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RUSSELL | Word 2017

Burnt popcorn has an odd appeal to it. It’s digestible nostalgia, and it tastes like bad TV movies and entire Saturdays spent in t-shirts and plaid pajama pants. I remember waking up on long summer days back home, during the glory days of tweenhood when I was too young to work and too old to watch shows listed as TV-G. I had chores to do and summer reading books to read and probably some practice or lesson for something on the schedule, but none of that was enough to keep me “busy” in any sense of the word. I had a lot of time and maybe the occasional burden, but never any responsibilities.

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RUSSELL | The Stewart Avenue Junkie Network

They tell you some of the first signs of drug abuse are social; a person changes their look, their friends, their personality. Maybe they become more irritable, or their whereabouts more mysterious. Addiction is a catalyst for subtle transformations, and often it’s the amalgamation of these little changes — not glaring red flags — that tip loved ones off. In the past, I’ve seen shifts in my own friends from home, sometimes finding them more absent-minded, with new mannerisms and conversational reservations. It doesn’t even take a full-on tumble into hard drug abuse for one to seem a bit “off.” When a habit overtakes your life, the people familiar with your life notice, regardless of whether the habit causes long-term physiological damage.

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RUSSELL | Life, In Valencia

The fourth floor of the Port Authority bus station is never as hectic as the first, so if I’m ever early for my Shortline I duck my head and speed upstairs to wait in line for the bus. This time, my bee line was intercepted by a suited yuppie in his 30s, walking at my speed in my direction, an oversized phone between his gaze and mine. To avoid a collision, I hopped to the left, glancing at him as he gathered himself and passed by. He was talking at his phone, so I took it for an ill-timed Facetime call until I looked a bit closer and realized the face on his screen was his own. He was vlogging.

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RUSSELL | Waking Hours

If you’re the type of person who needs a break from the world and also thinks he can do anything, you may find yourself in a lean-to in the Adirondacks on a Friday night without a sleeping bag. And if you find yourself in such a situation, you’ll probably spend your entire night shivering, staring out at the tree-line and the backs of your eyelids in half-hour intervals from dusk to dawn. Last weekend, when this was my story, I spent half the night begging myself to go to sleep and the other half wondering if I couldn’t, and whether the cold had anything to do with it. My hiking trip fell at the end of a stressful week with a handful of late nights and a few all-nighters, so my pervading fear in the lean-to was that, sleeping bag or no sleeping bag, I’d worked myself into lasting sleeplessness. As I rolled and flopped in incessant attempts to find a comfortable position, I remembered my friend from high school, a certified insomniac, who would come to school each day with the same bags under her eyes and the same disappointments on her face because the phrase “tomorrow is a new day” loses its potency when each “day” isn’t separated by a good night’s rest.

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RUSSELL | Taco Tuesday — Just Say No

I remember a lot from freshman year: 1 a.m. Nasties, a cappella concerts at Balch Arch, free food if you knew where and when to look. There was so much to love, and I certainly took it all in. I didn’t care how dumb I looked wearing my I.D. on a lanyard or strolling through Collegetown in a group of 40. I was living my best life and experiencing a world I’d hardly imagined. Regardless of whether you saw me in the library or on the CKB quad, I was almost always smiling.

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RUSSELL | On Twenty

The unwritten rite of passage for every ripe new 20-year-old is a conversation about one’s childhood perceptions of what it meant to be 20. I see it every time. The minute the clock strikes midnight and the teenage persona tumbles to the floor, the birthday girl or boy fumbles through the cabinets of their mind in search of a way to make the day seem meaningful, usually finding that the best way is to turn to a friend and mention that when they were 12 they thought everyone in their twenties were full grown adults. I, usually standing by the cake at these twentieth birthday parties, often overhear these conversations from afar and nod my head, acknowledging that no matter how overplayed the idea is, it rings true: 20 really does catch everyone by surprise, and somehow no one ever imagines it correctly in middle school. But 20 is still something special.

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RUSSELL | Things I Love

Lately, I’ve been trying to keep track of the things that keep me going. My faith and my family and my fondest memories all start out the list, but sometimes it takes nothing more than a fleeting moment to remind me how charming this existence really is.

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RUSSELL | My Johnson

A couple years ago, my parents and I loaded up the rental and embarked on the fabled highway 95 New England college road trip. I made a last minute decision to beg for a detour to Ithaca to visit Cornell, and eventually we found ourselves on the Arts Quad, listening to a smile-prone sophomore give her tour-guide spiel about the University. Halfway through the tour, we passed the Johnson Museum, and our guide began to describe the programs and displays it hosted on a regular basis. At some point during this talk, she mixed up her words and referred to the museum as “my Johnson.” She immediately corrected herself and moved on, but there was no going back. She’d said it.

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RUSSELL | Life Advice From Ralph

In college, there’s a big temptation to consider every failure in our lives to be evidence that we’re falling behind. But every time I talk to someone who’s tasted even the crumbs of their childhood dreams, I hear the same reverberating message: the trek is always tainted.

Because we have put-together friends with top jobs, impressive abilities and satisfying relationships, we often forget that everybody’s got either a few big slip ups in their past, a few in their future, or both.

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RUSSELL | Hesitations

Over winter break, I went out with a few friends and took a train home alone through downtown Dallas. It was the late afternoon — too early for the post-bar bunch and too late for the usual work crowd. Soon after I chose my seat, a slender Casanova wannabe with a can of cheap beer and a green pullover jacket hobbled into the seat behind me. When a young woman entered our section a few stops later, the man took it upon himself to personally give her a warm welcome: “You married?” “Yes,” she said.