The Magic of 3am (I refuse to call this jetlag)

3am and I’m wide awake, dancing through stories I haven’t yet written, flitting through worlds that only exist in my mind. I’ve been awake for hours now, laying in the dark as the clock ticks down to my real life. Soon the darkness of the sky will begin to ease, surrendering to the twittering of the birds harkening in another sunny day. It will be as though this feverish moment never happened. It’s existence will only be hinted at in my periodic yawns and wistful glances out of an office window. Oh to live in a world where I didn’t have to pretend to be happy pushing papers and making phone calls, or typing documents and squeezing one more fifteen minutes into an overly crowded schedule. If only passion could pay my rent. It would be an awfully grand adventure to not stare at the clock on nights like these knowing I will regret this moment in a few hours time.

There’s something about these early morning hours that is magical and surreal. It is as though the curtains between my real world and the ones I envision grow thin, as though the door to Narnia was left cracked open, leaving only the thinnest of lace between us. These are the sweetest of dreams, the ones where you are wide awake and uninhibited. These are the nights when I learn something new about characters I have never met, observe habits I didn’t know they had. I can push them, poke the, mold them, and for once allow them to mold themselves.

You’ll only ever catch a writer talking nonsense like that; as though these characters are true flesh and blood, and not something conjured out of thin air. Only other writers will understand this fine line between art and insanity. The best creations could often be confused with a break in mental stability, an avoidance of the status quo, and honest disregard for the norm. What people often forget when they read those beautiful words is that they were once a jumbled mess in someone’s mind. They were the midnight ravings of a lunatic until they climbed out through the inkwell of a pen and found the solace of a page. That final conjuring is the moment when most are able to finally see those syllables for what they truly are: beautiful.

Perhaps it is because I just left a land full of knights, kings and queens, intrigue, betrayal and love. Perhaps it is due to the fact that I have spent two weeks exploring castles and staring at the headstones of the writers who paved the way for lowly wordsmiths like myself. Perhaps it is simply because I was able to cut ties with my own reality for just a little while to inhabit a life completely different from my own. Regardless of the reason, I can’t keep my mind at bay tonight. It is not content contemplating the normal minutia of my daily world. It is far too busy building castles and filling them with false queens and bastard children. It is too quick to invent imaginary wars and brave damsels fighting fiercely to protect the things they love.

Tonight I will let the story carry me, I will memorize the freckles on my heroine’s face and the sly crooked smile that betrays her secret lovers true intentions. I won’t worry about the alarm clock ticking away beside me or dread the mountain of emails I will be culling through when 8am rolls around. Tonight is for the fairies, it is for the monsters protecting me from the mundane as they stand vigil under my bed. Tonight is for the magic that only happens at 3am, leaving you with wide open eyes that sparkle with the possibilities of other worlds.

A Fear of Failure, A Fear of Success (hello blank page, my old frienemy)

There is a reason why they say that you must write everyday. But do you want to know a secret? It is not just because practice makes perfect, no, if only it were that easy. It is because time can make the tiniest hill feel like a mountain. When you hide from your words for so long, your tools become rusty and old. They do not flow as freely as they once did, your syllables squeak as they bend and pull along the line of their sentences. This tiny daily task becomes daunting and unwieldy. Suddenly you find yourself staring at this blank page, desperately needing a profound spark of genius to make it all feel worthwhile, to make it feel like you didn’t waste weeks of your life on nothing.

Stagnation; that is the fear. You are Sisyphus with your chosen art form- you push and you push every day, but if you slip- you must start back at the bottom with your damned rock. It is perhaps made even more difficult because you have seen the view from those higher peaks. You know what you are capable of creating, and you know how hard it will be to get back to those lofty places.

This is why the best advice any writer will ever give you is to simply write. Write everything, all day every day. Write out two lines on a sticky note at your desk between phone calls, pull out your journal when you get home, dictate a few sentences in the notes on your phone. But whatever you do, don’t stop. Don’t take a couple of days off- even if you only write for two minutes: do those two minutes, toss every brain cell you have at them.

