Thoughts From the Kitchen – (#3 Ten-Thousand Voices)

I once heard a story from a musician, in which he was telling a story he heard through a musician buddy, about another musician that likely neither of them knew (assuming the subject of the story is real at all).

In this story, the front man of a popular band was looking over the crowd which gathered for that night’s show.  He was exhausted from months on the road, bitter to the state of the music industry, and overall weary of singing the same songs time and again.  Yet, when he called upon his stage persona, he did so with enthusiasm and purpose. When he presented himself to the thousands of people before him, jumping and hollering along with the words he sang, he did not let his bitterness influence his performance, and for quite a simple reason:

He believed in the message of his song, and every single one of the ten-thousand voices in that sea of faces were singing for a different reason.  A unique and personal reason.

I like this story, because it acknowledges how we internalize narratives and meanings independently from one another.  Even if the overall narrative leaves little to the realm of subjectivity, the experiences we bring to the table will be rife with our own specific purposes and struggles.

“Just a small town girl, living in a lonely world.”

The sole identifying emotional word in that famous Journey intro is ‘lonely.’  If you fulfill the ‘small town girl’ aspect and feel lonely, this automatically applies to you.  Yet, you could be a small town girl, and be lonely for a completely different reason from the first person who identifies with the track.  Even more, you don’t need to identify as anything, and can simply appreciate the somber tone of the song on the mere grounds of acknowledging that yes, the world is lonely.  So on, ad infinitum, until near-most everyone has a different purpose for lifting their voices in harmony.

Writers have a similar power (yet, entirely different, as music is it’s own beast).  When we write, it’s in the ultimate hope of submerging the head-space of the reader into our world, our rhythm, our timeline.  If we are successful, especially in characterization, then we create a similar effect to the singer on the stage.

Think of your favorite character. The reason they’re your favorite is likely different from why they’re someone else’s favorite. Even if your surface-level reasons are the same, the nuance and personal element behind them can vary infinitely.

This is why we we sing, write, and create. Because art is the only thing capable of this, this relationship between expression and perception.

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Review: “All is Vanity” by Christina Grimmie

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We’ve just barely crested over the anniversary of Christina’s death. In the meantime I’ve done a lot of writing either about, or in promise to her. However, I’m keeping those details to myself. This post is going to be a little more forthright, a critical analysis of the post-humus album released by Christina’s family and producer on the day prior to the anniversary. I will analyze with as much technical prowess as I am capable, but please understand I have a limited background with music, so on that front it won’t be particularly detailed.

Also, this is obviously just an opinion.  You’re allowed to disagree, and I know many will because I approach Christina’s music, and indeed, all things I care about most, with harsher expectations than they probably deserve.

Lastly, I am keeping in mind that these were all incomplete items, finished, mixed, and mastered without Christina’s help, so I’ll try to keep a certain level of fairness involved when it comes to those things.

Let’s get started:

Sublime

We kick off the album with an upbeat, electro-pop love song.  The bass line is probably my favorite part of the song in terms of musical appeal.  We are treated to some solid rhyme-game during the bridge, which builds to one of Christina’s classic romps through high notes, all of the musical themes stacking on top of each other to deliver a solid super-chorus (my own term for the last chorus.  I know, I’m the height of technical knowledge).

I honestly don’t have much to say about this song.  It’s good, but not particularly amazing, especially in terms of the lyrics.  The rhyming is good, but there’s not much in way of message.  I understand not every song needs a strong message, especially in pop music, but considering the depth we saw in Christina’s earlier works (a la the “With Love” and “Find Me” collections), it feels a bit lackluster.  Ultimately I enjoy the song, but it’s hardly my favorite Grimmie track.

Next.

Steady Love

I commend this song for starting at a simple pace with modest, but inventive musical themes.  This one obviously wants to focus on the lyrics.  It’s another love song, but with a different tone from Sublime.  There’s a degree of patience and contrition in the words which makes me appreciate it far more than the first track.

I’m a heavy piano fan, so the bridge of isolated lyrics and minor-key piano already makes this one of my favorite songs on the album just for that alone.  Steady Love also gives Christina an opportunity to show that she can sing outside of a wild adventure of high notes, as demonstrated throughout.  She never leaves register and keeps each fall and rise of her voice under the strict softness which compliments the music so well.

The kick-in after the bridge is just enough, which is another strong point of the song.  You can sense the hit coming, but it’s not overwhelming, and tapers off beautifully into silence, a quaint setup for the next track.

Invisible

I have a particular fondness for “Invisible” as it was the first song released postmortem. It suffers from being part of her completely synthetic music phase, as well as being one of the many aforementioned, obligatory love songs she wrote (and unfortunately is not one of the ‘happier’ ones).

That said, the dominating synth utilizes a punchy melody, making it perfect for just daily travelling, doing random things around the house, driving, and even working out in the gym.  This is a catch-all song, with a mildly futuristic appeal to the music, and a hauntingly ironic message considering the singer is now gone.  It’s something that would have sounded somewhat boastful if viewed outside of context.

You can tell this song was mostly a therapeutic track Christina wrote for herself, to help her recover from some pain she’d endured in an unfortunate relationship.  It was written to empower herself against sadness, but when viewed through the lens of her death and the swell in her legacy after the fact, it carries a sense of having been anticipated, and that even in death she will continue to affect lives all around the world.

“I won’t be another ghost.  No, I won’t be invisible.  See me everywhere you go, no I won’t be invisible.  I won’t be diminished, eclipsed or hidden.  You’re gonna see my light blaze back to life.  Like a phoenix, rise.”

The best part of the song is her over-the-moon maelstrom of notes at the end, which despite having listened to the song over a hundred times, still gives me shivers.  It’s as though she’s performing again, but this time it’s not for us.  It’s to plant a boot on the neck of anything which ever tried to tell her she wasn’t good enough, and her having the audacity to prove them wrong.

Crowded Room

You can’t tell me this song wasn’t at least partly inspired by the soft jazz productions she did for The Matchbreaker film.  It has so much soul and sway, which fills me with joy, because I always liked the atmosphere songs like this bring.  They have a personality matched by no other form of music.

Best part, though?  This song has a superb message.  Christina identifies her own struggles with pride and vanity, two things she was aware enough of, and opposed to so fiercely, as to have the evidence tattooed on her arm for the sake of accountability.  Crowded Room does adopt more of a pop sound to walk alongside the soul and the church organ, but that’s okay.  Christina traverses the feelings of being alone in a sea of faces, trying to maintain your identity and ending up falling short.

