The Suitcase

“How long are you staying?” they laugh, openly gawking at my suitcase. “Aren’t you only leaving your house for one day?”

Every trip I take, I am faced with this nosy inquiry. What do people expect me to reply with? Is this simply a joke at my expense, or do they expect legitimate, intelligible responses to these questions? If it is the latter…these are the things I want to say.

“Wait–you mean you aren’t adopting me?”

“Shhh, I’m running away to join the circus.”

“This is where I keep my spare siblings / inflatable boyfriend.”

“Actually, I brought you a goat.”

“Suitcase? I don’t see a suitcase. Now, do you have a shovel? I’ll meet you in the backyard.”

“Watch this. It’s like a Russian nesting doll. I fit all of my belongings into a bag the size of a toaster oven. Guess how many layers there are. Just guess!”

“I never know how sanitary my potential sleeping quarters will be, so I just curl right up in here. No offense. I mean…you have a lovely home.”

“We aren’t going to that all-you-can-eat buffet? Drat.”

Somehow, these snappy retorts never slip off my tongue. Instead, I’m left floundering, trying to defend my luggage choices. The questions and the tone always seem to assume the worst of me. So, here and now, with my wits about me, I’d like to explain myself.

1. I am not lazy.

No, I didn’t choose this enormous bag because I was too lazy to transfer my toiletries out the last time I went on a two week trip. Actually, I like keeping and using this big bag for travel because I have become familiar with it. That doesn’t make me lazy, that makes me resourceful. If you’ve ever had to try to navigate your belongings in a dark hotel room, you should understand. Would you rather try to rely on your groggy brain, or the thorough memories of your standard baggage?

2. I am not stupid.

Yes, I understand that I will be back inside my house in twenty-four hours. Yes, I know that even in the worst case scenarios, I don’t need to bring my entire closet along for this trip. Yes, I have comprehended the volume of the suitcase. I may not display constant, flawless decision-making, but I don’t regularly act like a village idiot. If I do make a dumb mistake, it’s spur of the moment. Packing isn’t spur of the moment. I know what I’m doing.

3. I am not frivolous.

I’m not a girly girl. I didn’t decide to drag along this TARDIS of a luggage collection to house fifteen pairs of shoes. I didn’t pack ten shirts and four pairs of slacks so I could “make up my mind in the morning”. I didn’t fold up my entire bathroom to ensure a glamorous face. No, sometimes I don’t even bring full-sized toiletries. I pack just as much as I need, with allowance for one disaster. If it isn’t snowing, I’ll wear the same raggy pair of flipflops for every occasion.

At the end of the day, my giant gray plastic suitcase isn’t any of your business. Sure, you’re free to comment however much you’d like to. However, maybe the next time you go to whip out your incredibly insightful observations about my luggage, consider why you’re bothering to in the first place. Are you trying to make me feel stupid? Then it probably isn’t worth your time. Are you genuinely curious? Communicate that with your tone, and I’ll be happy to laugh with you. Do you want a legitimate answer to this question that is clearly burning within your heart and soul? Well, since you asked…

“Tell Franzisco zat I have ze goods. I vill be vaiting in ze limozene for ze payment. He muzt come alone: I vill not be crozzed again.”

The Reign

“Leave him,” Pog said. “We have little food as it is, and he is too weak.”

The heavy rain poured down around them, occasionally dripping inside of their hut to remind them that they were still a party to the outside world. Pog ignored the summoning of his conscience, which pricked at him with every gentle plop against his freckled skin.

The boy would die without his help; without a roof, dry clothes, and some sustenance. The rain continued to patter, rebuking him.

Pog ignored it all, turning from the open doorway.

Every member of their small band did the same, except for Eleanor.

“Bring her inside, quickly!” Pog had shouted. “She’ll die out in the cold!”

He and Olsen had dashed into the rainstorm, their feet splashing in the mud with every step. They had braced her between them, dragging her into the safety of their hut.

Siehara had spread a blanket over the newcomer, and Tabitha had handed her a crust of bread.

“You’re safe now,” Pog had said, crouching beside her. “What’s your name?”

