Etiquette

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s start with the gym.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But that does not mean I escape unscathed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yeah… too late, lady.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That Time I Ripped My Pants in the Airport

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

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

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

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

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

That is how I came to possess the jeans.

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

Alas, it was an ill-fated love affair.

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

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

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

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

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

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

My prayers were futile.

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

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

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

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

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

I was almost to my gate when it happened.

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

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

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

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

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

And my response? “Fine. It was fine.”

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

Here’s the tear, for reference…

The AFTERMATH.
The AFTERMATH.

Regret

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Before...
Before…
...After.
…After.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Favorite Anime Openings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*bursts into tears*

4.) SignNaruto Shippuden – FLOW

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

5.) Guren no YumiyaAttack on Titan – Linked Horizon

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

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

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

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

You can’t beat the classics.

8.) Crossing FieldSword Art Online – LiSA

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

9.) Cloud Age SymphonyLAST EXILE – Okino, Shuntaro

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

10.) Taiyou no Mannaka eEureka Seven – Bivattchee

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

BONUS: Moonlight DensetsuSailor Moon – DALI / Moon Lips

BECAUSE SAILOR MOON IS GREAT, OKAY.

Of Destiny and Tater Tots

I have always held the believe that life works in mysterious ways. About a month ago, I began to feel a desire growing within me. A craving for something I had not experienced since the days of my youth.

Tater tots.

I had a serious hankering for some crispy, golden-brown tater tots.

The last time I had enjoyed some tots was elementary school, when they were served on an off-white plastic tray with cardboard pizza and a bag of milk. Now, over a decade later, I’m a semi-pescatarian who works out daily and tries to stay on the healthy side of eating. So tater-tots are usually not on the menu.

But the stomach wants what it wants. Luckily, my extreme aversion to grocery shopping prevented me from going to purchase tater-tots, and, surprisingly, tots are difficult to encounter anywhere other than the grocery store. Also, they pretty much have to be made in the oven. And I’m a microwave kind of gal.

I took it as a sign that it was not meant to be, and hoped that my hunger for tots would disappear with time and patience. I had survived over a decade without tots. I would persevere.

A week passed, the tots all but banished from my mind. And then I went to work one fine evening and noticed that the menu had been posted for my workplace’s monthly trip to make dinner for families of children who are receiving treatment at a hospital about an hour away from my place of employment. I usually attend and help cook, despite the fact that I am the chef of Gordon Ramsay’s nightmares, but if my schedule does not permit, I often sign up to bring an item from the menu list. So I grabbed a white-board marker to write my name beside an item to bring….and my heart stopped.

Because on that list, in big, capital red letters, was: TATER TOTS (LARGE BAGS).

A thousand thoughts converged upon me. Could it be fate? Just when I began to forget the intense hunger I felt for the tots, destiny throws me this curve-ball? Immediately, I scrawled my name on the white-board. This was a clear-cut sign from the potato gods. I was meant to have tots.

After work the following day, I made a trip to the much-abhorred grocery store. Side-note: Normally the tater tots are in these freezers in the back of the store, near the deli and the fish market, so that is where I headed. I literally made two laps of the back of the store (naturally refusing all help offered to me by the employees) before realizing that they were, in fact, not there. Then I went to the ‘potatoes’ section of the actual frozen food department, and it took me another five minutes to find them among the french fries. You could have given me a map and it still would have taken me twenty minutes.

I stood there, in front of the freezer, looking at the huge bags of tots, for what felt like an eternity. People passed, on their way to pick up ice cream and frozen dinners, or the occasional pizza. They were ignorant to the allure of the tots. I could hear the little potato bits of heaven calling to me, begging me to take them home.

It would be so easy. I needed two bags for the charity dinner, and could buy a third for myself. I mean, they were right in front of me. This was divine intervention. THIS was destiny.

And then I glanced at my shopping basket, and realized it could only fit two bags of tots. Also, my arms are spindly so I wouldn’t be able to carry a third without looking like a noodle-armed fool. A cold mist of devastation fell over me. But I held my head high, and accepted that, though the tots were so close, it was not meant to be. After all, did I really need a GIANT bag of tater-tots? No. Would it be a smart decision, food-wise? Probably not.

I grabbed my two bags of tots, and left. Well…. paid for them, then left.

The next day, I walked into work with the two bags of tots, and put them in our work freezer. I was working a late shift, so I was unable to attend the dinner, and told my coworker where they were, since she would be driving to the event. I thought that my duty was done, and all was well.

Then she came back, about four hours later. I asked her, “How did the dinner go?”

And she put her arm around me and said, “I’m so sorry… but we forgot to bring your tater tots. Luckily, they already had some in the kitchen.”

