On the End of the Semester

What a strange phenomenon is this: to wake up one morning and realize that an entire three months and then some have gone by without your slightest recognition.  I trudged hurriedly through a snow-covered sidewalk the other day and remembered how I walked on that same sidewalk in the same manner when it was nearly one hundred degrees over three months ago.  And it seemed as though no time had truly passed at all.  I conclude that this is the very essence of getting old: losing track of time.  

Was it really three months ago that I sat down and stressed over my first blog post, picking out exactly the right words, sculpting the perfect ending, avoiding passive voice and making sure to stretch my vocabulary?  And yet, here I sit, three months later, writing purely from the heart and realizing that I am already three months older than the Sydney that wrote to sound three months older.  

Was it really three months ago that I settled down into a living space with a girl that I hardly knew, worrying over our relationship and praying that we would work out?  I remember those early, shallow conversations or moments of awkward silence and our different friend groups and all that time we wouldn’t spend together.  And yet, here I sit, three months later with a new best friend and realizing that I am already three months into a friendship, the likes of which I haven’t experienced in three years.  

Was it really three months ago that I fumed over the fact that the end of the semester was still three whole months away and complained that time was going so slowly and wished that I could just fast forward to the end and look back on fond memories and successes?  There was much nail-biting and frustration and little sleep and never enough coffee.  And yet, here I sit, three months later wondering how many cups of coffee ago it was the last time that I was content to live in the present and didn’t wish impatiently for whatever future awaited me.  

Was it really three months ago that I was eleven months into a long-distance relationship and hurriedly wished for that twelfth month to arrive at last, just so I could say that I had made it into the “one-year club” and we would be taken seriously?  An entire month went by with that obsessive desire in the back of my mind and I thought of little else.  And yet, here I sit, three months later and that one-year label has proved to be simply a label.  There was no magic in that long-awaited one-year anniversary, and while I am by no means unhappy at fourteen months, I feel as if I’ve wasted the gap from eleven to twelve.  

And so, here, I sit, three months later writing my final blog post.  I expressed my daunting experiences with beginnings three whole months ago.  And now, three months later, I express my astonishment at how quickly I’ve arrived at the end.  

 

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On My Roommate

This may end up being the strangest post I’ve done yet. The idea of utilizing a person in my life as a topic for a rant seems a little obsessive to me, but the more I think about it, the more I realize how great a portion of my life this woman takes up. And who knows? Maybe I’ll go on to discuss other individuals in my life if this one goes well.

Miss Erin Kay Liggett was one of the first people I met at Grace last year. Ironically, it was my roommate at the time who initially introduced us, and, after a small amount of conversation that day, we remained little more than acquaintances for the rest of that year. We hung out in group settings occasionally and I always found her to be sort of intriguing. She was very reserved…not shy or afraid or withdrawn…but the sort of person that didn’t really offer much to hate. She was perfectly likeable and beautifully unique and this little itch in my gut kept telling me that I should get to know her, that we’d get along.

I’ve always found it difficult to be friends with my fellow females. Spare for a few rare exceptions, the only truly close friends I’ve ever had have been guys. Generally speaking, my sarcastic personality and brutal honesty mesh better with guy friends who are willing to throw a few punches and laugh it off than girlfriends who, by nature, tend to hold onto words, serious or not.

This was my basic reasoning for not pursuing a relationship with Erin for several months. But eventually, when the end of the year came, I found myself seeking out a new roommate and the idea occurred to me to ask Erin.

So one day, ever so eloquently, I looked over at her while sitting in the lounge one day and said, “Hey Erin…will you be…my roommate?”.

She said yes!

And so the adventure began. And, while I never doubted our relationship and roommate dynamics, I never planned on her becoming my best friend.  We soon found ourselves bonding over simple things like our love for coffee and tea and artwork and poetry and flowers and scarves and lotions and socks and sweaters and coffee mugs–especially coffee mugs.  From there, it was a simple matter of sharing personal stories that grew deeper and deeper until we, unknowingly, became the dynamic, inseparable duo that told each other everything.

