advice blog

How to Recreate the Princess Diaries Painting

This is Mia Thermopolis:

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In 2001, during a casual visit from her grandma, she learned she was the heir to the throne of Genovia. Some things happened, Mia got a makeover and made her grandma try a hot dog, and then she made out with her best friend’s brother at a royal ball.

Amidst all these intense life changes, Mia and her mom did one of the greatest art projects of all time, and this past weekend, my friends and I aimed to recreate it.

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First order of business, we needed a location. Unlike Mia and her mother, I, like many others, don’t live in an old firehouse, meaning I don’t have a corner of said firehouse to drape drop cloths over and start going to town. Also, I’m pretty sure “dart painting” isn’t covered in any sort of renter’s insurance. So, I turned to my parents who not only support my crazy ideas, but also tend to have a few of their own, and they were gracious enough to offer up their backyard. My dad set up two EZ-up shades, hung three tarps, and lay one big patch of canvas on the ground, giving us shelter from the sun and the yard shelter from collateral paint splatter.

Speaking of paint, how the hell do you get paint in balloons? 

We tried a few different techniques, with varying levels of success, but all in all this was the best:

Next was the issue of hanging the canvas. In the movie, Mia and her mom have a huge canvas propped up against an easel. But when I first looked into this project, I almost immediately nixed the idea of doing the piece to size. I was thinking more a series of smaller, wrapped canvases. If you’ve ever worked with wrapped canvas, however, you’ll know that it’s relatively thin. So if we were to simply prop it up on an easel and throw darts at it, we would almost certainly end up with a ripped canvas and a dart in the sliding glass door, neither of which I was interested in.

In my research to combat this, I read a few different suggestions including cardboard and styrofoam backings, and while I’m sure they are completely viable options, I think the real key here is to have a machinist father. After getting wind of this project, my dad’s mind went to work creating and calculating a simple setup. Long story short, it ain’t that simple. Well, it is but more in the way that fractions are simple when you see your teacher do them in class and you assume you can just go home and do them no problem. Or, in this case, when you suggest that wood might be a good backer for the canvas and then your dad casually creates a six foot high apparatus with perfectly sized wood cutouts and detachable tabs to lock your canvas in place.

Note: the following picture was taken after we’d done a few rounds, but please just take a second to appreciate mastermind dad-stermind of this thing: 

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I realize I’m a terrible DIY-er because I don’t have a tutorial on how to make this wood apparatus, but I feel like the only way to truly explain how this was done would be to give you my dad’s brain and I just don’t feel like diving into the black market at this point. Apologies.

Besides I’m sure there are a lot of different ways this can be done, and I encourage you to pursue any and all of them because once you get the setup out of the way, LIFE. GETS. EXCITING.

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I swear to you, after you throw your first dart, every problem besides hitting a balloon with that dart immediately melts away.  My friends and I were standing out there in the 90 degree heat, literally dripping sweat and probably teetering on dehydration, but nothing and I mean NOTHING was going to stop us from popping those damn balloons. And it never got boring. With every successful hit, we cheered just as long and loud as if it were the first. It was essentially two straight hours of this:

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As an added bonus, after doing a few canvases we noticed that the splash zone on the ground below provided it’s own template of sorts. So every time we hung a new canvas on the wall, we also placed one on the floor to collect some residual splatter, which gave us pieces like these:

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Overall, we probably made about 12 different pieces (my dad found a really good deal on canvases here) which allowed everyone to take home their favorite. On the last piece, we had a few stubborn balloons that none of us could seem to hit, so we teamed up and fired at will.

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I would recommend this project to anyone and everyone. It’s the perfect way to feel 12 years old again, except this time you get to drink beer and listen to music with the occasional explicit lyric and aren’t crippled by the awkwardness of puberty. It’s a win win win win.

