To Be a Warrior of Light

On September 21st a man named Stephen Critchlow passed away.  He was an actor of several roles, but the one he is most known for among my social circle is being the voice of Count Edmont de Fortemps from the critically acclaimed online RPG, Final Fantasy XIV.

            The basic concept of Final Fantasy XIV—FFXIV for short—is that you are a person blessed by the goddess of Light, Hydaelyn, and are capable of slaying lesser gods, which you do on many occasions in an effort to keep the world balanced.  Because of your immense power and who you represent, you’ve come to be known as the Warrior of Light.  This is what the player base of the game often refers to themselves as, Warriors of Light, often shortened to WoL or WoLs.

            In the wake of Critchlow’s passing, a dozen communities and hundreds of players came together to hold vigils and ceremonies in honor of him in the city where his character lived.  Screenshots and videos spread across social media of lines upon lines of Warriors of Light gathered together, some giving speeches in honor of the late Critchlow, with campfires in place of candles.  “Those of us gathered here are more than knights of House Fortemps,” said player Rishon Stormshadow when giving their eulogy.  “We are wards of the Count, each and every one of us his children in some way.”  Critchlow’s character was special to thousands of players, as he took each Warrior of Light into his home and gave them shelter from the persecution chasing them.

            “Why does this matter?” you might be wondering.  I tell this story to give you a glimpse into the community of FFXIV, in hopes that you can see why it’s so special compared to other gaming communities.  Online games have a long, storied reputation of being toxic environments in one way or another.  I am somewhat of a veteran of online games, having played them since I was a child and continuing to play them today, and I’ve experienced the toxicity of many communities firsthand.  But FFXIV is different.  It’s not devoid of this behavior by any means, especially as players from other online games flock to it in the wake of recent events among other popular MMORPGs (a story for another time) but that behavior is overshadowed by the immense kindness and feeling of community that the Warriors of Light have fostered over the years.  Critchlow’s virtual funeral is not the first of its kind on FFXIV.  In fact, dozens of vigils and funerals have been held in the game for players who have passed.  It’s not just times of mourning that bring the community together, either.  There are a plethora of events and special occasions hosted on FFXIV, from drawing parties to concert performances to actual live plays, the community comes together again and again to celebrate this game and world they love so much, and the people they play it with.  In fact, due to the Covid epidemic, I held my own wedding on FFXIV, with about fifty of my friends in attendance.  I even had a photographer.

            Video games have played an important role in my life, and after seven years of playing Final Fantasy XIV, I can say with complete confidence that the FFXIV community is the best I’ve ever played with.  I’ve laughed, I’ve cried, I’ve shared space with players from this world, and I’ve seen how generous and special they can be.  The Warriors of Light prove time and again how much they love the community they’ve created and the game we play together, and in turn the development team has proven how much they love and listen to the community they’ve made.  Every year the creators of FFXIV hold an official game event expressing their gratitude to the players, something I’ve never seen in any other online game I’ve played.

Oh, and I suppose it’s worth mentioning that Final Fantasy XIV has been called “the best Final Fantasy game in years” several times over by video game journals and players alike and was awarded PC Gamer’s ‘Best Ongoing Game’ award in 2020.  The soundtrack is also phenomenal.  Did I mention you can play the game and first expansion completely for free?

            So, if you find yourself itching to have an adventure, if you want to become part of something grand, if you want a world and story that will capture your heart, perhaps you might consider suiting up and becoming a Warrior of Light.

            May you ever walk in the light of the Crystal.

A person in armor holding a sword

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Kung Fu Panda is a Perfect Kids Movie

Kung Fu Panda is perhaps the biggest bait and switch in cinematic history. You read a title like that, see Jack Black’s name on the poster, hear CeeLo Green sing “Kung Fu Fighting,” and naturally, you just assume that it’s going to be a fat joke-laden waste of an hour and a half that you’ll have to take your kids to, because they won’t shut up about it until you do. But somehow, instead of that, you get some of the most inventive animated action sequences ever put to screen, gorgeous cinematography with an absolutely masterful use of color, and, most importantly, a surprisingly thoughtful and deeply sincere tale of self-acceptance. A story about a fat panda who comes to realize that the only way to grow is not to resist that which you can’t change but to embrace those immutable things that make you who you are.