After her words finally processed, realization struck. I now had not one, but two giant bags of tater tots. So much had happened since my initial craving for them days before. Destiny had, yet again, meddled around in my dietary life, bringing tots to me when I tried so hard to resist. I was meant to have tots. So I brought them home with me that day, put some in the oven, and enjoyed their potatoey goodness. AND IT WAS MARVELOUS.

Life really does work in mysterious ways. Just when you think something is not meant to be, that something will always be standing in your way, destiny comes through, like the sun after a rainstorm. It may take the long road, sometimes, or it might never happen at all. Some things are meant to be, like me and tater tots, while other things are just not fated to happen, like Tron 3 (and yes, I’m bitter about that one.) I mean, I’m not going to make a habit of consuming tots, because my arteries would protest after a while. But that’s life, I guess. Life is full of surprises…crispy, golden, potatoey surprises.

Now, if you’ll excuse me… I have two bags of tots to eat, and a destiny to fulfill.

I’m Not Angry (I Promise)

In general, I consider myself to be a pretty decent sort of person.

I try to be nice to people whenever I can, and sure, I have days where I’m moody and irritated for what could be a multitude of reasons, but generally, I think I’m okay. I’m not some ticking time-bomb of rage just waiting to unleash upon some poor unsuspecting innocent civilian… most of the time.

When people first meet me, this might not be apparent.

I suffer from a condition known as ‘Chronic Resting Bitch-Face.’ I’d seen the term floating around on the internet before, and was easily able to make the connection, and I realized that most of the symptoms fit me.

Basically, unless I’ve put effort into smiling at or about something, I always look like I’m in an early phase of anger or annoyance, though I prefer to refer to it as being “stern.” It’s just how my face is. It is my natural expression, for reasons completely beyond my comprehension. I was born this way. I was probably a pretty solemn looking baby and a downright severe toddler.

I am one of those people who type ‘lol’ in a text or email when really, I didn’t so much as crack a smile. I am inwardly expressive, more so than outwardly. I internally sobbed during the Red Wedding, but no physical tears…well, maybe a few. Often, I will be asked, “Are you okay?” to which I normally respond with some variation of,  “Yes, I’m fine.” Usually, that response is pretty accurate.

This is sometimes followed by another question of, “Are you sure you’re fine?” with the occasional add-on of, “You look kind of angry” or, one memorable, “Who pissed in your cheerios this morning?” That’s the equivalent of telling someone “You look tired,” when really, they mean, “Wow, you look terrible.”

And then I spend a good thirty seconds assuring the person that I really am NOT angry. It’s just my face. And these conversations often leave me irritated, so in the end, pretty counterproductive.

When I studied abroad in England during the summer of 2011, I did not know my roommate very well at the start of the term. We’d met before, and were on speaking terms, but weren’t really friends yet. I did not find out until a couple of weeks into our classes, after we’d become good friends during our travels and studies, that she was afraid to talk to me in the morning because I “look angry” when I first wake up. I’m not exactly a morning person, but I didn’t realize that translated onto my face as anger.

That was when I realized that I had a “condition.”

This happened before that moment, as well. I found out in high school that a girl I ran track with, who was far more popular than me but very nice and a great teammate, was at first too intimidated to speak to me because of how I carry myself and my facial expressions. I have also had friends confess to me over the years that before we officially met, they were literally “afraid” to converse with me. AFRAID. Like I’m Jason Voorhies and they’re a camp full of idiotic teenagers.

That was when I realized that while I may not be a naturally angry person, I sure do look like one. Even though if I were to be a Pokemon, I’d probably be a Jigglypuff. That’s how intimidating I should seem, though apparently, people perceive me more as a Tyranitar.

I have had a lot of time to reflect on this – and to observe my reflection in the mirror, to try and understand what other folks are seeing. I realize that the way I see myself often clashes with the way others see me. And it’s something that I have been forced to accept about myself, because unfortunately, I do not believe there is a known cure for Chronic Resting Bitch-Face. I have been putting effort into being more expressive when I am feeling positive emotions, but I get nasty headaches if I laugh or smile too much over the course of the day. Kind of like being allergic to happiness.

I am not the only sufferer of the Bitch-Face epidemic. It has claimed many, all across the world. It affects men and women alike. It takes no prisoners. I feel you, my Bitch-Face suffering brethren. I am forced to promise people that I’m not angry with them on an almost daily basis. Someday, maybe there will be a cure. Or at least, some kind of treatment, for those of us who REALLY ARE FINE, and we’re not angry, we promise.

Until then, I will continue to internally smile, until perhaps someday, it will reflect on my face, and I hope that when I say that I am fine, people will eventually believe me.

Surviving Rock Science

When I was in my final year of college, I had to take a lab science. It was a requirement foisted upon me, not a choice.

I’d thought that I dodged it, because I took an online astronomy class with a “lab” over the summer of my second year, but my university saw through that thinly-veiled attempt to avoid being forced into cooperative classwork and my astronomy credit went toward my non-lab science requirement instead. Total injustice, but whatever. I sucked it up.