Refining your craft and discovering your voice is a lot like working out. You may have the grand vision of your best seller in your mind, you may know all of the key plot points to hit along the way. But, just like a marathon, you can’t go out there and do your best work if you haven’t been training. You might finish, but it won’t have that spark you envisioned, the elements that makes it stand out above the rest. It will be missing an integral component: the true voice of the creator, unshackled and free.

It took me a year of daily writing (especially when I didn’t want to) to find my voice, to discover the flow of the syllables and the tempo of my paragraphs. It took only a fraction of that time to let the voice fade. I expect it will take me another year to get those muscles back in shape. But if you love it- then it’s worth it. I will push that boulder up the mountain once again; wiser because I’ve done this before, stronger because I know what I am capable of creating- and I was so damn proud of it.

So I sit here and I stare at the blank page that is refusing to back down. But instead of putting it away with a sigh and an “I’ll try again tomorrow when I have the energy,” I start writing. And it’s clunky, it’s hard, it’s unforgiving- it isn’t particularly good. But with each word a little rust chips away. Here’s the beautiful secret of a blank page: it won’t judge you for what you decorate it with, it will simply be pleased that you took the time to adorn it with a crown of your own making.

Camp NaNoWriMo (let the adventures begin)

The time has come once again my literary lovelies, wordsmiths, ink-slingers and syllable-stringers; it is time for summer camp. Lucky for you, being outdoors is optional (though highly recommended), you won’t have to share any of your snacks, and you can wear your plot bunnies as slippers from morning til night if you wish. The July edition of Camp NaNoWriMo is just around the corner. Yes, it’s true, you can really do anything on the internet these days: even summer camp.

For those who don’t have a clue what I am talking about, let me just back up a step or two. Camp Nano is an offshoot of the main Nano, also known as NanoWriMo, which stands for National Novel Writing Month. It’s a virtual writing challenge where thousands of people across the globe sign up to tackle a single venture at the same time. The main event takes place every November. The challenge: to write 50,000 words in 30 days.

Camp Nano is the figurative little brother of the November session. It has more of a community focus to it. If you sign up, you get the option to join virtual cabins- either of your own creation or through a bot that will randomly place you. You also get to set your own customized goal- whatever you want it to be. You can track words, pages, lines, minutes, hours, and you can be as nice or ruthless with your goal as you want (this time around I’m being a little bit mean and going for a ‘double Nano,’ which means 100,000 words in 30 days). Every person in your cabin has their own project to work on, but you get to network and talk throughout the month as you all embark on the adventure together. Rest assured, it is a virtual camp- there is no travel required, and no real roughing it unless you decide to take your laptop out on the back patio.

I am addicted, I’ll tell you that upfront- and if anyone reading this is interested in writing- I strongly suggest you give it a shot, what do you have to lose? It’s such a positive community, it is one of the few places where I feel completely accepted. My oddball interests and quirks suddenly aren’t so strange anymore. Plus- there are thousands of writers who have years of experience, tips and tricks to share. And they are more than willing to help anyone who stumbles across their path.

I had never lost a Nano until this last year when a few things went a wee bit sideways in my life. I’m hoping that July will be my redemption. I have a few projects that are halfway finished, so I’m going to try to push through to get them ready for editing. I can’t wait. I haven’t decided if I’m joining a cabin yet this year; I’ve found a new writing group that mainly uses Discord to keep in touch through the year (all 60+ members met through Nano and have kept each other motivated the past few years), and I’m really hoping I can sleuthy-sneak my way into being one of the regulars.

Adventure awaits, my friends- do you dare take the first step to meet it?

Blame it on the Bloody Robots (when science and fiction collide): Lush-Us Lessons

Welcome to the first revamped installment of Lush-Us Lessons, my favorite weekend foray down the rabbit hole to discover unusual pockets of knowledge. These particular posts are meant to inspire, to reawaken your curiosity, and rekindle that love of learning in it’s purest form. All too often in life we force ourselves to pursue knowledge as though it is a laundry list: long division- check, early American history- check, cell division and human development- check, the correct way to hold a knife while cutting a wiggly bell pepper- check. We make the fatal error of taking the entertainment out of education, which stops the flow of curiosity.