Erin has become that typical girl best friend that I spent most of my life without.  She’s caused me to come to the realization that hanging out with all guys all the time will always leave something to be desired unless you’ve got that one solid girlfriend to tell those things that, no matter how comfortable you are with a guy friend, are simply off limits to an individual of the male species.

And I realize that this is all very sappy and nauseating, but this woman is beautiful and very dear to me and, even with all the crap we’ve been through in just these three months, I can’t imagine sharing an apartment with anyone else.  To infinity and beyond!

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On Coffee

I can’t believe I still haven’t dedicated a blog post to a topic that domineers a huge portion of my life.  The very course and outcome of a day in my life often times comes down to that one crucial piece in my morning routine or its lack thereof: a hot cup of strong coffee, preferably black.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t go for any frothy, non-fat, mocha, cappuccino, with or without whip, with a shot of cinnamon, whatever the heck that crap is.  I don’t consider some steamed milkshake that some grounds may have wandered through to even count as coffee.  Forget about it.  Coffee was made to be deliciously bitter, and those who can’t appreciate an unmasked bitter taste are simply not coffee aficionados.  I swear, the next time someone tells me how much they love coffee while they hold in their hand some sort of vanilla chip java whip skim mocha with caramel whatever, I might just lose it.  My general rule of thumb is that if you’re ordering something that takes more than one breath to utter, it’s not coffee.  

Coffee first entered my life with the transition to junior high school when I was eleven years old.  Suddenly my 7:15 am alarms moved back to 6:00 or earlier and cold Wisconsin mornings became a truly dreary affair.  Coffee was always readily available in a household of two coffee-guzzling parents, and I found that slipping a small amount into some hot chocolate was a great way to improve my mornings.  While my parents and other adults at my church insisted this caffeine would surely “stunt my growth”, I found it to have the opposite effect (since I have now grown to just over 5’10”).  Over the course of a few years, I gradually increased my coffee to chocolate ratio until, at about my sophomore year of high school, I found it bearable to eliminate the hot chocolate altogether, provided there was some amount of flavored creamer in my cup.  From there, I found it difficult to miss even one morning.  Over the course of a few more years, I found that the greatest obstacle that stood between me and my (sweet-tasting) coffee was my non-dairy flavored creamer.  Not only did this add to the cost, but whenever it wasn’t readily available, my cup was ruined.  I no longer found coffee to be worth it.  I also learned that a non-dairy creamer eliminates any health benefits of the antioxidants in coffee.  With all of this combined, I made the leap to black coffee after my freshman year of college.  

People often comment on my love for coffee, calling it a caffeine addiction and that my life is ruled by it.  I choose to explain it another way:

Sober of coffee, I am a very “chill” person.  I am never very visibly happy, nor am I very patient, and my energy and motivation levels remain quite low.  Because of this, people tend to look at me as lonely or unhappy or angry, when that’s simply my decaffeinated demeanor.  

For lack of a better method of explanation, my morning coffee brings my energy level and degree of happiness to the same standard as a “normal person”.  Are the effects caused by a lack of coffee some sort of undesirable withdrawal?  Not at all.  That’s just my personality.  

Now, it’s true that any sort of caffeine could alter my demeanor this way, and I am partial to a certain energizing beverage called Nos, so why has coffee stolen my heart?  I can’t really offer a sufficient answer within the bounds of the English language.  My morning routine often feels like a cartoon: dragging myself out of bed and forcing my feet to trudge onto cold, bathroom floor… it always feels frigid and numb, like an animated character tinted blue with sleepiness and shivering.  A push of a Keurig button later, the warm aroma of coffee starts to brighten the colors of my, formerly monochrome, scenery.  And when the warm mug finally touches my lips and steam rises up to greet my face and I can feel the heat moving down my throat, it’s as if I can see my own color brightening, moving with the coffee down from my head to the soles of my feet.  It’s a beautiful morning ritual, and that’s the best I can explain it.  

