from my eyes, or deflect bullets with my bare hands doesn’t mean that I should resign myself to a life of hopeless simplicity, and it doesn’t mean that I don’t have a shot in hell at being something maybe a bit more than ordinary. Batman, in all his cape-wearing glory, has shown me that normal people, like myself, can achieve some pretty significant accomplishments with the right attitude and the determination of a soldier at war. He’s shown me that humanity and ordinariness are not hindrances; but attributes that make success and victory taste all the sweeter when all is said and done.

I remember growing up averse to the entire idea of Batman; to me, he was the lamest of all heroes, because he was a normal human and couldn’t do what Green Lantern or Martian Manhunter could. He couldn’t see through walls or talk to fish, like the rest of the Justice League, and he had to try three times as hard to be heroic because he was always at a disadvantage; burdened by his humanity and lack of actual superpowers. I was actually glad when he left the show for a time due to the fact that he, as a human, felt inferior to the others, though he triumphantly returned a few episodes later. Eventually, after a lot of thinking and reflection, I came to realize that it was his humanity that made Batman such an astounding hero, and a stand-out from your stereotypical, average every-day Superman or Wonder Woman. Batman, an ordinary human by birth, had to spend years training his mind and his body, developing the right persona and mind-set to be able to fight crime and strike evil to its knees, simply by the strength of his heart and resilience of his spirit.  He wasn’t handed his powers on a silver platter – he had to work, and strive for his heroism, and the result is a human-born hero who manages to inspire and achieve goals through steely determination and ironclad perseverance…all while looking ridiculously cool in costume, swinging from building to building and cruising down the streets of Gotham in his Batmobile. He’s amazing because he can’t fly, turn invisible, or communicate with animals.

As an ordinary human being, I can never be Superman. But Batman has shown me that I can be a little more than average, if I only dedicate myself to my dreams and goals. Batman hasn’t influenced my life because he can kick the Joker’s butt and he drives a wicked awesome car; he’s influenced my life because of the trials he had to endure and the ardor he had to have in order to become the hero he is today.  His journey from ordinary human to respected, heroic icon is one that I will always admire, and instills a fair amount of hope in my average human heart that I can be something a little more than normal – that my dreams, no matter how far-off or unreachable they seem, are never so impossible. Heck, if Batman went from ordinary human being to crime-fighting, mask-wearing crusader of justice, my dreams of becoming a graphic novelist may not be as impractical as I first thought.  Batman will always be a normal human; with a little extra punch, thanks to his dedication and fierce determination.  And, after fourteen years of watching him dominate the bad guys on Saturday mornings, I’ve come to hope that I can be a little bit like Batman as I start to become an adult.

Thanks to Batman, I’ve come to see that just because I’m an average girl with an ordinary life doesn’t mean that I’m forever stuck in a routine of drab normalcy – and just because I’m not a superhero doesn’t mean I can’t accomplish anything a little bit extraordinary.  I have the ability to become what I want to be, as long as I’m willing to put forth the effort and strive to achieve my goals, overcoming any obstacles in my way with enough dedication and a proper, steely mentality.  But I think I’ll leave the cape-wearing and criminal-fighting to my favorite not-so-super hero.

Rose of Autumn

(I wrote this poem a few years back for an unfinished fantasy story that will likely never see the light of day. It’s about a woman who eventually became a queen,widely revered for her beauty and feared for her skill with an ax and her prickly attitude. I actually like how it came out, so I hope you enjoy!)

 

Amid fields and forests kissed with leaves of red and gold,
a flower grew, of whom so many stories have been told.
A Rose quite fair, with sunset hair and eyes of vivid green,
her heart so bold it seemed that she was destined to be queen.

She was taught to dance and sing, as any proper lady should,
her beauty flourished as she blossomed into womanhood.
But she was no dainty maid kept locked away up in a tower,
for she could wield an axe with grace to rival any flower.

Many journeyed ‘cross the land to gaze upon her face,
yet none who dared to seek her felt the warmth of her embrace.
But all the stories failed to tell the reason for their scorns,
for she was called the Rose not for her petals, but her thorns.

The first lord asked, and then the next, but all were turned aside,
no man could tame her wild heart and claim her for a bride.
Thus many souls fell victim to her brambles and her glares,
until the Rose of Autumn crossed the gallant Lord of Bears.

