As Lucky as We Are

Inigo and Fezzik

I just recently finished reading “The Princess Bride” by William Goldman, and, after having been a fan of the movie for years, I must say that the book definitely surpasses the movie, wonderful though it be. I would say that about 60% of the movie is directly quoted from the book, giving the reader all of the humor of the movie, but about twice as much of it. Each character is developed beautifully, with his or her own tragic or hilarious (normally both) backstory. Plus, Goldman inserts funny and oddly-timed dialogue with his reader into the story, along with exaggerated explanations of why/ how he came to write the book. Anyhow, it’s a fabulous book.

One part in particular stayed with me after I finished it. In the book, after Wesley has died and Fezzik and Inigo are searching the forest for him, they actually don’t find the secret entrance to Humperdink’s torture chamber in the tree, but they find the fake entrance that Humperdink has arranged as a trap. This trap, designed to take intruders through the most dangerous parts of the Pit of death (housing dangerous beasts that Humperdink spends his time fighting and hunting), to kill them off before they get to the bottom level (a.k.a. where Wesley is). On the first level, they fight a giant snake. On the second level, they fight deadly bats. So on and so forth, until they reach the sixth level, and are preparing themselves to face the worst obstacle. All the torches in the winding staircase have suddenly been put out. Both the sword master and the giant are very terrified, and the knowledge that the other is just afraid as they are makes their fear all the worse. As they descend the staircase, Fezzik quivers,

“Will you draw your sword with your free hand?”

Inigo responds, fearfully…

“I already have. Will you make fist with yours?”

“It’s clenched.”

Inigo then responds heartily…

“Then, let’s look on the bright side: We’re having an adventures, Fezzik, and most people live and die without being as lucky as we are.”

I absolutely love this quote, because it communicates the idea that being in any sort of trouble, hardship, or uncertainty can be viewed as wondrous luck and good fortune. It’s especially significant to me, as I’m about to head into a rather uncertain fall semester: starting it out with a my first overseas trip in about 5 years (To Guatemala, to visit a good friend and her family), then leaving the job at which I’ve become part of a work family and awesome crew for two years, beginning new and more intense fall classes than normal, and beginning a new job (working 2-3 days a week tutoring college students in English and grammar, one day a week tutoring high school students in the same subject, and substitute teaching at any K-12 substitute job that is available on the other day of the week).

After nearly two years of being the experienced crew member and trainer at work, I am now going to be the newbie, facing a whole new type of work and new challenges. Plus, I’m going into my senior year of college, after spending the last 4 years in it. It is definitely going to be an adventure, and I never want to stop seeing every bump in the road as just that: a chance to draw my sword, clench a fist, and walk into dark chambers of death alongside brave companions, facing the odds for the sake of each other and our fellow humans.

So here’s to adventure: alone, or with great companions. May we never cease to stumble over adventures at every turn of our paths, and face them with thankfulness, hearty joy, and good fortune.

inigo and fezzik

Picture sources:

http://www.bustle.com/articles/63316-6-reasons-you-need-to-read-the-princess-bride-because-theres-so-much-more-to-the

http://bsc-snark.livejournal.com/312994.html?thread=7256226

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Brotherhood

“I am so sorry that I have led you into such peril.”
“No, I’m glad to have shared in your perils, Thorin. Each and every one of them.
It is far more than any Baggins deserves.”

— Bilbo and Thorin, The Battle of Five Armies

To all my friends whose perils I am honored to share…

You are worth all the midnight calls…

The 3 a.m. ones, too, for that matter.

You are worth times spent in long talks, lying despairingly prostrate on the unvacuumed carpet,

Talking into the ungodly hours of the morning, when my eyelids begin to droop.

You are worth long waits on porches on hot afternoons. I lean against the wooden railing,  wondering if you made it home safely on your bike

You are worth letting go of  because it hurts too much to hold on. Yet you are still worth the hours and days and weeks and months spent stitching my love for you back together until it’s more complicatedly beautiful than it ever could have been before.

You are worth the pain I feel when I watch you cry and yet I know that you’re not ready to come to me with your sorrow; the pain I feel knowing that I can’t save you, but knowing that one day you’ll be ready, and that, until that day, I’ll wait for you.

You are worth every painful apology; every heart-down-on-its-knees request for forgiveness, and every time I ever had to say, “I was wrong.”

You are worth being wrapped in hugs that last whole minutes longer than is socially acceptable.

You are worth waiting or, fighting for, hurting with, and knowing more deeply every day.

