Alex the Part-Time Nihilist

“‘If you could, would you?’ Probably not, let’s face it, I’m not the kind of guy who does.” – New York Times Bestselling Author John Green

My dear readers, I’m going to be very frank with you: I have many things I could be doing with my time right now. I could be reading the massive pile of unread books sitting on my shelf (stop glaring at me like that, Loki…and I REALLY don’t like that look you’re giving me, Paper Towns!) or I could be finishing the half-watched anime series that I’ve barely touched since the semester ended. I could be working on writing that Star Trek / Avengers crossover fanfic I started forever ago, or even start writing the idea for the sci-fi story I’ve been revising over and over in my mind but never typed out. I could be working on a costume, I could be re-organizing my room, I could be exercising…and yet I am doing none of these things. Readers, I am undoubtably, unbelievably, incredibly, and inexcusably:

So bored that I took more time than I should have coming up with all of those adverbs.

Never in my 13 years of formal schooling have I wanted summer to end this badly. I’ve actually already folded a good deal of the clothes I own and am seriously considering living out of my suitcase for the next three weeks, just so it can feel like I’m moving back into my cozy room in Lafrenz-Poole Hall sooner than I actually am. If I was back at school, at least I would be required to do something meaningful! Voluntary action? I’m just not feeling it. What makes it worse is knowing that these next few days are going to be completely stagnant. Nothing even remotely exciting that might help pull me out of this rut is happening until next week, and even so, I can’t bring myself to get excited for those things either! Guardians of the Galaxy premier? Leaving for the beach? Whatever.

To be completely honest, when I slowed down and started thinking about the complete lack of motivation I’m experiencing, I freaked myself out a bit. What exactly is my problem? I have so many things I could be accomplishing at this point in time with no obstacles, so why don’t I want to do any of them? Why do I feel as if there’s no point to doing them even if I mustered up the motivation?

Wait a moment, I thought. I know where this is going. I’ve asked one question and now I can’t stop – what’s the point in doing anything? Am I turning into some kind of watered-down part-time nihilist who can’t find meaning in her actions anymore? Actually typing all of these thoughts out makes them sound a bit silly – both to me and to you, I’m sure – but I’ve learned to be hyper-vigilant in examining myself when these kinds of thoughts start rearing their heads. An unfortunate side-effect of having succumbed to an everything-is-pointless mentality for real at one point, I’m afraid. Needless to say, I’m definitely not too keen on thinking anything like that again!

Thankfully, though, my wondering about the meaning of life and if anything I do has any worth probably isn’t the lingering fragments of my four-years-passed mental illness. Rather, I like to call these thoughts “the interesting questions” as my former honor’s program director would say. Asking these kind of questions is extremely interesting, and also strangely empowering.

Why exactly should I go read that book I haven’t touched, rather than lounge around pondering how bored I am? Does one activity have more inherent worth than the other? If it does, then why? Are some things more worth getting excited about than others, or is everything worth excitement, or is nothing worth excitement? And who decides what that worth is? Me, or someone else?

Referring back to the title of this post – am I a nihilist? Of course not! Questioning, I believe, isn’t disavowing all meaning in anything; it’s expanding my awareness. By asking the “interesting questions” about something as mundane as “why am I bored?”, I’m able to gain a better understanding of myself, of how and what I think. And if I don’t find “meaning” or “worth” in whatever I’m questioning, then I can create meaning if I choose to! I decide what’s worth my time, what’s worth my excitement and my energy. How incredibly empowering!

I really hope I’m not the only one who ponders existentialist philosophy on boring afternoons.

How about you, readers? Any sudden epiphanies that have come to you when you didn’t have much to do beside think? Or any other interesting stories that have come out of summer boredom? I’d love to hear from you in the comments, and as always, I invite you to follow me!

Thank You For Everything, You Useless Reptile!

