Writer’s Musings: Fanning the Flames: How Ideas Are Born (Pt 1)

“One must still have chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star.”
– Friedrich Nietzsche

One of the most common things writers—and really any creator—is asked is the dreaded ‘where do you get your ideas from.’

I say dreaded, because most of the time the question is ‘I don’t know,’ or, ‘If I knew I wouldn’t ever have writers block.’ It can feel like the bursts of inspiration that become the foundation of some of the most unique ideas of our generation come out of the ether fully formed, as if granted by some god. In fact, the Greecians and Romans believed that spirits called geniuses bestowed creativity on the select few.

I can’t speak for others, but the more I write, the more I understand that the way ideas form for me is both a scientific process and a practice in patience. If you delve into brain science, you’ll find that our subconscious brain is much quicker at processing information than our conscious brain is. We can only consciously do so many things at once. This is why you may sometimes struggle to find a word, and then the moment you’re not thinking about it, it comes to you.

This may seem like a useless skill, because how do you consciously control what your subconscious brain is working out? But we actually do this by what we focus on consciously. Wherever you spend your daily energy, that’s what your subconscious brain will be processing in the background too. When we say ‘I’ll sleep on it’ what we really mean is that our subconscious mind is literally working on the problem as we sleep, running through scenarios and looking at all the factors when we aren’t even aware of it.

When it comes to creativity, this is possibly the explanation for the ‘lightbulb moment’ that leads to innovative ideas. It’s when our subconscious mind has come up with a plan of action that makes the most sense based on all the factors available to us, even the ones we hadn’t considered consciously.

From there it’s a matter of implementation, and that really depends on the creator. For writers, that may mean plotting an outline up front, or ‘discovery writing’ where you learn the story as you write and spend more time on the editing phase. Along the way, there will be roadblocks where authors need to circle back to letting their subconscious do the work for inspiration to strike.

In the next newsletter, I’ll explain how I use this and other techniques to come up with my own ideas, including using alternate avenues of thought and remixing.


Origami Bones: Limited Time Preview

(The following is a preview of my second novel, Origami Bones, currently in-progress. The story follows a nurse at an assisted living facility who discovers one of her patients is Mother Earth, and what that means for both her and humanity at large.

Note that it is largely unedited, so errors are expected. This will be available to read until the novel is complete, at which point it will be removed as I begin querying.)

