Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Nostalgic Charm: A Fiction Short of Sweet Simplicities, Summers Past, and Tender Youth

Like a preserved glimmer of sherbet-hued warmth from a past summer sunset, this fiction short is a reminder of simpler, sweeter times. Despite its gentle levity and charm, it poses important questions about how and why we can overcomplicate something as fundamental and essential as love. It asks what is true, what is real, and asks about the worthiness of intent concerning the worlds we create to thrive in. The piece is itself a depiction of the beauty of memory, of the moment, and an insulating space created to live and think differently about the important things within. The characters' innocence makes them rather wise beyond their years and full of sincere conviction. It is sure to bring a knowing smile to the youthful spirit in all of us. 


Moonlight Takes Over

by Mark Joseph Kevlock

"Don't you think we're too young for this?" Dorothy said.

"No," Cleveland said.

They walked along the shoreline at sunset. Cleveland wanted to take her hand. But he was afraid.

"We're kind of just kids," Dorothy said.

She was at least a foot taller than he was.

"Kids used to get married in olden times," Cleveland said. "Kids used to rule the world—young princes and such. Princesses."

Dorothy could not imagine herself that way.

"I can't imagine myself that way," she said.

Cleveland paused, then said it anyway: "You can be my princess, Dorothy."

They kept walking. The sun kept sinking behind the waves.

"Love is a big thing," Dorothy said.

"The biggest," Cleveland said.

"People don't treat it with enough respect."

"No," Cleveland said, "they don't."

"We'll be different," Dorothy said.

Cleveland smiled. "We already are," he said.

It wasn't a real marriage, both of them knew. But what was real, anyway? The whole world was built of made-up concepts and imaginary structures. Maybe the truth inside was the only one that counted.

They piled three rocks on top of each other and used seaweed for hair. This was the minister. Two seashells and half of a boomerang were the witnesses. Dorothy and Cleveland stood on the rocky clifftop. The ocean provided their music.

The vows were simple and short. No one shed a tear. Love wasn't a prison to the young. It was a way of life.

Dorothy and Cleveland were wed.

"I don't feel any different," Dorothy said.

"I hope you never do," Cleveland winked at her.

The last light faded. Moonlight took over.

"It's like our own little world," Dorothy said.

"Everybody builds that," Cleveland said. He almost thought it sounded wise.

"It's depressing to think about leaving here," Dorothy said, "about going back."

"We won't ever go back," Cleveland said. "Not really. We'll live here in this place we've created. No one else can know about it. That makes it ours."

Dorothy wore the pull-tab from an old soda can around her third finger.

"Love makes the world a better place," she said.

"Especially our love," Cleveland said.

The moonlight gave everything a glow, a superior sheen.

"Do you ever think about the rest of our lives?" Dorothy said.

"Nope," Cleveland said.

"Me either," Dorothy said. "Why is that?"

Cleveland thought maybe he should stop and kiss her, his bride. "Because," he said, "our lives are right here in this moment."

Dorothy closed her eyes. "I suppose they are, aren't they?"

"Yep," Cleveland said.

Some force like romantic gravity seemed to be propelling him into action. Cleveland didn't fight it. He kissed Dorothy under the moonlight. The universe approved.

"Wow," Dorothy said.

"Yeah. Wow," Cleveland said.

The next month they both turned eleven.

END


Bio: Mark Joseph Kevlock has been a published author for nearly three decades. In 2018 his fiction has appeared in more than two dozen magazines, including 365 Tomorrows, Into The Void, The First Line, Toasted Cheese, Literally Stories, The Sea Letter, The Starlit Path, Fiction on the Web, Bewildering Stories, Ellipsis Zine, Yellow Mama, Down in the Dirt, Flash Fiction Magazine, and Friday Flash Fiction. He has also written for DC Comics.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Synchronistic Surprises: Books That Found Us in The Write Place at the Write Time

Cover image of The Girl Who Never Read Noam Chomsky by Jana Casale

Ever have that subtly life-shaping experience of going into a bookstore and randomly happening upon a book you were not seeking, but one which reflects a personal theme, need, want, dream, question, or thought? We're a community of ardent readers, writers, and artists, so the chances are high (despite the fact that brick and mortar stores are becoming rare gems). We understand this sort of sychronistic phenomenon—we love it, we invite it, we're used to "being found" by these little powerhouses called books. Yet what if the books take the trouble to package themselves and embark on a journey to travel all the way to you, unexpected and unbidden? There's a kind of wonderful magic to that.

This is our decade milestone year of the magazine. A decade of having poured much of our lives into this endeavor which is as alive as the extraordinary souls spanning the globe who make up its very essence. Yet the other parts of our lives have asked much of us and we've been pulled by the gravitational force of the infamous, albeit well-intentioned, work/life imbalance. Often, when called away temporarily from the mag world, we consciously or unconsciously record, note, and bring back in metaphor, symbolism, or theme, our outside revelations, discoveries, lessons, and observations. We do this because there is a never-ending correspondence between what we live and feel, what much of the WPWT community lives and feels, and what the magazine decides to impart to us all. The themes and the "magic" live there in the in-between spaces because it always turns out that what we need to experience, learn, or absorb is never in a vacuum—it's always, in one sense or another, universal, something with a meaning affecting many in the WPWT sphere.

We'd tended to think that the magazine held tight and dragged us by the wrist in one direction, life tugging the other another way, with some divine (higher than us) inspiration connecting points we touched along the paths of will and resistance. It only took a decade to drive home the revelation that it's all interwoven—you, us, our/your experiences and feelings, all the work as creators, a shared state of the world, and that higher presiding thread tying it all together. How does this relate to parcels we'd like to imagine are delivered by owls (Harry Potter style), arriving to surprise us? Read on, my friends.

We keep receiving these hardcover beauties (links below for further info) that are answers to individual issues of the magazine. Following the release of the winter-spring issue, April brought about the appearance of a brilliant green shoot in the form of a debut novel from Knopf. The Girl Who Never Read Noam Chomsky by Jana Casale in a contemporary kind of almost inner conversational candor, grabs a sub-theme of the issue through exploring our most important relationships—those we share and outwardly seek and strive to work on with the ones we love, and those we safeguard, continually search within for, and strive to work on with ourselves. Through the protagonist's feelings and choices in the novel, we saw an echo of two of the l's of the winter-spring issue. One to do with transforming loneliness into an understanding of transient phases of the human condition, a sometimes deliberate journey of solitude  or a return to self for survival. The other, to do with the strain and salvation of love.

For modern women, the novel captures the distinct challenges and phases, the plans and alternate paths, the still-prevalent pressures, and the liberations stemming from the inherent growth of awareness, embracing the everyday, and reflective acceptance. Also, the book has a nice tie to our beloved New England (MA in particular) as does the author. We made plans to run a book giveaway and we're going to include the details further down so you can enter to win this lauded 2018 release!

The second synchronistic surprise arrived only a short time ago and it was a face-to-face greeting of sorts regarding the upcoming issue and my own work. During a pre-autumn cleaning, I spent time kneeling down and truly looking through the bookshelves in the guest room that contain years of my life, countless memories...whole ages and stages. The books that surround me now are from more recent incarnations and hold different, quite specific meanings. I was doing other tasks in that room, but found that I'd unwittingly opened a door to the past to find something I needed. I was reminded of all that led me here, what I'd wanted, who I'd been, what wonderfully came to pass, and yet also what I'd forgotten. Some of the titles I hadn't seen in some time.

Running my fingers over the spines with nostalgic ease felt like going back through a pictorial timeline of pivotal years on a touch screen. I could visualize the formative moments and the volumes were the faces of old, cherished friends. Two were bought on the same day in a used bookshop around the time that I chose this road and they influenced my fate. (Fitzgerald and Doctorow, how can I thank you?) Suddenly I was nineteen in NYC visiting NYU to have a conversation with the latter author who kindly took time to answer some questions of a young writer. A snow globe of the city I grew up near purchased in the train station, and a poem, were my humble tokens of gratitude. I remember my father and I talking on the return trip home about the fact that one life goal of mine (meeting the brilliant author) was checked off.