You are worth it, because, in the end, you are all I have left.

You, my comrades, friends, my partners in adventure,

Near or far away, dead or alive, will always remain the most important thing I ever invested in.

 

Trivial goals will pass away

Gold and silver will burn

Bank accounts and their inborn anxieties will be swept off their feet

Careers will topple like domino towers.

Everything that burdens and worries my heart now will become a mere iota

A dust speck, a pesky fly, against the breathtaking landscape of what is truly most important:

Brotherhood.

Comradeship.

How much you opened up yourself to give and to receive

The accidental adventures you walked through together

The knives that you drove into each others’ hearts,

And the journeys you took to heal them.

 

Brotherhood breaks down walls

Dethrones depression

Banishes loneliness

Calms anxiety

Challenges greed

Humbles the proud, works out stubborn streaks

Puts your heart though purifying fire, melting away greed and pride

Until all that is left in your heart is pure gold.

 

In the end, with the battle won,

The casualties many, the wounds deep,

All that I knew to be beautiful destroyed,

You my comrades still remain,

And our tears and blood, laughter and weeping,

Will mingle and become the glue, the fabric, the very atoms

That hold this world together,

And keep sorrow at bay from tearing our world apart at the seams.

 

At the end of the day, most of my accomplishments won’t matter

But the fact that you are still alive, breathing, loving, living, and growing,

And that maybe it relates just a little  bit to  something I did or said,

Will be enough.

At the end of the day, we are brothers,

And no matter where our paths lead us,

We will always find our way home to each other in the end.

We will celebrate blood, tears, laughter, and sorrow over steaming cups of tea.

 

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P.S. I just finished watching the Hobbit Trilogy, which, along with a variety of other things that have been happening to me, prompted these thoughts on brotherhood.

 

 

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Warrior

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It happens at the oddest times, he thinks, still rubbing sleep from his eyes and pouring a mug of lukewarm coffee.

You’re walking through the humdrum you call life, doing your best to keep your spirits high, and suddenly, you’re given a glimpse back down the road you’ve come. 

He settles down onto his wicker front porch chair, cup in hand. The sun flashes a bright “Good morning, Welcome-to-Monday” to all nearby.

Slow sip, stirring stale thoughts. Suddenly, you see back down the road you’ve come, and you realize how far you’ve come. You realize that, in at least some ways, you’ve become the warrior you always sought to be.  

An elderly man, leaning shakily on his cane, creak down the sidewalk, an energetic Pomeranian tugging ahead. His face is creased with weariness, but lit with determination.

It wasn’t the most conscious effort. It was just a culmination of the perseverance to put one aching foot in front of the next, moment by moment.

A swirl of steam rises into the cool morning air. A twenty-something woman jogs by, pushing a double stroller.

Becoming a warrior is simply the result of, every day, pouring love into those entrusted to you, trusting them to let your love turn them into who they are, and not who you want them to be. 

A teenager makes the slow, hesitant stroll to the nearby bus stop– shadowed eyes, shadowed face, shadowed heart.

Making progress, sometimes, is just the simple choice to get up out of bed and live; to open up your heart to a fellow human just once that day, even in the smallest way. Open up the doors, and let them see who you are. 

The coffee cup is halfway empty.

A middle-aged marine sprints by, invisible anxieties trailing in his wake of sweat, the weight of duty to home and job tearing him in two.

You become a warrior when you come home every day, lay aside the worn facemask of the world’s anxieties and expectations and still say “I love you,” whether in words or the smallest action.

A young woman leans low over the bars of a worn, rusty bike, a huge backpack strapped to her back. Commuting cars whiz by her, highlighting her strained movements and heaving breaths against the wind.

Every mile you push, every opportunity you take to change your lifestyle, every moment you choose to struggle rather than take the easy way out, you are becoming a little bit more of a warrior than you were before. 

A blank-faced young boy stands on the roadside, loosely clutching a basketball, staring  into the expanse of loneliness. When the ball falls from his grasp, rolling into the road, he scrambles after it without a moment’s hesitation.

Take a single risk every day, no matter how small it is; no matter how small you are. You are a tigermouse, and you, whether alone orbeside others, have more bravery and capability than you think. 

The coffee cup is almost empty. The man leans back with a content sigh. How far he has come. What a warrior he has morphed into, without even knowing it. How blind he has been to the drastic changes that have occurred because of his everyday will to love, learn, grow, and find redemption every facet of life.

