Worth 1000 Words #7: Studying

Allow me to spin a cautionary tale about the importance of studying, and the evils of procrastination and putting off work.

Throughout my academic career, from kindergarten to college, I was a decent student – in the sense that I got good grades and I generally behaved myself. On report cards, I never got below a B; of the few B’s I earned, they were always in my poorest subjects, a.k.a, math or science. Or political science. Government class killed me, man.

459557_10200285563080825_1624171435_o
My studying pose, known as “the cricket.”

But while I earned good grades, I was absolutely horrendous at studying and managing deadlines, and, thanks to those poor habits, I can attribute it to luck that I was able to pull off the academic performances I did. It wasn’t until my final year of college that I actually developed a normal/healthy routine with homework and school projects, but prior to that point, it wasn’t uncommon for me to put off an assignment until the day/night before and end up spiraling into a pit of self-loathing and intense regret as I brewed my fifth cup of coffee at 3:21 in the morning on a Tuesday before an 8AM class. I pulled about 5 or so all-nighters in high school, which isn’t all that bad, and I definitely did less in college; but during each of them, there always came a point where I would run a hand through my snarled hair and say, “I am never doing this again,” and yet, I’d end up inevitably doing it again regardless. I think the worst one was 10th grade – I spent a whole night doing the majority of a project that I’d had at least a month to do, drank 2 Full Throttle energy drinks to stay awake, and put “I’ll Make a Man Out of You,” from the Mulan soundtrack on repeat for 4 straight hours as motivation. The experience did not make a man out of me. Even way back  in elementary school, I used to wait until the morning my reading logs were due to have my mom sign them, and ended up forgetting to do so on numerous occasions. It takes like, five seconds to have someone sign something, and I was too lazy at 8/10 years old to even do that.

Studying was the largest hurdle in my academic life… mostly because I was a prolific procrastinator, but also because I found it difficult to focus, as I have the attention span of an acorn and I am way too easily distracted. But I won’t deny that I could have applied myself much better, and worked harder to focus – it’s not like I was sucked into a Youtube vortex of fainting goat videos against my will, I chose to put off my work and bore the consequences because of that decision, and allowed myself to fall into that mindset multiple times. During my last year of college, I turned a page. I made sure my homework was done (or almost done) by dinner time, went to bed at 10 PM every night, woke up at 6AM to go jogging 5 days a week, always left to go to class with enough time to grab my usual latte at the campus center (the lady at the counter only had to see me coming and she’d start preparing it for me), I spent my weekends doing homework in my little kitchen nook, and, with what free time I had remaining, I either hung out with friends or worked on writing for personal reasons. I’d cut back my work schedule that year, and during my final semester I dropped my second job in order to focus on schoolwork. This was a massive help because I felt like I had more free time to do fun stuff, which sliced my procrastination level down. It’s a shame that it took me sixteen or so years to get into the appropriate mindset regarding school, because I could have saved myself a lot of suffering, and my caffeine dependence probably wouldn’t be quite as bad as it is now. I am down to 2-3 cups a day as opposed to the 6-7 I used to consume, so that’s progress, at least!

Once I began to apply myself, and worked out a schedule that afforded me a more or less well-balanced life between school/work obligations and personal matters, I noticed an improvement in my academic performance and a noticeable decrease in my typically-astronomical stress levels. I finished my assignments early. I wasn’t scrambling to finish homework the morning it was due. I actually wrote multiple drafts instead of just turning in my first endeavor at everything, and, as a result of all the changes I made, I even improved my diet and sleep schedule, which led to an overall boost in my mood. I wasn’t late to appointments. And it all felt so rewarding, to finally feel like I wasn’t drowning in papers and books in a vicious cycle of my own making.