Yua breathed in the cloying scent of the pollen from the flowering plants around her. The bushes and flowers were in full bloom, the pinks, whites, purples and reds spattering the green leaves blanketing the edges of the walkways. It felt like if she followed the path she would find her way to another world, the sun shining on the speckled gray tiles lighting her way.
She followed the brick through the gardens, expecting to have to work to find Adda, but was surprised to find her fairly quickly. She was dancing again, her movement fluid and unabated by the creaks that normally accompanied her every action, moving between a graceful spin and a timid raising of the hands to the sun, as if beseeching it for it’s rays to shine on the earth. Her eyes were closed despite the uneven footing. Yua was torn between not interrupting and her patients safety. Surely if she tripped it could cause Adda injury? But the woman before he was nothing like the frail, sickly woman she’d wheeled around in the wheelchair the past fortnight.
Making a decision, she pressed the call button on her radio. “I found her,” she says into the mic clipped to her shirt. “We’re in the garden. We’ll stay here a few more minutes then be back in.” She doesn’t listen for a reply.
Adda doesn’t seem surprised to have heard her, continuing her dance, turning now in something like the judo poses her uncle tried to teach her before standing en pointe—in slippers!—and then settling down onto her heels in first position.
The moment lingers, and Yua notices a quake in Adda’s knees begin to take hold. She looks around for the wheelchair, spotting it along the edge of the semi-circle the break in the path created. She quickly moves to grab the handles and rolls it behind Adda. Just in time as her legs collapse, landing her in the seat of the chair with a creak of the seat at the abuse. Adda was breathing hard, a shakiness in her breath that has Yua concerned.
“You shouldn’t push yourself so hard,” she said, and pulled the earpiece out of her ear so she could replace it with her stethoscope. She laid the metal end on Adda’s chest, and listened carefully to the breath in her lungs. “What possesses you to come out here to do that? You could hurt yourself. You’re not as young as you used to be.” She let the stethoscope fall from Adda’s chest and hung the whole contraption around her neck, confident it was only exertion. Nothing to be concerned about.
“Adda must dance,” she said, her tone vehement even through her wheezing.
Yua stood, placed her hands on her hips. “That’s fine, but you can dance inside where one of us can watch you. The brick out here is unsteady and hard, you could hurt yourself. And you certainly shouldn’t do it alone, one of us needs to spot you.”
Adda shook her head. “It must be here. The flowers. I must make the flowers grow.”
Yua opened her mouth, a retort on her tongue, but it fell from the tip unsaid. Confused. What was that supposed to mean? She leaned forward so she was on the balls of her feet, knees bent, face to face with Adda. “You believe you make the flowers grow, Adda?”
There was a look in those wise eyes the likes of which Yua had never seen. It was timeless, old, but old in the way of age but old in the way of wisdom. Beyond time. Her smile was mischievous.
“Adda does not make the flowers grow. I do.” Adda looked beyond Yua’s shoulder, and she turned to follow her gaze.
Yua stood to get a better view, not trusting her eyes. Then she moved closer, then closer yet. She reached to the flower, held her hand an inch above where the tip of the petal reaches to the sky.
Ten seconds later, the flower petal touched her fingertips, then surpassed it’s height.
She could see the flowers growing before her eyes.
“This is impossible,” she whispered. “This can’t be real.” She watched flowers grow around where her arm still held steady, blooming around her fingers, some leaves even grasping through the wedges between her fingers.
She pulled her hand back abruptly, heart racing, and backed away from where the flowers were growing at a much slower pace—but still growing. She nearly tripped over the brick as she backs away, which reminded her of Adda, who was still behind her in the wheelchair.
She turned around and looked at this woman she’d dismissed as a sweet, but eccentric older woman who’d had her time but been dealt a bad hand. Young for an assisted living facility, but with mobility issues and no family there was no where else for her to go. Now she wondered more on the mystery that was Adda Demetria, and what it was that she’s gotten herself into.
“You and Adda okay? It’s about lunchtime, should probably come inside.” The voice came over her ear piece. She’d forgotten her promise to bring Adda inside. The normalcy of the ask caught her off guard, but it brought back Yua to reality.

Short Story: Ghostie Ghost, Are You Out Tonight?

The moonlight hungrily devoured every inch of the tall grass and weeds behind the picket fences of near-identical suburban homes but failed to reach through the canopy of the clustered trees lining the unkempt field. 

The last standing wooded remains between civilization and farmland, the woods had long been the subject of whispers and warnings; but to the cluster of adolescents in the cusp of night, the danger was only an alluring story.

“Mom’s just being paranoid,” Alanna had said, and that had made sense to Mina and the others. Her mother was well known to be over-protective. “We won’t be long.”

Mina watched the treeline with trepidation, the crickets sounding near-deafening so close.  She warily checked her feet in fear of the small insects crawling along them. “Are you sure this is worth it? This game sounds dumb, and there are mosquitoes everywhere.

“All this grass is making me itchy,” Joseph chimed in, and scratched at his arms as if to prove his point. “I think I’m allergic to something.”

“Are we sure it’s okay we’re out here? It’s kind of scary. I don’t want to get caught by a serial killer or something. I saw something about it on Netflix. Or, my sister did, and she told me about it.” Nick pulled his little brother, Luke, closer to him, though Luke seemed more interested in staring up at the bright night sky that sprawled over them like a blanket of stars.

“Grandma said they played this game when they were kids, so why can’t we? Come on, let’s pick the ghost!”

After a round of ‘eeny meeny miny moe’, Alanna declared Joseph was the ghost, to his annoyance.

