Scary Neighbor Lady

A few years ago, the trick-or-treat night in my neighborhood fell on an evening in which my last college class for the day ended at 6:30 PM. I lived alone at the time, and, as bad as it makes me sound, I had no interest in participating in trick-or-treat. I usually just turn the lights off so the folks walking around with their kids will know not to ring the doorbell. But, since I’d forgotten that I would be pulling into my driveway right smack in the middle of the event, I feared that I would have to suffer through being pestered by eager children hankering for some sugar. Plus, I had no candy in the house, though I did have plenty of carrot sticks, which are not generally a hit with the youth.

Nevertheless, I heated up some microwaveable macaroni and cheese for dinner (I was the pinnacle of health in those days), set up camp in my kitchen, and started to pound out my homework for the night. My computer was located in my kitchen nook, which was, unfortunately, positioned right next to a window. Therefore, from the right angle, the passing groups of ravenous candy-seekers could likely see me sitting there. I was absolutely certain that my doorbell would ring at least a few times and I would either have to ignore it, or tell the poor little ghosts, witches, and Iron Men that I had nothing to give them.

I sat, ate my dinner, and worked on an essay about the movie I’d just seen in film class. Through the window, I could see the kids walking about, going door to door, their laughter and cheer muffled through the pane. Reveling in their Three Musketeers, Hershey Bars, Skittles, and my personal favorite, Bottle Caps. Yet, though I expected it, not a single child rang my doorbell.

My porch light was on (I used to turn it on before I left the house for late classes, and had done so out of habit earlier that day) and I was plainly visible through the kitchen window, eating mac n’cheese and typing away at my desktop, and still, no one rang my doorbell.

In an attempt to pinpoint the reason why the neighborhood folks would be avoiding my house, since I was a relatively reclusive neighbor and spoke only to the people who lived to the right of me and the family across the street (the family across the street were GREAT neighbors and gave me free firewood during Snowtober in ’11,) I remembered an instance where, after seeing some of the neighborhood kids playing in my yard without permission, I yelled at them out the window to, essentially, “Get off my lawn.” There was a sort of “drop-off” in the yard marked with stones that was all-too-easy to tumble off and cause injury, which I did not want to be held accountable for. I mean, I could have been nicer about it or chosen some gentler phrasing, but if you’re gonna get kids who aren’t related to you and who are blatantly ignoring your property line in the first place to listen to you, you gotta be firm. At my behest, they scattered like the soot sprites in My Neighbor Totoro, and I never had to yell at them again. 

I suppose, at that time, I did not realize the toll my reprimand would have on my neighborly reputation. On that chilly October night, as all of the trick-or-treaters avoided my stoop, I came to realize that I had, in the eyes of a humble New England neighborhood, become the Scary Neighbor Lady.

But, instead of lamenting this, I decided to embrace it. So what if I could strike fear into the hearts of children with one bellow of “GET OFF MY LAWN!”? I’d never actually harm a kid, so I figured I might as well embrace my new reputation and use it to my advantage instead of trying to change it.

Although I never had to yell at the neighborhood kids again, they did end up fooling around in my yard one more time that I can recall, only it was the front yard instead of the back. My car was in the garage at the time, so they likely thought I wasn’t home. There’s a stone-lined drop-off onto my driveway that, if a child had fallen off, could cause pretty serious injury, so I definitely didn’t want them playing out there unsupervised. But before I could open the window to say anything to them, I met the gaze of one of the kids through the windowpane, and saw his eyes go wide with terror. I sharpened my glare, and that was enough. He motioned to his comrades to flee, and they sprinted away from my house and down the street, to play in some other neighbors yard, I assume.

