Dungeons & Disaster by Ella Szalay

About a year ago, the Shaker Theatre Arts program put on a virtual production of She Kills Monsters, most of which takes place in a Dungeons and Dragons campaign. A friend and I were both in the show, and after a few weeks of rehearsals, they asked me if I wanted to actually play D&D. They said I could join a campaign with some of their friends, even though it had been running for a few months. I had never thought about trying it, but since the opportunity came up, I was like “Why not?” I got a character sheet made, and Haruko Crispina, my first ever D&D character, was born. Since it’s been about a year since her creation, I thought now was the perfect time to look back on the, for lack of a better word, interesting things she’s done.

Originally, I imagined Haruko as a book-smart voice of reason for the campaign who also makes a few questionable decisions on occasion. Until she started traveling with the rest of the party, she was a major bookworm who had never left her hometown, which is a safe haven for magic-users like herself. However, if there’s one thing I’ve learned after being in a few campaigns, it’s that your character will often end up being a bit different than you originally imagined. I’m not sure what exactly it was that made me change Haruko’s personality, but chances are that it was the very first session. As I said earlier, I’d joined this campaign a few months after it started, so the rest of the party had been traveling together for a bit. At the point Haruko was introduced, everyone else arrived in her hometown, and they were taking tests so they could be protected by this city in the future. While three people still had to pass their combat-based tests, two others were finished and decided to go watch the others. On the way, they met Haruko and invited her to come with them. They then proceeded to drink excessive amounts of chocolate milk as they watched the rest of the party complete their combat trials. Because of this incident, not only did Haruko join the party, but the group decided to call themselves the Chocolate Milk Club.

Fast forward about six months (in campaign, not real time), the Chocolate Milk Club found themselves “forcefully employed” by the government, which is a very long story. They had been there for about three months at this point, and Haruko gained the position of a junior researcher, as well as an intern under one of the main researchers of the institute, Lia Amakiir. Haruko had noticed that Lia hadn’t been coming to dinner for the past few weeks, and she decided to use her pager to tell Lia to come eat. There had been a few incidents with the Chocolate Milk Club and poorly sending messages, so the DM thought it would be funny to have me say exactly what it is Haruko was going to say to Lia. I have no clue what possessed me while I was improvising this message, but I started it with “hey shawty,” which greatly confused everyone there. I decided to roll with it, exclusively referring to Lia as shawty the entire session. Eventually, one of the party members asked why Haruko was calling her that, and I panicked because I didn’t have a reason that made sense in character. On the spot, I created the story of a book from Haruko’s childhood where the main character was a half-elf wizard who worked for the government as a scientist, much like Lia. This character happened to be named Shawty, and Haruko saw the similarities between her and Lia, and that’s how it all started. However, the best part of the shawty incident has to be when Haruko attempted to check out a book from the library, but she was too low-ranked to check it out, and so sirens started blaring and she was taken by security guards. Seeing her badge, the guards asked who her superior was, to which she replied, “Lia Shawty Amakiir.” This led to a lecture from Lia herself, not about setting off the library alarms, but about when and where Haruko can call her shawty.

So the moral of the story here is  1) try new things, because otherwise you’ll never know if they might click, 2) not everything will always turn out the way you imagine, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad, and 3) don’t call your boss shawty. At least, not in front of government officials.

Feelings By Kian Baker

Gripping the vinyl picnic table with my cold hands, they turn white from the pressure. I can feel my heart pounding in my chest, my head becoming heavy, and the muscles in my back tensing. My thoughts are an endless cycle of personal abuse, emptying rounds of self-hatred into my skull and bleeding from eyes and nostrils. My breaths are short and confined, like an iron plate has been set on my chest, with my conscious pushing his hands down harder and harder until I drown in my own emotions. I never understood why they hated me so much, but I knew it was my fault.

Watching others cut you with their words, digging deep into insecurities you didn’t know you had, feels like falling down the stairs expecting to hit the hard relief of the floor, but it never arrives. My own selfishness is what I presumed to be the problem, pushing other people away because I couldn’t trust them, but now I wonder if I was justified in my choices. I’ve learned no one is naturally empathetic; it is learned from our peers, and those who presume their blood is concentrated with other people’s emotions, only look down from their pedestal of sympathy.

