Live Through This

That’s Far Too Raven

Avoiding the Tragic Eight Ball of life.

Illustration by Camille.

Illustration by Camille.

When Rookie writer Stephanie still lived in Chicago, we’d get together periodically to catch each other up on our personal lives and talk about writing. The two subjects often intertwined, and at some point we’d realize we were approaching our personal lives as if we were writing, identifying narratives, with motifs and symbols and foreshadowing. For the sake of this article, I’ll call this way of thinking the Tragic Eight Ball. And while this sounds exciting, like we’re just so damn WHIMSICAL that we can’t separate ART from LIFE, we’d both realize every time just how toxic the Tragic Eight Ball really is.

A few examples of this way of looking at your life:

  • When I started seeing my boyfriend, whom we’ll call Sam, the house next door to his was being rebuilt. Last month, as our one-year anniversary was approaching, I noticed that the house had been completely finished, and a family was even living inside. I took this as a sign that our time as a couple was over, as if this arbitrary occurrence had the power to determine our expiration date.
  • In December 2012, I visited my friend at her college in New York. It got me all psyched up for academic life, and during some downtime, I took a walk in a nearby park and had a calming interaction with a peacock who lived there. On that day I was feeling very “I will give up all my work to nobly focus on college,” and somehow the peacock became the symbol of that. The following summer, I went to a zoo in Chicago with Sam and his grandma, and his grandma was talking about how success is something you define for yourself. Then a peacock walked past. I took this as a sign that once I’d go to college, I’d completely ditch all my other projects I’ve been working on and working toward since the age of 12.
  • For the better part of our relationship, I didn’t share a lot of the work that I do with Sam. He was aware of Rookie and some of my other projects, but my high school/suburb/boyfriend life always seemed irreconcilable with my work/travel/public life. Once he started asking me more seriously to clue him in, part of what was holding me back was that I’d latched on to a narrative where I was just one of those “Cactus Tree” women who are simply too complicated and too dedicated to their ART to have relationships of any kind:

She will love them when she sees them
They will lose her if they follow
And she only means to please them
And her heart is full and hollow
Like a cactus tree
While she’s so busy being free.

You’ve done this too if you have ever tried to solve a dilemma by saying, “I just feel like I’m the kind of person who…” and finish up with a sweeping generalization that does no justice to your actual complexity. But why do we actively pursue these self-fulfilling prophecies? Why would I almost break up with my significant other because the house next door now had windowpanes? Why would I give up the work that I truly live for because I saw a peacock twice? Why would I shut someone I love out of my life because of a sad acoustic song? The Tragic Eight Ball is a dirty trick. It convinces you that you have autonomy over your life by forcing you to compromise your autonomy. Receiving these little signs from the universe makes us think that we’re ahead of the game, that we know things other people don’t. But what it really does is rob you of your power to think and make decisions for yourself, and allow you to hide away out of fear of facing conflict.

The most drastic example I can offer you is from last fall. I was severely depressed, on a lower dose of medication than usual, sensing the end of my Forever, and deeply overwhelmed by it all. I considered that all of my favorite movies, books, TV shows, and songs were about being young. That all the work I create is about understanding this time in one’s life. That I’d had these few years of feeling everything in such extremes, and that our bodies are programmed to tone it down once we grow up. I had probably seen too many photos of Edie Sedgwick on Tumblr and was already having a terrible day, and then, on that October night, the idea of it being the end just made so much sense, in the completely illogical way. In a fit of tears, I scrawled in my diary: “I feel like my life wasn’t meant to go on past this point…. I feel like I’ve done my time and given all I have to give.”

The Tragic Eight Ball does not make me a quirky artist who lives and breathes her work. It just makes me Raven Baxter.

For the unacquainted, Raven was the title character on the Disney Channel show That’s So Raven, which ran from 2003 to 2007. The premise of the show was that Raven, a high school student, had secret psychic powers. Sounds awesome, right? WRONG!!! At the beginning of each episode, she would have a vision of the near future. In the middle of the episode, she would try a bunch of crazy tactics to try to either prevent or help along the outcome that her vision presented, depending on whether it was good or bad. At the end of the episode, she would learn that her plan had backfired, and no matter how hard she tried to fix things, her parents would eventually find out about the mechanical bull in the living room, or whatever other shenanigans she was up to.

