The Woodpecker

I have always had a complicated relationship with birds.

I actually think birds are pretty awesome; I mean, they come in so many shapes and sizes! Penguins are the bomb, owls are rad, falcons are fierce, and hummingbirds are adorable. I especially LOVE pigeons; whenever I travel to different cities, I make sure to take several pictures of the local pigeons. I think I have 100+ photos of pigeons from England/France alone. The bird population could maybe take it easy on my car, though; I get a bit tired of seeing white splotches and streaks all over the exterior of my beloved Nissan, especially after I have literally just gone through the car wash.

However, there is one bird that I consider to be my eternal nemesis. A bird that will never, ever earn my admiration. My feud with this particular avian menace began in the spring of my final year of college. It was a cool morning, just shy of 6AM, and I was sleeping soundly, likely dreaming of finals and finally earning my degree after 3 arduous years…

…and then I was awoken by the sound of a jackhammer on my roof.

At least, that’s what it sounded like. A relentless drilling, so loud it echoed throughout the entire second floor of my house, preventing me from slumber. The source of this noise was not immediately apparent, and after about twenty minutes or so, it stopped. Sadly, I was now too awake to fall back to sleep, so I just roused myself out of bed and watched Spongebob reruns for 2 hours until I had to go to class.

However, the sound returned the following morning, and the morning after that. Same general time frame. Same obnoxious, head-ache inducing frequency. After the third day, I managed to puzzle out what was causing the sound, and it was not, in fact, a tiny man with a jackhammer terrorizing my roof.

It was a woodpecker.

Now, I have absolutely no evidence of this, because I never actually saw the woodpecker, except for the flutter of wings as it retreated to the refuge of the forest behind my house. It was drilling in a part of my roof that I couldn’t see properly without a ladder or rocket boots, though it sounded like it was slamming its beak directly into my brain.

But I don’t know what else it could have been if not a woodpecker, so I’m assuming my Sherlockian deduction was correct. I also didn’t know how to make it stop. After doing a bit of googling and research on woodpeckers, I settled on a method for dealing with this problem: doing literally nothing while hoping it would just go away. Sadly, this method did not work, as the woodpecker continued its assault on my roof for many mornings to come.

This rage-inducing situation – of being awoken every morning by the presence of a woodpecker – began to take a toll on my mental state, shortening my temper and limiting my patience in other areas of my life. I vented about my woodpecker dilemma to friends and coworkers at my university’s writing center, which they found very humorous. Admittedly, if I hadn’t been the one suffering, I probably would have thought it was hilarious, too.

But I was not laughing. The sleep-deprived days and groggy mornings continued to accumulate, until, one morning, I finally snapped.

While this was going on, I tried not to structure my schedule around the inevitable woodpecker wake-up call every morning, as it wasn’t always feasible to go to bed early. On this particular morning, I’d been up late the previous night working on a draft for a project since I didn’t have an early class to wake up for. A certain avian demon did not get this memo and promptly began its morning routine of hammering its beak into my roof, this time at half past 6 in the morning.

This time, I retaliated. Or, rather… I tried to. I didn’t so much breathe fire as I blew a lot of a smoke.

Determined to make the feathery fiend stop, I stormed downstairs, stomped into the kitchen, threw open the back door, and flew down the steps into my backyard, trying to get a glimpse of the creature. With little restraint, I unleashed my fury.

“SHUT UP!!!!! JUST SHUT UP!!!! I AM TRYING TO SLEEP!!! FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, STOP IT!!!”

Alas, this verbal assault happened to occur when two of my neighbors were outside with their dog. Dressed in my Batman PJ pants and a “Yankees Suck” T-shirt, I met their inquisitive/bewildered gaze across the fence, then offered them a sheepish smile. Even the dog looked a little spooked by my behavior. To explain, I pointed to the area of my roof where the woodpecker had decided to wreak its ungodly havoc, and informed them, “It’s a woodpecker.”

They just nodded, offered uncertain smiles, looked at me like I had sprouted an extra limb from my head, then went back into their house. I never interacted much with these neighbors; in fact, that might have been the only time I ever actually spoke to them in my 3 years of living there. If so, I can only imagine what their ultimate impression of me was. “Crazy Woodpecker Girl,” no doubt.

So, with my tirade completed, I slipped back into my house, brewed my morning coffee and poured my morning cereal, and calmed down. The woodpecker had ceased its torment, and I went about my day. I think yelling at the bird was cathartic, in a way; I felt much calmer after the confrontation. Perhaps all I needed was to scream a little and let out my frustration. Not always the healthiest method for approaching a problem, but in this case, it seemed to help.