If I were to sum this up DIY-blogger style, I’d give you this list of ingredients:

  • canvases (we used 16×20)
  • water balloons
  • push pins
  • any kind of paint (we used acrylic & satin)
  • water bottles with spouts (see above video)
  • a dad-stermind wood apparatus or acceptable equivalent
  • beer or an acceptably refreshing equivalent
  • a good group of people
  • patience
  • good music

Then I’d leave you with this last image of a few of our masterpieces to stir up a healthy combination of jealousy and inspiration inside you:

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But seeing as I’m not really known for my DIY blogging, I’m instead going to close with this picture, which is the aftermath of my sister hitting a sizable balloon dead-on and turning around to show us a near perfect square of paint that shot out and landed on her lip. I think it better captures the theme of the whole day which was quite simply: anything is a canvas. By the end of our day, alongside our 12 canvases, we’d also painted the detachable wooden tabs, we’d marveled at the colors on the drop cloths, and we’d laughed at the paint all over our hands and feet. Throughout the project, everything had become art, including us, and I walked away feeling inspired to create more. I encourage you to do the same, be it with water balloons full of paint or anything else you can get your hands, eyes, or feet on. Just get out there and get dirty! …with inspiration! …you know what I mean.

Snacks to Pack for a Road Trip

So I’ve been talking to a lot of different friends recently, and they’ve been telling me about all of the exciting trips they have coming up in the summer months. And while I’m jealous, and the tiniest bit bitter, I’m also genuinely excited for them, and would love to help out on arguably the most important part of any trip: snacks.

You see, my sister and I just recently went on a long road trip, and in order to survive it, it was vital that I excelled in snack shopping. The way I saw it, we were going to be spending most of our time in the car, and often wouldn’t have a grocery store cookie/cracker/chip aisle at our beck and call, so we needed to more or less turn our backseat into a mobile Am/Pm.

It was also important to note the snack ratio. We figured there was no way around eating junk food. And since we’d be out on the road, almost completely devoid of human contact, we should have at least some of our favorite comfort snacks on hand, if only to be reminded of a time when the world around us was more than just dirt, cows and random building-ish structures that almost certainly contained a dead body (or 10). However, as much as we would have liked to deny it, we knew there would undoubtedly come a time when our bodies would want something else. Like fruit, or vegetables, or something that isn’t made out of grease and dentist tears.

Thus we have the ratio.

While shopping for our trip, I tried my best to find a balance of delicious and healthy (and the rare combo of both), so as to keep my sister and I both alive and satisfied—at least until we could find a Subway or a Chipotle.

These are the snacks I packed for us:
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Overall, it ended up being a pretty good combination. We finished everything except the carrots and the craisins, and never got into any hangry screaming matches that included insults like “next time you hand me a carrot I’m Thelma & Louise-ing this bitch” or “I’d rather eat that dead possum we just saw on the side of the road than look at you again,” so I’d chalk that up to a win.

To you and all my friends heading out on trips this summer, I wish you good luck, great memories & happy snacking!

My 100th “No”

Being a writer, I am constantly submitting posts, short stories and even the occasional poem in the hopes of getting published. And being an insanely organized writer, I keep track of everything I submit in a spreadsheet. When I submit something, I’ll update the spreadsheet with a new entry including the date, the place I submitted it to, the approximate window of response time, and the reply (yes or no). I also have a formula set up in the “yes or no” column to tally up each answer. (Yes, I’m a nerd)

As of yesterday, I just received my 100th “no.” And while I realize this isn’t something I should necessarily announce, let alone celebrate, I can’t help but feel a little proud. You see, a while back I was listening to a motivational speaker, and they encouraged the audience to “fail hard.” They said that if you throw yourself into challenges, try your absolute hardest, and then end up failing, you’re doing something right. Naturally, this struck me as odd. How can I be doing something right if I’m failing? My competitive brain just didn’t understand this. You either win or lose and it’s always better to win.

But failing isn’t always losing, they explained. Failing is more often the act of crossing off a path that doesn’t lead to success. And with that in mind, it’s crucial to fail as hard as we can, so we don’t waste time wondering if there was something more we could have done, or if there was one more turn we could have made that could have wrapped us around to the right path. If we are failing hard, it means we are trying hard. It means we are leaving no doubts behind and thus leaving no reason to go down that path again. By failing hard we are slowly succeeding.

Amongst my 100 no’s, I’ve also received 14 yes’s. Fourteen. Meaning my ratio here is 14/114, making my rate of success 12%. Last time I checked, no one is proud of a 12%. But alas, I am! Because I know that 88% failure is what has given me that 12% success.