**SPOILERS AHEAD FOR: How to Train Your Dragon and How To Train Your Dragon 2**

This is LMU. It’s twelve days north of the Middle of Nowhere and a few degrees south of the Sound of Students Panicking. It’s located solidly on the Meridian of Stress and Sleep Deprivation. My university: in a word, sturdy. It’s been here for over a century, but most of the science-specific buildings are new. We have academics, clubs and ensembles, and a charming view of the sunsets. The only problems are the pests. While most places have mice or mosquitos, we have…

…dragons! Continue reading

Colossalcon 2014: The VIP Treatment

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GPOY! A selfie with my badge before the first day of the con began.

It was about six months ago: advance registration for the main event of my 2014-2015 anime convention season, Colossalcon, was finally open! My going to Colossalcon, one of Ohio’s largest pop culture conventions, in 2013 was something of a last-minute decision; thus, pre-registration had already ended by the time I decided to go and I was restricted to one ticket option. For this year’s convention, however, I planned ahead far enough that I was able to pre-reg, thank goodness! One registration option I had was a standard pass for all four days of the convention; another, however, I found much more intriguing. I decided to register with a VIP pass, which would give me access to the entire convention plus some very tempting benefits.

Of course, it cost a bit more than double that of a normal ticket, but I anticipated that it would be totally worth it.

The first day of the con, Thursday, started out slowly, but more people ended up turning up than I had expected, and certainly more than had arrived on the first day last year! I remembered a bit of the layout of the venue from last year, but still spent much of the first day reacquainting myself with the convention space, shopping around in the Thursday-only craft fair (one of my favorite parts of cons is buying cool stuff from all the amazing artists!), finding areas I would be headed to the next day, going to a couple of panels that piqued my interest, and simply enjoying the atmosphere and goofing off with my friends. Continue reading

You Are What You Read

When I moved from my (incredibly cozy) dorm at LMU back to my nearby home at the end of this past semester, my first thought upon trying to get settled in was: wow, my room is a MESS. I hadn’t lived in it regularly for quite a few months, after all; clutter that I couldn’t be bothered to tidy up had gradually piled up during my weekend visits, along with a thin layer of dust. The state of my desk drawers and closet were despicable enough, but the mess in my room that made me cringe the most was my bookshelf. It took me a while to get around to the task, but once I had cleared away the old papers, empty binders, and barely-used sketchbooks that I had left there once upon a time, I turned to the actual books themselves. Some were new, some were older, some never read, and some…missing.

In my mind, at least, the books I’ve read are a way of tracking how I’ve evolved as a person. Having so many chunks of the metaphorical narrative, at least more recently, was a bit disconcerting. I decided to bring a few of the books I had long since stored away back out into the open air, and a few trips to the attic later, I had a newly-organized bookshelf and a trip down memory lane before my eyes.

10252080_772932569391822_1754344186425947344_nThe top shelf is now filled with nothing but manga volumes, manga magazines, and other such graphics novels, as became tradition in my middle school years once I began my ongoing love affair with Japanese media. After carefully categorizing them by genre or author (everything by my favorite manga artist CLAMP go together, for instance, regardless of genre), it became apparent that my collection is very sporadic – I only have two full series’ collected, for example – but every volume I have holds a very special memory of one kind or another. I’m very reluctant to part with even the manga that I hardly read anymore; it would almost be like giving away a part of my body. It also became obvious that my collection of American comics is…lacking, to say the least. The Star Trek: The Original Series and Captain America: Winter Soldier omnibuses are the extent of my collection.

