Where does the magic go?

The sad murder mystery of holiday spirit.

I never liked being a kid. I couldn’t choose when I wanted to go home and which nights I could eat chicken nuggets. For a power-hungry toddler, it was a hard life.

However, the holidays were a different story. Holidays were the only time when being a kid was better than being an adult. You’re out of school with no after-hours emails or pressure to fill out internship applications. For at least two weeks, your little sugar-filled soul is free to eat, sleep and play with no avail.

The best part of this magical time was the feeling that wrapped around your little bones when the cold started to settle in. It’s hard to explain, but it’s like Christmas was this harm-free drug that made you feel light and airy and believe that a fat man was coming down your chimney (and suspiciously never had any charcoal stains on his suit).

I’m not sure whether it was the colder weather or the time off school or the endless desserts that made us feel so happy. Perhaps, what we mistook for holiday spirit was just the satisfaction behind hard-earned perfect gifts.

Unfortunately, I don’t think I’ll ever find an answer, but whatever that unnamed and intangible feeling was, it really did feel like magic. A magic that–I’ve recently found out–fades away with each year as you get older and holidays get shorter. The pressure of buying gifts overtakes the excitement of getting them, and the threat of holiday weight keeps the sugar out of your body. As we slowly became adults, we ruined the magic with responsibilities.

Now I realize that I would have unquestionably traded untimely chicken nuggets for one more dose of that Christmas feeling. This year, not a single day felt special despite my Christmas-cookie efforts and the perfectly decorated tree. Even on New Years, when I toasted expensive champagne and put on ABBA’s iconic anthem, it never felt like it used to. But, I want the magic back, so I promise to keep searching for the murderer of holiday spirit, even if it means I have to sit on a fat man’s lap.

P.S. I definitely still ate a bunch of sugar this year.

Thanks for the invite

Hi–it’s me again. I know you’ve probably forgotten who I am since I haven’t posted anything since August. It’s okay, I deserve it. Truth is, I haven’t taken the time to write just for myself, even though the reason I love this blog so much is because there’s no obligation behind it.

Today, I wanted to write about my Thanksgiving. Not very original, I know, but this year was special for me. My family consists of three people, including me, so we don’t usually have the big family gathering that Americans take for granted. I wish I had a black sheep uncle or an annoying little cousin. Instead, all my distant family is Russia, totally oblivious about turkeys and cranberry sauce.

Since everyone else spends time with their own families, we usually don’t get an invite or we feel like we’re intruding in a place we’re not meant to be. This year, as Thanksgiving was nearing, I thought about the same dreadful question that comes around each year: “What we were going to do?”

I texted a close family friend–basically my adoptive grandfather– and asked him what his plans were. We had spent a Thanksgiving with his family a few years back, and I was hoping we could do it again this year. Unfortunately, he informed me that he wasn’t coming down to Florida this year. Understandable, but still disappointing.

I texted another family friend with the same question. This time, I was informed of family plans in Jacksonville, with a family I was definitely not related to. With both of these prospects foiled, I mentally prepared myself for a lonely, quiet Thanksgiving at home.

A few days later, I got a call from the second family friend from Jacksonville. She was calling to invite me, my sister and my mom to their family’s Thanksgiving. It was going to be at a nice house with big dogs and other college students. I was over the moon.

The invite had made the last few weeks bearable because I knew we had somewhere to go. I spent the day surrounded by food and smiles, instead of staring at pictures of my friends with their hundreds of cousins.

Frankly, it was a bit awkward at first because it turned out the family Thanksgiving was actually at a distant relative’s house, and we weren’t even close to a branch on the family tree. However, we were still welcomed to the turkey and wine, and made friends through some intense ping pong games.

So this year, I was grateful to belong. I hope all of you reading this were able to spend your day (safely) with a big, loud, annoying family. Because those families are the soul of every holiday.

P.S. New Years??

Midnight Sun: Summer’s Last Amateur Review

Stephenie Meyer made our 12-year-old dreams come true. She gave us another book. 

The Twilight Saga — whether you loved it or hated it — became a nationwide obsession in the early 2000s. In case you weren’t born yet (the only plausible explanation for the ignorance), Twilight is a four-book saga, with each book produced into a widely popular movie. With a controversial love-triangle between a weak human, a stalking vampire, and a hot werewolf, every teenage girl dreamed of being a seemingly average Bella, the object of fascination amongst Edward and Jacob.

