Shadowverse and The Benefit of Losing

Recently, I was introduced and goaded into playing a mobile game called Shadowverse by a close friend of mine. I had heard about it for weeks – a fantasy-themed card game of sorts, where the player builds decks of cards in order to defeat other’s decks of cards in a sort of card battle.

Despite my friend’s enthusiasm over the game, it never seemed like the sort of thing I’d enjoy. I’ve never really been a big fan of card games of Shadowverse’s ilk for one main reason – I hate losing. It’s not really a pride thing… well, okay, it is. What I mean is, it’s not that I want to prove myself as the best in everything, it’s that I can’t stand being bad at anything. I’m usually okay with being average or passable at something, it’s just that the problem with games like Shadowverse is that there’s often a huge learning curve.

Starting out in a game without knowing anything often means you have to play against people who do know what they’re doing in order to learn, and I hate doing that. Maybe it’s being a “gifted and talented” kid my whole life, but I have a major vendetta against seeming ignorant in any situation, even little games. It’s the reason why I usually dislike learning new card or board games with people who play them a lot – it makes me feel stupid.

So I entered Shadowverse with a lot of hesitance. For a long while, I refused to play online against other people. I made lots of jokes to my friend about how terrible I was at the game with the purpose of making it known to everyone that at the very least I was not ignorant of my ineptitude. And let me tell you, this method of playing the game was not at all successful. The little missions in the game more or less required you to play against other people if you wanted any sort of rewards.

So what did I do? Well… I hesitantly dipped my toe into the pool of competition. I played some online matches, lost a ton, and then drew back into my single-player safety for a while. Eventually, little by little, I managed to convince myself that it was okay to lose. It also helped that I had the support of my friend. (At one point, he even literally built a deck for me – and his strategy of making one became the skeleton for all of the decks I made moving forward.)

And you know what? Eventually, I became halfway decent at the game. I lost a lot. A lot. There was a solid three or four days where I did nothing but lose. But eventually I made my way over the metaphorical hump into mediocrity and the game, honestly, became fun. And you know what? A lot of times, it was the losses that led to the most delightful moments of brilliance. Getting pummeled into the ground by someone else’s deck always gave me tips for improving my own deck.

But anyway, I say all this not just to talk about a niche mobile game I’ve eventually become halfway decent at, nor to encourage anyone to play it (though, like, it’s actually really well-made with lovely art and really surprisingly impressive voice acting, so, if you’re into that, do check it out.) What I mean to say is, losing is often a good thing.

That’s not to say it’s an easy thing, because it’s obviously not. It can be annoying to devastatingly heartbreaking. But I’ve come to find, this year especially, that losing can also bring out the best in ourselves.

This year has been a year of new for me. I graduated high school, got my driver’s license, and got my first actual job. College is hanging over my head like an anvil, and I’m doing my best to prepare for it to fall. Even in my personal life I’ve had to adapt to changes. I’m not the same person I was January first of this year and I think, ultimately, despite the successes, a lot of the positive change has been found in accepting the things in my life that aren’t so nice.

The end of high school was a death slog. Driving still gives me anxiety. My job combines my anxiety over driving with my anxiety over being bad at new things. College is going to uproot all of the relationships I’ve so carefully built over the years, and I’m scared of having to regrow them. It has been a year of loss. I have lost the person and the life I used to have.

Okay, dramatic, I know, but in a way it’s true. And yet… you know what? I’m doing okay. I’ve adapted to the new freedom and the new responsibility and I bet I’ll adapt to college too. And if my prior losses have taught me anything, I’ll come out the other end better for it. And that doesn’t mean it won’t be scary or bad.

If Shadowverse taught me anything, you have to deal with the losses before you can start winning.

Who Knows, Really?

I begin typing this post after finishing my one and only final (Web Design, the one final I couldn’t skip… yeah, I’m salty about it too). It’s quiet right now, and all I can hear are the sounds of people typing the final essay question. This class was first period on blue days – a dull slog of a class, saved only by the fact that the subject matter is interesting and allows me to stretch my creative muscles.

