Writing Prompt: my circus, my monkeys

Some of my best ideas stem from real life…even when they completely terrify me. The following prompt is based on a true story.

The prompt:

You stay up late reading a book when you realize you are out of water. You don’t bother turning on the lights as you walk to your kitchen. Passing the darkened living room you stop dead in your tracks; sitting there in the solitude is a small red and white circus tent. You don’t own a red and white circus tent. Upon closer inspection, there are two stuffed animals sitting in it’s open doorway…

Naturally, when I traipsed into this scene, I didn’t stick around to figure out if an army of tiny clowns was going to parade out of those blue flaps. I turned right around and sent a quick text to my brother-in-law (who doubles as my roommate) to figure out of a portal to hell had just opened in our living room. Lucky for me, it wasn’t the opening scene from a new episode of American Horror Story- it was just a new toy bought for my niece and nephews. Although, I am still a bit nervous about the two stuffed animals that found their way inside- the kids had been with their mom the entire weekend.

To be continued… (sorry, I grew up with Goosebumps and couldn’t resist using my old favorite ending)

Mimosa Musings: To fan the flame or blaze on your own? (The fight over fanfiction)

Good morning my literary lovelies. I don’t know about you, but brunchtime mimosas usually send my mind wandering down unusual paths, and this weekend was no exception. My dog has been on bedrest for a few weeks now, and it is becoming increasingly more difficult to keep the 85 pound mass of energy contained. To keep both of us sane I decided to pull out my tried and true method: reading him some of my favorite books. Naturally, Harry Potter was the first one to pop up in my littler arsenal.

Now, I have never been the type of girl to love by halves; when I am in I am all in. Expert or novice, I immerse myself in the imaginary worlds that I love, whether they be the Marvel or DC universe, Middle Earth, Narnia, Rhyme and Reason’s kingdom, Panem, or our very own Hogwarts. I fall in love passionately and without apology. These worlds that we love to explore come to life within us. Each person who reads, listens to or watches these stories creates their own little dimension for the characters involved; the author holds the original, but new incarnations come to life in each of us. I’ve always found this fact to be the most magical of all; my perspective of Luna Lovegood or Jyn Eros will be very different from yours simply because we interpret the author’s world very differently. This concept has never been more clear than in the realm of fan fiction.

Personally, I love to read the stories tossed up on the Internet for anyone who is interested. I find it fascinating to discover what these stories have inspired in other people; often I learn that their imaginings are far different from my own. People online grow passionately supportive or opposed to different ideals (have you ever looked at a fan board discussing Draco and Hermoine pairings- hell will freeze over before those two camps find some common ground). I’ve dabbled in the realm, finding the idea to be fun practice and good inspiration for other pieces I am working on.

Authors, however, have very strong opinions on the subject. Some have belonged to the ranks of unknown fanfiction authors, such as: S.E. Hinton (The Outsiders) has written some- even going so far as to post fanfiction stories of his own books under a different pen name. Other known authors include: Lev Grossman (The Magicians), Meg Cabot (The Princess Diaries), Christina Hobbs and Lauren Billings (Beautiful), Orson Scott Card (Ender’s Game), Cassandra Clare (Mortal Instruments), Neil Gaiman (far too many amazing books for me to name one). In fact, some have even had their fanfiction stories re-adapted into bestselling books, the most well-known being E.L. James’ Fifty Shades of Grey series, which began as Twilight fanfiction.

Now, in the realm of original authors, there seems to be some disagreement about how to view and handle these new creations. There are those who find it flattering that others will love their characters so much to create their own stories about them. However, many do caution about crossing the line into using these creations for monetary gain (as someone who has worked in legal for the past decade, I would strongly advise against commercializing this type of work without getting the advice of a copyright attorney, as it is a slippery slope that could land you in court opposite your favorite writer’s legal team). Some authors have read and added to their fandom, going so far as to mark certain stories as ‘canon,’ meaning true to the original work. Others will send you a cease and desist letter threatening legal action if you do not remove the offending story.

In these murky waters, I can’t help but wonder: what do you all think? Is it flattery or theft? Do you write it yourself? Do you post it online? Are you a reader? Or do you steer clear of it as much as you can? Would you be flattered or offended if someone wrote stories based off of your original work?

The love of a dog (you heal me and I heal you)

“He was able to walk today without any assistance.” I clapped my hand over my mouth and shut my eyes, feeling the prick of tears. Yesterday you couldn’t; I didn’t know if you would ever be able to do that again. Those who say you are just a dog have obviously never loved a creature quite like you.