But plenty of children’s stories tell kids to believe in themselves. Kung Fu Panda does it with an undeniable style and thoughtfulness, but it’s certainly not the only example of the message. No, what makes Kung Fu Panda special is its focus on how parental figures and mentors influence a child’s self-perception to begin with. It does this most effectively through the relationship of Master Shifu and his student: the film’s villain, Tai Lung. For most of the film, Tai Lung is a very typical antagonist. After being trained by Master Shifu his entire life, he wanted the film’s MacGuffin, the Dragon Scroll, said to be the key to limitless power. He was denied it and so went on a rampage to obtain it, being defeated and put in prison for 20 years before escaping. The movie says that he had darkness in his heart, and that’s what drove him to anger and violence and a lust for power. It would have been very easy to leave it at that in a kid’s movie. But during the film’s climax, when Shifu and Tai Lung face each other for the first time in 20 years, we get some more insight into what Tai Lung has been fighting for this whole time.

“All I ever did I did to make you proud! Tell me how proud you are, Shifu! Tell me!” screams Tai Lung as he beats down his former master. The one who raised him as his own child. Told him that he could be the Dragon Warrior, told him that he deserved the Dragon Scroll. Tai Lung never asked for those expectations. He never wanted that purpose. That was thrust upon him by Shifu. “Who filled my head with dreams?” asks Tai Lung. “Who drove me to train until my bones cracked?” And when he was unable to meet those expectations, Shifu turned his back on him. Tai Lung’s rage was not an immutable aspect of his character. The darkness in his heart wasn’t just a part of him that couldn’t be changed. It was put there by the master, the father, who failed him.

It’s one thing to tell kids to believe in themselves. But it’s a whole other thing to tell them that no one else should ever define who they’re meant to be. And that it’s not their fault they were expected to be something they could never be.

And honestly, CeeLo Green’s “Kung Fu Fighting” kind of slaps.

I am approaching an ending.

I am approaching an ending.

I graduate in May in a very different place than when I started at UCO. I was an accounting major when I started attending UCO in the fall of 2016. I was unsure of the path I was following but I felt there were no other options for me. As I continued my studies in accounting, I found I was far more comfortable writing and discussing a topic than using numbers. Which is not a good problem to have as an aspiring accountant. I changed majors to technical writing, hoping it would better fit who I am, and it did. However, I am now looking at the calendar and watching the days countdown to my graduation, and I do not know how to prepare myself for the end.

I have signed up for graduation and will soon complete all the necessary requirements for the end of my scholastic career, but I do not feel ready. Perhaps the pandemic is partially to blame, as every day I think of how I need to prepare myself if I do venture outside. Leaving the safety of my home has become a frightening prospect. But I do not want to be stuck here forever. I want to be free to pursue a life that is not defined by the limitations of what I think I can do. I want to try, succeed, and fail at a life that will put the skills I have learned to the test. But I find myself hesitating and procrastinating on completing certain tasks. What if my skills are not good enough? What if I cannot find a job? What if, at the end of my education, I am simply not enough?

I have been trying to find distractions in my spare time to take my mind off of things: Netflix, books, and video games mostly. Yet as I reach the end of a show, book, or game I find myself unable to finish it. I say, “I just need a break, I’ll come back and finish it later.” But I usually don’t return. Sometimes I will return weeks later, unable to remember what was happening in the story; I’ll get frustrated and put the story back down again, still unfinished. I have structured my life in a very specific way for several years now and I do not know how I need to change to be ready for this period of it to end.

Things are changing. Hopefully, I will soon get a vaccine but that will alleviate only some of my worries. Will I be able to keep up with the friends I have made at UCO, or will we slowly drift apart? That would not be the worst way for things to end, but it is still an ending of something that I greatly valued. What else will I lose at this rapidly-approaching ending? Will I lose the knowledge I have fought so hard to gain? Will I lose everything to the fog of time? The answer is of course, yes. Time will take everything as it moves forward to the ultimate end. But for now, I am here. I will continue to improve my skills, strengthen the ties I have, and gain new knowledge of the world I must move through.

