Thursday, December 18, 2014

NaNoWriMo - After Thoughts

So I completed a second year of NaNoWriMo.  Woot!

It's interesting comparing this year to last. 
For instance, last year I was rather hard-pressed to reach the full 50k words.  I did everything in my power to be extra wordy.  I avoided using hyphenated words and I elaborated on some points a little more thoroughly than I would have on my own.
This year I didn't have that problem at all - the book is only half-done actually. 

Because I had far more story than what was necessary to cross that 50k finish line, I had the luxury of bouncing around a little.  Don't feel like writing that particular scene?  No worries, move on to the next!
In that sense it was quite liberating taking on a project bigger than NaNo's puny 50k word-count goal.  But in the grand scheme of things I've found it to be a hindrance as well.  This month it's been very difficult to find the motivation to sit down and hammer out the rest of the book (and fill in those pesky little scenes that I skipped over in November).

I'm hoping it's just the frenzied schedule set by the holidays and that after the New Year I'll be interested in writing again because frankly I've had little to interest to sit and write of late.

It is nice to have "The Kai'us Planet" up and breathing again.  I've been just tickled pink with the reworked scenes.  They flow so nicely; they grab you and carry you along for the ride (or at least I think so!).  Plot points that were clumsily introduced far too late in the story before are put right out there in the open in this version.  The characters act and react in more plausible ways now.

I also really like that fact that the Kai'us' now really don't care much about the Humans' "advanced technology".  In earlier versions the main characters did everything they could to hide their tech from the "primitive natives" lest they contaminate their culture with ideas centuries beyond their natural development.  Instead the Kai'us' look on the Humans' scanners, clothing and weapons with pity as inferior substitutions for things that come natural to them.  It takes the "Dance's with Wolves" element out of the story, which makes me happy.

Fortunately even the folks over at NaNoWriMo's site know that December is a crappy month for writing.  They talk about January and February being the editing months.  I'm excited for those resources to fire up so I can finish "The Kai'us Planet" and get those galley prints made!

Just like last year though, I'm not sure if I'll tackle NaNo again.
Of course - like last year - things can change!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Over the Hill (NaNo Related)

So we've finally passed the halfway point for NaNoWriMo and I am finally caught back up to that ever-demanding daily goal line (I fell behind last week).

This is the point where many people typically lose focus as to how to advance the plot or lose steam or interest all together.  For me though the story is just now picking up.  This is a good thing and a bad thing.

On the good side: I don't have to worry about where the story is going.  With some pleasant divergence from previous plot points, the main characters have finally encountered the Kai'us' and things are steamrolling along as everyone gets to know everyone else and their motives.  A character they thought was dead will be returning soon and more secrets will be revealed.  Juicy stuff awaits!

On the bad side: I need to slam the reader with TONS of information about this alien culture so they know just what's going on and why without it bogging down the plot flow or boring the reader.  There's a lot of subtle work on my part to slip in useful information without the reader really noticing.  It often means going back as I remember a particular little piece of information that needs to go in a certain place and making "quiet" little tweaks here and there.

The natives also speak their own language and though I have previous glossaries to borrow from, I'm always reconstructing their grammar on the fly and so a fair amount of thought needs to go into every word spoken in the Kai'us language.  That slows me down a little.  I suppose I could just plow through and put in English placeholders or simple gibberish and just clean it up later, but I can't write like that.  Their language is part of their identity and for me a simple turn of phrase or euphemism can subtly change the feel of a whole scene.  How we speak is how we think and vise versa, so hammering out how these beings verbally communicate gives me (and therefore the reader) a subconscious insight into how their minds work and allows for a connection to happen that's so crucial to good story telling.

Maybe I'm over-thinking it and making more work for myself, but it is quite satisfying!

Given where I am in the story compared to what's still left to tell, it looks like I'll probably be crossing that finish line with plenty more story waiting, but that's okay; I've got the hardest part written (the beginning).

The interesting thing with is rewrite is the change in pacing.  In previous versions the characters get days, sometimes weeks before the next big thing happens to them.  In this version they're not afforded a moments peace (yes, I'm apparently turning into a sadistic writer mwahahahaha!)

Right when they catch their footing, think they've got their situation stabilized and they can settle in to a new "normal", the bottom drops out again and they have to figure out how to stay alive all over again.  It's kind of mean to the characters, but makes for some great, heart-pounding reading!

So here's to an amazing second half!

Monday, November 3, 2014

The Second Go-Around (NaNo-related)

You may have heard (once or twice, lol) that I'm participating in NaNoWriMo this year.

This is my second year doing it and I must say there's some major differences between my approach this year from last.  Last year my decision to join was semi-last minute (within the last week or two before November 1st).  I was terrified about finishing "on time and on budget".  I broke down the various sections of my story into word-count goals (which actually did help).  I participated in the forums; I watched pep-talks and videos about tips and tricks on youTube and I was so freaking exhilarated when I crossed the finish line!

This year I made my decision to participate weeks in advance.  I kept stalking the NaNo home page, waiting for it to reset so I could put in my novel info for this year.
This time 'round I don't need the pep-talks and the "you can do it!" support from the forums.  I have the rough outline I threw together the last time I tried to jump-start this project (again).
As expected, I still need to go hunting for information I never thought to jot down earlier, but you know what? I'm okay with that.
Though I take the daily word counts very seriously, I have no desire to run ahead of the daily quotas.  Get your 1,667 words in and stop for the day - don't kill yourself (unless some burst of productivity seizes you).  I'm not going to freak out if I reach the end of the story and am falling short by a few thousand words.  I really have no idea how long this beast is going to be (I never do).  But I don't care honestly.  I want the story written.

I may blow past 50k words.  I may not.  What matters more to me this year for NaNo is getting this damned story pulled together, preferably devoid of those stupid plot holes that have been plaguing me for years.

I see the differences between this year and last as being a parent for the first and second time.
With a first child you do all your research and try to do everything right.  You hover, you worry, you lose sleep.
With baby number two, you're an old veteran at that point.  You know what matters and what doesn't.  You still care, but not in the hand-wringing, worrying sort of way.  You're more inclined to let things happen in their own time on their own terms.

I'm rather liking baby number two ;)

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Getting to the Point (Life Musings)

As of this writing I have eight drafts sitting here in my blog archive that span three months.  In that time I've only made two posts.

Eight times I'd tried to compose a witty, insightful piece of prose but couldn't get it tied up to the point where it made a point.  I've tried a few different topics too: struggles with my career, frustrations with the endless plot holes I'm finding in "The Kai'us Planet" and musings about martial arts.

All started out with a spark that interested me enough to try typing them up, but then they each fizzled into a meandering monolog that went nowhere.  Eight.  Times.

It's annoying but not as frightening as it may be for a writer.

Getting ready for the wedding did indeed eat up a fair amount of my time and energy and now I'm waiting with baited breath for NaNoWriMo to start in less than a week!

Still, I'd like to get a post up and I might as well at least touch on these topics that I've been struggling so hard to articulate in a thought-provoking fashion.

1) My career: I do rather live by the adage of "It turns out I don't want a career, all I want is a pay check".  Though it's true that apart from the retail job I had for six months the year after I graduated college and the in-home caregiver job I had for nine months to tide me over till I could find more steady work, all the jobs I've had for the whole of my adult life have been (at least vaguely) in the field I went to school for.  Problem is that I take major pay-cuts with each new job I get.  I'm pay-cutting myself into poverty and it's downright frustrating.

The easy answer is to switch careers, but to what?
Nursing or midwifery seem to be the obvious answers, but with my open disdain of the medical realm I really don't think I'd be happy there long.

Things are further complicated by the fact that I actually do very much like where I'm presently working.  I'm good at what I do, I like my co-workers AND boss/manager and have a fair amount of personal freedom.  The only real downside is the pay; so I'm continuing to noodle over what I should do there.