We weathered through a week of hell as you lost the ability to move your legs, curled up by my side on the floor, carrying you to appointment after appointment as we searched for the cause. It was one week of terrifying questions and focused observations; you comforting me as much as I was comforting you. And then our miracle man solved the mystery; wheeling you in for emergency surgery while we waited. It would be six hours before his exhausted voice would tell us you were okay, though it would be days before we would learn if you stood a chance for a full recovery.

Ever since you were small you made a game of testing my patience- pushing every single button your little paws could reach and then, unsatisfied, chomping on the remote for good measure until every last nerve was frayed and exposed. You, my dearest little love, were always meant to be my test. And my heart never stood a chance. You were mine and I was yours. Has there ever been a more beautiful tale to tell?

Like a sword pounding against a rock, I always felt helpless and blunted by you. You tested me in a way that I was unaccustomed to, in a way that I was wholly unprepared for. What I didn’t know was that you were my whetstone, sharpening me, strengthening me for the road we were destined to walk together. You turned me into a sword strong enough to fight both of our demons. We protect each other like Sam and Frodo; gentle and fierce.

It seems we were often at odds, you and I; fire and ice learning to balance the other. It was a dance we knew so well as we pushed and pulled at one another. We were constantly teaching the other; you reminding me that the world is meant to be lived in and explored, me coaxing you to understand that gentleness is always the best approach when facing others. I would protect you from the wayward squeakers as you liberated them from their plushy prison. You would protect me from the dangerous intruder you caught peeking through the living room window (to this day you have not realized that it is your own reflection).

Our battle of wills brought us together, though the road had been a bumpy one. I am not sure when we stopped antagonizing one another and became allies that could rival the best stories. It seems it happened slowly and then all at once. You were mine and I was yours. I wouldn’t trade a moment of it, every single sacrifice was worth it to have you in my life.

You see, what you don’t realize is that you have always been my talisman- my happily ever after in a world that I dont understand. You don’t care that I’m weird, extremely awkward and constantly anxious. You never once doubted in my abilities, though I often doubted myself. You simply loved me, finding joy in those tiny moments we spent together. You are my patronus, keeping the darkness at bay. You are my adventure, my reminder, my friend. You are my rock, my touchstone.

So right now, my dear little love, let me be yours. Let me help you the way you always helped me. Let me be the one to guard the door and keep the monsters in their closet. Trust that I will protect you during this difficult journey we are beginning- even from yourself at times. You will be okay, my darling. You are so strong and resilient. You have always tested me, but I have always tested you too. Now we are in this together, fighting on the same side as you slowly heal. Its going to be okay, my little one. After all, this is not the first monster we have faced. We made one another stronger for moments just like this.

Paper Wings and Winding Roots (be brave, my dear)

We are told to be brave, to leap without a safety net and teach ourselves to fly. And yet we are warned of Icarus, whose waxen wings melted when he soared too close to the sun. We are told to hold onto our roots and bury them deeply in the Earth, lest we forget where we come from. And yet we are warned against rigidity, and how those afraid to move will never get anywhere. We are taught to be all things, to reach for every moment this world has to offer. But we are warned be realistic and understand that dreams do not come true for all. We are taught to be everything and nothing, to break the mold, but be a cog in the wheel. It is no wonder it takes us so long to figure out if we are birds or trees, both or neither. We wander this world in search of answers and new questions. We wait for the lightning strike that will sizzle in our soul, sparking within us a fury and direction, a passion we cannot contain, showing us a path hidden amongst the stars- a path made only for us.

Can I let you in on a little secret? I don’t think there is one- a road to follow, stepping stones that will lead us forward, illuminating the path ahead. I think we were made to be wanderers, to dance in the fields as well as the skies, to climb the trees and swim in the lakes- we take two steps forward, one step back, spin in a circle, run a mile, fall and rise, rise and fall. There is a beauty in the chaos, a mystery in the motions. We are not meant to follow paths, we are wild at heart, no matter how hard we try to pretend otherwise.

As humans we like order, we like consistency; we like to point at our destination on a map and trace the road that will get us there. We have far too much faith in this system. We built cities in grid patterns, installed lights two by two to illuminate the paths we made while blotting out the stars above. We search for the recipe to perfect happiness, read books by people who found their own as we scan for the secret ingredient we could steal to find ourselves on that same peak, all the while ignoring the desperate plea from our own heart. We ignore who we are to fit into the mold of who we are supposed to be. We ignore the wild, unmanaged forests until we need an escape, a way to get back to nature, a way to rediscover our souls. So why do we insist on ‘finding our path’ when paths were never in our nature?