10320582_772932572725155_7729735636449508993_nThe next section was the easiest to organize, as it’s the genre I own the most of: fantasy. This shelf contains many stories of its own: a newly-bought omnibus of The Chronicles of Narnia replacing the old falling-apart scholastic paperbacks I once owned, a mass market paperback of A Clash of Kings sitting on its own since the friend I lent A Game of Thrones to still hasn’t returned it. A more recent addition, The Mortal Instruments series, stands one book short of a full set since my pre-order of the final volume won’t ship until approximately November (and it’s driving me insane because I need to know what’s going to happen to Alec and Magnus!). The Lord of the Rings refuses to stop staring at me, reminding me that I haven’t finished it yet; Harry Potter is no better, nearly begging me to reread it and make up for all the time we lost back in elementary school when my parents wouldn’t allow me to read it. Perhaps the most colorful and nostalgic series stands out among the rest: The Inheritance Cycle by Christopher Paolini, all gorgeous hardcovers that I bought to replace the worn-through paperbacks I began reading in middle school and devoured again and again, entranced by the dreamlike places and the characters’ enduring charm and hope. I definitely want that story of a boy and his dragon to last, if no others do.

The next shelf down is full of stories I’ve relived many of times, stories that haven’t finished, and stories that haven’t even started. This is my “miscellaneous” collection of books separated into genres that I don’t have enough of to warrant their own shelf: science fiction, historical and realistic fiction, drama, mythology, you get the picture. The most prominent feature is my extensive collection of The Babysitters’ Club series, which had been hiding in my attic for most of my high school years; I was scarcely without one of those battered 80s-era paperbacks during middle school (perhaps it was these books that gave me my in-school reputation of being an incurable bookworm, a role I eagerly embraced). Three novels of a six-part series of teenage spy books sits waiting to be finished, along with scarcely opened copies of Beowulf, The Canterbury Tales, and Le Morte d’Arthur that we had meant to read in my senior English class but never had the time to get through completely. What I like to call my “social justice” fiction books are grouped together: the children-fighting-to-the-death epics Battle Royale and The Hunger Games trilogy, and the massive Les Misérables, put together because they all made me realize just how much I empathize with revolutionary idealists who fight for social freedom and equality.

10313818_772932576058488_8910147950457682909_nOn the bottom shelf, beside a few nonfiction books on writing, an omnibus of the works of Edgar Allan Poe, and my collection of books on alternative spirituality, sits the final series I fished from my attic: The Twilight Saga. While it’s unlikely I’ll actually go back and reread them anytime soon, this early high school obsession serves as a wonderful reminder of how far I’ve come in my literary pursuits.

What we add to our bookshelves – and what we choose to leave off of them – can be a wonderful and interesting monument to our interests, growth, and ongoing self-discovery. What are the books that stand out most in your collection? Is there any special meaning to how you arrange them? Are there any that you go back to over and over, any that you scarcely touch or that you’ve been meaning to dive into? I’d love to hear your stories in the comments!

Sick and Tired of Being Sick and Tired

Current Mood: Not nearly as hungry as I was three days ago, thank heavens!

During this past school year, I made a promise to myself: as soon as summer break started, I was going to change my eating habits. Now, nearly a month into the break, I’m finally getting around to starting! For the past few days so far, I’ve been on a temporary “cleanse” diet, drinking lots of water and juice and eating almost nothing but plants. So far, the only times I’ve strayed from this guideline is when it couldn’t be helped (going to a festival and a family dinner where the only options were junk food or starving, for example). This ultra-healthy binge is meant to get rid of the majority of toxicity in my body, so I can have a sort of “clean slate” for when I resume a less extreme, but still healthy, eating pattern.

Do I look like I’m having fun here? Yeah, I’m sick and only standing because of fever reducing medication.

Now, why exactly am I attempting this? I would love to say that it’s merely because I value my long-term health and wellness for its own sake, but as usual, the actual answer isn’t nearly that cut-and-dry or without an ulterior motive. To explain my motivation for improving my nutritional habits, here’s a story (my specialty): it was June 7th, 2013, and I had been in Sandusky, Ohio at the largest anime convention I ever attended, Colossalcon, for two days thus far. For those two days, my body had been sustained by nothing but pizza, microwavable ramen, Steak & Shake, and Monster energy drinks. It was now the second day of the convention and I was having the time of my life; however, it was only when I was walking down the hallway toward an autograph session that I realized my throat felt a bit…odd. It started off as a scratchiness, then gradually got worse until it became painful to speak. A dull ache throughout my body and sudden fatigue accompanied this, so I decided to head back to my hotel room and rest a while; out of caution, my friend’s mother who I had come with checked my temperature. Guess what? I was running a fever of 103! I was only able to enjoy the remaining two days of the event by loading up on Ibuprofen and Vitamin C supplements.