He steps back inside, a solitary sip of coffee remaining in the bottom of the cup. He always make an effort to leave it there. He leaves it sitting on the counter, as a reminder of his routine warrior-watching. As he looks at the solitary sip of coffee throughout the humdrum day, he remembers: The dog-walker. the mother. The marine. The student. The cyclist. The boy.

The surface of the coffee reflects images of these warriors, and gives him the strength to become more of a warrior, if only for that day.

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Photo credits:

http://fineartamerica.com/featured/tiger-eye-lucie-bilodeau.html

Environmental Toxins Will Make You Older

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Understood

Florida summer has arrived. Well, let’s call it spring-summer. If winter is the earth exhaling an icy breath, then spring is a deep inhale. It warms the air in the lungs, preparing to exhale it forth, breathing out a blazing and bright summer. Well, if spring is the earth inhaling, it’s a very short and shallow breath here in Florida, followed by the deep and long exhale of summer. Spring is finally here one moment, and the next, it’s gone, giving way to blistering heat and thick humidity, clinging to your clothes and skin with sticky, wet fingers.

Summer has arrived, conveniently the week that I spend most of my days at school  sprinting halfway across my college campus under the sun’s warm, bright face. Back and forth. Back and forth. Deadlines, appointments, papers, and plans. No matter what, it’s never enough. Time is sucked away, and the stress keeps coming. And the hot spring-summer sun whispers in your ear, with every concrete-slapping footfall…

You’re the only one. You’re the only one experiencing this level of stress. The only one finding yourself running from appointment to class to work with as little as fifteen minutes in between to catch your breath. The only one who cares enough about being to class on time to run halfway across campus and make it on time.

The only one who looks like a total idiot, monstrous backpack jerking you from side to side with each footfall, face screwed into an ugly expression, cut by the lines of a deep frown. The only one who can’t control their stress and emotions and pull themselves together. Slap, slap against the concrete. Parched, heaving breaths. Still going to be late. A failure. Always a failure. The only one who knows what it feels like to always be running and striving and never achieving the exact result you want, like a kid in Walmart trying to catch the fluorescent light reflections on the tile. The only one who always seems to be a mess.

Then, what is this? Another back-pack heaving runner, hands gripping the backpack straps at his sides, bending down to create less wind resistance, and dashing headlong for the music building. I dash right in front of him. As I pass, our eyes meet, and we share a tired smile. A brief wave.

“Good luck! You can make it!”

“Gooooooooo! The mad dash!”

And that’s that… we keep dashing on to our individual classes. But, now, I am smiling. It seems odd- why would that make me so happy? But it does. It does because I can see it with my own eyes– the heaving breaths, the heavy backpack, the thudding feet. He understands. He feels the same heat beating down from the sun, heaving the same dry breaths. He, too, will arrive at class sweaty and dissheveled. And he, too, cares about about being on time to dash across the parking lot, as idiotic, comical, and sadly desperate as it may loo.

Even through the heaving breaths, my mind inhales and exhales deeply and calmly again. The all-consuming world of my selfish mind is broken, interrupted, by a fellow runner.

The world I built up in my head– a world of pride and loneliness, failure and fear– is defenseless the moment I see that I’m not the only one who lives in that world. Alone, the selfish world is strong. Together, when humans come to share hearts and open eyes and lift each other up, the lonely world of the mind is broken apart. And the run becomes a joy; a race, even. I arrive panting, but I arrive knowing that I’m not the only one experiencing the victory of finishing a race. That I’m not the only one who walked late, sweaty, panting, and disheveled into the tranquil classroom.

My friend, you are truly understood. There are many who run beside you, past you, before you, to your right, and to your left. We are all sweaty and disheveled, gasping for breath, soul suffocating from the daily races. We are all late, and we are all failures. But we are all understood. And, somehow, knowing that can be enough to get you through the races you run every single day.

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Well, I’m Back

I'm back, 2

.. And there is much to be said.

I know: I haven’t written in about 4 months. Writing anything– blog, stories, poetry, etc.– has been really difficult to go through with. But I have a valid excuse. I had some very important things that needed to be said to some very important people in my life–  difficult, painful things– and I couldn’t pour out my thoughts and heart to public readers until I was willing to be open with those closest to me.

So, I said those important things.

In a coffeeshop in the last hours of 2015, I rid myself of burdensome words in a 17-page-letter to a very close friend– a letter that catalyzed a heartbreaking but necessary rift in our friendship.

I sat down with family members, and was honest about my current place in life: physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. The silence hurt.

I called a long-distance friend, to be very honest about truths I had been afraid of speak.