I am selfish, entitled, and arrogant, putting myself first before others, and slashing their sentences with my own internal hatred. I will gossip and treat others poorly, only to reflect on my behaviors and regret my actions. I am nothing but mistakes stitched together by lessons I have learned, and a strong desire to fix those I have broken. I have been coerced to reveal my vulnerabilities, and manipulated others to do the same. 

They have stared into my eyes, denied my identity, and boasted their delusions, filling my veins with acid and muscles with sand, but I keep my composure. I smile and don’t entice them, because I know they are polite and distant as birds, but claw out your eyes if provoked. Do I have a right to compare them to animals? Am I nothing more than a weaker bird with weaker delusions? Have I been trained to believe I am unique and special, but in reality we are the same?

Opening my eyes I feel the cold air pierce my pupils and the blue sky swallow my thoughts. My hands now hurt from the pressure, and I feel a hand on my back. She never asks me why I am upset, only looks at me with concern. She never asks me to explain and never tells me my reasons are subpar. Sometimes she doesn’t listen, but when she does, she takes in every syllable, pause, and stutter in my speech. They converse about my concerns and work without my knowledge to find a solution. I should be grateful for all I have, the house I live in, the counters I sit on, the blankets I pile under, but does my privilege justify my spiral of self-hatred? Is it punishment for the things god has given me or is it another lesson I must learn from?

She walks me to the baskets of tickets, and I get to break them apart across their perforated lines and sit in silence. The warm stone floors and dark wood trim have absorbed my panic and drained my mind, releasing me from the torture of my conscious. 

Although they write in their notebooks, draw on their screens, and hand me pills and pages of paper, sometimes I feel like they aren’t listening, no matter how hard I scream.

The Holiday Conflict by Reece Turner

As Halloween fades, its decaying pumpkins becoming compost for the soon to be frozen over front lawns that once held plastic skeletons and inflatable Frankenstein heads, a new holiday aesthetic is quickly yet silently ushered in. The ghosts and zombies that were once plastered on every fingerprint-stained store window fall to the ground, their adhesion used to put up evergreen trees and festive deer and images of crystal balls hanging upside down. 

“What about Thanksgiving?” collectively groan the workers and students forced to endure the Mariah Carey and Rankin Bass stop motion clogging the airwaves TV channels otherwise devoted to more tolerable entertainment. 

 

The worst offender of this holiday erasure is the retail hivemind, whose storefronts in a manner of days change from orange to green and purple to red. Of course, Thanksgiving isn’t profitable; you can’t sell turkeys and cranberries as well as snowmen and magic, but this economic characteristic renders November a conflicting mess of leaves and snow and caramel apples and eggnog, each vying for control over the collective consciousness of the middle class. The holiday war comes to a crescendo midway through the month, around thanksgiving, when the excitement of the poultry-lovers and amateur chefs builds to the point that even 20-foot trees and elegantly blinking lights can’t snuff it out. After a Black Friday denouement, the muddled tug-of-war dissipates, and blankets of snow cover the decaying leaves and a curtain falls on the season of floundering heat and bountiful harvest.

 

And as December hits, an interesting phenomenon occurs: the dissidents of Christmas silently assimilate, their hatred for the boisterous holiday being finally eroded in this final month. And in the coming weeks up go the Christmas trees and Christmas ornaments, and on go the Christmas carols and Xmas sales, with even the most staunch of festive opposition coming to terms with the encroaching Christmas spirit. This peace lasts until the New Year, where the reindeer and elves hibernate until the next Christmas cycle, their influence echoing on into the coming year.

Dear NXR by Mia Compton-Engle

Dear NXR, 

Thank you, thank you, thank you. Thank you, first and foremost, for the swag—I mean, I’ve been hyping up these (detachable pom pom, might I add) neon hats excessively, and yet they did not disappoint. Thank you also for the extravagant exhibitions of Nike might—the columns, the painted van (Oregon license plate, nice touch), the start and finish, and oh my goodness, that course (*swoon*). I understand now why LaVern Gibson is fit for champions and Terre Haute, Indiana is Cross Country Town, USA. Truly, yours is a victory, and my pilgrimage (albeit capitalistic) was nothing less than the epitome of self-fulfillment.