2) "The Kai'us Planet": I'm continually amazed at all the plot holes that have carried through "The Kai'us Planet" throughout the years, but that's why I'm rewriting it from scratch for NaNo this year.  There will be absolutely no copy/paste in this version from versions prior.  I'm going to force myself to assess each and every scene, plot point and character motivation to make sure it's as solid a piece of sci-fi as can be churned out in 30 days. (Then I'll spend the next year or two editing the hell out of the thing!)

3) Martial Arts: The longer I continue with Karate (I've been back for almost eight months now), the more I love it.  I'm even making compromises that I never thought I'd do!  For one I'm keeping my nails trimmed back shorter than the length I typically wear them just so that making a good, solid fist is easier.  Another gasp-worthy change is I'm getting up a full half-hour earlier each morning just so I can do exercises to increase my strength and flexibility.

I've got a self-created three-day plan going presently: Day 1 is focused on legs and hips.  My goal is to work up to a full split, but honestly my hips have always given me issue, so anything I can do to improve their mobility is great!
Day 2 is arms and upper body.  I'm appalled at how poorly I do push-ups in class, so I work on my own to get better at that.  Still have a long way to go and I continue to add exercises that'll hopefully help there.
Day 3 is a rest day and I usually need it.  This doesn't mean I sleep in that extra half hour - I don't want to mess up my schedule by doing something silly like that - instead I do chores on those mornings or just spend a little extra time on the computer before work.  I have a feeling Day 3 days will be a godsend during NaNoWriMo!

I'm still hellbent on trying to test for my next rank in May.  It's "only" seven months away and I still have a lot of work to do, but it's far more prep time than I've had for any of my other tests, so I think I'll do okay.

So those are the three main topics that I've had on my mind a lot lately that I've been unable to pull together in a way that was entertaining and awesome for this blog.

I'm hoping my second dive into NaNoWriMo brings out my witty humor again and maybe even some random short-stories will come your way when I need a break from that annual 50k word marathon!

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Post-Wedding Life Update

I've been neglecting this blog something terrible of late because I was busy with wedding prep.  Don't feel bad though - I've been neglecting pretty much everything else as well (my poor house is an absolute wreck!)

So now I'm married (yeah!)
Thank heavens society has reached a point where people don't look at one funny when told the bride didn't change her name!

Once we get our formal pics back from the photographer I'll be submitting the full wedding story to The Offbeat Bride.  Until then I'll gloss over the lovely day we had. 
Apart from the chilly, icky weather it really was a wonderful day full of friends and family and food!

So what plans do I have post-nuptials?

Well, I'm going to do NaNoWriMo again this year! (Look me up under GwendolynWilkins).
Last year I didn't want to touch "The Kai'us Planet" as a potential NaNo project.  This year I can think of nothing else I'd rather do!
So that's happening.

I already have a vague outline sketched out and some other helpful resource material written down; but I have a feeling I'm just going to pants the damned thing (like I always have).  I mean I've written it from start to finish at least five times - I'm pretty sure I know how the story goes!

Still, as I revisit particular scenes in my head I'm continually appalled at all the blaring plot holes I come across.  In fact I don't think I've hit upon a single scene that I haven't found a major issue that will need to be addressed in the NaNo re-write. (Hmm...maybe I should do a write-up pointing out all these plot holes and my plan for closing them up...)

While I wait for the starting bell for NaNo to ding on November 1st, I've promised my business partner that I'd work on inventory this month so we'll be all set and ready to go for our Christmas season craft fairs.  (Time to plug our website and etsy pages!!)

So those are the immediate plans.
Though the wedding ate up a fair amount of my time for the past couple months, not much has changed in its aftermath.  We had no intention of doing a honeymoon straight away.  The current game plan is taking that fabled road trip through the Rocky Mountains, hitting all the National Parks we can along the way.
Ah, glorious travel!

I'm still enjoying Karate to no end and am still planning on trying for my next rank in May of next year.  We'll see how that goes - a lot of improvements in kicking needs to happen between now and then though!

I'm going to try to be a little more participatory over here on the blog.
There's always random musings floating around in the ol' noggin and no doubt a few of those will grace these pixels on occasion.

Thanks for sticking around and here's to hoping there's more to come!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

My Stomach and Me (Humor)

Though I've never been formally diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome, I've just come to assume that's what I have. My IBS has gotten significantly better in recent years (I used to be plagued with near daily symptoms that were affecting my desire to eat anything at all).  About ten years ago I had to go on a highly restrictive diet for about a year.  That year of detox got me back to where I can pretty much eat whatever I want whenever I like; the only limitation now is eating after 6:30, 7:00pm.

I warn all friends and family that I can't eat after that time of day.  Happily I have plenty of self-control, so I'm rarely tempted to have "just one slice of pizza", or a "small bowl of ice cream".  I know that such indiscretions will send my digestive system into terrible spasms of nauseous and diarrhea, making my whole body shake and sweat, and my breathing sound like I've been running sprints for the past hour.

It's frustrating though because I tend to be up until 11:00 at night - that's a pretty long stretch of time to go without eating. With all that in mind, I'd like to present a sample conversation I have with my stomach on a frequent basis:

ME: Alright! Home from work.  What do you want for dinner?
STOMACH: Eh, whatever you want, I'm not terribly hungry.  That snack we had at 3:00 is still holding.
ME: Okay, I'll just scarf down a quick yogurt.  You let me know when you want something more substantial though.

ME: How about it? Want some spaghetti or some fried eggs or something?
STOMACH: Nah.  That yogurt was enough.  We're good.

ME: Tick-tock, tick-tock.  We're down to just being able to eat toast or oatmeal at this point.
STOMACH: Pfff! I've got my second wind baby!  We can go all night long!

STOMACH: Feed me.
ME: You're kidding right?  I asked you three times already and you said "no".
STOMACH: But I'm hungry now!
ME: Tough, you're going to have to deal with it.

ME: Nope, you had your chance.  You're just going to have to suffer, otherwise you'll make me suffer.

STOMACH: <sobbing> Why do you hate me?!?
ME: Because you don't know how to play well with others.  No food for you!
STOMACH: But I'm soooooo hungry!
ME: Yeah and how do you like the alternative? I want to sleep tonight! You're not getting anything until 7:00 tomorrow morning.
STOMACH: I'm going to die!
ME: No, that's what you would do if we ate anything right now.  You're going to have to suck it up and wait.
STOMACH: i hate u.

And this boys and girls, is why I can't gain weight.

Friday, July 25, 2014

The King's Choice (Tipsy Lit Entry)

Less than an hour to go and I'm finally getting this week's entry in! (Oy what a week it's been!)
Sorry - the brain is fried and I can't seem to get the photo to link to the site, so here's the link: Tipsy Lit

"The King's Choice"
450 Words

“Are you certain?” the king asked bleakly.

“Sire, the signs never lie,” the grim soothsayer replied.  “And to be honest, Your Majesty, I pray I don’t live long enough to see it come to pass.”

With that the aged man left the king alone with his thoughts.  What a terrible prophecy!   Being a generally good-humored man however, the king could not help but smile at the utter lack of creativity on the part of the Fates.

“Father!”  The single word pulled him instantly from his musings.  He looked up to see his beautiful young daughter sneak into the room – knowing the old sage had left. 

“Come here, my sweet child,” he said as jovially as he could muster.

The young princess ran into his arms and he clung to his only daughter with a paternal passion he was rarely able to indulge in.  Why must such a wicked prophecy be bestowed upon him?  Why should in involve such a loving child.

“Father, what did the soothsayer say?” she asked, pulling away to study her father’s face.

The king looked back into a face verging on womanhood, yet his daughter’s eyes still contained the untarnished innocence of youth.  He forced a smile and patted her cheek.  “Crops, my love.  Nothing to concern yourself with.”

Dimples formed in her cheeks as she settled herself in his lap and demanded a story.  How could the kings of old lock their daughters away in secret towers when similar portents were laid upon them?  Were their own miserable lives so much more important than the ones they sired?

