Tuesday, November 21, 2017
Tuesday, November 7, 2017
I stood in a lush forest. Each tree represented an event in my own life, and the verdant life around me showed how full my experience had been. Each tree towered above, but I also knew that the roots stretched far below the earth beneath my feet. I stepped into a tiny clearing among the trees.
The green grass grew thickly except for a section at the center of the clearing. I moved my feet to the edge of the grass, where the green blades gave way to packed brown earth. The bare ground surrounded a gaping hole nearly four feet across. It was so deep that nothing within it was illuminated by the dim forest light.
I stared down at the hole. It was my subconscious mind down there in the darkness. Everything that I didn't let myself know about myself was down there. All the suppressed feelings, dark desires, hidden agendas, and unnamed sins were crawling in those shadows.
I'd stood at the edge of this hole before, several times. It didn't matter. It was familiar, but there was no confidence or comfort in the familiarity. No matter how often I looked into my heart and soul, I found new pain and more secrets to face down.
It was my own mind, but I could never defeat the monsters down there.
I took a deep breath and stepped to the edge of the hole. I straightened my shoulders and clenched my jaw. And I jumped, feet first, into the darkness.
I fell into the pitch black darkness.
At first, it was a little jarring, like a jolt of nausea shooting through my gut. But then, I just kept falling.
I could feel the air moving around me as I fell. I knew I was moving quickly. If I had reached out, I would have scraped my hand on the walls of the hole I was falling so quickly through.
After a few minutes, I was bored with falling, and yet I was still falling, like Alice into Wonderland. Except no horrific re-imagining of that place could compare to what I knew was waiting for me. Or what I suspected, at least.
I felt the air change as the tunnel gave way to an enormous cavern, and I knew the falling would stop soon. I landed in a heap on the rock, falling sideways when the uneven crust undermined my balance. I felt the rough surface of the rock scrape on my skin.
I was naked. There were no clothes to hide or protect my body in my own mind, after all.
I stood up carefully, getting my bare feet stabilized on the gravelled surface. I took a few breaths to orient myself in the empty space of the cavern.
I held out my left hand and willed energy into it. A small sphere of cold, blue light appeared, showing me a tiny area of huge rocky mounds set at different heights in the floor of the cavern.
I remembered this, and I nodded. This is how it had to be, then. I began climbing across the stone-studded floor, sliding down to lower rocks, clawing my way up the higher ones. The blue light stayed close to my left shoulder, freeing my hands.
I panted as the unusual exercise went on and on. I paused on one high rock and pushed the blue light up as high as I could, trying to see farther. But the glow only showed the next rock over.
I sighed and kept moving.
Rock after endless rock scraped my hands and knees, grating my shins. My throat was dry and my hair stuck up all over from the wind of my fall and the exertion of my climbing. I leaned for a moment against the latest rock after sliding down it.
I was tired. I didn’t want this.
Mercy’s words rang out in my mind: The first time you are tested in your conviction to that honesty to yourself, and you just lay on your bed.
I frowned and heaved myself up the next steep rock. “Fuck ‘em all,” I snarled.
A sound roared out in the darkness. I gasped and lost my grip, falling off the rock I was trying to climb. My right foot struck the stone, banging the toes that were missing in the physical realm. I bit down on my tongue to suppress a cry of pain. A second roar rang through the cave.
I backed up until I was pressed against a stone that rose up just higher than my head. I stared into the darkness. I felt more than heard a movement to my left, and I turned toward it. A scattering of gravel to my right jerked my attention that way.
I heard growling and snarling on the rock behind me and the fear creeped down my legs, turning them to jelly. I fell to my knees and pressed against the rock, holding the light high, desperately trying to see... anything.
As I got used to the constant roaring and snarling, I could hear a voice underneath the bestial sounds. I strained to understand the words, but my attention faltered each time I detected movement in the blackness around me.
I struggled to focus, pulling away from the panic of my fear reactions. I tried to simply acknowledge and accept each movement, each growl, rather than making the effort to know what caused it.
This was a common theme in my Dark Night meditations. I wanted to know. Know what made the noise, know where the creature was, know how it moved, and on and on. But everything here was me. And my fears of the creature were my fears of what I wasn't facing.
It wasn't knowledge that I was lacking. It was acceptance.
So, I tried to accept what was happening. I focused on my breath, breathing through each scattering of gravel, each scrape of claws on stone. I breathed through the flicker of movement to my right, the movement of air behind me. I stopped jumping at every sound and detected motion. I just breathed.