Now, that illness, considering how suddenly it came, could have easily been a simple instance of the “con flu”; it’s been known to happen. However, I’m going back to that same convention THIS WEEK. Am I going to let that same thing happen when it may be completely preventable by simply watching what I eat and taking better care of myself beforehand and during? Of course not. 

Simply put, I’m through with letting sickness and generally feeling physically worse than needed ruin my fun.

“Rabbit food” is definitely more strengthening than it’s perceived to be – it got me through high school, after all.

Of course, shifting my lifestyle like this isn’t only going to help me feel awesome enough to do fun things like my trip this weekend, but also in daily life – especially in school. My family is generally very health-conscious (actually, my mother is health-conscious enough for both of my parents – Dad is an outlier), so back when I was living at home during high school, eating better than the standard American diet was easy. I was used to having nutrient-rich food readily available, and while of course I went on pizza and sugar binges just like any other teenager, my regular eating habits were fairly decent. Once I began living on-campus at LMU, however, that routine was thrown off; suddenly there were many more food options available to me, along with the temptation of eating pizza for dinner literally every night. During this past year, I was lucky enough to avoid putting on the freshman 15 by limiting my visits to the World of Wings café in the student center (amazing food, but all of it fried), eating as many green things in the cafeteria I could get my hands on, and cutting down on my portion sizes when it was clear that lunch that day would have to be something less vegetable-y and more carbohydrates and fat. (Well, it may have helped that I skipped dinner a few times because of awkwardly-timed night classes and rehearsals…10/10 would not recommend.) In addition to eating as well as I could given the circumstances, I tried to walk to class as often as I could, just to get myself moving.

For my fitness goals, see above.

I guess that means I should probably start pairing more frequent exercise along with my healthier diet this summer…those running shoes in my closet have been collecting dust for too long! In the big picture, being healthy is definitely its own reward – and putting in a bit more effort in order to not feel cruddy is worth it to me.

I could definitely use a bit of encouragement going into this – so what are your eating and exercise patterns like? Do you have any goals when it comes to health or fitness? Let me know in the comments, and feel free to follow my blog for more summer updates!

The Power of Unironic Enthusiasm

In my last post, I know I promised to keep you, my amazing readers, up to date on my summer adventures. This is certainly a promise I intend to keep, but those adventures might not be quite what you expect. College students are supposed to find jobs, internships, and be amazingly productive during their summers; that post-graduation résumé isn’t going to build itself, after all, right? If this is indeed the case, then I must confess that I have been a terrible student these first two weeks of summer. Although I have managed to locate a job at my church’s nursery and am talking to a local school system about a short internship, I’m not nearly as excited or invested in these things as I think I should be.

The most important thing I’ve done so far this summer? Get into the Captain America: The Winter Soldier fandom.

Yes, you read that correctly. I am completely obsessed with this movie. I’ve seen it twice in theaters, watched and re-watched every clip of it I can find on the internet, bought and listened to the soundtrack on iTunes multiple times, signed up on Amazon to be notified via email the minute the DVD becomes available for pre-order. I’ve read fanfiction of it, written fanfiction of it, am currently planning a Winter Soldier cosplay, and have already bought quite a bit of its merchandise. I have fallen in love with every aspect of this story (especially its characters), and it’s the absolute BEST feeling in the world!