I remembered that youthful fervor for the written word and wanted again to put pen to paper just for me. Being an editor is incredible in a number of ways but if not kept in moderation, can, at times, stifle the writer identity—they struggle for space and time and supremacy in one person, one mind. Sometimes they feed one another and thrive harmoniously, sometimes it's just war. I'd been reading The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles by Steven Pressfield (this vital book could get its own commentary when I finish it so I'll only mention it here) and it occurred to me that I didn't recall what I was fighting and where/how I should allot my service or allegiance amongst the roles I juggle. I was retrieving some parts of myself that had, for one reason or another, been placed upon the shelf. Needing something "of one's own," I was drawn to another image in time. To the Lighthouse beckoned and I stopped there, shy and curious, like a child lingering on the threshold of a space where something important is happening inside. What did Virginia have to tell me?

Not more than a week later, a huge package containing a giant treasure of a book that had her face on the cover was sent along. This book, Writers: Their Lives and Works from DK (Foreword by James Naughtie), this reply to an unasked question and an unnamed longing, is the consummate inspiration, the companion of companions, the creative coach. Why? Because it opens conversations and consultations with centuries of creative compatriots. They show up to be there for you, understand, and remind you why you love the written word so much. Virginia was a comforting catalyst showing up at a crucial time. Hemingway whispered something about a protagonist I'd neglected for over a year and an empty notebook was suddenly graced with black ink. Camus commented on the upcoming magazine issue and prompted me to firmly further develop the central theme I was working on, coloring in its lines to define its deeper message. It's like meeting and spending time with them. Seeing images of their work spaces, keepsakes, and much more, you're transported in a visit—and however well you think you know them, you learn something new and are so eager to read, research more beyond what you discover. We'd like to do different features on this book and are still brainstorming. Stay tuned.

These were the books that found us in the write place at the write time, delivered (at least in our imaginations) by wise, helpful owls from the Hogwarts castles of publishing houses in the mystical land of New York City. We received them by surprise. The writing universe has no shortage of "magic" and according to Caroline Myss, the wizard archetype can "produce results outside the ordinary rules of life," and has the ability of "converting matter into some form of altered and enhanced expression." Other interpretations talk about the power of the will and intention of the archetype for a purpose. What are writers if not wizards with their pens as wands to render extraordinary aspects of life by converting feelings, experiences, world events, beliefs, and countless other elements into forms of "enhanced expression," so we might all speak a universal language of human understanding... So close to October, we'll embrace the idea of enchantment with a grateful nod to higher inspiration, the power of words, and the way the world of creatives unifies, assists, and operates beyond "the ordinary rules of life." Cheers to that. ~NMB

BOOK GIVEAWAY: What to do to be entered in a drawing to win the debut novel by Jana Casale (pictured above)? Simple. Just e-mail us your comments (use the Feedback form on our magazine Feedback page, link below) about our milestone year of the magazine and each name will be entered into the drawing with the winner chosen at random. As we prepare for our decade anniversary issue that carries not only the significance of what's transpired here but all the stories and bonds beyond the pages that we've shared with you, we intend to celebrate in the same way we started—together. Thus, we'd love to hear your words about what you've enjoyed about the publication, what you feel makes it unique, what has affected you, and what anecdotes or memories you'd like to share about WPWT. Deadline: October 12th

Feedback form link:

http://www.thewriteplaceatthewritetime.org/feedbackandquestions.html


Links to further book info:

https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/550905/the-girl-who-never-read-noam-chomsky-by-jana-casale/

https://www.dk.com/us/book/9781465474773-writers/


Wednesday, February 28, 2018

February Fiction from the Heart: I Only Have Eyes

This short story is an emblematic exploration of what we do for love and how we endeavor to search, to wait, to strive for the right—and the best—things in life. It is an ode to every romantic and every romance on this last day of February and, as we were informed by its author, it was penned on Valentine's Day last year. A number of synchronicities surrounded its acceptance, so we share with you a tender bit of fond fate in the form of a tale about what keeps us going in life. 


I Only Have Eyes

by Mark Joseph Kevlock

"You can't just stand around here waiting," Charley said.

"I can and I will," I said.

"What if she never comes by?" Charley said.

"She will."

And so I began my street corner vigil, in the heart of the city. They say perhaps a hundred thousand people pass through City Square on an average day. I say those were pretty good odds.

I had no particular type in mind. No certain hair color, education, or mannerisms. She would simply be the love of my life. I'd know her when I saw her.

The first few hours turned up nothing. Charley came by again around 10:00 a.m. to offer more encouragement.

"This is ridiculous," he said. "How long do you plan to keep this up?"

"How many hours are there in the day?" I said. "How many days in the year?"

"Incurable," Charley said. And waved his hand dismissively.

Charley was no romantic. But I was no fool. I knew it sounded crazy, looked crazy, even felt crazy. But I wasn't giving up.

She didn't show up, that first afternoon.

Ah, but the second....

She didn't show up then, either.

A stadium full of people passed me by, one face at a time. None of the faces were hers.

"How do you know?" Charley said. "If you don't even know what she looks like? Why don't you just pick a nice-looking girl, and get a courtship started? Isn't that easier?"

"This is easier," I said. "It's easier to wait and make sure. Then there can be no mistake."

Charley didn't come by the third day. Or the fourth. I began to believe I might have to hang in a while longer than I thought.

What made me execute this somewhat foolhardy plan? you ask. How did I ever concoct it in the first place?

Age 5: I remember hearing my first love song on the radio. Love seems like a good idea in the world. I come out in favor of it.

Age 8: romantic daydreams push away a lot of other stuff, like playing sports, learning how to shoot with a hunting rifle, watching game shows.

Age 12: women are out there. I've seen them. The young ones are called girls. I might just get up my nerve and speak to a few.

Age 14: still waiting for my nerve to get up.

Age 16: the pop radio songs are like a bible. I study them. Broken hearts. Hearts aflame. Look what you've done to my heart. Conclusion: romance is deadly dangerous. Actual romance.

Age 19: three years into my fantasy romances. No broken hearts yet. No flesh and blood women either. I draw them in my mind. I can love my own creations easily enough. But they don't love me back. Even if I imagine it.

Age 22: college graduate, degree in Romantic poetry. Big money in that. During the Renaissance.

Age today: I'll wait it out, as long as I have to. Intuition tells me my true love is out there. Lady Luck says she'll pass me by, on this corner. Unless she lives in Zurich. I've given it a week. Is it time to be discouraged? There are many lovely women, smiling at me. But not the right woman.

If I told you about my job, it would be boring. I worked in the evenings. Slept at night. Manned the corner all day. My legs got pretty strong, the second week. I didn't just stand there. I moved around and got exercise.

Charley came back, the third week. "I'm going to pull you out of here soon," he said. "Forcibly remove you, if I have to."

"Five minutes after I left with you—that's when she'd come by."

Charley held his mouth open as long as he could. No words came out. Charley left.

There was a stoplight on my corner of City Square. This made all the pedestrians pause, waiting for the walk signal. This gave me a good look at everyone. No one appealed to me.

Week four: she didn't come.

Month four: she didn't come.

What was I standing here for—if I didn't believe it? I had to believe it. The pop radio songs said so.

It was a rainy day in October. Then it was a rainy day in November. Rainy days seemed more likely to yield results. I don't know why.

Charley almost got hit by a car, because he was busy yelling at me. "One of these people must be a shrink," he said. "I'll start asking." Then he turned toward an oncoming group. "Excuse me, sir, are you a psychiatrist? My friend here needs one, A.S.A.P."

The next day a patrolman walking his beat asked me what I was doing there.