If by some chance I lose everything, I will still approach however many endings I have left. I will remember the kindness I have been shown. I will approach the end of my education with gratitude, and some sorrow, but what is ahead is not something to fear too much. My life and future as a technical writer is one I will continue to work on as I go. The work of improvement is never-ending, but I cannot hesitate any longer. My ending is not near, it is here.

Study Time

I have never been any good at studying. I cram before a test and that’s pretty much as good as it gets, and let me tell you, that’s never good enough. So, I was thinking about my problem and weighing my options, looking for a non-painful solution, when I stumbled upon the book A Mind for Numbers by Dr. Barbara Oakley. It was all about how to actually learn concepts from the start and therefore avoid cramming and forgetting everything you know during a test; I highly recommend it. All of a sudden, I’m feeling motivated to learn again. So, here’s a few helpful tips from me to you in hopes that you get as much out of it as I have.

It turns out the brain has two special modes of thinking: focused mode and diffuse mode. Focus mode is active when someone you vaguely recognize says “hi” to you on the street and you start frantically trying to recall her name. Diffuse mode is active when you’re driving home two hours later and it suddenly hits you, Sarah from the gym! These two modes work together to solve complex problems and can save you a lot of time and effort if you know how to exploit them.

Focus mode is the way of thinking that we are the most used to when we study. We tune out distractions, open the book, and stare at the pages until our mind goes numb. Focus mode primarily uses the prefrontal cortex of your brain, and often fixates on only a small set of possible solutions at a time. But like I said, focus is only half the story. You see, diffuse mode uses your whole brain in the background while you’re thinking of nothing in particular. It takes the last thing you truly focused on and keeps working at the problem, even while you’re asleep. It doesn’t have those same preconceived notions of the answer should be, so it widens its search parameters and looks at the solutions you hadn’t consciously considered. So, when you’re focusing on a really tough problem and the solution just won’t come, stop. Take a walk, take a nap, take a shower. When you let your diffuse mode take over for a while, then come back into focus mode, you’ll be surprised at how quickly the answer comes to you. The key is to focus hard first then chill when it stops being productive.

Here’s the catch. Utilizing this information requires time. If you’ve got no time you can’t take decent breaks and are therefore stuck in focus mode trying desperately to get all of the information into your head, one way or another. That’s a bad thing, don’t do that. Instead try to get started studying well ahead of time. I know, I know, the dreaded “procrastination” trap. I get it, I’m right there with you. So, here’s a little trick I’ve heard about to help you accomplish some tasks in a timely manner.

Pomodoro is the Italian word for tomato. It is also the name of a time management technique invented by Francesco Cirillo, named for the tomato-shaped timer he used. The concept of Pomodoro is incredibly simple. First, set a timer for twenty-five minutes, then focus on one task for that time. Cut out all distractions and don’t stop working until the timer rings. Second, take a five- to ten-minute break after every Pomodoro, and a longer break after every four. That’s it. Do this as many times as you need to accomplish any task that’s weighing on you. You can even separate the Pomodoros out over the course of your day. Just keep getting things done and keep shifting your thinking.

I hope this helps my fellow struggling students. Good luck.

Of Worker Ants

Everybody talks about introverts finally having their heyday, their never-ending winter solstice, their uh. . . Eurovision grand finale? I mean, who could forget the original villains, the absolute anomalies who learned to stay at home and like it.  Kings and Queens to a sanctimonious board that is eagerly dull and missing pieces—drama-less. Who cares, they say, it’s house rules.

But so am I.

I’m having a moment,

Too.

Melancholy of covid Monday, covid Tuesday, and covid Wednesday. Cobwebbed calendars and clockwork zoom calls—where you slightly straighten your glasses, just barely unruffle your hair and swap out your old concert t-shirt that has stains from last night’s one-note hot pocket.

Remember when you used to go to those? Concerts, not the pockets.

Mourn music over next habitual dinner—microwaved Pizza Hut™ boneless wings. From that one night you got a coupon in the mail. Damn most exciting thing that happened all week.