Looking back, I actually cringe thinking about how I might have improved on some of my work and my assignments had I changed my habits earlier. Those ‘A’s could have become ‘A+’s. Those ‘B’s and ‘B-‘s might not have even happened, and my student ranking might have been higher in high school, which would have awarded me better scholarships. Luck was certainly on my side throughout my academic life, as I still managed to graduate college with honors… but, other than those final months where I turned it around, that success was at the cost of my health, both mental and physical, because it took me so long to reform my studying methods. Just because you are someone who can pull off decent/adequate, or even stellar work, at the last minute, doesn’t mean that you should. And as someone who used to ascribe to that way of thinking, and assumed I could put in just enough effort without really pushing myself to be even better, I definitely recommend that you do not.

Game of Thrones Live Concert Experience: From Westeros to Boston

Contains spoilers for major moments of HBO’s Game of Thrones s1-6 and the Live Concert Experience. 

Last August, the Game of Thrones Live Concert Experience was announced, and, as a diehard fan of both the books and the show, I eagerly scanned the list of dates/venues to see if it was coming to my area. Unfortunately, the closest was Philadelphia on 2/26/17, which is about 2 hours away. I’m unfamiliar with Philly and the date was questionable for my schedule, so I didn’t think I would be able to attend… until I saw the location of the 3/6/17 show, and a lightbulb sparked above my head.

Since I’ve got family/friends in NE and I’m much more familiar with the area, I snagged tickets for the Boston show. Also, because my parents decided to start watching Game of Thrones with me and have spent the past ten or so months getting all caught up,  we made a mini family-vacation out of it and split the expense.

I bought the tickets way back when it was first announced, so by the time March finally rolled around, my excitement levels were at a potential Cleganebowl level. We got to the TD Garden about an hour ahead of time, and  the atmosphere inside the stadium was definitely meant to ramp up the hype-meter. Outside, they had some of the costumes from the show on display, which was a treat to see. There were smoke machines; not terribly intrusive, which set the scene with a light mist. I had gotten tickets for the “middle-ish” area of the stadium, so we had a great view of the screens and the stage… I’d initially gotten seats for one of the ends, but after some research, I called and swapped my seats, and the new ones were significantly better. For a Monday night, the turnout was decent; it wasn’t sold out, but the middle areas were packed, even up in the nosebleeds, and it seemed to me as though the empty seats were all on the ends, where the view of the concert was restricted. But as for the set up, there was a main stage connected to a smaller stage, which the soloists frequently moved to, as well as two smaller satellite stages, so, even if you couldn’t see the main screens from your seat, there was something to look at the entire time. There was an onscreen clock counting down the final minutes before the concert began, and from the moment the lights went down and the orchestra began the “Main Theme” as the Iron Throne materialized through a plume of smoke, I was as excited as Sansa was when she found out she was going to marry Joffrey…. you know, before he had her dad’s head cut off.

After a pleasant introduction by Ramin Djawadi, the creator of the music and themes all GoT fans have grown to love, the next track was an amalgamation of sorts of the character/house themes, as the sigils/banners unfurled from the rafters and the characters appeared in clips on the screen. I may not be a Lannister fan, but I got chills when their theme began; it might be my favorite motif from the series, and listening to it live was equal parts chilling and thrilling. Hearing the audience cheer for their favorite characters/houses and boo for their least favorites (Joff and Ramsay, in particular) was a surreal experience.

A major highlight of the concert was the soloists that composer Ramin Djawadi brought on tour with him; Christine Wu on violin, Cameron Stone on cello, singer Stevvi Alexander, and Pedro Eustache on winds, as well as a couple of others whose names I couldn’t manage to track down on the internet. Christine Wu played a wonderful solo as a “Weirwood Tree” descended and bloomed around her onstage, complete with red leaves raining from the sky, Cameron Stone rocked out on the cello during the Greyjoy number (on a water-soaked platform, no less) and Pedro Eustache played a 14-foot “wildling horn” in the midst of a snow squall during the White Walkers bit. Shockingly, no one went running for the doors when “The Rains of Castamere” (sung by soloist Stevvi Alexander) started, nor when they launched into the Red Wedding (“The Lannisters Send Their Regards”) afterwards. One truly understands what it means to be a fan whilst watching such misery play out onscreen with hundreds of other fans, though they did edit the sequences from the show to show less stabbing (of the back/neck/chest variety) than the full episode. The performance of the soloists/choir also gave those with a poorer vantage point something to watch, including a semi-reenactment of Cersei’s walk of atonement (no actual nudity, obv) and “warring” cello and violin during the sequences from “Battle of the Bastards.” The choir even donned Harpy masks for the relevant number. As someone who could see the screens perfectly well, it was nice to switch my view between stage and screen, and thus experience the entire concert without fearing that I missed anything big.