I opted for Geology. Mainly because it seemed like the least intense class (science is my weakest subject besides the dreaded beast known as MATH,) and also because it was the only lab that worked with the rest of my schedule. When I walked into the classroom on the first day of the semester, I took the seat closest to the door and prayed that somehow, I would survive the semester with my GPA intact.

As the rest of the class filtered in, I realized that I was doomed. I knew nobody. But everyone else seemed to know each other. This was common for me, as an out-of-state, antisocial, party-hating student living alone off-campus, and it had never really bothered me.

But this class was a lab. Involving lab partners. Which meant that I was going to have to talk to somebody.

The HORROR.

We didn’t do an actual lab for about a week. And then, it came time to pair off. It’s a ritual that’s practiced from grade school all the way through the echelons of higher education, where the strong survive and the weak limp along like a lame gazelle. But for me, it never got easier over the years, due to a toxic combination of crippling shyness and natural resting “bitchface.” It’s the same reason why I always sat alone on the bus from grades 9-12. The other kids were scared of me, and I’m afraid of people.

The professor handed out our lab packets and told us to find a partner. In the time it took me to blink, literally EVERYONE had already paired up with someone, and they were busily working on their packets. Laughing, making bad rock puns, and generally being normal college kids forced to take the class even though their life will never involve terms like gneiss, pumice, or pahoehoe lava ever again.

Everyone had paired up… except me and the other guy at my table. He was on his phone 50% of the time during class and put his bookbag on the seat between us like I had an infectious disease. It was obvious that we were going to be stuck together, but regardless, we both opened up our packets and proceeded to completely ignore one another for about ten minutes and fill it out ourselves.I don’t remember which of us spoke to the other first, but it was definitely out of necessity.

And thus began the strangest partnership in the history of rock science.

I didn’t know his name until our third lab together, and I’m not altogether sure he ever learned mine. I don’t know/remember what his major was. He was pretty rude to me at times, and I wasn’t exactly a shining example of class and charm (not that I ever am). The only thing we agreed on was trying to trick our professor into giving us answers, which never worked, but he often pointed us in the right direction if I whined enough. He still texted 50% of the time. I complained incessantly about not understanding how to read topographic maps. We developed a weird partnership, where we were constantly sarcastic to one another, each thought that we were the smart one, and did not interact unless it was totally required. If we saw one another outside of class we didn’t acknowledge each other.

One time, he was absent for a lab and when my professor asked me where he was, I shrugged and said, “I dunno.” I imagine his reaction was similar for the lab that I missed a couple of weeks later. We weren’t facebook friends and didn’t exchange phone numbers. I didn’t know his last name until graduation, and that’s only because it was in the program. We did not speak about our personal lives or anything that did not involve rocks. After a while, we more or less got along, though we were still 100% sarcastic to one another and I’m 90% sure he thought I was a complete idiot, which is fine. I graduated Summa Cum Laude and he didn’t. I’m sure that was a shock for him (If you’re reading this, Former Lab Partner, then HAHA) but I never found out his reaction because we never spoke after our last lab, and parted ways without a goodbye.

I’m pretty sure I’ll never see him again, and I’m not devastated about it.  If for some bizarre reason I do see him again, our conversation will go something like this:

“Hey remember when we were lab partners in rock science?”

“Yeah.”

“Me too.”

End of conversation. We were lab partners. That was literally it. Strictly business. Strictly rocks. I don’t even remember what he looks like.

But do you know the craziest thing about it? We were one of the the best sets of partners in the entire class.

The only lab we did “poorly” on was the most difficult lab in the entire unit, and we still did better than a majority of the other groups, if not all of them. We got all A’s except for that one, which earned a B. If we didn’t have the best grades in the class, it was only because of individual test scores. I know that I finished the class with an A, and I imagine that he did, too. Despite not being friends, and not even really getting along, we found a weird middle ground and managed to make it work. As much as I hate to admit it, I wouldn’t have gotten an A in rock science without him. I think our professor was equal parts impressed and perplexed by us.

So the moral of the story?

Being paired with a random person in a class isn’t the end of the world, even if you are antisocial and have perma-bitchface, and your partner can’t keep his face away from his phone for two minutes. You too, can survive. And it might just end up going better than expected.

The Digi-Piggy

I received a package in the mail this week. That package contained a glorious piece of porcine machinery known as the Digi-Piggy.

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Like most scatter-brained individuals, I am notorious for misplacing things. Just last week, I took a pair of brown shoes from my closet to wear to work. I set them down somewhere, went to do something else, and forgot where I put them. It’s been six days, and I still haven’t found them. They’re lost in the abyss somewhere with my St. Patrick’s Day socks (couldn’t find them in time for this year) and about a billion bobby-pins and hair-ties.