“Here in this crowded room, I found everyone but myself.”

This one line captures much of what Christina was dealing with in her final years.  The tours she went on, they challenged her perception of herself, and that will be apparent moving forward.

Everybody Lies

We continue our metanarrative exploring self-identity with this song (a theme throughout the album, which is appropriate, because that’s what Christina was dealing with at the end of her life).  It’s important to actually look at the lyrics of this song, so you understand it is not *condoning* lying, only that it happens.  The fabric of the message is a “you’re not perfect, and neither is anybody else, and that’s okay.”  Christina encourages her listeners not to cast blame on others, because everyone is dealing with things, and that we should work towards more harmony.  At the same time, she maintains realistic expectations, saying you should trust, but don’t do so recklessly or you might get hurt, and don’t glorify people, because they’ll inevitably let you down if your opinion of them is too high.

There’s a secondary message in the song, more tied to the identity aspect I mentioned.  After we can get past accepting that we are flawed, don’t hide from your imperfections.  If you don’t like something in the world, start by changing yourself, becoming better.  She cements this idea in with a loose Bible quote: “Why gain the world if you lose yourself?”

Musically, Everybody Lies is encouraging, enthusiastic and doesn’t take itself too seriously.  There’s a sound which makes me imagine a toy factory while I listen to the song.  I love the honesty and purpose of this song, and it’s arguably one of my favorite Grimmie tracks to date.  I especially love the ending, where they edited in the last few seconds of Christina’s “#DearMe” Youtube video, which is universally considered one of her most beloved uploads.

“You are an extremely unique and individual person.  I’m telling you, don’t let the invalid opinions of others just bring you to the pits, okay?  You’re strong, so own it.

Love,
Me”

Pressure

If Crowded Room was the “wandering” to accept oneself and Everybody Lies was the “growth,” then Pressure is the “acceptance” part of this little trifecta.  A Christina now fully conscious of who she is, actively resists the cultural and professional pressure placed upon a person in her occupation and age group.  I have two outspoken compliments of this otherwise okay song: the music is simple, yet inventive, and there are several vocal cuts injected from Christina’s “Tell My Mama” music video (at least, I’m pretty sure that’s what it is. I’m not going to go back and check), which capture a side of Christina which is never seen in her music:

The fact she was a huge nerd.

“It’s like she thinks she’s an anime character,” high-school alpha girl says “She thinks she’s Zelda.”

Firstly, that’s a perfect thing for a popular high school girl to say as a condescension, because Zelda’s original source material is a video game, but you know, whatever.  Christina’s answer in the song is an appropriately confident:

“I’d rather be hated for who I am, than loved for who I’m not.”  Which would be pop-philosophy fluff, if she didn’t actively live that way as much as possible.  At that point, the fluffy words turn into substance, and that substance is the reason why even a year after her death, Christina has more fans than ever.

Maybe I

The vocal stride of this track is perhaps its greatest talking point.  Christina shows her skill as a singer in a different way from the rest of album.  She swings her voice around and hits beats in a fun way which we see in pieces of other songs, but with more emphasis in this one.

This song’s meaning, at least as far as I can see it, is simple.  Having now accepted who she is, what she can do, and who she can be, Christina is now dedicated to being the best.

Musically it is the least interesting song on the album to me.  I’m not really sure of what to say about it which could be outstanding.  I’m coming up short.  I’m sure somebody else with more knowledge of music might see some pattern or quirk in the composition which is neat or cool, but I’m deaf to it, so let’s move on.

Echo

This is the concert song of the album, and is the most aggressive track in terms of lyrics, which might be misleading because of its bright musical overtones.  The chorus in particular has a fist-pump and shout vibe which I can see capturing a crowd.  Similarly to Everybody Lies, this song needs to be viewed carefully or else you risk misinterpreting the character of the girl behind the lyrics.  This song is Christina reinforcing herself against uninvited drama and negative opinions of others.  It reads more of a self-fulfilling promise than somebody with ego problems, though I am not so blind to Christina’s humanity to ignore the fact that she was obviously really indignant during the creation of this track.

Doesn’t matter, because I still enjoy this track.  It has a fun sonic flow vaguely reminiscent of her “With Love” album.  I’m also fond of any song which harmonizes punchy vocals with the bass drum.  It’s an effect I’ve always enjoyed in music.

I Only Miss You When I Breathe

And now we’ve entered the territory of the “Side B” EP, which I, for the most part, did not enjoy.  These songs all captured the brief period of Christina’s life where she was obviously romantically wounded and everything rang of the ensuing emotional backlash.  I’m not going to shred into Christina herself for writing out her feelings about these things.  It would be unhealthy not to do such things, as they are often therapeutic.  But at the tail-end of her life, she had too many of these.

I Only Miss You When I Breathe (besides having a really gaudy name) is probably one of Christina’s weakest songs in terms of lyrics, with many recycled lines and substance which contradicted her overall character.  It talks of directly opposing the wisdom and advice of people Christina usually trusts, because she misses somebody who might not be healthy for her.

Musically the song is fine, if not particularly exciting.  It’s what I dub an “underwater” song, because it feels like you’re floating in the cold depths of the ocean.

I don’t much care for this song at all.

The Game

This song has a similar message as I Only Miss You When I Breathe, and comes from the same well of pain.  It presents more in terms of its rhyming effect and musical presentation though, which is good at least.  Also, Christina hits some killer notes in this song.

I have little to say about the flank of this album in general.  I think it has an incredibly strong front third, and a solid middle as well, but the last couple tracks (the Side B ones, especially) are underwhelming and leave the album, which has an overall strong and empowering meaning, on a distasteful note.

I care a lot about Christina and her music, which is why I am being so harsh.  My criticsm is not exclusive to her.  I am always hardest on things I care about the most, but my high opinion of her does not blind me to the places where she is lacking.  I criticize these things so harshly because I know she can do better.

Or rather, could have, if given the opportunity.  But we’ve talked enough about that.  I do love many of these new songs and will carry them with me into new days.  I will continue to fulfill the promises made a year ago, and thank God for the short time I had to learn about this person of such great compassion and heart.

Until then, God bless.

And as promised, the first one is still for you.

Visiting Tropes #2 (Syndromes & Curses)

In this series we explore various, popular tropes found in media. This is done by tapping that nifty “random trope” button at tvtropes.org, reading the base material of three results, and throwing our thoughts at the wall to see what sticks.