All in all, it’s hard to peg my favorite moment from the night – I enjoyed every note and each performance. The setlist featured a lot of the big musical and thematic moments of the series, such as the dramatic dragon-hatching ending of season 1, Jon and Ygritte’s doomed romance, and Sam seeing the library in Oldtown for the first time. One of my favorite episodes is season 2’s  penultimate “Blackwater,” so hearing the music live whilst watching the sequences play out onscreen was a treat for my inner fangirl. I also loved soloist Stevvi Alexander’s haunting and beautiful rendition of “The Rains of Castamere,” and her vocals, combined with the talents of a local choir, brought new life and fire to “Mhysa” and various other tracks, such as “The High Sparrow,” “Sons of the Harpy,” and “The Winds of Winter.” Ramin Djawadi also played the dulcimer during the Arya-centric “Needle,” and it gave the song a new, vibrant sound. The “Battle of the Bastards” segment was stellar, and the performance of the orchestra complemented the action-packed scenes of one of the greatest episodes of the series. Hearing the music in person, often with instruments added and the occasional new vocal or twist, also gave me a new appreciation for songs that previously had never stood out to me, such as the Greyjoy themes and Melisandre’s/Stannis’s.

The concert also included special effects aside from the images and scenes on the screens, which enhanced the overall experience and made for a visual feast for most of the concert. My favorite track from the season 6 soundtrack is actually “Reign,” so when the clip of Dany and the Masters played, with our favorite Dragon Queen saying “My reign has just begun,” I was thrilled; but add actual fire into the mix? We were several feet away and could feel the heat when the flames shot into the air. Gosh, it was like Drogon was actually present! Well, not really, but it was an awesome addition to the concert nonetheless. The second major instance was “The Light of the Seven,” the piano-centric track that leads up to Cersei’s act of ultimate vengeance in the final episode of season 6. Djawadi took the piano for this one, on the smaller stage, and as the song reached its peak, he was engulfed by green light and smoke. Thankfully it was all for show, and Djawadi did not suffer the same fate as poor Margaery, Loras, Kevan, and the others in the sept.

As all ride-or-die GoT fans know, the show would not be what it is without the gut-wrenching (and occasionally vindicating) stream of character deaths. After the orchestra finished the  last number, the hype-tastic song used to close out season 6 known as “The Winds of Winter,” Ramin and his band members played “The Bear and the Maiden Fair” while a montage of deceased characters played on the screens. A brilliant way to both close the show and offer a bit of a recap of our heartbreak, misery, and, in some cases, victorious moments over the last six seasons.

One complaint? Not NEARLY enough of the suave and mysterious Jaqen H’ghar/Faceless Man. (I jest, I jest – but he is my fave.)

The Game of Thrones Live Concert Experience was exactly that; an experience, and one I definitely recommend to anyone who is a fan of the show and the music. It’s approximately 2.5 hours of music and action – what’s not to like? I cannot imagine the amount of preparation and precision that went into making this concert, and I left the stadium with an ear-to-ear smile – a testament to what Djawadi has done with this score, and what GoT means to fans of the series. Ramin Djawadi and all those who have brought this concert to life have done an excellent job creating this experience and bringing the music to fans in a new, dynamic way, and I am so thankful I got to see it.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

Emoji-Speak

Whenever my best friend and I hang out or carpool somewhere and she drops me off at my house afterward, I turn into an overly-cautious helicopter parent and ask her to text me when she gets home; especially in inclement weather. I just like to make sure that my pals get home okay, considering the absurd driving habits of people in our area of Pennsylvania, as well as the numerous winding, pot-hole covered roads.

