Wednesday, March 1, 2017

re:moments {writing groups}

_News: switchswitchswitchswitchZELDASKYRIM._

Let me set up a scene for you. We’re in a Panera in the heart of Chicago’s south loop. It’s smack dab in the middle of three overlapping college campuses and during that awkward part of the day that’s not-quite-noon and not-quite dinner, when you’re starving but not allowed to admit it. The place is comfortably crowded, there’s still a solid amount of students lingering after the lunch rush with laptops open and plates littered with bits of lettuces and crumbs. Coffee flows freely, the smell of strong brew permeates in the air. There’s one, maybe two tables open with enough room for you and your squad. One of them is small but the other one clearly hasn’t been cleaned yet. Seats are taken, snacks are ordered, pages are out and felt-tip markers of fanciful colors are at the ready.

Now, the simple answer is to pass whatever work you have with you to the right, but writer’s aren’t simple. You’ve brought a couple of pieces, at request. There’s chapter 6 for buddy A-but don’t give it to buddy B because they’re not there yet. You specifically want buddy C’s opinion on this snip it from chapter 11 because you were emulating them while writing it and want to know how you did. You’re not the only one who brought more than one piece, of course not. Arms tangle together and voices combat each other for attention as every piece of paper on the table gets shuffled at least twice. At some point during this frenzy the waitress arrives and drops the food right in the middle of that mess.

At the ends, everyone’s got their own pile to work on. A silence falls over the table as eyes scroll past lines and lines of words.

Buddy A stops mid-read, looks up at buddy B, and slowly shakes their head. Buddy B looks smug. You worry about the pain about to be inflicted on your precious cinnamon roll, whom you’re fairly certain is in the scene that is currently disappointing buddy A. Not even five minutes later, you hear a small gasp from buddy C. Try as you might, you fail to smoother the grin that comes to your face. Buddy B snorts and scribbles a rather passionate note. In the piece sitting in front of you, you find yourself underlining every two or three sentences. You can’t help it. All of the imagery being used, it puts you to shame in all the best ways.

You are the first one to finish reading and, as such, have nothing to do but to stare at your buddies until they are done. You take this opportunity to go to the bathroom/refill your mug/actually eat something. One by one all Buddies finish. Rinse and repeat.

Finally, everyone is finished with all the reading and takes turns commenting on each other’s work. Buddy A’s sensory detail is poetic and beautiful, but they could use a little more inner monologue to connect with the characters. Buddy B’s dialogue is on point, all they need to do is keep writing. Buddy C got the bare bones but needs to expand on a couple of things. And you, as it turned out, nailed the characters. That’s exactly what you were worried about, so it’s a relief to hear that’s it’s not a problem. On the other hand, your plot is in danger of being convoluted, so best to keep an eye on that.

You glance at the pages you’ve received back. It’s stained in many colors, drawings, and witty remarks on what is happening on the page. Many lines are underlined and given an A+. There is are a couple of O_O, denoting all the tenser parts in the scene. On the last page, a Buddy that writes in blue asks “Why? Why? Did your parents not love you enough?”

Outside it’s getting dark. While Panera was once bustling, it is now comfortable sparse. You and the crew put away your pieces and spend an hour talking about classes, work, and things of a nerdy nature. After a while, you excuse yourself and start the trek home.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

{2016 resolutions}

_news: *the day after new years* *stares off in the distance, haunted.*_

Guys, the places I’ve been. The things I’ve done. And look it, I made it. We all made it. It’s 2017, and we’re all still here, still taking pictures of our cats in shoe boxes and obsessing over the Nintendo switch.
So, yeah, let’s talk about 2016. It’s been…I don’t even know what it’s been. It’s been incredible, it’s been draining, it’s been heartbreaking and terrifying and unreal all in the same breath. The only thing it hasn’t been is boring. And looking back, I realized I had inadvertently followed through on a bunch of new years resolutions I didn’t even make. Seriously. I ate better, exercised more, advanced my career, and reduced my stress (as much as a college kid can), coming out the other end altogether leagues closer to the type of person I want to be, I found that what had changed was not my life but my perception. Objectively, I’m still in the same place I was a year ago, still have basically the same problems. But now, I feel like I can handle them. My problems don’t knock me down like they used too. So I figured, why not write a sappy post about it. Because, in the end, what else did any of you expect?