"Waiting," I said. "Just waiting."

"Gimme some details on that," he said.

"I have to wait here to meet someone," I said.

"Maybe your wife," he said, "Mrs. Vague."

I started getting afraid he was going to boot me out of there. Then my life would be over.

"I'm not causing any trouble," I said.

"So far," he said. Then walked away.

At least if I had a few close calls to keep me going.... A woman here or there who I thought, for just an instant, might be the one....

But no one ever came close. It would be all, or nothing at all. Pop radio lyrics.

So now a year went past. I worked the holidays. I came in on weekends. I got older.

Charley took a job in Vermont. No one visited after that.

How could I be sure I wasn't going crazy? A lethal dose of lovey dovey intentions.

It came to be my existence. I found my life in the details. The precise number of seconds it took the light to change. The monthly changing of the billboards overhead. Who overdressed for the weather. Who underdressed.

It was a sad day in mid-February.

It wasn't the first year on the corner.

It wasn't the second, or the third.

I was like a lamppost that could think. A fire hydrant with a beating heart. A City Square fixture.

Then she came.

I saw her from all the way down the block, approaching. She had an aura that matched mine. No BS. She had hair and legs and all the rest of what she needed.

What made her special? you ask. What made her the one? Look to your own romance for that impossible answer.

She walked right up to me with everything she had. "Hey," she said. "Hey," I said.

"I've been walking past every corner in every city, for years," she said.

"I've been studying every face walking past this corner," I said, "for years."

"What have you been waiting for?" she said.

"You," I said.

"What have you been searching for?" I said.

"You," she said.

"I almost gave up," we both said, at the same time. "I'm glad I didn't."

The patrolman from years ago came by.

"See?" I said. "She's here at last. My wait is over."

"Jesus, kid," he said. "I've seen statues with less patience than you got. Glad it worked out for ya'."

"Me too," I said.

The day was still a sad one. I was leaving my corner. I left a note for Charley, in case he ever came looking:

You were right, my friend, about just what I needed. Turns out she's a shrink. And now I'm her lifelong patient.


Bio: Mark Joseph Kevlock (used to spell it: Kiewlak) has been a published author for more than two decades. His work has appeared numerous times in The Bitter Oleander, Wild Violet, The Oracular Tree, Cezanne's Carrot, and A Twist of Noir. He has also written for DC Comics.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Writing Prompt: The Sounds of Headlines

The YouTube video shared below (scroll to bottom of this post) blends music and lyrics from two talented, powerful contemporary female artists. The song you are about to listen to features the tune of "Gasoline" by Halsey and the words of "Savages" by Marina and the Diamonds. When listening to one of the artists, this video came up as a suggestion. It seems that YouTube users can create what are referred to as musical "mashups" of various artists, blending their work to mix sounds and phrases. This mashup, compiled by user Gingergreen, is one of the most dynamic we've come across in how it stresses the message of "Savages" with the melodic force of "Gasoline." The song "Savages" depicts the dark aspect of man and refers to much of what is seen in the headlines. It asks provocative questions of human nature and attempts to comprehend the incomprehensible.

For this writing prompt, click on the video below and develop written responses in the forms of poetry and flash fiction (under 1,000 words). Do not post your responses in the comment section of this blog post. If you'd like to share them with us, please use the Feedback form on our magazine website feedback page (as we may choose to feature a few of the responses, please also glance at our submission guidelines page).

http://www.thewriteplaceatthewritetime.org/feedbackandquestions.html

We are also featuring links to the song lyrics as well as the original, separate songs of both artists for further perusal.

Mashup link (if shared video doesn't play): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k-uCMCzVkTI

Original songs and lyrics to "Savages":

"Gasoline" by Halsey (audio): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zRHNi3QfFlE
"Savages" by Marina and the Diamonds (audio): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rxaTAFXgykU
Google search on "Savages" lyrics by Marina Lambrini Diamandis: https://www.google.com/search?source=hp&ei=x9OVWu1-h8SwBebPsIAN&q=savages+by+marina+and+the+diamonds+lyrics&oq=savages+by+marina+and+the+diamonds+lyrics&gs_l=psy-ab.3..0j0i22i30k1l5.584.12101.0.12296.42.39.0.2.2.0.172.4250.11j28.39.0....0...1c.1.64.psy-ab..1.41.4268.0..0i131k1.0.xtxYQlT2Feg




Saturday, October 28, 2017

Special All Hallows' Eve Feature: The Return of the Flutews

Last Halloween, we featured a post about a visit to a reportedly haunted athenaeum, frequented by literary greats in its history. This year, we are featuring a work of fantastical short fiction by a new contributor which echoes the sentiment in these famed words from FDR's 1933 inaugural address: "[T]he only thing we have to fear is fear itself."

Happy Halloween, everyone!


The Return of the Flutews

by C. B. Heinemann

The first time I saw one of those little creatures up close I nearly jumped out of my own skin.  I’d heard about them, and had even seen one here and there from afar, but one evening as I sat hunched over the kitchen table going over my stack of unpaid bills I looked up and there it was, crawling up the wall next to the refrigerator. After jerking out of my chair I took a few deep breaths, removed my glasses, then replaced them over my nose, convinced I was either hallucinating or my home was being invaded by space aliens. "How’d you get into my house?!” 

Covered in what looked like blue and green fur, it seemed to be a cross between a large bug and a gecko. The way it moved in slow motion was strange for either an insect or a lizard, but what really got my attention was the sound it made. At first I thought I heard a conversation out in my yard, but realized that the sound came from the thing itself—like a tiny person making talking noises without saying any real words. The tone was distinctly human-like, and I hoped I was merely having a very weird dream.

“Holy crap!”  I said, trying to catch my breath. “Where did you come from?”
         
The thing twisted what I assumed was its head to one side before skittering down behind my stove.
         
I backed away, knocking over a trash can. “Hey, you can’t go there! I don’t want some weird frigging giant bug-thing living behind my stove. What are you?”

The thing didn’t reappear, and I felt no urge to go after it.  I didn’t quite know what to do about it and felt a headache coming on. “I’m not hanging around here. I think I’ll have dinner out tonight.”

Closing the kitchen door behind me, I pulled out my phone to call a friend. My hands were trembling.

“Hey Paul, feel like going out for a bite to eat?”

“Thanks, but I’ve got to work tonight. Plus I just ate.”

I took a breath. “Um, I was wondering...I think I found something in my kitchen...like a big insect only with fur and no wings.”

I heard a chuckle. “Oh yeah, I found one of those on my porch. Cute little thing. Never seen one before.”

“You think it’s cute?”

“Well, yeah. Darned thing almost talks.”

“Yeah, but I didn’t find that cute at all. What is it, exactly?”
        
“No idea, but I’m not an expert. I’m going to ask Sandy. She’s a vet so maybe she’ll know. Did you catch it?”

“No, but it’s hiding behind my stove.”

“I caught mine and put it in a jar so I could look at it, but it made so much noise and buzzed around so that I let it go. That thing is pretty powerful for a bug or whatever it is.”

“Are you going to the pub later?”

“I’ll be there about nine-thirty. I’ll see if I can get Sandy to come with me.”

I rode my bike into town and stopped at the Lotus Garden Restaurant. Over my plate of shredded pork and Lo Mein, I stared idly at an antique Chinese painting of a man riding a donkey on a mountain path up in the clouds. I nearly flew out of my chair when I noticed a sinister figure on a tree. “Oh my God, it’s one of those...things!”

The couple at the table next to me looked up.  “Excuse me,” said the man.  “Are you all right?”
         
“I don’t know.” I peered closer. “My God, it looks just like it.”

I paid my bill and biked to the local pub, The Old Draft House, ordered an IPA, and sat trying to think. After a beer and a half I felt better, but when Paul sauntered in with his girlfriend Sandy, I felt stabs of anxiety. I could barely get through the how-are-you bits before I blurted it out. “Anybody know what those weird blue and green bug things are? Sandy, you must know. I just found one in my house, and it’s even weirder than I heard.”