Everybody is trying so hard to be that one functional adult in a room full of dysfunction. Take off your masks, you happy few. I can’t help but smile at being accidentally understood by everybody else, seeing them feel the way I do every day.

            Pressed up against the wall of disinterest.

                        Snooze buttons that know better than to ask.

It really takes a pandemic for people to realize that you’re not just lazy. You’re not lazy at all. I’d like to slap everybody who has helped create this wireframe of semantics that helps affirm the idea that people choose to do nothing—be nothing.

I do things. Sometimes.

And when I do, it’s this miasma of creation—this abrupt and unexpected musical number with out-of-tune horns and full-body jazz—not just the hands. That wave you’ve never attempted to ride, not because you’re scared, but because you’ve never seen it.

 The high of a Disney channel teen in her first relationship, wriggling around the house accomplishing nothing—but doing everything. Baking shitty half-raw, half-burnt peanut butter cookies, calling all the tertiary friends in the book, and dancing with all the fluidity of that useless body you get in dreams—jello limbs stuck in cascading mud and all.

Like when uncle Greg set off all the new years fireworks at once.

I love the bittersweet, double-edged mania to my quintessential being, and for those in good company, it’s the hardest thing to describe. How flimsy your psyche can be.  

But do we talk about the lows? Being that little finch that falls asleep when put in a tiny box—the purgatory of calm. Or being locked behind comically thin prison bars with gaps plenty large enough to squeeze through, but frozen disconnected body preventing you from doing so.

Plug me back in. Or don’t.

So, until they cure the inequities of the moon that overstays its welcome and lazy, unmotivated sun—I’ll continue to love the thrill of a good due date. The focus and uncertainty of panic that creates quality.

It’d be much easier to say I like being busy, but I’m not an easy cog in the system. I squeal and protest. Lock up the operation. I need to be into it. I’ll swallow all the pleasant blue pills in the world until then. Until I get that one liquid ounce of insurrection that tells me “maybe no.”

I’m the guy who’s a slave to the machine and okay with it until I’m not, the guy who will miss all mandatory meetings until I feel the drive of scarlet iron pressed against my side, searing the familiar smell of pork and unmistakable letters of GO. I much prefer the storm before the storm, and finally feel in good company, with others knowing my familiar pleasure and pain.

“There and Back Again”: Finding Hope in the Midst of Mordor

Every December, I hole up in my room and pop Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy (extended edition, of course) into my DVD player. I’ve never been one for tradition—why should my past self dictate what I do now? But for some reason, this is one I keep coming back to.

I didn’t grow up on Lord of the Rings or even Star Wars, as my parents are decidedly not-nerds who would rather watch M*A*S*H or Everybody Loves Raymond. It took until high school for me to decide to fill in the gaps of my pop culture education, and being the elitist that I was, I of course read the books first.

It took over a year, maybe two. I laughed with Bombadil, I triumphed with Eowyn, I fell in love with Sam. And due to my sixteen years of wisdom, as I approached the climax of The Return of the King, I knew someone was going to die. That’s the way all epic fantasy works, right? Someone always dies in the final battle: one last tragic sacrifice to haunt our heroes as the rest of the world rejoices in its salvation.

And yet, Sauron fell. His armies perished. Sam and Frodo and the rest of the Fellowship’s remainder survived.

Interesting, I thought, not realizing how important that conclusion would become to me.

According to canon, Bilbo Baggins published what we call The Hobbit as There and Back Again. That phrase is arguably the main theme of the series—no matter how bleak the journey gets, you will return, so don’t lose hope. This mantra has propelled me through many a Mordor of my own, from struggles with mental illness to dealing with toxic relationships and more.

Two years ago, I had the good fortune of kneeling before J.R.R. Tolkien’s grave and telling him this myself. The site was strewn with gifts from other visitors—coins, flowers, even a book in a sealed plastic bag. It’s sad that so many people resonate with Frodo’s story, but it’s almost comforting, too: none of us trek through Mordor alone.

I don’t have much time for reading anymore, but whenever I spiral into the days of winter-induced depression, I pop in my DVDs and turn once more to the story of hope. May you, too, come back again.