So, here. Try doing some of the stuff I did. See if it works for you.

Read a good freaking book.
Not a popular book, not an easy read, a good freaking book. A niche little cult classic that’ll stick with you long after the pages run out. Example, over the break, I read John Dies At The End by David Wong and BOY OH BOY DID IT WRECK ME. That, my friends, that was a good freaking book. The writing snob in me didn’t complain, not once. That...that has not happened far too long.

Just write. Write really stupid stuff. Write stuff you won’t show to anyone ever. Write something with the only intention being to be a story you like. Read it when you need to give Sophocles a rest. Then go back and write something that you want to shove in all your friends faces. That is how good stories are made.

Eat better.
Emphasis on the better. Don’t be a hero and throw out all of your ice cream in one go, you’re just going to be grumpy and have ants. Start by buying more fruits and veggies. Once you’ve got the hang of that maybe leave Captain Crunch on the shelf next time you’re at the store. Keep making little choices. You’ll get there in your own time.

Pretend you’re already a professional.
You see that open mic or get an ad in your inbox about a contest or get an offer to pitch your work to a pro, don’t think about how there’s no feasible scientific way you’ll succeed. Pretend like you already have. Surprisingly enough, it works.

Don’t stress about _______. 
Whatever ______ is, don’t worry about it. It’ll work out. Humans, by definition, are resilient and resourceful creatures. We naturally adapt to our circumstances and find a way to make it through. As a being with a pulse, you inherit that legacy. And, believe it or not, you can fix your problems and not worry about them at the same time. Revolutionary, I know.

Make plans.
Don’t let yourself get stuck, don’t let your life be work and sleep. Go sit down at a coffee shop, watch a movie you wouldn’t usually watch, go to a new restaurant. Refresh every once in awhile.

And that is what I’ve got. 2017, here I come.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

{about church bashing}

_News: What even is a second draft._

Let's talk about churches here for a second. About a half a year ago I had a discussion with the leader of the middle school ministry of my church about why everyone seems to be bashing churches and church goers now-a-days. And I mean everyone. Even Christians themselves. Especially Christians, I think. My friends often talk about the flaws that most churches have in regards to policies dealing with mental illness, homosexuality, divorce, and other things that don't fit that "cookie-cutter-christian" mold we know all to well. I hear it in Christian music too, lyrics that insinuate or outright push this idea of "breaking free from the church", being bold and courageous and honest.

Now, me, I'm all for improving church. Let's talk about these issues, let's think of new ways to spread the word, let's be different. But rarely I find that's where these conversations are heading. It's seems like here, much like in other areas, we are collectively content to point a finger at the problems and nothing more. As a result, many people are becoming disillusioned to going to church, even though it's a God ordained element of a healthy Christian life.  (Proof in 1 Thessalonians 5:11, Hebrews 10:25, Matthew 18:20 and Colossians 3:16.) And, what do you know, little introspective me thinks that at it's core, the problem lies just as much with us as does the church and it's missteps. So, let's focus on that. Let's look at why we're so disappointed at churches and see what we can do to change that. Then we can focus on fixing the problems in church.

First, I'm not sure if we're seeing the concept of church the right way. 

When we think of church, we imagine this, right? The steeple in a barren land. The traditionally nice looking building that's supposed to always be unlocked. And we imagine that when stepping into one, our problems are supposed to melt away. There are supposed to girls in dresses and boys in suits and not a speck of dirt on the ground. And everyone's smiling and chatting and having their bibles out and talking.
Guys, this isn't what church is.

Let me tell you what happens when I, who is probably as cookie-cutter is it comes, walks into church. I'll get there at eight, I'll go into my office and print the chord charts/service orders/slide timecode sheet/so on. I'll go to cafe and grab a cup of coffee, and as soon as I see the kid who's mopping the floors you know we're talking about Pokemon Go. Or Skyrim. Or whatever the heck else is happening in videogames. Then all the high schoolers are going to show up and start yelling at each other about coming after their edges or something about someone in groupchat who's being problematic again. People are going to fill in and stick to their assigned tables with the people their comfortable with. I'll see people come in with their kids looking half dead, some huddle off in corners praying so intensely they might be crying, ministry leaders trying to wrangle their volunteers together to get things running on time. Someone's going to come up to me and tell me that we don't have the right creamer. Someone else is going to come up to me and tell me that the printer's jammed. And one thing that you can always count on is that somewhere, out there, there will always be an air conditioner that's broken. That's all before the actual service begins.