“Calm down, man,” said Paul with a smile. He was a big, gentle guy with graying hair tied back into a ponytail and a pink face free of guile. “That thing has really gotten under your skin, hasn’t it?”

Sandy, an attractive woman with long honey-blond hair and big green eyes, sat next to me and began digging through her purse. “I know what you’re talking about,” she said in her Louisiana accent.

“They’re turning up everywhere, but I’ll be darned if I know what they are.”

“I’ve got one in my kitchen and I’m afraid to go home.”

A young guy sitting on a nearby stool turned to us. “You talking about those salamanders or whatever? Everybody I know has seen them.”

“I’ve seen two of them in my yard,” said another guy.  “I don’t know if it’s a bug or a lizard or what.”

“That’s what we were talking about,” said Sandy with laugh. “I’m a veterinarian and even I don’t know.”

The bartender brought our round and chimed in. “I’ve got one living in my basement. I tried to put it in a terrarium, but it went berserk.”

“I did the same thing,” added Paul. “I had to let it go.”

“The craziest thing is, and I don’t know if you’ve noticed the same,” the bartender said looking up and down the bar and leaning closer, “and I’m not sure if it’s my imagination or what, but mine's not only getting bigger, it looks different. It’s down to four legs from six, with little feet.”

“Like a salamander?”

“Yeah, and that’s not all. It started off like a big grasshopper or cicada. Now it’s got a head. And that voice...”

“Yeah!” I cut in. “Like a baby trying to talk.”

Sandy grabbed my arm. “Speak of the devil.”

I followed her gaze to the television above the cash register. News 8 was showing some guy holding something that looked like what I had in my kitchen. “Turn it up, quick! This is it.”

“They’re appearing everywhere,” said the man.“They were thought to be extinct, but as we all are finding out, they’re making a comeback. In case you haven’t yet heard, they’re called flutews, and they originated in China.” The word flutew flashed on the screen.

“Flutews,” I said. “Why do they have to give it such a stupid name? How did he pronounce that again?”
         
“I didn’t catch it.”

“Flute-ews?”

“From China? How did they end up here? I just was eating in the Lotus Garden, and I swear to God I saw one of those things in an old painting. I nearly tossed my noodles.”
         
“They’re completely harmless. They don’t bite or sting, but they will try to get into your food, so keep everything in the fridge or in Tupperware.”

“I can’t believe this,” I muttered.  “It’s like the Twilight Zone.”

“Hold on, I’m trying to hear this.”

“According to Chinese legend, these flutews started off being considered good luck, but that changed.” The camera pulled up close to the man’s face. “It seems that the flutews were almost completely wiped out centuries ago, killed off by the citizens of the areas they inhabited. Some survived, kept as pets, and were brought over here by immigrants. Remember, these are only legends, and we still know very little about these creatures. We here at News Eight will keep you updated on our new brightly-hued invaders.”

The station switched to news of a fire in an apartment building. “No other information?”  I looked around incredulously. “We’ve just got to learn to live with these things crawling around everywhere?”

“I guess you haven’t seen many yet, but now that you’ve got one living with you, you’re sitting up and taking notice,” said Paul. “They’re like little pets. They do have a silly name, though.”

I ordered another beer. “It reminds me of that Star Trek episode about the furry things that multiplied everywhere.”

“Hey, what about the seventeen-year cicadas?  Every seventeen years they pop out of the ground, zillions of them over the trees, the bushes, the streets, the gutters...”
         
“In your hair, clinging to your clothes,” Sandy added.

“Buzzing all day and all night long. Yeah, maybe it’s like that. Maybe they’ve been dormant for decades. Or centuries.”

“Lucky us they decided to wake up now.”

“I wonder if you can eat them?” The bartender grinned. “I don’t think I could do it myself. I’ll talk to the chef. Might be the next big thing.”

I shook my head. “Maybe it’s just psychological, but their size and that talking sound has me worried. If they were, like, half their size, they would be more interesting and less creepy.”

“I know what you mean,” said Sandy. “They’re a little intimidating. It’s hard to pin them down. I wouldn’t mind doing some research on these things. Think of it—it’s essentially a new species! It’s totally unheard of, except in Chinese legends.”

The headache returned. “I wish I could share your enthusiasm, Sandy, but this gives me a bad feeling.”

During the next few days I noticed more of them—on a tree, one crawling on top of a car. I even spotted one dangling from a woman’s purse as she walked down the street, oblivious to her hitchhiker. Occasionally I caught a glimpse of the flutew in my kitchen, and I could have sworn it was getting larger. Like the bartender said, it developed four legs with tiny feet and a distinct head. I wanted to get a better look, but I couldn’t bring myself to get close to it. I didn’t care what the so-called expert on the news said—I didn’t trust it.

People at work talked about their encounters with the flutews and everyone had a story. One woman’s dog chased an extraordinarily fast one through the neighborhood. I overheard a man telling someone on the phone that his four-year-old son caught one and tied a tiny toy harness on it, but it managed to escape. One of my buddies stopped at my desk. “I hear you have one living in your kitchen.”

“Yeah. Now I keep the kitchen door closed.”

“So you’re already giving up your place to him?” He laughed. “He’s probably eating cockroaches. I read somewhere on the Internet they do that. Slugs, cockroaches, things like that. Just be careful and don’t let him see you too much.”

“Why not?”

“Some scientist was on last night talking about how they’ve got some kind of survival thing where they try to look like whatever other animal is living nearby.”

“What do you mean?”

“It’s a camouflage thing, you know, like some fish do. They try to look like whatever they’re living near.”

The headache returned. “So you’re saying that if it lives with me long enough, it’ll look like me?”

“If your flutew starts losing his hair, I’d say he’s halfway there.” He laughed again. “And keep him away from the beer.”

“Very funny.”

I decided that it was time to catch the thing and release it somewhere because I didn’t like mysterious creatures lurking around trying to impersonate me. “Enough of this,” I muttered on my way home. “This is getting out of hand. I don’t want to have anything to do with these stupid flutews.”

Spikes of alarm jabbed my nervous system. As I drove, my eyes were on the verges and woods. After a moment of adjustment I realized that there were dozens of flutews clinging to the brush, and even on some of the other cars. “Harmless? Are they sure about that?”
         
My jittering fingers reached for the radio and I tuned it to another news station. "It seems the flutews are  everywhere, and are getting larger and altering their appearance." Another voice came on. “In a riding stable near Potomac, several flutews were found with horse-like heads.” The first guy returned. “Researchers are calling this the most puzzling phenomenon they’ve ever seen.”

Yet another voice came on. “The flutew is neither insect, lizard, nor mammal, but a kind of blend of the three. It has an incredible ability to take on the characteristics of whatever dominant animal lives nearby in an attempt to protect itself. And one of the strangest aspects is its ability to mimic the voices of other animals, including humans. In fact, reports are trickling in that some may have learned actual words, in the same way parrots and some other birds do.”

I turned off the radio and glanced at a cluster of trees. Three flutews, green and blue, dangled from a branch. I felt afraid, though I wasn’t sure exactly what I was afraid of. After all, the things were harmless. But that fear ran to the core of my being. It was a feeling unlike anything I’d ever known, and I had to fight against it. “Come on, man,” I told myself. “Don’t let this get to you. Think of it as...interesting.” The fear didn’t budge. “They’re not hurting anyone. This is just silly, irrational fear—fear of the unknown.”

When I got home my heart was pounding and I panted for breath. Without planning or thinking, I rushed into the house, pulled back the stove, and there it was, clinging to the wall next to the gas line. I didn’t want to look at it, but I could see that it was the size of a Barbie doll and had developed a large, round head. While horror tore through my system, I reached for the dustpan and a newspaper, scooped the thing into the dustpan, and covered it with newspaper. I could hear it chattering and felt the vibration of its body. I could have sworn I heard a little human voice saying, “Wha er ou, wha er ou.”