I’ve since moved away, and have no such reputation in my current residence, but I like to think I’ve become an urban legend at my old stomping grounds, and that on trick-or-treat nights, the neighborhood kids still refuse to stop at “Scary Neighbor Lady’s” house.

~~~~~

If you’re in need of a new read, check out my YA novel, I’m With You! The ebook is only $1.99 or (£1.55) and paperback is $9.99 (£7.99) on Amazon Amazon UK.  Paperback is also $9.99 on BN.com.

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Worth 1000 Words #10: Reese

On a Wednesday night in 2007, I received a cryptic text message from my older sister while watching the latest episode of Lost. The message contained only one word.

Meow.

Some time later, I was dozing off on the couch when my sister returned home and deposited something furry onto my lap. I opened bleary eyes to see a small, mewling tortoise-shell kitten blinking at me.

That is how we came to own Reese. Technically, her full name is Reesie Lynn (my sister is to blame for that abomination of a moniker, we had exactly 0% input) but we have more or less only ever called her Reese. Sometimes, I call her Kit-Kat. Just to be contrary.

IMG_20170629_102725_202.jpgI think Cat People are Cat People for a reason. Cats are often thought of as fuzzy companions who don’t require constant attention; they’re adorable, not terribly messy, and can provide some warm, cuddly comfort on bad or rainy days. But Reese apparently has never read a single page of the “cat manual” because she doesn’t act like a standard cat at all; though Reese does provide ample fodder for my instagram, because she is cute, if nothing else. And if you think I can’t babble on and on about my cat for 1000 words, then think again!

Reese has never been much of a cuddle-buddy; the only time she ever feels like snuggling is at night, but only for about an hour before she gets bored, and she typically only solicits one person to cuddle with before departing back to the bowels of the basement so she can get the couch covered in fur. She loathes being picked up, and in order for us to trim her nails, I have to wait until she is asleep or groggy, then scoop her up when she is vulnerable – often, this results in being kicked in the chest/nose/throat when she inevitably rebels. She refuses to meet strangers, and I suspect some family members might not even know we have a cat, since she won’t show her face in the presence of visitors. My best friend house/cat-sits for us whenever we go away for any length of time, and during a 10 day absence, it took 4 days for Reese to be in the same room with her, and even then, she rubbed her head against my friend’s hand while hissing at her. So, claiming that Reese is fickle would be a drastic understatement. When I went away to college, it took several days during each school break to get her used to me again; I had to endure lots of dismissive tail swishing and scrambling away before she deemed me worthy of her good graces again.

She loves to sit outside on the enclosed patio and cackle at birds and bunnies, either because she wants to be their friend, or she wants to eat them, I’m not entirely sure. She greets me at the door every day when I get home from work or wherever, usually meowing her head off as she gets my black pants covered in her fur. I like to think that it’s because she misses me when I go away, but I’m fairly sure it’s because she’s just hungry. And boy, she’s perpetually hungry. She expects to be fed at around 5/6AM every morning, since there’s a couple of super early-risers in the family, so now, she’s accustomed to a schedule and there’s almost no chance of everyone being able to sleep in – not if Reese has anything to say about it. When she’s hungry, she is vocal. And then, even after breakfast, she expects snacks. Several of them. She also thinks she can trick us into feeding her more if she begs and whines at each person in the family, but fortunately, we are able to see through her ploys. It’s a wonder she isn’t shaped like a bowling ball with how much she tries to eat, though we’ve managed to regulate her diet well, despite her best efforts. Reese also loves to distract me while I’m trying to write; at the moment, she is sitting beside her food bowl and staring at me. She will not break me, though. I am steadfast – I can resist the food-mongering wiles of any cat, no matter how cute! Though, I must admit, she is especially “awwww”-worthy when she chases the laser-pointer around the living room.

A few months ago, I bought Reese a new bed; a nice quality one that I was able to snag at a great discount. Did she appreciate my generosity? NOPE, she actually prefers the comfort of a cardboard box, or a plastic bag laying on the floor. Her idea of a five star resort would be a kingdom of boxes and bags. We actually have fashioned a “cardboard apartment” of sorts for her to use, and she loves it. She’s a creature of simple comforts, I suppose… she did eventually warm up to her new bed, and it is now positioned on the floor beside my bed, so when she gets fed up with me, she has somewhere to escape to.

Reese is not a typical cat; but she’s my cat. She doesn’t like cuddles, but to be totally honest, neither do I, so it works out well. She’s an introvert, and can sometimes be downright obnoxious with her constant appealing for food, but she occasionally shows off her softer side. If I scratch behind her ears or she rolls over to let me pet her tummy, she might even deign to purr a bit, like a fuzzy motorboat. Sometimes, during her rare affectionate moments, she will rub against my legs, even when I’m trying to walk up the stairs… I refuse to believe it’s because she wants to trip me, though, sadly, that wouldn’t be much of a shock. I often suspect she’s the furry offspring of some feline version of Satan, but even if that’s true, she’s my furry offspring of Satan, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Film Review: Beatriz at Dinner (2017)

