Worth 1000 Words #8: Coffee

A cup of coffee can either save or ruin an entire day. I guess that also applies to tea or other similar beverages, but I dislike most tea that is not of the iced variety, so this post will strictly deal with coffee.

IMG_20170515_145133_308For several folks all over the world, coffee is what sets the morning in motion. Or it provides a much-needed stimulant in the afternoon. Or it can be the fuel to a productive evening if you don’t have to wake up early the following day. Basically, coffee is a versatile tool that can be utilized whenever someone needs a caffeine-based boost. On many dreary days, it is only the tantalizing scent of coffee that is capable of dragging me out of bed in the morning, and during certain evenings, I look forward to indulging in a cup of “night coffee” as I settle in for an editing session or to read a few chapters of a book.

My personal relationship with coffee has not always been a healthy one; back in my late high-school / early college years, I was averaging about five to seven cups a day. Not good, and quite detrimental to my general state of being. My sleep schedule was terrible, my diet was awful, the caffeine headaches were brutal, I developed the appearance of a zombie raccoon, and I was basically using coffee as a crutch to hobble through each day and night. After receiving doctor’s orders to decrease my caffeine intake, I have managed to scale it back to two or three cups, depending on my work load or the kind of day I’m having, and on (very) rare occasions I even settle for one. I still resemble a zombie raccoon on most days, but I’m starting to think that’s just my natural appearance.

But I am also one of those folks who is not satisfied with just any kind of coffee. No, no… I am a snob. I’m definitely not as bad as some, so I guess you could say I’m a low-tier snob, but over the years, my tastes have evolved so that I can only tolerate certain strains of coffee, with dark roast being the most prominent. I am partial to French roast (the Starbucks kind is probably the best I’ve had, but Victor Allen’s is decent, and so is the Newman’s Own) but I will accept Sumatra, Italian, or any other kind of dark roast. I used to be able to drink any kind of coffee, but now, all variants of light roast taste like a single coffee bean floating in water to me – I call it devil’s swill. I honestly can’t fathom how people even drink light roast; I can tolerate medium roast if there are no other options, but really, the bolder the better.

However, despite my love of all things dark roast, I do have a fondness for sugary, frilly coffee drinks; frapuccinos, machiattos, lattes, blended drinks, etc. Sure, they’re often overpriced and provide about three days’ worth of sugar in a single sip, but they taste delicious! And sometimes, a frou-frou basic-white-girl whipped-cream-topped sweet treat is just what is required to propel someone through a rough patch. I’m off chocolate for the year (which has been a struggle, let me tell you), but if I weren’t, I’d be indulging in a S’mores Frappuccino right about now. Not that it will redeem me any, but I am STRONGLY anti-Pumpkin spiced anything and cannot stand the taste of gingerbread, so in the fall/winter, I am somewhat less of a basic bitch. I also haven’t tried the new Unicorn thing, but I suspect there isn’t any actual coffee in it, so I think I’ll avoid that sugar rush.

I prefer not to take coffee black; I’m not even sure how people do it. If I’m fixing myself a cup at home, I use a splash of creamer – basic vanilla or something simple. Right now, I’m using one called “sweet cream,” but it’s not overly-sweet. Y’all can get out of here with your hazelnut, though, or any of those fancy-pants flavors. If I’m out at a restaurant or something, I go for standard cream and sugar. Not too much; just enough to stave off bitterness.

I also have a mug preference, if I’m at home and am free to select whichever vessel I desire for my caffeinated beverages. My cupboard includes two Star Wars mugs (one is BB8, the other is Rogue One based) an Avengers mug, two Batman mugs, a mug with the logo of my alma mater on it, a Game of Thrones stein (House Baratheon… purchased before season 5 episode 9), and a bunch of plain white mugs for plain days. Sometimes, all it takes is a cup of java in a BB8 mug to lift my mood. Why would I use a plain old mug when I can drink out of a mug with superheroes on it?

Now, coffee is a simple thing, I know; probably not something I should spend 1000 words droning on about. But simple pleasures have power. Besides, you can tell a lot about someone from the way they take their coffee. I like to think I’m as bold as French roast (I’m not) with just a splash of sweetness (I’m not that, either), but a coffee preference can be an integral part of a person’s psyche; something that someone else can identify with. I even try really hard not to judge people who drink light roast, though it’s a daily struggle. Seriously, how does anyone consume that… that… devil’s swill?!?

My coffee order has evolved over the years, and I have changed with it – maybe someday, I’ll be taking my coffee black to match my bright sunshine-y disposition! For now, however, I’ll happily stick to my French roast… I actually just ordered a pack of 200 Victor Allen’s K-cups and I’m curious to see how long it will take me to plow through it.