How Dirty Is Too Dirty?

Content Warning: abuse, sexual assault, pedophilia mention, homophobia

No, really, though. 

How dirty is too dirty when you’re washing your and other’s laundry in public? What? Y’all don’t wash your ex’s laundry??? Weird. 

For the northerners here, or just those who weren’t raised by my mother and have zero clue as to what I’m referencing, “Don’t wash your dirty laundry in public” was one of the many, many conditions of my 90’s-evangelical-southern-belle upbringing. And yes, it was just as awful as it sounds. 

Now, when you’re a snotty-nosed kid, whose strongest grievances are not being allowed to immediately inhale the donuts you see at Walmart, or not being able to go more than a couple days without being subjected to a bath, or your parents absolutely insisting that you cannot wear the same superhero costume every single day for a month without washing it, this “washing dirty laundry in public” business is inconsequential. However, when you begin to formulate your own opinions, identity, discernment, and dare to start flexing your new-found agency, this phrase becomes a little more important, or in my case, absolutely ridiculous and restrictive. Furthermore, when you deign to become a writer, one who is heavily influenced by your lived experiences and confident in your now, say, 30-year-old agency, you might find yourself writing a blog posing a potentially scandalizing question:

How dirty is too dirty?

To cut to the chase, because I know your whole day’s worth of happiness is waiting with bated breath to hear my opinion, I believe even the dirtiest pair of drawers deserve some air time. Throw ‘em out in the wind with abandon. Get the stink off ‘em. Cue the entire matrilineage of my family clutching their pearls.

Now, I’m not saying go to the nearest corner and start hocking off stories that aren’t yours (i.e., stories that don’t involve you) at the top of your lungs like a newspaper boy hard up for cash and straight out of Newsies, but if your lived experiences are influenced by someone else’s choices, regardless of their cleanliness, you have my full support (with gusto!) to air out those bad boys.

What about R-E-S-P-E-C-T? What if your family or your 16th ex sees and gets mad??

Here’s the thing—honestly writing about your life is not disrespectful, regardless of whether or not that writing depicts someone in an unflattering light or not. They chose a path in life, one that hypothetically affected someone else, and sometimes the consequences of those choices are reflected in someone else’s healing or processing of said effects. It is absolutely acceptable to use this tactic of healing, whether it be from trauma or a break-up. Not only is it acceptable, it’s effective! If the person in question happens to see the fruits of your labor and doesn’t like it? Tough. That is not your problem. Someone else’s response to your truth is none of your business. Their feelings are theirs to reconcile. I realize for some this may seem harsh, and it’s okay not to agree. I’m here for the writers who want to write their life’s story, whether it be through poetry, memoir, creative nonfiction, etc., and are reticent to do so because of unnecessary guilt or antiquated ideas of politeness. 

I spent much of my youth walking on eggshells for others, because I was taught to be seen and not heard; taught that my feelings and my body were not as pertinent as others’, especially my perceived superiors. As a human inhabiting the earth with other, regular humans, how does that make sense? Ding ding ding! It doesn’t. This indoctrination did nothing but stunt my growth and healing as an individual. In the spirit of full transparency, take a big whiff of some of my life’s rank laundry:

  • I am a gay, feminist woman whose mother believes my “lifestyle” will send me to hell. (My mother is the rank one here, not my gay, feminist wiles of being a woman.)
  • Family members of mine have actually relied on the “pray the gay away” method. (It has not been effective, but I guess there’s still time.)
  • I have not talked to my mother in about a year and we haven’t had a great relationship for most of my life. (You get a cookie if you can guess just one reason why.)
  • I have endured several physically, mentally, and emotionally abusive relationships; some romantic, some platonic, and some familial.
  • I am a sexual assault survivor.
  • One of my step-fathers (yes, emphasis on the “s.” There have been several!) is a pedophile.
  • A number of my family members are racists and homophobes.