Eleanor stared into the rainstorm, her heart shattering for the boy who was being left for dead. Slowly rising from her corner, she stepped outside of the hut. She approached the small boy lying in the mud and scooped him into her thin arms.

Eleanor walked back into the hut. She settled them into her corner, spreading her blanket over him and offering him her ration of bread.

“What’s your name?” she whispered.

The boy’s teeth chattered. “Jerick.”

“You’re safe now,” Eleanor smiled, squeezing his hand. “You’re safe, Jerick.”

The rest of the children tore their eyes from their laps and stole glances at Pog, who was slowly approaching the two.

“Welcome,” Pog said, looking over the muddy boy coldly.

Jerick shivered.

“He would have died out there,” Eleanor whispered. “You did the same for me.”

Pog’s eyes softened. “I know.”

Goodbye to an Era

Today, I said goodbye to my school. I’ve been there my whole life, and as of now, I am no longer a student there.

I said goodbye to some friendships. I know that even if I try to hold on and keep going, they will slip out of my grasp.

I said goodbye to wonderful teachers. I’m going to miss them and their classes dreadfully.

I said goodbye to an era. It was hard.

It’s harder to know that my school friends are all boys, and they don’t understand the emotions I’m moving through right now. They don’t understand their role in those emotions.

Today, I met so many people that I’ve only ever known as names on screens. I put faces to classmates. Some I hadn’t interacted with in years. Some I call my friends. However, none of my friends were particularly good to me. They have all let me down, one way or another. As a whole, they’ve each left me with the burden of maintaining our friendship.

Perhaps that was why the most striking moment of my day came from someone I never called friend. Someone I never saw eye to eye with.

I was walking back through the halls after the ceremony. I’d collected my diploma and was passing the line of students still awaiting theirs.

He stretched his hand out to me for a shake. “Congratulations, Lexi,” he said.

I’m sure my face reflected the surprise I felt, but I shook his hand. “Thanks, Matt, you too.”

How is it that those I called friend could feel like anything but friends on this day: our high school graduation? And yet, some people I never took the time to know blew me away.

I can’t help but be sad to wave goodbye to a precious time in my life. My sadness doubles when I realize I have no one to talk to about it. It triples when I remember those I should be able to talk to don’t actually care. I’m finally pushed to tears when I acknowledge those I call friend aren’t really friends after all.

It was a good day. Dear friends and family made the long drive to come watch me wobble across a stage in heels. The ceremony was shorter than I expected, and it was sweet. The speeches were humble and honorable. The video I contributed to was well received. I sat beside two wonderful people. However, the greatest part of my day was being called onto the stage with seven other students to receive specialized department awards; being wrapped up in a hug with my favorite teacher. Finally feeling…justified, in front of my peers.

I am ready for the new era. I’m ready for deep and meaningful friendships. I’m ready for college and trying to be a grown-up.

Deep inside, I will always miss my childhood and my school. But I think that it’s a good sign that I feel ready to fly away.

Christian? Check!

Some people have checklists that they use to evaluate their objects of affection. However, these checklists rarely exist to weed out prospective relationships; instead, they help us to justify our feelings.

A range of traits can appear on these lists, from “sense of humor” to “super cute” to “plays an instrument”. Whatever we feel our ideal mate would be, we put it into our list.

If you’re a believer, one term that makes it on the list at some point is “Christian”. We wouldn’t want to be unequally yoked! But how much weight does this item truly carry?

“He’s a Christian.”
“I think she believes in God.”
“He goes to church sometimes.”

All we need is for our sweeties-to-be to give some indication that they could classify as “Christian”. Then, we can check it off of our list and delve into relationship bliss.

However, I would argue that “Christian” shouldn’t appear on a Christian’s shopping list for a holy hottie to spend their life with.

Am I advocating for Christians and non-Christians to engage in dating relationships? No. I’m advocating for purpose and thought behind our expectations. I’m advocating for standards instead of justification.

Instead of finding a cute guy or girl who seems to have what we’re looking for, and clarifying later that they’ve been to church…

Expect the fruits of someone who puts God first in their life.