I tend to be the kind of girl who hears one thing and start to Google question after question until I’m sitting awake at 2am reading about the history of tarot cards or the newest technological designs to cultivate a settlement on Mars. I am also the kind of girl who likes to take notes and let these thoughts simmer until they evolve into a story. When you take the time to learn about the things that interest you, you are rediscovering passions within yourself and giving your brain new fodder to contemplate in the middle of the night. If nothing else, these articles will give you something interesting to talk about at your next barbeque, or perhaps it will spark the idea that leads to your greatest creation.

So, without further delay, let’s talk about these bloody robots that may or may not take over humankind someday (dun-dun-dun). To give you a bit of background, my fiance is an electrical engineer who loves to teach. This means that after a decade together, I have become his slightly unwilling Student Numero Uno. Now, the concepts started crawling above my head a good six years ago, but I’ve managed to glean enough information to at least have a marginal understanding of techy gizmo news. Which is why I was so enthralled when I read about the robot fish that ran on fake blood. Yes friend, you heard me right: bloody robots are officially a thing.

On Wednesday a new article appeared in Nature magazine about a groundbreaking discovery made by a joint team of engineers at Cornell University and the University of Pennsylvania. On the surface it isn’t something that would immediately strike your fancy, but once you dive into the content you realize what a big deal this could be. It started as an energy problem. Robotics engineers are constantly trying to perfect their design and move away from the old clunky compartmentalized creations to something more futuristic (think Star Wars or I, Robot). But how do you move from rigidity to fluidity? How do you create complexly integrated internal systems from the ground up when that has really never been done before? These scientists decided to look to organic life for inspiration to solve their problem.

Meet the lionfish of the future:

The robot creation
A real lionfish for comparison (beautiful and dangerous)

A robotic fish is nothing new; we have some swimming across the ocean studying coral reefs, and you can even buy your own little friend from the store. But they won’t work like this new one. You may be wondering why we don’t have robotic butlers who will fold our laundry for us (something I have been begging my partner to build for years), or why Battle Bots of 2019 still look like they did when the show aired for the first time in August of 2000. Why don’t I have an R2D2 kegorator scooting and bee-booping around my home bar? The answer is simple: the things we have made still aren’t efficient enough for this kind of integration. The amount of power it takes to create autonomous and ‘smart’ bots is extreme and our technology is just too clunky to support this shift. Until now, that is.

The engineers that crafted this little beauty mimicked the human vascular system to address the issue of energy. The fake blood that runs through our little friend’s internal tubes is filled with an enegy-dense battery fluid that assists with propulsion and electrical needs throughout the body of the robot itself- think of it like an energy drink of sorts. It delivers keys ‘nutrients’ to the bot as it flows through the circulatory system.

While the design itself is still not perfected (the battery life is estimated to be about 40 hours, and the fish moves glacially slow)- it has unequivocally proven that these types of advancements are possible. It shoves open the door for new possibilities as different scientists take the knowledge learned here and begin to collaborate, propelling us into an age where daily bots are a much more feasible reality instead of imaginings relegated to the role of science fiction.

When robots can function more like humans, perhaps subsisting on the kinds of oil changes you would give your car- then we can start playing with an unending stream of possibilities. Fully autonomous robots coupled with new advancements in AI have the potential to lead to great things- or send us screeching head-first into a Terminator storyline that no one wishes to go down.

While new advancements create an exciting possibility for progress (imagine the boom of creative endeavors if human time was freed from the daily tasks and drudgery we currently occupy ourselves with), there is always a risk. Look to any sci-fi movie or apocalyptic novel and you will see that humans have a key thread running through the heart of these stories- we fear that we are playing with advancements that we might not fully understand. We are apprehensive about what our creations could lead to: an AI that determines humans are a negative force in the world and must be destroyed or controlled, hackers breaking into secure systems to attack an unsuspecting populace, an EMP that forces us to descend into chaos. These are the deep philosophical questions tied to every body of science.

What are your thoughts? Are you cheering for the next technological breakthrough? Afraid that we are walking towards a future we don’t understand? Or are you simply inspired to write out your next novel diving into the beauty and terror these ideas inspire in the human soul?

For those who are interested in some additional reading (although Dr. Google has some pretty awesome options if you feel like diving in on your own).

