The Healing Power of a Well-Placed Curse

My feet seem to have an uncanny ability to always find the one missing lego or the edge of the table leg I wasn’t paying enough attention to. I am not exactly what you would call a delicate flower; I am clumsy and uncoordinated, and when I hurt myself I can have the mouth of a sailor. If you see me in my regular daily life I seem pleasant enough, but watch me stub my toe once and you’ll hear a string of curse words you didn’t even know existed, laid out in colorful combinations you never would have thought to try. They usually don’t make sense, and my face will probably turn beet red after I realize what exactly I said in front of you; but you will walk away feeling thoroughly educated.

I never put much thought into this knee-jerk reaction, I just knew that yelling my obscenities and jumping up and down on my good leg made me feel better. But as it turns out, there is actual science behind this little fluke of humanity (studies like this make me kick myself internally for not joining the scientific community as my own career path). It is no secret that words have power; they can evoke tearful compassion, blood boiling anger, they can inspire uprisings and tear down governments. Words have the ability to lift the spirit or break the soul. Swearing itself evokes an emotional response; if you have ever been yelled at by a parent or glared at by a co-worker after allowed a particularly colorful four-letter beauty slip from your lips, then you have witnessed the response firsthand. We have created our own taboo language and imbued it with power, determining on a whim what is socially acceptable and what is not. If our response to mere words is so strong that we have created our own form of self-censorship, then what else can they do? Once again, science swoops in with the answers.

Researchers at Keele University’s School of Psychology were curious about the potential physical effects of swearing, and so they conducted their own experiment. This little test has been repeatedly replicated, and even found its way onto the TV show Mythbusters. They took 64 lucky undergrad volunteers and had them all partake in the ice water test. Each participant was asked to submerge their hand in a tub of ice water for as long as they possibly could while repeating a single word. For a control, participants were asked to do this while repeating a fairly innocuous word describing a table. And then we got to the good part; those involved in the study were then told to do the exact same thing, only this time they choose whatever curse word their heart desired. As it turns out, when repeating their favorite swear word, participants were able to hold their hand in the ice water for substantially longer than they could with a regular mundane word. In fact, they were able to tack on an average of 40 additional seconds to their time. As we all may know from plunging our hand into a slightly-melted cooler looking for the perfect beverage during the summer months: an additional 40 seconds in once water is a long time. After repeated experiments, they were able to confidently declare that, yes, the act of cursing actually did have a pain-lessening effect.

Scientists aren’t sure why this link exists, but they suspect that the act of cursing triggers our natural ‘fight or flight’ response. The heart rate of volunteers accelerated, which suggests that the amygdala was being activated (this part of the brain is responsible for the fight or flight reaction). It might account for a slight increase in aggression; and anytime we physically experience an increase like this, our body is internally preparing for a fight- which means it is bracing itself for possible pain to be inflicted on us. As a measure of self-protection, it dampens the pain receptors so you can focus on what you need to do to get out of your sticky situation.

But why curse words specifically? Why couldn’t you just scream ‘pop tart, French fry, monkey , handlebar, potato’ at the top of your lungs instead? It’s interesting to note that curses themselves work differently than traditional language. Studies suggest that they originate in a different, older part of our brains. They are more closely tied to the emotional centers in the right side of the brain, whereas most language production takes place in the left cerebral hemisphere. This is something that can be seen in certain cases of brain damage where most language function deteriorates, and yet the patient can still scream the f-word quite clearly and at regular intervals. Pretty crazy, isn’t it?

Now, before you foul-mouthed fiends start jumping for joy, there is a little bit of fine print here. As it turns out, the more frequently we curse, the less emotionally potent these words become. This translates into your physical reaction as well. Which means if you curse like a sailor all damn day, then when you drop a slew of f-bombs after stubbing your toe, their pain-dampening effect won’t be nearly as strong as the girl who sits 3 desks down from you at the office and only says ‘snickerdoodles’ when she gets a paper cut. When she finally lets a good four-letter friend fall from her lips, the effect will be stronger. If you over-use your curse words, you are left with just plain words. You’ll be like Tony Stark without the Iron Man suite- it might do something, but it won’t be enough. So please, swear responsibly my friends.