Dir: Miguel Arteta
Starring: Salma Hayek, John Lithgow, Connie Britton, Chloe Sevigny, etc.
Runtime: 1hr 23min
Rating: R
Spoiler Level: Super lite

After viewing this film, I’ll say one thing for certain; I am so glad that I was not invited to this dinner.

Beatriz_at_Dinner.jpgBeatriz at Dinner follows the titular character, an employee/massage therapist at a cancer treatment center, who ends up staying for dinner at a client’s house when her car fails to start. Beatriz attempts to navigate the evening while reflecting on her personal circumstances and how they compare and collide with the wealthy lives she is surrounded by, ultimately creating tension between her and powerful businessman Doug Strutt.

The film follows a relatively simple premise, and is buoyed by the stellar performances from the cast. Hayek is brilliant as Beatriz, the central character, and capably delivers a range of tangible emotion, from quiet, tempered despair, to deeply-rooted resentment, to cautious hope for the future. Lithgow is irritatingly good as Doug Strutt; I love Lithgow, but definitely felt that he needed a good punch in the face for this role. Britton, Sevigny, Amy Landecker, Jay Duplass, and David Warshofsky all play their parts as poised, simpering, shallow, occasionally frustrating, and yet multi-layered members of this dinner party. Each character could easily be a real person and each actor delivers a convincing and thought-provoking  performance with complexities that make it difficult to really hate any of them, with perhaps the exception of Lithgow. Everybody knows somebody like each of the dinner guests, and that is the strength of the film; it is a believable tale, with believable people and a relevant message. Even the “bad guy” isn’t just a standard corporate suit caricature; he’s got layers, like an onion. But the film is mostly carried by Hayek; the camera follows her every move, analyzes every tiny facial expression, and navigates her story, though it never really delves deep enough into her psyche to give us a clear picture of Beatriz’s motivations or the underlying reasons for her conflict with Strutt. There are clues left, and theories that can be woven together to make some semblance of an answer, but much of Beatriz’s psyche remains a mystery, even as the film draws to a close.

Since the film takes place predominately over the course of a single dinner, the pacing is a bit slow, but there is enough happening that the progression does not feel like a tedious drag. The tone is fairly balanced, and the dialogue is believable; I feel like I’ve heard people having similar conversations and discussing similar topics, but the writing did not feel tired or overdone. The tension in the film is also palpable; as the dinner drifts into different topics and controversial statements, the awkwardness and discomfort is real. There were several parts that made me squirm in my seat, as the discomfort was practically radiating from the screen. It’s a film that creates a very definitive mood, and it succeeds in it’s ability to generate a realistic atmosphere and emulate situations and characters that could very well exist in the world today, and probably do.

Unfortunately, the film’s efforts at subtlety occasionally miss the mark and fall more ham-fisted than is intended, or fly too far beneath the radar to be thoroughly detected. Overall, the film utilizes a commentary that is easily applicable to the world today and features an extremely prevalent message about society/money/greed, and for the most part, it comes across beautifully, but there are moments where the film picks up steam only to abruptly lose momentum and grow aimless. The end also left me with more questions than answers, and though I think films that stir up questions and make the viewer wonder are often a good thing, Beatriz at Dinner raises a few too many ambiguities and the conclusion comes across as “unresolved.” However, for the performances and the commentary alone, the film is definitely worth checking out, though lingering mysteries and dangling threads might leave you more frustrated than appeased. But if you’re looking for an action-based thriller with a quick pace, then this dinner party isn’t for you.

Overall rating: 8/10

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 #1: Wings of Fate – Prologue

I’ve mentioned my history with fanfiction in a previous blog post, and I’ve probably touched on some other early writing ventures, but perhaps the most significant of those endeavors is the 539 page, 285,000+ word anime-inspired sci-fi epic, Wings of Fate, which I wrote when I was a 14-15 year old “weeaboo” with lofty dreams of drafting a masterpiece. Sadly, the end result was a nightmare.

I look back on it sometimes when I need a chuckle at my own expense, because it’s bad. Unfortunately, these strolls down memory lane typically result in more cringing than anything else, but for the last decade or so, the file has been sitting mostly untouched on a flash-drive.

Therefore, I thought I could use it for an experiment, of sorts – I’ll cut out snippets, chapter by chapter, post them here, then examine mistakes I made and how I could have improved it. I’m not a “pro”  but I don’t intend to do anything with this work (no serious editing and I do not want/intend to attempt to have it published in the future) so I might as well use it as an exercise. Sure, digging up past examples of my terrible writing might not be the best idea for my ego and could even induce some level of trauma, but who knows? It might be therapeutic!