And the next morning? I was effectively woodpecker free after two weeks of agony and I never heard from it again. I know the timing of my freedom was probably coincidental, and the woodpecker was not frightened off by me shrieking at it – but still, I like to think it was. And this experience (plus some hindsight) showed me a few things; sometimes, endurance and adaptation are the keys to weathering a tough situation. Or sometimes you just need to yell a bit. Either way, the storm will pass, even if the downpour seems too heavy and the lightning just won’t cease. Just have patience, and learn to evolve in order to properly deal with the cards you are dealt.

 

Writing Rewind #4: Wings of Fate Chapter 2

Last time on Writing Rewind we got a kickstart into this bloated disaster of a story as our hero, Heiwa, received a letter imploring him to attend a mysterious meeting. Is he finally about to embark on the adventure he’s always dreamed of and achieve the chance of a lifetime? Probably. I mean, there’s still 200,000+ words to go, so something obviously happens.

To set the scene, since I skipped over some exposition to get to the first selection for this chapter, Heiwa is at the airship base with his new friend, Daisuke, whom he met on the way. Along with several other members of the military who received the same strange letter, they are now waiting for the mysterious meeting to begin…

Without further ado, here we go!

KEY/GUIDE:
Strikethrough = cut out
Highlight = rephrase/reword/awk
Blue highlight = minor additions
DANGER RED HIGHLIGHT= massive cringe

ch2first

….Lord, I need a drink. We’re getting into character descriptions. This is going to get messy. I wonder how many “tall and muscular” male characters I’ve got in this; I’m sure it’s several.

So, here are my initial scans…

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It’s hack n’ slash time!!!

Per usual, all of this can be condensed a considerable amount – there are ideas expressed in 2 to 3 sentences that could have been accomplished in 1. Also, there is a lot that needs to be rephrased for clarity and to fix some clunkiness.

And here is the fixed version:

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The three paragraphs have been shaved down to two, and the descriptions – of both the setting and our new character, Kaminari – are much more concise. Not every detail spelled out, but just enough to (hopefully) paint some sort of a picture.

Further along, we have this gem:

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I think it is quite obvious that I did not know what I wanted the airship to look like, so I threw some random features into the description and hoped that was enough. Also, “unmei” means “fate” or “destiny” in Japanese… see what I did there? It’s like when they say the title of a movie in the movie!… I’ll see myself out.

So, here are my pinpointed corrections…

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Literally cannot believe I used the word “radical” in this context. Daisuke’s dialogue is going to generate a lot more cringe as we go along, because if I remember correctly, he has a “surfer dude” style of speech that comes across as completely terrible.

Also, there’s a lot of trimming to be done here, some punctuation tweaks with the last bit of dialogue, and a few sentence removals to eliminate unnecessary or redundant ideas.

So here’s the fixed version:

ch2secondfixed

A bit clearer; less bogged down. I slimmed down the description of the airship because it does get explained (in painstaking detail) later on, and I’ve chopped out some needless words and sentences, because this entire segment is dragged out wayyyyyy too long. I think this version is still relatively coherent, despite the changes.

Moving on bring us to…

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We meet the general again; the fellow from the prologue! It’s all falling into place now! I think he’s a cold, intimidating guy, but not sure what would have given that impression…

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We’re getting into the nitty-gritty of the mission (with is super improbable, but whatever) now, but the major issue in this selection is obviously the character description of the general, Matthias – who is a main character, if my deliberate pandering failed to make that clear. He was my favorite character at the time that I wrote this, and that should be obvious by the amount of superfluous detail I provided on his appearance, and my constant mentioning of his “cold” personality and features. There are some other issues to address, like the typical wordiness to eliminate and sentences to rephrase, but the character description is the glaring one.

I’m all for character descriptions in stories, whether they be gradual or spelled out at the start, but I definitely now lean more to the side that they should be as brief as possible if it’s all going to be dumped in one place. Outfits do not needs to be described down to every last button or thread, and hairstyles do not need to be detailed down to every last hair. Simple is best, for most cases.

Here is the fixed version:

ch2thirdfixed

I probably could have shaved the character details down even more, but it’s definitely less wordy than the previous version. I’ve described Matthias without going too overboard. I also cut down on some of Dr. Black’s (the mastermind of the mission) speech about the mission. Exposition is still important, but the more to-the-point it is, the better, and it was getting a bit rambly.

