Thursday, December 31, 2015

_News: I finally read Amy Pohler's memoir. Your turn._

So sorry, I haven't been very active here as of late. Finals and Christmas events and publications and many other things have been happening, all of which are time consuming and none of which are interesting. I've considered writing a few things on life in general, but when starting out those posts out they always somehow turned into self-centered brag/whine fests which I chose to spare you, the valued reader, from. Instead, here are is a moment in my life involving Aldi.

Let me set up the scene. At church, where I work for the money cash, we decided to make a movie for our Christmas event this year. We've been working on it for MONTHS, and now it's coming down to a weekend. Lots of things to talk about when it comes to this but let me single out this one moment. One of the last things to do when planning an event is the food.
_Side note: This implies that food is a last minute detail. FALSE. It is last on the list but by no means a last minute detail. You food gathering to anything less then two weeks before then you, dear reader, are dead in the water.
Anyway, it falls to me to take care of this detail, seeing as I am the "office administrator." (Been rocking that title since 2014 and I'm still not entirely sure what it means.) Many things on the list that I need find, order, and pick up. I'm spending the weeks checking all these things off my list and it comes down to 50 bags of hot dog buns, which I've been specifically instructed to get from Aldi.
Are you sure? I say. We can just as easily get them from Costco or Sam's club. 
No no. They say. Aldis has them for 50 cents. 
Can't argue with that logic. I say.
So I try calling Aldi to have them set aside the buns. Do you know what Aldi's automated phone response is. It's a short message, not even thirty seconds long, and it goes something like this.
_Thank you for contacting Aldi US.
The phone numbers for our stores are unlisted, which is part of our business model, which helps keeps costs low for our customers. To learn more, go to our website._ And then it hangs up on you. You know what else Aldi does? They lock their grocery carts. You have to have a quarter in order to use a shopping cart. And whenever you have the great grace of not having to use a quarter, it's the freaking lotto. You are set for life. (At least, that's how people act.) Any way, I'm at the door and realizing I cannot acquire a shopping cart (a problem I never dreamed I'd ever have) and I'm praying they have enough buns. Never mind how I'm going to get them out of the store. Sure enough they do, so I just have to cart them out of the store. Problem. No cart. So I go up to the cashier. He, probably having dealt with weirder requests in his time, happily helps.
We cart the buns up and he rings me up. No bags, by the way. That's another thing. Aldi's doesn't give you bags. You bring your own. I don't know if it's dawned on you yet, reader, but I was woefully unprepared for what was supposed to be a simple visit to a grocery store. So I stand there, 50 packs of hot dog buns, paying with my personal debit because they also don't accept credit cards. People are staring. This does not surprise me.
You having a Christmas party? Cashier asks.
Oh yeah, huge movie event. I say.
What if I told you I wasn't? I wish I said, just to mess with him.
I pay and we part as unlikely friends and I load every bag individually into my car and head to work, weary from my strange journey into the unknown.

Aldi, it's a weird place.
Happy New Years nerds.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

_News: I started a news section. See? You're reading it right now. Also, I cut my hair._

So, right now, life is shaky. Which is cool, life should be shaky right now. I can image years from today I'll be kicking it back on my #yachtspaceship, thinking Nikki why were you so worried you little snot? Obviously you were going to get that treehouse mansion on Pluto that you always wanted. But right now I am not supreme president overlord of Pluto, and thus I describe my life as shaky. I think that's okay, to say that I mean. Like, when you're ride a nightmarishly fast tilt-a-whirl moving at the speed of sin you're not going to say "wow, what a reasonably rate of speed for this specific mechanically ambiguous ride" but you're not going to be like "I TAKE ABSOLUTELY NO RESPONSIBILITY FOR MY ACTIONS WHY HAVE YOU DONE THIS TO ME OH CRUEL UNFEELING DEITY" either. Shaky, I feel, is an accurate assessment without being to dramatic.