A Toast for our Critter Companions

I am on  of those people who gushes with excitement at the thought of going to a kitten coffee house (yes, it really is just a coffee shop full of kitties you can pet as you enjoy your favorite beverage); I grin like a Cheshire Cat when I come close to the dog park; and every time I make my way to the mall, I will inevitably drag any poor soul who happens to be accompanying me over to the pet store where I will pine and beg them to help me rescue all of the critters. I am simultaneously the type of person who balks at the thought of going to a party with acquaintances, I get tongue tied and awkward during regular conversations. I have not mastered social interactions with other human beings; and so, I find salvation in the paws of other species. Needless to say, I am an animal person. And as we just passed Nation Pet Day, it seemed fitting to raise my glass in celebration for my beloved little beauties. (Side note: apologies that this was not posted on the actual day- I had it all finished, but a technical glitch made the entire post mysteriously disappear without a trace right before I could hit publish. Today it magically reappeared; instead of questioning it, I will thank my lucky stars and send it off just a couple days late).
Animals bring out the best in us; at least they do for me. These compassionate creatures can enrich your life and teach you more about the world than you had realized. I’ve had a myriad of critters who’ve graced my existence with their own; from dogs, cats, ants, gerbils and guinea pigs, right down to hedgehogs, chinchillas and ferrets. And who can forget the attempted capture of snakes, wolly bears and millipedes? With these creatures have come joy, pain, and life lessons I cannot forget.

Sometimes it was a simple reminder found in the most mundane of activities, something so subtle you could easily miss it. The simple ant farm taught me to see the beauty in nature; from the designs that they built out of the earth itself right down to the teamwork they used to create the masterpiece of their home. The chinchilla reminded me how delicate the beautiful things in life can be, and how you must treat them with care as respect. She also taught me that the only way to truly live your life is to let go and get a little dirty on occasion.

From the snake and millipedes I learned that sometimes the best thing you can do is fight for yourself, in spite of the best intentions of those trying to ‘rescue’ you. Only you will know what is best. Fun fact: yellow-spotted millipedes are surprisingly common in the Pacific Northwest, and when they feel attacked they emit cyanide. The internet will try to tell you that it is a strong almond smell- do not believe those lies. It is horrible and does not wash away easily. 

My hedgehog was rescued from an abusive situation, so he had some trust issues. You always hope that all of the love you shower them with can smother the pain they have endured. But real life is not always like a story. Spike and I had good days and bad days; there were times he would run and play, trying to eat my hair as he scurried through the mazes I would make out of our pillows; and there were other days when the slightest movement from across the room would send him into a shivering and spitting ball of quills. From him I learned the importance of unconditional love and compassion, and how to read the signals others are sending. He also taught me that food is usually the best bridge between two creatures- nothing would change his mood quite like his favorite treat being gently placed beside him (in fact, this is a trick that still works on me).

For those of you who aren’t aware, ferrets are notorious thieves. Mine was no exception; he also had a bit of a sweet tooth. His favorite hauls were tootsie rolls and pop tarts. In theintjs following his passing I would occasionally find another little nook or cranny stuffed full of his sugary delights. Bandit was full of joy and life. He taught me the importance of dancing and singing for joy as he hopped and chirped around the living room, eying any unsupervised candy. He was persistent in his love and affection; poking and playing with the cat until she finally gave in. His joyful persistence finally broke through her grumpy exterior. They became the most unexpected of allies.

These days I have just two little critters- one cat and one dog. In fact, they are both curled up with me as I write this. Most days they try my patience, they push every single button and then come back around for a second time. They howl and bark when all I want to do is catch 5 extra minutes of sleep. They poke at each other and skid down the hallway to determine who is king of the castle. But at the end of the day, they are my partners in crime. They are my cuddle buddies when I am sad or sick. They give my kisses when all I want to do is cry. They are usually the first to hear my most recent work in progress. They remind me when I’ve been sitting in front of the computer too long, so I need to get up and go for a walk. They never let me forget the importance of play or tasty treats, or head scratches just because you care. When I’m bored they surprise me by dragging in their favorite toy to toss around (and occasionally the cat will drag in something dead and leave it on my lap as an unexpected gift). At the end of the day, they run to the door- as excited to see me as I am to see them. I learn something new from them every day- whether I want the lesson or not.