The list could go on, but I think it’s fairly rancid in here now. Each of these truths has played a part in who I am today. They have challenged me and broken me down and I have used them to forge myself from the rubble. That is my origin story to write, regardless of how those involved feel about it. As someone that does not align with those bulleted beliefs and behaviors, I feel it is my duty—to myself, my loved ones, and for the betterment of society—to use my experiences in speaking against them. How beautiful it is to survive through an unexpected and absolutely sewage-ridden existence and live to tell the tale of my rebirth. How fulfilling it is that my decisions to wring out my dirty laundry for others to gawk and gasp at empowers others to embolden themselves, or serves as validation for other survivors that they aren’t alone, that they can thrive. I hope you, too, are able to experience the beauty of scrubbing and dunking your laundry in suds and sunlight and laying it all out on the line to shine once you’re finished. It sure smells good from here.

I’ve Abandoned My Girl

I’ve abandoned my friends and I feel like a piece of garbage. What did they do to deserve such harsh treatment? Nothing! They asked about my day, were always there for me no matter what time it was, would bring me gifts, and would tell me happy birthday right when I woke up on that special day. And I just… left them. I worked so hard to build these friendships with these people, and one day I just turned my back and walked away from it all. I didn’t hear what they were talking about today because I didn’t engage them, to begin with. Everyone came to my birthday, but I didn’t return the gesture and missed out on many others. 

I haven’t heard what shows my once-best friend has been watching, or what magazines they’ve read, or what fashion was considered “in style”… 

Hell, I haven’t kept track of turnip stock prices in forever.

When the pandemic first hit in March of 2020, I don’t think many people really took it seriously. It was mostly seen as just time off of school and work, an extra week of spring break to party, get mad drunk, or in my case, fly off to an island and build it up as my own in Animal Crossing: New Horizons. It truly came out at the perfect time, and with all this sudden free time on my hands as professors tried to figure out how to properly convert their teachings from in-person class to online, I spent way too many hours just trying to build a Very Original™ bamboo forest. Some professors did better than others, and once I got the email that one of my professors was changing the final essay from “Everything you’ve learned from the course’s readings” to “How Covid has affected you,” my first thought was sweet, I can spend more time with Angus for his birthday now.

When the reality of just how dangerous Covid is started to settle over people (well, rational people, but I digress) and things started to shut down, these little pixelated animals became more like comfort characters than mindless entertainment. Humans need to socialize, and suddenly that socialization was limited, so as a safer option I’d just talk to this old man-wolf who called me Youngin‘. I spent more time on my little character’s appearance than my own since I didn’t and couldn’t go anywhere. I woke up early in real life just so I could wake up in the game at the same time. I worked through all the errands and goals I had set out for myself that day since I barely had anything to do in real life. I even had—still have, actually—a planner app on my phone that helped me keep track of the following: 

  • who visited my island daily
  • if I picked up the message in the bottle already 
  • if I got the money tree or not, the list went on. 

I was taking better care of my in-game character than of myself. And it was so fun.

This cycle continued as Covid continued to spread. My classes stayed online, my employer stayed in business even though we were closed to the public for months, and slowly I was able to work myself into a schedule that allowed me to take care of both the little me and the real me. My island was built just how I liked it. I loved all the villagers I had living with me and Redd hadn’t visited in weeks (that scamming clown).

Then the fall hit, and classes were still mostly online with UCO giving the option to go in-person as long as you wore a mask. I complied easily with this, but I live with someone who has a weak immune system, and after going to in-person classes for one day, I emailed my teachers to let them know I’d be continuing online for the safety of my family. I’ve done fully online semesters before the pandemic hit, so the only thing that was new to me were the Zoom calls, but after doing that I was able to easily get back into the swing of classes. I work at a museum, and soon that opened up to the public as well. I was becoming busy again, and naturally I focused more on my real-life duties instead of what I needed to do to appease Tom Nook (before he came for my knees for the debt I still hadn’t paid off).

It’s officially been a year since New Horizons released and months since I opened up the game to see all the little animals I called my family. I hope they’re not mad at me, especially Flo—she was my ride-or-die girl. This was my escape from reality as I was stuck in quarantine, and I haven’t visited that escape in so long. I think I should pay them a little visit, as thanks for all they’ve done to help me out in such a hard time.