Thing is, I've been in this cycle lately of getting sudden small bursts of energy where I feel like I can handle not only my life but everyone else's as well, then after a week or so I crash. I crash hard. Ask my mom, the poor woman is nothing less then a saint.

_If you're looking for the point, see below.

Out of all the things in my life, one thing that's not shaky is my squad. See, me and the gang, we were a long time in the making. This is the part where I point out my first and last beloved, God, who in all his infinite knows just how deep my little-snot-ness goes and had enough smarts to know who to place in my life before I found myself in the company of the amazing people I know today. And to those people I say, I'm sorry. Really, I am. If I could go back and smack myself, I would. I so would. But, hey, thanks for teaching me in the art of general pleasantness. Here's to you, you great heroes of humanity.

But, anyone. This group, this gang, they are all little me dreamed of and more. I never thought I could hang out with so many strong, interesting, freaking funny people who are somehow a good time waiting to happen just by existing. And I can't believe that most of you have been in my life for as far back as I can remember and just now I see you. But enough about me, this post is about them. And, hey, if you don't see yourself in this post, I love you I love you I love you, but this one's for the first responders.

Look at them, so tolerant of their nerd.
Firstly, props to the parents

I could write a book on these two individually, but they belong together. They spoil me rotten. They showed me God. They let me choose him. They taught me how to love people. They taught me how to love me. They were patient. They took interest in things they weren't interested in. They gave me wit. That one bares repeating. They gave me wit. When you laugh at me (if you laugh at me) that's not my jokes. That's their's. They support me, in every regard. Mentally, spiritually, financially. They believe in me, lately more then I do. That's the parents. They're good at their job.
BTW, if you see red hair in the picture to your left, then don't worry. That's just a college freshman in 2013. If you see white and gold hair, then you're wrong.

_Also, while looking for a pic of the parents, I found this one of someone walking their bear. Enjoy.

Secondly, the siblings still living at home

Listen, if you watched Geeks Under Grace Gaming for it's short lifespan, you saw me playing video games with Sean. (Or as he like to call himself, LeSean James.) I will be the first to admit that Sean is much cooler then me. When you've got a little brother who you can call up and just be like "hey, come over and play Octodad with me in front of a camera" and all he says is "hold up I'm rocking out to Twenty One Pilots" Then you're doing family relations right. And Jenny is in the process of teaching me how to girl. Please understand, you might as well ask her to teach a potato how to girl. Let us all take a moment to appreciate this monumental contribution she's making to society. Honorary mention to the older brother, Alex, who while not being in the state still watches Doctor Who which makes him my best friend by default.

Now, these guys

Here's what's what with these two. They are both in love with Jesus and living it well. I also don't know what either of them see in me or why they keep me around. Both of them are fluent in internet. One of them taught me what real music is, one of them taught me what real food is. They are both funnier then me. They are both SO easy to talk to. Without them my videos wouldn't be possible. Without them a lot of things wouldn't be possible. And, most importantly, on the most basic level, they get it.

To the crew,
Guys, I love you.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Let’s talk about the concept of free coffee. 

Recently, a classmate of mine in Advanced Fiction wrote a story that went a little something like this. It started out with a woman waiting in line at a Starbucks, witnessing the small miracle of the “free coffee tag” phenomenon, where someone pays for the coffee of the person behind them in line and, in turn, that person pays for the next person’s coffee and so on and so forth. The protagonist of this story seems happy, if somewhat indifferent, to be part of this and is waiting for her turn to do the same. The amount paid for was started with 274 pennies brought in by an unnamed little girl. Eventually, just a few spaces in front of the protag a woman takes the free coffee and does not pay for the person behind her. Suddenly, the magic is gone, and it seems the entire coffee shop is silently judging this woman for not continuing the good will of the little girl who started the trend. The protag is not excluded among these people, she describes her as “a failure of humanity”. And upon getting a closer look realizes that this woman is actually a bully from her high school who had a taste for harassing freshmen. The protag gets so upset that when it’s her turn in line she not only starts the trend again but orders two more cups, one for herself and one for the specific purpose of spilling it on the woman who had accepted the free coffee (ordering it iced just so that it would stain extra well). Upon doing so it’s revealed that this woman actually has a bruise on her right eye and it’s heavily implied that she’s in a severely abusive relationship. The story ends with the protag paying for a new outfit and learning that all mighty lesson of not judging people until you’ve walked in their shoes.