However, this “tradition” has evolved into her sending me a random emoji when she gets home, and I send one back as confirmation. Similarly, when she arrives at my house to pick me up, she signals to me with an emoji so I will know to come outside. This is our most recent exchange, when we worked a couple of overnight shifts together and carpooled:

Screenshot_2017-02-03-12-24-23.png

For the emoji impaired, the eyeglasses are her telling me that she has arrived home safely, and the cheeseburger is me confirming that I have received her message. The ensuing cow, several hours later, means that she has arrived at my house to pick me up for our next shift. The entire herd of cows that follow the first are because I am slow and had yet to come out to her car. The sleepy face is her getting home safely once again, and the sheep is my confirmation. You may be able to tell that the type of emoji usually doesn’t matter, for these exchanges.

As a simpler example, this is how we sent Christmas cheer to one another:

screenshot_2017-02-03-12-24-42

Very to the point. We do this for practically every holiday; bunnies and chicks on Easter, ghosts and pumpkins for Halloween. Maybe a tree on arbor day. Cakes and party-poppers for birthdays. Etc, etc.

On some level, we could probably communicate entirely in emojis. And I don’t think that’s a bad thing, really. My personal favorite emoji is the octopus, and I use it whenever I can.octo Sometimes I just tack it on to the end of a text, without any context or previous references to cephalopods. It’s like adding a little smile at the end, only with eight legs (the picture technically has six, but I don’t think it’s meant to be a squid.) It actually used to be a lot cuter, but my keyboard recently updated, so my entire emoji scheme is different, but the new versions have grown on me. I am also very fond of the various cat faces and the elephant. I do refrain (typically) from using them in professional correspondence, however… though a smiley may slip by, on occasion.

During the most recent season of American Horror Story, my sister and I did not watch the episodes under the same roof, but we did text throughout each episode, predominantly using emojis. I’ve since switched phones, so I don’t have my entirely emoji-based, masterful recap of one episode any longer, but here are the predictions we exchanged for the finale:

screenshot_2017-02-03-12-25-17

Honestly, I believe our predictions were pretty spot on, and the entire exchange took less than a minute. My parents and I text in this way too, sometimes; mostly me, but they’re not strangers to emoji-speak. Questions via text can be answered by a “thumbs up.” That’s better than the ever-infuriating “K.” I’d much prefer to get an emoji in my inbox than “K.”

Despite the claims that current language and communication trends are “dumbing down” the future generations, I think the value of emojis is often overlooked. I don’t think my communication skills have suffered much from the introduction of smileys and animals and various other symbols. With emojis, you can say so much in so few words… or so few images, if the case may be. They’re sort of like new-age hieroglyphs, only less… instrumental to the understanding and evolution of human communication. Like, why tell my friend that I’m annoyed with something when i can just sent the (-_-) face emoji? It gets to the point so much faster than typing out an explanation, and they are multi-purpose. Emojis can help convey emotion; interpret feeling. And add emphasis. Cat faces make everything better! EVERYTHING!

Sometimes it’s silly, sure. Emojis aren’t necessary – and shouldn’t really be used as a form of communication on their own, I guess. But in defense of emojis, they are a nice supplement to the text-based communication AND they’re mostly universal! When used appropriately, they’re harmless – and a few extra smileys or a tasteful octopus can even brighten someone’s day.

The Importance of Sorrow

A few days before Christmas this past year, my mom and I went to see Manchester by the Sea, the much-lauded Amazon Studios film helmed by Kenneth Lonergan, which stars Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, and Lucas Hedges. It is a highly emotional film, and it’s difficult not to have a similarly emotional reaction to the content. There’s some heart-stomping moments, some heart-shredding moments, some heart-bulldozing moments. I won’t go into spoilers, but you can probably tell from the reviews and the buzz surrounding the film that it isn’t a happy-go-lucky comedy focusing on the bright side of life; it’s a real, raw film that doesn’t show an idealized interpretation of the world.