Small Habits That Decrease Stress

There is a whirlpool of self-care tips and tricks that consume the internet. Facial toners. Body toners. Hair masks. DIY foot scrubs. Bath bombs. Year-long gym contracts. Masterclasses. And what do all of these have in common? They a) take too much time, b) try to sell you something, or c) they do nothing for your being.

Self-care is probably the most simple, and yet most difficult, thing we can do. As college students, we can’t afford to spend huge amounts on product. We’re either working for food or working on homework. There’s not time to become the ultimate philosophical gym-buff ideal that keeps popping up in ads everywhere. 

The secret here is that self-care doesn’t require toned abs or a new book every week. It doesn’t require hours and hours of time, nor does it have to be intense. A whole day, once a week, could even be too much. Self-care requires small, consistent amounts of intentional time that exercise three areas of wellness: physical, mental, and emotional. Let’s take a look at reasonable ways to apply these to our everyday lives.

Physical: The Foundation

Do Not Click Out. This is not a sermon on how we should all aim to be runners with toned arms and the ability to do five hundred push-ups. I describe physical health as the foundation because this is the vessel in which we are forced to reside and function in. If we want to succeed in any area, we need to keep the machine running smoothly. To do that, we give it maintenance when necessary.

Does that mean we go to the gym for three hours a day? No. Do we go to the gym three times a week? Nope. Do we go to the gym at all? No, not if you don’t want to.

You can get those exercise-derived endorphins from home, without breaking a sweat or spending a buck. There’s this magical area of exercise called Pilates, which only calls for your body and a chunk of clear space on your floor. As someone with very little extra time in my day (and severe anemia) I spend maybe thirty to forty-five minutes doing Pilates, but you don’t even need to spend that long.

Find twenty minutes to spare, and start with two sets of fifteen. Do leg circles, leg raises, butt bridges, and crunches. For arms, I mix in some yoga—I “walk the dog” for the length of my favorite two songs. Then I roll my shoulders, stretch it out, and call it a day. No lifting, no sweating, very little soreness. The goal is to work out the tension in your body from a long day of being on zoom, sitting at a desk, or standing stiffly at your minimum-wage job (you keep promising yourself that you’re going to quit). 

Food: The Fuel

Again, this is not a sermon on buying everything organic and cooking at home. (That is, of course, ideal, but what lucky soul has time for that?) Food isn’t the enemy. Fast-food isn’t the enemy. The amount of food isn’t even the enemy. The enemy is the kind of food we choose.

I had many semesters where I woke up at 5:00AM to go to work, where I chased a room full of toddlers and sang the alphabet for six hours straight. Then I went to class and workshops that lasted well into the afternoon. Meal prepping is great, but when you’re always working on deadlines and trying to get enough sleep, it’s not always feasible.

The compromise? Order clean fast-food. Instead of fried nuggets, go for the grilled sandwich or the jumbo salad. You can order two or three and I will still applaud you. Calorie count is a tragedy on physical and mental health—focus on what you eat, not how much. Our goal in eating well is not losing weight but avoiding inflammation.

Here’s where I get on my soap-box. I have IBD (Inflammatory Bowel Disease). If I eat anything that I have a sensitivity to, I end up in pain. It also causes me great anxiety. Doctors often refer to the gut as the Second Brain! Your neurons exchange information with the gut more than any other place in your body. The biggest problem with greasy food, in my opinion, is the effect on your mental and emotional health. If your gut is in distress, so is the rest of you.

This hypersensitivity forces me to eat in accordance with my body. While most people don’t have the same consequences physically, they do mentally. The first question a good psychologist will ask you about is your eating and exercise habits. A healthy body won’t cure anxiety or depression, but it can give you the foundation to fight it.

Intellectual Gum: Something to Chew On

It’s incredibly comforting to know that intelligence is linked to stress. You can’t overthink unless you’re a thinker. Between classes and customers and our dwindling bank accounts, there’s plenty to become hyper-focused on and fuel our fear and insecurities. But what if, instead of using our spare time on fruitless worry, we find healthy distractions?