Here's what I'm trying to get at. Church is messing. It's sloppy. It's filled with exactly what it needs to be filled with, sinners. People who cannot be perfect. But we think it's supposed to be and that's where a lot of friction between church and the world comes from. Chances are you're going to hate it for being perfect without taking a single step in, or you will come inside and be salty because it's not.

This is the part where I go on the record and say yes, we don't have everything together. We meet in really old buildings, school gymnasiums, worship centers that smell like dentist offices. We're not always the most efficient group of people on the planet, sometimes we keep really weird hours and can't respond to your emails right away because we're usually made up of really small staffs. We're not always the most polite people on the planet. We don't have all the answers in the world. We get stuff wrong sometimes. Sometimes we know we're getting it wrong, but we stick with our guns because we want to be right and we're dumb. And I keep saying "we" because churches are the body of Christ.  And maybe I'm just the awkward arm hair on that body but that doesn't make me any less a part of it. (Proof Ephesians 4:11-16, Ephesians 5:20, Philippians 2:2, and 1 Corinthians 12:12.)

And, here's the worst part, that is what a church is supposed to be. We are, by definition, a gathering of broken people who just so happen to put our faith in Christ. What did you expect? We're not Jesus. We're not God. We didn't write the Bible, on the best of days we just barely scrape the surface of what it says. We help with problems as much as we can, but we're not answer to them. We like to think we have a hand in helping salvation happen, but we aren't the way to heaven. We teach to the best of our abilities what we should do, what we shouldn't, and how to get closer to God, but we do not make people better. Christ makes people better. Christ is the way to heaven. Christ is the answer to people's problems.

Tl;dr Church isn't God. It's a club of people who happen to like him a lot, for better or worse.
(1 Corinthians 1:10).

That's all I got. 'Til next time nerds.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

{beginning of school update}

_News: There is no news. There never was any news. Time is an illusion._

Journalistic quick fire update because I haven't posted a thing-thing here in a while.

-Filmed a video. On my YouTube. Click this sentence. 
-Started school, therefore the irrational fear of forgetting I signed up for a course, never attending said course, and getting an F due to this lack of attendance has returned. (I literally have nightmares about this.)
-Am writing the second draft of Novel-In-Progress, reminding me of the fact that I hate second drafts and making me consider abandoning my life's dream to pursue a promising career as a grocery-store bagger. At the end of the day those guys are the real heroes.
-Submitted a short story about a man with Dissociative Personality Disorder who's other personality is a teleporting vigilante fighting against an alien invasion. Stay tuned to find out if it's half as interesting as that sentence.
-Me and the writing peeps are already gearing up for NaNoWriMo, THE GAME IS ON.
-Fren got published. Click on fren. Fren=good writing.

That is all. 'Til next time nerds.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

{loud churches and french cafes}

_News: I took a vacation. See below for details._

This is going to be another journalistic post but at least time it won't be preachy so sit back and enjoy if you wish. About three months ago (give or take) my best friend moved from Chicago to North Carolina with her Aunt and Uncle. And so, two months later, I bought a ticket to fly out and visit her, which doesn't seem like such a big deal but it was for me.

June 11th in the evening, I hop on a discount airplane where I share a row with two lovely women who are as much strangers to each other as they are to me. As such we spend our flight in a respectful silence.  I mentioned it was a discount airplane, there's a reason for that. The tickets were a steal, and it was all to good to be true. So I was convinced it wasn't. During take off I was overcome with the sudden realization that the reason the tickets were so cheap was because the plane skimped out on some important parts. That wing looked awfully wobbly, didn't it? Was it just me? Just...I should keep an eye on that wing. As the plane lifted off all I could think was I imagine death so much it feels more like a memory. Is this where it gets me, in a plane, several feet below my feet. (side note: YEAH MAN HAMILTON CLEANED UP AT THE TONYS!)