It comes down to priorities. Do you want someone to push you towards Christ? Someone who won’t only listen to you, but will appeal to a higher power with you? In your hopes of finding your life mate, do you hope that they will love the Lord their God and honor Him in all they do? Or do you hope that they go to church?

I not only hope that they are rooted in the church, but that they are rooted in Christ. That is what we need, even if we don’t understand why we should want it. It’s so much easier to just say, “Yes, they’re a Christian,” especially when we feel lonely. Despite that, I hope you’ll join me in making this conscious decision, even if it feels difficult. I promise you, you’ll appreciate it later.

 

Wonder

I sometimes wonder if the stories I’m taking such care to craft will even be widely read, appreciated, or enjoyed. Their style is vastly different from everything I’ve written thus far. They aren’t dark, necessarily…they just have darkness in them. Darkness is popular with the modern teenage audience, leading to the popularity of dystopian series. However, my books don’t offer a corrupted government, a dramatic romance, or a war. Instead, they simply show…the reality of darkness.

I wonder how interesting they will be to read. They will be character-driven, instead of plot-driven. Will the endearment of characters make up for the lack of battles, sword-play, and adventure?

I wonder if I will ever be finished with this planning stage. The mountains of untouched, undeveloped content tells me it is unlikely.

I wonder if I will ever master the art of creating side-characters, as my current track record is to either give supporting roles their own novels, or allow them first-person perspective in the midst of their friend’s story.

I wonder if I’ll manage to conquer the beast of a timeline I currently have.

I wonder…

Hugging Etiquette

Here’s the hard truth. Hugging is awkward. I mean, momentarily linking two bodies by the arms doesn’t always end up the way you imagine it. Where should you put your face? How much pressure should you apply? How long is an appropriate hug? Is patting on the back acceptable?

Any way you wrap it, hugs are hard. So, I wrote you a guide on different hugs and the scenarios that they can be used in.

The Side Hug

Side hugs are the best way to say, “Hey, you. I want to express our friendship, but I’m not totally comfortable with a full hug, so I’m going to awkwardly snake my arm around you and bump hips.” They are very popular with youth groups, especially between the genders. If you aren’t totally comfortable giving that bro/gal a hug, even if it’s an arm-flapper, the side hug is your best bet.

The best thing about the side hug is that the intent can’t be mistaken. There’s no way to really change a side hug. It means what it means. It feels how it feels. It looks how it looks. If you choose a side hug, you don’t have to worry about anything. (Except possibly breaking a heart if the person who initiated the hug wasn’t going for that.)

To Be Used For: friends of friends; acquaintances; awkward situations

To Be Used By: anyone

The Arm-Flapper

This is a common girl hug. In the movies, it’s usually accompanied by exaggerated cheek kisses and the “mwah” sound effect. This is a nice alternative to the side hug if you’re comfortable with the person you’re hugging, but you don’t really want to…touch them. Essentially, you just flap your arms around them briefly, to the point that it almost isn’t a hug. (It could be the next new dance craze.)

The arm-flapper offers little contact. However, it is difficult to determine on sight. Girls give arm-flapper hugs in all types of attire, and at any time or event. If the person who initiated the hug is arm flapping, try to be courteous and hug them in the same manner. It is reassuring to note, however, that most girls hug the same way, regardless of who they are hugging (except for special exceptions, such as best friends; but if you’re her best friend, you know how you two hug).

To Be Used For: friends of friends; friends; gross boys

To Be Used By: girls, mostly

The Bro Hug

This is the standard boy hug. When a man hugs another man, there is excessive patting on the back. This is what makes the hug a bro hug. There is plenty of contact, to the point that they can sometimes lift each other. Regardless, the bro hug is a very friendly hug (as the word “bro” would suggest). Its intent is to communicate friendship and brotherhood.

If you’re a dude going up to greet another dude and he moves in for a hug, don’t worry! There will be patented bro hug patting, guaranteed. However, guys do not normally hug girls and pat them. (Unless the girl is crying and he does not have any sense of how to comfort her, so he begins to pat her back in a desperate effort to make the tears stop.)