Speaking of rambly… there is one more paragraph of description for Matthias…

ch2fourth

Wow. That is bad. That is a paragraph straight out of the “what not to do” manual of writing character descriptions; literally an entire paragraph about how cold his eyes are, which was already stated IN HIS PREVIOUS APPEARANCE. Good lord, based on this description his eyes could join the Justice League! This illustrates the very definition of ad nauseam.

So, these are my proposed changes:

ch2fourthchanges

It is all cringe-worthy and it all NEEDS TO DIE.

So, there is no fixed version to post, because it was razed entirely. It is gone FOREVER, sliced from existence, and I hope it burns.

Lastly, we have this segment:

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Same old, same old – wordy and awkward. Nothing too terribly major, but improvements can definitely be made. It’s time to bring out the axe and the red pen…

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“Brown eyes twinkling in the winter sun” probably should have earned a red highlight, but I think the previous selection was enough cringe for today.

Also, a “confidential meeting” of this nature probably shouldn’t have been held outside during the day, where outsiders could possibly hear. Security is tight and the base is well away from the city itself, so it could be plausible, but if I were doing a complete rewrite, I could probably have held the meeting inside the hangar as opposed to the outside.

ch2fifthfixed

The edited version is a bit simpler, but still gets the point across. So far, this series has definitely been an exploration in being succinct – or significantly less verbose.

And there we have it; chapter 2 was finished all in one post, though I assure you, there were many more opportunities. Now we know that the mysterious mission is a year-long adventure on an amazing airship, though details are still sparse! Next time, we venture onto chapter 3, where Daisuke attempts to convince Heiwa to go along on the mission, despite his obligations at home. Will he succeed?!? Spoiler alert; he does. Wouldn’t be much of a story is Heiwa stayed home, would it?

Stay tuned for Chapter 3: The Hardest Decision. I have my trusty axe ready to chop, and I’m sure I’ll need it a lot.

 

Film Review: La La Land (2016)

Dir: Damien Chazelle
Starring: Emma Stone, Ryan Gosling
Runtime: 2h 8m
Music: Pasek and Paul (lyrics) Justin Hurwitz (score)

WARNING: This review contains potential SPOILERS for general plot details. MAJOR SPOILERS (likely pertaining to the ending of the film) will be forewarned in BOLD and under a “Read More.”

1Sheet_Master.qxdOne of my local movie theaters runs a promotion called Tightwad Tuesdays, so when the Damien Chazelle helmed musical/romance film La La Land finally arrived in my area, I snagged tickets a week in advance. It’s a sweet deal ($6 tickets, cheaper popcorn) but often, when I indulge in Tuesday screening, it’s not unbearably crowded. In fact, when my mom and I went to see Cinderella one Tuesday afternoon in 2015, we were the only two people in the theater. Usually, it’s not that slow, but I had never seen it packed.

This past Tuesday, my mom and I arrived at the theater about fifteen minutes early for our 1:15 showing, got our popcorn (and our annual popcorn bucket, complete with Matt Damon’s face to promote The Great Wall), and when we got into the theater, it was already at half-capacity. By the time the previews started, almost every seat was taken, save the front two neck-breaking rows of seats where no one sits anyway. Granted, I was the youngest person there by a significant margin, but I suppose the positive reception to the film had managed to saturate my sleepy little Pennsylvania town.

I have been wanting to see this film since I saw the first trailer and the buzz began to spread earlier in the year. Anticipation heightened my expectations, and I was not disappointed. I was charmed from the first notes of the opening number, and stayed captivated throughout; this film is truly deserving of its Golden Globes sweep.

La La Land is primarily focused on the romance between Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), a struggling jazz pianist with dreams of “saving jazz” and opening his own club, and Mia (Emma Stone), a barista and aspiring actress who endures several failed auditions in her efforts to kick-start a career. As their romance unfolds over the course of a year, they attempt to navigate the obstacles and challenges of life in “La La Land” and strive to make their dreams come true.

The opening act of the film is an homage to classic Hollywood musicals, with infectiously-catchy songs like “Another Day of Sun” and “Someone in the Crowd,” but while one foot is tapping jauntily to the beat, the other remains planted in “reality.” The film does a fair job of lending itself to nostalgia (in a relatively self-aware manner) but still manages to divert from well-worn paths to break new ground. For example, the charming song and tap-dance number “A Lovely Night,” reminiscent of classic films like Singin’ in the Rain (1952), is a whimsical scene, playing on the “two leads bicker while denying obvious chemistry” trope, but the number is interrupted by the chime of an iPhone. If that’s not a modern, relatable mood-killer, I don’t know what is.