Believe it or not, I was wrong. The plane was in working order. As far as I know anyway.

I touch down a half hour before schedule and walk outside and GOODNESS GRACIOUS the sun, it's working overtime like it's trying to put a kid through college or something. And then my friend who I haven't seen in months pulls up in her car and security is about to shoe her away but as soon as he sees us tackle each other he waves it off and smiles at us. It's a good moment for both of us.
It's a bit of a drive back to her place and we spend all of it grins like idiots and laughing. We don't need to catch up because we talk to each other every week anyway. But it's nice that, for once, it's not through a screen. I can't help but notice that North Carolina is saturated with trees and churches, which is something I'm okay with. We get to her place and I realize that I'm actually exhausted, so I pass out.

Next morning we drive into Charlotte to help set up the church she goes too. Set up, because the organization is three years old and they don't have their own building yet. They set up shop in a school. I meet a lot of people and shake a lot of hands in a short couple of hours, and if that didn't do me in energy wise then all the running around did. One of the first people I meet is Tyson, which I later found out is the Head Pastor of the joint. And the best way I can describe the service was part Hillsong concert part loud and boisterous improvised preaching. I loved it. Friend was also running media shout and rocked it, so there's that. I'm really underselling it here, there are so many things I wanna talk about with this service, but that'll have to be saved for another post because this one's already going to be a long one. (See it here, by the way.)

After take down Friend and I are trying to find a place to eat when Tyson comes up and invites us to lunch with the rest of the crew. It's very flattering, especially considering I'm just a visitor and yet I'm already exhausted and can't even think about sitting down for a couple of hours where I'll have to actively make conversation, so we pass. And I feel bad about it. And Friend wacks me upside the head and reminds me this is a vacation, I'm not obligated to do anything. Instead, we grab pizza in a vintage gas station with really great cinnamon knots like we're a couple of hipster punks from a 90s movie. Then we go to Friend's games life group, where no one else could show up so it's just us and the guy who ran the lights. We all face off in #idrab and it's brutal. As Christians we put on a shameful display. Late in the evening Friend and I head out to her Aunt and Uncle's place, which we have agreed to house sit. We are realize upon arrival that they have taken their DVD player with them on their trip, they have neglected to give us the wifi password, there is no phone service, and the fridge is completely empty.
I imagine death so much it feels more like a memory. 
We scrape up all the adultness we can muster in ourselves to fix these things.

Next morning we head into town, she's got work and for the first time in a month I have the opportunity to sit down, relax, and write. And I do so in a completely and utterly charming french cafe that makes me wanna plan another trip just to come back to this place. It's so flipping nice it makes me wanna move in. This is the cafe love of my life. In a day I write 2500 words and it pleases me to no end. I also spend a good amount of time talking myself down from eating all the pastries, a thing that was too good to be true. A work day later Friend and I are on our way back to the house, we watch Psych and talk about really intense things of which the nature I cannot disclose in public. I will say though, the chance to talk to her about those things alone was worth the cost of the trip and more.

Day three finds me back at the cafe drinking that. Fun untrue fact, it was because of that drink that #blessed was created to begin with. I try Chick-fli-A for the first time and dive into Nintendo's E3. (Who is else over hyped for video games this year? Yeah? YEAH?) I also clock in some mileage with my novel-in-progress, 1000 words and gearing up for the climax. Friend and I head back up to Charlotte to shop and pick up a cousin from the airport. The ride home is treacherous, the rain coming down on us is unreal.
Day four finds me staying home, watching the full Nintendo E3 livestream to get whatever juicy Legend of Zelda Breath of the Wild facts I can. I get 4 hours through the stream before I fall asleep.