We are wanderers, searching for the illusive fluttering beauty known as happiness. We are adventurers, praying to uncover a well of passion and hope within ourselves. We are birds, soaring the skies and daring the sun to melt our wings. We are trees burrowing deeper as the storms rage around us, trying us knock us down to size. We are everything, we are nothing, we are stardust and promises.

I’ve spent forever searching for a meaning, taking classes, finding a good job, buying books, saving money for a house, for a car, for a vacation. Planning and planning and planning to see the world, but ignoring the wonders in my own backyard. Step by step I dutifully followed the road they promised would lead me to a good life. The scenerery changed, but my heart did not, my soul was tired as I plodded along, bored with the directions given to me, exhausted with the life I found myself in.

Perhaps what I need is to stop searching, to stop looking for the path that never existed. Perhaps I need to learn what wandering feels like, to tear up the map I’ve been trying to draw and truly look around this place I have discovered. It is not perfect, in fact, it is far from it- but I’ve learned that imperfections are the things I am most drawn to. I want chaos and the beauty of mother nature. I want to wander and throw caution to the wind. I want to dig into the Earth, swim in the seas and soar through the clouds. I want to soak up every story ever told and hear my own words ringing in the voice of another. I want it all, I want nothing. I want roots, wings, and maybe some gills. I don’t want paths and trails, I want stardust and promises.

Squiggly feelings and sleepless nights (hello anxiety, my old friend)

Have you ever leaned back in your chair too far and felt that jolt when it seemed like you were falling? Have you ever missed a step when you were walking down the stairs and suddenly your stomach was in your throat and your heart was pounding in your ears? It feels like that. But it doesn’t go away.

Have you ever watched a scary movie and felt your body tense waiting for something to jump out at you? Only it doesn’t, so you just keep peeking through your fingers and holding your breath? It’s like that, but without the giddy excitement of knowing that the monsters on the screen can’t hurt you.

Have you ever been driving down the road when your seatbelt locks up for no reason, as though it thinks you are about to crash even though everything is fine? And you have to sit there, locked in for a while, unable to really move? That’s what it’s like.

You are fighting phantom enemies with a smile on your face because no one else will understand. You are calm as a cucumber on the outside while your stomach is full of squiggly jumbled lines, your heart is pounding, hands sweaty, and you just can’t catch your breath. It is a strange moment when you find yourself trying to convince your own brain that you are okay, that everything will be fine, that you will survive this false alarm it has raised.

What people don’t realize about anxiety- I know when I’m being irrational. I know when my brain is looking at shadows and screaming ‘monster.’ But I can’t stop it. It’s not just a thought process; it’s a physical response. It’s like a migraine; I can feel it coming, but I have no power to change it. It is a tidal wave that rolls over me, washing me out to sea. And it’s so damn exhausting trying to paddle back to shore against the current.

I am not always like this. I can be the girl who (outwardly) rolls with the punches. I can be the girl who kicks ass, takes names, and dances backwards in high heels. I can be the girl who argues the intent of Nochlin’s essays on institutional powers, debate the merits of Ravenclaw vs Hufflepuff. I am the girl who can be serious, or funny, sarcastic or plain annoying. I am the girl who can be a lot of different things.

But I am also the girl whose heart was hammering so loud in her chest that I thought it might break the skin. I am the girl who discreetly made her way to the bathroom to fall apart in the middle of the workday. I locked the door, slid down the wall and sat with my head in my hands, eyes shut, gasping while trying to remember how to breath as the panic rushed through my veins, leaving me weak and terrified. Then I stood up, brushed myself off and went back out with a forced smile. I made coffee, joked with coworkers and answered the phone that just wouldn’t stop ringing. No one knew. Not a single soul realized that I was broken and terrified inside. Not one person noticed the way my eyes darted, the way I continually tapped my fingers and toes to expel the excess energy, not one person noticed the cracks showing through my carefully placed facade. No one knew that it wasn’t the first time. No one knew that it wouldn’t be the last.

I’ve had anxiety for a long time; it ebbs and flows, some moments in life are much harder than others. Some days I face my ‘normal levels,’ usually surrounding social situations. And then there are times where I spend months in a constant battle of wills with my own brain, phrases like ‘self-care’ and ‘I’m just tired’ forever on the tip of my tongue. As I write this, I can feel the squiggles inside squirming. I am jumbled up and desperately hoping I can keep my head above water. I’m writing this in hopes that I can bleed some of these emotions away; if I can capture them with words and release them into the world, diluted and harmless- then perhaps I may find a moment of peace. Perhaps I will be able to sleep for just one night.