As we do.

 

“Occam’s Razor”

Occam’s Razor is a phrase for which I’ve read the definition at least five separate times and can never remember what it means. Hopefully writing this piece will break that pattern and actually cement the phrase into the wet blob of grey meat between my ears.

Basically Occam’s Razor is believing a theory based on the fewest number of “stretches” or leaps in reason or logic.  It is an anti-conspiratorial guideline (not a rule) which condemns the need for grandiose assumptions.

“When you hear hoof beats, think horses, not unicorns.”

Tvtropes.org has a nifty ladder of concepts to help us understand this on a step-by-step level:

There have been theories that ancient aliens built the Egyptian Pyramids instead of humans. For this to be true, we’d need the following givens:

  1. aliens exist
  2. they are intelligent
  3. they exist contemporaneously with humans
  4. they develop interstellar/intergalactic travel
  5. they know how to find us
  6. they can build pyramids
  7. they would not leave any evidence of their existence
  8. they would waste time building pyramids

The more normal theory only requires that:

  1. humans exist
  2. humans can build pyramids
  3. humans would waste time building pyramids.

 

…and we don’t even need to ask if humans would waste time building pyramids. We have proven time and again that we will go to much greater lengths to sacrifice our most precious resource to the gods of futility and vanity.

The most infamous example of abandoning Occam’s Razor I have in my arsenal is the reveal of Obito as the man in the mask in Naruto. There was soooooo much material absent from this reveal, yet the majority of the fans suspected this development, while the minority of us who actually cared to do research knew it couldn’t be him.  The majority were dropping so many “but maybe if”s and it was maddening.

Not as maddening as them actually being right in the end, but still.

 

“Golden Egg Syndrome”

Plot twist! This isn’t actually a trope, but rather a concept related to storytelling and cognition.

I first heard this on the Writing Excuses podcast (check dat crap out, yo. It’s da shiz) and it resonated with me because I was guilty of it.  Have you ever developed a story idea in your head?  Did you become really emotionally and mentally attached to that story?  When time came to write/draw/whatever something other than your story, could you do it?

The Golden Egg Syndrome is what happens when we’ve spent so much time and energy incubating our perfect creative product that we end up being unable to create anything else. You are either intimidated by the prospect of starting from the beginning again, your new creations end up being the Golden Egg with new skin, or you think whatever else you make won’t be as good by comparison.

I managed to break this eventually (thank you fan-fiction, for being close-to, but not entirely worthless), but I have at least one friend who is currently in the throes of this problem.  He’s so far along in his ‘mind-story’ which has been developing for over fifteen years that he wouldn’t even know where to start writing it.  But he doesn’t want to reboot it, or do anything else, so he resigns himself to squeezing out every ounce from a plot and world which should have concluded long ago.

People who’ve never experienced Golden Egg Syndrome might think this is ludicrous, and it is, but it’s also very real and much harder to break than you’d suspect.

 

“So Beautiful, It’s a Curse”

This one’s probably self-explanatory, but lucky for you we get to delve a little bit into nuance.

At its core, this trope orbits the perception of other characters and the feelings it places upon them.  If you have a supermodel walk onto a scene (whether casually or with purpose), it’s likely to inspire some level of jealousy in those nearby.  If not jealousy, then maybe intimidation, suspicion, or other negative emotions.  Because of this, the supermodel becomes open to multiple different avenues of maltreatment, such as being noticed only for their stellar good-looks and not for their character, abilities, or values.

Now, if that sounds absurd, guess what, that’s another part of the maltreatment. After a certain threshold is reached, your feelings become less important because look at you, you’re gorgeous. You can’t be suffering that badly.  And you know it’s true, because you’ve probably heard somebody say it before.  And if you haven’t, then as they say, it might be you.  Beauty can be a blessing, sure, in the right conditions.  Outside of those conditions it’s grounds for dismissal in any serious matter and makes you a lightning rod for disdain.

But wait, there’s more! This trope really has a lot going on, so we’re just going to gatling-gun some points, here.

People cursed by beauty run into the (expected) probably of easily being victimized in the cheap ‘rape as drama’ narrative, and can be further influenced by the culture around the medium.  They also get kidnapped a lot.  Cough, Princess Peach, cough.

Have you ever thought pretty people were, by default, mean people? Of course not, because you’re all decent human beings. But for those of us who don’t shine everywhere we go, there is an occasional gut response to staggering beauty which makes us assume the person is fundamentally unlikable.  This, as you can imagine, makes it difficult to form meaningful friendships.

And then to wrap it up, let’s draw a quote from one of my favorite websites on the internet: Cracked.com.  The following passage is from their article: “5 Things You Think Will Make You Happy (But Won’t)” (I recommend you read the whole thing, bee-tee-dubs):

“…attractive people have the same self-esteem problems the ugly people do. Like money, attractiveness is relative and if you’re hotter than your friends, at that stage you start comparing yourself to people in the media. You know, like the magazine covers we mentioned before, the ones that that have had the living shit Photoshopped out of them.
It gets worse: You know how when the hot girl at the bar tells an unfunny joke, all the guys laugh anyway? Or when the office stud makes a mistake, the female boss laughs it off? Attractive people live in a world where most feedback they get is bullshit. The compliments mean nothing — they’ve learned that’s just the sound people make when they walk by. That’s why studies show they tend to dismiss the genuine compliments they get in other areas (their work, personality, sense of humor, creativity) because it gets lumped in with the same counterfeit flattery they’ve been getting their whole lives.”

Final Thoughts. Christina Grimmie, the Girl with a Full Heart

Hey Team Grimmie,

I don’t know about you, but it’s been a pretty long week over here.  I am writing this final article on Christina mostly as a therapeutic measure for myself, but also because there is much I need to say.  Please forgive me if it digresses into rambling a couple times.  It’s going to be long and very honest. I’m gonna be bleeding into this one.

So after writing my original letter about Christina’s passing, I was not surprised to find that many of you had comments to share both with me and with the internet in general.  There’s one idea in particular I’d like to address right away, as it seems to be burdening a lot of your hearts, as well as my own.  There seems to be some level of internal guilt and confusion in how you should feel about missing Christina.  So many people who had never formally met her, let alone had an opportunity to be her intimate friend, have expressed genuine devastation at her untimely departure.  And most of those people seem to be wondering how that’s even possible.