The trip ends with dinner at a fancy Chinese place in Charlotte where I pour all my E3 geeking onto Friend, who is all to willing to let me. We talk a lot about Zelda, I talk a lot about other games, we eat food that's decent but nowhere near as good as our favorite place in Chicago. And, sadly, their fortune cookies are not magic. We somehow find a way to press on. She drops me off at the airport and that's that. Trip's over. Back to talking through a screen.
My flight gets delayed for an hour which I'm okay with because there was a very social one in a half year old who kept coming up to people and speaking in babble. It's hilarious. When I grow up I wanna be that kid. When the plane's boarded I sit next to a literature professor from North Carolina who is heading to Chicago so he can use the Newberry Library for a Dante's Inferno course that he's going to teach not only using the text BUT a video game that recently came out that was based on it. We spend half the flight talking the teaching potential in video games and what a multi-faceted medium it is and kinds of other good stuff. I point him in the direction of the pop-culture academic community on Youtube (Idea Channel, Stachbag's Goods, Extra Credits, Game Theory, so on.), he gives me a couple of great authors to read on digital literacy (Kurt Squire, James Gee). We part as unlikely friends. Brother picks me up from the airport and tells me that my cat is a monster. I tell him this is not news to me. And so, I'm home.

'Til next time nerds.

Other things for your viewing pleasure.
Friend at a desk

That is not plastic that is real,
you can eat that.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

{you are not a fat lazy pig, these arrested development gifs prove it}

_News: Yes I've been gone a month. No I wasn't kidnapped by space pirates. Where did you even hear that?_

Okay, listen, this post will be a little more journalistic and preachy then my other ones but I figured I'd put it out there for the better of mankind. God's been nudging me to talk about it. Like, poking my shoulder my shoulder while I'm sleeping saying "hey, hey Nikki, I've got this idea for your blog" and me being like "it is 2 in the morning" and Him being like "I created time".

okay not quite like that, but sometimes that's how it felt.

So, I've begun to notice how I look on the outside recently, and as such have been paying special attention to how I eat and working out. Sometimes to a healthy extent, sometimes not. How did it start?
Ever since I started making videos for YouTube I've wanted to look like Haley Williams in front of the camera. 
Ever since I started living on my own and have had control over what I eat, I haven't been able to give myself credible excuses not to eat healthy. 
Ever since I was in high school, I've hated my 12 minute mile time. 
Ever since I was a kid I didn't want people to keep saying that I that paint dried faster then I ran. 
I've never liked how I looked. And it's always felt like whether or not I was pretty and fit was up to me. That's the simple truth.
Another simple truth for all the self-loathing, nothing was going to happen with body until I realized a couple of things. And those things I wanna share with you too. This isn't a simple cure, it's not going to change your life. You've probably heard what I'm going to say a thousand times in a thousand ways. None the less, I hope it brings some clarity. Because like it or not, it's something that man and woman alike will probably going to struggle with their whole lives.

Over the years, I've been trapped in an identity that was just as much my own doing as it was any societal or social pressure. (Takes a moment to step away from the keyboard and passionately shakes fist at society, that ever present scapegoat.) I was Nikki the reader, Nikki the gamer, Nikki who doesn't like sports or physical work. And somehow along the way that was translated to Nikki the Lazy and the Out-Of-Shape. And while the former be true, the rest be lies. So, here and now, let me dispel some illusions.

Not liking sports does not make you un-athletic. 
I grew up with people who love sports. I also grew up a tall somewhat slender kid. Dad put me in whatever he could, softball, basketball, volleyball, other things that have a ball somehow involved. And there I'd stand in the middle of whatever court or field I was, staring out into space, thinking about being an astronaut or superhero or whatever had come on more recently on TV. (Meanwhile my dad was in the stands shaking his head wearily as a whatever ball happened to be involved at the time passed me by). When the kids played after church, it was dodgeball or volleyball. Football season you better bet even the pastor is shortening his sermons to get people out the door for kickoff.
I didn't get the hype. I still don't. It's just...boring to me.
But the way that this translated to the people around me was that I just didn't like moving at all. And, since there wasn't much evidence to the contrary, I went with it. But here's the thing, playing sports is not the only to be active. Things that you can like other then sports: rockclimbing. hiking. biking. jump rope. swimming. kayaking. other things that I'm not thinking of right now.
See? So many things.

Not liking physically taxing work does not make you lazy. 
The person who works construction and the person who works behind the desk each work equally as hard. One pushes the extent of their bodies while the other pushes the extent of their mind. And if you swapped them, they'd each be equally out of their depth. If the paint brush doesn't belong in your hand, give it to the person that it does and move on. No shame.