If you don’t know what it feels like to see your own worst enemy in your eyes; then I am thankful. I hope you never do. But I sincerely hope that you remember those like me who do their best, even when it isn’t good enough. It is exhausting to spend your day hiding your monsters and your nights trying to slay your demons. It is exhausting when you lose power over your own thoughts, over the very things that make you who you are. It is exhausting to always say ‘I’m sorry’ over things you can’t control.

I had many reasons today to be anxious; I have been feeling that shadow creeping over me for some time now. I knew that today would be difficult. And yet, do you want to know what pushed me over the edge into a full blown attack? Keep in mind that I know it will sound silly; as I said, I am well aware when my fears and anxieties aren’t rational. But I can’t stop them. The little barb that managed to rip open the storm clouds overhead was a tiny thing- I finished my book and didn’t have another one to start.

At face value, it’s comical really. But the truth behind it is a bit deeper. My books are my escape hatch out of a world that I can’t control and into a realm that makes sense. There is order in my books, I feel grounded in them. They give me something to cling to in a world that sometimes appears far too foreign to me. They are my touchstone. They distract my brain when it wants to scream and wail; silencing these damned thoughts and giving me a respite from the anxiety that plagues me. When I feel the pressure that foreshadows an anxiety attack, I dive into the pages of another story to keep my brain from focusing on those imaginary little demons it conjures. When that life preserver was ripped away, I found myself drowning again without the hint of land in sight. My brain started screaming, and I was brought down to my knees.

That’s what it’s like; that’s how frustrating and irrational it is. I am normally a strong person who can carry the weight of my own little world, and yet when anxiety strikes all rationality goes out the window. I can be knocked to the ground by a missing book, by a ringing phone, by an oddly-phrased compliment. Anxiety and panic can be debilitating; though many don’t fully grasp what it means for those of us who continually struggle day after day. For those of you who do not face this battle, be thankful. I am so glad you will not find yourself in these trenches. But please, have compassion for those of us you find here struggling. To my brothers and sisters in arms; you are brave, you are strong, and you are not alone. We are in this together, allies in this war against ourselves.

Camp NaNoWriMo on the Horizon

Holy guacamole Batman, I can’t believe that time is already upon us once again. My literary lovelies, my wordy birdies, my alliteration afficionados: camp nano will be back in full swing this April, and for any of you planners (and a few of you plantser) out there- now is the time to get started.

A few of you may be wondering what kind of gibberish is escaping my keyboard today, but never fear- I won’t leave you hanging out in the cold today.

So, a quick breakdown for those who have never heard of Nano: NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) is an annual writing challenge that takes place every November. The brave souls who choose to gather their writerly weapons and embark on the ambitious quest have a single challenge: write 50,000 in 30 days. You can share in your successes and failures on the message boards, full of thousands of other writers who are just as crazy as you.

But what about the other eleven months of the year, you ask? Oh, how glad I am that you brought it up. These brave warriors armed with their pens and laptops started to get anxious when they weren’t engaged in their quests. They knew that any brave adventurer needed to train, to prepare for their daring November mission. So they created the notorious Camp. Think of it like Camp Half-Blood (for you Percy Jackson lovers), but for the writerly world. This Camp is a safe haven for the writer, meeting in April and July every year.

But don’t worry, my daring friends- you need not travel far to engage in this adventure. This Camp is a virtual endeavor- you sign up, create a project, and can even join a cabin. The cabins are probably my favorite part. You can join a group of other writers and have your very own private message board. You can meet other people who are just as crazy as you, bond over books, snacks and beverages, share stories, obstacles and successes. You can cheer each other on and participate in short writing challenges to boost your word counts. I’ve met many amazing people that I have kept in touch with over the years. I’ve made connections forged in the fires of the pages, bound together through the fluid chains of words.

Another feature you get to see during Camp that you don’t get for your November challenge: customizable goals. During Camp you can do whatever you want- you can set your finish line anywhere you would like. You can be ambitious and go for the coveted Double Nano (100,000 words), or go lower if you know that life is going to be crazy for you that month. You can set your goal to words count, pages, hours- anything you wish.