11821862_857733127615620_1809018073_nFor starters we need to talk about Youtube.  We are of a generation where there’s a weird new type of relationship we can form with people via Youtube and similar video services.  Popular Youtubers aren’t like other stars in mainstream media, whose acclaim and reputation are largely independent of their fans.  If a Youtuber is well-known, it is directly because we give them attention and support.  Because of that, Youtubers tend to develop a mutual appreciation for their fans and have a deeper connection with them than normal celebrities.  The longer this goes on and the more each party learns about one another, the greater this strange bond becomes.  We feel directly tied to the vloggers we love, because our respect fundamentally must go both directions, and so we feel like even if we don’t know them personally, the person on the other end of the screen is, to some extent, our friend, brother, sister, whatever.  Sometimes a combination of things which otherwise don’t go together.  There isn’t a neat category for this relationship.

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Christina, on the set of “The Matchbreaker,” a film slated to come out later this year.

In Christina’s case, she worked very hard to be as inclusive and interactive with her fans as possible, answering our questions, hugging us at concerts, inviting us to play games online, and generally being available to talk whenever she could afford it.  Making it so you felt like friends was her goal. If you want to understand Christina a little more than just what has been recycled by the media in this last week, I encourage you to backtrack through her Youtube channel, zeldaxlove64.  I have no doubts that if you’re confused as to why so many people seem distressed over her passing, you’ll quickly come to realize that, somehow, you might miss her, too.  On my original article, I received this comment from somebody who had never heard of her before and did his research:

“How could I not know this girl existed? And now that I do know, why am I so sad that she is gone?  That’s not fair.  You can’t make me miss somebody who’s already gone.”

 

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Christina singing on “The Voice” with Ed Sheeran.

But it wasn’t just Youtube. “The Voice” requires direct input from its audience through a voting process to select its winners.  Christina might have been the performer, the one with the skills, but we were the ones who acknowledged her abilities and voted for her to win. Then, again, we helped her rise up through things like the iHeart Radio Contest and other challenges and competitive fundraisers she’d entered (she did a lot of fundraisers).  We have directly, consistently affected the outcome of her life, because we believed in what she was doing and that she deserved it.

Lastly, some people have expressed guilt at feeling like they lost “a sister,” and they regret feeling that way, probably because they think it devalues Mark’s loss, you know, since Christina was his actual sister.  I understand where you’re coming from, but please do not beat yourself up over this, either.  Mark is a mature man.  He knows better than most the kind of thoughts people had towards Christina.

Do not feel bad for your sadness, it will only make recovery take that much longer.

christina-grimmieSince writing the “Can I Say Something” article, I’ve also talked with people who personally knew Christina to some degree or another.  A childhood schoolteacher who reflected on watching Christina play with friends at recess. People who met her in concerts.  People she helped through hard times.  I even managed to find the Facebook pages of her best friends, but they were understandably unresponsive to my attempts at contact.  It’s for the best, probably.  I do not want to intrude upon their grieving.

Christina was not just a face on a screen.  She was not a distant entity, self-absorbed and narcissistic as many of today’s role models seem to be in popular media.  Christina, true to the character of her namesake, was a compassionate and aggressively selfless human being.  She was joy and hope.  She caused people to love her, with minimal effort on her part.

Now, for just a moment, I’m going to spew memories and thoughts from the past half-decade of being a proud member of Team Grimmie.

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That is a Toon Link backpack she’s wearing.

Y’all remember how often people would ask her to do her monkey noises on camera, or do her freakishly accurate imitation of Pikachu?  Remember when she said her favorite color was green, because that’s the color Link wears in The Legend of Zelda, and how she’s had a crush on him since she was, like, five years old?  Or when she went into an actual days-long grieving period after she first learned “L” dies in Deathnote (spoilers, I guess).

Not to mention the time where she casually mentioned getting engaged to a guy named Ken during a live stream after somebody asked about the ring on her finger and the collective sum of her lovestruck fans lost their minds.  The anime-goers among us sat back and reveled in her brilliantly playful deception, knowing she was talking about Tokyo Ghoul’s protagonist Ken Kaneki, who she was infatuated with just as she had been with many anime guys before him.

Or how about the bizarre vocabulary she made up and used on a daily basis, like ‘crubnuggets’, ‘squeeberries’, and deliberately misspelling normal words, like ‘yu’ and, of course, ‘frands’ (her term for all of her fans).

Or how her favorite animals were cows, her favorite candy was starburst, she had a bad habit of chewing her fingernails, and she named her keyboards after Ness and Lucas from Earthbound/Mother.  Which, naturally, are also the names she would have given to her two sons if she could have had them.

12142369_717198415081389_1611388844_nOr the time she did a vlog while studying for her LA Driver’s permit, fully knowing it wasn’t going to help her be productive at all.

Or, Christina, how about when you got “All is Vanity” tattooed on your arm because you refused to undress for the record label you earned through “The Voice.”  You wanted to do your career your way, so they dropped you.  Looking around, you clearly didn’t need their help anyways.

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Christina with Tyler Ward.

Or that time Tyler Ward had you do a Snoopy impression, and all you did was lie on the ground and stare at the sky. (By the way Christina, he wrote the most tear-wrenching song for you.  It hurts.)

Or how you ended every video with your signature and goofy “bye!”

Or when you lost your chill over the band Fun like, seventeen times.

Or that time on Twitch when one of your fans said they were auditioning for “The Voice” and was asking for advice and you went super professional on us.  Or after the terrorist attacks in France you encouraged everyone to pray right there in the middle of a match of League of Legends.  Or when you got to go mano-y-mano with “ZeRo”, the best Smash 4 player in the world (I have come to learn most of her Twitch.tv recordings have vanished).

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You could rock it when you wanted to, though.

Or how you had to psych yourself up for photo shoots at the beginning of your career, because it wasn’t intuitive for you to show yourself off or dress in high fashion.  Another note towards your modesty.

Or how you met a fan wearing an “L” jacket, who immediately gave it to you.  But of course you felt bad about simply taking it, so you traded jackets instead.

Or when you got your band to do the Harlem Shake, and the Ice Bucket Challenge.

Or how you managed to take a Drake song and completely recompose it for a nation-wide audience, casting it in a much more fulfilling tone and meaning than the original track.  This one still blows my mind a little.

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I’m sorry your momma’s not coming home, Chloe.

Or how your dog Chloe would always photobomb your videos.