As such, I purchased the Digi-Piggy so I would have somewhere to keep my loose change. My wallet is literally splitting at the seams because of all the coins I have, including several British coins from my vacation last May, and last week I cleaned my room and found pennies in some very odd places. I wanted an efficient (and adorable) way to keep my coin situation in check.

Unfortunately, my scatter-brained-ness is not exclusive to physical possessions. It also includes thoughts. Goals, both long and short term. I forget a lot of things, or lose traction midway through something because my mind is spread out in a thousand different directions and I can’t find my way back.

Sometimes, it takes a little prompting to get my priorities in focus. Especially when I feel like certain goals or ideas are impossible, and then I lose all motivation before I can even start planning.

I’m hoping that my acquisition of the Digi-Piggy will not only help me with my loose-change problem, I’m hoping it will help keep me focused on a dream that I’ve had for many years now. I very much want to go to New Zealand someday – in part to satisfy the Lord of the Rings fanatic side of me, in part because it looks like such a beautiful place to go, and in part because I have a burning travel-fever to cure. Unfortunately, that dream is a long ways off, with me being a semi-recent grad with loans and bills to pay.

I know the road to my dream will be a looooooong one (have you seen the price of tickets to fly to NZ?), but my Digi-Piggy is going to help me out, a little bit at a time. I’ll be saving in other ways, of course, but all of my spare change – diligently counted by my Digi-Piggy – is going to my NZ fund. It’s just a tiny step, but I enjoyed depositing all of my spare change and seeing the digital $3.04 on the piggy’s nose, and it made me feel like I was getting somewhere.

$3.04 toward my trip, and all of my spare change is out of my wallet. Killing two bird with one stone – or, rather- solving two problems with one piggy.

An Elusive Balance

This morning, I awoke on the floor of my bedroom.

‘This morning’ is technically correct, though I should mention it was actually 3:20 AM.

Though not necessarily a common occurrence for me, I do occasionally wake up in this fashion – with the lights still on, an unfinished cup of coffee on the nightstand, my back in knots, and iTunes still playing The Lord of the Rings Complete Recording on my laptop. And it usually happens after I try to stay up late writing. Emphasis on the try.

And my first thought is almost always ‘Not again.’

I go through periods in my life where I think I have it all together – the stars align, my routines even themselves out, I remember everything on my to-do list, and I don’t wake up on my floor in the wee hours of the morning. And then, inevitably, there are also periods in my life where I fall into that horrible place between ‘having it all together’ and ‘a complete, total trainwreck.’ These days are usually categorized by piles of unfolded laundry littered around my room and days where I rely solely on English muffins and ramen noddles for sustenance.

I mean, I’m in my early twenties. I think I’m allowed to be a trainwreck sometimes. But it’s not productive, and, in the end, usually makes me feel like a useless slug until I can pick myself back up again and try and get back on track.

I suppose I am searching for something that has eluded me for what feels like forever – that balance, between the extremes. The train that chugs along toward a visible destination, instead of being completely stopped at a station, or blown off the tracks and broken into millions of indiscernible parts. The place in between feeling totally and utterly stuck and feeling like everything is moving far too quickly. The right pace to get to where I want to be in life.

I find myself, some days, coming home from a long day at work, and instead of working on a manuscript, like I promised myself I would, I sit down on my bed and end up taking a three hour nap, and then can’t fall asleep at a decent hour at night when I need to wake up the next morning at 5AM. Then when I wake up from the nap, I feel so bad about myself that when I attempt to salvage writing time out of it, I’m too irritated to make words.

Other days, I get to bed at a proper time, feel energized at work, come home, and pump out 5,000 words in a word document all in one sitting, and don’t end up hating it all when I reread it the next day.

I guess it’s all part of life, trying to find that balance. The periods of sluggishness and feeling dispirited grow shorter, and the periods of productivity and an increased sense of accomplishment grow longer. I’m still looking for my balance – so I don’t wake up on the floor of my room with my foot tangled in my comforter and Enya resonating from my laptop speakers. It would probably help if I stop drinking four cups of coffee a day, but that’s a whole separate issue…

Currently, My train is chugging along. I have a novel that is in the process of being edited/published, though I still don’t even believe it’s happening. This is something I have worked very hard for, and I am hoping that it will provide me with some more momentum.

There are still days when I sit in front of my screen and stare at the blinking cursor, and can’t think of anything to type, so I give up and browse the internet for cat pictures and fainting goat videos for hours. But the days (with the exception of last night, apparently) where I can sit and churn out thoughts and ideas without feeling like it all belongs in a compost heap are growing more frequent.

The balance is getting closer, every day. My train has finally left the station, and I will keep it on track, so that someday it might reach the destination I dream of, even though it might take occasional pit stops here and there.