To Be Used For: bros

To Be Used By: bros

The Hug

For lack of a better word, the hug is…well…a hug. It has a normal amount of pressure, goes on for a normal amount of time, and communicates the normal meaning of a hug: you matter. There’s no extra theatrics or fireworks. It’s a pretty basic hug.

However, do not be fooled by its apparent simplicity. The hug has a million variables, despite its average predictability, and these variables lead to questions and mistakes. A common blunder is which direction your head should go. In a hug, your face is situated at a place where you can see the back of their head. But do you go left or right? Left or right? Left or right?! It can sometimes be a paralyzing question, but it’s best to just pick a side and go with it. If the person you’re hugging realizes your faces are about to meet, they’ll quickly adjust with a “deer in headlights” look in their eye.

To Be Used For: friends; family reunions; sentimental graduations

To Be Used By: anyone, provided they can figure out where to put their face

The Tackle

This is another common girl hug, reserved for special occasions. It is very similar to the hug, except it exceeds the normality of the hug. The tackle offers more pressure, lasts longer, and sometimes knocks the wind out of you. Depending on the relative sizes of those engaged in the tackle, it is almost the equivalent of getting sacked. (But a happy sacked, like, “I’m so happy to see you, I hope you didn’t need that oxygen in your lungs” kind of way.)

The unfortunate thing about the tackle is that it usually happens to you, instead of being a mutual understanding between two parties that they are going to engage in physical contact. One moment, everything is normal, and the next–you’ve been tackled. If you’re lucky, you’ll catch a glimpse of your attacker out of your peripheral vision. Even if the tackle leaves you gasping, it is a sure way to gauge that your friend is really glad to see you.

To Be Used For: best friends; long-awaited homecomings; scaring the life out of people

To Be Used By: anyone with proper caution

The Squeeze

This hug means the same thing as squeezing someone’s hand: you love ’em. It’s just a way of communicating a little extra love. Unfortunately, some people do not like to be squeezed. For people who use arm-flapping as their standard hug, the squeeze is rather jolting, despite its good intentions.

Logic would dictate that if the one who initiated the hug is squeezing, that the one being hugged should squeeze back. However, logic fails to include the awkwardness of hugs. This is why, despite who initiates the hug, it should always fall back to the least degree of contact. Hugs are awkward to begin with. There’s no need to force someone to have more contact with you than they’d prefer.

To Be Used For: crying children, yours or otherwise; best friends; emotional moments

To Be Used By: friends; Romans; countrymen

 

I hope this guide was informative and helpful. Did I forget any basic hug types? What kind of hugger are you? Do you have any awkward hug stories? Because I sure do!

(Once, I saw a pair of siblings at Robotics for the first time in a week. I shouted the sister’s name excitedly and wrapped her up in a “the hug”. Her brother then moved in for the same treatment, and I quickly slid to his side to “the side hug” him. Shut down.)

(Another time, I was advertising for a Robotics car wash along the side of the road. A classmate I hadn’t seen in years happened to be in town that day and came to see me after recognizing me along the road. He tried to hug me. I quietly freaked out and shut that down, as well.)

YouTube Feature: Xavious Pictures

Once upon a time, my favorite YouTube channel Blimey Cow had a 72 Hour Film Festival contest. I was working at camp and unable to participate, but they put out a video that announced the top ten winners. I watched all the winning submissions, including the honorable mentions.

A few months ago, I went back to watch those videos and was stunned to see that almost none of those channels were still active. In fact, some of them had been completely deleted. The only channel still posting content was Xavious Pictures, which had entered a video called “Race for the Banana“.

While they aren’t uploading sketches in the same capacity as they did several years ago, they still have great content. It surprises me that they have less than a thousand subscribers.

If you like sketch comedy, these are some of my favorites.

The Fort

The Spider

The Christmas Carols

The Slap in the Face

The Garage

The Nightmare

The Candy

I Get It.

I understand it, now. The loneliness. The emptiness. When you feel as if you have no one, and you just want someone to call your own. The mental pressure to call a friend by more-than-a-friend terminology, to flirt, in hopes that maybe…just maybe…they’re lonely too. Maybe they want someone to call their own.

It definitely isn’t healthy. It isn’t good to be or to feel alone, but wanting to use possessive terminology for another human being isn’t good, either.