Let’s take it a couple steps back though. 

There are so many things that I can talk about with this particular story but what I want to do is follow the chain of free coffee. It starts with this. A little girl walks into a Starbucks and pays for somebody’s drink, then is never to be heard of again. Why would a little girl do this? To be sweet? At the suggestion of a parent? To impress? I suppose the motivation doesn’t matter all that much but let’s say that she did it knowing that someone would need that one free coffee. She almost counts on the fact that the coffee will be continually paid for until it reaches the hands of said person. So she pays and she leaves, leaving it up to fate to deliver that coffee to the one who needs it most. The person behind her is pleasantly surprised.  Someone has given them a gift with absolutely no prompting on their part. It’s unconditional love with a bit of cream and sugar and it feels so nice to know that spontaneous kindness still exists. He decides that, knowing that he doesn’t need this coffee for free, he’ll pass it down and continue the kindness, already having received his gift in the very act of generosity and in turn wanting to pass it on to someone else. The woman behind him feels the same and continues the trend. Before you know it many people have paid for someone else’s coffee, whether from good will or unsaid pressure. But all of them were content to take half of the gift, the feeling of being loved from someone they don’t know. None of them needed both. 

Then comes in the woman, who’s snuck away from her oppressor for a few short moments and she’s told that her coffee is free. She feels more than just a tickle in her heart, she feels a rush of relief. She feels taken care of, held, from someone far, far away from her situation, some who can’t possibly know how worthless she feels she actually is. This cup is so much more than just a nice thing given to someone else. So she takes it without paying because it’s a gift. It doesn’t require anything in return. And she wants to treasure it because it’s the first gift she’s received in such a long time. 
And in doing so she is ostracized by the entirety of the coffee shop, the people who supposedly gave her this gift. 

My point is this. In the act of giving these people forgot what giving actually was about. They were so caught up in the act that they forgot that the point was that someone would accept it. Notice how everyone in line still got their coffee and paid for it, just in a more roundabout way. Except for the little girl. She didn’t get anything. She didn’t walk into that Starbucks expecting the person behind them to still pay, she didn’t want to start a movement. She just wanted to give someone a gift. And she did, and everyone got angry at the person that accepted the gift when that was the idea to begin with. And in the end, it didn’t really matter who received that gift, just that someone did. After all, what is a gift if it’s not free. The real moral of the story, I feel, is if you give expect nothing in return. Partly because a gift that has a price tag in the end isn’t a gift, but also because you never know how necessary that gift may be to someone. 

And, in the end, haven’t we all been there? Bringing it back to Christ he did the same exact thing. He paid a price to give us a gift expecting nothing in return. Not only that but he gave us this gift knowing there was no way we could pay him back. What on earth could we give him? How could we have repaid him for a life and death in service to us? There is no work on earth that can pay our way into Heaven, Heaven is a gift. Christ is a gift. A relationship with God is a gift. In fact, you can get all of these things regardless of what you do after words. You could accept that cup and go on to destroy the world and that wouldn’t change the fact that you still had that cup. 

And so, love Christ, pay for someone else’s coffee, and stay tuned for the next white girl analogy of God’s Love. 

‘Til next time nerds. 

Monday, November 9, 2015

Hello Friends, it has been a long time. A long, long time indeed. Over half a year if I’m not mistaken. I know I have a reputation for spontaneously falling off the the face of the planet, and seven months is a quite a bit of catching up to do, so I’ll give cliff notes.