“Oh my God.” Praying I wouldn’t pass out, I staggered on legs of rubber to the front door, ripped it open, ran across the street and into a small park, where I tossed the dustpan, paper, and flutew into the bushes before turning and racing back to my house.

After slamming the door shut, I stood for a moment. My vision flickered and I felt lightheaded. Sweat gushed down my face and onto my shirt. “This thing is messing with my head. This is crazy—it’s harmless.”

I searched through the house, from the basement to the attic, to see if I could find any more flutews. I even listened for that baby-voice, but it seemed that flutew had been my only roommate. Collapsing onto the sofa, I turned on the television. “Maybe I should have named it,” I said, trying to make myself laugh. “At least now I’m finally flutew-free. I never want to see or hear any of those things again. I’m not going to look for them or even talk about them. They’re out of my life forever, I hope. Poor little bastard. He can’t help it, but...I just don’t like them.”

On Friday evening I decided that I had to watch a special report that had been advertised. Not thinking about something can be far more difficult than thinking about it, and I began to feel that I couldn’t live my life until the flutews either disappeared or I learned to accept them.

When I turned on the television, however, what I saw was so horrible that I wished I hadn’t. Heaps of dead, mangled, flutews lay by the side of the road—like strange toys, beaten to death and tossed into piles.

“Unfortunately, this has become part two of the flutew invasion. Although they are harmless and even friendly to humans, people who are disturbed by the flutews are going out and killing them in great numbers. There even seems to be an organization coordinating this on the Internet. Disturbed people have been going out and killing as many of the flutews as they can—in the woods and fields, going into yards, everywhere they can find them, and usually at night.”

“That’s right,” said a woman as the camera showed more crushed flutew bodies. “In fact, police in some areas describe it as a ‘killing mania.’ Some lawmakers are rushing to pass bills protecting the flutews before they’re wiped out.”

I thought of my flutew and realized he might end up beaten to death if he wasn’t dead already. As uneasy as I felt about them, I wished them no harm, and the violent reaction others had to them revolted me. That poor flutew never did anything but purr at me and eat the bugs behind my refrigerator.

Before realizing I had already taken action I was out the door and halfway across the street with a flashlight and dustpan. Carefully, I stepped into the park and called out the only thing I could think of—“Wha er ou! Wha er ou!”          

The sun had just eased below the horizon, so the light was dim. A bunch of guys in hoodies tramped up the street in my direction, and I saw bats and sticks in their hands. “Come on—here, flutew!” I urged. “Come on! Wha er ou! Wha er ou!”

A chirp erupted from the tree beside me, and I turned and saw my flutew. He had a round head and plump belly—I knew damned well he was trying to look like me. It wasn’t flattering, but for the very first time I felt a wave of empathy for him. I poked the dustpan under him. “Come on, flutew. I’m sorry I kicked you out. I had no idea. I still don’t, but come on anyway. I’m not letting anybody hurt you. You’re my flutew, after all, so come on!”

To my amazement, he hopped into the dustpan. I covered him with the newspaper in my other hand and made my way back to my house, trying to walk casually to avoid suspicion. The guys in hoodies laughed and hooted, thrashing their sticks through the bushes. My heart started slamming again, but they didn’t challenge me. When I reached my front gate, I turned to them. “What are you doing, anyway?”
         
“Looking for flutews,” one said with a hesitant laugh.  “What’s it to you?”

“What did they ever do to you?”

The guy turned away, ignoring my question.

Once inside, I ran down into the basement with the flutew and crouched beside my storage refrigerator. “Okay, flutew, you can live down here. I know you like fridges, and there are plenty of cave crickets and stuff you can eat. I guess I’m going to have to get used to you.” I watched him crawl on four legs to the back of the refrigerator. He turned and blinked at me. 

“I guess you’re not so scary after all,” I said. “I just didn’t know what you were and it freaked me out. But you’re okay. You can live here and I’ll take care of you.” I looked at him for a moment. “I’d better give you a name. Maybe you’re a girl flutew—how can I tell? Judging from your appearance, I ought to call you Frank. Strange as it is to both of us, though I thought I needed protection from you, it’s now my job to protect you. Hell, for all I know, you guys could be the best friends we humans ever had.” A strange, deep sorrow flooded my heart. “We were just too frightened and ignorant to give you a chance.”


Bio: C. B. Heinemann has been performing, recording and touring with rock and Irish music groups for more than 30 years. The Washington Post said his songs are “. . . among the best coming from either side of the Atlantic,” and Dirty Linen called him a “virtuoso.” His short stories have appeared in Florida English, Berkeley Fiction Review, Cigale, Rathalla Review, Howl, Ascent, Lowestoft Chronicles, Outside In Literary Journal, Storyteller, One Million Stories, Whistling Fire, Danse Macabre, Battered Suitcase, Fate, The Washington Post, Boston Globe, Philadelphia Inquirer, Cool Traveler, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and Car & Travel. His stories have been featured in anthologies published by Florida English, One Million Stories, and Whereabouts.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Falling Awake: Interview with Claire M. Perkins


Illustration from Chapter 4 of Fallen, "Catch a Fallen Dream" by Claire M. Perkins
 
Utilizing strong components of fable, Fallen: The Adventures of a Deep Water Leaf, written and illustrated by Claire Perkins, synchronistically echoes a number of the messages in the current empowerment-themed issue of WPWT. A light yet spiritually satiating dose of elemental life/soul essentials, it speaks to now, right from the dedication: "It is time to awaken. It is time to remember." The present calls for actionable awareness and conscious choice while also imploring us to recall our relationships to ourselves, to one another, to our environment, to our collective history, and to our spiritual roots as we journey forward through this earthly experience. Perkins proves an able guide as she takes us along on this fictive yet symbolically veridical journey through life, loss, love, transformation, healing, and self-realization.

As the author writes in the Acknowledgments "for those who dreamed the first dream and we who dream it forward," it is intended as a story for the dream-makers and dream-realizers.

Take the plunge with us as we explore the beauty of falling awake and rising to our dreams. (*Note that due to challenges with blogger.com, the spacing is not uniform. This does not, however, take from the wealth of content generated by our wonderful interview subject. For more info on the author and links, check below the interview.)


Interview with Claire M. Perkins by Nicole M. Bouchard


1) The genesis of Fallen consisted of words in a dream. The concept of "a deep water leaf" was further nurtured by interpretations of your personal experience with grief over the loss of a child chronicled in your non-fiction title, The Deep Water Leaf Society: Harnessing the Transformative Power of Grief. Fallen's next stage of gestation stemmed from a workshop with Robert Moss—Writing as a State of Active Dreaming—where your protagonist, began to communicate with you and a brief, lively three act performance brought to life your initial chapters. One of Fallen's final stages, was a weekend Tom Bird Method retreat where the focus would seem to be part connecting with the “Divine Author” and part healing the writer as an individual.

Talk to us about the importance of consulting our dreams for inspiration, integrating the emotional truths of our experiences, acting out our work to see it come to life in another medium, and going within to heal our outer lives so we can clear our creative channels.


CP: Inspiration. The word has roots related to both the breath and spirit. To be inspired is to be animated by divine spirit, to breathe spirit in and through oneself. The Middle English meaning of the word inspiration was "divine guidance." I love thinking of the word in that way, that inspired writing is a channeling of spirit or divine guidance as much as it is one's own creativity. It is a divine partnership, a co-creative activity.

I have always felt that dreams are portals to the higher dimensions in which we exist, beyond the three dimensional world of our conscious, waking lives. Dreams connect us to our own higher selves. They create an opening through which inspiration, or divine guidance, may flow.