And, what’s funny is that these past months have shown me that  tension in relationships with people is a good and natural thing. As my dad mentioned to me once, even the muscles in our bodies wouldn’t operate without tension, for any bodily movement requires the relaxing of one muscle and the tensing of another. In the same way, we could never grow or learn or move forward or really accomplish anything without having to work through tension.

So, that 17 page letter did spark a deep rift, but that deep rift has ever-so-gradually been closing, through back-and-forth emails every couple week. It has been a process of getting to know each other, outside of our bitterness and mistakes, all over again.

And I can honestly say that I am the closest to and most open with my family that I have ever been.

And my calls with my long-distance friend are gradually becoming more open, honest, and encouraging.

That time of words-not-coming is now basically past. Words have been spoken to people, and I feel much more able to move forward with life, relationships, and goals for the future. Although change and growth are slow, step-by- step journeys, I am ready to journey, especially through returning to writing in various forms. Writing will serve as a way to continue to repair and strengthen strained relationships with people, but also a way to work through my thoughts.

There is much that I have to say. Story ideas are forming. Thoughts and reflections on things I have recently learned are piling up in my “drafts” box and mind. And I’m a little less afraid to be honest here: honest about where I am, about the things that are most important to me, about the things that I believe in most strongly.

The truth is that, though I do write with certain people in mind, this blog is not customized as an indirect message to certain people in my life. Yes, people that I know personally do read it, but I can’t write specifically for them. Some of the blogs that have touched me the most are the bold ones, which are brutally and  messily honest about thoughts, emotions, and experiences. They are the true storytellers, and their stories are the ones that touch people’s hearts.

So, in an attempt to restart this blog and my writing in general, I will try to be more honest. Not so ambitious in the things I cover in my posts. Post more frequently, about small revelations and occurrences in life, told through the lens of a storyteller. Bring up topics that I think are very important,  as a way to stir intelligent discussion and understanding between people. The things I talk about, and the way I talk about them, may shift. But change is welcome here.

Thanks to all you faithful readers for sticking with me through four months of silence. I’m back, and there is much to be said. So, here’s to more writing to come…to honesty, to everyday life, to conversation, and to living creatively in the midst of reality.

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Cosplay Adventures of Legolas and Frodo

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As Halloween rolls around again, I thought it’d be appropriate to finish off the tale of costumes and comic cons from last fall– namely, my brother’s and my first cosplay adventure, previously written about here.

Spanning from October to February, we basically re-detailed our Frodo and Legolas costumes from Halloween; an endeavor which included crafting two exquisite wooden knives for Legolas, crafting “hobbit” feet for Frodo, turning a thrift store corduroy jacket into Frodo’s red coat, and making a leather knife-sheath for Legolas.

We went into the experience with two free tickets and zero idea of what we were getting ourselves into. We walked around crowded Civic Center and tromped the downtown sidewalks in the personas of Elves and Hobbits for three days, ready for adventure. At the end of the last day, we climbed into the car, exchanged a single glance, and didn’t even have to say it: “We’re definitely coming back next year.”

So, here are just a few highlights of our first cosplay/ comic con experience.


1. Meeting many fellow Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit characters, including…

Galadriel and Tauriel

Galadriel and Tauriel

Faramir

Faramir

Arwen

 

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Thorin Oakenshield

                

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Another Frodo!

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Gandalf (this guy was amazing).


2. The Fencing workshop

We learned the basics of fencing, different kinds of equipment and then had a chance to try our hands at basic moves (stances, steps, saluting, and how to handle the fencing foil). We also got to watch an extended fencing demonstration.


3. The Costume Contest

Though this was my brother’s and my first time cosplaying, we decided that entering the costume contest would be a worthy endeavor. We entered into the amateur division– for cosplayers who have never before won awards in contests, or first time cosplayers– in the company of about 30 or so other cosplayers. We spent about two hours checking in and standing in line, to get about 1 minute on the stage in front of judges and audience. Neither of us won anything, but it was still a good experience and chance to become more comfortable in front of crowds.

http://www.pnj.com/picture-gallery/entertainment/events/pensacon/2015/03/02/pensacon-2015-costume-contest-sponsored-by-mcguires/24221347/


4. Going public places in costume

Pensacon took place at the downtown civic center, and several events happened in other parts of the downtown area, so we did a good bit of walking back and forth. Sporting our costumes proudly, we traversed the local farmer’s market and the main street lined with shops, went out for barbecue, and then visited my workplace to show off our costumes to my coworkers. It was immensely fun to have a legitimate excuse for wearing a cape in public.