If you want to read into it, That’s So Raven might be an existential statement on how powerless we all really are in determining our own destinies. But I think of Raven as someone who had these visions of the future, lived according to them, and then reaped the disadvantages of doing so. The problem is not that she tried to have control over her life, it’s that she tried to control her life via to a bunch of arbitrary elements, which were often shown to her out of context and therefore ripe for misinterpretation. In other words: There’s so Raven, and then there’s too Raven. Who’s to say it’s the peacock symbolism I should’ve been taking cues from? Why wasn’t I instead giving meaning to less-romantic moments, like all the times I farted?

I’ve put away the Tragic Eight Ball in favor of less-mystical divining methods for finding out what’s going on in my life, e.g., actually asking the people around me how they feel, and trying to figure out how I feel by talking to those people, by journaling, by seeking out a therapist. Using my fucking brain.

When I talked to Sam about my fear that it was time for us to break up, I realized I’d just been trying to save myself the pain I’ll feel once we break up for a more substantive reason. This was around the time that I saw that there doesn’t have to be a tug-of-war between college life and career life and decided it would be crazy to give up everything I love to focus on school exclusively on account of a couple of peacocks. I began to understand the “Cactus Tree” woman as a mythological figure from a song, and that my life is allowed to be much more complicated than that, and that if I do have to choose a pair of lady footsteps to follow in, Beyoncé just released a killer album about “having it all.” As for that night in October, I gained some perspective on the other end of sleep as to just how young I am, how much I will change and grow, and how exciting that truly is.

If this sounds self-help-y, good. I am pro-self-help and anti-random-peacock-random-windowpanes-random-song-help. I am pro taking a moment to zoom out of your current mindset to consider a different one. And I am definitely pro learning to love life’s complexity instead of finding cop-out reasons to avoid it. As Raven says at the very end of her theme song, sporting her sassy fur-trimmed sweater, “Yup, that’s me.” ♦

39 Comments

  • soviet_kitsch January 30th, 2014 3:43 PM

    feeling this right now. it sounds silly, but my cat is in heat, and her constant yowling and nipping me and crawling on my laptop are stressing me out to absurd amounts. reading this calmed me wayyyyyy the hell down. thanks tavi <3

    • stupidxgrrrl January 30th, 2014 7:18 PM

      omg my cat’s in heat too. that sounds so weird. lol i feel the exact same way

  • enthusiastictruckdriver January 30th, 2014 4:16 PM

    I can relate to this so much. I’m one of those people who obsessively notice and analyze every single detail of everything, and that has caused me some serious freakouts, because I feel like every “sign” I see, every pattern I pick up on, is there because it’s specifically directed at ME. Like, my English teacher will suggest that I read a story about cheating on someone and I’ll be like SHE KNOWS I CHEATED ON THAT HISTORY TEST FIVE MONTHS AGO! This is obviously not the case, and I think it goes with what you wrote in the Forever letter about thinking you’re the center of the world. I think this becomes less severe as you grow up and think about how other people see the world. Maybe it also has something to do with the way you’re usually not really in charge of your life/environment when you’re young, so you feel like these things can have power over you. I’m not sure. In any case, thank you for this wonderful article!

    • Tavi January 30th, 2014 8:10 PM

      Thinking you’re the center of the universe is totally part of it too! I didn’t wanna include a Chris Kraus quotation in this since I did so in my December editor’s letter but this is relevant:
      “I felt so teenage. When you’re living so intensely in your head you actually believe when something happens, you’ve caused it [...] there isn’t any difference between what you imagine and what actually takes place. Therefore, you’re both omnipotent and powerless.” And later: “It’s a warped omnipotence, a negative psychic power, as if what happens in your head really drives the world outside.”