From Albert Einstein to Paul McCartney, I could cite endless stories of scientists, inventors, artists and other world-changers whose works were significantly influenced by dreams.

It is no surprise that dreams have been an integral part of my own writing process, because they have been a rich and integral part of my life experience. For me, dreams have always been a powerful source of healing, guidance and inspiration. I believe this can be true for everyone, yet it seems to be almost a lost art to engage with dreams and dreaming as a relevant and powerfully life-shaping resource.

Robert Moss, one of my most influential dream mentors, teaches that the re-creation of a dreaming culture, the sharing of dreams on a regular basis, the re-integration of dreaming into the fabric of everyday life in a reverent and honoring way, may hold the key to healing what ails human culture.

Dreaming, in a paradoxical way, may be the key to awakening.

This is one of the major themes within the story of Fallen. The characters are living within a dream and yet they are also the dreamers of the dream. When we understand and own our power to shape the collective dream in which we are living, we can quite literally change the world.

While writing is partly divine inspiration, it cannot help but be influenced by our own human experience and our meaning-making around what we experience. We write what we know, even if we don't set out to do so. And, sometimes, it is only as we write that we discover what we know. Our plots and characters reflect back to us, as much as to our readers, the stories of our own lives.

The phrase "deep water leaf" was given to me in a dream that would prove crucial to my healing journey after the death of my son, even though the dream came to me many years prior to his passing. I rediscovered the dream as I read through years of old journals in an attempt to make sense of his life and his death and the challenging relationship we'd had. The dream offered the phrase "deep water leaf" as the key to healing grief.

As I wrote my first book, The Deep Water Leaf Society, which chronicles the two years following my son's death, I felt the phrase "deep water leaf" represented the deep dive into an ocean of heartrending emotions. The miracle of becoming a deep water leaf was that, rather than being drowned in those emotions, [see also question 5] I found myself emerging into an altered state of being that I may not have reached in any other way.

Just as dreams can be a portal to spiritual connection, so can the most difficult and challenging of our life experiences. These experiences literally alter our reality. They cause us to ask the deep questions, to re-evaluate what's important and what we hold dear, to question and create meaning, and to anchor ourselves within new truths.

The new truths that emerge from our experiences inform our writing and other creative endeavors, imbuing them with our own unique perspectives and authentic voice.

Writing The Deep Water Leaf Society helped me to shed the last of my grief and to externalize the details of my experience, holding them at arm's length and seeing them from the witness perspective. Paradoxically, this helped me to better internalize and integrate my experience. Although the writing was cathartic, I was still left wondering just exactly what a "deep water leaf" really is. That question stayed with me for a number of years, and became the muse for Fallen.

At Robert Moss's Writing as a State of Active Dreaming retreat, we were encouraged to write daily, to incubate dreams to support our writing, and to invite our characters to speak to us. At the end of the retreat week, each of us was expected to present a final project, sharing either some portion of what we had written or some aspect of our experience during the workshop. We could do this through any medium we liked.

I elected to use Dream Theater for my final project, a method Robert often uses in his dreaming workshops, in which the dreamer chooses other workshop participants to act out various roles and scenes from their dream.

During the course of the week, I had compiled an ongoing dialogue with a leaf that falls from a tree onto the surface of a lake. She spoke to me from her place of origin, in the tree. She spoke to me as the falling leaf, and she spoke to me after her landing. The dialogues were quite dramatic, ethereal, and poetic. My little deep water leaf had quite a personality and I think she found me to be rather dull or dim-witted.

I chose a narrator to read the dialogues and others to play the roles of tree, leaves, wind, water, birds, and trampling moose. As the narrator read, I directed the three acts of the play, giving general cues while allowing the actors to put their own spin on things. At the end of the play, I interviewed the actors about their own feelings and responses to the roles they had played.

Just as writing my first book put me into witness state for my grief, watching the tale of my deep water leaf play out on the stage of Dream Theater brought the story to life for me. Suddenly I could see it and feel it in a way that had been escaping me. Instead of struggling to create it, I could see that it had a life of its own and a story it wanted to tell me. That shifted my approach to writing Fallen from struggling to answer a question (What is a deep water leaf?), to allowing the story and its characters to show me the answer.

Over time, through dreams and journaling and random thinking, the general outline of the story arc took shape in my mind. Still, I struggled with writer's block and made many abortive attempts at getting the story down on paper. Until I found Tom Bird.

Tom Bird's writing method emphasizes super fast, full-steam-ahead writing without thinking. Encouraging a writing speed of around 2000 words per hour, this writing method bypasses both the inner perfectionist and the inner critic and opens a channel for the “Divine Author Within” and the book itself to pour through. It helped me to get out of my “own way” and let the story tell itself.

An unbreakable rule in Tom's method is not to reread or edit anything until the entire book feels finished. Not polished, but finished. The result is a complete, if bare bones, story that can then be edited by rearranging the flow, filling in missing gaps, adding supportive research, fleshing out characters and polishing language.

Because this editing process opens the door back up to the perfectionist and critic that live inside, the second phase of Tom's process involves exercises geared toward self-healing, self-acceptance and visualizing success as an author.

It's one thing to get the words down on paper and quite another to launch them out into the world. I think we all have inner stories that block our creative channels and make us feel we have nothing to say that anyone would want to read. Doing the deep dive inner work is required not only to clear our creative channels but to empower us to share what emerges with the world.


2) Another interesting phase that led to the birth of the book entailed the evolution of your artistic abilities. This was another journey in and of itself which you shared on social media. Learning various techniques, you were able to communicate your vision through images as well as words, expressing different aspects of story, soul, and self.

Share what it was like on a personal level to begin to align your imaginings with your actual renderings, and how you discovered what style, method, tools, etc. worked/felt best to you as an artist in general and as guardian of what this story in particular would portray.


CP: Oh my goodness! I had no idea what I was committing to when I decided to illustrate this story myself. I am so glad that I did, but had I known at the outset how much time it would take to complete the illustration project, I would probably never have begun.

Thankfully, I was already taking classes with an amazing teacher at the Mesa Arts Center, Helen Rowles. I had grown particularly fond of colored pencil drawings. Prior to Helen's classes, I had dabbled in acrylic painting, mixed media, collage and digital compositing. I felt more comfortable with collage and compositing because I could rely on existing images to create art, which was much less intimidating that creating something from scratch. When I painted, the painting always fell short of the vision in my mind. It was frustrating.

Under Helen's guidance, I learned the skills of drawing well enough to capture my inner visions. The downside is that drawing and blending the many layers of colored pencil in a piece of any size can take a very long time to complete. Some of the 11"x14" and 16"x20" pieces I'd done in class had taken up to 35 hours each.

When I first envisioned the illustrations for the book, I thought there would be a scattering of them throughout—perhaps as many as three per chapter. There was no way I could spend that much time on them. It felt overwhelming.

Ultimately, I decided to use one illustration per chapter to highlight the primary action or feeling of that chapter. Even so, working in an 11"x14" format, full-blown colored pencil drawings would have been out of the question. I compromised by creating watercolor pencil backgrounds and using colored pencil only for the primary figures in each drawing.

It still took me a full year to complete the illustrations. Each of the drawings took about 10 hours to complete, and I really only worked on them during class, where I could count on Helen's guidance. The writing and editing were completed long before the drawings were!

I struggled with trying to decide how to illustrate some of the chapters. The ones that were the most fun were the chapters with the animal guides in them. My method was to find images online of the animals and settings I wanted to portray and to use those as general inspiration for drawing.

Because the theme of love runs strongly through the story, I incorporated heart shapes into each of the animals. And, of course, Alora herself and the other fallen leaves are all heart-shaped as well.