I honestly can’t think of a more satisfying state of mind than this uncontrollable excitement. Throughout my entire life, I’ve always been happiest when I’ve flung myself into something I love wholeheartedly, when I am literally unable to get it off of my mind because I’m just so pumped about it for whatever reason. Whether it was never missing an episode of Teen Titans and pretending to be Starfire in grade school, my love affair with The Twilight Saga in 8th and 9th grade, reading all of the Harry Potter books in the span of two weeks in anticipation of the final movie, or flinging myself into Marvel headfirst after seeing The Avengers in theaters for the first time, I always remember these experiences incredibly clearly: they were when I felt the most alive. I’m definitely not the only one who shares this sentiment, as evidenced by YA author and YouTube sensation John Green:

“Nerds like us are allowed to be unironically enthusiastic about stuff! We don’t have to be like ‘oh yeah, that purse is okay‘ or like ‘yeah, I liked that band’s early stuff.’ Nerds are allowed to love stuff, like jump-up-and-down-in-the-chair-can’t-control-yourself LOVE it! When people call people ‘nerds’, mostly what they are saying is ‘you like stuff.’ Which is just not a good insult at all, like: ‘you are too enthusiastic about the miracle of human consciousness.'”

I think this perfectly portrays what being a “nerd” is: loving things and getting excited about them with every fiber of your being! Showing enthusiasm (what I like to call “nerding out”) for things that you love isn’t something to be avoided because it might seem “weird” – excitement is infectious! I often find myself feeling happier and uplifted when listening to someone talk about something they’re genuinely enthusiastic about, rather than trying to underplay it: whether it’s a professor who teaches their subject matter like it’s the most marvelous thing in the world or a friend having a mild freak-out over the latest episode of her favorite TV show, most of the time I end up getting excited myself, even if it’s not something I’m into, because I enjoy seeing how happy it makes them. And this goes for anything: whether someone “nerds out” over chemistry, Disney, 19th Century French poetry, teen paranormal romance novels, existentialist philosophy or anything in-between; unbridled love for something not only makes the person happy, but everyone around them who notices, and that’s absolutely beautiful.

It doesn’t stop at simply happiness, however – this kind of jump-up-and-down-in-the-chair-can’t-control-yourself enthusiasm has actually helped me be more productive and effective. In my American Literature class this past semester, I remember literally doing a “fangirl wiggle” at my desk because I was so excited about the prospect of writing a paper about the symbolism of the trickster archetype in American mythology. Guess who got an A on that paper? I’ve written small novel-length fanfictions about video games that I simply couldn’t put down. My love for The Hunger Games trilogy urged me to fling myself into researching what I could do to get involved in social justice causes that dealt with economic inequality. These kind of things are capable of happening on a larger scale as well; The Harry Potter Alliance is an activist organization created by people who loved Harry Potter enough to battle inequality with the book series as its figurehead, and The Foundation to Decrease Worldsuck is a charitable organization built by a community called Nerdfighteria, whose “nerdfighters” (of which I am one!) built the community on a basis of embracing things they love and getting excited about learning new things.

In the end, being uncontrollably enthusiastic about the miracle of human consciousness is what makes the world such an awesome place. It may seem farfetched to say that having a Captain America addiction like my own adds happiness to the world…but every little bit helps!

As you can probably tell, I blog about these types of subjects quite frequently – I’d love it if you want to follow my blog to see more, and of course I look forward to hearing your thoughts in the comments!

Freshman Year: Mission Report!

It’s almost too difficult to wrap my mind around – almost ten months from last August, I’ve successfully completed two semesters of college. In all honesty, I didn’t think that finishing my freshman year would seem like such a big deal to me when it happened, but seeing as how almost nothing went exactly how I expected it to, it suddenly feels like a huge accomplishment that I survived at all! Nevertheless, I’m still here, alive and kicking with my scholarships intact, GPA still in the safe zone, and my sanity only slightly eroded. This year was obviously a completely new experience for me, and I had to spend quite a bit of energy adjusting: some things I feel I dealt with well, while others I could’ve done better. Some experiences were nonstop fun, others lots of hard work, some anxiety-inducing, and some simply heartbreaking – however, I managed to learn from all of them, and I’ll be able to use that knowledge to better handle what comes next!