A couple weeks ago a mentor at church was telling me about an article she read that emphasized how important it is for us to receive the “discipline of failure.” When she mentioned the phrase, I audibly gasped. I understood it instantly, because it’s exactly what I’ve been doing for the last three years. My failures (my no’s), all 100 of them, have made me a better writer. They are the reason I work so hard to receive those yes’s. So even though this “milestone” might seem like something to be ashamed of, it actually makes me extremely proud. I’m proud of myself for failing so hard, and I promise to continue failing for the rest of my life. It’s the only way I’ll ever be able to succeed.

Give Up Your Guilty Pleasures

When I was in high school, I spent a lot of time running around like a chicken with my head cut off. I wanted to be liked and accepted and I thought the only way to achieve that was to like and accept the “right” things. Be it the clothes I should wear, the movies I should like, the music I should listen to. I had no idea who I was, so I hoped everyone else would tell me.

But even as I started to learn the game, I was still well aware I was cheating. I didn’t wear everything I was supposed to wear, and even when I did, I wore it a bit differently. I didn’t like all the movies I was supposed to like, and I listened to a lot of music that lay far outside the lines which were drawn. Everybody has those quirks though. Those little secrets we keep from the masses. We call them guilty pleasures.

Like most teenagers, I lived off of guilty pleasures. After a long day of playing the game, I’d come home, relieved I could finally relax. My family didn’t care what I wore or what I liked, they loved me regardless. And although it took me sometime, I grew to learn than anyone worth having in your life would hold the same opinion. As a result, guilty pleasures began to lose value.

A few years ago, I heard a quote from Foo Fighters’ front man Dave Grohl:

“I don’t believe in guilty pleasures. If you f*cking like something, like it. That’s what’s wrong with our generation: that residual punk rock guilt, like, “You’re not supposed to like that. That’s not f*cking cool.” Don’t f*cking think it’s not cool to like Britney Spears’ “Toxic.” It is cool to like Britney Spears’ “Toxic”! Why the f*ck not? F*ck you! That’s who I am, damn it! That whole guilty pleasure thing is full of f*cking shit.”

Sure, it featured a few more f-bombs than the average life lesson, but it sunk in all the same. When we give into the game of guilty pleasures, we essentially admit to being ashamed of a part of ourselves. In doing so, we prevent ourselves from ever truly becoming ourselves. And to quote Dave Grohl, that’s not f*cking cool.

So I say ditch the guilty pleasures. Like what you like, without shame. It’s what makes you who are. And the world needs who you are. It’s what keeps it interesting.

The Dog & the Fire Hydrant

While doing some research on clichés for my Valentine’s Day post a while back, I came across one that didn’t quite sit right with me:

Sometimes you’re the dog; sometimes you’re the fire hydrant.

It’s not that I didn’t get it, I just thought it left so little to the imagination. When I Googled it to see where it came from, I found this article that tried to offer some context by comparing it to Mark Knopfler’s song, “The Bug”:

Sometimes you’re the windshield
Sometimes you’re the bug
Sometimes it all comes together
Sometimes you’re just a fool in love
Sometimes you’re the Louisville Slugger
Sometimes you’re the ball
Sometimes it all comes together
Sometimes your gonna lose it all

Listen, I get it, they’re just clichés. And trust me, I love clichés. I love that they offer a creative way to say something ordinary. Plus, in knowing my grandpa, my dad, and now my brother, I hear them all the time. But this one…it just doesn’t do it for me. It makes us all sound so two-dimensional. As if we’re only ever going to be the dog or the fire hydrant; the bug or the windshield; the bat or the ball, when the truth is, we have the potential to be an infinite number of things in between. In fact, it’s that healthy blend of the in-between that makes life so colorful.

So I say strive to be more than the obvious. Don’t box yourself into the possibilities that seem most plausible. Check “maybe” instead of “yes” or “no.” Be grey instead of black or white. Be the fire truck instead of the dog or the hydrant. Be the windshield wiper instead of the bug or the window. Be the pitcher instead of the bat or the ball. Have it all together, lose some of it, and then find more than you thought you ever could. Don’t be this or that, be you.