The most challenging aspects were trying to keep Alora's facial features consistent from drawing to drawing, and capturing her emotions. Skill-wise, a professional illustrator may have been able to do a better job in a much shorter time, but the illustrating experience deepened my connection to the story and its characters. I didn't really want to trust the handling of them to someone else. They felt too much like family to me. Drawing also provided a much needed respite from the work of editing and revision. I hope the reader will find that the drawings add character and charm to the story.


3) Using the elements, Fallen conveys what it can feel like to be at the "mercy of life's circumstances." In an interview last year, we discussed how in nature, seemingly destructive or chaotic forces like lightning, fire, and lava can be catalysts for growth and vital change, just as certain kinds of adversity can trigger similar results for people. There is a chapter of the book, Chapter 6, where the central characters learn to "harness the power of the wind," as a means of escape and survival, where once the wind had been a natural adversary or threat. In Chapter 9, Alora, the fallen deep water leaf, reflects on how the "wind itself hadn’t changed. But now she could steer by it."

A sub-theme of the WPWT empowerment issue revolves around how we begin to change our experience of the external by changing internally. On the Home page of the magazine, we feature a quote by George Bernard Shaw that reads: "Those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything." The page from the editorial staff states that in "a time when many around the world, coming from different viewpoints, feel little is in their control, it is an opportune season to look within at what we can control." Toward the top, we say how this issue of WPWT "is an issue that aspires to conscript change as an amiable accomplice in life's adventure." That is what Alora and her companion, Blaze, do when they learn to employ the strength of the wind to deliver them from harm and further their travels.

Just as it took great practice and effort for Alora and Blaze to be able to channel the dynamic power of the wind, how would you personally say one can start viewing outer chaotic forces as vital inner change catalysts, and go about practicing ways of steering/controlling/channeling the extent of their impact?


CP: Ah, chaos. The cyclone that is the precursor to change, to creation, to evolution. It is the breakdown of the old that must take place before the breakthrough of the new. It is a beautiful thing, and it totally sucks when you're in the midst of it.
 
According to Barbara Marx Hubbard, futurist and conscious evolution advocate, if we study the 13.7 billion year history of the Universe, we will see that major crises preceded every quantum leap in the evolution of life. Crises stimulate innovation and transformation. They “are evolutionary drivers.”

It's true on the collective level and for each of us as individuals. But just like the deteriorating caterpillar, when we are in the midst of the chaos that precedes transformation, it's pretty difficult to imagine the wings we are about to grow.

How can we become more resilient in the face of chaos? Like a tree in a strong wind, we can learn to dance with it.

One powerful aspect of my training in expressive arts was learning to dance with Gabrielle Roth's 5Rhythms®. Roth’s rhythms, which mirror the rhythms of life itself, are “Flowing, Staccato, Chaos, Lyrical, and Stillness.”
 
One begins the ecstatic dance in graceful flowing movement, moves into the choppier energizing beat of staccato, and from there tumbles into the auditory and physical cacophony of full-blown chaos. In the rhythm of chaos, the body lets go of controlled, orchestrated motion. Feet stomp, limbs flail, hair flies as heads swing. Beauty and order begin to re-emerge as the dancer slows into the joyful lilt of lyrical and then, finally, rests in stillness, filled with the energy of all the rhythms that came before.
 
What I discovered in my explorations of dancing the 5Rhythms is that once you have rested in stillness, you can carry some of it with you through the next cycle of chaos.
 
The dance has something to teach us about how we can face unexpected challenges, tragedies and external chaos.
 
First, when we are in the thick of it, we must surrender to it. When I lost my son, I had to enter into the chaos of all the feelings that loss awakened in me. I had to allow myself to grieve. I had to live in the uncertainty, not knowing if I would ever feel whole again. I didn't have to let go of control—it had been stripped from me. I could only surrender.
 
We must feel what we're feeling and not stuff it down. No stiff upper lip. If a tree remains stiff in the onslaught of wind, it will snap. Expressive arts and journaling provide safe space to explore, express and eventually release emotions. There is no way past but through.
 
Second, if we take time to create a place of stillness within us prior to the inevitable arrival of chaos in our lives, we can tap into that stillness even in the midst of chaos. We can develop stillness through meditation, prayer, spiritual practice, yoga, dance, deep breathing, energy clearing and centering practices.
 
Developing a daily practice that includes stillness is essential. Find what works for you and make it a priority. Once a practice has been established, it can provide respite during times of chaos and challenge.
 
Third, engage proactively in whatever the chaos is. When I lost my son, I was six months into a year-long training in expressive arts. It was a godsend. I used those tools to harness the transformative power of my grief. I knew my experience was going to change me. I could either be steamrolled by grief and left broken by it, or I could use its energy to steer the course of my transformation.
 
Now, I'm not going to lie. It wasn't easy. And there were days—many of them—when I was steamrolled by the loss. I did a lot of numbing with alcohol and mindless TV watching. But I kept coming back to the tools of expressive arts in order to actively engage with what I was feeling, to explore not only the wounds of this loss, but the wounds of my own childhood and the wounds of the world. I explored the deep questions about life and death, about meaning, about why we are here on this planet at all.
 
So, look at what your current chaos is trying to tell you. Search for the questions it wants you to explore. Engage with it on your own terms. Don't let it steamroll you, harness it.
 
Like the characters in Fallen, you'll have to experiment to find the best way to position yourself in relation to the wind of chaos. Blaze got knocked into the mud a few times before he figured it out, but he didn't give up. It takes practice to build enough strength and balance to remain upright and steer your own course. So, keep trying and don't give up.

4) Also in Chapter 9, Alora meets Lizard who explains to her how he shed his tail when it no longer served him, and grew a new one. This is easily parlayed into the deeper wisdom of shedding one's "tale" when it no longer serves them, and reframing self-story to gain insight, confidence, or empowerment. After listening to what Alora tells him, Lizard recounts her story from a different perspective, finishing by saying, "That’s a sight more pleasant and powerful story than what you started out with, wouldn’t you say?”

After grasping the necessity for her new tale, she then asks what the following step is. Lizard responds with advice involving a mix of taking stock of what works and envisioning what is desired: "Why, write your next chapter, that’s what! Dream your way forward. Change your focus from what isn’t working to what is. Fix one eye on everythin’ good and let the other scout ahead into the possibilities of what could be."

The same way that one event can be witnessed by five people and there can be five different versions of what happened, we have the capability to hold within us multiple versions of our life events, personal qualities, actions, and traits. We're often better, kinder reframers for others than we are for ourselves. What do you feel are some of the most effective ways of awakening to our more empowering truths and shedding the outmoded, restrictive tales we've either grown or been given?

CP: Synchronistically, I am currently writing a blog series called "Twenty Ways to Change Your Story." As for most things, it begins with awareness. What stories are we holding about ourselves, our lives, and the world?
 
Is life something to be afraid of, or an adventure to enjoy? Am I stuck with things as they are or can I change them? Am I a victim or am I a hero? Am I in this all alone or are we all in it together? Where can I find help? Where can I be of service? Can I face my fears and dive into them? And if I do, what treasures might I find? Can I take on the strengths and powers of those I meet? Can I become whatever I choose to be? Can I use my gifts to change the world?


The way you answer these questions becomes your story.


We grow deaf to our own stories. They go underground, into the subconscious, where they quietly but powerfully go about the work of proving themselves to be true. Our stories shape us. Yet we have the power to reshape our stories to better serve us and those around us.

We can start by tuning into and really hearing what we say and think. We can catch ourselves in the act of self-sabotage. At a linguistic level, we can eliminate words like "but" and "should" in favor of words like "and" and "choose." We can replace "I can't" with "Anything is possible, so how can I?" We can become more selective and deliberate with the words we put after "I am." We can sleuth our way into discovering the limiting stories we've been fed by our parents, teachers, and culture at large, and begin to question them. We can ask, Is this true? Who says so? What would it be like if it wasn't true?
Ultimately, it is not as important whether a story is true as it is how that story serves us. Bill Harris, founder of Centerpointe Research Institute and inventor of Holosync technology, teaches that we can choose our beliefs. He says, “Evaluating beliefs based on whether they’re ‘true’ or ‘false’ isn’t helpful . . . conscious, happy people evaluate beliefs based on whether or not they’re resourceful.”