One last thought: the issue of yellow teeth.  It’s a common trend for coffee and tea drinkers (of which I am both) to have issues with the discoloration of teeth due to strongly colored liquids.  Miraculously, I’ve never struggled much with this issue and I have one method to share with my fellow coffee lovers that will blow your mind: DO NOT brush your teeth after a cup of coffee.  NEVER DO THAT.  The motions of teeth brushing after coffee will actually grind the remnants into your enamel, which encourages that yellowy color.  Instead, I make sure that I brush my teeth before my morning cup and then RINSE out my mouth with water, which removes both the residue from my teeth and also helps to eliminate coffee breath.  Tada.  

So there it is: a day in the life of a coffee aficionado. I know I’m crazy, but it’s me and my Keurig against the world and we’ve got places to go.  

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On Twenty One Pilots (and the glorious night in which I got to meet them)

I, by no means, claim to be a hipster, but in the past year or so, I’ve developed this great infatuation with a somewhat unheard of band called Twenty One Pilots.  I first heard of them from my, now, boyfriend in one of our first conversations concerning our tastes in music.  They weren’t his style by a long shot but he was from Ohio, which is where the band originated, and had known of them for quite a while.  Based on the information he had acquired concerning my tastes in music, he suggested looking into them.  And I didn’t for about five more months.  But once I finally dove in, I dove in deep, head over heels.  It became an obsession.

I don’t know if I can really describe the style of Twenty One Pilots.  The band is made up of just two members: Tyler, the pianist and vocalist, and Josh, the drummer.  Their music also involves a lot of computer generated melodies and rhythms.  From the outside, their music is downright strange.  The lyrics make little to no sense on a first skim-over, but the beats are  undeniably catchy and, if you listen long enough for them to draw you in, you’re sure to take a deeper look in no time at all.

Word came up early this fall about seeing them in concert here in Grand Rapids in October.  My initial reaction was simply to count myself out–I was never much of a concert person and besides, I couldn’t really spare the money.  But as the day drew nearer, many of my friend group began to pry at my seemingly solid decision.  My reasoning was questioned and torn apart and the last straw fell when one of my, very generous, friends offered to pay for my ticket, insisting that he “supports the cause”.  I was sold.

Thursday, October 24th dawned with a mixture of excitement and dread.  I realized, as I began to dress in my most “hipster” attire, that this would be the first concert I had ever been to that didn’t take place in a church.  I simply didn’t know what to expect.  None of my friends seemed concerned or gave words of warning, so I remained relatively calm, the excitement of a night out and the dreading of loud speakers battling in my mind.

We arrived at the venue nearly five hours before the doors would open, finding ourselves among the first ten people in line.  The frigid October air challenged our patience, but all became well about two hours in when, out of the blue, the first twenty or so people in line were invited inside to listen to the band’s sound check and get some pictures and autographs.  I’ve never had much of a fangirl mentality, but it was simply surreal to see these people in person that, up until this point, had merely been voices emerging from my laptop speakers.  Josh and Tyler made the time to make conversation with each individual they posed for a picture with or gave their autograph to.  They were just genuinely kind, down-to-earth people and I was impressed.

From there it was back out into the cold for a few more hours of waiting.  The line grew long and rowdy.  More and more security guards appeared as time went on.

And finally, we all spilled inside, shoved as far to the front as we could, and prepared ourselves for the night to begin.

At first I was scared–claustrophobia began to set in as I looked back at the enormous sea of people behind me and thought of how I would possibly get out if there was an emergency.  I was surrounded on every side by people I didn’t know and we were all packed in like sardines.  What if I was hurt or trampled?  No one would hear me over the sound of the crowd and the band.  Not to mention, the inescapable smell of marijuana and beer was heavy in the air and many people were visibly intoxicated.  The whole situation caused me great discomfort.