So, the question is… how do you take your coffee?

B.A.P. Concert in Washington D.C.!

Let it be known, before I launch into this post, that I am not a K-pop aficionado. I do harbor a long-running deep love for J-Pop/J-Rock (Do As Infinity, L’arc-en-Ciel, Ayaka, Ayumi Hamasaki, Every Little Thing, Utada, FLOW, etc) and an appreciation for C-Pop and Mandopop (Jolin Tsai, Jam Hsiao, S.H.E., Mayday, Leehom Wang, etc), and while I enjoy K-Pop, my dedication level hovers somewhere above “knowing what Gangnam Style is” and below “creating K-Pop only blogs/twitters and knowing all the former and present members of Super Junior.” One might say I am a casual.

So a couple of months ago, I got a text from my best friend, which read: “Would you….. possibly hypothetically go with me to see a kpop group in dc?” I thought about it, and ultimately settled on, “Why not?” I may not be a mega-fan, but I figured it would be an interesting experience, regardless.

And it definitely was an experience. Now, bear in mind, the following observations are from someone who is not super-involved in the K-pop fandom, so please forgive any ignorance on my part. No offense is meant by anything said in the following blog post.

I might be a novice, but I am aware of the far-reaching scope of K-pop  – it’s basically a global phenomenon with a massive, dedicated fanbase. I know a handful of bands/artists, but I was more or less clueless about B.A.P. going into the concert. My friend actually made me a Google doc about the band/members to study beforehand, but needless to say, I didn’t retain much. However, no amount of research could have prepared me for what I was going to face at the Warner Theater in D.C on April 9th, 2017.

17862549_10210247446681689_2903302992777542961_nDuring the ride down to D.C, my friend (who is a K-pop expert) briefed me on what to expect, so I felt more or less equipped to handle things. However, more details trickled through over the course of the day, as she would casually mention, “Oh, by the way, there will be whistles,” and “Oh, just so you know, it’s going to start with a D.J.” and “There’s like, sort of a dress code…but don’t worry about it” – I half expected her to tell me the boys would land onstage after descending from the ceiling on trapezes. Outside the theater, we were given posters to wave during a particular number… and since I didn’t know any of the songs, my friend assured me she would alert me in advance. Once we entered the venue and got to our seats (in the balcony), she also mentioned, “It’s good we’re not in the orchestra seats, because it gets crazy down there,” and a girl sitting near us assured me, “Oh, it’ll get crazy up here too.”

And they were not wrong. All thoughts of being prepared were whisked away from me as the buzz began to build. Whistles were going off and fans were screaming well before the opening – and once the D.J. (A performer named D.Shoo, who was awesome!) actually began, the hype was ramped up to about a 1000%. Now, the Warner Theater is the sort of venue built for ballets and – so that sort of atmosphere, colliding with the passionate fervor of K-Pop fans and the colorful, flashing lights and screens, was a bit jarring at first. Folks were jumping up and down, whistles were blaring, everyone was standing and cheering, girls (and maybe some guys) were loudly proclaiming their love for certain members of the group, and the main act hadn’t even begun yet.

17796405_10210247446841693_3183343088456269860_nNaturally, when the group members – Yongguk, Daehyun, Jongup, Himchan, Youngjae, and Zelo (I only had to google, like, 2 of those – I’m getting better!) – actually emerged onstage and launched into their first number, the crowd totally lost it. I looked down into the orchestra and it was a literal sea of flailing arms, hands waving those little bunny monster wand things (Matokis, I think?) and screaming. A fan up in the balcony had some sort of light-up sign, as well. At some points, it got so loud that I feared I would lose my hearing for the following day, and my friend and I both had to work at 5AM the next morning, so that would have been less than ideal. Luckily, the ear-ringing ceased on the car ride home.

Even though I went into the experience mostly unprepared and unaware of what was about to ensue, I was completely blown away. From the moment the concert began, the crowd never lost their intensity- we were on our feet the entire time, and B.A.P. did a fantastic job keeping the energy level at it’s peak the entire night, even during “slower” numbers. It took me a little while to adjust to the ardent nature of the crowd, but I settled into a zone and found myself having an excellent time. It barely even felt like 2 hours, and even though my friend and I had been walking around D.C. most of the day beforehand, the exhaustion didn’t hit me until the car-ride home. Also, I can say, with 90% certainty, that I was the only person in the audience who didn’t know any of the words. The fans knew exactly when to join in with the next lyrics and didn’t even need any sort of cue – it was seriously awe-inspiring.