The last movie, Breaking Dawn Part 2, was released in 2012, so a lot of (us) Twilight fans settled for simply rereading and rewatching the saga since then. That was until 2008, when Stephenie’s working book Midnight Sun was leaked online. After that, she put the writing on hold, and it wasn’t until 12 years later, during the summer of 2020, that it was available for preorder.

As a desperate, slightly embarrassed die-hard fan, I was able to order one of the last signed copies. And I waited, and waited, and waited, through an entire pandemic, until the 658-page novel was in my hands, ready to be devoured.

I know what you’re thinking. “Doesn’t Vik have anything better to read?” No, in fact, I do not.I owe this to my 12-year-old self. She would kill me if I didn’t read this book. And besides, I’m sure you’re a fan of something embarrassing. This is my something. Stop judging!

First impressions.

When the box finally came in the mail and I was able to hold the heavy black-bound book to my chest, I felt a wave of nostalgia. It reminded me of my fifth-grade self, who proudly carried the book around for a month IMG_2032because I thought it made me look smart.

I read faster now, but it still took me an entire week to get through Midnight Sun (I was distracted by a kitten and a summer internship).

If you’re considering whether or not to splurge for the hardcover, I’ve included some opinions and recommendations to help you out.

So: How was Twilight from Edward’s perspective?

 

Well, it wasn’t a disappointment. 

Honestly, just opening the book was exciting enough to make it the best part of this miserable summer.

Midnight Sun had peculiar parameters. Stephenie knew she couldn’t stray too far from the original plot without complaint, but she also wanted to reward readers with some new scenes. She stayed faithful to the main scenes and famous lines, but she did alter the timeline a bit. I personally appreciated her focusing on Edward’s feelings towards Bella, because I already knew the plot and didn’t need to reimagine the Forks High School setting. The author emphasized how a vampire brain worked, how useful yet torturous mind-reading was, and gave us some history that Edward had kept from Bella. Stephenie gave us more insight on Edward’s first interactions and impressions, and we finally got an explanation for his convulsed face during the first biology class. She also showed us a new perspective on Bella, however after watching the movies we already had access to that third-person view.

I think that Midnight Sun, a different version of the Twilight, was a strategic way to satisfy fans. A prequel or an additional sequel had potential of ruining the plot, and it would’ve been practically impossible to produce a movie with the same actors and directors. With Midnight Sun, there’s no need for an adaptation or a different, unsatisfactory plot.

The actors formed the characters. 

Typically, an author calls the shots and orchestrates their own characters, and then it’s the job of the casting director to find someone that matches the fictional character. However, Twilight grew in popularity due to the actors themselves, and Kristen Steward, Robert Pattinson and Taylor Lautner weren’t just actors in Twilight, they WERE Twilight.

This wasn’t a problem before, because the books had been written before the movies. However in this case, Midnight Sun’s characters had to align with these actors, or else fans would have been fairly disappointed.

Therefore, my brain was forced to fight a battle between imagining the characters as they were described, and imagining the characters as the actors. Ultimately, the actors won out, and there was no potential for me to imagine a different kind of Bella, even if she was described from a new perspective. This aspect was frustrating because I like to have my own mental pictures. But, I also feel grateful for Stephenie’s loyalty to Robert Pattinson because he was the perfect Edward, and it would’ve been odd to read about someone with different physical features.

The predictability.

I don’t reread books very often, so anticipating a familiar plot is not a familiar feeling. While I was reading, I knew exactly what would happen, and how it would happen. Therefore, the motivation behind reading was, uniquely, not finding out what would happen, but to find out more about the characters– like doing deeper research on a known subject.

The review. 

Midnight Sun was a good book. Stephenie’s description of facial features and landscapes is formidable. Edward’s perspective, thought-process, word-choice was realistic. The mood throughout the novel was a bit somber though, as it was Edward’s internal battle between doing what he thought was right and what felt right. This battle was exhausting at times, but as an over-thinker myself, I was sympathetic. Stephenie also tried to defend Edward by acknowledging that his peeping-tom activities weren’t ethical, and he felt remorse for them. However, in my opinion, she was still unable to completely defend a relationship that was toxic in nature.