But all my fear subsided very quickly as Twenty One Pilots took the stage.  They were just as genuine and down-to-earth in front of a large crowd.  They were there to play music, and they did so wonderfully.  As for the people around me, I found the crowd atmosphere to be far more enjoyable when I allowed myself to go with the flow instead of fighting the shoving and elbowing to try to keep my spot by my friends.  I found myself, completely sober, letting go of inhibitions. I wasn’t afraid to yell out the lyrics or wave my arms in the air or jump around.  These unfamiliar people pressed up against me on every side didn’t really even bother me anymore.

Twenty One Pilots is not labeled a Christian band by any means.  Tyler and Josh, however, are both Christians and Tyler has recorded an album of beautifully written worship songs with New Albany Church in Ohio previously.  And, as I stated earlier, once examined, their lyrics contain deep themes of humanity’s relationship with God.  This was obviously not grasped by the pot-smoking, half-naked, intoxicated portion of the audience.

They focused on one song throughout the duration of the concert, beginning with a snippet of it, then a reprise in the middle, and very dramatically closed with it at the end.  The song is called “Trees”, which my friends and I have theorized is a sort of story about Adam and Eve and God in the garden of Eden.

I know where you stand
Silent in the trees
And that’s where I am
Silent in the trees
Why won’t you speak
Where I happen to be
Silent in the trees
Standing cowardly

I can feel your breath
I can feel my death
I want to know you
I want to see
I want to say hello

Since those lines are the only words to the, very simple, song, no one but Twenty One Pilots themselves can be certain as to what Trees really signifies.  However, Tyler and Josh continued to emphasize throughout the course of the night, “You all might go home and forget about all of this–” (and, despite the loud, cheering, protests from much of the audience, it was likely most of them were far too intoxicated to remember any of this even if they tried) “–but what does all of this really mean?  What is this all really about?”.  Even if they never truly went out and said it, these little hints persisted with each song and, from an uninhibited, sober, Christian viewpoint, I couldn’t have been happier with the performance of Twenty One Pilots that night.

Deeper Christian meanings or not, one thing I know for sure is that Tyler and Josh are not merely creators of driving beats and “party music”.  The words that they write are poetry–deep and greatly pondered upon.  And even standing alone in a crowd of people who, for the majority, just didn’t get it, I was content with that–just seeing two people in a position of fame who truly get it, who understand a certain depth and meaning to life.  In some silly way, it was as if I and my friends and Tyler and Josh and anyone else in that venue that really “got it” were all sharing together in some secret handshake or speaking together some secret language that only we had deciphered.  Even among a crowd hazed with pot and cigarette smoke and the odor of alcohol, there were those of us who understood and that was enough.

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On Choir (And why I was never meant to be in one)

This semester I have had the wonderful opportunity to sing in a “Headlining Vocal Ensemble”, which turned out to be essentially a chapel choir in which nearly all of my fellow Worship Arts majors and I were placed (except for, of course, the elite few who were deemed talented enough to be in regular-sized worship ensembles).  The idea behind this beautiful learning opportunity was that “each of you are going to have to work with a choir someday!  And this is wonderful practice for you!”, a statement I couldn’t help but disagree with.  I, however, chose to begrudgingly attempt to shut my mouth, and maybe even learn, to the best of my ability despite my poor attitude. 

After weeks of this nonsense, however, I began to find that I had to focus my mind elsewhere just to get through these choir practices twice a week.  So, instead of punching someone next to me in the face, I made a habit of mentally constructing a list of all the reasons that I shouldn’t be in a choir as I suffered through each hour. 

1.  I Work Alone

Selfish as it may sound, I’m not a group singer.  I don’t work well with others when it comes to vocals.  I recognize that this maybe isn’t a very honorable trait, but I’m content with my style of voice, which is not easily blended into a crowd.  It’s like oil and water.  Blech. 

2.  I’m A Perfectionist with No Patience

If you don’t read your music, I will end you.  Plain and simple.  Holding an open music book in front of you will never help you sing the song right if you’re not looking at it.  I know I shouldn’t expect every choir member to know their music perfectly and I know it’s easier for some than others.  I come from a family of musicians and started reading music at six years old, so this sort of work is numbingly dull for me, and may be challenging for others.  What bothers me, though, is the repeated errors in rhythm that nearly everyone makes so frequently that not even the choir director recognizes them as incorrect anymore!  Why?  Because not even the choir director looks at his music. 