      Thank you to everyone for the kind comments, it’s so nice to know that others can relate <3

      • pizzaglittermountain February 1st, 2014 5:15 PM

        I love this post so much, because between the ages of 16-21 I was so encompassed with this idea that everything happens for a reason and I was obsessed with finding that reason. Why was I always in love with my best friends? Why was I so hungry for attention? Why did I always have to lie to my parents? Why did I care so much what the dirty punk kids would think when I pulled up in the new car my parents bought me? I felt so trapped and paralyzed in this insecure pattern I had developed it like an equation; “If I do THIS, then THAT will happen”. Being a couple years older (I am 25 now) and having to live in the “adult” world, I have so wonderfully been able to step outside of this “why is/isn’t this happening” question. The way I was able to do that was to see another person’s perspective, and ASK why, not WONDER why. I quickly realized sometimes there isn’t always a reason or an answer to why something has happened, and knowing that has made me so much more OK and accepting of my life. How much of my teenage years I had spent being so concerned and worried all the time, that when I realized how short life really is I decided I didn’t have time for these issues anymore and became so excited for every weird chapter in my life. Now I can’t WAIT for something to happen for no reason at all! You girls have so much greatness in you and when that feels like it’s closing off and shutting down, another piece of greatness will open up. <3

  • vatfp January 30th, 2014 4:41 PM

    Oh Tavi, you always make me feel so much better

  • peonies January 30th, 2014 4:42 PM

    my therapist calls this “magical thinking”, i do it all the time.

  • AidaA January 30th, 2014 4:46 PM

    wow i’m really touched that you shared such personal things with us Tavi! <3

    I am cry

    My signs are less striking than peacocks though If I have a day where I missed four times throwing my clothes into the laundry basket or put my socks on accidentally before putting on my tights (It's cold in England!) then I'm like; 'Well, looks like I'm going to have an awful day today!'

    I can relate to this so much except I'm less aware of it until I realised that I have self sabotaged and I'm like 'well damn'

    Aida xx

  • Flossy Mae January 30th, 2014 5:00 PM

    I do this all the time, it’s hilarious (but also not so). I’m majorly superstitious and I literally stress out SO MUCH if I don’t salute a magpie seven times or whatever, but I also have this [awful] habit of over analysing everything. The other day I caught myself thinking about how the speed of a door shutting after someone walks out of it will symbolise their presence in my life. It was all fine and fun until a door slammed shut after someone I really like walked out and I couldn’t stop thinking about how my life was now FOREVER DOOMED.

    Thanks for putting some sense into me.

  • piisaa January 30th, 2014 5:17 PM

    This is an awesome piece. I have been thinking about being “a type of person” (and more specifically perhaps “a type of girl”) a lot lately, and the realization that I am not, and I will never be any “type of girl” is really liberating. For a really long time I was trying to be some specific, simplified “type of person” – like, “I wanna be the girl who does yoga all the time and drinks herbal tea and owns lots of books and does nothing else but reads.” And then I would feel insufficient for not being that person. And now I’m realizing that I am and life is a lot more complicated, and that’s really awesome.

  • Ana Banana January 30th, 2014 5:35 PM

    Hi Tavi,
    Thank you for this piece! It basically summarises a lot of conversations that I’ve been having with my family and different friends of mine over the past couple of months. I’m from Melbourne, Australia and I’m 18 years old. I finished high school FOREVER last year and am about to begin university, so I’ve been in this in between stage for a couple of months which has involved much self-reflection and organisation of my thoughts. During this time, I have also come to realise that I love other human beings far more than I think my misanthropic previous teen versions of myself would have ever believed possible. It’s not that I haven’t always loved listening to people or in fact being around them – it’s just that I always had this reservation about the “true” power that someone could ever have to actually affect me with there stories or experiences or advice, etc. This was because I was convinced that I was experiencing such complex and profound thoughts and emotions that no one could ever relate to me, even slightly. As the last years of high school passed, I found myself feeling more and more emotionally stable and though I was afraid that this gradual lessening in emotional extremes meant that I was internally shrivelling up and turning into the dreaded boring, old “normal” human being with no concept of true passion, sadness, anything – and it is just over these past couple of months that I have come to realise this – I actually found that this stability meant that I could firstly take the focus off myself and begin to understand other people’s lives,

  • thepauladiaries January 30th, 2014 5:40 PM

    Hey Tavi. I found out about Rookie recently, and I must say I’ve never found anything/anyone that I could relate to so much as I can when I’m reading yours or any articles on this website. It just feels so good, specially the fact that I’m 15 and it’s not always that I can understand what’s really happening with me, my thoughts and my head in general.

    About this article in special I could just print it and put it on my wall because I think way too much, I’m always thinking that a lot of things is happening with me because of something I did or something that I should do. Things that doesn’t make any sense.
    And, for me, it gets worse when I think I’m the only one who is like this or I see the world somehow and expect people to see, not only the world but myself as well, the same way I do. And usually get really disappointed because they don’t and they won’t see it because they don’t have a such “screwed up head” like mine.