The first arc the film portrays the rush of a new, passionate romance, while still managing to poke a bit of fun at itself, but it’s almost too much like a fantasy. I mean, no one breaks into spontaneous dance numbers while gazing out across the city skyline, and while literally dancing among the stars is a dream come true for the romantic soul in all of us (and my favorite sequence in the film), it’s not physically possible. It’s an idealization; a culmination of “Hollywood” romance.

The second act is where reality sets in, and the film hits a different, more grounded note. There are fewer musical numbers, save the now Golden Globe winning “City of Stars” and John Legend’s “Start a Fire,” as Seb and Mia start to face professional and personal challenges. The mood of the film shifts from the playful tone of new romance to something a bit more real, and though some of the magic fades, it is a reflection of life, of a relationship that has left the honeymoon stage and is now encountering obstacles as both characters try to achieve their respective dreams.

Together, both the vibrant opening act of the film and pragmatic second half manage to strike a balance between expectations/reality, and though the tone of the narrative evolves to suit the course of their relationship, it doesn’t disrupt the plot or flow of the film overall. Without revealing too much of the specific events of the film, I’ll say that La La Land hits a lot of high notes; I enjoyed the lighthearted, humorous moments, the romance, the instrumental interludes, and the emotional scenes.

As far as music goes, the songs are a significant part of what makes the film so magical; it’s easily my favorite score of the year and my personal front-runner for the Oscar. I, like Mia, didn’t even really like jazz all that much going into the film, but I came out of the theater with the tunes whirling around in my head, and I had to suppress the urge to dance on my way to the car. Here it is, a few days later, and I’m still humming the theme. Highlights for me were “City of Stars,” “A Lovely Night,” and the instrumental pieces, “Planetarium” and “Epilogue.” Hurwitz’s score flirts heavily with an old-school sound, complete with Disney-esque trills and chimes that made me half-expect Bambi to come prancing onscreen, but it adds a modern, jazzy undercurrent that makes it less saccharine. The lyrics of each song, written by Pasek and Paul, are also worth re-examining upon completion of the film; some lines take on new significance after viewing the final sequences.

I also appreciate that Gosling and Stone, while not “powerhouse” vocalists, sound like real people signing instead of trained professionals – though Stone totally killed it in “Audition.” It made them seem more genuine, and I thought both of their performances (in song and dance, especially with those extremely long takes) were stellar – the acclaim they’ve been getting is well-deserved. As far as the characters go, I thought both Mia and Seb were well-developed and written; their personalities complemented one another, and their chemistry throughout the film is palpable. Mia learns to appreciate new things through Seb’s influence, and vice versa, and they grow and change in a believable way as the film unfolds. There are so many iterations of “struggling musician” and “barista/actress” out there, it could have easily tumbled into a mess of cliches, yet Gosling and Stone each brought a fresh perspective to their roles. The film is their film, and they are the true beating heart of it all, but the supporting cast (J.K. Simmons, John Legend, Rosemarie DeWitt, etc) are great, despite limited screen time.

Visually, the film is stunning, with amazing costumes, set design, and effects – as I mentioned, the “Planetarium” sequence is my favorite part and I might go see the film again just to see it on the big screen one more time. The cinematography is great, with the exception of a few panning shots that came across blurry, like a carousel going too fast. The use of long, uninterrupted takes for the song and dance numbers was superb. Color is used in a way that reflects the passing of the seasons and the emotional tone of the film, and it also helped enhance the dreamlike quality of many sequences.

All in all, La La Land is a well-written film that is beautiful to look at, but it’s much more than a pretty blend of color and song; all of the components – acting, music, pacing, plot – function collectively to create an engrossing story about love and life in the “City of Stars”, which, although it might partially rely on nostalgia and ideas we’ve seen onscreen thousands of times before, also puts a new spin on classic themes. It is an ode to “those who dream,” and a reminder that there might be “someone in the crowd” who can completely change your life. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go put the soundtrack on repeat for the next several days.

Overall rating: 9/10

 DISCUSSION OF THE ENDING IS UNDER THE “READ MORE”, STOP NOW IF YOU WISH TO REMAIN SPOILER FREE.

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Writing Techniques: Character Names

Minor/minimal spoilers ahead.

Like a lot of authors/writers, I prefer to give my characters unique names – and I often choose names with particular meanings. This is not the case for all names I choose, as some are just selected by random, but most of the names I pick have a specific meaning and purpose.