Or how you broke down in front of us on multiple occasions.  Like when Pikachu was crying over Ash in Pokemon The First Movie, or when you went online just to encourage any of your fans who struggled with eating disorders or low self-esteem.

Or when we made those encouragement videos to Mama Grimmie to show support through her chemotherapy and you thanked us from the bottom of your heart.

Or when you sometimes showed your humanity.  When you’d start to doubt yourself and we’d have to pick you back up, and help you celebrate in your victories.

Or when you were interviewed and they asked what your parents thought of their fifteen-year-old daughter putting music on Youtube and your mom was horrified that some strange man would come and hurt you.

Or that one tweet you sent a couple years ago.  You know, the one where you had a dream that you died and said it was really scary and horrible.

Sorry.  Give me a second.  I need to go calm down.

You know, I have weird thoughts sometimes.  I often wonder what was going through your mind after that first bullet hit you.  I have thankfully been spared most of the visceral details (though my cursed imagination has done a swell job of filling them in for me), but we know you were hit multiple times, at least one of which was in the skull.  You did not die until over an hour later.  Somewhere in that miasma of pain and unconsciousness, how aware were you of the situation?

I like to think you knew.  I like to think the reason you didn’t pass away from the start was because you knew how devastating it would be to so many people.  I like to think you remembered recess with Sarah, Lauren, and all of your other friends, and wanted to make it through so you could go home and remind them how much you loved them.  I like to think you wanted to go brag to Mark about your recent, perfect playthrough of Ocarina of Time (which he discovered after your passing, you punk). I like to think you’d miss the nights on the tour bus, screwing around and making memories with the band, those guys who always had your back.  I like to think you couldn’t stand to leave before your mother, who had overcome four major battles against cancer to stay by your side.

I like to think your heart was breaking as you realized that, if you died in that moment, your best friends would be heartsick on their wedding days, because you would not be there to celebrate it with them.

I like to think you fought with every ounce of your body and soul to survive that attack.

I dreamed about it, actually.  Not full-sleep, you know, but that weird in-between state when your mind is tired but your heart is racing.  I saw you there in the emergency room, watching as the doctors tried to resuscitate you and stop the bleeding.  You just kept screaming no and please at the top of your lungs over and over until your face turned red and your coiled body ached.  You didn’t want to die.  You didn’t want to leave your family like that, out in the waiting room, their stomachs feeling like peeled, rotting holes.  You just kept shouting that same thing, begging, pleading for your body to move again.  After it didn’t, and your heart stopped, still you lamented.

Then, standing there in the operating room, Jesus tapped on your shoulder from behind.  He tried to get your attention, but you couldn’t hear him at first, because you wouldn’t stop screaming long enough for him to get your name out.  So he stood there in the corner and waited, with his hand pressed gingerly against his eyes to ease the pain as he watched his daughter tear herself in half under the weight of her own sorrow.  Eventually he tapped your shoulder again once you’d become too tired to scream, and your knees trembled too much to stand anymore.  Without even looking, you barreled into him and cried your heart out of your ribs, because you finally realized no matter what you wanted, you weren’t going back.

He wrapped his arms around you, pulled tight like he was the only thing left that could keep you together, and wept into your hair that way where it feels like you’re screaming as hard as possible, but it’s trapped in the back of your head and the noise comes out in broken sobs between your teeth.  That’s how he cried.

I’m so sorry.  He said, sharing your tremble as you continued to cry into him.  I’m so sorry, little one.  I promise I’ll take care of them for you.

I like to think that’s what happened.

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Christina and the band.

That scene among other imaginings have been the only things I could reliably think about for the last week.  Christina, it feels like there’s a crack in my chest, and that’s amazing, because as we’ve already discussed, I never actually knew you.  If it hurts this much just having a cursory knowledge, then I am horrified and nauseated for people who were closer to your life.  I literally do not have the emotional capacity to understand how much pain they must be in.

Mark I am especially grieved for, and not just because we are both the older brothers of one sibling.  I can’t imagine he has gotten any sleep in the last week.  He watched a man commit suicide right in front of him.  That is not an image he will ever be able to forget.

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Mark and Christina.

Let alone the sight of laying his baby sister in the ground.

You were his Player 2, his life partner.  You were his inspiration.  What is your family supposed to do now that you are gone?  Christina, you were their world.  They dropped everything in support of your dreams.

Among a million other tributes, there was a candlelight vigil to commemorate your passing.  It took a while, but I found it on Sarah’s page.  It is the only thing I am comfortable sharing of hers, because that was technically a public event.  (Sarah, if you ever read this article, please forgive me.  I might have walked through your personal memories a little.  I wanted to see Christina through the eyes of her best friend.  I get it now.  I already knew you were cool because of your Above All That is Random videos, but it never really hit home exactly how precious you were to one another.  And Lauren, if you see this, thank you for convincing Christina to be brave enough to sing online.  Considering how shy she was, without you guys, she might never have pursued her dream.)

Christina, you were surrounded by wonderful people.

Christina-Grimmie-vigil_CNNPHOne of the first to give their piece at the vigil was your friend Pete, and the most memorable thing he said was that no matter how much success you found, you never changed.  He reflected on the times you spent Christmas caroling, dancing, and making campfire memories. Then Sarah and Lauren got up there and spoke the lyrics to Switchfoot’s “This is Home,” which I came to learn is a song you wanted to sing for them during the Homecoming Week on “The Voice,” but you couldn’t get it legally passed in time, so you settled for “Some Nights” by Fun.  Amazing foresight you had, to dedicate a song to your best friends about finally going to Heaven.

Then Mark got up to talk.  I was absolutely floored by what he said, because it was only partly about you.  He took a moment to speak about the Orlando shooting that followed the night of your death, and how, unlike you, the victims of those families do not have the convenience of a GoFundMe campaign which raised over 180,000 dollars.  Those victims didn’t have Adam Levine offering to pay for their funerals.  They didn’t have dozens of people paying them tribute by name, like Switchfoot, Justin Bieber, Nick Jonas, Soren Bjergsen, or Christina Aguilera.  I mean, Selena Gomez broke down on stage while singing a Hillsong track.  Nintendo held a moment of silence at E3.  You know how many people get that who aren’t game developers?  Zero.  Only you.  Even the LCS (official League of Legends organization for America) tipped their hat to you.