As he rattled off an ancient tale they both knew by heart he contemplated telling her the awful truth: that her future son would bring about his own death and the ruin of the kingdom.  Yet he knew that such awful knowledge would drive her to a convent in the hopes that taking holy vows would avert disaster.  The king knew those stories too: some mysterious traveler comes along and woos or forces himself upon the unsuspecting maiden and the prophecy becomes fulfilled.

No.  Though he always strove to be honest with his beloved daughter, ignorance would be best in this case.  This way she would marry a man the king knew and approved of.  She’d marry for love and have many years of happiness.  She may not even bear a son right away.  She may be allowed decades of peaceful bliss before the inevitable strikes.

All the while the king would be watching, waiting and knowing that when she presents her firstborn son to him, that he’d be holding in his hands his own demise.  A strange notion no doubt; but he saw no other choice. 

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Home Acne Treatments

I've been plagued with acne since the onset of puberty.  Unable to afford the doctor's fees and medications, my parents were unable to do much about it while I lived at home.  As soon as I got out on my own and got a real job with real insurance however, I dashed off to a dermatologist to get my pimples taken care off.

What followed were years of yo-yo wins and frustrations.  Yes, the medications worked, but by the time I needed more (usually after two years or so), it'd been "so long" since I'd been to the office that they couldn't just call the prescriptions in, I'd have to come in again as a new patient.  (Really?!?! Two years?)  So I'd fill out fresh paperwork, have to go to the stupid follow-up appointments even though nothing had changed and then finally be left in peace for a year and half to two years till the prescriptions expired and we'd have to start the whole process over again.

I tried different dermatologists, hoping that I'd find one that wasn't creepy, or scatterbrained, or more aesthetician than actual doctor, or one who didn't have a waiting list of several months.  I tried to explain that I didn't need countless followup visits or wholesale quantities of the expensive treatments they hocked.  No go.

So within the past year or so I finally resigned myself to a life of endless acne (at least until menopause strikes in another 10-15 years); too fed up with the medical establishment to want to play their games anymore.

Problem is I'm getting married in a few short months and I'm still vain enough to not want my face to be covered in angry red bumps on my big day.  Still unwilling to step foot in yet another dermatologist office, I was going to have to research home remedies.

Acne is a complicated condition, it's not just a matter of person hygiene.  It has as much to do with your digestion (apparently), as your skin.  Treatment therefore needs to tackle the issue from several angles.  The following is a (long) list of things that have helped.

1) Wash your face at least twice daily.
Seems like a no-brainer.  My skin is so freaking oily in the summer that I really could actually get away with washing a third time at noon (I choose not to though).  In the winter I get dry scaly patches despite the rest of my face being fairly greasy.
In the morning I use a facial cleaner with benzoyl peroxide.  This tends to irritate some people's skin, but it works great on mine.  I get a cleanser with the highest percentage of BP I can find.
In the evenings I use a simple dye-free, perfume-free cleanser.  I don't use a moisturizer (obviously) or any other skin-care product.

2) Change your washcloth with each use.
Your washing dead skin cells, bacteria, dirt and oil off your face (along with any leftover cleanser).  Don't put that stuff back on your face again later.  Buy some extra washcloths and change them out each time.  Just do it.

3) Change your pillowcase every couple days.
Think about it: you're mushing your face into this thing for hours at a time.  It collects all the stuff you're trying to keep off your face.  As with the washcloths, you may have to buy more pillowcases if you don't do laundry too frequently. 

4) Pepto-Bismol is your friend!
But you don't need to drink it!
Put that stuff on a cotton ball and dab it on your face a few minutes before bed.  Let it sit for 10 minutes or so and then rinse it off.  Pepto has two ingredients in that are found in common acne treatments: benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid and it's much cheaper than the prescription acne stuff.

5) Stay away from greasy, sugary foods.
If you have acne you probably already know this one, but it's worth mentioning just in case.

6) Don't drink ice-cold liquids.
This is a new-ish one on me.  In researching home acne remedies, this is one that came up.  The reasons were rather nebulous, but since fridge-cold water does trouble my stomach sometimes, I've taken this advice to heart and have tried to cut back on the cold beverages.
According to this school of thought one shouldn't drink anything colder than room temperature - which to me is actually right about the temperature I prefer cold beverages to be anyway; so win there!

7) Instead, drink "Seed Tea".
This is an Ayurvedic remedy I came across in my research.  The recipe is pretty easy:
Boil 5-6 cups of water
In a tea ball, add 1/2 tsp each of: fennel seeds, cumin seeds and coriander seeds.
Turn the heat down to low and let the seeds seep for 10 minutes.
Remove from heat and drink throughout the day until it's gone (I usually have it finished off by 2:00 in the afternoon, but I drink a lot).
This tea actually doesn't directly have much to do with treating acne.  Instead it cleanses the liver and strengthens the digestive system so it's better able to deal with the bacteria and toxins that are bringing those nasty sores to your face.
I should warn that this tea can irritate your bowels.  It takes about a week for your body to adjust to it.  If you're noticing bloody stools, you can dial back the seeds to a 1/4 tsp of each for that first week or so.
Speaking of which:

8) Make sure you poop regularly.
At least once a day for good digestive health (again, it's so your body can handle that bacteria bloom your skin is harboring).  Up your intact of fruits and veggies if your bowels are reluctant to empty themselves on a daily basis.  Just keep in mind that fruits have a lot of sugars (which aren't your friend).  You'll have to find a happy balance between fiber and low-sugar intake.

So that's it!
I've been following this regimen for a couple months now and it is definitely helping.  No, my skin isn't completely acne-free - but it never was even with the prescription medications.  If I'm less than vigilant with any one of the above-mentioned items, I get breakouts; but my skin is better than it was.

Though this routine more or less works, I'm still open to trying different things so if you folks out there have advice - things you've found have worked for you - feel free to share in the comments! (Please don't do a "let me Google that for you!" and post links that you've found without having personal experience to back it up.  There's lots of info on the interwebz and I'd really rather hear personal anecdotes than from helpful researchers.)
Has anyone out there tried the "Oil Cleansing Method"? What mixture has worked best for you?
Anyone out there treated acne with diet alone? How'd that work?
Any other off the wall treatments I've never heard of? Share with the class!

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Looking Back and a Little Forward (Karate-Related)

I'm not exactly bragging or complaining here, I was just shocked when I started running the numbers through my head this morning on my way to work of just how long (or short rather) I've been doing Karate and how quickly I advanced during that time.

I mean I was always aware of my start and end points but I never really set the two dates side by side and truly looked at them.

Here's how things lay out:

I started taking Karate in November(-ish) of 2009.
Nothing overwhelming about that: it's four and half years ago

However, I left class in June of 2011.
That means I was only taking classes for a year and a half.  In that time I had jumped up four tested ranks.  (There's a handful of ranks before that but you don't need to formally test for them.)  In fact I received the three stripes on my white belt rather unintentionally: after class one night I asked one of the instructors what one had to do to get the stripes.

"Well," he said.  "Get in a front stance."
So I did.
"Step forward and throw a stomach punch."
No problem.  Took three steps with three stomach punches and then he had me turn around and do some natural blocks; again taking three steps.  Next he asked to see a few groin kicks and then he had me do the first Kata.  And voila, I had three black stripes!  I hadn't even fully realized that that had been the "test".

I didn't have to wait long for my first formal test however.  I got the yellow stripe on my white belt in mid-December.
My yellow belt was achieved three months later and I got the green stripe on my yellow belt three month after that - right before the school year ended.

I was in no hurry for my next rank though.  In fact looking back I don't remember what drove me to work so hard to get my green belt (because I did work very hard for it over the course of a couple months).  I'm not sure if I was out and out invited to test since I'd had my present rank going on a full year, or if I knew I was leaving and wanted the next rank before saying goodbye to Karate for an indeterminate amount of time.