That night at the theater, I was not the only one who found the film to be soul-wrenching. When it was done, and the credits started rolling, the sobbing woman beside me managed to say, “I don’t understand. The reviews said it was a good movie. I don’t get it,” and the man she was with said, “Yeah… I like to see movies with happy endings.”

Now, I freely admit that I am a film snob. However, I understand their perspective, even if I don’t completely agree. I can understand why certain folks don’t necessarily want to subject themselves to a sobfest for 2+ hours – I’m not gonna turn into Russel Crowe in Gladiator and scream, “ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED?!?” at people who don’t enjoy sitting through what are considered “depressing” films.

I mean, I love the Marvel movies and films of similar genres, but if I went to see a superhero film where the villains emerge victorious, the heroes lose, and the world subsequently suffers some horrendous fate, I’d probably have a few complaints. Because that’s not why I go to those types of films; I go to see the heroes triumph, despite the obstacles they endure along the way. There are exceptions to this (Watchmen comes to mind) but usually, if I’m looking for an “escape” from reality, it’s easy to peg which movies will provide that experience. Like, if I’m hunting for a film to lift my mood, and my options are Brokeback Mountain and Airplane! the choice is clear.

Certain films are designed with the escapist in mind; the moviegoers who yearn for the fantasy, for the formula that produces a happy ending without fail, for the victories of heroes and the vanquishing of evil. I don’t go into Disney movies expecting to emerge from the theater at the end weeping because all of the little woodland creatures were murdered in some grisly fashion, or the prince left the princess for her devious step-sister. Lots of movies have “sad” moments, or emotional hurdles for the protagonists to conquer, but those obstacles are typically stepping stones on the road to “happily ever after.” And there’s nothing wrong with that; it works, for some films.

But when it comes to film in general, happy does not necessarily mean good, and “sad” does not automatically equate with bad. This applies to books and television shows, too, but I’m limiting the scope for the sake of time.

Manchester by the Sea is not a happy movie, but I still found it to be great – and one of my favorites of the year. Because sometimes, it isn’t an escape I’m looking for; it’s a more grounded, real experience. I can’t imagine that particular film having a standard by-the-book happy ending. It wouldn’t work. I’d also say something similar for Moonlight, which I saw this past week. I wouldn’t necessarily call film “sad,” but it’s not a romp through the daisies – and the more realistic content and approach gives the film a stronger impact. It gives the viewer a tether to hold onto; situations to empathize and sympathize with. Some films, while fictional, strive for a more realistic adaptation of life or events instead of showing a world where everything goes right all the time. Because if there’s one thing I know about the world we live in, it’s that things most certainly don’t always go “right.”

Some of the most notable films of all time are “sad” movies, or movies that don’t follow the “typical” plot structure of “set up, conflict, stuff goes awry, climax, everything works out”- and sometimes, that’s what makes them notable. For example, Schindler’s List is a brilliant film and it packs an emotional wallop. I watched it almost a decade ago for the first (and, thus far, only) time and can still  vividly remember the ending scene. Dead Poet’s Society ripped my heartstrings to shreds and it’s one of my favorites. I still can’t watch the Wilson scene in Castaway without getting sniffly. The first ten minutes of Up, the last ten minutes of Toy Story 3, and almost the entirety of Grave of the Fireflies had me absolutely blubbering. Seven had me in jaw-dropped shock long after the screen went black. The Road was exhausting, and last year, Leonardo DiCaprio’s journey through bears, snow, and wilderness in The Revenant left me feeling emotionally and physically drained. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest won Best Picture in 1975, and certainly not for the laughs. And yet, movies like that can linger; their messages resonating long after their initial release.

Movies can provide an escape, but they can also be a mirror; a portal through which we see a fictional world not too different from our own. They can provide heartbreaking moments and emulate emotions that a viewer can latch onto or relate to, instead of distracting from them. The message or mood of a film might be bleak, or depressing, or somber, or just outright discouraging or dismal, or hope might be but a pinprick in the distance for characters the viewers have grown attached to, but that does not devalue the film overall.