As I’m no longer a fifth-grader who believes in secret vampires, I couldn’t find myself yearning to be Bella again. My good ole 20 years have engraved the importance of a healthy relationship, so it was difficult to admire the intensity of Bella and Edward.

Nonetheless, I really do enjoy this story. It’s a reminder of the giddy excitement I used to feel about mythical creatures and boys and high school. It’s an odd feeling having gone through those things (without a vampire prom-date, how disappointing), and reading Twilight as a realistic adult. Yet, something about making the impossible work is still addicting, and Stephenie Meyer gave the addicts more words to read. For that, I am grateful.

I would recommend this book to the Twilight-devotees who have watched the movies at least three times. Everyone else: you’ll probably hate it just as much as last time.

P.S. I may or not be rewatching Twilight as I type this.

The Job Rejection

Nothing like a reminder that you’re mediocre compared to everyone else. 

There’s all types of pain. Paper cuts, bruises, breakups, watching your mom eat a spoonful of mayonnaise… the list goes on. We survive that pain by knowing that we’ll heal. The scab will fall off, the boyfriend — uglier than the scab — will be forgotten, and your mom, well sorry, she’ll probably keep eating the mayonnaise. But I’ve found one pain to be completely un-healable: the job rejection.

You see, when you get rejected from a position, it’s personal, and not even in a shallow way. In most cases, it was your resume that got rejected, a thing that’s totally and entirely in your control. At least when a guy rejects me I can blame it on his bad taste, but there’s no one to blame in this situation but myself.

Did they not like the font I used? Was that it? Was it too crowded, am I too experienced? I just wanted to demonstrate my versatility! (Even though the “photoshop proficiency” was highly exaggerated.)

“Carried out office managerial tasks under CEO?” Yeah I took out her trash once after the smell started wafting into the hallway.

They didn’t just reject me, they rejected an above-average, professionally-exaggerated me. They rejected me based on my experience, my work ethic and my lies. Which means, quite frankly, I suck at all the things that actually matter. Maybe I should’ve attached a picture.

And the worst part. The WORST part is when you don’t get any closure. No “sorry to inform you” or “the other applicants were just SO much better.” You get ghosted. So there you are: broke, jobless, untalented, and devoid of success.

So yeah, getting rejected by some dude at the bar? That pain doesn’t even come close.

P.S. I channeled the pain into an extremely long application and actually landed an internship. Let’s go losers!

Coronavirus: The Golden PR Opportunity

If I see another company trying to “support” me through this pandemic by telling me that curbs are having a moment, I’m going to lose it. (No seriously, it’s an actual CarMax commercial).

When COVID-19 infiltrated our lives, companies were expected to send out statements telling us to stay safe, even though most of those emails laid untouched in our inboxes. Perhaps we didn’t consciously care about which companies gave us updates and which ones stayed silent, but it turns out that most consumers actually do care about getting that email.

In fact, 78% of consumers want companies to address social justice issues.

COVID-19 wasn’t exactly a social justice issue, but it was problem that left customers clueless and answers scrambled.

Some released commercials about unity and safety. Uber, Samsung, Budweiser transformed a pandemic into some variation of a “we will get through this together” slogan. I don’t know about you, but Samsung’s attempt at relatability was more try-hard than me trying to bond with the professor I need a letter of rec from. The Budweisers seem to be helping though.

Do these ads mean anything to you? Perhaps they fulfilled a few consumer expectations. Say something– anything– with the words “in these times” or “unprecedented” and it means you care about your customer, right?

It’s not that easy. Even though marketing students didn’t take “how to tastefully make a pandemic campaign” in college, the garnished COVID commercial with that chippy piano melody is a weak attempt at showing thoughtfulness. And I’m not the only one who noticed.

In a Guardian’s opinion piece on the coronavirus outbreak, Robert Reich wrote about the morally repulsive ways corporations are exploiting the poor and powerless. Reich calls out Richard Burr’s stock advantage, the airline bailout and the fact that major giants like McDonalds aren’t offering paid sick leave for their employees. Meaning, corporations are as selfish as ever and aren’t focused on making the lives of their people easier during this “hard time.”