Mark wanted us to know the victims in Orlando need our love just as much as we’ve given it to you. He used your death as a pedestal to remind people the importance of praying and showing compassion to others.  So it wasn’t just you.  The entire Grimmie family is of exceptional character.

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Mama Grimmie and Little Grimmie.

After you passed away, Mark said something else on social media.  He wanted everyone to know the last thing you were doing before you got attacked.  To Kevin James Loibl, the man who would be your murderer, you welcomed him with arms wide and inviting.  Some critics will say that was a sign of naivety.  Those critics do not understand the power of unconditional acceptance.

So I must reiterate from my first article: please do not hate mister Loibl.  I have already seen plenty of what people have to think of him, and it terrifies me, because even though we have a motive for his actions now, there still seems to be no compassion for him.  Instead, people wish horrible, cruel things on him, his soul, and his family, as if it weren’t that same insensitivity which create men like Kevin Loibl in the first place.  By continuing to perpetuate this spirit of unforgiveness, you increase the likelihood that the ‘next Christina Grimmie’ will die similarly.

It is a condition I see being played out in real-time every single day, so please be good to one another.

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Christina with “Faker,” the best League of Legends player in the world.  Note the Tokyo Ghoul t-shirt.

Whenever I’ve been asked if I had a celebrity crush, I always defaulted to you.  That has never really been accurate.  I just couldn’t think of any other way to describe why I was so fond of somebody I’d never met.  My feelings weren’t as much romantic as they were a platonic, fantastical admiration, though I’d be lying if I said the former was completely absent (refer to the beginning of the article again for why Youtube personalities don’t fit neatly into one category).

Something about your innocence and genuineness made me want to protect you, which is terrible, since that was kind of impossible.  So at first, I prayed a lot, and that was the extent of my protection.

But I think somewhere in my spirit, I knew you were in danger.  Earlier this year, I had this dreadful feeling I couldn’t shake.  That’s why I started fasting so much.  Every tour, I told myself I would fast one week for you.  I did it at the beginning of the Rachel Platten tour, and then again for the entire month of April.  That was a very difficult month, but I couldn’t help except to continue.  Somewhere deep inside of me, there was an aching need for you to be okay, not only physically, but emotionally and spiritually as well.  I knew you were changing the world, and I know from experience that the world would try to change you instead.

12825999_518679678340739_1362659454_nI try not to dwell on the fact that I started my fast for the Before You Exit tour several days late.  I try not to think about how I thought it’s okay, she’s got this, she’s been safe on all the other tours.  I should have already been done with that fast, but I was only on day three when I got the news you’d been shot.  I try not to think it was at least partly my fault for being so lenient and starting so late.  I try not to think about how I began bargaining with God, because I know that’s not how it works, but I couldn’t help it.

I try not to think about any of that.  I’m sorry I couldn’t protect you.

11875567_523604097797526_1039453844_nI’d lost at least a hundred hours of sleep to you even before you passed away.  Overactive imagination.  I wish I could detail it all here, but that’s just not feasible.  I thought about how one day I was going to have daughters, and I’d take them to your concert and introduce them to you.  They’d be your biggest fans, and I couldn’t be more proud, because you were the kind of role model I wanted them to have.  You always said the thing you cared about most was that you were a positive influence on others.

I thought about you opening presents on Christmas with your toddler sons.  You’d buy Lucas his first keyboard, which Ness would end up liking more than him.  Lucas would eventually feel isolated because he wasn’t good at music like his mother, brother, and (probably) father, but you’d help him find what he loved.  Ness would cling to you like you were the entire world and watch you play piano for hours.  No matter how old they got, or whatever bad decisions they made, they would always know you loved them.

You would have been a great mother.

I think about how I made that stupid plan.  Operation: Prisma I called it, because, you know, I’m excessively dramatic.  Prisma, because, as I put it, you were “refractory, the prism by which all lights must pass through to find their colors.”  In it, I outlined how I would become an author, and then after I was popular enough, I’d join a team for an anime and we’d have you do the theme song.  Or, if the anime didn’t work, then a video game where you could be the lead voice actress.  I didn’t want to do any of this for some convoluted agenda.  I just desperately wanted to find some way I could be your friend.

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Christina with Colton Dixon. Colton’s song “Never Gone” has helped me a lot, lately.

Since the day I found you, you were always the kind of friend I’d dreamed of having.  You were the composite of everything I liked about people.  Now that you’re gone, I’m scared I’ll never find that again.  Even if I couldn’t sing, I’d been practicing a lot just in case I had the opportunity to sing with you.  I was keeping a pocket of my heart open for the unimaginable.  I’d fallen into your gravity, as many others had as well.

But as life is fond of enforcing, plans have changed.  I can’t even listen to music the same way anymore, as all of the songs are being re-written one by one, with your heart between the lyrics.

So, here’s the new plan: I’m going to do the best I can.  I’m not like you, with your inherent, bubbly enthusiasm, but I want to adopt some of that peace you kept in your soul.  I want to expand my faith, I want to trust others more openly, even if it’s not easy.  I’ll work at being less cynical, less critical.  I’m going to grow stronger, read my Bible more, and smile as much as possible.  I’m going to write and write and write until I write something that you would have loved.  Then I’m going to go and get it published, no matter how many rejections I have to wade through, and when they ask what I want to put on that very first page of my very first novel, it’s going to read:

“As promised, the first one’s for you.

To Christina Grimmie, the Girl with a Full Heart.”

The more I think about it, I’m not surprised you died as early as you did.  Our world cannot tolerate such bright lights strutting their stuff all across its four corners.  You were too loud for its tastes, making too much of a difference too quickly.  Through your Christ-like behavior and worship of the Father, you gave people strength to break addictions, overcome depression, and love themselves when they no longer wanted to love anything, least of all themselves.  In hindsight, it seems only natural that the world would long to get rid of you.

That is what happened to the Son, after all.

11191196_1590726394526482_1880354736_nIf you’d been told you were going to die when you did, I’m not sure you would have lived your life any differently.  Even though I know it’s not my place, a part of me wishes I could mourn and talk with your family.  But I don’t see that happening, so I’ll just have to pray for them and lend my support any way I can.  Maybe some day I’ll accidentally bump into Mark.  That would be awesome.

To whoever made it all the way to the end of this long piece, I implore you to pray.  Pray for Christina’s family, pray for her friends, her community, everyone who held her dearly.  Pray for the victims in Orlando, and that we might someday find a way to cut down on so much unnecessary bloodshed.