Just like there is great importance in happiness and positive, uplifting messages, there is immense value in emotions like sorrow. Films can help us learn, or allow viewers to confront and process difficult, stressful, and painful emotions through a fictional lens. Sometimes, it isn’t about the escape, but the journey – even if that journey has no light at the end of the tunnel.

 

(As an aside, I intended to write a review for Moonlight for this post, but during my showing, there were two obnoxious women seated behind me who felt the need to fill every silent or poignant moment in the film with their commentary and inappropriate jokes (especially during romantic scenes, which they seemed to disapprove of), and so, my experience was somewhat marred, and I didn’t want that negativity to seep into a review – especially since my focus was broken at a few key points. But I will say that, despite their rudeness, it was a remarkable film with incredible performances from the cast, and I hope to see it succeed at the Oscars. And as a general PSA for moviegoers: shut up and watch the movie. Don’t ruin the experience for the others around you.)

 

Worth 1000 Words #6: Leon

My first car was a navy blue ’02 Subaru Legacy, purchased with 148,000 miles on it. I was 17 years old and absolutely terrified of driving on the highway (still am, for the record), but regardless, I was ready to (slowly) hit the road.

And boy, I loved that car. I named him Leon, because all cars must have names. I actually got the name “Leon” from the main character of Final Fantasy VIII, Squall Leonhart, my favorite all-time FF character. Leon the Legacy was his full name, but I usually called him by his stage name – Leyonce. This post shall be an ode to Leon.

0917140645

Now, I did not get my learner’s permit or license until well after most of my friends had already acquired wheels and the means to use them. This is largely because I was terrified of driving. When I was still learning how to drive, I took my mom’s Ford Escape around our neighborhood at 15mph, constantly asking, “Am I going too fast? AM I?” I also cried during my driver’s test because the instructor yelled at me, and I’m like, 43% sure he only passed me because he felt bad.  That should give you some idea of what sort of driver I was at the start of my driving career.

But soon, I had Leon.

I did not have him an exceptionally long time, but Leon got me through a lot, helped me overcome some of my driving inhibitions, and was with me during my first forays into the world of adulthood. I only got a car because I needed one to go to college in a state six hours away from home, since I didn’t live on campus and needed a way to get to class and my part-time job – and Leon was the best first car I could have ever asked for.

I believe I suffer from some sort of driving dyslexia, because, while I am not a good driver in general, it’s mostly because I am not good at all with directions. Two months ago I had to use my GPS to get home from the same doctor’s office I’ve been going to for like, eight years. I don’t know what it is, but when I’m behind the wheel, I am utterly useless at finding my way anywhere. It’s a miracle I even make it to work.

Leon is the first car I braved the highway with. I have fond memories of driving on the Mass Pike by myself for the first time, eschewing a panic attack, and having to climb out of the car to get my ticket at the station because I couldn’t reach it through the window. A 20 minute trip turned into 2 hours; and that’s not including the return journey, which included trauma I won’t go into. But I had Leon; my navy blue security blanket with all-wheel drive. I made it safely home, despite my struggles, thanks to him.

Late night heart-to-hearts with friends, parked at a curb in our tiny PA town. Driving up to the highest residential point in the area to look out on the city below. Venturing home from work after a snowstorm and skidding straight through a red light at a four-way intersection, screaming bloody murder all the while. My first road trip, from PA to MA, where I didn’t have to trade the wheel off until CT, when I was fighting to ward off sleep. Crossing state lines to play laser-tag (medieval style) for my 20th birthday, and jamming out to the Backstreet Boys on our way back to campus.