When trying to curb a panic attack, or plain boredom, I turn on a podcast. I let it play in the car or in the background while I’m tidying up my workspace (which is another lovely thing to do for yourself). Pick a topic that is different from your field of study—we don’t want to encourage burnout. My recommendations are Planet Money, Dear Hank and John, or The Anthropocene Review, for their thoughtful, witty, and personal commentary. Having a productive, yet pressure-free, place to put our mental energy keeps burnout and boredom at bay. It can also be a supplement for social interaction, if you have an isolating schedule or are social distancing. And like I said, I play this stuff in the background. There’s no need to make time for it; you simply incorporate it into already-existing habits.

Rest: Please!

Perhaps the nicest thing we can do for our brains is to turn them off for a while. Allow yourself one to two episodes of your favorite show that you can watch mindlessly, and then turn off screens at least thirty minutes before it’s time to lay down. If you have insomnia, try out some yoga or Pilates, but stay away from tech and avoid doing any work.

The only thing that I would recommend making time for is sleep. Budget at least eight hours a night, even if you lay there awake and limp for the first hour. There will always be exceptions and last-minute assignments and parties, but as a habit, avoid the grind. Moderation will always beat mania in the long run. Sleep is not for the weak; it’s to help you survive the week.

Editors: We Contain Multitudes

It was exhilarating to receive my first copy of the New Plains Review. I’ll never forget what it felt like to flip through its pages and share my work with my friends and family… and that might sound a little odd. My work. Of course, I didn’t write the stories or create the art features. I didn’t even get to decide the font we used. That said, I had spent the last sixteen weeks diligently revising every single story, blurb, and byline in that issue. No one outside of the editing room knew about the knock-down drag-out debates that we had over misplaced commas, but for the first time in my college career, I had physical proof of what I “do” for a living. Unlike the stories and anecdotes that I had picked up from the various odd jobs I had held up to that point, the journal in my hand was something I could pull out at a moment’s notice to answer every concerned aunt, uncle, or family friend who wanted to know what I planned to do with a BA in English.

Needless to say, when I then began to work with digital publications, it felt somewhat “empty” to know that I would never get to physically hold the manuscripts I slaved over. Sometimes, these projects didn’t even end in a book or journal. Instead, I found myself writing email templates for business communication, calls for submissions, or onboarding material for my future coworkers. I thought this would be boring. These documents weren’t résumé material. They were filler designed to get us from point A to point B. That said, I began to see them the same way I looked back on those editing sessions with the New Plains Review. I wasn’t just editing the journal; I was helping to create a framework that extended past me. My documents were being used by graphic design artists, social media managers, and even university faculty members. As I seemingly sank into the background, I was rapidly entering the larger realm of technical writing.

Now, as we continue to explore what the working world looks like amidst a pandemic, I find myself appreciating these digitally born documents more and more. While nothing quite mimics the act of physically marking up a draft, that style of editing is becoming increasingly impractical. Even the process of keeping up with thumb drives feels tedious now. These days, it doesn’t matter if my fellow editors are a block away or in another city entirely; we are working together on documents seamlessly. File hosting platforms that I previously took for granted have now become crucial to my daily tasks. In fact, I have not one, not two, but four of them pinned to my taskbar right this second.

It took me several years to see that being an editor meant so much more than simply revising manuscripts. As a freshman, I had seen the endless lists of titles like “copyeditor,” “line editor,” and “content editor” and assumed that these each represented a unique editing faction—one of which I would have to commit the rest of my career to. Now, as a grad student, I see how these skill sets intertwine, not only with each other but with the jobs and tasks surrounding the publishing process. It seems that one day I’m a research assistant and the next, a website administrator, and yet my paystubs still credit me only as an editor. I may not have a bookshelf lined with every document I have created and/or revised, but that doesn’t rob my work of any validity. If anything, it has encouraged me to support other digital publications in kind. These massive digital archives allow users to instantly follow literary and academic rabbit holes that previously took years to develop, and people like me are making these connections happen. And that’s what’s most important: the community is still here, whether we physically print or not. It has never been a better time to be “the man behind the curtain,” even if you’re the only one who can really see the extent of it.