Upon reflection, though, thank you for more.

Thank you for a car ride’s deep meaningful conversations, Red (Taylor’s Version), and rest, a bell jar’s chilling nihility warmed by companionable silence. Thanks—and thanks again—for my dear burrito babies, this temporary satiation of my never-ending runner’s hunger. Thank you for distant connections (absence makes the heart grow fonder, or so they say), and thank you for loved ones near, hot cocoa in a homey lobby away from home. Thank you for a desolate, post-apocalyptic midwestern landscape breathed new vitality by the optimistic “Just Do It” youth. After running through snow and sleet, wind and mud have never seemed more exhilaratingly possible. Thank you for the Heat Waves beat drop the moment we flew downhill, surely intentional on your part. For some nights to come, all I will think about is you. Thank you, too, for hazy showers, for endless carbs, for tours of Italy Nonna style (and, of course, friends who fork-feed you). Thank you for a community in which I can sincerely appreciate All Too Well: The Short Film only somewhat misty eyed. And, hey, thank you for the lively board games, the comforting Disney movies, and the overwhelming sense of security as I surrender myself to sweet sleep. 

Thank you, furthermore, for early morning bathroom study sessions followed by the ultimate breakfast—peanut butter toast, please! And thank you for the cowbells, because seriously, who in their right mind hasn’t experienced a serotonin boost from a simple cowbell. Thanks for the chill van time, the team dad time—let it be known that I have never been so proud of myself as when I successfully closed that overflowing trunk. Fatherhood triumph! And, okay, fine—thank you for the race itself. Thank you for this last opportunity to rewrite my high school cross country narrative and establish my senior legacy, not just as a competitor, but as a teammate. Thank you for the chance to be silly and spontaneous as a Shake City Snake (hiss?); I have freed unadulterated joy for running from past pressure and expectations once again. Thank you for a final podium finish with my family, somehow more meaningful by surprise. And thank you for the nostalgic memory tree (you know the one), the ability to launch my well-worn running shoes onto a branch already supporting countless others—thus joining my season with that of the collective—and at the end of the day, walk away from it all, finally content.

In other words, thank you for the closure. Dear NXR, I thank you, thank you, thank you.

Yours,

Mia

 

 

Breaks and Mistakes by Evan Barragate

Whether it is in spring, summer, autumn, or winter, or if it lasts three months or only a week, I always appreciate breaks from school. After months of being strained for five days a week with a two-day weekend, much of which I spend working anyway, there becomes nothing to look forward to until I am reminded of an upcoming break. As with the weekends, I do not take this time off for granted, and it is miraculous how quickly I loosen up. However, this is not because I resent school, as many students do. I instead resent the consistency of the school year and the lack of freedom I face. So, I rejoice when I finally reach these scarce, seasonal breaks. Despite the joy it brings me, this freedom’s most prominent effect is its tendency to lead me to do things that I’m not supposed to do.

Despite being an angel, I almost always get in trouble or do something embarrassing on breaks. But this doesn’t happen because of any rebellious motive I harbor throughout the year that appears over holiday breaks, like Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny. And it’s not intentional the majority of the time; it just happens, and the events are memorable. In regards to a break, I may be quick to forget the food I ate, the sights I saw, the people I met, or even where I vacationed, but I always enjoy reminiscing on the embarrassing mistakes I have made over break. I would also assume that others would be more interested in hearing these stories as well. If I explain my nearly annual trips to the magnificent New York City and describe the eminent sights I see, I wouldn’t expect anyone else to be interested because this is only significant for me. Similarly, I wouldn’t be interested in hearing about other people’s vacations.

So, to celebrate the finish line of the autumn portion of the school year being so near, as Thanksgiving break is in a week, I have decided to look back on these instances of my foolish faults that have taken place during any break.