    Anyway, it feels good to be understood.

    Ps: I’m sorry if you find any english mistakes, I’m Brazilian so it’s not my first language.

  • Ana Banana January 30th, 2014 5:45 PM

    and secondly, it allowed me to explore those extremities from another, less-immersed perspective.
    My mother gave me a book a couple of days a go that is a Treasury of Women’s Quotations and the first woman that I searched in the index to read her quotes was Virginia Woolf. I flicked to page 24 and there Woolf’s quote read: ‘One of the signs of passing youth is the birth of a sense of fellowship with other human beings as we take our place among them.’ I like to think that youth never really “passes” as such and that it continues throughout our lives as an essential part of our being but nevertheless, I found that quote so beautiful and so perfectly suited to how I was feeling about life that I couldn’t not share it.

  • peace.love.music.grows January 30th, 2014 6:04 PM

    This is amazing, and I suppose I didn’t realize I was doing the Tragic 8-ball in my life, too. Love your conclusion! I am pro-self-helpy too. That’s why I have a blog, the jury’s out on whether or not that’s making me need more help. Ha!

  • bambistaggaz January 30th, 2014 6:45 PM

    I agree that this tendency can be destructive (especially when it becomes obsessive and inhibiting), and I’ve recently learning about the psychological/anthropological roots to magical thinking… But the witchy/Jungian part of me wants to embrace it to a certain extent, and I’m not sure it’s always bad. Paying attention to the coincidences that trigger these kinds of thoughts can give us clues to the things we may already be thinking/feeling subconsciously, or give us insight into the way our choices might affect us in the future… In the same way that a Tarot spread doesn’t give you an exact blueprint of what your future is going to be, but rather a map of the possibilities that may lie ahead, things like the peacocks (not just the peacocks themselves, but the thoughts and emotions they brought about for you intuitively in response to seeing them at those particular moments), revealed some of the characteristics of your future choices and your feelings about them.

  • oldelectricity January 30th, 2014 6:50 PM

    BEAUTIFUL TAVI YES THANK-YOU YES.
    i always *knew* that That’s So Raven would be on the redeeming end of something at some point in life, and i’m thrilled that that moment is now.

    i’m still so superstish, but i like to think that i can walk into that in ways that are super-powerful for me (witchy bottles! herbs! hello, tarot!) and say no-thanks to the ways that are limiting/big traps/major/downers.

    THANK YOU FOR NAMING THE TRUE THINGS, p. much always.

    <333

  • christinachristina January 30th, 2014 7:15 PM

    This is really great. We’re always making and finding connections in our lives, whether they’re random, meaningful, ridiculous, tragic, toxic, or totally life changing… but they’re always there, forming in front of us and behind us and around us. It’s good to learn how to make a worthwhile connection, rather than a tragic one, or to make a connection with A PERSON, through DIALOGUE, like you mentioned. The people you surround yourselves with really know what’s up.

    How do you perceive and experience connections? I’d love to see any art or writing you Rookies have on this subject. Submit to http://www.fullcirclejournal.org.

    Thanks for this, Tavi!

  • LaurenMichele January 30th, 2014 8:04 PM

    I am SO GLAD I am not the only one who does/has done this. Earlier this week, I lost a vintage pin on my backpack of two figures holding hands. I was really close to it because I perceived the two figures, one in purple (my favorite color) and one in green (my boyfriend’s favorite color), as a cute little symbol for my relationship with my boyfriend. When I lost it, I immediately read it as the universe’s way of saying my relationship’s end was imminent. I’ve had this reaction countless times before. One time, I had a password to some website that contained the characters “11mo” in it, and I immediately changed it because I thought that it meant my relationship with my boyfriend would only last 11 months, so I changed it to something completely different to avoid my “destiny”. (We never did break up, it’s all good.) I never told anyone about these situations because they make me seem absurd, but quite honestly, that’s exactly what I was being! Concentrating that energy on talking with and asking questions to people is SUCH a better and less destructive habit to follow. I’ve noticed that ever since I started keeping visual diaries I’ve had a lot less crying spells and nervous breakdowns. Focusing more on how I feel and creating something out of it has been the best therapy I’ve ever received. Thank you so much for this article, Tavi!