My main technique is to browse name websites. I have three sites that I use the most frequently, and they are:

Nameberry.com
Behindthename.com
20000-names.com

The last one is the one I use the most, but the other two sites are also incredibly helpful. Usually, I’ll try to filter through names by their meanings or by their origin, depending on which character I’m deciding a name for. Sometimes I just want a name that starts with a particular letter, or consists of only a particular amount of letters, and I narrow them down from there. It can be a tedious process, but it’s better to put the work in than to settle.

My other method is using Google Translate and indifferentlanguages.com. This can often be far more involved, but for this technique, I look up different words in various languages and either morph them into something that sounds like a name, or I fuse two/multiple words together. I’m currently working on a fantasy project and this method works for that kind of story, but might not work for a more “realistic” setting and purpose. For example, if you were creating a name for a character and wanted the name to mean “strong” and “fire,” you can take the Japanese word for “strong,” which is tsuyoi, and the Maltese word for “fire,” which is nar, and you get Tsunar. I prefer using this method to craft surnames as opposed to first names, and I also google the names I come up with just to make sure I haven’t accidentally “created” a swear word or offensive term, or inadvertently stolen an already well-known name.

In regards to the characters in I’m With You, there is only one name I wish I had changed prior to publication, and that is Ciarán. I wouldn’t actually change his name though; just the spelling. I would have gone with Kiran or Kieran, only because it’s easier to pronounce – I actually had to google the proper pronunciation of Ciarán when I decided on it, which should have been an indication that switching it might be wise. But regardless, I chose the name because it means “little dark one,” and Ciarán has dark hair – and it initially caught my eye after I saw the actor Ciarán Hinds in a movie. Simple enough.

Remiel is a modification of the name “Ramiel,” who is one of the seven archangels. I am admittedly not well educated in religious terminology, but some translations have the name meaning “thunder of God,” and I’ve also seen “mercy of God.” Ramiel is apparently described as both an angel of “hope” and is associated with another “divine” characteristic (don’t want to reveal too much), which I thought were fitting to Remiel’s character.

Ramus means “branch” and can also refer to a “portion of bone.” I came up with this name YEARS before the book was even written. He (and many of the other characters in I’m With You) were created back when IWY was a significantly different story, but when the plot changed to become what it is today, his name stuck. Because he is a character that provides support to many other characters, I thought “branch” was a solid meaning. Plus I liked the sound of it, and I wanted “Ram” as a nickname. He narrowly avoided being renamed “Ramsay,” but I didn’t think it suited him.

Valkyrie’s name is obviously chosen from the war goddesses featured in Norse mythology, and though it is traditionally a feminine name/term, I thought it fit him well. It is also derived from a word that means “chooser of the slain,” and though I often toyed with changing his name to something else, I could never come up with one that I felt happy with. I’m glad I kept it in the end.

Camilla’s name means “acolyte” or something similar, but can also mean “noble.” Her character underwent some changes in personality/demeanor as the plot of IWY shifted, and as such, her name doesn’t fit quite as well as I typically prefer, but I liked the name enough to keep it for her regardless. The Basshunter song “Camilla” might have played a part in this, as well, because I was a big fan of the song back when IWY was in early planning stages.

Kaz’s name (somewhat ironically) means “peacemaker.” To avoid potential spoilers, I won’t go into detail, but there is a specific reason for this choice which should be clear to those who have read the novel. Also, it’s a little tongue in cheek due to the fact that “making peace” is certainly not his priority when he makes his first appearance.

Mitzi is the name of a dog my mom owned during her childhood. I just like the name, to be honest. There was no deeper meaning, but the name apparently can mean either “Wished-for-child,” or “bitter/rebellion,” which is a pretty significant contrast, and thus fitting for Mitzi’s personality, so I suppose it worked out well.

Kia’s name is actually a play on the term K.I.A, which means Killed in Action, and it also means “season’s beginning” or “hill.” Kia and Kaz were originally intended to be twins (and both were meant to be villains) way back in the preliminary stages of planning, so that is why both of their names start with “K” and are the same amount of letters. Berach means “pointed” or “sharp,” which was meant to indicate that despite the fact that he’s big and silent and more likely to follow orders than to make his own plans, his skills are not to be underestimated. Dahlia is, of course, a reference to the flower. Markone is just an invented name, as far as I know – it might be a real name, but I did not intend for it to have  a specific meaning. Maverick, however, means “noncomformist” and “independent,” which certainly suited his character, even though he is mainly referred to by his surname.