The first example that comes to mind is my hot tub confusion in Turks and Caicos while vacationing over spring break with my family. For context, this was a beautiful location with one of my favorite hotels. The pool was incredibly long and stretched from our hotel to the white, sandy beach. So, it only made sense for there to be a hot tub as well. And then I saw it: a circular, smaller pool with jets letting water majestically flow until they crashed into the surface below. My discovery overjoyed me, and I immediately leaped to grab a raft and make my way into the hot tub. For an unknown reason, the water wasn’t nearly as warm as I had anticipated, but I still felt complete bliss. After a couple of minutes floating on my raft in the hot tub, a hotel employee (who didn’t know how to mind his own business) had the nerve to yell at me, claiming that I was in the hotel’s fountain. This was an incredibly embarrassing moment for me, so thankfully, I can say that I was only in fifth grade – even though I could see this happening now.

The second experience in mind was actually during the same trip, which I’m sure you could assume was an entertaining one for my family. A day or two following my hot tub incident, I decided to go paddle boarding. Excited by the endless turquoise water below me and clear skies above, I easily got the hang of rowing and felt I could continue paddling forever, which I subconsciously seemed to be doing. However, all vacationers are familiar with the long ropes attached to floating bobs that enclose the designated area of the ocean for a resort. These ropes always frustrate me because why should I be prevented from the rest of the ocean? It’s a body of water; it doesn’t belong to anyone. Am I going to be arrested by the ocean police for paddling beyond this flimsy rope? So, I ignored this border and continued paddling into the distance. Also, I didn’t truly paddle this direction because I was set on doing so, but mostly because I didn’t know how to steer. This caused the beach safety patrolman to “rescue” me by boating out to my location. I shamefully had to travel back to my family and the crowd of beachgoers on the back of this boat – my day of paddling being cut short.

My third tale of embarrassment did not take place while vacationing with my family, but while on a short trip with my friends at a summer camp to a kayaking service on a river. As usual, I failed to pay attention when the instructors explained where our stopping point would be. But I figured that I would be fine. After these instructions and beginning our trip down the river, I became displeased with friends’ rowing speed and impressed by my own, inspiring me to leave them behind. I possessed some competitive attitude that seems to have disappeared by now, and I internally made the leisurely activity out to be a race. I felt accomplished after passing everyone I was with – beating them in a race they didn’t know they were in. Nothing could stop me, but that was my problem. I didn’t know where to stop, and I didn’t know where I was going. So, rather than logically deciding to put down my paddle and wait for the others, I continued at my intense rate with no clear intention. After what felt like hours, I observed my surroundings shift, and I felt as if I had kayaked out of the country. Finally, I gave in and decided to paddle back towards where I came, which I knew would take far longer as I would have to travel against the river’s current. After an eternity of kayaking, a diving unit discovered me, asking if I was alright and preparing to take me back. They acted as if I was drowning and like they had to rescue me, causing me to roll my eyes the whole way back.

I believe that the freedom brought by vacation goes to my head, which results in these embarrassing events. Does that mean that I think I should restrain myself while on break to prevent these mistakes? No, I believe the opposite. I regret none of these experiences because everyone deserves to do what they want when they get a break after a period of hard work, regardless of whether or not it is allowed. Hopefully, I will be able to laugh at another one of these mistakes this Thanksgiving break.

Rules of a Sanctuary by Julia Mennes

Sleep. Ever since I was little, it has been something I have looked at as a daunting chore. Even when I find myself with the rare opportunity to go to bed early, the experience soon becomes anything but relaxing. My mind grows anxious as I desperately count the total hours I will be able to sleep. As I watch this number slowly decrease, I quickly think up all of the more productive things I could be doing than just lazily laying in my bed. I always assumed I was just one of the unlucky ones, that I was cursed with the unpleasant gift of insomnia. But, recent realizations have led me to the conclusion that I do not have to settle with this recurring problem. Sure, everyone has times that they simply can’t sleep, but I do not have to just watch from the sidelines. I realized one of the most important parts of my sleep is the setting I put myself in to drift off. And as I like to call it, my sanctuary. The Miriam Webster dictionary defines sanctuary as a place that provides safety or protection. This was exactly what I was in search of. In order to make my bedroom a sanctuary, I had to make a few changes in both my physical space and my habits. After making these changes and experiencing a bit of trial and error, I have compiled a list of my rules for creating (and maintaining) a sanctuary. 