It is the worst cosmic joke that us humans are forced to outlive our beautiful creatures when they are far more deserving of that extra time. I heard once that it’s because they already know how to live with love and compassion, and so they don’t need as much time here on earth to get it right. Not like us. It seems fitting, really. The most poignant of lessons were not ones that had to be vocalized to me. They were ones my furry friends were able to show me.

So for all that they do- to us and for us- for all of the times that they make us want to pull out our hair while simultaneously dying from a cuteness overload- here’s to the pets that make this world a bit brighter, a tad happier, and a hell of a lot more enjoyable.

Tell Me a Story (Writing Prompt): Fears of the Future

Write a story inspired by the prompt and/or the photograph below. All styles and word counts welcome. May the odds be ever in your favor, my friends.

“Much like Icarus flying too close to the sun, our arrogance had been our undoing. In our boastful confidence, we never took the threat seriously. We had been giants for far too long to feel the true danger we were in; not once did we realize that we were Goliath on the verge of meeting David. Oh, how the world shook when we toppled. Some celebrated, some mourned; but everyone knew that nothing would ever be the same again. The meek did not inherit this earth, something more sinister did. That was a generation ago, and we still have not found our road to redemption.”

Original photo taken by myself in Seattle, WA. Shamelessly filtered later
Be bold and brave: leave a link to your story (or the story itself) down in the comments.

Invisible Girl in a Great Big World

There is something appealing about being a tourist in someone else’s city; the anonymity and freedom that comes with the large crowds of strangers jostling one another through busy intersections, giving yourself the freedom to act in ways you normally wouldn’t, take pictures of things that typically would never catch your attention, stare up into the edifices of buildings you are not intimately familiar with. I am a shameless tourist, hitting many of the bigger attractions as I wander through random streets, picking unknown restaurants based on their signs without reading a half dozen reviews online first (something that occasionally drives my fellow travelers nuts).

Naturally, I picked the worst time to take a trip; the first days of Camp Nano were in full swing. And where could I be found? Not at my desk , nor at the kitchen table, not with a pen in my hand or my nose hovering close to the screen of my laptop. Instead, you could spot me wandering through Seattle with my mom and sister for a long-overdue girl’s weekend. This wasn’t my first visit to the home of the Seahawks; no, it’s a jaunt I like to take about once a year. Considering I live only three hours away, I’d say it’s a pretty manageable destination. The thing that I love about it- it doesn’t matter how many times I’ve been there, I can always find something new to discover, or old haunts to entertain me.

Now, I could spend this entire post talking about the myriad of adventures you could have in this little gem of a city. I could tell you about standing at the top of the Space Needle with a black sky as your backdrop, watching the city lights spring to life below you. I could describe the winding and weaving of the glass-blown art at the museum across the street. Or explain to you the importance of the caffeine-induced pilgrimage back to the original Starbucks (and let’s not forget about the magic of the French bakery down the street). I could tell you a story about the Farris wheel and how, when given the right lighting, it can leave you with the embers of a ghost story burning in your soul. (Okay, so I just really wanted an excuse to post this picture- it’s probably the best one I’ve ever taken.)

Or perhaps I could divulge some fun facts about the infamous Gum Wall (to which I am a contributing member). It’s the second germiest tourist attraction in the world. I could tell you that in the past 20 years, there have only been a few hours where it wasn’t adorned with the sticky stubstances. It took 30 hours to clean last year- but was quickly returned to its artistic glory with a sticky peace sign that had the Eiffel Tower in the center. 

Or perhaps I should tell you all about the history of the city as we trudge down into the hidden underbelly, embarking on one of the coveted Underground Tours (why yes, my friends, there truly is a city under the city). There are buildings, streets, and stories buried below your feet when you walk through the steep roadways, ready and willing to share just a few of their secrets if you will only listen.

Or perhaps I’ll simply let you know that the best Bloody Mary’s can be found at Sam’s Tavern, if you are willing to trek to the newer side of town (their burgers and waffle-cut sweet potato fries are to die for, and the employees were fantastic).