But wait, you say- I am not a novelist, why on Middle Earth would I want to join a writing challenge? Another good question, my fearless friend. With Nano you can sign up for any kind of project under the sun. Do you want to start writing in your journal more? Register it as your project- you are now mired in the pits of nonfiction (but beware, my dear- reality is often much stranger than the fiction that we write). Or perhaps you are hoping to pump up your blog (I know most of my dear readers have one), well sign up and start creating those beautiful posts so many are waiting to gobble up. The choice is your, my friends- this is a choose-your-own-adventure of a sort.

The challenge, if you choose to accept it, can be found at Camp NaNoWriMo. It is never too late, my friends. We shall embark on April 1st, but you can still join after that start date. You will always be welcomed with open arms in this crowd. I’ve never found the support that these fellow adventurers have bestowed upon me.

In the immortal words of Albus Dumbledore, “Let is step into the night and pursue that flighty temptress adventure.” Writing is predominantly a solitary endeavor, perhaps finding a few friends along the road wouldn’t be the worst thing that could happen. Are you ready? The world needs to hear your words, find others who will raise their voices with you.

Hopes for Another Year (birthday wishes)

Today was my 29th birthday. Gulp. That’s right, my friends, the 365-day countdown to a new decade begins right now. I feel like I should be veering towards an end-of-twenties crisis (like I did last year), but I didn’t. I kept waiting for it, for that slight tinge of panic as I have that sudden realization of my inevitable mortality- but it never came. Nope, instead I enjoyed my delicious mimosa(s), I wandered around a historic mansion (which led to some awesome new story ideas), traipsed through a shady part of town to see an old garden, and ate lots and lots of chocolate while hanging out with my fur babies listening to the rain outside.

Every year I blow out the candles and make the same wish. It is the same one I make when I see a shooting star. I have never told a soul what it is, out of some odd superstition that never really left me when I grew up. I won’t say the exact wish, because I still feel a bit of loyalty to the childhood version of me that would cross her heart and promise herself that she would never tell. But I will tell you that it had to do with happiness, with contentment, with finding that spark of strength within yourself. It was an abstract dream about a world in which I wasn’t always the person that I undoubtedly was. This year I will be retiring that old wish, putting it away in a dusty box along with the old dreams I outgrew. That’s because at 28, I finally figured out how to make my wish come true all by myself.

It’s true that my life is not at all where I expected it to be at this stage. But its also true that I’ve been through more than I could have imagined at this point in my life, I am a different person than I was when I drew up the picture of what my life would be like in my 20s. And I’m okay with that. I’ve always taken the scenic route, following the long road home; so it isn’t really a surprise that it took me this long to start figuring my life out. 28 was a big year of growth and change for me. I had to do a lot of soul searching, I had to face a lot of fears and crack my heart open over and over again to bleed out the poisons I had given sanctuary to. I had to embrace the people that lift me up, and step back from those that held me down. I had to sacrifice, I had to be selfless. I had to be a calm voice of reason when my world was upside down. I had to be brave, I had to acknowledge when I was weak. I had to invest in myself. I had to proudly claim who I am as a person and tell the world that I was worth it. I had to start living the life that I always talked about. 28 was a hard year, but it is also the year I have been most thankful for. I took root and grew towards the sun. And I’m not done yet.

29 will be no different. Changes will be constantly on the horizon, my life will continue to shift and morph into something that I may not recognize in a year. But I’m so excited for this new adventure. I have so many hopes for this coming year; perhaps that’s why it doesn’t scare me, getting older- because I see so much more waiting for me up ahead. I’m not just aging, I’m still growing.

This year I dream of finishing my first degree (at the very least I should be really close by the time I hit 30). I dream of finding a new house that I can call my own. I dream of focusing on this blog and my writing in general. I have been so scared of truly investing in my writing, and I think I need to do this for myself. I need one year of being brave and daring with my words, tossing my stories out into the world to do as they wish. I am so sick of hiding from who I am, from shrugging off my writing. I am ready to own it- like it or hate it, at least it will finally be out there. I dream of taking a trip to somewhere I have never been. I dream of being healthier with my lifestyle. I dream of perhaps finally marrying the man I’ve been in love with since I was a young, idealistic 20-year-old girl. I dream of reading more books and living more stories. I dream of another year full of growth and changes. It’s time to pull together an ‘end of 20s’ bucket list to inspire me for the next year.

Cheers to one more trip around the sun, my friends. Getting older doesn’t have to mean you are aging. Growing up doesn’t always mean growing old. The best way to remind yourself that your life is worth loving is to actually live it. I’m not going to let myself down this year.