_I tried to start a comic. It didn’t work out. 
_I was hired to be a Youtube Personality for Geeks Under Grace. 
*Side note, I still have no idea what I’m doing. 
_I got a second job. 
_I got into a car crash. It was rough. 
_I quit my second job and started another semester at Columbia College Chicago. 
*Side note, friend to friend, if the teacher doesn’t speak english then drop the class. 
_I did something for God at some point I’m sure. 
_I start hardcore work on a project called Ed Hutch, which I’ll talk about at some point I’m sure. 

So why am I here, blogging, again?
Because I want to be. Because I’m starting a show on Geeks Under Grace about writing and I figure I make some of mine visible. Because at the end of the day before I was a secretary, student, or youtuber I was a writer and above all I am still that. And I like telling you people my opinion. And I like having control over things. And I’m bored.
The long short of it is that I’m here talking about Jesus and Books and Business as usual until I disappear again so if you’re into that type of thing then you’re in the right place. And for now, until my next post, enjoy these pics.
Until next time nerds.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

You know something momentous has occurred when I actually write a blog post. Yes, my friends, it's happened. Nintendo listened. Comrades, we have Majora's Mask for the 3DS. And I intend to bask in its glory, if you care to join me.

It's been said once, twice, three four five six SO MANY TIMES, the Legend of Zelda Majora's Mask is a beautiful game inside and out, being both one of the best in the LoZ franchise and the gaming industry as a whole. It has extraordinary gameplay, a phenomenal story, a subtly crafted and grabbing visual appeal, and a relevant haunting soundtrack. (Aspects that really made me dig deep for the right big words to explain.) And I can dissect all these elements separately to Kingdom come, but there's already enough of that out there. I want to look at this game for great big beast that it is. I don't want to look at this painting for the quality of the paint used to create it, or the brush techniques employed. I want to see it for what it is. So let's talk shop.

The Legend of Zelda franchise is known mainly for it's well established formula when it comes to gameplay and story. It can be said that most Zelda games are a variation of the same song. Another thing to note is that, more often then note the gameplay will change more drastically then the plot structure. Whether this is a positive or negative mark against Nintendo is subjective (and while I can understand that the repetitive nature of this system can annoy some, I honestly find no problem with it but that's another post for another time), but this point makes that much more a statement on Majora's Mask. For this installment was a drastic change for what LoZ was at the time, and even today could be considered pretty out there.

This direct sequel to what is still herald a master piece of gaming, Ocarina of Time, the only memento that the player has of their escapades in Hyrule was the protagonist himself, Link. Having embarked on what was described in the opening cutscene as a "secret and personal journey" (long speculated to be a journey to find his companion from Ocarina of Time, Navi, who had abruptly left at the end of the game), he is robbed while in the Lost Woods by a pair of Fairies named Tatl and Tale and an Imp named Skull Kid. The Skull Kid proceeds to steal the Ocarina of Time (that was gifted to Link in Ocarina of Time by Princess Zelda and has the power to reverse time) and Link's horse as a somewhat bad-natured prank. Link chases the Skull Kid down the proverbial rabbit hole and emerges in the land of Termina, where he confronts the Skull Kid. In this confrontation the Skull Kid uses the power of a mask that he stole from another unfortunate traveler known as the Happy Mask Salesman to transform Link into a powerless creature known as a Deku Scrub. After Link is able to retrieve his ocarina after a second encounter with the Skull Kid (with the help of Tatl, one of the Skull Kid's fairy friends whom was left behind after the first confrontation with the Skull Kid), the Happy Mask Salesman comes to restore Link to his true form (his own intentions being somewhat shady) and warns Link that the Skull Kid intends to destroy the land of Termina using the mask's power by causing the moon to crash into the earth three days from now. From here, we have our mission. We must use the Ocarina of Time to relive the same three days until we have amass enough power to stop the Skull Kid and retrieve Majora's Mask.