“Why do I have to be first?” he asked, but Alanna only shrugged. Mina crinkled her nose, not putting it past Alanna to have found a way to cheat somehow. She never did like Joseph.

“Alright!,” Alanna started, voice echoing in the empty field. She pointed to the ground at her feet. “This is home base. We all close our eyes, and Joseph hides. When we count to thirty, we all open our eyes and yell, ‘Ghostie, ghost, are you out tonight?’ Then we start looking for Joseph. He’s going to try to scare us and tag us. If he tags you, you’re the ghost next! If he comes out and no one gets tag, last one to home base is it. Got it?”

“Wait, where am I supposed to hide? It’s all just grass,” Joseph asked, biting his lip as if he already knew the answer.

Alanna pointed to the treeline, covered in a thick layer of darkness. “In the trees of course! Like you said, there’s nowhere to hide out here.”

“No way!” Joseph crossed his arms, jutting out his lip. “I am not going into those woods. Dad said not to go in there, no way no how. Not even during the day. Who knows what could be in there?”

Alanna’s face split into a challenging smile. “Are you afraid, you big baby?”

“I’m not afraid!” Joseph said, and stomped his foot. 

Mina rolled her eyes and moved between them; she sensed a fight brewing. “Will you two stop it? I’ll be the ghost. We’ll play one round, then we’ll go home. It’s getting late.”

That seemed to do it. Not wanting to be shown up, Joseph muttered under his breath, then said more loudly, “Fine, I’ll be the ghost. Just close your eyes, okay?

The group huddled together at home base, eyes closed and hands covering them, and they all began to count. Mina shut her eyes tight but internally wondered if this was such a good idea. She heard the swishing of grass being moved, then some crackling of wood and the distant moving of tree branches, the crunch of leaves. But there was no cry for help, which set her somewhat at ease.

“… twenty-nine, thirty! Ghostie ghost, are you out tonight?” They all opened their eyes to an empty field, no Joseph in sight. Mina’s heart stuttered in terror at first. She knew the point was for Joseph to hide, but she couldn’t help the fear that something had happened.

“Joseph?” Luke called out, but Alanna leaned down to shush him, finger on her lips.

“Don’t tip him off! We gotta go find him, remember? It’s part of the game.” The child seemed unsure, but he took his brother’s hand and the two walked towards the treeline.

As the others dispersed to start looking, Mina hung back, a prickling feeling on the back of her neck giving her pause. Something felt wrong, but she couldn’t put her finger on it. She looked along the treeline. She hoped to see some sort of movement in the trees that would give Joseph away, but there was nothing.

For a moment she thought she saw a light in the trees, about ten feet from where Nick and Luke tentatively poked through some branches, but when she blinked the light was gone. She dismissed it as a trick of the night.

Mina decided to move to the opposite side of Alanna than Nick and Luke, figuring they’d cover more ground that way. She just reached the treeline when she covered a smile with her hand, not wanting to give herself away. Beneath some shrubbery she saw the telltale orange of Joseph’s sneakers that peeked out a few feet into the woods. Gotcha she thought, and consideredhow to warn the others without tipping Joseph off.

When she heard the sound of someone lightly sniffling, she thought of nothing of it. She assumed Luke had become frustrated with the game and the younger child wanted to leave. But when Alanna yelled “Gotcha, you big baby!” and ran away from where Joseph huddled, towards where Mina had seen that mysterious light, alarm bells rang in Mina’s head.

“Alanna, wait,” Mina cried out and ran towards her, but stopped short when Alanna screamed and fell backward onto her bottom.

When Mina reached Alanna, her eyes were wild and dilated, mouth open in a gasp of fear, and she crawled backward the best she could while still on the ground to get away from the treeline. Mina spotted Nick in the distance coming towards them, but she held up her hand in a ‘stop’ motion. Nick pushed Luke behind him and waited.

That left Mina to figure out what was going on. Be brave, she thought to herself. It’s probably nothing but a dead raccoon.

When Mina turned to the woods, she didn’t see anything at first. Alanna must have pulled the shrubbery back to catch who she thought was Joseph, which meant that Mina would have to do the same. Be brave, she repeated to herself.