Nature Article – this is the original scientific journal publishing; be warned, if you don’t have a paid subscription (perhaps through your school) then they will try to charge you if you want to reach past the second page.

Wired article

CNN article

ZME article

The Cards Never Told Me the Computer Would Crash (my adventure learning tarot)

I sat there staring at the spinning wheel of death on my computer and couldn’t help but laugh at the irony. I was trying to register my final score after finishing a test to prove my proficiency with reading Tarot cards, and yet I still did not see this particular obstacle coming. It seems my third eye needs glasses just as desperately as my two earthly ones.

I’ve always had a fascination with the obscure and unusual. I am drawn to stories about the Oracles of Delphi, and tend to dip my toes into the realm of mysticism when dabbling with fantasy projects I’m working on. It also happens that I am a firm believer in jumping down the rabbit hole in search of your interests to see where they lead you. As fortune would have it, when I stumbled across the registration page for the Tarot course I made a decision and dove right in.

Now, tarot makes some people very nervous; the stories surrounding it tend to be dark and a bit creepy, the stereotypical practitioner you see in the movies is generally an odd little duck who points to bad omens before wrapping her thin shawl tightly around her scrawny shoulders, cackling and disappearing into a foggy night. The symbolism on the cards bring to mind stories of the occult. But as it turns out, the truth is a little less dramatic.

Tarot cards can be traced back to the mid-15th century in Europe. At the time they were not considered to be great lightning rods of divination. In fact, their original incarnation was in the form of a card game, which went by several names: trionfi, tarocchi, or tarock. To be fair- games were a very serious business in the age of the Renessaince. The artwork that began to adorn the cards became a point of pride as they made their way across Europe.

When the game traveled to France, the people there were acutely interested in Egyptian and hermetic philosophy and the purpose of the cards began to shift over time. New meanings were ascribed to the illustrations, and the drawings themselves began to change to reflect this thought process. As far as we can tell, some of these earlier iterations were more focused on assisting with inner and personal development as opposed to straightforward fortune telling.

Humans have a stronge desire to make sense of the world that they live in, coupled with an uncanny ability to connect dots where none had previously existed. As time passed and tarot cards became more popular, the narrative attached to them evolved. Authors of the age began to write books and theories about the origins of these divine cards, reinforcing the occult ideas and mystical symbolism painted onto each one. Eliphas Levi wrote The Doctrine and Ritual of High Magic in the 1800s; this book is a key piece that led to the modern assumption that tarot had always been tied to the ancient mystical arts around the world, in spite of the lack of true historical documentation.

That being said, there is still a certain allure to the cards that depict the human story so beautifully. The cards portray the characters of our lives- they are full of heroes and villains, successes and failures. Over time they have been given allegorical power that symbolizes our journey from birth to death- adventure, betrayal, love, sacrifice, innocence, and enlightenment. This is where their modern power lies.

I will be honest- I am not the kind of girl who believes that the spirits are whispering to my cards and telling me the secrets of the universe. But I do still fully accept and appreciate that they carry significant power. as I have learned to read them, I have discovered a simple truth: we are all on a journey searching for happiness and enlightenment. The tarot is relatable and vague enough to apply to most situations. What it does is give people permission to view their problems from the safety of a new perspective. You can let your mind wander to what is truly bothering you and glean the meaning that you are looking for. It gives you permission to think and accept the thoughts that you already have buried in your mind. Perhaps you already know that the relationship you are in is toxic to you- the cards help you put those feelings into words. I believe their original use as a tool for self development is still the most accurate one there is.

And, if nothing else, they are a fantastic way to pull a story out of a plot hole you’ve written yourself into. Don’t know what to do with Toby after his shinanigans in chapter three? Pull a card and see what awaits his future. Perhaps it will be a three of swords (heartbreak and betrayal), or the wheel of fortune (aka the karma card), maybe he deserves an eight of cups (leaving the safety of what he knows in search for something better), or, if he’s been really bad, a good ol’ fashioned tower card (a sudden change, the thing that he dreads more than anything coming to pass). The possibilities are truly endless.