When life hits you hard, don’t shut out the pain.  Christina lived her entire life in suspense that cancer would finally take her mother away, but she still lived as brilliantly and joyfully as if cancer had never touched her life at all.  Please do not medicate or drink away your sadness.  Those feelings are important.  How else are we supposed to mature in empathy, if we run away from it?

Should I happen to leave this world in an untimely way, I’ll make sure to remind Christina how much everybody loved her.  If any of you happen to go prematurely, please do the same.  Also, tell her I said not to make any of the angels jealous of her awesomely superior singing ability.  She’ll probably blush, but say it anyways.

All across the internet there are stories of people who never knew Christina, but are coming to the Lord through her testimony and life.  There are people with broken hearts being healed, and even more are finding strength and inspiration to make more of themselves than they would have done otherwise.  People from Europe, Australia, Africa, and beyond.  So congratulations, Christina.  You did it.  In only twenty-two years, through living, and in dying, you have changed the world.

Now, with a personal tweak on your own lyrics:

“I’m letting you go.  I just want you to know, I’ll think of you.”

Thanks again, Christina, and I’ll see you later.

P.S. Hey dummy, you know that new Legend of Zelda game you were waiting so long for?  They finally announced they’re calling it The Breath of the Wild.  It looks awesome.  You would have loved it.

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Singer/Songwriter Christina Grimmie Has Passed Away. Can I Say Something?

Christina-Grimmie--Performing-at-the-East-Hills-Park--07Christina Grimmie, a beloved singer/songwriter who got her start with Youtube and went on to place in the sixth season of “The Voice”, passed away this morning after taking gunshot wounds after a show.  She’d been on tour with pop-rock artist Before You Exit, and they’d just finished performing in Orlando, Florida.

While signing autographs for her fans, Christina was approached by a lone gunman and shot multiple times.  Mark, her brother, immediately took down the assailant before others could be harmed.  In the midst of the struggle, the gunman managed to take his own life.

Christina was pronounced dead a couple hours later.

To Christina’s family and friends, I am sorry.  From my gut to my heart, I am sorry.

Christina Grimmie Visits Radio Disney

If you are not familiar with the name, Christina Grimmie had humble beginnings as a fledgling Youtube cover artist, beginning at the age of 15.  Since then, she has released multiple EP’s: “Find Me” and “Side A,” as well as one full studio album: “With Love.”  Breaching the mainstream, Christina tried out on singing show “The Voice” where she placed in Season 6’s top three.

From the very beginning, Christina was public and proud of her Christian faith and walk.  After her time on “The Voice,” she got the verse “All is Vanity” tattooed on her right arm, a tribute and reminder from Ecclesiastes. Always modest and never profane, she was an outstanding exception in her industry.  Her favorite Christian songs were “In Christ Alone” which she covered a couple years back, and Matt Redman’s “10,000 Reasons.”  She is quoted as being heavily inspired by contemporary Christian artist Stacie Orrico in the early years:

“She has a really awesome voice and I was so drawn to it. I think the reason I do have a soul voice is because I grew up listening to her and she was my huge, huge influence. I wanted to sound just like her, I wrote songs that kinda sounded like something she would do.”

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In addition to Stacie, Christina notes Christina Aguilera as a primary vocal inspiration, as well as many other artists ranging anywhere from Twenty One Pilots to Metallica to Skrillex to Switchfoot.  Earlier this year, she concluded a tour with well-known popstar Rachel Platten.

Christina appealed to the same audience we strive for here over at Geeks Under Grace.  In addition to her faith, Christina was an avid and vocal geek of many forms.  Big into both video games and anime, Christina loyally streamed Super Smash Bros. 4 and League of Legends up until earlier this year.  In Smash she mained Ness, in League she mained Mid Lane.  She had opportunities to play with or meet some of the best players from each.  If you look around her instagram, you’ll notice her room is decorated in paraphernalia from Deathnote, Attack on Titan, Skyrim, Sonic, Legend of Zelda, Tokyo Ghoul, Fullmetal Alchemist, and much, much more.  On one hand she had the signature “L” tattoo from Deathnote, and on the opposing arm she had tattooed “2P” to match the “1P” shared by her older brother.  Though I could not find the video in writing this article, I remember at one point she made a Triforce diagram, where the three components were “singing,” “video games,” and “food,” with “God” in the middle.  She called it her “Triforce of Grimmie.”

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Christina, cosplaying as Ahri from “League of Legends”

Please forgive me.  At the risk of sounding unprofessional, I must admit, it is difficult for me to write this article pragmatically.  I’ve followed Christina’s progress for over five years.  This last April, I fasted thirty days of food for the sake of Christina’s physical, spiritual, and emotional safety in the years to come.  I do not share this to bring praise to myself, but for transparency.

I will deeply miss you, Christina.

Today is an unbearably sad day for many.  If I’m not overstepping myself, I’d like to take a brief moment to reach out to a few people, even if only in prayer and written word.

To Papa and Mama Grimmie, whose hearts must weigh more than all the world itself, I am sorry.  Thank you for loving your daughter.  I know she loved you too, and will be waiting with open arms and a beaming face on the day you come home.  I’m sure she is already hard at work composing the song she will be singing.

To Mark, from one big brother to another, please hear me out.

You did not fail, Mark.

The media is calling you a hero, but god only knows how sarcastic that must sound right now.  We both know the truth.  You were always her hero.  You were always there, watching your little sister’s back.  I am so hurt for you.  I am so proud of you.  I know she’d be proud of you, too.  It might not be soon, but please someday, find the strength to forgive yourself.  You owe it to Christina to not feel like you let her down.

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To her friends and fans, please do not hate the man who took Christina’s life.  I cannot emphasize this enough.  Christina lived beautifully, smiled liberally, forgave openly.  She would not want a single one of you to be burdened by the ugly, wormy creature that is hatred.  It crawls into your heart, deep inside, and it poisons you.  It’s easy to hate things that do not make sense.  I don’t know her assailant.  I don’t know if he was crippled by loneliness, or anger, or whatever drove him to do what he did, but it doesn’t matter.  I promise, if Christina were still with us, she would not have wanted us to hold that man in contempt.  To do so would be in direct violation of everything Christina believed in, everything she was and wanted to be.

Tyler Posey, Christina Grimmie, Josh Hopkins And The Madden Brothers On "Extra"

So thank you Christina, for putting the music in our hearts.  Thanks for the laughs and the inspiration.  I’m sorry you will never have a chance to get married, or to be a mother like you wanted.  You never deserved to be stuck down here with us.