A Lesson in Courage from the Real Moana

My sister and I recently got around to seeing Disney’s Moana and, long story short, we’re obsessed. And while I could go on and on about pretty much every second of every minute of the entire film, quoting my favorite parts, gushing about my favorite characters and belting out every verse of my favorites songs, I can pretty much sum them up with this gif:

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After watching Moana for the first time, I went through my normal routine of stalking everyone (actors, directors, etc.) associated with the film. I like to get an idea of where they came from and the other work they’ve done, so I can feel a strange sense of emotional pride for people I’ve never met. “You’ve come so far!” I tell them. “I’m so proud of you!”

I like to believe that in some way they receive this message with a passing sensation of happiness, but I’m well aware that I’m probably just forming one-sided attachments to strangers. Oh well.

Amongst my findings on the Moana crew: Auli’i Cravalho, a.k.a the voice of Moana herself.

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Some basic info on Auli’i for you (compliments of Wikipedia):

  • She was born in Kohala, Hawaii (which is the northern tip of the big island)
  • She is of Chinese, Irish, Native Hawaiian, Portuguese, and Puerto Rican descent.

Some less basic, more impressive info for you:

  • She’s currently sixteen, but nabbed the roll of Moana at the age of fourteen
  • She recently performed destroyed at the Oscars

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And finally, the piece of information that got me writing to you today:

  • She was the very last girl to audition on the very last day of casting.

In an interview with People, Auli’i said she almost didn’t audition because of all the amazing submissions she’d seen on YouTube, but was encouraged by an Oahu casting agent to change her mind. And so, she did. She auditioned in the very last slot on the very last day.

Recap on what happened next:

  • She got the part
  • She made her acting debut
  • She became immortalized as a Disney princess
  • The film got nominated for a long list of awards including two Oscars (Best Animated Feature Film & Best Original Song “How Far I’ll Go”)
  • She performed “How Far I’ll Go” at the Oscars

So you know that old saying, “it’s worth a shot”?

It really is.

So keep taking those shots. You never know where they might take you.

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(Figuratively) Cheesy Gift Ideas for Valentines Day

Growing up, my parents were never big on celebrating Valentines Day, which, in turn, rubbed off on me. I get the hype however, the grand gestures and big confessions and all that. I understand the courage that comes alongside enormous teddy bears and cheesy balloons. But I also understand my parents’ theory, and I whole-heartedly believe that you should always make an effort to show people that you love them, and it doesn’t have to be on a specific day of the year, in a fancy restaurant, sweating, and wondering how you’re going to afford anything you order.

That being said, if you are someone who loves celebrating Valentines Day, or someone who is in a relationship with someone who loves celebrating Valentines Day, making you a participant by default, here are some gift ideas. The way I see it, every gift can be made better with cheese. Not physical, edible cheese (though I don’t see how that could make any gift worse), more the emotional, “awwwww” type of cheese. The metaphorical mozzarella, if you will. So, I’ve come up with 4 gift ideas full of cheese, in case you’re in an inspirational pinch.

Disclaimer: As stated before, these are cheesy and cliché and more than a little dumb. But, if executed correctly, on a party that loves and cares about you, they should undoubtedly receive an eye roll, an attempted glare, and then a damnit-I-can’t-help-it-I-love-you smile. (The best kind.)

 

1) The Apple

You know the old phrase, “You are the apple of my eye”? (I told you we were getting cliché.) Well, that’s where we’re going with this one.

What you will need:

  • 2 apples*
  • 2 bows

Execution: After applying the bows, hold the apples behind your back as you approach your loved one. When they become confused enough to say, “what do you have behind your back?” reveal the apples, place them in front of your eyes and proclaim the cliché in all its glory.

For added effect: Do it on one knee. This will spark an initial, “wtf are you doing right now?!” Making your actual gift a healthy combination of relief and the eye roll + glare + damnit-I-can’t-help-it-I-love-you (DICHILY, pronounced ditch-illy) smile sandwich.