No one has the magic cure for inactivity. 
You will never find a book that will tell you why you don't
-eat well
-run more
-work out
-anything else.
Not to say that diets don't work or that self help books are a hoax, but if they're the place you're looking for "the answer" then you're knocking on the wrong door. Pay attention to your interests. In the earlier section I said I didn't like sports. Competition lies on an uncomfortable balance between frustration and tedium for me. Cool, then sports aren't the way I get into shape. I am not fond of celery. It is not something I enjoy eating. And so, celery centric diets will not be for me. Pay attention to your body, it was placed in your care for a reason.  Don't try to make it into a shape it isn't. Respect it. Know the difference between skin and fat. So much of healthiness and fitness is subjective, it's hard to give hard and fast advice in this instance.
One thing to watch out for though, don't buy fun house mirrors.


You're not vain for wanting to look good and be fit.
Your body is the most precious gift that you've been given. It's been with you since your first breath and will be until your last. Treat it as such. Take care of it. Clean it. Make it presentable. But don't make it your number one priority. Think of it as your long standing no-nonsense cop partner. You two work together for the better of mankind, your first priority is the job, the second is each other. Making it better is good, making it your God is not.

You are not a snob for being fit. 
In "treat-yo-self" culture, it's all to easy to forget that your body should be a priority at all. People tend to forget that the cost of doing what you want to do might not be worth it in the end. As such, they can have a tendency to look down on people who do want to take care of themselves, people who skip dessert or don't go to McDonalds because they worry about with their health. Wanting to take care of yourself is an act of faith, you want to show God that food and comfort does not come before Him and that you cherish the body that He gave you. Because, in the end, He's the one who made you the way that you are. He's the one who decided how short your legs would be, how wide your hips are, how round your face, how vibrant your hair is. And He didn't just pick a bunch of things at random and mush them up into you. He crafted every cell in your body with love and care. Luke 12:7 says "But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear therefore; you are more valuable then many sparrows." God did not make any mistake in you and taking care of it is showing God you believe that and are satisfied with the decision He's made.

If you don't fit into the pants sizes available at a certain store, that's not the store personally telling you that you are fat. 
Okay, yes, this is transparently something that has bothered me in the past. Hear me out and see if this seems familiar. For all the nit picking I can do about my appearance, I have never considered myself to be fat. I am tall, yes, and at the same time I am not made out of toothpicks. I have curves. Because of this, I cannot shop at Forever 21. Great store, great stuff, great prices, not for me. (#notsponsored) (#notevenpopularenoughtogetsponsored) That store designs for people who have the kind of figure that looks good in formless clothing, most things there make my shape look fat. I remember when I was a junior in high school my grandma took me shopping there and no matter what I tried on it always directed attention to my tummy pouch or to my bust. By time I got out of the dressing room I felt so embarrassed I was nauseated. And then I got mad. How dare they discriminate against me with their small waist lines and their flow-y shirts. DO THEY THINK THEY'RE BETTER THEN ME? HAVE THEY PUBLISHED A SURREALIST GOTHIC ABOUT A MENTALLY SLOW LITTLE GIRL WHO SEES GHOSTS AND WORKS AT A FUNERAL PARLOR? NO I DID NOT THINK SO.
But here's the thing I realized. It only seems to be discrimination when it's for small or skinny types. You pass by a store in the mall for plus sized woman and give them a round of applause because good for them, they know what's up. They get it. Sure, you still can't wear the clothes because it's still not your body type but thank goodness that SOMEONE'S fighting against the man. Yet when it comes to the Forever 21's, the Pac Sun's, the Guess's, they're just being elitist. Disgusting.
Guys, not all stores are for you. It's no different if your too thick or too thin. The entire corporate structure of the store is not looking down on you from atop their ivory towers and slowly shaking their heads.

A couple more notes.
-Don't work out because you have to, that never works.
-Don't be healthy because you want a different body, be healthy so that you can protect the one you have.
-Being active is not as big a deal as everyone makes it out to be.
-Eating right is not as big a deal as everyone makes it out to be.

That's all I got. Thanks for bearing with me. 'Til next time nerds.