Currently, I’m not sure if I’m allowed to be doing anything that doesn’t directly connect to the final. If my teacher notices me typing on WordPress, I will explain that I have already submitted my final so there’s no way I’m cheating, but who knows? I still have a little less than an hour to go in this finals period, and I would rather be working on this blog post than sitting here staring at an empty screen. For today, I’ll ask forgiveness rather than permission.

After this, I’ll walk outside in the spitting rain to the library parking lot, where the red Mustang convertible my grandma gifted me before moving to Vegas is parked. I didn’t do the best parking job, so I’m somewhat concerned it’ll be difficult to pull out again. It’s hard not to worry about this fact, as driving tends to stir up my anxiety something fierce. It’ll probably be fine, as it’s been a while since I royally screwed up pulling out of a parking spot, but then again, who knows?

These are the thoughts travelling through my mind during my last period of high school, ever. After today, I won’t be returning to this school in the same way again. I’ve already cleaned out my locker. Last night, I sent emails to all of my favorite teachers thanking them. In my closet, there’s a plastic bag with a cap and a gold stole. Hanging in the doorway of the guest room is my gown – Carmel blue, the same color mom wanted her car to be so she could decorate it for marching competitions.

This is it. After this, there’s nothing else. There’s graduation, I guess, and senior night, but neither of those things capture the daily feeling of being a student at Carmel High School.

I can pass by the newspaper room one more time, maybe even step inside, but it won’t carry the same low, constant level of stress. I won’t ever again sit at those frustratingly complicated apple computers and work on a spread design. Never again will I comment on how stuffy it gets when you pack a newspaper room full of stressed editors as the time ticks ever closer to their deadline.

I’ll probably walk over to the band hall before I leave one last time. It’s a little out of my way, but it seems only right for the hallway outside the band room, the one I’ve made my second home. I’ve spent hours there, sitting against the wall. We’ve accidentally spilled tea on that floor so many times. We’ve eaten meals, shared jokes, slept, colored, studied, listened to music, read… lived there. I’m not concerned that after my class leaves this hallway will be bare. I imagine there will be band kids making that hall their living room for years to come, possibly until the end of time, who knows? But I won’t be one of those band kids anymore.

Of course, the real hub of it all is the band room. It’s probably mostly empty now – the calm before the storm. In a week or so, it’ll be filled again with hundreds of marching band members during their first week of band camp. I can’t say I’m sad that I won’t be taking part, but I doubt I’ll be feeling the same way once November rolls around, and I watch someone else take the field at Grand National Finals. Some of them will know how it feels to stand on that field while your name is called first place. Some of them will remember the tears, the hugs, the listless wandering around the field while the other bands cleared off. Some of them took part in that somewhat tragic encore at one in the morning, standing in arcs, trying to remember how the music they practiced for hours and hours went.

However, the number of these people is decreasing, and will continue to decrease in the years to come. Maybe it’ll happen again, the winning, the tears, the awards, but who knows? Regardless, it won’t be the same for them as it is for me, and ones who remember it like I do will eventually step off the field and onto the stands, just as I’ll do this year.

I leave Carmel High School forever changed. Mostly for the better, but honestly, who knows? I’ve met and gotten to know so many people who have molded me into the person I am. I’ve started writing poetry, and this blog. I’ve discovered things about myself I didn’t know before. It hasn’t been all good, don’t get me wrong. There have been heartbreaks and frustrations and stress and stress and stress and stress… but the result has been overall positive. I’m more open, more adventurous, more sure of myself than I used to be.

Without this school, this blog probably wouldn’t exist. (But, say it with me, who knows?) I do know it required a lot more confidence and self-understanding than I had the summer before my freshman year. And knowing all that, it’s strange to leave it all behind. I feel like an alien in the place that has been so central to my life for four years.

There’s about ten minutes left in this final period now. I hadn’t really expected to finish this all up in one go. It’s probably kind of meandering… I’ll definitely give it a second look before I publish it on Sunday. I’m thinking the header image should be one of the probably hundreds of graduation photos that will be taken Thursday evening. I’m hoping it’ll be me and my friends smiling and laughing, everything the same as it always is except for the blue robes, but who knows?