Leon’s demise came in 2014, after two head gasket replacements in a one year span. The first one made my wallet weep, but I understood why it was necessary, as Leon was 12 and things were starting to get worn out. After the repair was finished, I assumed all was well for the time being. So, I was driving around for a while (as in, for months) before I started to smell something burning every time I drove. A mechanic told me it was my oil pan, so I shelled out money for a “used” oil pan, then when that didn’t fix the problem, they took another, closer look. I was told that I needed another head gasket, and that I shouldn’t have been driving with my car in such a condition, because it could have broken down at any moment. Apparently, the first one wasn’t installed properly, or whatever – which made me lose a lot of confidence in said mechanic. Needless to say, I got another new head gasket. For free.

Sadly, though he seemed to be mostly okay after the second repair, this incident basically showed me that Leon was now costing more to maintain than he was worth. Every time I took him in for an inspection, there was something wrong with him – and it was never something that was easy or inexpensive to fix. I was forking over hundreds of dollars for a car that experienced constant issues, so, in the late summer of 2014, I decided that it was time to let Leon go and get a new car.

I found a used Nissan that I liked, and it was time to say goodbye to Leon. Before I traded him in, I took the time to clean everything out. The frisbees in my trunk, which I kept because you never know when you’ll need a frisbee. My emergency bag, complete with emergency granola bars and emergency change of clothes and emergency toothbrush. Countless poptart wrappers (it’s an addiction, don’t judge me). A surplus of CD’s, chronicling my taste in music over the years; from J-Pop to film scores to Swedish metal. Approximately 47 half-filled water bottles.

Once all my things were cleared out, I handed the keys to the dealer, and my trusty Subaru either went off to auction or was sold to someone new. It was difficult to say goodbye, but no matter what I’m driving, I’ll always have fond memories of Leon.

The 3 Happy Things Journal

I have never been a “journal” person. Not because I don’t like to journal, but because I always tumble into the “I’ll do it later” mentality and fall off the routine. In an effort to be a more positive and appreciative person, I decided to give journaling another go at the start of 2016. But instead of daily entries detailing events or pondering my existence, I wrote down at least 3 “happy” things that happened over the course of the day.

I’ll admit, I slacked a bit during the holidays, so I ended up cramming a few days at a time toward the end, but on the whole, I managed to stay consistent in my journal efforts for the first time.

1/11/16 – CORN MUFFINS
1/26/16 – Orchard Skittles and reclining movie theater seats.
2/5/16 – Mac n’ cheese absolutely MURDERED my cramps.
2/18/16 – Went through a car wash without suffering a panic attack.
3/2/16 – MANUSCRIPT DONE AND SENT! AHHHHH!
3/10/16 -Made the cashier at a gas station laugh.
4/10/16 – Discovered Would I Lie To You? reruns on Youtube.
4/26/16 – Survived a day with no coffee.
5/5/16 – Captain America: Civil War was awesome, and the Winter Soldier is FINE.
5/27/16 – Two-story Barnes & Noble in NYC, A.K.A, heaven.
5/28/16 – Steve Martin playing the banjo at the intermission of Bright Star.
6/10/16 – Cereal. I just really love cereal.
6/20/16 – New shampoo smells great.
7/10/16 – Mom, Dad, and I driving around to all  Pokestops in the area.
7/20/16 – So cool to see the format of my book.
8/8/16 – Got to watch a beautiful sunrise.
8/26/16 – Stayed up until 2AM reading and finished two books in one day.
9/30/16 – MY BOOK WAS RELEASED ON AMAZON!!! AHHH!!!
10/1/16 – MY BOOK WAS RELEASED AT BN.COM!!! AHHH!!!
10/6/16 – First person told me they like my book!
11/9/16 – Solidarity, unity, and determination.
11/27/16 – Killed a fly with my ninja skills.
12/16/168 Out of 10 Cats Does Countdown reruns. I AM ADDICTED.
12/25/16 – Held my baby cousin for the first time.
12/26/16 – Giveaway ended with 1,202 entries.
12/29/16 – Burritos with friends, catching up for 4 hours.