*You have two options when it comes to the apples: real or fake. Real ones will provide each of you with a tasty snack post-gift, and fake ones will instantly be immortalized as cheesy, yet helplessly adored paper weights/relationship trinkets. Your call on that one.

 

2) The Gesture

What you’ll need:

  • A card, preferably homemade
  • A good stretch, probably.

Execution: First, you need to make the card, as its contents are crucial. Don’t get too crazy over it being perfect. Just find a nice piece of cardstock and fold it in half. Now, on the front, write, “I’d bend over backwards to make you smile…” and on the inside, write, “Literally.” Now, stretch those legs, and those arms, and that back, breathe in and out a few times, and then deliver the card to your loved one. When they read the front, take another deep breath. Then, as they open it, say a small prayer and all at once Simone Biles yourself into a full on backwards swan dive/possibly injury induced back flop (depending on your flexibility). It’s the effort that counts.

 

3) The Substitute

Sometimes things get crazy, be it work, school, or any number of other uncontrollable factors, and you are unable to have that special night with your loved one. Fear not, there is a cliché for that.

What you’ll need:

  • A cake (store bought or homemade, your choice)
  • Readable penmanship (or that which you can purchase)

Execution: Depending on the time you have available to you, either make or buy a cake and have it iced with a very specific message. One that will let the person know they deserve it all: “You can have it & eat it too.”

For added effect: Add some Seuss mozzarella (a rare brand): “You can have it & eat it too, see you soon, I love you.” (Apologies to the lactose intolerant community, even I felt the after effects of that one.)

 

4) The Big Move

If you happen to be one of those people who are hoping to use this Valentine’s Day to pop the question, this one’s for you.

What you’ll need:

  • A sample of turf
  • A diamond ring

Execution: When the moment is right, get down on one knee and reach into your pocket, where you’ve stored the turf sample, and present it to your loved one on a flat palm. This will probably confuse them, but don’t fret. Now reach into your other pocket, where you’ve stored the ring, and place it atop the turf sample. This will probably make them go back to their initial plan: crying, though the confusion will still linger in their eyes, which is where the big line comes in: “You are a diamond in the rough,” followed by an array of personal anecdotes that can be concluded with the ultimate question.

For added effect: Ensure your significant other will understand a good golf pun. Or, as an alternative: just watch Aladdin the day before and explain the whole turf thing later.

 

However, whenever and if-ever you celebrate it, I wish you a Happy Valentines Day. May the DICHILY smiles run strong.

How to Feel Gorgeous

One of my favorite albums of 2016 was X Ambassadors’ VHS 2.0. I had been a fan of “Renegades” when it was released as a single in 2015, but didn’t hear the full album until its re-release in June the following year.

My favorite song off the record is “Gorgeous.” Not only because it is impossible not to dance to, but also because its lyrics are extremely positive.

The chorus is as follows:

You’re so gorgeous
‘Cause you make me feel gorgeous
Oh, so gorgeous
‘Cause you make me feel gorgeous
 

Now, this is probably one of those songs that can be understood in a number of different ways, but for me, it’s simple: be kind.

Have you ever noticed how hard it is to fully convince yourself you are beautiful?

Have you ever taken the time to notice the magic in making someone else feel beautiful?

Have you ever realized how much more beautiful you feel after making someone else feel beautiful?

To me, this is what this song is about. The lead singer is amazed at the girl’s ability to make anyone around her feel gorgeous, and in turn notices how gorgeous she is as well.

With all the beauty standards going around these days, I think it’s important to note the unique beauty found in raw kindness. For unlike clothes, makeup, or shoes, which highlight a specific area of an individual, kindness showcases the entire person. It radiates out of them, benefiting anyone around to see it.

So if you’re ever struggling to find beauty in yourself, turn to kindness. Make someone else feel gorgeous, and watch as it reflects back onto you.

How to Use these Emojis

This past December Apple released some revitalized, and some brand new emojis, many of which may have left you scratching your head. 

What context would I even use this in?

Enter me, stage right.