    –Lauren
    http://misyats.tumblr.com/

  • Daniizle January 30th, 2014 8:37 PM

    This resonates with me so much, especially at this particular time in my life. As a senior going into college, I am constantly surrounded by events that are either directly affected by my own actions or actually have nothing to do with me. I always look for a sign, and sometimes resort to checking my horoscope religiously —though what kind of accuracy does Mercury being in my ninth moon even have?— hoping that somehow I’ll have figured it out unlike all the other noobs that aren’t obsessing over the constant overlap of the “future” and the “now”. That overlap being my “now” decisions and their subsequent consequences. It’s nice to know that I’m not the only one that thinks like this, and that we resort to the same places (others, therapy, journals, and using our “fucking brain”) to try to really LIVE life and not try to play the game of.

  • Daniizle January 30th, 2014 8:39 PM

    Also, it’s funny that this article is up right now, because as of this week I was using an Eight-Ball app to figure out some “deep life questions” and begged my friends to play along, to see if the Eight-Ball had accuracy.

    “Avoiding the Tragic Eight Ball of life” is seriously the best metaphor.

  • whuddupcass January 30th, 2014 9:00 PM

    Well said champ. College isn’t as crazy hectic as people make it seem! I still have ample time to watch breaking bad. You definitely won’t have to choose between college and your glorious projects. You can definitely combine them.
    Also you should look at Wesleyan. Because it’s the best fucking place ever and we would love to have you.

  • Yayo January 30th, 2014 9:30 PM

    This reminds me of when I was about 8 and I had this tiny little locket that was probably just a cheap birthday present but I had glorified it into a sentimental treasure because I’d been watching The Little Princess or something. I would ask it questions, and if it landed on the side with the engraved heart, it had answered ‘yes’ and vice verse.

    Because, yeah, that’s what kids do. But after a couple of days throwing it alone in my room it started to scare me. It made me anxious that it answered ‘yes’ to ‘does my dog hate me’. And this anxiety just powered even more intrusive thoughts ‘do all my friends hate me?’ ‘will my dad die?’ ‘will my sister kill me in my sleep?’. The thoughts would bother me until I threw it, and then obviously it would terrify me. I made myself believe it was dictating my life and my irrational mind scared me just as much as the locket did.

    Eventually I threw it out of my bedroom window onto the trainline behind my house. I was scared it would knock the train off the track and it would come crashing through our kitchen window, then I’d have to explain it was my fault and go to jail. I wanted to ask the locket if that was likely.

  • Laia January 30th, 2014 10:11 PM

    this is so real Tavz. so. real.

  • Estelle January 30th, 2014 10:24 PM

    LIKE ALL THE TIMES I FARTED

    LOVE YOU TV

  • la fee clochette January 30th, 2014 10:31 PM

    I was just talking about this (like what one of the previous commentators said their therapist called “magical thinking”). And ugh, I feel almost silly, because I am 25, and both my boyfriend and I were saying how we used to think like this all the time, and I mentioned how I missed it, instead of being glad of letting it go. I think, too, because of how dramatically I lost my mom this past year, and then subsequently becoming a mother myself, instead of of going to a therapist (like I should), I keep making excuses and looking for “connections” (like, really far fetched ones, sometimes) that have to do with my mother. Maybe its part of the grieving process, but I do keep thinking in the back of my mind that I should take advantage of the free counseling my university offers. Its helped before, and I would be torturing myself quite as much as I have been, while I’ve been grieving.

    And Tavi, thanks for writing such an insightful & genuine article.

  • la fee clochette January 30th, 2014 10:32 PM

    I was just talking about this (like what one of the previous commentators said their therapist called “magical thinking”). And ugh, I feel almost silly, because I am 25, and both my boyfriend and I were saying how we used to think like this all the time, and I mentioned how I missed it, instead of being glad of letting it go. I think, too, because of how dramatically I lost my mom this past year, and then subsequently becoming a mother myself, instead of of going to a therapist (like I should), I keep making excuses and looking for “connections” (like, really far fetched ones, sometimes) that have to do with my mother. Maybe its part of the grieving process, but I do keep thinking in the back of my mind that I should take advantage of the free counseling my university offers. Its helped before, and I wouldn’t be torturing myself quite as much as I have been, while I’ve been grieving.