As I relaxed into the fear, accepting the fear without panicking, I heard the voice more clearly. It sounded young, though I knew that the sound itself was only an illusion.
What I was hearing was simply my mind's way of understanding the message. Even though I could hear words, I knew it was just my interpretation of the feelings of accusation that the voice was really projecting.
“Bad, bad, bad, bad,” it chanted.
I allowed my thoughts to stretch out, reaching towards the voice. I didn't put words into the thought. I spoke to myself in symbols, feelings, and only sometimes words, and I was dealing with deep, hidden parts of my mind. So I didn't ask a question when I responded, I just sent out the feeling of a question.
“I am bad,” the voice said. “You are bad. We are bad."
I sent the feeling of “what” to the voice.
“Nooooooooooooo!” the voice cried, denial slapping at me.
A scaled face lunged at mine, snapping jaws just inches from my nose.
The voice snarled at me. “You did this! I did this! We did this!”
I doubled over as feelings of anger and guilt mixed with flashes of memory. I felt the tears falling down my cheeks. The voice was talking about what Zaro had done.
What I had let him do.
I looked up as the voice rose in a keening wail. Every sorrow I'd ever experienced was in that sound and I wept harder, sobbing loudly.
“We allowed this! To us. To them!” the voice cried out in anguish.
I nodded. By not stopping Zaro, I had let him continue using the women in the Center. Not just me.
No. Not using. Abusing.
“You don't know you saved her,” the voice bit out, accusingly. Remorse and understanding of my own wretchedness pulled me down, and I saw a face flash through my mind.
I gasped. Lupé.
I'd never thought to ask if my intervention had prevented Zaro from taking her, too. Even though he'd told me it wouldn't.
“I failed! You failed! We failed!”
Despair and hopelessness filled me. The voice howled in pain, and I could hear the creature thrashing itself on the rocks beyond my light. I felt each blow in my mind, like a memory of being beaten.
“You let him!” the voice wailed. “I let him! We let him!”
I lifted my head and let my voice join the keening cry. Feeling the self-hate and shame run through me. I howled out my worthlessness and tore at my own flesh and hair with my fingers.
The anguished cries ripped my voice apart, and I finally collapsed, weeping with hoarse moans. The light faded out as my will crumbled.
I heard the creature approach, slithering across the rocks. I struggled to control my breathing. I knew what I had to do, but that didn't make it any easier to do it.
Gravel scattered as I scrambled to my feet, stepping on sharp stones in the darkness. I sniffed and tried to stand up straight, but the mourning had left my muscles liquid and unstable.
I closed my eyes and focused on the sound of the creature moving, closer, closer. It felt like it took forever to come within reach, and I held myself still to be sure I wouldn't startle it away.
Finally, I could feel the mood shift in the cavern, just a subtle change in the emotional pressure. It was time.
I opened my eyes and called up the light once more. Standing before me was a horrible-looking creature, slimy and scaly, dripping with tangles of long hair. Spikes stood out along its body in asymmetrical, random places, interspersed with gaping sores that oozed bright yellow-green pus streaked with red blood.
The creature's mouth was skewed to one side, so it looked like a clay model that had fallen on the floor and not been fixed. Teeth of all shapes and sizes jutted out of its jaw at odd angles. Its stubby tail had skin torn off in patches along its length.
One deep red eye sat on top of its head, like the eye of a frog, but with the odd rectangular pupil of a goat. The other eye was pale orange and sat low, to one side of the nose, and seemed to have no pupil at all.
It wheezed every breath with a mucousy rattle, and an odor of rotting meat and diseased shit surrounded it, wafting towards me with every micro-gust in the air.
I gulped down the bile that rose at the sight of the creature. It was everything horrible and disgusting in the world. I felt repelled by it at every level of my being. I stared at the creature, willing myself to do what I had to do. There was only one way to be rid of it.
I stepped forward.
The creature flinched and snarled, tensing up as if to spring. I hesitated, letting it get used to my new position. It slowly relaxed, and I stepped forward again.
This time, it didn't flinch as much. It watched me with its mismatched eyes and relaxed from its half-crouch. The next step forward, it barely moved, though its eyes flickered from my face to my hands to my feet and back.
I held my hands out, palms forward, slightly away from my body, showing it that I had no weapons. The next step, there was no flinch at all. Instead, the creature made a low moaning noise that sounded like the first part of the sound of vomiting.