When she peeled back the branches and leaves, she couldn’t stop the surprised gasp from leaving her lips.

Huddled in a ball, hand curled over his knees, was a little boy, completely transparent from head to toe, glowing with a light aura.

A ghost? Mina thought, though the idea was ridiculous. There’s not really such a thing as ghosts, is there?

She was about to close the branches on the sight again when the child looked up at her, eyes a pale brown, and Mina could see tears streaming down his cheeks. His face was scrunched in complete misery, and he wiped at the tears as he watched her without words.

She moved through the shrubbery before she’d even made the decision to help.

“Why are you crying?” Mina asked as she kneeled onto the ground in front of him. While the treeline hid it, they were in a small cleared area that must have at some point been someone’s hideout. There were rocks that could serve as seats, and a few planks of wood, all weathered and worn down now, but clearly left there on purpose.

The child seemed to wrestle with the answer. He opened his mouth to reply, but the movement behind Mina turned his gaze.

Looking up, Mina saw Joseph and Nick, mouths agape in horror as they took in the scene through the bushes. 

“Mina, get out of there, run!” Joseph grabbed for Mina’s arm, but she pulled it back. Joseph, not expecting the movement, let go and looked at her incredulously.

“He’s not going to hurt us,” she said, though she wasn’t really certain how she knew this. “He’s hurt. I want to help.” She inched forward on her knees, out of the range of Joseph and towards the boy, ignoring Joseph as he hissed out a breath in frustration.

Alanna peeked over Nicks’s shoulder, eyes still wide in terror, and stared straight at the boy, silent for once. Nick frowned at the stoic form of the child as if sizing him up. 

It was Luke that broke the ice, as he snuck into the natural alcove while Nick was distracted and plopped down right next to Mina. He sat cross-legged and leaned against her side, then stuck his thumb right into his mouth to chew on.

Nick sighed and followed suit, tousling Luke’s hair before he sat down next to him on his other side. Joseph hesitated a moment longer before he stood behind Mina. She smiled up at him gratefully, though his face was still pale, freckles stark against the ivory.

“I’m not coming in there,” Alanna said, and paced furiously along the treeline, “You all are crazy if you think I’m going to go in there so some demon can eat our souls or something.”

“Come on, Alanna, we need you,” Mina tried, not wanting her to alert the adults of their situation.

“Pft,” she replied unhelpfully, and Mina started to panic when she heard the receding sound of footsteps through the grass.”

“You called him here, Alanna,” Joseph shouted back. “Don’t you think you owe it to him to hear him out?”

There was a pause. The sound of footsteps. Closer, this time.

“You said I’m a baby. But you’re the one who won’t face what you called. Don’t you owe it to him, to us?”

Mina could just see her head as she paced along the treeline, then her face, then body as she slid through the trees into the clearing.

“Fine,” she said, “but if we get eaten, I’m blaming you, Joseph.”

For his part, the ghost had stopped sniffling and was looking at the group with curiosity. The silence lingered, and Mina wondered if he could talk at all. If he can’t, that’s going to make this difficult, she thought.

“What’s your name?” she asked, figured she’d start small.

The ghost looked down at his hands, clenched in his pant legs. “Victor,” he said near silently so Mina had to strain to hear.

“I’m Mina,” she started, then pointed to her friends each in turn. “This is Nick, Luke, Joseph, and Alanna. I think we called you somehow. Is that what happened?”

He didn’t move his gaze from his hands but shrugged his shoulders. Alanna snorted, and Joseph elbowed her in the ribs.

Let’s try something else then, Mina thought. “Why were you crying, Victor?”

Victor brought his knees closer to his chest, enveloped them in his arms, and rested his head on his knees. He mumbled into them something that Mina couldn’t hear. She leaned closer.

“I’m sorry, Victor, I didn’t hear that. What did you say?”

“I’m afraid,” he said more loudly. “To cross over.” The words had barely left Victor’s lips when he began to sob, shoulders shaking and breath gasped in broken hiccups.

