Worth 1000 Words #8: Coffee

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

B.A.P. Concert in Washington D.C.!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Emoji-Speak

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

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

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

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

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

screenshot_2017-02-03-12-24-42

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

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

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

screenshot_2017-02-03-12-25-17

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

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

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

The Importance of Sorrow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

Worth 1000 Words #6: Leon

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

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

0917140645

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

But soon, I had Leon.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let Go

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Worth 1000 Words #4: The Limping Duck

Allow me to tell you a story about The Limping Duck.

It actually sounds like a name for a pub or a tavern of some sort. A cozy, if  eccentric hole in the wall known for attracting curious passersby while managing to land few regulars. I’m sensing a semi-nautical theme, perhaps antique style with a floral touch. In fact, if I ever open a bar (an unlikely scenario), that’s what I’ll call it – The Limping Duck. Alas, this is a tale about an actual limping duck.

During my study abroad trip to England in 2011, my classmates and I visited a beautiful site known as Kew Gardens; a botanical garden abundant in flowers and many other kinds of flora and fauna, which also features different kinds of glasshouses, conservatories, and other ornamental/historical buildings. In a previous blog post, I discussed my frolicking experiences in Kew Gardens. Needless to say, it is a brilliant and effective frolicking location, and it is well worth a visit. If you are a tourist, I definitely recommend checking it out.

Kew Gardens is also home to a lot of avian creatures- and if I’m remembering correctly, several kinds of waterfowl in particular. While scrolling back through my pictures, I spotted a heron or two, numerous geese, and what might have been a loon. But the most memorable of these creatures is the limping duck.

Our jaunt to Kew Gardens was a relaxed one; we were about to enter the Creative Writing portion of the course, but we were in a sort of in-between period. The study abroad trip was actually divided into two sessions, so students could either take one section of two classes (either the first session or second session, whichever they wanted) or they could take both sections for a total of four classes, and, essentially, a full semester of credit. I took both sessions, so while the students who elected to take only the first session were on their way home to the states and the second session students were arriving, we set off for Kew Gardens and a day of sight-seeing and picture-taking and, in my case, leaping across the grass with wild abandon.

A few of my friends and I encountered the limping duck on what I believe is the Sackler Crossing; a lovely bridge connecting two parts of the gardens. The bridge wasn’t super busy on this day, so it was easy to notice a tiny, feathered straggler as he hobbled his way across the planks.

The duck was easy to notice because of the slight hiccup in his step, though most of the other garden-goers didn’t seem to give it much notice. Because the plights of injured/disabled animals make me emotional, I immediately commented on it to my friends, saying something to the effect of “OMGGGGG loooooook!” After stepping a bit closer, I realized that one of the duck’s feet was turned inward; possibly the result of injury, and the likely source of the limp. It was just plucking its way across the bridge, letting out some quacks, hobbling at a slow, but persistent pace.

My first reaction was to feel bad for the little duck. I mean…. ducks have enough to deal with as it is without having to limp their way through life. Inferiority complexes about geese. Having to scrounge for food amidst lake-weed and pond scum and beg for bread crumbs from sympathetic passersby. Bad feather days. Turf wars with the local loons. You know… typical duck problems.

The duck also reminded me of a goose I came across many years before. I know that sounds weird… most people are not personally acquainted with geese. Because geese are mean. Seriously. Have you ever heard a goose hiss? As someone who has been wrongfully pursued by an angry, spitting goose, it is an unpleasant experience and I do not recommend it. I think the only waterfowl meaner than geese are swans. Swans are jerks. Beautiful, snooty jerks.

There’s a restaurant in my area that has a sort of weird creek/river/pond behind it, and a nearby shop used to sell food/pellets (or something of that nature) to feed to the ducks and geese that hung out there. It’s unfortunately not a real “sylvan” area… so, because the geese chill in the area before flying off for the winter, there are “goose crossing” signs by the side of the road. I’ve nearly been late to work a couple of times waiting for the horde to honk their merry way across the street.

One goose remained for several seasons – a goose with a broken wing. Every time I saw it shuffling around, I felt bad for it. It couldn’t fly off with the others, and I’m not sure if someone took care of it while the rest of the flock left each winter, but it was around for quite a long time, with its crooked wing jutting out perpetually to the side. It couldn’t fly, but it persisted. Pretty sure it got hit by a car at some point, but it wasn’t the broken wing that did the goose in; just a lack of being able to look both ways. It didn’t let a handicap get it down and it lived on despite its wound.

My initial reaction to the limping duck was one of pity, as well – but it quickly turned to something else. Because while the duck’s handicap bit at my heart, the duck itself chugged along like nothing was wrong and quacked at passing folks as though to greet them and welcome them to the gardens. Eventually, it made its way down to the water and swam off beside some other ducks. The limp didn’t seem to affect its swimming as badly as it impacted its waddling.

Pity became admiration, because if a little limping duck can find a place in this world and make it work despite unfortunate circumstances, when things start to get rough or bleak, what excuse do I have?