 

(This poem was intended to have a companion piece, entitled “Lord of Bears,” but I never actually wrote it – if you like this one, maybe I’ll give it a shot!)

Why not both?

I’m sure y’all have seen the meme that has come to be known across the internet as “Why not both?” It looks like this, for the unfamiliar:

both.jpg

I think about it often, especially when I see debates over certain topics popping up across the internet, or in everyday life. There seems to be things that are regarded as “one or the other.” As in, if you like one, you can’t like the other, or you must determine which is superior.

For example, the ol’ Star Wars vs. Star Trek debate that’s been going on for ages. There’s no reason to pick one over the other, or determine which one is better. Because… why not both? I like both, and even if I prefer one over the other, I’m not pressed about determining which is “better.”

Same goes for film. There seems to be an ongoing general debate over movies that are more “blockbuster” type, geared primarily toward entertainment, against films that are marketed more as “art.” I don’t necessarily prefer one or the other, nor would I speak out against one in favor of the other. Because why not both?

Classic books/authors, like Dickens, Austen, Steinbeck, even Shakespeare, against the more modern fare on the shelves? Why not both?

Marvel vs. DC? Why not both?

Playstation vs. Xbox? Why not both?

Pokemon vs. Digimon? Why not both?

Hitchcock vs. Kubrick? Why not both?

Goku vs. Vegeta? Well, Goku obviously. But the “Why not both?” still applies.

Basically, the world is gray, not black and white… at least, that’s true most of the time. So the next time you’re thinking about deciding between two things, perhaps you should consider if the choice is even necessary at all. Because much of the time, it’s not a matter of one or the other… because, why not both?

 

Unexpected

When I was in 6th grade, my classmates and I participated in a program at a place called Exchange City. Basically, we were to apply for jobs, learn how to interview, and, once our positions were secured, we went on a field trip to a makeshift “city” set up where we were told to run our businesses and do our jobs and try to make a profit. I suppose this was to prepare us for the “real world,” and it was a very cool and valuable experience overall. I only wish we could have done a more advanced version later on, maybe during senior year of high school.

When we were deciding what jobs to interview for, I narrowed it down to three – the total number we were permitted to interview for – and though I don’t remember the third, the two main ones I wanted were Postal Worker and Environmental Control Agent. I desperately wanted the latter, and was eager to interview for it. I could imagine myself strolling along the carpet streets of the Exchange City facility, ensuring that everything was going well. To be honest, I don’t really remember what the job entailed, all I know is that I REALLY wanted it. I pinned all my hopes on that job.

The 6th grade teachers got teachers from other grades and parent volunteers and other school staff to act as interviewers. I don’t recall interviewing for whatever the third job was, but the Postal Worker interview was with the mother of a boy in my class, held in the instrumental practice room. I had dressed up for the day, and even wore a skirt despite the fact that my usual wardrobe at that point in my life was full-on workout gear, complete with sweatband.

I answered her questions honestly, treated it like a normal conversation, explained why I was the best for the position, and wasn’t overcome by nerves. I walked out of the room content that I had done a fair job and represented myself well, but since that wasn’t the job I dreamed of, I didn’t think too much about it afterward.

Then, it was time to interview for the Environmental Control Agent position. I was wracked with nerves, and I don’t even remember who it was with, it passed in a blur. I was so anxious to impress, I stumbled over questions and my knees shook the whole time. I left the room rattled, but still held faith that I had done enough to earn the job. I stuttered, but got my point across.

After some days of deliberation, our class received our jobs – the ones we would maintain for the duration of our time at Exchange City. I waited for my slip, fully expecting to see “Environmental Control Agent” at the top. That is, until a girl in my class proudly exclaimed from across the room that she had gotten it instead.

I was crushed. I couldn’t fathom doing the assignment as anything else. In retrospect, it was a school assignment and not a real job, so there was no reason to be upset. But I was twelve, so, everything was a big deal those days. Obviously, I hadn’t impressed during my interview, and someone else had deserved the job instead. I’d let myself down.

Eventually, I got my slip. I took a minute to open it, trying not to be upset over losing out on my dream position. And at the top of my assignment was the position: Postmaster. Not Postal Worker, which was the position I applied for. Postmaster. I had not only knocked my Postal Worker interview out of the park, I’d done so well they gave me an even better job!