I was hoping I might meet you sometime soon, but I guess I’ll have to wait a little longer.  I look forward to the day I can hear your voice again.  Maybe we’ll all have a chance to sing together in the eternity to come.

Until then, may you rest in ultimate, unending peace, free from the pain of this world.

Forever and always, #TeamGrimmie

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The Puppet Masters (#1 – Test Your Might)

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“The ability of writers to imagine what is not the self, to familiarize the strange and mystify the familiar, is the test of their power.” – Toni Morrison

I am not going to step into this article and pretend like I know T. Morrison at length.  I am not even going to pretend like I know her very much at all.  If ever I have cracked open one of her stories, I can’t recall it now.

However, what I do know is she thought deeply about the status of socioeconomic and racial conditions in America, the marvel of children, as well as how to cast words in their own beautiful economy.

What I love most about Morrison’s above statement is that it equates the shape and extent of your imagination directly with a display of power.  Doing so suggests a nature of potential impact which writing can possess.  To be able to wield words in new, interesting, and creative ways is both a measure of skill and evidence that we can develop further ‘power’ by growing alongside our craft.  If a story or idea is too intimidating, we can rise to the challenge.

The juxtaposition of the relationship between foreign and familiar shows Morrison has keen understanding of how words can influence ideas.  In much the same way as words can make one second last ten pages or a millennia last one sentence, the way we choose to fill in the minds of our readers regarding the subject is completely within our hands.

 

(Image credit to Pajunen on Deviantart.)

30 Day SFFH Writing Challenge

il_570xN_858552710_ik89The following is a list of 30 custom-made writing prompts, designed to invoke principles of science-fiction, fantasy, and horror in their creation.  There is no hard and fast length requirement, but I recommend a minimum of 300 words per entry.  Any prompt designating “you” as the protagonist is not necessarily restricted to the first-person and can be headed by any character of your choice.  Preferably one of your own design, of course.

  1. Write a story in which horticulture could be destructive or abused on a global or personal level.
  2. You wake up and suddenly you have a new twin!  Umm…where did they come from?  Also, why are they so angry?
  3. Using omniscient POV, write a story in which you must escape from the Roman Space Coliseum.
  4. A new culture of people is discovered hidden literally underneath America.  Facial hair is a big deal to them.  Why?  What does it mean for the women?
  5. What is that thing looking at you from the bottom of the basement stairs?
  6. A powerful mage has caused it to rain acid.  In a medieval setting, you must talk down a character who has lost hope and is threatening to take their own life.
  7. Three (in)famous writers will grant your wish to bring their characters into your world for the day.  Write the conversation you have with the writers, detailing the vehicle of your decision-making.  Use dialogue to navigate most of the story.
  8. A woman with full control over her mental faculties decides to kill her daughter.  You must write why we should empathize with this person, post-offense.
  9. The main character of your last story (whether from #8 or something else altogether) is now a witch/wizard.  They want to save the world, but should they?  Run them through a strict Q&A about their aptitude for world-saving.
  10. The world was legitimately supposed to end yesterday.  It didn’t.  Write the aftermath of people now acclimating to the fact that their lives are not over and that they must now return to their usual work day.
  11. You’ve inherited Tony Stark’s standard “Ironman” suit.  What’s the first thing you do with your newfound abilities?
  12. Oh my god, you’re in a hotel and something wants to kill you.
  13. You might have just stolen the Philosopher’s Stone from the tomb of Nicholas Flamel.  Now, with immortality in your hands, you are able to live forever.  Describe what you are doing four hundred years from now.
  14. Camping with your friends in the woods, your sleep is interrupted by the sound of someone or something trying to unzip your tent.  Who/what is trying to get inside, and why?
  15. You witness the destruction of an internationally renown zeppelin.  The next day, you are arrested as primary suspect in the crime.  How do you plead?  Do you even stick around to find out, or do you try to run?
  16. Onboard a space voyaging ship, your crew prepares to celebrate the birthday of the captain.  You’re in the void of the universe and haven’t made a stop in weeks, but he’s disappeared and there’s no sign of him on the ship.  What happened to him?
  17. You’ve been invited to Mt. Olympus to cheer up Zeus, who has officially been friend-zoned by all of the goddesses.  Can you help him set up a date, or will you take another course of action?
  18. In a city of perpetual night, you are assigned by your team leader to do a dead drop for the new recruit.  You must decide what goes wrong and how it plays out accordingly.
  19. Congratulations!  For whatever reason, you’re in the crowd when Oprah decides to give everybody a pet dragon.  Write about your first day together.
  20. You know that one celebrity you have a huge crush on?  Well, they died.  Except now their soul lives on as a sentient app for your cellphone.  In 30 days, they will disappear forever.  What do you do with this time?
  21. It has been scientifically, spiritually, and physically proven that our reality is a simulation and is going to shut down at the end of the year.  What happens to the world now that the masses are aware of this approaching, ultimate conclusion?
  22. You broke up with your boyfriend/girlfriend.  They took it pretty hard.  Sucks for you, because they are a ninja and you must figure out some way to resolve this problem before they take you out.
  23. You are locked in a toy store for the night.  The toys are alive.  Write a story about what happens until the sun rises.
  24. A professional, virtual-reality, video game team has recruited you.  Describe your first tournament match in the virtual-reality arena.  How do you feel?  How do you perform?  What opinions do others form of you?
  25. Cupid needs a day off and you’re the fill-in.  You need to make at least three new couples by the end of the day, or by the time you’re done you will never be able to fall in love again.
  26. You’re running a daycare when seven new kids are dropped off into your care.  Each of them represents and perpetuates the characteristics of one of the Seven Deadly Sins.  You already have five kids in your care before this development and you are entirely on your own.  Survive.
  27. A supernatural virus has doomed your body.  Describe its influence on your mind and flesh as you slowly become consumed by its corrupting power.  Bonus points if the entire story takes place in one room.
  28. North Korea has created a giant robot (science-fiction for multiple reasons, clearly).  How does the world respond to this?
  29. You possess a special kind of magic in which whomever you paint a portrait of, you trap their soul inside of it.  Addicted to your power, you’ve become a novelty-person’s collector.  Who do you collect?  Write a story in which you explore this idea.
  30. Begin a story with the words “I will not die the monster.”