As for the secondary characters, Dianna’s name is a reference to Roman goddess Diana, and it means “heavenly” or “divine.” If you’ve read the novel, I hope you will understand my choice there. Ernest means “serious; determined,” and Neima means “strong” or “pleasant.” Eliron means “My God is song.” Zoran means “dawn” or “daybreak” and Lunette is a reference to the moon, as their names are intended to complement one another. Cinderflynn’s name is probably the most unusual, and one of the exceptions to my self-imposed “names should have meanings” rule. I hate to shatter this grandiose illusion, but “Cinderflynn” is a combination of “Cinder,” as in Cinderella, and “Flynn,” which is a reference to… Kevin Flynn from Tron. What can I say? I love Tron.

And that covers most of it! If you have difficulty coming up with names for your characters and are looking for a new strategy, you could give one of these methods a try… it might work for you, too.

Destroyer of Technology

Over the years, I have earned a title.

This particular title is not quite as impressive as Daenerys Stormborn of House Targaryen, Queen of the Andals and the First Men, of the blood of old Valyria, Breaker of Chains, Mother of Dragons… etc, etc. No, my title is significantly shorter, and it does not denote any particular achievement or accomplishment. Rather, it declares me as a harbinger of doom.

I am the Destroyer of Technology.

For the record, I love technology. I’m not one of those folks who keeps up with all the latest trends or anything, and I don’t rush to pre-order every time a new version of the iPhone comes out (still rocking my LG G3) but I do have a deep respect for the latest trends, even if I don’t follow them all. I love my gadgets and electronics… but sometimes, I have an odd way of expressing my appreciation.

When I obtain a new electronic device or some form of technology, there is a fairly decent chance that I will somehow destroy it. Accidentally, of course. Some minor incidents include kicking a printer during a bout of frustration and breaking it beyond repair (it was a crap $50 printer from Circuit City, don’t know why I was surprised that it didn’t work well) and tripping over my power cord, breaking it, and knocking my laptop off my desk in the process. However, these were not the most damaging incidents.

My legacy began with my first iPod. It was a nano. The old version, which only came in black and white. My sister and I each got one as a gift and I cherished that thing. I took it everywhere. So, inevitably, I left it in my pocket one day and accidentally put it through the washing machine and about half of a dryer cycle. Needless to say, it was ruined for good and I was devastated.

Now, typically, one would think that after leaving a valuable electronic device in a pocket and subjecting it to a rinse cycle, I would have learned to always check my pockets before doing a load of laundry. But no, no… my first iPod was not the last to suffer so.

A couple of years later, I left my cell phone (Razr, anyone?) in the pocket of a sweatshirt and it ended up going through the washer, which killed it. To my credit, my mom is the one who put it through the laundry, however, I am the one who left the phone in my pocket and put the sweatshirt in the hamper, so I certainly shoulder the brunt of the blame.

I eventually procured a second iPod while in college. It was my running buddy; a companion that provided musical motivation for those early jogging sessions on brisk New England mornings. How did my workout companion meet his untimely end? You guessed it; death by washing machine. But this time, I managed to realize it before it got put into the dryer, so it wasn’t roasted as well as drowned. Regardless, it was rendered unusable and I was bereft of portable music once more.

Shortly after this, I went to the Apple Store and bought a new nano, determined to keep it alive for longer than 2 years. That might not seem like an impressive goal to meet but for me, it seemed pretty reasonable. I treated this iPod very well, and was vigilant about checking my pockets before each load of laundry.

One day in December, about a year or so after I bought it, I went to the gym, jammed out to my tunes while strolling on the treadmill, then came home, only to realize that my iPod was not in my pocket. Naturally, I thought I left it at the gym, but it wasn’t there the next day, nor was it in the lost and found. It wasn’t in my car, or anywhere I had been in the interim. It had seemingly vanished into thin air. I thought maybe I forgot that I had put it in my bag, but it wasn’t in my purse, or my wallet, or anywhere else I might have absently dropped it and forgotten about.

For ten days, I searched. And my search was fruitless. During this time, there was a period or torrential rainfall, a day of snow, and generally damp, cold, and miserable conditions. I bet you can see where this is going.

On a lark, I decided to check my front yard, just in case my iPod fell out of my pocket on my trek from my car to the front door. LO AND BEHOLD, beneath a brown, soggy, withered leaf, nestled between the sidewalk and the wet grass, was my beautiful pink iPod nano. It had been out in the wind and the snow and the rain for TEN DAYS. I was not – ABSOLUTELY NOT – going to lose another one. No way. Not like this.

Horrified, I snatched it up, took it into my bathroom, set my hair-dryer on low, and put my iPod under it for about five minutes, praying that it would live. I believe I was chanting, “LIVE, LIVE, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, LIVE” over and over. And, to my utmost relief, when I went to plug my iPod into my laptop, the screen lit up.