However, some companies have taken real action.  Amazon set aside $7 million for aid (Jeff Bezos probably found some spare change in his couch cushions). Apple donated at least 10 million masks. Bank of America is deferring mortgage payments and issuing some refunds.

Did these companies donate out of their kindred corporate hearts? Probably not. Did they exploit a CSR opportunity for some good PR? Of course they did. But we Americans expect them to do some good, and in the business world, any investment needs a return.

The coronavirus was a unique circumstance, but also a unique chance for companies to show they care about their consumers and their employees. Sending the email or making a corona commercial did address the social issue, but without action behind the words, the golden PR opportunity is ingenuine and thus, unsuccessful.

As 2020’s turmoil continues, marketing teams are going to have to navigate an increasingly sensitive and divided audience. How do you keep one audience without offending the other?

I wasn’t The Popular Kid

A coming-of-age story isn’t always quite so cute. 

We all know the kind of people that peaked in high school. If you take a peak at their Facebook now, their unearned high school glory is probably replaced by a pregnancy or a mediocre degree that earns them a mediocre job.

I’m bitter, I know. But that’s only because I didn’t peak in high school. Nor middle, nor elementary school. In fact, I’m still on the incline to my peak, hoping that by the time I graduate college, I’ll have my career perfectly planned out, a face without pores, and a wardrobe appropriate for an actual, put-together adult.

I think my unpopularity dates back to elementary school, where I wore huge white bows to picture day because according to my mom, “that’s how we do it in Russia.” I didn’t have a blackberry, and in combination with not having Uggs, I knew my chances of making it into the popular clique were nonexistent. So my twin sister and I, aka the weird twins of Dublin Heights Elementary and Middle School, made our own clique. Sure, it was a bit lonelier, but at least we had sleepovers every night.

Middle school wasn’t much better, but by then I had my books that my homeroom teacher (who doubled as the school librarian) would leave in my desk. They kept me company when the other kids wouldn’t. I started eating, walking and sleeping with a book, and the world became much more interesting.

When I moved to the states in the eighth grade, a new country allowed for a new identity. I made friends, found a crush, and I finally felt like an ounce of popularity. I stopped bringing a book to school, and I had an IPOD– it was lime green and very cool.

Unfortunately, my happiness was short-lived when my family moved 4 hours north, leaving my friends and my frail popularity behind.

It was all new again, and yet it felt like elementary school all over again. The Student Government kids didn’t smile at me and my classmates hated my eagerness to answer questions (I really liked answering questions). Lunches were spent at libraries with my sister by my side. The school excluded us, so we excluded them, and it was like that until college.

Looking back at everything, I realized I didn’t regret any of it. Thanks to my mom, who didn’t let me trade my individuality for conformity, I’m entirely my own person. I’m not afraid to be rejected or excluded, because I know I’m fine on my own. I’m confident, and even though I’m not a perfectly put-together adult yet, I’m not pregnant yet so that’s a win.

This story actually does have a happy ending though. When I got to college, it all changed. People smiled first, and they were eager to call me their best friend. I felt appreciated and loved and myself, with or without the Uggs and the blackberry.

So just in case there’s a very proficient first grader reading this, don’t try to be the Popular Kid. Focus on being the smart kid, so you don’t end up at FSU. #gogators

P.S. The American High School experience is SO not like the movies.

The Sun is Also a Star: An Amateur Review

My summer company has thus consisted of one cat and two books. And I’m allergic to one of those things. 

I’m not sure why I picked up this book. Its loud cover screaming “Pick Me!” seemed to do the opposite.

However, the “National Book Award” sticker I spotted at the top right corner gave me some hope. So standing decision-less in the lonely book isle of Target, I succumbed to the powers of the sticker and let it make the decision for me. After reading the synopsis, my red cart was about a pound heavier.

The story:

The universe brings two teenagers together who are meant to be, but not forever.

The Review

It sounds cheesy and dramatic, I know. But Nicola Yoon didn’t make this a predictable, happily-ever-after love story.

I picked it up and didn’t set it back down until I was at the last 12 pages and my feeble eyes gave up on me. The writing was completely captivating, and it made me feel like I existed as an unbothersome third-wheel between the lines of a stranger’s life.