A shiver went down the back of Mina’s neck at the words. The concept of crossing over was something she’d heard of before, and she couldn’t blame him. It sounded terrifying. No wonder he’s so scared.

The sobs were the only thing that broke the melody of crickets as Mina wracked her brain on what to say. An adult would probably know better than a bunch of kids, but then again, adults didn’t always see what was in front of them. They may not be able to see Victor at all.

She was saved from her thoughts when Luke let his thumb fall from his mouth with a pop and spoke. “When I’m scared, Nick holds my hand and I feel better. Maybe he can hold your hand when you cross over.”

Victor emerged from the cocoon of his arms just enough to peek his eyes over them, still sniffling but he locked eyes with Nick. “You would do that?”

Nick for his part seemed to turn green at the thought, but he put his arm around Luke’s shoulder in a sideways hug and nodded at Victor.

“I will too,” Mina chimed in. “You’re always braver when you have friends with you.”

Victor straightened a little at her proclamation and wiped his nose with his arm. “But then I’ll be alone.”

“You won’t be alone,” Joseph said suddenly. “My baby brother is there. You’ll watch over him, won’t you?”

Something in Mina’s heart ached. Joseph hadn’t talked about the loss and was surprised he’d be willing to do so here. But in his eyes, she saw a sort of determination and awe she’d never seen in the easily frightened boy.

“My grandmother too.” Mina was shocked to find it was Alanna who had spoken up, though her voice shook slightly and was hushed even in the quiet of the alcove. “She told me about the game, so you can tell her all about us. And she makes the best pancakes,” and then, with a sniffle, “I miss her. You better be nice to her.”

Victor crossed his legs and bit his lip. He looked at each one of the group in turn. “And I’ll see you all again someday, right?”

Mina’s breath caught, and she clenched her hand into her shorts in fear. Be brave.

“Someday,” she said finally. “Someday we will see you again, yes.”

Victor nodded, and Mina could feel a tension she hadn’t been aware of until that moment fall from her shoulders. Luke jumped up and grabbed Nick by the arm, pulling him to sit next to Victor. Mina followed suit on his other side, and when Nick tentatively held out his hand towards Victor, she did the same.

His hand was cold and seemed as much to glide through her skin as much as hold onto it. This close the aura of light surrounding Victor was blinding when she turned towards him. 

They locked eyes, his the brown of decaying leaves on the forest floor. If she stared into them long enough she thought she might get caught in them, so she looked down to his lips that mouthed words she hadn’t quite caught.

“What?” she asked him, and he replied with a soft smile.

“Thank you.”

She had expected a flash of light, sparks, something like the picture of the northern lights in Alaska her mother had shown her, but instead, Victor simply seemed to dull. As she watched the light surrounding him and his body seemed to fade like a light being dimmed, and then she and Nick we left holding out their hands towards nothing.

There was a sniffling, and at first, Mina thought it had to be Victor, but it was Luke, sniffling next to where he sat next to his brother. Nick let down his hand and hugged his brother tight, pulling Luke’s head to his chest.

Joseph sat down on the forest floor, then flopped back into the leaves, staring up at the canopy. “I can’t believe that just happened.” He shook his head and watched the sky without further comment.

Alanna was silent, digging her toes into the dead leaves and dirt. She seemed despondent.

“Is something wrong, Alanna?’ Mina asked, curious, and not wanting to dissect her own feelings just yet.

She stopped digging her toes in the ground and curled her arms around her waist. “Do you think he’s okay where he is?”

Mina considered her question. There was no way for her to know for sure, but in the end, Victor seemed at peace. But that hadn’t been the real question, had it?

“I think they all will be,” she said finally.

Alanna nodded, then left without a word.

Joseph let out an exaggerated sigh then pulled himself to his feet, dusting leaves off his clothes. “We better get home. Our parents are going to kill us, no matter what Alanna said.”

“Same,” Nick said and dragged Luke up into his arms. “And I’m going to have a hell of a time explaining what happened with Luke to mom. She’s not going to believe a word, but grown-ups never do.”