And it worked.

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So, how did I celebrate this joyous occasion? By screaming for joy and jumping up and down, of course. And I renamed my iPod Lazarus, because I thought it was hilarious.

Good ol’ Lazarus worked for about eight months, but I guess he caught some kind of delayed pneumonia from his ten day ordeal in the elements, because he stopped functioning over the summer and I recently replaced him with a $20 mp3 player I got on Amazon because I think I have proven numerous times over the years that I can’t, and shouldn’t, have nice things.

The moral of the story?

Check your pockets before you do your laundry, and always be mindful of your valuables and belongings. Not only have I slaughtered innocent electronics over the years, but also several chapsticks, (one which ruined the clothes in the laundry, as well) money, and poor defenseless hair-ties. Treat your things with caution and care, or else, you could end up with a title like mine… the Destroyer of Technology.

 

Worth 1000 Words #3: Sweet Sixteen

Call me a killjoy, but I am not a birthday person. As in, I dislike my own birthday. I enjoy celebrating the birthdays of friends and family as they see fit, and will happily go along with whatever shenanigans are planned as long as they are legal, but I prefer to keep mine on the down low, so I haven’t had a traditional “birthday party” since I was a kid. Dinner and a movie with some family or friends and I’m solid for another year. I don’t like a big to-do about things.

My sixteenth birthday was a little different.

The “sweet sixteen” is often seen as a milestone birthday (at least in American culture) and a lot of teens throw a big bash in celebration. Some are luxurious, exorbitantly expensive affairs, as shown in that old MTV show My Super Sweet Sixteen that aired while I was growing up, which featured whiny brats who get Hummers or BMWs as a birthday gift and then have the audacity to complain about the color, while other sweet sixteens tend to be more subtle and subdued.

My sixteenth birthday was the latter sort of event. To the extreme. Also, it was very, very indicative of the area where I grew up.

When I turned sixteen — which was over eight years ago, a nice, cringe-inducing realization I just had — I was going through a bit of a difficult time. After having reconstructive knee surgery the previous October and enduring a long rehabilitation process, I’d just learned, fairly early in the track season, that I was never going to be able to come back from my initial injury at the same level I used to be, effectively ending my athletic career for good. That, and I was a typical moody teenager, dealing with the daily problems that moody teenagers face, which are pretty insignificant in hindsight. So all in all, a pretty angsty time in awkward-Allie’s teenage life.

On the day of my sixteenth birthday, I left the athletic trainer’s office after an extra rehab session, and, since I didn’t have to go to track practice any more, I waited for my sister to come pick me up and take me home. I don’t think we had any other plans for the evening birthday celebration-wise, considering it was a school night and birthday festivities were probably being delayed until the weekend. But when my sister pulled up and I got in the passenger seat, she informed me that we were not going home, we were going somewhere else. I asked where, and she said it was a surprise — which, if you know my sister, set off warning bells in my head.

And then she drove me to a local dairy farm.

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Please ignore my terrible hair. As I’ve said, it was a difficult time in more ways than one…

Now, in rural PA, dairy farms and farms in general aren’t what I’d call rare. But they aren’t really a place to go, if you know what I mean. There aren’t crazy parties or hangout sessions at the local dairy farm — those are reserved for the local 24-hour convenience store/gas stations, which are the place to be during summer vacation. The last time I’d been to a dairy farm was when I was in kindergarten, about five or six years old, and my class took a tour of one as a field trip. During the trip, my entire hand ended up in a cow’s mouth, which wasn’t a pleasant experience to say the least. I might have cried, but I think I buried the details of that memory very, very deep in my subconscious.

So when we pulled up to the farm, and my sister gleefully informed me, “We’re going to go pet some baby cows!” I was a little leery. Naturally, of all the things that could have happened on my sixteenth birthday, petting cows was not on my radar at all. Also, I should mention, this wasn’t some weird delinquent episode where my sister and I snuck into a dairy farm to pet cows, this was something that the farm permitted. As in, anyone could go and do this if they felt so inclined, or to satisfy some cow-petting urges, or to see where some of our local milk comes from.

So, we got out of the car, approached the cow pens, and we pet some baby cows. I was a little nervous due to my traumatic past experience with similar cows, but my sister took the lead, and, seeing as her hand did not end up in contact with a cow’s esophagus, I eventually reached a tentative hand out to a calf named Ringo. Ringo was adorable, with his soft fur and his big, sweet brown eyes. He sniffed my sleeve, as you can see in the embedded photo, and it was the start of a fledgling bovine/human friendship. After a bit, one of the employees  asked if we wanted to help feed the calves, and thus, we ended up each taking a large bottle of milk and letting the baby cows go to town. We were only there for a little while, but I had an unexpectedly enjoyable time. Def recommend and absolutely would go again.