I’m here, I have advice, let’s get to it. Here’s how to use these 10 emojis:

“Female/Male Sleuth”

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This one can be used in a few different ways:

  1. If you have some gossip but don’t know where the friend on the receiving end might be or if they are ready/able to participate in such gossip, so you use this to warn them to prepare themselves.
  2. If your friend says, “I met someone online and they seem great!” but you are thoroughly convinced they’re probably a murderer and you’re not about to be an aiding and abetting bystander.
  3. If you are in charge of deciding “what are we doing tonight?!” and you already know what you want to do, but are sure that saying so outright will result in rejection and/or endless deliberation, so you send this to pretend you’re thinking about it.

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“Woman/Man Juggling”

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Use this when a day is throwing an unfathomable amount of (figurative, not literal) balls at you and you can no longer juggle them, so you’re essentially just standing there, letting them hit you, and completely going insane. This will alert the receiving party to have the necessary recovery snacks and/or alcohol in place when you get home.

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“Woman/Man Astronaut”

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Use this when you’re feeling so completely anti-social that you might as well be in space. This will prevent you from having to hand out “maybe’s” or “we’ll see’s” when it comes to potential plans, as it will act as a hard “no”, but in the nicest way possible.

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“Woman/Man Singer”

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Use this to warn your roommates you have it in your plans to come home, get drunk, and blast a guilty pleasure album. They can either take this as an invitation to join or a reason to be out of the house for the evening.

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“Woman/Man Farmer”

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Use this to let your family and friends know that you are an incredibly functional, mature adult because, against all odds, you’re still managing to keep your houseplant alive.

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“Speaker High Volume”

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Use this as a warning for someone who isn’t responding to you, letting them know they only have a little while longer before you start alerting authorities they might be dead in a ditch somewhere.

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“Roasted Sweet Potato”

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Use this to let your roommates know you’re at the grocery store and it’s going to be a while because all you had left was half of a sweet potato wrapped in foil that you felt kind of unsafe eating.

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“Dragon Face”

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Use this after you were nothing short of a jerk to someone and you don’t have a good reason why, so you want to apologize, but also blame it on something, so you blame your inner dragon.

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“Unicorn Face”

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Use this when you’ve just seen the hottest person in the entire world, but while you didn’t talk to them, you’ve already planned your future together.

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“Deciduous Tree”

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Use this in place of the overused b1923d25f9b3a9e78692230f1935b976, as a peace offering or a sign off, because trees are beautiful and relaxing and inspiring and you wish all those feelings on the person you’re talking to.

Good luck and happy emoji-ing!

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Dotting My I’s Like Valerie

My handwriting is garbage. There’s no two ways about it. It’s this weird cursive/printing hybrid that generally only makes sense to me. Honestly, if I had a nickel for every time someone said “what does this say?” I wouldn’t be on such a tight budget.

When I was middle school, I sat next to this girl named Valerie in English. She had long black hair that was always in a braid and I thought she was the most hilarious person in the school. She also had incredible handwriting. We’re talking perfectly spaced, perfectly dotted I’s and perfectly crossed t’s, and her margin awareness was off the charts. As a result, Valerie constantly received compliments, especially from our teacher, which, even though I understood why, I couldn’t shake the jealousy.

Looking back at it now, it makes total sense. I had no idea who I really was, or that going through all middle school entails would make the quest to find that out 100 times harder, so what I did should not come as much of a surprise: I copied Valerie’s handwriting.

Completely.

I mean every curve, every space, every shape of every letter. My hand became her hand and I was ecstatic. That is…until my teacher sat me down and accused me of plagiarizing and/or making Valerie do my homework for me, immediately causing me to break down and cry.

“OF COURSE NOT,” I cried desperately to my teacher, and while she believed me (both out of necessity because I was snot crying on one of her desks, and because I took out a pen and physically showed her how I’d began mimicking Valerie’s handwriting) she still shook her head.

“Why would you want to do that? Your own handwriting is lovely,” she said.

Granted, this was clearly a lie, my handwriting has never been and never will be lovely, but regardless, the lesson stuck with me.

Over the years, I’ve thought of it many times as I’ve struggled with accepting the way I do things compared to how others do them, be it doing my makeup, styling my hair, laughing or writing a blog. Because even though my way might not seem as incredible or admired as others, it’s the way I know, and the way people can recognize me, the real me, and when I look at it that way, I suppose it is lovely.