You see, I had started training for a marathon just a few months prior and I felt it'd be too much doing running and Karate at the same time.  I was also taking belly dance classes in parallel to Karate and had hit a point where I needed to choose between the two.  I chose belly dance.  Plus (to be honest), Karate just wasn't fun anymore.

So I took the test and was awarded my green belt in June of 2011.
Then I left Karate cold turkey.
I was content.  I'd made it as far as I felt I could get in a hard-style martial art.  More technique and "aggression" would be required in the higher ranks and I felt I lacked the mettle required to advance further.

So I ran my marathon in August of 2012.
I quit my job at the sign company.
Got a job as an in-home caregiver, then a job at a printing company.  (The caregiver job only lasted nine months; ending when the client passed away due to his illness).
I attended two births as a doula.
I got engaged.

In other words, a lot happened in the intervening years.  I did a lot of growing.

Then something changed: at the start of the 2013/2014 school year I was informed that an instructor I hadn't particularly clicked with had retired and the little gears started whirring.  I wasn't exactly sure if I wanted to go back, but I was curious.  Of course I couldn't just dive right back in anyway - I was working the evening shift at that point which had miserably destroyed my social life and extra curricular activities; so more waiting happened.

I wasn't able to return to class until March of this year.  At this point I'd been gone for two years, nine moths (or three months shy of three years as I prefer to think of it).

I'd really assumed I'd be demoted a rank or two because I'd been gone for so long, but Sensei kept me where I was and I was expected to keep up despite the fact that I hadn't touched this stuff in all that time.  Still, I was surprised at how quickly it all came back.  Yes, the first class or two were a little rough and I was pretty sore for the first few weeks coming back, but a spark had been reignited. 

I was having fun again!

Not only that but it seemed as though some things had soaked in during my absence.  I was throwing punches with some power behind them now.  My front stances were firmer and more grounded.  I was having an easier time keeping the Kata's straight.

I also realized that what was needed for the higher ranks wasn't "aggression" per say but a confidence of technique and skill.  That concept was far less scary to me than the idea of being ready, willing and eager to rip someone's head off.

Sensei must have seen this shift too because it wasn't long after my return that he asked when I would be testing for my brown belt.

That took me aback because as far as class-time went I'd only had my green belt for a month and a half at most.  There were people who stayed with the their green belt for years. 

I told him I'd need to think about it. I then went into a frenzied panic to anyone who would listen.  Slowly though I was convinced that maybe, just maybe I could make this work.

And work I did.  In preparing for my green belt I was only going to class sporadically and taking private lessons to make up the difference.  This test however I threw myself into heart and soul.  I went to EVERY class - showing up early, staying late AND taking private lessons whenever I could squeeze them in.

The results were a test where the performance was very lacking in technique (I haven't been at it enough yet for the muscle memory to soak in), but any black belt would have been proud of my determination and perseverance.  I was winded probably ten minutes into the test (it's about about a half hour, 45 minutes long), but I never once asked for a break.  I didn't cringe when the next section was announced.  Yes, I was about ready to cry when the Five-Man Circle section came up, but I pulled through (messy techniques and all).  I hit the wall during the two minutes of sparring at the very end and actually whispered to Sensei in the last 15 or so seconds, begging him to fight back because he wouldn't hit me (I found out later that he was concerned I'd collapse if he did so). 

Problem was I'd given all I had, I needed more incentive to keep going.  So he half-heartedly cuffed me upside the head once or twice, I threw in a couple more desparate, flat-footed kicks and punches and finally we were done.  Test was over.

Oh I thought I was going to be sick!
In fact I actually was quite ill for several hours after the test (my body doesn't bounce back well from being over-taxed).  About 1:30 in the morning though I was finally able to eat and drink properly and I felt significantly better after that.

Nope, my third degree brown belt test wasn't pretty (no third degree brown belt test is!); but it's not meant to be pretty.  It's meant to push you to your limits of physical endurance and then push a little harder and see how you react.  In that sense I passed with flying colors.

So now I have my brown belt. 
I've joined the ranks of "Junior Instructors". 
I'm someone the lower ranks look up to.

However, I have a lot of "growing into the rank" to do.  Most of my techniques are going to have to be deconstructed and rebuilt, but I knew that going in.  I'm no virtuoso, I just have good pattern recognition skills and pick up on the general gist of physical movements quickly (very handy in dance too!). 

The next test (yes, I'm already thinking about the next one!) is all technique.  I have a whole summer ahead of me to build up my endurance and improve my strength and flexibility.  Being unwilling to quit isn't going to win my next rank.  I now need skill and finesse.  The next test needs to be pretty.  In my opinion that's going to be far harder than what I've just been through!

Fortunately there's no particular hurry. (Of course I thought that with every rank I've had!)
Still, wish me luck; I'll need it!

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Latest Opening to "The Kai'us Planet"

I've been trying to rewrite a story I wrote back in 1993.  In fact I've been trying to rewrite it for the past eleven years.  Fortunately every version has gotten better, but it was always flawed in the simple fact that influences from the first version (written when I was 14 years old) continued to "pollute" it.

After taking a lengthy hiatus from this novel, I've been trying to revisit it all this year with little success.  I've tried different starting points for the story, different points of view, but none of them held my interest long enough to continue.

I'm hoping this latest opening is what finally hooks me to write the whole thing "the right way".

I bid you enjoy!

The latest opening to "The Kai'us Planet" (working title):

Keith found it rather ironic that in this modern age of digital devices to be writing on a clay tablet.  His worry was that batteries died and devices broke or got lost.  Granted, clay tablets could break too but his hope was that this one—and the ones to follow—was large enough and would be stored carefully enough that it likely wouldn’t meet that fate before serving its purpose.

He looked thoughtfully at the smooth slab in his lap, tapping the unusual x-shaped, wooden stylus against his chin.  He’d gotten pretty good at its use despite the fact that it had not been designed to be used by human hands.

Finally he touched carved wood to soft clay, writing in a language that wasn’t his own but which he had learned to speak and even think in almost fluently.  The translation of which was, “My beloved son.  I am writing this account in case your mother and myself are not able to tell it to you.  It is not a history of the race of your birth, for those people you may never meet.  Instead it is a history of how your parents came to the world of your birth.  It is a telling of how and why we made the choices we did under the circumstances presented to us.  Know that we always tried to make the right choices.”

Sharren came in then and glanced over his shoulder, reading the little bit he’d written.  “Aren’t you being a little heavy-handed?” she asked, rubbing her gravid belly.  Everyone hopes they make the right choices.  I know that I have no regrets over how we did things.”

Keith leaned against his wife but kept his eyes on the tablet.  “Sometimes I regret everything,” he said in quiet honesty.  “Sometimes I wish none of it ever happened.”  He turned toward Sharren now and kissed her belly where their son continued to grow.  “But this guy, he makes it all worth it.”

“You’re not going to have enough tablets to tell him everything,” Sharren cautioned.  She had never been a fan of this crazy project of his but had finally conceded to humor him and let him get it out of his system.  It didn’t mean she fully supported him though.

“I don’t think it’ll take more than twenty,” Keith mused.

Sharren raised her eyebrows.  “Oh?  This is going to be the abridged version then!”  She kissed him on the top of his head and said, “I’ll leave you to it then, my love.  Just let me know when to have the kiln fires lit,” and she left the room.

Keith watched her go before turning back to his tablet.  A dry breeze wafted in from under the door-flap.  He was impressed yet again by the clever recipe used to make these writing tablets.  It didn’t matter how long they sat, the clay stayed soft and pliable (for years sometimes!) until they were baked to their final hardness.  He had no worries of letting his mind wander as he wrote—the clay would maintain perfectly workable.

Pressing the stylus into the clay again, nimbly turning it as he worked, he continued his letter.  Our journey to this world started three years before you were born on a world called ‘Mars’.  Your mother and I were space travelers who took people and things to distant worlds.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

The Bird Killer (TipsyLit Entry)

I actually had time this week to put an entry together for Prompted. (Pretty excited!)