Who knows? I didn’t know going into this post I would finish. I didn’t know going into the library parking lot that I would find a spot, and I still don’t know if I’m going to be able to pull out of it without hitting anyone. My teacher hasn’t mentioned anything about me clearly not working on the final anymore, but who knows if she’s docking my grade as we speak?

Who knows where I’ll be in another four years? I certainly didn’t know, four years ago, that I’d be sitting in Web Design typing out a blog post, prepared to drive myself back home in an admittedly really sweet car on the last ever day of high school. So who knows, really?

I hope you’re all as interested as I am to find out.

Taking the Poetry Plunge

When I started first semester of this year, I did so with an incredible excitement for one particular class. I had saved my Creative Writing class for this year, my senior year, a reward for having accomplished four years of hard work.

I looked avidly forward to talking about my most favorite thing in the world on an every-other-day basis. I know it sounds like the most stereotypically nerdy thing in the world, but the idea of getting graded on creative writing, my special talent, was incredibly appealing. I’d get to spend an hour and a half of every other school day doing the thing I love most in the world! What could be better than that?

Well… actually, there was just one tiny thing.

See, the course description talked about how I would be writing short stories (great), memoirs (great), and scripts (interesting and new), but I always froze around the last topic.

Poetry.

Like all young writers, I had tried my hand at poetry in the past, but it always felt clunky. Wrong. I could never express what I thought in the rigid meter and rhyme I associated with poetry. I dreaded having to bend my ideas around what words I could force to rhyme with each other. And while I was aware that non-rhyming poetry existed, I could never figure out the difference between that and excessively flowery prose. And anyway, prose has always just flowed more easily from me, more naturally.

And yet, and yet… when the poetry unit of class started, I found a surprising amount of freedom. Yes, there is structure and definite patterns to rhythm and rhyme, but there’s a method to the madness, to use a cliche. Even for the most strict forms of poetry, like sonnets, the structure made sense as I worked with it.

Well into my second semester I find myself returning to poetry often. I write poems almost daily. I have an entire full memo of poetry on my phone, and I recently had to start up a second, plus a smattering of word documents on my laptop filled with my musings. The class was only for one semester, yet the unit we spent on poetry has stuck with me for months afterward. Where I once hated writing poetry with a firey passion, I now consider it another method of relaxation.

Where did that change of heart come from?

Well, honestly, an epiphany.

See, for our final project in the poetry unit, we were tasked to create a book of poetry unified by one theme. Looking at all the poetry I had written over the course of our lessons, I realized very quickly that all of my favorite poems had been written for people. Not always the sort of things I would want to proudly present to them, but nonetheless written with specific people in mind. Thoughts for them that were hard to express, or ugly, or embarrassing, or conflicted.

When something was on my mind about anything, it was easy to sit down and pen a poem about it. It not only helped to clarify my thoughts and, later, talk honestly with the people the poetry concerned, it ultimately became a pretty good topic for my poetry book. Titled “Me and Everyone I Know” and filled with crude Adobe Illustrator drawings (I was still learning at the time), it became one of my most favorite projects in what became one of my most favorite units.

I often like to joke and say all of my poems are flowery subtweets, but honestly they really are. Poetry is a weirdly satisfying form of venting, of getting out the sometimes complicated thoughts in my mind. It’s a way of taking things that might be difficult to think about and lays them out in black and white. It allows me to focus on difficult things without obsessing, because I can always worry instead about the language choices and metaphors instead of the real life problems And, I don’t know, there’s something awfully romantic about feverishly scribbling a poem down based on what’s on your mind (even if it’s in the memos of my cellphone instead of, say, a worn leather notebook or something like that.)

Plus, poetry is, as a rule, kind of secretive. Sometimes there’s just stuff you want to be able to talk about, to be able to yell about, but that stuff isn’t the sort of stuff that can be said aloud. Poetry is great for that. It lends itself to vagueness, to deep symbols and metaphors and trying to find the most roundabout way of presenting an idea possible.

So I guess what I’m saying is, give things a try. They can surprise you. Even rigid rhythm and rhyme can be freeing for you if you give it the chance to be. I mean, I’m a great example of how a point of view can be changed once you give something a go. A few months ago I hated poetry, and now I’ve taken on a personal challenge to write one new poem every day for the month of April… and who knows, after I finish, I might post all 30 here!