I forced myself not to cringe at my visceral reaction to the creature's whine. I held the gaze of its sickly orange eye, willing it to stay calm, and stepped forward again.
I was now inches away from the creature. If either of us moved, we would brush against the other. I tried not to think of the pus and slime coating the matted hair, scales and open sores that covered its body, so close to my bare skin.
I spread my arms wide, and the creature tensed. Before it could react, I stepped forward and wrapped my arms around it.
It struggled to get away, thrashing in my arms. It snarled and snapped at my face. Despite its greater size, I was stronger, and I held on tight.
The creature whined its vomit-like sound and I could feel the wetness of pus and slime smearing across my body, dripping down my legs and off my arms. It panted, wheezing and hacking mucus in my face.
The battle seemed to take hours. Slowly, it weakened, its struggles becoming less intense. I laid my head against its body and began singing a soothing, wordless tune.
I felt the body in my embrace shrink in on itself. My hands met behind its back and I cradled the creature, rocking it in my arms.
I was covered in the pus and goo and every breath was a struggle not to gag on the smell. But I sang to the creature, and I pushed love energy through my arms towards it. And I cuddled it as it shrank down.
I lost track of time, and it seemed sudden when the change happened. In a blink, I was no longer rocking the shrunken body of a filthy beast. Instead, my arms held a little girl of about three or four years old.
She was naked, like me, and her body was covered in gashes and deep purple and yellow bruises. Scars crisscrossed her skin and her dark hair was tangled and matted. Her voice croaked with sobs as she cried out her pain in my arms. I rocked her and sang to her, patting her back gently and stroking her hair, sending love from my heart to hers.
Eventually, her crying stopped and she slowly sat up. I smiled at her and wiped the tears from her cheeks. I pushed at my will to soothe the bruises and cuts from her face.
I waved my arm and there was a shallow hot spring, glowing with a golden healing light. I led her to it and picked up the soft cloths at the side of the pool. I eased us both into the water and bathed her, gently, carefully, soothing away her wounds with the magic of love in my heart and my will.
When we were cleaned of all the remnants of the creature she had been, I sat her in front of me and combed out her hair, singing a song that we remembered from another life.
Clean, combed and dry, I wrapped her in a warm blanket and held her close. Then I began to speak, with words and with the language of emotions and memories.
“I'm sorry,” I said, softly. “I failed you. I failed Ella and Maria. I failed Lupé, and so many others.
“I'm so sorry, but I am also not the only one who failed. I am not the only one who harmed others. I will take responsibility for my failings. I will make reparations to the best of my ability. But I will not take on the burden of other people's guilt. I will not take responsibility for other people's actions.”
I squeezed the girl who was both my own inner child and the embodiment of my faults and weaknesses, abused by the hurts that had been visited on me and the hurts I had visited on others, and I loved her without judgment. I held her and accepted what had been done.
As the child fell asleep, I took a deep breath. Accepting what had been done didn't mean forgiving or forgetting. It didn't mean pretending it had never happened, or walking away without demanding restitution. It didn't mean I wouldn't make Zaro pay for what he'd done.
Tuesday, October 24, 2017
Tuesday, October 10, 2017
Mercy was watching us with a tension that seemed to say she didn't trust us to remain calm. The idea of her being so worried about Joseph and me getting violent struck me as really funny, and I started giggling. We went back to our previous seats, Mercy stopping to throw the deadbolt and chain, while I threw my head back and let the humor drain the rest of the tension from my gut.
I noticed Joseph looking at me with a concerned expression, but I just waved him off and turned to Mercy. "Okay, now spill."
She took a deep breath and began. "I am not human." Joseph snorted. "I realize this is a bit obvious now, but I want to be absolutely clear in what I'm telling you."
I exchanged a glance with Joseph. By his expression, he was wondering the same thing I was: alien or paranormal creature? And did we need to invest in silver or wooden stakes? We turned back to Mercy.
She took a deep breath. "I'm a Valkyrie," she said, pushing in out in a rush.
That was it? I reached up and scratched an itch on my forehead. I saw Joseph in the corner of my eye rub a spot on his chin. We both kept watching Mercy, who looked back and forth from Joseph to me. I shifted my seat on the bed. Joseph brought his feet up to sit cross legged. The silence stretched out. I chewed on the inside of my lower lip.