    And Tavi, thanks for writing such an insightful & genuine article.

  • Rebdomine January 30th, 2014 11:05 PM

    damn… this is so good tavi

  • AngstyTheBrave January 30th, 2014 11:34 PM

    Can I just say that “That’s Far Too Raven” is the greatest title for anything ever?

  • honorarygilmoregal January 31st, 2014 12:01 AM

    Oh Tavi, this is excellent. I’ve definitely thought like this before. You always know exactly how to be so relatable to us fellow Rookies and I love that.

  • paige.xo January 31st, 2014 3:34 AM

    this is so freaking perfect, and just what i needed today

  • Mimi7 January 31st, 2014 9:56 AM

    I really know this one. Recently during winter break, I was having such an amazing time, I felt like it was a sign that something bad was going to happen. I have this theory that bad ALWAYS has to balance out good. What do you know? It did, and I tore my ACL. I could interpret this that I was correct, I do have psychic powers, or that I’m just self sabotaging. This article helps convince me of the second, thank you so much Tavi. I think what happens is you pick up on some type of “sign” and tell your self something is going to happen. Then because your mind is so powerful and it wants to be right it does actually happen.

  • Raissomat January 31st, 2014 12:39 PM

    I do that too..(did?..)
    I used to think: if the Wind blows a leaf on the street that will mean my mom will be’ sick again when I get home.
    Or
    “Now I take that stone and squeeze it and the first answer that it will bring to my mind will be the right one”
    Also
    “By by baby playing on the radio on my last day at work is ment for me and means it’s a Good thing I leave”
    That’s maybe not exactly how others have it, but I felt like this for ad long ad I can remember. The movie Amelie was a betrial to me. How did they dare showing my World? My real life?

  • Stephanie January 31st, 2014 5:42 PM

    <3 Printing this out. Pasting it in my journal. So spot on. Here's to saying goodbye to peacock symbolism and choosing to have it all instead. That's gonna be my motto for the year.

  • 3LL3NH February 1st, 2014 3:41 AM

    Somehow, just yes.

  • themisfitprincess February 1st, 2014 7:30 AM

    This is so wonderful, and so, so appropriate for the night I’m having. Thank you Tavi.

  • allydoubleyou February 2nd, 2014 12:41 PM

    Tavi! Okay. There’s this book. I really, really, really, really, really, really, really want you to read it. It’s called The Elegance of the Hedgehog. Here is a link! http://www.amazon.com/The-Elegance-Hedgehog-Muriel-Barbery/dp/1933372605

    This is my favorite book (um except probably for Harry Potter, don’t judge!). It’s kind of about appreciating ART and noticing how ART is a part of life and everything, but also, like, coming to appreciate the non-ART parts of life, and appreciating life for itself instead of as part of some metaphor. Also it’s the most beautiful book of all time. Probably because it was originally written in French, and the translator is as completely brilliant in her word choice as the author.

    (Seriously, this book is life-changing.)

    • Tavi February 2nd, 2014 12:44 PM

      Ooh, thank you for this! I’ll have to check it out.

  • allydoubleyou February 2nd, 2014 12:42 PM

    (PS it’s also a movie but the book is approximately 10 billion times better.)

  • bookishbrenna April 4th, 2014 1:27 AM

    I don’t think the idea of “everything happens for a reason” is a rubbish idea. Maybe as an overanalyzing teen, yes it could become extreme and unhelpful. Like when I roll out of bed and realize I woke up a few hours late because I forgot to set my alarm: “Obviously, I just wasn’t supposed to wake up that early. It’s ok that I forgot.” So, for me, I sometimes use the “everything happens for a reason” as an excuse for incompetence or just plain laziness (which is the case in this scenario!).
    But there’s also a positive spin on this mindset that can be very empowering… When I find myself feeling regretful about things that have happened that were beyond my control, “everything happens for a reason” is the only miracle antidote that can heal my wounds and drag me out of my pity parties of “if onlys” and “what ifs.”
    I think that “everything happens for a reason” is a bit of a lifestyle choice. It means that you don’t look into your past to simply wince at your mistakes or wonder “why did I deserve this?!” It means you accept whatever punches life may throw at you as an attribution to you becoming a stronger, wiser person.

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