The first thing to grasp about this is that we can choose what to believe. And the second is, that we can choose the beliefs that work for us, regardless of whether they are "true." Because, once we have chosen new stories and begun to act on them, our minds (and the Universe, if you choose to believe in the Law of Attraction) will work to make them true.

A major theme in Fallen is the idea that we are more than earthly beings—that we remain connected to the spiritual source that dreamed us into being. We are one with that source and empowered by it to move the dream forward as we choose. Adopting this belief, whether it is "true" or not, can be empowering in at least a couple of ways.

One, it would mean that anything that happens here is simply experience, as opposed to being good or bad. Even death is not the end, because in death we return to that higher state of being. This belief can make us brave in the face of frightening experiences.


Two, it would mean that we have a higher power to call upon in times of trouble. We don't have to feel alone or helpless. We have a powerful ally in our court at all times. We have never truly been separated from this aspect of ourselves. It has imbued itself so completely into our life, our dream, that we can find it wherever we look, as Alora does when she finds her wise animal guides.


This belief can override any of the other stories we've been telling ourselves. It awakens us to our larger selves. We can awaken within the dream and reclaim our power to shape it. Nothing is impossible. We can become "lucid dreamers" in the dream of life, shapeshifters and world-changers.


One basic choice we can make is whether to believe we are victims, at the mercy of the elements, or the heroes of our own story, empowered to choose how we will respond to the elements and interact with them. Even when we feel as though the wind has taken us off course, we may find it has actually taken us to where we most need to be. Alora discovers this when she drifts off course and encounters Lizard, the first of her wise guides, in Chapter 9.


The very elements that have been tossing us about may well be leading us home. Yes, we can learn to harness them. Yes, we can choose our course. And, we can learn to see how the elements may have been serving us all along, even when we were feeling tossed and tumbled by them [as explored in the previous question]. What if everything in our life experience was here to serve us? To help us grow? To help us awaken and remember?


Albert Einstein said, “The most important decision we make is whether we believe we live in a friendly or hostile universe.” How we answer that question is the biggest story, the most important tale, we'll ever choose.
 

Will we approach life from a place of fear or embrace it as an adventure? For me, the hero's journey begins by choosing to see the world, with all of its drama, uncertainties, and challenges, as friend rather than foe.


5) In Chapters 12 and 13, Alora undergoes some of her most transformative growth as she encounters Turtle and Dragonfly, and enters the Deep—needing to find a way to adapt and shift to survive the watery depths. In different ways, each of her guides has need for the surface and the Deep. Turtle navigates both. Dragonfly explains how dragonflies spend more than half their lives growing beneath the water before developing wings that allow them to soar. To me, the deep has always represented emotional depths, the subconscious, dreams, the mysterious and pregnant potential of the unknown. The story emphasizes the need to navigate both the Deep and the surface.

The question is this: how do we swim gracefully in the "Deep" without getting drowned solely in the dreaming stage (vs. surfacing to action), without getting weighed down by the heavier, deepest emotions (subjective vs. objective), or without forgetting to breathe and flailing in the face of the unknown?


CP: I love your perception and description of the Deep. It is all that you describe and more that I cannot completely put into words. The Deep is where we connect to the truth of our being, to our larger selves, to our source, to our oneness with all that is. It is the portal to our awakening.


From the surface, the Deep appears frightening. It is often our losses, our struggles, our fears that draw us down into the Deep where grace can then transform us. The key to swimming gracefully is to let go of the fear of drowning and allow grace to move us.
 
I am reminded of the Marianne Williamson quote, "Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our Light, not our Darkness, that most frightens us." [Editor’s Note: In synchronistic fashion, an expanded version of this quote is also referenced in an essay in the Writers’ Craft Box in the current empowerment-themed issue of WPWT.]


We have to brave up in order to claim our own light, our own power. We have to risk the drowning and trust in the unfolding of that "mysterious and pregnant potential of the unknown."


The paradox is that once we dive into the Deep, rather than becoming stuck there and drowning, our own light will naturally draw us back up to the surface to breathe, to take action, to shine. Where once we merely skimmed the surface, drifting along untethered and at the mercy of the elements, we return to the surface transformed by our journey through the Deep.


We bring our rediscovered light and power with us, which completely changes our perception of and interaction with the surface world. We deepen our surface experience. We see through the dark places into the light we now know shines, not only beyond them, but within them.




6) There is a point when Alora returns to the rest of the fallen. Able to shapeshift, she knows she must come in their form, her original form, for them to relate to her, despite the fact that she carries other facets within. I believe this symbolizes shared humanity and the passage conveys the universal fears and love we all feel. Having learned about fear and love chapters earlier from Deer, Alora sees the principles in action as a number of the fallen overcome personal fear to lovingly help one another under her guidance.

In the current WPWT empowerment issue interview, Zen teacher, author, and professional consultant, Marc Lesser, discusses how "there is really only one career—it is the work of seeing more clearly and helping others." He goes on to say that "[h]elping others means being in 'relationship' in a way that helps others live with more safety, more ease, and more meaning." He also advocates the aspiration "to live a life of consciousness and love, instead of a life of habit and protection." The leaves in Fallen, have limited their lives out of fear, sticking to habit, and stay on the defensive for protection, yet as Deer points out earlier, they are inadvertently helping to bring their fears to pass by doing such. It is love and conscious awareness that liberates those who would be liberated.

Of the many "Aha!" moments in Fallen, I found this one where Alora fully realizes her purpose, to be the most rewarding. It was her intention to help others from the beginning, but her journey of self-discovery makes it truly possible. When writing this empowering segment, how did you feel about the character who first spoke to you at Writing as a State of Active Dreaming? What had she taught you about life, about yourself by that point, and do you feel that there might be more to tell of her story in the future?


CP: It may be interesting to point out that in my first pass at this portion of the story I had Alora return to the fallen in her shapeshifted form. It was my editor who gently suggested that this didn't work. I resisted changing it at first. I couldn't see how Alora could help the fallen otherwise. I couldn't see what the point of her transformation in the Deep might be if she didn't use her shapeshifting powers to rescue the fallen.

Perhaps this is why the character who spoke to me at that long ago writing workshop found me so dull and dim-witted! I am grateful that she didn't give up on me, though.

For of course, this was my own weakness and fear showing up in the writing, not Alora's. We can only help others by being fully who we are. Shapeshifting is an inside job, not the donning of a superhero costume or a facade of borrowed strength and presence. I think we often feel like we aren't enough, that we're too small, that we don't have what it takes to make a difference. Why would anyone listen to little ol’ me?

We are afraid of our own light.

Alora, too, feels this before recognizing that she must go to the fallen as one of them. She must meet them as herself, carrying all of her history, discoveries and transformation inside of her and trusting that it will shine through.

The fallen don't need to be rescued. They don't need a savior. They simply need to be shown that new possibilities await them. They need to be shown the power they already have inside of them—the power of love for each other and the power to choose their own paths. Alora could only show them these things as one who had experienced them herself and as one in whom they could see themselves.

Like Alora, I have experienced fear and grief, the dive into the Deep, and the transformation that comes with that journey. By writing Alora's story, I better understand my own. And perhaps by sharing my story, in The Deep Water Leaf Society, and Alora's story, in Fallen, I am stepping up, as she did, to help others find their own way.

Writing Fallen has helped to answer the question I began with: What exactly is a deep water leaf? She is one who has braved the Deep. She is one who has awakened within this dream we call life. She is one who has become fully aware of who she really is. She is one who returns from the Deep to spark the awakening of those still asleep on the surface.

Until the whole world awakens, there will always be more to this story.
 
 
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