5. Making connections with fellow nerds

One of the greatest things about Pensacon was finding that, “Hey! We’re not the only ones!” Finding strangers with wonderful costumes was a great platform for meeting people with similar interests and great talents, and for having really interesting conversations. We discovered that there is a local costume guild, by meeting the Gandalf character pictured above. We found great resources for costume materials and quality costume weapons, leather items, and other Tolkien-ish props. We were able to admire well-made costumes and learn tips and tricks from experienced costumers and cosplayers, which will hopefully help us with our costumes for next year.

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Costume resources– the amazing leather vendor

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Costume weapons vendor


6. Costume-crafting

Finally, we really enjoyed the process of costume-making itself. We used costumes that we had created for Halloween, but did a lot of detailed work on them, to enhance their accuracy. For example, Frodo helped create the pair of Legolas’ knives completely from scratch. We found most of our materials for other costume components at thrift stores (an old coat which we altered to be Frodo’s coat, a $5 pair of grey boots, a 50 cent glass vase for the phial of Galadriel, 2 forest-green shirts/ jackets which became Legolas’ tunic, and an old courduroy sweater which became Frodo’s vest). The brooches were cut from old tin pans (indented and painted), and the cloaks were handmade from fabric we bought. One of the funnest parts of Legolas’ tunic was the mallorn-leaf-shaped overlay, which I actually crafted from an old Air Force flightsuit, and then embroidered with silver.

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Legolas’ bow, in the making

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The front of Legolas’ tunic

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Tunic embroidery detail

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Legolas’s quiver + knives (handmade from wood) + leather knife-sheath

The Phial of Galadriel, stage 1

The phial of Galadriel, in the making

The Phial of Galadriel, completed

The phial of Galadriel, completed


Here are just a few more of the interesting and fascinating cosplayers we met, including Katniss Everdeen, a Weeping Angel,  Westley (The Princess Bride), Mary Popppins, Maleficent, Russell + Mr. Fredrickson (Up), and Xena the warrior princess.

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I know that this post is long overdue, but, since we are planning to go back next spring, I thought that it was worth sharing. I plan to also post a couple tutorials from these featured costumes, as well as sneak-peaks of and posts on the progression of next year’s costumes.

Until then,

Legolas

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True Alchemists

Gold 4

A friend recently made this housewarming gift for me —a flower pot, painted with the anonymous quote, “True alchemists do not change lead into gold; they change the world into words.”

Flower pot

After several months of glimpsing the flower pot every day, the meaning of those words has suddenly sunk in.

The past half-year has been the craziest, most adventurous, most interesting, most painful, and most joyful time in my life thus far. I would say that, for the first time, I’m truly living: experiencing adventure , taking risks, making mistakes, finding reconciliation, opening up, enduring, growing, thinking, reasoning, and changing. But truly living hasn’t come without a lot of pain. These days, I spend a lot of time trying to focus on “keeping on walking”—keeping going, not giving up, focusing on the important things, and finding healing and reconciliation. However, in the midst of this, a certain phrase has been on my mind a lot: “No matter what I’m going through right now, I can take comfort in the fact that, someday, I can write it into one extraordinary story.”

And that, my friends, is turning the world into words: finding redemption within your experiences by turning them into stories that can touch others’ souls. Think of how often something written by another person has touched you. Well, they were probably a true alchemist. They took their experiences, created gold, and then offered it to you.

I’m finally ready to practice some true alchemy. My writing has been on the decline since the beginning of this year, and while I haven’t given up entirely, I haven’t dedicated real time and effort to getting it back on its feet. However, as summer began, a story began to emerge from several scattered thoughts and ideas. I half-worked on it throughout the summer, writing random bits and pieces, but only when it came to me. I never went to it. I never sought it out. As the summer ended, though, and keeping on walking became a little harder, I felt a pressing need to fully commit to crafting that story. I needed to write in order to find redemption in the things I was struggling with.

Thus was birthed “The Hermit Journals,” an odd little work of art, mixing poetry and prose from various perspectives within a single story. I don’t know quite where it will go, but I’m now committed to turning it into something, and it has become the first priority among my writing projects. I even plan to share a bit of this story here, within the next couple of months.

So, I’m finally going from being only a writer to being a true alchemist. And it has, and I hope will have, an incredibly powerful effect on my life.

Never devalue or regret your experiences. They are lead. You are a true alchemist. Every day, you are blessed with the opportunity to turn the world into words. Your life can become one extraordinary story.

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