Mina stood and followed them towards the bushes where they pushed through to the clearing. Before she let the branches shut behind her, closing the alcove from view to the world outside, she took one last look back at what must have been Victor’s hideout when he was alive. Mina wondered if they came back tomorrow if the clearing would still be there at all.

“Be brave, Victor,” she whispered, and let the brush close.

<Back to Short Stories>

Writer’s Musings: Sparks & Hero’s Journeys

The worst loneliness is to not be comfortable with yourself.”
― Mark Twain

Not all sparks come in the form of sweeping hero’s journeys. Sometimes these ideas are more tender and personal, meant for the creator alone. I experienced one such spark this week, when it came to one of my worthiest foes: impostor syndrome.

I’ve battled this villain in the muddled middle of my own hero’s journey for so long I honestly thought there was no climax to be had, that it might be an impossibility for me to ever get the upper hand on it. How do I overcome a belief so instilled in the core of my being that it makes me believe that anything I do is laughable, dishonest, fake? That any success is a matter of luck and that at any moment the people around me are going to realize it and turn on me.

If you think that this logic is flawed and presumptuous at best about the goodness of people to look the other way and lie for my sake—you would be right. Which ties into what brought impostor syndrome to its knees for me this week.

I was talking about my struggle with needing outside affirmation of my own writing, and how frustrated I was that I both wasn’t getting it and that I didn’t want to need it. That’s when my friend asked me with all seriousness what it is that they could say that would make me believe them when they said I was doing well.

I started to answer reflexively, then paused. Because I didn’t have an answer.

The truth is, there is nothing they could say that I would believe they honestly meant, that they weren’t just being nice. This goes for friends, family, complete strangers, and even agents (of all people!) My impostor syndrome is so instilled in the core of my being that there’s not a single person in the world that could compliment me that I wouldn’t believe in some small way that they were just being nice.

It’s at this realization that the chokehold impostor syndrome had on me was released. We’re still in a constant battle of wills; sometimes he wins, sometimes I do. But with a spark of belief that perhaps I’m more than what I give myself credit for, the battlefield has been evened in a way it never has been before.

Maybe one day I’ll win.

Writer’s Musings: Butterflies & Unlit Fires Pt 2

“When she transformed into a butterfly, the caterpillars spoke not of her beauty, but of her weirdness. They wanted her to change back into what she always had been. But she had wings.”
– Dean Jackson

Last week I talked about butterflies, and how the chrysalides of our literature are just decoration. In the same vein, this week I’d like to talk butterflies again, but this time let’s go into the thick of it.

A more well-known fact about butterflies is that caterpillars completely lose all physical shape within their chrysalis, breaking down to imaginal cells and becoming something akin to primordial ooze for their transformation.

Lesser known is that they retain memory in this state, despite having no brain to speak of. So consider this. A caterpillar, butterfly, whatever you would call that amalgamation of a being, will remember its own transformation well into its life. What would we think of if we could, remembering back?

In other terms, what of the stories we tell, the ones we write, as they transform into something polished, perfect, pristine?

As writers, we remember the pains of transformation as a story grows; from an idea to a draft, to a revision, to another revision (and another), the arduous journey through editing, and finally the final beautiful winged butterfly the readers see.

As readers, we see this butterfly and look on in wonder and awe. We’re left with the feeling that we’ve seen something profound, divine even, and left without the memories before. Or maybe we don’t. Maybe we see a butterfly, but it’s only a butterfly—one we’ve seen a thousand times that year, our lifetimes, and we pass by.

They don’t see the moments when the story was broken down to its very cells and reborn over and over, the times when it was half-caterpillar and half-butterfly, when it waited for its wings to dry. Whether readers enjoy or loathe your book, they still won’t understand the hard work and growth it took to complete, and in a way that can be hard to swallow.

We as writers will always have that memory, for better or worse. At some point, there will need to be reconciliation with what the readers see and what we as writers know, and though there is a difference between the two, one does not erase the other. A reader’s perception (good or bad) of a story, does not change the suffering and joys of the transformation of a book from idea to draft, manuscript to novel. That memory, like the butterflies, will remain.