Typically for prompts I set my story in realistic modern times, but I just couldn't make it work for this one.  Introducing magic was the only way I could keep the story from going dark (not that that's necessarily a bad thing, it just wasn't what I was in the mood to write).

So here you go:

"The Bird Killer"
415 Words

“You shouldn’t be using your magic to kill birds,” Ammie declared firmly.

Kiv jumped, having assumed he was alone.  “It’s none of your business,” he snapped at the wiry ten year old; though he felt an immediate pang of guilt that he’d been caught.

“You killed the chickens last week didn’t you,” she pressed.  “Daddy had to buy more you know.  He wouldn’t have needed to if you hadn’t killed them all.”

Kiv grumbled angrily and turned away.  It had been easy for their father to assume some animal had snuck into the coop and slaughtered the chickens – there’d been enough of a mess for sure.  To avoid suspicion though, Kiv had shifted his focus away from domestic fowl and instead continued to refine his technique by sniping birds off tree limbs.  He could finally do it now without making them explode.  It was wholly satisfying and he hadn’t felt the least bit bad about it until now.

“I’m eighteen,” he declared haughtily.  “I can do what I want!”

“Why are you killing them?” she countered.


“For what?  For killing us?”

Kiv stopped and looked at his little sister, surprised.  He saw in her innocent eyes that she was only being abstractly philosophical, that she didn’t truly believe her brother would murder his family.  Still, he imagined the direction his little games could easily go if he continued and the wind instantly wafted from his sails.

“No,” he replied humbly.  “It was just something fun to do…” and he realized how empty his words sounded.

“You have all that magic and the only ‘fun’ you can think of to do with it is killing birds?” her hands were on her hips now; so like their mother.

The young man smirked and caused a puff of air to kick up a moat of dust in front of his sister.  She sneezed, as he knew she would, and they laughed.

“Well,” he replied.  “What fun do you think I should have with my magic?”

Ammie thought for a moment, giving the matter serious consideration.  Finally she suggested, “Daddy was thinking about felling some trees at the north end of the wheat field.  I bet you could blow them up right at the base and make them fall down easily.”

Honestly he’d never tried using his powers that way but it was in line with how they worked.  “Alright then,” he replied with a chuckle, taking the hand of his ingenious sister.  “Let’s give it a try!”

Monday, May 19, 2014

Totally Not Writing (Life Update)

Ah! I’ve hit that lovely place that every writer knows and dreads: that place where I just don’t want to write.

It’s not for lack of time.  Lately I’ve had a couple hours every evening (apart from Karate nights) where I’m all caught up on Facebook and have some enviable free time.

It’s not for lack of projects either (there’s so many kicking around!).  But once I open a file and try to start working on it I’m like a nine year old picking at their overcooked green beans.  I just don’t wanna!

Still, writing needs to happen so why not a blog post about why I don’t want to write right now?

I honestly think it's because my not-free moments are chocked-full of intensity.  I mentioned Karate and that certainly is a biggie presently.  I’m testing for my next rank on the 27th.  This is after only being back to class for three months after taking nearly a three-year hiatus (shortly after receiving my current rank).  I’ve been bustin’ my ass every Tuesday and Thursday in class as well as any Sunday I’m available for private tutoring getting to a point where I might juuuuust squeak by on this test next week. 

Why even go through all that effort then?
Because my Sensei asked me to and if he thinks I can do it then I’m going to do my best to do it!  

Plus it’s a hell of a lot of fun.  I enjoy challenging my limits (examples of which could easily take up a five-part blog series no doubt! <- which I don’t want to write btw. lol). 
The cherry on top of this flaming pile of “Why?” is that all this hard work has a foreseeable end point: that test next Tuesday.  This means there’s a clearly defined finish line to shoot for.

If I pass, I’ll have my third degree brown belt (yeah!)
If I don’t pass, I’ll have the summer to brush up on my skills some more and try again sometime next school year (these classes are tied in with the local school district – they even take place in the school gym – and are only in session during the school year).

On top of obsessing over Karate, my business partner and I are ramping up our small crafting business.  We got our DBA last Friday and are working on getting our Tax ID Number so we can open a joint business account, wave around a Tax Exempt form when buying supplies, and attend larger craft shows and conventions without being harassed as to whether or not we’re properly collecting and reporting sales tax.

Of course with taking our business to the next level it means we need more inventory, so we’ve been signing up for beading classes and making so many pretties to sell.  It’s certainly raising interest in those around us, and hopefully the floodgates will soon open and we’ll be busy selling things!

Let’s not stop there though!
Said business partner is also helping me plan my wedding which will be happening in the fall.  Fortunately everything is still on target in the planning department, but there’s a lot of ducks to keep lined up and a lot of money will being getting thrown around soon.

Speaking of money, I’m also trying to find a different job!  Not that I don’t like my current employment – I couldn’t ask for a better place to work.  The vector work I do is most satisfying and I never tire of it.  I’m good at it; I’m always improving at it and I’m appreciated.

I’m also making entry-level pay.  For someone whose been in their field for over ten years, who owns a house and will need to replace their car within the next year or two, this is not a good arrangement.

I could make more money as a desk receptionist somewhere (which is what I’m applying for honestly as I can’t seem to find decent-paying work in my field).  Of course I’m trying to get a receptionist position at a medical office as I’d like to go to nursing school at some point and such a job would (in theory) help move me in that direction.

So yeah.  I’m busy.
Though these lovely couple hours at the end of the day really should be devoted to any one of my many writing endeavors, once I close Facebook and stare at attempt number five at the start of my novel, or edits to my Tree Mage story, or yet another week of Prompted on TispyLit, I’m that kid picking at their soggy vegetables.

Can’t I work on something else? I whine inside.
Yes, you just did!

Friday, May 2, 2014

Pooh-Pee Power (Short Story)

I had wanted to participate in Tipsy Lit this week, but my first attempt was steering in a more morbid direction than I wanted to go and attempt number two was getting too preachy for my liking so I bailed on this week's prompt.

Instead I'd like to share with you all a little story I submitted to "Lightspeed" magazine for the "Women Destroy SF" issue.  Sadly it was rejected; but as it was my first real rejection letter I was actually quick thrilled about it!  As I have no further plans for this story I figured I might as well slap it up for for others to enjoy.

It's more speculative fiction than sci-fi.  The intent also was to be satirical but I don't think it swings far enough into the chuckle-realm.  If anything it's a cute idea.  Enjoy!

"Pooh-Pee Power"
Word Count: 1,034

“Mommy, I have to go to the bathroom!” Annette whined.

“Really Annette?” Jackie whined back.  “Can't you hold it?”

“No!” the eight year old declared with a pout.

“Fine,” the frazzled mother sighed, steering her shopping cart over to the nearest wall, wishing Annette would have waited till they were home.

Gone were the days when grocery store restrooms were tucked in the back of the warehouse or in some obscure corner, maintained in questionable states of cleanliness.  Now every business establishment larger than 5,000 square feet had at least one set of gloriously clean, publicly accessible restrooms located along every wall.

You no longer needed to leave your cart outside, you could take right into the stall with you if you so desired.  The contents of one's cart was registered by indifferent scanners before entering and double-checked upon leaving.  Contents could shift around in the cart, but if there was a discrepancy between the two scans, an associate would quickly come over and ask why something was added or removed.  Honestly it was rarely an issue though - people didn't use bathrooms for nefarious purposes anymore.

Jackie led Annette into the spacious ladies room.  She waved her phone over the reader on the nearest stall door and the girl quickly dashed in, leaving Jackie to park her cart in a little nook supplied for such purposes.  The mother flopped herself down on the plush couch next to the nook.  She noticed from the lower placement of the doors on the last two stalls in the row that this store even boasted a couple Eastern-style toilets – nothing more than a hole in the floor with a textured surface on either side so your feet didn't slip when you squatted over it.  This was reportedly a healthier way to relieve oneself than sitting on a pot.  She sighed at the one-upmanship that dominated the toilet industry.