No, I will not tug a travel-writer hat onto my head and pretend to be an expert today, mainly because Seattle is so much more than a destination for me. It carries more weight than a location I’m simply hoping to check off of a list. This beautiful city always brings me back to the passions of story telling, and it’s for a rather simple reason. A city with a touch of history has a thousand stories buried inside, just waiting to be brought into the light. These old streets whisper to you if you know how to listen, they will show you a human truth if you open your eyes to genuinly see. There is a distinct beauty to a place that carries such a wealth of humanity and diversity within its streets. The artwork that adorned the buildings themselves beg you to release your creative energies out into the world. The people you encounter evoke feelings that can only be whittled away when writing them down on the page.

I always drive away with fresh ideas and a renewed sense of urgency. I drive away with story lines dancing through my mind as characters build themselves out of the elements I found on the streets. I always step away with a sense of purpose. The ability to become invisible in such large crowds is a gift for the writer who simply wishes to observe the world as it truly is, unencumbered by the self-conscious gazes of those who recognize your presence for what it is. Life is the ultimate inspiration, telling you tales if you care to hear them, and this time I listened; I truly listened. As a writer, there is nothing more excruciatingly fulfilling as a story evolving inside, begging to be told. We tell the stories of strangers, we whisper the secrets of cities, we dazzle with tales of the past, the present, and perhaps the future. Sometimes you just need to go somewhere you can be invisible to allow you to truly see.

Love at the Gas Station (I will write you a story)

There is a poetic juxtaposition found in everyday life; a yin for every yang, a push for every pull, a love for every hate. I can spend my entire day assisting with a murder case, astounded at the sheer brutality which occasionally seeps into the human soul, and then that evening I can rediscover the inexplicable beauty found in a chance encounter between two destined beings.

You can meet the most important people in your life under the most banal circumstances. And yet, that whisper of a spark, that fluttering of magic, that taste of excitement still permeates the air. I have learned that the second you think you have your life all figured out, a curve ball will make its way to you. You can swing for it or dive out of the way. The call is yours alone.

I adore people-watching, I am far too nosy to simply mind my own business and stay focused on my little corner of the world. I am a shameless eavesdropper (in my defense, it’s not always intentional, I’m just completely incapable of trying to drown out voices if they are close to me). I love seeing snippets of people’s lives and making up a story to go with it. I find the prospect of taking a tiny peek into another person’s existence invigorating and refreshing. I like to blame this trait on my inner writer, excusing any lapse in decorum with a sheepish tilt of the head, explaining the insatiable desire of an author’s curiosity.

You can find a story in any moment, if only you stop long enough to watch the world unfold around you. The chiming of my low fuel sensor forced me to take the exit near my home to fill up the tank (shh, don’t tell my family, they all hate when I let it get so low that the car has to physically yell at me. Admittedly their frustration is warranted- a few years ago I had to be rescued on a back country road on Christmas Eve when I pushed my luck too far and ran out of gas). I dutifully pulled into the only open pump and got out of the car. Across from me was a large truck with an adorable dog poking her head out the back window. The owner stood waiting for his monstrous fuel tank to be satiated (as someone who once drove a 1985 Ford F-250, I can feel the pain a trip to the pump costs). On the other side of his pump was a cute woman, around the same age with curly brown hair and a button nose.
I tried not to be too obvious as I listened to them nonchalantly joking and sharing pleasantries. He slipped in the fact that he was divorced as she giggled beside him before saying goodbye and climbing back into her own car. Now, if there is anything I have learned in life, it is that it only takes two seconds of blind courage to change your stars; for the better or for the worst. As I stood there waiting, I couldn’t help but notice the way she hesitated before leaving, finally stepped out of her car and subtly sneaking up beside him with a little slip of paper in her hand. She handed it to him with a smile. He grinned back as he put it in his pocket and said something I couldn’t distinguish. They shared a final knowing glance before she got back in her car and drove away.