17523631_10210247447161701_8871979680167774961_nMy favorite performances from the event were “Wake Me Up,” “Feel So Good,” “B.A.B.Y,” and “Spy” – at least, I’m pretty sure those are the titles. I had to google it. But I enjoyed all of it, and at no point or during any song did I think anything like, “Meh, this one’s just okay.” I also enjoyed the “Baby’s Lounge” segment, where the band members were charismatic and entertaining and got a window to interact with the crowd. I was surprised that they didn’t take more of a break between numbers – there were really only a couple of times where they stopped for a “costume change,” and they performed most of the songs back to back, which has to be exhausting. Regardless, they never lost their momentum and it kept the crowd enthused. I was jamming out to pretty much all of the songs – I’m not the type to really “let loose” and go crazy with the dancing and arm waving, but I did my share of “stand a sway” and moving to the rhythm. I let out a few “Wooo!”s of my own. The members each have their unique talents and voices, and they combine and complement one another in a way that makes a spectacular sound – plus their dancing/choreography is superb and was executed to perfection. “Feels So Good” and “B.A.B.Y,” were on repeat in my head for a couple days after – they are SO catchy. Not a single number or performance fell flat – as someone who knew pretty much nothing going in, I came away from it with a big grin on my face.

17884498_10210247447401707_6298726364486903065_nNow that the concert is over and I have had time to process, I can declare that, while I liked all of them, Himchan is my favorite… or I guess he would be my “bias?” I’m still not entirely clear on the terminology. Like, there’s something about “sons”? Or was it “children”? My friend tried to explain it to me but I was more or less like a well-meaning, yet clueless mom at her kid’s anime convention. The people around us in line and the girls sitting behind us were chattering on about their “biases” and all sorts of things and my friend could follow every word, but I was lost.

Despite my lack of knowledge, I also came away from the event with a new admiration for the dedication and persistence of the K-pop fandom. I can understand why some people think being that level of “fan” is obsessive/unhealthy, and it is a little overwhelming/off-putting at first to an “outsider” who is unfamiliar with the lingo and the customs, but honestly, as long as someone doesn’t let a passion or an avid interest affect their life in a negative manner, or allow it to completely consume their existence, or use it as a means to cause harm to someone else, then I don’t see the issue. Everybody’s got something they love – I’d be the same way at a Lord of the Rings event or something, and once I got used to the atmosphere, I no longer felt out of place. Even though I’m not at that level when it comes to K-Pop (and I likely never will be, though I do intend to broaden my range) I  can’t wait to add B.A.P.’s discography to my mp3 player so I can jam out while I’m at the gym. My interest in K-Pop might not be as off-the-charts as it is for some, but it certainly has been reignited. I wasn’t even upset that we didn’t get home until after midnight and I had to get up at 4 to go to work – the fatigue I felt the following day was worth it.

If my friend hadn’t invited and brought me along with her, I likely never would have attended a K-Pop concert of my own volition – so I’m grateful she included me. I consider the experience a valuable one, and can say, without a doubt, that it “feels so good” to have had the chance to witness B.A.P. perform live, and I might even venture out to more K-Pop shows in the future.

Sammy

When I was in fourth grade, there was nothing I wanted more than a pet hamster.

I’d had pets before. We owned a dog at that time; a lively Welsh Corgi named Lady Margaret Waddle-Bottom (Maggie for short) and my sister and I had previously owned a slew of fish, thanks to a summer reading program at our local library that offered “Free Fish” coupons as a prize for reading a certain amount of books. As an avid reader from a young age, I earned several of those coupons, and so, a local pet store granted us with several fish. Sadly, our dear friends Spot, Spike, Angel, Goldie, Rocky, etc, etc, did not grace us with their companionship for very long.

As such, my parents grew (understandably) weary of bringing new pets into the house, so my initial pleas for a pet hamster were shot down. However, I was determined to prove to them that I could be responsible – if only I could have a little furry friend to call my own. I took out hamster and pet care books from the school library and read them multiple times, cover to cover, to prove to my parents that I was dedicated to owning a rodent. I put in extra effort with chores and helping around the house, and I promised to contribute what little money I had to pet care expenses. I think I even gave a presentation about hamsters in school. Thinking back, I’m not sure what my fascination with hamsters was. I was a big fan of the Hamtaro show that aired on Cartoon Network in that era, and I think that fed into my love for them, but I was borderline obsessed with hamsters. The first “series” I ever wrote was about the adventures of a superhero hamster named Hammer Hamster and his sidekick, a gerbil named Fuzz. Unfortunately, this was before the era of typed writing assignments, so no drafts remain of those stories, but I may revive the stories someday. I was also really into bats at the time, so it might have just been a strange admiration for rodents.