“Are you done yet?” she called to her daughter after a few minutes.  Toilets no longer held water so you couldn't tell if someone was peeing or pooping.  Instead, the said waste products were caught in a beam on the way down and immediately vaporized - turning them into energy.  Yes, the world now ran on “pooh-pee power” – as it was jokingly referred to.

“Yeah,” Annette replied with a little uncertainty.  “There's no toilet paper though.”

Jackie sighed again.  “They're not going to have paper, hon.  There should be a blue button like the bathrooms at school.”

“Found it!”

It was hard for people used to cleaning themselves with toilet paper to give up the habit – Jackie and her family still used paper at home.  You could chuck anything you wanted down modern toilets; anything that wasn't human waste (or menstrual blood) would collect in the bottom of the toilet.  In commercial toilets, the contents would be quietly and instantly incinerated once the stall was vacated – the meager fumes and smoke gently wafted away by a built-in ventilation system.  The collection bucket for home-use toilets however was removable and had to be emptied by hand.  The die-hard toilet paper-users of the world would have their paper cleaned of poo and damp urine once it passed the beam, leaving the discarded paper to fall into the collection bucket, perfectly dry – in theory it was clean enough to use again.  Jackie had never tried that though.

The modern way to clean one's self was to hit a button which turned the beam upward where it would make quick work of any "remains" clinging to one's nether regions.  There was an odd tingling sensation when the beam hit something it could dissolve, but it was deemed safe and no studies had yet to conclusively prove that any harm came from direct contact with the toilet beam.  In fact, Jackie had to reach into a restaurant toilet once to retrieve her dropped phone with no ill affects to her hand or the phone.

“Annette!” Jackie warned after a bit more of a wait

“It's still tingly Mommy!” the girl called back cheerily.

Yet another long-suffering sigh escaped her lips.  “Open your cheeks a little so it can get everything.”  She actually kind of needed to go too, but she was going to wait.  Jimmy was away at summer camp so there was one less person using the toilet at home.  The house batteries were doing fine, but she really hated pulling off the grid any more than they needed to.  She had heard that cases of kidney, bladder and bowel problems were on the rise because people would only use the bathroom in specific locations (like home).

“Done!” Annette announced, leaving the stall and returning to her mother.

“Wash your hands,” Jackie said.

“Why?” the little girl asked, annoyed.

“Because it's a public bathroom; wash you hands!”

Kids weren't even taught hand-washing in school anymore.  There simply wasn't a reason to since hands never got near excrement.  Jackie was old-fashioned though and always insisted.  Sinks were still in bathrooms just in case a woman got some blood on her hands when changing her tampon.  People did still like to wash their hands before and/or after a meal and food prep workers also still needed to wash their hands before returning to work – though Jackie had a feeling that law would die out within the next decade or so.

Once Annette's hands were washed and dried, Jackie retrieved her cart and returned to her shopping.  The one consolation of the detour was she'd get a small discount on her purchase.  Businesses wanted people to use their restrooms as the energy produced went straight towards the onsite power.  Places that used to post signs sternly declaring “Restrooms for paying patrons only”, now displayed cheeky invites like “Get your butt in here”, or “Stop here if you gotta go”, or “We'd love your business after you do your business”.  To encourage restroom use, businesses almost always offered discounts for “contributions” – tracked via people’s phones.  When Jackie paid for her groceries by waving her phone over the payment node at the register, Annette’s use of the stall would take a few cents off Jackie’s total.

Kind of strange how commerce had changed so much because of pooh.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

On Gossip and Bullying (Observational Musings)

Today I'd like to tackle an observational topic: Gossip and bullying.

Everybody knows that gossiping and bullying are bad things.  They can poison an otherwise pleasant work environment; they can thoroughly turn an otherwise eager child off to going to school.

A local television network in my area has been running an anti-bullying campaign for well over a year now.  They talk about how children should report bullying to a trusted adult; they run stories of kids who have "risen above being bullied"; but never, NEVER do they ever clearly define what bullying is.  Kids are just supposed to know it, name it, and take appropriate action.  Hmm...

In the adult world I've worked for two large corporations: one a major defense contractor, the other a much smaller printing company.  Both do regular harassment-awareness training where their employees watch videos of overly dramatized scenarios of various forms of harassment.  In the most recent awareness training I attended, my suspicions were confirmed that people (even adults) don't have a clear idea of what gossip and bullying are.

We had just watched a video of a new guy on the job being mercilessly picked on by his fellow co-workers.  The woman sitting next to me asked very honestly, "Was that bullying?" (Perhaps assuming that such activities could only be found in a schoolyard.)  I leaned in and whispered an emphatic, "Yes!"

People - child and adult alike - just don't know!

I'm still at a loss as to why such negative behavior is not clearly identifiable to most people the way sexual harassment is; but I'd like to offer up my definitions and views on the subjects.

Gossiping: Talking about someone who isn't present; often conveying a story with a negative or demeaning overtone or which places the person in a bad light.  It can be as innocuous as complaining your husband never takes out the garbage and all he wants to do is watch TV or as potentially harmful as whispering to a co-worker, "Did you hear Jessy in receiving is having an affair with the boss?"

Gossip can easily turn into one-upmanship where people exchange stories that are embarrassing at other people's expense.  Lord knows I've been guilty of this, but once I made myself aware of what I was doing I've focused on shutting down such behavior and keeping my mouth shut as much as possible when it comes to talking about others.  It undermines people's opinion of others - even others they've never met - and perpetuates negativity and disrespect.

Bullying: Making another person feel inferior; this can be done through words, actions to even how you present yourself in the other person's presence.

There's a fine line between "innocent joking around" and downright bullying, but their is a line and it's one you can feel.  It's that moment when a person is no longer an equal but one who is beneath you.  A person never bullies someone whom they feel is "above" them nor do they bully those on equal footing.  It's the one we look down on who gets kicked because they "deserve it", are inferior in some way, or too [fill the blank with something you don't agree with].

That is bullying and it's hurtful, it steals energy from others and makes them realize you are not a friend (or at least it should make them realize that!).

Something that I find endlessly frustrating is those stories where a bullied child finally snaps and either strikes back at their harassers or kills themselves.  In the former instance this retaliatory action is often the first and only action to be taken seriously by adults despite any prior attempts to call awareness to the existing issue.  Usually it's the bullied child who ends up being punished or humiliated in these cases.  In the latter instance people mourn the "loss of a good kid" and more breast beating happens of "We must save our children from bullying!!!" but nothing effective ever happens.

Honestly I think there needs to be more awareness of these two social vices.  Both gossip and bullying need to be clearly defined at an early age.  Kids need to not just be told, "That is bad!"  They need to be told "Why".  Yes, I understand that part of childhood is exploring boundaries and the power of words, but I think we handle this transitional time too lightly.  "Oh, kids can be so mean sometimes," and then we shrug and move on.

Yes kids can be mean and they need to be told one on one that such behavior is unacceptable; that no one is beneath them and no one deserves to be disrespected with name-calling to their face or among their friends.  I do understand that schools have tried various techniques in the past: the whole "self esteem revolution" in the '90s.  Yeah, that did a lot, right?

Why did it fail?  Some great motivational speaker would come in and give their spiel and you'd feel so good afterwards, but nothing changed outside of the auditorium - teachers still looked the other way as the "popular" kids looked down on and bullied the weak; and the weak and skittish children were continually encouraged to keep quiet and keep their heads down so they could pass the next test.  There was no follow-through on the part of the adults - the children were expected to straighten it all out themselves.

We as adults though need to set the example.  Don't tell those funny, but embarrassing stories.  Don't laugh at other people's misfortunes.  Don't act all haughty and holier-than-thou when you run into someone you don't like at the grocery store.  Point out instances of gossiping and bullying in TV shows and start a dialog with you child (if you have one), or with yourself if you don't.  "How do you think Jimmy felt when Jenny said that?"  "I know that line was meant to be funny, but that was a really hurtful thing to say," and so on.