Transformation, memory, the journey, wonder—in all of it, what we have in common is that at the end of the day, we all love to see a butterfly.

Writer’s Musings: Butterflies & Unlit Fires

“A creative life cannot be sustained by approval any more than it can be destroyed by criticism.”
― Will Self

The Little Hungry Caterpillar is one of the most well-known children’s stories of all time, one that has been around long before I was the one young enough to be reading it. Spoiler alert: In the end, the caterpillar goes into a cocoon and becomes a butterfly.

It’s a lesser-known fact that caterpillars do not go into a cocoon for their transformation. It’s their close cousins, moths, that cocoon away in silk. Butterflies find their homes in a chrysalis—similar on a visual level, but made of their pupa form.

But the popular narrative of butterflies emerging from a cocoon does no harm for children of this age. In fact, the correction to a favored childhood story takes out some of the joy in the activity. There comes a time where yes, children should learn the difference between a cocoon and a chrysalis because there is power in words. But for a child, the purpose is the same—it’s where the butterfly transforms. That is the lesson: change. Everything else is decoration.

As we become adults, there’s another lesson to be learned from The Little Hungry Caterpillar. There will always be those to remind you: It’s not a cocoon. It’s a chrysalis.

Sometimes when we share stories we’ve written, or stories we’ve read and loved, the reaction we’ll get from those we share it with might be a letdown, like a fire unlit. Much of this time, it comes down to the decorations—the chrysalis. The things that we don’t see or don’t bother us in a story because they’re unimportant in our eyes may become eyesores to others.

A lepidopterologist may see the cocoon in The Little Hungry Caterpillar and die a little inside every time. A stay at home soccer mom who raised four kids on the book may see it and have only fond memories. They simply have different eyes.

Don’t let someone else’s sight get in the way of your enjoyment. At the end of the day, it’s just a chrysalis. Enjoy the journey, and remember, the rest is just decoration.

Writer’s Musings: To Each Their Own Flame

“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”
― Ralph Waldo Emerson

I’m going to tell you a secret.

Anyone who tells you they know what they’re doing in life is lying.

It took me three decades and a lot of self-reflection (read: panic) to come to this conclusion, but it’s true. The greatest secret of adulthood is that we’re all just making it up as we go along. None of us really know what the future holds—we can’t secure anyone or anything from the world, despite our best intentions to do so. Sometimes, bad things happen, and all that’s left is to muddle through.

But I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. It’s what we do when we’re faced with the unknown that makes us individuals. Viktor Frankl, a brilliant psychiatrist and a survivor of several Nazi concentration camps, said that when a man is stripped of all physical autonomy, he is left only with the ability to “choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

So why do so many of us expend so much energy worrying about how our choices will be received by others? As a creative this is double-edged—we want our audience to enjoy our work, so there’s the temptation to only give them what they want in conflict with our own needs.

I challenge you, my dear readers, to stop giving credence to the voice within you that says that the tastes of those around you take precedence over your own creativity. If we’re all making it up as we go along, why not make up a story you enjoy telling?

Writer’s Musings: Misfits & Matches

“You can’t grow without acknowledging that we are all made up from the weirdness that we try to hide from the rest of the world.”
― Jenny Lawson, Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things

In my July 6th newsletter, I included a flash fiction story about misfits, and I can’t get the word out of my mind.

I feel camaraderie with the word whenever I hear it—in my life, I’ve been a part of a great many groups but belonged in few. I don’t say this for the pity, nor do I begrudge anyone any eye rolls, because I look at it as a scientist would study a moth’s wingspan; interesting, noteworthy, but with distance.

Ultimately I’ve come to terms with my tendency towards being a misfit. I have a strange, slightly macabre sense of humor and an ingrained need for equanimity that makes social interaction difficult at times. I don’t like gossip, and petty frustrations can get on my nerves.