  1. Start by looking at your daytime habits. Sleep is not just something that involves night. Do you have enough activity (physical and/or mental) going on to even be tired at night? How about your caffeine intake? Are you napping during the day? In order to get the best sleep and make the most of the sanctuary, your mind must be ready for relaxation.
  2. Lose the distractions. I know it’s hard to do, but screens do not belong in the sanctuary. From personal experience, they disrupt sleep and add an unneeded distraction to your mind. This goes along with homework. If possible, doing homework in a space other than your room is much better. Having it right in front of me as I try to relax just stresses me out even more. 
  3. Make the space personal! I would assume your room is already rather personal, but add some things that specifically calm your mind. For me, this is a pumpkin candle I keep on my bedside table. Lighting it every night is one of my steps to relaxation. 

With that, I hope you can sleep soundly knowing you are maximizing your relaxation time in your very own sanctuary.

Gobble Gobble by Vivian Bowling

Image may contain Food
I finally got all my Christmas decorations up. Technically I did it on October 25th which is multiple days before it is considered socially acceptable. Actually, depending on who you talk to, December 1st is the only acceptable day to start decorating for Christmas. November is supposed to be the turkey month. The month of Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is easily my least favorite holiday. I would happily celebrate any holiday before I sat around my table with the same family I see every other weekend and eat dry turkey which makes me feel tired and sad. I grew up in a very small family. It is my immediate family, my aunt, and then my grandma and grandpa. That is it. If seeing family is what makes Thanksgiving a holiday, then every time I drive 10 minutes to my Grans house it’s a holiday. Now you might be thinking, isn’t Christmas the same then? Well, yes, but with eggnog and Mariah Carey it’s significantly better. Thanksgiving is just bland. You eat dressing, as my Kentucky Gran calls it, or stuffing if you are literally anybody but her. Cranberries and yams are practically stuffed down your throat. I hate both of those foods and I really don’t know who decided they were acceptable to be paired with mashed potatoes and dry turkey. The only thing worse than eating these foods on Thanksgiving is having to eat the same foods as leftovers for literally the next week. In elementary school, they told us a most likely false story about pilgrims, made us make hand turkeys and called it a day on the history of the holiday. Yet here we are, still celebrating Thanksgiving. There is not even good music or movies to be paired with this day. Squirrels eat the pumpkin decorations I put out so that’s a waste. Pie is almost drier than turkey so the dessert part sucks just as much as the rest of the day. Alright I think it is understood that I hate this day. Anyways! Happy holidays!

In Memoriam by Anna Welsh

 

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They were a thrift shop find, my jeans. They fit me perfectly. They hit just above my waist and were long enough that I could cuff them if I wanted to, or leave them as is. They were not too skinny, nor were they too loose. I could run in them, lounge in them, actually sit down in them. They had no rips, or stains, and looked perfect with the crewnecks and Air Force Ones I was accustomed to wearing on rotation every day. Every time I wore those jeans, I felt like I was in The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants

Alongside those jeans, I had my favorite sweatpants. I’d gotten them at a thrift store as well, and they looked brand new. They were a dark, heathered gray, with the words “Boston University” printed on the right side in red block letters. Over the summer, I wore them almost every day. When the school year came around, I would change into them immediately when I got home, craving something comfortable in comparison to my rough jean shorts. Those BU sweatpants fit me better than any other sweatpants I have ever had the pleasure of owning. 

Now, however, both of my treasured pants are gone. I should have known that something so wonderful would only be fleeting. I have searched my house from top to bottom for both of them. My treasured BU sweatpants, where could they have gone? I haven’t seen them in months, yet sometimes I still dig through my closet, hoping that I had missed them when looking before, that they would somehow emerge from that void of blackness that they must have disappeared into. I do the same with my jeans, digging through my brother’s drawers, hoping desperately that they had gotten mixed up with theirs. But, alas, neither of my glorious pants have ever been found. And so I write this post in memory of both of them. 

They were good pants, great pants even. I will have other pants in my life, but none as versatile, none as well-fitted. Other people owned them before me, and maybe other people will own them again, wherever they have gone. Perhaps they will materialize someday, through some kind of divine act. Maybe one day I will be switching the laundry, and there they will be, waiting patiently for me. For now, however, they are lost. All I can do is thank them for their willingness to be overworn and overloved. I am so lucky to have found them and to have owned them. Goodbye, my beloved BU sweatpants and gorgeous blue jeans, goodbye. 