I suddenly empathize with the silly relationships I see all over Facebook. After four days, the two say they’re in love. I’d usually raise my eyebrows and wonder how they know what that means, since I don’t and I’m the same age. Now I know that I can’t really judge their feelings, but I know they want to be in love. They want it to be real.

Loneliness is a powerful feeling. It takes the level-headed and plunges them into the feel-sorries and the if-onlys. I can only imagine what it does to those who are naturally led by their emotions.

I’m glad I’ve never had to experience the results of a lonely decision. The worst I’ve done is go outside, spread a blanket onto the lawn, and lay there in my own misery. I’ve never dealt with the aftermath of a proposal. The joy of having someone to be your someone can only last so long. Suddenly, they’re not only yours, but you’re theirs, and they are more than happy to point it out.

What would it be like to be trapped there? Maybe you want to escape. Maybe you say to yourself that it’s better than being alone. Maybe the possessives don’t bother you a bit. I’ve never been there. I hope I never have to visit.

You’re never truly as alone as you feel. Even if all parts of you ache with the feeling of being alone, you aren’t. There are people who you hardly speak to who would be shocked to know how alone you feel. They care.

If they’re like me, they really don’t want to see you get into a pointless relationship with that guy just because he said that he loves you. It isn’t worth the heartache.

I empathize now. I get it. I understand. I know what it’s like to acknowledge that yes, you feel lonely; yes, you could probably date him; yes, that would make you feel less alone.

Remember, despite what you feel…you are never alone.

Laurie

They were too alike in temperament. That much was obvious, perhaps to everyone but themselves. He realized before she did. They were just…too similar.

Perhaps not as similar as they needed to be. As she reflected back on years of jaunts together, she remembered–she realized–what their differences truly were. Countless quiet rejections came to mind. Rejections that he hadn’t meant, because he didn’t mean anything. And she meant everything.

That was it. Truly, it was. It had to be. How could someone so passionate in everything she did meet with one so neutral? It couldn’t be done. It wouldn’t be done.

She gazed out the rainy window, droplets cluttering her view to the outside, just like the memories in her mind. Good memories. Memories that were all for naught.

I am a candle, she reminded herself. A fireball. And he is a vacuum. A lack of anything. He would have extinguished the light, eventually. You’re lucky to have known before the light went out.

It was just as he had said. “Everyone expects it, Jo.” Everyone who knows nothing. Because the union they were expecting would never come to be.

Won’t that surprise them, she thought. Good. Let them be surprised. And let me glow brightly again.

 

Build-A-World Workshop

As a published author, I tend to think I know some things about the novel writing process.

As a teenager, I acknowledge that I actually don’t know a whole lot.

One aspect of novel writing that I struggle with, most likely from a lack of experience, is world building. There are countless aspects that go into creating your own world. No matter how much meticulous planning goes into your creation, there is always something being overlooked. I’ve put at least a year into my current project, and I’m still nowhere near complete.

Naturally, then, I would be one of the least qualified people to put together a world-building guide. Right?

Right?

Apparently, as a published author, I have an unnatural amount of self-confidence.

As an almost-graduated senior, I have a strong desire to avoid Physics homework.

Somehow, those two aspects came together to make…Build-A-World Workshop.

It’s far from a comprehensive guide, but I think I did a nice job on it. It features one of my favorite fonts; a magical fairy guide; and some amazing creative commons pictures, including one of a unicorn (man, I’m a nerd). Even though it just asks some basic questions, it should be able to spur more thoughts.

Sometimes, people don’t take into consideration how the economy of a country might have to function. The levels of technology available, whether to scientists or the common man. How people get their food. Occupations and how they’re perceived. Gender roles. Where money comes from. What lies beyond the town, the country, the continent, the planet, the galaxy. The history, both of the characters and of their world. The presence of religion, or lack thereof. What cultural differences exist between people. Rich heritage from different places. The vegetation, types of animals, climate, seasons, terrain, and weather.

Can anyone truly capture the insanity and detail that is world-building? Probably not. But I gave it my best shot!

And then I did my Physics homework.