Finally, I broke the silence. "So..." I said, trying to think of something to say. The myths of the Valkyrie were pretty vague, with some saying they were kind of half gods and others saying they were spirits of dead warrior women. Lots of speculation and theory, but little fact. "Does that mean you are dead?"
Mercy drew back. "What? No! I'm not dead! Valkyrie are spirit warriors. We are kind of like extensions of Odin's will." She shifted in her chair, still watching us closely. She hestated another moment before continuing. "That's all? You aren't going to freak out?"
I laughed. "Probably not." I caught her confused look. "You gotta understand something. We get people coming to us all the time claiming to be stuff."
Joseph nodded and ticked off the more common ones, "Dragons, fae, werewolves, aliens, unicorns, ogres..."
I jumped in. "And don't forget the whole I'm the queen of this group or that group. And, yes, we've heard 'I'm a Valkyrie' a few times." I paused and rubbed the side of my chin. "Haven't had much in the way of proof before, though." I shook myself out of the mental wanderings that I felt my mind going towards. "The point is, me and Joseph may not swallow this stuff hook, line and sinker, but we do try to take such claims seriously. A couple of times, we've even gotten proof that the claims were as real as can be expected."
"Which means," Joseph said, "we have had deep dark long conversations about how likely these things are. And what it would mean if these different creatures showed up."
"Valkyrie may not be human, but we've gotten to know you as an individual," I pointed out. "And you fought off those demons."
"And demons are much scarier than warrior women who aren't trying to kill us," Joseph finished.
Mercy gaped at us. I don't think she was expecting the reaction we'd had. "I thought I'd have to... I don't know. Calm you down. Keep you from running off..." She trailed off.
I frowned. "Running off would be pretty stupid of us, at this point, what with monsters and gun-toting detectives after us."
Joseph snorted. "The gun-toting detective is only after you," he pointed out. "I only have to worry about drooling creatures from the nether realms." He stopped suddenly, as if he realized what he'd just said, and shuddered.
I forced a laugh, trying to break the mood. "You just aren't as lucky as I am," I teased. "Only the really popular kids get dragged into interrogation rooms, don't you know."
Joseph smiled, but it didn't quite reach his eyes.
Mercy shook her head at us. "You guys are so weird," she said. "Your world is being turned upside down and your reality is being shaken, and you just... deal with it."
I grinned at her. "Well, it helps that we were crazy to begin with." I turned to Joseph. "Let's get a gooey pizza and a lot of really sugary soda. And breadsticks. With garlic. Cuz nobody's copped to being a vamp, but I'm not rulling it out." I eyed Mercy and Joseph playfully as Joseph grabbed the hotel phone book to check out the pizza places.
We found a local pizza dive and order several cheesy pizzas with a selection of toppings, though Joseph and I stood strong against Mercy's criticism of adding cream cheese to pepperoni. Apparently, being a demi-god doesn't mean you have good taste in pizza.
While we waited for our order to be delivered, Joseph and I sprawled on one of the beds while Mercy sat cross legged on the other, and we took turns quizzing her about Norse gods.
"What's Odin like? And does Loki look anything like Tom Hiddleston?" I asked. I like to get the important stuff out first.
Mercy smirked. "Loki is blond and bearded, so... No. And Odin is... funny but serious. And so very wise. You can see the weight of understanding on his shoulders, but he still thinks that puns are hilarious." She shook her head. I could tell she was thinking of some memory of bad word play or something. "He cares so much, but he doesn't really know how to show it. He's like an old school father who was never taught how a grown man can play with the kids, but he wants to..."
We were silent for a moment, each lost in our thoughts about that.
Joseph spoke up first. "So, Ragnorok is really a thing, right? It's going to happen, just like in the stories?"
Mercy tilted her head to the side. "Sort of. Odin didn't tell the whole story, cuz he knew there would always be someone trying to start it, or thinking it was happening and trying to stop it, or trying to be a part of it. So he gave the general run-down and he told the gods what would happen to them, but he didn't give all the details about Midgard." She shrugged. "Also, it's more complicated then that. The Norse gods are real and the creation story for them is completely true."
I frowned and glanced at Joseph. He had a thoughtful scowl on his face.
Before either of us could speak, Mercy held up her hand. "But..." she said, waiting until she had our complete attention. "The same is true for the Greek gods." She paused. "And the Orisha," she said, referencing the gods of Yoruba, an African religion, and Santeria, a belief system in the Caribbean similar to Voodoo. "And any other religions or pantheons you can think of, and all the ones that haven't yet been imagined. And several that have been long forgotten."