Of all the things to do on my sixteenth birthday, I ended up petting cows at a dairy farm. I don’t think a lot of people can say that, except for people who live on dairy farms, but unorthodox as it was, it actually meant a lot to me that my sister thought to take me there, considering I don’t like to make a big deal about my birthday. No, I didn’t have a big bash with all my friends and no, I didn’t get a car, and no, I didn’t throw a tantrum because my parents didn’t pay to have my favorite popstar sing happy birthday to me. But it was an awesome sweet sixteen nonetheless, and one of my most memorable birthdays yet.

Five Little Things

Often, it’s the little things in life that can provide the most happiness. After a bad day, even a simple thing can provide a much-needed lift to a sour mood. Here are five of my “little things,” which, even though they might mean nothing to another person, have a great impact on me.

1.) Going to a movie by myself.
I used to do this pretty often in college, while I was taking film classes and I lived by myself. I had a four and a half hour break between classes during one semester, so instead of camping at the library, I would go to the theater down the street and catch an afternoon movie before heading back to campus. Obviously, I love going to the movies with friends and family, but when I go alone, it allows me to truly immerse myself, when otherwise I might whisper to my best friend how cute an actor is, or how much I like some character’s dress. Sometimes, I can only truly appreciate a film when I’m alone, free to analyze it as I see fit, without chatter or interference. Also, sometimes no one else wants to see the movie I’m going to… still don’t know why no one in my immediate circle wanted to see Paranorman, but whatever, their loss. If you’re a film fan with a preconceived notion that going to the movies alone makes you a loser, give it a try. I also go twice in one day sometimes, which is a bit painful for my butt (theater seats, man) but a good time regardless. Plus, that means double the gummy bears! And one of the local theaters has three different kinds of Skittles, including orchard skittles, which are the BEST.

2.) Staying up late to finish a good book.
I used to do this all the time in high school, regardless of my 6AM alarm, but there was a stretch of time a few years ago where I read nothing besides designated reading for my classes, and that drought continued after graduation. My burnt-out brain just couldn’t delve into a book for pleasure, and it took finally reading George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series over the summer of 2013 to drag me out of my funk. It doesn’t happen very often anymore, considering my alarm typically goes off at 5AM and I’m a zombie half the time anyway, but when it does, it is always, ALWAYS worth it. Losing myself in a world for a few hours, until the last page turns over and the last words appear, is such a gratifying experience, even if I have to drag myself out of bed the next day. I pretty much have to do that every day regardless, so might as well have a reason for it.

3.) A great song comes on the radio after a long day.
Not too long ago, I had a rough day and was driving home on a back road when “Eye of the Tiger” (otherwise known as the “Rocky song”) by Survivor came on the radio. Naturally, I rolled the windows down and started scream-singing along, which is the only thing to do when that song starts playing. The same goes for “Come on Eileen” by  Dexy’s Midnight Runners, which I serenaded my fellow commuters with the other day, despite the fact that my singing voice sounds like a dying rhino. Just one song can instantly lift my mood. And if Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” comes on at any point while I’m in the car, fellow drivers better watch out.

4.) When my name is spelled right on coffee cups.
Both my pen name and my real name suffer from frequent misspellings–not because they are difficult to spell, but because there are various versions. I never bother spelling it out for the barista because it’s not hard to pronounce (I do get “Alice” a lot, though, usually due to a failure to enunciate), but it’s always a gamble as to whether or not they’re going to use the correct spelling. And when it’s spelled wrong, it doesn’t bother me, because it’s pretty close most of the time. But it is weirdly vindicating to get the cup with my white chocolate mocha in it and see my name spelled correctly. Like, it’s not a massive deal in the grand scheme of things (as in, it is practically the epitome of “the little things”) but it is very satisfying.

5.) Fleece-lined leggings.
By far, this is the most trivial item on my list. But you cannot possibly comprehend the power these leggings have. During the autumn/winter months, when I’m just hanging out at home, writing or cleaning or whatever, I am almost always wearing these leggings, because they are the most comfortable article of clothing I own. It got to the point where I bought a second pair of the exact same leggings just so I could wear them even more. They are the perfect combination of warm/comfort, and I got them for only $3 on sale! Probably the greatest purchase I’ve ever made, not gonna lie.