Here we encounter the first drastic change that effects both the gameplay and the story, the main antagonist.

Previous experience has conditioned players to always expect to go head to head with some incarnation of the beast prince Ganon (whether he be Ganondorf, Demise, or other), and through this, we find a set structure that spanned throughout the games. Whatever form of Ganon you faced, while the challenge changed, the goals, motivations, and tasks of you and Ganon were always clear. Ganon wants to take over Hyrule. In order to do so, he needs the Triforce. You (the player) and Princess Zelda (the game's namesake), are the key to obtaining the Triforce. In order for him to take over Hyrule, he must use you and Zelda. In order to subdue and defeat him, you must gather together seven sages and use their power to bring him down. Doing so will save Hyrule. As I said, through the antagonist we find the structure of the game. But it doesn't stop there. Through the antagonist we also find the tone of the game. Gannon is a towering force of power. He's cunning, he's intimidating, he is irredeemable. And in being all these things, he is simple. He doesn't challenge your perceptions of right and wrong, he enforces them. He's a motivator, he's daring  you to be the Hero. And defeating him has no negative consequences. Not only does he define himself but he defines you, for the only thing that can take down a force of absolute unrelenting evil is a force of absolute unrelenting good.

But the antagonist we face in this game is not this strong, powerful entity that clearly knows who he is and what he's doing. Instead, we have an Imp. A small Imp who, on his own, does not amount to much. Through uncovering his back story we even find that he was abandoned as a child and overall outcasted from the citizens of Termina, his only friends being his two fairy companions. It was really only through luck that he happened to stumble onto Majora's Mask (the mask which he stole from the Happy Mask Salesman) and gained all that tremendous power. This little boy does not know evil, he only knows hurt. He is bad, but has the potential to be good. And because of that suddenly we do not find ourselves on the steady ground we were granted in the previous games. Are we the Hero, really? For having to take down what was otherwise a poor defenseless creature, a boy who truly doesn't know better? This is were part of the conflict merges. And the world itself does all it can to reinforce this. All throughout Termina we find the aftermath of the havoc Skull Kid has wrought, from separated loved ones to each other to kidnapping, stealing, and overall destruction. We talk to citizens who believe that Skull Kid must be stopped at all costs, and have good reasons for it. But then, our companion, our partner, Tatl, is a constant reminder that the Skull Kid is not an absolute unrelenting force of evil, that there might be something in him worth saving. This time, the struggle is not only of strength and power of will, it's one of principle as well. You're journey is not only centered around doing what's right, it's finding out what the right thing to do is to begin with.

This game is very linear and straightforward, it doesn't give you the choice to judge right and wrong on your own standards like a title from Tell Tale Games or Galactic Cafe. But it got you thinking about it, which is the important. It gave you the possibility to disagree or question what you were doing as you were doing it. Maybe it made you think twice about slaying enemies or saving some while ignoring others, which is something that games just didn't have at the time this first came out (2000 for the Nintendo 64, for the three people who read this and don't already know everything there is to know about Majora's Mask). Have gameplay mechanics evolved to become better suited to really dive into this particular flavor of philosophical dilemma? Heck. Yes. But I believe Majora's Mask was where it started (or at least one of the places). And from Nintendo, no less! And one of Nintendo's most secure franchises! The last thing anyone expected Nintendo to do was to not only change a proven working formula but to do so with one of their biggest IPs. Good on you, Nintendo. Good on you.

So, wow. This ended up being a lot longer than I thought it would be. I mean, I still want to talk about a lot more. Guess this'll just have to end up being a series. (See, this is what happens when I talk about Majora's Mask. I love this game FAR too much.) Look forward to part two next week, when I talk more about the land of Termina. Until then, check the links below for FREE (legal) downloads of some AWESOME Majora's Mask soundtrack remixes.