Catch yourself in the middle of bad behavior so that next time you can catch yourself sooner.  It's easy to change the world if each individual takes responsibility for their own actions.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Journey Through Transition (Short Story)

Okay, so it's several weeks late but I finally finished typing up the story based on a dream I had the morning of March 17th.  I had used a shorter version of this for my Tipsy Lit entry that same week (see previous post), but I really wanted to get the full thing up for your reading pleasure (as several people seemed interested in reading it).

Please note that this isn't a direct recording of the dream, I've taken some creative liberties, fleshed out some elements, and dropped or glossed over other things.  I'll explain at the end of this post what changed and what didn't, so without further adieu, I bring you:

"The Journey Through Transition"
(3,012 Words)

Jenny knew she was dieing from the age of eight – an incurable illness that would likely kill her before she turned twelve.  Her parents had her make up a bucket list and they were able to tick the major things off before her funeral on her ninth birthday.  She wasn’t dead yet, but from that day forward she would be to all who knew her.  Her parents mourned and clung to her as she cried too. 

She then said goodbye to her friends and family and was sent off to the Marlayna Children’s School for the remainder of her corporeal existence.  Part hospital, part boarding school, part monastery, the Marlayna School was part of a vast nationwide network of centers where the dieing learned how to do so peacefully. 

When she arrived at the School, she touched the Soul Bell to imprint her life-signature upon it – this bell would toll the instant of her death.  She smiled when she felt the tingle in her hand as she touched it – knowing that she and it were now linked, she was now part of the school!

Jenny liked her new home and made friends quickly – all were terminally ill like herself and all were between the ages of six and fifteen.  There was one caregiver to every six children and they watched their charges diligently.  The children had a couple hours of academic studies each day (just in case they miraculously pulled through and needed to reenter society).  They had music, dance and art classes as well as copious amounts of play time.  They learned yoga and meditation, as well as an ancient Buddhist technique called “Chod”: a highly supervised meditation practice where one calls up their fears and lets those fears “devour” them.  When one realizes that the self remains after such an ordeal, the person is greatly empowered and eventually set free of worry and care.

When Jenny was ten years old, she noticed she was getting weaker rather than stronger.  Her caregivers took notice as well and paid her special attention, reminding her of her breathing techniques when her heart fluttered.  She practiced her mindfulness and letting go of tension.  Finally the moment came during reading time – she felt a shudder rake her whole body as her heart skipped into an arrhythmia that no amount of coughing would reset. A strange sense of disorientation took her and she distantly heard a bell toll twice. 

It was said you never heard the bell toll for yourself and she was thrilled to have heard her own as well as that for someone else.  For some reason people in the same dieing group would “soul-synch” and die in clusters – one of her friends had died with her!

When Jenny’s senses settled, she was still sitting in her chair, though she knew she was now dead.  She looked over and saw it was Sally who had died as well.  The girls smiled and waved excitedly at each other, happy that they’d be soul-partners in their final journey together.

Their caregiver, Margaret set her book down and said, “Well done girls, you handled the start of Transition beautifully.  Now stand up and look at your bodies.”

The two complied, getting up easily from their seats and turning to look at their shed physical forms – who could just as easily had been sleeping.  Jenny felt no sadness at having been permanently dislodged from her body.  It would be handled by the school staff.  This was her final chance to say goodbye to it.

For the next few days living people would still be able to see her and she’d still be able to interact with the world around her before completing her Transition and moving on to the Next Plane.

When they were finished inspecting their bodies, Margaret led Jenny and Sally to their rooms.  The girls followed their caregiver just as they though were still alive – they didn’t float, they weren’t transparent per say, though it was obvious they were no longer fully corporal.  Their forms would become more nebulous as they moved through Transition though.

“I heard two chimes!” Jenny declared triumphantly.  “I heard my own bell!”

Margaret shook her head.  “You never hear your own bell Jenny; the bell tolled three times.  Dylan Transitioned as well.”

Dylan!  He wasn’t even in their group!  Still, it meant he was now their soul-partner too and they’d be spending the next few days in each other’s presence.

“Where is he?” Sally asked.

“He’s struck with his body at the moment,” Margaret explained.  “So you won’t be traveling with him; but don’t worry, we’ll take good care of him.”

“Is he alright?” Jenny asked, feeling an odd sense of responsibility for her soul-partner.

“Oh yes, he’ll be fine.  He just experienced some pain during his Transition and he needs to work through it before separating from his form.  Let’s get your things together now.”

Ahead of time the children all made up lists of items that were important to them that they’d want to take when they went back home.  Margaret went through each item on the girls’ lists with careful quickness to make sure each child still wanted to take them. 

“How about this one?” she asked, holding up a stuffed elephant.  “Yes!” Sally declared, taking it and giving it a big squeeze.

“And these socks?”

They were Jenny’s.  She contemplated them – still loving the color and pattern, but she realized she wouldn’t be able to wear them.  Her garments were now the product of her self-image – she actually wasn’t and couldn’t wear anything corporeal.  Instead she touched the socks, dully feeling the soft texture that had once been so enticing.  She looked down and grinned when she saw she was now “wearing” the socks.

“I don’t need them now,” she said proudly.

Margaret smiled and continued going through their selected items.

With their bags packed they were escorted to the door where a Traveling Companion waited for them.  Mike was a grandfatherly old fellow with a push-broom mustache whose sole job it was to escort the dead children of the Marlayna Children’s School back to their parent’s for their final send-off.

“You ladies ready?” he asked jovially.

The two grinned and he led them outside to a waiting car.  It was all black with a violet light on top to identify it as an escort vehicle for people in Transition.

“Sally’s family lives closer,” Mike offered as he pulled away from the curb.  “You ladies have any objection to starting there first?”

Neither did and so off they went.

Transition Escorts always had right of way in traffic and could go as fast as conditions allowed.  The girls laughed hysterically over each bump because their soul-bodies were already getting lighter and they could bounce much higher than when they were corporeal.  This didn’t last too long however as they were at Sally’s place in less than an hour.

Her parents had been told of the girls’ arrival in advance and they greeted the two warmly and with open arms.  They had said their goodbyes to their daughter several years ago so this visit – though friendly and welcoming – had a sense of detachment the girls were already expecting.  The point of these final visits was to show the newly dead that this was no longer their world – that it no longer held anything they needed to remain attached to.  They were encouraged to explore and experience as much and whatever they liked so there’d be no lingering questions, worries or regrets when they completed Transition.

Sally and Jenny were offered sweets that were customarily provided to the departed.

Jenny had had these before and eagerly popped one in her mouth expecting the delightful sweetened coffee confection she remembered.  Instead her taste buds met only bland, powdery corn starch.  She looked over at Sally and knew she was experiencing the same underwhelming sensation.

They had of course been taught that their senses would not be as they once were in this state; that the things of this world would no longer excite the senses as before, but it needed to be experienced to be believed and that’s what this trip was about.

Per their training, they mindfully finished chewing the confections and swallowed dryly.  The food would dissolve into dust that would drift from their soul-bodies as they became less corporeal.

“Would you girls like to get into the hot tub?” Sally’s father offered.

“Oh yes!” they said in cheerful unison.

He led them to the basement where the hot tub whirred away invitingly.  Sally and Jenny “thought” themselves into swim suits and climbed in only to be disappointed yet again.

There was a vague awareness that the water was warm and the bubbles should have created a delightful sensation against their skin, but they felt only the pressure of the water against their forms and were aware of the density difference between that and the air.

They halfheartedly splashed about a little but even getting water in the face elicited no reaction or excitement.

Far sooner than they had thought imaginable, they got back out.  Sally’s father had stood by waiting – knowing they wouldn’t be long – and lovingly wrapped them up in towels.

“What would you like to do now girls?” he asked.

“Could Jenny sleep with me tonight?” Sally asked.

“Of course!”

The girls giggled, their excitement returning.  A sleepover was fun no matter what state a person was in!  However the girls had forgotten that they couldn’t sleep while in Transition – they weren’t even tired.