Now, personally, I am a sucker for a good love story. And there is nothing that carries the same unfettered excitement as the first meeting with someone who makes your heart flutter. The writer in me was imagining their first phone call shortly followed by quippy texts. What would their first date be like? Would it be a classy restaurant complete with a bottle of nice red wine, or pizza, beer and bowling? Would she call her friends afterwards with cautious optimism? Would she brag about how cute he was, or the way he pulled her chair out for her at dinner? Would he go to work tired because he couldn’t stop thinking about her the night before? Will they take that adorable dog on a trip to the coast together? How would he propose? Would it be a summer or winter wedding? What would they name their first child? Will I see them a few years from now at the same gas station and not even realize that I was once the only privy observer to their first chance meeting?

I am a writer; I will internally edit their future, allowing their fictional selves to soar through the clouds before hitting some turbulence. But in the end, my vision of them will always be together, making it work and loving one another through the mundane and difficult moments of life. They will still hold hands at 83, explaining to their grand babies what a gas station was (because fingers crossed, maybe we will have other options by then). I will write them a happily ever after that I don’t know they will ever experience. But I can hope. Because that is the beauty of writers; we can create something out of nothing, we can pen the happy endings that so few of us get to see in our lifetimes. We can right wrongs, cure as, and yes- even make two people fall in love.

Non-Traditional Camp Nano (ready or not)

I finally did it! I have officially registered for Camp Nano! (Cue the fireworks, alert the parade, start the countdown for the trapeze artists, and someone please feed the dancing bears before they go on stage). Okay, so technically I meant to sign up at the beginning of the month, but it felt impossible simply because I could not decide on a project to dedicate the entire month of April to.

When it comes to Nano, I tend to be a bit of a traditionalist. I love a 50,000 word count goal, even during Camp. I adore starting a fresh project to push me through the month. There is nothing more thrilling than waiting for midnight (or the next day after work) to start filling in that blank page with the feverish creations of my own off-kilter mind. It’s an intoxicating moment; the total elation you get when you start a new project and the words flow smoothly, unencumbered by plot bunnies, storyline inconsistencies and wayward character. The page is like a blanket of freshly fallen snow, just waiting for you to come running out in the morning and start building your own little winter wonderland. I’ve always loved the thrill of a brand new Nano project.

And yet there is one big problem with continually brining in something fresh and new to the Nano table; if you do not diligently follow through on your editing during the post-Nano snooze, you wind up with a half dozen partially complete projects that are nowhere near being ready for public consumption. And this, my dear friends, is the dilemma that I have been facing. I need to spend a lot more time on my editing; it’s no secret, I will sing it from the mountain tops, I am well aware of the traps I set for myself in my literary haven. 

The problem really boils down to the fact that editing can be difficult and tedious work. It’s not nearly as thrilling as the first draft where anything goes and you can be a bit loose with your story line, reveling in the comfortable knowledge that you can fix it later. But if you keep on saying ‘later,’ eventually you realize that it will never really happen. Can I truly continue to hold on to the title of writer if I am unintentionally so resistant to the editing that I’ve had sitting on my to-do list for ages?

So this Nano, I have decided to be bold and try something a bit different, something that scares me more than I care to admit. You see, Camp Nano has added some pretty awesome new features to their website this year. When you go to register your story, you are presented with a few options that were not present a year ago. Instead of just the traditional word count, there are now three other tracking methods that will assist with different types of projects. Moving forward you can now track your progress by counting pages, lines, or hours. That’s right- they are making life about a hundred times easier for those pursuing projects that don’t fit the cookie-cutter word-count model. So in honor of this new change, I have decide to embrace it by throwing myself into my very first non-traditional Nano. 

I am going to spend my Camp on an editing project for an old story that I truly believe has a future. It’s a dystopian style novel that I wrote a couple of years ago, the first in a series. It has a decent storyline, but really needs to be pulled together. The prose needs to be tighter, the characters etched with a touch more definition, the plot carved into the soil a bit deeper. My first drafts always tend to come out a bit too fluffy- like I threw the pages into the dryer with an entire box of fabric softener. I have to chip away at the nice edges and force a bit of grit, inflict a dash of pain, boil the pretty words down until the rougher edges of the underlying humanity start to take shape. 