3.  I’m Claustrophobic

In fact, I never realized just how claustrophobic until, during a dress rehearsal, I was forced to stand shoulder to shoulder, surrounded on every side by people I wouldn’t even consider acquaintances for over an hour.  By some force of sheer fate, I ended up next to a tenor who deemed it necessary to stomp his foot violently to the beat, causing the whole riser to shake, bringing the whole loud, sweaty, close-knit, shaking situation to the verge of a panic attack.  The director yelled for us to “smile!” and “feel free to raise hands!” or “move around a little!”.  I preferred to look at the, shaking, ground beneath me and sing through gritted teeth (since no one would be able to hear me anyway) and drum my fingers violently until the whole thing would finally be over. 

While this rant may seem condescending or pretentious or selfish or offensive or un-called for, I must admit, I have never felt more out-of-place than among tenors ambitiously yelling their upper range pitches (falsetto…use it) to old, dried-out, vague, overplayed worship songs (and I don’t mean hymns, which, in my opinion, hold the greatest lyrics of all time) that, since everyone is convinced that they already know how they go, contain repeated errors since no one finds any need to follow their music.  People say, “Oh, none of this should matter to you!  It’s worship!  You should enjoy it!”.  If this is in fact worship, shouldn’t we be doing it to the best of our ability as a group instead of over-passionately belting out incorrect pitches and rhythms?  If worship is to be with all of our heart, soul, and mind, shouldn’t there be a little effort or hard work to make a choir sound the best it possibly can?  Down to every half step, 8th rest, diphthong, whatever.  I suppose I wouldn’t mind being stuck in a choir so much if everyone took it as seriously as I, underneath all the cynicism, do. 

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On Long Distance Relationships

If you had asked me a year ago how I felt about long distance relationships, I would have simply told you, “They don’t work”.  That being said, I had just cut off all ties with my high school boyfriend after two unhappy months of separation and was optimistically looking around at all these, very nearby, eligible gentlemen at Grace “Bridal” College.  In truth, the most appealing thing to me about them was simply that they were not hours, but merely seconds, away at any given time. 

And sure enough, merely two months into the semester, I had a new, short-distance relationship and was thoroughly satisfied.  There was so little effort involved when we could see each other virtually every second of every day if we felt like it, separating only for classes and sleep.  Texts were one-word meeting places: “Lounge”, “Breakfast?”, “‘Night”.  No arranging schedules or planning ahead.  No missing each other or wondering what the other was doing.  Carefree and simple–and if I had to pick a time of my life to name “My Golden Days”, that would be the era.  We were infatuated without a care in the world. 

Come November, the possibility arose of Kendall not coming back for the second semester due to limited finances, leaving him five and a half hours away in Ohio.  Of course, then it was just a thought, merely a chance.  Surely things would work themselves out, seeing as Kendall and I both admitted to a hatred of long distance relationships.  We assumed that if we were in fact forced to separate, that our blissful months of “young love” would come to an abrupt end, simply because long distance “doesn’t work”.  And hope for our relationship began to dwindle as finances grew slimmer and jobs didn’t come and the semester came to a close.  

I don’t really even remember our reasoning, but we did somehow decide to give long distance a shot.  Having never been apart for even a full day, the first few weeks, each at our respective homes, were torment.  There was this constant aching of longing as the physical demands of infatuation remained unmet; sometimes even tears came with it.  We FaceTimed often, nearly every night, and any failure to text during the day was a travesty.  The distance between his home in Ohio and mine in Wisconsin had never seemed longer.