Just like that, losing out on the other job didn’t seem to matter any more. I still succeeded, but in a way that was a little… unexpected. And I made the best of it, selling candy-grams and other letters when it came time to perform my duty, making sure the Postal Worker delivered them all on time. I did have to buy us out of debt at the end of the day at Exchange City, but still, I had a great time and I loved the job I was given, even though it wasn’t the one that I originally wanted.

To this day, I have no idea what an Environmental Control Agent does. But I do still look for the positives, and my successes, in places and situations that might not be expected.

 

Favorite Tropes

Writers are often advised to avoid certain tropes in their writing, but let’s face it… some tropes/cliches are unavoidable. And some are irresistible!

Tropes and cliches can be bad, don’t get me wrong.  They are dreaded and spurned for a reason. They can break a story and turn a reader away from a book or series completely. But tropes wouldn’t be so notorious if they didn’t work or appeal to readers in the first place. And if used effectively, they can ensnare readers instead of pushing them away.

As a writer, it’s vital to make a trope or common theme feel unique and fresh upon implementation, and to do it in a way that will attract readers. It’s about making a trope your own, if you will. So, as a reader… what are some tropes that are sure to draw me in?

Firstly, I love, love, love… love triangles. GASP! I know. I totally LOVE ‘EM. I know they’re controversial and lots of folks think they’re overdone, especially in YA, but I can’t get enough of them… as long as they are done well.

I don’t want a hero or heroine waffling between two flawless options. I don’t want to see two handsome dudes treating some girl like she’s a trophy to be won. No new girl in school draws the eye of a misunderstood loner, but his shy next door neighbor has always held a torch for him. I want real, grounded drama. Legitimate connections between characters. Angst that isn’t contrived. Complicated feelings that go beyond, “Oh, I like you….and I like you, too! UGH, life is so hard!” Something I can feel invested in – something with stakes, high tension, and characters with legitimate flaws that I care about. No Team ______ vs. Team _______.

And nothing pisses me off more than when a love triangle is resolved with literally no repercussions for anyone – like, some miracle perfect fourth person shows up at the 11th hour to save the rejected person’s broken heart and everyone lives happily ever after. I love a good HEA, but it needs to be believable, and there has to be some pain along the way. I also don’t like when one of the characters dies for convenience, so the protagonist doesn’t need to make a choice or whatever.

I also love like, “secret identity” stories, if that makes sense. Especially involving royalty of some kind. Royals hiding their station from their friends in order to appear normal, or to protect themselves from danger, or royals who don’t know that they’re secretly a prince or princess or whatever, then struggle to accept their identity once the truth is discovered. But, again, it needs to be convincing. There needs to be real emotional crisis. And if there’s going to be an HEA, it better be realistic! This one isn’t “royal” related, but to put the “secret identity” idea into perspective, my favorite manga of all time is Hisaya Nakajo’s Hana-Kimi, which is about a girl named Mizuki who masquerades as a boy and enrolls into an all-boys school in order to meet her idol, high-jumper Izumi.

I am also a big fan of “magical girl” stories, to borrow a manga/anime genre term for comparison purposes. This might not be a standard overdone trope, but I love a good series in the same vein as Sailor Moon or Card Captor Sakura. I love a bit of fantastical whimsy combined with female badassery – but I don’t like all series like that. On the literary side, I am always drawn to stories with protagonists that have a unique gift – like Suze’s ability to communicate with ghosts in Meg Cabot’s Mediator series – which ultimately leads to them solving mysteries, conquering evil, or what have you. A “unique gift” can be an ingredient into making a protagonist – especially a female – into a Mary Sue. But if an author can avoid that, and balance out the character, I’m hooked. A “unique gift” needs to basically be a blessing and a curse, and cause genuine conflict, or else it will fall flat for me. This is actually one I used in my own writing, as Remiel in I’m With You has a “gift,” which she perceives as a curse, and it spurs a major conflict and assists in delivering a theme… or that’s what I was going for, anyway.

I’m sure there’s more, but these are all I can conjure up at the moment… But I’d love to know the favorite tropes of my fellow readers/writers!

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.

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