There will be a lot of re-writing involved, but it didn’t feel right to limit myself to a word count this year; I want to focus on the quality of the work for this round, not just the quantity. And if I work hard enough, perhaps I will be able to reward myself with the beginnings of a brand new novel during the summer Nano.

My next adventure will be all about finding a cabin for camp, a daunting task when you are working on something a bit non-traditional. However, I believe that particular quest is one I shall embark upon tomorrow. Stay tuned, my friends, I am quite sure I will be continually updated you on these little hopes, dreams, misadventures and potential bouts of begging for help.

If anyone is interested in joining (or if you have zero idea what Nano is and think I have finally lost every single marble I once possessed), take a peek at Camp NaNoWriMo. If you want to challenge yourself and your writerly ways, it is a fantastic motivator to get your booty in the chair every single day.  NaNoWriMo (which stands for National Novel Writing Month) holds two virtual camp sessions every year; you get to pick your own project, set your own goal for the month, and if you wish you can opt to join a ‘cabin’ or have one randomly selected for you. A cabin is basically just a message board with a specific group of other writers who are also participating. You track your progress and help one another on your journey. It’s addictive, and I have met some fantastic people over the years. The community is large and extremely supportive. I also find that a lot of them are just a tad odd- so I tend to feel more at home with them than with a lot of the ‘real’ world. If you are interested in joining, let me know- perhaps we might even be able to set up a private cabin. When it comes to Nano, the possibilities are endless.

Another Year, Another Hope

It feels like we just left the 90s, but now I hear the music of my childhood on oldies stations (gasp- Backstreet Boys are not classics, bite your tongue young heathen). I actually caught myself saying. ‘Kids today just don’t understand…’ and I think my eyes grew about three sizes larger when I realized I had become exactly what I swore I would never be. Can we do the math just one more time please, because I’m sure we did it wrong. I feel so much younger than you keep saying that I am. No, I’m sorry, I would like to return this birthday- it doesn’t fit my mental state at the moment. If I could just trade it in for a slightly smaller number, that would be truly fantastic. 

Yesterday I bid a nostalgic farewell to 27 and ushered in the beginning of my 28th trip around the sun. To be honest, it just felt like any other Saturday. Birthdays tend to lose their sparkle once you start closing in on 30 (I have been told that I get to step counting them at that point, and can be whatever age I choose for the rest of forever).

27 was a good year for me, looking back. I ushered it in with a bang on my first trip to Las Vegas where I endulged in many other brand new experiences I had never had before- like zip lining; or watching medieval  knights jousting while I ate a whole Cornish game hen, tiny potatoes and steamed broccoli with my fingers. Little did I know at the time that 27 would be a year of change for me. It was a year I embraced bravery and stepped outside of my comfort zone. I took a chance and jumped for something better at work- and managed to land on my feet. I started taking my writing seriously and began this blog. I became far more politically involved and put myself out there more than I have ever been comfortable with (I have never been one to make waves, but alas, some issues are worth making a splash about). I worked hard. And even when I stumbled- which I did a lot of at times, I always managed to get back up and keep on pushing. Yes, when all was said and done- 27 was one hell of a year for me. And I think I am going to miss it.

I don’t know what the coming year will have in store for me. I don’t know if it will be another year of change and transition, if it will be the year that things start clicking into place, or if it will be the year that I fall apart and allow myself to rebuild from the ground up. I won’t know until I write this same post a year from now.

I do know what I hope for, what I strive for, what I want to find in the coming year. I want to dig deep and work harder. I want to discover this illusive balance that has forever evaded me. I want to actually finish an editing project and submit one of my pieces for possible publishing. I want good food and grand adventures. I want to drink delicious concoctions with lovely people. I want to put myself out there and embrace bravery just one more time. I want to keep striving for the girl I’ve always worked to become. I want to put my health first- emotional as well as physical. I want to be forgiving. I want to be kind. I want to remember what it feels like to fully live in the moment. I want another beautiful year in this amazing life. No matter how messy it may get, no matter how far I stray from the path- I wouldn’t trade for anything. So cheers, my lovely friends; may we all enjoy many more trips around that beautiful sun.