The lovers’ universe was surrounded by the kind of hardship you only find in real life, and not usually found in romantic YA novels. The two characters, Daniel and Natasha, were an unorthodox pair yet fell pray to the predictable clichés of love. Reading the book felt like reading another version of your own love story.

Natasha and Daniel come from different backgrounds, but they both had uneasy immigrant journeys. I’ve been an immigrant my whole life, but this book made me rethink what immigration was like for my parents, and how lucky I am to live in a country that I can raise my kids in.

Like the immigrants in the book, we struggle between finding a sense of belonging and assimilation. Immigration breaks families, and Ms. Yoon portrayed it like it is. There wasn’t any artificially-flavored strawberry sugar coating. Being an immigrant is hard and it sucks.

The chapters alternated between different perspectives and timelines, but the smooth writing was able to seamlessly guide a reader from person to time. The author’s explanations were short–  a lot was said with little words.

Finally, the plot was both dramatic yet possible. It was a stand-off between dreams and reality, surveyed through the perspective of the two main characters. Their love story felt real and made me believe the things they tried to convince each other.

In conclusion, the sticker was right. The reviews were right. And I’ll be right as soon as you read it. It’s a good book.

P.S. I still don’t like the cover though.

P.P.S. I’m about to watch the movie and if they leave out the good parts… (the book is always better than the movie).

An Unprecedented Chaos

Kids, this is the story of how our lives turned into a panicked world-wide pandemic where old people died. 

Life feels surreal right now.

Hand sanitizer is $55. The stock market is the worst it’s been in 12 years. I’m thinking twice about kissing someone.

Last week, I was on spring break, elated to be away from classes and having the chance to sleep in past 10 a.m. Today, I’m praying I’ll sit in a classroom again before the end of the semester. How dramatic of me.

The coronavirus panic has halted our entire lives. I remember reading that Japan was closing its schools, back when the virus felt distant and foreign. It was shocking, yet just a few weeks later, we faced the same threat. It’s a newsflash of how delicate our stately society really is, and how threatened we feel when its structure shows vulnerability.

My plans for the next few months have crumbled. Nothing dramatic, but I was going to go to networking events, some speeches, throw a huge party for my 20th birthday and sail off on a cruise to the Bahamas. Now, every carefully programmed event in my calendar has a threatening question mark next to it.

This feeling of cluelessness brings me uncertainty, but also a feeling of excitement because we’re all forced to live in the moment. Since I don’t have a plan to obsess over tomorrow, I can, for the first time in a long time, just sit down and ask myself what I want to do tonight. I suddenly found the liberty to blog again, to sign out a library book and stop stressing about the boy that’s not texting me back. As crises usually do, the coronavirus has forced a re-alignment of my priorities, which turns out — shockingly– wasn’t assignments due Sunday.

I still have a lot of questions that nobody can answer. I don’t know whether I’m supposed to go home or stay in my soon-to-be college ghost town. Should I go out this weekend? Should I avoid any contact with frat boys who are 46% likely to not wash their hands? (Not an official statistic).

For once, my professors don’t have the answers, which I think is truly testing their god-complexes.  My 73-year-old reporting professor is still passionately resisting transitioning to an online course.

Maybe we’ll all be fine in two weeks when they find an antidote. Maybe we’ll all be quarantined and die. Maybe I’ll be on a beach in Aruba when I “accidentally” buy a $200 round trip ticket.

Whatever happens, I’ll never forget the week where our precise, organized lives turned into unprecedented chaos.

P.S. The upside? We won’t have to see the rich people’s Coachella pics until October (it was postponed).

 

Rest in peace, Kobe and Gigi Bryant

The whole country is mourning a loss that left behind a vast emptiness.

I’m not a fan of basketball. I’ve never been. I’ve always hated the friction of the ball and the way your opponents trick you into running up and down the court. But as someone on Twitter pointed out, I still heard the middle schools boys shout “Kobe” each time they threw anything– a balled-up piece of paper, an old pencil and once, my banana. And so even though I was never a real fan, I can’t go on social media without tearing up because Kobe’s dramatic influence had made its way into my life, in one way or another.

Every celebrity posted a picture yesterday of themselves with Kobe and a caption of what he meant to them. He touched the lives of the young and old, the artistic and the athletic, the hopeful and the hopeless. His passing touched the hearts of all those and everyone in between.