Why the Browns are Better Without Odell Beckham Jr. By Will Welsh

What Odell Beckham Jr. wants in his next NFL team

 

     When Odell Beckham Jr. was traded to Cleveland in March of 2019, Browns fans were overjoyed. Of course they had to give up a rising star in Jabril Peppers and a first and third round draft pick, but that was nothing compared to the debatably most talented wide receiver in the NFL. This was the man that garnered millions of fans from a single catch: the amazing, back bending, gravity defying, one handed grab culminating in a touchdown. The man that had executed the consensus best catch of the 2014 season was coming to Cleveland. 

     In his first season with the Browns, the 2019-2020 campaign, Beckham was a solid contributor. His personal statistics were up to par and he was the leading receiver in several games. This was the only season in Cleveland where Beckham surpassed or even got close to 1,000 yards receiving. Beckham also ended with 4 touchdowns and he had a couple of splash plays that were game defining moments. For example, he had an 87 yard touchdown off of a slant against the Jets that helped the Brown roll to a 23-3 win. Although his personal performance was solid in his first season, he got into some mischief as well. He was sidelined twice for illegal apparel and he was caught arguing with coaches on the sidelines several times. 

     In his second season with the Browns, Beckham had trouble connecting with Baker Mayfield. Apart from one multi-touchdown standout performance against the Cowboys, Beckham was nearly invisible. The star receiver tore his ACL after a pass meant for him was intercepted and he tried to tackle the defender. Without Beckham, Mayfield’s completion percentage shot up and the Browns clinched their first playoff berth in nearly 20 years. 

     In 2021, Beckham was invisible yet again and his best performance was a 77 yard 0 touchdown outing against the Bears. After Beckham was released by the team, Cleveland throttled Cincinnati 41-16 and Mayfield had his best game of the season, hitting Donovan Peoples-Jones on a 60 yard go ahead touchdown and finding the endzone once more with a strike to David Njoku. 

     The events of the past three seasons surely make the case that the Browns are better without Odell Beckham. The team seemed to have more chemistry and success with the star on the bench. Mayfield’s completion percentage and the team’s win percentage increased when Beckham was not involved. With the receiver, the Browns have a losing record of 13-15 and without him they have a record of 8-4. These losses can be partly attributed to quarterback play. Throughout Beckham’s time on the field, Mayfield has thrown 42 touchdowns to 29 interceptions. High chances of turnovers mean low chances of victory. Without Beckham demanding targets, Mayfield cleaned up his act and threw 14 touchdowns to only three interceptions. 

     For some reason, maybe due to chemistry or reputation, Odell Beckham did not fit well with the Cleveland Browns. It was a good college try from both sides, but the facts tell the truth. Cleveland is simply better without Beckham. A nail was driven into the coffin of this argument last Sunday. The Browns beat the Bengals handily and the ball was spread all around the field, with Landry, Peoples-Jones, Njoku, Schwartz, Bryant, Hooper, and Chubb all contributing in the pass game. The Browns’ future is bright with all these young stars. 

 

 

My Most Interesting Halloween Costumes By Rachel Coxon

Halloween was my favorite holiday growing up, and having a creative, homemade costume always made the night more memorable. 

 

In first grade, I was a tree. I don’t know why I was intrigued by this idea, but a ton of work went into that costume. My mom hot-glued over 50 felt leaves onto a jacket and figurines of birds and squirrels covered my shoulders. I wore a floppy hat with a nest perched on the top. As I went door-to-door, I remember a few moms stopping me to ask for a picture. 

 

As a fifth grader, I went as a jack-in-the-box. About an hour before trick-or-treating started, I took a big cardboard box and quickly cut out holes for my limbs and neck and decorated the sides. Unfortunately, the weather had plans of its own that night and pouring rain took to melting away the soggy cardboard. I had to throw the box away halfway through trick-or-treating, but was relieved to drop the weight. 

 

In eighth grade, I was a mime. I painted my face, threw on a beret, and had a blast doing the ‘I’m in a box’ skit throughout the night. 

 

Junior year, my friend and I dressed as members of the Blue Man Group. We painted our faces blue and hauled around recycling bins and PVC pipes the whole night as props.