…maybe.

 All Our “Secrets”

Whenever we have an English class on a Friday, my teacher, Mrs. Jansen, does what we like to call “secrets”. Every student gets a chance to write down an anonymous secret onto a slip of paper, which goes into a large tub. Afterwards, everyone who contributed a secret draws one out of the container and reads it aloud to the class. These secrets can be funny or serious. Sometimes they’re about the class itself, or about school, or about life.

While a small handful of people opt not to participate in this biweekly activity, most of us do. I mean, what’s the harm? After all, we’re all protected by a sort of unspoken moral code. To belittle or criticize the person who put in the secret would be immediately condemned by the rest of the class. To confess who actually put in the secret is besides the point of the activity, regardless of how innocuous that secret might be. The anonymity of the whole affair is a huge part of the fun of it. The feeling of hearing a juicy secret and realizing that anyone around you could have put it in is what makes it all exciting.

But the shallow excitement of gossip is nothing compared to the almost therapeutic effect it has on me (and I assume) all of our class. As we go through each secret, we turn the secrets into discussions. We voice our support, our concerns, our advice, for each person who confesses something on a slip of paper.

To unrequited lovers hoping to work up the courage to confess, we offer encouragement. To those stressed, we offer our own tips and stories about our own stressors. To those left heartbroken by rejection, we offer sympathy. To the confused, guidance. To the funny stories, laughter. And even to those with problems too difficult to address, too outside of our realms of experience to advise, we snap our fingers and let them know that they are heard.

I’ve put in all manner of secrets, both silly and not-so-silly. I am, not really on purpose, kind of a wealth of closely kept thoughts and worries. As much as I know I have a strong support system of people who care about me and want to help me… they shouldn’t have to always hear the things I worry about. Sometimes there’s nothing they can do. Sometimes those worries are about them. Sometimes they’re too hard to say aloud.

But for those sorts of things, there’s a white slip of paper on my desk at the end of Friday IB English class. There’s a classroom of people who don’t know who I am but still care about what I’m going through.

These aren’t really scary or dangerous secrets, don’t worry. But they’re embarrassing sometimes, or hard to explain, or don’t align with the way I want to present myself. Sometimes they’re things I’ve told close friends already, but never aloud. There’s a real benefit to hearing your own thoughts echoed aloud, and having others acknowledge and comment on them.

I, for very obvious reasons, don’t want to get too specific about any of the secrets I’ve confessed in this activity, but I will say that one of my more recent ones garnered maybe one of the most positive responses I have ever received. To be vague, it was the story of the disappointing result of a very uncharacteristically huge social risk I took.  I was expecting a few finger snaps of sympathy, but instead Mrs. Jansen told us she was proud of the writer of the secret for being mature about their disappointment, and lots of other classmates agreed that it was an admirable response to a difficult situation.

And I… almost seriously burst into tears. I didn’t, thankfully, but it was incredible to hear a classroom of completely unbiased people validate the, for lack of a better term, sucky situation I had found myself in.

No one solved my problems, of course. They didn’t have to. But what they did was provide me feedback to a difficult decision I had made without being influenced by their knowledge of me or of my situation. And that, I think, is the beauty of the “secrets” activity.

(And just as a small note, the situation I’m talking about has since more or less resolved itself into a far more positive thing, lest you all begin worrying about me.)

I don’t think I’m alone in saying that trusting the feedback of others is difficult. Contrary to what a lot of millennial thinkpieces like to claim, having a childhood of “everyone’s a winner” is not only not really the truth, it also doesn’t really make you feel entitled, it makes you skeptical of every piece of praise you receive. I’ve been told I’m smart and skilled and in the right and just overall good so many times that it’s hard to believe any of those things. I mean, all throughout elementary school I was in a class of kids who were smart and skilled and in the right and just overall good.

Taking a compliment from someone at face-value is pretty rare. Most of the time I brush them off as a result of having friends and family who love me and want to make me happy, or as a result of somebody mistakenly thinking I’m more put-together than I am.