My face scrunched up as I tried to follow what Mercy was saying. It wasn't something new for me to hold the belief that all religions were equally valid. Of course, that was easier when there really was no proof that ANY of them were any more real than Santa Claus. At that point, I realized that, before the night was over, I was going to ask if Santa was real. A part of me felt a sense of defeat about that.
"So," I said, drawing out the word as I tried to organize my thoughts into some kind of coherence. "What does that mean for science and the big bang theory and all that?"
Mercy nodded. "That is also completely true."
"But, how?" Joseph asked.
Mercy sighed and looked down at her hands. I could tell she was trying to figure out how to tell us. I suddenly remembered a few months back when Ella had asked me about some protesters we had driven past on the street. They were across the street from a cemetary holding signs condemning a teenager who had commited suicide after being bullied for being gay. I remembered the feeling of understanding so much about the situation, the social backdrop that had caused it, the complexities of the protesters' beliefs... and I had balked at the conversation. Ella had asked why they were holding signs. It had been a simple question, but the answer was anything but simple. I remembered thinking that this was why parents told their kids babies came from birds or vegetables, and I remembered struggling with my promise to always be truthful with my child.
I pulled my focus back to Mercy, and I sympathized. I drew energy from the memory of love and compassion that my conversation with Ella had brought out. I directed it at Mercy, lifting her energy and encouraging her mind to find the best way to communicate. I held this for several seconds before she raised her head and straightened her shoulders. She took a deep breath.
"You know how a movie works, right? Making a movie isn't just what the people do. It's also the set built by the crew. It's the sounds added later. It's the CGI and the wires and the explosions. It's the stunt people and the makeup people, too. A movie isn't just a camera following people around, right?" I nodded. "That's how the world works. What you see, the actors, is science. The gods are the crew behind the scenes, pushing, pulling, correcting and sometimes adding in a CGI thing that adds to the end result."
"Whoa," Joseph said. "I kind of understand that."
Mercy continued. Each pantheon contributes to the whole thing, but instead of the makeup crew working all together, they are actually gods from everywhere working on the same thing."
I nodded. "Like art or nature or war?"
Mercy smiled. "Exactly. There will be a Norse god working on this over here and that over there. So the crew isn't divided by job but by pantheon."
I glanced at Joseph. "You realize what this means, don't you?" Joseph raised his eyebrows in question. "These means you're Jim Carrey." I grinned, knowing he would understand my movie reference. He rolled his eyes at me.
We turned back to Mercy. "So all these gods - and science, too," Joseph said. "They all work together but kind of not."
Mercy nodded. "That's why you have things that are just so complex that it's hard to figure them out."
I nudged Joseph. "Like weather and evolution," I suggested. Mercy nodded. "So, pretty much stuff that we explain through chaos theory mathematics."
"That would also include human interactions," said Joseph.
"Human interactions, god interactions," I said. "Is there much difference, really?"
We looked at each other for a moment, then turned to Mercy. She shrugged. "Not that I can see," she said, holding up her hands in a shrugging motion as a knock sounded at the door.
Tuesday, September 26, 2017
Tuesday, September 12, 2017
Monday, August 14, 2017
As an author on social media, I encounter a lot of posts by other authors. Many of them I pass on by but some of them are quite interesting. Then there are those that are odd.
I recently came across a post that was asking about weaknesses and main characters. This is an interesting topic because it delves into characterization.
I noticed that one of the responses was what I can only describe as a resume weakness. It was the kind of weakness that you give in response to an interview question asking what your greatest weakness in the workplace is.
I have to call this a cheater cheater Pumpkin Eater. If the greatest weakness that your character has is that they "try too hard to save people" or they "work too hard" to support their family, that's not a weakness. That's a virtue.
A real character weakness is one that makes the character somehow flawed, not a better person. If your character's weakness is actually a virtue, that does not make them more real, and it doesn't make them more relatable.
Resume weaknesses do not improve characterization. They do not improve your character as a relatable person. They do not make your writing better.
They do turn your character into a Mary Sue. They turn your character into an idealized version of whoever you are trying to characterize. And they make your character into someone who isn't as relatable.
No matter how hard we try to turn our weaknesses into subtle virtues, weaknesses are weaknesses. Flaws are flaws. And characters are people that should have both weaknesses and flaws, as well as virtues and nobility. Otherwise there just a cardboard cutout of a character.