So in the spirit of my new certification as a tried-and-true Tarot reader, I decided to do a reading for myself and this blog. It was actually kind of fun. I did a basic 3-card spread (there are literally thousands you can choose from). This is what I got:

Justice in this particular position tells me that there was a large decision in my past that led me to the specific place that I am at in my life. In relation to this blog, the first thing that came to mind was my decision to go back to school full time while attempting to simultaneously work over 40 hours a week, maintaining a fairly busy family/personal life, and still making time to write. It should come as no surprise to anyone (except me) that this plan failed spectacularly. My writing took the biggest hit; I didn’t have the time or the energy after all of my other obligations were done. And while I absolutely loved being back in school, the personal price was too steep. My writing was the way I felt grounded, it filled my soul in a way that nothing else could. Sacrificing that time left me feeling like a rowboat unmoored in the ocean.

It led me directly to card number 2: the five of pentacles. It’s a sad looking card, isn’t it? This one is all about needing help, being down on your luck, and feeling like an outsider. The picture really tells the whole story. That was the very definition of me without my writing. I lost touch with who I was at the moment in my life when I needed it the most. My writing is my soul in physical form; when I sacrificed that I lost the most fundamental part of who I am. I felt one-dimensional, left out of the vibrant colors of my own life. I needed to find my way back.

That desperate need to rediscover my personal joy and creative spirit pushed me right to the final card: the two of wands. This little gem is all about reflection and opportunity. It symbolizes your need to search for the right path to follow. You have the tools and the ability, hell, the world is literally in the palm of your hand. But you have to find your place in this world, you must search for the direction that is calling to you. For me, the answer was simple: find my creativity again, start putting pen to paper and toss these words back out into the world. I missed this, far more than I wanted to admit.

This is the beauty of the cards: they give you the distance you need to admit hard truths. They helped me acknowledge the guilt I felt for abandoning the blog, the fear that paralyzed me these last few months when I couldn’t figure out where to start to get back to it. And the inevitable pride I felt when I finally broke down the wall and took the first step towards myself again- rediscovering the path I never should have left.

The cards may not have told me that the computer was going to crash, but they helped me figure out why I felt like I had crashed. I think I’m okay with that particular plot twist.

Weeds and flowers (the dandelion is stronger than the rose)

We tend to demean the the things that harbor an inner strength we will never be able to touch. We look down on those who remind us that being broken does not mean being defeated, or that being unorthodox does not mean being unwanted. We sneer at the strength of those who do not bend to our will, those brave souls who will never allow the crashing waves to erode them. After all, a dandelion can grow through the cracks in the pavement, and yet we snidely call it a weed.

Did you know that the only difference between a weed and a flower is intention? A weed is something you did not plan- it sprung up of its own accord without apology or permission. A flower, however, was wanted, planted, cared for and nurtured; it was intentionally cultivated. I find it strange that we give such a negative term to these brave little blooms who brazenly display their strength and resilience.

I think I would rather be a dandelion than a rose; in many ways I think that perhaps I already am. I am not conventionally beautiful, no, I have never been guilty of that crime. Nor do I make up for my lack in grace with my winning charm- I am awkward, uncoordinated, too quiet, too loud, too anxious, too serious, too silly, too much of a dreamer, too much of a realist; too much of this and too little of that. And yet here I am, still standing, probably where you didn’t want me to be.

I am not sure who decided that those little yellow buds and delicate wishers were a nuisance instead of something to be celebrated. Surely it was not I; this little girl who proudly plucked and presented the bouquet of sunshine for my mother. Surely it was not her; this woman who would carefully put them in a vase in our kitchen for everyone to see. Perhaps it was those few souls who feared the things that did not need them; a rose will need your guiding hand, your love and attention. But not the dandelion, no, it only needs a little patch to call it’s own and to be left to it’s own devices.

I tend to discover the most beauty in the things I could not plan for, the moments that sprout up unannounced and unexpected into my life. There is no edge of anticipation to taint them, no expectation to warrant disappointment. My favorite moments in life were ‘dandelion’ moments; unexpected, perhaps occasionally unwanted, and yet they brought color to a drab world. My writing is like a dandelion- these words that color my soul, though they were not planned, not thought out, not properly executed. They were not the career that I had spent years attempting to cultivate. They simply existed, always right there, surviving when nothing else could.

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)