But with the secrets… I get guidance and suggestion without the fear of having things sugarcoated.

Plus, and this is kind of an important thing too, it’s nice to know you’re not alone in even the most embarrassing of things. The negative things in my life are not the sort of thing I want to wear on my chest like Superman’s S, but being able to quietly let them out and see people in the same situation is really helpful.

And that, I think, is the beauty of “secrets”. The anonymity that comes with it is a safety blanket, a place to confess hard truths without fear of getting hurt. There’s a lot of value in that.

 

On Beauty and Self-Love

When I was in elementary and middle school, I understood the people of the world as belonging to two categories. Those who have the capability to be physically beautiful and those who do not.

I considered myself a member of the latter group, and it was with this idea I brushed aside any possibility for insecurity based on my appearance. When I was younger I never spared a second thought to the clothes I wore or the way I did my hair because I assumed any effort in either department was a lost cause. I simply lacked the potential that half of the population had, I decided, and there was no point worrying about it.

And then, in seventh grade, I decided on a whim to cut off about five inches of my hair. It was a split second decision, but one I have never regretted. For the first time I looked into the mirror and liked what I saw. Around the same time my older cousin gifted a lot of her outgrown clothes to me, and I found myself actually enjoying the process of mixing and matching wardrobe pieces.

Still, something nagged at my mind. The fact that I was beginning to find joy in my appearance bothered me. I still held fast to the idea that beauty wasn’t possible for me, so taking interest in it felt shallow and vapid and ultimately pointless. Who was I even trying to impress? It was with these newly shorn locks, mismatched clothes, and confusing thoughts that I entered high school.

My Freshman year of high school was a major disaster in a lot of ways, but in hindsight, a lot of what occurred in that year was vitally important to the person I am today. Along with the many trying emotional experiences, it was this year that I began to solve my beauty conundrum as well. The solution came from a friend, Marie Hamilton, who to this day rightfully claims responsibility for teaching me the wonders of makeup but just as rightfully deserves responsibility for teaching me how to take pride in my appearance.

Marie was the sort of person I would categorize as being in the former group of people, but it was only after befriending her that I discovered that this came from her love of the process of fashion and style, not some sort of genetic predisposition. Her genuine love of doing her hair in crazy styles or digging through Goodwill for unique fashion or attaching tape to her face to get the perfect winged eyeliner inspired me to try some of these things for myself. (Yes, even the tape thing. No, I don’t recommend it.)

I found that I loved it too. Suddenly, weekends were for trying out fun new outfits and eyeshadow palettes became treasured possessions. And through the time I spent trying to achieve personal beauty, I started learning how to love myself. I already loved the things I did and the people I did it with, but I also began to love me too. Even without makeup and pretty clothes, it was through experimentation with my own appearance that I realized that the way I understood the world was wrong. If I was capable of liking the way I looked, then everyone had the capacity for beauty.

This isn’t to say that fashion and makeup is the only route to beauty. I’ve found it to be only one possible method. What it really comes down to is knowing yourself. Learning what makes you feel confident and happy is what beauty is, even if that thing is a certain hairstyle or a comfortable hoodie or a full face of makeup. Everyone deserves to love themselves in all avenues. Yes, they should love the things they do, but they should also love the way they look. I think there’s a major difference between this and vanity, which comes, I guess, in intention.

The issue comes when society both demands physical perfection and shames those who try their best to achieve it. There’s no way to win in that situation, so honestly I think the best thing to do is to do what you like. If you put on your makeup every morning because you want to do it, then there’s no problem at all.

And yes, I know that lots of people put makeup on not to appease society but rather to appease themselves. I’ve met a lot of people who consider themselves ugly and hate going out without hours of prep time before. But I don’t think that’s always the case, and it’s no reason to demonize makeup and beauty as a whole. I mean, just because you like the way you look in mascara doesn’t mean you hate the way you look without it. I wish we could destroy most societal standards for beauty, but I feel like too often this is equated with doing away with makeup entirely.

It’s a hard balance to strike, I guess. For now, I’ll just live by my own truth. I don’t put on makeup because I think I’m ugly. I put on makeup because I like the way I look.