“Sally,” Jenny whispered to her friend that night after they’d lain in bed for a while.  “I miss being alive.”

“I do too,” Sally confessed quietly.

These feelings went contrary to their training.  They’d been taught to accept their deaths and eventual ascendance to the Next Plane.  Of course they didn’t really feel sad about being dead – it was more remorse that they’d no longer be able to enjoy the pleasures of the senses from being alive.

They spent that night meditating on their emotions and contemplating the completion of their Transition.

They weren’t hungry in the morning – Sally’s parents hadn’t expected them to be – one didn’t need food after death.

“Mom?” Sally asked hesitantly after the family had eaten breakfast while the girls had played with Sally’s old dolls.  “Is it okay that we’re not happy that we’re dead?”

“Well of course dears!” her mother replied.  “Living is a very fun thing – something to be enjoyed and cherished.  It’s perfectly normal to miss it.  You’ve already said goodbye to all of us, but you can’t say goodbye to living until you’re dead; that’s why you’re here on this trip – it’s your last goodbye before you complete your Transition.”

“But we don’t think we want to Transition,” Sally said, crying tears that weren’t flowing.  “We want to live again!”

“Oh girls,” her mother said tenderly, gathering her dead daughter and soul-partner to her and rocking them comfortingly.  “You can go back to being alive on this Plane no more than a chick can crawl back into the egg.  Transition isn’t supposed to be fun – it’s a time of change, and change is always scary and uncertain – that’s why we send those who are dieing to schools to teach them how to handle our natural responses to change. 

“But know that you two are not alone in this – you have each other and you have our thoughts and love.  You’re no less loved now than you were when you were still with us.  We’ll think of you always, but with joy that you have gone safely to the Next Plane and that we’ll all be together some day there.”

“I’ll miss you Momma!” Sally sobbed.

“I’ve missed you for a long time, my love.  And I’ll miss you some more; but we’ll see each other again.  I promise!”  She kissed both girls and they ran to hug Sally’s father as well.

They left later that day after Sally showed her friend the tree out back she had loved to climb before her diagnosis, as well as the view from the attic window.  They arrived at Jenny’s house before dinner.

Jenny was noticing that Sally was looking less “solid”, but more serene.  She privately wondered if she herself was becoming equally see-through, but she had a feeling she was falling out of synch with her friend and that saddened her greatly because she didn’t know the cause of it. 

Jenny’s parents welcomed the girls just as Sally’s family had.  Treats were given which the girl reluctantly accepted, knowing how they would(n’t) taste.  Happily they were only expected to take one apiece. 

She had thought she’d feel more excitement at seeing her family again, but instead she was just numb.  It would have worried her if she hadn’t been thoroughly drilled on the feelings and sensations of the dead.

The evening continued with pleasant small-talk, Jenny growing more morose until her mother asked, “How have you girls been handling Transition?” 

“Good.” Jenny replied evenly.  “But…but I think we fell out of synch somehow.  I’m afraid Sally will move on before me.”

“Well,” her mother said with quiet compassion.  “You must move on when you’re ready.  People can stay in Transition as long as they need to.  Don’t feel rushed just because your soul-partner is ready.”

That was an odd thought.  She had always assumed soul-partners traveled together and completed Transition at the same time.  “I don’t want to be left alone!” she said, surprising herself at the emotion that leaked out around her words.  “Sally and I are friends, we should move on together!”

Her parents hugged them both.  “You won’t be alone,” her father assured her.  “We’re here for you, ready to help in any way we can.”

Jenny was comforted, but there remained the nagging feeling that something was still amiss.  Then an idea suddenly struck her.  “Dylan!” she said, brightening.  “We can’t move on without Dylan!”

She briefly explained that one other child had died with them, but had been left behind.  Her parents were surprised and tried to tell her that he must have fallen out of synch at the very beginning and surly his status had little to do with their ability to complete Transition.

“No, no!” Jenny insisted; Sally was picking up on her excitement too.  “We need to go to him.  I see that now!”

Sally quickly agreed and Mike was called in and asked if he knew where Dylan was presently.  “Oh sure,” he replied.  “He was able to start his Transition properly after I took you two out and he’s with his family now, a little south of here.”

Jenny hugged her parents and kissed her little brother, Tommy.  Sally gave him her beloved stuffed elephant and they were back in the car despite the late hour.  Jenny knew that it was perfectly normal and acceptable for Dylan to work through Transition on his own, but she was absolutely certain that she was out of synch with Sally because Dylan was out of synch with them.

They arrived at his place after dark.  The dead boy was rather confused to find the radiant girls show up in his living room, but they were welcomed all the same and again Jenny explained the reason they had come.  

“You see,” Jenny elaborated to Dylan.  “When we learned you had died too I was worried about you.  I didn’t realize it then, but Margaret tried to distract me so the bond wouldn’t form, but it did and you stayed our soul-partner even though you should have been able to Transition on your own.  We’re here now though.  We’re here for you!” 

The boy smiled with great relief since it was obvious he was not nearly as far along as Sally, or even Jenny.

The girls sat on either side of him, each taking a hand and encouraging him on.  His family sat at a respectful distance, honored by the presence of Dylan’s fellow deceased peers. 

“What was it like Dylan?” Jenny asked with all the curiosity she had felt when they had learned of his death.  “Were you okay?”

Dylan was a shy boy and a little flabbergasted by all this sudden attention and interest, but he replied reluctantly, “It was scary at first.”

Gaining some confidence when he saw they weren’t going to berate him for his assumed weakness, he continued.  “It was all dark.  I didn’t know where I was or how I’d gotten there.  I knew I wasn’t dreaming, but I didn’t think right away that I had actually started Transition. 

“Then I heard my caregiver – Emily’s voice.  I couldn’t understand her at first, but I focused on her voice and slowly realized that I had died.  After that it was easy.

“I found out you two had died too but had already left, so I came home and have been waiting to finish Transition, but I seemed to be stuck here.”  He shrugged, then smiled and looked at them.  “I was waiting for you I guess!”

Jenny and Sally hugged him, and when they parted they were all shimmering brilliantly.  His parents beamed proudly.

“Do you want to do it now?” Sally asked excitedly.

“Let’s go outside!” Dylan said.  “We have a pond out back.”

Eagerly the three children ran outside – their bodies now feeling light as feathers.

The moon was shining brightly on the flower-rimmed pond and Jenny realized she couldn’t think of a better place to ascend to the Next Plane.

The children held hands in a circle and smiled back at Dylan’s family.  His parents waved and his siblings giggled with happiness for their brother.

There was no need to take a deep breath since the dead don’t breathe, but Jenny did anyway.  Enjoying the feeling of closeness with her soul-partners and the quickly growing vastness she felt within her.

Looking up at the moon above, the children’s forms became increasingly less corporeal and finally dissolved into the night – their souls having finally ascended to their next level of existence. 

*  *  *  *  *

Okay, so in the dream I was Jenny but I don't remember anyone's names from the dream so all names are fabricated.  There was a name for the disease she had, but I don't remember it and felt no need to name it here.  It was a common ailment in the world this dream took place in though and most of the children at the school had it.

I fleshed out the Soul Bell concept for the story.  In the dream you just distantly heard a bell toll and knew someone had died with you.

The bit about them taking academic classes actually harkens to a fellow student in the dream who was turning 18 shortly and it was uncertain as to whether he should be given a job at the school or sent off into the world since he was "the boy who lived" and all that jazz.

There was no Transition Escort in the dream - the girls actually traveled alone using mass transit.  Since there was no point in messing with a couple dead girls, they traveled just fine completely unsupervised.

The coffee-flavored confections did indeed taste bland and boring in the dream! (It was a very tactile scene that really stood out to me).

The dream ended shortly after the hot tub scene - I had to take it from there for the story's sake.

So there you have it!
Thanks for reading all this and I hope you enjoyed it.
It really would be a good way to go!