These traits have leaked into every aspect of my life, even to my reading and writing habits. I’ve all but given up on bookstore trips, as my tastes lean towards the ‘odd’ and quirky’, which isn’t really a category (it should be!) Writing summaries for my own fiction is near impossible, and categorizing it is always a challenge as I bounce between archetypes.

One of the most difficult things in my life has been seeing this as the strength it is instead of a weakness. Now, for all my self-confidence issues, the way my brain processes ideas differently than others is something I can take pride in. A lot of us are taught that in order to be intelligent we need to breed conformity, but our ability to innovate relies on our ability to deviate from standard ideas and create new ones from those foundations. Creativity relies on the misfits, the weirdos, the strange ones, the people who see the world from a different perspective.

So to my fellow misfits, I want to give you permission to have pride in the way you look at the world. Be joyful for the parts of you that make you different, the parts of you that make you who you are.

You’re in good company.

Writer’s Musings: Change Comes in Wildfires

“Nothing is so painful to the human mind as a great and sudden change.”
― Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, Frankenstein

We all know the adage, ‘change is good.’ In all honesty, whenever I hear it, I want to roll my eyes far enough back in my head to lose them. It’s not the phrase itself I get embittered over, but the ease at which it’s uttered versus the herculean effort it takes to actually implement.

Change isn’t always better. Change can be blood, sweat and tears that wrings me out for all I’m worth, and not only pushes me three steps back, but throws me horizontally down a different path altogether. Change is like rearranging my bones while I’m still breathing. Change takes time and dedication, and sometimes, it feels like an impossibility.

But the benefits of change—of evolution—go beyond better, good, or reward. Change, when approached with insight and fastidiousness, can simply make me happier.

I’ve spoken about my declining health before. When the pain from my arthritis and ankylosis spondylitis started setting in at a more severe level, I had to start making some tough choices. Choices and changes I didn’t want to make; ones that weren’t better, but would in the long run would make me happier.

No, I didn’t want to be restricted in how long or how much I could sit, stand, draw, write, walk. But the sooner I accepted these limitations I could neither control nor change, the sooner I could make decisions to let me live a creative life, even if it didn’t look like the one I had envisioned.

There was the change I was given and then the change I chose. Let us not forget there is a difference, and let the change we choose be the ones that leave us feeling lighter.

Writer’s Musings: Fire Escapes and Emergency Exits

If you want to see the stars, you must be willing to travel through the dark.”
Hannah Blum, The Truth About Broken: The Unfixed Version of Self-love

Sometimes the things you love the most are the things that will kill you. I have always lived by the motto, ‘Everything in moderation, including moderation.’ But I’ve realized some point the things I love and obsess over become the things I DO instead of things I could FEEL.

And maybe that’s okay—in moderation. But at some point, we have to put down the paintbrush, keyboard, running shoes, game controller, TV remote, what have you and face the things we’re running away from.

I gotta be honest with my (wonderful) readers, I got a lot of baggage I haven’t processed. When I first started this journey of writing I tackled my demons with abandon, slinging words and phrases at them like a goddamn cowboy. It was freeing, it was fun, and for a while, it worked.

At some point, it stopped freeing me. Then it stopped being fun. And then, I stopped being able to write altogether.

Writing is no longer my savior because I was asking of it something it wasn’t meant to give. It wasn’t meant to be a catch-all for all my darkness, but a fire escape and emergency exit for when it became too much. By trampling through the passageway over and over like a stampede of elephants I damaged what was meant to be cherished and sacred.

I have to face my demons, the right way this time. Head on. Meanwhile, I’m finding new ways to write that are exciting to me, open myself up to new possibilities that I would have been too afraid to tread in the past because it wasn’t safe to do so with the cargo it carried.

For all of you, I wish you courage. To face the things that are on your mind, but that you push away reflexively. Whether they’re big or small, don’t think they aren’t affecting you, or that you will handle it ‘someday, someday.’ Someday is now. Even an inch is better than never, and if you want to be free, you can’t be chained to the things you can’t even turn to within your own mind.