Here’s a recap of what I managed to pick up in terms of life experiences this year:

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The Tony Stark method of studying: guaranteed to leave you sleep-deprived and your short-term memory overworked!

- Don’t become an expert in thermonuclear astrophysics the night before the test (AKA, study ahead of time!)

I picked up the unfortunate habit of waiting too long to study for exams near the end of my first semester – particularly pertaining to the final exam for my least favorite class, math, when I put off preparing for it until the day before. Whatever I did must have worked, because I got an A; however, it had the unfortunate side effect of making me think this would work every time! The spring semester was full of procrastination when it came to tests, even in classes that I liked. While night-before studying kept working technically (my grades didn’t slip much), it certainly wasn’t much fun, and caused me far more stress than it was worth. When the fall 2014 semester rolls around, I’ll be planning out my study schedule much more carefully and save myself a lot of worrying – and a lot of sleep!

- It’s okay to have awesome friends and spend time with them, and it’s also okay to want to be alone.

I met so many amazing people at LMU, especially in the Honors Program, that I can now call best friends without hesitation. I love them all so much, and we’ve had a ton of fun together over the past year, from sitting around complaining about classwork to going to movies, or just watching each other play video games and talking. Even though we’re pretty close now, they were still new friends near the beginning of the year, and I wanted to spend as much time with them as possible – but I’m not wired to be around people all the time, and now I realize that that’s perfectly fine.  Since moving into a private dorm this past semester, I’ve been able to socialize on my own terms; whenever I want to be with people, I can be, and when I want to spend time by myself or withdraw for a while, I can do that too. As much as I imagined myself being an instant social butterfly when I started college, I don’t have to be all the time.

Me singing “Let It Go” from Frozen at karaoke night in the student center – one of the few events during which I actually did “let it go” during my 2nd semester!

- Don’t get so caught up in acting “grown up”; it’s alright to ask for help and to be a bit unsophisticated!

I remember clearly how I felt when I first began college: at last, I had left the penitentiary of superficial immaturity also known as “high school” behind! I was an adult, and could thus start focusing on serious adult business. I was going to decimate my way through freshman year if it was the last thing I did, all the while being completely responsible, strong, and self-sufficient! Yeah, you guessed it:  didn’t work out so well. I ended up needing tons of practical and emotional support from my parents, friends, and faculty. A legal adult I may be, but for all intents and purposes, I’m still an adolescent, and that isn’t a bad thing – it just means that I still need a few safety nets as I take on more responsibilities. And becoming more “grown up” definitely doesn’t have to mean becoming boring. If anything, letting loose and forgetting about serious adult business to have fun for a while is even more gratifying now than it was in high school!

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Sometimes it helps me to imagine my life as a book when I’m struggling with particularly difficult times – would my readers cheer for my choices or be disappointed?

- If something goes terribly wrong, let it take its course, but don’t be destroyed by it.

Midway into this past semester, I was told that something I had been counting on happening in my academic career wouldn’t be going quite the way I anticipated it to, and in fact wouldn’t be happening at all. I was devastated – furious, frustrated, like I had a rug pulled out from under me with no warning. For a few weeks near the end of the year, I even suspected that my depression might be returning because of it. I had to take a mental health day from class or have a good cry now and then, but I knew I couldn’t let the news destroy me completely, because my time in college was limited and precious and I’d never get this semester back. And so I pressed on the best I could, still disheartened and frustrated but doing what I knew had to be done. It was definitely hard, but I survived – and that’s what counts.

Perhaps overall the most important thing I learned this year? To not compromise myself for anyone or anything, no matter what happens, and to keep moving forward no matter how difficult a situation is or appears to be.

Sophomore year doesn’t start for another few months – I’ll have plenty of time to plan my approach to the coming year during that time. Meanwhile, I’ll be keeping my blog updated with what’s going on in my life this summer, so feel free to follow me to hear more about my adventures!