I won’t be posting all of it, so some context will be missing, but I’ll do my best to bridge the gaps. I mean, the whole thing was over 500 pages on WordPerfect, single-spaced except for paragraph breaks. I typed it on my now-ancient Dell PC, and it’s a tedious read that can probably be classified as torture. The end result of this little exercise won’t be perfection, but it will certainly be an adventure!

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

So here we go… with Prologue: The Mission! (DUN DUN DUN!!!)

 

P1

I have mentioned my previous tendency to over-explain and add superfluous detail; an issue that still creeps up on me to this day. I was tempted to strikethrough the entire thing…and it’s only the first paragraphs. This is going to be a bumpy ride.

So, after a scan, this is what I came up with:

P1FIX

First of all, I described the general’s eyes as “icy azure,” and then “frigid.” I guess I REALLY wanted to make sure everyone knew how cold he’s meant to be. Forewarning, this will be a recurring theme with the personality/physical traits of various characters. This whole section is bogged down with needless detail and a lot of “tell” instead of “show.” It’s just TOO MUCH.

And so, after a quick edit, this is the fixed version:

p1fixes

Streamlined and much shorter – it attempts to set the scene without delving into too much unnecessary detail and description.

Let’s move on to…

p2

Again… this is just… no. Just no. My initial reactions resulted in this:

p2error

I mean… clearly, I didn’t do much research prior to writing this, but for a story that features a confidential, military-related mission, the way I framed it is RIDICULOUS. Plus, it would never happen. Not that I was aiming for “believable,” but even the parts that could have been at least a tiny bit plausible were just… a mess.

ALSO WHY WOULD I EVER DESCRIBE SOMETHING AS “GOOD-SIZED?”” I mean really. USE YOUR WORDS, ALLIE!!!!

Here’s how I fixed it:

p2fixed

I can feel the 533 pages being pared down already – like a sheep being shorn from the shackles of its oppressive fleece. How I wish I could travel back in time and give Past-Allie a thesaurus and a good smack in the face!

p3

Again… way too much all around. And, just in case it wasn’t clear, “The General” is a cold man. Frigid, even. I don’t think I used nearly enough adjectives to describe him.

p3errors

These were my initial edits, but I did rework some sentences a bit more as I slogged through through the changes. (I know “General” is meant to be under-cased, but since no names were used in the prologue, I capitalized it to make it more clear.)

p3fixes

Seeing a theme? Edits are much shorter, because, back when I was 14/15, I frequently fell into the all-too-common trap of incessant, grating detail. Gotta leave something for the reader to draw on their own instead of beating them over the head with it.

Lastly, to send off this disaster…

p4

*headdesk*

p4errors

Notice there is only ONE SENTENCE LEFT UNTOUCHED. ONE. OF SEVERAL. And really, the comma in that sentence is sketchy.

Also, the two red segments scream of using a thesaurus for certain words. Typically, there is nothing wrong with this as the thesaurus is a useful tool, but it sometimes makes a sentence or phrase sound unnatural. I mean, “Ebony tresses?” “Azure eyes met cerulean heavens?” Kill me. However, I can see where my tendency to refer too-often to a character’s eye color began.

Less is more. LESS IS MORE. I was quite obviously not aware of that back then…

p4fixes.PNG

Sadly, this is only the prologue. The ensuing chapters (of which there are 22, I think – I will probably split each chapter into 2 posts) are all absurdly long (I had a notorious reputation for long chapters in my fanfiction days) and the story was crammed with so much detail and bloated dialogue and repetition that it might cause me to lose my sanity to revisit all of it. However, despite the pain, it does feel good to go back and trim down the superfluous bits, and be able to pinpoint and mend the errors I made in my writing a decade ago. This is equal parts soothing and enraging… though the scales may tip more in favor of “enraging” as this blog series continues.

Next time, I’ll venture onto Wings of Fate, Chapter 1: The Letter. We’ll meet our reluctant hero and get a taste of what his life is like… it’s probably going to contain frequent references to his eye/hair color, so brace yourselves now.

 

*Also, thanks to anyone who bought the Kindle version of my YA novel, I’m With You, during the Countdown Deal this weekend! If you missed out, it’s still just $4.99 to purchase at Amazon, but I’ll be running more deals in the future!

Sammy

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

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

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

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

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

Sophie was the hamster from hell.

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

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

My subsequent thought was, “….His?”

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

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

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

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

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

Worth 1000 Words #7: Studying

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

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

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My studying pose, known as “the cricket.”

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

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

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

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