The relationship reached its hardest point, however, as I made the transit back to Michigan for the spring semester.  Arriving on campus, seeing all the same faces, except the one that mattered most to me, was one of the most empty feelings I had ever experienced.  I did a lot of sulking and hiding away that semester, realizing that many of my college friends were merely acquaintances without Kendall, who tended to bridge a lot of social gaps for me, an extreme introvert.  It was lonely and miserable, merely holding out for infrequent visits and the distant future where long distance would no longer be a factor. 

But I must admit today, the day before our one-year anniversary, that I am grateful for the 10 months of long distance.  In a relationship originally made up of purely physical infatuation, there is no greater lesson to learn than how to love someone deeper than just “hanging out” all the time.  When these desires for constant contact aren’t met, the couple goes through this, very painful, peeling away of infatuation to reveal a greater purpose underneath.  It becomes not a question of “is this going to work out?” or “are we meant to be?” but rather “how can I greater prove my commitment?” and “what sacrifices can I make to make this work from far away?”.  There must be some greater difficulty outside of the “Golden Days” in order to train a relationship to survive amid the inevitable crises of life.  In my experience, it’s not merely that long distance “doesn’t work”, but that it takes a certain level of strength and perseverance to make it work. 

 

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On “Prisoners”

This past Friday, I had the opportunity to go see a new movie with some of my friends entitled “Prisoners”.  I knew little of the plot or even main concept of the movie, but simply craved some much needed social interaction after a long week of papers and studying, and, since I am by no means a movie critic, I figured there was little chance of me truly disliking the film. The movie proved to be a suspense thriller, about three hours long, and left me entirely amazed, slightly in shock, and a little worn out from the long period of tension.  Though, as I said, I am by no means an enlightened movie critic, I must say that “Prisoners” must be one of the greatest, most thought-provoking movies I have seen in a very long time.

Starring Hugh Jackman as gruff, always-prepared father Keller Dover, his wife Grace, and two children, the movie tells the tale of the kidnapping of Dover’s six year old daughter Anna along with a neighbor girl, Joy, at about the same age.  As the neighboring families visit over a Thanksgiving dinner and wine, the two girls take a walk, unintentionally unsupervised, and never come back.  The two families delve into a state of panicked chaos, knowing only that the two girls disappeared near a “creepy-looking” RV that they had attempted to play on earlier that day.  The description of the vehicle immediately goes to the police and the authorities quickly track down the owner: a certain Alex Jones (Paul Dano), a greasy-haired twenty-something with aviator framed glasses who proves just as “creepy-looking” as his RV.  Teeming with suspicious behavior, Jones is dragged in for questioning, but he proves to be mentally unique, said to posses the IQ of a ten-year-old.  He answers most questions with “no” or “ummmm” and refuses to make eye-contact and, due to lack of evidence, must be released after 48 hours in custody.  Dover, however, becomes enraged upon hearing of Jones’ release and hunts the man down himself, imprisoning him in an old, decrepit apartment building where he proceeds to attempt to beat his daughter’s location out of his captive.  And, when any further beating would surely kill Jones, Dover resorts to water torture, subjecting his prisoner to an either scalding or freezing shower with no escape.  Still no information proceeds from Jones’ mouth.

Dover’s intensity increases as the movie goes on, as he knows full well that the chances of finding Anna greatly decrease with every passing hour.  In desperation, he refuses to recognize any outside possibility, maintaining this insistence that this heartless torture is the only way to ever see his daughter again.  This father, a hoarder of canned goods and gas masks in the conviction of always being prepared in order to protect his family, couldn’t even protect his daughter as she walked down their home street.  As time continues to pass and the circumstances turn bleaker, “Prisoners” asks its audience a clear question: What laws or even morals would you set aside for the sake of your loved ones?  At what circumstances can you consider yourself transcendent to the law?

For me, “Prisoners” confirmed my lack of desire for children, in the realization that I may never be entirely capable of keeping them safe, the primary responsibility of any parent.  It also proved as a challenge of my own ethics as I tried to put myself in the situation of Dover, forced to choose between morality and the well being of a loved one.  The one hundred and eighty minutes I sat in that movie theater multiplied into hours upon hours of intense thought afterward.

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