Eventually, my persistent requests for a pet hamster paid off – and on one fine Saturday morning, my mom took me to a local pet store to pick one out. I settled on an adorable, chubby-cheeked brown-furred creature, which I happily dubbed Sophie.

We re-purposed the old fish tank to serve as a hamster habitat, filled it with fluffy bedding, set up a wheel so she could stay active, and ensured she had a full water source and lots of food. For those first few days, I loved watching her toddle around her cage, run around in her exercise wheel, and I even picked her up (in a cup, because I was scared she would bite me) and stroked her on the head to try and establish a rapport. For a while, everything was okay… but really, no amount of research could have prepared me for owning a beast like Sophie.

Sophie was the hamster from hell.

It’s probably my fault for not getting her acclimated to being held by humans early enough, but after a couple of weeks, she became utterly vicious. Every time I tried to pick her up and transport her to a smaller carrier so I could clean her cage, she snapped at me, and even gave me a couple of nasty bites. She, being primarily nocturnal, would run in her wheel at all hours of the night, and the squeaking would keep me awake, so we had to relocate her to the family room. After the old aquarium cracked, we got her a new cage; but it was much more difficult to clean, and thus, the rodent “odor” was much worse than it had previously been. The books did not prepare me near well enough for the odor.

The turning point was when I’d had Sophie for several months, and I decided to take her to visit my fifth grade class. In a bizarre turn of fate, the receptionist at my elementary school was out that day, and a substitute had stepped in – a substitute who happened to work at a local pet store. She looked into Sophie’s cage and said, “Oh, how sweet! What’s his name?”

My subsequent thought was, “….His?”

I don’t remember the exact wording of the ensuing conversation, but basically, my mom and I found out that Sophie was, in fact, not a female. Trust me – we were all fooled, so it wasn’t easy to tell. From that point on, Sophie was renamed Sammy. I wondered for months afterward if Sophie’s ever-growing resentment of me was due to my almost year-long confusion over his/her gender… and I suppose I’ll never know. But his hostility never waned.

The newly-named Sammy eventually took up residence in the top “compartment” of his new cage, where he proceeded to hoard food, eat obscene amounts of seeds, smell terrible, and sleep all day in a collection of his own urine and feces. He eventually stopped running in his wheel, and, as such, put on a significant amount of weight. He didn’t want to play, or interact, or do anything but eat and sleep. Any efforts to be affectionate toward him were met with open hatred. Owning a hamster was nothing like I expected it to be; there were basically no fun times to be had, no bonding experiences with my furry “pal.” It was a lot of responsibility, and, as the charm of owning a pet wore off, I gradually slacked off my duties. He was always fed/watered and his cage was clean, but I put in the bare minimum of effort. Sammy lived for over 4 years, when the average life span of a hamster is about 2-3 years. I was half convinced that Sammy was immortal for a little while, because even though he stopped exercising and led a completely sedentary existence, he survived well into old hamster age. He was practically ancient, by the end. Maybe he struck a bargain with the hamster devil, I’m not sure…. or maybe he was the hamster devil.

Then, one day, my mom informed me that she had glanced into his cage and saw that he wasn’t moving. Sammy had passed on to the next life. I felt a stab of sadness; the bittersweet close of a chapter. And I knew, in that moment, that my chances of ever owning another rodent again were slim to none, because I am not equipped for it. I could never handle another Sammy.

I lament that I never developed a true bond with Sammy – that we more or less just existed in the same space, bearing no affection for one another. Regardless, I will never forget Sophie/Sammy, my gender confused, grouchy, obese pet hamster – and from our time together, I learned many valuable lessons; mostly about expectations versus reality. The actual experience of owning my own pet was not the rosy, cheerful time that I anticipated after reading all those pet-care books and watching a cartoon about little hamsters and their big adventures. Now, before taking on similar responsibilities, I carefully weigh my options and research exactly what will be expected. I don’ t consider, “Oh, it’ll be fun!
to be an adequate reason to take on a pet or something similar.

As I kid, I didn’t know what pet ownership would be like. Now, as an adult, I have a cat – and it’s enough. My cat spurns most gestures of affection, just like me, so she fits totally fine within the household and she doesn’t require a demanding level of care. In fact, some days I don’t even see her except when she comes around to whine for food. Thanks to Sammy and our tempestuous time together, I know my limitations; the level of dedication I can achieve as a pet owner – and I hope Sammy is somewhere on the hamster wheel of the afterlife, enjoying a nice, leisurely spin before a nap and a sunflower seed feast.

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.

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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.

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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.)