Perhaps his impact was so widespread because it was honorable. He inspired people through his character and made his success through talent and hard-work, which is not something everyone can say.

When he died, his fans weren’t afraid to show their vulnerable pain. Most of these fans, athletes accustomed to hiding emotion, let tears fall freely because their idol was dead, and nothing else mattered.

Why Kobe? Why does he feel like a personal loss to so many strangers? I think it’s because those strangers instilled hope and pride in him for years when he was on the court. In his community, Kobe was a staple of pride and glory. He was a good dad, a good husband and a good teammate.

His death, alongside his daughter Gigi, was an unfathomable one. By only the fault of fate did he and eight other people lose their lives.

But this isn’t an obituary. I wanted to reflect on what his death showed us.

His death did something to the world, just as his life had. To see the responses to his death have been a relief because it reminded me humanity still exists. We all still share untainted love and respect towards something, someone.

Kobe reminded us that life, no matter how successful, is temporary. He reminded us that all we leave behind is a legacy, and that we can only work towards leaving a legacy as legendary as his. I’m not a Lakers fan nor do I pretend to be one, but I still somehow feel the loss of his life as if I were one.

P.S. My sincerest condolences go to all the family member’s whose lives were forever changed by this tragic incident.

My Turn to Be the Captain

I’m a horrible decision maker. My friends know this, my mom knows this and the Starbucks cashier knows this. I’ve treated indecisiveness as a quirky trait and as a result, I’ve continuously let people make decisions for me.

They were little decisions. Easy ones. Should I text him in an hour or in a few days? Should I buy this bag in pink or white? Should I take a nap or do my assignment?

But after a bit–okay a lot–of time , I realized that all of these little decisions were contributing to the big ones, which were making up my entire life. I was letting others dictate the makeup of my whole life through a series of small, insignificant choices.

I’m not sure why I’ve always had trouble making a decision. Perhaps I’m scared to be responsible for the turnout of any consequence, and if someone else makes a choice, then I can’t be blamed, right? Maybe it’s a manifestation of my being considerate, like not wanting to make a choice someone might not be happy with.

Living as a twin, and a best friend to my twin, our lives are a partnership. We’re a perfect system of yin-and-yang, which means constantly being aware of another person. I love this aspect of my life, but I think it has caused me to compromise on validating a lot of my own emotions.

For example, tonight, I was super tired. I had been waking up with a sore throat for a few days, and I could feel the sickness starting to weigh me down like a ship with a small hole in the stern. And after a tough week at school, it seemed unfeasible to get dressed and follow through on plans, even on a Friday night. But no, plans had been made, my sister was ready and my eyeliner was perfect. Besides, I’m tired every night when I go out, so maybe I’d have fun like the other times.

As soon as we got to the pre-game, I realized how wrong I had been. I wasn’t a little tired, I was too-dead-to-stay-standing tired. As my friends waved me over to join them in the fascinating art of tiktok dancing, I mumbled an excuse and said I didn’t have the energy. My sister glanced over me with a confused look and said, “You’re tired? I had no idea.”

And I realized she was right. Throughout the whole night, from getting ready to pizza rolls to brownies (and back to pizza rolls, they were exquisite) to the pre, I hadn’t thought to tell anyone I wasn’t up for going out. I hadn’t even told anyone I was on the verge of a very nasty something-virus, even though my throat had been killing me all day.

Why did I do this to myself you ask? I didn’t want to ruin a good night (even though, as you might expect, I wasn’t exactly life of the party) or maybe I didn’t want to waste a solid Friday night in college. Whatever the reason, it shouldn’t have kept me from saying the four words that would’ve provided a safe and early passage to bed; “I want to go home.”

I finally did make it home. After my sister’s discovery of what had been going on inside my brain, she devised a genius plan: I drop off the tipsy at a nearby club and go home. So, ladies and gentleman, it’s Friday night–Saturday morning–and I luckily didn’t end up at any club. I’m laying in bed, blogging and peacefully tea-drinking.

It’s hard for me to make decisions and speak up for myself. But you know what, I picked out a fantastic avocado the other day, so maybe things are looking up for me.

P.S. Sooo should I wait until he reads my text? I shouldn’t double-text right? No, no, that’s never a good move.