2016, on the whole, was not a great year, but looking back through my journal has reminded me that there was at least a little bit of good to be found in each day. A small bit of sun to part the dismal clouds. Sometimes (and by sometimes, I mean frequently) the “good things” were something as small as “Chinese food for dinner!” or “Had a great workout today.” There were multiple days where I wrote basically the same thing; some variation of “good workout, work was okay, got some editing/writing done.” It is also alarming how many times I wrote about coffee, pizza, starting a book, and getting to sleep on time. Mundane things, maybe, but I’ve found there’s nothing wrong with thinking the “boring” things are positive.

There were some not so good days in there, too. On June 7th, I only wrote one thing down: nothing. Implying that nothing good happened the entire day. But looking back on it now, I don’t remember what made that day so bad, so really, it must not have been as awful as I thought at the time. That’s not to say that bad things should be ignored, because they shouldn’t. Bad things are a part of life, and they must be acknowledged, but they should not conquer all else.

The year might not have been great, but despite the bad things that happened, there are tiny pinpricks of light that make the bad far less bleak, even if it’s something as small as “Corn muffins!” I only intended to keep this journal for a year, sort of as an experiment, but I’m going to keep going into 2017, and probably beyond. There are a lot of blank pages left in my Happy Things journal, and I look forward to filling them.

Let Go

The other night, while watching The Graham Norton Show, I decided to heat up a mug of milk in the microwave in order to make some hot cocoa. With marshmallows, of course; I’m not a savage.

As it turns out, the mug I was using – a BB8-themed Star Wars mug – doesn’t work like most of the other mugs in my collection. Typically, I don’t have to worry about the mug getting too hot because the handle doesn’t heat up in conjunction with the rest of the mug. Therefore, I can usually grab the mug with my bare hand and it won’t burn me, even after being in the microwave for 2-3 minutes. But I must be a novice when it comes to mug dynamics, because with this particular mug, the handle did, in fact, heat up.

Unaware of this fact, I grabbed the mug with my bare hand and lifted it out of the microwave. While the mug was clutched in my hand, suspended in midair, searing pain surged through my fingers. My first instinct was to tighten my hold on the handle, which only made the burning worse. By that point, I had two options. Either let the mug continue to burn me as I set it safely down on the counter-top, or drop it, likely break it, and save my poor hand from continued suffering.

In this particular instance, I chose to bite back an agonized squeal and set the mug carefully on the counter. Mercifully, I managed to get my hand under some cool water and there wasn’t a lasting, significant burn; it just stung for a bit afterward. The eventually finished cocoa did help soothe the pain, in that regard.

But sometimes, things don’t work the way they’re meant to. Hot cocoa cups get too hot to hold and fingers get hurt in the process. And sometimes, it’s okay to let go.

I mean, the whole mug situation aside, letting go isn’t always a bad thing. “Letting go” doesn’t have to equate with “giving up” – I mean sure, sometimes it does mean that, and people let go or give up for no good reason at all. However, there doesn’t have to be shame in recognizing when something just isn’t going to work, especially if, in the long term, it’s only going to cause harm or further difficulty. Letting go might result in shards of glass scattered on the floor or a puddle of hot milk at your feet, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not a proper solution if it’s done within reason, like to prevent something worse.

I am, generally, a proponent of honoring commitments, and following through on any sort of project or task that I’ve set out to do – and, often, it is best to see those obligations through. But there are a handful of times where things got tough, situations shifted, circumstances changed, and I would have been better off dropping something rather than seeing it through to the end. Take my high school AP Government class, for example; I took it because history is usually a strong subject for me, but it was insanely difficult, I didn’t understand a lot of it, I barely scraped a B, my stress levels skyrocketed, and I didn’t even bother taking the AP test at the end of the year because I knew I wouldn’t score high enough to earn credit. Pride be damned, I should have dropped down to a non-AP class and it would have saved me a lot of time and frustration.

And while sometimes the “correct” solution is only made clear through hindsight, other times, it is obvious when something isn’t working, and it can’t be helped in the end. Sometimes, consistent hard work won’t earn the desired results. In those cases, what else can you do but let go, when continuing on will only make matters worse?  Letting go doesn’t have to mean giving up – and often, it can even take more courage to let go than it does to persevere.